Monday, February 27, 2017


This past week, we finally got a taste of spring. I mean, it’s the end of February, so I’m aware that this is because of climate change. But we had two days of temperatures in the 60s followed by two days in the 70s. It was wonderful! I finally got to open the sunroof in my car! But at the same time, it was weird to see the trees budding and my daffodils and jonquils blooming in front of my house. And then yesterday, everything changed. The wind chill was 16, and it was snowing and bitter cold. I didn’t like it one bit. I hope my flowers are ok. I know my cough came back to visit.
I ran late for work today and forgot to bring these for my lunch. I was so distraught.
But in the meantime, I’m attempting to make something I love: tamales. These tamales, known as Nacatamales in Nicaragua, are the first ones I’ve ever tried to make and had to work a little bit to invent a way to make it without a special tamale pan. The first thing I did was make the dough: I mixed 6 c of masa harina (corn flour), 1 c of vegetable shortening, and 1 Tbsp of salt in a bowl and used my blender to blend it all together. With the mixer still on low speed, I mixed in ½ c naranja agria (sour orange juice – I found it at a Mexican grocery store), and just enough chicken stock to make it soft. Then I pushed my mixer up to medium so that it would add in some air and make it fluffier. After this, I covered the bowl and let it sit about a half hour. While that was resting, I assembled the fillings. I took my cubed pork (I used a pork loin instead of pork butt), seasoned it with salt and pepper and placed it in a bowl. In separate bowls for each ingredient, I had my cooked rice, some sliced potatoes, a bit of diced onion, and some chopped mint. (It was supposed to have some tomato slices, but I forgot to get them out.) To assemble it I laid out a banana leaf with the smooth side up. I put about 1c of masa dough in the middle and spread it out a little (it’s easier if your hands are wet so they don’t stick). Then I placed some pork on top, a couple slices of potato and onion, and topped it with a little bit of chopped mint leaves. I folded the top of the banana leaf down, and then the bottom side up. Then I folded in each side to make a little package. (I’m not good at folding packages; I’ve failed miserably in the past. But this time seemed to go ok.) Carefully flipping it over so that the seam side is down, I wrapped it up in aluminum foil in the same way, except a little tighter perhaps. After doing this with all of the banana leaves, it was time to cook them. I put some water in the bottom of the pot and put my steamer basket in there, placing the tamales in the basket to steam for the next 3-4 hours. I checked every half hour or so to make sure my water wasn’t completely evaporated, which it did a couple of times. I was also unsure of whether it was actually cooking correctly since the steamer basket I had doesn’t match my pot. (I need to get a good set that does – and a large one at that!) But after 3 hours 15 minutes, I took them out and they were done. Well, the meat was cooked through, but the potatoes were still hard in places. (Next time, I’ll par-boil the potatoes first.) I had so little faith that this would end well, but I was completely surprised that it did.

Always good. I'd use this inside a burrito.
To go with this, I made their national dish: Gallo Pinto. I had made this before for Costa Rica but had used black beans instead. This time I’m using dark kidney beans. And there are several variations to this dish; I decided to make mine based on some of the Caribbean coastal varieties. I heated up some coconut oil in a skillet and sautéed my onions and minced garlic. After a couple of minutes, I stirred in my drained kidney beans (I reserved some of the liquid), salt, and pepper. I brought my heat up so that it could start to boil then reduced it. Once the beans have cooked through for a few minutes, I added in my cooked rice to the beans and stirred everything together, pouring in my reserved liquid from the beans. At this point, I also added in a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce and some chopped cilantro to it. This was really good; the kids ate it all up. I liked the flavor of the kidney beans with the rice, and the addition of the cilantro and Worcestershire sauce was a good idea.

Excelente. Perfect for breakfast or a midnight snack. Or afternoon snack. Or mid-morning snack. 
Now comes the pièce de résistance: Pastel de Tres Leches (literally, Cake of Three Milks). I have run across this cake several times when I searched for recipes but have never tried it (to my knowledge; if I had, I was unaware of what I was eating). However, since its origins are often contributed to Nicaragua (and sometimes disputed), I’m doing it now. I'm counting it as my bread since it has flour in it, but actually the tamales were also made with flour, too. So... anyway. I sifted my flour and baking powder together in a bowl and set off to the side. In a separate bowl, I creamed in my butter and sugar together. Then I added in 5 room temperature eggs (one at a time) and some vanilla extract. Then I took my flour mix and mixed it into the butter-sugar mix. Once everything is consistently mixed together, I poured this into my greased and floured 9x13 cake pan and baked at 350ºF for about 27-28 minutes. Once I took it out, I poked holes all though the top of the cake. Then I mixed together whole milk, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk together and carefully poured it on top of the cake. I put this in the refrigerator for a 2 hours or so to chill. In the meantime, I made the topping: I beat the heavy whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla together until it started to hold like whipped cream and formed soft peaks. When the cake was finished chillin’ in the fridge, I spread the homemade whipped cream on top of the cake, cut, and served it. I thought it was pretty sweet and almost overpowering on the vanilla side. I think if I were to do this again, I’d use almond extract in the whipped cream instead of vanilla extract. That way, it’d have a contrasting flavor from the cake. Or I might go back and add some fruit or something. But otherwise, it was good.

It was a hit with the whole family.
Outside of yelling at the kids all afternoon (why do they have to fight over every single thing?), this afternoon was long. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at tamales, and I finally did it. And now I know why my local Mexican place in the neighborhood only offers tamales on Wednesdays. I have a whole new respect for tamale places now. It’s a great way to make a little bit of food go a long way and fill you up. But the next time I get a craving, I’m heading to my local place. This is one dish I’ll let someone else make.

Up next: Niger

Sunday, February 26, 2017


The majority of the music from Nicaragua is a fusion of cultures. Indigenous instruments and styles were mixed with the instruments and styles brought over from the Spanish. Throughout the years, other cultures contributed their own musical flavors to the mix. Today, pop music, has elements from all over the Caribbean, Central and South America, the US, and Europe. 

Even within the country, different tribes have their own variations and styles they are known for, and different regions have their own variations based on the make up of the people. For example, the Pacific coast has more Spanish influence on the indigenous music while the North and Central regions have more of a German influence because of the people who settled there. The Caribbean coast is known for a variety of music called Palo de Mayo, which is a type of dance music performed during the festival of the same name. The Garifuna (who I talked about when I did Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras) are known for a style called Punta. And there are certain pan-Caribbean genres with origins elsewhere that are also popular in Nicaragua such reggae, soca, and reggaeton (my favorite!).

I used to play pit percussion when I was in high school and in college, so I’m pretty excited to hear that Nicaraguan music uses the marimba. It’s one of my faves. In fact, I played on a 5-octave marimba at the Woodwind Brasswind store years ago. However, the main difference is in how it’s played. They make themselves unique by playing it by sitting down and holding the instrument between the knees. Other instruments that are commonly heard in Nicaraguan music are the guitar, the guitarrilla (kind of like a mandolin), and the bass fiddle.

Festivals are great places to see traditional dance. I had already mentioned the Palo de Mayo festival. And if you read my previous post on art and literature, I mentioned a satirical theatrical performance called El Gueguense that mixes theatre, dance, and music using both indigenous and Spanish influences. Another type of dance is called folklore and typically tied to patron saints. These are also often performed at town festivals. 

When it comes to today’s music in Nicaragua, I sampled several bands. The first one I listened to is Perrozompopo. I liked their music; they had a sound that reminded me of a quasi-Carlos Vives from Colombia. Their music was characterized by acoustic guitar along with melodic vocal lines, strings, percussion, and piano. 

I also listened to Duo Guardabarranco. Their music seemed to fall in the same category as Perrozompopo. I liked it, but to the untrained ear, it’s hard to tell the groups apart.

To go along with that, I would also put Moisés Gadea there as well. I love Latin acoustic guitar, so I liked listening to this. While a few songs deviated in style slightly, it was highly reliant on the acoustic guitar sound.

Monroy y Surmenage is a band that has a little bit different style to their music. I’m not even sure how to describe it; underneath the rock style, it’s almost ethereal like cross between minimal trance and new age--they remind me of The Killers in a way. Yet, somehow it works. Kudos to whatever musical alchemy they’re doing. 

And finally, Nicaragua has their own metal bands as well. I came across some live versions of songs by Kerfodermo. It’s a lot of screaming mixed with some singing, but it’s loud, and I kind of like it. I wish there were more of their stuff on Spotify. 

I also took a listen to La Resistencia. What set them apart when I listened to them, was their use of a brass section. So, in essence, they were almost like a metal ska band – and I love this! I may have to find more of their stuff. 

And now I came to Torombolo, one of Nicaragua’s hip-hop artists I listened to. There’s a definite Latin flavor to their music. And although the rhythms sometimes differ, I would venture to put it in the reggaeton category. There were several songs from the Calibre album that I enjoyed, although sometimes the music seemed almost MIDI-artificial in places.

Carlos de Nicaragua is one of their reggae musicians I came across. I love reggae, and I know there are several different styles of reggae depending on what other musical styles the musicians merge with it. But I like this style. Several of the songs I listened to reminded me of an updated Bob Marley-style of reggae.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Even though Nicaragua isn’t really known for its major contributions to the art world, they do have their own versions. Much of their artistic talents lie in the handicrafts category. And when it comes to handicrafts, they are particularly known for their woven arts, leather work, and ceramics.

Painting has been an important artistic stronghold for many of Nicaragua’s artists. Most of the prominent painters have emerged in the 20th century. One artist has earned himself the moniker “father of modern art”: Rodrigo Peñalba. Known for his murals, he tends to use a neo-classical style that intertwines the struggles and faith that remain central to many Nicaraguans. 

Armando Morales, "Spook Tree"

Another artist, Armando Morales, is known around the world for his works. He first became known internationally when his painting “Spook Tree” was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1956. Although many of his subjects tend to be the land, rainforests, and people of Nicaragua, he painted in a semi-abstract and quasi-surreal styles.

There are a number of public markets across the country that are well-known places for finding many of the handicraft goods. Probably one of the most famous of them all is the Masaya Market in the city of Masaya. This is a great place to find all kinds of arts and handicrafts like handmade hammocks. San Juan de Oriente is another famous market; it’s especially known for its varieties of ceramics. The city of Managua has many art galleries that showcase the works of Nicaraguan artists. 

Some myths and traditions were brought over by the Spaniards, like La Gigantona.
The earliest forms of literature from this area mainly consisted of pre-Columbian myths. These stories were passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. Many of these myths were used as explanation for the world around them. As the Spanish arrived, they introduced the Spanish language to those who were already living there.

The first major literary work is called El Güegüense, an anonymously written theatrical work. First performed during the 16th century, this is one of the oldest theatrical works in the Americas. What’s amazing is that it’s been passed down all these years until someone finally thought to write it down in 1942!
Rubén Darío is not amused.
In Nicaragua and other Spanish-speaking countries, a Spanish-American movement known as Modernismo began to emerge during the 19th century. It was more or less a merging of various genres that were popular in Europe during the time, like Symbolism, Romanticism, and Parnassianism. Diction was highly stylized and poetic, and topics included passions, desires, and visions. Although generally, it tended to be anti-political, it was difficult to bring in the social issues that contributed to people’s struggles without mentioning it at all. One artist often revered as the “Father of Modernism” is Rubén Darío. He went on to influence other writers and poets such as Chilean Pablo Neruda and Nicaraguan Ernesto Cardenal.
José Coronel Urtecho on the other hand thinks you're funny.
During the late 1920s, poet José Coronel Urtecho influenced a movement called Vanguardia. It initiated a literary commentary through harsh criticism, intellectual scandal, and confrontational expression. It encompassed several other genres such as Surrealism.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, February 19, 2017


For years, I’ve always bought into the sentiment that Nicaragua was a dangerous place. But as I was reading through information about the country, I found out that is actually not really the case today. In fact, it’s one of the safest countries in Central America, and it has the lowest crime rate as well. So, where does this come from? Perhaps, it’s left over from American propaganda from the early 1980s. I don’t know for sure, but if I was wrong about that, it leads me to ask what else am I wrong about Nicaragua?

The name Nicaragua is derived from the word the Spanish gave to it. They named the country after Nicarao, one of the chiefs of one of the largest tribes. However, Nicarao wasn’t really the leader of the largest tribe according to some historians, but a guy named Macuilmiquiztli. Regardless, the name stuck and here we are.

Nicaragua sits in the middle of Central America and is the largest country in he region. It’s bordered by Honduras to the north, Costa Rica to the south, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The country is generally divided into three sections: Pacific Lowlands (hot, fertile plains), North Central Highlands (forested with rivers), Caribbean Lowlands (rainforests). Lake Nicaragua is the largest lake and actually has 430 volcanic islands. It’s also home to the bull shark, the only freshwater shark in the world. The rainiest area is the Mosquito Coast along the Caribbean. Because of the tropical climate (although it varies depending on altitude and location), there is quite a biodiversity here. 

The earliest people arrived in Nicaragua from Mexico around 500BC. Eventually the Aztecs and Mayans spread into this area. In the early 1500s, Christopher Columbus made his way to Central America and explored his way along the Miskito Coast. Like in true Columbus fashion, he tried to force the different tribes to convert to Christianity. Two of the three followed suit, but one tribe wasn’t having it. They fought against them but in the end, they fell to the Spanish. The Spanish started building permanent cities: the first was Grenada, and the second one was León. They also began intermarrying with the indigenous people, creating a mixed race called the mestizos. However, they were also killing them off with their nasty European diseases that the natives had no immunity for. During the early 1800s, Nicaragua was part of the First Mexican Empire, but later joined the Federal Republic of Central America. During the mid-1800s, the two cities of León and Granada became politically polarized; the Liberal Elite were in León and the Conservative Elite were in Granada. The Liberals invited American William Walker into their fight, but Walker set himself up as president instead, to which most of Central America came for him to boot him out. Great Britain, who had been controlling the Mosquito Coast since the mid-1600s, finally gave it back to Nicaragua (even though it remained autonomous for several decades afterwards). The 20th century was quite a turbulent one for Nicaragua. In response to helping the Conservatives and generally keeping peace, the US stepped in. The Marines moved into Nicaragua and stayed from 1912 to 1933. (They did try to leave once, but everyone started killing each other, so they came back.) The Somoza family would rule the country for several decades, leading in a ruthless fashion. The country would undergo another revolution. The Sandinistas took over in 1979, and the Carter Administration initially gave them money in support but got pissed when they found out they were using the money to support rebel forces in other Central American countries the US didn’t like. Reagan one-upped Carter by getting the CIA to fund and train the contras. Later on, people got pissed about that, and Reagan started selling weapons to Iran and taking the money to fund the contras that way (known as the Iran-Contra Affair). The Sandinistas were eventually voted out, and although elections have generally been fairly peaceful (more or less), there have been quite a bit of shady and illegal deals (fraud, embezzlement, corruption, mayhem) by top officials. However, Nicaragua was the first country to democratically vote in a woman in the Americas. It’s more than what we can do, apparently. 

Today, the capital city is Managua, a city of about 1.3 million people (metro area) located along the shores of Lake Managua (also called Lake Xolotlán). The capital city was moved here in 1858 because no one could agree whether León or Granada should be the official capital city. However, Lake Xolotlán has been polluted since the late 1920s. (Thanks, Industrial Age.) Managua was the first capital city to declare itself rid of literacy. It’s become an educational hub for the country with 48 universities and 113 colleges. It’s also the economic center and home to many multinational and national headquarters. Not to mention that it’s the head of the government, media, and culture. The city is filled with museums, shopping centers, sports venues, world-class restaurants, theatres and entertainment, and historical sites.

However, Nicaragua remains to be one of the poorest countries in the Americas. Workers here have some of the lowest minimum wages in this part of the world. They depend quite a bit on agriculture (mainly bananas, other fruits, coffee, cassava, sugar, cotton, and beef) and remittances from abroad. Nearly 80% of the population lives on less than $2 per day. Infrastructure is still weak in many of the rural areas, and sanitation hasn’t made it out to many of the rural areas either, but changes are being made and improved. However, tourism is quickly growing, and many people visit each year for its ecotourism opportunities: Nicaragua has been dubbed the “land of lakes and volcanoes.” 

Officially, Nicaragua doesn't have an “official” religion, but Nicaraguans tend to take religion seriously. For the most part, anyhow. And when it comes to religion, Roman Catholicism is the most dominant religion in the country. There are also pockets of Protestants, Anglicans, Mormons, and Moravians throughout the country as well. Because of its historical ties with Roman Catholicism, there are very strong ties between cultural fests and holidays with the religion and its patron saints. 

Although Spanish is the official language and most widely spoken language in Nicaragua, there are a number of other languages spoken throughout the country as well. Along the Miskito Coast, the Miskitu language is still spoken there by the Miskitu people. Very few of the Rama people still speak their Chibchan language fluently, although most speak a Rama Cay Creole. There are also English-based and Spanish-based Creoles spoken throughout the country. In recent years, the Garifuna people have tried to bring back the Arawakan language (who mostly speak Miskito Coast Creole today).  

Managua, like many cities across the world, doesn't name their streets. And I thought I had read somewhere years ago that U2’s song “Where the Streets Have No Name” was about Managua. But when I researched this further, Managua wasn’t the inspiration for this song. It was actually about Ireland (and Northern Ireland). Makes sense now that I think about it. Again, there are so many things that I thought I knew about this country that is apparently not quite true. So, I’m looking forward to setting the record straight with myself and maybe you, too.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, February 12, 2017


February in Indiana this week has proved to be bipolar. On Tuesday the high was 61ºF, then on Thursday the high was 26ºF, and yesterday it was 65ºF. My poor nose can’t keep up with all of that nonsense. It feels more like mid-April than it does mid-February. I’m not complaining. My lungs and throat, on the other hand, have a differing opinion on the matter. But like Elizabeth Warren this week, nonetheless, I will persist in doing what I do. 

I would've never thought to bake kiwis but this wasn't so bad.

Today, I’m making New Zealand Kiwi Bread. I cut 6 kiwis in half and scooped out the middle, chopping it up as well as I could. Hopefully, this makes about 1 ½ c of kiwi. Then I placed the kiwi in a pot and added in a cup of brown sugar and a tsp of grated lemon zest. I brought this to a boil, stirring it until the fruit lost some of its color, and then took it off the heat to cool. In a separate bowl, I beat together an egg and a ½ c of vegetable oil before adding in 1 ½ c of all purpose flour, ½ tsp baking powder, and ½ tsp salt. I took ½ tsp of baking soda and stirred it into the kiwi mixture until bubbles started to form. Then I poured my kiwi mixture into my bowl with the flour mixture in it and stirred until everything was consistent. After this, I poured the batter into a greased loaf pan and baked it at 350ºF for about 50-55 minutes. After it comes out and is cooling, I topped the loaf with a mixture of 1 c powdered sugar and 8 tsp of lemon juice that I spooned over the top. It didn’t quite have the flavor I was expecting, and I think it was the combination of the kiwi and the lemon. I mean, it wasn’t horrible by any means. My husband had two pieces. I think I might try vanilla extract in the sugar drizzle instead of lemon juice. Of course, my nose is stuffed up, so my sense of taste might be off.

I bet this would be pretty good if it weren't burnt and I could taste it.
The main dish I made today is New Zealand Mince Stew. I sautéed my onions in oil first and removed them before browning my ground beef in the same pot. Then I added in garlic and let cook for a minute before adding back in my onions for a few minutes before pouring in ½ c of water. After letting it simmer on reduced heat for about 15-20 minutes, I added in some ketchup, beef stock, teriyaki sauce, pepper, curry powder, garlic powder, and onion powder. Covering it again, I let this simmer for about an hour. It didn’t even get 45-50 minutes in before it scorched on the bottom. By the time my nose could smell it, it was a little too late. I scraped off what I could salvage and served it on top of toasted wheat bread. It was almost like an open face Sloppy Joe sandwich. Despite the slightly burnt taste, I thought it was pretty good. 

I thought this was a pretty good recipe. I bet it'll be even better when it's been properly chilled.
To go with this, I also made Corn Relish. In a pot, I heated some butter and sautéed some onion and garlic until it was soft. Then I threw in some corn, chopped cucumbers, and red bell pepper (leaving out the hot peppers and zucchini because I didn’t want to hear my husband whine) and let it simmer for a few minutes. After this, I added in some apple cider vinegar, spicy mustard, curry powder, dill seed, and cumin and stirred it all together. In a small bowl, I stirred together a little flour and water to make a paste and poured the paste and some sugar into the corn mixture. After stirring this together for another 5 minutes and salting to taste, I transferred this to a different bowl to let cool. I didn’t let it cool long enough, but the flavor was good. I definitely didn’t use quite as much vinegar as it called for, and I was grateful I didn’t. It was good the way it was.

Overall, I thought this was a pretty good meal that I amazingly made while being sick.
I also pulled a recipe for a famous whipped dessert called Pavlova. I was going to make this, even though in the past I have not had very good luck when it came to whipping egg whites. But you know, eighty-ninth time a charm, right? However, the recipe also said that if it looks like it’s going to rain, then it won’t set up right. So, I skipped it for today since it was humid and rained last night. I didn’t want to waste the eggs if it wasn’t going to work. I might try it at a later time when it looks like both the weather and my nose clears up.

Up next: Nicaragua

Saturday, February 11, 2017


When I was looking through the music of New Zealand, I came across a couple of bands/musicians that I either didn’t know or forgot were from New Zealand. I have been sick the past couple of days so I didn’t get the chance to really go through a lot of the genres. 

Let’s start at the beginning with Maori music. Their music tends to be microtonal, most likely stemmed from their roots from other areas of Polynesia and Southeast Asia. Their melody lines generally don’t have much range, which left the Europeans sort of blasé about their musical traditions. The traditional instruments the Maori use are called Taonga puoro. These include a variety of flutes, percussion instruments, and wooden trumpets made out of bones, wood, stone, and shells. During the 20th century, the Maori merged many of their styles with European styles. However, several of their traditions, like the song and dance tradition of kapa haka, resurged during this time. Kapa haka is typically used to showcase their culture and includes choral singing, swinging of poi, and sometimes use of weapons dancing.

Pop music was first around during the late 1940s but really didn’t have its first real push until the 1960s and 1970s. Some of the bands I listened to include Crowded House, which has members from both New Zealand and Australia. The songs I listened to had a really strong 1990s indie rock band style. I liked what I heard. They won a lot of awards, and actually as a band, they have performed since the mid-1980s all the way up to a few years ago. Last year, they were entered into the ARIA Hall of Fame. 

Dave Dobbyn is another musician I’d actually put in the indie folk rock style. He’s another musician who’s been performing forever – since 1979 at least (in other words, my entire life). I listened to his album Available Light, which was mostly him singing to acoustic piano with other instruments added in there. You know me: as a pianist, I’m a sucker for acoustic piano in music. 

Don McGlashan also falls into this indie folk rock as well. I think his style has a little more modern country feel to it at times, but then again, other songs have more blues influence.

Bic Runga is a female folk-rock singer who performs to acoustic guitar. I really like her style. She reminds me a little of a cross between Norah Jones and Carla Bruni in a way. Her song “Sway” is probably one of her more well-known pieces.

I didn’t come around to Lorde at first, but my daughter told me to listen to the song “Royals” when it first came out, and then I listened to the whole album. There’s just something in the catchiness of her melody lines and her lyrics. And I have respect for someone to jump into the music scene so young and do so well. I’ve heard hints that she’s coming out with her second album this year, which I really look forward to listening to.  

OK, the biggest surprise to find out who is Kiwi is the band OMC. The name alone didn’t mean anything to me at first, but their song “How Bizarre” certainly did. That song was one of those 1990s songs that seems to pop up in those “Remember 1990s Music?” reviews. And I don’t know how many times we used to sing the chorus in reference to a ton of topics. The rest of the album seems to be in that same style.

One pop singer I came across is Kimbra. Some of her songs were hit-or-miss for me, but I realized that where I knew her name from most was from her collaboration with Gotye on the song “Somebody That I Used to Know.”

Switching gears, I listened to the electro-pop music of Tiki Taane. I listened to the album In the World of Light. I really enjoyed what I listened to here. It was almost like a cross between trance music and pop music – and I loved it! The whole album was good, in my opinion.

I’d also put Salmonella Dub in the same category, although their music is different. I think “dub” is the optimal word here. But it’s definitely chill. It’s the type of music you can put on and listen to if you needed to relax or get some work done. 

Shapeshifter is far more ethereal and trance-like. I’d say their style is more like that of Tiki Taane. I could put this on and write or get work done. As a trance fan, they certainly carry some trance elements in their music, which is probably why I enjoy it. Obviously, purists are gonna complain. (Of course, they would.)

Several years ago, my sister introduced me to a group called Te Vaka. They're based in New Zealand but the group consists of members from all over the South Pacific. They're a little more on the traditional side of music, but definitely worth a listen. They recently were included in the Moana soundtrack (I've yet to see this movie, but I've heard it's good.) 

I just wish I had time to delve into their hard rock scene or hip-hop scene. It’s amazing how a small cold can knock me on my butt so fast. Sometimes you just gotta known when to add sleep to your schedule. If you have some recommendations, please send them along.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, February 8, 2017


The earliest forms of art found in New Zealand were most likely rock drawings found carved in the mountains of the South Island. Like other culture’s rock art, the indigenous rock art of New Zealand depicted everyday animals, including birds that are now extinct, people, and even animals/beings they made up. Because what fun is it if you can’t confuse people thousands of years into the future?

Maori art consists of two main areas: carving and tattoos. (Thankfully, not at the same time, although some of the tools are pretty damn similar.) The Maori typically carved wood, stone, and bone. Many of the their stone carvings and bone carvings were for figurines and jewelry.  They were particularly known for carving a form of jade known as pounamu, or greenstone.

The art of Maori tattooing is called Ta Moku. Both men and women are tattooed, but the areas on their bodies and designs vary. In the past, facial tattoos have been a part of this along with tattooing down the legs, arms, and back. Today, not quite as many tattoo their face (maybe a few still do), and now generally stick to their back, legs, and arms.

by Rita Angus
As Europeans arrived on the islands, they introduced their own art traditions. For the most part the Europeans focused on painting, and they mainly painted the scenery, and landscape art really became popular during the late 1800s. They also painted the Maori themselves. It seems that the Europeans were a little obsessed with their tattoos but too good to get one themselves. 

During the 20th century, many New Zealander artists, especially the Pakeha (the term used for non-Maoris), started painting in the styles that were popular throughout Europe and the Americas during that time. Cubism and expressionism surged while the island’s landscape led itself as a permanent model. There was also a rise in Maori art as well, and some artists took it upon themselves to merge European styles with Maori styles to create something extraordinarily New Zealand. 

The vast amount of literature from New Zealand is written in English. There isn’t a significant amount of literature written in Maori. This is primarily because the Maori carried a strong oral tradition of storytelling and didn’t have a script for their language. When James Cook arrived, they began transcribing their language into Latin letters, which is what it’s written in today. 

The Maori had their own songs and poetry called waiata. Poetry by the British living there pretty much stayed in the British style and dealt with British things. (Not much assimilation there, was there?) In the 1950s, poetry took a different turn and was brought to the forefront again, typically surrounding the theme of poor people and people in unfortunate situations. 

A couple New Zealand writers have gone on to win Man Booker awards: Keri Hulme (1985) and Eleanor Catton (2013). Several playwrights have also made their way to fame. Roger Hall is probably one of the most well known playwrights in New Zealand. One actor and playwright is Richard O’Brien. He wrote Rocky Horror Picture Show (originally as a musical called Rocky Horror Show), not only writing the musical but starring as Riff Raff in the 1975 movie version (which I love!).

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, February 5, 2017


Years ago, I was temporarily working for a company that graded standardized tests where I met a guy who was a student from New Zealand. It was the first time I ever met someone from New Zealand. I don’t even remember his name, but I do remember that once he told me in his lilting accent, “Well, I’m going to just step out a minute for a fag.” I’m pretty sure I stared at him for an embarrassingly long minute. I began to wonder if all Kiwis were so bold, but then something in the back of my mind remembered that fag was a slang term for cigarette (the perks of being well read). He saw the look on my face and confirmed what I thought was correct. Yes, we both speak English, but there are obviously clear differences that can cause some major confusion. 

The country was originally named after the Dutch province of Zeeland (Nova Zeelandia) when Abel Tasman first came across the islands. It wasn’t until the British explorer James Cook decided to Anglicize its name to what we’re more familiar with today. The Maori name for the country is Aotearoa, which loosely translates to “land of the long white cloud.”

New Zealand is located in the South Pacific Ocean, southeast of Australia. It’s separated from Australia by the Tasman Sea. Directly to the south lies Antarctica, and to the north are the islands of New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, and Tonga. The International Date Line lies to the east of New Zealand. And although the country consists of the two main islands (aptly named North Island and South Island), there are several other smaller islands that are a part of the country as well. The terrain varies between mountains, rolling hills and plateaus, and beaches. They generally enjoy a temperate climate, and because of its isolation, it’s known for its biodiversity. 

The earliest people to arrive here more than likely were Eastern Polynesians. The islands were among some of the last major places to be inhabited. They actually weren’t there too long (roughly 350 years) before the first Europeans arrived. The Dutch (under Abel Tasman) were the first to arrive, and then the British (under James Cook) were to follow. Other European and North American ships stopped by; it was mostly for whale/seal hunting and trade purposes. It wasn’t always a friendly stop either; skirmishes occurred between the Maori and the foreigners. However, there was a certain amount of trade that went on between them. During the 19th century, Europeans brought Christianity to the Maoris. They also brought along diseases that the Maoris had no immunity to whatsoever. The British already had control over Australia, so it was nothing to take in New Zealand as well. It eventually became a colony and worked to become self-governing. In 1893, they became the first country in the world to actually pay attention to women’s suffrage and give them the right to vote. In the following years, they would be the first to adhere to an obligatory arbitration between the unions and employers as well as offer old-age pensions. New Zealand would become the Dominion of New Zealand in 1907 and would rule that the British could no longer legislate for the country a few decades later. Throughout the 20th century, the Maoris fought for the preservation of their culture and language as New Zealand increasingly became more Eurocentric. As the country rose to a first-world country status, it began to use its influence in world affairs.

Contrary to what many think, the capital city is not Auckland. It’s understandable to think that, though, because Auckland is the largest city. However, the capital city is the more centrally located Wellington, the southernmost national capital in the world. It’s located on the southern tip of the North Island and nestled in between Wellington Bay and the Rimutaka Mountain Range. Despite its smaller size (est. population 405,000), it’s rife with cultural arts, sports, cuisine, higher education, museums, and commerce on top of being the center for government and media. It often makes the top cities lists and coolest capital city lists. Wellington is famous as a film location for several top-grossing films such as Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Avatar, and King Kong.

New Zealanders use the New Zealand dollar, which is also used on a number of other islands (Niue, Tokelau, Cook Islands, and Pitcairn Islands). Their high-income economy gives them a certain amount of economic stability. Traditionally, they depended on agriculture and sea-related sectors (fishing, whaling, sealing). Because they’re an island nation, they depend on international trade, especially in food (like kiwifruit) and other agricultural products. Dairy farming and sheep farming has long been an important part of their economy, and New Zealand depends on wool as one of its major exports. The Kiwis also have a sizeable wine industry as well. 

The Anglican Church of New Zealand
Although in the past, Christianity has been a dominant religion (and still holds a historical importance for some), New Zealand has grown to be one of the most secular countries in the world. In the 2013 census, nearly 42% of the people reported not having a religion. Of those who identify as Christian, the largest denominations include Roman Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, and nondenominational Christian (along with two Maori religions that are also considered Christian: Ringatu and Ratana. And because of its location in Oceania, there are also smaller numbers of Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu populations throughout New Zealand as well. 

The vast majority of the people speak English; it’s close to Australian English with a few minor differences in vowel shifts and probably some vocabulary. During the mid-20th century, Maori were discouraged from speaking their own language in schools, businesses, and government; however, it was given the status of an official language in 1987. There are many areas where there are bilingual signs in both English and Maori. Other languages spoken here include Samoan, Hindi, “Northern Chinese,” French, and New Zealand Sign Language (which was actually included as an official language in 2006). 

That name, though.
New Zealand has long been ok with doing its own thing. It’s a great place for being outdoors, and its scenery definitely doesn't disappoint. It’s quirky and has its own weird things and list of firsts. I’ve been looking for a few reasons to move there, and here are a few of my favorites: 1) About 5% of its population are humans, and the other 95% are animals (which is good for animal-loving introverts). 2) New Zealand is one of the least corrupt countries in the world (and they don’t have Trump). 3) There are no land snakes (need I say more?). 4) No matter where you are, you’re always less than 80 miles from the sea. 5) About 1/3 of the country consist of protected national parks. 6) At one time (ok, like in 1990), the prime minister actually appointed a National Wizard (I’m somehow ok with this). 7) They are really into rugby. 8) There are no nuclear power stations. 9) The national bird and logo for the Air Force is the kiwi, a flightless bird. 10) They have places where you can stay in hotels designed to look like Hobbit houses.

Up next: art and literature