What’s your sign?

Mankind has always been looking for ways of knowing what will happen in the future and trying to find ways to explain and classify their world. Religion and rituals have been part of our human development all along history. Even in our modern times we still try to find explanation in the “meta-world” for things that happen to us.

There are the complex philosophical currents that guide you through the unknown world, religious beliefs from the more established and traditional religions and there are other unorthodox methods that try to give us an orientation based on esotericism and paranormal phenomena. Some movements or may I call them disciplines include alchemy, spiritualism, numerology and astrology among others.

Can you imagine nowadays going to consult the alchemist? Not for sure! I have never even heard of one practicing… Have you? The only ones I’ve seen are depicted in movies or exist only as a book character. However, it would have been an exciting thing to do… Let’s go and ask Merlin!  What was an alchemist’s job? Their main goal was to pursue the creation of the “philosopher’s stone”, which wasn’t really a stone but was an alchemical substance that would have been capable of turning base metals such as lead into gold or silver, besides that they were engaged in astrology, chemistry and medicine. Now I’ve used a definition like the ones I hated in school, a definition that includes again the word to define: alchemist and alchemical. Let’s give it another try. Alchemy: it differs significantly from modern science because it includes Hermetic principles and practices related to mythology, magic, religion, and spirituality. Alchemy was the precursor of modern chemistry and medicine.

Merlin (illustration_from_middle_ages)

Merlin

Next question what does Hermetic mean?  It is the adjective of Hermeticism, which is a religious and philosophical tradition based primarily upon the writing attributed to Hermes Trismegistus or (“Thrice Great”). As you may have also noticed, trying to define a term in this area leads to another definition full of other unknown terms… In case that you’d like to read more about hermeticism, take a look at the Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermeticism  Hermeticism was only open to the initiated and their knowledge was not to be disclosed by any means, it was a closed society.  Mmmm, is that why we call our Tupperware recipients hermetic? 😮

This kind of knowledge that we cannot really grasp or define, that stays kind of obscure and vague, but that requires a profound belief and sometimes a deep knowledge belongs to the area of esotericism. Let’s return to the definition in Wikipedia: “signifies the holding of esoteric opinions or beliefs, that is, ideas preserved or understood by a small group of those specially initiated, or of rare or unusual interest.The term derives from the Greek ἐσωτερικός (esôterikos), a compound of ἔσω (esô): “within”, thus pertaining to interiority or mysticism…” Now we all know! They did it again, the defined term is in the definition… Grrr… Let stick then to the idea that esotericism emphasizes secret or hidden knowledge and includes a vast array of disciplines and movements.
What’s interesting is that all religions have a lot of esoteric elements that may have lost their meaning with the passing of time and the advance of technology… or who knows why…

I was mentioning before that we sometimes try to find an esoteric explanation to events in our lives or try to find guidance in the afterlife, if there is one… Maybe some of us would then go to a spiritist, others to a fortune teller while others would rather write a letter to Santa Claus and send it to the North Pole waiting for an answer that will never arrive 😉 Those would be the ones who don’t believe in anything at all…
Can people with an extra sense really communicate with the afterlife or can they “sense” your sorrows and worries without knowing you? Some maybe very skeptical and may attribute everything to common sense, for example. a young woman who looks for the advice of a card reader is for sure having “love” problems, an older one, is for sure having health problems, etc.
How do you call people who can communicate or channel with the “other” world? They are called psychic. This time lets take a look at Merriam Webster dictionary. Psychic is: “used to describe strange mental powers and abilities (such as the ability to predict the future, to know what other people are thinking, or to receive messages from dead people) that cannot be explained by natural laws. And of a person : having strange and unnatural mental abilities : having psychic powers lying outside the sphere of physical science or knowledge :  immaterial, moral, or spiritual in origin or force. Someone psychic is then a person who’s sensitive to nonphysical or supernatural forces and influences, and is marked by extraordinary or mysterious sensitivity, perception, or understanding…

We now know what alchemy is, but what is spiritualism? Does it have to do with faith? With spirits? With religion? This time, a clear definition: a belief that the spirits of dead people can communicate with living people.   Mmmm, by what means? Modern media like e-mail, telephone or as they have been maybe long dead only by ouija or cards or other older methods? Can spirits communicate with us if we don’t believe in them? This reminds me of many horror movies…

However, people with an open channel able to communicate with the dead are called mediums. They are the medium or channel that manage communication between this and the supernatural world.This phenomenon is a well known one and has been exploded in films, books and even a TV-show, called “Ghost whisperer”.
Do you know or have known someone like that? I’ve personally known two or three who have really impressed me. I’m a rather pragmatic and skeptical person, but in those encounters I couldn’t find a “logical” explanation to the experiences I had.

In the movements I was mentioning there is also the divinatory science of numerology. You may be already guessing… Let’s take Wikipedia: “Numerology is any belief in divine, mystical or other special relationship between a number and some coinciding events… Numerology and numerological divination were popular among early mathematicians, but are no longer considered part of mathematics and are regarded as pseudomathematics or pseudoscience by modern scientists. Today, numerology is often associated with the paranormal, alongside astrology and similar divinatory arts. “ So don’t blame a bad combination of numbers if your bank account shows a negative sign in your monthly balance.

The other discipline mentioned above is astrology. Is it a science or a pseudoscience? It offers more feasible data, if you want to calculate your astral chart. This mathematical calculations are based on the position of the planets the day you were born. It requires the birth date with the exact time of your birth, the place you were born with the geographical coordinates. In this way the astrologer can locate the exact position of the starts at that time and can then calculate the birth chart. This is a very time consuming task and although this other alternative my not be as a exact as a handmade one, you may want to try the birth chart page on http://astrology.about.com/library/bl_freeAstrochart.htm. I was amazed at the results I got, quite true!

There is also the “newspaper” or “Cosmopolitan” astrology, the one you find in magazines or internet pages. I imagine that it isn’t difficult to find a software program or more modern app that can “predict” your day. Would you believe in such a prediction?  Some centuries ago in Greece, we would consult the oracle… Nowadays we sometimes also have to consult THE Oracle to get the prices, the address data or the description of items in our company’s database.

Back to astrology, you may know your zodiac sign, but in case you don’t, you haven’t missed anything at all 😉 My sign is capricorn and I find that some of the sign’s characteristics apply to me while others don’t… But the interesting thing is that many of the characteristics also apply to persons who aren’t capricorn… So it’s up to you to believe or not.

Zodiac sign, capricorn

Capricorn

I do believe in positive thinking and wish you a nice week!

Sleeping, no beauty

Beautiful hours of relaxation and recharging energy. That would be an ideal definition of sleeping. Some people usually get a good rest and enjoy closing their eyes while losing their consciousness for some time. Others fear the time where they have to go to bed and sleep. There are others who have periods of good, relaxing sleep while some other times struggle to fall asleep or wake up in the early morning hours feeling as if they had just arrived from a transcontinental flight …

sleeping cat

Relaxed kitten

I’ve come across a lot of different sleepers. I was bewildered at the sleeping qualities of many Brazilians in São Paulo. While waiting to get their turn at the bank, they got there calmly, sat in an uncomfortable chair, closed their eyes and immediately fell asleep while listening to the TV with some sports event. You may be thinking that they were only resting their eyes, as my grandma used to say while she fell asleep every Sunday watching a soccer match or the ‘corrida de toros’, very popular at that time. I was telling you, how I knew that the men were sleeping, I just observed their relaxed position in the chair, sometimes really dangerous as if they were about to slide from their seats like melting ice. I also noticed their paused breathing and I could sometimes look at the REM movements of their closed eyes. Another type of relaxed sleepers, are the road workers I saw during their lunch break in the metropolis São Paulo. At 12 o’clock they interrupted their jobs, usually something very loud like hammering with a sledge hammer or using a paving machine, at twelve they sat at the curbside, had a small lunch and wherever they were, they laid down on the pavement and slept. I remember walking on the street from home to the next market having to pay attention not to step on someones hand or shoe and wake them. If you imagine the noise of a Mexican or Brazilian street, the hardness of concrete and the not always clean sidewalks, you may admire these sleepers. I think they are the champions! In Munich, I have only seen people in deep sleep traveling in the S-Bahn or sub-urban train. Some of them seem to have a lot of practice because they wake up at the right station and get off the train awake. I couldn’t do it, either I’d still be sleeping in some wagon on the road to nowhere or I could fall to the floor as soon as the doors opened. What a talent of those wonderful sleepers!

Other people have lots of trouble falling asleep and they have to take some kind of chemical help. Some drink a relaxing tea following one of the many different recipes all over the world, others like a friend of mine drink a glass of warm milk with honey, some others drink a beer to relax. Another friend of mine has to sleep with an eye mask and his earplugs with a boring story so that he can fall asleep. By the way, his mask is black and he looks like Zorro… and looking at him I couldn’t fall asleep because I was really amused remembering the old Zorro films with Tyrone Power or the Zorro TV-show when I was a child.

However, insomnia or having a very slight sleep is no joke and I really have consideration for those who suffer from it.

Another sleeping condition we have all experienced is the dreaded snoring. Yes, I can almost see your faces… Snoring is seen by some as a sickness, the phenomenon is called sleep apnea though I don’t know enough of the topic to really define it. on the practical side of life. I’ve heard many types of snores. Some quiet like a deep breathing with a low noise, others middle loud, like a small animal making noises, others like a coffee machine releasing damp, and lets get to the louder ones: a lion, a bear, a dragon, sawing trees, falling trees or even an earthquake!

Sleeping_Dragon_by_blackseagull

Sleeping dragon, by blackseagull from Deviantart

The one who lies at the side of the snoring person (not always a man) is not really happy about that. If you have personally experienced this, you know what I’m talking about, especially if you are one of the difficult or light sleepers. The anger you start developing brings you to a state where you start hating the snorer, even if in normal circumstances you maybe love the person… Any remedies against snoring? Not that I know of… There are even extreme solutions like operating the vellum or whatever tissue that vibrates and causes the snores. I’m not sure if it works, but you know the ideas we can get while trying to sleep next to a snoring person, and without exaggerating, loud snorers don’t have to be sleeping in the same room… Just to close this idea, the Brazilian sleepers in banks, buses, sidewalks were usually men  and I don’t know if they were snoring … but women can also snore… thinking of some people I know 😉

This loud problem may have a radical solution for couples. No, it’s not what you may imagine… It’s simply separate sleeping rooms, if you have enough space at home. There are people who defend this idea, to avoid having hard feelings on their partners because of the deprivation of sleep. However, others tend to fix the idea of a common sleeping room as an indisputable sign of a well functioning ‘marriage’ or relationship. Well, in this case you can judge and decide by yourselves.

Why did I choose this topic? First of all because after an intercontinental trip I’m still having trouble sleeping well… I wake up listening how the birds out of my window also wake up and start to sing… I’m usually a good sleeper and I find this situation a little bit annoying >.<

Secondly, leaving the soccer World Cup aside, there was a recent premiere in the cinemas, Maleficent or the other side of the Sleeping Beauty story. Sleeping a hundred years doesn’t sound that bad, does it? I still don’t know how Maleficent got that idea of punishment for a girl that she didn’t even know. How if Aurora loved to sleep? How if she could’t sleep well in the past fifteen years while living with her three god mothers who may be loud snorers? I especially suspect the older one… Mmmm, the one in the red gown.

Maleficent Angie

I found the idea of presenting the story from another point of view very interesting. As in real life, we usually get to know the version of the story of the ones who won or the ones we know, who are almost always automatically “the good guys”. Watching this version, with Angelina Jolie playing the dark fairy, You get a simplistic psychological explanation of her doings. Nevertheless, if you like spectacular cinema with lots of special effects, fairies and other fantasy creatures you may then want to watch it.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1587310/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Sticking to an older version of the story, it is said that Charles Perrault, a French writer retold the story taken from older narrations and called it “La Belle au Bois Dormant”. Later on the Grimm Brothers changed some parts of it and wrote their own version calling it “Dornröschen”. However, both of them excluded the dark second part of the story which is absolutely not for children or soft hearted people… An old version second part was told by Giambattista Basile, who lived in the 16th and 17th centuries, and talks about the prince finding the sleeping maiden, abusing her and she later on having two children because of this act… Well, what do you think about this surprise? Not that nice or innocent as the Disney versions. By the way, Maleficent may have a big impression on smaller children… of course depending on their experience in going to the cinema.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleeping_Beauty

I hope you had a good night rest or will have one depending on the continent you live in.

Have a nice week!

 

Mexico and its food

Mexico’s cuisine has a very long tradition and an immense variety of dishes influenced by history and its geographical situation.

The very basic ingredients all over the country are corn, beans and chili peppers in all their varieties. There are many vegetables, fruits, herbs and animals that can only be found in traditional dishes in the country. Because of that mosaic of flavors and colors Mexican cuisine has been declared by UNESCO as one of the world’s intangible cultural heritage.

Although all Mexicans are more or less familiar with their specialties, there are dishes that are almost exclusive to one of the 31 federal states and can only be found there.

I can also say that there are the brave Mexicans, who eat almost everything and are used to eating very spicy or very hot food. There is also the not so brave kind… I have to confess that I belong to the second one because I don’t like chilies and I’m not used to eating very typical food.

In my last trip to Mexico I started the gourmet tour in a very well known restaurant called “El Cardenal” in the south of Mexico City. The cardenal, in English cardinal, is a red bird found in North and South America, and just to remind some of my European readers, Mexico is in North America, neither in Central nor “Middle” nor South America, and this last one is not to be confused with Latin America.

We were celebrating three birthdays on the same day and had a very large table. The friendly waiters shared their seasonal specialties and we ordered some starters and a small tequila shot with lemon slices and salt.

I was very excited to have my first Mexican dinner and looked expectantly to the plates that they were serving. They brought some guacamole, the very typical one only with creamy avocados, coriander, lemon juice and green chili peppers. This type of guacamole is usually used as a sauce for either quesadillas or chicharrón, which is pork rinds fried till it gets golden and crusty. Not the best dish for a cholesterol reduced diet 😉  And just to clarify the term quesadillas, those are corn tortillas filled with cheese. If they are hand made and the dough is a little bit thicker they can be filled with potatoes, or squash blossoms (flor de calabaza).

I knew these two starters and enjoyed them with white cheese and warm corn tortillas. Following these two, they brought two nicely decorated stoneware plates with some white stuff with herbs. I didn’t know what it was, but got a little bit suspicious asking my sister what it was. “Mmmm… escamoles”, was her answer rolling her tortilla ready to serve herself a big portion. I started unwinding my Mexican memory and remembered what it really was, saying aloud: “ Oh, my goodness. Those are ants’ eggs! I think I’ll pass!” Some of the guests were delighted and attacked the plate with lots of tortillas while I watched thinking, well, it’s like insect caviar. However, I was a coward and didn’t try them.

IMG_1369

Escamoles

The next dare was served in another stoneware dish called cazuela. In this case I had no doubt, they were what they looked like: worms! They served the specialty of the months of May and June in Central Mexico, the worm that only grows in the agave plant or maguey. They are called Maguey worms. One of the agave plants, the agave tequilana form the Tequila region in Mexico is used to produce tequila.
I could sit next to the escamoles and continue eating my tortilla with guacamole. However, the sight of this dish, was too much to bear for me, so I asked the Maguey worm fans to take them to their side of the table. I was saying that I’m a “bad” Mexican because I don’t like exotic things and I really admired our Russian guests that night who really tried and even liked the worms… not with vodka, but with tequila.

IMG_1370

Maguey worms

There were a lot of spicy dishes to my right and left, but as I had just arrived to Mexico, I ordered a medium beef steak with some beans and it was delicious. For dessert we had some tequila strawberries and guanabana sherbet. Guanabana is a fruit that tastes as a combination of strawberry and pineapple, with some coconut and banana. Simply refreshing and delicious!

237px-guanabana

Guanabana, it’s not a mango.

My next culinary highlight was in Acapulco in the Mexican Pacific Coast. The day we got there we were served a delicious white fish steak in an Aztec marinade… This marinade is prepared with achiote (Bixa orellana) which is a small tree originating from the tropical region of the Americas. The name derives from the Nahuatl word ( language spoken by the aztects) for the shrub, āchiotl.  

Achiote can be found in the market or supermarket as a paste that is usually diluted in vinegar and some orange juice. It is a delicious marinade for fish, pork or white meat.

Another traditional recipe we had in Acapulco was “Pescado a la veracruzana” very similar to the “Pescado a la vizcaína”. It’s not scientifically proven ;-), but I dare to say that the style “ a la veracruzana” is quite hot and includes a lot of chiles of the chilaca sort. If you want to know more about chile you can read here http://www.eatmorechiles.com/chilaca.html

This dish was also delicious though it left my lips and tongue burning!

On our small boat trip surrounding the Acapulco bay we were served ceviche, or in other countries cebiche, made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime, and spiced with chili peppers. Additional seasonings, such as chopped onions, salt, and coriander, may also be added.

I was mentioning that the Mexican cuisine was influenced by its history. Before the Spanish conquerors arrived in the 16th century, there were no big animals such as cows, pigs, horses, etc. and therefore the native cultures covered their protein intake with insects, smaller animals and lots of fish and seafood. Nowadays we can also eat a lot of seafood in modern combinations such as the carpaccio of almeja (clam or mussel) that we had on our second day. The clam meat was very thinly sliced seasoned with a sweet, sour and spicy balsamico vinaigrette. Simply marvelous!

Back in the city… Two other excellent restaurants in Mexico City are “El Bajío” which can be found in different locations and where they don’t use chemical additives, such as artificial chicken broth, to their dishes. I had a mole enchilada, being mole one of the most traditional Mexican dishes with fried beans puree and rice cooked with tomatoes.  The word “mole” is also from the Nahuatl and it simply means sauce. We can find many different types of mole and in many colors according to the main ingredients. One of the best known, even out of Mexico, is a brown or reddish brown thick sauce that contains chocolate as a main ingredient. If we go back in history, one of the versions says that the word chocolate comes from the nahuatl word xocolatl, meaning “bitter water”. Xocolatl was a bitter beverage made from the cacao beans, not the creamy and sweet paste we know as chocolate. Other ingredients for mole are nuts, such as peanuts, almonds, and many spices such as cinnamon without forgetting the different types of dried chilies.   For more on mole, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mole_(sauce)

If you cannot visit one of the very extense Mexican coasts you can go and eat or dine in the fish restaurant “ Los Arcos” in the Avenida Insurgentes in Mexico City. I had the best fish taco ever! It was fish “al pastor” or shepherd’s style. Its like the Greek gyros or turkish döner. You’d be disappointed if it weren’t spicy. So, yes, it was spicy, but not very hot. Tacos al pastor are usually of pork meat marinated with “adobo” which includes a red dry type of chili peppers called chile ancho. They serve it in corn tortillas with pineapple dices, raw onions and coriander. In this case instead of pork they used fish and it was a complete success.

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A fish taco

I also had the best shrimps ever! They were coated in flour, eggs and coconut, fried and served with a freshly made mango sauce. My father had a fish stuffed with shrimps in a hummer sauce.

I could tell you for hours about Mexican food, its origins, exotic ingredients and family recipes such as the chicken in cilantro sauce or the white fish in green sauce…and… and… and… as you may have noticed, Mexican food is not chili con carne, nor nachos nor tortilla chips with sweet tomato sauce, nor any kind of salad with kidney beans, red paprika, sweet corn or yellow cheese…

Frankly speaking, after describing all these dishes I got hungry and will go to the kitchen to serve dinner.
Buen provecho! Guten Appetit! Bon appétit! Buon appetito!