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Scaring the bejeezus out of me

I’ve had a few scares in my time. Near misses that could have been nasty car accidents. A snow machine incident that could have had far more disastrous consequences. Air turbulence that resulted in freewheeling trollies and broken limbs.

I’ve had heart-stopping moments that are etched on some deep stratum of my subconscious. Like when I first went abseiling and had to make that 90-degree flip over the end of the cliff. Or my first trip to Disneyland. Or my first earthquake in Alaska.

Feeling scared, though, is a completely foreign feeling for me. An old friend of mine, long since dead, told me once that he reckoned I had guardian angels working around the clock. Just observing my life and the potential trouble I could have gotten into over the years, this was the only explanation he could come up with for my living a life relatively unscathed.

But here I am, in the prime of my life, and I’m scared. Very scared. I have a nasty, pervasive feeling in the pit of my stomach that is slowly seeping into every core of my being. And try as I might to think good thoughts and imagine good things, it just won’t go away. If anything, it’s getting worse.

I won’t get into the politics of it all. Far too much (albeit hardly anything about policy) has been said by both sides of the Great American Debate to warrant my adding my tuppence ha’penny. Be it Clinton or Trump, whoever wins next month, wins. What scares me silly is the immediate aftermath.

bbbbI was in California during the Rodney King riots and should Clinton win, I fear that those riots will be replicated on streets across America in a couple of weeks. Trump is just a penny shy of prepping his more radical supporters to ready themselves. Should Clinton win, I fear that her rather invasive tendencies could see the world caught up in even more war. Should Trump win, I can’t see Clinton supporters being anything other than resigned to their loss, but I fear the far-reaching consequences of having his brand of rhetoric behind a global microphone.

It’s not about policy. Or mandates. Or visions of the future. My fear has to do with legitimising hate speech. Fomenting a distrust of all things foreign. Replacing tolerance with insularity. It’s about example, or the lack thereof.

I was brought up well. I was taught that one should never raise oneself up by bringing another person down. If this election campaign is taken as an example of twenty-first-century politicking, then I fear that politicians here in Hungary, and in the rest of the world, will see it as a behavioural blueprint and follow suit. And what then?

Young people the world over are seeing a level of nastiness that seems to know no boundaries. Tshirts worn by Trump supporters emblazoned with foul-mouthed epitaphs are shown on TV. Derogatory comments aired, and aired again, travel the world like virulent viruses. And the behaviour of potential world leaders, behaviour that would have been decried with disbelief when I was still young and impressionable, is in danger of becoming the norm.

Earlier this month I read that those employed by the Russian government who have children studying abroad were told to cut short their schooling and bring them home to be enrolled in Russian schools. If this is about protection the minds of the young, I wonder if Putin is on to something.

We’re already seeing the rise of parochialism. Small-mindedness and pettiness are on the rampage. Shortsightedness is blinding us to the damage being done by seemingly throwaway comments that are taking root in our collective psyche and altering our moral code. Bigotry and bias are being bandied around at will. It’s scary. I’m scared. And I wonder how much worse can it get and when we will feel the full brunt of it in Hungary.

First published in the Budapest Times 28 October 2016

A snail by any other name…

I’ve eaten rattlesnake in Arizona, alligator in Missipippi, buffalo, moose, caribou, whale, and bear in Alaska, frog’s legs, sheep’s brains, kidneys, liver and and hearts of all sorts in Ireland but I’d never eaten snail. I’ve  had duck’s tongue and chicken’s feet and have even eaten a fly or two, but more by accident than design. I’ve eaten shellfish so it wasn’t the forcible eviction that was bothering me. It was that I’d seen too many of them crawling up walls and slithering their slimy way across a footpath. I simply could not imagine myself eating one. But when in Malta…

Getting them out of the shell was a little problematic. The tines of the fork were too big so I had to resort to using a toothpick (thank you, Charles Forster). That quiet, wrenching sound they made as the shell finally ceded way was a little disturbing but I soon got used to it. When I first ate frog’s legs, I was rather taken aback to see that they actually looked like frog’s legs (and some people think I’m intelligent!) The same with snails. I wasn’t thinking snails – I was thinking escargot. As if poshing up the name could change the substance (Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest comes to mind). A little like the metamorphosis that leeks and potatoes undergo when they’re renamed vichyssoise.

Ever wondered how some foods got their name? Check this site out. Beef Stroganoff was the prize-winning recipe created for a cooking competition held in the 1890s in St. Petersburg, Russia. The chef who devised the recipe worked for the Russian diplomat Count Pavel Alexandrovich Stroganov, a member of one of Russia’s grandest noble families.

Anyway, I digress. Suffice to say that I can now cross snails off my bucket list and doubt very much that I’ll ever feel the need to eat them again.