Category Archives: world

Luxury food

paella

I often ask my students, when teaching on the topic of culture, if, in their opinion, paella started originally as a dish of the poor or the rich. Having seen paella as one of the most expensive options on the menus of expensive restaurants, they usually say that paella must have been an invention for the table of the wealthy. After all, shrimp and clams, mandatory for paella, are deluxe ingredients.

But not when the dish was first created. Fish and seafood in general was cheap food, since it didn’t need land to be farmed. It grew free and plentiful, with just labor necessary to be harvested – and that was cheap. In fact, paella is based on the concept of “small pieces of different meats and veggies, combined with rice”, which in practice means “any kind of meat, mixed together in rice”:  the perfect way to use leftovers. In most cases, paella was the Spanish casserole in which leftovers from yesterday or from the master’s table were put together to make a hearty meal. Continue reading

The loss of mechanical machines

When I was a kid, we used to go on field trips to a local textile factory. There was one machine that sat separately in a large production hall. The manager proudly explained that it was an electronic loom and it could reproduce exactly and quickly any design you enter in its computer memory.

Twenty years later, all looms are electronic. But during my summer visit to Northern Italy, the cradle of the famed textile and fashion industry we all admire, I was surprised to hear people speaking of mechanical looms with nostalgia. Something has changed in the last decades and it’s not just cheap Chinese competition. The machine as we know it is gone, quietly. Continue reading

The importance – and difficulty – of feeling foreign

How many people would say that feeling different from all others, being out of their element is so beneficial that they would actively pursue it?

Many people would say that being foreign, feeling foreign while living in a different culture is a challenge. But actually it’s an advantage; the advantage of being turned upside down. It’s first of all a tool for self-discovery and self-development. No wonder study abroad programs are the most rapidly growing college programs these days. True, the first excuse for those is learning the local language, but more than that, the greatest benefit is learning about, considering the value of and negotiating how to deal with a different way of thinking. And first of all, it’s acquiring the ability to think about yourself from the sidelines. Continue reading

Night at the Museum, real-history style

Speaking of museums, here is the new Night at the Museum story. I was curious to see it. First, a movie about history coming alive – or actually being alive – is a great idea. It’s stimulating for the young minds and it deserves support just for that. Second, I was also interested in it as a postmodern application of the concept that the past is constantly rethought and reworked in people’s minds. It’s also a fantastic example of what I said in my previous post: that museum artifacts are important in themselves as symbolic carriers of traditions, but what ultimately counts is what we make out of them and how they play out in our public consciousness.

However, if you want to find some special insight on history, or even something fun about it, this is definitely not the movie to see. Artifacts do come alive in this night at the Smithsonian, but they behave as their most stereotypical and one-dimension selves. Napoleon is only worried that others might think he is short. Tiny mass-produced Einsteins in the museum store are bouncing their heads in relativistic yes-no indecision. Worst of all – and most offensive – Amelia Earhart is a flirty red-head whose fixation is mainly to get the protagonist night guard to pay any sort of romantic attention to her. Continue reading