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mercredi 19 novembre 2014


There are some childhood memories, for me, the tropical torpor of the village of Kuala Belait, in Brunei, where wearing a newly acquired jacket which made me sweat heavily, I would run after butterflies. These memories do not arrive announced but their sudden arrival does portend a sense of disequilibrium. I have firm ideas about thinking about the past and the future. I hardly think of my school days or friends from those days.
Was that a protective mechanism?
Was it to forget incidents or geography or people that you no longer wish to be associated with? Things becomes clear from those times when I wish to extend my memory, and now I know that it has worked out to be a good defence mechanism for the kind of vagabond life I have lead, with chameleon like frequency all over the world.
There are people in your life, who came, left a strong imprint and walked away to find destinies of their own. I am lucky to have had many and they appear on my Gratitude List very often. One such was an Australian friend of mine, LS. She once drew a graph of a sinusoidal wave on a piece of paper. She then explained to me, most people lead a life of ups and downs and it is the normal way. You have chosen to just ski on top of the top of the waves, so that you can avoid the banality of everyday ordinariness and also not experience the beauty that comes with the mundane art of living. Did I make the waves of that sinusoidal wave come as closely as possible that I can surf over them? And not fall into an abyss?
Let us take travel for instance. Even before I became a Doctor, I read an obituary of a GP from England. I was not interested in his work or care of his patients but one sentence struck me, at that time, like a thunderbolt. Dr So and So took time to travel and had been an amazing 95 countries around the world! Wow! What a traveller, I thought to myself and secretly wanted to be a traveller, keeping 95 as my target. The first 10 came very quickly, and then it began to slow down, after 40 countries, unless you had moved to a new geographical region, visiting more countries becomes difficult. Fortunately, I moved from Australia to Europe to America back to Australia, thus covering a fair bit of the world. When Asia opened up, and the travel there became easier, more places were visited. I am not a stamp collector, to go somewhere and said I have been there, I want to know a country intimately and try to visit them repeatedly, for example, I have been to Argentina more than 15 times, but so have I to many others, including Myanmar.
Why do I mention this? Perhaps this was the peak of the sinusoidal wave for me for a considerable part of my life. Fortunately the interest in my profession never waned and was polished by further postgraduate studies in Medical Anthropology. Now, after many years of travel, I don't think I have had any two week stretch of time, that I have been idle and not been on a train, bus or plane, usually the latter.
The sense of morose that arises, like recently when I was marooned in Miami waiting for an Indian Visa, it almost makes you feel you are wasting your life.
I began reading a great little book, aptly titled, Casablanca: Movies and Memory by the well-known French Anthropologist, Marc Auge.
He escapes into the movies for memory, including the smell of theatres of the left bank of Paris growing up. I don't exactly escape into travel, since I don't remember the places or have a sense of déjà vu, but then again I am surfing the peaks of experiences and perhaps looking for more peaks than troughs.
It is so important to have corresponding friends. In the olden days of snail mail, one wrote long letters to friends and waited eagerly for enticing, stimulating replies of equal length to arrive by mail. I used to cherish those letters and walked around with an enhanced feeling for days that followed.
For the past ten years, instead of friends, I have acquired a country! Cuba where the stimulating exchange has no end, like a sweet bakery in the sky. It coincided also with the availability of Internet and email whereby the communications became superfast and one can spend hours each day as I do, dedicated to thinking or creating in my mind various lives that I can lead secretly.
In Miami, I am lucky to have many things and amongst which is an erudite friend, in fact a colleague from Medical school days. He quit medicine because the quotidian practice of it, directed by heartless administrators acting on behalf of the pillars of capitalism, was contrary to the ethics he was taught and believed in. We both have the luxury of time to read and discuss, not only matters of medical interest but also about very many other things we share an interest in.
His email to me this morning triggered this output from my brain.
I got this cartoon from our weight watchers leader. It's sort of describes the condition that I am in now in which I have in a de facto sense become on a maintenance program. I do very well during the week but on the weekends I indulge too much and then I like the stability of good quality home cooked food during the week.

It's an interesting question for the anthropologist. I think it describes the lives of many people. If you can figure out the answer please let me know…

What a great metaphor I thought.
Look at movies, Marc Auge would argue. There are no mundane moments, it does not show anyone sitting down to eat an ordinary meal and enquiring each other how their day went. It goes from excitement to excitement, anger and frustration. In cheaper versions, Soap Operas, one sees the faces to go with it, with its exaggeration of emotions. Sound and voices add to the exaggeration, especially if the soap operas are in Latin American Spanish or Brasilian!
The success of the magic of movies in depraved places like India or the success of soap operas in a country like Cuba, has to do with the fact that they know that they are not going to watch mundane things on the screen to which they are subjected to each and every day but magic awaits them on the silver screen (or HD TV that covers walls!)
I am not suggesting my friend lives a mundane life but his eating behaviour is such a good metaphor for the lives of people in Miami or elsewhere in the western world. In poorer or less educated societies the story is very different. There are no minutes left to ponder over the mundane moments of life, there is no memory but only oblivion.
Thinking about diets and weight loss, which is a multibillion-dollar industry in America, here are some sensible suggestions from a professor from Colorado who has been involved in this research. Since I see exclusively American Indian patients, our advice is culturally relevant and sensitive and also guised in symbols of their lives and spirituality. So I wont include it here but quote the professor that is relevant to most Americans and Europeans and Australians.

First, weight loss and weight maintenance are two separate things. “We’ve learned that losing weight and keeping it off are very different and, for each person, the best diet for weight loss is not the same as the best diet for keeping it off,” Wyatt said.
If you want to lose weight and not regain it, you must use different strategies during each phase. In both phases, but especially during the keep-it-off phase, Wyatt recommends eating foods that you like and that are compatible with your lifestyle.
“Physiology and metabolism may play a role” in how you respond to a diet, “but the way you grew up and cultural factors are just as important,” she said.
“The second biggest item we’ve learned is that exercise is the most important thing for keeping it off once you’ve lost weight. I tell my patients that in their initial weight-loss phase, diet is doing the driving and exercise is in the back seat. After that, physical exercise is in the front seat with diet in back,” Wyatt explained.
“We’ve also learned that while diet and exercise are important, just as important is your mind set — that is, why you want to lose weight, why you want this transformation. It’s a holistic approach.”
And finally, the most often neglected piece of the puzzle is tailoring your diet plan. “Matching the diet you choose to your activity level is important. If you are an athlete or have an active lifestyle, you can choose a diet with more carbohydrates and calories, a lot more sugar. But if you have a desk job or a sedentary lifestyle, you’re better off with a low-carb, low-sugar diet,” Wyatt said.
In addition to the three recommended diets already mentioned, the other diet plans that have been scientifically shown to be effective include Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig. Meal-replacement diets where you have a shake or a frozen entrée for one of your meals “have some good data, as do the low-fat, plant-based diets,” Wyatt said, noting that the latter also show good outcomes when it comes to heart disease.
“These are not exhaustive lists,” she added, but simply examples of the varied weight-loss paths.
As for popular or trendy diets, you “can argue about each one, but for a dieter to lose weight they must eat less,” and most such diets do reduce calories consumed and will work for some people, Wyatt said. That’s true for the Paleolithic diet, she pointed out, where “its general principles are fairly solid.”
But she cautioned that one difficulty with the Paleo, gluten-free and other diets of the day is that “people can’t adhere to them” — and that’s the key for any long-term plan.

Thinking about Casablanca, one of the earliest movie memories that have stuck along with Orfeo Negro (Brasil, Marcel Camus, France), I will be arriving in Casablanca in six days time. Alors, not to go to Rick’s Café but to await a Qatar Airways flight to New York arriving there on the day the Traditional Kickapoo like to call the Occupation Day!  Americans call it Thanksgiving. Yes, they did get a Great Continent.
i remember watching Orfeo Negro on a saturday afternoon at a movie theatre in Brighton, Melbourne, inciting in me a lifelong passion for Brasil and its music and its people and its culture.