In razing its modernist buildings, Iran is erasing its past Western influence

Asma Mehan, Politecnico di Torino

Hassan Rouhani’s re-election as Iran’s president has rekindled hope for liberals in the country. During his first term, Iran began edging closer to the West, and his positions on both international and domestic affairs indicate further openness to its influence.

Current battleground issues in Iran include not just social and economic policy but also cultural concerns. Specifically, say architects and historians, Iran must take action to protect its modern architectural heritage before it’s too late.

Iran is known for its magnificent Persian design but, in the late 19th and 20th century, its capital Tehran saw renowned Western architects, including prominent modernists such as Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), build some of the city’s iconic structures.

Today, some have been razed and many more are in danger of demolition or collapse. Without protection, these buildings, which bear testament to Iran’s historic openness to the West, will be reduced to dust, beams and concrete blocks.

A disappearing modern heritage

On January 19 2017, the Plasco Tower, a 17-story high-rise, collapsed in the centre of Tehran killing more than 20 firefighters and injuring dozens.

Collapse of Plasco Tower.

 

The iconic building was designed by American architects – Benjamin Brown and Spero Daltas – who set up shop in Tehran in 1957 during the rule of King Mohammad Reza Shah (1941-1979). The Shah had made it his mission to construct in Iran a “great civilisation”. To do so, Tehran had to become a modern globalised city, with vast avenues and planned design.

Iran’s 20th-century modernisation process coincided with that of many other Middle Eastern countries. Nations such as Egypt Turkey and Iran felt a need to infuse their ancient civilisations with new ideas and influence, including Western infrastructure and educational models.

Tehran’s American-designed master plan called for a series of residential and commercial areas linked by highways.
Self/Wikimedia, CC BY-ND

 

In Iran, the process was fuelled by increasing oil revenue, which helped finance massive new developments that would turn its capital into a modern metropolis. For these ambitious plans, the government hired Western architects, urban planners and other experts to come work in Tehran.

The American planner Victor Gruen devised the city’s 1968 master plan, conceiving of an expansive Tehran with commercial centres and residential neighbourhoods connected by highways.

This golden age of urban development also saw wealthy parts of Tehran bloom with privately financed construction.

That all changed in 1979. After the Iranian Revolution, Tehran turned inward, closing its gates to the West.

Tehran’s short memory

Today, Iranian scholars, architects and intellectuals – including Parshia Qaregozloo, who curated Iran’s pavilion at the 2016 Venice biennial and Leila Araghian, architect of Tehran’s new high-tech Tabiat bridge and Ali Mozaffari, founding co-editor of the Berghahn Explorations in Heritage Studies book series – are raising concerns that the nation may have too short a cultural memory.

Many notable mid-century buildings have been neglected in the past decade, including the ornate Sabet Pasal mansion in Tehran, known as Iran’s Palace of Versailles, which narrowly avoided being demolished in 2015. And the 1966 Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Morvarid (Pearl) Palace, in the city of Karaj, which once belonged to the Shah’s sister, Shams Pahlavi.

The Pearl Palace in Karaj, Iran.
Ararat-tehran/Wikimedia, CC BY-NC

 

Important private residences in Tehran are also at risk of destruction. In the affluent Zaferanieh neighbourhood, these include the former home of Queen Turan, the wife of Reza Shah (father or Iran’s last shah), and a villa frequented by Forough Farrokhzad, an Iranian poetess and film director of the 1960s, as well as the Panahi House, which was designed by the French architect Roland Dubrulle.

Villa Namazee

Villa Namazee is probably the most iconic of all the endangered contemporary structures. Designed by Milan-based architect and industrial designer Giovanni Ponti (1891-1979), one of the leading figures of Postwar Italian modernism (and the founder of Domus magazine), the villa has an open plan, a suspended roof and external openings protected by wide overhanging eaves.

View of the internal courtyard at Villa Namazee.
© Gio Ponti Archive

 

Ponti, who built Italy’s first skyscraper, was known for his value of classical order, integrity of building materials, new production techniques and sensitivity to designing around both human need and environmental conditions.

In 1957, he was commissioned by the wealthy Namazee family to design a residence in the affluent Niavaran district to the north of Tehran’s foothills, in collaboration with Fausto Melotti (1901-1986) and Paolo De Poli (1905-1996). The house has sliding doors and internal windows that offer full cross-views, and it demonstrates the same inventive joie de vivre style as Ponti’s projects in Caracas, Venezuela (the Villa Planchart and the Villa Arreaza).

Facade of the Villa Namazee.
© Gio Ponti Archive.
Interior of the Villa Namazee.
© Gio Ponti Archive.

 

In 2007, Villa Namazee was registered as national heritage, but it was acquired by a new owner four years ago and removed from the list, paving the way for the construction of a 20-storey luxury hotel.

Porti’s other work in the Middle East was the office of the ministry of planning in Baghdad, built in 1957. Its enormous outdoors portico and greyish blue ceramic tiles were partly destroyed in the Iraq war.

Why do we need to save modern heritage?

When the government removes historic structures such as the Villa Namazee from its national heritage list, it demonstrates a worrisome privileging of certain moments in its past over others that also have cultural value.

Many Iranians remain attached to these modernist symbols, and there have been significant efforts to save them in recent years. Some Iranian activists, calling themselves the People’s Committee for Conservation of Historical Houses in Tehran, have launched a website defending Tehran’s landmarks.

Public outcry against the plan to raze the Villa Namazee has been fierce. Petitions to save it were circulated globally and supported by UNESCO and the Germany-based International Committee for Documentation, and the Conservation of Buildings and Sites and Neighbourhoods of the Modern Movement, among other international organisations. This well-publicised case may also help save other modern buildings in the future.

An anonymous group has started a conservation effort to protect historic homes in Tehran.
THHC

 

The ConversationThe destruction of such structures erases all signs of contemporary Tehran’s modernist heritage. Mid-century residences and office buildings are not only physical links to a time when Iran opened its doors to the West, they are also memories of the aristocrats of the past regime, and of radical poets and writers and intellectuals, whose ways of life are much less visible in Iran today.

Asma Mehan, Research Fellow at Deakin University and PhD Candidate at Politecnico di Torino, Politecnico di Torino

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How electro and techno could help to revolutionise school music lessons

Pete Dale, Manchester Metropolitan University

For many British children, the music they grow up listening to with friends, family, parents and relatives is often not reflected in school music lessons. So while their teacher is trying to get them to listen to Mozart, Bach or Beethoven, back home in their bedrooms the radio is often tuned into a very different station. The Conversation

Improving access to classical music for children from deprived backgrounds has been a priority for music education and rightly so. Because there is no good reason why the daughter of a brick layer or the son of a shop assistant shouldn’t be enthralled by Mozart.

But it is likely that for a lot of these students, rather than Chopin or Vivaldi, they will be much more familiar with a musical education in hardcore electronic dance music (EDM).

For these young people, this is “our music”, and overlooking this in school music lessons misses an opportunity to help these pupils engage with something they are already naturally interested in.

Hardcore electronic dance music has great potential for student engagement.
Pexels.

 

For a lot of these kids, they’ve grown up with this music – their aunties, brothers and friends are into it, too. And their parents were probably ravers in the heyday of “acid house” or the subsequent years when “happy hardcore” and other forms of harsh, repetitive EDM provided the soundtrack for the lives of countless young people.

School music lessons, however, very rarely even acknowledge the existence of such music within British culture. In many schools, coverage of dance music might stretch from the Galliard or the Pavan to Disco via the Viennese Waltz, but no further in most cases.

Modern music making

Serious engagement with rave and post-rave EDM in the classroom is rare in the extreme. Even your classic mainstream dance music seems to be way off the agenda in most schools.

This much was clear to me when I provided training on using DJ decks in music teaching for a group of Teach First trainee teachers back in 2013.

Teach First sees young graduates recruited into tough, under-performing, inner-city schools for their first teaching placements. And yet despite the strong prevalence of youth culture and niche music scenes in many of these cities – grime in London or bassline in Sheffield – none of these young teachers had seen such equipment used in the schools where they were on placements.

Bassline in Sheffield.
Facebook

 

This was with one exception: one trainee admitted that his school had DJ decks but, disappointingly, he explained that they were never removed from the cupboard where they were gathering dust as “nobody knows what to do with them”.

Face the music

I, too, had little or no experience of using DJ decks when I became a secondary school music teacher in 2003. MC rapping was alien to me and I had never been much of an enthusiast of EDM.

But because of the inner-city character of the North East of England school I was working in, I soon realised that a large minority of the learners were passionate about a form of happy hardcore EDM known as “makina”. This is a sub genre of hardcore techno – which originates in Spain. It is similar to UK hardcore, and it includes elements of bouncy techno and hardtrance.

The bulk of the pupils that were into this type of music at my school were considered to be some of the most disaffected and “at risk” learners. But I actually learned much of what I now know about DJing and MCing from these young people.

A makina rave in Newcastle.
Monta Musica Facebook

 

I also made a little effort to learn from expert local DJs and MCs about this form of music-making and the attendant skills so that I could give it coverage in my lessons.

I have seen first hand the transformative effect the use of DJing and MCing in the classroom can have upon learners. And yet the creative use of DJ decks coupled with MC rapping – an international musical tradition for around 40 years – is barely recognised as a musical discipline even in many of the inner-city schools.

Conversations with the large US provider of music education Little Kids Rock have indicated that a similar situation pertains across the US.

Lost in music

While this kind of music gets some coverage in pupil referral units and youth clubs, and some schools employ visiting specialists for extra-curricular learning, it is extremely rare to find it employed in mainstream classrooms for everyday lessons with the regular music teacher. But given the availability of more affordable technology such as “DJ controllers” and CD decks, this situation may hopefully begin to improve.

Making our classrooms relevant to students is vitally important, because if
school feels culturally alien and alienating – as indeed it does for a significant minority of typically inner-city youth – then as educators we are leaving behind a whole group of keen and passionate music lovers.

Engaging pupils with music they know and love is one way to make school feel more familiar and more welcoming. And it could even help to change a few stereotypes about what “types of people” listen to “what types of music” in the process.

Pete Dale, Senior Lecturer in Popular Music, Manchester Metropolitan University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Forget La La Land – best foreign language Oscar nominees show the true diversity of cinema

The Academy Awards has been itself looking like a dramatic movie. US President Donald Trump’s travel ban was met with criticism by Iranian film director, Ashgar Farhadi, who chose not to attend the award ceremony as a form of protest. His film, The Salesman, won this year’s Best Foreign Language Film.

Such drama is far from being the first in The Academy’s history. The Academy itself has been under criticism with regards to lack of diversity in film nominations. Last year, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, wife of actor Will Smith, was among those who boycott the Oscars for this reason. The move somewhat mimicked legendary actor Marlon Brando’s refusal to accept Best Actor award in 1973 due to his dislike of Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans.

Diversity had been and still is under fire. Some say that the key is in the writers. Whitewashing of Asian roles is rooted on the fact that not many lead roles are written for non-white actors, thus giving the industry a preference over white lead to ensure desirable sales figures.

Certainly, this does not mean diversity has fully disappeared from today’s silver screen. The following article by The Conversation looks into this year’s Best Foreign Language Film nominees and argue that there is where diversity still stands.


Forget La La Land – best foreign language Oscar nominees show the true diversity of cinema

Pegah Shahbaz, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris 3 – USPC; Anders Marklund, Lund University; Kim Toft Hansen, Aalborg University; Lothar Mikos, Filmuniversität Babelsberg Konrad Wolf, and Marc Tabani, Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS)

A marriage on the rocks in Iran, a prankster German father and a grumpy old Swede. Landmines in Denmark and a love story in Vanuatu. These stories are all vying for the same prize: that of Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards. The Conversation

Maren Ade’s tragi-comedy Toni Erdmann is favourite to take home the Oscar on February 26, but the whole field demonstrates the diversity of cinema outside the Hollywood bubble.

To explain what’s on offer in 2017, The Conversation asked scholars from around the world to write about why these films matter, both at home and on cinema’s biggest stage.

The Salesman: Iran

Asghar Farhadi will represent Iranian cinema at the Oscars again, with his 2015 picture, The Salesman. The film is an exposé of a subtle cultural issue in Iran: how to perceive violence and react to an act of abuse in a family relationship, particularly in a male-dominated society.

The story deals with a young artist couple, Rana and ’Emad (played by Taraneh Alidousti and Shahab Hosseini), who are putting on a production of Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman. Their own conjugal life is shaken when Rana is attacked by a stranger in her home. Farhadi uses this scenario to raise the question of how we behave in moments of crisis.

Farhadi tackles this contentious cultural issue in a society of traditional values, where women’s “honour” is defined by their sexuality and men’s is defined by the control they exert over that sexuality. The audience observes ’Emad’s inner struggle with doubt, resentment and self-control in order to reconcile cultural norms of revenge and forgiveness. Rana’s defenceless conduct evokes an image of a passive victim avoiding conflicts out of terror.

The narrative is full of suspense and anxiety, as we have seen in Farhadi’s previous films The Past (2013), A Separation (2011) and About Elly (2009). Along with his realistic narrative style, Farhadi reveals his remarkable expertise in documenting the rise of confrontation and conflict, leading his characters to make fundamental decisions about their lives.

After The Saleman’s success at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won two awards for best film script and best male actor, the cast is looking forward to the results of the Oscars. As an act of protest against US President Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban, Farhadi and his cast have announced that they won’t be present on the red carpet this year.

A Man Called Ove: Sweden

Ove lives alone, very alone, in a semi-detached home in a small-scale Swedish suburb. “Misery hates company”, the US tagline says, and the only company Ove longs for is that of his wife who has died. When the film begins, he is about to commit suicide, hoping to join her in heaven.

Such a beginning may sound particularly Swedish, well in line with an Ingmar Bergman film or a Lars Norén play. But Man Called Ove is different. You don’t attract the largest audience to a Swedish film in years if you don’t offer a somewhat more comforting vision of life.

Ove’s unfolding story, told in an emotional and warmly comic way, values the breaking down of barriers; barriers between individuals such as those between the grumpy old Ove himself and his more normal neighbours, but also barriers of class, ethnicity, fear and prejudices, hindering people from joining a supportive community.

One such modern barrier is that Bahar Pars, the film’s Swedish Iranian-born lead actress, could have been kept away from the Oscar award ceremony amid the uncertainty over US President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

The film, and the internationally bestselling novel by Fredrik Backman it is based on, combine the contemporary story of overcoming loneliness with a series of progressive flashbacks to events in both Ove’s life and Swedish history. The film uses Ove’s life to trace the development of a successful Swedish welfare state. Viewers are invited to enjoy both nostalgia for the past and fantasies about how contemporary lives could be, once again, filled by meaningful relationships.

Made by experienced comedy director Hannes Holm, the film benefits from the match between Rolf Lassgård as Ove, and Bahar Pars as Parvane – Ove’s new neigbour, who disrupts both his life and his plans to commit suicide. Their acting – his stubborn reclusiveness and her energetic go-ahead spirit – carries the life-affirming transformation of a man called Ove. Misery needn’t hate company.

Tanna: Australia/Vanuatu

Lush tropical scenery of evergreen flora surrounded by turquoise-blue coral gardens. Smiling, healthy and athletic people consuming real food and living in perfect harmony with their natural environment. No cars, no telephone nor internet, no air conditioning, no tourists.

This is the scene set by Australian filmmakers Martin Butler and Bentley Dean for their exotic romance movie, Tanna, which takes place on the island of the same name. Tanna may look like paradise but the film’s protagonists deal with a serious problem: true love and one of its most fatal consequences, to die of a broken heart.

Having done anthropological fieldwork on Tanna over a period of 25 years, I have been invited to attend public screenings of the film, in order to contextualise the life of the actors who appear in it.

In discussions with audiences, my comments about real-life Tanna always provoked the same refrain: “the dream has been shattered”. The fact is that the tribal groups featured in the movie have been among the most filmed and also the most visited by tourists.

Like other Tannese people they have mobile phones, drive cars, watch movies and football games, eat rice and instant noodles. Those who migrate to the capital of Vanuatu, Port-Vila, often live in slums and work as security guards.

However, when they live on their home island, they still maintain relative autonomy. There, money is not yet the most important good, so people are glad participate in the shooting of a movie. That’s why the end result is pretty good.

This story, set in a remote corner of the world, has become a world success. Sadly, since the movie was shot, Cyclone Pam has very severely damaged the island.

After the disaster, there are no more leaves on trees and of course no more fruit, no more food, no more traditional houses, and perhaps no more smiling people ready to participate in a cinematic adventure about tropical paradise.

Toni Erdmann: Germany

German comedy Toni Erdmann tells the story of a father-daughter relationship. Ines (Sandra Hüller) works as an executive consultant and is driven by the demands of the consultancy business; she is a very serious person.

Her father Winfried (Peter Simonischek), is a retired music teacher who always tries to be funny. He creates an outrageous alter ego, Toni Erdmann, and follows his daughter in character to confront her with the absurdity of her professional life.

When he arrives at Bucharest, where Ines works, he brings her into one absurd situation after another. At a private reception, he introduces himself as the German ambassador in Romania and Ines as his secretary Miss Schnuck. In an amazing scene, he starts to play the piano and introduces his daughter as Whitney Schnuck, performing the song Greatest Love of All by Whitney Houston.

Another scene captures Ines’s birthday brunch, which was also supposed to be a team-building exercise for her and her colleagues. As she is facing some problems with her dress, she finally cracks and decides to stay naked. She tells her colleagues that this is a ritual they have to follow. Some furiously leave her flat, others show their irritation but do get naked. Finally, her father shows up in a traditional Bulgarian animal costume. When he leaves her flat she runs after him, and finally hugs her father, respecting him as he is.

Toni Erdmann is Maren Ade’s third feature film as director. She has also worked as producer for several German films. Her latest work is an excellent staged dramedy, which is able to show the occasional absurdity of formal situations and self-imposed obsessions, whether they are professional or private.

The film gained international success starting at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was acclaimed by audiences and critics alike. Such has been the film’s success that Paramount Pictures has announced an American remake starring Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig in the leading roles.

In the same way Toni Erdmann shows her daughter not to take everything so seriously, the audience of this remarkable film can learn that life can be much easier with humour and a sense of absurdity.

Land of Mine: Denmark

Danish film Land of Mine takes place just after the second world war on the Western coast of Denmark, where 2,000 young German prisoners of war are commanded to remove land mines from the coast by Danish and English allied authorities. During the process, almost half of the war captives are injured or die.

The story focuses on Danish sergeant Carl Leopold Rasmussen who has the command of a small German division of predominantly youngsters. He battles with pent-up anger towards the German occupational forces; the mining clearance is his chance to give vent to his bottled-up frustrations. However, the experience develops his hatred into an opportunity to forgive.

The film opens up a shady chapter in Danish history, with reference to actions that may have been in breach of international conventions of war. The film was very well received by the Danish press, but Danish historians were hesitant about the historical accuracy of the narrative. In a critical sense, Land of Mine not only narrates the historical past, it may also present a mirror reflecting disconcerting contemporary Danish foreign policy, such as its involvement in wars in the Middle East.

Martin Zandvliet, a Danish director with a rapidly rising profile, wrote and directed Land of Mine. He successfully stages the immense west coast drama as a condensed chamber play during which we gradually entrench ourselves in Carl’s emotional journey, and the German youngsters’ dread of death. Two fairly new Danish actors, Roland Møller and Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, shine along with a number of highly talented upcoming German actors.

Land of Mine undoubtedly represents the rise of new Danish talent in film production, and indicates that a new generation of filmmakers is impatiently waiting in the wings.

Pegah Shahbaz, Postdoctoral research associate, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris 3 – USPC; Anders Marklund, Senior Lecturer, Film Studies, Lund University; Kim Toft Hansen, Associate professor of Scandinavian film and television, Aalborg University; Lothar Mikos, Professor of Television Studies, Filmuniversität Babelsberg Konrad Wolf, and Marc Tabani, Senior Research Fellow, Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Kaleidoscope 2016

Politics

1. U.S. President-elect.
U.S. President-elect.
Donald Trump
(Photo: Don Hogan Charles for The
New York Times/Redux)
2. Hacked United States election
Podesta
John D. Podesta (center), former chairman
of 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential
campaign.
(Photo: Dave Sanders for The New York Times)

 

3. Coup d’etat in Turkey
People at Taksim Square
Rejection by the people at Taksim
Square.
(Photo: AFP)
4. South China Sea dispute
China Naval
China strengthens her naval forces.
(Photo: AP)

 

5. North Korea nuclear building
North Korea Nuclear Program
(Photo: Getty Images)
“Diversity
is meant to enrich,
not to dominate or
eliminate each other”-Sacred Bridge Foundation-

 

Economy

1. Brexit
David Cameron resigned
David Cameron resigned.
(Photo: Getty Images)
2. Venezuela bankruptcy
Venezuela bankruptcy
Waiting in long line for food and goods.
(Photo: El Periodico News Portal)

 

3. Panama Papers
Mossack Fonseca
Global scale financial scandals involving
giant companies.
(Photo: AP)
4. Oil price hits rock bottom
Oil Rig
From US$ 50 plunges to US$ 25 per barrel
in a year.
(Photo: Michael Stravato – The New York Times)

 

5. Saudi Arabia’s financial crisis
Saudia Arabia
US$79 billion deficit.
(Photo: ITP Images)
“Culture always
has an economic
aspect, but culture
(shall) never exist
to serve the economy.”-Sacred Bridge Foundation-

 

Crime Against Humanity

1. War on drugs
People at jail in Philippines
2,000 men slained and 38,000 jailed in the
Philippines in 2016.
(Photo: Damir Sagolj – Reuters)
2. War
Syrian kid Omran Daqneesh sits alone in the back of the ambulance
Omran Daqneesh, a victim of war in
Aleppo, Syria.
(Photo: Mahmoud Raslan)

 

3. Terrorism
Assassination of Karlov
Assassination of Russian
Ambassador in Turkey.
(Photo: Getty Images)
4. Human trafficking
Victims of Boko Haram
The victims of Boko Haram in Nigeria.
(Photo: The Leader News Portal)

 

Obituary

1. Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali
Boxing legend and Civil Rights
activist.
(Photo: AP Images)
2. David Bowie
David Bowie
Pop icon, songwriter, and musician.
(Photo: Roger Bamber – Rex Features)

 

3. Prince
Prince
Pop icon, songwriter, and musician.
(Photo: Jimi Hughes – Flickr)
4. Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro
Cuban leader.
(Photo: AP Images)

 

5. Shimon Peres
Shimon Peres
Signing the Oslo peace treaty.
(Photo: J David Ake – AFP/Getty Images)
6. Bhumibol Adulyadej
King of Thailand
The most loved King of Thailand.
(Photo: EPA)

 

7. Zaha Hadid
Zaha Hadid
Iraqi born British architect who designed
Galaxy Soho in Beijing.
(Photo: Christopher Pillitz – Getty Images)
8. John Glenn
John Glenn
The first American to orbit the
earth.
(Photo: NASA/EPA)

 

9. Carrie Fisher
Carrie Fisher
American actress.
(Photo: Everett Collection)
“Let’s celebrate
their
legacies.”-Sacred Bridge Foundation-

 

Disaster

1. Poyang Lake in China dried up
Poyang Lake, China
200 square kilometers completely dried
within 65 years.
(Photo: Xinhua – Barcroft Images)
2. Italy earthquake
Italy Earthquake
Numerous historical buildings destroyed.
(Photo: Gregorio Borgia – AP)

 

3. Toxic smog in China
Smog in China
Toxic substance exceeding maximum level.
(Photo: Cpl Amanda Mcerlich – AFP/Getty Images)
“Men argue,
Nature acts”-Voltaire-

 

Peace Building

1. US – Japan 75 years of Pearl Harbor
US - Japan
Leaders of both countries reconciled over
Pearl Harbor.
(Photo: Carolyn Kaster – AP)
2. Colombia – FARC peace deal
FARC
Juan Manuel Santos and Timoleon Jimenez.
(Photo: Luis Robayo – AFP/Getty)

 

3. UN Resolution on Israel
Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu protesting.
(Photo: @IsraeliPM Twitter)
4. U.S. and Cuba diplomacy
US - Cuba
Raúl Castro and Barack Obama
(Photo: Getty Images)

 

5. Russian Orchestra at Palmyra
Russian Orchestra at Palmyra
Performing Bach & Prokofiev compositions.
(Photo: Vasily Maxmimov – AFP/Getty Images)
6. Civil march for Aleppo, Syria
Civil March for Aleppo
Activists walk from Berlin to
Aleppo.
(Photo: Civil March For Aleppo facebook page)

 

7. Protest against fascism in Sweden
Tess Asplund raised fist to fascism supporters
Tess Asplund raised fist to fascism
supporters.
(Photo: David Lagerlöf – Expo/TT/PA Images)
8. The reopening of Bataclan concert hall in Paris
The reopening of Bataclan concert hall in Paris
Sting performing to commemorate the
terror act in November 13th, 2016.
(Photo: Getty Images)

 

Sports

1. Olympic games 2016 record breaking
Usain Bolt won triple triple gold medals
Usain Bolt won triple triple gold medals.
(Photo: AP Images)
2. NBA Championship 2016
Cavaliers gave Cleveland its first championship after 52 years
Cavaliers gave Cleveland its first
championship after 52 years.
(Photo: Getty Images)

 

3. Kobe Bryant’s last game
Kobe Bryant’s last game
Bidding farewell after 20 years career.
(Photo: Stacy Revere – Getty Images)
4. Olympic games 2016 record breaking
Michael Phelps won a total of 23 gold medals
Michael Phelps won a total of 23 gold
medals in four Olympics.
(Photo: Getty Images)

 

Awards

1. Aga Khan Award for Architecture
Bait Ur Rouf Mosque
Bait Ur Rouf Mosque, Dhaka, Bangladesh,
by Marina Tabassum.
(Photo: Sandro di Carlo Darsa – AKTC)
2. Academy Award 2016
Jackie Chan won honorary Oscar
Jackie Chan won honorary Oscar.
(Photo: Robyn Beck)

 

3. Nobel Prize 2016
Bob Dylan received the debated Nobel Prize for literature
Bob Dylan received the debated Nobel
Prize for literature.
(Photo: Lester Cohen – Wire Image)
4. Grammy Award 2016
Neil Portnow and Common addressing piracy, with Joey Alexander in the background
Neil Portnow and Common addressing
piracy, with Joey Alexander in the
background.
(Photo: Kevin Winter – Wire Image)

 

5. U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom
Ellen DeGeneres is among the 21 individuals who received the medals from President Obama
Ellen DeGeneres is among the 21
individuals who received the medals
from Barack Obama.
(Photo: AFP Images)
“Great faith.
Great doubt.
Great effort.”-Anonymous-

 

Water of Life

by Pattraditya P.

Just a few years back, I used to drink alcoholic beverages without knowing much of anything. Going to the bar at the time was pretty much about hanging out and getting drunk. I had no idea that there’s a long and an interesting history behind alcoholic drinks, not to mention the categories along with the appropriate occasions or time to have them. Fortunately, it came the time when I was told that “serious” drinking is not at all about getting drunk or how much you can drink, and to tell you the truth, this “little piece” of knowledge not only has saved me from further embarrassment, but also given me much better enjoyment in drinking. Since that moment, my curiosity just gets bigger and bigger.

One of the things that I found out later was the origin of the word whisk(e)y; it was derived from the Gaelic words Uisge Beatha, meaning ‘Water of Life’ in English. For a guy who associated drinking with getting drunk, I must say that this history was just too ‘philosophical’ for me. The first question that came to my mind was how could it be? Followed by who made it first, and when?

Well, no one knows exactly when the whisk(e)y distilleries were first established, but there is evidence showing that Celtic Christian monks in monasteries already started distilling whisky in the early 15th century. The whisk(e)y then was intended as a remedy for stomach ache, paralysis, smallpox, and even to preserve the health and prolong the life. So, based on such finding, the puzzle over my head was solved.

The dismissal of the monasteries between 16th and 17th century caused the monks to apply their knowledge and skills in society. From then on, the know-how in making whisk(e)y had spread to a larger public; drinking whisk(e)y quickly became the daily part of social life. Whisk(e)y became a gesture to greet and welcome others besides a drink to warm themselves during winter season. Whisk(e)y also had transformed into a bond that strengthens not only social relationships but also fraternity among warriors in war.

So having whisk(e)y is not about getting drunk; it’s a culture, having its own history, values, and symbols, and we owe every enjoyment in having a whisk(e)y to the Celtic monks.

Rise of the Scotch Whisky

At the end of 19th century, there was a pest problem in France. The beetle devastated French vineyards, and within just a few years, wine and brandy had disappeared everywhere. The Scots were quick to fill in the subsequent unserved demand of high alcohol beverage (spirit) with Scotch whisky. By the time the French vineyard recovered, Scotch whisky already positioned itself as the preferred choice of spirit.

The emergence of this early industrialisation reached even the most remote valleys in the Scottish Highlands. The rural farms with distillation became economically independent companies. New train routes were made available, reaching the farthest corners of Scotland, so that the malt whisky became easily distributed to the cities. At this time, blended whisky was the most popular demand; the single malt whisky preferred by the Scots was utilized as a spice for blended whisky elsewhere. Such a blend gave the world many popular brands like Dewar’s, Haig, Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal, and Ballantine’s. The international demand for blended whisky made Scots companies grew, and the name Scotch became a byword for whisky.

At the time, the whole whisky industry heavily depended on the Commonwealth with British crown colonies, and United States. So when World War I, and the prohibition for alcoholic beverages in the US (1919-1933) took place, the whisky companies faced serious problems. The recovery began at the end of prohibition, and when Britain was allowed to pay its war debts to the US in the form of whisky.

After the war, concentration happened in Scotch whisky distilleries. The global expansion led by US and Britain created stiff competition, so distilleries either merged with or taken over by the big players. Scottish Distiller’s Company Ltd. became the winner and took over many companies and distilleries.

Unnoticed by the big players, the family-owned Glenfiddich distilleries marketed their single malt Scotch whisky globally. The marketing success made their product recognized as a specific type of whisky as we know now. When the big players woke up, Glenfiddich already had its piece of the pie in the market. Today, Glenfiddich is single malt whisky market leader, the number one top-selling single malt whisky not only in the UK, but also globally.

Glenfiddich

GlenfiddichGlenfiddich has been established for more than 128 years (est. 1886/1887) by William Grant in Dufftown, Scotland, in the Glen of the River Fiddich. In Gaelic, the name Glenfiddich means ‘Valley of the Deer’, hence the presence of a stag on Glenfiddich bottles. Glenfiddich is one of the few single malt whisky distilleries to remain entirely family owned and is now managed by the fifth generation of William Grant.

According to Scotch Whisky Association, there are 5 whisky regions in Scotland based on its geography. Glenfiddich distillery is located in Speyside in the northeast region of Scotland, a region considered to be the center of single malt Scotch whisky production. Scotch whisky brands from Speyside are mostly popular particularly outside Britain, this include brands such as The Glenlivet, Glenfarclas and The Macallan.

Around 1920s, despite of the prohibition to manufacture, transport, or sell alcoholic beverages in the USA, Glenfiddich dared to increase their whisky production. This move placed them in a strong position, as they were able to fullfill the increasing demand of good quality and well-aged whisky following the retraction of the prohibition.

As there were many whisky distilleries that went bankrupt or were sold off in the 60s and 70s, Glenfiddich on the other hand did a few major breakthroughs. First, Glenfiddich teamed up with Hans Schleger, a designer and 20th century pioneer for concept of brand/corporate identity, to release a triangle shaped bottle that was considered radical at the time. The new shape then becomes the iconic identifier of Glenfiddich.

Glefiddich Triangle BottleGlenfiddich iconic triangle bottle was released in1961, by Hans Schleger

Secondly, marketing campaign outside Scotland and Britain has positioned single malt whiskies as a specific category of whisky as we know now. Lastly, Glenfiddich was the first ever distillery that provided a visitor’s center for the convenience of their guests.

Single Malt Whisky Glenfiddich CampaignSingle Malt Whisky Glenfiddich campaign in USA in 1963

Glenfiddich was one of the first few alcoholic beverage brands or distilleries to realize the importance of duty-free markets for spirits, and had recently started to cover its bottles with tin tubes which can be presented as gifts or souvenirs. This marketing strategy succeeds in placing Glenfiddich as the most popular single malt whisky and has won more awards than any other single malt Scotch whisky at the International Spirits Challenge and International Wine and Spirit Competition.

Appreciating Culture

Corporate world is often considered to have nothing to do with culture, or vice versa, but there are actually sectors that were born out of cultural manifestations as we can see with whisky in Scotland. I am sure that there are other industrial sectors that departed from equal spirit. The food or culinary sector for example, most emerged from certain localities; Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Thai food or restaurants are just a few things that prove my point. The same thing with the musical instrument industry; jembe, tabla, bongo, flamenco guitar are among other instruments that originated from local musical traditions. Drinking whisky has long been a tradition in the culture of the Scots. The whisky itself becomes one of the flagships of their culture in the global world.

From my experience, knowing more about the things I like, may it be the history, context or the purpose behind the making, certainly change the way and the level I appreciate things, in a better sense of course. So, let’s dig in more into each other’s culture; let’s continue to cultivate a better cross cultural understanding as the world seems to experience a trending great divides. [GW/SWA/SO/SPS/SMW/SBF]

Slâinte!