Monthly Archives: August 2009

Old dog

A friend sent me this little story…I think it could have been shorter (e.g., why does the dog have to have a name?…Superfluous bit of information, in my view) and I am not sure I entirely agree with the moral, but, at any rate, it’s an enjoyable read!

A wealthy old gentleman decides to go on a hunting safari in Africa, taking his faithful, elderly dog named Killer along for the company.  

One day the old dog starts chasing rabbits and, before long, discovers that he’s lost. Wandering about, he notices a leopard heading rapidly in his direction with the intention of having lunch.

The old dog thinks, “Uh oh! I’m in deep doo-doo now!” Noticing some bones on the ground close by, he immediately settles down to chew on the bones with his back to the approaching cat. Just as the leopard is about to leap, the old dog exclaims loudly, “Boy, that was one delicious leopard! I wonder, if there are any more around here?”

Hearing this, the young leopard halts his attack in mid-strike, terrified, and he slinks away into the trees. “Whew,” says the leopard, “That was close! That old dog nearly had me!”

Meanwhile, a monkey, who had been watching the whole scene from a nearby tree, figures he can put this knowledge to good use and trade it for protection from the leopard. So off he goes, but the old dog sees him heading after the leopard with great speed, and figures that something must be up.

The monkey soon catches up with the leopard, spills the beans and strikes a deal for himself with the leopard. The young leopard is furious at being made a fool of and says, “Here, monkey, hop on my back and see what’s going to happen to that conniving canine!”  

Now the old dog sees the leopard coming with the monkey on his back and thinks, “What am I going to do now?,” but instead of running, the dog sits down with his back to his attackers, pretending he hasn’t seen them yet, and just when they get close enough to hear, the old dog says…

“Where’s that damn monkey? I sent him off an hour ago to bring me another leopard!”

Moral of this story: don’t mess with old dogs… age and skill will always overcome youth and treachery! Brilliance only comes with age and experience.

Fare thee well…

Just a lightning post to express my deep sorrow at the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy…very sad news indeed. I had the honor of meeting him in Washington, D.C., more than a couple of decades ago. A great man. This is a huge loss…not just for his family but for the entire nation…

Nauset marsh cruise

Yesterday Stefano and I finally returned to Florence. His family had planned a small gathering at his parents’ house in the Apennines (near Porretta Terme, for those who know the area) the last week in August. We had a very relaxing week—playing cards, eating wonderful food, sharing many good laughs, visiting the area (e.g., the town of Sestola where we bought delicious blueberries from Mt. Cimone and the Parco Regionale dei Sassi di Roccamalatina: http://tinyurl.com/kufy9w), enjoying the cool mountain air…in the evenings, at least (during the day, it was surprisingly hot…)…and sleeping a lot. No computer access, no blog, no e-mail. Total relaxation. Last night, when we got back to Florence, I downloaded more than one hundred messages…eeeek! Well, it will take a while to sort through the mail jumble, but I have plenty of time, as we are staying put in Florence for the foreseeable future…

Speaking of messages, Julie left a very nice comment on my August 23rd post. She forwarded bits of my summer holiday posts to a friend of hers IMG_2625who is planning a visit to Cape Cod. And that is the reason why I thought that I would add a post about our cruise around Nauset marsh…all the way up to the ocean. Julie, if your friend likes stunning views of the ocean/marsh and of shorebirds, ospreys, seals and other creatures…tell her to go on the two-hour Nauset Marsh Cruise.

You have to call the Wellfleet Bay Audubon Society (more info can be had here, see page 10 in particular: http://tinyurl.com/ljpyzn; Stefano and I went on the August 19 10 am-12 pm cruise) to find out when these marsh trips are available and make a reservation. Have a credit card handy. The Audubon Society will give you all the necessary instructions…but, in case you are not familiar with the town of Orleans, just ask for the “Goose Hummock,” which is a well-known fishing (etc.) IMG_2507supply store. You have to park your car in a small public parking lot behind the Goose Hummock, you see. My advice: get there early…we arrived about a half hour early and almost didn’t find a parking spot.

You will cruise around the marsh and all the way out to the ocean (spectacular!) aboard a pontoon boat, which is a fun, flat-bottomed boat…perfect for walking around and observing or photographing birds, scenery and houses (ah, that is the other attraction of this boat trip: you will be able to admire fabulous waterfront houses…and envy their owners!).  

We saw and photographed hundreds of birds, including egrets, at least two different types of herons and plovers, sandpipers, kingfishers, cormorants, ospreys, terns (see photo 1) and a couple of Canadian geese. IMG_2552And other birds…I don’t remember their names, sorry (see photo 2). We also came upon a group of seals lazily swimming between the marsh and the ocean.

One of the main attractions of this trip, as far as I was concerned, were the ospreys. We saw three different osprey nests (three different locations). The knowledgeable Audubon Society naturalist told us a few osprey stories. Here are a couple:

  1. An osprey couple had built their nIMG_2430est on top of a telephone pole. As the years went by, the nest got higher and higher, until one day…several distraught area residents, very protective of their osprey couple, called the Audubon Society, reporting that the enormous nest had fallen off the pole. The problem was soon solved: a nesting platform was built right next to the telephone pole. In my photo, you can see a young osprey perched on a pole close to this particular nest, crying for its mother to come and feed it. Whoah, check out those claws! 
  2. I was astonished to see some sparrows sitting on and flying around the empty-at-the-time ospreys’ IMG_2440home (if you look closely at the nest, you can make out the profile of a tiny sparrow on the top left-hand side). The naturalist explained that ospreys won’t bother the sparrows since they are exclusively fish-eaters. This happens to be THE perfect arrangement for the sparrows, whose nests, under the protection of such a large and powerful raptor, are less likely to be destroyed by egg-eating birds. Now, who says birds aren’t smart???

This will be my final post on our U.S.A. summer 2009 trip. It was a fabulous trip, but I have to say that I am glad to be home again with my parents and cats. Stefano begins work again tomorrow, and I start working next week. Fall is just around the corner, and so are my experiments…my biggest problem now is: which supplement do I try first?

Barbed wire and useless cats

Stefano and I are going to be very busy for most of next week, so I won’t be posting at all or even checking my computer. This will be my last post until, hmmm…Friday, I think.

Today I thought I would publish what has turned out to be one of my favorite U.S. photos. I took it in Newport, Rhode Island…IMG_2197as you can see, it’s a sparrow or sparrow-like bird perched on the top of a fence, one of the mansion fences, and surrounded by barbed wire. 

When I saw this photo blown up on my computer, a thought popped into my head: those of us who are currently stable are in a similar position…that is, surrounded by danger (the lethal cancer cells/barbed wire) but equipped with wings (our attitude, supplements, whatever…). Silly, perhaps, but that is the first thing that came to my mind. Ah yes, I love this photo…

Let’s see, what else? By now, Stefano and I have more or less unpacked most of our stuff. I brought back the equivalent of one suitcase filled with supplements…wow. 

The “catnip” video was a big hit with Peekaboo who kept tapping on the TV screen, trying to reach all the birds and squirrels. Stefano remarked that someone should videotape the two of us lying in bed like two idiots, watching our baby watch birds and squirrels on TV. Well, all I can say is that watching Peekaboo’s little head bob back and forth (following the movements of the critters on TV) was sooo entertaining. Fun for us, too. The other cats haven’t seen the video yet.

Speaking of cats, my parents informed us that, while we were away, a mouse got inside the house…this has never happened before…in fact, we still aren’t sure how the tiny creature got in, but we think it must have run past my parents when they opened the front door. After all, we live in a green area, surrounded by the hills of Settignano and Fiesole…I am sure there are mice everywhere…At any rate, this silly critter seems to have spent several hours inside the house, “hunted down” by two of my cats, Piccolo and Peekaboo. My other two cats were apparently asleep upstairs, no comment necessary…

It took a while for my parents to realize that the two cats were chasing a live mouse. Sure, they saw Piccolo and Peekaboo get very excited and run after something, but they assumed it was a bug and weren’t that concerned. As soon as they saw it was a mouse, though, my father got a bag and managed to trap the little critter inside. My father took the terrified but otherwise unharmed mouse outside and released it in a field down the street. I hope it never comes back! 

Most of you will probably think that I have a bunch of bloody USELESS cats that can’t even hurt, let alone kill, a tiny little mouse! But, truth be told, I am secretly glad about that…

Adventures in the sky

Premise: I wonder if there is an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records titled “people who land twice in Paris in the same day without meaning to.” If so, my name should be on that list.

First things first. The flight from Boston to Paris was uneventful, yes the usual bits of heavy turbulence, but nothing too scary. When we landed in Paris, I figured, “phew, the worst is over.” Hah. Re-hah.

The Paris-Florence very early morning flight was more or less on time. A few seconds after our plane began roaring down the runway, though, the pilot aborted takeoff. I cannot explain to you how I felt right then…but certainly more perplexed than scared. Our pilot got on the intercom to explain, first in French then in English, that he had heard a strange vibrating noise as soon as he had revved up the engine for takeoff; under the circumstances, the plane could not leave the ground. We taxied back to the airport.

We waited patiently inside the plane for more than two hours while Air France engineers examined the plane’s four motors. The pilot finally informed us that they had replaced a thingamajiggy in one of the motors and that everything was fine.

Takeoff number two went smoothly enough. Once we were airborne, though, I began to wonder why the flight attendants had disappeared and weren’t offering refreshments. The Paris-Florence flight normally takes about an hour and a half, so passengers usually get served something within the first half hour. This time, nada. The only other odd thing was that the motors seemed a bit noisier than usual.

Well, about 40 minutes after we had left Charles de Gaulle, the plane began turning around. The pilot’s apologetic voice informed us that the same vibrating noise had started up again, and our only choice was to go back to Paris. His announcement was greeted with silence…but not one complaint. I was, I admit, a bit puzzled as to why we wouldn’t just go on to Florence, since by then we were about halfway there…but I suppose there must have been legal reasons…

Just before landing again in Paris, I heard a screechy sort of mechanical noise. For the first time, fear struck me…for a fraction of an instant. I am a fatalist at heart, you see…and, statistically, it’s more dangerous to drive a car than be on a plane…I relaxed again.

We landed. As we taxied toward the airport, I glanced out the window and saw that we were being followed by five large fire trucks and a couple of ambulances. Holy puffins! The pilot finally enlightened us: he had had to shut off one of the motors in flight. We had landed with three motors, instead of four. That explains the fire trucks…

Well, what follows is a very looong and not very interesting story that I will spare you. We were taken off the plane, thank goodness!, and escorted back to the terminal, where we were given a sandwich and drink voucher. (I was also finally able to call my semi-hysterical mother and reassure her that we were alive, that our plane hadn’t crashed.)

We waited for hours for another flight to be put together for us. We jealously watched passengers board subsequent (fully booked) flights to Florence. We waited. And waited.

Our flight number was finally called, and we were bussed out to the plane. It took so long that we began to joke that Air France had decided to drive us to Florence. Most of us quipped: “Hey, that’s fine with me!”

Then, when the bus stopped, one of my fellow passengers dramatically announced that this was the same plane we had boarded earlier that day. She said that she clearly remembered the name…Clare Island. Panic began to spread among the other passengers, some of whom angrily declared that they would refuse to board. I piped up before matters got out of hand, correcting her mistake: the name of our original plane was actually Tory Island, not Clare Island. In order not to sound too rude, I added that I had watched enough CSI Crime Scene Investigation episodes to notice things like that. Relief replaced frustration/fear, and everyone thanked me. We boarded the plane without further incident.

And we arrived in Florence in the late afternoon. Exhausted…but alive.

Going home

Well, we are leaving the Cape tomorrow and will be back in Florence on Friday. This has really been a lovely holiday, but I am ready to go home now and hug my cats. And see how (more likely, IF) they react to a video I bought for them titled something like “Catnip,” which is filled with bird chirping sounds and whatnot…

Let’s see. We went to Newport on Sunday… Of course, we visited the Breakers, the Vanderbilt family’s sumIMG_2193mer residence, built in 1895…Afterward, we did part of the so-called Cliff Walk, a public access walk that gives great views of Newport, the mansions and the coastline. Now, normal people would publish photos of the views and the mansions…but I was too amused by a sign that I saw stuck to one of the mansion fences along the Walk…so I decided to publish that instead..

We are off on one last fun excursion later this morning, then will head home to finish packing…I will try to post a little something on Friday if I am not too jet lagged… Until then, ciaooo!

Antibiotics and cancer stem cells

Sherlock (grazie!) sent me the link to a recent BBC report (http://tinyurl.com/opnun6) on a “farm” antibiotic called salinomycin and its killing effect on breast cancer stem cells. One of the uses of salinomycin, I read, is that it is added to chicken feed to prevent certain types of infections. A quick online search, though, turned up a bunch of serious toxicity issues in animals (sheep, horses, turkeys…and camels, yes, camels, see: http://tinyurl.com/nx22v9). By the way, if I am not mistaken, the use of such antibiotics has been banned in the European Union…

Anyway, the article states that, When given to mice with tumours, the growth of the cancer slowed. However, the researchers stressed that it was too early to know if similar successes could be achieved in human cancer patients.

Well, this was an interesting read, even though I would definitely NOT test salinomycin on myself!

First swim

IMG_2115Yesterday we went to Great Island in Wellfleet. Gorgeous day, not a cloud in the sky.

It was hot (by Cape Cod standards), so I decided not to join Stefano on a trek way down the beach, almost to Jeremy Point, a more than 5-mile walk under the midday sun. Not my cup of tea. While waiting for him to return, I relaxed on the beach, looked for shells and went for a couple of swims, my first in many years…ah, bliss…

Wellfleet Bay walking…

IMG_1755Yesterday we had a glorious walk through the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (Mass Audubon Society, see: http://tinyurl.com/dju94o). The day began with menacing clouds that, phew, soon cleared to reveal a perfect blue sky…perfection enhanced by the sanctuary wildlife’s cooperation. Animals and birds, in fact, politely posed for our cameras…well, at least…most of the time.

We had been to the sanctuary twice before, but I had never seen red squirrels there…until yesterday. We encountered two of these feisty little critters hanging out by the sanctuary birdfeeders. I suppose that at one point I got too close to one of them, because it began darting up and down a tree next to me, scolding me very loudly…piii piiiii piiiii! Trying to calm it down, I didn’t move an iIMG_1953nch…until I realized that the frustrated little thing was thinking of jumping right onto my head. Or so it seemed. Perhaps a mother with a nest nearby. I backed off at that point, of course. I don’t want to upset creatures of any size! Needless to say, I got some great shots (the photo I chose to post, though, shows my adorable little friend posed to jump onto a…birdfeeder)…although, as usual, Stefano’s shots are much better. But more difficult for me to post.

We saw many many birds. The thing I love about this sanctuary is its variety. You can see marsh birds, forest birds and sea birds. Three habitats in the same location. More than 260 bird species can be found here. So we took photos of blue jays, cardinals, great white egrets…and a bunch of other birds that we didn’t recognize. Stefano remarked that we are such ignorant, albeit enthusiastic!, birdwatchers that we might be snapping photos of common pigeons and believe they were exotic caracaras… That is almost the case…we really should find the time to study some bird watching books…

Case in point. Yesterday, we came upon a couple of birdwatchers sitting in a bird hide. They clearly took us for experts, perhaps based on the length of Stefano’s super-duper camera lens. I casually asked if they had spotted anything of interest. IMG_1816One of the guys answered, “well, it hasn’t been too bad. We saw two yellow-tailed wiggiewoddles and a speckled roastmybum…” “Ah, yes,” I quickly answered, pretending to have recognized both species. This encounter made me realize that if someone ever asks me what I have spotted, I will have to be ready with a couple of totally invented but plausible species names…

We have filled up the next few days with all sorts of activities, from boat rides through Nauset marsh to another whale watching trip, a walk around Great Island in Wellfleet and so forth. Hence, I apologize for not responding to those who have contacted me via my blog’s Contact form. I will respond to all of you upon my return to Italy. Thanks!

Antiobiotics and proteasomes

Thanks to a myeloma patients’ list (MMA) member, I just read an interesting Science Daily article on antibiotics and cancer. See: http://tinyurl.com/nw8dxh

It appears that a certain class of antibiotics, called thiazoles, targets one of the most highly over-produced proteins in cancer cells, FoxM1, which is believed to play an important role is [sic] causing cells to become cancerous. The researchers also found that thiazole antibiotics actually stabilized other cancer-causing proteins.

This led them to hypothesize that thiazole antibiotics may act as inhibitors of the proteasome, a molecular complex that acts as a trash collector in cells, degrading old proteins that the cell has marked for destruction. Now, wait a sec. Proteasome inhibition. Does that ring a bell? Oh yes indeed! Velcade…curcumin…

Reading on, Recently, a number of proteasome inhibitors have shown promise against cancer, but no one understands why they have anti-cancer effects.

So the researchers set out to see if proteasome inhibitors inhibited FoxM1. They do. Indeed, they also caused cells to self-destruct in the same concentrations. This discovery may explain the anti-cancer activity of proteasome inhibitors. Wow. The article of course mentions only Velcade, but I will mention curcumin, another proteasome inhibitor…

As you know, I am on holiday right now and have time only for a quick post…but I will take a closer look at all of this upon my return to Italy (=next week…gee, where did the time go???!).

Eh, I couldn’t resist doing a quick online search that turned up this rather enticing description of thiazoles (Encyclopaedia Britannica): any of a class of organic compounds of the heterocyclic series characterized by a ring structure composed of three carbon atoms, one nitrogen atom, and one sulfur atom. This ring structure occurs in such important biologically active natural products as thiamine (vitamin B1), bacitracin, and the penicillins, and in numerous synthetic drugs, dyes, and industrial chemicals. Vitamin B1? Hmmm…

As fascinating as this recent bit of news is, well, it will just have to wait. The Mass Audubon sanctuary at Wellfleet and its hummingbird and butterfly garden await us and our snapping cameras. :-) Ciao a tutti!