Tummy Thursday: Me gusta la cocina mexicana

Earlier this week I told you about our trip to the Sagrada Familia and that we wanted to see it at night time. This meant that after we left the cathedral we went for dinner. Of course a tourist city like Barcelona has restaurants galore, many of them trying to push the menu into your hand while you’re walking past them and for me that’s the most failproof way to make me avoid a place. Yet still you find lots of small places that offer good food, especially if you love international cooking. For this meal we found a nice Mexican place where we ate while it got dark.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Starters: Frijoles refritos (mushed baked beans) and nachos with cheese.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

My main course: marinated grilled beef, cactus, pumpkin flower and sweetcorn, guacamole and stuffed habanero, served with tortillas.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Dessert: Guayaba marguerita. I love guavas and they’re so rare here that I consume them whenever I can find them or their derivates. It was delicious.

 

Dance Dance Snowball!

It’s been hitting other media sites as well, but I first caught the news of Snowball the dancing parrot at The Atlantic:

His owner had realized that he couldn’t care for the sulfur-crested cockatoo any longer. So in August 2007, he dropped Snowball off at the Bird Lovers Only rescue center in Dyer, Indiana—along with a Backstreet Boys CD, and a tip that the bird loved to dance. Sure enough, when the center’s director, Irena Schulz, played “Everybody,” Snowball “immediately broke out into his headbanging, bad-boy dance,” she recalls. She took a grainy video, uploaded it to YouTube, and sent a link to some bird-enthusiast friends. Within a month, Snowball became a celebrity.

What’s unusual about Snowball is his choreographic development:

Snowball wasn’t copying Schulz. When she danced with him, she’d only ever sway or wave her arms. He, meanwhile, kept innovating. In 2008, Patel’s undergraduate student R. Joanne Jao Keehn filmed these moves, while Snowball danced to “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” And recently, after a long delay caused by various life events, she combed through the muted footage and cataloged 14 individual moves (plus two combinations). Snowball strikes poses. He body rolls, and swings his head through half circles, and headbangs with a raised foot. To the extent that a parrot can, he vogues.

See?

The article explains more about how his rhythmic ability was noticed and tested, but I will say this: he’s quite the talented bird, I definitely cannot lift my leg like that and still keep headbanging.

What’s interesting is the conclusions being drawn from Snowball’s dancing ability:

“Parrots are more closely related to dinosaurs than to us,” Patel says, and yet they are the only other animals known to show both spontaneous and diverse dancing to music. “This suggests to me that dancing in human cultures isn’t a purely arbitrary invention,” Patel says. Instead, he suggests that it arises when animals have a particular quintet of mental skills and predilections:

  1. They must be complex vocal learners, with the accompanying ability to connect sound and movement.
  2. They must be able to imitate movements.
  3. They must be able to learn complex sequences of actions.
  4. They must be attentive to the movements of others.
  5. They must form long-term social bonds.

A brain that checks off all five traits is “the kind of brain that has the impulse to move to music,” Patel says. “In our own evolution, when these five things came together, we were primed to become dancers.” If he’s right, that settles the eternal question posed by The KillersAre we human, or are we dancer? We’re both.

Parrots also tick off all five traits, as do elephants and dolphins. But outside of trained performances, “do you ever see a dolphin do anything to music spontaneously, creatively, and diversely?” Patel asks. “I don’t know if it’s been studied.” He wonders whether animals need not only five traits that create an impulse to dance, but also a lot of exposure to humans and our music. Captive dolphins don’t get much musical experience, and even though they interact with trainers, their main social bonds are still with other dolphins. But Snowball, from an early age, lived with humans. He seemingly dances for attention, rather than for food or other rewards. And he appears to dance more continuously when Schulz dances with him—something that Patel will formally analyze in a future study.

More fascinating information in the article, also here’s the CBC link.

I say, keep dancing, Snowball! And here’s two dancing songs for the rest of us:

 

Once Upon A Time in Madrid

Or should I say “madrid”? ;D

Second week of May, I spent a full workweek in Madrid for a working group meeting, and it was a fantastic time (as always). Besides the science-y, political-y days (there’s a lot of discussion about legislation and quality standards, not just the fun research and applications stuff), the organizers had planned out a couple of very interesting cultural evenings, and I found myself quite pleasantly surprised by the city in general. It had a very different feel from Rome (last year) – much cleaner, much more organized, more expansive – which I liked, but the organized part works mostly if you’re not driving a car – never mind the six lanes and wide roads, vehicle traffic in Madrid is atrocious (in my opinion!).

Anyway, the weather held out, the people were wonderful, and my first night the lovely hotel staff pointed me towards (what felt like a) very local cafe-restaurant, where, despite the language barrier and despite clearly being not local, I felt very welcome and extremely well-fed (I had octopus). I went back a second time prior to leaving, which I usually don’t do, but it had that perfect mix of being taken care of and being left alone, which was exactly what I needed.

I have a series on chandeliers in the Royal Palace, but for now, here’s just some small details from that particular cultural visit:

Just a small house… © rq, all rights reserved.

If I was a moth… © rq, all rights reserved.

… there would be so much to love. © rq, all rights reserved.

Secret lions peeking out everywhere! © rq, all rights reserved.

To be honest, they look a little sad. © rq, all rights reserved.

It’s all fun and games. © rq, all rights reserved.

And maybe some more serious faces. © rq, all rights reserved.

One thing that did leave an impression was the collection of Stradivarius instruments – it’s true that brands are often over-rated, and I’m not too big on the detailed decorations on my instruments, but as a former violinist, it still left an impact to see these famous instruments in one room. I’d have to hear them to judge their quality, but the craftspersonship of the construction (and the artistry of the detail) is undoubtedly something else.

© rq, all rights reserved.

© rq, all rights reserved.

Today’s music selection, which felt like it suits the historical theme, is from Latvian Voices – I found this particular performance of theirs via a post answering the question “what is it like to be a woman in the music business?” (that’s a link to their FB page, I don’t know how to link to that post specifically):

As a female group, we’ve been questioned many times about the topic of “how it is to be a woman in the music business?!” We took it very seriously and made research in music history looking on our female colleagues back in the day. As a result, we found ourselves willing to perform more music written by female composers or music which is dedicated to strong and powerful women all over the world.
Please, enjoy our contribution to Frau Fanny Hensel-Mendelssohn – the song “Die Mainacht”, poem by Ludwig Heinrich Christoph Hölty.

Video: Kaspars Teilāns
Sound: Andris Ūze
Make-up: Ilona Zariņa
Style Cita Rota

Is This What The Bullies Want?

I am beyond saddened by this news story in yesterday’s Toronto Star. A 9 year old girl in Calgary, a recent legal arrival to our country from Syria, has committed suicide. The paper reports:

 

A Calgary Syrian refugee family is dealing with the tragic death of their 9-year-old daughter, who died by suicide after being bullied at school. Amal Alshteiwi is shown here in a screen capture of a YouTube video. (SCREEN CAPTURE)

 

A Calgary Syrian refugee family is dealing with the tragic death of their 9-year-old daughter, who they say died by suicide after being bullied at school.

Aref Alshteiwi discovered his daughter Amal’s body March 6, according to Sam Nammoura, co-founder of Calgary Immigrant Support Society. Nammoura has worked with the family, and details of Amal’s death were relayed to him by the parents.

Police conducted more than a dozen interviews following Amal’s death, and found no evidence of foul play, according to Calgary Police Service media relations.

The family escaped war in Syria more than three years ago as government-sponsored refugees.

Amal’s parents told Nammoura that Amal had been coming home from school upset, telling them she was being bullied. She had been fine until around six months ago, they told him, when she moved to a new school and began having issues in math. Nammoura said they told him that’s when the bullying started — Amal was called stupid and ugly on a daily basis by several classmates.

The parents told Nammoura they raised the issue with the school, but that their daughter didn’t get any help. She went to school happy, they told him, and came home sad. However, Nammoura wasn’t aware of the issues Amal was having until after she died.

In an emailed statement, the Calgary Board of Education said it is working with the school’s staff and students “to try to understand if there were concerns or issues.”

“The school is closely working with both students and families to heal from this tragic event and come together as a community,” the statement read.

The family eventually moved schools to try to get Amal away from the bullying. Before she left, Nammoura said Amal was told by her bullies that moving wouldn’t fix anything.

Four days after she switched schools, Amal’s father found the girl dead in her room.

Story by Rose Saba, Star Calgary

She’s a beautiful girl who had a whole life ahead of her. She’ll never get her first kiss or go to the prom. She won’t graduate high school or go to college or fall in love and have children of her own. And she isn’t unique. This is what happens where hate lives and it sickens me. Is this what the bullies want? Are there really people in my country who would celebrate this loss? It is my hope that the the people who bullied Amal feel shame and remorse at what has happened and will carry that forward instead of the hate. Some will, but much work needs to be done to remove this cancer of fear and hate of otherness from our society. Lives are depending on it.

Mould Making

Yesterday we saw the birth of a couple of little Mermaids, today it’s two steps back in the process: mould making.

I have long wanted some more natural looking moulds and with the mermaid moulds being so frustrating I finally decided to use the materials Marcus sent me last year.

I’ll only show the process for the pebbles, but describe the squares as well.

While you can embed almost everything into silicone, if you want a mould that creates shiny resin pieces, your positive has to be smooth as a baby’s butt, so my first step was to cover some pebbles and pieces of wood in resin.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

The problem with the wood was that the cut sides soaked up the resin, staying rough, so I decided to cover the whole thing again the next day. This times the sides became smooth, but the resin decided not to stick to itself on the top…

After I covered my pieces in resin I created the “mould box”. Marcus made those four pieces you can clamp to each other, allowing for variable sizes. You just need to put some putty into the cracks to seal it, something that worked well here, but not that well with the wood pieces, so I drowned my kitchen table in silicone and then had to somehow scoop it up again because I didn’t have enough to replace it.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

The resin had created a flat foot on the pebbles that I worked a little with sanding paper, so i could put the flat on the surface and pour the silicone on top with little worries that they’d rise to the top…

©Giliell, all rights reserved

All poured, now wait…

©Giliell, all rights reserved

This is the mould with the pebbles still inside. They came out nice and clean and I

really like that mould. Now for trying it out…

©Giliell, all rights reserved

The green one on the right was a different mould, one where I tried to make all round pieces. Those still need some working on.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

You can see that they’re really glossy while also really pebble-irregular.

The square ones are fine for making pieces that you sand down, but due to the issues with the resin not that nice and clean. Afterwards I remembered that Marcus had once sent me a “book club” block that would have made a nice clean mould…

I also tried some small globe shaped moulds, which still need some tinkering, so the next time I need to order resin I’ll also order some more silicon.

Harakka in Autumn: Chapter 10

Ice Swimmer’s here and today he has rocks to show us. Be still my heart…..

Chapter 10 – Southwestern Rocks on Sunday, I

Shaped by Ice Age. ©Ice Swimmer, all rights reserved 

The rounded forms of the rocks come from the Ice Age. The bottom of the glacier was full of rocks embedded into the ice that was quite flexible under the huge pressure, grinding the rocks into rounded shapes. [Read more…]

Reinterpreting Propaganda

To get it out of the way, Charly started it. And reminded me of a delightful bit of propaganda reinterpretation. Puts a smile on my face every time.

The original FB post was this nice, succinct narrative:

The Soviet-Chinese propaganda posters seem to be the story of a beautiful interracial gay couple who met in a metallurgical, got married and had beautiful children and a farm

In any case, some explanation:

In October 1949, Mao Zedong announced the creation of the People’s Republic of China. China and Russia had long been allies and now, as communist states, that relationship was more important to both countries than ever before.

Communist propaganda has always been an integral part of that particular political structure, and Chinese-Russian propaganda attests to how much each country wanted to show the world they had a united front – China and Russia walking hand-in-hand, happy and gay, so to speak. The posters they used to get this idea across, however, may have been a bit too literal.

Here’s a quick sample of a couple of my favourites. Commentary at the link:

Slightly different, but no less amusing, captions available at imgur, too. If only real-life international relations were as friendly.

And too bad modern day propaganda doesn’t lend itself so easily to left-leaning reinterpretation (please point out if I’m wrong).

 

Behind the Iron Curtain part 27 – Propaganda

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


Marcus has shown old propaganda posters on his blog from time to time, and they are interesting to see, but that is not actually how the main bulk of the propaganda was done during my lifetime. In fact, that is not how it was done in my lifetime at all.

Of course I lived after Stalin has been dead and rotten for a while and the regime has mellowed a bit. But I got to see a lot of propaganda from earlier times nevertheless. And I – and most of my countrymen – do occasionally see it to this very day, and enjoy it. How come?

Because it was in the movies. Czech cinematography during the regime was quite well-off. The regime has recognized the importance of a good story for persuading people, especially children, and they capitalized on this. They shot a lot, and I mean a lot, of fairy-tales and movies for children and young people. The quality was often very high, which is why they are still popular until today – and quite frankly, Hollywood flicks cannot hold a candle to many of them in terms of historical(ish) accuracy and detail regarding the costumes and settings. If this -click- is accessible to you click through a few scenes of the movie and see for yourself. What has helped of course is that medieval architecture of whole streets and even towns is not hard to come by here and need not be built from scratch.

The movie that I linked to is first in a two-movie series about Prague during the reign of Rudolf II, the last Habsburg who made Prague the capital city of the Austrian empire and elected to live there permanently. It is a story of a young baker, who is the emperor’s doppelgänger and gets coincidentally swapped for the emperor at a time when the emperor has drunk a youth potion. The movie was very succesful and according to Wikipedia it was even distributed in USA with english subtitles -click-.

I am not going to relate the whole story to you, but in short the whole movie is about exposing the corruption of a feudal system, the shallowness of people who are always out there for themselves. And the importance of us all just getting along and pulling together in one direction. The selfish and greedy are to be ostracised and punished, and there is no greater achievement than to work for the good of the collective. The good ol’ communism in a nutshell.

And that theme was common in movie production of that time, sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly, but it was always there. As a child I of course did not see anything wrong with that message. As an adult I see plenty wrong with that message.

I agree with the principle in theory, but not in praxis. Because, in the words of Terry Pratchett, it approaches societal problems instead with “this is how people are, what can we do about it?” with “this is how people should be, how can we make them?”. Trying to build a society that depends on most people being an ideal that said society requires to work properly is just as silly as trying to build a society depending on ideal environmental/economic conditions*. The world contains neither ideal conditions, nor ideal people. All people are a complex mixture of selfishness and altruism, bigotry and acceptance, wisdom and stupidity and a lot more in the mix. Similarly all societies contain hierarchies and barriers that are outside of an individual’s control, and a plenty of built-in inequalities and unfairness. And it all changes continuously.

I admit that even today I watch these movies with a pang of nostalgia. I wish the message in them were applicable in real world. It isn’t. It only works in fairy tales.


*I summed it up for myself a few years ago thus: Communism can only work with perfectly round people and libertarianism can only work in perfect vacuum.

Macedonia 9.2 – Skopje at Night v2

So, I did go out! I made new colleague-friends and took some time for quiet walking around the city, and yes, I took some photos!

Christmas isn’t as big a deal here as elsewhere in Europe (because most of the christian population is orthodox, and the muslim population obviously doesn’t celebrate as such), but the one thing that is a big deal here? Lights! Strings of lights! Everywhere, and in large amounts. To the point where walking down some of the pedestrian streets feels like walking through a galaxy though not like us, out on the edge of the Milky Way, but in a far more densely starred area. You’d think it would be garish, but it is quite lovely.

This is one of the lesser lit streets…
©rq, all rights reserved.

Look up! Even the moon is overshadowed (overlit?).
©rq, all rights reserved.

[Read more…]

Behind the Iron Curtain part 24 – LGBTQ rights

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


I do not actually remember how much I was informed about these issues as a child before and after the fall of the Iron Curtain, but what I do remember is that my first encounter was not with an actual (known) homosexual person, but with a homophobic slur. The sad reality is, that Czechs were and to great extent still are very homophobic, or at least “I am not a homophobe, but…”, which is a distinction without difference.

However from legal standpoint Czechoslovak Socialist Republic was actually relatively progressive, or at least not less progressive than many western countries. Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1962, 5 years before the United Kingdom. And gender reassignment therapy and surgery, although with more than a few bureaucratic hurdles to jump through, were (and are) available and paid for from state health insurance.

Nevertheless, despite gay rights being on the left side of the political spectrum in current USA and most of western world, it was not so behind the Iron Curtain. As avid reader and a very curious child, I have read behind my parents’ back magazines for adults (as opposed to magazines for children), which even in the puritanical culture did contain some information about sex and sexuality. And on one such occasion I came across an article that mentioned a peculiar fact – whilst homosexual acts between consenting adults were decriminalized in ČSSR, this was not the case everywhere in the Eastern Bloc. In USSR, male homosexuality was still illegal and punishable by imprisonment. The rationale mentioned in the article was homophobic, patriarchal and misogynistic all at once, and I remember recognizing it as such even at the time, although of course I did not know those fancy words back then: “A woman’s weakness can be forgiven, but a soldier must control his urges.”

After the fall of the iron curtain this discrepancy between the two countries sadly progressed. Whilst Czech Republic slowly but steadily progresses towards more and more legal rights for LGBTQ people along with public opinion progressing as well, in Russian Federation the trend actually reversed after a brief period of attempted progress.

So to me this, together with before mentioned environmentalism, is another one of the issues that actually is not left or right and it is just a coincidence that it is considered so in current political climate in the west. But lets not forget that political left can be just as adept at finding rationalizations for the homophobia of their power base as political right currently is. Hate of the other can, unfortunately, be quite the unifying issue in all kinds of political context.

Teacher’s Corner: Things I don’t have to worry about

As you might know by now, being a teacher can be “exciting”.  From wrestling out of control teenagers over having misogynistic slurs hurled at me to a mother and adult brother trying to beat us up (fortunately I was in another parent-teacher talk). Still with that level of violence, there’s some things I don’t have to worry about. A big one is guns. While there have been some school shootings or massacres in Germany, the number is low, and actually yes, we’ve tightened gun laws after the first big one in 2002. The one in 2009 could only happen because the father of the shooter had disobeyed those and was subsequently convicted of manslaughter by negligence. Never say never, but  absolutely don’t worry about somebody shooting up my classroom with a military style assault weapon (and no, I’m not interested in the discussion of technicalities. You all know what weapons I mean).

I am worried about knives. They’re easy to get, easy to carry and can be deadly. But my chair is a very good defensive weapon against a knife. There’s a good chance I can get my students out of the room when somebody draws a knife while I try to calm that person. There’s a good chance that I will survive the extreme case of being hurt by a knife, which gets me to another thing I don#t have to worry about:

Healthcare cost. Should I or my students get hurt , we wouldn’t have to worry about who is paying our bills. I wouldn’t need to worry about losing my job for being sick or not getting paid because I used up my “sick days”. And I wouldn’t much need to worry about people blaming me for not having had a gun and killing somebody first.

 

Working Iron

I’ve noticed metalworking is a bit of a theme around here (thanks to Charly, kestrel and Marcus), and so it’s no coincidence that I discovered a new fantastic personality in the field of Women Blacksmiths:

Her name is Elizabeth Brim and she’s made her name forging and inflating playful, elegant, and unexpected objects out of iron, a decidedly indelicate material. Bourdain travels to her home in North Carolina to meet with the pearl-wearing master metalsmith, first as she meticulously fashions a flower and then as she spreads knowledge to her students at the Penland School of Crafts.

“I was brought to believe that I needed some man to take care of me and to pay the bills and to make sure the oil in my car was changed and my tires were good… and so I’m really proud that I was able to pay that house off by selling my work,” Brim says to Bourdain when they talk about the aftermath of a failed marriage. She’s just so, so great. Bourdain himself even says she’s the type of woman his own daughter will grow up to be.

The video at the link is her interview with the late Anthony Bourdain. It’s worth a watch, she seems such a fantastic character and I would love to spend a day with her, in her forge or elsewhere.

Loreena McKennitt has a nice song about a blacksmith, but he’s a two-timing, gaslighting liar, so here’s Ani DiFranco instead: