Tag Archives: travel

Pan American Research Grant into the history of Airline Food

I am honoured to have been awarded the annual Dave Abrams and Gene Banning Pan American Research Grant for research in the Pan American World Airways, Inc. Records collection at the University of Miami Libraries Special Collections in Coral Gables, Florida.

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The grant, generously provided by the Pan Am Historical Foundation, honours two of Pan Am’s most avid historians, Dave Abrams and Gene Banning. Abrams, a University of Miami graduate, joined Pan American Airways and worked for forty-two years as a meteorologist, navigator, and Director of Flight Operations for Latin America. He was instrumental in the formation of the Pan Am Historical Foundation after the company shut its doors in 1991, and in finding a home for the Pan Am’s archives and memorabilia. Banning was one of the longest serving pilots for Pan Am. His aviation days started with the infamous flying boats in 1941 and ended with Boeing 747s in 1978. An avid researcher, Banning was a guiding member of the Pan Am Historical Foundation from its inception and the author of Airlines of Pan American since 1927.

The grant has been awarded since 2008, and has resulted in a variety of articles, theses-related work, book chapters, and a wide array of research projects. As this year’s award winner, I will receive $1,500 to support my scholarly research using the Pan American World Airways, Inc. Records collection. As part of this year’s award, Special Collections will be hosting an Abrams-Banning grant talk, an opportunity for me to share my research and discoveries to interested scholars and community members and answer questions about the project.

The Project: Pan Am, A Gastronomic History

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People today are generally dismissive of airplane food but, at the same time, ignorant of its history.

Pan-Am, once the largest international air carrier in the world, performed a pioneering role in airline food service.

Nostalgia for Pan-Am’s distinctive food service is now such that a Los Angeles film studio hosts a retro dinner on a stage set up to look like a Pan Am double-decker 747 at which patrons divest themselves of upwards of $200 to dine ‘airline’!

But this gourmet glamour was underpinned by both serious science and attention to the detail of fine dining culture.

Food tastes differ at high altitudes and in low humidity the sense of smell is less acute and the scent sharper; dryness of air and low air pressure ensures our taste buds are hindered, rendering seasoned dishes bland. Pan-Am led the way in scientific innovation around these problems, while maintaining high class dining rituals.

This research project explores the changing science and culture attached to food during Pan Am’s global reign, providing the first serious academic study to highlight the company’s gastronomic history.

Before the serious stuff starts I’ll also be checking out the TV series (below) for a few initial pointers!

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Salvador Allende’s glasses

image.jpegObjects as history. I never really took to this approach.

I, for one, have never much liked those museums displaying ancient flint combs and toothpicks. Object after soporific object, with little by way of accompanying explanation or context.

Some notable exceptions – British and Irish – of histories in ‘100 objects’, defy my scepticism. Yet I have never liked the fetishisation of the single object as an expression of history.

Having said that, I was quite excited by the prospect of Chile’s national history museum, in Santiago, where – so I was told – the final exhibit was the broken glasses of Salvador Allende: Chile’s famous deposed president of the 70s, the world’s first democratically elected Marxist head of state.

Allende was a plump old politician, head of the leftist Unidad Popular coalition which came to power in the country’s general election of 1970. His narrow victory heralded policies of income redistribution and nationalisation (not to mention warm relations with Castro’s Cuba) which pitted the nation’s right, its business interests and – critically – the US, against him.

 

I must confess to a certain attachment to Allende. In 1998 the Blair government, in a fleeting moment of radicalism, acceded to a Spanish judge’s request for the arrest of the man who deposed him – General Augusto Pinochet. Around the same time, in university, I learnt of the ‘first September 11’, in 1973, when Pinochet’s coup overthrew Chile’s government and resulted in Allende’s death – suicide, claimed the new military regime; death in combat with gun in hand, say his supporters. A romantic symbol of democratic socialism he remains.

Pinochet’s awful dictatorship is perhaps best symbolised by the ‘Caravan of Death’, a group of airborne soldiers who travelled from town to town eliminating political opponents in brutal helicopter raids. But his rule still divides opinion in the country, now returned to democracy, where there’s a stubborn rump of respect for the leader of the junta.

So, given this interesting history, I set aside my reservations about the ‘objects as history’ approach in anticipation of seeing Allende’s cracked specs in Chile’s national history museum.

Only to be disappointed.

Allende’s glasses were, so said the sign, ‘in the process of conservation’.

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A sign of the limitation of ‘objects as history’? *Sigh*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Armenia remembers its genocide but struggles to keep up with the Kardashians

On 24 APRIL Armenia and its diaspora marked the centenary of the Turkish deportations and killings of 1915 which left an estimated 1.5 million dead. But as the nation looked to the past with a little help from its most famous celebrity ‘daughter’, Kim Kardashian, questions emerged for me about Armenia’s future aspirations.

On 10 April, two weeks before the official national day of remembrance, Armenia’s National Genocide Memorial was mobbed with people. It was overcast and drizzling with rain. The thousands of wreaths adorning the memorial, a concrete chunk of Soviet monumentalism which overlooks the capital Yerevan, usually rest silent and undisturbed. But on that day things were different because Armenian-American superstar Kim Kardashian, her sister Khloe, and rapper husband Kanye West, were in town accompanied by legions of police and photographers.

Before the Kardashian circus had pulled up, I was completely ignorant of its presence. I was getting irate from trying unsuccessfully to make my way into the museum adjoining the memorial, which was mysteriously closed. Unusually for Armenia, even my offer of a bribe wasn’t opening the doors. Something was up. It then became clear: two weeks prior to the official day of remembrance, the Kardashians were there to pay their respects.

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Armenia’s suffering overshadowed as Turkey pulled a fast one

Choosing one particular date on which to commemorate genocide is always tricky, particularly so in this case; Turkey none-too-subtly advanced its Gallipoli commemorations to 24 April in an attempt to divert the West’s gaze from its historical crimes in Armenia. So as global heads of state flew out to Turkey for the Gallipoli events [Putin and Sarkozy were the only big guns to show up in Yerevan] Turkey partially succeeded in eclipsing Armenia’s suffering with Gallipoli.

To explain, 24 April is significant because it was on that date in 1915 that the Young Turk government executed 20 leading Armenian intellectuals: a symbolic assault on the brains of Armenia which marked the start of a fresh assault on hundreds of thousands of Armenian bodies.

The official slogan of the Armenian state’s commemorations is ‘remember and demand’, the latter exhortation a reference to the ongoing struggle for recognition of the events of 1915 as genocide. And although some Armenians I spoke to detested Kim Kardashian, others thought that she had helped a great deal on this score.

“Kim Kardashian has done more than any political or religious leader to highlight the Armenian genocide” claimed one young Armenian man, a concert pianist, to whom I spoke. “By just coming here”, he told me, “she’s achieved more than any politician or even the Pope [who recently referred to the Armenian woes of 1915 as the ‘first genocide of the twentieth century’] to get our genocide recognised internationally”.

Armenia's national genocide memorial, Yerevan

Armenia’s national genocide memorial, Yerevan

Armenians remember

Armenians remember

Dispute over the mass killings of Armenians

So why the controversy about recognition? Turkish denial aside, there are those who dispute whether, to quote the 1948 UN definition of genocide, the Turkish acts of 1915 constitute “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.

Several points about the genocide are important. The figure of 1.5 million deaths is an estimate: figures for mass killings are rarely neat. It was largely carried out in the course of forced ‘death marches’ rather than in death camps, although there were ‘deportation centres’ which functioned as sites of death. Starvation accounted for many of the deaths, although many were also shot, drowned or burned to death. An interesting footnote relates to German involvement: many German officers, commanding Turkish regiments at this point in the First World War, presided over the deathly deportations.

The divide between ‘Westerners’ and locals

I don’t know whether Kim Kardashian was fully aware of the ins and outs of the controversy when she did her bit at the Armenian Genocide Memorial two weeks ago. The whole thing had the vacuous shades of that staple of modern Irish culture – the returned Yank – about it. Think Grace Kelly visiting Ireland in the Sixties.

Kardashian, looking resplendent in a red jumpsuit, certainly seemed to add to the noticeable divide between ‘Westerners’ and locals in Yerevan that day. It was in no small part due to this conspicuous divide that I ended up, by chance, sitting at a hotel bar alongside some members of the American film crew covering Kim’s ‘homecoming’.
They told me that on the trip the Kardashians had also visited their ancestral northern hometown of Gyumri: a city destroyed by an earthquake in 1988 and with none of the gaudy and glitzy glamour of parts of downtown Yerevan.

Suffice to say, Kim didn’t stay long in Gyumri. The scheduled day-long trip was curtailed to an hour, they revealed. I later visited Gyumri and could see why. To describe it as a ‘dump’, as one member of the Kardashian entourage did to me, would be unkind but, regrettably, reasonably accurate.

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Armenia continues to suffer from wealth disparity and miserable poverty

The plight of the Kardashians’ ‘home town’ highlights the problems that Armenia faces in the wake of today’s centenary, after which the world will move on to the next historical commemoration. These include hostile neighbours in Azerbaijan and Turkey; lack of post-communist political evolution; and over-reliance on Russian troops, one of whom recently, in Gyumri , drunkenly massacred a local family of seven.

But most of all, Armenia suffers from wealth disparity and miserable poverty. In a country which has tended to look to its diaspora for financial support, there’s precious little evidence of ‘trickle down’. All of which, despite her recent ‘homecoming’, makes the super-rich Kim Kardashian a problematic standard bearer for modern Armenia.

Armenians may look with gratitude to the Kardashians for helping to make today’s genocide commemoration newsworthy but, in the wake of the circus, they still have precious little chance of keeping up with them.

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