Thursday, December 24, 2009

christmas card

The stories we treasure
The ones we ignore
God’s story at Christmas
Makes room for them all.

Los relatos que guardamos
Los que ignormas
El cuento de Navidad
Tiene espacio para todos.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

some other blogs while i'm not blogging

Two blogs I've discovered recently and am very much enjoying:

The Fidra Blog
Children's bookshop and publishers in Edinburgh. Promotes great books for girls (JILL!!!). Critiques not so great books for girls... read the damning review of Twilight, and watch how Buffy might deal Edward's stalking.

Written by Julie Zeilinger, teen feminist. You get trashy pop culture plus feminist critique. What's not to like?! Read Julie on her crush on Zack Efron, but not his film 17 Again. Or see her latest post on Wimbledon's ranking of women players based on 'box office appeal' rather than, er.. tennis? (Is this really true? Along with the 'women player can't shout coz that would be unladylike' crap?)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


thesis + panic - time = no blogging

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Marcella Althaus-Reid

I caught up late on the sad new that Marcella Althaus-Reid, Professor of Contextual Theology at New College, Edinburgh, died at the end of February.

Reading the tributes left by students, colleagues and friends, one thing stood out - Marcella's constant support - academically and personally - for all those trying to make their own unique way in the world.

I had read Marcella's work on indecent theology, studied at ISEDET where she also studied, and discovered many mutual friends before I met her in January 2007. We met in her offices overlooking the foreboding front quadrant of New College. I had found her abundance of theological ideas at times difficult to grasp. Moreover, her willingness to sub/vert, per/vert, long-established theological dogma was both thrilling and disturbing. I was expecting to be overawed by such a formidable intellect.

I was not prepared for this petite chic woman, a red shawl swept across her shoulders, a warm welcome and attentive ear.

I only met Marcella once but I was delighted to have done so. Her fierce critique and bound-less creativity will continue to inspire me.

God, she wrote, will always escape our ideologies. God is not bound by our morality. Indeed, we would find God indecent, queer, clandestine, unlawful. God the boundary-crosser, the transgressor, the cross-dresser, the whore. A God who loves without censor, without purpose, without limits, without end.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

wonky tiaras

What I appreciate most about Mark Kermode's weekly film review on Five Live is his direct confrontation of nasty, stupid and dangerous perceptions of women in film.

It's rare for a male media personality to reference Andrea Dworkin; rare for a man to unambigiously criticise films that objectify, sideline, attack and fear women. So even though I don't share his interest in horror movies, or agree with his critique of SATC, I am regularly encouraged by Mark's feminist insight and commitment.

I wish more men would hold other men accountable for their treatment of women. I wish more men were brave enough to apply feminist perspectives to their work. I wish more men promoted strong, healthy, intelligent, independent role models for women and girls.

Mark's recent review of The Young Victoria is a case in point. He praised the film for its portrayal of a young woman finding her own way - yes, in partnership with her beloved Albert, but not at the expense of her own purpose and vision.

And on that theme... I'm loving this from think geek, via the consistently inspirational feministing blog

that introduced me to another man doing the feminist thing - author Robert Munsch and his creation, The Paperbag Princess.

Prince, frog, dragon...who needs them?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

counting the cost

Today Argentina marks 33 years since the start of the military dictatorship.

2818. The number of days under dictatorship (24 March 1976 - 10 December 1983)

30,000. The number of people who were kidnapped, tortured and 'disappeared' by the military

500. The number of babies taken from their mothers and illegally given up for adoption.

97. The number of children who have discovered their true identity - the latest in February of this year.

500. The number of illegal hidden detention centres established by the dictatorship. The largest of these was the former Naval Academy (Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada) in Buenos Aires, in which some 5000 people were held and tortured.

46,000 million. The number of dollars of external debt owed at the end of dictatorship.

517. The percentage rate of inflation between 1976 and 1983.

14, ooo. The number of soldiers and conscripts sent to the Malvinas/ Falklands in 1982.

694. The number that died.

29. The number of months since Julio Lopez, aged 77, disappeared for the second time, hours before he was due to witness against a former police investigator.

This is a translation of an article in today's Clarín

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

fairtrade fortnight 2009

This past year, £700 million of Fairtrade products were bought in the UK.

Tate & Lyle went Fairtrade last year. Starbucks, Sainsburys, more and more big companies (and lots and lots of small ones) are going Fairtrade. Great!

During Fairtrade Fortnight why not:

Go Bananas - Be part of the world’s biggest Fairtrade banana-eating record attempt. Join in by eating a Fairtrade banana anytime between noon on Friday 6 March and noon on Saturday 7 March.

Buy one of three thousand Fairtrade products - maybe one you've never tried before.

Start campaigning for a Fairtrade Olympics in 2012 - watch out for more details from the Fairtrade Foundation; and for now:
  • Play some Fairtrade games with sports balls – footballs, volleyballs, netballs and basketballs with the Fairtrade mark are all available
  • or, power your Olympian efforts with a Fairtrade banana smoothie (you can even use a pedal-powered smoothie maker!)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Elena Poniatowska - Here’s to You, Jesusa!

Elena Poniatowska’s testimonial novel is based on extensive interviews carried out between 1963 and 1964, with Josefina Bórquez, an elderly Mexican woman. Through the novel, Josefina morphs into the character Jesusa Palancares as Poniatowska pieces together her ethnographic field-notes into a narrative that shifts between Spiritualist visions and surreal recollections of a life lived in bars and on the battlefield. Jesusa works as a domestic servant, in factories making boxes, and as a professional drinker, betting on herself to out-drink the men. At night she makes a space for herself where she can: in a woman’s prison, on the frozen ground of the army camp, along a narrow balcony, or in the corner of a stranger’s courtyard.

In such a precarious life, there are few moments of rest, as Poniatowska discovers when she tries to interview Josefina. There is no time to talk, only time to work (Poniatowska [1969] 2002: viii). She alone ensures her survival (Poniatowska [1969] 2002: 101, 132).
Survival means staying afloat, breathing calmly, even if it is only for a moment in the evening when the chickens no longer cackle in their cages and the cat stretches out on the trampled earth. (Poniatowska [1969] 2002: xiii)

Jesusa is a fighter, ‘fiercer than a female fighting cock’ (Poniatowska [1969] 2002: 155). She endures life on the battlefield, first with her father and then with her abusive husband, neither of whom survive the Revolution. She relishes the tough life of a soldadera (Poniatowska [1969] 2002: 212, xvii), and returns to army life when the opportunity presents. Her father once gave her gunpowder water to make her brave (Poniatowska [1969] 2002: 5), and it seemed to work.

Her dignity is essential to her survival. She is fiercely proud, refusing to drink coffee grounds or eat bean soup (Poniatowska [1969] 2002: 241), to be treated as poor. Neither charity nor friendship suit her: ‘Her isolation is striking’ (Franco 1989: 179). At the end of her life, she does not falter: ‘She died as she lived, rebellious, obstinate, fierce. She threw the priest out, she threw the doctor out’ (Poniatowska [1969] 2002: xx).

Nevertheless, Poniatowska, in her account of the interview process and the two women’s cautious friendship, recalls moments of tenderness and tranquility: settling the chickens on the narrow bed; examining the dolls Josefina bought for herself but kept wrapped up; the exchanging of postcards while Poniatowska travels to France. More than anything else, Josefina is revived by the telling of her story:
On Wednesday afternoons, as the sun set and the blue sky changed to orange, in that semidark little room, in the midst of the shrieking of the children, the slamming doors, the shouting, and the radio going full blast, another life emerged – that of Jesusa Palancares, the one that she relived as she retold it. Through a tiny crack, we watched the sky, its colors, blue, then orange, and finally black. A silver of sky. I squinted so my gaze would fit through that crack, and we would enter the other life. (Poniatowska [1969] 2002: xiii)

Through the construction of her own version of events, Josefina places herself at the centre of her world. After a life lived in the shadows, dismissed by those a few rungs up the social ladder, she is able to speak her truth, account for her actions. Once the book is published, Josefina asks Poniatowska for twenty copies to give to men in the neighbourhood, ‘so they’d know about her life, the many precipices she had crossed’ (Poniatowska [1969] 2002: xx).

Elena Poniatowska ([1969] 2002) Here’s to You, Jesusa! [First published as Hasta no verte Jesús mío Mexico: Ediciones Era. Translated from the Spanish by Deanna Heikkinen, 2001] New York: Penguin Books

As a testimonial novel, Here’s to You Jesusa is concerned to honour and enable the voices of those absent from the literary canon. Testimonial literature seeks to represent the social and political experience of the illiterate, the prisoner, the slave descendent, the trade-unionist, the member of the pueblos originarios, the slum-dweller, etc.; in short, all those who exist at the margins of Latin American society. Through testimony, such works seek to raise awareness and to promote social and political change.

See also, NY Times review and other.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

tracing out shapes

On the corner of our estate, where there was once a church, stands a bright new health clinic. A giant dandelion clock blows over it. And, if you are lucky, the bus driver will drop you off at the entrance, even though it is between stops.

I never made it to Mass at that church, and I only peeped through the windows of tiny St Thomas' opposite where my grandparents, father, great-grandparents, great aunt and uncle once lived. I wish I had known what it was like to worship, to make peace and to seek justice in those churches. I wish I knew how they fitted into the threads of prayers and song that are woven through this community.

But there are still three churches within a brisk walk from my home. A simple building perched atop the hill is the home of the Anglican church. Years ago, I went to morning prayer there, trying to find a start to my day.

The second church is the Christian meeting house, and, to be truthful, we are all a little scared of it. 'Come and here God's word preached,' it invites us, then, flashing with fire, sends us running, 'if the LORD wills.'

And the third church. It was familiar ground even before today. I knew this church - simple, friendly, reliable. But it didn't know me, so today I decided it was time to introduce myself. I turned off the road sooner than usual - a good mile short of my Methodist home - and popped into the United Reformed Church. Light dazzled us, turning white walls to silver, and trembling voices into song. A man preached simply and honestly, lifting up his fears for us to take comfort from. A woman welcomed me in, and told me how the church keeps welcoming, all week long.

I'm taking things slow, this settling in. I'm tracing out shapes and seeing how this place, in this moment, holds together; and how I might fit into it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

ex tenebris lux

The Sunday ahead of us finds its place in the Church's calender as the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany. It's not a snappy title. Even if we remember what Epiphany was about (three visitors to the stable at Bethlehem), we may feel that, four Sundays on, it is time to leave be, to look forward rather than back.

As the readings for this Sunday explore, once the clear light of the Christmas star fades - and fade it does - it is not so easy to find our way. The year settles into routine, and we loose the clarity we enjoyed when the year was bare, unmarked by arguments and wasted days.

I am spending my days, some wasted, others not, perched high at the edge of a glass-fronted library. My vision framed by the weathered red of St Peter's and the sharp gold of Molineux, I watch the light scan the sky. Today the clouds came down to touch the fields ahead of me. Yesterday, where the clouds lay today, the softest trace of green marked out low hills on the horizon. So although today I could not see them, I still knew they were there.

I thought back to an exhibition I went to at the Studio Museum in Harlem, of the artist Norman Lewis*. One canvas was almost entirely black, with the slightest line marking out a shape. It was a painting of a mountain that Lewis studied in Greece. He knew the lines of the mountain so well, he could paint it at night. Hidden from view, maybe, but still there.

Light for our eyes
Darkness to rest
Light of the way
In the dark we hold trust

*I am checking whether it was Norman Lewis. If so, this article would fit.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

bus people

In the lobby of the LA motel, the breakfast crowd thinning out, I phoned Kimberly. 'Which train do I catch to Orange County?' I asked. There was a pause. 'I'll come and get you,' she said.

While public transport is thankfully much more integrated into British life than it was in LA ten years ago, I'm still noticing a difference with Argentina.

During my three years in Buenos Aires, I only met two people who owned a car. Everyone caught the bus. And they ran day and night. Packed jam full. Sure, I sometimes got a taxi. But - as long as you had got hold of enough monedas - the bus was how you traveled.

It feels different here.

I don't know if it was the smell of cigar smoke tonight, or how the bus queue seemed to merge with the overspill from the city pub. Perhaps it was something about how we stood hunched up, a couple of Tesco bags resting on the shelter seats. Or how the man in a bright yellow jacket moved around us picking up rubbish with a stick. But waiting for the bus this evening, I felt poor.

Years ago, friends in LA told me that the term 'bus people' implied the very poorest, most marginalized people who, in that city of cars and freeways, had to take the bus.

In my city, plenty of people catch the bus or train to work every day. But with my 'off-peak' travel pass, I don't share my bus with the workers. In the mornings, the seats are filled with elderly neighbours and school kids. But in the early evening, we seem a desperate bunch - tired from the day, waiting in the drizzle, we file on and shuffle down the aisle. The day's dirt imprisons us, smearing the windows. There is a dank smell.

But we settle down. Warm up. Maybe say a few words to the girl next to us. Maybe peer out to see the park. And soon we are home.

Bus people.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Women's Institute survey on violence against women

As part of its Violence Against Women Campaign, the WI has commissioned research from the University of Bristol to look at the needs, views and opinions of women on the topic of violence against women.

This is not just a survey for women who have experienced domestic abuse. It is for all women to fill out and asks questions on what you consider violence against women - for example do you think prostitution is a form of violence against women?

You can complete the 10 minute survey here

Preliminary results from the survey will be launched on International Women's Day, 8 March 2009, with a more detailed report available from the WI website by the end of April 2009.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Perla Suez - La pasajera

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Perla Suez sets her most recent novel besides familiar waters. La Pasajera is set in Entre Rios, the province to the northeast of Buenos Aires. It is a story of transition and adjustment.

Tránsito and her sister Lucía have spent forty years caring for the Admiral and la señora who live in an isolated mansion, inspired by the chateaus of France, but situated on the banks of a tropical river. The river both separates and connects the sisters from their island home, the place they grew up together before coming to work in the city.

The novel takes place on the afternoon of the funeral of the Admiral. With the death of their patron, Tránsito prepares to leave her life as a servant and return home. She is tired of caring for a house that is not her own, and of playing a minor role in someone else's story.
Yo ahora voy a remontar en canoa el río ancho, mirando mi cara en el agua hasta llegar a ese lugar, cruzando el canal, donde madre dijo que me dio a luz.
Now I am going to travel upstream along the wide river in the canoe, watching my face in the water until I arrive at that place, crossing the channel, where mother told me that I was born. (Suez 2008: 45)

The afternoon of the funeral, Tránsito tries to persuade her sister to return to the Delta with her:
Tenemos que cruzar al otro lado, y aunque hayamos dejado la vida aquí, quiero que regresemos juntas. Le prometí a madre que nunca te iba a abandonar.
We have to cross over to the other side, and even if it means leaving the life we have here, I want us to return together. I promised mother that I would never abandon you. (Suez 2008: 80)

But Lucía has already bought herself a plot in the city cemetery. She will not go back. Tránsito has to make the journey home on her own.

Suez, Perla (2008) La Pasajera (La otra orilla) Buenos Aires: Grupo Editorial Norma