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Lilac-breasted-Roller 2I was thinking about birds and the meaning they give to our lives. The British are bonkers about birds! And then I remembered the incredible birds that inhabit the Gambia in West Africa. I remember being shown round an ecological centre, and then rowed down a tributary of the River Gambia called the Lamin Stream. Twists of woody lianas trailing from the banks of lush mangroves were forming an unbelievably green corridor. The sun was a fiery beacon beating down directly overhead and bouncing off the water. And there, I was told something about myself that I could not fully comprehend at the time.

Everything was present in that moment and my heartbeat was rapid in the midday heat. My guide pulled on the oars and I faced him in a heightened state. “You will write two books,” he said. I can hardly believe him when I doubt that I will even make it out of his boat. But we arrived back at the lodge intact, and in the incomparable natural scenery, I resent the Gambian government’s policy of not allowing cameras into the country.

Read more: The Birds of Gambia

July 1st 2019

Frank Bowling Yellow2Lisbon is a city of lines: amarela, azul, verde, vermelho or red, blue, green and yellow. The simplicity of the network of fifty-five cool tiled stations is a weary travellers dream. I come down into my body from out of my head and feel safe from the prying eyes of a Metro line predator.

On the bus leaving the city the temperature reads 35 degrees centigrade, and thankfully dropping. The hills are yellow and the people are yellow and hot. The Torres das Amoreiras, also known as the Amoreiras Towers are standing to attention.The architect of these yellow fortresses of post-modernity became a standing joke after sex tapes showing him roughly buggering a succession of young girls in his Lisbon office were released onto the internet.

Renewables Revolution

An Atlantic wind is blowing through the hills and whistles noisily inside the bus's air conditioning system. Outside the tinted windows Nordex wind turbines are busily spinning megawatts of energy for a yellow city. Amongst the verdant native forests patches of drooping genetically modified eucalyptus and pine stand out like dry, sore thumbs dwarfed by plantations of steel windmills that produce nearly a quarter of Portugal’s electricity.

A revolutionary wind blows through Portugal. The Carnation Revolution in 1974 heralded the change from an authoritarian state to a democracy with barely a shot fired. It was thanks to the people who, despite being told to stay indoors, mingled peacefully with the insurgent army, putting flowers in their rifles and defusing hostilities. The spirit of freedom and self-empowerment lives on. No longer dependent on natural gas, 63% of the country’s total energy is provided by renewables; a carbon saving combination of on-shore and off-shore wind, wave and solar. (In January 2020, Portugal achieved 100% renewable energy, a target other developed countries should be striving for).

Read more: Olliopolis - Lisbon - And Beyond

I visited Sicily many times between 2009 and 2015. Each time I felt compelled to write, not just about the resplendent locations and history, but about my observations, feelings and hopes for the future. 

Do you know the land where lemon blossom grows?

Amid dark leaves the golden orange glows.

A gentle breeze drifts down from the blue sky,

still stands the myrtle, and the laurel high. 

Might you know it? 

There, there

Would I with you, oh my beloved, go.

These words are from Goethe's 1796 novel Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship and reflects his attraction to the Mediterranean World. I didn't know until after my visits to Sicily that I shared a soul journey with Goethe, which is a fresh source of inspiration demanding a further exploration of my love of this island.

Acireale

Waiting for the bus to leave Catania Central station, I shed my clothing down to a t shirt and roll up my jeans to just below my knees. I am suddenly struck by the fact that I started solo travelling at the age of 14. Nowhere as interesting as Sicily certainly, but a journey taken with the single-minded purpose of reaching an unknown destination.

The driver indicates that he is ready to depart by saying, “Ok lady.” I readjust my clothes and climb on board choosing a seat immediately behind the driver, because although curious and excited, I’m relying on the goodwill of strangers to help me find where I am staying. Because, I have now discovered, my phone is not working on Italian network. So, I can neither phone or text Gloria, my Airbnb host. Amid my mental chaos a Franciscan nun sits down next to me. Her habit is made of stiff, grey buckram, impervious to any stain or weather. It spills out from her onto my seat. We are going all the way to Acireale together.

I consult my printed off Airbnb map. Only a couple of streets are named next to a vast expanse of blue sea. So, I ask the nun if she knows the Via Pacino. She shakes her head and  shows the bus driver my map. He calls merrily out of his window to people in the street,  "Via Pacino, Casa Gloria?” His enquiry is met with shrugs and smiles. He calls the mobile number printed on the sheet on his phone and Gloria answers. She is shopping in Catania about fifty minutes away, and where we have just come from. 

Leaving the bus in the centre of Acireale, I call Gloria from a coffee bar on the owner’s wife’s phone. She gives me a set of indistinct directions that I decide to ignore. I gather what I believe to be a more coherent set from an intelligent looking young man, who concludes his step-by-step guide with an, “enjoy your journey.”  And so I do, for the first part, wandering passed white domed churches and through neat parks and squares that lead on to a fish market that is just finished for the day. The streets are being brushed and washed down, a fishy smell is lingering.

Read more: Notes on Sicily