Despite coffee beans being one of Rwanda’s largest exports, the Rwandese don’t drink coffee. But a small café is trying to seed a coffee culture similar to that of Australia’s to unite locals and uplift farmers.
While in Rwanda, I took through the Rwandan hills to track down Cafe ConneXion, interview Jean-Marie, and bring the story back to Australia. I provided the research, information and interviewees for the program which aired on ABC Radio National.
The influence of porn on women has been extensively discussed, but what about on men? Joseph Gorden-Levitt’s new film Don Jon explores how porn shapes male gender roles, pressuring them to be the dominating porn star by the bedroom and yet a sensitive romantic outside it (virgin/whore complex anyone??). With this we lead into a discussion on the expectations for men and women in relationships, the first Saudi Arabian film to be supported by it’s government in an American market (directed by a woman!), and the experiences of transgendered Nepali prostitutes.
The Gladies Podcast, Episode 2: Romance
Global media is in love with the romance genre and has been for centuries. But with high divorce rates, an increase in the average age of marriage, and a relaxing of social expectations around what’s classed as the common family unit, why do we still lap up the ‘Happily Ever After’? And with all these relationship realities western culture is slowly accepting, another genre has arisen – real romance. But why don’t we garner the same appreciation from real romance as we do the Cinderella story?
In this episode, the Gladies explore what the romance genre means in an age that is warring between the abstinence porn of Twilight, and overt sexuality that sees little Miley Cyrus join the land of latex, (with a few tangents onto real relationships for good measure). Enjoy!
The awesome intro/outro song to Episode 2 is by creative couple and electro extraordinaires, This Mess. Soooo sexy. Listen to the whole song without our voices in between!
Texts we refer to;
Stephanie Meyer has moved from Twilight to Austenland
Blue Valentine – real romance
The Gladies 1: The Anti-Hero
Not girls and not yet ladies, we discuss the experiences of being in that weird, transitional mid-20s period that makes you a glady.
In our first episode, we look at the anti-hero and why there is a glamourisation of the flawed female protagonist. Rachel from Friends, Carrie from Sex and the City, and Hannah from Girls – we talk about why we love the anti-hero. But is it really something to aspire to? And what social circumstances did it stem from? Is it just another excuse for us Gen Y-ers to indulge themselves?
The day the controversy broke about the Rolling Stone cover, I called up the editor-in-chief of the Australian edition, Matt Coyte, to find out if they would run it, and what he thought of the criticism. While I thought he would choose not to comment, he actually made some really interesting and opinionated points.
Rolling Stone Australia has confirmed that it will run the article from its American counterpart about Boston marathon bombings suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, but it will not run the cover that is currently sparking outrage across America and online.
Several retail chains in Boston have refused to stock the August issue of the US magazine due to its controversial cover for its article ‘The Bomber’ that sees Tsarnaev featured as its cover star.
Public criticism said that the cover and particular choice of photo glorifies 19-year old Boston bombings suspect, and offends families of the victims. However, the photograph has also been on the front of The New York Times.
In response to the outrage, Rolling Stone US magazine made the statement that the article “falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone’s long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day.”
Rolling Stone Australia’s editor-in-chief Matt Coyte told B&T that it wouldn’t run the cover because the event of the Boston marathon bombing is not as relevant to its Australian market.
Kings Cross to most people – the media and my parents especially – is a scummy hole in the earth lined with strip clubs and lost souls. But to me and many people I know, it’s a home. Kings Cross isn’t just a home of the safe injecting clinic and ladies of the night. It’s a place of old 1920s buildings built with high ceilings and Juliet balconies, hidden between the cafes and corner stores are communal gardens and street art, and it’s a workplace of creatives, barmen, and small business owners. Many businesses rather list being located in Potts Point or Darlinghust so as to not associate themselves with the negative associations. Kings Cross after all, is more of a loosely mapped out crossroads for Potts Point and Darlinghurst and doesn’t even have a postcode. And it was for this reason I was pleasantly surprised to notice that the new restaurant Farmhouse Kings Cross is owning the region’s name. But there are so many brilliant elements to this bohemian thoroughfare, and perhaps proudly owning it is what should be done. So unlike other blogs that post about new restaurants, dissecting the food and posting filtered photos of the quirky decor, this is simply about the name. And hopefully the Farmhouse Kings Cross can establish a reputation that is just as well known.
Despite coffee beans being one of Rwanda’s largest exports, the Rwandese don’t drink coffee. A small café is trying to seed a coffee culture similar to that of Australia or Europe’s to unite locals and uplift farmers. Could the beverage become as influential in a community that is still marked by the feuds of the Rwandan Genocide?
Eighteen years ago, the town of Butare in South Rwanda was a bloody battleground. Here, The Human Rights Watch reports that on 21 April 1994, 600 orphans were transferred by Interahamwe forces to the local school, separated by identity, and the Tutsis murdered with machetes and clubs. This was in addition to the violent attacks of rape, murder and torture on innocent civilians used by government-supported Hutu extremists to wipe out Tutsis. As the world stood back and watched, the catastrophic civil war that is the Rwandan Genocide unleashed with neighbours and family members turning against each other. One million people were reportedly murdered in 100 days.
The smell of death has since faded, and today, the main road that runs through the town is infused with a new scent. The distinct scent of espresso floats from a simple square concrete building. Painted up its centre column is a flourishing coffee tree with outstretched branches, while a calico sign displays “Espresso RW400” – 61 Australian cents for an espresso that, of the same beans, would cost $4 to $8 in Australia.
This is Cafe ConneXion. It’s the first coffee shop for Butare Town because, despite coffee beans accounting for more than a third of Rwanda’s exports, the Rwandese rarely consume coffee. Meanwhile in Australia, Rwanda’s specialty coffee comes over land and sea to end up in the cups of coffee connoisseurs. At popular Sydney café, Single Origin in Surry Hills, a 250-gram bag of beans from the Nyakizu region, just 20 minutes from Butare Town, cost $23.
Here, in Café ConneXion, with its green walls and blue floor, I speak with the co-owner Jean-Marie Irakabaho. We sit on simple couches arranged at the front, while a desk holding an espresso machine takes centre stage of the room. An imposing coffee roaster dominates the right side of the café, but the room feels somewhat bare.
The local coffee expert Jean-Marie and his Swiss business partner Luzius Wipf, a coffee roaster, recently established the café in the hope that it will create the connection between coffee farmer and drinker. Jean-Marie believes his country and people can move on from the genocide, and hopes that Café ConneXion will increase the domestic consumption of coffee, seeding a similar coffee culture to Australia and Europe. If its goals are realized, the coffees served here could contribute to post-genocide economic growth, and compensate the farmers with local sales when the volatile international market prices drop.
“Rwandans do not drink coffee,” he explains in his thick Afro-French accent.
“I guess less than three per cent [of the beans they produce]. But in Ethiopia they drink more than half.”
High-end sex dolls may be unusual to some, but they have become a chance at true love for others. I speak to Harry Thomas* about his love for his Real Doll Jenny, and how she has made his life more meaningful.
“I brought a surprise in my bag for you to see,” says 70-year-old Harry Thomas*. He looks over his shoulder around the airport to check no curious eyes are watching. He pushes his chair to closely face mine, the arms forming a wall around the bag as it sits on the floor tangled between our legs. Opening the bag, two glassy blue eyes stare out of the dark at me. It is a woman’s head. A dishevelled black fringe falls over the stunned look on her face as her jaw hanging open.
“She’s beautiful isn’t she?” he says, looking into the bag adoringly.
I reach inside to touch her face. It is cold and lifeless, but he’s right, she is beautiful.
“Its name is Jenny. Her! I mean her name is Jenny,” he scolds himself.
“Never call her ‘it’.”
Jenny and Harry’s relationship is primarily physical, for most part because she is a high-end sex doll and Jenny’s face is the one Harry wakes up to in the morning. And with her face costing over $500 it is literally her most valuable asset.
This is because Jenny is more than just a sex doll. She is a RealDoll – a sex doll with a body made of the highest quality flesh-like silicone, perfectly proportioned, with French manicured nails, and pubic hair imported from Sweden. She is the red Ferrari of sex dolls, and for $11’000, money can buy you love – love with a sleeping face, a smiling face, or an orgasming face. A RealDoll is sex a la carte.
The customer can pick and chose the body type, hair and eye colour, breast size, makeup style, skin tone, and even the colour and style of pubic hair. It is the Stepford Wife without batteries.
Harry is an iDollator. iDollators are the owners and admirers of these high-end sex dolls. iDollators aren’t necessarily sex or gender specific because RealDolls are not. Male and female RealDolls are produced along with ‘she-males’ which have changeable genitalia and all are available from the popular manufacturer Abyss. However, there is a much higher demand for female dolls and thus a much broader range of female models.
The creation of RealDolls by 32-year-old artist Matt McMullen was a happy accident 10 years ago while experimenting with different materials for sculpture. After posting his failed attempts online, he was inundated with requests that it be used as a sex doll, with offers starting at $3000. Since then, the business has evolved to now produce 10 different body types, 16 different faces, and five skin tones.
“Most people who say they would never have sex with a Doll probably would,” Matt says during an interview for the BBC Documentary Guys & Dolls.
RealDolls weigh around 45kg, and when their flesh-like silicone is heated up with an eclectic blanket, sex is said to feel near exact to that with a ‘RG’ – the abbreviation iDollators use when referring to real girls. However, their flexibility is limited and like all objects, their orifices and joints begin to wear and tear with time and use.
iDollators communicate through the online community DollForum.com which has over 24,000 members world-wide. The forum hosts discussions on doll maintenance, personal experiences, love devotions, and finally, both tame and erotic photos of the dolls in everything from smiling family portraits, to erotic nude shots with bedroom eyes.
Feminist criticism of the dolls is a popular discussion in the forum but iDollators believe RealDolls are no more sexist to women than dildos are to men. The home page of the forum states nine rules which all iDollators abide by to maintain equality and prevent offending any members. Rule number seven strictly says, “No statements demeaning women.”
DollForum.com is where I came to meet Harry.
After a brief exchange of emails he insisted on flying from rural Australia to meet me at Sydney airport where Jenny and I would unexpectedly meet face to face. While waiting in the domestic terminal as a 19-year-old, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed blonde girl, I was slightly nervous, even suspicious, at his eagerness to meet me. Only knowing him though his avatar which was a picture of Jenny, I was unsure of what to look for or expect.
His tall frame strode confidently towards me as he secretly carried the head of his lover in a bag. With a thick head of grey hair, and his Ralph Lauren polo shirt tucked neatly into his jeans, he had aged well. The only indication of his 70 years’ wisdom was the pink and red flaky sunspots on his forehead which he had apologised for in advance over phone, via email, and as we shook hands for the first time.
Unlike the socially reclusive image of a iDollator I had imagined, Harry was charismatic and clever, with boyish jokes and quick wit to distract the conversation from anything too personal. When asked about Jenny’s role in his life, he would quickly deflect his answers to speak about the experiences of other iDollators he knew from the forum. He could tell me the intricate details of the lives of others, but avoided discussing any of his own. Yet four coffees and two blueberry muffins later, he finally began to reveal why Jenny had come into his life.
Harry has travelled the world but lived in a small country town all his life. After separating from his wife 13 years ago, he had remained living alone on his farm.
“It’s the difference between being alone, and lonely,” Harry explained.
“I don’t mind being alone but I can’t stand being lonely.”
For many owners, the doll becomes a girlfriend while others with willing partners learn to incorporate it into their relationship. Some even believe it has helped. Harry is in a relationship with a 25-year-old woman and the pair are planning a holiday to Thailand for a month. He’s realistic about the 45-year age gap and knows it may never amount to anything serious despite seeing each other on and off for years.
“I buy her nice things that a man her age couldn’t buy her and we enjoy spending time together, but I know she will end it soon enough.”
Harry says he will never allow himself to fall into the vulnerability of being in love.
“She’s a third my age… I know that there is going to be a time when she will stop seeing me and find someone her own age.
He has introduced the women in his life to each other and although his girlfriend has given some of her own clothes to Jenny, she is not fond of her.
“She was scared when she first saw Jenny. But she probably doesn’t care about me enough to feel anymore than awkward about it.”
Each iDollator has different reasons for buying a plastic companion. Some have been burnt badly from past relationships, others are socially inept when it comes to women, and some simply prefer the simplicity and predictability that a RealDoll offers in comparison to a human relationship. For Harry, Jenny eases the isolation of living on his farm alone for so long.
“I’ve been alone for an awfully long time…Today is the first time since Friday when I bought petrol that I have used my voice,” he says softly calculating the hours in his head.
“That’s over 64 hours, and that’s reasonably normal for me… After being on the farm all day I’ll come in and get myself something for tea and have a beer. Then I’ll sit down and think ‘I have not spoken today’…”
Unlike his ‘organic’ relationship with the 25-year-old woman, Harry knows that Jenny is reliable, and in many ways he sees her as better companion than a real woman.
“Physically she is the perfect female specimen; her personality is what you give her so conversations will always go your way; and the only drawback when it comes to sex is that she won’t jump on top of you. But then how many women do that anyway?”
Many iDollators use these same arguments in defense of criticism by people who don’t understand RealDoll love.
Harry believes that most people have an “outsider’s concept” of RealDolls as just a sexual replacement.
“Not true,” he rejects.
“Dolls are generally a substitute for human companionship. A human relationship cannot successfully be just about sex can it? The whole package is needed; physical attraction and companionship. Sex is a part of it, a necessary part, but just a part.”
This friendship that RealDoll owners experience is often their main reason for purchasing a doll. Some owners experience limited social interactions so purchasing one for companionship improves their quality of life.
DollForum member Mephisot138 has a fetish for the “perfect beauty and absolute submissiveness” of RealDolls. He is saving up to satisfy that fetish and to feel less ostracised. He reveals to me over DollForum; “right now my life sucks pretty hard, but I see my psyche improving 110 per cent when I get a doll because then I will have my muse and my love.”
But Harry believes that given the choice, 99 per cent of iDollators would choose a human companion over a RealDoll.
“It’s just that most of them don’t have that choice.”
Wendy Garner, Professor of Psychology of Norwestern University in America has developed a theory of such human behaviour called the Belonging Strategy of Last Resort. This is where the person’s desire to belong or be attached to something or someone is so powerful that they form a para-social relationship with something which can’t connect back with them.
Belonging is the basis of all social interactions, and we hunger for acceptance like we do food. When we can’t get a healthy portion we use social snacks to reminds us that we can belong. ‘Social snacking’ is giving tangible objects intangible meaning that remind them of social experiences. Perhaps this is what stimulates such a strong relationship between an owner and their doll. As RealDolls rely entirely on their owners to be washed, dressed, loved and cared for, this dependence can translate into belonging or being needed making the relationship fulfilling.
RealDoll inventor Matt McMullen from Abyss believes that for those without a choice, having a RealDoll for a companion or even just a physical relationship is better than having no one at all. The tattooed skateboarder discusses the criticism of doll owners in the Guys & Dolls documentary and believes that “certain people benefit from these dolls in the same way people benefit from having insoles in their shoes. Some people don’t need insoles but some people do. And some people don’t have social interaction problems but some people do… And for many of them, having a [Real]Doll is enough.”
Jenny is there for Harry in the moments when he sits down by himself at night.
“Lonely doesn’t happen at daytime,” he says as lifts her head from the bag and cradles it in his hands.
“It sneaks up on you at night. Night is when introspection and ‘why’ sneaks up on you…”
He twists Jenny’s black hair neatly together and gently places her head back inside the darkness of the bag before zipping it up.
“But I don’t have to sleep alone anymore.”
I went through a phase of writing unexpected letters recently. With the incessant emails that badgered my inbox I needed to get away from screens, so I began penning letters to friends I hadn’t seen in a while.
It’s fascinating how in just a couple of years, the growing dependence of our daily lives on computers, whether they’re on your lap or in your pocket, has completely changed our relationship with paper. The temporal nature of the content on your screen has made the permanence of paper – and the words printed on it – feel more meaningful.
And in a time of ever-increasing digital reliance, it’s nice to hear the clunky wheels and cogs of a machine that can create something beautiful sans electricity. Down at The Distillery in Darlinghurst, the old letterpress machines from the 1890s click, whistle and turn, making music instead of a buzzing drone like computers. The letterpress studio stands for the custom craftsmanship and artisan skill of a bygone era, when there were hands instead of codes behind something; ink instead of pixels.
The Distillery’s director Nathan Leong and his team are working to bring back letterpress and the traditional design process that sees a piece through its entire lifetime from start to finish. This is not only through oiling, restoring and reigniting the old machines, but by holding workshops teaching letterpress skills, and renting out time on the letterpresses to local enthusiasts, so the studio can become a creative community hub.
I spoke with Nathan a few months ago on why he’s dusting off these machines and spreading the the love of this old artisan skill.
Fluorescent poles and a touch of dubstep are not something you’d typically expect to be incorporated into a ballet composition, but for the West Australian Ballet’s 60-year diamond anniversary, they sought to do something different. Neon Lights is the product and it’s currently playing at The Sydney Theatre in Walsh Bay. The four acts each break away from stereotypical, formal performances – there’s no wankiness and a lot more personality.
“This conversation never happened,” was the opening line of The Ambassador, when it screened on Sunday night as The Antenna Festival’s closing documentary. The festival included a suite of incredible films ranging from true tales of community activism to life on death row. But The Ambassador was the headline act.
Armed with a plethora of hidden cameras, eccentric gonzo journalist Mads Brüggers illustrates the corruption and exploitation of the Central African Republic. The helplessness of its people has allowed it to become a land where every man with an ego is sucking it dry of its natural resources, only repaying it with false hope.
TIME Healthland recently covered the topic of pro-anorexia blogs, of which I wrote an article on a few years ago, and posted just a few weeks ago.
Quoting a study by Dapha Yeshna-Katz in the journal Health Communication, it makes an interesting point that pro-anorexia blogs could lightly be compared to wet houses or safe needle exchanges – places that are accepting of the problem; where sufferers find community bonding and refuge in the understanding of other sufferers.
However, pro-ana members are more fond of their disease than keen for recovery. Shutting the blogs down to address their anorexia would be pointless, not only because of its near impossibility, but the fact that most of the images that sufferers idolise come from mainstream media. It is certainly not a revolutionary statement, but it is the psychology of finding these images aspirational, and the glorification of unhealthy bodies that remains the root of the problem. Which I doubt will change any time soon. Read the full article here
This is a story I wrote a few years ago about the pro anorexia and pro bulimia forums on LiveJournal. Thankfully, most of them have now been shut down or are less active, however, many members have moved to new social media platforms such as Pinterest. The website has been forced to close many eating disorder-themed boards and now greets members searching for thinspiration with health warnings and eating disorder support lines.
Lucy* looks at me in disbelief as I place my caramel-latte on the table in front of us. She glares at it, almost frightened of the sweetened, frothy milk. I can see her mind ticking over as she counts and converts calories. “350 calories that is,” she says pointing to it.
“That’s like 40 minutes running to burn off you know?”
She looks up disapprovingly, attempting to drill guilt into me. She’s right, I probably should know better. Yet having moved past such thoughts and her still in the depths of the obsession, I chose to ignore her comments and revel in the pleasure of enjoying food – a practice feared by those with anorexia nervosa.
I can’t blame her for being rude, she means well. She’s trying to keep me in check. That’s what members of the online Pro Ana and Pro Mia movements do – encourage through fasts and discourage from food. The difference is that I am no longer a member.
It’s not a good sign when you’ve just hosted an event with an international celebrity and no one sticks around for the after party. When the “hand-picked crowd” walked out at the end of The Vivid Ideas Forum that had featured the festival’s creative director Ignatius Jones; artist Justene Williams; software developer Renee Priston; and “a man who needs no introduction – will.i.am”, a bitch fest was soon unleashed in the women’s bathroom.
“I got a babysitter for that?” seethed a digital producer.
“I would have at least expected some discussion on creative collaboration but that was a joke,” lamented another.
“If VICE is doing news, we’re ******.”
Shane Smith, co-founder of VICE had this sobering message to give 100 hipsters who gathered on a night of apocalyptic weather for the Vivid Ideas exchange.
VICE is a publication I truly idolise and respect. It loves the eccentric and unusual characteristics about people that I do, and does so unapologetically. More so, it chases the story. And according to Smith, now more than ever there are more stories to tell.
Having once started as a lifestyle publication to talk about “sneakers and cocaine”, VICE was forced to start covering the happenings of the world that were receiving no media coverage. The murders, kidnapping, people trafficking and drug trafficking that didn’t fit well with the 6pm times lot on TV. The stories they have found have continued to shock them more and more over the years.
“And everywhere we go, it’s getting worse,” Shane Smith said.
Hello to the millions of people who are not reading this blog. I know, I know, I need to post more, but the deadlines! Oh the deadlines – how they ruin my consistency! So in light of this blog being in those awkward teenage years – not a girl, not yet a woman – and unsure what yet defines it, here is a random piece of media I would like to share.
Already seen around the world by more than a million people, this little documentary is growing faster than the Kony 2012 video. In contrast, it is made by the hugely reputable kids over at VICE. I love VICE because it, like me, is interested in unusual and weird people. People who live their lives left of centre.
This little doco heads over to the jewel of Colombia, Bogotá, and profiles what it names ‘the world’s scariest drug’, otherwise known on the streets as Devil’s Breathe ‘because it steals your soul’. It is used by gangs and thieves to take advantage of its victims. Its most interesting element is its ability to eradicate your free will while leaving your personality to be an accomplice to the crime committed against you. Offenders have their victims sneakily breathe in the powder or slip it in their drink and they lose conscious free will for around eight hours. They order the person now under a zombie-like spell to take their own money from an ATM or unlock their apartment, and the victim will do so mindlessly. To me it raises issues of personal trust and the betrayal that you would feel on yourself if you were the victim. It must be hard to know you allowed thieves into your house or bank account. That you somehow allowed this to happen.
Ok, so below there is just an image – in this blog’s awkward growing pains I haven’t yet figured out how to insert a video. So watch it through this link instead! (Then return so the millions of you non-readers can tell me what you thought and we can all have one big, happy, interactive, online, non-existent experience.)