alycewilson (alycewilson) wrote,

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Seeds of Culture

On Saturday, The Gryphon and I wanted to try something a little different, so we took the El to the Reading Terminal Market to buy some fresh meat and produce for that night's
dinner, whatever we liked. We browsed the stands to see what intrigued us.

Reading Terminal Market (Click to enlarge)


Produce at Reading Terminal Market

The Gryphon took charge of the process, suggesting that we start by deciding on a protein. We agreed we wanted something we wouldn't find in the local grocery store, so we agreed on duck, because of some promising cuts we saw at one of the meat vendors.

Since it was about lunchtime and I was getting hungry, we took a break to eat. With so many selections, it was difficult to choose, but I wanted something sensible with lots of vegetables, so we went to an Indian stand and ordered saag paneer (spinach with homemade cheese), which was served with daal (a lentil dish) and jasmine rice, along with a veggie samosa (a pastry filled with a mix of cauliflower and peas). We took the container with us to search for a seat at a table, but they were all taken, so we returned and ate at the counter.

Our bellies full, we headed for a produce stand, where we looked for something that might go with duck. The Gryphon picked up some tomatillos (which resemble green tomatoes but are tarter), along with some Yukon gold potatoes, which he planned to combine in a hash, along with a little red onion and a pablano pepper. We wanted some snow peas for a second vegetable, but their snowpeas didn't thrill us, so we walked to another popular produce stand.

Everything was really crowded, making it difficult to walk around, especially after I was loaded down with a handmade net bag (gift from Mom at Christmas) filled with produce. I'd also brought a denim bag I've had since high school, which I've used from everything from a beach bag to a carryall. It was perfect for heavier items, such as jars.

At the other produce stand, we picked up the snowpeas, along with a couple containers of raspberries and some lemons to make a sauce for the duck.

Then we stopped by the meat vendor to buy a one-pound package of duck (good for four servings), and our last stop was at an Amish stand, where we bought a jar of bread and butter pickles, a jar of pepper jelly, one of raspberry jelly and some homemade peanut butter. Those last selections, by the way, weren't for the meal but just because we'd seen his stand before and been interested in buying some items.

The Gryphon took the denim bag, which contained the jars and the meat. At home, I fell asleep and took a long nap, waking to the smell of food. I told him he should have woken me up so that I could help, but he said there was no need.

The dinner was delicious. I don't usually have duck, but it was very tender, and the tart raspberry sauce was the perfect complement. My favorite part of the meal, though, was the tomatillo and potato hash, which was tangy and a little hot. Really good!

That evening, we had heard from my former belly dancing instructor, Salome, about a musical performance to be held at Swarthmore College, part of a week-long series of events celebrating Arabic culture. This performance featured performer, composer and UCLA professor of ethnomusicology A.J. Racy, who has performed internationally and composed and performed for the Kronos Quartert and Sacramento Symphony, as well as for feature and documentary films.

Accompanying him were the MidEast Ensemble, a group of musicians who often accompany belly dancing performances in the Philadelphia area. Salome had advised we arrive early to get good seats, and we arrived just as the doors were opening, taking seats in the third row.

I took quite a few photos during the performance, but only a few turned out, due to the limits of my digital camera.

The show began with a performance by the Al-Bustan Percussion Ensemble, directed by Joseph Tayoun, the leader of the Mideast Ensemble. Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture is a nonprofit arts education organization dedicated to exposing children and youth to the Arabic language and culture and to promoting cross-cultural understanding and respect.

The young people were impressive, mastering a number of percussion instruments and working well as a group. They definitely played above the ability of any casual drum circle you might have encountered. They won terrific applause from the audience, which they well deserved.

Al-Bustan drummers (Click to enlarge)

Drummers with Al-Bustan Percussion Ensemble

Then A.J. Racy and the Mideast Ensemble took the stage, and A.J. Racy introduced the first medley, as he would throughout the evening. He explained they were beginning with some classical pieces, composed by him, in a traditional musical genre in the melodic mode Hijaz Kar.

These haunting, meditative compositions included room for some impressive improvisational solos, both by A.J. Racy on the nay (a reed flute) and the buzuq (a long-necked lute) and by Roger Mgrdichian on the 'ud (a lute), and Adeeb Refela on the violin (and sometimes on a steel violin).

Then the program moved into some traditional or folk music, some of which sounded almost medieval and some of which was livelier and had the audience clapping along. Much of this music reminded me of music I'd heard during belly dancing performances. One of these provided space for an improvisational solo by Hafez El Ali Kotain on the cymbal. He blew the audience away with his mastery of the instrument, ranging by low, drum-like thumping patterns to rapid musical jingling. I never knew that instrument could sound so powerful.

Even more so, though, was the percussion medley by Joseph Tayoun, Hafez El Ali Kotain and William Tayoun, which got a great response. The Mideast Ensemble has a great rapport on stage, communicating by little gestures and looks, encouraging each other, supporting each other and speaking through their instruments, joining together in a joyful celebration of sound.

The program finished with some popular compositions, which again had the audience clapping along and cheering. The audience was a diverse group, composed of various classes, ages and ethnic backgrounds, although mostly skewed towards college-age attendees. Everyone, though, had smiles on their faces by the end of the evening, greeting the performers with a standing ovation and being rewarded with an encore of another high-spirited popular song.

Here are my best pics from the performance.

Adeeb Refela, A.J. Racy, Joseph Tayoun (Click to enlarge)

(from left) Adeeb Refela, A.J. Racy, Joseph Tayoun

A.J. Racy on the nay (Click to enlarge)

A.J. Racy plays the nay

A.J. Racy, Joseph and William Tayoun (Click to enlarge)

(from left) A.J. Racy, Joseph Tayoun, William Tayoun


Roger Mgrdichian and Adeeb Refela (Click to enlarge)

Roger Mgrdichian solos on the 'ud while violinist Adeeb Refela listens

William Tayoun and Hafez El Ali Kotain (Click to enlarge)

William Tayoun accompanies Hafez El Ali Kotain during his cymbal solo

The Gryphon, who runs on a sleep deficit during the week and often pays for it on the weekends, found himself drifting off during the quieter portions, but he said that he enjoyed the concert, too.

Afterwards, we said hi to Salome, who was there with a large group of friends, some of whom I believe I recognized from belly dancing performances we'd attended.

On the way home, we stopped for coffee and some banana bread in Borders, where a number of late-night customers were still perched on chairs, eating coffee. A few couples, like us, seemed to be drawing out a night on the evening. A lone Japanese man was sketching nudes from magazines, the pictures clearly visible to us as we passed him. The Gryphon and I exchanged amused looks.

We finished our coffee just as they were closing, and I snapped a picture of the lighting, which caught my attention, because of the way it counterpointed the simple geometry of lighting banks outside, plus the phantom lights reflected in the glass.

Borders lights (Click to enlarge)

Sunday, I used the opportunity to get some work done on My Wedding, My Way: Real Women, Real Weddings, Real Budgets.

I conducted a phone interview with a friend of my sister's who had a very creative wedding that incorporated games during the reception and a live butterfly release for the children after the ceremony.

In addition, I wrote some follow-up questions for another of my sister's friends, whom I'd interviewed over e-mail.

And I transcribed the shortest interview I'd conducted, which I'd done at Philcon after getting into a conversation about my book with a fellow attendee. She'd had a very low-cost wedding, altering a vintage dress herself and riding a tight rein on all expenses. As she's explained to me, she ran it like an SCA (Society of Creative Anachronisms) event, drawing on her knowledge to put together all the elements they desired.

In the coming days, I'm going to transcribe more of my interviews so that I can delve into the writing process. I'll still be conducting new interviews at least through the end of March, so if you know someone who would be willing to tell me how they planned their wedding, please have them e-mail me, and I'll set something up.


Trying something new is great sustenance for the soul.

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Tags: food, gryphon, music, photos, wedding book

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