Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tutorial Time! Sugar Calaveras

19th century Mexican illustrator Jose Posada created la Catrina, an image that mocked the excess of high society ladies of fashion. To this day, La Catrina-style art is very popular.

It is often said that the people of Mexico have a special relationship with death. Much of the Western world prefers to ignore the inevitable. Relatives are regarded as truly gone from this earth, images like skulls or cemeteries are seen with either morbid glances or very clinical, clean scrutiny. There isn't nearly the soul or celebration in death that the Mexicans have that is, quite frankly, beautiful. Many cultures have veneration of the dead holiday or tradition. Native American tribes had spring rituals that evolved (thanks to the colonizing French who introduced All Saint's Day) into modern Ghost Suppers (myself and Aaron over at Steampunk Cookery are planning to host one as we speak) to which you would invite dead relatives by hanging wreaths on their graves. In Vietnam the anniversaries of loved ones' deaths are celebrated with feasts and the burning of so-called "hell notes", paper money intended as gifts to the dead person.

But Dia de Los Muertos tops them all in popularity and liveliness. It's captured the imagination of people outside of Mexico and venerates the dead, but with a joyous twist for the living. Traditions include cleaning and decorating relatives' gravesites, eating pan de muerto (spindly loaves of sweetened bread that look like cracked bones), and designating offering altars in the home called ofrenda. These colorful tables are adorned with flowers, paper decorations, photographs of the deceased, food (and booze), items the deceased enjoyed, and perhaps the most iconic image of Dia de Los Muertos: the calavera, or sugar skull. Note that the dead cannot actually eat the food, they simply indulge in the aroma, sight, and memory attached to it.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

FF:Another Way to Love: GLBT Culture in the Age of Steam

A tender photo of a Japanese couple (1910s, judging by the cut of the suit) (Buzzfeed)

October is GLBT History Month here in the United States and encourages everyone, both Queer and heterosexual alike to explore an often unspoken record. While homosexuality has only been brought to the forefront of civil issues in the Western world in the past sixty years, it's certainly (as old as sex itself) been present- albeit trapped under the ice, conveniently shoved into the back of the bookshelf, or simply ignored outright. If we view LGBT history (like steampunk) through the Euro-American lens it can seem pretty stuffy or one-note (that note being hard labor if we read a lot of Victorian novels). But it's not all doom, gloom, and repression, folks! There were plenty of cultures and nations around the world during the 19th century who accepted homosexuality, bisexuality, and even transgendered folks as a common occurrence.

Before we get into it, I'd like to preface this article, considering the political climate in some countries (including my own) these days that this piece is about alternate sexuality and gender identity. On top of that, it addresses it (and unions thereof) in a sympathetic, positive manner (I know that makes me a bad academic, but I'm also a proud straight ally). If you disapprove of this or aren't comfortable with these facts, I would really suggest you find a different article to read. Also all of the images are safe for work. All right? Is the unpleasant disclaimer business done with? Rockin'.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

October Preview

19th century watercolor depicting a Punjabi funeral procession (gdhillow)
October is another one of those months filled with observances and meanings- seemingly more than usual! Since Miss Kagashi is still buckling down her Fall semester, the weekly post goal is going to be two (perhaps three if it's a slow or inspiring week). Here's what you can expect for the month of October:

Clothing You'll Love
Once Upon a Time in Mexico...

Focus on Folkways
The Other Ways to Love (A Survey of LGBT Culture in the 19th century)
Ashes to Ashes (Exploring Mourning and Funeral customs- just in time for Halloween)

Kagashi's Kitchen
Dia de los Muertos Sugar Skulls

Featured Traveler of the Month

It was also noted on the blog's facebook page that a few days ago the Steamer's Trunk officially turned one year old. As is the case with anything online, its success is a mirror of the many wonderful people that subscribe, read, and repost- so thank you all. It's been a hell of a year and I've learned a lot through my research- and I hope you've learned something too! Or perhaps that you saw something and was inspired. My deepest thanks to all of you, from the casual reader who was linked here by a friend, to the lovely people who link, to the subscribers that have been here from the beginning. Hopefully I can meet you on the road somewhere (we'll have a cup of tea!).

Nautical hijinks! Mummy unwrappings! Irate Germans! OCTOPODES!
Speaking of which- I'll be appearing at Teslacon II in Madison, WI in November! In addition to my duties playing Kapitan von Grelle, the irascible captain of the Imperial Anti-Piracy Squadron, I'll be giving a panel on the possibilities of Multicultural Steampunk! Sitting on the panel with me are Captain Anthony Legrange of the Airship Archon, Aaron Egan the Steampunk Chef, and the blog's Archaeology and Anthropology consultant Jade Luiz. If you have a ticket to this sold out event, don't miss it!