Monday, July 29, 2013


Itaunas, Espirto Santo I've spent 7 days here.Unfortunately Google won't post my photos. It's too bad because the place is gorgeous. I leave today for Porto Seguro, about half way between here and Salvador. The owners of That Hostel in Itaunas, Grant and Paula have been gracious and generous. He is an American-she a Brazilian, both travelers with an understanding of the frustrations and immense rewards. I could get lost here on the East Coast of Brazil on the southern border of the state of Bahia, in this dusty, rural town with no paved roads and exceptionally friendly folks. Thick vegetation begins at the deck and stretches to the horizon, broken only by the lovely Rio Itaunas that snakes through it. A short walk away are the dunes: shifting and changing minute by minute, fringed by the Atlantic Ocean. Last night, led by our gracious hosts, Grant and Paula, we trooped to the dunes to lie under the stars. I wished my friend, Dave Boulden, had been there to guide us through the brightly lit, wondrous ceiling of the Southern Hemisphere. The dunes now cover the entire original town because the founders removed the trees and diverted the river. It took a few decades, but still, if you have a 30 year mortgage and the house disappears before it is paid for you would, with good reason, be pissed. If that isn’t a lesson in what will happen when you mess with Mother Nature I can’t imagine what else might wake us up. On my first walk on the beach I found a perfect small, fragile sand dolla, not bigger than a quarter.It didn’t last long in my pocket, but I had the sense to take its picture. I noted the absence of gulls, tankers, off-shore platforms along the coast. Noone I asked seems to know why there aren't any. The water here is warm, as are the hearts of the Brazilians I’ve met. Sebastian, from Argentina and Isabella from Austria, my roommates in the 4 bed dorm, told me yesterday that the night before I woke them with an apparent bad dream. I was struggling with someone. “ Who are you!?. What do you want?! Help me!! Isabella said she was alarmed and thought maybe I needed help just then, but decided it was a struggle with my dream weavers. They’ve gone. Last night there was not sign of them. Good riddance I say. Itaunas has so many birds. Flocks of parrots have flown past, canaries are plentiful as are colorful finches, and the beautiful red and black Corrupiao with some white on its wings. Vultures rest in the trees as do a smaller, green parrot. Troops of marmosets apparently visit when the red goiaba tree that hangs over the deck has fruit.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Rio in Five Hours

Rio in five hours.

The towering 98ft limestone Cristo Redentor sits in the middle of the Tijuca national park, a tropical jungle smack in the middle of the city.
The artsy neighborhood of Santa Teresa, the Catedral Metropolitana downtown, (depending on who you talk to 26-46% of Brazilians are catholic) and 1300 foot high Sugarloaf, a huge granite and quartz rock that over looks Copacabana, and Ipanema beaches. Whew. This is the city version of eight cities in ten days.

A van full of folks from Europe, South Africa, Brazil, and the U.S.,   
 led by a young, fast talking guide sped through the city as if we were being pursued.

"When I say stick together, ju shud be together. When I say ju hav 20 minutes, ju hav that. If ju become lat, it is bad for ju-not for me. I tell ju that if ju are late ju will be sorry because ju will miss the sunset from Sugerloaf mountain and it is best part of trip!"

Warned, we careened around a narrow mountain road to a busy parking area where there were long lines of tourists waiting to board park vans to haul them further up the hill to the elevators or steps that finally end at the feet of the Cristo. 
 Raphael retrieved our tickets and whisked us past the queue.

At the base of the elevators he commanded, " we meet here at twenty minutos past three. Everybody together. OK?" 
We were there. The van was not. We waited. Maybe fifteen minutes later we were winding our way down through the hilly neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Aging, elegant homes stood tall above us like so many widows with veiled eyes.   
On the downside slope below them were shops filled with what appeared to be artistic stuff. We didn’t have time to browse.

When we parked on a side street, Raphael announced:
"We will not see the sunset. The traffic is bad because it is Friday."
"It’s Thursday!"we rang out.
"Ahhh. It’s bad traffic for Thursday," he laughed.
You had to love him.
Separately we explored stairs  
that were covered with tiles representing places around the world.

"Remember. I say important to stay together. It’s worse here."
By this time no one was listening. We certainly didn’t stay together. I wandered into Balaze Gardi. A truly wonderful exhibit of black and white photographs showing our planet's troubling issue with water. For some sobering reminders have a look at his website.

 I wanted to see more, spend more time, but I didn’t. I hate being the last person on the bus.
Next, the conical cathedral. Lovely. I liked it best reflected in the office building across the street.

 "Five minutoes!" he called to us as we poured out of the van. "Only five!"
It was dark as we pulled up to Pao de Acucar or Sugarloaf which is actually two mountains.
Waiting for the Italian cable car up to the highest point there was a sign that read: ‘Do not feed the wild animals." Now this is an extremely high volume pedestrian area. "What animals are here?" I asked.
Raphael, a master of improv, said " Nada. No animales live here now. Maybe before."
Then he recanted. "Monkeys. But it is winter and they are gone for the winter."
Gone for the winter? The temperature is in the 70s-f. It is not cold. Nevertheless, maybe they have gone to Columbia, or Florida-somewhere quiet.
Finally we reached the top. The view was spectacular as promised. "We will meet together. Here. Twenty minutoes. Together."

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Manifestation
 People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

"`What goes around comes around." The hostel where I am staying is two blocks from the governor, Sergio Cabral’s, house. It’s a three story glass house    
on a corner directly across from the beach in Lablon, the suburb next to Ipanima. Wednesday night the ground floor windows were broken by folks protesting his corrupt politics.

Policia in full riot gear blocked the streets going north and south in order to confine marching angry protestors to the main east / west street and the street that runs along the beach directly in front of his house. To hear Brazilians talk, it seems that just about everyone but the wealthy are disgusted with him.

As the crowd passed our hostel  
   the protestors were peaceable: a few in a party mood. A woman who lives in a favela spied me and began a weird verbal exchange-the kind I probably invoke with my limited language skills here.

"You Cheecaago?’
" No. California."
"Ah. I know Cheecaago. I know you United States."
"Not all of them. Only some."
"You fala Inglas?"
Finally she had me dancing in the street and posing.   
  She was with a man and maybe a very pretty girl-maybe her daughter.

When she found out it was against the rules of the hostel to buy her a beer they left.

I walked to the beach and to where the protesters had gathered: to listen, observe, and learn.
The avenue along the beach was quiet. A woman did yoga, dogs were being walked, skaters and bicycles went by.

A few minutes later, while walking home I heard, Bang! Bang! Bang!Then the smell of tear gas stung my eyes, my nose. Fires burning photos of the governor were lighting up the next block. We could hear glass breaking, ambulances screaming down the street. Our street. Suddenly it was quiet. I went to bed. The noise started again. I put the window down.
I took my hearing aids out of my ears and fell asleep.

In the morning I walked among the carnage. Broken glass littered the street. A clothing store on the corner was completely open-I’m pretty sure looted.   
Now it is covered with black boards that have slogans painted on them. Most of the banks along the main street had been vandalized. The young, professional Brazilian woman I walked with said, "the governor is probably in Cancun on the beach. He doesn’t give a shit."

At the governors’ men were measuring to replace the glass. Policia guarded the street. She was right about him being gone. He is still gone.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Humility Up Close and Personal in Rio de Janeiro

A few weeks ago I drove across the U.S. from my lovely daughter, Anna's, in South Carolina to visit with my friends in Cali before flying to Brazil. The trip was long, and hot, and only marginally interesting.

I've done that trip countless times since the l960s when I drove my then fiance's TR4A from Atlanta, GA to San Diego,CA. It seems I was just a child then. Really. Could barely reach the petals, and had as much sense as a prairie hen.

On long desert stretches I improvised cruise control by wedging my umbrella between the gas and the seat. Still, I'm not quite as jaded as Loretta Lynn who allegedly said she'd seen so many sunsets she no longer opened the drapes on the bus windows.

In Cali I visited with many of my friends. Margaret, my Mini Cooper, and I arrived at the Bouldins tired and dusty. It was as close to home as a homeless woman gets; filled with affection, love, and music by Highline. I love my Tehachapi friends-men and women: the Naked Lesbians-none of whom are lesbians that I know of. Go figure. 

Then to Sherry's in Lake Isabella. 106 fuckin degrees of dry heat that sucked the life out of me-the last remaining juice from my ageing body. I could hear it evaporating ...wooshhhh. During a road trip (again across the whole country) six years ago Sherry and I discovered we shared a birthday month, year, and name!, Cheryl Ann, that we both changed a bit for different reasons, and we both gave birth to our daughters at home. Immediate sisters we were. And more music. The spunky Out of the Blue band is always a down home treat where ever you happen to live. 

And then to the Maggarts in Venice-to my old neighborhood.  Brandon, irrasible, sweet Brandon who growls and grumps, but would share the shirt off his back, writes, surrounded by his talented and handsome off-spring. Read his book, Papa's Footprint for a merry romp through broadway during the good ole days.

I finished my ebook, Irish Mongrel Child while at Brandons. Yesterday I proofed the cover. It should be ready to download within a few days. Fulfilled, grateful for my friends, my health and my love of being alive I headed to Cecil's. 

 Cecil-the Masseur, who I never see enough of. He is another kind-hearted man who shares what he has and is repayed with love. He is the reason I can travel as I do. I'm his Buddy-as in buddy passes on URL. He started it. About 23 years ago he gave me a 'one way pass to anywhere UAL flies'  for Christmas. Two  passports later I am in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil because the planes to Sao Paulo were full.

I'm sitting at at a bar in the Z.BRA hostel drinking a Bohemia beer, listening to Brazilian music, writing my blog and looking for tutoring jobs. The people who work here shared their delicious lunch with me:
sausages fried with onions, black beans, rice and salad. Hallelujah.

Yesterday I toured the Recina favela.

If there is any thing in this world that is capable of stripping ego and pretention from oneself it must be this mindboggling mass of humanity stacked on top of one another on the face of the mountain like so many colorful leggos dressed for carnival.

The van full of folks from Ireland, England, Australia, Mexico and me, the USA, were dropped off with our guide. After explaining that the 300K inhabitants of this favela had, up until 2010 been ruled pretty much by serious gun toting drug lords, but now they were gone because one day 700 Brazilian policia stormed the place, killed the bad guys, and are still there, so it is safe now. I didn't see them. I saw a few police cars at the entrance and exit. Far less than 700. 

With a certain amount of trepidation, we followed our guide single file up a path
of crooked, uneven concrete littered with occasional dog shit and other flotsom and jetsome, to a building where we climbed up some equally perilous steps to an artist's home and studio.

 Ahh! Wow! Omg! were the utterances as we stood humble before the million dollar view-our backs to abject poverty. 

Up there, the realizitation that these stacked houses were a community of families, businesses-of schools, nurseries, bakeries, trademen-of hair dressers, barbers, carpenders...everything the same as mine and yours, hit me. It's just way more difficult to traverse and with your immediate family living on top of you or sharing a wall, it's definitly up close and personal.

 The favela was vibrant with life;  people coming and going, graffiti art-creative and non, a neat preschool like any other, anyplace, tender, tired moms hauling groceries on one  hip- baby on the other. Water rushed through an open concrete drain twisting and turning downward, smiling animated kids anxious to make a few coins danced to the drumming of two boys beating harmomiously on a plastic paint pail and a dented metal gas can, artist's studio, good and mediocre art, but art, colorful and telling, dogs, cats, chickens, spaces where houses slid off the mountain, and more. Much more.

Under a thick canopy of an astoundingly intricate electrical wire
maze we made our way to a bakery where I bought a delicious piece of passion fruit cake.

How must it feel to have tourists come by your neighborhood, peering into your lives? To be famously poor? I mentiond to the young woman standing next to me that I thought it reminded me of parts of Mexico. She was Mexican, and not a little offended. I need to learn to keep my opinions to myself.


Friday, May 24, 2013

No Reservations

Next month I'll be traveling to South America- my first time on that continent. Brazil -Peru- Chile at least. I'm  excited.

As usual, I have no confirmed flights. I travel space available on UAL because my generous friend, Cecil, works for them. The passes he shares with me are greatly reduced,  and usually I travel business or first class, but occasionally I don't get on the airplane-for hours, or days. Mine is the lowest priority. Full fare passengers go first, followed by  employees, their relatives & finally friends. We board according to the enployee's seniority.  Sometimes that's the adventure.

A few years ago I spent 5 days with my then 16 year old grand daughter, Cooper, in "Tokyo's Narita Airport-along with a slew of other 'buddies.' We spent the nights partying with other guests in a  hotel on the opposite side of the runway; the days hanging out in the airport: playing cards, eating, shopping, laughing and complaining- waiting for available seats going anywhere in the US. New buddies with higher priorities than ours came and went. I learned never to travel at the end of summer.

Finally, the day before Cooper's school started in Santa Monica she flipped. She cried actual tears-for school.  "I need to go to school! she insisted." This was a new Cooper. One I had not seen since maybe sixth grade, when she looked forward to going to school. I hoped it was a turning point in appreciation for education. Capitulating, I paid  2grand! for a ticket for her to fly home.

Cooper & me
 That evening I got a seat to Hawaii, where I spent the next three days with my friend, Jessica, in Hilo.

Once I spent countless days at a friends while trying to get out of Chicago due to lousy weather. Another time, another city, hours and hours waiting for a seat because an entire class of students booked all of the seats. Once I had to fly into Denver after two days of waiting to get out of Anchorage to Los Angeles. 

Sometimes these happen because: I forget and travel on major holidays, when schools let out for the summer or spring break, or I'm just an idiot. I love it when it's a good thing. I flew to Singapore with new Canadian friends when the flights to Bangkok were full due to it being the Chinese New Year holiday. I've been incredibility lucky to get the last seat on the plane more than once. 

Not having a plane reservation, means making hostel or hotel reservations pointless. Finding one on arrival requires patience, luck, and perseverance, but can have unexpected pleasant results.

Monos playing on hostel roof Manuel Antonia, Costa Rica
New friends in Ulaanbator, Mongolia

Once, some folks who showed me how to use the airport phone in Bangkok at 3am, helped me find a room, and gave me a tour of their incredible diverse city the next afternoon.

In Casa Blanca I arrived at the Guimere Hotel in a cab. "Do you have a reservation?" the desk clerk asked. "No. But, I'd like to have one. For 4 nights."
"We are full, but wait a minute."
"I have a cab waiting. I need to either go to another hotel or pay the driver and let him go"
'Ok. Let him go."
I spent the next few hours with their truly delightful chef, Mohammad while they evicted someone. He took me to the market, showed me the surrounding area, and back at the hotel, poured me a glass of wine while I talked to other tourists who had shown up. 

Chef Mohammed

 In that room  in 2009, I, and several  European guests and a couple of Moroccans watched Obama become the 43rd president of the United States. I cried. The following day the hotel owner gave me the daily newspaper written totally in Arabic. Front and center was a big photo of President Obama on stage surrounded by American flags; a corner insert showed Jessie Jackson weeping. I was so proud of my country. He stamped and signed the front page.It's framed, waiting for me to settle somewhere.

No reservations. Perhaps it's also a metaphor for being unrestrained, flexible-ready to light anywhere. It's not extreme adventure, nor is it necessarily out of the way or weird- just free and freeing somehow. It's a way to meet folks you wouldn't ordinarily meet, eat places not in a guide book, and do things unplanned.

You are in charge of your time: to spend it with whomever you like, doing whatever you desire. 

drink & soak


On the Siberian Express train with the Aussies

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mothers and Massages

My mother, Alice, was a lesson in contradictions. As it turns out, those lessons were the most valuable. Flexibility really is the key.

I keep my body flexible with yoga and massage-as flexible as an old body- ruled with a minimally disciplined mind- can be that is. So for this Mother's Day I took my daughter, Anna, who is a mother also, and myself for a massage at the  local massage school.  The low price, $25.00 apiece coupled with feeling I've served my civic duty( they have to practice on someone), cannot be beat.

Ahhhh. There's something liberating about stripping off one's clothes and climbing onto a table for the purpose of having a stranger knead your flesh and gouge your innards with elbow, thumbs, and knuckles; feeling your flesh yield- ligaments stretch and expand as blood flows freely through them like dormant roots after they are aerated and doused by a spring rain. Yes.

Methods of massage vary wildly depending on where you are in the world-how the culture feels about naked flesh.

In Morocco I visited several hammams-gender segregated bath houses-public or private, where one is gromaged; a massage/removal of old skin, with slimy brown soap and a scouring glove rough enough to strip off old paint.

In Asilah, my first public hammam consisted of two large  rooms. The first one was the check- in room where you paid your fees, were assigned a gromager (or maybe a gromagiss?) and stored your clothes.

The clerk, taking advantage of my being a foreigner, apparently charged me several times the local price. A young woman standing nearby intervened on my behalf.

After an impassioned debate the price was lowered. My gromager, lets call her Hercules, was not happy. Unsmiling and outweighing me by at least double she led me, naked to the main bath area, a large, maybe 40'x30' room with a sloping blue and white tiled, wet, slick floor. In the center were a spigot and a couple of buckets. At one end were open showers. The room was filled with with naked women.

Hercules, stopped  at an empty spot  in the middle of the slippery floor next to the buckets. Surrounded by strangers, she pushed me down (not necessarily with force, but in no way lovingly), onto the tile floor, poured a bucket of tepid water over me and began to rub the slimy soap over my submissive body. As she rubbed, my limbs and trunk slid around on the tiles seemingly separate from one another. I pretended I was a ballerina, sliding across the floor in the hands of my premier danseur as compliant as I am capable of being, before I would rise again-to applause.

When I was sufficiently slimed Hercules donned the glove. Holding on to me with her ungloved hand she began to scrub, vigorously stimulating blood, and removing the dead skin along with the live first layer of epidermis it stubbornly clung to. When I had been  rendered as pink as a new-born piglet, she poured more buckets of water on me-to  rinse and rid my body of any leftover slime, loose skin or incriminating fingerprints before disappearing- leaving  me for dead. All for about $10.00.

In China, Angelina, a member of the hostel staff took me to a small, hole-in-the-wall-boxcar style place that was  some one's home. The massage room was in the back. She told the masseur I wanted an hour massage found out it would cost 30 yuan, about $5.00, and left.

I was instructed to take off my shoes and climb onto the table in my clothes. Two tables from mine lay a woman, completely clothed, a light blanket across her, sleeping. "How nice, I thought." I won't have to hurry when it's over. Then because I didn't want the metal against my skin while being massaged, I reached up under my shirt, unhooked and pulled my bra out from under it. The masseur panicked. No! No! He shouted shaking his fingers at me. I shrugged, put the folded bra in my purse, and climbed onto the table. Through the material of my clothes and the blanket that covered them, he pulled and pushed my joints around, dug into the muscles of my back and legs and rubbed my skin briskly with manly pressure. Never touching any skin. When it was over he tapped my shoulder. In perfect English he said, "Done. Go now."

Another place in China, referred to me by my TA who had never been there, looked like a place for getting a pedicure. Six lounge chairs lined up against the wall with separate movable  hassocks at the foot. Everyone looked at me when I went in.

"Welcome." said a young man." "Nehao." I replied. That was it. All we had. He pointed to a sign posted on the wall.. I understood that I was to choose my massage from it.  None of them were over $10.00, but what did they mean? A pedicure in China is not what we think it is. It doesn't involve polish, but having your corns and bunions scraped. How many different massages could there be?  I pointed to the next to the last one. OK

massage sign in Chongqing, China
I was instructed to sit on the hassock, facing the chair. A good looking twentyish young man, began to rub and manipulate my neck and shoulders. I slumped forward. He worked downward into my back, waist, and kidneys onto my lower back. Now I was bent in half, stretched across myself, my head on the seat of the chair-a position I'm not capable of under normal circumstances.

Finally he tapped me gently on the shoulder motioning that I should move onto the chair- facing  him.

 He started on my feet and legs. Oh my. Was I in a funky little storefront massage place somewhere in Chongqing, China or had I gone to heaven? I was not alone. The man next to me was slouched back, his head slightly tilted, his mouth open-snoring. Obviously it was the latter. Anywhere snoring is accepted openly might be heaven.

Wandering a month through Thailand, for under $3.00,  I treated myself to a massage every day. Everyday!! Sometimes just my feet and legs, sometimes I changed into into loose wrap-around pants and shirt and lay on a mattress for a full on 'metta.'

Your Thai  masseuse will climb around you on the mattress, stretching your limbs with a rhythmic pressure, pulling your body into yoga positions like the arching cobra, push your boundaries, pressing spots that sync to others you've forgotten about since you were six. Massage is a loving thing in Thailand that brings kindness and awareness to the masseuse as well as to you.

Which brings me to Allen and Cecil, the two healers, masseurs of the first order in my life. Allen massaged my son's crooked body, stiffened and brittle by cerebral palsy. Kirk relaxing as never before drooled with abandonment through the hole making a puddle below him. If he could have had a massage every day he would not have needed Valium. And Allen kneaded my muscles through many a difficult time, or as a gift- pouring love into every healing stroke as only someone who loves you does.

And Cecil-The Masseur. He massaged my daughter, Alice, when her back ached  from carrying  my soon to be born grand daughter. And worked miracles on my achy  friends. And me. Time and time again, the sharing of warmth, healing, hands-on, giving of self. The precious gift of touch.
Pass it on.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


"Food is our common ground, a universal experience." James Beard.

Chinese New Year Dinner in LiJiang, China 2012

chicken soup

And, chicken soup is said to cure a cold, and good for your soul.

No one would argue that food is necessary to live, and if you have good food, life is infinitely better.

Food brings us together, tempts us, identifies us, frustrates us. Some people get rich off it-others work hard to provide it and still others have to steal basic food  to feed their families.

Roasting chestnuts in Chendu

Gandhi said, There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot apper to them except in the form of bread."

A humble American grandma will say, 'It isn't perfect,' when you praise a dish. 
My mother gave a recipe box filled with her most popular recipes as a wedding gift to brides- an intimate gift of herself. When my son lost his first tooth he asked the tooth fairy to bring him pie. My daughter makes my mother's pinwheel cookies every Christmas. Students from around the world decorated my grandmothers cookies for Christmas in 2011.
 Our family lives on through food. 

Because of my Irish heritage I salivate just thinking about real Colcannon; mashed potatoes with cream, sauteed cabbage and crispy onions topped with lots of butter and black pepper.

The smell of fresh tomatoes takes me back to my mom's kitchen in late summer when she labored to can jars of tomatoes, beets, peppers and  vegetable soup-summer in a jar during a snow storm. 

 I can taste her love steeped in the red sauce she taught me to make for  stuffed green peppers or pasta. At a request of a friend in China, I made spaghetti for him and his girl friend. He had thirds and finished off the sauce in the pan with the heel of the french bread I'd bought. "I had spaghetti at an Italian restaurant in Beijing, he said, but yours is better."  Mom would be so proud.

Food is the highlight of my travel. I can't describe nearly as much of what I see in museums, as I can the food of a country, and the people I share meals with.
Decorating Christmas cookies at EF International 2011

In Tangier I was admiring the sensual aromas and rich colors of bins of spices when an elderly man came up to me with a flat aluminum pan  full of what looked like cornmeal mush. I said, "No thank you." A passerby said, You should have some. It's delicious. He was right.  I ate the baked meal with my fingers, scrapping the small piece of paper it was on to get every grain.

In Fez, Morocco,  I was invited for dinner to the house of a man I met on the train. Actually, I went to Fez because he persuaded me to see the ancient Medina. Fortunately his marriage proposal came after the delicious meal his sisters cooked-so I fled on a full stomach.

Throughout Morocco I devoured roasted camel, and bowls of fava bean soup from street vendors. Come evening I sat alone with  6 to 10 different colored bowls spread out before me, each holding a unique flavor in restaurants for dinner. 

The gracious Thai people think it is sad to eat alone so they don't let that happen. I've had a Thai businessmen join me for lunch to discuss American politics, families invite me to join their table, and even the cook on the island of Ko Semet sat with me after she had cooked my meal. The following day she invited me into her kitchen to observe to learn how to make Thai chili paste -her way. 

In China I cooked traditional American Christmas and
Thanksgiving dinners for twenty plus students, staff and friends on a two burner stove with no oven. It's amazing what you can do in a wok.

A pot, A Wok. And a bowl=a double boiler!.

Almost every weekday I ate at least one meal at the dining hall. Because all of the meat and vegetables, including fish with bones, are chopped into  one inch pieces it is extremely difficult for a novice like me to determine origin.  It became a game of 'guess that food.' resulting on me eating mostly vegetables. The cafeteria workers, though, monitored my intake. One day I was sitting with a student, having lunch when a tiny woman came up to her. "Tell her she isn't eating enough meat.


On several occasions I was invited to a hot pot restaurant. Hot pot is a cauldron of hot spicy, oil one dips skewers of meat and vegetables into.  It's not for sensitive palates.

Offered a pig snout from a street vendor, I couldn't do it- just couldn't bring myself to bite into a big pig nose.

I laughed as my students read the yellow mustard jar at our traditional American picnic featuring hot dogs. "Is this American mustard. Ruby? I thought mustard was green."  " Ah. You are thinking of Japanese wasabi.  Not even close."

 Eating with people on the road is the sharing of cultures, the acceptance of one another's differences, the acknowledgement that we are the same. As a stranger, when I'm  invited to dine with a family or new friend in a country where I barely speak the language, I'm humbled and grateful.
When traveling, food is the adventure; everything else comes after. I was 23 when I first flew outside the US mainland to Puerto Rico. My date, an impossibly handsome man, bought us blood sausage from a street vendor. Oh my god, I said. Cooked blood! I can't possibly eat that! Next came the whole fish with a sunken eye peering at me. "The muscle behind the eye is the best." he teased. I put a lettuce leaf over it. He ate the eye muscle, I devoured the delicious fish. And then there were fried plantains, squid and pineapple freshly picked. I probably still wouldn't eat the eye muscle, but the rest-piece of cake!

Last week I took my grand kids, six and nine to an Asian market. "Ooohh. Look at the pigs feet. What is that? It's a block of congealed blood? Oh gross. What's an eel? " Who eats this stuff, the boy said?" "Many people-all over the world, Honey-even in your own neighborhood."  

Living in Mexico I found myself at the same taco stand, several days a week  eating fresh fish tacos with crunchy cabbage, cilantro and avocado - a balanced meal for a buck fifty.

In Lisbon it was bacalhau -salted cod,  sardines, squid on a stick; in Spain I ate my weight in tapas, washed down with red wine. In one bar the tiny fish bones kept sticking in my throat. Agh. Agh I coughed. Laughing, the bartender and two other patrons urged-mas vino, mas vino.

My family's staples were potatoes-roasted, mashed, or fried and home baked bread. My southern husband introduced me to rice and grits- my housekeeper/cook to heavenly greens, black eyed peas, chitlins, and corn bread-soul food. Isn't it all food for the soul.

  In Asia I watched folks work in rice paddies- small and large. I  heard stories about cobras' weaving among the thick fields, and the cobra hunters who catch them and milk the venom.  I've shared  unidentifiable food  on trains, buses and boats with people I knew for an hour or a night.

 In Central America I talked to coffee farmers who pick the berries and spread them out in the sun to dry, and women sitting on the ground surrounded by baskets of vegetables, fruit or a few chickens to sell.

Food is as essential to our souls as to our health.  I agree with J.R.R. Tolkien who said, "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. "