A medley of Azerbaijani and South and North American songs, arranged and performed live by Carla Seidl (vocal, guitar), Sevindik muallim (tar) and Sarvan muallim (vocal) in Khanlar, Azerbaijan, spring 2008. Pictures are from Carla’s Peace Corps service in Azerbaijan, during which she lived in a small village in Oguz for one year and in the region center of Khanlar for another year serving as an English teacher in the local schools.
Carla’s first book, The Sophisticated Savage, was published in 2009. It’s based on her experiences in the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador in 2001 and 2005.
“…Carla Seidl presents fascinating insights about the simplicity of life and happiness. “The Sophisticated Savage” is an intriguing read, highly recommended.” –Midwest Book Review
To read a 2015 review of this book (in Spanish) in the Ecuadorian journal La Revista out of Guayaquíl, click here.
“Cannibal Theme Park” is a related audio documentary/slideshow with audio footage and pictures of Carla and Fredy on the Galápagos Islands:
Returning to Azerbaijan this month, Carla filmed (and was filmed in) a video for her song, “Azerbaijani Housewife,” off of her debut album Under My Skin. Footage was shot in a rural village in the region of Oguz in the north of Azerbaijan. Activities shown are typical of the ones Seidl observed among village women during her service as a Peace Corps Volunteer but are not intended to represent the activities of Azerbaijani women in larger towns or the capital city of Baku.
When invited to be a lunch guest in an Azerbaijani home, be prepared for cultural difference and great hospitality.Aired on American Public Media’s “The Splendid Table” on November 1st, 2008, this radio piece documents Carla going guesting in an Azerbaijani home and receiving an unexpected gift.
“Four Eggs” shows how integral hospitality is to Azerbaijani culture and also illuminates how food often represents a forging of human relationships. Carla recorded this piece while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Azerbaijan. The language you will hear spoken underneath her English narration is Azerbaijani.
The piece is also featured in this blog posting from the University of Chicago Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies.
Mənim adım Karladır.
Onun adı Mikedir.
I learn that to say, “My name is Carla,” I have to add an ending on my name that sounds like “durr,” rhyming with burr. But for Mike or Amy, the “durr” ending changes to sound like “deer.”
And the difference, which comes up frequently, doesn’t depend on gender, or length of the name. To know when to use which ending, you just have to do it by sound. This is the Azerbaijani way of making their language flow smoothly, and sound good. It’s called vowel harmony. You can’t have this vowel next to that one, so change the subsequent one to fit in with the first.
I would soon learn other rules for harmony:
Drink tea. Lots of it.
No plain water, or you’ll get sick.
Respect people older than you.
Serve them and do what they say.
Call meals “bread.”
Never leave bread upside-down.
Wipe dust off of your shoes before you leave the house.
Say, “May we always meet in cleanliness” when someone emerges from the hamam.
Hang clothes shoulders down, overlapped just so.
Slice onions and tomatoes in the hand.
Prepare national meals exactly the way you were taught.
The more butter a meal has, the better.
Females, ask permission before leaving the house.
Phil Nyokai James teaches shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute, in Portland, Maine. For Phil and his students, the lessons of the shakuhachi extend beyond the music to teach them about listening and presence in their daily lives. This 6.5-minute piece was produced while a student at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. It aired on Weekend America in 2006.
Read my 2003 research paper for the anthropology course Food and Culture at Harvard here.
Escuela del Relato, Buenos Aires, Argentina, August 2003
Carla: I’ve heard mentioned the notion of the “Argentine Storytelling School.” What is the position of the Escuela del Relato in terms of this idea?
Ana: That idea…I first heard about it while out of the country…in Spain. And it caught my attention, because the storytellers that [the Spanish] are familiar with from Argentina have very diverse styles. Perhaps [the Spanish] have noticed, in the works that they have seen, greater rigor in the work than they are used to seeing from Spanish tellers. But I think that there are fairly significant differences between…the storytelling here. And it seems to me that the Escuela del Relato is occupying a space of great professional consciousness of the work. And great consciousness of the necessity of preparing oneself for the stage, of having a theatrical preparation in order to present this model of the spontaneous storyteller onstage. The people here at the Escuela acquire a consciousness of the increasing difficulty of this task….
Carla: And do you think that this aspect of the difficulty of the task of narrating has some particularly Argentine aspect to it, that is, do you think that this style of school could integrate itself into other countries?
Ana: I think that, in Spain, it would fit smoothly; in Colombia, Chile, and Venezuela, it could be of interest as well….There is interest for this type of work, but I think that there is very little theory, very little theoretical reflection about the characteristics of this work. And that the investigation that Jorge Dubatti is doing, or the reflections that appear in my book…we are of the very few who are beginning to consider the matter of a theoretical reflection.
Carla: Have you noticed, during your trips to other countries to tell stories, any particular characterizing elements of the storytelling in these countries, for instance, a Mexican or Colombian style?
Ana: Always when one sees a Latin American storyteller, for instance, an Argentine, a Mexican, or a Colombian, they have an advantage that is their accent. This generates a certain enchantment. It’s like a handicap, a plus that generates curiosity. But later, it can happen that fifteen or twenty minutes into the show, it gets tiresome, and the structure of the story being told can no longer sustain this fascination with the accent, or the charming qualities that the teller might have….At times there starts to appear that terrible monster that is boredom….I have seen German storytellers telling in Spanish, also Africans and Japanese….There is usually a common problem. Apart from personal charisma, there is a lack of mastery of narrative structure, lack of time management, for instance, or use of conflicts….often tellers will stretch out their story in order to prolong their time on the stage and enjoy the public’s reactions. The danger of this…is that the performance becomes extremely tiresome. What is new about the Escuela is its emphasis on solid narrative structure. That the conflict, the characters, the setting, the elements of the plot be condensed in time. In an amount of time in which a spectator can remain attentive. Often, in place of consciousness of storytelling as performance, storytellers have a love of the materials they choose, and don’t have a lot of consciousness that they are using the stage.
Carla: I am interested in how the Escuela resolves this stress on narrative structure with the model of the spontaneous teller. How is it that you consider consciousness of structure and technique to be a prerequisite for spontaneous telling?
Ana: The idea of the school is to bring to the stage what storytellers who are not actors do….A spontaneous teller who is effective in an intimate environment, such as a taxi driver, or a certain fisherman I once knew, has no guarantee of having the same effectiveness in front of an audience. The idea is to translate the effectiveness of domestic telling – maintain all of what that has, but acquire in addition a number of tools to sustain this in every performance in the same way, as if you were telling the story for the first time. For this you need to understand the mechanics of the art of repetition, which is theater, without losing the freshness of the first telling.
Carla: I’m under the impression that many students who come do not want to go onstage. How does it help them to learn all of these tools for performance?
Ana: I believe that it is a preparation…through which one learns to communicate. Whether one is a lawyer or a grandmother, stage training and learning about the concept of others’ time is important in practically any field.
Carla: Is there an assumption in the teachings of the Escuela that the people of Buenos Aires are contaminated by literature?
Ana: It’s true that we have a profile of students that is very literary…they hold literature to be on sacred ground, of great prestige. Orality has become disvalued….It’s as if orality were a poor relative, disinherited by literature. When in reality orality came first, and then literature. So the idea is to recuperate a language for orality in which common shared meaning is present, that what one says be enjoyable and necessary, that it be true in some sense. We want to return to ascribing beauty to the literature of memory and the literature of experience.
Carla: Why choose sources such as literature, film, and theater, if the idea is to return to a state of spontaneity?
Ana: The fundamental idea is that orality serves to transmit experience. In the life of every person there is the experience of the private, and the experience of the public, where the production of literature and cinema appears….The stories of the cinema are a source of orality in that people tell others what happens in a given movie. All sources of human experience are welcome. But most importantly, we try to revive and emphasize the capacity that each person has to express experience orally.
Carla: Traditionally, the role of the story has been to transmit wisdom and experience….
Ana: …Yes, exactly. The role of the story as taught by the Escuela is just that.