Category: Culture

CultureHuman Rights

Book Review: Under the Tamarind Tree–A Novel

Short Review

Under the Tamarind Tree: A Novel

By Rosaliene Bacchus

In her novel Under the Tamarind Tree, Guayanese-born author Rosaliene Bacchus has spun a fascinating tale of family feuding, personal loss and a longing for love and self-acceptance, all set against the backdrop of crumbling Colonial power in British Guiana during the two-decade period between 1950 and 1970. Wonderfully descriptive, the novel immerses the reader in all aspects of the extremely diverse Guyanese culture – from the local food to the colorful colloquial language.

Divided into short, easily digestible chapters, we organically grow attached to Richard Cheong, the novel’s main character, and slowly come to understand (and feel) the sources of his deep pain and suffering. Ms Bacchus takes the reader on a journey of discovery that exposes the very heart of what makes humans capable of expressing both great love and harrowing evil.

I must admit I’m normally a non-fiction fan, but Under the Tamarind Tree had me hooked from the first chapter. If this novel has a shortcoming, it’s in the surprise ending which left me with a seemingly unquenchable thirst for more. My wish is that Ms Bacchus will follow up with a sequel. 🙂

Note: Please don’t let the brevity of my review color your curiosity for this marvelous literary work. I have purposely limited my words because I feel completely inadequate to convey the depth of human suffering and redemption so meticulously crafted by the author.

The novel can be previewed from Rosaliene’s writer’s site at the following address:

http://www.rosalienebacchus.com/writer/UndertheTamarindTree_ANovelbyRosalieneBacchus.html

peace~henry

 

CultureTravel

The Camel Beauty Pageant

As the Monty Python crew used to say, “And now for something completely different!”

Let’s escape to the deserts of southern Oman to participate in one of the locals’ favorite events – a camel beauty contest. Mind you, these descendants of Bedouin tribes take camel raising very seriously as the princely sums paid for a prime specimen indicate. Contestants – lovely one-humped dromedary camels with long double sets of eyelashes – are judged on the fullness of their chests and downward curve of their lower lips, among other distinctive qualities.

As you’ll see in the following video, the owners and other audience members create a party atmosphere, filled with dancing and lots of cheering for their favorite contestant.

Be sure to crank up the volume!

peace~henry

CulturePoliticsTravel

Learning From History At Jewish Museum Berlin

As the capital of a country with a long and complicated history, Berlin wears German history on its sleeve. From the prominently placed and emotionally moving Holocaust Memorial to the East Side Gallery’s graffitied remnants of the Berlin Wall, warnings for humanity to learn lessons from its collective past are everywhere.

One of the city’s most interesting and educational monuments to the past is the Jewish Museum Berlin. Drawing on an extensive collection, each gallery builds upon the next as visitors are invited to trace the history of German and Eastern European Jews from the Middle Ages up to horrors of Nazi Germany under the rule of Adolph Hitler.

The Jewish Museum Berlin complex consists of three buildings–a historic baroque palace, a contemporary glass building designed by renowned American architect Daniel Libeskind and the W. Michael Blumenthal Academy which was once a wholesale flower market. Photo: Henry Lewis

This is not a museum solely dedicated to the Holocaust, but one that does an especially good job of identifying the ever-changing status of local Jewish communities during the millennium leading up to Germany’s modern age in the 19th and 20th centuries. Through text, illustrations, paintings and personal objects, non-Jewish and Jewish visitors alike are able to fill in any missing gaps in their understanding of the events that led to the darkest days of Nazi Germany.

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CultureNatureVisual Arts

Ancient Venus Figures–Origins and Significance

Venus Figures are small bone, ceramic or stone carvings which exhibit exaggerated female breasts and hips. The term ‘Venus figure’ is strictly used as a metaphor for the female form. These carvings predate the mythological Venus – the Roman goddess of love, sex, beauty, and fertility – by thousands of years.

Venus figures are unique and hold artistic and cultural significance simply by being the earliest representations of humans in sculptural form. They also mark humanity’s earliest use of ceramic materials.

Venus Figures have been found all across Europe. Map Credit: Natural History Museum of Vienna.

The majority of these mysterious figurines date from the Upper Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) period between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago. This period contains the first archaeological evidence of small-scale human settlements along with more complex social organization. Numerous cave paintings, petroglyphs and carvings and engravings on bone and ivory indicate a blossoming of the arts during this period.

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CultureTravel

The Muisca and the Search for El Dorado

Gold makes monsters of men.

Erin Bowman, Vengeance Road

Gold, glory and God

The origins of the quest for El Dorado can be traced back to the early 16th century when a story about a place containing vast golden treasures began spreading from one Spanish settlement to another along the Caribbean coast of South America. In contemporary times, the name has been exploited in fiction and film, and has long carried the connotation of a search for riches.

Despite the Spanish translation of ‘el dorado’ being ‘the golden’–an adjective meaning ‘the golden one’ and not denoting a city of gold–the legend quickly became embellished to refer to an entire city made of gold which was said to be located in the Valley of Dorado, a place hidden deep in the mountains of the continent’s northern Andes. It was this feverish quest to acquire gold in all its forms that drove numerous European expeditions–from which most adventurers would never return–over the high ranges of the Andes and through dense jungles filled with wild animals, deadly reptiles, unfriendly tribes and jungle fevers.

The first regional expeditions in search of gold were led by German and Spanish explorers traveling along the Orinoco River in what is now Venezuela. Soon after, Spanish conquistadors stationed in the Caribbean port town of Santa Marta heard stories from wandering natives of an Indian chieftain living high in the mountains whose wealth in gold was so great that he covered his entire body in the precious mineral.

A mural depicting traditional Muiscan figurines rendered from gold and silver. Artist: Edgar Diaz.

Encountering the Muisca

In 1636, the news of this gold-laden chieftain led Spanish conquistador Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada and his army of 800 men to abandon their mission of finding an overland route to Peru, and instead head east and up into the Andes. There they encountered the Muisca people, a highly advanced civilization whose territories were divided into a confederation of states without a single centralized leader or ruler.

Physical map of Colombia indicating the approximate range of Musica territory along with the locations of the 3 main Muisca administrative centers in the eastern range of Colombia’s Andes Mountains.

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CultureTravel

Ancient Petra: The City of Stone

A narrow sandstone gorge known as the Siq serves as the main entrance to southern Jordan’s UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra. This 1.2 kilometer long canyon twists and turns, and then turns some more before finally opening up to reveal a stunning view of the rock-hewn Al Kazneh, more commonly known as The Treasury. Photo: Henry Lewis

As the coarse sand and scree crunched under the weight of my moving feet, I passed through one narrow bend after another as I entered the wonderland that is southern Jordan’s UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra. The sheer cliffs and warm rose hues of the 1.2 kilometer-long sandstone gorge known as the Siq, which is the main entrance to this vast archaeological site, enveloped me as if I was being embraced by Mother Earth herself.

The sun was rising and the play of light and shadow on the stone walls of the narrow passage was mesmerizing. My only worry was that another speeding horse carriage driven by one of the local Bedouin guides would come careening around a blind-curve and run me down as I daydreamed about ancient caravans navigating such narrow passages.

A horse and carriage speedily navigates through the narrow passage known as the Siq. Photo: Henry Lewis

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CulturePolitics

The ART of Politics

While the Trump era has provided endless opportunities for journalists to come up with fresh ways to report on domestic and international affairs, I think the real treasure trove of creative golden nuggets has been laid at the feet of political cartoonists.

In an era when truth is often elusive and fantasy thrives, cartoons seem to represent the most effective means of contextualizing the outrageous behavior taking place in Washington, D.C. and it’s always-on 24-hour cycle of institutional destruction.

Signe Wilkinson – Washington Post Writers Group and Cartoonist Group

Michael de Adder – Counterpoint

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CultureTravelVisual Arts

Amazing Bogotá Street Art #2

As I wrote in The Amazing Street Art Scene in Bogotá, Colombia’s sprawling, high-altitude capital is a veritable feast for the eyes of those who love exploring streetscapes lined with beautiful–as well as sobering–images, painted by some of the world’s top street artists. The fact that this scene is constantly expanding and changing has been confirmed during my current visit, my fourth to the city.

Street art might be viewed as a metaphor for our lives, since the only thing assured for us, and street art, is change. As the paints and top layers of a wall or building begin to fade and crumble due to the inevitable weathering process, so too does the image that was once so vivid. While a painting may be more vibrant, crisp and colorful when it’s young (or freshly painted), aging often instills an image with more character and depth as the layers of paint, plaster, brick or concrete–once hidden beneath the fresh paint–begin to reveal themselves. While I appreciate vibrant colors and sharp outlines, I savor texture and depth of perspective even more.

These street paintings are in no meaningful order. They’re simply a selection I recently shot in the La Candelaria and Chapinero neighborhoods of Bogotá. While most of the images are to be enjoyed without comment, I’ve made notes on a few. I also wish to apologize to the artists who aren’t credited–those whose signatures don’t appear on their work. I’m just not organized enough to do the research at the moment. Enjoy!

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CulturePolitics

The Disunited States of Fear

Here we are again (and again and again and again…[queue the refrain]…) in the aftermath of more mass murders in the Disunited States of Fear. I don’t need to rehash the numbers here of dead and wounded in the horrific back to back shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio last weekend.

In a country with a paralyzed and incompetent government, they’re simply more impersonal statistics to add to the archives of senseless violence that take place on an all too frequent basis in the USA. Unfortunately, there are real mothers, fathers, spouses, children, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles and friends who are suffering at the moment, trying to come to terms with the loss of one or more loved ones.

In addition to the deaths, there are those whose physical wounds have forever changed their lives. Ask someone who’s seen the carnage caused by today’s brand of killing machines and they will tell you that being hit with high caliber ammunition causes traumatic damage to our flesh and bone bodies.

Despite the outpouring of public grief and demands for action, we’re hearing the same platitudes from the usual voices–our echo-loving serial Liar in Chief who foments division and hatred with every exhalation, a number of the Democratic candidates who are running for the nomination in 2020 and who are taking advantage of the media spotlight, as well as the few Republicans who aren’t hiding quietly behind closed curtains at home. Luckily for them, these two latest gun massacres took place conveniently after Congress had recessed for the month of August.

Not being in the Washington spotlight makes it much easier for these spineless creatures to hide until the media storm has passed. While their constituents should know where to find them, the ‘people’ are probably too distracted by back to school shopping – must have new bullet-proof backpacks for the kids – to bother phoning and raising hell with their elected representatives who swore an oath to work for the good of the country and its citizens.

US President and wife Melania who is holding an orphaned baby who lost both parents to the mass shooting at Walmart in El Paso, Texas last week. The photo was taken at University Medical Center where many of the wounded are recuperating. It sure looks like a campaign photo to me, complete with thumbs up! Wasn’t his trip to these mourning cities supposed to be about supporting the victim’s families? Shameful!!! Melania posted this on Twitter.

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CultureTravel

Portals of Malta

Doorways are portals to other worlds, both real and imagined. J. R. R. Tolkien–speaking through one of his most enduring  characters, Bilbo Baggins–summed up the sense of mystery and adventure that lies just on the other side of such an opening.

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to–

Bilbo Baggins in Lord of the Rings

The idea that portals are gateways to other worlds filled with exotic new adventures was reinforced in popular fiction, TV programs and movies during my childhood. In the 1960s, I was enthralled by The Time Tunnel, a TV show with a thin plot that was propelled by the time traveling adventures of its two main characters. They would walk into a swirling black and white tunnel–think cheesy special effects!–which was a portal to other worlds. This was also a popular theme in other TV shows of the time such as The Twilight Zone. And I was glued to the TV when these shows aired.

Many ancient cities were protected by fortifications which had restricted gates through which all trade had to pass. Pictured here is a section of stone wall surrounding the historic city of Valletta, Malta. Photo: Henry Lewis

The doorway effect

Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in a house or apartment made up of more than one room have probably experienced the phenomenon of walking through a doorway into another room and simultaneously forgetting the reason we walked into that room. We may experience a change in temperament or thought processing simply by walking through a portal.

According to scientific research, walking through a doorway triggers our brains to be ready to learn something new, and therefore, takes us away from the thoughts that occupied our minds just seconds before. That powerful response can be either stimulating or annoying depending on the circumstances, but I prefer to focus on the possibilities such journeys offer rather than the limitations.

Passing through a portal can be the key to the process of rejuvenation, a way to unplug from the disturbing or mundane events we become bogged down in at home or work. Whether for exercise or to relieve depression, when I need a break, I remove myself from the situation at hand, walk outside, breath some fresh air (hopefully) and let my sense of curiosity about the world take control. This is where the adventure begins.

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