Tuesday, November 16, 2010

women in black

I spent the weekend with a mate in Blackburn (as in the Beatles' line: "4000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire," from Sgt. Pepper). Staying with his family was superb. Blackburn itself was a mixed bag. Half of it is, in my own words, a Muslim ghetto. Many of the women are in black from head to foot with their faces covered. Very little smiling from the men whose faces you can see. A lot of grim countenances. By their own choice they do everything amongst themselves and mingle as little as possible - their own schools, sports teams, shops. Being in Iran and Afghanistan in the 70s was far less oppressive than this enclave in Blackburn.

Thank goodness the antidote to this depressing world was one of ex-Muslims or non-sharia Islam just a few blocks away. We went to a Muslim curry house on Saturday night where the women were not smothered in black, where you could see their faces, where men and women smiled at you and said hello and where almost all were in the clothes of English women and men. I even saw lipstick. It was refreshing and gave me a lift beacuse the atmosphere was not one of dehumanization, but of humanity mingling happily with humanity in good spirits and with good will. In addition, the food was delicious.

A trip to the Lancashire countryside also rinsed the sour taste out of my mouth. Long green fields, the Pendle hills, a river called Ribble, hobbitish stone cottages neatly arranged in the village of Ribchester which, from 100-400 AD, was a garrison of Rome's XXth Legion. A stone church with a tower dating to the 1000s-1100s, the first priest, circa 1100 or 1200, being a man named Drogo, obviously a pagan convert. Aye, a peaceful village of stone and green grass and sheep and a nearby river where the Roman cavalry would have watered their horses. The sun tossing gold about freely as it set. It was two hours of restoration.

But the lovely lush Pendle hills brought back a reality as old as the stones the Ribble plunges over. This was one of England's Salems where people, including a child who condemned almost her entire family, accused various women of casting various spells and called for the Witchfinder, who found them and had these poor women (and a few men) tried and hung, executed. Why, one had a cat, another grew herbs, another plucked wild plants from the meadows, another glanced my way just before my cow delivered a stillborn calf or my little Davey took a fever that like to killed him. The Witchfinder found them and murdered them and, spiritually, had them clothed in black.

He had them clothed in black.

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