Refugee Blues

Today I post a poem by WH Auden. It was written in 1939.

Refugee Blues

 

Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us.

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you’ll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew;
Old passports can’t do that, my dear, old passports can’t do that.

The consul banged the table and said:
‘If you’ve got no passport, you’re officially dead';
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go today, my dear, but where shall we go today?

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said:
‘If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread';
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.

Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
It was Hitler over Europe, saying: ‘They must die';
We were in his mind, my dear, we were in his mind.

Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
But they weren’t German Jews, my dear, but they weren’t German Jews.

Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.

Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren’t the human race, my dear, they weren’t the human race.

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors;
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.

 

Back in 2010 when I was asking for sins to carry, one of my sinners gave me this:

As you know I’m passionate about racism and human rights and still carry anger (a sin?) towards John Howard & Philip Ruddock for the damage they did to refugees and to our country’s soul. I would like to know that I am funding part of your pilgrimage as an attempt to walk off some of this damage….repair our country’s soul.

I thought of my sinner this morning, as I heard one of our politicians, Judi Moylan, calling for her party members – and their leader – to engage in bi-partisan conversations about the issue of “boat people”. It made me pause to wonder…

What if we spoke of “desperate people” rather than “boat people”? What if our politicians actually talked to each other in the coming days instead of continuing their usual bickering and point-scoring? What if in their conversations they could find a way to compassionately and quickly process the applications of people seeking refuge on our shores?

What if a poem like this never had to be written again?

 

Housekeeping notes.

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Gracias.

Gratitude.

Always.

The coming of the Duchess

This post has nothing to do with walking, but a lot to do with SINS!

Today I went to see a rehearsal of The Duchess of Malfi. Lust, murder and poetry!

Hugh Colman and I adapted John Webster’s astonishing and lurid script, and this production is being directed by John Bell. It will open at the Opera House on July 11th. If you click on this link, you can see the trailer!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=bgy-GkSQ7Mk

And if you click on the next link, you can meet the cast.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OC3n8NDSH2U

I think I will just say that I am bursting with excitement and can’t wait for opening night. This is a master class in sinning – and theatre.

And for something completely different!

The Fairfax papers in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane published a little Q and A with me in their Traveller section. You can read it here. Another link!

http://www.theage.com.au/travel/frequent-flyer-ailsa-piper-20120621-20q67.html

Thanks to Robert Upe for the fun questions.

 

Friends, amigos, compañeros…

“Oh, no. We’re just friends…”

I overheard that while standing in a queue this week, and it struck me as odd. We’ve come to accept that “just friends” means “not romantically linked”, but when I reflected on the words, I felt a bit sad.

JUST friends?

I think friendship is the sustaining force in any relationship, romantic or otherwise, and to be called “friend” is praise of the highest order.

As someone who is lucky to have many remarkable, conscious, supportive relationships, I could never put a qualifier like “just” before the word “friend”. My friends – and they include family – are precious beyond words. And I have never been more grateful for them than in recent times.

 

Democracy in the street

Compañero

Like amigo, it can mean “friend”, but for me compañero has many resonances. Separating it into its component parts, we get “one with whom you break bread”, so there is a faintly religious overtone when I hear it – loaves and fishes, brotherhood of man.

I associate it with my camino compañero, who first taught it to me, and whose life is defined by serving others, by sitting in the poorest of places, breaking bread and listening.

These days, I think of our word “comrade” when I hear “compañero“. In particular, I remember the young indignados – those who were calling for change back when I was in Spain, long before the Occupy movement had begun. They were peaceful, courteous and respectful, but they were warning of problems ahead, and of the loss of possibility and hope, months before politicians were prepared to confront the issues head-on.

In Santiago, I marvelled as they graffitied a slogan on a bank. They didn’t paint onto the walls, but rather, they attached large sheets of paper on which they had written their protests, not wanting to damage the building.

I think of them often, wondering about their future, and how precarious it must feel now.

Companions. Comrades.

I hope they have friendship to sustain them.

 

Words on a wall

This was written in El Raval, in Barcelona. It’s a translation from Brecht.

WAYS TO KILL
There are many ways to kill
They can stick a knife in your guts
Take away your bread
Not cure your illness
Put you into bad living conditions
Torture you to death through work
Take you to war etc.
Only a few of these things are forbidden in our city

I don’t know who wrote it, but they missed out a line: Empujarte al suicidio…

Drive you to suicide…

I hear such sadness from Spain just now – friends, pilgrims, newspaper reports, television. I hear it from Greece and Ireland too.

I also hear resilience and courage. Stoicism and humour.

I hope they are able to take some strength from friendship, camaraderie and family. I hope that they will continue to have bread to break. I hope that we who currently have much will be able to remember our luck, and help where we can.

I hope that I can be more than JUST a friend…

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Gracias, amigos.

 

Credo…

It means “I believe.”

Not something to proclaim without thought, but there most definitely are things in which I do have faith.

I believe in the power of forgiveness to transform, in the ache to be better, and the impulse to serve.

I believe in the wispy promise of mornings like this one, when the fog lifted itself to reveal a fierce, determined sun.

I believe in confession with all my heart, telling the true story of ourselves, eye to eye with another human being.

I believe our stories shape our lives, so the more honest we are in those stories, the more freedom we will gain.

I believe in personal accountability, staring down my self in the personal mirror that is an unflinching and constant observer.

I worship in churches where silence prevails: barren plains, rocky hilltops, burnt-out forests and squelching paddocks. Places where the hush of humility has fallen.

I believe in kindness. I believe in kindness. I believe in kindness.

And in the goodness that wants to prevail.

I know there is nothing more sacred to me than the act of putting one foot down on a dusty road, and then putting down the other.

Again and again.

For as long as it takes.

Turning up and doing the work.

And I know that the work never ends.

 

I know there is beauty in effort.

I believe in betterment via example.

I know snails are gurus.

I know that via example!

I know we are all connected, whether we like it or not, and we owe it to this astonishing planet, and those we hope might come after, to acknowledge that fact in our actions as well as our words.

I believe in possibility over certainty.

I believe in the hope of rain on parched soil. When I smell that unmistakeable waft, I am reminded that miracles have occurred, and that they will again.

Paso a paso. Step by step.

That’s my mantra. My rosary.

And “buen camino” is the prayer I make for you.

The wish.

Good road. Good way. Good path.

May it find you, especially on the hard days…

Those pictures were taken on a long walk last Sunday along the Great Dividing Trail and back toward Glenlyon, near Daylesford, in Victoria. Country that makes my heart sing. Thanks to all those who came along to the Glenlyon General Store for the Tapas night. It was a celebration of the warmth of community amid the chill of a goldfields winter night. Gracias Tania and David – and all in that humming kitchen.

Gracias, gracias, gracias.

Gratitude is another prayer…

Overland

Last Sunday I talked walking on ABC Radio’s Australia All Over, and was reminded of the brilliant walking opportunities we have down under. This post is by way of a reminder that we don’t have to go to Spain to make a camino, or to be a pilgrim.

Back in the summer of 2009, I walked the Overland Track in Tasmania with five friends. We had blistering heat and snowdrifts, wallabies and platypus, chocolate and saffron, and adventures with camp stoves.

We had our breath taken away by vast vistas and miniscule insects.

It was a week of Australian wonders.

Do it if you get the chance.

Here’s a mosaic. Little images of big country.

 

               

Thanks Carl NP for your photos.

And for the miles of walking wonders we have shared.

 

Hot off the presses!

A review/write-up of the book on the Taste For Travel website. Click here. Do!

http://www.tastefortravel.com.au/blog/8853/walking-a-hard-but-beautiful-1200km-across-spain/

My Life is Japanese

Sydney.

The Opera House.

The Vivid Light Festival.

A combination that enthralled locals and tourists alike, in spite of tonight’s rain. We gasped and clicked away as this projection of a lithe young woman rolled and somersaulted across those famous sails.

Magic.

That’s how this whole visit has felt. It has been a camino of wonders.

I’ve laughed and cried, reminisced and rollicked with friends old and new. I’ve talked sins with the charming Richard Glover on Sydney’s ABC 702. I’ve sat in the dark,  awestruck and mesmerised, at The Clock – a 24 hour film installation at the MCA. I’ve seen two plays – Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Under Milkwood – at the Sydney Theatre Company. Both of them were peopled by actors I know and love, who gave such pleasure. Yesterday I sat in a rehearsal room down in the Rocks and heard a reading of The Duchess of Malfi, the script I adapted with Hugh Colman. Such delight! It was fast, funny, very furious and charged with linguistic energy that ripped off the page in the hands of a gifted cast. I walked out into the evening and saw this bouquet of wonders, dancing over my head in the Argyle Cut….

I wandered down to the harbour, gobsmacked by Sydney’s beauty, and my good fortune. I had that old camino feeling of being connected to every person I saw, grinning into the darkness for sheer wonder at the convergence of miracles. I thought too, of those I love who have been travelling every step with me in my head and heart. My stepfather, who came through his heart operation with flying colours. My friends – two of them – who are in the middle of cancer tests and treatment decisions. And my huge-hearted “landlady” here in Sydney, who is mourning the one-year anniversary of her beloved’s passing…

This poem rolled about in my head. It was given to me by Dennis, a fellow pilgrim – one who is much in my thoughts as he walks a difficult road, just now. I post it here in his honour, and to remind myself of connection. Oneness. We are all walking together. All our lives are Japanese…

Gracias Dennis.

Today

My life is Japanese

My life is Swiss

My life is German

from Munich

Today I am Italian

and French

and the food I eat

is from Spain.

Today I feel

New Zealand-ish

I feel Dutch is

I feel Australian mate

Today I walk in

Comfort Canadienne

A bit of Britain

I sway my arms

In Chekoslovakian

My heart beats with the US

But mostly for today

My life is Japanese.

Dennis’s poem is one of those featured in the ABC’s Sinning Across Spain Poetica programme. If you’d like to hear it, and others that inspired the walk, please click here:
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Buen camino!
Gracias…