At være en slave

Jeg har fået hørt The Underground Railroad, og det var vist godt. For jeg tror måske, jeg lidt havde glemt eller måske snarere fortrængt, hvor ganske forfærdeligt vores ikke-så-fjerne forfædre behandlede mennesker, de havde kidnappet i Afrika.

Cora

Det er en utrolig fortælling om den unge kvinde Cora, der fødes ind i slaveriet på en plantage i Georgia. Hendes mor er flygtet, og ingen ved, hvad der blev af hende – noget der rider slaveejeren som en mare, hvilket går hårdt ud over Cora. En dag beslutter Cora også at flygte – via The Underground Railroad – der mere er et system af mennesker – ofte, men ikke kun, hvide – der er modstandere af slaveri, end det er en jernbane under jorden.

En slaves flugt er ikke for sarte sjæle

Vi følger hendes dramatiske flugt og møder både gode og virkeligt onde mennesker, både sorte og hvide. Cora er ikke nogen blid heltinde, hun er tværtimod agressiv, mistroisk og vred helt ind i sjælen – noget man virkelig ikke kan fortænke hende i, men ret usædvanligt for en romanhovedperson i historisk tid.

Colson Whitehead

Med skam at melde tror jeg ikke, jeg har læst en bog om slavetiden, siden jeg som barn læste Onkel Toms Hytte. Så det var på høje tid. Udover at være en slags pligtlæsning, er bogen også meget velskrevet. Beskrivelserne af plantageejernes og slavejægernes brutalitet er både nøgtern og vanvittig effektiv. Colson Whitehead var i Danmark til Louisiana Literature, men jeg nåede det desværre ikke.

På dansk

Bogen findes i dansk oversættelse af Vibeke Houstrup Christensen, som jeg ikke kender til. På dansk hedder den Den Underjordiske Jernbane, og den er udkommet på Politikens forlag.

 

 

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Rapport fra det hvide taber-USA

Jeg har læst en af 2016’s mest omtalte bøger i USA, Hillbilly Elegy af den debuterende forfatter JD Vance. Bogen er en selvbiografi og en skildring af Trumps bagland i USA’s rustbælte – her Kentucky og Ohio.

Ud over et ønske om at forstå, hvad der er sket i USA, så har jeg også en personlig interesse i at læse om netop dette sted og denne gruppe af mennesker. Min biologiske far, som jeg fandt frem til sidste år, er født i en af kulminebyerne af ludfattige forældre, og det var, i lighed med Vance i bogen, militæret der reddede ham fra det hårde slid i kulminerne og den efterfølgende arbejdsløshed og trøstesløshed.

Tilbage til Kentucky

Han bor nu igen – han er 85 – i Kentucky, men langt fra det sted, hvor han voksede op, som han ikke har besøgt, siden han rejste som ganske ung mand. Alt for rædsomme minder knytter sig dertil. Min amerikanske halvsøster derimod har besøgt byen, han voksede op i, og set det skur, hvor han boede med sin familie, fordi hun ønskede at forstå sin far bedre. Efter besøget blev det tydeligt for hende, hvorfor han aldrig vendte tilbage.

Fra Ohio-slum til Yale

Nå men, bogen. Den er velskrevet og letlæst, omend det er en trist historie, han fortæller. Han er en vaskeægte mønsterbryder, der endte med at blive jurist fra Yale. Når han fortæller om barndomsårene og de første ungdomsår, kan det være svært at fatte, at det gik ham så godt. Ligesom han prøver at analysere sig frem til, hvad der gjorde forskellen for ham personligt, ligesådan prøver han at forstå, hvorfor det er gået, som det er gået med den hvide amerikanske arbejderklasse/underklasse.

Hillbillies

Når han beskriver bedsteforældrene, så er de ægte hillbillies uden uddannelse og i lavtlønnede jobs, med geværer under sengen og øretæverne hængende i luften. Men den generation troede på den amerikanske drøm – de troede, at hvis de arbejdede hårdt nok og opførte sig som gode amerikanske borgere, så kunne de opnå alt. Og mange af dem opnåede da også et liv, der var markant bedre end deres forældres, selvom vandhanerne ikke ligefrem var guldbelagte. Men Vances generation – de har af en eller anden grund en anden holdning. De læner sig tilbage og forventer, at de stegte duer skal flyve ind i munden på dem, uden at de selv gør en indsats. Vance beskriver flere gange, hvordan han får nye kolleger på en af de lavtlønsarbejdspladser, hvor han arbejder for at tjene til studierne. Og næsten hver gang skete det samme: de kom for sent hver dag, meldte sig syge i tide og utide, brokkede sig i et væk og holdt alenlange pauser. Og når så de blev fyret, så var det Obama, Washington, latinos eller nogle andre “fjender”, der fik skylden.

L’Oréals credo

Fra at tro på den amerikanske drøm er den hvide amerikanske underklasse gået over til at tro på L’Oréals credo: Fordi du fortjener det. Og hvis man tror på, at alt det dårlige, der sker for en, er nogle andres skyld, så er det jo oplagt at stemme på Trump, der tilbyder indtil flere forskellige grupper, man kan give skylden. Vance påpeger, at den stolthed, der var central for hans bedsteforældres generation, røg ud med badevandet, da kulminerne og de store industrier lukkede, og folk følte sig glemt. Fordi hans mor var lidt for glad for stoffer og skiftede mændene ud, som vi andre skifter sko, tilbragte han en stor del af sin barndom og ungdom hos bedstemoderen – og han mener selv, at den stolthed og jeg-kan-fandme-klare-mig-selv holdning, som hun og hendes generation repræsenterede, er årsag til, at han selv blev mønsterbryder.

Vance er selv konservativ, men dog ikke på Trump-måden. Det gør faktisk bogen mere interessant at læse, end hvis han var liberal.

 

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Forberedelse til det næste liv

AtticusLishJeg hørte denne som lydbog, hvilket i dette tilfælde nok var en fejl. For oplæserens behagelige, men desværre temmelig ensformige og søvndyssende stemme, fik mig til at miste koncentrationen lidt for ofte. Det vil jeg derfor ikke anbefale. Den danske oversættelse ser okay ud.

Bogens forfatter, Atticus Lish, har en relativt interessant historie. Den må man desværre læse om på engelsk Wikipedia, da den danske forlægger næsten intet skriver og heller ikke har fået en kompetent person til at skrive en dansk Wikipedia-side. Man skulle ellers tro, det ville være en god ide, men…

Nå men, bogen. Den viser i den grad vrangsiden af det amerikanske samfund. Vi møder den stærkt PTSD-ramte Irak-veteran Skinner og den illegale kinesiske immigrant Zou Lei. I den del af New York vi aldrig ser, og som mange New Yorkere heller aldrig ser, forsøger disse to at nå den amerikanske drøm. Men som vi danske fornuftsvæsner godt ved, så er den drøm langt fra opnåelig for alle – således desværre heller ikke for Zou Lei og Skinner. Forfatterens tilsyneladende tørre måde at fortælle historien på gør den kun endnu mere trist og vedkommende. Det er ikke en bog man skal læse for at komme i godt humør – den mindede mig lidt om en anden bog med en kvindelig kinesisk hovedperson, nemlig De Hjemløse af Yiyun Li.

En bog, der kunne uddeles til medlemmerne af Liberal Alliance, så de kan se, at for nogle mennesker gælder det, at lige meget hvor hårdt de slider i det, og hvor meget de ønsker det, så er det ikke alle forundt at nogensinde se solsiden af samfundet.

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Truth

truth

TrutRobert Redford (cropped)h er All the President’s Men på moderne. Og skulle rammerne ikke minde en om den hæderkronede gamle film, så gør naturligvis Robert Redford’s medvirken det. Filmen fortæller den sørgelige, men stadigt mere aktuelle historie om, hvad det betyder for *sandheden*, når meget magtfulde mennesker ejer og/eller kontrollerer medierne.

Og når jeg siger moderne, så mener jeg det egentlig ikke – for filmen er netop ikke moderne. Den er opbygget som den type dramaer næsten altid er, helt traditionelt. Jeg synes måske godt, man kunne have givet den et ekstra skud, så den havde gjort lidt mere ondt eller prikket lidt hårdere til magthaverne. Men det er nok bare mig, der er ret sur på medierne for tiden… Det er ikke nogen dårlig film, og husker man ikke sagen om 60 Minutes, der bragte afsløringer om Bush Jr., som med overvejende sandsynlighed var sande, men som de alligevel måtte trække tilbage, fordi…, ja, så kan man med fordel gå ind og se filmen.

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End of a Year

Hasn’t it been a strange year? It has for me. Started at a low, but ended well. Lots of ups and downs along the way. In a broader perspective I don’t know what to think! Obama is totally unpopular because he’s turned out to be only human and to constantly work for the consensus he’s always said he’d work for. This should be really strange, but isn’t, at least not in politics. Here’s a clip where he ads his five cents to the It Gets Better campaign. In the UK we got out in the nick of time – Oh me, can’t believe how Nick Clegg can sleep at night? Am told from people who move in the upper echelons of the British society that the only people NOT suffering from this deep crisis are exactly them, the VERY rich. The middle class is also feeling the pain, but it’s the working poor and the undeserving (that’s people who don’t work, no matter why) who are really feeling the axe. In Harrods, it’s business as usual.

In Denmark we have a conservative/nationalist government, which is luckily worn very thin. An election next year will bring some form of change, but I will not try to guess what it’ll be like. Hard, however, to imagine anything worse than what we’re experiencing now. The concept of “undeserving” as mentioned above is also very prominent here in Denmark. A very clever and passionate charity worker calls Denmark a “post-solidary society“. He’s right, but isn’t it sad?   I work for the Danish Refugee Council occasionally and that’s just so depressing. To get into the country is almost impossible with the Dublin regulation firmly in place and rigorously enforced, even though for instance Greece is totally incapable of receiving all these refugees and process their applications. Many countries in Europe have stopped returning refugees to Greece, but not Denmark. Obviously. Then to have your application granted is even harder. It’s like the bl**dy camel in the bible.

At my dad’s nursing home I regularly hear the old people abuse the immigrants who work there. And the management says that they can only admonish the staff, not the inhabitants. Imagine going to work every day, at the lowest possible pay, wiping people’s bottoms and then ON TOP listening to abuse for your skin colour and/or your (perceived) religion. I want to slap some of them. But you can’t, can you?

And then there are the wars. Everywhere there’s a war and in many places people who actually work actively to start one. Here, in my little segment of the privileged world it is totally and utterly incomprehensible. People get killed for no apparent reason and the dead are either totally innocent civilians or soldiers, recruited from the lower rungs of their society, more often than not without a clue what they’re getting into. That is clear from the books and stories we hear from soldiers coming home with their bodies but not their minds in one piece.

Our civil rights are threatened everywhere. And most people seem not to worry or care at all! Read here how the democracy United States of America is treating the 22 year old private Bradley Manning (allegedly behind the latest batch of  Wikileaks leaks). He has not yet been convicted of or even charged with a crime – nevertheless he’s treated like a convicted serial killer.

In many European countries you can now have your phone tapped or other measures taken against you without a court order. A great thing, however, is that the Danish court recently said NO, you cannot detain people because you THINK they are going to behave violently at a demonstration. Several hundred people were “administratively detained” before the COP15 summit in Copenhagen last year. But this is perhaps the only cheerful story among all the sad ones about how the “war against terrorism” is undermining the very society it’s supposed to protect.

In the midst of all the misery, there are still people who come up with amazing ideas and who are incredibly creative. I went to the TedXCph, which was a great event and there I heard some great speakers. The one that sat with me the longest was the most crazy and unlikely of them all. Had I been a smoker I might have missed it because the blurb was like “we want to build a mountain in Copenhagen”. You WHAT? Seriously. But I’m not a smoker and I did hear it. I suggest you hear it too. You must hang on till the second guy starts talking. He’s the kind of person who could sell sand in Sahara!

***

Christmas is the time of year where absent friends and family are most prominently on our minds. The ones I miss the most are the ones who are still alive, but who choose to not be around. On that account, I wish for a better 2011 and hope to understand my failings better.

I wish you all and our dear Earth a peaceful 2011.

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Yosemite

Based upon the weather forecast we decided that the weekend would be the right time to visit Yosemite. It is very cold there (compared to here, that is), but the forecast promised two days of sunshine, so we got up early Saturday morning and drove east. The drive was four hours, mostly through rather dull country with vast suburbs and industrial complexes. But approx. an hour before reaching the park, the climb begins and the countryside is transformed. The mountains in Yosemite are up to 12.000 ft (4.000 m.), so what rises in front of you is indeed impressive! What surprised us was the snow – the park was covered, except the valley, which apparently almost never sees snow due to the very special meteorological conditions there.

We had booked a room at the famous Wawona hotel (as the even more famous Ahwahnee was fully booked and too expensive anyway) and checked in at 1 pm. We dressed for the weather – cold but beautiful – and drove into the Yosemite Valley. Even though prepared for some astounding sights, nothing can prepare you for the vastness of it all. Many of the roads are closed during winter, so two days were sufficient to see the sights of the valley, the museum, the Ansel Adams gallery and the visitors’ centre with a fine and child-friendly exhibition about the evolutionary history of Yosemite.

We have come to appreciate the park rangers very much. They are always very forthcoming, very polite and very well informed. So we usually make a point of talking to some of them, when we visit a state park. The handsome ranger (check his crisp uniform) on this picture surprised us by saying: “Oh, Denmark, that’s where Hans Christian Andersen, Carl Nielsen and Karen Blixen are from!” Wauw! Most people know about H.C. Andersen, but not a lot of Americans know of Carl Nielsen. The ranger played the clarinet it turned out, and Carl Nielsen’s 5th symphony was his favourite…

We stepped out of the car to take photo shots and make short hikes every ten minutes or so, caught the sunset and then headed back to the Wawona. Staying at that hotel was a mixed experience. The bar and lounge next to the dining room were beautifully decorated for Christmas, a log fire was burning and there were lots of people in festive spirits, even though everybody was dressed for hiking. There was a pianist playing WW II songs (Bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover, etc) and chatting with the guests and we had cocktails before dinner – all very much in sync with the spirit of the place. The dining room was also pretty and the waiters nice and attentive. The food was not memorable, but the draft was! I think you could fly a kite with the gusts that came from under the veranda door!

Dane was very tired, so we quickly went to our room. Quite a nice room with a double and a single bed and a nice bathroom. And it was sweltering in there (we’re guessing 85 degrees F (28 C)), which felt nice coming from the icy dining room and the freeze outside, but felt uncomfortable as we discovered that the heating couldn’t be turned down. OK, we opened a window and let a bit of freezing air in. But then there was the constant loud hissing of air escaping from the vent and the irregular clanging. Have any of you ever been to a place with a pre-war, cast-iron radiator central heating system? Then you’ve experienced the clanging, when the system overheats. We really tried to sleep, but it was impossible. After much swearing and cussing David got dressed and went over to the reception (you have to cross a large courtyard) to ask for another room. So in the middle of the night, we transferred – with sleeping Dane – to another room across the yard. Oh, what a difference that made! Normal temperature and absolutely no noise!

The breakfast was included and very nice. Dane had waffles with honey and hot chocolate and was MMMMM’ing a lot. Then we went ahead and saw more stunningly beautiful views and went for more lovely walks through the impressive woods. I won’t bore you with inept descriptions, but have a look at more pictures here, to get an impression.


By eight o’clock we were back home, very happy that we’d taken the trip.

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