Sunday, 29 July 2012

Criminal Mayonnaise Packaging (1)

I’m surely telling you nothing new, dear reader, when I say that we in the 21st century are living in a decadent age. Far too many people have far more money than they know what to do with. And they have far too little sense to dedicate their time, energy and wealth to simple, honest, useful activities. Add to this brew our sharkish commercialism and the hysterical adulation of celebrities, and no wonder that our societies simply drown in vanity, idiocies, waste, career plans and the pursuit of tattoos on every available body part.

Ah, the Romans could have told you this little truth: only a good war from time to time will return the collective soul of any nation to a more sensible attitude, and take people’s minds off such subjects as Do I Look Sexy Enough When They See Me In Profile?, How Can I Triple My Income Without Work?, What Will The Neighbours Say Now That I’m Down To Only 1,343 Facebook Friends?, and How Come The Dragon Tattoo On My Schwanz Turns Into The Semblance Of A Leaky Walmart Garden Hose Whenever I Have A Hard-on? To name only some of the more tedious existential dullemma’s on the mind of today’s young humans.

Not that I am hoping for war to break out. Oh no. Better to live surrounded by bad taste than by Dresden ruins and shallow graves, I say. But the dire fact is that too much peace and well-being, through a cruel design error in Creation, inevitably translates into psychological shallowness, the worship of artificial good looks, kinky sexual practices and idiotic monstrosities in Mayonnaise packaging. It is this latter - and worst - of the consequences that I wish to address today.

And let me come straight to the point, for as you all know: I deeply despise empty chatter and needless verbosity, particularly when it comes from the likes of 15-year old Luso-Ukrainian young ladies, their brattish Ethiopian-born younger brothers, Brussels Barrosos and Hermanic Haiku-scribblers, and – not to forget – anybody from Liverpool who is carrying plastic owls on his shoulder whenever they go into town because they have a private feud, for some inexplicable Liverputian reason, with the town’s harmless pigeons and think this will help…

So. The First Mittington Law on Mayonnaise Packaging runs as follows:

Manufactured Mayonnaise should only be marketed in a glass jar with a metal lid, OR in a metal tube with a plastic screw-on top.

All other ways, manners, designs, containers, wrappings, vessels, bowls, envelopes and ampules are ANATHEMA, i.e. an insult and affront to the Muses of Taste and Sophistication.

‘But Alfred’, I hear you clamour, ‘can you not give us an example of correct Mayonnaise packaging?’

Of course I can, dear reader! Am I not an expert in these matters? This, for instance, is a randomly chosen Correct Jar of Bottled Mayonnaise:

The jar has a proper, straight, cylindrical shape, free from weird bents or bulbs or wasp corset curves or conical frivolities. The label is rectangular, in one single piece (not two!), running roughly around 65 % of the bottle, and the top consists of a simple, copper-coloured, vacuum screw-on lid. It is therefore hygienic but easy to open, its entire contents may be removed without the assistance of plastic kitchen appliances on long pliable poles designed for the use in space travel, and the label can be removed effortlessly in a little lukewarm water so as to be added to one’s Mayonnaise label collection without triggering feelings of frustration or demanding the mathematical skills of an Einstein when it comes to plotting the layout of your scrap book. 

Now I know that manufacturers wish to underline the artisanal-ness of their product, and as long as this is not merely a matter of hollow pretence, but truly corresponds to the quality of their product, Alfred B. Mittington will be lenient (but remember Oscar Wilde’s dictum: nothing in excess!) Thus, a minor, modest and tasteful adornment of the lid such as this

can just carry away my approval. But I must begin to frown when this marketing fad turns into a marketing craze, which is at one wasteful, costly and clumsy, such as this French Devos & Lemmens variation from the year 2000, with its elastic band wrapping a plastic piece of tea-towel over the lid

After all, once unleashed unto the market, such fashion can only terminate in dandy designs such as

which for all I know (since I never tasted it) may be a fine ‘herbal mustard mayonnaise’ but looks like a salad dressing with an attitude. And that is not to mention the arabesque imprint around the rim of this here jar

which makes me suspect that there are also, out there in the wide wild world, jars of identical shape and lid-design which contain strawberry jam, fake Indian chutney, and multi-applicable motor oil…

I will not even discuss the use of plastic lids on top of a Mayo bottle. I have found that the mere touch of such a contraption onto the innocent palms of your hand as you try to unscrew the bottle sends strong, unequivocal signals to the brain that discourage the consumption of whatever may be found inside the jar. I will merely confront you, dear reader, with this question. Look at the below jar

and tell me: would you wish to eat whatever comes out from under the shockingly purple plastic sealing of this jar?? Or from this one?

I rest my case!

Finally, a word on tubes. Only the honest metal tubes of my childhood, manhood and seniorcitizenhood are allowed to contain the manna that is Mayo. Such as these two fine examples

Which allow the customer who partakes of the Golden Sauce they contain to roll up the tube until the very last of their contents may be sucked out. That is honest! That is true! That is what the Mayonnaise aficionado deserves!

Unfortunately, what we get instead nowadays, is not the tubes of our childhoods, but the tubes of the Robbin’ Hoods, which – in the least awful variety - look like the toothpaste tube in the lower right hand corned of this proud promotional picture

And in the worst, I shudder to say, in pinch-me-empty-like-a-cows’-utter upside-down PVC packing atrocity, with which I will begin the next article in this series in about a week’s time.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Spain Burning

April isn’t the cruellest month at all. Not, at least, when it comes to forest fires. July is, closely followed by August, June, May and September. Today, once again, Iberia is ablaze, as it was so horridly in 2006, and as it was 6 weeks ago. The winter has been extremely dry. Spring and summer turn out to be hot, with strong winds fanning the flames. You can guess the rest. Huge infernos are devastating the Algarve and Catalonia. No less than 50,000 acres were charred in Valencia alone last month. There are occasional outbreaks in central Portugal. We are all bracing ourselves for what the rest of the summer will bring.

It takes about 50 years for a burned forest to grow back. Still worse than that (not counting human life lost) is the horror of animals dying. In Spain, sheep, horses, cows, often roam free on the hillsides. When the forest catches fire, the animals get trapped. You don’t wish to know what the result looks like. Let’s just say that for a few weeks afterwards, the idea of doing a barbecue does not appeal to you…

Nor do you want to know what a starting fire sounds like. A few years ago, when one broke out in the woods nearby, I walked up to see if there was anything I could do (there wasn’t). I was mystified by a cacophony of piercing tones that were audible above the roar of burning timber. I asked one of the countrywomen there what it was. ‘It’s the squirrels,’ she explained. ‘They rush to the top of the trees when the fire starts, to escape. Then the flames catch up…’

Not a year has gone by since the turn of the century without some area the size of Lichtenstein going up in flames. Many of them are simple, everyday accidents, of which four causes are said to be the most common:

Badly tended barbecues in the countryside lit by sweaty, shirtless, half-tipsy day trippers who like to fool around with fire without knowing what they’re doing;

Smokers tossing cigarette butts away, sometimes out of car windows. Needless to say, this is a favourite of the anti-smoking lobby, who see no moral reasons not to take cynical advantage of a convenient catastrophe;

Agricultural machines with sparking motors, a cause not given too much publicity to, since Farmers Are A Politician’s Friends;

Empty soft-drink bottles, or shards of glass, thrown away in the forest by tourists, which then catch sun rays and, working like lenses, set the debris on the forest floor alight.

 Each of these causes indeed seems to be behind accidental fires from time to time; but – if you will forgive me, reader – I won’t go too deeply into these. Rather I would concentrate on deliberate arson, and then not even on its common pyromaniac variety (which is as real as it is banal), but on its fictional cousin: the illogical, anguished, paranoid, and superstitious explanations that country folk construe as their habitat burns down around them, and which one picks up listening to the old folk in the countryside bars, the random conversations in the streets between local farmers, and the babbles of baffled city journalists sent into the bush by their broadcasting companies… Now there you have some truly fascinating anthropological material, the stuff of which medieval worldviews were made! They usually include dark forces, evil intent, and obscure economic interests. And they are often as creative as they are preposterous.

So. These here I gathered back in the summer of 2006 from the natives and the local press:

The forest fires get lit by angry villagers, as a revenge on their neighbours. The profile used to be of a grumpy 50-60 year-old who drank too much and did not get along with his wife and/or his fellow villagers. But since too few of those were caught, it got changed last year:

The fires are lit by bored 30-40 year-old males who enjoy watching the results of their arson and then love to participate in the labours of extinction next to the fire fighters. Sadly, the only one of this class caught last year was a 24-year old… ! So I foresee a new, younger, profile for the coming season… Oh, and talking of fire fighters:

The fires are started, another spokesperson assured me, by the firemen themselves, who get paid extra when they have to swing into action. (Remarkably, a few were indeed caught doing so back in 2005 and 2006…); and / or:

They got lit by vengeful former fire-fighters, dismissed from service in 2005 by the new Socialist autonomous government, because they did not speak Gallego (Much as one may doubt the validity of this motive, the stupidity of that measure is perfectly true! Under pressure from their left-wing regionalist coalition partners in parliament, the government did fire fire-fighters for not being fluent in the region’s language. It is a measure on a par with another law, inspired by the unions, which forbids the army to lend a helping hand in putting out fires, because that would undermine the negotiating position of the fire-fighters; who, by the by, are now complaining bitterly of a shortage of manpower and the dangers of being understaffed…! The March of Folly, dear reader!! The March of Folly in full goose step!)

Along the same lines, country folk of a left-wing persuasion assured me that the fires got lit by conservative party militants in revenge for their PP loosing the provincial elections; and a year later, on 8 August 2006, no one less than the Socialist Minister of the Environment assured the world, that the fires were started in purpose by such civil servants, members of the PP, who had been ousted from their jobs after the socialist victory.

But the politician themselves are ALSO behind it! One well-informed ecologist explained to me that the new government wanted to throw out the so-called ‘Ley de Montes’ (the law that regulates the exploitation of forests etc.) which their opponents had passed in 2003, and which made it far too hard for politicians to receive kick-backs over ‘re-qualified’ terrains from building companies. So they had the forests put to the torch to open up the discussion again and have an excuse to put in their own, less rigid, law. I must admit that as soon as the forests were burning, the local Xunta minister indeed announced immediately that their own new Ley de Montes, which would provide a “streamlined use of forests”, would now be passed on the double….

Also, the fires were lit on the orders of the politicians in office, because they were looking forward to the tremendous state subsidies that flow into the region from Madrid and Brussels in compensation for the loss of income and exploitation in the wood-industry.

But of course Big Monopoly Capital is also behind the arson! For one thing, Everybody Knows that the fires get lit by land-hungry building enterprises who hope to change the municipal status of the terrains from ‘agricultural’ to ‘constructional’ (or whatever you call that precisely). Nota Bene that this indeed used to be common practice, with the connivance of ‘flexible’ municipal counsellors; but it got taken care of some years ago by a new law which forbids any such ‘re-qualification’ for 30 years after the fire.

BUT, inevitably, this then led to the rumour that the 2006 fires got started by ecologists militants who thus tried to avoid the ‘re-qualification’ of certain terrains they wish to reserve for nature for the next three decades (I myself enjoyed this preposterous one so much that I did my best to promote it!)

Furthermore, the fires were lit by those who made their money from cleaning up the mess. Thus, the companies who replant scorched areas with new trees were pointed out to me as the scoundrels behind it all, and so were the people who work in the industry processing burned wood. Why, even the owners of the terrains themselves are in league with these rogues, for they wish to get rid of the traditional oak and pine forest to replant the plots with eucalyptus, which turns a far better profit from the paper industry!

Also there was the strong rumour that the owners of the fire-fighting helicopters and water planes made sure to have enough to do to get a proper return on their investment. They did this in a most sinister manner, for I was assured that shortly before fires broke out, light airplanes had been seen cruising low over the areas in question, from which fuses and infernal machines had been dropped into the forests… (‘I did not see that myself, but I know a man in the next village whose brother-in-law…’)

Lastly, it is a public secret that the fires are started by the local and Colombian drug-smugglers to draw the Guardia Civil away from the coast, so that shipments can be delivered in peace and safety.

Now, all I am waiting for, is an explanation that involves visiting Martians….

With all these above people in league, it is, in fact, a miracle that there are still forests in Spain. Or perhaps that is why you do not see a single tree in Castile?? Here I always thought its bare skyline had been caused by too many sheep and the building of the Invincible Armada… But I may have to revise my understanding of history…

Castile, with a lone poplar tree on the right... 

PS Oh, incidentally: in the US, the use of firearms in hunting and fun shooting out in the countryside is said to be responsible for 5 % or more of forest fires. Hunters naturally deny this. ‘Fire arms do not start fires,’ they insist. ‘People start fires’. (The same, by the by, is valid for nuclear ballistic missiles…)

POSTSCRIPT October 4: Many of you will not believe this, but it is true (it was written in today's newspaper): the Russian intelligence service (formerly known as the KGB) has identified the culprits behind the many forest fires of last summer. It turns out that these fires were lit by... Al Qaida! And so you see: there is, in the end, always a logical explanation to these matters...

Monday, 23 July 2012

Crimes against Humanity

There you have it. They are going to do it. Instead of sacrificing the Toxic Euro to the European Population, they are going to sacrifice a nation to their Divine €uro. They are going to throw Greece to the dogs.

As it turns out, all the babble and chitchat of the last two years about keeping Greece in the Eurozone for its own good was so much fluaria. What they were really after is buying time to prepare their own defences for the Grexit, so that their powerhouse would survive once Greece was slaughtered.

While Greece might have been saved by letting her exit the Eurozone two years ago and shoring her up with a Marshall Plan package of roughly the same size as the northern countries will now lose when she goes bankrupt, they preferred first to gut her economy and undermine her chances for recovery (tens of thousands of businesses that might have come back to life have now forever disappeared due to austerity!) before letting her sink. Because it looked better. And pour encourager les autres…

Brace yourselves, Europeans! You will see old people die in the streets of Athens and famished Greek children crawl all over your TV screens. In Europe. In the 21st century. Due to the Prosperity and Democracy that the European Union proudly brings everywhere…

This is being done by the very same people who knowingly allowed Greece to enter the Eurozone even though she was not fit for it and was lying through her teeth, which they also knew perfectly well. They allowed it because the More the Merrier. Because the Euro Intro had to be a success, a triumph, a bonfire of Beurovanities. Because their pipe-dream had to reach orgasm in the Brussels cocktail circuit and its corridors of power.

These are Crimes against Humanity, and I want them all – the Barrosos, the Rompuys, the Lagardes, Rehns, Kroeses and that entire sorry lot – in front of an International Court of Justice, to determine their responsibility and to be given their just punishment. Let us have a Neurenberg II. Miserable behaviour of those in power should never go unpunished!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

The Cure

Here is a story I recently read in the Chronique de Troyes, by the 13th century Cistercian monk Anselme Fratertini.

A man in Orleans fell ill and called a doctor. The doctor examined him and concluded the patient was gravely ill. For a cure he decided to bleed him, with leeches.

The following day the doctor returned. The patient was clearly worse. So he bled him some more and gave him a mixture of laurel leaves and mare’s urine to drink.

On the third day, the patient could not even talk anymore and looked paler than the sheets he was wrapped in. So the doctor administered an extra heavy bleeding, by opening up the veins.

Next day the patient was dead. ‘Doctor, what happened?’ wailed the grief-struck widow. ‘How come my husband was not cured?’

‘It was my fault,’ the doctor answered. ‘I did not bleed him enough.’ 

Do you buy this, reader?

What? You don’t? How weird!

Now, you are of course perfectly right to shake your head at this line of reasoning. But if the fallacy of it is so very clear, then answer me this: why is it that so many people all over Europe do accept the equally idiotic cure that the Abominable Troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund is applying to Spain and other countries in trouble?

Draconian budget cuts are demanded from national governments in exchange for a potion of laurel leaves and horse piss. This makes the illness worse, by gutting the economy. Therefore more draconian budget cuts are demanded, with the doctor’s guarantee that this time it WILL work. And again. And again. Ad Finitum.

Last week the Spanish government announced a stunning 65 billion budget cut on the poor and the middle classes. Yesterday the go-ahead was given for a first tranche of 30 billlion €uros bail-out money for the Spanish banks from the European partners. Therefore Spain and the €uro ought to have been saved, because this line of action promised to restore the Confidence Of The Financial Markets. Instead, the country’s stock market dropped 5 %, the interest rate on Spanish bonds rose to 7.25 % and the differential with German interest to 625, both the highest level ever, while the Divine €uro dropped against the dollar to the lowest value in its history: 1.21 U$.

Why is this? Why are the Financial Markets not more confident? Might it be, perhaps, that they do understand that bleeding a patient again and again is not the recipe to cure him, but to kill him? And that they do not wish to lend money to a moribund man in the hands of deluded doctors?

Meanwhile, we can wait for the miracle cure which the Abominable Troika will prescribe for Spain next week: more austerity in exchange for a broader bail-out. This time, they will assure us, it WILL WORK! Guaranteed!

There have been major riots all over Spain the last few days. In some of them, policemen, while still doing their duty, expressed their sympathy for the demonstrators. We are living in interesting times. Unfortunately…

Friday, 20 July 2012

Mayo Label Collection: Artisanal Bliss!

H45. Belze Majoneis. Utrecht, September 2011. € 2,50 for 330 ml

True Mayonnaise is under heavy siege these day, dear reader! But, from time to time, there is also Good News on the horizon, even in this our wayward age, utterly beset by vile chemical sauces and their Manichaean counterparts: health 'mayonnaises', of low calories, no egg and 60 % macro-biological oil. 

One such happy novelty, a truly remarkable product, came my way through the good offices of my friend Anna Garssen from Utrecht, the Netherlands. It is called ‘Belze Majoneis’ (which simply means ‘Belgian Mayonnaise’ in the local dialect of the Dutch province of Zeeland) and is a rare surviving instance of an honest, traditional production process.

Belze Majoneis is an artisanal Dodo in this our age of industrial corruption, a work of love by a true idealist, Mr Ton Schroers, who started manufacturing home-made mayo out of his mama’s kitchen some five decades ago when only 13. He made a good product for a fair price, and he flourished. Soon he diversified, adding mustards to his Mayos and exotic recipes to his cookbook. Still his business flourished, and so he decided to expand. He expanded his Zierikzee enterprise – called Ton’s Mosterd - to the shocking size of himself and three employees. And stopped there. With those modest means, he could manage everything he wanted to do. And what he did was impressive…

Mr Schroers designed no fewer than 160 different varieties of mustard, for all kinds, classes and tastes of customers: men, women, the young, the old, the overly sensitive, the allergic, the robust… you name it! Meanwhile he kept refining his mastery of Mayonnaise making, until he hit upon this extraordinary product, meant to equal any home-made mayonnaise, based on time-honoured Belgian criteria. (1)

The artisanal jar

And this sauce is certainly a gem! Although its colour is somewhat pale and its texture more liquid than one would prefer – the inevitable consequences of the rigorous avoidance of all sugars and chemical additions – the taste is a veritable godsend, an exercise in pure harmony between the salty, the sour, the creamy and the sweet which only compares with a Mozart concierto. Note, however, that it needs to breath for a day or so after opening, so as to bring out its deepest flavours and shed the dormant bitter undertone it possesses at first. After that you could not find a better sauce for dishes which demand strong flavours such as Oeuf Mayonnaise or the traditional Dutch and Belgian French Fries with Mayonnaise.

As for disadvantages I see only two: first of all it is near impossible to find. Only a tiny handful of shops, and a modest supermarket chain called Jumbo, offer this brand for sale, and you have to be in the Netherlands to buy it.

The back label

Secondly, I think the label could do with a little less information. Yes, we do like to know that the eggs are free range, that the mustard seeds are ecologically grown on a tiny island off the Dutch coast, and that all the energy is generated by solar panels. But stuffing both front and back labels with dense shovelfuls of information, until they read like a Who’s Who? and a What’s What? of New Age food processing is, frankly, a little more than the customer desires.

Lastly, there is the matter of price. Belze Majoneis is not cheap. But it is worth every penny. And who needs savings in the bank if you can live a happy, happy life, accompanied by a worthwhile Mayo, I ask!?

So: whoever has the chance: take a trip to Holland, skip the silly windmills and the sordid tulips, and find yourself a jar of an exceptional sauce instead. And those of you who are not so lucky as to be able to travel, check out Ton’s Mosterd’s website here for a peek into the workings of a proud artisanal company.

(1) 'Ton’s Mosterd' also makes Dutch Mayonnaise (label above) and a Spanish variant, which essentially is Garlic Mayonnaise.