Archive for the ‘Philosophy of sorts’ Category

Grace, wisdom and justice

November 6, 2011

The sacred and the profane.  Torn between the material and the spiritual, back to back blogs, one deals with angels, the other with humans.  Although pilipili and sakasaka are mundane things, even angels need vegetables, so the material stuff feeds the spirit at least on this earth.

After a leave of absence of sorts pilipili will make its diabetic and vegetarian and spiritual point of view known to both humans, commentators and spam readers, as one of the seven billion contributors that should be speaking, speaking up, voting and living great lives.

The gracewisdomjustice blog in remains alive thanks to the few readers taking the time to read lines that may not, one hopes, be a waste of their time.


Nelson Mandela’s bronze

May 8, 2011

Should be gold, but bronze will have to do for now.

The gigantic bronze statue, is a monument, very impressive, located in one end of Nelson Mandela Square in the Sandton City Mall in Johannesburg.  The great statesman is honored during his lifetime with a ton of bronze, and represents the best in politics, if politics is supposed to generate a high sense of honor, justice and human dignity.

Adults and children can’t miss the oversize statue, and many get close and stand in between the legs and the feet of the statesman, and being small in comparison look up to see his smile.

Standing there you can’t help but get a glimpse of things to come.

Paris and Rennes revisited

July 21, 2010

It has been so long I am at a loss for words as I face a white screen.  What may I add to what I have said and the world has said about Paris and Rennes? Almost nothing.

Into that nothing one may dig and discover a touch of disappointment.  This blogger is beginning to see in what he sees the ugly side of things, to the point of saying things like “To enjoy being in Paris, stay indoors and read a book, and remember Paris”, or “Buy a bagette and a piece of cheese and eat in your hotel room”, or “Shut your window to avoid hearing the nasty honks of chic cars”, or “You should write down the words and describe the attitudes of some of the sales people, and run indoors to avoid being totally depressed”.

In Paris, in July, it is fun to walk here and there: all you hear are  languages other than French.  So Paris and Rennes revisited is about nostalgic moments.  It is getting tiring to revisit and yet there is something ethereal and enjoyable about climbing into a taxi, buying metro tickets, avoiding some cafés, and choosing to stay indoors and let the masses of humanity walk all over those blessed sidewalks in search of the stone beauty that is certainly here.

Big Upsets

June 20, 2010

For soccer aficionados and for the the not so aficionados the big news is that the World Cup in South Africa is not just a noisy affair with the much celebrated plastic vuvuzelas but an exciting series of games between nations in which some of the major countries have lost in a surprising way.  Lost games not the real thing.

Spain lost to Switzerland, and France to Mexico.  Just two examples.  The Serbia-Germany confrontation being played as these words are written shows Germany loosing to Serbia.  The outcome of this match will be noted in the last paragraph.  I write as they play.

Last night I started writing into the France Mexico game at the 74 minutes 13 seconds mark.  At that point Mexico was leading one to nil.  I was following this game trying to cheer for France, but France looked doomed.  Mexico’s team looked full of motivation. The English-speaking commentator reminded his audience that France qualified for this World Cup ingloriously because a French player scored with his hand!

There must be some sort of justice through chastisement.  Something to do with the arrogance of some, or their lack of humility.  There is always something psychological that pops up when dealing with sports.  The commentator added that whereas Mexico played like a team, France was just a bunch of very talented individuals playing.

The French coach looked impassive and a bit lost in one corner,  analyzing the action with the eye of an eagle.  He sent Valbuena to replace Govu.  Nothing changed. The Mexican fans looked happy and excited by the minute, understandably.

Frustration mounted.  At 77 minutes a penalty was given to Mexico, because a defender tripped an attacker!  A 37-year Mexican attacker, the second highest scorer of all time in Mexico who had just come in to inject experience and strength, kicked the penalty and the score became to 2 nil.

And everyone was waiting for a miracle to save France.  Last night no miracles were forthcoming. The Mexicans were opening champagne bottles before the end of the game.

And back to the German Serbia game: the Germans received a red card, so they had to play with only 10 players.  That also happened to Nigeria and caused their downfall.  As we move from game to game, nationalisms are confronting each other, as if the soccer field mirrored the political and economic arena, and the Big Upsets in green fields stood as a symbol of what could occur in the real world…

Germany did loose! And now…as I write these notes while watching the Slovenia USA game at the 42 min 12 sec Slovenia leads against the USA 2 to nil!!  That was not supposed to happen.  Within the hour we will know if another Big Upset was in the making!

Well, the news is that the game is over and the USA came from nil to 2 and there was no Big Upset this time.  The two million inhabitants of Slovenia settled for a 2-2 score.

“Are you in the real estate business?”

June 14, 2010

Driving on French toll freeways is not as pleasant as driving in toll-free national and regional highways or even village roads.  When you have the added pressure of seeing radars ready to photograph your license plate when you go beyond the speed limit you long for the days when you could enjoy the scenery by hitchhiking or by train.

On one of our return trips from Bretagne, as we were headed for the Auvergne region in the heart of France, we suddenly left the A28 toll freeway to have some lunch.  The inspiration to leave the freeway came from a sign indicating some sort of château worth seeing.  It is always a mistake to stop for lunch past 2 pm because with the exception of imported fast food restaurants of renown, almost no one serves lunch past the sacred and official lunchtime.

It took us more than twenty minutes to reach the château town, but the château was being cleaned or renovated and there was nothing to see and do at that time.  And no one was open for lunch.  But as we were going back to the freeway I remembered seeing, on the way in, a corner café snack bar at the intersection of two roads.   I had seen it coming because when I saw it I could have taken the road to its right or the one to its left, and that snack bar stood in that angle, a very appealing white structure.  It was time to stop and ask for lunch and by the same token, I told myself, a snapshot was calling to be taken.

Once inside the dark café I asked the owner/bartender if he was serving lunch, and he looked at me, then at the lonely man by the counter across him, and at the wall clock, before saying something in French which would be the equivalent of « Can’t you see that it is almost three and by that time you can go anywhere in this country you won’t find a soul willing to fry you an egg, so thank you for coming and good bye monsieur and I don’t really care if I ever see you again.»

On the way out I chose a spot from which I could snap the historic shot, to keep it in my memory bank.  The name of the snack bar had changed from « Au bon coin » to « Le bon coin », roughly meaning the « right corner » or the « good corner ».  Indeed it was a fitting name, the good angle and the right angle in that imaginary triangle, in an isolated corner of the county.

I went back to the rented car and as I was about to start the French engine, a police car with two very tall and serious « gendarmes » parked to my immediate left, almost blocking the car.   They basically came from nowhere.  I was so puzzled that I stepped outside to see what I had done in a car that had not moved an inch for over ten fifteen minutes.  It is at that moment that one of the « gendarmes », came around his unmarked car and asked me with a straight face: « Etes-vous dans l’immobilier ? » (« Are you in real estate? »).  Frankly I had no idea what he meant, and within seconds he mentioned the fact that I had just taken a picture of the snack bar.  Oh my God! I thought.  Did they see me take a picture, or did the snack bar owner phoned to complain about my asking for lunch at a suspicious time and THEN take a picture once outside.

I said that I was American and that I was fascinated by French towns, buildings, streets, trees, and I may have mentioned that my wife was French, and that I had spent my life reading French literature till my head went dizzy,  and that I was not in the real estate business.  That was all they needed to hear before they left as fast as I they had arrived.

So much for lunch at 3 pm in quaint French towns.

Don’t say “Habeebee”

June 13, 2010

I am not sure I look at things the way most fellow humans look at things.  For instance, although I think I am prejudice-free, with multiple roots and multiples dwellings over the years, born there, lived over there and  moved to somewhere in-between, before going way over there and returning time and again to the middle of over here, and before settling in the middle of  another here, I still put tags on people.  It may be just pure curiosity.  The fellow may be French, but by speech patterns at least, I’ll say he is from the north of this place, or from the southern part of that place.  Can we speak of prejudice when the human tendency is to ask, “Where are you from?”

That evening, in front of our favorite French hotel, the sidewalk was blocked by a tall and muscular young man identified by the author as coming from the northern part of another continent I knew well.  For reasons to be determined I said to myself this young man knows one form or another of the Arabic tongue I used to speak with my father as I was growing up.

So when the young man, helmet and all, occupying a good chunk of the sidewalk would not move, thus blocking passage (I understood that the conversation he was carrying made it impossible to hear our repeated requests to move out of our way), I decided then more or less gently to tap on his motorcycle to get his attention.  He turned around and was so furious that he managed to get off his bike and became violent and almost hit me. “Why did you touch my bike?” and other similar comments ensued.

I thought it would be smart to calm him down with the word “habeebee”, meaning in Arabic “my dear”, as a way to show him I was not trying to attack him but simply that I was seeking passage.  “Habeebee” compounded the problem and I had to go inside the hotel to seek advice and decide whether the police should be called  to calm the intruding motorcycle from a pedestrian sidewalk. 

By the time I returned to the outdoor scene where I had left my wife and my daughter with a couple of workers trying to resolve the incident, the young man had decided to leave.  Three times his age it dawned on me that any youngster if insulted by my having “touched” his bike could easily have beaten me, “habeebee” or not “habeebee”.  The Arabic term of endearment did not go well either because he was insulted by my touching or tapping on his bike frame, or because I took the liberty to speak a language he may have forgotten or he may have not understood, or that he may have not accepted to use with someone unknown to him.

If there is another lesson here is that it is probably wise not to seek exchanges or involvements in public spaces at any time, anywhere, any place to avoid unexpected reactions from unknown and unpredictable fellow human beings who could care less about intentions and language use.

The “Feet Ball” festival

June 12, 2010

These are the days when South Africa becomes center stage for one full month.  The FIFA soccer world cup offers 64 games.  For those who don’t care for soccer I offer facts and opinions.  Soccer made simple.

There is one white ball, tattoed if you will, so that it does not always look like the same white or black and white boring ball.  That ball is kicked around for ninety minutes by twenty two players.  Only two can use their hands, one in each camp, to stop the ball from entering a very open rectangular “veranda” with a net in the back.  Two goal keepers and two teams.  There are times when after a full ninety minutes no team scores.  Nil nil is the result, which means nothing.  Everyone goes home frustrated.

Any recent convert to the game can’t figure out why there is so much excitement in the playing field.   He will be astounded to see grown ups jumping up and down and do very strange gestures to show their joy when a ball goes pas the goal keeper.  Even coaches and technical staff, with coats and ties will show no restraint in their emotions.

The world cup as exciting as it is, is an anomaly.  Once every four years nations bring back famous and rich players from foreign lands to play under their respective flag for a month or so.   During the four years players are married to clubs but for a month they show national loyalties and create temporary bonds with unfamiliar players.

Nations and their flags vs. the realities of a new world.  Go figure.

Plant Power (I)

June 12, 2010

Plant Power (PP) is mankind’s future, plants for food and for cure.  That is just a gut feeling, with ample evidence here and there.

TV5 Monde, a cable TV network we receive in Central Africa has excellent documentaries.  The other day, early in the morning, I saw a documentary entitled “La Nuit de Bwiti”, and there were several Africans from these parts speaking on legends and cures.

One of those interviewed from central Africa made a reference to two books that were given to mankind ages ago, one book given to  “le grand noir” (the big black man) and the other to “le petit blanc” (the small white man), both given by their father.  As I recollect his narration the “grand” went into the forest and through neglect left the book somewhere while he went on to hunt.  As he returned he found pages of his book washed out.  So he returned to his little brother to ask for his copy.  The little brother refused, saying that their parents had given them each a copy, and he felt his copy would not be safe in his brother’s hands.

As I was watching the film I didn’t know where all this was going.  In his search for truth and for the wisdom of his copy the “grand” discovered Ibogaine and its power to cure.  The interviewer asked what did the other book contain, and with a smile he said the power of the kabbalah.

As I listened I realized there is so much going on in people’s minds that never crosses mine.  I knew very little of kabbalah and zero knowledge on Ibogaine.  So I had to turn to Wikipedia to lift off words about kabbalah “a discipline and school of thought concerned with the mystical aspect of Rabbinic Judaism. It is a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain the relationship between an eternal/mysterious Creator and the mortal/finite universe (His creation)” “Kabbalah seeks to define the nature of the universe and the human being, the nature and purpose of existence”. “It also presents methods to aid understanding of these concepts and to thereby attain spiritual realization”.

And when I asked the same encyclopedia for information on Ibogaine I learned that “Ibogaine is a naturally occurring psychoactive substance found in a number of plants, principally in a member of the Apocynaceae  family known as iboga… Ibogaine-containing preparations are used in medicinal and ritual purposes within African spiritual traditions of the Bwiti, who claim to have learned it from the Pygmy. In recent times, it has been identified as having anti-addictive properties.” “Ibogaine is now used by treatment clinics in 12 countries on six continents to facilitate detoxification and chemical dependence to substances such as methadone, heroin, alcohol, powder cocaine, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine, as well as to facilitate psychological introspection and spiritual exploration”

I found myself in awe before mystical powers given to “whites” according to this gentleman from central Africa, and in awe and surprised to learn that Africans had been given Ibogaine as a cure for addictions and troubles of all sorts.

The surprise and the awe were replaced by the humility of the ignorant one in the face of ancient knowledge and living plants.  It is as if everything we need to know is within reach. Everything we need to know to become one of the following: fulfilled, truly human, spiritual beings, healthy people, and or happy souls. The question is where to look.


June 3, 2010

Gri-gri or gris-gris, are both acceptable spellings for African amulets or fetishes that protect against evil, although I understood them to mean in some cases “invisible wishers of evil”.  The gri with the s, in French, would mean gray, so I’ll stick with the gri-gri spelling.

Not long ago,  a primary school teacher I know lost his younger brother, a mason by profession, as a result of mysterious swelling of his legs, arms and most of his upper body.  The young mason had had a rough life and the way the story goes he hung around with the wrong crowd. 

In the retelling there is a clear belief in the effects of gri-gri instruments on the end of a life.   From an African point of view there is no doubt as to the powers vested in invisible forces.

The young man had abandoned his home and worked here and there for long periods.  He would reappear for a few days but was a source of unhappiness for the family.  He lost his job once and became a night watchman.  In that job he was suspected of having facilitated the theft of construction material and was let go.  At one point he fell ill.  A cousin finally discovered his whereabouts and informed the rest of the family that he was living alone, was suffering and could not move.

It didn’t take long for family members to interpret the illness.  Someone with hidden powers had placed in his path a gri-gri of a special kind and when he walked down that path, and stepped on that powerful something, he fell ill.  The firm belief is that the gri-gri causes the illness, even if it was intended for someone else.

In such cases people resort to prayers but soon after they consult specialists who try their luck in curing the mysterious affliction, so long as the family forks the required fee.  After trying three  of these specialist “healers”, that solution was abandoned and the young man was hospitalized.  He soon passed away.

What is puzzling in that tragic ending is the strongly held belief that were it not for that gri-gri, death would have never hit the family.  We are no longer in the realm of science, but in the mysterious realm of the occult.  Westerners look puzzled when they hear a story of this nature.  But when African friends explain what happened they seem resigned to forces beyond their control.  And they know that non-Africans have a tough time understanding African realities.

Friday night auctions in Pocatello

June 2, 2010

Vague Memories of living in America (VMLA) (I)

The distance between San Francisco and Pocatello, Idaho, is roughly the same as the distance between the Gem State and Africa.  I vaguely remember that when I told friends in the Bay Area we were moving to Idaho, they looked in disbelief and said: “Idaho?”.  And a year later when we were getting ready for another eastward move, our new friends in Pocatello said in similar disbelief: “Africa?”.  There is a perceived center of gravity in today’s world, and it shifts.

With my highest degree in my pocket there were only three job possibilities in the United States open for someone with my qualifications.  A university position in the department of languages in Birmingham, Alabama; in Austin, or was it Sherman, in Texas; and finally in Pocatello, Idaho.  The state university of Idaho was looking for the ideal candidate, a professor of French, Spanish and Russian.  They settled for my French and my Spanish.  It was a very good year.  Vague memories thirty years later revolve around the university’s credit union, our department chairwoman, the kind evaluations of my students, the one or two short films I managed to shoot, and the feeling of isolation.

Pocatello was a slight problem at the beginning.  We were extremely used to fancy shopping centers in the Bay Area back in the early eighty’s, sophisticated coffee house establishments, great boutiques and frequent festivals.  In the early months of my very short tenure in Pocatello, as I set about looking for Bay Area excitement in Idaho, I decided that the grisly bear and the Friday night auctions would become temporary replacements of old attachments.

We came regularly to those auctions for the togetherness and the bidding.   And we needed some of the purchases to fill an empty house.   That particular Friday night we picked up for $8 a great looking brand new slide projector.  Those were my pre-Africa photography days, when I thought my slides were beyond beautiful.  The love of one’s work is a terrible thing!  The downside of the projector was that it did not have a power cord.  So that was the end of our belief in the potential of Pocatello as our very own future home.

After the auction session we went backstage looking around and I found somewhere on the floor the “misplaced” power cord.  That was not the highlight of my week in Pocatello, but it felt heavenly.  We knew then that Pocatello was to be our future. You don’t find power cords just like that.  I knew then that I was meant to become a new Ansel Adams or more appropriately a new Henri Cartier-Bresson.

But by then we knew that we were “destined” to leave for Africa.  The last quiet weeks in middle America, far from the Baltimore, Los Angeles and  San Francisco days, were times of inner celebration of the bounties mid-western towns bestow on strangers.   I felt the spirit of the founders of a nation before things got big and bigger and a bit out of hand. 

A letter from a former university student of mine a few days ago, out of the blue, brought me back in time three long, full and vague decades to the cordless slide projector days in the Pocatello we thought we knew of the good Gem State.