WORLD INTHAVAARAM, 2021–49
About: the world this week, 28 November to 4 December 2021, the media gets omicron infected, Barbados bids adieu to The Crown, France honours an inspirational ‘Danse Sauvage’ banana skirt Spy, The Word of the Year, and China walls-in a tennis player.
The Omicron virus had a frenzied, fierce spread across the media of the world, with every vaccinated or unvaccinated news channel or newspaper dissecting and analysing its known (and unknown) capabilities. The wise said that we require some more time to see and study the effects of the new variant. Getting wiser?
We are definitely not going back to where we started in January 2020: we have evolved — I hope it is good enough. The weapons that we have with us, irrespective of any variant, is the rich learning and training of the past year, which we have to deploy to win yet another battle…and maybe the war. Meanwhile, get that shield!
The Land of the Bearded Tree
Barbados is a small island country in the Caribbean Sea, part of the Atlantic Ocean, with its capital at Bridgetown, its largest Town. Its neighbours are Saint Lucia, to the north, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, to the west, and Trinidad & Tobago to the south. It is a fairly flat island, surrounded by ‘million-dollar coral reefs’; and Tourism generates considerable revenue for the country.
The Portuguese first sighted Barbados in the year 1536 while sailing to Brazil and referred to the island as ‘Los Barbados’ or the ‘Bearded Ones’, probably after the fig trees found on the island which had an uncanny beard-like resemblance. These trees can become incredibly large and are a natural habitat for birds, bats, and monkeys.
Barbados became an independent state in the Commonwealth realm, with Britain’s Elizabeth-II as Queen of Barbados, on 30 November 1966. Centuries ago, in 1625, an expedition for King James-I of England first claimed Barbados, when his ships arrived on its shores. A settlement was established two years later.
Now, after nearly 400 years, Barbados severed its last remaining bonds to the British Monarchy. In October 2021, Dame Sandra Mason was elected by Parliament to become the first President of Barbados. On 30 November 2021, Mason replaced Queen Elizabeth as head of state, with Barbados transitioning to an independent Republic.
This week, in a ceremony on Monday evening, Prince Charles, who was present to ‘hand over the country’, acknowledged the ‘appalling atrocity of slavery’ — a black mark in the history of Barbados, as the nation removed his mother, The Queen, as head of state and inaugurated its first President.
The vibrant celebratory ceremony also showcased Barbadian music and dance, but a highlight was singer Rihanna, who hails from Barbados, being made a national hero and told to keep shining like a diamond and bring honour to the young Republic, by her works and actions. If diamonds are forever, this this original diamond forever belongs to The Republic of Barbados.
France Goes Bananas
This week, the late Josephine Baker, Professional Entertainer-French Dancer, Civil Rights Activist, and World War-II Spy, became the first black woman to be inducted into the Pantheon in Paris, the highest honour that France bestows. The Pantheon is reserved as the final resting place for just dozens of France’s greatest, including Victor Hugo, Voltaire, and Marie Curie.
Josephine Baker famously sang that she had two loves: “J’ai Deux Amours” — my country and Paris. They heard it, and loved it.
In a moving ceremony, led by French President Emmanuel Macron who called Josephine an ‘exceptional figure embodying the French spirit, the award was bestowed upon her. At the request of her surviving children, Josephine’s remains will continue to stay in Monaco where she was buried. Instead, a plaque was placed on a cenotaph containing soil from the four places dearest to her heart: St Louis, Paris, her Castle-Les Milandes, and Monaco.
Josephine was born in Saint Louis, Missouri, United States (US), grew up fatherless, and in poverty. Between the ages of eight and ten she was out of school, helping to support her family, working as a laundry maid; as a live-in domestic help; as a waitress in a Cafe; as a street child in the slums of St. Louis, sleeping in cardboard shelters, scavenging for food in garbage cans; and making a living with street-corner dancing.
On one such street she met her first husband, Willie Wells, who she married at age 13; however, the marriage lasted less than a year. Following her divorce from Wells, she found work with a street performance group called the Jones Family Band. In 1921, at age 15 she married William Howard Baker but left him when her vaudeville troupe was booked into a New York City venue. The marriage ended in divorce in 1925. It was during this time that she began to see significant success in her career as a dancer. And she continued to use Baker as her last name for the rest of her life, as she was, by that time, best known professionally as Josephine Baker.
As a child Josephine developed a taste for the flamboyant that was later to make her famous. In her teen years she struggled to have a healthy relationship with her mother, who did not want her to become an entertainer, but she persisted.
As an adolescent she became a dancer, touring at 16 with a dance troupe from Philadelphia. In 1923, she joined the chorus in a road company performing the musical comedy ‘Shuffle Along’. And then moved to New York City, where she advanced steadily through the show ‘Chocolate Dandies’ on Broadway and the floor show of the Plantation Club.
In 1925, she went to Paris to dance at the Theatre Des Champs-Elysees in La Revue Negre and introduced her unique ‘Danse Sauvage’ — an uninhibited, wild, exotic and spontaneous dance — to France. She went on to become one of the most popular music-hall entertainers in France and achieved star billing at the Folies-Bergere Cabaret Hall. She revelled in Paris life, free of the institutionalised racism and segregation at home in America.
Josephine met immediate success on the Theatre Des Champs-Elysees and became the darling of Parisian society. People flocked to see her perform the jaw-dropping banana dance where she appeared semi-nude, wearing the famed banana belt skirt, or in simmering sequins, in the city’s night spots. Her costume, consisting of only a short skirt of artificial bananas and a beaded necklace, became an iconic image and a symbol both of the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties. Her show, embodying the colonial time’s racist stereotypes about African women, caused both condemnation and celebration.
Josephine became French by her marriage to industrialist Jean Lion in 1937, and made France her home, dividing her time between Paris and a fairytale castle — Les Milandes- which she bought in the southwest of the country.
When World War II began, she joined the French Resistance, famously saying “I want to give myself to France, do what you want with me.” Her fame served her well-she was able to pass coded messages in her music scores without being stopped. She hid Resistance fighters and fleeing Jews in her castle. She had a pilot’s licence at a time when it was exceptional for women to become pilots, and became a lieutenant in the French Air Forces’ female Auxiliary Corps, gaining military decorations. She worked as a spy for France’s wartime-leader-in exile, General Charles de Gaulle.
Josephine also fought against racism in the US, becoming active in the civil rights movement and traveled several times to the US to participate in civil rights demonstrations. Throughout her life she fought for freedom and equality of all.
Josephine adopted 12 children from all over the world from various backgrounds, creating what she called ‘a rainbow tribe’ to embody her ideal of ‘universal fraternity.’ This was to become an inspiration for Hollywood Actor Angelina Jolie who also adopted children from all over the world, in addition to having her own.
Josephine Baker retired from the stage in 1956, but to maintain Les Milandes she had to return to starring in Paris in 1959. In 1968, her estate was sold to satisfy accumulated debt. Then Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco, a good friend of hers, stepped-in to help by providing for Josephine’s children by the Red Cross, and setting her up in a villa outside of Monaco.
She continued to perform occasionally and rebuilt her career. But in 1975, four days after the triumphant opening of a comeback tour, and during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of her Paris debut, she fell into a coma and passed away from a brain haemorrhage. She was buried in Monaco. Princess Grace stood front and centre at Josephine’s burial, a true testament to their friendship.
Oh, what an extraordinary story; rising-up from abject street poverty in America to receiving France’s highest honour! There was no American Dream for her; it was only the French Dance-all the way to her grave.
Get Vaccinated with the Word of The Year
We have used it tirelessly over the past year, even had a couple of jabs of it, Vaccine has been the clear ‘Word Of The Year’ according to dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster.
Last year, 2020, without ay effort, or protest, Merriam-Webster’s chose Pandemic. Not to be left behind, lexicographers at the Oxford English Dictionary chose ‘Vax’ as their word of the year, due to an explosion in the use of related terms such as ‘vaxxed’ and ‘anti-vaxxer’.
The word ‘vax’ was first recorded in English in 1799, with ‘vaccinate’ and ‘vaccination’ appearing a year later. All of these words find their root in the Latin word ‘vacca’, which means cow. This is because the English Scientist Edward Jenner discovered that cowpox, a mild infection that occurs in cows, can help protect people from smallpox. This was as far back as 1796. He pioneered the concept of vaccines including creating the smallpox vaccine- the world’s first ever vaccine. For many centuries, smallpox devastated mankind. And in these modern times we have learnt to beat such diseases thanks to the remarkable work of Edward Jenner who is called the Father of Immunology. His work is said to have saved more lives than the work of any other human.
I’m sure the ‘Virus’ must be jealous that being the cause of ‘Vaccine’ to get so popular it has been denied this word status. Or did ‘corona’ take it away? Hence it keeps coming back? Name it? Meanwhile, ‘variants’ are waiting on the next page.
China: Kill the Messenger?
Peng Shuai is one of China’s most recognisable sports stars, a three time Olympian.
In November, she publicly accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of coercing her into sex at his home, in a social media post. She said, ‘even if it is like an egg hitting a rock, or if I am like a moth drawn to the flame, I will tell the truth about you’.
Following the accusation Peng disappeared from public view. And several tennis players began to worry about her on social media using the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) stepped in and after a 30-minute video call in the presences of a Chinese Sports Official and IOC Official declared her to be ‘fine’ — I think that’s a dangerous word!And Peng said she would like her privacy to be respected. Now we know for sure!
This week, The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) announced immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong. The decision was rooted in a lack of transparency by Chinese Officials, with Peng Shuai obviously not be allowed to communicate freely and being pressurised to contradict the allegations she made. This tells about the risks Players and Staff could face in China if events were held in the Country in such an atmosphere. Well, that’s China living inside its Great Wall.
Contrast this with the United States: Ex- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo who had to step down from Office, over sexual allegations, brought down his brother, Chris Cuomo, a CNN News Anchor, as well. This week CNN suspended Chris Cuomo indefinitely as he was found to be helping his brother combat and rub-off the allegations.
More skirtful, banana stories coming up in the weeks ahead, wall and rub yourself with World Inthavaaram.