Saturday, July 18, 2015

Atticus' Mother

I have kept them in my life and heart for all these years, Scout, Jem, Dill, Calpurnia, and most of all Atticus. I read To Kill a Mockingbird when my world was changing and the people around me, the adults around me, were frightened and sometimes mean in their talk of the world, of race. Alabama and Mississippi were battlegrounds and the adults feared that Georgia was next. An avalanche of change, left me confused and afraid, and looking for answers that I did not find, because the adults were wrong.

When I read the book, I clung to Atticus. I longed to sit in his lap and get soothing answers to my questions that felt right, that matched what I thought the world would be. I wanted him to explain to me how anyone could kill little girls my age, and why they could be allowed to get away with it. I still find it comforting to read the book again or watch the movie. Gregory Peck will always be the voice I hear with Atticus' words

Harper Lee’s book, Go Set a Watchman, is not a new book and it is not a sequel. It is the parent of Mockingbird driven by the feelings that the massive changes in the south and in our country were creating in sons and daughters of the south. As a young woman in the 50’s Jean Louise faces the same conflict I felt as a young girl in the 60’s. This book helps me understand why Mockingbird rang so true to me. Jean Louise is not the narrator, but her voice drives the story. I understand why the editors pushed her to take the voice of Scout and write that story. Scout had the clarity that only a child can have, when the world is always black and white in every sense of the word. The Atticus that young Scout grew up with could never remain the perfect icon for an adult Jean Louise.

Initially I wanted to read Watchman just to hear the voices of my old friends again. But I was afraid, afraid I would lose the Atticus who had been my rock. I know the world is populated with generations of Atticus’ children, women and men too, who found comfort, guidance and hope from the man who lived in Scout’s words.  He is still there for Jean Louise, and like her, we all need to come to terms with Atticus as a human being. If only Gregory Peck could play the role again and give us the complexity that comes with living in the world and looking at the world through adult eyes.

Harper Lee has avoided interviews since 1964. She told Oprah Winfrey, at a luncheon, that everyone thought she was Scout, but she was really Boo. I think all the characters have a lot of Harper Lee in them. It is Harper Lee who gave birth to Atticus Finch, and you can see the beginnings of him in Watchman. I found myself just as lost in Jean Louise as I was in Scout, but for different reasons. Jean Louise brought back to me the emotions and uncertainty that I felt as I read Mockingbird for the first time. He is not filtered through the eyes of a child. Scout was not afraid when she faced the mob because her innocence kept her from knowing the danger and tamed the mob. Jean Louise does not have that innocence, but she still looks at her father as if he is perfect. Discovering he is not is the essence of this book.

There is nothing to fear in Watchman, Atticus lives. Understanding that this is fiction and that the form of Atticus was still evolving does not change the role he plays in Mockingbird. He remains a moral compass that will always be a part of who I am and who many of us have become. We have just had to grow up.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dancing Elephants in Tan Kyi Taung Village

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Tan Kyi Taung Village and Salé

In the early morning the people around our mooring in Bagan woke up and began their day.

Brushing teeth, washing, fishing, and working the river. 

Beside our mooring were other boats, and rattan houses and shops on stilts that had been moved back as the water from the Irrawaddy recedes. We are at the end of the raining season and many houses that were moved away from the high water are now being moved back.

Our mooring line watcher removed the big line and we cast off and drifted past the other boats.

I watched from the rail as the many stupas and pagodas drifted past, some sparkling in the sun.

We stopped at Tan-Kyi-Taung Village and walked through the center of town (about 700 people), past homes and livestock.

We arrived at a pavilion, built for the elephant dance. The dance was clever, amusing and delightful. 

Two boys wore the costume, a hot and heavy job. There were several sets who took turns dancing and climbing and spinning like a circus elephant. The one in the back had to be strong to lift the front guy. Here is a short video of the dance:
 The musicians played with concentration.
 It was a joy to watch and the people of the village watched as well.

The village was small and we had left the vendors of Bagan behind for a completely un-commercial site. 

We returned to the boat for lunch and in the afternoon we had an on-board visit by a family who make rattan items.

The family was from the Myit Chei Village with a family name of U Seit. Their village is one hour from Tan-Kyi Taung Village.  
I bought several things and took a picture of the young woman who made the basket I bought. Today had been great so far.

In the afternoon we went to Salé, a prosperous village full of old colonial homes. As we arrived they were holding their pagoda festival, a school holiday when they parade and take gifts to buddha at their pagoda.

We saw their Pagoda parade, the children brought offerings and marched to the Pagoda or rode in buses with dancing on the roof and characters of bulls or creatures and dancing in the street. The town was big enough to have a police presence, and the police were rich enough to wear gold rings.

The British came to Salé because of oil and stayed there until 1942 when the Japanese came. The oil pipelines were destroyed during the war and only 1/3 of it has been replaced, but the people of Salé work the remaining oil fields and are relatively prosperous. 

Many live in the old colonial homes or have homes with non-dirt floors. Although Salé has more infrastructure that Tan Kyi Taung, it is still without most things we take for granted.
These plastic bags of water were hung on every house as required by the city. If they are not enough to put out a fire, then the house would be lost. 

There is a strong value on education in Salé. The children were out of school and being tutored by their teachers. 

We also stopped by a shop where they make cheroots, a Burmese cigar filled with tobacco and wood chips, said to be the first cigar, with fragrant smoke that repels mosquitos.

We walked past the monastery, stupas and pagodas. Talked to the children and young monks in training. Saw the people and the scenes of life in Burma.

As we approached the Irrawaddy we saw this man, with his cheroot, going for water.
Below the stern of our boat, as the day fades away is the colonial era landing, a massive British structure that gives me images of men in white suits and women constrained by Victorian fashions. This town is framed by the skeletons of its British past.

After dinner, although we were all tired, we saw the movie called The Lady the story of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently a member of parliament, but spent many years under house arrest after she won election as prime minister and was imprisoned by the military. She was freed in 2010, but can she lead the country, how much freedom is there, and does it make much difference outside of the cities? Her father General Aung San was assinated in 1947 as he was working for democracy and a united Burma. 

Mengalai Ba