No Horsing Around, The Horse Meat Scandal

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Have you ever eaten something and then regretted it?  Since moving here, I’ve occasionally eaten horse.  I buy it for American visitors to taste.  If you’ve watched the news lately, you can understand why I might be regretting it.  If you haven’t seen news stories about Europe’s horse meat scandal, here’s a recap.  Horse meat has been discovered in European beef products sold in supermarkets in countries including Britain, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and Ireland.  Here, eating horse (particularly in countries like France and Switzerland) is commonplace; it’s estimated that each person in Switzerland eats between 600 and 700 grams of horse meat each year.

From The Swiss Watch Blog

There are two types of horses, ones that are given the powerful and dangerous veterinary drug called phenylbutazone (also known as Bute and banned for human use because to cases severe side effects) and those without who are issued health certificates certifying they can enter the food chain.   Can you guess what happened?

from afp.com

Spanghero, a French company, labeled the horse meat it received from a Romanian slaughterhouse as beef.  According to officials, Spanghero should have identified the meat as horse from its Romanian customs code, as well as its appearance, smell and price. The company said it acted in good faith, never ordered horse meat, and never knowingly sold horse meat.  Parisian prosecutors are now investigating it as fraud.

From Business Inquirer

The geographic scope of the scandal expanded this week.  While the quality of food and the food chain in Switzerland is quite high, Swiss company Nestle (the world’s largest food company) is now embroiled in the scandal.   It suspended deliveries of all products supplied by German subcontractor H.J. Schypke alleging they sold the contaminated meat to one of Nestle’s suppliers.  German discount retailer Lidl pulled products from Finnish, Danish and Swedish stores after finding horse meat in products labeled as beef.  German ministers met in Berlin earlier this week to discuss the scandal.

Horse meat scandal dominating the front pages

Horse meat scandal dominating the front pages (Photo credit: Gene Hunt)

But, wait, it gets worse…. The Swiss program, Kassensturz, showed emaciated horses being beaten, neglected and transported in cramped conditions without food or water before being slaughtered.  Apparently it was pretty disturbing.  In response,  several grocery stores, including Coop, Denner, Aldi, Spar and Migros, pulled most horse meat products off their shelves.  Coop and Migros continue to sell some from suppliers (mostly in Canada or France) in whom they have confidence.  It’s almost enough to make me a vegetarian again.  It’s definitely enough to reduce my meat consumption and be choosier about where I purchase it.

 

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Eurowhat? Our Introduction To Eurovision

Most Americans don’t know the Eurovision Song Contest exists.  Most Europeans have watched at least a bit of it.

Eurovision song contest

Eurovision song contest (Photo credit: kjelljoran)

Eurovision is a singing contest started in 1956 and is one of the longest-running television programs in the world.   It’s a bit like a schlocky, international American Idol in which each country gets to put forth a contestant and they compete against each other.

Developed by the European Broadcast Union, on the belief that music (along with sports) could unite a multi-lingual continent, Eurovision was content for a new technology of television.  Today, participants are broader than just the European Union countries; 43 countries take part.   Switzerland participates although it is not part of the EU.  Former Soviet republics and even Israel participates.  The contest is broadcast further Europe, Arab countries, Hong Kong, India, Canada, Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, South Korea, and Vietnam all can watch it.  In fact, the Eurovision Song Contest is one of the most watched events in the world with audience between 100 million and 600 million internationally.

Each country chooses a singer or band to represent their country and they compete against each other. Residents of a country cannot vote for their own country.  For example, Swiss cannot vote for the Swiss entrant.

TV Shows We Used To Watch - The Eurovision Son...

TV Shows We Used To Watch – The Eurovision Song Contest (Photo credit: brizzle born and bred)

Before the days of internet and cable, Eurovision was huge.  Today, it faces increased entertainment competition has lost some of its luster.  Nevertheless, it is still popular enough that he has learned all about it at work.

Famous Eurovision contestants include:

  • Sweden’s ABBA, who won with Waterloo in 1974.  Olivia Newton John placed 4th that same year.
  • Julio Iglesias placed 4th for Spain in 1970.
  • Israel’s Dana International was the first transsexual to win in 1998.
  • Celine Dion won for Switzerland in 1988 with  “Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi.
  • In 1997, Katrina and the Waves won with “Love Shine A Light” they are best remembered for their 1985 smash hit “Walking on Sunshine.”
  • Scottish singer Lulu won in 1969, with ‘Boom Bang-a-Bang‘. I can’t explain how France, the Netherlands and Spain also won that year.
  • The English group Bucks Fizz won in with the song “Making Your Mind Up” and their whip-off skirts.
  • Sandie Shaw who sang “Puppet on a String” (we’d never heard of it).
  • Engelbert Humperdink‘s “Love Will Set You Free” is the UK’s entry this year.  I think my dad may have an album of his from the 60’s tucked away somewhere.
Dana International

Dana International (Photo credit: Daniel Kruczynski)

Songs with overtly political messages are banned. Notable songs that premiered at Eurovision include:

  •  “Nel blu dipinto di blu,“ better known as “Volare“ (it didn’t win)
  • Toto Cutugno‘s “Insieme“, is a song that many Germans still know by heart.
  • You might remember Gina G’s 1996 dance-pop entry for the United Kingdom, “Ooh Aah…Just a Little Bit.”
  • Luxembourg’s France Gall‘s 1965 song “Poupée de cire, poupée de son” was a sensation.  Written by famous French singer Serge Gainsbourg, it became in international hit.  It was one of the handful of Eurovision songs that radio stations played and people bought.

Some countries tend to do well:

  • Ireland holds the record for the highest number of wins with seven.  The even won three consecutive times in 1992, 1993 and 1994.
  • FranceLuxembourg and the United Kingdom are joint second with five wins.  Nevertheless, Brits have generally prided themselves on not taking Eurovision seriously and often strike out.  It was still poplar viewing in the UK, due in large part to the Terry Wogan‘s cynical commentary.  He barely suppressed guffaws over the quality of the acts/presenters and the kitsch.  Outraged at the politics behind the scoring system he stopped in 2008 and vowed never to return.

The scoring/winner is likely to change as blocs of countries have started banding together to vote one of their region a winner.  This has lead to frustration about the winner’s worthiness.  Andrew Lloyd Webber even visited Moscow met Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to ask him to call on all East European countries to refrain from block-voting for each other.

Partisan voting doesn’t seem to be a new phenomenon, Cliff Richard‘s second-place finish in 1968, its now attributed to direct intervention by Spain’s then-dictator, General Franco.

A map of Europe showing how many times each co...

Historically, some countries have done poorly:

  • Until Finnish band Lordi won with their rock song “Hard Rock Hallelujah” in 2006, Finland had participated since 1961 but never even made it into the Top 5.
  • Norway has scored no points in four separate contests.
  • Austria, Finland, Spain, Switzerland aren’t far behind with three null’s.

Many self-respecting musical acts stay away to preserve their dignity.   Garish outfits are mandatory and gimmicks used in the contest include:

  • In 2008, Russian entrant Dima Bilan sang “Believe” while Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion Evgeni Plushenko ice skated.
  • Ukraine’s Kseniya Simonova‘s sand-painted  clouds, planets and angels in sand while singer Mika Newton howled into a wind machine.
  • A Moldovan act once included a woman dressed as a fairy on a unicycle and digital gnomes flying across the stage’s LED screen.
  • Sweden’s Eric Saade smashed through a glass door onstage.
Blue, representing United Kingdom, performing ...

Blue, representing United Kingdom, performing at the Eurovision Song Contest 2011 final on 14 May 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Boy band Blue (kind of like the Backstreet Boys) was big in the 90’s.  They staged a comeback in Eurovision, while it brought them some attention, it didn’t result in the desired comeback.
  • Turkey’s Sertab Erener sang  “Every Way That I Can” (a song about a woman in a harem in the 19th century, who wants to win back a Sultan that had expelled her) with a troupe of belly dancers performing enthusiastically.
  • This year, Russia’s song is from Buranovskiye Babushki a girl band whose name translates to the Buranovo Grannies.  These singing grandmothers from the Udmurt Republic have an average age in the 80’s.  Two years ago, they failed to qualify with the hip hop produced track “Dlinnaja-Dlinnaja Beresta I Kak Sdelat Iz Nee Aishon.” This translates into “Very Long Birch Bark And How To Turn It Into A Turban”.
  • Austria’s entry this year is by Trackshittaz.  I’m not kidding.  That’s really their name. They have dancers with their buttocks highlighted with fluorescent paint.  Again, I’m not kidding.  I couldn’t make that up.  They have promised to “learn a little bit of English” before the contest.  Will this lead to a name change?
  • Montenegro’s Rambo Amadeus‘ (no joke) song has a video in which he surprises two topless women with a donkey.

Azerbaijan won the contest last year so they have to host this year.  Countries have been known to put forward a lamentable contestant to avoid the expense of putting on the contest the next year.  Yes, Ireland I’m looking at you.

The Guinness Storehouse Tour, A Pint Of The Black Stuff To Celebrate St. Patty’s Day

I don’t normally post about past vacations.  Since it’s St. Patty’s Day, I’m celebrating by posting about our tour of Dublin’s Guinness Storehouse (before meeting up with some Irish ladies).

Although it’s a cliché and a bit of a tourist trap, the Guinness Storehouse is Ireland’s number one tourist attraction.  When we were in Dublin, we figured we had to stop by.   Most giant brewery tours are similar and Guinness is no exception.  The tour is your typical large brewery tour in that it is more like a museum with a lot of advertising than a working brewery and built for tourists.  I’m not knocking it because it is a heck of a good time, just setting reasonable expectations.

Located at 1 St. James Gate, the former home of the Guinness brewery (Guinness is now brewed off-site, hence why they call it a storehouse) is an impressive building with a storied history.   Guinness.  In 1759, Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease at £45  ($70.77) a year lease brewery!

The Guinness Storehouse is self-guided and it takes at least an hour to see the exhibits.  Prepare yourself for marketing, embrace it.  If you approach it as 7 floors of Guinness propaganda, it won’t be as much fun.

This facility is devoted to advertising and marketing of the Guinness brand and they do it well.  Heck, Guinness markets a lot, has for a long time and does it well.  I can’t believe that I am saying a beer tour is an excellent opportunity to learn about marketing and advertising, but it really is.  It was truly fascinating to look at the evolution of their ad campaigns.  You’ve seen enough posters to know that they are quite funny and the graphics are great.

You also get to see the original copper kettles where they brewed the beer, taste malted barley and either “learn how to pour a perfect pint” or gives you one free beer at the bar upstairs.

The “pour the perfect pint” session, where you learn how to properly  pour a pint of Guinness.  Unfortunately, it’s quite popular and you may wait quite awhile. On the bright side, you will receive a certificate attesting to your new skill.  It is a nice demonstration.  People who don’t want the beers they just poured leave them untouched on the counter.  Broke college students have been known to ensure that they don’t go to waste.

The Gravity Bar is a huge observatory deck on the Storehouse’s top (7th) floor where you get a 360 view of the city and free Guinness.  You’re there for the Guinness and the view.   Some claim that Guinness tastes better here than anywhere else in the world.  I don’t know if it was the best Guinness ever, but it was a mighty fine one.  It could be because Guinness cleans the taps every month, serves at the ideal temperature and it is extremely fresh. Since there’s a constant ready supply and great demand, the beer doesn’t sit around.

The store is massive and contains virtually every piece of beer merchandise ever conceived.  Guinness has managed to put a logo on just about everything.  Hats, tee shirts, glasses, clocks, mugs, posters, beer signs, pictures, they’ve got it all…and then some. They also sell a ridiculous number of foods made with stout.  Given the volume and variety don’t be surprised if the gift store suckers you in.  I’m speaking from experience.  Like our coasters?

If you are looking for ways to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, a couple of years ago, we had a Guinness dinner.  Every food had Guinness in it.  Here’s the menu

I’d list the beverage, but it seems a bit obvious.  The soundtrack?  Flogging Molly and The Pogues.  A good time was had by all.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Slàinte!

 

Just Like In Pulp Fiction, It’s The Little Differences

Remember in Pulp Fiction when Vincent says “it’s the little differences. I mean, they got the same…over there that we got here, but it’s just…it’s just there it’s a little different.”
Now that you have seen our pad (both the before and after), I can talk a bit more about it. There are a few differences between apartments here and apartments in the US.
  • No apartment numbers. We don’t have an apartment number, just the street address. When you walk into a building, you will see a mass of letter boxes with everyone in the building’s names written on them.  When people come to our apartment, we tell them the floor and they have to look at the name plates on the doors.
 
Note the handles on both doors
  • No doorknobs. Almost all doors have handles, not knobs. This makes it easier to open the door while carrying things with your elbow (or other preferred body part).
  • Almost all doors only lock with a key (some will lock if you slam them hard enough without one). That being said, I am now guaranteed to lock myself out at some point.
The doors open in. In newer buildings they also lever up from the bottom to provide a bit of air without an open door.