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TOPIC: heritage


A Future For Timbuktu's Ancient Books? Conservation And Digitalization

Mali's "mysterious city" welcomes a new class of students trained in looking after ancient books. From conservation to digitization of these works, a colossal task awaits them to preserve this endangered heritage and the secrets they contain.

Updated Nov. 13, 2023 at 6:30 p.m.

TIMBUKTU — In the workroom of the Ahmed-Baba Institute of Higher Studies and Islamic Research, time seems to have slowed down. As the dust and the sound of brushes on paper float by, six students hold in their hands one of the most precious heritages of the region.

Ceremoniously, they repeat the same gestures: lifting the pages, one by one, with the tip of a thin wooden spatula, then, with the flat of the brush, ridding the inks and the centuries-old papers of dust.

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Free Curls In Cuba: An Afro Hairstyle Revival Of Identity And Politics — And Fashion

In the island nation, Rizo Libre (free curl) seeks to rescue Afro-descendant roots on the island.

Talking about Afro hair is not just a matter of aesthetics and fashion.

Oral histories suggest hairstyles braided by Black slaves had coded significance, and some people are said to have kept wheat seeds in their hair to sow later. For this reason, when they were forced to cut their hair, or straightened it with chemical products, in a certain way they also cut part of their identity and roots, part of their culture.

During the 1960s and the Black Power movement in the United States, embracing Afro hair became a symbol of resistance, an act to rescue Black self-determination and "Blackness as an identity."

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Holy Mess! Spain's Disfigured Christ Mural Remains A Hit With Tourists

The clumsy restoration of a mural of Christ in a Spanish chapel 10 years ago shocked, then amused Spaniards and millions more abroad, and gave the local town a level of publicity, and tourist revenues, it never had nor could have hoped for. Here's how it looks 10 years later.

BORJA — Among the countless pictures and images of Christ around the world, it might not be outlandish to imagine that one of them might seek revenge — using humidity as the instrument of its vengeance.

One might say this of a by-now notorious mural of Christ inside a chapel in Borja in the province of Aragón, northern Spain.

Painted in 1930 by a painter and academic, the image was smothered in 2012 by Cecilia Giménez Zueca, a local resident and amateur painter. She wanted to help no doubt, but her "unfinished" restoration turned a venerable image of the suffering Christ — an Ecce Homo — into a bloated, indefinable cartoon.

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Denied The Nile: Aboard Cairo's Historic Houseboats Facing Destruction

Despite opposition, authorities are proceeding with the eviction of residents of traditional houseboats docked along the Nile in Egypt's capital, as the government aims to "renovate" the area – and increase its economic value.

With an eye on increasing the profitability of the Nile's traffic and utilities, the Egyptian government has begun to forcibly evict residents and owners of houseboats docking along the banks of the river, in the Kit Kat area of Giza, part of the Greater Cairo metropolis.

The evictions come following an Irrigation Ministry decision, earlier this month, to remove the homes that have long docked along the river.

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Irene Caselli

Ancient Greek, Greta Thunberg And The Gift Of Education

Should schools add new subjects every year to keep up with the times? Or is their job simply to help students become critical thinkers? A new mother's musings.

MONTE CASTELLO DI VIBIO — When Greta Thunberg appeared in our lives, telling us how urgent it is to fight against climate change, I was in awe. I love how clearly the Swedish teenager exposes her arguments, bringing it always back to herself and her younger sister, Beata. I love her as much as right-wing media outlets despise and ridicule her.

I guess that part of my awe has to do with the fact that two decades ago, when I was Greta's age, I was an activist myself. At 13, I ran in school elections and became the youngest student representative at my school in Naples. When I was elected, an older male student who had lost the election threw a coin at me asking me to step down. Another one suggested that I was a simple secretary because as a girl I could only follow the lead. In my school, it was the boys who occupied political positions. I was young and insecure. I found it hard to speak in public with clarity, to cite facts and make my arguments coherent.

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Xavier Kawa-Topor

Notre Dame: An Evolving Symbol Of France Is Bound To Live On

The events that have marked the 800-year history of the Notre Dame cathedral bear witness to the monument’s eternal meaning and national symbolism.


PARIS — It is not only a monument that burned, it is Notre Dame de Paris. A major place of worship, a masterpiece of Gothic art and an eternal witness to the history of France was partially destroyed by fire through Monday night.

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Gentrification Reflections, An Uber Day In Washington D.C.

Yonder's Slovenian-born Andrej Mrevlje is also a part-time Uber driver in Washington. Oh, the people he meets.

WASHINGTON — "My son has very dark skin and unusual grey eyes. They are so intense that you see his eyes first, and then the rest of his body." My conversation with Mona — whom I'd picked up for an Uber ride near Howard University, in northwest D.C. — began when she asked about my name and how it was pronounced. It's a question I'm often asked and, instead of the usual courtesies, I usually cut short the exchange by saying that my name was not meant to be pronounced. It's my signal that I am ready to chat, and usually prompts a giggle.

"Ha," Mona laughed, "Imagine the problems of my son. His name is Tsilhqot'in." I asked her to clarify, saying, "What kind of name is that?" And from the back seat, she was off; the words were streaming out of her. When she was pregnant, Miss Mona explained, she started to look for a name for her son by researching her family tree, digging for a meaningful connection among her forefathers. She went all the way back, she said and discovered that her fifth generation grandfather was a native Indian, a member of the Tsilhqot'in tribe. She'd found the name for her son with the intense grey eyes. I tried to imagine the young man as I looked in the rearview mirror at Mona.

I saw where this was heading; it was an invitation to an exciting conversation and more fiction from this impressive woman. But I had to drive. Still, perhaps I could interrupt the stream of her words with questions that flooded my mind, like: Why would she complicate her son's life with such a complicated name? How do people refer to him? Does he have a nickname? If you cannot read or pronounce Mrevlje, the difficulty of pronouncing the name Tsilhqot'in is unimaginable!

Your Uber is approaching — Photo: Will McKinley

But I missed the train: Mona's thoughts were already far away, explaining her maternal line of ancestors, and how she discovered that she was able to understand German.

She discovered her talent for German when she first heard it spoken. "It must have been something I inherited from one of my mother's ancestors, whose name was Geiger," she said.

I cut in with the question of what she was doing for work. She said she used to be an opera singer and now runs a business. She said her name was Mona Lisa And when we returned to the topic of the grey eyes of her son, I asked her about his father. He was Sicilian, a trapeze acrobat who died when Tsilhqot'in was six, she said. An accident. We arrived at her destination, telling each other how nice it would be to continue our conversation one day. "I'll see you around," Mona said, shutting the door. I never managed to ask her about her African-American heritage. But then again, with an Alaskan Indian Tribe, German ancestors, a Sicilian partner, the room was already crowded.

Not far from the place I dropped Mona, I got a new request from a rider, who asked, "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?" A young African American slid into my car, speaking perfect "hochdeutsch." My god, I thought, what is happening today? We exchanged some phrases, testing each other's level of German, but then switched to English.

It is incredible how fast our minds clicked.

It was my time to ask how she speaks such good German. "I am a daughter of a German mother and Kenyan father," she said. It is incredible how fast our minds clicked. The ride was short; she was going to the office at Howard University, where she organizes the departmental curriculum of African studies. I inquired about the sources she uses, how she selected them and asked about the funds for the program. We talked about Howard University and the quality of the education, vital to building up the African-American middle class, so long under the thumb of white supremacy. I learned much, and I was amazed by this young lady, who could talk equally about Cologne, where her mother lives, or Paris, where she studied for a while, and Kenya, where her father remarried. What on earth was she doing in the U.S., considering that neither of her parents ever lived here? She came here as part of her studies, she said, and her brother is here too. We could've talked forever, but we probably never will again, unless Uber decides otherwise.

The day was not yet over, though. On that very same day, a man in his mid-forties got into my car. He was born in Bali to a couple of hippies who traveled there periodically for vacations. His parents gave him an Indonesian name and, after his family moved back to the U.S, he lived for 20 years in D.C. He'd recently moved to South Carolina, which seems to be the new American paradise of a modest and laidback lifestyle —apart from the recent hurricanes. Driving him to the airport, I learned some new lessons in my Uber school and in the car that is my classroom.

Because he was born abroad, when his family moved back to D.C., he was particularly sensitive to the ethnic issues in the U.S. and the history of the city I now live in. I took advantage of the opportunity to learn something.

I finally understood why the city was predominantly African American. From all my previous conversations and reading, I knew that by the mid-1970s D.C."s population was 80% African American. That fact, I learned that day, was due to a Supreme Court decision declaring that separate education for people of different races was unconstitutional. As a consequence, white people fled the city and by 1957 Washington's African-American population surpassed the 50% mark, making it the first predominantly black major city in the nation, and leading a nationwide trend.

In 1963, 250,000 people marched on Washington for jobs and freedom. The assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968, triggered strong reactions throughout the nation and the city. During the riots in that year, in the area of the city where I live now, the buildings were burned and destroyed, many African Americans rebelled against continued racism, injustice, and the federal government's abandonment of the city. Even before Dr. King's assassination, demands for justice forced the federal government to take steps towards "home rule" by appointing Walter Washington as mayor in 1967. In 1974, the year I first visited DC visit as a student, residents chose Washington as the city's first elected black mayor, and the first black mayor of the 20th century.

As even a little tourist bulletin described it, by 1975, African Americans were politically and culturally leading the city, making up more than 70% of the population. The Black Arts, Black Power, Women's rights, and Statehood movements flowered here. Indeed, Marion Barry, who succeeded Washington as mayor, began his public life here as a leader of local justice movements. There were independent think tanks, schools, bookstores, and repertory companies. Go-go (DC's home-grown version of funk), as well as jazz, blues, and salsa, resonating from clubs, parks, recreation centers, and car radios. With the uniting of political activism and creativity, African Americans were transforming the city and culture once again.

Photo: pingnews/Worldcrunch montage

To this day, in the exponential age we live in, gentrification is progressing with the speed of the light. My professor-passenger in the car told me little-known details of the white and Jewish community, who were moving back to the city. As a result, the money started to flow in again. I learned about this also from gay neighbors on my street, who moved into the area during the same period. What used to be an almost exclusively African American area is now home to hipsters and gay people, and me, not belonging exclusively to anyone. I booked my ticket for the forthcoming D.C. History Conference immediately.

My last drive of the day was particularly peculiar.

With my head buzzing from all the information, I'd decided to drive home when, right on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue, Mike got in the car. He had his helmet on and was dressed in one of those yellow security jackets. He looked tired and resigned. He explained his outfit by saying he worked in architecture, and that he was in charge of the many construction sites in the capital. I was taking him from one site to another, when Mike declared that another housing bubble and real estate crisis looms. Most of what you see, he said, all those hundreds of condos sprouting in residential areas, the office buildings and even hotels that developers are putting up will remain empty.

We are changing the vibe and makeup of the city thanks to government-lowered taxes and other incentives for developers, he said. But it's not what the residents want or need. If this president gets impeached, he said, the crisis will be immediate. Otherwise, it will happen in two or three years, when the economic investment cycle will arrive at its natural end. Mike explained all of this calmly, then he thought for a moment and turned back to the subject of the current president: He'll never get impeached. Nobody who has money in this city will get impeached, he said to me upon his goodbye.

My last drive of the day was particularly peculiar. I was called to pick up the rider at Corcoran Street, just a few blocks away from my house. A man knocked on the window of the driver's seat. He was holding a white envelope in his hand. Would you mind driving this letter to the address indicated on the envelope, he asked. I did; I put the note on the passenger seat next to me. It was the first passenger who didn't speak to me that day. I was happy with the silence, busy thinking about how to put into writing one of my most exciting days yet in this stimulating and fascinating city.

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Marc Semo

Can Middle East Diplomacy Help UNESCO Preserve Itself?

The UN culture and patrimony organization's new chief, Audrey Azoulay, a former French culture minister, shares her vision for reviving UNESCO after the U.S. and Israel have announced their withdrawal.

PARIS After years of crisis and lethargy, UNESCO — the United Nations' agency in charge of education, culture and science — is showing small signs of revival. During a World Heritage Committee meeting last month in Manama, Bahrain, the texts regarding the historic preservation of the Old City and Walls of Jerusalem and of Hebron were unanimously ratified. And that included support from both the Israeli and Palestinian representatives.

This vote would have been unthinkable just a few weeks earlier. In July 2017, a first draft of the declaration which mentioned the heritage status of the Old City of Hebron had infuriated Israel. That same year, in October, Israel and the United States had announced their withdrawal from the UN agency — which will be effective at the end of 2018 — considered a symbol of the multilateralism abhorred by both Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Claire Bommelaer

Our Lady Too? American Dollars In Paris To Save Notre-Dame

PARIS - Notre-Dame Cathedral continues to draw millions in the center of Paris. But how long before it starts to collapse?

For now, at least, France's most famous cathedral still stands tall and proud. But it's not in great shape. Far from it. Pollution is eating away its stones. Detail work on the outside is disintegrating. And at least three of the flying buttresses that support the building are on the verge of falling apart.

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Chloé Maurel*

How UNESCO Got It Wrong In Africa


PARIS — Since 1972, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, has maintained a "World Heritage List" of sites that it deems to have an exceptional value.

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Eugenie Bastie

Aleppo, A Historic City Of Peace And Commerce Turns To Dust

Before it became the Syrian rebellion stronghold, Aleppo was the heart of ancient civilizations.


Aleppo is one of the world's oldest cities. We can find traces of it as far back as 5000 BC. Legend has it that Abraham himself stayed there. It's believed that the name Aleppo comes from the Aramaic word "Halaba" which means "white," and its nickname to this day in Arabic is "The White" — a reference to the abundance of marble in the region. But now, it is blackened by bombs. Aleppo is in ruins, bearing little resemblance to its former glorious self as a cradle of civilization and, for long, Syria's largest and richest city. As recently as 2009, 1.6 million people lived there.

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Sheraton Accused Of Building New Hotel On Top Of Inca Ruins

LIMA — The Sheraton hotel chain is being accused of threatening Peru's cultural patrimony by building a new hotel in protected parts of Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Inca empire and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Accusing Sheraton of violating the conditions of an earlier municipal permit, Peru's culture ministry has decided to appeal a local court ruling on July 18 that construction could continue on the hotel, Lima-based El Comercio reported.

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