Archive for March, 2008

No more haggis

March 29, 2008

You can have haggis.  Like the pig intestines in Taiwan, everyone urges me to try it, each assuring me that this recipe or that restaurant transcends the bad reputation to achieve edibility, while each one actually manages to approximate a different kind of cat food.  I will somehow survive without delving further into this line of nutrition.  I don’t expect you to try raw oysters or urchin roe or clam chowder when you come to my house either.

I walked up on Costorphine Hill this dawn, ahead of my presentation for 100 or so therapists.  It was colder and windier than it looked, ruffling my shirt so I buttoned my cuffs and sought out a pathway up through the woods. After a sleepless night (there was a wedding at the hotel, and the DJ had the whole building thumping until well after midnight), it felt good to let the muscles loose and the mind coordinate to the rhythm of feet on the ground.  At the top was a beautiful view east over the zoo to Edinburgh, certainly one of the most comely cities on this planet.

Walking along the ridge among the mossy trees and lichen-covered rocks, I scared up a bunch of rabbits, small like Quan’s, and similarly poised between curious and scared.  The wild rabbits at home – used to hunters and beagles – are seldom seen and disappear like a shot if discovered, but these fat and happy little beings were clearly protected, as they loped calmly out of my sight in the ferns and rocks of the glen.

God knows if I used the word ‘glen’ right.  It means ‘shallow’, as in glenoid fossa, the shallow shoulder joint, but these Scots are as fiercely protective of their language as they are of haggis, so my natural tendency to imitate is not received kindly, but rather with severe looks, declarations, and dismissals.  It is with joy, not ridicule, that I affect assimilation, but they have had enough of English dominance, and American attempts at badly-accented chumminess are about as welcome as ‘MacDonalds’ – a perfectly good Scots name that is known the world around for the bland reliability of its mediocrity. .



March 28, 2008

Ducking into the men’s room in the midst of the Schipol polyglot after my ride over the pond, I came across something I had heard about, but had never seen.  The report said that putting a fly in the urinals improved men’s aim.  Sure enough, they had etched or somehow engraved a black insect shape into the white ceramic.  Despite the fact that it looked more like a trout fly than a real one, and despite the fact that I clearly knew it was a simple image, it was irresistible.  One’s aim is indeed truly drawn toward trying to hit the fly, even though one ‘knows’ it will do no good.

Of course it does do some good, because the fly is placed where it is on purpose, as this is the spot with the least ‘sprayback’, so aiming there reduces cleaning and public hazard.  So simple, and such a strong psychological effect.

We’ve been pooping and peeing for 350 million years, and we’ve been dealing with the result of waste accumulation due to crowding since Hammurabi wrote out the first law of sewage.  We’re still not doing every well.  As I walked away from the from the wall of gleaming porcelain mouths, my unit tsked, clanged, and whooshed a couple of gallons of water through, mixing a pint or so of liquid waste with perfectly good water, and then dumped the whole lot into a system that produces nothing but cost.

We do the same with solid waste, and back at home, we are about to spend a great deal of money for the privilege of mixing our waste immediately with tons of good water and running it gradually out through our dense Presumpscot clay ground to filter it.  The first builders of latrines and privies had to deal with the smell, which isn’t, of course, pleasant.  The invention of Sir Thomas Crapper’s toilet, on which modern toilets are based, had the wonderful advantage of allowing you to void waste inside your shelter without having to put up with the smell.

Today, the waste of good water is more a problem than the waste itself.  What we now have available to us is technology that could rapidly dry out the waste (thus eliminating the smell also) which would give is a net gain in good water, and incidentally, give us the basis for a dry composted material.  This may sound disgusting, but the composting toilets my father installed in 1972 still produce, over time, a dry and odorless dirt that can be added to a garden without penalty.

Why should we mix our bodily waste with clean water and then run it underground to settle out without using it again?  It is another of the ways of human beings that make no sense.  Pollution is just a resource in the wrong place at the wrong time.  If we could capture some of the resources we waste, everyone – even the poor Zimbabweans trying to vote today – would succeed.

Winter Weary

March 16, 2008

Comes a time when one more storm adds naught to the glory of winter.  While we imagine the rest of you crowing over crocuses, envasing daffodils, or even awed by your azaleas, the snow continues to sweep over us: fluffy, then wet, then sodden, then mud, then frozen, again and again.  Pity your neighbours to the north – the Canadians, us Mainiacs, the Inuits, mountain folk of Vermont and New Hampshire – who for reasons unknown to even themselves fail to migrate south with the rest, who stay wrapped away from the winter winds through the long dark.

Such a month I have had at home, waking day after day in my own bed, sheathed in the warmth of Quan’s and my fifteen years.  We’re all caught up with taxes, the book manuscript, garden planning, summer strategizing – but still the storms roll over us one after the other, leaving us looking longingly out the window.

Spring has come for me, however, whether the weather says yes or not, and so between the high dirty banks of snow I exit from our rabbit burrow into the travel tunnel – the grey smells, ambient audio irritations, terminal plasticity projecting the interminable sense of delay – all the more sour on the tongue for having been abandoned for a month of hearth, wood fires, the whisk of skis in the latest snow, the fitting together in our large bed like a couple of old coffee spoons in the silver drawer.