Trump’s Wall

I’ve been watching a very good 2-parter on BBC about the borderland between the US and Mexico, and most specifically the wall which Trump thought was so important to be built, he even said he wanted Mexico to pay for it.

The presenter – Sue Perkins – is a likeable, friendly person who has a knack of getting close in to the people she meets on her trip, and her genuine warmth and interest come across as she explores the real life experience of what it’s like living with the wall, not just for the Mexicans, but the Americans too.

In Mexico, she meets with families, dances in the streets in the festival of the dead, helps prepare food for migrants wanting to cross the border into the US, and spends time with a family who are separated by the wall and can only touch the fingers of their loved ones on the other side through a metal mesh.

Hers is a moving and interesting account seen from both sides of the ugly rusty-brown metal wall and fencing along the boderlands, and it resonated strongly with me as I’ve been to some of the border towns on the US side, crossed (legally) over the Rio Grande to Mexico in a small rowing boat, and have worked as a volunteer in my granddaughter’s Houston school, helping Mexican children – amongst many other ethnicities – with reading and language skills.

Seeing more of Mexican life through the eyes of Sue Perkins, I was struck by how happy and sunny the Mexicans are, often in the face of hardship and emotional challenges. They seemed to want the very best for their children, the family unit was of great importance and in true Latino way, they had music and fire in their souls.

Although drug smuggling across the border was explored, with the help of a Texan sherrif in a Stetson, and with a gun at his hip, the series transcended the tales of drug cartels and focussed of many other aspects of Mexican life. It was fascinating and reminded me of the friendliness and warmth I’d experienced on my day trip to the small villages of Boquillas last year.

Part of Perkin’s journey on the US side covered a section of Big Bend National Park, which is right against the border, which is defined by the Rio Grande (see picture above). She went canoeing along it, down what looked like the Santa Elena canyon; we walked by it last year and it is definitely spectacular. In Big Bend, the mountains provide a natural wall, one which doesn’t prevent the free movement of the wildlife which live in this dramatic desert region.

I was struck by how much happier and sunnier the Mexicans she met were compared to the Americans, some of whom seemed quite dour and focussed on protecting themslves and their land. Now I don’t know if that was a deliberate ploy in the production and editing of the programme, but I do know from experience of road trips in this part of Texas that the people working a living on the land are tough, the womenfolk too, and that guns are a part of everydaylife. The exection to this on the trip was when she visited the town of Marfa. More on this next time, as it’s somewhere I’ve been to where there are mysterious lights to be seen…..

 

Black History Month

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This terrifying sculpture is in Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama. Its power lies in the fact that the path passes between these raging dogs, and by walking along it you have to pass between these ferocious but inanimate canines.

Now just imagine they are real.

I’m reblogging the post I wrote about my visit to Birmingham at the start of Black History Month, which starts today – 1st October – and continues to the end of the month. No doubt there will be many references to Black Lives Matter and to the significant figures in the struggle for Black rights in the USA. But this issue goes further afield than the US; it’s everywhere.

My visit to the Deep South and some of the places where Civil Rights demostrations took place has had a lasting effect on me. To walk the historic walk that Martin Luther King and other Civil Rights leaders took was a sobering and powerful experience. Visiting the Civil Rights Museum there and seeing footage of what took place hit home. One of the most moving street exhibits on the walk was the one about singing and how music and singing together was a source of strength. As a choir member I know just how powerful that can be.P1050175Here’s what I wrote in my original post in 2018:

On May 2nd, 1963, more than 1,000 African American teenagers assembled at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church across the road, and prepared to march to Birmingham’s City Hall in support of the civil rights movement. The following day, “Bull” Connor, Commissioner for Public Safety, ordered police, dog handlers and firemen to the park.

When the protestors entered the park and refused to leave, water cannons were turned on them, knocking them to the ground. German shepherd dogs were directed towards the crowd, their handlers commanding them to attack. This, and the police brutality towards these teenage protesters, shocked America and the world.

This is only one part of the struggle for civil rights which went on in Alabama, led by Dr. Martin Luther King. My recent visit to this, and other sites associated with the civil rights (and let’s face it, human rights) movement, was an eye opening window on to history which was made in my lifetime.

But I’ve no illusions. The struggle against inequality goes on. Some things may have improved, but there’s a whole lot more room still available for improvement.

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Chirk Aqueduct and Tunnel

A short 2 night break in our campervan saw us in Chirk, just over the border of Wales and not far from Wrexham. The campsite is surrounded by trees, is adjacent to the grounds of the National Trust Chirk Castle estate, and a short and pleasant woodland walk from the Chirk Aqueduct.

The aqueduct spans the valley between Wales and England, with green fields, grazing sheep and the RivP1080886er Ceiriog way below. It carries the Llangollen canal with the railway line, supported on arches, beside it. A stroll across the towpath, taking in the scenery and any passing canal boats along the way,  takes you into England.

Keep walking and you’ll reach a canalside pub; turn back and you’ll re-enter Wales, and on the other side of the aqueduct there is the Chirk Tunnel, it’s dark mouth waiting to swallow the narrowboats into its murky depths.

The tow path continues into the tunnel. It’s possible to walk its 420 metres/460 yards length, but a torch is required along with a fair bit of care as the path is narrow. There is a rail but in these days of social distancing it would be a bit daft to try it. And there is supposed to be a ghost somewhere in there too…..

No, we didn’t do it but we have done walked it with children, and most recently with granddaughter who surprised herself with her bravery. It’s not actually that scary as the tunnel is straight so the end is always in view. Boats have to pace themselves and have a light on while they’re chugging through, so there is sometimes a queue waiting to go enter.

And then, when they emerge from the tunnel on the Welsh side, passengers might catch the enticing aroma of chocolate, drifting from the chocolate factory, hidden behind the trees and on the edge of the town.

The Dee Estuary

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On  recent visit to the Wirral, staying there for a couple of nights in our campervan, we enjoyed walking on the Dee Estuary beaches. Tide out, plenty of space for our dog to run, sniff and explore, and a few birds about too, it was all very pleasant. Across the water from the Wirral side are lower Welsh hills and small towns, such a Flint.

The estuary leaves the boats moored there high and dry, then buoyed up again as the tide comes in. Low tide reveals rocks, mud, pools and the remains of maybe piers? Maybe breakwaters? Maybe the back bone of a buried dinosaur?

The sound of oystercatchers peep-peeping is unmistakable, but I need binoculars to find them as they potter about feeding on the beach. The warbling cry of a nearby curlew draws my attention as it obligingly stands still for a photo.

 

RSPB Deeside is located further up along the coast on the English side, and it’s a good place for birds, as is Parkgate, with its grassy, silted up seashore, promenade and ice cream parlours. Hen Harriers, Marsh Harriers, Short-eared owls, Merlins and Kestrels can be seen here, but patience is required, especially in winter months when it can get very cold taking part in one of the regular Raptor Watch events.

P1080832At the mouth of the estuary is Hilbre Island, which you can get to across the sands at low tide. A tide table is essential for this activity!  Further round the coast on the English side, is Liverpool, and nearby is Crosby Beach with the cast iron bodies of artist Antony Gormley forever looking out to sea, continually being covered then revealed by the rising and ebbing tides.

It’s always ourselves we find in the sea

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Last week I went away to the coast for  a couple of nights and returned recharged and refreshed after weeks of lockdown. There were small, simple pleasures, like walking on beaches and seeing seabirds. I wonder, do we appreciate what we already have? Why do we want more when we already have more than enough, if only we take time to enjoy it.

This poem came to mind as I was looking through the photos I took:

 

maggie and milly and molly and may

went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang

so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star

whose rays five languid fingers were:

and molly was chased by a horrible thing

which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and

may came home with a smooth round stone

as small as the world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)

it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

e.e.cummings