Post-Colonialism: Four Visual Reports

REPORT NUMBER  ONE: “Let me out! I can’t breathe,  let me out!”


REPORT NUMBER TWO :” Um, sorry, can’t talk now.”


REPORT NUMBER THREE:“All these trade deals blocking my vision!”



      REPORT  NUMBER  FOUR:  “Huh? Oh, we’re cool.        Everything’s cool. Must have been a false alarm”         

   T   B Y  C L A I R E   O’ B R I E




22 photos géniales qui nous ont fortement impressionnés

Enterprising Cubans are training replacements  ( pictured above) to serve on the nation’s local chapters of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution.  Government complaints that the new comrades are overly conscientious have been greeted with national hilarity.   President Raul Castro recently announced that he is sending the one hundred top new Defenders to the U.S in a historic gesture of goodwill to Cuba’s thousands of Miami Relatives. Miami has reportedly asked the CIA how many small planes and automatic weapons it will trade in exchange for 100 highly trained communists.

The Cuban public was not impressed.

“Big deal,” said  several of the  23 doctors who happened to stroll by during Electrica’s fifteen minute  man-in-the-street interview in downtown Havana. “Cuba is full of highly trained communists. ”

The remaining 20 physicians either snorted or laughed, as did the 47 world class musicians,  32 internationally famous dancers, 12 poets, 83 artists, seven engineers, 15 craftsmen, six cigar makers,  several rum experts, ten winning Olympic athletes and a small crowd of laughing Rastafarians.

Also, an old man selling bananas illegally from a wheelbarrow

“We know there will be changes in Cuba’s future “, pronounced a popular and handsome orchestra leader, who sat on the front steps of a crumbling old mansion divided into fourteen tiny apartments.  He laughed loudly and added, ” But anyone who shows up from Miami whining about getting his grandfather’s land  back will be immediately shipped to North Korea.”

Leonardo Oña / Havana Times


Havana Times photo

Meanwhile,  Raul has strictly prohibited all canine members of the Committee  for the Defense of the Revolution from sniffing any Party member in public.

“It’s times like this that the president  misses his brother most,” confided Venezuelan leader Nicholas Madura, as he arrived in Havana to lend his support to Raul. The Cuban president greeted  the former bus driver abrubtly, as Madero  stumbled over several of the CIA agents who had been underfoot throughout Venezuela for at least six or seven years.  Castro aimed a swift, well-placed kick at a senior agent as he stamped out of Jose Marti airport, followed by his presidential comrade, who had faced down  American intelligence to be democratically elected.   Castro had just snubbed Vladimir Putin’s offer to poison six rude Cuban bloggers and was in no mood for Russian or American mobsters, frivolous dissent, or ambitious dogs , regardless of breed.  Well, as Fidel had famously said, a revolution is no bed of roses.

Castro stopped, turned to face a crowd of Granma reporters and addressed the nation.

“Be  like  Che!”   he ordered, “Now, sit!”

Hundreds of good dogs immediately sat.

No further word from Havana at press time.




Thank-you to Paul Siemering for sending me the great photo of the Committee in Defense of the Revolution that appears at the top of this post.








Can I go to Cuba now? Now? Okay, now?


What about tomorrow? May I go to Cuba tomorrow?  What time tomorrow?

? Manana? Sabado? Lunes?



Love on the D Train

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When I was 19, my girlfriend, Shirley, lived on Tiebout Ave, near 183rd and the Grand Concourse in the north Bronx. We spent so much time on the D Train that eventually we came to regard it as a sort of extension of Shirley’s living room. Lurching our way south toward Manhattan or to the deep south of distant Brooklyn, we spread out comfortably (if we were north of 125th St., when seating was roomy), eating Popeye’s chicken and playing cards.


Meanwhile, our huge platform shoes glittered like skyscrapers.

Essentially,  we were proud of ourselves for being smart enough to be young and beautiful in the right place at the right time – and wearing the right shoes.



We had no idea that an afternoon at Coney Island, eating junk food on the boardwalk and taking off our gigantic shoes to wade in the dirty surf wasn’t everyone’s idea of great good fortune. We didn’t realize that our huge shabby beachfront was actually a slum.



Yes, it was rundown, but its dimensions remained glorious and, for us at least, gleamed with adventure and a kind of abundance. Even the scale of its decay was impressive, although I think the miles of South Bronx rubble we regularly passed through had enabled us to sort of look through decay.



At any rate, seagulls still circled in the bright sky, the air still smelled of salt, waves rolled in and ships passed on the horizon. People did spread blankets on the sand and win stuffed animals for their kids in the shooting galleries.


Above all, people ate. A lot. But nobody ever loved Coney Island food, or ate as much of it, as my girl Shirl and I.




In much the same way, we thought everyone would wander the north Bronx’s Concourse if they possibly could, checking out the stacks of cheap and desireable stuff piled high on the sidewalk and eating huge mounds of greasy noodles.


Shirley and I turned heads in a city that wasn’t inclined to turn its head for anyone: women, men, teenagers – suddenly, it seemed that the whole world wanted to dance with us.



This adolescent thinking may well have been a case of arrested development, but it turned out to be a good thing, since actually neither Shirley nor I was at all certain that we even belonged in the world. We tried to act stuck up, but we could never pull it off. Actually, we were immediately delighted to be almost anybody’s friend.

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Looking back, I think of us fondly as Life’s Cheap Date


When America had reporters

How Nellie Bly changed journalism forever

Nelly Bly

More than a half-century before “gonzo journalism” was a figment in Hunter S. Thompson’s imagination, newspaper writer Nellie Bly was living it. Today is Nellie Bly’s 151st birthday, so it’s a fittingly unique day to celebrate her. She reformed an insane asylum by getting committed for 10 days, she described the world on a whirlwind trip, and she reported alongside chorus girls and factory girls with equal vigor.

Bly was a Victorian superstar who created media sensations week after week. She was groundbreaking, too — she traveled the world alone 31 years before women were allowed to vote. But more than just making hits, she usually had a purpose: her work advanced the cause of people few others were willing to defend.



 A woman from coal country becomes a star New York City columnist

Nellie Bly in 1890.    Myers/Library of Congress


Nellie Bly’s career started when the incorrigible young woman named Elizabeth Cochran turned an angry letter into a job.

It began when she read an 1885 column titled “What Girls Are Good For,” which argued that working women were immoral. Eighteen-year-old Bly wrote an anonymous letter to the paper, passionately arguing that women could help support a family in need. (She herself had grown up near Pittsburgh caring for her family of three brothers and her widowed mother.)


Instead of being upset, the paper’s editor put out an ad for the “Lonely Orphan Girl” who’d signed the letter (Bly called herself an orphan because her father had died). “She went to the office,” says Brooke Kroeger, author of Bly’s biography,Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist. “And the legend is that the editor says, ‘She’s got no grammar, she’s got no spelling, let’s bring her in.'”

In that unlikely way, Bly’s newspaper career began in Pittsburgh, and she quickly caught up to everyone else (after taking the pseudonym Nellie Bly, after a Stephen Foster song).

It was at a time when women journalists were incredibly rare, but that didn’t stop Bly. There were still a lot of obstacles — Kroeger says that though Nellie tried to find big news, she lacked the access to break stories. As a foreign correspondent in Mexico, she was largely relegated to reporting local color (though some of her commentary was ahead of its time: “American food is insipid in comparison,” she wrote).

Her difficulties reporting hard news drove her from Pittsburgh to New York City, where she had another uphill battle. “The way she tells it,” Kroeger says, “she shows up at the offices of the World, talks her way past the guards, and proposes the insane asylum assignment.”

Suddenly, Nellie Bly was one of very few women reporters in New York City — and her first assignment was to get committed.

Nellie Bly fakes insanity to investigate an asylum

Two images from Nellie Bly's book about an insane asylum.Nellie Bly/University of Pennsylvania


Two images from Nellie’s book about an insane asylum.

“Could I pass a week in the insane ward at Blackwell’s Island? I said I could and I would. And I did.”

That’s part of the opening paragraph of Nellie Bly’s investigative report into insane asylums,which was initially published in the New York World and later collected in the 1887 book Ten Days in a Mad-House.

Bly began her investigative reporting experience as “Nellie Brown, the insane girl.” She walked down the street with a “far-away” expression and practiced seeming crazy. After staying in a group home for a night, she got herself taken to Bellevue hospital and then committed to the insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island (called Roosevelt Island today).

While there for 10 days, Bly reported on poor conditions and questionable treatment of both patients who were mentally ill and women who were effectively imprisoned there for no good reason. Her book prompted an investigation, more oversight, and increase in funds for the improved asylum.




Bly emerged from “mad-house” a hero

It also made her a journalistic superstar. After that, she became a jack of all trades, writing about numerous “day-in-the-life topics” like being a chorus girl, learning ballet, working on an assembly line, and doing other fantastically interesting things (there’s a great collection of her writing here). Her name was attached to all her articles — a rarity at the time — and she eventually showed up in the headlines, as well.

But Bly wasn’t just writing hits.

“She had a million imitators,” Kroeger says. “What was interesting about her work was that it always had a social justice angle.”

In addition to the stories Bly broke, implicit in her success was the proof that a woman journalist could do as much, if not a lot more, than her more numerous male competitors.

And all that set the stage for her biggest story of all — a trip around the world, in less than 80 days.

Nellie Bly races around the world — to prove a woman could do it

Nellie Bly's reception when she made it home.C.Bunnell/Library of Congress

A depiction of Nellie Bly’s reception when she reached home.

“No female reporter had ever been so audacious, so determined, so willing to sacrifice her own safety in pursuit of a story,” says Matthew Goodman. He wrote about Bly’s incredible trip inEighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World. A trip around the world wasn’t just considered difficult; it was considered unsafe for a woman. But for Bly, that was the point.

“The idea of sending a woman unchaperoned without a man was just unthinkable,” Goodman says. “On top of that, they believed a woman would never be able to do it because she’d have to bring so many clothes.”

Bly didn’t care about those arguments. As she wrote when her editor told her nobody but a man could make the trip:

“Very well,” I said angrily, “Start the man, and I’ll start the same day for some other newspaper and beat him.”

After some back and forth (and some poor circulation numbers for the New York World, which was in need of a fresh publicity stunt), Bly got her choice assignment. She carried a single handbag with her and was off on November 14, 1889. She made it around the world in 72 days, beating the 80 days from the famous Jules Verne book that inspired her. The front page of the New York World was a triumphant boast — and had amazing sales.

Nellie Bly, close to home, and on the front page.New York World/Library of Congress

The front page of the World when Nellie Bly came back.

“She was already well-established,” Goodman says. “The trip around the world catapulted her to being an American celebrity.”

Though there were imitators of Nellie Bly’s style — Goodman’s book tells the story of a race against the equally fascinating Elizabeth Bisland, another woman tasked with traveling around the world at the same time — there was nobody as big as Bly. While some shirked fame, she embraced it.

Bly buys a baby, runs a company, and campaigns for the vote

After her race around the world, Bly went on to write more pieces exploring social issues. Just before her around-the-world trip she wrote “Nellie Bly Buys a Baby” (an exposé of the orphan market in New York), and she followed that up with articles about zoo cruelty and the homeless.


Bly temporarily retired from journalism at age 31, when she married a manufacturer named Robert Seaman (who was 42 years her senior), but she didn’t stop being active. She became president of her husband’s company, got a patent for a new type of milk can, and tried to run her company ethically after her husband’s death. (Kroeger says Bly’s tenure as sole owner, though admirable, was marked more by enthusiasm than acumen.)

When the company went broke, she got right back into journalism, writing for William Randolph Hearst, among others. She reported from Vienna during World War I and agitated for women’s suffrage (sample headline: “Suffragists Are Men’s Superiors”). She kept going nearly until her death. When she died of pneumonia in 1922, she was only 57.

Why Nellie Bly’s legacy lives on today

Once her career took off, Nellie Bly didn't just report the news. She was the news.New York World/Library of Congress

Nellie Bly didn’t just make news — eventually she became news.

Bly was an obvious trailblazer, but her legacy in death has lasted surprisingly long.

“This reputation survives and thrives off basically two and a half years,” Kroeger notes, when Bly had her most active period busting into insane asylums and traveling the world. So what turned Nellie Bly into a legend?

Part of her appeal is obvious: she had a relentless talent and a knack for a great story that never went away. “She knew how to pick the story that would thrust to the front,” Kroeger says.


But Bly’s trailblazing attitude and focus on others probably helped her stories endure long after the newspaper pages disintegrated. Goodman believes she always had a focus on the greater impact of her work: “Even in her trip around the world, which was kind of a stunt, she was also proving that a woman could do anything a man could do.”

“Whatever her circumstance,” Kroeger says, “she was trying to do the same thing. She was trying to make a difference. Was it off of self-interest? Sure. But at bottom, it really did have to do with doing right by someone.”

And ultimately, with many of the stunts forgotten, that’s the reason Nellie Bly remains fascinating today.

When I saw my teacher

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Kindness Blog photo 18 Jan 2014 /Graphic additions, Claire O’Brien




I saw you right away,  standing alone while a clickety-clack crowd walked right through you.

Nobody saw you. It was such a thin October day.


There are people stuck forever on the edges of the town:

No one ever told them that the railroad tracks are gone.


For all I knew, the sun might have set off-schedule and then splintered into neon rings, now circling above San Antonio. In those days, people refused to believe in things like their shoes and the weather.  The rain was as unpersuasive as a stranger bumming rides to a parade.

“When no one can see you, how do you stop from becoming invisible?” I asked you. I really had to know.

 Deceit’s standard bearers have long military careers but short lives.  For fifteen years, I had carried the Life or Death Secrets banner into battle for the Family Silence Brigade – but like most FSB vets I was banished with broken knee caps* before I was old enough to drink.

Every version of  everything I had ever experienced was equally plausible to me. I was twenty years old.

Nevertheless,  love somehow recognized me as a fan and cycled itself through the pattern of my days.

____________________________________________*a metaphor

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Now we are a band! The Food Stamps, seen here dreaming of fame in a San Francisco warehouse.


I was cheered by the apparent sturdiness of this new planet, where many banished people mirthfully recounted” baseless!” allegations  without breaking the world in two. Banishment slowly began to lose some of its teeth about four months after I stopped waiting outside the castle.

A year of exile produced 21 years  of family lies, piled everywhere in crumpled mounds, and confused about whether they had to actually go or could sort of…stay.



Now we are learning to be printers! I am in the middle w my friends (from L) Wei, Jesse, and Judith


Do you remember?  Do you remember when every muscle was a coiled spring,  and every heartbeat thumped out a frantic and – intermittently – exuberant  right to truth, to adulthood, and to freedom

“That’s what I thought”, it said “That’s what I saw.

Hey, that’s another thing I knew!”

______♦   ♦  ♦  ♦   ♦  _____


Thanks very much to the Kindness Blog for publishing this post’s lead photo and for letting me post it.

You can check out more of their work at  A Small Act Of Kindness Can Bring Smile On Million Faces

Genius came early to Flatbush that year




“I tell you Alfonso, Flatbush be damned – the world  is our oyster”

“I couldn’t agree more. Our form is absolutely exquisite. One performance with Katherine Dunham will put the dance world at our feet.”

“Meanwhile, I refuse to dance the polka ever again.”