morphing

here is a church o’ bones. it was built in poland in 1776 and its walls are filled with no less than 3,000 skulls. the exterior of the chapel is small, unassuming.

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on a less sombre note, there’s some REALLY GOOD SONIC SHIT going on over HERE.

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here is a very old poem. i wrote this while exploring shifts in friendships // shifty friendships // and recently revisited it only to discover that it now signifies, for me, a whole new sort of shiftiness.

full disclaimer: this poem is also about the magic of angiosperms – flowering vascular plants! – and should really be titled ‘caitlin tries to figure out how and why plants produce flowers and why not all relationships produce perfect flowers of their own.’ there, i spelled it out for you.

angiosperm morphology

I have a plan,

it is as follows:

instead of sending you a postcard I will send you myself

– lungs and cunt and elbows –

wrapped in cloth,

I’ll mail her / I’ll mail me // to the country where she

and you should have met onstage,

playthings at a theatre convention for the privileged

&

we will visit the abandoned city

of geometric pods

[sanzhi, new taipei

sanzhi, forget taipei

sanzhi, new taipei bereft]

where larger-than-life

split peas of concrete fibres

have fallen from the stalk

to take their place on the dais of dirt.

The pale part is not green

but subterranean,

still alive

like this thing that creeps

across borders

and shoots when I least expect it.

the word, internode, 

would hardly apply to the part of the stem”

between you and I

the interval of a stem between two successive nodes is an internode”

because I am multiple cotyledons

you are not my root

and this is longer than an interval,

seasoned and battle-scarred

waiting for a second germination,

a chance in the spotlight.

sometimes you figure life out by reading about vegetative morphology.

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monkey no longer refers to a recognized scientific taxon // monkey is mad!

The monkeys of New Delhi are very angry at their politicians. These politicians have permitted and, indeed, promoted a type of urban development which has destroyed the natural habitats and homes of the monkeys. In an organized effort they attack the Deputy Mayor of Delhi. He falls to his death.

Outraged, the high court orders that Delhi clean up its streets (ie. relocate the undesirables – the monkeys, and oh hey, perhaps some impoverished migrant communities and slum dwellers as well). Other monkeys – larger and more aggressive monkeys – are trained by the governing elites. They are trained to help with the culling of the undesirables.

Some folks say that treating monkeys in this way is wrong. In fact, this type of treatment is counter to their religious practices and their understanding of human-animal relationships.

THE MONKEYS ARE STILL ANGRY. THE PROBLEM PERSISTS.

What is to be done?

In other news, I’m exhausted. I’m working at Radio CKUT and loving it, but also experiencing some serious fatigue.

Spectre Folk and the combination of an erratic hail storm and Fall sunshine have been getting me through the day. I leave you with THE BLACKEST MEDICINE and suggest that you come hang out with me for an early, free show at Citizen Vintage!

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November 4, 2011 · 7:19 pm

Maisonneuve, Charles Foran & Mordecai Richler

Read the interview

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Interviewing Yann Martel

A few people have been hassling me to update my long neglected blog.

So, here’s an interview I recently did for Maisonneuve’s website.

Yann Martel was kind enough to talk with me about his new novel, Beatrice & Virgil. Although it isn’t as easy a read as his other work and may leave some of his Life of Pi fans disappointed, I think it’s definitely worth the read. Beatrice & Virgil is as much an intellectual and historical journey, questioning the ways in which we narrate the stories and facts of the Holocaust, as it is a work of fiction which features a cast of characters that includes a donkey and a monkey.

Due to length constraints I had to cut out parts of the interview. In addition to talking about literary devices and writing about the Holocaust, Martel also had lots of interesting things to say about the future of reading, eBooks and the possibility of alternative literary forms. I’ve posted that part of the interview below.

CM: I interviewed you a few years ago to talk about your illustrated version of Life of Pi. I was excited by incorporation of visual art into a literary text. I was also intrigued by the initial setup of Beatrice & Virgi as a flip book combining fiction and non-fiction. Can you talk about your attempts to veer towards unconventional, alternative storytelling and publishing?

YM: Whatever form your story takes has to compliment the story itself. There is one illustration of gestures of the horrors in Beatrice & Virgil but I believe form has to serve function.

Beatrice & Virgil still has a flip book cover in Canada. It leaves you asking which is the right way up. The flip book symbolizes the Holocaust throwing the world topsy-turvy.

CM: While I don’t think that the production of physical books will ever cease, it is undeniable that things like the iPad represent a new type of reading. I’m wondering if creating new types of physical books, like illustrated novels or flip books that combine fiction and non-fiction, could highlight the value of the off-screen reading experience?

YM: A story ultimately works because it takes you in emotionally and at the same time makes you think. The problem with people who get too clever and too experimental is that you lose your story. Plot, insight and language are important. If it’s too clever in form people are constantly reminded of that.

CM: But what about eBooks?

YM: I don’t have a problem with eBooks actually. They are good for ephemera––newspapers, magazines, genre fiction. It just means that people might only books they really love, and as a result they’ll have much better libraries. There’s a flexibility to eBooks. The print can be larger and there’s the possibility of adding sound. You could be reading a novel set in Russia and have a gentle background of Russian music that fits the story.

CM: I hadn’t thought about the oratory component to eBooks.

YM: Well, right now they all have robotic voices but we’re in the beginning stages. I love audiobooks, and that can be integrated. In ten years eBooks will cost ten dollars, they’ll be common products. But you’re right, maybe this will add another dimension to storytelling. A slightly more specialized product might be allowed to be more experimental.

Yann Martel has this website in which he posts information about the books he has been sending to Stephen Harper every two weeks for the last couple of years. While I think this is an awesome idea, I tend to think that the books Martel sends are a little lacking in the political arena. Harper could really use a couple of books that would push him in a vastly different political direction. Does reading really have that power? Probably not, but if I could force feed a text to Canada’s current Prime Minister it would be Andrea Smith’s Conquest: Sexual Violence and the American Indian Genocide. For those who haven’t read it, go get yourself a copy.

Lastly, I also want to post a link to my friend Fred’s recent post about Montreal hockey fans and their portrayal in the Montreal media because it is, well, totally rad.

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French Breakfasts, Ladies Drinking Beer & Polyandry

A few things that must be said:

1. A restaurant in Kerala offered their idea of a quintessential French breakfast: coffee, croissant and a lone cigarette. Cultural stereotyping at its finest.

2. The other night a group of local guys sat down at the table next to us at the bar. One of them proceeded to tell me, and the other men I was with, that it just “wasn’t right” that I (a female) was drinking a big bottle of Kingfisher beer. I didn’t appreciate his concern.

This New York Times article nicely summarizes the kind of cultural conflicts that surround booze-drinking women (and “havens of hand-holding: shopping malls) in India today.

Casual misogyny is a little troubling.

A “please turn off your cellphones during the movie” ad playing at a Mumbai cinema seemed to be suggesting that if you failed to turn off your cellphone you would get sexually assaulted.

The animated clip involved an extremely curvaceous woman (think Jessica Rabbit) being chased down a dark street by a leering, muscular and moustachioed man with foreboding eyebrows. Her breasts bounce uncontrollably as she runs away from him. Finally, she ducks to safety behind a dumpster in a nearby alley. It looks like the poor, scantily clad woman has safely escaped Scary Man until … her cellphone rings. And AI! AI! AI! the man has found her. A zoom-in on the woman’s face shows her terror and the clip ends with a close-up on the man’s mighty eyebrows wiggling up and down in a more than suggestive manner.

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3. On a more positive note, Ladakh has to be one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

One author writing about Ladakh suggests that “the almost complete emancipation of women in Buddhist society” is immediately apparent in your interactions with Ladakhis. “The cheerfulness shown by people of all sorts and conditions in central Ladakh may well be due partly to the fact that one half of the population is not kept in a state of perpetual subjection by the other.”

And she’s so right!

Ladakhi people were exceptionally friendly. They welcomed us into their homes and fed us salted butter tea and chang (a local barley beer). Most importantly we met the KING of all grandfathers. He wore dark sunglasses all day long whether he was working in the garden or sitting in the dark kitchen, and protected us from his guard dog which threatened to bite out our larynxes whenever we passed by. After dinner he cooly drank a very large amount of chang while nonchalantly spinning his prayer wheel and chanting the Buddhist mantra om mani padme hum.

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Aside from the stunning geography, ancient monasteries and warmhearted people, Ladakh is also fascinating in that it used to be home to widespread polyandry (outlawed in the 1940s). Out of a number of brothers, one was usually dedicated to the Buddhist religion as a lama. Unless the eldest brother was so inclined, it was usually the youngest who was pushed into a religious vocation. The eldest brother was normally heir to the family property and any remaining brothers that wished to lay claim to this inheritance or stay within the family were necessarily subservient to the older brother. Subservience in this case meant being married to your brother’s wife.

So, that’s all very cool for the ladies BUT – just to make things fair in a way unheard of in most cultures – “depending on the circumstances of each particular family, marriages could be polyandrous, polygynous, or monogamous – a beautifully flexible system.” Marital flexibility’s where it’s at.

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We went to the Dalai Lama’s birthday party just outside of Leh, the biggest city in Ladakh. He wasn’t there that day but we did manage to see him up close & personal a few weeks later in Mcleod Ganj. He was just as jovial in real life as he is in the many, many portraits of him that adorn the restaurants, hotels, stores, homes and temples of Mcleod.

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soviet propaganda: the new woman

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From the foreward: “Women’s high position in the Soviet society, the position they have won under the leadership of the Party of Lenin and Stalin, has placed them, together with the rest of the Soviet people, in the vanguard of the progressive forces of mankind. … The sucessful solution of the woman question in the U.S.S.R. is eloquent, irrefutable evidence of the advantages of the Soviet social and state system over capitalism; it shows that only the path of Lenin and Stalin, the glorious path to Communism, leads to freedom and happiness for the people, to freedom and happiness for mankind.”

***

I have found a treasure chest of a store. It is small and unassuming yet located in one of Delhi’s ritzier neighbourhoods, Hauz Kaus. It sits nestled among art galleries and designer clothing stores and lies next to beautiful old ruins and serene (albeit faintly lime-coloured) pond. Its treasures include hundreds of old Bollywood posters, old family photographs and musty, antique books. Among the piles of books I found one which was printed in Moscow in 1949 and titled “Women in the Land of Socialism”. This maroon-covered gem of a book is the closest I’ve come to original Soviet propaganda. “The Land of Socialism” didn’t, in fact, do very well by its population (male or female). The book is filled with romantic (and twisted), Stalinist lingo and pictures of various female Stalinist heroes. If one believes the images and personal narratives of the book, the Soviet Union was a land in which doing conveyor belt labour was a) of the upmost importance, b) a sign of gender equality, and c) the most delightful work on the planet.

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mother mother

mother mother

“Natalia Filippovna Novichkova: recipient of the Mother Heroine title, has brought up ten children.”

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“N. A. Prozorova: Hero of Socialist Labour, in a hothouse of teh Krasny Oktyabr Kokhoz.”

Certain artists were considered “heroes of socialist labour” as important as the farmers, mothers and ice-skaters pictured above. Artists were essential: they created the visual propaganda which was part of the Stalinist backbone. Before he fell out of favour, Yuri Pimenov was one such artist.

Give to Heavy Industry

Give to Heavy Industry

In keeping with the themes of my little maroon book, the “New Soviet Woman” was often the subject of Soviet poster art as gender equality was propagated by the state.

Down With Kitchen Slavery

Down With Kitchen Slavery

mother of the city statue

"mother of the city" statue

Once upon a time I lived in the Soviet Union, and watched it fall apart from our apartment window. Economically, socially and politically speaking, I’m not sure that Russia has stopped crumbling since then.

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lining up for shashlik, gorky park, moscow

lining up for shashlik, gorky park, moscow

Moscow’s Gorky Park is named after Maxim Gorky, a Russian Socialist Realist author. He was allegedly a personal friend to Lenin for some time, although this relationship eventually turned sour. While in fascist Italy, Stalin personally invited Gorky to return to Moscow.  True to the violentally fickle nature of Stalinist leadership, a few years later the writer was placed under house arrest yet Stalin himself helped carry Gorky’s coffin during his funeral.

Visiting graveyards is a common, slightly morbid part of our family trips. John & I stand in front of Pasternak’s grave:

Pasternaks Grave

Pasternak's Grave

Like many Russian writers of his generation Boris Pasternak had to drastically adapt his poetry to suite Soviet politics of the 1920s. Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (for Doctor Zhivago) but due to severe censorship, told the Swedish Academy that he would be unable to accept the prize.

Beginnings of Collapse (in a square near our Moscow apartment):

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“Death to Capitalism” – Anti-Yeltsin protestors in Moscow.

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russian white house - bombed

russian white house - bombed

family

family

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Maisonneuve

Click & Read: From Islamabad to the Swat Valley

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