National Museums

Thursday we visited some of the national museums in Manila. We visited the National Museum of Fine Arts, the National Museum of Anthropology and the National Museum of Natural History in a day, but there was enough in each to fill a full day.

We first visited the National Museum of Fine Arts, where we saw countless sculptures, carvings, paintings and other works. Among the highlights were Spoliarium by Juan Luna Y Novicio and the paired Asesinato del Gobernador Bustamante by Félix Resurrección Hidalgo, a collection of sculptures by Isabelo L. Tampinco, depictions of and works by Jose Rizal, and The Progress of Medicine in the Philippines by Carlos V. Francisco. Each floor was full of impactful pieces.

At the National Museum of Anthropology a broad look at how people have lived in the Philippines was presented. I was especially intrigued by how textiles were developed and by the fashions worn at different times and in different regions.

In the central courtyard the was also a sweet sleeping kitten.

Near the museums is the Statue of the Sentinel of Freedom, representing Lapu-Lapu, the first Asian to lead a successful uprising against European invaders.

The National Museum of Natural History is a beautifil building filled with exhibits exploring the geograph and biology of the Philippines, with a special focus on ecology.

Offshore Postcard: The Tiki Bar & Why Tiki

During a break between seasons, the Offshore podcast, an excellent long form podcast that presents stories from Hawaii, put out some smaller episodes. In November they released “The Tiki Bar“, an eye-opening exploration of the complex weirdness of the Tiki fad. Paola Mardo presented the intersection of appropriation, immigrant opportunities, pop culture and race in an immersive and insightful way. For Paola it’s part of a larger project investigating Tiki bars and that engagement with the subject is clear.

Offshore Postcard: The Tiki Bar

Tiki bars became wildly popular in the United States after World War II, and were at the height of their popularity when Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959.

Even though Tiki bars bars draw inspiration from many Pacific cultures, when most people think of Tiki bars they think of Hawaii.

But the tiki bar is actually a product of Hollywood, and part of a fascinating chapter in pop culture and American history.

Offshore looks at the history of tiki bars, why they’re popping up all over the country and even the world today, and finds out more about the immigrants who served up the first tiki cocktails.

For more from Paola on Tiki bars, there’s another short podcast episode, “Why Tiki? A Deep Dive into America’s Fascination with Tiki Bars, Tropical Drinks & the South Pacific” to take in, the pilot of an upcoming podcast that has a newsletter for updates.

Over the last several months, I’ve spent a lot of time around tiki bars – reading, researching, interviewing and trying everything from a Mai Tai to a Bayanihan. This is the first episode of a podcast about our fascination with the South Pacific island dream and the pop culture phenomenon of tiki bars, where race, culture, cocktails, and Hollywood collide. Click here for more on this ongoing project.

This journey started when I came across a photo of Filipinos and other people of color lined up for a movie casting call in 1929, as well as photos of Ray Buhen, a Filipino immigrant who worked at various tiki bars in Los Angeles including Don the Beachcomber, the original tiki bar that opened in 1934, and the Christian’s Hut on Catalina Island, a tropical-themed bar financed by Clark Gable to satiate cast and crew members during the filming of Mutiny on the Bounty in 1935. Buhen is also founder of the Tiki-Ti, the longest-running family-owned tiki bar in Los Angeles, the birthplace of tiki culture.

Sun Ra

Sun Ra was a figure who combined many of the things that most excite me. Jazz, futurism, science fiction, afrofuturism, space, pacifism and weird spirituality were important to his work and life and make him an incredibly inspiring person for me. His music has been among my favourite Jazz recordings for a long while.

In January the Australian radio show and podcast The Night Air broadcast “The Other Worlds of Sun Ra” as one of its final episodes. The episode told of Sun Ra’s story, featured musical pieces and presented a concise, magnificently edited overview of who he was. Aside from diving into one of Sun Ra’s many albums, I can’t imagine a better introduction to this fascinating performer.

Sun Ra’s visionary Afro Futurist project, begun in the 1940s, provided fuel for many strands of musical culture: he stood with one foot in rhythm and blues, one foot in free jazz and two hands stretched out into space.

His wild, cosmic philosophy and music fed into jazz, funk, reggae and ultimately techno and noise. We discover more about Ra with Amiri Baraka, the legendary poet/playwright/activist who collaborated with Ra in the 1960s and performs the tribute poem, ‘Message From Sun Ra’. There are archival clips of the Sun Man himself acting, chatting and delivering a unique ‘lecture’; and, of course, there’s plenty of Sun Ra’s strange and beautiful music.

Welcome to the Space Age, EARthlings!

The Hidden Tunnels of Halifax

I first learned about the tunnels under the city where I live from a friend a few years ago. He worked at the Halifax Club and told me about one tunnel that originates there. Over the years I heard stories about them, spotted articles about the passages and have been fascinated by the mystery surrounding the tunnels that officially don’t exist.

In September of last year, Veronica Simmonds published “Halifax’s hidden tunnels” in Halifax Magazine. The piece documents an exploration of the tunnel under the Halifax Club, a history of media coverage about the tunnels and other accounts from descendents tunnels’ builders who have knowledge of their construction.

There are tunnels in downtown Halifax.

Beneath the streets, houses and businesses we see everyday, there are hidden passageways and unseen corridors. Though their existence is often denied they’re there.

“Elderly or older visitors over the years have told myself and others that when they were kids there was a tunnel they could go into in the Citadel that would take them right down to the waterfront.” He says. “The army’s official line was that it was a drain or a sewer, but some testing was done on the floor of the tunnel and there was never any sewage passing through it. Plus, there was no sewer up here—the latrines were emptied by hand.”

Thompson’s interest in the city’s tunnels doesn’t stop at the Citadel, though. In his research he’s come across mentions of a tunnel leading from the legislature to the Joseph Howe building (which the province officially denies), and he’s spent quite a bit of time thinking about the logistics underlying the rumoured tunnel to Georges Island.

Another article, “Frozen in Time: Halifax’s Secret Tunnels“, was published in January by Dorian Geiger. The article covers some of the same ground as the earlier one, but offers a more detailed description of the mundane use of the tunnel at the Halifax Club.

“It’s a service entrance from the sidewalk into the back of the building where the kitchen was and supplies were taken,” explains Skinner.

“A guy would come along with the coal, the carrots, the onions, the beef and all the rest and they’d drop it down through the sidewalk and men would come and take it along the hallway into the kitchen.”

Halifax has a long military history, so it wouldn’t be surprising if there were tunnels that were kept secret and used to move from the harbour to the Citadel and through other strategic locations. That businesses used tunnels as well seems reasonable. Hopefully the story behind this bit of Halifax’s past can be fleshed out over time, but what we know so far suggests an intriguing piece of Halifax’s legacy has been obscured by time and secrecy.

Genetic Journey: Maternal and Paternal Lines

One of the features that 23andMe offers is tracing ancestral haplogroups. Haplogroups are, essentially, “major branches on the family tree of Homo Sapiens”. They indicate, for the results I’ve been given, descendents of single individuals of one sex who first exhibited genetic traits. The data is presented by 23andMe as paternal lines and maternal lines.

Tracing back my father’s father’s father, on and on, the results weren’t very surprising. I fall into the haplogroup I1, a group that is prevalent in much of Europe, but concentrated in “Denmark and the southern parts of Sweden and Norway”. Jimmy Buffett, Leo Tolstoy and Warren Buffett are famous folk who also fall into this category.

I is found almost exclusively in Europe, where about 20% of men have Y-chromosomes belonging to the haplogroup. It began spreading about 30,000 to 45,000 years ago with some of the first Homo sapiens to inhabit Europe.

One of the places that was repopulated as the Ice Age waned no longer exists. During the Ice Age and for some time afterward, lower sea levels exposed much of the area that is now covered by the North Sea. Known as “Doggerland,” the region must have been occupied by men bearing haplogroup I, because today it is abundant in all of the countries surrounding the North Sea.

Tracing back mothers along my mother’s line provided a surprise for me. For that line I fall into group W3a, which originates in “about 35,000 years ago in the Near East and later spread east to present-day Pakistan and northern India”. All of the history I know of my mother’s family is European, and that’s not uncommon with people from the W3a group, but it was fascinating to me that I can trace, however distantly, my ancestry to the Near East.

W appears to have originated in the Near East about 35,000 years ago. The haplogroup reaches its highest levels among the Sindhi of southernmost Pakistan, where it can be found in 17% of the population. It is also relatively common in northwest India and among the Kurds and Mazandarani of northern Iran.

Although W is most common in the Near East and south-central Asia, it is also sprinkled at low levels around the rest of Eurasia. It is found at single-digit percentages in central Asia, along the Atlantic coast of Europe and in Finland, and slightly higher percentages in Eastern Europe.

Genetic Journey: Ancestry Composition

When I first submitted my DNA to be analyzed through 23andMe, I wondered if I might uncover something surprising through its ancestry composition tools. Perhaps there was something from my family’s history that had fallen out of memory. There wasn’t much that was unexpected in the results, nevertheless I found them interesting.

Just shy of a quarter of my ancestry is linked to Irish and British origins, which matches with what I know of my family’s history. Smaller portions of my heritage that combined make up less than 3% of my background are Scandinavian, French, German and Finnish. Nearly 60% of my ancestry can be placed in the category Nonspecific Northern European and another 15% into Nonspecific European.

I’ll record details of my maternal and paternal lines in a future entry and those actually held fascinating information about how my distant ancestors might have migrated through the world.

Ancestry Composition tells you what percent of your DNA comes from each of 22 populations worldwide. The analysis includes DNA you received from all of your ancestors, on both sides of your family. The results reflect where your ancestors lived 500 years ago, before ocean-crossing ships and airplanes came on the scene.

Halifax Stories: Why they named it Agricola Street

I spend a couple evenings each month at Roberts Street Social Centre, and on Sunday I noticed a poster on the wall I hadn’t read before. It detailed the history behind the naming of Agricola Street, one of the streets that defines the block where I live.

Agricola was the pen-name used by businessman John Young to write a series of letters to newspapers, between 1818 and 1822, calling for Nova Scotia to develop agricultural self-reliance. To feed itself the province has become dependent on expensive US imports and Agricola’s letters sparked a movement to make Nova Scotian agriculture thrive. 

The Acadian Reporter published 64 letters that were penned under the name Agricola. These letters attacked the belief that Nova Scotia had poor soil that was only fit to grow grass. Agricola asserted that if farmers stopped using all productive land, and instead left some fields fallow to replenish soil, they could increase their yields  He voiced many other recommendations including the use of farm equipment, crop rotations, and the establishment of agricultural societies. Agricola’s editorials were met with great enthusiasm and spurred 30 agricultural societies into existence. While John Young’s new popularity propelled him to take up important posts, he would prove to be a far better pundit than administrator or politician. 

John Young owned and farmed 61 acres of land on the ten outskirts of Halifax, before he died in 1837. By 1874, a street to the east of his land was given the name Agricola St.

The poster was from Halifax’s Missing Plaque Project, a project conducted as part of Roberts Street’s residency program in 2009. Tim Groves put together a handful of posters while staying in Halifax to mirror his Toronto-based The Missing Plaque Project. Both sets of posters are intended to reveal forgotten histories of their respective cities, and they do shed light on events that most of us haven’t seen recorded anywhere.

Tim created three other posters for Halifax: “Jibuktuk“, “Picketing the CBC for gay rights“, and “Cornwallis, planner of Genocide“, all of which detail important pieces of Halifax history. One incomplete piece, “Slavery“, had text written but no poster prepared. A wishlist included stories worth exploring.

I’ve lived in Halifax for years, but feel that I’ve barely scratched the surface in learning its history and exploring its landscape. I’m hoping to dig up some more about Halifax history to share, and I do have a Halifax walking mission underway.

Dirt Candy

Comics and food are two of my favourite things, and Dirt Candy: A Cookbook: Flavor-Forward Food from the Upstart New York City Vegetarian Restaurant blends the two in an exciting way. It’s part autobiography of a restaurant owner and chef, part learning resource for kitchen skills, part history book and part cookbook. It’s entirely rewarding.

Dirt Candy includes explanations of complex cooking terminology and clearly explains, through comics, how to do many of the steps called for in advanced recipes. There are cooking methods explained within that I hadn’t attempted in part because of intimidation, but after reading I feel I have a good grasp of concepts such as blanching and shocking foods. The comics format is perfect for this kind of instructional material.

The book is full of great surprises, such as a section on why hiring illegal immigrants is valuable to everyone involved. It included the heartbreaking story of a family who had immigrated illegally. The book is about food broadly; it covers a lot of what it takes to operate a restaurant, food history, how meals are priced and reveals some of the challenges faced before the doors opened.

I usually gravitate to simple recipes and there are not many of those in this book. It has actually been nice to explore some food ideas outside my normal comfort zone. The dishes tend to be complex and have suggestions for presentation; the cookbook is decidedly coming from restaurant culture, and that has been an interesting shift to make when working with them. The recipes are vegetarian but usually have suggested modifications for making them vegan, which I appreciated.

Dirt Candy is packed with content and the comic format makes it very easy to digest. It has joined the ranks of both my favourite cookbooks and my favourite comics.

The Dirt Candy cookbook is 224 pages of pure comic book madness: the entire Dirt Candy experience wrapped up between two covers. Part graphic novel, part cookbook, it’s written by the chef and owner of Dirt Candy, Amanda Cohen, drawn by Ryan Dunlavey, the award-winning comic book criminal behind Action Philosophers, and ably assisted by the writer Grady Hendrix (who is also Amanda’s husband). This book answers all your burning questions.

Why is your salad $14? What are the tawdry, over-sexed roots of vegetarian food? How hard is it to open a restaurant? What’s the secret to cooking awesome vegetables? Does Martha Stewart like Dirt Candy? Who is the panda? What is the monkey? How do you make deep fried cheese curds? Why is corn not on the menu? Is cooking magic? What are the three myths of vegetables? All of these questions and more, plus dozens of recipes (both vegan and non-), can be found between the covers of the Dirt Candy cookbook.

Dirt Candy can be ordered in paper and ebook formats. All Things Considered did a feature on the book, “‘Dirt Candy’: A Visual Veggie Cookbook With A Memoir Mixed In” that included a sample recipe, “Roasted Cauliflower With White Wine Pappardelle And Pine Nut Parmesan”.

Shi Long Pang

I’ve been reading Ben Costa’s Shi Long Pang in spurts for a couple months and it has become one of my favourite webcomics. It’s a historical fiction about a Shaolin monk, so it carries some of the best elements of a martial arts film, but is also brimming with great characterization, illuminating historical facts and a relatable antagonist. The art and story reminds me very positively of Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha.

The comic is incredibly charming and quite accessible, and Ben describes it accurately as a “historical fiction kung fu action adventure comedy drama comic set in 17th century China“.

Shi Long Pang is an historical fiction/fantasy about a wandering Shaolin monk in 17th century China.

It’s historical in that it takes place during a real period in history, and I attempt to represent the visuals with at least an air of accuracy (also, crammed in at the bottom of many pages you’ll find researched footnotes, which you can either thoroughly enjoy or else just skip).

It’s fiction because Pang and his temple and his plight are imagined; and while the main plot points are based on some kind of legend, it’s by no means historical fact. The only historical fact here is lurking in throw-away lines and sitting comfortably in the backdrop, just like in real Shaolin history!

In some sense, the comic has the basic trappings of your average kung fu movie: but with less fighting and more talking–and hopefully more character development.

Berlin: City of Smoke, Book Two

Berlin: City of Smoke is an incredible historical graphic novel. Set between May 1929 and September 1930, it brings together a diverse set of perspectives in a politically and socially turbulent Germany. Jason Lutes is remarkably successful at creating fascinating characters and fleshing out worldviews in a way that makes the story both engrossing and information-rich. The wait of 8 years between volumes in this trilogy has certainly been rewarding.