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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 remember my time spent in the Gambia, West Africa. I am shown round an ecological centre then rowed down a tributary of the River Gambia called the Lamin Stream. Twists of woody lianas trailing from the banks of lush mangroves form an unbelievably green corridor. The sun is a fiery beacon beating down directly overhead and bouncing off the water. I am told something about myself that I cannot fully comprehend.

Everything is present in this moment and my heartbeat is rapid in the midday heat. My guide pulls on the oars and I face 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 arrive back at the lodge intact and in the incomparable natural scenery, I regret 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: red, blue, green, yellow. The simplicity of the network of fifty-five cool tiled stations is a weary travellers dream. I come down into my body and 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 or Amoreiras Towers line up standing to attention.The architect of these yellow fortresses of post-modernity is a standing joke since sex tapes showing him roughly buggering a succession of young girls in his Lisbon office were released on the internet.

The universe has provided me with a yellow hat with the label cut out so I don’t have to worry about whose make it is. It’s just what I need in this heat and I’m grateful it was left in the ladies lavatory at Luton Airport. Sweet serendipity, because I’d resisted buying a sun hat in Departures, obeying the call to my boarding gate instead. On board EasyJet flight attendants confide they pay £11 for a holiday flight, a price probably closer the true cost of fuel per person.

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 producing 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.

Read more: Olliopolis - Lisbon - And Beyond

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

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. 

Getting off 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