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Sunday, July 31, 2005

A rope bondage session

So, you want to know what happened?

Kids ... don't read on!

Well, the location was a run-down building on a street corner in San Francisco which was normally a smut shop (mostly sold over the Internet). The atmosphere was a brownie (or scout) meeting with the host, a large smiling lady in her sixties with a cane, who welcomed us and opened the session with the ringing of a little bell. She also told us the time of the break and how we'd know the break was over when she rang the bell again.

Midori, fetish diva, was there to lead the session. Dressed in grey crimpolene trousers and long-sleeved pale green nylon shirt, she first went round to comment on the ropes people had brought. Some beautiful colours, some made of nylon, others hemp, other soft rope - each with its advantages and disadvantages. I learn that one of the best places to get rope for bondage is from Twisted Monk in Seattle. We also got some handouts with a reading list and mailing lists and discussion groups which I can pass on to who's interested.

The rhythm of the session is that Midori demonstrated and then we practiced on the partner we went with. There were seven pairs, five couples, two "singles" who paired up for the session and my friend and I. So we went through the motions of tying each other up in different ways and with different knots. After each practice Midori would elicit answers to questions like "Why do we do this?" "Yes, that's right. It's decorative. Another reason?" "Yes, good. It's fun. And?" "Yes, this one stimulates the nipple piercing. And ...?"

I think we learned about five different ways to tie someone up, including some useful quick-release knots for those times when you might be interrupted by kids or parents. I didn't take notes so I'm not sure I'll remember them without practice. But I can always join the mailing lists or discussion groups to keep up. Midori gave us hints about the ones which were too tecchie and those which were more focused on people and interaction and fun.

I don't know if the feeling of disconnect between the genre and the content was because I had gone there straight from a trans-Atlantic flight, but it was the genre disconnect that I enjoyed the most. Also, I hadn't expected to feel the satisfaction of making someone look beautiful with good knots - like doing cat's cradle on a bigger scale. It didn't feel at all erotic and I even found myself wondering if it would be a good "warmer" for a training session where you wanted people to get to know each other and create an atmosphere of trust. Hmm, maybe I'll try it.

Wine comrades - exploring identity

Fortune was smiling as I sat next to someone at the pre-Blogher conference dinner who brought a bottle of wine - so we had something legitimate to talk about aside from blogs.

The most exciting thing I came away with from the conference was a category for myself - I now know that I'm an "identity blogger". It kind of frees me up from feeling an obligation to people who read my blog. It was always my intention when I started the blog - a self-indulgent exploration of my identity in Portugal where I feel too often type-cast and limited by people's imagination of who they think I am - and by my difficulty in exploring or affirming who I am in a second language.

At the same time it gives me a greater insight and empathy for the people in my research who struggle for an identity in an international world in a second language.

Friday, July 29, 2005

In San Jose

So here I am in San Jose (pronounced the Spanish way with an H) preparing myself for the Blogher conference tomorrow. I have really no idea what to expect and tag along - mesmerised - with my good friend Nancy White who is in the heart of all this world and language

We had a rare day off together yesterday, going down the back roads in her parents' Miata (an open top sports car that hugs the ground and makes a satisfactory noise as we accelerate off from traffic lights). Except for the car everything seems SO big here. The spaces, the trees - redwoods, eucalyptas and pine - are on a scale magnified a hundred thousand times compared to my familiar world of the Serra de Arrabida.

I know that my vision was shaped by living in wide open spaces, infinite horizons and dry earth (in Kenya), and I know it is being reshaped by living in a smaller space with exquisitely beautiful, sacred but uncared for corners of Portugal. I wonder how it would shape me to live in this enormous cosmos.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Hands-on session with Midori

Early tomorrow I go to San Francisco. A friend has challenged me to come to a "hands-on rope bondage session" with "Midori who is one of the world best rope bondage people currently around".

I contemplate it.

My daughter (22) and my son (16) are unanimous in their disbelief. You! You who wear flat shoes and live on the ground floor so you know you can always get away! You who always warn us always to check the fire exits when we enter a disco! No .. you can't be telling us this... What?? You're thinking of going?? Well P-L-E-A-S-E, spare us the details.

My thoughts wonder, possibly unconnectedly, to what I pass most days on my walk in the Serra. I walk past the bushes where men can go and visit a prostitute. She's there every day in a nicely secluded place. Sometimes there is a car there that I recognise - sometimes I know it's the father of a child in my local school. In fact in Setúbal there are lots of places where a car or lorry driver can stop by the side of the road for a quick session of whatever they want with a tart who will pull up her skirt.

I contemplate the hypocrisy and repression I have seen seeded in a Catholic society and with the SM scene where I sense (probably unfairly) a decadence and emptiness.

But there's one thing that strikes me. It's the contrast between the opportunity for erotica and for diva status of someone (often women/"foreign") working in a sexually open society. And the seediness and lowly (often humiliating) status of someone (often women/"foreign") working in a closed one.

I think I'll go to the session. Maybe I'll overcome my fear of being tied down. And maybe even I'll enjoy it :-) But above all, I like to think that it's something for fun and for talking about, and to be led by someone who gets status for their people and interaction skills (!) and not a seedy secret just for sickos.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

A procurar mulheres

I've been trying to do my homework for the Blogher conference in Santa Clara, US next week. I'm looking for women bloggers in Portugal. I haven't found it yet. My search takes me, almost every time, to the gay scene or in the church. It does occur to me that they are probably the two most active grass-roots organisations in Portugal in which women are active. But I'm having difficulty focusing on women.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Dressing the part

I am intrigued about the naturalness with which my friends, including male friends, in Portugal take an interest in my dress sense and style. I never experienced anything like it with people in England, let alone men. I really appreciate the truly genuine concern :-)

Monday, July 18, 2005

Christian Small - life left him

Christian, you represent for me a vibrant energy, sincere and open and full of faith in your paradoxical comfort with and search for identity in this our post-modern world.

Your serene and beautiful sister, my precious daughter ... it could be any one of you... in any part of the world ... to any mother, father, lover or friend. May we always remember.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

What's wrong with being slow?

The words of the president (Jorge Sampaio) run through my mind as I try not to drown in the amount of things I have to do which are a thousand times worse because of the red-tape and queuing (and queuing and queuing) that I have to do in the coming week.

"If we do not have hope, we will be overwhelmed by concerns."

I have come close to losing hope that I will ever be able to get my bureaucracy and finances in order. I would like to find out if anyone has managed to be legal, creative, entrepreneurial and foreign in Portugal.

Monday, July 11, 2005

I'm sorry

My daughter has gone to bed and I do my own online search for news about the missing people in the London bomb attacks. She swings between optimism and pessimism for news about a friend, the brother of her best friend, who was on the route of the bombings and from whom no-one has had news. A close, mutual friend who shares a flat with him, who normally takes the same tube to work as him, keeps her in touch with the absence of news about him.

A generation of people from Western countries who have lived through no wars and through no great political upheavals are joining the invisible worlds of those people who do.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Celebrating Sudan today ...

Today I toast the swearing in of John Garang as vice-president in Sudan. How many people have suffered, so miserably, so uselessly, in this war between the mostly Muslim north and Christian south. John Garang, leader of the people in the south (the Sudan People's Liberation Movement and the Sudan People's Liberation Army) is now to join the government. For all the problems still to come ... what a significant moment this is.

I also remember for the nth time the young boy who was a slave in the house of a family who so hospitably welcomed me and my daughter in Khartoum. He was one of the boys described in this book: "Brothers In Hope: The Story of the Lost boys of Sudan" about many (around 30,000) southern Sudanese boys, between 8 and 15 years old who ended up walking to Ethiopia ( over 1,500 kilometers) looking for safety. Many of them got filtered off to live with families in the capital of Sudan where, in return for some refuge (and a space on the floor to sleep) would run errands and do work about the house. This very young man I met only left the house at night; he scuttled on all fours to avoid being seen, and trusted very few people to come within touching distance of him.

How can I ever rest when I've been part of these stories?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

G8, Africa and saving lives

John Kamau, a senior reporter for the Sunday Standard newspaper, is keeping a diary for the BBC about the G8 summit, which I think is really worth reading.

In a related article for Panos about "Making Poverty History" he had this story to tell:

"Every morning 46-year-old Lucy Mwihaki walks through the crowded alleys of Nairobi to her wooden stall in Gikomba market, the largest second-hand clothes open-air market in East Africa. Mwihaki doesn't know much about the G8 summit in Scotland or the campaign to wipe out Africa's debt, but recently a Catholic priest in the sprawling Dandora slums, where she lives, 12 kilometres east of Nairobi, handed her three Make Poverty History posters. She has prominently pinned one of those in her stall. "It means we work hard and make poverty history," she says. "Even the president said that lazy people have no place here". Some of her fellow traders burst into laughter, others nod in agreement."

The story reminded me of when I went to Sudan with my daughter (who was six at the time). I organised with her teacher to take drawings done by her classmates with me so that I would have something to offer the children in schools I visited. It was one of the first years of "Comic Relief" or "Red Nose Day" in Britain where lots of money is raised, with the help of famous British comics, for projects in developing countries. The idea is sound - no pathetic pictures of sad Africans, but money raised through fun and laughter - and a plastic red nose on everything. The problem was that I took with me, much to the delight of my daughter's classmates, lots of wonderful drawings of people, cars, parents, and pets - all wearing a big red nose. Much as they appreciated the sentiments behind receiving the pictures, I don't know if any of the children or teachers in Sudan ever understood what on earth the drawings could be about!

However, it was the same the other way round. I brought back drawings from children in schools in Sudan for my daughter's classmates. The children's drawings were very didactic (no such things as art classes!) There were pictures of things like a BIG FLY hovering round a gourd (on the floor) full of milk with a sick man lying at the side. The message written in Arabic warned against leaving milk in a gourd without a cover. As I collected up the pictures to take away with me one very black little girl asked me (through the interpreter) if I thought the pictures could really help save English people's lives in London.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Blogistas femininas

Vou participar num congresso de blogistas femininas ( no Califórnia no fim de Julho. Gostava de ter historias das blogistas femininas em Portugal - mas estou com dificuldade encontra-los. As minhas pesquisas levam-me para sites come "mulheres com musculos" e o "palácio de desejo". Alguém tem algum conselho?

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Fazer a curva

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine who happened to be working on the programme to reduce bureaucracy in Portugal, said: the first thing you need to know if you are coming to live in Portugal is - there are many many rules. And you need to know how to comply with every detail of every rule. But the second thing you need to know is that for every rule there are a hundred ways around it (na maneira Portuguêsa).

I was reminded of that dica (tip) on Friday as a colleague was laughing at me while I described my weekly forays into Portuguese bureaucracy, trying to sort out all the details of my life that never occurred to me should need sorting. But that's good, he reassured me, once you have learned to fill in every form absolutely correctly then you'll be able to move onto your next step. And that is to use the system to do exactly what you want. As long as the paperwork is filled in correctly, you can live the life you like, whether it's legal or illegal, ethical or non-ethical, civic or not civic.

I have a little way to go - but I am learning.