Food Matters

I wrote about Mark Bittman before but it was only today that I finally got his newly released book, Food Matters: a Guide to Conscious Eating. Much like Michael Pollan, to whom he often refers in the book, Mark Bittman calls us to be more conscientious of our eating habits and adopt what he calls “sane eating.” There are seven basic guidelines:

  1. Eat fewer animal products than average
  2. Eat all the plants you can manage
  3. Make legumes part of your life
  4. Whole grains beat refined carbs
  5. Snack on nuts or olives
  6. When it comes to fats, embrace olive oil
  7. Everything else is a treat, and you can have treats daily

Numbers 1 & 2 are the hardest for those in a strict meat-and-potatoes kind of diet. But you can cut down gradually, making dishes that combine meat and grains to reduce the proportion of meat. Number 7 will depend on how you feel. If you are feeling fine, losing weight and your doctor is happy, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t indulge on your daily dessert but if you are not getting the results you want, it might be better to reduce the treats.

His plan is not really a diet in a faddish sense. He doesn’t preach we must eat all organic although he admits that eating what is produced locally and in season would be best not only for us but for the environment. And this is where all this eating sanely leads to – better health for us and for the earth we live in. Bittman started becoming more conscious of his eating habits after he read a scientific report that showed that the meat industry was responsible for producing one-fifth of greenhouse gases, much more than the transportation industry. At the same time his doctor raised the red flag telling him his cholesterol and blood sugars were out of wack. By switching the proportions of animal and vegetable products, cutting junk food and prossessed food (anything with more than 5 ingredients or with ingredients with more than five syllables), he lost 15 pounds in the first month, his lab work turned out normal in the second month, and within four months he slept better than ever before, lost 35 pounds (his weight eventually stabilized) and he felt confortable and well with his new eating style.Without counting calories, nutrients, feeling hungry, or rebounding.

Makes a lot of sense to me and I do try to follow many of these tips in my daily life.

Worth a read if you feel your health is below optimal and/or you are concerned about the environment.

Check the Globe and Mail review of the book.

Javier Reverte

I came across this quotation elsewhere in this blog and decided it was a good time to re-post it:

Viajar prolonga tu vida, la llena de rostros y paisajes. Conoces hombres cobardes que deben vivir una vida valiente, y hombres valientes obligados a vivir como cobardes. “Viajar – escribió Aldoux Huxley – es descubrir que todo el mundo se equivoca. Cuando uno viaja, tus convicciones caen con tanta facilidad como las gafas; sólo que es más difícil volver a ponerlas en su sitio”.

Un largo viaje es también una suspensión en el vacío, por eso crea en ti una sensación de eternidad. Observas, como un “voyeur” impúdico, cuanto sucede a tu alrededor, y a la vez te implicas, te asombras, te estremeces, sientes la ternura de los hombres y también el temor a lo imprevisto. Te observas mientras miras fuera de ti.

Y viajar es también una forma de crear, porque retienes cuanto ves y cuanto oyes, en la memoria y en la retina, para intentar más tarde interpretarlo, como si fueras un artista, un pintor frente a los colores, frente a los rostros y las formas; un músico abierto a los sonidos, a las voces y los ritmos, o quizá y al fín, un poeta. El viaje nos convierte en seres libres; hace posible que nos veamos detenidos en el tiempo mientras el mundo corre a nuestro lado.

Y viajar es bailar, como bien dicen los Chichewas, sordo a todo aquello que no sea el son de una canción ignorada.

Javier Reverte’s  Spanish is simply beautiful. For those of you who don’t read Spanish, here’s a translation of something else he wrote for El País:

The art of travel, in any case, supposes an act of permanent humility, because you discover that you are wrong more than you could have thought. Your prejudices disappear one by one and your principles become fewer, although they become stronger in quality. A good journey is the one that changes something inside you, and that teaches you, through the eyes of others, something about yourself.

And more than anything, travel requires a good dose of humor. You have to learn to laugh, particularly at yourself. Because if you learn the value of making fun of yourself, you’ll have something to laugh at for the rest of your life.

The importance of education

I feel guilty for having abandoned the blog in the past few days, but it’s been a whirlwind of work, meetings with friends, weekend trips, catching up, that I have barely any time to even check email. So I’m sorry if you have left a message that has remained unacknowledged.

But that’s not why I’m writing today. I just wanted to share with all of you the story of Greg Mortenson and his work to educate children, particularly girls, in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Greg was a rock climber who, in 1992, after nearly dying in a failed attempt to climb K2, the world’s toughest summit, wandered into a remote village on his way down from the mountain, which he had hoped to conquer in honour of his sister Christa, who had recently passed away. Mortenson had taken the wrong path while following his guide and ended up on the village of Korphe by mistake. The villagers were quite surprised as no foreigner had ever been there before and Mortenson was received by the village chief, who took him to his house and offered him shelter. Comforted by their hospitality, he ended up spending weeks there recovering his strength and slowly doing what he could to pay back his hosts. Trained as a trauma nurse, he used his expedition medical kit to treat the local villagers, who lived one-week by foot from the closest doctor. He soon discovered that the village had no school and before he left, he promised Haji Ali, the chief, that he would come back to build him a school. After an extraordinary journey, Greg Mortenson has built over 60 primary schools – especially for girls – in the land that gave birth to the Taliban. He learned to speak Urdu, Balti, and other local languages and is respected throughout the region for the work he does to empower the local people and get them out of poverty. In one case, a village desperately needed a health care worker so Greg’s foundation sent a local young woman, Aziza Hussain, to be trained in a medical clinic at the closest larger city. I copy here the passage from the book:

With the nearest medical facility two days’ drive down often impassible jeep tracks, illness in Zuudkhan could quickly turn to crisis. In the year before Aziza took charge of her village’s health, three women had died during the delivery of their children. “Also, many people died from the diarrhea,” Aziza says. “After I got training and Dr. Greg provided the medicines, we were able to control there things.

“After five years, with good water from the new pipes, and teaching the people how to clean their children, and use clean food, not a single person had died here from there problems. It’s my great interest to continue to develop myself in this field,” Aziza says. “And pass on my training to other women. Now that we have made such progress, not a single person in this area believes women should not be educated.”

As Stephen Lewis has defended so strongly in his Race Against Time, educating women is the surest way to fight poverty and disease. And today, it is also the best way to fight terrorism and violence. In his book, Greg Mortenson talks extensively about Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and how they are able to recruit followers in remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. They build thousands of schools, devoted to teaching their particular version of extremism, in remote impoverished villages failed by the public system. War becomes the only occupation they can aspire to and the only thing to give their lives any meaning. The best and the brightest are then sent to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where they are indoctrinated further before sending them back home, where they are encouraged to take four wives and breed like rabbits, thinking “twenty, forty, sixty years ahead to a time when their armies of extremism will have the numbers to swarm over Pakistan and the rest of the Islamic world.”

As Ahmed Rashid, author of the best-selling book Taliban, says, we need many more of the schools that Greg Mortenson is building in that area of the world. I could go on about this for hours, so I’ll just leave you with a link to Mortenson’s site and an interview below. If you can, buy the book Three Cups of Tea, it’s definitely worth a read.

I love Harry…

It was the summer of 2002 and, like many people, I was very wary and tired of the whole Harry Potter hype. And that’s what I thought it was: simply unsubstantiated hype. Some intelligent friends and even a professor suggested I lay down my prejudices and give the books a shot. Well, it was summer, seemed like an easy read, and I needed to read the books to be able to prove to people that it was all about clever marketing…HP Collection

But I wasn’t willing to invest money on it, of course. At the time, there were four books out: HP and the Philosopher’s Stone, HP and the Chamber of Secrets, HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and HP and the Goblet of Fire. I checked them all out of my local public library.

Fifty pages into the first book, I became mildly disappointed and curious. This is just standard child lit, what’s the hype?? One hundred pages into it and I was completely hooked. I finished that book in the evening and started the next book the next morning. I consumed it in about 2-3 hours and read the third book that afternoon. The fourth book took a little longer – two days – since it had a whopping 636 pages (!).

I have to say. They are indeed brilliant. There’s classical western mythology, Arthurian drama, Dickensonian plots & characters, with just the right dosage of a Star Wars feel. There are so many layers to it, the plots are so smart, that it makes it readable for any age group. J. K. Rowling’s success is very much deserved.

Of course, I have since acquired all the books. You see them on the picture above. I’ve also started a neat travel collection. I decided to buy different translations of HP and the Philosopher’s Stone in different countries. So far, I have 3: Canadian English (there are also English and American editions), Catalan, and Latin. Apparently there are over 60 translations. Now you know what to get me for Christmas…

HP 1 Collection

The next – and final book – is supposed to come out on July 21st. I’ve now started re-reading all the other books (six of them) to prepare for it. The big question is: Will Harry die?

Update: Just got this email from the store I ordered my HP from…: “Saturday, July 21st is almost here – the official release date for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This early shipping confirmation is to let you know, that in preparation for the July 21st delivery, your Harry Potter pre-order, OR17929515 is packed and ready for pickup by Canada Post! We’ve partnered with Canada Post to ensure your book is delivered to you on Saturday July 21st, the day of release! ” It’s getting close now!! 

Monday with Moussa

Yesterday evening we went to Libraria Baïbars to catch the opening of Moussa ag Assarid’s photo exhibit of the children of the Sahara. As I explained before, Moussa is a Touareg, a nomad Berber tribe that roams the Sahara desert. Possessed of a keen curiosity about the world around him, Moussa went to school and eventually won a scholarship to study in France. He has since written a book about his experiences in France, and has dedicated himself to raising awareness to the plight of the nomadic peoples of the desert, promoting Touareg culture, and raising support for a school for Touareg children. The stop in Barcelona was part of his Caravan of the Heart, a journey towards his home country going from Paris to Tombouctu, crossing five countries.

The place was packed as everybody waited for the members of the caravan to arrive.

Baibars

Moussa gave a little talk about his book, answered questions and then signed books. The book-signing wasn’t planned, someone asked and he graciously accepted. I lined up with the rest and watched as he signed the books – he actually took the time to write a different message on each book he signed! He was very kind and I exchanged a few words with him when my turn came. I told him I would bring his words to Canada and he immediately sounded interested “vous habitez là-bas?” he asked. I said I did and he asked where. Toronto & before that Montreal. I’m originally from Brazil. He smiled and said “vous êtes partout le monde.” I said yes, I’m a citizen of the world. He asked what I did and I answered I study history. “Ça, c’est très important”. I smiled, he finished signing my book, and we shook hands. It was a really nice moment. Meeting people like Moussa and having a chance to exchange a few words is good for the soul.
Moussa & I

Here’s what he wrote:

signature

Moussa in the news here (in Catalan)

Researching at the archives

As some of you know, the whole purpose of spending the year in Barcelona is to undertake research for my PhD thesis. Friends back in Toronto, however, reading this blog, ask me whether I do anything else here than going out to eat, travelling, blogging and taking photos. So I decided to take a little time and write a bit more about the work I’m doing here.

First, let me tell you a little bit about the object of my research and my sources. I study Christian-Jewish interaction in the late 14th-century Catalonia and Aragon. While in general, medieval scholars tend to work with a scarce documentary basis, I’m lucky that the Crown of Aragon (the area comprised of the Valencia, Catalonia, Aragon & the balearics) holds one of the richest archival collections for the Middle Ages. The public institutions of the Crown of Aragon were very prolific in their writing and hundreds of thousands of documents survive, regulating all aspects of medieval life. So my problem is not that I don’t have enough documents, but that I have too many! So I had to choose a narrow period of time and one main body of sources. I chose to look at the royal chancery registers from the years 1380-1391. These registers contain letters issued by the king in response to requests sent to him. Since the Jews were under the direct jurisdiction of the king, most problems they had appear in the royal courts and thus in these registers.

In the past 8 months, I’ve combed through dozens of registers (each about 500 pages long) and so far have collected over 2,000 documents. I’ve also kept an eye for other documents and have collected a few court cases, job contracts, and have a list of stuff to get at the Municipal archive and the church archives at Girona.

And what’s your conclusion, people ask me. I have no conclusions yet. Nor could I have. The work is pretty mechanical at this point. All I do is collect the documents – I enter some basic info in a database, make a photocopy or a digital copy of the page(s) and move on. The analysis will come later, when I get back to Toronto. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make some sense of all these puzzle pieces. I still don’t know how I’ll do it but I was able to squeeze stuff out of much drier sources in the past (like when I wrote my honours’ thesis) so that keeps me hopeful. I also know that the thesis is more of an exercise than my ultimate piece of work. That also helps. I had that perspective when I wrote my honours thesis and it really helped. If only I can keep it up through the writing process, things will work out….

Here’s a picture of a piece of one of my documents….

MS scrap

And here’s where the archives used to be located, now a place for public visitation. I should be doing research there!!! But who said the world is fair?…

Palau del Lloctinent

And here’s the new building, where I go everyday. Not quite as glamorous but the wonderful personel more than make up for the coolness of the building:

New ACA

And here is for the Archives of the Crown of Aragon on the news today: El Periodico

To travel…

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. Mark Twain

The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see. Gilbert K. Chesterton

To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries. Aldous Huxley

I’ve just finished reading Javier Reverte’s Vagabundo en África, a mix of travel notes, history of Africa and reflections on the state of Africa at the time Reverte spent two months criss-crossing through that great continent. Highly recommended. It made me wish I was brave enough to travel as he does.

His conclusion on travelling at the closing of his journey through the heart of Africa:

“Viajar prolonga tu vida, la llena de rostros y paisajes. Conoces hombres cobardes que deben vivir una vida valiente, y hombres valientes obligados a vivir como cobardes. “Viajar – escribió Aldoux Huxley – es descubrir que todo el mundo se equivoca. Cuando uno viaja, tus convicciones caen con tanta facilidad como las gafas; sólo que es más difícil volver a ponerlas en su sitio”.

Un largo viaje es también una suspensión en el vacío, por eso crea en ti una sensación de eternidad. Observas, como un “voyeur” impúdico, cuanto sucede a tu alrededor, y a la vez te implicas, te asombras, te estremeces, sientes la ternura de los hombres y también el temor a lo imprevisto. Te observas mientras miras fuera de ti.

Y viajar es también una forma de crear, porque retienes cuanto ves y cuanto oyes, en la memoria y en la retina, para intentar más tarde interpretarlo, como si fueras un artista, un pintor frente a los colores, frente a los rostros y las formas; un músico abierto a los sonidos, a las voces y los ritmos, o quizá y al fín, un poeta. El viaje nos convierte en seres libres; hace posible que nos veamos detenidos en el tiempo mientras el mundo corre a nuestro lado.

Y viajar es bailar, como bien dicen los Chichewas, sordo a todo aquello que no sea el son de una canción ignorada.

Elsewhere he says:

Hay veces, cuando viajas o emprendes una tarea creativa,, en las que te preguntas si el destino existe. Es una cuestión boba que no está de moda en estos tiempos de realidades matemáticas y de hombres seguros de su ciencia. Pero yo creo que existe. Y que es uno quien lo propicia.