Thursday, 17 May 2012

How things have and haven't really changed...

For my last literature class I chose to do The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Set in the year 1482, I thought it would be a good way to introduce another subject - Medieval Europe - as the theme for their prepared speeches.
BIG mistake. Firstly, it is the most depressing book I have ever read. EVER. It is nothing like the animated movie. Everyone dies at the end - I wanted to die too. And secondly, it left the class so morose and melancholic that every subsequent conversation was quite disparaging and dismal.

The story itself centres around Esmeralda, a woman reviled by some folk for being a Gypsy. In some of our conversations we discussed the persecution of Gypsies or Romani people in Europe from the mid 1300's onwards, particularly in Spain. It was quite sad to note that some things haven't quite changed:
Trying to cheer up the class, I tried to change the subject. So running off on tangents - because that is what we do best - we somehow found ourselves on the touchy subject of Colonialism:
With a few Argentinean students in class, it didn't take too long to note that it was a BAD example:
I quickly regrouped and decided to pick a political situation that had a more positive outcome. I thought that the fall of the Berlin Wall that separated East and West Berlin for decades would be a great example. Third time's a charm innit?:
Not so. See, some walls may have come down, but others have gone up. And they're MUCH bigger.
Wall around the city of Bethlehem in Palestine.

And that was when I realised that there was no way I was going to win this one and decided to talk about food instead. As it is, most people love chicken.


  1. 'You want depressing? We read "Jude the Obscure" in 12th grade. It was just plain terrible. And the whole message of the book? Oh man...

  2. Haha, that was hilarious. Yeah, definitely can't please everybody.

    The last image took me a while but that was very clever.

  3. I still have to read Hunchback and (after having walked around both Notre Dame and the Victor Hugo house this past winter)its been in the back of my mind for months!

  4. Oh dude, don't get me started on husband and I were just talking about their plight several days ago, and I think it's heartbreaking how much they've been persecuted and for how long, and that they're essentially persona non grata. I does this happen? Well, I KNOW how it happens but...I still can't believe that it does.

    Fmr Yugoslavia had and has a large gypsy population. I remember when we were kids the popular urban legends were those of "the gypsies coming to get you if you were bad" and other such nonsense. When you're a kid you fall for that crap, and then of course you grow up and stop believing in it, like Santa. Heh.

    Not sure how familiar you are with renowned Serbian director Emir Kusturica, but one of his most famous and critically acclaimed films, "Time of the Gypsies" -- for which he won Best Director at Cannes 1989, and the film was nominated for a Palme d'Or -- is a brilliant, gripping and disturbing film, and such a tragic portrayal of gypsy life. I saw it on TV when I was all of four years old.


    (The literal translation from Serbian is "Home for Hanging"...holy crap!)

    Needless to say, it traumatised me big-time. In the 80s and 90s Yugoslavia didn't have film and TV classifications, so us kids got away with watching a whole lot of crap (case in point: I saw Stephen King's "It" circa 1992 and was scarred for life...what's worse is that we watched it TOGETHER WITH DAD, bwahahah...nice one, dad! :P).

    All this to say, if you want a good movie to watch, "Time of the Gypsies" will certainly both horrify and enthrall you.

  5. Oh man, that seems like a bummer lesson. but that poster is funny. Was Greece not into great tragedies at the same time too? hmmm...

  6. Yeah, it's not that heartwarming to see that civilisation hasn't learned anything ...

    Food's good though.

  7. iris: Oh Iris, I will take your word for it. As someone who had to survive many traumatic experiences in my life, I favour more light-hearted comedies or philosophical stories. It often escapes me why people would want to torture themselves with such trauma - and then I realise, not everyone suffers the same fate and some can only experience a glimpse of it through such horrific (albeit good) story lines.

    ipenka: I'm glad you found it funny. I find it so funny too - in a tragic way. Have we as humans learnt anything at all? Is history just doomed to repeat itself through the ages? *sigh* You can't help but laugh.

    Roving Retorter: I would definitely recommend reading it. The story itself is actually brilliantly thought out. But it is also very very sad if you can identify with aspects of it. And you definitely shouldn't read it if you're lonely!

    Pretzel Thief: It is absolutely tragic how the gypsies have been ostracised throughout the ages. What I can't understand is how do we as humans justify these atrocities to ourselves. In many cases, certain events have happened before - like Apartheid South Africa, and now Apartheid Israel... and the war in Vietnam and now the war in Iraq/Afghanistan. How and why do we allow our so-called "leaders" to brainwash us into thinking what they want us to think?!?! There are no words...I will be on the lookout for that movie:)

    Prixie: Oh yes, Greece and her tragedies. I often wonder if we shouldn't just put the country on a stage and charge everyone to watch the drama unfold. Maybe they'd make enough money to bail them out of this crisis.

    Deidre: I'm sure many people didn't study hard enough for their History exams - and perhaps most didn't even do the subject at all. I love food :)

  8. when i was in Notre Dame, i pictured the story.
    apparently one of the gargoyles were designed after the maker's mother in-law :p

  9. Ha ha - - and I thought that Hunger Games took us back to the Gladiaters was the only reminder of the past.

  10. "What I can't understand is how do we as humans justify these atrocities to ourselves." / "[...] events have happened before - like Apartheid South Africa, and now Apartheid Israel... and the war in Vietnam and now the war in Iraq/Afghanistan. How and why do we allow our so-called "leaders" to brainwash us into thinking what they want us to think?!?!"


    Also, what it boils down to, essentially, is that people never learn from history. When bad shit happens -- bad shit that THEY cause and that they should've known better NOT to cause -- they make a big song and dance about how the world will learn from this, how it can't be repeated. (All a formality.) But it is, over and over again. And it's sickening. I mean, if you look at Iraq and Afghanistan as one example, that "war" never should've happened -- but it happened because of interests and oil and power trips.

    It's just astounding and horrific how people give themselves permission to make calls on things, to oppress, undermine and denigrate a people, because then it's so much easier to treat them like shit or, worse, to kill them. 'Cause, hey, they're "nothing".

    To wit, one of my fave quotes is as follows, from Iranian cartoonist Marjane Satrapi:

    "...It is that image of Iranians as uniformly grim - or by extension, any group of people as uniformly anything - that is her real target in Persepolis. 'That is very scary, because, from the moment you don't consider people as individuals you dehumanise them. You reduce them to an abstract concept. And then it is extremely easy to bomb and kill all of them, because you forget that these people might have a family and love and hope and dreams and might even be quite fun, you know.'"

    (Taken from the following 2008 article:

  11. When you say the movie of Hunchback I assume you mean the horrible Disney cartoon?

  12. lOL, You cannot win , never discuss politics or football that is what they say in England. The walls are always sad but the Falklands Islands are English, our soldiers died defending them, and the Argentinians invaded.The Islanders who live there say they are British, so that is what you must support. No matter what, see what i mean about politics and football?

  13. It's possibly getting worse these days. It's interesting that you get into topics like these with your students based on what you're reading. Our teachers only focused on the books.

  14. Ha ha - brilliant BBC sign. Stick to food yes, but not Greek for goodness sake!

  15. How was chicken received?

  16. I've just presented you with an award over at my blog so check out my latest post when you get a chance! :-)

    Also, earlier on I remembered how in the "Time of the Gypsies" movie I recommended one of the lead characters is called Azra[!]...and one of the most famous scenes (one everyone jokingly references when the film is mentioned amongst company) is of the male protagonist shrieking, "Azraaaaaa! AZRAAAAAAA!!"

    Bwahahahah. :D

    Perhaps the director was referencing A Streetcar Named Desire! Heh.

  17. Those are big topics to bring up in ESL classes! I don't think I'd have enough background knowledge in each of those fields to try to keep the conversation or switch it up like you did... definitely touchy subjects when you're either talking to the folks whose land was colonized or on the land of the colonizers!

    Food, always a brillant topic!

  18. Sounds like I've got a copy cat...

  19. Jaya: Haha, I reckon if we offered Gargoyle-making classes, many many others would be modelling their Gargoyles on their Mother-in-laws too :)

    Munir: If only life was as simple as a Hollywood movie eh? :)

    Pretzel Thief: I love that quote and have put it as a status update on Facebook :) Everything you said is 100% true. The world never learns. Thank you so much for your award :D I also heard that Azra is a popular name among the Gypsies...

    TonyVH: Yes Tony, it was that awful Disney cartoon. I shall never make that mistake again :)

    sundersartwork: Yes, everyone will have differing opinions... so its true, never discuss Politics, Football and Religion! :)

    Terra Shield: I try to make my classes as interesting as possible, that's the only way the students stay truly engaged :)

    Juliette: Food is the safest subject because it definitely conjures up feelings of Love... well actually they're feelings of gluttony but they're often mistaken as feelings of love LOL! :)

    LL: Well I got several different recipes on how to make "The Best Roast Chicken In The World" LOL. Everyone was much happier talking about food, but at the end of the class we were all starving! :P

    roamingtheworld: Conversation is a large part of my curriculum and my students LOVE talking and they all have their own opinions on just about everything from Colonisation to KFC lol! So I engage them in topics they enjoy talking about after teaching that days grammar lesson - then we use whatever they've learn't in the conversation - and I make minor corrections here and there.

    RCB: Wish you could meet my students Randy - they're all future leaders of the world lol :)

  20. Mine, too. See... I knew we had something in common. :D

  21. @RCB - Two peas, one pod :)

  22. As dismal as all these topics are, I couldn't help but giggle. I would love to be a student in one of your classes! On a more serious note, it's quite true - gypsies are treated abominably here in Spain. I'd be interested in learning more about their history and culture, if only to better understand them.

  23. Michi
    I like humour... in my opinion, people remember more if they're having a good time. The gypsy history is fascinating. I will blog about it soon :)