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Eat. Drink. Dance.

by on June 11, 2015

                                                        Eat. Drink. Dance.

                                                        by Marco M. Pardi

Note: All comments are appreciated, read, and responded to accordingly.  The comments sections for all previous articles have been opened for use.  I will certainly look forward to your comments.

While still quite young I decided eating must be the oddest of human behaviors (I had not yet learned how people make people). It’s not that I was unenthusiastic or picky.  It was that the mechanical process seemed so very strange: Objects appear on plate; purpose designed utensils are used to manipulate and lift the objects; an opening in the face is made; objects placed in it; utensil is withdrawn; facial opening is closed and objects are crushed by bony stumps inside; and, the mash is swallowed.  The oft expressed meme was This will make you big and strong (a clear forerunner of Richard Burton’s masterful performance in Hammersmith Is Out!, “I can make you rich and strong, strong and rich.”)  Repeated after dinner trips to the mirror put the lie to the adult caretaker’s meme.

I also learned that many people said they dislike eating alone.  Aside from the obvious benefit of watching your partner to see if the food’s gone off, there is an ill defined sense of security in vulnerable moments.  Dog companions see this when the dog takes food from his dish and goes elsewhere to eat it.  Dogs also often go to the end of the leash to defecate; once in the squat, even the most aggressive dog is momentarily helpless.

I saw similar security behavior at the Texas Correctional Intake/Classification Center where I did the STD clinic once a week.  After their last fling at freedom, the newly incarcerated lined up for mouth, tongue, penis, and anus exam (don’t these guys ever wipe?).  Diagnose, treat, interview for contacts. Can’t go throwing an infectious fish into an overcrowded pond, can we.  At lunchtime they assembled in a cafeteria with long tables and picnic bench seating.  No one clambered over the bench to sit down; they all stood with one foot resting on the bench and slightly bent over to the table.  Being in the seat was an almost helpless position should someone attack or a fight break out.  For political relations I ate with the jailers, wondering what the prisoner/cooks had put in my food.  Not an unreasonable thought, given that an Army cook had recently caused a large Hepatitis A outbreak by mixing his feces in the gravy. 

The prison cafeteria was not different from many schools.  Even the military school I attended used long tables, albeit with chairs.  One morning I sat across from Winthrop.  Winthrop McSorley. Winthrop McSorley the Third. Future CEO.  Sister Margaret-Mary, Order of the Ongoing Agony, stood watch.  As if cued by the bell closing breakfast,  Winthrop ejected a large bolus of Pâté de Petit Dejeuner upon his formerly clean plate.  No splash, no drip, and Sister Margaret-Mary looking ecstatically agonized.  Well done, Winthrop! Milk all round!

Of course, reaching adulthood and studying Anthropology brought awareness of and even exposure to various eating and drinking practices.  For a while based mainly in northern Libya, I worked with members of the Saff al-Bahar confederation of tribes, including the Saff al-Bahar, the Magarha, and the Mahamid al-Sharqiyin.  A particular drink, pronounced in Hamitic Arabic as “shay-hee” (in contrast to what I found among the Tuaregs of Morocco as “shei-hee”) is an interesting social mechanism: served in a tiny glass immediately as you enter the home (perhaps tent), it is an extremely concentrated tea/sugar mixture with the consistency of syrup.  The first time effect is intense. I felt as if grabbed by the ankles and shaken for loose change.  At that point it is a welcoming drink.  Then, we ate from a common bowl on a carpet (my legs are just not made for this position), using only the right hand and the meal was followed by another shot.  The conversation flows and, when the host wishes to signal the evening is over, the third shot is served. Knowing these signals precludes any clumsiness.  

Knowing the circumstances of the meal is another matter.  Lamb is favored, though I’ve eaten camel,  donkey meat and other things I won’t specify.  Whatever the animal, it must be slaughtered according to Halal rules; it must be fully conscious while it’s throat is slit.  I did see a man use a sugar cube to entice a lamb into reach, give it a “loving” hug, and then slit its throat. The lamb staggered around, blood spurting freely on the ground as little children stood nearby giggling.  An unseen but huge trade exists between Australia and many Muslim countries.  Live sheep are packed aboard ship and sent to the ports of the purchasing countries.  Those that die or become sick along the way are thrown overboard, making the sea lanes look something like highways with white lane markers floating at intervals.  This is done so the surviving sheep can have their throats slit and bleed out for the customer, satisfying the religious dictum which is almost identical to Jewish Kosher slaughter.

Those who know me understand that while I could go on for 1,000 pages on such things as beating and strangling dogs to activate “tasty” stress hormones, boiling cats alive for the same effect, and many other horrendous practices of the cancer known as humanity, I choose not to do so. Nowhere on this planet is immune, despite the elegant presentation in grocery stores.

What interests me here is the communal theatrics of eating and drinking.  These can be quite basic.  In a remote village high in the Andes I entered a building presented as a place to get a meal.  Basic tables and chairs. No menu. Once seated a girl brought a bowl of what appeared to be chicken and vegetable soup.  Pushing around the contents I found a heart and a mass of what must have been respiratory tissue.  So, I resolved myself and ate my cardio-pulmonary soup. Quite good. Then, on the Steppes of Central Asia, there was another encounter with a social drink: koumiss, fermented mare’s milk.  Served ostensibly as a welcoming drink it is at least as much a testing drink – to see if you can handle it.  The smell is so overpoweringly horrible it is difficult to not gag as the cup is passed.  So, use the back of the tongue against the palate to close internal air to the nose, hold your breath, gulp it quickly and sharply exhale through the mouth, as in “Whew, that’s good!”  Failure will bring up everything you have eaten three days past.  Take that, Winthrop McSorley the Third!

Visiting in-laws in southern Norway I had a breakfast of homemade fiskeboller, fish balls made from compacted fish parts. Ordinarily these are good with a cream sauce. Unfortunately, the ones I got that morning included quite a few bones, leaving me feeling I had a throat full of barbed wire. I took my daughter outside to feed stale bread to the ducks and slipped pieces into my mouth to clear my throat.  The matron saw me and tried to hurry me back into the house for more fiskeboller, certain I had not had enough to eat.

When I took my daughter to the United Kingdom to meet her paternal relatives I made sure we avoided the haggis, a pudding of sheep’s heart, liver and lungs mixed with various vegetables.

But on the first of several trips, for various reasons, to Germany I stumbled into something unexpected.  Playing tourist, I took a train from Wiesbaden to Rüdesheim am Rhein, a seemingly Potemkin village in the wine country.  At that time I had no idea Germans were so involved with wine.  I arrived at the annual September Wine Festival.  Entering the village I found posts with fliers specifying times for activities over a 24 hour period:

(briefly) – 12:00hrs – Eat

                 13:00hrs – Drink

                 14:00hrs – Dance

The entire 24 hour period was specified.  But, German cuisine gives me almost instant diarrhea.  I do not drink unless absolutely necessary to the task.  And I was never any good at dancing.  So, I wandered about as if moving from one activity to another, while doing my job.  What I found most interesting was the strict adherence to the schedule.  Watching people made my wristwatch unnecessary.  I continually wondered if these people perceived this as fun, and if so, why.  Was this regimentation some form of security? Several more trips throughout Germany confirmed my dislike of the culture, a lesson apparently not fully internalized as my current wife is Swiss/German.

Internalizing lessons seems to escape some people at times.  The past few years have seen an increase in “vegans”, abstaining from consumption of all animal products.  Yet, I’ve met people who describe themselves as vegan and as observant Catholics.  My questions:

  1. Do you take communion?
  2. Do you believe Jesus was fully and wholly man and god?
  3. Do you believe the transubstantiaton changes the wafer and the wine into the body and blood of Jesus?

Answering in the affirmative, particularly question 3, means the person is certainly not vegan.  Answering with a “but, ah…” means the person is not Catholic. Sorry, you can’t have it both ways.

Buddhism encourages us to achieve and maintain mindfulness in all we do. Alan Watts, while not espousing vegetarianism for the masses, encouraged us to experience reverence in the kitchen not for some imagined creator who made the turkey we are carving, but for the turkey itself and its relationship to us.  Perhaps with a moment of meditation we can honestly eat, drink and dance.   

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17 Comments
  1. I’ve had a horrible thought; if, one is asked to truly believe that the wafer and wine are literally transmuted into the body and blood of Christ, then is taking communion a form of ritual cannibalism? And if it is acceptable to believe that this is only a symbolic transmutation, does that make it any better? I’m not vegan, vegetarian, or Catholic, but it’s food for thought.

    Food and I have a strange relationship, in any case. I like to eat as much as the next guy (assuming he is not anorexic), but I don’t like to eat in public, or in front of strangers. In all instances, if I have not prepared, purchased, or otherwise provided the food at a public function, I find myself unable to consume so much as a single bite.

    Some people don’t like to watch, or listen to, others eat. One of my worst memories of my father’s death is standing by while other members of his family shoved food into their mouths with both hands. It’s a sight which will never go unseen.

    • Rose, the cannibalism charge has been around since the earliest days of communion. It was a common accusation against Christians in Rome and elsewhere. The fact remains, however, that a Catholic must accept that Jesus was equally Man and equally God (another point of dispute in the early church) and that the transubstantiation performed by the priest is in fact the real rendering of the wafer and wine into his body and blood. If you fudge – so to speak, by saying “not really”, you have just disqualified yourself as a Catholic. You may remember the survivors of an Andean air crash – told in the book Alive, justified the slicing up and eating of deceased passengers through their Catholic faith; they accepted that, in principle, they had been lifelong cannibals. Interestingly, one of Robert Heinlein’s better known books, Stranger in a Strange Land, used this as a central theme in the mortuary disposition of the body of Valentine Smith – the “Jesus figure”. The ceremonial procedure was labelled “Grock”.

      I also have always disliked eating in public; it seems so barbaric. And, few things drive me to homicidal mania like the sound of someone eating or slurping. The common practice of a communal meal after a funeral seems to be some kind of re-assertion that we, the survivors, are okay. Sorry you carry such a memory of your father’s passing. I would also find that distasteful.

      • Marco, no offense meant to Catholicism, or any other tradition which includes communion. I was not aware until this offering that the changing of wafer and wine to body and blood was considered literal. I have full respect for the beliefs of these traditions, even though I cannot imagine sharing them.

    • jkent33 permalink

      I warmly second your comment on eating food at public functions. Unless I personally know the chef of the catering company I cannot swallow one bite of food.

      Also, the practice of eating at a funeral wake is totally repulsive. Beyond sipping on some coffee all food is kept at a distance.

  2. I rarely drink (alcohol), but if the music is playing, you can bet my feet will be moving. LOL Rose

    • I totally avoid alcohol, and other mind altering substances unless – as in the past, there was no way to proceed without taking it. My rationale regarding alcohol is avoidance of anything which impairs my mind. But, I almost always found that within 15 minutes of a first drink I came down with symptoms of the worst cold I’ve ever had. It’s an allergy to the sulfates used to stop the fermentation process in non-distilled alcohol and to the urethanes used for the same purposes in distilled spirits. Most people go from drink to happy to sick. I go straight from drink to sick.

      • Marco,both my husband and I have allergies to alcohol. I cough and he becomes drowsy and sleeps 🙂
        Apart from some light cooking wine, I am so not used to buy alcohol that many times when having guests and preparing a full dinner, I forgot to buy the wine 🙂
        Nobody forgave me LOL !
        And in Japan, if you have any kind of noodles you are SUPPOSED to SLURP !!!
        and after 38 years here, I still can`t bring myself to do it !

      • Thank you, FOAL. I sometimes had difficulties with waiters in Italy and France insisting I must have wine with dinner. I used to tell them, “I’m thirsty, not nervous. I’ll take mineral water.” The slurping business is common in Asia. I absolutely hated it, and never tried it myself.

    • Thanks, Rose. Understood. I find several practices/beliefs among various faiths repellent. What interests me most is that so few people seem to actually think about what they are doing.

  3. Only Marco could write about eating, dancing, poop and STDs in one article, bringing them all together and make it work.

  4. Thanks but between the Hepatitis outbreak, Jewish Kosher and haggis, my appetite seems to have left.

  5. jkent33 permalink

    Eating has been since my earliest recollection something I honor with much discipline with practices to be followed to the nth degree. The act of someone blowing their nose at the table or within earshot causes me to immediately cease the act of eating and dismiss myself. Chewing with one’s mouth open, sucking air in your nose, placing fingers in your pie hole [to be read mouth], belching, allowing food to remain on your lips and talking while chewing all head up reasons to cease eating. It has been suggested I am the slowest eater on the planet because I strictly follow these commandments of dining.

    My dad owned a service and construction business where I was required to perform duties on an as needed basis. He was subject to being on call 24/7 to keep necessary services businesses open at any cost. Also, heating and cooling calls meant we had to take the call, because the climes dictated we keep HVAC systems up and running for the young and aged. I learned my eating practices from him; naturally, when these people insisted we eat with them during calls lasting for an extended period, they would become clumsy and ackward. He insisted that under no circumstances shall I ever accept such an invitation. There were some exceptions to this rule: if the cook and home was spotless and it’s fragrance suggested it was clean and the lady doing the cooking was in any way friendly, we could dine! (His charming looks oft referred to as P. Newman like appearance created his achilles heel to the rules.) More often than not the invites centered around less fortunate folks wishing to show their appreciation. The well rehearsed pat line was we either carried our own food or we ate right before we got here and food was always waiting at home. Which by the way was always a lie because my mother couldn’t cook and if she could she was never the doting caretaker.

    I have always been a great keeper of a kitchen whose managment is like that of a business. Food is well managed and preparation is always performed free from any dangers of contamination. Selfishly, this is more for my benefit than anyone else in case you were wondering.

    When I traveled in my last career 75% of the time my biggest issue was being able to dine free from issues. This meant usually taking food back to my room or only eating in establishments where the kitchen was personally vetted by me to ensure good practices were followed. On the first vist it is not uncommon to ask to view the kitchen. This is, of course, after the nose test was passed when I entered the door. I cannot recall when my request was not promply met and the chef was happy to give me a brief tour, time permitting. As a rule, I always order what the chef suggests often eschewing the menu altogether. This usually rewards me with treats sent directly from the chef, to my table to taste, followed by remarks always revealing nothing but the truth; except when I have already decided to never return.

    After reading your post this time I praise you for your tolerance to follow practices that would have caused me to be unable to follow. I realize your career took you to outposts where outliers reside whose practices were strange and used as tests as well ;to learn your level of acceptance. I know from your past shared experiences your intolerance to spirits and your preferances for being a person who relishes his personal time and space; it must have undoubtly placed a burden on you in some quite compromising situations.

    Your imbibing of the fermented mare’s milk recalls a moment of nausiness at this time even now writing about it. Your courage goes deeper than most people who would have been unable to perform under such circumstances.

    That part working with prisoners brought to mind watching noir movies; especially, the one where James Cagney goes berserk in the dining hall upon learning his mother had been killed by the police. He has already fought fellow inmates when the bullies take his food. However, this time he jumps up on the table going into that iconic toe dancing shenanigan kicking everything in sight which lands him in solitary for weeks.I decided if I was placed in prison; I will follow your advice and never sit on a bench.

    I’ll bet this is only a tip of the iceberg of strange dining experiences you encountered during your travels! I hope to hear more on this subject matter and the places you have traveled. You could become our personal Anthony Bourdain. Great story this time…

    • Thank you so much, Jerry. The life you have lived, so rich with experience, gained extraordinary value through your intelligence, sensitivity, and the personhood you brought to it. All that experience is, sadly, lost on persons without your qualities. We’ve said it before, but I will repeat my hope that you will one day start a blog or journal from which we can all benefit. You epitomize the value of interaction and I have benefited immensely through knowing you.

      • jkent33 permalink

        Marco, your work summons me to recall what I placed in my memory since childhood acting as my self appointed muse. Your words bring courage and praise foreign to my ears. Never has anyone been so generous with approvals and admiration after reading my stories.

        Fortunately for me, learning the skills to listen to others and ask good questions to learn even more; provided me with the ability to record my experiences. As far back as I able to recollect, I secretly promised myself to use these moments to recall and retell a story. I felt these stories may benefit and entertain someone less fortunate to have those skills. Adding along a dash of emblishments by placing emphasis on certain facts; enabled me to then retell the story to eager ears winnng approvals among adults. This is the material used to construct self-esteem sadly missing in so many youngsters today.

        Teachers in my very small grade and high school classes [sizes ranged usually under 20] discovered I loved to read aloud to the class. They would often have me read the material used in the instructions for the class. I would remain standing to add in comments to answer queries from my class mates. I suppose one could say I evolved myself into a thespian of sorts. Learning these skills provided protection, from ruffians and those with learning difficulties, often found in backwoods poor schools commonly found in WV. I found it extremely difficult to interact with other children. When the recess call was sounded, I would mingle around with the teachers to hear what they were saying. They were much more interesting than my classmates, save for a few of the ones more like me. Old school records always pointed this out in my yearly evaluations.

        Concerning my writing a blog certainly is in the works and it will sprout and grow slowly as I gain more strength to believe it would be interesting. Each day brings more and more mettle. Thanks again!

      • Thank you, Jerry. As a person with less and less to realistically look forward to, I am very happy to say I look forward to your blog.

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