Wednesday, November 28, 2007

On the road home... Home???

I'll be taking a trip back home next month.

Usually the first questions that my friends or colleagues at work ask me is if I am excited. The truth is that I am too busy and too tired to be excited, or even to think about my feelings. Also I have seen a pattern in my life, which has taught me to live at the present and not to think too much about an upcoming event. But there is also another thing. It may be a sad fact, but it is real and it exists...I don't miss my country.

I miss my family and my friends, but not the city or the country, and this is an upsetting reality.
I was in denial for so long, and it took me a long time before I could accept it. Accepted that I have so many bad memories and have seen so much unkindness from there, that all those stories and movies about the person who goes back after a while to his/her homeland and at the first step, bends over and picks up a handful of soil and smells it and then emotionally whispers "home, sweet home", bring a bitter smile to my face.

I am not talking politics. I am talking about my personal experiences. Although I know that somewhere deep, my roots are still Iranian, but at the same place deep down, I also have lots of hidden pains and regrets. I just know that I will have a lot to think about and to analyse...I'll do my best to be hopeful and optimistic.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Three faces of desire

I actually wrote a shorter version of this as a comment for lady sun, however, it's been an issue for me for quite sometime.

There are three different levels of desire, I think. The first one, I call it the same, "desire". That's when you want something and try to achieve it. Wanting a new pair of shoes, a red handbag, a new laptop, craving an ice cream in summer, a cup of warm soothing green tea at night, talking to your friend on the phone, ... These can be all categorized as the first level of desire. You want something, and by some effort, spending some time or money, you can get it. The achievement can be as easy as picking up the phone and dialing a number, or as difficult as earning enough money to be able to buy that new piece of technology.

Then there is "dream". Achieving a dream may not be as easy. It may need a lot of effort and also some luck. You may dream to fly to the international space station, or get the nobel prize, or become a bestseller writer. Well it needs a lot of work and effort, sometimes much more money than the price of a laptop, and also the luck of being in the right place at the right time.
If Anousheh Ansari's parents had not moved to US in 1984, I very much doubt that she would have been able to become a space tourist at the age of 40. Rosalind Franklin was not very lucky, so when James Watson used her data to build the model for DNA and then more than a decade later won the nobel prize along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, she had passed away four years earlier. J. k. Rowling had a strong attitude and a creative mind that turned her to a worldwide known writer. There are lots of other examples.

I think every person needs one or more personal dreams, or as paulo Coelho refers to in his book "The Alchemist", personal legends. They become the reasons a person has to live. Well I'm talking about those who need more than a degree and a marriage and a house and two cars and a bunch of kids to actually live. If one doesn't have such a personal legend, I would say they are just not dead; being alive? I can't say so. But this is another subject for itself.

Going back to the three faces, there is still a third level, which starts as a desire, then turns into a dream, and then after a while, after you discover that it is not just you or even your efforts paired with some luck which can make it happen, it turns into a "regret".
Everybody has regrets. They are parts of the life. They are parts of the bugs in the system (I talked about them in one of my posts before). Sometimes you just put them aside, and forget about them. But sometimes, you come across them every day in your life. They sit there, with a big ugly smile on their faces, making fun of you and your desire to reach them.
...and sometimes it hurts. It really hurts that no matter how badly you want them, they are inaccessible.

I wonder how many people have them, and how often they think about them...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Molecular cooking

There is a classic questionnair named "The pivot questionnaire". It is believed to be originally a perustian questionnaire which was later used by Bernard Pivot and afterwards inspired James Lipton to ask it in his "Inside Actor's studio". One of the questions is "What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?"

Now there are lots of professions that I would like to attempt, if I were not involved in science.
I would have loved to be an actor. Living a number of different lives while you are living your own life at the same time, is really tempting. Also I could be a good director, still in movie business I mean.
I could have had a day care, it may seem a bit funny, but I get along very well with the kids, and I believe they have a wonderful world.
I could have been a psychologist, an engineer, a massager.

But If I were still in science, and I could have changed my field, I would have loved to study neurophysiology, study the brain, the neurons and all this nervous system in details. It is an amazing world full of interesting features and aspects.

There is another field that attracts me a lot: Molecular Gastronomy. Harold McGee (the author of "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen" ) defines molecular gastronomy as "The scientific study of deliciousness". In the other words, it is defined as applying modern science to culinary problems. Interestingly enough, this name was first used by two scientists in 1988 : Nicholas Kurti, a physicist; and Herve This, a chemist. It is not still very well known or distributed, there are few schools which offer a degree in the field - naturally based in Italy and France - but it is gradually studied more and more.

Being a biochemist with a passion for cooking, it seems like an interesting field for me. Who knows, if I think my life is not long enough to become an actor, direct a couple of movies, open a daycare, and publish a paper in Nature on neurophysiology, maybe I can still touch molecular gastronomy, officially. Afterall, I apply the rules everyday in my small kitchen...

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Scent of a memory

The basics of the olfactory system (the body system to sense smells) is vastly studied. There are lots of studies on this system, how it works, the problems, the applications, etc. It is known generally that when odors are inhaled, they are detected by various olfactory receptors, which can distinguish a new odor from the background environmental odors and determine the concentration of the odor. The receptors are connected to the neurons which take the signals to peripheral and eventually central nervous system. They mostly end up and are analyzed in some of brain areas, including piriform cortex which is responsible for identifying the odor; and entorhinal cortex which is associated with memories.

That's how the odors can be paired with memories. Interestingly enough, Anosmia (loss of ability to smell) may very occasionally be an early sign of degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer's disease.

Well, these are all the basic scientific facts. You can find lots and lots of references on the internet. Knowing all these, it still fascinates me how imidiately smelling some odor can awaken memories in you. I think the affect of smells in awakening the memories is much stronger and faster than any other sense... It is really amazing, I put some dried mint on my cucumber salad, and instantly become a 5-year-old girl playing in my grandmother's backyard, waiting for lunch to get ready. I smell a newly sharpened pencil, and become the 4th grade student trying to finish up my homeworks before my favorite TV show. I smell the wet soil after the rain and go back to my grandpa's small garden, and it happens only in a fraction of a second...

Those memories could be breezes of fresh air, while you are sinking in your work, and in everyday life. They can even bring back the beloved late people for a second, by smelling something that reminds you of them. I usually use that second to say hi , that I miss them, and I often remember them by smelling this special odor...