Women of Adventure

Dame Freya Madeline Stark (1893-1993)

Some of the world’s most intrepid travelers were women. I am thinking particularly of Freya Stark, who tromped all through the Middle East and Afghanistan, in the processing writing a couple dozen excellent books, and died at the ripe age of 100. In her book Baghdad Sketches (1937), she wrote:

To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure. You have no idea of what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the art of travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown and accept whatever comes in the spirit in which the gods may offer it. For this reason your customary thoughts, all except the rarest of your friends, even most of your luggage – everything, in fact, which belongs to your everyday life, is merely a hindrance. The tourist travels in his own atmosphere like a snail in his shell and stands, as it were, on his own perambulating doorstep to look at the continents of the world. But if you discard all this, and sally forth with a leisurely and blank mind, there is no knowing what may not happen to you.

In her book Valleys of the Assassins (1934), she added:

To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure. You have no idea of what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the art of travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown and accept whatever comes in the spirit in which the gods may offer it. For this reason your customary thoughts, all except the rarest of your friends, even most of your luggage – everything, in fact, which belongs to your everyday life, is merely a hindrance. The tourist travels in his own atmosphere like a snail in his shell and stands, as it were, on his own perambulating doorstep to look at the continents of the world. But if you discard all this, and sally forth with a leisurely and blank mind, there is no knowing what may not happen to you.

This woman makes Ernest Hemingway look like a wussy boy in short pants.

And Freya Stark is not the only woman traveler who dared to go solo into the uncharted areas of the earth. There was also Isabella L. Bird (1831-1904), who traveled extensively in Asia, and Mary Kingsley (1862-1900), whose destination was West Africa. In fact, Wikipedia compiled a list of female explorers which sets one to thinking. You can find it here.

Ladies of the Road

Another Fun Event at the Automobile Driving Museum: The Women’s Car Show

On Saturday, Martine and I dropped in at the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo to see a car show dedicated to the wheels of women auto enthusiasts. This weekend, for the first time I began to detect a spring of hope in this grim pandemic season. Americans are getting vaccinated, and businesses are slowly beginning to open up again. (For the first time in over a year, we ate indoors at Ye Olde King’s Head Restaurant in Santa Monica.)

I was curious to see what a Women’s Car Show would be like, and found that the ladies liked vintage cars as much as men do. The men, however, would not accompany it with a fashion show.

Poster for the Women’s Car Show

Martine has developed a real fondness for the Automobile Driving Museum and its various events. I enjoy going because there are so few things that she likes so much. I also enjoy being with car enthusiasts, because many of the old cars are indeed works of art that I can well appreciate.

The Month of Reading Women

This Month I Am Reading Only Books Written by Women, Such as Virginia Woolf

I read a lot of books, but I feel I have not given women authors their due. So far, I have read Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere and am within a few pages of finishing Joyce Carol Oates’s The Man Without a Shadow. Ng is new to me, but I have always loved Oates, though I haven’t nearly enough of her prolific works.

Among the books I will be selecting from for the rest of March (in no particular order):

  • Something by Svetlana Alexievich, most likely Secondhand Time [Russia]
  • Rosario Santos’s The Fat Man from La Paz: Contemporary Fiction from Bolivia*
  • Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s The Time: Night* [Russia]
  • Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead* [USA]
  • Simone de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity [France]
  • Patricia Highsmith’s The Black House [USA]
  • Dorothy B. Hughes’s In a Lonely Place [USA]
  • Selma Lagerlof’s The Saga of Gosta Berling* [Norway]
  • Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse [England]
  • Clarice Lispector’s Hour of the Star [Brazil]
  • Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow* [Mexico/Canada]
  • Marie NDiaye’s Three Strong Women [France]
  • Dawn Powell’s The Locusts Have No King* [USA]
  • Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive* [Mexico/USA]

Invariably, I will not read some of the above and likely add some other writers, such as Charlotte Brontë, Willa Cather, Madeleine Albright, or Helen Hunt Jackson. It all depends on how I like the books I have selected.

Books marked with an asterisk [*] are by authors I have not yet read.

Crimes Against Women

I, Too, Have Been Affected by All the News of Crimes Against Women

I am just now beginning to realize that, being born male, I have lived a privileged lifestyle—without fear of being physically and emotionally violated. The closest I ever came was in the late 1960s, when I was on crutches and hitchhiking on Santa Monica Boulevard. One guy who gave me a ride attempted to fondle me, until I jammed one of my crutches hard against his throat and demanded to be let out immediately.

Otherwise, I have never been molested; nor have I ever attempted to molest any woman against her will.

Yet as the #MeToo news continues to unfold, I wonder what percent of women have had to fend off the advances of men who have felt they were in a position to have their way with a woman who was drunk or stoned or somehow in their power. If that percent is as high as I think it is, I feel abashed for my previous lack of understanding.

And that does not even include the women who were abused as minors.

I hope that, somehow, some good will come from all of this. Unfortunately, I am a pessimist. My view of the human condition tends toward darkness. This thing has been going on since man first came down from the trees, and perhaps even before.

 

Move Aside, Men!

Best in the World

Best in the World

Something happened quite suddenly in he last ten or twenty years: American women athletes have proven themselves time and again to be world class contenders. Today, the U.S. Women’s Team beat Japan 5-2 for the 2015 World Cup in soccer.

Although I was not able to watch the game, I am delighted to hear that our women won, and convincingly, too.

I would like to see soccer football replace the so-called American football with its armored players pawing the dirt with their feet during the innumerable time-outs that were no doubt created solely for the convenience of advertisers. Soccer football is the real deal: It goes back and forth in waves until a sudden break-out results in a goal.

Americans will always have problem with the concept of a tied game, especially when the result is a 0-0 tie. But even some of those games are exciting.

Way to go, Ladies!

 

Girls Who Say “Yow”

Icelandic Cannery Workers in Keflavik, Circa 1930s

Icelandic Cannery Workers in Keflavik, Circa 1930s

Actually, all Icelandic women say “Yow,” but only when they’re being positive. It happens that the word for “Yes” in Icelandic is , which is pronounced Yow. I repeatedly cracked up hearing conversations among women in which they kept Yowing back and forth to one another.

One day, while I was eating dinner at the Hotel Vestmannaeyjar’s Einsi Kaldi Restaurant in Heimaey, the Icelandic girls’ soccer team walked in, still wearing their field uniforms. (There had been a national soccer tournament in Heimaey, which complicated my getting a hotel booking in town.)  After swooning at the impact of the beauty of so many Viking princesses at one time, I was amused by all the Yowing that went on as they described the game just completed.

Where I Encountered the Icelandic Girls’ Soccer Team

Where I Encountered the Icelandic Girls’ Soccer Team

Ever since Quentin Tarantino made a famous comment about young Icelandic women in a Conan O’Brien appearance about “supermodels working at McDonald’s,” stories and myths have abounded about the legendary beauty of Reykjavík girls. (BTW, McDonald’s pulled out of the country because they couldn’t compete with the local hamburger restaurants, which are pretty good.) Much of what he said is about the party scene in Reykjavík—which can get extreme with young women becoming seriously drunk and (presumably) available—is uncomplimentary and not a little insulting.

With my advanced age and scruffy looks, I did not presume to partake in any party scenes. Instead, I dealt with numerous Icelandic women throughout the island and found them to have a great sense of fun.

When I was in Isafjörður, I met a young guide named Thelma (pronounced “Talma”) from West Tours, with whom I took a trip to Vigur Island (about which more at another time). All the time I was there, I kept running into her at various places—it was a village of only 2,000 or so—and she remembered me each time and stopped to chat with me.

Okay, so maybe they saw “Yow” a lot, but Icelandic women are all right in my book.

Habemus Puellam

Pope Marigold I

Pope Marigold I

At first, the pink smoke pouring from the chimney set up over the Sistine Chapel stunned the thousands of faithful, as well as an equal number of reporters, as to what it meant.

In the end, it was inevitable that the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church would eventually elect a female pope. Tradition was overturned in other ways as well: the new pope is not an ordained Catholic priest. (Nor can she be one according to canon law, to which she replies, “We’ll fix that!”.) And she is a lesbian, complete with tattoos and piercings.

Marigold I, originally Marigold Lilibeth Rathbun of Pepper Pike, Ohio, is also the first pope in several hundred years to still be in her twenties. “Yeah!” she comments; “That means I’ll be around for a while, so you all had better be good.”

Naturally, Pope Marigold’s election was not quite unanimous. Silvestro Silvestrini, Cardinal Archbishop of Ercolano, thinks there were some voting irregularities. “Something is fishy around here.” At least, he admits that she is certifiably free of any accusations regarding the molestation of underage altar boys. His colleague, Grandissimo Pipi, Cardinal Archbishop of Gomorrah, chimed in with his broken English: “I resemble that!”

Of one thing we can be sure, Holy Mother the Church is taking a slightly different course. She reminds us, “And remember, youse guys, I’m the pope; and that means I’m inflammable!”

 

 

Rilke on Women

Taken by Surprise and Vanquished?

Taken by Surprise and Vanquished?

Women, in whom life abides and dwells more immediately, fruitfully and confidently, must indeed have become in essence more mature human beings, more human humans than men, who being light and lacking the weight of bodily fruit pulling him down below life’s surface, undervalues in his arrogance and rashness what he claims to love. Carried to term in pain and humiliation, this humanity of women will—once she has shed the conventions of the solely feminine through these changes in her external status—become evident, and those men who cannot feel this coming today will end up being taken by surprise and vanquished.—Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

 

Is That How He Prefers Them?

A New Romney Meme Is Born

From Debate #2 between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The circumstances, according to CNN:

When asked about what he’d do to improve income equality for women, Romney cited his efforts as governor of Massachusetts to include women on a state economic panel, efforts that apparently included poring through “binders full of women” in search of qualified candidates. And with that, a meme was born.

I wonder how the women felt….

Morose Delectation

Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties

Certain stylistic differences separate us from our ancestors; but every once in a while, we can see people from eighty or a hundred years ago as if they were alive today. That was brought home to me at Cinecon today, when I saw a rare reel of Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties outtakes shot at nearby Venice Beach.

The scene was that the director had the girls run into the ocean. Evidently, the water was too cold for them, and they pleaded with the director off-screen to let them get used to the cold. Suddenly, the outlandish bathing costumes of a century ago and the stupid ringlets that the girls curled their hair into didn’t matter any more. In every other way, the scene could have been shot yesterday; and the girls were cute and rather appealing.

On Saturday morning, I saw a 1930 Fox Movietone newsreel of a stage rehearsal of a troupe of chorus girls entitled Backstage on Broadway. Again, once you looked past the inevitable blonde ringlets, the girls were incredibly beautiful, with gams that most of today’s women would kill for.

It is sad to think that virtually all of these girls are now dead. We snicker at minor details that divide their time from ours, and which place a spurious distance between us and them. No doubt their slang was outrageously different; and their everyday beliefs were probably more puritanical (though that’s hard to know for sure). In the Mack Sennett film, the bathing beauties were probably seen as brazen women, and the very large and appreciative male crowd along the Boardwalk lent credence to that that guess.

One of the poster dealers at the Cinecon show had a nude frontal body shot of the lovely Louise Brooks, whose dark bangs make her sexy even today. But, alas, she was found dead in her house from a heart attack after years of suffering from emphysema and arthritis. Mabel Normand, the most famous of Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties, died of tuberculosis in a sanatorium in 1930.

I suppose it’s dangerous to fall in love with ghosts. And yet the Lloyd E. Rigler Theater of the Egyptian Theater was filled with aging film fans, some of them in wheelchairs, whose eyes lit up at memories of their youth and of the women who made their lives seem worthwhile. Now they themselves are slowly vanishing into the past. New generations will take their place with dreams of tattooed and pierced young women in the outlandish costumes of Hollywood nightclubs.

Just remember: The outlandishness doesn’t count. They’re just people like us.