Traditional Life Intersecting With Modern Sensibilities

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Ms. Fesseau keeps all the eggs from her chicken coop. Kasia Strek for The New York Times

It may be the Francophile in me that appreciates this story. Or maybe living surrounded by the sounds described in the story below helps me to take a position on roosters like the petition-signers all over France. Modern sensibilities include expectations to be shielded from such sounds, but equally modern sensibilities are emerging that remind us where food comes from, and ways in which we should respect the traditional life of rural areas.

‘The Rooster Must Be Defended’: France’s Culture Clash Reaches a Coop

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Corinne Fesseau with her rooster, Maurice, in the garden of her house in Saint-Pierre d’Oléron, France. Kasia Strek for The New York Times

SAINT-PIERRE-D’OLÉRON, France — The rooster was annoyed and off his game. He shuffled, clucked and puffed out his russet plumage. But he didn’t crow. Not in front of all these strangers.

“You see, he’s very stressed out,” said his owner, Corinne Fesseau. “I’m stressed, so he’s stressed out. He’s not even singing any more.” She picked up Maurice the rooster and hugged him. “He’s just a baby,” she said.

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Ms. Fesseau, a retired waitress, has defended Maurice vehemently. “A rooster needs to express himself,” she said. Kasia Strek for The New York Times

Maurice has become the most famous chicken in France, but as always in a country where hidden significance is never far from the surface, he is much more than just a chicken.

He has become a symbol of a perennial French conflict — between those for whom France’s countryside is merely a backdrop for pleasant vacations, and the people who actually inhabit it.

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Sebastien Orsero, a fisherman on the island, said he was asked to replace a hedge separating his house from his neighbors’ property with a concrete wall because birds living in the hedge disturbed his neighbors. Kasia Strek for The New York Times

Maurice and his owner are being sued by a couple of neighbors. They are summer vacationers who, like thousands of others, come for a few weeks a year to Saint-Pierre-d’Oléron, the main town on an island off France’s western coast full of marshes and “simple villages all whitewashed like Arab villages, dazzling and tidy,” as the novelist Pierre Loti wrote in the 1880s.

These neighbors, a retired couple from near the central French city of Limoges, say the rooster makes too much noise and wakes them up. They want a judge to remove him. Continue reading

Libraries as Cultural Hotspots

 

An installation at The State Library of Victoria during White Night in 2014. The library hosted almost 2 million visitors last financial year. Kerry O’Brien publicity

Never one to tire of reading about libraries, the essay below gives me a surge of hope in a world where culture is often upstaged by bullish showmanship. The sense that libraries encapsulate and span centuries of human endeavors, yet still evolve and remain essential to communities around the world is completely on point. “All hail the librarian!”, indeed.

Friday essay: the library – humanist ideal, social glue and now, tourism hotspot

Last year two Danish librarians – Christian Lauersen and Marie Eiriksson – founded Library Planet: a worldwide, crowdsourced, online library travel guide. According to them, Library Planet is meant to inspire travellers “to open the awesome book that is our world of libraries, cities and countries”.

The name of the online project is a deliberate nod to the Australian-made Lonely Planet. The concept is simple and powerful. Library lovers contribute library profiles and images from their travels; the founders then curate and publish the posts, with the ambition of capturing library experiences and library attractions from around the world.

Why make libraries a focus of travel? There are a thousand practical and aesthetic reasons, as well as cultural ones. Libraries for the most part are safe and welcoming places. And they tell unique stories about the people who build and appreciate them. If books are the basic data of civilisation, then nations’ libraries provide windows on national souls. They are precious places in which to seek traces of the past, and reassurance about the future.

Library Planet now has dozens of intriguing profiles – including from Burma, Iceland, Tanzania and French Polynesia. A recent entry celebrated the Melbourne Cricket Club library at the MCG. The site has rapidly become a favourite among the bibliographical communities and subcultures of Instagram and Twitter, such as #rarebooks, #amreading and #librarylove. Continue reading

Bees, Conservation & Otherworldy Honey

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In the well-kept hives tended by beekeeper Fred Merriam in Georgia, every bee has a job to do. Credit Stephen B. Morton for The New York Times

Kim Severson last caught my attention about a year ago. She covers food culture for the New York Times, and this is the fifth time we have found a story of hers a perfect fit for our platform’s themes. Food intersecting with conservation is always welcome, and honey specifically is on my mind these days. Honey bees? Always of interest. During our transition from India back to Costa Rica over the last two years we spent much of our time in Atlanta. The honey in this story was available in the farmer’s market we shopped at, and we occasionally indulged. I am gratified to learn more about it here:

On the Trail of Tupelo Honey, Liquid Gold From the Swamps

Hurricanes, blights and encroaching development have cut into the harvest in Florida and Georgia, but a small cadre of beekeepers still fiercely pursues this lucrative prize.

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Tupelo trees, which produce small, nectar-filled light green and white flowers for two weeks each spring, rise out of swamps in the Altamaha River Basin in southeastern Georgia. Credit Stephen B. Morton for The New York Times

ODUM, Ga. — The most expensive honey in America starts in these mucky Southern swamps, where white Ogeechee tupelo trees twist up out of water so dark you can’t tell if that was an alligator or a snake that just broke the surface.

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Tupelo honey fresh from the comb has a distinctive light green tint. Credit Stephen B. Morton for The New York Times

For two precious weeks each spring in this slice of southeastern Georgia and in the Florida Panhandle, tupelo trees bloom with pale, fragile flowers that look like pompoms for tiny cheerleaders. Beekeepers tuck their hives along the banks, or occasionally float them out into the water on rafts. Then the bees get to work, making honey that looks and tastes like no other.

Good tupelo will glow with a light green tint, especially when it’s fresh from the comb and bathed in sunlight. The first taste is of cinnamon with a tingle of anise. That gives way to a whisper of jasmine and something citrusy — tangerine rind, maybe? The honey is so soft, light and buttery that the only logical move is to chase it with another spoonful. Continue reading

Ithaca Dreams

Olive trees along the shore of Dexa Beach on the Ionian island of Ithaca, thought to be Odysseus’ homeland, as told in Homer’s eighth-century B.C. epic poem “The Odyssey.” Credit Alex Majoli

Odysseys (not to mention, The Odyssey) are a fundamental aspect of our family’s peripatetic lives. Having lived in 5 countries on 4 continents, there are places that continue to draw us back with roots that run wide and deep. Greece is one of those places, for multi-generational reasons. It strikes me as strange that we’ve never been to Ithaca, at least the one that Pico Iyer writes about here.

The Ithaca we’re tethered to in many ways is the Ithaca of the new world: the birthplace of our sons, the home of Cornell University, the place that draws us back to a 3rd generation, still.

The strength of stories is as powerful as the bonds of love for family and for motherland, and I thank Pico for continuing to share his with us all.

One writer chronicles his voyage to the island of Ithaca, where Odysseus was once reputedly king.

I STEPPED INTO a taxi on my arrival in Athens and mentioned the name of one of the city’s most central five-star hotels. The driver was thrown into a frenzy, and not only because he seemed to speak no English. As we zigzagged at high speed through the jampacked streets, he tapped frantically on his smartphone and started calling friends, none of whom were any help at all. When, finally, we pulled up at the entrance, I was greeted by a wild-haired, gesticulating front-desk man who said, “We’re so sorry, sir. We have a problem, a big problem, today. So we have made a reservation for you in our other hotel. Half a block away.”

The problem, the taxi driver conveyed, was that every toilet in the hotel had flooded.

In the fancy new place where I ended up — it took us 20 minutes to go around the corner thanks to narrow, one-way streets — I walked into an elevator to be confronted by two thickly bearded Orthodox priests in full clerical dress crammed into the same small space, cellphones protruding from their pockets as they wished me, in easy English, “Good evening.” The mayhem of the little lanes I’d just come through, the sunlit dishevelment of the buildings, which seemed to be collapsing as much as rising up, the graves in the middle of the city: I felt, quite happily, as if I were not in Europe but in Beirut or Amman.

The real antiquity in Greece, I thought — and this is its enduring blessing, for a visitor — is its daily life; on this return trip, retracing a course I’d followed 35 years before, from the classical sites of the Peloponnese (ill-starred Mycenae and healing Epidaurus) all the way to Odysseus’ storied home on Ithaca, I was noticing that it’s precisely the slow, human-scaled, somewhat ramshackle nature of arrangements here that gives the country much of its human charm. Yes, you can still see Caravaggio faces around the Colosseum in Rome; along the ghats in Varanasi, India, you’re among the clamor and piety of the Vedas. But in Greece, it’s the absence of modern developments — of high-rises and high-speed technologies — that can make you feel as if you’re walking among the ancient philosophers and tragedians who gave us our sense of hubris and catharsis.

Forget the fact that the Klitemnistra hotel is down the street from Achilles Parking; what really gives Greece its sense of being changeless is that the Lonely Planet guidebook gives you a cure for the evil eye, and a man is crossing himself furiously as he attempts to double-park. The Grecian formula that keeps the place forever young — and old, and itself — has less to do with the monuments of kings and gods than simply with the rhythms of the day: Fishing boats are heading out before first light and the shepherd’s son is leading the priest’s niece under the olive trees in the early morning. Black-clad women are gossiping in the shade and donkeys clop and stop over ill-paved stones in the siesta-silent, sunlit afternoon. At night, there’s the clatter of pots from the tavernas and the sound of laughter under lights around the harbor.

All in a landscape where the deep blue sea surrounds you on every side, and the indigo and scarlet and orange flowerpots are bright with geraniums and begonias. It’s not just that you feel the presence of a rural past everywhere in Greece; it’s that, amid this elemental landscape of rock and cobalt sky and whitewashed church, you step out of the calendar altogether and into the realm of allegory.

Continue reading

Aana Art Equaling Life-Sized Conservation

Elephants have held highest honors in our family for decades, as symbols for the importance of Nature Conservation, and later infused with the power of Ganesh when we lived in India.

Elephant conservation has taken many forms over the years. When writing about the recent Real Elephant Collective collaboration exhibit that took place in Cochin a few months ago, I realized that art installations using elephants as symbols for big picture conservation have existed for some time.

Having been unable to attend the exhibit personally, Anoodha and the Curiouser team make me feel that I was there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memento

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When we lived in Paris, weekend grocery errands inevitably led us through informal markets where people sold all kinds of old things. One favorite distraction was the vendor of postcards. There was at least one person at any given marketplace who had cards like the ones above, mostly from early 1900s, some going back to the previous century. Usually they were in shoe boxes and never were they organized in any way any of us could understand.  Most but not all were from French travelers sending mementos back to people in France. In just five minutes flipping through the cards we could be transported.

What made this a favorite distraction was as much professional as anything else. Having spent several years studying a place from which countless postcards had been sent starting in the 1870s, I developed an affinity for the choices made by illustrators and photographers in different eras about how to represent a place.

There is also a personal dimension to this affinity, which is that my father was a photographer who in addition to a portrait studio had a postcard business. From 1972 until 1978 if you sent a postcard from just about anywhere in the Finger Lakes region of New York state, it was probably one of his postcards, which means one of his photographs. Starting when I was 10 years old until I was 16 I would accompany him on road trips through that region when he was restocking postcards at hotels and other venues where they were sold. That might explain my favorite distraction in Paris.

Misunderstandings That Become Taken For Granted

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The Atlantic’s website helps me ensure that I do not miss any intriguing episodes of Gastropod, which I listened to more frequently before we moved back to Costa Rica. Especially when we were in the process of developing 51, a restaurant in the colonial spice-trading district of Fort Cochin, in southwest India. This current headline in the Atlantic, which took me back to those years when delicious misunderstandings were the daily fare, was one I had to surrender to:

The Word Curry Came From a Colonial Misunderstanding

No Indian language uses the term, and the closest-sounding words usually just mean “sauce.”

And over at the Gastropod website, this ensured that I would listen all the way through:

9780465056668_custom-faec8d5203f296c0cc17efb91baa211c41c48a88-s600-c85…According to Lizzie Collingham, food historian and author of Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors, to trace the origins of curry, we need to go back to when the Portuguese first set up shop in Goa, in the early 1500s. “And they’d say, Oooh, what are you eating?” said Collingham, “And the Indians replied using a word like khari or caril.” At the time, Collingham explained, those words likely referred to a particular spice blend, as well as the finished dish it was used in; the same words are still in use, but they now mean sauce or gravy. Today, that’s Raghavan Iyer’s definition: he authored a doorstop of a cookbook called 660 Curries, and he uses “curry” to refer to “anything that has a sauce or gravy—it can be with or without spices.”…

Hermes, Circa 2019

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I have shared the photo above on this platform once before. I wrote a series of reflections on the village where that photo was taken, and today I share a riff on all that. That photo was enlarged to take up an entire wall of our office in India, as a reminder to me each day of the purpose behind what I was doing. Our company’s mission includes education. It is mostly about conservation. That building, which I photographed 10+ years ago, after it had recently been abandoned, has been a reminder for me that one of these days I am determined to share whatever I can from our work in that village.

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This photo was taken of Bangor Vamvakou immigrants in 1949 as they returned to their village. Top left is Nikos Niarchos, a relative of the Greek shipping tycoon. From Top Left, the others are: Vasso Anglesi; George Limberogiannis; Eleni Markos; Panayiotis Servetis; Vasso Kokini; Katsilis Demetrios and Anna Leakou. Middle Row, from Left: Pota Anglesi; Angeliki Skoufi; Eleni Hatzi and Panos Dialialis. At bottom, Left to Right, are Yiannis Limberogiannis and Harris Belbekis.

Thanks to an online publication I follow for news from Greece I found this story that helps explain why I thought of the photo above just now. It gives me both hope and tangible ideas of what might be done. It starts with a group of immigrants in Bangor, Maine whose life trajectory was like that of so many others from the Lakonia region of Greece, including my mother. And the story leads back to a foundation that has been referenced once before in our pages, but this time the foundation’s work hits closer to home:

The saying goes that it takes a village to raise a young person. But sometimes it takes young people to raise up a village, and this is exactly what’s happening in the Laconian village of Vamvakou.

Vamvakou is a short drive from Vourthonia, my mother’s village. So this video below strikes a chord.

 

Some of the images from Mamvakou could as easily have been taken in Vourthonia.

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Source: SNF

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Source: SNF

But it is the story of what is happening in that village that captures my imagination:

Can a once-thriving mountain village, today home to only nine inhabitants, come to life again?

Can it fill with visitors, permanent inhabitants, and model businesses while retaining its traditional character? This is the wager laid by a group of five young people who want to revitalize the village of Vamvakou, 900 meters up the slopes of Mount Parnon in the southeastern Peloponnese.

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Source: SNF

To realize this ambitious project, the five friends, Haris Vasilakos, Anargyros Verdilos, Eleni Mami, Tasos Markos, and Panagiotis Soulimiotis established the “Vamvakou Revival” Social Cooperative Enterprise and decided to move to the village. Continue reading

Seeds Are Our Future

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Lotus flower seed heads and raw, un-puffed lotus seeds.

Lotus flower first appeared in these pages years ago, but its seeds were never mentioned. Time to correct that. We missed the opportunity to mention this book when it was first published–we missed the enthusiastic review–but better late than never. Thanks to the folks at Gastropod for the shoutout in a recent episode that gives Thor Hanson and his book their due:

Seeds

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When seeds first evolved, hundreds of millions of years ago, they not only revolutionized the plant world, but they also eventually sowed the path for human civilization. Today, it’s nearly impossible to eat a meal without consuming a plant embryo—or many. But how did seeds come to play such a critical role in human history? Why might one seed in particular, the lotus seed, hold the secret to immortality? And, perhaps just as importantly, how does this magical seed taste?

Making Something The Traditional Way

Last week, we visited producers of various arts and crafts on the eastern side of Costa Rica. Our first stop was in the Central Valley, just before crossing over to the Caribbean slope, in a coffee shop. There, a man showed us his ceramic work, which we had seen one example of previously. All of it was beautiful, but the one below was the one we chose to purchase as a sample. And here it is, in the morning sun.

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It reminded me of the old documentary above, which I might have seen in 7th grade art class. In less than half an hour, that film clinically explains and demonstrates visually what goes into making something the traditional way. This man, here and now in Costa Rica, is hand-crafting these coffee makers. The material is organic, as is the design, which pays tribute to Costa Rican tradition, as well as to pre-Colombian indigenous tradition. The coffee seems to taste the better for it.

Some Games Foster Trust

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A friend in my early teens had chess skills well-matched with my own. We played constantly, the way some kids today play video games. I switched to backgammon in my late teens and played hundreds of hours over the years. I gave up backgammon when I discovered a new old game 20+ years ago in Ecuador. It is the game in the picture above, and I vaguely referenced it once here. I never stopped to think what drew me to play those games compulsively. Samanth Subramanian, who appeared in our pages once, five years ago, has made my day with this new piece. What We Learn from One of the World’s Oldest Board Games helps me put my love of old games in some kind of historical perspective:

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This ivory Fifty-eight Holes board was dug up by Howard Carter, in 1910, out of a pit tomb in Thebes. “We have before us,” Carter wrote, “a simple, but exciting, game of chance.”Photograph Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A few years ago, almost by accident, Walter Crist happened upon one of the oldest board games in the world. Crist, who was then working toward a doctorate on ancient Cypriot board games, at Arizona State University, was searching the Internet for images of a game called Fifty-eight Holes. In the second millennium B.C., Fifty-eight Holes was the most popular game of its kind across Egypt, the eastern Mediterranean, and the Middle East, and roughly eighty boards of the game, in various degrees of incompleteness, rest in museum collections around the world. Images of these boards are well known to scholars, but the photo that Crist eventually found, on the Web site of a magazine called Azerbaijan International, was unfamiliar. Taken at an archaeological site near Baku, it showed a rock carving that bore a strong resemblance to the game’s board: two parallel rows of indentations and an outer, horseshoe-shaped run of more holes. It looked like a four-year-old’s sketch of a tree.

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A series of depressions taking the form of the game of Fifty-eight Holes on a horizontal rock surface in Azerbaijan’s Gobustan National Park. Photograph by Walter Crist / Gobustan National Preserve

The site, Crist learned, had been destroyed to make way for a housing development, but he eventually got in touch with an archaeologist in Azerbaijan’s Gobustan National Park, who told him that the park held a similar carving. “I think he knew that it was a game, or that people thought it was,” Crist said. “There were other people arguing that it could be an astronomical chart, or a calendar—but nobody that had studied games in any kind of depth.” So Crist decided to go to Gobustan and find out for himself.

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A fragment believed to be part of a Fifty-eight Holes game board, from the eighteenth century B.C. Photograph Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Crist, who completed his Ph.D. in 2016, works at the New York Public Library, as a librarian. “I’m on the academic job market, which is terrible and difficult,” he said. When he went to Azerbaijan last spring, he paid for the trip himself, appending it to a visit to Athens to attend the Twenty-first Board Game Studies Colloquium. At Gobustan, near the Caspian coast, he found a vast moonscape of rocks, caves, and mud volcanoes. Archaeologists visit the park for its six thousand petroglyphs: carvings of hunting parties, bulls, boats, and dancing stick men. The glyphs date back at least four thousand years; some might be as old as forty thousand years, reaching back into the Upper Paleolithic age. Not much is known about the artists. Most likely, they were nomadic hunters who lived in rock shelters, charted the heavens, and buried their dead. Continue reading

Books Are Things Unlike Other Things

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My father loved books ravenously, and his always had a devoured look to them. Illustration by Rose Wong

Kathryn Schulz came to my attention four years ago, and we immediately deemed her worthy of an invitation to Kerala. We linked to two more of her articles after that, but re-reading the first essay, it is easy to recall what “ignorance is bliss” means. The world was, as always, facing challenges. But I had no clue then what 2019 would look and feel like, so I enjoyed that essay differently then than I do now.

I am in need of more frequent diversions from the daily news, not to hide but to remember what matters. Times like these call for tangible reminders of what is good and healthy for us, much as comfort foods at certain other times are required to anchor us to better thinking. Food seems the most common thing to turn to for comfort, but books are a better one because ideas that come from books are not just to be remembered, but to renew inspiration, commitment, and determination related to values:

My Father’s Stack of Books

When he was a child, books were gifts. For his daughters, he made sure they were a given.

When I was a child, the grownup books in my house were arranged according to two principles. One of these, which governed the downstairs books, was instituted by my mother, and involved achieving a remarkable harmony—one that anyone who has ever tried to organize a home library would envy—among thematic, alphabetic, and aesthetic demands. The other, which governed the upstairs books, was instituted by my father, and was based on the conviction that it is very nice to have everything you’ve recently read near at hand, in case you get the urge to consult any of it again; and also that it is a pain in the neck to put those books away, especially when the shelves on which they belong are so exquisitely organized that returning one to its appropriate slot requires not only a card catalogue but a crowbar. Continue reading

Stories Without End – The Grandmother Project

The Ogelthorpe University Museum of Art is one of the gems of the Atlanta area, for good reason. Not only does the museum have its own well curated collections, it receives visiting collections that are timely and powerful.

Tara Rice‘s Grandmother Project photographic series highlights the historically matriarchal influence within African cultures, coinciding with the project based in Senegal “promoting health, well-being and rights of women and children in developing countries through grandmother-inclusive and intergenerational programs that build on communities’ cultural values and resources.”

The photo series dovetails perfectly with the female centric collection of sculptures and masks in the sister exhibit, Stories Without an End.

Stories Without an End: Power, Beauty and Wisdom of Women in African Art of the Mehta Collection

January 18 – April 21, 2018

The exhibition Stories Without an End: Power, Beauty and Wisdom of Women in African Art of the Mehta Collection includes a selection of 50 classically carved wooden sculptures and masks drawn from the collection of Dileep and Martha Mehta.

The exhibition represents art from more than 25 ethnic groups spanning 12 countries. These objects are gathered into thematic groups including women in governance, maternity, idealized beauty, and female ancestors.

OUMA members Dileep and Martha Mehta are collectors of African and Asian arts. Their African art collection, including objects in this exhibit, has greatly benefited from diligent sourcing by and wise counsel of African Art dealers Tamba Kaba and Sanoussi Kalle.

This exhibition was developed by Elizabeth H. Peterson, OUMA director, and organized by Amanda Hellman, PhD, curator of African art, Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University.

Stories Without an End was inspired in part by the work of the Grandmother Project (GMP) an American 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and a Senegalese NGO with representatives throughout the USA and abroad. GMP, with headquarters in Senegal, works with elders in West African villages to fight the maltreatment of young girls. This includes bettering maternal and child nutrition, reproductive health, and marriage standards. The exhibition title is inspired by the GMP initiative “stories without an ending,” which is a tool used to facilitate communication via the elders. For more about the Grandmother Project please visit www.grandmotherproject.org.

The Grandmother Project: Photographs by Tara Rice

January 18 – April 21, 2019

The Grandmother Project (GMP) develops community approaches that promote positive and sustained improvements in the lives of girls, children, women, and families by building on existing cultural and community values, roles and assets in southern Senegal. Continue reading

Bananas, Taught New Tricks, Can Perform Wonders

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Vegan fish and chips from Sutton and Sons. Photograph: Sutton and Sons

The last time I posted on banana blossoms it was because a bunch of bananas outside our kitchen window coincided with an article about vegan fish and chips. Today, a bit more of the same coincidental mixing of kitchen and reading. I just tasted a sample of the fifth batch of banana ceviche made by the kitchen assistant for Organikos, who spent seven years assisting in the kitchen of a Peruvian family. Each time she has made banana ceviche I have wondered whether it was a lucky batch. It is that good. And today’s was as good as each previous batch. Now as I turn to my review of options for what to post about on this platform, I have encountered a story with the photo above, and the photo below, with a headline guaranteed to pull me in:

Banana blossom: the next vegan food star with the texture of fish

Sainsbury’s is to include the flower, which hails from south-east Asia, in its ready meals

Thanks to Anna Berrill and the Guardian for that, and for the several ideas that will guide me at the farmer’s market this morning:

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Banana blossom can also be eaten raw and has a chunky, flaky texture. Photograph: Suwatwongkham/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Following on from beetroot burgers and jackfruit curries, the next star of the vegan “meat” world hails from the gardens of south-east Asia and looks somewhat like an artichoke.

Banana blossom, also known as a “banana heart”, is a fleshy, purple-skinned flower, shaped like a tear, which grows at the end of a banana fruit cluster. Traditionally used in south-east Asian and Indian cooking, it can also be eaten raw and its chunky, flaky texture makes it an ideal substitute for fish.

Sainsbury’s, which will be rolling out a series of plant-based meals later this year, is to include banana blossom in its ready meals in the hope the flower will catch on among a burgeoning population of shoppers looking for meat-free alternatives. Continue reading

What My Work Means To Me

 

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Derek Thompson, whose previous appearances in our pages were important but not blockbuster, was due for a home run. And here it is, with a title–Workism Is Making Americans Miserable–that says it all. And the first paragraph will tell you whether it is worth your while to read. I think it is:

For the college-educated elite, work has morphed into a religious identity—promising transcendence and community, but failing to deliver.

In his 1930 essay “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted a 15-hour workweek in the 21st century, creating the equivalent of a five-day weekend. “For the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem,” Keynes wrote, “how to occupy the leisure.”

merlin_149654487_d770c778-e296-4953-b257-c241517b57ca-superJumbo.jpgLikewise, Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work? is worth a read in part because it scooped the same story by a month and Erin Griffith makes clear we should already have long been following her thinking and writing for its clarity and wit:

I saw the greatest minds of my generation log 18-hour days — and then boast about #hustle on Instagram. When did performative workaholism become a lifestyle?

If I am correct that those are both worth a read, then this podcast is worth a listen because it puts Derek Thompson in direct conversation with two of the most influential researcher/writers on the topic of work and its meaning in our lives:

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A prayer in a frame hangs on the wall as Patricia Jackson sifts through bank documents in her home Saturday, June 16, 2012, in Marietta, Ga. (David Goldman/AP)

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I had read the articles when they first were published, but did not put them into much perspective until listening to this conversation. I qualify as a workist. Work is not my religion, but the point is still well taken. This set of ideas is much bigger, and much more important than the experience of individuals; it is about how we organize for the future.

The Mouth of the Well

The archaeologist Guillermo de Anda next to pre-Columbian artifacts in a cave at the Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá. Credit Karla Ortega/Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology, via Associated Press

This new discovery in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula came to our attention just when we’re on an archaeological roll. It definitely gives us pause that there are still such important finds in the world.

In a cave under the ancient city of Chichén Itzá, Mexican archaeologists discovered a trove of ceramic artifacts that appear to be over 1,000 years old.

Archaeologists announced this week that they had discovered an extraordinary trove of well-preserved Maya artifacts under the ancient city of Chichén Itzá in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.

The artifacts were found in a cave called Balamkú, less than two miles from the famed pyramid known as the Temple of Kukulcan, or The Castle, which sits in the center of the site.

Guillermo de Anda, an investigator with the National Institute of Anthropology and History, said in a statement on Monday that the remarkable discovery could help researchers rewrite the history of Chichén Itzá, which flourished from roughly A.D. 750 to 1200.

The city was built on top of a network of waterways, including sinkholes called cenotes, which the ancient Maya believed were sacred places that provided a portal to the underworld. Its name is sometimes translated as “the mouth of the well of the Itza,” the name of the main ethnic group in the area at the time.

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Urban Archaeology

 

We’ve had friends and family members living in Atlanta for close to 30 years, and although I knew it was the hub of important aspects of American history, it never occurred to me to think of it in archaeological terms. At first consideration, I think about archaeology as the study of ancient cultures in far away places. Yet, with family in countries like Greece, I acknowledge that awesome layers of history can be just under the surface, or deeply buried and unearthed as cities grow with constructions of buildings and transit infrastructure.

This piece in the Georgia State University Magazine made that quite clear.

Treasures of Terminus

From its days as a railroad boomtown to Sherman’s tinderbox to one of America’s great cities, Atlanta’s history runs deep. The Phoenix Project, more than 100,000 artifacts collected by a team of Georgia State archaeologist in the 1970s, tells the city’s story through unearthed historical objects.

There is buried treasure at Georgia State University. Stacked high and deep in more than 500 boxes stashed throughout the labyrinths of Kell Hall, more than 100,000 artifacts tell the story of Atlanta’s history.

These boxes contain the lost pieces of a tumultuous past that dates to the city’s earliest days — bullet casings from the Civil War, mystery tonics in antique glass bottles, creepy toys, fashion accessories, ancient grooming tools and much more. Many of them still await examination and haven’t been opened since archaeologists first packed them four decades ago.

This massive array of objects is called the Phoenix Project, and Georgia State professors and students have been methodically studying, cataloging and mapping each item since 2011.

Collected all over the city between 1976 and 1980, the objects belong to the largest archeological collection ever associated with Atlanta. They are the fruit of one of America’s earliest urban archaeological projects — the roving excavation that followed construction crews as the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) cleared land, leveled blocks and tunneled underground to build the first iteration of its rail system.

Jeffrey Glover, associate professor of anthropology, has curated the Phoenix Project for years in hopes of providing the public with a different kind of city history, a slice of Atlanta’s past through the lens of historical objects.

Catalog No.: P1848/170 Swamp Root Kidney, Liver and Bladder Cure, c. 1890, manufactured by Dr. Kilmer & Co., Binghamton, NY.

Choosing one box among hundreds, Glover removes a small amber bottle that once held Valentine’s Meat Juice, a concentrated beef tonic from the 1870s. Advertisements said it could help with gastroenteritis, dysentery and even cholera.

“It was supposed to bring vitality,” Glover says, “like an early energy drink.”

From another box, he takes out the misshapen head of a porcelain doll. Featuring dark, empty eye sockets and covered in burn marks, the scary toy looks hungry for souls. While Glover affectionately calls it the “creepy doll head,” its official artifact ID is “a3161,” written in impeccable script with archival ink across its neck.

That’s because the archaeologists who bagged all this stuff in the 1970s methodically described and organized each item using a numbering system adapted from the Georgia Department of Transportation. For example, the “a” in “a3161” stands for “general artifact” while the number indicates the item was the 3,161st general artifact to be cataloged from that accession. (And there are about 100 accessions.) Containers, such as glass and pottery, begin with “p,” and building materials with “m.” Plant remains use “eb” for “ethnobotanical” while animal bones start with “ez” for “ethnozoological.”

Just one of the standard cardboard bankers boxes can contain dozens, if not hundreds, of artifacts, each wrapped in brown paper and labeled with a unique artifact ID. Though they’ve all been recorded in a logbook alongside a one-line description, unwrapping each one is like opening a birthday present because you don’t know exactly what you’ll get.

“It’s an excavation of boxes,” says Lori Thompson (M.A. ’16), assistant laboratory director at New South Associates.

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The Original “Third Place”

Louie Chin

A friend of mine recently posted on social media about beautiful libraries in Halifax, as well as other favorites, including the Boston Public Library. We’ve written about libraries countless times on this site, both due to their clear cultural importance, as well as their impact within our family. It reminded me how libraries have been part of our lives since early toddlerhood for our sons, starting in Ithaca, where they were born, and in Paris, the American Library (the largest English-language lending library on the European continent) where they discovered authors like Philip Pullman and Terry Prachett. There are no limitations for what libraries have meant to our family over the years.

Thanks to sociologist Eric Klinenberg for this opinion piece.

To Restore Civil Society, Start With the Library

This crucial institution is being neglected just when we need it the most.

Is the public library obsolete?

A lot of powerful forces in society seem to think so. In recent years, declines in the circulation of bound books in some parts of the country have led prominent critics to argue that libraries are no longer serving their historical function. Countless elected officials insist that in the 21st century — when so many books are digitized, so much public culture exists online and so often people interact virtually — libraries no longer need the support they once commanded.

Libraries are already starved for resources. In some cities, even affluent ones like Atlanta, entire branches are being shut down. In San Jose, Calif., just down the road from Facebook, Google and Apple, the public library budget is so tight that users with overdue fees above $20 aren’t allowed to borrow books or use computers.

But the problem that libraries face today isn’t irrelevance. Indeed, in New York and many other cities, library circulation, program attendance and average hours spent visiting are up. The real problem that libraries face is that so many people are using them, and for such a wide variety of purposes, that library systems and their employees are overwhelmed. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, about half of all Americans ages 16 and over used a public library in the past year, and two-thirds say that closing their local branch would have a “major impact on their community.” Continue reading

Longform & Shortform & Waning & Waxing

p06yh66g.jpgJames Rebanks had come to my attention twice before. I found him compelling both times but because he was described in shorthand as the tweeting shepherd, my interest waned as quickly as it waxed. Now, after listening to him on a third occasion, and because of his music choices (on a show that illuminates a person beyond their words, through their musical taste), he won my attention back.

Mainly, I was intrigued that he brings his experience to bear in a consultancy that sounds like it has plenty of overlap with our own practice. And once I discovered that he had taken a break from tweeting I decided to venture onto that platform, which I rarely do, to try to understand that part of him better. And that led further afield and allows me to suggest that longform communication suits him better than shortform:

Consumerism’s Up(cycled) Side

Sustainability in both concept and practice has a long history in Scandinavian cultures in general, and Sweden in particular. As consumers become more conscious of the finite nature of materials, upcycling has to eventually be considered more mainstream. We applaud this type of public and private sector leadership that is the very definition of entrepreneurial conservation.

Thanks to the BBC for this story.

‘Welcome to my high-fashion, trash shopping mall’

Anna Bergstrom had a dilemma. She loved the glitzy world of high fashion, but had also come to feel that it was unsustainable and bad for the planet. She’s now found peace of mind by running a stylish shopping mall in Sweden, where everything is second-hand.

“Do you notice the smell?” Anna Bergstrom says, as she surveys her mall from the mezzanine level. “It smells nice here, doesn’t it?”

It’s very important to Anna that this place is enticing, because she feels it is making a statement. Everything for sale here, in 14 specialist shops covering everything from clothes to DIY tools, is recycled.

She is usually turned off by the smell of second-hand stores, she explains, even though she adores vintage fashion. For most people flea-markets and charity shops carry a stigma, she thinks – a mark left by countless bad experiences. Too often they are worthy but depressing, Anna says. Her mission is to bring second-hand shopping into the mainstream.

The mall itself is spacious and appealing, almost Ikea-like. An art installation – a tree and circular bench all fashioned from recycled materials – greets customers at the entrance. There is even a coffee shop and gift-wrapping service.

The mall is called ReTuna. “Tuna” because that’s the nickname for the city where it is based – Eskilstuna, an hour’s train journey west of Stockholm – and “Re” because the goods on sale have been recycled or repurposed.

It was set up by Eskilstuna’s local government in 2015, in a warehouse which used to house trucks for a logistics company. Continue reading