Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Okay, I think this one should be fairly straightforward, but it's come up twice in my recent reading, and I realize that I am not quite comfortable with my understanding. I think it means something like to be separated from one's race or culture, or homogenized into some raceless state. Now it's time to search for the definition.

Well, it's close, but as I suspected, not quite right. What it really means is to be uprooted, or pulled out by the roots. The base of the word is a French word for root, not race, although I suppose they could be related. The second definition, to be displaced from one's native custom or environment, is closer to my thought, but all that means is that when I'm reading the word in a sentence, I've been able to puzzle out an approximate meaning that usually fits.

It's not always an innocent word. It can also mean to eradicate or to cut off from existence.

Deracination. Think carrots being pulled and the concept will stay with you.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


As in "Artist manque" or any other fill-in-the-blank manque. I believe there should be an accent over the 'e', but I don't know how to do that on this screen. My sense is that this means not quite the real thing, but I don't know in what sense. A fake? Someone who aspires to be the real thing? My sense of the word has always hinted at the over-the-top or outrageous, but this may just be a reading into the word...Here goes.

Not too far off. Manque: unfulfilled or frustrated in one's ambitions, as an artist manque, or writer manque. A "would-be" (Is that the same as a wannabe?) Ambitious.

I think I probably conflated outre into my understanding of the word, as it doesn't seem to suggest anything of the outrageous in it. Fake isn't quite right either, but I think I did catch something of the flavor of the word.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


The new anniversary blend from Peet's Coffee, which I bought a few days ago, includes beans from Malawi as a key ingredient. I realized as the barista was grinding them for me, that this is yet another place I've bluffed my way through life about. I would like to just say I really have no idea, in case I guess too badly, but as this is supposed to be a confession of sorts, I'll posit my guesses. I have kind of assumed that this was an African nation, but as I think about it, my confidence wavers. Is it actually an island between Africa and the Middle East? Is it a South Pacific Island? Okay, I give up--just what the hell is it?

Okay it is in Africa. Whew! But it's a tiny sliver in the southeast, not in the northeast where I had mentally placed it. It is surrounded on three sides by Mozambique, which I feel that I could have confidently placed in Africa, though where would have been hazy. It used to be called Nyasaland, which doesn't shed much further light for me. It is sadly one of the world's least developed countries, with most of the country living through subsistence agriculture. (We must hope that Peet's paid those farmers a generous price for their beans!) There seem to be different theories about where the name comes from but one at least is that it derives from the Maravi Kingdom, which flourished there between the late fifteenth to the late eighteenth century.

There is a familiar name that comes up in relation to Malawi: David Livingston. (He of "Doctor Livingston, I presume" fame.) He visited Lake Nyasa, as Lake Malawi was then called, in 1859, and called attention to the effects of the slave trade there: warfare between opposing tribes had led many people to be sold to the Arab and Swahili traders on the Indian Coast. As with so much of the world, the British Empire ended up in control of the area for a time. It became a British protectorate in 1891, and was referred to as Nyasaland from 1907 to 1964. Malawi is its name since independence in 1964. I was somewhat surprised, given its poverty, that it is a multiparty democracy under the constitution of 1995, and that it has a popularly elected president, whose term runs for five years. Its hold on such democracy has recently been shaky--let's hope it keeps a firm grip in the coming years.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Ant's Breath

After a recent ant invasion in my home, I started thinking about them more closely. I know that I must have learned this in some biology class eons ago, but I found myself wondering, how do ants breathe? It was hard to imagine the cumbersome paraphenelia of breathing encompassed in such tiny bodies. If you were sensitive enough, could you feel an ant's breath? I fear that if I could, I would never be able to carry out the wholesale destruction that clearing your house of ants requires again.

Well, thanks to David Richman of New Mexico State University, I now know. It would be more succinct to just paste in his answer, but for the purposes of learning a little something myself, I will paraphrase what he said. Ants do not have lungs, nor do they carry oxygen through blood as we do. Instead, they have a system of tubes, which are called tracheae and tracheoles. Through these, oxygen from the atmosphere is carried into their tissues and, as he says, almost to the cellular level. The opening to the outside air are called spiracles. The gas exchange is largely by diffusion (yeah, yeah, future topic). In larger insects, there is a more complex process called ventilation, aided by muscles contracting and expanding along the tracheae, but ants are smaller and get by on a few spiracles. There are usually valves that keep the spiracle open or closed. Ants apparently do have something like blood, but its not used for carrying oxygen. The question is, or the questions are, is it really 'blood', what are it's functions, and what color is it?
But that's all for another day. Thank you, David!

Monday, May 5, 2008


I know-or think I know- that it's a spice, (what precisely is the definition of a spice?) and I also know it's very costly. I've certainly eaten it. I've even sold it in one of my past lives as a cheese, wine and etc. salesperson. Beyond that, what do I know about saffron? Nothing.

Until now.

The first thing I've learned is that it comes from the stigmas of crocuses. Is that the plural? (Future posts may be on a.) the crocus and b.) stigma in general. I never thought of stigma being so, well, floral.) Apparently, the crocus only has three stigmas per flower, which are also referred to as saffron threads. It takes a whopping 13, 125 threads to make a single ounce (I am skeptical that anyone has really taken the time to count the threads), so you can see why saffron is the world's most expensive spice. Oh, here's another way to visualize it--one acre yields 10 pounds... Think about it. An acre would generate a whole lot more than ten pounds of potatoes, folks.

Saffron is also a familiar color, and even after researching this, I remain unclear as to whether the flavor is as important to the gourmand's hot pursuit of it as the aesthetic stamp it gives to a dish. Certainly there is a consensus that a little goes a long way, which, given the cost, is just as well. I’ve also learned that it has medicinal uses, and that it was used as acure for melancholy, as well as an aphrodisiac. (Is there anything that hasn’t been used as an aphrodisiac?)

I thought I remembered something about saffron as a color of Buddhist robes, and I was right. I am still not sure if the color has a sacred meaning or not. It seems to have accumulated many meanings over time, and covers a wider section of the globe than I might have thought. Most conclude that saffron has Persian origins, and so it is not surprising that it spread as far as China along the trade routes. But I was a little more surprised to learn that it may have also ended up in Ireland. Well, there seems to be some dispute about that, because due to the nature of how one obtains saffron, it was always going to claim a high price, and when until possibly now could the Irish afford it?

Tumeric seems to have often been used as a familiar substitute, but I don't know if it fools the tongue.

I have a feeling that there is a lot more to say about saffron, so please talk amongst yourselves.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Quite rashly, having just started one blog, I have now decided to start a second. There is a catalyst, but in fact, I think the idea for this has been percolating for a long time. Tonight , I saw a preview for a show about a dogfight over Guadalcanal. I realized that, like so many places on the globe, I had little idea where it actually was. In the spirit of correcting my own vague sense of geography, as well as so many things, I decided that I would find out a bit more about it.

Guadalcanal: my uninformed guess. I knew it had something to do with World War II, but I had never bothered to find out more. I realized tonight that I had somehow conflated the Panama Canal and Guam (subject of a future post) as my mental reference point for the region, though as I thought about it more logically, I knew that it must have been a site in the Pacific Campaign of World War II .

No doubt should have watched the show about the dogfight, but here's what I learned:

Guadalcanal is not a canal, as one might reasonably suppose, but an island. Now this is interesting--it was named by the Spaniards who "discovered it" for a town back home in the province of Sevilla in Andalucia, Spain. The home town did not have a canal either. the word is a loose transliteration of an Arabic phrase, Wad-al-Khanat, which meant, and, I suppose, still means "Valley of the Stalls" after the refreshment stalls set up there, in the hometown, during Muslim rule. So an island colonized by the Spanish is named after a town colonized by the Muslims. And no canals figure into any of it at all.

Our consciousness of it as place of any consequence, comes from the Pacific campaign. It is jungly island among the Solomons (how did they become the Solomons?) that contains their capital, called Honiara. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese apparently saw the Solomons, as well as other Pacific islands, as a place where they could effectively stop communication between Australia and New Zealand on one side, and the U.S on the other. They attempted to build an airfield here. In the jungle. Can you imagine? Well, you probably can.

The Allies got wind of this. The first amphibious landing of the war happened right here. The battle that followed was for the high stakes of Pacific supremacy, but the Allies won it, and eventually drove the Japanese into the sea. Renamed the airfield "Henderson Field" after an aviator killed at the Battle of Midway. However, this didn't stop the Japanese from pressing the island very heavily, and as result, the shipping lanes between Guadalcanal and two adjoining islands became known as Ironbottom Sound, becaause so many ships from both sides were sunk there. I found it rather poignant to learn that before the war, this was known as "Sealark Sound". Happier times.