Sunday, March 27, 2016

MADAGASCAR: THE FOOD


So, the kids are finally on spring break, and the weather is warming up. More or less. The job is going well, and my husband got 80% of the noise my car was making to go away. For the moment, life is good. But what’s better is food from Madagascar. 

Mofo Gasy in batter only. It's a 2D version of the real thing.
Today, I started with a challenge. Initially, it didn’t seem so. I went with a type of street food-slash-breakfast food called Mofo Gasy. It’s a type of pancake ball that looks similar to either Danish aebleskiver or Japanese takoyaki. I started out mixing ½ c flour, ¼ c + 2 Tbsp of cream of rice, ½ tsp of yeast, 1 tsp sugar, and ¾ c of lukewarm water and stirred this until it came together as a batter. Then I let it sit for about 2 hours. After this, I added in 1 Tbsp + 2 tsp sugar, 1 ½ tsp of sweetened condensed milk, and 1 tsp of vanilla extract, and stirred it again. This time, I just let it sit for about 45 minutes. Now here comes the hard part. I was supposed to use what’s called an aebleskiver pan. It’s like a cast iron pan with deep wells in it, kind of like a giant poached egg pan. So, since I didn’t have one, I thought I’d improvise. According to the Internet, it was advised NOT to put a muffin pan directly on the flame. So I put my cast iron griddle on the flame and put my muffin pan on top of it. I put my oil in the bottom of each cup and spooned a little batter in it. It did get hot, but perhaps there wasn’t enough oil because they started to smoke and it barely cooked. Or maybe my heat was up too high. Anyway, my smoke detector told me to just give it up. So, I ended up making pancakes out of the rest of the batter. They tasted good, although not as good after they sat on the counter for a while. I bet they would’ve been good with jam and cream cheese. The pans aren’t terribly expensive, so perhaps I can get one and try this again. (The pans would also be perfect for making Japanese takoyaki!) 

One of the best things I've made in a long time. This is the type of dish you make to impress people.
My main meal for today was Coco Crevettes, or prawns in coconut sauce. I started out melting my butter in a large skillet. Then I added in some diced onion and let it sauté until they were translucent. Next went in some minced garlic and ginger and finally the shrimp (it’s easier to find shrimp rather than prawns) with some salt and pepper. I poured a little lemon juice over the shrimp before adding in most of a can of coconut milk, a little tomato paste and brown sugar. I stirred everything together and let it simmer for about five minutes and served this on top of steamed rice and garnished with dried parsley. This was absolutely incredible! My daughter and I loved this so much. My son gave the “thumbs sideways” sign to me. This is definitely a dish to make again. 

I wish avocados were super cheap because I'd make this all the time.
To go with this, I made Lasary Avocat. I’ve made something similar in the past, but this one was better. I started with making the sauce/salsa/salad part. I took some diced tomatoes (I picked a can with added green chilies and cilantro), and put part of the can in a bowl along with some chopped green onion (only the green part), a little olive oil, lemon juice, a touch of apple cider vinegar, and some salt and pepper. I mixed this until everything was mixed consistently. Then I took my avocados and cut them lengthwise, removing the pits. I scooped out a little more of the avocado to make a larger hole, and spooned in a bit of the tomato mixture into the avocados. I liked this very much! It was so simple, and I think it would make a good side for a summer lunch or something. Definitely going to repeat this over the summer. 

All in all, this was a pretty fabulous meal.
I learned so much about Madagascar that I didn’t know before. But to answer my original question: did the movie Madagascar give the country credence? It’s hard to tell. As far as I can tell, at least they tried to make it appear true to the island. Minus the talking animals. (Pretty sure King Julian is fictional.) The music was definitely not Malagasy. But it’s an island that I would like to visit. One more place to add to my bucket list – although I might need a bigger bucket.

Up next: Malawi

Saturday, March 26, 2016

MADAGASCAR: MUSIC AND DANCE


What’s amazing about this island is that it’s so highly diverse, and their music is a reflection of it. Elements of musical styles from Africa, Southeast Asia, Arabia, France, England, and the United States all have had their impact on Malagasy music. 

The musician Rajery with his valiha

Traditional music can vary depending on what part of the island it originates from. Many styles tend to stay in major keys or diatonic scales, but there are some coastal areas that utilize minor keys as well (mostly likely a trait borrowed from Arab music). Vocal traditions are strong on Madagascar and are generally polyharmonic. Vocal music of the Highlands often sounds like traditions coming out of Polynesia or Hawaii. 


There are a number of musical instruments that are used in Malagasy music. Perhaps one of the most iconic instruments of Malagasy music is the valiha, a type of zither made from a bamboo tube. It has its ties to Indonesia and the Philippines and is typically tuned diatonically so that it uses parallel thirds to accompany a melodic bass line. A kabosy is a four- to six-stringed guitar with a small soundbox that can either be square, rectangle, or “guitar-shaped.” It can come fretted or not. Other instruments heard in Malagasy music include the lokanga (like a three-stringed fiddle), jejy voatavo (two-stringed bowed instrument with a calabash resonator), guitars, piano (introduced by the British), sodina (end-blown flute), conch shell, accordion, clapping, a variety of drums, European instruments (bugles, clarinets), and xylophones. 


In Madagascar dance traditions serve a number of purposes: mainly, it serves as a kind of social identification but also as a secondary purpose of being able to pass along historical information from generation to generation. In some cases, secret information is passed along through various dance steps and movements. Dance moves are derived from ancient Asian, African, and Arab influences. Different dances are performed during an array of ceremonies (weddings, births, etc.); some of the more common ones include Joros (sacrificial dances), Tromba or Salamanga (religious/magical dances), and Fampithana (dances for social relationships). Dances are also categorized by gender and age. 


About the time Madagascar gained its independence, they began to really become exposed to the music coming out of Europe and the United States as well as pan-African music. From the 1970s, Madagascar was well on its way to modernizing its music scene with bands and radio stations forming across the island. One of the first groups to come on the scene (and is still often viewed as one of the most successful Malagasy bands) is Mahaleo. Another early musician is Rossy. 


Other musicians from the Highlands region include Justin Vali, who is known for playing the valiha. It’s actually a very relaxing instrument to listen to. I’d like to hear a valiha and mbira duet. 


Tarika is a Malagasy fusion band based in England. The music is kind of relaxing, and the harmonic vocals are in homophonic style. I can hear a type of gong-like instrument that reminds me of Indonesian gamelan music. But it makes sense if they were originally from that area. Another fusion musician is Samoëla. His music is described as political commentary, but seeing how I don’t understand Malagasy, I’ll just take Wikipedia’s word on it. 


When it comes to coastal styles, I came across Senge, whose music is highly based on vocal styles. I also listened to Jaojoby, whose style is much like any other mainstream African music to the untrained ear, but utilizes a call-and-response style of vocal music. D’Gary is a renowned guitar player (which reminds me: I need to get my mandolin out and actually learn how to play it). There are a number of other musicians out there I didn’t even get to. 


And of course, one singer often considered a national treasure has the most unfortunate stage name translation in English: Poopy.

Up next: The Food

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

MADAGASCAR: ART AND LITERATURE


The culture of Madagascar is closely related to the culture of Borneo. Even though the early settlers arrived from Borneo thousands of years ago, there is clear evidence of this bond in their musical instruments, home construction, cuisine, and other features. Their art, with inspirations of both Southeast Asia and mainland Africa, is no different. 

 
Traditional arts were definitely dependent on the materials readily available. Silk and cloth weaving are necessary skills for the creation of the lamba cloths (the traditional cloth that is wrapped around the body). Embroidery and sewing arts also go hand-in-hand with the weaving arts. Raffia weaving is also integral to Malagasy arts and is used to make a variety of items used in housewares, such as baskets and mats. Raffia is also used in textiles, such as bags, purses, and hats.

Side of djembe drum
Woodcarving, a common art form throughout Africa, is a highly developed form of art on Madagascar. Many of these decorative skills are found on furniture and in home building. Sculptors vary their skills between functional sculptures like furniture and funeral posts to smaller carvings aimed for the tourist market. The Zafimaniry are especially known for their wood carving skills; it made the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. 

Women Grooming, by Dzery
In the urban areas, art galleries are popping up here and there. It’s still a small number, but it’s growing. Local painters are gaining recognition in their communities through these galleries as painting arts gain popularity. 


Literature in Madagascar is mainly written in Malagasy, a language that is synonymous with its national identity. The earliest examples of writings from Madagascar were mainly religious in nature and written using an Arabic script called sorabe adapted specifically for the Malagasy language.


At the beginning of the 20th century after the French colonization of the island, a Western style of literature began to emerge among writers. The early part of their modern literary history (1906-1938) is divided into four phases with these aptly named periods: 1) learning to walk, 2) nostalgia, 3) a return to origins, and 4) the search for what’s been lost. Through these periods, Malagasy writers not only developed their own writing styles but also developed their voices as a people. For many, a national identity was formed in the struggles of colonialism and a national voice began to be heard. 

 
Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo. Rough translation: "Reflections, a silent dream / Almost no vibration / Glide, to where? crossing, / And which? Not found ..."
The great poet Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo and is often touted as Africa’s first modern poet. What made his work different from others at that time was his ability to merge romantic, modernist, and surrealist styles of poetry with key features of Malagasy oratory. He didn’t just write poetry: he also wrote several historical novels and even an opera. His suicide by cyanide in 1937 also contributed to immortalizing his works. 
 
Clarisse Ratsifandrihamanana, circa 1952
Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo paved the way for other modern Malagasy writers: Elie Rajaonarison (poet), Jacques Rabemananjara (poet, playwright, politician), Jean Verdi Salomon Razakandrainy (also known as Dox, poet and writer), Jean-Luc Raharimanana (writer, journalist, teacher), Clarisse Ratsifandrihamanana (writer, recipient of seven literary prizes), and Michèle Rakotoson (film maker, writer, journalist).

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, March 20, 2016

MADAGASCAR: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE


Oh, how my kids loved the Madagascar movies. We have seen it a million times. Not as much as the Cars movies, but certainly enough times to last me for a while. And how true of a representation of Madagascar it is, I don’t know right now. Probably only a small amount, I’m venturing to guess. So, I’m hoping that part of this enlightens me (and perhaps others who read this) on the true Madagascar. 
Baobab trees
Both the people and the language of Madagascar are called Malagasy. And in the Malagasy language, the word for their island is called Madagasikara. However, the word as we know it was brought to us courtesy of Marco Polo, who confused the area and totally mispronounced the name of Mogadishu [Somalia] (which seems strange, because I can’t imagine they look that similar?). 


The island of Madagascar is the fourth largest island, located off of the southeast coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. It’s separated from mainland Africa by the Mozambique Channel, almost directly across from Mozambique itself. In fact, if you look at the shape of the island, it looks like it could almost fit right into Mozambique, which is where it originally was millions of years ago. The Comoros Islands are also in the Mozambique Channel between the northern end of Madagascar and Mozambique. The islands of Reunion and Mauritius are found to the east of Madagascar. To the northeast lies the Seychelles Islands, almost directly east from Kenya and Tanzania. 

Toliara Coral Reef
The eastern side of the island is hit with a lot of rain coming across the Indian Ocean, which supports its rain forests. Trade winds and monsoons help create a hot rainy season (Nov-Apr), contrasting with a cooler dry season (May-Oct, which is when I would definitely go). The central highlands remains slightly cooler. The island also gets hammered with tornados, causing millions of dollars in damage each year. The tropical locale allows the flora and fauna to thrive. The vast majority of the plant and animal life on Madagascar are unique to the island, including its famed lemurs. It’s also home to the Toliara Coral Reef, the third largest coral reef system in the world. 
 
King Radama I
It’s widely believed that the original inhabitants migrated here from Borneo. Arab traders later arrived, followed by Bantu migrants. By several centuries later, Madagascar had become quite the trade hub. The Arabs were the ones who introduced written language. It was essentially the Malagasy language written using Arabic script. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive on the island. The French were next to arrive and quickly established their own trading posts. From the late 1700s, the island became part of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and piracy. The British recognized King Radama I as the King of Madagascar, who abolished their role in the slave trade. The London Missionary Society later established schools and worked on transcribing the Malagasy language into Roman letters instead of the Arabic script. Both France and Britain pressured the local government into the establishment of Christianity. France invaded the country in 1883, and Madagascar ceded the northern section of the island to them. They put in place plantations and additional schools. During WWI, Madagascar fought for the French, but during WWII it was the site of the Battle of Madagascar between the British and the Vichy [French] government. After an uprising in 1958, the island became an autonomous region of France, reaching its full independence in 1960. Madagascar aligned itself with the Eastern Bloq and along with the after effects of the oil crisis and other failed policies, its economic state and living standards fell in the toilet. A change in government in the early 1990s made significant changes to how their government is set up. However, since then, it’s been a cycle of growth and corruption, especially with the political riots in 2010.  

Antananarivo
The capital city, Antananarivo, is located roughly in the middle of the island. Under French control, the city was known as Tananarive, or Tana for short. The name Antananarivo literally means “City of a Thousand,” in reference to a garrison of 1000 soldiers. Although it was originally the capital of the Merina people, today it is a highly multicultural city comprised of all native ethnic groups, European, Indian, and Chinese populations. This city of 1.6 million people is the center of government, media, commerce, finance, and higher education. 

Drying vanilla beans. Yes, vanilla starts out black, not white.
Once Madagascar declared independence and decided to follow a Marxist take on their economy, it practically fell out. There were several failed policies that didn’t work at all. The IMF helped them get on a plan to manage their debt (apparently Peter Francis Geraci was busy). And things have turned around for Madagascar. Eco-tourism is a hot market to be in, although the numbers have declined slightly due to the political unrest. Fishing and forestry are important products Madagascar depends on, along with vanilla, cloves, ylang-ylang, coffee, lychees, and shrimp productions. Nearly half the world’s sapphires come from the island. 


Nearly half of the population still practices indigenous religions, which is highly dependent on ancestral homage. They’re known for their reburial ceremony called famadihana. About half the population also practices Christianity, namely Roman Catholicism. There are a lot of people who also cross over to practice both. Other Christian denominations are also found on the island along with Islam and Hinduism. 


The Malagasy language is in the Malayo-Polynesian family. There are several dialects, but it’s all generally understood. (Like the difference between Texan English and Minnesotan English, I suppose.) Officially, Malagasy and French are listed as the official languages of Madagascar, and English was just removed from the list in 2010. English only made the list because of its historical significance, but seeing how the British really haven’t been involved for quite some time, it’s just time to let that mess go.  



As I combed through several websites about Madagascar, it kind of struck me that Malagasy names can be very long. Like, incredibly long. And that goes for both the names of both people and places. For example, the current president Hery Rajaonarimampianina has a longer surname than any other president/leader of a country. I can only imagine how long it takes for kids to learn how to spell their names. According to a 1999 BBC article I came across, it’s because of two things: 1) the meaning of their names, and 2) originally, people just had one name and only utilized two names when the Europeans introduced it to them. The article cited one of the longest names that belonged to a 19th century king whose full name was King Andrianampoinimerinatompokoindrindra and meant  “the prince who was given birth by Imerina and who is my real lord.” What a mouthful! The only thing that should be a mouthful is their food.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, March 13, 2016

MACEDONIA: THE FOOD


I typically do my cooking on Sundays. Occasionally I would cook on a Saturday if I knew I was going to be gone on a Sunday (like for Easter, for example). But now that I’ve decided to stop by Center for Inquiry on Sundays for coffee and conversation about science and reasoning, I’m experimenting with cooking on Saturdays. I may still keep it on Sundays for the most part, though. We’ll see. Life is an experiment in and of itself. 

These are so versatile. I could eat them all day.

Yesterday, I started the day with making my bread, kifli. I made kifli when I did Hungarian food, but this one was a little different. This Macedonian kifli has feta cheese rolled up in it and topped with sesame seeds. To start, I poured in 1 c milk (make sure it’s lukewarm, mine was cold and didn’t proof my yeast), ½ Tbsp sugar, 1 Tbsp flour, and a packet of yeast. I sat this to the side for about 10 minutes. Then I added in ½ Tbsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt, 25 mL vegetable oil, 2 egg whites (save the yolks for later), and 3 c of flour. Mix this until it magically turns into a dough. I had to add a little more flour here and there to stop it from being too sticky. Once I kneaded it for several minutes, I covered it and let it rest for about an hour. After it rested, I kneaded it for another minute, forming it into a log shape. I cut mine into thirds, and rolled each third out into a large disk, not making it too thin. Cutting it into eight pieces, I spread the feta cheese along the widest end of each triangle and rolled it up like a crescent roll. When I had done this with all of my dough, I brushed each one with an egg wash (made of the egg yolks I saved earlier with a splash of water), and topped with sesame seeds. The recipe called to bake them directly on a baking sheet with 4-5 pats of butter placed around the baking sheet. I didn’t want to clean up that mess, so I used parchment paper instead. I baked this at 375ºF for about 20 minutes until most of them looked pretty browned. The family really liked these. I just wished that I put more feta cheese inside of them. But I liked the combination of the feta cheese and sesame seeds. Mine were pretty small, but that may have been because I cut the recipe in half. I also could have just cut the “log” in half instead of thirds and made larger rolls, too. But size aside, the flavor was good, and there were plenty left over. 

These were kind of like a baked beans with paprika.
The next dish I made was a side dish called tavce gravce. I had a little trouble with this one. I put my Great Northern beans into a pot and covered them with some water. Then I added in some vegetable oil, some green chilies (probably not authentic, but I didn’t want to make it spicy), and some onions. I cooked them for about an hour until they were soft. I definitely should’ve been watching my water levels a little closer. I’m pretty sure the bottom of the beans may have been scorched a little. I had to keep adding a lot of water as it cooked. Just before they were due to be done, I made my roux of oil and paprika and poured it on top of the beans. I was supposed to add in some salt at this point, but I forgot so I just added it in when I served it. Then I transferred it all to a casserole dish and baked it at 400ºF for about 30 minutes. To be truly authentic, I should’ve transferred it to a clay pot, but I don’t own one, so a casserole dish it is. Other than needing some salt at the end, I thought it was pretty good. I actually used an applewood smoked sea salt, which gave it a nice smoky flavor. And strangely enough, I never really did find any evidence that I burned the beans, so I got lucky, I suppose. 

For those who need protein...
And then came the main dish: selsko meso. This carnivore’s delight was actually really tasty. I started with making meatballs: I mixed ground beef with some grated onion (that’s really hard to do, it turned out half grated, half diced), a little salt, garlic powder, dried basil, and dried oregano. (The spices were my choice.) Then I fried my meatballs until they were done and set them aside. I cut my pork loin into cubes and fried it in the same oil I did my meatballs in along with a little onion once it was almost done. I added in some diced ham, mushrooms, red pepper, salt, and a little tomato paste (I thought I had a can of tomatoes, but I apparently used it. I’m just grateful I saved the tomato paste from the other day). I let this sauté for about five minutes before adding my meatballs back in. Then I poured in about a ½ c of chicken broth (with 1 tsp flour added in and mixed well) and about 2/3 c of pinot grigio. Then I transferred this to a casserole dish and baked it at 400ºF for about 30-40 minutes (the recipe called for 1–1 ½ hours, but we were hungry). I thought this was rather tasty. I didn’t put in as much wine as it called for, and I think it made it taste better that way. Wine can overpower a dish, even if it's a somewhat lighter wine. So, after trial and error in the past when cooking with wine, I’m glad I played it safe by cutting it back a little. I think it would’ve been better over some egg noodles, though. An idea for next time, I suppose. 

Very much of a comfort meal.
And even though I was taught how to read and follow directions in kindergarten some 30-odd years ago, I still apparently have trouble reading and following directions for a recipe. I tried to make a Macedonian dessert called bombici, which is basically a chocolate graham cracker truffle. But I skipped a step, and it didn’t set up. And I was too tired to try again. Again, another recipe for another day. It reminded me of those exercises when we were in school where the teacher would hand us a paper with 27 different things to do on the paper. The first item was to read all the directions first, followed by 25 random things to do, and the last one said, “Ignore all the other things, just put your name on it and turn it back in.” I suppose I didn’t really learn my lesson with that one. As with the quasi theme with this meal, there’s always next time.

Up next: Madagascar

Saturday, March 12, 2016

MACEDONIA: MUSIC AND DANCE


If you listen to the traditional music of Macedonia, you’ll probably find it similar to its neighbors. They share a lot of history, so it makes sense that their music will have similarities as well. However, there are certain marks of distinction in Macedonian music that sets it apart from the others. 

 
Like other countries with a strong musical background, there are a number of different types of folk songs. The songs are either urban or rural and include epic songs, labor songs, ritual songs, and there are many songs for dances as well. Chalgija is one type of urban music style that is dependent on percussion. 


As a music major, I enjoy the complexities of other culture’s music and how it’s constructed. I like to think of it as a look into how a society thinks. If this is true, then the Macedonians are very complex thinkers. In fact, I read that one folk song utilizes a 22/16 time signature (like in the song above). That’s insane! I’m positive they could simplify this down. But, as it stands, they do break it down into two phrases of 11: 2+2+3+2+2 and 3+2+2+2+2. Wouldn’t it have been tons easier to think of this as a fast 5/4 with a triplet here and there? Yes, I know there’s a difference, but that’s what I would end up hearing anyway. I’m going to write a song using 5/4 that mimics this. Just because. 


A number of instruments heard in Macedonian music are the same throughout the Balkan region. Traditional music uses the kaval (type of flute), zurla (large double-reed horn), kemane (three-stringed fiddle), harmonica (accordion), tapan (type of cylindrical drum), tambura (long-necked lute), and the shupelka (a type of smaller flute). Folk orchestras incorporate several traditional instruments along with the addition of clarinets and saxophones, synthesizers, and drum machines. 


There are several types of dance that are popular in Macedonia; however, only a few are widely known. Folk dance is known as Oro, and one type of oro is called kopachka. This particular dance originates from a village in the region of Pijanec. It’s primarily performed by men; they form a half circle and dance while holding their belts with their left hand over their right. It’s generally a fast, energetic dance with a lot of jumps. The village introduced the dance to Tanec, a national group who performs folklore dances. The name of the dance was changed to kopachka, and the dance became so popular that the town changed its name to reflect the dance. At least it’s better than the city of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.


Classical music is also very important in Macedonia. Known for their choral traditions, two of their most well-known composers are Todor Skalovski and Trajko Prokopiev. The Mokranjac School of Music was built in 1934, and the period after WWII saw immense growth in support for classical music. Operas and ballets written by Macedonian composers began to debut on stages across the country during the post-war time. 


When it comes to pop music, Macedonian musicians pretty much span the gamut. I came across several artists who sang in a modern traditional style and sometimes mixed it with different genres. Karolina Goceva’s music mixed elements of jazz into some of her music. Other artists such as Kaliopi, Rebeka, Tose Proeski, and Elena Risteska fell strongly in the pop category. Most pop music was sung in Macedonian but some of it was sung in English as well.

 
Rock does very well in Macedonia. And more specifically: punk rock, one of my favorite genres. And if you really want to get specific, I’m a super huge fan of ska, and to my fortune, Macedonia has a ska band called SuperHiks (which would be a strange name in the US, tongue in cheek to say the least). They’re pretty good; I like them. And apparently they’ve been around for more than 20 years. Another punk band I came across is Noviot Pochetok, which is what I call “skateboard” punk. Their style kind of reminds me NOFX to a degree. I could totally listen to them in the car with the windows down.


Indie rock bands are also represented here as well. Bernays Propaganda has a female lead singer and kind of leans toward a post-modern sound. Xaxaxa is another band I’d put in this category. I think they sound like The Smiths or The Cure at times, but with a punk background. 


Of course, there are metal bands. One I found was called Chromatic Point. I think they mix in elements of folk and classical, which is probably why I like it. 


Hip-hop seems to be well-represented in Macedonia as well. One artist I found (who actually seems more like R&B and dance) is Elvir Mekic. My daughter was dancing to his music last night. I do have to admit, it’s pretty catchy. The song above also feature rapper Vrcek. I also came across an Australian rap group called Curse ov Dialect. They have a Macedonian member who calls himself Volk Makedonski. They mix ethnic and avant guard music with hip-hop. I kind of like it; I like when people aren’t afraid to try something different. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t; but in this case, it seems to be working. 


I also found this jazz album called Bottling Jazzy that features vibraphonist Zoran Madzirov. I actually really like it. So, after YouTubing videos for Zoran, he is actually using bottles in these songs. I think this album would make for some great acid jazz. This is great stuff.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

MACEDONIA: ART AND LITERATURE


Early art in Macedonia was highly influenced by the styles of the Greeks and later the Ottomans, but it was also influenced by the Romans as well. Many examples of religious iconography have been found, and many of these are portrayed on the walls of cathedrals across the country. Mosaics of the Christian icons on walls and floors were also created during this time. Fresco painting was also a popular art form during the pre-Medieval period. Some of the best-known examples of Byzantine frescos are found in Macedonia. 

From about the 13th century, portrait painting started to become a popular style of painting, especially among royalty and the leaders of the church. Intricate and highly decorated woodcarving is one art that has its roots in this early period. Many designs were either Biblical scenes, folklore stories, or historical events. While many examples were used in the church, the artistic styles and functions varied. And the influence from the Middle East certainly left its mark in both its art, sculpture, and architecture.  

I'm fairly certain this is a scene of someone finally telling their jerk boss what they really think.

Macedonia has a strong painting scene thanks to four painters who acted as the founders of modern painting in this country: Dimitar Avramovski-Pandilov, Vangel Kodzoman, Lazar Licenoski, and Nikola Martinoski. These painters emerged during the early part of the 20th century, embracing movements that were popular in other areas of Europe like expressionism and impressionism. They paved the way for other painters to step up to the plate after they passed on.

 
Sculpture at Mechkin Kamen

Sculpture is also an art form that Macedonians embraced. Several years ago, many terracotta icon statues were discovered (or rather, rediscovered) near the city of Vinica. The father of modern sculpture is often attributed to Dimo Todorovski. He was also a painter, but it was his memorial at Mechkin Kamen in commemoration of the battle of the same name (located in Krushevo) that put him on the map. That monument alone became a national symbol. His work led the way for other sculptors such as Tome Serafimovski and Petar Hadzi Boskov. 



Much of the early architecture of Macedonia came from the Bulgarians. Several of its early churches have been included on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Most of them are located in and around the city of Ohrid. In fact, there were so many in that city that UNESCO just declared the entire city and the nearby lake to be on the list due to its historical significance. (“You know what? I’m not writing reports for all these buildings. Seriously, it’s 4:30pm on a Friday. Just put the entire city down and be done with it. Now, let’s go get a beer.”) There are also several architectural styles that can be contributed to the Ottoman Empire. Mosques, baths, and other buildings that were built during this time have been found in many of the old sections of towns and cities. 



Literature in Macedonia is primarily written in the Macedonian language, which wasn’t even officially acknowledged as a language until 1946 when Yugoslavia was formed. (Maybe it was viewed more along the lines of a dialect, perhaps?) There are generally three large literary periods: Old Macedonian Literature (which ran from the 9th—18th century and included the introduction of Christianity and the Ottoman invasion), New Macedonian Literature (from 1802—1944 and included a period of national awakening, a revolutionary period, and an inter-war period between the world wars), and a Modern Literature period (from 1944—present). 

Blaze Koneski. I think he looks a little like a cross between Philip Seymour Hoffman and Harry Caray.

Although the earlier literary eras laid the groundwork for the modern movements, Macedonian literature really didn’t gain momentum until after WWII. A group of scholars led by Blaze Koneski were given the task of standardizing the Macedonian language for usage in the government, in education, and as a language for literature. During the time after the war, authors starting using it as a means to write and publish freely. Several poets emerged on the scene like Gane Todorovski, Blaze Koneski, Aco Shopov, and Slavko Janevski. Many poets also ventured into short story and novel writing as well. Theatre and cinema is also highly popular in Macedonia. Dramatists such as Tome Arsovski, Goran Stefanovski, and Kole Cashule have been entertaining people for decades on the stage. Of course, they also wrote works in prose as well. 





One well-known author is Zivgo Cingo. A few of his stories have been translated into other languages including English. His most famous work is his novel Golemata Voda (The Great Water), which was also made into a movie. (Unfortunately, it's not available on Netflix, at least not in the US. However, it looks like you can buy a used copy on Amazon for $3.84, and it's a Region 1 DVD too!)



Up next: music and dance

Sunday, March 6, 2016

MACEDONIA: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE

When I first started doing this blog, I was really interested in my statistics. I decided to keep a list of the countries that viewed my blog. I’m kind of a nerd like that. I have a note in my iPhone where I keep an updated number of pageviews and a list of countries where at least one person has read my blog (ok, at least landed on the page. I don’t know if they actually read it or not.). I did get a hit from Macedonia, but I could never figure out why it had [FYROM] in brackets behind it. (Is it like CD-ROM?) But then I looked it up (thanks, Wikipedia) and found out it stood for Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia. But, why? (Hint: keep reading.) 


The name of Macedonia is kind of confusing. The neighboring country of Greece to the south has a region called Macedonia that once included the country of Macedonia. The word in and of itself is of Greek origin, meaning “tall” or “taper,” possibly in reference to the height of the people. 


Macedonia is a landlocked country located in southern Europe. It borders Greece to the south, Albania to the west, Kosovo to the northwest, Serbia to the northeast, and Bulgaria to the east. The country is mountainous, and there are several rivers and lakes that dot this area. The summers are hot and dry, but the winters are fairly cold. It’s certainly colder the higher in the mountains you go. 


In ancient times, this area was originally the kingdom Paeonia. The Persians moved in during the 6th century. Later, Philip II of Macedon —Alexander the Great’s father—took over the southern part of the region and Alexander the Great took over the rest of it. Then the Romans moved in and established the Province of Macedonia. The Slavs later began to settle into this area along with the Bulgars. The Byzantines invaded Bulgaria and proceeded to take over most of the Balkans, Macedonia included. The Bulgarian Empire rose to power during the 13th century and took back the region. But a century later, it was passed back to the Byzantines and then it got handed off to the Serbian Empire. Eventually, it all fell under the reign of the Ottoman Empire. There were several movements during the 19th century calling for more autonomy for Macedonia. After the Ottoman Empire broke up, the area was essentially divided between Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria; Macedonia was annexed to Serbia. However, this area was renamed as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (specific, but man, what a mouthful). It was later changed to Yugoslavia in 1929 (which is what I knew growing up). Greek and Bulgarian communists denied a free Macedonia; however, Macedonia was known as Vardar Macedonia back then and a special resolution acknowledged this separate nation and its own Macedonian language. There were a lot of struggles between different powers and parties, and it remained part of Socialist Yugoslavia until 1991 when Yugoslavia broke up. There have been some conflicts with ethnic Albanians living in Macedonia. Today, Macedonia is working toward gaining entry into the EU. 


Originally called Scupi when it was under Roman rule, the capital of Skopje is also Macedonia’s largest city. Located along the Vardar River in the northern part of the country, the city has roughly a half million residents. It’s located in the middle of several mountain ranges and surrounded by several lakes, rivers, and cave systems. Skopje serves as the nation’s capital for finance, government, media, and commerce. With several hospitals, universities, sports venues, theatres, museums, a nightlife scene, and several festivals held throughout the year, Skopje is every bit of a modern city. Mother Teresa was probably the city’s most famous resident. 


Since the mid-1990s, Macedonia has seen gradual, steady growth economically. The government has worked to fight against inflation and has experimented with a flat tax system in order to attract more foreign companies and investment. They have brought in some multinational companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Lear Corp, and Visteon Corp. However, even though these measures have proven moderately successful, Macedonia still has a really high unemployment rate at nearly 27%. Their main export is chemicals and other related products as well as machinery. Of the former Yugoslav countries, Macedonia has a much smaller economy in comparison to the others. Although they are less developed than other Balkan countries, Macedonia’s IT market has made significant increases, making it one of the fastest growing markets in this region.

Church of St. Clement of Ohrid, Skopje
About two-thirds of Macedonians follow Eastern Orthodoxy religion. Other Christian denominations and Jewish populations are also found here but make up a scant number of people. The remaining third of Macedonians are Muslim and are mostly of Albanian, Turk, or Romani ethnic origins. 


The official language is Macedonian, part of the South Slavic language family. Macedonian is actually closely related to Bulgarian and uses the Cyrillic script. However, because of Macedonia’s diverse ethnicity, there are several other languages spoken in areas where there are a large number of speakers (and in some cases, carry a co-official status in certain communities): Albanian, Turkish, Romani, Serbian, Bosnian, and Vlach.  


And finally what you’ve been waiting for: the TV Guide version of its naming dispute. When Yugoslavia broke up in 1991, officials wanted to call itself Macedonia. However, Greece held their hand up, saying it would be confusing because of the region in Greece of the same name. There are millions of people in Greece who identify themselves as Macedonians but are ethnically unrelated to the Slavic people living in Macedonia who also call themselves Macedonians. And they’ve gone round and round about the name. However, the UN had to call them something when they declared their independence. So, for right now, the compromise is Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, often shortened to Republic of Macedonia. Even their flags have been disputed. (Man, they can’t catch a break.) To make matters even stranger, Greece and Macedonia have even brought in Alexander the Great and Phillip of Macedon to argue who’s more ethnically tied to the name of Macedonia. The problem is that these arguments are stalling Macedonia’s application to the EU and NATO. So, regardless of who’s called what and who came from where back in antiquity, one thing for sure is that they all have great food. Perhaps they should just have dinner together and talk it out over a bottle of wine: in vino veritas.

Up next: art and literature