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Archive for the ‘other countries’ Category

Friday night: Greece, via the Greek Orthodox Festival at Assumption Cathedral in Denver. Recommended meal: Σουβλάκι, σαγανάκι, and, as an digestif, ούζο. To see: the striking icons painted on the inside of the cathedral dome.

Assumption Cathedral

[My favorite thing to do at festivals that feature public dancing is to pick out the one person that seems to be in another world. Remember the aerobics TV show in the ’80s – spoofed here by SNL – with three effort levels (high, medium, and low)? Well, among the 30+ people dancing on stage at the festival, one man stood out as the clear ‘high level’ participant. Extra gestures, non-required twirls, even a little love triangle involving a woman and another man. It wasn’t clear how that love triangle was supposed to work.]

Saturday night: Japan, via the Cherry Blossom Festival in downtown Denver. Recommended meal: Eat before you make the trip to the festival. We had 寿司, in keeping with the evening’s theme. [For some reason, this event closed up all of its food booths before 7pm, perhaps in an effort to give us the impression of arriving at a foreign city early in the morning with the hunger that jet lag produces? The participants in this festival’s dances were mostly of the ‘low effort’ ilk. Some didn’t even look like they were dancing.]

Sunday night: Africa (mostly Uganda), via a performance of the African Children’s Choir. Recommended meal: we didn’t really do African that night, but Frank could cook you up some delicious gunja (no idea if that’s how it’s spelled) from Central African Republic: spinach stew with a peanut sauce.

[These performers were all decidedly in the ‘very high effort’ category. Seriously. These children, some of whom never stopped smiling during the 90-minute concert, were like Energizer bunnies on Red Bull. Their best numbers, like this one, as performed on American Idol, were traditional African songs. The Celine Dion arrangements – I’m not kidding – didn’t do much for me.]

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Frame of the week

ABC Africa

A man poses for Abbas Kiarostami’s digital camera in ABC Africa, Kiarostami’s documentary about the effects of AIDS on children in Uganda. The film was commissioned by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, a UN agency. Instead of playing like a telethon or a Sally Struthers commercial, though, the film gives equal play to Uganda’s misery (visits to AIDS clinics, tours of doorless and windowless homes) and to the resilient joy (women dancing and singing exuberantly, children hamming for the camera). Here’s Kiarostami: “To tell the truth, I had no experience of Africa, just what I’d seen in the press and on TV. [Kiarostami is Iranian.] I must confess those preconceptions were completely demolished by what I saw. You have to bear in mind that I only visited Uganda and, even then, only a part of the country. Talking about a whole continent when you have seen so little of it would be to underestimate all the different aspects of a continent as rich and multicultural as Africa. But the experience of Uganda showed me that I knew next to nothing about this part of the world. It’s a beautiful country in terms of nature and people, who, despite terrible poverty, possess enormous inner wealth.”

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Unsinkable Mali

Here’s to Mali!

Why? As my sister Annie mentioned, my brother Chris will be doing a two year Peace Corps stint there. Like most Westerners, I had limited knowledge of Mali. Frank, who did his first Peace Corps assignment in Central African Republic, filled me in a little bit, and as both of us are wont to do (I’m a big fan of ‘wont to do’), we immediately looked up everything we could about it. One of the best places to look for the cultural highlights of a particular country is the UNESCO World Heritage Centre website. UNESCO designates certain sites all over the world as “World Heritage Sites”, and it turns out that Mali has several. After looking at a few pictures, I think Frank and I will make serious plans to visit while Chris is there. Check out this mosque in Djenne:

Djenne Mosque

Djenne Mosque

The other thing we realized after saying “Mali” a few times, was that we have a couple of really great CDs of Malian music, including Louis Armstrong’s “Hello Mali”, The Beach Boys’ “Malifornia Girls” and “Mali Hai” from South Pacific. Seriously, though, the Putumayo “Mali” CD is great, as is Mali Music, a collaboration between Damon Albarn (British musician) and Malian musicians.

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