Category Archives: tradition

The village culture reports: hoarding

A friend of mine was asked to bring an iPad to a friend in Italy. He obliged: he packed the device in his carry-on, with all the documentation but sans the bulky box. His friend’s reaction? Thank you, but could you also send me the box when you can, please?

My friend laughed away this quirkiness when he told me the story. His friend was raised in a village culture, he said, and so he felt the urge to keep everything he is entitled to own.  Continue reading

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Ghosts, queens and the flow of everyday life

MonasteroCairate

Image by construction worker in the renovation of the Cairate monastery

The local Varese edition of Il Giorno, the newspaper of Milan, has reported about a ghost noticed in the old monastery of Cairate, a small town northwest of the City of Fashion. The monastery is currently under reconstruction and slated to open as one of the sites protected by UNESCO in the region, which was a historic Longobard outpost.

The ghost sighting has been captured by the cellphone of a construction worker and was of such importance that it was reported in several local news outlets. It has also merited the official intervention of the mayor of Cairate and several local authorities, who speculate whose ghost it actually is. Most of them conclude it must be the ghost of Queen Manigonda, the Longobard foundress who built the monastery back in 737. There are also different speculations of why she still inhabits the place as a ghost, and most of them have to do with Frederick Barbarossa who spent the night there before his battle of Legnano (also nearby).

This could happen only in Italy. Continue reading

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

The perfect gift for Christmas (and other holidays)

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

Codex Calixtinus, or the tourist guide for pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela

Codex Calixtinus, the precious 12th century guide for pilgrims heading towards Santiago de Compostela,  was stolen yesterday from the Cathedral of that Spanish town. Since Santiago (Saint James) had a very influential cult in the Middle Ages, his alleged tomb in Compostela became an extremely popular pilgrimage site for people from all over Europe – in fact, the third most important one after Jerusalem and Rome. Streams of devout people came walking (there were no cars or bikes back then!) the Way of Saint James  all the way from France, Italy, Poland,  Hungary to ask the Saint for a favor or as a penance. Quite a feat. Continue reading

The loss of mechanical machines

When I was a kid, we used to go on field trips to a local textile factory. There was one machine that sat separately in a large production hall. The manager proudly explained that it was an electronic loom and it could reproduce exactly and quickly any design you enter in its computer memory.

Twenty years later, all looms are electronic. But during my summer visit to Northern Italy, the cradle of the famed textile and fashion industry we all admire, I was surprised to hear people speaking of mechanical looms with nostalgia. Something has changed in the last decades and it’s not just cheap Chinese competition. The machine as we know it is gone, quietly. Continue reading

Small towns on both sides of the Atlantic

It seems that every summer I get new inspiration for a comparison between American and European lifestyles. It must be my vacation in Europe that inspires me to state the obvious. But how can you resist visually absorbing the beauty of European small towns? Falling in love with them? Here is an Italian town, population 50,000, that’s so vibrant and livable that makes me consider how an American small town would compare to it.

Let’s start with the basics: this town doesn’t seem to be affected by any kind of economic crisis, much less a housing one. People seem happy and connected, public spaces are lively and, this being Italy, everything is beautiful. But that’s a bonus that comes with decades if not centuries of historical building preservation 🙂 . Continue reading

The importance – and difficulty – of feeling foreign

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

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

Globalization of cultural heritage and nationalism

Nefertiti in the Egyptian Museum in BerlinIf 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

Women’s Day Wishes

March 8, the International Women’s Day, is important in a great part of the world. I like it for what it is: a reminder that women still don’t have equal rights and opportunities in a large part of the world and are even second-class citizens by law in many places. A way to remember how far we have come from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, even with so many similar factories around the world today whose shirts we buy and wear. An occasion to decide to abandon stereotypes about what it means to be feminine and follow the paths we choose, bravely: motherhood and public influence, discovering the beauty and exploring the darkness of the universe, and the right to be tired sometimes 🙂 .

I also get cards and lots of wishes for this day. Sometimes they are related to the celebration of womanness. Other times they try to remind me of why this day is still necessary. And still other times, the person who writes or calls feels that the day is important, but then makes it to be a holiday just as any other, similar to Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or a birthday. And it is not. 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

Molas from San Blas Island – a traditional feminine art with a global reach

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.

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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

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