Thursday, 23 February 2017

Yankee-splaining as an analogy for Mansplaining (Trae Crowder this is for you, in hopes you can make a funny out of it and thereby reach more Mansplainers)

My compadres, guys and gals, chicks and dudes, ladies and gentlemen, men and women, and people of all genders, who often come from different regional backgrounds and norms:  Hear my plea.

Those of you from the South, who know how annoying it is for Yankees and Left-Coasters to come and tell us how things are, about our racism and our war and our Reconstruction, I would like to use that as an analogy/example of something else that many (not all) of you Southern guys like to do:  Condescend to explain to us women things that we already know more about than you do.

Like rape.  And domestic violence.  And sexual harassment.  And tokenism.  And reproductive rights.  And Title IX.  And all these other aspects of the social contract that some of you seem to think you know better than women.

You know how when someone from New Jersey or California proceeds to tell you all about MLK and the Civil Rights movement and racism and states’ rights and all that crap, it’s really, really annoying?  Because you know god-damned well that you’ve forgotten more than any Yankee/LeftCoaster knows about all of those things.  My oldest girlfriend, who happens to be black, finds it particularly amusing when white people from San Francisco “explain” Southern racism to her.

Just for the sake of the argument and the analogy, we’ll call that “Yankee-splaining”.

Y’all know how irritating that is.  As a white person, I find it particularly annoying; I daresay some POC would find it even more so, being the recipients of such condescension and—dare we call it, “Whitesplaining”, of racism.

Well, take all that, the levels of annoyance, and the fact that the more racism is denied, the more likely POC are to be attacked and killed with impunity, as a result of Yankee-splaining.

Mansplaining is the same, and even worse: Condescending Yankees who “’splain” things aren’t likely to engage in racist and violent acts against the people they claim to protect with their rich white liberalism.

By denying, ignoring and perpetuating misogyny, however, Mansplainers DO contribute to violence against women.

I love my good old boys who may not approve of my feminism or my Hillary 2016/Michelle 2024/Chelsea 2032/Malia 2040/Sasha 2048 bumper sticker, but who still nod, say “Ev'nin’”, and hold the door for me when I drop in at Monette’s to pick up a quart of milk.

There’s quite a few down this way who didn’t like Hillary Clinton, less b/c of her gender and more b/c of her class; but neither were they fooled by the Current Occupant, whom they recognized to be a classic conman.  We Southerners know conmen, like we know snakes.  And most of us feel safer with the latter.

Friday, 10 February 2017

LLAN, part 2

Before I ever heard the word patriarchy, before I became a feminist, I was a Narnian.

Narnia made me a Bohemian.  I moved to Prague, capital of the ancient kingdom of Bohemia, Prague, and discovered an adult Narnia, at 30. Emperors' and Kings' castles dot the countryside, River Vltava wends between city walls and stone villages and medieval parks with their ancient trees—Stromovka in particular:  While its contemporary incarnation sites an amusement park next door and 1891 world’s fair exhibition grounds, Výstaviště, it was, eight centuries ago, sacred:  The game park  of King Přemysl Otakar II back when royalty were still believed to be the gods’ representative on Earth.

But most of all, Prague, like Narnia, is full of magic.  It breathes up from the cobblestones in the hours before dawn; the Charles Bridge fills with angels dancing to Jirasek, breathing in Dvořak, gossiping about Milena and Kafka.  Tinkles of defenestration and alchemy shimmer in the air.  The stone towers whisper as carp break the water at Lavka.

There is beauty in heavy old tables, laden with decades of hops and hopes, both gone stale.  Every doorway—every threshold—has a symbol, for a time before all people were literate.  Everyone knew the Tři kočky, though, or the bear at U Medvídků .  On a bitter January night, snow up to the window sills on the outside, you can find your path through the heavy doors, and the substantial curtains behind them, into a hot smoky room with a roaring fire, straight out of The Hobbit.  

Adršpach-Teplice Rocks, in the Narnia of Bohemia (for more:

There are no pubs in Narnia.  There is Mr. Tumnus’ cave, decidedly neat and tidy.  The Beavers’ den, within the dam.  There is drinking of wine, and mead even, I believe, but in none of the books can I remember a pub scene.  Consequently, Middle Earth—most likely The Prancing Pony—will have to do.

Or, of course, the pub in Game of Thrones.  I’ve been in some that weren’t far off.  I have heard U spivačku compared to the bar in Star Wars. 

Generally, however, at the least offer to speak Czech, to banter a bit with the výčepní, don’t make a fuss, don’t expect more than what they have,  

At the same time, if you put the Shire and Mayberry, RFD, together, you’d have a typical Bohemian village.  Lots of beer, in generous mugs, starchy food, and a cast of characters.  

Narnia was where I belonged.  I felt the sting of Aslan’s mane when Susan and Lucy rode him after he returned to life on the Stone Table.  I stood on the deck with Lucy and Edmund and cast disgusted glances at the puling Eustace.  The dark tunnels of Golg, the sinister underground where Jill and Eustace find themselves at the mercy of the Green Witch and the mad Prince, terrified me.  When the children began to repeat, “No, there is no Narnia” and were, it seemed, in the witch's spell, I was utterly undone.  How could Aslan save them now.

But it wasn’t Aslan.  It was Puddleglum.  Puddleglum, who would probably be a Republican.  He’s definitely a good ole boy, but much more Barney Fife than Jason Stackhouse.  He’s a negative nancy who always sees and expects the worst. 

He puts out the fire (from which the witch’s spell emanates, in heavy, sweet odor) and fills the air with the smell of burnt Marshwiggle, which acts like smelling salts.

And he makes his declaration, to "Live Like a Narnian" (see preceding post).

This is what I must do:  Despite pessimism or surety of failure, still, Live Like a Narnian.

No matter how steep and slick the steps:  LLAN!

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Live Like a Narnian

My blog has been the victim of "the perfect is the enemy of the good" and having seen what that kind of purism does over the last three months, I've decided I really must get beyond that.

My balm for despair is and has always been, since I was a bullied pubescent, to "Live Like a Narnian".   To acknowledge, like Puddleglum

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all of those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones... That's why I'm going to stand by the play world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live like a Narnian even if there isn't any Narnia.  (Lewis, The Silver Chair)

I vow to live like a Narnian:  To not give in to despair.  To stamp out the fire no matter the pain; to pull off the protective layer even when it “hurts like billy-Oh”.

To be as brave as Lucy and as valiant as Reepicheep and as loyal as Trumpkin and as thoughtful as Mrs Beaver but also as lighthearted as the Naiads and Dryads and Maenads or what’s the point?

As French notes, as Abbey points out, as Campbell lived, survival is not enough.  We must have pleasure, connection, and love.  We must recognize our role in the world and embrace it, take joy in it.

It is no coincidence that we turn to mythology when our very existence and understanding of the world is threatened:  Mythology is how we share and continue our values throughout humanity.  To paraphrase, if history is the record of human events, literature (mythology—so other arts as well) is the record of human emotion and even evolution.

So, Lewis and Tolkien, Atwood and Piercy, Walker and Baldwin, Hurston and Hughes—they have given us our baseline and our job, our role, is to continue the legacy and continue to make it relevant.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Learning Czech

I've been learning Czech for years.  I've taken classes, done exercises in the books, made lists, and engaged in informal group lessons with people who just want to better their Czech.

My Czech is abysmal.  Every year I come to Prague and and speak the language--badly.  I confuse the declensions.  I get genders wrong (I mean, four genders?  really?).  I now have a slender acquaintance with akusitive, which will disappear almost completely unless I find a way to practice it before I return next year.

The longer I learn Czech, however, the more determined I am.  The better I know the language, the better I understand the culture--and vice-versa.  Learning Czech isn't an intellectual exercise; it's about creativity and understanding how Czechs enter the world.

The language itself does provide clues.  Names of the week, for example:  Czechs--Slavs in general, really-- can't be bothered with obscure gods.  They are practical.  Sunday is Nedele, which means "do nothing" day.  Pondele is "after" doing day.  Wednesday, Streda is middle, and so on.  The months are  the same:  I am particularly fond of May, Kveten, meaning flowers; and November, Listopad, meaning falling leaves.

I know no Asian languages whatsoever, but I understand that tone and emphasis are as important as pronunciation and grammar.  I think the same is really true in any language.  There are Czech words, idioms and phrases that I know well enough to say like a Czech, that confuse actual Czech speakers into thinking that I am one of them.  This, of course, causes both pride and problems.  I love that my accent and pronunciation are so good that people think I'm a native speaker (with, apparently, a Prague accent, which "sings"); but then that native speaker will launch into an enthusiastic explanation or description or list of directions that I am utterly incapable of following.  The disappointment on her or his face when I admit, "Bohužel , můj český je špatně ; Mluvíte anglicky [unfortunately, my Czech is bad; do you speak English]?" is always such a blow.

Still, my familiarity with Czech and my ear for Slavic languages came in handy during my recent visit to Croatia.  Although some words are very similar (dobry den; dobar dan:  Good day; and rozumim; razumijem:  I understand), others are completely different.  Djekuji meaning "thank you" in Czech, is hard enough to pronounce; hvala in Croat is equally difficult.  You'd think that "thank you" would be an easy word, because it's so important.  Prosim; molim --please, you're welcome-- is easier in both languages.  But again, it's the accent that is most different.  If Prague Czechs "sing" their language, coastal Croats purr theirs.  The laid-back, easy going attitude of Italy and Southern Spain is evident here amongst the ruins from Roman times, and the people are not easily upset.

So another language, another culture.  Rather than give up b/c the process seems too hard, I just go easy on myself and celebrate my ability, now, to get a sense of the whole communication rather than work out what each word means (which leaves me behind in the overall conversation).  It's frustrating and more than a bit embarrassing to admit that with having lived in Prague for years and every summer since 2013; still, I won't give up.  I find it too valuable and too intriguing.

And also that expression of wonderment and often unexpected joy at rural Czechs on meeting an "Američanka" who speaks even a little Czech:  PRICELESS.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

The Cheetah and the Lions

On Wednesday morning at 6:30 am, we left for the Mara River, a four hour drive across incredibly rough terrain, many river crossings, with views of numerous Maasai compounds and young boys herding cattle, goats and sheep.  We came to the plains of high grass, the reason the 1.5 million wildebeest and accompanying zebra, topi, and other myriad of animals risk the crossing of the river despite hordes of crocodiles just lying in wait.

After a brief leopard encounter—despite three vehicles roaring and revving around, she remained sleeping in the heavy brush, only the outline of her supine form visible—we made it to the river and staked out our place.  At first, it looked as though a brave ‘beest might attempt the crossing, despite several hippos stirring the waters, but then they retreated and began moving down river to another possible ford.  We moved several times, had our lunch, returned, sat and waited, but the ‘beests—seemingly led by a lone topi, were disinclined to navigate through the dozens of watching safari vehicles, nevermind the crocs.  When the herd began to crumple their legs and lie down on the far shore, Jackson put the Landcruiser into gear and we left.

An hour or so into the return trip, it began to rain, so Jackson and Christopher rolled down the plastic “windows" on the sides and we settled in for a steamy journey across the afternoon Savannah. About an hour later, however, the rain stopped and they rolled up the sides on the right of the Landcruiser, allowing Jackson less impaired vision.  Suddenly he swerved off the road—“Lions,” he announced, and drove across the now-closely cropped grass*. 

*Lion photo courtesy of

Two large females sat expectantly, looking for all the world like giant housecats on their haunches, their gaze fixed across the way.  We looked; over the dip of the hill sat four more safari vehicles.  Jackson quickly got on the radio and discovered:  A cheetah was about to make a kill*.

Cheetah photos courtesy of

We hurried over and got there just in time to see her spring from her stalking crouch and chase a young gazelle to ground.  Jackson stopped the truck and she strutted past, head high, holding the still-kicking Thompson’s gazelle in her teeth.  Her long, graceful legs and dignified posture showed her pride in her kill:  “Clever girl,” I praised her softly, as she walked right by us*.  

Jackson turned the vehicle around so we could see where she went, but as he maneuvered into position, she began to emit a deep, purling growl or keening.  One of the lions approached her, after her kill; and to our horror, we saw the other heading towards three small bundles silhouetted against the horizon.  The cheetah had cubs, for whom she’d been hunting; and the lions were determined to get both the kill and the cubs if they could.

The name Gamewatchers isn’t just marketing—in addition to guiding safaris, the Maasai in the Mara are also stewards of Kenya’s great national parks.  It’s their responsibility to monitor and keep track of the various wildlife in their conservancies and preserves.  Ordinarily, they would never interfere with a natural event such as the one unfolding before us, but cheetahs are so endangered—only 5% of cubs ever make it to adulthood—that with a few quick radio communications, they made the decision to try to protect the cheetah and her young.

“The cheetah is nearly finished,” said Jackson, as he expertly twisted and turned the vehicle.  “We must protect.”

The cheetah reversed, running away from the cubs, with the first lion right behind her.  Although they are the fastest land mammals, they also can only run in sprints; she had already blown hers catching the gazelle.  The lion was hot on her tail, nearly literally.  I had my hand in my mouth and tears rose up as it looked like that huge, golden beast—at least twice as broad as the slender, leggy cat—seemed sure to catch her.  One of the other vehicles was after them, trying to come between.


Jackson navigated us in the other direction, to ward off the second lion from the cubs.  Bounding away toward the tree line we saw the three, racing with their bodies close to the ground.  As two trucks roared towards it the second lioness gave up and turned away.

By the time we turned back, cheetah mom had lost the lion—and dropped her kill.  She also headed toward the tree line but in the other direction from the cubs.  Would they find each other? 
On the far side of the plain, across the tree-lined gully, we finally spotted the mother cheetah.  She had taken the long way around and was now circling back toward the direction the cubs had come.  I had no binoculars (and stupidly I left my glasses in the US) so all I could see was a blur—but then, finally, they found her, reunited with her three, across the plain from us.  Michael lent me his binoculars— through them I saw Mom, relieved but still watchful, the three-month cubs cavorting at her feet and around her tail.

Photo via National Geographic

Cheetahs are one of the most endangered animals because of their need for large, open spaces, on which humans have encroached relentlessly.  Once ranging across Africa and western Asia, they are now only present in eastern Africa and a small part of Iran, at only about 10% of their numbers 100 years ago.  They live alone after breeding and the female is solely responsible for her cubs.  She must protect her kill—and cubs—from other, larger predators, as we saw. 

Also, when the cubs get to be about six months old, Jackson told us, they become a problem, because they follow Mom and try to hunt, but don’t know how to hide or stalk, so end up chasing off the prey.  Often the whole family goes hungry.

According to Defenders of Wildlife, however, conservationists in Namibia have been working with ranchers and local people to stabilize the population.  We were very lucky to see our cheetah mom with her cubs and witness such a drama.

Courtesy wikipedia

OH, and guess what?  After the cheetah dropped it, the gazelle got up and ran away—both the cheetahs and the lions went without supper.  That’s the luckiest gazelle in Kenya*!

*Apologies for photos not my own; stupid camera battery died in the middle of the wildebeest herd.

Monday, 7 September 2015

The Naughty Buffalo

Naughty Cape buffalo near our camp.

The first day at Ol Kinyei camp, we arrived around 12:30, with lunch at 1 pm, not as good as Kenyan Air but still good:  lovely cucumber salad, beef patties—with fellow safari-ites Alice, Maria and Michael – then a rest, then our evening drive.


As with the drive from the airstrip, we saw a gazillion wildebeest, zebras, Thompson’s gazelle, Grant’s gazelle, impala, and a scattering of warthogs, eland, topi, and waterbucks.  First out of the camp there were two giraffe on the right—then four more on the left—then, as we got closer, and they got more curious, a whole crowd of them, up to 25 total, from half-grown adolescents to large bulls with their bushy top horns.  Jackson explained that, although the antelope and other ungulates can lose their horns with no damage to their health, a giraffe’s horn is part of its skull; if it gets cut off, the giraffe will die.

Thompson's gazelles

 They towered over us in our Toyota Landcruiser, heads swaying, their inquisitive eyes seeming to meet ours.  Though we’re obviously no threat, when the Landcruiser got too close to an individual, he or she would duck head and canter gracefully a few metres, just keeping the distance between us.  More curious than angry or afraid, they watched until Jackson said, “good?” and drove us away.

The wildebeest with their long, dramatic masks, always look so indignant; front legs spread, they challenged us for coming into their territory.  Warthogs are pugnacious, but run away, their skinny tails standing straight up like antennae on compact cars.  Zebras seem sarcastic, giraffes rather benevolent, and the few Cape buffalo ready for a fight.

Indignant wildebeest.
Benevolent giraffe.
Not my photo-- didn't catch one running.

Bull elephant in "musth".
One elephant, in “musth”, halted his tusked attack on a black acacia and turned to us, eyes blazing, as Jackson got us the hell out of there before he could charge.  But a later herd—or memory, as they can also be called—of bulls paid us absolutely no attention as they devastated a stand of trees to consume.  Their utter destruction of the landscape prompts me to change the phrase, “like a tornado came through” to “like a herd of elephants was here”.
Back at the camp as I waited for dinner, I went to walk the vehicle track that extends about 50 metres out front.  Sylvester—his long, elegant frame clad in deep reds and maroons—stopped me.  “There is naughty buffalo,” he told me.  “He hides in bush to surprise.  Do not go outside …” and he indicated the inner circle where the guides would be able to keep an eye out.

I acquiesced easily, worn out from the long day and eager to chow down on the delicious selection of fresh vegetables, grilled pork chop and scalloped potatoes, with a lovely chocolate mousse to follow.

I sat for a brief time around the fire, where the Maasai staff spoke softly to each other in their native language; we all retired early, knowing we had to be up at 6 am the next day. After ablutions in my own rustic but quite adequate bathroom (porcelain flush toilet) at the back of my tent, I quickly fell asleep between the folds of my rented sleeping bag with the thick, soft woolen blanket, provided, on top.

I was jerked awake in the middle of the night, perhaps 3 am, by a crashing-crunching-snorting that sounded right outside my tent.  I lay there for a moment, paralysed:  Would this be the end of my safari, as an elephant crashed through and trampled me?  Was Alice, in her tent next door, still alive?  Should I call out or would that just piss it off, whatever it was?  I had joked to friends about getting eaten by a lion or trampled by an elephant, but now, my first night on safari, was such a thing really about to happen?

After perhaps 10 minutes of lying there, clutching the bedclothes to my chin, I decided to get up and look.  It was actually a quite rhythmic sound—slap-slap, crunch-crunch—and I finally figured out that it was some large beast tearing up foliage and chewing it.  The crashing was its huge body moving through the brush.  Softly, I unzipped the tent.  Silently, I crept to the boma fence—such a flimsy thing, made of reed or young bamboo—and peered through a gap.

With the cloud cover, it was nearly pitch black.  After a moment, though, the absolute black softened to a thick grey, with shapes.  My eyes adjusted and I made out an enormous black bulk about five metres away, its head deep in the brush.  Again, I thought it must be an elephant—but then realised it wasn’t tall enough, unless it was a young elephant, and if so, where was Mom?  At that chilling thought, the hairs rose on the back of my neck—but then the bulky mass stepped back and I saw the unmistakable judge-wig horns of the Cape buffalo.

Cape Buffalo are in fact one of the “Big Five”—eg, one of the five most dangerous animals in Africa.  Despite seeing fearless Steve Irwin lie down and roll on the ground right up to a herd in one of his documentaries, the hair on my neck not only remained risen, it froze.  As did I.

The grass-matting boma fence looked, and felt, about as protective as tissue paper.  I was barefooted on a rocky path, with a centimeter of rigid grass between me and one of the continent’s biggest killers. 

The buffalo, oblivious to either me or my dilemma, continued to eat, shuffle and snort.  I wondered if I should go wake up Alice to show her.  Then I thought, hell no, I’m getting the hell out of here.  My leg, cramped from my rigidity, half crumpled and I stumbled backwards with a little cracking-shuffling sound. 

The buffalo’s head came up immediately and it went utterly silent.  Its eyes looked right at the boma where I stood and seemed to see me.  Any sort of courage I may have had deserted me, and I made a dash for the tent.  As I got inside and frantically groped for the zipper (I don’t know how I thought that was going to save me, zipping up the tent), I heard an equally panicked rush outside the boma, and the sound of hooves galloping away.

Apparently, I scared the buffalo too.  I guess the unknown is always scary, no matter how big you are or how bad your reputation.  

Sunday, 30 August 2015

A Saturday in Cape Town city centre

Just across from the Castle Pub and Harley Club.

Downtown market
My new pals, the Cape Town Harley Davidson Club

I have this feeling this is a famous theatre ...

Gorgeous kids singing and dancing in the downtown mall.

Cape Town Castle of Good Hope, built in the late 1600s

With the Table Mountains in the back ground.
Castle, city, and mountains.

For more on the Castle of Good Hope:

We're not looking like Wellington, New Zealand, anymore.