Writings from the Sand Volume 2: the collected works of Isabelle Eberhardt, edited by Marie-Odile Delacour and Jean-Rene Huleu
Book review of volume 2 of Eberhardt’s travels and life in North Africa at the turn of the twentieth-century. Available from Taylor and Francis online. For a free copy email me here.
Documenting Black Women’s Political Activism
This article published in the The London LGBT Almanac 2nd Edition. traces the development of black LBT women’s political consciousness from 1980s Britain to the present. The London LGBT Almanac 2nd Edition is a uniquely designed print publication with new research findings and original creative essays, visual art, photography, and poetry from acclaimed photographers and diverse contributors. The London LGBT Almanac 2nd Edition has made headlines and received excellent reviews –Just £34.99 or £24.99 concession, with all proceeds going to support the charity centred. Just email email@example.com
“The historic Italian capital of Rome provides the backdrop to this short film featuring Orwell Prize-winning writer, academic and broadcaster Delia Jarrett-Macauley and Rome-based Italian writer and illustrator Roberto Recchioni.
Exploring the city, they talk about the effect location has on their writing, and how Rome was utilised in Shakespeare’s works Antony and Cleopatra, Titus Andronicus, Coriolanus and Julius Caesar to explore themes of love, people, power and the city”. This is part of 8 short films by the British Council to celebrate their Shakespeare Lives programme.
I am posted this not just because Delia is a good friend but also because it reminds me of my many walks in Mexican cities particularly Queretaro!
I currently give talks across London on nineteenth-century women travel writers’ views on slavery; in addition on prominent black female travellers and writers of the same period like Mary Prince and Nancy Prince who went to Britain and Russia respectively.
I am developing talks on the following questions:
How glaucoma affects the African Caribbean community?
How mindfulness can aid recovery from loss and bereavement?
Earlier this year I was asked if I’d like to take part in an intergenerational creative project called Spirit of Resistance which explores the life and legacy of World War Two blind French resistance leader, Jacques Lusseyran. The project marks the tenth anniversary of Extant’s ground breaking play: Resistance.
All the participants met in workshop style gathering for ten weeks. We discussed our understanding of resistance and resilience together with our experiences of visual impairment. We worked with various media and art forms i.e. recorded interviews, creative writing and, music. The content of the workshops were varied from handling objects from World War 1 and 2 like a helmet and shrapnel provided by the Imperial War museum and writing a group poem. The result was a ‘Spirit of Resistance Sharing event’ which took place on 18th June Stratford Circus Arts Centre.
I was attracted to the project because we would have the opportunity to work with various art forms, and as I am a writer, I thought I’d take the opportunity to use my skill. At the first workshop, we all talked about our experience of facing life with a visual impairment and what the words ‘resistance’ and ‘resilience’, meant to us. As I looked around the room, I had my usual thoughts when in the company of others with what I thought of as more serious eye conditions or states of vision than myself. I thought ‘I shouldn’t be here’, ‘I can see well enough’. ‘I just have a small problem with my eyes’. These insecurities emerged over a number of years when my own journey of ‘resilience’ began. I cultivated a steely exterior to deal with the sudden loss of peripheral vision in my right eye, and a subsequent eye operation which left my sight unstable for one year. I thought ‘I should just get on with it. I am lucky not to have lost sight in both eyes!’ However, as the workshops went on, I realised I was very much in the right place and any anxieties soon faded, especially as it was stressed right at the beginning that this was a safe space and we should only share what we felt comfortable with.
During the workshops I was asked to interview some of the older participants about their experience of resistance and resilience. One woman talked about being evacuated from London; and another that of being a prisoner of war in Poland who was moved from camp to camp. They both stressed that their familiarity of resistance gave them the tools to cope with sight loss in later life. Although loss of vision robbed them of the ability to do valuable hobbies and tasks, their struggles in earlier life equipped them with assets that helped them, like me, ‘to just get on with it’! One woman talked about missing embroidery but instead listened to talking books. Another talked about going to her Member of Parliament so she would receive the right injections for her eye condition! As I interviewed these two women I gained an awareness of my own sight loss journey. Although we were distinct by nationality and age, we developed similar coping strategies.
In my own interview I drew parallels with growing up in a migrant family and coping with life in 1970s London. My family had to deal with not just travelling miles to a new country, but once here, with racism and struggles with employment. We all three discussed how much maternal strength played a part in our lives and gifted us with the durability we all felt.
All the participants discussed the difficulties that living with sight loss brings from travel, to lack of confidence when talking to people if you cannot see their faces. We all wholeheartedly agreed that being asked meaningless questions in daily life for example: ‘how much can you see? How long have you been like this? ‘You don’t look blind’ was really frustrating! We all received a mixture of pathos, pity and ridicule from people on the street to friends, and health care professionals. I was therefore very happy when Jules Tipton the facilitator for the project decided to incorporate questions we were asked into the Sharing event.
During the workshops I drew parallels with my experience of loss through death and how much the grieving from this helped with that of sight loss. As someone said ‘loss is just loss no matter what it is and you have to grieve’. This comment reminds me of the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem Spring and Fall where he wrote about the similarity between age and loss, spring being youth and autumn seen as ageing. This is such a beautiful way of writing about loss. I’ve also chosen the medium of poetry to express loss and I read a poem entitled Grief.
At the end of the workshops we discussed how valuable we found the opportunity to share our experiences. Personally, the Spirit of Resistance helped me to rediscover the confidence I’d lost after losing sight; but more importantly I learnt from some of the wonderful people I met that this loss is immense and it takes at courage to even begin to deal with it.
Amelia Murray was so enthralled by the horizon on board the Halifax on her way to Canada that she turned to art to enliven her reactions. Women travellers were often very knowledgeable about art and artists. Some women sketched and painted whilst abroad and some even travelled specifically to pursue their love of art. Marianne North’s botantical drawings, which are held at Kew, are one example of art merged with extensive travel. Below I’d like to share my experiences of an art holiday I took in France last year. On this holiday it gradually dawned on me why women felt that, whilst abroad, they could explore and expand their artistic talents. Having the space and time to draw, paint and sketch was amazing and I found myself doing the same thing. I returned to London after a week with chalk drawings, collage, sketches and a half filled sketch book! A true lady traveller!
“Last summer I travelled from Poitiers by train to Angouleme a town famous for its annual comic festival. On the way to Chateauneuf-sur-Charent, the small town where I would spend 7 days on a painting course, I saw fields of sunflowers and miles of vines. The natural light was startling, and I immediately understood why so many French artists painted the landscape.
Firstly we experimented with water colour by making nebulous colour wheels; then we used collage to make sketches and paintings. Overall, we used the wonderful nineteenth-century painted house as inspiration.
The most challenging task for me was finding a composition showing a door through a door. I couldn’t get the dimensions right and swapping between spectacles wasn’t working – I became frustrated. That I cannot always see detail frustrates me but in my art it’s not important there’s always a solution. Eventually I relaxed and looked for the blocks of colour and the dark and light tones. So as I shaded in the darkest objects, I made a whole drawing.
Making wet on wet was also interesting – I wetted thick water colour paper and drew on top with watercolour paint and pencils. An elderly lady passer-by said of my paintings “yes they pass the time don’t they?” Although I like to think I did more than just ‘pass the time’ it was in some ways true. My holiday went by quickly, the brilliant light came and went and before I knew it I was back at Poitiers airport with my symbol cane which saw nothing of France for 7 days.”
Interested in reading more about my experiences of travelling with a visual impairment in London and beyond? Check out my regular blog posts on Living Paintings Blog
The Honourable Amelia Murray, the subject of my talk on Monday night at Paddington library, reminded me of something important – when is it too late to go travelling?
Murray travelled at age 59, as my research has shown travelling over 40 was unusual for women. Travelling alone, as she did, was even rarer. So I am reminded as someone who is not so far off from that grand age that it is never too late to go wandering. As Tolkien said ‘Not all those who wander are lost’. This conjures up images of us all wandering aimlessly but I don’t think this is what Tolkien meant or what I propose. Murray’s journey was certainly not aimless – it was a well thought out trip to Canada, the United States and Cuba by steam ship in 1854. But whilst reading her letters, I did question why she waited so late in life to take such a big trip was she searching for something more than her life at Queen Victoria’s court? When I travelled at 39 to Mexico, I thought I was having an early mid life crisis, but it was there I decided my interest in travel was more than just that..it was an unquenchable obsession! Perhaps in travelling, writing and publishing her letters, Murray realised the same thing.
Today I had a sharp reminder about my process of writing on the history of travel -how formulaic it is, even predictable. I was stressing about completing a piece of work then after looking at all I had written I thought, I am there. When writing, I am constantly trying to fit pieces in at random, almost in the dark. then I get stuck – quite a few times, throw pieces in and more often than not, get lost completely. I liken the end piece to a huge scaffold or a building covered with scaffold – lots inside. This process was a familiar feeling. I remember when I was writing my thesis, I got to a stage when I thought I would never stop writing draft after draft. Would it ever be right? Now after several more drafts and articles I am aware that I know when I am there in other words when to stop! I feel writing about travel is like gathering materials for my building covered in scaffold. Often when I am writing about a person who has travelled somewhere there is so much to consider where they are from, where they went, what’s the historical backdrop – as my history teacher used to say.