Día de Mercado (Market Day)

So, I am sitting here sipping hot chocolate that I made from the 100% Cacao bar I bought from the market. It’s cool tonight, which means I’m cold given there’s no heat but luckily the hot chocolate has done the trick of warming me up. I’ve been thinking a lot about the market lately. Despite my short time here, memories that I enjoy thinking about have come out of the place already.

I love the market in Urubamba and I’m lucky to live only a block away from it. While it is open everyday with the same cohort of vendors, people come from the jungle three times a week to line the streets outside the building with all kinds of produce. I’ve been pondering why I like it so much when a trip to the supermarket at home is often conducted at as rushed a pace as possible and if not completely avoided, met with dread. My answer surprises me – markets here are a distinctly human experience. Sometimes this isn’t necessarily good, but on the whole I’ve found that my interactions in Peru have been wonderful and inspiring. Whereas at home I go to the store in the morning or at night to avoid the crowds and lines, fiercely disliking having to deal with the crush of people going about their individual business, I truly relish the prospect of a market trip here.

Scenes from the Market

Scenes from the Market - Note the woman with the top hat and dress with slightly bustled skirt, a traditional indigenous Quechua style around here.

My first trip to the market with the intent to buy something was very intimidating. With only a smattering of Spanish words and a large list of things I wanted to get (with their Spanish names as well) I wandered around, not sure where to try my luck first. While peering at an item with brow furrowing concentration, trying to figure out if I had finally found plastic garbage bags, a child boldly exclaimed about my camera.

I knelt down to show it to him and he asked me questions about it, miming in a natural fashion when he realized I didn’t understand Spanish. While I’m growing used to seeing children in the States perfectly comfortable with technology given the ubiquity of handheld devices, I have to admit I was surprised by the intuitive understanding the boy had for the way the camera worked given electronics are not as common here. I let him snap a number of pictures of his friends, bewildered looking shoppers and a rather cantankerous old woman merchant who yelled at me, miming that we were blocking the way.

One of the boy's pictures of his friend. Seems he caught the woman's evil eye instead, which makes me cringe everytime I see it!

One of the boy's pictures of his friend. Seems he caught the woman's evil eye instead, which makes me cringe everytime I see it!

I snapped a picture of him and his friends, because how could I not?? They were adorable and I really appreciated the way that the boy approached me. Rather than look at me from afar as something of an oddity he made me feel welcome and part of the place with his interest in my camera and his easy way of communicating. I have been growing ever more conscious of people’s reactions to me as Caucasians are on the whole tourists in this area and are not found in the more “pedestrian” parts of the town. It’s really my first time living in a situation like this and it’s providing a new perspective.

    The boy on the right hand side, pulling up his friend's hat is the one who approached me!

The boy on the right hand side, pulling up his friend's hat is the one who approached me!



Sooooo, yesterday I went back to the market with another huge list of things to get – I figured it would be much easier given my command of Spanish is better and I’ve been back there several times since. I still found it to be an incredibly overwhelming place and once again had no idea where to start. But one woman had caught my attention last time and I had taken a picture of her beautiful lettuce piles (below) so I decided to purchase from her specifically – she selected her best ones and exclaimed “muy bonita” (very pretty). We then carried on a 5 minute “conversation” in which she asked me where I’m from and I struggled to tell her I had been here three weeks and would be staying for six months. She told me she has a daughter living in Florida and I told her I had a Peruvian friend from Arequipa (a city Southwest of us) there as well. She was kind enough to speak slowly for me and correct my pronunciation and verb tenses as I responded to her. Thanks to many interactions like these I am becoming somewhat better at speaking, though I still have a lot of trouble picking up what people are saying!! I’m intensely grateful that people have been patient enough to interact with and correct me. On the whole, communicating with people here has been very positive.

I was captivated by the bright piles of lettuce and the woman's indigenous Quechuan hairstyle - 2 braids tied together at the bottom.

I was captivated by the bright piles of lettuce and the woman's indigenous Quechuan hairstyle - 2 braids tied together at the bottom.

Culture Shock – Urubamba, Week 2

Urubamba: The view from my Window

Urubamba: The view from my window. I know that to some people it might not be the prettiest, but *I* enjoy it.

One of the things I really enjoy so far about Urubamba is the ability to walk anywhere I need to go within the span of a few minutes – whether it’s to the school, the market, to get something to eat or to run an errand. This is also something I loved about Hong Kong – the efficient subway system and the ability to walk anywhere once in the district of choice.

It seems counter intuitive that one would feel such freedom when using public transportation or walking as opposed to using one’s own car to get places, but I’ve come to learn that I really dislike car culture. I think that the very reliance on cars in the United States is predicated in part due to strong beliefs about individualism and self-determination. Hence, the “right” to ownership extends to such things as cars and consequently we’ve built a society centered around them. As a result, not only is access to public transportation severely limited (95% being concentrated in the NY Metro area), but it is also not a priority when it comes to policy and improvement.

But enough with that tangent!!! There have been a number of big and little things I’ve needed to learn about day to day life here – from the best way to get a hot shower (trickles!!!), learning the basic things I need to say to anyone when going about my business (getting easier with each day), how to make toast without an oven or a toaster (frying pan), trying to figure out if the yogurt I just bought should have been refrigerated in the shop (Yes, it should have been, I ate it anyway.). I bought a bottle of vinegar this morning and I have no idea how to open it. I bought an avocado yesterday and had no idea how to tell the man that I prefer to eat them before they’re ripe and just bought the one he insisted on (nicely) instead. Things like this are utterly bewildering and somewhat of a mind trip; one wouldn’t give a second thought to them at home, and yet I’m sitting at the table tonight trying to figure out how to open a bottle and was unable to do so (I violated my rule of not using stuff that isn’t mine and went for the already opened one).

What do they do if the water is not safe to drink?

Given the tap water remains unsafe to drink I wonder what it is that they do exactly. Though I suppose there are a number of angles to sanitation.

Today I went about my daily shopping, which probably took all of 20 minutes, got back home to make something to eat and could not find matches or a lighter anywhere in order to light the stove… In utter frustration, I tried to figure out if there was a “creative” way that I was overlooking and realized yeah, no – matches or a lighter are non-negotiable.

So, it seemed a visit to the market down the street was in order. Again, faced with another situation that seemed utterly astonishing given how ordinary, yet not: I had no idea what kind of shop might sell matches or where I might find them, so I decided to bring a used match with me to show and ask shopkeepers directly “Tiene?” (Tee-eh-nay – Do you have…?) And in addition, rather than falling back on my Spanish dictionary it forced me to ask “Como se dise?” (Como say dee-say – How do you say…?) to learn the words for match and lighter (Lighter is “encendador”, but even after the shopkeeper said it twice I still couldn’t catch the word for matches.). I picked up a bunch of other things I thought I might need, and I know that being here is really changing the way I think when I balk at 1 kilo of sugar for 3 soles (1 dollar) because it seems too expensive to me.

I bought it to go along with the 100% Cacao bar (2 soles – 66 cents) I got the other day – thinking it was dark chocolate, I’m lucky to have been warned beforehand by my neighbor that there’s no sugar in it!! I took a test nibble and it’s the most bitter thing I’ve ever tasted. Apparently you melt it in boiling water and then add sugar and milk for hot chocolate. I figure it will be a nice way to keep warm, especially now that I’ve begun knitting again at night.

To some extent it’s fascinating that such familiar things can be so different from one place to another. It’s definitely forced me out of my comfort zone and I can appreciate that to some degree. It’s amazing to be put in these situations that are so familiar, and yet are so different by the slightest change of say, a bottle cap.

Life in the Sacred Valley – Week 1

The Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley

I promised myself that I wouldn´t be writing ridiculously long posts with minutiae about my travels, but alas, I just did.

While this is not a substitute for one on one communication, a lot of people have been asking me the same questions about Peru so I wrote a run down of some of the basics here. Sporadically visiting internet cafes isn’t all that conducive to the way I write, so admittedly it’s been somewhat difficult to sit down and get this going. I expected to be so distracted by the change of scenery in Peru that I’d have no time to reflect on the more difficult aspects of living in a foreign country. This is how I felt in Hong Kong, though my short time here has made me realize that even with all the difference between Hong Kong and New York, the two are still very similar given the easy access to modern amenities (well, at least for a privileged foreigner).

Both language and the lack of access to modern amenities have been the most frustrating, daunting part of my stay so far. Immediately upon arriving in Colombia for an overnight layover I ran smack into the language barrier. People would speak to me in Spanish and I would be at an utter loss – their blank, somewhat unfriendly looks in response only made it worse. This continued throughout my trip down to Cusco, and to some extent I began trying to avoid those situations. It definitely allowed me to gain a new perspective about immigrants who come to the US and don’t know English!! It was completely daunting and somewhat scary.

Despite that, now that I’ve been here a week, have begun Spanish classes and am studying on my own I’m becoming much more confident about my ability to communicate and learn the language. Learning Spanish while being immersed is an incredible experience – it’s so much different than sitting in a classroom day after day without the benefit of using it in every day life. It’s gratifying and exciting to see my knowledge of something with so practical a use expand daily. In addition, it’s pretty amusing that as I study Spanish my French is resurfacing… I hunt for how to say things in Spanish and come up with the French instead – I would hope that seven years of endless drilling wasn’t for naught!

As for the weather, a typical day in Urubamba seems to be a roller-coaster of temperatures. I expected to be basking in sunny warmth during my time in Peru, but that’s not really the case. The mornings are chilly though they tend to start out sunny. As the day goes on, it gets warmer and warmer and you regret the way you bundled up to go outside. Yet if you’re inside in the shade, the chill remains – there doesn’t seem to be any sort of heat or AC in the houses. About mid afternoon the clouds roll in and it rains for a bit of time, becoming chilly again. But wait!! It will probably be sunny and warm again before night falls, but will get progressively colder. Nights are cold. It’s normal for me to huddle under 5 blankets and still be freezing, but I’m also pretty sensitive to cold weather…

A typical street in Urubamba

A typical street in Urubamba

Compound chilly weather with the lack of hot water and ohhh my… the aforementioned lack of modern amenities: I have a sink full of dirty dishes from this morning’s breakfast because I can’t bring myself to suffer cold hands for the next few hours due to the icy cold water. The showers have electric showerheads that supposedly heat up the water as it goes through. Yeah, no. You might get some lukewarm water if you’re lucky but this is generally cold to me anyway. You have to throw out the toilet paper you use because the infrastructure can’t handle it – while I’m happy to have the use of toilets, I was stunned when I was first told that!

Transportation is rather sketchy, though I’m getting used to it everyday. Not sure if that´s such a good thing! On my arrival, the bus ride from Cusco to Urubamba featured a move that happens to be quite common – the driver cut into the opposite lane (seems double lines don´t matter here) to pass a slower moving vehicle and I gulped to see a truck coming at us in the other lane. There are only a few lights in Urubamba from what I’ve seen so far, directing traffic around the main square and no stop signs. Most of the streets are one way and when getting to an intersection a vehicle will honk to indicate it will be coming through. I guess it works, but I have to admit I hold my breath every time I’m in a vehicle that is speeding through an intersection. A popular way of going a short distance is to hail a moto-taxi, which is a motorcycle with a tent like seating area on the back of it. Buses are voluminous, though they are actually minivans and station wagons. The tourist vans and buses seem much more posh, so not to worry if you’re planning a trip.

Plaza de Armas and Moto Taxis

Plaza de Armas and Moto Taxis: I get amused when I see the batman symbol moto taxis.

I’m really happy and pleasantly surprised to say that the food is very good here, which is completely different from my experience in Hong Kong. There is a bakery on my block that makes wonderful croissants and Ciabatta bread (4 for 1 sole = 33 cents). I love croissants and it’s a habit to eat them wherever I can back home to see if I can find good ones (almost never). I came across a woman at the organic market today and came away with a haul of homemade: peanut butter, pecan nutella (I wouldn’t have taken a second look if not for the PECAN part.) annnnd passionfruit jam (oh passionfruit, how I love thee) for 40 soles ($12 USD).

Generally I’m really enjoying my time here. I can’t say I don’t get hit with homesickness – like when I’m trying to wash dishes in ice cold water, at a loss for something to drink because the tap water isn’t safe (You can buy bottled water but I keep saying I’m going to boil a pot so I don’t go accumulating plastic waste.), trying to figure out if the cheese I bought is still okay due to the refrigeration being so unreliable, or pecking at a Spanish keyboard in a dark internet cafe and totally cranky about it. It’s really when I’m wrestling with these new ways of living more than anything that I wish I were back in my comfort zone.

Peru: Ear to the Ground

Life has taken an unexpected but quite welcome turn for me. I’ll be spending the next three to six months in Peru teaching adults English for the purpose of expanding their job opportunities while I learn Spanish for much the same reason: ideally so that I can work with immigrants upon my return!  The school is El Arte Sano and I will be living in Urubamba, which is in the Sacred Valley below Machu Picchu and an hour outside of Cuzco, a major Peruvian city. Central and South America have long fascinated me due to the intersecting issues of human rights and economics. Both have had an impact on the regions quite deeply. I am SO EXCITED!!!

During the past few weeks I’ve been reading whatever I can about Peru and have teased out at least a couple of topics I’d like to keep an eye on while there:

  • A friend was kind enough to point me to a law Peru’s president signed regarding indigenous rights and natural resources: Indigenous people must be consulted before natural resource deals proceed on their land. I’ll definitely be following developments about this.
  • While the US has initiated Coca eradication programs it has not stemmed the flow of Cocaine. On the other hand, it has disrupted Peruvian indigenous life in which Coca leaves play an integral part in the culture.
  • Language and colonization: The indigenous language of Peru is Quechua (Keh-choo-uh) and for some it remains their first and only language. I was dismayed to read that Spanish has been used as a method of control in much the same way that illiteracy has been used to keep people from voting in the United States.
  • The influx of tourism is resulting in the degradation of native arts and crafts. The global demand for cheap goods results in the use of lesser quality materials for things such as textiles so that local artisans can compete.

Last but not least: Martin Chambi, a Peruvian photographer in the 1920s, was quite taken with Machu Picchu and took over a thousand photographs of the ruins. Quite a feat in itself, it’s important to remember that photographic equipment was heavy, large and fragile in those times and there wasn’t the regular bus service or roads to Machu Picchu that there are today!!

Martin Chambi: Cuzco's Plaza de Arms

Martin Chambi: Cuzco's Plaza de Arms (The main square)

He gained quite the notoriety with the Cuzco elite and began to receive funding and commissions. One of these Cuzquenas was a socialite who required that he bring she and her thirty or so friends along, complete with a group of musicians:

Chambi amused himself with the bright young things of Cuzco, many of whom had never been in the mountains before, by killing snakes with his machete for dramatic effect. A photo survives of the party when they finally arrived at the ruins: the musicians play in the background as couples tea-dance in the overgrown and deserted buildings. It is an intensely romantic and unreal image. But this is perhaps the most distinguishing feature of a photographer whose work tried to document the light shining through the mundaneness of Peruvian daily life.

Story and quote from The White Rock: An Exploration of the Inca Heartland by Hugh Thomson. I wish I could find the picture he speaks of!!

Martin Chambi: Cuzco

Martin Chambi: Cuzco

Policeman with boy; Cuzco, 1923.

Martin Chambi: Policeman with boy; Cuzco, 1923.

Self-portrait near native village of Coaza Carabaya, Puno, ca 1930.

Martin Chambi: Self-portrait near native village of Coaza Carabaya, Puno, ca 1930.

Who said that all is lost? I come to offer my heart.

Yo Vengo a Ofrecer mi Corazon, one of my favorite songs, is featured in Naomi Klein’s documentary The Take and sung by Lhasa de Sela. Unfortunately a recording by de Sela has never been officially released. The most popular version is sung by Mercedes Sosa, a popular Latin American folk singer and (from my understanding) an important resistance figure. I was excited when I finally found an English translation and saw that the words are just as touching as the vocals. The song was written by Fito Paez in an expression of solidarity for victims of violent oppression.

Yo Vengo a Ofrecer Mi Corazon

Quién dijo que todo está perdido
Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón
Tanta sangre que se llevo el río
Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón

No será tan fácil ya sé qué pasa
No será tan simple como pensaba
Como abrir el pecho, y sacar el alma
Una cuchillada de amor

Luna de los pobres siempre abierta
Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón
Como un documento inalterable
Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón

Y uniré las puntas de un mismo lazo
Y me iré tranquilo, me iré despacio
Y te daré todo, y me darás algo
Algo que me alivie un poco más

Cuando no haya nadie cerca o lejos
Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón
Cuando los satélites no alcancen
Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón

Y hablo de países y de esperanzas
Y hablo por la vida, hablo por la nada
Y hablo de cambiar esta nuestra casa
De cambiarla por cambiar nomás

Quién dijo que todo está perdido
Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón
Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón
Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón
Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón

I Come To Offer my heart

Who said that all is lost
I come to offer my heart
So much blood that the river took
I come to offer my heart

It wont be easy, I know that
It wont be that simple as I thought
Like opening the chest, and taking out the soul
one stab of love

Moon of the poor always open
I come to offer my heart
Like an unchanging document
I come to offer my heart

I will join the ends of a lasso
And I’ll go quiet, I’ll go slowly
And give you everything and you’ll give me something
Something that will help me a little

When there is no one else near or far
I come to offer my heart
When the satellites do not reach
I come to offer my heart

I speaking of countries and hopes
And I speak for life, as I speak for nothing
And talk about change in our home
to change for changing sake

Who said that all is lost
I come to offer my heart
I come to offer my heart
I come to offer my heart
I come to offer my heart

Melancholy Monday

At the Ruins of St. Paul's

A woman sits at the base of the ruins of St. Paul's in Macau

(I know it’s not Monday, but we’re going to pretend it is. This was supposed to be for Monday!) I have a thing for melancholy. Done right, it’s delicious. Books*, music, whatever… it’s a tangible thing to savor. My love for the way that good melancholy can make one’s heart ache, while at the same time making everything feel beautiful reminds me of the Indian concept of rasa. Thinking back to an undergraduate Indian dance course I took in which we studied the topic extensively, it is a characteristic that the performer seeks to infuse their act with. With the combination of the artisan’s expertise and the appreciation and knowledge of the form that the audience brings to the performance, the audience can “taste” the emotions that the dancer is seeking to bring forth.

Having had a melancholy playlist a long time ago, I decided to put it back together… then I wanted to share it with a friend… and then I figured, hell, I’ll put it here. In addition, I’ve been grousing about not having made a music mix for anyone in awhile, the kind with long handwritten notes about what the songs mean to you with the intent to make some sort of connection over sharing art. So this is my mix tape. My mix tape to the internets!!! Some of these may defy what one thinks of as melancholy, but a lot of them are chosen just as much for tone, if not more-so. “40″ is first of course, as it’s always the song I go to first when I want melancholy.

*A mere two books make my “melancholy cut” so far:
Peel my Love Like an Onion – Ana Castillo
My Dream of You – Nuala O’Faolain

Book Review: A Strange Piece of Paradise by Terri Jentz

Tai O Fishing Village

Tai O Fishing Village - Lantau Island, Hong Kong. My own strange piece of paradise.

(I did my best to try NOT to use passive voice here regarding the attack on Jentz and her friend, but my brain is too tired to do the verbal mathematics at the moment.)

I picked up A Strange Piece of Paradise not for the details of the axe attack that Terri Jentz experienced during her biking tour across the United States, but rather because I was interested in the symptoms that resulted from the experience and her process of healing. While one is not privy to the gritty details of PTSD or the various revelations she may have had about her psychological state during her investigative process, she makes it clear that her research of the details surrounding the attack played a big part in this process. While this was a truly interesting, gripping book I felt somewhat disappointed by the end that so little of this aspect was featured. Despite that, it’s stayed with me for the past few weeks and I keep coming back to a few points that I’ll touch on in a subsequent post.

At first, A Strange Piece of Paradise is very much along the lines of a true crime book, consisting of the background of Jentz and her biking companion and the memories Jentz has of the attack. As the book progresses and she gets further into her investigation, it becomes a much broader rumination on the impact of the crime on the surrounding community. The warmth and concern of the people who remember the attack is often tangible when she recounts her meetings with them.

Jentz also explores the psychology of violence against women on both the micro and macro level, as her main suspect is a repeat offender: how violent relationships are sustained and the attitude of communities that continually give well-known abusers a pass, from neighbors to the law enforcement and court systems. As she interviews each of the women who had been involved with her suspect, struck by the idea that these were not the “type” to put up with such abuse, she puts together a rough portrait of how such a person breaks down and isolates their victims in an increasingly vicious cycle.

One of the most salient critiques I read about the book is that it can get repetitive. At the same time, I found that the way she constantly comes up with the same details from different people can be quite fascinating in terms of how stories change and what impacts each person’s memory. Again and again the attack is remembered “as if yesterday”, allowing for a large number of people to talk with. In addition, it was a useful lens through which to view people – for instance, the man she interviewed who made her attack all about him and how his failure to be the hero “ruined” his life (And yet, his memory of the attack is grossly inaccurate and leads one to question if he was even there at the time it happened.). I also never got tired reading how each new individual she interviewed wanted to bond with her over this event that impacted her and the community so deeply.

To some extent there are more radical strains lurking under the surface here, and every time she touched on them I just wanted to nuuudge her a bit so that she would further develop and explore these thoughts. While she makes the connection between society’s entrenched misogyny and violence against women quite clear, she only touches on such things as community versus state sanctioned justice and the cult of individuality in America and its adverse impact on the cultivation of community.

By the end of the book the music of Twin Peaks was playing in the back of my head, foreboding shots of pine and fog looming. Jentz successfully ties the dark, moody landscape to wanton violence against women as her personal investigation increasingly turns up stories of murdered women having been dumped in the surrounding pine forests. I found myself feeling increasingly disturbed and unsettled (though one is anyway by the main subject of the book) despite the warm, welcoming community of people she encountered as she investigated her own near murder.

Overall a good book. I found myself liking Jentz more and more as I got to “know” her through her connection with people over her brutal experience, particularly the way she bonds with other women later on in the book. When I put it down I didn’t expect it to linger as it has, and a number of questions and thoughts have come up in the past few weeks that I’ve been exploring.

Against Love: A Polemic by Laura Kipnis

Caged Songbird

Caged Songbird in Yuen Po Street Bird Garden

Against Love: A Polemic

Against Love: A Polemic by Laura Kipnis

And why has modern love developed in such a way as to maximize submission and minimize freedom, with so little argument about it? No doubt a citizenry schooled in renouncing desires – and whatever quantities of imagination and independence they come partnered with – would be, in many respects, advantageous: note that the conditions of lovability are remarkably convergent with those of a cowed workforce and a docile electorate. – Laura Kipnis

About a year ago I decided that perhaps I should educate myself about this ephemeral concept of romantic love. Not so difficult, as one of my favorite authors, bell hooks, writes extensively on the subject. But of course there was that one book that seemed so absurd I had to go for it. Against Love: A Polemic. Really, could Kipnis pull it off?? And if she managed to convince me of the idea that adulterers are in fact “freedom fighters” (as one review put it) what would that say about me? Well, fast forward a year – my little side project was interrupted by life (no, I wasn’t dedicated enough to lug these books to Hong Kong), but resumed a few months back. I finally resolved to sit down and check this one out.

I have to say that upon reading Against Love, Kipnis is an author who has earned my solid dedication. My reaction at page 10 was… “someone is trying way too hard to be edgy”….pg. 20…. “wow, these are some fascinating theories”…. pg. 30…. “what an incredible framework”…. pg. 40 “her way with snark!!! I LOVE IT!” … pg. 60, telling anyone in range that they HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK.

I may not always agree with Kipnis, to the point of having been infuriated more than a few times with The Female Thing: Dirt Sex, Envy, Vulnerability. At the same time I love her sharp perception, that snarky way of cutting to the quick and the widely ranged dabbling in political and psychological theory (Citing Marx, Weber, Freud and Wilhelm Reich among others here.). In Against Love Kipnis draws parallels between capitalism and love, establishing the framework of the “emotional economy”, to some extent implying that relational transgressions stand in for the political, which has become so passé in today’s climate. The quaint, patronizing manner that idealism and working for change are regarded with today is something she alludes to more than once.

According to Kipnis, love has been co-opted by the language and culture of the capitalist work place. A breezy critique of marriage is leveraged, mining theorists who put forth that “the only social purpose of compulsory marriage for life is to produce the submissive personality types that mass society requires.” Definitely something to research further. Ultimately, adulterers are regarded as the people who are bold enough to dream and try to realize emotional “utopia.” I strenuously disagree with this premise – what kind of utopia leaves some people out in the cold (ie, those hurt by infidelity)? Not one of my imagining, anyway – firmly putting me in the “moral trumping” category (as she puts it – though my own “righteous prig” is so much more colorful). If one were to really take this line of thinking a step further it seems that those who conduct (modern) polyamorous relationships are the ones trying to establish utopia, yet they don’t warrant mention. They are willing to face up to an entrenched system and openly say “this doesn’t work for me”, looking for a new solution and actively involving others in doing so.

But oh how appropriate, the honeymoon with Against Love didn’t QUITE last. The dazzling start waned for me as she segued into the point of the book: “the domestic gulag” and the question of infidelity. I was faintly amused as she shook the finger at those of us sitting there reading and thinking “I would never do this” with the none of these people thought so either, dearies (ok, so not quite verbatim). While I’m not at all interested in a critique of love that trumpets the virtue of adultery, I was disappointed at how the book completely fell apart and lost its focus by the end. It spiraled into an ever widening train wreck, from infidelity to a survey of the sex scandal drenched 90s of American politics, which doesn’t seem all that different from the last decade either (Or the past week, with the latest news of Weiner. Wiener indeed.) And while part of the point of this is to illustrate that in all the white knuckled determination of Americans to “preserve marriage” this is 1) utterly hypocritical and 2) all this relational transgression really does say something I think but oh my god my eyes have glazed, do we have to relive Bill Clinton and the oval office all over again?!

But all right, there really were some amazing threads of thought here which I loved despite the organizational train wreck. For instance, that it’s all a-okay to preach about keeping miserable marriages together for the children and enacting policy that promotes marriage as an exit out of poverty, however ill conceived these concepts may be. And yet when it comes to enacting policy that is serious about alleviating the impact of poverty or raising the quality of life of children, the United States ranks quite dismally.

And as this feminist looks askance and grits her teeth at the constant cultural pronouncements replete with evolutionary psychology that “prove” shaky conclusions, who can forgo such lines as these?!

Harkening back to some remote evolutionary past for social explanations does seem to be a smoke screen for other agendas, usually to tout the “naturalness” of capitalist greed or the “naturalness” of traditional gender roles. Man as killer ape; woman as nurturing turtledove, or name your own bestial ancestor as circumstance requires. (When sociobiologists start shitting in their backyards with dinner guests in the vicinity, maybe their arguments about innateness over culture will start seeming more persuasive.)

Or cutting, incisive lines like these:

Using love to escape love, groping for love outside the home to assuage the letdowns of love at home – it’s kind of like smoking and wearing a nicotine patch at the same time: two delivery systems for an addictive chemical substance that feels vitally necessary to your well-being at the moment, even if likely to wreak unknown havoc in the deepest fibers of your being at some unspecified future date.

Against Love introduced me to some incredible concepts concerning love and political economy and one I’m going to follow up on. As usual, Kipnis challenged me in certain ways, while in other ways the book just fell flat. So often I wish she’d take these cultural critiques and ask the deeper questions behind them but perhaps her aim is to set us on that path rather than do the digging for us. And hey, accuse me of doe-eyed naiveté but she didn’t convince me that love isn’t worth the work. If anything, it only strengthened my conviction. Don’t ask me how that happened. I’m still trying to puzzle it out myself.

Having graduated….

Garden Path

Here we are again.

…I suppose a retrospective is in order, given I started truly posting on the eve of my entrance into graduate school. It seems my last effort at retrospection oriented towards the future rather than an actual rumination on my trip. It takes me a bit of time to pull these posts together, often multiple revisions occur over a period of time and result in very different final drafts. My effort to actually write a retrospective, given the time sensitive nature I placed on this post was an affair of saccharine sentimentality. At the same time, I feel like there needs to be a benchmark here, however spare.

I officially have my Master of Arts in International Affairs with a concentration in Governance and Rights. For now, I’ll say that I felt truly privileged to continue my education. I love being a student – to me, the accumulation of knowledge is exhilarating. I’ll miss it more than I anticipated.

I’ve got bits and pieces of about five posts in the works that I hope I’ll have the time to flesh out now that I’m out of school. In addition, I’m hoping to begin a series of essays. I’m not sure if they’ll make it here, but I’ll certainly consider it. First I need to get over sweating at the blank page. While I have a lot of material I can cull from journals and such, the idea of turning the concepts in to full length essays is daunting.