Last month, I went to the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade’s 56th annual Summer Fancy Food Show, held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York. Over three days, more than 24,000 attendees wandered among 2,400 exhibitors hawking thousands of so-called “specialty food and beverage products,” which is a $63 billion industry. In 2009, there were 2,318 new product introductions to the American market — which was actually a bad year. In, 2008, there had been 3,705.

Exhibitors at the Fancy Food Show split into two basic groups. One section consists of booths and rows devoted to food products from a particular region or country. Chile, for instance, seemed to have spent big money to introduce the world to its olive oil, cheese, wine, and the Chilean carica, a cousin of the papaya. Italy, Spain, and France were present, but so were some underdog… More…

 

One of the few Peace Corps pamphlets I ever read came to my home in Arizona about three weeks before my departure to Uzbekistan. I don’t think I read all the way through, but it told me that I should only bring what I could carry, so I arrived in Philadelphia for a three-day staging event before I would leave the country for two years with relatively few belongings. “What You Should Know About Uzbekistan” said that Uzbekistan got very cold in the winter, it being one of two doubly landlocked countries, the other being Liechtenstein, causing the seasons to be very extreme, with winters often below freezing and summers exceeding 100 degrees. But the hot Arizona summer of 2003 made me regard the prospect of cold weather as a down-right lie: I… More…

 

There’s an international battle going on. The prize is height, width, rotation. Its weapons are not guns, nor tanks, nor arrows. The weapons of this battle are wheels. Ferris wheels.

This year, Germany will unveil the Great Berlin Wheel. Upon its completion, the wheel will be 606 feet high — as high as two football fields are long, as high as three Niagara Falls. It will be taller than what’s currently the tallest Ferris wheel in the world, the Singapore Flyer, a soon-to-be-disappointing 541 feet high. This year, China also plans to unveil the Beijing Great Wheel. At an awesome 682 feet high, it will be taller than both the Great Berlin Wheel and the Singapore Flyer (which only debuted as the world’s tallest Ferris wheel last year).

China has, in fact, built wheels in six cities… More…

Satellite TV in Jordan, I discovered on my recent trip there, is a chaotic pleasure. When my American friends talk about watching it, taxiing home after a long day, there’s a little dread mixed with the hope of going into the kind of coma that only television can put one. The standard satellite setup, dauntingly, has more than 500 channels shooting out their signals in languages from all over the world. Finding something conventionally decent to watch is next to impossible for all but the practiced viewer. When you find your way around, you can preset your favorite stations and forget all the rest. But for those of us doomed to the full variety, the Jordanian boob tube becomes an obligatory tour of the human universe.

When all you want is Friends (or even its Arabic equivalent), prepare to weed through Italian soaps, Iranian talk shows, the Pentagon channel, Egyptian… More…