Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Where in the world is Juanita Harrison?

She had me at the title, really.
I love reading travel journals; the older, the better, and extra great if it was written by a woman. I came across Juanita Harrison's book by accident, but even before I clicked on the free ebook, the title already sold it:

There is so much love and joy in that title, there was no question whether I was going to like this book.
And then it got better.

Here is what we know about Juanita Harrison: She was born around 1891 in Mississippi, she was a woman of color, she worked various jobs in the US and Cuba, until in 1927, at the age of 36, she decided to travel around the world, so she packed up a suitcase, got on a ship, and set out on a 7 year adventure.

And then it gets even better.

Here are some things I absolutely adore about Juanita:
(Yes, this book is the grammar pedant's worst nightmare, which makes it even more awesome)

1. She is not a rich lady waltzing around the world. She calls herself a "rover"; she freelances wherever she goes, taking odd jobs to earn money. Whenever she has enough for the next leg of the journey, she quits immediately, and "loafs around", enjoying her vacation, until the money runs out.

2. She values fun over objects. She regularly gets rid of her entire suitcase (once she gifts it to a maid at a house she works at), and she only ever mentions buying two frivolous things: Postcards, and books. See why I like her yet?

3. Talking about books: Wherever she goes, Juanita visits the local library to read about the places she is visiting. She also spends time in various libraries for fun.

4. In general, she spends on adventures rather than things:

"I left New York with a ten dollar hat on my head but it rained so often in London and Scotland that it have taken all the life out of it I thought of buying another but for that money I can go into so many grand old castles and manisons that I can still see beauty in it."

She runs to save the taxi money for the opera, and when she finds some coins on the ground, she goes back to the world fair a second time to look around. She takes dance lessons in Spain, goes to public baths in Japan (and shows off her pink bra), visits cabarets and festivals, and especially enjoys crashing local weddings and funerals to see what they are like...

5. She claims her space and she does not apologize for it.

"I got a passage on the Orient Line on a lovely boat and they say the 3rd Class are as good as the second on the other lines. I gave my likes and dislikes a Cabin without children and uper berth, and will be ready to fight to get what I want once on boad so no one need piety me."

6. She sets her boundaries and sticks to them.

"I dont want anyone fooling with my room rent, my room is my personal self they can give me my food or little presents but I dont want any one to be able to come to my room."

7. She decorates her spaces, even when she only lives in them for a few days; she hangs curtains, buys flowers, and scrubs the floors. The short time while she works at a mental institute for children in Spain, she makes sure they get new, nicer pots.

8. She has a great deal of common sense. She sews pockets to her "bloomers", never lets her passport out of her hand, scrubs washing basins before she uses them, shops at local markets, and always pretends to stay at a hotel when someone walks her "home."

9. She punches men who try to hit on her too aggressively. Apparently, she has a mean upper cut.

10. She does not hate men, however, and is also not afraid of them. In fact, she enjoys flirting, and makes comments about the men of various countries, especially the really hot ones.

"I like best to tease with the handsome blue caped policeman, because when I have heard enough I can step away from his beat which he can not leave."

11. She takes deep, absolute, and pure enjoyment in everything she does. She walks barefoot in the grass around the Taj Mahal, and takes a nap in the shade. She drinks fresh milk in the Netherlands while watching the sunrise. She takes everything as an adventure; she climbs a lamppost to get a look at the Spanish Queen, laughs herself silly on a ship tossed around by a typhoon in Japan, and seriously considers getting arrested in Germany just to see what that's like. Even seasickness is registered as "fun" in her journal.

12. She is perfectly happy and content with traveling alone. She turns down several traveling companions (men and women alike), and does everything on her own time, in her own way, and exactly as long as she wants to.

13. She never has a bad word about any nation or culture. She calls most of them "gentle and kind," and goes out of her way to spend time with people, even when they try to put her with the "European" passengers. She prays, but she always prays in whatever church, temple, synagogue, or mosque is the nearest; she is open to learning about other people's ideas.

"another Gentlean a Very smart Professor and a strong Buddish He talked for 2 hours to me on that faith and I was so thankful it was just what I wanted to hear I sat very quiet and took it all in he spoke about it said I was a good listner as most Christians argue."

14. In 1935, she settles down in Hawaii. Her way of settling down involves buying a tent (grandly named Villa Petit Peep) that she can carry in a bundle on her head, and moving around whenever she feels like it. This is what she says about settling down:

Well never in all my life have I slept so wonderful as in my Tent the 4 holes in each of the windows where the ropes drow up the Shade make 12 holes and when the light is out and the door and Windows closed the lights of the street shine through the holes and on to the Top of my Tent and it look just like the Stars. I'll get a serfe boad and Take a few Hula lessons just to add gayness to that list of things the check bought. 
 I want alway to be where wealth health youth beauty and gayness are altho I need very little for myself I just want to be in the midst of it. 1 have reversed the saying of Troubles are like Babies the more you nurse them the bigger They grow so I have nursed the joys.


Just as she appeared on the stage of world literature, Juanita gracefully stepped off of it. We don't know what happened to her after the book was published. We don't even have a picture of her. She wandered the world for 7 years between the two world wars, seeing it as the most beautiful place to be, living every day as the most beautiful day to be alive.

We should be teaching this, for so many reasons. Juanita Harrison should be on reading lists everywhere. We should be talking about a world traveler who did not discover, research, or exploit; we should be talking about a woman (of color) who traveled alone by choice and was not ashamed or afraid for one minute of it. We should be talking about how she had no grammar or punctuation, and yet she lived for libraries and the opera. We should celebrate her empathy and her friendliness, her confidence, her sheer joy and her insatiable curiosity.
Or, at the very least, some Literature major should look into what happened to her after she landed in Hawaii. I would love to know.

Let's remember Juanita Harrison.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Troubles with creation (Following folktales around the world 62. - Bulgaria)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Bulgarian Folktales
Assen Nicoloff
Cleveland, 1979.

The volume contains (as stated by the introduction) exactly 82 stories - 12 animal tales, 19 wonder tales, 23 legends, and 28 anecdotes. They were all selected from various 19th century collections, and translated by the editor - the language occasionally feels a little surprising to a reader of folktales, being peppered with terms like "buddy," "oldster," and "okay." I wasn't sure if that was a thing of translation, or based on the original casual language of the stories.
The introduction paints a detailed picture of the Bulgarian oral tradition, and the history of folklore collections in the country. At the end of the book we find copious end notes for each tale (including sources and tale types), a glossary, a bibliography, and an index. It is a well edited, well-selected collection.


Dobri the Kind Woodcutter was an endearing tale on account of its kind, gentle protagonist. The woddcutter was nice to all animals, and gained magic powers as a result; he was able to make a suffering kingdom thrive again. He never used his powers for evil, but did use them to punish an evil queen - by turning her into a screech owl.
The Flying Horse is a colorful, exciting variant of the famous Ebony Horse of the 1001 Nights (I included that story in my own book as well). In this story, a young boy creates the magic wooden horse to prove that he is better than his master - then immediately attempts to destroy it so that it can't get into evil hands. The second half of the story reminded me of another favorite of mine, the Jewish tale of the Rebel Princess, where a girl becomes a king, and uses her power to teach a lesson to people who treated her badly during her journeys.
Dragons in love in Varna
The tale of Uncle Trak and the Last Dragon made me kind of sad. It told about the age of great dragon warriors who were brave in battle and gallant with mortal women (and even moved their scaly tails so that the girls could sit next to them). The appearance of gunpowder ended their time, and the last of their kind was unceremoniously cooked in a pot by the sly Uncle Trak. I have never seen such a depressing variant of the "poor man and the ogre" before...
I found several delightful stories among the legends. In How the world was created, God competed against a devil named Anastasius; the latter poked holes in people while they were still freshly made of clay, and thus the soul kept leaking out of them. There was also a legend about Why the sky is high, which resembled many tales from Oceania (You're Welcome!). I was especially amused by When and how people were created. In it, God created the first few humans from clay by his own hand, with great attention to detail; but then he discovered that he could create them faster with the use of molds, and switched to mass production - except the molded people were not quite perfect anymore. I also learned Why the Sun does not get married - apparently, people convinced him that marriage sucks, in order to avoid having a bunch of baby suns in the sky, burning up the earth. In another tale, Hedgehog crashed the celestial wedding party, and the Sun gave him spines for self-defense, since all other animals were angry about missing the event.
Among the historical legends, the most interesting was that of Rumena Voivoda, a 19th century woman who left her son and husband at home to go and lead a band of robbers in rsistance against the Turks. The enemy feared her, the Bulgarians loved her, and she was called the Queen of the Mountains. (They made a movie about her last year!)


One of the local tricksters, like in the Ukraine, is a female fox called Kuma Lisa; she spends most of her time tricking Wolf. There were other familiar animal tales as well - that of the Brementown musicians (Animals' flight to the forest), where old Ox built a house and all the others begged to be let in, or that of the Mouse and the Mole, where Mouse wanted to marry her daughter to the strongest being in the world (which turned out to be the Mole). Next to Kuma Lisa, there was also a human trickster in the book, named Sly Peter.
Three Brothers and the Golden Apple was the familiar tale of apples being stolen every night. This time, the culprit was a dragon, stealing apples for his daughters; the youngest prince followed it into the underworld. Since only two apples had been stolen, the third girl was playing with a golden rat instead... Unlike other tales of this time, in this one the hero descended one level even deeper, and defeated another dragon, before returning to our world. Dragons also featured into The Dragon and the Tsar's Daughter, a unique variant of the shoes that were danced to pieces. In it, the princess went out every night to... play ball with a dragon.
The Shepherd and the Fox was a variant of Puss in Boots; interestingly, the (female) fox was actually a friend of the Lamia-monster that they evicted from the castle in the end. There were also other familiar fairy tale types, such as Godfather Death, and the story of Why old people are not killed anymore. There were actually several related stories about respect for elders, and also quite a few tales about clever girls and women.

Upcoming Bulgarian cartoon series based on folklore!
Where to next?

Monday, March 5, 2018

Flowers and gemstones (Following folktales around the world 61. - Romania)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Szegény ember okos leánya
Román népmesék
Kovács Ágnes (szerk.)
Európa Könyvkiadó, 1974.

Yet another volume of our wonderful Tales of Nations series, and once again a very valuable collection. It contains fourteen beautiful, elaborate Romanian fairy tales selected from 19th century sources. In the afterword, folklorist Ortutay Gyula explains that while Hungarian storytellers for example tend to focus on action and dialogue, Romanian tellers took pleasure in detailed, exquisite descriptions. This definitely shows in the tales, and I loved every minute of it. Of course the book contains notes for each story, complete with sources, tale types, and comparable Hungarian variants.


Since most of the tales belonged to well-known types, the highlights mostly came from small details and elaborations within the stories. For example, in the story of Calin the Fool, the hero fell in love with the middle (!) sister - out of princesses of copper, silver, and gold, he chose silver. In The Man Turned to Stone, the magical helper of the heroes was the Spring Breeze. His mother hid the heroes (under the wings of an emerald-eyed and diamond-beaked magic bird) when he came home. Spring Breeze was a youth with golden hair and silver wings, carrying a staff covered in flowers and vines, smelling like roses and rosemary. He drank doe milk and violet water for dinner. In the same story, the heroes rode a fairy carriage to the princess' palace, a palace of sapphire with a door made of cypress wood.
As a whole, I think my favorite tale was that of Tugulea, Son of Old Man and Old Woman. It began with a dragon queen stealing the boy's sinews at birth, because she was afraid he'd kill her when he grew up. The crippled hero could not walk, but he learned how to shapeshift, turned into a bird, and eventually got his sinews back (and killed the dragon queen). The story from here turned into that of the Extraordinary Helpers - Tugulea had companions who could eat and drink a lot, withstand freezing cold, and do magic. The latter came in handy when one of the tasks posed to the hero was that he had to make fifty barren women have babies in one night (hello, Hercules). The magician did the trick "with the power of his magic wand."
At the end of the volume there was also a more "modern" fairy tale, in which The Fairy of the Waters did not only help the hero succeed, but they also ended feudalism in the process...


Georges Rochegrosse:
Le Chevalier aux Fleurs
The title story, The Poor Man's Clever Daughter, was that of the common tale type - a long and elaborate version. Youth without old age and life without death was a lovely and complex variant of the prince seeking immortality - in this case, he had to fight several witches on the way, including one named Scorpion. Fairy Ilona was a similarly long and beautifully detailed variant of the princess who turns into a prince.
After the Ukraine and Moldova, I once again encountered the story of the sister who is kidnapped by a dragon while bringing food to her brothers to the fields where they work. She is rescued by her late-born little brother and his friend (in this case, Peter Peppercorn and Florea of the Flowers). I especially liked the figure of the Knight of Flowers who became a close friend to the hero.

Where to next?