Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The Bucket List

I have always liked the concept of the bucket list.

The bucket list follows no rule other than writing down all the crazy dreams that live within me. These are the dreams that are unrealistic, silly and even naive in the sometimes-too-narrow-for-its-own-good world of adulthood. 

There is nothing wrong with dreaming big. In fact, the bigger the dreams, the better the imagination. the bucket list is the list where we write the things we want to say, the things we're even too afraid to say out loud. So we say them on paper. Or in a Word document. Or an app even.

My bucket list has a few crazy things I'd like to do in life. One of these things is to see an active volcano erupt. Don't ask my why, but for some crazy reason I have always been fascinated by this wonder of nature, this extraordinary erupting beauty that is the maker of this world.

Seeing that I grew up on an island that is known for erupting volcanoes, earthquakes and melting glaciers at spring, it's probably best to call it natural curiosity. Not to forget the blizzards and the strong winds that are rarely silent. Those I don't love but they make for incredible companions to the raving mad nature.

Iceland is a place for craziness. 

And so, when the third volcanic eruption in less than five years commenced just over a month ago, I knew I had to eat a slice of that cake. And so, to celebrate my partner's 34th birthday, I booked a sightseeing flight from the most beautiful place in Iceland, Mývatn, that is, Lake Midge, with Mýflug, a small local flight service. 

Beautiful Mývatn. Photo by JB.
The shores of Mývatn. Photo by JB.
The extraordinary landscape in Mývatn. Photo by JB.

The Hverfjall crater. Photo by JB.
Mývatn seen from the skies. Photo by JB.
In the late afternoon on September 20th - after a lovely walk by the lake - my partner and I embarked upon the adventure of our lifetime, a sightseeing flight over the volcanic eruption at Holuhraun near the great Vatnajökull glacier (The Water glacier). 

The magnetic Krafla crater. Photo by JB.
The journey to our destination was extraordinary. Shortly before we arrived at the sight of the eruption, we flew over the beautiful Krafla crater, a crater that is known for powerful eruptions. 
The Vatnajökull glacier from a distance. Photo by JB.
The glacier looked upon us from a distance but our destination was not the glacier. It was the amazing eruption.
The great eruption in Holuhraun. Photo by JB.
To capture the great moment, I couldn't resist the urge to film it on my iPhone 4s. 

Our vessel on this journey was a small six-seater flown by a young but capable pilot, a woman with a great future in the aviation industry. And quite possibly the best job in the world… I mean, she gets to fly near an erupting volcano for a living. How incredible is that.
The vessel of my dreams. Photo by JB.
This vessel lives in my memory as the grandest ride of my life… it was the vessel that made a dream of mine come true.

And so it happened that my craziest dream came true. 
A true bucket list moment.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Utopia That Will Be

Emma Watson's incredible opening speech for the He For She campaign broke the ice and started a dialogue about feminism.

The twelve minute long speech broke the silence about what it is to be a feminist, and how important it is that we work together as a whole to make the world a better place.

I am only 34 years old, but twenty-three years ago, I went with the girls in my class to see the school nurse for a talk about our procreational organs and the biology of womanhood. We listened to the nurse talk about our periods and the monthly cycle, and how to avoid getting pregnant. 

The second part, how to avoid getting pregnant is not the lecture the boys heard. They were not told about periods or how the female body functions. And I too never heard the lecture they were given about how puberty affects them.

This was the first sign of the segregation of the sexes. Girls learned about their part in the procreational cycle and boys about their part. 

Then came the time when I experienced sexism first hand for the very first time. As a little girl, I understood the world didn't view me in the same light as the boys in my class. The sex education class was not even the first hint. But up until that point, I had been sheltered by doting parents who saw only the individual in their little girl.

I was 12 years old and the new school year was about to start. That year we got a new PE teacher. Up until then, I'd had the same PE teachers since first grade, a married couple who taught together and kept it fun and interesting.

In the first PE class of the new semester, the class was an assembly of curious pre-teens. The new teacher was a man probably in his mid to late twenties, perhaps early thirties. He was someone who was only interested in sports involving balls, that is, handball, football and basketball. I can't remember the very first time I realized he viewed the boys as superior sportsmen, but it happened early enough in the semester. 

Every single time football, handball or basketball was played in class, he split the class in two, boys on one side of the room and girls on the other. He told the girls to play ball and that he would check upon us every now and then. For most of the class, he focused his attention on the boys. He was quite explicit, and even said so once, that girls were inferior sportsmen than boys. 

I understood this was not right. It was misogyny, a word I didn't know at the time. But the concept was no longer foreign to me. 

For the duration of the school year, the girls were excluded from playing sports with the boys, apart from the rare occasion when we played sports that did not require a ball to kick or throw.

Seeing that I grew up in a town where football, otherwise known as soccer, was the number one sport for both girls and boys, this was an odd arrangement. Our previous PE teachers had not divided us in teams based on our gender, but rather by number. 

In the following school yeara new PE teacher took his place and once again, we were divided into teams by number.

This first encounter with gender discrimination may seem harmless enough, and I may come across as petulant for recalling it still, but it is nonetheless no more acceptable than any other form of discrimination. 

Yes, we were not force-fed while imprisoned as our foresisters were in their battle for women's right to vote. But we did not deserve to be treated this way. We were young girls, only just beginning our journey to womanhood, and yet already battered by sexism.

Generations of women fought in body and mind to achieve equal rights for themselves and future generations of women. For their mothers, sisters, girlfriends and daughters, they fought and they achieved great many things. For some of these women, that meant a great personal sacrifice; exclusion, imprisonment, violence and hatred toward them was the day to day life.

Thanks to them, I started my life with a blank page.   

Generations of women throughout the ages were not so fortunate. The story of their lives was written for them, their life a script for which they claimed no authorship. Women were expected to read their lines like the good little girls they were, and for all of their existence be the dutiful daughters, wives and mothers.

The summary of their life was written by the men in their lives. A woman wed to a good man was perhaps protected from the violence she otherwise could be exposed to, and she may have been happy.
After all, men are not evil as a gender (and neither are women). Many husbands, and I'd like to believe that most did, loved their wives and daughters in all sincerity, and wanted nothing but the best for them.

The curse of the vast inequality of previous ages is simply that a woman was not believed to be capable of knowing what was best for her, or her children. She was as much a child as her own children.

Therefore, the real curse of men and women is the society that breeds a hierarchy of the sexes, the traditions and the beliefs that fuel society's standards, that are the devil. The rivalry of the sexes, the gender-biasism of stereotyping (and therefore condemning) each other into roles we are taught to believe are normal, is the great divider.

It is truly my belief that neither men or women can claim to be better than the other on the mere basis of their sex.  

To me, sex is the biological term for the body we are born with, and yes, as such men and women are different in various ways.

Gender on the other hand to me implies a notion, an idea of the sexes, of what they represent and of their supposed qualities. It's a neutral word with potentially explosive effects. 

To evaporate the explosive side of an otherwise perfectly neutral term, we need to investigate our prejudices, that is, the futile stereotyping of one another, and begin to see ourselves as people, as individuals of the human race. As such, we are allies. 

Our goal should be to build a society where we encourage individualism, where the belief in the good that is within us overpowers the poison of evil deeds in the name of gender. To be good, fair and kind should be the fuel that powers society.

My feminist ideal is simply the reinvigoration of the individual, and of liberating ourselves from the confinement of gender-based stereotyping.  

To give birth to such a society will require efforts to silence the prejudice that thrives in all societies (or so it seems), and to teach new generations - as well as firmly reiterate to generations already exposed to it - to always see the person before the gender.

It may seem futile to hold onto this utopian dream where humans exist without prejudice, but it seems to me that in order to see any progress at all, two steps are needed instead of just the one. 

As Emma Watson so beautifully reminded us, feminism is not the foe of men. The foe of men and women is inequality because whether we like to admit it or not, both women and men suffer for it while we let it exist. 

Feminism is but a word, a powerful word for a belief system that seeks to balance the inequality of this world. It is a word with historical reference to a movement that has truly changed the world for the better. Last but not least, it is an academic word for an ideology, an umbrella term for many different branches of thought.

Feminism explores the roles of genders in our society, and seeks now as always to even out the inequality. As such, the quest for individuals to be authentic in their own unique way, and to be the only writers to the story of their life, is fueled by feminist beliefs. 

It may seem futile to sign the pledge and declare your support for women's rights. But it isn't if all who sign act accordingly. If all of us, men and women, actively rebel against sexism either way it goes, we are making a worthwhile effort. 

Emma Watson gave us all a reason to join the movement of change in her launching speech for the He for She campaign. She asked herself who was she to launch such a big campaign. How could a 24 years old actress be the one to start such an important campaign. Well, if not her, then who, and if not at the age of 24, then when. 

And the same goes for all us, regardless of our age and sex. It's never too late to make a difference.

Next time I encounter sexism and hesitate before protesting, I shall ask myself that very same question, "if not me, who and if not now, when".

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Heart Has a Way

I once wrote that it was not my destiny to fall in love, to find a soulmate to share the ups and downs of life with. I was only 22 and only just starting out my life as a young adult. Life was a black hole of opportunities, and yet in my naivety, I had written off companionship.

The reason was simple. A broken heart, an illusion of the one and only, and youth's impatience for all of life's answers to reveal themselves to me, not just the moments along the way. 

The paragraphs of my writing at the time paint a picture of a vivacious but shy, hopeful but sad, happy but confused and yet already brave enough to take a risk and make a dream come true.

A few pages of dwelling in the past, of looking back in time and meeting me, a young and insecure me with a beautiful independent spirit. It's funny to look straight into the raw centre of the self and discover how early I found my two passions, traveling and writing. 

It seems it was always meant to be. Those two passions gave life a meaning before I understood how they've shaped my every step in life.

In writing, it's not just the act of writing. It's the act of reading, of bathing in words that are attached to a white slender sheet or a soft beige page on which words, sentences and paragraphs decipher the mysteries of this world.

A single word moves the soul across the horizon and all the way to the sun. Even though this universe is but a reflection of the past, a glimpse into a past, life happens in the moment. This life is reflected on the pages of great literature, and moves the soul. It brings joy, sadness and amusement - a roller coaster of emotions as the eyes scan the pages to find the answer to the mystery, finiteness to the story.

Traveling on the other hand is a curious journey with no predefined end. And one ending often leads to another beginning. It's the journey of continuity, one that answers the questions I didn't think I wanted an answer to.

It's a mirror for the soul. On the road that is travelled the light of knowledge glows brighter than ever, and the senses are wide awake. Each day is a new adventure, a new dimension, a new look on life and this incredible planet of ours, and the extraordinary people on it.

Both passions are still as strong as they were twelve years ago. The urge to explore and the urge to express is bursting within, like a bubble about to burst from excitement. 

Much has changed since I took my first steps into adulthood. I no longer live in Paris even though my love for Paris is as strong as ever. I have seen more of the world and learnt to land on my feet no matter what with relative ease. I have travelled down the road of literary academia, and fallen deeper in love with words and their infinity. 

The one thing I learnt along the way is that life has a way. The map is not mapped out by fate or a plan that is decided for us. It's the decisions that we make along the way, followed by the one after that, and so on. 

The only compass is the heart, and thankfully, I listened to mine and found myself on a path that is entirely mine. I share it with the love of my life, who celebrates his 34th birthday for another  half hour or so, and encourages me to pursue the passions that still give my life a greater meaning - as I encourage him. 

At 22, I didn't know true companionship, the kind where mutual respect and deeply rooted affection for one another - one that is born out of love and continues to thrive in love - and this as it turned out to be,   is the surprise I treasure the most.

Life is indeed a beautiful journey of unpredictability with no fated end. 

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The Erupting Bang of the Bunga

As the world knows by now, the awesome forces of nature are at work in the remote highlands of Iceland. This is an extraordinary event, something so unspeakably beautiful that finding a word powerful enough to describe its magnitude is nigh-impossible. 

Many want to travel to the site of this great event, and there are those who have tried. It's understandable but it's unacceptable, and high fines are the price to pay. The site is only for scientists and journalists whose job it is to research and report on the ongoing activity.

Sightseeing tours to the eruption by air - in a safe distance - is probably the closest look the general public can expect to get of this dramatic display of nature. 

And how wondrous that would be!

But with journalists on site we, the public, catch a distant glimpse of this amazing perfection of nature. Images and video clips of the eruption  bring awe to our bodies and soul, leaving a permanent impression of the grandeur of this world of ours. 

This footage by Jón Gústafsson and this footage from the Icelandic Broadcasting Company is truly magnificent.

How insignificant we are in the presence of such greatness! 

How small and unimportant in comparison to this true wonder of nature!

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

My Best Friend

This evening, I took a nap.

It's been one of these days, after two near-sleepless nights, that the moment I lay my head on the pillow, I felt at home. I slept for roughly three hours. 

But the best part was waking up with my Emma, the most caring and adoring dog. After her walk and play time with local dogs, she ran straight to my bed post before running back to the kitchen for dinner. 

She then came straight back to bed and rested next to me while I slept. When I finally returned to consciousness, she rejoiced with such warmth and kindness that only someone so pure-hearted could give. To give back I took her for an evening walk in the drizzle, something she so enjoys.

A dog's love is pure and not held back by boundaries. When a dog wants something, you know. When a dog needs something, you know. But what a dog deserves the most is love and affection, to have that love reciprocated.  

The one thing to remember is that for Emma I am her whole life, my hubby, my dad, all the people that love her. She too has dog friends that she meets on regular basis, and her best friends lives on the top floor of our apartment building. Dogs are capable of great tenderness.

Having an animal, in my case my Emma, is truly the most rewarding experience of my life.

It not only brings me closer to my community but to nature, to the animal world that is so distant to human territories. I am a better person for knowing Emma.

Emma in her usual resting place. Photo by JB.

Emma and her dear friend Freyja. Photo by JB.

Friday, 25 July 2014

A Superhero dream...

The legend of the superhero.

Superheroes all have superpowers, such as, serious body muscle with serious punching power, and super-fast web-spinning power. Sometimes the mountain mass of muscle is used in the name of patriotism that excuses mass killing, and sometimes superheroes become an anti-propaganda for an era, such as the Cold War years in Watchmen

But there is one superhero power that is yet to put on pedestal by creators of comics, is the power to do good and the be ultimate role model for a good human being.
Until then, we can rest calmly in the knowledge that doing good is not yet a heroic effort. The day doing good becomes a superhero power, is the day we're in real trouble.

But whatever agenda there is for the superheroes of the world, there is really only one super-cool power that I want: the power to fly unconditionally to all parts of this lovely planet of ours… not to mention outer space.

So, if I had the awesome super-power to fly, I would travel all the time.

I would take my partner out for dinner in Paris after work…

I would go to Lake Como all the time, and some nights and days, I'd spend the night at my favorite hotel, Villa Belvedere in Argegno with a rental boat parked off the little dock way…

I would go buy my fine Fine Cafe from Caffe Milani in Como…

I would do city breaks, hikes, adventure tours, cycling tours and all available and not-yet-available tours like there was no tomorrow…

I would go to family braais in South Africa all the time…

I would go for a night out in Ios, Greece (yes, I'd make sure not to fly until I'd had proper rest)…

I would visit friends all over the place...

I would call my mate Spiderman to spin me a hammock at the top of the Amazon rainforest…

And yes, I'd make sure to wear sunscreen!

But since flying is not possible, I guess I'll have to make do with dreaming. 
Who knows, maybe when I close my eyes tonight, I'll be flying through the jungles of Vietnam and swimming in waters so clear that I can see my own reflection in it

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Instrument of Memories

Youth is real. 

Youth is a fairy tale.

Youth is the freshman year of adulthood.

Our society idolizes youth. 

We block out the bad and the uncomfortable memories, memories that bring back a memory of a broken heart, the vulnerable moments we wanted to forget and never recall again.

But as the years pass, these are the memories we no longer fear. We are not embarrassed by painful rejections nor do we blame ourselves for the things over which we had no control. We are not different people, we're just more comfortable in our skin and perhaps enriched with cool confidence.

But youth is and always will be a pink cloud floating in and out of our existence. Sometimes we linger for too long in its midst, idealizing the moments when we felt on top of the world. This journey to the past is usually followed by nostalgic melancholy of "where has time gone".

The few who had the foresight of keeping a diary or a journal of our years of youthful endeavors are in luck. They can ride the roller coaster ride of their youth and recall memories otherwise forgotten. The rest of us dwell on the big moments, grand emotions and the heartache. It is an unfortunate truth that without written recollection or memories documented in photographs, the past really is the past, a forgotten past.

But the brain has a way of recalling forgotten memories from the depths of a long-forgotten storage space where old data is kept. With our senses alone, we recall faces and places and hey even daisies.

For me, my sense of smell often triggers a flash from my traveling past to countries and cities. The rich scent of sweet but piquant spices lures me back to the Grand Bazaar of Damascus where I walked alone at the age of 21, tasting tea in every shop I entered, and feeling happy and curious in the company of kind and the most jovial people I've ever met from whom I learnt hospitality. 

From the song of crickets, I am returned to my 120 nights of sleeping in the open air in the Wadi Rum desert, camping off the red and dusty East African rural roads, and quiet sleeps in the thick bushland of conservation parks. In recent years, their song brings me back to the beautiful outskirts of Durban, the most colorful city in the world. 

But it's the soundtrack of my life that bring me back to my fun pub days. Certain rock anthems remind me of the actual Fun Pub on the Greek Cyclades island of Ios, while World, Hold On and Jack Johnson 's Better Together reminds me of sweet moments with dear friends on that very same island. 

David Gray's This Year's Love and The Other Side take me straight back to London in the early to mid 2000s. 

Ralando o Tchan from the É o Tchan do Brasil album reminds me always of my magical year in Brazil as an exchange student, where I made beautiful memories in the dry rural regions of my country state Goiás on a fazenda (farmhouse), on a bus full of exchange students driving down the northeastern coast of the country and my brazilian family who gave me so much.

All these songs bring back a rush of feelings, intense and gentle, exciting and melancholy, and remind me of the wild ride of freedom I so enjoyed as a curious traveler. Life was a real adventure.

Even films are able to bring back a blast from the past; that, or a reminder of swift changes in the passing of time. Having said so much about youth, I just realized I am now two years older than Bridget Jones in the first movie. A bad TV night brought me to Bridget Jones's Diary and yes, I am two years older.

Not that it bothers me. The thirties (or any other time in life) are not a time when all women turn into desperate spinsters in need of fertilizing eggs and should all of a sudden be embarrassed for being single. 

Time is after all is just a notion, a way to measure the passing of time and give place to host all the fabulous adventures we have in life. All of life is after all perception alone.

During one of our philosophical talks, my partner and I came to the conclusion that our whole existence as human beings originates within the confinements of our brain. Our feelings, thoughts, ideas, perception, our whole spiritual and bodily existence exists within the realms of one organ, our brain. It is literally our whole world.

That leads me to the conclusion that youth and aging are truly conceptual, a notion of the theatre that is life.

The instruments that tricker memories from hibernation are a time machine, a way to explore life through the wide lenses of frameless shades that change colour depending entirely on perception and mood.

Life would be so dull without all these accessories of life. And I love life, my life just the way it is, the way it was, and the enigmatic and glorious adventures of what will be.

Friday, 11 July 2014

The Downpour

One of my routine obligations is to take my dog Emma out for a walk. 

On a beautiful day, a walk with Emma is simply wonderful. When the breeze is light as a leaf and the sun shines brightly, I always make sure to bring Emma to the beach for a swim to cool her down. She loves swimming and on the best of summer days, I dive in with her.

But the glorious days when together we've swam in an inviting Atlantic Ocean are so few that I can count the times in all of Emma's two years on one hand.  

Thus, when I think of the Icelandic summer, I envision a writer in rags scribbling over a faint candlelight. In other words, it is about as unpredictable and unlikely as prosperous income for that impoverished writer in rags. 

From start, the prospect is not good. The unpredictable unpredictability of summer is the underlying threat that lingers in the air all summer long.

For a few years, the unpredictability was a blessing in disguise. Days and days of sunshine and double-digit temperatures brought unexpected joy and bliss to the lives of the nation that otherwise lives in a permanent state of winter.

But this was before Emma came into our lives. Her first summer, the summer of 2012, was lovely and her first walks were out in the sun. Therefore, I looked forward to the summer of 2013. I was tired of the long and cold winter days. Yes, I still enjoyed watching her discover the snow and rolling in it with such passion that child's play pales in comparison.

But it was time for summer.

After the winter came spring, cool and wet as tradition calls for, but within the hopeful local awoke the idea of the idyllic summer, a fragile bubble waiting to burst and disperse all pending hopes of bliss. As unlikely as it is for the Icelandic summer to become the Greek summer of my dreams, I always expect bliss but instead catch a blizzard. 

And last summer, all hope faded away in a never-ending downpour. Downpour after downpour, hope was crushed until its remaining ashes simply drifted in the direction of the more predictable mainland of Europe.

After a disappointing downpour of a summer and one hell of a stormy winter, I anxiously anticipated a surprise of a summer in 2014, a blast from the past with the sun high up in the sky and a mere breeze to move the air every now and then.

The summer season began with prosperity. May arrived in unseasonably festive spirits lifting hopes and raising expectations for the summer months to come. 

My daily cycle to and from work was an awakening I simply couldn't go without. It was temptation at its best. Even though some days rain fell and strong breeze bombarded off the coast, most days gave reason to hope for the best. 

But then came June, the month with the beautiful jovial name, and with it expectations of even more  heartfelt joy.

But no, once again came the season of pounding downfall, the kind that pours its sorrows onto the lands below with such fierce that its inhabitants feel as if they are drowning in unknown sorrows.

But sorrow rarely travels alone. Its trusted companion, rage, raged in from the raging Atlantic - a sea perhaps enraged by its role as mankind's personal bin - and attacked with fierce blows that cooled the air with vicious windfall.

And thus has been the tale of summer so far. Wind and rain, rain and wind, barely giving the sun space enough to come out for an afternoon, let alone a whole day.

The summer of 2014 so far. Photo by JB
Yesterday afternoon was like so many afternoons with my Emma in the local dog park. She was in her element playing with her dear four-legged friends while I stood in my raincoat - a raincoat I might add offers a fierce opposition in the worst of downpours - simply waiting for her to indicate to me that she too had enough of the very wet and cold rainfall that seemed to go on forever.

Therefore, when the play date came to an end, we bowed our heads and took a hike to our shelter of a home. 

Walking in the rain. Photo by JB
Stairs drowned in rainwater. Photo by JB
Both Emma and I arrived home dripping as if we'd just walked out of a cold shower, me fully-dressed and Emma in her flawless-as-always birthday suit. It was far from the rural romantic return of the heroine and her dog to the lover's humble abodes. 
Au-naturel re-fill for Miss Emma. Photo by JB
A very wet dog. Photo by JB
Yes, the immediate response of the romantic hero to the heroine's dour return was to dry the thick fur of a patient young dog while the heroine took a hot shower to quench the cold from her bones. 

I am a fan of Jane Austen's pastoral (and feminist) romance, and in particular Persuasion in which rain plays a substantial part. 

But after all this rain and wind, not one but two summers in a row, romance is the last thing that comes to mind in such foul weather, weather that is not only unpredictable but unseasonably bad, even for Icelandic summer.

But wait, summer just got more unpredictable. In the distance, the resounding of an invisible drum in an imaginary parade draws attention away from the misery in the skies above. 

It is yet another unpredictable song of a summer that in truth has not yet arrived.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Shame and the Praise

Language is mankind's greatest creation, a tool that is powerful and diverse, that unites and divides and allows us to lead an infinite inner life to which we give meaning and feeling with words.

I believe language is periodical mirror. It is ever-changing and a reflection of our culture and the society we inhabit. In language, we can identify prejudice and passions, values and ideology through the vocabulary of a language. Language is a form of documentation that historians, linguists and literary scholars use as a vital tool in their academic work. 

As a feminist scholar of language, I am in heaven. Words are all around me and opportunities to practice my scholarly art on every corner. Films are one such opportunity, although more often than not popular entertainment material disappoints the feminist scholar in me, a scholar I should add who would like to live in a world where men and women are free to be the person they are, dress the way they please and lead the life of their choosing.

This past Friday night, such an opportunity arrived as I watched a film, a romantic comedy intended to pass the time as I waited for my partner to return home.

It was an ordinary late Friday night. I didn't quite feel like watching a film that required serious attention, so I went for a non-brainer with what I hoped carried some entertainment value.

I selected That Awkward Moment. I figured something light-hearted with a dash of silly would do the trick. I expected the usual stereotyping as a feminist in the real world does on most occasions, but the constant perpetuation of misogynistic notions really got to me this time.

Every time one of the characters, in particular the female characters, used the word "pussy" as an insult, I wanted to cry. How could women degrade their own body without a thought of this blatant abuse of the word?

Why is it that in our beautiful language that is English, we metaphorically express cowardice and bravery with the same words we have for the female and male organs that continue life?

Why is it socially acceptable to call someone a "pussy" and with it imply cowardice? Why is it a compliment to say to someone "you got balls" and with it imply bravery? 

Why is it necessary at all to implicate our procreational organs, our private parts, in concepts such as cowardice and bravery, linguistic concepts that in reality are vague and subject to interpretation, and should therefore be void of attachment to bodily organs or other physical material. 

This use of language is tainted with the story of Adam and Eve, in which Eve shames mankind by falling into temptation, and then offering Adam to share her sin. And who's to blame? Well, Eve obviously. Not Satan despite him being the one to offer her the apple and encouraging her shamelessly to accept his gift. From this myth alone, we have slut shaming, a fallacious and one-sided misplacement of guilt. 

A woman who is raped wearing a short skirt and high boots is surely to blame as she offered her body to the world the moment she got dressed. The culprit  is never the individual who forced himself upon her. Cities around the world are hosts to the slut walk to remind the world of the perpetuation. 

But it seems that even though the world now understands how problematic slut shaming is and that we do our best to turn things around, we see shaming in language as something of less societal significance, something that is not so severe in comparison to other plights of womanhood that are unfortunately still in existence in this day and age. 

But it is part of the problem. It's invisible because it floats on the surface and drifts in and out of our lives. Its touch is light, so light that it's barely there. But when we listen with our heart and think about the words and the degrading significance denoted to the female organ, organ that is truly extraordinary in its making and function, it is a sharp and immediate stab in the flesh.

We are reminded of how powerful words are when a straight-forward rape charge, in a case where the evidence point in the direction of a clean conviction, is thrown out or the system turns against a victim brave enough to press charges. The system seemingly sees rape as a minor invasion by using her "questionable" past, drunken state or the fact that she dared to kiss the perpetrator back earlier in the evening.

In these cases, words are used agains the victim. A questionable repetition of phrases such as, "I'm telling the truth", or "forgetting" to say "no" as the perpetrator forces himself upon her, some court systems find a way place the blame on the victim's shoulders. They question her attempts to convince the officer taking her statement that she is telling the truth and disregard entirely that fact that she may have been too petrified to utter a word of protest. Even the lack of visible bruises are a sign of consensual intercourse in some cases, and the emotional scars a mere consequence of the woman's own regret of sleeping with the man whom she charges with the crime.

It truly amazes me sometimes that in the 21st century, a victim of a crime has reasonable fear to not press charges in such a crime, knowing all too well how "sympathetic" the system can be towards those who dare to seek punishment for the crime committed against them.

For as long as we turn our language against members of our society, whether it's sexist, racist, xenophobic or anti-gay, we are indirectly (and presumably unintentionally) accepting the ideology that lies there behind.

The human body is an astounding machine and it seems plain strange to implicate a human organ, any human organ, to cowardice. The human body is simply too perfect in its design to be implied with anything but greatness. Engineers strive to create equipment as perfect as the human body and often, if not always, fail. 

So, I ask again, what does cowardice have to do with "pussy"? 

This is a body part that participates in the conception and birth of a new life and there is nothing cowardly about that. 

The male organ too is no less perfect. It preserves the key to creating a new life.

As I watched the film,  the word for cowardice rang in my ears over and over, escaping the lips of both male and female characters. They voiced it in a cool nonchalant manner, utterly without flinching at the thought of the female degradation implied.

With all the problems we have in this world, it may seem unnecessary to worry about language, the innocent but vital tool we use to communicate with one another. A word alone is not capable of striking a blow.  

When we use words to degrade another human being, language becomes a sharp weapon. Words of cruelty and humiliation when  It takes but a few repetitions of a foul word for its intended effect to be felt; it takes compliments in multitudes to overcome its effect.

When generations of women are made to associate cowardice with their gender, the effect is quick to sink in. When I was younger, I was guilty of saying things like, "I am not like other girls", implying that all girls were a certain way, and I wasn't. 

In fact, still today, it is the myth of motherhood-for-all that almost repels me from signing onto a role so full of social expectations, despite actually wanting to have a child with my partner when the time is right for us both. I used to say with pride, "I never played with dolls as a kid, I preferred cars". What I was really saying is that playing with a doll is of a lower class than playing with cars, when in reality, neither is a shameful act. It is mere child play and says little about who we will become as adults.

Therefore, we have an obligation to consider our choice of words. The words we use are a reflection of our character and the values we hold dear; they say more about us than we realize and when we use them carelessly and thoughtlessly, we misrepresent ourselves.

Words change as times change, and in my mind, it is time for a change.

It may not change the world as we know it, but it's s small step toward a better world, a world where one gender is not a subject to degradation. 

A shift in symbolism will occur when the very speakers of the English language change the meaning of those two words, words that are still used and taken for granted by generations of speaker. 

It is then that the media will see no reason to perpetuate their use in the entertainment industry, and films such as That Awkward Moment will be better for it. 

After reading this, you may wonder how I've come to associate so much of societal illness to words. I have often been asked why I care so much about the linguistic associations of words when in fact there are greater problems facing womanhood. The pay gap is unresolved and women in other parts of the world are faced with genital mutilation and forced marriages.

So, why is it that I care so much about words?

My answer to the question is quite simple. I believe that to change the world for the better, we need to reshape the bricks that hold the current ideology together. We need to replace the glue holding together the bricks. When we have no words in our language to hold together the bricks of female shaming, it will be a thing of the past.

When the words "pussy" and "balls" have an equal footing in our language, change has occurred. 


Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The Good Addict

Is addiction a bad thing? 

It probably is, at least most of the time… But then it's the good kind of addiction, well, the addiction that isn't illegal or capable of destroying a life. It's the kind of addiction that brings happiness to a miserable day and starts the day with bursting flavours full of love.

For me, the craving lust for my addiction always gets the better of me. It takes a bad cold or stomach cramps of the worst kind to willingly dismiss a satisfying taste of greatest drink on earth.

This great drink, my elixir in life, is no other than coffee. 

I've spent years working on perfecting the making of the perfect cup of coffee. And not just my idea of the perfect cup, also my husband's idea of the perfect cup. I've tried every type of milk and worked out which milk is best to make a good cappuccino froth or a thick and creamy hot milk for the perfect latte, and of late, the perfect Italian Macchiato.

Since returning from my fourth trip to Italy, and this time to see my younger sister and get to know the region she calls home, I've been savouring my small supplies of luxurious coffee brands, while fearing the all-too-fast approach towards the final spoon of my sweet sensation.

My grand discoveries in Italy include Fine Cafe from Caffe Milani and the Lavazza Super Espresso. The prior is a host to a sensational experience, like the finest Bordeaux, it is a taste that leaves behind a memory of an exquisite moment. The perfect Arabica beans, so perfectly grounded for my mature Solis espresso machine, are utterly divine.   

My special macchiato cup.

And it's all gone.
The Lavazza Super Espresso is not quite in league with Fine Cafe but it certainly comes close. I never get enough of it. The strong slightly bitter taste is a luxury rapidly slipping away from me. 

And now,  I am at a loss as I approach the end of Italy's finest. My fine Fine Cafe di Milani is in very short supplies and I am at my wit's end. It's bad enough that my Lavazza Super Espresso is impossible to find in Iceland. Thankfully, it's not impossible to find Lavazza brands in Iceland, that only goes for the Super Espresso.

But the Fine Cafe from Caffe Milani is just not on the market and it's driving me mad. I am but a few cups away from losing the perfection that brings me wellbeing and nourishes my soul, and I don't know what to do about it.

So, how this coffee girl will ever find her high rise to the most divine heights with Italy's finest once the supplies run dry remains unanswered… well, at least until my sister returns from Italy.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Thought of the day

So, today on my way home from work in the pissing pouring afternoon rain, I had a thought...

It was a sudden realisation of my fragile existence, one I probably could have thought of before turning into a lane with two large and lengthy Grayline coaches on each end.
After turning into a traffic lane on my way home, it just so happens that these two Graylines were on the same route in the direction of the Reykjavík city centre. 

As usual, I drove into my usual lane right behind the white Grayline, the other equally white Grayline caught up with me and sat at my rear. So positioned, we all waited for the red light to be replaced by the green light.

Right then and there, it occurred to me that say, if an orange city bus in a hurry to keep schedule ran into the coach parked behind me, would my Lady in Red (and the Lady driving her) be crushed between the two Graylines? Perhaps beyond a point of recognition? 

I gotta say, I felt a bit like the little yellow cutie between the two blue buses on the photo byArne Hückelheim on this wikipedia site.

It wasn't the most comfortable of thoughts, but I might try not to get stuck between two large vehicles...

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Viva les Femmes!

99 years ago, Icelandic women aged 40 and older were given the right to vote.

It was on this day almost a century ago, that women's rights movements around the world began to see the award to a very long battle for the basic right of casting a vote, a right we take for granted in most parts of the world in the 21st century.

We celebrate this day despite the conditions placed on this right when first given. It was the day when Icelandic women got a piece of the cake and it is worth celebrating regardless how small the piece may seem to the modern women.

On this day, I like to remember our foremothers, the women who paved the way for my generation to be free to make our own lifestyle choices and not be a property of men as if we were petulant children.

Our battle is not over. We have more obstacles to cross but we must take a moment to celebrate this great victory for womenkind. We continue to be more likely to be objected to sexual harassment and assault, and more likely to blamed for the incident because what we provoked with our choice of clothing or friendly-in-excess demeanor.  

The women's movement today must also be vigilant to fight the conservative forces that try to take away our right to abortion (and several states in the United States have succeeded to do so already), and our right to prevent pregnancy in with contraception in an affordable way.

Equally important is our solidarity, that we stand together and do not judge each other for the clothes we wear or do not wear, our choice of profession and most of all, look out for each other.

Men are not the enemy. They, as a gender, are not the foe. The foe is not gender-specific and tt comes in many shapes and forms; extreme forms of religion, whatever that religion may be, is a force to be reckoned with and we must not surrender to the demands of extremists; women who wrongfully abuse the system to remove fathers from their children; men who are petulant in their gender-stereotyping and objectification women; women that are petulant in gender-stereotyping men unfairly should they fail to meet the demands of masculinity; media that favours men's sports over women's; a society that does not give new fathers equal rights to parental leave, and businesses and organisations that expect fathers to put their work before their family.

As I've already mentioned, some states in the United States of America are placing legal and financial restrictions on women's accessibility to contraception and right to abortion should they choose to have one. In Ireland, abortion is still banned if memory serves me right.

In Iceland, most women are active in the work force, so much that it is a cultural norm for women to be employed. Women are guaranteed their professional position during the three months marked to their maternal leave (as are men), and parents can arrange the additional shared three months however they please.

However, due to the pay gap, an unexplained pay gap of approximately ten percent, many women opt to take their three months in addition to the three shared months and spread them over a longer period of time. Fathers, generally receiving higher remuneration for their professional contribution to society, are therefore less likely to take advantage of the three months let alone the additional shared time.

A professor at the university of Iceland, a professor of political science, claimed in a recent controversial lecture that women have won the fight for equal rights and more so.
He used old school arguments to explain issues such as the gender-based pay gap. Apparently, women are more likely to choose a profession that suits their role as mothers since nature did give them a gift greater than was given to men.

This gift is the ability to carry a life in their womb (which by the way is not given to all women) and that strong bond women share with their children because of that biological link.

Women, due to this physical capacity, have an incentive in life to take more time off from work to nurture their family, whereas men are less inclined to do so and I suppose, more likely to focus on their career.
Therefore the unexplained pay gap is explained by women's lack of enthusiasm to put in the professional efforts men are willing and able to do.

What load of nonsense, I say!

But alas, this is not a day to curse the anti-feminists. This is only one example of an attitude that seems immortal in the minds of its promoters.

Thus on this day, I celebrate the victory of my foremothers while contemplating the path uncrossed that lies ahead of the non gender-biased feminist movement in the 21st century.

We have our work cut out for us, people of all genders, nationalities, age, and race, and our compass is the knowledge that one day we will be liberated from the last mortal restraints of inequality. 

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Italian Spring Night

I had the great fortune of spending a couple of weeks by the enchanting Lake Como in the region of Lombardy, a region that I never expected to visit, yet upon my first visit landed itself on the top of my list of beautiful destinations in Europe.

On a warm night in the steep hills of Molina, a village that belongs to the community of Faggeto Lario, same as the nearby villages of Lemna and Palanzo, I learnt something new and unexpected. 

My sister's boyfriend, Andrea, told me to my great surprise that most of June belongs to spring, not summer, as I had previously thought, and my holiday to Italy was in fact a gentle spring break.   

The truth is that the Italian spring's rendezvous with the Italian summer is not until June 2, and
seeing that he is local to the area, I take his word for it. 

This cultural interpretation of the seasons speaks volume of the Italian way of life. In Italy, life runs on a pace of its own, not too slow and not too fast. Everything has its time and place and the moment is not only seized but lived and loved to the fullest.

In the bursting flavors of Italian cuisine, the consumer is simply invited to consume with care. I bathed in the succulent sweetness of the grilled bell pepper on my vegetarian pizza; I almost cried from joy as the juicy t-bone steak watered my veins with love and affection; the flawless rage of the angry pasta lingered in my memory long after consumption; the perfect mix of sweet and creamy homemade Amarena sorbet was the perfect finish to a lush lunch on a hot day.  

…and the coffee… the coffee is full-flavoured, rich and creamy. Coffee is forever ruined even to the most devoted addict after a visit to Italy.

The patience to enjoy and seize the pleasure in the moment it arrives is an art form perfected by the Italians. 

Everything about my time in Italy this June had an air of spring about it. I discovered Italy through the eyes of the traveler and understood why my sister radiates happiness in her new life.

For me, the simple visit to my sister was an awakening as powerful as the bursting spring itself.  
This spring became a time of discovery and an awakening of gentle beauty that all of a sudden bursts to life. 

An evening walk with my partner rendered me helpless to the magic of Italy's finest region.

The wild scent of ravishing plantation seemed to invade the dense night after a sizzling summer day, and the night sky was lit up by the glow of the waning moon and never-ending stars glittered in the sky from joy.

A quiet descent down a narrow and uneven pathway - as old as the departing ages of the past – was carefully treaded to seek a nocturnal view of a chapel hidden by tall trees, tall trees exquisitely green and tender in the late spring night.

Two gates separated the curious travelers from a world where the dead are honored by an array of candles from which a red glow lights up the night. A dim but magical world that is hidden behind the black gate that is neatly tucked away from sight in the darkness by an impressive doorway to the chapel’s mysterious interior decor.

On the journey down to the chapel, fire flies flew in the air, sometimes moving swiftly from one side to another. Every now and then, they stopped in the air to ever-so-gently explore the curious strangers coming down the dark pathway lit up with a bright, bright moonlight.

The pathway was rough and cobbled so long ago, the very hands who lay them in these steep hills, passed into the veiled world a long time ago.

Upon return to the concealed tulip villa, it the strong scent of an incense that is a  mosquito repellent, a scent that awakens the senses to memories of a distant home on the tip of the African continent and the thick and dry bushland of the infamous state of Goiás, that pulls me out of the deep spring night.

All that I needed on this perfect night, a night when the crickets sang to me as in previous destinations, was my Emma. How much her hound senses and vivacious spirit would have enjoyed the music of the night; how she would have tried to run down to the gate off our pathway just to run free alongside the shepherding donkey with his herd of sheep and goats, and play with the equally vivacious lambs and the young and curious goat kids.

She would have jumped up as she'd discover the bells around their neck in an attempt to understand from where rang the soothing sound of the Italian spring. 

The Italian spring night is truly bursting from life's elixir!       

The mysterious black gate. Photo by JB.

The old chapel and the cemetery during the day. Photo by JB.

The Tulip Villa. Photo by JB.

In the hills of Molina. Photo by JB.

Donkey on care duty. Photo by JB.

Casa of a donkey, goats and sheep. Photo by JB.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Life's beautiful ways...

Life is a series of days, weeks, months and years.

With each year, the bubble of life experience expands in all directions and with it comes maturity. Maturity is a bewildering concept and our society has a tendency to complicate the natural order of life. 

We make expectations for ourselves that we feel obliged to live up to, social expectations that are decided by someone other than us, the very people who are supposed to live in accordance to these so-called rules. 

Career-building, finding a mate, deciding whether to have children or pets or both, and deciding whether to rent or buy a place a of your own; these are all decisions we are supposed to make by a certain age.

I turned 34 this past week and I feel no different than I did when I turned 30 or when I turned 27. I am the same person I was ten years ago. What has changed is that I have learnt to embrace who I am and I feel no need to live up to anyone's standards.

There is no doubt about it that with age comes the freedom to just be and live by one's own set of rules. It's a liberating sensation to discover that all that is expected of us is to find happiness in whatever form makes each and every one of us happy.

If I have learnt anything on my travels, then it is that the only person I need to please is myself. If I fail to make myself happy then how can I expect to be happy in the company of others? I need to embrace who I am and follow my heart where it comes making decisions that affect my future. 

In Icelandic society expectations are sky-high. As a woman, I am expected to be educated, partnered-up, fit and healthy, and preferably use my uterus in the name of preserving the myth of motherhood-for-all.

To defy this way of life is an untraditional approach to life in a small society where procreation is the only way to populate this little island with the next generation of inhabitants. But some of us do anyway.

We all have a passion that we want to pursue and dreams that we long to see come true; age and these so-called obligations should not stand in our way of following them through. In my case, my passion and dreams are emerged in the curious worlds of travel, writing and literature. 

And I take pride in my life choices.

My philosophy in life is feminism and I have strong beliefs in the importance of individual freedom for us all, a freedom to be the person we are in our heart of hearts. 

Therefore, turning 34 without having fulfilled all the aspects of my societal duties was not a sharp stab of cold steel reminding me I am now a year older and still not a dutiful mother. It was a beautiful day that I spent with my husband and my darling dog Emma, and I loved every minute of it.

I have come far in life. I am not the shy little girl who lacked confidence in her childhood and youth to shamelessly embrace her quirks and wits. 

There were many moments during my childhood that I sat in-front of the television screen – uninterrupted by iPads, iPhones and Macs – gazing at the long list of names scrolling up the screen after watching a film or a television show from places far away from my humble small town on the western shores of Iceland.

At the mere age of eight I discovered English and from that moment on my life was forever changed. Something in the narrative vocabulary, accents of different descent and carefree creativity captured my attention and to this very day, I remain captivated by its energy.

A couple of nights ago, as the long list of crew and cast in Forrest Gump scrolled up the screen, the surname Nye caught my attention. Instinctively, with a native intuition I knew how to pronounce the name, a skill that I desired greatly at the age of 14 when I saw the film for the very first time.
At the time, I was blown away by the enchanting landscape of Greenbow, Alabama, a scene so distant from the cool streets of New York or the hip Californian coastline.

There was and still is a bohemian element in my perception, a connection with nature that is cut off from the madness of cities that never rest. I have never visited the southern states of the North American United States, but my enthusiastic interest in the fluidity of city life was changed by the soothing serenity of the wholesome green bubble that is the beautiful scenery in the sweet-natured temperature of eternal spring and summer.

The illusion of the idyllic is a beautiful illusion. People are always at fault where it comes to bursting the bubble but there is nonetheless a peaceful comfort to life inside the bubble.

We live in a world that is rapidly changing and with each year something changes, something new comes along and we bid farewell to the old. Life has a way to make sense of everything in time, although most of the time - especially when times are hard - we curse its unpredictability. Then one day everything just makes sense and the pain and hardships of the past are validated by the existence of this better place.

I learnt at a young age that life is precious. My grandfather had a stroke and from that day onwards, he was bound to a wheelchair. He was in his early seventies at the time and spent the last fourteen years of his life in the chair. 

My grandmother looked after him with love and compassion and toward the end of her life, some years after he passed away, she was tired in body and soul after a long and often a difficult life.

They never got to enjoy their retirement years. They had a happy life together and I doubt they regretted their choices in life. But I wish the last decade and half they spent together had been a happier time.

They got to see their descendants mature into adulthood, had grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and to me, always looked like theirs was a beautiful partnership.

But how I wish they'd had the chance to explore the world and finally embrace the beauty of a peaceful life in their retirement years. 

And so, for that reason, I am dedicated to embrace each year on my own terms, to make decisions and take risks that are rewarding to me personally and that I can share with my partner.

I hope my partner and I will be in good health when we enter our retirement years, that we will have lived a full life and have the opportunity to continue our travels together until we can do no more.

For some a box of fine handmade Swiss chocolate pieces is the ultimate dream while for me the combination of licorice and creamy chocolate is a delicate treat for the finer moments in life. 

Life is a box of chocolate and assorted sweets… and it can be enjoyed at any age.