Mother’s Day? In Tilburg they need a whole month!

Devotees have flocked to a tiny sanctuary during the month of May for centuries. They come to reflect, pray, pay respect, commemorate and celebrate Mary, the mother of Jesus, or maybe their own mother, all mothers, or just themselves. Join one mother on her annual pilgrimage to the ancient Hasseltse Chapel in Tilburg, The Netherlands. Please choose HD quality for best playback. Video 5:45 min, Dutch with English subtitles. Created and produced by Marcel Baaijens. With thanks to Henriëtte Peters.

 

 

 

 

Sitdance: Behind the scenes in Brittany, France.

Filming Sitdance tutorials is not as easy as it looks. Many aspects need to come together to film a tutorial. Have a quick look behind the scenes in a small market town in Brittany, France. Brittany is one of the six Celtic nations on the edge of Europe where I have been filming for the ‘Sitdance with the Celts’ programme.

50 Dutch cousins and a stray Romanian Sitdance in Amsterdam

Oh, my cousins do know how to throw a party, so I challenged them to do a Sitdance with me, and they did: in front of one of my cousin’s cafe in Amsterdam. They had a blast. This sitdance ‘ Tulips from Amsterdam’ was specially made for them as our parents, aunts and uncles are all from Amsterdam. A romanian guy watching us having fun could not resist to join us!

Dinner with a legend.

Oh where do I begin to tell the story an unforgettable night with the 80-year old Kosovar legend Ismet Peja and his wonderful son Vegim.

From left to right: Vegim Peja, Ismet Peja and Marcel Baaijens.

I have known a popular Kosovar song ‘Martese Jone’, by Ismet for some 35 years now. It has been part of my ‘cultural make-up’ as much any song of my native culture. To meet this man after a two-year search was a highlight of an already wonderful visit in this unknown part of the world called Kosovo.
 
Ismet does not speak English, but his son did briliantly. We had so much to talk about, all equally curious about each other’s life story and journeys. We laughed so much. This man has, besides an amazing career as a singer, an amazing spirit. His 50-year old son, a doctor, but also a traditional singer, is a true son of his father. To witness the loving, joyful interaction of the two a was a treat in itself.
  
Details of traditional Kosovar wedding dresses. Courtesy of Mona Lisa, wedding dress shop, Pristina, Kosovo.
Ismet still sings today. His song, Martese Jone, especially composed for him, is like a classic sung at  Albanian/Kosovar weddings. It has been covered by many contemporary artists, but in my view none are as good as Ismet’s version. At 80, Ismet still sings at weddings. He has taken good care of his voice by never drinking or smoking, eating right, and sticking to a regular sleeping pattern. 
 
We spend a night at a local restaurant. Sometimes interrupted by other diners and the restaurant owner wanting to pay their respects. I so wished I could have filmed the whole night, as it was so special and rich, but it just did not feel appropriate. I did take a selfie  at the end though.
You can find videos of Ismet performing online. Just search Youtube for Smet Peja, or his son Visar Peja to enjoy their music (if it is your cup of tea of course).
Bride’s crown. Courtesy of Mona Lisa, wedding dress shop, Pristina, Kosovo.
I will use Martese Jone, Albanian for ‘Our Marriage’ for a Sitdance. The tutorials have already been filmed in a traditional Wedding dress shop. I trust that this Ismet’s amazing voice will encourage and inspire the elders who take part in Sitdance to dance to their hearts content. Music is an international language, its vibration has the power to resonate with our souls. This ability resonance is what makes us feel human, no matter what life’s circumstances might be.
Video still of the ‘Our Marriage’ Sitdance.
‘Our Marriage’ will feature in the ‘Sitdance through Europe’ programme, expected to be released in 2018. It is a Sitdance journey from Armenia in the far southeast to Scotland in the far northwestern corner of the continent. The link below is for Martese Jone (Our Marriage) performed by Ismet Peja.  (https://youtu.be/oB4OKTHH_Rk) I feel privileged to have been granted permission to use this song for Sitdance. I am invited to return next year to Kosovo and be Ismet’s guest and see him in action during the wedding season. Can’t wait!

Getting ready for Kosovo.

Ismet Peja performing on television.
Tomorrow I will fly to Nis (Serbia), to get to neighbouring Kosovo. The main reason is to film a Sitdance tutorial there and to meet Ismet Peja, the singer of the song I am using for the sitdance. After a 2-years search I have been able to trace him. He is now 81, his son Vegim 60 is also a singer. Luckily Vegim speaks English as my knowledge of Albanian (most common language in Kosovo) is zero. I am really looking forward to meet them. I learned a choreographed, traditional style dance called Bracno Oro to this music, some decades ago and have loved it ever since. The sitdance will express the essence of the song as well as the dance. The title ‘Martesa Jone’ means our marriage, and if you google it you will find many Youtube clips of people singing it at weddings.
 
Kosovo has experienced war and instability. It has declared independence in 2008 from Serbia and is Europe’s newest country. Not quite recognised by all yet, but it is safe to travel there. Guess what my biggest concern is? Not the political situation, but the fact that I won’t have mobile services as I transit Serbia to get to Kosovo, as it will require yet another (Serbian) sim card. I will need one in Kosovo as the roaming charges of my UK one are just outrageously expensive. So I will have to find my way around the old fashioned way: with maps and asking people :).
 
Who would have thought that one would worry about mobile connection above anything else, say 30 years ago LOL. Below is a link to the video clip of Smet Peja performing the song on television.
https://youtu.be/oB4OKTHH_Rk

Dingle Dazzle

‘Going with the flow’ is my favourite thing. Sometimes it is easy, other times life events can get in the way. However today was a great flow day. It did not start out that way though. I sprained by lower back a few days ago making moving about in a small campervan a bit of a challenge. Sitting, standing, lying down, there was not a single position that was comfortable, making it hard to tune in to a sense of adventure.

After visiting a nursing home I gave up work and choose to nurture my body instead. The nearest swimming pool was some 70km away. The pain was exhausting.  I needed a nana nap a few kilometres before I reached the pool. It rained heavily as I crawled under my blanket and before I knew it I fell into a deep sleep. The thunder of a passing truck woke me. Like an old man I crawled out of bed and back behind the steering wheel. The visit to the pool and the hot steam room relaxed my tense muscles and eased the pain a bit. I could start tuning in to the road ahead.

I looked at the map and the west coast of Ireland was calling with a promise of dramatic interactions between light, sky, sea and landscapes. As I got closer to town of Tralee, the skies cleared, the showers lessened. Dingle peninsula was not much further and with enough daylight left it became the destination for the day. Reaching the coast was immediately rewarded with a stunning view of Dingle peninsula across the bay. A conveniently placed parking lot made stopping possible. By this time I was very hungry, but that had to wait, a little snack had to do for the best light of the day would not wait.

The further I drove, the better the scenery got, but also the hungrier I got. I stopped near a beach to make a quick omelet. I managed to not feel guilty about eating. It proved to be the necessary delay that allowed inspiration for the last leg of the day to materialise.

I looked on the map and discovered a tiny road crossing the mountain ridge of the peninsula. I punched in a destination into my phone and turned on the navigation, allowing me to focus on the journey rather than the route. As I turned off the main road there was a sign warning drivers that there is a steep road ahead. The Irish sign shows a vehicle on an almost 45 degree slope. A bit exaggerated I thought, but the sign was not kidding.

The road narrowed to a single lane, bopped up and down and wobbled left to right as it climbed higher and higher. The van I am driving has a powerful engine and had no problem navigating the tricky terrain. Luckily I encountered no other traffic.

Choosing a road less travelled is always rewarding, and this one was no exception. The stunning views, the electrifying light, the dazzling colours, and the wild spiritual landscape made my soul sing.

But nothing is permanent and as the daylight faded, the spectacle was over. Time to head back to civilization, find a warm cozy pub, and edit the photos for an encore.

 

Getting from A to B, the Armenian way.

Getting from A to B, the Armenian way.

A farewell photo with my very helpful Armenian friend Tigran

.It is always much harder to get out of a big city than a small town. Yerevan, Armenian’s capital, must be one of the hardest cities to escape. I wanted to travel by bus, as I prefer to travel like a local. I said goodbye to my Armenian friend in Yerevan and took the ‘sardine express’, a neighbourhood microbus crammed with people to the rafters.

The ‘sardine express’.

Then switched to the stark but spacious metro to one of the many bus stations to find a bus that could take me to Goris, a small town in the south of Armenia, my destination for the day. But… there was no bus, nor at another station I tried, despite information provided by a guidebook and locals. I had the choice between a four-hour wait in the city with my bags or a shared, most likely unregistered taxi, which leaves once full. A shared taxi I choose. It is 11.38. So far there were two passengers and it seemed the driver is hunting for more.

Yerevan Metro.

The word ‘taxi’ does not equate luxury. It’s a station wagon with little leg space, a cracked windscreen, and a steering wheel on the wrong side. But is has Armenian carpets as seat covers and a crucifix dangling from the rear view mirror, so I hope we will fly like a magic carpet and be protected by divine forces. It will be interesting to see when I get to Goris.

Crusifix dangling from the rear-view mirror.

It is early May. Nature is awakening and the snows have almost gone, but so have many parts of the road surface. Once you leave Armenia’s capital Yerevan, the road turns to custard. Holes, bumps, and more bumps, sometimes so bad that drivers move to the other side of the road to avoid them. That is not the only thing they need to avoid. Herds of sheep use this highway too.

A herd of sheep on the highway.

12:23 Taxi is full and we are on our way. And when I say “full”, I mean full!. It was a wise decision to leave my suitcase in Yerevan and travel with one medium and one small daypack, which are easier to stow. This is not suitcase territory. My driver is the fastest on the road, overtaking every car in front of him at the most impossible locations or moments, like when he is on his mobile phone. I try not to look, as siting in the back there is nothing I can do but hope that he knows what he is doing. Sometimes he overtakes with only seconds to spare… The suspension is struggling and so is my body. Siting in the third row, right above the rear wheels I feel every bump reverberating through my spine, despite the Armenian carpets covering the seats.

Armenian carpets as seat covers.

The landscape is just stunning. Reminding me of Outback of Australia. It’s arid, rocky wild. Moody overcast weather adds to the feeling of otherworldlyness. The heavily tinted windows act as a gloomy brown filter. Oh I wished I could get out whenever I wanted to photograph this amazing landscape.

The tinted windows give the landscape a gloomy look.

After about two hours the car needed petrol and the passengers were allowed to get out. I climbed from my third row seat through the door of the second row. To my relief I discovered that my legs were still able to stretch and that the blood was still flowing.

 

Toilet sign in Armenian and Russian.

I recognised the Russian word for toilet and dashed. Not that I ever learned the word or the Russian alphabet but when the need is high, the brain learns fast. It was a squatting toilet. My knees were grateful that I did not need to squat. I was hungry too. I had barely grabbed a savoury pastry before we were rushed back into the taxi. Wrong petrol station, the right one was about a mile down the road. Yay, we get to get out again!

The petrol station.

Still hungry and little choice on offer, I bought an elongated donut filled with potato. It was so greasy and gross that I could not finish it. Why is roadside food the world over so poor in quality and disgusting? Armenian food can be so delicious! With the petrol tank filled, it is back inside for another two hours off the pothole slalom and overtaking derby.

A greasy potato-filled doughnut.

Chansons by Charles Aznavour, a famous French-Armenian singer tried to sooth the senses, as if a four-hour crammed and cramped taxi ride on a bumpy road with a mad driver is the most romantic thing one can do. The once popular Greek singer Demis Roussos has a go as well. I am pleasantly surprised that my grumpy driver is playing such an international repertoire of music. I am daydreaming of decompressing my body in a bath at my Goris hotel. Yeah right! Or as my Dutch grandmother would have said: “Oh Ja?” This is Armenia!

Charles Aznavour.

We just crossed a pass of 2320m with a sign saying “Silk Road”. THE Silk Road, the one I have been dreaming off travelling on my entire life, but whenever I had the opportunity there was a war somewhere making it impossible. Unfortunately I could not take a selfie with the sign to prove that I was there. We remain at high altitude for a while. It must be cold outside as snow is only a little higher up the slopes. People have set up tiny stalls along the way, trying to sell a few potatoes, or fruits. There is not a town insight, so I wonder where they have come from and why they have chosen such Godforsaken spots.

Goris, Armenia.

16:38 Goris, some five hours after I got in the taxi. I checked into my hotel for the night. It is poring with rain, but I don’t care, I am desperate for a good long walk and a wholesome meal.

Activity Resource for Aged Care Staff:

Questions to ask your residents and searches to undertake to foster further interest:

  1. Where is Armenia?
  2. Which countries share borders with Armenia?
  3. What does the Armenian and Russian alphabets look like?
  4. Who has heard of Charles Aznavour, a world famous French-Armenian singer?
  5. Can you name any of his songs? (find some on Youtube).
  6. Who has heard of the greek Demis Roussos (popular in 60’s-70’s?).
  7. Do you know any of his songs? (check out Youtube)
  8. Who had protective objects in their car like a crusifix or saint or similar.
  9. How much do you think a four-hour shared taxi ride would cost in Armenia? (6000 AMD)
  10. How much is 6000 Dram (AMD) in your currency?

 

 

Departure

I took a ferry ride on the stunning Sydney harbour, sailing past the most iconic building of Australia. Look at that intense blue sky! What a way to celebrate my last day in Australia.

Tomorrow, after months of preparations, it is time to start the big adventure. Tomorrow, 10 April 2017, I will board the first plane at Sydney Airport. I will fly to  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a one-night stopover before I continue the next day to the first real destination: Magical Nepal.

I am very excited to have your company for this journey. Let the journey begin!!!