Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Accents and America

I'm a huge music fan so although I don't follow them every week, I can never resist even scholocky music reality shows like X-Factor. But I was totally thrown off guard last week not by the music but by front runner Melanie Amaro's accent. After two months in the competition, intense emotions finally unleashed her true Virgin Islands accent, which she had covered with a proper American drawl.  Fans watched amazed as a heavy Caribbean patois poured out of Melanie's mouth. "This is the real Melanie," she explained when asked about her suddenly transformed speech pattern.  The singer had learned to adopt an American accent when people complained that they couldn't understand her.  So, like so many immigrants to this country, she felt compelled to blend in and "cater" to American sensibilities. I watched with tears in my eyes because I know the emotional and psychological toll that this embeds on someone's spirit.  It's not simply a matter of speech but identity.

Melanie realized that being a staggeringly talented 19-year-old from the tiny island of Tortola, British Virgin Islands, wasn't quite as acceptable as being a 19-year-old from Florida, which is where she moved a few years ago.  Lots of fans are saying her accent is cool and it makes her more "interesting." (We won't even get into descriptions of her accent as "Rihanna-esque" because that's the only Caribbean accent Americans  know. For the record, Rihanna is from Barbados, the accents aren't the same.)  That may be true but the ugly reality is that Melanie would never have been embraced  by the American public on the same level if she had started the competition with her accent. Americans do not like the effort it takes to understand a foreign accent. You have to adjust your listening to the cadence of the speaker and that's just too much to be bothered with.  Forget the myth of the American Melting Pot, that's just folklore.  I have too many friends who just like Melanie, felt compelled to lose their accents as soon as they discovered that Americans hold it against them. Instead of thinking that a person with an accent is most likely bi or multilingual and how beneficial that is, they think of how much easier it would be if everyone spoke the same language. I'm not making this up. The University of Chicago conducted a study that shows that Americans believe people with accents are less credible. So if who you really are isn't  considered credible, where does that leave you?  It leaves you trying to be someone you aren't. Melanie has acknowledged  that now that she's revealed her true self, there's no going back. I'm happy for her. An online gambling website has already predicted that she has the highest odds of winning the X Factor. I just wish the odds of retaining your accent and your identity in America, were higher.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Montreal's Jean Talon Market

Montreal is a true foodie destination, you won't be able to take more than a few steps without spotting a chic cafe, gourmet restaurant or specialty food shop. This vibrant city entices with lots of flavors and dishes but my most memorable sensory experience was at the legendary Jean Talon Market. Located in the center of Montreal  in the landmark Little Italy neighborhood, this colorful and lively market is the biggest outdoor market in North America and the most charming.  Opened in 1933, Jean Talon mixes old world character with contemporary style for a shopping experience like no other. Tackling Jean Talon requires fortification  so I headed to a nearby Italian bakery beforehand. The dreamy, creamy, cannoli above stopped me in my tracks. Mind you, I don't even like cannoli but I felt compelled to buy some and after one fluffy, crispy, nibble, I can say that I do like cannoli. As long as they are fresh and from Montreal's Little Italy.

Although you can skim the market in an hour, it took me two just to explore some of the over 300 vendors and that's not including tasting all the samples, which is an important part of the Jean Talon experience. The market is brimming with fresh produce but I gravitated toward the more typical Quebecois products like the maple syrup lollipops, above. 

I made my way to the locally produced honey in flavors like apple, blueberry and raspberry, above.

These zany plants caught my eye because of  prominent signs commanding shoppers not to touch them. Apparently, these plants capture insects with a sticky substance and leave movements and one little tap will stimulate this action . It made me wonder how in the world you are supposed to carry them home.

The fromagerie  or cheese shop, is a major part of Montreal culture and they are everywhere at Jean Talon. I sampled mustard with wild mushrooms and fresh goat cheese from the shop above. I topped it off with samples of  different varieties of ice wine and then finished with strawberry-cranberry-hibiscus cake. I left with a feeling of visual and gustatory satisfaction that few shopping excursions can deliver.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Avoiding The Inevitable at Orange Hill Beach

It's November. Which translates as cold in Chicago, which means the imminent arrival of snow, wind and misery. So how do I cope?  At the beach, of course. I traveled to Nassau over the weekend and spent hours at the beach soaking up the sun and sea as fortification for six months of freezing temperatures. Orange Hill Beach is a small public beach on the north end of Nassau. Lined with coral and mounds of seaweed, I found  the beach charming and mostly untouched. I  only shared the beach with seagulls and the odd beach walkers.

The tide was high but the water was warm and soothing. I floated in the waves and then sat on the beach absorbing the serenity.

I snapped pix using the KOLA manual color flash,, a collection of colorful plastic lens that I've been lugging around in my carry on for months but have always forgotten to use.  With such a pretty and  unfussy landscape, Orange Hill Beach provided the perfect opportunity to try it out.  First I used red.

Then the green to offset the turquoise hues of the ocean.

And finally, my favorite rose hue. Which do you like best and what are you doing to prepare for winter weather?