Saturday, October 30, 2010

El Greco

When I'm in Germany I eat a lot of Turkish food. One of my favorite spots is Saka, just north of the Florastrasse stop on Rüttenscheiderstrasse. It's a combination dönerkebap and pizza place but the guys there also make up a traditional Turkish stew of one kind or another most nights, as an option to the standard offerings. It was my Stammdöner the last time I was in Essen for an extended visit and the guys behind the counter always had a friendly word for me and brought out a tea if the meal took a little longer to prepare than they thought was appropriate.

You don't see many Turkish places here in the states, but frankly the menu in most Greek places is pretty similar. And to an outsider, one who knows little or nothing about things Turkish, Greek or otherwise eastern Mediterranean, the cultures seem to have a great deal in common. I realize the Greeks and the Turks have sort of a thing going on for the past 4-500 years or so: genocide, atrocities, blah, blah...  but I just like the food. They both do great stuff with eggplant: where's the difficulty?

Last night I had the pleasure of dining in a nice Greek place in Sarasota FL. I'm attending a professional conference here and although I'm a firm supporter of the Arts, sometimes the party line gets a little extreme. Listening to some of our speakers, you'd think a decent painting would be proof against leprosy and a really good performance of Rigoletto would cure cancer. I needed a break from hyperbole, and this Greek place was perfect. The food was delicious, but what I loved even more was the spontaneous floor show. Not entirely spontaneous. There were musicians there: a keyboard guy with a drum track and his eighty four year old father on a balailika-like instrument called a bouzouki. They were good but were quickly joined by a vocalist and a monster bouzouki guy who remained very impassive while he poured out this music that had the place laughing, weeping, but mostly dancing. The vocalist didn't need much of a range of pitch to sing songs that went on for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, but he was a master at manipulating the microphone for great dynamic range.

Greek "homies" encourage a fellow dancer.
The dancing was equally impressive and alternated between line dancing and a kind of proto-break dance format. Men seem to dominate in the dancing, and they often squat and clap while each dancer takes a turn doing a solo thing. Apparently there is even a tradition of throwing a handful of dollars at the dancer, presumably if they are particularly good. After a lot of dancers had done their thing, they brought an infant out, barely able to stand, but damned if the kid didn't do a turn or two. He collected big time. I would have taken a turn myself, but it seemed that actually picking up the thrown money was somehow déclassé.

I was impressed with the dancing and with the music and the inclusiveness it demonstrated. These activities were clearly not reserved for the vituosi, but were instead open to the elderly, those not yet old enough to talk, as well as the accomplished. But when the guy in the wheelchair got into it, I thought, that rhetoric I'm hearing at my professional conference really is true: the Arts are in truth a powerful force for good. At the next conference I'll suggest we include the culinary in those other arts and see if I can get any support for a change in the by-laws.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Loki und Smokie

Loki Schmidt, the wife of former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, died at her home in Hamburg today at the age of 91. I don't think I've ever written anything about Frau Schmidt in this blog, although her husband Herr Schmidt has come up more than once. They were an interesting couple: they met in grade school, they both smoked like chimneys, and both lived extremely long and productive lives. They were (and Herr Schmidt still is) what many would refer to as "a hot ticket".

The first video is part of an excellent documentary about the Schmidts. The second is a parody of the two of them discussing the question of vaccination against the swine flu. Einfach genial.