Recipe For Reconciliation

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Anthony Blair Dreaver Johnston, a Mistawasis Nehiyawak elder, works closely with the university to advise on indigenous matters. Credit Cole Burston for The New York Times

The New World, as the Americas are often called, was new to the Europeans–aka explorers, pilgrims, pioneers, settlers, colonialists, conquistadors–but of course was the long time homeland to a diverse mix of indigenous people from the very north of the hemisphere all the way down to Tierra del Fuego. Continue reading

Investing In Cultural Heritage

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The Cultural Heritage Center is an $8 million investment in the community. Elissa Nadworny/NPR

It is not a question I have had to ponder (the opening line of the story below) for myself, but I get it. Losing the land, through battle, through treaties that are not honored, or otherwise, is an obvious existential threat for any community, and has been since the dawn of civilization. Invisible assets such as language, like any cultural heritage, also called intangible patrimony, are less obviously existentially important. But anyone who ponders it realizes that the loss of a language or another intangible component of cultural heritage matters to all of us, not only those who are at immediate and direct risk of its extinction. In the same way biodiversity matters, so does this.

And it is an underlying logic and motivator of our initiative with Ramon tree and its role in Mayan foodways. In earlier posts on the subject that I emphasized the environmental wonder of Ramon, but it is really a cultural heritage story, still to be told at Chan Chich Lodge. Meanwhile thanks to Melissa Block at National Public Radio (USA) for this story about one communities efforts along a related path:

A Native Village In Alaska Where The Past Is Key To The Future

What does it mean to lose your land, your language, and your heritage?

For Alaska Natives, these are existential threats.

On a trip to Southeast Alaska, I traveled to one village that is finding new ways to survive: Klukwan, ancestral home of the Tlingit tribe. Continue reading

Some Science On Ramon

RamSci1Ramón and Maya Ruins: An Ecological, not an Economic, Relation

 J. D. H. Lambert and J. T. Arnason
Science

New Series, Vol. 216, No. 4543 (Apr. 16, 1982), pp. 298-299

RamSci2Observations on Maya Subsistence and the Ecology of a Tropical Tree

Charles M. Peters
American Antiquity
Vol. 48, No. 3 (Jul., 1983), pp. 610-615
We have a sizable team, including our staff members of Maya heritage as well as those who know the forest ecology as part of their work, plus two summer interns, a chef, and a design director among others–all looking into this tree and its fruit. These journal articles, less dry than some academia and fresher than their age would suggest were brought to my attention by Nicoletta Maestri who I thank for the article below. For my team mates and me this is food for thought on our path to determining how this tree, introduced millennia ago by Mayans, plays into the future of Chan Chich Lodge:

Brosimum Alicastrum, The Ancient Maya Breadnut Tree

Did the Maya Build Forests of Breadnut Trees?

The breadnut tree (Brosimum alicastrum) is an important species of tree that grows in the wet and dry tropical forests of Mexico and Central America, as well as in the Caribbean Islands. Also known as the ramón tree, asli or Cha Kook in the Mayan language, the breadnut tree usually grows in regions that are between 300 and 2,000 meters (1,000-6,500 feet) above sea level. The fruits have a small, elongated shape, similar to apricots, although they are not particularly sweet. Continue reading

A Food Writer & The Shock Of The New

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Food has recently returned to the center of our attention, and in the outback of Belize we have had some lovely surprises. An unexpected essay, from one of the food world’s most prominent writers, gives another view altogether from the USA:

The New Foodieism

To care about food now is to care about the future of this country.

By Mark Bittman

Like many of us, I spent the winter muddling through a mental miasma, pondering the meaning of life and democracy. I did, of course, think about “food” — how it’s produced, marketed, discussed, consumed, and so on — during my self-imposed hiatus from near-constant writing, which began more than 18 months ago. Continue reading

Italian Curiosities In Lovely Cabinets

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The Biblioteca Angelica in Rome holds the first volume of Cicero’s “De Oratore” that was printed in Italy, in 1465, and a precious early edition of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Credit Susan Wright for The New York Times

Graduation Day in Sylvester Village

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Earlier this week I did something that I couldn’t possibly have anticipated would be part of my Chan Chich experience: I attended a primary school graduation.

Sylvester Village is a community where employees of Chan Chich and Gallon Jug Farm live with their families. The Casey Community School is where many of the village’s children go for their first years of education. As one might imagine, the school is not very big. In fact, this year the school only had one kindergartner. Growing up in suburban America, this was very different from my early education which had about 24 kids in a first grade class with multiple classes per grade. However, perhaps the biggest difference from my experience was the school’s emphasis on community.

Continue reading

Stephen Greenblatt & Old School Text, Messaging About Our Future

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Poring over the story of Adam and Eve, Augustine came up with original sin. Illustration by Malika Favre

I recall the odd thrill of almost missing The Swerve and then realizing that in my remote location in the East, the classical canon of the West was more important than ever. And this scholar has a way with words, which now more than ever is much-needed balm. So, I am looking forward to this new installment of his work:

…Hardly a world-historical event, but the boy was named Augustine, and he went on to shape Christian theology for both Roman Catholics and Protestants, to explore the hidden recesses of the inner life, and to bequeath to all of us the conviction that there is something fundamentally damaged about the entire human species. There has probably been no more important Western thinker in the past fifteen hundred years. Continue reading

An Alternate Model For Books

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When Samantha Haskell took over a bookstore in Maine, she looked to local farms, and “community-supported agriculture,” for commercial inspiration.ILLUSTRATION BY SALLY DENG

Combining some of our favorite topics, including agriculture and books and transferable models of agriculture, our thanks to Adrea Piazza for A C.S.A. FOR BOOKS:

Mariah Hughs and her husband, Nick Sichterman, founded Blue Hill Books in 1986. It sits on Pleasant Street, in Blue Hill, Maine, a coastal town with a population that swells during the warmer months and thins out again each winter, reduced to its cast of fewer than three thousand year-round residents. This past winter, in the midst of that slow season, Hughs and Sichterman retired, leaving the bookstore in the hands of Samantha Haskell, who had been their full-time employee since 2010. Haskell had working capital to survive the first year, but, in order to maintain the breadth of the store’s inventory, she needed to raise additional funds. Rather than compromise the shelves, she looked to local farms for inspiration, devising a plan modelled after “community-supported agriculture,” commonly referred to by its initials, C.S.A. Blue Hill Books would become a community-supported bookseller: a C.S.B. Continue reading

Southern Roots Run Deep

Ms. Gomez grew up pulling mangoes from the trees and buying sugar cane from the vendors gathered outside her parochial school. Evan Sung for The New York Times

While Crist may have had the good fortune to enjoy a taste of Kerala with Asha Gomez during travel away from our home there, I was busy exploring the market byways for local ingredients and food ways. What a fascinating story to hear that Asha is actually experiencing that same sense of discovery and exploration within her own home state.

It looks like Crist might have gotten his wish for Asha to come to Kerala, after all!

A Chef’s Quest in India: Win Respect for Its Cooking

“I think I had disconnected myself from this place in some way by saying for so long that the U.S. was home,” said Ms. Gomez, 47, who had moved from the Indian state of Kerala to the state of Michigan as a teenager. “There is still so much a part of me here. I think I had forgotten that.”

Ms. Gomez had come to this land of ports, tea estates and spice gardens not only to reconnect with a part of herself, but also to find new ways to use her camera-ready personality and kitchen chops to lasso Kerala’s beautiful food culture and drag it back to the United States.

“I have to remove people from the mentality that all Indian food should be clumped up into nine dishes that are not really Indian dishes,” she said. “Not all Indian food belongs on a buffet line at $4.99. Indian food is 5,000 years of tradition and history, and it belongs right up there with French cuisine.”

Her frustration over American interpretations of the beloved coconut-scented fish curries, dosas and carefully layered beef biryanis of her homeland echoes the lament of countless cooks who have immigrated from countries like China, Mexico or Vietnam only to find their food mangled to meet the limitations of a new country’s palate and relegated to its cheap-eats guides.

“I wish I could say to every immigrant cook in America, ‘Why do you think your food should be any less than any other cuisine that comes from anywhere else in the world?’” Ms. Gomez said. Continue reading

I Love Peach

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Peaches that bloomed late and thus missed the March freeze at Pearson Farm in Georgia. Production in the state this year might be just a quarter of what it was in 2016. Credit Maura Friedman for The New York Times

I have family in Georgia, and can attest to the state’s obsession described in the first paragraph of the article below. I have visited the state when peach is at its best, and the obsession makes sense to me. Although the article does not mention climate change, per se, considering the news I cannot help filtering this story through that one.

Farmers in the south are part of “the base” that have been led to believe that climate change is a hoax, and that efforts to mitigate it are wasted, even wasteful. Which leads me to wonder whether peach farmers at a moment like this might be on particularly fertile ground–whether they might be inclined to listen to science that can help them understand the season’s tragedy in a new light. For as long as there have been farmers they have been inclined to listen to all kinds of explanations for why things happen the way they do. Maybe climate change has just not been presented by the right messenger with the right message. I love peach enough to want to find out:

The South Faces a Summer With Fewer Peaches

By

ATLANTA — Peaches are such a part of Georgia’s identity that schools, streets and health care plans are named after them. Even the sticker you get when you vote is in the shape of the fruit. South Carolina, one state over, grows more peaches than Georgia. A giant statue of a peach is its most famous roadside attraction. Continue reading

If You Happen to Be in Washington DC…

Frédéric Bazille’s The Family Gathering has none of the quick, airy brush strokes his future impressionist peers would discover; but the sunshine is there, as are the bright colors. Musée d’Orsay, Paris/Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

Considering the changes in the air of the 1860’s Paris art scene, the “might have been” aspect of this story about a lesser known 19th century French painter is poignant, to say the least. Thanks, once again, to NPR for sharing this story about what could have been.

France’s ambassador to the United States, Gérard Araud, is a fan of 19th-century French painter Frédéric Bazille. But I had a confession to make when I spoke with him about the National Gallery’s “Frédéric Bazille and the Birth of Impressionism” exhibition. I said that I usually walk right past Bazille’s paintings and go straight to the impressionists — and I assume I’m not the only one who does that.

Araud understands, but says he likes Bazille for the opposite reason: The impressionists are so well-known, he says, “I’ve reached a point where I don’t look at them anymore.”

Those impressionists were also Bazille’s pals. Continue reading

Food Sleuthing

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The remnant of an old apple orchard among wheat fields in Steptoe Butte State Park in Washington. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Yesterday magic happened. After sharing in the morning a quick mention of why my thoughts are on agriculture, I was walking with a member of Chan Chich Lodge’s groundskeeping team to review some work he had completed. On the way, we encountered a tree showering small fruits onto the ground. Fragrant. I asked him what it was and he said a word I did not recognize that sounded like “yo”.

About the size of a blueberry but not a berry, nor resembling anything I could identify. Until I opened it and its inside looked exactly like that of my favorite fruit. And then I realized my colleague had said higo, the Spanish word for fig. He then told me that in his village the old Mayans use this to make a flour, something they have done since olden times. He paused a moment, a bit of reverie I could tell, and then he continued about how the tortilla made from this is the best. It’s got me thinking. Thanks to Kirk Johnson for this second unexpected pleasure of a story:

Hunting Down the Lost Apples of the Pacific Northwest

STEPTOE, Wash. — David Benscoter honed his craft as an investigator for the F.B.I. and the United States Treasury, cornering corrupt politicians and tax evaders. The lost apple trees that he hunts down now are really not so different. People and things, he said, tend to hide in plain sight if you know how and where to look. Continue reading

Longform Escape & Corrections

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There are two dynamic illustrations in this piece by David Samuels that cannot be replicated here, but are worth visiting the website of The Atavist for, so the images above and below are placeholders. Anyway, the words are the thing so I take a paragraph from near the end as an example of why to read this:

…In the 1970s in Brooklyn, where I grew up, pigeons were everywhere, which is probably why I am here. Some of my earliest gray-scale memories include pigeons, which fluttered and occasionally nested on the windowsill of the first place I was aware enough of to call home, a housing project near the Brooklyn Bridge built for working families like mine. There was a bona fide pigeon coop on the roof of a building nearby, like in the famous scene from On the Waterfront. Sometimes I could see a man on the roof waving a flag, which in my imagination was red but in fact could have been any color. The pigeons he guided back to their loft every night were a promise of safety that New York City in the 1970s was obviously unable to keep, which is why my parents moved to the suburbs, where the birds in the trees outside my window twittered and cooed in foreign tongues that signified nothing…

I am not surprised that this is the article on their website that I gravitated to. The author wrote an item in the New Yorker at a time when I was just completing many years of work in Montenegro and Croatia, and I knew the landscape he was describing well, and still he brought the place alive for me in a way that living there had not. He does not need photos, gifs, or other illustrations to make his words dance better. And in this piece he does something even more magical, providing a correction for me.

Seven years in south India had at least one unexpected effect on me, and it is embarrassing. I developed a passionate dislike for pigeons. Pigeons caused continuous problems in one of the properties we developed and managed, an urban location pigeons loved as much as people. And pigeons express their love in messy ways, so they became my bane. At our home, pigeons would coo on the window sill and I remember that at the time I posted this, which was peak pigeon problem, my enthusiasm for conservation was red hot but I had an unwanted, guilty ability to imagine why passenger pigeons disappeared. Reading David Samuels just now, I have snapped out of that.

pigionssa-1436823680-87 Continue reading

Cry Sadness Into The Coming Rain

Gottlieb ǂKhatanab ǁGaseb aka Die vioolman (The Violinist) plays traditional Damara music at the funeral of Ouma Juliana ≠Û-khui ǁAreses on the family farm beneath the Dâures. Uis District, Erongo Region. December 2014

As an international company, our team tends to be spread out across the world, so more often than not many of our posts is a surprise to the rest. It was with that sense of synchronicity that I read Crist’s piece on Gerhard Steidl’s conservation work yesterday while I was in the midst of writing about this upcoming publication.

Born in Namibia, photographer Margaret Courtney-Clarke spent decades capturing life in remote places in Italy, the USA and numerous parts of Africa. Returning to Namibia after years away, she found the once familiar landscape drastically changed.

Cry Sadness Into the Coming Rain is a forthcoming publication by Steidl, Germany, 2017.

With strong memories of my formative years growing up on the edge of the Namib Desert in what was then known as South West Africa, I have returned to explore my obsession with this place and my lifelong curiosity for the notion of shelter. I have covered thousands of dusty kilometres across remote plains, through dry river beds, over sand dunes and salt pans, through conservancies and communal lands to photograph families in desperate, forgotten outposts. I try to capture the ‘transhumance’ – the search for work, forage and water – and the remnants of former habitats alongside once productive land.

In coastal towns I move with women and children across stretches of desert from one garbage dump to another – often with the loot they carry in their quest to create shelter and eke out a living. I focus on human enterprise and failure, on the bare circumstances of ordinary women and men forced to negotiate life, and of an environment in crisis. Continue reading

Entrepreneurial Conservation, Book

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Steidl (pictured here with the Italian photographer Massimo Vitali) is engaged in an effort to print and catalogue work that might otherwise not be available, and to use advanced industrial means to distribute it widely. It is a Gutenberg-like goal, with the history of photography substituting for the word of God. Photograph by Mark Peckmezian for The New Yorker

We have frequently sampled the publications of Phaidon when we see relevance to themes we care about. There are plenty of books they produce that are about frill or fashion, and we are less than not interested in those. But we assume those books we like least are likely the ones that sell well enough to pay for the ones we like most. It is a principle we can live with. In our own work we commercialize experiences in nature in order to fund the conservation of that nature, and we live with all the paradoxes inherent in that.

In this week’s New Yorker there is a profile of one man whose life’s work is more or less displaying the same principle, again in the realm of books with photographs, paid for by work in fashion. It caught my attention at first in the same way the Phaidon books generally do, with regard to craft, beautiful display, etc., but there is more here. This man does not just produce lovely coffee table books.  He is clearly on a mission we can relate to, recognizable for an entrepreneurial approach to conservation. Read the one paragraph sampled below for a taste:

GERHARD STEIDL IS MAKING BOOKS AN ART FORM

He is the printer the world’s best photographers trust most. Continue reading

Cruise Ships Rarely Bring Good Tidings

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The presence of cruise ships in the Northwest Passage is among the dilemmas that climate change is creating for Canada’s Inuit people amid their struggle to balance environmental and economic concerns. PHOTOGRAPH BY KIKE CALVO / REDUX

It is our view, based on news reports like this that appear constantly in myriad variations from around the world, that with few exceptions cruise ships are problematic. Here is just one more datapoint:

THE COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CRUISE SHIPS AND THE ARCTIC INUIT

Last summer, the Crystal Serenity, a luxury cruise ship, embarked on a monthlong voyage through the Northwest Passage, the sea route that winds through Canada’s Arctic archipelago. The Serenity, which can accommodate more than a thousand passengers, headed through the same waters as had H.M.S. Resolute, which, in August of 1853, set out to rescue a group of British explorers and ended up trapped in the ice for the better part of a year. The Arctic Ocean is warmer than it was a hundred and sixty-three years ago, and the Crystal Serenity, accompanied by a British icebreaking vessel, made the voyage without dire incident. It is the largest cruise ship to sail through the Northwest Passage, and its voyage signalled the economic changes that are coming to the vast region as a result, in part, of climate change. Continue reading

Another Hirst Heist?

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HEAD OF IFE
Brass statue, from Nigeria (A.D. 1400-1500)
“It is one of a group of 13 heads, superbly cast in brass, all discovered in 1938 in the grounds of a royal palace in Ife, Nigeria, which astonished the world with their beauty. They were immediately recognized as supreme documents of a culture that had left no written record, and they embody the history of an African kingdom that was one of the most advanced and urbanized of its day.’’
Credit: Trustees of the British Museum

The first podcast I ever listened to was this one, back earlier in this decade.World100 Although neither the BBC nor the British Museum is maintaining the website, it is still there. I recommend getting ahold of the podcast that you can find here among other places.

Object #63 did not particularly stand out more than any of the others chosen for this innovative historical exhibit that I listened to without visual cues. But I do remember it because the description was as vivid as any (pasted after the jump). So, I am sorry to be reminded of this piece again due to the modern world’s confused and confusing approach to art as represented by this so-called bad boy (aka fraud), who is still at his naughty ways according to this news item today:

There’s controversy in Venice for Damien Hirst, the British artist who has occasionally drawn accusations that his pieces are not always wholly original but inspired by others’ work.

At the Venice Biennale this week, the Nigerian artist Victor Ehikhamenor accused Mr. Hirst of copying a well-known ancient Nigerian brass artwork, “Head of Ife,” found in 1938 in Ife, Nigeria, without giving it the proper historical recognition it deserves. Continue reading

Communicating An Idea Clearly

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When I followed a link to a recording of his lecture, which happened after reading a review of his book, I could not yet have answered clearly as I can now an important question related to Yuval Noah Harari. Is it the core idea, or is it how he communicates that is more compelling? Yesterday I read this op-ed of his in the Guardian and it was as sticky for the last 24 hours as what I heard in that lecture in March, but perhaps not because of the idea.

I say this because the future he describes, in which artificial intelligence is pervasive and essential to the sense of value guiding our lives, is not one I am immediately attracted to, to put it mildly (I say this surrounded by a half million acres of very real forest and very real wildlife and a community of wonderfully real people with whom I enjoy hosting other wonderfully real visitors). And yet the argument he makes, and specifically the structure and description he uses for that argument, are compelling. And worth a few minutes of reading:

Most jobs that exist today might disappear within decades. As artificial intelligence outperforms humans in more and more tasks, it will replace humans in more and more jobs. Many new professions are likely to appear: virtual-world designers, for example. But such professions will probably require more creativity and flexibility, and it is unclear whether 40-year-old unemployed taxi drivers or insurance agents will be able to reinvent themselves as virtual-world designers (try to imagine a virtual world created by an insurance agent!). Continue reading

Escapist Noir

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In Melville films starring Alain Delon, cops and robbers feel interchangeable. Illustration by Malika Favre

In these pages our norm is to give visitors reasons to escape urban life and immerse in nature, join conservation initiatives, support communities at home and in faraway places alike. When we need a brief getaway from all that, we occasionally do it in reverse. In places where we can be reminded of mankind’s occasional flashes of genius. One of my favorite critics has me thinking about being in a big, dark room in New York City in the coming days:

This is how you should attend the forthcoming retrospective of Jean-Pierre Melville movies at Film Forum: Tell nobody what you are doing. Even your loved ones—especially your loved ones—must be kept in the dark. If it comes to a choice between smoking and talking, smoke. Dress well but without ostentation. Wear a raincoat, buttoned and belted, regardless of whether there is rain. Any revolver should be kept, until you need it, in the pocket of the coat. Finally, before you leave home, put your hat on. If you don’t have a hat, you can’t go.

Melville was born almost a hundred years ago, on October 20, 1917. The centennial jamboree starts on April 28th and ends on May 11th, followed by a weeklong run of “Léon Morin, Priest” (1961), starring Jean-Paul Belmondo in the title role. (Thanks to Godard’s “Breathless,” released the year before, Belmondo was at the time the coolest Frenchman alive, so what did Melville do? Put him in a dog collar and a black soutane.) In all, the festival, which after New York will travel to other cities, comprises twelve features and one short. Only a single work is missing, a rarity entitled “Magnet of Doom” (1963). Continue reading

Cavafy, Ithaca

cover_cavafy_pbIf you already read this,  you likely treated yourself to the poem the author referenced. I continue to lean on Kazantzakis but perhaps the best outcome for me of reading what Daniel Mendelsohn published in the current issue of the New Yorker was a direction to his translation of Cavafy:

An extraordinary literary event: Daniel Mendelsohn’s acclaimed two-volume translation of the complete poems of C. P. Cavafy—including the first English translation of the poet’s final Unfinished Poems—now published in one handsome edition and featuring the fullest literary commentaries available in English, by the renowned critic, scholar, and international best-selling author of The Lost. Continue reading