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‘After my generation, no one will speak Ladino’ | Culture

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Ivo Molina, the director of the weekly newspaper Salom, in front of a stand displaying copies of his publication.
Ivo Molina, the director of the weekly newspaper Salom, in front of a stand displaying copies of his publication.Luis Mazarrasa

Although the last publications in Ladino – or Judeo-Spanish – have been surviving in Turkey against all odds, this Romance language is about to disappear.

“We are the last generation of Sephardic Jews who speak Ladino… even my children barely understand it,” warns Ivo Molinas, 60, director of the weekly Salom and the monthly El Amaneser. Both papers – founded 75 years ago – are published entirely in the language used by the Sephardic community in Turkey.

Molinas notes that he directs the only press in the world that has published uninterruptedly in Ladino. The reasons he gives for the decline in the language – which is in real danger of extinction – are both demographic and cultural. The Turkish Sephardic community has decreased over the last few decades from about 50,000 to only 16,000 members, with the vast majority concentrated in Istanbul. Meanwhile, the new generation prefers to speak Turkish, English… and now Spanish, since Spain granted Spanish nationality to the descendants of Jews expelled in 1492 by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. It makes more sense to use some of the world’s major languages, rather than learning a minor one that’s on life support.

“In fact, while 40% of the community understands it, we no longer speak Ladino like our parents did,” Molinas explains. However, he believes that the use of the old language will survive through the newspapers: more than 3,000 copies of Salom are sold weekly, with even more readers checking out the online version. He thinks that there will always be someone to take care of these publications – even if it’s just out of love.

Newspapers written entirely in Ladino were very popular in Turkey in the past. Since 1492 – when Jews were expelled from Spain – the language laid down roots in the area. In Izmir – where there was once a large Sephardic community – three newspapers with many readers were published at the end of the 19th century: La Buena Esperanza, El Novelista and El Meseret. In the first years of the 20th century, El Pregonero, La Boz de Izmir, La Boz del Pueblo and El Comercial joined the list, according to Dina Damon, professor of Judaic Studies at Binghamton University in New York.

The director of Salom points out that Spain does not show much interest in the preservation of Ladino… although he recognizes that the real problem is the disinterest of his own community. In fact, the Cervantes Institute in Istanbul had to cancel some free Judeo-Spanish courses last year due to a lack of students. The Sephardic Jews who come to the Institute are more interested in learning Spanish.

The inside of a 1769 edition of Cantar de los Cantares in both Hebrew and Ladino – one of the canonical books of the Jewish Scriptures
The inside of a 1769 edition of Cantar de los Cantares in both Hebrew and Ladino – one of the canonical books of the Jewish ScripturesYael Macías

Gonzalo Manglano, director of the Cervantes Institute in Istanbul, argues that Spain does everything possible so that Ladino does not disappear: “Together, with the Saramago Foundation of Portugal and the Jewish community of Turkey, the Cervantes Institute has requested a tender within the EU Horizon Program for a €3-million project aimed at rescuing languages in danger of extinction.”

If the funds for this project are obtained, the Cervantes Institute will lead the project, in coordination with the Casa Sefarad of Madrid and the Turkish Ministry of Culture. This initiative plans to renovate the Selaniko synagogue in Istanbul, which will host a cultural center that promotes – using modern technology – the preservation of Ladino… a language that any Spanish-speaker can understand.

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The discreet return of Will Smith after the Oscars slap | Culture

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Eight months after slapping comedian Chris Rock during the Oscars ceremony, Will Smith is back. The performer, who that same night won the award for Best Actor for his role in King Richard, has been preparing his comeback for weeks. His return coincides with the release of his new film, Emancipation, Apple TV+’s big bet for the upcoming awards season. Before the scandal, Smith was the platform’s strong asset to promote the movie, but his behavior that day changed everything. Even if he were nominated for an award, he would not be able to attend the Oscars, as the Academy has banned him from any of its events for a decade.

Set to be released on Friday, December 2 in selected theaters (a requirement to be eligible for the Oscars), Emancipation is Smith’s first movie since the slap affair. The film, directed by Antoine Fuqua, is based on the true story of a slave who flees a plantation in 19th-century Louisiana to reunite with his family. Smith plays the lead, Gordon, who went down in history as Whipped Peter. The image of his whipped, wounded back was seen around the world in 1863 and helped illustrate the cruelty of slavery.

That same picture caused a controversy on the red carpet of the Los Angeles premiere when producer Joey McFarland took the original print of the famous photograph to the event. “I wanted a piece of Peter to be here tonight,” McFarland explained. The gesture was not well received on social media, and some African-American activists were very critical. “I don’t know, man, but bringing ‘a piece of Peter’ that you ‘own’ to the red carpet of a movie that’s personally enriching you so that you can collect more slave memorabilia that you’ll keep until your death…,” said film producer Franklin Leonard in a message on Twitter. Later, McFarland apologized: “I hope my actions didn’t distract from the film’s message, Peter’s story and just how much impact he had on the world,” he wrote on Instagram.

A still image from ‘Emancipation,’ Will Smith’s latest film, which will stream on Apple TV+.
A still image from ‘Emancipation,’ Will Smith’s latest film, which will stream on Apple TV+. Quantrell Colbert (AP)

Emancipation will be released on Apple TV+ on Friday, December 9. For months, the conversation in Hollywood had revolved around what the company would do with this film that cost more than $120 million. Many assumed that the release would be pushed back to 2023, by which time, the slap would have become old news. However, Apple decided to stay on course, in the hopes that the movie will follow in the footsteps of CODA, which became the first film released on a streaming service to win the Oscar for Best Picture.

In October, Smith held a private screening attended by some of the most powerful and influential African Americans in Hollywood, including Rihanna, rapper A$AP Rocky, comedian Dave Chappelle, filmmaker Tyler Perry and designer Fawn. Then, on November 29, he appeared on The Daily Show, hosted by his friend Trevor Noah on Comedy Central. On the show, he talked about all that went through his head during and after that “horrible night”: how a long bottled up anger made him lose his temper when he heard Rock’s joke about his wife, and how he has spent most of the year trying to forgive himself “for being human.”

The actor is aware that there are some who have not forgiven him, and does not rule out the possibility that many people will not want to see his new film and may even call for a boycott. “I completely understand if someone is not ready, I would absolutely respect that and allow them their space to not be ready. My deepest hope is that my actions don’t penalize my team,” he expressed recently in a brief interview for Good Day DC.



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James Cameron on filming ‘Titanic’: ‘Kate Winslet came out a bit traumatized’ | Culture

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Kate Winslet began filming Titanic when she was 20 years old, and turned 21, during the 160 days the shoot lasted. In her first interviews after its release, the British actress shared her thoughts on the film’s director, James Cameron. “He has a temper like you wouldn’t believe,” she told The Guardian.You’d have to pay me a lot of money to work with Jim again.”

However, 25 years later, Winslet has joined forces with Cameron again on Avatar: The Way of Water, the long-awaited sequel to the sci-fi epic released in 2009. And, now, it is Cameron who has discussed the experience of shooting Titanic. “I think Kate came out of Titanic a bit traumatized by the scale of the production and her responsibility within it,” Cameron told Radio Times.

The 68-year-old director said that despite the rumors, there was never any hostility between them. “We’ve both been eager over time to work together again, to see what the other is about at this point in our lives and careers,” Cameron said.

Titanic was a worldwide success. Until the release of Avatar, it was the highest grossing film in history. It became the first film ever to make more than $1 billion at the box office, a record it broke just four months after its release. It was nominated for 14 Oscars, and took home 11, including Best Picture and Best Director. But the movie, with a $200 million-budget, was also one of the most expensive ever made. With costs soaring, executives suggested some scenes be cut to save money, but were shut down by Cameron.

The film earned the director a reputation as “the scariest man in Hollywood.” “He became known as an uncompromising, hard-charging perfectionist and 300- decibel screamer,” wrote journalist Christopher Goodwin in a 2009 article in The Sunday Times. But Cameron has always denied these allegations, claiming that a strict methodology is needed when working with thousands of people.

Winslet spoke about the high-pressure environment on set in a 1997 interview with The Los Angeles Times. “The first day started at 5 am and went on to 1 am,” she said. “Nothing could have prepared me for it. There were quite a few 20-hour days. And two-thirds of it was night shooting – because the Titanic sunk at night. It was every man for himself on the set – you had to ensure that you snatched some sleep during the day, with a black eye mask on. Sometimes you’d find yourself having lunch at 2 am or breakfast at 4 pm. It was very disorienting.”

After the grueling experience on Titanic, Winslet said shooting Avatar: The War of Water was much more enjoyable. In an interview with The Telegraph, she described Cameron as a “genius,” and said “he is much more calm now.” She explained: “There were all those conversations about this huge film, Titanic. I can’t imagine the pressure. As we get older, we learn how to say, ‘I made a mistake.’ We all get better at that, don’t we?”

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The sacred drugs of antiquity: Fact and fiction | Science & Tech

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One of the most fascinating aspects of ancient civilizations is the artistic and religious manifestation of their consumption of mind-bending natural substances. In the 1970s, historian Carl A. P. Ruck, mycologist R. Gordon Wasson and others coined a term to designate psychoactive substances used to produce visionary experiences in spiritual rituals – entheogens. The term is derived from two ancient Greek words: entheos, which translates as “full of the god, inspired, possessed,” and genesthai, which means “to come into being.” Together with Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, the first to synthesize LSD, they wrote The Road to Eleusis, a controversial book that proposed the ritual use of ergot, a fungus with hallucinogenic properties, as a way of understanding the secretive Mysteries conducted at Eleusis in Greece for nearly two millennia. It wasn’t a new idea – other anthropologists and religious historians from renowned universities in Cambridge, Vienna and Chicago had proposed consuming the so-called “plants of the gods” to probe the myths, images and ancestral stories of ancient peoples.

While it was generally accepted that prehistoric peoples used psychoactive substances to induce visions, trances and ecstatic experiences, scholars found it hard to acknowledge that the Roman and Greek founders of Western civilization also had myths and rites full of references to these sacred plants. But when it came to the classical world, perhaps a deep-rooted Eurocentric bias hampered the objective application of the historiographic and anthropological approaches used to study “other peoples.” This bias seems to persist even today despite excellent books like Las drogas sagradas en la Antigüedad (or, The Sacred Drugs of Antiquity) by Carlos G. Wagner, which seek to dispel such outdated attitudes.

Wagner’s book is the culmination of 40 years of research that began in Phoenicia (an ancient civilization in the Levant region of the eastern Mediterranean), extended to the Greco-Roman world, and then to Egypt and the Ancient Orient. It is a comprehensive historical and cultural journey through the ancient world, from the dawn of the river valley civilizations to the symbiosis of Christianity with Greco-Latin cultural structures. Wagner’s book uses archaeobotanical accounts combined with literary and iconographic sources to examine entheogenic substance use in the art and religious rituals of various societies.

Wagner’s methodical and objective study of entheogens in antiquity provides substantial evidence of their use. Readers should not expect a New Age treatise on drug-based religious naturalism, or an anachronistic apology, or an all-encompassing and simplistic explanation for every mystery of antiquity, which characterize many books about entheogens. However, he does not shy away from controversial issues such as shamanism and other anthropological labels like thaumaturges (miracle workers) and medicine-men. Nor does he discount the notion that drugs may have inspired artistic creation and religious intuition since prehistoric times.

Such a study requires geographical and historical comparisons: East versus West, prehistory versus antiquity. It is surprising to read in Wagner’s book that great works like Gilgamesh and Homer’s epic poems may allude to ethnobotany and the manifestation of sacred botanical, oracular, shamanic or visionary symbology in art. One begins to wonder about the entheogenic backdrop of the hero’s battles with monsters like Medusa and Humbaba, or the references to magical herbs in Greek, Germanic and Celtic myths, not to mention the ones in Indo-Iranian religions. Wagner systematically tackles classic questions about Eleusis and Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi, and gives his readers a balanced assessment of what is known and what remains in the realm of hypothesis. He also includes a long discussion of Dionysian religion and its use of trance-inducing intoxicants, and compares it to the worship of other ancient nature gods of fruitfulness and vegetation.

Carlos Wagner has written an exciting book that synthesizes the current body of knowledge about the role of psychoactive substances, and also presents insights from neuroscience on how they affect the mind and body. The use of vision-inducing substances in spiritual rituals officiated by priestly elites enabled them to maintain their own power and prestige through stories, rituals and images. The myths, visions, sorceries, oracles and trances that persisted over four millennia can and should be viewed in the light of mythical plants like ambrosia, soma and haoma, and real ones like hellebore, dogbane, cannabis and poppy.

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