Saturday, 22 May 2010

The Coconut Revolution

That's one hell of a movie. And that was one hell of a life for those people down there on the island of Bougainville in the Pacific ocean. Tragic but at the same time somewhat funny hell (at least I laughed few times while watching the movie) and they doesn't seem to be too unhappy despite the ongoing war. They suffered and they do have a lot to complain about, which they do to a certain extent, but there is something in their attitude and how they handle the situation, that's very inspiring indeed. It's probably one of the few (I can't really remember any other) documentaries about the war which brings about the hope and strengthens your belief in some universal humanitarian values, rather than crushes them in dust and leaves you weeping about the darkness of human nature.

The story began in 1969 when huge multinational corporation Rio Tinto Zinc opened its copper mine on the island, tensions were growing through the 70's when Papua New Guinea gained its independence from Australia, and it turned into war in 80's, when some local people demanded their share of profits from the mine. Just few billion dollars. Not more and not less than half of the profits since the mining started. Fair enough. Why let somebody just come to your backyard, dig a huge pit in the middle of your garden, poison your water and land, get enormously rich from that and in the end leave you with just a big hole in your land. Unfortunately that's how the world works far too often. I can imagine those executives in Rio Tinto rolling eyes and rising brows and saying that all this is ridiculous. Bunch of savages, you know, we used to buy them off with trinkets and a bottle of rum.

Not anymore. Not being able to get to terms with the mining company in negotiations, Bougainvillians decided that they don't need such mine on their land. All they needed to achieve their goal was determination and some stolen dynamite. Papuan government sent the riot police in and then some troops, but both of them were repelled by rebels, who initially were armed with just bows and arrows, but later managed to take full control of their island. After that the government of PNG sent warships to impose blockade on island, however even nearly complete isolation from the rest of the world didn't brake the resistance. What doesn't kills you, makes you stronger. Bougainvillians learned how to make weapons, how to run vehicles on coconut oil instead of petrol and even built some hydro plants from scrap material found on the island. I found it absolutely amazing. What you can see in the movie is sort of self-sufficient, heavily militarized, tropical DIY wonderland.

Far from paradise however. Lack of medication and other supplies, military actions and other problems led to far too many premature deaths. It is estimated that 10000 to 15000 people died during the conflict, largely from starvation and diseases. There were certainly many problems, and it was a very hard life, but somehow by watching this movie you get the feeling that things like freedom, dignity and pride matters. That they are worth suffering and fighting for, at least for these people. Even more importantly you get the feeling that it's not so utterly hopeless to stand for them.

You can watch the movie here:

I'm obviously under the spell of these big, eccentric, superstitious warrior preachers as much as the journalists were when making the movie. As for today the war on Bougainville is over. Actually it was already almost over about the time when the movie was made. What's shown there is the very last days of the war if not first days of gradually coming peace. Which might be a good explanation why these people are so relaxed. According to Wikipedia ceasefire was agreed in 1997 and no major military action happened anymore. So it must be that when the movie was made it was already the case. Then again it might have looked somewhat different back then and definitely less certain, as according to the same wikipedia article multiple agreements were signed and not honored by any side during the years of the war.

Bougainville is not fully independent country yet, however they won considerable autonomy and a promise to held a referendum on independence in next few years. Both leaders of the resistance Francis Ona and Joseph Kabui are dead now. They died from natural causes. Ona never accepted peace negotiations and proclaimed himself King of Bougenville on the day of first election in 2005, but soon died from malaria, while Kabui became the first president of the autonomous province, by winning election with solid majority. While in office he granted access rights to 70% of islands mineral resources to Canadian company without parliamentary consent and was widely criticized for this. He died shortly afterwards in 2008.

Will Bougainvillian leaders soon find themselves corrupted by power and wealth that it could bring for themselves and their families, or will they manage to build a fair and prosperous society for everyone? That's certainly a huge test, but at lest they won the right to do it for themselves.

By the way, and I found it out absolutely accidentally, just when I was about to finish this post. There's another election going on on the island of Bougainville right now. It's about to finish on 24 May. According to this article, the life on the island goes on pretty well.

There's another movie about the conflict which is made a couple of years earlier and called "Bougainville: Our Island, Our Fight." Unfortunately I couldn't find it on the internet.

Director: Dom Rotheroe
Year: 2000
IMDB link

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Pere Lachaise

As we were walking around the dusty walks of Pere Lachaise cemetery we drunk from a small bottle of brandy that I kept in my pocket. One sip in memory of Jim Morrisson another one of Oscar Wilde and one more in memory of all those executed communards. It was still pretty early in the morning, but I had a nasty flu, my nose was running, and the pain in my chest was terrible, so I had an official excuse for getting half drunk for the rest of the day. It was beginning of June, high up in the sky sun was shining bright, promising another hot day to come, but here on the earth under the crowns of old trees it was shady and still cool. The most visited cemetery in the world, so the Parisians proudly say. Resting place of V.I.P.'s. Dead history of arts and culture of western civilization of past couple of centuries.

We proceeded through narrow, sleepy avenues of gray marble crosses and marble busts, marble angels and inscriptions mostly in French, which I didn't understand at all. Though I could understand the names and dates of course, they doesn't make any sense if you're not familiar with the stories they tell. Far from everyone buried here made their names big enough while being alive to be remembered by people who didn't know them before they moved to Pere Lachaise. They are the background, the ordinary folks, the masses, admirers of those who did. In fact the owners of cemetery long time ago moved a couple of celebrities like Moliere here to make it more attractive for people to choose this site as their last and final home, and that's what many did. Call it social mobility. No doubt some of the guys from the masses did in their lives financially and socially much better than some of these celebrities. Maybe they even despised them, when they all were alive. Wilde for example died as an absolute loser, but now his huge thombstone is red from lipstick, though he didn't even liked girls. That could be one of the most peculiar aspects about the afterlife.

I was literally coughing my way through the city of dead.

“You see. I'm mortal too,” I said to little miss B after a particularly violent outburst of cough.

“You still have plenty of time.” She smiled.


“I would really prefer you to stay alive.” She told it half jokingly, half seriously and I looked at her for a moment but I didn't say anything. Little miss B. Her gray eyes were looking lovingly at me, her nose winced a couple of times as if she was about to start crying, as if she really thought about my death, but her smile was that of a very happy person.

We fell into long and funny conversation about all those dead people lying here. Why they were so cool and why some of them finished so badly? Does being cool necessarily leads to ugly death? Can death be anything else? Not ugly? What last longer memories or bones? Memories are gone together with folks who remember you. However in the peculiar case of Pere Lachaise, it may be that memories stay long enough. Otherwise it's definitely bones. Yeah, bones are quiet resistant to decay. And does love last longer than life? How could memories last longer than us? Am I drunk already?

“I bet you are.” She laughed and then fell silent for a moment and then told me the story about the woman who married T.S.Elliot. She was much younger than him. He died, but she is still alive, still lives in their flat in London, still keeps his room in order and speaks about her Tom as if he were alive.

“That's very romantic.”

“I like it too.” said miss B. She was wearing blue jeans and brown and green cardigan with hood. She had the hood on her head and it was a bit too big for her, so now when she was looking at me she had to tilt her head back. She had a very self satisfactory almost triumphant smile on her face. She looked funny in the hood, a little bit like a garden gnome. Though very feminine one.

“Do you think it is possible to learn to love somebody?” I asked her.

“Do you think that you need to?”

“I don't think so.”

“You don't need? Or you don't think that it's possible?”

“Neither. It's just another crappy theoretical question.”

I told her about Hugh Everett. He was a famous physicist who invented theory that reality splits all the time in many different versions or worlds or something. So in one of them you get sick and die early, but in another you live happily further. In one world you become a rock star in another you work at McDonald's all your life. In fact he believed in something called quantum immortality, which means that in some of the worlds you never die.

“Which means that there is a universe in which Jim Morrisson is still alive and writing new songs.”

“And another one where he is cleaning toilets in McDonald's.”

“Having family and children, peaceful life.”

“Or being desperate and lonely. Still getting high on every possible stuff he can get his hands on, though not being able to get his hands on nice girls without the fame, he spends his lonely nights wanking on internet porn. Poor old loony, who used to have dreams.”

“Many options, but is it so?”


“This theory.”

“I don't know. It's just a theory, but it's sort of serious theory, it's not a sci-fi, it's a proper science. The interesting thing about Everett is that he wished his remains after the death to be thrown out with rubbish and his wife eventually did it.”

“She put the body in the rubbish bag?”

“She threw out ashes, as far as I know.”

We wandered into a place called columbarium. None of us ever was in a proper columbarium before and I always wanted to visit one. Not that I really dreamed about it, but the name itself is very sounding and there is something mysterious in it and if I was near one I couldn't let myself miss that chance. In our country we usually don't burn people after they die. I guess that's because we have much more space. The density of population in East Europe is not so high either for living or for dead. Now when we were there I didn't find it so exciting as imagined. If the graves are private houses, than columbarium is a block of flats. Huge walls with rows of marble plates bearing the names and dates of births and deaths of their inhabitants. We quickly ran through the list of celebrities buried here, looking for somebody that we knew and who would be worth visiting. We found the name of Isadora Duncan. Her flat number was six thousand something and we went to search for her.

To be honest I never knew much about Isadora Duncan. Well, I knew that she was famous dancer, that she is considered to be something like mother of contemporary dance. But my knowledge about this was very limited. I knew also that she was quiet eccentric person and there are some movies made about her rise and fall, but I haven't seen any of them. What I knew was that at some point in her life she married Russian poet Sergei Yesenin, who was a great guy, I know for sure, because he wrote beautiful poems and some of them I could even try to recite, though not sure that I would remember them well enough to do it smoothly. When they married Yesenin was 18 years her junior and they didn't speak each others language.

“Apparently sex between them was very hot. They had some sort of animalistic drive, something like that.” I said in a very thoughtful, reflective voice. Apparently because of the alcohol. “You know what I don't understand. How people can sleep with each other without speaking to each other.”

“There might be some sort of body language or maybe the language of scent or something. Or maybe he lost his mind just by seeing her legs.” miss B said enthusiastically.

“He wrote about her tired eyes.”

“Don't you ever wanted a woman just because of her looks?”

“Well, yeah. I understand that you can fuck somebody without talking that much. You can do it once or twice, or for a week or two, but after a while it's usually boring. It's often boring even if you can speak with each other.”

“You don't find me boring. Do you?”

“No, no, no,” I said feeling that there was something deadly serious and even fierce in her voice. “You are clever.”

“So what?”

“You know, one friend of mine told me once when I was messing around with a girl who wasn't particularly bright. How can you do it? I can't get it up with a person who is stupid. He is a gay, that's why he used the word “person”. I wouldn't say that I agree with him completely, but he had at least some point.”

“Do you want my body or mind?”

“Well, maybe it's better. I mean if you don't talk with your lover at all. Maybe that's the only way you actually can't get bored. You speak with her in Latvian and she answers you in Chinese. That way you can't get disappointed by what she is saying. You put your own meaning into the sound of her voice. There is no point to quarrel anymore, or if you do it you can do it just a little bit, just for fun, but nobody will try persuade other about something, about anything and none of such quarrels would have any lasting effect on the relationship.”

“You think so?”

“I know,” I was looking at her breast under the cardigan and suddenly thought about biting in them. There was summer in the air and I liked her a lot.

“So what happened with them?”

“They were both crazy and finished badly and pretty soon. They didn't last too long together and soon he was back in Russia, married a couple more times during next two years, drunk himself into complete madness, cut his wrists to write a farewell poem in his own blood and hanged himself next morning. Another few years and Isadora Duncan also died in a bizarre car accident, when her huge scarf got entangled in the wheels of a car in which she was driving.”

“That's weird.” She said.

“Yeah, quiet weird.”

“And beautiful.” She looked thoughtful as we approached the flat of Isadora Duncan. Next to the plate with her name laid some flowers and a small strange vessel with the business card next to it. On the business card was a name of a Russian woman printed in Cyrillic and her occupation – the teacher of choreography at university somewhere in Siberia. I can't remember her name or that of the city anymore. Just out of curiosity Miss B without any bad thoughts lifted the lid of the vessel and what we saw inside apparently were the remains of the Russian dancer. It took just few seconds and maybe it was just an illusion, but I think I saw the the ash soar from the vessel like a jinn or a ghost or whatever. She quickly put the lid back in place before the wind scatters the ash all all over the cemetery.





“That's something...”

“What do you think?”

“I think she loved her more than Yesenin did.”

“That's very feminine point of view.”

“I am a woman.” She said proudly.

We went further. It was time to go somewhere else anyway. We had enough of the cemetery. We went into to the open space, the main road of this city of dead eccentrics. The sun over our heads was shining bright and it started to feel hot. Apparently they didn't lie in the yesterday's weather news. I removed my coat. We didn't talk for while. I was plunged into thoughts about the dead Russian lady and her strange last will. There was a strange feeling of unwanted intimacy with her and we not just witnessed something very private, we actually actually touched her. However I didn't feel embarrassed because of that, I was just thinking about her, tried to imagine the old, respectable lady, a teacher probably well known in her faraway place, making this last statement to somebody, who actually accepts it and does all the way from Siberia to Paris. A husband, a friend, a child or pupil? Who knows. Most likely she did't have a family, people with families tend to stay together in afterlife. Another form of post-humuous social mobility or something else and probably much more?

I coughed. I touched the bottle in my pocket.

“Hey, stop! We forgot to drink in memory of Isadora Duncan,” I said to little Miss B.

“I feel that I've had enough already for this time of the day.”

“It's nearly empty anyway. Let's finish it.”

“OK let's drink. You always have to be intoxicated. Either by wine, or love, or poetry, but you have to be intoxicated. That's what Baudelaire said.”

“OK, Lets drink. Do you know how he died? Is he also buried here?

“Who cares.”

As we were walking down the streets I felt warm hand of Miss B in mine. I persuaded her that purchase of another small bottle of brandy is absolutely essential for our well being here in Paris, or otherwise we need to call ambulance for me straight away. It was something past noon and we felt a little bit tired from walking that we started at 7 am. We found a park, fell on the grass and laid there for half an hour almost motionless. The sun was burning and I felt like a lizard accumulating the heat in my body after a long, long winter spent in deep sleep. I leaned to miss B and pressed my lips against hers. I secretly slipped my hand under her cardigan and held her breast. I watched her blush. I thought that maybe I really drink to much and maybe I'm not the most serious man on the planet but at least we were still alive.