samedi 26 décembre 2009
How could be a village of population 20, be connected to our beloved island in the Caribbean? Improbable, no? I am not counting my presence here, bringing in the Cuban spirit…
A man from the nearby area, who started his life as a butcher and prospered in that line of business, became an early admirer of our Jefe y Comandante, Fidel Castro Ruz. They had kept in touch with each other over the years.
Soon after the fall of Soviet Union and re introduction of tourism into the country, the shortage of meat, especially chicken meat had to be rectified. Fidel’s Breton friend came to the rescue.
There is a chicken farm in Kervallon. At any one time, there are 100,000 chicken being fed and fattened. Every fortyfive days they are ready for shipment to far away lands. Cuba agreed to buy Chicken from this farm as well as others in the region. So one of the first shipments of Chicken meat from this village had gone to Cuba. I vaguely remember seeing Chicken meat from France. Soon after that USA began allowing chicken meat to be shipped from USA to Cuba, so the dependence on French Chickens ceased. Currently most of the Chicken meat from this farm goes to the Gulf Region. Six times a Year…as part of a large French Shipment..
The drive from the seaside Breton village of Quiberon with its holiday festive atmosphere and the shops awaiting the tourists, to the village of Kervallon, Population 20, was an easy one, despite drizzling rain.
No sooner we arrived, a bottle of champagne was open, and many of the relatives stopped by to visit and say Hello. The last time I was in this region was in May 2007, when I had come to observe a ceremony of welcoming someone in to the Catholique Church. Secular and independent as they are, the French, requires some sort of affirmation of faith but most opt to go to the Mayors office and pledge their allegiance to the Republic. Some decide to attend a church, and attend a mass and later have a huge feast with the family. If I remember correctly, the centuries old church in the nearby town was festive with the families of about ten children, around 14 years of age. I wonder whether there is any sort of connection to this ceremony and our ceremony of welcoming a child into adulthood, Bar Mitsvah?
The people who live in this village are farmers. They have the best cidre in all of Brittany. There is a “chicken farm” of about 100 000 “caged” chicken, owned by two brothers. Just one family controls most of the arable land around here and the parade of people in that house, the adolescents dressed elegantly rather than hip hop or bling style.
Nearly 10 bottles of champagne were to! be consumed during the course of the evening and early dinner. As guests and family, in fact almost all was family, and lived locally and I was the only Etranger..but was made to feel very welcome.
Of the twenty odd people who had dinner together and also about 20 others who came to visit, one could truly say that only one was obese and two were overweight. The farmers were thickset so we cannot mistake that for being overweight.
Americans, Australians, the British and the Nutritionists all point out to the food and its composition as the cause of lots of illness, without taking into consideration the social context of eating. Food has more meaning that just filling up your tummy, it conveys friendship, cements responsibility and solidarity and connects the past with the future.
If a nutritionist were to calculate the components of food eaten this evening by habitually thin French people, they would be horrified!
To accompany the Champagne, there were pieces of bread with various taste enhancers: salmon, tuna, fish eggs, cheese, eggs. Large plates one after another arrived, consumed and replaced.
As this was being cleared away, a large container of Foie Gras arrived and it was cut, and distributed with four different types of bread. Delicious and mouth watering, one slice would have all the fat you require in a day..I had two and enjoyed every minute of it!
White wine was served at this time. I sipped merrily along, finishing about three glasses before the main meal arrived.
The foie gras was only the first appetizer. Fresh oysters were on offer and all of us helped ourselves to about half a dozen of them, with its salty water, slurping in one instant.
The dinner had begun at 8 30 pm and at this stage it was already 10 30 pm. Conversations were flying back and forth like arrows, private and public conversations, people moving to a person they wish to discuss something with, a general level of joy and affection was ever present.
In my heart, I slowly began to feel the joy of being present at the net of family ties, to know that this sort of strength still exist in the western world. Nuclear family to them would be an anathema ..family is family.. and you sacrifice for your family and when an occasion arises, you enjoy as lugubriously as possible the event.. but with your family members..
This family has had a restaurant in town until 1981, which I will describe later. So the red wine to accompany the roast beef and potato were from that era. Dusty with their labels covered with the mists of time, bottles of Graves and Saint Emilion arrived, and as quickly as they came, they disappeared as well.
Home grown potato, gratinee, with fresh cream and then garlic, oodles of it, to accompany the roast beef. The meat is gotten locally, so there is very little chance of growth hormone or antibiotics, the taste proved it. The main meal arrived at around 11 30 pm.
The festivities continued well past into the wee hours, always with drinks and always with food.
To those interested in French Pardox, the epidemiologists who predict patterns of disease and try to find the causative agents, noticed that while the French eat twice as much fat and carbohydrate as the Americans, they had less than half the rate of heart diseases and cholesterol problems.
It takes a qualitative thinking of an anthropologist, rather than the quantitative thinking of scientists and doctors to figure this out.
Look at the milieu where this food is being eaten. Are they alone? Are they sad? Are they depressed? Au contraire..
One of the three pieces of advise I give to people who consult me to loose weight, is: Do not eat alone, do not eat standing up, driving a car or while on the computer. Always try to eat with someone or while having a conversation.
While you are doing something else, the body’s protective hormones are on the look out to take care of you, they are raised; and when food is eaten, it is absorbed and stored away as fat. When you are talking and eating, the relaxed mood brings in a state of low hormonal levels and you could enjoy a larger variety of food without harm to your body.
The fact that the French do not have the prudish thought about Alcohol, like in the USA or the restrictions as in Scandinavian countries or habits of beer guzzling as in Australia or UK, their alcohol consumption in the form of excellent wines and champagne, for the years have protected them, their hearts and their arteries. Again, don’t drink alone, don’t drink to get drunk and drink in company while enjoying the food…
This in essence is the French Paradox..there was even a book called, The French Women don’t get Fat, which utilized some of these principles..for those unfortunates who live outside France…
Today is Boxing Day and I am at a Breton village, Kervallon. Ker is village in the language, so every time you hear Ker…you can be sure that the place or the person has Breton heritage. One such famous example is Jack Kerouac, whose ancestors may have migrated from the nearby Huelgoat to French Canada. In these parts, the Royalists were strong and after a prolonged battle when they were defeated, many of them chose to go to Quebec rather than stay in a Republican France.
Looking at a book of photos of this region from 1900s, you would think that you were in some impoverished nation of thatched roofs, earth floors and people dressed in some exotique fashion.. but it was so, one hundred years ago in Bretagne, but even in this village of just twenty people, all houses are as modern as they come, with all the modern conveniences and exhibiting the affluence of the mother country. Electricity had arrived only in 1951 and indoor plumbing in 1961. I am guest at a home, which is large by any standards, surrounded by fruit orchards and rolling farm hills and studded with evergreen trees. The microclimate here provides with a warmer than normal temperature, today is nearly 10 C when the rest of France is getting itself out of the abundant snow of this season.
Two things become evident to an Anthropologist at first look. One, the solidarity of family, into which a rigorous sense of gift giving is interwoven, secondly, look no further for an explanation of the French Paradox of Eating and Remaining Healthy.
The dinner table consisted of 20 seats, occupied by an array of family members, aged 16 to 78 years. Gifts were given to the younger ones in the family and the young men and women received monetary gifts. I observered a pattern of gift giving which reminded me very much of the tale of gift giving among the Tobriand Islanders well described in that classic text of Anthropology by Bronowski.
The social events are celebrated with Gifts, birth, marriage, coming of age, pregnancy etc. the cost of the gifts tend to be uniform, in that no one spends much more than the other, how they arrive at the magical figure, I am not sure. Within the immediate family this rule does not seem to apply, mothers and fathers seem to lavish gifts on their children even after the latter had become full grown adults.
After working with many years with Tribal people, I can recognize the tribal patterns of behaviour, gossip without mal intention, generosity, hospitality, solidarity, remembrances of a good time past, and an ever present nostalgia. Even those young adults who had never lived the tribal life of the Bretons, are filled with nostalgia of a time 20 years ago when the houses still had ground earth floors in some of the villages and the visits to distribute sweets to the old and the infirm in nearby villages.
This area is beautiful in its own way, gurgling rivers, which are small but energetic, evergreen forests, rolling hills of farm land, mountains to be seen in the distance, and the silence of the day broken only by cooing of birds or an occasional bark of a dog.
I, who have lived a tribal life, philosophically speaking, all my life, now find myself pleasantly entangled with possibly the original inhabitants of this part of the world. in another blog, I will explore the origins of Bretons and where they might have come from, all those thousands of years ago.
mardi 22 décembre 2009
Never before in my life have I lost my appetite completely, but on the evening of the 19th December 2009, I did.
What a punishment since I was being upgraded to the Business Class on my flight of 9 hr 14 minutes from Houston to Paris. I always look forward to the meals on Business Class, as I have felt that the best meals in America are offerd in the Business Class International flights .
Plus the chance to drink some good wines..
My stomach was in revolt. I am not sure what had happened, I had left Paris with a perfect stomach functioning well. The chemical overload in American food, even though I avoid eating American food while I am in America..a little difficult to do when you are out in the bush ..
Jamaican food in Miami should be alright, freshly cooked. But the dinner at a Pan Asian Restaurant began this downslide to this loss appetite in Business Class.
In the boondocks of Nebraska where the Indians live, my meals were mainly the clinic food, and some food at a local face and three lunches at a Thai Restaurant, the latter being the only one that could be classified safe.
Someone offered a glass of McWilliams Shiraz from Australia on that Thursday and I couldn’t resist it. My poor stomach already under assault from the various chemical ingredients couldn’t take it any more. Starting that Friday morning, my stomach refused much further food and with increasing pain, I could easily diagnose myself as having acquired Gastritis.
Fortunately I had some of the medications necessary to treat Gastritis with me, and being a doctor I was envisaging the worst scenario of a bleeding peptic ulcer while the flight was over the water onwards to Paris..nothing outstanding happened except the lack of sleep.. thank god I was upgraded to Business Class, flying in that state of health on Economy, crowded and every single seat taken, would have been a hell, on top of the gastritis..
Then I realized that, even though this is the first ever time my appetite had completely disappeared, similar scenarios had happened to me before on visits to the USA around this time of the year.
It begins with a change in sleep patterns around late October and then around mid December, some sort of a weakness, and gastritis of some nature.
2005 on exactly the same day ,19th December, I was on Business Class on Continental from Houston to Narita, unable to drink the beverages offered, but still enjoyed a nice Japanese meal..arrived at NRT feeling sick and left NRT feeling sick as well on the 3 January , promising never to return… My companion at that time, left me alone in a roykan near Narita with this warning words: you have not looked after yourself all throughout the year, so you are suffering now, and you are to blame.
She may have been right but at least she could have offered a cup of tea…ah well.
Yet another time, I was on my way to Australia, and was not able to drink or eat much just before Christmas one year, and I remember friends saying, pelase don’t travel. That trip too was out of USA..
The endless travels during the year, perhaps accumulates, and then the final blow is the chemicals in the food in the USA. Someone remarked to me that I looked dehydrated and I drank few cans of a petulant beverage, something I never do. I have the feeling that irrational action also contributed to my sad state of affairs flying back to Paris.
Sleepy and tired, in snowy Paris, took the train from Montparnasse to Auray, sleeping most of the way, drove to Quiberon, after a light meal, I wanted to rest. I noticed that even the bread tasted different. So I had no doubt in my mind that my state of affairs was induced by the chemical load… on top of a heavy work load.
Let this be a warning to those who travel to USA from countries which has such good daily offerings of food.. Japan, Malaysia, India, Most of Europe etc…
mercredi 16 décembre 2009
Made in America… time for a boycott?
No this is not anti American rhetoric coming from South of the Border, but a look into what damage Fruits and Vegetables grown in America does to the bodies of Americans..
In the USA, when an average talks about Fruits, they usually mean Bananas, Oranges and Apples.
Where do Bananas come from, that is sold even in supermarkets in snow drenched North Dakota? At any time of the year? From Ecuador, From Colombia etc..
Oranges and Apples are homegrown products.
Which of the three have the highest amounts of Pesticides detected in them? Out of the highest pesticide load of 100? No surprise.. Oranges at 42 and Apples at 89.. their latin cousins are at a lamentably low pesticide level of only 16…
Strawberries pack in a 89 and peaches a full 100..
Home Grown Nutrition Substitutions and Country of Origin
Food with high pesticide
A small example is only given.. Not all foreign country produces are good. Read about the pollution of Costa Rican water system by increasing number of Pineapple Farms ( Hawaiian pineapple farms have become tourist attractions!), Cantaloupes from Mexico, Grapes from Chile are high in pesticidal residues ..( no wonder the Chilean grapes are cheaper than American ones..)
The Fruit-- what it has substitute it with
Strawberries - Vitamin C - Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, kiwi
Green and Red- Vitamins A and C - Green Peas, Broccoli,Brussels Sprouts, Asparagus, romaine lettuce,Asparagus
Celery- carrots,broccoli, radishes, romaine lettuce
Grapes from Chile
Canteloupes from Mexico
Winter Squash USA
Potatoes USA- sweet potatoes US Winter squash from Honduras
PRODUCE WITH THE LEAST LEVELS OF PESTICIDE RESIDUES
Avacados Vitamins A C Folic Acid
USA Mexico Grapes Vitamin C
Onions caretenoids Plums Vit C Sweet Potatoes
Green Onions Watermelon Potassium Broccoli Potassium
Cauliflower Brussels Sprouts
BUY ORGANIC. BUY HOME GROWN. BUY AT FARMERS MARKETS. AVOID FRUITS AND VEGETABLES WHICH ARE OUT OF SEASON.
lundi 14 décembre 2009
Genetic 'map' of Asia's diversity
Even during a short time period such as one's life time, the variation in population movement has been incredible and unpredictable. so for a traveller, it is always good to look back and study the origins of the peopling of the continents. Asia is especially interesting. this new study confirms what had been suspected that the migration from the south to the north in Asia occured. but that was very very long time ago. the further away the historic origins are from the present, the general interest wanes. Who are the Bumiputra of Malaysia? Orang Asli who must have been there for perhaps 50 000 years or the Malays who came there from the North 1500 years ago? Most of the people we call Indians are descendants of migrants from the North to India in the past 5000 years with major migrations occuring in this millenia. The Adivasi are the true Bumiputra of India. I had been fascinated by the physiognomy of the South Indian people who bear a remarkable resemblance to australian Aboriginals, they should since Australian aboriginals are thought to have migrated from southern India (there are Australoid people still living in South India, Todas of Nilgiris and Vedas from Sri Lanka among others). Often I would stop and stare at a man or woman in the streets of Madras, stunned by the similarity of the "typical" dravidian look and the Australian Aboriginal physiognomy.
Post Second World War migration changed the gene pool once again. Italy alone has contributed 60 million immigrants to the world, one in every seven australian and one in three Portenos, have Italian blood.
The new migration which is somewhat culturally incongruous, is the latest invasion of Europe and America by people who have no historical association with the developed world, and whose only reason to come, with some exception, is economical.
A Pakistani flower seller in the streets of Oslo, A Sri Lankan bar tender in Paris, A Dinka tribesman in the frigid north dakota, a shifty west african in the streets of Malaga speaking perfect Spanish and selling you a fake handphone, Bosnians in the Calle Florida in BA..
Cultural Diversity has come home.
after about 60 000 years of divergence, the modern migration has brought us back together. In an interesting study supported by National Geographic and detailed in their september 2009 issue, is the genetic study of just one street in Queens, 30th avenue in Astoria. Queens is considered to be the most ethnically diverse population in the world. There was every single human migration known to man ( not in the modern sense.. we are talking about 50 000 years to about 10 000 years ago).. Pedro A who has Indigenous blood running through his veins washes dishes, his ancestors are Peruvian having arrived there from Siberia. Atsushi M, a japanese ( I really dont believe that there is a pure japanese race,since japan was inhabited by various races of people over the centuries, but for this discussion..a japanese) may have arrived at the island from the prehistoric migration from the south. Alma M, a bosnian must have arrived in her ancestral home from Africa via the Middle East. Strangely enough the people who have least mixture are the original ones, from Africa, for many reasons, remain least diverse. Americans of African ancestry undertook only a short journey from Africa across the Atlantic.. compare that journey of an Orang Asli or Australian Aboriginal?
One every 17 person living along the meditarranean coast has one direct phoenician ancestor.. so Palestine is not the land of the Phoenicians nor the claim of Lebanese Christians that they are Phoenicians dont hold water.. A major portion of this planet's population has traversed what we call the Middle East one time or another in their long journey..
When I was a Medical Student, as part of an experiment, all of us analysed our own genetic origins by studying certain antigens in our blood... Strangely enough none of us had any African Genetic material in us ( perhaps the migration was too distant?), but in my case, the closest affinity was to Georgia in the Caucuses.
In the last 1000-2000 years or so a kind of reverse migration seems to have taken place, Moguls coming in from Uzbekistan, Han Chinese pushing down from the North, jewish populations moving out of present day Israel.
It is nice for people to know that we must price our cultural diversity whereas our genetic diversity is at best ambiguous and thus race based declarations have little meaning.
In that way we are all Bumiputras...
samedi 12 décembre 2009
It is always nice to be met at the Airport, MIA is a very quick airport in terms of Immigraation and Customs, within about five minutes I was outside and my friend was there to pick me up.. He is from Jamaica, from Kingston, but his father's family had migrated to Antilla in Oriente when his father was but a babe, from Bethlehem. Now he lives in America.. Globalization within a generation.
As we got into the car, he hands me a Cortadito.. and said: I know that you would appreciate this..
I said to myself, as I sipped that delicious Cuban Coffee.. This is truly Heaven..
Before the night fell, had to rush out and get candles for the first night of the Chanukkah... I am always glad to come to Miami which is without doubt my American Home, despite the anti island cuban rhetoric, which is sounding hollower by the day. Viva La Revolucion Cubana, otherwise we would have deprived Miami of a good Cortadito.. another way of thinking about it..
Within the week of Chanukkah: to the Indian Country where the temperature is hovering around 0 degrees C and back to Quiberon in Bretagne..
mardi 8 décembre 2009
Fraud suspected in Miami-Dade diabetes care
An investigation has flagged Miami-Dade as accounting for over half the $1 billion that Medicare paid out nationally for treatment of homebound diabetes patients.
BY JAY WEAVER
Medicare paid $520 million to Miami-Dade home healthcare agencies for treating diabetic patients, more than what the agency spent in the rest of the country combined, according to federal investigators.
The investigators suspect the disproportionate amount of Medicare dollars spent in Miami-Dade in 2008 is fraudulent because the county is home to just 2 percent of the nation's diabetic patients eligible for the federal program. The money may have been misspent in two areas: questionable claims for patients who either didn't need twice-daily nursing services to inject their insulin or who didn't actually have the diabetes.
The findings, issued Monday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General, found that Miami-Dade providers accounted for just over half of the $1 billion that Medicare paid out nationally in 2008 for the treatment of homebound patients with diabetes and related illnesses.
Also raising a red flag for federal investigators: The county's percentage of diabetics is lower than the rate in other Florida areas with heavy elderly populations.
HHS Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson said ``the recent growth in home healthcare services relative to the number of eligible [Medicare] beneficiaries indicates that it may be subject to fraud.''
People arrested almost always are cuban migrants.. is this the style of government that they want to impose on the Little Island to the South?
dimanche 6 décembre 2009
Was it March 1993, when this madness began? this continual rotation of travel..London, MIami, Havana, Baracoa, Paris as hubs of my travel?
I do remember that trip: London to Bangkok, then on to KL, visiting the Orang Asli, on to Kuching, Kota Kinabalu... This was an introduction to Malaysia which was to become dearer to my heart.. but only in 2008..
I remember going to the Malaysian Airlines Office at Jalan Ismail? and seeing plastic Palm trees.. incongruous as we were there to search for some rare palms in Malaysian Borneo..a fecund palm paradise..
2010 dont think I would be doing much travelling.. it is a mis statement.. since my January itinerary looks something like this..
my world revolves around certain planets and in 2010, it would be just
Paris Miami Havana Los Indios and KL. The only "travel" i am planning to do is to Chaungtha beach in Myanmar in July 2010 for a weekend!
I have spent most of this sunday, organizing my trips for January..for example how does one get to KL from MIami. no, i dont look up Travelocity.com, but fit the schedules of flights (I am loyal to Star Alliance and Sky Team)..
Miami to Houston to Amsterdam to Paris CO and KLM
one week later, Paris to Dubai on Air France; to catch an evening flight to KL with MH..
I had to call my credit card company three times today as they kept denying me when i tried to book a ticket Paris to Dubai and then another ticket Dubai to KL.. I am happy they keep an eye on your spending!
February: Bangalore to Paris. Paris to Los INdios and then on to the Indians in Mexico and then on to Paris.. Havana would be somewhere along there...
I am so glad that I went where i pleased when travel had not turned into humanitarian work, which now restricts my travel destinations.. i am glad to have visited Tokelau, Majuro and Nauru and Tarawa in one trip; Rapa Nui and Buenos Aires on another; Muscat and Zanzibar in another; Tsumkwe and Victoria falls in another; santa elena uiren and leatham in one another trip... many of them had no purpose other than wanting to learn about the people at the destination.. Now, in many of those destinations, I have become the doctor, consultant or just friends to whose who are suffering.
Travel is the saddest of all pleasures, Theroux said that, I dont quite agree with that; nor do I want to appear irreverential by not aggreing with the first lines of Tristes Tropiques.. I hate travellers and Journeys..
what has happened was something not quite planned, journeys and life have become part of each other, one does not know when the journey begins and the work ends or the life begins and journeys end.. it is a continuum ..
lundi 30 novembre 2009
For some reason, I was thinking of Mexico today..nothing precipitated this nostalgia for a country where I used to travel very often during my student days..Since Yucatan is close to Miami, that is the area that i explored first and then slowly the other parts of the country. of the 33 states, I have visited 16 of them and some very remote areas such as Sierra Madre Oriental and its rivers because of my connection with the Indians.
I have a very close friend, who is a Family Practitioner in a town called Muzquiz (this city used to be caled Santa Rosa de Lima). I was interested in this town since the first ever european child born in this town was to an australian couple who had moved there from Hamilton in Victoria. Years later I had the chance to meet the grandchildren of that family in Melbourne. Dr R is an extremely caring physician and lucky are the patients who come to see her. I have a small project in the prevention of diabetic kidney diseases, and she has many patients who have been told that they would be on dialysis but using detoxifying therapies and ozone therapy, she has had some success in keeping the dialysis at bay.. sometimes up to 3 years.
I know i need to go back to Piedras Negras and Muzquiz and looking at my calendar,i can see that in February, I can fly down to San Antonio, rent a car and drive down to Eagle Pass and cross over to Piedras and i am sure the good doctor will take me to Muzquiz..it is a trip i have made very often..
also i will get to visit Nacimiento de los Negros along the sabinas river in sierra madre oriental where a group of indians live in a fashion similar to their ancestors..
they even gave me a name, Ke se kui te pa, the one walking with head in the cloud..
Head in the Clouds certainly misses his mexican friends..
dimanche 29 novembre 2009
I have always enjoyed that sweet sensation of Saudade, possibly the one of the more beloved words that i like in any language. a feeling of impending loss and the anxiety even before you knew you had it, would be my definition of the portuguese word, but there are many other explanations of it.
Tropics are like hammocks for lovers, wasnt it Anais Nin who said that. Having always lived in Australia, England, USA, Sweden for most part of my life, I long for those parts of my life spent in tropical countries, either as a tourist/visitor or a resident (Cuba is tops!). I remember coming home to Melbourne after trips to Fiji absolutely depressed at the prospect of unending rain squalls and dark evenings with memories of antarctica in them. In Sweden, i revelled in the words of my fellow students from the south american continent, who introduced me to Pablo Neruda and Vente Poemas de Amor..
I was sitting at a lovely park in Paris and thought about the idea of Community.
Currently I am blessed to be associated with two societies that place an incredible amount of importance of having Communal Sense: Cuba and the American Indians.
France, more than any other country i know, provides its citizens with so many services, no other country has such an extent of care of its citizens..in my field of Health Care, it is the best of all that is available. Yet i felt longing for the community, that open sharing of common happiness and joy of being alive that we have in Cuba or the incredible laughter of the American Indians, when i spend my two weeks a month here in Paris. Government has taken on many responsibilities, such as the Church once used to do, said a psychologist friend of mine and people have become comfortable and reliant on that, and less and less on their neighbours. the moral support which in a society like Cuba is so important does not play the centre stage here.
But an incident on one of my recent visits had me thinking a little differently about the French. I have never subscribed to the popular american view that the French are unfriendly. not as loud as the americans and brash, for sure, but friendly neverthless. The flat i was staying at had a calamity, and I was astounded by the help of the neighbours, very thoughtful, generous, sacrificing and time consuming. I was truly impressed with that. The French do it this way, is something you hear a lot while living in France. and this nationalism has extended to the civic option, of helping your neighbour when the dire need arises.
Yesterday at the supermarche, i saw a man of modest means buying extra grocery items to donate to the poor of France, this is much more of an american way of doing it i thought but the man was quite generous and soon the bags of donation were filling up in front of a small supermarche in a small section of Paris.. i can imagine the donations collected all over France..
So, i have a little better understanding of the French Generosity and civic Action.. I wish i had the intellect of Claude Levi-Strauss to formulate the nationalistic origins of the symbolism of french action.
dimanche 22 novembre 2009
Confessions of a Frequent Flier
One Pass Platinum Star Alliance AND
Air France Flying Blue Gold Skyteam
Obsession with small luxuries of International Travel
Just a couple of days ago I received news that I have made it to the Gold Level at the frequent flier programme Flying Blue of Air France. This gives you privileges of Skyteam Elite Plus, a good thing since Continental Airlines have left the Skyteam and joined the Star Alliance, which fortunately includes Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines, quite handy for my intended trips to the South East Asian destinations in 2010
As a frequent flier ( I have already clocked over 100 000 miles this year on CO), what are the little luxuries I have become addicted to?
A: separate line for checking in. It does not matter if the luggage does not come out first even if it is tagged Priority, but it is nice to see it among the first bags. But the pleasure of not queueing up is immense indeed..
B: A little bit room and a little privacy. CO regularly would leave the seat next to you free if the flight is not full. Of course CO tries to upgrade you to First Class whenever possible and now with its membership in Star Alliance I look forward to similar treatment at United Airlines?
C: Lounge Access
WiFi and a little bit of refreshments, quiet place to rest and check your email or speak to someone or other on the phone. Also if there is a cancellation or change of plans of your itinerary , the staff at the Lounges are far more attentive and helpful.
My favourite Airline Clubs which I use frequently
Air France/Terminal 2/Paris CDG
Delta Sky Club in Miami. Any President’s Club.
Occasional use clubs that I have enjoyed are : QF at LAX and in Australian capital cities; AF in JFK; Sakura in NRT, MH lounges in KL. Since my travels are predictable and around a certain circuit, I am happy if I can use airline lounges at the following cities:
KL SIN CDG BOM NYC MIA HAV….
D: An occasional glass of wine offered is welcome. Food is not a priority but space is. Privacy is appreciated, and on a recent flight within USA, the person sitting next to me, asked me, Do you believe in Jesus Christ? I just put on my ipod head phones and that was the end of that.
E: The wish list of Nationality of the person to sit next to you on long haul flights.. the most preferred without doubt The Japanese (silent and polite) and then Asian (except Taiwanese, Korean, Singaporeans and East Indians). Europeans (except Brits) tend to be more polite and less intrusive. Americans are a labour of love in time and patience. I shall not comment on AUS and ISR travelers since they are my people!
Recently I was asked a medical opinion on the fitness of a passenger to Brisbane from Miami. He was 385 lbs (175 kg, 28 stones), was flying Economy Class, Miami to JFK on American and then on to Narita on JAL and then on to BNE..
Before I gave my medical opinion ( I advised him against flying!) I was concerned about the welfare of the two Japanese who would be allotted the seats next to him on that long flight to NRT from JFK.
In USA, they would have to soon come to terms with the increasing girth of the passengers where they lead the world in individual obesity, and I wonder whether there would be ever fares based on your weight over and above 70 kg?
F: FF points. Not all FF programmes are created equal. Most USA based airlines give you miles for the miles flown but not most asian or European airlines, but they base it on the fare paid. AF may give only 25 % of the miles flown for most of the cheaper fares on transatlantic routes, but these exclude Business/First Class/Premium Economy fares.
I use my accumulated miles to get tickets to Asia, the best deal is from CO and its partners on business class travel to Asia.. 120 000 miles for a round trip ticket, or the same to Indian gateways with a stopover in Paris.
For example, my next free ticket is a round trip to Kuala Lumpur from Miami… JFK to SIN and on to KL on Singapore Air and the trip KL to BKK to Paris on Thai Airways and Paris to Miami via EWR on CO.
Flying Blue has promotions where you can get long haul tickets for 50% of the normal points, in business and economy classes. From Paris, business class tickets would be, if you can snatch a promotion, 30 000 one way to Havana and 45 000 one way to KL.
G: I shall end this missive with a wish, to see Jet Airways of India and Malaysian Airlines join either Star Alliance or Skyteam. I can enjoy the privileges on these partner airlines as well.. Let us hope so..
I am putting this on the blog in Paris, where I have arrived from Los Indios.. the JFK to CDG portion was a quick 6 hour flight on Air France.. enjoyed the flight, the details of which would be in my travel blog www.virtualtourist.com/m/26dab
jeudi 19 novembre 2009
It had been a love at first sight when I arrived in Miami as an undergraduate student, a love affair which was to continue throughout my student days in London and the trainee doctor days in Melbourne.
Of course, it was in Miami, that my love for Cuba was born.
And the lifelong addiction to Cortadito.
Arrived from Paris on Day 1, met at the airport by good Jamaican friends and a long weekend of talk, friendship and unexpected pleasures of human interactions began
Dinner 1: Mussaman Curry with Shrimp
Day 2 Breakfast: Jamaican Ackee and Saltfish. Shopping for clothe and chotchkes to take back to Europe
An Yum Cha lunch at a very grumpy Chinese place, where the servers outnumbered the guests but reminded of similar feasts in Melbourne, but of course cant be compared to the Dimsum at Hotel Oriental at KL.
A very pleasant interaction with an innovative business woman from Cayman Islands, a busy mother who runs a company and manages a home with three children with the help of her very complimentary husband. Good Friends.
Day 3 Breakfast: once again Jamaican/bammy/Johnny cake/green bananas/avacado
Lunch: A Lebanese mezze from a nice Pita Grill in Kendall, run by a Spanish speaking Palestinian who had migrated to Venezuela during pre chavez days and now finds himself in Miami, this city of immigrants. Kibbeh/kofta/labne/hummous/babaganoush
Dinner: food from Bangkok, Bangkok. I had not eaten there for a while but I thought it had become very Americanized. Fish/padthai/crab fried rice
I know I am talking about food, but what is remarkable about days in Miami, which I always look forward to, are the human interactions. First of all my dear sister, who is struggling against her illnesses, while maintaining her wide heart and abundant generosity.
Her husband and I decided to go to La Casona in Sunset Drive. A Cuban café, it was late in the evening, for a coradito. A salvadorean, who has been in Miami since 1980, greeted us; a Honduran woman made herself busy making the Cortadito for us. Sit down, encouraged the Salvadorean. This is Miami, we were chatting in Spanish with explosive laughter.. between the four of us, born in different parts of the world (my Jamaican friend is of Palestinian/Cuban ancestry)m the two central americans brought over here by the winds of political changes in their respective countries.. they hated every single political leader mentioned, Zelaya. Chavez. Morales.. but had kind words for Castro, which I took it to be a reaction to their dislike of the Miami Cubans, thus a passive way of getting back at their somewhat harsh employers?
A simple, warm, very latin encounter, the kind I miss in Paris!
Went to Book Exchange, a second hand book store near the Bangkok Bangkok restaurant, while waiting for food, after have a chat with a Peruvian Chinese owner of a convenient store, who sold us lottery tickets. In the bookstore, as it always happens in literate environments, an enthused owner and his helper. I bought Skarmeta’s the Postman, from which the movie Il Postino was constructed, I have a copy somewhere but felt like reading about my favourite poet and Isla Negra. Near the counter as I was paying him, I saw a copy of Portable Island about cubans abroad at home by Ruth Behar. Didn’t have a price on it, so I asked the owner. He looks at me and says, you look like a traveler, I said Yes, Havana and Paris are my homes. A pleasant chat followed, general chit chat and as I was leaving the store, he said, I would like to offer you Ruth Behar’s book as a gift. I felt very good about it. These little things are what makes up the magic of Miami!
Among other things during this weekend, a pleasant spiritual lessons gently taught to us by a Mr Seth, owner of an Indo American Grocery where we had gone to buy Pappadam. Without even waiting for a proper introduction, he began taking about energy and goodness that people transfer to one another, which was the most appropriate topic for my sister. We both listened to him carefully, it is amazing how similar the spiritual sayings are, the older the civilizations are ..
That evening, we were joined at dinner (take away Thai food) with advice to all of us. She is in charge of an office issuing US passports and I was amazed how many people there are who have absolutely no identification papers at all, and they were born in this country..US immigration , she continued, is like that boy who has all the toys, will gladly play with you, but at sometime, will collect all his toys and leave you there.. you have no toys to play with. She recalled the story of an indo-american who had lived in the usa since age 2, who was convicted of having a BB gun in his car during his boisterous adolescent days, now applying for his citizenship papers, had in bold letters in his file, illegal owner of Gun! And the immigration department began proceedings to deport him to India! So her advice to all of us sitting around that hospitable table, all of us born in various countries… Be careful when you play with the Immigration Officers.. Good Advice. A lovely evening of nostalgia for Jamaica, the excitement and hope of being in the USA and the camaraderie of shared history
With heavy heart, I said good-bye to my Jamaican friends. On the plane sitting next to me was an elderly lady, an elegance of her previous life still shone in her face. She was born in Villa Clara and spoke so fondly of her country and the city, which pleased me to no end. I am tired of Cubans who had left the island constantly talking badly about their motherland, as if nothing good ever happens there..not at least after their departure…Who is the traitor, I wonder..
She had to change planes in IAH and as a token of appreciation of the kindness of Miami, I walked with her to the other terminal and up to her gate… and she said, in Spanish, I hope before I die I have the chance to come back to Cuba and know your family..
dimanche 8 novembre 2009
Electronic Communications and social Networking
Internet has been a great blessing for travelers. Since 2002, my world has rotated around Cuba, Miami, Los Indios, Paris 2006, KL 2008, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar. The easiest way to communicate has been through e-mail, even though I still practice the old fashioned letter writing.
Telephone communications with Cuba and Myanmar is not easy and along with Vietnam is expensive to boot. (It costs more than one dollar per minute to call Cuba and the connection is not guaranteed)...
So, you might have thought I would have joined some form of Social Network group so that it would be easier to keep in touch. But I do keep in touch, what I do not do, is that I do not advertise myself!
Hardly a day goes by without someone or other inviting me to join this or that social networking group where they promise a whole heap of benefits. As it is I am a bit short on time, trying to communicate with my close friends who live in the above countries. Since Internet is not generally available in Cuba and many of the sites are banned in Myanmar, the best way to communicate is through email to them or old fashioned letters would do, even though they might take longer.
So what about the popular social networking sites? What is the story behind them? Do people have 500 friends as they claim? Truly, how many people do they keep in touch with?
I like to keep in touch with my good friends in Cuba, so at least five of them write to me regularly; from the USA, I can think of three people who write regularly and at least ten others who keep in touch. From Asia, I have at least two who keep in touch regularly and about five who keep in touch. So I can honestly say I write to 10 of my friends on a daily basis through email and about ten others on an irregular basis but I am in touch with them.
There is something called a Dunbar number, named after Dr Dunbar, an anthropologist at Oxford University, who suggested that the size of the human brain allows stable networks of about 148. Rounded to 150, this is what is known as the “Dunbar Number”.
Dr Cameron Marlow, the “in house Sociologist” at the Face Book, found that the average number of “friends” in a Face book network is 120, consistent with Dr Dunbar’s hypothesis, and that women tend to have somewhat more than men.
Crunching the numbers further, what Dr Marlow found was that regardless of the number of “friends” you may have on your list, the number you frequently interact is remarkably stable and SMALL. An average man with “friends” numbering 120 generally responds to the postings of about seven by leaving comments on the posting individual’s photos, status messages or “wall”. An average woman is slightly more sociable at 10.
In the non social network world, which is email oriented, a man may keep in touch with four friends and women with six.
Even those with 500 “friends” on Face book has only about 17 friends for men and 26 for women. That is what the sociologist found…So the core friendships remain the same, regardless of the mode of the communications used. I am not doing badly, being in daily contact with ten of my friends! Even though I don’t belong to any social network.
So the social networking are not so much about “networking” but much more about “broadcasting their lives to an outer tier of acquaintances who are not necessarily inside the Dunbar Circle. Internet has made efficient advertising of ourselves but the circle of intimacy remains the same.
When people ask me why I have not joined any social networks, I chuckle thinking about what Groucho Marx once said: I wouldn’t want to be a member of the club that would accept me as a member!
So, please do not send me any invitation to join any clubs, but I would gladly answer your email and better still send me a postcard to Miami or Paris or Los Indios! it takes a month for a letter to reach Cuba!
samedi 7 novembre 2009
My dearest Brothers in Portland, Oregon and the Mischpuchah there & our Israeli Mischpochah in Haifa:
Shabbat Shalom. But this Shabbat has a special meaning. We are always looking for the meaning of why we are chosen to suffer. Today I received the Good News about Jackie my sister who is undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy for Lung Cancer in Miami (the tumour has reduced in size and the metastases have disappeared).. she suffered so much through the treatment, but all those who know her, will agree, she is a good human being, and the suffering was necessary for this great news not only for her person but also for all of us. I am reading the history of the Spanish Jews during Inquisition and see how they suffered!, the Shoah of recent times is in the memory of all of us, the million jews driven out of arab lands since 1948 included many of our relatives. We suffer because we bring goodness and happiness to many others, so that our suffering is an example to others. This I know from Jackie, she has suffered, more than her contemporaries, physically and emotionally, but look at all the pleasures she has sowed and reaped, her children and grandchildren, and her friends, that includes all of us, eventhough my mischpuchah from Portland is yet to meet her.
This is truly a piece of Good News.. I want to share it with all of you, our mischpochah.
I, said the man, am a Jew
mercredi 4 novembre 2009
A nice Shabbat Gift in Levallois
Friday Night 13 Chesvan 5770
This night I had dinner at Café Louis, a Melbourne kind of café, doting couples out on a date, a casual engineered atmosphere.
Pave Saumon was nothing special but the café atmosphere made up for it . Also it was more than reasonable for 13 Euros.
Walking along Rue Voltaire, I stopped in front of ORIENT, a chain fast food Oriental Restaurant ( in France, Oriental denotes Maghreb). Earlier in the day I had a cup of The a la Menthe. I entered and said in my best French, do you have The a la Menthe to take aay? The young man behind the counter said, sorry we have finished our Mint Tea. He looked at his friend, slightly older than him, looks to the corner where the empty tea pot stood… I can brew you a cup of tea if you like..
Normally this is not the kind of response one gets in France.. Sorry, no more tea, said politely, come back tomorrow, we will have some.. A little later, I saw the young man leaving the shop, as he had to go to the corner fruit shop to get lemons.. usually run by fellow maghrebians..
I thought to myself, today is my lucky day to come across such nice maghrebians!
You speak English, asked my host, Yes, English and Spanish. He then looks at his older colleague and say.. he speaks English..
In that universal language, badly constructed pidgin English of this world, for which I am thankful, they wanted to know where I was from, whether I was a tourist in France, whether I work in France?
The thin man was from Morocco, the older one from Algeria.. at the sound of Alger, my ears perked up, my recently acquired taste in Chaabi music… a different kind of romance.
(Also, Argelia was the first country Cuban volunteer doctors went to help, I have a copy of the picture of Che with ben Bella)..that is another story.. by the way Cuban medical assistance continues to this very day..
I like Chaabi music and on my ipod I have a video of El Gusto Orchestra of Alger, playing a lovely piece of music.. They came over from behind the counter and enjoyed the video.. the algerien goes back and brings his ipod and lets me listen to his collection of chaabi music..
That is how I learned about the great El Hachemi Guerouabi. Another young man, joins us, he offers his phone to me and there is Moroccan Chaabi playing in it.. Daoudi was the name of the artist..
That one hour was one of the nicest human interactions I have had in this city of Lights and Love.. a very cubanesque feeling..
Earlier that day I had met a Psychologist, who was lamenting the fact that in Paris, like in many European cities, it is easier to find professional help, rare to find genuine social interactions..
Once I become proficient in the language of Voltaire, I will seek out people of Algerien and Morocain origin living in France—both jews and moslem. I am attracted to their culture.. an amnesia of a forgotten el andalus perhaps?
There is some rigidity in this society , that does not allow free mixing in a social sense, especially towards the people of maghrebian ancestry…
What a lovely Shabbat Gift!
vendredi 23 octobre 2009
Whenever you come across a situation of Ill Health of a Society, such as Haiti, one can conclude Poverty as a root cause, or at least one of the major causes of societal sicknesses. (Please watch the excellent video on youtube of Paul Farmer: This I believe). Poverty of Misery!
mercredi 14 octobre 2009
When the trumpet sounded
everything was prepared on earth,
and Jehovah gave the world
to Coca-Cola Inc., Anaconda,
Ford Motors, and other corporations.
The United Fruit Company
reserved for itself the most juicy
piece, the central coast of my world,
the delicate waist of America.
It rebaptized these countries
and over the sleeping dead,
over the unquiet heroes
who won greatness,
liberty, and banners,
it established an opera buffa:
it abolished free will,
gave out imperial crowns,
encouraged envy, attracted
the dictatorship of flies:
Trujillo flies, Tachos flies
Carias flies, Martinez flies,
Ubico flies, flies sticky with
submissive blood and marmalade,
drunken flies that buzz over
the tombs of the people,
circus flies, wise flies
expert at tyranny.
With the bloodthirsty flies
came the Fruit Company,
amassed coffee and fruit
in ships which put to sea like
overloaded trays with the treasures
from our sunken lands.
Meanwhile the Indians fall
into the sugared depths of the
harbors and are buried in the
a corpse rolls, a thing without
name, a discarded number,
a bunch of rotten fruit
thrown on the garbage heap.
AND AS ANOTHER FAMOUS LATIN AMERICAN SAID
HASTA LA VICTORIA SIEMPRE..
EATS AND FLIES PART I 10 OCTOBER 2009 OMA TO IA TWO HOURS 737-700
New York Style Mini Cinnamon Raisin. Ingredients: among others Palm Oil, partially Hydrogenated Soybean oil.
A small bag of this has 23 ingredients. It has 35 grams of content of which 26 grams are carbohydrates.
No to This
Nature valley Oats and Honey Bar
21 grams bar, has 15 grams of carbohydrates in it. 17 ingredients.
No to this
Cereal. Milk 2%. Fruit Cup. Tea.
I did not know what was in the Cereal since it was served on a dish. But at the Presidents Club in Houston, a sample of cereal was available
Country Corn Flakes
26 ingredients. 16 grams of Carbohydrates. 64 out of its 70 calories are from carbohydrates.
So if I had eaten all they had offered me on this First Class flight, a short one, I would have eaten 55 grams of Carbohydrates plus whatever was in the Fruit Cup and a cup of Tea with milk!
This breakfast was presented, innocent and deceptive, I might add, praising Energy and Health, this simple breakfast would have taken up all of my carbohydrate allowance, almost all of it…
And left me hungry to boot?
How I longed for a Salmon with a piece of Baguette with some Gravlox! And a strong coffee from Nespresso.
This is what I would have had for breakfast, if I were home in Paris! and I wouldnt care to count my calories or my carbohydrate intake, but just enjoy it , knowing that Food villains have not put 33 ingredients into it..
EU is covered by very strict Food Safety rules. While France contributes to 2/10th of one percent of world's fish farming, there is certain amount of security about the ingredients in the food fed to the Fish.The most common fish farmed in Europe is Trout. The common variety of Salmon available is wild caught Norwegian Salmon.