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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Who doesn't like spaghetti? What? You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!

Look closely... that is spaghetti (originally called macaroni as were all pastas in the 19th century) hanging to air-dry in a macaroni restaurant in Naples, Italy in the late 1800s. Sanitation was less than desirable and forks were unheard of for the street people who literally ate macaroni ate by the handfulls as a staple. Meat and vegetables were an expensive food, only for the wealthy. 

The pasta-eaters of Naples were a major tourist attraction of that time, written up in guide books of the city. Restaurants would put out dishes for the beggars to attract a crowd and sometimes, tourists would "buy for the house" just to see the scrambling for food and the show of eating 'Naples style.'

Pasta was to be swallowed hot from the water in a single, uninturrupted mouthful using both hands and pausing only to clear the esophagus. Red sauce, meat balls and other toppings and additions came later. So what could be wrong than to feed the hungry and delight the onlookers at the same time?

This, of course, was before restaurant scoring which is good because negative numbers might drive off the customers.

While Naples had a reputation for the finest of macaroni, the working poor and beggars got only the cheapest flour, sometimes mixed with dirt to stretch ingredients. If available at the time, beef fat was added to the water for some flavoring. Nonetheless, it still filled the bellies of the hungry who often lived to ripe young ages.

Legend has it that Marco Polo brought macaroni back from China in the 12th century but Italians find that hard to accept, thinking they were born with tomato sauce in their blood. Want proof? Try ordering chow mein lasagna next time you're in a Chinese restaurant and see what you get.

Side note to authenticate pasta expertise: All four of my grandparents immigrated through Ellis Island from Italy and my parents were first generation American born... so I guess genetics made me a pasta expert and a gourmet "pasta from scratch-to-the-table in less-than-an-hour" specialty chef.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Things That Amaze Me Most: Part VIII, Us Humans


This was my blog post on March 12, 2011--more than 6 years ago. Still blows my mind. As I told you before, there are a number of things/events/emotions that absolutely blow-my-mind because they are so introspectively amazing and give me a deeper sense of awe. So I made a list of the things that amaze me most... some big, some small, some acts, some things... but all, in my mind, amazing.  So far:

Part III: THE YOUNG: Babies, toddlers and teens
Part IV:  LAUGHTER: A peek into the soul
Part V:   NATURE: Her splendor and fury


Big, small, short, tall-- from a single cell embryo to Troy Jackson... who just died at 38. Troy was a basketball player... a 'classic' big man who could handle the ball--and look at how he could handle it. He was 6'10" tall and weighed as much as 500 lbs... or Shaq O'Neil who wears a size 23 shoe.

 Or... the World's Tallest man - Bao Xishun (7ft 7") or... the World's smallest adult, He Pingping (2ft 4").  How the heck did that all happen?

Funny thing is, we all started (with few exceptions-- in vitro fertilization, donor sperm or egg, Mary, mother of God, etc.) the same way. And if you don't know what that way is, then you'd better finally have that talk with mom and dad.

In any case, this is what the initial courtship  looks like... and yes, it is a difficult first date but well worth a few seconds to see how your mom and dad created you, exclusively.

Aww...The new baby. He/she has mom's eyes... and grandpa's sloping forehead, and cousin Ernie's long, tapered, pool-playing fingers... er, no fingers yet... but just you wait.

It is absolutely mind-blowing INCREDIBLE! From a single cell to... you and me, with all of our complexities, foibles and personalities. And the reason Baby Blue... or Pink, will look like us is that he/she has our genetic imprint... the heredity coding that says if your second toe is longer than your big toe, so will your baby's be... and if that big nose comes from grandpa's side of the family, baby's will look Italian too. The hair, the intelligence, the health, both good and bad, will all come from mom and dad and beyond.

As if that isn't enough, just imagine what we have learned to help us through life... all the technical, medical, psychological and social advances (and detractions) that build from generation to generation. Heck, our great-grandparents could have easily died in childbirth, or from appendicitis, or a bad tooth-ache, as many did! We even watched television in black and white, for God's sake. And we have, for better or worse, adapted to it all. 

Whether we are born here of there, of this race or that, big or small, male or female, we have a commonality to our heirs and one another:

If you are an Adam and Eve fan, then hello brother, hello sister.
If you go more for evolution, then shake hands with me, you big ape.
If you feel there is a place for both, I'm your man, just like him, her, it.

OK... are you ready for the moral of this story? We are all linked and dependent on one another... we just all haven't come to the point of accepting that as a human race. We still hate, show envy and prejudice. We still ignore the human rights and needs of others. We still kill and mistreat. The Golden Rule has nothing on us.

We can do better. We have to, because every moment of every day, there are more of us than ever before--5 times more people now than in 1900-- and we are all living in the same house as we always have... the one we call earth.

One last thought about that "house:" A mom tells of the conversation she had with her daughter... and the simple wisdom of a child that we often forget as we age.

Today, in the cutest voice, my 8-year-old daughter asked me to start recycling.  I chuckled and asked, “Why?”

She replied, “So you can help me save the planet.”
I chuckled again and asked, “And why do you want to save the planet?”
 “Because that’s where I keep all my stuff.”

(Thanks to Marc and Angel Hack Life website.)

Monday, May 1, 2017

IMMORTALITY LIVES! (So how is that headline for redundancy? But wait, it's true in the oddest sense.)

Henrietta Lacks

Have you read the book or seen the new movie, The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks? Rebecca Skloot wrote the true story in her 2010 best-selling novel and Oprah stars masterfully as Lacks'
Oprah as Lacks daughter, Deborah
daughter in the movie version.

Just a month ago, I blogged "The 'God' Molecule: Heaven can wait, I'm going to live forever and ever." . It was all about humankind's quest for immortality and how Silicon Valley billionaires and scientists are actually believing it is possible to live forever, in one form or another. (Really! That's what they think and they are putting their money where their mouth is to prove it.)

When I blogged about immortality, I hadn't thought of Henrietta Lacks, who died of cervical cancer in 1951 at age 31, who had beaten them to the punch. Lacks'  cell line, taken from her biopsied tumor, are still alive and multiplying 66 years later! It has been proven these cells can live in the lab and give science the essence of a living person to aid medical science, forever immortal.

In fact, those cells are regarded as invaluable in their use as a living cell line to test against all diseases in search of clues to discovery of cures. The hela cell line has been credited with advances in chemotherapy drugs, the polio vaccine, gene mapping, stem cell research, HPV vaccine and in-vitro fertilization to name a few successes. And their extensive use offers a continuing promise of more. Her cells are working and reproducing in virtually every medical laboratory seeking answers.

Rebecca Skloot
As author Skloot wrote and became part of the story in her investigative reporting, it is more than Lacks' immortal cells. It was a difficult story to obtain over years because of Lacks' family's objections. It was Lack's daughter Deborah who was the key to overcoming those objections. In pursuing the truth, Skloot became a true friend to the Lacks' extended family.

Lacks' cells--known world-wide as the "HeLa cell line"--continue to be offered for valid scientific research, were harvested without Lacks' knowledge or permission, a practice later deemed acceptable by the Supreme Court. It took Lacks' family 24 years before they, and the world, knew the donors' name.

Today, Lacks' ancestors receive their only compensation from a fund Skloot set up for their benefit. They have never received compensation, though money has been made in marketing the cells by others. In fact, the Lacks family at that time couldn't even get health care.

As Skloot later said, "We hear a lot about science versus religion, but what I saw over an over was Deborah's faith keeping her anchored and opening her up to learning about the science. She really believed her mother was brought back to life in these cells to take care of people, like and angel, and that was so rooted in her faith. That let her overcome a lot of her fears, like going to see the cells for the first time. " 

The enormous medical interest in the HeLa cells was seen at Raleigh's Quail Ridge Bookstore (a great bookstore with many name authors visiting) when Sklook was promoting her book in 2010. The overflowing crowd, made up greatly by the medical profession from the areas' major hospitals and medical community, was larger than any other in the bookstore's history.

It just goes to show again, how some of us continue to live in one way or another to contribute to the world, far beyond what anyone could have imagined. Some, like Henrietta Lacks, live famously for the good, often without their knowledge. Others live infamously for the hate, sorrow and ruin they left in their wake. That's life.

PS: As a writer myself, the movie is a good preview in what a reporter sometimes must do to rightly and accurately get a difficult story that needs to be told.