A New Hat – How Illuminating?
A word of warning to people who wear hats on the top level of the hop-on hop-off buses: your hat and your expectations are at risk. I learned the hard way in Buenos Aires. The bus turned a corner. A gust of wind blew. My favorite brown newsboy cap took off across one of the wide streets of the city. There was nothing to do but wave good-bye to an old friend.
As fortune would have it, when the bus returned to the station, there was a street vendor selling hats. He had them arranged on spokes sticking out of a pole. My wife picked out a nice-looking straw hat that fit nicely. The loss of a hat created an opportunity for a acquiring another that would be a fine example of Argentine handiwork. What a stroke of good luck. After examining the hat, I noticed a small tag attached to the sweatband: made in China.
Sure I was disappointed. But not as disappointed as when I bought a bolo tie in Arizona—in the heartland of native-American culture—and the country of origin stamped on the back of the slide broke my heart. If travel has taught me one thing, it’s that my memories of the people and places are the only authenticity I can count on.
I like to have my characters enjoy a good meal.
Barbeque Peru Hacienda
Food is fascinating. If you’re writing about location, why not include food? The characters in the Benny Goldfarb, Private “I” series spend a lot of time in South America. The cuisine changes from country to country, depending on the agricultural traditions. For example, Argentina is big on beef and empanadas. Peru offers a smorgasbord of almost endless types of potatoes. The menus in Colombia are loaded with fish. In my experience, readers enjoy having the local food incorporated into the story.
From my point of view, food is part of a culture. I like to illuminate the setting that characters occupy by occasionally referencing the meals. The reader makes a silent judgment about the food. Sometimes curiosity about a particular dish is aroused and satisfied. The ingredients may add to a feeling of what life is like in that distant place. In any case, I like to have my characters enjoy a good meal. Why not? It’s my story. And they seem to like the experience.
The Music of Life
playing music in town square, Rhodes
Everywhere is different. Everywhere is the same.
We see the world as we travel through it, noticing the things that vary from what we know: the language, the customs, the clothing, the food, the architecture. But the people are not so different. The only thing missing in our encounter is that we don’t know each other.
In the town square, two boys sing and play the accordion. We enjoy. The simplicity and innocence of youth draws us to them. We instinctively care. Our smiles begin the introduction to hearing the music of life.