Tradition or Innovation

Traditions are important, they remind us how our ancestors lived.
However, whilst many traditions may be worth preserving, there are plenty of traditions that are banned to day, for good reasons.
In ancient times, people used to sacrifice prisoners, children or virgins to their gods in exchange for a good life, which essentially meant: a good harvest. Now, we light a candle instead. For ages we have used salt for conservation of food, now we have fridges. For decades we have compromised our health, using DDT and other toxic chemicals for crop protection. Now we have pest-resistant crops. For years, we upheld the ‘tradition’ to keep calves in wooden crates to produce white veal, now we have regulations that forbid such crates.
We are generally happy with alternatives that allow for more durable and friendly ways to produce food, so that we don’t have to feel guilty for what we put into our mouths. It is not acceptable that, in our day and age, we cannot find alternatives for products like Fatty Goose liver or Shark Finn soup. It is impossible that we accept piglets to be castrated, Iberian sows to be ovario-ectomised or layer hens to be debeaked. Because this has nothing to do with tradition, it is simply a shameful degrading of our own humanity. Safe food, produced in a welfare responsible way, is a clear objective that is entirely reachable in our 21st century.
When our younger generation is moving to vegetarianism, it is not because they love vegetables that much, it is because they do not accept how we produce our meat anymore. Young people do understand that food production today has to be different from how it was in the past, but they cannot and should not accept that it can be worse. Not with all the technology and knowledge we have today. Young people are not afraid of technology and innovation but there have been so many food scares in the last decades that nobody knows what’s good and what’s bad anymore. Good journalism and ethical reporting should help, but instead most popular media are only interested in the juicy scary stories that sells papers, never mind the investigating the full truth behind the story.
There are alternatives for debeaking in layers and for tail docking and castration in piglets, these practices can be avoided by improved farm management, by safe vaccines and other technologies. Why is nobody making a story or a documentary about these novel production ways? Because good news does not sell.
We have a moral task to pioneer and to develop alternative and durable ways to produce our food. This does not mean that we need to revert to backyard farming. It does mean that, instead of profit and volume, we need to put health, welfare and sustainability back on the top shelf. The younger generation will thank you if you do, damn you if you don’t.IMG_4859


Burma, Myanmar, it was neither the highest nor the lowest on my bucket list but I’m definitely happy to be here. Twofold happy. First of all, being here means that Aung San Suu Kyi is a free person today. I remember visiting-  a much younger man –  a Burmese refugee camp near the ‘Three Pagoda’s pass’. The rainy season had started, which had forced both the army and the Karen led rebels into a compulsory ceasefire. Not only because the waterlogged forest had become impenetrable, but it had also become malaria infested. Plasmodium falciparum is unforgiving. I have seen Burmese refugees, students mostly, lying on infusions in the camp hospital, pale and sickly,  battling it out, praying and hoping that the drugs would reach the parasites before these killers reached the brain.

It was the year that ‘The Lady’ had received her Nobel Price, and I had vowed not to set foot in this country, until she’d be free and the government had come to its senses. Today, Ne Win is dead and Daw San Suu Kyi is a member of the Burmese government. Though still the military junta is holding the reins firmly and the generals have all but opened their fists,  improvements are undeniable and visiting the country has as much to do with satisfying my own curiosity as it has to do with paying respect to this diminutive woman who has taught the world a enormous lesson in dignity and resilience.

The second reason I’m happy to be here now is because I agree with Vera that ‘NOW’ is the time, while tourism is still in its burgeoning phase. The Burmese are not yet ‘tourist-hardened’. Until that happens, and I fear the day, it is still possible to find a genuine smile to encounter your own and to get your outstretched hand cupped by both of theirs.

Mass tourism is much like the Ouroboros, the mythical snake that eats its own tale.

We visited only Yangon and Bagan and we spent  nine days in only these two places. Like Ko Pyay, our new Birmese friend, acknowledged: “trying ‘to see more’ within this given time can also mean ‘to miss most’…”

Bagan; imagine a vast prairy stretching out,  lush and green at the banks of the great Irrawaddy basin to increasingly drier ground progressing deeper inside the Shan state. Finally, left is only the wind whipping up the hot dust that sands the the plains and burns the skin a deeper brown.

‘Humbling’, is what comes to mind, when you meet the chestnut eyes that light up bright, and the cheeks chalked golden that release warm smiles and the lips full and round that form a ‘welcome’ sound that is wrapped in this gem of a word,  something like a ruby rolling off he tongue:  ‘Mingdalaba’.

Bagan: Turn back one thousand years and imagine kings and warlords feuding over the land, fighting for supremacy and building ever larger temples and pagodas to show their power and their allegiance to each time a different version of Buddhism.

In the end, when Kublai Khan’s hordes swept the plains, he left behind him only ghosts and stones.

And other warlords came and went. The people of Bagan were born and then they died and turned to red and ochre sand. A hundred times destroyed and a hundred times restored, the ghosts multiplied and so did the pagodas, and within them their Buddha images rested, in eternal meditation.

I look over this crusty land as I  capture the light inside my camera. ‘Termites build termite hills but people build cathedrals.’
In so many ways,  these mighty constructions bear proud witness of the Creator in all of us.


Don’t Ye know Ye all art Gods?!


Paradise lost

Dust we are and to dust we shall return.

Walk  through the ruins of Pompeii and use your imagination. The sun is scorching the valley and the Pompeian citizens flee to the coolness of their well insulated houses. Its a special day today. Election day. There is excitement in the air and everybody is feverish and tense because the result will decide the future of daily lives of many of Pompey’s inhabitants. Taxes, that is what is foremost on the mind of Maximus Cercus. He has spent sleepless nights counting his money over and over again, calculating the worth of his possessions,mainly vineyards and lemon orchards. Its precisely these goods that causes him to loose appetite. What has he done to deserve this? He doesn’t mind taxes, but if the Prefect gets elected and imposes another hike, he’ll simply will get robbed off his livelihood.  It’s a complot against the Jewish merchants. Maximus gnaws on a slip of his tunic, he should have seen it coming, he should have known that this new vogue of politics meant trouble for hard working businessmen like him. For a long time he had managed just fine. In exchange for offerings to their pageant Gods and contributions to their Gymnasium and sponsorship to their gladiators and chariot races, the plebs had left him alone to his trading with the sea faring foreign ships like the Europa, and they had tolerated the foreigners and they had left the sailors to enter the city unharmed. Everybody won, even whores and some slaves eventually could save enough to buy their freedom. But this new Prefect is a populist if ever there has been one. He understood as none before how to divide and rule. “Citizens of Pompeii” he had declaimed just days ago, in the poet’s theatre. ” Do you not see that your wealth is at stake? Can you not feel that you are being screwed over by a small group of unusually rich people among you? Who is enjoying the benefits of your bitterly earned money? Sure, they pay taxes, just like you do, but they have ways to make that money return to their own pockets. Listen to me, I am the son of a simple road worker. I have not had any of the privileges of these rich men. But I have studied their ways and behold I tell you, they use your money to enrich themselves on. It is time for change and your time for change can start if you vote for me, Weberamus Bartholomew!”

He had spared no costs,  the walls of Via Stabianus were covered with his slogans and he had found allegiance with the extremists whose agenda it is to ban sailors from the city accusing these foreigners to corrupt our values and our mores. What mores? Haven’t we always taken over the best of all worlds and merged it with our own culture to make it into something  typical Pompeian? Are not our temples adorned in Corinthians and Dorian styles, are not our houses painted and decorated by artists from all over the world and are we, the Jews, not the ones who have brought citrus and other fruit to this valley? If Bartholomew gets more power, he will use it to destroy us, and the people will only figure out what they’ve done after it is too late!

Maximum sunk to his knees and started to prey with the words that he remembered from his own ancestors. He tore a piece of his tunic and wept bitter tears.

And high above the city, riding on the warm wind, vultures circled over one of the most powerful cities in the Roman empire.

And Mount Vesuvius whispered and then grumbled between clenched teeth, and let out a roar!



Cafe Burlesque.

Red velvet tapestries draped over tacky pastel plastered columns. Crystal chandeliers, maybe ten in number, glistening as ice sculptures against a purple rain background, under one hundred pulsating stars peeking down on us like one hundred piercing eyes. The walls drowned in burgundy reds and smoky violets, heavy with mirrors in  baroque gilded frames and guarded by stucco Romanesque statuettes in soapy whites and shady grey. End on end hang shoddy portraits collected from a flea market’s unsalable leftover corner. Alternatively, they come from the owner’s hand, an artist, I’ve been told. Either way, they fit right in, in this ballroom of immaculate imperfections.
And then,and there, prominent centerpiece on the long marble counter fencing the display of faceted bottles on the shelves, from an amphora grows an extravagant bouquet of semi wilted flowers, the stems over bending , the chalices like open mouths with petals lush as fleshy lips, a grand bouquet, slowly dying yet alive, slowly fading yet splashing colors to all sides. More flowers on the walls and more in black and in yellow specked China in every corner filling space.

They are plastic, I then figure.

And they should be, I start to understand.
Because nothing here is quite what it seems, nothing here quite normal, thank God, from the star studded ceiling to the glossy mosaic floor, everything in “Cafe De Las Horas, thank God, is an invitation to the fantastic, a incantation to a dream.

And Billy Holiday sings as she cries about ‘Her man’, while we weep about our battles lost and celebrate our battles won. And we sip Agua de Valencia and nibble on olives in virgin oil, while our stories sail the seven seas and grow wilder with every new cup down.

And behind the counter, a young handsome twin brother of Prince  prepares us another pitcher while his friend shows him his party gadgets for a much later night tonight. From his bag he flashes shocks of black raven hair and a silver tiara and a belly dancer’s belt and tapered leather strings and little black hat with knitted lace veil.

And new guests step in, by twos and threes and they find their tables in unseen corners, and the lights dim low and free the music and the evening darkness yields to a midnight haze.

And nothing is what it seems in Cafe de las horas, and Ernest Hemingway was never here.

But we were, my dearest, and I will remember.