Brenda Squires - Author Therapist and Artist

March newsletter 2022

Our hopes and prayers are with Ukraine
March has been dominated by Ukraine. Sadly, we have become accustomed to war. For years we have witnessed Syria being torn apart and annihilated as a country. Syrian refugees have flooded into neighbouring lands. We have watched, appalled. Helped where we could. But when Putin turned on Ukraine there was a seismic shift in the collective. When Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24th there was disbelief, dismay, outrage. This was European soil. These were images from the Second World War. Our whole stability and assumption of peace were suddenly under threat. The story is ongoing. The outcome as yet decided. Our hearts and minds are with the people of Ukraine. And with the misled masses of Russia, for even their troops seem at a loss as to why they are there. We hold our breath as day-by-day the spirit of the Ukrainian people seems to prevail. Millions have fled; millions have stayed behind to defend their homeland. Within Russia there is unrest; we hope it will be enough unseat their  ruthless and misguided ruler. Meanwhile in the West, donations and offers of help pour in, showing a concern and solidarity rarely seen.
Martin Morris kindly donated the proceeds from his recent concert at Rhosygilwen to the people of Ukraine. He played to a full audience in the Mansion. Pieces performed included works by Philip Glass, Eric Satie, Richter and John Cage. It was good to have the lounge at Rhosygilwen reverberate once more to the tones and cadences of the Boersendorffer. Glen writes: Martin Morris, is perhaps one of the most accomplished non-professional pianists we know. He has been hugely influential in the way we developed our chamber music programme in the early years at Rhosygilwen. His Borsendorffer, which adorns the front room in the Mansion, has brought joy to many people over the last quarter century we have lived there. At Martin’s Ukraine concert I was pleased to hear him perform Eric Sate’s Gymnopédies which I have lovely memories of him playing late evenings after supper. And Sate’s strong influences ran through this entire evening with the works of Glass, Richter and Cage. A truncated Cage’s silent 4’ 33” was poignant and an opportunity to meditate on the sufferings of the Ukrainian people under the scourge of war.
Jordan

Glen and I did a week long tour of Jordan.

When you look at Jordan’s neighbours: Syria, Israel, Iraq and Saudi Arabia you may wonder how the land has managed to stay intact at all! A moderate Islamic nation where the women may choose to go veiled or unveiled and where, despite having few natural resources, the country has a high level of education and health care, it is a model of skilful negotiation and endurance. Our wonderful guide, Abdul, was a great fan of King Hussein who reigned from 1952 until his death in 1999. Indeed looking at the international tributes on Hussein’s death, such admiration and respect seem to have been universal. Hussein led his country through four turbulent decades of the Arab-Israel conflict and the Cold War, balancing pressures from Arab nationalists, Islamists, the Soviet Union, Western countries, and Israel. And it certainly wasn’t all plain sailing. In 1970/1 what is known as the Jordanian Civil War took place. This was basically a battle in Jordan between the Palestinian Liberation Organisation under Yasser Arafat and the Jordanian armed forces under Hussein. The PLO were defeated and pushed back into Lebanon.

Armed conflict was suppressed but the Palestinians as refugees, as individuals, were welcomed. When we visited Amman we were shown, from the Citadel, the numerous streets and blocks, which have housed streams of refugees from Palestine and more recently from Syria.

Petra is also known as Red Rose City. Looking at this rock strata it’s easy to understand why.

A major highlight of our trip was the visit to Petra, in the south of the country. Simon Schama extolled its wonders in a recent BBC documentary called: Civilisations. Petra means rock in Greek and indeed it is easy to understand why the place acquired this name, though it was also called Raqmu or Raqemo. The Nabateans who created the place were a nomadic people, accustomed to living in the desert and were able to repel attacks through their knowledge of mountainous rocky terrain. All the more remarkable that they created this beautiful, vast ancient city where they harnessed winter rainfall through a sophisticated system of pipes and channels and developed agriculture. Their main trade was in the scents and aromas of the east, such as frankincense and myrrh, much in demand throughout the world. Petra reached its zenith in the first century AD when its population peaked at an estimated 20,000 inhabitants. It lost its independence to the Romans in the second century AD when it became known as Arabia Petraea. Gradually its importance declined as sea trade routes took over, though there are remains there of Byzantine Churches in the Christian era. It fell into decline, inhabited by a handful of nomads, until it was discovered in the nineteenth century by the German archeologist, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. It was made a UNESCO heritage site in 1985. Today only the Bedouin, nomadic descendants of the Nabateans, are allowed to trade within the city.

The Bedouin are the only people allowed to trade within the boundary of Petra today.

Man and nature. This statue situated in the Siq, the narrow gorge leading into Petra, seems to be emerging even today from the bedrock of sandstone.

This building, known as Al Khazneh, the treasury, is an individual wonder in the overall wonder of Petra. In fact, it is not a treasury at all but a mausoleum, believed to be that of Aretas IV, a Nabatean king of the first century AD. Carved in sandstone, it shows strong Graeco Roman influence, a testament to the crossover of these cultures in the ancient world. Believing it housed treasure, some Bedouins seeking booty shot at it but found nothing. Latterly the edifice has been used as a backdrop in Hollywood movies such as: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Herge’s The Red Sea Sharks, one of the Adventures of Tintin.

Byzantine mosaic from St George’s church, Madaba

Reading matters

Thank you very much to those of you who responded to my February newsletter and especially to those who sent in additional tales and information about Saint Lucia and Derek Walcott. Guiseppe Skull from France commiserated with us on the storms battering the UK at the time. He went on to recommend a book: 1493 by Charles C Mann published by Random House in 2011. The book tells how and why Napoleon lost his war in Haiti. It gives a lot of information about the diseases, notably yellow fever, that exterminated native Americans and European settlers, but were less pernicious for African people. Very interesting, Guiseppe tells us, is the story of the disaster of the Scottish settlement in Panama.

I also heard from Ned Thomas, poet, editor and founder of a Welsh magazine with an international perspective, Planed. Ned writes: ‘…My reason for writing now is Derek Walcott. I knew him reasonably well, taught his work and even have a poem, which he dedicated to me! I learnt about St Lucia from him and from books, but have never been there as you have. I was glad to see your piece. He shared your doubts about the tourist industry. I remember introducing a reading of his at the Hay festival where he laid into Booker Bros who I think he said had blasted rocky peaks on the island to build roads to tourist complexes. The audience at Hay were rather taken aback because of the Booker Prize which they sponsored! He came to Wales more than once, the first time to receive the International Writers’ Prize which the Welsh Arts Council awarded in those days, one of his earliest prizes.’

Ned went on to say that he himself wrote what he describes as ‘a slim bilingual volume’ for the occasion. Ned continues: ‘It is of course written before Omeros and others of his later volumes, but I have to say that, impressive as Omeros is – and it brings together almost all of his themes – for lyrical intensity I prefer the earlier volumes.’

Ned’s book is called: Derek Walcott: poet of the islands.

I was also delighted to hear from Anne Garside who has an intimate knowledge of the Caribbean islands and who also met Derek Walcott. Anne has this to say:

Brenda’s last newsletter, where she described her visit to St Lucia, brought back memories for me of that Caribbean island’s most famous author Derek Walcott. In 1969, I took a banana boat to Jamaica, landing in Kingston in the middle of the rainy season. I quickly discovered at Immigration that I could only get a work permit by enrolling for a Diploma in Education at the University of the West Indies. So I took a bus to the university’s Mona campus, only to find all the offices were closed as the students were having one of their routine protest demonstrations that day (I forgot now against what). As I sat on my suitcase, a gentleman with a long flowing white beard approached me to ask if I needed help. It was Professor John Figueroa, who headed the education department. Delightfully un-bureacratic, he said, of course I could enrol, even though I was three weeks late for the beginning of term.

I shall always be grateful to John, because a few weeks later I had a momentous theatrical experience. The Trinidad Theatre Workshop arrived on its annual visit to the campus to perform Derek Walcott’s play, Ti-Jean and his Brothers. Based on a Saint Lucian folk story, the play was an allegory of the colonial experience, written in the colourful Patwa of St Lucia, a mix of African, French and English. Each of the three brothers in the play tries to defeat the Devil, Gros-Jean by sheer brawn, Mi-Jean by intellectual superiority, and the simple Ti-Jean by laughing at him. The Devil appears first as the sneaky Saint Lucian folk character Papa-Bois, disguised as a white planter. Having defeated Big Jean and Middle Jean, Papa-Bois sets Little Jean the task of counting all the thousands of stalks of sugarcane on his vast plantation before morning. Ti-Jean incites the slaves to burn the canefields, and easily counts the stalks on the one last remaining cane.

It was my first experience of how Caribbean audiences participate in the action on stage. The audience cheered Ti-Jean on vociferously, like fans at a Welsh rugby match. When Papa-Bois finally sheds his disguise as the white planter, revealing himself as the fallen angel Lucifer, they hissed him like a pantomime villain.

Over my six years in the Caribbean, I was able each year to see the Trinidad Theatre Workshop perform other plays by Derek Walcott on the Mona campus, where Walcott himself had studied as a young man. Walcott had founded the company in 1959, only ten years before. In 1970, I saw Walcott’s Caribbean version of Homer’s Iliad, which metamorphosed into his 1990 Nobel prize-winning collection of poems Omeros. All the actors represented the ethnic racial mix that gives the Caribbean such handsome men and stunningly beautiful women, except for Helen, who was white and a dazzling blonde. The wolf whistles when she appeared on stage halted the performance for several minutes.

When I later got a job as Caribbean rep for Oxford University Press, I visited Castries each year. At that time, St Lucia’s capital Castries was a sleepy little town of wooden houses with verandas covered in flowering vines and fishing boats rocking gently in the harbour. But hopefully deep down, old St Lucia remains.

What I’ve been reading:

The Magician by Colm Toibin. Having read German at University I was intrigued to come across this book about Thomas Mann, who was a giant in German literature in the early twentieth century. The Irish writer tells the tale of Thomas Mann’s life and career with great lucidity and deftness. Although recounting actual political and biographical events, the book moves like a thriller and satisfies like a well thought through novel. It is at the same time a chronicle of a family and a nation as they pass from Imperial certainties, through the excitement and instability of the Weimar Republic, and finally become overshadowed by the darkness and madness of the Third Reich. In my view: a good and satisfying read.

The light from the stone by Richard Kipling. Richard is one of the Rhosygilwen novelists. This book tells the story of Daniel. Daniel sets out at the beginning of the book with an orthodox Christian view of reality. This is shattered when both his parents are killed in a car accident and all security is whipped away from him. Daniel then takes on the purely rationalist world-views of science from the university mentors and teachers of his chosen field, biology. Attempting to follow the logic of science in personal relationships, Daniel comes a cropper. Confused, he heads for the hills and retreats into nature. But while he is away a deadly pandemic overtakes mankind. Daniel becomes a Traveller. He is thrown into a spiritual quest to unveil the innermost secrets of the heart and the cosmos. Considering the book has come out now and was being written over the last three or four years, it is eerily prescient. It contains some wonderful lyrical yet precise descriptions of nature, and is ultimately uplifting.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/light-stone-Richard-Kipling/dp/191645321X/ref=sr_1_1?crid=FYFAP81VQT11&keywords=the+light+from+the+stone&qid=1648321753&s=books&sprefix=the+light+from+the+stone%2Cstripbooks%2C61&sr=1-1
Publisher’s site link: https://www.cambriabooks.co.uk/product/the-light-from-the-stone/

I leave you with a touching little poem by Annie Butler of the Penfro Poets.

that might be human

this morning as they venture out

an unexpected gap

nothing matters more than not being seen

everything

wrapped in a cot blanket carried in her arms

her womb still bleeding

and I hope they will return one day

snow on their boots , an old song clear in their minds

their singing, uninterrupted.

AMB 13th March ‘22

So folks that’s it for this newsletter!

Affordable art exhibition at Easter

There will be an art exhibition of local art groups at Rhosygilwen from 14th to 24th April.

See website: www.rhosygilwen.co.uk for details.

The hanging fees for this exhibition are being donated to Ty Hafan: the Children’s Hospice in Wales. Some of the artists will be donating proceeds from their sales to charities for Ukraine.

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