Sunday, May 3, 2009


This was the tour's well informed and chatty leader, Carl Antholz.

Why don’t we make it simple and just learn to like each other?
by Charlie Leck

Yesterday I took an organized tour of ethnic grocery markets and delicatessens in our metropolitan area. One of our kids has been urging me to do it for quite some time. Wow, did I have fun and I got some eye-popping lessons in life.

I won’t give you a rerun of the whole tour, but I’ll concentrate on the lessons that I learned.

I sat next to a nice lady on the bus. She was a grandmother with a splendid sense of humor and a remarkable attitude. Life had given her some ups and downs, but she was positive and adventurous and hopeful. As well, I got to see a photograph of her granddaughter. You might not be surprised to learn that I found out that the kid is wonderful, beautiful, bright and well behaved.

The tour was organized by an excellent retail operation in Minneapolis called Kitchen Window. It’s a huge store “for the passionate cook” and it has an events manager who puts together all kinds of special occasions and tours about cooking and food. This is a good operation. I remember shopping there when they first opened with an unimpressive inventory. They’ve grown and grown into one of the finest stores of this type in America. I bought all of our wonderful All-Clad cookware there.

Our first stop on the tour, Buon Giorno Italia, is a market I already knew about. One of the kids – the hands-down winner in our family at chefing (I made this verb up) – had already introduced it to me. This place has a superb deli and one can find a remarkable assortment of Italian cheeses and meats there. It’s pricey, but really superb. I can’t find salami anywhere else that matches its assortment and the same is true for prosciutto. They’ve got an outstanding selection of many types of olive oils (though we saw their assortment matched and bettered on the tour). The bakery at Buon Giorno is also excellent and they have a variety of walk-away luncheon items. The adjoining wine store claims to have the best selection of Italian wines in the United States. We also got to take a peek at the very lovely and comfortable restaurant there.

We reboarded the bus and headed out for the heart of St. Paul. My seat companion was not from the Twin Cities area, so I tried to give her a little guided tour of the areas we passed through (I should have been a tour guide because I love to do this).

"There’s where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers converge; and Fort Snelling is over there; and that’s the old Schmidt Brewery sticking up on the right side; and there’s the Minnesota History Center, the Capitol Building and Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Oh yes, and there’s the pretty spiral of Saint Agnes Church."

This grandma expressed a touch of nervousness or unease when we got into a little shabbier section of the city and wondered if it was safe. I pointed out one Hmong market I've always wanted to visit and she expressed concern about the people standing around near the front door.

We arrived and pulled into the parking lot of Dragon Star Oriental Foods on Dale Street.

It was at Dragon Star that I began learning some of life’s lessons.

A lovely, pretty lady mixing a papyya salad.

Beaucoup le monde, they say in French. All the world was at the market. There seemed every hue of skin color, nose shapes and texture of hair. None was not beautiful. Each was wonderful and unique. I realized, after a while, that I was surrounded by kindness. I wandered with my camera and saw dozens of wide bright smiles. I was said hello to in dozens of ways. Heels clicked, heads bowed, eyes blinked, hands waved and palms were upturned.

I knew it was a diverse and multi-cultured world. Now I was realizing my city was the same way. The world was no longer across the seas. Just in the last couple of decades the nation has changed immensely. Barack Obama was telling us this during the campaign. America is no longer the America of our grandparents.

What we must absolutely realize is that it's okay. As a matter of fact. this is all perfectly good and even wonderful.

Dragon Star's customers were as diverse as our nation.

Someone sent me some startling numbers last week. I looked at them for a long time and shook my head in wonder. I also checked them and they proved to be accurate.

If you could fit the entire population of the world into a single village consisting of 100 people living on Earth, that village would consist of the following.

57 Asians
21 Europeans
14 Americans (North, Central and South)
8 Africans

I thought about those numbers as I walked around Dragon Star and the rest of the coming day would make me think about them even more.

This handsome, effervescent couple joined us on the tour.

I don't believe I was ever more surrounded with diversity; yet, I don't think I've ever felt more at ease and comfortable and satisfied. I began to wish I was younger because I could feel the world changing and I wanted to enjoy the wonderful coming day when, for sanity's sake, we would all need to get along and like each other completely.

In this village of 100 we spoke about above, there would be the following make up also:
52 women
48 men
30 Caucasians
70 non Caucasians
30 Christians
70 non-Christians
89 heterosexuals
11 homosexuals

This pretty customer wanted her mom to hurry because some funny stranger was stalking her with a camera!

Is it not amazing? Put the world in these small, even minuscule numbers and you begin to see what we really look like.

6 people would possess 50 percent of the wealth and they would all come from the U.S.

80 would live in poverty
70 would be illiterate
50 would suffer from hunger and malnutrition
1 would be dying
1 would be being born
1 would own a computer
1 (yes, only 1) would have a university degree

This clerk, at a Persian deli, The Caspian, had a smile a mile wide for us!

The person who sent me these statistics about our world also reminded me that if I was reading the message -- just reading the message -- I should feel very fortunate because I was not one of the 2 billion people on Earth who cannot read. If you want to see a very attractive slide show that explains these number, go here.

This efficient clerk at Cinco de Mayo Mercado in south Minneapolis waited on us with a smile and good humor.

I'm not trying to frighten anyone or put a downer on you. I'm actually sharing some good news with you. The world is a wonderful place, but the future is so much brighter than we can ever believe and our grandchildren's grandchildren are going to have opportunities I so envy.

There will be more color, and grander music, and new dances, and new openness to grand and lovely ideas about living.
A entire aisle of varieties of olive oil at Bill's Imported Foods on Lake Street.

Yes, I learned some really neat things yesterday about olive oil and soy sauce. These things will come in very handy. I learned, too, that there is a Greek oregano and there are sweet lemons. I saw people buying fish heads and I was introduced to at least a half dozen new potato varieties.

This is a big, wide, wonderful world and we should celebrate it.
Don't be afraid of diversity. The world would be so drab without it. I think God may have had that it mind also.

The world would be such a simpler place if we'd all just get along. I know that's not an astounding thought. Yet, as ordinary as the idea is, so few of us have accepted it.

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