Valentina, valentina


What shall we do with all these debates about the sky above
Help me, Valentina, as you have flown so far.
Tell me once and for all that there is no such mansion up there;
Tomorrow it will be built by mankind and its reason,
Oh my!

Obra-colectiva-Chants-pour-la-revolution-doctobre-1977.jpgThese lines are from a song. A revolutionary song. A song from a LP my parents loved (both of them 😮 )! The LP was called Canto A La Revolución De Octubre and contained songs of protest and marching songs, composed and sung by Chilean artist such as Victor Jara, Inti-Illimani and Isabel Parra.

There are several songs on this album that I listened to religiously as a kid, even though I clearly didn’t really understand them. I saw how my parents reacted to these songs and they often explained to me what they were about and what the historical context was.

Heaven.jpgThe song Ayúdame Valentina is an emotional plea to someone who has flown far away, to bring us some of her wisdom from the heavens above. I knew that critical thinkers, writers and singers did not befall pleasant fates under Pinochet, so I assumed Valentina must have been one of the victims of this cruel regime.

It wasn’t until relatively recently that I decided to look up if I could find out who Valentina was, and it turned the whole song upside down for me! Not only was Valentina still very much alive when the song was written, she has outlived most of the singers on the album and is with us until this very day!

Who is this wise woman that Isabel Parra calls upon, then?

Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova. 

I don’t know about you, but I had never heard about this woman…

Even though I grew up with her name ringing in my ears, I had never realized what a badass woman I had been serenading.

So… when Isabel Parra asks Valentina for help, she is not calling upon some spiritual force to come give her courage and reassurance, as I imagined. She doesn’t expect support from the heavens above; she is asking a woman who has flown to space and back to affirm that there is no such thing as heaven at all. Isabel asks a female powerhouse to come back her up in her attempt to debunk the threats and lies of the religious zealots she sees around her.

Finding out about the true meaning of this song made me look into the lives of those who wrote and sung them. I read about Violeta Parra, Isabel’s mother, who actually wrote this song and sung it herself with more verses than the version included above, which is the one I grew up listening to.

Violeta, who wrote on of my all time favorite songs Gracias a la Vida (I give thanks to life) ironically took her own life about a year after it was released. I guess Valentina didn’t answer her question about heaven and in the end, Violeta couldn’t wait any longer to find out for herself…


A struggling pacifist

My father has always had a strong aversion toward militarism. I could let all sort of psychological theories loose on the why and how of this sentiment, but that is not my point of today. I was brought up with his teachings and – all though his pedestal has crumbled here and there throughout the years, – I consider him to be one of the wisest men I know, especially when it comes to matters of the world. He is an incredibly informed and smart man, whose opinions I value highly.

I suppose it is because of my upbringing that parading soldiers give me the chills and even boy scouts make me cringe a bit, when they pride themselves in their uniformity. I am a true pacifist at heart. I don’t like seeing hummers in the streets, not only because they are ridiculously fuel inefficient, but most of all because they are originally army vehicles. I hate the fact that firearms even exist and so many of us have come to believe they are synonyms for safety or even justice. It breaks my heart.

(In that context, have you seen the “make love not war” commercials by Axe… man, if only….)

Not long ago I had a talk with someone who had a very different point of view. As representative of a national veteran organization his task was to praise and show respect to every form of military involvement to those that had served our country, be it on recent missions or in wars many decades ago.  I remember him complaining about the choices our country was making in the face of the economic crisis. Of course cuts are being made all around, but our ministry of defense has had to hand over a great deal of its funding, with great consequences for our military.

I remember feeling a strong urge to contradict him, from the very first sentence. My thoughts and words were full of the necessity for education, unemployment, welfare and social programs. I remember him saying we might regret our choices at some point and I remember snapping back that it was more important to deal with problems that were actually truly affecting us now than worrying about some fear monger’s hypothetical war of the future.

I think I still stand behind those words, but I am starting to understand what he was saying. I think it’s a pity it took me so long to process his point of view, because it could have been a much more productive and interesting conversation, had I been more open to it.

With my father as an example, I have always tried to be well informed and involved in the worlds’ affairs. I am not completely sure if times are truly harsher or that my sensitivity to it has just grown but lately it’s been really getting to me. On the one side I want to stay aware, interested and engaged and not let the hopelessness and eternal stalemates of conflicts make me look away or become indifferent. Like a legendary Argentinian song by Leon Gieco says:

 Sólo le pido a Dios
que la guerra no me sea indiferente,
es un monstruo grande y pisa fuerte
toda la pobre inocencia de la gente.
 I only ask of God
That i am not indifferent to the battle,
It’s a big monster and it tramples hard
on all the poor innocence of people.

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On the other side, the endlessness of it and the inhumanity of humans just really gets to me sometimes and I just can’t watch it any longer. This makes me feel guilty because I know there are people who can not switch it off. It is their reality and anything the TV shows them is an improvement compared to what goes on right outside their doors (if it hasn’t come crashing down through their roofs already…)

I think my slight change of heart came a couple of months back, after seeing an interview I also blogged about here. The world is changing and I have this uneasy feeling of chaos brewing around me. A sense of hate that is building, of tempers rising, of mobs growing. We all see it and our solution is to send in our army of politicians and diplomats. We analyze, we write reports, we understand its history and the possible outcomes. We have men in suits and ties, armed with laptops, blackberries and fountain pens and, oh man, I truly wish that would be enough but I know it is not going to bring us anywhere…

The time that we could say “not our problem” and retreat in our bubble of blissful ignorance seems to be ending. The conflicts of the Middle East are not only IN the Middle East. Our populations are built up of people of all ethnicities and our cultures have become entangled through migration and globalization. And then there is this new game we are playing with Russia. If it’s all just economics and politics, then our army of bureaucrats will do just fine. But if the “bare-chested one” has as much cojones as he claims, we might be in trouble…

The other day, one of the Transformers movies was on TV and for some reason (despite it being a terribly simplistic story with some pretty poor acting here and there) it made me so incredibly sad. All I saw was destruction, suffering and men getting traumatized. At the end I saw a victorious society, scarred for life by the traumas of war. If I were religious I would be praying for wisdom and tranquility, or world peace, if you will… but I’m not… so now what can I do??