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The Farming of Bones

I haven’t been to a city library since the pandemic started. For a long time, they were closed. However I’ve done very well sharing books with reading neighbours by using a little free street library a mere block away. I’ve learned they read some worthy books around here.


Stuff happens to me that never happens to other people. By sheer coincidence, after just finishing ‘The Feast of the Goat’ by Mario Vargas Llosa, a novel based on the Dominican Republic during dictator Trujillo’s era, what do you think falls into my hands?


A harrowing but fantastic can’t-put-down read by Edwidge Danticat called ‘The Farming of Bones’ about the destitute Haitians who crossed the border from Haiti into The Dominican Republic during Trujillo’s rule. Those who did struggled for survival doing the dirty and dangerous jobs no one else wanted, meanwhile suffering outright racism.


Danticat’s book didn’t end the way I wanted it to. A love story, the lovers don’t get to walk off into the sunset, get married and live happily after. If that’s what you want, it isn’t the book for you. It isn’t a pleasant story, but it reads true…

Feast of the Goat…

Trujillo

Right now I’m reading ‘The Feast of the Goat’, a novel which takes place in the Dominican Republic during the rule of the hated dictator Rafael Trujillo, who was called the goat. (Dominicans often made up nicknames for others.) Trujillo was assassinated in 1961.

The book is written by Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, who among many other literary prizes earned a Nobel Prize for literature. Llosa wrote extensively and was born in Peru in 1936.

Mario Vargas Llosa

On page #205 of my copy, I found the following quote:

‘AN OPEN BOOK IS A MIND THAT SPEAKS; CLOSED, A FRIEND WHO WAITS; FORGOTTEN, A SOUL THAT FORGIVES; DESTROYED, A HEART THAT WEEPS.’ By Rabindranath Tagore.

Tagore

Tagore was a Bengali poet, writer, playwright, composer, philosopher, social reformer and painter, and more. Obviously a brilliant guy. He lived from 1861-1941 when he died in Calcutta.

I love the quote…

Better than a novel…

Queen Elizabeth 1st wearing her red wig
Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex

I’m intrigued by history, but hesitate to call myself a history buff. I am actually more of a ‘history gossip’. The happenings of the past — political marriages, love-affairs, intrigues, murders and other goings-on are fabulous and often better reading than a novel.


For instance, take Queen Elizabeth 1st of England, who wore globs of white makeup to cover her pock marks. (It contained lead and caused many a death as a result.) Handsome Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, a favourite of hers, who was rumoured to have warmed her bed and probably did, in the end had to pay with his life when he made her really, really angry. After all, Elizabeth had absolute power.

Frances Sidney, Countess of Clanricarde, Robert’s wife


Being a favourite of the Queen was a dangerous business. Robert served her well, but when he acted against her wishes and had the audacity to marry Frances Sidney, Countess of Clanricarde and widow of the English writer, Sir Philip Sidney, he should have known he was walking on thin ice. Whatever WAS he thinking?

Hugh O’Neill, Irish Leader


The Queen didn’t act immediately, but she seethed. Then when he made an unauthorized truce with the rebel Irish leader, Hugh O’Neill, the Monarch at first greeted him kindly, but saw an opportunity for revenge. The angry lady ordered the handsome guy’s head chopped off. Well, what did he expect, the queen was obviously not amused.


It is also interesting to note that Robert was beheaded in 1601. Frances, Robert’s wife, died that same year too. I wonder??? Do you?

Black lives matter…

photo by Chandra

I find interesting stuff when I look through my files. I just came on a column I wrote in 1992 which my then-editor called: ‘Prejudice and bigotry return’. Why did I write it?? Maybe it was because Kim Campbell, as Minister of Justice, declared we don’t have prejudice in Canada and I wondered what planet she lived on. It was also probably a time when the economy was hurting and when things are bad, bad stuff happens.

Growing up in Montreal when I did, we were the wrong faith and suffered for it, however I wasn’t even aware of the racism suffered by our small black community. It was only en-route to Los Angeles by bus in my late teens that I learned about the extent of discrimination against blacks in the U.S. and was appalled.

My introduction to ‘White Only’ facilities

I want to share this column with you because of the present pandemic, the depressed economy, and ‘Black Lives Matter’ demonstrators trying so hard to fight racism which, unfortunately, still thrives.

Sign at children Rafi and Chandra’s home

Here’s what I wrote in March, 1992:
‘Unfortunately prejudice and bigotry don’t go away. They continue to fester just under the skin and as soon as trouble hits, like right now, the disease surfaces and again, we’ve lost our dignity. Neo-nazism proliferates in newly united Germany and foreigners everywhere are attacked by hoodlums.

The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith reports a record number of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. during 1991. Meanwhile in Canada, 12-year old native hockey players are not welcomed in Quebec families’ homes. Two Rotarians stalk out when their club, God help us, accepts a female member.

Women and children suffer the consequences of male frustration caused by unemployment. Crisis centres are overloaded with calls from the bruised and battered.’

Black Lives DO Matter


The article is too long to ask you to read it all so I’ll end it here. It could have been written right now. Don’t you agree?

Porgy and Bess — the opera

Muriel2017Many important issues were covered on Broadway in those 1930s musicals — issues which society would not have been comfortable confronting in other ways. Just as comedy was, and continues to be, used to help us deal with the unbearable, musicals often presented audiences with differing views than their own. Audiences were thus encouraged to look at and rethink their own attitudes.

 

 

‘Porgy and Bess’ the first and only opera created by the famous American Gershwin brothers, was written and first performed in 1935. Unfortunately, George died of a brain tumor in 1937, so no more operas followed. The magnificent songs alone make it worth seeing, however, this masterpiece is so much more than only beautiful music.

 

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Eric Owens is Porgy and Angel Blue performs Bess (The Gershwins would have been pleased by the casting)

 

 

GeorgeGershwin1898-1937

George Gershwin, 1898-1937

The Gershwin brothers, whose parents

IraGershwin1896-1983

Ira Gershwin, 1896-1983

immigrated to the U.S. from Russia, like my own — for good reason, well understood discrimination, prejudice, antisemitism — and racism. For this opera, they insisted that all performers appearing in black roles, be black. This at a time when opera singers in the U.S. were white only and using white performers in black face was common.

 

Marian Anderson1897-1993

Marian Anderson 1897-1993

 

 

Contralto Marian Anderson waited until 1955 to be able to perform in a Metropolitan Opera. Before that, she performed in concerts in Europe.

 

 

 

 

 

The libretto of Porgy and Bess, set in 1920‘s South Carolina, makes a powerful statement regarding the vulnerability of the black community’s attempts at survival. All this years before Dr. Martin Luther King came along. Shamefully, the struggle still continues today.

But, if all you want are songs, Porgy and Bess has glorious songs: ‘Summertime’. ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’, ‘I Got Plenty O’Nothin’, and then some. Definitely worth seeing! (I saw the Metropolitan’s Live Broadcast at a local theatre, and yes, all black roles were performed by black artists — as the Gershwins would have wanted..)

Song of China

Mom, thinking 2

China always intrigued me. As a child I read Pearl Buck’s books, and later happily studied Chinese history, literature and philosophers at our local university.

Confucius

Confucius. We also learned about Laozi, Mencius, Zhu Xi, and Mozi, all great minds.

 

 

When the country opened, if just a little, after the Tiananmen Square Massacre (1989), I finally visited in 1991, after obsessing about China for years.

 

 

 

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Tanks in Tiananmen Square, 1989

Many died in the Tiananmen Square Massacre. We’ll probably never know how many. Our group were some of the first tourists to visit afterwards, so I was not surprised at the mixed reactions we created.

 

 

Tiananmen Square1989

Tiananmen Square, Beijing, where a man said ‘Go back to your country.’ and meant it.

 

The presence of many soldiers throughout the cities made me uncomfortable, I wasn’t used to so many military men in the streets. Were they following us?

 

 

 

protests

Protests, Tiananmen Square, 1989

Shopping district Shanghai

I wrote about China being ‘wall-to-wall’ people. They took us to this shopping district in Shanghai.

I’m not a shopper nor used to crowds, and so was terrified at the crush of people in the shopping district of Shanghai. Hans and I just fought our way across the sidewalk to dash back to our bus before it left to park. We sat in it talking as we waited for the others to return.

We think of the Great Wall as one of the wonders of the world, but I considered the bus drivers, who managed to get us safely from one place to another in the insane traffic as the real wonders of the world.

I wrote this  little poem to read from the top of the famous Great Wall of China as a tribute to the many brilliant Chinese poets I’d read through the years.

touristswall

I did read my poem from the top of the wall in Beijing. The many tourists ignored me, which was just as well.

 

Song of China

Oh, revered Chinese poets and scribes
Who have given beauty in song for ages
Hear these unworthy words I offer you
As they drift softly on the winds of your land
Where my breath and presence
Are but a wink in eternity.

I humbly give you this song as a tribute
To the beauty and wisdom you give me
With your words which will endure forever.
May this little poem, in my foreign tongue,
Please the ears of your spirits, who hover
Around me In the heavens above China.

Wall#1

The Great Wall of China

Yes Virginia: There was life before plastic…

Muriel2017

by Chandra

If you listen, you’ll hear people say we won’t know how to manage without plastic bags and containers. Not to worry. There WAS life before plastic and I remember it very well. It was fine….

During Montreal’s cold winters, when I became old enough to travel streetcars on my own, mom would send me to bring hot food to my dad, who ran an unheated poultry shop. The pot I carried had a handle, but the old top didn’t fit well. Occasionally, when the streetcar rattled, the contents overflowed onto my coat. I didn’t enjoy that — but survived. It might have been a better idea to put the hot food in glass jars, wrapped them in towels, in one of those cloth shopping bags mom had. However I wasn’t bright enough to think of it.

mydad'sstore

This is what dad’s shop looked like

By the way, that unheated poultry market had live chickens delivered straight from the farm displayed in metal coops, and when a customer selected the one she wanted, the bird was quickly butchered, cleaned and packed in butcher paper, then in used newspaper, secured with a string and taken home or delivered — no styrofoam trays or plastic wrap required. (Dad would bring very fresh eggs home for us.)

1940s store

Note customer carrying groceries in paper bag

What were our grocery stores like? I remember fruits and veggies being displayed in wood boxes they originally came in, or round wood bushels. There were packages in cardboard boxes plus items in glass jars. If you purchased slices of cheese or deli meats, it was weighed and placed in butcher or waxed paper. It all got home okay.

When I ran my own household, our trash was placed in doubled paper bags in the kitchen container before being transferred, when full, to the large one outdoors. We never considered it a problem.

seaturtlehatching

Baby turtles already have many obstacles without us making life more difficult.

True, we didn’t recycle food yet. I admit I thought the sink garbage disposal was the cleverest invention ever created. (I still have one because it was already installed, but have NEVER used it since learning it pollutes our waters.)

they're worth saving

Magnificent orca, worth saving

Today I prepare food waste for recycling without plastic. My indoor container is lined with layers of newspaper and when full, tossed, paper and all, into our building’s large food waste bin. My container gets a good washing, and when dry, is ready to use again.

 

deadlyplastic

Sea creatures get stuck in this plastic and die

With so much plastic doing damage to our waterways and creatures who must live in them, we must change our ways. We’re doing too much damage and I fear for the future if we don’t stop. I know we can do it. It’s easy enough. It’s all good. Don’t worry. Just go for it.

deadanimal

Let’s end this forever

Graveyards, worth a visit…

Muriel2017It’s been a busy time, so haven’t had time to write earlier. However going through my bookshelves, I found a small book ‘Comic Epitaphs: from the very best old graveyards’ published by Peter Pauper Press. Daughter Susan, who knows I enjoy old graveyards, bought it for me and some of the epitaphs in it are hilarious.

When Susan and I first visited Victoria together, we wandered through their old cemetery looking for Artist Emily Carr’s grave — in the rain. Much to my regret, we never found it.

I’ve wandered through many old graveyards on trips to Europe,

PereLachaise2

Pere Lachaise

but my very favorite is the famous Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Once I spent a whole day there (except for a lunch break), following my carefully-marked map on which I’d circled all the composers, authors, and other special famous people who deserved special attention.

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Oscar Wilde’s grave at Pere Lachaise

 

As I made my rounds along the ancient paths at Pere Lachaise, I noticed a moss-covered old crypt with my own family’s surname on it, but by that time was too tired to inquire at the office to try to learn more about them.

 

Here are a few epitaphs from the book Susan gave me. I hope you get as much of a kick out of them as I do.

Here lies Ann Mann

She lived an old maid

But died an old Mann
(Manchester)crossescolor

 

 

 

 

 

 

grim reaper

Here lies Pecos Bill

He always lied

And always will

He once lied loud

He now lies still
(Grand Forks)

 

 

 

Sacred to the memoryskelitons
Of Anthony Drake
Who died for peace
And dear quietness’ sake.
His wife was forever
Scoldin’ and scoffin’
So he sought repose
In a $12 coffin
(Marietta)

 

 

oldjewishcemetBudapest

Old Jewish Cemetery I visited in Budapest

 

Jonathan Grober
Died dead sober
Lord thy wonders
Never cease
(Clinkerton)

 

 

 

Owen Moore
Gone away
Owin’ more
Than he could pay
(Battersea)

Angel

 

Here lies a father of 29
There would have been more
But he didn’t have time
(Moultrie)

 

 

[On an infant]

Since I have been so
Quickly done for,
I wonder what I was
Begun for
Hammondport)

Here lies my wife
A slattern and shrew
If I said I missed her
I should lie here too!
(Selby)

Reading thru a cold….

Muriel2017

photo by my Chandra

I don’t get sick often, but I did so now and this whatever-it-is is a humdinger. It’s so attached to me, it’s reluctant to leave. As a result,  here I am stuck indoors and fighting cabin fever.

Years ago, I recall thinking it would be great to be sick for a little while, comfortably tucked in my comfy bed with a good book and hot coffee and tissues within reach. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. When I have a cold, my eyes are so bleary, reading isn’t the pleasure it usually is, or as I imagined it would be when ill. I admit I spent most of my time this week just watching Netflix.

 

waroftheworldsbook

A book certainly worth a read

I was deeply involved in reading H.G. Wells’ ‘The War of the Worlds’, which I had picked up with my grandson, Remy, in mind. (Remy consumes books the way some children consume sweets.) Because Remy is eleven, I like to pre-read the books I buy him before I pass them on. I could hardly put this book down. I had heard of ‘The War of the Worlds’ but had never read it, yet i seemed to know what it was about. How come?

 

hgwells#5

The successful H. G. Wells wrote over 100 books

It took my clever son, Rafi, to solve that puzzle. When we discussed the book by phone, he immediately referred to Orson Welles’ famous 1938 radio broadcast, which I had, indeed, heard of even though I was too young to hear it.

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The young Orson Wells broadcasting in 1938

That realistic radio dramatization of ‘The War of the

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One of many headlines in 1938

Worlds’ created a nationwide panic throughout America. Many believed the world WAS being attacked by Martians. Orson Welles, all of 23 at the time, and his Mercury Theatre, had decided to update the story. The results were shocking.

The original book, which I’ve about finished, is

hgwells

H.G. Wells, 1866-1946

shocking as well, considering it was published in 1898, long before astronauts, space exploration, and so many other modern technologies were even thought of. Perhaps ‘The War of the Worlds’ IS the original alien invasion story.

dame rebecca west

Dame Rebecca West considered Wells the love of her life

In trying to learn more on the Internet, I am told Mr. Wells. a most successful science fiction writer, had a ‘scandalous sex life’, was comfortable with committing adultery, and believed in free sex! Mr. Google, willing to gossip, said Mr. Wells once claimed ‘Sex is as necessary as fresh air.’

If I felt better today, knowing me, you can be sure I’d be checking further into all this. You know what a ‘histerical’ (I just made up that word) gossip I am, but since I’m only now getting better, I’ll leave checking into his many love affairs up to you.

Happy hunting…..

newspaperwarof worlds

Terror after Orson Wells’ radio presentation in 1938

 

Dear Chris….

Muriel2017

photo by my Chandra

I’m trying to eliminate clutter. It’s my true effort to become a thoughtful parent. Unfortunately, I find it almost impossible when it comes to my files.

Tackling one of the thick folders of correspondence from my late friend

Hans

Hans. He was a lot of fun…

Hans, I re-read one of his letters and just couldn’t bring myself to dispose of it. It is  too funny. Right behind it was the following poem he wrote to Christopher Columbus. If you were me, could you toss it out?

 

 

 

‘What I always wanted to say to Chris but was afraid to’

by Hans Muller

‘Mister Christopher Columbus

Columbus by Granger

Christopher Columbus, by Granger. I doubt he was much fun.

you’re in history’s vein a thrombus

which, on wide spread urgery

should be removed by surgery.

By Soviet-style complete excision

lest history’s held up to derision

occasioned by your sine-qua-

non mis-historical faux-pas.

What befogged your addled brain?

There was no smog or acid rain,

no radio or T.V. commercial,

nothing crass or controversial

to have made you cause such terror

by your gross baptismal error,

christening our natives ‘Indian’.

Did you hear them speaking Hindi-an?

Did you see them wearing saris?

Your fraudulence tops Mata Hari’s.

Had odes been sung in Amerindian,

not Shakespearean or Pindian,

but sung in praise of Red Man’s Gods,

you’d probably call those odes odds.

You would call a square a rhombus,

wouldn’t you, Signor Columbus?

 

You’d misquote the works of Homer,

3ships

The Nina (Santa Clara), Pinta (Spanish for ‘the painted one’ (prostitute), and Santa Maria

you champion of the crass misnomer.

No more of your mumbo-jumbo

Don Chistoforo Columbo.

I shall ask the nearest cop

to jail you, Mister Malaprop

for the lies with which you bomb us,

Mister Christopher Columbus.

 

*Hans, who could speak/read about five languages, had no problem making up words in any of them. He believed in having fun.