Last weekend, my husband and I treated the interns staying with us (who are both from Europe) to a trip to Niagra Falls and Toronto. Blame it on my mother, but whenever I hear the words “Niagra Falls” I cannot help but think (and start acting out even) the old vaudeville sketch of an earlier generation… slowly I turn, step by step…
Jennifer, the intern from the Netherlands, wanted to do the iconic Maid of the Mist adventure – in which you pile into a tour boat with a couple hundred of your fellow tourists, all bedecked in blue plastic rain ponchos, and are transported as close to Horseshoe Falls (the bigger of the two) as possible without capsizing. I am always up for a boat ride, so I accompanied her even though I had done this at least once (maybe twice) in the past.
Despite the cattle-like treatment of the blue plastic line-up by the staff handlers (“Move up – move along!”) and the rush of teenagers to the better viewpoints, I have to say the experience was still awesome. Especially when you get to the base of Horseshoe Falls and the cold mists hit you full force. This makes you abandon your camera and just live in the moment (because you can’t see anything through the viewfinder except water, for one thing). I have to admit, I got a little choked up – the majesty of nature and all that.
You forget for the moment that both the American and Canadian sides of the falls are a rabbit warren of tourist traps. It is just you, and The Falls, and millions of tons of water tumbling and churning endlessly. There before tourists and Ripley’s Believe It or Not existed, and there forever exerting its endless power. The refreshment of those few moments was not all in the cold spray and the wet hair (blue plastic is not effective against The Falls). I got misty in more ways than one.
Last Saturday, we had a drama unfolding in our backyard with a cast of thousands. Thousands of our neighbor’s honey bees, that is. According to bee literature available online, when a hive with its own queen becomes too crowded, the queen and her entourage decide they need a new palace. So, they swarm en masse into the air, and then alight, as a huge clump clinging to one another, in whatever temporary haven is convenient. In this case, one of the trees in our backyard. I have to say that I was terrified at the initial swarming – I was out in the garden doing some weeding, and all of a sudden the sky was full of bees circling in the air. But once the bees are safely in their huddle, only a few scouts fly here and there, searching for a proper new home. They then come back to transmit information to the rest of their hives mates, and they somehow all decide where to go next.
Needless to say, the beekeeper wants to entice them to come home to establish another hive in the backyard, not to find some dead tree in a nearby park or other cozy den. So, he arrived in his full bee regalia to try to make that happen. Having never done it before, he had a few false starts.
The process involved cutting down the branch with the bees, and trying to head them into the empty hive. (This is when watching from an upstairs window feels much safer than watching from outside, even from within the screened-in deck.)
Bees everywhere, some dutifully entering the empty hive box, but most regrouping into another tree clump in record time (seconds!). If you don’t get the queen into the box, the other bees are not buying it. Finally, our neighbor got the queen in and the other bees followed, and the drama came to an end. But, while it lasted, it was a fascinating glimpse into the Secret Life of Bees (which you should read, by the way, because it is a great book).
I have been in Armenia on a work trip for the past week. (Yes, I am only planning to go places that begin with “A” from now on.) It’s been an amazing experience. Since one of the focuses (foci?) of the project we are working on is food, eating has been a big part of the trip. Since I am planning to write a work blog about “Armenian Snickers,” I will not mention them here, you will just have to wait for that. But, we have been eating a lot of delicious food. Yoghurt (madzoon) is a whole new experience here. Each morning at breakfast at our hotel, I try another combination of nuts, jams, and honey (and even corn flakes) with this thick drained version of yoghurt – think the best Greek yoghurt with no sour “bite” to it. Also, it is made into soup called “spas” with grains and a particular type of herb (it looks like tarragon in the soup, though I am sure people use different types of herbs. This recipe calls for cilantro.) Imagine our group of researchers in Areni, in the Vayots Dzor province, at a bed and breakfast which also serves lunch on its patio, eating this refreshing soup for a second course. First course consisted of a variety of salads (one with horse sorrel is particularly good in my opinion). Main course was a sort of chicken and wheat stew called “harissa.” Then tea or strong Armenian coffee and “gata” (cake). This was after visiting one of the most spectacularly situated historic monasteries in the country, called Noravank. Good food, beautiful scenery, kind people, interesting (though sometimes tragic) history… Armenian culture is alive and lively, like its yoghurt.