I often ask my students, when teaching on the topic of culture, if, in their opinion, paella started originally as a dish of the poor or the rich. Having seen paella as one of the most expensive options on the menus of expensive restaurants, they usually say that paella must have been an invention for the table of the wealthy. After all, shrimp and clams, mandatory for paella, are deluxe ingredients.
But not when the dish was first created. Fish and seafood in general was cheap food, since it didn’t need land to be farmed. It grew free and plentiful, with just labor necessary to be harvested – and that was cheap. In fact, paella is based on the concept of “small pieces of different meats and veggies, combined with rice”, which in practice means “any kind of meat, mixed together in rice”: the perfect way to use leftovers. In most cases, paella was the Spanish casserole in which leftovers from yesterday or from the master’s table were put together to make a hearty meal. Continue reading
When I was growing up, gifts were few and far between. This probably contributed to their high appreciation index rating. We loved looking at them for a while before actually taking them out of the box and trying them out. We built stories and even myths about their future role in our lives. In sum, we absolutely cherished them.
But with the material deluge we as society have experienced in recent decades, the value of gifts has somehow depreciated. How can they ever be special if we can afford to buy the very same things during the whole year, by whim or necessity? We have more things, we obtain them according to no specific season, we get them ourselves. So in this context, how do you make a gift special at all?
Here are the choices for gift-givers to make their gift stands out as special, cherished and one that affirms the relationship between giver and recipient. And is also easy on the environment. Continue reading
I’ve often wondered, what would be the most powerful cross-cultural immersion situation one could ask for? What daily life activity could give you a taste of another culture – and a jolt of culture clash – in the most effective experiential way? Shopping in a foreign country? Sharing a meal with strangers? Falling in love? What could be the single most important step you could recommend to someone to get acquainted with a culture?
While I was reading the absolutely delicious Diamonds in My Pocket by Amanda Kovattana I finally realized what this activity most certainly is. Yes, living with a family with a different cultural background, but more specifically having someone from a different culture have a say in organizing your personal space: tidying your room putting everything in order; with a concept coming from a different culture. But who publishes guides detailing how space is organized in foreign countries? You have to either experience it or decipher it in literary texts, to find those hidden diamonds where they are least expected to be. Diamonds in My Pocket is one of the most honest and culturally illuminating books I’ve read recently and I firmly believe the most powerful reason for that are the rich descriptions of interiors loaded with cultural revelations. Continue reading
Speaking of feeling foreign and the unbearable tension between your wings and your roots, here are two films that deal with the conflicted desire to leave your native land. Their plots are almost a mirror reflection of each other yet they offer the same inspiration to follow your dreams. But you know, dreams can be a twisted, unreal reality.
Nothing More (Juan Carlos Cremata, Cuba, 2001). Imagine Cuba, where bureaucracy is a tool for control and where vocal dissatisfaction with life is not allowed. Clara, a young postal employee has languished for years, waiting for her green card so that she can join her parents in Miami. But her mother’s letters bring her both hope and despair of the unknown. Continue reading
How many people would say that feeling different from all others, being out of their element is so beneficial that they would actively pursue it?
Many people would say that being foreign, feeling foreign while living in a different culture is a challenge. But actually it’s an advantage; the advantage of being turned upside down. It’s first of all a tool for self-discovery and self-development. No wonder study abroad programs are the most rapidly growing college programs these days. True, the first excuse for those is learning the local language, but more than that, the greatest benefit is learning about, considering the value of and negotiating how to deal with a different way of thinking. And first of all, it’s acquiring the ability to think about yourself from the sidelines. Continue reading
If you pay attention to the info notes at an archeology museum, you’d notice most items were acquired before 1970s. After the UNESCO Convention on Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import and Export of Cultural Property of 1970, ancient treasures have rarely crossed borders to become part of the permanent collections of world museums.
It seems like a great thing. After all, isn’t it disturbing that the most important museums in the world are venerable institutions founded around the time their countries were significant colonial powers. Their roles, beyond geopolitical conquering, was to rescue ancient treasures of civilizations past from their ancestral lands, where they weren’t appreciated enough, to the metropolis of the current cultural dominant.
The concept of museums was invented in the Enlightenment and developed during the Romanticism. While previously just erudites collected ancient artifacts privately, now collections were public. There was a specific ideology behind museums. They played a role in colonialism’s conscious drive to take on the baton from ancient civilizations. Conquering a land included also the intellectual conquest of its discovery for humankind. Continue reading
Molas, a traditional female shirt of the Kuna people of coastal Panama, are an interesting case of a traditional art with a special role in today’s globalized culture. Kuna people have an unique culture that has survived centuries and although their lands are a popular tourist destination, they have kept their traditions and customs, as well as their group identity and unity.
Photo: Rita Willaert
Molas are made of a back and front textile panel stitched together, each of them made of small pieces of colorful strips of fabric, forming an intricate pattern. The designs range from simple to very elaborate and the themes can be abstract, flowers and animals, mythological and political. Actually, even though now they are a from of art identified with Kuna culture, molas’ origin came with colonization and they are in fact a colonial tradition. They came into existence to replace the designs Kuna women used to paint on their own bodies. When Spanish missionaries came to the islands of today’s Panama some 150 years ago and introduced an European type of clothing, those designs were transferred to the shirts Kuna started wearing. Here are some examples of molas with abstract geometric, flower and animal and mythological patterns. Continue reading
I know many people around here who are not happy with Starbucks. They like to criticize it while still patronizing it. Well, I think Starbucks is the wrong target for the socially, culturally and aesthetically sensitive crowd. I don’t find much wrong with Starbucks, actually I like it.
Some people say it is expensive, but there are so many other overpriced indulgences in the world that cost much more. Plus, a simple solo espresso at Starbucks is actually dirt cheap.
Others say what’s wrong is that it is a chain. They criticize the concept of chainness itself. Yes, but wrong as it is, Starbucks’s chainness introduces it in more places in the US without actually forcing the local residents to buy it. Continue reading