I took a bottle of water and Science magazine to the beach yesterday and discovered that, finally, there is a prophylactic vaginal gel for HIV which has already cut HIV infections among South African women by 39%. In another story, ingesting a “magic mint” called salvia divinorum, researcher Matthew Johnson suggested, was “like opening a portal to another dimension.” In his study, people reported meeting “the same hallucinated beings from session to session.” China, meanwhile, is anticipating a huge problem with its elderly population, as 80% of them are deeply in debt, live in shabby housing, and cannot afford medical care. Maybe they should take some of that mint and meet some new friends. There have been stranger ways of curing seemingly insolvable human conditions.
A woman in jeans and a blue hat lay a short distance from me, turning from side to side as she napped through all these fascinating scientific discoveries. She finally sat up. I decided it was time for a walk, and ambled down to the lake edge. I would not go in, I mused: the water would be warmer in maybe July, maybe August. On my return, I found the woman had rolled up her left jean pant leg, taken a Sharpie pen and was writing on the exposed skin, starting at the ankle, line by line. She peered now and then into a small note book, from which she was taking words–or maybe just inspiration, I couldn’t tell which–and slowly wrote until she reached her knee. Then she started on the right leg and, when finished, stared at the expanse of the lake.
“What are you writing”” I ventured, hoping for a smile that might indicate it was okay to be curious about someone writing poetry or something on one’s body in ninety degree heat.
“On this leg I write the Seven Deadly SIns that I learned from the Great Saint Thomas Aquinas,” she answered, deliberately pulling the pant legs back down. “And on the other one I write the Plan for Happiness that Buddha taught. I think it has ten parts.”
As if no one had ever asked her before, she added, “it helps me with my migraines. I write and they go away. I sometimes drink a bottle of wine, but this works better. Saint Thomas said that if you commit one sin, you should do them all, so that’s what I am doing.”
“How does that work, you know, for your headaches?” I asked. I remembered St Dennis was the patron saint of headaches, although some women pray to St Theresa of Avila, as she had visions out of her head.
“When I write about one, like lust or anger, I think of the others, as if I’m doing them. After, I found the teachings of Buddha so I added those. And my migraines usually go away.” She gently packed her pen, diary and took off her hat, releasing thick blond hair. “I have an appointment at seven,” she said.
An unscientific American, for sure.
(Includes accounts from Science, December 17, 2010.)