01 November 2010

Farmer's Market in Lyon

Several times now, Dan and I have found ourselves on the steps next to the Rhône, under the shade of the huge trees lining the street, and at the most magnificent farmer's market. The first time, we simply stumbled upon the market, but since then we have marked it on our mental calendars and have been sure to venture back. As you'd imagine, like any good French market there are booths full of dozens of varieties of cheese, stands selling cured sausages and raw meats, tables with flowers, vegetables, olives, breads, and cakes. It's actually turned into a really good way for both Dan and me to practice a little French, since some of the vendors don't speak much English, and even when they do, they seem to have the time and mentality fit for stopping to have a little conversation with two obvious foreigners.

The market, as I said, is right next to some steps that lead from the street down to the Rhône. So, after walking through the market Dan and I are sure to sit on the steps and eat berries, fruits, and breads, and watch the swans in the river below. What makes the market so amazing isn't just the variety in the types of fruits and cheeses, but the fact that every thing I have gotten there has just been delicious. The berries, which are much smaller than what we're used to finding at grocery stores in the US, are so sweet and delicious- it's really almost like eating candy. I don't know how long the market will keep on going as the weather becomes increasingly more and more cool, but I hope it never ends!

Dan selecting out some perfect French Nectarines

So many delicious fruits and berries and cheese!

This was the most perfect and delicious tiny strawberry I had ever had!

We even went back in the rain!

more berries than I could handle!

26 September 2010

The Day I Finally Found God.

Today is Saturday, and Dan and I decided to get out of the apartment. We had no goals or projects that we were planning on working on, and so we just wandered. We found ourselves in the heart of Lyon near a Cathedral that I had had my eye on for some time. I haven't done my research on this Cathedral, so I can't really write about it much, and I didn't take any photos while I was in the Cathedral, but I did make a friend when I was there.

Dan had his camera with him, and since the Cathedral had amazing stained glass windows he wandered around photographing them. I picked up some literature on the Cathedral and after wandering around a bit I sat down in one of the pews near the middle of the church and started to try my hand at reading some of the French information offered about what I was seeing. I looked up when a young handsome man was walking towards me. He smiled at me and sat across the aisle from me in another pew. Now, I'll preface this by saying that this Cathedral has fairly high ceilings, and is large enough to not allow for sound to carry well at all. The man smiled at me and whispered something in French. Whispering is always hard to understand, and my French is certainly not good enough to decipher whispering in such an un-ideal setting, so I had no idea what he was saying. I whispered back and asked him if he spoke English, and he then broke into perfect English and asked me where I was from. I told him and he began asking me all sorts of questions about Alaska. I'm used to answering questions about Alaska, since so many people seem to consider it an almost mythical land, but this man was asking questions that were new to me. He first asked me simply what it was like, and since whispering is awkward under any circumstance I replied simply that 'it's cold.' I figured that would satiate his curiosity about Alaska, but he went on to ask me if Alaskans have different accents than the rest of the US, what we eat, if we eat a lot of fish, if we eat a lot of salmon, and how our mentality compares to the rest of the US. I was a little surprised at these really specific questions. He kept repeating "I have never met someone from Alaska before!", which isn't altogether that surprising, considering Alaska's extremely small population.

He then asked me if I was alone, and I was glad to be able to turn around and point to Dan who was busy photographing a statue of St. Anthony de Padua a few yards away from where I was sitting. This man seemed friendly enough, but I tend to feel vulnerable when I have to admit that I'm alone. The man next asked me if I was Christian, and looked up towards the altar. I thought I was in for a bit of proselytizing, but decided to answer honestly and said 'No'. So he asked me if I was atheist. I didn't really know how to respond so I just shrugged and smiled. I thought: here it comes, and braced myself, but the next thing he said surprised me. He looked at me smiled, and then quite seriously said: I am Christ. For a moment I thought that maybe his seemingly perfect English had failed him and he had meant to say that he was Christian, but then he went on to say: I am the messiah. I smiled, nodded, and said, Okay. He told me that I shouldn't spread the word around because the world was not ready to accept him yet. I smiled and nodded and didn't know what to say. He then told me "I am the son of god!" He then shifted away from me and turned his attention back to the altar.

What I found most interesting about this was that I found myself appreciating his words in the same way that I always am interested when people tell me things about their religion. I remember going to a church in India where a family told me that they had a cow that never gave milk, so they brought it holy water that had been blessed by Mother Mary, let the cow drink the water, and then the cow gave sweet milk for years and years to come. When I saw them they were returning to the church to give thanks. I heard a lot of stories like this in churches and temples in India, and it never occurred to me to question the validity of the stories. Again, today it never occurred to me to question whether or not this man actually was the messiah, or whether or not he actually thought he was the messiah. I just found it interesting. I wanted to ask him more questions- why was he sitting in this church, in a pew near the middle, on a Saturday afternoon. How did he get there? How did he know he was the messiah. I guess I could have asked him any of these questions, but I didn't, and I guess I'll never get the chance again.

When I related this story to Dan a few minutes later as he showed me his favorite chapel, I started to realize how ridiculous the story sounded. Dan, being the cynic that he is, told me that this guy was obviously just trying to 'pick me up'. If that is the case, I can honestly say "I am the messiah" is the weirdest/worst pick up line I have ever heard. But, I like to think that this man was sincerely there just to take in the ambiance of the church. Maybe he really thought he was the messiah. Maybe he was just moved by the beautiful rose windows and stunning stained glass and crystal chandeliers dripping delicately from the heavy stone ceilings. I guess I'll never know the whole story.

23 September 2010

St. Jean's Cathedral

In Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon) one of the main sights to visit is the Cathedral of St. Jean (Saint John). The Cathedral itself is pretty great for those of us from the oh-so-young America, and especially for those of us who were raised in baby-new Alaska where an "old" building is anything that survived the 1964 earthquake. This beauty was finished in 1476- nearly 20 years before Columbus 'sailed the ocean blue'! The Cathedral isn't gigantic compared to some others I've seen- Grenada, Tours, St. Peter's, but it's got spirit. The outside is peppered with gargoyles looming down over a small square, and the inside is adorned with some very gorgeous stained glass windows.

I've only been inside the Cathedral a few times so far, and never for very long. I want to go back more and more, because each time I return I find something interesting inside that I missed on my previous visits. Plus, there are great little plaques set up describing in both French and English the images in the stained glass, so I can practice my iconography and my French at the same time- magnifique!

Dan and I ventured to St. Jean's last Saturday just before closing time. We only had a few minutes to take in what we could before we were told to get out. But, we noticed that the very next day there was going to be an organ concert in the Cathedral. So, on Sunday we walked over two bridges and through a few streets in Old Lyon and made our way into a pew near the front of the Cathedral. We were handed a pamphlet in French and I read what I could about our young organ master that we were there to see. He was born in 1980, was admitted to some great school for organ music at some obscenely young age, and has since mastered both classic and modern organ music. There was very little ceremony about the concert. A man came out, spoke for a minute in French, and then organ music began to fill the cathedral. The problem with going to a concert in a cathedral is that the main fixture of the apse is the altar rather than the organ. The organ is placed to the side sort of in the ambulatory, and was impossible to see from where we were sitting. This is a great set up if you're there for mass, but not so convenient if you're there to hear and hopefully see an organ concert. So, while listening to the music we instead got to just take in the stained glass, the architecture, and the people around us.

If there's one thing I can say I know basically nothing about it's organ music. I'm only a little embarassed to say that to me the sound of an organ is synonymous with Halloween, vampires, and The Addams Family. Needless to say, I can't really give a good review of the music I heard. But, I can say that I enjoyed sitting there in that old Cathedral listening to the organ, played by someone I couldn't even see. Sometimes a few women would come out to where we could see them, stand with their backs to us, and sing in what I guess must be latin (it wasn't French and it certainly wasn't English). Although the organ music was interesting and a new experience, I have to admit that the parts with the singing were probably my favorites. Next time I hope to venture back when I can hear a choir.

18 September 2010

Figured it out! I can stomach stomach!

Dan and I wandered around tonight looking for a place to eat. We wandered down one street, and deciding it was too chic for our slobbish selves, decided to move on (I've never before felt as though I was underdressed for an entire street). We ended up at a restaurant on the same street as the place I described in my last post - Aux 3 Cochons. After eating dinner tonight (some jambon cru with melon, and some lasagne, and a small bowl of chocolate mousse for me), we wandered by the other restaurant so I could check out the menu.

I am proud to say that since the first time we went there, I can now understand much more of the menu. The only thing listed in what I had ordered that I didn't understand was andouillette. I knew this was a type of sausage, but didn't know what differentiated it from other sausages. Well, I just looked it up and apparently I have been eating (a few times now) and Loving (every time!) sausage made from the intestines and stomaches of pigs. And, I'm excited to say that this is apparently a sausage that Lyon is apparently known for. Wikipedia tells me that some restaurants in Lyon are even rated on the quality of their andouillette! It also said that this is an acquired taste, which wasn't true for me; it was complete love at first taste.

I've never really considered myself a particularly picky eater (not since I was about 12 anyway), but I've never considered myself much of a worldly eater either- I generally steer clear of seafood if I can, and I loathe mushrooms. That being said, I have no problem eating interesting animal parts. tongue? brain? sweetbread? bring it on. pig stomach? just another delicious notch in the ol' belt. I guess the next step for me will be to try frog legs, although, I think I'm going to look it up first. I don't understand how you can eat something so tiny that still has bones. Anyone out there have any advice? Let me know!

--- Catie

15 September 2010

Oh the food!

Dan and I wandered down a street just across the bridge from our apartment. There were many little restaurants- some Italian, one Tunisian, and one called "Aux 3 Cochons". I looked at the menu, understood very little, but it seemed pretty French, so I suggested we go there. We sat down inside since the terrace seating was all full, and looked around. Every free surface- walls, shelves, windows- was filled with photos, paintings, prints, and sculptures of pigs. I stared into the sweet face of a cardboard-cut out Babe that was grinning at me from over Dan's shoulder across from me, and then delved into the menu. I had my trusty French-English-French dictionary with me, but it wasn't altogether that helpful since so many terms used on the menus are really specific. For example, when a menu uses a word that my dictionary tells me means "stove", I can only assume that the menu is referring to some specific way of cooking something. Some of the things that we could find in the dictionary were frog legs, cow-tails, and calf-brain and tongue. I ended up ordering something that had potatoes in it, but that's all I really knew about it. Dan went for the salmon.

Both of our dishes came in shallow ceramic dishes (I can't remember what they're called... my mom cooks asparagus in hers). I still have no idea what I ate, and I've been meaning to go back to the restaurant and write down the name of the dish I ordered so I can look it up online, but I can definitely say it was one of the tastier things I've ever put in my mouth. The dish was filled with two thin triangles of shredded and fried potatoes- cooked almost like polenta, crispy on the outside and smooth on the inside- and a sauce that hid a ton of tiny shredded pieces of fatty meat. There was some spice that looked like mustard seed, but didn't taste like it. The sauce was fairly thick and creamy, and the meat was pretty white. I'm guessing it was some sort of pork, but I'm not sure what kind, since it was fattier than any kind I've had before. The next 15 minutes or so are just a blur in my memory since I was so enthralled with whatever it was I was eating. This was probably about a week and a half ago, and I've been thinking of very little else ever since. I Need to investigate more! I wish I had had a pen with me, or even my camera. I'll just have to go back!

For dessert I got a fondant au chocolat, which even Dan tried and said would have been delicious had it not been chocolate.

In other news, we found what is apparently Dan's new favorite place on the planet. Now, I love a crêpe just as much as the next guy, but Dan is rapidly becoming a crêpe connoisseur. We found a tiny little crêperie which we've now gone to twice. The first time we went in it was about 7pm, and the place was virtually empty. The decor is seriously eccentric- the walls are all covered in murals of goblins, trolls, fairies, and ghoulish mangled trees, and there are a few figurines of these things sitting on shelves and hanging from the ceiling. I figured that this eccentric decor might have deterred people from regularly visiting this place, but as we sat there throughout our meal every single seat in the restaurant filled up. The second time we went at about 8:30 and watched as the waiter had to turn away a total of about 15 people who came in and couldn't find seating for dinner.

The reason that Dan and I have started to really like this place isn't the odd decoration, or even the really friendly and patient waiter, but the interesting menu. Other crêperies we've been to have a variety of vegetables and cheeses that they offer on their crêpes, but this place offers many types of sausages, meats, cremes, cheeses, and vegetables in various combinations. It's been fun to order twice now, and then go home and look up what I ate. Both Dan and I have loved what we ordered each time, so the record is four for four, which is pretty solid.

All this food talk is making me hungry! Off to make some lunch!

From the delicious goblin filled crêperie

(an average crêpe at an average place- eggplant purée)

(dan's average crêpe at some average place- spinach and butter)

Getting to know Lyon

Two rainbows above the Saône River in Lyon on one of the only rainy days since I've arrived

Since Dan's arrival, he and I have spent a fair amount of time exploring the city together. For the first few days that I was here I would wander aimlessly, just taking in whatever I could. Now our wanderings are usually task-oriented. Dan need some shoes, so we've spent a lot of time looking for shoes in a size that is apparently abnormally large for French people (as a result of this size issue, we still haven't found shoes that he likes in his size). I needed a watch, so we've probably spent at least 6-10 hours, spread over several days, searching for a watch store we had once walked by late at night, but couldn't find again during the day. Eventually we found it- 10 minutes from our apartment. doh. 

Here are some photos from our various wanderings on various afternoons in Lyon. As you can see, the weather has been amazing. It's just now starting to cool down in the evenings, which I'm loving! 

We found a shady spot by the Saône one afternoon near a pedestrian bridge

This is my street. It was obviously named after me. Many of you may not know it, but I'm generally known as "Saint Catherine" in most parts of the world. Yeah. Believe it. 

Notre-Dame de Fourviére

In the crypt of the Notre-Dame de Fourviére- A Tamil Mother Mary

One building casts shadows onto another in the afternoon on the Fourviére Hill

Dan and I walked up to le Parc de la Tête d'Or, where I studied French in the rose garden. Trés Parfait! 

13 September 2010

bonjour france, au revoir vegetarianism

As some of you might know, I've been experimenting with a sort of pseudo-vegetarianism for the last few months. While I've been avoiding pork, beef, chicken, turkey, and most fish, I've still been eating anything that I can feel confident was never pumped full of antibiotics, was not raised or harvested in a horribly unsustainable way, and I've been trying to eat meat just less in general. In Alaska this basically means that I was eating moose, bear, halibut and rockfish that either I caught, my sister or her husband caught, or my sister's friends caught. The idea behind this was that, sure, the animal suffered in its death- that's a reality that you have to accept to be an omnivore- but if I eat it less frequently it can still be more sustainable, and if I know where the food came from, I can greatly reduce the amount of chemicals I inadvertently eat, and hopefully reduce my global footprint somewhat. I know that traveling inherently increases your global footprint, and that in a lot of ways some of my actions will contradict some of my other actions, but in the words of Walt Whitman, "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)" I think all I can do is make the efforts I can where I can.

That being said, Lyon is considered the gastronomic capital of France, and I've been thinking 'when in lyon...'. For the last few weeks since I decided to travel to France I was wondering what to do about this issue- how do I enjoy all that Lyon has to offer, while still trying to avoid the meats that I was avoiding in the USA? Luckily this issue isn't as big of a deal as it could be if I were permanently residing here. Since I'm only staying here for three months, I figure I can digress from my otherwise obviously iron clad and stead-fast resolutions (har har).

My first few days here I sustained myself by eating some basic bread, tomatoes, and some spreadable laughing cow cheese. I quickly branched out and bought a bag of spaghetti and some spaghetti sauce, and added that to my diet. But, after I slightly recovered from my jet lag, I was realizing that when filling my days with mile upon mile of walking, filling my belly with bread and cheese was simply not going to be sufficient. And so I started eating out.

I haven't tried anything to daring yet, although I did see grenouilles on the menu the other day, but I have been willing to order something even when I don't understand all of the ingredients listed in the description on the menu, which I feel is an accomplishment and a learning experience in of itself.

My first meal out was what, in the USA, we call French onion soup, although here it's just cheese onion soup- gratinée à l'oignon.

I haven't done my research on this, but my impression has always been that this soup was a wintertime soup- eaten when all that was left in the house were some onions, stale bread, and some cheese. This is a brilliant way to eat stale bread- soak it in oniony soup and cover it in cheese. The cheese, which is sprinkled on top, melts into a pretty solid layer that keeps the soup hot. Needless to say I burnt my mouth in several places. It was perfect because I had spent that afternoon wandering about on the hill above Lyon, the wind had been blowing, and I was actually feeling remarkably chilly for it being an August night. The next thing that came was bavette sauce échalote et gratin dauphinois. Basically this was a thin steak smothered in a brown shallot gravy and potatoes smothered in cheese. The sauce on the steak was delicious- I want it on everything- although the steak wasn't as tender as I had hoped. After a few months of politely and sadly declining my mom's dishes such as filet mignon and bleu cheese, I have to admit that the tenderness and quality of the steak didn't *quite* live up to my expectations. I'm not sure if that was intentional, or if the steak should have been more tender, but I do know it was more chewy than I would have liked. The potatoes were delicious, although since everything- the soup, the steak, the potatoes- were all served in such a high quantity, I simply could not finish them- let alone allow myself to get the dessert that was supposed to come with the menu. I was just stuffed- remarkable, since all I had had earlier in the day was a few pieces of bread and some laughing cow cheese.


Since that meal I've gone out a few times with Dan. We got crepes one time- his had tuna and olives on it, and mine had tomato sauce and mozzarella. Last night we somehow ended up at an Italian restaurant where Dan got a caprese salad and I got gnocchi au trois fromages- pretty tasty stuff, and not as heavy as you might expect. Gnocchi can turn out dense, heavy, and almost sickening at times, but this was just right. I even felt okay with dipping some bread in the bleu cheesey sauce after I finished the gnocchi.

Well, that's probably a fair update on eating in Lyon, so far. I will add one more note, which is that you can find chocolate anywhere. I think back to living in India where, sure, you could buy milk chocolate at just about any corner, but you could only get dark chocolate at one shop, down by the temple, where they sold American things like cherrios and DVDs that weren't illegal. Here I can literally walk next-door to the tiny grocery store and be treated to 40 different varieties of dark chocolate and milk chocolate- white chocolate and truffles. I know not everyone out there is a chocolate fan, but for those who are, this is a pretty fun place to live.

Bon apetite!

05 September 2010

Bonjour from Lyon!

Well, this was supposed to have photos, but for some reason it wouldn't post with them. But, you can check them out on facebook. Sorry!

I can't believe I've already been here a week! After a journey which felt surprisingly long for someone who has flown back and forth between Asia and the US a few times in the last year, I arrived directly in Lyon last Friday morning. I went straight to what I was hoping would soon be my apartment, and found that everyone working there was at lunch. So, I sat for an hour in the lobby, waiting, and then threw myself on their mercy. They were so helpful and wonderfully patient with a very tired me who spoke very little French. They sent me to a bank where I would have to open an account and buy home insurance, and then to another building down the street where I could pay my rent in advance. Then, I got to go into my apartment, brush my teeth, and passed out, still in my clothes, for the first time in days. It wasn't until the next night that I got to go out and explore Lyon at all.

Here's a brief introduction to Lyon: It's basically the second largest city in France and is near the alps. On a clear day you can walk to the top of the hill overlooking Lyon and be treated to some views of Mont Blanc in the East. Despite having travelled around France once before, this is my first time in Lyon, and I'm already wondering how it never made it onto my radar before. The city is really beautiful. The older parts are nestled in-between and around two rivers, the Saône on the West and the Rhône on the East. To the West of the Saône is a hill where the Romans settled over two thousand years ago, and you can still find the ruins of the roman amphitheater hidden away on the top of the hill. Also, much more noticeable is the gigantic basilica Fourviere that was built a bit more recently and looms over the city.

The older part of the city, Vieux Lyon, is at the base of this hill, West of the Saône. There you can find a lot of renaissance buildings, a huge Cathedral (St. Jean), and a lot of touristy shops and
restaurants. Maybe it's because I'm used to traveling in Asia, but I'm really impressed with how little English I see written, even in the shops on the touristy Rue St. Jean. If I'm struggling to communicate most people will slip into some English, but for the most part people
are content to speak French with me when I go out. I should also really mention how unbelievably wonderful and helpful everyone here is. Without exception everyone I've spoken to has been really kind and patient with me. One man, who didn't speak any English, tried to direct me to a shop where I could buy an electric adaptor, because he didn't have any in his store. Since I couldn't understand him he literally walked me a block down the street to show me the store he was referring to. People are just really friendly. Another man told me that All French people love Americans. I don't know how true that is, but so far people just seem really excited that I'm here, trying to learn their language and are excited to tell me how to say things like 'thirteen' in French.

So, between the two rivers is a narrow strip of land that I've spent a lot of time wandering about on. There are a few pedestrian streets that are full of street performers, big stores like H&M, and many many ice-cream shops. There are also many smaller winding cobble stone streets where I've seen a plethora of boutiques of every variety. And, of course, all of these streets empty out into beautiful squares with plenty of fountains and cafés where you can rest.

Then, to the East of the Rhône is the more commercial district- sort of the Lyon equivalent of NYC's mid-town, although it's clearly a lot less American, and a lot more European. All of this is within walking distance from where I live, which is about a block to the East of the Rhône. My neighborhood has a lot of tree-lined streets and a ton of halal eateries and south asian clothing and book stores, so I'm basically feeling right at home. On Friday the street was filled with men in Kurthas walking about, although I haven't seen a mosque, or heard the call to prayer.

I've generally just been wandering a lot. My first few days I would just pick something I'd see in the distance- an adorned rooftop a few streets over, or a fountain at the end of a street I was crossing, and just walk towards it. I've been criss-crossing Lyon for a week now, and have gotten a pretty good feel for the different parts of town. I'm still finding new things all the time, but am becoming familiar with the major land-marks and streets. My first few days (and now still, to a certain extent) I've had a lot of errands to put myself on- find a lamp, find a pillow, get an alarm clock, etc. so this has really had me walking a lot- today, for example, Dan and I walked 5 miles without even realizing it.

Dan arrived two days ago, and was immediately on a better sleep schedule than I was. Our apartment is a little studio in a building reserved entirely for students. We live on the bottom floor, and our window looks out on a small road where there's rarely any traffic. We keep the shutter closed a lot because we don't want people looking in, or breaking in when we're away, but with the shutter open we get a good amount of light in our apartment. I tried to buy curtains my second day here, but with my extremely limited French I ended up buying a bed sheet instead (Draps, apparently, doesn't mean drapes...FYI). Ironically, the bed sheet is the perfect size for the window, so it's hanging up, and offering some privacy while still letting some sunlight in.

For those of you who didn't know, I don't really speak any French. When I came here I could probably order a crepe with about 75% confidence that I wasn't going to end up accidentally ordering something else. I'm also pretty much awesome and ordering a bottle of water. Other than that, my French is extremely limited. So I'm here taking French classes for three hours a day. Right now it's pretty basic stuff and is moving a little slow for me, since the basics between french and spanish are pretty similar (tu vs. vous, etc.) What I really want to do is get a better ear for understanding what people are saying to me, and really finally figure out how to pronounce
French! I can pick up just about anything, read it, and get the basic gist of it because it is so similar to Spanish, but I don't know how to pronounce even the most basic words. So, hopefully we're going to really start working on pronunciation in class. I think that my intuition for French vocabulary is pretty good (again, because it's so similar to Spanish), and I could probably get pretty good pretty quickly if I knew at all how to pronounce things. Right now I think that I pronounce things the way that a French character in the Simpsons or something would- some exaggerated caricature of what Americans think that French sounds like. Anyway, fingers crossed that I'll learn some French for real in the next three months!

Well, It seems like this is definitely long enough to suffice! Consider yourself updated!

Missing the USA and everyone a lot, even though France is pretty much awesome.

--- Catie

16 March 2010

I hope she dances better than she welds!

A note about welding in Bangladesh.

As some of you may have gleaned from my blog posts, or general accurate stereotypes of South Asia that you might have heard, this region is not known for it's safety precautions. I would normally make some comment about how perhaps in the United States we are too obsessed with safety precautions. I recently heard that despite Bangladesh's horrendous traffic patterns, the US still has more fatal accidents (citation needed, obviously). However, when it comes to safety precautions for welding, less isn't more.

Maybe it's because of the state of Bangladesh's economy, or maybe it's because the buildings are not built to last, and constantly need repair work, or maybe it's because Bangladesh doesn't compartmentalize and hide away the grittier elements of life the way we do in the US, but not a day passes by when I don't see someone welding something. When I drive down the streets a flash of white light catches my eye as we pass men working on the side of the road. When we take a trip to the ship breaking yard, the smell of hot metal permeates the entire scene and many welders can be spotted. Right now, as I sit on my balcony, a hissing sound draws my attention to the building across the way where a man is welding on the roof.

I'm definitely no expert on welding, but it's my impression that serious safety issues are involved in the practice. The hot flames and metal can lead to serious burns while the bright light can lead to permanent eye damage. In the United States, I believe people wear protective gear on their body, arms, hands, head, eyes, and feet. In Bangladesh most or all of this is disregarded. No doubt there is slim to no availability of this protective gear, or where it does exist it's too expensive for most projects.

The man who is working on the building near mine is in sandals, and a t-shirt and is squatting down peering at the area he is welding. With his left hand he sometimes lifts an eye guard to his face while he does the welding with his right hand, but sometimes he neglects to do this. He has no gloves on.

I wish I knew more about the economics and philosophy of Bangladesh. While of course in the USA we also talk about people being 'expendable' in certain jobs, there's a general attitude that human life itself isn't quite as expendable. If it comes down to either a job being done and a life lost, or a life saved and the job never being done, we usually choose the latter. Maybe we could assert that this solution, which obviously isn't really a solution at all, is the reason why we outsource and globalize. The life of a citizen in the US isn't expendable, but the life of an illegal immigrant in Southern California, or of a factory worker in Bangladesh is one we have less of a problem labeling as expendable.

There's no doubt that working at the ship breaking yards is dangerous. Not only are workers there working literally up to their knees in toxic waste, but they are also engaging in completely dangerous activities. Despite the danger and the cost to the environment, Bangladesh's economy relies on ship breaking. A few lives lost benefits thousands, perhaps millions, in theory. But is it worth it? I heard a figure recently that once a person starts going through trash in Bangladesh (to pick out valuable things and sell them- like paper, metal, bottles, etc.), they have 15 years left in their life. Do we just say, it's a rough job, but somebody's got to do it? I want to know what the cost would be to make these jobs more safe. How much less money would Bangladesh make if they ensured the safety of all of their ship breaking workers?

I think it's safe to say that condoning the safety and methods of these jobs is essentially classist, but at what point will we admit that ignoring this global classism is also wrong?

15 March 2010

The Joys of Power Outages

I remember when I was little on a few occasions during big wind storms in the Alaskan spring, with a sudden flicker the lights in our house would go out, and our world would plunge into darkness. Nothing was more exciting than rummaging through the drawers in the dining room and pulling out every candle and candlestick holder we could find until our house was filled with that soft glow and that waxy spice smell of candles burning. Maybe I have always been a little bit of a romantic, but for some reason I loved it when the power went out. Even today I feel like the proper thing to do by candlelight is to read an old dusty codex with a clay mug of cider nearby. However, I may also attribute some of these romantic notions to the infrequency of power outages in Alaska while I was growing up.

In Bangladesh, the power goes out probably 5 times a day. I haven't kept track, but several times a day the light cuts out, the UPS starts beeping from my dining room, and I wait patiently for the generator to kick in. Somewhere from a few seconds to a few minutes later a churchurchurchur starts from six floors below my apartment, the unmistakable smell of gasoline wafts in through the window, and the lights come back on. This has become such a normal part of the day that I hardly blink an eye when it happens. However, as you can imagine, for certain activities, constant light is absolutely necessary. Cooking is one of these activities. If I'm chopping vegetables, I can simply pause and wait until the lights come back on. However, if I'm making french fries, popping pop corn, or any number of other cookng activities, (probably equally as unhealthy as french fry and popcorn making) the risk of burning whatever I'm working on is infuriating. On a few occasions the risk of burning myself is also in the forefront of my mind.

It's amazing to think of all the things I've taken for granted for so many years of my life. A nearly constant and unwavering supply of electricity is definitely on that list.