Eagle and serpent

explorations and philosophy: in the world, of the world

Tag: life

On the origin of food

Writing about the origin of food for us contemporary supermarket-bound and slow-food-preferring culinarily-minded individuals has been tickling my mind for over a year now. Maybe it’s a good reason to start blogging again, who knows?

It started last year as I ordered a grilled rock lobster in a fine restaurant in Lisbon. Picked up living, the waiter squeezed his eyes to make him “say goodbye” by waving his only remaining arm (the other one had been taken away for a reason unknown to me, probably for the reasons of economic profit). As it happened, Luis tried to jump off the plate, but the laughing executioner aptly caught him. Within minutes, Luis returned to me, halved, grilled and scenting of saffron. Tasteful.

Although I failed to blog about this funny incident back then, I was reminded by it this year as I was fishing with my brave niece and nephew. Catching the numerous fish, mostly zander and the pike, was of course exhilarating. It was also exiting for everyone to row to the shore and meet the children’s mother and grandmother and tell them about the epic trip, wondering the beasts. But…the question emerged…then what? What was to be the destiny of those pritive, sharp-toothed beings?

Well, this brings us to the crossroads of real life and philosophy; and how the use of language ‘sanitises’ our life-experiences. What I did with the fish was I killed, slaughtered and cut them to pieces. Intriguingly, my choices of words of explaining the then-on-going process were not extremely highly regarded by the gate-keepers of family morality. Why? Should we clean our vocabularies of violence, even if that is exactly what we do to living beings to keep ourselves (well-)fed?

In our contemporary society, death and violence are highly regulated, conceptually and rhetorically. Meat comes from the supermarket and when people grow old they end up dying in hospitals (this gives a whole new meaning to ‘taking care’, doesn’t it?). Violence is abundant in entertainment, but daycare aunties and other professionals of education condemn boyish wrestling as ‘gendered violence’. In this post, I’m only concentrating on the un-knowability of the origin of food and how children should be protected from knowing it? Or should they?

The main reason for this seems to be to save them from the emotional distress of losing their cuddly animal friends. On the other hand, our whole Western lifestyle depends on killing; not only animals, but other human beings as well. What a hypocritical dilemma! In other words, we want to whitewash our life-worlds by the proper use of words. Everyone knows that ‘killing’ doesn’t sound that good.

This might be a thread in the development of ‘cleaning’ media-vocabularies as well: is this not similar to ‘neutralising’ terrorists? In a sense, this combines patronising, neo-colonialism and compassion. ‘Cleaning’ fish and ‘terrorist training facilities’ doesn’t sound that bad after all…

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Pseudo-scientific comparative analysis

I think it’s time for one. Some ten days here in the land of sunshine, culinary excellence and friendly people give the needed backrest for some reflections of my time on the island.

Food: London is simply wonderful, even traditional British treats are excellent; one just has to know where to go. No need to elaborate here further, the interested ones should just research TimeOut or book a flight. Compared to London Helsinki is generally miserable, sometimes positively surprising in its exoticism, the peak being narrow, boring and very pricey.

Prices: Nominal prices are what they are, currency rates fluctuating, added to cultural and geographical differences of availability. If ‘expensive’ is perceived as “the cost of what you get”, London wins 6-0. By the river the scope varies from good and cheap to exquisite in both ways, by the sea one can choose between expensive mediocrities and very expensive haute stuff.

Alcohol: Both are pathologically infested with alcoholics and a culture of excessive consumption. The North leans more towards binging and glorification of non-controlled drunken idiocy, whereas the Brits sip all the time. After work, the streets in front of pubs are crowded at least four evenings a week, full of shouting and smoking office labour. Splendid. On the other hand, Helsinki is drunkard-littered ‘only’ two times a week (summertime is another matter), and has more brawling and aggressive behaviour (in London one has to seek a bit).

Housing: In this sense, Helsinki is a clear winner (except for the geo-location). At the price of a nice studio in Helsinki city centre, in London the same money buys you a garage with dust, mould and free street entertainment. Crumbling infra is a big turn-off, added to the almost inescapable need to commute (in similarly crumbling) mass transit establishment.

People: One thing I’ll definitely miss is the politeness and considerateness of the people around. Everyone is simply used to taking other people’s space and person into account, physically and verbally, which is definitely not the case in Ultima Thule. Maybe it’s due to the long history of people living together, don’t know. Nevertheless the archetypical, rude Finnish redneck with two modes of talking—complete silence and verbal abuse—is not appealing.

Hubris levels (ungrounded self-satisfaction added to ignorance about the exterior world) are pretty much the same in both countries. In the UK, however, they have far better reasons for that; hence it’s slightly less ridiculous.

Back on the island

After a month of wandering in the belt of good life (south of the Alps, north of the Atlas), it was time to return to the fog. It took some time and pain to re-adjust to the rain and cold.

+13 degrees, wind and rain just don’t do it for me anymore. Yes, many things are better here than in the south (infra etc. you know it). Sadly, the benefits hardly outweigh good food, nice people and excellent weather… Cold fingers no good.

There must be something in the notion that bad outdoors makes people concentrate on the indoors (and vice versa). No surprise that doing a PhD right next to a beach takes a very curious mind…

Mangiare

Had to leave Italy, otherwise they would’ve made me fat! In the Ligurian mountains even the waiters took no no for an answer. Seems they are insistent on every front…

After declining a dessert from the dinner menu and just opting for a coffee, the waiter came back in few minutes suggesting another, ‘very good local dessert’, which I, of course, could not turn down. It ended up being a plateful of these

Uuh…

Also easiness of the wine specs was surprising, which is rather uncommon in Europe. When I asked about the difference between normal and ‘superiore’ Rossese (local red), I got an extremely helpful answer. “You see-a, superiore is very good!

For you my friend

This is how it should be! Renting a vespa in Italy can turn out to be pretty much anything. But what comes without saying, it’s not boring!

The best thing to have is someone who knows what he’s doing, and knows the owner of the rental as well. Then you can get a discount and be quite sure that they don’t fool you. This is common knowledge, not surprising, and so on.

But the most important thing is the thing what this leads to. Unlike in cultures with high level of Weberian bureaucracy and low level of charisma (read: everything north of the Alps), here assholes don’t have a fun time! (Or you have to be the biggest asshole in the country in a loong time).

Being friendly pays off—which is very cool indeed!

Lever attitude

It’s such a long time since reading a blog moved something inside. And…oh, yes.

Would it be cool to have an espresso bar in the middle of the town that would inhabit lever machines, skilled baristas and a flow of interested customers—only? Single 1, doppio 2 units of currency.

Fancy milk? F*ck off!

Big macs and death

There’s a sticky habit among my American friends to recommend some places to visit or even live in across the ocean.

Obviously, they don’t feel that either the media or the general atmosphere here in Europe does them the justice they should. Much of their ‘justice’…

This is, of course, heart-breaking. My friends the Statesmen think (or at least used to) that the main criticism is pointed towards their former regime. Now, suddenly and magically, with the new regime, things are somehow much better. They fail to see two things: first, it’s no argument to say—“not all Americans are like that”—of course not. It’s just too sad that the rest of the world gets what it gets. Second, this is not the issue—the critique goes against their whole way of living and co-existing with the world.

I fully, truly and honestly acknowledge the possibility that I would find NY, DC, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle as vibrant, dynamic, eye-opening, interesting, cultivated, welcoming and open-minded cities. There is no doubt about that. Moreover, I don’t think that I would necessarily have miserable time in the ‘fly-over-land’ (as one of the guys from the coast so nicely put). Quite the contrary, there should be great landscapes filled with outdoor and hunting possibilities.

But as long as the country treats her visitors as criminals, imprisons and tortures people fighting for their own countries in their own countries, proudly and openly funds apartheid governments and fills all the backyards of the world with sh*t, corpses and consumerist ideology, I’m not particularly eager to go.

Proselytise the traveller

There is one thing that I’ve come across in some Muslim countries I’ve visited. It’s the eagerness of some locals to convert me to Islam.

First one took place in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, when the warden gave me a handful of leaflets telling how wonderful the faith was. I had been staring at the beautiful murals, obviously long enough to trigger his mission. In Eastern Turkey, the approach was not that respectful. A bearded man challenged me and my friend of us “Not respecting Mohammad, why?” Answering that kind of question is quite hard: “Umm…we don’t disrespect, he’s just not part of the doctrine…” invoked just another set of questions and suspicions.

In Iran, everyone minded their own business in terms of religion.

In Sahara, however, it happened again. In the shared taxi from Tan Tan to Laayoune, my neighbour (young and multi-lingual guy) suddenly popped out the question: “Why are you not a Muslim?” “Well, I was not brought to be one, and haven’t felt the need to convert” was my initial reply. This was not satisfactory. Interestingly, he used the exactly same argument than the man in Van (East Turkey): “Why hold on to a faith that is obviously wrong? Islam is correct, so you should convert to it.”

Needless to say, a philosophical argument questioning the foundations of his claim didn’t yield much. Raising the issue of having read the Qur’an and still not believing didn’t help either… Oh well.

It’s just interesting. There must be something in the religious mind that makes them spread the ‘good’ word. It happens also in the better families. It’s a gift, not an attempt to proselytise!

West Bank witness

Take a look at Rob’s blog covering his recent visit.

Let the man sleep

Our new driver was a man in about his seventies, and a loud one. After starting his car, we drove about three minutes before it was time for eating, evening prayers and just hanging around with his mates in a highway ‘diner’. I took the time to gaze at the desert by night, and it undeniably looked very cool indeed. When we finally continued, I fell asleep for a short while, waking up when he pulled the car over once again, stretched his legs and started to snore. My neighbour helpfully shouted to my ear in Berber/Arabic that our driver needs to rest a while.

After a half an hour or so, I seriously suggested to the man to continue driving, which proved to be a bad, very bad mistake. He agreed and started driving. Once again I thought that things are finally going on just fine…and fell asleep.

I woke up to the snoring of our man, while moving about 80 km/h in a completely dark highway in the middle of Sahara! Driving in the middle of the road, falling asleep time and again, only to wake up to the headlights of an encountering truck and tilting to the right just before hitting was his style. Shouting of French/English/Berber/Arabic (+ swearwords in all the languages spoken in the car) filled the 1970s Mercedes for few minutes. Despite us now agreeing that he can sleep, he insisted of lasting to the next city of Boujdour. He (and us) made it; once again he stretched his legs and started to snore.

After two and a half hours of very tired sipping mint tea and communicating with the locals without a common language, we decided to continue and wake up our driver. At this point the clock was somewhere around three in the morning. He woke up and off we went! This time he lasted one hour, before the roulette started all over again. We pulled over to sleep (at this point I was approaching a mental state of ‘accepting harmony’; I think Zen Buddhists talk about it). After an hour of sleep he was able to continue, being able to remain somewhat awake… Just few times we had to do something silly with his non-functioning radio, the activity of which he would reproach loudly (I think he never realised it was our tactic of stimulating his blood circulation).

We reached Laayoune after twelve hours, at six o’clock in the morning. The guy gracefully drove me two blocks to my hotel.