Christine Madden

journalist | editor | dramaturg | literary translator

Category: Blog (page 2 of 6)

Witches’ brew

A big pot of broth is a potion in more ways than one

It’s that time of year when just looking outside, never mind stretching a tentative finger out from under the duvet, makes you feel shivery and chilled through. Even multiple cups of fresh, hot tea aren’t always enough to tempt you to shed your blanket. The winner every time, though, is the promise of a rich and aromatic cupful of steaming broth.

I used to absolutely hate making broth. It was always an insipid disaster. Every so often I’d try making broth again, and every time it would be the same watery slop more reminiscent of rinsing water than anything else. I’d have to heave spoonfuls of powdered stock mix into just to be able to drink it.

Then, suddenly, magically, it worked. After having tried and tried again, having a go at various tips and recipes, a large potful of various ingredients suddenly turned into something incredible – rich, flavoursome and so warm and comforting. It was like magic.

What made the difference this time was treating it almost as something alchemical. I think of the people in history, wise men and women, who understood about plants and animals, fungi and minerals, who learned how to combine these things into nourishing, healing and restorative broth – potions – and how this knowledge made them respected and frequently feared.

It’s the alchemy of cooking that keeps me interested in it (as well as the daily need for something tasty to eat). Every time I make a yeast dough, I actually get a thrill observing how the ingredients physically transform during kneading from a big, swampy slosh into the elastic and resilient ball. It’s perennially exciting to watch a variety of ingredients interacting with heat, physical intervention and each other to metamorphose into something you’d not only instagram but also put in your mouth and consume with pleasure.

Treating the individual ingredients and every step reverentially – from meat and bones to onions, carrots and herbs – seems to draw out and combine the individual energy of the ingredients into something extraordinary. I think of how people were pursued for this knowledge as I watch the various colourful ingredients of the broth bubble away in the water and am grateful to live in a time of ample provision, and a time in which scientific curiosity in the world is not persecuted and punished. Of course you can get all kinds of broth in all kinds of supermarkets, any time of the day or night. It’s frequently a lifesaver to have that convenience in days filled with work and stress. But there’s something especially warming and nourishing about making your own. You won’t be changing lead into gold, but then again, in a way, maybe you will.

Send in the clowns

Clowns Without Borders Ireland continues their mission with a tour to refugee camps in Lebanon to ensure there is ‘no child without a smile’

Children of Al Jaleel school for Palestinian refugees in Talabaya, Lebanon. Photograph courtesy of Al-Jana

PLAY AND LAUGHTER are normal occupations of young children. It’s how they learn about the world and how to engage with it and each other. And how to relieve themselves of the stresses of their challenging encounters with it.

For millions of children enduring and displaced by wars and hardship, however, the new normal is despair, fear and trauma. There’s little to laugh about when your home and neighbourhood have been destroyed by bombs, members of your family have been killed and you now live in a refugee camp, suffering poverty, hunger, disease and the harshness of the elements.

But laughter is what Clowns Without Borders seeks to provide. The organisation had its beginnings in Spain in 1993, when schoolchildren in Barcelona asked a Spanish clown to perform for refugees in the Istrian peninsula of Croatia. It has now spread around the world, with chapters in 14 countries bringing performing artists to visit the children in refugee camps, conflict zones and areas beset by emergency. Their performances give these children a chance to escape, however briefly, their hardships and anguish with a few hours of light-hearted joy.

CWB Ireland team at Chatila, a Palestinian camp in Beirut: (l-r) Orlagh de Bhaldraithe, Daniel Guinnane, Helen Gregg and Niamh McGrath. Photograph courtesy of Al-Jana

CWB Ireland, a group of professional street artists, theatre practitioners, puppeteers and circus performers – all volunteers – recently travelled to Lebanon to visit several refugee camps. This year, Helen Gregg (team leader and performer), Daniel Guinnane (musician/performer), Niamh McGrath (performer) and Orla de Bhaldraithe (musician/performer) spent three weeks on tour of the refugee population, assisted by the local arts organisation Al-Jana. Its director, Hicham Kayed, wrote: “The performances had a strong impact on the children, often deprived of education and cultural or social activities. [They] would light up as they rejoiced in sharing in the tricks the clowns performed and the pranks they played on each other.”

Putting into practice their motto “No child without a smile”, CWB Ireland’s tour of 19 different locations included Palestinian camps such as Burj Barajneh in Beirut of Nahr el-Bared in Tripoli/Trablus, and new encampments of Syrian refugees in rural areas such as the Beqaa valley.

This was the second time round in Lebanon for Gregg, the leader of the group. She had expected the situation mostly to encompass the Syrian conflict and its refugees. The additional experience of going to the Palestinian camps that have been in existence in the 1940s – “where the residents are the descendants of those people who fled the Arab-Israeli war of that time” and are born as refugees, Gregg explains – was an eye-opener.

Children watch the show at SP Overseas Syrian camp in Saida. Photograph courtesy of Al-Jana

The experience was special not only for the children. “To be honest,” Gregg says, “the work is a gift to us. To be afforded the opportunity to connect with people from cultures and life experiences so different from our own, both children and adults, is a rare thing.” She describes meeting tiny Syrian children in the Beqaa valley, who fled with their families to – or were born in – the windowless shacks and muddy fields near the Syrian border, and “making them smile and laugh with our messing, being gifted with their hugs and kisses”. Every interaction was important to them, she says: “It’s terribly sad and yet wonderful at the same time to be able to make that human connection, to share fun together and bring the memory of them home.

“And when they asked us, as they often did, if we would be coming back tomorrow – well, that was heartbreaking.”

CWB Ireland have since embarked on a tour of Syrian refugee camps in Jordan with Hullabaloo, a new circus show by Laura Ivers, Maria Corcoran, Tony Mahon and Hillas Smith, directed by Angelica Santander


Euro Vision

    At the Pulse of Europe rally on Munich’s Max-Joseph-Platz, 19 March. Photograph: Christine Madden

MORE than a thousand people attended a Pulse of Europe rally in Munich on Sunday, 19 March,  joining thousands across Germany and other locations in Europe – including Galway, for which the crowd on Munich’s Max-Joseph-Platz gave a big cheer.

Waving flags and banners, the assembled crowd listened to speakers expounding on their personal experiences of Europe and the importance of the EU to them as private individuals, workers and professionals, community members and citizens.

Scottish Saltire waves at Pulse of Europe rally. Photograph: Christine Madden

And although Britain and Scotland seem currently to be wrestling out their differences regarding union – EU and UK – membership, several of the attendees at today’s rally demonstrated their support for Scottish membership in the EU.

Pulse of Europe, a non-party-affiliated citizens’ initiative to defy the rise of far-right and racist politics in Europe, has begun holding rallies in German cities every Sunday. Their goal, according to the website, is “nothing less than the preservation of the confederation in order to secure peace and guarantee individual freedom, justice and legal security”.

Father and son show their support for the EU. Photograph: Christine Madden

One hundred years ago, stated one speaker, European countries were at war with one another. Now, symbolised by the stars on the blue field in the EU flag, they are members of a political and economic union and – despite disagreements – at peace. The stability of the union and friendly understanding among these nations is a gift that should be valued and treasured and protected.



EU-enthusiast trumpets his support at the Pulse of Europe rally. Photograph: Christine Madden

Munich rally attendees welcoming Scotland in the EU – “Your vote, your future”, the empty star labelled “space for Scotland”. Photograph: Christine Madden

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