Why Is This Country So Big?

Well, it is a traveling medicine show. I am hitting the road tomorrow. Ohio to Berkeley. 36 hours. Oh mercy. Books on tape. A little NPR. No sweat. Oh mercy.

If anyone checked out this personal essay, you couldn’t help but notice that I’ve tried this before. Without success. But the allure of the Bay Area is apparently irresistible, and I’m headed west again.

So I’ll probably be out of touch for a while, but I will post as soon as possible. It’s the classic Edinburgh-Europe-Ohio-San Francisco circuit. Well worn. Up and away.


Canadian and Computer Free

Hatbox Louie and I are in Montreal. We had been sharing one power cord for our two laptops since one of them disintegrated in Edinburgh. We left it in Toronto. Crap! So we have been rationing power to plan our trip etc. Oh well. Not great for blogging.

This city is huge and French and sophisticated. It is hard to fathom that we are just a few miles north of say, Plattsburgh New York. It is a whole different world up here. Very European. French cafes and very international cuisine. Very artsy and bohemian in some areas, architecturally diverse and rather majestic in others. Definitely a world class city. Very cold.

It would be hard to adjust to living here. One would really need to speak French to become integrated into the community, but the rewards would be significant. Well, I’m about to cut into Hatbox Louie’s time. Can’t type worth a damn. Tomorrow we head down into Vermont, which is great, but entails some stressful familial interactions for the old Hatbox. More soon. Adieu.

Final Dispatch From Edinburgh

Well, the bags are packed and the flat is clean. Tomorrow we are off to Prague. Another chapter in this bizarre book is written. It didn’t work out as planned, but maybe it will prove to have worked out in some way.

No home, no job. No…that’s not the right spirit. Free again. Free to figure out the next chapter. Maybe something great is right around the corner. Could be, who knows?

I hope to post on our trip. Prague then Amsterdam, then the good ol’ US of A. Trader Joe’s, we’re close.

More from the continent soon. Ciao, Dr. Nostrum

Published in: on December 17, 2006 at 5:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dispatch from Edinburgh-Scottish FoodFest ’06

Seeing as Hatbox Louie and I are leaving Edinburgh on Monday, we decided to have a Scottish foodfest. The Bill of Fare:

Bubble and Squeak (Rumbledethumps)
Toad in the Hole
Scottish Kippers
Potato Scones


Haggis— Sheep’s ‘Pluck’: heart, liver, lungs. With onion, oatmeal, suet, and spices. Boiled in the animal’s stomach. Scotland’s answer to the Hot Pocket.

Holy Heavenly Haggis

Origin: Intense nourishment for old Scottish cattle drovers during their long trip down through the glens to the market in Edinburgh.

Robert Burns wrote of haggis:

“Fair Fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!”


World Record: 1.5 pound haggis hurled 180ft 10 in. on an island in Loch Lomond in 1984.

Review: Hatbox Louie says…

“Creamy, spicy, Scottish risotto. Haggis is a culinary joke, but if you served it in New York or San Francisco, you’d get $30 a plate. As long as you called it something else. It’s a marketing problem.” After a large sip of whiskey: “You know the Scots are gonna be independent when they eat this stuff, this is nation-building food.”

Hatbox Louie’s response to my question, “Do you want my casing?”: near-gagging. I took that as a qualified no.

Bubble and Squeak: (Rumbledethumps in Scotland) Shallow-fried leftover veg from a roast dinner. In effect, here in Scotland, mashed potatoes and cabbage.

Review: Hatbox Louie says…

“What’s not to like? It’s mashed potatoes. I admire them not getting too hung up on the veggies. They use them like we use parsley.”

Toad in the Hole: Sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter.

Review: Hatbox Louie says…

“The hole, I love. The toad, I’m not so sure. Now put some haggis in the hole and you’ve got something.”

Kippers: Scottish Herring split in half, and cold smoked.

Review: Hatbox Louie says…

“Fishiest, saltiest thing ever. It’s the fish that ate the fish, that ate the fish. Then whipped up with some fish extract. I like it.”

Potato Scones: If latkes were like regular pancakes, but with potatoes in the batter. Obviously delicious.

And so it passed. We could not quench our thirst for water after this meal. I felt the entire weight of Her Majesty’s Empire lowering my center of gravity. If not for the courage of the fearless whiskey, I might even have cared.

It was not a light meal, but as a gesture of leave-taking, it was the right meal.

Scotland, adieu.

Published in: on December 15, 2006 at 4:40 pm  Comments (1)  

Dispatch From Edinburgh-The Medicine Show’s A-travelin’

Well Hatbox Louie and I have pulled the plug. We gave notice on our apartment, and the same day, a couple came to see it, and they are taking it. The only catch is they need to move in a week from now. So we are all ascramble. There is a tremendous overlay of bureaucracy here that is hard to disentangle from. Well, 25 bucks will get us a flight to Brussels from Glasgow. That’s a start.

The problem is, now we are back at sea. No home, no clear plan. Just footloose and f…lashdance?
But maybe a brief saunter through Amsterdam will clear the head–the way that only Dutch beer and Utrecht Gold Leaf can. I know it seems great to just hop over to Europe for a while, but it requires a real mental discipline to enjoy oneself with so much uncertainty in the offing.

One great thing about leaving a place is that any feelings of melancholy or nostalgia that begin to form are immediately replaced by annoyance at trying to cancel utilities, sell books to snipped little imperious second-hand booksellers, dodge the property taxes that renters have to pay! (I don’t see that happening.) But the upswing is that we can’t wait to get the hell out of here.

So a few more posts from here, and then hopefully some fun posts from the continent. Well, Hatbox Louie wants to vacuum pack my skivvies, and I don’t want to miss that–the little giraffes get all mooshed up together under the plastic. Priceless. Ciao, Dr. Nostrum

Published in: on December 12, 2006 at 3:56 pm  Comments (3)  

Dispatch From Edinburgh-Life Plans Aplenty

Well, Hatbox Louie and I are working on a life plan. We decided to explore the possibility of riding the wave of experimental nonfiction and documentary: Barbara Ehrenreich living on minimum wage, Morgan Spurlock force feeding himself Big Macs, whoever that guy is who posed as a prison guard, then wrote a book. That type of thing.

So we workshopped it over left-over salad.

“The Year of Living Celibately” was not a hit. Hatbox Louie: “Oh that’s a page turner. Chapter 2—We didn’t have sex…again.”

“The Week of Living in Queens Without Cable” seemed to lack emotive force.

We thought of a full year homesteading off the grid (no electricity or plumbing), but in an urban apartment instead of say a Vermont farm house. Cool idea? Pretty much off the table after Hatbox Louie suggested a title for the last chapter: “December 31—The Big Flush.”

I was concerned that our, “The Year Of Not Buying A Yusuf Islam Album,” might alienate the all important 16 to 30-year-old Moslem convert demographic.

“Under a Pittsburgh Cloud.” Scintillating.

“All Crackers, No Bread.” We lose the Atkins people.

How about Hatbox Louie’s glorious, but sketchy: “Our Year of Petty Crime.”

I’m not sure she’ll go for it, but I want to send Hatbox Louie into a different shopping mall every day leading up to Christmas wearing an oversized tee shirt that says, “I go from 0 to Horny in 2.2 Beers”. Then we just wait for the fireworks.

Well, it’s harder than we thought so we may have to go back to my campaign to get corporate sponsorship for our life, like they have for bowl games in college football. Nerf Nostrum. George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine Louie. Catchy. Kotex Light Days Nostrum?

It’s worth a try.

Published in: on December 6, 2006 at 2:37 pm  Comments (3)  

Dispatch From Edinburgh-Dude, Where’s My Sun?

Great news! Hatbox Louie has called off her strike! Yes, it was beginning to look like a general strike was being planned for the day. But some fancy 11th hour negotiating by Dr. Nostrum and the timely reintroducion of the breakfast cupcake (arguably the most important cupcake of the day) averted the disaster.

Well can we really blame Hatbox Louie? Things are a bit bleak here at the moment. The sun rises at 8 and sets at 2. We are beginning to feel the pressure of having to make a life plan. You see, as I mentioned in this post,we are in Edinburgh to take one more stab at plugging into a conventional life. I recently decided to leave medicine–again. The first time was rough as hell.

I have been attending a graduate program at the University of Edinburgh in an effort to see if an academic life is for me. Result? A short list of things not for me follows:

1. An academic life.
2. Please see #1.

And so you see we are at a high latitude with very short days and no plan. I announced to Hatbox Louie today that by leaving my graduate program, I have saved (therefore made) us 20,000 dollars, and that it should count as my contribution for the year. But before I could settle into my well deserved vacation from financial angst, Hatbox Louie parried: She decided not to buy a Porsche, saving us 70,000 dollars. Well played, Hatbox. Well played.

Published in: on December 4, 2006 at 2:57 pm  Comments (2)  

Dispatch from Edinburgh–A Nasty Bit O’ Business

Hatbox Louie and I live right near Edinburgh’s OldTown. Cobbled lanes snake around past medieval storefronts and pubs, and the tiny arched alleyways, called closes, connect to even smaller streets and are often named for the trades once plied at the end of the tunnel: Tanners Close, Fleshmarket Close, Old Distillery Close, Fishers Close.

We recently wandered into OldTown’s Greyfriars graveyard, and found it the most graveyardish graveyard we had ever encountered. Hilly, muddy, and the grayest of gray. Bare trees held shifty crows that followed us with their eyes as we walked, as if they new something we didn’t. Dates on the headstones ran back to the 16th century. It was over the top, cartoonish, a Tim Burton set. And it got worse.

We noticed a grave completely surrounded by iron bars. Another was enclosed by concrete with iron bars across the top. A 19th century gambit to foil graverobbers. The trade in corpses was lively then, supplying the expanding center of Medical training in Edinburgh.

Across the street at the Royal Museum of Scotland, we found a mortsafe–an enormous iron sarcophagus, made to hold the traditional casket. It would attend the corpse for six weeks, then be removed, at which point decomposition would have rendered the body useless for dissection. The museum also displays a Kingskettle collar. An iron shackle was placed around the neck of the corpse, and bolted to the coffin floor. Very restful.

As disturbing as it seems, what we learned next made us recognize this all as a rather lighthearted look at cadaver-supply–barely sinister. And these bodysnatchers, or resurrection men, as just a bunch of goofy cutups trying to turn a dime. The truly gruesome story was of the Burke and Hare murders. These men, rather then suffer the tedium of waiting for a death and then digging through the night, killed 17 people and sold their bodies to an anatomy lab.

Their story brought us to the College of Surgeons Museum where some artifacts from the murders and the subsequent trial and punishment are on display. If you’re interested, I was inspired to write an article about the whole affair, called

Published in: on November 28, 2006 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  

Dispatch from Edinburgh–A Moratorium On Second Chances

Well, Hatbox Louie and I are in Edinburgh. Yet we are not Scottish nor English nor Welsh. Hatbox Louie writes novels, so she can work anywhere. Would she knowingly choose a place where the Sun rises at 8 AM and sets at 2 PM? A northerly Sun that now, in late fall, can only describe a small arc, and always somewhere off in the distance? Well artists can be quirky, sure. But that is not the answer.

She is here because Dr. Nostrum is here. It is why she was in Wilmington, N.C. and El Cerrito, CA. In Oaxaca, Mexico and Quito, Ecuador. Providence, RI and Baltimore, MD. Peru, Bolivia, Ohio. Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I have slunk in and out of medicine, always trying to leave to reinvent myself as an independent spirit, laughing in the wind, and doing…..? Then each time, tired of drifting at sea, trying desperately to plug back in to make it work. Primary care, part-time, locums, humanitarian medicine. No, no, no.

And Hatbox Louie is dragged all over the world, making the best of things. She’s a trooper. So, one more try at a conventional path–not medicine per se, but solid, respectable, established, clearly set out, and perhaps a vindication of a squandered career–brought us to Edinburgh. But this ain’t it either. Sigh.

Last chance. Last chance to plug back in. Over. No sunlight. An indefinite moratorium on second chances.

Oh, well. Don’t want to sound bleak. We’ll figure it out. We’ve just returned from a beautiful French market that’s traveling through town, and we’re lousy with cheese. How bad could things be?

Published in: on November 27, 2006 at 4:13 pm  Comments (3)