JEAN GENET AND BREAKFAST IN KERALA

BREAKFAST AT JADE HOMESTAY


Every morning we sit on the back veranda surrounded by flowers and birds – and barking Dachshunds – for breakfast which is included in our stay.  We can choose either a Continental breakfast (eggs, toast, juice, coffee or tea) or Keralan breakfast of fruit, uppam, (a fermented chapatti-like mix of rice flour and coconut), vegetarian curry and coffee or tea.  Our hosts, Josie, Elsi and their daughter, are very good cooks and the Keralan fare is really wonderful so we’ve never opted for the Continental fare.  Because this is February, it’s cool in the early morning with the temperature gradually rising to the upper 80’s in the afternoon.  The really big heat won’t come crashing down for another month or so to be followed by the torrential rains of summer.

Besides the ubiquitous crows, we watch the early morning activities of a variety of birds in the back yard: the afore-noted hummingbirds, bower birds, Mockingbirds (or at least what we would call Mockingbirds back in the U.S.) chickadees, a pair of small purple birds the name of which I know not.  Higher up in the sky are the graceful hawks and cormorants circling endlessly in search of rodents or the occasional errant kitten or puppy down below for sustenance.  Then there’s the ever-present, neighborhood black and white cat – a male – who is forever on the hunt.  Yesterday he caught a small rat much to the interest and delight of the crows.  Today he was up on the roof of the house behind us, this position putting him in closer contact with the birds flitting about in the adjacent mango tree.  He was unsuccessful today during our watch but he’ll surely be back tomorrow to try again.

On another note, I’m nearly finished with Jean Genet’s “Prisoner of Love” his last work published in 1986 just a few months prior to his death.  This nonlinear work is mainly about his time living with the Palestinians, spread over two visits, and their early “revolution” that continues today in one from or another.  It’s a fascinating study of the early years of the struggle, jumping as it does from the early 1970’s to the mid 1980’s and jumping also from locale to locale and personality to personality.  It’s not a history as such, although he does recount the history of the Zionist movement and the history of the Palestinians from Roman times until the establishment of Israel in 1948, but its more like a series of interlinked images and impressions acquired during his two sojourns conveyed in a stream of consciousness style.   

 Genet also spent time in the U.S. with the Black Panthers and his depiction and analysis of this movement stemming from his involvement with the Panthers is a view that I’ve never been exposed to before.  It too, although a relatively minor element of “Prisoner of Love,” is a fascinating and original take on what was certainly one of the most influential, if largely forgotten and/or despised, movements in the social, cultural and racial development of the United States as we know it today.  

I don’t think I’ve ever read a more compelling and more accessible litany of the Palestinian dilemma as Genet relates snippets of first hand experiences in the Middle East, of the leaders of the revolution he came in contact with,  from the Fedayeen he came to know and the men, women and children caught up in world events they had no real relationship to but were forced to confront and, as a result, so changed or ended their lives.  Genet pulls no punches, castigating Israel and the U.S. but giving equal time to the Arab states who, as he notes, did little back then to assist the Palestinians in their struggle with the exception of keeping them supplied with Western cigarette brands. Then too, until now I had no idea of just how duplicitous and endlessly feuding the Middle East’s “Leading Families” really were and how much they have affected the course of Middle East history.  

But his overarching perspectives as revealed through his sojourns into enemy territory (Jordanian Bedouins for the most part) and months of conversations with young revolutionaries, inept colonels and generals, disingenuous diplomats and caught-in-the-crosshairs peasants he communed with, is quite extraordinary in its sweep and depth.  All the familiar names and terms are here:  Arafat, Hussein, Assad, the Mossad, FATAH, the PLO but the genius of “Prisoner of Love” is his personal remembrances and accounts of those freedom fighters, their mothers and the nameless Fedayeen who are otherwise unrecorded in the annals of the history of the Middle East.  It is their voices that Genet represents and brings to life complete with all their frustrations, ignorance and folly side by side with their stoic heroism and endless determination.  

As one of Genet's Palestinian freedom fighters friends discusses Palestine’s history in the times before the Balfour Declaration and the establishment of the state of Israel (and the non-establishment of the state of Palestine) he opines:  “We had no idea that Europe and it’s Jewish people were dreaming a dream that involved us as we went about planting our grain, harvesting our grapes and milking our goats.”  

This benign ignorance of the powerful whirlwinds about to descend on ancient Palestine set the stage for what was to follow.  The rest, as “they” say, is history.

“Prisoner of Love”

By Jean Genet








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