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Showing posts from September, 2009

How To Avoid Time In A Caribbean Jail

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I was shocked to hear about the plight of the six Brooklyn tourists in Antigua who have been detained and charged with the assault and battery of several police officers. My shock involved many levels of disbelief. Number one, Antigua a tiny 14-mile-long island, with a relatively stable economy and government, isn't the sort of place where brawls and fights thrive. Number two, who goes to another country and fights the law enforcement? But there it was, all over the national and international news. USA Today reported here that the six tourists blamed the undercover police officers for not identifying themselves and starting the brawl. Local Antigua newspapers say that the tourists used indecent language, were rowdy and generally disrespectful. The crux of the situation is that the young tourists left their Carnival cruise ship and hired a taxi driver to take them on a beach excursion, agreeing to pay $50. The driver insists that it was $50 each way and when he demanded $100, t

St. Lucian Shak Shak Music

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Jamaica has reggae, Trinidad has calypso, Cuba has son and St. Lucia has shak shak music. Folk music defines Caribbean culture and in St. Lucia, it's the shak shak rattle or shakare, fiddle, cuatro, banjo and drum that form the shak-shak band, which displays the essence of native Kweyol culture. Kweyol is the French-based Creole dialect spoken only in St. Lucia and nearby Dominica. The upbeat rhythms of shak shak music ring out from fish fries, small rural gatherings and many hotels. I met Lawrence James, the shak shak and harmonica player above, on the lovely Fond Du Estate. He has been playing since he was a child and like most folk musicians, is self-taught. James' shak shak is fashioned with tin cans and seeds, which float around to make the requisite scratchy sound. Recently, a revival of traditional Kweyol culture has encouraged young people to learn shak shak music and songs. In the video below, a small shak shak band composed of shak shak, banjo and drums play for

Wandering On A Water Taxi

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I pride myself on staying current with all Windy City events so I was shocked to discover bright yellow water taxis coasting down the Chicago River a couple of months ago. When did that start? I wondered. Apparently, in 2007, when Wendella boat tours decided to provide taxis for downtown commuters. If you never stop to gaze at the Chicago River between Michigan Avenue and La Salle, you will never see them. It looked like a fun excursion to me, even if you have no where in particular to go. So I grabbed my kids and headed toward the underground labyrinth to the water taxi stop. We hopped a taxi, which costs $4 for rides all day. We glimpsed landmark buildings, crowded tour boats and the famously murky, green water of the Chicago River. The boats are equipped with indoor covered seats as well as more scenic outdoor benches, which my kids preferred. On a sunny day, the ride is relaxing and breezy, there's even a bar for hardcore unwinding. We wandered on the water taxi f

Jorge Amado's Brazilian Brillance

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There's a good reason why Brazilian author Jorge Amado's books have been adapted into countless TV shows, plays and films. All of his books pop with vivid imagery, excitement and humor. And of course, because we're dealing with Brazilian culture here, heaping doses of sensuality seep through the pages. As I explained in an earlier post about Amado , he was the author most recommended to me when I was in Brazil. I devoured his most famous novel, Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon but I couldn't stop there. Once you visit Bahia, you never want to leave so I read Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands next. The title and the cover give helpful hints about the book's tone. Yes, we're exploring a woman's relationship with her two husbands and yes it's a little kinky. Dona Flor is a classic, voluptuous beauty who turns down her shrewish mother's attempts to set her up in a profitable marriage and marries the man she loves. That would be Vadinho, a smooth, gambling,

Drive Out Hunger Tour

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Let them eat cake. That's what Marie Antoinette supposedly advised for feeding hungry masses but in this case, gobbling down cake (specifically red velvet cheese) will actually help supply food for the hungry. The Cheesecake Factory has joined Feeding America for the Drive Out Hunger Tour . September is hunger action month and throughout the month the program will tour 30 cities in 30 days, hosting an event each day to collect cans of soup benefiting the local food bank. If you can't make it on the tour day, head to your local Cheesecake Factory and donate 2 cans of soup on September 30. If you order from the ginormous menu, 10% of the check will be donated to the local food bank. For each slice of Stefanie's ultimate red velvet cake cheesecake sold, the Cheesecake Factory will donate a quarter to Feeding America. 1 out of 8 Americans is hungry or forced to skip meals regularly. Hunger is a reality everywhere, from cities, to rural areas, to the suburbs. Any donation can

Iranian Radiance

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Last week, Iran appointed the first woman cabinet member since the start of the Islamic Republic 30 years ago. Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi was approved as health minister, supplying a huge dose of hope for women's rights in Iran. Coincidentally, I recently discovered this antique Persian necklace at my local antique shop. Persia was what Iran was called before 1936. Jewelry played a huge part of the ancient culture and still does. This silver necklace displays turquoise and carnelian beads most likely used to ward off evil. Although this necklace is about 100-years-old, ethnic pieces like these fill 2009 trend reports. Now whenever I wear it, I think of the women of Iran and their fight for equality.

Buju Banton, Dancehall and Homophobia

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I've been delving into a lot of frustrating discussions over the last week. On August 28, Live Nation and AEG cancelled a series of shows for dancehall icon Buju Banton, according to the LA Times . The cancellations were a result of pressure from The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center . The organization labels Banton a "rabidly anti-gay reggae singer" and a "murder music singer." I find both descriptions inaccurate and insultingly simplistic. Banton brilliantly creates heartfelt, socially aware music that reflects the struggles and concerns of Jamaican culture. The majority of his 21-year career has been spent uplifting and encouraging his listeners. He is being attacked for one song that he wrote when he was 15-years-old. Banton is now 36. My frustration is with the many Americans, some very good friends, who don't understand that this is a much deeper concern than one anti-gay song. This involves understanding Jamaican culture and a strongly entrenched i

Summer In the (Chi) City

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I admit it. I'm spoiled. My idea of a beach involves pristine, pearly sand and sun-dappled, turquoise waves. That means Chicago beaches do not qualify. But we were tormented with a cool, dreary summer over the last three months so when a hot, 88-degree, day popped up I had to grab it. I gathered up my best friend who's the ultimate Bajan beach bunny, packed up the kids and headed to Montrose beach. If the water looks murky in the photo above, that's because it is. I typically don't venture out into the Chicago side of Lake Michigan because the toxic levels rival only Chernobyl. But I was dragged out by my gang of bossy kids. My expression reflects the joy I felt in wading in the arctic cold lake. My toes, painted a neon banana yellow, managed to thaw once I was permitted to lounge under the sun. The lounging didn't last very long as I discovered the range of food offered at the beach. After enjoying my favorite coco paleta , I was covered in streams of coc