London: Fish and Chips

Thursday, September 26, 2019. London, England.
Soundtrack: Primus – Fish On

I just finished re-reading a masterpiece of anti-agricultural thought called Against the Grain, and the sordid history of the potato? Absolutely bonkers.

Nothing is more British than fish and chips, except maybe atavistic royalty and losing control of colonies. The question is, why is fish and chips so British?

Potatoes are and always have been poor person food. That sounds classist, but it’s a fact. You can grow potatoes on a 5-foot square plot, they’re calorically dense, and you don’t even need an oven to cook them. You just throw them into a fire and then eat them after. Bone apple teeth.

England hated potatoes and loved bread. Their devotion to tradition ensured it was the mainstay of their meals for most of their history.

So Ireland would make the wheat, and the British would take the wheat, and kick Ireland in the ribs for good measure. Trendsetters as they were back in the 19th century, most of Europe considered the potato food fit only for livestock and the Irish. The French thought it was poisonous.

It got so bad that this zany reverse-correlation developed where it was popularly believed that eating potatoes made you poor, sick, and dirty. The people eating the potato were the ones who couldn’t afford anything else, so of course they were poor, sick, and dirty.

Another reason Ireland leaned so heavy on potatoes was England clear-cut all of Ireland’s forests, and they had no fuel left. To make bread, in addition to wheat, you need a place to mill it and a place to bake it. The Irish poor had neither. They didn’t even have coal; they were burning peat. That narrowed it down.

Here’s how narrow. The Irish had a saying: “The sauce of a poor man is a little potato eating with a big one.”

In the beginning of the 19th century, populations were booming everywhere and England had more poor to contend with than they ever had before. Not even just in Ireland, either! Domestic poor. There wasn’t enough bread to go around, so they gradually began adopting potatoes, though nobody was happy about it.

And now enters the colorful little edict of “enclosure”. In the early 1800s, subsistence farmers in Ireland and England were booted off of farmlands taken for the aristocracy. It bankrupted Ireland, inasmuch as Ireland could be more bankrupted, and almost certainly played a role in the potato famine.

So these peasants aren’t peasants any more, because they lost all their fields. They had become wage workers for the nobles who scooped up their farms. No place to grow your food, and not enough money to buy it… what’s a boy to do, Jean Valjean?

The English poor started growing potatoes in what was left of their backyards. The “lazy root” was back on the table.

In industrial English tenements, there were no cooking facilities whatsoever. Industrialization sucked up all the land, and a package of calories that could be speed-cooked on the literal street became very attractive.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting.

Factories in England didn’t have anything resembling a concept of “worker’s rights”, and so paid their expendable machine fodder underclass in one lump sum. “Split it amongst yourselves. Shoo.”

The workers would take the wages down to the public house to split it up. The pubs did a decent business with drinks as it stood, and now everybody was coming in at least once a week with all of their money.

Well, all the people had was potatoes and occasional fish. So that’s what they cooked up and sold, on the spot, every payday and throughout the week.

And thus, fast food was born.

Appetizing, isn’t it?

I’m going to level with you; the fish was so greasy I barely made it through, and I am an insatiable human vortex. I didn’t eat any of the potatoes. They make you poor and dirty.

Another proud, closely held tradition.

Love,

B.

 

Athens: Tell Herb I Slowed Down

November 13, 2017. Athens, Greece.

What are we at now? Five days in Athens? Unheard of. We’ve found the upper limit boys and ghouls, and that is one work-week in a single spot before the wanderlust starts itching like a motivated scabie. I’m in the spooky coffee shop again, all the witches recognize me, smile at me. Standard procedure with witches in my life, true enough, but this feels different. I gotta skedaddle.

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Bastard Travel Kid’s Korner: can you spot the tiny Greek witch watching me from a distance?

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caught ya

Party City cobwebs are translucent, spookycakes. Get back to work before you get maleficarum’d.

Fortunately, I’ve already got my next jaunt picked out. This episode of Bastard Travel is real interactive, because I’m not going to tell you where, but fabulous emotional prizes will be awarded to anyone who can guess.

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So let me take a second to tell you about Greek food. So far, it’s my favorite in Europe. I’ve never deliberately ordered a salad before, but I went out of my way to do so here.

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look at that feta! filthy.

Now, you might be a little confused. You might be saying, “You Bastard, you miserable fucking animal, there’s no lettuce in there. How can you call this a salad and sleep at night?” to which I would say, first of all, a little bit more aggro than necessary, and secondly, the Greeks avoid lettuce if they can get around it. When they say “Greek salad”, what they mean is pizza toppings. Tomatoes, green peppers, olives, onions, olive oil, and way too much cheese. They slip cucumbers in there to keep you from making the connection.

The other night I consumed entirely too much of that sketchy moonshine ouzo I bought in that alley and the usual hostel crew faded back to their rooms pretty early. I had the remains of a weak beer with me, so I couldn’t leave the terrace yet, but nobody was speaking English, so I tried my luck with a trio of Greek girls sitting in the corner.

“Hey!” I said, blithe as is my idiom. “Where y’all from?”

They had a brief exchange in Greek, then decided I made the cut, and deigned to tell me they were native Athenians.

“I need to know something,” I said. “I’ve been hearing mixed opinions on this. Everywhere I go, people give me feta. No matter what I order, they find a way to give me feta. And olives, usually, but listen. Do you actually eat that much feta here, or is it for the tourists?”

“Absolutely, we do eat that much feta,” the tall one said. The other two nodded in immediate agreement.

“We buy it every time we go to the store,” said the little one. “No matter what we need to buy, we will also get half a kilo of feta.”

I did bad, drunk math. It’s like a pound. Okay.

“And then it just sits in the fridge, and whenever you at anything, you put some feta on it.”

“Olives, too,” I said. “I ordered bread, they gave me like three olives in a bowl with it.”

“Well, olives are delicious.”

“Yes,” I said. “That’s… we’re not arguing, here. I’m just saying, olives in a bowl are not, technically speaking, bread.”

We drank and they became increasingly candidon the state of the Greek economy. They had actual, profitable majors, which would be a rare occurrence if they were, say, three random college-aged girls at a bar in America. Computer science, mechanical engineering, and… math. They were all very glum about their chances of getting a job in Greece, and talked about wanting to escape.

“Computer science, though?” I asked the small one. “That’s money, back in the states. You’re like, guaranteed a decent job.”

“Not in Greece,” she said dourly. “If you get past the wait list, it is like 800 Euro a month.”

(That’s around $6 an hour.)

“Jesus,” I said. “Sorry I brought it up.”

“Do not be,” said the tall one, shaking her head. “It’s what we would have been talking about anyway. Just, in Greek.”

Wow, beautiful reader. I just digressed real bad there, huh. Let’s see if I can pull it back out of this depressive tailspin.

I went up the Plaka, which is the oldest village in Europe, overlooked by the Acropolis, trying to find some traditional Grecian grub. I was recommended spinach pies and meatballs. I’ve had three Spinach pies in the past two days, but all from bakeries, and all radically different. Some are like apple turnovers only instead of histamines (for me) it’s full of spinach and feta. Yesterday I had one that just looked like a normal slice of pie, but instead of filling, it contained a dense block of spinach with what tasted like pickling spices on it.

I ordered meatballs and a spinach pie, which I didn’t have the foresight to photograph. They brought me a plate full of discs of heavily spiced meat in a tomato-and-wine sauce, with peppers. I assumed they were meatballs. Then, they brought me another plate, this one full of things that were very obviously meatballs, in that they were made of meat, and shaped like balls. The medallion shape of the first course really should have given me a clue.

I ate the meatballs, staring in wonder at the empty plate that I had thought were non-balled meatballs. I’m not a gourmand, and I don’t pretend understanding of traditional Greek culture beyond a -encyclopedic knowledge of ancient mythology, but I was nearly 80% sure that contained neither spinach nor pie. But food is food, and I needed meat, and it was obviously too late to pull a “hey, this wasn’t what I ordered”. My native contact demanded I find the name. I did, but that was unhelpful, as I didn’t want to embarrass either of us with my attempt to spell it, but we concluded it was definitely sausage.

Later, I recounted this to Austria.

“It’s because you’re American,” he said. “They must have thought you were confused. ‘He ordered spinach, but I don’t think he knows what it is. Better to give him more meat.'”

“Well, I have been craving meat.”

“See? They were right.”

He left for Berlin. Getting gone seems like the thing to do. I’m going to try the Delphi day trip again tomorrow. With Athena’s consent, ideally.

Let’s wrap up with another graffiti picture dump.

See you tomorrow.

Love,

The Bastard

Barcelona: La Ramblin’

October 28, 2017. Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. 

After a meager hostel breakfast of bread and more bread, I went out to a coffee shop and settled in to do some writing.

There’s this peculiar phenomenon that affects me specifically. No matter where I am, what building, business, vehicle, or apparently country, if there’s an opportunity for screaming children to be near me, they will find a way. Within moments of setting my laptop down, a disaffected mother with two screeching children entered the cafe and sat down in the seat next to me. The children, as if on cue, immediately began to howl and practice muay thai on the legs of the table. I dipped.

After the daily happenin gettin my tippatappin in, I went wandering through the unusually calm streets in search of a laundromat.

 

Turns out, the reason nobody was in the streets is because they were all crammed in the alleys, poised to spring out as soon as I got close enough, in appropriate Halloween fashion.

 

My Spanish is still not what I would describe as fluent, but since I arrived in Barcelona I’ve become particularly adept at asking strangers “what the hell is going on?” In this case, a dude answered a little too rapidly for me to catch every word, but from what I gleaned it’s a Spanish cultural tradition of some kind, not necessarily a Catalonian one, but he’s just visiting too so he couldn’t say for sure. I tried to corroborate this in English with a clump of Brits, but their only contribution was an uncomfortable smile with no eye contact and “We have no idea what’s going on”. That was reassuring, in its way.

The laundromat was 10€ and the hostel would do the same thing for me without my having to hang around a laundromat for two hours, so I opted to suffer that hustle instead, dropped my bag off at Don Mustache and continued my explorations in earnest.

Are you familiar with the old Tolkien quote, “Not all who wander are lost”? And then this dog meme?

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I’m in a superposition of those two states any time I’m awake.

Eventually I found myself in La Rambla, where two powerfully built gentlemen with heavy African accents were very excited to see me.

“You! You smoke weed?”

“Not anymore,” I said, more or less truthfully. “At least, not here.”

“You come with us,” they said, gesturing down an alley, “We are 1 minute walk away from a coffee shop you can sit down and smoke weed!”

“Really!” I said. “Is that legal here?”

“Yes, yes!” they said, gesturing frantically toward the alley where I would be murdered. “Come on, right down here!”

“I’m good, thanks anyway,” I smiled and waved and swayed back into the bedlam.

“You’re good? I know you are good! Come smoke weed!” they shouted after me.

My compañera de viaje from the day before had said, “It is like, when I am alone, I do not trust people!” I told her, “Me either. Also, when I am together, I don’t trust people.” She thought that was funny, but I think it’s a solid philosophy. It’s well within the realm of possibility those two gentlemen saw a lone American tourist swaggering blithely down the street, front pocket of his stupid slim-fit jeans bulging with his wallet, and they thought, “I really hope we can help that guy smoke weed.”

Another block down the street, I found a heavily dreadlocked hippie sitting cross-legged on a blanket, looking like he was fighting the nod-off. He had four labelled cups in front of him, which read WEED, BEER, LSD, and Comer (FOOD). I dropped my small change in the empty acid cup and said “buena suerte, amigo.” Boul lit up like a Christmas tree.

Truth told, drugs seem kind of like overkill in Barcelona. A couple times a day I find myself pausing and double-checking that I’m awake. An alley full of clarineteers and dancing wooden giants doesn’t suddenly happen in the real world.

The elbow-to-elbow density of humans in La Rambla suddenly increased as the daily political protest took form. This time, the signs were about freeing political prisoners and “NO A LA MILITARIZACIÓN!”

Back stateside I oppose la militarización as well, but I didn’t see any reason I should oppose it in La Rambla, vocally, this close to a political upheaval. I shaded out.

Ghostfully,

The Bastard

 

 

Alive, Alive Oh

October 24, 2017. Dublin, Ireland.

The key to the luggage room was attached to a small, dirty leprechaun, which I would have labeled deeply problematic if not for the fact that everyone else involved was far more Irish than I am. My liberal arts education had not prepared me for a situation in which I was so abruptly devictimized. In a fog of sleep-deprived indignation, I stashed my pack in the luggage room, heartened by the obvious lie that it was under 24/7 CCTV surveillance. The dour lad at the desk told me my room wouldn’t be prepared for another 6 hours or so, although I was welcome to some dry bread.

I thanked him from his generosity, but having just eaten an entire pig farm at The Pantry, I declined and decided to see what center city Dublin was like once anything was open.

There’s an Oscar Wilde monument outside of Trinity College, and that seemed to be the place to start. Mamaduke’s maiden name was Wilde and I’ve always had an affinity for Uncle Oscar’s writing. The tragedy of the modern world is its lack of drolleries.

I found him in a park that cropped up, sudden and dissonant, next to a highway that consisted entirely of kitschy St. Patrick’s Day trinket shops and coffee houses.

And beneath it, a Seneca quote, which I obviously couldn’t pass up.

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The sun had risen now, and I had my bearings, so I decided to head back into town and maybe scope out some of the crypt cafes I’d heard so many Google Maps about. On my way there, though, I stumbled upon what was explained by a tour guide as as “Dublin’s sort of unofficial mascot”: sweet Molly Malone.

I was overcome with emotion.

And then, as if this wasn’t enough, I got a little unscripted bonus at the end. Truly, Ireland is a lucky, lucky place.

More to come.

Love,

The Bastard