07 February 2006

Art and revolution; stones on headstones

I can't remember if my mother's birthday was February 5 or 7. I'm going to go to the cemetery today to visit her and my dad and Owen. I've got rocks to put on their headstones from Chile. Anyone (Pearl?) know where the Jewish tradition of putting small rocks on headstones comes from? I guess I could look it up. They have this thing called a "computer" that makes it easy.

In other news, Dana has been shortlisted in the Best Emerging Curator category for the Untitled Art Awards. I'm proud of her. She should win! One of the other shortlistees is Rhonda Courvese, who selected Dana to be part of the "Idea of North" exhibition in Oslo and Halifax. Last year Dana was honoured for her art via the Jewish Art Awards. I love the curatorial work she does, but hope she can make time to make art too.

In other news, the wonderful Cubans, always imaginative in their responses to the U.S., raised scores of single-starred black flags on Monday in front of the U.S. mission in Havana, in memory of the thousands of Cubans who have died in U.S.-backed attacks on the Revolution. The flags also served to blot out sight lines to the electronic sign the Americans put up that send continuous propaganda concerning human rights on the island.

Yeah, the Cubans aren't so hot on human rights, but they're a country under 40-year siege. The Sandinistas had the same problem: balancing individual rights while they were at war with the world's largest superpower. Messages about human rights coming from a country that has jailed hundreds without charge, evidence, or legal rights... it's sort of ironic.

Anyway, I was inspired by this piece of news to throw on a Christy Moore CD where he sings Ewan McColl's great song "Compañeros":

Fidel and Che Guevara lay on a ship at anchor in the harbour
Waiting for the evening tide to bring high water
It's bound for Cuba, she must go across the Gulf of Mexico
And the Carribean Ocean
She's carrying a human cargo, 83 good compañeros
Each one burning with determination to be free

Against Batista, the Fidelista courage was their armour
As they fought at Fidel's side with Che Guevara

I love that word "compañeros" -- first learned it when I visited Nicaragua during the Sandinista era. It means "comrade," "companion," "brother." Me and Joe, my spectacular friend who I met in Guatemala in 1989, and with whom I was twice in Nicaragua, we call each other "compañero" sometimes.

Speaking of compañeros, I sure hope Jim Smith is doing good. One of Canada's great poets... turned lawyer. My secret hope is that he is secretly cranking out poems.

I noticed that the Christy Moore CD (called This Is The Day) also has a song called "Victor Jara." Jara is perhaps Chile's greatest folk/protest singer. It's a beautiful, achingly sad song, with music by Arlo Guthrie and words, interestingly, by the British novelist Adrian Mitchell, whose books fucked with my brain when I was a teenager.

Victor Jara of Chile lived like a shooting star
He fought for the people of Chile with his songs and his guitar
His hands were gentle and his hands were strong

Victor Jara was a peasant boy barely six years old
He sat upon his father's plough and watched the earth unfold

When the neighbours had a wedding or one of their children died
His mother sang all night to them with Victor by her side

He grew up to be a fighter, stood against what was wrong
He learned of people's grief and joy and turned it into song

He sang for the copper miners and those who farmed the land
He sang for the factory workers who knew Victor was their man

He campaigned for Allende, canvassed night and day
Singing "Take hold of your brother's hand, the future starts today"

When Pinochet seized Chile, they arrested Victor then
They caged him in the stadium with 5000 frightened men

Victor picked up his guitar, his voice resounded strong
And he sang for his comrades till the guards cut short his song

They broke the bones in both his hands and beat him on the head
Tortured him with electric wires, then they shot him dead

Victor Jara of Chile lived like a shooting star
He fought for the people of Chile with his songs and his guitar
His hands were gentle and his hands were strong

When I was in Chile, my friend Jorge, who I met at the York University radio station about 20 or more years ago, told me that the Chileans were just beginning to take back the public spaces that they lost during the years of repression. That amazed me -- the parks were full of happy people, families playing, couples necking: it was like that space had always been theirs. At the airport, just before I left, I picked up a DVD of a musical concert in honour of Allende -- the concert in 2003 in the stadium. I assume the same notorious stadium.

An astonishing example of the people taking back their public spaces.

Over and out.


At February 07, 2006 6:16 pm , Blogger dana_plato said...

Peter Falk and Bruno Ganz call each other compañeros in Wings of Desire.

Internet, eh? Scratch, eh? Maude, eh?

At February 07, 2006 6:27 pm , Blogger dana_plato said...

I got distracted by my own Simpson's reference. Forgot to add --

Jewishfunerals.com says: "In biblical times, as we have seen, graves were sometimes marked by a pile of stones. Some scholars suggest that this may explain the custom of leaving pebbles. Today, the pebbles serve as a visible sign that members of the family came to visit and remember."

But another site said that it signifies that our memories of the deceased are "as long-lasting as stone."


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