Lìjiāng Studio, weeks 9 & 10 – Nà Mǎ 纳 玛

Happy May Day, all.

In memory of all our comrades who have suffered and struggled (and those whom continue to do so) for the means of production to be in the hands of the people. That production stuff sounds weird coming from me. But the means of production doesn’t have to be huge monocultural/pesticide-ridden/less-than-A4-paper-sized-cages-per-chook/chemically-and-minerally-polluting centralised businesses. The means of production can be (and certainly can become) small, independent, community enterprises, using trust-based work rosters and needs-based product distribution, and no money at all. I do think it’s really interesting that the traditional MayDay Spring/Summer festival has been conflated with an International Labour Day. I can’t quite articulate this in a sensical or eloquent way right now. Something about the celebration of times of plenty being on their way, as a dual resonation with nature’s most bountiful season and humanity’s ongoing struggle and hope for dignity and self-determination. Something about the term “grassroots”. Something about my mother as a small child dancing with other smiling determined children around the maypole, and hundreds and thousands of smiling determined workers marching together across the world, all on the same day.

These past few weeks have really been all about school. Learning Mandarin 8 hours a week takes up a lot more than 8 hours a week. The travel makes each 4 hour school day at least 6.5 hours from home and back again. Then there’s the homework, which is really good, but usually difficult and taking around 3 hours per class. But we are improving rapidly!

A woman at the weekly market using a blow-torch to char a pig's leg.

A woman at the weekly market charring a pig’s leg with a blow-torch!

When not learning Mandarin I’ve been editing the First Impressions Family Portrait series at last. 5 of 6 are edited. 4 are finished on this, the second, draft, I think…and 1 is doing my head in! I haven’t got to the last one yet.

I’ve written most of a piece for Crystal Ruth Bell, a great woman whom I never had the chance to meet and who helped to get us here to the studio. This is the quartet I mentioned in my last post.

My piece called “How to Build a Home” remains an abandoned 14-bar beginning of a quiet and pretty flute and double bass duet. We went to a house-raising party. The whole village was invited and the whole village came. It was wonderful to experience so many people I see about doing their daily work together and enjoying themselves. The party happens when the frame is complete. The next few days afterwards, about 30+ people pitch in to lay the home-made mud bricks and then after the roof struts are on, lay the tiles. It’s not that I dislike what I’ve written. The harmonies are interesting, and I like how the instruments weave under and over each other. It was coming from a lovely concept, thinking about the solidity and rawness and honest beauty of the basic materials used here – chunks of stone; soil; water; and huge rough-cut pieces of timber. But how to build a home is not a quiet and pretty duet! It is a party and a village-worth of muddy sweaty happy people, mixing a 5m diameter pit of mud, making fire-chains to pass along big fat mud bricks one at a time from the stack to the brick-layers on wooden scaffolding a storey high, sawing wood, wiping brows, smoking, swiping mortar, working together and creating a big beautiful solid home in days flat – lots of tools, lots of tea, lots of co-operation, and lots of hands, enough to rest when needed and work at the pace you’re able.

Please excuse the usual wobbles on these films. I don’t have any film editing programs and my films are usually spontaneous, so no tripod.

One day we went up the mountain to see what we could see. We couldn’t see the elusive Yùlóng field research station and Alpine Botanic Garden. But we could see Yùlóngxuě Shān. And the whole valley. And we saw some Rhododendrons in flower, and a whole lot of other species, in off the road on the mountainside. We’ll go again another time to see an alpine meadow and try to find the research station. We had a delicious lunch at another Nàxī village called Báishā, which used to be the local capital. Lunch included the new shoots of Toona sinensis, a close relative of the wonderful and beautiful Toona ciliata (Syn: Toona australis) – Red Cedar. Toona ciliata was the major influence in the white colonisation of Lismore and its surrounds – The Big Scrub. The timber of this beautiful sub-tropical rainforest tree is a beautiful deep red, and great to work with for a huge variety of purposes. So the white people moved on in and cut most of it down. It’s now quite unusual to see an adult Red Cedar in The Big Scrub, apart from unloggably steep slopes. Here in China, however, Toona sinensis is common. And its new spring growth is uniquely, indescribably delicious.

We also, finally, did our first event. Miranda has called it a “social installation”. We’ll put a separate post up about it soon.

Qíng Nà Mǎ.

晴 纳 玛


2 thoughts on “Lìjiāng Studio, weeks 9 & 10 – Nà Mǎ 纳 玛

  1. Love getting your posts and pics to my email inbox. Takes me out of my world, gets me to look objectively at my world. Really interesting posts. Thanks

    • Amanda – how great that you’re reading our adventures. Thank you for your lovely comment. Isn’t it refreshing to be taken out of one’s world? I at once feel at home here, and in “a different world”.

      It looks like a fun gig you’ve got coming up with Trio Z. FYI, readers – Amanda’s a great clarinetist, and Ziggy’s a great saxophonist. Trio Z play happy-making music from the world of swing, gyspy and film, sprinkled with originals. Catch them at the Castlemaine Jazz Festival, 7th-9th June. http://castlemainejazzfestival.com.au/ .

      Hope your music and life in general is going well, Amanda. Thanks again for getting in touch. Keep well.

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