The Hill

After days of riding across an interminable flatness, it loomed up on the horizon: a pile of large weathered boulders 180 meters high. 

Our eyes, adjusted to immense spaces devoid of the slightest rise, the slightest dip, caught sight of that pile of rocks and magnified it out of all proportion, so that the molehill looked almost like a mountain.  

In 1836, Major Mitchell, leading a British expedition of ‘discovery’ fell prey to the same distortion, the same mirage. With horse drawn carts and a retinue of retainers in tow, he must have been moving far slower than Anya and I were on our bikes, enduring the flatness for weeks, if not months. All the while no doubt dreaming of the sweet green hills of England. 

Then one day, peering through his telescope, he saw it, that same pile of rocks and struck by its shape gave it a nameas if it didn’t already have a name – ‘Pyramid Hill’. 

Over the following decades, after the original inhabitants were driven off or shot, a  town was established nearby and imaginatively called Pyramid Hill and as for the original name given to the pile of rocks by Mitchell, that became known simply as ‘The Hill’.

So that was our landmark and we rode towards it,  only to discover that the closer we got, the further away it seemed …..

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Taj Mahal Part 2

The Taj Mahal, one of the world’s most beautiful and best known architectural wonders was also a favourite haunt for the Indian vulture.

It was a seeming contradiction, even, profanity, the sight of those vultures circling high above that tomb and its high towers, there in that human representation of Paradise with its gardens and waters and its architectural wonders …..a bird of carrion, a scavenger….yet it was richly symbolic of the splendid contrasts and contradictions of India.  

Eight centuries ago, the armies of Mohammed had invaded the subcontinent but failed to convert the majority of the population who remained Hindus and surely the most graphic example of this failure was the Hindus worship of the vulture.

For over two thousand years, the vulture was a sacred bird for the Hindus.

And then a time came when they ceased regarding it as an object of worship and it was a portent of trouble ahead, of dark and pungent clouds gathering over the Taj Mahal….and also the human race….and you and me.….

How did this happen? How did this metaphor of our collective crisis unfold?

In the fate of that holy scavenger, our fate…..

 

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Taj Mahal Part 1

He joined us on the flight to Adelaide in Singapore. I found myself sitting next to him – he had the window seat, Anya the aisle, and I was in the middle – and we began making small talk.

He was an Indian Australian who had been visiting family and friends and was now on his way home and it soon became obvious that Australia was for him very much home – and not only because he had a good job and was married to a Caucasian Australian.

There was also namely the issue of air pollution.

‘The air pollution’ he exclaimed, ‘it’s bloody awful!’

To emphasize the point, he told me about a visit he had made shortly before leaving India to see the famous Taj Mahal.

‘It is one of the most famous landmarks in India and I had never seen it. Well  I went there but I still didn’t see it! The air pollution was so bad! It was as thick as a fog. I was in a group and if it wasn’t for the tour guide I don’t think any of us would have found it. When we got there, all I could see was this wall in front of me. I put my hands on the wall and held them there for a while…that’s as close as I got to the Taj!’

Anya and I had spent years travelling in India (something I hadn’t got the chance to mention) and we had experienced dramatic changes in that country’s history, some of them far from positive, including the air pollution. On our last visit, our flight had been diverted because of the thick cloud of smog over Delhi.  

So I could well believe what he told me about the air pollution and hence his recital of his experience at the Taj Mahal, meant to get a reaction from me, fell flat and our discussion moved elsewhere.

Later, as the lights were dimmed and everyone hunkered down for the night, I put my sleeping mask on and lay back and tried to drift off into a slumber …..and instead, found myself reliving the memory of our visit to the Taj Mahal… so many years ago….

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25 Sentimo

A week after arriving in The Philippines, I came across an English language Filipino newspaper called the ‘Manilla Bulletin’.

Anya and I were staying in a typical tourist lodge on the coast of the island of Cebu and I was perusing the books left behind by other travellers crammed into several shelves of a dark, wooden book case – when I noticed a few editions of the  ‘Manilla Bulletin’ lying folded on the bottom shelf. 

I grabbed them and took them back to my room and began reading. One article in particular really drew my interest. It was from the hand of a journalist named Tonyo Cruz and it was entitled:

‘DON’T FORGET OUR SOCIO-ECONOMIC RIGHTS’

The following lines got me in:

‘Filipino Governments from the time of Fidel Ramos to Noynoy Aquino have loudly boasted about economic figures. And the boasting continues today under Rodrigo Duterte, with sycophants proclaiming the Philippines economy supposedly besting even China’s!

This is what the Duterte administration wants us to forget: recent economic growth has not resulted in the attainment of the rights to work, to just wages, to land, to an adequate standard of living, and to health, housing and education – in most instances, the situation has become worse…..

The following statistics were quoted by Cruz:

12% of Filipinos were unemployed and 60% lived on 125 Pesos a day or less.

100 Pesos was the equivalent of $2.60 Australian or, 2 Euros.

Then I read the following: the combined wealth of the 15 wealthiest individuals in The Philippines was equivalent to the income of 77 million Filipinos.

But this was just the beginning of the story,  a story which could be told in the form of a very small coin called ’25 Centavo’… 

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Travelling With Spinoza

 

On the week in July the heat wave arrived in Europe, Anya and I had planned a journey by bike to Belgium. Suddenly that was off the agenda.

The heatwave – clearly the result of climate change – meant that everyone was advised to stay indoors.

Huh?

Stay indoors in this normally cold little country? Where few people, including us, had air conditioning because it wasn’t needed?

It was hard to imagine, but then again, the ‘getting hard to imagine’ was rapidly becoming a way of life for us here on planet earth.

There was no normal anymore, anywhere.

I wasn’t looking forward to being confined inside our tiny flat and not being able to at least go for long walks or bike rides.

Blinds down, curtains drawn. Venture outside to go to the supermarket and that was it.   

It was like being locked up in gaol cell. And for what crime?

How to pass the hours, the days?

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