Years ago, when I joined my first writers group, I met a woman — probably younger than I’m now — who was writing HER book. (Warning, almost all new writers have a book. It is only when that one is finished and published that we feel we might have more. Of course, some don’t. I’ve always been of the opinion that lady was one, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Being older than my at the time 30 years, and having more money — not exactly difficult, you know, since at the time we were living on rice and huge economy bags of frozen veggies and if we bought a paperback book we had to eat pancakes for a week — she had gone to Brazil to research her book.
And yet, there in the middle of the first chapter, she had someone call out “Mio Dios.” I pointed out to her that was Spanish (and I think the order inverted to look like Portuguese.) the Portuguese is eu instead of i in the words. I grant you the pronunciation is similar. eu would seem to be pronounced ew like io, but it’s not, it’s more like eh ooo. I could understand her saying that she heard it that way — which she did. Your ear hears familiar sounds, when faced with unfamiliar ones — but she then went on to dispute with me that the words should NOT be written Meu Deus, because she had been in Brazil, and she’d HEARD it, and had I ever been in Brazil?
Think on this for a moment. She was disputing with me the spelling — and ultimately the existence, since she really seemed to think it was a dialect of Spanish — of my native language, a language I had used both written and spoken for the first 22 years of my life. (And before anyone says anything stupid, yeah, I read books printed in Brazil, had an uncle and cousins there, and knew for a fact they didn’t spell it the Spanish way.)
But this writer had learned Spanish in school, it sounded like Spanish to her and THEREFORE it must be true and I must be wrong.
After all she’d spent a lot of money to go and research her book in its native land.
I was reminded of this recently while reading one of my favorite writers. I’ve run out of his series I really like and the offshoot of that series too, and being slightly depressed (look, bub, if your plans for housing and what is going to happen in the next six months were changing as fast as mine, while packing keeps you from writing books that are not only overdue, but which WANT to be written, you’d be slightly depressed, too) I’m attracted to his work like moth to flame. So I bought the first of his first series.
His character has been working in Portugal for years, in a small village in the south. And the fisherman he works for is … Sanchez.
Later in the chapter he tells us the locals don’t accept strangers, but he must be wrong, since this person in their midst is obviously a Spaniard.
Or to put it another way, if I didn’t already love this writer’s works, the book would have been walled with force (walled in this case meaning to throw against the wall) and I’d never, ever, ever have read him again. Because Sanchez is a name that doesn’t exist in Portuguese.
For various reasons I suspect he either visited Portugal or was in touch with a Portuguese colony in the US. If the later, I suppose one of the people might have had a Spanish father. Or they might have learned to write and spell their name the Spanish way, because it is what the locals EXPECT.
On the other hand if he went to Portugal and heard the nearest equivalent Sanches (pronounced Sanshesh), a relatively rare name, he would have to believe he was hearing Sanchez. And after my first experience with an American writer hearing Portuguese, I’m willing to believe.
There are other, weirder misapprehensions of the culture. Later in a different writers’ group I ran into a woman who had also set her book in Brazil (maybe this was a trend) and in her book she killed all the men (with an engineered virus) to free all the women, because it was the only way to fix the culture and blah blah blah (rolls eyes.)
However the fascinating thing was a detail in her setup. She was absolutely convinced that the women in Brazil only went to church because the men made them (being naturally pagan — giggle) and the idea was given her by her father who had lived in Brazil for some time. I couldn’t convince her otherwise. Men made the women go to church. Without men the women were natural pagans.
While I will confess that at least the part of the for lack of a better word “woman culture” in Brazil that comes from Portugal (as opposed to from Africa, where I’m not on firm ground or from Italy which might or might not be like Portugal in this) would give a nervous breakdown any person not familiar with how schizophrenic traditional cultures can be, what the man thought he was seeing makes no sense whatsoever.
Yes, women in Brazil as in Portugal are the keepers of certain traditional knowledge which to the uninitiated might appearl “pagan” in the American sense. It ranges from healing, which can run to brief incantations using fire or a knife (only for cold sores, I swear. Well, at least it’s the only one I know) to various rituals to appease wild spirits (putting Maias — a wild yellow flower — on all of your house openings the first of May, say) or performing the proper rites for the dead, before or after the church gets involved. However this is not viewed as a religion or even a separate tradition. It is treated as “practical knowledge you don’t need to bother learned people with.” It comes from the same school of thought which until recently put spiderwebs on wounds to staunch bleeding, a practice it turns out works.
This is completely independent from religion. Religion in almost any Latin country (I think. Though it might be different in those converted by Spaniards in fire and blood) is the province of women. Women tend to attend church life long, while the only men you tend to find in church are very young and very old. A family who loses their mother often stops attending church. Women tend to chase the men around and make them dress properly for church.
But from this, somehow, this American man intuited “women go to church because the men make them.”
If you look at the framework he brought to the situation, this makes perfect sense. He knew — like any protestant in the twentieth century — that the Catholic church oppresses women, so therefore they must not like it. And then he must have seen enough hints of practices that protestant ministers in northern European countries are rather more vigorous about stopping than the Catholic church, which tends to turn a blind eye (these days) if its nose is not rubbed in it. Ergo, presto, the women were pagans, kept reluctant prisoners by the Catholic faith. It fit his preconceptions, it made “sense” and therefore it was. I’m going to guess he wasn’t close enough to any Brazilian family to watch mom chase the guys around and line them up for church every morning, or even herd them out the door like ducklings.
Btw, that sight would have gone a long way to disabuse his daughter of the idea that anything wrong with a Latin culture could be fixed by killing all the men. Mostly what is wrong with Latin cultures is wrong with the POLITICAL culture, and I’m not sure how that would get fixed. But as in any culture, mothers are the first exposure of the children to what you do and what you fail to do. And when there is blatant sexism (eh. In American terms all Latin cultures are sexist. They still work fairly well, provided you don’t happen to be an outlier as a woman who really wants to compete with the men. Yeah, these days women work (thanks to high taxation) but few really try to compete, even when they can) it is transmitted by the women first. Even in the Arab world it has been said that to get rid of the idea women are somewhere between second class humans and objects, you need not get rid of the men, but of the mothers in law, aka the matriarchs who finally rule the household and who will both do anything and everything to keep their daughters in law in check and to dish out a measure of what THEY got from their mothers in law.
This is not the post for this — or perhaps it is – but having been deformed by generations of “feminist” culture, American women (and men!) tend to only see power in masculine terms. I ran into this once at a con panel in which women were talking about “powerful women” of the past and everyone they brought up was a woman who had functioned as a man, be it Elizabeth I or Catherine the Great. There were no mentions of people like Isabella of Castille who could lead armies, yes, but whose very real power was in the children she raised and seeded around Europe. (Same for Victoria, of course.) No, their idea of a powerful woman was someone who had more or less buried her feminine nature in order to function as a man manque, in a man’s world. (While to me those women, even the ones I admire for what they accomplished, are always a little sad.)
However most college educated American women can’t even PERCEIVE female power, no matter how real. And it is very real. I don’t come from a household like that. Dad never used (well, now he does, as in the last phone call, but that is because he wanted an excuse to call) “You’re worrying your mother.” Much less did he ever use “You’re breaking your mother’s heart.” Mom is an outlier too, and if you broke her heart you’d learn it from her first, as she broke your head with the nearest object.
BUT my grandmother was the matriarch of the family, and though I don’t remember anyone EVER saying “you’re going to break your grandmother’s heart” I really tried very hard not to. (And did, inevitably, when I married and moved away.)
And I can’t think of any of my generation who wouldn’t rather saw off their own legs with a butter knife than DISAPPOINT grandma. (A hard bar, as she was infinitely forgiving, but possible.) The fear of disappointing us kept us, no matter how eccentric (raises hand) within the bounds of acceptable public behavior for the culture, and even managed to get me to learn at least some embroidery and crochet.
That is power. And for a strong and determined woman, it can be immense power. In almost every culture (even in the US where it works) it is women who hold the family together and who, for lack of a better word, set a “tone” for it. And the tone can make all the difference in terms of success not only for the parents but for the children as well.
However this immense female power — the ability to be the glue that holds civilization — is quite lost on the eye trained on the ideas of STATE power and of societal forms.
Powerful women who are powerful AS WOMEN and not as men manque are invisible to feminists, just like that troublesome final s of Portuguese (almost always pronounced sh) is inaudible to ears trained in Spanish in the US. And just like the real structure of a society is invisible to those trained to expect something.
When we get people here who describe the last eight years as an halcyon epoch of peace and prosperity, it is easy to roll our eyes. I mean, fast and furious, Benghazi, racial tensions, drones, our troops involved in more and more tenuously connected ventures. And as for prosperity — yeah, most of us have not gone more than a few months without being worried sick about job/money/ability to make it in the last eight years.
But I’m going to guess these people are in protected areas of the economy, perhaps the only growth one — government — and read and believe mostly the mainstream press which, like Germany’s, has proven it is far more bound to the government (at least a leftist government) than we ever believed.
In other words, they had the framework set up to interpret what they saw as peace and prosperity, and so they do, by ignoring all disparate information. (Easier if you live in a bubble.)
They can’t believe their lying eyes, because their eyes are literally lying: spectacled with expectations they formed before they ever looked.
This is extremely hard to keep out of science even with committed and impartial scientists, and without taking in account funding and what strange opinions would do to your grants. And scientists TRY to stay objective.
How much harder is it for those of us who are not scientists and who are trying to understand the entire panoply of human endeavor, where results are often unclear?
The only guide I can give you is to note and pick at the inconsistencies. And assume no source is above reproach or too vetted to fail. I remember reading a book on the post war period in England and finding, in the same chapter, that they talked about how poor the working class was, how industrialization had made it poorer, and then lamented that the working class had now so much money they were building over old estates and buying household machinery like vacuums.
It is amazing the writers’ head didn’t explode, but then I expect she had been exceedingly well schooled in Marxism which has somehow always retained the idea that industrialization is bad for workers (an idea belied by the industrialization we see in developing countries, but they refuse to see that) and in romanticism, where rapid building and electrical stuff in the house is always a blight. She was seeing the world through two contradictory frames and didn’t even notice it.
So, to see clearly, pick at inconsistencies, try to find primary sources and, most of all, never trust your mind.