Culture

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Diversions

What better time to share a few TV series and movies I think worth watching than on a rainy February day?

Programme Name: River - TX: n/a - Episode: River - First Look (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: John River (STELLAN SKARSGARD) - (C) Kudos - Photographer: Nick Briggs

River – the BBC detective drama on Netflix starring Stellan Skarsgard. WATCH IT!!!!!

actually, that’s it for TV right now.

and

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Straight Outta Compton – in fact watch this INSTEAD OF the Oscars.

and Sicario, The End of the Tour, and definitely (!!!) Spotlight – sooo good.

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Still Standing

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During February we all have an “extra” opportunity to learn about the history of African Americans. Those of us who are white can lean into the uncomfortable stories and I suppose move forward more educated more sincere in our appreciation of what individuals like John Lewis and Alice Walker went through – the mountains moved to liberate African Americans not just from whites only water fountains but to undo the cultural shackles of the “Mississippi cotton-field dialect” attributed to black people in films and books.

In celebration of African American History Month I want to share two posts with you – this one and the one going up right after on Angels of Ascent.

ONE:
Last Friday night I attended the event “Still Standing” celebrating stories of Maine’s past, present, and future African American leaders who through steadfast resilience and determination overcame, and are still standing today. The evening was a partnership between The Abyssinian Meeting House and MECA Public Engagement. Standouts included musician and writer Samuel James, City Councilman Spencer Thibodeau, and Linda Ashe Ford.

James recalled encounters with racism at eight and nine years old. He spoke beautifully about his father. A rare kind of man – extraordinarily strong in character and build (6’2, 200 pounds) with a significant number of physical scars (from war?) – including a knife wound the length of his abdomen, and two bullet holes in his back – only one of which he remembers. At eight he and his father (an African American) and mother (a small white woman) were walking down the town sidewalk when a white man came out of a shop and called him a “ni…r” and his father responded not with violence but this – he said “I don’t know who taught you that word, but it’s rude.” I loved his father in that moment. I loved him more when he went to Samuel’s school to complain about the bullies throwing rocks at his son and calling him a “ni..er” and the receptionist says to him “Oh, are you here about the janitor position?” (As if – in case it’s not clear – the only reason a black man would walk into a school admin office is for a janitorial position.) He took the job, held it till Samuel graduated, then put down the broom and walked out. WOW.

Spencer Thibodeau’s story was sad – not because what happened (he was adopted by a white couple after his African American mother in Kentucky gave him up in her teens), but because he is still figuring out who he is. He said, “My greatest failure is understanding who I am.”

Linda Ashe Ford is nothing short of a treasure. A great African American treasure who should have her own live storytelling night day. I could have listened to her for hours. It wasn’t just the stories she told, it was the way she told them. One of those rare figures whose stories of her grandparents, her memories of the street she grew up on, the ups and downs of life are told with common-sense lessons and humor. “It’s not what people call you, it’s what you answer to,” she was told by her mother and sadly had to tell her son. I relished the story of her grandfather buying a home in a white neighborhood and sending his wife out to wash the windows. Inevitably, someone would come up and ask his wife who she worked for – she didn’t work for anyone – her husband bought the house. And with that they would get offers by whites to buy them out and they would move with their profit to another neighborhood and do it all over again and with that clever maneuvering paid for Mrs. Ford’s college education.

The Abyssinian Meeting House is among Maine’s most significant cultural landmarks. It was built in 1832, and is the third-oldest black meeting house in America. It was a hub for the Underground Railroad used by slaves to escape the South in the 1800s.
It was almost demolished in the 1970s, and is the focus of an ongoing effort to preserve and restore it.

Thanks for the invite JM!!!

Kongo: Power and Majesty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

While in New York City at the beginning of December, I made sure to see the exhibition “Kongo: Power and Majesty” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The exhibit featured more than 100 objects from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, in the Central African regions that are now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, and Angola.

When the Portuguese sailors arrived on the coast of Central Africa in 1482 to scout for trade opportunities, the kingdom of the Kongo was at the height of power. Three million people (I have no idea how historians calculated this) were ruled by a king and his network of advisers, provincial governors, and village chiefs.

Never willing to let anything alone, Catholic missionaries arrived soon afterwards to convert everyone beginning with the king. Eventually local artists began producing crucifixes, rosaries….and Christian works found their way into tribal arts. Christianity was more or less formally adopted there in 1491.

During the nineteenth century, an exceptional number of minkisi were made. These are (according to the Met’s website) a container of spiritual forces made by a sculptor and a ritual specialist to investigate (the cause of) and cure (literally and symbolically) a chronic problem or physical ailment.  In this case, Western nations haphazardly and ruthlessly carving up and devouring Africa.

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Mangaaka, the undisputed “king and master” , was the personification of an abstract force charged with the arbitration of trade disputes. According to the Met’s website “As the supreme adjudicator of conflicts and protector of communities across the Chiloango River region, it (Mangaaka) was the most ambitious and monumental sculptural form developed as a high point in Kongo expression. ”

The exhibition features fifteen of the twenty surviving Mangaaka (power figures) in the world – brought together for the first time from collections spanning the globe. Each was believed to be created by a different carver of the Yombe peoples, each a wooden male figure standing about four feet high with big white eyes, bits of iron, nails, with sharp teeth and a pouch. They are sad and aggressive, beautiful and tragic – artistic evidence of how the west nearly destroyed (the effort is still in process) Africa and eliminate tribal societies.

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One of my favorite parts of the exhibition – B&W postcards by Belgians including two of ancestral shrines for chiefs in front of thatched open-front structures along the Chiloango River (fyi, not connected to the Congo River).

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And I love walking through the African galleries at the museum. Such an extraordinary collection of masks!!  The mask pictured above marks the transition for boys into adult life. For up to a year, boys are separated from the village and made to undergo a series of ordeals including circumcision – designed to measure their strength and courage. The year culminates in the symbolic death as children and rebirth as men. **This practice was common in the DRC, Kenya…. and I brought home (legally!!) a beautiful circumcision mask made by a tribe I spent time with in the center of the DRC.

Afterward wandering the African galleries, I ventured on to Roman wall paintings and finally the arms and armor….before having a wonderful lunch in the museum’s cafeteria. Such a treat!!!

All the News That’s Fit to Print

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As is reasonably well documented in this blog, I have a never-ending list of books that I want to read one day – while always being immersed in at least one or two books. But, I don’t just read books, far from it. At any given time I will have a stack of open magazines in the office, on the dining room table, and even bed. Right now I am reading the April issue of Marie Claire (the one with the beautiful Kerry Washington on the cover) and the article “The Invisible War on the Brain” by Caroline Alexander in the February issue of National Geographic. I just read and greatly enjoyed the article “Pure Hawaiian” by John Lancaster in the same issue of National Geographic.

Sometimes I find books or subjects I want to know more about, while reading articles. Lancaster’s article on surfing, once the sport of island chiefs, as a way for Hawaiians to maintain their cultural identity led me to watch ESPN’s film “Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau” about the legendary waterman. Last night I watched “Storm Surfers,” the documentary following two best friends on their quest to hunt down and ride the biggest and most dangerous waves in Australia. One of the guys, Ross Clarke-Jones, is the first non-Hawaiian to win the prestigious Eddie Aikau Memorial at Waimea Bay. Not a bad way to pass by some of these cold winter days!?

A really well-written article I read recently is “Bring Up the Bodies” by Patrick Radden Keefe in the March 16 issue of the New Yorker. That publication consistently has the best writing hands down and this article was no exception. It is the story behind the real Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president and former I.R.A. member who continues to deny his responsibility in authorizing murders.

On the (much) less serious side I enjoyed the too brief interview with Kate Winslet “Portrait of an Artist” and the beautiful photos of her by Giampaolo Sgurain in the April issue of In Style. I have been a fan of hers since “Heavenly Creatures” and am super excited to see what she does in the Steve Jobs biopic. P.s. all the pics/bits on white jeans – my get into summer purchase – are fun.

As someone who swore off fashion magazines (Vogue, Elle, Harpers Bazaar – so dull, ugly, unrealistic), I have actually found Glamour and Marie Claire to have some substance. Hey, fun no brainer material mostly anyhow. I mean, while waiting for the snow to melt or your manicure to dry what’s better than articles w/ titles like “Find Your Best Hair Color” or “337 Ways to Own Your Own Look” …? ox

What do you think?

This isn’t a new series, just a question I might post on occasion – asking what do you think about something. A few weeks ago I got into a bit of a lengthy discussion with friends regarding some of the pros and mostly cons of Anthropologie. I know, right what’s the big deal about this chain? Well, lot’s – some details of which I cannot get into right here and now about how the board of directors of the company is advising and negatively effecting certain companies I respect(ed) taking them from small handmade influences to machine made factories of tchotchkes. It’s just how the world is today. Every day we lose battleground in the handmade world. People walk around talking about the environment and the importance of gluten-free baked goods (latter is lost on me!) while wearing garments made in China or worse. Some magazines talk about stitching parties, profile the beautiful buckle maker in Wyoming, the crafty guy in Tulsa…but a lot more tote the company line with ten perfect outfits for Sunday brunch brought to you by the Gap.

So, Anthropologie. We have one coming to Portland. Since their sister store Urban Outfitters arrived here over a year ago I have purchased one pair of sneakers there. That’s it. When I was in my 20s I was obsessed with their stuff, same with Anthropologie. While in Boston last week I ventured into the Anthropologie’s Newbury location and recounting what my friends had said about it – that they have a reputation for stealing ideas from independent craftspeople on Etsy for instance – I looked around and touched things. The glassware, the pottery it’s mostly cheap and has no –  as my friend Charlie would say – humanness. I would rather wait till I travel somewhere and invest in pieces made by local artists. The clothes are pretty expensive for what they are and look a lot better online than in person. I don’t think the interior decorators who tried to recreate an African setting in the shop – or the designers who put safari animals all over some clothes – have ever been to Africa. It was an idea of Africa, but about as accurate as a Tarzan film. The prints were nowhere near as bold or beautiful as those I saw in the DRC, Uganda, or Rwanda. …

But, here’s the thing –  I did find a pair of PJ pants on the sale rack I love – best fitting ever – and then gulp I paid full price for a dress. I really liked it, did not think the price was bad and at the time and now the purchases feel like a craving I fed. After exiting the shop, I walked out and called my friend S, one of the folks who had shared with me her strong anti-Anthropologie feelings, and said that is it for me. I will check out the Portland shop, but I would much rather support the independent stores with their incredible customer service like Bliss Boutique on Exchange Street.

The dress, my one and only Anthropologie purchase (I will pair with my tan Birkenstocks and ankle Frye boots). What do you think – about the shop, about losing handmade to industry?

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Boston Day Trip

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In lieu of the weekly Thursday Weekend Reading and Friday Photographer posts, I’m posting on my day trip to Boston.

I am writing this from aboard an Amtrak train, which is sitting in the station, where we just found out the train has been delayed 40 minutes due to mechanical (aka weather) problems has finally left the station and is slowly (no exaggeration) edging it’s way north home.

Bonus, the wireless service kept going in and out (mostly out – as in for an hour, flickered back on for a couple minutes and then off for the duration of the trip).

Have you traveled by train? It is not the most reliable mode of transportation, but then what is when traveling “great” distances?

I have been wanting to go down to Boston – and specifically the Museum of Fine Arts – for a few weeks, since the exhibition “Gordon Parks, Back to Fort Scott”  was announced. If you read this blog on any sort of a regular occurrence you will know I greatly appreciate fine photography. In 1948, Gordon Parks (1912–2006) became the first African American photographer to be hired full time by LIFE magazine. Two years later he returned to his home state of Kansas to document racial discrimination/school segregation (note, this was four years before the landmark case Brown vs. Board of Education). His pictures are of family, neighbors, and childhood classmates. The stories are entertaining and the images soulful and telling.
Open thru September 13, 2015.

ceramics

Afterwards, while wandering around the museum I came across the exhibition “Nature, Sculpture, Abstraction, and Clay: 100 Years of American Ceramics” featuring ceramic art from the late 1800s to today.
Open thru January 3, 2016.

Egypt

ancient near east

bottle with chickens

Later, I explored the Ancient World collection. In addition to coins, mummies, coffins (two in one), and jewelry – I saw beautiful sandstone walls from an ancient Egyptian burial chamber (1550 – 1293 B.C.) and alabaster reliefs from an Assyrian palace (883 – 859 B.C.). The silver vessel in the photo above with “cocks and flowering plants “ (cocks = chickens) from Persia (224 – 651 A.D.) is a favorite.

All images are mine from MFA (where they graciously allow photography w/ no flash).

Holiday Cards and USPS Forever stamps and p.s. sending and receiving mail in Africa

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday weekend.  It’s good to be home, though I would have preferred my recent trip to Eastern Africa and Paris not have flown by so quickly. I’m still getting my bearings and figuring out what to make of being home and planning to write all about where I went and why early next year. Just need some time to process.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying those perfect chocolate chip salted cookies from Tandem Bakery, reading The New York Times (paper version!) over breakfast, watching football games (WOW WOW Auburn vs. Alabama and Packers vs. Pats) on TV, fires in the fireplace, the gals of Great Cluck Egg Farm (of course!) and making plans with friends.

Since I came home to the arrival of the holiday season I have also begun writing my holiday cards. Being the responsible lady I am with particular taste, and not knowing exactly when I’d return home, I had ordered a few boxes of Rifle Paper Company’s holiday cards to be waiting for me.  I love the company and their holiday cards are all I use.

This morning I went to the local post office to get stamps for said holiday cards and was a wee bit giddy to find stamps featuring four characters from the TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – the one from the 1950s narrated by Burl Ives.  I especially love Bumble, the kind misinterpreted monster. $9.80 for a sheet of 20.

Bumble

I also brought home a few sheets of the US Postal Service’s – for lack of better description – food lover stamps. As a gal who would prefer to cling to snail mail for personal correspondence, I’ll admit to being surprised it took me reading the December 2014 issue of Bon Appetit magazine over the weekend to bring me up to speed on this line of Forever stamps released back in September that are dedicated to five “celebrity chefs” including the “Grand Dame of Southern Cooking” the one and only beautiful Edna Lewis, teacher James Beard, and author Julia Child.

Illustrations by artist Jason Seiler (my guess is you’ve already seen his other work and it might have made you smile). Wondering how the USPS chose who to put on the sugar-free, fat-free, zero-calorie stamps (the USPS description)? Go here. $9.80 for a sheet of 20.

This is almost enough to make me like the USPS again.

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p.s. Sending and Receiving mail in Africa. In those countries where postal service exists (last I heard it was on hold in Somalia), the recipient is notified he/she has mail and picks it up at the place of business in town that doubles as a post office (restaurant/hotel…). I’m not entirely sure how the person is made aware he/she has mail or how long it takes to be notified, but my impression is it is more efficient than one might think (not sure what that means exactly). In cities residents are required to get a post box (no pushing mail through a slot) – which is how it is where I live and at least some other rural areas I know in the United States. There are few street names – even in parts of Kigali (Rwanda’s capital), and even fewer numbered houses (fyi, this can make wiring money and getting/giving directions a total nightmare) = your address is for the purposes of a package – your name/P.O. Box/town/country. Though, actually after writing that I will note almost every home I saw in Rwanda had a number painted on the exterior – so a system seems to be coming into order. To send a letter you need to visit an actual post office or the place doubling as it. For packages, best left to DHL or FedEx (unless a business in a major city, assume this will also require delivering said package or item to the business office).

Workout Playlist

First, so such a bummer…but last minute I had to back out of the Engine 2 Challenge at Whole Foods Market in Portland, Maine. I was so looking forward to participating and sharing all the class info w/ you, but life intervened and the time just wasn’t there.

On a positive note, that means today’s post is open for anything…so I figured it’s sunny out and in the 40’s (a winter heat wave) and something fun/festive is called for.

Here are a few songs that keep me going on the elliptical and treadmill. What’s on yours? Oh, and are some/most of the songs on your playlist ones you’d never listen to any other time? That’s the case for most of my workout material.

Waiting for Superman – Daughtry (when did he drop the “Chris”?)
The Man – Aloe Blacc (such a sexy song)
Dark Horse – Katy Perry (she shows up a lot in my workout playlists)
All Too Well – Taylor Swift
Dancing On My Own – Robyn
Not Afraid – Eminem (he is so talented!)
Let’s Go – Calvin Harris feat. Ne-Yo
Without You – David Guetta and Usher (I know, total be-bop, but when you need something early in the AM to pop this song works)

I’m looking forward to hearing “Ghost Stories” – Coldplay’s new album. Their songs often end up up on the rotation.

The Taste of America by Colman Andrews

I think Colman Andrews must be one of the coolest living people.

Sure, he co-founded Saveur and was a contributing editor to Gourmet (the greatest magazine ever),  but to me it was that he worked under the legendary music critic Lester Bangs at Creem magazine. My interest in Bangs began with his portrayal in “Almost Famous” by Philip Seymour Hoffman (a man I’d gladly just watch breathe – or hiccup, because he’d do it with style and great humor and such delivery) and was solidified with my reading of Jim Derogatis biography Let it Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America’s Greatest Rock Critic, which I came across gosh it must have been the year it came out – just by happenstance while I was in New York (I used to buy books from this guy with a cart on 2nd avenue in the East Village  – he turned me on to Charles Bukowski and Henry Rollins one good book of poetry).

Last year Andrews wrote The Taste of America, a collection of the best food in the USA. It covers 250 food products manufactured and on sale in the USA, with an emphasis on those with distinctive regional characteristics, including but not limited to dairy products, flours, syrups, confections, and preserves. It also covers fresh ingredients, again emphasizing those with distinctive regional characteristics, including fruit and vegetables, seafood, and meat.

It’s a wonderful book, a conversation piece.  It nudges you asking “What does America taste like to you?”  The answers must be unique depending on where you grew up and whether your parents were back to the landers focused on homegrown or professionals in a big city. My childhood and adolescence, spent between Northern Virginia and rural Arkansas under people whose food ethics were pretty similar, offers me this response: peach cobbler (from scratch), fried chicken (homemade), Sunkist, Munchos, saltwater taffy, pure maple syrup from New England, cucumbers and tomatoes off the vine, celery, and oysters. More than anything however, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches define the taste of America – they always have and I cannot see this changing. I may try to use natural peanut butter (I started off with Peter Pan and gradually made my way to Jif for years) and have swapped out the disgusting (it is!!) Welch’s grape jelly for local preserves….perhaps I use bread that’s a bit better than Wonder Bread (though I’ll admit to a craving for it every year for a few days)….but the idea is the same. I do not add bananas or fluff, though I have been known to wedge a few broken potato chips in there.

What does America taste like to you?

Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown

Have you seen Anthony Bourdain’s TV series “Parts Unknown” on CNN? It’s terrific. Check out episodes on iTunes – Columbia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Detroit are my favorites.

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about this blog

About Me Sharon Kitchens and Delicious Musings. Welcome and thank you for visiting my blog. I write about all the things I enjoy - Culture, Food, Photography &Travel. Read more on my about page.

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