Thursday's Child: Schindler's Factory, Krakow, Poland

Thursday, January 29, 2015
Oskar Schindler's office, in the Schindler Factory Museum
With this week being the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I wanted to write about my visit to the Schindler Factory in Krakow, Poland. If you've seen the movie Schindler's List, you'll be familiar with the story of the German Nazi who saved the lives of 1200 Jewish people, who would otherwise have perished at Auschwitz.
An enlarged reproduction of Schindler's list
The factory, located in an industrial area of Krakow, had fallen into disrepair since the Second World War. However, it was recently turned into a museum that depicts prewar life in Krakow, the five years that the city was under Nazi occupation, and its liberation in 1945. Part of the exhibit featured the horrors that existed behind the walls at Auschwitz.

Visiting a museum like this wasn't easy. Life in Krakow under the Nazi occupation was difficult and dangerous. Life in Auschwitz was, of course, much worse. To see the human tragedies depicted here was to see some of the worst of humanity.

The tinware sarcophagus, a memorial to the Jewish workers at the factory
The museum ended with two thought-provoking exhibits that illustrated how goodness often coexists with evil, and how we can often choose which path to follow.

The Room of Choices was a circular room, with quotations on the walls in many languages. These quotes described the actions of those who, faced with ethical choices, took action to assist another person, even if that choice imperilled their own lives.  The rotating pillars around the room presented occasions when people might have helped, but did not.

Before leaving, we were invited to peruse a book that featured some of the courageous and generous acts people did for others during this time. Each page was labelled with a virtue, such as humanitarianism, compassion, or dignity, and told a story that illustrated that virtue in action.

Oskar Schindler was no saint. He was a Nazi, a heavy-drinking womanizer who began his business as a profiteer. Why did he do what he did? He is quoted as saying, "I did what I could, what I had to do, what my conscience told me I must do. That's all there is to it."

Some of the more than 1200 Jewish people saved from death at Auschwitz by Oskar Schindler

It's winter again

Sunday, January 25, 2015

"It's winter again: the sky's a deep headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat's on too high in here, and I can't turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I've been thinking: This is what the living do."

- from "What the Living Do", by Marie Howe

Caramelized Winter Vegetables
(from Fresh and Green Table by Susie Middleton)

2 tsp sherry vinegar
2 tsp maple syrup
4 ounces kale or collard greens
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
10 ounces rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice (note: be sure to measure it, rather than using a whole rutabaga. I did the latter; it was still very good, but took much longer to cook.)
8 - 9 ounces carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2” dice
10 ounces Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2” dice
kosher salt
1 large onion, cut into 1/2” dice
1 Tbsp minced garlic
freshly ground pepper

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and maple syrup and whisk until combined. Set aside.

Remove the stems from the kale or collard by holding stem with one hand and pulling the leaves away with the other hand. Rip the leaves in half lengthwise. Make a stack of leaves, roll them up, and cut into very thin ribbons. Set aside.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add rutabaga, carrots, potatoes and 1 tsp salt. Stir and toss well until the veggies are evenly coated with oil. Reduce heat to medium, cover partially, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring every couple of minutes. Add onion and 1/2 tsp salt and continue to cook, uncovered. Reduce heat slightly if necessary, and add a little more oil if the pan seems dry. Continue cooking until vegetables are tender and browned, about another 15 minutes.

Fold in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Gradually add kale or collard in small handfuls until they are all wilted, about 2 minutes. (Don’t add all at once or they won’t get evenly dispersed.)

Remove pan from the heat, taste and season with more salt, if required. Sprinkle with sherry-maple mixture, stir, and serve warm.

Can be served with polenta or noodles, or on its own.

Thursday's Child: Tak'alik Ab'aj, Guatemala

Thursday, January 22, 2015
Tak’alik Ab’aj is a pre-Columbian archaeological site situated near the Pacific coast of Guatemala. In the local Kiche Maya language, it means “Place of the Standing Stone”.

Tak’alik Ab’aj was a major centre of culture and trade, first rising in power around the 9th century BCE, and lasting until 200 AD or later. It’s particularly important among Central American archeological sites because it documents the transition between the early Guatemalan Olmec people and the Mayan civilization. 

Several hundred stone monuments have been unearthed on the ten terraces that cover the 1600-acre property. Some feature the Olmec style with enormous heads and potbellied figures, or the man-jaguar. Many others feature Mayan hieroglyphics and the representation of important figures, often depicted in profile.

It’s intriguing that both styles co-exist. The Olmec style statues don’t stop suddenly and give way to a Mayan style. Nor were they destroyed when the Mayan sculptures were erected. This suggests a shifting of cultural influences and a sharing of artistic styles rather than domination due to one group conquering the other.

Tak’alik Ab’aj was part of a trading route that stretched from Mexico in the north to El Salvador in the south. It has been suggested that as traders moved from one area to another, they brought with them cultural inspirations that influenced the artwork of the settlements.

A royal tomb was discovered in 2002, perhaps belonging to the city's last Mayan king.

Excavations are still underway.