Memories of Down Under and visiting the “real” Australia today

When I was in Australia, over ten years ago now, aboriginal Australia seemed largely absent from the coastal cities of the south and south-east.  Not an uncommon sensation for newcomers and visitors, I suspect.

It wasn’t until I visited Darwin and other parts of the Northern Territory that I felt I had arrived in the Australia of my preconceptions, as well as the Australia of certain desires I perhaps held at the time.  I had heard accounts of horrific events and read about the chronically dislocating effects of colonial and other incomer changes wrought on the aboriginal people of Australia.  I had witnessed a couple of saddening sights first-hand too.  But I felt that at least here I was closer to Australia’s soul, where people’s connections with their environment were “real, deep and distinctive”, as in steeped in ancestry and a profound understanding of the land.

Then again, I might have been “place dreaming”.  You see I was also aware that those Australians who helped impart all this to me were in fact white descendants of Europeans, particularly a remarkable friend of my parents, the late Lance Brooks.  They too had intimate connections with this part of Australia.

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Collecting our senses in Collserolla

Evarist March of NaturalWalks joined our group in the afternoon and led us “by the most natural route possible” from the top of the Collserola park down to the station for our suburban train back to Barcelona.  One of the most interesting facets of the conversation along the way related to public attitudes to this Natural Park.  While it seems much of the media and public discourse on the park is negative, pointing to issues such as the risk of forest fires and wild boars encroaching on peripheral residential areas, few stories celebrate the beauty and mere existence of this diverse natural area so close to the densely-populated built-up area.

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A sense of place trail through Barcelona

From the site of the Republican Army’s Spanish Civil War gun placements and shelters.

Working through Nick Lloyd’s Iberia Nature and Spanish Civil War tours I was able to take some visitors on a rarely-run, long Barcelona walk at the weekend.  We ventured through some of the city’s particularly meaning-laden places, as well as other places less well-known, applying a kind of sense of place framework as we went.

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Getting Close-serola

Barcelona, post-1992 Olympics, is a story that has been told countless times in print, conference rooms and tour guide banter: finally, after decades with their backs to the Med and their plumbing pointing straight into its immediate depths, the Barcelonins gave their stretch of coastline a spring clean and reacquainted themselves with their maritime souls.

It’s an account that washes over some contradictory and more place-specific detail.  For insight, talk to some old-timers in the sea- and portside neighbourhood of La Barceloneta, or ask questions about the former shanty town neighbourhood, El Somorrostro.  A good source of such insight might be La Barceloneta Rebel.

My point is that the situation today is generally the reverse.  From their homes and workplaces the attentions of many Barcelonins are directed to the beach, to a stroll in sea breeze reverie, or to a plate heaped with steaming cooked gifts from the sea and rice paddy.

Meanwhile, the thoughts of a small minority of Barcelonins slip through the backdoor to the hills behind this compact metropolis: La Collserola natural park.

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From rural idyll to urban chaos

A brace of recent articles at the Independent‘s site came together for me this morning to configure a constellation of important issues that I think all of us have to grapple with at some time or other: when voting, when deciding which places we spend time in and which (places and people) we denigrate, when sharing such opinions at the bar or over coffee, and when assimilating the views of others.   (Assuming a general desire to move beyond bigotry, I’d be particularly careful when handling the views of some opinion piece writers in the Daily Mail, for example–their precise toxicity is not specified on any label).

Identity and nationhood, “race” and ignorance, nostalgia and the challenges of adapting when “your place” changes; prospects for the young, rough justice for some and impunity for others, etc, etc…

Why Chavs were the riots scapegoats

Why is the rural idyll I call home voting for Marine Le Pen?

Go ahead and grapple, search the heavens of your intellect, consciousness and conscience, and let me know if you make any sense of this particular constellation.


Places, not destinations

After several years of reading and thinking about tourism, I’ve decided I dislike the term “destination”.

I don’t mind “you will reach your final destination by early evening”, i.e. point of arrival.  But when applied to villages, towns, cities, islands, parks and other protected areas, peninsulas, and whole countries…  urgh!

OK, the word is widely-used because it is useful to us, but therein lies my niggling discomfort with “destinations” in academia and business parlance:  it reflects the generally industrial use of places by travel, tourism and associated industries, otherwise described as commodification.

You’ve probably enjoyed visiting many destinations, but ask yourself this, “would I want to live in a destination?”.

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Learning from the (place) likes of skateboarders

Outside Barcelona’s principal contemporary art museum, MACBA, skateboarders exhibit their skill, concentration and precision, not unlike the architect who carved new lines and folded new spaces into this mixed urban landscape.  Except the skateboarders are indisputably dynamic.  Weaving amidst others passing by or lingering here, their movement adds energy to this place, and is inextricably linked to its physical parameters.

Yet the skateboarders can be a noisy nuisance, particularly for nearby residents if the clatter of boards on concrete goes on for hours on end and late into the evening.

What would you do–prohibit, tolerate, regulate, enjoy?

From a lecture by Iain Borden and opinion piece on The Independent‘s pages:

“What skateboarding, and all the myriad urban practices of the city tell us, is that we need to need to celebrate three things: different peoples, different spaces and different ways of knowing the city.”


Immigrant home gardens and socialising future generations

As an English immigrant to this Mediterranean metropolis, whose “garden” consists of a few plastic and earthenware pots on a small balcony in view of a dozen similar balconies, I found myself relating to this research article whilst at the same time envying its subjects, i.e. immigrants who have private gardens in which to develop a sense of place that blends “the old place back home” with their new environment.

It’s not that I haven’t had space to enact similar practices to those described by the researcher.  Last summer a heavily-scented pink rose bloomed for a few days on this humble balcony, and in a private moment I dedicated it to my late grandmother–she would call me wherever I was living in the world, and this was my way of imaginatively, perhaps even spiritually, reviving that connection.

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Going unseen places

One of the highlights of last week’s World Responsible Tourism program for me was finding out about Unseen Tours (London’s Street Voices), which received a hefty whack of recognition by winning Best Tour Operator for Local Experiences and Joint Overall Winner at the Responsible Tourism Awards 2011 (the latter shared with Robin Pope Safaris).

Here’s the proposition.  If you “want to challenge your view of what it means to be a person living in London”  then Unseen Tours offers “historical but also unexplored glimpses of the city, as perceived through the lens of homelessness”:

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Midnight Beast and the vulnerable image of destination Ibiza

Is this irresponsible tourism?  A group of London lads travel to Ibiza to film a music video parodying a certain brand of British tourism–cue littering, reckless spending, drunkenness, vomiting, and the wanton spreading of venereal disease–and subsequently achieve notoriety by posting their production, Pizza in Ibiza, to YouTube (390,000+ views since early June).

While the Director General of Toursim for the Balearic Islands’ autonomous community, Jaime Martínez, has erupted–“it’s intolerable that four louts have smeared the image of Ibiza for their own benefit”–I was left wondering if they hadn’t captured part of the reality of mass party tourism to Ibiza.

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