It’s a metal-detecting vacation … which the Daily Mail dubs “the worst holiday ever.”
According to the Mail, 21 American metal-detector enthusiasts [seen at left] “have paid more than £2,000 and flown thousands of miles to discover the treasures scattered across East Anglia.”
“Heads down and brows furrowed, the group spent most of their eight-day holiday patiently waiting for the small ‘beep’ that would tell them their efforts had been rewarded. Most appeared so deep in concentration that they were unaware of the glorious rolling countryside around them — and the rare sunny weather” in Norfolk. “Each was armed with their very own detector, which projects an electro-magnetic field into the ground and beeps when it comes into contact with anything metallic.
“The highly sensitive detectors are equipped with satellite positioning to pinpoint the location of finds. But although the Americans were determined to ‘touch the hand of history’ by finding an ancient artefact, most were left with just an old tin can or used shotgun cartridge to show for their labours. One enthusiast, Jim Normandy, 79, a retired pharmacist from California, said he was ‘thrilled’ to unearth a 17th century button. ‘We have been coming here for 19 years, first to Kent but mostly to Norfolk, because there is so much history here’ …
“He paid £2,200 for the trip, excluding flights, and stayed at the same Norfolk hotel the group have chosen for years. There, after hours of sweeping harvested rape fields, each find was meticulously logged. The Americans’ most spectacular discovery to date has been a 2-inch Thor’s hammer Viking pendant, made from silver and gold, which was found in the Great Witchingham
area. But they have also found objects dating back to the Iceni tribe, Bronze Age axe fragments, as well as Roman jewellery, Saxon brooches and medieval money….
“David Barwell, a former chairman of the National Council for Metal Detecting … selected the fields for US tour operator Discovery Tours.”
Yesterday was the grand opening of the new Berkeley Bowl, a 140,000-square-foot second branch of the independently owned, gourmet-magnet supermarket whose produce department (one of the largest in the West) Saveur magazine calls the nation’s best. Because grand openings are almost always freebie territory, we made a scavenging foray.
With a deli section that could outfit every picnic in the state, hangarlike Berkeley Bowl West sprawls far and wide. Its sixteen grocery aisles resemble airport runways (for small planes, but still). Seven years and $30 million in the making, BBW also has enormous seafood, meat, wine, beer and dairy sections. The olive bar includes twenty varieties.
But what makes Berkeley Bowl world-famous, in both of its stores, is its produce: aisle after aisle stocked with thousands of items priced lower than at regular supermarkets (and in most cases unavailable at regular supermarkets), grown locally and internationally — from the familiar (such as apples, but twelve different varieties) to the rarefied (okay, so some recipes actually do call for rambutan and Italian chestnuts) to the truly WTF, such as nuaje beans and horned melons. (We once bought one of the latter, aka kiwano, jelly melon, hedged gourd and horned cucumber, at the Bowl because … well, because we could. Native to Africa but now grown in the US, it’s the size and shape of a hand grenade, but sun-gold, with spikes. Sliced in half, it spurts a clear green ooze that smells, barely and fleetingly, like meat. Laid open, it presents a bright fibrous network of hollows awobble with nodules, glass-green, fingernail-sized. In each nodule is suspended a seed. Sliding on spoons as if alive, it slurps like agar and tastes of cucumber, but faintly — like a whisper — sweet.)
The new Bowl’s produce section is so long that, standing at one end, you can barely see to the other. Upon first reaching it, we thought: This is huge! … Then we realized we were only in the first half, the organic half. Its bags are sustainable, by the way.
When the Yasuda family opened their first store in 1977, it occupied a former bowling alley, hence the name. Its low produce prices make it a sort-of scavenging venue, as does its policy of giving discounts if you buy stuff by the case or by the flat. The store’s most scavengeable aspect is its bags of bruised produce sold for super-cheap. (You can never predict when they’ll be in stock, how many will be on hand or what kinds of bruised produce will be in the bags, so it’s a constant source of creative Scavenger-Style Cuisine: lots of gazpacho one week, lots of onion rings the next.)
On its opening day, the new store was too new to stock any bruised produce. (They should have brought some over from the other store, as a nice gesture. Well, we’re growing our own produce this year anyway.) Freebies were shockingly few and far between, consisting only of some vitamin samples and some cheese cubes.
Granted, that’s way better than nothing. And free Berkeley Bowl tote bags (made of recycled materials) were being given away with every opening-day purchase, as we delightedly learned upon buying a few ounces of active dry yeast (with which to make bread, super-cheaply, in our scavenged bread machine). The yeast was our only purchase. But see, we’re scavengers.
Over at Tiny Choices, the tip for the day is: Vacation Locally. “What with the economy tanking, many folks are sticking closer to home for their vacations this year,” they write, “but it’s a green decision, too. Cut out the airline portion of a holiday and you’ve just eliminated the biggest polluter by far!”
So true! Just as you can scavenge entertainment by finding free concerts, lectures, slide shows and the like (consult the calendars for nearby colleges, art galleries, park districts and libraries, and borrow DVDs and CDs from libraries), you can scavenge a whole trip by taking public transit (or walking) somewhere that deserves a closer look, has free or cheap admission, and is near free or cheap lodging. Start by consulting maps of your area. Are beaches nearby? Mountains? Big cities? Be creative. Just because a place is nearby doesn’t automatically mean a place is boring or that you already know everything about it. Make it a themed trip, for example: Commit yourself to spending a whole day each in all the museums within a forty-mile radius of your home — or sampling, say, all the early-bird specials within a forty-mile radius. Sporty? Circumambulate a mountain, lake, or town. Retrace a historic route just as our ancestors did: on foot. Or just take a fun break enjoying all the legal freebies you can find. (Advance research will help.) Where to stay? CouchSurfing is exactly what it sounds like: Stay overnight with willing strangers anywhere in the world for free (with the understanding that your couch is available for future visits too). We’ve never tried it ourselves, but friends of ours love it.
Spring term is over at the local university, so we strolled around the neighborhoods on both sides of campus yesterday to see what was being thrown out. It’s like this every May: in the days and weeks after the term ends, there’s a vast exodus as thousands of students pull up stakes and pour out of town. Looking at their left-behinds — the Dumpsters outside their dorms, frat/sorority houses and other dwellings; the stuff they set out on curbs with “free” signs — is like anthropology. Or archeology. Who were these people, what did they have and what did they use and what do they deem not worthy of taking along when they leave?
The scavenger friend who runs Ghost Town Farm and who preceded us on a similar jaunt marveled at the comparatively low quality of this year’s leavings. IKEA furniture, she noted, seemed to dominate. And she was right. Not just IKEA furniture but mostly broken and/or dismembered IKEA furniture: desks, dressers, tables, shelves, shoved whole into Dumpsters and/or splintered and battered and bashed into bits. I never thought of IKEA this way before, having always rather admired its clean lines and clever color schemes, but from the looks of this year’s student “middens” an archeologist might surmise that IKEA furniture was made to be temporary, that it was purposely made to be disposable, that it’s the furniture version of those throwaway bamboo chopsticks that come free with Chinese takeout. Until not so long ago, students used to buy heavy, hard-to-break midcentury behemoths from thrift stores and yard sales, or they acquired such pieces free from former tenants. These days, rather than seek out old used furniture, students apparently buy their furniture brand-new … and then, as with those chopsticks, it gets chucked into the trash.
Scrap metal gets a second life (and a chance to become art, robots and vehicles) at The Crucible, a nonprofit housed in a sprawling 56,000-square-foot Oakland, California warehouse where salvaged materials are used for a constant stream of classes for kids and adults in neon, jewelrymaking, glasswork, kinetics, blacksmithing, enameling and more. Local industries donate scrap of all kinds along with still-usable machinery and computers. Discarded bottles and windowglass are used in The Crucible’s glasswork classes. Discarded electronics are used in kinetics and robotics classes. An entire garage is stocked with salvaged bikes and bike parts. The warehouse is studded with scrap-metal sculptures, spiral staircases and fixtures whose components would otherwise have ended up at landfills.
Because intensely energy-intensive activities are The Crucible’s raison d’etre, its environmentally minded staff strive to go green in whatever ways possible. Biodegradable cornstarch flatware is used at all events, and employees and students are encouraged to commute via bicycle and public transit. Since 2006, the facility has been solar-powered.
We visited The Crucible last Friday (see pic above) to attend the 2009 Oakland Indie Awards, celebrating energy-conscious local artists and businesses. One big winner — nabbing the Greenie Award — was the Awaken Café, a downtown espresso bar/art gallery constructed in the scavenging spirit. Its counter-front and all trim were built from salvaged redwood planks. Its permanent menu was made from a door. Its tile backsplash was made from recycled glass. (Currently on exhibit at the café are hauntingly realistic paintings of men’s socks and underwear on recycled kraft paper by Oakland artist Terry Furry. Developed in Germany in 1879, the kraft process enables the recovery and reuse of inorganic pulping chemicals to transform wood into wood pulp.)
So much to salvage, so little time….
British environmentalist David de Rothschild — an Arctic adventurer, children’s book consultant and banking-fortune heir (yes, he’s one of those Rothschilds) — wants to sail across the Pacific Ocean in a 60-foot catamaran he is building almost entirely of recycled plastic water bottles. He calls his vessel the Plastiki.
Thirty-year-old de Rothschild (depicted at left) embarked on the project “to raise awareness of the recycling of plastic bottles, which he says are a symbol of global waste,” we read in the Globe & Mail: “Right now, the 30-year-old Brit is based on a pier in San Francisco, where construction is under way on one of the most unlikely boats the world has ever seen. Twelve thousand plastic bottles will either be bound together with mesh for the hull, or repurposed into plastic sheets and beams held together with ‘bio-glue’ made of sugar and cashew nuts. The goal is to make the vessel 100-per-cent recyclable.”
It takes guts to trust a sugar-nut glue against the high seas.
“When it is finished — the plan is for this summer — Mr. de Rothschild plans to exit San Francisco Bay and sail 12,000 nautical miles to Sydney, Australia, as a documentary crew films the adventure. A significant pit stop will be at what’s known as the Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling soup of plastic that scientists estimate is twice the size of Texas. Through the voyage, Mr. de Rothschild hopes to demonstrate the unlikely things we can make out of our own junk — and what happens when we toss it out.”
As the idea took shape three years ago, de Rothschild “gathered a crew of boat builders, engineers and materials experts. They set up on Pier 31 about a year ago, and began experimenting with the different forms recycled plastic can take…. The original plan was to set sail in March. Due to a series of problems, the launch date was first postponed until April; now it has been pushed back to the summer….
“The decks and cabin of the Plastiki are made of self-reinforcing PET, a woven fabric made from plastic. This durable material is also being used to build the rigid skeleton, ribs and bulkheads on the boat.”
Bon voyage … soon.
Are you a scavenger? We are. And we think there’s a lot more of us out there than anybody realizes.
Scavenging is the first and only blog devoted exclusively to the concept of the scavenger. And we’ll also explore the philosophy of scavenging as a lifestyle (or a hobby), and the critical role it plays in the world at large.
So send us your tales of scavenging, your greatest triumphs and most bitter regrets. And start thinking of yourself as a scavenger first, above all else.