World Book Night

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
**

World Book Night is April 23!

World Book Night is April 23!

I’m excited to say that Francisco and I have signed on as “givers” for World Book Night, which is coming up on April 23, Shakespeare’s birthday and UNESCO International Day of the Book (which just might be our new favorite holiday!). We’ve partnered with our neighborhood independent bookstore, The Astoria Bookshop, and will be giving away 20 copies of 12 Years a Slave to “non-readers and light readers,” people who don’t read frequently either because of means or other reasons.

The idea, of course, is to help inspire a love of reading in other people, and as big readers ourselves–neither of us could imagine a world without books–we’re thrilled to be part of this project. You can learn more about World Book Night on the event’s website, and if you’re interested in participating as a giver in 2015, you can sign up here to be notified when applications are being accepted for next year’s World Book Night.

To see a list of this year’s books (LOVE that a range of genres, authors, languages, and large print editions are being distributed!), click here.

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Now Showing in NYC: “Drapetomanía: Grupo Antillano and the Art of Afro-Cuba”

Text & Instagram Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
No critical commentary to accompany this announcement… just a quick note to say that I took a turn through The 8th Floor’s latest exhibit today and it’s worth a visit.

Six of the works included in the "Drapetomanía" show.

Six of the works included in the “Drapetomanía” show.

“Drapetomanía: Grupo Antillano and the Art of Afro-Cuba” is a show that focuses on work that was made between 1978 and 1983 by Afro-Cuban artists and/or with African and Afro-Cuban/Caribbean influences. The exhibit includes pieces by some of the most recognizable names of the period, among them Manuel Mendive and Rene Peña, as well as others who have largely been forgotten in the years since.

The show, which pulls many of its pieces from the collection of the Rubins (again, showing just how wide-ranging their taste and knowledge of art are), was curated by Alejandro de la Fuente, author and Harvard professor. Francisco and I met de la Fuente back in 2006, when he presented his book, A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in 20th Century Cuba, at the Brooklyn Public Library; this show is a compelling extension of his long course of study on Afro-Cuban issues and ideas.

“Drapetomanía” opened on March 7 and will continue until July 18. The 8th Floor is located at 17 West 17th Street in Manhattan, and is open Tuesday-Thursday from 11am-6pm and on Friday from 10am-5pm.

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Eiffel beyond the Eiffel Tower

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photo: Luis Pedro Arroyave for Wikimedia Commons
**
The Eiffel Tower turned 125 years old on Monday, which, of course, prompted a flurry of “Here are my memories of the Eiffel Tower and Paris” blog posts, photo homages, and the inevitable listicle-style article.

The best among the few pieces of any sort that I read was Robert Kunzig’s piece about the backstory of the design of the tower, which he wrote for National Geographic, and which starts like this:

“When you read biographies of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel and his famous tower, which turned 125 yesterday, you’re struck at first by a paradox: How did something so daring, so beautiful, so outrageous—in 1889 it outraged many—come to be built by such a colorless little dweeb?”

Funny. I’d just started researching Eiffel last week. While working on a fact-checking project about Mexico, I had run into a curious detail that made me want to learn more about the French engineer, who was born in 1832 and died in 1923: On Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, in the town of Santa Rosalia, is a small church that was designed by Eiffel in 1884 and set up in Santa Rosalia in 1898.

Church of Santa Barbara in Santa Rosalia, Mexico, designed by Gustave Eiffel.

Church of Santa Barbara in Santa Rosalia, Mexico, designed by Gustave Eiffel.

Yes, I said “set up.” Santa Barbara was a pre-fab structure lacking every bit of the grandeur that compels us to love the Eiffel Tower. Made of metal, it looks, to my eye, like a gussied-up barn. It wouldn’t have been out of place, aesthetically; Santa Rosalia was a mining town and the mine bosses didn’t seem to prioritize community beautification projects (a fact that’s also reflected in the interesting names of Santa Rosalia’s neighborhoods, one of which was called “Purgatorio,” or “Purgatory.” Yikes.).

Apparently, Eiffel had designed the church for a destination in Africa, though it never ended up there, according to María Eugenia De Novelo, who wrote a history of the town for a 1989 issue of The Journal of San Diego History. De Novelo wrote that Eiffel intentionally built the church of metal, rather than wood, because he believed the latter material would be less resistant to the climate and threats to architecture (ie: insect pests) that he believed existed in Africa.

I added Santa Barbara to my growing list of Eiffel spots I want to visit and eventually write about, a list I started several years ago. Eiffel–or at least his work–had made it to other unexpected places, which I’d learned about on a variety of other projects, none of which were ever related to Eiffel himself. In fact, I realized, I knew very little about him, and was (and remain) curious about his background, his life, and, in particular, his travels. Did he, for example, ever make it to the mainland of Puerto Rico or its outlying island of Mona, where a lighthouse he designed still stands (albeit in disrepair) today?

It has been somewhat of a surprise to me that for an engineer and architect who was so prolific and whose influence and reach were so geographically vast, especially for his day and age, the information about him and a complete list of his work is actually rather scant. This compilation of his structures and projects, for example, doesn’t include the Santa Rosalia church, nor the Mona lighthouse. I haven’t begun digging around in earnest yet, but it’s exciting to think about what may still remain to be learned–or at least, shared more widely-about a man whose name we know so well.

Categories: Mexico, Puerto Rico | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Now in NYC: Walks of New York

Text & Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo
**

New York Public Library.

New York Public Library.

New York City has no shortage of walking tours. There are history tours, literary tours, art tours, spiritual tours, architecture tours, nature tours (yes, we have nature, folks!), gangster tours, immigrant tours, food tours, and even an entire three-hour tour devoted solely to the pizzas of New York.

But New York being the city it is, there always seems to be room for at least one more entrepreneur in a dense market. And in the walking tour niche, I’m happy to announce that my friend Jeff Dobbins is launching Walks of New York this week. Walks of New York has a well-rounded roster of thematic walks, from some standard neighborhood and food tours to some that are (as far as I know) novel, such as the tour of B&H Photo.

The launch of Walks of New York coincides with National Walking Day, and to honor that synchronicity, the company is offering special rates ($5 per walk!) AND donating proceeds to the American Heart Association.

Full details about launch week and the current walking tours on offer can be found here.

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Making Empanadas on a Rainy Saturday

Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
The continued elusiveness of spring has me down; one of the ways I’ve been coping is by spending time in the kitchen.

The empanadas before baking.

The empanadas before baking.

Earlier this week, Mariel and I made a bright, delicious blood orange olive oil cake from a Smitten Kitchen recipe; we also mixed and refrigerated the dough for empanadas, part of my ongoing quest to find a perfect lunch/snack alternative to sandwiches for Mariel on her way to or from school.

If you’ve never made empanadas before–and I had not–you’ll soon find that there are dozens of recipes, varying not only in fillings (check out, for example, some of the sweet fillings in these recipes on The Latin Kitchen), but also in the preparation of the dough. I wanted a recipe that would allow us to make our dough from scratch, but didn’t feel like cheating. At the same time, I didn’t want a recipe with the level of complexity that involved us rendering our own lard. After all, anytime you’re making a recipe with a pre-schooler, you can be assured that the total prep time will be double the time that the recipe developer indicated.

Whenever I’m in need of a basic, reliable recipe, my go-to cookbook is The Joy of Cooking. A recipe made from The Joy of Cooking will never fail because of the recipe; it will only fail because of you. If you don’t use cookbooks often, you might not realize how rare this kind of accuracy is; for all the talk of recipe testing and professionals whose job it is to run through a recipe before it goes into print, the fact is that a growing number of recipes are clearly not tested.

Anyhow… Joy’s recipe instructs the cook to let the dough rest in the fridge for an hour. Ours ended up resting for three days. That’s another thing you know if you have a pre-schooler AND an infant who’s in that lovely and maddening interstitial phase between crawling and walking (the phase that involves courageous, energetic, and poorly considered attempts to pull oneself up into a standing position on any object that appears to be still): while you will become expert in doing many things with one hand, you will not be able to roll out and cut dough unless another adult is around to wrangle that rascally infant.

We were finally able to make the empanadas today, a full family effort. Francisco made the fillings–one of ground beef, one of shredded chicken–and I rolled out and cut the dough and made the empanadas. Mariel took up her traditional posts: director, taste tester, and server.

The ground beef filling.

The ground beef filling.

I always feel a little anxious when working with a recipe I haven’t tried before, especially if it involves a dough or baking, since both require absolute precision and an innate ability to know how to tweak moisture and thickness to produce the desired texture. Thankfully, Joy’s empanada recipe is one that talks to you. The dough lets you know what it needs and–very much unlike typical dough recipes–coaches you along. After my first pan of empanadas, I realized I needed to be braver about rolling the dough thinner. The second batch was just right- and the perfect antidote to the blues induced by a cold and rainy spring Saturday.

And the finished product!

And the finished product!

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