Search This Blog


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Postcard 2016_Catalan Christmas from NY

WHAT IN THE WORLD  -  R. Minder - 16/12/05/

Caught With Your Pants Down? 
Must Be Christmas in Catalonia

Here’s one thing D. Trump and Hillary Clinton have in common. They are being depicted in new Christmas figurines in Catalonia in a rather rude position: squatting to defecate.
The unusual and irreverent “caganer” figurines are part of a longstanding holiday tradition in this region in northeastern Spain, and they are not meant to denigrate the politicians and celebrities they portray. Instead, the figurines hark back to a once-common use for human waste: to fertilize farm fields and grow more food in the days before agrochemicals. The figurines were first made in the 18th century.
The caganer, which can be translated as pooper, is placed somewhere among the characters in a Nativity scene: behind Mary and Joseph, perhaps, or between the animals gathered around the manger.
The hand-painted ceramic figurines generally stand (or rather, crouch) almost five inches tall, and are produced by about 25 companies around Catalonia, many of them small shops.
Most often, the caganers depict an ordinary Catalan in a traditional floppy red hat. But in recent years, a growing number have been made in the likeness of famous people. And that has made them popular far beyond Catalonia.
Almost half the figurines shipped by, the largest distributor, go to the United States. “Just as we imported Halloween from America, I guess some Americans have discovered our tradition and really like it,” said Sergi Alós, the company’s managing director.
Caganers officially go on sale a month before Christmas, but many overseas customers place orders in advance — and this year, Mr. Alós said, they turned out to be something of a barometer. “Hillary started very strong, but then Trump caught up,” he said, declining to give specific figures.
Don’t read anything into the two candidates being shown with their pants down, he said: “We just look at who is in the news, focus on the positive and don’t try to say anything nasty or make fun of either Hillary or Trump.”
Also joining the caganer line this year is Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front in France, who hopes to follow Mr. Trump’s lead and win a presidential election next year with the backing of anti-establishment voters.
It remains to be seen whether the new models will rival the best-selling figurine of a foreigner: Barack Obama. “He has been our king since 2008,” Mr. Alós said.

Postcard 2011_Catalan Christmas from NY

     A Catalan Christmas -2011 (Lisa Abend)

IT was the Christmas season in Barcelona, but inside the city hall, a 14th-century palace, a scene from “the Arabian Nights” was playing out. Palm trees and satin cushions had turned the Gothic patio into a desert tent, complete with incense and Middle Eastern music. Pages, clad in pantaloons and velvet-trimmed turbans, led each child to the Moorish throne of the Royal Mailman and the bulging satchel he would use to convey their petitions to the Three Kings. Yes, those Three Kings: the magi in the manger with the frankincense and myrrh. Here in the Mediterranean, the North Pole and the jolly guy in the fur-trimmed suit don’t make much cultural sense. And you have to admit that there’s a certain biblical logic to having the Kings rather than Santa bear gifts.
Like so many things in life — soccer, sex, pigs’ feet with snails — Christmas is better in Barcelona. Not for the Catalans the tinsel, the candy canes, the celebrity reindeer with his blinking nose. No, Christmas in Barcelona is an altogether sleeker affair, whimsical and exotic in equal measure.
Next came the dish I had heard most about. Canelones are quintessential Christmas food in Catalonia, and I had been told that the only place to eat them was in someone’s home. Fina Navarro, the Fonda’s manager and wife of the chef Carles Gaig, explained: “Traditionally, you eat them on St. Stephen’s Day,” Dec. 26, she said. “Your grandmother would have made a big pot of escudella for Christmas Day,” she added, referring to a chickpea and meat stew, “and she would use the leftover meat to stuff the canelones.” It was hard to imagine even a grandmother making a better version: the tender meat encased in pasta tubes and topped with a creamy béchamel was deeply flavorful but surprisingly light.
The next day, I had a date at the crèche in Sant Jaume Square in the center of Barcelona. In recent years, the Christmas tree, like Santa Claus, has made inroads into Spanish holiday culture. But the Spanish still reserve most of their adornment impulses for Nativity scenes. The one in the square was huge — a diorama, really — with bucolic scenes of peasants leading donkeys and hauling hay. Mary and the baby Jesus seemed almost beside the point. Especially when I noticed the figure in the corner of the manger relieving himself.
“You found him,” said Joan Lliteras, the collector I had arranged to meet. It was hard not to; the squatting figurine had his pants around his ankles. He is called a caganer, and as Mr. Lliteras explained, is a feature in every Barcelona Nativity scene. To prove the point, he led me a few blocks away to an annual exhibit organized by the Association of Friends of the Caganer, of which Mr. Lliteras is president. Inside were some 400 figures, some dating back to the 18th century. The stream of visitors seemed particularly taken by the ones of the famous — Lady Gaga, Plácido Domingo — all doing their business.
“In the past, people believed that if you didn’t put a caganer in your Nativity scene, you’d have a bad harvest,” said Mr. Lliteras , with the gravity of a man discussing debt relief. “Others say that they’re a reminder of our essential humanity — that even in the midst of the most divine moments, nature still calls.” He pointed out a caganer dressed as a politician. “For me, they speak of the absurdity of life. The caganer reminds you that there’s always something to laugh about.”
Laughing myself, I realized it was almost time for the big moment, and I hurried to the port. Barcelona celebrates the arrival of the Three Kings with the pomp of a state visit, and by the time I arrived on the afternoon of Jan. 5, the waterfront was a mob scene. The mayor was there, waiting anxiously on his receiving platform as a tall-masted ship sailed into the harbor. The kings — Gaspar with a flowing white beard and with layers of fur draped over his shoulders; red-haired Melchior with his soaring crown; and dark-skinned Baltasar with his turban — disembarked amid a scrum of paparazzi. After a few speeches about peace on earth, they received the key to the city: one that, the mayor noted in this land of chimneyless apartments (another reason Santa would find it tough in Barcelona), would unlock the doors to every child’s house. A high-pitched roar went up as a mounted guard parted the crowd of thousands. Gaspar, Melchior and Baltasar made their way toward the fleet of Model T’s that would whisk them to the start of the cabalgata, or parade.

I raced along the waterfront and, turning left on the Via Laietana, grabbed a prime viewing spot. It was nearly dark, and the whole city, it seemed, had turned out, with families stuffed onto balconies, and a clutch of Sisters of Mercy passing the wait by snacking on sunflower seeds. A toddler in a bear hat made a break for the street; his parents snatched him back just as the red-coated guards on their black stallions approached. Behind them came floats, though the word hardly does justice to the magical creations processing up the street.
There were dancing angels with illuminated wings, and disco balls suspended from silvery sculptures that cast glittering shards of light on the street. Fantastical birdmen on stilts preceded a swaying dinosaurlike creature, and archers lowered their 15-foot-tall bows so that procrastinators could drop last-minute wish lists into the wire mailboxes attached there. Through it all, elaborately costumed revelers on the floats pelted the crowd with candy; one nun elbowed me out of the way in her quest to get a Starburst. Finally, the Kings themselves rode by, mounted on fine carriages, and behind them, a giant clock, reminding children it was time for bed.
For the rest of us, it was time for dinner. In Spain, what you eat at Christmas when you’re not eating truffle-stuffed turkey and the almond nougat called turrón, is shellfish. In Barcelona, no less an authority than Ferran Adrià told me the best place for it was Rías de Galicia. He’s hardly an objective source; José Carlos Iglesias, one of three brothers who inherited the restaurant from their parents, is a partner with Mr. Adrià and his brother Albert in Tickets, a tapas bar. Still, I figured, he’s got good taste.
And so he does. Rías de Galicia, just outside the old theater district, is a formal, old-fashioned seafood restaurant, complete with gilt-framed seascapes on the walls. Some of the preparations, like a sashimi tasting, which included perfect specimens of shrimp, gilthead bream and tuna belly were unexpectedly modern. Razor clams on the plancha were sweet and dense, and shellfish rice, full of cockles, scallops and — another innovation — wild mushrooms, was utterly delicious.

When it was over, it was midnight. I wandered over to the Gran Via, the broad avenue that cuts across the city, to find it lighted festively and full of people happily perusing the offerings at a toy market. Barcelona apartments are small, making it difficult for parents to keep presents hidden until Reyes. So the sensible Catalans devised the very seny solution of holding a market late on the night before the holiday; you can tuck your kids into bed and go shopping without the little ones being any the wiser. Except for a candy stall or two — all oversize ruby lollipops and snaking lengths of lime taffy — the vendors were selling mostly plastic junk. But everyone seemed so pleased to be there that the place felt charming nonetheless. I walked back to my hotel, I pondered the mystery of a culture that could delight in both a spectacle like the cabalgata and an earthy trickster like the caganer; that could produce both a delicate béchamel and a market full of cheap Barbie knock-offs.
The next morning, I walked to Escribà, the city’s most famous bakery. It was early, but lines had already formed as people waited to buy the traditional roscón, a ring-shaped cake made from brioche, filled with marzipan or cream, and topped with candied fruit. Each one hides in its eggy innards a dried bean, said to bring good luck — as well as the obligation of paying for the cake — to the finder.
That morning, Christian Escribà himself was there, busily making and decorating one ring after the next. He estimated he would sell 3,000 roscones that day. As a saleswoman tied up each cake, she slipped a paper crown beneath the knot. “My father started adding the crown in 1960, as a way of distinguishing ours from everyone else’s,” Mr. Escribà said. I looked at the crown, which reminded me of things they used to hand out to kids at Burger King to serve essentially the same purpose: marketing, pure and simple. Then I looked at the exquisite cake, with its perfect ripples of cream and jewel-like fruits. Art and commerce, whimsy and pragmatism. Rather than a conundrum, I realized as I stepped into a city waking to one final day of celebration, this was balance.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Levantine Legends and Histories of Bread


Among his works: 
"Breviario Mediterraneo" (1987)

Levantine Legends and Histories of Bread
Translated from Croatian by Russell Scott Valentino

From Our Daily Bread (Kruh naš), Zagreb: Ambrozija, 2009

It was born in ashes, on stone. Bread is older than writing. Its first names are etched in clay tablets, in dead languages. Part of its past has been left in ruins. Its history is shared among countries and peoples. The story of bread draws upon both the past and the story of the past. It accompanies both without becoming one with either. Brick was perhaps the model for the first baker of the first loaf. Earth and dough found themselves together on the fire, on the far side of memory, before legend. The link between bread and body was realized from the start. Where and how the first ear of wheat sprouted may remain forever a mystery. Its presence attracted the gaze, awakened curiosity. The classification of grains—their ordering in an ear—offered a model of harmony, measure, perhaps even equality. The kinds and qualities of wheat pointed toward differentiation, virtue, and, likely, hierarchy. 
Grain was harvested on various continents. It succeeded on the plains of the “fertile crescent” in ancient times. Along the Euphrates the so-called Star Anunit shone bright, along the Tigris the Star of the Swallow—whose sheen, it was believed, contributed to the fertility of Mesopotamia. Wheat grew at the Horn of Africa between the Great and Turkish Seas, within reach of Axum, Asmara, Addis Ababa. In the highlands of Ethiopia and Eritrea the desert fades, the climate grows milder, the soil more moist. Nearby the Blue Nile takes form, descending into the rift it shares with that other, “white” source of the miraculous river. There is much sunlight here. “Bread is the fruit of the earth blessed by light,” read the words of the poet. From the Near East cereals were first brought probably to Egypt. But they took other routes as well. Fossilized seeds have been found in the western portions of the African desert, on hearths more than eight thousand 
years old—here too someone once sowed and reaped. The desert tribes approached the Nile, keeping close to its banks. They rose from the Sahara, which once resembled a savanna. It was laced with streams, where the nomads, along with the camels and gazelles, would quench their thirst. The Bedouins would stop at its oases before continuing on their way. They too are older than history. 
The heritage of bread is linked to the transformation of the nomad into the stationary person, the hunter into the shepherd, and each of these into the farmer. Some moved from one pasture to another, one hunting ground to another; others cleared and plowed the meadows. Cain clashed with Abel. Nomadism sought adventure; stationary life required patience. In the graffiti discovered in caves where nomads once took refuge, lines of long dashes predominate, leading from one unknown place to another. Farmers’ lines are more inclined to encircle, to bound space, where shelter and centering are discernible. Sowing and reaping divided time into segments, the year into months, weeks, days. Roads brought what was distant nearer. Huts were erected in the valleys, pile dwellings along the rivers. Furrows transformed the look of the fields, which were covered in grain. The landscape changed from one generation to the next. 
The Epic of Gilgamesh remarks on the bread consumed by the hero Enkidu, who was skilled in the hunt and accustomed to wild game: “The mountain man who had nibbled at the grass alongside gazelles and sipped the milk of wild beasts was surprised the first time he tasted bread.” The road was long from raw grain to cooked, from ground grain to baked. The man who prepared bread differed from his ancestors. He found himself on the threshold of history. The farmer surveyed the plowed land, awaiting its yield. He looked up at the sky, fearing for his crops. Both the land and the sky posed questions without offering answers, and a variety of ideas and beliefs sprouted and spread. “Bread belongs to mythology,” read the words of Hippocrates. Necessity divided the labor. The field fell to the men, the garden to the women. Eve picked the fatal apple in the Garden of Eden and offered it to Adam, and divine punishment fell upon them: to eat their bread by the sweat of their brow. He sowed and reaped; she kneaded and baked. In The Iliad we read, “The women carefully mixed the white flour, preparing supper for the reapers.” The Odyssey’s singer emphasizes the difference between those who consume bread and the lotophagi or “lotus eaters,” “barbarians” who do not even know how to speak properly. Some used salt in their meals. Some did not. The Cyclops Polyphemus knew neither bread nor salt. 
According to Old Testament legend, Gideon defeated the Midianites with the help of a dream about barley: “From a large quantity of barley he formed enormous loaves” and set them rolling down into the enemy camp. Pausanias has conveyed to posterity the story of a farmer who contributed to the Battle of Marathon, midway between Athens and Karystos: “A man of peasant mien and attire” attacked the numberless Persians, waving a plow and twisting at the waist like a reaper. No one knew who he was or where he was from, not even the oracle at Delphi, who, in place of an answer, pronounced in sibylline fashion, “One must honor the Ehetleia” (the plow-wielder). A “monument in white marble” was erected in his honor, according to Pausanias. Herodotus makes use of the image of wheat and grain when he tells the story of Periander, tyrant of Corinth, who sent a messenger to Thrasybulus, tyrant of Miletus, asking about the most successful way to rule: “When one ear grows taller than the rest, it must be cut down and discarded.” Periander took his advice and had Corinth’s most prominent citizens killed. According to the Book of Genesis, Pharaoh, too, dreamed of wheat ears and bread loaves: “In the dream there were three baskets of white bread” and “seven heads of full, healthy wheat” that were swallowed up by seven scorched and emaciated ones. Joseph advised the ruler that after abundance follows famine and suggested that he should build enormous warehouses to store the grain so that there would be bread even during lean years. Wheat and bread cross from reality to dream and return from dream to life, finding a place in spirit and body. The prophet Isaiah foresaw an age in which swords would be “beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.” But the sky did not heed the prophet’s words. The earth remained deaf to their call. Faith failed to disarm the combatants. Power favored the soldier over the sower. But despite everything, bread became part of human destiny.  

Parasites have since the very beginning been a threat to grain and u flour, bread and the human body that it nourishes. Their names became symbols of failure, ruin, and ill-fortune. The darnel, tare, and ear cockle were named in sacred writings along with blight—also known as rust, scab, blotch—and with chaff and mold. There were also locusts and cockroaches, not to mention worms and beetles, which infested the crops, while rats and other rodents contaminated the granaries. Many were the pests whose names we don’t know, too, though ants were not among them. It was these perhaps who showed man how to collect and store grain for the days to come, a hypothesis suggested by natural historians of centuries past, the young Darwin included. We owe to ants a variety of sayings, comparisons, and metaphors: In order to survive, farmers needed to be “as industrious as ants” and “to gather on threshing floors and fields like ants,” and it was said that a good man would not harm even an ant. The ant carries more than its weight. Clearing the wheat fields of tares and chaff, separating the grain from straw and darnels, and the flour from twigs and bran, what was clean from what was not—these are all ancient practices that have left traces and traditions that continue today and continue to be improved upon. The remains of grain and bread have been preserved in sarcophaguses and urns, in the Pyramids, in places where the dead were wished farewell in the hope of eternal life. “The universe begins with bread,” read the words of Pythagoras, conveyed to posterity by Diogenes Laertes. 
Bread is the product of both nature and culture. It has served as condition of peace and cause of war, pledge of hope and source of despair. Faiths blessed it. The people swore their oaths upon it. Unhappy were the lands where there was not bread for all; nor were those happy where bread was all they had. “One does not live by bread alone,” has been repeated through the ages. Knowledge of grain and of bread was passed from generation to generation. The ancestors bequeathed tools and techniques to their heirs, similar in their appearance, familiar in their uses. The kneading trough for dough resembled the cradle in which newborns were rocked, the bed in which one lay down to sleep, the coffin in which the body was laid out after death, the boat that ferried it from this shore to the other. The sifter and the sieve are close relatives, as are the filter and the net, just as the retina (from the Latin word for net) of the human eye filters the light and carries the image through. These various means and mechanisms passed through long, uncertain times: from the tinderbox and fire ring to the hearth and the oven; from the sharpened stone to the knife; from the deer antlers that were probably first used to plow the barren fields to the wedge and then the true plow; from foot stomping and grindstones, for which the jaw may have served as a model, to the millstone turned by water or wind, by mules and by slaves. These tools, each according to its nature and function, characterize bread’s past and its present. As do the amphoras, baskets, bags, and buckets in which the grain and flour were carried and transported. In the stone- or brick-lined oven the dough would acquire its finished form. It became a loaf of bread—served on a table, offered at a feast, blessed on an altar, given as alms on the street, robbed on the highway. Accompanied by song, prayer, and plea. Bread’s history is sometimes different from the history that accompanied it, from the past that gave it birth. Many of the traces left behind affirm that growth and development are not always in accord. These are often scattered or slight, and the story of the past tries to collect and give shape to them. Memories of bread are often better than bread itself. 
The body of the loaf is mortal. 
Sowing and reaping were performed in different seasons with greater u or lesser rainfall, wind, or frost. In the Nile River valley rye was sown toward the end of autumn and harvested toward the middle of spring. It matured quickly, leaving space in the fields for other crops. The star that the Egyptians called Sotis—which might be the same as our Sirius— announced the rise and fall of the river and warned of potential flooding. Wheat was grown in furrows after the autumn rains so that it could be harvested by summer. 
Ripening and yield were measured according to the cycle of the zodiac, the positions of the sun and moon, the stars, and the constellations. The “shepherd’s star” rose in late dusk and set in early morning. Wheat was sown under Virgo, harvested under Leo. Barley’s cycle was shorter, beginning almost simultaneously under Virgo, but ending under Cancer. Rye’s growth was even quicker, lasting just a hundred days, from Aries to Leo. A variety of meanings were attributed to Virgo, “when shooting stars visit the heavens, and archangels the earth,” which were linked to the spreading of seed, conception, fertility, and birth. 
Beliefs about how the phases of the moon might influence the dough and the leavening inside it—just as they affect the tides and our bodies and minds—were common along the coasts and in the hinterlands. The belief that the zodiac signs and patterns were true and effective was likely more important than the signs and the star patterns themselves. The Levant measured time and counted years according to lunar calendars long before the creation of solar ones. 
Anaxagoras of Lampsacus, one of the first of the ancient sages to identify and describe the relationship between bread and the body, wrote, “Let us consider bread. Composed of vegetable matter, it nourishes the human body. But the body is composed of numerous different elements: skin, flesh, veins, tendons, bone, cartilage, hair. How is it possible for so many different components to stem from the uniform composition of bread? Given that the properties themselves are unchanging, we must conclude that the various substances in the human body are contained in the bread that we consume.” The translator of this old Greek text in Rome tried to supplement its meaning: The philosopher is attempting to move from bread to grain, from grain to the earth, from each of these to water, fire, the first elements and principles of the world. The body and what is consumed by it can in this way be connected to types of temperament: the sanguine, the choleric, the phlegmatic, and the melancholic. 
Those of different temperaments do not usually eat different bread, though they sometimes eat the same bread differently. 
In Cappadocia, the early Christian theologian Gregory of Nyssa noted the relation of bread to the body in much the same manner as had the materialist Anaxagoras: “In bread we can truly see the body, for when it enters the body, we can truly see it become body.” 
It has often been said that bread and body understand each other.
All the senses, each in its own manner, are linked to bread. Its aroma stands out. After reaching the nostrils, it passes into the body, leaving its traces therein, and connecting with memories acquired in one’s family, one’s home, in childhood and youth. 
Its taste too is closely associated with memories, near and far, sometimes the most distant of all. Is it now what it once was? Worse or better from what we remember, or the same, or even true? Why is it the same or no longer the same as we remember, as how it ought to be? 
Nor is the touch of bread something one forgets. The crust smooth or rough, the inside soft or dry. How you take it in your hand, your palm, your fingers. How you grasp it, break it apart. When and to whom you offer it. How and where you do so. 
Vision too has its measure. How the loaf before us looks now, how it might look or ought to. Is it like what we’ve seen in nature or imagination, in waking or in dream? The eyes have often cried over bread. 
Its connection to hearing is perhaps the hardest to discover. Bread is silent, mute. It does not make any noise—people who gather around it make noise. When a slice falls to the floor from the table or your hand, it is almost inaudible. Perhaps there’s a sign in this too. There are moments when bread does make a sound. As the baker or woman of the house would take it from the oven, they knew to flick the crust with a finger to check whether it had baked through. In response they would hear a thud or a murmur, telling them it was or was not ready. 
“You need to pick it up from the floor.” Once upon a time mothers would tell their children that when doing this, they should give it a kiss. 
When bread was placed on the table properly and in a timely manner, one might expect to see the remains of an old ritual, more or less remembered. The Hebrew or Christian laying of hands upon it demonstrates the relation of bread to the body. In some Islamic countries, they imprint a finger on the dough before placing it on the hearth or in the oven, showing in this way that it is the product of human hands. The bread’s “heart”—the soft extreme interior—was once placed on cuts to stem the bleeding and heal the wound. The wounded body accepted and conformed to it. 
In times of peace, when the people were fighting neither with others nor among themselves, bread crumbs would be collected in the palm of the hand, saved, and left for the birds.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Breviario mediterraneo - Predrag Matvejevic'

Predrag Matvejevic' born in 1932 in Mostar from a Russian father and a Croatian mother. Now teaches at the New Sorbonne of Paris and the Sapienza in Rome. 

In his work he has always confronted himself with the open concept of ethnical-cultural identity, most of all by investigating the relationship and the history of the peoples of the Mediterranean and among them.

Among his works: 
"Breviario Mediterraneo" (1987),
 "Pour une poétique de l'événement" (1979),
 "Epistolario dell'altra Europa" (1992).

 Our Daily Bread (Kruh naš), Zagreb: Ambrozija, 2009 -next entry
    (Acantilado-Quaderns Crema -2013)

The central questions asked by Matvejević’s book Mediterranean Breviary – Could we conceive of a viable intramediterranean culture beyond stereotypes? Is the Mediterranean doomed to become “an ex-world”? – are understandably intimate for Matvejević himself, given that he has been living in first person the status of “ex.” 
The writer Predrag Matvejević shows how Mediterranean identity cannot be understood as an all-encompassing unity, but as a satura, a discrete ensemble made up of differences and conflicts. By constructing a metonymical network of landscapes, things and crafts, and relying on the philological excavation of everyday words, his Mediterranean Breviary succeeds in asserting a humble communal identity against the clamor of wars and the retracing of borders.
Breviario mediterráneo de Predrag Matvejevic:


A KEY CHARACTER… Waves play an important role in the dramaturgy of the sea, its scenes and peripeteias. They have many names, varying not only from one gulf to the next but also according to whether we view them from ship or shore and what we expect of them. They combine with adjectives (or, less commonly, other nouns), which are for the most part descriptive: regular or irregular, longitudinal or transversal; they are connected with high tide or low tide, with the surface or the depths; they are solitary, frequent, fortuitous, rolling, choppy, cyclical (experts claim that the cycles of some waves can be measured in terms of geologic periods). What matters most from the deck is their size; their strength; whether they hit flank, bow, or stern; and whether masting, sails, and, especially, sailors can handle them. The distinctions that interest us here are of a different sort: how they break on the shore, how long they last after they have broken in the eyes of their beholders, whether they are the same when they return, how the sound they make differs when they hit sand and when they hit rock, how they sleep when they are tired and barely perceptible. All that remains of the huge waves tapering and dying on the shore is a gurgle or a lap, a splash on the pier or the hull of the boat, buoy, or reef, though this sound can last a long time and is most likely to be audible at night. Even though everyone recognizes it—this gurgle or lap or whatever one calls it—there is disagreement over whether it is a noise or a voice...

English chapter
In recent years, the declining importance of the nation-state and an increase in globalization have encouraged scholars to move towards the borderless world of seas and oceans, giving special attention to their diasporic movements of people and goods. Lately, this “new thalassology” has witnessed an outburst of Mediterranean studies. Yet the resurgence of the Mediterranean in the postmodern, anti-nationalistic arena must be critically assessed. The risk in such studies is a reinforcing of old stereotypes, what the anthropologist Michael Herzfeld calls “Mediterraneism.” The present article highlights the work of two scholars and one writer who alert us to the manifold dangers of Mediterraneism and who offer standpoints for launching a serious interrogation of Mediterraneism. Roberto Dainotto points to the asymmetries couched in the alluring metaphors of liquidity and flows. Iain Chambers views the Mediterranean as a space of solid borders that entail the production and consumption of the immigrant as outcast. The writer Predrag Matvejević shows how Mediterranean identity cannot be understood as an all-encompassing unity, but as a satura, a discrete ensemble made up of differences and conflicts. By constructing a metonymical network of landscapes, things and crafts, and relying on the philological excavation of everyday words, his Mediterranean Breviary succeeds in asserting a humble communal identity against the clamor of wars and the retracing of borders.


Una profunda y poética «filología del mar»: historia de una cultura, nuestra cultura mediterránea, de un extremo a otro del tiempo y del espacio. «En Alejandría conocí a un catalán, relojero de profesión, que intentaba rehacer el catálogo de la biblioteca devastada, la mayor de la Edad Antigua, pese a los escasos datos disponibles. Se lamentaba porque su lengua materna se estaba perdiendo y quería compensarlo de algún modo. Los excéntricos del sur se distinguen de los excéntricos del norte. La causa no es sólo el clima diferente. En el Mediterráneo, los prodigios también son diferentes.» En una narrativa apasionante y sugerente, pletórica de hallazgos y encuentros, Predrag Matvejevic´ reconstruye la historia de una palabra –Mediterráneo– y ahonda en sus múltiples significados. Este breviario, un clásico de las letras europeas contemporáneas, evoca centenares de los rasgos que configuran un espacio histórico y cultural, y una forma de vivirlo: el estilo de los puertos y las aduanas, la suavidad de la arquitectura en el perfil de la costa, los saberes de la cultura del olivo, la difusión de una religión, las huellas permanentes de las civilizaciones árabe y hebrea, las lenguas y los dialectos que cambian con el tiempo, las historias ocultas y los destinos particulares. Guiados por una prosa excepcional y una sabiduría que no parece de este tiempo, los lectores descubrirán el mundo al que pertenecen y las ricas señas de identidad que lo vertebran. Una obra maestra que ahora se ofrece reescrita y ampliada por el autor.

3 visitas a la alta edad media - novel ahistorica

Un encuentro novel con el pasado en tres entregas.

- Lorenzo Mediano (2013) - El desembarco de Alah

 -  Lourdes Ortiz (2005)Urraca

 José Luis Corral (2003),  El Cid

#1.   Lorenzo Mediano (2013) - El desembarco de Alah

Guerras, amores, desamores, ambición, un asesinato, un gran tesoro (el de Alarico) que ambicionaban los bereberes... Esto, cocinado durante cuatro años y más de 5.000 horas de trabajo, son los ingredientes de El desembarco de Alah, la última novela de Lorenzo Mediano. La novela describe lo que sucedió en España desde el año 710, un año antes de la batalla de Guadalete y hasta la de Covadonga, todo el periodo de conquista de España por parte de los musulmanes.
En la novela hay mucha intriga, pasiones, amores intensísimos, misterio e incluso un asesinato (aunque nadie logra saber quién es el asesino), pero sobre todo hay historia. La época que describe el zaragozano en El desembarco de Alah tiene varias piezas que no encajan. En sus propias palabras: "que España, un país con cinco o seis millones de habitantes y que contra los romanos había luchado durante más de 100 años, lleguen 14.000 bereberes y 10.000 árabes y la conquisten...". Y a medida que fue investigando, el autor encontró cosas más extrañas como que "en Covadonga, el subjefe del ejército musulmán era el arzobispo de Toledo, lo que no encaja nada con la historia que nos han contado". De la misma forma los historiadores árabes cuentan que "la batalla de Covadonga fue una victoria musulmana" cuando lo que se cuenta aquí es que "300 cristianos vencieron a 20.000 musulmanes".
A lo largo de las páginas, y mezclado con la conquista de España, Mediano narra dos historias de amor "muy complicadas, que son decisivas para la historia de España". Una de ellas, tan fuerte que hoy en día se sigue recordando el lugar donde se conocieron; y la otra, tan intensa que se sigue visitando la tumba donde yacen los amantes.
 Con el libro, el escritor ha logrado el Premio Iberoamericano de las Artes.

#2.    Lourdes Ortiz, Urraca
urraca-lourdes ortiz-9788408059059Urraca es el monólogo de la reina castellana cuando, destronada y presa por su hijo en Saldaña, espera la muerte recordando y escribiendo, "averiguando el sentido de su destino", al tiempo que fascina al monje miniaturista que la custodia.Habla la hija de Alfonso VI, reina de Castilla y León, un personaje que "tiene muchos ingredientes que le hacían fascinante", dice Lourdes Ortiz. "Sus relaciones con el poder, con su marido, con su corte, y luego, la reacción de la época, que la trató de bruja, de adúltera, de loca También estaba el tema de sus amores". La Urraca de Lourdes Ortiz es un personaje reflexivo y apasionado, que, "a medida que iba avanzando la novela, fue cambiando, muchas veces por pura necesidad literaria".

#3,  José Luis Corral,  EL CID 
El Cid
Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, el Cid, es un mito hispano de alcance universal y tal vez el mayor de todos los héroes guerreros de la historia de España. Hombre de frontera, prototipo del caballero capitán de mesnada de la segunda mitad del siglo XI, la figura del Cid fue, casi desde el mismo momento de su muerte, objeto de glosa histórica y literaria. El héroe, y por eso ha producido tanta fascinación a tantas generaciones, no es al fin y al cabo sino la figura que encarna aquellas ambiciones más primarias del ser humano: el deseo de fama, el ansia de riqueza y el afán de poder. José Luis Corral ha escrito una obra maesta en la que El Cid aparece tal como fue.
José Luis Corral, uno de los mayores especialistas en Historia Medieval, se doctoró precisamente con una tesis que aportaba detalles sobre aspectos poco conocidos de la biografía de El Cid. Naturalmente, cuando decidió escribir una novela biográfica sobre este personajes histórico español se mantuvo excrupulosamente fiel a los acontecimientos. La imagen que nos ofrece del militar y político no tiene nada que ver con la de un mercenario sin escrúpulos ni la de un héroe legendario

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Legend of the Top Student - Kikuchi Dairoku

The Legend of the Top Student - Kikuchi Dairoku (1855-1917)

Open an enlarged image of the photo in a new window 1JAPAN news
The country began to open up after the visits of the Black Ships of the American commodore Matthew Perry in 1853 and 1854, and the first students went overseas to study about a decade later.  This new process accelerated after the proclamation at the start of the Meiji (‘enlightened rule’) era of the five-article Charter Oath (Gokajō no Seimon) on March 14, 1868, signed by 15-year-old boy Emperor, the last article of which read:  
"Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundation of Imperial Rule." 

TASK: Find 5 expressions in the text where there are expressions related to being at the top of your group
It is not necessarily rare for teachers and students to stare in wonder at the genius of a Japanese student overseas. 
The pioneer was Kikuchi Dairoku, who after sufficient preparation entered Cambridge University and majored in mathematics, in no time at all surpassing his fellow students, coming top in all the examinations and never once conceding pole position to anyone.

His patriotic British classmates found this a regrettable affront to their John Bull pride, and plotted to recapture this honour from him.
Second in the class was a student called Brown, also a young man of prodigious academic ability. All the other British students encouraged him, saying ‘We are unable to contain our anger at that Asian student. But you are the only one who can beat him. So do your best, and put him in his place.’ Brown tried his hardest, but still he could not outshine Kikuchi. Then a heaven-sent opportunity came one winter: Kikuchi caught a cold, was hospitalised and could not attend classes.
His classmates, seeing this as an excellent opportunity to install Brown at the top of the class if only once, agreed between them that none of them would lend his lecture notes to Kikuchi while he was absent.
In due course Kikuchi left hospital and the term examinations were held. The British students were secretly preparing their song of victory as they awaited the results, but amazingly Kikuchi had not budged an inch from the top of the class. At this the British students admitted defeat. ‘That Japanese student is too much!’ they said.
In fact while Kikuchi had been in hospital Brown had visited him frequently and lent him a clean copy of his notes so that he would not fall behind in his studies, and had thus secretly assisted him.


  • surpassing his fellow students,
  • coming top in all the examinations
  • never once conceding pole position to anyone.  
  • to recapture this honour from him.
  • a young man of prodigious academic ability.
  • the only one who can beat him.  
  • So do your best, and put him in his place.’
  • still he could not outshine the other one
  • install him at the top of the class
  • amazingly Kikuchi had not  budged an inch from the top of the class.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

3 Real People Who Were the Inspiration Behind Sherlock Holmes

3 Real People Who Were the Inspiration Behind Sherlock Holmes

Throughout the 125 years since the character of Sherlock Holmes first appeared, there have been countless fictional representations of the consulting detective, but there have also been a handful of "real" Sherlocks, as well. Here are three of the originals.
Joseph Bell (1837 – 1911): Holmes is always at his coolest when he’s systematically breaking down the background of an individual by close inspection of subtle details. Apparently, Dr. Joseph Bell used that same process as a dramatic demonstration of the powers of observation and reason. Arthur Conan Doyle was a student of Bell’s while at medical school and served as his clerk for a time.  Bell occasionally assisted the police in the capacity of a forensic doctor, not a consulting detective.
Bell’s “strong point was diagnosis, of not only disease, but of occupation and character.” In a famous example, also accounted in Doyle’s autobiography, a man stepped forward to Bell without giving any information about himself. 
A famous incident Conan Doyle wrote in his autobiography: 
After a good eying over, Bell gave these 5 conclusions about the man he’d never met before:
Well, my man,  a) you’ve served in the army… b) Not long discharged…              c) A Highland regiment… d) A non-com officer…  e) Stationed at Barbados…
Bell was correct on all points.  He explained how he did it as follows here:, 
Henry Littlejohn (1826 – 1914):  Littlejohn was also a doctor, but his relationship with the police was more official than that of Joseph Bell. For almost 50 years Littlejohn served as Surgeon of Police and Medical Officer of Health of Edinburgh. Part of this job was a public health position (a relatively new idea at the time), but the other part was to serve as a consultant to the police when they needed medical expertise. 
 In 1893, the Ardlamont murder trial was taking place. Alfred John Monson was accused of shooting his twenty year old student, Cecil Hambrough, during a hunting trip. The defense claimed that Hambrough had “accidentally” shot himself in the head.  
According to the Edinburgh News, Littlejohn testified that: 
  • the position of the wound, 
  • the scorch marks from the bullet, 
  • the damage to the victim’s skull, and 
  • even the smell of the victim indicated the contrary, 
..... that this was murder.

The building of a character. William Gillette (1853 – 1937): He was just one of the many hundreds of actors who played Holmes. What makes Gillette special is that he was among the first. He was the first to wear Holmes's signature deerstalker hat, the first to replace Holmes's straight pipe with a curved one, and the first (while helping Conan Doyle to write the first official Sherlock Holmes stage play) to pen the line, “elementary, my dear fellow,” which would eventually be turned by later writers into, "elementary, my dear Watson." Gillette had his own Homes-like qualities. He was an inventor, earning patents for a variety of items including a timestamp device and a system for making more realistic horse-hoof sound effects on stage.