Friday 18 December 2015

Words for midwife

Words for midwife collected in my travels this year:

English:   Midwife           
mid – wife, means being with – woman

French:    Sagefemme            
sage – femme, means wise-woman

Italian:    Levatrice:             
leva, means to grow, from alevare / lavare,
trice – is the feminine ending in Italian,
thus, “the growing one” 
or “the one who supports growth (in the feminine)”

German:   Hebamme            
heban, to hold
Amme – the “wet nurse,” woman who nurses the babies (not her own),
thus, “the holding and nursing woman” 
or “the woman who holds and nurses others (mother and baby)”

Japanese:   Jo-san-pu       
pu – means woman, signified by the character for a “broom,” used to purify the space for worship of ancestors,
thus, “woman carrying out noble activities”
or "woman preparing space for new life from the ancestors"

Thursday 3 December 2015

The kiss

The effort of travel, of moving around so much, despite the adventure (or because of it), I was more then glad to come home this time. Relieved, happy, exhausted – how to integrate it all? Looking back at this year of travel, a year of bounty and saturation of experiences. No wonder this last trip pushed me. But I relaxed more too, seeing all this, realizing why I felt a lot of physical and mental resistance this time. It’s like I can only absorb so much, how to digest and get a good view? And as much as I wanted to get home again, I am now (of course) going to miss Paris. A feel for the place has got under my skin.

I spent my last days in Paris mostly ill, and unable to visit people I would have liked to meet with. I mostly sat at one of those wonderful, ubiquitous Paris cafés. In a yellow and red stripped wicker chair, sitting outside in the October rain, bundled in my coat and hat, an awning sheltering me from the rain. I loved at least to do this, writing in my journal outside, drinking my déca / noisette, watching all the Paris peoples go by. Just sitting in a café, nowhere else to go for now, waiting/wanting to go home, getting a friendly nod from the waitress as I returned each day. It took all these trips until I got t/here, to this café. The Café des Dames – perfect, at la Place Coloniel Fabien. Not very far from the attacks would take place only a few days later. I think of that now, my proximity, and distance, to those sad and terrible events.

“We will understand nothing from this trembling, troubled archive, without recollecting the history of war in the century scarcely past, and especially the history of the one we have called the second world war, the war that remembered the First and announces the Third, the hinge between the two pages of the century.”

                          Hélène Cixous, Poetry in Painting, 2012, p. 84

I often feel how Paris is a kind of archive—archive of the West, its art and its wars—the city itself, the streets, museums, cathedrals, cemeteries. The many people, descendants of another time, out in the streets and cafes, or hidden inside apartment homes, alive and working in this city of art and love. I took a picture of the grave of Marguerite Duras in the Montparnassse cemetery (Sartre & De Beauvoir, Beckett, Baudelaire, & Mavis Gallant, are also there). Her grave is decorated with fresh pots of flowers. Small, colourful heart beads are attached to the largest potted plant, a small tree, whose perimeter holds offerings of pens stuck into its potted earth. Duras’ writing storied the French resistance and Paris at the end of WWII, in transition. I read her work with great, captivating interest. She went on to write many more works, often on the topic of forbidden love affairs and their effects (Hiroshima, mon amour). Her writing is like a clear bell into hearts and minds of that time, now spilling over into the living city, an echo.

Sitting in the Café des Dames, I write very quickly of something I just witnessed in the Metro. Twice in the days before, I got onto the Metro with the intention of going to various places (probably la Madeline & the Musée d’Orsay—one last time). Both times I would ride for a bit in the usually over-crowed Metro car, and realize quite quickly that there was no way I would be able to keep standing, let alone walk around upon arriving at my destination. I just felt too ill and dizzy. So I’d get off, walk over to other side, and go back to my original stop (and this café, where I could find myself writing). Story is, while standing on a crowded, rush-hour Metro platform, waiting to go back to my original stop, I found myself watching a young couple who were talking to each other casually, with their sweet small child standing between them. They were lovely to look at. I was just enjoying seeing them there in easy communication, the little family, when it happened. They leaned into to each other, very closely, and took the most sensual, loving kiss I have ever seen in public (or in a movie for that matter!). Their eyes closed, as lips reached towards and met the other, in a slow, tender, loving kiss. They took all the time in the world, in absolute devotion, as if no one else where there, only their small child cuddled between them. And so, sealed with such a kiss, the world went onwards, and into the arriving Metro car.


Tuesday 20 October 2015

The grotto

This morning I hiked up the mountain of St. Baume, through the beautiful, ancient Druid forest, to Mary Magdalene’s cave where she spent the last 30 years of her life as a contemplative. The hike was wonderful, good for my soul to be in such an old forest. The view from the cave was sublime. As was the sheer rock face that rises from where forest meets ancient stone stairs, winding up to the cave entrance.

The Magdalene was vegetarian! Makes sense living in the forest all those years, she was likely 'gathering,' rather then 'hunting.' They can tell about her diet from analysis of her bones. She was very small, maybe 5 feet tall, with dark hair and skin of North African/Mediterranean origins.

I thought they just made all that stuff up before coming here! Now being here and seeing it all, the historical side of the folklore comes alive. Her bones, the burial in the first century, re-burial of 700 AD, then re-finding her in 1279, with modern DNA analysis showing her origins. Immersed in living oral history, through the people, art, and monuments—as lived and held in place, called "la tradition Provencale." The story is written into the land and the artwork of its people over centuries. The cave has been a monastery since 400 AD.

I spent some time with a lovely woman historian from the Magdalene society today. She relayed to me the ancient history of the site were the cave is located. It is on a ‘massif,’ a kind of mountain that is a very huge, long cliff, many kilometers long. It was sacred the Celtic peoples who lived here in times past. It is shaped like a dragon, and was revered as a feminine force. People worshipped the mother goddess here, and the sacred source of the waters. Mary Magdalene found her way to this place, by following the route of the waters to their source, seeking the solitude and protection of the forest cover (after brother Lazarus was killed by the Romans in Marseilles). She was not far from the old Roman route, but hidden and safe in this place, where other hermits of the time are said to have lived.

Sacred waters, trees, caves, and mother goddesses go well together. Forces of life, nourishment, shelter and earth. 

In the meditative cave, dripping with water from its damp ceiling of rolling rocks, I lit two candles. One for a friend facing a life threatening illness, the other for care for myself, family and all my relations. I pray and hope for a world of peace, for the gifts of the mother goddess, of the feminine, of the Magdalene who knew great love, loss, and love regained. Who dwelt in the heart of the earth.

Monday 19 October 2015

Becoming the earth

“Despite the difficulty and challenge of writing, I write to find the pleasure of its making, to put body and senses to text, in what Hélène Cixous calls “the earth of writing” where “we must work to the point of becoming the earth” (p. 156, School of roots).”  
                                   (Nané, Daughter of writing, 2015)

During this past summer, between these research/work trips, between, and yet at home and in life with those I love, I hit a new (or old?) wall of frustration. When this frustration first appeared, I welcomed it. As if to notice that I can feel "frustrated," what a luxury of energy! But what does it mean? It was distinct and continual, as I approached the production stage of my research, in work on publications, etc.

At first, I was amused by it. Frustrated, now? After all this, you can feel frustration again? My illness of 3 years has curbed many of my edges, by dint of survival. I am learning to walk more carefully, mindfully, gently with myself, to not burn fast and hard in my work, and in relation to myself. In fact, I can’t burn much at all.

Since the return of some energy, I don’t always manage this. But I pretty much always notice how I am. I can give a nod to myself, “Oh this again.” I noticed this past week in the LEGS workshops, I had so much excited energy to talk and be with all the women and gender scholars, to hear their work and share my own. It’s one of my favorite things, the exchange of ideas and life in groups, to move projects forward, and nourish good ideas and actions. Especially in this French academic context, I am learning about the work of scholars in France, and other parts of Europe. I had a hard time falling asleep, my energy revving ‘high.’ How to calm down and still interact, giving and receiving what I can with others.

A lot is going on. A lot is manifesting. In the early summer, lying in the MA pose of "birth" with the Gestare art collective, I realized I still carry a sense of burnout. I don’t want to work myself too hard. There has to be rest and enjoyment. There has been much recovery, and happiness is being able to be well with my loved ones, and travel/work with new opportunities. Gratitude. But a continued need for regeneration, to regenerate lying on the earth, from the earth.

Sitting in meditation in the Magdalene Basilica this morning, I felt this pull into the earth. It was her call back to me:

No need to push production, let it come, it comes. This is the direction, beyond frustration. No words, mind empties, sensation of matter, deep internal release, movement downwards, spine rolling forward and head/skull hanging between knees, space opens between each vertebrae, mouth is loose, form shifts into its collection of matter, elements of themselves. The dark open space between particles arises. Hummmm of the earth.

Sunday 18 October 2015

Noli me tangere

Amazing, I am holed up (as in: a refuge, a cave) for three days in St. Maximin, an ancient little village holding the gothic basilica of Mary Magdalene. Her relics, especially her skull, are on display in the crypt, sheathed in gold, and held by golden angels. The small stone entrance to this crypt is inviting, a quiet place to dwell underground with her mysteries. Horseshoe carvings, all over the walls that go down into the crypt, are inscribed into the stone by pilgrims past. 

This cathedral housing her mortal remains is run down, in need of repair. It is like a relic itself, with its crumbling stone facade. But there is the beauty of what is falling down, the ancient feeling of such a place.

I was drawn to visit here. An opportunity, a pilgrimage, knowing this place was relatively close to where we just had our university women’s and gender studies meeting in Nice. I’ve had a years long process with the Christian figure of Mary, as a divine Mother figure. In France, it’s hard to study these things overtly, as the Catholic religion is understood by progressive, secular people and academics to be aligned with the extreme right. But I am also versed in a Mary Magdalene “revival” of sorts, from feminist folks back home, those looking at biblical stories and history in new ways. I thus wait-with, witness, and follow my own sense of/with the Magdalene, the ‘something’ that radiates. A story missed, or not yet told, a mystery unfolding.

A great mysterious facet of French spirituality is this worship and honouring of “la Madeline,” or Mary Magdalene. When I was in Paris this past spring, my friend Barbara and I happened upon an extraordinary place, totally previously missed by me in my Paris wanderings. It is a huge neo-classical temple, taking up an entire huge city block. I had the pleasure of walking into it, without realizing its purpose as being the Paris house of Mary Magdalene. Completely and only devoted to her. Her figure is carved in stone on the altar. The sculpture depicts her being held by gorgeous angels, as she submits to their heavenly transport. Her arms are extended at her sides in a gesture of easy surrender. Her chest and hips sway sensuously, in a yielding pelvic thrust. Her gaze is composed within herself. She knows. Noli me tangere.

She was the “Apostle of the Apostles,” being the first person to bear the teachings of Jesus. The Magdalene waited in anguish at the foot of the cross until his death, stayed at the door of his tomb (an endurance of grief, longing, love), and was there when he appeared at the tomb, arisen from his deathbed. She was the one to which he delivered his final message.

Noli me tangere. Mary rushed to touch him, but he asked that she stop. He had not yet arisen to heaven, and could not be touched in this state of transition. He asked her to “teach” what she had come to know of his message, and to tell the others she had seen him.

There are very long and intricate stories to tell, in several book length forms, which I am learning from (biblical, feminist, historical, Gnostic), and as I go, rooted here in this place. Suffice it say, Mary Magdalene has been labeled as a prostitute, and conversely, as the bride/lover of Jesus. She famously washed the feet of Jesus with expensive, perfumed oil from an alabaster jar. She accompanied Jesus everywhere, the thirteenth apostle, with his entourage of 12 men. Here, in the south of France, she is revered as a gifted teacher and a contemplative, who lived in meditation for 30 years in a cave, at the end of her life.

She is said to have escaped the Middle East by boat, landing with others in the South of France. She spent the rest of her life, living like a yogini in a cave near Aix, at the place of St. Maximin de la St. Baume, where I am now. Of course the Christian tradition wouldn’t make this connection to yoginis in caves (as in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition), but I do. Here is the hard-won work of the contemplative, enlightened woman.

“Oh! I am the army of love—to love, alas, one must first embody the fight; this was my first knowledge; that life is fragile and death holds the power. That life, occupied as it is with loving, hatching, watching, caressing, singing, is threatened by hatred and death, and must defend itself.”

(Hélène Cixous, Coming to writing, p. 24)

Tuesday 13 October 2015


Birds. Tonight, walking to the dining hall at the Cité, a flock of bright green, parakeet-like birds with long tails flew in overhead, settling into the trees! What birds! What sounds they made as they flew! What birds are these, in Paris?

I leave for Nice, early tomorrow morning. Meeting fellow Paris 8 faculty and students to take the train south, a five hour journey! We are gathering with women’s and gender studies faculty from a university in the south of France. This is the first meeting “Atelier” of “LEGS” as it is affectionately know. The trip has taken on the name, “Nice LEGS” (yes, to the English pun, and the French humour!).

LEGS is short for “Laboratoire d’études des genres et de séxualité,”, which was established in partnership with and funding from Le Centre national de la recherche scientifique (of France). It’s a needed opportunity for the advancement of French women’s and gender studies, to have backing from the French National Institute for Scientific Research. The faculty and doctoral students of Paris 8 women’s and gender studies are all members of LEGS, as am I, a postdoctoral fellow. They say women’s and gender studies has a long way to go in France, but that may be true in Canada too. Though we think of this as an almost ‘established’ discipline, it is still a sideline field of studies.

Like the Aokian (a.k.a. Ted Aoki) curriculum and arts-based folk I studied with, there is a relational stream of professors here, who were taught or mentored by Hélène Cixous. These women are now leading and teaching in the women’s and gender studies program at Paris 8 (which Cixous initiated in 1974). So the Cixousian gift is passed down the line. It shows, I feel this gift, the way people attend and lean into ideas and creative ways, the way I was welcomed here, which despite my not-fluent French, has been the thread that carries me along during each of my visits. The creative, careful work of thinking and being through "d'études feminine et de genre" is held and valued.

Info on LEGS (French):
Première UMR interdisciplinaire dédiée aux études de genre et de sexualité, le Laboratoire d'études de genre et de sexualité (LEGS - UMR 8238) a été créé en 2014 à l’initiative de l’INSHS, sur proposition de l’université Paris 8 Vincennes Saint-Denis, et avec l’université Paris Ouest Nanterre. L’unité a entamé sa carrière institutionnelle au 1er janvier 2015.

Program info, and themes to be explored for Nice LEGS includes:
Seront privilégiés les formats ouverts : tables rondes, discussions suite à brèves présentations de recherches. Ces journées donneront l’occasion de faire émerger des projets communs et de susciter des travaux, qui pourraient par la suite donner lieu à d’autres rencontres, projets de recherche collectifs, publications, etc.

Axe thématique :
Stéréotypes et représentations des corps
Poétique/Poïétique des corps
Esthétique des corps
Politique des corps

I appreciate this focus on and of bodies - des corps. 
The politics of the body. And especially notions of "esthetics" and "poetics" of bodies. Cixousian I think, and mirroring my upcoming talk on the "Poetics of the Placenta."

I am doing okay with French. I realize I’m not going to be fluent this year, and have relaxed around that. In fact, I am re-appreciating how much French I do have, and can work with when speaking with people. This is from years of previous immersions, including my undergraduate studies at the University of Ottawa (université bilingue), with Québecois professors and fellow students ; many weeks spent over a period of 5-years in the Gaspésie ; and previous travel to France, including coming here for a summer 'work-camp' with a friend when when I was only 16. I have had an ear out for French language and culture for many years really. Being t/here, and reading Cixous, is another leg of this journey, one that deepens.

Saturday 10 October 2015

Here and there – t/here Paris !

I’m here (there)!
Or “t/here” 

In Paris again. Now it’s the fall season, but sunny and warmish still. The leaves are just starting to change. Yesterday, I walked and walked my way into being here. Around Notre Dame, hello to the Seine, then to the top of the Centre Pompidou, paying vigil to the surrealist artists this time, and taking in big views of Paris rooftops, Sacré Coeur in the distance. Arriving comes more quickly now, with an accumulation of familiarity. But it’s always a treasure to be here.

Travelling between Vancouver and Paris this year, I navigate two worlds—my home life and its knowing-ness with those I love, and then, boom, being in France on my own. Another language, place, time. Suddenly having time, and more time, with focus on work, pacing myself, walking in the city, being alone, or meeting with people at the University. 

This gap of experiences is challenging, as is the work of so much travel on my body/mind. There is a need for integration of my new experiences that takes its own time. And I keep wanting my family to be here, as if I’m not fully experiencing this place without them. A sense of something missed can be very strong. I head that, what loss can mean. I am so used to living in relation to them. But then, I am here, and I fall into ‘Nané-ish-ness.’ It’s a self-space I had in travels past. I let another sense come forward, and wander alone as best I can. 

I write “t/here” – to include my sense of here and there, as my here/there gets mixed up, moving across the two lands. Each is distinct. Getting onto the Paris Metro always lets me know where I am (here). The Metro has a whole poetry of its own. Broadly, it’s familiar to me, like any subway system across the world. There is the comfort of this, maybe I’m taking a ride across Toronto, or San Francisco. But then, this train is full of French people, so I hear the language, over-hearing conversations and cell phone talk. And French men and women wear such good shoes and those scarves, so I know I am in Paris. The Gallic look and presence is felt, as well as the growing cosmopolitan ethnicity of Paris. The Metro stops have names of famous places along the way, St. Michel / Notre Dame, Luxembourg, then onto my stop, the Cité Universitaire. 

The Cité is a wonderful place. It is an international university campus, linked to the Paris universities, and what was once the “College of Nations.” Students have come to study in Paris universities since the Middle Ages. Created in 1925, under a hopeful mandate of peaceful international relations after World War I, the Cité houses young people from around the world, who live together in what has become the globalization of higher education. The hope for a peaceful world remains on this campus of nations. The Cité houses international students and researchers on a massive scale, though networks of buildings, some very old, and some more modern. The site occupies dozens of hectors, spanning several enormous city blocks. The wonder of it is also the parkland setting that spreads around the various buildings (which are called houses/maisons). Such abundance of greenery is unusual in Paris, and lovely to walk within, easing our weary study-minds.

Hélène Cixous gives her monthly seminar right here in the Cité, in the Maison Heinrich Heine (German House). The seminar room has huge glass windows on all side, overlooking the tree-infused, park setting. Cixous' seminars are sponsored by Collège International de Philosophie, et Université Paris 8. But I will miss her seminar on this visit, as she starts teaching in mid-November.

I stay in the Maison d’Étudiants Canadienne. One of the oldest and first houses of the Cité, built in the 1920s for Canadian students. There is a large beaver tile mosaic on the main level hallway floor, as well as two inlaid patterns of green maple leafs in large circles, all of this in an art deco form. 

And so, I am t/here!