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Banbury Cross

a pillow for lost thoughts...

Archives for: May 2007

Olfactory Clock

Early morning is terra incognita for me. I have never been an early riser. "Early" may be a good descriptor for a British nobleman, but I'd personally prefer "humanly". In my world, the act of getting up ranks #14732, just behind a non-emergency knee drilling, and waking is a slow and painful process that involves much cursing and once in a while hurling reproachful looks towards the alarm clock (I wish I could hurl my shoes instead, but there are never any within easy reach).

If I have to I may be up and running by 8am and sometimes I am up as late as 3am. But that's about it. What this planet feels like between 3am and 8am is largely a mystery to me. Are there any moonstruck mushrooms dancing underneath my windows at that time? I wouldn't know. It is one of those things I try not to be too curious about. After all, it could be hazardous to my health.

Today I had to pick up a friend at the airport, however, and since the red eye from California was supposed to deploy its landing gear around 6.25am, I was forced to drag my senses through a largely unknown morning territory. After a long time, I was to be reacquainted with the part of the day that polite people do not discuss in public. And what a strange world it was indeed. Songs of birds I didn't know existed. But above all, I detected a very different set of smells. Some familiar and some new, it smelled like a brave new world out there.

Already when I was a kid, I noticed that different periods of the day had different characteristic aromas. I remember that behind my grandparents' country house there was a huge cole-seed field from which different smells were emanating at different times. A crisp fragrance in the morning, a rich deep bouquet at noon, and a mystifying incense in the depths of night. And in my mind I thought I could tell time just by smelling that field.

Some wine connoisseurs have so finely tuned taste buds that they can take a small sip of Pinot Gris, roll it on their tongue for a second and tell you not only all about the soil whence it came, but also about the year in which it was made. So I imagine you could train your olfactory sensors just as precisely and use the powerful nose processor instead of a watch. You'd just step outside, take a deep breath and - "oh yeah, it must be 4.37pm".

Just my 2 scents.



There are two kinds of clean water. First the kind that started in a river - full of impurities, contaminants and nasty little microorganisms; the kind whose every single molecule had to jump through an elaborate monkey trail of filtration, reverse osmosis and carbon treatment before becoming potable drinking water. And then there is water of mountain streams, the kind that never had any carnal knowledge of organic or inorganic chemistry, the kind that was born from tiny waterfalls and remained pristine and sparkling on its way to you.

There are also two kinds of nice people. First the kind that is born from mainstream, the average human ilk full of its dark thoughts and selfish interests. The kind that reaches a higher moral plateau only through years of schooling and grooming and Mom's attention. And then there are people who are nice naturally. People who do not need etiquette lessons. Their mind is like a sunflower that turns after Sun, paying little attention to the dirty soil in which it is rooted.

My grandfather was like that. He was a simple carpenter, without as much as high school, but his plain view was always more refreshing to me than convoluted manners of other people. He never meant ill to anyone, never retaliated. And it's not because he was so finely raised, it is just that the concept of malevolence was completely foreign to him. I never heard him say a bad thing about anyone. Plotting and scheming wasn't in his dictionary.

He was born on May 16, 1906. He would be 101 today. By coincidence, 101 is also the opus number of one of Beethoven's best piano sonatas, No. 28 in A major. The sonata that is the purest creation among its 31 sisters. A private pool of distilled sunshine.

Mind your body

A friend of mine decided to introduce me to her new beau. For the venue, she chose the widely publicized yet highly controversial exposition named "Bodies" - a ringside seat to the actual human body, cut by a team of dedicated professionals at every imaginable angle and displayed in a mind boggling detail. I thought she had made this choice for a reason - it must have been a subtle hint to dissect her suitor's mind in a similarly methodical manner. After all, when it comes to men, second opinion comes always handy, especially when you've already had some exposure to bad apples. So as we were walking past the dismantled components of the human anatomy, I was kicking his mental tires, trying to look for any signs of ulcers, tumors, fractures and undue wobbling.

The exhibition itself was definitely not for the faint of the heart - or any other organ for that matter. But if you are more curious than squeamish, go for it - you will be amazed at how our plumbing and wiring really looks like. Alveoli. United Muscles of Mastication. Inner ear. Kidneys. Spine. All in plain sight and in authentic rendering. My favorite object was the complex and intricate network of arteries of lower limb. A standalone maze of its own, which was masterfully recreated by injecting blood vessels with some kind of colored polymer and then having the remaining tissues dissolved. There was also a very instructional view of two pairs of lungs, side by side: one that belonged to a smoker and one to a non-smoker. The difference was sobering. Layers of tar build-up were so permeating that many a puff buff wasted little time and tossed their cigarette pack into a conveniently located glass container.

The exhibit devotes a significant space to each major system - digestive, respiratory, nervous, reproductive, you name it - but it also shows how neatly they all fit together. And that is the most lasting impression of the whole show. Human body is but a large puzzle.

And so is human mind.


American Idol for President

Excitement never ends. Just as one media circus approaches its grand finale, another one is slowly kicking into higher gear. American Idol 2007 is in its final rounds, while the presidential election 2008 is like a tea water just before it starts bubbling.

I realized the other day that the format of American Idol's is surprisingly well suited for weeding out the overgrown field of presidential candidates (btw, methinks that in this word, the prefix "candid" is just a very wishful thinking). Instead of deploying the usual arsenal of a conventional campaign, such as mudslinging, backbiting and wasting taxpayer's money, why don't we send the candidates through the filter of an Idol-like competition. All the presidential hopefuls would enter a series of thematic discussions and at the end of each round the audience would eliminate the worst performer. Of course, the rounds wouldn't be dedicated to BeeGees, rock'n'roll or country, but rather to international law, fiscal policies and taxes. Trying to pinpoint the winner is quite difficult, so why don't we simply eliminate one loser at a time.

And I'd include a round of singing too. Or some sort of a talent competition - just to winnow away the starched ironing boards. Because, and that's just my empirical observation, people who cannot relax and, every now and then, actually laugh at themselves are more prone to bad decision making than the looser crowd. I think it is because stiff behavior usually implies stiff reasoning, and in today's complex world, I would rather have a leader with fluid mind.

Last but not least, consider the financial benefits - no expensive campaigns, no platitude stuffed ads, no shady money from dubious entrepreneurs. Just couple of months of quality prime time TV and the new President would be born. And for all the saved tax dollars we could build something really useful - like a giant man-made white sand beach in North Dakota.

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