Thursday, October 17, 2013

Highend Restaurants, China & the Mind

Though I love good food, I confess it does not rank that high on my totem pole that I would spend a fortune on it. When I lived near a three-star restaurant of world renown called Girardet's, where patrons flew in for a lunch they had reserved many months in advance, we used to frequent other locations where the chef's apprentices were known to cook. The food there was excellent, cost a fraction, and we could visit at our leisure.

The other day I happened upon Frank Bruni's restaurant review with the title "China's Dining Acrobatics" published online by the New York Times Oct. 15, 2013. The author takes us through a number of breath-taking venues in the Peoples Republic of China that offer not only exquisite local cuisine, but also boast extravagantly creative ambiance. Price was no consideration.

I wonder whether a similar column would have appeared in this paper during the 1960s about top Moscow and Leningrad restaurants frequented by the wealthy nomenclatura in Soviet Russia. 

  • Is it because the US has become so profoundly dependent on China that Americans look at the symbols of economic progress over there with awe and glee? 
  • Is it because modern day China is spawning the same type of romanticized pioneering tycoons known over here from a gilded age a century ago?
Let us not forget, these restaurants represent emblems of success of a one-party communist state whose leaders discovered half a century ago that state-monopolized capitalism, StamoCap for short, may generate unfathomable wealth and whose children and grandchildren are feasting on its profits today.

Considering the present tribulations of our democracies, I imagine Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels celebrating in one of those culinary temples of good fortune broad smiles on their faces in the belief that the world was one step closer to communism.

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Morat-Fribourg 2013

Today, Switzerland held the 80th race from Morat to Fribourg. The race commemorates one of two cornerstone battles the Swiss Confederation won in the 15th century against the powers of the time, asserting Swiss independence from feudal taxation. Swiss commoners would remain free citizens unlike the subjects of surrounding countries who would struggle another 200 years to gain this privilege. I have written about the battle here.

In recent years, the race has been diversified into a multitude of events of varying distances and challenges. But the main event remains the course from Morat to Fribourg, roughly spanning the length of a half-marathon. The course leads the runners through beautiful countryside with distant view of the alps on small roads closed for traffic.

I remember three uphill grades of note. The last ascent had least grade, but was the longest and most taxing, passing through the medieval gates of the city of Fribourg and snaking up to the finish line in the city's heart. Make no mistake, the last half-mile was grueling. Plenty participants sickened at the finish.

Although the last leg has been rerouted since my day, the challenge remains. Regardless, as long as the runner households with strength, the course constitutes an enjoyable, memorable morning.

According to, this year's winners are:
Martina Strähl (1:03.02.2),
Chelangat Sang (1:03.27.2), and
Aline Camboulives (1:03.47.3)

Benart Bett (53.32.8),
 Shadrack Kimauyo (54.08.2), and
Joel Mwangi (54.15.6)

As in years before, Kenyans have been strong contenders. Shadrack and Chelangat represented Kenya. The world's best long distance runners seem to hail from the cradle of mankind. Congratulations!