Statue in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Giovinazzo (Apulia), Italy • Privately owned 19th century Russian icon • 17th-18th century painting in the Basilica of St. Nicolas of Bari (Puglia), Italy • 14th century statue in a chapel at the Norman castle in Sannicandro, Bari (Puglia), Italy

While doing seemingly unrelated research on the web some years ago, I got an unexpected clue from an old Russian painting that we don’t know even half as much about St. Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) in America as we think we do. And after some 200 years of Christmastime tradition, you’d think that we’d know all that there is to know about a guy who has unrestricted access to our chimneys!

Never in a million cups of spiked eggnog would I have guessed that, in the much older holiday customs of the Dutch, St. Nicholas has, instead of elves, an…

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Credit: TIME Magazine

There’s something oddly familiar about this.

It was a day or two after an online discussion last month in which I’d participated––a casual chat on Ariana Grande’s May 28, 2018 TIME Magazine cover — that I finally realized what bothered me most about it.

Well, aside from the very obvious fact that the image was bleached out to make the typically quite tan pop singer’s complexion look much more pale (or lighter) for the cover than it was in the actual proof photo.

A few people who participated in the conversation were equally bothered, while others were unfazed. One of the latter participants, in fact, was…


In Honor of 80-Plus Years of Hip-Hop Music?

Okay, sure Blast-Master KRS-One. New York’s Boogie Down Bronx may be the birthplace of hip-hop music and all that. But some of its precious “blueprint” now appears to have come from the rough-n-rugged suburbs of Norfolk, Virginia.

That’s right, y’all: Norfork, Virginia.

It was in the Norfolk suburb of Berkley specifically where the legendary gospel music act known as the Golden Gate Quartet was formed back in the dirty 1930s. …


Ya really gotta collect ’em all.

Every now and again I’ll have the good fortune to see an uber-cool vinyl record cover arrangement gracing a wall in the living space of record collector friends and acquaintances. Each time I have this good fortune, it always makes me say to myself: Hey self, you really oughta do something like that.

If ever I do finally decide to create such an arrangement to grace the wall in my own living space, Abdul Mati Klarwein would be my record cover artist of choice. …


Thoughts on the Black Madonna iconography of medieval Europe

Credit: Wellcome Gallery

“Why are the majority of the virgins that are revered in the celebrated pilgrimages black?” queried writer Romain Rolland, puzzling over the curious existence of religious icons known as the Black Madonna found in hundreds of Christian churches throughout Europe:

“At Boulogne-sur-mer (France) the sailors carry a Black Virgin in the procession. At Clermont in Auvergne (France), the Black Virgin is revered as also at Einsiedeln, Switzerland, near Zurich, to which thousands of pilgrims — Swiss, Bavarians, Alstatian — go to pay her homage. The famous Virgin of Oropa in the Piedmont (Switzerland) is still a Negress, as well as…


A brief note on Pablo Casal’s infinitely noteworthy “Nigra Sum.”

In 1943, the Spanish composer Pablo Casals (1876–1973) wrote “Nigra Sum,” one of his best-known choral works and, one could argue, one of the most beautiful choral works ever written.

Like many of Casals’ compositions, the piece was designed to be sung at the famed Montserrat Monastery in Catalonia, the ancient Spanish city which was also the place of Casals’ birth. This sumptuous-sounding devotional was written by the composer as a six-part chorus with an organ or piano accompaniment.

And rather fittingly, I think, I found a performance of his masterpiece done by the Georgia Boy Choir, and actually recorded…


Composite Illustration by Paco Taylor (STP Design)

Nearly everything I wanted to learn about anthropology was influenced by the giant monster movies of Japan.

Why do giant monsters in the 1960s special effects films of Japan nearly always seem to come from make-believe islands situated in the South Pacific? From the time of my childhood in the 1970s, this connecting thread was something of a puzzle to me. But I wasn’t the only inquisitive daikaiju (“giant monster”) geek to ever get his brow furrowed over this oft’ recycled motif.

In a 1992 essay that begins his own inquiry into the matter, Japanese cultural critic Nagayama Yasuo also pondered the significance of this recurring theme in the motion pictures of his homeland when he asked…


Credit: Soul Hug | Facebook

The deeply embracing piano music of Soul Hug

The nine original songs on Soul Hug’s little-known 2010 Elepianote EP (which I myself only just discovered) are mellow and sweetly melodic. If you’re not in the right mindset for that today –– or even tonight –– it’s okay. Save it for when you do need something in that vein and nothing else in your playlist is doing it. And when that time does come, do what I did: Press play, lower your eyelids, and see where this music takes you.

As for yours truly, I’m finding myself wandering into a hotel lobby in some foreign burg found in the…


Credit: Funimation

A sad but true Hollywood story.

In Afro Samurai: Resurrection, Ogin is the alluring Afro-coiffed woman seen maneuvering deftly through rounds of Chō-Han, a traditional dice game in Japan. She makes her surprising on-screen appearance during the rowdy gambling house sequence in the jointly-produced 2009 animated film by Gonzo and the US-based Funimation.

‘Resurrection’ is a sequel to Funimation’s hit 2007 TV mini-series, Afro Samurai. Both adaptations were based on the comic series written and drawn by manga artist Takashi Okazaki. Actor Samuel L. Jackson lends his voice to both the stoic titular bladesman and his unruly sidekick Ninja Ninja.


Credit: ウィキ太郎 (Wiki Taro) • Wikimedia Commons

Although I’ve never been a big whiskey drinker (or a big drinker at all, really), I’ve decided that if I’m gonna own a bottle of whiskey –– and I am gonna — then it’ll have to be an $80 dollar bottle of imported whiskey.

Because…why the heck not?

Suntory, which has a few different whiskeys for varying price points ($40 to $6,000 — yup, six grand, kiddies) was made famous outside the Land of the Rising Sun back in 2003. This occurred with the brand’s very meaningful placement in Sofia Coppola’s Academy Award-winning film, Lost in Translation. …

Paco Taylor

Writes about Eastern and Western pop culture, history and art | Bylines @ Nextshark, G-Fan Magazine, The Beat & CBR (Comic Book Resources) | stpaco@gmail.com

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