Monday, December 27, 2010

How Could They EAT That?!

After seeing multiple examples over the past couple of months of people in other lands eating (to me) truly gruesome, disgusting or downright nauseating 'traditional foods', I have developed a theory.

The grosser the food- the more recent hardship that culture has endured.

I was talking to the kids one evening about how my family has a recipe for Ox-Tail soup that has survived 50 years. And how grandparents used to eat sweetbreads, to which I got a great big "ooohgross!" I remembered that Sweetbreads made a big comeback in the U.S. during the Great Depression, which led to this theory.

I thought of Chinese eating fried scorpion on a stick.  And some Vietnamese who drink liquor seasoned from snake bile, then eat the heart and the meat.

And I thought of other cultures that partake of insects, jellyfish, rats and various reptiles as if they were delicacies...

and I realized these are starvation protein foods. Over time they have evolved into cultural delicacies.

Alcohol too is not exempt. Like Kvas, "The Russian summertime beverage made from fermented cubes of stale black or rye bread is just as widespread as vodka, the country’s other brew of fame."

Stale rye or black bread (the poorest bread) made into liquor reads making the best of extreme hardship to me.

So  the next time you see a show about a place or visit somewhere that has strange eating habits - you probably can bet that place has suffered an:
Rotten Soybeans - Asia

A. Extended War or armed conflict

B. Long term natural disaster such as drought

C. Economic disaster

D. Any combination of the above.

After all, any source of edible protein to extend life is better than none.

How many children nibbled on Rotten Soybeans -perhaps from fields ruined by flooding- because they were starving? And now to them it is a comfort food of childhood. "This kept my brother and myself from starving to death when the bombs were dropping and the rains flooded our villages." Ditto boiled snake or fried crickets or bulls testicles.

Think about it.

We have even been known to munch on each other in extremity. Fortunately this is still culturally unacceptable everywhere or travel could be a bit more interesting.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Airlines Airlines

While googling alternate forms of transportation I came across this article on a site I don't normally visit. I really think they need to change the name of the site- because despite the name- they offer some very informative and funny (and sometimes shocking) statistics and stories. This little article was one of them:

7 True Stories That Prove The Airlines Hate You

I have studied politics and business in depth through my lifetime and thought I had heard about everything that could happen - but these stories hit the peaks of incompetence,  ineptitude, absurdity, imbecility and stupidity. I noticed that all of these events occurred since 2001.
After reading these stories I couldn't be happier that we didn't give these utterly asinine dolts our travel funds. After all- who wants to encourage people that are obviously headed the wrong way down Darwins path?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Then Came Why-oming

My husband and I had traveled across the southern part of Wyoming in 2002 and dropped from there down to Salt Lake City. We were excited that our train- instead of rolling across into Denver- had to make a detour up and across this same area because of some rail repairs on the normal route. I remembered how clear and crisp the air was, how blue the sky and how you could see in fine detail the mountains and buttes in the distance.
What a difference a bare decade makes.

As we rolled from the clear, blue skies of Nevada into southern Wyoming we were suddenly enveloped by a thick fog in every direction. Impossible, as the humidity was only about 11 percent. Still, a murky haze lay over the land - obscuring the stark mountains and buttes. And it smelled- bad.

A quick check on the net showed us that since the Bush administration took over, Dick Cheney's home State had de-regulated the oil and coal industries. And these industries took advantage of this- with a vengeance.

You used to be able to see the mountains back there - behind the miles of coal cars.
Not that the coal and petroleum industries have helped the economies of the few people living here- evidence of deep poverty was embedded in the little towns we passed by.
The only things that have gone up under these sad, permanently gray skies are industry profits and local cancer rates.

Too Much Time...

We have a fallacy in the US of the harried 'Mr. Important' businessman who has to fly as he doesn't have time in his busy busy schedule for anything else.
I call bullshit.
Unless you have back to back facers in different states or some last minute emergency, anyone can afford the time to travel in a more leisurely fashion. With wireless- Iphones- laptops, etc..most business can be done from anywhere at anytime. We conducted business on the train constantly- and even attended our regular board meeting by speakerphone in the privacy of our sleeper car. And we attended it barefoot, in our comfy clothes while watching the beautiful countryside roll by. That would have been impossible to do from a plane.

On our last plane trip we were going less than half as far as we did on the train, but with delays, unscheduled stops, etc it took 2/3 as much time to get there. Our train made every single major stop on time. The only hold-ups were when Union Pacific (which owns the western rails) held up our train over seemingly frivolous things such as when they wanted our train to hook up to and haul one of their business cars. But we still made it to the next scheduled 'person pick up' stop on time.

It felt as if Union Pacific was somewhat of a big bullying brother to Amtrak. Amtrak really needs it's own high speed rail. That is how they do it in Europe- the high speed passenger rails are separate from the other tracks.

Germany's high speed "ICE" rail system makes us look like the Flinstones competing with the Jetsons. It's really embarrassing as an American to know that we are still trundling along on tracks leased from shipping companies (at around 60 mph) while most of Europe is Zipping along at 200+ mph on renewable energy magnetic rail.

A high speed, coast to coast rail system would be a perfect, shovel ready project that would immediately create jobs nationally, decrease congestion and improve the environment- and the very thought of something like that would have petroleum and coal honchos setting their hair on fire. I say "Have at it." The world would be better off without you in the long run. Especially after traveling the countryside and seeing the ugly devastation done by your industries. The faster clean energy sources replaces you, the better off we will all be.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Only Sane Thing Left

Thankfully my husband agreed with me on every point. He too was disgusted and horrified with what flying had become as a form of travel. We were tired of trying to de-stress from flying while dealing with critical business matters. We started looking at alternatives- a fast, inexpensive way to get from point A to point B in as comfortable a manner as possible.

The Train was the only solution we found that seemed to meet our requirements. So when our next business trip needed scheduled we bought tickets for a 2 person sleeper room from the Nevada Tahoe area to Michigan.

We had the leeway of dealing with a departure window of a few days so we played around with Train schedules on the website until we got what were probably the best rates. The rates were extremely variable depending on time and day of the week of travel, so if you book- check different days/times on the online scheduler. Our tickets ultimately cost what it would have to fly round-trip. They included 3 meals a day, our 2 person sleeper room and discounted snacks and drinks.

 I was really nervous when we got to our departure station. We had thrown ourselves at the mercy of a completely foreign method of travel for 2 1/2 days. Wow- what a relief when we got there. There were no uniformed jackboots with nasty attitudes, no massive, complex maze of a departure building to have to try to find our way through. We went through the front doors into the main room where a boarding pass kiosk was right in front- printed our ticket and then zipped right through the back door to our train.

Smiling and polite porters waited everywhere to answer questions or assist us with our bags. They actually treated us like they appreciated our business. Wow (again) I felt like I had been transported back in time to a kinder, gentler place. We found our sleeper car and room very easily as our car porter explained to everyone that he would be assisting us later in transforming our comfy seats into beds and where the dining, lounge and snack cars were, as well as the showers and toilets.

Sleeper car hallway.

This is a sleeper room after the beds have been let out. 
And here is the dining car- tables set for dinner.

To fly- or not to fly..

This is the story of a girl, a guy, a plane and a train.
Actually, multiple planes and, since 2001, multiple horror stories to go with each flight. I truly hope that no one forgets what it was like to fly before 2001, when we were all treated like appreciated clients of the airlines instead of possible mass-murderers.

My husband and I are also business partners. That means that when a business trip rears it's sometimes ugly head, we go together, always. We truly enjoy each others company, so that's a good thing.

Our last flight was to Dallas last winter. It was a solid roller coaster ride from beginning to end. At one point we had to pick up a few Pilots at an unscheduled stop because their flights had been canceled due to the weather. One of them sat directly behind me and as we bucked along through the atmosphere hard enough to cause me catch some air between my seat and the plane seat, (thank God for seatbelts) I started hearing an odd but very quiet whimpering noise coming from behind me. I peeked between the seats. The Pilot was gritting his teeth through the horrified rictus that was his face as his white knuckled fingers gripped his armrests hard enough to leave deep claw marks in the vinyl.

That was it. I was done. Done with being treated like an incipient criminal, done with hanging a death defying 30k feet in the air at the mercy of overworked air traffic controllers, underpaid pilots, and unpredictable weather, done with eating nothing but peanuts for 8 hours or more. Done done done.