On Saturday I ate half a pound of peanuts. On Sunday I did the same. This food was supplemented by the complimentary breakfast that came with my hostel1; along with a Lindor Chocolate2 on Saturday and two apples on Sunday. On Sunday evening I walked back to my bed in the cold and rain, as I have done so very many times in this humble little lifetime. I decided the situation warranted additional calories, and so purchased a hunk of nice rye bread. I was prepared to eat it plain, but previous travellers had left butter and chocolate spread in the fridge. That, along with free herbal tea at the hostel allowed me to eat like a king without squandering resources like one.
As far as necessities go, food expenses provide the greatest amount of flexibility. It is easy to luxuriously spend the majority of one’s budget on food, and it is also possible to comfortably meet one’s nutritional requirements for as little as no money at all. It all depends on how much effort you’re willing to dedicate to the situation.
On many occasions this year, I have been motivated to reduce food spending without significantly decreasing caloric or nutritional intake. In the most recent case, I did so with nice, cheap peanuts (half a kilo for 30Kč (about 1.20€, or $1.75).
Other budget friendly foods I commonly resort to are oats, raisins, rice, pasta, lentils, and whatever happens to be cheap locally.3 In Tunisia, for example, I found myself eating almost a pound of oranges every day; in Spain I was eating lots of bread, olive oil, cheese, and sausage; and in Gautemala there were lots of bananas and avocados. Then there is the street and market food — special to every region; the quality of which plays no small part in how much I love a place.
Incidentally, Croatia did not have a particularly impressive street food scene — it actually did not even come close to meeting my standards. Moreso, and perhaps surprisingly, Croatia was probably the most expensive place I’ve ever travelled. The most reasonably priced things of quality were beer and ice cream — and so you might imagine that my diet thus took an interesting turn. . .
As you might have learned from Firefly, Episode 7 (‘Jaynestown’), beer is essentially liquid bread, and I am well aware that a good dark beer is of significant nutritional value. Combined with ice cream, it is not too difficult to round out one’s nutritional requirements at a modest price, and thus: we are able to beat Croatia.
Another category in which it would seem that I spend less money than the average human, is clothing. I don’t buy very much of it. Mostly, it would seem, I wear things that were giveaways, gifts, or purchased when I was still in high school. You are all likely aware that I have quietly been looking for just the right pair of pants for over a year. As my white pants neared the end of their natural life, my search intensified — and all the more so after they were abandoned next to a man who was either sleeping or dead on a bench in Budapest, on Day 263 of this most recent excursion in the life of Sherpa.
And so it was, that as I was returning to my old friend the peanut in recent days that the epic Pants Quest built to its thrilling conclusion. To be sure, I thought the Quest was all but over nearly a month ago in Berlin, but a surprise price miscalculation of about 50 euros and a lack of just the right size thwarted a successful resolution. As far as optimal foraging goes, I’m not going to attempt to calculate the value of the time/energy I have put into searching for just the right pair, but the degree of specificity I demand makes trips to the pants stores surprisingly quick and efficient.
If there are no zips to convert to shorts, I can leave immediately. If the zips are at or below the knees, I will move on. If they have something near my size then I will assess if the pockets are too shallow (which they often are. It is possible for pockets to be too deep, but it almost never happens), and if they are still adequate at this point, then I will consider trying them on, and proceed to assess the fit, comfort, and the quality of the zippers, buttons, and buckles.
On one occassion I was sure I’d found my pants, but the colour was too light (gets visibly dirty too easily! . . .and also no good for hiding in the woods). And another time, the pockets! Oh, the pockets! I found a wonderful pair, with not only good pocket dimensions, but a well-placed secret zipping pocket. A ray of light might have been shining from heaven onto these pants. But the pocket material was partially mesh — a terrible choice for pocket material. Certainly too weak for the likes of me and my intense pocket demands (not to mention the tendency for the mesh to get caught on the various things one might keep in one’s pocket. . .). Indeed, my last epic pair of light green cargos, which I wore for about a decade, had their pockets replaced so many times that my Mom once told me — Well, I don’t remember exactly what she told me, but it was threatening, and it involved me never asking her to fix those pants again.4
And so I know the woe, of a pocket too weak. But these amazing pants with good pocket dimensions but poor pocket design were not only almost perfect, but reasonably priced. The Devil’s trick, you might say. A subtle poison from that sometimes-Vengeful-when-not-Mischivous God of Pants, you might say. To be sure, it is this little god who is sneaking into your dreams and making sure that you have no pants when you are singing on stage. or delivering a speech. or writing a math test. It is this little god that makes sure that the store doesn’t have a small enough adult size, or a big enough children’s. And when you are tired of walking, weary of looking, and sick of change rooms, it is this spiteful little god that presents you with a pair that is nearly perfect but not quite right; beckoning with a decent price. But you must be strong! You must persevere! You must! Find. Your. Pants!
They are out there, somewhere. You just need to find them. Like your soulmate. I don’t know that it could be this difficult to find a wife. . . but I suppose one saving grace about buying pants is that the pants can not talk back, run away, or have another boyfriend (although I did find the perfect pair that belonged to someone else. I wore them for 3 days while my own pants were drying. I only briefly considered running away with this somehow perfect fitting pair. . . I wonder if Homer ever considered writing an alternate version of the Iliad, where Paris ran away with Menelaus’ favourite pants, instead of his favourite wife. I imagine the outcome would have been pretty much the same, but one wonders if the dialogue in the movie would have suffered at all. . .)
Indeed, when you do find the right pair of pants, they aren’t allowed to say ‘no’ and they can’t go home with someone else. Although Cavemen solved this problem with a good sturdy club and just the right amount of diplomacy.
Regardless, the Pants Quest: Berlin was an epic fail. I had left my friends’ house one morning in full confidence of victory, believing that the purchase would be little more than a formality. But came back empty handed and almost late for dinner, dressed only in her pants, an old sweater. . . and shame.
And so my Quest brought me through Karlsruhe, Frankfurt, Leipzig, and Dresden — but to no avail. Like Sauron searching desperately for the One Ring, I had once again had nothing to show for my efforts. By this point I surely would have happily skewered a couple of grubby little hobbits over the ordeal, for how dare they endeavor to keep me from my Precious?
And so I abandoned Germany and made my way back to Prague, where there was a pair of pants I had quite fancied but never tried on — like the girl sitting across from you on the bus for oh so many stops; you made eye contact, but you didn’t come up with anything remotely clever to say, and so you never even said ‘hello’. And then she rang the bell, stepped out onto the sidewalk, and never looked back as the bus pulled away. Usually, you know that seh is lost to you forever, swallowed up by the cruelties of chance, life, and love: no matter how hard you look, you will never see those eyes again. Usually, as the bus pulls away, you know that you have just squandered a precious and unique opportunity, and there is nothing to do but look down in sorrow.
But this time I know where that girl lives — and so I’m going to walk up to her house, knock on the door, say ‘hi’ to her mom, and try on her pants.
I’ll let you all know how it turns out — next time, in the Pants Quest: CONCLUSION!
(long live Yossarian)
1. bread, jam, cream cheese(!) tomatoes, cucumbers, cereal, and milk. Coffee and Tea also available. It somewhat surprised me that almost regardless of quantity, this fair was not capable of filling me up. ↖