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Posts from the ‘Art, Books and Music’ Category

Arcade Fire comes to Haiti for Carnival

Sorry for the blog silence.  Plenty has happened since November, and somehow I wasn’t inspired to sit down and write.  But last weekend changed that. Arcade Fire + Haiti + Carnival = once in a lifetime awesomeness.

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Arcade Fire came down to Haiti and played Friday, February 21 in Jacmel, a coastal town in the south known for its art and music. We left work on Friday, made the four hour drive from the capital, checked into our hotel with friends, had dinner and got ready for an outdoor concert that we couldn’t quite believe that was actually going to happen.  Arcade Fire recently came out with their new album, Reflektor, which was partly influenced by Haitian music. Specifically, some of the music on the track Here Comes the Night Time is reminiscent of Haitian carnival music.  Carnival season is music season in Haiti. Many established Haitian bands come out with their special carnival song right around this time, often with subtle (or not so subtle) political messages in the lyrics.  And many Haitians form ad-hoc rara bands that are mostly made up of long, single-pitched metal horns and drums, and play in the carnival parade and during Easter week before disbanding until next year.


The concert was amazing. After several well-known Haitian bands, Arcade Fire got on stage and performed a mix of songs from Reflektor and several favorites from their earlier albums. It was entertaining to watch Haitians listen to Arcade Fire, who were on stage so full of energy with drums and streamers. Honestly, some Haitians just didn’t get it. Some just stood and stared curiously as the Canadians with crazy outfits went all out. And I understand –the songs are in a different language, and probably very few of them had ever heard of the band before. But as the show went on, the crowd warmed up and soon was dancing and waving their hands; they got into a few of the call and response songs and cheered loudly whenever the band said anything in Creole or French. The crowd had fun, but the expat hipster crowd (if the shoe fits) was borderline euphoric. I mean seriously, listening to Arcade Fire perform “Haiti” in Haiti – I may never be able to top that. I wish I had photos to share of the concert itself, but I decided to leave my camera safely at home. So instead, you should click on this article for photos and the set list.  Also, most of the band stayed at our hotel and I finally worked up the courage at breakfast to say hello.

Saturday was a low-key beach day for us, but Sunday was the big day in Jacmel for Haitians: carnival.  The actual, official carnival is this Tuesday in the central town of Gonaives, but Jacmel always does their own carnival a week or two early.  They are known for their elaborate paper mache masks, raucous parades, and great local rara bands.  A friend of ours arranged for a rooftop spot along the parade route so that we could enjoy pizza and beer while watching the explosion of colors and sounds below.  We ventured into the street a few times to take photos and visit some other friends in a balcony a block away, but mostly were happy to be high above the melee.


Sometimes Port-au-Prince seems dull and monotone. The dusty gray roads, chalky earth and cement cinderblock houses don’t provide much color. But this weekend we enjoyed a totally different side of Haiti. The streets were full of paper mache versions of every creature imaginable – there were zebras in vibrant colors along with bumblebees, butterflies, parrots, panthers, giraffes, goblins, demons, vodou deities, current and former presidents, dinosaurs and dragons.  There were svelte young women dancing with chicken masks on their heads and men covered in molasses and mud threatening to rub their muck on parade watchers.  After the dancers and costumes, the rara bands with their trumpets and drums began to appear as the sun was setting. The streets went from full to completely packed. The crowd became one solid river of people slowly flowing up the hill.  The occasional fight would break out, but mostly it was a mass of people in full party mode. I’ve never seen anything like it, a complete assault on all the senses.  It was hands down one of the most memorable weekends I’ve had, and definitely the best one in Haiti so far.

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Going public with my hobby: Japanese Temari

The last two years I’ve begun a cold-weather hobby – making temari.  I remember seeing a really cool embroidered ball in a Dwell magazine and wondered what it was. After some google research, I found out it was a Japanese temari ball, made from yarn and embroidery thread.  I had been looking for something to make for Christmas gifts whilst watching HBO and Food Network marathons, and I was pretty sure that knitting was not for me.

Temari collection 2011

Temari balls originated in China, but the practice was introduced to Japan around the 7th century. Original temari balls were made from the remnants of old kimonos and used for hand ball games. After kids started playing with rubber balls, the practice of making temari turned into an art form instead of a toy-making craft. Women would compete to make beautiful and intricate patterns.

16 point temari double kiku herringbone 2012

Today, temari is still a craft practiced in Japan, but people all over the world have picked up the hobby. They are given as gifts of friendship or as a New Years gift from parent to child. On the last few temari that I’ve made, I added a loop so it can hang as an ornament or on a stand. I hope I haven’t offended any purists out there.

temari collection christmas 2012

Making temari does require a bit of concentration. To create the ball (mari) you wrap either a styrofoam ball or another core with layers and layers of yarn, then several layers of thin serger thread. Now this is where you really have to concentrate – you treat the ball like a globe, carefully marking the equator and longitude lines with pins and thread. But after you get going on the pattern, you can stitch along on autopilot while watching a movie.

dogwood temari 2011

Interested in trying it? Here are the resources that I used to get started.

  • The only book I’ve purchased on this topic, and highly recommend, is by Barbara Suess: Japanese Temari, A Colorful Spin on an Ancient Craft. Every temari that you see on this blog post, with the exception of the red ball with the mini green and white poinsettia-looking flowers on it, is based on a pattern in this book.
  • Also, her website is a great resource for ideas, patterns and step by step instructions.
  • Thread: Most of the temari that I’ve seen uses #5 perle cotton, which is thicker than embroidery floss. I buy mine from, but I’m sure your local craft store has thread (if there is such a thing as a local craft store where you live. I’m not holding my breath for one in Haiti…).
  • Other tools: The TemariKai shop on etsy offers ready-made balls without a pattern on them. This speeds up the process so you can get right to the stitching, but it’s a lot cheaper (and you get more temari street cred) if you learn how to make the balls yourself. She also sells flexible little tape measures, which help with marking the guidelines.

blue temari 2012 ice crystals pattern

red 2012 10 division temari

spindles temari 2011

layered squares temari 2011

Tying up loose (book) ends

What’s the longest book you’ve ever read? For me, it’s 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.  I finally finished it last weekend, and feel like I’ve accomplished a major feat. I wanted to finish it in 2012 and start 2013 with an open dance card. Though I’m embarrassed to say that I started the book in July!  I’m a slow-ish reader, at least compared to the mach 1 reading pace of my husband. And I often get distracted by other smaller books and magazines that I pick up along the way: over Christmas I read a great Agatha Christie mystery and Vanity Fair’s comedy issue cover to cover.

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1Q84 is classic Murakami: bizarre but engaging. It was originally published in three parts in Japanese, but the English translation is one massive 925-page book. I wouldn’t call it science fiction, but it’s definitely otherworldly. I was a bit frustrated that Murakami didn’t solve all of the mysteries by the end (and frankly, after 925 pages, I felt I deserved more resolution) but the important questions were answered, or at least the remaining questions were tolerable.

If an author doesn’t answer all of the questions in a book, I at least want to believe that they know the answers. They just didn’t feel the need to reveal them all. I hate to think that an author (or TV producer, ahem, LOST, I’m looking at you) created a world that doesn’t actually hang together with a central logic.

But at the other extreme, the Agatha Christie murder-mystery I read, And Then There Were None, was neatly wrapped up – the epilogue spells out in painstaking detail which holiday guest was the culprit and how he managed to pull off 10 murders on a secluded island (including his own). It was fun, but forgettable.

Maybe the most powerful stories are those that convince you that there is an underlying logic, but leave some questions open, ensuring you won’t soon stop thinking about the world that you’ve been drawn into. 1Q84 is that kind of book.

According to What: Ai Weiwei exhibit in DC

This weekend we went to the opening of the Ai Weiwei exhibit, According to What, at the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum with some friends. On a cold and rainy weekend, it was a great indoor activity that caught my imagination.

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All politics is local

Here are a few more murals from around town. The first one was installed in April 2011 on a building owned by a DC Vote founder at 15th and U streets, NW.  DC Vote works to secure full voting representation in Congress for the District. The mural is simple with only two colors – black and white – but it certainly isn’t subtle.

This one was funded by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities in collaboration with the Latin American Youth Center. It’s located at 3043 15th St. NW, at Irving Street. I love the bright colors and how everyone is showing off their food.

For other murals, check out these previous posts of street art in Adams Morgan, Eastern Market, and Woodley Park.

Fact or Fiction

This weekend I had a double dose of Balkans history. I saw Angelina Jolie’s film, In the Land of Blood and Honey.  It’s a complicated story centered around a Bosnian Serb man and a Bosnian Muslim woman during the war in the 90’s. It was difficult to watch in parts, and I was a little skeptical about the ending, but overall a good film.

This weekend I also started Tea Obreht’s book, The Tiger’s Wife, which is set in an unnamed Balkan country. It’s a region I know relatively little about. I was in high school during the Bosnian War. And while I was vaguely aware it was going on, like most high-schoolers in America, I wasn’t really paying attention. I remember hearing the word Kosovo for the first time in a model-UN program one summer and I thought it was a fictitious place made up for our scenario. Only later did I learn that Kosovo is very real.

If I had the time or patience I would pick up a non-fiction book about the Balkans and educate myself. But let’s be honest, sometimes a long day of work at State feels like several hours of non-fiction. When I get home I’m ready for something different. So if I do have time (and my favorite TV shows aren’t on) I’ll usually reach for a novel.

A People without Murals

How are we already half way through December?! I have three half-written posts that I’ll hopefully finish soon. But in the meantime, here are more murals near my house. This mural is located near 1786 Lanier Pl NW – near the intersection of 18th Street NW and Columbia Road.

According to Mural Locator, A People Without Murals is a Demuralized People is the oldest and only mural remaining in Adams Morgan created by a group of latino immigrant artists. It was brought back to life in 2005 by Sol & Soul, a D.C. artist-activist organization, with the collaboration of artist Juan Pineda.

and this isn’t too far away…

The Bridge Spot

I’m counting down the days until L comes for Thanksgiving. We haven’t seen each other since early October, making this the longest stretch we’ve been apart so far. I’ve been missing him extra these last two weekends because I spent time over on the Eastern Market side of town, our old neighborhood. I like my new apartment, but the Capitol Hill still feels more like home.

On one of my trips over there I checked out the new murals under the bridge at Garfield Park – where L spent numerous Saturdays playing tennis. The Fridge sponsored over 30 artists to paint a section of the wall under the bridge, creating a huge mixed mural. The event took place over Halloween weekend.  The Fridge also has an exhibit called Above the Radar until December 4 featuring nearly 70 graffiti and street artists from the Western United States.

Here are a few photos and a video of the work at the Bridge Spot.

Picking Presidents

For a lot of people, this was just a regular Sunday. But for some, November 6 was a day that had been circled on the calendar for a long time. Nicaragua had its presidential and legislative elections today, and Guatemala had the second round of presidential elections. For context of the Nicaraguan elections, check out this op-ed written by the former Ambassador to Nicaragua, Robert Callahan. Ambassador Callahan isn’t afraid to tell it like he sees it. He recently retired and I only hope I’ll be so lucky as to work for an Ambassador like him again.

It was also a day anticipated by a group of new Foreign Service Officers who begin A-100 tomorrow! Our class hosted a happy hour this afternoon which gave many members of the 164th class the first chance to meet each other and officially kick off their experience as FSOs. I’m sure they are more excited about their official first day tomorrow, but it was fun to meet members of the new class. I even met two tandems.

And finally, keeping with the theme of the last post, I wanted to put up another photo of a mural a few steps from the last one. This mural is painted on the side of Mama Ayesha’s restaurant on Calvert Street. It has all the Presidents since Eisenhower, with Mama Ayesha herself, the restaurant’s original owner, in the middle. So the question is, will the mural have to add another person in 2012? Or will it remain as is for four more years? I guess we’ll find out almost exactly one year from today. Circle your calendars.

Managua Street Art: Part 4

More murals around Managua. This time: pirate ships, skulls, daggers, snakes and Samurai. Be afraid!

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