A song my father introduced me to is a song by Leo Kottke about a lady called Louise. Small town gossip said that “she’d act the little girl” but that in reality she was “a deceiver” and that we shouldn’t believe her, because “that’s her trade”.
The song describes how Louise received gifts from men, whose “intentions were easily traced”, insinuating that she was either stunningly beautiful and would lead men on with her appearance, or that perhaps she was even a prostitute who inadvertently had some male “fans”.
Halfway through the song Kottke describes how people thought it “kind of sad” when Louise was found dead in her room. The song paints a picture of a lonely and misunderstood woman who ended up taking her own life.
Kottke bids her farewell at the end of the song with the words “the wind is blowing cold tonight. So goodnight, Louise, goodnight”.
Leo Kottke’s guitar intermezzo is mesmerizing on its own, but with the lyrics he really tells a tragic micro-history. I am not sure when I really started to see the whole image but when I did, I really felt for Louise.
A second song has recently entered my life that has a similar effect on me. After having given it some thought I realized that it is actually the same story, but this time from Louise’ point of view.
The first time I heard the song it stopped me dead in my tracks and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This had to do with the singers vocal range and the pain he put into the song. It was only later that I learned that it is actually a cover of a Nina Simone song, called “When I was a young girl”.
The song, in the version of Marlon Williams, is over six minutes long and can be summed up by the last 4 lines (which he manages to spread out over two heart-wrenching minutes)
When I was a young girl I used to seek pleasure When I was a young girl I used to drink ale Out of the ale house and into the jail house Right out of the bar room down to my doom
Last week was international women’s day. Next week is election day in the Netherlands. Today was the Women’s March in our capital, Amsterdam, as well as in other cities like Nijmegen and Groningen.
I went to the event in Amsterdam, all though I must admit I just barely made it, and was only half out of couch-potato-mode when I caught the train. The two friends I had planned to go with had already cancelled… Periods… go figure…
All though I could dedicate an entire blog purely on the irony of that fact alone, I’ll try to focus on today’s event and how it made me feel.
Let me start off by explaining that I don’t particularly like Amsterdam.
It’s pretty and all, in a big-spender bombastic kind of way. It’s our country’s main tourist attraction for good reason but it lost its spirit in the process. It’s a well known phenomenon, I suppose. The ugly side of tourism: downgrading unique characteristics into bite-size stereotypes, chasing prices of everything up to ridiculous Disneyland levels without improving on the quality of anything…
￼But I was heading to Amsterdam anyhow. The Women’s March was planned to start off on the Dam square, which is near to Amsterdam Central Station, connected by one straight street called the Damrak. And trust me when I tell you; this is the most awful little strip of the city (maybe even the entire country), where everything I dislike about Amsterdam is crammed together in such high levels, that I prefer to avoid it when at all possible.
What I decided to do, was head to another train station and join the march on the final stretch, right before its final round up point: Museumplein, or Museum Square. This is a big green lawn with the impressive Rijksmuseum building on one end and our fancy shmancy concert hall on the other.
Because I was skipping out on about 90% of the actual march, I decided to dedicate my thoughts and the choice of my music to relevant issues. I focussed on inequality of women in particular but also in the broader spectrum of human rights in general.
And without having planned it this way, my own personal march towards museumplein led me through a street where women in very intimate apparel “showed off their goods” to bald headed white men casually walking by. Of course I know that Amsterdam has a reputation for its stance towards prostitution, but I know it to be as something typical of “de Wallen” which is an area quite close to that same Damrak area I spoke of earlier. Finding it where I did was something I had not anticipated but it did kind of fit…
I wondered if it would be offensive or encouraging to these women to know where I was headed to… I wondered if the actual women’s march had considered leading their protest rally through the red light district. I wondered if I should look at them and smile or look the other way, to give them some abstract sense of privacy… Complicated thoughts, I can tell you!!
Anyhow… As I approached the museumplein area, I could hear chants in the distance and saw police officers on bikes and horses patrolling the area. What did they think of all of this? Who would they be voting for next week? Where were all the female cops?
When I saw the crowd I must admit I got goosebumps all over my body and even got choked up a bit. So many had shown up! Fifteen to twenty thousand, as it turned out later. I walked the last stretch with the group and found a nice spot on the museumplein lawn to listen to the speeches that were planned for that afternoon.
When the first speaker grabbed the microphone I was kind of surprised by the tameness of the crowd in general… There was some applause, some cheering but… but…. I didn’t really feel the conviction behind it… I missed some sense of… something. Anger? Passion? I wondered why nobody else seemed to have trouble holding back their tears. And I wasn’t even on my period!
We have grown so complacent here. Lacking nothing. Wanting nothing. Needing nothing. Not really. We may feel we NEED something from time to time but this usually comes up when a new iphone is revealed or something of the sorts.
Yes, I think I was disappointed. I was disappointed by the fact that I feel more passion and willingness to fight for a cause when I go to a soccer match than when women’s rights are at stake. I am sad that the wonderful ladies that showed up on stage spoke true words but didn’t manage to fan those flames. I wished they had gone to see a soccer match first!! Or at least watched a Beyonce concert (btw, did you guys see her at the Grammys? OMG, right?).
So… we will be voting in four days…
What I need is the BFG to cook up some life changing dreams for my fellow countrymen and -women and motivate them all to; a) show up , b) vote with their hearts open. Oh, how I fear what’s in my compatriots’ minds…
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,
These 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.
The 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?
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…
As the first girl to be born in the family, I was named after the first ever woman. Or so I thought until some years ago. Apparently there is a story about Adam’s first girlfriend, when Eve was still a twinkle in Adam’s rib, called Lilith.
I first heard this story about a year ago and was shocked that I had lived so long pretending to know the creation narrative and had never stumbled upon this footnote. According to an article by Dr. Christopher L.C.E. Witcombe of Sweet Briar College it is explained in a 13th century Kabbalah text that:
“At the same time Jehovah created Adam, he created a woman, Lilith, who like Adam was taken from the earth. She was given to Adam as his wife. But there was a dispute between them about a matter that when it came before the judges had to be discussed behind closed doors. She spoke the unspeakable name of Jehovah and vanished.”
In the Alpha Betha of Ben Sira (Alphabetum Siracidis, or Sepher Ben Sira), an anonymous collection of midrashic proverbs probably compiled in the 11th century C.E., it is explained more explicitly that the conflict arose because Adam, as a way of asserting his authority over Lilith, insisted that she lie beneath him during sexual intercourse (23 A-B). Lilith, however, considering herself to be Adam’s equal, refused, and after pronouncing the Ineffable Name (i.e. the magic name of God) flew off into the air.
So apparently, Lilith was not only the first woman, she was also the first feminist and even in the garden of eden they were like “woah lady, you are totally out of line!”, and then she vanished? So Adam was some kind of maffioso that makes people that challenge him disappear? Or was it the Almighty himself? Who knew the holy scriptures were such a thriller to read!
All though according to this article by Ariela Pelaia her disappearance went a bit like this:
She uttered God’s name and flew into the air, leaving Adam alone in the Garden of Eden. God sent three angels after her and commanded them to bring her back to her husband by force if she would not come willingly. But when the angels found her by the Red Sea they were unable to convince her to return and could not force her to obey them. Eventually a strange deal is struck, wherein Lilith promised not to harm newborn children if they are protected by an amulet with the names of the three angels written on it.
So after this unrestrained woman was shown to the exit and demonized in the most literal sense you could possibly think of, Eve was created. But this time not from the same divine play-doh Adam was made of because that would only make her think she had the same rights and inconvenient things like that… So instead, God molded a woman from Adam’s rib to emphasize she was a part of him and equality was out of the question. Much more manageable…
Pretty freaky story, no? I actually feel a lot of sympathy for this Lilith girl. She sounds opinionated, strong and independent. She knows what she wants and likes experimenting with new things.
Shouldn’t a day be dedicated to her or something? A day on which we celebrate the breaking of taboos, unfettered behavior and sexual emancipation. Sounds like a useful day to me!
It seems I am going to be complaing about “inspirational” quotes again… The proper response to this might be to delete my FB account, but I just can’t help myself. Annoyance is good fuel for writing as well so it’s not all bad…
The category I am going to hate on today are the quotes that attempt to be empowering and do this by questioning the “realness” of other men and women. Some examples:
It might just be the fact that English isn’t my mother tongue, cause I don’t know what half of this stuff even means! The adjective “real” in this context can mean anything varying from “brave” to “honest” and from “sophisticated” to “independent”. And what’s more, it feels like it’s not even really meant as a declaration of “realness” as much as it is a diss to someone they consider to be the opposite of real… which is what…. a man? not human (zombie?)? an un-woman… really no clue…
…and one last thing, somewhat unrelated: WHY is it so hard to remember that womAn is the singular form?! Nobody talks about “a men” but when it comes to the female version it gets confusing for some reason….. Maybe because we often travel in packs and are not seen as individuals until later on in life?
Anyhow…. back to the real topic of today… because there is also a category about “real” men (yes, this is the plural form), that needs to be addressed. These quotes are actually usually quite boring, imo, as they are mostly just a creative attempt by some women to vent about their exes or just another way of dealing with being turned down, because you see, he just wasn’t “real” enough to deal with her… You ready for this?
COME ON, ladies…… This just makes me feel ashamed of my gender…. Give the guys a break already… How can the dudes ever live up to this shit? If the guys you are dating keep turning out to be shitty specimens, maybe there’s something you are doing that is making them behave this way!
And I haven’t even discussed the “what-he-says-and-means-vs-what-she-says-and-means”-quotes that go around……… You know the ones…… Man, they annoy the heck out of me…
This last category might need a whole blog of its own, to be honest. And I must confess I’m actually a lousy woman in this discussion because I totally agree with a lot of the complaints guys have about us, as far as our indirect communication goes, our weird expectations and fickleness. I am totally that way sometimes (but I do apologize later (sometimes))!
How DO we coexist? I guess it’s all about finding the balance, right?