Saturday, April 21, 2007

Goddess of the Dance

Image of Taletha belly-dancing is courtesy of All That Dance in Louisville.
Tonight's post is inspired by an amazing day spent at the Goddess Show in Brighton.

The belly dancers were so good, that Lou, Kate and I have decided we must learn....

Across the deserted square, drums pound the humid air. On the breeze, you can hear the faint sparkling of tiny bells, and in the dim light you sense, rather than see, the women dance. The drums are like a heartbeat, they draw you in, they hypnotize. You move toward them to join the small crowd, until emerging from the dim light, the silhouette of seven dancers appear.

Their arms are raised, bent at the elbows. They turn small circles, half-smiles on their lips as their hips flick from side to side in time with the heavy drums. Not one of the women looks at you as you draw closer. They lower and raise their gaze in time with the turning swoop of their arms as they dance.

One woman steps forward, becomes the centre of a loose, pulsating arc of dancers. Her smile grows broader as she dances forward and back in little steps. She raises her arms and loses her hands in the dark curls of her hair. Her waist gyrates in an impossible circle as she leans further and further backwards in time with the beat, then forward once more. The tiny golden coins covering the scarf tied tight over her generous hips shiver light chimes into the hot air. The scant light of the lanterns, scattered around the circle of dancers, reflect in her eyes. She moves her head like a serpent from side to side.

The other dancers spin in a graceful half-circle away from her, never missing a step in time. Then two dancers shimmy to her side, then two again and two again, until the seven dancers close into a circle. Their backs are to the audience. Their hips move in perfect time. The dancers slowly raise their arms again, until horizontally, they first touch, and then hold the hand of the next woman. The drums grow louder. Slowly, the women begin to step forward in time, closing the circle tighter and tighter as their hands slide up to the elbows of their neighbour. The circle slowly begins to turn. You begin to feel dizzy as the faces of the dancers blur.

None of the women are smiling now. The drums sound louder and louder. The sound builds into a frenzied crescendo. The women stop spinning. The eyes of the dancers do not leave each other as they step on the spot, shoulders writhing. As if in answer to a question you have not yet summoned the courage to ask, the women begin to make a low sound, a kind of tuneless humming. The drumming speeds up once more. As one, the women thrust forward, leading with their chests. They lunge on every fourth beat and each time they do, the chant grows louder. They grow closer and closer to the centre of the circle, to each other.

The drums are so loud, so fast, they make your head spin. The women call out higher and higher, louder and louder, pulling each other closer. They are barely inches away from one another now. You feel sweat flow down the side of your face, the back of your neck, the base of your spine. You begin to think your heart may explode. Just at that moment the drums stop. The women throw their arms above their heads, breaking the circle and coming to an abrupt and final halt.

You clap with the rest of the crowd, a little dazed, your smile a little nervous, a little tight. You decide to make your way back to the hotel. The high-pitched calls of the dancing women follow you, then die away, as you cross the square.

Behind you, breaking the sudden silence, the drums begin again and the women start to dance once more.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Copping out on clips

I watched a film this afternoon called Grizzly Man, about the life of death of a man called Timothy Treadwell, who spent thirteen summers living alongside bears in the deep countryside of Alaska. He was killed by a bear in the last summer he spent with them, and all the footage he had taken over the last five years fell into the hands of film-maker Werner Herzog, who has created this beautiful movie about the beautiful and terrible paths we tread when trying to find a place in the world where we belong and are accepted. Watch it (the movie, I mean, it's not a warning). As ever, it's at Portsmouht's Central Library (or will be when I return it).

Tim Treadwell seems like a man who is more than just an environmentalist, in fact, his conservation and protection of the bears he lives alongside, seem secondary to his quest for some kind of inner peace, and a sense of belonging. Perhaps he could find it with the bears because they couldn't answer back. Treadwell died alongside his girlfriend Amy, who is almost entirely absent from the documentary (partly due to the wishes of her family, and partly due to her almost complete absence from Timothy's footage, interestingly).

G, my mum, hates these posts where, as she puts it I "just post lots of clips from Youtube with a bit of text in between" - sorry mum. But here's one from the Chief that I just couldn't resist.

Hope I'm that talented before I get old.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


The Writer by: Giancarlo Neri
Hampstead Heath, 2005. Photo credit Yvonne de Rosa.

The Writer dedicates this story to Lisa Clark
With much, much love.

"The Writer stares at her screen," She types, "Feeling as though the screen is staring back."

It can't be staring back, She thinks, that's stupid. You can't write that.

She deletes everything from the screen.

The Writer stares at her screen. She does this for a long time.

I have nothing to say, She thinks.

This is my life and all its creation on this blank page and there is nothing written on it. I am a void.

There is an awful tsunami of panic brewing beneath the surface, tugging at optimism and self belief, dragging them under, into the dark.

The Writer shakes Herself a little, to shatter the image of a shadowy tide, lurking in Her own mind.

I like that, she thinks, the shadowy tide.

The Writer pauses and types again, making reference to the shadowy tide. She stops.

Or maybe it makes me sound like a ponce.

The Writer shrugs and types on for a while, before the gunshots across her keyboard fade into silence. Her hands flutter over the keyboard for a moment and then rest on the desk. Her shoulders fall.

The Writer looks away from the screen. She conceives of a world made by writers. A world that came into existence as each writer tapped keystrokes, chewed the ends of pens or chattered staccato inspirations into a tape machine.

In such a world, She thinks, a writer could not write unless another writer wrote that she could. And in turn that writer could not write until another writer invented her and wrote that she could. It would be a long chain of writers, one after another, shaping each other's lives, loves and successes. It would be a world of creativity and creation, interdependence and faith. It would be beautiful.

The Writer smiles.

In such a world, no writer would be out of work again.

The Writer selects all the text She has written so far with a sweep and click of Her mouse. She presses Delete. The Writer takes a deep breath and presses one key, then another and another. Words are made under Her fingers and appear one by by one on the screen.

"In the beginning was the Word," She writes, "And the Word was good."

And The Writer was glad.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Love is not a victory march

Insomnia by Mohammed Nady, found at Rebellious Arab Girl's site

I think the most powerful aspect of the Wilberforce House exhibition in Hull that we visited at the weekend was the sheer scope of the project: from the origins of slavery up to the continuation of various forms of slavery today. The exhibition leaves the visitor with a sense of both pride and profound sadness, and I think this is ultimately its success: it goes beyond the issue of the slave trade and presents an exhibition that shows the entire horrific and glorious spectrum of the human condition. Please make sure you go and see it.

Fingers should only be raised to point the way forward.

(This was the descriptor for an amazing artwork in the exhibition, I caught the quote on the guided tour, but not the artist - clarification welcome by comment, please)

Is anyone else not sleeping? I've felt like a member of the living dead for the last two days and that's without hangovers (maybe it's alcohol withdrawal). Maybe it's the weather. Being overtired makes writing very hard as I get the urge to lean on the 'z' key endless and just post that. Maybe I'm thinking so hard I'm exhausting myself by the end of every, well considered day.

The Youngest Indie posted a few days ago that: "I think fear is the only thing holding me back. Many times, I sit there and think, I'm not that talented."

This sums up my current wrestling match with my own writing perfectly. The more barriers I remove from writing, the more terrified of writing I become. At the moment, I'm forcing myself through the process slowly, gently and in a highly organized fashion. My friends and family keep asking me how the writing's going and I keep holding myself back from launching myself at the ground screaming:


Instead I have a well-practiced grimace that appears and a polite, "Ooooooooook, yeah. It's ok." If they're stupid enough to keep pursuing it after that then I usually confess, "I'm not talking about my writing much at the moment," which people usually assume means that I'm working on something I don't want to jinx.

It doesn't. It means I'm working very slowly and with great terror, much as one scales the more pointed aspects of Snowdonia, and if you ask me about it again, I'll rip out your jugular with my fingernails and when the police finally arrive I'll have drained your limp carcass of all its blood in the hope that drinking the human lifeforce might force me towards creative fluency.

I told you. This lack of sleep thing is really getting to me.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Hidden Histories, Amazing Grace

From the Hull exhibition, work done in collaboration
with local school children and an African artist

I spent this weekend touring three museums with a link to the abolition of the slave trade, alongside the African Women's Forum who I have been working with on both a professional and vountary basis on their project to celebrate the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

The Cowper and Newton Museum is based in Orchard House, previously the home of William Cowper, the poet, which was found for him by his friend John Newton. Newton was a merchant sailor in his youth and was involved in several slaving voyages to West Africa before his religious conversion and subsequent involvement in the campaign to abolish the slave trade. Cowper and Newton were prolific hymn writers, and their most famous work is Amazing Grace. The staff were extremely friendly, the house a labyrinth of rooms with a real diversityof collections and the gardens were beautiful and full of very friendly bees.

I am not what I ought to be,
I am not what I want to be,
I am not what I hope to be,
But by the Grace of God
I am not what I was.

John Newton

At the Wisbech and Fenland Museum we were treated to another guided tour and a recently opened, HLF funded exhibition on Thomas Clarkson, containing the chest of artefacts used by Clarkson on some 35,000 miles of touring around the country, to persuade the public of the evils of the slave trade. Clarkson was one of the leading British abolitionists and he devoted his life to collating evidence and support that would end the slave trade, providing Wilberforce with much of the evidence for his Parliamentary campaign, and mustering support for it all round the country. This exhibition will be touring later in the year, so definitely one to watch for if it comes to your area.

That night, exhausted, Kate and I skipped the group visit to a restaurant, planning to get snacks in the bar, however, two bottle if pinot grigio later, and we felt awake enough to stay up chatting to some of the other guests until about 2am, including a very large group of Dutchman who attempted to educate us on the ways of their language (and failed - I can hardly speak English after 2 bottles of wine, let alone Dutch......).

The highlight of the weekend for me was definitely Sunday's visit to Hull and Wilberforce House. There are two exhibitions on slavery and the slave trade I would recommend you see this year: one of them is Chasing Freedom, the superbly written and researched story of the Navy's role in the slave trade and its abolition, and the Hull exhibition at Wilberforce House.

Funded on a £1.3 million HLF grant, this exhibition illustrates more powerfully than any I've seen the varying ways in which culture educates, informs and entertains. This is probably the only exhibition in the country that has attempted to tell the whole story of the slave trade, from the origins of slavery itself, through the Transatlantic Trade up until the continuing role of slavery in today's society. It also achieves a perfect balance, I felt, in its representation of the abolition campaign as a movement of people, not of single figures, and it dedicates more space to the role and impact of African resistance and rebellion against the trade, than it does to the abolitionist campaign, which is entirely historically appropriate.

The Museum has used its funding to present this story utilising as many mediums as possible, inlcuding many interactive displays that are partially electronic, and including books, art, and audio visual material. The design is stunning, contemporary and artistic.

I'll be writing more about it in tomorrow's post.