Scarves and Ham Sandwiches

I was made blatantly aware that the scarf I had placed on my head against the nagging March cold did not make me look like Jacky Onassis when the man behind the counter of the coffee shop pointed out to me that the sandwich I had chosen for my on the go lunch contained ham. Granted, I have dark eyes and impeccable eyebrows and I pride myself on flawless make-up. Also, I am visibly of mixed descent, an enigmatic detail I gladly exploit on official papers, looking for the ‘other’ box to tick. But the bartender that day had a specific ‘other’ in mind.

Surely he meant no harm. If anything, he presented himself as a kind, engaged, well-informed individual who knew how to put two and two together.

covered head + pork = no no

The episode left me amused but also slightly irritated. Which it perhaps should not have. But the fact that it did, made me think.

Mainstream thinking has been taken hostage by political correctness to such an extent it has become increasingly difficult to voice an opinion. Our demand for consideration to each and everybody’s sensitivities, proclivities, background, culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, general preference and current situation has made it impossible to construe a phrase that does not risk being dissected and eventually dismissed and rejected. Our words and ideas have become a battleground of pseudo-ideologies, based on fears of exclusion and an inflated desire for inclusion. At the slightest hint of divergence from common and, especially, popular convention, conceptual, theoretical, notional, and ideological lines of argumentation are overthrown and discarded, deemed and hence judged intolerant, bigoted and biased. Not to mention dangerous, racist, and discriminatory.

This tendency is not limited to contemporary, political or societal issues but extends its influences to the domains of history, art and literature. Self-proclaimed specialists too easily pop up, ready to discredit past accomplishments without factual insight or situational consideration. And in their wake, their iconoclastic acolytes vent their anger, triggered by frustration and a need to define an umbrella identity of which they are the main proponents.

To Kill a Mockingbird, an exercise in outdated racism and social inequality. Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (whose Rochester locks his mentally ill wife in the attic) a sample of disability abuse. Moby Dick, a white man looking for his white whale. Heart of Darkness a prime illustration of imperialism and colonialism. The list goes on.

The argument that there are contemporary, sometimes even more relevant masterpieces being written and developed as we speak is valid but not comprehensive and even if Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is a captivating story on slavery and family, even if Beatriz Williams brings the roaring twenties to life with female buoyancy, Conrad and Fitzgerald are an intricate part of their accounts. Then and now are intrinsically linked. And if bygone scholars and politicians are now more famous for the skeletons in their closets, it should be their actual failures and accomplishments we excavate and analyze, recognizing and ranking their resonance into the present.

If everything is a cultural convenience, if everything is explained as a subjective attribute, everything becomes relative and if everything is relative, anything goes. Right and wrong, both undefinable, fly out of the window as each and every opinion and belief system, flawed or not, minority or majority based, inclusive or exclusive, converts into a generalized, so-called political correct value system, advocated by all, defined by nobody. But well-meant does not always cut it and giving in to our sensitivities and utopian wishes does not necessarily arm us against the ‘isms’ we wish to, should, set out to fight. The risks are clear.

There is a fine line between having respect for and paying lip service to and sometimes, an idea or belief must prevail over an emotional statement or attachment. Sometimes it is good to stand up and say ‘no’ to a current wave. Sometimes following the crowd just isn’t the optimal strategy.

The leap from my sandwich to politically correctness is not an obvious one and I should not take an act of kindness and concern as a pretext to extrapolate onto a critique on current thinking. Sometimes a sandwich is just a sandwich, a headscarf a headscarf.

Or as Jovanotti says,
A forza di essere molto informato so poco di tutti
e dimentico di
guardarti negli occhi, sbloccare I miei blocchi
alzare il volume e pensare che si
Oh si
La mia ragazza è magica …

Tolerance and Judgment

After years of being judged for being judgmental I stumbled upon this phrase by Norman Doidge in his foreword to Jordan Peterson’s ’12 Rules for Life’.

(…) That emphasis on tolerance is so paramount that for many people one of the worst character flaws a person can have is to be ‘judgmental’.

I have not read Peterson’s book, yet. I have of course seen Cathy Newman’s failed career grandstanding Channel 4 interview with him, as well as a few of his YouTube posts, but I can’t comment on ’12 Rules’ and as for Peterson, well, to paraphrase what others have said before me, he is a fierce critic of current authoritarian thinking be it identity politics or postmodernism, and a strong advocate of free speech. And, oh yes, the left hates him. Which means the media hates him, which means you will never know what he really says unless you read his book. Which is what I am going to do.

But back to the foreword, for that’s how far I got. And keeping in mind this is but one phrase. One. But it hit a nerve.

Tolerance and judgment. Having an open mind, being opinionated. A semantic game for some, a serious struggle for others. For a while now, it feels to me as if any intolerance streak is unacceptable and deserves to be severely chastised. By the same token, judgment calls are often seen as antiquated signs of bias and narrow-mindedness. Surely all opinions matter? Surely all sensitivities need to be considered? Surely there is no room for refusal and hierarchy in a setting marked by respect and due regard? Where then is there room to voice one’s opinion? How can we expound our opinions, beliefs and arguments through a prescribed, carefully measured use of ‘should/could it be/perhaps/conceivably?

My judgmental side has often, if not continuously, been the subject of my inner dialogue. But my tolerance hasn’t. Which is what Doidge’s phrase now makes me question.

Let us look at that inner dialogue, or should I say, that verbal freight train that rushes through my brain at every waking moment? Endless, recurrent thought and ideas, fears and desires, that take over my mind, going round and round in an eternal loop. But it does not have to be this way. There are remedies. Sleeping tablets, professional therapy sessions, self-help books and videos and, my remedy of choice, meditation.

Meditation means many things to many people. For some it means asceticism. Others see meditation as a form of relaxation, a chance to zonk out. Some take a moment of meditation to think things through and to order their thoughts. I would define meditation as an exercise in training the mind, with the quality of mindfulness.

Meditation and mindfulness, in their current revival, have been newly defined and packaged. The quiet hall with its buddha statue, a small flower arrangement, the whiff of incense are no more. The lotus position is no longer required and even the closed eyes are now replaced by a soft gaze. Meditation is a craze, mindfulness its trusted acolyte.

People, schools and companies worldwide are riding the M&M wave. The Dalai Lama’s quote ‘If every eight year old in the world is taught meditation we will we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation’ presents many with a good reason to make mindfulness a part of school’s national curriculum. Do they have a point?

Whereas mediation is a practice, mindfulness is a state. In order to be mindful, one needs to attain a level of awareness. It is not enough to state that mindfulness requires ‘being in’ and ‘accepting’ the present. Mindfulness requires a framework. If, as is the case nowadays. we remove meditation and mindfulness from its historical and religious context, we are left with a watered down version of a philosophical value system which risks leaving ancient principles of respect, acceptance, kindness and compassion – but to name a few – at the mercy of popular, generalized, over-simplified, tabloid-style interpretations of morality.

Not allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by thoughts and emotions does not equal striving to having no thoughts or emotions at all. In the same way, if aversions and preferences feed the illusory nature of our being, any moral stance still commands a certain level of assent and dissent. Which is where our judgment comes in. Never blind, never based on prejudice or untruths, never with the intent to hurt, blame or dominate, any expression of judgment calls for a comprehensive and considerate reflection. The more we learn, the better we understand, the more virtuous our choices will be, the better we will approach the boundaries of tolerance and acceptance.

Re-directing our inner dialogue and allowing for a different kind of questioning of ourselves, others, things, situations, decisions and policies, and, re-evaluating our tolerance levels, might be misconstrued as a call for parochialism and bigotry. I would merely like to not board my train and challenge my forbearance.

Call me judgmental….

Civilisation and The Sopranos


My addiction started with the Sopranos. It was indeed Tony who singlehandedly pulled me into the realm of binge watching. And I haven’t stopped since. So far I have binged my way through Dexter, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Wire, Sherlock, GoT, Fargo, House of Cards (until youknowwhat), Stranger Things, Sense8, Six Feet Under, Ray Donovan, Black Mirror, The Crown (I know), Godless, Mindhunter, The End of the Fucking World, but to name a few. And don’t get me started on culinary shows.



Binge watching is a relatively new development. I still consider it a luxury, not having to wait for a broadcaster to decide for me what I can watch, when and where. Like the joys of online shopping. Sorry Mr and Mrs Shopkeeper but your opening hours do not coincide with my retail therapy urges so in comes Mr. Bezos.

buy now


That being said, waiting and anticipating still now has its appeal. I am waiting right now for the much publicized new Civilisation series, to be aired by the BBC, next March. Not that I will see this in March, as I don’t have access to the BBC. So unless somebody puts it on YouTube, which is illegal and equals theft, despite it being Art with a capital A, I will have to wait for the box.


Anyway. The new series, presented by Simon Schama, Mary Beard and David Olusoga is a modern – don’t you hate that word?- take on Kenneth Clark’s ‘Civilisation, A Personal View’ from 1969. I have the complete series, emphasis on ‘complete’. Four discs, eleven chapters, 663 minutes.

Try bingeing on that baby, baby!’

‘Civilisation’, a masterpiece at its time, now terribly outdated.


Visually antiquated and musically overburdened, the series has an old-fashioned, dare I say, stifled feel to it. Clearly, we, the viewers, have moved on. Bombarded as we are with images and colours, we need more. Speed, movement, flow. And then there is Clark, the over-confident, upper class, Western Burberry patrician who, offers us his ‘personal’ view on civilisation. How wonderful it must have been, living and working in an era that allowed for such liberties. For when Clark says ‘personal’, what he really means is selective, according to his preferences. Clark was allowed to focus on what, to him, mattered most. He could, singlehandedly, like Tony, dispensing with entire civilisations. Philosophers? Who needs them? Writers? No thank you. Enlightened and subversive thinkers? I don’t think so. The series, bizarrely, starts off in Ireland; Skellig Michael no less, the very same island where fifty years later Rey would face Luke Skywalker.


From there, through the very dark Middle Ages, Clark hobbles into the Gothic to gracefully slide into the Renaissance. Rome or Greece hardly mentioned. Vikings as seafaring rapists. Not one reference to Spain. Moors? Ah yes? Byzantium? Okay. But never Constantinople.

‘Civilisation.’ All that is singular and unique. In a world where woke was not a word yet.

Do not take me wrong. I appreciate Kenneth Clark and will be forever grateful for him, saving some eighteen hundred masterpieces from the National Gallery on the eve of the Second World War. But now, I believe, like John Berger in his 1972 ‘Ways of Seeing’, that it is high time for a new take on civilisation.

The new series is aptly named ‘Civilisations’, with the added ‘s’ a relief. But also a concern. How will the makers of the new series handle the political correctness standards of our time. Where will politeness, sensitivity and deference cross the embarrassing truths of history? How will Clark’s barbarians, savages and all those ‘others’ he barely mentions find their own, rightful place in an overview that, as Schama says, ‘gets us from the Ice Age to last week’. And how will Clark’s ‘Christian, predominantly white, Western’ man fare amidst the encounter between the world’s nations and cultures?

We will see. And eventually binge. Or not.

I like to extol the pleasures of binge watching. In truth, it is an addiction. Unlike the book you can’t put down, bingeing is a passive activity that takes us out of reality into a fantasy of gigantic proportions. Binge long enough and one gets convinced that behind that flat screen, there is actually a Westeros. And a neurotic, moody, anxious mob killer. I clearly remember how, upon hearing of the death of James Gandolfini, the first thing I thought was ‘Sh@#, now we’ll never have a sequel’. So much for commiseration. James had become Tony. All lines suddenly blurred.

Blurred also the lines when we talk about civilisation. For despite lectures and books and TV documentaries, nobody can exactly define what civilisation is. Clark maintained he knew what it was when he saw it, keeping his eyes turned to the Notre Dame in Paris. It is never that simple. Perhaps the true definition of civilisation lies beyond our grasp. Perhaps it is merely a word that only has meaning in its elasticity. Or perhaps we only know what civilisation is and means when we feel it is under threat, when we recognize its ephemeral qualities.

Let’s binge on that for a while.

My Laptop and I

The laptop I write this on is old. Ancient. And now, I am told it is obsolete. Unpleasant messages are popping up on my screen on a daily basis, warning me the ‘server no longer supports this version of…’, that my files are no longer saved on a ‘something or other’. Also, I can no longer establish a connection between my phone and laptop, or my camera and laptop.

Granted, this laptop is nine years old. Yet he (yes, ‘he’) shows few, if any, signs of wear and tear. And he works perfectly well, thank you very much. At least, I think so. But others beg to differ. And it is getting harder and harder to argue with them.


flintstones computer


My laptop is a wonderful piece of equipment. Sleek, maybe a bit on the heavy side compared to more recent models, but trustworthy. He boasts no touch bars, and yes, he has an old fashioned Hard Disk Drive and a fan which over the years has turned a tad noisy. And sometimes he gets a bit hot. But despite these minor signs of gentle aging, he and I maintain an intimate relationship. We connect and interact on a daily basis. Letting him go would be similar to … a divorce – of sorts; instigated by others who claim I need to ‘upgrade’.

Despite being IT and computer un-savvy, I of course understand the rationale behind it all. But as a simple consumer, I feel duped. Again.

Imagine. I have just bought a new cashmere jumper I think would go perfectly well with my black jeans. Only, once at home, suddenly, my sweater objects, claiming it is not compatible with this version of last year’s jeans.

Or. Did you know mattresses have a sell-by date of eight years? So, all of a sudden, my memory foam’s in-built device protests and declares it no longer supports my … bedmate?

You see my point.

And then there is the question of recycling. I recycle, don’t we all? I too want there to be less waste, less plastic, less packaging and smarter solutions in the reuse and reprocessing of everything it is we use. But would it not be equally important to reduce the need to recycle and reuse by simply keeping our products (re: My Laptop) for a longer period of time? Think of it as a refill, Mr. Mac!


LEt’s face it, my laptop still has a good number of years in him. His hardware is sturdy. He is loved and cared for. Only his soft bits are being questioned.



January Jeremiad


They have decided that tomorrow is Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. We all know that ‘they’ like to decide for us. Only this time, they provide proof, in the shape of a formula. I won’t even try. Sometimes Wikipedia rules.

Meanwhile, tomorrow, Belgium, more precisely Flanders, sees the launch of a ‘No Nagging’ campaign. They have decided (they are busy) to have the ‘No Nagging’ campaign start on Blue Monday, which seems ominous enough. But worse, the campaign, encouraging people not to nag or complain in an effort to promote positivity, is set to last thirty days, ending on, you have guessed it, Valentine’s Day.

Scary.  For what could be more dangerous than the final release of a built up congestion on the most emotionally laden day of the year?

Furthermore, I object. To all of it, to the positivity dictate in particular.

Bear with me.

Our taste receptors identify five ‘tastes’ or ‘flavours’: sweet, salt, sour, bitter and the ever effusive umami. These flavours are complementary and when used in the right proportion, they enhance, counterbalance and strengthen their respective qualities. Achieve the perfect blend of these five elements and you have a dish, fit for a king. Likewise, our emotional range is wide and varied. Relief, guilt, anxiety, sadness, happiness, joy and excitement interact, intermingle, fuse and combine. One does not, should not, dominate the other. Neither precludes the other.

The real power lies in the mix.

Every day, I count my blessings. But while I acknowledge what I am grateful for, I also note life’s little frustrations and try and learn how to deal with them. Acceptance of imperfections and a will to improve , rather than denial and the need for a cosmetic, cheery version of what others define as ‘happiness’.

Happiness? The umami of life? The main ingredient of well-being? Or a link in the chain of self-imposed limitations, inevitably distancing ourselves from potential fulfillment.

As for Blue Monday, with the words of Khalil Gibran,

I would not exchange the sorrows of my heart
For the joys of the multitude
And I would not have the tears that sadness makes
To flow from my every part turn into laughter

I would that my life remain a tear and a smile

And there is always Tuesday ….

Panettone and Sobriety

If people follow the recent, seasonal cri de coeur to quit social media and ditch smartphones, fewer people than ever (and believe me, you are few) will be reading this blog. But for an irregular blogger like me, this should not be a deterrent. Hence, I persevere, knowing that this post will go into the archives until our good intentions will lie, dried out in the sadness of their old-school wasteland, from where it will be dug up, clicked on, viewed and perhaps read.

I am a fan of less social media. But not so of ditching my phone as another New Year’s resolution. In fact, I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions in general. At all.

Traditionally – historically – New Year’s resolutions were religiously inspired pledges, made to a higher power. They were often inherently unrealistic, yet filled with admirable intent. Nowadays New Year’s resolutions are morally charged private commitments that, in the majority of cases, have more to do with lifestyle than anything else. Yes, there is the ‘I will be more patient, less angry, less wasteful, …’ moment, but mostly, our New Year’s resolutions center around pleasure and eating habits. More vegetables, less meat, more, much more exercise and of course, no or much less alcohol.

Is there, I ask you, a sadder resolution for the month of January than more gym, more veggies and less of the good stuff? Let’s face it. St. Nicholas is back in Spain, Father Christmas and St. Sylvester have packed up and even the three wise men are on their home journey. We are barely back on speaking terms with family members after our last Xmas fall-out. The weather is grey and wet, days are short, evenings long and dark. Sales are on, wallets are empty.

If not now, when do we need a drink?

And then there is the left-over panettone …



More is More

Godiva, famous Belgian chocolates manufacturer, has stopped its production of alcohol filled pralines.
Founded in Brussels in 1926, Godiva now owns more than 500 retail stores worldwide and is available through some 10 00 retailers. Godiva also issues mail-order catalogues and enjoys an important online presence. Godiva pralines are beautiful, delicious and preciously packaged.
Godiva has not been in Belgian hands for a while now. Its current owner, Turkish Yıldız Holdings is a food and consumer goods manufacturer, specialized in biscuits and confectionary. It is also active outside its core business, in real estate, private equity and venture capital.
In 2008 Yıldız Holdings acquired Godiva.
In April 2017 Godiva stopped its production of liqueur filled pralines, only followed by an announcement in September 2017, stating a renewed company strategy.
Godiva, so its communication manager declares, wishes to ‘offer its products to every one, and pralines with alcohol are only for adults.’
Universal products for the widest audience.


Pralines are a select delicacy. They have a history and tradition. There is know-how involved. Patience and skill. The result is exquisite, with the added advantage of ‘pick and choose’.

So who are they kidding?

Food is nutrition. It is energy, satiation. At it bests it is also pleasure. But more and more, food is something else.
Food is now a health issue. We no longer eat merely to stave off hunger. Instead we make nutritional choices that are supposed to keep us in good health and shape. Foods are labeled, categorized. Brain-boosting, fast, carcinogenic, ketonic, junk, energizing, cleansing, organic, whole.

whole foods

Sharing food is in my opinion the most beautiful act to bring people together. What stronger image than sitting together, breaking bread, raising glasses in a toast – of good health? Offering, accepting, savouring, uniting.

But food also separates. That is when food is power. Have and have-nots. Upstairs, downstairs. Those who control the granaries, those who think they know better, or best. And closer to home, well, ask any parent, and child. And now praline maker.

An overreaction on behalf of a few chocolates, you say? I wish it were.

‘Pralines for every one’, Godiva says.
I have never met ‘every one’. ‘Every one’ does not exist, except in the minds of tyrants and dictators for whom ‘every one’ is a template of a reduced human image, a fictitious entity without freedom, choice, liberty, voice, desire and preference.
With its decision to stop its production of liqueur filled pralines, Godiva has left the liberal world-wide luxury realm of sensory pleasure in favour of a limited, narrow-minded and bland dietary restriction with an obvious ‘Muslim/No alcohol’ flavour.

I would have welcomed a Halal extension to the Godiva selection. A special edition Eid al-Fitr gift box.


Sometimes, less is more.
But often more is exactly that. More.