Macedonia 9.2 – Skopje at Night v2

So, I did go out! I made new colleague-friends and took some time for quiet walking around the city, and yes, I took some photos!

Christmas isn’t as big a deal here as elsewhere in Europe (because most of the christian population is orthodox, and the muslim population obviously doesn’t celebrate as such), but the one thing that is a big deal here? Lights! Strings of lights! Everywhere, and in large amounts. To the point where walking down some of the pedestrian streets feels like walking through a galaxy though not like us, out on the edge of the Milky Way, but in a far more densely starred area. You’d think it would be garish, but it is quite lovely.

This is one of the lesser lit streets…
©rq, all rights reserved.

Look up! Even the moon is overshadowed (overlit?).
©rq, all rights reserved.

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Behind the Iron Curtain part 24 – LGBTQ rights

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


I do not actually remember how much I was informed about these issues as a child before and after the fall of the Iron Curtain, but what I do remember is that my first encounter was not with an actual (known) homosexual person, but with a homophobic slur. The sad reality is, that Czechs were and to great extent still are very homophobic, or at least “I am not a homophobe, but…”, which is a distinction without difference.

However from legal standpoint Czechoslovak Socialist Republic was actually relatively progressive, or at least not less progressive than many western countries. Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1962, 5 years before the United Kingdom. And gender reassignment therapy and surgery, although with more than a few bureaucratic hurdles to jump through, were (and are) available and paid for from state health insurance.

Nevertheless, despite gay rights being on the left side of the political spectrum in current USA and most of western world, it was not so behind the Iron Curtain. As avid reader and a very curious child, I have read behind my parents’ back magazines for adults (as opposed to magazines for children), which even in the puritanical culture did contain some information about sex and sexuality. And on one such occasion I came across an article that mentioned a peculiar fact – whilst homosexual acts between consenting adults were decriminalized in ČSSR, this was not the case everywhere in the Eastern Bloc. In USSR, male homosexuality was still illegal and punishable by imprisonment. The rationale mentioned in the article was homophobic, patriarchal and misogynistic all at once, and I remember recognizing it as such even at the time, although of course I did not know those fancy words back then: “A woman’s weakness can be forgiven, but a soldier must control his urges.”

After the fall of the iron curtain this discrepancy between the two countries sadly progressed. Whilst Czech Republic slowly but steadily progresses towards more and more legal rights for LGBTQ people along with public opinion progressing as well, in Russian Federation the trend actually reversed after a brief period of attempted progress.

So to me this, together with before mentioned environmentalism, is another one of the issues that actually is not left or right and it is just a coincidence that it is considered so in current political climate in the west. But lets not forget that political left can be just as adept at finding rationalizations for the homophobia of their power base as political right currently is. Hate of the other can, unfortunately, be quite the unifying issue in all kinds of political context.

Teacher’s Corner: Things I don’t have to worry about

As you might know by now, being a teacher can be “exciting”.  From wrestling out of control teenagers over having misogynistic slurs hurled at me to a mother and adult brother trying to beat us up (fortunately I was in another parent-teacher talk). Still with that level of violence, there’s some things I don’t have to worry about. A big one is guns. While there have been some school shootings or massacres in Germany, the number is low, and actually yes, we’ve tightened gun laws after the first big one in 2002. The one in 2009 could only happen because the father of the shooter had disobeyed those and was subsequently convicted of manslaughter by negligence. Never say never, but  absolutely don’t worry about somebody shooting up my classroom with a military style assault weapon (and no, I’m not interested in the discussion of technicalities. You all know what weapons I mean).

I am worried about knives. They’re easy to get, easy to carry and can be deadly. But my chair is a very good defensive weapon against a knife. There’s a good chance I can get my students out of the room when somebody draws a knife while I try to calm that person. There’s a good chance that I will survive the extreme case of being hurt by a knife, which gets me to another thing I don#t have to worry about:

Healthcare cost. Should I or my students get hurt , we wouldn’t have to worry about who is paying our bills. I wouldn’t need to worry about losing my job for being sick or not getting paid because I used up my “sick days”. And I wouldn’t much need to worry about people blaming me for not having had a gun and killing somebody first.

 

Working Iron

I’ve noticed metalworking is a bit of a theme around here (thanks to Charly, kestrel and Marcus), and so it’s no coincidence that I discovered a new fantastic personality in the field of Women Blacksmiths:

Her name is Elizabeth Brim and she’s made her name forging and inflating playful, elegant, and unexpected objects out of iron, a decidedly indelicate material. Bourdain travels to her home in North Carolina to meet with the pearl-wearing master metalsmith, first as she meticulously fashions a flower and then as she spreads knowledge to her students at the Penland School of Crafts.

“I was brought to believe that I needed some man to take care of me and to pay the bills and to make sure the oil in my car was changed and my tires were good… and so I’m really proud that I was able to pay that house off by selling my work,” Brim says to Bourdain when they talk about the aftermath of a failed marriage. She’s just so, so great. Bourdain himself even says she’s the type of woman his own daughter will grow up to be.

The video at the link is her interview with the late Anthony Bourdain. It’s worth a watch, she seems such a fantastic character and I would love to spend a day with her, in her forge or elsewhere.

Loreena McKennitt has a nice song about a blacksmith, but he’s a two-timing, gaslighting liar, so here’s Ani DiFranco instead:

Slavic Saturday

Slavic people are today mostly seen as “white” to the point that a Polish game developer was in USA criticised for making the computer game Witcher 3 without any people of color that could be recognized as such in modern world. Similarly a few years later a Czech developer was criticised for the same thing in a game Kingdom Come: Deliverance, deliberately set in medieval Bohemia and made as historically accurate as possible.

Whilst I understand all the arguments for the importance of diversity in representation, I think all these critiques were misguided, because they were targeted at the wrong target – they criticised products of one culture from the perspective of another culture with entirely different roots.

Slavs are indeed white when you look at the color of their skin, and by Gob do we have an awful lot of white supremacists and neo-nazis today. However a white nationalist or even a neo-nazi Slav makes about as much sense as white nationalist or neo-nazi (or Trump loving) Jew.  After all, Jews have white skin too. And after all, how many Jew-hating Arabs and Arab-hating Jews know that both Jews and Arabs are in fact semitic tribes? I would venture a guess that many do not, or they do but don’t care. People are perfectly capable of being misguided, misinformed, bigoted and downright willfully ignorant and hold contradictory ideas in one head, so there is that.

Historically Slavs migrated in the Europe from east and north, displacing come celtic and germanic populations. As a result they lived mostly in the woodlands and mountains of north, central and East Europe and they were comparatively poor. They had no written language that we know of, so very little is in fact known about their culture or religion. Some knowledge can be derived from linguistics, some from written reports by neighbouring nations, some from archeology, but Slavs established themselves in Europe during the dark ages and knowledge is therefore scarce.

However it is sometimes alleged that their own name for themselves – Slovan (originating from the word sloviť=to speak) might have been the origin of the word sclavus (Lat), and later on Sklave (Ger) and  slave (En) . Because these poor people were popular sources of cheap slave labor for neighbouring Germanic and Italic tribes through the early history of Europe way over to the Ottoman Empire in Middle East later on.

And even apart from slavery, a lot of the time right from Ancient Rome and the Middle Ages until very recently most Slavic nations were second-class citizens in countries led by people of other nationalities. Only Russians have managed to be oppressors and not oppressed in this period, and ironically they mostly oppressed and sometimes even tried to exterminate other Slavs. Both Czechs and Poles did not have any independency right until the end of WW1, after which they had few short decades to get the taste of self-determination before being swept into the bloody cauldron of WW2.

Under the Third Reich the Slavs were seen as barely people. They were not targeted for outright extermination like Jews and Roma, but the intent was to put them back into their proper place – slavery (that is why I think that a neo-nazi Slav is an ignoramus and a completely daft person – if nazis got their way, he would think scrubbing floors with his own toothbrush is a posh job).

After the WW2 all slavic nations ended up being wrapped behind the Iron Curtain under the not-so subtle hegemony of USSR. This time at least it was not overtly attempted to obliterate local cultures and languages (not here anyway). But whilst the Russian rule did try and manage to instill some sense of Pan-Slavic belonging, they also managed to instill some anti russian sentiments along the way (in Poland on top of the hundreds of years long grudge Poles held against Russians from the time of the Russian Empire). And the sense of always being second class, not being allowed anything truly ours, pervaded.

In this sense, sprouting of some nationalism after the fall of the Iron Curtain was perhaps inevitable, what with the nations trying to finally re-assert themselves for good. I do think white nationalists are going about the business the wrong way, proclaiming your superiority over others is not the right thing to do and it is also demonstrably false. But I also think that Polish game developers who make a PC game packed with people who bear the typical facial features of contemporary Poles, with architecture and ornaments of medieval Slavic kingdoms and based on Slavic mythology, or Czech game developers making a game set in a very distinct and specific area of medieval Kingdom of Bohemia with focus on historical accuracy are doing nothing wrong and are indeed going about it the right way. And even though these works of art have managed to succeed on an international stage, their creators were in no way obliged to fall in step with USA culture and reflect USA racial make-up.

Those who criticised these two games for a lack of representation of POC have failed to realize that they were essentially trying to bully others into giving their own culture away and let the USA to appropriate said culture the way USA likes it. In fact, they should take these games as an opportunity to learn that “white people” are not a monolith and that outside of USA there is a lot more that defines your ancestry and your culture than the color of your skin. This way said critics were – probably unwittingly – perpetuating the USA collonialism ad absurdum, by requiring everyone everywhere to reflect contemporary social ills of USA.

We do not need nor want to do that, thank you very much. We have our own social ills to deal with.

Ruheforst Mushrooms – part 5

Today we have the last of Avalus’ photos from the natural burial forest, ending fittingly with a view of the forest itself. These burial forests are not only natural, but also safe and life sustaining. They’re one of nature’s best ways of recycling and there’s a growing demand for this type of burial option. One of the other big benefits of natural burial is that it is much more cost effective than the traditional care offered by the funeral industry of today.

My thanks to Avalus for his wonderful tour. I’ve enjoyed walking through the forest with him and seeing the myriad of fungi that grow here.

A “Hexen-Röhrling” (lit: witches-boletes), probably a Rubroboletus rubrosanguineus. ©Avalus, all rights reserved

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I Had Plans

They didn’t include a break, but as it happens, ’tis the season.

Last y’all heard of me, I was becoming a star, and I expected to be back on track by now – turns out, two post-1am nights plus a workday plus a day of rogaining followed by a day of children’s tae kwondo tournaments isn’t exactly a recipe for recovery (after 22km and a record* 48 points in 4 hours on Saturday, I hope you believe me I was practically dead on my feet come Sunday, but parental duties meant I got to sit in a gym for most of the day, keeping a little person’s nerves calm)… and then there was the work trip to Vilnius, and then the centennial celebrations plus my mum’s birthday this weekend. That’s a long list of excuses, but there you have it, at my age, excuses is all you have. I’ll be back on track with a couple of more Macedonia posts (have to finish with those before the next trip comes up, and that, as it turns out, has come up a lot faster than expected, by request of the project leaders and I have two kinds of thoughts about that), I have at least one more post from Austria, and then a few randomly selected picture essays from the summer and early autumn.

In the meantime, please accept my apologies, some rather boring photos from the show (I am in the circle of light) and this lovely song by The Stars, which quite often reflects my ideas about life, planning, and my own expectations. I can write a script and set the scene as much as I want, but life provides its own twists and turns and cliffhanger endings. In other words, I am fine, and I apologize for not keeping up with the rest of you, especially with my forest raking. ‘Intermittent’ is my middle name.

  • A record for my team and I, since we’re not hardcore and we don’t run, we maintain a fast walk, preferably between 5  and 6 km per the hour, take breaks in picturesque locations, and collect as many points as we can. Previous high-scoring events have topped off at 43 or so.

Funeral Care is Changing and Becoming Green

 

There’s a growing movement to wrestle death care away from the needlessly expensive hands of the Funeral Industry and to return to simpler methods of care and burial of the dead. The Order of the Good Death is an international organization committed to helping people find safe, green, affordable and natural options for burial. The Order is young, but growing quickly in part as a response to the startling statistics about our modern burial practices.

“American funerals are responsible each year for the felling of 30 million board feet of casket wood (some of which comes from tropical hardwoods), 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete for burial vaults, and 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid. Even cremation is an environmental horror story, with the incineration process emitting many a noxious substance, including dioxin, hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, and climate-changing carbon dioxide.” via Just How Bad is Traditional Burial?

One of the primary chemicals used in embalming fluid is formaldehyde, making all those gallons of embalming fluid highly toxic. Practitioners are required to wear full body and face protection and the chemicals aren’t always safely contained in our modern sealed caskets and concrete vaults. Flooding, earthquakes and even simply shifting ground can allow embalming fluids to leach into the soil and ground waters.

Cremation isn’t much better, releasing many dangerous pollutants into the air. There is, however, a new technology available called Aquamation which chemically breaks down a body using Alkaline Hydrolosis. The process is simple and transformative according to green funeral director Jeff Jorgenson

The AH process is that of heating a solution of water and sodium hydroxide (NaOH) or potassium hydroxide (KOH), which breaks down the complex molecules that make up the soft tissue of a body. In most human AH machines, this solution is pressurized and heated well above the boiling point of standard atmosphere. This high pressure/high temperature accelerates the breakdown of these complex molecules to a liquid. What remains are just the bones of the deceased, which is the same result you see with cremation. The process in human machines takes around three hours. Most animal AH machines however, this one included, do not use pressure for the process and thus, the temperatures used in the process are far lower, and that equals a longer processing time. This longer process means that you must perform multiple aquamations in one cycle to make it viable…

The water at the end of the cycle then gets discharged into the sanitary system like all other waste water. I would like to take a moment to explain that the liquid that is discharged is nutrient rich and safe enough to use in the garden for all of your vegetables. In cremation, all the tissues and liquid are vented up the chimney in the form of particulates and steam. In the both cremation and AH, what is returned to the family is simply bone and trace materials.

Aquamation is new technology and it may take some time before it becomes widely available and accepted. For those who want a more natural disposition of their dead there are green cemeteries popping up where bodies are simply buried in the soil with only a natural shroud or a biodegradable coffin. There are also now burial suits that turn bodies into clean compost. Decomposition is natural and safe. There is also a growing number of funeral directors who will assist you to be involved in the care of the body at your own level of comfort. That may be as simple as helping to wash and dress the dead or as complex as keeping the body at home and arranging for transport and burial. It is not a legal requirement that bodies be embalmed and it is perfectly safe to keep a body at home for several days with simply ice packs to slow down decomposition. 

A home funeral is what used to be called”a funeral,” since all funerals took place in the family home. Nowadays it means choosing to keep a body at home after death, as opposed to having the body immediately picked up by a funeral home. It is a safe and legal choice for a family to make!

Now, an important caveat is that each US state (for instance) has different laws – some states require you to hire a funeral director to file a death certificate or to transport a body.  This won’t effect the keeping the body at home part, but the funeral director will need to be involved in the process.

To find out what the home funeral requirements are where you live, you can find more detailed information here.

And if you’re interested in the requirements around embalming, burial, and cremation, read your consumer rights listed by state.

I encourage you to visit the Order of The Good Death. The site is full of resources and interesting articles about this growing trend in after death care. They also have information to help you begin conversations about planning for death and advanced directives. Death is a natural and inevitable part of life. There’s no need to fear talking about it.

I’d also like to thank Avalus for prompting me to write about this. His photographs of mushrooms in a natural burial cemetery peaked my curiosity. We’ll be sharing Avalus’ mushroom photos daily over the course of this week and I encourage you to check them out, too.

 

 

 

Ruheforst Mushrooms

From Avalus, information about a growing trend and a warning about climate change.

Maybe a bit macabre, so a foreword.

 Graveyards, Mushrooms and climate change, perhaps.

 In Germany there is a growing trend to be buried in a “Ruheforst”, (resting or still forest) instead of a usual graveyard. There your cremated remains get buried in a bio-degradable urn next to a tree of your choosing. There are no graves, no large markerstones, just an open, tended-to forest with many small paths and plaques on some trees. Some persons I know rest in such a place in the palatinate forest near the town Bad Dürkheim, so our family visits them every so often. Now to the bit macabre bit: It’s also a prime mushroom hunting place with usually plenty of different bolete species and other edibles. One of my grandmothers is sure, the ‘shrooms are nourished by the dead and refuses to eat any. I think they are so plentiful because by opening the forest, the trees left standing are getting more light and nutrients and so can give more of these nutrients to their mushroom-symbionts.

This year however, there were hardly any mushrooms of any kind there. The ground was very dry and most of the threes had small leaves. Instead, signs warning of forest fires were a common sight.

I did not pick up any of the edible ‘shrooms I found, but only took photos.

I have no idea, but I admired its roundness. ©Avalus, all rights reserved

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There are None so Blind…

When asked about the latest (unfortunately not last) mass shooting in USA, sheriff Geoff Dean said these words: “I don’t know if it happens more in the United States or doesn’t. I would have to read the stats.”

If that is the case, he must have lived in a cave. I wonder if he is telling the truth here, or if he is just feigning ignorance, because to find out that mass shootings are predominantly USA phenomenon takes less than a minute on google.

Further he states “If I knew the answer to that, I would do something to stop it.”, which is also bullshit. It is blatantly obvious that the easy availability of firearms in USA in combination with its violence-glorifying culture leads to this discrepancy, and anyone who takes just a few seconds to think about it honestly knows that.

But the sad truth is that this sheriff could not have done anything about it even if he honestly wanted to, because there is no legislative will in USA to enact sensible gun regulation laws for him to act on. And with SCOTUS packed with partisan conservative judges, I fear that current pace of a mass shooting nearly every day  will be the defining feature of American culture for decades to come.

Well, at least in this regard”USA #1!”, a slogan so beloved by MAGAhats is true. Only it is not a good thing.

Spotlight Fever

It’s what they call stage fright here. What’s comforting is that I’ll be among a thousand other singers and no one will hear which notes I miss.

In other words, yes, it’s performance day. Here’s a fragment as performed during the Song and Dance Festival, this same soloist is performing the main role tonight. Not as good as the other guy, but he’ll do. The rest of the cast is also quite stellar; I’ll share my impressions after.

(Less comfortingly, I will not have the anonymity of these thousands of singers. But I think one among a thousand is okay, too.)

 

A small child plays in the crossroads,

Beneath the cart wheels, beneath the hooves,

Beneath the iron footprints.

 

A small child plays in the crossroads

Like time, sand runs through his fingers – 

It is our freedom, it is our life.

 

Call me louder, child,

Call me, I still hear – 

I still have a voice and words.

Call me, child!

 

Call me louder, child,

Call me, I still hear – 

I still have a voice and words.

But call me louder!

 

A small child plays in the crossroads

Like time, sand runs through his fingers – 

It is our freedom, it is our life.

 

 

Teacher’s Corner: Toxic Masculinity

Well, this Wednesday there was a particularly rough fight at my school, and while this one escalated rather a lot, fights between the boys are in no way rare at my school. Quite often, I’m puzzled about what they actually want from me when they come complaining, and you never actually get to the bottom of the matter. You get different versions, depending on whom you ask, and usually they cannot even agree what started that particular fight. You get stories that sound like the clans in Asterix in Corsica going back weeks and months (with different versions for each chapter in the saga!), but the patterns of the fights are usually pretty much the same.

They start with some trivial matter like brushing past each other, somebody calling somebody else’s friend fat, or somebody looking at a girl that somebody else is interested in. This will often already start on the bus to school. Insults are traded, challenges are made. People push each other. Friends get involved. Until, at some point, one of them utters some magical words like “son of a whore” or “I fuck your mother”. Then the one insulted feels justified in starting a real fight, seeing himself as the victim*, and the other one feels like the victim because he’s the one being attacked.

Being the innocent victim who only reacted is very important because then you cannot get into trouble. Or at least in their mind you should not get into trouble. Because it’s not their fault, right? The fact that they all regularly get into trouble is totally unfair. Because in their mind, they did not have another choice. Because in their world, a world of adolescent boys trying hard to be a particular kind of man, losing your face or being seen as weak is the worst. Much worse than fucking up your education.

When trying to get to the bottom of the fight on Wednesday I asked the kid what the fight was actually about. He didn’t really have an answer. Many stories from last year and some minor stuff and somebody insulting his friend. I asked the kid why he didn’t just ignore that shit and either walk away or call a teacher. His answer was true and the actual problem: “If I do that they will say I’m a pussy!”

Our problem is not the two kids who had a fight on Wednesday. Or the ones from Monday. Nor the ones who’ll get into a fight next week. Our problem is a micro cosmos steaming in toxic masculinity. And so far i don’t have a solution because sadly, my solutions are worthless. Most of my colleagues are female, we cannot solve the boy problem, because we cannot enter their world. We’ll need to find some men, men of a similar social background, who can teach them how to be cool, and that being a man doesn’t mean getting into fights every day. I worry about our boys. They’re still kids, and so far the consequences are small, but if they keep growing up like this they’ll get into trouble. They’ll hurt their own chances, and they’ll hurt others. they’ll hurt the women and girls in their lives, directly and indirectly. they aren’s Donald Trumps or Kavanaughs, with enough money and connections to get them out of trouble and up the social ladder. They are already on the bottom rung, fighting many social disadvantages.

As a feminist I’m often accused of “hating men and boys”, but I swear that nobody hurts them as much as the people who go “boys will be boys”.

*This is regardless of whether the boys are native Germans, kids of immigrants or recent arrivals from the Arab world. I once had a boy trying to beat up another kid for “insulting his mother and his family”. When I asked that second boy what he had said, it turned out that the first kid had hurled those insults hoping to provoke the second kid to start a fight. That second boy was rather cool and just said “same”.

Youtube Video: Medieval ASSASSIN’S CROSSBOW (Balestrino) ASSEMBLED & TESTED!

I could not decide between multiple videos, as usual, and last-minute decision fell on this one. It is a nice piece of engineering and the video is reasonably short and packed with interesting information.

It might also be Halloween appropriate? I have no clue, since I originate from and live in a country with no Halloween tradition whatsoever and honestly I do not understand what Halloween is supposed to be about at all. But I read something about murderers and monsters the other day, so maybe an (alleged) assasin’s weapon might fit in.

I have a day off and I planned to do some knife-work, but I have to pass on that since I am still not well.