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Who’s Who on Your Mexican Money?

Who's Who on Your Mexican Money?
Written by Stephen Woodman

The Mexican peso has been up and down like a see-saw this year, but the country is still relatively inexpensive for North American or European travelers. As cheerful and brightly-colored as the Mexican bills are, they still don’t shape up against the dollar, pound or euro. Yet while the six peso bills currently in circulation are not the world’s most highly-valued tender, the various notes depict some very influential national treasures. These larger than life characters are a source of great pride to many, so it’s worth getting to know them. Here is the Culture Trip guide to the famous faces on Mexican money.

 
 
 
 

20 pesos – Benito Juárez

The smallest denomination of Mexican currency but the most commonly used, the 20 peso bill features the great statesman Benito Juárez, Mexico’s only indigenous president. Born into rural poverty in the southern state of Oaxaca, Juárez overcame a great many obstacles in his youth, including being orphaned at age three. As a young man, he moved to Oaxaca City to study for the priesthood but left to study law, before moving into local politics.

A shrewd, liberal-leaning politician, Juárez rose quickly through the political ranks, and was named president by default in 1858. He won numerous elections and held office for the next five terms, guiding Mexico through a French invasion and a chaotic period of reform.

In Mexico, he is regarded as an equivalent to Abraham Lincoln, an extraordinary figure whose achievements have echoed through history.

As a security measure, the bill contains a famous Benito Juarez quote written in microscopic letters that can only be read through a magnifying glass:

“May the people and the government respect the rights of all. Between individuals, as between nations, peace means respect for the rights of others.”

20 pesos | © WikiCommons

50 pesos – José María Morelos

The 50 peso bill depicts José María Morelos, a Catholic priest and revolutionary rebel who fought in Mexico’s War of Independence. He joined the campaign launched by his fellow priest Miguel Hidalgo and quickly proved to be a capable military strategist, gathering weapons and fighters for the independence cause. In his first nine months, he won more than 20 victories against the Spanish. He also penned “Sentiments of the Nation,” a political document that outlined his vision for the country. After a series of defeats by royalist forces, Morelos was captured, tried and executed for treason in 1815, six years before Mexico consolidated independence. He is still celebrated for his key role in the struggle and his home city of Valladolid was renamed Morelia in his honor.

The 50 peso bill features a microscopic quote extracted from Morelos’ “Sentiments of the Nation”:

“Slavery shall be forever forbidden, as shall caste distinctions, leaving everyone equal. One American shall be distinguished from another only by his vices and virtues.”

50 pesos | © WikiCommons

100 pesos – Netzahualcoyotl

The 100 peso bill features Netzahualcoyotl, a ruler from the pre-Hispanic period who was a noted philosopher, poet, warrior and architect. The king of the city state of Texcoco, in the modern day State of Mexico, Netzahualcoyotl had mystical leanings and wouldn’t allow human or animal sacrifice in his favorite temple. He was also a renowned engineer and is thought to have personally designed a dike to separate the fresh and salty waters of Lake Texcoco, a mechanism that was still in use a century after his death.

The 100 peso bill features one of his poems in microscopic print:

“I love the song of the mockingbird, Bird of four hundred voices, I love the color of the jadestone, And the intoxicating scent of flowers, But more than all I love my brother, man.”

100 pesos | © WikiCommons

200 pesos – Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is the star of the 200 peso bill. A nun who lived during Mexico’s colonial period, Sor Juana produced poetry, essays, letters and religious plays. A champion of women’s rights to education, she is still celebrated as a feminist icon. Sor Juana eloquently tackled topics such as romantic love, jealousy and death in her work. Since her writings and poetry rose from the ashes of religious condemnation, she is known today as the “Mexican Phoenix.”

One of Sor Juana’s most famous poems appears in tiny print on the face of the 200 peso note:

“Foolish men, who accuse, Women without reason, Without seeing that you create, The very faults that you identify.”

 

 

200 pesos | © WikiCommons

500 pesos – Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo

The 500 peso bill is unique in that it contains two portraits, one on each side. The duo are the bohemian couple, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, two of the country’s most celebrated artists and personalities. Rivera was the most famous of the Mexican muralists who were active from the 1920s, and his huge frescoes conveyed powerful social and political messages. Kahlo specialized in intimate portraits that depicted her personal physical and emotional pain. Twice married, the couple had an incredibly rocky relationship marked by infidelity and betrayal, but also extraordinary passion.

The 500 peso bill was released to mark the centennial of the Mexican Revolution and contains the Diego Rivera quote written in tiny script:

“It has been said that the revolution does not need art, but that art needs the revolution. That is not true. The revolution needs revolutionary art.”

500 pesos | © Stephen Woodman

500 pesos | © Stephen Woodman

1000 pesos – Miguel Hidalgo

You probably won’t see many 1000 peso bills during a short stay in Mexico. There are not many in circulation and some stores won’t even accept them. Fittingly, the rarest and most valuable bill depicts Mexico’s most celebrated historical figure, Miguel Hidalgo, the father of Mexican independence. A Catholic priest, Hidalgo launched the country’s independence movement by ringing the bells of his church and delivering the grito de independencia (cry for independence) in 1810. For the next year, he led a vast insurgent army that swept through Mexico reclaiming it from Spanish Royalist forces. He was captured and executed in 1811, a decade before independence was finally achieved.

The 1000 peso note features a line from Hidalgo’s famous grito: “Without our homeland and freedom we will always be a long way from true happiness.”

1000 pesos | © Stephen Woodman


Octavio PazWritten by By Laura Vila
 
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The 7 Must-See Films of Alejandro González Iñárritu

Written by Lauren Cocking

Part of the so-called Three Amigos of Cinema collective, alongside fellow Mexicans Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñárritu is perhaps one of Mexico’s best known cinematic exports. The first Mexican director to be nominated for the Academy Award, he was also the first Mexican to win a Cannes Festival Director prize. His roster of work is known for being dark, gritty and excellently shot with memorable scores. Here are his top seven must-see films. 

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A YELLOW SOUL

A Yellow Soul

Written by Tim Hazell, Art Director


Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) had an obsession with yellow. Paul Gauguin described his friend’s infatuation in “Essay about free art,” published in 1894: “His yellow-chrome ‘Sun’ burst forth from the canvas, flooding houses and flowers. Oh yes, Vincent had a fondness for yellow; sun bathed his inner life.”

Yellow for painter and color theorist Wassily Kandinsky was the inspiration for “The Yellow Sound,” his collaborative experimental theater piece created in 1909, the earliest of four “color-tone dramas” that blended multiple art forms.

Used in ancient times as a dye, turmeric has a incandescent yellow soul and a myriad of health benefits. It is the base for Madras curry, an Indian classic originating in the Madras region of south-east India. This tantalizing dish can be made with a variety of meats or vegetables.

Eighteenth-century Indian merchants prepared bags of Madras curry powder to sell to British nationals returning home from the colony. Brits became masters in their own right at creating variations on traditional Indian cookery. Chicken Madras owes its famous yellow- red color to the addition of chillies and turmeric. Savor the fragrance of roasting aromatics!

Chicken Madras

Ingredients:

8 skinless chicken thighs

3 tbsp. oil

1 tsp. cumin seeds

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 tbsp. chopped coriander leaves

1-2 small red chillies, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2-inch piece ginger root, peeled and grated

2-3 tsp. ground turmeric

2 tsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 tsp. coriander seeds

1/2 tsp. cardamom seeds

1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds

3-4 cloves

3-inch piece cinnamon stick

1 tbsp. vinegar

2 tsp. salt

3 tsp. brown sugar

2 ripe tomatoes, chopped

2 bay leaves

Water or unsweetened coconut milk

Garam masala (optional)

Coriander leaves and lime wedges

Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Gently roast coriander, cardamom and fenugreek seeds and cloves in a dry saucepan until fragrant. Transfer to a bowl to cool. Grind into a powder using a spice or coffee grinder or mortar and pestle. Heat oil in a large saucepan and brown chicken pieces. Set aside. Fry the cumin seeds until browned, about 30 seconds. Add onions and 1 tsp. sugar and fry until golden. Add chopped coriander leaves, chillies, garlic, ginger and 1 tsp. salt. Cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes. Add turmeric, ground cumin and coriander, cayenne pepper, cardamom, fenugreek, cloves and nutmeg and fry for a further minute. Add vinegar. Stir to blend into a paste. Add chicken thighs. Toss to coat the meat. Add chopped tomatoes, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, 2 tsp. sugar and water or coconut milk to barely cover and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, partially covered for one hour until chicken is tender. Uncover to reduce. Taste and adjust seasonings. Sprinkle with garam masala. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves. Serve with lime wedges.

An Internalized Process of Seeing:

French Fauve and decorative painter Henri Matisse spoke about his internalized process of seeing, conversations that became part of an ongoing body of literature connected with the psyche and perception’s role in art and society. Many artists, particularly in movements such as abstraction and expressionism, work away from nature, projecting form onto their retinas. Pure non-objective painting involves composing pattern with no references to images as they appear in space. Affinities exist between ways of seeing that are expressive and imaging as a process, and their relationship to the plastic arts. Just as all nuances and grains of spirit are eloquent to some degree, vision and the rendering of line and form with pencil and paint can run the gamut from flurries of action to strong intellectual processes of analysis. Objects normally experienced in one context are juxtaposed, creating new and tantalizing contextual situations.

Flights of imagination, represented by intensity of feeling, can’t simply be dismissed as accident and urgency without direction. When we think of spontaneous abstractions in limitless space, Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) can be cited as an artist whose commitment was to liberate seeing from rigid conventions. Pollock’s nerves were exposed like an electric net in swelling and diminishing flourishes of random paint, applied with the ritual of a ballet. Freedom from the necessity to graphically recreate an object of perception meant liberation from the exigency to compromise. Concessions to realities of nature gave way to innovation and new perceptual experiences—new challenges for vision and imaging. Changing attitudes and mores in Pollock’s time are framed in the following statement. Uncertainty, anxiety and restlessness pervaded movements and schisms within interdisciplinary modern art.

There was a feeling that the forms of the European tradition were played out, their possibilities exhausted—that verse must get away from rhyme and reason, that music must break the confines of the diatonic scale, that painting must reject the concern with imitating natural appearances that had been the mainspring of Europe since the Renaissance.” - Art Today

A concern for surfaces of things, consequent revelations of their visible characteristics and the role of the poet as an observer was altered irrevocably with the advent of modern verse. It was inevitable that an interest in sensation, perception and relationships to time and movement should occupy poets, spurred on by the innovations of their colleagues in fields of sculpture and visual arts. Words had freed themselves from representational illusion. Poems revealed external and internal aspects of form, situations and emotions simultaneously. A new unity was created in poetry of the 20th century, a plastic unity along with a new perceptual reality. Modern poetry demands more of us than just an act of recognition. It persuasively affects our consciousness at deeper psychological levels inspiring new thoughts and feelings by virtue of its particular characteristics. Hard as diamond, “On Recalling The Plumed Serpent” by Mariano Sanchez is faceted, crystalline:

Dear man

elbowing cadaver

unminted spectre

your eyes

like the first vibrant serpent’s eyes

drew the fine filament of substance

spun

therein spiraling echos: nebulae rings,

breast riding waves

formed by the stone, the atom of truth

dropped in the fathomless entrails of life;

comets also,

and infinite kites,

flirt in your eyes,

rebuke

the dread whore in man.

And yet at times your eyes ripe

as a pair of honest nuns...

 

References to perception and flights of imagination in cultures of the past and in our own with its technological and industrial base often have religious connotations. The word “sacred” is still invoked when speaking of human relationships, origins of the creative muse, and therapy. In native societies, rhythms of planting and harvest, the reparation and manufacture of ritual objects, tools and musical instruments belong to a world of transient things. Native oral and written traditions exhibit concurrent developments of major themes, personal expressions and perspectives throughout the Americas. Fundamental human emotions were revealed in religious poetry, philosophy and humanism, popular songs, bawdy entertainment and theater. Cultures have left us rich chronicles documenting the fragility of life and beauty’s transience. Indigenous tribes and great civilizations shared the view that struggles for existence must be juxtaposed against nature’s awesome power and omnipotence. Overwhelming odds that challenged and segregated communities produced works reflecting wonder, terror, humility and dogged perseverance:

We only come to sleep,

we only come to dream,

each spring of the grass, that is how our making is,

it is not true, it is not true that we came to live on the earth,

it comes and sprouts, it comes and our heart opens corollas,

our body gives out some flowers, it wilts!

- 15th century Aztec

 

The Brilliant Recluse:

The figure of the recluse appears at the dawn of Chinese history, unique and quintessentially Oriental, alongside the more typical warrior or bureaucrat. Chinese literature came to reflect this dualism in its characterization of prose as “action” and poetry as “reclusion.”

By the time of Confucius, sequestered living was viewed with increased sophistication. The ascetic who retreated into the wilderness had become someone who upheld a sceptic’s distance from worldly affairs, yet was anxious to recount that experience to an audience. Balancing moral integrity with an active community role was a challenge.

Seventeenth-century China witnessed violent schisms between rural populations and corrupt eunuch emperors. Foreign threats by powerful Manchus led to the collapse of the last native imperial Ming dynasty in 1644. The Manchus established their own Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Turbulence was countered by exceptional artistic achievement.

At the forefront of this cataclysm, China's scholar-officials known as Literati (Wenren) managed the empire's swollen bureaucracy. These exam-selected public servants, rigorously schooled in the humanities, were also among China’s most accomplished poets, calligraphers, and painters. The Wenren felt encroaching pressure from rising merchant classes who aspired to join their elite circle.

Traumatized scholar-artists sought comfort in time-honored practices of reclusion, renouncing the intrigue of court for private lives in search of higher learning. Their prose, poetry and paintings depict journeys of self-reflection, giving voice to subjective thoughts and feelings unprecedented in Chinese art.

Aesthetic influences extended to cuisine. Harmony between ingredients and presentation were cultivated. A vendor’s specialty in China, tea eggs are a classic example of unaltered form and innovative technique. The tea leaf sauce seeps in through cracks in the shells, flavoring deeply and creating exquisite patterns. Served as snacks or appetizers, tea eggs improve with age, but disappear quickly!

Tea Eggs

Ingredients:

2 dozen small eggs

4 tbsp. salt

3 tbsp. light (Kikkoman) soy sauce

2 whole star anise

4 black tea bags

Directions:

Rinse the eggs in cold water to remove any dirt. Puncture the wider end with a straight pin to prevent cracking. Bring 6 cups of water to the boil, turn heat down to maintain a slow simmer and lower the eggs in with a spoon. Simmer about five minutes. Place the pot under a running cold faucet until full of water. Soak the eggs for a minute, then tap each one lightly with a spoon until a network of fine cracks forms. Put the eggs back into the pot with enough cold water to cover. Add the seasonings. Bring to a slow boil over medium heat, adjusting the heat to maintain very gentle simmering. Cover and simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Remove tea bags. Adjust brine with extra soy sauce if necessary. It should be salty with a subtle aroma of star anise. Cool and then chill in the brine with shells on. Shell the amount you need. Warm over low heat or serve room temperature. Keep for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Pascal and Sartre:

Musing about man’s moral incertitude, Blaise Pascal sought deliverance from doubt in the insistent demands of the heart. Against all reliance on theology, dogmatic or philosophical, we recover our dignity and repossess our faith as true passion charges life with meaning.

Pascal (1623-1662) was a child prodigy; French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Christian philosopher. His most influential theological work, referred to posthumously as the Pensées (“Thoughts”), was not completed before his death. It was to have been a sustained and coherent examination and defense of the Christian faith, with the original title “Apologie de la religion Chrétienne,” (“Defense of the Christian Religion”). One of the Apologie’s main strategies was to use the contradictory philosophies of skepticism and stoicism, personalized by Montaigne on one hand, and Epictetus on the other, in order to bring the unbeliever to such despair and confusion that he would embrace God:

For after all what is man in nature? A nothing in relation to infinity, all in relation to nothing, a central point between nothing and all and infinitely far from understanding either. The ends of things and their beginnings are impregnably concealed from him in an impenetrable secret. He is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness out of which he was drawn and the infinite in which he is engulfed.”

- Pensées No. 72

Jean Paul Sartre’s (1905-1980) concerns about the nature of being are elucidated in his philosophical masterpiece, “Being and Nothingness.” In it he defines two types of reality that lie beyond our conscious experience: the nature or essence of the object of consciousness and that of consciousness itself.

The young Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and longtime friend Raymond Aron, a fellow philosopher, met over apricot cocktails at the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue Montparnasse in Paris in 1933. Their reunion would ignite a movement, inspiring Sartre to integrate Phenomenology into his own French, humanistic sensibility, thereby creating an entirely new philosophical approach inspired by themes of radical freedom, authentic being and political activism. From existentialist notions about complete physical and mental equilibrium comes this healing recipe:

Lentil Vegetable Stew with Sausages

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 Mexican chorizo sausages, sliced

1 onion, sliced thin

3 cloves garlic, sliced thin

2 carrots, chopped fine

2 celery stalks, chopped fine

2 tsp. paprika

3 tomatoes, chopped

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. pepper

4 cups chicken broth

1 cup dried lentils, rinsed well

1 small bag of fresh baby spinach

Directions:

In a heavy pot - on medium high heat - saute sausages in olive oil until slightly browned. Add onions, garlic, carrots, celery, and paprika and saute for about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, broth, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low medium and cook for about an hour, until lentils are tender. Add the baby spinach, cover, and cook for 10 more minutes. Serve as is, or grate a little Parmesan over the top.

Visualizations of Spirit Power:

Our own vision and development of imaging is a fascinating process, linked to the early evolution of woodland hunter-gatherers who struggled and survived on Africa’s harsh savannas alongside powerful carnivore-predators of the Oldowan epoch, circa 1.6 million years B.C. Eye development in first religions and cultures led to myths, legends and early interpretations of seeing. Visualizations of spirit power were produced as engravings of striated marks consisting of radiating strokes, arcs and crosshatching on materials such as vertebrae, ivory and quartzite, and with mineral pigments as petroglyphs on rock facings of sacred caves. Profiles of shamans, carnivores and herbivore prey of the hunt were an arrangement of motifs that may constitute the first human sign systems. With these powerful codes for conveying social, economic and moral information, speakers for their communities were capable of expressing the transition between worlds and beliefs in supernatural beings. Visions of spirit power, the female figure as giver and possible taker of life, and life after death formed the basis for shamanic mortuary rites, healing and ritual. In ancient America’s spoken and written literature of magic and occultism, nature’s kingdoms and our relationships with the earth as one living ecosystem were defined through metaphors of sight and imaging.

Red Ant of Red Abdomen:

Features in common with other natural interactive systems emerge when studying vision and imaging; simple units in association generate complex behavior. An entire habitat as a single organism is maintained through fragile networks of food producers and consumers. Tasks carried out by specialized groups adapted for their roles through physical modification ensure survival and successful propagation for the ecosystem as a whole. Such an enterprise serves as a working hypothesis for systems in general. If we comprehend the role of perception and sight in animal societies we can better understand our own social behavior. References to the activities of little creatures such as ants often use analogies with human communities and trades.

In ancient Mexico, such descriptions helped to explain how insects living in a colony contribute to the benefit of all its members by working communally. This evocative and affectionate look at the red harvester ant is taken from the viewpoint of an Aztec scholar, translated from the original Nahuatl dialect. It is found in the Florentine Codex, General History of the Things of New Spain compiled by Fray Bernadino de Sahagun in 1590. This screenfold book was one of several created by Aztec scribes at the request of the friars to illustrate the customs of native peoples of the New World.

Red ant of red abdomen:

It is somewhat average in size, a little firm, a little hard, ruddy. It has a heap of sand, a mound of sand, a hill. It sweeps, makes itself sand heaps, makes wide roads, makes itself a home. It is the worst one to bite; if it bites the foot the effect extends to the groin; if it bites the hand, it extends to the armpit, it swells!”

How species interact and produce changes in ecological symbiosis is a tantalizing question that continues to galvanize modern biology. Recent developments have forced us to reevaluate how neurons respond to one another to produce thought and sense perception at conscious and subliminal levels. Animal vision, imaging, intelligence and abilities to reason are being defined according to new criteria that excludes superficial resemblances to human anatomy and psychology.

The reshuffling of the deck occurring in sciences and arts connected with image perception is challenging outmoded assumptions by using modern technologies. How we articulate our relationships to the environment and nature’s bounty reflects upon how we understand perception and ourselves. One basic requirement of humankind since the agricultural revolution has been community, with its inherent advantages and strengths over peoples in isolation. Groups of individuals rely on interactive interpretations of seeing and its implications for humanity. Cycles of social stratification, aesthetic development, flowering and decline are chronicles of universal yearnings for attachment, as we reach out to explore new possibilities for vision and sense experience. We will continue to thrive wherever there chances for growth and personal rejuvenation.

Primitivism:

Ancient hunter-gatherers shared a symbiotic and ritualistic connection with other living creatures, treating them as equals with super attributes. Bonds of respect and kinship between stalker and prey included prayer, incantations and rites. Failure to observe these ceremonies would result in an empty chase and starvation for the tribe. This poem by West Indian writer Eric Roach reflects the “I-and-you” concept as an unbroken covenant.

At Guaracara Park

Speed was survival there in the green heat

where the lithe hero dashed from the leopard’s leap,

fled to cover from the feral fang,

or ran the antelope across the plains.

Primitive”art from Africa, the South Seas and New World, with its complete negation of progress, seemed to embody the promise of a new beginning. German Expressionists were fascinated by the strange forms and anti-intellectualism of the images. French artists such as Matisse found justification for abstract designs in their simplified geometry. Amedeo Modigliani came to cosmopolitan Paris in 1906 and succumbed to the enchantment of Africa’s tribal, attenuated Ivory Coast style. In paintings and sculpture he drew inspiration from the oval faces and elongated features of traditional masks and statuary.

Art” in native languages, often has no separate existence from quotidian life and religion. Indigenous manufacture possesses a lingering fascination for us that can’t be segregated from its sympathetic vibration with nature. Throughout the Americas and Caribbean, animal spirits and natural phenomena are held sacred. Martinican author and politician Aimé Césaire is never out of sync with his environment:

If there were nothing in the desert but

a single drop of water dreaming far below,

a wind born spore dreaming far above,

it would suffice.

Apart from its symbolic value, primitive art endures to fire our imaginations. Native practitioners communicate directly with their materials to “make visible” traces of dreams and chimera. This nineteenth-century Inuit poem from the arctic tundra takes us back to basic sentiments.

it’s quiet in the house so quiet

outside the snowstorm wails

the dogs curl up noses under their tails

my little son sleeps on his back

his belly rises and falls...

is it strange if I cry for joy

Recipes from the Canadian north represent the modern native Inuit collective. This one for traditional bannock bread comes from Coral Harbour, Nunavut.

Inuit Fried Bannock

Ingredients:

3 cups flour

3 tbsp. baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp. sugar

2 cups of water

Oil for frying

Combine dry ingredients. Slowly fold in about 1 cup of water and mix, adding drizzles of the remaining water until a sticky dough results. Heat 1 inch of oil in a deep, wide pan. Test with a tablespoon of dough to check for sizzle. Carefully place rounded tablespoons of the dough into the hot oil and fry on each side, about 2-4 minutes until brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve with butter and jam. Variation: Add a cup of raisins or other dried fruit to the dough.

 

- Written by Tim Hazell, Art Director


 ----- Last Article from Tim Hazell -----


 

The Urban Matrix

Written by Tim Hazell, Art Director

 

“Qué quieren conmigo los puristas, all tongue-tied and sitting proper behind fat stoic dictionaries?  I've already eaten the thin white skeletons of foreign words, choked on the bones of Inglés Only, learned the art of speaking in codes and code switching, learned to spit palabras out of boca abierta like bullets like fire like fuego like poems have already licked alive the crevices of open-legged borders bleeding the histories and languages of my name.  Have already been witness to silence to white-haired first grade teacher bringing finger to lips and saying, Shhhhhh! Speak English.”

- Olga Angelina Garcia Echeverria

 

The capitalist city, viewed in whatever historical context, and in light of its constructed spaces, is inevitably a collective.  The relationships that its citizenry deliberately and spontaneously establish with their quotidian art, architecture and public domains are determined by cultural characteristics as unique as fingerprints.  Taken together these constitute an urban matrix or identity. 

Societal portraits evolve from an inherent artfulness that cannot be denied; a population’s need for joy, discourse, relationships, recreation and care of the soul that even the most totalitarian of regimes can’t suppress indefinitely. Life is by nature interdisciplinary and urban spaces have always been created for multiple purposes.  However, it is also clear that such designated “playful” zones for recreation and repose, can be manipulated to reflect aspects of municipal control.

I think it’s inevitable that contradictions surface when we evaluate our rights to establish spaces for the use of everyone.  If individual freedom of choice can be cited as a fundamental aspect of unity, then some form of social control is necessary to safeguard the rights of the majority whose wish is to take advantage of these designated areas in harmony, while respecting each other’s needs for nurturing and recuperation.

 

Constructivist Thinking:

 

Manifestos of the early Constructivists during the first two decades of the twentieth century seem to echo these sentiments.  Architect, painter and sculptor Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953) strove to replace the traditional contemplative functions of art with an aesthetic that would engage the masses.  He and others envisioned a “construct” of art and architecture as an expression of emerging modernism, and extended this proposal to their materials, which were to convey clarity and truth, reflecting emerging technologies of the new machine age. 

Tatlin’s investigations provided fresh approaches for state propaganda and advertising.  His influence extended to major trends such as the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements.

Tatlin's Tower, a design for the monument and headquarters of the Comintern (Third International), combined a machine aesthetic with dynamic additions celebrating technology such as searchlights and projection screens.  This work was immediately hailed by artists in Germany as a revolution in art. 

Colleagues George Grosz and John Heartfield are shown holding a placard in a 1920 photograph that reads “Art is Dead - Long Live Tatlin's Machine Art.”  The tower was never constructed due to Russia’s financial crisis after the revolution.

 

Post-Modernist Disenchantment:

In the last few decades, post-modern urbanists have argued that the classic public space is disappearing.  For them, areas defined as constructed environs for social encounters and individual rejuvenation had been - partially at least - replaced by “pseudo-publicspaces” such as the mall or gated community.  This may originate from a nostalgic vision of the mythic past in which communally shared parks, town squares and green spaces were idealistic creations, never mechanisms of social control, existing solely to express the power of the community to act without restraints, on behalf of their interests, to conceive and implement work and leisure related habitats.

It’s interesting to view post-modernist thinking from the perspective of a realignment or readjustment of volatile, changeable processes occurring in post-industrial societies.  Post-modernist movements of the late 1950s, were spawned by negative reactions to the perceived dehumanizing effects of modernist architecture art and minimalist thinking.  Postmodern philosophy was greatly influenced by the writings of Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche in the 19th century and other early-to-mid twentieth-century luminaries, including phenomenologists Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, structuralist Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault (who rejected the notion of himself as a post-modernist thinker) and Georges Bataille. 

Artist-provocateur Marcel Duchamp, composer and progressive thinker John Cage, as well as other noteworthy installation, mixed media and assemblage artists have affected the direction and objectives of the movement. 

 

Installation art

A chorus of architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, urban planners, sculptors and visual artists rejected the celebration of the machine and returned to a semiotic analysis of manmade and natural structures. 

 

Architecture of Caos

 

They probed internal and external characteristics of form, “deconstructing” objects to reassemble their components without tampering with their individuality.  Hallmarks of the movement are controlled chaos and asymmetrical approaches to design.

 

 

Contextual Relationships

In keeping with the trends set by Contextualism, a late twentieth-century approach to the nature of cognition, centered on the belief that all knowledge is “context-sensitive,” post-modern approaches to public spaces and the architecture that defines them strive to validate the design and layout of these landmarks by addressing their contextual relevance - in terms of the materials, sculptural and utilitarian forms and other buildings in the vicinity.  This is in keeping with the idea that knowledge can’t be understood as such without aligning it with its context in society as a whole.

Two main branches of modernism, functionalism and rationalism, were overturned in favor of a reinstatement of ornamentation, historical allusion, and symbol.  An expanded semantics of signs was applied to existing pragmatic architecture to add a richness of intent that modernism had discarded.  Architects turned back towards the aesthetics of the past, revitalizing forms such as the ancient column, incorporating pre-modern designs as daring adaptions.  Use of structure and space as a functional and formalized abstraction, a hallmark of the modernist style, was replaced by diverse “international” aesthetics: genres in collision, form as a poetic vocabulary celebrated for its own sake and fresh approaches to defining and channeling space proliferated.  It has been stated that the post-modernist movement heralded the return to “wit, ornament and reference.”

 

A Living Configuration:

 

It is my belief that the inner life of great cities can’t simply be predetermined by powerful socio-cultural forces or politics, including the emergence of extreme capitalism, totalitarianism, disequilibrium and chaos.  An urban matrix is more infinitely diverse, variable and unpredictable than any utopia we could develop in virtual reality, or implement in some corner of the Third World.  The idea of healthy metropolitan growth and development applies to the necessities of the “productive machine” (people and goods movement, designation and materialization of work and recreational zones), the addressing of absolute and relative poverty and legitimized barrios.  Playfulness as a serious study of liberal arts relationships to ambient space and form includes the promise of a centralized authority seceding its dominant position to decentralized pluralism. 

At a distance, modernism by contrast seems to represent an attempt to create, with suitable instruments and under specified conditions, connections between art, philosophy, architecture and progress.  This was to be achieved in such a way as to delineate for all time a state righteousness and truth about expression and its obligations to be as pragmatic as possible from a philosophical and political point of view; even to define the difference between what was good and bad, beautiful, ethical, moral and immoral. 

Too often we see that our configurations of contemporary urban spaces, implementation of zoning and creation of public buildings reflect rationalist mechanisms for justifying land and materials use.  Capitalist systems rely on strategies for maintaining control over just how socio-cultural communication and our gregarious interactions with one another is articulated.  The mall, for instance, true to its nature, is oriented solely towards the acquisition of utilitarian goods because of its effective processes for encouraging and regulating impulses to spend.  Malls and other pseudo-public spaces appeared as important factors in the transformation of our social interactions.  Super-regulation can easily be converted into devious and menacing politics.

The vision of post-structuralist thinkers such as Foucault emphasized the concept of a metaphorical space of liberty, in which existed the State and other private entities that constituted a point of departure for critical-rational debate.  The argument was public, all could join in, and the theme was the legitimate use of power.  This debate, in order to not become a mere simulation, required the coming together and diverse variations of logic and speech of many social groups.  True liberty of thought and action must relate to and vibrate sympathetically with the changes and schisms of living society - the world at our feet.  This is also a transformation of the feudal state into one of flexible capitalism and commerce.

 

Urban Graffiti - The Radiant Child:

 

Urban visionaries adapted politics, sexuality, self exploration, criticism and spirituality to improvisational and innovative modes.  New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, (December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988), achieved notoriety and public attention as part of SAMO.  The graffiti duo illustrated the cultural ferment bubbling in Lower East Side of Manhattan during the late 1970s, where hip hop, post-punk and street art movements converged.  Basquiat participated in The Times Square Show, a multi-artist exhibition in June 1980, sponsored by Collaborative Projects Incorporated and Fashion Moda.  In September of the same year, the artist joined the Annina Nosei gallery, working in a basement below the establishment to produce his first one-man show, which opened in March 1981 to great success.  In December of that year, René Ricard published “The Radiant Child” in Artforum magazine, which brought Basquiat to critical attention and acclaim.

"Dustheads" (1982) by Jean-Michel Basquiat is shown in this undated handout photo released to the media on May 15, 2013. It is estimated at $25,000,000 to $35,000,000. Source: Christie's Images Ltd. 2013 via Bloomberg

During the 1980s his star in the jaded art world rose meteorically, with sold-out exhibitions in international galleries and museums.  His neo-expressionist style can also be considered as post-modernist.  Basquiat’s art focused on “suggestive dichotomies,” such as affluence versus want and integration versus segregation.  He appropriated social “sedimentation” poetry, drawing and painting, creating a  patois of text and image, abstract and figurative rendering of form that was historical allusion infused with contemporary allegory and critique.  The dialogue in his paintings can be viewed as a scathing commentary, denouncing legitimized racism and barrios; the same strategies for maintaining control that we have seen surface as ongoing symptoms of inflexible capitalism.

 

Marc Mayer had this to say about the artist in his “Basquiat in History:”

 

“Basquiat speaks articulately while dodging the full impact of clarity like a matador.  We can read his pictures without strenuous effort - the words, the images, the colors and the construction - but we cannot quite fathom the point they belabor.  Quantifying the encyclopedic breadth of his research certainly results in an interesting inventory, but the sum cannot adequately explain his pictures, which requires an effort outside the purview of iconography ... he painted a calculated incoherence, calibrating the mystery of what such apparently meaning-laden pictures might ultimately mean.”

 

 

Jazz in the sixties created an explosive and electric proliferation of directions beyond the control of conservative establishment.  African-American poetry at this time reminds one of the Harlem Renaissance of the twenties and underwent a transformation to a genre which was essentially confrontational.  Gwendolyn Brooks evoked the claustrophobia of the racial cauldron of Chicago slums and became the first black to win a Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1950.

We Real Cool

The Pool Players

Seven at the Golden Shovel

We real cool. We

Left school. We

Lurk late. We

Strike straight. We Sing sin. We

Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We

Die soon.

 

America’s “melting-pot” cuisine reflects the ethnic diversity of its Latino, African-American, Native and Creole populations.  This recipe is as earthy as the milieu from which it sprang!

 

Black Bean Soup with Chorizo and Braised Chicken

Ingredients:

4 pieces chicken thighs and drumsticks, skins removed

Freshly ground black pepper

Pinch of salt

1 tbsp. oil

2 links chorizo - one chicken and one pork, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

8 scallions, finely sliced, greens and whites reserved separately

4 large cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp. ground cumin seed

2 whole canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, finely minced, plus 1 tbsp. sauce from can

1 can chicken or beef broth

1 28 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed (or use 3/4 lb. home-cooked dried black beans)

2 bay leaves

 

Garnishes:

Sliced avocado

Chopped fresh corriander leaves

1 Serrano pepper, thinly sliced (optional)

Sour cream, Mexican-style crema, or yogurt

Limes, cut into wedges

 

Directions:

Season chicken on all sides with salt and pepper.  Heat oil in a large saucepan.  Add chicken and saute until browned.  Remove and set aside.  Add chorizo and fry, stirring occasionally, until crisp and starting to char, about 4 minutes.  Carefully drain off excess fat.  Add scallion whites and garlic.  Cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add cumin, chopped chipotles and adobo sauce, stirring for another minute.  Return chicken pieces to casserole.  Add 1 cup water, broth and bay leaves.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook, uncovered stirring occasionally, until chicken is tender, but still firm.  Remove chicken pieces, add black beans and nestle chicken back into ingredients.  Return to a boil, reduce and continue to gently simmer for a further 10 minutes.  Remove bay leaves.  Mash some of the beans against the side of the pot, repeating this process until soup is the desired thickness.  Garnish with chopped coriander, scallion greens, lime wedges, sliced serrano pepper (if used), sour cream, crema or yogurt.

 

Jazz Poets Create Verbal Murals:

 

Latino and black poets living in multiracial urban centers such as Chicago have long been recognized for their affiliation with leading contemporary jazz composers and musicians.  Beat poetry during the 1950s had paved the way for further experiments and interaction between authors and exponents of Afro-Caribbean musical/social traditions.  Recently projects such as Raíces y Sueños (Roots and Dreams) involved the talents of master percussionist Rubén Álvarez and poet David Hernández, a founding member of Chicago’s Latino Arts Movement.  Described as “the city’s poet laureate,” Hernández uses the sounds, smells and textures of his environment, supplementing his thirty years of experience as a writer with his collaboration in music ensembles.  Rhythms and tonal clusters affect the shaping and organization of his verse, as in “The Butterfly Effect,” where chains of associations freely move from one image to another. 

 

If a butterfly flapping its wings in Beijing

could cause a hurricane off the coast of Florida,

so could a deck of cards shuffled at a picnic.

So could the clapping hands of a father

watching his son rounding the bases,

the wind sculpting his baggy pants.

So could a woman reading a book of poems,

a tiny current from a turned page

slipping out the open window, nudging

a passing breeze: an insignificant event

that could snowball months later into a monsoon

at a coastal village halfway around the world.

Palm trees bowing on the shore.

Grass huts disintegrating like blown dandelions.

 

Jazz with its flair for improvisation triggered verbal expression in lyrics, poetry and scat singing that can be traced back to the beginnings of its development.  The quirks that distinguish this genre had an effect upon writers who worked in tandem with pioneer composers in the field.  Scat and full-tilt saxophone provide a tasty recipe for the following extemporaneous verse by Bob Kaufman.

 

DEEREDITION, BOOMEDITION, SQUOM, SQUOM, SQUOM.

DEE BEETSTRAWISIT, WAPAGO, LOCORO, LO.

VOOMETEYEREEPETIOP, BOP, BOP, BOP, WHIPOLAT.

 

In the realm of black poetry Kaufman (1925-1986) will be remembered as one of the founding fathers of the Beat Generation, along with his white contemporaries, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs.  The question remains as to whether he was a street poet, a beat poet, a people’s poet, post-modernist or all of these.  Certainly he epitomized the predicament of the black author writing and living with disillusionment and the ravages of street life, alcohol and police brutality.  Kaufman’s knack for wisecracks and insults of great originality and broad range of influences, including Federico García Lorca, Tennessee Williams and Hart Crane, gave his poetry its sonority and biting social commentary.  He has been described as a black surrealist and linked with the jazz-inspired verse of LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka).  “Darkwalking Endlessly” uses repetition as a musical device to propel words through the air. 

 

I WEAVE THE WINDS AND KISS THE RAINS, ALL FOR

LOVE.

I DREAMED I DREAMED AN AFRICAN DREAM.

DRUMMING HUMAN BEATS FROM THE HEART OF AN

EBONY GODDESS,

HUMMING THE MELODIES OF BEING

FROM STONE TO BONE AND FROM SAND

ETERNAL.

 

America’s multiracial voices rise from its teeming metropolises where Puerto Rican and other Latino minorities, as well as its black population, are born into the harsh realities of ghettos, slums and housing development projects.  Those few individuals who manage to escape incarceration and become the activists and eloquent chroniclers of street life that surrounds them often utilize the musical cadences of fellow artists and contemporaries in jazz and Afro-Cuban song.  Great urban writers today from African American and Latino cultures are also innovators of verbal abstractions, using language as an elastic and fluid medium.  ‘Ad-lib’ is at the heart of the jazz poet’s craft.  David Hernández and the legendary Bob Kaufman represent the integration of vibrant sounds, provocative harmonies and daring new verse.

 

Drummer, hummer, on the floor,

Dreaming of wild beats, softer still,

Yet free of violent city noise,

Please, sweet morning,

Stay here forever.

- Bob Kaufman

 

“Fast food” is a fundamental part of our urban experience.  This “up-town”version of the iconic grilled cheese sandwich adds flair to an all-time American favorite!

Ingredients:

1/2 cup pecan halves

1 tbsp. canola oil

1 tsp. kosher salt

4 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

Eight 1/2-inch-thick slices of sourdough bread

4 tbsp. hot pepper jelly or other preserve

1 chilled round of Brie or Camembert cheese (8.8 ounces), cut into 1/4-inch slices

 

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350̊.  In a pie pan, toss the pecans with the oil and salt.  Bake for 8 minutes or until toasted.  Let the pecans cool, then coarsely chop.  Spread 1/2 tablespoon of the butter on one side of each slice of bread.  Spread 1/2 tablespoon of the pepper jelly on the other side of each slice.  Arrange  on the jelly side of 4 slices of bread and top with the pecans.  Cover each sandwich with another slice of bread, butter side facing out. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over moderate heat.  Add 2 sandwiches and grill for about 4 minutes.  Flip the sandwiches and cook until golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is melted, 4 minutes more.  Transfer to a work surface and cook the remaining 2 sandwiches.

 

Many of America’s ethnic groups have multiracial backgrounds.  Black poets assimilated language and style of the dominant white urban mainstream to show their audiences how concepts of liberty and freedom rang hollow in the tenements of those who were excluded from the basic principle that all men are created equal.  The songs of Joshua McCarter Simpson were the voice of emancipation set to existing popular melodies and sung by the slaves.  Irony and ambiguity characteristic of early black poetry conveyed the abolitionist message with use of double entendre exhorting both people of color and the white population to take action against oppression.

 

These writers exposed the incongruity of African American history, contrasting the stereotype of a land of equality for all using the striking verbal landscape of their own environments and dialects to celebrate change, the desire to move forward, destabilize society and take risks.  Their experiments in reshaping language rejected formal modernism along with capitalism’s sterile public facade, resulting in images that disturb and shock but are also a form of catharsis.

 

The Bean Eaters

 

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair,

Dinner is a casual affair.

Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,

Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.

Two who have lived their day,

But keep on putting on their clothes

And putting things away.

And remembering...

Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,

As they lean over the beans in their rented back room

that is full of beads and receipts and dolls and

cloths, tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.

 

Science and innovation are fruits of the natural accumulation and sedimentation of ideas.  The cultural community is an amalgam of symbols, codes, semiotics and semantics.  The role of the individual and collective in day-to-day society is shaped by socialization, coercion and cooperative consensus.  Individuals, their socio-cultural infrastructures, collective conscience and actions, personalities and identities determine the effects of Globalization and Neo-liberalism. 

 

A collective imbibes, or absorbs, releases artifacts that are exchanged freely, shared and assimilated communally, creating a landscape of collective faiths, visions and aspirations. 

The modern collective struggles with political and social polarization, cultural relativism, the media onslaught of points of view, a changing aesthetic and its impact on contemporary culture.  Characteristics of post-industrial transition are diverse and profound changes in the marketplace.  Post- modernist thinkers infer that sprawling urbanism, utilitarian trends in architecture, and unchecked progress in global and Latin American modernization has led to standardization and dehumanization.  A recent more organic return to basic sentiments proposes to reinstate archetypes, affirm the value of personal integrity and create fresh possibilities for the individual in the street.  Demands for linguistic liberty, along with developments of contemporary strategies for communication in art, science and the humanities have accompanied the emergence of an international trans-aesthetic.

 

Flexible capitalism, aspects of individual and social cognition, a living cultural diversity, artfulness and innovation in progress are characteristic of a rejection of totalitarianism and archaic attitudes about the tyranny of fresh ideals.  Controversy has pitted the cultural elite against popular consensus, true collective memory and real chances for dialogue.  While no political system that avails itself of the insights gained by professionals can take credit for the design of a model community, municipalities must be able to define and implement mechanisms of growth, restoration, control and conservation which exemplify the natural tendencies of urban populations to covet and design environments that nurture creativity, liberty, fresh ideas, socio-cultural communication, and democracy.

 

Beginnings and specialization: Contribute to the development of sustainable cities, informed by best practices in urban planning. Green energy and environmental standards:

 

To reconfigure organizations, plan and renovate corporate and governmental administrative local, regional and national grids, guarantee the efficiency of production, and ultimately to apply liberal incentives to a skilled talent resource pool, modern capitalist Mexico will be studying characteristics of distribution and how it affects new consumer values, as well as marketplace trends and ethics.  Optimum management of systems and spaces at the root systems of commerce will carry the benefits of healthy systems control and development to other parts of the social network, and ultimately to the apex of the cooperative pyramid itself.  The challenges inherent in setting this positive dynamic of modernization in motion tests the principles of sound politics and ideologies to their limits. Mexico is a nation where transparency is a recent phenomenon. A certain amount of overt corruption has always been accepted, even tolerated, as the status quo.

 

I believe that stages of growth in societies as extensions of ourselves can be monitored the same way that we record human development. Because communities are organic, comparisons can be made to states of well being.  These are synonymous with sound modes of thought, clear linguistics, and a healthy physique.  Cultures pass through infancy, adolescence, maturity and senescence as energies within catch fire, cause ripples of belief to expand, crest and become moribund.  The living organism of a rural village, urban town or large metropolis constitutes a fraternity of individuals from different classes with diverse occupations.  Together they form a complex network.  When sifting through records left by settlements and civilizations of the past, we come face to face with social phenomena and connections over a period of time.

 

In the past few decades, post-modern urban planners have argued that true public spaces are disappearing.  For them, architecturally designed urban environments for real social interaction, quality study, leisure and meeting places for city dwellers, have been partially replaced by pseudo-public spaces, such as the shopping mall and exclusive businesses for the social elite.  Urban environments for all citizens are meant to express the energy of the entire community.  Effective commercial spaces are about communication, and the productive democratic exchange of commerce in an atmosphere of liberty and social equality. It’s precisely this sort of democratic experiment that carefully designed pseudo-public spaces seek to control.  The capitalist city in its historic context has always been a collective of public relations.  The way that the architecture of these spaces is designed represents a semantics that grows out of this eloquent, innate social conversation.  Quality recreational time in these positive environments becomes a natural, liberated expression of the people themselves.

 

From this we can deduce that the necessities of providing viable green urban spaces do not depend on or grow out of the politics of legislation.  They exist because of the public’s need to appropriate and transform living spaces through their own resourcefulness.  The freedom to do this in a true (post) capitalist, living city will result in a reinforcement of social liberties and equalities.  These spaces will always reflect the ethnic diversity of the citizens who use them without prejudice.  Imagined spaces where utopian relationships prevail and real spaces that are a result of political concerns suffocating liberal attitudes can be combined as optimum spaces that bring the resources of urban planning, fine arts, politics, sciences, and business together to reflect the fruits of pluri-cultural exchange.

 

This discussion carries a component for philosophy and one for debate, to be expressed forcefully through the designs of urban planners and architects.  They, as well as the governments that have contracted them have many motivations to construct public spaces, not all of which have to do with the public’s empowerment, liberty or true socio-cultural expression.  Enlightened thinking by post-modern philosophers and urbanists such as Foucault emphasize the concept of a metaphorical space of civil liberty in which exists the State and private interests and that engender true critical-rational debate, presenting the proposal for a legitimate exercise in empowerment.  In reality, this dialogue, in order not to become a simulation, requires that the rational human intellect engages in encounters and conversations with many diverse social groups.

 

This necessary liberty is related to the profound changes occurring within Mexican society that transform feudal attitudes about ownership and servitude into the appearance of capitalist commerce and changeable, flexible finance.

***

Written by Tim Hazell
- Art Director, Art in San Miguel Magazine


 


 ----- Last Article from Tim Hazell -----



Mesoamerican Commerce -
The Phoenicians of Middle America

Written by Tim Hazell
- Art Director, Art in San Miguel Magazine

 

 

 

Trade and External Contacts:

 

Among the Maya from the beginning of the Pre-Classic period  (c. 2000 BC - AD 250), communities were reaching out, often to considerable distances to obtain raw materials or finished goods.  By the time of the Spanish conquest, the Post-Classic (c. AD 950 - 1539) Maya were participants in a widespread network of trade and exchange reaching south as far as Panama and north to Central Mexico.  Columbus, on his fourth voyage of 1502, encountered an Indian canoe near the Bay Islands off Honduras as long as a western galley and 8 feet in width.  The vessel was  filled with cotton cloth of many designs and colors, shorts that reached the knees, flint knives, cloth for cloaks, swords of wood with flakes of flint set along the edges and produce from Honduras, as well as copper axes, bells and cacao beans; the standard Mesoamerican unit of currency.

 

Analysis of the contents points to a connection with central Mexico for the copper implements, Yucatan for the cotton clothing, and Belize for the cacao beans which had probably been picked up on the way down the coast for shipment back to the Yucatan on the return voyage.  The trip had likely begun in the Gulf of Mexico at the great Maya-Aztec hub of Xicalango on the Laguna de Terminos where land, river and sea routes meet, and was destined for the Gulf of Honduras where similar ports existed at Naco in the Ulua basin and Nito on the Rio Dulce.

 

The merchants and crew would probably have been Chontal or Put’un Maya from the Laguna de Terminos area, dubbed the “Phoenicians of Middle America.”  The Put’un knew of sites as far down the coast as Panama and Costa Rica.  Mayan sites of gold and gold alloy metalwork from this isthmian area indicate that a movement of goods had become commonplace at least by the Early Classic period (c. AD 200 - 900) at the same time as Mayan influence had begun to be felt along the coast as far southeast as Costa Rica.

 

We can draw upon both archaeological and etno-historic evidence in studying the role of trade in Mayan culture and the materials traded, the means by which they were transmitted and the motives underlying the exchange system.

 

“Trade”- a term loosely used which may refer to the direct acquisition of something from its source to exchange with the producer of the source, or to the activities of merchants either peripatetic or based in market centers.  Trade operates on a number of scales, in terms of the distance traveled, bulk of goods carried and nature of the merchandise.

 

The buying and selling of a current surplus of food - a few dozen eggs or a bag of corn -  to a neighbor in a village market is trade on the local level.  The availability of goods from a range of communities in different environmental zones or with different specialities constitutes regional trade.

 

 

The distribution through several regions of goods of restricted origin but wide demand, such as obsidian in both the Middle East and Mesoamerica constitutes long distance trade.  The greater the bulk of the commodity traded and the more widespread its distribution the less distance the commodity will travel.  In contrast to items such as Quetzal feathers, jade and obsidian, which were brought great distances from specific areas of origin, foodstuffs would have probably constituted the bulk of goods in any pre-industrial exchange system, and most would have been locally grown and consumed.  The open-air market represented the chief arena for commerce and exchange of goods as it remains today.  In the Middle East and Africa this is also the way in which commerce is conducted.

 

Cotton textiles were a highly tradable commodity from the lowland zones and were exported out of the Yucatan in exchange for obsidian, jade and cinnabar of the highlands.  Cacao, another very important and commercial crop, was cultivated at Chetumal on the lower Rio Hondo, the Ulua valley in northwest Honduras and the Pacific Piedmont of Chiapas/Guatemala.

 

Cacao was brought from the Lubaantun area up into the Veracruz highlands around Cajabon.  This route is still in use today by the Cobanero traders who bring back cacao among their other acquisitions.  Pre-Classic Mayan cacao trading, according to carbon dating of cacao pod rinds recovered from trash deposits at Cuello in northern Belize, may have begun as far back as 1100 BC.

 

During the rise of great cities of the Classic period such as Uxmal and Palenque, and inspired leadership of kings like Pakal (AD 591-683) and Chan - Balum, the Mayan culture reached its zenith.  This was a time of architecture, sculpture and codices (screenfold books) of exquisite beauty.  Unique among pre-Conquest civilizations, the Maya possessed a logo-syllabic system of 800 individual symbols (glyphs).  Apart from the monumental Popul Vuh, sacred manuscript of the Quiché Maya, we are left with shimmering gems of verse.  These lyric poems speak of love, philosophy, ancient rituals and personal feelings.  They are strikingly modern and reach across the millennia, filled with scents of flowers and jungles that preen and strut.

 

Here is an excerpt from the Songs of Dzitbalché, Mayan Poetry by Ah Bam, translated by John Curl:

 

Put on your beautiful clothes;

the day of happiness has arrived!

Comb the tangles from your hair;

put on your most attractive clothes and your splendid leather.

Hang great pendants in the lobes of your ears;

put on a good belt.

String garlands around your shapely throat;

put shining coils on your plump upper arms.

Glorious you will be seen,

for none is more beautiful here in this town, the seat of Dzitbalché!

 

Yucatan is still very much the heartland of the “Yucatec” Maya—the people who actually call themselves “Maya.”  Here is an authentic Mayan salsa that gets its name because it makes your nose run and become cold and wet like a little dog’s!

 

Little Dog’s Nose (Xni'-pek')

Directions:

Seed and chop an habanero chile.  Add chopped onion, garlic, tomato, and any herbs, to taste.  Marinate in lime juice, with salt.

 

Xni’-pek’ can marinate for up to a day once made.

 

Salt was produced from production centers with pans for evaporation or pots for boiling and probably packed for transport in leaf wrappers.  Honey and beeswax were important Post-Classic products of the northern lowlands.  The area of Chetumal supported thousands of hives of the native stingless bee, which produces a sweet liquid honey.  Cozumel was also a noted center of agriculture.  Bees were kept in log hives with their ends stoppered by stone or pottery discs.

 

Obsidian, a kind of volcanic glass gray-black and occasionally green or gold in color, is found in many parts of the world, from New Zealand to eastern Europe and has been exploited for thousands of years because it fractures easily and can be made into tools with a sharp edge or point.  In Asia, the substance was traded over long distances by land and water from about 6000 BC.

 

Obsidian sources in Mesoamerica have been located in the highland plateaus of central Mexico and the volcanic spine of Guatemala and El Salvador.  Long-distance export of this material had begun before 1000 B.C.  Obsidian begins to appear in Belize about 1300 B.C. and was brought from San Martin Jilotepeque, northwest of Guatemala City, and a trade route down into Peten and downstream on the Pasion-Usumacinta to the west, and down to the Hondo to the northwest.

 

 Two Major Mayan routes:

 
       

Mayan trade depended on two major thoroughfares, one operating over lands and down rivers, the other running up the Carribean coast around the Yucatan Peninsula and linking up with waterways and land routes into the interior.  Trade in metallurgy on a limited scale in the Maya area occurred before AD 550, verified with the discovery of a pendant made of tumbaya, a gold-copper alloy made in Costa Rica and imported into Belize.  The same cache contained shells and pearls that could have come from the gulf of Nicoya on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

 

Pottery, a carved mirror with a hieroglyphic inscription, possibly from Tikal, and ornamental jade have all been found in Costa Rica which seems to have been a meeting place for goods and merchants from as far apart as Mesoamerica in the northwest and Colombia in the south.

 

Metallurgy in the Americas:

 

Smelting techniques and metal-working began in the Colombia-Panama region, spread from there along sea routes to a receptive secondary center in Mexico were the Mexicans developed their own style in copper and gold goods by the Late Classic period.  At the same time similar goods appeared in the Maya area, some of which were certainly locally made.  Thus the art of metallurgy was introduced to the broad area of southern Mesoamerica and with the Maya in the Post-Classic period a distinctive style began to emerge, with the evidence of lost wax casting and other complex techniques.  This implies the existence of specialist metalsmiths.

 

 

Since no copper ores exist in the Maya lowlands, the metal must have been imported, either as ingots or scrap and it has been suggested that northern Honduras was the source.  A repousse gold disc from the cenote of sacrifice at Cichen Itza depicts a scene in Toltec-Mayan style depicting the defeat of Maya by the Toltecs.

 

Trade during the Classic period of Mayan civilization involving long distances was principally in exotic or elite goods and controlled by a theocracy used to support its position as the ruling class.  Merchants did not exist as a separable socio-political entity, unlike the Pochteca of the Mexican empire.  Most goods likely to have been traded over long distances in the earlier part of the Classic period, were functional in the elite social sense rather than useful in the economic one such as  jade, marine shells, fine pottery vessels and obsidian contributed more to the status of their possessors than to their survival.

 

However, the skills shown in working some of these materials and the local styles in which exotic goods were sometimes manufactured  from late Pre-Classic period onward does suggest the existence of merchant artisans, carrying their own materials and producing items on commission, comparable to the bronze-smiths of prehistoric Europe.  Merchants may have existed as a class of craftsmen in Pre-Classic and Early Classic periods but not as a distinct stratum of society.

 

During the Mayan Late Classic and Post-Classic there was a broadening of the trade base with mass production of pottery and bulk produce such as salt and cotton being distributed far beyond their areas of production as economic, not as status goods.  This coincided with the rise of the Put’un merchant traders and suggests they organized centers of production and then channeled all the produce into the circumpeninsular trade route which they monopolized, and which was more cost efficient than the old network of trails and river routes used by small canoes.

 

From the Early Pre-Classic period onward, the pattern was set for the exchange of goods, both practical and ornamental, between areas of complementary resources, often distances apart.  This marked the pattern of contact between the Maya and their neighbors for the succeeding three millennia.

 

Native trade and commerce meant a brisk exchange of ideas, customs and oral histories, such as this Quiché Mayan creation myth, along the routes where business was transacted, and in the open-air markets:

 

“God sent a great flood to destroy the houses of the wooden men.  They wanted to escape, but the animals they had starved and beaten, cooking pots they had burned, and trees whose branches they had chopped off, all turned against them.  A few took to higher ground.  It is said that their descendants are the monkeys.  God took ears of yellow and white corn, ground them into meal and made nine kinds of liquor.  These became man’s strength and energies.  With the dough he sculpted the bodies of four men gifted with intelligence.  While the men slept, he created four women.  When the men awoke, each found a beautiful wife at his side.”

 

The exotic soul of Yucatecan cooking, red, black and roasted garlic “recados” are incendiary pastes made from chilies, garlic, herbs and spices.  To make a recado, grind all the ingredients very fine, and moisten with enough “bitter orange” juice to make a solid paste, adding salt to taste.  Lime juice or a mix of orange and grapefruit juice works well as a substitute.

 

Roasted Garlic Recado

Ingredients:

20 large garlic cloves

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. cloves

2 tsp. oregano

Salt to taste

Lime juice

 

Directions:

Roast the garlic (broiling in oven, or roasted in foil over open flame).  Peel and mash with the spices and salt. Mix with enough lime juice to make a paste.  Use as a rub for chicken or pork.  Marinate for at least one hour before stewing, grilling or roasting.

 

The Aztec Pochtecas and Rise of the Middle Class:

 

Hernán Cortez described the huge Aztec market of Tenochtitlan/Tlatelolco in the economic center of the city as follows:

 

“The city has many plazas, where there are always markets being held dealing in foodstuffs and all manner of merchandise.  The main plaza in the middle of the city is surrounded by columns.  Day after day 60,000 people congregate here to buy and sell.  Every imaginable kind of merchandise is available from all parts of the empire, foodstuffs and dress, and in addition objects made of gold, silver, copper... precious stones, leather, bone, mussels, coral, cotton, feathers: finely polished and unpolished stones are for sale, burned and unburned clay bricks, chalk, planed and unplanned beams and boards of every description.  In a particular plaza, all sorts of birds are sold: turkeys, wild fowl, quails, ...all kinds of vegetables are also obtainable, salads, onions, garlic, hellebore, artichokes, watercress and so on...  Maize is offered for sale either as a grain or also in loaves.  Game and fish are available raw, cooked or salted...  The various wares may only be sold in the appointed plazas, a rule strictly kept.  Everything is sold by the piece or by measurement, never by weight.”

 

In the main market there is a law court in which there are always 10 or 12 judges performing their office and taking decisions on all marketing controversies.  They also have the power to administer punishment.  Furthermore overseers always go round and examine the measures of the salesmen and I have frequently seen them taking away a false measure and breaking it.”

 

The Merchants:

 

The hereditary aristocracy and the priesthood, military order and the military aristocracy all had, as far as their functions, influence and power were concerned, changed very rapidly during the fifteenth century.  Nevertheless they had still developed organically out of Aztec society.

 

There was another group however that, for the most part, had forced their way into Tenochtitlan as outsiders, and despite the greatest esteem being shown them by the nobility and close ties that were forged, they were basically to remain outsiders until the fall of the city.  This group was that of the merchants, or Pochteca.

 

The importance which the people of Mesoamerica attached to commerce is clear from the size and central position of the marketplace.  The huge market of Tlatelolco, although the largest in Mesoamerica, was not exceptional.  By the end of the fifteenth century extensive specialization had taken place in the valley of Mexico.  In the market of Atzcapotzalco slaves were mainly the commodity sold, in Cholollan jewels, stones and feathers.  Certain kinds of pottery were sold in Tetzcoco, dogs in the market of Acolman.

 

The importance of the market is emphasized by the fact that it had its own gods and laws:

           

Disputes in the market were referred to permanent market judges, who had power to punish and usually gave verdicts on the spot.  The organization of the market was extremely strict, each item of merchandise only being sold in its appointed spot.  The quality of the commodities was constantly being examined by market inspectors.  It was forbidden for the vendors, under strictest punishment, to buy or sell outside the market.

 

Spanish chroniclers were astonished that heavily-laden peasants on their way to Tlatelolco refused to sell their merchandise, even when offered more than the usual price.  Trade could only be carried on in the market square.  Currency took the form of cocoa beans, which were still regarded as money equal to the Spanish coins years after the conquest.  They were small, handy, valuable and a special delicacy admirably suited to this purpose.  It’s not possible now to determine wether market prices were fixed or left to the discretion of the vendors.

 

Only a fraction of those who sold merchandise in the market were Potchteca in the true sense of the word.  The great majority of marketeers consisted of peasants and craftsmen who laid out the products of their work.  There were no middlemen acting between the peasants of the High Valley and the purchaser in the city.

 

The function of the merchant or Pochteca was more limited.  These were the long-distance traders who imported sought-after products from the distant lowlands into the high central valley or Bajio: feathers, cocoa, cotton textiles, gold, silver, jade, dyes and so on.  Trade between the plateau and the lowlands was many thousands of years old in Mesoamerica.  Long before the rise of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, peoples of the Bajio had tried to obtain the cotton, cocoa and feathers they coveted by barter, if not through conquest.  However, the organization and importance of this trade changed according to whether or not they were lucky enough to have political control over the lowlands or at least the trade routes leading into it.

 

The great city of Tetzcoco represented the center of artistic and intellectual life of the Mexican plateau, under the rule of its philosopher-king, Netzahualcoyotl or Hungry Coyote (1403 - 1473).  The monarch became, as his later European counterpart, Frederic the Great, a warrior, intellectual and statesman who had a passion for the arts.  Tetzcoco’s dominant role followed the development of a military aristocracy, the increase of its power, and liberation from the daily routines of food production.  Aztec dominion over the Mexican highlands was reinforced after the overthrow of Atzcapotzalco and the formation of the Triple Alliance between Tetzcoco, Tlacopan and the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan (Mexico City), in 1428.  This alliance and subsequent conquests resulted in an empire embracing the majority of the population of Mesoamerica at the end of the fifteenth century.

 

Aztec cooking was characteristic of the Nahua peoples of the Valley of Mexico before the arrival of the Spaniards in 1519.  Their diet included corn, squash, fish, wild game, domesticated turkeys, ducks and dogs.  Rich hosts often entertained company seated in rooms around an open courtyard.  Fragrant tobacco tubes and flowers were distributed before a banquet.  Alone among international cuisines, Mexican gastronomy has been awarded a World Heritage designation, because of its many authentic Pre-Conquest recipes that have come down to us and are still in use, such as this intriguing shrimp stew: 

 

Tlaxtihuilli

(Aztec Shrimp Stew)

 

Ingredients:

2 lbs fresh medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined

4 large cloves garlic, smashed and peeled

1 tsp. cumin 

1 cup fresh corn masa dough (available at tortillerias)

4-1/2 cups water

1/3 cup dried shrimp lightly toasted on dry skillet and powdered (opt.)

2 tsp. sugar

2 tsp. salt or to taste

1 tsp. cumin

l/2 tsp cayenne pepper

8 small, unpeeled, cooked and halved new potatoes

1 cup frozen yellow corn kernels

1-15 oz. can whole black beans, drained

 

Spring onion and limes for garnish

Hot corn tortillas

Directions:

Place masa dough in a mixing bowl and gradually add 1-1/2 cups hot water.  Let stand 5 minutes to soften, then mash with a fork until the consistency is smooth and fairly thick.  If using whole toasted dry shrimp, pulverize in spice grinder or with mortar and pestle.  Puree the garlic with a little of the liquefied masa in a food processor or blender and return to the mixing bowl.  Pour contents into a large saucepan and add 3 cups hot water.  Bring to the boil, stirring, then reduce to gentle simmer.  Add toasted shrimp powder, salt, sugar, cumin and cayenne pepper and simmer for a further 5 minutes.  Taste and correct seasoning.  Add the shrimp and simmer 3 minutes longer.  Add black beans, corn kernels and potato halves.  Stir gently to combine ingredients and allow to heat through.  Serve tlaxtihuilli in deep bowls topped with sliced spring onion, with limes and hot corn tortillas on the side.

 

Unlike the lowland Maya, the Aztecs possessed no pack animals and could not take advantage of great waterways.  All trade goods were managed by human porters called tamemes.  This seriously restricted the variety and bulk of merchandise to be handled, resulting in the transportation of high value, exotic and elite items.

 

Different types of jewelry and feathers were earmarked for the warrior class.  Merchants were forbidden to live more opulently than the classes above them.  However, the Potchteca could indulge themselves with rich banquets to which other merchants and members of the nobility were invited.  This type of extravagance frequently bankrupted the host, who would spend all he had earned to bring himself honor and esteem.

 

In order to cross enemy provinces, the Potchteca were masters in the art of disguise.  They became the multilingual interpreters of Aztec society.  Merchants also set up strong military convoys, and were united with all the other guilds of the Highland Plateau cities for this purpose.  They occasionally took the role of warriors and make conquests on their own account.

 

The possibility of accumulating wealth was extremely limited.  Gold coins could be stored indefinitely, but large quantities of cocoa beans or blankets were another matter, nor were the merchants of Mesoamerica in a position to invest their profits in such a way as to revolutionize their economy and ensure decisive political and economic positions for themselves.  Land holdings were a privilege of the nobility, who were almost never inclined to part with them.

 

State loans did not exist.  The payment of debts was among the duties the state itself controlled, but the individual, with certain exceptions could not pledge his land or house.  The only commodities that could be exchanged in the event of bankruptcy were objects of jewelry, his children or himself.

 

Therefore the influence of “money-lending” in Mesoamerica was very limited.  Setting up manufacturing industries was not feasible because of the Aztec’s primitive technical development.  Both the state and powerful guilds of the craftsmen obstructed the monopolization of artisan work by the Potchteca.  Strict regulations governed the personal use of the goods they brought back.

 

A Burgeoning Middle Class:

 

In spite of these disadvantages, the merchants became the most important purveyors of tropical products to the Bajio region and their influence was considerable.  In Tlatelolco, the Potchteca were predominant and in Tetzcoco they sat with equal rights on the Economic Council of the city, which dealt with all matters of commercial interest.  With the penetration of the Aztecs under the great campaigns of conquest into the lowlands and the economic development of the cities of the plateau, the security of the major trade routes was largely guaranteed and increasing numbers of merchants could go on expeditions.  Problems of payment were gradually facilitated.

 

Due to the flourishing crafts work in the cities of the plateau, it was now possible to bring raw materials into the valley of Mexico, have them manufactured there in order to re-export them and purchase new products with the profits.  The trade in war booty after successful campaigns must have been ever more lucrative.  State trading in the large capital sums that flowed into the cities of the empire as tribute was also carried out by the merchants who were increasingly required to trade in state merchandise as well as their own.

 

Large state-equipped expeditions expanded into the small neutral townships that lay between the Maya region and the conquered territories subject to the Triple Alliance.  These hamlets, whose independence from the large cities was respected in order to secure a neutral trading center, were designated outlets for trade.  The merchants demanded a high payment for the increasing services they performed for the Aztec empire.

 

 

Merchants’ guilds represented a state within the empire in many ways.  The Potchteca were the only fraternity in Tenochtitlan to possess their own judges and were not subject to state judiciary.  They appointed the presiding officials in the market at Tlatelolco and were granted special privileges in newly conquered territories.  These regions had to hold markets on certain days and were obligated to invite the merchants of the plateau.  A considerable monopoly was granted to the Potchteca in trading with certain Aztec districts and with the Maya across the Aztec border.

 

Attacks against merchants were punished severely.  If the crime was committed by a city-state, the Aztecs went to war against it.  To protect the merchants, a network of garrisons lined the most important trade routes.  Though they remained outsiders within the socio-political system of the Aztecs, their wealth increased considerably over time.  They were showered with honors and received into Aztec nobility.  Potchteca children attended the calmecac schools and could apply to be received into the order of the Brown Knights. 

 

The merchant class was still considered to be the last and least esteemed of three possibilities considered by the state to achieve a title to their name and found noble families, the first and surest being to distinguish oneself in battle and the second to enter the priesthood.  Nevertheless, membership in the nobility gave the Potchteca the right to invest their profits in purchasing their own land, which brought them great power and prestige.  A burgeoning middle class was emerging in Mesoamerica at the time of the Spanish conquest.

Written by Tim Hazell
- Art Director, Art in San Miguel Magazine


 ----- Last Article from Tim Hazell -----


 

Provocative Connections Between
the Orient and Latin America

Written by Tim Hazell
- Art Director, Art in San Miguel Magazine

Poetry, chant, incantation and mantra all contain their music coiled within the shells of words.  Javanese gamelan and talking drums in symphonic groupings, characteristic of Africa, use repetition, seemingly without the need for variation.  Some centuries-old examples were intended for rituals involving dance that continued until hypnosis set in and participants became transcended.  Poems set to Middle Eastern music incorporate drones, bourbon notes over which melodies are sung and played.  Lyrics typically deal with unrequited love and betrayal.  A formal introduction, like a peacock spreading its tail and strutting before a mate, is followed by principal melodic lines; an oud mutters and weeps as singers’ voices rise before the  haunting and ethereal finale.  These improvisations employ stylized themes with refrains.  Medieval lyrics are redolent of the perfumed language of the Moors, testifying to a man’s hapless rage and date back over a thousand years.  Many would have been accompanied by ethnic strings and percussion:

 

To My Mistress

 

Ungenerous and mistaken maid,

To scorn me thus because I am poor!

Canst thou a liberal hand upbraid

For dealing ‘round some worthless ore?

To spare’s the wish of little souls,

The great gather but to bestow;

Yon current down the mountain rolls,

And stagnates in the swamp below.

- Abu Tammam Habib

 

The legacy of the Moors migrated with the camel trains and Saracen horsemen to Andalusia when it became part of the Arab empire.  Spanish galleons carried this warm breeze to the tropical sands of the New World.  There, among native and black cultures, the melting pot simmered with new ingredients.  Latin American writers from multiracial backgrounds adapted and shaped their distinctive hybrid poetry to reflect the sounds of a variegated tropical environment.  In “Os TrLs Amores” by Castro Alvez (1847-71) we can still hear music from the Oriental desert and the African steppe.

 

My soul is like the dreaming front

Of the crazy bard, who cries Ferrara

I am Tasso!... the spring of your laughs

Flowers my life’s solitudes..

Far from you I drink your perfumes,

I follow on earth the lights of your steps...

You are Eleonora...

 

My pensive heart faints

Mulling over your favorite rose

I’m your pale misty lover

I’m your Romeo... Your languid poet!...

I dream about you sometimes

Virgin...seminude...

I steal from you a chaste kiss by the moonlight

And you’re Juliet...

 

In the voluptuousness of Andalusian nights

The fiery blood rolls in my veins...

I’m Don Juan!... Loving damsels,

You know my dirge on the guitar!

Over the love bed your breast shines...

I’ll die if I undo your mantilla

Your are Julia, The Spaniard

 

Tales of New World riches set Renaissance imaginations ablaze.  It would be left to Spain, liberated from the Arab empire, to cross an ocean to trade, conquer, convert and plunder as fortunes were made and dissipated.  Mediterranean languages were incorporated into the myriad spoken by indigenous cultures.  The results gave newly-blended races of people, their religions, traditions, music and literature a distinctive eloquence.  French, Portuguese and Spanish contributed vitality and elasticity to the music inherent in regional vocabularies.  We can look for inspiration in lyrics that gestured and danced among polyrhythms!

 

Siroccos, Monsoons and Fossil Deserts:

 

Heating up on the equatorial sides of the Horse Latitudes, trade winds move in two belts towards the equator.  Dry currents dissipate cloud cover, allowing the sun to bear down on arid lands.  Trade wind deserts follow the path of their namesake winds, including North Africa’s Sahara, the world’s largest sea of sand.  These desiccated regions have waxed and waned since the beginning of the agricultural revolution, frequently encroaching upon human settlements and farmlands. 

Fossil sediments from ancient beds of sand as much as 500 million years old are found throughout the world, including rainforest environments.   Examples in the US include the Carroll Rim Trail, John Day Fossil Beds Monument, Painted Hills Unit, Oregon, and John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  Dominant weather patterns and geographical locations determine the characteristics of deserts as trade wind, rain shadow, coastal such as Peru’s Atacama, or polar.  The Arctic tundra represents a vast area of desertification in Canada’s far north, while inland Antarctic dry valleys have been snow free for thousands of years.

 

Desert siroccos that blow in one direction shape a wilderness of articulating dunes, some with crest-to-crest widths of more than three kilometers.  These leviathans remain poised, expectant, until a buildup of sand at the brink exceeds their angles of repose, causing small avalanches to slide down the slip-faces, or leeward sides.  Then slowly, majestically, grain by grain, the dunes are on the march - downwind, crossing the sun’s anvil, their undulations bathed in light and shadow.  Here are places in transition, like fragile webs, a delicate balance where equipoise is precarious, a cantilevered arrangement of microclimates.

 

In these marginal areas, human activities stress the ecosystem beyond its tolerance limits, resulting in degradation of the land. Grazing livestock compact the substrate with their hooves.  The collection of firewood eliminates plants which help to anchor the soil.  For the inhabitants of the Sudan, moisture symbolizes life itself, particularly in the dry season when deep wells must be dug to reach the water table.  The Mesakin Nuba, one of many tribes throughout the region, are an agrarian people whose quality of life hinges on abundant yields of staples, particularly dura, their word for sorghum.  Clay-based soils fire in temperatures that exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the dry season.  Beds for growing crops must be broken up by hand, using primitive shovels.

 

“Monsoon” is Arabic in origin, their word for season.  Wind systems are prone to seasonal reversals due to temperature variations between continents and oceans.  Traders’ southeastern winds off the Indian Ocean produce a summer deluge as they move onshore, crossing the Indian continent before losing moisture on the slopes of the Aravalli Range.  Monsoon deserts such as the Rajasthan of India and Thar Desert of Pakistan spread where dry regions are born west of the range.

 

Zephyrs near the Earth’s surface scatter the granules aloft as dust or haze.  Parched atmospheres are crowded with fragments in suspension, held indefinitely in the biosphere by upward currents of air which support their weight.   Saltation moves small particles in the direction of the wind in a series of short hops or skips.  A saltating grain may hit other grains that jump up to continue the process.  Eolian turbidity currents produce dust storms.  Rain passes through and cools the desert.  This sinks, chilled and dense, toward the surface and reaches hot ground, deflecting air forward.  Turbulence sweeps up surface debris in its wake as a dust storm.  Compact winds, appropriately named “dust devils,” whirl like dervishes over arid land, related to intense local heating and destabilization of the air mass.  These can create gyrating funnels a kilometer in height.

 

On occasion, sand seas are wracked by violent storms.  When a rare shower is imminent, the water can torrent.  Dry stream beds, called arroyos or wadis quickly fill, making human crossings dangerous.  Regal waters such as the Nile flow through hostile environments, their volumes derived from rain and snow accumulations from highlands at their origins.  Sediments are picked up and deposited as these courtesans meander their way to the sea.  Civilizations based on alluvial residues spring up and flower as ripples in their wake.

 

Desert plants are tolerant of drought and the salt content from small reservoirs of concentrated water that they store in leaves, roots and stems.  In Mexico’s semi-arid central plateau regions, plant cover is typically lean, but of great diversity—as is the animal life that benefits from aquifers and springs.  Cacti, deciduous trees and aquatic plants thrive, some reintroduced through conservation.  Fauna includes species of birds, reptiles and mammals adapted to meager habitats.  Reservoirs often support verdant shoreline growth, fish and varieties of birds.  The dry chaparral represents a Mexican highland panorama of grasses, mesquite and huizache trees and the stately garambullo or candelabrum cactus.  Summer rains turn these regions into palettes of greens interspersed with riots of multicolored blooms. 

 

For the inhabitants of deserts and regions with water shortages, quarrels over allocations in newly appropriated ecozones readily mushroom into structural conflicts between ethnic lines of demarcation.  Equilibrium in vast tracts of the world’s arid and semi-desert areas is dependent upon environmental harmony and balanced equations of soils, climates, water, flora and fauna.  Modern conditions such as global warming exacerbate persistent drought.  The resulting is widespread famine.  In the process of readapting to variant ecological habitats, environmental borders are created.  Unfortunately for the millions of homeless and dispossessed, these often become ethnic and cultural identification criteria.  Fragile ecology means fragile peace.

 

Arabian Sea Trade Routes:

 

Sea trade routes from the Arabian peninsula extended to the Spice Islands in Indonesia, Zanzibar in east Africa, the Han Chinese kingdom to Malacca and from Ezion-geber along the mouth of the Aqaba Sea to the gold mines of Solomon.  Their dhows were coastal vessels, unsuited to deep water, hugging the contours of the land masses, docking at night and setting out the next morning, staying a day or two at most to take on cargo and refurbish their supplies. 

The Moors controlled a vast empire from northern Africa which, until the dissolution of their military and scientific unity in the twelfth century, included Spain, Sicily, parts of Italy and Portugal.  Moorish verse, music and instrumentation influenced western medieval philosophy, science and the arts long after their citizenry had returned to Africa.  Certain kingdoms in Spain remained under their rule however such as Granada, the last to fall before the Christians under Ferdinand and Isabella, during the holy war of 1492.  Spaniards preserved much Arab literature, including verse and ballads of Moorish origin.  The texts of pieces such as the melancholy “Verses To My Daughters” are laced with the perfumed language of romance, culture and refinement, poignant in the twilight of defeat.

 

With jocund heart and cheerful brow

I used to hail the festal morn,

How must Mohammed greet it now?

A prisoner helpless and forlorn.

 

While these dear maids in beauty’s bloom,

With want opprest, with rags o’erspread,

By sordid labors at the loom

Must earn a poor, precarious bread.

 

Those feet that never touched the ground,

Till musk or camphor strewed the way,

Now bare and swoll’n with many a wound,

Must struggle through the miry clay.

 

Those radiant cheeks are veiled in woe,

A shower descends from every eye,

And not a starting tear can flow,

That wakes not an attending sigh.

Fortune, that whilom owned my sway,

And bowed obsequious to my nod,

Now sees me destined to obey,

 

The Bullfight Of Gazul

 

King Almanzor of Granada, he hath bid the trumpet sound,

He hath summoned all the Moorish lords, from the hills and plains around;

From vega and sierra, from Betis and Xenil,

They have come with helm and cuirass of gold and twisted steel.

 

'Tis the holy Baptist's feast they hold in royalty and state,

And they have closed the spacious lists beside the Alhambra's gate;

In gowns of black and silver laced, within the tented ring,

Eight Moors to fight the bull are placed in presence of the King.

 

Eight Moorish lords of valor tried, with stalwart arm and true,

The onset of the beasts abide, as they come rushing through;

The deeds they've done, the spoils they've won, fill all with hope and trust,

Yet ere high in heaven appears the sun they all have bit the dust.

 

Then sounds the trumpet clearly, then clangs the loud tambour,

Make room, make room for Gazul---throw wide, throw wide the door;

Blow, blow the trumpet clearer still, more loudly strike the drum,

The Alcaide of Algava to fight the bull doth come...

 

Contact with ancient civilizations such as the Romans, Persians, and later on with the Ottomans brought the Arabs in close contact with cuisines of other sophisticated dominions.  This multi-cultural infusion combines sweet and savory and comes from the Arabian Gulf. 

 

Meat and Walnut Nadi with Dates

Ingredients:

3 tbsp. butter

1 lb. ground beef

1/2 cup coriander leaves, finely chopped

2 chicken stock bouillon cubes

3/4 cup water

5 tbsp. lemon juice

1/2 tbsp. lemon zest, shredded

3/4 cup walnuts, chopped

1/2 cup dried dates, chopped

3 tbsp. molasses

2 tsp. ground cumin

Good pinch of ground black pepper

Salt, if needed

 

Directions:

Heat the butter in a saucepan.  Add the meat and coriander leaves, and sauté for 10 minutes over medium heat.  Add bouillon cubes and water and simmer for another 10 min until the meat is cooked and most of the liquid is absorbed.  Add the lemon Juice, lemon zest, walnuts, dates and cumin and cook a further 5 minutes.  Place in the center of a large serving plate and surround with plain rice.

 

Morocco and Tajines:

Morocco’s landscape is rugged, with slopes that gradually descend into plateaus and valleys.  The Atlas mountains dominate the central part of the country, while its southeastern region is blanketed by the Sahara Desert, North Africa’s sea of sand, extending over an area of more than 3,600,000 square miles.

 

Moisture symbolizes life itself, particularly when deep wells must be dug to reach the water table.  Water shortages influence the cuisines of many arid regions.  Moroccan tajine dishes are slow-cooked savory stews, typically made with sliced meat, poultry or fish, together with vegetables, spices, nuts and dried fruits.  Traditionally cooked in a tajine pot with a domed or cone shaped lid, this unctuous combination of meat and fruit, serves 4 to 6.

 

Moroccan Tajine with Prunes

2 lb. tender beef or lamb, cut into serving pieces, or chicken legs

2 medium onions, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. saffron

1 tsp. turmeric

2 four-inch pieces cinnamon stick

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup chopped coriander

 

Topping:

1/2 lb. prunes

1 tbsp. honey

2 tbsp. sugar

1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds

1/2 cup toasted almonds

 

Heat the oil and butter in a casserole over medium heat and gently brown the meat of choice.  Remove from the pot, add onions and garlic and half the coriander and allow to deglaze.  Cook gently until golden, then add salt, black pepper, ground ginger, turmeric and cinnamon sticks. Return the meat and stir to coat with the ingredients.  Add enough water to cover and the rest of the coriander.  Bring to the boil over high heat, then immediately reduce to simmer.  Cover and simmer for two to two-and-half hours (less for chicken), adding a small amount of water during cooking, if necessary, until meat is very tender.  Halfway through the process, remove and reserve 1/2 cup of the liquid.  During the final cooking stage uncover and reduce until fairly thick.

 
While meat is cooking, put the prunes in a small saucepan and cover with water.  Simmer over medium heat, partially covered, until the prunes are quite tender - 15 to 30 minutes.  Drain and add 1/2 cup of liquid reserved from the meat.  Stir in the honey, sugar and cinnamon, and simmer the prunes another 10 minutes until they are sitting in a thick syrup.  Set aside.
 
Transfer the meat and sauce to a large serving dish and spoon the prunes and syrup on top.  Sprinkle with extra coriander, toasted almonds and sesame seeds.

 

Moorish Spain:

 

Islamic Moors crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and swept like a desert sirocco onto the Iberian Peninsula in AD 711, renaming the region Al-Andalus.  According to an account of the time:

 

“The reins of their horses were as fire, faces black as pitch, eyes like burning candles and riders fiercer than wolves in a sheepfold at night!”

 

The Arab empire spread throughout much of southern Europe.  Andalusian Arabic, its language under Muslim rule, deeply influenced modern Spanish.  Although resisted by fierce Basques of the Pyrenees, most of the indigenous population had converted to Islam by AD 1000.

 

The Song of Maisuna

(Wife to the Caliph Mowiah)

 

The russet suit of camel’s hair,

With spirits light, and eye serene,

Is dearer to my bosom far

Than all the trappings of a queen.

The humble tent and murmuring breeze

That whistles thro’ its fluttering wall,

My unaspiring fancy please

Better than towers and splendid halls.

Th’ attendant colts that bounding fly

And frolic by the litter's side,

Are dearer in Maisuna’s eye

Than gorgeous mules in all their pride.

The watch-dog’s voice that bays whene’er

A stranger seeks his master's cot,

Sounds sweeter in Maisuna’s ear

Than yonder trumpet’s long-drawn / note.

The rustic youth unspoilt by art,

Son of my kindred, poor but free,

Will ever to Maisuna’s heart

Be dearer, pamper’d fool, than thee.

 

Moorish presence initiated a renaissance throughout the sciences and humanities.  Metropolises like Córdova boasted paved streets illuminated by oil lamps, raised pedestrian sidewalks and libraries.  Great universities flourished in Almeria, Córdova, Granada, Juen, Malaga, Seville, and Toledo.

 

Rifts in ideologies between Christian and Muslim Europe led to prolonged struggles to regain lost territories, known as the “Reconquista.”  The Moors were expelled from Sicily in 1224.  The Kingdom of Granada continued for three more centuries in southern Iberia.  On January 2, 1492, the leader of this last Muslim stronghold surrendered to the armies of recently united Christian Spain under Ferdinand II and Isabella I.

 

Moorish cuisine endures in the use of honey, almonds, citrus fruits and saffron.  These thirteenth-century Arab breads, deliciously spiced, are folded in half and eaten with the fingers!

 

Lahm Bi Ajeen

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 cup flour

1/2  tsp. salt

1/2 cup water

Pinch sugar

2 tsp. dried yeast

3 tsp. oil

 

Topping:

1 large onion, chopped

1 tbsp. oil

1/2 lb. ground beef

1/2 tsp. salt

Black pepper

1 tbsp. chopped parsley

1/4 tsp. allspice

1 heaping tbsp. ground almonds

1 tsp. sugar

1 tbsp. lime juice

Pine nuts or sunflower seeds (optional)

 

Sift flour and salt into a warmed mixing bowl.  Combine sugar and yeast in another bowl.  Heat water to just above lukewarm.  Stir into yeast and sugar.  Set aside in a warm place until yeast is frothy.  Pour yeast liquid into center of flour.  Add the oil, stir to mix ingredients and knead into a rough dough, adding more flour or water, if necessary.  Turn out onto working surface.  Knead about 15 minutes until dough is smooth and soft.  Return to bowl, cover and let stand in a warm place until doubled in size.  Fry onion gently in oil to soften but not brown.  Put ground beef into a mixing bowl.  Combine with cooked onion, salt, pepper, herbs, allspice, ground almonds, sugar and lime juice.  Turn out the risen dough.  Press to force out air.  Take small pieces and flatten with heel of hand to make 4 - 5 inch circles.  Spread a generous quantity of meat filling over top.  Add pine nuts or sunflower seeds.  Place on a lightly oiled baking tray.  Bake in a hot oven (450 F) about 8 minutes until dough is done but still soft.  Avoid browning.  Serve hot.

***

Written by Tim Hazell
- Art Director, Art in San Miguel Magazine

 

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Mexico’s Finest Contemporary Writers: Tracing a Cultural Renaissance

Mexico’s Finest Contemporary Writers: Tracing a Cultural Renaissance  
Written by Reece Choules
   
The spotlight of the London Book Fair 2015 was rested firmly on Mexico’s best contemporary novelists, poets, and literary activists, allowing many of Mexico’s recently translated writers received the wider attention their works merited. To celebrate, we took a look at 22 of the best contemporary Mexican writers, some of whom were on show at the book fair.
 
Valeria Luiselli
Valeria Luiselli | © Alfredo Pelcastre

Valeria Luiselli

Award winning, translated into numerous languages, Luiselli’s playful, mesmeric novels, have pushed the boundaries of distortion between the real and the imagined. Works such as Faces In The Crowd (2012) and The Story Of My Teeth (2015) have seen her cast as one of the bright lights of contemporary Mexican fiction, and her collection of non-fiction essays,Sidewalks (2013), demonstrates the versatility and deft touch of an interesting new literary talent.

 

Yuri Herrera

Signs Preceding The End Of The World (2015) signalled the arrival of a compelling new voice in Mexican literature when its English translation was released earlier this year. Following Makina, a young Mexican woman smuggled into the US, Herrera examines what it means to cross the border and transforms this liminal space into something otherworldly, both magical and terrible in its nightmarish, symbolic manifestations.

Álvaro Enrigue

An integral part of Mexican literature since the release of debut novel Death Of An Installation Artist (1996), a novel now considered one of the most important Mexican works of the 20th century, Enrigue is a novelist whose work continues to be celebrated. More recent works such as Hypothermia (2011), and Sudden Death (2013) have only enhanced the standing of a writer already looked upon as one of his generations finest.

Carmen Boullosa

Poet, playwright, and novelist, Carmen Boullosa’s thoughtful and eclectic works such as Leaving Tabasco (2001), and Texas: The Great Theft (2014), have cemented the reputation of a writer considered to be reaching the height of her powers. Weaving through a wide range of topics, and eras, Boullosa’s imaginative power and craft have allowed her to jump from one project to another, without being typecast or pigeon holed.
Carmen Boullosa | © British Council

Carmen Boullosa | © British Council

Roger Bartra

Sociologist, anthropologist, writer; Bartra’s varied and extensive oeuvre has seen him become a key figure in the chronicling of Mexico’s turbulent past. However with last year’s ground breaking, Anthropology Of The Brain: Consciousness, Culture, and Free Will (2014), Bartra has turned his attention to the now, arguing that human consciousness occurs not only in the brain, but externally, as part of a interlinked society, whose symbolism can be deciphered in the culture of the world around us.

Chloe Aridjis

Daughter of the great Mexican poet and environmentalist Homero Aridjis, Chloe Aridjis made her impression on English speaking readers with novels Book Of Clouds (2009), and Asunder (2013). These impressionistic collages of alienation, obsession, and the cocoon comfort of boredom and repetition, have been likened to the works of WG Sebald and form a distinct impression of detached outsiders drifting in the modern, haunted, cities of Europe.

Maria Bellatin

One of Mexico’s leading writers of experimental fiction, Bellatin is known for his impish games with language and structure. Teasing, cajoling his readers into a false sense of security, Bellatin’s carefully constructed surrealism has brought him much acclaim. Having first self-published in his parents’ native Peru, works such as the disturbing, Camus like, Beauty Salon (2009), and the challenging, transgressive, Jacob The Mutant (2009), have challenged Mexico’s established literary order.

Lydia Cacho

Mexico’s ‘most famous investigative journalist’ is a writer never far from controversy. Having caused a national scandal when her book Los Demonios del Edén (2005) implicated some of Mexico’s leading businessmen and politicians in the sex trade, Cacho’s first work translated into English, Slavery Inc. (2014), takes her investigation to the global stage. Following the sex trade from its source of human trafficking, through drugs, arms dealing and terrorism, Cacho is a writer seeking not to entertain, but to enlighten.
Lydia Cacho | © British Council

Lydia Cacho | © British Council

Laura Esquivel

Combining the ordinary with the supernatural, while moving seamlessly through genres, Esquivel is a writer who has enjoyed considerable success since the novel Like Water For Chocolate (1993) became a best seller in both Mexico and the US. Divided into 12 sections this rather unique historical romance novel interweaves recipes, and cooking instructions, into a poignant story of unconsummated passion.

Enrique Krauze

Historian, essayist, and publisher, Enrique Krauze has, through works such as Mexico: A Biography Of Power (1998) and Redeemers: Ideas And Power In Latin America (2011), looked to explore the relationship between power and its centralization around individuals within Mexican and Latin American politics. A liberal and staunch defender of democracy, Krauze has used his writing to dissect the corruption of the individual when in power.

Homero Aridjis

A prominent figure in his country’s art and political scene, Homero Aridjis’ long career is littered with awards from numerous countries. He has published over forty three books of poetry and prose in his native Mexico. The first extensive selection of his poems to appear in English, Eyes To See Otherwise (2002), showcased the work of a poet exploring the ever present influence of the past, lost love, lost environments, and the continuing movement of life towards death.

Tedi Lopez Mills

One of Mexico’s leading poets, her collection While Light Is Built (2004) is considered one of ‘the’ important works of contemporary poetry. Invoking, as all good poets do, the eternal questions, questions of self, of our relation to this world and the world to come, Mills is a writer who is able to unlock and re-imagine the simple beauty that surrounds us.
Tedi Lopez Mills | © Norma Patiño

Tedi Lopez Mills | © Norma Patiño

Elmer Mendoza

The Godfather of Mexican crime fiction, Elmer Mendoza began his career as a short story writer, a medium he has been prolific in. However he has become internationally known for his seminal ‘Narco-Lit’ novel Silver Bullets (2015). A dark, political, unflinching novel, Mendoza’s recently translated work is at the forefront of the wave of Mexican crime fiction.

Guadalupe Nettel

Winner of the Gilberto Owen National Literature Prize and 2014 Herralde Prize Guadalupe Nettle has been described as the ‘Best Untranslated Writer’ by Granta. This is of course set to change, as her novel The Body Where I Was Born (2015) is set for its eagerly awaited release in June this year.

Sergio Pitol

A winner of the Cervantes Prize, the highest award available to Spanish language writers, novelist, essayist, and memoirist Sergio Pitol is a writer whose work has been routinely published since the 60s. However recent autobiographical hybrid, The Art Of Flight (2015),has seen comparisons to much lauded Norwegian ‘Life Writer’ Karl Ove Knausgaard, as well as contemporary authors whose works Pitol long precedes, such Valeria Luiselli and Alvaro Enrique, and is set to bring his work to a whole new audience.

Elena Poniatowska

Another Cervantes Award winner, only the fourth woman to do so, Elena Poniatowska is the ‘Grand Dame of Letters’ in her native Mexico. A staunch defender of women’s rights and the disenfranchised poor, Poniatowska has dedicated her life’s work to social and political issues. Her most recent novel, a biography of Surrealist painter Lenora Carrington, Lenora: A Novel (2015), is, like many of her greatest literary moments, a history reconstructed.
Elena Poniatowska | © Michel Amado

Elena Poniatowska | © Michel Amado

Luis Felipe Fabre

A poet championed by the likes of Álvaro Enrigue, building a career on a collage of influences, past and present, Luis Felipe Fabre is finally coming to the attention of a wider audience. His forthcoming collection Sor Juana And Other Monsters (2015), fuses the octosyllabic structure of 16th Century poetry with pulp novels, academia, and the lens of black humour through which he views the transformation of Mexico.

Jorge Volpi

Novelist and essayist, Volpi is a writer synonymous with the infamous ‘Crack Manifesto’, a collection of Mexican writers who protested against what they saw as the light hearted, docile writing of the Mexican mainstream. Known for a distinct lack of surrealism, Volpi’s works focus primarily on the psychology of character, as well as the more academic topics of history and science. Translated works In Search Of Klingsor (2002) and Season Of Ash (2009) have been internationally acclaimed.
Jorge Volpi | © British Council

Jorge Volpi | © British Council

Daniel Sada

Unorthodox, baroque, tragicomic, whatever words have been used to describe Sada’s prose, they don’t seem to quite capture it. Having published eight collections of short stories, and nine novels, only now is Sada’s delightful work beginning to be translated. Almost Never (2012), a superb send up of Latin American machismo, was the first to reach English speaking audiences, with the highly regarded One Out Of Two following later this year.

Juan Pablo Villalobos

Satirist, surrealist, author of The Guardian First Book Award shortlisted Down The Rabbit Hole (2011), Villalobos, like many of the great Mexican writers working today, is not afraid of challenging his reader or the fraudulence of Mexican politics. Through a blend of dry comedy, sophisticated pulp, and a strict authorial control, Villalobos’ blend of fiction is a new and exciting edition to the growing ‘Narco-Lit’ genre contemporary Mexico has to offer.

Pedro Serrano

Co-editor of groundbreaking poetry anthology The Lamb Generation, a translated collection of leading contemporary British poets, Serrano’s career has now come full circle with the recently released translation of his own work Peatlands (2014). Chronicling a career spanning nearly three decades, Peatlands demonstrates all of Serrano’s linguistic skill.
Pedro Serrano | © British Council

Pedro Serrano | © British Council

Juan Villoro

A well-known figure among the Mexican intelligentsia for some time, Juan Villoro is one of Mexico’s most prolific writers. Having produced a steady stream of taut, post-modern novels, it was not until he won the Herralde Prize for his novel El Testigo (2004) however, that he began to reach a wider audience. He is set to become known to English speaking audiences with his first translated work The Guilty (2015), a complex composition of a disaffected contemporary Mexico. Written by Reece Choules
The London Book Fair 2015 Mexico Market Focus Cultural Programme brought the best in contemporary writing and publishing from Mexico to the UK, giving audiences a rare opportunity to meet and interact with renowned Mexican writers. For details, visit: www.britishcouncil.org/mexicomarketfocus

Octavio PazWritten by By Laura Vila
 
The Mexican poet, writer and essayist Octavio Paz is remembered for his concern for politics, anthropology and Mexican society, and is considered one of the most important writers of the 20th century

READ MORE...

 

 

‘A Way Of Singing As Crying’: Remembering Chavela Vargas 

Chavela Vargas, who died on the Aug. 5, 2012, epitomized the ranchera genre in Mexico and brought this distinctive folk music to the world. She recorded over 80 albums and featured in a host of films including those by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. Culture Trip takes a brief look back at her long, amazing career.


READ MORE...

 

 

 

 

 


 

The 7 Must-See Films of Alejandro González Iñárritu

Written by Lauren Cocking

Part of the so-called Three Amigos of Cinema collective, alongside fellow Mexicans Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñárritu is perhaps one of Mexico’s best known cinematic exports. The first Mexican director to be nominated for the Academy Award, he was also the first Mexican to win a Cannes Festival Director prize. His roster of work is known for being dark, gritty and excellently shot with memorable scores. Here are his top seven must-see films. 

READ MORE...

 


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How Octavio Paz Crafted The Poetic Portrait of Mexico’s Soul

How Octavio Paz Crafted The Poetic Portrait of Mexico’s Soul Written by By Laura Vila  
Octavio PazThe Mexican poet, writer and essayist Octavio Paz is remembered for his concern for politics, anthropology and Mexican society, and is considered one of the most important writers of the 20th century.
 
Octavio Paz was born in 1914 in Mexico, his family all had a passion for both politics and literature and he discovered his own poetic vocation at an early age. His grandfather was an intellectual liberal who wrote the first novel to feature indigenous themes and experiences, and Paz used to spend hours in his huge library. His father was also an active political journalist and a lawyer concerned with peasants’ rights. Through him, Paz was exposed to the Mexican proletariat, which was a decisive experience for him. Paz initially studied law in university but was obsessed by poetry and was especially influenced by the symbolists and romantics of the time, and fascinated by reading The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot. Through these readings he became interested in the relation between modern poetry and modern society and history, and got caught up in the revolutionary spirit, first going to Yucatan, where he helped to create socialist communes and started writing Between the Stone and the Flower (Entre la Piedra y la Flor) and then going to Spain during the Civil War in 1937, where he assisted the republican cause.
 
He became a member of the Mexican diplomatic service in the 1940s following which he travelled a lot, which enriched his writings. In France he wrote his most acclaimed book,The Labyrinth of Solitude, one of the most complete and profound analyses of the Mexican reality and its people. Paz was also appointed Mexican ambassador to India, which lead him to write The Monkey Grammarian and East Slope. He founded several magazines dedicated to arts and politics, such as Plural and Vuelta. He thought that for a writer it ‘is very important to have many professions, to have experience in life. To be diplomat, to be butcher, to be diver and to be a journalist. Because the journalist sees life as action and movement’. In 1990 Paz was awarded with The Nobel Prize in Literature ‘for impassioned writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity’.
 
His poetical labour is defined by experimentation and nonconformity, but it’s difficult to label due to his constant mutation. Neo-modernist in his early years, he later became more of an existential poet, and eventually a surrealist. The surrealist influence of André Breton gave Paz’s poems inner freedom and renewed imagination but he always maintained the lyrical qualities that defined his work. After the social concern of his first poems, he became more interested in existential topics and his poetry began to evoke themes of solitude and isolation.   Paz was also obsessed with the concept of time which compelled him to create a spatial poetry, which he called topoems, an intellectual and almost metaphysic poetry which gives importance to the expressive power of plastic images. Paz has also written a prolific body of essays, including several book-length studies, in poetics, literary and art criticism, as well as on Mexican history, politics and culture. Written by Laura Vila    
Valeria Luiselli
Written by Reece Choules

 

The spotlight of the London Book Fair 2015 was rested firmly on Mexico’s best contemporary novelists, poets, and literary activists, allowing many of Mexico’s recently translated writers received the wider attention their works merited. To celebrate, we took a look at 22 of the best contemporary Mexican writers, some of whom were on show at the book fair.


READ MORE...

 

 


 

‘A Way Of Singing As Crying’: Remembering Chavela Vargas 

Chavela Vargas, who died on the Aug. 5, 2012, epitomized the ranchera genre in Mexico and brought this distinctive folk music to the world. She recorded over 80 albums and featured in a host of films including those by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. Culture Trip takes a brief look back at her long, amazing career.

READ MORE...

 

 

The 7 Must-See Films of Alejandro González Iñárritu

Written by Lauren Cocking

Part of the so-called Three Amigos of Cinema collective, alongside fellow Mexicans Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñárritu is perhaps one of Mexico’s best known cinematic exports. The first Mexican director to be nominated for the Academy Award, he was also the first Mexican to win a Cannes Festival Director prize. His roster of work is known for being dark, gritty and excellently shot with memorable scores. Here are his top seven must-see films. 

READ MORE...

 


logo

‘A Way Of Singing As Crying’: Remembering Chavela Vargas

‘A Way Of Singing As Crying’: Remembering Chavela Vargas
 
 
Chavela Vargas, who died on the Aug. 5, 2012, epitomized the ranchera genre in Mexico and brought this distinctive folk music to the world. She recorded over 80 albums and featured in a host of films including those by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. Culture Trip takes a brief look back at her long, amazing career.  
Chavela VargasChavela Vargas is one of those few singers who are capable of putting all of their emotions in their voice, feeling every note and transmitting that feeling as if they are living the story they tell through their songs. She would even risk losing her voice in favor of expressing the emotional climax of a song. Her looks were somewhat peculiar; she was always dressed in traditional indigenous clothes such as the poncho and regularly carried a drink or a cigarette in her hand. But her presence could encapsulate the largest scenarios just by opening her arms. Some critics consider her repertoire as one of the widest of the traditional music of the 20th century, a mix of boleros and rancheras; a genre which used to be joyful and sang only by men. Vargas’ distinctive take on the genre involved slowing the rhythm down and eliminating the Mariachi figure to give the songs an intimate tone, deeper and stronger, for which her rugged voice was sometimes just accompanied by a lone guitar.
     
Chavela VargasBorn in Costa Rica in 1919, she never felt she belonged there, for her Mexico was her birth place, because this country is the one that gave her ability and accepted her as she was, and in return, she became a symbol of Mexican identity through her songs. She didn’t have an easy childhood, as she barely saw her parents, but that gave her courage, and helped her make the decision to find her home elsewhere. So at the age of 15, she travelled to Mexico and tried to build a career as a singer. She started by singing in the streets and cantinas with little success. But at the age of 30 she was discovered by the popular singer and composer Jose Alfredo Jimenez, and began touring with him during the 1950s which gradually brought her recognition until she made her first recording in 1961. During this period she came to know the most important Latin American artists of the time such as the writer Juan Rulfo and the composer Agustin Lara. She also performed at the wedding of Elizabeth Taylor to her third husband Michael Todd. For several years she lived with the painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and in her later life she appeared as the role of death singing La llorona in Frida, the biopic about the famous Mexican painter.
     
Chavela VargasShe was well known for her relationships with women although she did not publicly proclaim her lesbianism until she published her autobiography: Y si quieres saber de mi pasado (And if you want to know about my past). This autobiography also documented her battle with alcoholism, which forced her to retire for ten years. However she returned stronger than ever in the 1990s, accepting a role in Werner Herzog’s film Cry of Stone. But it was her friendship with the Spanish film director Pedro Almodovar, who includes Vargas’ songs in his films Kika, Tacones Lejanos (High Heels) and La Flor de mi secreto (The Flower of My Secret), which gave her a level of exposure to Spanish and European audiences which she had never previously experienced.
 
Almodovar said that it seems that Chavela ‘is only singing for you, she tells your story’. She also appears in the movie Babel singing Tú me acostumbraste. In 2007 the Latin Recording Academy gave her its Lifetime Achievement Award. She was also honored as a ‘distinguished citizen’ of Mexico City and received Spain’s Grand Cross of Isabella the Catholic. Her last work, which she presented in Spain shortly before her death, was La luna grande, a tribute to Lorca in which she sings 18 of his poems accompanied with the melodies of her most popular songs. In words of the Spanish musician and Chavela’s friend, Joaquin Sabina: ‘With the departure of Chavela, a way of singing as crying gets lost.’
 
Valeria LuiselliWritten by Reece Choules

The spotlight of the London Book Fair 2015 was rested firmly on Mexico’s best contemporary novelists, poets, and literary activists, allowing many of Mexico’s recently translated writers received the wider attention their works merited. To celebrate, we took a look at 22 of the best contemporary Mexican writers, some of whom were on show at the book fair.

READ MORE...

The 7 Must-See Films of Alejandro González Iñárritu

Written by Lauren Cocking

Part of the so-called Three Amigos of Cinema collective, alongside fellow Mexicans Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñárritu is perhaps one of Mexico’s best known cinematic exports. The first Mexican director to be nominated for the Academy Award, he was also the first Mexican to win a Cannes Festival Director prize. His roster of work is known for being dark, gritty and excellently shot with memorable scores. Here are his top seven must-see films. 

READ MORE...

 


Octavio PazWritten by By Laura Vila
 
The Mexican poet, writer and essayist Octavio Paz is remembered for his concern for politics, anthropology and Mexican society, and is considered one of the most important writers of the 20th century
 


logo

The 7 Must-See Films of Alejandro González Iñárritu

 
The 7 Must-See Films of Alejandro González Iñárritu
Written by Lauren Cocking
 

Part of the so-called Three Amigos of Cinema collective, alongside fellow Mexicans Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñárritu is perhaps one of Mexico’s best known cinematic exports. The first Mexican director to be nominated for the Academy Award, he was also the first Mexican to win a Cannes Festival Director prize. His roster of work is known for being dark, gritty and excellently shot with memorable scores. Here are his top seven must-see films.

 

Amores Perros (2000)

  Iñárritu’s first feature length directorial debut was the amazing Amores Perros (Love’s A Bitch), which would remain his highest rated film and form the first part of his Trilogy of Death. Featuring a soundtrack scored by Gustavo Santaolalla and including classic Mexican groups like Café Tacvba, Amores Perros is arguably Iñárritu’s best film musically speaking, and is also a must-see of Mexican cinema in general. Often criticized for scenes of dog fighting (which is illegal in most of Latin America), its inclusion was necessary to show the harsh realities of life in Mexico City.
   

11’09’’01 September 11 (2002)

Technically a short, Iñárritu directed the ‘Mexico’ segment of this international film released the year after 9/11. It focuses on the reactions of 11 different countries from around the world to the devastating events of that world-changing day, as they give their perspective on the horrific actions that took place in New York City. Each segment is exactly 11 minutes and 9 seconds long, and comprises of just one frame. A must-see simply for the social interest of the project as a whole.
     

21 Grams (2003)

The second film in Iñárritu’s Trilogy of Death is the similarly critically acclaimed 21 Grams. Unlike his first feature film, this one is an American, English-language production; however, the interweaving, connected storyline conceit that featured in Amores Perros remains a key feature. Starring Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Benecio del Toro as a born-again Christian, events are lynch pinned by a tragic car accident. Iñárritu skilfully weaves together the narratives in a compelling manner, so you’ll be glued until the finale.
     

Babel (2006)

Iñárritu’s Trilogy of Death culminated with 2006’s Babel. The film with arguably the vastest scope, events take place in four different countries – Mexico, Morocco, Japan and the US – and are again linked together with concurrent, interconnecting storylines. For this effort, Iñárritu won the Best Director award at Cannes Film Festival, as well as receiving one of the seven Academy Award nods Babel received in 2006. This is unsurprising considering the wide international appeal of the film and the presence of Brad Pitt as the leading man.
     

Biutiful (2010)

His lowest rated film in terms of critical response, Biutiful – headed by the wonderful Spanish actor Javier Bardem – is still a must-watch of Iñárritu’s back catalogue. His first return to Spanish-language filmmaking since 2000’s Amores Perros, Biutiful takes its title from the phonetic Spanish spelling of the English word ‘beautiful’. Regularly considered melancholy in tone, Javier Bardem has been widely praised for his portrayal of Uxbal, a struggling father with only a few months to live.
     

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

A satirical black-comedy is the best way to describe Iñárritu’s 2014 feature, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Featuring excellent performances by the always vibrant Emma Stone, and leading man Michael Keaton, Birdman is Iñárritu’s best critically rated film since his debut Amores Perros. However, putting to one side the acting and storyline (which follows a struggling actor attempting to put on a Broadway show), the real sell of this movie is the awesome, Academy Award-winning cinematography; Birdman was filmed as if to appear like one long, single shot.
     

The Revenant (2015)

Another Iñárritu must-see is his most recent offering, The Revenant. Perhaps most noted for finally giving the often side-lined Leonardo DiCaprio his much longed for Oscar, The Revenant was also a blockbuster success at the box office and critically acclaimed. However, one much repeated criticism about this particular film was its overly long runtime. Even so, it’s a masterpiece in direction, cinematography and acting, and most definitely a must-see for fans of Iñárritu.
   
 

Octavio PazWritten by By Laura Vila
 
The Mexican poet, writer and essayist Octavio Paz is remembered for his concern for politics, anthropology and Mexican society, and is considered one of the most important writers of the 20th century
 
 

Valeria LuiselliWritten by Reece Choules

The spotlight of the London Book Fair 2015 was rested firmly on Mexico’s best contemporary novelists, poets, and literary activists, allowing many of Mexico’s recently translated writers received the wider attention their works merited. To celebrate, we took a look at 22 of the best contemporary Mexican writers, some of whom were on show at the book fair.

READ MORE...

 

‘A Way Of Singing As Crying’: Remembering Chavela Vargas 

Chavela Vargas, who died on the Aug. 5, 2012, epitomized the ranchera genre in Mexico and brought this distinctive folk music to the world. She recorded over 80 albums and featured in a host of films including those by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. Culture Trip takes a brief look back at her long, amazing career.


READ MORE...

 

 

 

 

 


 


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Support the Pro Musica Youth Chamber Orchestra!

Support the Pro Musica Youth Chamber Orchestra!

Written by Tim Hazell, Art Director

The Pro Musica Youth Chamber Orchestra is a 25-member ensemble, made up of musicians from the Celaya Conservatory and the University of Guanajuato, with San Miguel de Allende participants, as well.  It's a fabulous group of young concert artists.!  As Pro Musica’s (www.promusicasma.org) Vice President, Director of Education Outreach, Orchestra Director and Conductor, I am asking readers of Art in San Miguel who enjoy my monthly essays and are committed to high standards in education outreach to join me in making the orchestra a success with your donation.  

The funds will be used to supplement our current operating budget, which is not sufficient to keep up with our growing reputation and new recruits.  Minimum contribution is US$5.  There is no limit to how much you can pledge and my heartfelt thanks goes out to those who read my background materials and decide to donate more!

I hope to establish a permanent fund for future expenses related to concerts, scholarships and much more. Your contribution will help make it all happen.  We plan to kick off our summer season of concert-length premieres with selections by Mozart, Beethoven, Gustav Holst and Claude Debussy!

Contributions can be made directly to my Crowdrise site: Texas Heritage/Rhythm Rhyme and Reason.  The Texas Heritage Music Foundation is a 501C-3 non-profit organization, based at Schreiner University in Kerrville Texas.

For more background information, please use the link to access the Pro Musica 2017 Annual Report, which is devoted in its entirety to my four current music outreach education programs, including the Pro Musica Youth Chamber Orchestra and School of Music.

 

Please join with me in making dreams come true!

Written by Tim Hazell, Art Director

 

Click here to support Texas Heritage Music Foundation Inc. by Tim Hazell



 ----- Last Article from Tim Hazell -----


 

Music! Music! Music!

Written by Tim Hazell, Art Director

 

Down at the Crossroads:

 

The legend of Faust might best exemplify the concept of a pact with the devil, but such a bargain is also a cultural motif common to many Christian folk tales.  The protagonist seeks eternal youth, wealth or status.  The price is the wagerer’s soul.  In this dramatic vignette, Jesus’ words imply a journey of suffering foretold by proclaimers of the will of God.  Judas Escariot is at the crossroads, aware that his betrayal of Jesus will be impossible to prevent:

 

“Simon,” Peter saith unto him, “Tell us who it is of whom he speaketh.”  Jesus therefore answereth, “He it is, for whom I shall dip the sop, and give it him.”  So when he had dipped the sop, he taketh and giveth it to Judas, and Judas, who betrayed him, answered and said, “Is it I, Rabbi?”  Jesus saith unto him, “Thou hast said.”

 

Great achievements have been credited to a pact, from the violin virtuosity of Niccolb Paganini to the “crossroad” myth associated with Robert Leroy Johnson (1911- 1938).  Legend has it that this master of Delta blues made his own journey to the crossroads to trade his soul for guitar wizardry.  Johnson’s premonitions surface in these lyrics.

 

Hellhound On My Trail

 

I gotta keep movin’

Blues fallin’ down like hail

And the days keeps on worryin’ me

There’s a hellhound on my trail...

 

Johnson asks to make his guitar strings bay like the hellhound.  “I gotta have that sound, Devil-Man.  Where do I sign?”  Devil replies, “Your word is good enough, but you better be prepared.”   Johnson: “Prepared for what, Devil-man?” Devil: “You know where you are, Robert Johnson?   You’re standing in the middle of the crossroads.  Your soul will belong to me.”

 

Confessin’ the blues?  Here’s classic Southern comfort! 

 

Chicken and Black-Eyed Pea Soup

 

Ingredients:

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 tsp. red chilli flakes

1 large red onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 carrots, sliced

2 ribs celery, sliced

2 tsp. sage

2 tsp. thyme

3 cups chicken or vegetable broth

2 cups water

1 tsp. salt (or to taste)

Ground black pepper

2 15 oz. cans black-eyed peas (or substitute beans), drained

1 cup shredded spinach

Parsley garnish

 

Directions:

Heat oil in a large saucepan.  Season chicken pieces with a little salt and pepper, brown lightly and set aside.  Add chilli flakes, sizzle, then red onion, garlic, carrot and celery.  Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, to deglaze the pan and soften vegetables.  Add sage and thyme.  Return the chicken pieces.  Add chicken/vegetable stock, water, salt and pepper.  Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add black-eyed peas and cook for a further 5 minutes.  When ready to serve, place 1/4 of the spinach in the bottom of each bowl.  Top with soup and sprinkle with parsley.  Serve with crusty bread or cornbread muffins.

 

Ensembles as Canons for Innovation:

 

Eighteenth-century Europe, and England in particular, witnessed unprecedented prosperity, and a burgeoning, educated middle class.  The newly affluent attended opera houses, salons, private homes and pleasure gardens to enjoy diverse entertainments and music.  Handel dominated the venues for opera and the oratorio, but William Boyce, Joseph Gibbs, Michael Festing and others were composing chamber music for small ensembles and plush cloisters in the homes of wealthy patrons.

 

The Classical era and flowering of the Romantics changed the face of Western society.  Europe saw revolution, the Franco Prussian War, invention of the telegraph and internal combustion engine.  Frederic Chopin enlarged the repertoire for solo piano, expanding the instrument’s range, as well as its impact on modern music.  Franz Schubert’s personality and style exemplified the Romantic ideal.

 

Later Expressionist composers such as Schoenberg and Paul Hindemith took chamber music into unexplored territory and new directions.  Schoenberg, evolving from his early tonal works to later use of dissonance, insisted that this new textural development was simply a logical evolution.  Modern movements in classical genres, as well as jazz were classified using similar phrases, appearing in critiques by the establishment, that applied to visual arts and architecture.  Minimalism, for example, was characterized by the absence of adornments such as modulation, in pursuit of a stripped down functionality.  This device is generally understood as a theory of major/minor tonality.  Perceptually, tonality can express a migration and return to a hub, or central reference point.  In relationships between sciences and post-tonality in music, processes of cognition take the form of principles that delineate our private responses to change, such as intuition.

Definitions of  temporality in music  may confirm or refute certain absolutes.  Variable behavior as a range of modalities within societies has a visceral affinity with the liberal arts.  In composition, properties of elasticity and resistence to standardization pertain to tempo, rhythmic and metric structures, allowing for the possibility of anti-narrative techniques, non linear motion, autonomic gesture and deliberate incoherence.  These reflect choices we make based on philosophical and rustic considerations, idiosyncratic of content and style in the humanities of native cultures as well.

 

Urban centers such as Chicago have long been recognized for their affiliations with leaders in contemporary classics and jazz.  Beat poetry during the 1950s paved the way for further experiments and interaction between authors and exponents of the avant garde, incorporating sounds of chaos, such as breaking glass and multiple radios turned on and off at random, with ethnic tonalities such as Afro-Caribbean musical traditions.  Among recent projects, Raíces y SueZos (Roots and Dreams) involved the talents of master percussionist Rubén Álavarez and poet David Hernández, a founding member of Chicago’s Latino Arts Movement.  Described as “the city’s poet laureate,” Hernández uses the sounds, smells and textures of his environment, supplementing thirty years of experience as a writer with his collaboration in music ensembles.  Rhythms and tonal clusters affect the shaping and organization of Hernández’s verse, as in “The Butterfly Effect,” where chains of associations freely move from one image to another.  The effects, forming links of hallucination, resemble the conflict and resolution of themes navigating without fixed key centers.

 

If a butterfly flapping its wings in Beijing

could cause a hurricane off the coast of Florida,

so could a deck of cards shuffled at a picnic.

So could the clapping hands of a father

watching his son rounding the bases,

the wind sculpting his baggy pants.

So could a woman reading a book of poems,

a tiny current from a turned page

slipping out the open window, nudging

a passing breeze: an insignificant event

that could snowball months later into a monsoon

at a coastal village halfway around the world.

Palm trees bowing on the shore.

Grass huts disintegrating like blown dandelions.

 

Trios, quartets and ensembles provide the perfect medium for expressive sonic palettes.  This makes them ideal catalysts for new continuities and innovations.  Many of today’s composers have grown up and participated in electronic experiences, encounters which are often subverted as part of the learning processes inherent with academic training, surfacing later on as methods to explore the fringes of a banquet of temperament, setting the pace for invention.  Compact size and close proximity with the audience bring eye contact and ensemble body language nearer to enthusiasts of the small concert stage.  There are moments of diminuendo as silence is shaped, or when a crescendo is imminent, when one feels the sonority of strings, the dynamics of pizzicato and glissandi churning under the floorboards at one’s feet.

 

An intimate concert of great ensemble playing elicits an intense involvement, chemistry that can only come from the synthesis of performer and spectator.  Groups, such as the La Catrina Quartet who concertized at St. Paul’s Church as part of the San Miguel el Grande Pro Musica series recently, are able to transform scores into gestural sweeps of emotive power, laced with subtle shades of humor, pathos and irony.  Artists of stature are much more than the products of Universities and Conservatorios.  When inspired, they transform the works of avant garde and traditional composers into catalysts for things we can remember of the past, present and future.  During la Catrina’s performances of Anton Webern, Thomas Janson and Mozart, sound scapes  gathered and pooled, private topographies that captured and suspended harmony, scent and sight.  Audience and musicians were set adrift in pursuit of private gardens of darkness and luminescence, minding each other well, almost understanding.

 

Music before Columbus:

 

The first instruments in pre-Columbian cultures were probably those obtained from the environment and used in their natural states, without further modification.  Seed pods or “cascabeles,” the conch shell trumpet, calcite stones that emitted pleasing sounds when struck and the tortoise shell played with deer antlers may have originated from organic materials that were gathered for utilitarian purposes.  As New World religions became more complex, rituals demanded sacred music, dance and human sacrifice.

 

From these beginnings the sophisticated manufacture of musical instruments evolved.  For example, the tortoise shell gave rise to the teponaztli.  This is a hollowed out log, richly carved and/or painted, with two to four keys cut into the top that emit musical notes when struck with mallets.  Clay flutes come in all shapes and sizes, requiring great skill and knowledge of acoustics in their manufacture.  Trumpets are painted with images of gods, sacred events and animals, manufactured from clay, wood, stone and gourds in the Mayan tropical lowlands.  

 

Native music still requires the duplication of sounds produced by natural phenomena such as wind, rain and birdsong.  Modern indigenous musicians might include instruments such as the “omichicahuaztli” or musical rasp, globular clay flutes with a myriad of animal and plant forms called ocarinas, and the huehuetl (Nahuatl for grandfather) log drum with a resonating cowhide skin, hollowed out from a single trunk and richly carved.

 

Mexican recipes are part of the country’s living archaeology.  Many have used the same ingredients and preparation techniques since pre-Columbian times.  Pumpkin seeds play an important role, toasted in their hulls and eaten as a snack, or hulled but unroasted and unsalted, used in moles and the following “Camarones en Pipián.” 

 

Shrimp in Pumpkin Seed Sauce


Ingredients:

1-1/2 lbs. medium-sized shrimp, unshelled

1-1/2 cups cold water

1 tsp. salt, or to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup hulled, unroasted, unsalted pumpkin seeds

8 sprigs fresh coriander, leaves only

1 chile serrano

1/2 small white onion

1 tbsp. unsalted butter

2/3 cup sour cream

 

Directions:

Place the shrimp into a saucepan with water, salt and pepper and bring to the boil.  Turn off the heat.  Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and transfer to a colander.  Let cool until safe to handle.  They will continue to cook.  Reserve the liquid.  Shell and de-vein the shrimp, reserving the shells.  Place shells in the saucepan with the reserved liquid, cover and simmer 10 minutes longer.  Reserve the broth and discard the shells.  Gently toast the pumpkin seeds in a heavy, dry saucepan until they start to swell and pop.  Do not brown.  Add the shrimp broth, coriander, chilies, onion and toasted seeds to a blender jar and blend until smooth.  Melt butter in a pan.  Add the pumpkin seed sauce and cook over a very low flame for about 10 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan.  Fold shrimp into the sauce, stir in the sour cream and heat through.  Serve with tortillas or rice.

 

Ancient Sounds:

 

Ancient Greek music has emerged from a handful of ancient documents inscribed with a vocal notation devised around 450 BC, consisting of alphabetic letters and signs placed above the vowels of Greek words.  Ancient Greeks composed music and verse meant to be accompanied by the lyre, reed-pipes, and various percussion instruments between 700 and 450 BC.   These are known from paintings and archaeological remains, allowing researchers to establish the timbres and range of pitches they produced.  Modern scholars have been able to reconstruct and perform these fragments.

 

As representatives of art, the science of acoustics, structural engineering and relationships with the human body, musical instruments are older than civilization itself.  Musicologists speak of corporal origins and, in the words of André Schaeffner, define this as “musiques corporelles” (body music).  Hand clapping to accompany singers or instrumental passages is depicted in numerous tomb paintings and reliefs.  Egypt in particular employed musicians using carved wooden “clappers” from pre-dynastic times to the Hellenic period. 

 

Archaeological excavations in the ancient Syrian city of Ugarit during the 1950s unearthed tablets containing cuneiform signs in the Hurrian language, one of two including Akkadian spoken during the eras of Sumerian, Amorite transitional and succeeding Babylonian civilizations.  These turned out to be the oldest known piece of music ever discovered, a 3,400 year-old cult hymn from about 1,400 BC. 

 

Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, professor of Assyriology at the University of California, deciphered the instructions contained in the text for the first time in 1972.  The tablets containing the “notation” have since been interpreted by other scholars of antiquity and are thought to comprise the most ancient annotated song in the world, predating the second earliest Greek example of harmony by at least 1,000 years.

 

Lyrics are indicated at the top of the tablet and the bottom half contains instructions for playing the music, in the equivalent of a diatonic “major” (“do, re, mi”) scale.  The implications of a seven-note diatonic scale, as well as harmony existing over a thousand years before the earliest Greek examples, have challenged musicologist theories about the origins of simultaneously-sounded musical notes.  The odds that the number of syllables would match the notation seem to rule out random coincidence.

 

Very few examples of authentic “recipes” survive before the classical epoch, but meticulous ledgers kept by Egyptian scribes record payments in staples such as bread, onions, garlic and fish.  Here is a modern adaption of New Kingdom (1500 BC) marinated chicken.  

Ingredients:

Chicken drumsticks and/or thighs

1 tbsp. coriander seeds

2 tsp. cumin seeds

1 tsp. cayenne pepper

Coriander, mint and/or spring onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

Salt and black pepper to taste

Drizzle of olive oil

Splash of balsamic vinegar

 

Directions:

Lightly toast the coriander and cumin seeds in a small pan.  Coarsely grind in a coffee or spice grinder.  Combine with the other marinade ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Rub into the chicken pieces.  Refrigerate and marinate overnight.  Grill or roast as desired.

 

Hip-hop Poetry Redefines the American Dream:

 

The white girls lift their heads like trees,

The black girls go

Reflected like flamingos in the street.

 

The white girls sing as shrill as water,

The black girls talk as quiet as clay

- Thomas Merton

 

The rise to independence, equality and identity of black America would see the development of significant literary trends that became established art forms following the turbulent and dissident fifties and sixties.  One fusion of poetry, African rhythm and eloquently legitimized street smarts emerged and achieved international renown as rap and hip-hop. 

 

Characteristics of the movement are differences in tone, diction and rhythm of English as it is spoken in the United States.  America’s culturally diverse fabric, sounds of its machines and high technology exerted pressure upon languages brought from Europe.  Lyrics gyrate off the page as rapper Biz Markie struts and preens, confidently moving through his urban domain in “Me Versus Me.” 

 

I’m the original B-I-Z

The Emeza-Emeza-Emeza-Emeza-A-Rrah-K-I-E

Everywhere I go, I always G

I’m thinkin somethin that you never could see

Doin the beatbox and the R-A-P

That’s why I’m the Inhuman Orchestra, Biz Markie

I’m here just doin my J-O-B

So I can reach the T-O-P

As soon as I get to the T-O-P

Then I will be D-O-N with the E

I rock New Jersey and N.Y.C.

Whether it’s at a club or a block party

To my man Capri, Starchild and Brucie Bee,

Baby J, and DJ Marty

The title of the song in the place to be

Is not this or that, it’s “Me Versus Me”

 

In a nation founded on the principle that all men are created equal, slavery was an incongruent concept for its displaced, exploited ethnic groups.  Early black voices challenged the idea that their race was considered intellectually inferior.  Highly structured, elegant and strident lyrics began to appear in the works of 18th century writers and poets.  Cults such as the cargo theology developed messianic concepts in which the adherents believed that the white man had a special means of communicating with God.  At its roots the cargo movement’s proposal was that by acquiring this gift black society could avail itself of material wealth and escape brutal economic realities.   African American poetry and song retained its preoccupation with human bondage throughout the abolitionist movement.  Trappist monk, Thomas Merton (1915-1968), evoked images of Harlem’s slums with scathing impact.  Activist Eldridge Cleaver would use passages such as the following excerpt to rekindle his fires of indignation during moments of apathy:

 

“Here in this huge dark, steaming slum, hundreds of thousands of Negroes are herded together like cattle, most of them with nothing to eat and nothing to do.  In this cauldron, estimable natural gifts, wisdom, live music, science, poetry are stamped down and left to boil with the dregs of an elementary corrupted nature, and thousands upon thousands of souls are destroyed by vice, misery and degradation, obliterated from the register of the living, dehumanized.  What has not been devoured in your dark furnace, Harlem, by marijuana, by gin, by insanity, hysteria, syphilis?”

 

Seeds for “Last Poets,” pioneers of rap verse, germinated from the prison experiences of Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, who chose jail as an alternative to the Vietnam war.  Nuriddin, a devotee of Islam, had learned an early form of rapping, “spiel,” while in prison.  With two other inmates, he returned to Harlem upon his release and with his partners, Omar Ben Hassan and Abiodun Oyewole, laid the groundwork for the hip-hop movement.  Last Poets, formed in 1969, performed in the streets and their charged lyrics fused with music became true performance art that spawned poetry workshops of the time.

 

Part of the hip-hop experience involves the process of bringing African mythology to life and redefining Afro-American Christianity “to honor and re-illuminate those ancient things that remain in the ears.”  Its juxtaposition of images are literary concoctions that soar and exude power and energy.  Henry Dumas’ verse reflects tensions between realism and the surreal using influences from voodoo and rap vernacular.  Rap is not a passing fad, but a legitimate vehicle for poets and storytellers to communicate fresh ideas and expose outmoded politics.  As with any lasting movement, art and subculture are one and the same and cannot be evaluated separately.  Here is an evocative, savory example of Dumas’ experimental work.

 

brown sound chocolate

memories

like the first time

you saw grapes

and tasted them

and learned the color

blue

brown sound cream milk

echoes

like the first time

you saw bees

and tasted gold

and learned the honey

tongue

brown sound africa...

 

Musique Corporelle!

 

Musical instruments represent many things; engineering, science, culture, religion and philosophy.  Musicologists speak of “body music.”  Musicians gravitate to instruments that are comfortable to hold and play.  Choices of timbre and materials are personal; blind players are particularly sensitive to pitch, vibration and balance.

 

Body music - hand clapping, finger snapping and foot stamping to accompany instrumental passages or vocal arrangements are characteristic of ethnic music and were incorporated into American folk genres by early settlers.

 

Romans used the word tibia or shin-bone as a model for instruments that were blown.  In French, “un nez en trompette,” the flaring opening of a trumpet, defines an upturned nose.  Classical theater in ViLt-Nam employs various vocal techniques referring specifically to human anatomy.   The nasal voice is “giong mui,” and “gion ham” is the voice of the jaw.  American blues references to the guitar speak of a cry or shout. 

 

India’s folk music adds vitality to community life.  There are songs for weddings, planting and harvesting.  Found materials such as coconut shells, pots and skins are used by artisans in ingenious ways.  Commonly known examples include the bansuri or bamboo flute, chimpta or fire tongs, ghatam or clay pot, small bells, wooden clappers, jaw harp and pot drum. 

 

Pythagoras, born about 569 BC in Samos, Ionia, was a pivotal figure in the development of music theory, credited with the invention of a monochord, a single string running between two bridges fixed to a box-shaped resonator.  He referred to harmony as “harmony of the spheres.”  As we experience sensations while listening to music, our bodies capture and transmit sounds.  Reactions to music are often very subjective.

 

Prolific composer and theorist John Milton Cage Jr. (1912 - 1992) is remembered for his use of the I Ching to create music involving chance, and for his 1952 composition 4'33?  Musicians who perform the opus do nothing apart from being present on stage.  “Four minutes and 33 seconds of silence,” is really about natural effects heard by the audience from surrounding, ambient space.  Cage was an avid macrobiotic cook during his later years.  His estate provides us with this robust stir fry! 

 

Walnut Chicken (a la Cage)

 

Ingredients:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp. white wine

1 inch piece ginger, peeled and minced

1 tsp. cornstarch

1 tsp. sugar

2 scallions, sliced diagonally

3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

1 cup walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped

2 tsp. sesame oil

3 tbsp oil

 

Directions:

Marinate chicken breast cubes in soy sauce, wine, sugar and ginger overnight.  Heat 2 tbsp. oil in a wok or large heavy skillet.  Stir fry garlic and nuts.  After three minutes transfer them to a bowl.  Blend cornstarch with chicken cubes.  Heat remaining 1 tbsp. oil.  Add chicken and marinade to wok.   Stir fry about 10 minutes, until chicken is tender.  Toss in the nuts, garlic, scallions and sesame oil.  Serve with rice and a green vegetable.

 

Riddim!

 

Prior to 1930, literature in the Caribbean was a diversion of the elite.  Englishmen of the “Sugar Isles” promoted British imperialism.  Anti-colonial consciousness marked the emergence of  Caribbean voices finding their first expression in calypso.  Calypso originated in West Africa and migrated to the islands, incorporating elements of calinda dance, shango and work songs.  Reggae sprang from these roots.  Here is an excerpt by Jimmy Cliff:

 

Between the day you’re born and when you die

They never seem to hear even your cry

So as sure as the sun will shine

I’ll get my share now, what’s mine,

Then the harder they come, the harder they’ll fall

One and all...

 

Dub poet Derek Walcott won the 1992 Nobel Prize for Literature, a dub landmark.  Jamaican wordsmiths, along with the “Mouvement Négritude” in the French Caribbean, believed African emergence could rejuvenate Carib cultural histories.

 

Renowned Jamaican dub poet Jean Binta Breeze syncopates island life with “get flat”!

 

Wen storm come

yuh bawl

‘get flat’

an watch mountain

rub a dub

troo de sea

from Brixton

to Elleston Flats

yuh can see de wukkin riddim

ben de people dem back!

 - from “Riddim Raving”

 

Jamaican cuisine is a potpourri of influences from native Arawaks to British, African, Indian and Chinese colonists.  “Jerk seasonings” are hot spice mixtures, wet- or dry-rubbed into meats, chicken, fish, shrimp, sausage, vegetables or tofu.  Take a “ride on de riddim” and experiment freely with this marinade. 

 

Jerk Fish and Mango Salsa


Ingredients:

4 whole fish, gutted and scaled, or fillets

 

Marinade:

2 tsp. allspice

2 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

2 tsp. brown sugar

2 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme or 3 tsp. dried.

1/4 cup coriander leaves, chopped

1 Scotch bonnet, habanero or serrano chilli, minced

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 dried bay leaves, crumbled

One-inch piece ginger, minced

2 spring onion greens, chopped

Minced zest and juice of 1 lime

Olive oil

 

Salsa:

1 ripe mango, peeled and chopped

2 spring onions, sliced

1/2 cup fresh coriander, chopped

Pinch of salt, pepper and sugar

Juice of 1 lime

Olive oil

 

Directions:

Lay whole fish or fillets in a shallow oven dish.  If using whole fish such as red snapper, make three slashes in the flesh of each.  Set aside.  Combine allspice, black pepper and salt in a bowl along with cloves, sugar, thyme, coriander, chilli, garlic, ginger and crumbled bay leaves.  Add spring onion greens, lime zest, juice and a drizzle of oil.  Mix well.  Pour the marinade over the fish.  Massage it in (rubber gloves will protect from burn).  Leave in the refrigerator  to marinate for a minimum of one hour.  Prepare the salsa; combine mango in a bowl with the spring onions and coriander, add salt, pepper and sugar to taste, lime juice, a drizzle of oil and toss.  Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Bake the fish for 15–20 minutes until tender, slightly charred if whole, and aromatic.  Serve with mango salsa and lime wedges!

 

Tango With Picadillo and Mojo Sauce:

 

Little road that time erased,

that one day saw us walk by together,

I have come for the last time,

I have come to tell you my woe.

- Tango lyrics from “Caminito”

 

Argentinian Tango lyrics are often profound, the result of collaborations such as the style of the Boedo group of poets.  One of the most famous examples of the genre, “Organito de la Tarde” was written in 1923 by Jose Gonzalez Castillo.  It is based on the theme of an old man and the languid music of his organito (barrel organ).  The wooden leg of a companion accompanies the rhythms of the tango:

 

At the slow pace of a poor old man

Giving turns to the crank

The little organ at twilight

Fills the suburb with notes

 

A lame man marches behind

As his wooden leg

Marks the beat of the tango...

 

Cuban “Habanera,” dubbed “Tango Americano,” combined African and Haitian trends in rhythm and movement, becoming a sensation in countries such as Spain and America.  The term is synonymous with “gusto,” finding extroverted release in the island’s cuisines, as well.  These recipes for Picadillo (Cuban Hash) and Mojo Sauce evoke a rich ethnic panorama with an Afro-Cuban pulse!

 

Picadillo a la Habanera (Cuban Hash)


Ingredients:

1 lb. ground lean pork or beef

1/4 lb. ground ham

3 tbsp. olive oil

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 bell pepper seeded, chopped into 1/4" pieces

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 tsp. ground cumin

2 tbsp. tomato sauce

1 tsp. white vinegar

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

1 large potato, peeled and cubed into 1/2" pieces

1/4 cup coarsely chopped olives

4 eggs, fried sunny side up

 

Cooked white rice

 

Directions:

Add olive oil to a large frypan and cook meat (except the ham) thoroughly.  Add ham, onion, garlic, and bell pepper.  Cook mixture till onions are translucent.  Add ground spices, tomato sauce, and vinegar.  Mix very well over medium heat until bubbling.  In another pan, fry the potato cubes until brown.  Stir in olives.  Layer on the rice and meat mixture, and top with the eggs.  Serve very hot with Mojo sauce.

 

Mojo Sauce:

 

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

10 large cloves garlic, peeled and very thinly sliced

1/4 cup onion, minced

1/4 cup coriander, finely chopped

1/2 tsp. ground oregano

2 tsp. ground cumin

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice

1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice

1 cup water

 

Directions:

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan.  Add prepared garlic and onion and cook 2 to 3 minutes until pale golden brown, stirring constantly.  Stir in the citrus juices, water and all dry ingredients except coriander.  Bring sauce mixture to a rolling boil.  Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.  Stir the coriander into the cooled sauce mixture.  Serve in a bowl alongside main dishes as an accompaniment.


 ----- Last Article from Tim Hazell -----


 

The Urban Matrix

Written by Tim Hazell, Art Director

 

“Qué quieren conmigo los puristas, all tongue-tied and sitting proper behind fat stoic dictionaries?  I've already eaten the thin white skeletons of foreign words, choked on the bones of Inglés Only, learned the art of speaking in codes and code switching, learned to spit palabras out of boca abierta like bullets like fire like fuego like poems have already licked alive the crevices of open-legged borders bleeding the histories and languages of my name.  Have already been witness to silence to white-haired first grade teacher bringing finger to lips and saying, Shhhhhh! Speak English.”

- Olga Angelina Garcia Echeverria

 

The capitalist city, viewed in whatever historical context, and in light of its constructed spaces, is inevitably a collective.  The relationships that its citizenry deliberately and spontaneously establish with their quotidian art, architecture and public domains are determined by cultural characteristics as unique as fingerprints.  Taken together these constitute an urban matrix or identity. 

Societal portraits evolve from an inherent artfulness that cannot be denied; a population’s need for joy, discourse, relationships, recreation and care of the soul that even the most totalitarian of regimes can’t suppress indefinitely. Life is by nature interdisciplinary and urban spaces have always been created for multiple purposes.  However, it is also clear that such designated “playful” zones for recreation and repose, can be manipulated to reflect aspects of municipal control.

I think it’s inevitable that contradictions surface when we evaluate our rights to establish spaces for the use of everyone.  If individual freedom of choice can be cited as a fundamental aspect of unity, then some form of social control is necessary to safeguard the rights of the majority whose wish is to take advantage of these designated areas in harmony, while respecting each other’s needs for nurturing and recuperation.

 

Constructivist Thinking:

 

Manifestos of the early Constructivists during the first two decades of the twentieth century seem to echo these sentiments.  Architect, painter and sculptor Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953) strove to replace the traditional contemplative functions of art with an aesthetic that would engage the masses.  He and others envisioned a “construct” of art and architecture as an expression of emerging modernism, and extended this proposal to their materials, which were to convey clarity and truth, reflecting emerging technologies of the new machine age. 

Tatlin’s investigations provided fresh approaches for state propaganda and advertising.  His influence extended to major trends such as the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements.

Tatlin's Tower, a design for the monument and headquarters of the Comintern (Third International), combined a machine aesthetic with dynamic additions celebrating technology such as searchlights and projection screens.  This work was immediately hailed by artists in Germany as a revolution in art. 

Colleagues George Grosz and John Heartfield are shown holding a placard in a 1920 photograph that reads “Art is Dead - Long Live Tatlin's Machine Art.”  The tower was never constructed due to Russia’s financial crisis after the revolution.

 

Post-Modernist Disenchantment:

In the last few decades, post-modern urbanists have argued that the classic public space is disappearing.  For them, areas defined as constructed environs for social encounters and individual rejuvenation had been - partially at least - replaced by “pseudo-publicspaces” such as the mall or gated community.  This may originate from a nostalgic vision of the mythic past in which communally shared parks, town squares and green spaces were idealistic creations, never mechanisms of social control, existing solely to express the power of the community to act without restraints, on behalf of their interests, to conceive and implement work and leisure related habitats.

It’s interesting to view post-modernist thinking from the perspective of a realignment or readjustment of volatile, changeable processes occurring in post-industrial societies.  Post-modernist movements of the late 1950s, were spawned by negative reactions to the perceived dehumanizing effects of modernist architecture art and minimalist thinking.  Postmodern philosophy was greatly influenced by the writings of Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche in the 19th century and other early-to-mid twentieth-century luminaries, including phenomenologists Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, structuralist Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault (who rejected the notion of himself as a post-modernist thinker) and Georges Bataille. 

Artist-provocateur Marcel Duchamp, composer and progressive thinker John Cage, as well as other noteworthy installation, mixed media and assemblage artists have affected the direction and objectives of the movement. 

 

Installation art

A chorus of architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, urban planners, sculptors and visual artists rejected the celebration of the machine and returned to a semiotic analysis of manmade and natural structures. 

 

Architecture of Caos

 

They probed internal and external characteristics of form, “deconstructing” objects to reassemble their components without tampering with their individuality.  Hallmarks of the movement are controlled chaos and asymmetrical approaches to design.

 

 

Contextual Relationships

In keeping with the trends set by Contextualism, a late twentieth-century approach to the nature of cognition, centered on the belief that all knowledge is “context-sensitive,” post-modern approaches to public spaces and the architecture that defines them strive to validate the design and layout of these landmarks by addressing their contextual relevance - in terms of the materials, sculptural and utilitarian forms and other buildings in the vicinity.  This is in keeping with the idea that knowledge can’t be understood as such without aligning it with its context in society as a whole.

Two main branches of modernism, functionalism and rationalism, were overturned in favor of a reinstatement of ornamentation, historical allusion, and symbol.  An expanded semantics of signs was applied to existing pragmatic architecture to add a richness of intent that modernism had discarded.  Architects turned back towards the aesthetics of the past, revitalizing forms such as the ancient column, incorporating pre-modern designs as daring adaptions.  Use of structure and space as a functional and formalized abstraction, a hallmark of the modernist style, was replaced by diverse “international” aesthetics: genres in collision, form as a poetic vocabulary celebrated for its own sake and fresh approaches to defining and channeling space proliferated.  It has been stated that the post-modernist movement heralded the return to “wit, ornament and reference.”

 

A Living Configuration:

 

It is my belief that the inner life of great cities can’t simply be predetermined by powerful socio-cultural forces or politics, including the emergence of extreme capitalism, totalitarianism, disequilibrium and chaos.  An urban matrix is more infinitely diverse, variable and unpredictable than any utopia we could develop in virtual reality, or implement in some corner of the Third World.  The idea of healthy metropolitan growth and development applies to the necessities of the “productive machine” (people and goods movement, designation and materialization of work and recreational zones), the addressing of absolute and relative poverty and legitimized barrios.  Playfulness as a serious study of liberal arts relationships to ambient space and form includes the promise of a centralized authority seceding its dominant position to decentralized pluralism. 

At a distance, modernism by contrast seems to represent an attempt to create, with suitable instruments and under specified conditions, connections between art, philosophy, architecture and progress.  This was to be achieved in such a way as to delineate for all time a state righteousness and truth about expression and its obligations to be as pragmatic as possible from a philosophical and political point of view; even to define the difference between what was good and bad, beautiful, ethical, moral and immoral. 

Too often we see that our configurations of contemporary urban spaces, implementation of zoning and creation of public buildings reflect rationalist mechanisms for justifying land and materials use.  Capitalist systems rely on strategies for maintaining control over just how socio-cultural communication and our gregarious interactions with one another is articulated.  The mall, for instance, true to its nature, is oriented solely towards the acquisition of utilitarian goods because of its effective processes for encouraging and regulating impulses to spend.  Malls and other pseudo-public spaces appeared as important factors in the transformation of our social interactions.  Super-regulation can easily be converted into devious and menacing politics.

The vision of post-structuralist thinkers such as Foucault emphasized the concept of a metaphorical space of liberty, in which existed the State and other private entities that constituted a point of departure for critical-rational debate.  The argument was public, all could join in, and the theme was the legitimate use of power.  This debate, in order to not become a mere simulation, required the coming together and diverse variations of logic and speech of many social groups.  True liberty of thought and action must relate to and vibrate sympathetically with the changes and schisms of living society - the world at our feet.  This is also a transformation of the feudal state into one of flexible capitalism and commerce.

 

Urban Graffiti - The Radiant Child:

 

Urban visionaries adapted politics, sexuality, self exploration, criticism and spirituality to improvisational and innovative modes.  New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, (December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988), achieved notoriety and public attention as part of SAMO.  The graffiti duo illustrated the cultural ferment bubbling in Lower East Side of Manhattan during the late 1970s, where hip hop, post-punk and street art movements converged.  Basquiat participated in The Times Square Show, a multi-artist exhibition in June 1980, sponsored by Collaborative Projects Incorporated and Fashion Moda.  In September of the same year, the artist joined the Annina Nosei gallery, working in a basement below the establishment to produce his first one-man show, which opened in March 1981 to great success.  In December of that year, René Ricard published “The Radiant Child” in Artforum magazine, which brought Basquiat to critical attention and acclaim.

"Dustheads" (1982) by Jean-Michel Basquiat is shown in this undated handout photo released to the media on May 15, 2013. It is estimated at $25,000,000 to $35,000,000. Source: Christie's Images Ltd. 2013 via Bloomberg

During the 1980s his star in the jaded art world rose meteorically, with sold-out exhibitions in international galleries and museums.  His neo-expressionist style can also be considered as post-modernist.  Basquiat’s art focused on “suggestive dichotomies,” such as affluence versus want and integration versus segregation.  He appropriated social “sedimentation” poetry, drawing and painting, creating a  patois of text and image, abstract and figurative rendering of form that was historical allusion infused with contemporary allegory and critique.  The dialogue in his paintings can be viewed as a scathing commentary, denouncing legitimized racism and barrios; the same strategies for maintaining control that we have seen surface as ongoing symptoms of inflexible capitalism.

 

Marc Mayer had this to say about the artist in his “Basquiat in History:”

 

“Basquiat speaks articulately while dodging the full impact of clarity like a matador.  We can read his pictures without strenuous effort - the words, the images, the colors and the construction - but we cannot quite fathom the point they belabor.  Quantifying the encyclopedic breadth of his research certainly results in an interesting inventory, but the sum cannot adequately explain his pictures, which requires an effort outside the purview of iconography ... he painted a calculated incoherence, calibrating the mystery of what such apparently meaning-laden pictures might ultimately mean.”

 

 

Jazz in the sixties created an explosive and electric proliferation of directions beyond the control of conservative establishment.  African-American poetry at this time reminds one of the Harlem Renaissance of the twenties and underwent a transformation to a genre which was essentially confrontational.  Gwendolyn Brooks evoked the claustrophobia of the racial cauldron of Chicago slums and became the first black to win a Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1950.

We Real Cool

The Pool Players

Seven at the Golden Shovel

We real cool. We

Left school. We

Lurk late. We

Strike straight. We Sing sin. We

Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We

Die soon.

 

America’s “melting-pot” cuisine reflects the ethnic diversity of its Latino, African-American, Native and Creole populations.  This recipe is as earthy as the milieu from which it sprang!

 

Black Bean Soup with Chorizo and Braised Chicken

Ingredients:

4 pieces chicken thighs and drumsticks, skins removed

Freshly ground black pepper

Pinch of salt

1 tbsp. oil

2 links chorizo - one chicken and one pork, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

8 scallions, finely sliced, greens and whites reserved separately

4 large cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp. ground cumin seed

2 whole canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, finely minced, plus 1 tbsp. sauce from can

1 can chicken or beef broth

1 28 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed (or use 3/4 lb. home-cooked dried black beans)

2 bay leaves

 

Garnishes:

Sliced avocado

Chopped fresh corriander leaves

1 Serrano pepper, thinly sliced (optional)

Sour cream, Mexican-style crema, or yogurt

Limes, cut into wedges

 

Directions:

Season chicken on all sides with salt and pepper.  Heat oil in a large saucepan.  Add chicken and saute until browned.  Remove and set aside.  Add chorizo and fry, stirring occasionally, until crisp and starting to char, about 4 minutes.  Carefully drain off excess fat.  Add scallion whites and garlic.  Cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add cumin, chopped chipotles and adobo sauce, stirring for another minute.  Return chicken pieces to casserole.  Add 1 cup water, broth and bay leaves.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook, uncovered stirring occasionally, until chicken is tender, but still firm.  Remove chicken pieces, add black beans and nestle chicken back into ingredients.  Return to a boil, reduce and continue to gently simmer for a further 10 minutes.  Remove bay leaves.  Mash some of the beans against the side of the pot, repeating this process until soup is the desired thickness.  Garnish with chopped coriander, scallion greens, lime wedges, sliced serrano pepper (if used), sour cream, crema or yogurt.

 

Jazz Poets Create Verbal Murals:

 

Latino and black poets living in multiracial urban centers such as Chicago have long been recognized for their affiliation with leading contemporary jazz composers and musicians.  Beat poetry during the 1950s had paved the way for further experiments and interaction between authors and exponents of Afro-Caribbean musical/social traditions.  Recently projects such as Raíces y Sueños (Roots and Dreams) involved the talents of master percussionist Rubén Álvarez and poet David Hernández, a founding member of Chicago’s Latino Arts Movement.  Described as “the city’s poet laureate,” Hernández uses the sounds, smells and textures of his environment, supplementing his thirty years of experience as a writer with his collaboration in music ensembles.  Rhythms and tonal clusters affect the shaping and organization of his verse, as in “The Butterfly Effect,” where chains of associations freely move from one image to another. 

 

If a butterfly flapping its wings in Beijing

could cause a hurricane off the coast of Florida,

so could a deck of cards shuffled at a picnic.

So could the clapping hands of a father

watching his son rounding the bases,

the wind sculpting his baggy pants.

So could a woman reading a book of poems,

a tiny current from a turned page

slipping out the open window, nudging

a passing breeze: an insignificant event

that could snowball months later into a monsoon

at a coastal village halfway around the world.

Palm trees bowing on the shore.

Grass huts disintegrating like blown dandelions.

 

Jazz with its flair for improvisation triggered verbal expression in lyrics, poetry and scat singing that can be traced back to the beginnings of its development.  The quirks that distinguish this genre had an effect upon writers who worked in tandem with pioneer composers in the field.  Scat and full-tilt saxophone provide a tasty recipe for the following extemporaneous verse by Bob Kaufman.

 

DEEREDITION, BOOMEDITION, SQUOM, SQUOM, SQUOM.

DEE BEETSTRAWISIT, WAPAGO, LOCORO, LO.

VOOMETEYEREEPETIOP, BOP, BOP, BOP, WHIPOLAT.

 

In the realm of black poetry Kaufman (1925-1986) will be remembered as one of the founding fathers of the Beat Generation, along with his white contemporaries, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs.  The question remains as to whether he was a street poet, a beat poet, a people’s poet, post-modernist or all of these.  Certainly he epitomized the predicament of the black author writing and living with disillusionment and the ravages of street life, alcohol and police brutality.  Kaufman’s knack for wisecracks and insults of great originality and broad range of influences, including Federico García Lorca, Tennessee Williams and Hart Crane, gave his poetry its sonority and biting social commentary.  He has been described as a black surrealist and linked with the jazz-inspired verse of LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka).  “Darkwalking Endlessly” uses repetition as a musical device to propel words through the air. 

 

I WEAVE THE WINDS AND KISS THE RAINS, ALL FOR

LOVE.

I DREAMED I DREAMED AN AFRICAN DREAM.

DRUMMING HUMAN BEATS FROM THE HEART OF AN

EBONY GODDESS,

HUMMING THE MELODIES OF BEING

FROM STONE TO BONE AND FROM SAND

ETERNAL.

 

America’s multiracial voices rise from its teeming metropolises where Puerto Rican and other Latino minorities, as well as its black population, are born into the harsh realities of ghettos, slums and housing development projects.  Those few individuals who manage to escape incarceration and become the activists and eloquent chroniclers of street life that surrounds them often utilize the musical cadences of fellow artists and contemporaries in jazz and Afro-Cuban song.  Great urban writers today from African American and Latino cultures are also innovators of verbal abstractions, using language as an elastic and fluid medium.  ‘Ad-lib’ is at the heart of the jazz poet’s craft.  David Hernández and the legendary Bob Kaufman represent the integration of vibrant sounds, provocative harmonies and daring new verse.

 

Drummer, hummer, on the floor,

Dreaming of wild beats, softer still,

Yet free of violent city noise,

Please, sweet morning,

Stay here forever.

- Bob Kaufman

 

“Fast food” is a fundamental part of our urban experience.  This “up-town”version of the iconic grilled cheese sandwich adds flair to an all-time American favorite!

Ingredients:

1/2 cup pecan halves

1 tbsp. canola oil

1 tsp. kosher salt

4 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

Eight 1/2-inch-thick slices of sourdough bread

4 tbsp. hot pepper jelly or other preserve

1 chilled round of Brie or Camembert cheese (8.8 ounces), cut into 1/4-inch slices

 

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350̊.  In a pie pan, toss the pecans with the oil and salt.  Bake for 8 minutes or until toasted.  Let the pecans cool, then coarsely chop.  Spread 1/2 tablespoon of the butter on one side of each slice of bread.  Spread 1/2 tablespoon of the pepper jelly on the other side of each slice.  Arrange  on the jelly side of 4 slices of bread and top with the pecans.  Cover each sandwich with another slice of bread, butter side facing out. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over moderate heat.  Add 2 sandwiches and grill for about 4 minutes.  Flip the sandwiches and cook until golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is melted, 4 minutes more.  Transfer to a work surface and cook the remaining 2 sandwiches.

 

Many of America’s ethnic groups have multiracial backgrounds.  Black poets assimilated language and style of the dominant white urban mainstream to show their audiences how concepts of liberty and freedom rang hollow in the tenements of those who were excluded from the basic principle that all men are created equal.  The songs of Joshua McCarter Simpson were the voice of emancipation set to existing popular melodies and sung by the slaves.  Irony and ambiguity characteristic of early black poetry conveyed the abolitionist message with use of double entendre exhorting both people of color and the white population to take action against oppression.

 

These writers exposed the incongruity of African American history, contrasting the stereotype of a land of equality for all using the striking verbal landscape of their own environments and dialects to celebrate change, the desire to move forward, destabilize society and take risks.  Their experiments in reshaping language rejected formal modernism along with capitalism’s sterile public facade, resulting in images that disturb and shock but are also a form of catharsis.

 

The Bean Eaters

 

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair,

Dinner is a casual affair.

Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,

Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.

Two who have lived their day,

But keep on putting on their clothes

And putting things away.

And remembering...

Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,

As they lean over the beans in their rented back room

that is full of beads and receipts and dolls and

cloths, tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.

 

Science and innovation are fruits of the natural accumulation and sedimentation of ideas.  The cultural community is an amalgam of symbols, codes, semiotics and semantics.  The role of the individual and collective in day-to-day society is shaped by socialization, coercion and cooperative consensus.  Individuals, their socio-cultural infrastructures, collective conscience and actions, personalities and identities determine the effects of Globalization and Neo-liberalism. 

 

A collective imbibes, or absorbs, releases artifacts that are exchanged freely, shared and assimilated communally, creating a landscape of collective faiths, visions and aspirations. 

The modern collective struggles with political and social polarization, cultural relativism, the media onslaught of points of view, a changing aesthetic and its impact on contemporary culture.  Characteristics of post-industrial transition are diverse and profound changes in the marketplace.  Post- modernist thinkers infer that sprawling urbanism, utilitarian trends in architecture, and unchecked progress in global and Latin American modernization has led to standardization and dehumanization.  A recent more organic return to basic sentiments proposes to reinstate archetypes, affirm the value of personal integrity and create fresh possibilities for the individual in the street.  Demands for linguistic liberty, along with developments of contemporary strategies for communication in art, science and the humanities have accompanied the emergence of an international trans-aesthetic.

 

Flexible capitalism, aspects of individual and social cognition, a living cultural diversity, artfulness and innovation in progress are characteristic of a rejection of totalitarianism and archaic attitudes about the tyranny of fresh ideals.  Controversy has pitted the cultural elite against popular consensus, true collective memory and real chances for dialogue.  While no political system that avails itself of the insights gained by professionals can take credit for the design of a model community, municipalities must be able to define and implement mechanisms of growth, restoration, control and conservation which exemplify the natural tendencies of urban populations to covet and design environments that nurture creativity, liberty, fresh ideas, socio-cultural communication, and democracy.

 

Beginnings and specialization: Contribute to the development of sustainable cities, informed by best practices in urban planning. Green energy and environmental standards:

 

To reconfigure organizations, plan and renovate corporate and governmental administrative local, regional and national grids, guarantee the efficiency of production, and ultimately to apply liberal incentives to a skilled talent resource pool, modern capitalist Mexico will be studying characteristics of distribution and how it affects new consumer values, as well as marketplace trends and ethics.  Optimum management of systems and spaces at the root systems of commerce will carry the benefits of healthy systems control and development to other parts of the social network, and ultimately to the apex of the cooperative pyramid itself.  The challenges inherent in setting this positive dynamic of modernization in motion tests the principles of sound politics and ideologies to their limits. Mexico is a nation where transparency is a recent phenomenon. A certain amount of overt corruption has always been accepted, even tolerated, as the status quo.

 

I believe that stages of growth in societies as extensions of ourselves can be monitored the same way that we record human development. Because communities are organic, comparisons can be made to states of well being.  These are synonymous with sound modes of thought, clear linguistics, and a healthy physique.  Cultures pass through infancy, adolescence, maturity and senescence as energies within catch fire, cause ripples of belief to expand, crest and become moribund.  The living organism of a rural village, urban town or large metropolis constitutes a fraternity of individuals from different classes with diverse occupations.  Together they form a complex network.  When sifting through records left by settlements and civilizations of the past, we come face to face with social phenomena and connections over a period of time.

 

In the past few decades, post-modern urban planners have argued that true public spaces are disappearing.  For them, architecturally designed urban environments for real social interaction, quality study, leisure and meeting places for city dwellers, have been partially replaced by pseudo-public spaces, such as the shopping mall and exclusive businesses for the social elite.  Urban environments for all citizens are meant to express the energy of the entire community.  Effective commercial spaces are about communication, and the productive democratic exchange of commerce in an atmosphere of liberty and social equality. It’s precisely this sort of democratic experiment that carefully designed pseudo-public spaces seek to control.  The capitalist city in its historic context has always been a collective of public relations.  The way that the architecture of these spaces is designed represents a semantics that grows out of this eloquent, innate social conversation.  Quality recreational time in these positive environments becomes a natural, liberated expression of the people themselves.

 

From this we can deduce that the necessities of providing viable green urban spaces do not depend on or grow out of the politics of legislation.  They exist because of the public’s need to appropriate and transform living spaces through their own resourcefulness.  The freedom to do this in a true (post) capitalist, living city will result in a reinforcement of social liberties and equalities.  These spaces will always reflect the ethnic diversity of the citizens who use them without prejudice.  Imagined spaces where utopian relationships prevail and real spaces that are a result of political concerns suffocating liberal attitudes can be combined as optimum spaces that bring the resources of urban planning, fine arts, politics, sciences, and business together to reflect the fruits of pluri-cultural exchange.

 

This discussion carries a component for philosophy and one for debate, to be expressed forcefully through the designs of urban planners and architects.  They, as well as the governments that have contracted them have many motivations to construct public spaces, not all of which have to do with the public’s empowerment, liberty or true socio-cultural expression.  Enlightened thinking by post-modern philosophers and urbanists such as Foucault emphasize the concept of a metaphorical space of civil liberty in which exists the State and private interests and that engender true critical-rational debate, presenting the proposal for a legitimate exercise in empowerment.  In reality, this dialogue, in order not to become a simulation, requires that the rational human intellect engages in encounters and conversations with many diverse social groups.

 

This necessary liberty is related to the profound changes occurring within Mexican society that transform feudal attitudes about ownership and servitude into the appearance of capitalist commerce and changeable, flexible finance.

***

Written by Tim Hazell
- Art Director, Art in San Miguel Magazine


 


 ----- Last Article from Tim Hazell -----



Mesoamerican Commerce -
The Phoenicians of Middle America

Written by Tim Hazell
- Art Director, Art in San Miguel Magazine

 

 

 

Trade and External Contacts:

 

Among the Maya from the beginning of the Pre-Classic period  (c. 2000 BC - AD 250), communities were reaching out, often to considerable distances to obtain raw materials or finished goods.  By the time of the Spanish conquest, the Post-Classic (c. AD 950 - 1539) Maya were participants in a widespread network of trade and exchange reaching south as far as Panama and north to Central Mexico.  Columbus, on his fourth voyage of 1502, encountered an Indian canoe near the Bay Islands off Honduras as long as a western galley and 8 feet in width.  The vessel was  filled with cotton cloth of many designs and colors, shorts that reached the knees, flint knives, cloth for cloaks, swords of wood with flakes of flint set along the edges and produce from Honduras, as well as copper axes, bells and cacao beans; the standard Mesoamerican unit of currency.

 

Analysis of the contents points to a connection with central Mexico for the copper implements, Yucatan for the cotton clothing, and Belize for the cacao beans which had probably been picked up on the way down the coast for shipment back to the Yucatan on the return voyage.  The trip had likely begun in the Gulf of Mexico at the great Maya-Aztec hub of Xicalango on the Laguna de Terminos where land, river and sea routes meet, and was destined for the Gulf of Honduras where similar ports existed at Naco in the Ulua basin and Nito on the Rio Dulce.

 

The merchants and crew would probably have been Chontal or Put’un Maya from the Laguna de Terminos area, dubbed the “Phoenicians of Middle America.”  The Put’un knew of sites as far down the coast as Panama and Costa Rica.  Mayan sites of gold and gold alloy metalwork from this isthmian area indicate that a movement of goods had become commonplace at least by the Early Classic period (c. AD 200 - 900) at the same time as Mayan influence had begun to be felt along the coast as far southeast as Costa Rica.

 

We can draw upon both archaeological and etno-historic evidence in studying the role of trade in Mayan culture and the materials traded, the means by which they were transmitted and the motives underlying the exchange system.

 

“Trade”- a term loosely used which may refer to the direct acquisition of something from its source to exchange with the producer of the source, or to the activities of merchants either peripatetic or based in market centers.  Trade operates on a number of scales, in terms of the distance traveled, bulk of goods carried and nature of the merchandise.

 

The buying and selling of a current surplus of food - a few dozen eggs or a bag of corn -  to a neighbor in a village market is trade on the local level.  The availability of goods from a range of communities in different environmental zones or with different specialities constitutes regional trade.

 

 

The distribution through several regions of goods of restricted origin but wide demand, such as obsidian in both the Middle East and Mesoamerica constitutes long distance trade.  The greater the bulk of the commodity traded and the more widespread its distribution the less distance the commodity will travel.  In contrast to items such as Quetzal feathers, jade and obsidian, which were brought great distances from specific areas of origin, foodstuffs would have probably constituted the bulk of goods in any pre-industrial exchange system, and most would have been locally grown and consumed.  The open-air market represented the chief arena for commerce and exchange of goods as it remains today.  In the Middle East and Africa this is also the way in which commerce is conducted.

 

Cotton textiles were a highly tradable commodity from the lowland zones and were exported out of the Yucatan in exchange for obsidian, jade and cinnabar of the highlands.  Cacao, another very important and commercial crop, was cultivated at Chetumal on the lower Rio Hondo, the Ulua valley in northwest Honduras and the Pacific Piedmont of Chiapas/Guatemala.

 

Cacao was brought from the Lubaantun area up into the Veracruz highlands around Cajabon.  This route is still in use today by the Cobanero traders who bring back cacao among their other acquisitions.  Pre-Classic Mayan cacao trading, according to carbon dating of cacao pod rinds recovered from trash deposits at Cuello in northern Belize, may have begun as far back as 1100 BC.

 

During the rise of great cities of the Classic period such as Uxmal and Palenque, and inspired leadership of kings like Pakal (AD 591-683) and Chan - Balum, the Mayan culture reached its zenith.  This was a time of architecture, sculpture and codices (screenfold books) of exquisite beauty.  Unique among pre-Conquest civilizations, the Maya possessed a logo-syllabic system of 800 individual symbols (glyphs).  Apart from the monumental Popul Vuh, sacred manuscript of the Quiché Maya, we are left with shimmering gems of verse.  These lyric poems speak of love, philosophy, ancient rituals and personal feelings.  They are strikingly modern and reach across the millennia, filled with scents of flowers and jungles that preen and strut.

 

Here is an excerpt from the Songs of Dzitbalché, Mayan Poetry by Ah Bam, translated by John Curl:

 

Put on your beautiful clothes;

the day of happiness has arrived!

Comb the tangles from your hair;

put on your most attractive clothes and your splendid leather.

Hang great pendants in the lobes of your ears;

put on a good belt.

String garlands around your shapely throat;

put shining coils on your plump upper arms.

Glorious you will be seen,

for none is more beautiful here in this town, the seat of Dzitbalché!

 

Yucatan is still very much the heartland of the “Yucatec” Maya—the people who actually call themselves “Maya.”  Here is an authentic Mayan salsa that gets its name because it makes your nose run and become cold and wet like a little dog’s!

 

Little Dog’s Nose (Xni'-pek')

Directions:

Seed and chop an habanero chile.  Add chopped onion, garlic, tomato, and any herbs, to taste.  Marinate in lime juice, with salt.

 

Xni’-pek’ can marinate for up to a day once made.

 

Salt was produced from production centers with pans for evaporation or pots for boiling and probably packed for transport in leaf wrappers.  Honey and beeswax were important Post-Classic products of the northern lowlands.  The area of Chetumal supported thousands of hives of the native stingless bee, which produces a sweet liquid honey.  Cozumel was also a noted center of agriculture.  Bees were kept in log hives with their ends stoppered by stone or pottery discs.

 

Obsidian, a kind of volcanic glass gray-black and occasionally green or gold in color, is found in many parts of the world, from New Zealand to eastern Europe and has been exploited for thousands of years because it fractures easily and can be made into tools with a sharp edge or point.  In Asia, the substance was traded over long distances by land and water from about 6000 BC.

 

Obsidian sources in Mesoamerica have been located in the highland plateaus of central Mexico and the volcanic spine of Guatemala and El Salvador.  Long-distance export of this material had begun before 1000 B.C.  Obsidian begins to appear in Belize about 1300 B.C. and was brought from San Martin Jilotepeque, northwest of Guatemala City, and a trade route down into Peten and downstream on the Pasion-Usumacinta to the west, and down to the Hondo to the northwest.

 

 Two Major Mayan routes:

 
       

Mayan trade depended on two major thoroughfares, one operating over lands and down rivers, the other running up the Carribean coast around the Yucatan Peninsula and linking up with waterways and land routes into the interior.  Trade in metallurgy on a limited scale in the Maya area occurred before AD 550, verified with the discovery of a pendant made of tumbaya, a gold-copper alloy made in Costa Rica and imported into Belize.  The same cache contained shells and pearls that could have come from the gulf of Nicoya on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

 

Pottery, a carved mirror with a hieroglyphic inscription, possibly from Tikal, and ornamental jade have all been found in Costa Rica which seems to have been a meeting place for goods and merchants from as far apart as Mesoamerica in the northwest and Colombia in the south.

 

Metallurgy in the Americas:

 

Smelting techniques and metal-working began in the Colombia-Panama region, spread from there along sea routes to a receptive secondary center in Mexico were the Mexicans developed their own style in copper and gold goods by the Late Classic period.  At the same time similar goods appeared in the Maya area, some of which were certainly locally made.  Thus the art of metallurgy was introduced to the broad area of southern Mesoamerica and with the Maya in the Post-Classic period a distinctive style began to emerge, with the evidence of lost wax casting and other complex techniques.  This implies the existence of specialist metalsmiths.

 

 

Since no copper ores exist in the Maya lowlands, the metal must have been imported, either as ingots or scrap and it has been suggested that northern Honduras was the source.  A repousse gold disc from the cenote of sacrifice at Cichen Itza depicts a scene in Toltec-Mayan style depicting the defeat of Maya by the Toltecs.

 

Trade during the Classic period of Mayan civilization involving long distances was principally in exotic or elite goods and controlled by a theocracy used to support its position as the ruling class.  Merchants did not exist as a separable socio-political entity, unlike the Pochteca of the Mexican empire.  Most goods likely to have been traded over long distances in the earlier part of the Classic period, were functional in the elite social sense rather than useful in the economic one such as  jade, marine shells, fine pottery vessels and obsidian contributed more to the status of their possessors than to their survival.

 

However, the skills shown in working some of these materials and the local styles in which exotic goods were sometimes manufactured  from late Pre-Classic period onward does suggest the existence of merchant artisans, carrying their own materials and producing items on commission, comparable to the bronze-smiths of prehistoric Europe.  Merchants may have existed as a class of craftsmen in Pre-Classic and Early Classic periods but not as a distinct stratum of society.

 

During the Mayan Late Classic and Post-Classic there was a broadening of the trade base with mass production of pottery and bulk produce such as salt and cotton being distributed far beyond their areas of production as economic, not as status goods.  This coincided with the rise of the Put’un merchant traders and suggests they organized centers of production and then channeled all the produce into the circumpeninsular trade route which they monopolized, and which was more cost efficient than the old network of trails and river routes used by small canoes.

 

From the Early Pre-Classic period onward, the pattern was set for the exchange of goods, both practical and ornamental, between areas of complementary resources, often distances apart.  This marked the pattern of contact between the Maya and their neighbors for the succeeding three millennia.

 

Native trade and commerce meant a brisk exchange of ideas, customs and oral histories, such as this Quiché Mayan creation myth, along the routes where business was transacted, and in the open-air markets:

 

“God sent a great flood to destroy the houses of the wooden men.  They wanted to escape, but the animals they had starved and beaten, cooking pots they had burned, and trees whose branches they had chopped off, all turned against them.  A few took to higher ground.  It is said that their descendants are the monkeys.  God took ears of yellow and white corn, ground them into meal and made nine kinds of liquor.  These became man’s strength and energies.  With the dough he sculpted the bodies of four men gifted with intelligence.  While the men slept, he created four women.  When the men awoke, each found a beautiful wife at his side.”

 

The exotic soul of Yucatecan cooking, red, black and roasted garlic “recados” are incendiary pastes made from chilies, garlic, herbs and spices.  To make a recado, grind all the ingredients very fine, and moisten with enough “bitter orange” juice to make a solid paste, adding salt to taste.  Lime juice or a mix of orange and grapefruit juice works well as a substitute.

 

Roasted Garlic Recado

Ingredients:

20 large garlic cloves

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. cloves

2 tsp. oregano

Salt to taste

Lime juice

 

Directions:

Roast the garlic (broiling in oven, or roasted in foil over open flame).  Peel and mash with the spices and salt. Mix with enough lime juice to make a paste.  Use as a rub for chicken or pork.  Marinate for at least one hour before stewing, grilling or roasting.

 

The Aztec Pochtecas and Rise of the Middle Class:

 

Hernán Cortez described the huge Aztec market of Tenochtitlan/Tlatelolco in the economic center of the city as follows:

 

“The city has many plazas, where there are always markets being held dealing in foodstuffs and all manner of merchandise.  The main plaza in the middle of the city is surrounded by columns.  Day after day 60,000 people congregate here to buy and sell.  Every imaginable kind of merchandise is available from all parts of the empire, foodstuffs and dress, and in addition objects made of gold, silver, copper... precious stones, leather, bone, mussels, coral, cotton, feathers: finely polished and unpolished stones are for sale, burned and unburned clay bricks, chalk, planed and unplanned beams and boards of every description.  In a particular plaza, all sorts of birds are sold: turkeys, wild fowl, quails, ...all kinds of vegetables are also obtainable, salads, onions, garlic, hellebore, artichokes, watercress and so on...  Maize is offered for sale either as a grain or also in loaves.  Game and fish are available raw, cooked or salted...  The various wares may only be sold in the appointed plazas, a rule strictly kept.  Everything is sold by the piece or by measurement, never by weight.”

 

In the main market there is a law court in which there are always 10 or 12 judges performing their office and taking decisions on all marketing controversies.  They also have the power to administer punishment.  Furthermore overseers always go round and examine the measures of the salesmen and I have frequently seen them taking away a false measure and breaking it.”

 

The Merchants:

 

The hereditary aristocracy and the priesthood, military order and the military aristocracy all had, as far as their functions, influence and power were concerned, changed very rapidly during the fifteenth century.  Nevertheless they had still developed organically out of Aztec society.

 

There was another group however that, for the most part, had forced their way into Tenochtitlan as outsiders, and despite the greatest esteem being shown them by the nobility and close ties that were forged, they were basically to remain outsiders until the fall of the city.  This group was that of the merchants, or Pochteca.

 

The importance which the people of Mesoamerica attached to commerce is clear from the size and central position of the marketplace.  The huge market of Tlatelolco, although the largest in Mesoamerica, was not exceptional.  By the end of the fifteenth century extensive specialization had taken place in the valley of Mexico.  In the market of Atzcapotzalco slaves were mainly the commodity sold, in Cholollan jewels, stones and feathers.  Certain kinds of pottery were sold in Tetzcoco, dogs in the market of Acolman.

 

The importance of the market is emphasized by the fact that it had its own gods and laws:

           

Disputes in the market were referred to permanent market judges, who had power to punish and usually gave verdicts on the spot.  The organization of the market was extremely strict, each item of merchandise only being sold in its appointed spot.  The quality of the commodities was constantly being examined by market inspectors.  It was forbidden for the vendors, under strictest punishment, to buy or sell outside the market.

 

Spanish chroniclers were astonished that heavily-laden peasants on their way to Tlatelolco refused to sell their merchandise, even when offered more than the usual price.  Trade could only be carried on in the market square.  Currency took the form of cocoa beans, which were still regarded as money equal to the Spanish coins years after the conquest.  They were small, handy, valuable and a special delicacy admirably suited to this purpose.  It’s not possible now to determine wether market prices were fixed or left to the discretion of the vendors.

 

Only a fraction of those who sold merchandise in the market were Potchteca in the true sense of the word.  The great majority of marketeers consisted of peasants and craftsmen who laid out the products of their work.  There were no middlemen acting between the peasants of the High Valley and the purchaser in the city.

 

The function of the merchant or Pochteca was more limited.  These were the long-distance traders who imported sought-after products from the distant lowlands into the high central valley or Bajio: feathers, cocoa, cotton textiles, gold, silver, jade, dyes and so on.  Trade between the plateau and the lowlands was many thousands of years old in Mesoamerica.  Long before the rise of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, peoples of the Bajio had tried to obtain the cotton, cocoa and feathers they coveted by barter, if not through conquest.  However, the organization and importance of this trade changed according to whether or not they were lucky enough to have political control over the lowlands or at least the trade routes leading into it.

 

The great city of Tetzcoco represented the center of artistic and intellectual life of the Mexican plateau, under the rule of its philosopher-king, Netzahualcoyotl or Hungry Coyote (1403 - 1473).  The monarch became, as his later European counterpart, Frederic the Great, a warrior, intellectual and statesman who had a passion for the arts.  Tetzcoco’s dominant role followed the development of a military aristocracy, the increase of its power, and liberation from the daily routines of food production.  Aztec dominion over the Mexican highlands was reinforced after the overthrow of Atzcapotzalco and the formation of the Triple Alliance between Tetzcoco, Tlacopan and the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan (Mexico City), in 1428.  This alliance and subsequent conquests resulted in an empire embracing the majority of the population of Mesoamerica at the end of the fifteenth century.

 

Aztec cooking was characteristic of the Nahua peoples of the Valley of Mexico before the arrival of the Spaniards in 1519.  Their diet included corn, squash, fish, wild game, domesticated turkeys, ducks and dogs.  Rich hosts often entertained company seated in rooms around an open courtyard.  Fragrant tobacco tubes and flowers were distributed before a banquet.  Alone among international cuisines, Mexican gastronomy has been awarded a World Heritage designation, because of its many authentic Pre-Conquest recipes that have come down to us and are still in use, such as this intriguing shrimp stew: 

 

Tlaxtihuilli

(Aztec Shrimp Stew)

 

Ingredients:

2 lbs fresh medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined

4 large cloves garlic, smashed and peeled

1 tsp. cumin 

1 cup fresh corn masa dough (available at tortillerias)

4-1/2 cups water

1/3 cup dried shrimp lightly toasted on dry skillet and powdered (opt.)

2 tsp. sugar

2 tsp. salt or to taste

1 tsp. cumin

l/2 tsp cayenne pepper

8 small, unpeeled, cooked and halved new potatoes

1 cup frozen yellow corn kernels

1-15 oz. can whole black beans, drained

 

Spring onion and limes for garnish

Hot corn tortillas

Directions:

Place masa dough in a mixing bowl and gradually add 1-1/2 cups hot water.  Let stand 5 minutes to soften, then mash with a fork until the consistency is smooth and fairly thick.  If using whole toasted dry shrimp, pulverize in spice grinder or with mortar and pestle.  Puree the garlic with a little of the liquefied masa in a food processor or blender and return to the mixing bowl.  Pour contents into a large saucepan and add 3 cups hot water.  Bring to the boil, stirring, then reduce to gentle simmer.  Add toasted shrimp powder, salt, sugar, cumin and cayenne pepper and simmer for a further 5 minutes.  Taste and correct seasoning.  Add the shrimp and simmer 3 minutes longer.  Add black beans, corn kernels and potato halves.  Stir gently to combine ingredients and allow to heat through.  Serve tlaxtihuilli in deep bowls topped with sliced spring onion, with limes and hot corn tortillas on the side.

 

Unlike the lowland Maya, the Aztecs possessed no pack animals and could not take advantage of great waterways.  All trade goods were managed by human porters called tamemes.  This seriously restricted the variety and bulk of merchandise to be handled, resulting in the transportation of high value, exotic and elite items.

 

Different types of jewelry and feathers were earmarked for the warrior class.  Merchants were forbidden to live more opulently than the classes above them.  However, the Potchteca could indulge themselves with rich banquets to which other merchants and members of the nobility were invited.  This type of extravagance frequently bankrupted the host, who would spend all he had earned to bring himself honor and esteem.

 

In order to cross enemy provinces, the Potchteca were masters in the art of disguise.  They became the multilingual interpreters of Aztec society.  Merchants also set up strong military convoys, and were united with all the other guilds of the Highland Plateau cities for this purpose.  They occasionally took the role of warriors and make conquests on their own account.

 

The possibility of accumulating wealth was extremely limited.  Gold coins could be stored indefinitely, but large quantities of cocoa beans or blankets were another matter, nor were the merchants of Mesoamerica in a position to invest their profits in such a way as to revolutionize their economy and ensure decisive political and economic positions for themselves.  Land holdings were a privilege of the nobility, who were almost never inclined to part with them.

 

State loans did not exist.  The payment of debts was among the duties the state itself controlled, but the individual, with certain exceptions could not pledge his land or house.  The only commodities that could be exchanged in the event of bankruptcy were objects of jewelry, his children or himself.

 

Therefore the influence of “money-lending” in Mesoamerica was very limited.  Setting up manufacturing industries was not feasible because of the Aztec’s primitive technical development.  Both the state and powerful guilds of the craftsmen obstructed the monopolization of artisan work by the Potchteca.  Strict regulations governed the personal use of the goods they brought back.

 

A Burgeoning Middle Class:

 

In spite of these disadvantages, the merchants became the most important purveyors of tropical products to the Bajio region and their influence was considerable.  In Tlatelolco, the Potchteca were predominant and in Tetzcoco they sat with equal rights on the Economic Council of the city, which dealt with all matters of commercial interest.  With the penetration of the Aztecs under the great campaigns of conquest into the lowlands and the economic development of the cities of the plateau, the security of the major trade routes was largely guaranteed and increasing numbers of merchants could go on expeditions.  Problems of payment were gradually facilitated.

 

Due to the flourishing crafts work in the cities of the plateau, it was now possible to bring raw materials into the valley of Mexico, have them manufactured there in order to re-export them and purchase new products with the profits.  The trade in war booty after successful campaigns must have been ever more lucrative.  State trading in the large capital sums that flowed into the cities of the empire as tribute was also carried out by the merchants who were increasingly required to trade in state merchandise as well as their own.

 

Large state-equipped expeditions expanded into the small neutral townships that lay between the Maya region and the conquered territories subject to the Triple Alliance.  These hamlets, whose independence from the large cities was respected in order to secure a neutral trading center, were designated outlets for trade.  The merchants demanded a high payment for the increasing services they performed for the Aztec empire.

 

 

Merchants’ guilds represented a state within the empire in many ways.  The Potchteca were the only fraternity in Tenochtitlan to possess their own judges and were not subject to state judiciary.  They appointed the presiding officials in the market at Tlatelolco and were granted special privileges in newly conquered territories.  These regions had to hold markets on certain days and were obligated to invite the merchants of the plateau.  A considerable monopoly was granted to the Potchteca in trading with certain Aztec districts and with the Maya across the Aztec border.

 

Attacks against merchants were punished severely.  If the crime was committed by a city-state, the Aztecs went to war against it.  To protect the merchants, a network of garrisons lined the most important trade routes.  Though they remained outsiders within the socio-political system of the Aztecs, their wealth increased considerably over time.  They were showered with honors and received into Aztec nobility.  Potchteca children attended the calmecac schools and could apply to be received into the order of the Brown Knights. 

 

The merchant class was still considered to be the last and least esteemed of three possibilities considered by the state to achieve a title to their name and found noble families, the first and surest being to distinguish oneself in battle and the second to enter the priesthood.  Nevertheless, membership in the nobility gave the Potchteca the right to invest their profits in purchasing their own land, which brought them great power and prestige.  A burgeoning middle class was emerging in Mesoamerica at the time of the Spanish conquest.

Written by Tim Hazell
- Art Director, Art in San Miguel Magazine


 ----- Last Article from Tim Hazell -----


 

Provocative Connections Between
the Orient and Latin America

Written by Tim Hazell
- Art Director, Art in San Miguel Magazine

Poetry, chant, incantation and mantra all contain their music coiled within the shells of words.  Javanese gamelan and talking drums in symphonic groupings, characteristic of Africa, use repetition, seemingly without the need for variation.  Some centuries-old examples were intended for rituals involving dance that continued until hypnosis set in and participants became transcended.  Poems set to Middle Eastern music incorporate drones, bourbon notes over which melodies are sung and played.  Lyrics typically deal with unrequited love and betrayal.  A formal introduction, like a peacock spreading its tail and strutting before a mate, is followed by principal melodic lines; an oud mutters and weeps as singers’ voices rise before the  haunting and ethereal finale.  These improvisations employ stylized themes with refrains.  Medieval lyrics are redolent of the perfumed language of the Moors, testifying to a man’s hapless rage and date back over a thousand years.  Many would have been accompanied by ethnic strings and percussion:

 

To My Mistress

 

Ungenerous and mistaken maid,

To scorn me thus because I am poor!

Canst thou a liberal hand upbraid

For dealing ‘round some worthless ore?

To spare’s the wish of little souls,

The great gather but to bestow;

Yon current down the mountain rolls,

And stagnates in the swamp below.

- Abu Tammam Habib

 

The legacy of the Moors migrated with the camel trains and Saracen horsemen to Andalusia when it became part of the Arab empire.  Spanish galleons carried this warm breeze to the tropical sands of the New World.  There, among native and black cultures, the melting pot simmered with new ingredients.  Latin American writers from multiracial backgrounds adapted and shaped their distinctive hybrid poetry to reflect the sounds of a variegated tropical environment.  In “Os TrLs Amores” by Castro Alvez (1847-71) we can still hear music from the Oriental desert and the African steppe.

 

My soul is like the dreaming front

Of the crazy bard, who cries Ferrara

I am Tasso!... the spring of your laughs

Flowers my life’s solitudes..

Far from you I drink your perfumes,

I follow on earth the lights of your steps...

You are Eleonora...

 

My pensive heart faints

Mulling over your favorite rose

I’m your pale misty lover

I’m your Romeo... Your languid poet!...

I dream about you sometimes

Virgin...seminude...

I steal from you a chaste kiss by the moonlight

And you’re Juliet...

 

In the voluptuousness of Andalusian nights

The fiery blood rolls in my veins...

I’m Don Juan!... Loving damsels,

You know my dirge on the guitar!

Over the love bed your breast shines...

I’ll die if I undo your mantilla

Your are Julia, The Spaniard

 

Tales of New World riches set Renaissance imaginations ablaze.  It would be left to Spain, liberated from the Arab empire, to cross an ocean to trade, conquer, convert and plunder as fortunes were made and dissipated.  Mediterranean languages were incorporated into the myriad spoken by indigenous cultures.  The results gave newly-blended races of people, their religions, traditions, music and literature a distinctive eloquence.  French, Portuguese and Spanish contributed vitality and elasticity to the music inherent in regional vocabularies.  We can look for inspiration in lyrics that gestured and danced among polyrhythms!

 

Siroccos, Monsoons and Fossil Deserts:

 

Heating up on the equatorial sides of the Horse Latitudes, trade winds move in two belts towards the equator.  Dry currents dissipate cloud cover, allowing the sun to bear down on arid lands.  Trade wind deserts follow the path of their namesake winds, including North Africa’s Sahara, the world’s largest sea of sand.  These desiccated regions have waxed and waned since the beginning of the agricultural revolution, frequently encroaching upon human settlements and farmlands. 

Fossil sediments from ancient beds of sand as much as 500 million years old are found throughout the world, including rainforest environments.   Examples in the US include the Carroll Rim Trail, John Day Fossil Beds Monument, Painted Hills Unit, Oregon, and John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  Dominant weather patterns and geographical locations determine the characteristics of deserts as trade wind, rain shadow, coastal such as Peru’s Atacama, or polar.  The Arctic tundra represents a vast area of desertification in Canada’s far north, while inland Antarctic dry valleys have been snow free for thousands of years.

 

Desert siroccos that blow in one direction shape a wilderness of articulating dunes, some with crest-to-crest widths of more than three kilometers.  These leviathans remain poised, expectant, until a buildup of sand at the brink exceeds their angles of repose, causing small avalanches to slide down the slip-faces, or leeward sides.  Then slowly, majestically, grain by grain, the dunes are on the march - downwind, crossing the sun’s anvil, their undulations bathed in light and shadow.  Here are places in transition, like fragile webs, a delicate balance where equipoise is precarious, a cantilevered arrangement of microclimates.

 

In these marginal areas, human activities stress the ecosystem beyond its tolerance limits, resulting in degradation of the land. Grazing livestock compact the substrate with their hooves.  The collection of firewood eliminates plants which help to anchor the soil.  For the inhabitants of the Sudan, moisture symbolizes life itself, particularly in the dry season when deep wells must be dug to reach the water table.  The Mesakin Nuba, one of many tribes throughout the region, are an agrarian people whose quality of life hinges on abundant yields of staples, particularly dura, their word for sorghum.  Clay-based soils fire in temperatures that exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the dry season.  Beds for growing crops must be broken up by hand, using primitive shovels.

 

“Monsoon” is Arabic in origin, their word for season.  Wind systems are prone to seasonal reversals due to temperature variations between continents and oceans.  Traders’ southeastern winds off the Indian Ocean produce a summer deluge as they move onshore, crossing the Indian continent before losing moisture on the slopes of the Aravalli Range.  Monsoon deserts such as the Rajasthan of India and Thar Desert of Pakistan spread where dry regions are born west of the range.

 

Zephyrs near the Earth’s surface scatter the granules aloft as dust or haze.  Parched atmospheres are crowded with fragments in suspension, held indefinitely in the biosphere by upward currents of air which support their weight.   Saltation moves small particles in the direction of the wind in a series of short hops or skips.  A saltating grain may hit other grains that jump up to continue the process.  Eolian turbidity currents produce dust storms.  Rain passes through and cools the desert.  This sinks, chilled and dense, toward the surface and reaches hot ground, deflecting air forward.  Turbulence sweeps up surface debris in its wake as a dust storm.  Compact winds, appropriately named “dust devils,” whirl like dervishes over arid land, related to intense local heating and destabilization of the air mass.  These can create gyrating funnels a kilometer in height.

 

On occasion, sand seas are wracked by violent storms.  When a rare shower is imminent, the water can torrent.  Dry stream beds, called arroyos or wadis quickly fill, making human crossings dangerous.  Regal waters such as the Nile flow through hostile environments, their volumes derived from rain and snow accumulations from highlands at their origins.  Sediments are picked up and deposited as these courtesans meander their way to the sea.  Civilizations based on alluvial residues spring up and flower as ripples in their wake.

 

Desert plants are tolerant of drought and the salt content from small reservoirs of concentrated water that they store in leaves, roots and stems.  In Mexico’s semi-arid central plateau regions, plant cover is typically lean, but of great diversity—as is the animal life that benefits from aquifers and springs.  Cacti, deciduous trees and aquatic plants thrive, some reintroduced through conservation.  Fauna includes species of birds, reptiles and mammals adapted to meager habitats.  Reservoirs often support verdant shoreline growth, fish and varieties of birds.  The dry chaparral represents a Mexican highland panorama of grasses, mesquite and huizache trees and the stately garambullo or candelabrum cactus.  Summer rains turn these regions into palettes of greens interspersed with riots of multicolored blooms. 

 

For the inhabitants of deserts and regions with water shortages, quarrels over allocations in newly appropriated ecozones readily mushroom into structural conflicts between ethnic lines of demarcation.  Equilibrium in vast tracts of the world’s arid and semi-desert areas is dependent upon environmental harmony and balanced equations of soils, climates, water, flora and fauna.  Modern conditions such as global warming exacerbate persistent drought.  The resulting is widespread famine.  In the process of readapting to variant ecological habitats, environmental borders are created.  Unfortunately for the millions of homeless and dispossessed, these often become ethnic and cultural identification criteria.  Fragile ecology means fragile peace.

 

Arabian Sea Trade Routes:

 

Sea trade routes from the Arabian peninsula extended to the Spice Islands in Indonesia, Zanzibar in east Africa, the Han Chinese kingdom to Malacca and from Ezion-geber along the mouth of the Aqaba Sea to the gold mines of Solomon.  Their dhows were coastal vessels, unsuited to deep water, hugging the contours of the land masses, docking at night and setting out the next morning, staying a day or two at most to take on cargo and refurbish their supplies. 

The Moors controlled a vast empire from northern Africa which, until the dissolution of their military and scientific unity in the twelfth century, included Spain, Sicily, parts of Italy and Portugal.  Moorish verse, music and instrumentation influenced western medieval philosophy, science and the arts long after their citizenry had returned to Africa.  Certain kingdoms in Spain remained under their rule however such as Granada, the last to fall before the Christians under Ferdinand and Isabella, during the holy war of 1492.  Spaniards preserved much Arab literature, including verse and ballads of Moorish origin.  The texts of pieces such as the melancholy “Verses To My Daughters” are laced with the perfumed language of romance, culture and refinement, poignant in the twilight of defeat.

 

With jocund heart and cheerful brow

I used to hail the festal morn,

How must Mohammed greet it now?

A prisoner helpless and forlorn.

 

While these dear maids in beauty’s bloom,

With want opprest, with rags o’erspread,

By sordid labors at the loom

Must earn a poor, precarious bread.

 

Those feet that never touched the ground,

Till musk or camphor strewed the way,

Now bare and swoll’n with many a wound,

Must struggle through the miry clay.

 

Those radiant cheeks are veiled in woe,

A shower descends from every eye,

And not a starting tear can flow,

That wakes not an attending sigh.

Fortune, that whilom owned my sway,

And bowed obsequious to my nod,

Now sees me destined to obey,

 

The Bullfight Of Gazul

 

King Almanzor of Granada, he hath bid the trumpet sound,

He hath summoned all the Moorish lords, from the hills and plains around;

From vega and sierra, from Betis and Xenil,

They have come with helm and cuirass of gold and twisted steel.

 

'Tis the holy Baptist's feast they hold in royalty and state,

And they have closed the spacious lists beside the Alhambra's gate;

In gowns of black and silver laced, within the tented ring,

Eight Moors to fight the bull are placed in presence of the King.

 

Eight Moorish lords of valor tried, with stalwart arm and true,

The onset of the beasts abide, as they come rushing through;

The deeds they've done, the spoils they've won, fill all with hope and trust,

Yet ere high in heaven appears the sun they all have bit the dust.

 

Then sounds the trumpet clearly, then clangs the loud tambour,

Make room, make room for Gazul---throw wide, throw wide the door;

Blow, blow the trumpet clearer still, more loudly strike the drum,

The Alcaide of Algava to fight the bull doth come...

 

Contact with ancient civilizations such as the Romans, Persians, and later on with the Ottomans brought the Arabs in close contact with cuisines of other sophisticated dominions.  This multi-cultural infusion combines sweet and savory and comes from the Arabian Gulf. 

 

Meat and Walnut Nadi with Dates

Ingredients:

3 tbsp. butter

1 lb. ground beef

1/2 cup coriander leaves, finely chopped

2 chicken stock bouillon cubes

3/4 cup water

5 tbsp. lemon juice

1/2 tbsp. lemon zest, shredded

3/4 cup walnuts, chopped

1/2 cup dried dates, chopped

3 tbsp. molasses

2 tsp. ground cumin

Good pinch of ground black pepper

Salt, if needed

 

Directions:

Heat the butter in a saucepan.  Add the meat and coriander leaves, and sauté for 10 minutes over medium heat.  Add bouillon cubes and water and simmer for another 10 min until the meat is cooked and most of the liquid is absorbed.  Add the lemon Juice, lemon zest, walnuts, dates and cumin and cook a further 5 minutes.  Place in the center of a large serving plate and surround with plain rice.

 

Morocco and Tajines:

Morocco’s landscape is rugged, with slopes that gradually descend into plateaus and valleys.  The Atlas mountains dominate the central part of the country, while its southeastern region is blanketed by the Sahara Desert, North Africa’s sea of sand, extending over an area of more than 3,600,000 square miles.

 

Moisture symbolizes life itself, particularly when deep wells must be dug to reach the water table.  Water shortages influence the cuisines of many arid regions.  Moroccan tajine dishes are slow-cooked savory stews, typically made with sliced meat, poultry or fish, together with vegetables, spices, nuts and dried fruits.  Traditionally cooked in a tajine pot with a domed or cone shaped lid, this unctuous combination of meat and fruit, serves 4 to 6.

 

Moroccan Tajine with Prunes

2 lb. tender beef or lamb, cut into serving pieces, or chicken legs

2 medium onions, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. saffron

1 tsp. turmeric

2 four-inch pieces cinnamon stick

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup chopped coriander

 

Topping:

1/2 lb. prunes

1 tbsp. honey

2 tbsp. sugar

1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds

1/2 cup toasted almonds

 

Heat the oil and butter in a casserole over medium heat and gently brown the meat of choice.  Remove from the pot, add onions and garlic and half the coriander and allow to deglaze.  Cook gently until golden, then add salt, black pepper, ground ginger, turmeric and cinnamon sticks. Return the meat and stir to coat with the ingredients.  Add enough water to cover and the rest of the coriander.  Bring to the boil over high heat, then immediately reduce to simmer.  Cover and simmer for two to two-and-half hours (less for chicken), adding a small amount of water during cooking, if necessary, until meat is very tender.  Halfway through the process, remove and reserve 1/2 cup of the liquid.  During the final cooking stage uncover and reduce until fairly thick.

 
While meat is cooking, put the prunes in a small saucepan and cover with water.  Simmer over medium heat, partially covered, until the prunes are quite tender - 15 to 30 minutes.  Drain and add 1/2 cup of liquid reserved from the meat.  Stir in the honey, sugar and cinnamon, and simmer the prunes another 10 minutes until they are sitting in a thick syrup.  Set aside.
 
Transfer the meat and sauce to a large serving dish and spoon the prunes and syrup on top.  Sprinkle with extra coriander, toasted almonds and sesame seeds.

 

Moorish Spain:

 

Islamic Moors crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and swept like a desert sirocco onto the Iberian Peninsula in AD 711, renaming the region Al-Andalus.  According to an account of the time:

 

“The reins of their horses were as fire, faces black as pitch, eyes like burning candles and riders fiercer than wolves in a sheepfold at night!”

 

The Arab empire spread throughout much of southern Europe.  Andalusian Arabic, its language under Muslim rule, deeply influenced modern Spanish.  Although resisted by fierce Basques of the Pyrenees, most of the indigenous population had converted to Islam by AD 1000.

 

The Song of Maisuna

(Wife to the Caliph Mowiah)

 

The russet suit of camel’s hair,

With spirits light, and eye serene,

Is dearer to my bosom far

Than all the trappings of a queen.

The humble tent and murmuring breeze

That whistles thro’ its fluttering wall,

My unaspiring fancy please

Better than towers and splendid halls.

Th’ attendant colts that bounding fly

And frolic by the litter's side,

Are dearer in Maisuna’s eye

Than gorgeous mules in all their pride.

The watch-dog’s voice that bays whene’er

A stranger seeks his master's cot,

Sounds sweeter in Maisuna’s ear

Than yonder trumpet’s long-drawn / note.

The rustic youth unspoilt by art,

Son of my kindred, poor but free,

Will ever to Maisuna’s heart

Be dearer, pamper’d fool, than thee.

 

Moorish presence initiated a renaissance throughout the sciences and humanities.  Metropolises like Córdova boasted paved streets illuminated by oil lamps, raised pedestrian sidewalks and libraries.  Great universities flourished in Almeria, Córdova, Granada, Juen, Malaga, Seville, and Toledo.

 

Rifts in ideologies between Christian and Muslim Europe led to prolonged struggles to regain lost territories, known as the “Reconquista.”  The Moors were expelled from Sicily in 1224.  The Kingdom of Granada continued for three more centuries in southern Iberia.  On January 2, 1492, the leader of this last Muslim stronghold surrendered to the armies of recently united Christian Spain under Ferdinand II and Isabella I.

 

Moorish cuisine endures in the use of honey, almonds, citrus fruits and saffron.  These thirteenth-century Arab breads, deliciously spiced, are folded in half and eaten with the fingers!

 

Lahm Bi Ajeen

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 cup flour

1/2  tsp. salt

1/2 cup water

Pinch sugar

2 tsp. dried yeast

3 tsp. oil

 

Topping:

1 large onion, chopped

1 tbsp. oil

1/2 lb. ground beef

1/2 tsp. salt

Black pepper

1 tbsp. chopped parsley

1/4 tsp. allspice

1 heaping tbsp. ground almonds

1 tsp. sugar

1 tbsp. lime juice

Pine nuts or sunflower seeds (optional)

 

Sift flour and salt into a warmed mixing bowl.  Combine sugar and yeast in another bowl.  Heat water to just above lukewarm.  Stir into yeast and sugar.  Set aside in a warm place until yeast is frothy.  Pour yeast liquid into center of flour.  Add the oil, stir to mix ingredients and knead into a rough dough, adding more flour or water, if necessary.  Turn out onto working surface.  Knead about 15 minutes until dough is smooth and soft.  Return to bowl, cover and let stand in a warm place until doubled in size.  Fry onion gently in oil to soften but not brown.  Put ground beef into a mixing bowl.  Combine with cooked onion, salt, pepper, herbs, allspice, ground almonds, sugar and lime juice.  Turn out the risen dough.  Press to force out air.  Take small pieces and flatten with heel of hand to make 4 - 5 inch circles.  Spread a generous quantity of meat filling over top.  Add pine nuts or sunflower seeds.  Place on a lightly oiled baking tray.  Bake in a hot oven (450 F) about 8 minutes until dough is done but still soft.  Avoid browning.  Serve hot.

***

Written by Tim Hazell
- Art Director, Art in San Miguel Magazine

 

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10 Contemporary Artists From Mexico City the World Needs to Know About

10 Contemporary Artists From Mexico City the World Needs to Know About
Written by Lauren Cocking
 
Mexico City is a thriving hotbed of artistic talent, with big names like Frida Kahlo having lived and worked there and rising talents like Sofía Castellanos calling it home. As far as contemporary art goes, there are plenty of splendid examples to choose from, but these are the ten contemporary artists born in Mexico City that we think the world needs to know about.
 

Damián Ortega

Possibly the most globally recognisable name on this guide, Damián Ortega is a Mexico City native who has dabbled in pretty much every imaginable field of art – sculpture, cartoons, photography, multimedia and installation pieces. A former student of the legendary Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco (from Veracruz), the influence of this art world giant on Ortega is clear throughout his entire body of work, which is principally marked by wit, alongside a general preoccupation with consumerist culture and politics.
Damián Ortega | © Andrew Russeth/Flickr

Damián Ortega | © Andrew Russeth/Flickr

Carlos Amorales

The work of Carlos Amorales has been displayed around the world, but he remains one of Mexico’s lesser-known contemporary artists in many ways. However, Amorales’ prominence is indisputable and his work (particularly his so-called Liquid Archive) is always delightfully dark and cynical, relying heavily on imagery of nature’s seediest creatures – think bats and spiders. As with Ortega, Amorales is also a multi-disciplinary artist, principally influenced by Mexican culture, who’s worked with video, installation, and sculpture.
Carlos Amorales | © libby rosof/Flickr

Carlos Amorales | © libby rosof/Flickr

Betsabeé Romero

If Carlos Amorales’ work is influenced by Mexican culture, then the expositions and installations of the fantastically named Betsabeé Romero are wholly inseparable and entirely connected to the cultural ebbs and flows of Mexico. Most recently she was part of Mexico City’s Day of the Dead mega ofrenda, but her work has also traversed themes like the femicides in Ciudad Juárez. Of her most famous exhibitions, her spiralled llantas (tyres), elaborately decorated with pre-Hispanic motifs and symbols, stand out by a mile.

Minerva Cuevas

Renowned for being both one of the country’s leading contemporary artists and a prevalent social activist, the work of Minerva Cuevas is (as you can imagine) thought-provoking. Again, she utilises various techniques in her work, which range from graphic design to murals and photography, but all her pieces are constant in their ever-changing complexity, adaptability and criticism of modern culture and inequality. This is most apparent in her pieces which critique the consequences of capitalism by appropriating its form and language.
Minerva Cuevas | © Hilary Perkins/Flickr

Minerva Cuevas | © Hilary Perkins/Flickr

Dr. Lakra

Dr. Lakra is the pseudonym for Mexico City-born, Oaxaca-based former tattooist and current contemporary artist Jerónimo López Ramírez. Alongside Damián Ortega, Dr. Lakra is perhaps one of the more internationally well-known artists on our guide and has been exhibited in Paris, New York and London. Concerned with pre-Hispanic culture, Dr. Lakra’s works are elaborate, graphic, kitsch and heavily influenced by his tattooing past. Fun fact: famed Mexican painter Francisco Toledo is his father.
Dr. Lakra | © Lord Jim/Flickr

Dr. Lakra | © Lord Jim/Flickr

Gabriel Kuri

If the surname Kuri sounds vaguely familiar, the chances are you’re thinking of the uber cool Mexico City art gallery kurimanzutto, which is run by contemporary artist Gabriel Kuri’s art dealer brother José Kuri, alongside his wife Mónica Manzutto. Gabriel Kuri, on the other hand, is in the business of creating art, not dealing it, and focuses his attentions on sculpting, collage and installations predominantly made from mass-produced or repurposed materials. As with many of his peers, consumer culture is at the forefront of his concerns.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

If anyone breaks out of the mould of ‘typical contemporary artist’ (if there is such a thing), it’s undoubtedly Mexico City-born, Mexican-Canadian Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. His installations are profoundly concerned with the role of technology in modern life, which is unsurprising considering his background as both chemist and electronic artist. Whether it’s solitary computer chips or entirely interactive, forward-thinking performance pieces that bring together art and technology in a shockingly seamless way, Lozano-Hemmer is undeniably at the forefront of Mexico’s contemporary art scene.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer | © Kevan/Flickr

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer | © Kevan/Flickr

Abraham Cruzvillegas

A contemporary of, as well as influenced by, Gabriel Orozco, the conceptual artist Abraham Cruzvillegas is far better known in his native Mexico than further afield, although he has exhibited hugely successful installations at internationally renowned venues such as London’s Tate Modern. His artistic talents lie heavily in the recontextualization of seemingly disposed and disposable objects, which ultimately leads the observer to question the completeness of the work and purpose of the items themselves.
Abraham Cruzvillegas | © mike/Flickr

Abraham Cruzvillegas | © mike/Flickr

Fernando Romero

The only architect in our guide, Fernando Romero is an incredibly prevalent contemporary artist in Mexico and abroad, having most recently designed the New Mexico City International Airport, as well as the iconic Museo Soumaya building in Polanco. The latter may or may not be related to his position as son-in-law of Soumaya owner Carlos Slim. Either way, he is widely considered one of the leading architects of his generation and places emphasis on the sustainability of a structure in context.
Museo Soumaya, designed by Fernando Romero | © Jorge Brazil/Flickr

Museo Soumaya, designed by Fernando Romero | © Jorge Brazil/Flickr

Daniel Lezama

Finally, we round up the guide with hyperrealistic, controversial painter Daniel Lezama, whose fantastical style manages to transform popular Mexican mythology into something modern, contemporary and transgressive all at once. Over the span of his career, he’s headed up over 20 individual expositions in both his native Mexico and around the world, and many have compared his use of light and dark to the chiaroscuro style of Old Masters like Caravaggio.
 
 
 

Mesoamerican Commerce -
The Phoenicians of Middle America

Written by Tim Hazell

Trade and External Contacts:

Among the Maya from the beginning of the Pre-Classic period  (c. 2000 BC - AD 250), communities were reaching out, often to considerable distances to obtain raw materials or finished goods.  By the time of the Spanish conquest, the Post-Classic (c. AD 950 - 1539) Maya were participants in a widespread network of trade and exchange reaching south as far as Panama and north to Central Mexico.  Columbus, on his fourth voyage of 1502, encountered an Indian canoe near the Bay Islands off Honduras as long as a western galley and 8 feet in width.  The vessel was  filled with cotton cloth of many designs and colors, shorts that reached the knees, flint knives, cloth for cloaks, swords of wood with flakes of flint set along the edges and produce from Honduras, as well as copper axes, bells and cacao beans; the standard Mesoamerican unit of currency...


READ MORE...

 


 

A Guide to Mexico's Pueblos Mágicos
Written by Luis García

 

Mexico’s pueblos mágicos programme was developed by the tourist board in order to promote the rich cultural heritage and history of Mexico through smaller, once overlooked towns. Each of the 111 towns currently recognised as pueblos mágicos offer something a little different, whether that’s fantastic architecture, stunning natural wonders or even just great regional food. With that in mind, here’s your guide to just 11 of the best pueblos mágicos in the country...


READ MORE...

 


 

An introduction to Frida Kahlo in 9 Artworks
Written by Laura Torres

 

Frida Kahlo is arguably Mexico’s most famed, iconic artist. From her monobrow to her flower adorned hairstyles, her distinctive aesthetics garnered almost as much interest as her artwork that was dominated by self-portraiture; of her estimated 140 paintings, 55 are self-portraits. While many considered her a surrealist, Kahlo rejected that title, as her work was immensely autobiographical that focused on Mexicanidad (Mexicanness), the culture and tradition of her beloved patria (homeland) and compellingly introspective subject matter. Here’s a chronological introduction to this fascinating artist in nine artworks...


READ MORE...

 

 

 

 

 


 


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An Art Deco Tour Of Mexico City In 9 Buildings

An Art Deco Tour Of Mexico City In 9 Buildings
Written by Lauren Cocking

Throughout the 20s, art deco experienced a veritable boom in Mexico City neighborhoods such as Condesa and La Roma. To this day, there are some 275 examples of art deco architecture existing in the two colonias combined, so it’s practically impossible to not see some sort of art deco architecture. However, for a proper dip into the art deco world, Avenidas México and Amsterdam in Condesa are must-visit destinations, along with the following nine buildings.

 

Palacio de Bellas Artes

Construction first began around the turn of the 20th century on this imposing buildingwhich has an instantly recognisable white façade, shimmering tiled roof and one of the city’s best collections of murals. However, building work ground to a halt due to the Mexican Revolution and as a result, the edifice we’re left with today is a mish-mash of external neoclassicism and internal art deco stylings. Even so, it’s a key example of art deco architecture in Mexico City. Palacio de Bellas Artes, Av. Juárez, Centro Histórico, Ciudad de México, México, +52 55 5512 2593
Palacio de Bellas Artes | © Mark Hogan/Flickr

Palacio de Bellas Artes | © Mark Hogan/Flickr

Edificio Tehuacán

Designed by prolific art deco architect Ernesto Buenrostro, Edificio Tehuacan in Condesa is a classic and more holistic example of art deco than the Palacio de Bellas Artes. First completed in 1931, the external façade features all the elements typical of the movement, including striking geometric designs contrasted by sweeping curves. Edificio Tehuacán now houses Hippodrome Hotel, which has slightly updated some of the original features. Edificio Tehuacán, Avenida México #188, Colonia Condesa, Ciudad de México, México
Art Deco detailing | © Dean Hochman/Flickr

Art Deco detailing | © Dean Hochman/Flickr

Monumento a la Revolución

This monument was 28 years in the making and is considered the largest triumphal arch in the world. It’s also a textbook example of art deco architecture that you simply can’t miss when in Mexico City. Now a mausoleum for some of the heroes of the Revolution which it pays homage to, this monument was designed by Carlos Obregón Santacilia. Monumento a la Revolución, Plaza de la República S/N, Tabacalera, Cuauhtémoc, Ciudad de México, México, +52 55 5592 2038
Monumento a la Revolución| © Jose Francisco Del Valle Mojica/Flickr

Monumento a la Revolución| © Jose Francisco Del Valle Mojica/Flickr

Edificio La Nacional

Smack bang in the center of the historical heart of Mexico City is another fantastic example of art deco architecture at its best; Edificio La Nacional. Now an office building, it sits across from the Palacio de Bellas Artes and was once Mexico City’s tallest building. Another fun fact is that the neighbouring Sears store, known as ‘La Nacional II’, has a top floor café which offers an excellent view of the Palacio’s tiled roof. Edificio La Nacional, Centro, Ciudad de México, México

Museo de Arte Popular

The building which houses the Museo de Arte Popular was originally constructed in 1927. Under the watchful eye of architect Vicente Mendiola, it has a gorgeous art deco, geometric design and clean white exterior that feature some intriguing Mexican touches; the external stone carvings detail pre-Hispanic motifs. Despite being badly damaged in the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, in 1990 the building was restored and later turned into a museum. Museo de Arte Popular, Calle Revillagigedo 11, Cuauhtémoc, Centro, Ciudad de México, México, +52 55 5510 2201

Parque México

Less a building and more the spiritual centre of art deco architecture in Mexico City, Parque México is hemmed in on all sides by exquisite examples of Colonia Condesa’s roaring 20s past. However, within the park itself you can also marvel over some art deco features, such as its functional, ironwork clock tower and fountains. Definitely pass an hour or two here if you’re intrigued by art deco. Parque México, Avenida México s/n, Cuauhtémoc, Colonia Hipódromo, Ciudad de México, México
Parque México | © E. Krall/Flickr

Parque México | © E. Krall/Flickr

Edificio San Martín

Just off the aforementioned Parque México is another brilliant example of art deco design that’s worthy of its own mention. It was designed by the well-known art deco architect Ernesto Buenrostro and encapsulates many of the key themes of art deco, like geometricdesign and chevrons. Some particularly stand out features are the ornate doorway and porch, which are more than worth snapping a few pictures of. Edificio San Martín, Avenida México, Condesa, Ciudad de México, México
Edificio San Martín | © Keizers/WikiCommons

Edificio San Martín | © Keizers/WikiCommons

Centro Cultural Bella Época

The work of American architect Charles Lee, the Centro Cultural Bella Época has gone through many name changes in its illustrious history but one thing that has remained a constant is the art deco architecture for which it’s predominantly known. It now houses the Rosario Castellanos book store, as well as regular cinema events, so this would be a one-stop shop for art deco and cultural lovers alike. Centro Cultural Bella Época, Tamaulipas 202, Hipódromo Condesa, Ciudad de México, México, +52 55 5276 7110

Edificio Basurto

We round off our tour of Mexico City in notable art deco buildings with the Edificio Basurto. Designed by Francisco Serrano, Edifico Basurto finds itself smack bang in the heart of the Condesa’s art deco hub. The combination of straight edges and sensual curves come together to form this magnificent and iconic fourteen-floor edifice, whose helical stairwell is instantly recognisable. Edificio Basurto, Avenida México 197, Cuauhtémoc, Condesa, Ciudad de México, México
Edificio Basurto | © Mark Hogan/Flickr

Edificio Basurto | © Mark Hogan/Flickr

Written by Lauren Cocking

Mesoamerican Commerce -
The Phoenicians of Middle America

Written by Tim Hazell

Trade and External Contacts:

Among the Maya from the beginning of the Pre-Classic period  (c. 2000 BC - AD 250), communities were reaching out, often to considerable distances to obtain raw materials or finished goods.  By the time of the Spanish conquest, the Post-Classic (c. AD 950 - 1539) Maya were participants in a widespread network of trade and exchange reaching south as far as Panama and north to Central Mexico.  Columbus, on his fourth voyage of 1502, encountered an Indian canoe near the Bay Islands off Honduras as long as a western galley and 8 feet in width.  The vessel was  filled with cotton cloth of many designs and colors, shorts that reached the knees, flint knives, cloth for cloaks, swords of wood with flakes of flint set along the edges and produce from Honduras, as well as copper axes, bells and cacao beans; the standard Mesoamerican unit of currency...


READ MORE...

 


 

A Guide to Mexico's Pueblos Mágicos
Written by Luis García

 

Mexico’s pueblos mágicos programme was developed by the tourist board in order to promote the rich cultural heritage and history of Mexico through smaller, once overlooked towns. Each of the 111 towns currently recognised as pueblos mágicos offer something a little different, whether that’s fantastic architecture, stunning natural wonders or even just great regional food. With that in mind, here’s your guide to just 11 of the best pueblos mágicos in the country...


READ MORE...

 


 

An introduction to Frida Kahlo in 9 Artworks
Written by Laura Torres

 

Frida Kahlo is arguably Mexico’s most famed, iconic artist. From her monobrow to her flower adorned hairstyles, her distinctive aesthetics garnered almost as much interest as her artwork that was dominated by self-portraiture; of her estimated 140 paintings, 55 are self-portraits. While many considered her a surrealist, Kahlo rejected that title, as her work was immensely autobiographical that focused on Mexicanidad (Mexicanness), the culture and tradition of her beloved patria (homeland) and compellingly introspective subject matter. Here’s a chronological introduction to this fascinating artist in nine artworks...


READ MORE...

 

 

 

 

 


 


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Music! Music! Music!

Music! Music! Music!

Written by Tim Hazell, Art Director

 

Down at the Crossroads:

 

The legend of Faust might best exemplify the concept of a pact with the devil, but such a bargain is also a cultural motif common to many Christian folk tales.  The protagonist seeks eternal youth, wealth or status.  The price is the wagerer’s soul.  In this dramatic vignette, Jesus’ words imply a journey of suffering foretold by proclaimers of the will of God.  Judas Escariot is at the crossroads, aware that his betrayal of Jesus will be impossible to prevent:

 

“Simon,” Peter saith unto him, “Tell us who it is of whom he speaketh.”  Jesus therefore answereth, “He it is, for whom I shall dip the sop, and give it him.”  So when he had dipped the sop, he taketh and giveth it to Judas, and Judas, who betrayed him, answered and said, “Is it I, Rabbi?”  Jesus saith unto him, “Thou hast said.”

 

Great achievements have been credited to a pact, from the violin virtuosity of Niccolb Paganini to the “crossroad” myth associated with Robert Leroy Johnson (1911- 1938).  Legend has it that this master of Delta blues made his own journey to the crossroads to trade his soul for guitar wizardry.  Johnson’s premonitions surface in these lyrics.

 

Hellhound On My Trail

 

I gotta keep movin’

Blues fallin’ down like hail

And the days keeps on worryin’ me

There’s a hellhound on my trail...

 

Johnson asks to make his guitar strings bay like the hellhound.  “I gotta have that sound, Devil-Man.  Where do I sign?”  Devil replies, “Your word is good enough, but you better be prepared.”   Johnson: “Prepared for what, Devil-man?” Devil: “You know where you are, Robert Johnson?   You’re standing in the middle of the crossroads.  Your soul will belong to me.”

 

Confessin’ the blues?  Here’s classic Southern comfort! 

 

Chicken and Black-Eyed Pea Soup

 

Ingredients:

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 tsp. red chilli flakes

1 large red onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 carrots, sliced

2 ribs celery, sliced

2 tsp. sage

2 tsp. thyme

3 cups chicken or vegetable broth

2 cups water

1 tsp. salt (or to taste)

Ground black pepper

2 15 oz. cans black-eyed peas (or substitute beans), drained

1 cup shredded spinach

Parsley garnish

 

Directions:

Heat oil in a large saucepan.  Season chicken pieces with a little salt and pepper, brown lightly and set aside.  Add chilli flakes, sizzle, then red onion, garlic, carrot and celery.  Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, to deglaze the pan and soften vegetables.  Add sage and thyme.  Return the chicken pieces.  Add chicken/vegetable stock, water, salt and pepper.  Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add black-eyed peas and cook for a further 5 minutes.  When ready to serve, place 1/4 of the spinach in the bottom of each bowl.  Top with soup and sprinkle with parsley.  Serve with crusty bread or cornbread muffins.

 

Ensembles as Canons for Innovation:

 

Eighteenth-century Europe, and England in particular, witnessed unprecedented prosperity, and a burgeoning, educated middle class.  The newly affluent attended opera houses, salons, private homes and pleasure gardens to enjoy diverse entertainments and music.  Handel dominated the venues for opera and the oratorio, but William Boyce, Joseph Gibbs, Michael Festing and others were composing chamber music for small ensembles and plush cloisters in the homes of wealthy patrons.

 

The Classical era and flowering of the Romantics changed the face of Western society.  Europe saw revolution, the Franco Prussian War, invention of the telegraph and internal combustion engine.  Frederic Chopin enlarged the repertoire for solo piano, expanding the instrument’s range, as well as its impact on modern music.  Franz Schubert’s personality and style exemplified the Romantic ideal.

 

Later Expressionist composers such as Schoenberg and Paul Hindemith took chamber music into unexplored territory and new directions.  Schoenberg, evolving from his early tonal works to later use of dissonance, insisted that this new textural development was simply a logical evolution.  Modern movements in classical genres, as well as jazz were classified using similar phrases, appearing in critiques by the establishment, that applied to visual arts and architecture.  Minimalism, for example, was characterized by the absence of adornments such as modulation, in pursuit of a stripped down functionality.  This device is generally understood as a theory of major/minor tonality.  Perceptually, tonality can express a migration and return to a hub, or central reference point.  In relationships between sciences and post-tonality in music, processes of cognition take the form of principles that delineate our private responses to change, such as intuition.

Definitions of  temporality in music  may confirm or refute certain absolutes.  Variable behavior as a range of modalities within societies has a visceral affinity with the liberal arts.  In composition, properties of elasticity and resistence to standardization pertain to tempo, rhythmic and metric structures, allowing for the possibility of anti-narrative techniques, non linear motion, autonomic gesture and deliberate incoherence.  These reflect choices we make based on philosophical and rustic considerations, idiosyncratic of content and style in the humanities of native cultures as well.

 

Urban centers such as Chicago have long been recognized for their affiliations with leaders in contemporary classics and jazz.  Beat poetry during the 1950s paved the way for further experiments and interaction between authors and exponents of the avant garde, incorporating sounds of chaos, such as breaking glass and multiple radios turned on and off at random, with ethnic tonalities such as Afro-Caribbean musical traditions.  Among recent projects, Raíces y SueZos (Roots and Dreams) involved the talents of master percussionist Rubén Álavarez and poet David Hernández, a founding member of Chicago’s Latino Arts Movement.  Described as “the city’s poet laureate,” Hernández uses the sounds, smells and textures of his environment, supplementing thirty years of experience as a writer with his collaboration in music ensembles.  Rhythms and tonal clusters affect the shaping and organization of Hernández’s verse, as in “The Butterfly Effect,” where chains of associations freely move from one image to another.  The effects, forming links of hallucination, resemble the conflict and resolution of themes navigating without fixed key centers.

 

If a butterfly flapping its wings in Beijing

could cause a hurricane off the coast of Florida,

so could a deck of cards shuffled at a picnic.

So could the clapping hands of a father

watching his son rounding the bases,

the wind sculpting his baggy pants.

So could a woman reading a book of poems,

a tiny current from a turned page

slipping out the open window, nudging

a passing breeze: an insignificant event

that could snowball months later into a monsoon

at a coastal village halfway around the world.

Palm trees bowing on the shore.

Grass huts disintegrating like blown dandelions.

 

Trios, quartets and ensembles provide the perfect medium for expressive sonic palettes.  This makes them ideal catalysts for new continuities and innovations.  Many of today’s composers have grown up and participated in electronic experiences, encounters which are often subverted as part of the learning processes inherent with academic training, surfacing later on as methods to explore the fringes of a banquet of temperament, setting the pace for invention.  Compact size and close proximity with the audience bring eye contact and ensemble body language nearer to enthusiasts of the small concert stage.  There are moments of diminuendo as silence is shaped, or when a crescendo is imminent, when one feels the sonority of strings, the dynamics of pizzicato and glissandi churning under the floorboards at one’s feet.

 

An intimate concert of great ensemble playing elicits an intense involvement, chemistry that can only come from the synthesis of performer and spectator.  Groups, such as the La Catrina Quartet who concertized at St. Paul’s Church as part of the San Miguel el Grande Pro Musica series recently, are able to transform scores into gestural sweeps of emotive power, laced with subtle shades of humor, pathos and irony.  Artists of stature are much more than the products of Universities and Conservatorios.  When inspired, they transform the works of avant garde and traditional composers into catalysts for things we can remember of the past, present and future.  During la Catrina’s performances of Anton Webern, Thomas Janson and Mozart, sound scapes  gathered and pooled, private topographies that captured and suspended harmony, scent and sight.  Audience and musicians were set adrift in pursuit of private gardens of darkness and luminescence, minding each other well, almost understanding.

 

Music before Columbus:

 

The first instruments in pre-Columbian cultures were probably those obtained from the environment and used in their natural states, without further modification.  Seed pods or “cascabeles,” the conch shell trumpet, calcite stones that emitted pleasing sounds when struck and the tortoise shell played with deer antlers may have originated from organic materials that were gathered for utilitarian purposes.  As New World religions became more complex, rituals demanded sacred music, dance and human sacrifice.

 

From these beginnings the sophisticated manufacture of musical instruments evolved.  For example, the tortoise shell gave rise to the teponaztli.  This is a hollowed out log, richly carved and/or painted, with two to four keys cut into the top that emit musical notes when struck with mallets.  Clay flutes come in all shapes and sizes, requiring great skill and knowledge of acoustics in their manufacture.  Trumpets are painted with images of gods, sacred events and animals, manufactured from clay, wood, stone and gourds in the Mayan tropical lowlands.  

 

Native music still requires the duplication of sounds produced by natural phenomena such as wind, rain and birdsong.  Modern indigenous musicians might include instruments such as the “omichicahuaztli” or musical rasp, globular clay flutes with a myriad of animal and plant forms called ocarinas, and the huehuetl (Nahuatl for grandfather) log drum with a resonating cowhide skin, hollowed out from a single trunk and richly carved.

 

Mexican recipes are part of the country’s living archaeology.  Many have used the same ingredients and preparation techniques since pre-Columbian times.  Pumpkin seeds play an important role, toasted in their hulls and eaten as a snack, or hulled but unroasted and unsalted, used in moles and the following “Camarones en Pipián.” 

 

Shrimp in Pumpkin Seed Sauce


Ingredients:

1-1/2 lbs. medium-sized shrimp, unshelled

1-1/2 cups cold water

1 tsp. salt, or to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup hulled, unroasted, unsalted pumpkin seeds

8 sprigs fresh coriander, leaves only

1 chile serrano

1/2 small white onion

1 tbsp. unsalted butter

2/3 cup sour cream

 

Directions:

Place the shrimp into a saucepan with water, salt and pepper and bring to the boil.  Turn off the heat.  Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and transfer to a colander.  Let cool until safe to handle.  They will continue to cook.  Reserve the liquid.  Shell and de-vein the shrimp, reserving the shells.  Place shells in the saucepan with the reserved liquid, cover and simmer 10 minutes longer.  Reserve the broth and discard the shells.  Gently toast the pumpkin seeds in a heavy, dry saucepan until they start to swell and pop.  Do not brown.  Add the shrimp broth, coriander, chilies, onion and toasted seeds to a blender jar and blend until smooth.  Melt butter in a pan.  Add the pumpkin seed sauce and cook over a very low flame for about 10 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan.  Fold shrimp into the sauce, stir in the sour cream and heat through.  Serve with tortillas or rice.

 

Ancient Sounds:

 

Ancient Greek music has emerged from a handful of ancient documents inscribed with a vocal notation devised around 450 BC, consisting of alphabetic letters and signs placed above the vowels of Greek words.  Ancient Greeks composed music and verse meant to be accompanied by the lyre, reed-pipes, and various percussion instruments between 700 and 450 BC.   These are known from paintings and archaeological remains, allowing researchers to establish the timbres and range of pitches they produced.  Modern scholars have been able to reconstruct and perform these fragments.

 

As representatives of art, the science of acoustics, structural engineering and relationships with the human body, musical instruments are older than civilization itself.  Musicologists speak of corporal origins and, in the words of André Schaeffner, define this as “musiques corporelles” (body music).  Hand clapping to accompany singers or instrumental passages is depicted in numerous tomb paintings and reliefs.  Egypt in particular employed musicians using carved wooden “clappers” from pre-dynastic times to the Hellenic period. 

 

Archaeological excavations in the ancient Syrian city of Ugarit during the 1950s unearthed tablets containing cuneiform signs in the Hurrian language, one of two including Akkadian spoken during the eras of Sumerian, Amorite transitional and succeeding Babylonian civilizations.  These turned out to be the oldest known piece of music ever discovered, a 3,400 year-old cult hymn from about 1,400 BC. 

 

Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, professor of Assyriology at the University of California, deciphered the instructions contained in the text for the first time in 1972.  The tablets containing the “notation” have since been interpreted by other scholars of antiquity and are thought to comprise the most ancient annotated song in the world, predating the second earliest Greek example of harmony by at least 1,000 years.

 

Lyrics are indicated at the top of the tablet and the bottom half contains instructions for playing the music, in the equivalent of a diatonic “major” (“do, re, mi”) scale.  The implications of a seven-note diatonic scale, as well as harmony existing over a thousand years before the earliest Greek examples, have challenged musicologist theories about the origins of simultaneously-sounded musical notes.  The odds that the number of syllables would match the notation seem to rule out random coincidence.

 

Very few examples of authentic “recipes” survive before the classical epoch, but meticulous ledgers kept by Egyptian scribes record payments in staples such as bread, onions, garlic and fish.  Here is a modern adaption of New Kingdom (1500 BC) marinated chicken.  

Ingredients:

Chicken drumsticks and/or thighs

1 tbsp. coriander seeds

2 tsp. cumin seeds

1 tsp. cayenne pepper

Coriander, mint and/or spring onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

Salt and black pepper to taste

Drizzle of olive oil

Splash of balsamic vinegar

 

Directions:

Lightly toast the coriander and cumin seeds in a small pan.  Coarsely grind in a coffee or spice grinder.  Combine with the other marinade ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Rub into the chicken pieces.  Refrigerate and marinate overnight.  Grill or roast as desired.

 

Hip-hop Poetry Redefines the American Dream:

 

The white girls lift their heads like trees,

The black girls go

Reflected like flamingos in the street.

 

The white girls sing as shrill as water,

The black girls talk as quiet as clay

- Thomas Merton

 

The rise to independence, equality and identity of black America would see the development of significant literary trends that became established art forms following the turbulent and dissident fifties and sixties.  One fusion of poetry, African rhythm and eloquently legitimized street smarts emerged and achieved international renown as rap and hip-hop. 

 

Characteristics of the movement are differences in tone, diction and rhythm of English as it is spoken in the United States.  America’s culturally diverse fabric, sounds of its machines and high technology exerted pressure upon languages brought from Europe.  Lyrics gyrate off the page as rapper Biz Markie struts and preens, confidently moving through his urban domain in “Me Versus Me.” 

 

I’m the original B-I-Z

The Emeza-Emeza-Emeza-Emeza-A-Rrah-K-I-E

Everywhere I go, I always G

I’m thinkin somethin that you never could see

Doin the beatbox and the R-A-P

That’s why I’m the Inhuman Orchestra, Biz Markie

I’m here just doin my J-O-B

So I can reach the T-O-P

As soon as I get to the T-O-P

Then I will be D-O-N with the E

I rock New Jersey and N.Y.C.

Whether it’s at a club or a block party

To my man Capri, Starchild and Brucie Bee,

Baby J, and DJ Marty

The title of the song in the place to be

Is not this or that, it’s “Me Versus Me”

 

In a nation founded on the principle that all men are created equal, slavery was an incongruent concept for its displaced, exploited ethnic groups.  Early black voices challenged the idea that their race was considered intellectually inferior.  Highly structured, elegant and strident lyrics began to appear in the works of 18th century writers and poets.  Cults such as the cargo theology developed messianic concepts in which the adherents believed that the white man had a special means of communicating with God.  At its roots the cargo movement’s proposal was that by acquiring this gift black society could avail itself of material wealth and escape brutal economic realities.   African American poetry and song retained its preoccupation with human bondage throughout the abolitionist movement.  Trappist monk, Thomas Merton (1915-1968), evoked images of Harlem’s slums with scathing impact.  Activist Eldridge Cleaver would use passages such as the following excerpt to rekindle his fires of indignation during moments of apathy:

 

“Here in this huge dark, steaming slum, hundreds of thousands of Negroes are herded together like cattle, most of them with nothing to eat and nothing to do.  In this cauldron, estimable natural gifts, wisdom, live music, science, poetry are stamped down and left to boil with the dregs of an elementary corrupted nature, and thousands upon thousands of souls are destroyed by vice, misery and degradation, obliterated from the register of the living, dehumanized.  What has not been devoured in your dark furnace, Harlem, by marijuana, by gin, by insanity, hysteria, syphilis?”

 

Seeds for “Last Poets,” pioneers of rap verse, germinated from the prison experiences of Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, who chose jail as an alternative to the Vietnam war.  Nuriddin, a devotee of Islam, had learned an early form of rapping, “spiel,” while in prison.  With two other inmates, he returned to Harlem upon his release and with his partners, Omar Ben Hassan and Abiodun Oyewole, laid the groundwork for the hip-hop movement.  Last Poets, formed in 1969, performed in the streets and their charged lyrics fused with music became true performance art that spawned poetry workshops of the time.

 

Part of the hip-hop experience involves the process of bringing African mythology to life and redefining Afro-American Christianity “to honor and re-illuminate those ancient things that remain in the ears.”  Its juxtaposition of images are literary concoctions that soar and exude power and energy.  Henry Dumas’ verse reflects tensions between realism and the surreal using influences from voodoo and rap vernacular.  Rap is not a passing fad, but a legitimate vehicle for poets and storytellers to communicate fresh ideas and expose outmoded politics.  As with any lasting movement, art and subculture are one and the same and cannot be evaluated separately.  Here is an evocative, savory example of Dumas’ experimental work.

 

brown sound chocolate

memories

like the first time

you saw grapes

and tasted them

and learned the color

blue

brown sound cream milk

echoes

like the first time

you saw bees

and tasted gold

and learned the honey

tongue

brown sound africa...

 

Musique Corporelle!

 

Musical instruments represent many things; engineering, science, culture, religion and philosophy.  Musicologists speak of “body music.”  Musicians gravitate to instruments that are comfortable to hold and play.  Choices of timbre and materials are personal; blind players are particularly sensitive to pitch, vibration and balance.

 

Body music - hand clapping, finger snapping and foot stamping to accompany instrumental passages or vocal arrangements are characteristic of ethnic music and were incorporated into American folk genres by early settlers.

 

Romans used the word tibia or shin-bone as a model for instruments that were blown.  In French, “un nez en trompette,” the flaring opening of a trumpet, defines an upturned nose.  Classical theater in ViLt-Nam employs various vocal techniques referring specifically to human anatomy.   The nasal voice is “giong mui,” and “gion ham” is the voice of the jaw.  American blues references to the guitar speak of a cry or shout. 

 

India’s folk music adds vitality to community life.  There are songs for weddings, planting and harvesting.  Found materials such as coconut shells, pots and skins are used by artisans in ingenious ways.  Commonly known examples include the bansuri or bamboo flute, chimpta or fire tongs, ghatam or clay pot, small bells, wooden clappers, jaw harp and pot drum. 

 

Pythagoras, born about 569 BC in Samos, Ionia, was a pivotal figure in the development of music theory, credited with the invention of a monochord, a single string running between two bridges fixed to a box-shaped resonator.  He referred to harmony as “harmony of the spheres.”  As we experience sensations while listening to music, our bodies capture and transmit sounds.  Reactions to music are often very subjective.

 

Prolific composer and theorist John Milton Cage Jr. (1912 - 1992) is remembered for his use of the I Ching to create music involving chance, and for his 1952 composition 4'33?  Musicians who perform the opus do nothing apart from being present on stage.  “Four minutes and 33 seconds of silence,” is really about natural effects heard by the audience from surrounding, ambient space.  Cage was an avid macrobiotic cook during his later years.  His estate provides us with this robust stir fry! 

 

Walnut Chicken (a la Cage)

 

Ingredients:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp. white wine

1 inch piece ginger, peeled and minced

1 tsp. cornstarch

1 tsp. sugar

2 scallions, sliced diagonally

3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

1 cup walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped

2 tsp. sesame oil

3 tbsp oil

 

Directions:

Marinate chicken breast cubes in soy sauce, wine, sugar and ginger overnight.  Heat 2 tbsp. oil in a wok or large heavy skillet.  Stir fry garlic and nuts.  After three minutes transfer them to a bowl.  Blend cornstarch with chicken cubes.  Heat remaining 1 tbsp. oil.  Add chicken and marinade to wok.   Stir fry about 10 minutes, until chicken is tender.  Toss in the nuts, garlic, scallions and sesame oil.  Serve with rice and a green vegetable.

 

Riddim!

 

Prior to 1930, literature in the Caribbean was a diversion of the elite.  Englishmen of the “Sugar Isles” promoted British imperialism.  Anti-colonial consciousness marked the emergence of  Caribbean voices finding their first expression in calypso.  Calypso originated in West Africa and migrated to the islands, incorporating elements of calinda dance, shango and work songs.  Reggae sprang from these roots.  Here is an excerpt by Jimmy Cliff:

 

Between the day you’re born and when you die

They never seem to hear even your cry

So as sure as the sun will shine

I’ll get my share now, what’s mine,

Then the harder they come, the harder they’ll fall

One and all...

 

Dub poet Derek Walcott won the 1992 Nobel Prize for Literature, a dub landmark.  Jamaican wordsmiths, along with the “Mouvement Négritude” in the French Caribbean, believed African emergence could rejuvenate Carib cultural histories.

 

Renowned Jamaican dub poet Jean Binta Breeze syncopates island life with “get flat”!

 

Wen storm come

yuh bawl

‘get flat’

an watch mountain

rub a dub

troo de sea

from Brixton

to Elleston Flats

yuh can see de wukkin riddim

ben de people dem back!

 - from “Riddim Raving”

 

Jamaican cuisine is a potpourri of influences from native Arawaks to British, African, Indian and Chinese colonists.  “Jerk seasonings” are hot spice mixtures, wet- or dry-rubbed into meats, chicken, fish, shrimp, sausage, vegetables or tofu.  Take a “ride on de riddim” and experiment freely with this marinade. 

 

Jerk Fish and Mango Salsa


Ingredients:

4 whole fish, gutted and scaled, or fillets

 

Marinade:

2 tsp. allspice

2 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

2 tsp. brown sugar

2 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme or 3 tsp. dried.

1/4 cup coriander leaves, chopped

1 Scotch bonnet, habanero or serrano chilli, minced

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 dried bay leaves, crumbled

One-inch piece ginger, minced

2 spring onion greens, chopped

Minced zest and juice of 1 lime

Olive oil

 

Salsa:

1 ripe mango, peeled and chopped

2 spring onions, sliced

1/2 cup fresh coriander, chopped

Pinch of salt, pepper and sugar

Juice of 1 lime

Olive oil

 

Directions:

Lay whole fish or fillets in a shallow oven dish.  If using whole fish such as red snapper, make three slashes in the flesh of each.  Set aside.  Combine allspice, black pepper and salt in a bowl along with cloves, sugar, thyme, coriander, chilli, garlic, ginger and crumbled bay leaves.  Add spring onion greens, lime zest, juice and a drizzle of oil.  Mix well.  Pour the marinade over the fish.  Massage it in (rubber gloves will protect from burn).  Leave in the refrigerator  to marinate for a minimum of one hour.  Prepare the salsa; combine mango in a bowl with the spring onions and coriander, add salt, pepper and sugar to taste, lime juice, a drizzle of oil and toss.  Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Bake the fish for 15–20 minutes until tender, slightly charred if whole, and aromatic.  Serve with mango salsa and lime wedges!

 

Tango With Picadillo and Mojo Sauce:

 

Little road that time erased,

that one day saw us walk by together,

I have come for the last time,

I have come to tell you my woe.

- Tango lyrics from “Caminito”

 

Argentinian Tango lyrics are often profound, the result of collaborations such as the style of the Boedo group of poets.  One of the most famous examples of the genre, “Organito de la Tarde” was written in 1923 by Jose Gonzalez Castillo.  It is based on the theme of an old man and the languid music of his organito (barrel organ).  The wooden leg of a companion accompanies the rhythms of the tango:

 

At the slow pace of a poor old man

Giving turns to the crank

The little organ at twilight

Fills the suburb with notes

 

A lame man marches behind

As his wooden leg

Marks the beat of the tango...

 

Cuban “Habanera,” dubbed “Tango Americano,” combined African and Haitian trends in rhythm and movement, becoming a sensation in countries such as Spain and America.  The term is synonymous with “gusto,” finding extroverted release in the island’s cuisines, as well.  These recipes for Picadillo (Cuban Hash) and Mojo Sauce evoke a rich ethnic panorama with an Afro-Cuban pulse!

 

Picadillo a la Habanera (Cuban Hash)


Ingredients:

1 lb. ground lean pork or beef

1/4 lb. ground ham

3 tbsp. olive oil

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 bell pepper seeded, chopped into 1/4" pieces

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 tsp. ground cumin

2 tbsp. tomato sauce

1 tsp. white vinegar

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

1 large potato, peeled and cubed into 1/2" pieces

1/4 cup coarsely chopped olives

4 eggs, fried sunny side up

 

Cooked white rice

 

Directions:

Add olive oil to a large frypan and cook meat (except the ham) thoroughly.  Add ham, onion, garlic, and bell pepper.  Cook mixture till onions are translucent.  Add ground spices, tomato sauce, and vinegar.  Mix very well over medium heat until bubbling.  In another pan, fry the potato cubes until brown.  Stir in olives.  Layer on the rice and meat mixture, and top with the eggs.  Serve very hot with Mojo sauce.

 

Mojo Sauce:

 

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

10 large cloves garlic, peeled and very thinly sliced

1/4 cup onion, minced

1/4 cup coriander, finely chopped

1/2 tsp. ground oregano

2 tsp. ground cumin

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice

1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice

1 cup water

 

Directions:

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan.  Add prepared garlic and onion and cook 2 to 3 minutes until pale golden brown, stirring constantly.  Stir in the citrus juices, water and all dry ingredients except coriander.  Bring sauce mixture to a rolling boil.  Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.  Stir the coriander into the cooled sauce mixture.  Serve in a bowl alongside main dishes as an accompaniment.


 ----- Last Article from Tim Hazell -----


 

The Urban Matrix

Written by Tim Hazell, Art Director

 

“Qué quieren conmigo los puristas, all tongue-tied and sitting proper behind fat stoic dictionaries?  I've already eaten the thin white skeletons of foreign words, choked on the bones of Inglés Only, learned the art of speaking in codes and code switching, learned to spit palabras out of boca abierta like bullets like fire like fuego like poems have already licked alive the crevices of open-legged borders bleeding the histories and languages of my name.  Have already been witness to silence to white-haired first grade teacher bringing finger to lips and saying, Shhhhhh! Speak English.”

- Olga Angelina Garcia Echeverria

 

The capitalist city, viewed in whatever historical context, and in light of its constructed spaces, is inevitably a collective.  The relationships that its citizenry deliberately and spontaneously establish with their quotidian art, architecture and public domains are determined by cultural characteristics as unique as fingerprints.  Taken together these constitute an urban matrix or identity. 

Societal portraits evolve from an inherent artfulness that cannot be denied; a population’s need for joy, discourse, relationships, recreation and care of the soul that even the most totalitarian of regimes can’t suppress indefinitely. Life is by nature interdisciplinary and urban spaces have always been created for multiple purposes.  However, it is also clear that such designated “playful” zones for recreation and repose, can be manipulated to reflect aspects of municipal control.

I think it’s inevitable that contradictions surface when we evaluate our rights to establish spaces for the use of everyone.  If individual freedom of choice can be cited as a fundamental aspect of unity, then some form of social control is necessary to safeguard the rights of the majority whose wish is to take advantage of these designated areas in harmony, while respecting each other’s needs for nurturing and recuperation.

 

Constructivist Thinking:

 

Manifestos of the early Constructivists during the first two decades of the twentieth century seem to echo these sentiments.  Architect, painter and sculptor Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953) strove to replace the traditional contemplative functions of art with an aesthetic that would engage the masses.  He and others envisioned a “construct” of art and architecture as an expression of emerging modernism, and extended this proposal to their materials, which were to convey clarity and truth, reflecting emerging technologies of the new machine age. 

Tatlin’s investigations provided fresh approaches for state propaganda and advertising.  His influence extended to major trends such as the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements.

Tatlin's Tower, a design for the monument and headquarters of the Comintern (Third International), combined a machine aesthetic with dynamic additions celebrating technology such as searchlights and projection screens.  This work was immediately hailed by artists in Germany as a revolution in art. 

Colleagues George Grosz and John Heartfield are shown holding a placard in a 1920 photograph that reads “Art is Dead - Long Live Tatlin's Machine Art.”  The tower was never constructed due to Russia’s financial crisis after the revolution.

 

Post-Modernist Disenchantment:

In the last few decades, post-modern urbanists have argued that the classic public space is disappearing.  For them, areas defined as constructed environs for social encounters and individual rejuvenation had been - partially at least - replaced by “pseudo-publicspaces” such as the mall or gated community.  This may originate from a nostalgic vision of the mythic past in which communally shared parks, town squares and green spaces were idealistic creations, never mechanisms of social control, existing solely to express the power of the community to act without restraints, on behalf of their interests, to conceive and implement work and leisure related habitats.

It’s interesting to view post-modernist thinking from the perspective of a realignment or readjustment of volatile, changeable processes occurring in post-industrial societies.  Post-modernist movements of the late 1950s, were spawned by negative reactions to the perceived dehumanizing effects of modernist architecture art and minimalist thinking.  Postmodern philosophy was greatly influenced by the writings of Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche in the 19th century and other early-to-mid twentieth-century luminaries, including phenomenologists Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, structuralist Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault (who rejected the notion of himself as a post-modernist thinker) and Georges Bataille. 

Artist-provocateur Marcel Duchamp, composer and progressive thinker John Cage, as well as other noteworthy installation, mixed media and assemblage artists have affected the direction and objectives of the movement. 

 

Installation art

A chorus of architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, urban planners, sculptors and visual artists rejected the celebration of the machine and returned to a semiotic analysis of manmade and natural structures. 

 

Architecture of Caos

 

They probed internal and external characteristics of form, “deconstructing” objects to reassemble their components without tampering with their individuality.  Hallmarks of the movement are controlled chaos and asymmetrical approaches to design.

 

 

Contextual Relationships

In keeping with the trends set by Contextualism, a late twentieth-century approach to the nature of cognition, centered on the belief that all knowledge is “context-sensitive,” post-modern approaches to public spaces and the architecture that defines them strive to validate the design and layout of these landmarks by addressing their contextual relevance - in terms of the materials, sculptural and utilitarian forms and other buildings in the vicinity.  This is in keeping with the idea that knowledge can’t be understood as such without aligning it with its context in society as a whole.

Two main branches of modernism, functionalism and rationalism, were overturned in favor of a reinstatement of ornamentation, historical allusion, and symbol.  An expanded semantics of signs was applied to existing pragmatic architecture to add a richness of intent that modernism had discarded.  Architects turned back towards the aesthetics of the past, revitalizing forms such as the ancient column, incorporating pre-modern designs as daring adaptions.  Use of structure and space as a functional and formalized abstraction, a hallmark of the modernist style, was replaced by diverse “international” aesthetics: genres in collision, form as a poetic vocabulary celebrated for its own sake and fresh approaches to defining and channeling space proliferated.  It has been stated that the post-modernist movement heralded the return to “wit, ornament and reference.”

 

A Living Configuration:

 

It is my belief that the inner life of great cities can’t simply be predetermined by powerful socio-cultural forces or politics, including the emergence of extreme capitalism, totalitarianism, disequilibrium and chaos.  An urban matrix is more infinitely diverse, variable and unpredictable than any utopia we could develop in virtual reality, or implement in some corner of the Third World.  The idea of healthy metropolitan growth and development applies to the necessities of the “productive machine” (people and goods movement, designation and materialization of work and recreational zones), the addressing of absolute and relative poverty and legitimized barrios.  Playfulness as a serious study of liberal arts relationships to ambient space and form includes the promise of a centralized authority seceding its dominant position to decentralized pluralism. 

At a distance, modernism by contrast seems to represent an attempt to create, with suitable instruments and under specified conditions, connections between art, philosophy, architecture and progress.  This was to be achieved in such a way as to delineate for all time a state righteousness and truth about expression and its obligations to be as pragmatic as possible from a philosophical and political point of view; even to define the difference between what was good and bad, beautiful, ethical, moral and immoral. 

Too often we see that our configurations of contemporary urban spaces, implementation of zoning and creation of public buildings reflect rationalist mechanisms for justifying land and materials use.  Capitalist systems rely on strategies for maintaining control over just how socio-cultural communication and our gregarious interactions with one another is articulated.  The mall, for instance, true to its nature, is oriented solely towards the acquisition of utilitarian goods because of its effective processes for encouraging and regulating impulses to spend.  Malls and other pseudo-public spaces appeared as important factors in the transformation of our social interactions.  Super-regulation can easily be converted into devious and menacing politics.

The vision of post-structuralist thinkers such as Foucault emphasized the concept of a metaphorical space of liberty, in which existed the State and other private entities that constituted a point of departure for critical-rational debate.  The argument was public, all could join in, and the theme was the legitimate use of power.  This debate, in order to not become a mere simulation, required the coming together and diverse variations of logic and speech of many social groups.  True liberty of thought and action must relate to and vibrate sympathetically with the changes and schisms of living society - the world at our feet.  This is also a transformation of the feudal state into one of flexible capitalism and commerce.

 

Urban Graffiti - The Radiant Child:

 

Urban visionaries adapted politics, sexuality, self exploration, criticism and spirituality to improvisational and innovative modes.  New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, (December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988), achieved notoriety and public attention as part of SAMO.  The graffiti duo illustrated the cultural ferment bubbling in Lower East Side of Manhattan during the late 1970s, where hip hop, post-punk and street art movements converged.  Basquiat participated in The Times Square Show, a multi-artist exhibition in June 1980, sponsored by Collaborative Projects Incorporated and Fashion Moda.  In September of the same year, the artist joined the Annina Nosei gallery, working in a basement below the establishment to produce his first one-man show, which opened in March 1981 to great success.  In December of that year, René Ricard published “The Radiant Child” in Artforum magazine, which brought Basquiat to critical attention and acclaim.

"Dustheads" (1982) by Jean-Michel Basquiat is shown in this undated handout photo released to the media on May 15, 2013. It is estimated at $25,000,000 to $35,000,000. Source: Christie's Images Ltd. 2013 via Bloomberg

During the 1980s his star in the jaded art world rose meteorically, with sold-out exhibitions in international galleries and museums.  His neo-expressionist style can also be considered as post-modernist.  Basquiat’s art focused on “suggestive dichotomies,” such as affluence versus want and integration versus segregation.  He appropriated social “sedimentation” poetry, drawing and painting, creating a  patois of text and image, abstract and figurative rendering of form that was historical allusion infused with contemporary allegory and critique.  The dialogue in his paintings can be viewed as a scathing commentary, denouncing legitimized racism and barrios; the same strategies for maintaining control that we have seen surfa