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Archive for the ‘Family and friends’ Category

I have, as it turns out now that I am writing this, enough memories of televised beauty pageants, watching young women walk sure-footed in high heels across a stage, listening to them in the ‘question round’ straining to transmit the obvious – that they have fine minds and interested hearts, doh mind the swimsuit.

Beauty pageants are cringe-inducing  on many levels. Yet even when we are quite uninterested, they will commandeer  attention as when Jennifer Hosten won Miss World in 1970. I mean, from that tiny island of Grenada? And what about Penny, Giselle, Wendy and Lisa? Those ‘crownings’  had  some political significance, in the sense of experiences that transcend the person involved. They were moments when other people might get to know that we exist, in a world, as David Rudder puts it, “that don’t need islands no more”. And there is no denying the politics of race and ethnicity in the definition of beauty. Our Caribbean women winning affirmed especally in the 70’s and 80’s for those who needed it, that black is beautiful.

If you had asked me, well even up to August this year, whether I would be attending Miss World, I would have been bemused. A joke perhaps? But there I was on Saturday, two rows from the stage in a hall in Bali, sandwiched between two beautifully clad women, both waving a huge Dominican flag. I think you saw me on TV? I was sitting directly in front the mother of the person who eventually won, Miss Philippines.

ShowCan I say that I had an experience, one that I will remember for several reasons? For watching Lassa, composed, seeing dimensions of her young womanhood, some absolutely consistent with the 10-year-old Lassa – her certainty,  her ease with people,  her clarity on the beauty of her naturalness.

I was sitting in front the support contingent from the Philippines and participated in their utter delight, observed the mother’s tension and her release. I shared in those seconds of contagious pure maternal satisfaction. The families around, those supporting Miss Dominica and Miss Botswana, would have felt some disappointment for their daughters, nieces, god-daughter, but they were proud and taking pictures.   

The show, the concept, is a curiosity, out of time, yet it resonates,  springing to  life oddly.  Like for Dominica, having a contestant for the first time in 35 years, one who has in the last year, won four other competitions in the Caribbean. Someone who represents a country so tiny, so often confused with Dominican Republic, giving an opportunity for others to see the country’s specialness, its natural grace.

The feminist critique of the beauty competition is for the smallness of its vision of femininity, for its reinforcement and validation of male attention to young women’s sexuality, whether or not men even watch the shows.  They exploit the dominant gender culture’s preoccupation with the compare and contrast of women’s bodies.

We lament the constructed idealization of beauty – thin, fair, straight hair. There is something fundamentally disquieting and reductive about judging young women for how they look. It mirrors our daily reality as women across the life cycle, that we are first of all, the sum of what we look like. Whatever our feminist gains, the profitability of the cosmetics industry reminds of the durability of the notion of beauty as a woman’s primary attribute and asset.

We tell young women that they are entitled to the range of life’s opportunities without discriminatory barriers. And indeed depending on the country and depending on socio-economic factors, more women have and are breaking ceilings, pushing back walls, constructing reservoirs of self-reliance, designing whole edifices to integrated life.

So these beauty competitions  try to refresh and reinvent themselves, promoting beauty with a purpose, beauty with brains, beauty with muscle, beauty with talent.  I wonder about this, about this promotion of Superwoman.  Now these young women must be purposeful, strong, smart and beautiful.  More fields of judgement.

Still, this is what the social scientists call a negotiated space  and we see young women (and those who support them) seek ways to use this experience to make common cause on issues that they care about.

Leslassa has started an NGO through which she advocates for holistic education. Over this last year, she used her platform to speak about domestic violence and child abuse. and she will continue to do so.  Her world has opened up and in that opening she is telling young women to stay true.  Her fabulous head of unprocessed natural African hair such a thing of beauty.

Others in the competition used their professions to bring services to the excluded as dentists, as midwives. Miss Barbados contributes to  an organization that brings happy experiences to children who are terminally ill.

I judged them all to have won. And yes I was happy to be there with Team Lassa.

Bali

 

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Noel Charles died recently. I do not recall having ever seen him. But he was the owner of Alexandra’s Disco right there on the opposite bend in the road to the official residence of the Archbishop of the Anglican Church.

I got to be thinking again about Alexandra’s when  I came across the tune “Get Lucky’ via Alex. Like a time machine, I whirled back in times to the dancing hours spent in that darkened, light place with too cool danseur Beverley, Dawn, Linda and Wendy. I Will Survive, We Are Family, To Be Real, Donna Summer, Sister Sledge, Ain’t No Stopping Us and Ring My Bell with everyone doing the Rock for months. And then the rent-a-tile croonings of Teddy Pendergrass. Ah, for “Come on and Go With Me”. Except you would not want to be stuck in that song with the man with the flashing disco lights embedded in his T-Shirt, trying to impress his sweaty self into your chest. You are NOT going to electrocute me tonight. Battle for the sexes.

Described by one, as “one of the most sophisticated discotheques in the world”, Alexandra’s was the place for the hip, for us too and then for men lounging like lizards on velveteened chairs on the outskirts of the dance floor playing backgammon, smug as lions in the Serengeti. There was an upstairs and also side cubicles. Truth is, there was sense of the seedy about the place. What else, in the heady period of cocaine’s kaleidoscopic light?

We saw and even met celebrities. Richard Pryor, on to whose boat we were invited for a week-long cruising across the Caribbean. By the bodyguard.

But mostly it was a place for joyous dancing, all night long. We did get lucky, us dancing sisters, with life long memories of each other at our most carefree, interested in young men but not too much so in those moments on the circular floor, disco balls overhead, blinking UV lights capturing us in illuminating fragments, exuberant, more in thrall with our freedom, our sense of possibilities and Good Times.

We laughed a lot. And how we smoked!

Here is the time machine:

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=5NV6Rdv1a3I

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For Bobby

Last week I called Bobby about something but he was distracted, thinking about those Bajan fishermen charged with entering the Tobago waters pursuing the Bajan flying fish dem. He wanted to contact the Trinidad comrades to discuss the free movement of Caribbean fisher folk- an infinity mile mark within the Caribbean Sea. It can be a challenge casually happening upon Bobby, in the gas station, for example, where he would pin you to the wall on your position on, let’s say, the small matter of fixing the education system.

Bobby, who is my father, turns 80 this week. He still works doing, in his words, not law about which he is contemptuous, but rather justice.  I think that means that he has given up on reading the books. And, in the other theme in his life, he knows that he is as sexy now as at any other sexy stage in his life.

It is  not so straight forward writing about Bobby given the turbulent harshness of his fathering. The question which came up recently at the book club is how to write about a parent in a complete way, in a frame that moves beyond the unblinking child gaze of expectations and disappointments to a nuanced adult consideration of the inherent complexities of human character. That you can be one thing here and something else entirely there and that the multiple personas can be authentic.

Bobby was a reluctant father (not to mention husband). Yet, while he is unable to resist that judgment, he does chafe at it because he himself was terribly fathered. And no, he was not his father whom still he did not forsake or reject, taking care of him right down to the end, honouring his son duties. “So what’s your problem?” he silently impugns me for continuous judgment of him.

And now in my conversations with Caribbean people, I see how many others grow up surviving fathership that is strangely indifferent, disengaged, irresponsible, often emotionally oppressive, even violent. Men who prefer the sexual company of multiples of women and of the men in the rum shop over the interior lives of their developing children.

In some ways, then, there was nothing too exceptional about Bobby’s parenting. But he is an exceptional person, an excessive person, a big and disturbing character. Coming from the volatile Miller clan, he is a contrarian by instinct. It is all masculine bravado and braggadocio. His mother was a strong woman, capable even after diabetic comas and surgeries, to go on a roof in her seventies to patch something.

That sense of kiss-me-ass independence is a dominant streak in his character. Despite his fair skin, ‘nice’ hair and ‘pretty’ eyes, he rejected Caribbean colour privilege, an early actor in the black power movement. Power to the People!

Scathing of the negrocrats and bourgeoisie (isn’t that a delicious word?), his circle of daily man friends were rough and tumble sorts- Naga, Crazy Horse, Critch the Bitch, Son. Way out on the left, banned from entering here, there and everywhere for being a communist, starting with his deportation from Dominica, he adores Fidel, is an ardent regionalist, is reflexively anti-Northern, anti-capitalist, his distrusting rule of thumb being that there is always another truth than the one from Reuters, CNN, BCC etc.

He dreamed for the revo which spectacularly, actually happened for a tragically curtailed moment.

And so, his influence on me is undeniable. From him, I was schooled in skepticism, in distaste for class and race inequality, abuse of authority and power. But yes, observing his certain disregard for the completeness of womanity, the dissonance  between his fervently voiced values on social justice in the public sphere and his actions in the private spaces as father and partner, I found my way to feminism, to the injunction that the personal is political.

 

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Every now and again, a picture of the most gorgeous looking baby ever, Baby Z (except for Aschille, of course and for every other child whose parent thinks it the most adorable (Aschille being the code word for all my babies, girls!) hits the Facebook page.

Baby Z IS objectively beautiful and looking at him one is reminded that it is apparently in nature’s tool box to make its young present most preciously as a survival mechanism.

The glowing, plump, dewy, innocent cuteness ensures that babies get the care, the cuddles, all the love and attention needed to thrive and not be eaten alive. Though with Baby Z, one does feel to consume him whole. So sweetilicious.

Whenever his picture hits Facebook, people aplenty (and mostly women) jump right in with the baby babbling commentary.

And just last night I learnt a new word that is close to describing this almost involuntary impulse to verbalise repetitively this warm feeling that babies induce: palilalia. It comes from two greek words- palin again + lalein to babble.

There you have it. Baby Z activates in us all palilalia.

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I have just finished reading a memoir about a friendship between two women, authors both.  The title “Let’s Take the Long Way Home” tells something of the nature of that friendship and perhaps the majority of friendships between women. How we talk and talk. As with my friend Hyacinth, after hours of gabbing, parting reluctantly, we would say ‘you know, this talk has no beginning and no end”.

Women friendships are intense in that way, a surfeit of sharing goes on. Confidences ever more and because of that, perhaps there is an unspoken expectation of unconditional liking and toleration that comes with baring one’s soul and thoughts endlessly to another. The wonder is that we do get to that point over a lifetime despite  misbehavior, distance, resentment and yes, misunderstandings. Women friendships are immensely satisfying.

The quality of my men friendships is rather different, less intense and generally just lighter hearted.

My men friends talk yes. But they also laugh more. Not unlike the sisterhood, intimacies are shared, parsed out, judged. But usually the sharing has an objective. None of that endless gnashing that women folk get into, turning a subject inside out in a 3 dimensional way, just for its own sake.

I do have the distinct feeling that men can forget, at least the level of significance of what is shared, compartmentalize and give more latitude generally . There are other women in their lives and the space you occupy as friend is meant to be uncomplicated. Complications are for lovers, partners, family.

Writings on cross sex friendships often look into the inevitability of sexual tension, how the friendship has a high likelihood of crossing the intimacy boundary. That for me has not been the experience. Sure flirtatiousness, in the easy Caribbean mamaguy way, but this is less an issue when the friends also have core partnerships.

Rather I have been wondering if the issue in men/women friendships is that they are less psychologically intricate and therefore perhaps less strong.

My man friends are big characters, literally too. And with them I have ferocious arguments, over all sorts of things, political and personal. But the fights have no particular edge. The friendships are happy, happy ones. And they endure perhaps because they are so fraught-free and blithe.

When the rough times come, as they do, maybe it is all that past history of effortless interaction that allows ease and comfort.

With my man friends, I too want to take the long way home.

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My mother turns 79 today. I think that she would accept that she is chronologically into advanced aging. But I rather doubt that she feels that way, that she feels ‘elderly’ (such an old word). Rather, as she puts on her eyebrows even to go for a short vep to the grocery, she is claiming her space as full person, not defined by numbers.

She. like so many parents of my friends, ran/is running the aging body gauntlet this year. My mother did so with admirable aplomb made possible in part by her belief in a benign, no, highly salutary after-life reunion with her parents and brothers as well as by early medical intervention and high quality care and follow up. Not to mention dedicated daughter care. Thanks Ann and Cheryl. 

It is that time of our lives, we of our middle aged years say to each other. The time when we look closely for signs, when we feel a bit of constriction of the heart with each doctor visit.

And then we celebrate each day. Look on in appreciation and enjoy.

Happy birthday Mom.

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Our niece Liane, number 5 of the Dozen Clarke Cousins and number 2 in the Christians, turned 21 on Wednesday. She decreed no speech making and so only her father got in a few words. But she did not say anything about  blogging. So I am free and clear here.

To say, happy birthday Liane. Turning 21  has lost most if not all of its significance cache. But perhaps it is still a milestone of adulthood, still symbolic.  A moment of pause and thought about where one is on the road to becoming.

In Liane’s case, her personality has always been somewhat definite though I have to admit to being surprised from time to time.  With her quiet aura, she is determined and yet uncomplicated. A person who knows who she is and what she wants. And with an independent spirit.

Like her father noted, she was/is a high performer in school, hitting the books, knowing when to focus and on what. But so the girl like to fete. I mean really like to fete.  Where does that come from?

Liane is responsible, reliable and thoughtful and it is with anticipation that we wait to see where she takes that joyful, love of life determination.

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