This, then, is the holiday season that closes the first decade of the 21st century. It is also the 100th anniversary of one of the most glorious years in Western history, 1910—a year of exciting promise, breathtaking art, panoramic smiles. 2010 is not like that. And that visage prompts these thoughts:
The Loss of Silence
We live in a noisy universe. Though acoustic sound will not travel in the vacuum of space, electronic sound, or sound that converts from electronic impulses, travels in all directions all the time. And it is beyond 'deafening', as the people at SETI can tell you.
We live on an increasingly noisy little rock of a planet. The audio part of our existence has become an overwhelming flood of our senses. We are immersed, addicted, enslaved, defined, blurred by sound. And as it and we have evolved, we have lost the wonder and treasure of silence. We can no longer be alone, with the intimacy and comfort and silence of our own mind. Even the 'Kindle', the closest we have to personal book-reading in an electronic form, provides music to be played in the background. I have never understood how one can play music in the so-called 'background' and do anything else but listen to it. I can't.
Eat… and be happy
The first time I went to Europe, many years ago, I found myself in the center of Copenhagen surrounded by the amazing Tivoli Gardens, the haunting StrĂ¶get and the glorious Glyptotek, the museum filled with stolen antiquities from Egypt and Rome and other molested cultures. Standing in the plaza among these wonders, I was overwhelmed... and hungry. There were a few food stands about, so I bought what I thought I recognized. One was a cheese sandwich, but what a cheese sandwich. Not what I knew. It had only one slice of bread with cheese melted on both sides and sprinkled with sugar. It was called, the Parisien. My other purchase was a 'hot dog'. But what a hot dog. It was served in two parts: the bun in one napkin and the 'dog' in another. First you took a bite out of one part, then you chewed in a piece of the other. As a young, typical, first-time American tourist, I found it strange and silly. All young, typical first-time American tourists find everything strange and silly. The impression is returned to them by the natives in every country they visit.
As I grew with experience, I stopped eating fast-food in Europe and learned to enjoy the food of the country, the food the locals ate. Naturally, there were limits to my affection, especially in the Northern nations, not known for their cusines. That includes Denmark. But I tell you… there are few gastronomic experiences that compare with strong coffee, a side of Aquavit, country bread and a delirious seafood smĂ¶rgĂĄsbord in an offstreet Danish cafĂ©.
And then there is the ferry… between HelsingĂ¶r (Hamlet's Elsinor), Denmark and HĂ¤lsingborg, Sweden. It's a lovely trip across the straits and it has a treasure trove of eating on board. As soon as the ferry leaves the dock from either side, the restaurant opens with a smĂ¶rgĂĄsbord and an array of beers and coffee. It was here I discovered the 'open-faced' sandwich… ah me, a large slice of country bread, a three-inch mound of small local shrimp, and a scoop of nose-shaking sauce in the middle. When I realized that there were people on the ferry who weren't going anywhere, who simply traveled up and back and sometimes up and back again just to eat and drink and have a laughing good time—this became my movable feast restaurant.
A couple of years ago, during a short visit to Hanoi where food street vendors are as prevalent as slot-machines in Las Vegas and often as risky, I came across a little stand that was selling the Parisien. It was dumbfounding deja vu. I laughed so hard, I began to dribble and sneeze which prompted the little woman in the food stand to chase me away with her towel, which jumped me down a few more stands and there, you guessed it, was my infamous Danish hot dog. It looked infamous and not too hot.
I could go on. I won't begin to tell you about parallel experiences in Thailand and Peru. I can only tell you that it's true... we are what we eat. The pleasure of it all is to eat when we're hungry and to eat when we're not. Food is a very happy thing.