Archive for the 'England' Category

07
May
13

You didn’t really spend £16.95 for a Pepperoni Pizza, did you?

I read that many people in the UK have to borrow money or dig out of their savings just to buy food.  So who’s buying the pizza for £16.95?  In Chennai, India, I thought I was really splurging when I got a Domino’s pizza for rs 600.  So in my survival mode, I looked in my cupboard, and then googled.  Even though I was brought up in a second-generation Sicilian home in Timonium, MD, I didn’t know the difference between pizza sauce and spaghetti sauce.  I bet you didn’t either.  So this is it:  it’s mainly more concentrated, more spicy–and no surprises–lotsa sugar–or honey if you want to justify yourself.

So if you are poor but need your pizza, buy a pizza shell and make your own.  I had tomatoes in a tin, so I put it through my blender until it was thick.  I added tomato puree.  Then I added basil, fresh oregano, sea salt, cayenne pepper, honey, black pepper, lotsa garlic (love my garlic press), bay leaf, and…and…are you ready for this?  Because you really have to be ready.  I don’t know what Nona Fava would make out of this, but here it goes.  Yes, I put in two clean egg shells.  Why?  To take out the acidity.  This is huge if you have GURT or an ulcer or you know…

But that’s not my secret ingredient.  It has to do with Pinocchio.  I’ll tell you tomorrow.

06
Feb
13

Spring is Here in the UK!

We have had a dreary winter so far.  After Christmas I felt like I was living in Finland but without the snow plows.  The rain makes life damp here and you feel it in your mattress when you go to bed at night.  But, somehow, Spring is here!  Well, virtually anyway. I am a lonely instructional designer who is holed up in my bedroom-office.  I am trying to get our business going since that is about the only way you can get work now in the UK–you got to do you own thing.  But of course, I’m in a Catch-22–no work–no money–no money–no business.  But then came iSpring to give me the leg up that I need.

You see, I am developing a new type of language learning concept — for Hebrew.  Since I am still learning Hebrew myself, and I’m doing the graphics, and I’m doing the IT, my mind is juggling quite a lot.

Once I got some prototype modules done for beta-testing, I needed a platform.  Who would host a powerpoint presentation and keep all my little animations and click when you’re done pages, and my sounds, and still give me quality.  And, who could keep it private for me?  For free.  Like I said, Spring came.  iSpring.

Not only that, when I had some technical difficulties, some one actually wrote right back THE VERY SAME DAY!  Yes, I said some one, meaning a real person like Helen.  A real personality.  No automatic email.

This is all for free.  Thank you, iSpring, for shedding a little bit of sunshine on the rainy UK.

29
Jun
12

The Tin Rule: Barclays Bank and Louie need a Course on Ethics

Ironically, it was in India where I got the assignment to write a set of courses on Business Ethics for a company in the USA.  For many in India, lying is not a sin.  You say what the person wants to hear.  In the Hindu religious literature, it says that a man can cheat his customers if it puts food on the table for his hungry family.  You can’t eat Ethics.  When a government fails to feed its people, the moral fabric frays quickly.

Many people told me to watch the new program called Louie. So yesterday I downloaded the pilot episode, he makes jokes about how if he sold his car, he could feed many starving people.  People laughed.  People who have never starved laughed.  Fat people laughed.  Starvation is a joke to middle America?  There is a worse sin here. Come, Louie, to India, and let me introduce you to some children who will have a low IQ because their mothers never got enough to eat. Try not to eat just one meal, Louie, now try two meals Louie.  How are you doing?  Any jokes?  Did you feed your kids? Not half-eaten rotten fruit from the garbage can like this little girl?

This morning, I listened to BBC4 news and learned that Barclays Bank and the NHS don’t know what the word “ethics” means either.  Are they starving?  Yes, they are starving from morals.  Great Britain used to be the moral compass for the rest of the world.  A man was as good as his word.  This was the most civilized country.  What has made the moral fabric fray here?  Selfishness?  Lack of accountability?  Ethics can be defined in the Golden Rule:  do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.  Instead, they have the Tin Rule:  Do it to them before they do it to you.  And you all wonder why the economy is bad?  It’s not the economy, stupid, as Bill Clinton thought, it’s the integrity of the people.  Barclays, you don’t have to be a tin bank.

So, if you work in the HR Department of Barclays Bank, I can offer you a management course on Business Ethics.  Oh, and Louie, I can do personal coaching. You don’t have to be the tin man.

26
Jan
10

Little Drops Etiquette

Before my English husband and I were engaged, he taught me how to eat properly before he would let me eat in front of his mother and father at their home in Braintree, England. He comes from what we as Americans would consider a middle upper-class provincial home. He demonstrated the European method to hold one’s fork– upside down in one’s left hand and the knife in one’s right hand.

I had to practice at home in order that I didn’t unconsciously slip into my uncivilized way of eating American style which my husband found awkward.  You see, during the meal, I would get tired of trying to balance peas on my fork and revert to the American way. Invariably, I’d get this look and a slight cough.  Fortunately, I can safely say that I did not embarrass my husbands at his parents’ home–my future in-laws. Against all cultural odds, we were married soon after.  However,  I would get my revenge 14 years later, in of all places: India.

It was New Years Day in 1996. we had been invited to a modest home in the outskirts of Madras, as it was called then,  for breakfast. One of our new friends, Pradeep, an administrator for Little Drops, (an offshoot from Mother Theresa’s work), was taking us with a few of his friends to his supervisor’s home. We had to travel over dirt roads, over-taking water buffalo pulling cart-loads of produce, swarms of people on bicycles, and the occasional automatic rickshaw that had a fare from the city. I tried to keep track of where we were but I was soon lost in a maze of back streets.

The farther we  got from Madras, the more we were in the real India. In just a few miles, the suburbs quickly disappeared and we were suddenly in the villages. As soon as we left the city, gone were the five-star hotels, the British Raj edifices, the ambassador cars, the shopping malls, and the fine restaurants which could lull one in thinking that India was not so different from back home. While peering through the open window of the car, Stephen told me that he felt as if he had changed the the channel to a National Geographic documentary. We watched darkly tanned ladies coming from the local well, gracefully balancing shiny brass jugs on their head, effortlessly as models going down a runway in Paris. Their saris billowed in morning breeze, looking more colorful and striking than Coco Channel’s spring collection. The sun, no longer blocked by tall city buildings, shot bright yellow spotlights on the ladies through the palm trees. So bright was the day that the raspberry colored borganvilla plants appeared to light up on their own, as they fell against the fences and walls around the villages. Their aroma was one of the myriad of powerful scents of South India that came through the open windows of our car. While enjoying the borganvilla, my husband caught a waft of burning cow dung that the women use for fuel. On the side of the road, we watched one woman making uniform round brown patties of dung. I found that she would later put them on a wall to dry, giving a new meaning to residential recyling.

As we arrived at a modest group of houses, the car came to a stop. As we walked up the stairs to a small flat or apartment, Paul gave us a hearty hello. His balding crown and graying hair couldn’t belie his child-like and free spirit. Full of gaiety and warmth, his observant round eyes still took the time to take in our every detail.

He showed us into his living room, or hall, where an older man who had apparently suffered from leprosy greeted us. Although cured, the ravages of the disease had left him with stubs for fingers. His nose had also been affected.  We shook hands warmly with him and soon learned that the leprosy had not impaired his voice. He was going to sing the grace before breakfast. Although we didn’t understand a word of his Tamil, never do I remember hearing such depth, resonance, clarity, and fullness of song. Afterward,  he quietly left. He was fasting that day.

On the table was a breakfast made on special occasions: lamb stew in a coconut gravy. After such a long and dusty trip, we all took turns washing our hands in the bathroom in cold water, the only tap. Instead of using a towel, we “drip-dried,” flinging water at one another. As we sat down, there was just about enough room for all of us to sit around the table. From my vantage point, I could easily view the streets below and catch a breeze. An older woman who I learned was their servant for many years dished up the stew for us. I had inquired where Paul’s wife and children were and found that Shelia hadn’t yet finished her morning prayers in her bedroom. Their two children were also in the bedroom, a little sick from eating too much food from the carnival that Paul’s ministry had arranged the day before as a fund-raiser.

Once the lady served the stew on top of mountains of rice on our plates, except the native from Braintree, we all began to dig in–literally. In South Indian fashion, one eats with the utensils that God gave: the fingers. Now, as with all ancient customs in India, there is an art to this. I had already learned this custom by watching how my Indian friends ate from the corner of my eye while ostensibly listening to the conversations around me. I quietly surveyed South Indians mixing the gravy and the rice together, careful not to allow the food to rise beyond the second joints of their fingers.

As I attempted to eat this way myself, I found it very liberating. I’m not sure how long one is suppose to swish around the rice with the stew, but after a certain interval, I learned to fan my fingers. Without bending them, bringing them together, and mold a nice mouthful of food. Indians do not look down at what they are doing, but are constantly talking, unconsciously swishing their finger about the plate, preparing that perfect morsel. Perhaps this creative sculpturing helps them make better conversation.

Once South Indians feel that they have sculptured a nice ball of food, they pick it up delicately with their fingers, then flick it in their mouths, using the thumb as leverage. If they are really adept, fingers hardly touch the mouth, and there are no little drops of rice falling in the plate, on the table, or on the lap. By careful covert observation on this day, I learned to press down on the plate while squeezing the food together to really get an effective mold. Once I learned this process, I successfully popped the morsel in my mouth with total South Indian decorum.

I was ready to swish my finger around again to make another bite when I realized that my poor husband was at a loss. He had never bothered to watch how South Indians ate, maintaining that he would most definitely never eat with his hands. He thought that Americans were uncivilized enough when they ate with only a fork. I remember after living in England for three years, our coming from JFK Airport, we stopped for a pizza at a rather basic eating establishment. My Braintree husband  insisted on having a knife and fork with which to eat his pepperoni pizza. Later, when we ate steamed crabs in Baltimore, the waitress literally circled our table again and again, watching my husband eating a steamed crab with a fork while the rest of the restaurant banged the crabs open with a wooden mallet and picked through the shells for the meat.

But on this New Year’s Day, 1996, as we ate our first meal of the year, there were no waitresses who could procure knives, forks, or spoons, even plastic ones. The servant lady looked and looked but there were no eating utensils in Shelia’s kitchen. Paul and Sheila simply didn’t own any. Because Paul works for Indian Airlines to earn money for his Little Drops Ministry, he knew a little about British foreigners and immediately understood my husband’s predicament. Sensing his supervisor’s wishes, Pradeep immediately jumped up and ran out of the apartment to buy a spoon for Stephen. Knowing their modest means, Stephen did not want them to spend their money for a spoon that would not be used in the household again. Stephen was finally prepared to start a New Year with a new way of eating. Through the windows, Paul called Pradeep to come back.

As Pradeep returned to his chair, the fun began. Everyone at the table stopped swishing and eating to watch my blushing British husband baptize his hands into the meal, resulting in a great shout from all and laughter following. India had won! This little town near Madras had done what America, another British renegade, could not do: vanquishing an Englishman’s reserve. Once immersed in the stew, with no way out, Stephen joined in the merriment and enjoyed himself, slapping the food in his mouth with abandon, oblivious to the little drops of rice falling everywhere. If his mother in Braintree could only see him now! Certainly she would have told him not to play with his food.

As Paul looked on with something more than simple merriment, he quietly said to me, “You know, I have been to your husband’s country. I know how they are and how they eat. I know what great character your husband has. He is eating like my son did when he was two years old. He has no idea of the proper way, but he tries and that really touches me more than anything else.” Paul was not impressed that I had learned how to eat in the proper South Indian manner. He was more touched by my husband who did it all wrong. I knew that we would have much to learn from this man who had heard Mother Teresa that it is the little drops that make an ocean of difference.