Cover Your Mouth

I just finished reading The Great Influenza. By “finished,” I mean quit on page 250. It is dry, dry, dry and it is a hard topic to read 400 pages about. There is only so much death and pestilence a girl can take. Plus, I’m not the biggest fan of nonfiction. I have to push myself through most of these books and am thrilled to be satisfactorily done with this one and on to something new.

Did you know the flu of 1918, commonly referred to as the Spanish Flu, killed 50 million people in 18 months? As the author notes, that is more than HIV/AIDS has killed in 20-plus years. And not just the young and the weak, as the flu is prone to knock off. This is where it gets scary. The bulk of those who died were in their 20s and 30s and otherwise very healthy. Some died within a day. Dropped dead, black from cyanosis and had holes in their lungs. These deaths are considered “double deaths” in epidemiology because they happen during reproductive years.

This book scared the shit out of me. I have friends (okay, one friend in particular) who’s been a bit freaked about global flu and I keep trying to calm her woes. Not now. Freak all you want. It is intensely frightening to think what will happen the next time the flu virus mutates and becomes this infectious. Millions will die within weeks. (Think about how slow transportation was in 1918 in comparison to global travel today.) My best suggestion is to stay home. If any sort of major infectious airborne disease strikes your hometown, stay home. Eat what you have, limit your contact with outsiders, telecommute. Do what you have to do to keep pathogens outside of your home and stay put.

A passage that fueled this new paranoia:
“Families closed off rooms where a body lay, but a closed door could not close out the knowledge and the horror of what lay behind the door. In much of the city, (Philadelphia) a city more short of housing than New York, people had no room that could be closed off. Corpses were wrapped in sheets, pushed into corners, left there sometimes for days, the horror of it sinking in deeper each hour, people too sick to cook for themselves, to sick to clean themselves, to sick to move the corpse off the bed, lying alive on the same bed with the corpse. The dead lay there for days, while the living lived with them, were horrified by them, and, perhaps most horribly, became accustomed to them.”

Ewww. Good Lord this was an awful time to be alive. On the bright side, it gives my line of work some major props:

“Public health was and is where the largest number of lives are saved, usually by understanding the epidemiology of a disease — its patterns, where and how it emerges and spreads — and attacking it at its weak points. This usually means prevention. Science had first contained smallpox, then cholera, then typhoid, then plague, then yellow fever all through large-scale public health measures, everything from filtering water to testing and killing rats to vaccination. Public health measures lack the drama of pulling someone back from the edge of death, but they save lives by the millions.”

My review? 3 out of 5 informative bananas. 5 out of 5 scare me bananas. 1 out of 5 entertain me bananas.



Booo, Hooray!

I saw this billboard this morning during my commute. My God, if this doesn’t make you smile, there’s a little something dead in your heart.


A Culture Quest

I work in downtown Phoenix, and yet, am more than a bit embarrassed to admit it has been years since I’ve been to most of the museums within walking distance of my desk. More precisely, I haven’t seen the inside of most galleries since those elementary school field trips that hauled my pony-tailed self to their doorsteps, via a yellow Bluebird bus. Some of my favorite artists have had exhibits and I haven’t made the time to go visit; I am still kicking myself for missing the Dale Chihuly show a few years ago.

I’ve decided to go on a bit of an art adventure. I’ve got a new kink in my work schedule that gives me two hours each Tuesday and Thursday to wander downtown. With the summer sun above, indoor activities are a must. After two weeks of wandering bookstores and Target to kill this time, I’ve decided I need a change of pace. There are only so many Isaac tops a girl can try on before boredom sets in. (Especially when you can order these babies online…) As of today, I’m going to spend my bonus hours each week exploring a new museum, gallery, library, cafe, etc.
In part, I want to debunk those who say Phoenix is without culture. I hear this regularly from friends who’ve moved away to “more fashionable” cities, and I think it is a silly argument. Culture, like art, is where you look for it. Each community has its own pace. I’ll admit Phoenix is hot, vast and without great public transportation. Most natives have a Republican shoot-from-the-hip cowboy mentality. Yet, even cowboys have their own distinct style. The Heard Museum is our crown jewel, and there are some stunning Western art galleries in old town Scottsdale. While these out-of-town friends love to whine about Phoenix’s deficiencies in sophistication, they drink their wine with a screw top just like the rest of us twenty-somethings. And they love to come and camp out on my couch in January when it is 80 degrees outside. In my opinion, there is nothing fashionable about an ice scraper.
On today’s schedule — Judith Leiber. The Phoenix Art Museum is showing a collection of her purses and this seems the perfect exhibit to get my feet wet. I’m not worried about missing some secret hidden political message tucked away in a painting, nor does this exhibit require any research prior to purchasing a ticket. Better yet, I don’t even have to purchase a ticket. Admission is free on Thursdays. As my friend Homer J. Simpson would say, “WOO HOO!” (How’s that for culture?)

A review manana, absoloodle.


Guilt-Free Icing on My Cake

So, I finished finished my novel. I’ve written my query letter and it’s going out tomorrow. Now, time for a treat.
I’ve long promised myself “the handbag of my choice” upon completion of the novel. This served as serious motivation in a writing drought, or two. (I’m a rare breed — one who works with the poor and still finds time to worship Louis Vuitton. Confused? Um, yeah. I’m obviously still working out that balance of Africankelli and Americankelli.) Me likey purses. And I’d like to purchase a great, classic bag that I’ll have for ages — something that will remind me that it doesn’t matter if Oprah thinks this is a good story. It is one I wanted to tell.
A few friends I’m considering inviting to the party:
Kate Spade
Michael Kors, in either color,
and the king himself — Louie Louie.
Aw, who am I kidding? I talk a big, fashionable, Devil Wears Prada talk, but when it comes right down to it, I’m not spending $800 on a purse until I get my invite to Oprah’s book club. And then I’ll have to buy one of those houses in Nicaragua too, to feel a touch more balanced. Because really, philanthropists who wear Jimmy Choo’s aren’t horrible people. They are just well dressed, generous people. Right?


P.S. If you are looking for a Phoenix gal who actually has written and sold a book, Martha’s got an ISBN number. I can only imagine the awesome Italian food and fountain of booze at her signing party.

Lucky Star Indeed

Madonna sucked every bit of energy out of me and I cannot think today. I just want to run around in a super tight leotard with a whip and set of roller skates and sing at the top of my lungs. She was a shock to watch — walking a fine balance between sexual and perverse. I’d gladly take her as my substitute for love.

Until I recover and am able to string together my thoughts, more shots from the trip to Nica:

The water project, en sum:
1. Haul pvc pipes up a hill, 1.5 kilometers from the well at the base to the sistern at the top. Lay the pipes in a trench, already dug by community volunteers.

jack and jill went up the hill

2. Work with these same volunteers to carefully hook the pipes together and fill in the trenches.

It takes a village, water project

3. Ask the community members what they will do with their extra time each day now that they’ll have water just feet from their homes? Notice the lake in the background. Villagers were spending two hours a day walking to the lake to get water. Now, they just turn on the faucet.

man at the water post

Housing project, en sum:
1. Find female-led households with children under the age of five who are living on subsistence farming. Ask these families if they are interested in an improved house. (We have 6000 such families now waiting on the list.) Get the families to agree to pay for 40% of the housing material costs — about $400 during a 4-year loan. Get the families to agree to participate in the building of their new home and the other new homes in their community. Transform and old home, made out of eucalyptus slats and plastic sheeting into a cement block wonder:

house, before, housing project
Esperanca House, after, water project

All for the grand total of $900, including what the family pays for with their microfinance loan. We are building a dozen of these homes this year and hope to have more funding for even more next year. An extra benefit is the fact the house is in the name of the woman. We’d been having a problem with the men trying to sell these babies off as soon as they were complete. No more!


Fire tree blooms, Cemetary, Jinotega

My very favorite tree in bloom. I’m not sure what these are called, but I call them Fire Trees. Their orange blooms are amazing. These grow in Cameroon too.

colorful crosses, Cemetary, Jinotega

Morbidly enchanting color.

Communists love coffee, mural, jinotega

A community mural from the communist Sandinista days.

Can't see the tops of the trees, Datanli Diablo Reserve

A thousand shades of green in the rainforest.

Aging construction, Granada

Decaying construction.

Aztec mural,  Jinotega

An awesome Aztec/Mayan mural on a hospital wall. I love how the baby is still connected by an umbilical cord.


Books, My Old Friends. How I’ve Missed You.

The Time Traveler’s Wife
By Audrey Niffenegger
3.5 out of 5 bananas, absoloodle.

This book was just what I needed to get me reading again, an adventure of sorts to rediscover all I love about paperback fiction. I go through spurts where I can’t stop reading, and times when I’m in literary drought — wandering aimlessly looking for something great to get me back on course. I’ll pick up books (Elizabeth Costello, Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, Shipping News,) and meander for a 100 pages. I get discouraged if it doesn’t grab my attention and make me thirsty for more within the first few chapters. Hating to declare defeat, I prop these books back on my bookshelf, determined to one day conquer them.
The Time Traveler’s Wife was the compass I was searching for. The passport back to a world of reading — a world where you can drown out the noises of a bustling cafe because you are within the story. It is alive and dancing on the page before you.
This is the story of a man — Henry — who can travel through time, and his life-long love affair with a woman — Clare. It isn’t as science fiction as it sounds; it is an excellent love story and would probably be more appropriately classified as “chic lit.” Then again, related searches for this book on Amazon bring up Kite Runner and Middlesex — two excellent books that are certainly not tailored to female readers. (I suggest reading these and figuring out where you think they should be categorized because I’m obviously having a tricky time of it. Or better yet, don’t categorize them. Just recognize they are great reads and worth the pages on which they are printed.) TTW was a relatively easy and quick read. A character to hate: Gomez. A character to question: Ingrid. A character to love: Alba.

One of my favorite passages:

“What an uncertain husband I have been, Clare, like a sailor, Odysseus alone and buffeted by tall waves, sometimes wily and sometimes just a plaything of the gods. Please Clare. When I am dead. Stop waiting and be free. Of me — put me deep inside you and then go out in the world and live. Love the world and yourself in it, move through it as though it offers no resistance, as though the world is your natural element.”

I read this book upon the suggestion of several girlfriends. Have you read it? What did you think? I’m now enjoying Eat, Pray, Love, happy to be back in the familiar Land of Literature.