On the Rocks

Chinatec elders prepare stone soup the traditional way, by the Papaloapan River. PHOTO: SARAH BOREALIS

Chinatec elders prepare stone soup the traditional way, by the Papaloapan River. PHOTO: SARAH BOREALIS

National Geographic’s The Plate explores the “global relationship between what we eat and why, at the intersection of science, technology, history, culture and the environment”. The latest in its daily discussion on food is the preparation of  real stone soup in Oaxaca, Mexico.

The soup originated in a remote ritual site in the Papaloapan River basin, about 12 hours by car from Oaxaca City, in the highlands of the Sierra Madre mountain range. The geography there is very rocky, and in the Pre-Ceramic [period,] Chinantec ancestors developed an elemental way to cook their food using fire and stone. The ritual site features large boulders excavated to serve as large cooking pots, and I guess you might say that the rest is history! The recipe for stone soup features local ingredients and really is a product of this unique environment.

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What’s The Catch?

Golden hour at the line of fishing nets along Fort Kochi beach, Kerala, India. PHOTO: Rosanna

Golden hour at the line of fishing nets along Fort Kochi beach, Kerala, India. PHOTO: Rosanna

Are you a traveler or a tourist? Yes, both mean different things. A traveler – unhurried, lacks the “need” to see/do things, explores beyond the ‘must’ eat, visit lists. A tourist – one for order, one who settles for a “simplified ABC version of the globe“. Highly subjective definitions, yes. Disputable, too. But it easily makes you and I a traveler every single day, at every other place. It makes me a traveler in my own land, in my own time. Friend to tourists and wayfarers, a commonplace storyteller, a forever traveler.

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Walk About

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the planning and execution of a video project as part of my internship. We worked with creative director Anoodha Kunnath, who has already produced many videos about different topics.

The first step was of course a discussion between Anoodha and Raxa Collective to understand what they both expected from the video. This took place about one month ago – at the beginning of my training – so it was really interesting for me to be aware, in a different way, of the company and its philosophy. The main goal of Anoodha’s work will be to communicate all the characteristics of Xandari Harbour (one of the hotels developed and managed by Raxa Collective) and of course its fascinating location.

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The Sound of the Forest

A few years ago the Ministry of Environment included the Sagano Bamboo Forest on its list of "100 Soundscapes of Japan" -- a selection of everyday noises intended to encourage locals to stop and enjoy nature's music. PHOTO: CNN

A few years ago the Ministry of Environment included the Sagano Bamboo Forest on its list of “100 Soundscapes of Japan” — a selection of everyday noises intended to encourage locals to stop and enjoy nature’s music. PHOTO: CNN

What does it take for a government to officially recognize a natural soundscape? The bamboo forests of Kyoto. Growing tall on the edges of Kyoto, the Sagano Bamboo Forest is a once tranquil nature spot that is now a series of tourist-packed pathways, but if one can escape the sounds of camera shutters and boorish visitors, they can hear the rustling, creaking, and swaying of one of Japan’s governmentally recognized soundscapes.

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A Volcano That Fanned the Arts

The deep volcanic crater, top, was produced by the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in April 1815 - the most powerful volcanic blast in recorded history. PHOTO: Iwan Setiyawan/KOMPAS, via Associated Press

The deep volcanic crater, top, was produced by the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in April 1815 – the most powerful volcanic blast in recorded history. PHOTO: Iwan Setiyawan/KOMPAS, via Associated Press

That the volcanoes have power is plain, cemented truth. You hear of their trail of ravage – ash, rocks, lava, evacuation, barren lands. The volcano vocabulary is dreary, if you may say so. But not the eruption of Mount Tambora. For this be the reason for many a flood, famine, disease, civil unrest and economic decline.

“The year without a summer,” as 1816 came to be known, gave birth not only to paintings of fiery sunsets and tempestuous skies but two genres of gothic fiction. The freakish progeny were Frankenstein and the human vampire, which have loomed large in art and literature ever since.

“The paper trail,” said Dr. Wood, a University of Illinois professor of English, “goes back again and again to Tambora.”

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India to Antwerp, this Story of Diamonds

Indians have come to control almost three-quarters of Antwerp’s diamond industry.(Reuters/Finbarr O'Reilly)

Indians have come to control almost three-quarters of Antwerp’s diamond industry. (Reuters/Finbarr O’Reilly)

What New York is to the world’s money markets, Antwerp is to the global diamond trade. Antwerp is also the centre of the secondary or rough diamond market. More than 50% of global production of rough, polished, cut and industrial diamonds passes through Antwerp. Around 80% of the world’s rough diamonds are handled in Antwerp generating an annual turnover of some €30 billion. The most valuable diamonds are usually cut in Antwerp, but as the economy globalises Antwerp remains a nerve centre with much of the actual diamonds shipped out to other, cheaper locations.

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The Village Capital of Light

Scorrano, a little village turns into the Capital of the Luminarie for a few days a year. PHOTO: Gorgonia.it

Scorrano, a little village turns into the Capital of the Luminarie for a few days a year. PHOTO: Gorgonia.it

Tradition, religion, heritage, and passion: from one generation to the other, a small town in the Apulia region, Scorrano, has been able to keep all these things untouchable and unique and give them expression during a festival called “Festa delle Luminarie”. The history of this festival goes back to the 20th century and it is related to the existence of small family-run businesses that have been developing and installing the so-called “luminarie” to celebrate local patrons and religious feasts. This was especially true for this small town where only 7,000 people live: there, a few local firms used to wait for the village’s feast in order to install the most beautiful and spectacular illuminations they had been working on in the months before.
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Fancy Some Meat Done Inca-style?

People throw potatoes into a pachamanca during a gastronomic fair Mistura in Lima. PHOTO: Ernesto Benavide

People throw potatoes into a pachamanca during a gastronomic fair Mistura in Lima. PHOTO: Ernesto Benavide

What’s the epitome of summer for a lot of Americans? It’s communing around a grill, with friends and family, waiting for a slab of meat to cook to juicy perfection. In Peru, people like to gather around heat and meat, too. Except the heat — and the meat — are buried in the ground. It’s called pachamanca, a traditional way of cooking that dates back to the Inca Empire. The pit cooking technique has evolved over time but remains an important part of the Peruvian cuisine and culture, especially in the central Peruvian Andes all year-round for family get-togethers and celebrations. Imagine a cornucopia of dozens of potatoes and corn ears and giant slabs of well-marinated meat, stacked carefully in layers. Pachamanca is that cornucopia turned upside-down and sealed for hours.

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Cycling’s Best Week Is Here

Associated Press' photographer, Laurent Cipriani, shifts the focus from cyclists of Tour de France to bystanders in his series titled 'Along the Road'

Associated Press’ photographer, Laurent Cipriani, shifts the focus from cyclists of Tour de France to bystanders in his series titled ‘Along the Road’

Welcome to the best three weeks in professional cycling. The Tour de France is the world’s most popular and grueling cycling race. It is a 23-day journey throughout France — and occasionally other European countries — comprising 21 stages, and the route is different every year. The first edition of the Tour was in 1903. The 2015 edition of the Tour will run July 4-26, beginning in Utrecht, Netherlands and ending on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

If photographing the Tour de France doesn’t sound difficult enough, imagine doing it while riding on the back of a motorbike travelling up to 60 miles per hour. Laurent Cipriani has been doing that for the Associated Press since 2011, part of a team of photographers, editors, and drivers—what he refers to as “a travelling theater.” While Cipriani’s focus is on the cyclists, what initially made an impression on him was the amount of people lined up along the streets watching the race.

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Of Magical Tattoos and Civil Wars

Believed to ward off bad luck, sacred tattoos or sak yant have centuries of history in Southeast Asia. PHOTO: Nathan Thompson

Believed to ward off bad luck, sacred tattoos or sak yant have centuries of history in Southeast Asia. PHOTO: Nathan Thompson

Magical tattoos, known as sak yant in Khmer – the language of Cambodia – are believed to render their wearers impervious to bullets, protect them from misfortune and endow them with sexual magnetism. While the tradition prevails throughout Southeast Asia, little is known about the art in Cambodia, partly because of a 1920 royal ordinance that forbade monks from tattooing and partly because the remaining practitioners were killed during the Khmer Rouge genocide and civil war. Today, traditional Cambodian sak yant is especially difficult to find because those who are still practicing the art form are reluctant to publicize their activities.

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For the Love of Rains and Traditions

Celebrated in June every year, San Joao is one of Goa's cultural festivals. Tradition has it that it was on this day that unborn St. John the Baptist 'leapt with joy' in his mother Elizabeth's womb, as Mary, the mother of Jesus visited her.

Celebrated in June every year, San Joao is one of Goa’s cultural festivals. Tradition has it that it was on this day that unborn St. John the Baptist ‘leapt with joy’ in his mother Elizabeth’s womb, as Mary, the mother of Jesus visited her. PHOTO: Harsha Vadlamani

Yes, this is yet another rain-inspired story, after the one on Communist reading rooms. But such is the power of the Indian monsoon, that it can sway even the most stoic of minds. For comparison, the feelings and emotions associated with the deluge mirror those of when sighting the first of the cherry blossoms or even the Northern Lights. May be less, may be more. Any how, this post is about a fun tradition that has its roots in the picturesque villages of Goa, a popular tourist destination. And the feast of Sao Joao is a playful mix of religion, tradition, lots of merrymaking, and jumping into wells. Yes, wells. And oh, the event marks the six-month countdown to Christmas!

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Mind Your Language

As global trade expanded through European conquests of the East Indies, the flow of Indian words into English gathered momentum. PHOTO: EDL

As global trade expanded through European conquests of the East Indies, the flow of Indian words into English gathered momentum. PHOTO: EDL

Recently, we discussed Indian classical music as a ground of collaborations and exchanges. Cultural hegemony aside, we’d rooted for the European violin which is a mainstay at temple concerts and for the clarinet and trombone, which we may be lucky to see in music arrangements. Today, it’s about language. About how India gave the world worlds including pundit, jungle, nirvana, and more.

“Ginger, pepper and indigo entered English via ancient routes: they reflect the early Greek and Roman trade with India and come through Greek and Latin into English,” says Kate Teltscher. “Ginger comes from Malayalam in Kerala, travels through Greek and Latin into Old French and Old English, and then the word and plant become a global commodity. In the 15th Century, it’s introduced into the Caribbean and Africa and it grows, so the word, the plant and the spice spread across the world.” “The Portuguese conquest of Goa dates back to the 16th Century, and mango, and curry, both come to us via Portuguese – mango began as ‘mangai’ in Malayalam and Tamil, entered Portuguese as ‘manga’ and then English with an ‘o’ ending,” she says.

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Of Rains and Communist Reading Rooms

View of the approaching storm from our Xandari Riverscapes houseboat.

View of the approaching storm on Vembanad Lake, from a Xandari Riverscapes houseboat.

Monsoon rains in Kerala – the greatest drama I’ve ever watched. They tick everything on Aristotle’s checklist for a good play. A country dried by summer and hoping on a good ending makes for a decent plot. Meet the characters. A thick blanket of menacing grey, humid air hugging skin. Gusty winds that uproot trees and power lines, darkness that comes calling even before night. And the stellar spectacle of a finale – prayers, predictions, and calculations answered in silvery drops. Stunning, stinging, and relieving all at once.

Writing this while watching blue and grey jostle in the skies, the earth still smelling of the last rain (petrichor is the word), I am reminded of the book I’m reading now. One that is as old as me, one befitting the best season in India. Alexander Frater’s Chasing the Monsoon.

“As a romantic ideal, turbulent, impoverished India could still weave its spell, and the key to it all – the colours, the moods, the scents, the subtle, mysterious light, the poetry, the heightened expectations, the kind of beauty that made your heart miss a beat – well, that remained the monsoon.”
Alexander Frater, Chasing the Monsoon

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Know Your Cup of Tea

While tea has an impressive history stretching back 5,000 years, iced tea has a history stretching back only as far as the discovery of preserving ice. PHOTO: darter.in

While tea has an impressive history stretching back 5,000 years, iced tea has a history stretching back only as far as the discovery of preserving ice. Picture of a tea garden in Munnar, Kerala. PHOTO: darter.in

Having spent the weekend maneuvering through tea plantations in Munnar, the drive brought back memories of conversations over tea here. There was the post on the complete tea experience – from planting a seed to hand plucking the tender green “silver tips” of the tea, to hand roasting and finally enjoying the “fruits” of one’s labor in distant Thailand. The one on the history of tea, too. And here is the account of how America popularized iced tea (we are betting on it being one of your go-to drinks), courtesy NPR’s The Salt: 

You’d be forgiven for not knowing this, but Wednesday was National Iced Tea Day. And while it’s only an unofficial food holiday, it makes sense that Americans would set aside a day to celebrate this favorite summertime sip: We popularized it. Tea itself, of course, has been consumed in America since Colonial times. (Remember the Boston Tea Party?) But before you could drink iced tea, you needed ice — and that was a rare summer luxury until the early 1800s. New Englanders could cut large chunks of ice from frozen ponds and lakes in winter, then insulate it with sawdust so that it could last into the warmer months. But in the hot South, snow and ice didn’t exactly abound.

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Indian Independence Day at Spice Harbour

10355655_10201665725084704_4823049703076743324_oYesterday at Spice Harbour I got to participate for the first time in an Independence Day flag raising ceremony.

It’s a good time to tip our hats to history. On August 15, 1947, after centuries of British imperialism, India gained independence. I am no expert on the Indian Independence movement so I won’t speak to it too much, but I know there were many political organizations and philosophies behind it that were united by their desire to end British rule. Mohandas Gandhi’s nonviolent philosophy and civil disobedience is what led the final parts of the struggle for independence that prompted the eventual withdrawal of the British. Since we’re talking about colonial India, we can put Kerala and Spice Harbour into historical context. Continue reading

“Shipwrecked pictures” from the Albert Khan museum : can our community help identify these photographs ?

Back in 1912, french millionaire Albert Kahn hired Stéphane Passet to be a photographer for the monumental project Archives of the planet, an iconographic memory of societies, environments and lifestyles around the world. From 1909 to 1931, Albert Kahn  commissioned photographers and film cameramen to record life in over 50 countries. The Archives of the planet were a collection of 180,000 metres of b/w film and more than 72,000 autochrome plates, most of which are held at Museum Albert Kahn in Boulogne, close to Paris.

Autochrome was the first industrial process for true colour photography. When the Lumière brothers launched it commercially in June 1907, it was a photograhic revolution – black and white came to life in colour. Autochromes consist of fine layers of microscopic grains of potato starch – dyed either red-orange, green or violet blue – combined with black carbon particles, spread over a glass plate where it is combined with a black and white photographic emulsion. All colours can be reproduced from three primary colours. Some of the autochrome pictures available today are however unidentified, some happen to be of Bombay. Who among you in the Raxa Collective community can help locate these sites?

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Wadi Feynan’s Copper Mines: Part I (History)

Wadi Feynan was one of the first places in the world where copper was mined and smelted by humans, which when
paired with one of the first Neolithic settlements in the world, makes Feynan an extremely important area in terms of prehistoric human development. Few places in the world can boast this sort of historical wealth – and visitors to Feynan can journey into the past with or without a guide. From the first bit of ore extracted to the collapse of the Roman Empire to the 20th century, copper mining has been a major aspect of human settlement in these valleys. Innumerable shafts have been opened, collapsed, reopened, and abandoned using a wide range of methods and technologies. Today, guests at Feynan Ecolodge have the chance to venture into the past by walking or biking to these historic sites nestled in the rocky foothills of the Dana Biosphere Reserve – and learn about their historical significance. Continue reading

“I found love when I was 6”: A Story of Tattoos and Love

There are many things I could have named this blog post, but I decided it should sound scandalous, it should sound crazy, it should sound epic. I mean, what is more scandalous, more crazy, and more epic than falling in love when you’re is only 6 years old?

Getting a tattoo? No.

Getting a tatttoo at 6? No.

Getting a tattoo of your true love at 6? Now that, my friends, is crazy.

Kamal's Tattoo of his wife's name, Meena

Kamal’s Tattoo of his wife’s name, Meena

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