Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.
I’m June Simms.
On our show this week, we play some music suggested by a few iPod armed teenagers.
We also explore cheese making as a religious experience.
But first, we go to the circus.
Cirque du Soleil “Totem”
Cirque du Soleil has been entertaining people around the world for almost thirty years. Today, the Montreal-based company has 20 different shows, offering a mix of acrobatic tricks, clowns, music and dance. Some shows have permanent homes in Las Vegas, Orlando and Los Angeles. Others travel from city to city.
Mario Ritter takes us to the Circus of the Sun on its stop near Washington, DC.
The travelling show is called “Totem.” It explores the development of human civilization.
Twenty-year-old Shandien Larance is a Native American hoops dancer and one of the show’s performers.
“I am Hopi Tewa Assiniboine and Navajo. I come from Arizona and New Mexico. I’ve been hoop dancing for about ten years.”
Shandien Larance uses the hoops to change her appearance during the dance.
“The hoop dance originally a healing ceremony. It was originated in Taos, New Mexico and it signifies nature, man and the circle of life.”
Her brother, Nakota, was the first hoop dancer to perform in “Totem.” The show’s creators wanted him because they believed his dance worked extremely well with the idea of evolution. Francis Jalbert is a publicist for “Totem.”
“The show is inspired by many ancient civilizations and their views on how we ended up on Earth.”
“Totem” includes the “flying” acts normally found in Cirque du Soleil productions. Olli Torkkel was a gymnast in his native Finland before joining the show as an acrobat.
“I saw Cirque shows on TV in Finland when I was a little kid, and I got really excited about how they looked. I decided a long time ago that I wanted to try to apply, I wanted to be a part of it."
There are fifty-two performers in “Totem” from all over the world. But it takes many more people to keep the show on the road. As Francis Jalbert notes, it takes three people to care for the costumes worn by the performers.
“Because you can imagine, with all of the acrobatic acts that are performed on stage, there is a lot of rip and tear that goes into those costumes.”
After the performances in Washington have ended, the costumes will be put in folding cases. In fact, everything under the tent, including the tent itself, will be taken down and loaded into sixty-four trucks. The show and its performers will move on to create magic under the big top in another city.
Very Good Gouda
Food lovers know Gouda cheese was first made in the Netherlands. But for the past twenty years, a group of religious workers has been making and selling their own version of Gouda in the eastern United States. Christopher Cruise has more.
Sister Maria Gonzalo-Garcia checks the curds during the cheese-making process
Every day, thirteen nuns gather for prayer at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Theirs is a simple, Christian life. They praise God and study Catholic teachings. They also follow the Benedictine tradition of combining prayer with work.
Sister Barbara Smickel helped to establish the monastery twenty-five years ago. She says work may not be the most important part of their life, but it is important.
“That we use our bodies and the gifts God has given us of mind and heart and body to support ourselves.”
The women support themselves by making cheese on a farm down the hill from the monastery grounds. The cheese-making operation was the idea of the farm’s former owner.
On this day, the nuns start the process with a truck full of warmed, pasteurized milk. More than twenty-seven hundred liters are pumped into a huge steel vat. Sister Maria Gonzalo-Garcia adds a starter culture to the container.
This speeds the process of turning milk into cheese. Mechanical equipment beats the mixture. After half an hour, Sister Maria adds what is called a synthetic enzyme. It separates the milk into solids and liquid.
This is Sister Barbara Smickel.
“This is the magic time because it either sets up and turns into cheese or it doesn’t. This is the time when we pray, that it does happen.”
Today, the magic works. The cheese mixture is pumped into a large vat. The mixture is pressed into a solid block. At this point, a machine could do the work. But the nuns like to do almost everything by hand.
They separate, weigh and prepare the cheese for a final pressing. Sister Barbara says this is a community effort.
“We saw a video one time of cheese made in a big factory in Holland, all computerized. And my comment was ‘poor, little cheese, never touched by human hands.’ So ours is all day long, touched by human hands.”
The one kilogram wheels of buttery yellow cheese are placed in salty water. Then they are aged in a cool storage room, and covered in wax before being shipped out.
The nuns do most of their business by mail order. But people can also make purchases directly from the monastery.
Eric Gertner buys three hundred to four hundred wheels a year. He sells the cheese at his specialty food store in the nearby city of Charlottesville.
“We carry the monastery Gouda because the story behind it is really so compelling. We have right here in our backyard a cheese made in ages-old monastic tradition. And they’re doing this to support and sustain their spiritual practice so it’s just such a beautiful story. And then the cheese is delicious in and of itself.”
Sister Barbara Smickel understands the feeling.
“I think people buy it because it’s good, but also because they feel a certain solidarity with our way of life and want to support it in the way they can. We try to put a lot of that love and prayer into the cheese. We say that’s the secret ingredient.”
In more than twenty years of cheese-making, the nuns have never had any bad Gouda. Call it luck…or the power of prayer.
What’s On Your iPod?
For our music piece this week, on American Mosaic, we decided to ask the experts: American teenagers. We wanted to know what they were listening to right now; what was on their iPods. Reporter Caty Weaver talked to some young people at a Starbucks in Arlington, Virginia and at a nearby high school.
“What’s your name?”
“My name’s Colson.”
“Who’s the most recent band or musician you put on your iPod?”
“That would be ‘Lil’ B. It’s kind of in the category of comedy-rap.”
Colson described ‘Lil’ B as “based.” We told the ninth grader that we did not know what that meant.
“Based in an adjective. A positive one.”
Colson suggested we play the ‘Lil’ B song “Wonton Soup.” We listened to it. There was no way we could clean that song up enough for broadcast. So here is Lil B with “I Seen That Light” from his album “I’m Gay (I’m Happy).”
From left to right, Frank Lero, Ray Toro, Gerard Way and Mikey Way from My Chemical Romance in 2010
We spoke next with Jessie, a year ahead of Colson at Arlington’s Yorktown High School. She said she likes alternative rock and country.
“I do a lot of My Chemical Romance or, like, Toby Keith.”
“That is so eclectic. I mean, they are like the opposite of each other. So what My Chemical Romance song would you suggest I play this week?”
“I really like “Planetary Go.”
Gabe is a sixteen year old friend of both Jessie and Colson.
“My favorite music right now is either Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, or Bob Marley.”
We thanked Gabe for the classic rock choices. But we wondered why he happened to look back in time for good music.
“It’s really just…it’s what I like to play on the guitar. And, that’s what appeals to me.”
Gabe suggested we give a listen to Bob Marley perform “Stir It Up.” We were happy to honor the request.
Finally, we spoke with Amanda. The eleventh grader had just finished exercising at Yorktown with two of her friends. She has been listening a pretty far out band --- like far out in the Atlantic Ocean.
“Well the last music that I listened to was “Of Monsters and Men” which is an Icelandic group. I just downloaded their song “Mountain Sound.”
And here it is.
I’m June Simms. This program was written and produced by Caty Weaver. Join us again next week for music and more on AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.