Sunday, 18 April 2010

Obscured by clouds, Sanbiki No Saru, and Mother Nature’s Lesson

Obscured by Couds is the instrumental first track on the album of the same name released in 1972 by the super group Pink Floyd which regular readers of this blog will know are one of my all time favorite groups. 1972 was also a good year for me as well.

The fact this album came to mind this week results from a number of issues coming to the fore in my mind. The first being the ever increasing problems resulting from the cloud of volcanic smoke and steam hanging over Iceland. This still growing and dangerous cloud is the aftermath of the second eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano this month. The cloud has caused all kinds of chaos with the closure of European airports. Eight European countries closed their airspace last week and many Europe-bound flights have not been able to leave Australia and Asia. There does not seem to be any resolution to this in sight. The situation is fast moving from a humorous inconvenience to something more concerning. Rightly perhaps, the news reports have also grown exponentially to reflect these concerns.

The second story to use up news paper space, and TV time was the first live election debate held in Manchester this week. I am not sure what we gained from the experience and I was reminded of the three monkeys depicted in the old Japanese proverb principle to ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’. However, the coverage was immense and frankly quickly became tedious. Perhaps the programme producers, politicians and reporters have forgotten that the Japanese proverb sometimes also includes a forth monkey - symbolising the principle of ‘do no evil’. I won’t even comment on the media clamour that has accompanied the return to our screens of Britain’s got Talent.

The huge amount of time and commentary devoted to these stories nearly completely obscured the other dreadful natural occurrence, the earthquake in Western China. This powerful earthquake registered 6.9 and has destroyed the town of Gyegu in the county of Yushu. At the time of writing the loss of life involved has reached over 800 people. Providing aid and help has been made more difficult by the terrain and isolation of the town and the inaccessibility caused by lack of infrastructure and equipment.

Amidst the reports of such devastation were images of startling power and humility. As if in a Zhang Yimou film, photos of 100’s of Tibetan Buddhist monks clad in crimson cloaks and jackets illustrated the way in which they had flocked to join the rescue effort undertaken by soldiers and rescue teams.

Finally, for those of you who don’t know whilst the album Obscured by Clouds is a brilliant collection of music in its own right, it was also the soundtrack for the film La Vallee. This film tells the story of the wife of the French Consul resident in Australia, who joins a group of explorers in search of a mysterious hidden valley in the forests of New Guinea the world’s second largest island.

She hopes to find the feathers of an extremely rare exotic bird. As they make their way through the dense jungles of Papua New Guniea they come across the Magupa tribe, one of the most isolated groups of human beings on earth. This is a tribe who are completely in-tune with nature, the seasons, and have explanations for the unpredictable as well as the predictable. It is this encounter that allows and inspires them to explore their own humanity, unfettered by their own subjective ideas of ‘civilization’. It seems to me that as dreadful as the volcanic eruption and earthquake might be, it maybe Mother Natures way of allowing us to take a step back from the brink and reconsider what we understand our own civilization to mean.