Jamaican Fish in European Waters

 

 

Nothing teaches me more than travel. When I go, I learn a lot about others; but, I learn so much more about myself. I am always surprised by my reactions to new and unfamiliar environments and experiences. Traveling gives me a chance to build my ability to embrace diversity, and it allows me to learn how to figure out practical actions for unusual situations. If I stayed home, I would never learn so much about me.  Travel is a therapy that enriches me, calms me down and gives me new skills to use at home.

Fish stories are about the fish out of water experiences I have had as I move around the world. Some of these stories may seem mild while others may seem earth shaking based on your world view. A great way to get value from these stories is to put yourself in my shoe and speculate on how you would react. I would love to read your reactions to these stories and I welcome any similar stories you would like to share with our group. 

 

 UNEXPECTED MEETINGS

I have been moving around the world, almost every year, for a good part of the last forty years; so, you can imagine what I have seen, experienced and learned over these years. Some of my experiences were so unexpected and surprising. Can you imagine walking off a train in Florence and hear someone call you by name? "Baron Stewart," shouted a voice from the crowded station. I looked around in disbelief and saw one of my students from Rockland County Day School who was on a bicycle tour through Europe. We greeted each other, exchanged pleasantries and moved on. Again I had the unexpected pleasure on a bus tour in Avignon, France to run into Jamaican sitting in front of me. I immediately said hello to my fellow Jamaicans who were also enjoying the month long Art Festival in Avignon. To make our meeting even more attractive, I quickly found out that we attended the same high school in Kingston at the same time. "Ire Mon, do you remember those good old days at Kingston College?" "Yes, Mon! Those were the days," he said as we continued to chat until the tour started. One of the more usual occurrences happened on a ferry to Athens from the Greek Island of Naxos. I was traveling with my friend, Sundarii who turned to me and said, "That guy over there keeps looking at me." I look in his direction, and I had a sense that he was a young American, and so, Sundarii decided to walk over and talk to him. After an initial greeting, he told her that he was from New York and Sundarii responded that she was from New York too. He lived on Long Island; Sundarii chimed in, "I am from Long Island too. " He lived in Stony Brook. "Me too," said Sundarii. "Where in Stony Brook?" she asked. "I live on Sheepasture Road," he answered. "That's where I live too," she screamed. He was her next door neighbor who she met for the first time five thousand miles from home.

 

TOILETS

 

 

This signs showed up in England because many tourists were standing on the toilet seats there. 

 These occurrences continue to amaze me, but I am even more in awe of my reaction to some of the cultural differences I run into when I travel. For example, I still get a rise when I see men and women using the same bathrooms at the same time. I try to be cool, but I feel a slight tightening in my stomach each time I see a woman come out of the stall next to me. Intellectually, I get it, but my body has not caught up to my mind. The toilet differences seem to rattle me. I was in Odessa, Ukraine when I asked someone where I could find a public bathroom, and I was directed to a location about fifty meters ahead of me where I found an old woman sitting alone. I asked her where I could find a toilet. She got up and led me to an underground location. It was strange to be underground, but it was even more unnerving when I saw a line of open holes in the ground with no privacy which I was directed to use. I was appalled. There was nowhere for me to sit. I would have to swat over one of these holes in public and do my business. I could not believe that these were the public toilets. I turned around and ran back to civilization.

My reaction was so intense, and it lingered with me for days which gave me a chance to reflect on why this was so appalling to me. I was used to the disgusting out-houses in Jamaica, but at least they offered some privacy. The memory of that moment was fresh in my mind as I described my experience to a fellow traveler. He was not impressed. He said that these types of bathroom situation were common in eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa. In fact, when people from those parts of the world visited western Europe and the USA, they would stand on the toilet seat instead of sitting on it which would often cause the toilet seats to break. In fact, I read an article that discussed sitting versus squatting, and it said that the physics supported squatting over sitting.

 

 STREET MARKETS

 Street markets are fun all over the world, but I am particularly excited about the street markets in France.  Every small town or large city seems to have a market. Big cities like Paris may have many markets around the city; while small towns like Saint Remy may have one large market once a week.  M first taste of a French street market was in Paris in 1980 during my first trip to Europe. I drove to Paris from London with two English sports reporters who were on their way to Bulgaria to cover a football match.  When they dropped me off at my hotel on the right bank of the river, I mentioned that I would love to visit a French street market. They laughed, but at the time I did not understand why.  I went to sleep that night to empty quiet streets but woke up to bustle and the noise of my first Parisian street market just outside my window. Wow!  I was thrilled. I got dressed and ran into the streets to smell, taste, hear and see all wonders that were available.  I walked up and down my street looking at fish, meat, bread vegetables and an assortment of clothes. It was just an enjoyable experience for me. It was not the first time I went to a market. I went to many markets in Jamaica, but nothing compares to the feeling of joy I have when I visit a French market.

 

PARKING IN EUROPE

Parking in Europe is a pain and parking where there will be a street market the next day is even a more stressful situation. Finding a place to park in the small towns of France is a mystery for visiting tourist, and when you make a mistake, it is costly. The street market in Saint Remy is on Wednesdays, and I arrived Tuesday evening and struggled to find someplace to park my car. My host warned me that there was a market in the morning and I should make sure that I found a good place to park my car that night because if it were on the street in the morning when the market was being set up, the police would tow my car away. At midnight, I took my car to an open parking lot where I saw other cars parked and left it for the night. My plan was to get up around 6 AM and move it to a more suitable location.

My first mistake was that I woke up a 6:30 am which was a little after the set up of the market started. I got dressed and ran out the parking lot. There were trucks, cars, people all completing the process to setup the market. Everything was there except for my car. In some ways, I was not surprised since the sleepy parking lot I choose the night before was now the center of the market. "Did you see the police tow a car," I asked and was greeted with laughter and smiles. I could hear them thinking, "Haha, another tourist bit the dust." I did not know what to do. I tried to find out where towed cars were taken, but most people either did not speak English or pretended not to speak English. I began to wander the streets hoping to get a hint of where I would find my car.

As I moved around, I kept asking anyone who would listen, where the police took towed vehicles.  At last, I found an empathetic ear. They were Chantel and her twin sister Anna who were setting up their stall in the market. Chantel lamented in English, "Oh my!  I am so sorry this has happened to you. Losing my car on the market day has happened to me too, and so I know exactly how you must feel. Let me help you find it."  She told me to come with her to where she believes the tow truck took the car. We got into her car and drove for five minutes to a garage just outside of town. To my disbelief, there was my car still hanging from the back of a tow truck. I would never have found it on my own. 

Chantel asked the tow truck operator in French about the steps we needed to talk to get my car back. He said we should go to police station for the paper work that we could use to obtain the release of my car. As I stood there watching their communication; I thought that this was a delightful adventure, but it will be expensive.  It was around 7:30 am, and the police station opened at 8:30 am; so we decide to sit and have coffee at a nearby restaurant until the station opened. She me where I could park my car safely for the rest of my visit and described what it is like to sell at street markets around southern France. At the end of the hour, she took me to the police stations where got the paper work to release my car. I paid 115 Euros. Got my car back and thanked my angel, Chantel for taking the time to look out for me.

 

THE FOOD

The food is fantastic in Europe. I have been drinking fresh juice, eating fresh fish with vegetables and having the occasional glass of wine. Every evening at dinner time, it is a journey of discovery. How will they cook the salmon? Should I have the gambas ( huge shrimp)? How dry is the local wine? I think If I incorporated European eating habits in my life style, I would do a better job managing my diabetes.

I can't finish talking about European food unless I tell you about some of the weird foods I encountered or heard about. I never ate frog legs, but I had snails. Eating giant snails was very similar to eating oysters for me. I just focused on the garlic sauce. I will eat almost anything if I cover it in garlic sauce and fresh herbs. Well, everything except bull testicles, breast milk ice cream, rotten fish and maggot cheese. These are all foods served in Europe. Go figure. I thought I was crazy to love ox tail, chicken bones and tripe.

 

 

The Jamaican Fish in Saint Remy, France