Endurance.

This week’s Photo Challenge, titled “Endurance”, really hit home.

This summer, I was in a small street in the busy centre of Cannes. As tourists shoved past each other, eyes glued on their smartphones, a movement caught my attention above their heads. A boring, grey pigeon. My eyes followed it as it headed straight for a nondescript windowsill. It landed softly. To my surprise, the window gently opened and a frail, carefully made-up retired lady appeared. I expected the pigeon to fly away, but it approached fearlessly, as if it had done so all its life.

The lady disappeared, then returned with something small in her hand. Passers-by tutted at me, bashing my legs with their shopping bags in their hurry to consume. I was in their way, mesmerized by an old lady and a bird repeating what appeared to be a long-established tradition above that busy street. A habit, a relationship. Real contact that had existed before I arrived and would do so long after – enduring friendship between a bird and a human who appeared to be paradoxically lonely in all the turmoil of the consumer world.

She sensed I was looking at her, turned her head towards me, and smiled. I pointed to my camera, and she nodded, then returned to her protégé. Here is the result.

IMG_5368

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Umbilical Cord: The Comeback.

Trachypithecus auratus

MM and Bigfoot back in 1996.

This parenting lark is one crazy ride. One minute you’re cradling a tiny little being in your arms, and the next, he’s morphed into a hulking great thing you tenderly refer to as “Bigfoot”. You find yourself in the car, jammed between the contents of your fridge and a double mattress, aiding and abetting in his departure from the nest.
It felt strangely like the day Bigfoot had started school. The same feelings were bubbling like lava in my abdomen – Pride. Anxiety. Instinct to protect. When we had exhausted all valid excuses for dallying longer in his new abode, we swallowed hard, beamed glassily at him, kissed him goodbye, and walked back down the stairs. The sound of him locking the door was both reassuring and gut wrenching.

Only when we were in the car, driving away, did I feel it.

The tug of that damned umbilical cord.

I swear that I saw PF cut it as I clutched my newborn in my arms. I heard it, too. A sound I have never forgotten, like someone trying to cut through a raw steak with a pair of round-ended school scissors. The symbolic act was accomplished – the physical cord was severed. Yet 18 years later, there we were, driving home down the motorway and discovering a second, invisible umbilical cord that needed cutting, all over again. Bigfoot had gone, and that damned cord was still there. Stronger and longer than a roll of Andrex. For the entire hour’s journey, it silently rolled itself out along the motorway behind us. As slick and  sinuous as licorice lace.

I have been hacking away at my end of it with determination ever since, using basic tools such as caustic self-derision, sharp wit and blunt common sense, but absolutely nothing will sever the bugger. It’s easy to understand why: Umbilical Cord, aka UC, is a determined cow. If she was girl at school, she’d be the one who noticed your hockey bruises in the changing room then prodded maliciously at them as you passed her in the corridor.
So I stoically ignore her as she stabs on the door bell of my mind. I hide. She pushes the letter box open, peers in, and yells through, her voice echoing up the staircase to the Maternal Instinct floor.
“Hey, anyone there? Yoo-hoo, MM, where are you? It’s me, UC. We met 18 years ago at the maternity ward, remember me? Uh… Anyway. I just wanted to say that I think you should check that Bigfoot got home tonight without being beaten up. Maybe he’s been mugged. Or he could have been kidnapped and served up on a bed of marshmallows by a gang of flesh-deprived cougars. After all, he’s a damn good-looking kid. Just saying.”
MM’s Common Sense Official shouts down the stairs that MM is in the bath, and refuses to be baited by such preposterous poppycock. (Yes, MM’s imagination has decided that the CSO is a rather spiffing Martini-drinking gent; a bit like James Bond, but better. So there.) He points out that Bigfoot doesn’t need to be called by his mother every two minutes, and is probably studying. Or watching a film on his laptop. Or out having a drink with his new friends. Or amazing Chosen Counterpart with his pasta-pesto creations. Or even (although highly improbable) doing the cleaning.
Umbilical Cord rolls her eyes, flicks her hair and retaliates, pulling out the heavy artillery. “Oh. My. God…. MM, are you sure he has made new friends? What if he’s alone in front of the TV, crying into a packet of M&Ms ? What if nobody checks on him when he doesn’t turn up for classes, and he’s prostrate on the bathroom floor because he slipped on the soap? You are just suuuuuch a bad mother. You should check if he’s eating right. He’s never too old to get rickets, you know. Then there’s scurvy. Oh, and you should ask if he remembered to send that paper to the bank….”
I drown her in a glass of rosé.
Later, when UC has given up, kicked off her Birkenstocks and gone to bed, I sneak my mobile phone under the covers to send a text message into the darkness: “Goodnight, Bigfoot“. ..and melt with relief when the screen lights up with “You too”.

Turkish Tongue Fu.

The world has gone bananas. The radio spits news of bombs, riots, Ebola, beheadings and conflicts into my kitchen on a daily basis. Meanwhile, social media overflows with videos of people in the Western world throwing buckets of iced water over their heads, screaming and donating money to charity in an interesting cocktail of altruism and narcissism.

In all this madness, one thing made me sit up and laugh out loud at the sheer ludicrousness of what I had just read. Paradoxically, my uncontrollable fit of giggles was set off by a subject that was really no laughing matter. In a speech delivered at the end of July, the deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, Bülent Arinç, informed Turkish women that they should refrain from laughing in public to preserve morality. Yet the idea that any normal person could seriously ask anyone else to refrain from laughing, in public or elsewhere, is so ridiculous that in the end, I really don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

A girl smiling or laughing.

An affront to morality? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So forget the cut and thrust of verbal jousting with girlfriends, and learn how to stem that fabulous, fizzy wave of giggles that bubbles up from deep down in your guts, gushing out of your mouth as your milkshake squirts out of your nostrils. (If you want to read a great post about laughter, I recommend this one by the wonderful Becky over at “Becky Says Things”).

Laughter is a deep-seated social reflex that has been evolving in the human brain since we held our first iStone – without laughter, humans would be incapable of living together. Communication and social coherence are necessary for any group of individuals that coexist, and laughter plays a specific role in this basic recipe for a peaceful community by showing that an individual is open, tolerant and not hostile. So asking someone not to laugh is about as realistic as telling them not to scratch their itching nose.

Whilst it is very flattering to think that women are able to stop themselves laughing, maybe Mr Arinç should try it first. I’m sure that he has already experienced an uncontrollable fit of giggles as someone farts stepping off the bus, or walks into a lamp-post because they were too busy admiring their own reflection in a shop window to look where they were going. I would therefore recommend a series of tests, in public, to see how he reacts to basics such as slipping on banana skins, or oversized trousers sliding slowly down a youngster’s legs to reveal oversized underpants, a bit like this unfortunate young man at the local Préfecture when MM got her driving license.

How to quite literally "hang out" in public, and provide an irrepressible fit of the giggles for MM. Photo taken for your eyes only,  at MM's perils and risks.

How to quite literally “hang out” in public, and provide an irrepressible fit of the giggles for MM. Photo taken for your eyes only, at MM’s perils and risks.

Otherwise, we could offer an exchange: girly giggles in public can disappear, but only when men have stopped publicly indulging in their much less appealing instinctive basic behaviors, such as scratching and rearranging their meat and two veg, or absent-minded nose picking and bogey flicking.

I am a bit nonplussed about how a publicly happy woman could be a danger to moral values. If a woman commits the heinous crime of making someone else laugh, will she be taken to court and accused of using tongue fu on innocent male bystanders? Chortling chicas in the street just make it a rather nice place to be – except, perhaps, for the kind of guy who will use any lame excuse to mistreat a woman, blaming it on her because she dared to “tempt” him by laughing in public.

Innocent men could be the victims of chick wit, but (to the best of my knowledge) no-one has ever been killed by the odd joke such as  “How many men does it take to make a chocolate mousse ?  Ten – one to make the mousse and nine to peel the Smarties”.

Domestic abuse in Turkey, however, is no laughing matter, and claims increasing numbers of lives with every year that passes. Anit Sayac, a website commemorating the Turkish victims of domestic violence, reports that domestic violence killed 228 women last year. According to the recent study entitled “Domestic Violence against Women in Turkey”, four in ten women there are beaten by their husbands. More sobering still, courts appear to be disturbingly unconcerned about these crimes – a recent court ruling showed leniency to a man who had stabbed his wife, agreeing that she had “provoked” her husband… by wearing leggings.

So when the accusing finger points, rather than looking at the woman it targets, take a good look at the mentality of the person who is pointing it. Shoulder the responsibility and question the patriarchal system that condones and closes its eyes to abuse, rather than demanding the impossible from women.