the heart thrills

there is beauty all around us

Category: Health

LONG LIFE!

Bangkok, 12 February 2016

I saw my doctor recently, for my annual check-up. After all the tests and probings were over, we sat down and talked over the results. Then came the awful verdict: I had to cut out coffee, tea, Coke, anything with caffeine in it. So here I am, sitting at the breakfast table, mournfully sipping water. My body has let me down. It is getting old. It needs maintenance but there are no spare parts. As T.S. Elliot’s Alfred J. Prufrock lamented, “I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled”. The grave yawns ahead of me!

Sitting here, bathed in an existential funk, I am reminded of another poet, Chinese this time, by the name of Tao Yuanming, who wrote this poem in the year 409 AD, during the Double Ninth Festival, so called because it falls on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month.

Slowly, slowly,
the autumn draws to its close.
Cruelly cold
the wind congeals the dew.
Vines and grasses
will not be green again—
The trees in my garden
are withering forlorn.
The pure air
is cleansed of lingering lees
And mysteriously,
Heaven’s realms are high.
Nothing is left
of the spent cicada’s song,
A flock of geese
goes crying down the sky.
The myriad transformations
unravel one another.
And human life
how should it not be hard?
From ancient times
there was none but had to die,
Remembering this
scorches my very heart.
What is there I can do
to assuage this mood?
Only enjoy myself
drinking my unstrained wine.
I do not know
about a thousand years,
Rather let me make
this morning last forever

The wine Tao Yuanming is alluding to is chrysanthemum wine, made by blending chrysanthemum – flower, leaves, stalks and all – with millet and letting it ferment. It was made during the Double Ninth Festival, with chrysanthemums picked that day. It was left to sit for a whole year, to be drunk at the next Double Ninth Festival.

“Chrysanthemum” in Chinese is pronounced “ju”, which sounds similar to the word for “long”, “jiu”. By that strange Chinese habit of giving deep meaning to homophony, the chrysanthemum was therefore believed to be imbued with the spirit of longevity, and thus – through an animistic belief in sympathetic magic – its consumption would help the consumer live longer. It helped that the chrysanthemum is a flower of the autumn, a flower which blooms when other flowers are withering. Surely such a flower, which defies the dying of nature all around it, must be imbued with the spirit of longevity? “Chrysanthemum” also sounds like the number “nine”, “jiu”, therefore it seemed divinely ordained that this flower should play a central role in the Double Ninth Festival. Drinking chrysanthemum wine at the Festival was an affirmation that, even as winter started to close in, Death did not yet have us in its grip.

I suppose, then, that at this moment when my body betrays me, when I have doubts about my own longevity, I should drink long drafts of chrysanthemum wine. But even in my current brown mood, I don’t think I could drink this brew. It sounds distinctly unappetizing. I shall plump instead for chrysanthemum tea, which can happily take the place of my coffee and tea. In a coincidence which I’m sure the Chinese would find significant, my wife and I recently bought – in Bangkok’s Chinatown – a packet of dried chrysanthemum flowers: not the big, showy chrysanthemums you see in flowerbeds, but small, almost daisy-like, flowers.
image
I will use these flowers to prepare myself infusions of a very delicate taste.
image
And I will peer deep into my cup, drowning my existential sorrows in that lovely pale yellow liquid. Who knows? Maybe the Chinese were right, maybe I will live longer, and, like Tao Yuanming, “I will pluck chrysanthemums under the eastern hedge / And gaze afar towards the southern mountains.”
image

Or maybe, as my wife and daughter have very sensibly suggested, I should start drinking decaffeinated coffee and tea instead …

____________________________________
Dried chrysanthemum flowers: http://www.botanicalspirit.com/chrysanthemum-flowers
Chrysanthemum tea: http://kaleidoscope.cultural-china.com/en/8Kaleidoscope2197.html
Tao Yuanming: https://en.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/T%27ao_Ch%27ien

THE FLESH CRIES OUT

Bangkok, 21 June 2015

After years of bugging by our children, especially our daughter, and after watching a couple of our friends Go the Way of All Flesh or nearly so, my wife and I have committed to a serious training regime. Twice a week, a personal trainer turns up at our apartment block and in the very rudimentary gym which we have (it’s really just a common space where some exercise machines have been installed) he puts us through one hour of rigorous exercises. In addition, my wife goes to a gym every day for an hour, while I do (more or less, depending on my schedule) half an hour’s worth of exercises at home in the evening. We’ve been at it for three and a half months.

I don’t know, I feel that after a suitable period of shock at the beginning – we have, to be very, very frank, done bugger-all exercise for nigh on forty years – we should now be looking forward to going to our twice-weekly routine and feel happy after it
happy exercisers
perhaps not as blissfully happy as this couple, but at least somewhat satisfied.

Yet it is not so. As we go down to the makeshift gym we feel like what those poor people in Singapore must feel like as they go to get 100 lashes for dropping chewing gum on the pavement or whatever, and the exercises themselves are still excruciating. We both feel like poor old Laocoön and his sons as we put our protesting bodies through the routines
laocoon
while when we try to get up from a floor exercise we both look and feel like this dying Gaul
Dying gaul
Understand me, I’m not hoping to look like Hercules by the end of all this
Herakles Farnese
Something like this would do me very nicely
God
while my wife would be more than happy to end up looking like any of these three Graces
Three Graces
In fact, to be completely honest, I wouldn’t mind ending up looking like this as long as I was feeling good.
fat david
But I don’t feel good, I just feel like this at the end of the one hour
banksy-fallen-sculpture-1
and continue to feel like this for the rest of the day.

Will it ever be different?

_____________

Happy exercisers: https://experiencelife.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Apr10_ExGorg1.jpg (in https://experiencelife.com/article/8-ways-exercise-makes-you-gorgeous/)

Laocoön: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/bf/aa/24/bfaa2441e5e25a8ec7be0f9fb81db7dd.jpg (in https://www.pinterest.com/heotang/the-death/)

Dying Gaul: http://anadio.com/004b%20Ancient%20Greek%20sculpture%20web%20ss/resources/images/medium/Dying_gaul.jpg (in http://anadio.com/004b%20Ancient%20Greek%20sculpture%20web%20ss/index.html)

Herakles: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/ad/Herakles_Farnese_MAN_Napoli_Inv6001_n01.jpg/250px-Herakles_Farnese_MAN_Napoli_Inv6001_n01.jpg (in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farnese_Hercules)

God: http://cdn.theatlantic.com/static/mt/assets/culture_test/100ideasart_2.jpg (in http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/10/from-greek-sculpture-to-graffiti-100-ideas-that-changed-art/264165/)

Three Graces: http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Mythology/Images/ThreeGracesLouvreMa287.jpg (in http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Mythology/ThreeGracesLouvreMa287.html)

Fat David: http://www.clevelandseniors.com/images/funny/fat-david.jpg (in http://bellasvitas.blogspot.com/2011/03/michael-angelo-sculptures.html)

Broken sculpture: http://www.visualtherapyonline.com/wp-content/uploads/banksy-fallen-sculpture-1.jpg (in http://www.visualtherapyonline.com/?p=20403)

MY SWEET LITTLE BIKE

Beijing, 21 August 2015

When I was young (“so much younger than today” as the Beatles sang so long ago), I was a fanatic of the bike. Well, at least during the summer holidays I was. I would spend them at my grandmother’s house in France, where there were always a bunch of bicycles, big and small, old and new, lying around and ready to be grabbed and ridden. My cousins spent the summer next door, so we would spend endless afternoons bicycling around the Beaujolais countryside which surrounded us – I’ve already written about this in a previous post.

When I was 10 or 11, my parents decided that it was time for me to have my own bike. They took me down to the main bicycle shop in the nearby market town. After a certain amount of negotiation, we agreed on a Peugeot bike. How I loved that bike! It was an exquisite light green colour, with a real leather saddle, four gears, silver mudguards, white-walled tyres, a little satchel hanging behind the saddle with all the equipment needed to mend a puncture, a pump hooked to the crossbar, lights that worked with a dynamo which clicked into place on the front wheel and which purred as I flew down the darkened lanes at night… As you can see, that bike has been etched deeply into my memory. I spent many a happy moment cleaning it, burnishing it, oiling it, pumping its tyres. Whenever I arrived for a holiday, after a hasty peck on my grandmother’s cheek, it was to my bike that I rushed, to give it a loving wipe and the first whirl of the holidays down the lanes.

Well, I grew up and moved on. The bike stayed mournfully propped against the garage wall, while I graduated to motorized transport – the moped first, then the car. I would give it a pat from time to time, and then nephews and nieces began to use it, then I stopped going to my grandmother’s house, then one day it was gone.

It’s not as if I betrayed my bike with another. Apart from a year or two when my wife and I were living near Lake Maggiore and did everything by bike – going to work of course, but also the shopping, the post office, the cleaning, and simply touring around – I just stopped riding bikes. It’s difficult to ride a bike in cities, you know, and then the kids came along, and then, and then … Even in China, empire of the bicycle (well, fast becoming the empire of the car), I never rode a bicycle.

Until now.

I won’t go into the details, suffice to say that by pure happenstance I’ve been given the use of a bike, and I have a place to park it safely, both at work and at home. So now every day, I ride to and from work. On this sweet little thing.

the bike i get to use

OK, it’s not a cool racing bike like this one

racing bike-3

or this one

racing bike-2or even this one (whose green rather reminds me of the green of my Peugeot bicycle)

futuristic bike-7

And it doesn’t give me an excuse to dress up in this unutterably cool way

racer-2

Nor does it allow me to go around in this intriguing way

racer-horizontal-1

or this extraordinary way (apparently this bike works on water too)

futuristic bike-3

But that’s OK, it allows me to reconnect with the bike. And it gives my thighs a really good work-out! My daughter will be very pleased to hear that. She’s always telling me and my wife to do more exercise.

________________________

the sweet bike: my pic

Racing bike-1: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-V3gpmEz-om0/UxP8LMHKuCI/AAAAAAAAACI/rDNuF4gP888/s1600/Imageu.jpg [in http://nurhayara.blogspot.com/%5D

Racing bike-2: http://www.conceptbook.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/bicicletta-aria-marco-mainardi.jpg [in http://www.conceptbook.org/aria-marco-mainardi/%5D

Futuristic bike-1: http://cfs16.tistory.com/image/5/tistory/2011/01/11/11/41/4d2bc34ce7c68 [in http://myblueday.tistory.com/6676%5D

Racer: http://cyclingnz.com/profiles/a497_DSC_3075.JPG [in http://cyclingnz.com/cnz5_profiles.php?n=54%5D

Racer-horizontal: http://proporzionedivina.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/day9buatois1web1.jpg [in http://proporzionedivina.wordpress.com/2011/01/%5D

Futuristic bike-2: http://images.lainformacion.com/cms/bicicleta-anfibia/2012_10_29_PHOTO-ff2bca1b09886ed6447d13ad8dbedb0b-1351511060-9.jpg?width=995&height=650&type=height&id=HejqmIQJgDeHTw3t1hrgo1&time=1351512206&project=lainformacion [in http://noticias.lainformacion.com/economia-negocios-y-finanzas/diseno-e-ingenieria/las-bicicletas-del-futuro_oe04bAJ4zY9qK4YrwN4UX1/%5D

THE E-CIGARETTE

New York, 22 December 2013

My wife and I have been trying for a while now to get our son to stop smoking. He’s the same age, give or take a year, that we were when we stopped but he’s still on 10 a day – more if the stress levels are high. With us cheering him on, he has tried various things: patches, gum, and I know not what. He even went cold turkey for a while.  All for naught. So when back in May he decided to try e-cigarettes, we redoubled our cheering.
e-cigarette
I know, they’re not the miracle cure they are sometimes claimed to be, but on balance we think they are better than real cigarettes.

Almost immediately, though, our son’s experiment with e-cigarettes went awry. During a night out with the boys just after he started using it the body broke (for the uninitiated, I should explain that an e-cigarette is composed of a body and a head; the two are separable and can be purchased separately, an important detail in the unfolding drama). After much badgering – our son was very busy with his new business (which of course augmented the stress levels and thus the cigarette consumption) – he finally got around to purchasing a new body via internet and received said body through the post. My wife and I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that he would imminently be throwing away his cigarette packs. But no. Our son discovered that he couldn’t remove the head from the old body despite the use of much brute strength and wrenches. So still no e-cigarette use.

Things stood thus for several months before we came to New York to spend Christmas with the children. We were determined to move things along. After more badgering, we got some guidance from our son as to where we might go to separate head from body. Our initial thought had been to find a repair shop of some sort. But who runs repair shops these days, especially for so arcane a product as e-cigarettes?

So our search shifted to so-called vapor stores. These are locales which are vigorously promoting e-cigarettes and the vapor lifestyle. Again, to make sure that the uninitiated are following, recall that the principle of e-cigarettes is that you inhale water vapor impregnated with nicotine, taste molecules (our son favors mint and watermelon), and a few other odds and ends. Thus, vapor is central to the e-cigarette experience, thus stores offering this new lifestyle are called vapor stores, and thus the devotees of this new lifestyle call themselves vapers (in contrast to smokers; cute, no?).
ELECTRONIC CIGARETTES
We located two vapor stores in Lower Manhattan. The precise location of the stores is already an indication of the life choices of the fans of the vapor lifestyle. Because when I say lower Manhattan, I don’t mean Wall Street or thereabouts, the hang-out of the Gods of Finance and their acolytes from New Jersey, I mean NoLiTa. This is an area north of Little Italy (whence the name NoLiTa; the serious New Yorker must keep up with the continuous creation of new locational acronyms). I am informed that NoLiTa is now a very cool area to live in for those into the more alternative lifestyles.
nolita
After some blundering around the small streets of NoLiTa, we finally found the first vapor store on our list. As we entered, we suddenly felt like dinosaurs, relics from a past era.
dinosaur skeletons
Everyone in the place could have been our son or daughter, and every single one of them was puffing on an e-cigarette. They looked at us rather surprised. Clearly, troglodytes like us did not enter the shop often, if at all.

We diffidently made our way to the counter where a young man served us, e-cigarette in hand. And as we explained the problem, he sucked on his e-cigarette and breathed out vapor from his nostrils in a fashion that was very reminiscent of angry bulls in cartoons – my wife and I checked notes afterwards and both agreed on this point
bull snorting
After this impressively taurine display, our young man managed to separate head from damaged body and sold us a bottle of mint-tasting e-cigarette liquid. At which point our son rolled in and took over, giving my wife and I the leisure to look the place over.

Calling this a store is clearly a misnomer. What we have here is an experience, an event. Other than the counter and the vitrines in one corner showing off e-cigarettes and related paraphernalia

vapor shop-1

our store had a bar in another corner where various high-end teas were being served – no tea bags here – and where clients could sit at the bar sipping their tea, chatting convivially, and of course puffing on their e-cigarettes together.
vapor shop-4
In yet another corner it had a nook where vapers could sit on smart but environmentally-friendly furniture made with discarded objects, and flip through high-end magazines like Monocle, all the while puffing meditatively on their e-cigarettes.

vapor shop-5

(these photos are not of the store we saw, but the fact that I found them, and many others like it, makes me think that this is the basic blueprint of all vapor stores)

It all rather reminded me of the more traditional smoking rooms of the 19th Century

smoking room victorian england

or more darkly of those high-end turn of the 19th Century Parisian brothels which Toulouse-Lautrec liked to paint
brothel Toulouse Lautrec
Like the French say, “plus ça change et plus c’est la même chose”, the more it changes and the more it’s the same thing. In every age, there’s always a part of society which wants to be exotic.

But all my wife and I want is for our son to quit smoking.

_________________

e-cigarette: http://www.vapeitnow.com/pics/joyetech-starter-kit/joyetech-evic-5.jpg [in http://www.vapeitnow.com/products/joyetech-starter-kit/joyetech-evic.html%5D

smoking e-cigarette: http://thegazette.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/ecigarettes680.jpg [in http://thegazette.com/2013/10/10/university-of-iowa-considers-e-cigarettes-and-campus-wide-smoking-ban/%5D

NoLiTa: http://dguides.com/images/newyorkcity/areas/nolita.jpg [in http://dguides.com/newyorkcity/areas/nolita/%5D

Dinosaur skeletons: http://www.dinostoreus.com/rex-vs-ceratops.jpg [in http://www.dinostoreus.com/%5D

Bull snorting: http://www.ecigarettedirect.co.uk/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/r/a/raging-bull.jpg [in http://www.eliquid.co.uk/%5D

Vapor shop-1: http://ecigarettereviewed.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/vapor-loft-vape-shop.jpg [in http://ecigarettereviewed.com/so-cal-vapers-creating-their-own-june-gloom/%5D

Vapor shop-2: http://getvapordelight.com/newsite/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/IMG_93591.jpg [in http://vapordelight.com/vapor-bar-lounge/%5D

Vapor shop-3: http://www.yext-static.com/cms/af5ee3ea-019d-4b15-991d-76d4fc371fe1.jpg [in http://yellowpages.ny1.com/biz/buffalo-vapor-lounge/buffalo/ny/14216/53824266%5D

Smoking parlour Victorian England: http://www.victorianweb.org/art/architecture/clubs/11.jpg [in http://www.victorianweb.org/art/architecture/clubs/11.html%5D

Brothel Toulouse Lautrec: http://www.studiomatters.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/719px-Henri_de_Toulouse-Lautrec_012.jpg [in http://www.studiomatters.com/art/olympias-heirs%5D

TOMATO WASTE

13 September 2013

Last week, I was up in Xinjiang (or the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, to give it its full title), where I and some colleagues were discussing possible projects and visiting some industrial plants. The most intriguing of these visits was to a plant where this welcomed you when you arrived.
tomato waste-4
Readers would be excused if, like me when I got out of the car and like my wife when I showed her this picture, they scratch their heads and ask themselves what on earth this stuff is.

Tomato waste, that’s what it is.

Yes, these are the left-overs from the process to make tomato paste, a significant industry in Xinjiang, which grows some 4 million tons of tomatoes a year. As you might imagine, with a process that basically squeezes the juice out of tomatoes for further concentration the waste consists primarily of tomato seeds and skins.

Mr. Liu, a spry septuagenarian and founder of the company, met us as we got out of the cars and led us to the exhibition room. He started by explaining that he was on the rebound with this company; he set it up after going bankrupt in a previous foray into capitalism. The business model Mr. Liu adopted in this new venture is simple but ingenious. He takes the tomato wastes off the hands of the tomato paste makers, who are glad to offload them at no cost since they don’t know what to do with them. So far so good. But he doesn’t just dump them in a convenient hole somewhere as most waste dealers still do in this part of the world. No, he works his magic on the wastes to make a whole series of new products with them.

The most important of these is tomato seed oil. Yes, you can press all those little seeds in a tomato

tomato seeds

and make this lovely orange-colored oil
tomato seed oil
No doubt the colour comes from a combination of the gold of oil with the red of lycopene, the chemical which gives tomatoes their red colour. The oil commands premium prices from restaurateurs and others who have refined culinary tastes.

But Mr. Liu is not satisfied with just this one product. He also makes a skin tonifier from the juice squeezed out of the waste.
tomato tonifier
He told us it contains high levels of anti-oxidants, so is excellent for slowing down the aging process.  As proof of this assertion, he said he was made aware of the juice’s beneficial effects by his workers who, it seems, were padding around in the juice with only sandals on and discovered that the skin of their feet was rejuvenated. I pass on this nugget of information without in any way suggesting that I believe it.

Mr. Liu also makes pills from this same juice, no doubt to encourage digestion or some such (I can’t believe the skin of our stomachs and intestines need rejuvenation).

And with everything that is left over Mr. Liu makes cattle feed. Apparently, cattle quite like tomato waste once the seeds have been removed. They clearly have refined palates.

Despite his 70 years, Mr. Liu is bubbling over with new ideas. He showed us a new silo where he will start storing the tomato left-overs so that he can process the stuff more regularly throughout the year – right now, he is forced to do a lot of processing at harvest time and to stand idle the rest of the year. I didn’t quite understand how he planned to avoid the waste from rotting; something about adopting a system used for centuries by farmers in Xinjiang to preserve their cattle feed (the translation got a bit tangled at this point). He is also planning to start processing the small, green tomatoes which are left behind in the fields at harvest time and which actually represent some 20% of the tomatoes grown. And no doubt he has other ideas up his capacious sleeves.

I really admire people like Mr. Liu. He is the embodiment of that phrase much loved in certain environmental circles, “from waste to profits”. I don’t pretend that Mr. Liu invented the process of extracting oil from tomato seeds – a rapid surf of the web after the visit showed me this (although the lotion may be his idea).  But he had the courage, after a ruinous bankruptcy which left him more or less only with the clothes he had on his back, to set up a new business, seeing an opportunity where others would only turn up their noses. And he keeps on coming up with new products to squeeze out of his tomato wastes.

I feel duty bound, however, to report a slight hiccup in all this. A few mornings ago, my wife tersely informed me by text that the skin tonifier which I gave her to try made her smell like a tomato.  For a tomato lover like myself this may actually be a plus, but for others with a more measured relationship to the tomato this news may give them pause.

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Tomato waste: my picture

Tomato seeds: http://www.fixityourself.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/SavingSeeds1.jpg

Tomato seed oil: http://www.onecoup.com/uploadfile/2011822325.jpg

Tomato tonifier: my picture