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The Problem with Hand-dryers

May 6, 2017

Tags: order, air-dry, antibiotic, automated, bacteria, bathroom, cleaning personnel, cloth towel, dangerous, expensive, faucet, Gargantua and Pantagruel, germ, hand-dryers, hidden costs, infection, lungs, microbe, paper towel, Rabelais – François (ca. 1495-1553), resistant bacteria, renewable source, restroom, sanitary, sinus, skin, tree, The Problem with Hand-Dryers, unnecessary

Many good ideas start in the bathroom – at least mine.

I am talking about my present favorite personal dislike, hand-dryers – those bacteria slingers. Cutting down trees for paper towels is, of course, horrible. But every time, I hear one of those germ circulators start up, I jump and try to leave AFAP. Those machines are mushrooming in public bathrooms – is nobody aware that we are living in times of increasing resistance of bacteria to antibiotics?

Hand-dryers are efficient microbe-distributors, with good potential to infect everybody who happens to be near: The user, the bystander, the cleaning folks. We have studies to prove it; paper towels are more sanitary by a mile: After being whirled into the air effectively, bacteria then settle on surfaces, where you don’t want them - the restroom doorknob, the faucet handle, your skin, lungs or sinuses. Questions is: Why have the hand-dryers multiplied anyway – like, just in spite? Of course, it is because they are out to get me. But apart of that: Why really?? Turns out they are cheaper than paper towels. Paper towels make a mess in restrooms. Or, better: Patrons are making a mess in restrooms with paper towels.

Seems we have not a lot of good alternatives. Paper towels have the advantage of being a renewable source, easily degradable. In Germany, I see a lot of cloth roles that automatically roll up after use, preventing the same use repeated times – and can’t be thrown about in the corners. They probably are Old-World-expensive, needing cheap maintenance crews and laundry services. To carry your own cloth towel comes to mind as a possibility. Admittedly, most of the time rather impractical. Rabelais, in his Gargantua and Pantagruel suggest a fluffy baby rabbit, unforgettably, for use as what he calls an arse-wipe. That would work for hand-wipe, too. A bit unrealistic, again, because where are the rabbits if you need them?? But Rabelais’ prose convinced me that a rabbit is the most ingratiating solution. Better than hand-dryers that are, to me, just another thing they sell us that is automated, expensive in hidden costs, unnecessary and dangerous.

My personal way out of the conundrum: Just don’t wipe your hands dry; let them air-dry.

Degrees of Freshness – Or what I learned from an Alpine Meadow

July 28, 2013

Tags: food, water, air, alpine, animals, aroma, Austria, basil, bell flower, biodiversity, bulbs, burdock, bush, buttercup, cilantro, coltsfoot, cranesbill, crocus, dandelion, diversity, Earth, Europe, eyebright, farm, fresh, heal-all, garden, Germany, Good King Henry, grazing, Great Britain, Grimming Mountain, growth, Hamburg, harvest, healing power, health, hedge, herbal, humans, kitchen, limestone, lovage, meadow, meadowsweet, mowing, nutrients, ocean, oregano, parsley, plant, plantain - broad-leafed, plantain - narrow-leafed, poisonous, pollution, polyphenol, primal, processed, red clover, rosemary, Russia, scilla, silverweed, skiing, soil, species, stinging nettle, storage, Styria, sub-alpine, sun, supermarket, sweet Annie, tea, thyme, travel, tree, underground, vital, yarrow, hiking, vacation

People vacation in Austria – skiing in the winter, hiking in the summer. I never considered summer vacations in a land-locked country like Austria, because, originally from Hamburg/Germany, I am a child of the ocean – of all the oceans. But I am just back from one of the high meadows in Styria, smack in the middle of Austria. And what I found: a primal meadow.

The alpine meadows high up there, facing the Grimming Mountain, have been mowed twice a year, for hundreds of years, probably thousands of years. The plant diversity is unimaginable. In an article I read some years ago that in Great Britain the age of a hedge can be estimated by how many different tree and bush species grow there; roughly one species is added per decade. I imagine it must be similar with these ancient meadows, mowed over year after year, different plants moving in all the time, enhancing biodiversity over time. The converse is also true: If we abandon regular mowing and/or grazing – as often now is the case on the steep and hard-to-reach meadows, and in light of shortage of labor when the young people move into the cities for a “better” life – we will lose this biodiversity. And might regret it too late.

Because I was exhausted from my Europe travels through Russia, Germany, Austria, I brewed myself an herbal tea from the plants of the meadow right after arrival. The underground is limestone that let so many plants thrive: yarrow, meadowsweet, narrow-leafed plantain, stinging nettle, heal-all, broad-leafed plantain, red clover, eyebright, silverweed, Good King Henry, dandelion, sweet Annie. To which I added herbs from the kitchen garden: parsley, cilantro, rosemary, lovage, basil, oregano, thyme. Of course, other plants grew there that where not useful for my tea as they are poisonous, like cranesbill, coltsfoot, bell flower, buttercup, and a variety of spring-flowering bulbs like crocus and scilla that were now out of bloom. The tea had a gorgeous aroma, and I felt better and stronger immediately. Wish I could take such a meadow home!

My garden at home, lovely as it is, does not come close. Its plant variety is not as great, the individual plants are not as sturdy, their green is not as deep, their aroma is not as overpowering. From this exceptional plant health we can assume that their polyphenol content is higher, and that their healing power is greater. Mostly, it is the strong sun out there that enables such a lush growth. But also the absence of pollution of air, soil and water so prevalent where we live. Earth just isn’t that primal anymore as it is high in the alpine and sub-alpine meadows. I am coming home with a new yearning, namely to preserve what we have, and perhaps even return our planet to more health. Because, the life of plants, and animals, and humans are closely interwoven here on Earth, none can survive alone.

In my books, and here on the blog, I am touting fresh foods over processed foods. Fresh does not only mean harvested recently and stored for not too long, but also containing a high amount of vital nutrients. Up there, in the mountain meadow, I learned that degrees of freshness exist: Fresh from the supermarket: good. Fresh from your garden or directly from the farm: better. Fresh from an alpine meadow: best.

Smell Of May

May 30, 2012

Tags: order, advantage, amine, animal, aroma, attar of rose, aurora, Austin - David (born 1926), baby, bearded iris, bee, birth, blooming, bordello, Bradford pear, brain, brothel, bush, business, cadaverine, California, camp, carnation, chemical, chestnut - edible, child, Christmas, cooking, corymb, dead body, depression, digging, DNA, emergency room, evolution, fall, February, fertility, flower, fragrance, garden, gathering, genetic, grub, helix, heritage, holiday, housing, hunger, impregnation, intercourse, June, learning, life-giving, linden, Mary Rose, May, Memorial Day, molecule, mother, Nature, odor, olfactory, papoose, peony, perfume, perishing, pink, plant, pong, pregnant, putrescine, Pyrus calleryana, reproduction, rhododendron, rhubarb, root, rose, scent, scientist, season, semen, September, sex, shelter, smell, smelling, snowball viburnum, sperm, spermidine, spermine, spring, summer, survival, strive, teaching, The Smell Of May, tree, viburnum, Viburnum dilatatum, wasp, whiff, Wikipedia, winter, wood

May makes me giddy. On Memorial Day we did a long walk, me with my nose up in the air all the while, sniffing. My idea is (no scientific proof – it’s just my private hunch) that if we are smelling flowers all spring and summer and fall, we prime our brains to get through winter without depression.

That statement exaggerates, but it contains a kernel of truth. I put my nose into any flower I encounter (careful not to be stung by wasps and bees because I had some unfortunate wasp encounters a few seasons ago, one of which landed me in the emergency room).

Roses are already blooming for a while, earlier than usual. My David Austin rose “Mary Rose” is the sweetest thing; the old attar of roses must have smelled thus. The peonies’ fragrance lies heavily over the yard; whites have a stronger fragrance than pink and red ones. Linden trees bloom in the summer they soil cars parked underneath with sticky sap but give off an addictive sweet odor: I can’t wait for it. Snowball viburnums fill May evenings with their perfumes sometimes so cloying, it reminds me of a bordello (even if I have only a vague idea about a real brothel). Bearded iris and rhododendron mostly have to make up in showiness what they lack in scent. The little carnations look modest when you look down on them, but their peppery aroma is bold and assertive.

One plant pong stands out though - the unmistaken whiff of human semen. Wow! It comes from Viburnum dilatatum. The viburnums are mostly known for the perfumy, showy snowballs, some faintly tinged with an aurora pink. Viburnum dilatatum however means business: This sturdy bush with white feathery corymbs gives off the plain smell of sex. Isn’t that what the flowers and the bees are all about? Impregnation, reproduction.

But – why would a plant use the human odor?

I don’t know the answer, and I also don’t know which chemicals produce this familiar scent – do you know? I used to think that it was the DNA (the helical molecule that transmits our genetic heritage). But a scientist who works with it, says DNA has no odor to speak of - and he should know. Wikipedia claims some amines like putrescine, spermine, spermidine and cadaverine are responsible for semen’s unmistakable odor. Spermine and spermidine sound just like it - but putrescine and cadaverine? Don’t they sound more like emanating from dead bodies than from the fluid that carries life-giving sperm?

Whatever chemicals are involved, I remember the same smell from rhubarb in bloom (which will happen in June in my garden), and from edible chestnut in the South. In California, people complain about the fragrance of a notorious tree, called Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana) – but I have not sniffed it personally.

Why plants are doing this, namely using OUR fragrance? Dunno. All I can say that the fragrance talks to me – meeting me at a point I understand from experience. Ultimately, of course, it means that Nature uses the same molecules in plants, animals and humans. We are not extra or outside from Nature – we are part of her. Once a scent worked for her during evolution, she recycles it. In prehistoric times, spring was also for humans the time of be fertile and to become pregnant. Having a child born in late winter made sure that the mother got still some rest in the winter camp, but then could carry her small child around (in a papoose, for instance) when she went on her next spring duty: gathering fresh shoots from emerging plants, digging roots and grubs, gathering wood for cooking.

A baby born in February could learn walking during the next winter camp, and was ready to toddle behind with the next spring move. Does Nature with her scents conspire to make us want to have intercourse at a time expedient to give a child the best possible start? Nowadays, with sheltering housing and ample food all year round, these small advantages mean nothing anymore; during those years of hunger and strive, they might have made the difference between perishing and survival.

Nowadays, most babies are born in September, which has nothing to do anymore with survival advantage – only with what we did during last Christmas holidays. I have to say that I like the idea that Nature tries to nudge me into bed with someone – right now. Preferably my husband.

Fall Chores

November 19, 2011

Tags: order, Boston, Carson – Rachel (1907-1964), chemistry, chore, climate change, fall, Fall Chores, future, garden, herbicides, Indian summer, insect damage, lawn, leaves - bagging, leaves - blowing, leaves - raking, organic, pesticides, plant, raking, San Diego, Silent Spring, snow, traveling, tree

Because we are in San Diego for the sabbatical, we had only two times in Boston this fall for the dreaded chore of raking leaves. I was worried because, usually, it takes weeks of raking to deal with the bounty. - As an aside, we never bag our leaves; we distribute them over the perennial beds. Makes for an untidy garden, and lush growth the next year. Originally, the neighbors complained. Now they are proud of my blooming wilderness. Second thought to the side: One couldn’t do it for dainty little plants, they would be smothered.

Three weeks ago, I had raked for the first time this year. The weather was pure Indian summer, balmy and rewarding, and the chore was done in four hours of hard work – with a blower. I try to avoid the blower, as much for my neighbors’ sake as for my own. But with two days between traveling, I could not have done it by raking.

This time, I had four days, and I raked by hand. Because the weather had stayed beautiful so long, there were astonishingly few leaves on the ground; my task was easy. But it made me worry: Since we won’t be back before deep snow will cover the lawn, the lawn might rot under the leaves’ burden!

But then I looked up in the trees – there are barely any leaves left that can come tumble down. With two sessions, my fall chore is done. Wonderful!

Wonderful?

For at least fifteen years I have been observing (and complaining – but nobody listens, it seems) that in summer the crowns of the trees don’t look as full as in my youth. Now – that’s a sure sign of getting old, when nothing compares to your memories any more, isn’t it?

Only this time, I seem to be onto something real: Trees don’t have as many leaves anymore. Climate change. Insect damage. Whatever the cause is – one thing I know that in my garden it is not due to pesticides, herbicides or other bad chemistry – my garden is organic, and has been, ever since we moved in twenty years ago. But the future does not look pretty: Silent Spring.

Perhaps it is time to read Rachel Carson’s book again. And: Enjoy your fall chores – as long as we are lucky enough to have them!
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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