I’ve moved to Majorca for the winter to start a new chapter of my life. I’ve been here two weeks, staying at first in an Airbnb room while I get myself sorted. I’ve really lucked out with my host Montse (short for Montserrat, common female name in Cataluña), who is friendly, chatty and super-helpful. Let me tell you how it is here…

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Bunyola, the village I’m staying in, has two donkeys I’m told, one one each side of the valley. One lives just up the hill from the house and its laboured noises come through my window in the mornings. Does any other creature sound like it’s such hard work to communicate? El burro’s eeyoring starts off with a growl like a cantankerous old man then slips into the familiar in–out wheeze. It seems such an effort!

Through the magic technology of a plug-in repellent, I have finally won the battle with the mosquitos at night. It took me a while to work out that shutting the windows at dusk was a good idea. Then a few nights experimenting with a spare sheet over my head as a makeshift net. Those bastards! I’d be just about to drift off to sleep when that annoying whine would make me start and I’d flap my arms round my head in some kind of panicked reflex reaction. It seems so incongruous in November too. Surreal.

IMG_2387It may seem obvious when I say it, but traditional Mediterranean houses have shutters on the outside not curtains on the inside. The first night I hung up my towel over the window to keep the light out. It was the next morning that I remembered shutters. And I love them! There’s something oddly satisfying about leaning out of the window (through the two-foot thick wall) and swinging the shutters in, the scrape–clank as they enclose the room in darkness. In the morning, opening the shutters feels like a big ‘buenos días’ to the world (and the occasional passerby dog-walker).

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These little narrow streets of stone steps are so pretty. But my, what a pain in the arse for getting around! People here are used to them, no doubt, but my legs are mighty tired! For the rubbish collection, a man walks round the streets with a large wheelie bin picking up the bags that residents have left at the little stations dotted around. Driving (obviously not up the steps, though Montse told me a story of a man who did try it, got stuck, and had to have his vehicle airlifted out) is tricky: you go slow in the village with these narrow streets; parking is ridiculous: I’ve never had to place a car quite so tightly between a wall and a road.

So that’s been my first two weeks. It’s absolutely beautiful here in the mountains, the sun shines most of the time, people are friendly and in no rush, and life feels largely benign. Tomorrow I move into my own place and can finally settle for the next few months. My casita is half-an-hour’s walk from town in a hamlet populated by about four cats in winter, apparently. It’s going to be a whole new challenge entirely.

I’ve been re-reading short stories by Ernest Hemingway recently. He really was some writer. Here is the opening line from one of my favourites, A Clean, Well-Lighted Place (1933):

It was late and every one had left the café except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light.

Bam! Those twenty-nine (mostly monosyllabic) words put the reader right in there. I can picture the scene: the time of day, the place, the mood. But who is the old man and what is he doing there? It’s so brilliant.

This story hasn’t got much plot – the old man is a lonely drunk and the waiters want to go home to bed – but for me that’s even better. It’s a vignette of a little situation, a contemplation of dignified ageing. Who needs action when you’ve got ideas?!

Here’s something I wrote recently with my Magic Lantern Film Club hat on…

In Saudi Arabia, men and women are two very different groups indeed. This has grown out of custom and tradition, rather than any religious doctrines. It means that, in public and in the cities at least, the sexes are segregated. If you happen to be born female, you are forbidden to drive, can’t go out in public without a male chaperone and spend your entire life under the ‘protection’ of a male guardian who decides all the important things for you.

It is a culture portrayed in our next film, the wonderful Wadjda (Al-Mansour 2012). The film is the story of a defiant 10-year-old girl who wears sneakers to school and hangs out with boys. She becomes set on getting a bicycle so she can race (and beat) her friend, avoiding the restrictions of Saudi womanhood for as long as she can. It’s a touching and funny coming of age story, showing the strong relationship between a girl and her mother. I can’t think of many other films off the top of my head where this relationship is the central one in the film.

Wadjda-FILMBut Wadjda is not just a good film. It is the first feature film made entirely in Saudi Arabia (a place where access to cinema is limited) and is the first made by a female Saudi director. She made it in spite of the restrictions she faced (she had to direct the street scenes via walkie-talkie from the back of a van). This important piece of cinema enables us to have a little window on this closed and conservative culture, where girls can’t play in the playground because there are some workmen nearby who might see them and don’t ride bicycles because it is believed it will prevent them from having children.

I’ve never been to Saudi, I know I look at this culture with Western eyes and many Saudi women are happy with the way things are (though many also want change). But quite frankly the society portrayed in this film disgusts me – if this was discrimination based on race, there’d be global outrage. As it is, it’s just the way they do things there. Well it’s not right. The way I see it, restricting the freedoms of 50% of people because of their physiology is simple oppression.

506102288Here at Magic Lantern Film Club we don’t have a political agenda for our programming. We try to be inclusive and offer everybody the chance to participate in the wonder of watching a film, of being transported elsewhere for a while. But Mel, Jenny and I are three independent, well-educated, liberal women. We have opinions on gender equality. We like to see strong female characters in film, a medium we love.

Because as well as being magic, cinema has an important role in illuminating the ways in which other people live and addressing injustices. The recent 12 Years A Slave opened many people’s eyes to just how inhuman, degrading and downright awful American slavery was. (By the way, Wadjda‘s not like this at all. There’s no harsh feminist message rammed down your throat. It’s as much about the bicycle as a symbol of freedom, or just a sweet film about growing up.)

I want to see a world where people aren’t divided and categorised so much, not least based on gender (a social rather than biological construct). Maybe cinema can help us get there.

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