Saturday, September 13, 2014

Just Cheese? Mais non!

In France, naturally, everyone takes cheese seriously. Very, very seriously. The local grocery store we went to during our ski-trip had a collection fit for an small cheese museum. There were infinitely more varieties than your typical Wal-mart, despite, in all appearances, the store being a French Wal-mart. A lot of signs urged us again and again to "nhestitez pas in asking questions!" American store representatives carry aprons with similar sentiments declaring how may I HELP YOU?! but, as a former grocery store worker myself, I am aware that these signs are crafted by people far removed from actually the privileged of being allowed to help you.

So if it were up to me, upon entering the supermarket with my Belgian and French companions, Id have grabbed the cheapest cheese and ran for it, out of respect for both my bank account and the store-worker's lack of enthusiasm for their job. But I had Belgian and French companions; so grocery shopping wasnt that simple. The encouragements to "nhesitez pas!" were taken to heart and a detailed conversation with the store representative regarding cheese followed. 

It turns out that the store representatives at French supermarkets are indeed the cheese experts the overly enthusiastic company signs proclaim them to be. I dont know if they are being paid more than their American counterparts, or if French cheese is simply easier to be passionate about than American cheddar, but the woman seemed to vastly prefer being peppered with questions than have use walk away with with anything less than the best reblochon to make tarteflete. 

I understood nothing of the conversation. I did not know of the existence of tarteflete or reblochon before this fateful grocery store trip. I only knew something of life-threatening importance was being discussed. This is a great-rule of thumb when trying to understand the French-speaking people I know: when emotions are running high, its always about food.  

Fifteen minutes in, I was bored, and beginning to subtly convey this boredom by marching away decisively and then returning sheepishly when the cheese-conversing people took no notice, and then repeating the process. It was the definition of insanity, because the fromage-laden conversation ragged on. 

It was an hour and 100 euros later  when we left enough cheese to feed entire Chinese population in a year. (I have also been in the literal Chinese Wal-mart, and I can exclusively tell you hunting for any type of cheese at all is a fools quest. I was lucky to find  cheese-flavored plastic yellow slices.) The tarteflete was delicious and completely worth it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

About a Costa Rican

People have told me that I tend to talk a lot about myself. No more. This begins my series on people who are not me. Considering my readership, I doubt anyone's privacy will be violated, but I can always remove things if they are not liked by the subject matter, as I am hoping my readership will double by the subject matter actually reading their entry.

Cesar is Costa Rican, and patriotic enough to insist that America should not refer exclusively to the United States, but not enough to believe the country is perfect (too touristic for the Americans. Wait, I mean, "residents of the USA"). He speaks English well and slowly. I thought this was a result of English being a second language, but Spanish-speakers have told me he speaks Spanish the same way. English is just one of the many things he does causally well. He is the same with cooking, art-work, or brewing beer. He never seem strain himself, but the end results of most everything he does is good. Surprisingly good, because I always underestimate him.

This is posed. We never actually hugged. Perhaps due to the underestimating.
Confirmation bias is a psychological phenomenon where you remember and process only things that fit with your preconceived biases. For example, if you are convinced that someone dislikes you, you notice, remember, and angst when they don’t make eye-contact, when they are quiet, or slightly curt. When they are friendly, you attribute it to the nice weather, and forget about it.

I bring this up because Cesar being a Gerber baby, as he claims, completely fits my confirmation bias of him as an over-grown baby. That’s not meant as an insult. He’s a baby in the best way: adorable, present-orientated, beloved by all except the heartless. 26 years have done nothing to thin out his cherubic face or diminished his dimpled smile, and he still has the benevolent air of a well-fed baby who knows he’s really in charge.

The former Gerber baby is on the left.

Likewise, I can easily believe that he was stolen as a baby by a monkey up a tree, as he also claims. In my imagination, he’s completely calm and cheery through out the whole ordeal, while increasingly frantic audience mills around below the palm tree. If it’s not true, it should be. Perhaps I feel this way because I first meet him on a ski trip where he ended up skiing serenely backwards throughout our entire beginners ski lesson. Nobody understood how he managed it.

Sometimes, he didn't manage.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Path of Least Resistence

Malbouffe - junk food

Despite some people’s continued alarm about my eating habits, I’m much healthier in here than I was in America. Out of the many reasons for this, improved self-discipline is not one of them.
1.     I get to take turns making dinner with my housemates. This a much better deal for me then it is for them, as they know how to make more than eggs with cheese.

2.     If you want or need to be somewhere, you have no choice but to bike. Cars are not an option and the bus is often slower than biking. Last year I had to bike 40 km at 6am a couple times a week. There’s no way I would ever do that out of free will alone. It only because my grade depended on it.

3.      I’m often late for things  - > additional cardio

4.     The stores are only open  in our little village for from 9 to 9, and not on Sundays. So if you want chocolate chip cookies or brownies at 3am, and I always do, you’re out of luck.

5.     They don’t really have chocolate chip cookies or brownies here.

6.     Eating out is expensive. People don’t do it that often, or they are just not inviting me.

Basically, the healthiest choice is also the laziest choice. This the only way I will ever be healthy.

One of a Kind

Isoler – to insulate
They say it’s an unfortunate side effect of all the choices available that you can just stick with people like you at all times. You can have your own TV shows, movies, foods, book, websites, news, and facts. Is this such a bad thing?
Like many others, I experienced having the minority religion (lack of), political view (liberal for USA), and interests (not other humans).  It’s not as enlightening as people would have you believe. Initially, it’s fun to learn about why other people believe why they do, and to try to follow their logic. Eventually, though, you’ve heard it all before, and the discussions reach the point of diminishing returns.
Sometimes it’s nice to be around people like you, a monolithic group of your own choosing.  It can be enlightening in its own way. Suddenly, you can’t define yourself just as the opposite of the other people. 
For example, I was at a camp for children with disabilities and we were playing that getting-to-know-you game where you share one unusual thing about yourself. One girl said that she normally stated her disability, but it didn’t seem important at the camp. Since everyone had that disability, it wasn’t really important or relevant anymore, and everyone could focus on more important things. And that is why I think sometimes it’s nice to be with people exactly like you, if only so you can realize that they aren’t.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Relating to a long nurtured grudge

Aube – dawn

I remember being annoyed when I was five or six and some adults had a whole conversation about me while I was sitting there drawing. It was like they believed that so long as they weren’t talking directly at me I wouldn’t understand them. In general, I don’t like it when people treat children like foreign and slightly dim beings. In many ways, the average child is smarter than the average adult. The child just has less knowledge and experience. If an adult were placed in a situation as foreign as a baby is placed in, with absolutely everything being new and unknown, they would end up going crazy.

I think the main difference is just that children can just accept everything as possible, as can be seen in how flexible and responsive a child’s brain is compared to an adult’s (very high neuroplasticity). Their brains literally have more possibilities, with a much greater number of neural connections. As a person ages, decent portion of these connections, the underused ones, are pruned. 

This is why a deaf child given a cochlear implant or hearing aids early in life will still be able to learn to talk verbally. The neurons involved haven’t withered off or been reappropriated yet. But after a certain age, this path will be closed off or at least much more overgrown and difficult to enter. You can see this in a child that has been given hearing aids later in life – it’s always going to a little bit more challenging for them to talk verbally then it would normally be (though they might still be loads better than the average person, just not as good as they could potentially be). 

Besides openness to possibilities, I don't think children are that different from adults. For me, considering children to be like myself, but more intelligent and ignorant, usually works fairly well with understanding them. 

When she's here with me

Maussade – gloomy

With everything joyful, there is some sadness because it can and will all pass. Nothing gold can stay, etc. But with every sadness is also an undercurrent of joy, because sadness means that there was something to value and miss. Even if you don’t have it anymore, there is a happiness in knowing that it is at least imaginable. The worst is just feeling nothing - nothing matters, nothing is beautiful, nothing is worth it. 

My two favorite poems on melancholy are “My November Guest” by Robert Frost and “Ode to Melancholy” by John Keats, especially the last stanza. You'll notice it's always a woman. 

A Pre-Emptive Strike on Valentine's Day

Debarquer – to show up

They say 80% of life is just showing up. They also say that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. I’m sure the two are related somehow. It’s true that most of life is the mundane stuff. This is why I don’t understand why people attach so much importance on once a year things like anniversaries or once (or twice) in a lifetime things like weddings. It seems like once in a life-time thing should be an argument for its non-importance, not its importance. 

I know these kind of things are supposed to be symbolic, but that kind of symbolism is so easy to fake with enough money. Personally, I think whether or not someone cleans the disgusting glob of muss in the sink drain themselves every once in a while will effect my long-term happiness a lot more than flowers once a year (neither has happened, but you know, hypothetically).