Thursday, 24 March 2011

Carrara Marble - They’re destroying Michelangelo’s mountain to make toothpaste

Carrara marble mountain/Francesco Pegollo

 I am working on a story on how out-of-control marble quarrying is destroying the Apuan Alps, the people who live there and a culture that has developed over the past 2000 years around this amazing stone.

Carrara's quarries are the largest in the world and produce the whitest and most beautiful marble.  It is from this stone that Michelangelo carved his tender Pietà  and magnificent David, and artists from all over the world – from Henry Moore and Isamu Noguchi to Louise Bourgeois and Anna Chromy - have been bewitched by it.

But now, most of the marble formed over millennia in the Apuan mountains high above Carrara is no longer turned into great works of art or proud buildings, but ground into a fine powder - calcium carbonate -  which is used in everything from cosmetics and toothpaste to paper, paint and food stuff.  Carrara marble is now  literally squeezed from a toothpaste tube.

“We don't want to reduce Michelangelo's mountain to calcium carbonate,” says Elia Pegollo, an environmentalist. “Our mountain belongs to the world, to humanity. It has spoken to Michelangelo and sculptors from all over the world. We want our mountain to be able to speak again and our marble to be used in a noble way.”

Elia Pegollo
  Seen from the air or the beaches, the mountains appear covered in snow.  
V. Mistiaen
 From close up, the high vertical faces and giant benches of the open cast excavations are both frightening and breathtaking. They look like colossal white cathedrals on the moon.

V. Mistiaen

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Building Bridges of Peace around the world

Millennium Bridge, London/Mark Allen

Earlier this month, I wrote a post on the Join me on the Bridge campaign organized by Women for Women International to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of International Women's Day.

On March 8th, Women and men stood together on bridges around the world, celebrating the achievements of generations of women before us, while calling for peace and an end to violence and injustice against women in Afghanistan and other war-torn countries. 

Thousands stood in solidarity on 646 bridges in 70 countries across Europe, Africa, Asia- Pacific and the Americas. Fifty five events took place in the UK alone and some 2,000 women, men and children marched together on Millennium Bridge in London. 

It was a fantastic, uplifting and inspiring day. Here are a few pictures from around the world: 

Sydney/Susie Hogan

Bosnia/Amel Emric

Afghanistan/Hossein Fatemi
Nigeria/Andrew Esiebo

Monday, 7 March 2011

Reem Kelani live from Cairo

Reem Kelani in Tahrir square

Among the many events and programmes planned to celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day tomorrow (March 8th), I would like to mention my friend Palestinian singer Reem Kelani, who will participate live from Cairo in a BBC Radio Scotland’s special programme to mark this big anniversary.

Tomorrow at 8.05pm, Mary Ann Kennedy presents an extra special edition of the show live from Studio One at BBC Scotland's headquarters at Pacific Quay in Glasgow. Senegalese superstar Baaba Maal talks about his work with Women of the World, Palestinian singer Reem Kelani speaks live from Cairo about the role women and music played in the recent Tahrir Square demonstrations, and, from Scotland/England, the fantastic all-female band, The Shee, with their heady blend of folk, Scots, Gaelic and bluegrass, are live in concert.

A fantastic line-up, so tune in.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Join Me on the Bridge – Celebrate International Women’s Day’s 100th anniversary

Actress Cherie Lunghi on London's Millennium bridge

Tuesday March the 8th is a BIG DAY! It is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. To celebrate this historic event, thousands of women, men and children will congregate on bridges all over the world to build bridges of peace and support women of Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, whether you are two or 2000 or more, you can join the campaign by standing on a bridge near you and holding banners calling for peace. People are planning bridges of peace on five continents, in 48 countries and in 9 different time zones with more than 270 events. View a map of all the events. 

In the UK alone, 33 events are planned, from the Eden Project in Cornwall to Edinburgh, backed by celebrities, including actresses Cherie Lunghi and Michelle Ryan and activist and singer Annie Lennox.

Annie Lennox
Here are a few examples of bridge events planned across the globe:
·      In Rwanda/DRC, women from both countries will meet at the Gisenyi-Goma border.  
·      In Bosnia, women will gather on the Ars Aevi Bridge in Sarajevo to let off balloons and hear speeches.
·      In New York, people will walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall Park in Manhattan where there will be a festival.
·      Berlin will host a ‘virtual bridge’ on the web comprised of ‘authors for peace’ from around the world.
·      In Sudan, a group of 50 women  will hold out their open palms – the ubiquitous sign of separation from the north – a feat which has now been achieved as a result of the recent referendum and in the aftermath of the bloody civil war that divided the country for more than 20 years.
·      In London, UK, Annie Lennox, Cherie Lunghi, Michelle Ryan and Sally Hawkins will lead a march from Borough Market over the Millennium Bridge along to Embankment and back across the river to the Royal Festival Hall.

The global campaign is organised by Women for Women International and is supported by the National Union of Students, Amnesty International, the Fawcett Society, Oxfam, Women’s Aid, Save the Children and other organizations.
 Women (and men and children)  will gather on bridges to show their support for women in war-torn areas – especially in Afghanistan – and call for women to have a greater say at the peace negotiating tables and for countries to honour the UN goals they have signed up to.
One hundred years ago brave women stood up and changed the world for so many of us.  Today, there are equally brave women standing up for equality in Afghanistan,” says Kate Nustedt, Executive Director of Women for Women International.

"We are proud to stand alongside them on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day and call for them to have a seat at the peace negotiation table so that they can play a part in the rebuilding of their country. Without women there is no peace.” 

For more information, click here.  

Thursday, 3 March 2011

My Uncle, the tyrant - conversation with Zianab Salbi

I've met Zainab Salbi in London recently for an interview for the New Internationalist.

She grew up amongst Saddam Hussein's inner circle - called him "uncle."  His constant and sinister presence made her determined to fight injustice and speak out, something she couldn't do in his shadow. She went on to found the humanitarian organization Women for Women International, a grassroots humanitarian and development organization helping women survivors of wars rebuild their lives.

I loved her energy and passion, and found her very inspiring - and beautiful, too!  Hope to meet her again soon!