A Visit to the Presently Relevant Past

Having just come back from an eight-day trip through the former Yugoslavia, which involved three countries, two buses, two flights, and over 12-hours as a passenger in various cars, I'm fucking knackered.

These trips are a huge part of why I love my job so much, but they are not without their challenges. Both physically and emotionally demanding, today my arms ache from dragging my impractical and cumbersome suitcase behind me for over a week, like a drunk and reluctant friend you're trying to get home to bed. Bouncing over cobblestones and tripping out of potholes. There is an uncomfortable weightiness in my chest too. A rucksack too full of books strapped to my front that I want to put down.

These physical gripes are petty when compared to the devastating, but somehow simultaneously hopeful, stories of those I was privileged enough to spend time with recently. Stories that spilled out of mouths like rivers, the dam of their lips so eager to burst.

A little girl, smiling and waving out of her window to the army down below as they seized her city, thinking they were there to save her from the destruction, unable to comprehend that they were not there to help her, but that they were the destroyers.

Fathers and mothers of children who were both Serbian and Croatian being told to pick a side. An impossible choice many would rather die than make. So many did. The war may be over, but some cities remain segregated. People still have to choose. To which school will they send their children? In which cafe are they permitted to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee? How can you integrate when every day you are forced to remain divided?

The burnt-out, decrepit skeletons of what used to be houses still pepper neighbourhoods. Ugly and rotting, like corpses, they stoop sandwiched between newly built, brightly coloured homes with flowering gardens, fragrant with honeysuckle and lavender. The local hospital where, during the conflict many took refuge, but were later evacuated, and exterminated, plays a video on a loop in its basement. There, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with giggling, disassociated local high school students, you can gaze, slack-jawed, upon the anguished faces and mangled bodies of those who were forced to exit through the very doors from which you just entered, but who never returned.

And above it all, omnipresent and looming like a spectre, is the town water tower. History estimates this structure was pummelled with grenades and shells at least 600 times during the siege of the city, but still it stands. The residents crowdfunded the money required to repair it from all around the world and soon, after its renovation, it will boast a fancy restaurant at the top. However, the superficial damage will linger as a testament to the defiance and strength of not just the tower, but the people of Vukovar as well.

In Sarajevo the signs of war were less obvious. Much of the city has been reconstructed and foreign investment has funded the erection of sleek malls and gourmet restaurants. However, when walking down the street, if you looked down, you would occasionally come across a hole in the pavement, filled in with red resin. This is known as a Sarajevo Rose and marks where one of the huge number of bombs or grenades landed during the conflict. These crimson craters remain as reminders and, although they are beautiful and potent visual representations of war, sadly they are easily missed.

To get a better sense of what the war was like in Bosnia Herzegovina we drove to the outskirts of the city, to the airport, where just outside there is a museum dedicated to the Tunnel of Hope. This passage, built by a man named Bajro Kolar, his family and approximately 200 soldiers from the Bosnian Army, is credited with saving thousands of lives. Though only 2 metres high and 800 meters long, the majority of food, ammunition and weapons were transported from the airport to those most in need in the city through this incredible underground structure.

As a Jew, I get it. Never forget. I understand the motive behind showcasing, and memorialising, such violence and destruction in the hope that we will learn from it. But we never do. If we had, this recent conflict wouldn't have happened and the people I met wouldn't be experiencing life through the prism of trauma, both collective and individual.

It's easy to feel hopeless when faced with such recent tragedy. It's impossible not to reflect on Syria or the atrocities perpetrated against the Rohingya community as you make yourself small in the darkness to tread in the footsteps of men, who just twenty-some years prior, fought for their lives and may or may not have been lucky enough to survive.

However, despite the absolute horror so many in the region lived through, everyone we met was unbelievably kind, warm and open. Instead of running from their suffering, many remain rooted to it, defiant and determined to thrive. Despite an acute lack of employment opportunities, and tethered to a brutal past, still people returned to their homes after escaping the violence and still people work around the clock to provide support for the most vulnerable in their community, often sacrificing their own health in the process. I was humbled and galvanised by these individuals' capacity for forgiveness and compassion.

It is with these wonderful humans that I learned about the ancient civilisation of the Vučedol and with whom I visited Iločki podrumi, where, after hours, we broke into the spooky, spectacular wine cellar, which, as they delighted to tell me, housed the wine from 1945 that Wills and Kate had at their wedding. It is with these generous, caring individuals that I sat by the Danube River and ate the most delectable fish soup, chased down with an exquisite local red, which did a sexy tango on my tongue, as we talked late into the night about everything but the war.

I flew out of Croatia hopeful. There are people everywhere working incredibly hard to make their corners of the world beautiful. I am fortunate enough to know so many of them. But they can't do it alone. If we all concentrate on our corner I truly believe that together we can make this world a wonderful place, but we need to focus on what matters. On unity, love, acceptance and tolerance not violence and not war.

Having just spoken to so many about how the rise of nationalism and extremism were at the forefront of the Yugoslavian conflict it's hard to not see parallels in so many countries currently. We should know better by now. Know better than to continue making the same fucking mistake over and over again and expecting things to turn out differently. What the fuck are we fighting for anyway?

U(bud) OK, Hun?

This morning I jabbed an angry finger at my phone, repeatedly snoozing my alarm, refusing to give into its demands. I know…I had all the best intentions when I tucked myself in last night. I envisioned myself bounding out of bed and into the shower before meandering lazily down the steamy, uneven street for breakfast and then onto Ecstatic Dance at 11am to kick my time back in Ubud off properly. However, 19-plus hours of travel have a way of taking it out of you and although I passed out around 9:30pm last night, the last thing I was inclined to do was “bound” anywhere.

I finally managed to pep talk myself out of my sheets at 9:45am and made it out my door for 10. Anyone who knows, knows that you need to get to Ecstatic Dance early and queue up for a ticket. I was not confident I’d left in enough time, but upon arrival I was met by a woman with too many teeth and given my elusive numbered sticky note, which ensured me a spot.

With time to kill I selected a medium-sized coconut to help replenish the fluids which had been sucked from my body as I hurtled through the air in a tin can, watching bad movies and inhaling other people’s farts. Once it had been skilfully cracked open I tentatively teetered over to an empty spot on the ground and plopped myself down trying not to spill the contents of my coconut over the leathery old man and an impossibly beautiful and young woman who were chatting next to me. This is a dynamic you get used to quickly in Ubud. The percentage of poorly ageing men harbouring erections in tye-dyed harem trousers is dwarfed only by the number of young, damaged women with daddy issues seeking coddling.

I eavesdropped, with little interest, as he asked her about her “art” and then “how do you see the world?” Careful not to get their verbal masturbatory fluid in my coconut I joined the conversation when he struggled with his French, both saving and cockblocking him at once. Sorry, not sorry. After predatory grandad split I continued speaking with the sweet, and actually very interesting, French woman for a bit before the beat began to throb gently above us, cuing all dancers that it was time to get ecstatic.

For those who don’t know, Ecstatic Dance is like a big day rave, but without any fun drugs. There’s a lot of white dreadlocks and bindis on show and clothing is optional. If someone steps in a puddle of sweat it’s not uncommon to see them rub it on their face or lick it. Really. The only rule is that you can’t speak, but you are encouraged to touch, which creates a very strange environment where consent needs to be made clear though facial expressions and reciprocal contact only, which in my case is usually a swift “accidental” fist to the dick. Whoopsie.

Ecstatic Dance is a place where there is little regard for personal space or personal hygiene. You can be enjoying a wonderfully solo jam-out session in your little bit of the room and then some, usually topless, pungent cunt will declare, through the medium of dance, that your part of the room is now theirs. It is not a place where people behave. Assholes who feel they deserve more space in this world also feel somehow entitled to more space on the dance floor. In this way, Ecstatic Dance is a microcosm of our society and all that is wrong with it.

However, like society itself, there are also lovely people and moments of rare beauty. Like the women who stick two gloriously meaty fingers up to Western beauty standards and stomp the floor, wearing practically nothing, their thick thighs all aquiver. The fathers who bring their wee ones, kitted in protective headphones and not quite confident enough to walk alone yet, and hold them close to their chest as they dip, dive and gracefully navigate the countless undulating bodies around them with ease. There are many sweaty hugs exchanged, that linger far too long for my liking, but seem to make the participants jubilant in their collective cocoon. To every darkness a light, a yin to the yang.

 

via GIPHY

Speaking of light, the attendees are unsurprisingly white af. This particular Sunday morning sesh is held at the Yoga Barn, which is a glaring pillar of white privilege on the island of Bali. Classes are expensive, elite and although they offer a reduced rate for locals, it is exceedingly rare to see any in attendance. The tribal beats that are played are done so by a DJ who looks and sounds like he just stepped off the plane from California and told us all not to worry about the volcano threatening to imminently erupt because “he’s got us.” Cool. Everyone calm down, the DJ from Yoga Barn’s got us and it’s all going to be fine.

I mock only because this is the kind of shit that Ubud peddles to those with big enough bank accounts to come here in search of the kind of "spiritualism" sold in Eat, Pray Love. Those who are desperately seeking anything and who will ascribe meaning to the most trivial of experiences because they are all signs from the universe. This "community", this “safety net” is comprised of incredibly vulnerable people who have come here looking for answers, acceptance and respite from something, which usually turns out to be themselves. People who think that the collective good vibes being sent out by a dance studio filed with tourists can somehow save the island of Bali from an impending natural disaster are the same people who believe that writhing around on the floor with a sweaty, stinky, stranger is somehow “spiritual” or “divine.” They use words like “conscious” to describe the ingredients of their lunches and tell you as often as you let them that they prefer to engage with “activated” people only.

It’s this kind of language and attitude that makes me unable to love Bali the way so many do. I’m a huge fan of “live and let live” but when that way of life is destructive and dangerous I’d prefer not to take part and I believe at some point complacency becomes complicity. I can't ignore all the crazy because it's fucking crazy. This is why, when I saw the thinnest person I'd ever seen in my life today, I couldn't just look away. Partly because I was morbidly curious and partly because I know CPR and genuinely felt this girl might fall through her own ass at any minute and I’d have to resuscitate her.

Bali, and more specifically Ubud, is a hotbed of anorexic activity. My body dysmorphia goes into overdrive when I’m here, which is why it’s so rare to see me out in anything form fitting. I am a BEAST and it is impossible for me not to compare my body to everyone else’s when they're clad in spandex, forcing you to bear witness to the fact that they are doing yoga 100 times a day and existing only on green juice. Bali sells itself as a destination for health and wellbeing, but I’ve never been in the company of so many unhealthy people. I used to work with girls with eating disorders, so I know what to look for, but you don’t even need to to look here. Swing a hula hoop and you're guaranteed to hit a few right in their starving mouths.

That girl today could have been 20 or 50. She was ageless in her thinness. Her hair was pulled into a patchy ponytail and the shorts, which hung loosely on the wire hanger of her hips, were designed for a child. She was in front of me, so when she lifted up her arms I saw every bone in her pelvis and lumbar spine. Her skin was like cling film stretched across the picked-over remains of a turkey carcass on Thanksgiving, serving no purpose but to keep the dog from eating it. She moved awkwardly in her body because it was barely supporting her, she didn’t sweat because her body had nothing more to give. I watched her out of fear, but I saw that other girls, not quite as emaciated as her but getting there, were watching her and licking their chops with jealousy.

I wanted to approach her and ask if she was OK, but she is in the right place for people to be telling her that not only is she OK, she's aspirational. She's the fucking dream. I have no solutions or suggestions. I have no answers or insight. I am not trying to skinny shame, this is not about being skinny, this is about being unwell. This is about watching people compete in a competition they can't win. Because what they want to be doesn't exist, it can't survive.

And to you, whoever you are who is reading this, you are enough. Cake is just fucking cake and you will still be you if you eat it.

Why I'm Not Eating Tina Fey's Privilege Cake

I've wanted to write this for a week now, but I'm lazy af and have had other shit to do, like read various comments sections under several well-meaning, but seriously blinkered, Facebook articles and scream into my pillow.

Another white woman screaming into inanimate objects this past week has been my long-time idol and object of my most primal desires, Tina Fey. On last week's Saturday Night Live she showed up on the Weekend Update segment in a University of Virginia sweatshirt looking like a sexy, brainy co-ed and educated the masses on the grassroots movement that is "sheetcaking." If you haven't seen this video you're either dead or you're someone who knows SNL has sucked for the past ten years and you're better off wasting that hour of your life watching kitten videos on the internet. I feel you.

However, if anything can make SNL watchable, it's Fey.  Her display of polite, white rage went viral and several of my very lovely, well-meaning white female friends shared it on social media with captions like; "this is EVERYTHING!!!!" Or "OMG YAAAAS!!" Or "THIS is how we fight Nazis, ladies." And because you know me, I am one of your friends, I thought it might be useful for you to hear this from me. NO. Just NO.

I find it painfully tone deaf that a straight, wealthy white woman is preaching to those of us with skin in the game to essentially #resist the #resistance by stepping the fuck back. Let's not forget it was straight, wealthy white woman who helped put the fetid pile of used sanitary products that is Trump in the Whitehouse. So...yeah, we're done listening to you and your advice about how the rest of us, who actually have something to lose, should be behaving right now.

The best way I can think of, in these troubling times, to tell whether or not an opinion, or even a joke, is worth getting behind is to imagine it being said by lots of different people. If it's still valid or it's still funny, it's all good. So can you imagine Jessica Williams telling us to stay home and eat our feelings in the face of Nazis stomping through our streets? How about Sarah Silverman or Ellen DeGeneres? Nope? Me neither. Know why? Because these women; a woman of colour, a Jew and a lesbian, are directly affected by the hate pustule that is pulsating aggressively on the surface of our beloved America, about to blow the fuck up.

I'm sure this blog will earn me the title of "butthurt" or "snowflake" or the combined "buttflake" but the fucks I give about this is zero. This display of utter un-wokeness by Fey is irresponsible in its lethargy. "Don't scream at the Nazi, scream it into the cake." NO. SCREAM AT THE NAZI! Show up to peaceful demonstrations like Boston did. Be a good ally! Bring fucking cake, sure, that's never a bad idea. But bring it for snacking while protesting. Bring it to smear on a Men's Rights Activist's fragile masculinity. Bring it to give to the homeless people on the damn streets you're protesting on, but PLEASE PROTEST!

As a Jewish American, the images of the Charlottesville Unite the Right Rally are burned into my brain forever. People waving swastika flags on American soil shouting "Jews will not replace us"??!! Damn. I volunteer my Jewish ass as tribute to replace each and every one of these horribly confused shitstains, but can't help but wonder if anyone would miss them.

This is a time for us all to stand together, shoulder to shoulder against those who would see us eradicated. POC, Jews, Muslims, all our beautiful brothers and sisters on the LGBTQIA rainbow, let's fucking do this. No infighting, no "our suffering is the worst suffering." Just straight-up unity. That's the only way we can fight against those with automatic weapons, and the backing of the United States Government, who believe that it's white America who are the disenfranchised, the victims. Who seek to "take their country back" from we who are supposedly hijacking it from under their steel-toed boots.

Don't encourage any more white people to stay at home, Tina Fey. Don't tell them to funnel their rage into baked goods. Funnel it into writing or calling your state representative and telling them that Trump's soft stance on white supremacy in America is NOT yours. Funnel it into joining a local group like Indivisible and peacefully protesting this insanity. Funnel it into speaking out and into LISTENING! Those of us who are nervous have the right to be, listen to why we don't feel safe. I look white as hell, but I've got a soft, warm, jewy centre that is terrified of how our world is unravelling.

Wake up, cis, Christian white women and be on the right side of history. We do not need your advice to eat more carbs, we need your ass beside us, like the incredibly brave and compassionate late Heather Heyer who got the fuck out of bed because she knew that "if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." We should all be outraged and if you're not, consider why not. Is it because you think that what's happening doesn't affect you? It will eventually and I guarantee it is already affecting many of your friends and loved ones. Cake is not enough.

Cultivating Pussy Pearls

Today, a little late to the party, I learned about a new sex trend, which involves sticking dissolvable capsules filled with glitter, and flavoured lubricant, into your vaginal cavity. The idea is that they will dissolve with the aid of your own yummy, natural vag juices and leave your lady cave coated in sparkle and tasting like a Starburst, thus crating the illusion that from the waist down you are magical-cum-filled unicorn instead of an actual human woman. What a time to be alive!

What I want to know is "who the fuck asked for this?" Who thought it would be a good idea to stuff the most sensitive part of a woman's body with tiny particles of plastic, which as we all know, are a fucker to get rid of on the damn carpet, never mind INSIDE your body. Ever experienced the exquisite hell that is having sand trapped in your vagina? This is the equivalent of doing that to YOURSELF. On PURPOSE! That shit will be in there FOREVER. You may very well cultivate a pussy pearl.

The biggest kick to the taco is that this poorly-conceived product was devised by a woman. A woman who apparently isn't in on the secret that her genitals are just fucking fine the way they are.

Why do we keep doing this to each other, girls? Why do we keep perpetuating the myth that our equipment needs improving, upgrading and gimmicks to be acceptable? I like my vagina to taste and smell like a vagina, which, for those who are curious, is like tangy maple syrup or, if I've had a heavy night out, a beef pho. I don't want my partner to go down on me and come up looking like this:

glitter beard.jpeg

 

Who is this really for? I don't think men are asking for this, but as women we are made to feel so insecure about our bodies that we buy into this shit on the regs.  The capsules sold out almost immediately despite the countless warnings from gynaecologists saying, "hey, ladies, don't put tiny particles of plastic in your gashes." I'm paraphrasing, of course, but that's pretty much the message. It will lead to infections and general bouts of ouchy, so why won't we listen?

Making women insecure about their bodies is a billion dollar business. Whether it's chemicals to spray into our bits to make them smell "nice" or surgeries that cost thousands, which butcher our labia in an effort to make it look more "appealing." This shit is not new, but it is getting really fucking old. Please can we all agree to stop buying into the misogynistic myth that our pusses aren't perfect as it is?

I Googled "men putting glitter in their butts" and, surprise! Not a thing. No self-respecting man is using these capsules as a suppository for the same reason we shouldn't be putting them in our pussies. No dude wants to be farting glitter for the rest of his life, even though that sounds pretty fun. In reality it's dumb, it's dangerous and if you don't care enough about your body to agree that this is straight-up fucking stupid, think of the damn clean up required.