Epitaphs from the Great War find new life on Twitter

(K. Brent Tomer),

EVERY DAY at 5.30pm, an epitaph from the grave of a Commonwealth soldier or nurse killed during the Great War is posted on Twitter. They vary from the emotive (“Brave, upright, sincere, kind, a loved son, a widowed mother’s pride”), to the patriotic (“Surrendered self to duty, to his old home, and England his country”). The poetic—“Whose distant footsteps echo through the corridors of time”—stand alongside the subversive: “Sacrificed to the fallacy that war can end war.” Sarah Wearne, the historian behind the @WWInscriptions account, has been tweeting since August 4th 2014 and will continue until November 11th 2018, the centenary of the armistice agreement. She wanted to mark the anniversary of the first world war and honour the lives lost, and was struck by the space constraints of both headstones and the social media site. Twitter limits the writer to 140 characters; when family members tried to sum up the lives of those they had lost, they were given only 66.  

In May 1915 the army forbade the…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Epitaphs from the Great War find new life on Twitter


A new film sheds light on New York’s Hasidic community

(K. Brent Tomer),

A GREAT film can also double as a work of history, philosophy, or sociology, but it is perhaps at its most vital when serving as anthropology. Because of its immersive capabilities, film can expose broad audiences to unknown worlds. Sometimes these worlds are hidden among us.

“Menashe” is such a film, and the Hasidic community is such a world. The Hasidim are a relatively small group of Orthodox Jews who live in insular communities, the largest of which is in Borough Park, Brooklyn, where “Menashe” is set. They are religiously conservative, and they reject relationships with outsiders, not to mention all secular entertainment. Joshua Weinstein, a non-observant Jew who co-wrote and directed the film, secured access to shoot among them by casting Menashe Lustig, a Hasidic actor and YouTube star, in the lead role. In real life, Mr Lustig is already somewhat marginalised in his community because of his artistic aspirations, but the script, based on his life, honours this community in ways no film yet has.

In the…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC A new film sheds light on New York’s Hasidic community

A British dance impresario in search of ideas

(K. Brent Tomer),

A leg up for dance

THE Wellcome Genome Campus, the Sanger Institute and the European Bioinformatics Institute are unlikely places to find a choreographer at work. But such research hubs turn out to be a natural habitat for Wayne McGregor. For more than two decades, the British choreographer has been using dancers to explore cognition, mathematics, neuroscience, astronomy, even modernist literature. (“Woolf Works”, a recent award-winning triptych for the Royal Ballet, was based on three novels by Virginia Woolf.)

Mr McGregor’s distinctive work can do grandeur and it can do melancholy. It can do mischief and it can do heartbreak. But he always tackles big ideas head-on. Having his genome sequenced in order to turn the data into dance might sound strange. For Mr McGregor, it is a logical next step.

“Autobiography” will be unveiled at Sadler’s Wells in London later this year. It is a co-production with Les Théâtres de la Ville de…Continue reading

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Cooking in the American south

(K. Brent Tomer),

The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African-American Culinary History in the Old South. By Michael Twitty. Amistad; 464 pages; $28.99.

The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South. By John Edge. Penguin Press; 384 pages; $28.

SOUTHERN American food’s most famous ambassador is Harland Sanders, the white-coated, goateed marketing genius whose recipe for pressure-fried chicken became Kentucky Fried Chicken. Sanders hated the chain’s food, calling its heavily breaded birds a “damn fried doughball put on top of some chicken”. What he loved was the chicken of his youth, which had almost certainly been prepared by black hands. Southern food, explained Edna Lewis, America’s most lyrical cookery writer, is “mostly black, because blacks—black women and black men—did most of the cooking in private homes, hotels and on the railroads.”

Michael Twitty runs with this thesis in “The Cooking Gene”, a…Continue reading

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A memoir of the lowest caste

(K. Brent Tomer),

Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India. By Sujatha Gidla. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 320 pages; $28.

ONE in six Indians is a Dalit, which means “oppressed” in Sanskrit. That is to say, 200m Indians belong to a community deemed so impure by the scriptures that they are placed outside the hierarchical Hindu caste system and are commonly called “untouchable”. Upper-caste Hindus traditionally treated untouchables as agents of pollution. To come into contact with them was to be defiled, they believed. Indian villages depended on untouchables to provide field labour and clear away human waste. Yet untouchables were excluded from village life. They could not—and often still cannot—enter Hindu temples, draw water from common wells, touch caste Hindus or even live inside the village. Punishments for breaching caste boundaries are severe.

Many untouchables, lured by Western…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC A memoir of the lowest caste

The bloody founding of St Petersburg

(K. Brent Tomer),

Peter on his high horse

St Petersburg: Three Centuries of Murderous Desire. By Jonathan Miles. Random House; 488 pages; £25. To be published in America by Pegasus in March 2018.

ANNA AKHMATOVA, one of Russia’s finest 20th-century poets, once described St Petersburg as being “particularly well suited to catastrophes”. Founded in 1703, the city went on to experience two historical traumas—the Russian revolution and the siege of Leningrad, as it was known under the Soviets. In his new biography of the tormented delta, Jonathan Miles, a British cultural historian, manoeuvres swiftly through these tragedies, devoting the bulk of his attention to the social and cultural life beneath the city’s “spiders’ webs of tramlines”.

By almost every measure St Petersburg is a haunted metropolis. The windswept city built on the mouth of the Neva is prone to flooding, as is vividly described in Pushkin’s “The Bronze…Continue reading

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The consolation of animals

(K. Brent Tomer),

Big Pig, Little Pig: A Tale of Two Pigs in France. By Jacqueline Yallop. Fig Tree; 240 pages; £14.99.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire: Birds and Books. By Alex Preston and Neil Gower. Little Brown; 200 pages; £25.

DO PEOPLE really know the animals they love? The question gnaws at a pair of memoirs published this month: “Big Pig, Little Pig”, Jacqueline Yallop’s account of raising two porkers in rural France, and “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”, a meditation by Alex Preston on a lifelong obsession with birds. Both authors are lecturers in creative writing and each has produced three novels. They are beady-eyed observers of their chosen creatures, the landscapes they occupy and their historical importance to humans. Their stories, however, are strikingly different.

Ms Yallop’s tale begins on her 40th birthday, as she and her husband put the finishing touches to a pig shelter near their house in Aveyron, a rugged part…Continue reading

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Australia’s most successful indigenous musician has died

(K. Brent Tomer),

DR YUNUPINGU, an indigenous Australian musician who sold over half a million records worldwide, wrote very few songs in English. The rest were sung in different languages of the Yolngu Matha group, which includes more than 30 languages and dialects spoken by several thousand people in north-east Arnhem Land, in Australia’s Northern Territory. Arrestingly direct, one of his most well-known English songs opens with the line “I was born blind and I don’t know why,” going on to tell of his parents “crying their hearts in confusion” when learning of his condition. This week, many more tears were shed after he died at the age of 46 in the Royal Darwin Hospital after a long struggle with kidney and liver disease. 

[Editor’s note: Indigenous Australian mourning protocol mandates that the full name of the deceased cannot be used, nor an image of the person’s face. A modified version of the name is…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Australia’s most successful indigenous musician has died

The revival of the great British lido

(K. Brent Tomer),

GIVEN Britain’s frequently rotten weather, it seems odd just how much Britons enjoy outdoor swimming. But they do, and the lido—a facility for al fresco swimming, bathing and socializing—is a treasured institution. These outdoor swimming pools, with cafes and expansive aprons of ground for sunbathing or picnicking on, were primarily built in the 1930s. By the 1990s, many were abandoned. But they are now gradually being brought back to life. This is thanks to the communities that love them, but also to the heritage bodies who recognise the architectural worth of these simple but stylish buildings, often with the quite deliberate look of an ocean-going liner about them.

Saltdean Lido (above), in Sussex, is just the most recent building to receive Grade II listing from Historic England, the statutory body in England and Wales in charge of historic preservation. The listing denotes a building that is of special interest, which warrants every effort to preserve it. Less than 5%…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The revival of the great British lido

Jim Henson, master of puppets

(K. Brent Tomer),

“ALL of us under its spell, we know that it’s probably magic”. The lyrics from the “Rainbow Connection”, famously sung by Kermit the Frog in the “Muppet Movie”, feel especially resonant as a visitor walks through “The Jim Henson Exhibition”, a new permanent feature at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, a neighbourhood in New York City’s Queens. Almost every turn of the exhibit introduces a familiar foam rubber and felt-made face, each one magical in its own right—Big Bird in all his 8-feet-2-inch glory, or Miss Piggy in her fantabulous wedding finery (“Moi has always possessed a charm that is lethal to men”). But the magic is really seen in the story behind the felt: how the Muppets, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock came to be. And this is the story of Jim Henson, their creator and in the case of some Muppets, their voice.

The Henson family donated about 500 artefacts to the museum in 2013, which included puppets, product design material and licensed merchandise. The exhibition also includes sketches,…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Jim Henson, master of puppets