Why I love Isabelle Eberhardt: Reason #1

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If you travel alone as a slim-wristed young woman, you will hear people say, “Alone? You are so brave.” You can cuckold yourself in the embrace of those kindly, patronising tones, but traveling from hostel to hostel is not brave, just as the 19th-century colonials’ wives who danced the foxtrot and sipped tea in Darjeeling were not brave.

Isabelle Eberhardt wrote in dismay of “bourgeois women used up prematurely by a petty and narrow-minded life, with no range to their minds, dwarfed and all looking oddly alike.”

A young Isabelle Eberhardt left Geneva in 1897 to roam Algeria penniless, to live life sincerely outside her own culture, have sex and smoke kief, become Muslim and join a Sufi sect, dress as the male Arab she saw herself as. That was brave.

A story from Mexico’s Lacandon Jungle, and why I’m hesitant to share it.

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“My grandfather Chan K’in Viejo said that it was prettier before, when there were no lights, no roads, only the sounds of birds. Now there are roads and the trucks scare the animals away.

My grandfather said that there used to be a King of the Selva. His name was Yu Mic Ash. It used to be that you had to ask permission to cut trees. Before you had to ask permission to hunt animals. You had to ask on your knees. There were many trees at that time and the king was happy.

Once, a person who did not know about the king, cut down some of his trees and instantly got sick, because the trees are the King’s sons. The King cried for his children. But after a while, there were more people and no-one asked permission from the King of Selva.”

I once read that every language is translatable. I’m not so sure. Once the Lacandon language gets churned into White Man’s tongue, the words can look a little stark and childlike under the strip lights of a Romance language so dedicated to the overblown, the flowery. That’s a shame. The message of this story is so important, so much more frightening than anything else I’ve read in a long time.

Story re-printed from the excellent Na Bolom museum in San Cristobal, Mexico.

Wise words from Oaxaca, Mexico

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I only went to Oaxaca’s Museum of Textiles because it’s free, and because I can’t get enough of Mexican everything. And then I read this on the wall, from curator Olga Margarita Dávila:

“The prevailing social system has perversely exploited our nurturing world. It has disrupted it in order to dominate us. It has taken advantage of the archaic anthropomorphic design which is our principle of subsistence, one in which we eat-discard, inhale-exhale, to manipulate us into a consumerism that is disproportionately advantageous to only a few. This situation has enclosed us in such fear and blindness that we are only allowed to know each other by means of difference, through separation, by telling us we can only be unique whenever we buy a brand or product. In order to achieve this, the prevailing capitalist system relies on strategies of saturation or confusion, above our one fundamental principle: the self.”

I think this might be the truest thing I’ve ever read.