Friday, March 30, 2007

malvinas/falklands: maggie and me

I’m eight and a half. The Iron Lady stands firm against the miners and lingering threats of three day weeks. She represents order, electricity and rubbish collection. She is not for turning. In our house, knowing your mind, sticking to what you said you would do is a good thing. Changing your mind is a sign of weakness. We watch the ships journey across oceans, and we hold our breath.

At ballet school mime is my thing (my arms are too stiff for fluid movements and positions). After class, just as on the bedroom landing, I do my impression of her. Handbag included, mixing in some Kenny Everett for camp value.

I set my sites high. I will be prime minister one day, just like Maggie T.

I am on a lake, high high above the world. The sky-water is an intense azul. Into the boat crowd a group of students. We sail out onto Lake Titicaca and they pass round a gourd and bombilla – they offer it to me and it seems unfriendly not to accept. The herbs are green and bitter, but the water hot through the silver straw. They advise me to wear sunscreen, they may even have given me more. We are high up, the sun is fierce. We arrive at la isla del sol, the sun island, and fan out over the rocky paths, searching for ruins and sun gods. Fourteen years, one dictatorship, hundreds of dead, hundreds more suicides, and un mano de Dios later, I met my first Argentines.

Last January, three days after arriving in Buenos Aires, a new friend tells me the Argentine liberals cheer 'Gracias a Thatcher' with some irony and some truth. Thanks to Maggie, thanks to the whole mess, the opposition to General Galtieri gained momentum. Two years later, the regime ended. My world turns once more.

Today I live here, in this 'city of faded elegance.' I'm even an official resident with a DNI to prove it. Who'd of thought it 25 years ago, when I was one of Thatcher's children?

I no longer believe strength lies in arrogance.
I no longer believe our loyalties can be wrapped in a flag.
I no longer believe war is easy.
I no longer believe we can choose not to speak of our past.

This is the first of a series of posts about the 25th anniversary of the Malvinas/ Falklands war.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

adio kerida

Have I mentioned the great class on ethnography I'm taking at la UBA? Well, I'm taking this great class on ethnography at UBA this term. It's lead by Ruth Behar a Cuban-American feminist ethnographer. Ruth is encouraging us to be rigorous, honest and creative in our work. The other students are mainly from the department of anthropology (so I'm playing catch up with the name checking) and are researching a wide range of cultures - from Buenos Aires fashion models, to Toba communities in Gran Chaco, to recent Armenian immigrants. Many of them are politically or socially motivated, and active in supporting the communities they work alongside, even living with.

One evening last week, I went with a handful of students to the Synagogue on Avenidad Libertad in the heart of the city. I'd been itching to get a look inside the building, although as it happened we didn't get to see the worship space this time. We were there for a screening of Ruth's film on the Jewish Cuban community, Adio Kerida. You can watch a trailer for the film here, and read more about it.

The film explored the small community of Sephardic Jews in Cuba. descended from the Jewish populations expelled by the Spanish Inquisition in the fifteenth century. (In the film, Ruth notes the irony that the synagogue in Havana is located on Calle Inquisición.) Sephardic (from the Hebrew for Spain) Jews have a deep roots in many cultures - Turkish, north African, Spanish, Cuban, North American - through a long history of migration. And this was particularly clear for me in the scene of Miguelito, a young African-Cuban, drumming out his Jewish faith. This ongoing collection and reapplication of language, traditions and music suggested a creative openness to the world, perhaps enabled by an ancient set of core values and beliefs. Adio Kerida - Goodbye Dear Love, is about the sorrow of leaving and exile, but also about that which we take with us each step of the way.

31 years past

Saturday was the 31st anniversary of the start of the military dictatorship in Argentina, a date remembered by many Argentines, including this blogger in the city of Rosario.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

fire and bread

More self-promotion folks. I've contributed a piece to this book of Eastertide resources (Easter Sunday until Trinity Sunday) from the Iona Community.

My piece is about communion oddly enough. Friends will know that I don't receive communion, nevertheless I wanted to share my experience of this ancient and holy feast, which was brought into focus for me during my STETS days, where I encountered a wide range of eucharistic beliefs and practices, sometimes conflicting but always conducted in faith, hope and love.

You can order the book at the Wild Goose website
or at Amazon.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Parties may not seem an appropriate Lenten theme, but, as Dad and I discussed just last week, the celebration of Jesus' resurrection each Sunday overrules any fasting. Party on, as they say.

Last night I went to a birthday party of an Argentine friend and on the crowded cross-town bus back, I got to thinking what makes a good party. I decided a good party is one that is remembered with either a sigh of happiness, or a shriek of laughter. And both sorts are well remembered with others, since such events are too full to be held by one memory alone. So here, in no particular order, are seven great parties I celebrated on that bus ride home:

Union Theological Seminary's Christmas Party, New York City, December 1998
Such a beautiful night - Bekah singing Amazing Grace, DJ asking Rachel to marry her, compliments on the dancing. I still could cry.

Helen R's party, Harbourne, summer of ...1991 or 2
Gatecrashers, frozen daffodils, destroyed garden walls, loads of us sleeping over but only until Helen set us cracking at 7 am to clear up the food fight outside and retrieve the garden furniture from down the street.

Ethan's party, Palermo, February 2006
Ethan the social magnet. International jet-set plus dirty backpackers and gay porteños. Eunhye and I leaving 'early' at 4 am, as yet more people arrived.

Afternoon party, St John's, summer 1994

Sandwiches and cake, tea and chat, (veggie) jelly and ice-cream, in this girls-only gathering (until Alun arrived).

Japanese party, Lima, December 1995
Armed security, the embassy set, professional photographers, a swimming pool full of balloons, Chara teaching me to salsa. And after, the siege of the Japanese embassy and, years later, reading Bel Canto at Katherine's and thinking how strange life is.

Utila parties, Zero-siete and on the dock, Utila, summer 1995
Free rum, Marley, star gazing with Jo and Jon.

My seventh (at a guess) birthday party, Wolverhampton, October 1980
The one where I got to have an outside party (after years of envying my sister being born in July). Halloween pumpkins and the smell of candles.

He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." (Luke 14.12-14)

Following Jesus, Christianity often talks of heaven as a party. But what kind of party are we getting ready for, and what shall we wear, or take? Because, I'm not interested in some dull gathering. I want this party to be full of good music, swirly dancing, the people I long to spend time with and others who I'm just discovering how much I'll enjoy hanging out with. And there should be party snacks bright with artificial colouring to hype you up, glitter, conversations on the doorstep, lost shoes, kisses, experimental cooking, what seem to be very important discussions, and someone asleep in the corner.

Latin American theology makes good use of the theme of fiesta, to illustrate the need for everyday celebrations amidst hard times, and a way of talking about God and ourselves that happens over tortillas, wine and dancing. James Allison, a British theologian who has spent much time in Latin America, also uses the idea of a party to describe life in the Christian community, asking, like Jesus, who is invited and how we treat those we are surprised to find there.
So I’d like to say that for me being Catholic is being at a huge and very spacious party at which there are an awful lot of people, most of whom are not at all like me and with whom I don’t have much in common. Furthermore this is a party to which I have been invited not because I’m special, or any of the other people are special, but because the host invited me, part of his little joke, a joke whose full sense isn’t yet clear to me. And yet I’m beginning to get the sense that it is a good joke, that the intention behind it is benign, and that if only I can let go of taking myself too seriously, then I’ll get it and will really enjoy the dance.

One of the things about this party is that quite a lot of us spend quite a lot of time trying to work out who should be at the party and who shouldn’t, even when the evidence is that the host is pretty promiscuous in his invitations.…

…The capacity for party seems to be grinding to a halt because of the question of whether, after all, the promiscuous host isn’t once again trying to smuggle a new bunch of people past the bouncers and get them into his party; or whether it is not the promiscuous host who’s doing the smuggling at all, but some evil agent who wants to destroy the party by infiltrating evil people into it, people incapable of partying.

May we never lose our ability to party, or our willingness to help others to do so.

You can read the complete talk by James Alison, given at Sarum College during a conference on human sexuality, here.