Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Celebrating The Louvre in Paris" from VOA

STEVE EMBER: I’m Steve Ember.

BARBARA KLEIN: And I’m Barbara Klein with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today we travel to Paris, France, to visit one of the most famous and most visited art collections in the world. From the twelfth to the eighteenth century, the Louvre was the home of the ruling families of France. In seventeen ninety-three the Louvre became a national museum to house the country’s treasures. The thirty-five thousand works of art in the museum represent thousands of years of human culture and come from all over the world.


STEVE EMBER: One of the most striking ways to begin a visit to the Louvre Museum is to start in its central courtyard. This is an area where past and present building traditions meet. On three sides, you are surrounded by the museum’s carved stone walls.

In the center of the courtyard, there is a huge glass and steel pyramid surrounded by water fountains and smaller pyramids. This modern addition was designed by the Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei. You can enter the glass building and walk downstairs to an underground visitors center.


BARBARA KLEIN: The next decision is which area of the huge museum to explore first. It would take days to fully explore the museum. So we will have to settle for a few favorite works. We will explore works from the three parts of the Louvre -- the Denon, Richelieu, and Sully wings.

First, we stop to see one of the most famous sculptures in the world. It is called the Winged Victory of Samothrace. This sculpture takes the form of a woman with wings. But this is not just any woman. This is the Greek goddess of victory. She is standing on the front of a ship facing the strong island winds. The artist carved her flowing clothing with such detail it is hard to believe she is made of stone. Experts believe this statue was made by the people of Rhodes about two thousand two hundred years ago as a religious offering to honor a naval victory.

STEVE EMBER: Nearby, there is another famous Greek statue of a woman. The Venus de Milo was made about a hundred years after Winged Victory. This marble statue is widely believed to be the goddess of love and beauty. The work was named after the island of Melos where the statue was discovered in eighteen twenty. This Venus wears nothing but a cloth draped over her curving waist and legs. She is easy to identify because she is missing both arms. The statue is somewhat mysterious. Experts still do not know what identifying objects those arms might have once held.


BARBARA KLEIN: Visitors to the Louvre can watch the evolution of Renaissance art by looking at several hundreds of years of Italian paintings. The Italian artist Giotto painted “St. Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata” in thirteen hundred. Giotto painted St. Francis in a way that shows his very human emotions as he goes through an intense religious experience. Giotto explored how to represent three dimensional space using light and shade. His methods influenced later generations of artists.

STEVE EMBER: The artist Fra Angelico painted “The Coronation of the Virgin” about one hundred and thirty years later. It was made for the central area of a religious center. The painting shows Jesus crowning his mother, Mary. To help express the wonder of this moment, Fra Angelico filled the work with light and gold.

Other paintings show important political leaders and events. For example, Paolo Uccello’s fifteenth century work, “The Battle of San Romano,” shows the intensity of war.

BARBARA KLEIN: It is hard to miss the crowds of people always gathering in one room on this floor. They have come to see what is arguably the most famous painting in the world. It is Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” Created around fifteen oh three, this is a painting of an Italian woman named Lisa Gherardini. She was the wife of a businessman from Florence named Francesco del Giocondo. It is from him that the painting takes its other name, “La Gioconda.” The woman is sitting in a chair, looking directly at the painter. Behind her is a dreamy landscape. Experts still do not know much about this woman and her famous smile. They do not know why da Vinci painted it, or how it ended up in the collection of French ruler Francis the First. But the painting’s realism and mystery have captured the attention of viewers for centuries.


STEVE EMBER: For a lesson in French history, we turn to the seventeenth century Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens. The queen of France, Marie de Medici, hired him to create a series of twenty-four paintings. These huge and colorful paintings make a political statement about her rise to power.

“The Lacemaker” by Johannes Vermeer provides a more peaceful and personal example of Dutch art. Painted around sixteen sixty-nine, this small work shows a woman quietly at work making lace. The artist’s method of capturing the effects of light is masterful.

BARBARA KLEIN: We cannot visit a French museum without exploring examples of French art. First, we catch someone lying. Georges de la Tour painted the emotionally expressive “The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds” in sixteen thirty-five. It shows four people playing cards, and one person is not playing fairly.

We move on to several paintings from the nineteenth century period known as Romanticism. “Liberty Leading the People” is an important work by Eugene Delacroix.

This huge painting shows the artist’s representation of a political uprising in Paris in eighteen thirty. Liberty takes the form of a strong woman holding the French flag. She is guiding the French people to fight. There are dead bodies, smoke, and the buildings of Paris in the distance.

STEVE EMBER: “The Raft of the Medusa,” painted in eighteen nineteen, is an emotional work by Theodore Gericault. The subject is based on real events. The painting shows a group of sailors struggling to survive on a floating raft after the sinking of their ship, the Medusa.

They are wildly motioning to a ship in the distance. But they seem to know that death will soon mark their future. This work was disputed at the time. Many people believed art should only show beautiful subjects. But others praised the work for its political message and modernity.

BARBARA KLEIN: Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres’ painting “La Grande Odalisque” shows a beautiful woman wearing no clothes. She has turned her long curving back to the viewer. She looks over her shoulder in a sensual way.


STEVE EMBER: We continue our visit to the Louvre with the huge collection of art from ancient Egypt, Persia and the Middle East.

“The Great Sphinx of Tanis” from ancient Egypt dates back over four thousand six hundred years. This stone statue has the body of a lion and the head of an Egyptian ruler. It expresses a sense of permanence and solidity.

Another famous ancient piece is the “Law Code of Hammurabi, King of Babylon.” It is almost four thousand years old. This piece of basalt rock has been cut with words in the Akkadian language. It is one of the oldest collections of laws in human history.

BARBARA KLEIN: Two four-meter-tall sculptures stand guard on either side of a door. They are winged bulls with human heads. The sculptures are over two thousand years old. They came from a home built by the Assyrian ruler Sargon the Second in modern day Iraq.

The Louvre’s rich collection of Islamic art will soon have a new home. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia donated twenty million dollars to build a new exhibit area within the Louvre. It is expected to open in two thousand twelve.

STEVE EMBER: For the most part, the Louvre museum’s collection does not extend past works made in the mid-nineteenth century. But the Louvre recently made a special exception.

The American artist Cy Twombly is one of only three modern artists who have been asked to make a permanent piece of art for the Louvre. His work covers over three hundred fifty square meters of ceiling in a room that contains treasures from ancient Greece. The painting is like a bright blue sky with floating circular shapes on its edges.

Mr. Twombly wrote the name of ancient Greek artists in Greek letters. His aim was to honor the skillful work of ancient Greek sculptors. His painting and the Louvre Museum show the importance of celebrating art’s past and its present.


BARBARA KLEIN: This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I’m Barbara Klein.

STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember. You can see pictures of some of these works of art at our Web site, Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

"Woody Gutherie and the Dust Bowl Refugees" from Voice of America.

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Woodie Gutherie and the Dust Bowl Refugees

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Friday, June 4, 2010

"The Herbal Pharmacy" from Voice of America.

The Tumeric Plant

BOB DOUGHTY: This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, a program in VOA Special English. I’m Bob Doughty.

FAITH LAPIDUS: And I’m Faith Lapidus. Today, we will tell about herbs and spices, and some of their many uses.


BOB DOUGHTY: People have been using herbs and spices for thousands of years. Generally, herbs come from the green leaves of plants or vegetables. Spices come from other parts of plants and trees. For example, cinnamon comes from the hard outer cover of cinnamon plants. The spice ginger comes from the part of the ginger plant that grows underground.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Some herbs and spices are valued for their taste. They help to sharpen the taste of many foods. Others are chosen for their smell. Still others were used traditionally for health reasons.

Some herbs and spices may be gaining importance in modern medicine. For example, natural chemicals from black pepper and the Indian spice turmeric might help to prevent breast cancer. Researchers at the University of Michigan say a substance developed from the spices could reduce the possibility of breast tumors.

BOB DOUGHTY: Turmeric is a plant. It also is used to make the spicy food seasoning curry. In the study, researchers tested curcumin, a chemical compound taken from turmeric. They also used peperine, which comes from black peppers.

The researchers combined the two compounds, and placed the mixture on breast cancer cells in a laboratory. The mixture caused the number of stem cells to decrease. Normal breast tissue, however, was not affected.

Results of the study were reported in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. Madhuri Kakarala was lead writer of the report. Doctor Kakarala teaches at the University of Michigan’s Medical School. She also works as a research investigator for the Veterans Administration Ann Arbor Healthcare System.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Doctor Kakarala says the cancer-fighting treatments known as chemotherapy do not control tumors containing cancer stem cells. Cancer stem cells are found inside tumors. They help the tumor continue growing without restriction. This means the disease can spread and return. The disappearance of cancer stem cells, then, is important for cancer control.

The doctor also says researchers could be able to limit the number of cells that can form tumors if they limit the number of normal stem cells. That would reduce the possibility of the disease appearing.

BOB DOUGHTY: Research involving turmeric is not new. Scientists have been studying its medical possibilities for many years. For example, researchers in Singapore completed one such study several years ago. The study was based on earlier evidence that turmeric has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities. These qualities can help protect against damage to the body’s tissues and other injuries.

The researchers said turmeric has been shown to reduce evidence of damage in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. But, they said evidence was lacking about cases of Alzheimer’s in people who ate curry compared with people who did not use curry.

For this reason, the researchers designed a study that examined results from a mental-performance test of older Asian adults. The adults were sixty to ninety-three years old. None had severe memory losses. Those who sometimes ate curry, or ate it often or very often, did better on the tests than individuals who rarely or never ate curry.


FAITH LAPIDUS: The work of the Mayo Clinic and its medical experts is world-famous. The Clinic operates medical centers in three American states. Its “Health Letter” publication of November, two thousand seven provided more evidence that herbs and spices can aid health. Mayo Clinic experts said people could reduce salt use by using herbs and spices instead. Too much salt is a problem for people with health conditions like high blood pressure.

The experts said some plant chemicals are high in antioxidants. In addition to turmeric, these include cloves, cinnamon, ginger, oregano, sage and thyme.

BOB DOUGHTY: The experts also said antioxidants like garlic, rosemary and saffron have qualities that could fight cancer. They said limited evidence shows that cinnamon, fenugreek and turmeric may affect blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

Not all studies agree that spices could help diabetes patients. But some research suggests that they could because of a suspected link between inflammation and diabetes. Inflammation is the body’s way of reacting to infection.


FAITH LAPIDUS: Researchers from the University of Georgia reported two years ago that cinnamon could help reduce blood sugar. The researchers tested twenty-four common herbs and spices. The tests showed that many of the substances contained high levels of antioxidant chemicals known as polyphenols.

The researchers found that ground cloves had the most polyphenols. Cloves were the most effective at calming inflammation of any spice or herb they tested. Cinnamon was second. Other research has shown that cinnamon gets more use in cooking than ground cloves. This means it could affect the health of more people. Still, the Mayo Clinic warns that cinnamon CANNOT replace proven medicines for diabetes.

BOB DOUGHTY: Another American study found that adding spices to meat before cooking at high temperatures may reduce harmful chemicals. Researchers at Kansas State University reported on their experiments with steaks in two thousand eight. They found a major decrease in unwanted chemicals by preparing the meat with spice and herb marinades. The study showed that this may decrease formation of heterocyclic amines, also known as HCAs. The researchers say these chemicals may cause cancer in some people.

America’s National Cancer Institute says cooking meat at very high temperatures produces the most HCAs. The chemicals form when amino acids react with creatine, a chemical found in muscles. But meats from organs and non-meat protein sources have little or no HCA.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Research on HCAs has made some people afraid to prepare meat on a grill – the place where meat is cooked on hot coals or an open fire. Cooking meat this way is a traditional favorite of many Americans during warm weather.

The Kansas State University study, however, may show a way that reduces risk for people who grill on high heat. The researchers placed some steaks in already prepared spice mixes, or marinades. The meat then was grilled for five minutes on each side at a temperature of more than two hundred degrees Celsius. The researchers also cooked steaks marinated without spices, and steaks that were not marinated. They were prepared at the same temperature as meat with the marinade mixes.

The researchers compared levels of the HCAs in all the steaks. They found the HCAs in the meat marinated in spices had decreased up to eighty-eight percent.


BOB DOUGHTY: Herbs and spices are often used because they can make food taste better. Some spices also destroy bacteria. Spices have long been used to keep food safe to eat. In the past, spices also helped to prevent the wasting away of dead bodies.

Herb and spice plants grow in many countries. For example, the Molucca Islands in Indonesia are famous for producing spices like cloves, nutmeg or mace. Vanilla comes from orchid plants growing in South America and other places with warm, moist weather.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Spices have influenced world history. For example, the Goth people of Europe defeated Roman forces in battle more than sixteen centuries ago. After the fighting ended, the leader of the Goths is said to have demanded five-thousand pounds of gold and three thousand pounds of pepper.

More recently, Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus discovered new lands while seeking to expand trade with spice-growing areas in Asia. The Italian cities of Genoa and Venice became powerful because they were at the center of the spice trade. The trade was so important to national economies that rulers launched wars in their struggle to control spices.


BOB DOUGHTY: This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Jerilyn Watson. Our producer was Brianna Blake. I’m Bob Doughty.

FAITH LAPIDUS: And I’m Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.