Friday, April 23, 2010

Spectator of the world

Sometimes I wish to remain only in the role of a spectator in this world - it is something my training as a scientist does not emphasize enough, but standing outside the boundaries is an interesting experience and not practiced enough by many if not all.  Boundaries we face are oh so many and oh how varied - private property for instance is one, culture is another. 

Malinowski was one of these rare observers that managed to step out of his frame and take on the role of an observer, or then again, did he really?  Because of World War 1, he was strangled for many years at the Trobriand islands, from where he gained insights that helped him subsequently change anthropology - but also the way research has been conducted since.  The method diffused first within anthropology, where active participant observation has become the norm, - and later in organizational science, where qualitative research and in-depth case studies as basis for grounded theory have been gaining wider legitimacy during the last 50 years.  However, brought to light in his diaries discovered after his death, the prejudices of his Victorian society shine through the fabric of a well-meaning scientist, and tarnish the immaculate reputation so painstakingly built.  (An interesting video that inspired the above paragraph about Malinowski's life can be found here.)

Following this example, it is probably impossible to become an unbiased observer of our societies given all the conditioning we are given throughout our lives.  But the goal might be laudable and beneficial for research.  It is also intellectually challenging to uncover institutions underlying the sense-making of everyday activities, the hidden goals and assumptions of how we engage with this game of life, how we write our own stories, and choose our own path.  Observation implies stepping out of the picture, acting less oneself but analyzing the actions of others - an attractive position, bringing one somehow outside the human condition of accepting the events and reacting upon them.  Observation gives one the illusion of getting rid of the emotions, of only applying reason, of attempting to see the light, the pattern, the position.  An ideal-type, that maybe should be somehow taught in PhD schools, or other invisible schools of life?  While looking for my thesis topic, I try hard to keep my eyes and ears wide open to the unidentified objects that one day might be converted from a garbage can to a full paper through the black box of my brain.  I polish my observing skills, getting inside the matrix of artificial reality.

Today is Saint George's day, or day of St Jordi here in Catalunya, celebrated as a national holiday with some analogies to St Valentine's day.  The streets are full of people buying roses for the women and books for the men, creating the spirit of a festival, a marketplace, during this already warm spring day.  The roses date from medieval times, chosen for the most beautiful lady, whereas the custom of giving books was initiated by a brainy bookseller in the beginning of the 20th century as a way of increasing his own, as well as his neighbor flower shop sales on this day.  The legitimizing reason was the near-by anniversary of death for both, Cervantes and Shakespeare, - and the hidden one that Barcelona is the publishing capital of Spain.  Today, in a funny twist of fate, roses are being sold in red and blue - for the colors of the so far loosing FC Barcelona, but books also are in fashion, at least during one day in the year.  Relentless Wikipedia reports that "by the end of the day, some four million roses and 800,000 books" are purchased.  Half of the books sold in the whole year are basically purchased in this one day - a little bit sad for the reading, but interesting for industry dynamics.  The last fun observation - today it is even possible to send a virtual rose through the website of Generalitat, although I have my doubts about evaluating the added value of this incredible innovation.

I observe traditions, and also climb.  Hopefully more about the climbing next!

Monday, April 05, 2010


Over with Kalymnos, but not with Greece - i headed to Meteora to finish off the vacation.  This is a lesser-known climbing destination, although a popular touristy spot in northern Greece.  Kalampaka is the last train station, and it takes around 4 hours of train ride to get to this, seemingly end-of-the-worldly place.  I discovered the walls in all their beauty turning my head while sitting in the train, and my jaw went down with an 'ah' sigh.  

Meteora is known as one of the biggest Orthodox monestary centers, with 6 functioning monestaries that tourists come to visit from all over the world.   These monestaries were ideal refuge citadels for the monks after the fall of the Byzantine empire and Turkish envasion of Northern Greek plains.  Acces to some was limited to climbing a vertical rope hand over hand, and the older monks were directly lifted up in a home-made net!  Provided that ropes were replaced 'only when Lord made them brake', vertical risk-taking must not have been a problem in those days.  Monestaries and caves became again what they were originally, refuge sites, during the WWII.

Meteora is also a spectacular climbing destination, first climbed by the Germans in the 70s.  They published the first topo, and pushed the development of routes and summit registries, similarly to Elbsandsland.  The rock is conglomerate, like in Montserrat or Riglos, although with more black overtones prevailing.  Meteora also has a fame of being rather run-out due to the nature of the rock and the old ethics of not using too much protection, or chalk for that matter. 

The village of Kastraki, Ioulietta's home, and the Tower of Holy Ghost below:

We went off on a bucolic photo session at the base of the Holy Ghost tower, full of spring flowers in bloom:

Ioulietta in action:

And myself discovering the inhabitants of Meteora's plains:

We were rahter careful choosing our route with Ioulietta, given that we did not have helmets or any other trad gear, and run-outs are not favorite with any one of us.  We finally decided to try Action Directe (yes, the name had something to do with the choice!),  a beautiful line going to the top of the Holy Ghost Tower.  There is actually a mystery about this tower, as a cross was found on top of it, and supposedly it was put there in the 14th century - however to this day it is unclear how and who climbed this tower to put the cross on top of it as no remains of any artificial climbing have been found there so far, and all routes going up it now are at least grade V...Action Directe, going up the water streak in the middle of the pic:

Anyway, we enjoyed ourselves very much on this new-style, bolted, and very recommendable route.  The second pitch proved the hardest, around 7a(+), Riglos style crux on big boulders.  The third and fourth pitches were very good as well, at about 6b and 6c respectively.  We rapped after the 4 pitches as the second part has not been freed so far, and we did not feel like pushing our aiding on these beautiful rock formations.  Below Ioulieta, getting to the last belay, ascent all in red - starting with the rope, backpack, and trousers - and finishing with the nailpolish. That's how girls do it!!!

And myself keeping up the red tradition, with a monestary half way down the wall in front:

In a nutshell - Greece is definitely worth putting on any climber's map - for sport or long route climbing.

Kalymnos - Last Days

Our journey through the rock walls of Kalymnos continued with more days, more sectors, and more routes.  After the impressive Cicati Cave, we spent another day at Ghost kitchen, where I managed to do the first 7a onsight of the trip - Axium, maybe an easy grading for once.  The other routes were not that easy though, and both 7a and 7b to the right of Axium remained only as tries, and routes worth coming back to.  Below myself working out the start of Thimari, supposedly 7a, but felt harder in the burning sun:

After a due rest day, we spent 2 days at Odyssey.  It is a less impressive sector, with more 'usual' limestone pockets - reminding me of Camarasa and my struggles with Maugli there last fall.  This time i struggled with another 7b that kept pushing me off, the Daphne.  A technical line on almost whitish stone, with good rests and slippery sections in between, it motivated me to give it 3 tries, despite the burning and crushing the route offered to my tired fingers.  Nevertheless, it went on the first try, next day, making it one and only project accomplished of this trip.  Below myself being lowered, Pau and Luis below, and the endless Greek islands in the background, picture by Ioulietta.

And an incredible picture of Pau (by Ioulietta, again and always) has to appear here as well.  He is climbing Amphora, 7b, another climb worth getting on soon before it gets too polished:

The last day of the trip we went to yet another sector - the powerful Spartacus.  Another cave, tufas were waiting there for us, to leave a good taste in the mouth and a strong desire to come back to this enchanting place, and maybe work Spartacus or Gladiator routes there.  Below myself on top of Amazonas tufa, hard for a 6c:

And i managed my best onsight of the trip - a real 7a this time, pumpy pockety Kerberus:

Kalymnos surprised me and went above my expectations in many ways - especially with the quality of routes, but also the beauty of the lanscape and the sea.  It was also much less commercial than i expected.  For instance, the approach and climbing at Cicati is very rewarding for the solitary ramblers looking for the wonders of this world.  Kalymnos also confirmed my change from an alpine to a pure sport climber - i realized how much i really enjoy this sport, pushing my limit on the rock.  Hopefully, i will come back - and thanks to the team for a great climbing vacation!!