Sunday, 24 May 2015

Are we alone?

Sam - alone; sole; only
Samoća - solitude; loneliness
Samostan - monastery
Samovoljan - self willed; obstinate 

In a Split art gallery yesterday there was an incredibly evocative wooden sculpture called 'Sam IV' (1972) by Branko Ružić. It was in dark old wood, a trunk hollowed out to resemble a seated figure, hunched against the world. His back, shoulders, and head are rounded, hands seemingly tucked under his thighs. The effect of Ružić's simple, empathic carving is on the surface utterly bleak. If a friend or loved one was to sit like this, you'd think their world had fallen in. 

The Croatian title 'Sam' was translated as 'Lonely' by the gallery, and presumably this would have been agreed with the artist. In my limited dictionary 'sam' seems less psychological than our word 'lonely'. Given the number of recent linguistic coincidences, it helped solidify some ideas and form these few words. 

When I knew I was going on holiday alone, my heart sank. Previous solo holiday experiences, have been soul damaging and I was dreading the excruciating loneliness that a sole person can feel. However being an optimist, and knowing all holidays are not the same, I reasoned that a rented house is a different experience from a hotel. 

Hotels mean couples, families, groups -all necessary cliques that are lovely when you are included, but as a single person, are virtually impossible to join. Indeed, why would a couple welcome a third, why would a family take in another? I would be reticent in their position. So hotels or resorts are lonely places when you are on your own for any length of time A little house or private apartment is another matter. 

In my case it worked out perfectly because my neighbours - young, old, local, on holiday, etc, are very friendly. Happy dogs, the best ice cream, the changeable weather are all open to discussion. People on the street are happy to talk; couples in restaurants have struck up conversations; waiters are interested in why you're writing; other travellers in the ferry queues are thoroughly engaging. 

In fact, as I noted to another solo female traveller, my problem has been finding peace and uninterrupted quiet! How churlish and ungrateful is that? We spent a little time together this morning as she was fresh off the Korčula ferry and wanted to know how to get to the 'samostan' on the hillside. Her efficient German guidebook said there were rooms to rent up there. Given I was happy to take a stroll on a fresh sunny morning, we had a pleasant meander, and I felt proud to show off my 'home'. Her book was so efficient, the rooms weren't yet built, so she asked the owner for a recommendation and we descended into town. 

Having exhausted my tolerance of other humans, I did essential domestic things whilst mulling over the art from yesterday and those wonderful linguistic connections of sam. Or as I might translate, mislila sam o kiparstvu...I was thinking about sculpture. There is that sam again, essential in forming the past, as well as the singular present tense of to be; I am. The idea of a monastery being a living space to be alone is actually has quite a Woolfian ring to it. We all need a room in which to be alone, no matter how friendly and sociable we can be.  

So I've certainly not been alone in the negative sense; nor even lonely, but have merely embraced the solitude. I initially learned the Croatian word in a translation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 'Cien años de soledad', which becomes 'Sto godina samoće'. I saw a copy in the local post office and was only in there because I was enjoying wanted the old fashioned seaside holidays of years past. Even a fortuitous incident was able to feed into and fuel my linguistic conundrum. 

Although Rušić's piece is inherently sad, it rouses in the viewer a high state of emotion. We are helpless to repress a burst of human compassion for those alone, with no one either reaching out - or to reach out to. The conversations I've had have been ignited not through desperation or loneliness, but simple human pleasure in communication with others.  But the material also cries volumes. 

Wood is a comparatively soft and yielding organic matter. It is also able to undergo vast changes within, breathing, expanding, shrinking under environmental influence. So although this character is currently undergoing a difficult time, the wood suggests that given time and thought everything can change, and that offers optimism and hope to improve and accept circumstances. 

Friday, 15 May 2015

The Sounds of Dubrovnik

I don't usually write about music because I find it extraordinarily difficult to articulate, unless in poetry. When I have talked about sounds, it's usually in the context of sound art, which is an entirely different thing. However music and musical inspiration has been unavoidable since I arrived in one of my favourite cities. 

I've forsaken my usual podcasts or music, and left off the headphones which are usually worn to protect my sanity. However the usual London assault on my hearing and consciousness is conspicuous by its absence. The last intelligible commotion was on the plane where a rowdy group were commencing their holidays. Since then it's been a babble of many languages, the frantic cry of swifts, the gentle burble of boats on water, and the clack of feet on marble.

All cities have their percussive chant; London is probably best described as a continuous high octane techno-trance-electonica, pumping out its noise like the recent illegal rave held on my street. The contrast to London, this other ancient city still feels like it moves to the creak and roll of the ships; or the beat of the Roman trireme. Yes there is a pulse but felt in the stillness of the upbeat. So to lose this anticipation of a different song would be most churlish. So the headphones remain unworn.

As if to make this point, arriving on a Friday for a night in town, there was a choice of classical musical entertainments. From orchestral events in the Rectors Palace and the smallest church I've ever seen, to the Dubrovnik Chamber Choir/Graz's Monde musicale, the city is alive with the sounds of instruments and voices. And later no doubt the bars and restaurants will pick up the musical echo.

I opted for the choirs. I perched on a marble step sat waiting for the church to open, and was listening to the male choir members chatting nearby. As a long time choir member I imagined what they are probably saying. Gossiping about the latest night out; being rude about the bossiest alto; who the hottest new soprano/tenor is; planning the next night out; whatever it is, it won't be the repertoire. Given only the most basic knowledge of the language, I can only guess. But I know choirs!

The church is a huge Dominican barn, the old stonework enhanced by the modern windows and art. The altar piece is made up of traditional reverse oil painting on glass, luminescent and vivid. It has clearly been lovingly restored after the city's troubled past. As it to remind the audience we are in a house of God, a silent, white mass of young monks filed in to join us, to enjoy the music.

And what music it was. The two choirs presented a selection of local, national and international pieces, with very different styles. For me, the Croatian choir's 'Stabat Mater in dolore mundi' by Sergio Militello was written for the cavernous, acoustically sympathetic space. Coupled with the sounds of the swifts outside, which were audible in certain sections, it was a poignant and melancholy accompaniment to Mary's tears.

As expected, the sounds of the evening underwent a change as I left the church. It's busy but not obtrusive; live music mixes with the recorded. People murmur their appreciation gently, and hushed church bells announce the next musical set. The shiny marble paving and stones of the buildings provide the same type of reverberation experienced in the church; sending the sound up, up to where the birds were swooping earlier.

As I wound my way out of town via the Pile Gate, a man played some classical guitar. Something tells me I'm not going to need all my carefully downloaded podcasts - as long as I have this soothing holiday soundtrack. And perhaps I should start talking about music.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

A New Chapter: Enter the Podcast!

I've finally done it. It's taken me nearly two months but I have just gone live with my first ever podcast. This has been a new experience for me because I'm so text based and afraid of the sound of my own voice. It turns out that I have no need to worry, thankfully, I don't sound like a complete idiot.

The process has been interesting and extremely time consuming. A blog post is usually 500-800 words, longer when I am working on an essay. But when you want 15-20 minutes of spoken effort, you need nearly 2500 vaguely coherent words. On the bright side, although some research is required, it's not like doing anything academic because I want to keep it interesting and above all, accessible. Therefore writing a script took almost an entire month, given work and life interruptions.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Future of Law Again: #LexisNexis

LexisNexis is the in the business of tracking and working with the legal market because it recognises the huge potential for profit. Although lawyers still need primary material ‘the law’, publishers see the benefits of not only adding value to this raw material, but also developing efficiency driving tools. These rough notes came out of a Product Adoption Advisory Board meeting, and nothing here identifies anyone who came along.

The vision that LexisNexis has for the future of law is, for many places, already here. Lawyers can work flexibly with a virtual presence anywhere in the world, are able to communicate with clients over instant messaging services and collaborate with colleagues using the cloud. As they noted today, all legal requirements regarding confidentiality, data protection, and regulated industries are appropriately observed.