A mosquito

Bad air, good vegetables

Malaria, as most people know, is a nasty disease caused by a parasite that’s transmitted by mosquitoes. The disease is sometimes deadly, and always extremely unpleasant. The word “malaria” comes from the Italian mala aria, “bad air.” When the term was coined, it was commonly believed that malaria was caused by breathing in bad air—namely, the foul vapors emanating from swamps, latrines, and so on. It was a mere coincidence that the stagnant water that provided a breeding ground for mosquitoes also frequently contributed to bad air.

The fact that the word “malaria” is a misnomer is perhaps mildly interesting, but what you may find more interesting is my personal story. Malaria and I go way back.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

When I was 19, I spent the summer in a remote area of Indonesia. One morning I started feeling a bit ill, and by mid-afternoon I had a high fever, uncontrollable chills, severe aches in delicate body parts, and a general feeling of complete yuckiness. My companions debated whether or not it could be malaria. The symptoms were correct, but I had been taking an antimalarial drug faithfully and there was some question whether I’d been there long enough for the parasite to incubate. After a day or so I went to a local clinic, had a blood test, and was told for certain that it was indeed malaria. I had expected to run into scary foods, treacherous hiking trails, and maybe even a cannibal or two, but I had never seriously entertained the thought that I might contract a serious disease on my trip. How interesting.

On the advice of an American doctor with whom we were in contact by shortwave radio, I began taking a different medicine, plus more of what I had already been taking. The doctor asked that I provide him with periodic blood samples so he could tell when the malaria had been sufficiently knocked out. This would involve putting a drop of blood on a slide, sending it out with the mail by a tiny airplane to the medical center, and then waiting for results back by radio. After a few days I regained enough strength that I could continue my travels, and I flew to a small village where I was to live for a week with a missionary family—John, Wendy, and their three young children.

Giving the Finger

When it came time to send in my next blood sample, I was far too squeamish to prick my own finger, so Wendy reluctantly offered to do the honors. She swabbed off my finger, unwrapped a sterile lancet, and stabbed lightly. Yowch! She had applied enough pressure to cause plenty of pain, but not enough to break the skin. She tried again…and again…and again. Four tries, and the best she could do was to lacerate the epidermis. It is hard to say which one of us was having more trouble with the procedure, but success was not at hand. So Wendy called her husband in to help. John was amused at the situation, and assured us both that he could handle the job. I offered my other hand, John stabbed, and…more pain, but no blood. He tried a second time, then a third, and a fourth. Finally, with considerable squeezing, we were able to get one tiny drop of blood out on the last try. It’s a good thing, too, because I was beginning to feel that the malaria wouldn’t have been as bad as the blood test. We sent off the blood sample, hoping for results soon.

That evening at dinner, there was a bowl of cooked carrots on the table. I didn’t take any. Wendy said, “Aren’t you going to have any carrots?” I replied, “I really don’t care for them, thanks.” She said, “Well, I’m going to have to insist that you eat some. You see, I don’t like cooked carrots either, but if I don’t set a good example, my kids won’t eat them. And if I have to eat them, so do you.” I suppressed my distaste and took some cooked carrots.

Cooking Up Revenge

The following week, I was at a conference in another town. John and Wendy were there too with their family. Meals were served cafeteria-style, and one evening at dinner cooked carrots were on the menu. I wasn’t sitting at the same table as Wendy so I needn’t have taken any, but I looked over and saw that she had a few on her plate, and was clearly trying to avoid eating them. I felt bad, so I took a large helping of cooked carrots myself. Then I walked over to Wendy’s table and scraped my carrots onto her plate. I smiled, remembering my sore finger; she gave me the Glare of Death, but couldn’t say anything because her kids were watching.

Meanwhile, the results of the blood test still weren’t back, and I was getting antsy. Each day I checked the mailboxes at the conference center for an envelope addressed to me, but nothing appeared. The following evening, however, there in the “K” box was an official-looking envelope with my name on it. I opened the letter and read the typewritten report:

Mulia Medical Center
Test Results


Result of Blood Test: Severe Deficiency of Vitamin A
Best source of Vitamin A: Cooked carrots
Recommended treatment: 3-4 large bowls of cooked carrots daily


Sample medicine enclosed.

And inside, wrapped in foil, was a small piece of cooked carrot.

I eventually made a full recovery. But ever since then, I’ve eaten my cooked carrots, just as a precautionary measure. You can never be too careful when it comes to malaria.

Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Interesting Thing of the Day on October 31, 2003, and again in a slightly revised form on December 21, 2004.


Source: Interesting Thing of the Day

Map of countries where malaria is endemic

April 25, 2018 is World Malaria Day, as recognized by the World Health Organization. In 2016 alone, there were 216 million cases of malaria worldwide, and 445,000 deaths. In other words, it’s an extremely big deal. Sometimes something as simple as a mosquito net can prevent infection, and with appropriate medical treatment, malaria can be cured. A lot of money is being spent on an effort to eradicate malaria entirely. Speaking as someone who has experienced malaria, I hope to see the day when that particular parasite goes extinct.

Image credit: By Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Source: Interesting Thing of the Day

Marcel Proust

What is your favorite list of questions? Your least favorite?

Viewers of Inside the Actors Studio are familiar with host James Lipton’s list of questions, which he poses to each of his guests at the end of an interview. These questions are supposed to reveal deep inner truths about one’s personality, but their effectiveness depends entirely on who’s answering them.

Lipton always gives credit for this list to French talk show host Bernard Pivot, who hosted Apostrophes from 1975–1990 and Bouillon de Culture from 1990–2001; he often mentions that the list originally came from French novelist Marcel Proust (1871–1922). Proust did not actually create the questionnaire that frequently has his name attached, though he did famously answer two versions of it (once at age 13, and a second time at age 20), and thereby gave the lists a certain notoriety. The lists started as a parlor game, and their original author is unknown.

As it turns out, Lipton’s list differs in three questions from Pivot’s, and neither Lipton’s list nor Pivot’s has a single question in common with either of Proust’s! But here are all four lists (the last three being approximate French translations).

James Lipton’s Questionnaire

  1. What is your favorite word?
  2. What is your least favorite word?
  3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
  4. What turns you off?
  5. What is your favorite curse word?
  6. What sound or noise do you love?
  7. What sound or noise do you hate?
  8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
  9. What profession would you not like to do?
  10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Bernard Pivot’s Questionnaire

  1. What is your favorite word?
  2. What is your least favorite word?
  3. What is your favorite drug?
  4. What sound or noise do you love?
  5. What sound or noise do you hate?
  6. What is your favorite curse word?
  7. Who would you like to see on a new banknote?
  8. What profession other than your own would you not like to attempt?
  9. If you were reincarnated as some other plant or animal, what would it be?
  10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Marcel Proust’s Questionnaires

At age 13:

  1. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
  2. Where would you like to live?
  3. What is your idea of earthly happiness?
  4. To what faults do you feel most indulgent?
  5. Who are your favorite fictional heroes?
  6. Who are your favorite characters in history?
  7. Who are your favorite heroines in real life?
  8. Who are your favorite fictional heroines?
  9. Who is your favorite painter?
  10. Who is your favorite musician?
  11. What quality do you most admire in a man?
  12. What quality do you most admire in a woman?
  13. What is your favorite virtue?
  14. What is your favorite occupation?
  15. Who would you have liked to be?

At age 20:

  1. What is your most marked characteristic?
  2. What quality do you most like in a man?
  3. What quality do you most like in a woman?
  4. What do you value most in your friends?
  5. What is your principal defect?
  6. What is your favorite occupation?
  7. What is your dream of happiness?
  8. What to your mind would be the greatest misfortune?
  9. What would you like to be?
  10. In what country would you like to live?
  11. What is your favorite color?
  12. What is your favorite flower?
  13. What is your favorite bird?
  14. Who are your favorite prose writers?
  15. Who are your favoite poets?
  16. Who are your favorite fictional heros?
  17. Who are your favorite fictional heroines?
  18. Who are your favorite composers?
  19. Who are your favorite painters?
  20. Who are your heroes in real life?
  21. Who are your favorite heroines of history?
  22. What are your favorite names?
  23. What do you most dislike?
  24. What historical figures do you most despise?
  25. What event in military history do you most admire?
  26. What reform do you most admire?
  27. What natural gift would you most like to possess?
  28. How would you like to die?
  29. What is your present state of mind?
  30. To what faults do you feel most indulgent?
  31. What is your motto?

Quite a few celebrities have answered the latter version of this list at Vanity Fair.

Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on SenseList on September 6, 2006.

Image credit: By Otto Wegener (1849-1924) – détail [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Source: Interesting Thing of the Day

If you’re a fan of the TV series Firefly and its sequel movie Serenity, today is an excellent day to rewatch them—April 24 is International Watch Firefly Day! (And if you’re not a fan, you’ve obviously never seen it, and you should remedy that moral defect immediately.) Firefly—basically a western set in space (complete with cattle!)—is among my favorite shows of all time, and though it was tragically short-lived, its spirit endures. Keep flying.

Image credit: By Flickr user RavenU (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ravenu/317130750/) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


Source: Interesting Thing of the Day

The current Globe Theatre in London

Shakespeare’s ideal venue, then and now

Most modern theaters—whether designed for movies, plays, or musical performances—consist of a dark, roughly rectangular room, with seats in neat rows and an elevated stage in front with a curtain, lighting, sound system, and other accoutrements. I’ve seen a number of Shakespeare’s plays in such theaters, but what I experienced when I did was quite a bit different from what London audiences at the beginning of the 17th century saw when they went to see Shakespeare’s just-written plays at their first venue: the Globe Theatre. Although it was absent for centuries, the theater is now back, and it gives theatergoers an experience closer to that of Shakespeare’s time.

Building and Rebuilding

The original Globe Theatre was built in 1599 on the south bank of the Thames in London’s Southwark district. The 1599 Globe was not an entirely new building, however. Shakespeare’s troupe had been performing in another theater across the river (called simply The Theatre), but because of the high cost of leasing the land on which The Theatre was located, it was dismantled; the pieces were moved across the river and reassembled, then dubbed The Globe Theatre. Not only was the Globe the primary venue for many of Shakespeare’s plays, he specifically wrote many of them for that theater. The original Globe burned to the ground in 1613, after a cannon went off during a production of Henry VIII and a spark ignited the thatched roof. The Globe was rebuilt within a year, however, and continued to operate until 1642, when it was closed (along with the rest of London’s theaters) by the Puritans who found it morally objectionable. In 1644, 28 years after Shakespeare’s death, the Globe was demolished.

Only a few rough sketches of the Globe survived over the centuries, but based on archeological evidence, texts, and other sources, it has been possible to make some fairly reliable educated guesses about the details of its construction. The original Globe apparently had 20 sides, making it appear almost circular. The central part of the theater was open to the sky; seating was provided in a three-story, covered gallery around the outside. But many theatergoers stood in the central court in front of the stage to watch performances. The audience was expected to interact with the actors in Shakespeare’s time, though in many cases they simply wandered in and out, eating, drinking, and talking, with the play going on in the background.

Return of the Globe

In 1996, after almost three decades of planning, a new replica of the Globe—built by hand using authentic materials and construction techniques—reopened in London not far from the site of the original. The designers’ goal was to make the new Globe as similar as possible to the first one, making concessions only as necessary to comply with fire regulations. The replica of the Globe Theatre in London is just one of many around the world, but it is undoubtedly the most historically accurate. As in the early 1600s, actors perform without amplification, spotlights, backdrops, or other scenery, and with only a minimum of props. The theater’s annual season normally runs from May to October.

On my first trip to London in 2002, I was keen to visit the Globe, but due to what you might call a comedy of errors, I was only able to see it from the outside on that trip. The next time I was in London, seven years later, I planned ahead better, and Morgen and I saw a delightful performance of As You Like It at the Globe, and it was fantastic to immerse myself in that (to modern tastes) unusual atmosphere. Now I’m living in San Diego, which has perhaps the best-known replica of the Globe Theatre in the United States, The Old Globe—so I can have a similar experience close to home. Another replica is in Odessa, Texas: The Globe of the Great Southwest. Yet another opened in Rome in 2003.

The new Globe represents not just the reconstruction of a historically significant piece of architecture, but a way to relive the entire experience of live drama in the 1600s. All the world may be a stage, but if you want to see Shakespeare as the author intended, this particular stage is the best.

Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Interesting Thing of the Day on September 7, 2003, and again in a slightly revised form on September 19, 2004.


Source: Interesting Thing of the Day