Indiana Jones and the 20 bright and shiny SUVs

You might think that most Marlboro College students are spending their spring break brushing up on their existentialist literature in intellectual meccas like, say, Fort Lauderdale or Panama City Beach, but you would be very wrong. I mean, one group of students is researching hyena behavior in Kenya, and another is learning about Native American practices in Oujé-Bougoumou, Quebec. Senior Mike Harrist is traveling to Turkey, that’s right, Turkey, to study Sufi spiritual music with religion professor Amer Latif. But the one that really gets me is senior Kelly Pierce-Bulger, who is doing a semester abroad with CIEE in Jordan—she gets no spring break to speak of, but she has an apartment with a balcony in one of the cradles of civilization, which sure beats Fort Lauderdale.

Do you remember in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the place where Indy leads the Nazis past the perilous traps to the Holy Grail, guarded by a knight of the First Crusade who is understandably very pale? That’s just one of the amazing places that Kelly has been to, only it’s not in the Canyon of the Crescent Moon in Hatay, Turkey; it’s down a canyon called the Siq, in Jordan of course. The site is called Petra, and it is one of the wonders of the ancient world left for our amazement by the Nabataeans, who scratched it out of the sandstone cliffs more than 2500 years ago. Kelly did not find the Grail there, or have to outwit any perilous traps, but she did get to descend the canyon on a horse. Not only that but she happened to be there when Vice President Joe Biden, during his recent visit to the Middle East, arrived by helicopter and a motorcade of “20 bright and shiny SUVs.” Indiana Jones, eat your heart out!

Learn more about Kelly’s adventures, observations and Arabic classes on her chatty and informative blog.

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Horror Vacui

You’ve probably heard of the Bermuda Triangle, the isosceles triangle, and the love triangle, but I’ll bet you never bumped into “Bronislaw Malinowski’s triangle.” I sure as heck hadn’t before I went to the faculty forum this week presented by multitalented anthropology professor Carol Hendrickson. Our man Bronislaw was one of the fathers of modern anthropology, known for his pioneering ethnographic fieldwork in Melanesia. Carol describes a famous photo of him typing in his tent, with a crowd of Trobriand Islanders peering in through the triangular opening. That’s “Malinowski’s triangle,” as Carol calls it, and she was reminded of it when she had the opportunity to do fieldwork while living in a tent. I don’t know if Carol has ever sketched Trobriand Islanders, but I’m here to tell you she’s seen and sketched more triangles than you can shake a protractor at.

Carol started her fantastic journey of visual field notes on a Marlboro trip to Yucatan in 2001, but since then she has sketched Che Guevera’s socks in Cuba, coral reef fish in Hawaii, women poling boats in Vietnam, temples in India and street scenes in China. Meanwhile she has used sketches to supplement her anthropological work in Guatemala, and published an article about her pioneering methods in Visual Anthropology Review. Carol shared several volumes of her sketches, all beautifully bound and bursting with notes, lists of things, colorful quotes and anecdotes. And as if these pages weren’t already full enough, she crams in photos, maps, business cards, labels, coupons, what she calls “ephemera” but what most might consider, well, “trash.” “I just love trash,” she said, no kidding, and added that she likes to fill all of the page. “I have horror vacui,” which is Latin meaning, fairly obviously even to me, a dread of empty space.

The amazing thing, and this is a tribute to Carol’s brilliance and many talents, is that the resulting journals are so, I mean, so dang beautiful, and at the same time informative. Carol was encouraging all of us at the forum to pick up our little boxes of paints and do the same thing on our own trips or field experiences, to augment written notes with nimble, colorful sketches. I know I am not the only one whose first thought was pages and pages of what looked more like nimble Rorschach inkblot tests, but we were all pretty swept up in her missionary zeal anyway. She was particularly eager to inspire several groups of students going into the field soon, for instance to Turkey, Kenya and Japan. Carol’s work will be featured in an exhibit of field journals at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center this November, and she looks forward to seeing some students’ work included as well.

 

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Cosmic Dance

Okay, imagine doing a combination of aerobic exercises, Tai Chi and flamenco dance to the rhythms of tablas, the drone of tambura and the mesmerizing melodies of north India on cello, and you would be, what, confused? No, you would be doing Kathak, or classical Indian dance. On Friday, a group of brave students tried to learn some of the basic steps of Kathak with master dancer Sudeshna Maulik in the Serkin dance studio. Together they stamped their feet and waved their arms around in graceful, studied motions like they were hailing cabs to heaven.

I can say they were generally graceful because I wasn’t among them, but was rather enjoying the breeze of waving arms and spinning bodies along the sidelines. The otherworldly atmosphere of the dance studio was accentuated by the fact that the 10-foot high windows were almost completely covered by a bank of snow, thanks to three successive storms the previous week, letting in just a crack of sunlight. The energy in the room was euphoric, and at the end of a particularly frantic group pirouette I was not the only spectator left giddy with awe.

On Sunday, Sudeshna strutted her foot-stomping stuff to the amazement of the audience gathered in Ragle Hall. Kathak dance traces its origins to the nomadic bards of ancient northern India, known as Kathaks, who embellished mythological and moral tales with complex hand gestures and facial expressions. There were even some hand gestures and facial expressions that Marlboro students had never seen, which is saying a lot. The concert started with a set of music by Sudeshna’s mesmerizing accompanists, tablas player Shawn Mativetsky and cellist Jacob Charkey, son of our own music professor, Stan Charkey.

 

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Architecture: Opiate of the Masses

I ask myself, where would a body typically go to learn about architecture? Florence or Barcelona or Paris, perhaps? Not if you’re an enterprising Marlboro student like Kenny Card, a senior who’s doing his Plan of Concentration in sociology and specifically something bold and elusive called “public service architecture.” For his Plan research, Kenny went about as far from Florence, Barcelona and Paris as you can get while still being on the same planet. He visited architectural development projects in Greensboro, Alabama, Lawrence, Kansas and Austin, Texas, collectively known as the Axis of Architectural Ordinariness.

I learned about Kenny’s project, and a lot about architecture too, at last Friday’s presentation of his film Architecture for the Underserved. Interviewing people involved in programs like University of Texas’ Alley Flats Initiative, Kenny expertly kicks over some of the flying buttresses around public service architecture. Like, can well-intentioned but aspiring architecture students truly serve the greater public good, or are they subjecting low-income communities to unjust “experiments?” How much control do these communities have over architectural details? I mean, really, why couldn’t they include a hook-up for washer and drier in the plan and did that bedroom addition really have to look like Darth Vadar? With great on-the-scene footage and expert editing help from Doug Adams ’09, Kenny does some really admirable muck-raking here.

If you know Kenny, you know that he’s all about empowering communities to do great things, like helping the Marlboro organic farm grow and getting the compost system cooking. Anyone who has the energy and enthusiasm to get a community excited about turning over mounds of festering compost will go far in sociology, architecture or whatever field he chooses. Architecture for the Underserved is a tribute to Kenny’s passion for community, which will surely be missed at Marlboro next year.

 

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