The hiking route ‘ [called ‘Estels del sud’ in Catalan] crosses the Natural Park of ‘Els Ports’, located in a mountain range right at the meeting point between the regions of Catalonia, Valencia and Aragon. Over five days, the route passes through the picturesque villages of Paüls, Arnes and Beseït. This is a great walking route to explore the full range of human and natural landscapes, some of which inspired one of the most innovative painters of the twentieth century,   

Southern Stars, the hiker’s constellation - Oriol Gracià

“We marked five points on the map following the main path that circles the mountains of the natural park of ‘Els Ports’. Uniting every one of them in a straight line, we saw something that reminded us of the shape of a constellation,” said Gabriel Gutiérrez, who runs the Font Ferrera mountain refuge. Ten years ago, those sketches on paper gave the name to the hiking project Estels del Sud [Southern Stars]. Southern, because although shorter sections of the route are in the Matarranya (east Aragon) and the Maestrat (north Valencia) areas, the longest part crosses southern Catalonia. The full route took us five days walking twenty kilometres per section on average; maybe hard if you are a not used to walking at all, but quite easy for non-professional hikers who just want to enjoy natural areas. But what makes this route unique is the very different kind of spaces you pass through: beech woods, pine and oak forests, green meadows, bare mountains and deep ravines furrowed by little rivers. “But beyond the natural interest, Estels del Sud helps to discover small mountain villages and its people,” added Gutiérrez.

First stage: Mont-Caro Refuge – Paüls // The circular route can be started at any of the five stages and walked in both directions. So on our first day we decided to walk from the highest point of the mountain range —the Mont-Caro peak (1447m) — towards Paüls, in an anticlockwise direction. We reached the village after passing Les Foies, Les Rases del Maraco and El Coll de l’Espina. Just after the Sant Roc forest, we got our first glimpse of the houses at the centre of a natural amphitheatre enclosed by the foothills of the mountain. It is interesting to climb to the top of the village, where there are the remains of the medieval castle and the old church with a high viewpoint that embraces the entire valley.

Estels del Sud_2

Second stage: Paüls-Arnes // Between Paüls and Arnes the track passes near les Roques d’en Benet (1016m), an impressive compact group of sheer rocky outcrops. It was easy to see vultures flying over our heads and Iberian wild goats —strong mountain animals with large and curved horns— climbing the cliffs. More than one hundred years ago, this area located near the village of Horta de Sant Joan, inspired the avant-garde painter Pablo Picasso to create cubist pictures. At the end of the stage, we reached Arnes on a flat hill with its church and its Renaissance style Town Hall building. Just in front, there is a huge natural balcony looking out over les Roques d’en Benet from the distance, one of the most photographed landscapes in that part of the mountain range.

Third stage: Arnes-Beseït // On the third day, the dense forests of el Coll de la Creu, La Roca Grossa and the Algars contrasted with the bare, dry and windy summit of Roca Galera, a bow-shaped plateau overlooking Terra Alta and Matarraya counties. Near the houses of Beseït, we crossed the river Ulldemó and we saw the bell tower of the Sant Bartomeu church which guided us to the little town centre, the last village we would past through during our trip.

Estels del Sud ParrisalFourth stage: Beseït-Font Ferrera Refuge // If you like swimming this is an enjoyable section to walk. June and July are the best months to swim in the Matarranya, the river that has shaped the rugged rocky landscape between Beseït and Font Ferrera. After a cooling dip we walked through the gorges with footbridges attached to the rocky walls. Going in to the canyon known as Gúbies del Parrissal, the walls were so impressive and vertical that we could only see a narrow line of sky above us. Technically, this was one of the most complex parts of the route.

Fifth stage: Font Ferrera Refuge – Caro Refuge// The stage remaining —which ends not far from the Mont-Caro peak— is a little bit gentler. The climb to the Coll dels Pallers was quite hard, but worth it to enjoy the views of the east part of the mountain range and the Ebro river valley. From there, we just followed the last few blue stars signs painted on the rocks that had  escorted us for the previous five days.

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Bannockburn, Scotland 1314 - Oriol Gracià2014 will mark the , the final episode in the . In Catalonia, the commemoration of that defeat will have a strong political signification. After that battle, Catalan institutions were abolished, Catalan language banned during public activities and people had to accept the authority of Phillip V de Bourbon, the new king of Spain. It is obvious, that it is not by chance that the Catalan autonomous government has decided to organise a referendum for the independence in 2014, just three centuries after the defeat. But in Scotland —where there will be a secession referendum this September 18th— almost no one gives political meaning to historical battles. « Contrary to Catalonia, in Scotland no one has ever denied our identity. And maybe because of that, we don’t use the history to have arguments and justify our politics”, claim Blair Jenkins, chief executive of YES Scotland pro-independence platform.

So, without the political connotation that we can find in Catalonia, in 2014 Scotland commemorates the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, where the king Robert the Bruce I defeated Edward II of England in a spot not far from the Stirling Castle. The victory meant the end of thirty years of English interferences in Scottish politics: Indeed in 1286, the death of Alexander II left the kingdom of Scotland without a crown prince and from that moment, the English tried to control their neighbours of the north. First William Wallace, and later Robert the Bruce I, have fought the English army. In the end, after the battle of Bannockburn, Scotland could declare its independence, even though there was no official recognition until 1320.

In the middle of the battlefield // 700 years later, the battlefield where the English and the Scottish army fought is a green landscape —without trees— close to the houses of Bannockburn village, just 2 miles from Stirling Castle. In this spot, nothing reminds us about war, except the bronze sculpture of Robert the Bruce I, set up during the 60s. Nowadays, a few meters away from the sculpture, we can find the new that has just opened this week.

Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre

One of the most interesting attractions there is the almost 360º screen that allows the visitors to be right in the middle of the 3D recreation. « We want the visitors to feel part of the history, and even though it is a virtual battle, they can be in the fight, among knights, archers and soldiers coming out of the screen », said Scott McMaster, property manager of the visitor centre. And after being submerged in the battle, the visitors can try their skills in military tactics in an adjacent room, where a circular table recreates the landscape of the area. Each player around the table is in charge of a group of soldiers of either the English or the Scottish army (it is the guide of the museum who decides). The aim is to defeat the enemies and occupy the Stirling Castle. If at the end of this activity the visitors still need more realism, they can wait for the medieval festival organised on the last weekend of June —the actual date of the battle—when they will be able to be in a Middle Ages army camp and to walk among soldiers in the flesh. ( 4/2/2014 // Photo1: Barcelona 1714 // )

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The cinema, as a cultural format, is a tool to explain reality to the world. Cinema, for the Kurdish People —divided, oppressed and ignored— is one of the best instruments to show their situation outside their territory, to unify the nation and keep the Diaspora together. This is one of the ideas underlined in the introduction of , paper program, which is running in the British capital. A festival that in this edition has featured 212 films (23 features, 46 documentaries and 52 shorts), including the documentary , directed by my friend and me.

The Silent Revolution in London Kurdish Film Festival - Oriol Gracià

With our own work at the Picture House in Hackney, we had the opportunity to see a fortnight’s worth of films. In general, the films were emotional, explaining the concept of Kurdistan to the world while stimulating social, political, cultural and anthropological debates among the Kurdish people in the festival. On Sunday evening, after our presentation, there was a question time and we could exchange views with almost two hundred people filling the cinema, most of them members of the Kurdish Diaspora. The audience underlined two ideas about our documentary:

1- The Positivism point of view. The Kurdish nation is a traumatized nation and you can feel it in many of the films these days screened in the festival. The fights between tradition and modernity or the debate about the role of women were recurrent subjects in the feature films we saw. In the documentaries, the subjects were based around massacres, corruption in politics, war, refugees or burned villages. On the contrary, The Silent Revolution is a work looking more to the future than to the past. It explains how the Kurds of Syria have taken advantage of the context of the war to peacefully control the Kurdish territory, how they have created the basis of a new autonomous and democratic parliament, how they have started to teach Kurdish in the schools, how the role of the women became essential in the revolution or how they launched Ronahi TV just one and a half years ago, the first channel in Syrian Kurdistan, featuring both Kurdish and Arabic.

2- An ignored subject. Since we went to West Syrian Kurdistan last March —the area we filmed the documentary— the situation has worsened and it is almost impossible to access without putting your life in peril. This territorial isolation, obviously, it is also informative. Moreover, the international media speaking about Syria focuses on the conflict between the Regime and the rebels, ignoring the role of Kurds in the war. The Silent Revolution, therefore, gives a voice to a reality that finds difficulties to be shown.

We filmed the documentary with our own resources, it means with a limited budged. Furthermore, during the shooting, we worked in complex situations. For instance, we found checkpoints in every village; often there were electrical cuts and problems charging batteries. Also, it was difficult to find petrol for the car and move all around the area. But we are proud of the documentary. The warm welcome we received in London —thank you Kerim Gokturk, Rebwaar Salam, Mark Campbell and so many of others— is encouraging us to keep working on media projects like The Silent Revolution.

Sinema Bi Kurdi Xwese! Cinema in Kurdish is nicer!

Oriol i David Londres

// Foto: Mark Campbell

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