Fight for Whiskey

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“The Whiskey Rebellion” (ca. 1795 Unknown Artist), Metropolitan Museum of Art: George Washington before his march to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion

Some receive fruit of the month club shipments, others receive monthly wine selections as part of a club or membership, and I receive a monthly whiskey shipment (I am pretty sure it beats the fruit of the month club although I have never received that). Every month, I receive a new bottle of whiskey or bourbon from mostly small distilleries that are hard to come by in regular stores (even those specializing in selling alcohol). Each bottle comes with a booklet about the distilling process, the region, the distillery, the history of whiskey or bourbon and more. So it is actually very educational – or at least that is my justification why a bottle of whiskey a month showing up at one’s doorstep makes perfect sense.

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Bottle of Bower Hill Bourbon

This month’s whiskey proves my point. It has taught me about a U.S. rebellion that most textbooks overlook. How come I was not taught about the Whiskey Rebellion when I had to sit through U.S. History?! This month’s bottle is from Bower Hill, and its name shows a clear connection to the aforementioned Whiskey Rebellion. According to the nifty little booklet that comes with the bottle, the U.S. Government decided to create a whiskey tax in 1791. It was the first tax of the federal government levied on goods produced and sold in the U.S. The main goal of the government was to recover the costs of the Revolutionary War, so I guess people must have sold and drunk plenty of whiskey for the politicians to expect the tax income to be large enough to impact the costs of a war.

Farmers, distillers, and other supports – mostly from Western Pennsylvania – came together to resist the tax, and this rebellion lasted several years. It seems to have been serious enough that George Washington himself led an army against the rebels. In July 1794, over 500 rebels attacked the home of John Neville, a prominent tax collector. His estate was called Bower Hill and burned down during this attack (Neville survived the attack, and it seems only a couple of men were killed). Eventually the rebels lost, 170 of them were arrested, and the whiskey tax was enforced until is was repealed under President Thomas Jefferson.

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Historical Marker for Bower Hill (found on Explore PA History)

The Bower Hill bourbon is named after this estate and according to the manufacturer is celebrating the “rebellious spirit” connected to the Whiskey Rebellion. The flags on the bottle are the flags of the Whiskey Rebellion. The bourbon is a blend of bourbons from Lexington, KY and is extremely delicious (smooth and pretty sweet). In addition to receiving a great bottle of bourbon, I also learned a little more about U.S. history – a win-win situation in my book.

BowerHill

Ready to Enjoy a Taste of Bourbon in front of the Fire

Food Stamps

Austrian Stamps Celebrating Austria's Beer Culture

Austrian Stamps Celebrating Austria’s Beer Culture

Stamps have long been involved in the history of nations and highlight the nation’s culture and its values. Many stamps show important historical figures, current rulers and other political figures, and famous landmarks. Stamps also celebrate holidays and highlight plants and animals. Current stamps on sale in the U.S. show Paul Newman, Elvis Presley, Maya Angelou, Wilt Chamberlain, the forget-me-not, and the battle of New Orleans.

U.S. Stamp in Honor of author Maya Angelou (found on usps.com)

While Austrian stamps celebrate famous sights and people as well, they also show how important food is in its culture (I wrote about food in my last posting). I was excited to see that the Austrian postal service is paying homage to beer and food. Of course the Wiener Schnitzel is famous enough and important enough to get its own stamp!

Schnitzel

Austrian Stamps Celebrating Food – The Wiener Schnitzel Is the Stamp in the Upper Left Corner

Who Consumes the Most?

Cake Buffet at an Austrian Potluck after Several Other Courses

Cake Buffet at an Austrian Potluck after Several Other Courses

Which nation consumes on average the most calories per day per person? The first guess will most likely be the U.S., known for fast food, large portions, and unfortunately obesity. And the guess is not far off as U.S. Americans have consumed on average 3,733 calories per person per day from 2004 till 2013 according to a study. So who eats more? Austrians!

So-called "Bratl" or Roasted Pork with Two Types of Dumplings and Potatoes (meant to be enough for about 5-8 people)

So-called “Bratl” or Roasted Pork with Two Types of Dumplings and Potatoes (meant to be enough for about 5-8 people) – for a recipe, go to this site

Austrians consume on average 3,769 calories, and based on how much we love deserts, beer, and fat, I was not completely surprised. Germans are only in 8th place. Even though Austrians consume more calories, the obesity rate is lower than in the U.S. According to the study, Belgians consume on average the same amount of calories as U.S. Americans, but only every tenth person is considered overweight in Belgium while in the U.S. every third person is. The difference is linked to the quality and price of food in the article and study. The higher the cost and quality of food, the lower the obesity rate even if the amount of calories is the same.

Bratwurst and sauerkraut; the drink is a pint of white wine with sparkling water

Bratwurst and sauerkraut; the drink is a pint of white wine with sparkling water

Dumpling with chanterelle mushrooms in sauce

Dumpling with chanterelle mushrooms in sauce

The article reminded me of how much I love and miss Austrian cuisine and how much food is part of the culture and tradition. I like that it is normal to have a mid-morning snack (often also with beer) and an afternoon coffee and cake break in addition to the regular three meals a day. Many of the dishes call for heavy cream and butter, and every cook knows that a reduced-fat version of the dish will not taste the same. I was surprised when I moved here by how few people ate butter and that a completely fat-free milk version existed, which in my opinion is no longer milk but white water. In contrast, I grew up with the idea to avoid margarine, that milk that is “drinkable” is whole milk, and that lard is a perfectly good (albeit rich) bread spread.

Lard with pork skins as spread on bread; the white "fluff" is salted and cut daikon radish

Lard with pork skins as spread on bread; the white “fluff” is salted and cut daikon radish

A cheese snack and beers for a little pick-me-up midmorning.

A cheese snack and beers for a little pick-me-up mid-morning

Many of the dishes are mostly carbs and fat since plenty of main dishes are a version of sweet dumplings or something along these lines. A Bauernkrapfen, a version of a donut, comes in at 45g of carbs, 22g of fat, and overall 421 calories for example. Thinking about the calories and eating habits of Austrians led to reminiscing about all the Austrian dishes that I would love to eat right now, but I had to stop making my list; it became just too long.

Bauerkrapfen - an Austrian type of doughnut (no filling, just dough fried in oil)

Bauernkrapfen – an Austrian type of doughnut (no filling, just dough fried in oil)

The Grinch

The Grinch, a fictional character created by Dr. Seuss, is known by most in the U.S. but an exotic import strongly associated with American culture for Austrians. Most know of him only through the movie or TV show and not the book. In general, Dr. Seuss’s work is not as popular as it is in the U.S. For example, Amazon.de showed the German version of the book How the Grinch Stole Christmas on rank 284,780 in books sold and that during Holiday season when the book can be expected to be more popular than throughout the rest of the year. Amazon.com, however, listed it under rank 161 for all books and number 1 for children’s books on the same day I checked the German site. The Grinch, by the way, keeps his name in the German translation although the spelling is awkward. I do not understand the popularity of Dr. Seuss’s work, but I guess one had to grow up with his books and be introduced to them as a child to really “get” or like the books.

One Grinch next to Another

One Grinch next to Another

I knew about the Grinch before I moved to the U.S. and would think of a green character in a Santa suit when I heard name, but I never knew the details of the story. I assumed he stole or tried to steal Christmas based on the title; based on the illustrations of the book cover in stores and the poster for the movie with Jim Carrey, I also assumed that the Grinch was anti-Christmas and in general not in the best mood and was dressed just like Santa. But when I see green combined with a Santa suit, I do react the predictable way and associate the colors with the Grinch. Thus, I was fascinated by the idea of creating a Grinch out of fruit for potlucks and other meals this season, and it was usually recognized as a portrayal of the Grinch by those who ate them.

Ingredients for Fruit Grinch

Ingredients for the fruit Grinch: green grapes, strawberries, banana slices (soaking in lime Juice so they do not turn yellow, and small marshmallows. Use toothpicks to create the Grinch.

Christkind vs. Santa

The Christkind, “Christ Child” (found on http://www.rosenheim24.de)

For Austrians, Santa is an import that has become well-known through Hollywood movies, American T.V. shows, and Christmas songs in English. We understand his job and his importance to American kids, but traditionally we do not believe in him or ask him for presents; he is obviously not real, so what would be the point. Instead, we have Christkind, who is so different from Santa.

American Santa with my Two Greyhounds

American Santa with my Two Greyhounds

First, Christkind is female and is an angel while Santa is male and rather human looking. Since Christkind is an angel, she has wings and thus flies from household to household and does not use reindeers or a flying sleigh as Santa does. Because Christkind means Christ child, she is also rather slim and definitely not “fluffy” like Santa. She is dressed usually in a white or silver or gold dress and wears a crown or halo. She does bring gifts but does not come through the chimney, and she also helps decorate the Christmas tree (see yesterday’s post). Even though it is important for Austrian children to be nice to receive the gifts they wished for, Christkind does not bring coal; that is associated with St. Nikolaus and December 6.  The history of Christkind is supposedly connected with Martin Luther, the church reformer; he wanted to shift the focus from the saint celebrated on December 6 with gifts to the birth of Christ; since most had a hard time associating Christ with gifts, the gift-giver morphed into a child-like angel. Children do send a letter with their wishes to the Christkind, but in Austria, the Christkind has its own address; letters are sent to the town Christkindl, which is a real town. In Bavaria, children send their letters to Himmelstadt, “Heaven Town.”

However, Santa Claus is becoming more and more well-known through the media and advertisements, and this upsets quite a few. So there is actually a kind of fight going on between Christkind and Santa it seems, and the Christkind has plenty of supporters on the web. There is for example, a site named “Santa-Claus-Free Zone.” I grew up with Christkind, but since I am now living in the U.S., our household has adopted both figures: Christkind brings the big gifts under the tree in the evening of December 24 and also decorates the tree, and Santa stuffs the stockings in the early morning of December 25. No fighting for dominance here.

“Santa-Claus-Free Zone,” a German site (http://www.weihnachtsmannfreie-zone.de)

Frohe Weihnachten – Merry Christmas!

Sparklers, in addition to candles, are popular choices for Christmas tree decorations.

Sparklers, in addition to candles, are popular choices for Christmas tree decorations.

In our Austro-American household, the exact date for Christmas is always a topic for a discussion/argument. For Austrians, Christmas is definitely on December 24 – that is the day we exchange gifts in the early evening and then end the day with midnight mass. For many Americans, Christmas is not until December 25 and the highlight of the day is in the morning, which just seems odd to me. I have never gotten used to that tradition – who wants to wake up early and open gifts on an open stomach?! And who wants to take pictures of everyone wearing pajamas when unwrapping gifts?!! At least, I now understand why shops sell pajamas with Christmas patterns here. For me, Christmas is clearly an evening celebration and that means one gets dressed up – think suit and tie or dress, and try avoiding jeans. The gift exchange is followed by a large sit-down dinner and not breakfast or lunch.

Another big difference is the tree. While most Americans put up the tree shortly after Thanksgiving and take it down a few days after December 25, the Austrian Christmas tree is not even brought into the house until December 24. The tree has been kept secret from the kids and the tree is set up without the kids since the tree is actually decorated by the Christkind, the Austrian version of Santa Claus. After lunch on December 24, we kids were told to stay out of the living room and all doors to the room were locked and the curtains drawn since Christkind needed its privacy. We would try to distract ourselves from the excitement by watching TV, usually Czech fairy tale films, dubbed in German. From time to time, we could not resist and snuck up to the locked doors to listen for any noise behind them or to look through the keyhole to catch a glance of Christkind decorating the tree. It did not seem weird to us that our parents were in the locked room as well since they told us that they would be helping Christkind. After a couple of hours, my mom came out to tell us to get dressed for the evening since Christkind was nearly done decorating. Dressed in our Christmas outfits, we waited to hear the bell ring; it indicated that the Christkind had left and we were ready to celebrate.

Through the half-closed door we could see the glistening tree and hear the crackling of sparklers on the tree. Yes, even though the tree was real, it was decorated with lit candles and sparklers. We gathered around the tree and would oooh and aaah before we started singing Christmas carols. “Silent Night, Holy Night” was always the last one we sang, and then we blew out the candles. The smell I most associate with Christmas is the smell of sparklers going off in an enclosed room and the smoke from the extinguished candles on the tree. I know for most Americans this sounds just like an incredibly dangerous fire hazard, but we did not take the open flame lightly. We always had one or two buckets filled with water in the same room as the tree just in case it did catch on fire or the sparklers singed the carpet; we also bought a tree that was still fresh and not cut too long ago and it was also in a stand with water to keep it fresh like cut flowers in a vase. And because the candles were rather big to last a while, the preferred tree is also quite different from the American Christmas tree; the Austrian tree needs to have plenty of space between branches, so the candles do not singe the branch or decoration above the flame while American trees are much fuller and are not supposed to have clear “levels” of branches.

A Typical Austrian Christmas Tree: A Real Tree and Open Flame

A Typical Austrian Christmas Tree: A Real Tree and Open Flame

The idea of candles on a Christmas tree really seems to freak out Americans; I chuckled when I saw the following site about decorating Christmas tress that showed real candles on the tree but then also stated “You definitely don’t want to light them, but place candles on your tree for a cozy, glowy effect.” I am not sure what the point of the candles is if we are not allowed to light them and how the “glowy effect” is created without flames, but this does highlight the American attitude towards Christmas candles for me. See the site here: http://www.popsugar.com/home/Unique-Christmas-Tree-36112702#photo-36113070

American Christmas Tree with Electronic Lights

American Christmas Tree with Electronic Lights

Christmas Eve was always the first time we would see the tree; in the morning, we had still been playing in the living room and in the evening the room had turned into the magnificent display of glitter and fire. I still do not put my tree up before the afternoon of December 24 even though the neighbors have displayed their trees with electronic lights for weeks in the bay windows of their houses. Our tree also stays up until January 6 as it is tradition in Austria while the neighbors have already put their trees to the curb on December 26 or a few days later.

Fantasy Football or How I Learned Football from Joe Montana

Football Santa

Football Santa

While December is usually seen as pre-Christmas or pre-Holidays time, December is also football month in the U.S. This is the time when high school teams battle their way to state titles, plenty of NFL teams have had their hopes for a play-off berth crushed, and the play-offs in fantasy football leagues have started. So while plenty of people are worried about buying the perfect gift and decorating their home, I am keeping track of the health of my players. Apps on my cell phone keep me updated on the status of each player on my teams – yes, I have several fantasy teams. Last week, I received a message on my phone while in the office – Cam Newton was in a car accident and potentially out for the week or longer. In my mind, I tried to come up with a worst-case scenario – can I survive this play-off week with my back-up quarterback or do I have to try a trade and find a replacement?

Grant High School vs Folsom High School in the CIF Northern California Regional Division 1 Football Champiohsip

Grant High School vs Folsom High School in the CIF Northern California Regional Division 1 Football Championship, Dec. 12

I truly believe that my knowledge about football and my participation in fantasy football leagues has made the integration into American culture easier. When I grew up in Austria, football had not been heard of and was not shown on TV. I actually learned the rules of football and football strategy from Joe Montana – yes, that Joe Montana. But it is not that glamorous; I learned the rules of football by playing Sega Game Gear Joe Montana Football before I have had ever seen an American football game on TV or live. Playing the game, I slowly figured out the rules of football – the importance of first downs, the scoring system, the necessity to punt from time to time, and more. And my favorite play became Pray for Rain as it was called in the game – it always seemed to work in Sega Game Gear. I was disappointed to learn later on when I started to watch football with Americans that the play was more commonly referred to as Hail Mary and no coach in his right mind will call it at least two times in a quarter as I successfully did in Sega Game Gear. (I still think I might be on to something with my strategy – the defense seemed to never be ready for another Pray for Rain in my experience.)

Joe Montana Football - Sega Game Gear Cartridge

Joe Montana Football – Sega Game Gear Cartridge

When I spent my first summer and fall in the U.S., I lived in Pittsburgh, PA. My football knowledge helped me connect with Americans quickly (as did my knowledge about baseball, which I learned by watching a dubbed version of Bad News Bears on Austrian TV as a child – but that is a story for another time). I quickly learned that Americans love their home team, especially in Pittsburgh, and my football knowledge and interest led to plenty of acquaintances and free tickets. It seemed everyone I knew in Pittsburgh was ready to make sure “the foreigner” would have a great football experience, so I even received free tickets to a sold-out Monday-night game of the Steelers. And even though I moved in the end to California, the first impression stuck, and if someone asks me about my home team, I always name the Steelers.

Now, I have adopted fantasy football as a fall ritual. I like the fantasy drafts that mark the end of summer; I enjoy the competitiveness and the connections created amongst team owners in the different leagues throughout fall. I have learned more about statistics, players’ health, and difficulty of schedules than I ever thought possible. And I learned that watching games without worrying about how my fantasy players are doing is not as much fun. All that started because I picked up a game by Joe Montana and was too stubborn to put it down even though I had no clue about the rules of the game when I first started.

PS: While procrastinating during Finals Week, I found this great website – it lets me play the Sega Game online, which is great since I still have the game itself but long ago lost the Sega Game Gear handheld console on one of my moves. Here is the link to the site: http://game-oldies.com/play-online/joe-montana-s-football-sega-game-gear#

St. Nikolaus

St. Nikolaus and Krampus (found on Facebook: Austria Official Travel Info)

December is a busy month for traditions in Austria. Krampus Day on December 5 is followed by Nikolaus Day on December 6. It is the day of St. Nikolaus, and even though the American Santa Claus is modeled after him even in name, they two do not have much in common. St. Nikolaus does bring gifts for the good kids but in the evening of December 6. He was the Bishop of Myra, which is in present-day Turkey, in the fourth century. He is the patron saint for a lot of different groups ranging from students to pirates to prostitutes. I guess he is popular for so many groups to choose him. But the “job” as patron saint for children and students is the reason for the traditions associated with December 6. And because he was a bishop, he is dressed quite differently than Santa Claus. St. Nikolaus wears the robes of a bishop and with that comes a mitre and a pastoral staff. He is usually white-haired and has a long flowing beard but he is usually not chubby like Santa Claus. St. Nikolaus also does not use a flying sleigh with reindeer but walks or rides a horse or a “regular” sleigh. He also does not come through the chimney in the middle of the night, but politely knocks on the door.

St. Nikolaus usually is accompanied by Krampus, a demon-like beast to scare the naughty children (see yesterday’s post). Nikolaus usually asks the parents if the children have been good, and if the answer is yes, Krampus is asked to wait outside the door where he hollers and rattles his chains to warn children to behave all year. Once Krampus is banished, Nikolaus usually asks the children to recite a poem or sing a carol for him before he takes gifts out of his large bag. Since he is really carrying the bag and the gifts, the gifts are usually chocolate, apples, oranges, and possibly books or other small items. To remind children again that Krampus is always watching, a small bundle of birch twigs is included in the gift as well (see yesterday’s post about the birch twigs).

Postcard Showing St. Nikolaus and Krampus (found on Wikipedia Commons)

If the parents did not rent a Nikolaus to come to the house, children still receive gifts though. Little bags or shoes are left by the door and are filled with the gifts once it is evening. The few years when Nikolaus did not come to our house, my mom would ask us into the kitchen and close the door behind us. We would hear the rattling of chains outside the door and my father’s voice as he was supposedly addressing Krampus to tell him that only good kids were living here. My brother and I stood by the door and were straining to hear every word and hoping that Krampus would not be allowed into the kitchen. A few minutes later, we were allowed to leave the kitchen, and lo and behold, there were gifts in our boots!

Even though children receive small gifts on December 6, they will receive more gifts on Christmas, which is celebrated in the evening of December 24. But there is no confusion between St. Nikolaus and Santa Claus in case you are wondering because we do not have Santa Claus. Christmas gifts are brought by the Christkind in Austria (literally: Christ Child), an angel.

St. Nikoalus Is Shown as the Original and Santa Claus as the Imitation (found on: http://www.weihnachtsmannfreie-zone.de/ – which means Santa-Claus-Free Area)

Happy Turkey Day!

Vanilla Cake with Frosting to Look Like Turkey with Stuffing

Vanilla Cake with Frosting to Look Like Turkey with Stuffing

Thanksgiving is one of most typical American holidays that do not exist in the traditional American form in Austria. I enjoy Thanksgiving – but who would not enjoy a holiday that appears to be mostly focused around food, and a lot of it. It seems a large part of the tradition for this holiday is to eat as much food as possible in one sitting or day. Of course the holiday centers around the theme of gratitude and giving thanks and this does play its role. Every Thanksgiving scene in an American movie or sitcom seems to include the obligatory part where the characters sit at the table and mention what they are grateful for. And I am sure this scene does happen at some Thanksgiving parties in reality as well.

Other less known traditions that I have learned over the last few years of celebrating Thanksgiving in California are that Thanksgiving includes a game of flag football, plenty of football on T.V., a large parade in New York City but shown on T.V., a wide variety of pies, turkey decorations, and ingenious ways to use leftover turkey meat in sandwiches over the next few days following Thanksgiving. In California, for me Thanksgiving also means eating outside and ending the evening with s’mores over the open fire. I would never associate Thanksgiving with snow since I have never celebrated the holiday anywhere else than Northern California and so far the weather has always cooperated each year with sunshine and warm weather since I moved here.

Small Plate of Typical Thanksgiving Food: Turkey, Cranberry Sauce, Stuffing, Sweet Potatoes, Mac and Cheese, Mashed Potatoes, Carrots

Small Plate of Typical Thanksgiving Food: Turkey, Cranberry Sauce, Stuffing, Sweet Potatoes, Mac and Cheese, Mashed Potatoes, Carrots

Sweet Potatoes with Pecans

Sweet Potatoes with Pecans

Thanksgiving Turkey Cooked on the Barbeque

Thanksgiving Turkey Cooked on the Barbeque

My friend and her husband are always gracious Thanksgiving hosts that would make Martha Stewart feel inadequate with their effort put into the feast. I am not allowed to bring any food or drinks but always leave with leftovers – the best kind of invitation. They barbeque the turkey, serve every traditional Thanksgiving side dish that I have ever read about online or in a cooking magazine, and bake several pies and cakes. It is always the perfect meal to eat every typical American food dish that I have heard about in movies. This year also included a cake shaped like a turkey with frosting giving the cake turkey the perfect color and texture. And the evening ended with hot chocolate with a kick (scotch) and s’mores. After Independence Day with its over-the-top firework shows, Thanksgiving is definitely my favorite U.S. holiday. Considering that Austrians love their food and drinks, I am surprised that we do not have a holiday that is more focused on food.

Apple Pie, Cheese Cake, Minced Meat Pie, Pecan Pie

Apple Pie, Cheese Cake, Minced Meat Pie, Pecan Pie

Roasting Marshmallows

Roasting Marshmallows

The Definition of Home

Lazy Afternoon at a Baseball Game

Lazy Afternoon at a Baseball Game

I am currently reading a book on baseball and philosophy. I have always been intrigued by baseball’s status as America’s game and what the sport’s traits and history supposedly tell us about America and its culture. One of the essays in the book is “There’s No Place Like Home” by Joe Kraus. The title is intriguing especially for someone who is trying to figure out the concept of home if the town one was raised in and where most of one’s family still lives is not on the same continent as one’s current residence.

Kraus mentions that the rules of baseball are usually taken for granted by those who grew up with this game, but these rules raise intriguing questions if experienced by someone without any baseball background: why do we call it “home”, why does home count only after you leave and return, and why is there also a home team and a homefield advantage if both teams need to come home?

Baseball Batter

It becomes clear that home is surprisingly difficult to define on and off the baseball field. The point that one must leave home in order to be able to come back full circle to home when it actually counts as a run highlights for me the nostalgia that is so often associated with baseball. And it also raises the more general question – do we need to leave home, travel and overcome difficulties and challenges before returning home to be truly able to value home? Do we only then realize that home counts? The goal in baseball is always to get home, so does this also apply to life in a more general sense? Kraus states “you need to know both the idea of home and the real threat of getting out in order to experience the satisfaction of truly making it home” (10).

Bronson, Eric. Baseball and Philosophy: Thinking Outside the Batter’s Box. Chicago: Open Court, 2004.

Savvy Fuego

Savvy Fuego - Greyhound from Caliente, Mexico

Savvy Fuego – Greyhound from Caliente, Mexico

My college class is currently reading about globalization. One of the points that comes up throughout the textbooks and the discussion on globalization is whether globalization is leading to McDonaldization, the Americanization/Westernization of other cultures, or to Hybridization, the intermingling and synthesis of different elements. Jan Nederveen Pieterese in his book Globalization and Culture: Global Mélange argues for “viewing globalization as a process of hybridization that gives rise to global mélange” (65).

So the words hybrid and hybridization have come up often in the last few weeks in class discussions and readings. The word hybrid also started a previous blog post about the mixing of cultures I observed in myself. So I thought it was fitting that the newest member to the household is also a hybrid. He was chosen for me by an adoption agency based on my lifestyle and personality and the household he would be part of; this adoption/matching process has worked extremely well for me in the past with my last two dogs, so I do not question it. And it has worked well again. The newest member to the household is a former racing greyhound adopted through Greyhound Friends for Life.

Savvy Fuego and Power Home

Savvy Fuego and Power Home

Not only does his personality fit the rest of the household members, but he even fits the current class discussion on hybrids! Even his name shows hybridization: Savvy Fuego – part English, part Spanish. I do not know where he was born and raised, but he raced first in Arkansas and then was moved to the race track in Caliente, Mexico, where he spent most of his career. After retiring, he was moved to California by the adoption agency. He has no problem with the heat, loves the sun, perks up when he hears male voices speaking Spanish, and seems to love Mariachi music [at least he gets excited when he hears it]. Savvy Fuego – another hybrid in a household that illustrates cultural mélange.

Rabbit with Attitude

Example of Alebrije, Oaxacan-Mexican Folk Art - Artist: Max Arrazol

Example of Alebrije, Oaxacan-Mexican Folk Art – Artist: Max Arrazol

 

One of the advantages of living in California is the opportunity to experience many examples of Mexican culture. The most obvious example is Mexican food, but there is also the opportunity to meet Mexican artists. A friend hosted an artist, who showcased her pieces at a local community college. The art form is called Alebrijes, colorful wooden sculptures of mostly animals. The figurines are hand-carved out of copal wood, and then handpainted with intricate patterns in bright colors.

Example of Alebrije, Oaxacan-Mexican Folk Art Artists: Alma and Saul Aragon

Example of Alebrije, Oaxacan-Mexican Folk Art
Artists: Alma and Saul Aragon

The artist visiting from Oaxaca was Alma Arreoala; she paints the pieces that her husband, Saul Aragon, carves. As part of her presentation on her art, spectators also had the opportunity to paint their own pieces, and I experienced firsthand how difficult those small patterns are. I love the eye to detail, the bright colors, and the fantasy behind the color and pattern choices. And I love the energy portrayed in the carvings – I chose the rabbit because of the attitude it displays with its flowing ears seemingly dancing in the wind.

Examples of Mexican Art Form Alebrijes

Examples of Mexican Art Form Alebrijes

Unpainted Carved Figurines Ready to Be Turned into Painted Alebrijes - Carved by Saul Aragon

Unpainted Carved Figurines Ready to Be Turned into Painted Alebrijes – Carved by Saul Aragon

Half-Painted Example of Mexican Art Form Alebrijes

Half-Painted Example of Mexican Art Form Alebrijes

 

Halloween

Sparkly Skull Decorations for Halloween

Sparkly Skull Decorations for Halloween

I am fascinated by Halloween – not so much by the tradition of dressing up and going Trick-or-Treating but by the commercial aspect of it. I know that may sound odd, but every year I am surprised by how many Halloween-themed products exist. When I think I have seen it all, I come across a product that I would have never thought needed to be “re-themed” for Halloween. The best example is the skull measuring spoons currently on sale at World Market. I do not buy the items, but I love browsing the stores. After Halloween, serious decorators need to prepare for Thanksgiving and then Christmas and New Year’s – where do all these decorations get stored??

All Items Can Be Themed for Halloween It Seems

All Items Can Be Themed for Halloween It Seems

Even though I love the decorations, I am not a fan of Halloween. I thought I would become excited once I was in the U.S. and everyone else was celebrating Halloween. It did not work that way. I do not get the point of sending kids to other people’s houses to basically beg and threaten; yes, the phrase “trick or treat” is a thinly veiled threat if we boil it down – “give me a treat or I will play a trick on you.” Presumably, most kids do not even think about what they are saying, and I have never heard of any tricks being played on those who do not provide candy, but it does not change the meaning of the words.

Bags of Vampire Fangs in Stores for Halloween - Who Needs 15 Fangs Though?

Bags of Vampire Fangs in Stores for Halloween – Who Needs 15 Fangs Though?

My rant most likely seems odd to most Americans, and I think my attitude has much to do with my lack of childhood memories about this holiday. So often I hear Americans tell nostalgic stories about their first Halloween memories; I do not experience any nostalgia, and I guess I can theoretically understand the attraction of the holiday but never really “get it.” Surprisingly, Halloween has also become popular in Austria; even though there is no tradition of Halloween in Austria, American movies and T.V. shows have featured Halloween so often and in such enticing ways that Austrian kids have started to copy trick-or-treating to the surprise and bafflement of many who open doors on that evening.

Halloween Decorations

Halloween Decorations