coromandal


my gypsy childhood
September 7, 2009, 12:15 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , ,

This is excerpted from the article My Gypsy Childhood by Roxy Freeman in the Guardian.  She is a girl who never went to school, lived in a caravan, learned music and dance and how to cook and survive.  Eventually she decided she wanted an education and fought her way into a college.

These are the last three paragraphs of the article which describe her moving to a bricks and mortar place by the sea, and how removed she feels from nature and how constrained by her stable environment.

After completing my access course (thanks to a wonderful tutor, I got distinctions in all the units), I did a degree with the Open University, and that meant completely changing my way of life. Last November, at the age of 30, I moved to Brighton with my boyfriend and we live in a flat, which is bizarre and alien to me. My family are, admittedly, no longer truly nomadic, and my parents support my decision to transform my life, but I have never lived within bricks and mortar before, and I feel completely out of touch with nature now.

I can’t see or feel the change from one season to the next, I crave greenery, and I constantly wrestle with the emotion of feeling trapped. I spend half my life opening doors and windows, trying to get rid of the airless, claustrophobic feeling that comes with being inside. I get woken up by bin lorries, the rush-hour traffic and my neighbours shouting, instead of birdsong and the wind in the trees. I can’t sense when it’s going to rain because I can no longer smell it in the air, and when it does rain I can’t hear it landing on the roof.

I live near the sea because it gives me some sense of openness and freedom, but I don’t think I will ever feel truly settled here – or anywhere else. My instinct is to travel, and when you have grown up waking to different scenery every day, it’s easy to feel trapped. But to reach my dream, I have to put down roots.

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fetish housework
June 29, 2009, 12:34 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , ,

This is from Bea Ballard’s article about her late father called My dad, the perfect mum at Times Online. Their mother died when the children were young and the father raised the children alone.

In this way of living, home is a reflection of a state of mind:  cleanliness is next to bourgeois repression.  To me it’s far closer to the truth than its cousin which drags God – unwillingly, no doubt – in.

We lived in what we came to think of as a very happy nest – there was a sense of warm chaos that was hugely liberating. He did not care about bourgeois concerns such as keeping the house tidy – as he once said: “You can do all the housework in five minutes if you don’t make a fetish of it.” He later speculated that the compulsive cleaning of a family home “might be an attempt to erase those repressed emotions that threaten to break through into the daylight” and certainly I remember finding the grander homes of some of my school chums eerily silent and stultifying in their neatness compared with our wonderful home, where old plastic flippers discarded from a beach holiday were used as doorstops.



the narcissistic ties of blood
May 17, 2008, 1:04 am
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , ,


Ah, how I loathe the culture wars.  We are walking out of a battle field now, one on which the definitions of family were ravaged.  Here is a clearer view.

The prevailing orthodoxy claims that family is foundational to good society and living.  They emphasize blood lines and values and remove their kids from public schools.  It is a loving inward gaze.

The alternate view is that such self love can lead to territoriality and fear of the outsider. And it seems that when asked, most people believe that family values means looking beyond the family.  Maybe that’s what loving your neighbour is: that to really love, we must look past ourselves, our bloodlines, our tribe, and try to understand and love ‘other’ people.

Salon-The U.S. News article cited a 1997 poll in which 75 percent of 950 adults said moms with kids under 3 who work outside the home are threatening family values.

Coontz-You know these polls change from day to day depending on how they’re phrased. If you phrase the question, “Are women who work neglecting their kids?” the overwhelming majority will say no. In many cases, because it is the only vocabulary people have to express their concern, they’ll use the conservative term “family values,” but when you press people on what they mean by that, they’ll define it in a totally different way than the right wing does. The public defines it in terms of teaching your kids to look beyond the family. They define it in terms of reaching out to get involved in community activities. Whereas the right-wing definition of family values is extraordinarily narrow — even in terms of the history of Christianity. Christ was quite anti-family. He said that family bonds can interfere with your commitment to the larger Christian community. And the early evangelicals took pains to always talk about the Christian household, to indicate that you had to reach beyond the narrow, selfish ties of sexual attraction and the narcissistic ties of blood in order to look out for the larger community.

May 20, 1997, “Christ was quite anti-family”, STEPHANIE COONTZ ON THE WAY WE WEREN’T — AND ARE, Salon.com



safe at home
May 10, 2008, 6:32 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , ,

(haris panidis | saeco etienne coffee maker | electra coffee machine)

In this piece, the middle class, after having been harangued by Luther for their pursuit of comfort and sensuality, turn to the drawing room and its rituals of pleasure-without-risk, including the drinking of coffee.  It is at home where risk is erased.  The theorist Schmitt criticizes the middleclass for leaving broader social life and retreating into family life.  This life turned inward may be comfortable, but is marked by fear of the world outside and aversion to conflict.  In it, mother’s tut-tutting isn’t merely corrective; it’s sinister.

“In a note in his acrimonious postwar glossary, the legal and political theorist Carl Schmitt captures the stale atmosphere of the bourgeois interior, and points to coffee as a symbol of the desire to enjoy undisturbed security within the confines of the household:

“French: sécurité; German (until now): Gemütlichkeit. That is the internalized – or interiorized – but at the same time secularized assurance of divine grace, the end of fear and trembling at a nice cup of coffee and a pipe stuffed with spicy tobacco. It is the reappearance of well-concealed sensual enjoyment, after Luther and the Moravians raged against security as the actual form of sensuality.”

In Schmitt’s view, the typical bourgeois philistine, unmistakably portrayed in his entry, is not so much ascetically opposed to pleasure as he is wary of pleasure that cannot be enjoyed securely – that is – without worry. Coffee, in combination with tobacco, stands for intoxication without risk; it is a stimulant that does not dangerously loosen the subject’s self-possession. It signifies a furtive bliss distinguished from the ecstatic, which implies a movement transcending the bounded ego lodged in the safety of plush comfort.Yet the note contains a more far-reaching critique. Schmitt contends that the comfortable life in the bourgeois interior, despite its mundane and modest quality, seduces men into a sinful attachment to worldly enjoyment. The sinfulness resides in the pursuit of security: the will to achieve a state of complete safety in the shielded salon betrays a blasphemous belief in the possibility of a man-made utopia.

Schmitt’s diary entry might come across as a peculiar expression of a severe Christian ethos, but he joins a long line of critics of the bourgeoisie, who fault it for its incapacity to appreciate a community that extends beyond the realm of the family. The bourgeois individual typically believes that his real life plays out in the private sphere, and perceives the outside world as a foreign and dangerous territory. To the extent that the bourgeoisie does act politically, however, it continues to be guided by the desire for security nurtured in the home, and its ambition is to turn the world into a calm interior. To the bourgeoisie, conflict rudely disturbs the continual traffic of discourse – it should simply not take place. At this point, the bourgeois host’s call for the re-establishment of placid conversation – Nur immer gemütlich! or “Temper! Temper!” – sounds increasingly sinister.”

No Coffee by Jakob Norberg from Eurozine



out-of-step

Here are Fellini’s notes on his film Nights of Cabiria about a prostitute, and following that a description of the prostitute’s house on the outskirts of Rome.  Have you seen it?

The settings for Fellini’s films are often exurban and bleak.  No doubt they are a counterpoint to the fire and optimism of his characters.  But also, and perhaps more significantly, they are the manifestation of a social act: the ostracism of people, in this case a prostitute, from proper society.  You can see this rejection in Fellini’s notes below:  his producer is scandalized that the filmmaker would want to make a film about a … prostitute.

Fellini describes meeting a poor and illiterate woman on his film set; she is like a scared animal. The prostitute’s house is a hovel, it is loved, decorated with character, and sits all alone in a field outside of the city of Rome. Of course, no one misses that she, as a prostitute, lives outside of proper Roman life.

All sorts of bad things happen in all ages to lots of people outside city gates.  A walled city can be a place of refuge or a place of appearance.  It seems Fellini’s Rome is a place of appearance, and business that needs doing but doesn’t meet the prescribed particulars of city life is conducted outside where it appears to not matter.

The subject of loneliness and the observation of the isolated person has always interested me. Even as a child, I couldn’t help but notice those who didn’t fit in for one reason or another—myself included. In life, and for my films, I have always been interested in the out-of-step. Curiously, it’s usually those who are either too smart or those who are too stupid who are left out. The difference is, the smart ones often isolate themselves, while the less intelligent ones are usually isolated by the others. In Nights of Cabiria, I explore the pride of one of those who has been excluded.
/…/
During the shooting of Il Bidone, I met a real-life Cabiria. She was living in a little hovel near the ruins of the Roman aqueduct. At first, she was indignant at my disruption of her daytime routine. When I offered her a lunch box from our food truck, she came closer, like a small homeless female cat, an orphan, a waif, maltreated and living in the streets, but still very hungry, hungry enough to overcome her fears with the offer of food.  Her name was Wanda, a name I might have made up for her if it hadn’t already been hers. After a few days, she communicated with me, though in her inarticulate way, some of the circumstances of being a streetwalker in Rome.
/../
Goffredo Lombardo had the option for my next picture. He was appalled by the idea of a story about a prostitute, an unsympathetic character as far as he was concerned, and he found his excuse to back out of the deal. He wasn’t unique. Quite a few producers didn’t like the idea.
/…/
For Giulietta’s wardrobe, we went to a street market to shop for the clothes Cabiria would wear. Afterwards, because she wasn’t going to have pretty clothes to wear in the film, I took her to an expensive boutique to buy a new dress for herself.
/…/
The positive nature of Cabiria is so noble and wonderful. Cabiria offers herself to the lowest bidder and hears truth in lies. Though she is a prostitute, her basic instinct is to search for happiness as best she can, as one who has not been dealt a good hand. She wants to change, but she has been typecast in life as a loser. Yet she is a loser who always goes on to look again for some happiness.

-Federico Fellini, Nights of Cabiria

As I said, here is the description of Cabiria’s house outside of Rome.  I think she hasn’t chosen to isolate herself, but that others have isolated her as Fellini says.  She is outcast and her house shows her situation clearly:  it floats, is unconnected in the no place removed from the economic and social security of the city.

The little house belonging to the title character in Federico Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria” rises out of the landscape on the edge of a desolate yet oddly cheerful little Roman neighborhood, like one of the solitary, boxy buildings that dot the horizon in a Krazy Kat cartoon. It’s a cube built out of something like stucco, with a curtain of beads hanging like a shimmer of fake rain in front of its simple door — part jazzed-up fairy-tale cottage, part Spartan make-do dwelling. For its owner, the love-starved yet emotionally self-sufficient prostitute Cabiria, played by Giulietta Masina, in the role of her career, the house represents security and pride, a place to return to that’s all her own, like the tiny studio apartment of any city working girl. But is the house meant to signify isolation as a protective measure, or the sense of feeling truly at home with oneself? Or both? That conflict lies at the heart of what may be Fellini’s loveliest and most moving picture, made in 1957 … Maybe what’s so wrenching is that the house in “Nights of Cabiria” does symbolize both: Isolation can be a way to hide from pain and involvement, but there are also times when no one seems to deserve our company, when solitude — a deep sense of being at home with oneself — is preferable to anything else.

-Stephanie Zacharek, The Little Tramp, Salon Entertainment



half century merry-go-round
April 1, 2008, 8:26 pm
Filed under: departure lounge | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Here is an excerpt from Suketu Mehta‘s Maximum City.  A story in a story about being nomadic, but in the city instead of the desert, and presumeably with more red tape, and with taxis instead of camels.  I guess there are differences, but really the fundamentals are the same:  necessity and property owners are my overlords; I must pare down my dependence on things and be careful to not invest emotionally in people that I soon may have to leave.  Material property and the world are as insubstantial as the time between moves, and the idea of home.

The Rent Act leads to peculiar constructions of “home,” unique to Bombay.  Each April 1, a parade of taxis and tempos will take the residents of the F.D. Petit Parsi Sanitarium at Kemps Corner to the Bhabha Sanitarium at Bandra.  Four months later, they will all move to the Jehangir Bagh Sanitarium in Juhu.  Four months after that, they will all come back to the Kemps Corner.  The mass migrations back and forth to the same place, often the same room, happen because the Parsi Panchayat, which owns the sanatoria, knows that tenants who are allowed to stay on become de facto owners.  So they keep their tenants constantly on the move, even as they provide them shelter.  Some of the families have been doing this merry-go-round for over half a century.  Every time they move, they must reapply, coming up with a health certificate, to prove they need the salubrious quarters of a sanatorium.  They are allowed to keep their bags and some furniture – but not a refrigerator.  Installing a fridge is claiming home, so the residents must subsist on powdered milk.

~Suketu Mehta, Maximum City



my experiential home
March 17, 2008, 6:09 am
Filed under: unseen world | Tags: , ,

(Global Village Shelter)

Here is a description, by Juhani Pallasmaa, of how the imagination helps us to live.  He says it constructs virtually a home that will do, is a comfort, is fixed even when our lives are not.  It is tempting to think that a fixed life is best.  But, I like this neutral description.  The imagination works for stasis and the family keeps on moving.  The net effect is a life of adaptability and tension.

The image of home
Before I reached high-school age, my family moved several times due to my father’s job and, consequently, I lived in seven different houses during my childhood. In addition, I spent my childhood summers and most of the war in my farmer grandfather’s house. Regardless of having lived in eight houses, I have only had one experiential home in my childhood; my experiential home seems to have traveled with me and been constantly transformed to new physical shapes as we moved.

~Pallasmaa, Juhani. Identity, Intimacy and Domicile, Notes on the phenomenology of home