Seeing Potential or Learning to Count?

I just saw the weirdest billboard ever at the airport. It said something like, “Five times more people are learning English in China than in England. The world belongs to those who see its potential.”

Has the genius who came up with this billboard stopped to consider the difference in the population size of China and England? I’m sure many more people take showers and brush their teeth in China than in England. And not because the English are dirty.

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Juan Valdez vs Starbucks

I just discovered a great coffee-shop chain at the Newark, NJ airport. It’s called Juan Valdez. It has very original coffee beverages of very high quality and inventive snacks.

I wonder why we don’t have Juan Valdez instead of boring Starbucks with its disappointing coffee and a miserable snack selection in my area.

As we say in Colombia, “Si a usted no le gusta lo colombiano, usted esta mal hecho” (If you don’t like Colombian, you are totally messed up). I hope everybody remembered to turn on their sense of humor this morning.

And how do you prefer to take your coffee?

Clarissa in Ottawa, Day 2

We dedicated our second day in Ottawa to exploring the city. First, we went to the Byward Market. There are several stalls selling these funny Canadian hats and mittens:

Downtown Ottawa is beautiful:

Even though there are weird looking buildings like this one:

I’m kidding, of course. I liked the weird building. I’m just trying to make this post more controversial.

Of course, no visit anywhere with my sister could do without an exploration of every baby store in the area:

And then we had to start on our way back. These beautiful clouds accompanied us on the way:

I’d really like to be praised for my improving photography skills now.

Clarissa in Ottawa, Day 1

Ottawa is a great place, people. It’s both cozy and sophisticated, safe and fun. The city is not huge and it has a comfortable, welcoming small-town feel. However, it’s a city with great universities, exquisite restaurants, and interesting stores to discover. The trip to Ottawa that I took this week started at Tim Horton’s. I couldn’t visit Canad and never see the inside of a Tim Horton’s, could I?

As soon as we arrived in Ottawa, we went to our hotel to register. Here is our room:

After that, I rushed to St. Paul’s University where my conference was taking place:

Here is the poster for our conference:

I have to tell you that at no other conference had I ever been offered food and wine of the same high quality as a did here. At many conferences, you pay a registration fee that is 3 times greater than the one I paid here and don’t get as much as a bottle of water in return. Here, however, we were fed and offered coffee and alcohol several times during the day.

In the meanwhile, my sister was having a pretty great meal, too, at Social restaurant:

I was kind of sad to be missing the meal at Social because it’s such a lovely restaurant. I stopped feeling sorry that I missed the dinner, though, when I heard the brilliant talk by Daniel Innerarity, a Spanish philosopher I admire:

After the conference ended, I went back to the hotel and spent the next four hours talking to my sister. We’ve been talking for almost 30 years now but there is still a lot to say.

Domus Cafe in Ottawa, Canada: A Review

Today in Ottawa, I decided to take my sister to lunch to show my gratitude to her for driving me to Ottawa for my conference and back. We chose to visit Domus Cafe whose talented young chef uses ideas borrowed from Canadian country food by takes them in the direction of haute cuisine (I still can’t get out of my French-speaking mode, so please bear with me until I go back to the US).

Here is how Domus Cafe looks inside:

It is located in Ottawa’s vibrant Byward Market, so it’s very easy for any tourist to find. Here is how Domus Cafe looks on the inside:

We came right after the restaurant opened at 11 am, so it was still empty. It really filled up for lunch, however, even though this is not a cheap place. Of course, the food is so good and the service is so spectacular that there is no mystery to Domus cafe’s popularity. Here are the lattes we ordered with our lunch:

I’m trying to learn to take better photos. How does this one look? I think it’s better than the ones I usually take. W

We had a long way back to Montreal ahead of us, so we decided to order a big lunch. For appetizers, we got mushroom bisque. I loved it because it was not oversalted, like mushroom bisques often are. One huge differences between US restaurants (even very expensive ones) and Canadian restaurants is that food is always grievously oversalted in the US. Here is this beautiful bisque that smelled and tasted of mushrooms:

As an entree, my sister had a mushroom barley risotto. I’d never tried a barley risotto before and I’m glad I did because it’s a very interesting dish that I now plan to recreate at home. The risotto was very delicately seasoned and perfectly done. Here it is:

And I had smoked trout with rosti, apple and endive salad and caramelized pearl onions. This dish was divine. The rosti were very crisp and fresh and the salad was very refreshing, offering a great counterpoint to the saltiness of the roasted trout:

Of course, after this kind of lunch, neither of us was interested in the dessert. In order to fulfill my role of a blogger who faithfully records all aspects of reality, I even took a photo of the bill:

This was an expensive lunch but we were enjoying a special occasion, so it was absolutely worth it.

Dating Advice, Part III

My third piece of advice is to stop counting. Applying arithmetic to your romantic life might make you feel in control but that’s a very unhealthy illusion. The greatest challenge of our romantic lives is that we do not control them. The sooner you accept the idea that you can do everything right many times in a row and still not end up in a blissful relationship as a result, the better. And do I need to tell you how crucial relinquishing control is for achieving sexual fulfillment? All of those anorgasmic people of both genders are the ones who are terrified of relinquishing control.

So forget all the silly advice about counting the number of days you need to wait before calling up a person for a second date or counting the number of dates before you allow yourself to have sex. If you need to call the person, just do it. If you are afraid of looking needy by calling too soon, consider the following: shouldn’t you aim for a partner whose neediness matches yours? Why would you want to start a relationship with someone who has a much weaker need for company than you do? Besides, nobody can transform themselves completely for each new date without suffering a nervous breakdown. Trying to anticipate the needs of a complete stranger to the detriment of your own is not a road to happiness.

The same goes for sex. The only good time to have sex is when you feel like doing it. What’s the point of getting involved with someone whose sexual temperament or sexual morality are completely different from yours? If you don’t feel like having sex for the first six months of the relationship, just be open and unapologetic about that. If you feel like having sex six hours after the first date, I suggest you do the same. Of course, I’m talking about cases when people are in tune with their sexuality and can distinguish genuine sexual desire or lack thereof from the need to manipulate a partner.

Cultural Differences in the Attitude Towards Progress and Capitalism

During the discussion with philosophers last night, glaring cultural differences among us became obvious. The Western European and American (including Latin American) scholars gleefully exchanged apocalyptic scenarios and denounced progress and capitalism.

Scholars from India and Eastern Europe (khm, khm), on the other hand, saw the current moment in history as highly hopeful and refused to agree that we would all be better off without the Western civilization or capitalism.

“Look where this completely misguided idea of progress brought us!” a Latin American philosopher exclaimed. “If the results are this horrible, then surely we can agree that the very idea is rotten to the core.”

“We have 3 women sitting at this table, talking about philosophy,” I observed. “This is something that couldn’t have happened at any other moment in history. My ancestors were slaves. So you’ll have to excuse me for disagreeing that the belief in progress is misguided.”

“Yes, but you have to agree that capitalism is evil!” a philosopher from France said. “The birth of capitalism really messed everything up.”

“I can’t agree,” a scholar from India responded. “The free market is one of the greatest advances of humanity. I’m sure Clarissa here will be glad to tell us just how problematic a regulated economy is.”

Clarissa nodded vigorously.

It’s curious to me that I had the greatest affinity with the worldview of an Indian scholar and had almost nothing in common with American and Eastern European thinkers. We also had a discussion of whether a sense of security or insecurity comes from the inside or is created by the external conditions. The Indian philosopher and I were instantly on the same page. Our understanding of each other’s ideas on the subject was almost intuitive. The Western scholars, in the meanwhile, looked perplexed when they heard the Indian and Eastern European ideas on the subject.

It was the Indian’s and the Ukrainian’s turn to look stumped when Westerners started discussing how everything was horrible, life was hopeless, and they were surviving on a subsistence level, working as indentured slaves, while traveling all over the world, wearing beautiful clothes, using sophisticated technology, and enjoying expensive wines. I suspect that “subsistence level” means different things to Westerners on the one hand and Ukrainians and Indians on the other.