Chris Parks’ skateboard deck art of Jesus and his apostles shown as luchadores is awesome! And just in time for Easter. (More and better photos here.)
Posted in arte, favorite things, Mexico, pop culture, the neighborhood
Tagged arte, chris parks, last fiesta, last supper, luchadores, pale horse design, pop culture, sinners & saints, skateboard
So I was down in Forest Park yesterday to check out Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea at the St. Louis Art Museum, and it was great. The show includes dozens of pieces of Mayan art related to the sea, rain, animals, and the gods that have never been shown in the United States before.
There are crocodile sculptures, funerary statues, duck-head vases, a pelican head…frankly it was a bit overwhelming because almost every piece has a rich mythic backstory and is executed with fine and complicated detailing. The whole time I was mesmerized by geometric configurations, stories of gods emerging from sharks, the idea of a cosmic turtle, and just how lovely a bloodletting ritual could be. Honestly, I need to go back to take it all in more fully. But I’m running out of time because the show is only in St. Louis until May 8…and then the world ends in 2012.
But it wasn’t until I hit the show’s gift shop that I became a true sucker. Usually I fly right past all the goodies laid out to tempt museum goers, but not this time. Delicately placed on a pedestal at the front of the store was a basket of adorable three-legged ceramic pigs from Chile called chanchitos. The name comes from the diminutive of chancho, which is a word in parts of Latin America for “pig” (both the four-legged version and the guy who your mother always warned you about). Normally the word chanchito refers to a piggy bank, but the chanchitos at the art museum were ceramic art obejects made in Pomaire, Chile that are exchanged between family and friends as good luck symbols. I was smitten and had to have one. And personally, I don’t think there is a luckier or more attractive swine than the one my wife and I picked out of that sales basket. (Though this Facebook page would take issue with us.)
Chanchito con sus nuevos amigos
Bringing our chanchito home made me do a little more investigation into Pomaire. The village is about 60 km west of Santiago and is home to some really amazing potters and pottery studios. It is also famous for its almost two-pound empanadas. My goodness, it’s almost lunch time and I’m ready to book a flight to Chile right now! (Here’s a great blog about the cuisine of the village and how to cure any cooking vessels you might buy there on a future trip.)
(Five-minute video en español on pottery arts in Pomaire).
Posted in arte, comida, favorite things, pop culture, Reviews, slang, viaje, video, vocabulario
Tagged alfarería, arte, chanchito, Chile, chilean pottery, comida, empanada, fiery pool, mayan art, pomaire, slam, St. Louis, st. louis art museum
Ron English is deliciously subversive with his art. He throws billboard-sized bombs at advertising design and brand culture through public (often illegal) art that twists images of Ronald McDonald, Mickey Mouse, and Joe Camel into cancerous agents of obesity, disease, and brand subservience. If you’ve seen Morgan Spurlock’s film Super Size Me, then you’ve seen his work.
Here’s a short film about the man:
Recently English decided to play an April Fool’s prank related to the immigration debate through a series of works that popped up at the US-Mexico border. Below is my favorite…though I fear that some in the US will take it seriously and want this sign permanently installed at all border crossings.
Posted in arte, favorite things, film, internet culture, politics, pop culture, the neighborhood, video
Tagged arte, humor, immigration, Los Estados Unidos, mexico, peliculas, pop art, pop culture, popaganda, publicidad, ron english, us-mexico border, video
I was lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time in Scotland last month, mostly in the capital city Edinburgh. While there, I was comfortably bunking in a quiet residential neighborhood near the University of Edinburgh. On more than one occasion, I made my way along Dalkeith Road, in order to reach Holyrood Park, a picturesque green space with towering hills and great views of the Royal Mile, the Scottish Parliament, and the Queen’s residence in Scotland. The University’s Pollock Halls of Residence are situated on Dalkeith, so I passed by them several times during my visit. But I must have been staring at my feet for the most part because I didn’t notice that one of the halls is named “Romero Place” until my last day in the city.
Even then, my first thought was only that it was just a strange name for a place in Scotland. A British friend told me that a lot of Italians live in Edinburgh, so I figured the residence hall must be named after some generous Italian immigrant who perhaps attended the university or served in its community in some capacity. But then I noticed a relief sculpture embedded in the stone wall near the name plate.
Campesinos collecting culture from a tree that appears to be rooted in the body of a man? Very odd.
Then I noticed the inscription surrounding the image.
Que mi sangre sea semilla de libertad y la señal de que la esperanza será pronto una realidad.
Let my blood be a seed of freedom and a sign that hope will soon be a reality.
The quote is from the Salvadoran martyr Óscar Romero. And I immediately felt like an idiot when I realized that the residence hall was named after this great defender of human rights. How had I missed this when I had passed by the building so many times before?
Archbishop Romero’s story is an interesting one. He grew up in a relatively poor family but didn’t take to his father’s wishes for him of becoming a carpenter. He entered the priesthood instead, and actually spent the early years of his career not as the social justice stalwart we remember Romero as today, but as a believer in church hierarchy and the separation of religion and politics. While he was climbing the ecclesiastical ladder, he was considered a conservative and far from a friend to devotees of Liberation Theology. There was actually a great deal of consternation among the political left when Romero was named Archbishop of San Salvador. But Romero had greatly reconsidered his politics and philosophy before taking on that important place in the Salvadoran church’s hierarchy. He had witnessed first hand the neglect of poor while serving in his previous position as Bishop of Santiago de María, and he had become conscious of the ruthless slaughter of individuals who stood in the way of power. Now in a position of authority to speak out against such atrocities, he did so and became a marked man. Ultimately, Romero was gunned down by the Salvadoran right wing on March 24, 1980, while he was in the midst of performing a mass at a hospital. With the saintly leader now gone, all hell broke out in El Salvador, and the country fell into a twelve-year-long civil war.
Romero’s work for the political freedoms and human rights in El Salvador has since become immortalized in the arts. A sculpture of his likeness fills a prominent place in the Gallery of Martyrs at Westminster Abbey in London. Songs and poems have been written about him. And Raúl Juliá even portrayed the Archbishop in the 1989 film Romero.
But I’m still trying to figure out why this particular residence hall in Edinburgh bears his name. Is there a special connection with the university? or the city? All I know is that I wish I had lived in a dorm named after a human rights champion when I was a freshman in college.
Posted in arte, peliculas, the neighborhood, viaje, video
Tagged arte, central america, edimburgo, el salvador, europa, peliculas, raul julia, romero, viajes, video
I finally got my wish the other day and saw Los abrazos rotos. While it’s not the perfect success of Almodóvar’s last film with Penélope Cruz—the Cannes darling Volver—, it delighted this viewer just as everything else produced by the Spanish director has.
Almodóvar draws inspiration from Hitchcock with the film. Los abrazos rotos is a stylish thriller with a story that unravels as the viewer travels back and forth in time. We start in the present with a blind Spanish screenwriter named “Harry Caine,” who is cared for meticulously by his agent Judit and her son Diego. But a visit from the son of an old business associate of Caine’s sends the film tumbling back into the sordid events of the 1990s. Caine was still Mateo Blanco then, an up-and-coming film director working on Chicas y maletas (Women and Suitcases), which happens to be remarkably similar to Almodóvar’s own film Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown)—a movie everyone should see. In fact, the same set is used for Chicas y maletas as Almodóvar used in Mujeres.
Blanco’s film consumes him, particularly because of its star Lena Rivas (Cruz). On film, she’s a plucky Audrey Hepburn look-a-like. In real life, she’s a woman trapped by the repercussions of her difficult decisions in life. Rivas is the mistress of Ernesto Martel, a businessman who produces Blanco’s movie and who’s son shows up at Harry Caine’s apartment years later. Blanco is infatuated with Rivas. And the tensions between Blanco and Martel, a jealous and controlling lover, quickly escalate and are heightened by the presence of Martel’s son, a burgeoning director himself who is filming a documentary about the making of Chicas y maletas. Martel Jr.’s raw footage is viewed daily by the paranoid and manipulative Martel Sr., who goes as far as to hire a lipreader to decipher the conversations between Rivas and Blanco that happen behind the camera.
How does Blanco go blind? Why does he call himself Harry Caine? What becomes of Rivas? Why does Junior come calling on Caine/Blanco years later? Well, you’re just going to have to watch the film and follow the circuitous route to those answers yourself.
Posted in arte, favorite things, peliculas, pop culture, Reviews, Spain, video
Tagged almodóvar, arte, españa, madrid, peliculas, penelope cruz, pop culture, Reviews, Spain, video
Poking around the stacks in the library this week I found a slim volume sandwiched between two thick, underused Spanish dictionaries: Spanish Pronunciation Illustrated by J.P. FitzGibbon and J. Merino. I immediately fell in love.
The petite volume was published in 1963 and doesn’t appear to have seen any more printings after that. A quick search around the internet reveals only a few copies for sale (2 on ABE, for instance, and both of them are in the UK). The book goes through all the sounds in the Spanish language, using example words and sentences to give the user practice with each. The fun part is that all the sentences are written in a rhyme-y, sing-song-y, and hilarious way and are accompanied by illustrations. It’s kind of like Edward Gorey made a Spanish primer.
Ana anda hasta la casa.
El militar pinta la piña.
La niña pide la silla.
Laura va hacia la farmacia.
Esta tela tiene tinta.
Está en la peña con mucha pena.
Of course, the illustrations are the best part of the book. As you can tell from the above image, they’re awesome! Simple and humorous, they’re by the Portuguese artist Lima de Freitas. According to this article (as best as I can make from the Portuguese), he lived from 1927 to 1998 and illustrated over 100 books, including Aquilino Ribeiro‘s translation of Don Quixote. There are also a couple of Quixote illustrations in this book, by the way. If I weren’t such a morally upright boy, I’d keep this little gem for myself. Alas, one day soon it’ll be back on the library shelf…gathering dust.
Posted in arte, favorite things, gramática, hints, libros, Reviews, vocabulario
Tagged arte, beginners, dibujo, españa, gramática, hints, humor, libros, Reviews, sol y viento help, spanish vocabulary, vocabulario
Someone had the brilliant idea of playing Pedro Almodóvar’s newest film Broken Embraces in San Luis only at 1 in the afternoon on weekdays. Because Almodóvar is an unknown director??? He’s only won an Oscar, two Baftas, and a zillion festival awards in his career. The film stars Penélope Cruz for goodness’ sake. Anyway, how many people can make a 1PM screening on a weekday? Not me, unfortunately. I’m just going to have to wait for it to come out on DVD. In protest, I watched his 80s film Matador the other day and currently have a slew of his films in my Netflix queue. (I bet you wonder how that’s a protest. Trust me…it is.) To further pour salt in my Almodóvar wound, I could only find a version of Matador‘s trailer with Dutch (I think?) subtitles. But you’ll get the idea.
There are a few Almodóvar films that I’m meh about; Matador is not one of them. It’s also not the film with James Bond, if that’s what you were wondering. The movie centers around several characters: a guilt-filled bullfighting student (played by an incredibly young looking Antonio Banderas), the student’s overly religious mother, a hobbled retired bullfighter, a lawyer, a model, and the model’s downright weird mother. Sheesh! At least one of them is a murderer. Why and how I’ll leave to you. Typical for Almodóvar, the film is deep with color and humor. It’s also a bit Hitchcock-esque, if I’m allowed to say that. Watch it.
Posted in arte, favorite things, peliculas, rant, Reviews, video
Tagged almodóvar, arte, españa, familia, humor, peliculas, rant, Reviews, Spain, video
I hope you’re familiar with Auto-Tune the News…because it’s brilliant. A fun little side project by The Gregory Brothers, ATN consists of short videos that the band makes by running various politicians, celebrities, talking heads, and themselves through Auto-Tune software, which is a meant to correct pitch in song recordings. The process brings out the inner singer in folks like President Obama, Katie Couric, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and any number of Fox commentators and congressional members, as well as showcasing the sometimes ridiculous nature of political speech and commentary. My favorite is #5 (the following video), which was stuck in my head for months last year after it first came out. “It’s the sm-o-o-o-o-ke!”
But somehow I missed #9 until today, and boy was there a hole in life without it. The video starts with none other than Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez laying down a melody and displaying some fine air guitar. While Chávez is known for his often hours-long Sunday address/television program Aló Presidente, which currently has an archive of almost 350 episodes, I had no idea he had such a beautiful auto-tuned voice!
Posted in arte, favorite things, musica, pop culture, the neighborhood, video
Tagged arte, audio, autotune, hugo chavez, humor, Los Estados Unidos, musica, pop culture, venezuela, video
I feel like I start many of my posts by saying, “I don’t generally care for…” Well, I generally don’t care for Woody Allen’s films, at least those from the mid-80s on. Though I should admit that I was once a huge lover of his work from the 70s, particularly Manhattan. That film has such lush and powerful images of New York that the city itself is basically a protagonist in the film. The same is true for Barcelona in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which is easily the best Woody Allen film I’ve seen in years. I enjoyed it so much that I now regret not having seen it on the big screen when it was first released.
On the face of it, the film is about two young American women spending a summer in Cataluña before getting married (in the case of one) or getting on with figuring out what to do next in life (in the case of the other). The women, the eponymous Vicky and Cristina, meet a fiery Spanish painter (Javier Bardem) who tries to romance and seduce them with a trip to Olviedo. All the while, a wonderful Spanish soundtrack plays in the background and the golden lighting of Spain’s sunshine emits the country’s warmth to the viewer.
While the film is categorized as a romantic comedy, I found the work mostly about passion and art. And I can’t believe I just wrote that because normally such a sentence would make me groan. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) is practical, yet she’s obsessed with the energy and serendipity of Cataluña. Juan Antonio (Bardem’s painter) is the embodiment of such qualities for her, and she finds her passionate attraction to him disquieting and confusing. Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), on the other hand, already lives on the fly. She actually finds the stability of a romance, albeit a three-way one, to be an enticing forbidden fruit. Meanwhile, she also finds new expression in photography. But her Achilles’ heel of dissatisfaction always looms on the horizon. And then there’s Juan Antonio’s ex-wife Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz) who is nothing but passion and artistic expression. In the past, she tried to kill Juan Antonio because of her intense feelings. Now she steps back into his life when he’s in the middle of a new romance. Cruz’ facial expressions in the film are worth a thousand Oscars alone. And have fun practicing your Spanish skills while listening to her mostly improvised dialog with Bardem.
The film also rekindled my appreciation for Allen’s humor. In particular, I keep running my favorite scene from the film over and over in my head. In it, Juan Antonio explains the philosophy of his father Julio Josep (Josep Maria Domènech) to Vicky. Julio Josep is a crusty Spanish poet who refuses to publish his work because he hates the world. By withholding such beautiful words from people, he’s punishing this place that he hates. I had no idea that poets had such power!
Posted in arte, peliculas, Reviews, viaje, video
Tagged arte, Barcelona, españa, javier bardem, Los Estados Unidos, oscars, peliculas, penelope cruz, pop culture, Reviews, video, woody allen
Now I’ve never counted myself as a fan of For Better or For Worse, the family comic that graces most funny pages in the US and Canada. The strip focuses on the Patterson family, a typically pleasant collection of suburban characters living near Toronto who, until a couple years ago, accurately aged throughout the years of the comic’s publication: children grew up and married, the dog passed away, and so on. But for some reason, someone had the idea of using the strip as a basis for language study. I don’t know if it was the strip’s creator Lynn Johnston or writer Brenda Wegmann or both, but the result is Laugh ‘n’ Learn Spanish: Featuring North America’s #1 Comic Strip “For Better or For Worse,” which ends up being a novel approach to improving one’s Spanish skills.
The book is split up into 100 strips that are organized for beginning, intermediate, and advanced students, but they don’t need to be read in a particular order. Though generally I’d say knowing a little Spanish would be helpful before cracking open the book. Each strip (all in Spanish by the way) introduces a theme, ranging from simple tasks like asking to use the bathroom to thinking about the future and even making wedding plans, and each is followed by a fill-in-the-blank exercise. They also include word, grammar, and phrase help.
All of which creates a rather unusual language book: no rote memorization and no inane dialogues. The strips present real situations with useful conversational phrases, and the visuals help to reinforce the language and vocabulary. And though it seems particularly uncool of me to admit, some of the strips did make me chuckle a bit. (Have I sold out?) I’d say the book seems like an especially good tool for visual learners. However, I wouldn’t go throwing out your old textbook just yet. Sometimes grammar needs to be laid out in all its nooks and (sometimes boring) crannies. So I would suggest this book to the Spanish learner as a complimentary tool and not an end-all, be-all authority.
Posted in arte, libros, pop culture, rant, Reviews
Tagged advanced, arte, beginners, comics, hints, humor, intermediate, libros, pop culture, Reviews