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