Thursday, May 31, 2012

Rekindle the fire in your loins

By Donna Barker. An old health column for the now-defunct magazine, Today's Vancouver Woman.

Several years ago I was kvetching with two girlfriends about my non-existent sex drive. I’d been married for a decade, was having sex with my husband once every six or eight weeks, and was of the mind that if I never had to have sex again, my life would be no worse.

Don’t get me wrong—I loved my husband. I just had no interest in getting naked with him anymore. My GP prescribed antidepressants. My counsellor encouraged me to explore past sexual experiences. My girlfriends bought me sex toys. None of these things helped. I decided that something in me was broken, and went as far as proposing to my husband that he have an affair while away on a business trip.

He gratefully accepted my indecent proposal. Unfortunately, he fell in love with the other woman and left me. My dream of never having to have sex again had come true… but not quite as I’d envisioned it. Too bad I hadn’t done better research before declaring myself libido-less.

For instance, had I spoken to Dr. Karrin Fairman-Young, a naturopath, she would have asked me about my lifestyle, diet, and the strength of my sex drive when it was “normal.” The most common causes of libido loss for both men and women, says Dr. Fairman-Young, include diet (“A diet that’s too low in fresh food might indicate that antioxidants are needed”), smoking (“Smoking creates free radicals that damage cells in our body, so energy that might be directed to sex drive is focused on repair”), being overweight, and stress.

“When someone comes to see me and their beeper is going off, and they’re anxious to get through our meeting so they make their next appointment, I’ll check cortisol levels and show them stress-reducing breathing [exercises], for instance.”

And if all those possible causes are ruled out? Dr. Fairman-Young says many of her patients have hormone imbalances, which can be caused by estrogen in our drinking water or hormones found in meat.

“Or [it] may be due to vitamin deficiencies that are inhibiting the sexual organs from producing the hormones that influence sexual desire,” she says. “I look at all of these things before suggesting a treatment plan.”

Another perspective on why people lose interest in sex comes from Joseph Schumeckers, an instructor in the Feldenkrais Method: “Sex and sexuality in North American culture are loaded with emotional trauma and taboos that we store in our bodies and minds. This mind-body interaction influences how comfortable we are with the movements that make sex pleasing.”

With the Feldenkrais Method, the muscles that control the movements that make intercourse so enjoyable are worked, so tension is released. From gentle pelvic motions for lovemaking’s subtle moments to improving overall balance for wild explorations, Feldenkrais has been proven to increase sexual pleasure.

Schumeckers believes that “once you are more at home in your body, libido becomes a word with little meaning. What matters is the sensation of two melting bodies carrying each other into blissful experiences.”

Meanwhile, John Ince, co-owner of Vancouver sex toy store The Art of Loving and author of The Politics of Lust, believes that by nature, we tend to become bored with long-term sexual partners and desire newness. Ince suggests trying new ways of lovemaking to re-energize sexual interest—assuming that medical, psychological, and energetic conditions have been ruled out as the cause of low libido.

“Make love somewhere other than the bedroom, perhaps somewhere slightly dangerous, like a secluded public space. Or plan an evening of fantasy role-play, taking different personas, like a fireman hooking up with a waitress. Or, to really transform yourself into someone “new” to your partner, try wearing a wig during foreplay and lovemaking. The erotic mind can be easily tricked into arousing new charge with old lovers. But it takes a genuine interest to rekindle the flame, and openness to experiment to make it work.”

Since my husband had already left, I took all this advice into my new dating life. I even tried the whole wig-stilettos-fishnets thing with one man—but he was the one wearing them, and it did nothing for my libido!

As a relaxed, non-smoking, light-drinking vegetarian, my diet was already pretty libido-friendly. However, when I started dating I did go on the Pill for the first time in 15 years. Did the extra estrogen help? Maybe.

But I think it was Feldenkrais that really reignited my pilot light. I could feel it happening in the hours following each session, in the way my hips moved when I walked. I still have a Feldenkrais treatment once a month—and the man I now share my life with has never heard the words “I have a headache” from my lips.

Donna Barker is a native of Quebec who shares the common French-Canadian attitude that the only subject not to be discussed in mixed company is one’s political beliefs.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My One Year with Avishek

By Indrasish Banerjee

When we reached the crematorium, we saw Avishesk’s lifeless body lying supine on a concrete platform. It was tightly wrapped with a white cloth from neck to toe, so that the body was straining against the cloth as if to break free from the grip of death. Avishek was just 28 years old. He was full of life – which no one knew would escape him so suddenly.

A small crowd of Avishek’s relatives were milling around the body. Among the present were Avishek’s mama (maternal uncle), kaka (paternal uncle), a cousin sister and an aunt. Unsure of whether she would be able to bear the trauma of having to bid the last goodbye, Avishek’s wife, Tani, hadn’t come to the burning ghat.

The pundit started chanting mantras and tossing petals on Avishek’s body. The petals, a mish mash of various colors, were in stark contrast against the white chaddar.

Our manager slowly walked to Avishek’s mama for a small talk and we quickly circled around them to catch up on details, if we had missed out on any. It was a sudden death, which had left everyone shocked. Avishek’s mama confirmed that it was a natural death. Then he averted his large and expressive eyes, with his lower lips curling back a little, and said, “It reminds me of Gogol’s (Avishek’s) rice-giving ceremony, which I had presided over, when Gogol was just a few days old.”

“The name is Avishek Bosu,” Avishek had said when I had first seen him at the company, emphasizing the surname, to confirm that he, like me, was a Bengali.

He looked worried about something, and after his brief introduction, he turned to Girish. As I along with others who had - like me - joined the company a day earlier stepped aside, Avishek started explaining to Girish in graphic details how he had been struggling with on-boarding formalities and how they were completely unnecessary. Enthralled by Avishek’s eloquent narration supported by equally expressive animations, we continued our stoic silence.

Although after a while Avishek finished his discharge with a loud “bullshit”, his bent knees, stretched hands and taut fingers pointing upward - took sometime to return to normal. The verbal onslaught revealed two aspects of Avishek’s personality that we would always associate with him: excitement and high energy.

Four pallbearers ascended the concrete platform and lifted the body. Then they laid the body on a bamboo stretcher. We followed them inside a large hall. We farther trailed them into a big rectangular hall adjoining the previous one. As they laid Avishek on the floor at the centre of the hall, the small crowd retreated to the walls; the walls were very cold to touch.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Shady Promises

[Prompt provided by Summer Ross: 'Shady promises oozed from...']

"¡Viva la Revolución!" cried José Martí on May 19, 1895, breaking away from the Cuban forces and riding straight into the Spanish line and to his death.

Fifty-eight years later, in 1953, inciting the 160 members of 'The Movement' to rise up against President General Batista, Fidel Castro encouraged, "In a few hours you will be victorious or defeated, but regardless of the outcome–listen well, friends–this Movement will triumph. If you win tomorrow, the aspirations of Martí will be fulfilled sooner. If we fail, our action will nevertheless set an example for the Cuban people, and from the people will arise fresh new men willing to die for Cuba."

"¡Viva la Revolución!" chanted the tens of thousands, lead by Ernest "Che" Guevera on New Year's Day 1959, the day after President General Batista fled Cuba.

Three months later, to cheers in Revolution Square, shady promises oozed from under Prime Minister Fidel Castro's scraggly beard, “I will lead the country to economic and cultural progress without sacrificing individual freedoms."

And then one truth, "When we have fulfilled our promise of good government, I will cut my beard."

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cuban Customs

"Are you going to include everything on the customs declaration form?" Dave asked, an hour before landing in Cuba.

"Of course."

He sighed. A sound I knew meant he had misgivings. He may have been sighing while I collected the antibiotic ointment, maternity vitamins, infant formula, Tylenol and prescription pain killers. He may too, have sighed, while we packed the night before. In fact, I'm quite sure he did. But I wasn't willing to hear it.

"If you get pulled out I'm not leaving you alone with the customs people," he said with conviction. Then he whispered, as an aside,"We're so close to Guantanamo..."

"It'll be fine. I'll be fine. As long as I declare everything, I'm not breaking any laws."

He sighed again. I laughed and had a flashback to a trip I'd taken to Sri Lanka by myself, the year before I met Dave. In Columbo, the capital city, soldiers with automatic rifles stood on every street corner, perched atop buildings, surveilled the parks. I'd never felt uncomfortable, even when I had one of those rifles pointed directly at my head while four soldiers ran at me, full speed, yelling. I was standing on a bridge, taking a picture of a train. In a city where the most recent terrorist bomb had exploded just three days earlier, I should have known better. My faux-pas was considered serious. But just for a moment. My Canadian passport was my 'get out of jail free' card.

Perhaps I was naive. But Cuba, and the possibility of upsetting a customs agent, and our proximity to Guantanamo Bay, made no impact on me.

At customs, Dave and I were separated. All couples were. Dave carried the suitcase with our bathing suits and aloe vera lotion, and the carry-on that held our Kobos and headphones. I dragged the suitcase and carry-on we were leaving behind in Cuba. Dave's bags went through the x-ray machine. Several other Vancouverites and Calgarians similarly walked through the screening without incident. The agents appeared to be asleep with their eyes open.

My carry-on entered the x-ray machine. The man with the sleepy eyes raised his right hand high and yelled something. Then he looked at me and pointed to the bag, "Yours?"

"Yes," I said.

"What?" he asked, pointing again at the bag.

"Glasses," I said, taking my own off my face and pointing at them.

As the saying goes, that's when all hell broke loose. Five agents and a security guard surrounded me. I could tell the security guard from the others by the fact that he wore a serious scowl and a gun. The female customs agents, by contrast, wore high heels, super-short skirts and blouses that emphasized their generous assets. Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore.

My bags and I were escorted to an open area at the side of the large customs room. Dave was told to wait for me outside. He refused but was prevented from entering the roped area I was now standing in. I smiled, nodded to the agents and motioned my request to say goodbye to my husband. They agreed. I kissed Dave and told him I wouldn't be long, "See if you can find Pastor Moises and Jose. Maybe they can come in and explain."

Two of the five agents spoke English: the head agent and the younger of the two female agents; the one wearing the torn fishnet stockings. She smiled at me. He did not.

"What is all this?" he asked, waving his hands over my bags. "Open them! They're for the black market!"

"No! It's all declared. I have a right to bring this medicine to your country," I said, surprised at my confidence. "Wait. I have a document," I pulled a one-pager from my handbag, written half in English, half in Spanish.

He read the sheet and looked me up and down, shaking his head. "Empty your bags."

While the other four agents stood behind the table I'd been placed at, I emptied all of the medical supplies from the suitcase. "Do you want me to take out the clothes and toiletries?" I asked.

"Are they yours?" the young agent asked.

"Yes," I said, hoping she wouldn't test me and take out the brand new children's shoes or the size 2 jeans or the men's handkerchiefs or the six tubes of toothpaste; all the items we were bringing as a gift to the families of the two men who ran the community clinic from their Church. I closed and zipped the suitcase and placed it on the floor, away from me. I put the list of items I'd declared beside the pile of medicines. I prayed to Pastor Moises's God (since I didn't have one of my own to pray to) to keep that bag from being re-opened.

"Now this one, please," she asked.

I unzipped and opened the carry-on. All of the agents simultaneously gasped.

"They're just glasses," I said, not able to hold back my smile, wondering if perhaps a spider had made its way into the bag.

"For the black market," said the head customs man.

"No! For Pastor Moises. He's outside. For a clinic. Can you talk to Pastor Moises?" I asked.

"No," he said. "How many pairs do you have?"

"One hundred and forty."

"This is very, very bad," said the head agent walking away.

The junior agents spoke among themselves. Two started to write an inventory of all the medicines, checking expiry dates and making sure none of the containers had been opened. After an hour (they were working v-e-r-y slowly), the other two agents went through the exact. Same. Procedure.

"Why are you looking so closely at the vitamins and baby formula?" I asked the young agent, who'd told me her name was Yanni.

"Two, maybe three years ago, a tourist like you brought poisoned baby formula to our country. Many babies died. We have to be careful. Not everyone is as nice as you are."

I'd shown Yanni the pictures I brought of Pastor Moises receiving suitcases of medical supplies from other Canadian tourists. She'd immediately recognized him, "He was my pastor when I was a child. That was my church. He is a very good man. He helps a lot of people."

While the medicines were being examined, the reading glasses and sunglasses had been separated and counted out - not once, not twice, not even three times. Each of the four agents handled then counted every pair of glasses, enjoying themselves trying on the nicest sunglasses, posing for each other. A brand new, tags-still-on, pair of Oakleys were obviously coveted by all of them and sat to the side of the two, long runs of lenses.

After two hours, the head agent returned. The four junior agents laid into him, waving their hands, raising their voices, shaking their heads, walking away then returning to wave and yell and shake some more. I watched from a safe distance, seated on the one hard bench in the inspection area. I rose when he finally walked toward me.

"You have caused me a great deal of trouble. My staff are upset with me because I have to follow the rules and they want to let you take the glasses. That makes me very upset with you," he stared hard at me and I could tell his anger was sincere. "You can take the medicines out to your Pastor, but we are confiscating all the glasses."

I must have smiled. I certainly didn't on purpose, but he added, "They will be destroyed."

It took another hour for the paperwork to be completed. I was given a copy and sent on my way into the now dark night. Dave, Pastor Moises, and Jose were standing in a row, arms crossed, heads bowed. Obviously exhausted from three hours of standing and waiting.

I danced to Dave, tired but laughing. I threw my arms around his neck and we kissed.  "See," I said, "all that worry for nothing!"

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Sacred Door

With irrational enthusiasm, I opted to climb five flights of stairs and experience the hotel as I’d been lead to believe He had in the 1930s, '40s and ‘50s. My destination? A door so sacred that bus tours stop here to let tourists see it. A door so famous that it has websites devoted to what rests - and who rested - behind it. I needed to see this door. To open it. To step inside and breathe in the remnant oxygen molecules expelled by Him. I knew that the room behind that door would have the answer to a question I’d been too afraid to ask out loud.

I wasn’t alone in my journey up the five flights but it was my compulsion to sit where He had created His masterpieces that kept us from experiencing the offerings of the chocolate museum or spending our converted pesos on Che key-rings or photographs of vintage cars at the tourist-oriented craft fair.

“You’d rather visit an empty hotel room than taste world class chocolate? The heat must have melted your brain,” my husband, Dave said.

“You don’t understand! His energy will still be in that room. I need to stand in his chi, to absorb his vital force.”
The door to room 511 was grubby and stained, the residue of thousands of hands having pushed it open, many like me, with reverence. I truly believed that if I opened the door slowly enough, quietly enough, I might catch Hemingway at his typewriter, bleeding his stories on to the pages. But the room was empty of men. His bed was made and roped off, making it difficult--but not impossible--to lay where Papa had once slept and dreamed. His typewriter sat under the cover of a plexi-glass box, its keys protected from dust and the inexpert fingers of wannabes, like me.

I stood and I gazed and I closed my eyes and I breathed deeply and I tried to open myself to the brilliance that I knew must still be hanging in air, waiting to be absorbed by anyone open to receiving it. But nothing came. Room 511 was… a creative void.

“I don’t understand,” I said, almost in tears.

A Cuban man with near-perfect English stepped into the room, “So, what do you think?” he asked.

“It’s not at all what I expected. I’m disappointed,” I admitted.

“Did you ever hear that the cigars made by the Romeo and Julieta cigar factory were rolled between the thighs of virgins?” he asked.


“And do you believe it?”

“Of course not.”

“Of course not! So why would you believe that simply because Ernest Hemingway is said to have stayed at the Ambos Mudos Hotel that he wrote anything here? What do you see in here?”

He didn’t leave me time to answer, “Nothing!” he said. “Hemingway lived and wrote in Havana for over twenty years, but not from this room. He lived in a giant hacienda on ten acres of land with a swimming pool and a library where he hosted friends like Ava Gardner and Gary Cooper and Jean-Paul Satre. He didn’t live in this small hotel room. The very idea is ridiculous!”

I felt like a fool. Snookered. I’d given up the chance to eat a chocolate Che Guevera head and buy grey market, communist trinkets for the false promise of artistic inspiration. As though reading my mind, the man said, “I can take you to a place where Hemingway did find inspiration-- Bar Floridita.”

“That sounds perfect,” said Dave with the enthusiasm of man who’d very quickly grown to love the Cuban rum that was served all-you-can-drink at our resort.

We sat at the bar with the Bronze, life-size Ernest, dressed as casually was we were, down to his sandals. We each ordered a ‘Hemingway daiquiri.’ Then a ‘Papa Doble,’ the same, but as Hemingway drank this lime and grapefruit slurpee, as a double.

“You know,” said our new friend, “Hemingway wrote that daiquiris felt, as you drank them, the way downhill glacier-skiing feels running through powder snow.”

“Then we need to order another round because I’m not feeling the snow yet!”

Before I left Bar Floridita I finally had the courage to ask the question that I'd been worrying over for weeks.  I leaned over to Mr. Hemingway and with drunken enthusiasm, whispered into his cold ear, “Papa, is my novel ready to be submitted to publishers?”

Papa leaned heavily on the bar and put his hand to his hip. Looking into my eyes without blinking, he said, “Donna, I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

“Thank you, Papa. I’ll hire an editor.”