Category Archives: symbolism

The naming powers of housing builders

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I am collecting interesting names of subdivisions, apartment complexes and gated communities in my area of Texas. It seems that land development and construction around here has gotten so busy that builders are running out of names for their creations. After a series of Mira Lagos, Sleepy Hollow and Blueberry Hills, what’s next in terms of names for blueberry-less, lake-less, and hollow-less neighborhoods? Some of them have a hidden meaning that I wonder if it has been really considered by those who picked them or who chose to live there. Here is a shortlist: Continue reading

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The village culture reports: death

Every year in mid-autumn, local galleries here invite submission of art related to the Day of the Dead. At least in Texas, where Mexican culture has become so mainstream that its symbolism is part of everyday life, this celebration is really ubiquitous.

However, there is something to be noted: said galleries feel the need to warn artists not to submit any Halloweeny content, like zombies and other gore. The Day of the Dead is nothing like Halloween, they insist to explain; it’s not about fear or disguise but about respect and connection with death.

And there is something very telling in our confusion and replacement of a day of commemoration of the dead with an (optionally scary) dress up party that Halloween has become. I agree, dress up is good and it used to have its own time for that (Carnival), but today I’d like to argue that we need more of what the Day of the Dead is: an opportunity to connect with death and our own departed to help us better make sense of their departure and our life. And I believe that village culture does that very well. Continue reading

Theory of the T-shirt

Speaking of fashion, I didn’t delve into the question whether style is really a personal expression of self identity or just a convention, a formula offered by society and used by an individual in one combination of elements or another. Is an individual ever free, after all, to use any piece of clothing in her or his own terms to express her or his own identity? If I think that a tea gown expresses my personality best of all, am I free to wear it for an evening out without any repercussions? Continue reading

Vanity License Plates and Identity Issues

drskipceeyaAs I stopped by Leo’s workplace the other day, I noticed that almost 30% of the cars in the parking lot bore vanity license plates. That struck me as unusual – I think that among the general car population, vanity plates don’t exceed 5%. Are those car owners identity-challenged or, on the contrary, have especially loud identities? Who would want their license plate number to be so easy to remember while they are driving around committing traffic violations? And so badly that they would pay an annual fee for that? Fort Worth Renaissance Lady Sonja Cassella made me think about this issue. I started a little qualitative research. Continue reading

Love, today, as any other day

spicesIt’s a beautiful day today in Chronotopia. That’s the day when She will put on a gorgeous white dress and meet her Beloved, and they will get married, as they have dreamed for so long. But they won’t be alone in their celebration of love. They will be joined by ten thousand other couples on the city square. You see, all of them will be married at the same time and all will pronounce their vows together, in a chorus. That’s because today is the Day of Love in Chronotopia. It’s the official day when couples declare their love for each other, so all have to get married on that day. As an added bonus, they’ll also have their anniversary on that same day. How romantic, right? Continue reading

Rituals for ringing in a New Year

ViaMoi

ViaMoi

The tradition to celebrate a New Year is perhaps universal, although not the precise date of its occurrence, which can be the winter solstice, the end of harvest time in the fall, the beginning of spring.

But what about that special moment announcing the actual arrival of the New Year? Is it important, how is it chosen and how is it marked? How do people actually ring it in? After all, it is the culmination of the festivities, the moment the New Year is considered to be officially here. It is the threshold dividing the Old from New, marking the transcendental step into the new and unknown.

So, it is only logical that special attention be given to that particular moment. The beginning of the New Year in different cultures may be at midnight, for cultures that rely on the clock. Or it can be at sundown, the coming out of a new moon, or perhaps even at sunrise, in cultures that mark time through natural phenomena. Continue reading

The Mexican experience, interpreted through food

Gin Fizz

Photo: Gin Fizz

In Mexican culture, you don’t just eat, you experience life through food. So, it is obligatory that you experience it communally, but if you don’t cook Mexican at home and you resort to restaurant ersatz, you need assistance to recreate the communality. Mexican restaurants in the USA are never just places to eat your vegetables and R&B (rice and beans, for those who wonder what role rhythm & blues has to play in a restaurant menu). They are your local Mexican agora where, besides the get-together, debate and exchange, you also get to eat. Quietly, Mexico is colonizing the USA under the guise of providing a safe space to enjoy chicken fajitas and mole, because the space thusly created in those restaurants is simply a recreation of Mexican space, with all the details: the colorful plazas, the sunlit streets, the noises and angles of city life itself. Continue reading

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

I recently had the chance to see a 1973 film which I had been long looking for, The Spirit of the Beehive by Victor Erice. I recommend it to every fan of last year’s Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro).

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Necrologues in Bulgaria

Necrologues posted on a church fence

The word “necrologue” is not part of the official English vocabulary today, but it used to be a couple a centuries ago, with the meaning of “obituary” or “necrology.” Still, I prefer to use “necrologue” instead of “necrology” in this case because this is how it is used in Bulgaria.

Necrologues in Bulgarian culture have always been a personal statement in an independent voice. Even in times when public speech and writing had to be officially sanctioned and was often censored, necrologues were not published in newspapers but posted in public spaces (outside walls, front doors, bulletin boards, bus stops, lamp posts). So they were an unofficial personal statement on someone’s life and the public announcement of grief of his/her relatives. Continue reading

Dolls, uninterrupted

In July, I had the chance to visit an interesting store in New Orleans, Oh Susannah Doll Shop – all things doll, but, alas, with little time to peruse thoroughly and decide which of the precious items I was most in love with so that I would purchase it. The collection was outrageously varied, ranging from tiny plastic babies in a carriage to large, upsettingly realistic representations of girls as dolls in poses totally incompatible with what normally is perceived as “dollness”: dolls that express emotions (of fear or boredom), in awkward positions, in highly personalized clothing. These dolls can’t be really dolls in the traditional sense, because they are not blank, they are not the tabula rasa a girl wants to project onto it her own self-representation. They are an individual artist’s rendition of a girl idea, a sculpture to be admired rather than a toy to be handled and integrated into someone’s life. And that brings the question of what a doll really is and what dolls do. Are they age-limited, in terms of representation and user? Are Grandma Claus real dolls, if they do not reflect any girl’s identity, the way a Barbie may do? What about a boy-doll? Dolls are also a fertile terrain for feminist inquiry. What do men mean when they call a woman “doll”? Continue reading

Monsters in stone

Besides gargoyles, the most famous of which are of course the Notre Dame gargoyles, there are chimeras (equally grotesque but not architecturally useful as spouts for rain water). But I love mascarons, especially this one above a door in Thonon-les-Bains, France, photographed by a friend:

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Learning Spanish in 1917

spanishtextbook4Yesterday, I got a surprise amazon.com package in the mail. It wasn’t a mistaken order sent by amazon.com, it was a recycled box in which a dear friend was sending me some old books from a local antiquarian she thought I would find “fun.” They were three fiction books published in the early XX century in the US, by Spanish authors nobody is interested in today. And a fourth one, First Spanish Course from 1917, essentially a Spanish textbook for US college students. Wow! We’ve gone a long way in teaching languages since then. Continue reading

Mayan textiles

If I had lots of money, I would start collecting precious cloth pieces and hang them on the wall as pieces of art. I can’t believe I missed this exhibit of Mayan textiles. I love Mayan textiles for their beauty, colors, symbolism and because I love Guatemala. Continue reading

Photography and responsibility

This post was moved here:  Photography and social responsibility

A first step into Chronotopia

Ironically, this blog is to be inaugurated with notes about a real website I am building. With the support and collaboration of Leo I started a project to document Orthodox churches in North Texas. Why Orthodox churches? The idea came from a challenge to find a beautiful church to attend on Christmas. Not being Catholic, I decided to still attend the most interesting Catholic church I knew for Christmas mass, and that happened to be the this church that looks a lot like a nice whipped cream cake. Why not an Orthodox church, I was asked? Continue reading