January 21, 2014

Southern European Meditations, Part One: Feeding the Body and Soul


PARIS

We are waiting in line at a boulangerie. A mother buys two long baguettes and hands them to her son while she pays her bill. He sneaks a quick peek at her, notices her distraction, grabs one of the baguettes, rips off about six inches and starts to gnaw away. Isn’t this better than sneaking candy?

Awaiting Salade Nicoise

I wonder what the Academy members who fight so hard to purge the French language of foreign words, think of all the shops bearing the name Sandwicherie.

GREECE

At a Restaurant in Heraklion, on the Island of Crete -
We arrive at 7:00 p.m. only to learn the restaurant does not officially open until 7:30. We say we will return as the restaurant was recommended to us, but the owner welcomes us inside and hands us menus. While we choose our entrees and eat some proffered appetizers, the restaurant owner talks gently to a young boy, encouraging him to finish a plate of French fries that are piled on a plate at the opposite end of the restaurant’s closed-in porch, where we sit. The boy runs back and forth, halting abruptly and twisting his body into a Ninja-like stance, arms extended in fighting pose. Despite his theatrics, he is remarkably quiet, under the owner’s watchful eye.
             Later other customers arrive and another man, the age of the owner, who might be related, takes charge of the boy while the owner ushers guests to their tables. More people arrive, the second man disappears into the kitchen, while an elderly man in the corner—the boy’s grandfather?—takes charge of the young boy.
            The meal was delicious, but watching the men care for the little boy was the best part of the evening.

The Parthenon from a Restaurant Terrace in Athen
GIBRALTAR

When we travel we always eat the food of the culture in which we find ourselves. When we visited the hill tribes in Thailand, we ate rice and peanuts cooked in bamboo. In Vietnam, the fish sauce permeated everything. On this trip we ate paté in France, shrimp from the Aegean Sea in Greece, liver and onions in Venice, and tortilla (firm potato omelets) in Spain. In Gibraltar, we ate fish and chips and mushy peas.

Using food to make friends with a monkey on Gibraltar

A TOUCH OF CIVILIZATION

At the Alhambra, Gary went up in the towers and I sat in a plaza. Trees were planted so that parts of the plaza were shaded and other parts were in sunshine. In the center stood a kiosk selling wine, beer, and soft drinks—in real glasses! There were no tables. You just sat on a wall or bench, drank your beverage and returned your glass to the kiosk.

RIFFS ON THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET

They say the Mediterranean diet prolongs life, but as I observed the Italians I wondered if researchers have linked the wrong cause and effect. Italians are also passionate. They express their feelings and do not bottle them up. They spend time over their meals, don’t just eat and run. They spend time with family—over meals, walking in the park, sitting on a bench in the piazza. They are connected to their families and to one another. They stop and talk on the streets. They walk more than we do. They kiss one another when they meet. And they live in a sunny climate. I wonder what really contributes to longer lives?

Wasted Dates – Seville, Spain
In Southern Spain, the “Mediterranean diet” includes, if the restaurants are any indication, lots of meat, fish, and eggs. Vegetables are a tablespoon of carrots in an oxtail stew or a slice of tomato on a piece of bread. We have been told most of them eat very little breakfast. Does this sound like the diet proscribed by American dieticians? And yet the people are usually trim and energetic. Makes me wonder.

Hams in shop window –Seville, Spain


FAVORITE FOOD THIS TRIP:

Number One: Crepes with Sausage Paste and Candied Orange

Also: Toast with jam, ham, and blue cheese

ONGOING QUESTIONS:

If tomatoes and arugula in Italy can give you wet dreams, why can’t we get a decent tasting tomato or lettuce in the U.S.?

Italian Restaurant in Heraklion, Greece



AND, Why is the house wine almost always drinkable in France, Italy, and Spain, whereas we wouldn’t think of ordering house wine in most American restaurants?

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