The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for February 21st, 2011

gazing back

leave a comment »

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Following a friend around last week, I ended up in a shop on 9th avenue in Manhattan which sold all manner of spice and grain (as well as a few interesting cheeses and a nice variety of olives). Struck by the palette of flavor and the alien smell of unknown colors, I pulled out the camera and started shooting. Just a block from the “ass end” of the Port Authority Bus Terminal, this part of the City has always struck me as a mean section, rife with danger and lurking predators which frightens one who suffers from timidity- such as myself.

As I scanned the market, the spice began to work on me in the manner of some exotic drug, and your humble narrator’s thoughts began to whirl in the manner of a dervish…

from wikipedia

The spice trade is a commercial activity of ancient origin which involves the merchandising of spices, incense, hemp, drugs and opium. Civilizations of Asia were involved in spice trade from the ancient times, and the Greco-Roman world soon followed by trading along the Incense route and the Roman-India routes. The Roman-Indian routes were dependent upon techniques developed by the maritime trading power, Kingdom of Axum (ca 5th century BC–AD 11th century) which had pioneered the Red Sea route before the 1st century. By mid-7th century the rise of Islam closed off the overland caravan routes through Egypt and the Suez, and sundered the European trade community from Axum and India.

Arab traders eventually took over conveying goods via the Levant and Venetian merchants to Europe until the rise of the Ottoman Turks cut the route again by 1453. Overland routes helped the spice trade initially, but maritime trade routes led to tremendous growth in commercial activities. During the high and late medieval periods Muslim traders dominated maritime spice trading routes throughout the Indian Ocean, tapping source regions in the Far East and shipping spices from trading emporiums in India westward to the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, from which overland routes led to Europe.

The trade was transformed by the European Age of Discovery,  during which the spice trade, particularly in black pepper, became an influential activity for European traders. The route from Europe to the Indian Ocean via the Cape of Good Hope was pioneered by the Portuguese explorer navigator Vasco Da Gama in 1498, resulting in new maritime routes for trade.

This trade — driving the world economy from the end of the Middle Ages well into the modern times — ushered in an age of European domination in the East. Channels, such as the Bay of Bengal, served as bridges for cultural and commercial exchanges between diverse cultures  as nations struggled to gain control of the trade along the many spice routes. European dominance was slow to develop. The Portuguese trade routes were mainly restricted and limited by the use of ancient routes, ports, and nations that were difficult to dominate. The Dutch were later able to bypass many of these problems by pioneering a direct ocean route from the Cape of Good Hope to the Sunda Strait in Indonesia.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lost in aromatic reverie and pedantic observations, the timeless nature and ubiquity of this sort of shop intruded rudely into my gentle musings. The presence of markets like this, with variegated imports from foreign lands presented gaily… Oh, the “historicity” of it.

After all, weren’t shops like this a large part of the original organizing principal behind cities, and the formation of what we call “civilization“?

from wikipedia

Some grains are deficient in the essential amino acid lysine. That is why a multitude of vegetarian cultures, in order to get a balanced diet, combine their diet of grains with legumes. Many legumes, on the other hand, are deficient in the essential amino acid methionine, which grains contain. Thus a combination of legumes with grains forms a well-balanced diet for vegetarians. Common examples of such combinations are dal (lentils) with rice by South Indians and Bengalis, dal with wheat in Pakistan and North India, and beans with corn tortillas, tofu with rice, and peanut butter with wheat bread (as sandwiches) in several other cultures, including Americans. The amount of crude protein found in grain is measured as Grain Crude Protein Concentration.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Versions of this place have existed in every city in every time period since the beginning of the agricultural revolution, and trade in dried foodstuffs was the original economy. The comestibles offered here represent an enormous supply chain, as well, one which perverts the “feel good” concept of “organic” marketing. These “imported lentils from France” may satisfy some desire to be close to the earth, but they were shipped to Manhattan via a petroleum powered steel ship and delivered by a diesel truck.

In a lot of ways, the “greener” product would actually be found in a commercial supermarket, where a large conglomerate’s “economy of scale” can put food on the table spending far fewer “carbon dollars” and often at a significantly lower retail price- but that doesn’t sound good at cocktail parties.

from wikipedia

A pulse (Latin “puls”, from Greek “πόλτος” – poltos, “porridge” is an annual leguminous crop yielding from one to twelve seeds of variable size, shape, and color within a pod. Pulses are used for food and animal feed. The term “pulse”, as used by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), is reserved for crops harvested solely for the dry seed. This excludes green beans and green peas, which are considered vegetable crops. Also excluded are crops that are mainly grown for oil extraction (oilseeds like soybeans and peanuts), and crops which are used exclusively for sowing (clovers, alfalfa). However, in common use these distinctions are not clearly made, and many of the varieties so classified and given below are also used as vegetables, with their beans in pods while young cooked in whole cuisines and sold for the purpose; for example black eyed beans, lima beans and Toor or pigeon peas are thus eaten as fresh green beans cooked as part of a meal. Pulses are important food crops due to their high protein and essential amino acid content. Like many leguminous crops, pulses play a key role in crop rotation due to their ability to fix nitrogen.

Just like words as “bean” and “lentil”, the word “pulse” may also refer to just the seed, rather than the entire plant.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 21, 2011 at 1:06 pm

%d bloggers like this: