Archive for September, 2013

SO MUCH MORE THAN AN ORDINARY BISCUIT

biscuitGerman is known to have a more concise vocabulary than English. All the same, once in a while there are things which can only be described using their German name. “Das Plätzchen” is definitely one of them. Not as boring and standard as a biscuit, not as crude and americanised as a cookie, and not quite as fine as a pastry – Plätzchen is a name given to sweet treats that lie somewhere in-between all this.  The best kind are home-baked, delicately sweetened and carefully crafted. Often powdered with sugar, often rolled in nuts or incorporating marzipan and sometimes seasonally spiced. The variety seems to be endless.

Aside from being near to impossible for a non-native speaker to pronounce (try it), the phenomenon of the Plätzchen leaves me in awe for other reasons than just their taste. I marvel at the time, thought and care which goes into the making of them, in a world where it would be so much easier just to buy them.

I have long come to the conclusion that German women have a particular affinity towards baking. Scarily almost without exception. Nurses regularly bring in elaborate, multi-layered homemade cakes to the ward, at times without occasion. And I say German women, but male colleagues have been known to bake a cake or two. Just last week, I spotted my boss on his birthday, wheeling a trolley laden with homemade cakes around every department in the hospital. (He claims at least to have taken part in the baking of them.)

The Plätzchen however has a special place in the heart of all Germans. My female colleagues who work full-time and otherwise portray an outward image of mild feminism, happily don their oven gloves and distribute small packets of handmade Plätzchen come Christmastime. Men are sent to work with goodies made by their wives. And a typical German home appears to have a tin of them stashed somewhere, ready to serve with coffee.

The joy of Plätzchen-making is yet to beset me. Who knows if this day will ever really come. All the more reason for my genuine excitement today as these below were sent to me. And it’s not even Christmas yet.

FACTS AND FLOWERS

ladiesSomeone once told me that you are either an animal person or a flower person. I know which camp I am in. Maybe it is because I come from a land where it is normal for women to adorn their hair with fresh jasmine buds for no reason whatsoever. I can’t profess to be an expert on floriculture, and asking me to even name a few of my favourite flowers could get a little tricky. I do know that the cut flowers I like look wild, colourful, delicate, and as though they have just been plucked from a garden.

Which brings me to the inspiration for the new name for my blog. I’m a scientist. I’m obliged to be surrounded by text books, rather ugly black folders of paperwork and weekly specialist literature which is sadly diametrically oposite to the stylish world of art and design. Here in this blog , I hope to have a mixture of these things. Interesting facts from my daily medical world as well as all the less serious, aesthetically pleasing and well, flowery things in life.

Election day buzz without a vote

Today feels like a special day. It’s election day in Germany. Although, as a non-German resident however, I obviously don’t get to vote. It’s been a funny lead up to the day. The usual bill boards with headshots of politicians, one lacklustre national debate and a strange feeling of non-excitement. But still no-one can really predict how it will turn out. Probably because no-one really seems to know how to vote.
The most outrageous thing to happen until now is that Peer Steinbrück, the candidate for the Social Democratic Party, willingly allowed himself to be photographed a week or so ago sticking up his middle finger, when asked what he had to say to his critics. The German word for this gesture – ‘Stinkefinger’ – is particularly amusing. Safe to say, this would be unlikely to happen in British politics. But political correctness is something the Germans don’t often get too fussed about. Which at times can be shocking and at times oddly refreshing.
Happy voting my German friends. For my part, this was probably the last weekend to sit outside on a pavement cafe, drinking coffee lazily on a Saturday morning, the last Aperol Spritz of the season and most definitely the start of autumn.   image

Miss America and her sad American dream

Beauty contest are outdated, even if their contenders these days are tattooed and carry good degrees from renomated universities. Even so, they grab screen time and headlines. No more so than Miss America 2014, who was apparently elected prematurely yesterday.

The new Miss America is a Miss Davuluri, the first Miss America of Indian descent. Born in America to Indian parents. So she looks Indian. Does that make her less American? Apparently so, according to an uncomfortable internet backlash, which finds the new Miss America to be undeserving of her title.

Such comments are bandied about routinely in every country around the world, but the web provides a transparent channel where these comments can be documented and shared. A world where people can say what they really think. And what they really think can at times be alarming.

Everyone has a heritage. Every parent provides an upbringing, shaped knowingly and subliminally by the culture, religion and country that they know. As travel becomes easier and boundaries and people become more open, these cultural influences become hopefully richer and more varied. These nuances cannot be interpreted simply by assessing the colour of someone’s skin or by checking the sleeve of their passport. Until we learn to see that, all of us will discriminate just “a little”, as reported helpfully in the Guardian today from a survey in Britain.

Somehow I thought America and the American dream was different. Miss America has proved that it is sadly not the case.

WHO WANTS TO BE ABLE TO CLIMB A MOUNTAIN AT 70?

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The beauty of this curve from Fletcher from his longitudinal study on working men in London in 1977, is its simple and succinct depiction of the effect of cigarette smoke on lung function. In 2013, we still don’t know why some lungs are susceptible to smoke and others not, and why not every smoker develops lung disease. However, loss of lung function and changes in lung dynamics precede the onset of symptoms and the diagnosis of disease (which remains underdiagnosed). Smoke-related damage to lung tissue can rarely be repaired and the loss of lung function is irreversible. The good news is that stopping smoking, at any point along the curve, markedly improves prognosis.

My first trek in the Himalayas, setting out from Gangtok in the Indian state of Sikkim reaching a height of 4200m, was a hard one. Rain, leeches, altitude sickness and extremely heavy legs which slowly struggled up the last stretch. Our small group included a retired couple from South Africa. Almost 70, carrying their own backpacks, outpacing us by day and fit enough in the evening to regale us with stories from mount Kilimanjaro to ice treks along the frozen rivers of Ladakh.

That’s the sort of old age to aspire to. And I’m guessing that would not be an easy task after 20 a day for 40 years.

A FEW DAYS IN BARCELONA

Barcelona is a city with a good reputation. Architecturally rich, warm and friendly, beach bars, las ramblas, tree-lined romantic streets, a decent underground and apparently good red wine in every restaurant – it’s easy to see why visitors fall in love with it.

Having the luxury of having been here before has meant that I can afford to practice some slow tourism. That means not carrying around a guide book, not having an itinerary and not consulting tripadvisor for restaurant tips. It has meant going for a run along the coast, getting a bit lost on the streets, tumbling into random bars with various colleagues (attending the ERS 2013) and pretending to be a local by renting an airbnb apartment in one of the narrow and vibrant streets (and yes, by that I mean it can get loud) in the gothic quarter.

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 Yesterday was the national day of Catalonia. This officially means a day of demonstrations to commemorate the defeat of Catalan troops in 1714. This somehow passed me by, apart from spotting groups dressed in yellow, albeit wrapped in Catalan’s flag, sipping beer and eating tapas in the plazas nearby. Leading up to the day however, I bumped into colourful street parties and a rather fun looking game of street bingo.

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 What I like most of all about the city (apart from Gaudi’s work) is the feeling of family life despite the size of the city. The central boulevards along major streets where you can see retired couples, young families and not infrequently all three generations strolling together and looking like they have all the time in the world. This is the feeling I would like to take back with me as autumn sets in across Europe.

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