Friday, 27 June 2008

Miss Communication

"Ooh, you are lucky. You've got a good cooker here," said Elsje to the room in general, over dinner one night. Everyone smiled and nodded.

Because Elsje spoke beautiful English, more flawlessly grammatical than that of most native speakers, I did not for one minute think she meant anything other than a stove. I thought it was a little odd that she should be so enthusiastic about a mere appliance, but since I spent much of my time struggling with the sensibilities of the Dutch, I figured it was just one of those things. Like eating fish and cheese for breakfast and never needing your bread toasted.

Much later, I realized belatedly that Elsje had been complimenting my cooking. It had been my turn to make dinner and I'd produced an indifferent lasagna, but the standard of cooking in our small artists' community wasn't high -- everyone else was more interested in spending time on their art than wasting it preparing food -- and Elsje had been impressed by my efforts. The Dutch are some of the best non-native speakers of English I know, but the perfectly logical 'cooker' for 'cook' trips up a lot of them. It tripped me up, too.

"My brother lives in a mansion," my friend Naoko told me my second week in Tokyo. I was immediately impressed. Space is at a premium all over Japan, but especially in Tokyo. I had only been in a few people's apartments, but I'd been shocked at how tiny and cramped they were. I knew that Naoko's brother had a good job, but I'd had no idea he lived in a mansion. The day Naoko took me to visit him, I had an even bigger shock. A mansion in Japan -- and in other Asian countries, I am told -- is not the spacious, well-appointed stately home westerners envision, but a slightly better-than-average apartment, generally insulated, ugly, and with a ferroconcrete foundation. People are nonetheless very proud to live in mansions and bristle if you make a mistake and call them apaato, or apartments. An apaato is the poor cousin of the mansion.

"Have you had your tea yet?" my husband asked me one evening, way back before he was my husband. I had gone to visit him after work and was somewhat taken aback by this question -- as though tea was such an important drink that if I hadn't had a cup, I ought to rectify matters. I told him I had not, and to my surprise he began to clatter about with pots and pans. I kept him company as he cooked what I thought was to be his dinner: an omelette, salad, and toast. But to my amazement, he slid it onto a plate and placed it in front of me.

"What's this for?"

"It's for you, silly."

"But I've eaten!"

"You just said you hadn't!"

It took us quite some time to get it sorted out. I'd worked for a British company for almost six months, but that was the first time I realized that tea wasn't just a beverage, but a proper meal.

Three years later, he and I were sitting in my in-laws' house in the Midlands, watching a man from Birmingham install a burglar alarm. The man was telling us all about his trip to America, how he and his wife had decided to go to Disneyworld instead of having car pits installed, how glad he was they'd had the holiday to the States instead. As I listened, I tried to visualize the car pits. Could they be subterranean garages of some sort? Space was at a premium in England, I knew, and though I'd never seen any car pits (that I knew about), perhaps they were a feature I would become more familiar with in time. I was on the verge of asking about them, but held my tongue; I had some trouble understanding the man's strong accent and decided to ask my husband later instead. Thank God.

"What are car pits?" I asked my husband later. "Are they under the house? Can you put gardens over them?"

He stared at me in bewilderment. "What?"

"The guy was telling us about car pits," I reminded him. "How he and his wife went to Disneyworld instead of getting them installed--"

"Carpets!" my husband hissed. "He was talking about carpets!"

Now I've come full circle. Last week, I was chatting with a group of women who were talking about a man they knew, up in Edinburgh. "He lives in a mansion," one of the women said, in hushed tones. Immediately I pictured a squat, ferroconcrete building with a rusting laundry rail on every floor. I could see housewives out beating the futons they were airing; I could smell the fish broiling and rice cooking and picture the fluffy slippers you would be given to change into when visiting.

I was halfway home before I figured it out.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

New To Me

I buy clothes at thrift shops; I can't help myself. I'm a born cheapskate, descended from a long line of accomplished penny-pinchers.

My mother and her sisters took this to an extreme. On visits, my Aunt Margaret would happily present us with two dozen donuts, only a tiny bit stale, but 90% off the marked price, and my mother would lament the distance from our house of the shop where she purchased them. "That's a very, ah, colorful dress," people would tell my mother, clad in some newly-bought horror. And my mother, ever a sucker for wildly colorful shifts with oversized flowers, never failed to take this as a compliment. "Do you like it?" she would cry delightedly, "it was only 15 cents at Value Village!"

Although as a teenager I found my mother's admittedly cringe-worthy behavior horrifying, I've since learned to be proud of it; to accept it as not only my heritage, but my own personal make-up. In my youth, when I was making good money, I went through a brief period of only buying brand-new clothes from nice shops, but a mild financial setback has helped me get in touch with my real roots. It's great; there is something almost divine about finding a damn good bargain. I am friends with other cheapskates and we regularly compare notes and subtly compete.

I try not to brag about this too much, though; not everyone shares my passion. In fact, some people feel downright negative about buying clothes at thrift shops.

"You know where those clothes you buy come from?" a woman I once knew commented.

"Other people?" I ventured.

"Dead people," she said triumphantly. "After they've died, their families clean out their closets and take all their stuff to thrift shops."

This woman has been known to purchase china and books in thrift shops, but not clothes. Well, guess where some of that stuff comes from? You can eat off dead people's china and read their books, but you can't wear their clothes? I gently suggested this to my friend, but she wasn't buying it.

"It's the thought!" she snapped. "You put on some dead person's clothes" -- she shivered -- "and it's like they can come back and haunt you!"

I am philosophical about wearing the clothes of dead strangers. This world we live on is arguably a huge burial ground. Millions have come and gone before us, and while we may not walk over their graves every day, it's silly to feel so nervous about using their possessions. The past occupants of the house I live in are certainly dead, yet every day I walk through the rooms they once lived in. I look out the windows they had glazed and turn the original handles of their doors. Call me weird, but I find this strangely comforting. I often wonder about them and wish I could meet them (though admittedly, not in the wee small hours of the night).

I'm a practical person, too, and I have a horror of waste. All the work that goes into making even a factory-produced blouse or coat -- all the resources! No way do I want to see that trashed.

After I die, if my kids do anything as daft as burning my clothes or throwing them out, I swear, I'll come back and haunt them.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Oh No I'm Not

I am told that this book sums up my very being:

You're A Prayer for Owen Meany!

by John Irving

Despite humble and perhaps literally small beginnings, you inspire faith in almost everyone you know. You are an agent of higher powers, and you manifest
this fact in mysterious and loud ways. A sense of destiny pervades your every waking
moment, and you prepare with great detail for destiny fulfilled. When you speak, IT

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

I took this quiz, folks -- the book quiz. And it drove me wild for many different reasons, but mainly because they make you choose between A and B. Between hot and cold, between rabbits and armadillos. And how can you do that? There may be times when I prefer rabbits; there may be times when I'd far rather have myself an armadillo (but hold the leprosy, please). In winter I'd rather be in a hot place than a cool one, and in summer I'd rather be in the refrigerator than wherever I am. But forget all that: then and there you are expected to choose, and you are only given two options! Even in life you often get more than two options!

The first question was easy: Are you long-winded? This rather impressed me; I figured the rest of the test would be a breeze. Then they asked me the hot-cold rabbit-or-armadillo questions and far too quickly, based on my reluctantly given answers, they summed up my personality in this one book. Which is probably a fantastic book, because John Irving is a great writer and Stephen King gave it a thumbs-up, but it still ain't me.

"Despite humble and perhaps literally small beginnings," they say. Okay, yes, that's me to a T, but I reckon they just got lucky. Next we have " inspire faith in almost everyone you know." Oh, no I don't. Even our garbage man disses me, and whenever we go anywhere, my kids say "Mom, are you sure you know the way?" and refer to previous trips and time spent asking random strangers for directions. My favorite of all, though, is "You prepare with great detail for destiny fulfilled." What in blue blazes is that supposed to mean? I don't even plan for a picnic in great detail, planning for destiny fulfilled would thoroughly bamboozle me.

If you've got five minutes to kill (and you know you do if you're here, reading this), please take this quiz, then come back and tell me what book you are. How is it 'you'? How is it completely off the mark? (Yes, folks: I know that the quiz is almost deliberately bogus -- that even the simplest bozo is infinitely too complex to be fathomed by a five-minute test, and that this is really a clever way to promote books. This is tongue in cheek, okay?)

And while we are on the business of promoting books, please visit Chris Eldin's wonderful new blog, BOOK ROAST. Chris does a great job of promoting many of the excellent books written by fellow bloggers, and her site is well worth visiting. If you have a book of your own you'd like to promote, drop Chris a line. If you happen to hate books, she also has a great sense of humor, so your visit will not be wasted. If you hate books and don't appreciate a good sense of humor, go clean your room...and do you maybe need a snack?

Now I'm off to prepare in great detail for destiny fulfilled. In my compost heap.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Stranger In A Foreign Land

"Well hello, dear, I don't remember seeing you here before. Are you new in town?"

I heard her before I saw her, and the woman's voice stopped me dead in my tracks. I'd been wandering through the shopping mall, doing my best to blend into the sea of Japanese shoppers when she spoke -- in perfect English. And it didn't make sense, because the woman speaking was at least seventy years old, and she looked 100% Japanese.

In the small town I lived in, I knew, or knew of, just about every foreigner within a thirty mile radius. There were the foreign students at my university: a redheaded Brazillian woman, three Chinese men, another American exchange student, and a man from Zaire. There were the two foreign lecturers at the university, Bert from America and Reginald from England. There was my friend Nancy, married to a Japanese farmer, and Jack and Liz, a married American couple who taught English in town. There was the elderly Russian tailor who had a small shop near the station and had reputedly lived in Japan since before the war. And now, this woman; she had to be an American with an accent like that.

Then I remembered Liz telling me about a woman she had met in town -- a woman brought up in America whose family had moved back to Japan before the war. And I knew that this had to be her.

"Where are you from?" she was asking me now, her shopping bag of vegetables over one arm. "Are you American?"

"Yes, and you are too, aren't you?"

She smiled. "I was once, after a fashion. My parents took me to America when I was one year old, you see, and I lived there until I was fourteen."

I stood in the mall talking to this woman while the rain hammered down on the plastic awning over our heads. She had an incredible story. Her parents had decided to emigrate to America in the twenties. Japan was in a slump, and they were finding it difficult to make ends meet. Friends who had emigrated to the West Coast told them America was a wonderful land of opportunity and they longed to see for themselves. Leaving their home in Kyushu, they moved to Oregon with their two small children.

"America was all I knew," she said. "My parents bought a small grocery store and put us into the local school. But we were the only Japanese kids there, and it was tough."


"Because Japan was already getting a bad reputation, trying to start an empire. We were the enemy no matter how hard we tried to be American."

"What a shame!"

"It was, really. We kids felt like Americans, you see. And we tried so hard to make them like us! But after the windows in our store were broken for the fifth time -- and so much more -- my parents couldn't take any more. They decided to move us back to Japan. I'll never forget the long voyage back. We were so scared, but they told us that Japan would be better. That we would feel at home there."

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see passers by looking at us in amazement. If this lady had been young, no one would have batted an eye, but the fact that I was talking to a little gold-toothed grandmother gave them pause. That foreigner is fluent! I even heard one woman murmur to a friend. If she had gotten close enough to hear our conversation, she would have realized that we were speaking English, not Japanese.

"What a shame you were treated badly in America," I said, but the woman laughed.

"You may be surprised to hear that we were treated no better in Japan!" she replied. "I know that you are called gaijin here because I talk to many foreigners -- non-Japanese people -- and I hear that they get tired of being called foreigner. But when we came back to Japan, we were called gaijin too."

"Really?" I asked, astonished.

"Yes. We were living in Shikoku then, out in the country where my father grew up. The children would follow us around the playground, poking at us. Gaijin! they would call, Say something to us in English! She laughed bitterly. "We even took to wearing kimono, and we spoke to each other only in Japanese, never English -- but it was not enough. We could never be Japanese enough for them. Whatever we did, they could tell we were foreigners."

I shook my head, amazed.

"And then the war started," she said quietly, "and we knew we would never go back."

"Do you ever think of going back now?"

She smiled. "Sometimes. I would love to see Oregon again -- to see the forests and the ocean there. But I have a child who is badly disabled and who still needs my care. I have never been back."

When we said goodbye, I watched her disappear into the crowd. She looked so much like everyone else.

"I saw you in the mall yesterday talking to that old lady," a girl in my dorm said the next day. "I meant to help you out, but you seemed to be doing okay." She cocked her head. "Your Japanese must be a lot better if you can talk to someone that old. What was she saying, anyway? Was she bending your ear about the war?"

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Intellectual Limitations

I have a painful admission: my cat isn't smart. I have had literally dozens of cats during my lifetime, so I know.

Here is the merest sampling of the smart cats I have known or encountered in my life:

1) My Aunt Irene in Florida had a big bruiser aptly named Bearcat who could open the screen door. Bearcat weighed at least ten pounds and he would leap onto the screen door, climb up to the handle, and manipulate it until the door sprang open. Yes, I personally witnessed this myself and I guarantee you, it was something to see.

2) My cat Dagmar could fiddle with the cold water tap in the bathroom until she got a trickle of water to drink (sadly, she could never be trained to turn it off).

3) In Mexico once, a very skinny cat my friends and I had been feeding suddenly leapt onto our picnic table, seized our remaining half a loaf of bread after watching us closely for a few minutes, and disappeared lickety-split into the brush with it. The sheer speed and audacity of the deed combined with the cat's obvious scheming impressed me almost as much as the fact that this cat was so desperately hungry it was prepared to steal bread.

4) A woman who lived in my apartment building in New York had four cats; three of them had been trained to use the toilet. She almost never had to buy cat litter for them, though she admitted that they did not flush.

Yep, cats can be very smart, no doubt about it.


The cat who lives with us now is indisputably beautiful. She is graceful and sweet and affectionate. But pour her a bowl of food and she will take one greedy mouthful, then run off. Minutes later, she will come back and demand more food. Until I physically place her in front of it, she will not partake -- and once she has had her snout thrust into her dish, she devours it, so I know it's not that the taste has gone off.

In other ways, too, she has shown herself to be a dimwit. Open the door to let her out and she'll stand there staring until you finally boot her out. Sure, all cats do this to some degree; they can't make up their minds to go out or stay in, but my cat takes it to an extreme; it's as though she doesn't realize I've opened the door. If I'm eating cheese, she will hop up onto my lap and after a wholly gratuitous show of affection, she will eagerly begin to look for it, following her nose. So I move the plate of cheese from the computer table to the shelf -- and so help me, for the next few minutes, she studies the spot on the computer table where it last rested and looks utterly mystified. Never does she look further than that spot -- not even when I reach to take a piece of cheese from the relocated plate. I've had cats who would track that cheese as if it were a mouse and have it off me in seconds.

My poor cat. There are times I look at her and wonder how she ever manages to catch a mouse.

I have another painful admission: I've got a thing or two in common with her.

For the last year, I've had the good fortune to belong to an online writing group. Every week we meet via our computers, texting our writing discussions back and forth. I'm a reasonably fast typist, but I've found it a real challenge to post my comments as quickly as some of the others manage this.

Last week, I accidentally hit the return key and sent a message I hadn't finished composing. That's right, folks: until last week I had no idea that you sent messages by hitting your return key. I was so astonished, I admitted this and the obvious question came back to me: How have you been sending your posts? I had no choice but to admit it: for each and every message, I've been using the mouse to click over the 'send' button. If you aren't familiar with texting, this is the equivalent of putting in eyedrops from five feet away.

Poor me. There are times I wonder how I've managed to get this far in life.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

What Are You Good For?

Me, I'm good for a lot of things.

For instance, I know when and how to put a roll of toilet paper on the toilet paper dispenser. For me, this is a cinch. When is simple: when it runs out, you need more. How is a little trickier, but I'm still on top of it: I just pluck off the cardboard core from the old roll, discard it (an important step that no one in my family has managed more than about one time each), and slide the new roll onto the metal rod. I concede that some toilet paper dispensers are fiddlier than others, but after a little practice almost anyone can do it -- even the gender challenged.

I'm excellent at telling which weeds are compostable and which should be thrown out. Which are which? Dandelions are non-compostable. Their roots have an admirable quality to remain vigorous and life-sustaining for ages. Occasionally, I've dropped dandelion roots in dry, shady places only to find new leaves sprouting from them weeks later. Dandelions are as vigorous and tenacious as montbretia corms, and in my family, only I can spot them.

When it comes to mouse guts, half-eaten birds, cat puke and other cat-generated mess, I have an uncanny ability to identify and remove. Others can step right over (and occasionally into) these messes and not spot them. Once again, my vision, though nowhere near as acute as others', wins out. In a matter of speaking.

I'm a prime weather watcher. I know the best weather for drying clothes, and I can get the laundry washed and hung out in less than an hour. Other family members, when called upon to do the laundry, are all too prone to let a golden day of clear skies and warm breezes pass by, putting on the laundry as soon as the first storm clouds have sailed into the sky. The central heating system must then be used (at great expense) to dry the clothes which are draped over every radiator in the house.

I can perform small miracles. I can cook a very tasty meal from virtual scraps, in a kitchen where almost nothing has been put away where I can find it. Then, after said meal has been consumed by somewhat ungrateful children, I can hold (sort of) my tongue. Okay, I can't really, but let's just say that my whining is as nothing compared to what I'd really do if I didn't hold back. They have no idea what I've spared them.

Now I'm honor-bound to tell you what my husband can do besides going out to do a job he hates every single day just to feed his family. He can drive to the supermarket and shop. I can't do this. I don't know why I can't, but there it is. Maybe I'm too busy piddling with montbretia corms and dandelion roots or fiddling with the laundry. Maybe I've exhausted myself doing a loaves-and-fishes in the kitchen or gotten stressed out cleaning up cat messes and holding back from all the belly-aching I'd like to do. Whatever the reason, almost invariably my exhausted husband will ask, "What do we need from the store?" and I will tell him. And then he will amaze and delight me by going out to buy it.

Ah well. Either you've got it or you don't. What are you good for?

Saturday, 7 June 2008


I'm a circuitous talker. I'll start out telling a story, remember something relevant to it halfway through and get sidetracked, then resume my tale, all the time waiting for exclamations, contributions and questions from my interlocutor. Most of my friends are used to my rambling ways and kindly indulge me, but of course not everyone appreciates this conversational style.

I used to have a neighbor I could barely communicate with. Although we both spoke English -- North American English, for that matter -- we had completely different conversational styles. She was more of a surgical strike talker -- she got to the point so fast it made my head spin. It also (to my mind) ruined many a good story, which could have been drawn out and embellished considerably.

It's not as though I always take ages to get to the point; I know there is a time and a place for verbosity. But when you've got the time and a really good story, it seems a shame to rush through it. I never realized what a sore trial I must have been to my neighbor until one day when we got stopped by an elderly woman living in my apartment block. This woman was lonely and she tended to go on forever, and as my neighbor didn't speak Japanese, she was particularly frustrated by the interruption. When the elderly lady finally said goodbye and went on her way, my English-speaking neighbor commented rather acidly that I sure could go on. Which is indisputable, but her casual remark horrified me because I realized I'd been driving her wild. Suddenly everything clicked: all the time we'd known each other, she'd been as puzzled and irritated by my long-windedness as I was by her tendency to cut to the chase.

Up until that time, we'd always had rather awkward, slightly disjointed conversations, but after that I turned into a gibbering idiot around her. I found myself in such a rush to make my point that I struggled -- and failed -- to find words. I couldn't talk properly anymore: idioms I knew perfectly well eluded me and I started doing stupid things like forgetting the past participles of irregular verbs. And I began to see that communication was so much more than a shared language -- that it had a lot to do with a shared conversational style and the knowledge that what you have to say will be appreciated.

Years later, when my eldest daughter started elementary school and I went to the obligatory class observation, I got to talking to another mother, Ariyama-san, at the school. I'd noticed her taking careful notes, her eyes never leaving the teacher's face and I'd wondered at her diligence. I didn't have to wonder long.

"I'm deaf," Ariyama-san told me in slow but perfect Japanese. "I lost my hearing when I was eight. But I can lip read."

We'd been talking for five minutes and I'd wondered at her slow, carefully- enunciated speech and assumed that she was adjusting her speed for me because I was foreign. I was stunned to realize that this was the way she usually talked, but even more surprised that she and I understood each other perfectly. Arguably, she was easy for me to understand because she did speak slowly, and although she was a bright woman, she'd no doubt lost some language as a result of her affliction. But her communicative skills were absolutely first rate and I have never met a more careful listener. I was amazed by her ability to understand everything I said. Of course, my Japanese was far simpler than the fast-paced, heavily idiomatic Japanese the other parents spoke, but I stumbled over words and made mistakes. But if she ever got flustered or confused over what I said, she was great at hiding it. And of course she never had the least bit of trouble with my accent.

One day when we were talking, I couldn't help myself. "You really understand what I'm saying," I exclaimed. "And you never talk down to me."

Ariyama-san looked amazed. "You understand me. You don't exaggerate your syllables and I don't get the feeling you're patronizing me." She glanced around. "Lots of people patronize me."

I made a lot of wonderful Japanese friends at my kids' schools, but two of the people I was able to communicate with best were Kim-san, who was a Japanese-speaking Korean woman, and Ariyama-san, who was legally deaf. Kim-san and I managed to communicate in a foreign language, and Ariyama-san read my lips. I still can't get over how effortless it was to talk to these women -- how we almost never had awkward conversations where we both started talking at the same time or misunderstood each other.

Our ability to communicate was probably enhanced by the fact that we were all odd men out in a country where it doesn't pay to stick out. Kim-san's Japanese was better than mine, but she still had an accent and whenever people noticed it, she got flustered. Ariyama-san's mother once told me that a lot of people shied away from her, imagining it would be too much trouble to talk to her. As a foreigner with a rambling conversational style, I knew all too well that good, sympathetic interlocutors were hard to find. All three of us were linguistically challenged.

More than anything else, we were able to communicate with each other because we desperately wanted to.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

How Can I Eat Slugs?

My father had the unfussiest palate of any human being I have ever met; he could and did sample rattlesnake, jack rabbit, weeds, insects, and anything my mother chose to serve, including intentionally burnt cabbage, and peanut butter and mustard sandwiches. I have tried to emulate him. Although I spent my first fifteen years picking bits of onion out of salad and turning my nose up at a lot of meals (remember, I had a mother who served peanut butter and mustard sandwiches), I have come a long way. No longer am I a fussy eater, and in this respect, I would make my father proud. But to my knowledge, he never ate slugs, and neither have I. I'm not saying I never would, but it would take a lot. Like the sort of horrible hunger I hope to never experience.

Then, some time after my post about slugs, I saw that someone had found my blog after googling the following question: How can I eat slugs? (You've got to love the ambiguity of that question!) My post about slugs was just a load of venting after they'd scarfed my pumpkin seedlings, but this was something I have wondered about for ages: given that eating escargot is seen as fairly posh and sophisticated, why not eat garden snails, properly prepared? And if garden snails can be eaten, then why not shell-less snails, or slugs?

Okay, I'll tell you: because of the ewww factor. When you encounter escargot, the ewww factor has been reduced to virtually nil. You tend to be in a posh restaurant, dressed in your best. The escargot are served piping hot with loads of butter, herbs, and garlic, in a fancy little dish, by someone who may make more money than you do. Never mind that they are a little rubbery; that as you chew, your imagination may stray to the garden path, along which many things may be found, such as dog-do, bird droppings, and what my cat buries; you're in a nice place, you've got loads of French bread to sop up the garlicky butter with, and you've got wine. Lots of wine.

Take away the good silverware and the cute little dish, the wine and warm, crusty French bread and all the other accoutrements -- and you've got a rather creepy, though endearing, little garden pest exuding slime.

Still, I fought off the ewww response and examined this intellectually. I have met people who claim to have eaten a lot of snails and slugs: every Japanese person who lived through the war has a story about hunting for garden mollusks. A Korean friend who lived through the war as a child remembers her mother and brothers going into her garden to dig for slugs and snails in the snow. There are countless tales of POWs eating slugs during the war -- roasting them in Borneo, boiling them in Burma. People have eaten slugs and survived, so why don't we do this?

So I did some googling of my own and found the stories of two contemporary non-starving men who have eaten slugs. And boy, are they interesting.

The first story is from Sydney, Australia. In 2003, a student swallowed two Leopard slugs on a bet, thus earning himself 20 Australian dollars and a nasty case of meningitis. Tests found that the meningitis was caused by a worm normally seen in rat lungs but carried as larvae in slugs and snails. Doctors had to drain fluid from inside the young man's skull, and he spent two and a half weeks in the hospital. It was five months before he was able to resume his normal lifestyle. Apparently, children have died from meningitis after eating slugs, and others have contracted it after eating lettuce contaminated with slug slime.

Okay: meningitis. That's a really good reason not to eat slugs. But you can get trichinosis from eating raw pork. You can get BSE from eating beef, even if it's cooked; you can get a nasty parasite from eating gefilte fish. So the problem here isn't eating slugs, it's eating unprepared slugs.

The next slug-eater is Tim Pearce, Assistant Curator and Head, Section of Mollusks, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and a total hero in my book. Because he doesn't just swallow slugs raw on a dare; he tells you how to do it right.

Unfortunately, after reading about how to do it, all I can say is that I hope I'm never reduced to eating slugs. But I'm going to tell you how anyway because this is a full-service blog.

Apparently, the digestive gland of some slug species is foul-tasting. But not to worry -- it can be removed while cooking by making "a longitudinal slit in the tail and peeling the skin back, then either pulling off or cutting off the dark- colored...gland." I read on, open-mouthed, about recommended slime removal, achieved by putting live slugs into a 50-50 water/vinegar solution. "The solution," Dr. Pearce tell us, "is fatal to the slugs in a few minutes, and in the process, they exude most of their slime. Also, when you are boiling them, change the water after a minute or two to remove further slime."

Dr. Pearce also points out that slugs generate more slime than snails, perhaps as a defensive measure since they don't have shells. (Works on me.)

"After they are cooked (and the digestive gland removed, if necessary)," writes Dr. Pearce, "you can use the slugs as you would clams (e.g., slug chowder); be creative." If necessary, dear God. How do you find that out?

I am not making fun of Dr. Pearce. In fact, I sincerely admire him just as I admired my father, who could eat ants and rattlesnakes. Also, I'm betting that if we watched clams prepared, say, or other food we deem perfectly acceptable, we'd be as grossed out as I am by the thought of desliming slugs or removing their digestive glands. Or --(feh!)-- slug chowder.

Anyone want some nice vegetable soup?

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Delighting My Inner Nerd

I cannot get over the interesting stuff you can learn on the internet.

Because I am very much new to this internet thing, having worked over a dozen years for a company that had no internet connection, I have only just discovered that my site meter is a source of endless amusement. I can hit the world map and see little lights going on all over the place. This delights my inner nerd inordinately.

Someone from Kazakhstan recently visited my blog and I am still reeling from the thrill and the honor of it. Never mind that whoever it was only wanted to find out how to get dandelions out of their garden (they have dandelions all over the world it seems, and a huge number of people have googled me because of my dandelion post), this was someone living in Kazakhstan, folks! I have had visitors from Saudi Arabia, Korea, Malaysia, Iceland, Brazil, Burkina Fasa, and Lithuania, and finding these in my site meter is a lot like finding unusual and beautiful seashells at the beach.

If I hit 'Location' I can find out why people have visited my site, and here is what I have learned: people in Montana, Maine, Florida, Alabama, Oregon, Alaska and Nevada want to know how to get the dog smell out of their car. Isn't that incredible? Someone in Boston wants to know why Vicks Vapor Rub doesn't smell like eucalyptus anymore (I want to know this too, come to think of it; Mr or Ms Boston, I think you're on to something!); someone in Norway is interested in henpecked husbands, and people all over the world want to know what a resident alien really is.

Isn't all of this exciting? It can be frustrating too -- when whoever has googled me doesn't have a hope in finding out the answer from my blog, but -- I happen to know it! Then I am filled with chagrin at the missed opportunity. If I'd known they wanted to know, I could have told them!

"Too much sugar in Cocoa Puffs Milk 'n Cereal?" writes someone from Nebraska. I don't know this stuff, but I'm betting dimes to dollars the answer is yes. "Is Scotch moss poison to dogs?" a person in South Carolina googled. No ma'am, our neighbors' dog eats job lots of it every morning along with my organic slug repellent, which she adores, and she's as healthy as corn. "Is eating honey instead of sugar okay for my diabitis(sic)?" someone from upstate New York has queried, and all I can hope is that whoever this is will have a good long chat with their doctor, but on the off chance s/he comes here again, the answer is no. And to the person in Hawaii who wants to know whether you can get salmonella from eating cookie dough, the answer is yes, but I'm still okay. You can get killed crossing the street too, and eating cookie dough is more fun.

There is hilarious stuff -- "Why billy goat smell stays in my hair?" and "Can I get rid of wasps with vacuum cleaner?" are two of my favorites. (Whoever asked that wasp question didn't stay on long enough to check out my wasp nest post; maybe she'll come back if she tries this. I hope she does; she won't feel so alone.) There is also weird, creepy stuff -- "Pictures of good-looking girls and boys" (discouraging me from wanting to post the cute pictures of my daughters in kimono) -- and "Where can I find gorgeous Japanese ladies?" (Well, in Japan there are plenty, duh).

There is also WTF stuff: From Birmingham, England: "Do angry men last longer?" Oh please, be more specific and put me out of my misery! From my home state of California: "Hogs making keening noise?" That one kept me awake. Which hogs? What were they doing?

And finally this wonderful question: "How can I eat slugs?" from someone in Queensland, Australia. How can I eat slugs? You've got to love the ambiguity.

But once I'd read that one, I had to know the answer myself. And that's so wonderful that I'll have to save it for my next post.