It’s the End of the World as We Know It, and I Feel Fine – R.E.M.

Ciao Readers!  I am happy to have this forum to reach out to you, wherever you are, say “hello” and offer my warm thoughts for you and yours.

So, I knew I wanted to say something in these strange times, but I didn’t know what. It just came to me on a long walk (one of many over the past weeks). I wanted to share my thoughts about the “silver linings” to the apocalypse. I completely understand that folks are suffering – physically, financially, psychologically – and I do not mean to diminish their suffering. But for me, I have to look ahead and try and glean the good that will come to stay out of the dark. So, in no particular order, here are some of the long-term “positives” I think will result:

U.S. Society: I think the pandemic is showing us where our societal structural fabric is weak and needs adjustments. This situation has shed (even more) light on the need for universal health care, paid sick leave, fair wages, childcare and more. It has also forced the justice system to ask questions like “should we really be keeping a 70 year-old locked up for inability to pay a jaywalking fine right now?” (which begs the question, should we ever?). On a more human societal note, I think it is making us appreciate our interconnectedness and motivating people to help others. Even the small things, like more patience at the grocery and a kind word for the cashiers, can start ripple effects of good in the universe.

Corporations: This seems like a “rubber hits the road” moment where we get to truly see if corporations are or are not good global citizens. When Amazon raised its and Whole Foods’ employees wages by 2$/hr., I felt much better about shopping with them. I am also very impressed with t-mobile giving unlimited data, Xfinity free hot spots, and Audible free books to help us all through. In contrast, when McDonalds actively lobbied against paid sick time in the stimulus bill, it reinforced the fact that it is good that I haven’t stepped foot in one since I worked there (ages 14 – 16, yes, against child labor laws). Don’t get me started on Hobby Lobby, which I was already boycotting before this (if you want to read their rationale for staying open and making people come to work, you can read it here). If I get to be preachy at all, I would ask that you think carefully in the future about the corporations to which you’re giving your hard earned money.

Global/Cultural: This one’s a little hard, because I know there have been many incidences of racism.  However, on the bright side, I think we have all been made more aware of what other countries and peoples are going through and what they have or have not done in response. Maybe we gain some empathy for suffering Italians and some appreciation for law-respecting South Koreans.  Maybe we also decide that the liberty/safety balance in China is more than we are willing to give; maybe not.  Regardless of what our personal perspectives are, we are probably getting more world news now than we ever have and learning about other countries and their people on a very human level. I am personally still mind-boggled by all of the photos I have seen of Italians queuing politely outside grocery stores (who knew they actually could?!).

Personally:  I could go on about this one for a long time (as I am guessing you can as well – feel free to share in the comments). For those of you who know me, you know I can be a bit of a control freak. I see this as the universe’s way of finally ingraining the old proverb about “learning what you can’t control” into my thick skull….we shall see.  And even though I am fortunate and still have tons of work to do every day (which I should be doing now instead of writing this), there does seem to be more time to stop and smell the metaphorical roses. So, I will leave you as I often do, returning to food – two days ago Steve and I made pasta from hand (something we keep “meaning” to do but never seem to get around to). I was too busy rolling and covered in flour to take photos of the process, but pretend you can smell and taste the final product (that’s Tuscan sausage/kale/white bean sauce)…….   Until next time!

 

Italians Wear Scarves

Ciao Readers and HAPPY FRIDAY! Since I am back from Italy and back to work I guess my blog will be still for a bit. But before then, I thought I’d re-blog the most-viewed post of all time (by more than 100%, though not sure why). I think I had the scarf-wearing (and confidence) down pretty well this time as two days in a row Italians approached me in the grocery store and started conversations about things in Italian, NOT English! Have a nice Spring…..until next time!

New Mexico to Italy

It’s just a fact.  Italians wear scarves.  If you want to try and pass as an Italian, wear a scarf (and don’t wear white running shoes).  Not only do they wear scarves (“sciarpe,” not to be confused with “scarpe” – shoes), but they wear them “in style.”  Last time we were in Europe, we learned to tie our scarves the way that was in style back then.  It’s hard to explain, but basically you make a slip-knot and put your head through the center (see picture, below).

I went to Italy this year all prepared with many scarves packed and started my trip tying them the “euro” way we learned in ’08/’10.  Here I am my very first couple of days (I started the trip in Milan, where my plane landed – this is on the top of the Duomo):

It soon became apparent to me that wearing a…

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Reflections on Italy (through an edible lens)

Ciao Readers!

I have begun to crystallize my thoughts from our recent road trip.  And, while I could just share those thoughts directly, I believe I can best illustrate them though my favorite medium – food.   Every time we traveled to Europe in the past we were always in search of the local specialties – pasta and pizza in Italy, cheese and croissants in France, and so on.  So we really paid no attention to what other types of food were available or what the eating habits of the locals were like.  This trip changed all that.

As you may recall, I have gone on many wild goose chases trying to source ingredients to prepare non-Italian foods and have tried the few foreign food places we have found here.   However, the conclusion I have come to (which has been validated by numerous Italians) is that Italians like Italian food.  Not only do Italians like Italian food, but they like all things Italian (apparently even their felony-convicted former Prime Minister).  Not only do they like Italian things, but they like them pretty much to the exclusion of non-Italian things.  That is why (in a direct way) it’s so hard to find variety in food here, and (in a more subtle way) why I feel such a strong sense of being a “stranieri.”  As the Italians I have discussed this with put it simply, Italians, especially Florentines, are “chiuso” (closed).  (Interestingly enough, these Italians usually take the form of folks who don’t feel that way – the man that owns the little Korean grocery and is married to a Korean woman; my language exchange partner who has traveled the world).   To be honest, until this trip to Paris and Amsterdam I didn’t realize the rest of Europe wasn’t the same way….

My first clue that things are not the same throughout Europe came while walking down our street in Paris.  While of course there were amazing French bakeries and bistros (more in a later post), there were tons of foreign food places.  Not one or two – tons!  The next clue came when we decided to try out a Japanese place we saw (we had to choose which of several we saw within a block).  We went during lunch and the place quickly filled up – with Parisians – businessmen and older women and everyone in-between.  Other than ourselves, we only heard French spoken.  And, much to my surprise, almost everyone was eating with chopsticks!  (As background, I have only ever seen two Italians eat with chopsticks – one being my language exchange partner who lived in Korea for 6 months and the other being a woman at PinGusto who was unsuccessfully trying to stab her sushi with one.)   This was not some exotic experience to these folks…it was lunch.  (For us it was our first unagi [eel] and non-salmon sashimi in 6 months.)

We had pretty much similar experiences throughout Paris.  Even at the upscale Lafayette Gourmet market, in addition to French foie gras (again, more in a later post), there was an entire stall for Chinese delicacies.  The regular grocery stores had things we thought didn’t exist in Europe – cheddar cheese and Oreos and Asian sauces and more.  And, while I have to say the hot sauce was nowhere near hot enough for my taste, the chips we got at the Mexican restaurant “Fajitas” were those fabulous thin-crispy ones I miss so much.   There was at least as much variety in Amsterdam (as well as the ability to eat before 8 p.m.).  And, while we enjoyed the local specialties there as well (stay tuned), we had what I could consider the best Thai green curry I’ve ever had.  Now, no offense to my favorite Thai place back in Albuquerque, but instead of 80% bamboo shoots (as I’m used to), my curry was filled with every vegetable on the planet.  Thinking the curry was going to be tamed-down for European taste buds (as was the Paris hot sauce), I made the mistake of asking for it “hot” and got what I asked for (anyone whose ever eaten authentic Thai understands what Thai hot means).  I loved every last mouth-searing second of it!!!   (Sadly enough, the hot sauce at the Amsterdam Mexican place we tried, while billed as “habenero,” was only about medium-Pace level hot.)

Now, I know you may be thinking it was weird of us to be eating all these non-French, non-Dutch foods on our trip… As my Lonely Planet “Amsterdam Encounter” put it (under a review of a Mexican place): “[Mexican food] is probably not why you came to Amsterdam.”  However, for us it was just the culinary (and thus cultural) relief we needed.  (Amsterdam also gave us our first peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and first bagel in the past 6 months.)  We also came across an American grocery store – one with real American groceries (not the fake Filipino graham crackers or Swedish tortillas of Vivi Market).  Now, before you get too excited for us (especially after you see the picture of the front window, below), know that the prices were insanely high.  I have to admit, we did each treat ourselves to one thing, but pretty much just “ooooo’d”  and “ahhhhhh’d” (just as an example, one thing we did not splurge on was a normal sized Reese’s candy bar – 2.10 euros, or about $2.80).   We chatted with the proprietor and he said he has many customers from Florence, including a professor who comes 4 times a year and fills up an empty suitcase!   Interesting.

The result of these culinary discoveries was that I realized Italy really is the fairly homogenous society I suspected it of being.  And it likes it that way.  The second discovery was that other parts of Europe are much more international and open to foreign influences.  I hate to say it, but I felt much more comfortable and welcomed in Paris and Amsterdam than I do here most of the time.  People seemed friendlier and less annoyed at the Italian/French/English mish-mosh I was speaking.  I have no idea why the French get a bad rap – this is the 3rd time we’ve been there and people have always been nice (saying “bonjour”  and “s’il vous plaît”  probably helped).

I have many more reflections that fit better in upcoming posts, so for now I’ll leave you with some of the non-local food we enjoyed (or admired) on our trip:

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