Notes for My Father on Returning from Europe and North Africa

New Orleans       Continuing a tradition, when my father was alive, he would ask me what I learned that might interest him from my travels, so here are quick notes that would have intrigued him, and perhaps you.

  • In Tunis, we ate a something that tasted delicately like a peach, but was flat. One of our delegation called it a “flat peach,” and claimed they also ate this near Boston and upstate New York.  We also ate plums that were green and pale yellow.
  • In central and southern Netherlands, I was introduced to a working-class staple, a narrow, six-inch sausage made of mysterious meat parts, called frikandel. One of my colleagues was a huge fan and reported that near Heerlen there was a restaurant that specializes in various types of frikandel.  I tasted it, and it was alright.  Getting on a train from Amsterdam to Dusseldorf, I did a doubletake to see that Burger King was trying to start a frikandel craze with a special offering.
  • Staying near the center of Dusseldorf, Germany, I seemed to be living in an Asian neighborhood. As we ate lunch in a nearby Korean restaurant, I asked a colleague what was the story on this neighborhood.  It turned out that there was a special treaty between Japan and several other countries and Germany that brought workers in to the city as part of an exchange, and it ended up with many staying and creating the neighborhood and a significant population.
  • In Catania, Sicily, staying with a colleague on the third floor of a seven-story apartment complex, early one morning I was standing on the balcony looking down at the street and noticed a moving truck double-parked in front of the building next door where two workers were trying to wrangle a large bureau into the truck and off of a suspended platform. At first, I couldn’t figure out whether it was a curious truck lift or something else.  Turned out it was something else.  A closer look revealed that the platform was attached to a metal ladder that went all the way up to the unit and was an elevator of sorts that moved hydraulically up to the unit, similar to a hook-and-ladder firetruck.  A table came down next.  It was a two-truck, three man moving operation.  Perhaps this is common for complexes in Europe with small elevators and no freight elevators, but it was new to me in Sicily.
  • Tunisia still allows smoking in restaurants everywhere.
  • In Amsterdam to keep tourists from scamming on the trams, there is a worker behind a desk next to the entrance to both answer questions and check that all customers came on and off by swiping their tickets.
  • Parking in Catania, Sicily is privatized. Parking is highly prized on public streets. Residents pay to park between blue lines, and the private parking company works the streets to determine that only payers are parking. They can’t give tickets but send a notice and fine for nonpayment or overstaying in company controlled spaces.  Cars park everywhere in crosswalks and curbs where parking is illegal, because in the bankrupt city, police are not assigned to parking issues, even though the private companies meter maids and men are everywhere.

I could go on, but you get the message, it’s an amazing world out there, full of constant surprise and wonder, in things both large and small.

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