The Only Way To Be a Vegetarian

Chick Pea and Spinach Pilau

I am a frustrated vegetarian, mostly because Martine wants me to cook more meat dishes. But every once in a while, such as when her irritable bowel syndrome acts up, I will prepare for myself a vegetarian curry dish redolent with chiles and other spices.

Why do most people become vegetarians? I suspect the answer is that they feel a certain Yuck Factor when it comes to meat. At that point, they usually turn to the boringly bland and unimaginative diet that seems to characterize many Americans. I’m talking about lots of salad (which Martine calls “rabbit food”) and plant-based meat imitations.

To me, it makes more sense to use an existing vegetarian cuisine which is flavorful and exciting. That describes Indian cooking to a tee. I like food that is rich with layers of flavor. Coming from a Hungarian background, I find most bland food more than slightly offensive, as if no one cared to make it good.

When I visit Latin America, I have no trouble settling into a comfortable routine of vegetarian food and my one meat craving, fresh seafood. I remember an octopus ceviche in Progreso, Yucatán, and a filete de pescado Veracruzana in Champotón that sent me into ecstasy.

In Ecuador, I fell in love with the soups, particularly an avocado-based soup in Quito and an egg soup in Cuenca. Insofar as salads are concerned, in Latin America I love the fruit salads.

City on a Hill? Hah!

Their Equivalent of Greyhound: Better Than Us—By Far!

We like to talk big about the United States, but we are fifty years too late, or more! The one time we were reckoned to be the A-Number-One Country in the World, the rest of the world lay in ruins. Now instead of being the City on a Hill, we are more like the lopsided shitshack being dragged downriver by a flooded, polluted stream.

What brought this to mind was Martine’s story of her travels to Portland, Oregon, then Sacramento, then back to Los Angeles. Unless you are flying—and even then, sometimes—you are treated like scabby vermin. Both Amtrak and Greyhound will dig into your back with horribly designed seating. On the Amtrak dining car, you get a microwaved hamburger with pretensions to fanciness. In fact, everything on the menu has pretensions to fanciness. And it all tastes like nuked camel dung.

I remember the buses I took in South America. There was one fifteen-hour ride from Buenos Aires to Bariloche aboard a Via Bariloche tutto letto bus with seats that reclined a full 180º, with blanket and pillow.  In addition, there was a steward who served us three meals, whose price was included in the cheap ticket price. (Okay, the food was not perfect, but was adequate.) And there was a clean restroom on board. Try getting that on Greyhound!

Rio Uruguay Ticket Office in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

BTW, the customer service is better, too—even if you have trouble speaking the language.

We tend to run down Latin Americans as being somehow backwards. We gringos are actually the backward ones—primarily because of our greed. When I went to pick up Martine at the Greyhound station in Los Angeles (located in Skid Row), no one knew when buses arrived. I was told to wait in the ticket line, which had something like seventy-five people plus their bags and children. I wasn’t about to spend an hour asking when the bus from Sacramento was to arrive. More greed!

It makes me want to spend more time in Latin America, even if they are rapists. At least they’re not so greedy with their people.


Public Spaces

There Are Some Things at Which Latin Americans Excel

There Are Some Things at Which Latin Americans Excel

American planners stink when it comes to designing comfortable spaces for the public. A classic example is Los Angeles’s Pershing Square, which is essentially an underground parking garage. Do Angelenos want a place where they could sit down, read the paper, get their shoes shined, perhaps listen to an impromptu concert? Well, they’re out of luck: American planners design facilities primarily for hypothetical people who don’t really exist.

Compare that with Quito’s Plaza de la Independencia (see above), where one could sit and pass an hour or two without getting hassled. You can even feed the pigeons if you want. Take the Plaza de Armas in Arequipa, Peru (see below). Instead of chasing you away for feeding the pigeons, there are native women who will sell you some birdseed for a nueva sol or two.

The Plaza de Armas in Arequipa, Peru

The Plaza de Armas in Arequipa, Peru

Whenever I have some time to kill in Latin America, I will simply find a park bench and sit down for a while. In Cuenca’s Parque Calderón, I got into an interesting discussion with a Peruvian visiting from Cuzco. Admittedly, he was selling some pictures—and I bought some from him because I thought he was a talented artist.

I would have a hard time finding an equivalent in Los Angeles without getting panhandled or run over.