Folklife Friday is a weekly digest of arts and culture articles, podcasts, and videos from across the web. Read on for a selection of the week’s best cultural heritage pieces, and don’t forget to check back next Friday for a new set of weekly picks.
My Beijing: The Sacred City
In his latest book, The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao, writer Ian Johnson uses contemporary Chinese religion to examine the country’s shifting cultural and social mores. In this piece, Johnson focuses squarely on the transformation in Beijing and two of its sacred sites: the Temple of the Sun and the White Cloud Temple. “Beijing’s streets, walls, temples, gardens and alleys were part of a carefully woven tapestry that reflected the constellations above, geomantic forces below and an invisible overlay of holy mountains and gods,” Johnson writes. Rapid industrialization notwithstanding, he finds solace in the two renovated sites and contends that Beijing is “a place where places have meaning.”
Gabriel García Márquez: Working Magic with ‘Brick-Faced’ Realism
“A novelist can do anything he wants so long as he makes people believe in it,” Gabriel García Márquez once said. In this review of One Hundred Years of Solitude, Sam Jordison takes a closer look at the beloved novel’s prose, not only for its fantastical whimsy, but for the raw sincerity with which it translates the surreal. “[A]nother thing García Márquez learned from Kafka,” Jordison writes, “was that however twisted his ideas might be, his narrative voice should be straightforward.” That sincerity, Jordison explains, echoes that of his grandmother whose stories of illusion were always tempered with a “brick face.”
On ‘Musas,’ Natalia Lafourcade Sets Out to Recover Latin American Folk’s Lesser-Known Treasures
In her new album Musas, Mexican singer and songwriter Natalia Lafourcade draws inspiration from the Latin American folk artists who long inspired and resonated with her. “I wanted a warm record that sounded like wood, with acoustic instruments to connect at a deeper, more spiritual level,” she explains. Among the artists she covers here are Chilean composer Violeta Parra and Mexican songwriter Agustín Lara. She hopes the album will give listeners “a chance to connect to the music in a different way—with the musical experience, the people, the conversations.”
For more sonic harmonies, listen to The Eternal Getdown, the latest Smithsonian Folkways album from the East L.A. band Quetzal.
The Universe in a Nutshell
In the Met Cloisters exhibition Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures, a selection of prayer beads and altarpieces—each small enough to fit in the palm of your hand—invite visitors to marvel at “the organicism of the forms, etched into this supple wood, [that] give a sense of a natural entity.” In this review, Tamin Shaw considers the intimacy of these miniature worlds. “You can contemplate this ancient story as if it were a distant object. But at the same time you are in this and of this and it is beholding you too.”
Earth Chicken City
For Hilda Hoy, growing up in Taiwan was a study in cultural identity—an exploration rooted in traditional cuisine. In this piece, she revisits one of her favorite tu ji cheng (“earth chicken city”) restaurants. “The automatic doors slide open obligingly as we approach the no-frills concrete cube of a restaurant,” Hoy writes. “One glimpse says it all: This is going to be good.” In her reflection on the restaurant and its signature chicken, Hoy examines the country’s layered past, a renewed interest in the region’s Pingpu, or Plains Aborigines, and the role of “earth chicken city”-style restaurants in sustaining meaningful traditions. “We begin the winding drive toward home, the cicadas still singing their same old song in the trees,” Hoy recalls. “Some things, at least, will never change.”
Special thanks to editor Elisa Hough and to Michael Mason for their contributions to this week’s digest.