Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: May 1, 2002
The painting on the wall reminded me of boundaries. A man, curled in a ball, hung suspended above water in a jump suit. Ropes circled his collar, wrists and ankles, where the jump suit ended and his skin began. A second frame was identical, except for a splash in the water below and the absence of the man's head, hands and feet. The unchanged jump suit, holding its form, hung suspended above the splash in the water below, its boundaries marked by the rope. It was label "Deep End".
I was in a seminar, entitled Anththropocentrism, Androcentrism, Ecofeminism: The Issue of Animals, hosted by the department of Sociology at the University of Tasmania. Barbara Noske, a noted Dutch anthropologist, philosopher and social researcher was expanding on themes she'd raised in her new book Beyond Boundaries: Humans and Animals. She talked of boundaries, between the animal and human, between the male and female, in our cultural perceptions. Exploring extremes from Social Darwinism to Ecofeminism, their history, evolution, offerings and failures, she rued, it seems, the lack of moderation. In the words of one listener, she was advocating a middle path, accepting otherness without externalising or alienating it, without internalising or blindly identifying with it. The plea is broad, extending in principle to plants and objects as well. I'm reminded poignantly of Animism and Buddhism.
In introducing Barbara, small mention was made of one of her other books: Al Liftend: uit het leven van een nederlandse avonturierster (The Act of Hitch-hiking: from the life of a Dutch adventurer), which our friend Erwan had brought to my attention mere months before. Hitch-hiking, it was said, was a peripheral interest of hers, and was of course, how I landed there.
When Erwan wrote me of the only book on hitching he'd read (in Dutch), I set out to find an English translation. The publishers informed me, to their regret, that none existed, but did put me in touch with its author, Barbara, who had coincidentally just (temporarily) moved from Toronto to Sydney. Some months later, sitting in the office of a prospective doctoral supervisor (I had been discussing the possibility of doctoral candidacy at the University of Tasmania) I heard that Barbara had been invited to Hobart to present a series of seminars on her recent work on animals and society!
A small world no? It reminded me of that very close call when that global thumber André Brugiroux was in Tasmania at the same time as I. Alas he flew on to the Pacific hours before I could track him down through his literary agents! Better luck this time.
I can't tell you a whole lot about Barbara's book, except that it's in Dutch, looks brilliantly put together and has about a third of its prose dedicated to her hitching experiences in Australia. I sat down over tea biscuits and quizzed Barbara on all and sundry. A very gregarious soul, the meandering conversation demanded all I could muster to keep a clear picture in my mind and some notes alongside. The picture of a very special person emerged …
Barbara learned to hitch-hike from the soldiers in Israel. It was 1967, she was 18, working on Kibbutzim, and public transport ground to a halt on the Sabbath. Soldiers enjoyed state approval and support in getting around by thumb, and passing vehicles, especially military, regularly shunted them around in groups, to get them home for the holy day. To this day hitch-hiking enjoys this status in Israel! Barbara learned to get around the same way, and when her mum came to visit, they hitched around Israel together! Her mother didn't exactly discourage her from hitching. She'd been a resistance fighter and courier in occupied Holland. With no easy transport available after the war she took to hitch-hiking. Barbara's parents had a hitch-hiking honeymoon!
Back in Europe through the late '60s and '70s, Barbara continue to hitch. Studying anthropology she hitched like most students to save money, always with a girlfriend or a boyfriend. Secretly though, she hitched too, because she loved it. It lent her a feeling of freedom and was ever so slightly subversive which held its appeal as well. But feminism hadn't really hit the Netherlands yet and solo women hitch-hiking won such disapproval that she wouldn't tell others of her love of it.
In 1970 she hitched to Turkey and narrowly escaped the cholera epidemic which forced the Turkish government to quarantine Istanbul., in 1974 she crossed the Sahara by thumb, by 1975 she was hitching solo and in 1978 she set out to explore Australia. She covered 40,000 km by thumb in Australia!
She jokes of all the ditches she's slept in over the years, and the few Aussie truckies who'd ask her up front for a screw (taking no for answer like any gentleman). She's professes a deep love of the spontaneity and lack of certitude, the abandoning of plans, schedules, order and knowing. I wouldn't say hitch-hiking was a side interest of hers, much rather, an integral part of an adventure loving free spirit!
I was left to think of boundaries again, and how she was attacking them in her formal, academic world as a widely recognised and lauded social researcher. Doesn't hitch-hiking itself serve to diminish those same boundaries between people? And so in her professional life she was eroding the boundaries between people and animals (even between people, animals, plants and objects in the long run) and in her personal life she was eroding the boundaries between people themselves ... Very harmonious paths.
We were kindred spirits of a kind, both impressed at the coincidence of our coming together so smoothly. On the subject of which it emerged that she'd been visited by a Dutch girl while living in Toronto. The girl had read her book and wanted to meet Barbara on her trip across Canada. She was hitching with a cycle of all things! Not Yvonne? Yes Yvonne, the very same girl that had approached me about a cycle/hitching tour of Australia, whom I'd met in Europe some while later! All we'd need to complete the circle is for Erwan to run into Yvonne back home .... I was collecting quite a list of awe-inspiring and auspicious coincidences hitching planet Earth.
An extract from the Discussions page at Suite 101 where this article appeared.:
|Date:||January 25, 2002 5:12 AM|
|Subject:||Re: Re: Hitch-hiking literature|
The only book I've ever read on hitch-hiking is the dutch book "Al liftend" by Barbara Noske. I would be surprised if it's translated in english, but it's possible. (ISBN: 9041702520)
The book is about Barabara's hitches in many different countries. It contains a lot of advice on hitching and typical stuff that happened while hitching.
I liked reading it because it also tells a lot about hitching from a womens point of view. Typical women problems while hitching are discussed and also a lot on safety while hitching.
For the dutch among us a must read I think. The book is written in an easy readable way, like she's there with you telling her stories. Only the end of the book worried me because it kinda made everything said on safety undone, but still the advice given in the book is good.