Minack Theatre : A Small Wonder In Cornwall

If you were asking me some days ago which is the most spectacular open-air theatre in Europe, probably my answer would be the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens, Greece or the Seebuhne in Lake Constance, Austria  but I didn’t know that there is a third one in the same league as the above! The  Minack(rocky place)  theatre is a really a small wonder  at the far end of Cornwall at Porthcurno, close to Land’s End. A small open-air theatre constructed on a granite cliff and overlooking the spectacular panorama of the Porthcurno bay in the Atlantic ocean. This theatre was the vision  and labour of Rowena Cade  who managed to construct this theatre at the end of her garden with the help of her gardener.  The very first performance, the Tempest was  on 16 August of 1932. The theatre opens between April-September with various performances (see the programme at https://www.minack.com/calendar-2/

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View of the theatre from the top.

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The name of each theatrical performance has been curved on the granite’s seats.

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View from the cafe of Minack Theatre

The place has its own microclimate and the view is beyond imagination. As I was admiring the view (pic. below), the beach with the gold sand and huge waves, one gentleman  next to me told me “I have never imagined that I can experience something like that in England. It seems to me that I’m somewhere in the Continent”.

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Rowena Cade, who lived in Minack House (picture above), decided that the cliffs below her garden would be the perfect setting for a theatre  and over the winter of 1931 and into 1932 she and her gardener, Billy Rawlings, moved endless granite boulders and earth, creating the lower terraces of the theatre, much as they are today”(source at https://www.minack.com/our-history-1)

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Rowena Cadet (1893-1983) an inspiring woman who used her money, labour and influence during a very hard period in Europe (between the two World Wars) and left a remarkable legacy. Sometimes the willpower and determination of an individual can make wonders!

From nothing to something : Anonymous women sequel

As the economic crisis is going from strength to strength, it’s worthwhile to mention some other important social issues that are happening the same time because of that, in a quite paradoxical way. Heterosexuals distance themselves from the institution of marriage giving space to the homosexuals to indulge themselves by tying the knot with their partners. And the foremost weaker sex, the women are  getting ahead with their own issues by moving their campaign to a step further than that of equality and  equal opportunities in the work environment…

In the Western world,  during the month of October, there is a widespread campaign about promoting the issue of Unknown-2women’s leadership. Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook CEO and author of the book ‘Lean in’, has brought the issue on the surface and supports it in every opportunity. Around the globe and in various educational Institutions, there are a lot of happenings, conferences, lectures about  the same topic  “women as  leaders”.

It is obvious that women are learning and moving slowly and steadily to the area of being competitive rather than shuffling around the notion  “just being nice to each other”.

Interestingly, while women are getting ahead and get some important positions, (eg. Lagarde, Merkel) in some industries they are still in the stage of being anonymous. One example is the publishing industry which is traditionally populated by women and targets a bigger audience.

It was quite a long time ago that I was thinking about this phenomenon, but recently an article about Alice Munro sparked Unknownmy interest once again. It was titled “From  a quiet housewife to a Nobel Prize Winner”. As we are saying from “Rags to Riches”, the most appealing topic for storytelling  in the history of  humanity.

Looking more closely at Alice Munro’s biography, it’s worth mentioning that she has started her career as bookstore entepreneur and has continued  by having more than 30 books under her belt and  numerous awards and prizes. But all the above were details for the journalist, he had to assign to his article an attractive title.

Another example is  J.K Rowlings. Her full name was dropped intentionally by using only her initials. Insinuating that  Unknown-1John is more able and acceptable to write a blockbuster best seller fantasy fiction for children but not Joanne.Unknown-3

And another, E.L James who has raised a lot of eyebrows all over the world with her “different” shades … Ho, ho, ho, what a surprise! Who would’ve thought a woman can write another blockbuster “erotic” series of novels. Let’s put only her name’s initials and classified her as housewife, avoiding  her long and established career as producer in the BBC- to enhance audience imagination and inspired them with the idea “from nothing to something”. It goes well with all the marketing package.

Good old Penelope- at least she had an established full name from the start of her career- still  has long way to go!

For Most of History, Anonymous was a Woman

The other day, I had dinner with one of my new friends, a prominent female figure in her country, Kazakhstan. We talked about many things and mostly we were exchanging small information about our past as it happens in every new relationship.

She was telling me stories about her family and images-1how they coped after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence of Kazakhstan from the motherland Russia. She described this period as “the years of starvation”. No jobs,no money,no food.

Interestingly, she mentioned herself and her sister as the main force of rescuing her family. They went out to find any kind of job they were able to do in order to support their mother and 3 brothers. And they weren’t the only women that they did so. During this harsh period, mostly the women went to work  as unskilled workers, no matter of their education and status. The men, like her brothers, stayed at home cocooning with company their pride. My friend added “sometimes women didn’t want their man to work in low skilled jobs, so they took all the responsibility, in order to protect them from humiliation”.

During my friend’s story telling, I was contemplating about the women in Greece of the crisis and the uncountable examples of Greek educated women who are working in supermarkets cash counters, painting jobs … Many of them are the sole breadwinners of their family because they Can(for multiple reasons).

When the real crisis knocks the door, the masks come off and we can see how far we have come from the time that Virginia Woolf said “for most of history, Anonymous was a woman”.

Let’s talk about men : Parole Parole

manon70 catherine deneuveIt is common truth that with different set of friends there is different agenda of discussion. With some we talk about kids, husbands, with others about career, cooking… With my friend Marta,  the main topic is “men” and whatever comes with it. At the end of any conversation, she always says to me “let’s talk about men”.

When I met her in London in my last trip, after having exhausted every topic relating to them, we decided that it is time now, after so many years, to change  our prototype of the desired model of man.  Both of us felt that we have outgrown  this kind of witty, babish, good looking man with great sense of humour, aka Hugh Grant. We need something more manish, perhaps more brutal to fill in our occasional chatting and dreams.

She proposed something French. Since the French language and accent is very sensational by itself I agreed.  I proposed to give to our object of desire, flesh and bones, as for example 150px-Bernard-Henri_Lévy-tau-1to look like  the french philosopher, film maker … potpourri kind, Bernard Henry Levy.  Marta didn’t know him but an instant search on the iPad, convinced her.  At the moment, he is the perfect choice until we find a better picture, he has brains, looks, attitude, nobility and most important, hair, I hate bold men, she announced confidently.

We were happy with our agreement -a kind of sharing a secret- which keeps in some way this long friendship alive and interesting so many years. We kissed each other and said goodbye until our next rendezvous.  She was flying back to Madrid and I was flying back to glamorous Kazakhstan.

Not too long after arriving in Astana I skyped her and the following discussion took place:

-Hey Marta, I’ve just arrived in my base and I have great news for you!

-Let me guess, you didn’t have delays and the weather is perfect in Astana.

-Hmmm, something even better.

-You were upgraded to the first class.

-Bingo! You got it but something even better happened.

-You had an emergency land in Paris and you met this brainy man with the big nose.

-Nope, no landing until arriving at my destination

I made a pause and  because I was too excited to delay my news I said:

-but  I slept with him!

-With whom?

-With the our look alike prototype, the brainy man with the french nose (I always correct Marta with the details such a nose..)

Marta’s eyes and mouth had been transformed to real big circles.

and she said coldly and abruptly:

-No one can sleep in the airplane’s toilets.

-Of course not .

I answered back and continued.

-You know in the first class the seats can turn into beds and so this gorgeous french man sat next to me. He was much better than Levy- taller, thiner, fine characteristics, elegant outfit (a grey suit with a polo white shirt button up) a ring in his small finger showing his nobility, head  full of hair like Levy! And oh boy! What an accent!  His every second word was starting with the sound “w”!

-So he sat next to you and what happened? Marta said.

-Despite the free seats around us, neither of the two  moved to a more spacious  seat and  when it was time  to sleep I decided to follow his example and  I pushed the button to flatten my seat and sleep next to him. He advised me to wear the mask in the eyes for the light and bless him, I  really had the best sleep ever in an airplane! In the morning, we had breakfast together, I mean I had full breakfast, he had only a coffee -no wonder he was so slim- making me feel a bit  guilty about….

I wanted to continue to talk about my guilts and food  but Marta interrupted me saying:

-And after what happened ?

-That’s it, I said goodbye to him and I came back to my flat and open the skype to say to you all these great news!

Marta was looking at me with a mischievous expression.

-Do you know his name?

-No

-Did you manage to get a photo of him?

-Unfortunately not and you know, he was much more handsome than Levy. Better face and he was so tall and slim, french nose….

-Ok, if we haven’t any evidence, photo of him… we have to stack with this brainy man..with the nose, you had proposed until next time, when you will be more brave.

-What do you mean  more brave ?

-More brave to get a picture of our object of desire, silly Penelope!

Lean In

Lean In is the title of the new book of the wonder woman of the Facebook Sheryl Sandberg. In her book and new website, she urges women to create a supportive circle among them, in order to move forward in their career, their life and even to get help with their problems.  A concept that in many ways,  women and people in general, who are in a weaker and underprivileged position have already adopted it in order to carry on with their everyday life.

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The first time I came across  a very sound supportive circle of women was the  Georgian women in Greece. After the collapse of their country’s financial system, many  women came alone-most of them without husbands and family- from Georgia to work, either as cleaners or looking after elderly people in Greece. They created a supportive cluster among them  by sharing apartments, finding jobs to each other, replacing each other in their shifts when a problem was arising and generally being supportive physically and emotionally to each other. Since I have quite a few acquaintances among those women,  I’m watching their way of life all these years and I noticed that they are getting happier by being altogether and trying to support their families back to their country.

51bRawVMdcL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_Another example of a supportive circle of women that I came across, this time in a novel, was in Elis Shafak’s (turkish writer) book  “The Bastard of Istanbul” . The theme mainly is based on a circle of women  living  in the same house. After the death of the men in an extended family, the women decided to live the same house  and support each other. At the beginning, I found a bit unbelievable the story but when I asked my mother, who has extended family in Turkey and she has experienced their way of life, she reassured me that it is not at all strange in this society, for women to live together or at least to have a very strong supportive circle among them.

Living in Kazakhstan lately, I realized that the above phenomenons are not limited to the female circles. Everyone , in some way, depends on  each other for carrying out everyday tasks. The oxymoron is that despite the widespread reputation of Kazakhstani being corrupted, the common people really support each other. It took by surprise the fact of how easily trust each other. An illustrative example is the way of finding a taxi : simply by raising one’s hand to stop the first car that passes  – the way we are doing hitchhike in the West. When I asked my Kazakhstani friends, how they  trust a totally stranger to drive them , they responded by shrugging their shoulders -meaning that it’s a common practice for them.

Perhaps the West  has  to adopt  new ways of thinking and practice the “Lean In” concept to get through during  the hard times of this never ending recession. The Thatcherite era of individuality and independency -with her own words “there is not such a thing as a society”- may have come to an end for the time being.

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In the background, woman stops a car in a main road of Astana.

Eating Pomegranates with my friend

sarahI met her some years ago in a leafy suburb of Dublin. The rule of attraction as always happens among human beings  was her appearance, her nordic appearance.  Her slim figure wrapped up with a white anorak and  her ‘signature’  long blond hair attracted my attention in the first place.  When I talked to her, her voice had the same effect on me as her appearance, soft posh intellectual  English accent.  Usually this kind of people who concentrate all the above ingredients of popularity are  quite indifferent about others , but not Sarah. Sarah was quite tuned to other people’s need for communication. So it was not too long that a real friendship was developed between us.   One of those friendship which one could share secrets and lies  without being  embarrassed, reveal their weakness but as well as their  strengths, fears and have a good laugh.

Despite my moves around the globe we kept in touch, even during her ordeal, fighting a common disease of our times, breast cancer.  And during this ordeal  she made an extraordinary   thing:  she wrote a book.

This summer she gave it  to me with her signature. I didn’t expect anything less than her. A book about her disease, explaining it by  scientific precision as   a bright first class educated person can explain. Sarah read English literature in Oxford with first class honour as well as she attended the prestigious UEA creative writing courses.  She wrote about her beloved mother who had the same disease and the same gene mutation BRCA1, about her father and the impact her disease had on her own small family.

Reading the book I realized that I had  already known the most of the facts and  I learned more about Breast Cancer, the BRCA1 gene mutation which Sarah described with medical accuracy, I learned more about her family, her politician father her late mother, another Oxford graduate and much loved by her.  I recognized somewhere myself with my daft questions and once more  I confirmed that Sarah comes from a certain stock -a  family of driven people,  “..we were the whole world’ with her father’s words. All of them have put in, with  their own way, a small stone in this very exclusive English  society. Sarah is a journalist in Sunday Times.

Sarah’s book  isn’t a simple memoir of her life , it’s well crafted  literature which, I’m sure, was the reason that  Clare Alexander, the guru of the literary agent in London, snatched her book to add it in her long list of the famous authors she promotes…..

The following is an extract from her book, just to illuminate her literary craft:

I always thought I would write novels about relationships. Subtle psychological studies of the contemporary family, its disintegrations and reformations; the long shadow play of gender;generations across time. Exquisite things in the realist symbolist tradition, where the fictional creatures took off from the page and held you in a separate rapture, about which there was nothing of shame or disclosure.

But reality supervened. It crashed on to the page. The third-person narratives got stuck. I couldn’t get my creatures up in the morning, let alone dressed and out of the house. The sat like a roomful of outgrown toys, slumped in the corner, when the children have long gone on to other things. They reproached me, with their twisted limbs, their ratty fur, glass eyes hung out on wire.

Instead, something else got up and running. It wasn’t nice. I didn’t like it. But I have to admit it had a certain vitality. The hideous familiarity of certain close relatives, or one of Dostoevsky’s drunks. Affable and manipulative, emptying out his pockets. What’s mine is yours, my dear. Including my degradation, of course.  Any comparison of offerings is vulgar; you know it yourself.  It chuckled at me softly as I fled, and returned at night, when I was Jumpy.

I took a mallet to its hands, as they crept under the shutters. I went for its knees; it just kept on coming. I am the way and the life, it said. Or your life, at any rate. I’ve got your card. It’s marked. ‘

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P.S.  “Sarah”, reading your book one quotation stuck in my mind, perhaps because I knew  that you adore the Russian classical authors  : ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’ Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.