My Taste, Your Taste

Last night, the Pirate and I opened a bottle of red wine after dinner. We were still drinking the wine when we retired to the bedroom to get ready for bed. The Pirate brushed his teeth before he’d finished his wine, and when he came back into the room and took a sip, he made a weird face.

“That’s interesting. After brushing my teeth, this wine tastes like…chocolate…and cheese….” He was doing that thing people do when they’re trying to describe a taste or sensation they’re experiencing: looking around in the air above his head as though the answer were on one of the hundreds of postcards attached to the ceiling.

Postcards on my bedroom ceiling

I started collecting these in college, and still pick up a few whenever I go someplace cool. If you sent me one, I’d put it up and think of you when I looked at it.

He wanted me to taste it after brushing my teeth, but I declined. I feel certain that if I had done the experiment, I wouldn’t have tasted chocolate OR cheese, and it led me to wonder – when I eat chocolate, do I taste the same thing my husband tastes? Or that you taste? I know that when I drive past a skunk that was hit by a car, the skunk smell is exactly the same to me as the smell of roasting coffee, and yet I know people who say that the smell of roasting coffee is pleasing to them, but the smell of skunk is disgusting – how can they make a distinction between them? To me, they’re identical.

People can distinguish five different tastes: sweet, bitter, salty, sour and umami. In addition, they can distinguish seven different types of smell: musky (the smell of perfume), putrid (rotten eggs), pungeant (vinegar), camphoraceous (moth balls), ethereal (dry cleaning fluid), floral (roses) and mint. Here’s what I’m not sure about: a given food contains a set of chemicals that make up its flavor profile. Every eater of a given food is working with the same set of chemical inputs. Why, then, the differences in perception? Is it a difference in body chemistry? Is it a difference in brain wiring? Both?

How much does our sense of taste play into our food and drink addictions? A Google search of the words “fast food addiction” shows 16.6 million results, including studies that show the addictive properties of fast food. Those addictive properties are tangentially related to taste in that the pleasing taste activates the brain’s pleasure centers – one article outlines the addictive ingredients in fast food including monosodium glutamate (a prime component of the “umami” taste) and casein, a naturally-occurring protein that, in fast food, is pumped up to past the danger point.

I’m not addicted to fast food. I can’t afford to be, since I’ve been battling a weight problem all my life. My husband, on the other hand, is naturally thin and has no real fondness for the things I have the most trouble with – baked sweets, chocolate, cheese. It feels unfair to me that because of an accident of chemistry my husband can maintain a healthy weight despite eating an enormous amount (I know, part of it is that he’s a man and therefore has more muscle mass and a higher metabolism, in addition to the fact that the man is two meters tall and therefore has a lot of guy to feed) while I have to consider every bite that goes into my mouth.

On the other hand, I also like to think that it means that I have outlets for enjoyment that are closed to my husband, who doesn’t equate the taste of white jasmine tea with love, or the flavor of Ezekiel bread with independence. In that way, I’m the lucky one.

Monkey on a Boat: Day 5

We went to sleep Thursday night in Puerta Vallarta and woke up Friday in Cabo San Lucas. What really struck me about Cabo is the fact that, from a distance, it looks almost exactly like Phoenix with an ocean in front of it.

A view of Cabo San Lucas from the ship

The saguaro-dotted hills in the background, the color and design of the buildings, all look to me like Phoenix

In Cabo the harbor is too small for a cruise ship to dock, so we boarded smaller launches that took us in. From the harbor, we boarded a bus that took us the whopping half mile to Mi Casa restaurant, which looked like a cross between a taqueria and the site of a luau.

The restaurant had great atmosphere for a party!

The koi pond, the hanging lamps, the festive decorations and the music all made for a party atmosphere

First, we had the same kind of food that I’ve had at practically every family party I’ve ever been to since I was a little kid. Meat, tortillas, soup, rice and beans and various salsas – it was all delicious, and all the better since I neither had to cook it nor clean up afterward.

The mariachi band

I can only think that their white, gold and black outfits gave them their name. Or their smell.

Once we were done eating, it was time for the mariachis. The name of the band was Huitlacoche, although I can’t for the life of me decide why. But they sang all the mariachi songs that Americans would expect to hear, and after a little while, folks (mostly tiny people) started getting up to dance.

In between numbers, the folkloric dancers came out. When they said “folkloric,” they weren’t kidding. The first number had an Aztec flavor.

A female dancer salutes the sun in the fire dance

The costumes were a little hokey, but the whole thing was fun, especially the part where the men set their leg hair on fire. No, I'm not kidding.

Later, they did other traditional dances in other costumes in between mariachi numbers. The only thing this party was lacking was that bunch of relatives that had too much to drink and start yelling at everybody.

Finally, it was time for DJ Roberto – an energetic guy who came out and told jokes and got the crowd going. The first time he came out, we applauded, but not nearly enough, so he said very seriously, “I’m gonna pretend that didn’t happen. I’m gonna come out again and you guys are gonna act like I’m Justin Bieber!” and he marched himself offstage and then came back on again to a crowd gone wild. He posed and threw kisses and otherwise hammed it up, and then got the kids up for a Mexican version of musical chairs called the Hat Game. The kids were put in a circle and given a hat. While the music played, each child had to put the hat on, spin in a circle, and then pass the hat to the next kid. If you had the hat when the music ended, you were out.

All the kids will pass a hat around, hoping not to be caught with it

The kids are all ready to play the Hat Game. According to the Badb, the hat, an old leather cowboy hat, smelled like lipstick.

After the Hat Game, we were taught the tequila dance (the one you dance to the song “Tequila”), and then we decided to leave so that we could walk back to the dock instead of taking the bus for half a mile.

We stopped at a little shop to get some souvenirs and met Filomena and her children, who were adorable.

Peaches and two of Filomena's kids

Children all over the world are always happy to mug it up for the camera. For the rest of our visit, the little boy kept making himself available for photo opportunities.

This was more a party, not an adventure, since we didn’t need hot showers or dry clothes when we got back to the ship. But if we had needed a hot shower, the little guy we found waiting for us would have been only too happy to help:

The towel monkey we got Friday

Every night, we got a different towel animal. Today's was a monkey that we kept for the rest of our cruise.

The Pirate and I were so inspired by the towel animals that we were excited to attend the towel origami class offered on Sunday. I can now make a monkey, an elephant, a bear, a swan – you name it, and I can fold it out of bath towels. So…if this writer thing doesn’t work out, I have a fallback position.