Happy Birthday Pablo Neruda

Marmandes

Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto was born this day in 1904.  He ‘borrowed’ his pen name from a Czech poet, Jan Neruda.  A brilliant poet, a nobel laureate, nationalist and politician.  He was murdered under orders of Augusto Pinochet by a doctor treating him for cancer.  Pinochet staged a Coup D’état against the legally elected government of President Allende.

Pinochet was able to do this because he was supported by the US Government and received direct support from the CIA.  That’s American democracy for you!  Democracy for Americans who live in the United States, just not for all Americans, unless it is the right kind of democracy.

Enough with the politics, July is the month of tomatoes.  I planted Marmandes this year.  See the photo!

 

Ode to Tomatoes: by Pablo Neruda

The street
filled with tomatoes
midday,
summer,
light is
halved
like
a
tomato,
its juice
runs
through the streets.
In December,
unabated,
the tomato
invades
the kitchen,
it enters at lunchtime,
takes
its ease
on countertops,
among glasses,
butter dishes,
blue saltcellars.
It sheds
its own light,
benign majesty.
Unfortunately, we must
murder it:
the knife
sinks
into living flesh,
red
viscera,
a cool
sun,
profound,
inexhaustible,
populates the salads
of Chile,
happily, it is wed
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union
we
pour
oil,
essential
child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,
pepper
adds
its fragrance,
salt, its magnetism;
it is the wedding
of the day,
parsley
hoists
its flag,
potatoes
bubble vigorously,
the aroma
of the roast
knocks
at the door,
it’s time!
come on!
and, on
the table, at the midpoint
of summer,
the tomato,
star of earth,
recurrent
and fertile
star,
displays
its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.

 

Oh Canada

Washington_1772

A young George Washington

It is a national holiday today in Canada, as Canada day fell on a Saturday.

But today is a fitting holiday for Canadians in any case.  It is a little known event in history, but July 3rd is the anniversary of the only military surrender by George Washington.  He lost the battle of Fort Necessity to the French Canadians.

The action led to wider escalation of the French and Indian war in the Americas, and broader conflicts in the Seven Years War in Europe.

Strange bedfellows

Relations between the Irish and the Blacks in America have often been at odds.  When hundreds of thousands of poor Irish fled the great famine and emigrated to America they found themselves at the bottom of society.  Between 1845 and 1852 the starving Irish boarded coffin ships and threw themselves on the mercy of America.

We Irish need to remember this as we observe the flood of refugees and economic migrants who daily put their lives at risk in Libya, boarding unsuitable vessels in their droves and casting their lot on the waters of the Mediterranean.

There are anecdotal tales from America of wealthy landowners hiring Irish workers for dangerous jobs because they didn’t want to risk a valuable slave.

Irish people living in slave states found themselves in competition for work with Negros.  They opposed the freeing of slaves as this would release a workforce in direct competition to them.  Even in the free states of the north the Irish immigrants found themselves in competition with Negros for the lowest and most menial jobs.  These Irish were in ill health, uneducated and many could not even speak English.  The only advantage they held over the Negro was the colour of their skin.

At the same time the Irish could identify with the plight of the American Blacks.  The Irish were no strangers to transportation and slavery.  Many of the original slaves in Caribbean sugar plantations were Irish and Scottish petty criminals or indentured labourers.  The tiny island of Montserrat reflects this influx, most of the inhabitants have Irish names despite their dark skin, and the island holds St Patrick’s day as a holiday.

The Irish who arrived in America emerged from a culture of persecution by Absentee British Landlords and their local Bailiffs.  Unlike farm tenants in England the Irish cottagers were little more than serfs, subsisting in a non-monetary economy with no rights of tenure, rent control or free sale of their property.  They understood much about the life of a slave.

This conflict between sympathy and competiton resolved itself in the Civil War of 1861 to 65 when Irish elected to fight on both sides.  Indeed at the battle of Fredricksburg the 69th New York Infantry (The Irish Brigade) was decimated at the Sunken Road below Marye’s Heights.  Their opponents were the 24th Georgia regiment, comprising McMillans Guards, an Irish regiment.

After the civil war the fate of the Irish in America diverged sharply from that of the Negro.  The Irish became educated and worked their way into positions of political power.  Many Irish gravitated to careers in law enforcement and public service.  While the men worked hard the mothers drove their children to education and improvement.  Lace curtains went up on the windows and the Irish integrated.  Eventually, in the 1960’s the scion of an Irish immigrant family became President of the United States.

There was no ‘risk’ of a black president of the USA in the 1960’s.  This was the age of the struggle for civil rights.

In a perverse twist of fate it was the black struggle for civil rights in America that ignited the Catholic struggle for civil rights in Northern Ireland.  The Irish learned from Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X.  Peace protest marches began, and they ended similarly to the marches in Birmingham Alabama, in violence, persecution and death.

Here is a piece of footage and a highly poignant moment from that time.  Muhammad Ali reciting his own poem on an Irish TV show.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNrNpw7hmcE

Hey Lard Ass!

OBESE-MAN

I lost a few pounds over the last few weeks and was very proud of myself.  Then I checked out my weight on one of those online BMI calculators and I got this nasty message:

Your BMI is 25.4. This BMI indicates you are overweight. There is an increased risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers with a BMI in this range. Losing weight is beneficial and can be achieved through healthy eating and being active daily. It is a good idea to set a realistic target of amount of weight you would like to lose over a number of weeks. If you are muscular as a result of a lot of sport you don’t need to lose weight.

OK, that sounded like there was hope for me at the end.  Am I muscular from playing a lot of sport?  Is gardening a sport?  Does golf count?

So I looked further into these BMI thingy’s.  On a US medical website I learned that my weight is actually in the “Normal” range.

BMI

Normal hell!  Look at that statistic at the end.  My weight is in the 32nd percentile for my age and height, IN AMERICA.

For those who don’t dabble in statistics allow me to explain.  If I live in the USA 68% of my peers are heavier than I am.  That makes me feel positively skinny.  And there is the worry.

When the societal norm is obesity, overweight seems slim.

Truth is, I am overweight.  I have to lose a few more pounds.  In Ireland I “feel” fat.  That puts positive pressure on me to watch my weight.  If I lived in the USA I would not have that positive pressure.  I would probably be half a stone heavier.  I would probably suffer from high blood pressure.  Chances are I would be taking drugs to control my blood pressure.

There is a lesson here for overweight people.  If you really want to lose weight, move to a land of slim people.

According to Suzie Orbach “Fat is a feminist issue”.  Suzie was instrumental in developing the psychology that led to the fabulous Dove advertising campaigns.  Fat is an issue that defines how many women see themselves, it affects their self-confidence, and how they interact with the world.

There is a growing movement amongst young (at heart) women who reject being thin in favour of being fit.  Advertisers are no longer afraid to show women sweating when they work out.  Cross-fit gyms have embraced this new culture by removing mirrors from their gyms.  It’s about the work, the discipline, the muscular integrity.  It is about looking good because you worked to look good.  It is about looking good to feel good about yourself, not to be an accessory to a man.

But there’s more.  In the USA in the 20th century one of the key photo opportunities used by US electoral candidates was the shot of them emerging from church/temple on the Sabbath with the family.  This said everything about strong morality, ethics, conservatism, family values, hetrosexuality, Mom, apple pie and the USA, without ever having to say a word to the waiting press.  Today the goalposts have shifted.  The modern electoral candidate must demonstrate personal strength of character by displaying a fit body.  The president of the USA cannot be a fat guy.  Fat people can’t control their own appetites.  What hope do they have of controlling the nation?

In modern society to be fit to rule you must be fit to run for office, and to do that you must be fit to run down the road.

Anchor Rite

Skellig stair

Celtic Monks in need of contemplation,
cast their lot in chance on fickle water.
They sought a desert in the ocean,
trusting life to wind and wave and Father.

In shallow vessels from the West they left,
to fetch up wherever the current bore.
A rocky pillar served them for their rest,
or death upon a lonely wave washed shore.

Had I the courage of their conviction,
would I be anchored on this ebbing tide?
What great mysteries am I denying,
tied up here, wrapped warm and safe inside?

Not for me, the icy north Atlantic,
not for me is death on lonely shore.
Not mine, the wonder of revelation,
or America vast, adventure, more.

I feel I may have poured my last libation
to Gods of wind and wave and spume
and settled with contented resignation
by family, fire, partner, living, room.