Fortune at the Bottom of the Tea Cup

On Canadian tasseomancer Amy Taylor's vintage tea-leaf reading cups, your reading is determined by where your leaves fall on the preprinted symbols on the cups. PHOTO: Mike Taylor for NPR

On Canadian tasseomancer Amy Taylor’s vintage tea-leaf reading cups, your reading is determined by where your leaves fall on the preprinted symbols on the cups. PHOTO: Mike Taylor for NPR

Divining fortune from tea leaves has been around for almost as long as there has been tea, over five thousand years. Tea-Leaf reading which is also known as Tasseomancy like any other divination art has multiple origin histories. Tea-leaf reading tells fortunes using the symbols and the patterns formed by the residue of tea left in the cup. More of an art rather than a science, there are no universal guidelines that dictate what the patterns mean. Tea-Leaf reading is mostly done as a daily reading about life, love, work and money issues, though a longer timeframe may be determined as well.

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A Conversation of Whistles

Steep hills surround the village of Kuskoy, high in the mountains above Turkey's Black Sea coast. Some villagers here can still understand the old "bird language," a form of whistled Turkish used to communicate across these deep valleys. Peter Kenyon/NPR

Steep hills surround the village of Kuskoy. Some villagers here can still understand the old “bird language,” a form of whistled Turkish used to communicate across these deep valleys. PHOTO: Peter Kenyon/NPR

Is it always necessary to use words to communicate? Theoretically, there’s verbal communication and its non-verbal counterpart of body language, gestures, and the like. What if the communication is to pass over valleys and hills – spontaneously? Then, a whistled language – with its origin in bird calls – is the answer. Ask the “bird whistlers”.

In a remote mountain village high above Turkey’s Black Sea coast, there are villagers who still communicate across valleys by whistling. Not just whistling as in a non-verbal, “Hey, you!” But actually using what they call their “bird language,” Turkish words expressed as a series of piercing whistles.

The village is Kuskoy, and it’s inhabited by farmers who raise tea, corn, beets and other crops, and also keep livestock. The landscape is unusual by Turkish standards, and the residents are also considered a bit eccentric by other Turks.

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Did Scrabble Almost Fail to Take Off?

The game also formerly known as It and Criss-Cross Words acquired its lasting moniker in 1948, but its story begins 15 years earlier, when a 32-year-old architect named Alfred Mosher Butts joined the millions who’d already lost their jobs in the Great Depression. PHOTO: Getty

The game also formerly known as It and Criss-Cross Words acquired its lasting moniker in 1948, but its story begins 15 years earlier, when a 32-year-old architect named Alfred Mosher Butts joined the millions who’d already lost their jobs in the Great Depression. PHOTO: Getty

A game played avidly by amateurs and pros alike. In jails and by the British Royal Family, and has fans even at The White House. No other game brings wordsmiths together like Scrabble. And to think it may not have seen the light of living rooms.

Though words are its currency, it’s really a game about anything but. It’s a spatial game, a game of patterns and of memory. No wonder many top players have a mathematical rather than a linguistic background. You certainly don’t need to know what an obscure two-letter filler like ‘ee’ or ‘da’ means in order to play it, only that it appears on the endorsed word lists.

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When Food Unites

Vigorón served at El Gordito in Granada, Nicaragua. The combination of soft, starchy yucca; salty, rough pork cracklings; and tangy, cool slaw made with cabbage, onions, tomato, mimbre fruit (also known as mimbro), chile and vinegar offers a distinct interplay of textures and flavors. PHOTO: Julie Schwietert Collazo for NPR

Vigorón served at El Gordito in Granada, Nicaragua. The combination of soft, starchy yucca; salty, rough pork cracklings; and tangy, cool slaw made with cabbage, onions, tomato, mimbre fruit, chile and vinegar. PHOTO: Julie Schwietert Collazo for NPR

No matter how different our ethnic backgrounds, beliefs, views and values are, we can all sit around a dinner table and unite in sharing a meal that includes different tastes and types of food from all over the globe – the palate knows no boundaries and no limitations. In a divided country like Nicaragua, all differences melt when it comes to vigoron. The national dish that cuts across political ideologies, economic status, and strong preferences.

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The Most Continuously Staged Performance in the World

In Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, this Ramayana ballet, performed in the Javanese style—a finessed form, associated with slow and deliberate movements—has been running continuously since 1961. PHOTO: Griyayunika

In Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, this Ramayana ballet, performed in the Javanese style—a finessed form, associated with slow and deliberate movements—has been running continuously since 1961. PHOTO: Griyayunika

Java is one of the main islands in the archipelago nation of Indonesia, home to the country’s capital, Jakarta, and almost 60% of its population. The powerful Hindu kingdom of Majapahit flourished here from about the 13th to the 15th centuries, leaving its impact on culture, language and landscape. Temples in honour of Vishnu and Shiva are scattered through the islands, words from Sanskrit make appearances in the language, and names from the Mahabharata and Ramayana dot establishments and shops across cities. Still, in modern-day Indonesia, Hindus account for less than 2% of the population.

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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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The Indians Who Move Italy’s Cheese

The Grana Padano cheese industry in Pessina Cremonese of Italy is powered not by locals but by Indian immigrants.

If French cheeses are best served preceding or culminating a meal, Italian cheeses are often woven into the fabric of dinner (or breakfast, or lunch). And when you look to Italy, look beyond the likes of Parmigiano-ReggianoMozarella di Bufala and Gorgonzola.Then you are bound to hear of Grana Padano. Pessina Cremonese in northern Italy is known for its hard Grana Padano cheese. But unlike other cheeses that might be made by the locals of the area, this cheese at least depends on an unusual community of immigrants: Sikhs. Nothing like food to bring communities together.

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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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Best hands forward

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Musician Sami Yaffa hits the right note at the table

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Mina Soliman appears sadya-ready!

We are people of experiences – the ones we’ve walked, run and barreled into and the ones we create. At RAXA, we take the latter seriously. So when you come down to stay with us by the Kochi harbour or navigate the world-renowned backwaters in our hand-stitched houseboats, you’ll see us work at crafting the finest and personal of them all. Bass guitarist Sami Yaffa and his partner, designer Mina Soliman will agree.

Their stay with us by the Mararikulam beach went beyond the comforts of their villas. There was definitely a stop by the kitchen because don’t we all travel the world plate by plate? Only that the plates and cutlery were on a little holiday of their own this time. A plantain (banana) leaf met the couple at the table and, well, they had to put their best hands forward. It was the call of the Sadya.

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Eyes on New Sights

Kanikonna blooms herald the coming of Vishu (Picture: Abrachan P)

If all of Kerala is to have a favorite color this season, it’d be yellow with touches of gold. For this is the time of Vishu, a festival of prosperity and gratitude. Embraced by all Malayalis and celebrated by other Indian states by the names of Ugadi or Baisakhi, the festival marks the beginning of the zodiac calendar and is determined by the position of the sun. It falls during the sowing season, with Onam being the state’s harvest extravaganza.

Nature begins celebrating first. Come summer and yellow flowers dot the green canopy. The flowering is related to the heat and the blooms first appear close to two months before the onset of monsoon. Known as konnapoo (Indian laburnum), they are the postcard of the festival. Earlier, the flowers bloomed in backyard gardens and plucking these made for conversations and laughter over fences of houses. With accelerating urbanization, the flowers are now picked off shelves at markets that come up a few days prior to the festival. Between growing the plant in one’s own garden and buying it off vendors, one thing has held its ground: the warmth a handful of tiny yellow flowers spread. Continue reading

Athapookalam

Photo credits: Ramesh Kidangoor

Photo credits: Ramesh Kidangoor

The first day of the Onam celebrations starts on Atham day during the Malayalam month of Chingam, which this year falls today, 7th September 2013. The date is ten days before Thiruvonam. The creation of Athapookalam is an important part of every Onam festival. This special, circular arrangement of flowers  is one of the most iconic Onam traditions. Continue reading

Thalappoli – Traditions Of Kerala

Photo Credits: Ramesh Kidangoor

Photo Credits: Ramesh Kidangoor

Thalappoli is a traditional and ritual procession carried out by young girls and ladies of Kerala to attract happiness and prosperity in the community which holds the festival. The participants wear traditional dress and hold thalam (a metal plate) in their hands  filled with fresh paddy, flowers, rice, coconut and a lighted lamp. Continue reading

Vidyarambham – The Beginning Of Learning

Photo Credits: Ramesh Kidangoor

Photo Credits: Ramesh Kidangoor

Vidyarambham means the beginning of education, or being initiated into the world of learning. As the auspicious day of Mahanavami approaches, devotees get ready to pray to Sarasvati, the Goddess of Knowledge and Education. On the eve of Mahanavami books and equipment associated with one’s vocation are placed before the Goddess to invoke her help in surmounting obstacles in the path of learning. The ritual of Vidyarambham is performed on the following day, Vijayadashami, which is the last day of the 9-day Navaratri festival. On the Vijayadashmi day from early morning hundreds of children between the ages of three and five are initiated into the world of education in various temples across the state. Continue reading

Nilavilakku -Traditional Lamps

Photo Credits: Dileep Narayanan

Photo Credits: Dileep Narayanan

The Nilavilakku is an integral part of the rituals and ceremonies in most Kerala homes. Lighting the Nilavilakku on certain occasions is considered auspicious, especially within the Hindu community and at places of worship. As dusk sets in, young girls in Hindu families bring the lighted lamps to the verandah of the house. In the flickering light of the nilavilakku children and family elders gather to chant hymns and evening prayers. Continue reading

Traditional Kerala Attire

Photo credits: Ramesh Kidangoor

Kasavu Mundu and Kasavu Neryathu are traditional handloom cotton fabrics with Kasavu (golden brocade) used for saris and as dress material by the Malayalee people. Woman elegantly wear the mundu (sarong type skirt) and neryathu (draped shoulder cloth) over a traditional sari blouse. Kerala men wear the mundu around the waist and the neryathu around the shoulders. Continue reading