Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Maria Luisa Villegas’ Personal Experience with the Virgen

Mexican journalist María Luisa Villegas, narrates her personal experience with the Virgen of Guadalupe from Mexico:

From a personal point of view I can say that, taking into consideration that I am not very religious, let’s say: I don’t go to mass son Sunday, I don’t even celebrate the traditional religious holidays. A couple years ago I went to Guadalupe’s Basilica, as a tourist, and as I walked in front of the religious image, and took a close look at her, I experienced a sentiment that I had never felt before, and I doubt I will ever feel again.

I know you probably won’t believe me, and I might even sound like an exaggeration or a resemblance to a cheap soap-opera script from Televisa, but it is true: when you see it, a feeling of peace runs through you, and you feel so small! As she told Juan Diego, “the smallest one of my children.”

It is possible that mixture of feelings in connected to faith, that blind devotion that all Mexicans show the Virgin for a day, when they forget about their differences and they come together to celebrated the day of our “madrecita”, the one that fulfills all of their petitions and takes care of them throughout the year, the one they offer sacrifices to, profess their love for, and thank for their blessings.

Peruvians Prepare “Tanta Wawas” to Celebrate the Day of the Dead

By Pablo Solorzano

Pictures by Leonor Crespo

After I told you about the celebration for the Day of the Dead that takes place in Mexico, Pablo Solórzano from Torres de Lima, Peru, wrote to describe how they celebrate this date in his country:

Here we have more similarities with our Latin-American neighbor. I see we share similarities in negative aspects, as well as in more elevated levels: our identity.

In my country, Peru we celebrate the Day of the Dead with much happiness. Everyone celebrated it, but those people with Andean ancestry do so in a more special way.

Following traditional thought held by Peruvian ancient cultures (I am not only talking about Inca culture; we had an infinite number of cultures), that believed in life after death, people buried their deceased relatives along with their possessions and specific utensils that could be useful for them in the afterlife.

Even though today we no longer burry people in this way, we still take the things they like the most to their graves. That way, when you walk down the cemetery, it is possible to listen to musical groups playing the dead person’s favorite tune; we take food in casseroles, drink to “toss” with the dead person, we talk to them, we decorate their tombs and we also give them updates about what happened after they died.

In Peru, we don’t have skull-shaped breads like in Mexico, but we do have Tanta Wawas, baby-shaped breads. However, in our case we share it among our living relatives to strengthen our family ties and to communicate reciprocity.

My mother, during her infancy in the beautiful town of Ayacucho used to take these Wawas to her relatives. At that time, they usually gave Wawas to girls, and little horses to boys.

These Wawas are made of flower, and its baby eyes with raisins. At the same time, they also adorn them with sugar-coated candy, and sesame seads. The exact significance of the Wawas is unknown. What’s the purpose to give “babys” as a gift on the Day of the Dead? (which is celebrated November 1).

It is possible that you offer them to commemorate the memory of the dead person with something that represents a new life, a continuation, that is a baby, a a Wawa. Yet, this has not been confirmed.

Nevertheless, I think Peruvians will continue to celebrate the Day of the Dead to remember our loved ones, and to continue with the traditions of our ancestors.

Bellow, you will be able to observe the fabrications process of the Tanta Wawas, through Leonor Crespo’s photographs:

First, you prepare the dough.

Then, you knead it.

You knead it good.

You make the “Tanta Wawa” with the though, and decorate it.

Then you bake it, and once you take it out of the over, you let it cool and it is ready!


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Create Online Photo Albums to Share for Pictures

Reading Clarin Newspaper’s Technology Supplement “NEXT”, I found an article by Monica Garcia called “Each picture in its place ready for you to enjoy them”, that described different free tools that allow you to organize and improve your digital pictures.

Those who like photography can “fix” their pictures, add effects to the, eliminate “red eyes”, among other things by downloading some of the following free software:

After “fixing” your pictures you are use some of the following sites, to create your own online photo album. These are some Argentinean websites:

These are some international sites that allow you to create online photo albums:

Thursday, March 15, 2007

German Christmas Spirit at Christkindlesmarkt

Christmas spirit arises in December, and with it I revive my memories from my trips to Germany.

Before I visited Germany for the first time, I thought it was a grey and cold place where people spoke a harsh sounding language. However, these erroneous concepts collapsed once I arrived at Germanic lands.

As I imagined, when I got to Dresden it was raining. But since everything was adorned with Christmas decorations, even Prager Strasse, Dresden’s ugliest area built during Stalin’s rule, look pretty and joyful.

I got to the city center following the Christmas decorations. There, locals had set up the Christkindlesmarkt’s (Christmas market’s) stores. Each person sold different things from: Lebkuchen (ginger cookies), hot dogs with various types of sausages, sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), lamb hamburgers and other non-edible products such as aromatic candles, wooden decorations, and handmade toys, among other things.

Despite the large variety of stores, there is no doubt my favorite was the one that sold Gluhwein (sweet spiced wine) and Feuerzangenbowle (spiced warm rum-based beverage). Mmmm! I can still feel the smell that emerged from the hot pots where the cooks mixed the wines and the spices. A small sip was enough to appease the strong German cold.

Even though this year around this time I will be in Argentina and I won’t need a hot beverage to keep me warn, I hope I will be able to enjoy a similar spirit that exists in German Christkindlesmarkts.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I give Thanks for Thanksgiving in Argentina

I had always thought Thanksgiving was a celebration that revolved around food. In fact, the last time I celebrated it I drove 13 hours, from Fort Worth, TX to St. Louis, Missouri with a group of college friends, to celebrate it with home cooking.

However, this year I realized that food is only a plus; the celebration is not the same separated from family traditions.

Hoping to relive the experience, November 24 of 2006, I celebrated Thanksgiving with a groups of American friends at “Kansas” in Buenos Aires.

We enjoyed stuffed turkey with cranberry sauce, smashes sweet potatoes with nuts, creamed spinach and mashes potatoes with gravy, and we gave thanks for everything we have.

However, it didn’t really feel like Thanksgiving. Even though our palates had traveled to the US since the restaurant’s cooks had perfectly achieved traditional Thanksgiving recipes, the spirit of camaraderie was missing. You couldn’t sense that fraternal spirit that is born while everyone prepares the food together, pealing potatoes, baking casseroles, beating eggs for the cake, checking the oven, etc.

On top of that, we only had two choices for dessert: either pumpkin pie or pecan pie, while in St. Louis, my friend’s mom had prepared 12 pies, one for eat person.

Even though I am not American, and this celebration does not affect me directly, I think it is nice to reserve a day (in this case the fourth Thursday of November) to give thanks for all the things we have been blessed with.

A Piece of History
Pilgrims from Virginia were the first one to celebrate Thanksgiving to thank Squanto for his collaboration, back on December 4, 1619.

Squanto had learned to speak English on one of his trips to Europe and he helped the pilgrims to interact with the natives. Squanto also thought pilgrims to fish for eels, to harvest corn, which enabled them to survive the adversity of the new land.

Maracuchos Celebrate La Feria de La Chinita in Venezuela

Picture by Antonio Cuauro

Maracaibo is Venezuela’s second most important city, located in Zulia, a state bordering with Colombia. Even though this city lays within Venezuelan borders, it appears to be a different country, with its own rules, language and culture.

Over there, “la ley Guajira” rules over Venezuelan rules, its inhabitants speak “maracucho”, which hardly classifies as Spanish, and they follow their own regional traditions.

In Novemver, maracuhos honor their city’s patron La Virgen de Chiquinquirá (or Virgen de la Chinita) with a celebration that lasts several weeks. During this time they display all characteristic traditions that make them unique.

Maracuchos begin celebrations of the Feria de la Chinita with the lighting of Christmas decorations that adorn Avenida Bella Vista until January. Then, they continue with novilladas and bull runs at Plaza de Toros Monumental de Maracaibo.

During this time, it is impossible to find a silent place in Maracaibo, since maracuchos proudly play gaitas in every city corner through potent speakers that incite you to dance to the rhythm of traditional gaita instruments like: furro, maracas, cuatro, charrasca and tambora.

The Feria ends with the Amanecer Gaitero, where zulianos dance until sunrise listening to different gaita groups.

Why do we celebrate St. Patricks Day?

St. Patrick is Ireland’s patrol and national apostle; the man responsible for introducing Christianity to that country.

The Saint is also well known for driving snakes away for the island. However, scientific studies indicate that snakes never lived on the island. An alternative version narrates that serpent symbols were commonly used in pagan religions, so it is possible that “driving away the snakes” symbolized the fact St. Patrick eradicated pagan practices in Ireland.

Irish people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day March 17 in memory of St. Patrick, since historians predict he died that date in Saul, Downpatrick, Irlanda in 460A.C. That day they attend mass, pray and celebrate spiritual revival, befote they start the party.

Even though this celebration has spread throughout the world, few places maintain the spiritual side of the celebration. In fact, the date is more commonly associated with Irish symbols like: color green and gold, little men, and specially, a loooooot of beer.

Do you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in your city? How is it celebrated?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Traditional Skirts are the Protagonists of the Carnival of Penonome, Panama

Around this time, carnival celebrations take place around the world. A couple of weeks ago I uploaded pictures from the carnival at Veracruz, Mexico. This week I show you what carnival is like in Penonome, Panama, where people model their typical costumes.

This is how Maria Eugenia Grimaldo tells her story from Penonomé, Panama:

In the provinces of Panama, people celebrate “el día de las polleras” on Tuesday of Carnival. However, in Penonome, in the province of Cocle, “el día de las polleras” is celebrated on Sunday, the day I was princess.

That way I continued with a three-generation family tradition. My father’s grandmother was Queen of Penonome, my aunt Roxana (my father’s older sister) was also a princess at Domingo de Carnaval in 1982, and my mother was princess in 1994. Fort that reason, when the ladies from Damas Unidas Penonomeñas offered me to continue the tradition, I could not say no.

As you will see in these pictures, after the traditional “mojadera” that takes place in the morning in every town around the country during carnival, at night, in Penonome people parade through town with their traditional skits. From there, the group I took part of as princess organizes a typical dance called “Tambor.”

Mexicans Celebrate Dia de los Muertos with Joy

We know death is unavoidable. “It is the inescapable destiny of human life,” expressed Mexican writer Laura de la Vega a couple of years ago.

For that reason, Mexicans prefer to celebrate de Day of the Dead with joy instead of crying for them; they organize this celebration to familiarize the younger ones with the idea of death, to help them accept it as the last step in our lives.

Aztecs believed the spirit of the deceased lived in Mictlán, a serene and nice place away from earth until November 2, when it returned to meet its old friends and family members.

For this celebration, Mexicans prepare altars in their houses to honor loved ones who are no longer with them and visit cemeteries to decorate the tombs of friends and family members who have passed away; they also place offerings on the tombs.

María Luisa Villegas from Veracruz, México, shares her pictures and her experience during the festivities:

Something strange happened to me before I staring writing this commentary. I was at home, on October 31, getting ready for the celebration that takes place November 1 and 2 according to the Catholic calendar, when a group of kids knocked on my door saying Happy Halloween.

I could not help but feel surprised by such event; I was seeing the strong influence that our uncomfortable northern neighbor exerts on my people.

However, I strongly believe that this was just an isolated incident if we compare it to everything that goes on around the celebration of Dia de los Muertos, one of the most important festivities for Mexicans.

Although I do not follow all of my country’s traditions, I can comment that the “Halloween” that in Mexico translates to Dia de los Muertos, it is filled with unnumbered details and curious facts. People start with preparations for the event before November 1, All Saints Day, or the day of the “small dead people”, how some people refer to it, where people commemorate the death of young ones in the family. On that day, family members place toys as well as the other elements that are usually places on altars.

Mexicans celebrate “big dead people” day November 2, the death of older people and the loved ones; this is the most important day of the celebration.

On this date, family members decorate the tomb of the deceased, clean up the tomb, and prepare an altar next to it with objects designed to guide their in their journey after death; the decoration of the tombs and the preparation of the altar in the most important ritual of the celebration.

The easier way to design altars is to prepare it using colored papers at home so you can place picture of the dead person and that person’s favorite food underneath it.

According to tradition, the altar must have seven steps, each one with its own significance. The picture of the person who has died should be placed in the topmost and most important step.

The following elements should be placed in the altar:

  • Confetti paper that serves as decorations

  • A cross made out of lime

  • A white piece of cloth

  • Yellow and purple cempasuchil flowers

  • Candles

  • Fruits: normally, oranges, tangerine, jicama, sugar cane and tejicotes

  • Sugar skulls

  • Typical “pan de muerto” that is sold in Mexican bakeries

  • Death person’s favorite dishes

  • Photograph of the deceased

After everything is set and ready, people wait for the return of their loved ones’ soul to come and enjoy the gift that the family prepared with so much love.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Bees, Birds and Butterflies Inspired Catalano to Create the Giant Flower in Buenos Aires, Argentina

I am generally not captivated by flowers. However, the architect Eduardo Catalano and his Floralis Generica, a giant stainless steel, 21-meter high and 18-ton flower, programmed to open its petals in the morning with the first rays on sunlight and to close them at night with the arrival of the moon.

The flower “is a synthesis of all flowers and it is also a hope that revives each day as it opens, “ said Catalano once.

Today, those who observe the piece planted in the United Nations's Park next to the Universidad de Buenos Aires, see a generic flower like the one bees, birds and butterflies see when they look for pollen.

Since it is so generic and unique at the same time, Floralis Genérica seduces the spectator with originality.

The “Giant Flower”, as Argentineans have come to call it, is an incredible architectural project; a grand architectonical challenge; a piece of artthat has changed the sight of Figueroa Alcorta Avenue of Buenos Aires for ever.