Thursday, 31 May 2007

A Little Political Agitation

I wrote this article last summer for Charles Hugh Smith in San Francisco for his excellent blog Oftwominds. So why am I adding it here? Because following my last visit to the Basque Country I see that things never change, so it’s worth a reminder!

July 17, Hendaye, Basque Country. As I sit here the outside temperature hovers between 95 and 105°F, probably the highest ever recorded in the Basque Country, a region straddling the Spanish-French border, known for its mild and often wet, temperate, North Atlantic climate. To the Spanish side, the Basque Country is an autonomous region called Euskual Herria, politically part of the Spanish Republic, to the French side it has no political status - to the great chagrin of the Basques - other than through its long history and traditions.

I normally spend two or three months a year here, relaxing by the sea, walking in the nearby green hills and mountains, eating the local specialities: tapas, Jamon Iberico and drinking Rioja wine. Recently, however, I cannot but help noticing that things are changing, and changing fast, faster than I could have ever before imagined.

In the background a continuous TV news channel reports alarming news from the Lebanon, which, perhaps strangely, does not seem to concern the tens of thousands of holiday makers sunning themselves on the long sandy beaches of Hendaye, that is apart from the fact that here the price of gasoline has risen to almost 8 dollars a gallon at the pump, a price that would cause a revolution in California.

Hendaye is a town with a population of approximately 15,000 permanent residents during the most part of the year, but which rises to about 80,000 at the peak of the summer. Locally, property prices have now reached astronomical heights, rivalling those of Paris, 500 miles to the north, and Madrid, 300 miles to the south. These prices reflect the general property bubble in a good number of the so called developed countries.

Why such property prices in Hendaye, this small unimportant town in the south west extremity of France? Ever since the disappearance of borders in the European Union, Hendaye has become an attractive residential area for a certain number of Spaniards from the prosperous neighbouring towns in the area between Irun and San Sebastian, said to be the smartest Spanish seaside resort, only a little over ten miles from Hendaye. They have mostly acquired second homes, but many also first homes. This is mainly due to the lack of availability of apartments on the more densely populated Spanish side of the border, plus the facility of the San Sebastian rapid transit system, the last station of its northern branch being situated on the Hendaye side of the border, allowing them to commute to their work places in and around San Sebastian from their new homes on the French side of the border.

In the space of ten years or so the Spanish population in Hendaye has risen to reach almost one third of the total population, a not unwelcome change to a previously pleasant but economically fading town. This situation has led to galloping property speculation and the development of infrastructure projects to meet the needs of the burgeoning population. This infrastructure need includes an ecologically doubtful, large scale, urban garbage incinerator just a few miles to the south of Hendaye and the Spanish city of Irun.

The municipality of Hendaye is part of what is called the ‘Consortio’, that is to say a cross border administrative structure made up of three adjacent municipalities, the other two being the cities of Irun and Fuenterrabia with populations of 100,000 and 10,000 respectively. Fuentarabia is an old and picturesque coastal town facing the Hendaye boat marina, it lies on the southern side of the Bidasoa River, with its magnificent Cathedral and Alcazar built to defend Spain against France in the 16th century. The general atmosphere has an odour of speculation, ranging from property to for example the extension of the small San Sebastian Airport that lies in the magnificent Xingudy Bay, which is surrounded by the foothills of the Pyrenees. For decades the airport, the single runway of which juts into the bay under the shadow of the Jaizkibel, and just a couple of hundred yards or so short of Ile des Oiseaux, a transit point for migratory birds, has been the point of arrival and departure of just a dozen daily commercial flights, the majority of which are relatively silent turboprops. Ambitious politicos and businessmen envisage the extension runway more than half a mile into the bay to facilitate the arrival of big jets, transforming this landscape of extraordinary beauty into another polluted industrial-transport zone.

Even the small park with its hundred year old plane trees I can see across the road from me, bequeathed in trust to the town by its long defunct owners, is in the course of being transformed into a superfluous play park, with more than its fair share of concrete. On a much larger scale the one hundred and fifty year old Paris-Madrid railroad line that runs through a deep cutting in the centre of the town is in the course of being covered by a monumental concrete platform, three or four hundred yards long by almost one hundred wide, a construction site more in line with an airport terminal building than the foundations for a 450 apartments condo, complete with shops and a parking facility, conceived on a totally speculative basis. This will increase the total number of residential units in Hendaye by not far off ten percent. And this is just one of the projects!

Our elected representatives tell us all these changes are needed for growth, for jobs, to encourage development. I ask myself what will they do for an encore when the current projects are completed in a year or two. Will the cycle start again? Then again and again? Where will it led us? Do we need these changes, changes that indirectly influence the course of events in other parts of the world, the struggle for resources, oil, minerals, water, space, changes in the climate, and a future when we will see more and more summers with temperatures in the order of 100°F.

copyright © 2006 John Francis Kinsella. All rights reserved in all media.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Evolving novel forms

Printed novels in the past have always been outdated by the events that form a background to the story or even the subject itself. Today Lulu prints books by order, even one at a time, thus the writer can update events when they change in the real world.
My book The Prism was written in the early nineties, the story is set in a forseeable, not too distant future in Paris, and the background, which is essential to the story, explains how the world arrived where it does in the book.
This required some creative foresight, today however it is clear that world events as then imagined did not quite take the path as seen in the cristal ball 15 years ago, example: the war in Iraq, Iran, China, or the exansion of the European Union, and of course the Twin Towers. So a little re-writing would have been nice from time to time. Today that rewriting can take place in real time as readers buy books on Lulu, with background events being re-edited from time to time as changes take place, though the fundementals of the story do not.
The title of the book is The Prism and this was chosen because the future can take different paths as seen through a prism. Today real events show how this in fact really takes place, how images reflect differently as we watch them. In spite of this concept being complicated it gives form to a new kind of continuous novel, where parallel paths and parallel worlds can be compared.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Sibelius 2007 Anniversary

Half a century after his death in 1957, Jean Sibelius remains the dominant icon of Finnish classical music and a great figure in global terms. His popular seven symphonies are re-recorded and performed regularly in Finland and across the world, and works such as Kullervo, Finlandia and The Swan of Tuonela.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Jean Sibelius - a biography

I am nearing the end of a 1,102 page marathon - the translation from French into English of Marc Vignal's huge and deeply interesting biography of the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Like a marathon it is a lonely task. The difference is when the race is won there is no glory. When a musician or an conductor interpretes a piece of music he is appluaded, it is a noble undertaking, when a literary work is interpreted, more than a year's effort in this particular case, it goes unremarked, the translators name tucked away on some inner page. This is not a complaint but an evidence for those interested in writing and its lesser but ncessary companion; translation.
Sibelius lived to the age of 90, an important achievement for great artists, even though his last decades were unproductive. I will be writing more of this on my site
What does translation give a writer? Firstly, there is the negative aspect since it takes up his own creative time. Secondly however, it stimulates his own creative ideas and hones his own skills. Translating is the most intense form of reading, each word, each line, each paragraph is analysed. This is especially the case in a biography where spoken words and facts count.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Jean Sibelius

‘Set your sights high – such is the challenge of life. Learn to do it if it is not innate, such is the objective of life’
Jean Sibelius 6 January 1944

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Offshore Islands

The ideas contained in this book come from several different experiences in the different locations cited in the story, namely: France, Ireland, England Scotland, Texas, Mexico, Florida, Guadeloupe, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Russia. The story is woven together through the trials and tribulations of the different protagonists based on real and imaginary events in any case changed to protect those concerned (not the least myself). You may say that its a complicated way to go about writing a story? I don't think so because as I mentioned these incidents are based on my own experience. We write about what happens to us, what goes through our minds and what our imaginations invent.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Borneo Pulp

This is the story of how modern industry has been eating into the Indonesian rainforest at an ever increasing rate. It shows how little people really care, behind all the good words of government and business there is only one objective - money! It's not surprising, but there is also a question of employment for 200 million Indonesians. OK you say they should live simply, why not! First you try it on a dollar a day! Starting out each morning without a cent in your pocket.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Today in Paris

One question that concerns all writers, whatever their subject, be it fiction or otherwise, is how to publish their work. Nothing is more galling than to spend a year or more writing - I know of an archaeologist who spent ten years writing his work - then being unable to find a publisher. Publishers received mountains of manuscripts everymorning, most of these go with no more than a glance to pulp, which reminds me, have you read my noval 'Borneo Pulp'?
I used (note the past tense) all kinds of solutions to get my books into print, most of them laborious or unsatisfactory not to speak of costly. Finally I discovered founded in 2002 by Bod Young. Lulu permits any writer to have his work published regardless of the number of copies without heavy expenses on the basis of a given fixed price for each copy. This is nothing short of miraculous for all those writers who have spend years trying to be heard and trying to penetrate the inpenetrable world of publishing! This is not a criticism of publishing, which is today, more than ever, a business.

About Lulu is changing the world of publishing by enabling the creators of books, video, periodicals, multimedia and other content to publish their work themselves with complete editorial and copyright control. Lulu empowers these individuals and corporations to create high quality content products to sell directly to their customers and the rest of the marketplace. With storefronts provided as well as other marketing assistance, creators are fully supported to profit from their work. With Lulu offices in the U.S., Canada and Europe, Lulu customers can reach the globe.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Visit to Batang Ai

The first inspiration came during a visit to Batang Ai in Sarawak a few years ago when I had the opportunity to explore the rivers leading to the interior and visit the Longhouses of the Dayaks or Ibans. After arrival in the Kuching I visited the Sarawak Museum where I was especially attracted to the history of the Dayaks and their head hunting past illustrated by photos taken in the early part of the twentieth century. The museum presented the Iban way of life with a Longhouse rebuilt within the museum decorated with the every artifacts of used by its dwellers, including baskets of skulls, trophies of head hunring expeditions, which continued until the end of World War II. I was fascinated by these and the ancient human history of Borneo when the ancestors of the Dyaks arrived. I asked myself what they had found, or rather who they had found on arrival. From past visits to Indonesia and more specifically Solo the home of the fossil of Pithicanthropus erectus, discovered in Java by Eugene Dubois, I knew that very early man had lived in the region. This led me to wonder if Erectus had lived in Borneo, which was once part of a vast emerged region called Sundland when the level of the seas was much lower.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

The Lost Forest

I am a writer, I have not always been a writer. For many years I have travelled around the world meeting unusual people and visiting strange places all of which have left different impressions on me. I have always found these experiences interesting and even exciting, worth telling to other people. But how do you do that? The most evident way is to write a book, but books of memoirs are mostly uninteresting. So in my different books I have built themes around these different events. My most recent book is 'The Lost Forest' and in this blog I will explain where the ideas used came from and how I wove them together to invent a story that is otherwise entirely from my imagination.