Saturday, July 31, 2010

Leda and the Swan

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still

Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed

By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,

He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push

The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?

And how can body, laid in that white rush,

But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there

The broken wall, the burning roof and tower

And Agamemnon dead.

Being so caught up,

So mastered by the brute blood of the air,

Did she put on his knowledge with his power

Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?


BBC World News

Brazil's sex tourism boom

Chris Rogers with two young girlsChris Rogers encounters many young girls on the streets of Brazil

Young children are supplying an increasing demand from foreign tourists who travel to Brazil for sex holidays, according to a BBC investigation. Chris Rogers reports on how the country is overtaking Thailand as a destination for sex tourism and on attempts to curb the problem.

Her small bikini exposes her tiny frame. She looks no older than 13 - one of dozens of girls parading the street looking for clients in the blazing mid-afternoon sun. Most come from the surrounding favelas - or slums.

As I park my car, the young girl dances provocatively to catch my attention.

"Hello my name is Clemie - you want a programme?" she asks, programme being the code word they use for an hour of sex. Clemie asks for less than $5 (£3) for her services. An older woman standing nearby steps in and introduces herself as Clemie's mother.

Start Quote

I usually have more than 10 clients per night - they pay 10 reais each - enough for a rock of crack”

Pia13-year-old prostitute

"You have the choice of another two girls, they are the same age as my daughter, the same price," she explains. "I can take you to a local motel where a room can be rented by the hour."

I make my excuses and head towards the bars and brothels of the nearby red-light district.

Despite assurances of a police crackdown, there appears to be little evidence of child prostitution disappearing from the streets of Recife. In four years' time, the country will be hosting the World Cup, which will fuel its booming economy.

Brazil has defied the global economic downturn thanks, in part, to its exotic, endless beaches attracting record numbers of tourists.

The country's erotic reputation has long been attracting an unwanted type of tourist. Every week specialist holiday operators bring in thousands of European singles on charted flights looking for cheap sex. Now Brazil is overtaking Thailand as the world's most popular sex-tourist destination.


As night falls, the sex tourist's playground in Recife, in the state of Pernambuco, comes alive. Prostitutes mingle with tourists, dancing at their sides and eyeing up potential business. The legal age for prostitution is 18, but many look much younger.

Chris Rogers with two young boysTwo young transvestites say they need to work to get money for food

Taxi drivers work with the girls who are too young to get into the bars. One offers me two for the price of one and a lift to a local motel.

"They are underage, so much cheaper than the older ones," he explains as he introduces me to Sara and Maria.

Neither has made any attempt to disguise their age. One clings to a bright pink Barbie bag, and they hold each other's hands looking terrified at the possibility of potential custom.

Recife's red-light area is now crammed with cars slowly crawling past groups of girls parading their bodies.

One of them, Pia, is dressed in a cropped pink top and mini skirt. The 13-year-old agrees to speak to me about her life as a child prostitute. She explains that she works from the same street corner every night until dawn to fund her and her mother's crack cocaine habit.

"I usually have more than 10 clients per night," she boasts. "They pay 10 reais (£3.50, $5.50)) each - enough for a rock of crack."

Start Quote

Entire streets are now cleared of prostitution - my aim is to intensify these raids in time for the World Cup”

Eline MarquesSecretary of state for child protection, Fortaleza

For safety, Pia works with a group of older girls who act as pimps, taking care of the money and watching over the younger ones.

"There's lots of girls working around here. I'm not the youngest, my sister is 12, and there's an 11-year-old." But Pia is worried about her sister: "Bianca hasn't been seen for two days since she left with a foreign guy," she says.

Pia first started working as a prostitute at the age of seven, and Unicef estimates there are 250,000 child prostitutes like her in Brazil.

"I've been doing it for so long now, I don't even think about the dangers," Pia tells me. "Foreign guys just show up here. I've been with lots of them. They just show up like you."


Just a couple of streets away the pavement is lined with transvestites touting for clients. Among them 14-year-old Ronison and 12-year-old Ivan.

The cousins look convincing in their stilettos, mini skirts and blouses, and heavy make up.

"We need to earn money to buy rice and staple foods for our families," Ronison explains as he flicks back his long bobbed hair. "Our parents don't worry about us too much. We tell them when we are leaving and when we're coming back. And then we give the money to them to buy food. They know how we get the money, we just don't discuss it"

Police searchThe city of Fortaleza has been carrying out relentless clean-up operations

Most sex tourists used to head to the city of Fortaleza some 500 miles away.

But not anymore. For the past year, the state capital of Ceara - which also a World Cup host city - has been sending a clear message to sex tourists that they are not welcome. Every week a dozen armed cars and federal police armed with AK-47s sweep through the streets of the red-light district, breaking down the doors of motels and brothels, arresting offenders and taking underage girls into care.

Eline Marques, the city's secretary of state for child protection, claims her relentless raids are having an effect.

"We have shut down many establishments in Fortaleza. Entire streets are now cleared of prostitution. My aim is to intensify these raids in time for the World Cup, targeting the very tourism that encourages child prostitution," she says.

Other states have indicated that they are monitoring Ms Marques' campaign and, if deemed successful, could follow suit.


But for every sex establishment that is shut down, every sex tourist arrested, there are victims.

Many are taken to charity run homes. The Centro de Recuperacao Rosa De Saron near Recifi is full to capacity because many of the girls can't be returned home to the poverty that drove them into prostitution. They are sent there from all over Brazil.

Love MotelLove Motels can be hired by the hour

Twelve-year-old Maria wants to live with her mother but she can't because her pimp, who forced her to work on the streets and in brothels, threatened to kill her if she tried to escape. She told me that she is still terrified for her life.

"I had no choice but to do what he said. I felt I was losing my childhood, I was only nine years old," she says. "I was scared. Sometimes if I came back without money for him he'd hit me."

Jane Sueli Silva, who founded the centre, says most of the girls are between 12 and 14 when they arrive.

"Many of them arrive here with serious problems like cervical cancer," she says. "As the cancer is normally at only early stage, we can help them and thank God the cure is normally always successful."

Some girls also turn up pregnant, their child fathered by a sex tourist.


The British charity Happy Child International plans to build more centres to house a growing number of child prostitutes.

"The crisis for these children turning to prostitution has increased significantly in the north-east of Brazil over the last few years, fuelled by increasing numbers of foreign tourists who travel to Brazil for sex holidays," says Sarah de Carvalho of Happy Child International.

"It is so important to take the children away from the lure of the streets and break the cycle and give them a safe place to live and receive help."

But charities and police crackdowns have yet to reach children like Pia, the 13-year-old prostitute whom I met on the streets of Recife.

Start Quote

Every day I ask God to take me out of this life”

Pia13-year-old prostitute

Her home is a small shack she shares with her mother, two brothers and 12-year-old sister, who had still failed to return home. It was nothing more than a crumbling shed with two sofas acting as a bed and a plastic bucket to wash clothes and plates.

When I asked Casa if her daughters' work in prostitution breaks her heart, she appeared more concerned that they fail to bring home money. "If they make money they don't bring it home. No - they don't bring any money home," she said.

Pia told me that one day she hopes to break out of prostitution. She said she had heard of charities that provide a home for girls like her.

"Every day I ask God to take me out of this life. Sometimes I do stop, but then I go back to the streets looking for men. The drug is bad, the drug is my weakness and the clients are always there willing to pay."

Friday, July 30, 2010

Unsurprisingly, Sylvia Plath strikes through me again.

The hills step off into whiteness.
People or stars
Regard me sadly, I disappoint them.

The train leaves a line of breath.
O slow
Horse the colour of rust,

Hooves, dolorous bells -
All morning the
Morning has been blackening,

A flower left out.
My bones hold a stillness, the far
Fields melt my heart.

They threaten
To let me through to a heaven
Starless and fatherless, a dark water.

Red stars

Counting the red stars and those of plum-color
The sun rises under the pillar of your tongue.
My hours are married to shadow
No longer do I listen for the scrape of a keel
On the blank stones of the landing.

Carl Theodor Dreyer

“Nothing in the world can be compared to the human face. It is a land one can never tire of exploring. There is no greater experience in a studio than to witness the expression of a sensitive face under the mysterious power of inspiration. To see it animated from inside, and turning into poetry.”


“As a matter of fact, I rather feel like expressing myself now. And I could certainly use a release!”

Ben Skinner on NPR

With $50 and a plane ticket to Haiti, one can buy a slave. This was just one of the difficult lessons writer Benjamin Skinner learned while researching his book, A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery.

Skinner met with slaves and traffickers in 12 different countries, filling in the substance around a startling fact: there are more slaves on the planet today than at any time in human history. Skinner speaks with Anthony Brooks about his experience researching slavery.

Though now illegal throughout the world, slavery is more or less the same as it was hundreds of years ago, Skinner explains. Slaves are still "those that are forced to work under threat of violence for no pay beyond sustenance."

Something disturbing has changed however — the price of a human. After adjusting for inflation, Skinner found that, "In 1850, a slave would cost roughly $30,000 to $40,000 — in other words it was like investing in a Mercedes. Today you can go to Haiti and buy a 9-year-old girl to use as a sexual and domestic slave for $50. The devaluation of human life is incredibly pronounced."

Skinner obtained this specific figure through a very hands-on process. In the fall of 2005, he visited Haiti, which has one of the highest concentrations of slaves anywhere in the world.

"I pulled up in a car and rolled down the window," he recalls. "Someone said, 'Do you want to get a person?'"

Though the country was in a time of political chaos, the street where he met the trafficker was clean and relatively quiet. A tape of the conversation reveals a calm, concise transaction. He was initially told he could get a 9-year-old sex partner/house slave for $100, but he bargained it down to $50.

"The thing that struck me more than anything afterwards was how incredibly banal the transaction was. It was as if I was negotiating on the street for a used stereo."

In the end, he agreed on the price, but told the trader not to make any moves.

"When I was talking to traffickers, I had a principle that I wouldn't pay for human life," he says.

This principle enabled him to keep a certain distance from the system, but not giving in to the temptation to free a suffering human being was an emotionally taxing struggle, he says.

"It's one thing when you are planning an effort like this, this is a work of journalism — I'm not going to interfere with my subjects. It's another thing when you are in an underground brothel in Bucharest, who has this girl with Down Syndrome, who you know is undergoing rape several times a day. When this girl is offered to me in trade for a used car ... I walk away ... it's not an easy thing to do," he says.

At one point, he did violate his principal — helping a mother free her daughter from slavery. He says he does not regret his decision, however, and continues to track her progress through a local NGO in Haiti. She's now in school, he says, and wrote him a letter over Christmas.

Slavery consumes Skinner, he says.

"When I come back to a nice loft in Brooklyn and I have to think about writing this thing — that drove me. I knew that I had to write as compelling a book as possible. This is a life-long commitment for me."

Excerpt: 'A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery'

Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment. Perhaps you assumed that there was meaning behind the dozen international conventions banning the slave trade, or that the deaths of 30 million people in world wars had spread freedom across the globe.

But you're in luck. By our mere definition, you are living at a time when there are more slaves than at any point in history. If -you're going to buy one in five hours, however, you've really got to stop navel—gazing over things like law and the moral advance of humanity. Get a move on.

First, hail a taxi to JFK International Airport. If you choose the Queensboro Bridge to the Brooklyn—Queens Expressway, the drive should take under an hour. With no baggage, you'll speed through security in time to make a direct flight to Port au Prince, Haiti. Flying time: three hours.

The final hour is the strangest. After disembarking, you will cross the tarmac to the terminal where drummers in vodou getup and a dancing midget greet you with song. Based on Transportation Security Administration warnings posted in the departure terminal at JFK, you might expect abject chaos at Toussaint L'Ouverture Airport. Instead, you find orderly lines leading to the visa stamp, no bribes asked, a short wait for your bag, then a breeze through customs. Outside the airport, the cabbies and porters will be aggressive, but not threatening. Assuming you speak no Creole, find an English—speaking porter and offer him $20 to translate for the day.

Ask your translator to hail the most common form of transport, a tap-tap, a flatbed pickup retrofitted with benches and a brightly colored canopy. You will have to take a couple of these, but they only cost 10 gourdes (25 cents) each. Usually handpainted with signs in broken English or Creole, tap-taps often include the words my god or jesus. my god -it's my life reads one; another announces welcome to jesus. Many are ornate, featuring windshields covered in frill, doodads, and homages to such figures as Che Guevara, Ronaldinho, or reggae legend Gregory Isaacs. The -driver's navigation is based on memory, instinct. There will be no air conditioning. Earplugs are useful, as the sound system, which cost more than the rig itself, will make your chest vibrate with the beats of Haitian pop and American hip-hop. Up to twenty people may accompany you: five square inches on a wooden bench will miraculously accommodate a woman with a posterior the size of a tractor tire. Prepare your spine.

You'll want to head up Route de Delmas toward the suburb of Pétionville, where many of the -countr''s wealthiest thirty families—who control the -nat'on's economy—maintain a—ied—à-terre. As you drive southeast away from the sea, the smells change from rotting fish to rotting vegetables. Exhaust fumes fill the ai'. You'll pass a billboard featuring a smiling girl in pigtails and the words: Give me your hand. Give me tomorrow. Down with Child Servitude. Chances are, like the majority of Haitians, yo' -can't read French or Creole. Like them, you ignore the sign.

Heading out of the airport, -you'll pass two UN peacekeepers, one with a Brazilian patch, the other with an Argentine flag. As you pass the blue helmets, smile, wave, and receive dumbfounded stares in return. The United Nations also has Jordanians and Peruvians here, parked in APVs fifteen minutes northwest, along the edge of the hyperviolent Cité Soleil slum, the poorest and most densely populated six square miles in the poorest and most densely populated country in the hemisphere. The peacekeepers -do''t go in much, neither do the national police. If they do, the gangsters that run the place start shooting.

Best to steer clear, although yo''d get a cheap price on children there. You might even get offered a child gratis.

You'll notice the streets of the Haitian capital are, like the tap—taps, overstuffed, banged up, yet colorful. The road surfaces range from bad to terrible, and grind even the toughest SUVs down to the chassis. Parts of Delmas are so steep that the truck may sputter and die under the exertion.

Port au Prince was built to accommodate about 150,000 people, and hasn't seen too many centrally planned upgrades since 1804. Over the last fifty years, some 2 million people, a quarter of the nation's population, have arrived from the countryside. They've brought their animals. Chickens scratch on side streets, and boys lead prizefighting cocks on string leashes. Monstrously fat black pigs root in sooty, putrid garbage piled eight feet high on street corners or even higher in enormous pits that drop off sidewalks and wind behind houses.

A crowd swells out of a Catholic church broadcasting a fervent mass. Most Haitians are Catholic. Despite the efforts of Catholic priests, most also practice vodou. In the countryside, vodou is often all they practice.

Watch this:

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Downey and Galifianakis? This is paradise.

(The Tell-Tale Heart)

"Villains!' I shrieked. 'Dissemble no more! I admit the deed! Tear up the planks! Here, here! It is the beating of his hideous heart!"

Elizabeth and James

Death is like

She died in my arms saying, "I don't want to die." That is what death is like. It doesn't matter what uniforms the soldiers are wearing. It doesn't matter how good the weapons are. I thought if everyone could see what I saw, we could never have war anymore. -J.S.F.


"Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights: the accumulations of a lifetime gather there. In places the palimpsest is so heavily worked that the letters feel like Braille. I like to keep my body rolled up away from prying eyes, never unfold too much, or tell the whole story. I didn't know that he would have reading hands. He has translated me into his own book." -Winterson

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dorian Gray

"On more than one occasion I have been ready to abandon my whole life for love. To alter everything that makes sense to me and to move into a different world where the only known will be the beloved. Such a sacrifice must be the result of love... or is it that the life itself was already worn out? I had finished with that life, perhaps, and could not admit it, being stubborn or afraid, or perhaps did not know it, habit being a great binder. I think it is often so that those most in need of change choose to fall in love and then throw up their hands and blame it all on fate. But it is not fate, at least, not if fate is something outside of us; it is a choice made in secret after nights of longing.

... I may be cynical when I say that very rarely is the beloved more than a shaping spirit for the lover's dreams... To be a muse may be enough. The pain is when the dreams change, as they do, as they must. Suddenly the enchanted city fades and you are left alone again in the windy desert. As for your beloved, she didn't understand you.

The truth is, you never understood yourself."


She felt as if she were brimming, always producing and hoarding more love inside her.

It feels like a moment I've lived a thousand times before, as if everything is familiar, right up to the moment of my death, that it will happen again an infinite number of times, that we will meet, marry, have our children, succeed in the ways we have, fail in the ways we have, all exactly the same, always unable to change a thing. I am again at the bottom of an unstoppable wheel, and when I feel my eyes close for death, as they have and will a thousand times, I awake. -J.S.F.


    If there is no love in the world, we will make a new world.

    But more than that, no unloving words were ever spoken, and everything was held up as another small piece of proof that it can be this way, it doesn't have to be that way; if there is no love in the world, we will make a new world, and we will give it heavy walls, and we will furnish it with soft red interiors, from the inside out, and give it a knocker that resonates like a diamond falling to a jeweler's felt so that we should never hear it. Love me, because love doesn't exist, and I have tried everything that does. J. S.F.

    Saturday, July 24, 2010

    Carla Bruni

    Pop Culture Pride

    Rebecca Givens

    the sheet that holds his image, wraps
    me up as I climb out of fire.

    Morgan Carrr


    Lap the evening where it blackens. Cat where I cannot see
    habit the light in cells. Morning would have a river in its mouth.

    Oil of the flower's every step. Never a word, neither a star--
    but blue to the end of remembering.


    "Compassion directed toward oneself is true humility."


    Time magazine

    " a pale desert of gigantic water-lilies. They sigh one unto the other in that solitude. And stretch towards the heaven their long and ghastly necks. And nod to and fro their everlasting heads. And there is an indistinct murmur which cometh out from among them like the rushing of subterrene water. And they sigh unto the other... And the tall primeval trees rock eternally hither and thither with a crashing and mighty sound. And from their high summits, one by one, drop everlasting dews. And at the roots strange poisonous flowers lie writhing in perturbed slumber. And overhead, with a rustling loud noise, the gray clouds rush westwardly forever, until they roll, a cataract, over the fiery wall of the horizon..." -Edgar Allan Poe

    Meshes of the Afternoon, Maya Deren

    Recommended short viewing: 00:01 mark in the second, the last two minutes in the first.

    Wednesday, July 21, 2010


    In sixth grade Mrs. Walker

    slapped the back of my head
    and made me stand in the corner
    for not knowing the difference
    between persimmon and precision.
    How to choose

    persimmons. This is precision.
    Ripe ones are soft and brown-spotted.
    Sniff the bottoms. The sweet one
    will be fragrant. How to eat:
    put the knife away, lay down newspaper.
    Peel the skin tenderly, not to tear the meat.
    Chew the skin, suck it,
    and swallow. Now, eat
    the meat of the fruit,
    so sweet,
    all of it, to the heart.

    Donna undresses, her stomach is white.
    In the yard, dewy and shivering
    with crickets, we lie naked,
    face-up, face-down.
    I teach her Chinese.
    Crickets: chiu chiu. Dew: I’ve forgotten.
    Naked: I’ve forgotten.
    Ni, wo: you and me.
    I part her legs,
    remember to tell her
    she is beautiful as the moon.

    Other words
    that got me into trouble were
    fight and fright, wren and yarn.
    Fight was what I did when I was frightened,
    Fright was what I felt when I was fighting.
    Wrens are small, plain birds,
    yarn is what one knits with.
    Wrens are soft as yarn.
    My mother made birds out of yarn.
    I loved to watch her tie the stuff;
    a bird, a rabbit, a wee man.

    Mrs. Walker brought a persimmon to class
    and cut it up
    so everyone could taste
    a Chinese apple. Knowing
    it wasn’t ripe or sweet, I didn’t eat
    but watched the other faces.

    My mother said every persimmon has a sun
    inside, something golden, glowing,
    warm as my face.

    Once, in the cellar, I found two wrapped in newspaper,
    forgotten and not yet ripe.
    I took them and set both on my bedroom windowsill,
    where each morning a cardinal
    sang, The sun, the sun.

    Finally understanding
    he was going blind,
    my father sat up all one night
    waiting for a song, a ghost.
    I gave him the persimmons,
    swelled, heavy as sadness,
    and sweet as love.

    This year, in the muddy lighting
    of my parents’ cellar, I rummage, looking
    for something I lost.
    My father sits on the tired, wooden stairs,
    black cane between his knees,
    hand over hand, gripping the handle.
    He’s so happy that I’ve come home.
    I ask how his eyes are, a stupid question.
    All gone, he answers.

    Under some blankets, I find a box.
    Inside the box I find three scrolls.
    I sit beside him and untie
    three paintings by my father:
    Hibiscus leaf and a white flower.
    Two cats preening.
    Two persimmons, so full they want to drop from the cloth.

    He raises both hands to touch the cloth,
    asks, Which is this?

    This is persimmons, Father.

    Oh, the feel of the wolftail on the silk,
    the strength, the tense
    precision in the wrist.
    I painted them hundreds of times
    eyes closed. These I painted blind.
    Some things never leave a person:
    scent of the hair of one you love,
    the texture of persimmons,
    in your palm, the ripe weight.

    -Li-Young Lee