Walking along a Wall

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Latimer: There are lots of things to be excited about when you’re going on holidays; you don’t have to worry about work, you’re going somewhere new and you can relax and do what you want – it’s a great feeling. Aside from the food, which is one of my most favourite things about being on holidays, one of the best things is getting to see famous places you’ve only seen on the TV!

In Beijing there were lots of famous places to stamp my foot on.

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You can’t go to China and not go to the Great Wall.

To me it was one of those places that I’ve known about my whole life; it’s a place of massive human achievement, but had it been overhyped in my mind – could it really be that good?

Yes, as it turns out! It was as amazing as people say.

Getting to stand on the Great Wall and stare around the valley (like a boss), as it criss-crossed the landscape, weaving up and down like a great stone snake slithering over hills through smog into the far north of China – spectacular!!

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The Great Wall started its existence as a series of small walls that were unified into one Great wall by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (namesake of the Qin Dynasty). This is the Emperor who also built the Terracotta Army – a busy man right? Up to a million people died building the ‘Great Wall’ and are actually buried within the wall itself. So there’s an eerie feeling walking along the wall and thinking about that!

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The part of the wall that I was on is called the Jiangshanling Great Wall; it’s a bit of a less touristy spot. It was great because there was hardly anyone else on the wall. It was basically empty, so it was even more incredible to be able to stand on one arching swell and look into the distance and see nothing but the wall and its watchtowers 🙂

As I walked I noticed that there was a lot of graffiti – people had carved their names into the wall. This started a conversation about how if the graffiti’s been there long enough it becomes historic (is a 400 year old piece of graffiti terrible… or historic?).

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When people used to visit Shakespeare’s home (a long time after his death), they used to write their names on the windows to say that they were there. Lots of famous writers (Dickens etc) signed the windows, and now they are a museum piece within the house.

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It’s an odd one and it happens everywhere; I’ve seen names carved into the stone at our own Newgrange (which is 5,000 years old, which makes this really bad).

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It is sad, and you do shudder at seeing it; ‘I’d never do that! That’s terrible’… but then if enough time passes… does it become alright? Do you start to think; ‘someone in the 1800s was standing where I am now, in awe of this thing I am seeing that they once saw too… (of course they were busy carving their name into it, so we aren’t really experiencing it the same way, but still!)’

People like to write their names on things because it says; ‘I was here, I existed once and I was here’. And I get that, but…

Argh, it’s a tough one; but people shouldn’t be doing it anymore – that’s what the visitor’s guestbook is for!

While on the wall I ate the bag of Hula Hoops I’d gotten in Dublin airport (and failed to eat on the plane – I told you we’d be seeing those food items again!)… That was bizarre!

Then it was on to the Forbidden City (give or take a day, ha). That place is amazing.

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It was built according to the rules and laws of Taoism – the cultural religion of China. For example, Taoism is crazy about numbers. The number 9 (and 5) is very important and lucky in the religion. The doors of the city’s gates have gold circle embossing – there are nine rows with nine circles across.

The Forbidden City is also said to contain 9999 rooms; the Emperor is the only one on earth who can have 9999 rooms. This is one less than the Jade Emperor (the King of Heaven in Taoism); only he can have 10,000 rooms. The Jade Emperor sounds cool doesn’t he?

There’s a lot to see in the Forbidden City, I found myself just wandering on my own at one point, enjoying my own novelty as a white foreigner (I’m hardly ever exotic, so that was fun!).

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It wasn’t long before my time in Beijing was at an end, but I did manage to check out the Bird’s Nest Stadium and the Cube before I was off on an overnight train (13 hours!) to Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors, but that’s another post 🙂

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Previous post: Middle Kingdom Musings and next post: The Art of Terracotta

Take to the Streets

Down by the Luas Lines in Dublin
Down by the Luas Lines in Dublin

Latimer: Recently I’ve been taking a lot of notice of street art. To the point where, as I walk down the street and come face-to-face with an empty wall, I start to daydream about what maybe I could put there…

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I imagine images weaving across the concrete. And I start to think, leaning back and getting some perspective on the wall – ‘That would be fun!’

My daydream then takes me to the street at night-time, wearing dark clothes and carrying a bag of spray-paint cans. I’m going to unfold my masterpiece image. I’m going to fix it to the wall, by climbing a steep rickety old ladder that stretches up six floors to the roof. And I’m not afraid to do it (this would never happen, I’d be crying if I had to climb a ladder).

I spray-paint the stencil. I scramble down the ladder and race across the road.

Girl in an egg, Barcelona
Girl in an egg, Barcelona

No police catch me.

I admire my mural, and then, I fade into the darkness like a thief in the night. A wispy shadowy creature of the witching hour; in the morning people will pass the image, wondering – who did that? How’d they do that? And I’ll pass by, smile a secret smile, and walk on.

Then my daydream ends with the harsh whack from the reality stick. I don’t go down that street at night-time, because it’s too dark and could be full of people baying for my blood; like gangs of New York.

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I don’t dress in all black, because if I remember correctly I don’t have a black hat and I threw out those black jeans the other day. Where would I find the stencil? That’s a big wall, the perspective would be too much; I mean drawing on an A3 page is the most I’ve ever done. And I’ve never made a stencil…

No. I’d get caught! Definitely; if anyone would I would. The police would catch me. I’d get in trouble.

It's too risky!!
It’s too risky!!

Where do you get the spray paint anyway… is it expensive… etc. etc.

Yup, the dream fades pretty fast.

So, I’m left as a voyeur on the street art of others. I like the secret pictures and I like the mysterious people that flit in the night, spicing up the streets with quirky images. Their work waves at me as I pass the streets, from time-to-time, and I smile thinking, “Well, hello there piece of art!” Like it’s a secret discovery, belonging to just me and the street.

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After you see one, as with all things, a door opens and suddenly they’re everywhere. It used to be a Dublin thing, now it’s a world thing. The images from people I’ll never know, waving across countries at me, a little Latimer they’ll never know.

Here are some I found in Barcelona.

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Keep an eye out on whatever streets you’re walking! There are cool secret artists out there! Thank you for sharing your art!

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I’m not sure who the artists are, so if anyone knows, drop us a message and we’ll tag the photos etc!