Globalization & Zubrowka

You used to have to travel to get special things.   It used to be fun to shop at the duty free shops.  Globalization has changed all that.    Now in America you can get almost anything from almost anywhere.  There are loses that go with this gain of globalization and diversity.   It takes a lot of the fun out of discovery when you discover the same stuff wherever you go.   

There are still some things that you can’t get easily even in America.  These are mostly things that don’t travel well.   Bread is a good example.   Bread must be baked locally and I have never been able to find European quality bread in the U.S.    I don’t really understand why that should be the case, but it is.  Cheese and sausages are also like that. Sausage made in Milwaukee is better than the Euro variety, except for salami.  French soft cheese is better than the same varieties in the U.S.  We also make great hard cheeses and these travel well.  Not so the soft varieties, IMO.  A Frenchman once told me that it was because of American health regulations and practices.   We require a level of sanitation that is beyond actual health requirements and some of the good flavors come from types of “impurities”.  The same goes for Polish ham.  Ham tastes better when the pigs get a variety of food, i.e. slop.    

It used to be that beer didn’t travel well, but modern packaging has changed that.   Good tap beer is still a local pleasure, however.    I think that comes more from the psychological aspects than reality.  Although I doubt I could pass a blind taste test, the same beer tastes better in pleasant surroundings served in the right kind of glass. 

They have a unique kind of vodka in Poland called Zubrowka.   It is what you see in the picture.   It is named after the bison that lives in the forests of Eastern Poland and it has a piece of grass and some herbs that give it its special flavor.   Some people like to mix it with apple juice; I just like to drink it straight and cold.  

Zubrowka is hard to come by in the U.S. I guess globalization doesn’t work for everything.  A Polish friend brought me this bottle. 

The Polish bison has an interesting story.   They were wiped out in the wild early in the 20th Century, but restored with stock from zoos in Sweden & Germany and reintroduced into Bialowieza, the biggest area of old growth deciduous forest in Europe.  Bialowieza used to be completely in Poland, but the Soviets moved the border in 1939, when they and the Nazis cooperated to dismember the second Rzeczpospolita.    In an odd twist of history, Hermann Goering was instrumental in protecting the bison in Eastern Poland in the Bialowieza forest during WWII. He and his fellow Nazis were more interested in animal than human rights. 

I visited Bialowieza back in 2002, but didn’t see any wild bison, although they had some injured ones convalescing in a compound.   I did see some semi-wild bison near Bielsko.  They were more recently introduced there.  The European bison is smaller than the American bison and doesn’t have the characteristic hump. (We saw a herd of American bison in the Custer National Forest in 1992.  They are really magnificent animals.)  

I remember the trip to Bialowieza and the really massive oak trees.  The biggest ones are named after Polish kings.   They are not the biggest oak trees in Poland, however.   The biggest one  is near Poznan.  I didn’t see that one.   The second biggest is near Kielce.  They call it “Bartek” (the Poles name big trees) and it was supposed to be around 1200 years old, but I heard that it is “only” a little more than 600.   The story is that Jan III Sobieski  rested under the tree on his way back from the battle of Vienna where the Poles saved Europe from the Turks in 1683.  I saw that tree in 1995.  Near Raclawica, where Kusciuszko defeated the Russians in 1794 there is a big linden, under which Kusciuszko rested after the battle.  A living link with the past makes history a lot more immediate. Our driver, Bogdan, knew I liked trees and he took me to these sorts of places on the way to programs in other cities.  He was a great guy, who knew the countryside.  Those were the days before I kept a blog or took digital photos.  It is a pity not to have a record. 

Memory fades.