24 September 2014

Le Sensorium Autumn Equinox Foraging Tour

Hunter or Gatherer? If only life choices were still that easy. Umm...Giver please...
We've come a long way from the hunt and its less glamorous friend. Up until this weekend, the foraging world was invisible to me, a part of that distant land known as romanticized exoticism, where you can also find the "greatest hits" of Africa and some heavily filtered (and perfumed) images of the Victorian era. 

I showed up to Parc Lhasa de Sela in Montreal on Saturday sans woven basket or arrowhead. Turns out everything a modern forager needs could be found in my apartment.
butter knife (for digging out roots)
sharp knife/scissors
water (to stay hydrated...how much depends on what texture you like your lips to be)
bags (for the loot)
gardening gloves
The tour, organized by Le Sensorium, took us around Montreal's Mile End. Our guide, Vanessa Waters, first began foraging at a young age with her grandmother. She opened our eyes to all the plants that grow in the city, whether planted there for aesthetic purposes or as part of a public garden. We were a mixed group from all over the world, from experienced foragers to those who were simply curious. Vanessa shared practical foraging tips, recipes, and plenty of botanical knowledge, but the tour also opened up a discussion about society's relationship to food as well as issues of food security.

We talked about how society is distancing itself from the natural origins of our food. How we're losing the foraging culture, just as we're losing thousands of languages from disuse. How so much food goes to waste because no one but the squirrels sees the greenery as a food source. How our taste buds have changed to prefer processed and sweetened foods, so that most of us would be unaccustomed to the raw taste of foraged fruits and vegetation. How foraging can be a means of attaining food security, taking advantage of a food source that goes unseen by so most, and becoming more in tune with the natural environment one lives in. I was so impressed by how knowledgeable Vanessa was about the defining traits and seasonal cycles of all the plants we came across.

For us novices, however, foraging can be quite daunting, so here are some tips I picked up along the tour.

Foraging Tips

1. Cover up! 
One thing I learned on this tour: food is everywhere! But so is itching and death.
Wear gloves, long sleeves, long pants, high boots. Flashing a bit of ankle would be ill-advised. Poison ivy is not fun, despite what Batman may have told you, and it only worsens each time you come into contact with it.

2. Be aware of your surroundings.
There it is: a whole patch of sumac bushes. Right there, beside the road. Just think of how it will taste: tangy yet sweet, with just a smoky hint of exhaust fuel. 

While plants on the side of the road are easy to get to, they are sprayed daily with car fumes and whatever else passersby leave in their wake. Try to find foraging spots that are out of the way, where there is less vehicle and pedestrian traffic. If you do find something by the road, only pick it if it's on an uphill slope.

3. Take only what you need.
It's important to remember that you are foraging in a public space, and that there are others (even if they are squirrels) who sustain themselves off the same vegetation. Leaving some of the fruit also helps to continue the growth cycle, which means you can keep coming back to the same spot later on. Vanessa's personal rule is only to take when there are 30 or more plants, and then to take 1/3 of it.

4. Rinse and repeat.
Wash what you forage, just as you would wash supermarket produce. It may be scary at first to think of all that could have contaminated what you find in the city, but as long as you are prudent about what you do pick (see #2), you can take the same precautions on your foraged goods as you do with the pesticides from supermarket produce.

Later this week I'll introduce some of the plants we came across and how you can use them in your cooking...Well guys, this is it. I'm ready for the zombie apocalypse.

#lesensorium #montrealtours&tasting #urbanforaging


05 August 2014

How to Pack for a Place You've Never Been

Montreal. That's cold, right? It's a magic word, Montreal. Say it and the other person shivers on cue. 

So you fold up your sweaters and you sit on them, because without those vacuum-seal bags as seen on TV, ass will have to do. You fold up your underwear and your bras, because even seals and polar bears have a skeleton beneath all that blubber. You too will need one under layers of down and wool to prop you upright like a human being. 

What else? Your suitcase is small and yet your life, even just a year of it, demands much.

Your gray peacoat with the puffy shoulders may have done well for the cold and rainy North of France, but it won't hold up to - shiver. You fold it up anyway in anticipation of the sliver of time just before first snowfall. 

Leather jacket, for transitioning autumn days. For walking down streets hazy with the cloud of unfamiliarity. For faking it 'til you make it, or 'til the cold stiffens up the sleeves and chases the leathery blend of polyester and sweatshop essence to the back of your tiny closet. Whichever comes first. 

A pot. A knife. Even Robinson Crusoe needed one of those. Your passport and documents. Skirts upon skirts upon dresses. If you're going to look like a marshmallow for six months, you may as well be a delicate flower underneath. You'll wear them just for yourself, you say, in the way some girls wear underwear emblazoned with the days of the week. That is, as a reminder of your femininity. Try saying that five times fast come January. 

The orphaned polar bear figurine from your last stop-motion short. Polar bears belong in the cold, don't they? It only seems right after you tossed his mother in the trash earlier this year. Three, four months from now, in the throes of the harsh Canadian winter, you might wonder, what is the point, at which point you need only gaze upon the yellowing cub and feel the artistic inspiration of twelve nine-year-olds flood back into your veins. 

And let's not forget your biography of Lincoln, half-finished and half the size of your head. You always feel immense guilt about not finishing the books you buy. If you bring it, you'll definitely finish it. Imagine a snowy Sunday morning, curled up on your lumpy couch (it came with the apartment), getting to know the 16th president, flakes falling aimlessly just outside the window. Look at it. It's so dense it'll last you the whole year. You're saving the space of three other books, really. 

At last, there is nothing left to pack. The animals have entered the ark. You grasp the two sides of the case: now kiss. But like tortoises in captivity, they refuse to meet. Though you summon your ass once more, it doesn't work the same magic on plastic shells as it does on sweaters. 

So you haul everything out. Yes, even the sweaters. And you start again. Just how many sweaters do you really need anyway? If you don't leave the warmth of the house two days out of seven, that leaves...five sweaters. You don't have five, you have four. A couple of tank tops should make up for the fifth. 

...And why don't you throw in those suede flats for good measure?


24 July 2014

Inside Out at the Palais du Tau

Now that I've been home for about a month, the 30 kilos of clothing, books, and savon marseillaise* I brought home have largely been scattered throughout the house. But there's one thing that has remained propped up against my suitcase in the far corner of the living room, and it's my face.
Before I left France, I sold my toaster and oven, donated my books to the school library and clothes to charity, threw out all my pots and utensils, dumped a bottle of that coveted Bioderma micellar water in the midst of airport “ma’am your suitcase is seven kilos overweight” panic, but one thing I kept and that is my face, blown up in black and white on a sheet of butcher paper that is as long as I am tall. I have to raise my arms above my head in order to unfurl this monstrosity.

Months and months ago, I saw that French street artist JR would be stopping in Reims as part of his “Inside Out” project. So when the time came, I dragged a friend with me to the Palais du Tau, where his photo truck was parked. A queue stretched from one end of the courtyard to the other, but it looked manageable enough. We were also on our way to dinner at a friend’s flat, so I had a head of lettuce in my backpack. We did not end up using the lettuce.
As part of some modern art exhibition at the Palais, two mannequins, covered in light plastic sheets, had been placed at the entrance to the inner courtyard. They had been hooked up to some sort of sound system and whispered incantations with increasing urgency. As the hours passed, we inched from one screeching mannequin to the other, wondering if this was really worth the wait. It hadn’t looked like that many people when we entered the line, but I was starting to suspect photography hadn’t improved since the Victorian era. Not to mention it was a cold, windy day in Northern France and I had been carrying a head of lettuce for the last five hours.

Part of “Inside Out” is for people to paste their portraits in public spaces - he was there at the Palais du Tau with a bucket of glue to cover the courtyard’s cobblestones with smiling faces. The final destination of his truck was the Pantheon in Paris, currently undergoing renovations, where he covered the interior with his favorite portraits.
I…chose to take mine home. And I could try to justify it, but it wouldn’t be very convincing and I’d probably end up showing more ego than I’d like to think I have. But was it worth it? Sometimes I think about pasting my enormous face into the back of my closet and leaving it for the poor unsuspecting individual who next inhabits this house and I think, yes, it was all worth it. My parents, however, may feel differently.

*Okay, one block of soap. I did not bring home 30 kilograms of soap, as I am not about to enter the cutthroat world of soap trafficking**.

**At least if they cut your throat you can easily disinfect the wound.


15 June 2014

First Impressions | Prague

Prague. I was there. It was Prague, land of defenestrations and the epic orchestral piece that is the Moldau (also the river). Where beer is cheaper than water. Old as balls but still keeping pace with the world. 
I had a good time in Prague, not the same kind of good time as everyone refers to with regards to Prague, a knowing look in their eye, but I enjoyed the urban legends and myths behind each building, trying to reconcile what was before me with another time, coming across Refu Fest in Kampa Park and discovering the world in an afternoon, resigning myself to a hot dog only to realize with delight that the Czechs have put their own spin on even the most mundane of foods. It was a good three days. Was it three days? They're starting to run together now...


13 June 2014

First Impressions | Vienna

Some cities you fall in love with, others you can only appreciate. Vienna was one of the latter. The streets are lined with one beautiful facade after another, to be sure, but I found it all a bit distant and untouchable. 
At one point, unsure of what to do with myself, I walked around the Schönnbrunn Palace grounds and felt quite thoroughly unimpressed. I've been to Versailles, and I'm starting to suspect that one decadent palace is enough for my lifetime. 

I just find it difficult to appreciate how fancy some dead guy's life was. The point of half the tourist sites in Europe is "look at how much money these people had and look at the shiny things they made with it!" It's like I've eaten too much candy and now my teeth are numb and I just want to see what ordinary people did and do and how they perceived and interacted with their world. 
So I found Vienna to be mostly that: appreciation of long-ago fanciness. In places like this, the fanciness becomes so sacred it begins to oppress the present and stifle life until people are living in the shadow of some other great era. 
I love birds. I love how they have absolutely no regard for our precious monuments and statues. It's all just another comfy rock to perch on.