Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Let's Clean Up Together

I am proud to report that the Chinese herbal tea yesterday was a complete success all round. Zoe brought along her mad English boyfriend, Mr.T. He has become the latest disciple of Diana, our masseuse who is fast assuming goddess status.

We all drank a couple of glasses of this dark brown tea without much fuss. The two non-Asians didn't protest at all; my husband mused over his drink and said with some sugar and ice it would be quite similar to a flat coca-cola.

Of course, we spent much of the afternoon understanding the latest on Zoe's DNI saga. The talk of bureaucracy soon got us onto a general discussion of life in BA. Zoe and her adorably mad Englishman have been living here a year longer than us; they are in the right frame of mind to hold a level headed discussion on BA– neither blasé nor are they wearing rose-tinted glasses.

One would have to be blind not to notice the litters wherever one goes in this city. I once saw a mother with her young daughter who had just finished a family sized bag of potato crisps while walking on the street. The daughter turned to the mother with her big empty bag and an inquisitive look. She was too young to know what to do with it. The mother took the bag from her little hand and just casually dropped it on the ground without even a glance around her. Education completed; this little girl now knows what to do whenever she has rubbish in her hands.

I have always wondered if the dog owners who let their dogs do their dirty business anywhere in public get upset if they themselves step on dog poo, particularly on a wet day. If they do, why do they think it is ok to continue this selfish and unhygienic practice? Do we really need an epidemic across the city for people to wake up to the fact that we are letting ourselves live in a dog pan – people with any common sense would never want to live like this.

When the city is a rubbish tip and one big public toilet for pets, graffitists would not hesitate to add grunge to the already grungy. Is that how we want to live, in a smelly dirty city with walls filled with obscenity? If the answer is no and we all can make decisions within our control to help a little, why do so many still do nothing?

So Mr.T tells us his three preoccupations in life here are: litters, dog shit, and graffiti. He admitted that the list could have been longer but he thought best not to lose focus and three are already plenty because he is not a whinging foreigner but an action hero around where he lives in Palermo Hollywood...

He and his girlfriend not only clean the part of the street outside of their own home few times a day but make a ceremony of cleaning their neighbours'; their behaviour seemed odd to the neighbouring porteños in the beginning but their persistence has finally rubbed off on these neighbours and this particular corner of Fitzroy is probably the cleanest part of Buenos Aires.

To deal with dog shit in his area, he used to come out on the pavement with a shuffle and dramatically hurled the offending objects into the air so they land on the road. His neighbours began to take notice; one of them was brazen enough to tell Mr.T that he always cleaned up after his own pet to which Mr.T responded with a smile "No, you don't because I have been watching you through my window." This neighbour turned the colour of beetroot and never had his dog poo in front of Mr.T's house again. In fact, the word soon spread among the neighbours and Mr.T has now retired his shuffle.

On the issue of graffiti, it is a little costly for the individuals or shop owners since we don't have a government committed to cleaning up this city with vigilance but it's not too hard, we can still make a difference...

Anyone who had been to New York City, pre Rudolf Giuliani, would remember the subway being a hotbed for crime and was filled with graffiti. It was a monumental task to clean up the act.

The new Mayor vowed to clean up "Sin City" to make New York a place he is proud to call home and for foreigners to visit. Not only did Giuliani have the police right there to catch and book the offenders on the spot; the more psychologically effective was that he ordered graffiti to be painted over daily; yes, every morning when one stepped into the station and onto a train, the walls were blank. His persistence finally wore the graffitists down.

When you think you are just an individual and you won't make a difference, remember it just takes a few individuals and you have critical mass, and with that it could grow into a collective consciousness so please don't say no. We can all do what's right and help spread the word; a revolution will soon take shape!

I have searched high and low but to no avail as to what the French eat to celebrate what we know as Bastille Day or "le 14 juillet" to the French. Apparently there is no special food tradition associated with July 14th. This has turned out not to be so surprising, as the original events of 1789 were initiated in great part because the French people was suffering from a terrible famine, while the aristocracy held boisterous feasts in the privacy of their own castles.

So we just have to contend ourselves with a famous culinary symbol of France...the Financier! The little almond cake is so called because it is baked in a rectangular mold, to resemble a gold bar. Hence the name Financier

125 g sugar

125 g almond meal
2 eggs
70 g butter, plus more to grease the molds
20 g flour
berries, optional

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over gentle heat. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the sugar and almond meal. Add in the eggs and mix well with a fork. Add in the melted butter, mix again. Then add in the flour, stirring while you pour.

Butter the molds if they're not nonstick, then pour the batter in each individual mold, filling it up just to the rim. If you like, you can add raspberries or blueberries (a line of three for the regular-sized ones or just one on top of mini ones), pushing them down in the batter slightly.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size and shape of your molds. The financiers should puff up a bit, get golden and slightly crusty on the edges, but they will still feel soft to the touch. Let them stand for a few minutes, before turning them out on a rack to cool completely. The bottoms have a tendency to be a bit sticky when still warm, so you may want to put them upside down on the rack, or put them on a sheet of parchment paper and let them gently slide out in due course.

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