In honor of seeing Sebadoh play last night…
Several weeks ago I met my parents in Oxford, Mississippi for a pre-Thanksgiving celebration. (I worked on Thanksgiving day…shout-out to Dari for supplying the in-law leftovers and wine combo of that night’s Friendsgiving.)
I took highways on the way back to Arkansas, because I haven’t been to Clarksdale in years. First stop was Rest Haven, this Lebanese diner that’s been around for at least half-a-century. I get the same feeling from Rest Haven that I used to get from smoky poker Sundays at my Irish-Italian grandparents house in Vicksburg. Maybe it’s because the middle-aged daughter cooks in scrubs and has the same glossy, dark curls as my aunts. Maybe it’s because of the gruff, chain-smoking old man in a khaki windbreaker and a Hard Rock Cafe cap, who leans against the counter in a shaft of mid-morning sun, scoping decades of highway traffic through the open door. A brown paper take-out bundle waits at his elbow (kibbe sandwich) and above his head, there are framed department store photos of three generations of family. (My favorites are from the early-90′s.) Then he returns to his table, rolling silverware, cigarette dangling between two fingers.
I always ask for the coconut cream pie. They have the best. But that day, I had to settle for chocolate and endless cups of coffee. By 11 a.m., the old-timers rolled in for lunch. A white man in a camouflage cap sat beside the owner, but they spoke little. A black preacher came in just to speak with them, then headed out. Everyone who came in knew everyone else. It’s like Luke’s Diner, except that Clarksdale is a far-cry from Star’s Hollow.
So I dressed up as the Burka Avenger for Halloween.
The Burka Avenger, for those of you in the “don’t-know,” is the first Pakistani female superhero. Her creators say she was drafted prior to Malala, but the cartoon premiered in Malala’s wake. It’s star, Jiya, is a traditionally-dressed, non-hijabi teacher by day and a pen-and-book-flinging bad-ass by night, disguised under a sleeker-than-usual burka while she takes down small-minded mullahs who would staunch female education.
But Jiya’s “costume” has spawned a lot of debate.
I’ve been thinking about the burqa a lot lately, in part because I read Algerian-American author Karima Bennoune’s Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here. It’s supposed to be about efforts by moderate Muslims and others living in Muslim-majority countries to resist the fundos. Really, it’s about an ’90′s Algerian genocide that many Americans still don’t realized existed and a deconstruction of “progressive” Western attitudes toward Islam.
One of the things Bennoune takes issue with is a Western defense of the burqa as women’s right or choice. To Bennoune, “the more restrictive garments” represent “the obvious negation of the women who wear them, and by an extension, the negation of other women in the same environment. Not-being-veiled is the a condition that is only possible in the presence of veiling. And not-being-veiled has been a life-threatening condition in many circumstances.”
She has a point.
I think people have a right to wear whatever they chose, but I also find it near-impossible to convince myself that any woman would chose a burqa, chador or niqab, except as a precaution in a society where it’s not safe to be a visible woman. (In Karachi, the little bit of the “Muslim world” that I am most familiar with, there are no morality police, but public transportation sans full-armor is an open invitation for groping and insult.) And here we are, right back to the negation Bennoune references.
So yeah, the “women choose modesty” argument seems more rhetorical than truthful to me.
But I like the Burka Avenger. I think she works, on a logistical basis and beyond. Her burqa could be perceived as subliminal whitewashing, or it could be perceived as subverting the oppressors, using their own methods.
For a more secular take on a Pakistani (American) super-heroine, there’s Marvel Comics new Kamala Khan, a desi in Jersey. She’s among the more modestly clad lady-Marvels, but she doesn’t seem likely to don a burqa.
I went to Hot Springs for the oldest documentary fest in North America. It was in this elaborate, Jazz Age hotel that once hosted the Fitzgeralds. (The story is that Zelda broke the ballroom mirror in a fit of rage. It’s still cracked.)
Then I decided to walk around and see the town. And there was this street with all these creepy old houses and run-down motels, and it looked awesome. But people kept honking and yelling out the window. Then this huge dude stopped me and said he would walk me back downtown, and that I should walk on the inside of him, because if I walk on the outside, it means I’m for sale. And he had this lady with him (she also walked on the inside), and as we walked, they gave me the neighborhood run-down. (“And to your right, that’s the green house where two women got beaten just last week.”)
He said he accidentally shot his sister at age nine, then identified her in the morgue at 16, after she was murdered by a pimp, and then he ran away from foster care and lived on the streets of Duluth for a few decades.
The lady wore a long skirt and a huge t-shirt with a galaxy on it. She likes to read sci-fi, and she was raised by Mennonite grandparents in a town of 82, up near the Canadian border. She met this man through a prison pen-pal program, and they’ve been together since he got out. He came to Hot Springs because his house burned in Minnesota, and his son was here, though he doesn’t remember why. And on the way down, they picked up his daughter, selling herself for meth on the streets of St. Louis. Then he got here and started managing crack houses, and his daughter got his son hooked on meth, and they stole a lot of money and moved across town.
I think this couple might have been better, even, than the festival.
After years of anticipation, I am eager to report that the deep-fried Twinkie is essentially a soggy funnel cake. And two guys got in a fist fight during Charlie Daniel’s second-to-last song (whatever was right before “Devil went down to Georgia”) and one got a bloody nose, but he just kept drinking and line dancing.
But these kids had the real skills.
It’s a brilliant idea, Jauntaroo, having us do all the legwork to traffic millions of people (we hope) to your site for the relatively low cost of $100,000, which doesn’t have to be paid in full till Jan. 2015. But the gig you’re offering is even more brilliant…and I appreciate both brilliant gigs and ideas.
So please go to Jauntaroo’s site and LIKE MY VIDEO and maybe I can be the new CHIEF WORLD EXPLORER and post lots more videos. And if you really do like my video, come back and click “like” once every 24 hours for the foreseeable future. Please and thank you with (tart, not maraschino) cherries on top.
And if you’re interested in my Pakistan adventures (for those of you who actually watched the video), read about them here.
Some friends and I canoed the Spring River on Saturday.
Three couples rode the outfitter’s bus with us (it had Hardy Baptist Church on its side, under a not-very-convincing coat of white paint). They were from Stuttgart, Arkansas, and they thought it a grand idea to get inked up the evening before spending all day on the river. They were bored, one of the men explained, and there was a nice little parlor in town.
The tats were covered with shiny goo. One man got a heart-shaped deadbolt on his wrist, and his wife got a key on hers. Another man got a buck-head, and his wife got a doe-head. The third couple’s tats didn’t play off each other, causing us some concern as to the state of their marriage. The wife got an American Indian head-dress, and I can’t remember the man’s. But she also had a name (his?) on her ankle from a previous parlor visit.