Sep 272016


Since 1980, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has celebrated World Tourism Day on September 27. This date was chosen because on that date in 1970, the Statutes of the UNWTO were adopted. The adoption of these Statutes is considered a milestone in global tourism. The purpose of this day is to raise awareness of the role of tourism within the international community and to demonstrate how it affects social, cultural, political and economic values worldwide.

At its Twelfth Session in Istanbul in October 1997, the UNWTO General Assembly decided to designate a host country each year to act as the Organization’s partner in the celebration of World Tourism Day. At its 15th session in Beijing in October 2003, the Assembly decided the following geographic order to be followed for World Tourism Day celebrations: 2006 in Europe; 2007 in South Asia; 2008 in the Americas; 2009 in Africa and 2011 in the Middle East.


The late Ignatius Amaduwa Atigbi, a Nigerian national, was the one who proposed the idea of marking September 27 of every year as World Tourism Day. He was not formally recognized for his contribution until 2009.

This is a subject dear to my heart and it gives me the chance to speak directly about the subject instead of lifting huge chunks from other sources. I can sum up my mixed feelings about tourism by saying that I think that world travel probably has some benefits, but I’m not a fan of tourism. Travel and tourism are different animals and I’ll spell out the differences in a minute. I’ll begin by saying that tourism can be a great economic benefit to huge swathes of the world, although the benefit comes at a steep price, namely, the disruption of local cultures.. Many parts of the world survive now on tourism economically. Take Easter Island as a classic example. It’s actually got many names and no one knows what its original indigenous names were. Currently its Polynesian name is Rapa Nui, which locals prefer, but it is part of Chile, so has an official Spanish name: Isla de Pascua. I’ll use Rapa Nui.


Rapa Nui has a long and complex history that is both fascinating in terms of what we do know as well as what we don’t know. The island is famous for its moai, of course, which too many foreigners think are carved heads (because of images from the site where they were carved and stored). Standing in place on platforms they are full body statues. Contrary to newspaper stories of recent years, it was not all of a sudden discovered that the heads have bodies. Anyone who knows anything about the island has known this all along. I suppose, therefore, tourism does have the immediate benefit of correcting false images.


I visited Rapa Nui in 2013 for my birthday. When I retired and moved back to Argentina I celebrated my birthday each year by visiting extraordinary places – 60th on Tierra del Fuego, 61st at Machu Picchu, and 62nd on Rapa Nui. Since then I’ve celebrated with a dinner party at home, but home keeps changing – 63rd in Buenos Aires, 64th in Kunming, 65th in Mantua. No idea about the 66th. Those five sum up the difference between being a tourist versus being a traveler. The first three I was a tourist, the last two I was a traveler. Buenos Aires is my real home.

My birthday often falls around (sometimes on) Easter Sunday. I wasn’t even thinking straight when I booked to go to Easter Island. My birthday was the day before Easter Sunday that year and so I had the great good fortune to go to a mass on Easter Sunday celebrated partly in Spanish and partly in Rapa Nui. When I booked, two months earlier, I was completely unaware of the coincidence – Easter on Easter Island. Yup, I’m an idiot. I mean, I’m an ordained minister; you’d have thought I would have been more astute.


Rapa Nui these days survives on tourism. The local economy is far from self sustaining. Not much food is grown locally, there’s no mining or industry, and just about everything is flown in from the mainland. Without tourists the local economy would die. When you visit the island you’ll meet many more tourists than locals. The locals are for the most part at least bilingual (Spanish and English, or Rapa Nui and Spanish), and many are trilingual. I don’t have exact statistics but my experience was that the vast majority of tourists were monolingual English speakers from the US and Britain. I met one or two Spanish speakers from Chile and Argentina, but they were in the minority, by far.

The English speakers did not even bother to attempt any Spanish; they just went straight up to workers in hotels and restaurants and addressed them in English, assuming that they understood (which they almost always did). I was appalled from the minute I stood in line at my hotel and saw this behavior, and vowed from that point on to speak Spanish only. It served me well. I had great conversations with all the locals, especially the breakfast chef who was Chilean but had lived for decades on the island. The tourists for the most part wanted their Western tastes catered to – hotel rooms like the ones in the West, steaks and other meats which had to be flown in from the mainland (mostly Argentina), and guided tours on buses with guides speaking their languages. Ever thought of eating locally caught fish, or hiking around the island without a guide, or just simply talking to the locals (even if you have to use English)? Nope. Selfies on a guided tour is the norm. Pathetic. Here I am standing beside a carved head. Here I am on the beach. Here I am at sunset eating a steak.


What I’m getting at is that I don’t see tourism in itself as expanding people’s cultural horizons all that much. Tourists are apt to skim the surface and not take much from the culture they are visiting.  I lived in a hostel in Kunming in China for about a year and had the misfortune to encounter a number of young people from the US and Europe who liked to call themselves “travelers” to distinguish themselves from tourists (that is, until I followed my son’s lead and kept away from public areas when they were around). They had backpacks and hiking boots and spent months going from place to place in Asia. Most carried a guide book such as Lonely Planet and followed a fixed itinerary. So if you asked, “where next?” chances are the answer was either Dali or Laos because that’s what the book said to do. They were not travelers, they were long-term tourists doing the modern version of the 19th century aristocratic Grand Tour but with less money and time. For most of them it was selfies at the Great Wall by day and clubs by night.


Marco Polo was a traveler. He had the great fortune to live before the era of jet travel, smartphones, and WiFi. He traveled on foot or by pack animal and got to know the locals, and recorded all of his experiences carefully. There have been many such travelers throughout history. It was on the basis of their travels that cultural anthropology was born. I believe that such travel can be informative and expand one’s horizons. Skimming off the barest surface is unlikely to do much.

More than ever I feel like saying – “I don’t want to give you a recipe. Travel the world and eat what’s good locally.” Italians are rabid about eating locally, especially within Italy. One of my best friends in Mantua, last time I talked to him, was cursing over foreign tourists he saw eating spaghetti Bolognese in a restaurant here. “If they wanted spaghetti Bolognese they should have gone to Bologna !!! Here we eat tortelli di zucca or bigoli con le sardelle.” Can’t fault him there. I’m a major fan of terroir cooking.


So, even though today’s celebration is about tourism, I’d recommend poking around and discovering what is truly local where you are right now. First thing I did when I moved to Cuddebackville in New York was to eat smoked eels at a local shack. They fish eels out of the Neversink and Delaware rivers and smoke them locally. They’re not popular, but they sure are local. Mushrooms were the big thing in Kunming, and I ate a ton of all manner of varieties, many picked wild in the mountains. I’ve had plenty of tortelli and bigoli in Mantua. Now I’m on the lookout for stracotto d’asino (donkey stew). Tomorrow I’m heading to Parma for local ham. Even in the barren wastelands of hot dogs and hamburgers in the US there are plenty of regional specialties if you look hard enough.


Jun 232015


Today is the feast day of Æthelthryth (or Æþelðryþe) an Anglo-Saxon saint also known, particularly in a religious context, as Etheldreda or Audrey. She was an East Anglian princess, a Fenland and Northumbrian queen and Abbess of Ely. Æthelthryth was probably born in Exning, near Newmarket in Suffolk. She was one of the four saintly daughters of Anna of East Anglia, all of whom eventually retired from secular life and founded abbeys.

Æthelthryth made an early first marriage in around 652 to Tondberct, chief or prince of the South Gyrwe. She managed to persuade her husband to respect her vow of perpetual virginity that she had made prior to their marriage. Upon his death in 655, she retired to the Isle of Ely, which she had received from Tondberct as a morning gift.

Æthelthryth was subsequently remarried for political reasons in 660, this time to Ecgfrith of Northumbria. Shortly after his accession to the throne in 670, Æthelthryth became a nun. This step possibly led to Ecgfrith’s long quarrel with Wilfrid, bishop of York. One account relates that while Ecgfrith initially agreed that Æthelthryth should continue to remain a virgin, in about 672 he wished to consummate their marriage and even attempted to bribe Wilfrid to use his influence on the queen to convince her. This tactic failed and the king tried to take his queen from the cloister by force. Æthelthryth then fled back to Ely with two faithful nuns and managed to evade capture, thanks in part to the miraculous rising of the tide. Another version of the legend says that she halted on the journey at ‘Stow’ and sheltered under a miraculously growing ash tree which came from her staff planted in the ground. Stow came to be known as ‘St Etheldred’s Stow’, when a church was built to commemorate this event. It is likely that this ‘Stow’ refers to a village near Threekingham. Ecgfrith later married Eormenburg and expelled Wilfrid from his kingdom in 678. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Æthelthryth founded a double monastery at Ely in 673, which was later destroyed in the Danish invasion of 870.


Bede told how after her death, Æthelthryth’s bones were disinterred by her sister and successor, Seaxburh and that her uncorrupted body was later buried in a white, marble coffin. In 695, Seaxburh translated the remains of her sister Æthelthryth, who had been dead for sixteen years, from a common grave to the new church at Ely. The Liber Eliensis describes these events in detail. When her grave was opened, Æthelthryth’s body was discovered to be uncorrupted and her coffin and clothes were said to possess miraculous powers. A sarcophagus made of white marble was taken from the Roman ruins at Grantchester, which was found to be the right fit for Æthelthryth. Seaxburh supervised the preparation of her sister’s body, which was washed and wrapped in new robes before being reburied. She apparently oversaw the translation of her sister’s remains without the supervision of her bishop, using her knowledge of procedures gained from her family’s links with the Faremoutiers Abbey as a basis for the ceremony.

After Seaxburh, Æthelthryth’s niece and her great-niece, both of whom were royal princesses, succeeded her as abbess of Ely.


St Etheldreda’s Church in Ely Place in Holborn is dedicated to the saint. It was originally part of the palace of the bishops of Ely. After the English Reformation, the palace was used by the Spanish ambassadors, enabling Roman Catholic worship to continue in the church.

St Etheldreda’s is a Roman Catholic parish church in Ely, Cambridgeshire. It is part of the Diocese of East Anglia within the Province of Westminster. The church contains the shrine and relics of Æthelthryth, including her hand.


St. Etheldreda’s Church in White Notley, Essex, is a Church of England parish church, of Saxon construction, built on the site of a Roman temple, with a large quantity of Roman brick in its fabric. The church has a small Mediaeval English stained glass window, depicting St. Etheldreda, which is set in a stone frame made from a very early Insular Christian Roman Chi Rho grave marker.

The common version of Æthelthryth’s name was St. Audrey, which is the origin of the word “tawdry,” by a shift of the “t” from “saint” to “Audrey.” On St Audrey’s Day (‘Tawdry’s) in the Middle Ages, a fair was held in Ely where lacework was sold. In the 17th century the East Anglian Puritans considered this lacework to be cheap and immodest – hence “tawdry.”


Ely (pronounced “Eelie”), especially Ely cathedral, is one of my favorite places in England. The name is said (possibly by folk etymology) to be derived from “Isle of Eels” from the time when it was surrounded by water and marshland and eels were plentiful. Here is Anglo-Saxon Ely showing Ely as an island in the marshes.


Eels are still caught there in the Great River Ouse by the locally well known eel catcher, Peter Carter. Historically eels were part of the local staple diet. You can still get smoked eels at the Ely Farmers’ Market, and eel stew or eel pie at the Lamb Hotel.


For reasons unknown eels have tended to follow me around. The fishermen of the village in the sounds and marshes of the North Carolina village where I did my Ph.D. fieldwork made a handsome profit from eel catching (in pots) – which they mostly sold to Japanese tradesmen, and outside my house on the Neversink River in Orange Co. New York there was a very successful eel trap. Some of the eels caught there were smoked for local markets.


I’ve had elvers (baby eels) in Tokyo, and once watched a sushi chef being taught how to dissect live eels in a restaurant in the famed Tsukiji Market.


When I was a teenager I often went to this pie and eel shop in London with friends of mine who were displaced East Enders. Originally these shops sold eel pies (and there has been a small resurgence of late), but when I went there in the 1960’s the pies were meat – although they still sold jellied eels.

Here’s a 17th century recipe for eel pie from A NEVV BOOKE Of Cookerie. “Coffins” in this context means hot water pastry pie shells.

To bake Eeles.

CUt your Eeles about the length of your finger: season them with Pepper, Salt, and Ginger, and so put them into a Coffin, with a good piece of sweet Butter. Put into your Pye great Razins of the Sunne, and an Onyon minst small, and so close it and bake it.

Here’s also a classic recipe from Mrs Beeton


253. INGREDIENTS.—1 lb. of eels, a little chopped parsley, 1 shalot; grated nutmeg; pepper and salt to taste; the juice of 1/2 a lemon, small quantity of forcemeat, 1/4 pint of béchamel (see Sauces); puff paste.

 Mode.—Skin and wash the eels, cut them into pieces 2 inches long, and line the bottom of the pie-dish with forcemeat. Put in the eels, and sprinkle them with the parsley, shalots, nutmeg, seasoning, and lemon-juice, and cover with puff-paste. Bake for 1 hour, or rather more; make the béchamel hot, and pour it into the pie.

Time.—Rather more than 1 hour.

Seasonable from August to March.