Monday, September 30, 2019

To Strip or not to Strip: The Naked Truth about Nudity

An article in the New York Times about present day nudism, got me thinking about why it is that wearing clothes is such a natural part of our existence. Right now it is 90 degrees here in sweaty Boston, and as I am sitting here writing about being naked, my shirt is clinging to my body. Why? Why don’t I just type away naked? I am not a prude, I have nothing against naked bodies, including my own. Wearing clothes is just something I do, like breathing or eating.

It hasn‘t always been like that, you know. In many cultures throughout history, the norm was to go about naked. The Greeks, the Egyptians, they didn’t see the point of covering their bodies. Why create a fertile habitat for lice and other unpleasant parasites? Even some present day primitive tribes do not like covering themselves unnecessarily. Who can blame them? Aren’t clothes making life extra complicated?

If I could, I would travel back in time, step out of a time machine in 5th century BC Athens, go up to a local Greek Adonis and shake his hand, me fully dressed in jeans, t-shirt and sneakers. ‘Hi, my name is Madeleine, I am doing research on your dress code.’

My Adonis would be wearing nothing but a loin cloth, or maybe a toga fastened at one shoulder with a clasp. With a flick of his finger he would undo that clasp and the whole shebang would drop at his feet, exposing his Adonis body before I could say ‘booh’. Then he would cross his arms, look at me as if to say: ‘Now, your turn’.

I would have to unlace my sneakers, fumble with my fly and worm my way out of my skinny jeans, roll my T-shirt up my torso, pull it over my head, all the while trying not to look too much like a scarecrow, undo my bra, and take off my underpants. My Adonis would be standing there, tapping his foot, looking impatiently at the sundial, pick up his toga, sling it over his shoulder, clasp it with another flick of his finger and walk away, thinking ‘What a nut ball’. Read more...

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Happy Birthday, Ata

I wrote this short essay when my mother, Ata Kando, was still alive.
It is her birthday and even though she is no longer with me,
it is today of all days, that I miss her the most.

February, 2016

Soon, I will go to Holland for another visit to Ata, my soon to be 103 year old mother. If I am lucky, she will still be able to see my face, probably only the outlines, but her memories will fill in the blanks. She has had enough practice, taking pictures of her children in her long career as a photographer. Her most beautiful photographs are those of her three children. We were her surrogate models, since there was never any money for professionals.

Since I left Holland and the circle of photographers to which my mother belonged, I have always looked forward to my visits and the inevitable submersion into the world of photography. Bookshelves full of the most amazing photography books, boxes and boxes full of slides, negatives, contacts and prints. It felt like I was given the key to a candy store with no limits to how much I could gulp down. This is what I remember as the child of a photographer: a world of art that has shaped who I am. Ata was driven by a need to create and she used us, her children as the clay.

We spent our childhood vacations in southern Italy, wrapped in white sheets, pretending to be Greek Gods and Goddesses, frolicking amongst the Roman ruins of Paestum. While common sense families climbed the snowy mountains of Austria in heavy hiking boots and parka's, my sister and I had to wear flower crowns and skirts made of pine branches, impersonating nymphs of the Alpine forests. Where was justice, I asked myself, as I had to lay still on my brother's lap with an idyllic Bavarian scenery in the background, red ants crawling up my pants, only to be told that I would ruin a masterpiece if I dared move?

Ata had a simple fairy tale in mind, which later was published as 'Droom in het Woud' (Dream in the Forest), a dreamy and sometimes mystical story. They are brilliant, beautiful photographs and well worth the annoyance that they caused in my young life.

But back then it felt like I had to sit still a lot, smile a lot, jump off beach cliffs with cardboard cut-outs in the shape of wings taped to my ankles, because I was supposed to be Hermes, the messenger of the Greek Gods. Or balance an oversized clay urn on my head, because I was the perfect Athena. Read more...

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Midsommar and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

The Sixties were formative for me, as they were for anyone of college age at that time. I was heavily involved in the Peace and Civil Rights movements, I dug the music and the sex, not so much the drugs, and I examined some of the cult-like groups, as my doctoral major was social psychology.

The Counterculture was both for better and for worse. It was the last time that society had a true “prise de conscience” (Awareness experience). The contrast with today is vivid. The “normalcy” to which we have returned consists essentially of materialism and survival mode. We basically don’t want to be bothered (by stuff like the Muller Report or global issues).

The problem with the Sixties was that chaos is not a sustainable long-term state. It had to stop. On the other hand today’s “normal,” unsatisfying and cacophonous as it is, is likely to go on for a very long time.

Two movies which raise issues and remind us of that time period, are Midsommar and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The former is a horror film directed by Ari Aster. It takes place in Sweden. This movie surprised me. I had no prior idea of what it was about. I had read something vague about a “summer festival,” so I thought it might be about some Swedish version of “Burning Man,” or something like that.

 According to Rotten Tomatoes, the movie critics give it an 83% approval rating. One reviewer calls the movie “upsetting” (but worthy) (Minneapolis Star/Tribune), another one says that Aster is the next Kubrick, another one writes that the film is “superlative, disturbing horror,” another critic says that it’s “unsettling and truly terrifying,’ etc. So I am in good company. Read more...

My Monarch Caterpillar Adventure (Continued)

by Madeleine Kando

I resigned myself to the agony of waiting for 14 days before Julie and Max would emerge from their chrysalis.

A week passed, but on the morning of the 7th day, Julie disappeared, chrysalis and all. I suspected foul play, since the adult butterfly does not eat the empty chrysalis, and there was nothing hanging from the underside of the milkweed leaf.

You have no idea how long I spent scrutinizing every inch of the large plant. I was devastated. Max was still there, with golden droplets encircling the upper end of the cocoon, like a golden necklace. The breeze shook him gently back and forth, but he was strongly anchored by his two pro legs.

How naive had I been, thinking that by the time a caterpillar turns into a cocoon, predators wouldn’t be interested. A chrysalis looks so much like a hanging green leaf.

‘Ok. That’s it’, I thought. ‘This is too much for my blood pressure.’ I decided to take matters in my own hands and quickly set up a terrarium in my sunny living room. I know, its not kosher to interfere with nature, but by now Julie and Max had not only taken up a special spot in my garden, they had morphed into semi-pets. Wouldn’t you do anything to protect your cat from marauding predators?

Max, whether he liked it or not, was gently transported on the leaf and branch that he was attached to. I stuck the branch in a vase, filled it with water and covered the whole thing with mosquito netting. Just because he was now indoors, didn’t mean that some house spider wouldn’t try to turn him into lunch.

Another agonizing week went by. I read somewhere that moving is more stressful than divorce. Max wasn't married, so I wouldn't have blamed him if he had not survived. It was hard to tell what he was up to, being wrapped up like that. I was nervously looking for signs of discoloration, which would mean that some parasite got hold of the chrysalis. Read more...