Thursday 18 July 2024

Movements: Scotland, part 1

 The highlight of my trip to Britain in May was a week in Scotland where I managed to get out in full female mode for the first time in years. 

I have to thank that witty and informative blogger, Miss Twist, for her inspiration on places to go. If you've not looked at Miss Twist Speaks Her Brains before, I can recommend it for its cosplay antics, psychological insights and girly stances in various beautiful Scottish locations. She made this excellent map with links to her posts describing the various places she's been to and I found it handy for planning my trip. So many thanks to her.

Twistlike pose at Loch Fleet!

 

1: Edinburgh

But let's begin at the beginning with 24 hours in Edinburgh. I was in Edinburgh five years ago and this time I stayed in the 18th-century New Town but spent much of my time in the Old Town, which I haven't visited in thirty years. It's that old that nothing much changes, not even the tourist tat in the shops in the Royal Mile! But it was interesting wandering round again after so long.

 

I had a curious breakfast the next day, which included Smarties! That's definitely a first.


I also went to the Royal Scottish Academy to see the annual exhibition, some of which was appealing, some not. That's contemporary art, I guess.


And then I took the train through leafy Perthshire and the Cairgorms to Inverness where I was met by Roz who had picked up the car we had hired for our four-day weekend in the Highlands. 

At her home, Roz's adorable yet bonkers beaver in denim jacket, kilt and necklace was there to greet me, with a glass of Roz's home-brewed beer (very good it was, too).


 

2: A monster tour of Loch Ness and beyond

I insisted I wanted above all to go to Loch Ness, which I have never been to before. Monster sightings a bonus, but not essential. It's a lovely spot, about as big as Lake Iseo here in Italy, but wilder with few settlements. This is my best picture of Loch Ness, at the SW end near Fort Augustus. I love the way it looks a bit like a watercolour painting. It was actually taken from the car zooming along!

 

Although we did an entire circuit of the lake that day, we turned off in several places, heading up Glen Shiel and stopping in the dramatic gorge that marks the 1719 battlefield during the Jacobite Rebellions, which was all part of my school A-level history syllabus a very long time ago. Well, not so long after the event, in fact!


Click to enlarge

The Jacobite Uprisings will feature again in this post.

Glen Shiel took us all the way to the west coast at the Kyle of Lochalsh ...


...with its mountain goats ...


...until we got to the famously picturesque Eilean Donan Castle, star of 101 films.


Went went as far as the bridge that now connects the Isle of Skye to the mainland. Our way back brought us to the lumpy landscape of Glen Garry ...

... and the rather nice spot that is the Bridge of Oich on the Caledonian Canal and River Oich.


We took the rougher road that passes south-east of Loch Ness and enjoyed the wide panorama at Suidhe, with its landscape dotted with stone age settlements and its views of lesser lochs, Loch Knockie and Loch Mhor.


The Falls of Foyers, that impressed so many writers of the romantic era, were a little disappointing, but maybe it's not the best time of year. How Roz negotiated the steep climb down in high-heeled sandals, I
don't know. But trans women are superwomen!

 


Boleskine House is near here, home of mystic Aleister Crowley among others, but is currently closed for repairs. It is, apparently, an unusual place ... as you would expect!

We can't leave this tour of Loch Ness without a picture of the monster, can we?


Well, I guess a sculpture on a roundabout in Inverness will have to do as the real monster didn't show up!

We did a lot of miles that day, I've no idea how many. But what a  fantastic trip, and in perfect spring weather, too.

 

3: Cromarty

I also wanted to see Cromarty at the tip of the Black Isle. It's a nice example of a Georgian town; was once the county town of the oddest, most scattered county in the British Isles, Cromartyshire; and was the birthplace of Thomas Urquhart, a hero to linguists such as myself. It's a lovely town, with a very arty feel to it: the arthouse cinema, craft shops and exhibitions, the slaughterhouse repurposed as a coffee shop!...


Despite the offputting name, they do good coffee, and have a cosy fireplace.

The Cromarty Firth is where oil rigs go to die. Here's an atmospheric shot.


The town has reinvented itself as a cultural centre following much emigration. The poignant monument to that emigration stands on the shore looking towards the opening of the Cromarty Firth to the sea and the world beyond. 


It was at the Old Courthouse Museum that I enquired more closely about Sir Thomas Urquhart and the custodian went to the library cupboard and brought out copies of just about every book written about him and most of his works. I was stunned, so I took a few notes and will go back one day and look at them properly. Many thanks to the helpful and kind member of staff who showed me the stuff that's not normally on display.


Next door is Hugh Miller's Cottage, with it's pleasant garden, which in turn has a fairy garden!


I insisted we also go and see the so-called pirates' graveyard. So-called not because any known pirates were buried there but because the 17th and 18th-century tombs have a recurring skull and crossbones motif. Here are just a few of the fancier ones.




There's also an unusual and creepy crypt buried right under the turf.



 

 

Thankfully, they've put a grille over the open hole that lets a bit of light in. They wouldn't want someone falling in to their own death ... or would they?


Jinkies, Scoob! Sure is creepy! As is the tunnel that was used by servants to get to Cromarty House. You wouldn't want the staff using the main gate along with the Quality now, would you?


Anyway, I thought Cromarty was a fascinating and charming town. The Black Isle peninsula
in which it is located is a pleasant farming landscape, and which we drove around to Rosemarkie with its views up and down the Moray Firth and across to Fort George, another testament to the Jacobite Uprisings.

Moray Firth and Black Isle

Vast Fort George, built at great expense between 1748 and 1769, on the opposite shore of the Moray Firth
 

We didn't have time to go to Fort George but did enjoy a little time in Fortrose with its ruined cathedral.

That was a very interesting day in lovely, lesser-known places. We finished up at the award-winning Fyrish Tandoor in Alness. Indian restaurants are almost unknown in Italy so I make the most of the opportunities when I'm in Britain. My sizzling lamb shashlik was very good, I have to say. 


4: Culloden

I end this part of the trip with our day at Culloden Battlefield where the Jacobites met their final end after 60 years of sporadic civil war. It's complex history and if you really want to delve into it, here's the Wikipedia entry on Jacobitism, or you could go to the outstanding visitor centre on Drummossie Moor east of Inverness, as we did.

Roz knows one of the guides, Iona, and we booked her tour of the battlefield. The National Trust for Scotland owns about half the battlefield and has marked the opposing lines carefully with flags and information boards, and they are allowing the ground to revert from farmland back to bog, which was instrumental in the failure of the Jacobite charge on that fateful day in 1746.

The opposing lines at the start of the battle are clearly marked with paths and red flags for the government forces ...


... and blue flags for the Jacobite forces ...


As museum battlefields go, this is very well marked out and anyone can follow the action, and the aftermath.


I recommend it as a place to visit. The attached museum with documents and artifacts is very good, the café is nice and there is a huge car park. Iona, our guide, was super well-infomed, too.

Get this lady to guide you if you can.


I guess I've always had Jacobite sympathies. I'm not so convinced by all these Germans who've been on the British throne for 300 years. Or did the trouble start with the Normans? Or maybe the Danes? Mind you, the Romans really carved things up... Still, we visit historic sites so that we can see ...how the world constantly fails to learn the lessons of history. 

So Loch Ness, Cromarty and Culloden were three things to tick off my bucket list. Rather than extending this post with my final full day with Roz, I'll use the next post to describe in more detail the trip to the far north that I took fully en femme, my first Sue outing in six years.

Thanks for reading.

Sue x


Friday 12 July 2024

The Pride tram, rebel witches and weird food

 I'm away from home for a few days and have gone to Milan because of the good shopping to be done there, and for a bit of culture and eating out. Yes, the diet is on hold while I munch my way through some very interesting dishes. Traditional local food uses some weird cuts of meat, like beef shank sinews ("nervetti") and sweetbread (veal pancreas) and I'm not sure I can recommend them, but there's compensation in good pizzas and a wide variety of foreign restaurants. Last night's Spanish tapas were amazing, as was the cava to wash them down.

I've also been making photos and short films of the very old trams here. I've mentioned these before, but the backbone of the Milan tram fleet is still made up of the 1928 model streetcar that is still in daily use on half a dozen routes. I think it worth recording these because they will eventually be retired, and because one beloved trans friend of mine has a passion for trams so she'll want to see them. A trans tram fan! But I was delighted when one painted in Pride colours happened to trundle past on Route 1. Pride month is over but this will presumably not be repainted to standard livery for a while yet as it costs money so we have a moving Pride advert for the time being! 

 


I was pleased to hear that a whole subway train in Rome was similarly decked out this year.

Another local thing is a passion for artistic decks of playing cards, either normal 52 card decks or traditional Italian decks, which have different suits and usually only 40 cards, or tarot cards, and so forth. Lots of artists are commissioned to do their own take. I got a friend a present of a set of tarot cards depicting "rebel witches", i.e. nonconformists including a lot of LGBT icons like Ziggy Stardust, Ursula Le Guin, generic lesbian lovers, etc. I think they'll appeal to her.

 


Unrelated, but it's worth mentioning an unusual sight on the train here, which is the mile upon mile of paddy fields around Pavia where they grow Italian strains of rice. The crop is not full grown yet and is a brilliant green, poking up from the muddy water. Posted every fifty yards or so is a small white heron waiting for little fish and frogs to make the mistake of passing by. It's an unusual but attractive sight. Risotto with fried frogs is a local dish in that area, both ingredients coming from the same field. 

And we're back to odd food again! It's a bit of a fixation!

Have a good summer.

Sue x

Sunday 7 July 2024

Transgender arts and culture, summer 2024

 There are lots of cultural events and art shows with a trans flavour this summer. I won't be able to comment on them all in one post so here to start with are the two big ones ... and a more personal note of interest.

 

The Expressionists, London

Let's start with Tate Modern in London, which has a major exhibition on "The Expressionists: Kandinsky, Münter and the Blue Rider", which I went to see with a couple of friends in May. I'm not sure it was really my thing (and the £22 entry fee certainly wasn't!) but the record of the crossdressing performances of Alexander Sacharoff certainly were (Room 5: performing gender). Marianne Werefkin's striking 1909 portrait of Sacharoff is one of the exhibition's icons.

 


 

The exhibition describes these artists' gender outlook as follows:

Traditionally, theatre and performance offered safe environments for the exploration of sexuality and gender. Performers could switch gender and power roles, and engage with transgressive themes. Artist and patron Werefkin was attracted to the free arts of street theatre and popular entertainment for their freedom of expression and potential to disrupt the highly regulated social structures women were confined to.

Werefkin experimented with expressionist painting while also grappling with questions of identity. This included navigating the legal and social barriers of gender inequality. Her privileged upbringing and financial independence allowed Werefkin to assume a position of power, acting as patron and supporter of the arts – a field traditionally monopolised by men. In this period, such women were given the pejorative label ‘manwoman’ to denote their being ‘unnatural’, members of a ‘third sex’. This perspective was critically explored in the writing of contemporary philosopher and minority rights activist Johannes Holzmann.

Resenting gender binaries, Werefkin stated: ‘I am not a man, I am not a woman, I am I.’ She shared affinities with artists challenging traditional gender roles. This is reflected in her support of performer Sacharoff. Presenting androgynously both on and off stage, Sacharoff explored gender fluidity through new styles of performance that activated form through free movement. Believing that dance resembled music or painting, Sacharoff said: ‘In the art of dance the body must be an elaborate instrument capable of expressing the soul. In this sense, it must be as valid as the word, the sound and the colour’. Performance was central to both Werefkin and Sacharoff’s investigations and constructions of self-identity.

 

Some photos of Sacharoff's performances are here:

 

To be honest, though, it was August Macke's paintings of ladies enjoying the displays in milliners shops that appealed most to me!



Venice Biennale, Italy

The Venice Biennale is a contemporary art exhibition that dates back to 1895. The theme for 2024 is "strangers everywhere", focusing on art outside the mainstream, such as the art of lesser known cultures and queer art. The connection between the words strange and queer here is not accidental.

Trans or gender varied works and artists include:

trans man Rindon Johnson

non-binary artist Shalom Kufakwatenzi;

Electric Dress and A Sculpture for Trans Women by Puppies Puppies

Black Men in Dress by photographer Sabelo Mlangeni;

the mixed-gender, cigar-chomping skirt-sporting traditional Ekeke figure by Violeta Quispe;

and a degree of gender mixing in the Fashion Girl sculpture by Taylor Nkomo.

 

Other queer art at the Biennale that seems especially noted by the art press includes works by:

Omar Mismar from Lebanon and his paintings of male couples in the style of Greek mosaics;

Louis Fratino from the USA and his modern gay take on Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon;

Xiyadie from China, a gay farmer, explicit yet not, who mingles nature with humans aroused;

Salman Toor from Pakistan and his scenes of everyday life in the queer community.

 

Nearer to home

I find that my brother-in-law is actually a keen collector of contemporary art, a lot of which is quite fun (such as ceramic space invaders by Invader, who had a major exhibition in Paris earlier this year). He doesn't necessarily keep any item long but aims to sell it on. But he was quite excited about a piece by everyone's favourite crossdressing contemporary potter, Grayson Perry. It must have cost him a lot so I hope he gets a good return on his investment! But he was saying what he thought of Perry, aka Claire, and just accepted the alter ego as a necessary part of the artist's persona and production. The art world is very accepting of gender difference, as I found myself when participating in shows as Sue and I'm glad my brother in law is no bigot, which is more than can be said for the rest of my family.

 


Queer art from early twentieth and the early twenty-first centuries, then. More soon. 


A dip in the archives

I haven't dipped in the archives for a while but, for those interested in Grayson Perry, I saw work of his at the Photographers Gallery in London in 2018 with my friend Ange: Photography exhibition.

I also saw his less enthusiastically reviewed show, Provincial Punk, in Margate in 2015. Here's the review of that exhibition in The Independent.

Sue x

Wednesday 3 July 2024

Voting with my feet

 There are many significant elections in 2024. Tomorrow is the UK national election and the current government is universally predicted to lose. 

That government has caused me so many significant problems that, although I was living - and expected to live - my life in the United Kingdom, I felt compelled to leave in 2018. 

I now live in Italy. That's partly for health reasons since the naturally grey, dank climate of the British Isles was causing me many problems, but also for the significant economic damage, xenophobic abuse and now transphobia that has been pushed on me by that government since 2016. Italy afforded me a path to alternative citizenship through a very old law of theirs that anyone who has had an Italian ancestor from 1860 onwards is automatically an Italian, too. That connection merely has to be proved with suitable documentation. Thanks to Italian emigration in the last 165 years, a significant proportion of the world is now Italian! That's why pizza is the world's favourite food, right? Check your ancestry to tap into any benefits. Anyway, that was my ticket out of that hate-filled chaos of Brexit, the UK's crass, corrupt handling of the Covid pandemic, and the current brazen transphobia there. Italy has an officially extreme right-wing government now ... but one that's essentially pro-democracy, pro-Europe, pro-NATO, upholds the rule of law, constitutional arrangements and rights. Unlike the UK government that is so extreme it has seriously considered leaving the UN, human rights organisations and courts, and is frothingly enraged by vulnerable boat people, and by any organisation with "European" in its title, such as the European Atomic Energy Agency ...that oversees power stations!

This extremist insanity has been countered since 2016 not by reason or concerted opposition but by the government's own incompetence. The government has been made up largely of people educated in Britain's private education system (which is, with typical British perversity, known as the public school system), the chief function of which is to give its protegés the aura of competence in command and a right to rule but without providing them with any practical know-how at all. And it is only this failing that has prevented the UK from becoming a new Nazi state, though it came close with Boris Johnson's coup-like antics in 2019. Hitler, by contrast, was not an unimaginative guffawing dimwit, which is why his destructiveness was universal, not merely local.

It is beyond my understanding how a new government is to combat the corruption and criminality left by the outgoing one; the cost of living crisis; the decades-old housing crisis; the financial strains and damage of Brexit isolation; the ongoing banking crisis recession; the loss of international reputation because of the visible incompetence of the last few years; the ownership of much British public and private estate by private equity, shell companies in tax havens and foreign investors; the extreme right-wing leanings of most of the few owners of Britain's media and their corruption of the once politically neutral BBC; and all the other challenges of the 21st century for a country that has a constitution forged in 1689. I'm out of it and am glad to be so. Life in Europe has its complexities, stresses and problems, but nothing like as bad. I feel safer and less put upon. Trans rights are not very developed in Italy but they are not, so far, under that much threat. When I started this blog 13 years ago, Britain was progressing with trans rights, now it's regressing and the Labour Party leadership that is widely tipped to win tomorrow has said that it intends to accept many findings of the recent dishonest Cass report. The UK is a worsening place for trans people now.

When I went back to Britain in May I did renew my UK passport. That's simply to save hassle at the border after the harder effects of Brexit come into effect in due course (Brexit hasn't been fully implemented yet, you see.) But my Italian passport has more value and clout in the world than the UK one right now. How are the mighty fallen.


Incidentally, the UK government made a huge fuss about the return to blue passports after the years of European ones in plum colour. My UK one is unequivocally black, or 'blackshirt' as I call it. They couldn't even get a colour right! Or manufacture the passports in Britain (they are made in Poland, an ongoing member of the European Union). 

So I don't greatly care what the outcome of the election is tomorrow, although the eradication of the current malignant government that has caused me so much direct harm would give me some pleasure for a few hours on Friday. I'm staying in Europe now, like the hundreds of thousands of other Brits who've left and sought a life and citizenship elsewhere. Human rights, liberty and peace are essential to me. I will go where they can be found. The crazed state of the world scares me right now but I have my passports and I will go where it is safe. I hope you may find the safety to live peacefully, too.

Sue x

Friday 28 June 2024

Return to routine ... and the bulging wardrobe

 I'm quite tired and I slept nearly 12 hours last night. This month I got back from five weeks in Britain and then hosted guests twice. I need to get back into my own routine again. 

My last post stated that the climate where I now live is deemed the best. I have to say that the weather this year has been poor all over Europe, though, with above average rain, cloudier skies and, these last two weeks, a Saharan sandstorm that keeps dumping red sand over everything. I have access to a beautiful open-air swimming pool but it opened late for the season because the sand was clogging the filters and machinery. I keep washing vast quantities of sand like brick dust off my terrace, and all my clothes on the washing line end up dusted with it. You should see that state of the cars! OK, first-world problems and all that.

I did bring a number of old favourite items back from Britain, including that floral dress I wore when I went out with Stephanie.


Also lots of items of underwear and hosiery from my vast collection that's still in Britain. I keep buying new clothes here and I'm really going to have to get a new chest of drawers to cope. A TGirl never has enough space for all the clothes she needs. Yes, needs! And she usually has to have some items for "his" wardrobe as well. I'm almost rid of that "double collection" of his and hers now, though, by buying clothes off the women's racks that can do double duty as menswear when I have to present as male. I know that my clothes are women's clothes, so that keeps dysphoria a bit more at bay, but the rest of the world doesn't know they are unless they look very closely at, say, my jeans and see that they do up the "wrong" way. And what are you doing looking at my fly anyway, you pervert!

I also need to get back to my slimming routine, which has been interrupted for two months. Inevitably, I put weight on because I lost some control over what I was eating and drinking whilst away from home or whilst catering to guests. But I'm getting straight back to the plan. 

I'll also now have time to post the adventures from my time away, transgender art news that's been accumulating, and tell about my new feminine purchases. Watch this space. 

Sue x

Thursday 20 June 2024

Mellow midsummer

 I'm writing just as the sun's path reaches its northernmost point in the sky and we in the Northern Hemisphere get our shortest nights and longest days. I feel at my best. Like a walking plant, sunlight is my ultimate energy. Well, that and ravioli.

The Italian meteorological office has just issued a report examining various climate factors since the year 2000 and, of all the 104 provinces in Italy, that of Imperia, where I now live, is the one with the best climate overall. My health has certainly improved since moving here, and that was part of the plan.

 

Guests

I have had the pleasure of hosting my friend Stella and her wife here this week. We were neither in full fem mode - there's a limit to what a flamboyant girl like Stella is allowed to carry on a plane! And I have to be a bit discreet with the neighbours. It was nice to catch up, eat some tasty meals together, and I hope to see them again soon at their home in England.

It was Stella who took the photo that has always been the background image of my blog. It was taken on a picnic at Painshill Park in Southern England back in 2011, a trip that inspired me to start writing this blog. 650 posts later, and I've not forgotten the inspiration.

She also took this fabulous portrait of me ten years ago:



Check out Stella's professional shots here: Stellapix

On Saturday I have my nephew coming for a couple of days. This involves deprincessing. He's a young person and may well be more flexible about LGBT+ stuff than his ultra religious upbringing would have us believe, especially as he heads off to university this autumn, but I won't take chances with the crazy belief systems he's come from.


Trans Youth Are Loved

I'm pleased to hear about this new campaign supported by lots of famous names to assure young trans people that they are seen, valued and supported. These last few years, with the pandemic interfering with life and studies, the increasing polarisation and nastiness of politics, the use of trans people as a scapegoat, it's not a good time to be growing up if you are trans. So I hope the campaign is effective and encouraging. #TransYouthAreLoved

Also glad to hear that there were a million attendees at Rome Pride at the weekend.

Sue x

Wednesday 12 June 2024

Pride and preparation

 This is Pride month and I'm pleased to hear of all the various events happening round the world. I notice in Rome there is a whole train on the metro painted in Pride colours, and I was pleasantly surprised to see in my old home town of Twickenham, UK, that the main crossing in the middle of the High Street was a huge rainbow flag.


So if you're participating in an event this month, do enjoy it.

I'm preparing to welcome my trans friend Stella and her wife who are coming to stay this weekend. Stella and I did a whole bunch of stuff together in England, such as the TGirl bars at the 2011 and 2013 Erotica shows, and various events in London and Brighton promoting trans visibility. 

Stella (left) and the girls on Waterloo Bridge in the centre of London
 

Tributes

My friend Ann Drogyny passed away last month. I had too many other commitments to be able to go to her funeral but I hear it was a colourful event, just as she would have wanted. 

There was a last laugh. Apparently, because of traffic, the hearse was 45 minutes late. So Ann, who was always punctual in life, arrived late for her own funeral. That final irony would have tickled her!



I note also the passing of Lynn Conway, trans pioneer, who did something that I don't understand with computer stuff but who is nevertheless one of the better-known members of the trans community. Pink News obituary. May she rest in peace.

Rest in peace also, Stacy Novak, long associated with Transliving in the UK, its events and magazine.

Sue x


Friday 7 June 2024

The best laid plans ...

 I had hoped to update my blog with details of my progress in the UK throughout last month but blogging is always dependent on there being decent WiFi or phone reception ... and that's not always guaranteed in hotels or rural locations, and there were a lot of those.

I'm back home in the Mediterranean now after five weeks away and here this morning it's sunny and 25C. Compare this with a week ago when I was in bed with a cold after having been rained on again and again. Indeed, it hardly stopped raining throughout my time in Britain ... apart from a glorious time in the Highlands of Scotland where, despite its being said that there are four seasons a day, we actually had perfect spring weather for six days.

Hieland lassie

 

It was a very mixed trip with beautiful, interesting and exciting highlights - details and photos that couldn't be uploaded whilst there will be here soon - but several depressing lowlights. To be honest, although I spent quite some time visiting old haunts, I didn't feel especially nostalgic or that I missed them. I was actually quite glad to pass through the Channel Tunnel into France, enjoy the craziness of Paris and a quality dinner, and appreciate the beauty and warmth of the riviera, all on trains zooming at 300+ km/h, a total contrast to British railways where not one single journey went to plan.

I've managed to break the drought of my public appearances, though (see the last two posts), and that's a very special achievement. I have put out feelers to trans groups here in Italy and I hope to make new trans girlfriends here.

I may be back in the UK in July to catch up with other friends there, and I've been invited to Sparkle, which I'll think about as it's never a cheap event. 

Here's a giant slice of tiramisù that I was served in Paris. Yes, my diet did take a hit! But we're on track for an athletic summer of swimming and walking so I'll be back in my littlest dresses again soon.

 


Sue x