Sheep and so on…

Oh Dear… it has been more than two weeks since I posted in this poor neglected blog.  I often say that the name, “Changes in our Lives” is so appropriate for me at the age I am now because the past ten years have been topsy-turvy in almost every way. And the Corona Virus pandemic has served to make them more so.

I bet most non-writers are unaware that a lot of authors choose stressful periods to start a new project. I do, because writing is an escape. Immersing myself in the story means that I get to take a break from the reality of COVID 19. My characters have dreams and moments of despair. They get to eat whatever they want and not get fat (unless I need to punish them a bit)

Sometimes they fall in love, or in lust, and back to Square One in a matter of a couple of chapters. They can be as rich and famous as Queen Elizabeth or as beautiful as Sophia Loren. But most are ordinary people who have an extraordinary experience. Such is the case with my group of beguiling individuals.  In my attempt to make them as real as possible, I learn about a whole gamut of facts. For example, one of my leading men is a sheep rancher. I had to learn a lot about these animals.

Now don’t stop reading. This is interesting, or at least I think it is.

People who mindlessly follow others are often described as “sheep”. But is this ever a case of mistaken identity. Sheep are highly intelligent animals. Within minutes of their birth, new-born lambs can stand and walk with their flock. They have to keep up because they will literally die if they are not with other sheep. Their socialization is integral to their survival.

Depending on the richness of the grasses and other plants, an acre of land can support 2 – 4 sheep. So lots of space is required for a large flock.

Sheep can recognize up to 50 fellow sheep faces and remember them for two years. Sheep are able to learn their way through complicated weather and terrain. Sheep use plants and other substances to prevent or treat disease, and they teach their babies to do the same.

Just like humans, sheep feel afraid, angry, bored, sad and happy. They have both emotional and cognitive reactions to what happens around them. Those who know sheep will tell you that some of them are pessimists and others are optimists.

Sheep form strong bonds with one another. They are able to recognize and distinguish between different emotional expressions… calm, startled, and fearful… they can also identify these emotions in human faces.

So where am I going with all this? Is my central protagonist a loner like the young shepherd mentioned in the memorable “Angela’s Ashes”, by Frank McCourt? Or is he modeled after the psychopath in Thomas Harris’, “Silence of the Lambs”? Or might the plot be similar to a tale by another Joanna (Cannon), about two young girls in “The Trouble with Goats and Sheep”?       

Hm-m-m-m, you’ll need to wait a year or more to find out. But as the chapters take shape, I’ll preview a couple of them. My last book, “Circles”, a family memoir about my Dutch aunt and her bravery during WWII, was published in 2015, so I am excited to be working on this.

And I have the pandemic to thank for the gift of time, a commodity in short supply during normal times. You remember of course what they say about ill winds… ´tis a rare one that brings no good at all.      

Influencers in Uxmal

Every day I ask myself what I can do to lessen the rigors of “voluntary isolation.” I am still extremely careful but not as much so as I was at the start of the pandemic. However, I can see that taking a few liberties will land me on a slippery slope.

The scientists and governments all over the world tell us – Wear a mask, wear a mask – Please wear a mask. I do, and so do most other people. Yes, masks look dorky and in Yucatan’s hot, humid climate, they are not at all comfortable. But if masks are going to keep us safe, we need to wear them.

Then, over the weekend, I found out that a group of super-hot “influencers” were in Uxmal, running all over the site, mask-less, shirt-less, and clue-less. For their shenanigans and disrespect while visiting Uxmal, and their refusal to adhere to the established health code, INAH-Yucatán (National Institute of Anthropology and History in Yucatan) gave these influencers the heave-ho.

According to Michelle Fridman, the State of Yucatan’s tourism marketing maven, these paragons of social media have a combined following of more the 15,000,000. She says they are not receiving any “money” for their efforts on our behalf, but I wonder about the air tickets, hotel rooms, food, and other perks. Somehow I don’t think they are covering their own “incidentals”.

What is going on here?

In Yucatan, the authentic Maya are not shown as the spokespeople for the “promotion” of the ancient cities, built by their ancestors. No, for those purposes, we have the influencers.

How the tourism marketing and targeting strategies are contrived, differs very little from the tactics of ancient Roman rulers´ to control their citizen’s mindset. Flash & fluff, smoke & mirrors, bread & circus. There’s not much new. But the pursuit of tourism income should not sacrifice decorum or health protocols. Neither Yucatan’s tourism work force nor its other residents should be forced to accept crass behavior and disrespect as the price we pay for the influencers’ stamp-of-approval. Or anyone else’s either.

Those of us who live in Yucatan need to remember that this parched peninsula is one of the most highly respected and culturally revered areas in the whole world. There is no need to cheapen ourselves or our heritage by trying to present our archaeological sites as sexy and oh-so-cool. Give me a break! Visitors should feel honored to be here, and behave accordingly.

I support the INAH’s decision to oust the influencers from Uxmal.

The 1,001 Arabian Nights Melange

My husband enjoys watching cooking shows on TV, and also likes the short recipe videos on Facebook. The problem is that once the content has appeared, it is nearly impossible to find it again. If Jorge doesn’t have paper and a pencil handy, he relies on his memory if he wants to tell me about the dish and how to make it.

We both like to try new cuisines, so when he told me he’d watched the preparation of a Saudi Arabian recipe, I was game to try it. The list of ingredients sounded like KETO adherent’s worst nightmare. The preparation of this off-the-charts carb-fest became an even bigger challenge because Jorge could not tell me what quantity of each ingredient wold be required. Nonetheless, I was intrigued, and we winged it when it came to measurements. The result was starchier than we’re used to, but tasty.
And so with no additional fanfare (or apologies), I give you:

The 1,001 Arabian Nights Melange

(Serves 6-8)

• Ingredients:

3 cups cooked spaghetti
1 cup cooked lentils
1 cup steamed white rice
1 cup cooked garbanzos
5 medium-sized white onions (cut in rounds and fried in olive oil until golden brown)
8 angel-hair pasta “nests” (fried uncooked in olive oil until golden brown)
Olive oil (as needed for frying)
6 cups of tomato sauce (seasoned with I T. cumin, Salt and Pepper, to taste)
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
20 whole Kalamata olives
½ cup toasted pine nuts
1 ½ cups plain yoghurt

• Preparation:

You need to have first 7 ingredients kept warm, and all ingredients should be placed in separate containers (mise en place) ready to be combined quickly and served at once.

Spread the spaghetti over the bottom of a large bowl. Sprinkle the lentils over top, then add the layer of rice, then the garbanzos and the onions
Using a large spoon, add dollops of the tomato sauce over the onions until one half of the sauce has been used.
Place the angel hair nests on top of the onions. Dollop on half of the remaining tomato sauce over the nests.
Sprinkle the olives, pine nuts and cilantro over the top. and then dollop the rest of the tomato sauce and all of the yoghurt on the very top.

* To Serve

Take the bowl to the table and lightly toss all the ingredients together. Each guest will then serve him or herself from the bowl. This dish is interesting because each bite is a different mixture of texture and taste

Serve with a cucumber and mint salad (slice cucumbers and squeeze the juice of one lemon over them – sprinkle with mint leaves – salt and pepper to taste)

Pair the meal with a chilled crisp white wine