Browsing Category

Culture

What’s in a Name?

Our names are part of what defines us. A name can reveal your country of origin, a favorite flower, a family name passed down through the generations, or created anew. Some people love their names; others despise them, change them, and choose a new one. A lot of weight can be associated with a name.

The name Ariel comes from ancient times, even mentioned in Bible prophecies. Shakespeare named a prankish (male) spirit Ariel in “The Tempest,” and much later, Disney chose Ariel as the name for the main character in “The Little Mermaid,” with the name peaking in popularity in 1991.

In The Tempest, the spirit Ariel displays only positive characteristics, is very empathetic, which works perfectly to reveal the lack of empathy of the other characters in the play. In The Little Mermaid, Ariel’s deepest desire is to explore the human world and experience freedom. Empathy and a quest for freedom – what could be a better concept in a name!

The Study of Names

Research into names is a science called onomatology. This science covers names for both people and places. Behind every name is a story. When choosing a name for a child, a dog, a cat, a band, or a company, selecting a name could take days, weeks, or longer, as a name is not a minor issue. In fact, the UN has enshrined the right to a name in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in this phrase: 

“The child shall … have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.”

It makes sense! Your name can be a big deal. My dog Frankie has a name that suits a French Bulldog – In the early Middle Ages, the Franks controlled the area that is now France, and is the origin of the country’s name. It’s also a cute name for a sweet little dog.

State and City Names

The origin of the state name Oregon is in contention but is believed by many historians to be connected to the Algonquian word “wauregan” which means “the beautiful,” which Oregon certainly is, with its mountain ranges, rushing rivers, and rugged coastline. The city name “Portland” is just one of thirty Portlands in the USA, the best known being Portland, Maine and Portland, Oregon. In Portland Oregon, the name was chosen by the flip of a coin when it was first laid out. It was named after Portland, Maine, but had the coin landed on the other side, the city would have been named Boston!

The name “America” goes back to the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who had the revolutionary idea that Christopher Columbus had landed on a separate continent. An early map from 1507 was the first time the continent was first named “America,” which is a Latin version of the name “Amerigo.”

Naming is a unique part of the human experience, and names travel through time, telling stories about who we are, where we come from, and reflect the hopes and dreams of our parents.

Japan

Everything about Japan is fascinating. A visit to the country is among the best travel experiences, as the people are gracious, warm, and polite, and the cities safe and clean. 

Japanese Food

Japanese food has been an influence on chefs across the globe. It is prepared with techniques developed over centuries, the standard diet is so healthy that the Japanese have the longest life expectancy of any country. The cuisine is loaded with fresh vegetables, generally eaten in season. Even in the smallest café, the care with which the flavor profiles are created makes a simple meal a delicious experience. 

Tokyo restaurants are legendary, with 227 achieving Michelin stars – more than any other city on the planet. Acclaimed Japanese chefs create a blend of flavors, textures, and aromas created from the freshest, most flavorful seasonal ingredients. 

A Very Brief History 

The Islands that make up Japan are believed to have first been settled about 35,000 years ago. The first known inhabitants were the Joman, hunter-gatherers. They wore fur, built wooden homes, and created elaborate clay vessels. The second wave of settlers was the Yayoi, who brought metal-working, rice, and weaving to the region. The Kofun then arrived, establishing a network of aristocratic warlords. Buddhism and the Chinese writing system then entered the culture, splitting the population into two major clans, one Buddhist and practicing calligraphy, with the agricultural village people practicing Shintoism. Both religions still flourish in Japan, along with many others.

Next came the Heian era, from 794 to 1194, with the imperial court, a time in which incredible works of art were created. The Samurai lords ruled the area in 1185, holding power in Japan until 1868. One emperor attempted to overthrow the shoguns in 1331, causing a civil war between the northern and southern courts, with the conflict rampaging for decades. In 1868, the power of the shoguns ended, and a constitutional monarchy was established. Emperor Hirohito was at the head of the country during WWII, with the government eventually surrendering, and over the decades, being reborn as the technological giant of today.

The Shinto Way of Life

Ancient Shinto religious customs are ingrained through every aspect of the Japanese lifestyle. It involves worshiping “kami,” the divine power in all things, including trees, flowers, and animals. The religion has no known founder, no sacred books, and is more of a way of life. Shinto festivals and visiting shrines in the New Year is a national event in the country. Human beings are seen as basically good, and any person who practices Shintoism can be a member of any other religion as well. 

Architecture: Japanese Temples

Japanese architecture is rooted in respect for the natural world, and typically involves elevated wooden structures with thatched or tile roofs. Buddhist temples are found in almost every city, with large cities having several hundred, some of which are over 1,000 years old. The Kinkakuji temple was built in 1397, first serving as the home of a shogun, and is completely covered in gold leaf, surrounded by gardens. The Senso-ji Temple in Tokyo was created to honor the goddess of mercy. The Todai-ji temple is still the largest wooden building on the planet, with a massive statue of Buddha within.

Visiting Japan is always an adventure, with super-modern, clean cities, ancient temples, and incomparable food. The best part of the country is the warmth and generosity of the people, who go out of their way to be respectful and helpful to visitors.

Egypt, Where History Lives

Egypt was once the home of a large and complex civilization, an advanced culture, flourishing from 6000 BC to 30 BC. The accomplishments of the culture are evident in the pyramids, incredible feats of engineering, along with a vast number of other advances, including the development of paper, the use of the lever and geometry in construction, modern irrigation techniques, and advances in shipbuilding and medicine. 

The Egyptian civilization endured for over three thousand years, but through a series of events, it slowly fell apart, with only the remnants left for modern archeologists and researchers to decipher. It is believed that a combination of changes in climate leading to crop failures, foreign invasions, epidemics, and the growing power of the nobility and the priesthood affecting the influence of the Pharaohs led to constant wars and power struggles, and finally, the end of one of the world’s greatest civilizations. 

While the power of the Egyptian Pharaohs faded into obscurity, the majority of the population were regular people, concerned with the issues that concern us today – caring for and feeding our families. The Egyptians of long ago ate many of the same dishes you can try in the finest restaurants or from the many, many street vendors.

Egyptian Traditional Dishes

Koshari is a combination of rice, noodles, lentils, garlic, garbanzo beans, and onions, and one of the most popular street foods in Egypt. 

Ta’miya is the most well-known Egyptian fast food, what we call falafel. These tasty, deep-fried fritters, in Egypt, are made of dried fava beans (rather than chickpeas) and spices, and served with tahini (sesame paste sauce), and typically enjoyed stuffed in a pita with fresh veggies.

Hawawshi is the Egyptian take on a hot beef sandwich – but so much more delicious. Ground beef, onions, peppers, and parsley, spiced with cumin, paprika, and chili are baked into a pita or wrapped in bread dough and baked, and served with cooling yogurt sauce.

Kabab and Kofta are popular dishes of veal or lamb, served with a tahini dip, green salad, rice, or rolled in a pita and topped with tahini. The skewers of meat, whether in chunks (kabab) or ground meat (kofta) are grilled over hot charcoal for a juicy bite.

Molokhiya is a delicious and healthy vegetable dish made from the leaves of green Molokhiya leaves, or “jute mallow.”  The mint-shaped leaves are minced into tiny bits, simmered in chicken broth, seasoned with coriander and garlic, with the flavor profile enhanced with ghee, a dash of sugar and a bit of tomato paste to add some tartness. This dish can be eaten with rice, as a soup, or scooped up with pita bread. Some people find it slimy, but once you become familiar with the texture, you can’t turn it down.

Baba Ghanoush is an eggplant dip that originated in Lebanon and is also a staple in Egypt. Roasted eggplant is combined with olive oil, tahini, garlic, lemon juice and salt. This creamy, tasty side dish is often served as an appetizer or served alongside a main dish.

Ful is an everyday breakfast meal, made from fava beans cooked with oil and salt, served with eggs, cheese, pita bread, or Ta’meya. 

Mahshi is a vegetarian dish that every cook customizes to their own taste. It is essentially the vegetable you choose, such as zucchini, eggplant, peppers, cabbage, or grape leaves stuffed with a mixture of rice, parsley, cilantro, dill, tomato sauce, and a dash of cinnamon. Non-vegetarians often add ground meat to the filling mixture.

Traveling to Egypt is an unforgettable experience, with incredible historical sites, museums, luxurious modern resorts, and traditional hotels with a more authentic experience – you’ll find it all, and once you have visited, you will want to return again and again.

 

Winter Celebrations Around the World

The winter season is celebrated in every culture. The dark winter days give us time to relax, stay warm, and spend time with friends and family. We are familiar with many winter celebration traditions, and others are just a little more unique. 

Hanukkah

The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah honors a victory over King Antiochus, who persecuted Jews, leading to the Maccabean Revolt in 167–160 BC. The revolt was an uprising against foreign oppression that freed the Jewish people to practice their religion without fear of reprisals. For eight nights, the menorah is lit, candle by candle, with special prayers are recited. Games, songs, and gifts are all part of Hanukkah, and special foods eaten, such as latkes (potato pancakes), brisket, kugel, and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), marking a joyous celebration.

Yalda 

The winter festival of Yalda is celebrated in Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. It falls on the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, with family gatherings, traditional foods, poetry, songs, and laughter. Persians arrange a platter with pomegranates, watermelons, persimmons, dried fruit, and nuts. Persimmons are not the most common fruit in the USA, but a ripe persimmon is a luscious, sweet treat. Another hard-to-find fruit eaten by Persians during Yalda, the medlar, may appear unappetizing to the American eye, but has a unique sweet flavor. Rosewater infused, starchy candy called “baslogh” flavored with cardamom and saffron, and topped with pistachios, almonds, and rose petals are created specifically for the special night. 

Up Helly Aa

A Scottish festival celebrated in the Shetland Islands, Up Helly Aa is a major holiday in the city of Lerwick, the main city. Called the “fire festival,” the festival has traditions harkening back to the Viking conquerors in the 8th and 9th centuries. Attendees come in the thousands to the event dressed in skins, furs, horned helmets, and armed with ancient weapons. A procession of more than thousand men led by the Viking Jarls Squad, led by the “Guizer Jarl” (“guizer” means a person in disguise in the Scots language) march around Lerwick with flaming torches  The festival culminates with the burning of a mockup of a Viking ship, and the celebration typically continues until the wee hours, with the people drinking and dancing until sunrise.

Harbin Ice Festival

Harbin is a city in northern China, the location of a two-month-long event with thousands of ice sculptures, with meticulously carved palaces, figures, and pyramids, illuminated by LED lights. Many of the creations include ice slides, which you can slide down at will, making it easier to move from display to display. Foods associated with the event include dumplings, sweet and sour pork, and Dis An Xian, a rustic stir-fried dish of potato, eggplant, and green pepper, flash fired in a wok to create a crust on the veggies, covered with a flavorful sauce of garlic, Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, and a dash of sugar.

Quebec Winter Carnival

This popular Canadian 10-day Winter Carnival is in historic Quebec City. Also called the “Bonhomme Festival,” referring to the mascot, a snowman. The city keys are handed to the snowman by the mayor, entrusting him to manage Quebec during the festival. Over a million people visit the celebration each year, making it the largest winter festival in the world. It is typically very cold during the festival, which doesn’t stop anyone from visiting, with night parades, dog sledding, masquerades, ice slides, and parties throughout the event. Some of the flavors of Quebec include maple taffy, a “beavertail,” which is a hot fried dough topped with sugar, hazelnut spread, and other additions, and mulled wine consumed hot or cold.

Some History About Christmas in America

Christmas is the most celebrated winter holiday in the west. When New England was first settled by Europeans, celebrating Christmas was in contention. The Puritans banned any celebration and imposed fines on any person who refused to work on Christmas day, or who were caught feasting or celebrating in any way – also banning Easter and other holidays, but the people prevailed, with caroling, feasting, plays, hunts, balls, and decorating homes with evergreen and holly continued, and the Puritan way of life fell out of favor, with Christmas becoming a national holiday in 1870. 

Winter, spring, summer or fall there really can never be too many celebrations!

Ariel Emrani

The English Garden

The English are passionate gardeners, and their public and private gardens are arguably among the most beautiful on earth. Visiting the UK is never complete without a stroll along lush green lawns, carefully manicured hedges, on winding pathways abundant with foliage and flowers. The great gardens of London are legendary, such as the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, Hampton Court Palace, Sky Garden and many more. Roses and peonies are my personal favorites, and I am currently busy creating a classic English garden at home.

A Short History of the English Garden

The long history of English gardens starts with the Romans, who conquered the region in the 1st century AD. These gardens were planted around the largest homes and palaces, and only a few remnants of these original gardens remain. The designs of the age include formal box hedges, gravel walkways, statuary, and lawns. 

When the Anglo-Saxons claimed the region, the art of gardens languished, to be revived in the Middle Ages. The gardens of the age were small, enclosed, and featured turf seats and mounds. During the Tudor rule, from the 13th to the 15th centuries, knot gardens were the fashion. These gardens featured low flower and herb beds, with a pattern of intertwining lines created with low hedges and manicured herbs, surrounding fountains, ponds, enhanced by sundials and statues.

When the Stuarts gained control in 1603, formal Italian and French styles became the fashion among the aristocracy. These gardens featured a wide avenue from the home entry surrounded by formally clipped low hedges. The Dutch influence was evident, with flower beds resplendent with tulips and other perennials and topiary.

English landscape gardens were the fashion during the Georgian age, when a naturalistic feel was considered more beautiful. Treed parkland, temples, statues, and groups of trees created a more parklike experience. The tradition evolved to parklike gardens with wandering pathways along round ponds, with clusters of trees rather than the geometric designs of earlier times. 

Victorian gardens featured masses of flower beds, bright colors, complex bed designs, and large green spaces. This was an era when public parks with gardens and public greens were established for the public to enjoy, which they do to this day. 

Modern English gardens reflect the long history of gardening, now focused on color schemes, with a profusion of flowers and herbs fitted into every possible space, with trellises dripping with vines and flowers. 

The English Rose Garden

Roses are a standby in many English gardens, and the rose was the symbol for the factions that were fighting for control. The white rose was the symbol of the York family, and the red rose the symbol of the Lancaster family, hence their years of struggling for control called “the War of the Roses.” 

Roses were so valuable during the 17th century, that roses and rose water were considered legal tender, used in bartering for goods. Cultivated roses originated in China, making their way to Europe in the late 18th century. New varieties are cultivated every year, with roses in blue, deep pink, white and green, and even black. English roses grow in a shrub-like shape ideal for borders and combinations in flower beds to add a delicate charm and heady scent to any home garden.

I enjoy creating my own secret garden, and being able to enjoy it as it grows, changes, and gets added to over the years – an outdoor oasis of serenity where we can rest, breathe, and restore the spirit.

Ariel Emrani

Fall – A Season of Abundance

I love Fall, with the excitement of the upcoming holidays, cooler temperatures, and pumpkins everywhere!

Fresh crop apples, pears, plump red grapes, and squash of every size and color just make you want to breathe deep and enjoy. Children and their parents are out shopping for the perfect Halloween costume, with wide-eyed glances at the huge bags of candy on the grocery store shelves! 

The abundance of the harvest season has been celebrated all over the world since time began, but you might find some cultural traditions interesting – and these are just a few:

Mehregan (“Meh-ruh-gen”)

In ancient Iran, the harvest celebration of Mehregan was an extravagance, with pageantry, feasting, and valuable gifts. The holiday is still celebrated with an abundant table of treats, including rosewater, sweets, vegetables, pomegranates, apples, pistachios, almonds, and the air is scented with burning frankincense. Sharbat is drunk, a drink prepared from fruits or flower petals.

Samhain (“Sah-win”)

Samhain is an ancient Gaelic festival that marks the end of the harvest season. The holiday is a celebration to welcome the darker half of the year. The people dressed as animals and monsters and is the origin story behind the traditions of Halloween – although the modern holiday is much less scary. The children trick-or-treating are looking for the maximum candy haul, not worried about being absconded by evil spirits. 

The Great New Moon Festival

The Cherokee Nation celebrates the Great New Moon Ceremony to honor the first new moon in October, a celebration of the harvest. The holiday includes dances, sacred fire, and purifying rituals. The Cherokee believe Earth was created in the fall, and this celebration is one of their most cherished traditions, marking the beginning of a new year, and a time to give thanks to the Great Spirit. 

Día de los Muertos

The “Day of the Dead” in Mexico is a colorful tradition, believed to have been handed down from the Aztec culture. The Disney movie “Coco” was inspired by this holiday. While some may consider the traditions on the spooky side, Día de los Muertos involves decorating graveyards and creating altars to honor ancestors and loved ones that have passed. Special cookies, tamales, candied pumpkin, and deliciously brewed Mexican hot chocolate are traditions of this season of abundance we all enjoy!

Jidai Matsuri

In Japan, the autumn parade is called the “Festival of the Ages.” It’s a historical parade where people are decked out in authentic costumes from various eras, and as famous characters in Japanese history. Held on October 22, this holiday celebrates the founding of Kyoto, once the Imperial Capital of the island nation. The pageantry is extraordinary. And, who doesn’t love Japanese food?

Whatever your background or heritage, we all celebrate the fall season of abundance and the coming of winter.

I love all the holidays. Sharing time with friends and family, with a table loaded with delicious home-cooked foods, is a perilous time. Add something new to your table from one of the many beautiful cultures on our planet and enjoy the season!

 

Ariel Emrani

planet earth Ariel Emrani

Planet Earth – A Wealth of Culture and Innovation

Some forward looking people are building rockets and planning a colony on Mars – an exciting prospect. I think I will stay here, on beautiful planet Earth.

So many places, cultures, and natural wonders to enjoy! There is nothing more rewarding than experiencing the vast variety of cultures, beliefs, tastes, and viewpoints of people who share planet Earth. We all have a commonality, the desire to live a happy life, secure, and free to believe and live as we choose. 

Cultures that Have Shaped Civilization

The modern world is a culmination of the cultures of the past. The Roman Empire continues to influence art and architecture. The ancient Greeks were the masters of their time, building arches, columns, bridges, which were advanced by the Romans. The massive, tiered stadiums where we enjoy our favorite sports teams or artists reflect the forms first created during the Roman Empire. The engineers and artisans of those ancient times created wonders that we still enjoy today, with stunning cathedrals and castles built with an unbelievable level of craftsmanship and artistry, with cathedrals that often took over 100 years to complete.

The Roman Empire is also credited with influencing the greats in literature and poetry, with works by Virgil, Horace, and Ovid inspiring the greats such as Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Dante, to mention just a few. 

Middle-Eastern Medicine

Middle-Eastern medicine laid a foundation for what we know as modern medicine. These early physicians were far ahead of their time. Ibn Al-Nafis, an Arab, described the human circulatory system three hundred years before William Harvey, who was the first in the Western world to describe the circulatory system. The Middle-Eastern model for medicine is still seen today, such as separate wards for men and women, hospital hygiene, medical records, and pharmacies. 

Food and Civilization

Few human needs are more critical than access to food. Early societies on planet Earth were built around food production and developed into more complex structures as various spices and foodstuffs were traded. As food became more plentiful in a culture, tastes grew more refined. The flavors of exotic spices such as cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, pepper, and saffron all came to the West via the Silk Road, the overland trading routes that brought new flavors to the Western world. We may take these flavors for granted as we add some cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg to our pumpkin pie, apple pie, or toss some pepper on pasta, but our tastes are the culmination of centuries of trading by horse, camel, or on foot. 

Fabrics 

When we buy clothing, we may seek out natural fibers, as they are breathable and more comfortable than synthetics. In the Pakistan Indus River Valley, cotton was grown, spun, and woven, and the ancient Egyptians also produced cotton clothing. Wool, with its warmth and water-shedding properties, has been used by humans since the stone age, and woolen clothing was one of the riches of Babylon, which was in present-day Iraq. The art of weaving wool into cloth and blankets extended across the globe, but England had what is termed the “empire of wool” during the reign of King Henry VIII. The plaid designs of the Scots emerged in the 1700’s and are still seen today, not just in a Scotsman outfitted in a kilt, but in designs of all types. 

I love history and seeing the impact of our talented ancestors on the cultures of today. As I travel abroad, I feel nothing but respect for the artisans of the past, from the stonemasons to the architects, and the joy they have brought to generation after generation.

 

Ariel Emrani.