Libraries Roaring Back

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A rendition of the new main branch of Deichman, Oslo’s public library. This library is designed to see and be seen. Atelier Oslo and Lund/Hagem architects

Alyson Krueger, who we have not seen in our pages for nearly two years, has a story that indulges one of our favorite pastimes, library-celebrating, in a round-the-world review of the latest, greatest:

Where Libraries are the Tourist Attractions

Libraries are having a moment. In the past few years dozens have opened across the world, resembling nothing like the book-depot versions from the past.

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Austin Public Library

About a decade ago libraries across the world faced a dilemma. Their vital functions — to supply books and access to information for the public — were being replaced by Amazon, e-books and public Wi-Fi.

To fight for their survival, said Loida Garcia-Febo, president of the American Library Association, libraries tried to determine what other role they could play. “They invented these amazing new initiatives that are finally launching now,” she said. It took them this long to raise money and build them.

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Museum of Literature Ireland

Libraries are certainly having a moment. In the past few years dozens of new high-profile libraries have opened close to home and across the world. And they certainly don’t resemble the book-depot vision of libraries from the past.

To attract visitors from home and abroad, many libraries have advanced, even quirky amenities. They have rooftop gardens, public parks, verandas, play spaces, teen centers, movie theaters, gaming rooms, art galleries, restaurants and more. The new library in Aarhus, Denmark, has a massive gong that rings whenever a mother in a nearby hospital gives birth.

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Tuomas Uusheimo

In March, Oodi welcomed its one millionth visitor. “We have tourists from all over the world visiting, but mainly from Europe mostly, China, Japan and America,” said Anna-Maria Soininvaara, the library’s director. “Usually they want to experience the Maker Space and ask where all the books are because the shelves are always half empty because they’re all on loan.”…

Read the whole story here.

If You Happen To Be In Or Going To Cornwall

A great writer can get you to consider doing something you normally would not consider doing:

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After nine Heligan men died in the First World War, the grounds of the estate, in southwestern England, grew unkempt, then neglected, then were abandoned. Illustration by Daniel Salmieri

I don’t understand the point of garden visits. Why do ordinary people, the owners of mere balconies and tiny yards, torment themselves by touring other people’s grand estates? Nut trees, stables, ancestral compost heaps: I need no reminder of what I am missing. So, unlike virtually every other gardener in Britain, I had no intention of spending my summer wandering among aristocratic roses and marvelling at the fine tilth of Lord Whatsit’s sandy carrot beds. All those rambling sweet peas make me furious; yes, Tristram, it is a handsome cardoon bed, but some of us are struggling to find space for a single extra lettuce. And then, wholly by accident, I found myself in the Lost Gardens of Heligan…

And suddenly you cannot resist virtually doing that thing:

And the rabbit hole in this case gets you thinking about Cornwall:

Opening Hours and Prices

The Lost Gardens are open every day*, all year round, for your enjoyment and exploration.

*except Christmas Day.

We’re one of the most unique and fascinating places to visit in Cornwall, with an incredible 200 acres of gardens and estate awaiting your exploration. We therefore recommend that you allow as much time as you can, to see as much as possible; ideally a whole day. However, please don’t expect to see everything in the one visit!

If you would like to plan your route before you visit, click here to download our map or a German map can be found here.

Sometimes, restoration work, events or adverse weather conditions may restrict access and opening times. In these events we will keep you up to date with details of any restrictions via our News page.

Garden Admission Single Visit Charges
Adults £15.00
Students £9.00
Children (5 – 17) £7.00
Children (Under 5) Free
Family (2 adults & up to 3 children) £40
Companions who are required to assist disabled visitors Free

Governors Island, Refresh

During our 7 years in India we experienced the development and growth of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale – from the early days of the first edition in 2012, to direct involvement in 2014, to an even more successful 3rd edition in 2016.  The diversity of India is undeniable, and the country’s first art biennale has increased its reach continually in both the breadth of the artists involved, and the depth of its work toward community outreach and inclusivity.

Having been exposed to Art myself from an early age, it’s difficult to describe the pleasure I felt seeing groups of school children, accompanied by parents and teachers, experiencing the wide range of installations and exhibits in the different venues of the biennale.

Reading now about Portal: Governors Island, I wonder how I could have possibly missed it, but then again – we were living in India! I love how the NYTimes called it an “Art Fair for the 99%”.  I would love to be the one to introduce the KMB team to the non-profit team 4heads, who organizes this annual September event.

There’s still time to get there, so if you happen to be in New York…

Created by artists, for artists

Our mission as an artist-created organization, is to cultivate a supportive community by hosting free large-scale art fairs and studio residency programs for under-represented artists, and by tailoring arts education programs for underserved youth. With a strong focus on artistic excellence and inclusion, we revitalize historic spaces with contemporary art, as we continue to enrich and expand our creative community: a socially, economically, and culturally diverse reflection of New York City itself.

On Saturday, August 31, 2019, 4heads will open Portal: Governors Island (formerly known as Governors Island Art Fair), featuring a diverse range of artists from across the U.S. and abroad. Installations, which span the spectrum of artistic genre and media, will be presented across eight of the historic homes on Colonels Row, with each artist installing in an individual room or connective space. Now in its 12th year, Portal: GI heralds the start of the fall visual arts season in New York, with a spirited atmosphere that encourages conversation between artists and visitors and challenges the established fair paradigm as one exclusively for art connoisseurs. Portal: GI will be open every Saturday and Sunday through from August 31 to September 29, 2019. Continue reading

The Corn Of The Future Is Valuable Patrimony From Mexico

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A Mexican scientist inspects a field of olotón maize near Oaxaca, Mexico. ALLEN VAN DEYNZE/UC DAVIS

Thanks to Martha Pskowski and Yale e360 for this:

Indigenous Maize: Who Owns the Rights to Mexico’s ‘Wonder’ Plant?

A nitrogen-fixing maize grown in an indigenous region of Mexico has the ability to fertilize itself, recent research shows. Now, as a global company and U.S. scientists work to replicate this trait in other corn varieties, will the villages where the maize originated share fairly in the profits?

In a 1979 visit to Totontepec, a small town in Oaxaca, Mexico, naturalist Thomas Boone Hallberg marveled at the local maize. The plants grew nearly 20 feet high in nutrient-poor soil, even though local farmers did not apply any fertilizer.

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MARS, INCORPORATED & JEAN-MICHEL ANE/UC DAVIS

The maize had aerial roots that grew a mucous-like gel just before harvest season. It seemed impossible, but Hallberg wondered if the maize was fixing its own nitrogen: extracting it from the air and somehow making it usable for the plant. He had visited countless towns since moving to Oaxaca in the 1950s, but what he saw in Totontepec stuck with him.

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The maize variety olotón has aerial roots that produce a mucous-like gel that fixes nitrogen, meaning that it can effectively fertilize itself. MARS, INCORPORATED & JEAN-MICHEL ANE/UC DAVIS

In 1992, Hallberg returned with a group of Mexican scientists. The maize, known as olotón, was almost ready for harvest and its aerial roots glistened with gel. Ronald Ferrera-Cerrato, a microbiologist, took samples back to his lab outside Mexico City to test the bacteria in the gel. His preliminary results, published in a 1996 report, showed that the maize received nitrogen from the air, through its aerial roots, meaning that it effectively had the ability to fertilize itself.

At the time, scientists around the world were puzzling over similar questions. In a 1996 paper in Plant and Soil, microbiologist Eric Triplett, then at the University of Wisconsin, described the possibility of corn plants that fix nitrogen as “the ‘holy grail’ of nitrogen fixation research” because of the potential to reduce fertilizer demand. Continue reading

Vegan Hooligans @ Abby’s Diner

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When I started reading this short piece below, subtitled “The chefs Roy Choi and Jose Mejia sample the Vegan Hooligans’ plant-based junk food at an L.A. pop-up.” and containing no photos, before getting two paragraphs in I had to see what Abby’s Diner looked like, and found the image above and those below, on Instagram and in a story by KCET, so following is a mix of the sources:

The chef Roy Choi posted up at the counter of Abby’s Diner in Los Angeles recently. Several times a week, the place morphs from a traditional greasy spoon—booths, tiled floor, B.L.T.s—to a greasy spoon that serves vegan renditions of such drive-through classics as the McDonald’s McRib.

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Entrepreneur, social activist and chef Roy Choi takes a journey through his hometown of Los Angeles to explore complex social justice issues including food deserts, food waste and sustainability. Learn more about “Broken Bread.” Watch this trailer.

Sheila Marikar has not appeared in our pages before, but I will be on the lookout for more from her, because even without images (thanks to KCET and the Hooligans’ Instagram account for those here) her words make vegan more compelling:

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Jose Mejia is the man behind the Vegan Hooligans.

“I like to re-create a lot of stuff from fast food so people feel comfortable,” Jose Mejia said. He is a founder of the Vegan Hooligans, which began popping up last February. (The name is a nod to his love of punk rock and soccer.) He wore overalls and a brown beanie. “I wanted to create a brand that didn’t just capture the eyes of, like, vegans,” he added.

BeLeaf.jpgEleven years ago, Choi co-founded Kogi BBQ, a fleet of Korean-taco trucks that fuelled a food-truck renaissance and got him on a number of best-of lists (Food & Wine Best New Chef, Time 100). He is not a vegan. “Kogi, for Pete’s sake, means ‘meat’ in Korean,” he said. But after meeting Mejia while filming an episode of his TV series, “Broken Bread,” a less hedonistic version of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” Choi decided to try more meat substitutes. Now he eats animals maybe once a week. Continue reading

Climate Change, Coffee & Solutions

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A worker harvests coffee near the town of Santuario, Risaralda department, Colombia in May. RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

In Costa Rica, where we have been paying attention to the plight of coffee farmers in the last year, there are numerous scientific and sectoral organizations dedicated to assisting with the impact of climate change.  Richard Schiffman, who last appeared in our pages nearly a year ago, has this about Colombia’s approach:

As Climate Changes, Colombia’s Small Coffee Farmers Pay the Price

Hundreds of Colombia’s small coffee growers have stopped cultivating the bean in the face of low prices and reduced harvests linked to a shifting climate. As farmers struggle, the nation’s scientists are seeking to develop new varieties that will flourish in a changing environment.

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Women sort coffee beans at the 44-acre Finca El Ocaso farm, near Salento, Colombia. COURTESY OF FINCA EL OCASO

At first glance, Finca El Ocaso, located in the hills outside Salento, Colombia, could be mistaken for a natural forest: rows of squat Arabica coffee trees are interspersed with plantain, banana, and lime and shaded by towering nogal cafatero trees, whose high canopy hosts flocks of chattering parrots and other birds. The 44-acre coffee plantation has been certified by international organizations for being sustainable, climate-friendly, and fair to its workers.

But Finca El Ocaso is struggling under the weight of intensifying economic pressures.

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A coffee weighing station at Finca El Ocaso. Coffee prices have dropped so low that the family-run farm has started hosting tourists to make extra money. COURTESY OF FINCA EL OCASO

“Lots of smaller farms near us have gone out of business,” said farmer Gustavo Patiño. “It is no longer sustainable to have a medium-size farm that pays high taxes and expensive production costs, when in the end they may get paid less for their coffee than their expenses.”

Several years ago, in an effort to keep the plantation afloat, Patiño’s eldest daughter, Carolina, opened the farm to foreign and Colombian tourists. The plantation now attracts more than 1,000 visitors a year. “Our farm can only survive because we offer tours and sell our coffee to the tourists,” Patiño said.

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An aerial view of coffee plantations in Santuario, Colombia in May. Small farms such as these have been hit hardest by climate change and low coffee prices. RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

In the last 18 months, Colombia has lost nearly 100,000 acres of coffee plantations, more than 4 percent of the land under coffee cultivation, according to a statement issued last week by Colombia’s National Federation of Coffee Growers (Fedecafé). Continue reading

Pulses Improving Life In Multiple Ways

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Chickpeas are often called by their Spanish name, garbanzos or garbanzo beans, in the United States. Inga Spence/Getty Images

Whitney Pipkin, appearing for the second time here, has another great story about healthy food with environmental benefits:

Your Hummus Habit Could Be Good For The Earth

Hummus is having a heyday with American consumers, and that could be as good for the soil as it is for our health.

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High in fiber and protein, chickpeas are playing a starring role on menus at fast-casual chains like Little Sesame in Washington, D.C., where hummus bowls abound. Chickpeas also good for soil health — and growing demand could help restore soils depleted by decades of intensive farming. Anna Meyer

Formerly relegated to the snack aisle in U.S. grocery stores, the chickpea-based dip has long starred as the smooth centerpiece of Middle Eastern meals and, increasingly, plant-based diets. Occasionally, it even doubles as dessert. Last year, Americans spent four times as much money on grocery-store hummus as they did a decade before, according to the latest consumer surveys, and a growing number of snacks and fast-casual concepts also feature the fiber- and protein-rich chickpea as their pièce de résistance.

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Anna Meyer

Part of a subcategory of legumes called pulses, chickpeas — along with lentils, dry peas and several varieties of beans — have been a critical crop and foodstuff for centuries in Middle Eastern and Asian countries. The crops are so promising that the United Nations deemed 2016 the “Year of Pulses” to expand interest in these ancient foods and their potential to help solve dueling modern-day conundrums: hunger and soil depreciation. Continue reading

Why Is Vanilla So Expensive?

The Economist has not been one of our go-to sources for stories because it has an ideology that sometimes gets in the way of deeper investigation. Their stories and explanations are extremely thorough and very compelling, but we can usually guess the answer before the question is even asked.  Every now and then they surprise us, and here is a good example:

The bitter truth behind Madagascar’s roaring vanilla trade

How did hunger for the humble pod lead to greed, crime and riches? Wendell Steavenson travels to Madagascar to meet the new spice barons

In pods we trust
A quality-control chief in a co-operative in Belambo

I follow Felicité Raminisoa and her father, Romain Randiambololona, up a narrow track along the forested slopes of her family’s farm in southern Madagascar. It is lychee season and, as we walk, we break off branches of fruit and peel off the pink, spiky shells. Large yellow jackfruit grow like Chinese lanterns among loquat and clove trees, pepper vines and coffee plants. Sapphire dragonflies flash by as they chase each other over ponds of tilapia dammed into the valley. The air is muggy under the banana leaves but grows fresher as we climb. In all directions we can see vanilla vines winding around tree trunks. Each zigzag stem has been trained so that it grows no higher than Raminisoa can reach. Every so often she stops at a pale-yellow bloom and parts its waxy petals. With a spike snapped from an orange tree, she delicately scrapes away the membrane separating the anther from the stigma in order to pollinate the flower. This is a task that requires perfect timing. Each flower must be pollinated by hand on the morning it blooms or the beans won’t sprout.

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A vanilla flower is pollinated by hand

The family began to plant vanilla vines about 20 years ago mostly as “decoration”, says Randiambololona, his big grin punctuated by a missing tooth. At first the family sold fresh green vanilla pods to tourists, surprised that they would pay anything for them. But in 2014 the price of vanilla began to rise. Over the next three years it went from less than $40 per kilogram to more than $600 per kilogram. It felt like money was growing on their trees. In 2016 Raminisoa travelled to the northern region of Sava, where vanilla has been grown for generations, to learn how to cure the green pods into the commodity that was in such demand: pungent and wizened black beans. Continue reading

Food Traditions & Modern Realities

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A woman prepares couscous in a small Amazigh (Berber) hamlet on the eastern slopes of Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains. Jeff Koehler for NPR

It seems ages (if only six months) since the folks of the salt, over at National Public Radio (USA), offered a story like this, so thanks to Jeff Koehler – Writer – Photographer – Cook – Traveler for bringing it:

Couscous: A Symbol Of Harmony In Northwest Africa, A Region Of Clashes

In 2016, Algeria announced that it would be applying for UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status for couscous. If successful, the staple food would join a diverse list of more than 500 cultural treasures ranging from hand puppetry in Egypt and tango dancing in Argentina and Uruguay.

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Sweet couscous is popular across the Maghreb. It is generally served with leben, a buttermilk-like fermented drink.
Jeff Koehler for NPR

Couscous refers to both the tiny, hard granules typically made from crushed hard durum wheat semolina, as well as the dish itself. The tiny balls are steamed in a two-level pot with a perforated steamer basket called kiskis (known in much of the world as a couscoussier) over a stew of meat or fish, vegetables and spices, which is served on top.

While a catalog of outside influences has shaped Algeria’s cuisine over the years, it never lost its ancient traditions or uniqueness, wrote Mokhtaria Rezki in her authoritative book Le Couscous Algérian. “Algerian couscous remains in this respect the symbol of our originality and our greatest invention. … If one had to culinarily and symbolically award a medal of our national cultural identity … certainly couscous would be the star and the subject.” So key is couscous to Algerian culture that some simply refer to it as ta’am, or “food.” Continue reading

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.

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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 brought to mind the old documentary above, which anyone in the USA public school system might have seen in their 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