Sleepwalking

-“Doctor…I sleep with only one eye closed—my son sleepwalks.”

Brenda X. is a pleasant lady in her thirties that has been babysitting her son aged seven years since he was three years old because he has a special clinical condition that can expose him to harm. She is always on the watch because he has frequent bouts of somnambulism and she dutifully escorts him around during his nightly forays.

When we were a little child, we often sat up suddenly in bed and walked to the living room of our apartment in Montevideo to sit down and chat; sporting a glazed over look, we were tagged by our dear father Mario who kept watch: he never tried to “wake us up”, a bad idea according to Dr. Penco, our great pediatrician. He reassured our parents that usually those episodes disappear as children grow up;  in fact, after peaking at 3- 4 years old, this activity started to wane and then stopped. We never had any more episodes nor any recollections of  them.

The sleep walking episodes occur during the initial or Non-REM phase of sleep in the initial third phase of the cycle when slow activity predominates. Sleepwalking is more common in children and its prevalence can reach up to 10% of the population; it can be inherited as an autosomal dominant trait. Patients with sleepwalking have a rise of brief arousals in the EEG tracing.

Sigmund Freud said that the unconscious sexual desires of the “Id” are usually repressed by the “Super Ego” during the waking period but when the conscience dims down, they surface to take control of the person’s volition. Those impulses metamorphose into dreams and in certain cases into motor impulses that can prod the individual to walk and talk. Sleepwalking has been adduced to be an attenuating factor in many crimes by the defense attorneys. It could be a trait in persons with agitated legacies like being born in the convulsed Celtic festivity of Samhein.

The above article was originally written in May 2017 for the series Emotional Frustration, which constituted the scaffolding for our homonymous book. As many years have passed since we presumably had one incident of sleepwalking, we thought that were totally. However, during the Social Distancing imposed by the pandemic, my son Gian Luca and I shared the same apartment for six months. He told us that once or twice, he would come in in the wee hours when I was asleep but that I would sit up on my bed to chat wide-eyed with him several minutes about where they had gone, what they had eaten, etc. Then I would immediately go back to resume my sleep. The following day, I would greet him when he was waking up and asked how the outing was.  He looked at me blankly.

-“Dad, we talked all about it last night…Can’t you remember?” he said, a little exasperated.

-“Talked with me? No…After going to bed early last night, I slept the whole night like a baby.”

Mmm…it seems that our nightly adventures might still be far from over…

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Parlez moi d’amour

Dear readers and fellow bloggers:

Good afternoon. Today, September 23, 2020, Juliette Gréco, the great French chanteuse, passed away in her home of Ramatuelle (Var) at the age of 93 years old. She was the singing muse of Saint Germain des Prés, the bohemian mecca of Paris after the devastation of World War II; her unassuming elegance on stage and her hand acrobatics during her interpretations captivated the imagination of millions of music lovers all over the planet. She interpreted the songs of Brel, Gainsbourg, Var, and she schmoozed with all the intellectual icons of Post-War Paris like Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus. With her classic black outfits, she cut an immense figure on every stage.

She worked until very late in her life, claiming that “in order to resist the coming of the end we must love what we do, in a crazy way, to love your work like I love mine, meaning in an out of bounds way, without limits, to the point of going to sing in a small theater of the suburbs in the matinée section and relish that a young man at the end of my singing said: ‘She’s good, hein, Gréco!”

Amongst all her dazzling interpretations we have listened, there is one that is one that stands out for its tenderness. In a regular drawer of a Parisian cabaret, the singer Lucienne Boyer discovered the forgotten lyrics of “a little song” that Jean Lenoir had written in 1930. The songwriter did not see any commercial value in it and he stashed it away. It could have been easily forgotten or lost forever but luck made Lucienne discover it. She sang the first version of Parlez moi d’amour, with great success in France, the rest of Europe and the Americas. Juliette Gréco made an astounding version, which we invite you to enjoy in this You Tube post. Please close your eyes and start dreaming.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful 

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Vaccine hesitancy undermines fight against SARS-CoV-2


The decisions of governments in under-developed nations and the Aid organizations to carry out critically needed infrastructure projects are usually finalized in cities far away from the regions.  If they quickly build a bridge across an African river to benefit the local population, the latter will never “see it as theirs.” They might even refuse to use it in spite of the evident convenience to facilitate their mobility. Absent from their collective imagination, they view it as an extraneous artifact that was “parachuted down in their reality” by anonymous bureaucrats and do not feel they have a stake in it.  In his book Les Damnées de la Terre, Frantz Fanon, a French physician, philosopher and political activist, said that citizens must first start imagining their “need of a bridge” and then discuss details with their representatives of how to remedy it . If they are engaged in that process from the start, they will cooperate in its build-up and maintenance.

A similar situation will arise if the governments just inform their population that a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 is ready and they should line-up for its administration. The suspicion, and even overt resistance, against vaccines in general has been sadly building up in the modern nations, fueled by shady political and business interests. On September 12, Natalie Allen, an anchor at CNN International, interviewed Dr. Heidi Larson, director of the Vaccine Confidence Project based in London. They have been studying data from almost 140 countries to determine confidence in them. At the end of the interview she precisely made that point, saying that now is the time to engage the local entities like civic institutions, religious organizations, etc., in order to make the common citizenry feel that “they have been consulted in this task.”

In an article recently published in The Lancet, Alexandre de Figuereido, Clarissa Simas, Emilie Karafillakis, Pauline Paterson and Heidi Larson reported the results of their “large-scale retrospective data-driven analysis, we examined global trends in vaccine confidence using data from 290 surveys done between September 2015 and December 2019, across 149 countries, and including 284,381 individuals.” They divided their project as follows:

  1. One country (the Philippines) was surveyed over six different timepoints.
  2. Thirteen countries were surveyed over four timepoints.
  3. Twenty-eight countries were surveyed over three timepoints.
  4. Forty countries were surveyed over two timepoints.
  5. Sixty-seven countries were surveyed only once.

With the collaboration of Gallup International, the European Commission, the Philippines Survey and Research Center, and Wellcome, they used online, telephone and face-to-face interviews to determine the participants’ perception of the Public Health importance, safety, and effectiveness of vaccines. The responses to the three statements were measured on Likert scales ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” The researchers used previously published data on vaccine confidence collected since 2015 from almost 250,000 participants and the survey responses collected in 2019. The researchers found that:

  1. Argentina, Liberia, and Bangladesh had the highest estimated percentage of respondents strongly agreeing that vaccines are safe in late 2015 whereas Japan, France and Mongolia had the lowest.
  2. Ethiopia, Argentina, and Bangladesh had the highest percentage of those agreeing that vaccines are important in 2015, whereas Turkey, Morocco and Georgia had the lowest.
  3. Ethiopia, Argentina, and Mauritania had the highest percentage of respondents who strongly agreed that vaccines are effective in late 2015.

“Between November 2015 and December 2019, we estimate that vaccine confidence fell for all three elements of confidence in Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan and South Korea, and for two elements in Afghanistan and Vietnam.” The Philippines, which had ranked in the Top 10 countries for all three elements in 2015, had the most precipitous drop, ranking no higher than the 70th position in the 2019 study. There is a strong public reason for that unusual change of mind in their citizenry. In November 2017, after having vaccinated thousands of its citizens with Dengvaxia—a new vaccine against Dengue form the Sanofi company—the Philippines received a notification from the company that all the vaccinated individuals not previously exposed to the disease might have serious side effects after injection. The Philippine society reacted with extreme outrage and the government officials, who had hastily approved its purchase, were openly shamed by a body politic that suddenly lost confidence in vaccines.

The researchers found that being male and having fewer years of formal education were significant determinants of respondents’ aversion for vaccines; on the other hand women, who usually nurture the young children, are much more aware of the benefits of vaccines and the need to protect the safety of the society as a whole. Only in South Korea and Malaysia they found organized opposition and mobilization against vaccines, buttressed by mendacious disinformation campaigns in the web.

In a recent article in The New York Times, Denise Grady, Katherine Wu and Sharon LaFraniere said: “AstaZeneca revealed details of its large coronavirus vaccine trials, the third in a wave of disclosures by drug companies under pressure to be more transparent about how they are testing products that are the world’s best hope to end the pandemic. Polls are finding Americans increasingly wary of accepting a coronavirus vaccine. And scientists inside and outside the government are worried that regulators, pressured by the president for results before Election Day on November 3, might release an unproven or unsafe vaccine.”

In all political camps, there is a growing public mistrust against the authorities and the scientific community in general, after decades of disclosure of their misdeeds, real or imaginary, that have sapped the confidence of the common citizenry in them. Any clinical fiasco provoked by any major vaccine candidate against the SARS-CoV-2 will boycott its public acceptance and their eagerness to have it administered. If a large enough number of citizens refuse to be vaccinated, the herd immunity that we are all expecting in the next few months, will never materialize.

Now is the time to actively discuss the vaccine candidates and how to deploy them efficiently. 

Now is the time for regulatory agencies to inform what their guidelines for approval really are.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

 

Sopa Camponesa à la Vadinho

Dear readers and fellow bloggers:

Good afternoon. After several days of bad weather, including rain and wind, we were ready for a hearty peasant soup to lift our deflated spirits in order to start the week in stride. We prepared a soup of rice, potatoes, carrots and corn in a broth seasoned with a pinch of salt, granulated garlic, parsley, oregano, tarragon, cinnamon and ginger.

Why that name? Well, we have been perusing the great novelDoña Flor y sus dos maridos” from Jorge Amado, the great Brazilian writer, over the week-end; we had more fun than when we had read many years ago. It tells the story of Doña Flor, a young woman from Salvador Bahia, Brazil, that still feels attracted to Vadinho, her deceased husband, a wayward yet irresistibly charming guy who had died during an extended Carnival party in a brothel. She re-married with a kind and considerate pharmacist but she cannot help feeling totally bored…Until one day Vadinho appears as a ghost by her bedside to claim his marital rights…The hilarious scenes will keep you pinned to the text or the film.

We already discussed in a previous article how to carefully prepare a good, thick soup. Here is today’s production.

We like the broth to be thick like a typical London fog, so that you can hardly see the pot’s contents from above.

Ladies and gentlemen, dinner is served. Please join us at our humble table to share a dosage of health and joy.

Bom apetite!

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Fertility rites – Obando Feast

In spite of all its rich humanistic endowment, the authorities of the Catholic Church, in its more than two millennia of recorded history, have never shied away from savvy street survival tactics. When it encountered some strongly ingrained social traditions, oftentimes borne out of dark, superstitious, and dangerous periods of communities’ history and legacy, it has tried to co-opt certain so-called “pagan practices” to carry its religious dogma in a socially acceptable way. We have already discussed this strategy in our article about the Celtic feast of Samhein in Europe.

In Ancient Times, before the Spanish conquistadores ever set foot on their islands, the Filipino people had practiced a yearly ritual called kasilonawan for women that could not bear children, which lowered their social status considerably in the clans. Initially the concerned women danced in front of pagan deities, but the Franciscan missionaries, that came with the occupying army, replaced them with three saints. The centralized festivities are now known as the Obando Feast, named after the little town of Manila Bay where it religiously occurs every May. Nowadays the rituals are played inside the church of San Pascual Baylon church and in highly structured mass processions, both featuring a five-step dance, whose choreography was modernized in 1993.

Portia Ladrido, a CNN contributor, said in a report: “The dance is held inside the church, and one would expect a more solemn celebration, but the dance is more of a lively production rather than a sacred prayer. There is a host (or sort of hype man) who pronounces what kind of petition one is asking for (“SA mga gusto magka-anak…Sayaw!” he shouts) and the crowd proceeds to waltzing.” The enthusiasm for this dance is so intense that, not only there are tutorial videos about how to shake the leg, but the parish authorities posted their version in the Facebook page.

The town of Obando, in Manila Bay, has been “the town of three saints” for a long time. San Pascual Baylon and Santa Clara are two saints whose devotion was introduced by the Franciscan missionaries before the parish foundation in 1753. Our Lady of Salambao , the third saint, evokes the apparition of the Virgin Mary in 1763. We should imagine the profound emotional shock that word of the Virgin’s arrival might have had in the largely illiterate and poor residents of the area. A sign of Hope. Local lore states that in 1763 three brothers, who were fishing in Manila Bay, found a statue of the Virgin Mary in their net. When they tried to head back to their hometown of Malambo, their boat would not move, but when they changed its direction to Obando, it immediately propelled forward. Like all the acts of pure faith, you either believe it or not.

In an extensive report in Catholics and Cultures, they said: “May is an exceedingly hot and humid month, so Masses for each feast day begin before dawn in the relative cool of the morning. Each of the three days has a similar format, though each celebrates a different saint at the front of the procession and in church, while the others two follow behind in the procession.” Even though the plaza in front of the church is filled with many vendors peddling all kind of merchandise like amulets, souvenirs, commemorating eggs, etc., it is swiftly cleared before the processions. The local parish does its brisk business too, with some sisters selling saints’ images and seminarians selling eggs with ribbons of different colors, representing “wishes.” The hourly morning masses are packed with attendees, even spilling over into the plaza.

At 8 AM, the procession starts in the plaza, with marching bands, dances (some of the costumed dancers are hired by pilgrims with wishes) and the public; unlike other Catholic processions, there is not a formal presence of parish authorities in the ritual. The dancing ritual was streamlined into a modern choreography presentation with the following 5 steps:

  1. The dancers clasp their hands with the thumbs pointing upward toward the heart while thy chant “Lord, we believe that You will give us a child.”
  2. The feminine dancers push their belly forward while their partners have their backs, all chanting “Lord, please heal me.”
  3. The feminine dancers move their palms clockwise, imitating the massage of an abdomen carrying a child, with their partners still backing them, and all chanting “Lord, please heal me.”
  4. The partners embrace to show their common objective of having a child.
  5. They dance together, rhythmically swaying their hands from left to right.

There are multiple accounts of successful outcomes, which fosters interest in the May ritual; most of the attendees had previously sought medical help or were even undergoing fertility treatments. They considered the ritual as only a complement. For couples frustrated for not bearing a child (something that many of us can relate to)  a few days of maladroit dancing in the Obando plaza is akin to buying a Lotto ticket.

 As the old Castilian saying goes: “La suerte es loca y a cualquiera le toca.”

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

Note. The above saying means: “Luck is unpredictable and can favor anybody.”

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

 

Happy Rosh Hashanah

Dear readers and fellow bloggers:

Today, September 18th. 2020, at sunset, the festivities of the Jewish New Year begin, lasting for two days, until Sunday September 20th. We would like to wish all our Jewish relatives, friends and acquaintances a Happy Rosh Hashanah, in these days of tough Social Distancing due to the pandemic. However, as long as one faithful still blows the shofar, the presence of God will be felt.

Shanah Tovah!

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

We need a vaccine with worthwhile efficacy

Recent new reports have exposed the subtle and not-so-subtle maneuvers of various governments to “bend the rules a little bit” in the process of certifying the efficacity and safety of the novel vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus infection. Given that the vaccines, unlike the therapeutic products, will be administered to, not only people who are free of the disease, but also to individuals that are very vulnerable. After months of terrible suffering and thousands of deaths, Humankind cannot afford to make the mistake of using a vaccine that is either defective or not properly useful.

Three vaccine candidates – the ones designed by Pfizer, Moderna and Astra-Zeneca – are already well into the Phase 3 clinical trials, the last step before applying for regulatory approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and similar regulatory agencies. In a Washington Post article, Laurie McGinley and Carolyn Y. Johnson said: “A fierce debate has emerged whether the Food and Drug Administration should use its emergency authority to clear a coronavirus vaccine before it is formally approved – a move opponents warn could pose safety dangers and inflame anti-vaccination sentiment but others said could save thousands of lives by speeding protection from the virus.” On September 3rd the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned the state health officials to start making preparations to distribute a coronavirus vaccine to health care workers and other high-priority groups by November 1st; that announcement immediately sparked a hot debate whether the Trump administration is actually trying to “push a vaccine” before the critical November 3rd general elections in the USA or not.

The vaccine(s) that will eventually be approved by the regulatory agencies must prove that, not only they show efficacity, but they will provide worthwhile efficacity. After the Phase 3 clinical trails show a certain degree of efficacity for a period of time, the vaccine candidates must be vetted for protection against severe forms of the disease and also enough long-term persistence of the protective effects by setting up double-blind placebo studies that might take many more months. Unfortunately, the world does not have the luxury of waiting 2,3, or even 4 years for this process.

In a comment to The Lancet Public Health, Philip Krause, Thomas R. Fleming and Ira Longini—members of the World Health Organization (WHO) Solidarity Vaccines Trial Expert Group—said: “There is a danger that political and economic pressures for the introduction of a COVID-19 vaccine could lead to widespread deployment of a vaccine that is in reality only weakly effective (eg. reducing COVID-19 incidence by only 10-20%) perhaps because a misleadingly promising result from an underpowered trial.” The massive deployment of a “weak vaccine” will have deleterious Public Health consequences for two major reasons:

  1. Authorities may wrongly assume that it represents the expected panacea and disburse major financial and human resources to deploy it.
  2. Vaccinated individuals may assume that they have the needed protection, disregarding the basic measures of protection like Social Distancing.

If the “weak vaccine” is compared to a worse under-performing candidate, we might have the bio-creep effect: the statistical programs might wrongly identify the “worse vaccine” as being non-inferior in the comparison. The WHO recommends that a successful vaccine candidate should reduce the risk of infection by at least half  and with a certainty that its true vaccine efficacity is at least 30%. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concurs with the basic threshold of 30% to show efficacy. “As an example of a result that would just satisfy these two criteria, an even randomized trial with 50 cases arising in those vaccinated and 100 cases in those given placebo would have a 95% CI that just excludes 30%, but would suggest 50% short-term efficacy.”

The authors argue that a global multi-vaccine trial with a shared control group might provide faster and more reliable results about their safety and efficacity. High enrollment rates of individuals for the clinical trials and the participation of many clinical centers worldwide might hasten the discovery and delivery of a candidate. Evaluation of safety in multi-vaccine trials might unmask certain adverse effects in some candidates that might not be present in the rest. One of the greatest risks for any vaccine is its potential to worsen the disease in certain groups, which might only be evident with a critically large number of participants over a larger period of time.

Spurious commercial and political interests have blocked the initiative of a multi-vaccine trial as the parties are keeping guard over “their” vaccines and are reluctant to share scientific and operational data with competitors and other governments. Sadly, Humankind has not yet succeeded in overcoming these pitiful petty interests.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Buona domenica con una spaghetatta ed salmone alla Benedetti

Dear readers and fellow bloggers:

Good afternoon and Happy Sunday. Today is the centennial of the birth of Mario Benedetti, a great Uruguayan writer, whom we always admired for his straightforward and entertaining prose about the vicissitudes of middle class residents of Montevideo (something we can identify with)  He was a second generation descendant of the poor Italian immigrants that landed in Uruguay. His compilation of short stories Montevideanos has a flair reminiscent of James Joyce’s Dubliners. His novel La Tregua is the happy-sad account of a middle aged man that discovers Love a little bit late. His complete name was Mario Orlando Hardy Hamlet Brenno Benedetti Farrugia. Salve!

In honor of his contribution to the literary accomplishments of Latin American writers, we are preparing a pasta dish with salmon steaks in a Bechamel sauce with blue cheese and almonds. To prepare that succulent variant of a traditional sauce, we are assembling the following elements.

1- Two salmon steaks  2 – A box of spaghetti  3 – Flour and unsalted butter  4 – Shaved almonds

Warning. Be careful with the freshly caught salmon as it has fish bones, unlike the farm-raised.

You can use almost any mix of seasoning but these are our favorites. And absolutely no salt.

We have recently bought a Nuwave Brio air fryer, oven and grill, which has simplified our regular cooking and at the same time avoid the use of animal or vegetable oils, except for seasoning.

Warning. Once the machine is on, you cannot touch any interior surface with your bare hands.

After approximately 7- 8 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit or 205 degrees Celsius, it is done. Always check that the interior is also done yet juicy by cutting a little triangle in one of the sides.

Now it is time to prepare the Bechamel sauce (or Bechamela, as it was an Italian creation and those naughty French stole it) Do not despair. Just follow our steps and you will be fine.

First you have to create the base to build up the sauce, which is done with butter and flour.  Put a small square of good butter in a hot pan and wait until it completely melts away.

Slowly start adding one cup of flour (any good kind will do) and mix them to create a dry paste.

Once you create the paste, take it out of the pan and put it in a pot so you can add the liquid.

Add 2-3 cups of milk (depending on how thick you like your sauces) and start stirring. Stir!!!

See how the mixture is thickening? Slowly add the blue cheese and keep stirring to avoid lumps.

Then slowly add the shaved almonds (or whatever nut you have at home) and…Yes, keep stirring.

We like to add some nutmeg on top but if you do not, skip this step. Guess what? Keep stirring.

The sauce should be rather thick but never have any lumps. If it does, guess what? You got it!

Stir! Stir! Stir!

May we skip the part where we boil the pasta? Well, considering the laziness of modern women..

Ladies and gentlemen, dinner is served. Would you please join us at our humble yet warm table?

Buon appetito!

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Superstitious artists – Salvador Dali

“Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.”

Thus Salvador Dali summarized his irrepressible urges during his agitated and prolific artistic career. In a twisted Schumpeterian version for the visual arts, he indefatigable destroyed its old paradigms and, at the same time, designed totally new ones. He created something called “paranoia-criticism”—a novel artistic concept; he considered it as a philosophy of art he described as “the irrational understanding based on the interpretive- critical association of delirious phenomena.”

Born in Figueres, Catalonia, he was deeply influenced by Impressionism and the pictorial masters of the Renaissance at a young age, but later shifted to Cubism, until finally settling in Surrealism in the late 1920s. The Persistence of Memory, his best-known tableau, was completed in August 1931. During the Spanish Civil War, he took refuge in France, and after it ended, he moved to the USA where he enjoyed a significant commercial success. In 1948 he had a sudden rapture of religious fervor and he went back to Spain, which was under the joke of dictator Francisco Franco.

The breadth and scope of his artistic interests is simply unique and admirable: painting, graphic arts, film, sculpture, design, photography, fiction, and poetry, etc. He had the collaboration of many artists in these endeavors, often attracted to his eclectic and flamboyant personality; some critics complained that his flashy lifestyle was drawing more attention than the actual artistic value of his production per se. However, his extravagant public demeanor was, and still is, seared in his production.

As all the trendsetting creators, Salvador Dali strove to be in “total control” of his production, which made him extremely superstitious; he always carried around in his pocket a small piece of driftwood that he claimed was useful to ward off the evil. He set up unconventional means and unusual surroundings to give his lectures; in one of them he donned a diving bell helmet and suit that almost suffocated him. Dali used fantastic dreams and irrational propositions to try to express the Subconscious. Following the early pathways of Hieronymus Bosch, he adhered to a “fantastic” concept of art, drawing mythical creatures and human beings in bizarre landscapes.

Dali never wavered from any expression of unremitting narcissism and felt to the last day of his life that he could be somehow spared from his inevitable final demise. In July 1986, his physician strongly advised him to have a pacemaker implanted, which he finally relented to. When he returned to his theater-museum in Figures, he had a brief press conference where he famously and insolently said:

“When you are a genius, you do not have the right to die because we are necessary for the progress of humanity.”

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.