because it was there…

Hi, how are you today? I’m fine, you know, surviving the sudden blizzard, rocking some Boubacar Traoré, and…oh yeah…wait…not fine at all – eating puréed lentils!!!

Why, you ask?

Gentle reader, (is that phrase trademarked? can I use that?) because I lost my mind for about five minutes and decided that lentil soup was fine, but puréed lentil soup would be better. That it would be creamy and soupy and wintery and delightful.

It is freaking baby food, gentle reader. Baby food.

And if you’re into that kind of thing, I have the recipe for you! But the rest of us will be over here, eating a hot, steaming plate of ANYTHING BUT THAT.

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RIDM Screening 122: Atalaku

Directed by Dieudo Hammadi, Atalaku is set during the latest elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Here’s a quick timeline:

1960: Patrice Lumumba becomes the first Prime Minister of the newly independent Republic of Congo (the one that becomes the DRC, not the other one). He is deposed by the president, Joseph Kasa-Vubu, and then eventually placed under house arrest with the military leader Joseph Mobutu (remember him – this is the one Bob Dylan wrote a song about – it’s called “Leopard Skin PillBox Hat” …right…)

1961: Lumumba is brutally assassinated, (there’s a fantastic film about it directed by Raoul Peck if you’re interesting…) and Mobutu beginshis assent into power.

1965-1997: Mobutu (monsieur coup d’etat himself) is in power and becomes the archetype of many African dictatorships to follow…

1996: Laurent Kabila leads Tutsi factions against Hutus in Eastern DRC – thus begins the First Congo War.

1997: Laurent Kabila comes to power after the invasions of the DRC (then Zaire) by Rwanda, defeats Mobutu’s forces. This ends with First Congo War, but we have another one…

1998: Second Congo War, which lasts until 2003 (officially). This involves several nations and effectively rips the enter of Africa apart.

2001: Joseph Kabila succeeds his father in office after the latter’s assassination.

2006: First free elections in 46 years. Kabila wins. (Which is a lot like more of the same thing…)

2011: Another multi-party election…

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RIDM Screening 84: A jamais, pour toujours

Confession: I am basically posting this for good form, because it is a documentary that I saw, and thus feel obligated to include it in the series. (Plus, duh, I like bragging about all these awesome films I’m seeing. Aren’t you tempted to move to Montreal now so you can watch great documentaries and go to jazz festivals and, oh man, just wait ’til you see the book festival coverage I’m going to throw your way…they’re doing a spotlight on Haitian authors this year…I know, right?)

Alexandra Sicotte-Lévesque directed this film, which is confusingly titled “A jamais, pour toujours” in French and “The Longest Kiss” in English. The latter refers to a pronouncement that the Nile River joins (sort of?) Sudan to the newly created South Sudan, in a long goodbye kiss. Which is beautiful. The narration that went along with the film (we never have any idea who is speaking it) is a wonderful poetic reflection on the history of Sudan’s conflicts and the recent secession of South Sudan. Another beautiful thing: the cinematography. The webpage description (and I’m endlessly fascinated by these) describes the film as a “an essential look at an often misunderstood and tragically ignored country.” I would say that for all of the random media flashes we get that loudly proclaim the “genocide” and “chaos” and “cautious optimism” and “tribal clashes” and many other things that you typically hear about African countries in the news, it is, indeed, necessary to stop for a minute and see an intelligent exploration of how people are going about their daily lives in current Sudan and South Sudan. Yes, people are killed, and violence disrupts an entire country, but there are people who live as well. And that seems to be the goal of this film – to show that people continue to live.

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RIDM Screening 69: Ayiti Toma

Focusing on foreign aid (before and after the earthquake), the slave trade and colonialism, and vodou in Haiti, this documentary provides a far-reaching scope of a complex society. If there is one flaw the film suffered from it was the ambitious attempt to cover everything. How can you not try to cover everything when you’re talking about a place that has a history of being so egregiously misunderstood? That misunderstanding was also a focal point of the film, and it seemed as though an appropriate subtitle would have been, “Everything you don’t know about Haiti and by the way we have a lot more than earthquake damage and vodou here but, indeed, we do have a lot of those things as well” or something like this. It was very much a film that knew its audience.

One particularly well done aspect of the film was the wide range of interviews conducted. From vodou priests/priestesses, to Haitian sociologues/economistes, to young kids living in the bad part of town, to the jaded American aid workers (including Sean Penn?), to the cynical but wise (drunken?) fonctionnaire (that guy is everywhere, what is it with that guy?), to historian Laurent Dubois (‘heck yes!’ for those of you who work on Caribbean history). And this is one of the things that they are all both demonstrating and saying, which is (to paraphrase) : “There are an infinite number of viewpoints in/on Haiti – some of them better than others.” And they create a fully-formed, comprehensible picture of current Haiti and how it got there.

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RIDM Screening 30: The Square

This was my first screening so far of the  Rencontres Internationales du Documentaire de Montréal and I can safely say that it was fantastic way to start.

the square

First, a word on the festival:

Since 1998, the RIDM has been bringing filmmakers from Quebec, and from around the world, to the city of Montreal for about a ten-day span to expose their work to eager audiences and also to hold small workshops. While this is my first year attending the RIDM, one of the first things you notice is the collective atmosphere.

Before the beginning of the film, the large audience was greeted by a representative, first apologizing for the director’s absence (apparently this film is in the process of becoming almost unmanageably popular and she was needed elsewhere but was really sad not to make it), and secondly inviting us all to a party. Apparently partying and hanging out with the directors is a big part of the overall experience. Hey, I’m all for that.

Another quick, coup-d’oeil observation is the fantastic selection. While there is an emphasis on Quebecois and Canadian directors, it is truly a worldwide collection of documentaries. Now, obviously, I’m going to hit all the Caribbean and African films so stay tuned.

A pretty big sell for me is that, thanks to funding from the National Film Board of Canada (by the way, USA, what the crap, you don’t have a national film board? This is amazing! Dude, in Canada, the government will FUND your intelligent social commentary in the form of film. Do you even, like, … Canada, do you get how awesome it is to BE YOU???) … okay, like I was saying, thanks to the NFB, students and seniors can attend all matinees for free, y’all. Free. Amazing…

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Maryse Condé, desire, return

If you’re familiar with Guadeloupian writer  Maryse Condé, you might also be familiar with the striking similarities between the female protagonists in both En attendant le Bonheur (originally published as Heremakhonon, 1976) and Histoire de la femme cannibale (2005). Both Véronica of the former title and Rosélie of the latter travel an uprooted Pan-African non-trajectory, originally beginning in Guadeloupe. Both maintain a complicated relationship to their ‘roots‘ – searching for them while simultaneously rejecting any notion of belonging as being essentializing. And both tend to overemphasize their sexual relationships in the making of important decisions. (Girl, please.)

conde 3

And seemingly superficially but perhaps most importantly, both women like to inwardly scoff at people who could not locate Guadeloupe on a map, while also consistently portraying their homeland as a place that wouldn’t really be worth the effort of finding it on a map. Véronica uses the phrase “poussière d’îles” to describe the Caribbean, but it would appear this phrase is not used ironically (even though it references its own irony), and that they are, as DeGaulle claimed, only a little dusting of islands for her. She finally submits that this dust is the only viable “chez moi” she could hope to find. But she’s not happy about it. And neither Véronica nor Rosélie return to Guadeloupe.

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globalization and marriage


flower arrangement

They arrived on her parents’ front porch one crisp autumn day. They were parched and sad. Little surprise, as they had travelled all the way from Holland to an unforgivingly suburban spot in the polluted metropolitan Atlanta-scape.

They were trimmed and placed in filtered water for a couple of days, which made them come back to life, then driven, in the back seat of a mini-van, through the Appalachian foothills of North Georgia, all the way to Unicoi State Park.

They were allowed to rest.


Some were plucked out of the crowd and squished into bouquets, like cousins in a backseat. They were told not to fight.

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drinking game with Balzac

Do you ever find yourself going through a text, doing the close reading and, in particular, “tracing” one element throughout, and feel like you are playing a drinking game with yourself? I’m reading La Duchesse de Langeais for the second time, having noticed that in addition to several interesting portrayals of slavery (both conceptual and actual) there is a MAJOR FOOT FETISH going on. Combined with this major foot fetish is a fascination with the head of the king and the head of the coquette. See, the head of the king falls at the feet of the proletariat, figuratively and literally. And the head of the lover is constantly lying upon the feet of the coquette.  And Balzac can’t seem to decide which he finds more enticing, the coquette’s pieds or her perfectly coiffed and toiletted tête


In the meantime, I’m sitting here typing up notes and writing things like

Madame de Langeais in the Spanish convent of the Carlélites Déchaussées [FEET!] where she plays the organ [FEET!]

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tragically missed pun of the day…

Roger Célestin’s book From Cannibals to Radicals (University of Minnesota, 1996) focuses on the structure of exoticism as a trajectory from Home to Periphery (and back) as negotiated by the traveler/writer/philosopher. Rather than sticking to nineteenth century French texts (from which the term issues) he goes as far back in time as Montaigne and all the way up to V.S. Naipaul.

(Wait – can Naipaul be an exoticist? He’s not European. I haven’t gotten to that chapter yet but I believe it has something to do with reverse exoticism of a sort. Pines for palms, skyscrapers for huts, something like this…)


Though I found the introduction a little rocky for several reasons (not least of which Célestin’s tendency to play fast and loose with geometrical shapes – look, is it a triangular journey or is it circular? even if both entail coming back to the point of departure, these are different things, sir!) the chapter on Montaigne is quite enjoyable.

I find most commentary on Montaigne enjoyable. First of all, because the Essays are endlessly rich, and secondly because it is impossible to write about Montaigne without a certain amount of love and affection. You can’t do it. Montaigne is the most lovable. He is like everyone’s grandfather. Or like everyone’s kind of weird uncle who mostly keeps to himself (up in the attic where he has scrawled quotes of Seneca all over the walls) but comes around with lots of presents and funny stories at Christmas. He complains about his bowels, sure, but that’s okay because he also knows that “kings and philosophers shit; so do ladies.”

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so…should prosper mérimée be considered an abolitionist writer or not?

You’ve probably read Christopher L. Miller’s The French Atlantic Triangle, yes? (No, you are NOT a francophone African/Caribbean literature scholar, you say? You stumbled onto this blog because you heard there’d be cake? There is cake too. There is definitely cake.)


The book is taking me all summer to read. But not in the bad way. In the way that it is getting my full and undivided attention while I’m reading, and I’m only giving it a few hours a week because there are more pressing books at hand. Books I can skim. Books that get about half my brain while the other half is thinking about what to do with the fresh basil and eggplant in my fridge. Books that stand untouched on my desk until I have done the laundry, cleaned the bathroom, organized my closet, found all my missing jewelry, made a pie, rearranged my pictures, and checked email eight times because I don’t want to read them but I know that I have to. (*cough* Heidegger *cough cough*…) Books that I simply have to get through so that I can read other books about them. (It’s a charmed life or something…)

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