February 2009


Well, that’s one holiday that doesn’t happen in London.

This article from Doctors Without Borders (MSF)¬†caught my eye just now during my scheduled perusal of the site. I only check the site occasionally because, unfortunately, although MSF and other international aid organizations work round the clock and the names and dates of the articles change, the global situation stays about the same. The devastation of war, individual and national poverty, lack of sanitation, and the current structure of the pharmaceutical industry all ensure continuing health crises around the world. I’m usually on the optimistic side of realism, and I don’t think we will see a resolution to these inequalities in my lifetime. However, we can make a start, and the MSF article responds to an interesting proposal from the CEO of GlaxoSmithKline that could be a step in the right direction. As MSF notes, the proposal is insufficient to meet all needs, and funding would have to be revamped to make this financially feasible for the drug companies, but it is a start. Go check it out and see what you think.

I ¬†always feel blatantly American here – even if you discount the accent, I’m scruffy and wear jeans, hiking boots and a jacket – and though I’ve been considering a haircut to blend in, tonight my stomach also asserted its nationality. One of the things I haven’t found despite all my legwork has been any sort of Cajun food. There are a thousands of Indian and Chinese restaurants, plenty of Mediterranean, Russian, and African groceries, and almost everything at the open markets, but there don’t appear to be enough Acadians in the city to warrant groceries or restaurants. Even the better-stocked groceries don’t seem to carry so much as grits or jerk seasoning, so tonight I tried to approximate good old dirty rice with what I had on hand. It wasn’t truly Cajun; if you averaged the longitudes of the spices and ingredients, you’d wind up pretty much back in Britain. Still, it was nice to have a semi-American meal.

Well, I hope all you lads and lasses are having a very happy St. Valentine’s Day, especially those of you in the states, who are hopefully about to enjoy a tasty supper in pleasant company. Here supper is well past, so after doing dishes I’m going to crawl in bed with my current book (no, it’s not Modern Parasitology) and leave the partying to other time zones.

I went out to the world-famous Portobello market today for a bit of a grand day out, and discovered not only lots of antique surveying equipment, maps, skeleton clocks, and books (which was exciting enough), but a Normandie cheesemonger. It’s small, with very polite vendors, and everything is written in French. As someone who speaks just enough French to make jokes about potatoes*, I hung back a yard or so while trying to figure out which cheese was which from what the other customers were saying. It didn’t help too much, and the only non-English cheese I recognized was Bleu Average. It was going to be brie or bleu in any case, so I joined the queue and asked for about 300g of bleu cheese. It turns out that this is the kind of place where, in one corner of a metre-long case, there are seven different types of bleu cheese. I was treated to an explanation of the sharpness and consistency of each, and came home with this wonderful, creamy sharp goatsmilk bleu. Tomorrow I’ll get some crackers, and then I can die happy.

*c’est la vie, c’est la guerre, c’est la pomme de terre, in case you were wondering.

HAPPY 200TH BIRTHDAY, CHARLES DARWIN!!!!!!!

I’ve been up late a lot, recently. Mostly it’s reading research articles on hepatocyte transfer, IPS cells, ocular regeneration, protozoan taxonomy, drug design, etc.. As usual when I’m busy, certain bits of my brain have steadily been working overtime in other departments, integrating what I’ve been learning into bits of my subconscious that I couldn’t find if you gave me a map and said “turn left at the substantia nigra.” Usually this results in weird dreams – I’ve had ones about being a rogue theoretical chemist, a maritime private eye, and the leader of a grassroots strike team during a fascist coup. So perhaps it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that the research articles have rubbed off on my daydreaming, as well. Still, it took me unawares when, last night around midnight, a scene from the major saga that’s been clonking around my skull for years popped up, and I suddenly had an undeniable urge to write out the dialogue. Apparently there’s a fairly long exchange about the legal and ethical complexities of developing biological machines beyond base complexity. What’s more, I went back and read it this morning, and it still made scientific sense and didn’t sound poncey. It even fit in with prior character development and plotline. I’m not sure whether to be unsettled or pleased.

Oh, and today Dr. Mitchell revealed that, from symptomatic evidence, Mighty Mouse suffered from toxocariasis. We also learned the finer points of why you shouldn’t take out the cat litter, wear black on safari, or accept a lobster dinner from a parasitologist.

Life skills.

As heralds of the weekend, Friday nights in a residence hall are vibrant. One can always count on shouting, laughter, and general merriment into the small hours of the night. Most of that is ethanol-dependent, however, so for those who don’t drink as entertainment it can be a bit lonely. Frustrating, too, since we have just as much steam to blow off, but nowhere to go. Apart from pubs and all-night bars, very little is open past 6 in the evening.

It has been a good and tiring week with the snow and the AS-ON project, but it’s also held my alarm clock and my phone dying in one day, and saw my watch start losing time (which made me embarrassingly late to my favorite lecture, for which the door is at the front of the room), so last night especially I did not look forward to spending in my room – even with a good book. Instead, I went and bought a ticket to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was over at the Novello, which is a classy, but vertical theatre if ever I’ve seen one; three gilded balconies overlook the stalls and the stage. Nevertheless, it is intimate and the actors have no need of those nasty wire mics that have crept off Broadway recently. (To be fair, that’s as much a testament to the actors as to the acoustics.) I was fortunate enough to have a seat in the stalls, near the middle of row N, so I could hear and see everything. And what it was to experience!

This being the RSC, the acting was superb, as was the direction. I had a few discrepancies of taste with the costuming, but the mixture of classic, everyday, and experimental designs worked to create a strangely natural flow through the different worlds of the dream. The set, too, was perfect in an edgy sort of way. The “flora” was usually acted out by the fairy puppeteers in varying degrees of impish humor while the other props flew on and off on wheels or by pulleys from the lights. The only permanent pieces were the back of reflective mesh, a forest of descending lightbulb stars, and a migrating moon. In fact, when Puck was calling down the stars, or when Titania slept among them, it reminded me of the groves of lights at Floydfest; an again natural, disorderly fusing of metalwork and moss. I can’t quite pin down why, but that has always been a comfortable aesthetic for me.

Dream is a long play, coming in at around three hours, but there was no moment I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. In addition to the dialogue, the physical comedy was incredible, adding dimensions to the play that I’d never read into it, nor seen acted. And when the tradesmen had their play, I’ve never been among an audience laughing that hard! I was afraid I’d never get my breath back, or worse, miss a line. Unfortunately the play closes tomorrow, but I may have to see if I can grab a student seat and see it again. In lieu of that, however, The Taming of the Shrew opens next, and Othello is on at one of the other theatres. Later on in the season, of course, there’s Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart in Waiting for Godot, as well as Jude Law in Hamlet. Looks like I have my theatre life cut out for me.

Just letting you know that the new tab has an annotated gallery of some of the better shots from Monday beyond what I posted below. Check it out!

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