Little Kisses from a Black Colombian Woman

Besitos de Negra Colombiana

I’m always intrigued by how racial taboos materialize and dematerialize over geography and time. But I’m still not sure what to make of a tin box containing Besitos de Negra Colombiana—Little Kisses from a Black Colombian Woman—a confectionary item boldly displayed on a front shelf in the gift shop of the Cartagena airport’s international departure lounge. Doubling down on the product name, the lid contains a matronly cartoonish image that drives home the product concept.

So what is a little kiss from a black Colombian woman like? Perhaps I do not know enough about Colombian culture to form a more complete understanding, but the chocolate-covered dollop of sweet, fluffy nougat over a thin wafer seemed racially and culturally neutral. It’s just a treat that almost anyone could have made. A treat for anyone to enjoy.

Besito inside

I can’t avoid thinking that the chocolate exterior surrounding a white interior could be considered offensive, in the Oreo sense. But I don’t think that was the intent. I any case, I am hesitant to see what kinds of search terms lead people to this page. Search terms can be telling vehicles of desire and thought. When I was researching my trip to Colombia, I noticed that even benign searches in Google about Colombia often brought up travel tips involving pictures and advice that cater to carnal pursuits.

In the meantime, I will enjoy the last few sinful little kisses from a black Colombian woman, and they will have to tie me over until my next trip. If you still have any questions, I’m sure the Secret Service knows a bit about this topic (minus the sweets), based on their experiences during their last visit down there.

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Fashion Statement, or a Statement via Fashion?

In Panama, your hat can do the talking. Looking for a girlfriend? Looking for a fight? There’s a style for each of those. I attempt to navigate this brim-bound language in Speaking in Hats, a piece Compass Cultura published this week.

And I’m not talking about what we refer to as Panama hats. I’m talking about hats made in Panama. Confused? No worries. I explain the difference in the piece.

Also in Compass Cultura’s issue #12: Juliette Lyons gives us a glimpse into the lives of champagne makers in Cumières, France when she visits her grandparents’ vineyard. And Daniel A. Gross encounters the diaspora of Gottschee, a small region of modern-day Slovenia that used to be a German-speaking enclave for six centuries. Nonsubscribers can read one article free per month.

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Conch, Rum, and Dog Sauce: Eating Martinique

Crabes farcis - Martinique
When I visited Martinique last year to absorb the mazurkas and biguines of their musical traditions, I also ended up discovering the island’s enchanting culinary melodies. While serving up boudin créole, curry terrine, and marinated chicken with sauce chien (dog sauce), the Martinicans have made conch wear many gastronomic hats.

You can read about the above dishes and more in my piece “Edible Culture: Ten Creole Specialties to Try in Martinique,” just published by Transitions Abroad. Pour yourself a glass of rhum agricole and click on through to the piece.

Don’t forget: when you encounter an ouassou, don’t forget to suck the head.

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Of Monsters and Men: of SWAT teams and aliens

Of Monsters and Men - Hammerstein Ballroom

Succumbing to a wall of sound is an expected outcome at a live concert. But almost getting blinded by lights?

Of course, lights abound at concerts. Thousands of watts worth. But at the Hammerstein Ballroom last Thursday evening, the thousands of watts of brightness accompanying the Icelandic group Of Monsters and Men seemed to demonstrate a novel idea of function. Confronted with a row of five unapologetically bright floodlights stacked above a few square strobes, all planted behind the band and aimed toward the crowd instead of originating from the ceiling and aimed at the band, I felt like I should have either put my hands high in the air while waiting to be read the Miranda rights, or prepared to be beamed aboard an alien spacecraft. As it turned out, either scenario would have been more interesting than watching one and a half hours of light.

The pic above, admittedly not best quality as it was shot with a camera on a smartphone (no regular cameras were allowed), is pretty much what faced the crowd for the entirety of the show, give or take a switch from white to yellow light, excepting a few brief instances here and there when the entire stage went dark. Why did the band, known for delivering uplifting melodies, choose to create such an apparently obnoxious atmosphere? Perhaps they were assisting the venue in foiling any photo attempts via the power of the infamously difficult backlit scene.

Or, the band wanted to observe the faces in crowd, to take in reactions. To turn the ballroom into a posture-based focus group that would reveal the response to their new songs.

Or they may have been showing us how they indulge their hometown crowds back home in Iceland by overcompensating for the country’s long, dark winter.

In any case, what I do know is that stealing glimpses of the silhouettes on the generously large stage at the Hammerstein was about as exciting as watching a couple houseplants on a windowsill…at night, during a visit by a SWAT team that forgot what it was supposed to do.

When I attend a concert, I yearn for a dimension not found on a recording: the visual manifestation of the band’s emotional energy, capturing the moment, stamping the experience with a sense of place and time: anything from subtle tics and fidgets betraying passion to band members feeding off each other, and feeding off the crowd, adapting to the instant, creating a connection between band and audience.

Of Monsters and Men is not known for their stage show, but there could have been all kinds of magic moments swirling in and out of their performance. I’ll never know, because I couldn’t see much of it. We got little more than a smock-like outline of singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and a lock of the drummer’s hair flying about like a shadow puppet in a breeze. And glowing blue spots dancing in our eyes afterward.

All this is unfortunate, not just because I felt I missed out on the liveliest part of the live show, but also because I enjoy the music of Of Monsters and Men. Their flavor of indie-folk carves out a modern enough style to appear in The Hunger Games and the Walking Dead, yet simultaneously puts forth a timeless sound that could have comfortably found itself on a bill with Siouxsie and the Banshees in the mid-1980s. In their dreamy and enchanting offerings, throughout the yin-yang, tag-team lead vocals of Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and guitarist Ragnar Þórhallsson, the band is always aware of space and dynamics as they deliver melodies you can hang on to.

Silhouettes of introverted stage poses notwithstanding, plenty of concertgoers were bouncing in their seats and singing along, and even in the aisles, especially during “Little talks,” their last encore (and, incidentally, the only song during which the stage crew shut down the SWAT team/alien spacecraft high beams). Which just goes to show that merely being in the same building as Of Monsters in Men as they perform is enough for many of their followers.

If you still desire the full live experience of Of Monsters and Men, however, there is an easy solution: you should see them in the daytime.

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A Year of Blessings

2014 was a busy year for me, and I was fortunate to land many of my pieces in well-respected publications. That was a blessing in itself. One can imagine, therefore, how honored I felt when I found out that my work published last year won several awards.

Corvina fans take note: Love, Death, and Protein,” my first piece for On A Junket, won a bronze medal (Travel and Food category) in the 2015 Travelers’ Tales Solas Awards.

The Death of the Red Devils,” a tale about the now-defunct hand-painted buses of Panama City, won a silver medal in the Solas Awards’ Culture and Ideas category (the piece previously won Transitions Abroad’s 2014 Travel Writing Competition).

Sending a bright message that we should all be eating more lionfish, my piece about said invasive species in Belize, appearing in Roads & Kingdoms last year, won a gold medal in the Solas Awards’ Animal Encounter category. This was after I was notified that National Geographic Traveller extracted the piece when they chose Roads & Kingdoms as one of their favorite travel blogs for the month of November 2014. (Make that “favourite,” because Nat Geo Traveller is published in the UK.) The piece also recently appeared in the compilation Adventures of a Lifetime: Travel Tales from Around the World (World Traveler Press), released in January.

Meanwhile, in the North American Travel Journalist Association Awards, alongside such writers as Andrew Zimmern, Anja Mutic, Tim Leffel, Michael Luongo, and Andrew McCarthy, I was awarded a bronze medal for my piece “Istria’s Edible Empires” that appeared in Unmapped Magazine.

Congratulations to all the winners! A complete list of the Travelers’ Tales Solas Awards winners can be found here, and the NATJA winners’ list appears here.

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