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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Molas, you've seen them before....

It was only after I arrived in Panama that I realized that these reverse appliqued fabrics, known as molas, originate with the indigenous Kuna Indians of Panama.  The Kuna are fiercely independent and tribal and have successfully resisted, sometimes violently, all efforts to assimilate and westernize them over the centuries.  Walking around Casco Viejo I was struck by the beauty of the Kuna women walking in pairs or selling crafts on the promenade.  I wondered why I didn't notice any Kuna men until I read that only the women dress in traditional clothing....the men wear western clothing.  In addition to being a strongly matriarchal society, the Kuna are also a very slight people, second only to the Pygmies of Africa in size.

I bought some molas and also some of the arm beads which a Kuna woman "wove" onto my arm (it doesn't come off).  If I was a real Kuna, I'd have these full up both my forearms as well as my calves.  The men would admire my slender limbs (ahem) accentuated by my beaded decoration!  My nose ring and tattoo down my aquiline nose would seal the deal!

Panama City, new and old


Have arrived in Panama to board a vessel that will transit the canal from the Pacific to the Atlantic.  Panama City is a modern wonder...a boomtown with far more skyscrapers than Boston, with dozens more rising upwards, topped with cranes.

But, on a promontory between the new city and the canal is Casco Viejo, a 17th century historical district built up by the French in the late 19th century during their first, failed attempt to build a canal through the Isthmus.  In a twist of fate that William Morris and the Anti-scrape would be delighted with, conscientious developers decided to rehab, restore, and renovate the dilapidated district rather than bulldoze it.  Almost immediately, artists, cafe, craftspeople, and tourists began arriving.  The process is ongoing with old, impoverished buildings, many no more than ruined shells, being beautifully restored in this UNESCO world heritage site.  Now its world heritage status is threatened by specter of a huge highway encircling the district, cutting its famous seawall, built in the 1600s to protect Panama from pirates, off from the sea.  You can read more about the local effort to stop this short-sighted plan here:
"Whether you are a Panamanian or not you are entitled to a voice on the treatment of World Heritage Sites, so speak up!"

 It all looks very French, oui?

 a work in progress


The old jails now housing art galleries and cafes.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Because who doesn't need a hug?

Today's theme is hugs, something we should all give and get regularly for maximum happiness and stress relief.  Their magic powers defy explanation!

Starting with this awesome chair.....wouldn't this be especially perfect for any place teens or college students hang out?!  See more of Ilian Milinov's cool designs here.

With the perfect video chaser....wait for the hug....awwww.

And finally, I recently got to know artist Wendy Jacob who was inspired by the famous animal scientist Temple Grandin to design the Squeeze Chair.  Grandin, who has autism, is an advocate for the calming effects of pressure on both people and animals. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ethiopian Magic Scrolls

"Eyes, meant to spot evil and stare it down, abound in this art.....What is clear in every detail of these objects is a believed-in vivacity. They were created to generate live spiritual power in the material world, which is why the devotees carried them everywhere during the day and hung them unfurled on the walls of their homes at night. Like computers in sleep mode, scrolls were always on, ready to power-up into action"  --- Holland Cotter, writing in the NYTimes

This level of protection will set you back around $3000-$5000.  Or maybe you could just spend $4000 on a trip to Ethiopia and pick them up in a bazaar for a few hundred.  Hard to know.....

Friday, May 20, 2011

The corporate God of the U.S. that...

....decrees how we shall all decorate (aka Pottery Barn) is featuring William Morris's pattern Indian on large summer pillows as well as lamp shades.  You've arrived at the big time now Morris!  I wish I could put little informational tags on all the items...."This pattern was designed by William Morris, poet, writer, activist, craftsman, and one of the greatest fabric designers of all time....etc...etc."

While in the store I succumbed to the siren call of this sweet mermaid bottle opener....$6.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Oh, the tingle of warm minerals!

Murray River pink salt (click to enlarge to appreciate its beautiful flakiness)

Last week in the Dining section of the New York Times, Harold McGee, that guru of all things culinary, wrote an article about salt.  During my travels I look for local salt and have a growing collection of herb salts from France, truffle salt from Italy, rock salt crystals used for deodorant from the souks of Egypt, and my favorite, a large box of pink Murray River Basin salt from Australia.  Guests in my kitchen occasionally notice this salt and ask me why it is pink.  I proceed to say I don’t know (until now) and then a taste test generally ensues whereby said guest convinces themselves that indeed not all salt tastes alike and that this pink salt really does have a lovely sweet taste and great “mouth feel”----or to quote selmelier-extraordinaire Mark Bitterman’s description of Murray River salt, “distinct sunshine sweetness; tingle of warm minerals.”

From McGee I now know the pink color comes from algae living in the groundwater of the Murray River Basin.  It’s the pink flamingo of salt!  I also discovered Bitterman wrote an entire book on the subject of artisanal salts, Salted: A Manifesto on the World's Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes, which just went to the top of my reading list.  Apparently, I have only just scratched the Earth’s surface when it comes to salt…..

(photo from the NYTimes article by Tony Cenicola)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Elvis and MaryAnne's, Rolleville, Exuma

Elvis and MaryAnne of Rolleville, one of the remotest settlements in Exuma, have recently opened up a beachfront restaurant.  All you can eat buffet for $17 and the food is great.  Just another day in paradise!

Elvis had the driftwood paintings of his friend Eddy Jude displayed around the bar.  I love the rusty nails in the Chickadee....

Friday, May 6, 2011

Handmade baskets of Exuma

 my beauties

The ladies of Exuma make these with the leaves of the Silver Palm.  The pics below are from the Straw Market in Georgetown. 

 the raw material

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Unidentified sea creature

 Does anyone have any idea what this is?  It is organic, feels like hard rubbery plastic, and appears to have grown around a frond of soft coral.  It is also quite large for a weird-sea-creature.  I can't find anything even remotely like this in Reef Creature Identification by Paul Humann, my oceanside bible.

 (all click to enlarge)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What do you get....

when you cross a proper British colonial band with a junkanoo spirit?  The Nassau Police Band.


 Click to enlarge to see best smile on the band leader's face.

The local kids in the community band were equally sweet....

Tomorrow...the beautiful baskets from the straw market.