November 22, 2011

Discovering Belgium

If you read my last post, then you know this one is some sort of continuation, or better put, the first of many more to come on the subjects of my travel and culinary adventures at home and around the world.

I thought why not start with my latest adventure while still fresh in my mind. A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Belgium for the first time. Few things in life get me so excited as the prospect of visiting a new country. Combine that with some culinary firsts and I'm quite literally in heaven. Although I must admit Belgium wasn't in my top 10 list of countries to visit in the near future. Not that I had anything against Belgium per se, but because there were probably 10 other countries I would have been more inclined to visit before. No offense intended to my dear Belgian friends. In retrospect, I knew very little about the country and its people. Had I known what I know now, I would have surely made more of an effort to visit sooner, especially as it is a very short flight away.

My trip to Belgium was centered around a potential business project but allowed plenty of time for leisure. As a matter of fact, my host was going to make sure I saw as much as possible during my short stay, so to ensure we made good use of my time there, the itinerary was more or less organized beforehand and sounded very promising. Like any good host, he was happy and more than willing to share with me what his country has to offer, especially as far as gastronomy, which I must admit I was extremely skeptical about. Even with its famously delicious chocolate and waffles, I would have never thought of Belgium as a top culinary destination in Europe. The thought doesn't seem so far fetched now considering Belgium is heavily influenced by French culture, which would have invariably rubbed off on its cuisine, and like it or not, French cuisine is one of the best in the world. Nevertheless, I was excited, relatively open-minded and looking forward to this new experience.

After a couple of unfortunate mishaps at the Barcelona airport, my flight finally arrived at Brussels airport a little over two hours after the scheduled time of arrival. We drove straight to Bruges, where we had a table booked at the 2-star Michelin restaurant of chef Gert De Mangeleer called Hertog Jan, which between the date of eating and the date of writing this article actually received a third star, the highest number of stars the guide can bestow on a restaurant. Some kick-off huh? If that's not considered a good start, I'm not sure what would be. Filled with anticipation, the one hour it took to get from Brussels to Bruges flew by, and the two hours it would take later that night to go from Bruges back to Mol, which is where I was staying, would be well worth it.

No matter what people say, the first (physical) impression counts, and this restaurant certainly passed, or more like aced the test. Just to begin setting the mood, imagine a charming, little old house out in the middle of nowhere, which apparently was originally built as a small inn, providing food and accommodation for travelers between the cities of Bruges and Zevenkerken. The first wow moment I remember was looking straight into the kitchen through big glass windows. I have a soft spot for those restaurants that offer a glimpse into the reality of a working kitchen, which they usually do through a glass window that separates it from the dining area. But this particular restaurant not only offered kitchen view from inside but also from outside the building. From at least 3 angles that I could see, inside and outside, if not a complete 360°. I forgot to go check around the back.

As soon as we walked in, we were greeted at the door by the charming hostess with a big bright smile who escorted us through the main dining area and to a more private table in a secluded corner. The inside of the restaurant had a very zen-like, elegant and minimalistic decor yet it felt amazingly warm and cozy. Probably a lot to do with the lighting as well, which in my opinion, was just right. The wooden floor was a dark shade of brown and done in a very interesting antique style that complimented perfectly the warm tones of beige on the walls and ceiling, and the crispy white linen on the tables, while offering a slight contrast to the stylish, more modern-looking brown leather chairs.

As soon as we sat down, they brought us water. But obviously not just any regular water because that would have been too boring and not 2-star worthy. This water had been purified using these special imported Japanese stones, which we could still see at the bottom of the water pitcher. Also on the table, a freshly baked loaf of bread, creamy homemade butter, delicious olive oil imported from the Motherland (Spain), maldon salt, and freshly ground pepper.

Funny how well I remember everything up to this point but once the procession began, producing one amazing dish after the next, my senses were overwhelmed in such a way that it would be difficult to remember specifics, not that I would even want to. I do remember the odd flavor, smell, texture, presentation and combination of ingredients, all perfectly arranged and harmonized like a Beethoven symphony, but most importantly, I remember how I felt during the meal. The great chefs like Ferran Adria understand that good food is all about evoking emotion and stimulating the senses. Let us not underestimate the importance of a careful selection of wines to compliment each dish perfectly, which the sommelier-manager-partner, Joachim Boudens, did beautifully.

As any true foodie would, I obviously took notes, pictures, and even asked for a copy of the menu and the wine list at the end of the meal. I could try to reconstruct it all for you but I would probably not be able to do the food, and therefore the restaurant, any justice. By the way, this was one of the longest meals of my life. We were at the restaurant for a little over four and a half hours and by the third dessert I could not bare to look at any more food. Not surprisingly, I still managed to eat the sweets they brought with our teas.

I had been particularly eager to try the cuisine at this restaurant after the waiter explained most of the products were sourced locally and in fact, most of the produce used was grown organically in their own vegetable garden out back. I'm a sucker for these things because I love eating organic fresh foods, like to know where my food comes from, and often favor sustainable, local and fair-trade. I'm one of those people who strongly belief that good-quality ingredients are the base for making amazing dishes. I was surprised to hear from my friend that a lot of restaurants in Belgium have their own vegetable gardens and that most people also grow fruits and vegetables in their home gardens. Belgium earned quite a few points for that in my book.

For some reason, I was inspired to dig deeper and find statistics about Michelin stars in Belgium. What can I say. Turns out Belgium is among the European countries with the most Michelin stars per capita. There are 133 restaurants in the Michelin Benelux 2012 Bib Gourmand List (Benelux is Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxemburg), out of which 22 were awarded their first star this year. Consider that Belgium is a tiny country with a total area of 30,528 km2 (about 20 km2 less than Dominican Republic!) and an estimated population of 11 million. That's a whole lot of good food per capita! According to an article on, Belgium has two cities in the list of top 20 most Michelin-stared cities in the world, which are Bruges and Namur. This is a great accomplishment considering that most Michelin stars are awarded in France and Japan. In this same list, France has the most cities with 6 in total and Japan is second with 4. To put it in perspective, Belgium has just as many cities in this top 20 as Spain and Italy, the US has only one (San Francisco), and the UK surprisingly has none. I can go on forever so let me stop myself now.

Of course, I didn't just eat in Michelin star restaurants while in Belgium, nor would I have wanted to. None of the other restaurants had much to envy their Michelin-stared cousins, in terms of quality of the food, menu composition, decor and service. In fact, the next night we ate at a restaurant called Helsen and at some point I complimented the waitress by saying if I was a Michelin star critic, they would surely get one star. For whatever it's worth. I was quite drunk by that point but I did mean it. She smiled, slightly bowed and thanked me.

On my last night there, we had the most amazing 6 or 8 course dinner (lost count at some point) cooked by a private chef. Again, one delicious dish after the other, superb wines and great company. What more can one ask for? The experience was even more special for me because the chef let me in the kitchen every time he was about to prepare a dish so that I could watch and potentially learn a few tricks. By now I'm sure you can imagine how much I'd enjoy something like that.

In general, I must say that I was astonished with the overall quality of food in Belgium. It could have been just luck, or my friend knew all the right spots, but basically every restaurant we walked into, even the sandwich shop on saturday for lunch, was of excellent quality.

Besides eating, it was nice to do a little sightseeing in the three major cities I visited: Brussels, Bruges and Antwerp. Just walking, enjoying the stunning and oh so charming architecture, and getting a feel for what it would be like to live there. Talking about architecture, apparently Brussels was at the forefront of the European Art Nouveau movement (referred to as Modernism in Catalonia) back when it all started in the early 1890s.

In the end, I would give my trip to Belgium two thumbs up. Wish I had two pairs of hands so I could give it four thumbs up! Sorry I just had to. Charlie Murphy skit with Rick James on the Dave Chappelle Show :) Definitely don't take my word for it and as I recommended in my last post, go and experience all this for yourself. I learned many wonderful things during my short stay there about the country and its people, the architecture and culture, political situation and of course, its gastronomy. But most importantly, this brief introduction on Belgium has inspired me to want to learn more about it so I'll definitely be going back. Besides, I still have to get to the bottom of the "french" fries conundrum, which according to local legend and just about anyone you ask there, were invented in Belgium, not France.


November 9, 2011

My Intense Love Affair

Those who know me well can tell you that two of the things I enjoy doing most in life are traveling and eating. To say I love doing these things would be a massive understatement. I'd call it an obsession or refer to it as an intense love affair, bordering on dysfunctional.

For starters, there is no country in the world that I would not like to visit at least once. Not one. I've never understood why others find this so difficult to believe. I might be inclined to visit some countries before others and some might do very little to tickle my fancy, but I'd still like to go there someday. I truly believe every country is worthy of being seen and deserves a fair chance.

While some may be content with learning about other countries and cultures through books, movies, documentaries, email forwards with power point slides, or stories from people who have been there, I'd prefer to experience things for myself. For better or for worse. No doubt a talented writer through careful selection and arrangement of words has the ability to create such vivid descriptions that transport a reader so they feel like they are practically there. The same is possible with many other art forms, like film and photography. But in the end, one is still living the experience through someone else's perception, which could never be as fulfilling as experiencing for one self and being able to form our own judgment and opinions. Is this not what life should be all about?

I'm often asked how come I'm not married or have children yet. This is one of the most annoying questions a person could ever ask me and I always consider answering something along the lines of "THAT is none of your damn business". Lucky for those who ask, most of the time I'm in a good mood and able to hold my tongue. Most of my friends from childhood, high school and university are either married and/or have started families; maybe even have 2 or 3 kids by now. Some are happy and others not so happy, although the last will hardly ever admit it. Perhaps they don't even realize they are unhappy because they just don't know any better. Most are relatively content with where they are and the choices they have made, but some undoubtedly have regrets. Well, I too have made my own choices. A conscious choice to take my sweet time. Instead of working to support a family, I work to save up so that I can travel the world. That makes me happy for now, and I'm willing to take my chances and live with the consequences. And just to make it clear, I've had no shortage of marriage proposals over the years so that must mean there is nothing wrong with me.

Then there is food and anything that has to do with it, which always manages to put a smile on my face. Whether I'm growing it, looking at it, buying it, cooking it, eating it, writing or talking about it, learning about it, or advocating it as in the case of organic and non-GMO products. Food is one of my little pleasures in life and my stomach is unequivocally one of the ways to my heart. Many of my most memorable experiences usually include sharing food or some sort of culinary adventure with friends, family and significant others. This saturday coming up, me and one of my dear girlfriends, signed up for a 2-hour Indian cooking class. And coincidentally, while in India about two years ago, I did a 2-day class with my partner at the time, who shared this interest for food and cooking. An amazing experience that will live with me for a long time.

Back when I had a nice big kitchen, one of my favorite things to do on a Saturday was to head down to La Boquería, a fresh food market located in the very heart of Barcelona's Old Town and considered one the best in Europe, where I would happily lose myself for hours; walking up and down the aisles, letting my eyes feast upon the myriad of colors and shapes in front and all around me, taking in all the different wonderful and not so wonderful smells, sounds, and most importantly touching anything I could get my little hands on, whether I was allowed to or not; pulling my old-lady trolley bag through the bustling crowds and filling it with all sorts of local and exotic goodies with which I would later happily experiment in my kitchen. But no day in La Boquería would be complete without a delicious sit-down lunch in one of the many unpretentious tapas bars or restaurants, where I was always sure to find simple yet well-executed dishes made with the freshest, best-quality ingredients available. The way it should be.

Although don't get me wrong, I love ostentatious fine dining just as well. A 6-course tasting menu at a 1 or 2 michelin star restaurant would not easily fail to provide an unforgettable dining experience. Nothing like a bit of molecular cuisine to shake up the taste buds and delight the senses, as long as the chef doesn't get too carried away. In that respect, I'm lucky to live in Spain, known for its unparalleled gastronomy and innovative cuisine. Home to some of the best chefs in the world, including Catalan-born Ferran Adrià, considered number one for many years, and who coincidentally opened his newest tapas bar (Tickets) walking distance from my house. It's practically impossible to get a table but rest assured as soon as I am able to go, I'll let you know how it goes.

But my love is boundless and covers the entire food spectrum. Some of the tastiest dishes I've had, the FDA (or equivalent in other countries) would certainly not approve of. Sprinkled with a little dirt, marinated with sweat, infused in car smoke, or with a portion of flies on the side. It's all good when it comes to street food. Sampling local cuisine as locals eat is one of the most interesting ways to really get in there and fully experience another culture. I would go as far as saying that it's a must, although you need to make sure you choose well and take the minimum necessary precautions. If you come from a developing country like me, chances are you have developed some immunity to such delicacies, but even then every country has its own elaborate concoctions of germs and bacteria, so one must be very careful in order not to end up in the toilet or in the emergency room for half the trip.

Some friends have been asking how come I hadn't written about food and some of the places I've visited yet. Guess I just haven't gotten around to writing about all the wonderful things I'd like to write about. This is mostly due to lack of time, not lack of want or will. But now that the subjects of my intense love affair have been properly introduced, expect to hear more, both often and plenty.

When I started writing this, my original intention was to share some thoughts with you about my most recent adventure. One that quite unexpectedly turned out to be a superb culinary experience as well. The idea was to start by giving you a short introduction on how I feel about traveling and food in general, but as you can see, a few paragraphs easily turned into an entire article. And if I don't stop now, it could just as easily turn into a book.


November 6, 2011

Proud Momma

I've always wondered whether when I have kids, if I ever get around to it, I might turn into one of "those" mothers who are constantly shoving baby pictures down everyone's throat. We all know the type because they seem to be everywhere nowadays. Regularly updating their Facebook page with images of the latest cutest thing their baby did since they last uploaded a picture maybe half an hour before. One picture nearly identical to the other. Kindly sharing with us on Twitter every move the baby makes. Celebrating the first and thereafter every kick, bite, smile, wink, cry, gurgle, grab, laugh, shit, word, step, tooth, sneeze, meal and noise. All either the funniest or the cutest thing you have supposedly ever seen. Now we get to start seeing pictures when the fetus is still growing inside its mother's womb. Ain't that something? So soon we can begin debating on whether the baby has mummy's lips or uncle Charlie's eyes. Naturally the father will always say the "good-sized package", which could not be more obvious to the naked eye, is all thanks to him.

I can already feel every mother out there who is reading this thinking: "Oh just wait until you have some of your own!". Yup, I'm sure I'll probably become one of those too. As a matter of fact, I already understand what it's like to feel so passionate about something you have an unstoppable urge to share it with others. Whether it's a philosophical reflection, the latest book I read, new evidence suggesting the importance of vitamin D or the dangers of genetically modified (GM) foods, my new favorite Asian restaurant, or the latest campaign from I'm almost always, passionately and energetically, trying to shove something down someone's throat. At least I admit it.

On a totally unrelated side note, I'm proud to announce that today my blog is one month old.

Ok fine, I suppose you could call me a proud momma. I want to shout it out loud and share my joy with the rest of the world. Cheesy as it may sound. Or at least with those of you who are actually reading this anyway. So I'm going to tell you all about my baby even if you don't really want to hear it. Thought it would be fun to share with you some stats from the first month in case you might be curious about its progress.

I created the blog and posted my first entry exactly a month ago on October 6th and since then it's had 882 pageviews, out of which 777 were in the last 3 weeks of October and 105 in what has passed of November. We need to subtract about 30 from that total number because those would have been me before I figured out how to stop tracking my own pageviews.

The bulk of my readers are from Spain, United States and Dominican Republic but I also have some fans in Belgium, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Mexico, Switzerland, Haiti, Anguila, France, Argentina, Austria, Ireland, and apparently Russia, Netherlands, Japan and Hong Kong as well. Surprised? Yeah, me too! I'm particularly intrigued by Russia because I don't think I know anyone living there and this was before I started linking to posts on Facebook. So if you're still out there, I'd love to hear more from you.

A small group of very special people have actually gone the extra mile to show me that they enjoy reading my blog by signing up to follow in one way or another and I would really like to thank them all for their support. I almost sound like I'm giving a speech at an award ceremony. There are 13 of you following with Google Friend Connect, 7 males and 6 females. I am so relieved that this number is balanced. It's not my looks. Then there are 2 people who are subscribed via RSS and another 12 who are subscribed to email updates. I'd say not bad at all for the first month. By the way, if you would like to subscribe to this blog and are not sure how to do this, check out my earlier post on "Ways to Follow this Blog".

Now let's get down to the most important aspect of the blog which would be the writing itself. So far, I've written 9 posts, which would make this one number 10. Arguably number 9 if you consider how short the first test entry was. The topics have varied widely from nutrition and historical events to survivalism and current world politics. As I promised, whatever is going through my mind on any given day. At the moment, I'm posting a new article on average every 3 or 4 days but would like to bring that down to every other day and eventually maybe even post daily.

Here are the posts and some stats in order of popularity:

        When Shit Hits The Fan
        Oct 24, 2011 · 4 comments · 94 Pageviews

        Not All Fats Are Created Equal
        Oct 18, 2011 · 2 comments · 82 Pageviews

        The New Libyan Democracy
        Oct 27, 2011 · 6 comments · 49 Pageviews

        The Meaning of Thawra
        Oct 9, 2011 · 2 comments · 41 Pageviews

        Why Start a Blog?
        Oct 6, 2011 · 6 comments · 39 Pageviews

        October 12th: A Time for Celebration or Mourning?
        Oct 15, 2011 · 4 comments · 34 Pageviews

        Great Writers: Oscar Wilde
        Oct 12, 2011 · 2 comments · 25 Pageviews

        Ways to Follow this Blog
        Oct 20, 2011 · 14 Pageviews

        Testing 123
        Oct 6, 2011 · 9 Pageviews

The total number of comments from various people throughout the different articles is 14. This number does not include my replies.

As I mentioned in my first real post, I started this blog so that I can experiment with different forms of writing and about all sorts of different topics. Writing is one of those things I've loved doing since early in life but for various reasons I stopped doing it for a while. And although I meant to start again on many occasions, I always managed to find a good excuse not to do so in the past 20 years. So the idea of a blog was one which I'd been considering for a couple of years but the actual decision to finally set it up came on one of those days when we tell ourselves "it's either now or never". This is one of the best decisions I've made in my life so far and it's been a tremendous experience. For you this might be just another blog out there but for me, its creation has set a chain of events in motion and it serves as a constant reminder that one month ago I made a decision to follow my dreams in order to see where they lead.


October 26, 2011

The New Libyan Democracy

A few days ago, a good friend and one who knows me very well, informed me that Gaddafi was dead before I'd even had the chance to check the news for that day. Perhaps he was trying to inspire me to write my next post on the subject but I chose to keep quiet and wait for the excitement to fade down. I was also giving myself some time to process and reflect upon what had happened. But yesterday another friend emailed an article and after reading it, I could no longer remain in silence.

According to this article, the president of Libya's National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, announced last sunday that the Sharia, or Islamic code of conduct, would be the main source of legislation for the new Libya and that any laws that contradict the Sharia will be nullified. He said for example that polygamy will now be legal. Hooray right? In some countries where Islamic law is strictly enforced women are not allowed to drive or to vote. I suppose one must respect others' religious beliefs but there are certain universal human rights we should all be allowed no matter who our God is. Not sure about you, but I find it difficult to understand how a country where women don't have the right to vote can be considered a democracy. I wonder how Libyan women feel about this new government. I'm sure a few smart ones will be trying to get the hell out.

According to Islam, men and women are equals. Yet one of the most controversial Quran verses, 4:34 states that "Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand (taken from As many bible verses, Quran verses can be looked at in many different ways so it basically all comes down to interpretation.

Obviously Abdul-Jalil's comments were not well received by the international community. He actually issued a press statement the next day to reassure the unhappy folks that the new government would be led by moderate Muslims. But just how moderate and under whose interpretation? He could not understand why the press made such a big deal about his original announcement. Hmmmm really? At this point, one can only hope the best for the sake of the Libyan people.

Many are happy that Gaddafi is finally dead and perhaps rightly so. There is overwhelming evidence that his regime was both corrupt and violent. But personally I like to always look at both sides of a story because things are seldom black and white. The press can make or break anyone. The guy certainly made some decisions that made him highly unpopular with the big boys like proposing the nationalization of Libya's oil reserve a couple of years ago. And we know what happens when a country doesn't want to play ball with the big boys. More recently, he was advocating for the unification of African countries and pushing for the introduction of a single African currency made from gold. This would've had a disastrous impact on the Dollar and Euro, and therefore the world's economy.

I'm not condoning dictatorships but let's not forget some dictators have done more for their countries and people than governments who claim to be democratic. Chavez and Castro are good examples. Under Fidel's leadership and without the support of the US and other world powers, Cuba has become one of the best countries in the world to live in, in terms of quality of life. Cuban people, for example, enjoy some of the best quality free health care and education. According to UNICEF, the adult literacy rate in Cuba between 2005 and 2008 was 100%. How many countries can say that? There is still no excuse for not allowing democratic elections but sometimes uneducated masses can benefit from a little "tough" love in the same way a child would from his parents.

I'm not saying some of these dictators haven't done awful things but then again, doesn't this happen in many other countries who take pride in calling themselves a democracy? Perhaps some are better than others at covering their tracks and overall, have a much more refined PR system in place. Gaddafi tortured and killed many of his opposers but we've all heard stories about what happens down in Guantanamo Bay and prisoners are certainly not receiving a 5-star treatment there. There are lots of videos showing Gaddafi's armed forces and supporters killing innocent civilians but in the chaos of war it must be difficult to differentiate between those who have the potential to harm you and those who have no intentions. I guess one would not know unless put in that situation but I'm willing to bet staying alive would be the highest priority. And what about the dozens of Gaddafi supporters found dead with gunshot wounds through the back of the heads and hands tied? No one really seems to be talking much about that. Although supposedly US Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz raised these concerns in Washington and asked for a proper investigation.

Several videos have been going around on the Internet showing Gaddafi was alive when he was captured, and how he was teased and abused by rebel fighters. One particularly disturbing shows a rebel sticking some sort of an object, a stick or a knife, up his butt. I would not wish such things even to my own worst enemy. The official story is that he died from his wounds while in captivity but that is very difficult to believe somehow.

For the curious ones out there, here are a couple of videos posted on YouTube. The first shows a different side of Gaddafi and some of the things he has done for his people. The second looks at the other possible reasons why Libya was invaded.


October 24, 2011

When Shit Hits The Fan

Ever seen one of those apocalyptic movies in which the world as we know it falls into complete anarchy and chaos, and wondered how you would personally cope in those situations? Whether it's an alien invasion, a meteor threatening to destroy the Earth, an imminent nuclear or terrorist biological attack, the spread of a highly infectious virus, a natural disaster of catastrophic consequences or a worldwide financial meltdown, some seem to be better prepared than others.

These individuals have somehow amassed the necessary skills and possess the know-how and mental preparedness in order to not only survive but even thrive in these extreme situations, and so they become the main characters of the story while thousands and perhaps millions of others play their insignificant part as extras. These are the unlucky ones who get caught in a crossfire and catch a bullet intended for the protagonist. Could be just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time but in general, it seems the better prepared have a greater chance to beat the odds.

Most of us prefer not to even think about such scenarios. Fair enough. But know there are a whole lot of people out there who have been preparing for a long time for that moment if and when all hell breaks loose. Granted some of the situations depicted in Hollywood movies seem so farfetched, even the most prepared don't stand a chance. At this point you might think to lay down and await certain death would be the best option. But it would be impossible to deny the very essence of our human survival instinct. Difficult to imagine our Paleolithic ancestors giving up because it was just too damn cold during the last Ice Age to even attempt survival.

Without wanting to sound crazy and alienate my few loyal readers, if not too late already, all I'm saying is that it would not hurt to have some sort of a plan if we were ever caught up in extreme and dangerous situations. Ideally an elaborate escape plan, knowledge, skills, equipment, tools and provisions that might allow us to get out of potentially unsafe circumstances and improve our chances of survival. Rest assured nearly every billionaire in the planet has his own little private island somewhere remote used not only for vacationing purposes but also to stash away food and provisions in their nuclear-proof bunkers. Their private planes and helicopters not only serve as a comfortable means of transportation for the time being but also as a convenient escape medium if required. Is it possible that these people know something that the rest of us ignore?

Most of us have plenty to worry about on a day-to-day basis and are more concerned with how we'll get to the end of the month, so starting small may be a good option. Sometimes as simple as learning to defend ourselves with our bare hands or understanding the basics of first aid and CPR which can be quite useful even in everyday life.

The problem is we have become victims to our own clever creations. Lazy yet demanding, addicted to the pleasures and shiny brights lights of modern life. Probably not even God imagined it would become as easy as flipping a switch when he said "let there be light!". Technology has made it so easy to go about our daily chores that we have forgotten the value of hard work and skilled hands. We understand what it's like to be independent when we no longer live under our parents' roof, pay our bills and provide for our basic necessities, but we have no idea what it's like to be self-sufficient.

In an apocalyptic scenario, urban areas would quickly become dangerous places to be in. Millions of people crowded in relatively small areas. All fighting for survival and for that last piece of bread by resorting to any means necessary. One only needs to go into a supermarket in Miami after a hurricane warning has been issued to get a taste (in a much smaller scale) of what that would be like. People become quite vicious. They say we're social animals but at times like these, I can assure you that our animalistic nature would prevail over the need to gather socially or belong to any group. As Polish writer and journalist Tadeusz Borowski once wrote "There is no crime that a man will not commit in order to save himself".

In these situations, safety becomes almost as important as procuring food, drinkable water and suitable shelter. To be in decent shape and be able to defend yourself would certainly increase your chances of survival. I'm not advocating the use of firearms but knowing how to point and shoot a gun (if you can get your hands on one) might serve to get you out of a few sticky situations. To borrow some ideas from Neil Strauss' book "Emergency" (highly recommended), knowing how to turn a credit card into a knife, pick a lock, open a padlock with a soda can, hot-wire a car, lose a pursuit vehicle, defend yourself from attack dogs and escape from flexicuffs, would only enhance the probabilities.

Guess one doesn't need to be very smart to understand the need to get as far away from the city as possible if faced with a crisis of this magnitude. But for those who manage to survive and get out, how many would last longer than two weeks out in the wild with only their bare hands and clothes on their backs without understanding at least the very basic notions of survival in the wilderness? We're talking DIY (Do It Yourself) but not the type you learn from putting together a piece of furniture from Ikea. For starters, if you know how to make a fire you'd be one step ahead of the rest in a scenario where you find yourself with no electricity, lighter or matches. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? Now you have a fire to help guide you in the darkness, keep you warm if it's cold, and cook the food which might help you hang in there a little longer.

Basic construction skills might come in handy when you're faced with the daunting task of building shelter for yourself. But before you even get to that point, you'll need to have built the necessary tools out of stone, wood and whatever other materials you can find. And what about procuring food and drinkable water? Imagine if you had to hunt for food. Those who have tracking skills and some experience hunting/fishing may have a lesser chance of going hungry, while you might have to be content with eating the wild plants and berries you gathered if available, providing you're able to differentiate those which are edible from the toxic and potentially deadly ones. Additionally, it would help if you know how to clean and butcher the animal, and the principles of food conservation. Basic navigation skills, like how to find your way around without a compass, might also be useful.

I'm sure surviving in the wild is no easy task but it can't be impossible if our ancestors did it millions of years ago with a much less developed brain than we presume to have nowadays and certainly less resources. Even our grandparents did things with their hands which we would not dream of doing ourselves these days.

The quicker one becomes aware that there is even the slightest possibility of any of these extreme scenarios coming true and that even the best-willed government and relief agencies might not be able to provide citizens sufficient help, the more one understands the importance of developing survival skills and learning to become more self-sufficient. Many of these life skills might even be useful in less extreme everyday situations. The task may seem overwhelming at first but one can always start by taking baby steps in that direction.


October 19, 2011

Ways to Follow this Blog

This is one post I never expected to be writing so soon. But hey, I'm not complaining.

Some of you, albeit mostly family and friends, have expressed an interest in following my blog but are not sure exactly how to do this. I figured for every person that actually takes the time to write or talk to me about it, there must be at least another three who don't have the time to bother. So I will do my best to explain some of the different ways of following, the pros and cons, and how to go about setting up each one. I'll try to provide some general information, but will keep it short because there are literally hundreds of thousands of articles out there on this subject. These instructions mostly apply to this blog.

Keep in mind that I am by no means an expert on anything blog related but the beauty of the Web is that knowledge and information are readily available to those who seek. Unfortunately, there is a LOT to sift through and you also have to filter out all the garbage, which is what I'm hoping I did here for you.

So, let us get straight down to business...

Subscribe in a Reader:

One of the most common ways to follow a blog or website is to subscribe to its RSS feed. RSS is short for "Real Simple Syndication" and it's a very popular technology which allows users to receive updated information from all the websites they follow. However, in order to receive these feeds or updates, you will need a reader. One of the most popular is Google Reader and if you already have a Google account, there is no need to create a new one. You can also subscribe to a reader using MyYahoo! and AIM. Other popular readers include Bloglines, Newsgator, Netvibes and Pageflakes.

Once you have a reader, it's as simple as clicking on the "Subscribe in a reader" link which you'll find on the right-side column of any page in my blog. You will be asked to select a reader and you're pretty much done. The link looks like this:

Subscribing via RSS in a reader can be very convenient because you receive updates from all the blogs and websites you follow in one platform. You can also organize and share information with others easily. However, you do need to go into your reader to access this information. Unless you also follow by email..

Follow by Email:

Whether you decide to subscribe in a reader or not, you can chose to follow a blog by email. With this option, you'll receive an email with the updated content on those days in which I post new articles. All you need to do is enter your email address in the box provided for "Follow by Email", which is also located on the right-side column, directly under the "Follow Via RSS" option. This is what it looks like:

Once you click on Submit, a small window will pop up in which you'll be asked to enter some letters in order to help prevent spam. Do that then click on the button to Complete Subscription Request. Shortly after, you'll receive an email with a link you need to click on in order to verify the subscription.

This is a good option if you only follow a few blogs or websites, and these don't update information very frequently.

Join the Site with Google Friend Connect:

This is the method I understand the least about and I'm still trying to get my head around it.

Google Friend Connect appears to be the most interactive way to follow a blog or website because it allows users to engage more dynamically with the content and other users. It works in a similar way as a social networking site. For example, you can post comments, send messages and invite other users to join, as well as look at their profiles and the list of sites they own and/or have joined. You can create a GFC account very easily using existing accounts from Google, Blogger, OpenID, Yahoo, AIM, Netlog, Plaxo, or Twitter. The first two are the best to use if you want to benefit from all the integrated features.

To follow with GFC you will need to click on the link to "Join this site" also located on the right-side column of my blog. You will be ask to select a profile to join with, or if you are already signed in with Google, you'll just need to select whether you want to follow the blog publicly or privately. Following the blog publicly will display your profile image with a link to your GFC profile on the Followers box. This is a nice little way to let the blog owner and the rest of the world know that you are a fan. The link you need to click on looks like this:

The one thing I don't really understand and haven't been able to figure out is how a GFC Follower views new content published. I personally use my Blogger profile with GFC and I view the updates for websites I follow on my Dashboard and on Google Reader but I'm not sure how it works with Google, Yahoo, Twitter and the rest. What I normally do is combine GFC with the "Follow by Email" option.

Add to Favorites:

If all the above just seems too complicated for you, the easiest way to follow, and that which involves the least amount of commitment per say, is to bookmark my blog's URL so that you can easily come back to it some other time. I assume this method doesn't require a lot of explaining. The main problem with following in this way is that you won't know when I post new articles, and since I don't post everyday, you will need to check in from time to time. Also, if you follow more blogs and depending on how many, this becomes an even less efficient method.

Hopefully this post helped clear things up a bit but if you still have questions, I'll be more than happy to answer or try to find the answer for you. Also, if it contains erroneous information or you can help improve it in any way, please don't be shy and comment.

And honestly, I don't mind if and how you follow. There are millions of blogs out there and mine is not going to win any major awards anytime soon. I'm hopeful it will get more interesting though, as I add new content and improve on my writing skills, which let's not forget, is the main reason why I started this blog. For now, just the thought that I may have some readers out there makes me one happy camper!


October 17, 2011

Not All Fats Are Created Equal

Arthur Schopenhauer once said.. "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."

Copernicus' Heliocentricity, Einstein's Relativity and Darwin's Evolution are all good examples of theories which were initially discarded as preposterous and nonsensical, yet in this day and age, they are not only regarded as universal truths but also as some of the greatest discoveries humankind has ever made.

The problem is we become comfortable with what we know and believe to be true. We tend to get attached to people, ideas, situations and even places. It starts during childhood when we are most susceptible and have little choice but to place our undivided trust in parents, teachers and other authoritative figures, many of whom no doubt have our best interest in mind but perhaps don't know better themselves. As we get older and become more set in our ways, old ideas and opinions are even more difficult to shake off.

So if you've never been exposed to the ideas in this article, please don't be alarmed. Read with an open mind. By no means go around believing everything you read or hear but if you come across new and interesting ideas that are worth exploring, do investigate further and most importantly, demand proof and be critical.

What if suddenly someone told you that saturated fats are not nearly as unhealthy as they are made out to be? For as long as we can remember, we have been told that saturated fats and cholesterol are the villains. But what if there is more to the story?

The notion that saturated fats are not only good but actually essential in order to maintain good health and to prevent chronic and degenerative diseases is one that is closely linked to the Paleolithic movement, so let's start with that. The Paleolithic diet (also referred to as Paleo, hunter-gatherer or caveman diet) is based on the theory that our human physiology and genetics is essentially the same as that of our ancestors perhaps even millions of years ago. To be more specific those of the Paleolithic era, which began roughly 2.5 million years ago and ended with the development of agriculture a little over 10,000 years ago. Therefore our dietary requirements would not have changed much either because such changes don't just happen overnight. They are the result of thousands and thousands of years of evolution. So that makes us all still hunter-gatherers and it should be as simple as eating what our bodies are designed to eat.

This would be an extremely long article if we get into the details of the Paleo diet so let us stick to the fats :)

Imagine the days when procuring food wasn't as easy as going down to your local supermarket. The diet of our ancestors consisted mainly of wild game and fish, whatever wild plants and fruits (mainly berries) they could gather when in season and other delicacies they got a hold of occasionally like eggs and nuts. That is a whole lot of fat. Saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. All good. In those days, fat was regarded as a commodity. Fat stored as energy which would come in pretty handy during times when food wasn't as available, and this happened more often than not.

But not all fats are created equal. We're talking about naturally-occurring animal and vegetable fats such as those found in wild game and fish, grass-fed beef and free-range chicken, coconut and avocado. These are essential fats which our body needs in order to perform all sorts of bodily functions. Did you know for instance that the human brain is actually made up of fat and cholesterol? So when you limit your intake of these you are basically robbing your brain of the raw materials it needs to perform ideally. Research also shows saturated fats play an important role in achieving improved cardiovascular and liver health, strong bones and immune system, healthy lungs, among many others.

Bad fat is unnatural trans fat, rancid fats and excess Omega-6 from vegetable oils, which are everywhere you look nowadays and have become a modern staple in today's diet. Also beef, pork, sheep, turkey, duck, chicken and any derived products that come from feedlot operations where animals are fed an unnatural diet and injected with all sorts of antibiotics and hormones. Let's not even get into farmed fish. Unfortunately, this is what we mostly eat these days.

So how and when exactly did saturated fats and cholesterol become the bad guys? The "Lipid Hypothesis", which claims the consumption of dietary fats are largely responsible for coronary heart disease, has apparently been around since the 1850s but had been dismissed for not offering sufficient proof. However, it was brought back in the limelight and made popular by Dr. Ancel Keys in 1953 after he did some research and published a paper on the subject. Many claim there were fundamental issues with this study and in fact, the theory has been disproved by many subsequent studies. But that didn't stop this hypothesis from becoming the basis of today's dietary recommendations: Eat low-fat.

And in this way began the vilification of saturated fats and cholesterol, fueled by the corporate interests of the vegetable oil and food industry, corrupt government officials and agencies, and let's not forget, irresponsible science. The same people who made us believe for decades that margarine was the healthy alternative when it's one of the worst poisons you can actually expose your body to. Thankfully this fact is now widely-known.

Also regarded as the culprits in modern-day diet according to the Paleo diet (and worth looking into) are sugar, especially in the form of fructose, and excessive carbohydrate consumption. But that's a whole different article which I promise to write sometime in the future.

If you want to investigate further into the subject, I can recommend a few books:

        · Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas

        · The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson

        · The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf

Also, be sure to check out Dr. Mercola's website for articles on this and other important health-related subjects. Prepare yourself to be shocked though because this is definitely not your typical everyday nutritional, fitness and health information.


October 14, 2011

October 12th: A Time for Celebration or Mourning?

Every year the same. October 12th arrives and people all over the world either rejoice or grieve with mixed feelings of remembrance. So who celebrates and who mourns? And most importantly why? The fact is on this very same day a little over 500 years ago, a discovery so significant in nature was to be made which would shape the course of history in the most unimaginable ways.

When the world as we knew it learned of the existence of the "New World", there must have been great cause for celebration. Consider the times. Following one of the darkest periods humankind had ever seen, in every sense of the word, the discovery of vast new exotic lands filled with hope, opportunity and untapped natural (and human) resources could not but have been embraced by most.

No doubt many profited from such discovery but as things are seldom black and white, not all parties involved were equally benefitted or had reason to rejoice. In fact, this was neither the first nor the last instance of one civilization prospering at the great cost of another's downfall.

I was born precisely on the very island where Christopher Columbus decided to build the first city in the New World. To be more exact, I was born right in this very same city. I'm of Spanish, Italian and Scottish descent as far as I can trace back, but if we look deeper, I'm sure to have some African and native Taino blood in me as well. So this is not a simple case of your people vs. my people. The way I see it, it's a matter of solidarity with those who were less fortunate. From one human being to another. In the same way one might mourn for the victims of the Holocaust or September 11, we must not forget the atrocities committed against the original inhabitants of America in the name of God, progress and in pursuit of gold. We must learn to accept, move on and even forgive but never forget.

That said.. For one to go as far as accusing a Spanish person today of having stolen all of 'their' gold and precious resources and to have enslaved, raped and killed most of their indigenous people would be a bit unfair, as it would be to condemn entire nations for the actions of a few greedy individuals.

So the next time October 12th comes around, whether you choose to celebrate, mourn or do both is entirely up to you but keep in mind whatever your point of view, you are likely to find someone who feels the opposite way. Make it a point to understand where the other person is coming from or at the very least, show a little respect.


October 11, 2011

Great Writers: Oscar Wilde

If you have an insatiable thirst for knowledge and are not familiar with TTC, you should definitely be. The Teaching Company produces audio recordings of actual university lectures from some of the most renowned professors in a variety of disciplines ranging from literature, history and philosophy to applied sciences, business and economics. For the wanna-be eternal scholar like me, this is simply gold.

In my first class, titled "Great Writers, Their lives and Works", I'm learning about some of the greatest writers of all time. Not necessarily the best known. So far, we've covered the likes of Oscar Wild, Beatrix Potter, H.L. Mencken, Robert Burns and Maurice Maeterlinck. I must admit, other than being vaguely familiar with some of Oscar Wild's work and one of Beatrix Potter's most famous characters called Peter the Rabbit, I knew very little about the lives and legacies of these influential writers.

So it's been an interesting and humbling experience for me. Something you'll hear me say a lot because I will be the first to admit that I know very little and I'm often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of knowledge out there. So much to learn so little time and as far as I am aware, no one has yet invented a way to make the day last longer than 24 hours. Consider that most of us have to work 8 hours a day to pay the bills, add at least 1 hour for commuting to and from the office, another 6-8 hours destined for sleeping, and as if this wasn't enough, we have to eat 3 times a day and find time to shower at least once. Note that I hadn't even gotten into time wasted, I mean spent, with friends, family and significant others in all sorts of social gatherings and mating rituals. It's depressing and I can go on but I'll spare you the details of my philosophical reflexions.

Back to the writers.. I don't have time to talk about them all but one in particular truly deserves a special mention.

Oscar Wilde, an eccentric Irish man of unquestionable talent, wit and charm, considered one of the most prominent people of his time. He excelled in his studies at Trinity College in Dublin and then at Oxford. Shortly after graduation, he moved to London, where among other impressive achievements, he became one of the most popular playwrights of the time and was also well-known for his witty epigrams and his outspoken support for aestheticism. Of his work, I've read the only novel he ever published "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and what many consider his masterpiece play "The Importance of Being Earnest". Both bold stands, although at least in the case of his plays done tactfully through good ol' humor, against the imposed moral and social restrictions of the Victorian era. Ever present in his work were themes such as decadence and debauchery, duplicity and hypocrisy, homosexuality and sexual anarchy.

Ironically, or maybe not really so, he is equally remembered for his scandalous public disgrace concerning matters of sexual preference which resulted in his conviction and a 2-year prison sentence. Being a homosexual was not only considered immoral but was actually a capital offense and prosecuted by law during the Victorian era in Britain, while child labor for instance, was not believed to be quite as serious. Children as young as 5 years old were sent to work in coal mines, many of whom did not live to see their 25th birthday. Those were dark times and we've certainly come a long way since then.

One of my favorite and most famous Wilde quotes is: "I can resist everything but temptation". I'd say that makes him rather human, wouldn't you agree?


October 8, 2011

The Meaning of Thawra

'Thawra' is the transliterated form of a word in Arabic which means uprising, revolt or revolution.

Not unlike many others growing up in the 60s and 70s, my parents more than sympathized with revolutionary ideals. Within such circles, my father apparently met a woman of Arabic descent who suggested this as a potential name for me and sure enough, with some tweaking of the letters thankfully, little miss Zaura was born. Smack in the middle of Hurricane David, considered one of the deadliest hurricanes in the latter part of the 20th century with a death toll of over 2000 unfortunate souls, mostly in Dominican Republic but also affected the rest of the Caribbean and the eastern front of USA. So I was born in complete and utter chaos and I mean revolution. Not a bad entrance into this world huh?

A few months ago, I considered getting a tattoo with the word Thawra in Arabic. This is what it would have looked like:


A quick reflection on the current state of world affairs was sufficient to uncover the potentially dangerous implications of traveling around the globe with such a significant concept tattooed on my arm.

With vivid imagination, I pictured situations such as the following, upon arriving at JFK airport in New York City:

-US Immigration Officer: Ma'am, what is the meaning of this jiberish you have here?
-Me: It means revolution in Arabic. Sir.
-US Immigration Officer: Kindly step over this way and follow me into my office please.

Almost as insidious as uttering the word 'bomb' inside an airplane.

On a related sidenote, here are some interesting findings about the meaning and usage of 'zaura', which I've encountered over the years:

  • A US-based company called Zaura Technologies. They had a very nice website a few years back but seemed to have disappeared off the map. Every so often I check on the domain registration information for hoping it becomes available one day but they keep renewing it. To that I say.. If it didn't work out, let it go! Let some other Zaura out there have a crack at it.
  • A small populated area called Zaura in the Kano region of Nigeria.
  • A stream named Zaura in Russia about 3056km from Moscow. To be more precise, its exact coordinates are latitude of 53.83 (53° 49' 60 N) and longitude of 86.17 (86° 10' 0 E).
  • An elegant model of formal gown in a collection from OroNovias Group called Zaura, which ironically I would totally wear. Minus the big puffy flower on my head. See for yourself here.

Apart from that, surprisingly more and more people these days are named Zaura and it's also a last name, which apparently originated in the region of Murcia in Spain.

Many believe, myself included, that our names play a significant role in determining and shaping our destiny. Others believe one's name will invariably affect the personality he/she will eventually develop. Some researchers have even established a connection between people's names and the illnesses they are likely to develop later in life. We grow into our names, so to speak. As far as epic names go, I'd say mine is not an easy one to live up to but nevertheless, I'll give it my best.


October 6, 2011

Why Start a Blog?

I'm not doing this to make money. At least it's not my intention just yet. The purpose of this little experiment is to address my inexplicable fear of writing or what I've come to lovingly refer to as my "20-year writer's block".

During the early years of my life, roughly between the ages of 5 and 12, all I ever really wanted in life was to become a writer. That is of course, apart from the typical childhood wish list, which unavoidably included more playtime and ice cream. I was an omnivorous reader and wrote many short stories, poems and political speeches during these years. Creatively-speaking, I can safely say it was or has been the most productive period in my life so far.

So what happened you ask? Life is what happened! First came the teenage years characterized by its daily dosage of drama and a whole lot of "my first this" and "my first that". I was way too busy experiencing life to bother writing about it. Didn't even have time to keep a journal although even the most insignificant of my experiences are safely ingrained in my memory. Then came the college years. Ohh the college years :) Wish I can say I remember half as much as during my high school years but I spent half the time passed out on my bathroom floor and the rest in vegetable mode recovering from the previous night's binge drinking and partying. Probably an exaggeration but seriously.. With more than enough reading and writing assignments from professors, who had time to read and write for personal reasons in those days? Then came the boys, the jobs, the bills and the fears. What would I write about? Was I even any good at it? In short, I became a chronic well-seasoned procrastinator.

So if I stopped writing at the age of 12 and it's been 20 years since then, you can easily do the math. Not much has changed since then. I still have no clue what to write about or if I'm any good at it. But when you consider that your next-door neighbor, ex boyfriend and his mother, plumber, nephew and even 79-year-old granny all have blogs, one can't help but think maybe it's not that difficult. I'm just going to write, for the sake of getting some thoughts down in "paper", about whatever comes to mind on any given day, whether it's a new book I read or a place I visited recently. I'm not expecting to have any followers but if you do happen to stumble upon one of my entries and feel like leaving a comment, I'm sure it will be much appreciated. Even a hate message.

Without further ado, I would like to warmly welcome myself into the wonderful world of Blogging, where dreams may or may not come true!


Testing 123

My first blog entry :)