Back to the Blueprint

Back to the Blueprint

At the center of the small town of Chartres, a ninety-minute train ride away from Paris, sits a towering cathedral. This edifice, completed in the thirteenth century, has been the center of controversy because of a decision made in 2009 to renovate it. This is not the simple, patchwork maintenance performed on many old monuments; the cathedral’s once gloomy interior, blackened by centuries of use, is currently being painted a sunny, pale yellow. The paint job is part of a monumental attempt to restore the cathedral to its medieval appearance. But the renovation has inspired polemical responses. The cathedral’s official website announces that the renovation will “bring about a radical change in our perspective of the place” [translation by author]. Yet, some are skeptical. Martin Filler, writer for the New York Review of Books, expressed his hope that “by some miracle this scandalous desecration of a cultural holy place can be reversed.” When I visited the cathedral three years ago, I stood in the middle of the scandal and the radical shift of perspective. I entered the cathedral, halfway through renovation and split by history. One half was the color of charcoal; the other half was full of color—bright whites and yellows gleamed in the intense light that shined through the newly cleaned stained glass windows. I was stunned by the contrast. At first, it may seem as though the renovation is destroying history; but those who take the time to appreciate the work that has been done come to realize that it is in fact uncovering history. An untrained eye can see very little in a cathedral obscured...
¡Baile!: The Passion of Latin Dances

¡Baile!: The Passion of Latin Dances

One of the easiest ways to absorb rich Hispanic culture is by observing Latin dancing. Latin dances have developed over hundreds of years. Many began as folk dances and social dances. Others began as competition dances. Some of these dances were even meant to tell a story. Over time, many of these traditional dances have grown in popularity and form, and some have become staples in international competitions. Regardless of where they came from or how they started, these dances all have one thing in common: each gives the audience a little taste of Latin culture while also displaying incredible skill from the dancers. Samba  The samba, originally from Brazil, perfectly encapsulates the hip-swaying fun of many Latin American dances. This dance was originally a street dance at many Carnival celebrations in Rio and has evolved into a performance dance in many places (though it is still common at Carnival). Syncopated rhythms and “bouncing” action distinguish the samba from other Latin dances. The samba is one of the most exciting Latin American dances to watch and requires lots of energy to perform. Paso Doble  The paso doble originated in Spain and models the traditional bullfight. Unlike the samba, however, the paso doble is not a “party” or social dance; it is solely a performance dance. The male dancer represents the matador of the bullfight, and his female partner represents the matador’s cape, the bull, or a flamenco dancer, depending on the choreography. Thus, while the male spends the entire dance acting as fierce as possible—and trying to kill “the bull”—the female must strike a delicate balance between bull-like rage and flirtatious grace. Unlike most Latin dances, the paso doble involves very little hip action and is much more focused on narrating the bullfight than on depicting frivolity and energy. Rumba  The rumba is...
Bollywood: An Expanding Art

Bollywood: An Expanding Art

The movie reaches its emotional climax. Almost effortlessly, the actors begin singing. Large groups of dancers join in, and suddenly, a bright, colorful dance number transitions the scene from one location to the next, sweeping across the screen in grandeur and excitement. And where are you watching this film? You could be comfortably watching on the television in your living room. Or you could be at a popular Bollywood film night in Nigeria. Bollywood, also known as Hindi Film cinema, is a globally popular and performance-oriented genre of films that began in India in the early 1900s and has since affected film culture all over the world. If you want to find a fellow fan of these films, just take a look around the globe. Some of the places fostering a Bollywood culture might surprise you. Europe Bollywood’s “emotions and freedom” have appealed particularly to large groups of women in Germany. There, Bollywood films are in surprisingly high demand, as well as Bollywood dance performances and classes. The Bollywood culture has also spread to other countries in Europe, such as England and the Netherlands. There, those from India who have immigrated to such places find vibrant visits to their culture through these popular films. Traveling to countries of the former Soviet Union, you will find that Bollywood films are especially popular with those of the Soviet Union generations. When the USSR banned Hollywood films and its people sought family-oriented entertainment, Bollywood became hugely popular, and its films began to draw people to theaters all over the USSR. Asia When you visit southern Asia, you will experience Bollywood’s center of...
Remembering Through Art

Remembering Through Art

The Holocaust claimed the lives of over 11 million people, including Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, Roma (also known as gypsies), Poles, and the disabled. While it was the deadliest period of genocide in recent history, it is far from the most recent. Artists are working to remind people that other genocides continue to occur. German artist Gunter Demnig is creating small but significant monuments to commemorate victims and survivors of the Holocaust who were forced from their homes. He calls his art project Stolpersteine or “stumbling blocks.” In America, an organization called The Art of Revolution uses art to educate people about genocides that are happening now by having participants create the art themselves. While Demnig’s work focuses on remembrance, The Art of Revolution focuses on education and activism. Stolpersteine Demnig laid his first Stolpersteine on December 16, 1992, commemorating the 50-year anniversary of the decree that sent the Sinti and gypsy people to extermination camps. The stone was laid in front of the historic town hall in Cologne, Germany. When an individual commented that they didn’t believe any gypsy people lived near that area of Cologne, Demnig decided to show people where victims and survivors lived. The “stumbling blocks” are made of concrete, which is then covered in a sheet of brass, and then stamped with information about the person it represents. Demnig gets the information for his project from a variety of sources, including family members and public records. As of August 2014, more than 48,000 blocks have been placed in 18 countries. The blocks are permanently installed in front of the last home of the victims in the...
Seoul Power: Korean Culture in Television Drama

Seoul Power: Korean Culture in Television Drama

Enormous, intricately detailed Buddhist temples. Flavorful kimchi and ramen. Sweeping mountain ranges and quiet beaches. Deception and murder. You’ll experience it all through Korean dramas (K-dramas). These emotionally charged television shows contain not only intrigue but also a behind-the-scenes view of the extravagant beauty and captivating culture of South Korea. K-dramas are filling many world travelers with a curiosity and desire to experience Korean culture for themselves.  A Rising Trend Interest in Korean culture has been increasing since K-pop burst onto the global media scene (think Korean pop star Psy and his gone-viral song “Gangnam Style”). However, that was just the beginning. The Korean-entertainment fad continues to gain steam, as evidenced by the thousands of people who are addicted to Korean TV dramas. With a mix of spectacle and insight into South Korean culture, these shows attract drama fans and cultural enthusiasts alike. The Culture beneath the Drama Learning more about the K-drama fad (or joining it yourself) is a great way to experience Korean culture while waiting for the day when you can finally check a vacation to Seoul off your list. Popular dramas are made of standard soap opera fare—love triangles, deception, murder, seduction, and other shocking revelations and plot twists, but they also deal with important issues in Korea today. For example, many popular K-dramas deal indirectly with the disparity between the rich and the poor. Other shows reveal tension between tradition and globalization. All of the shows reveal the way many Koreans wish they ate, talked to each other, and dressed. Because K-dramas try to appeal mostly to Korean audiences, the shows give outsiders an inside look...
Sacred Wonders of the World

Sacred Wonders of the World

“Religious buildings, more than any other type of structure, are a unique window into the heart and soul of man. They tell of people reaching for something greater than themselves,” says Grant Herron, a master’s student in architecture at the University of Michigan. Herron finds the devotion of ancient peoples inspiring: “Ancient architecture was more of a way of life than contemporary architecture is. People would dedicate their lives to the construction of a building they might never see completed.” This dedication often stemmed from religious devotion: ancient peoples built structures to honor the gods they loved or feared. Their devotion has survived the ages through beautiful and enduring religious architecture. These buildings continue to inspire people around the world. El Castillo The ancient Meso-american marvel of El Castillo is among the iconic step pyramids in Yucatan, Mexico. Dating from AD 800, El Castillo was built to worship Kukulcan, the feathered serpent deity of the Yucatec Maya people. The massive terraced stone slabs that form the distinctive shape leave people in awe—how an 80-foot stone pyramid was built without modern machinery is almost unfathomable. The Mayans worshipped their gods using astronomy, as reflected in their architecture. Each of El Castillo’s four sides contains 91 stairs, plus one shared top step—totaling 365 steps, one for each day of the Mayan calendar. During the spring and autumn equinoxes, the late afternoon sun hits the northwest corner of the pyramid, creating a serpent-shaped shadow that slithers to the ground as the sun sets. The Mayans’ hard work and sacrifice in erecting this monument speaks volumes of their piety. Such sacrifice and devotion...