Saturday, March 23, 2019

Twittering, I am...

Well, I finally joined the twittersphere this month and am happily tweeting at BrettHethering (or is it also 'twittering?) so if you are also using it please send me a tweet and follow me.

Happy social media life!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

“Madame, I came to the theater thinking I would see Arabs, but instead I could see myself.”

Bizarrely, this week Muslims have had to defend themselves even more after 49 innocents were gunned down in a horrific crime of right-wing terrorism in New Zealand. Here is a fascinating interview with Algerian film director Rayhana...

Anna Pamuła: I’ve read that you have two mothers.
Rayhana: I don’t know which one is my real mother. My father belonged to the mujahideen fighting for Algerian independence from 1954-62. After the war he lost an eye and met a Dutch physician named Connie in the hospital. They became close and likely got drunk one time and landed in bed together. She became pregnant, but he was already married to an Algerian woman.
Each woman told me that I was her daughter and both told me in detail about the process of my birth.
So I have two mothers, and I love them both enormously. I wouldn’t want to know which one lied to me, which is why I’ve decided not to have a DNA test, and I tell myself that they did this out of love.
AP: How far back does your memory reach?
I spent my first years with my Algerian mama, but for school I moved in with Connie. My Algerian family was illiterate, but they cared about my education, so they sent me to be raised by the doctor.
Both mothers were very affectionate toward me, though they also beat me. My father, too. I remember how he once caught me with my hair down after leaving school. I didn’t have to wear a veil, but my hair always had to be tied up. He had no mercy. He dragged me home and cut it short.
But my worst memory is of how my mama punished me by putting hot pepper paste into my vagina. I was eleven years old. She told me to do some shopping and it was a hot day, so I went outside in shorts. When I got home and she saw my bare legs, she started to scream. She grabbed me and told me to sit on a chair and then pried my thighs apart and put harissa in there. I don’t even remember how much it hurt.
AP: Your film, “I Still Hide to Smoke” (2016), is based on a play that you wrote and directed. There is a scene in the play in which the heroine retells the same story.
When I was young, it was normal -- mothers grabbed their daughters between their legs or put harissa in there. I wanted to put it into the film, but the French producer didn’t agree, so we left it out. It was very important to us that we be able to show the film in Arab countries.
AP: How else is the film different from the play?
Unfortunately, I had to censor myself. I was afraid that someone would accuse me of stigmatizing Muslims. I added a line to the screenplay in which one of the heroines says to a radical Muslim woman, “Your Islam is not our Islam.” That wasn’t in the play.
I didn’t want anyone to accuse me of “Islamophobia.” Islam disturbs me as much as any other religion, and it is not the film’s main topic.
AP: Your film tells the story of about a dozen women who meet at a Turkish bath. [In your work, you've] covered almost every important topic in a woman’s life: marriage, pregnancy, confinement after childbirth, death, masturbation, her period, orgasm, virginity, love, sex, etc. Why do these things seem important to you?
Once I showed my work at a theater on the Champs Elysées. A discussion followed. I stood alone on the stage, when suddenly I heard tapping from off to the side: tap, tap, tap.
I could see a woman of around eighty years old, an elegantly dressed white French woman. She definitely had her hair done before the play, rouged her cheeks, and put on green eye shadow -- a beautiful older woman in a perfectly cut suit. She walked with a cane.
She came up to me and said, looking me straight in the eye, “Madame, I came to the theater thinking I would see Arabs, but instead I could see myself.”
And she walked away, tapping her cane on the wooden stage. Silence fell, and then all at once, everyone stood up in an avalanche of applause. The director of the theater signed a contract with me for twenty more performances.
AP: What did the French woman see?
I am sure she had experienced violence. Maybe her husband beat her. I regret that I didn’t manage to speak with her.
Lately during discussions following film screenings, someone always says, “It’s really bad for women in Algeria.” This bothers me, because, in my opinion, injustice toward women is happening all over the world, only in different degrees. Every two and a half days, a French woman is killed by her husband.  But there also exist leftist French feminists who assert, for example, that female circumcision is just cultural difference, so they cannot be opposed to it. This also irritates me.
AP: Why didn’t you use Algerian actresses?
At the beginning I sent the screenplay to actresses whom I trusted. But even for them, to show a scene at a public bath was too much. The bath is a sacred place where women are naked. I was also counting on the film being shown at festivals in Algeria, and that would have been impossible. The director of one of them even told me that the film was vulgar and filthy.
AP: Do you remember visiting the baths in your youth?
I rarely went, because I lived with my Dutch mama, who did not have that custom. As a result, it was an exotic place for me. But I went there often enough to see that Arab women were not embarrassed about anything at the baths.
AP: Women are naked, touch each other, but I would not call this a sensual film. You show the whole body as it is.
Some critics have even accused me of making a film that lacks sensuality, but I don’t want to dazzle people with the female body. They see it that way, because they are looking from a European perspective.
This is precisely a problem of Orientalism -- a group of naked women in a bath means automatically that something is going to happen, but these women are going there simply to bathe.
AP: Why did you choose a female cinematographer?
I wanted the actresses to feel free. That aside, I was counting on having a woman’s gaze. A male cameraman would definitely do more closeups of the body, the skin. He would show a woman washing another woman in a sensual fashion, but I wanted to have Fatima scrubbing her friend’s back so hard that her skin would be all red. I didn’t want the camera to be ogling the women. I specifically chose women who are not models, who do not have perfect bodies. They have cellulite and sagging breasts. Even the most beautiful among them, Hiam Abbas, shows stretch marks on her belly from several births.
AP: Do you like being a woman?
I love men and I adore my own womanhood! Now I don’t wear makeup anymore. Before, I was a real coquette. I had long curly hair and wore dresses.
AP: “I am a woman who loves men.” That’s what you said in one of your interviews.
We can’t love each other, truly love each other, if we don’t have equality. I fight for women’s rights, because without them we will not be able to change our mentality. After all, if things are so good for men, why would they arrange things differently on their own? The law must be forced upon them.
Once an Algerian woman could not leave the country without her husband’s permission; now this law no longer applies. A year ago, a law forbidding domestic violence came into effect, all thanks to the work of female political activists. A man can be punished now. I am certain that our struggle is right, though it takes a great deal of time. More and more women work, and more women study at universities than men. On the other hand, Islamists have grown in power, so more and more women are also moving backward, radicalizing.
Rayhana (b. 1964) – Algerian actor, director, and playwright. She has lived in France since 2001. Her play, “At My Age, I Still Hide to Smoke,” in which she made her debut as an actress and director, achieved great success in French theaters. In 2017, she made a film under the same title.
The above excerpts are from Anna Pamuła’s interview with Rayhana, originally appearing in the Polish weekly Wysokie Obcasy in July 2017.

Translated by David A. Goldfarb
My source was: News Mavens.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

"Brexit blues" -- My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine

[Protesters in London, January 2019. EFE] 
My wife and I are just a few weeks away from being what amounts to illegals in a country (in fact, an entire continent) where we have lived for the last 4,600 days.

Both of us having a British parent has meant that we’ve been able to have most of the rights and responsibilities of a European citizen and our (Australian only) teenage son has had no legal problem either.
With Brexit this is all soon to change for us and an estimated 308,000 Brits in Spain.
Another million or so across the rest of the European Union are set to face the same uncertain status unless the British government finally delivers on its promise to fully safeguard its passport holders living in the EU. 
Quite simply, there is growing alarm, anger and feelings of abandonment across this very disparate group of individuals.
But how and why did we get to this point in the first place?
It’s worth remembering that the cause of Brexit was an advisory referendum. 
It was a public vote called by former Conservative prime minister David Cameron more than two years ago. 
He made the referendum happen purely (in his mind) to prevent the growing popularity of UKIP (right-wing anti-Europeans) and to shore up his own leadership in a party with a range of strong opinions on Britain being an EU member.
Cameron did not design this referendum because of public pressure in the United Kingdom. 
In fact, only 37% of the voting population ended up choosing to cast their vote in favour of leaving, though this was almost 52% of the total vote.
As senior EU officials have in fact recently confirmed, Cameron believed that his then coalition partner, the Liberal-Democrats, wouldn’t agree to an in/out Brexit referendum. 
When Cameron won an election and then found himself governing without the Lib-Dems, his hand was forced by powerful elements in his party and the business sector, despite Cameron being publicly pro-Europe. Also mistakenly, he expected a victory anyway.
So, the awful mess we are in now was started by the Conservatives and is being continued to this day by the Conservatives. I am not going to talk about those who promoted Brexit with, what Donald Tusk rightly called “not even a sketch of a plan to carry it through safely.” 
I am not going to talk about the countless thousands of working people who have already lost jobs to Brexit-era closures and relocations, or about a likely 750,000 more unemployed to come.
I am also not going to talk about the loss to UK schools, hospitals and service industries of EU nationals, forced out by a government pursuing a “hostile environment” policy toward immigrants. 
I could also mention those Europeans who felt it necessary to leave Britain because of the greatly increased bigotry and discrimination against many of them that Brexit has unleashed.
Instead, I am going to identify the single biggest reason why the pro-Leave forces won the referendum. Apart from blatant lies, scaremongering and running a campaign that spent illegally, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and others took clear advantage of their own government’s austerity policies.
Massive social welfare cuts, hospital privatisation, school budgets slashed, starving local councils of funding and large scale vital infrastructure being left in ruins. 
All this together created sections of the country who were itching to make a protest vote and punish the government, Europe, immigrants: these were who Leave leaders identified as being at fault for what was in reality the everyday results of the harshest forms of austerity. 
This was why Britain needed to “Take Back Control”. This finger-pointing was enough. That simple slogan.
And now today, look at the result.

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, March 2019.]

Friday, March 1, 2019

"Why your next read should be from Catalonia"

Apart from someone like the excellent Matthew Tree, "it’s slim pickings for English-language readers looking for literary insight into this fascinating, independent-minded culture, with translations of Catalan masterpieces woefully sparse.

And for every regularly translated Montserrat Roig, Quim Monzó or Jaume Cabré — the latter of whom Catalan scholar Montserrat Lunati considers to be “possibly the best novelist in Catalan right now” — you’ve got a Max Besora, Albert Pijuan or Maria Guasch, who’ve been recognized for producing some of the best books of 2017, but have yet to see their works published in English.
Still, English-language publications are slowly taking note. Based on recommendations from Catalan writer, literary critic and current coordinator of the “Barcelona, City of Literature” project Marina Espasa, and others, here are some texts that you can find in English, whether in print or online.


(Translated by Alicia Maria Meier). Rojals’ impressive 2011 debut, Primavera, estiu, etcètera, is an “exceptionally good” novel, Espasa says, that effectively taps into the everyday parlance of the people, all while exploring the plights of a generation. The author strikes a balance between selling well without selling out, Espasa adds, and that’s also evident in her tightly crafted “passionate and on-the-money” essays, such as those compiled in We Could Have Studied Less. Life in contemporary Catalonia has rarely been articulated so well.
Translated excerpts here.


(Translated by María Cristina Hall). As a writer’s rights activist, one-time candidate for a seat in Catalan Parliament and a key figure of queer visibility on the Catalan literary scene, Olid is so much more than a writer. “For No One,” taken from her short story collection La mala reputació, is one of her few pieces available in English, says Catalan-to-English translator Bethan Cunningham. And like Olid herself, it’s complex and engrossing. A queer, tragic love story of sorts, it’s a beautifully executed tale that will leave you emotionally broken.
Translated short story here.


(Translated by Scott Shanahan). Bagunyà may have published three books and generated much critical acclaim and discussion, but he remains surprisingly underrated beyond the Catalan literary scene. In fact, his short story “You’ve Likely Never Been to a Party This Big” (translated in 2017), which relates the disorienting, so often unarticulated horrors of attending a sprawling social gathering, is the first time an English translation of his work has been published online.
Translated short story here.


(Translated by Peter Bush). One of the most widely acclaimed (and widely translated) books to come from Catalonia in the past decade is The Last Patriarch, by Moroccan-Catalan- Spanish [?] author el Hachmi. Touching on some of the more overtly drawn autobiographical themes addressed in her 2004 debut, Jo també sóc catalana (I’m Catalan Too), this is a two-parter of violence, identity and, ultimately, empowerment.


As opposed to the previous writers, Cantero often skips the whole translation debacle, and writes in English. His second English-language novel, New York Times best-seller Meddling Kids — inspired by kids’ TV favorite Scooby-Doo — blends a unique, meta narrative with more pop culture references than Stranger Things (however, it does a far better job at subverting them)."
For further reading see source at Ozy here.