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Squat

The thin, long-haired young man stopped his skateboard and spoke with Julie while I photographed a red mural that was painted on an abandoned building by the river.  "You should go to Metelkova," he said.  He handed us a glossy postcard of the Slovenian Ethnographic Museum.  "It's only 15 minute walk. "  Then he looked at me, "There is lots of graffiti there." That got my attention.  I love street art if it is intelligent.  Graffiti and murals tell stories.  They can say more about a culture - and its less promoted counterculture - than any museum or tour.  Plus ... I love photographing those colors and the contrast of bright paint scrawled on pompous or boringly functional buildings. The next morning, our geeky tourist maps in hand, we set off north along the maze of streets and eventually found what Ljubljana locals describe as a "City within a City", rows of art-covered walls and sculpture and graffiti sprawling across several blocks and unmistakably our destination. Metelkova is one of the largest squats in Europe.  It is a sprawl of old army barracks and a former prison that were taken over as housing after Slovenian Independence in 1991 when artists moved in to the vacant buildings and started their own community.  The city did not - and still does not - like them.  They are tolerated however - perhaps because people here seem to hold the area as a special place which may be a product of the decades of socialism under Tito and the spirit of a brand new democracy. They have turned their entire community into a creative haven for alternative artists.   Today, over twenty years after moving into those abandoned buildings, they still squat and live there live there rent and tax free.  Metelkova has become accepted enough now by the

The Pub

It's Sunday afternoon and the pub is packed.   A couple harmonize to the lilt of the pipe and guitar.  The ceiling is covered in bright flags, copper pots dangle from hooks from the ceiling.  The floor is pitted by a hundred years of feet.  Everybody knows everybody. I'm drinking a Guinness and trying to write to the buzz of pub life.  I have found that in order to write on this trip, I'm staying up late and writing after the pub when I'm tired and need sleep. But the concept of combining these two activities is clearly ridiculous.  The pub is for socializing and, by golly, visitor or not, you will be social. So I've turned off the gadgets after being allowed a few paragraphs and am listening to the woman seated across from me.  The conversation is conducted at moderate yell to be heard over the music and the social hum all around us.  And ... hands down talking with her is the better choice, sleep be damned.  I love talking to people at the pubs ... and meeting these people is absolutely the best part of traveling here. The woman I'm speaking with introduces me to her brother and husband.  She tells me she is planning a trip to LA in a couple of weeks, but her husband can't join her.  She says he was arrested during the troubles and imprisoned for 7 years, and is not allowed into the USA as a visitor.  The Troubles have a long reach. She tells me her brother is back visiting because her sister-in-law has just been diagnosed with cancer.  Her eyes well up as she confides this.  I listen to her talk for a bit ... and then I tell her that I had cancer, intending just to let her know that I

Murals of Belfast

"I started painting during the hunger strikes".Protestant Mural - many of these reference historical events and military victoriesWe are sitting at the bar at Kelley's Cellars, the oldest pub in Belfast.  We have struck up a conversation with an older woman with pink hair that is curled into a big roll on top of her head, with false eyelashes and a pink paisley dress.  The conversation has been a challenge - I can understand about every third word she says beyond the F bomb and "Jesus Christ" that is dropped liberally into every sentence.  She's been sitting at the bar drinking for a while.But it's her husband who has us still sitting there and engaged.  Turns out we have just met one of the famous mural painters of Belfast.Sinn Fein Mural of martyr and hunger striker Bobbie Sands. Many Republican murals are symbolic and meant to stir emotion Earlier in the day we rolled into town and immediately hired a cab to take us around to see the murals that dot the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods.  These murals are essentially enormous tags that cover the end of buildings in bright colors and political messages.  They started to appear in the seventies, and both sides still commemorate their struggles and heroes and victims and political goals on the blank canvass of their neighborhoods.The Troubles, as they are known here, started in the 1920s when Britain freed all of Ireland except for six counties in Northern Ireland where there was a majority Protestant population, an affinity for the English, and (probably) most importantly, a thriving industrial base in Belfast that fed the British war economy.The Troubles - with attacks and bombings - built up in the decades after with peak violence in the 70s and 80s that finally subsided in a ceasefire negotiated

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