My grandparents, who love the stuff, claim that mock turtle soup is part of their cultural heritage as German Cincinnatians. But I contend that the ghastly-sounding dish must be an English delicacy, since there’s a “mock turtle” in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Who’s right? —Grossed Out Either Way
The Doctor cannot help himself. He has to ask why it is that you find the idea of soup made from turtles, real or ersatz, to be ghastly when, unless you are a vegan-American, you blithely eat many other problematic animals. Are turtles disgusting to you because of those admittedly disturbing heads, or are you old enough to have had a dime-store turtle as a pet, a little pal kept in an empty aquarium to be fed desiccated insect flakes? If the latter, were you not just a little grossed out that your long-lived amphibian pal could be eating compressed cockroaches?
Food. It’s just mysterious. The doctor would bet that you find nothing odd in opening a can of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup on a frosty February day, thinking not at all about the ancestral lineage of chickens. But chickens, unless they are sectarian chickens with Answers in Genesis, descended from the busy and highly successful saurian culture that roamed the planet for ages: Lizards! That chicken in your soup is basically a lizard! Think about that. And Campbell’s Pepper Pot (the Doctor’s childhood favorite)? It’s based on tripe. Tripe!
But you wanted to know the ancestry of mock turtle soup and whether you would be justified in disabusing your probably doting grandparents of their cultural beliefs. While you are correct in your guess that the English invented mock turtle soup as a way around the outrageous cost of fresh turtles, the stuff spread beyond Britain quite quickly, so it has been on grocers’ shelves for generations. Here the soup has been passed down from Cincinnateutonic generation to Cincinnateutonic generation so often that it can be considered part of their heritage. Of course, there are probably Poles in Milwaukee clinging to a similar fantasy.
I understand the difference between a Winter Storm Watch and a Winter Storm Warning. But what the heck is a Winter Weather Advisory? And why do we have so many of them? —Still Watching the Skies
Thanks to you and your thoughtful question, the Doctor now knows that there is a Hamilton County Emergency Management Agency. He is not sure whether he finds the existence of the EMA a comfort or a worry. He cannot but wonder if there is not a local version of “Heckuva Job Brownie” relaxing on some west side golf course, in which case the Doctor should go ahead with that emergency generator purchase—unless there is the EMA equivalent of Janet Napolitano with an eagle eye on distant storm fronts, in which case he can relax with a hot buttered rum. He’ll let you know after he meets the EMAdministrator. In the meantime he can tell you that we have so many Winter Weather Advisories because we have winter and because we have, as the Doctor has pointed out for years, television weatherpersons.
The Doctor’s research suggests that an advisory is the gentlest of warnings, intended to alert you to the potential inconvenience of snow, sleet, or freezing rain and a reminder that you will need a coat and that your children will complain about how you were too cheap to spring for seat warmers in the minivan. Of course the weatherpersons still have air time to fill, leading them to treat the Advisory as Apocalypse. They can’t help it. It’s what they do. We have so many Advisories because we have so many days. And television sets.
The water tower on Miami Road in Indian Hill looks like something from the Middle Ages. What’s the story? —Curious Sunday Driver
The story is that the Cincinnati Water Works, the institution that created your water tower, had, in the days before it was considered a waste of taxpayer money to spend dollars on design, a practice of disguising valves, towers, and reservoirs as castles. Surely you’ve noticed this when you drive through Eden Park, and you must admit it’s kind of sweet as policies go. The tower in your question was built in 1938, which is why what looks to you like something from the Middle Ages looks to the Doctor like a Maxfield Parrish stage set. Now the tower is owned and maintained by the Village of Indian Hill whose residents’ grandparents drank in Maxfield Parrish–decorated bars, so they’re sentimentally attached and keep the paint fresh.
Originally published in the February 2014 issue.