Friday, 17 July 2009

Putting cycling on the map

I'm getting so much pleasure from reading Edward Lear's Journals of a Landscape Painter in Greece and Albania (1851), especially as a recent previous reader has jotted in the current names of some of the places Lear visits so that I can skim over the spectacularly underfurnished terrain of Albania with Google maps, thus Himarë which Lear calls 'Khimára, anciently Chimæra' p.144 View Larger Map
Explore Vlorë, Albania, starting from Himarë

To the unlearnt tourist, indeed, Albania is a puzzle of the highest order. Whatever he may already know of ancient nomenclature - Epirus, Molossia, Thesprotia, etc. - is thwarted and confused by Turkish divisions and Pashaliks; beyond these, wheel within wheel, a third set of names distract him in shape of native tribes and districts - Tjamourià, Dibra, etc. And no sooner does he begin to understand the motley crowd which inhabits these provinces - Greeks, Slavonians, Albanians, Bulgarians, or Vlachi - than he is anew bewildered by a fresh list of distinctive sub-splitting, Liape, Mereditti, Khimáriotes, and Tóskidhes. Races, religions, and national denominations seem so ill defined, or so entangled ... (Lear's Introduction)
Thus Lear's Aryhyrokastro (shown on the map just before his Introduction) becomes Argyrokastro in my 1911 Britannica and that, sought on the web, carries me to today's Gjirokastër, and with that easy monkey-leaping of the web, I learn of the Protocol of Corfu which takes me to the Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus proclaimed in Argyrokastro - Gjirokastër on February 28, 1914 and lasting until 1921, the site of the Northern Epirote issue, alive to this day, as well as the equally confusing way the Albanian population is spread outside Albania, across neighbouring states that include the cities of Skopje in the northern part of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Pristina in Kosovo, and Podgorica in the southern part of Montenegro.
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Staff circular about Rescue Geography research prompted by Dr Phil Jones:
Hi, I'm doing a project looking at how people cycle to the university and wondered if anyone wanted to take part. Essentially it involves wearing a microphone and a GPS-wristwatch while cycling home, describing thoughts and feelings as you ride along. The equipment is lightweight and fairly unobtrusive ... more information. Thanks, Phil, Lecturer in Human Geography [Phil's blog]
Dear Phil. I've been going to and fro between home in Handsworth, via the city centre or via Rotton Park for over 10 years, often on the canal towpath. I think I'd enjoy participating in your research. Best, Simon
Hi Simon, apologies for the delay in getting back to you, I was away doing the Three Peaks last week. Thanks for volunteering. D... Essentially I'll pop across to you just before you head home, show you how it all works and then you cycle home as normal. When you get home you turn the recorder off and then I'll collect the equipment from you the next day. thanks again, Phil
Dear Phil. Oh dear I hope I got the technology working last night. My concern is the tedium for you of having to listen to my commentary as I cycled. I guess turning my impressions into words doesn't work for me so I was reduced to commenting on where I was which you'll have on the SatNav anyway. I realise that what I like so much about my cycling is the changing experiences - heard, seen and smelled as I pedal my way home...more sensed than spoken. All the same thanks for asking me to take part in your interesting research. Best wishes, Simon
Hi Simon, please find attached transcripts from the recordings you've made as well as the Google Earth (part one, part two, part three) file of your route and heart rate. Everything seemed to record very well; thanks for your perseverance on the technological side. Your commentary was really great - as I think you'll see from the transcript. There's some really nice stuff in there which I can pull out. I absolutely get your point, however, about things being sensed rather than spoken - it's that embodied/experiential stuff which really fascinates me about cycling. If you want to have a look through the transcripts when you've got a moment, send me any corrections/things you would like removed. When you're happy, I'll match up the words to the GPS and post a spatial transcript up on the website. Thanks again for your participation. cheers, Phil

Dear Phil. Nothing I want to censor, so long as you ignore the SatNav evidence of how I walk on water and leap over high buildings. People aren't supposed to know (:)). I'm impressed with the speed at which you've completed the transcription. Best Simon
Hi Simon, excellent, your superhero status is safe with me! Have put your spatial transcripts up on the site as participant #06 …Thanks again for your help. cheers Phil
Phil is doing quite a few of these. It's an undramatic repeat of the panoptical world in Enemy of the State or Body of Lies with geostationary satellites about twelve and half thousand miles above me noting my every move give or take a few metres. Then Phil can link my route to the data from a heart rate monitor and a voice recorder, so that I can click on any of the route markers or the numbers in the map margin and see what my heart rate was at that point in my ride as well as anything I said. I would imagine that a talented poet, conversationalist, singer could make rather special representations of their journey - a cyclist's songline, linked to an idea that I'd first heard of via Bruce Chatwin's book about the Aboriginal Australians' ways of singing their way across the continent. One of my favourite intellectuals, Rebecca Solnit wrote she'd often wished her sentences
could be written out as a single line running into the distance so that it would be clear that a sentence is likewise a road and reading is travelling ... the songlines of Australia's aboriginal peoples are the most famous examples conflating landscape and narrative. The songlines are tools of navigation across the deep desert, while the landscape is a mnemonic device for remembering the stories: in other words the story is a map, the landscape a narrative. (2001) Wanderlust: A History of Walking
It brought to mind a journey long ago - my own navigation - traceable in memory.

'On the small-scale chart taped to the head of my bunk a slightly curved line seems to grow imperceptibly away from Africa and into the space of the ocean. As the days passed and merged, boredom was the least of our worries. We worked steadily through an extensive selection of books - Dante, Lawrence, Flaubert, Tolstoy and many lesser authors were read whilst one or the other of us lay sunbathing safety line attached, or down below propped in a bunk ... Every day now the tall clouds refreshed us with showers, but the wind blew more gently and we felt at home on the sea, carrying our horizons along with us...' A Voyage to America, 1966 Roving Commissions, London:RCC Press 1967 pp.19-20
Today I could be 'people tracked' all the way, unless I borrowed Gene Hackman's trick and put the gadget inside cooking foil...
* * *
I thought it only rained like this in Corfu
How it has rained this week - grey, wet and chilly. Usually I like such weather, but now it flavours the news; prompts moods.

An incident: black sedans, plainclothes, guns
Richard, in town with his camera, caught a glimpse of a man dragged from his car, pushed to the ground at the end of Waterloo Street, held at gun point, then released. Amy reassured me:
The photo wouldn't have been illegal even if it was not fuzzy. I don't know about the incident as we use a different radio channel to the firearms unit. Although the most likely reason is that someone reported seeing the driver with a weapon, so was stopped/searched and nothing found, meaning male was then released.
I often see herons by the canals these days but we've had a closer encounter - a visit to our back garden. Fish have been taken from our ponds. Lin put the plastic heron we've used to suggest to a real bird that the garden's taken. It was raining when I saw, through our kitchen window, side by side - the real and the dummy. Richard dashed out, The heron gracefully unfolded itself and was up and over the treetops in seconds.
* * *
I just read from June Samaras, with her superb website Kalamos Books, yet another vandalising of Jewish graves in beautiful Ioannina ... the latest in a long series of anti-semitic desecrations, this time on Sabbath 9 July 2009. This YouTube clip referred to vandalism in the same place a month earlier. The mainstream press seems to ignore these activities which are only reported in the Jewish press - my impression from web surfing the subject; most worrying is the inertia of the relevant governmental authorities in connection with:
...the widespread practice of the 'burning of Judas' with pictures from the events often taking place alongside the church 'Resurrection' or other religious services, explanations of its meaning, occasional mentions that it is also called 'burning of the Jew.'
If there’s a job, food on the table, good neighbours, good books and companionship, depravity loses its edge, hate becomes a grumble. My self-referential ego ensures that worries about the world are but a mirror of worries for myself, and when I’m content, surrounding dreadfulness sits like those meniscus'd raindrops perched, almost apologetically, on the perfectly waxed surface of important people’s black sedans.
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Here's some background to British National Party Leader Nick Griffin's "Camp of the Saints scenario" mentioned in the interview with the BBC on 8 July. Griffin has cultivated quite clever ways of speaking to the mainstream. He will duck and weave, assuring his hard core that he can still be trusted to fly the BNP flag, while sounding amiably reasonable in talking to fellow Oxbridge graduates on assignment for the BBC. He cuffs the elephant with the occasional slips of an experienced performer, enticing and vexing his audience. The classic legerdemain is 'denied-refutation' - admitting some of what was said, even seconds ago, while trimming meaning to the popular conscience - an unpredictable quantity politicians with risky ideas are always testing.
In this case Griffin, having suggested he approved a European force with powers to sink ships carrying sub-Saharan Africans to Italy, emphasised he meant giving people time to abandon ship and be thrown a life raft so they can "go back to Libya" - an afterthought that avoids disappointing those who'd approved his drift.
The liberals think "phew! He's not nice but he didn't mean actually drowning those people" while his followers are relieved that he's not going back on the case for 'sinking ships' and ... complete the sentence.
Refining this method Griffin teaches his party to develop a public language that evades liberal proscription while reassuring core followers and those who say "I'm-not-racist=but..." that a vote for the BNP is a sound committment to solving problems made insoluble by the feebleness of mainstream politicians. If Griffin becomes too respectable he risks losing the party workers all successful politicians need - canvassers, poster-stickers, leafletters, doorsteppers. letter-writers, phone-in followers and room-bookers. At microphones outside government buildings he exudes reasoned arguments on matters of public anxiety. He's a holocaust-denier, yet I could swear I've heard him agreeing that many Jews had died during WW2. He's spoken admiringly of Louis Farrackan, and - a boxing blue himself - he's expressed admiration for Amir Khan. At regular intervals Griffin tosses a meaty sound-bite to his attack-dogs, then skitters away from another well oxygenated mêlée. It's not quite 'plausible deniability' but it comes close.
The stakes are high. Global population grows, sea levels rise, and in our connected cosmos the chasm between rich and poor cries from the rooftops (literally - given the placing of satellite dishes), and in this distinction, rich means what in the rich world feels like poor - living, for instance, for under €10,000 a year.
I read the book just after it came out in early 1970s. I was disappointed expecting a thriller or a murder mystery, rather than a tract, but it was intriguing and I love a good argument so long as there's no torture involved. Jean Raspail the 1970s author of Camp of the Saints, a master text for the BNP, better written than Mein Kampf, commented on his novel about the swamping of 'the white race' at the hands of its own white liberal elites in cahoots with swarms of refugees whose ships they lack the fibre to turn away from their shores, let alone sink:
So, what to do? I am a novelist. I have no theory, no system nor ideology to propose or defend. It just seems to me that we are facing a unique alternative either learn the resigned courage of being poor or find again the inflexible courage to be rich. In both cases, so-called Christian charity will prove itself powerless. The times will be cruel.
Anyone who opposes Griffin, his allies and followers and those who are sure 'he's got a point' needs a rejoinder to this bold observation. One of the best is a piece For Polite Reactionaries by Charles Sugnet in Transition, No. 69 (1996), pp. 14-34: Indiana University Press. I get to read it via my university but I can't make it accessible which is a shame but a reminder to refine my own reasoning.
This is hardly about preserving the 'white race', even if you believe - as I and 99.999% of physical anthropologists do not - that humans are made up of separate species. So refutation starts by eroding that firm subjectivity, not helped by the classifying bureaucracies that require us to name our ethnicity - something many mistake for race, which then gets conflated with identity, especially when linked to self-esteem. Secondly the rich (richer) world comprises a multiplicity of ethnicities. We are already - rich and poor inside the boundaries of the first world - hybrid, mongrel, polyglot, diverse in skin colour, hair, religion, language, culture, and just about any other category named and yet to be named. The gap between objectivity and subjectivity in the matter of our heterogeneity and homeogenity presents a deep well of confusion and fear.
The ship that turns away the ship - or sinks it - if Griffin's way were approved, is likely to be freighted with the same diversity as its target. The difference is wealth not race but Griffin has a dream of a pure English race, finding it irksome that David Harewood, a rather obvious Brit from Birmingham who happens to be black, plays Friar Tuck in Robin Hood. Raspail is right about the consequences of the differences between them and us when it comes to wealth, but we are a world away from Raspail when it comes to distributing those pronouns on racial criteria. - but then I live in Handsworth, Birmingham and he lives in Neuilly-sur-Seine.
It's not as if the Hellenic population isn't as susceptible to these arguments about purity which is why I like the views expressed to me over a year ago by Lliana when she said she though that even if no Greeks were left in Ano Korakiana it would remain Greek because it's new inhabitants would adopt Greek ways, thus Isocrates:
...καὶ τὸ τῶν Ἑλλήνων ὄνομα πεποίηκε μηκέτι τοῦ γένους ἀλλὰ τῆς διανοίας δοκεῖν εἶναι,
καὶ μᾶλλον Ἕλληνας καλεῖσθαι τοὺς τῆς παιδεύσεως τῆς ἡμετέρας
ἢ τοὺς τῆς κοινῆς φύσεως μετέχοντας
(Ἰσοκράτης. Πανηγυρικός. 50.)
...and it seems that the name of the Greeks is no longer denoting a race, but a mentality,
and one should call 'greeks' rather the ones who participate in our education,
than those who share our common nature.
(Isocrates. Panegyricus. 50.)
It's interesting to pick out a blog called Hellenic Antidote. It's author propounds a Griffinesque interpretation of racial Hellenism, which requires a denial of the meaning Katerina Sarri attaches to Isocrates' words. One of the comments following Hellenic Antidote's circuitous arguments mentions the blogger's 'Germanic' version of Hellenism, a side swipe at the Austrian Jakob Fallmerayer's slavophobic theory as developed in his 1827 History of the Empire of Trebizond which, ironically, argued that modern inhabitants of Greece have no genetic connection with the population of Classical Greece. As my half-brother George once said at a family get-together "Ugh! We're not proper Greeks we're all a bunch of dirty Slavs. Yuk!" a cue to roars of laughter from our mongrel family and friends.

No mean city: Soho Road in Handsworth

1 comment:

  1. How very interesting! Thanks for sharing,
    Liana

    ReplyDelete

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