Armchair Travel: Lecco, Italy #2

At the Lido

At the Lido

A swan circles in close patrolling the lido steps.

A white haired Italian lady arrives early shaking her towel and announcing her desire to ‘take the sun’ today.

There are couples who come only for a quick photo. One that turns into takes and re-takes smiling only when they push the button.

A paddle board glides across the water; silent as if appearing out of the last of the morning mist. Two teenage girls sit cross legged on top tossing their long hair and giggling. There is a third younger girl sat on the very end of the board her legs moving in the water. Her only job is to paddle the newly found sophistication of the others around the lake. Her face is upturned to the sky, eyes closed and smile wide.

Women wear bathers not bikinis here.

There is a loud cheer for the first person to jump from the lido into the promising green water of the lake. It is a woman and her euphoria disappears when she realises the great task of getting herself from the lapping water back onto the wooden jetty. Everyone looks away as she hoists herself up onto one of the vertical jetty poles, clambering and turning like a bad dancer.

Bombastic boys bask in the best days of their youth; they arrive noisily but no one minds as they shove and shout to each other their energy reminding us of what it was like in those golden days. They whip off t-shirts and shorts but there in their trunks the jostling stops as they wonder who will be bravest to jump in first.

The swan returns circling carefully and watching the action for food or danger.

The morning mist takes leave of the water and returns it to the turquoise of daytime.

Then a splash, the natural order of things meant the best looking of the boys dived in first feeling the pressure of his group and not wanting to lose his place. His entry is met with jubilant whoops and cries of delight from his gang. The other sunbathers smile indulgently. Four boys follow him like bullets and leave only their largest friend on the side still cheering loudly but unwilling to jump.

The colours roll green and grey from the mountains through terracota rooftops and down to the emerald green of the water.

The boys use their large friend to jump easily out of the water pulled up by his great height. His smile is wide this time. They settle in for sunbathing. All is peaceful.

The lake retains a stillness and only a large boat cruising in the distance makes the water lap hurriedly against the wood of the lido.

The paddle board enters from the other side this time. The silver haired lady chuckles as the boys’ heads bob up in a line. The younger sister this time steals the limelight by managing a standing dive into the water. The two sisters scrabble to follow her, trying desperately to keep their hair out of the water; false laughter covering their irritation.

The nonchalant gaze of the boys wills the girls to swim over to the lido. The circles between the girls and the lido as if warning them off. The older girls scrabble aboard pulling their younger sister up only to push her off again cruelly. But she is fearless, untouchable in her connection with the lake and simply glides alongside them; a smiling mermaid.

One by one the bathers leave the afternoon heat for a shady lunch somewhere.

When all is quiet the swan makes her final circle of the lido; a soloist waiting for her applause.

© Carys Shannon, September 2020. 

Armchair Travel: Lecco, Italy

By the Lakeside

This is the first post in a series called Armchair Travel. It’s not a travel guide or a list of ‘must do’ things; it is simply the photos I took interspersed with the notes that I wrote in my notebook.

By the Lakeside:

“I am at the lakeside watching the clouds rise and roll over the high peaks set over the greenish water. There is peace here. Quietude. The sense of being in the company of others much older than I – the cliffs; those sentinels; eternal observers; guardians of the lake perhaps? Last night the lake was celestial. Water like liquid silver with a heavy mist hanging over every upright shape; transforming them; softening everything into pastel colours. There must be legends here, there is too much magic for a human mind not to have been driven deep into its own imagination.

How many people have sat here, at this lakeside, over thousands of years? How many people have watched the clouds, felt the freshness of a breeze over the water, the steady presence of the rock? And before that? What has lived here, thrived, died and decayed? And why do we feel the need to set ourselves so much apart from that? Is it our collective fear of death? That which makes us cling to life, to our possessions, to what we think we can control… I wish we used the word ancestor more.”

© Carys Shannon, September 2020. 

Notes from a Pandemic: The City

Birds. I heard birds in the city centre for the first time as I woke on day two of the quarantine here. Not just the odd caw that we hear off our balcony when the pigeons are preparing for the day or coming home to roost on the abandoned building opposite, but a full symphony of birds making their morning calls to each other. It was beautiful.

Anyone who has ever been to Andalucía will know that one thing you cannot get away from here is the noise. It’s not bad noise, but a low level hum and thrum of life; of animated conversations, traffic, shutters going up and down, glasses and plates clinking in bars, the odd moto piercing your ears, children and dogs. A cacophony of life. It’s both reassuring, you certainly don’t feel alone here, and also overwhelming, especially at times like Easter or Feria when most of the city is in the street at all hours. We live in the centre of this city and sometimes it grates but it’s a small price to pay to live a really good life.

View of the city centre at breakfast time.

The absence of noise on that first morning after quarantine began was both peaceful and surreal. Andalucía is its people; the warmth and life of the city; an unstoppable energy that goes to bed at 2am and can get up again at 7am. I’m often in awe of people’s stamina and the insatiable need to be with other people outside; in bars, cafés, terraces, parks – life here is lived outdoors.

So, taking the majority of people off the street over these last nine days – the absence of noise is noticeable and has added a lovely peace to the quarantine. But there are moments. Moments for people to express themselves outside – on our balconies at 8pm we all go out to applaud the workers that cannot stay at home. It is jubilant. I’ve seen neighbours in the surrounding flats who I’ve never met but now smile and wave at every evening.  Living in a city is sociable but you tend to have ‘your’ places, the café or bar for breakfast, the fruit shop, market, the neighbours in your building, the bar below you; it’s possible to be greeting people all day here. Yet, all those faces on the balconies are unfamiliar to me. I’ve been wondering if we’ll recognise each other in the street after all this (if we’re lucky enough to make it that far.)

These balconies are filled with people applauding at 8pm .

The atmosphere has also been subdued. We’re all scared and unsure. But slowly an untameable spirit is coming back – the applause at 8pm  has got longer each day followed by emotional shouts of ¡Viva! and ¡Viva España! There is solidarity. A sense of being in it together. Today I heard friends shouting from the street to a balcony; there was joy in those words; the jaleo and buzz won’t be away for long.

But what about the silence? I have heard owls at night too and this morning a blackbird was perched on the terrace singing. It hypnotised me for a few minutes – I’ve never seen one on the balcony before; in the park yes but not in the city. And that is what’s happening in so many places – nature is taking steps towards us. An entire flock of geese waddled across the Arenal bridge today and were uploaded to social media. We hear the canals in Venice are clearing. What other beauty is there to come from our absence? How long will it take for the concrete to start greening and will anyone really want to stop it?

Cats enjoying the peace and sun in Parque Orive.

It feels like a wonderful secret; that although for the terrible reasons we are at home –  the wilderness is coming back and it doesn’t take long. Can we bear it? To take a moment to breathe in and know that we are not separate from this in the same way that we are not separate from each other? Can we turn towards it knowing what we have done, knowing it isn’t looking to forgive us, simply to envelop us in the net of symbiosis that we have opted out of.

Will we remember to listen in stillness to the birds when we go outside again?


Notes from a Pandemic: The Beginning

It’s day 7 of the national ‘lockdown’ here in Andalucía, Spain. Life changed overnight as the rise in cases of the Covid-19 virus caused the government to act quickly and announce legislation for new national measures to protect citizens and residents.

Even typing that sentence feels surreal. I’ve lived in Andalucía for nearly seven years and I’m lucky enough to call the city of Córdoba my home; yet, I would never have imagined that I would be sat here, having been sent home from my teaching job with all my books and equipment, waiting with my partner to listen to the President’s speech.

A week earlier, my students had been regaling me with stories about the virus. The teen groups were especially scandalous and no sooner would they sit down in the classroom than they’d all want to start talking about the latest news they’d read or heard. They were excited, something was happening somewhere and they’d all had new mobile for Christmas so now they could follow the news; but at that point it was still far away enough for it to be the kind of threat they were so used to seeing in films and series, one that wouldn’t touch them. How did we all get so naive?  A capitalist system of growth, growth, sell, sell, pushes us all on and gives this false idea that if we all have things, if we all have work, if we can all have all the conveniences that we desire, if we are all productive and striving then – what could touch us? Now we have the answer.

And we are all at once so human that we are forced to recognise our fragility and for most of us this is terrifying.

The mood here in Spain is one of social responsibility, #quedateencasa was quick to appear on social networks. The President talked of solidarity, unity and collaboration. There is a large police and military resource here to enforce the new legislations should it be needed, although generally people are scared and seem happy enough to be at home if they can (People who aren’t able to work at home and frontline workers are still going to work) I’m very ‘happy’ to be at home and lucky to be able to continue teaching online for the moment at least. No one knows where this crisis will lead us but there is a definite mood here which is – we’re all in it together – and that is reassuring.

We’re all learning things each day as the quarantine continues; whether it’s how to navigate your family relationships, hearing birds in the city for the first time or deciding what is the difference between needing and wanting something. There are lots of online posts about the earth needing this break, Venice’s canals are running clear, people are finding time to switch off and reconnect. We use stories to make meaning and we need some meaning right now.

I thought I’d start this blog series #notesfromapandemic to reflect on being here in a flat in Córdoba with my partner and two cats in the middle of a pandemic; of being scared and yet at the same time having normality and more quiet time; and all the thoughts and feelings that this throws up. I’d love for it to become a conversation with other people about what we are all feeling and thinking; what we are afraid of and how we’re dealing with it; what’s different and what’s the same and what this means on a human level for us all.  If you feel like talking  – leave a comment – write a response – what we have at the moment is connection.

Wishing you all good health,

Stay safe and calm.

Carys x

I’m Listening A Case for Empathy by Carys Shannon 2013