Friday, May 23, 2008

Is the inside of the elbow a minor thing of beauty, in some cultures at least? Or am I getting fact confused with silly lyrics from Gilbert and Sullivan?

Whether or not it’s erogenous or beautiful, the crook of the arm apparently has its own culture. By culture, I mean bacteria. According to the New York Times, researchers have discovered that the skin on the inside of the human elbow contains six very distinctive bacterial cultures. Which somehow brings up the idea of the other definition of culture, and conjures images of the body as a world of its own. Think of all the rich and complex cultures living their rich and complex lives on top of us. And all the dirtiest places are undoubtedly the richest and most complex. Like the, uh, mouth for instance.

But the metaphor sort of breaks down if we imagine that each of us, world that we are, walks around with similar cultures in similar places. As if duplicate earths existed, billions of them, all with their own versions of Sweden and Botswana and Belize and Vanuatu, the same but different.

On the other hand, the article talks about the National Human Genome Research institute has realized that studying just the genomes that we contain is missing out on all those genomes of microbes that we depend on but aren’t technically a part of our bodies. Which conjures something completely different: maybe we are actually a little bit like our own first impressions of ourselves after we’ve made our way out of our mothers’ wombs, when we can’t differentiate between what is us and what is the rest of the world.

And now I’m sounding like a college student in the aftermath of a particularly fat and juicy spliff.

The Swedish phrase for the day is utan gränser. It means without boundaries or without borders.

- by Francis S.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

As we passed under the Aqueduct of Valens, the guide explained that it was Atatürk who had changed the name of the city from Constantinople to Istanbul when he formed the republic. "Istanbul means 'I go to the city' and it is what many people called the city already," the guide said.

Well, I went to the city all right, with all its mosques and the magnificent Hagia Sofia, and the ancient Grand Bazaar which is still impressive, the spice market, the eerie Basilica Cistern, the Topkapi Palace with its tranquil gardens of Gülhane, and the other elegant buildings lining the Bosporus. This is one of the many great things about working for a Swedish company in Sweden: company trips to take the baths at Budapest, or ski the slopes in the Swiss Alps, or wander around one of the fabled cities of the world, Istanbul, which was Constantinople, and before that, Byzantium.

I even managed an evening with an old friend who lives there, who showed me around Beyoglu and Tunel where you must walk in between cafe tables to make your way through the narrow winding streets. And on to Tarlabasi, where he lives, amid prostitutes and thieves, a district that apparently horrifies all Turks he meets.

"The wierdest are what I first thought to be ugly little old village ladies working as prostitutes. Then I realized they were actually men dressed as little old village ladies," he said. "There's something for everyone." And then he chortled.

Now I just need to convince the husband that we must visit in the autumn.

The Swedish word for the day is förtjust. It means smitten.

- by Francis S.