Sunday, June 30, 2019

Visiting China--Flowers of the Wumen Bridge, Suzhou

Wumen Bridge, Suzhou, China

The Wumen Bridge in Suzhou, China, crosses the Grand Canal and has done so for a thousand years. Chinese emperors built the Grand Canal from Hangzhou in the south to Beijing in the north to ship grain, salt, wood and other goods by water, because China's rivers all run east-west.

The bridge is attractive. Of course it has been repaired many times in the last millennium, those are not the original bricks. The views were pretty.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Adventures of Felix Luna, a Travel Pillow

Felix Luna in Japan
Ten years ago I'd been traveling extensively for about three years and realized a neck pillow would improve the long flights over oceans. In Denver International Airport I bought one. Not just a neck pillow, an animal. I named him Felix Luna, Felix since he's clearly a cat, Luna for the half-moon shape.

Now, celebrating ten years of travel together, Felix is quite the world traveler.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Plant Story--Garden Asparagus, Its Folklore and "Asparagus Pee"

red asparagus shoots

Garden asparagus (Asparagus officinalis, asparagus family, Asparagaceae) has been cultivated since Roman times (see last week's post link), so there is interesting folklore.

It was and is considered an aphrodisiac. It comes up as phallic shoots in the spring. Historically and prehistorically people celebrated spring as a rebirth and time of renewed reproduction. Asparagus shoots fit well into that. Cultures from Greece to England have included asparagus in spring (fertility/Easter) festivals, both as food and in decorations from bouquets or chaplets (little wreaths worn on the head).

Apart from symbolism, asparagus shoots are one of the earliest vegetables of spring. If you imagine Europeans living all winter on dried peas and pickled cabbage, having fresh vegetables would not only be a delight, it would provide nutrients that were likely missing in the winter diet, so indeed fresh asparagus would act as an aphrodisiac.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Plant Story--Ancient Asparagus, Asparagus officinalis

Asparagus is an odd vegetable. We eat just the new shoots. Not leaves, not roots, not fruit.
It is also an old vegetable, eaten in the European tradition since at least Roman times.

asparagus store display

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Travel Story--Wuzhen Water Town, China

China's rivers run west to east, so moving goods from the south to the north and vice versa was difficult before trains and highways. The emperors solved the problem by connecting the rivers with a canal, the Grand Canal. When completed, it ran from Hongzhou in southern China (close to Shanghai) to Beijing, more than 1,000 miles.

In the 20th century, the Grand Canal fell into disuse and the once-prosperous towns along it shrank.

Lately, tourism has revived those towns. A number have been repaired and renovated as tourist attractions. Some have local crafts, others have traditional plays or music, all have restaurants and gift shops and boat rides. Most are very picturesque. I have been to four of them. Here I'll describe the one I most recently visited, Wuzhen.