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.


Aug 192016


World Humanitarian Day is a day dedicated to the recognition of people carrying out humanitarian work and those who have lost their lives working for humanitarian causes. It was designated by the United Nations General Assembly as part of a Swedish-sponsored GA Resolution A/63/L.49 on the Strengthening of the Coordination of Emergency Assistance of the United Nations, and set as 19 August. It marks the day on which the then Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello and 21 of his colleagues were killed in the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad.


A national of Brazil, Sérgio Vieira de Mello dedicated a lifetime spanning over thirty years in the United Nations, serving in some of the most challenging humanitarian situations in the world to reach the voiceless victims of armed conflict, to alleviate their suffering and to draw attention to their plight. His death together with 21 colleagues on 19 August 2003 in Baghdad, deprived the victims of armed conflict worldwide of a humanitarian leader of unmatched courage, drive and empathy who championed their cause fearlessly and etched their plight on the world map. The tragic event also robbed the humanitarian community of an outstanding humanitarian leader and intellectual whose thinking, philosophy, dynamism, and courage inspired all, and whose timeless efforts should be a model for coming generations to emulate.


Mindful of this legacy, in 2006 the Vieira de Mello family and a group of close friends founded the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation dedicated to continuing his unfinished mission of encouraging dialogue between communities and relieving the plight of victims of humanitarian crises. The Foundation is dedicated to supporting initiatives and efforts to promote dialogue for peaceful reconciliation and co-existence between peoples and communities divided by conflict through an annual Sergio Vieira Mello Award, an Annual Sergio Vieira Mello Memorial Lecture, a Sergio Vieira de Mello Fellowship and advocating for the security and independence of humanitarian workers, wherever they may be operating and whomever they may be operating for. The Foundation views World Humanitarian Day as a befitting tribute to all humanitarian personnel who have made the ultimate sacrifices to make the world a better place for all victims of humanitarian crises and an encouragement to all their colleagues to aspire to even greater heights in accomplishing that laudable goal.

The Sérgio Vieira de Mello Foundation is committed to working closely with all Governments, the United Nations, International Organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations to make Word Humanitarian Day a meaningful observance every year. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is leading efforts to plan and guide the observance of the Day that will be commemorated annually world wide by Governments, the United Nations and International Humanitarian Organizations and NGOs.

World Humanitarian Day was commemorated for the first time on 19 August 2009. Subsequent years have focused on a particular theme. In 2010, the focus was on the actual work and achievements of humanitarian workers in the field, with the theme, “We are Humanitarian Workers.” The 2011 campaign, “People Helping People” was about inspiring the spirit of aid work in everyone. The 2012 campaign, “I Was Here” was about making your mark by doing something good, somewhere, for someone else. The campaign has had a social reach of more than 1 billion people around the world. It was supported by the singer Beyoncé, whose music video for the song “I Was Here” has been viewed more than 50 million times.


In 2013, the UN and its partners launched a project called “The World Needs More…”. In collaboration with global advertising firm Leo Burnett, the campaign aims to turn words into aid for people affected by humanitarian crises. Private sector companies and philanthropists are being encouraged to sponsor a word that they believe the world could use more of, e.g. “action.” People can then ‘unlock’ money pledged by sponsors by ‘sharing’ these words through social media, SMS and through the campaign website at  Events to mark World Humanitarian Day and launch the campaign were held in more than 50 countries around the world.

World Humanitarian Day also aims to bring attention to the fact that there is a humanitarian crisis in the world today. The UN’s Agenda for Humanity has five areas of focus.

1 End & Prevent Conflict

2 Respect Rules of War

3 Leave No One Behind

4 Work Differently To End Need

5 Invest In Humanity

If #1 were in effect there would be no need for #2 of course.

The Syrian refugee crisis is of major importance right now, but the UN estimates that at least 130 million people in the world today are in crisis because of war. It’s quite easy to discern counterproductive imperatives in developed countries: they cause conflict around the world and then refuse to help the refugees who are displaced by their actions. Monstrous. We ALL must speak out. Spread the word.

It would not be right to celebrate conflict and the refuge crisis, but I the day is really about honoring the life of Sérgio Vieira de Mello (as well as all humanitarian aid workers). So, a Brazilian recipe is in order. What could be more Brazilian than feijoada?  At root feijoada is a stew of black beans and meat, and, of course, you can cook it a million different ways. Here is a serviceable recipe. You can alter the meats, but it must have black beans.




1 lb/480 g dry black beans
4 tbsp olive oil
1 lb 480 g pork shoulder, cut into chunks
2 large onions, peeled and sliced
1 head of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 lb/450 g carne seca or corned beef, cut into chunks
½ lb/225 g fresh Brazilian pork sausage
1 lb/480 g  lingüiça  (smoked sausage)
1 smoked ham hock or shank
3-4 bay leaves
1 14.5 oz/411 g crushed tomatoes
meat stock


Soak the black beans overnight in cold water.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed large pot over medium-high heat and add the onions and pork shoulder and brown them well all over. Add the garlic and sauté 2 more minutes.

Add the other meats and bay leaves, and cover with rich stock. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook for 1 hour.

Drain the black beans from their soaking liquid and add them to the meat. Continue simmering gently, covered, until the beans are tender – about 1½ hours.

Add the tomatoes, stir well, and taste for seasoning. Add salt if needed.

Simmer the stew, uncovered, for a further 2-3 hours.

Serve with white rice and hot sauce.

As side dishes you can serve collard greens and fried plantains.

Dec 192015


The BBC World Service began as the BBC Empire Service on this date in 1932 – a shortwave service aimed principally at English speakers in the outposts of the British Empire. In his first Christmas Message, King George V stated that the service was intended for “men and women, so cut off by the snow, the desert, or the sea, that only voices out of the air can reach them.” First hopes for the Empire Service were low. The Director General, Sir John Reith (later Lord Reith) said in the opening program: “Don’t expect too much in the early days; for some time we shall transmit comparatively simple programs, to give the best chance of intelligible reception and provide evidence as to the type of material most suitable for the service in each zone. The programmes will neither be very interesting nor very good.” This address was read out five times as it was broadcast live to different parts of the world.

The BBC World Service is the world’s largest international broadcaster, broadcasting radio and television news, speech and discussions in 29 languages to many parts of the world on analogue and digital shortwave platforms, internet streaming, podcasting, satellite, FM and MW relays. It was announced in November 2015 that The BBC World Service will start broadcasting in Nigerian Pidgin and Yoruba in Nigeria, when this service starts it will bring the total number of broadcast languages to 31. The World Service was reported to have reached 188 million people a week (TV, radio and online) on average in June 2009. The English language service broadcasts 24 hours a day.


You can find it streaming online here:

On 3 January 1938, the first foreign-language service, Arabic, was launched. German programs commenced on 29 March 1938 and by the end of 1942 broadcasts were being made in all major European languages. As a result, the Empire Service was renamed the BBC Overseas Service in November 1939, and a dedicated BBC European Service was added in 1941. These broadcasting services, financed not from the domestic license fee but from government grant-in-aid (from the Foreign Office budget), were known administratively as the External Services of the BBC.

The External Services broadcast propaganda during the Second World War. Its French service Radio Londres also sent coded messages to the French Resistance. George Orwell broadcast many news bulletins on the Eastern Service during World War II.


By the end of the 1940s the number of languages broadcast had expanded and reception had improved following the opening of a relay in modern day Malaysia and of the Limassol relay, Cyprus, in 1957. On 1 May 1965 the service took its current name of BBC World Service and the service itself expanded its reach with the opening of the Ascension Island relay in 1966, serving African audiences with greater signal and reception, and the later relay on the Island of Masirah.

In recent years, financial pressures have decreased the number and type of services offered by the BBC. Due to the launch of internet-based services, the need for a radio station is less frequent in countries where the population has easy access to the internet news sites of the BBC. The German broadcasts were stopped in March 1999 after research showed that the majority of German listeners tuned into the English version of the service. Broadcasts in Dutch, Finnish, French for Europe, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese and Malay were stopped for similar reasons.

Traditionally, the BBC World Service relied on shortwave broadcasts, because of its ability to overcome barriers of censorship, distance and spectrum scarcity. To this end, the BBC has maintained a worldwide network of shortwave relay stations since the 1940s, mainly in former British colonies. These cross border broadcasts have also been used in special circumstances to broadcast emergency messages to British subjects abroad, such as the advice to evacuate Jordan during the Black September incidents of September 1970.


The BBC World Service on shortwave was a great boon to me in the 1970s through to the end of the 1990s. I used to listen to the news regularly as a counter to the national news services of the USA, which omitted so many international stories that I was interested in. I would also tune in to comedies, quiz shows, and dramas, for a change of pace, and, of course, on Christmas Eve I always put on Carols from Kings. Long distance shortwave can often be temperamental, and the BBC routinely switched frequencies throughout the day. So I had to keep a log of when the different frequencies were active, to be able to catch programs I liked. <sigh> . . .days long gone with the advent of high speed internet, live streaming, and podcasts.

Cooking shows are not very common on the BBC World Service because radio is far from ideal for conveying recipes; television gives much more scope. But I found two places where you can tune in. Go here for the latest episodes of Paula McIntyre’s show “Cooking with Paula McIntyre.” I don’t know how long this link will work, but you can always go to the BBC home page and search for cooking shows that are current.

Also of interest to me is a current series called “Marguerite Patten’s Century of British Cooking.” This is a 10-part series currently in progress, with some past episodes available for a brief period. I don’t know if they will be archived. For now here is the 1930s episode:

Patten, who was a BBC home economics broadcaster for many years, gives an excellent account of cooking salient British events, decade by decade. Well worth a listen. In this episode she has a certain amount to say about the proper way to make bread sauce to go with roast chicken. If all else fails, go here for the current BBC recipe for bread sauce:


As Patten points out, bread sauce is delicious when cooked properly, or much like old-fashioned library paste if not. Bread sauce is basically a milk sauce thickened with breadcrumbs and seasoned with onion, cloves, and mace. The secret, Patten says (and as my mum made it), was to properly infuse the milk with the seasonings, which involves bringing a pan of milk to the boil with an onion studded with cloves plus a blade of mace, and then letting it sit to cool for several hours before adding the breadcrumbs. When I was a boy bread sauce was an essential component of Christmas dinner.