Sunday, April 28, 2013


This meal is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it for vegetarians and vegans. This meal came as a celebratory meal since I passed a REALLY hard exam for insurance licensure two days ago. Now I can breathe again and stop being a stress induced, really mean individual. 

Simmering stock of various meats, vegetables, beans -- what's not to love?
The main meal for today was cachupa rica. From what I gathered, it’s somewhat of a national dish.  And from the ingredient list, it makes me think that its beginnings stemmed from making a stew from all the little bits of leftovers to make a meal that could feed a bivouac. The stew contains samp (otherwise known as hominy), kidney beans, pinto beans, chicken, pork spareribs (I used boneless ribs), chorizo, cabbage, tomatoes, plantains, sweet potatoes, yellow squash, onion, garlic, and bay leaves. (I left out the lima beans, the blood sausage, and the bacon. It also calls to garnish it with chopped coriander, which I was going to use some ground coriander, but I forgot.)  In essence, everything is mixed together and allowed to simmer for a while until all the meat is cooked and the potatoes were soft. There were hardly any spices or herbs added – the chorizo added a LOT of flavor to the stew. It was really good; I was quite impressed.  In fact, I can’t wait to eat the leftovers for my lunch tomorrow.

Fried bananas -- hey, there's technically rum in that. 
After this, it sort of went downhill from here. I decided to make fried bananas. First, I sprinkled cinnamon and brown sugar on the sliced bananas. Simple enough. Next for the batter: it called for corn flour (which I didn’t have, so I thought white cornmeal was close enough), sugar, butter, an egg, salt, white run (I used some cachaça I had left over from making caipirinhas when we did Brazilian food), and milk. I took the batter mixture and pressed it around the bananas and fried them. The problem is that I’m a terrible fryer, and I forgot everything I learned about frying when I cooked Bolivian food. I had my heat up too high and not quite enough oil after the first few batches and some ended up burning a little.  And that resulted in smoking up my kitchen and setting the smoke detector off. Yeah, just a typical day in the kitchen with yours truly.  Otherwise, life would be boring. I had to call my husband (who was just merely in the garage) to come into the house and save the day.

We've decided it really needs a dipping sauce or perhaps a jelly/jam of some sort. 
After the smoke dissipated, I decided it was a perfect time to finish off the meal with gufong, a sort of sweet fried breadstick. The directions were something new to me: it started out with boiling the water and sugar, then adding the cornmeal and flour, and salt and baking powder together. It got really thick very quickly.  Once it cooled, then I could form it into short breadsticks and fry them. I tried to do a better job this time (like turning down the heat to avoid making my kitchen as smoky as a lounge).  But I think I’m done frying for a while. It tasted awesome though – my husband ate five. 

The final product of my celebratory meal. Really, I'll say it again -- what's not to love? 
I really enjoyed this meal – even if I forgot the coriander and smoked up my kitchen – and listening to the music. It also made me realize I know a lot about things that most people aren’t aware of (the true sign of a nerd, I suppose. I should wear it as a badge.).  When I told people I was researching Cape Verde, most people would say something to the effect of, “Hmm, never heard of it. Sounds like a resort area.” And then I think that I’ve known about Cape Verde for ten years.  Not as much as I know now, but I’ve at least heard of it. And that always makes me wonder if I’m the odd one for knowing these things, but then I think perhaps I’m just the odd one here in the US. I think on a whole, Americans do poorly in world geography, and even local and national geography for that matter. It’s always been important for me to know where things are so I know which way I’m going. Maybe, one day, we’ll all know where things are and which way to go.

Up next:  Central African Republic 


The unequivocal voice of Cape Verdean music is Cesária Évora, hands-down. The most popular and most well-known style of music Cape Verde is known for is called morna, for which Cesária Évora (also known as “The Barefoot Diva”) helped bring to the international forefront. Morna is a kind of folk music, consisting of violins, guitars, clarinets, piano, and an instrument called cavaquinho (a type of small, four-string guitar – when the Portuguese brought it to Hawai’i, it developed into the ukelele).  Most often, the lyrics are in Crioulo, and the topics range from love, to mourning, to patriotism, although there are light-hearted songs too. Eugénio Tavares, whom I mentioned earlier as a poet, was also instrumental (no pun intended) in creating and making the morna genre popular.

Other styles include funaná, a style originating out of Santiago that includes accordion (one of my favorite instruments).  At one time, the colonial rules disparaged this style for its “African” sounds.

Batuque started out as a form of women’s folk music, but later morphed itself as an improvisational form with satirical or criticizing lyrics. One musician I came across who performs in this style (although it may have changed somewhat) is Mayra Andrade. I listened to some of her stuff on Spotify and I really like it. Enough to add to my playlist. 

Coladeira is style of music that is also the name of a coordinating dance as well. As a musical form, it’s mostly performed in a two-beat bar and the harmonic structure is based on the cycle of fifths (something influenced by the Portuguese perhaps?). Harmonically and melodically, it is related to and similar to the morna, although it’s different on many levels. Instrumentation is similar, except with the addition of percussion and some horns. In more recent times (ok, starting with the 1960s, which really isn’t all that recent, unless you’re looking historically since the beginning of time, then I suppose it is), electric guitars and such have been used.

As a dance, the coladeira is considered a ballroom dance. The dancers dance in pairs with one arm around each other and the other arms are holding hands. The main movements involve swinging from side to side, marking the two-beat bars in the music.

Besides Cesária Évora, I’ve discovered several other Cape Verdean artists who bear mentioning. First of all, a few months ago when I was researching Botswana, I came across the reggae musician Mo’ Kalamity, who I found out was from Cape Verde. When we got our tax refund check, I bought both of her albums. (One album is actually Mo’ Kalamity and the Wizards.) I absolutely love these albums – the music stays in my head all day.  And I really like this style of reggae; it’s far more melodic than other styles, and it’s a little slower, a little more chill-out.

While researching, I came across many other musicians that I liked.  Many of them are also morna musicians (incorporating other styles as well), like Teofilo Chantre, Ildo Lobo, Luis Morais, Maria de Barros, Sara Tavares (who I really like!), among others. If you really like acoustic guitar or classical guitar, I found an album called Dôs by Vasco Martins and Voginha.  It’s a very good album, very relaxing. Of course, I’ve always been a fan of acoustic guitar, and it’s my dream that one day, I might be able to learn the guitar.

Up next: the food!

Thursday, April 25, 2013


The two most popular means of art in Cape Verde are pottery and weaving. As far as pottery goes, the most important pottery pieces that are created are large water containers (called potes), vases, and other sculptures.  Tapestries colored in white, indigo, and black are also very popular items. Indigo dyed clothes used for clothing are commonly made and used in Cape Verde. 

However, painting arts are also very popular as well. Some of the more well-known painters are Manuel Figueira, Barros-Gizzi, and Maria-Luiza Queirós.  
by Manuel Figueira

Some of their arts were introduced by the Portuguese, like crocheted blankets.  Yet, other styles were influenced by the African mainland, such as woodworking, embroidery, and woven baskets.

Of all the Portuguese-speaking African countries, the literature of Cape Verde is one of the strongest traditions.  Generally speaking, writers fall into either two categories: poetry and novels. And of course, many writers do both. And with that being said, many writers publish works in both Portuguese and in Crioulo (or Cape Verdean).
Now THAT'S a mustache! (In Portuguese: Eugénio Tavares: The great interpreter of the wonderful Cape Verdean spirit / Poet, writer, composer, journalist, 1867-1930)
Eugénio Tavares is perhaps one of the most well-known poets of Cape Verde. Many of his poems are closely tied to the musical form most associated with Cape Verde, morna. 

Another author and poet is Baltasar Lopes da Silva, whose 1947 novel Chiquinho is considered by many to be the greatest Cape Verdean novel. (He often wrote under the pseudonym Osvaldo Alcântara.)  Before this, he gathered together with other Cape Verdean writers and created Claridade, a journal publishing essays, short stories, and poetry about problems in their society and their view of the reality that faced them at that time.

Manuel Lopes was another author that worked with da Silva on Claridade.  One of his works, Os Flagelados do Vento Leste, was made into a movie in 1987. 

Orlanda Amarílis is one of the more prominent women writers of Cape Verde. She tends to write about topics relating to the lives of Cape Verdean women as well as the Cape Verdeans who live abroad for one reason or another, as she has for many years throughout her life. Literary arts are something that runs in her family. She’s related to Baltasar Lopes da Silva, and her father was one of the people who worked to compile the first Cape Verdean Creole dictionary.

Up next:  music and dance 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Some of these holidays didn’t have a lot of information as to traditions and that sort of thing.  For some, I gathered information from a few blogs I found and a few sites that had some information, but I hope someone will enlighten me to fill in some blanks.

New Year’s Day.  January 1.  New Years celebrations in Cape Verde generally last two days. There is a lot of singing and music, and parades with singing and music.  I read that on some islands, there’s a tradition that these musicians will parade through the streets gathering people like that Japanese game Katamari Damacy, and finally ending at the local hospital and playing as loud as they could so the sick people could hear it too. The new year is brought in by fireworks and long parties with food and drinks. Most businesses and schools are closed during this time.

Democracy Day.  January 13.  Also known as Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day.  It marks the day of Cape Verde’s first election. They use this time as a means of studying Cape Verdean history in regards to civics lessons – discussing the roles of government and how government works. There are tours of the governmental buildings for students and special programs.  

Heroes Day.  January 20.  This holiday somewhat runs into the Democracy Day celebrations and programs. It commemorates the assassination of Amílcar Cabral. He was an agricultural engineer and writer who was actually born in Guinea-Bissau but was prolific in the fight for independence of these two nations.  Unfortunately, he was assassinated in 1973, eight months before Guinea-Bissau gained independence and about two years and a half years before Cape Verde would follow suit. 

Carnival.  February. Carnival is a fairly big affair in Cape Verde, and especially so on the island of São Vicente where tens of thousands of people show up for the festivities.  (This island is the home of the famous morna singer Cesária Évora.) Music is also a very important aspect of Cape Verdean life, and for a culture that already uses music and dancing as a means of celebration, Carnival is a given to be a huge affair. In fact the Carnival celebrations on São Vicente have been considered by some to be the Carnival capital of Africa. Music festivals, theatre fests, local food vendors, and other cultural arts fests are also very popular across the islands during this time.

Labour Day.  May 1. This day is in honor of the international workers of the world. It’s also a time to reflect and discuss labor issues.  Most businesses and schools have this day off, and it becomes a day of relaxing with family and friends.

Children’s Day.  June 1.  At one time, Children’s Day was a huge festival.  Schools would start two to three weeks ahead preparing for this day. There would be food and games, music and dance, theatre performances, treats, cards, special activities, and small presents for the kids. Today, there may not be such a push towards the blowout on celebrations – perhaps for economic reasons – but some of these things still go on.  Just maybe on a smaller scale for some.

Independence Day.  July 5. This day marks Cape Verde’s independence from Portugal I 1975.  It’s a day commemorating the achievements and history of the island nation.  Like with most other country’s independence days, the day is filled with speeches and appearances from political leaders, local festivals, including local food, music, dancing, and displays of other cultural arts.  Every city and town is decorated with the national flag and its colors, and the national anthem is heard as well.  In the countries where there are a lot of ex-pats, you can also find local festivals in honor of Independence Day.

Assumption.  August 15.  Also known as Feast of the Assumption of Mary, it celebrates the ascension of Mary into Heaven. Because Cape Verde has a large Catholic population, it commonly celebrated by most of the people.

National Day.  September 12.  Another national holiday, this also marks the birthday of Amílcar Cabral.  Probably celebrated much in the same ways as Heroes Day. Not a whole lot of information on this.

All Saints’ Day.  November 1.  This is a mostly Catholic holiday, celebrating all of the saints, especially those who do not have their own feast days.  I know in some countries people choose to decorate and do some upkeep to loved one’s gravesites at this time as well as attend a special mass, but I couldn’t find any definitive answer that Cape Verdeans take part in this tradition as well.

Christmas Day.  December 25.  Unfortunately, and weirdly enough, there’s not much information on specific Christmas traditions in Cape Verde.  I’m sort of stunned. The country is by far majority Catholic, yet most of the information was that they just simply celebrate it. I imagine they probably celebrate it in many of the ways most Westerners are accustomed to, taking on many of the traditions of the Portuguese: decorating their homes and communities, sharing meals with family and friends (Cape Verdeans are very hospitable, even if they are poor), attending special church services, Christmas caroling, and exchanging gifts.

Up next:  art and literature

Saturday, April 20, 2013


Sometime after I graduated from college, I moved back with my parents for a while as I tried to figure out what I was doing with my life while looking for a job. I actually love to study and I spent my free time studying various languages – mostly Japanese, but some Portuguese as well.  My hometown is a very small town about 30 miles south of Indianapolis, so I used to drive closer to the city in order hang out at the Borders bookstore and café (now closed, which makes my heart sad). Be jealous, I know, I lead such an exciting life. One of the things that I liked was they had scanners in which you could scan a CD, and it would play some samples of it. That way, you had an idea of what you were buying. One day, I went to clear my mind from the world of verb conjugations and my eye caught a CD that was on display: The Best of Cesária Évora. I had never heard of her, but I immediately fell in love with it. Later I learned she was from an island country in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa called Cape Verde.

Cape Verde also became significant as I studied Portuguese as another country in the Lusosphere (a fancy word meaning “all the countries and areas who speak Portuguese”). While Portuguese is the official language, most of the people speak Cape Verdean Creole. In fact, Cape Verdean Creole, or Kriolu, varies from island to island. As a Portuguese learner, I can read it better than I can speak it, but when I looked at examples of Santiago Creole and São Vicente Creole, I had a very difficult time reading it. From what I can tell, it looks as if many of the words were shortened, leaving endings and beginnings off, occasionally using different grammatical forms and such. 

And for starters, Cape Verde (which is Cabo Verde in Portuguese) literally means “green cape.” It’s actually named after Cap-Vert, the peninsula in Senegal that the capital city of Dakar is located on, almost directly east of Cape Verde on the African mainland. I mean, who wouldn’t want to visit a place where the capital city is Praia, the Portuguese word for “beach?” Certainly sounds inviting to me, especially since it’s 40F here and the temperature in Praia right now is 72F. The city of Praia has a little less than 128,000 people – about the size of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Before the Europeans found the islands, the islands were uninhabited. The Portuguese explorers settled it first, creating the first settlement on the island of Santiago.  Because the land wasn’t great as far as agricultural enterprises go, they decided to use it as a stop in the slave trade.  Of course, it was attacked by both the British and the French at different times. (I read that Winston Churchill had planned to attack Cape Verde during WWII, but called it off at the last minute.) When the slave trade was disbanded, so to speak, it remained a colony of Portugal. In the mid-1950s, Cape Verde along with Guinea (also a colony of Portugal) started talking of independence, and it eventually led to clashes between those that wanted independence and the Portuguese and African soldiers. And on July 5, 1975, Cape Verde did succeed in becoming an independent country.  It actually remains to be one of Africa’s most stable democratic governments.   

The country consists of ten islands and eight islets, arranged in a sort of horseshoe shape – this kind of group of islands is also called an archipelago. The islands divided into two groups, the “windward” islands (generally, the northern ones: Santo Antão, São Vicente, Santa Luzia, São Nicolau, Sal, Boa Vista) are known as the Barlavento Islands, and the “leeward” islands (generall, the southern ones: Maio, Santiago, Fogo, Brava) are known as the Sotavento Islands. Santiago is the largest, both in size and population since Praia is located on the island.

The island country was created from volcanic activity and Pico de Fogo is the most active volcano of the islands. The last major eruption was in 1995. There are also extensive salt flats on the islands of Sal and Maio.  (“Sal” means “salt” in Portuguese.)  Some of the hurricanes that hit the Caribbean and the east coast of the United States originate from near Cape Verde. They actually have a name for them, called Cape Verde-type hurricanes. These storms are known to be really bad storms as they cross the Atlantic.  Some of the larger Cape Verde-type hurricanes that I remember were Hurricane Earl (Aug-Sept 2010), Hurricane Bill (Aug 2009), Hurricane Ike (Sept 2008), Hurricane Dean (Aug. 2007), Hurricane Ivan (Sept 2004), Hurricane Isabel (Sept 2003), Hurricane Floyd (Sept 1999), Hurricane Andrew (Aug 1992) and Hurricane Hugo (Sept 1989 – which forced my grandparents to cut their vacation to Myrtle Beach, SC short that year).  So, I guess be careful where you vacation in August and September, huh?  Even though these huge storms are formed near these islands, the country on a whole – while surrounded by water – suffers a water shortage. It just doesn’t rain enough during the year for viable drinking water; they’ve been in a drought for much of the past half-century or so. Much of the inland countryside is painted in hues of browns, golds, and faded greens much of the year. Many people have left the country because of this – they say there are more expats outside of the country than there are those left on the islands.

A whopping 95% of Cape Verdeans identify themselves as Christian, and of those 85% are Roman Catholic. There is a small Muslim community and an even smaller number of atheists.

The country is a relatively small one, and it’s spread out. Being an island nation does pose certain problems with logistics of getting supplies around and such. 90% of urban areas and 85% of rural areas have access to clean drinking water, and sanitation is much lower: 73% urban and 43% rural. They have a very low rate of AIDS cases. Roughly 84% of Cape Verdeans are literate. 30% of the population lives below the poverty line, and 21% are unemployed. The country does remain to be a relatively low crime area, although the normal precautions are always advised when visiting. A lot of food is imported since the land isn’t able to grow much of a variety of foods. Seafood is abundant though, and is a staple to their cuisine.

I’ve wanted to visit Cape Verde for a long time, mostly for the music. If I were to go on a dream vacation, it would be to visit the out of the way places, to drink a good local wine or beer and sit back with some good local food and listen to local musicians perform. I’m really not asking for much. Well, who am I kidding, I wish I could do that in my own city. It’s hard when you have two young kids. (And that’s why I cook these meals at home – much less expensive and far more feasible.) So while I dig out my Cesária Évora CDs and open the windows (well, I’ll wait a few days until it warms up a little), I’m going to pretend we’re in Cape Verde. For now.

Up next: holidays and celebrations

Sunday, April 14, 2013


I have to say this was one of the best days I’ve had for a while. The weather was nice; I went to a coin show where I was probably the youngest person there and one of the few women who were there. Then I went in my quest for ground bison – which I found! And it was only $9.19/lb too! And to top it off, some friends stopped by, and they gave me a Canadian quarter – the bane of American vending machines everywhere (because their slight magnetism jams up the inside of the machines). But since I’ve just started collecting world and US coins a few months ago (which I’ve found that numismatics is really fascinating and extremely addicting), it was perfect because I lost the Canadian quarter I had.
Canadian quarter, worth about 24 US cents. 
So now that I finally had all of my ingredients, I was ready to get started.  The first thing I started with was the baked beans, or fèves au lard au sirop d’érable – it sounds better in French (which reminds me of the quote from An American in Paris: “Back home everyone said I didn't have any talent. They might be saying the same thing over here but it sounds better in French.”).  I started with navy beans and added thick-cut bacon, some onions, salt, pepper, dry mustard, and some maple syrup. The recipe called to bake it for four hours, but after two hours, it was already started to develop a crusty edge to it. Any more than that, I’m afraid my smoke detector would end up being my timer. I think it was because I used canned beans instead of dry beans – probably has a LOT to do with it.
Otherwise known as baked beans, and to be honest, it tasted like my childhood. 
Then I got started on the burgers. The recipe was a little different that anything I’ve made before. Of course it called for the ground bison, which is very lean.  Then it called to add some cooked wild rice (I used an instant rice mix from a box, not getting too fancy here), shredded smoked gouda (soooooo good, and I shredded all by my own self!), barbecue sauce, paprika, Dijon mustard, garlic, pepper, and salt, and kneaded until everything was completely mixed. The second part of this was firing up the grill.  This is a task I assigned to my husband. For some reason, the burgers just wouldn’t stay together when it came time to turn them: only three of the eight stayed together. He felt really bad about it, but I had to assure him not to worry about it. It’s certainly not the end of the world, and it’s not like the police were knocking down our door. (Or Mounties.) However, the flavor of it was really good. I topped mine with more shredded gouda, tomato and onion.
Adventures in bison burgers. Better luck next time. Or I could just learn to grill. 
And of course, I served poutine – French fries topped with cheese curds and brown gravy. Sounds kinda unhealthy, so this should be a hit in the Midwest. But I’m pretty sure it’s not a dish they eat everyday. I remember watching the Montreal episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and they took him to a restaurant that serves only poutine. There are as many poutine recipes as there are chili recipes in the US. I was just amazed that I even found cheese curds in my local grocery store. I thought it tasted good, even though I cheated the recipe and skipped on making my own French fries. I just bought a bag of steak fries, and it worked just fine. OK, and I made the gravy from a package. I know it’s cheating, but some cheating is justified. I chose to make this solely because 1) it was one of the foods I remember trying when I was in Winnipeg, and 2) it is something kind of iconic of (French-)Canadian food, and I made it for the same reasons I made wiener schnitzel when I did Austrian food.

Bannock bread. The blueberries were a life-saver. Or a bread-saver in this case. 
 And finally, I came to the bread, for this I chose a rustic bread called bannock. It sort of reminded me of the Australian damper bread a little bit, except this one added rolled oats. And I went with one of the suggestions of adding blueberries. This bread is one of those kind of things that’s not eaten normally by most Canadians – it’s more or less the kind of thing eaten when studying early Canadian history and Indian life and such. You can find it at heritage festivals and that sort of thing. (I suppose it’s like eating fry bread and cornmeal mush in the US.) But it is truly Canadian, so this is why I chose it. I have to say that it was pretty rustic, and the blueberries REALLY helped it along. It could’ve used another tablespoon or two of sugar too. Otherwise, I didn’t think it was that bad.
The final product: and you can see the poutine that I didn't take a picture of by itself. So sorry, poutine. 
I had a lot of pre-knowledge about Canada, because I had known a few Canadians, been there, read about it, and just simply because it’s so close to us. But even as I knew all of this, there was a lot of new things I learned. But I do know now, as I’m sitting here listening to The Guess Who and Rush, that I would really like to go back and take the family with me. My husband has even suggested in the past that he’d like to move to Canada if it just wasn’t so cold. So while I’m sitting back watching episodes of Corner Gas on YouTube and drinking my Moosehead Lager (one of the oldest breweries in Canada and truly a Canadian-owned company), it gives me time to reflect on all of this to draw these conclusions: 1) this was a really good meal, especially if it were cold outside, 2) perhaps I can convince my husband that Toronto is only an eight-to-nine hour drive from Indianapolis…

Up next: Cape Verde!

Saturday, April 13, 2013


And now I come to Canadian music… To start off from the beginning, the original people – the First Nations as they’re called now – of course had their own music. It consisted of a lot of chanting, and they also accompanied it with a variety of instruments. Most of their instruments were made of materials they found in the wilderness around them, which also varied based on their location. Gourds, animal horns, and seeds or pebbles were used to make rattles, which were painted using local plants as dyes and paints. Wood, animal skins, and shells (in the coastal regions) were also utilized to make different drums and other instruments. Dances from these various tribes were performed at pow-wows, in full costumes with music.  After Europeans arrived on the continent, these peoples were discouraged from performing their own music. It’s such a sad repeated story – I’ve come across this in many of the places the Europeans took control of.
Yeah, the head of the turtle on the end is a little on the creepy side. My husband would probably like it. 
The French and the British were responsible for bringing instruments that were popular in Europe – like the violin, guitars, transverse flutes (ones that are played to the side, like we’re most familiar with today), fifes, trumpets, organ, harpsichord. Of course at this time, the church was the main institution for teaching and promoting music in Canada, continuing on with the music of Europe that was popular at that time. They also introduced ballet to Canada, and today there are thousands of ballet companies across the country.

The 1800s brought along a lot of folk music, especially influenced by the British, Irish, and the Scottish who were moving in droves to Canada. Classical music is also still highly important and composers were still making strides in Canadian classical music. By the Great Depression and the years afterwards, jazz had taken hold of the people, and Guy Lombardo had become one of Canada’s most popular band leaders of all time.

The thing about popular Canadian music is that so much of it is so entwined with music culture of the United States, that it was surprising to learn who was Canadian.  The late 1950s brought the first “rock star” so to speak with Paul Anka. The folk music scene, which led to other styles of rock music, emerged during the 1960s with artists such as Joni Mitchell (love her!), Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, and The Guess Who.

The 1970s and 1980s brought a lot of various styles of rock bands and musicians to the forefront of international fame as well – many of these shaped my childhood – Steppenwolf, Neil Young (which also includes Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Crazy Horse), Anne Murray, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Rush, Bryan Adams (my celebrity crush when I was in 6th grade), Loverboy, among others.

Many of the artists who emerged in the 1990s and 2000s basically guided me through high school and college: Crash Test Dummies, Our Lady Peace, The Barenaked Ladies, Sarah McLachlan, Céline Dion, Alanis Morissette, Shania Twain, Avril Lavigne, Nelly Furtado, Feist, Finger Eleven, Simple Plan, The New Pornographers (one of my absolutely favorites – I saw them live in college), Sum 41, Three Days Grace, Theory of a Deadman, Bedouin Soundclash (another of my absolutely favorites), Nickleback (used to really like them when they first came out, but they played them so much on the radio that I got really, really tired of them. Really.). One of the newer bands out that I had heard of but hadn’t really listened to is Arcade Fire, and I listened to their album The Suburbs on Spotify, and I have to say that I’m impressed. It kept my attention, and I kinda like it. Going through all of these songs was like walking down memory lane with my diskman, much to the chagrin of my kids having to listen to me sing along to the best playlist ever. Thanks, Canada. You’re awesome.

Up next: the food!

Thursday, April 11, 2013


The indigenous peoples of Canada, now called First Nations, were the first producers of the arts as well. The most well known works from various peoples are the iconic totem poles. Not all of these cultures erect totem poles. Totem poles were mainly built by the tribes who lived in the Pacific Northwest, centered in and around British Columbia. Its use also spread south into areas of the US states of Washington as well as north into Alaska.  Most totem poles take about 6-12 months to complete, and the designs have different meanings: to tell a story, commemorate an important person’s life, etc.  Totem poles weren't considered sacred at all. There were even some called “shame poles,” built to ridicule someone or publicly call them out for things like unpaid debts, cheating, other scandals, etc. It was more or less the Hearts & Darts of their world.

Early art in Canada (after European arrival) was influenced by the church primarily.  Later, there was a period when the British soldiers who were stationed in the remote posts of the wilderness would paint the landscape and people they encountered during their time off which were sold back in Europe.

It would be really hard to discuss Canadian art without mentioning the Canadian Seven, a group of seven artists who painted mostly landscapes of the Canadian countryside. Their style was mainly large paintings that included bright colors drawing attention between light and dark. Although later the group expanded its membership to twenty-eight, the original seven members were Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. McDonald, and Frederick Varley.
Franklin Carmichael, "Mirror Lake"
Abstract art, non-objective art, and other forms of contemporary art (“art for art’s sake”) started to take root during the 1920s and 1930s. Today, there are a variety of mediums, and many use modern technology as a means of producing art, such as graphic design, photography, etc. There was also a return to regionalism and what they identify as a truly Canadian identity and tend to mix it together with European and multicultural influences on their art. In a way, their art mimicks what they see around them.

Canadian literature (called CanLit, like British Literature is called BritLit) is pretty much classified one of two ways (or both, I suppose if you want to really complicate things): either by region, or by genre. My search brought me to Canadian comedy, something which I’ve never really thought about. When I took looked at it analytically – as I do with everything – it tends to be built around satire (as in quasi-anti-Americanism, which I probably would find hilarious.  But we give it back, like the song in the South Park movie “Blame Canada”, so it’s all good), or absurdism (as in The Kids in the Hall, which helped me get through college), and even sometimes the grotesque absurdism of Tom Green (every country has one). Several comedians came out of Canada, such as Dan Aykroyd, Martin Short, and Mike Myers who became famous on Saturday Night Live as well as a myriad of movies. And we can’t forget the slapstick comedy of The Red Green Show (touring Canada during Fall 2013 and US in Spring 2014!) Please YouTube it if you have no idea what I’m talking about.

There are several Canadian writers who have soared to international fame. Among the most famous names are Michael Ondaatje (author of The English Patient), Margaret Atwood (author of The Handmaid’s Tale), Yann Martel (author of one of my favorite books, Life of Pi), Alistair MacLeod (who has ties to my home state of Indiana: he received his PhD from Notre Dame and taught at Indiana University for three years – always looking for those six degrees of separation). 

French-Canadian literature is also prevalent, especially in Quebec as well as other areas where French is spoken. The book L’influence d’un livre by Philippe-Ignace-Francois Aubert de Gaspé is often regarded as the first French-Canadian novel. However the period between WWI and WWII proved to be the rise and metamorphosis of French-Canadian literature into contemporary genres, including topics in psychology, metaphysics, philosophy, and sociology. Melodramas and comedies emerged during this time as well. Probably one of the most well-known authors would be Acadian author Antonine Maillet. In 1979, she won the Prix Goncout, a prestigious award given for the best in French literature for her novel Pélagie la Charrette, making her the first non-European to win the esteemed prize.

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