What to Read …
Last month, I listened to a Guardian Long Read podcast about the US-funded and masterminded toppling of Salvador Allende’s socialist government in Chile in 1973. The podcast also detailed the imprisonment, torture and deaths of tens of thousands of leftists, and supposed leftists, by Agosto Pinochet and his fascist regime.
Photo below: Allende’s broken glasses; a demonstration in support of Allende’s Socialist Party from 1964 (6 years before he was elected); the last photo of Allende before he died either by suicide or murder by Pinochet’s troops when they stormed La Moneda, the seat of the Chilean president. Allende is in the centre of the photo, wearing a helmet and his trademark glasses.
Most of us forget that Pinochet’s rule lasted 17 years—until 1990. I am just learning about Operation Condor, a plan hatched by the US’s CIA and 7 South American countries. Operation Condor saw thousands of Marxists, leftists, social workers, progressive nuns and priests throughout Latin America arrested and murdered. Here is a trailer for a 50-minute documentary, Investigating Operation Condor you can download for $4.
I just now read a personal account of torture and terror suffered by a British woman doctor in the notorious prisons, Villa Grimaldi and Cuatro Alamos in Chile. The 1977 book Audacity to Believe by Dr Sheila Cassidy is a riveting read—I only know about it because it was footnoted in the Guardian podcast Operation Condor, the Cold War Conspiracy that Terrorized South America.
Below: Two line drawings by the author, Dr Sheila Cassidy, plus a photo of her after arriving in England after being expelled from Chile, Dec. 1975.
Cassidy was born in England, and grew up on a chicken farm in Australia. She returned England to complete her medical training at Oxford in the 1960s. During Cassidy’s residency in plastic and general surgery, she befriended a woman doctor visiting from Chile. She encouraged Cassidy to emigrate, because life under the newly elected Allende promised equality, equal access to health care and adventure. In 1971, speaking no Spanish, Cassidy and her dog travelled by steamer to Santiago. We find out a lot about Cassidy; she’s drawn to Catholicism and her deep faith. She, like many from an imperialist country, never thinks to learn the other country’s language or culture—for which she apologizes in her book. Thinking that she is “owed” the right to practice medicine, she finds herself permitted only to volunteer at the charity hospitals. Depressed by her lack of income and professional status, she discovers that to gain a medical license in Chile, her Spanish has to improve. And she has to do a series of internships and then pass formal examinations.
Finally she obtains her medical license, but continues to work at various charity hospitals – but now as a doctor, she earns an income. She believes in charity, and her Catholic faith pushes her into friendships with more radical elements. After a priest secretly asks her to patch up a rebel with a gunshot wound who is in hiding —she finds out that he is a leader in MIR, Chile’s Revolutionary Left Movement. Within the month she is arrested – and despite her British citizenship – she is imprisoned and tortured.
Much of her torture is on a parrilla (a grill), with electric wires, which she illustrates with a line drawing in the book. Indeed, her simple drawings throughout the book make her experiences and her beliefs very real. Two of her illustrations are in this post.
Half dead from the torture with electric current, she gives her captors a false address of the house where she attended to the rebel; she deliberately calls him by a bogus name. The captors dressed her, pushed her into a car with guards toting machine guns. They demanded she take them to the house. Pause for a moment: most of us think – if we were under threat of torture–why not give a false story? What could be the harm? Here is what happened to Cassidy.
They drove up to a big house in a wealthy suburb which fit with what she had somehow dreamed up. Suddenly she feared for the lives of those inside –whom of course she did not know and had nothing to do with hiding the injured rebel. In the middle of night, her captors broke down the door and demanded to know where the injured man lay. But the only people in the house were an elderly couple, servants of the rich family who were out of the country. What happened to the couple was probably terrible—Cassidy does not know but she begins to understand how dangerous her lies were others . Again she was subject to more sessions on the parrilla, which she barely survived.
Cassidy’s book, published a mere two years after she was expelled from Chile, is marvelous and inspiring. She had to choose between her church, and her friends in the poblaciones (very poor suburbs) and those on the revolutionary left. Against her better nature, she became a political activist.
When arrested she was in her late 30s; she had no idea if Pinochet would have her killed in prison—like so many others. Cassidy is a good writer; she’s self-critical and open-minded. She has an incredible memory for detail and dialogue. Today, she is over 80, and has written a couple of other books. Back in the UK, she slipped back into her faith which led her to open a hospice in southwest England.
Though published 43 years ago, her book is a vibrant, caustic and a very informative record of the two years immediately following the death of Allende, and Pinochet’s military coup. I borrowed it through an inter-library loan; the book resides in the library at the Atlantic School of Theology.
Jim Crow Also Lived Here…
Robert Devet in the NS Advocate drew my attention in his review to a new book, Jim Crow Also Lived Here: Growing Up Black in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia (published by Friesen Press, 2020).
The book’s author, Leonard Albert Paris, was born in 1948, a very optimistic time for many Canadians. It was a time when a male breadwinner’s income could sustain a family; many families could afford a small house and garden and many were living on the verge of a consumer bonanza.
Paris, the author, was born in Truro, NS and lived there for his first six years. Then the family moved to the town of Priestville, 50 km from Truro, where he shared a two bedroom ramshackle house with his parents and seven brothers and sisters. There was no indoor toilet, no running water and no well. There was no heat, except for two woodstoves and the family often scavenged for branches and logs in the woods, when they could not afford to buy dry wood to feed the stoves. Though Paris’ father was a veteran and had fought overseas in World War II, because of racism, he never could get a steady, decent job at home. The colour bar was not just a hurdle, it was a pall that doused any hope for a life much beyond the poverty level. The racism in Truro meant that half the shops were off limits to Blacks. Blacks were restricted to certain areas in movie theatres – as the story about Viola Desmond reminds us. Churches were silently segregated. Surprisingly, Paris’ schools were not segregated as were some in the rest of the Nova Scotia —though he and other Blacks endured terrible beatings, bullying and violence perpetrated by local whites.
One of the most distressing parts of the book is his description of the shame he felt when, as the eldest son, he had to transport full pots of water home on a makeshift wooden hand-cart along the ruts and unpaved roads – slopping water as he went. He wrote that he hoped no one from his school saw him. Then they would have known that the Paris family was so poor they didn’t even have well water.
Today, Paris lives in Mississauga, Ont. He joined the RCAF after high school – since there was no hope and no money for college or university. He moved to Toronto and worked in security. After 35 years, he retired as the Manager of Campus Police Services at University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus. This short but deep book is well worth reading.
Pacinthe Mattar’s article in The Walrus, “Canadian Media’s Racism Problem”, is very good. Mattar used to work for CBC Radio in Toronto. She covered international stories, such as the 2015 Baltimore police murder of Freddie Gray – a black man. Many of you recall the news item: Gray, aged 25, was violently arrested by a gaggle of cops for having a knife in his pocket . Handcuffed, and thrown into a police van, its driver (who was a cop) drove recklessly, slamming on brakes, ripping around corners while Gray was thrown around in the back of the van. The impact broke Gray’s neck and he died after a week in a coma. When Mattar recounted the story to her senior producer, the producer questioned her — on the facts and also the identities of bystanders that Mattar had interviewed.
The producer so discredited her research, that Mattar’s report never made it to air. In The Walrus article, Mattar quotes Anthony N Morgan a racial-justice lawyer in Toronto who says that water cooler conversations with white colleagues about racism “Often end up in the ‘Did that really happen?… Maybe we need to see more of the video?’ territory.”
The article is fascinating, but not yet online. You have to buy The Walrus (Nov-Dec 2020 issue). The Walrus bills itself as “Canada’s Conversation”… go ahead and subscribe here for $29.75 a year, for 10 issues. You can’t beat the price!
“How My Mother and I became Chinese Propaganda”, is a troubling and revealing autobiographical article by New Yorker staff writer Jiayang Fan. It’s about her relationship with her mother. In 1992, Fan left China as a young girl, along with her mother, a medical doctor. They moved to the US to be reunited with her father, who had furtively moved on to a new wife and family. Not knowing how to speak English, or a having any career options or even a place to live, Fan’s mother had to settle for working as a nanny and housekeeper for rich people in New York City. Of course Fan went with her. This is a story which pours acid on the perennial rags to riches stories of immigrants to America. It focuses on a mother whose downward trajectory to her life begins tragically when she nears the age of 50. I don’t want to tell you more – you can read it here.
What to Watch
The Twelve, is a contemporary drama that takes place in Belgium. It zeroes in on a handful of the twelve jurors who serve on a major murder trial.
Understated, and believable, this series is clever and weaves in themes of sex, family, and domestic violence. Made in Flemish with English subtitles, I sensed immediacy and intrigue from the start; the acting is fresh and believable. I recommend it. You can see it on Netflix, here is the trailer.
As promised, I did watch the 1959 film The House on Haunted Hill starring Vincent Price – which I thought would complement the book I reviewed by Shirley Jackson. Well, the black and white movie was nothing like the book –it was totally different– my book review is here. I must have got the title mixed up– oh, I see the Jackson book’s title is The Haunting of Hill House. But given this week is Hallowe’en, the 1959 “screamer” is worth watching on Kanopy. It wasn’t half bad and pretty scary! Here’s the trailer. Again, access to Kanopy is free with your Halifax public library card.
I watched Mr Kaplan on Kanopy. This is a 2014 award-winning feature film from Uruguay. It is about a Jewish man of 75 who decides to expose a Nazi war criminal. He believes the ex-Nazi whom he believes has lived for decades under a new identity in a seaside suburb of Montevideo. The film is funny and very poignant. I got the sense of the small and insular Jewish Uruguayan community, which numbers about 40,000. Like other Jewish communities in South America – those in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico – the Uruguayan Jews identify hugely with and support Israel. About 10,000 Uruguayan Jews have moved there in the last few years. Still – Mr Kaplan worth watching. We don’t get to see many films from Latin America.
In these times of belligerence and racism against the Mi’kmak fishers in SW Nova Scotia, I decided to watch a documentary about the death of the groundfish fishery in the late ’90s called One More Dead Fish. It shows how destructive industrial fishing practices are. It also shows how they have decimated the Grand Banks of the North Atlantic, once an abundant area of food. There are interviews with local fishermen, government officials, biologists, and — of course one corporate villain of the piece, John Risley. You can watch it on the site thoughtmaybe.com
Also there is a great article “Nova Scotia lobster dispute: Mi’kmaw fishery isn’t a threat to conservation, say scientists” in The Conversation here by Megan Bailey, Associate Professor, Canada Research Chair, Integrated Ocean and Coastal Governance, at Dalhousie University.
I was not wild about the Social Dilemma, a new documentary on Netflix. But if you want to see how and why Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram engineer you to think and do certain things – it’s for you. Rest assured this doc is not simply a critique of shopping and spending – it goes much further and deeper.
A real delight was My Octopus Teacher on Netflix.
What we don’t know about the octopus is huge. This 90-minute feature documentary is quiet and thoughtful. A South African diver who is trying to find some meaning in his own life, finds an octopus in a kelp forest near the Cape of Good Hope, off the Western Cape. Day after day, the man dives to the same area and locates the octopus’ den, and films her over a year — her lifespan! This is a kind and very gentle film which shows the diver’s desperation for friendship and his desire to track the incredible abilities and cleverness of the octopus. It’s really a must see and it’s on Netflix. Here’s the trailer.
Below are two views of a wonderful Octopus Kite that I saw flying last week on my walk in Eastern Passage.
What to Listen to…
Canadaland’s podcast series Pandemic — hosted by Arshy Mann– is brilliant. Over the summer he launched the series which took a deep dive into the Covid deaths at nursing homes across Canada. He interviewed many – and discovered that most nursing homes are owned privately by companies such as Revera, and most provinces jealously guard details about the sloppy care, and poor treatment accorded seniors at the homes. We all just found out that in Ontario there were more than over 30,000 “written notices,” or violations of the Long-Term Care Homes Act and Regulations (LTCHA), over the last five years, and few violations are ever checked, let alone corrected.
From Arshy Mann comes a new investigative series called The Police. So far, the first episode is about Julian Fantino – former police chief, and former Tory MP. You’ll want to listen. Canadaland has a nice new website and branded socks and other goodies they give away to monthly donors in this their annual fundraising drive. Do it.
“Why Nobody Feels Rich” is a good 30-minute podcast. It’s part of the great NPR series
Hidden Brain hosted by Shankar Vedantam. Vedantam starts off by explaining what happens when you walk through first class on a plane into economy –where you are seated. As he notes, “maybe you were annoyed or envious.” He hosts social psychologist Keith Payne who explains why we tend to compare ourselves with those who make more than we do – never less. By the way Payne, who grew up in a poor home, has a lot of experience comparing himself to others!! Tune in here.
And a little public service announcement just prior to the US Election is here: A Delightful 3 minutes.
Feature Photo: Supporters march for Salvador Allende in September, 1964– six years prior to winning the election. Courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org