Not for nothing are letters and numbers called characters, as Saul Steinberg appreciated when he drew them as personalities. ‘5 and 2 might happily get into bed together,’ but ‘1, 4 and 7 have no sex appeal.’ The most primitive societies only have three number words: one, two, and many. For assessing quantities of things they have special expressions. For example, Australian Aborigines say a ‘five-dog night’ is the coldest you can be and the Chinese say a forest is a ‘triplet of trees’.

The ancient Greeks used letters to count. A represented 1, B was 2, and so on. When they got to the end of their twenty-four letter alphabet they began again, so AA stood for 25, AB for 26. The Romans inherited the method of using letters to simplify matters, introducing particular letters for particular quantities. V for 5, L for 50, and so on. Nowadays we can count in millions, billions, milliards, trillions, quadrillions, quintillions etc. (oh, and gigabytes). But numbers must be relative to what one can comprehend.

The value of nothing ranks among man’s greatest intellectual discoveries. The Arab mathematician al-Khwarizmi’s treatise on arithmetic was the first book to explain the operation of decimal numerals. The word zero comes from the Arabic sifr (empty) and algebra from al-jabr, which loosely translates as ‘bringing together broken parts’. The Arabs introduced numerals into Europe in the twelfth century, and the Italian mathematician Fibonacci wrote about a new sign called zephirum which signified absence by presence. The 0 is nought and naught, nothing, nil, and in tennis – love!

‘Four is an interesting number because it is a shape that would arouse the curiosity of a cat,’ wrote Steinberg. ‘ ‘Most numbers are either open or closed. Number 8, for instance is closed; a cat has no business to look inside. A cat likes to peer into something that is half open – a little bit open – a mystery. Number 3 is obvious, number 1 is nothing, 5 perhaps is more intriguing, but 4 certainly is perfectly designed and engineered for a cat to look inside and find out what is going on.’

But why 3 cheers, 3 little pigs, 3 wishes and 3 wise men (answers on a postcard please)? Apart from fingers and toes, 5 loaves fed the multitude and the owl and the pussycat went to sea with their worldly goods wrapped in a fiver. The world was made in 7 days. Then there’s cloud 9. It’s a game anyone can play or as Isidore of Seville said in (c.600 AD):

‘Take from all things their number, and all shall perish.’



source: chanel




C’mon, I know you have at least one person who makes you spark. I do.

You might as well ask nerds to try to explain the Force – it’s about as abstract and just as helpful. My friend Poppy calls it ‘a stepping away from the vehicle’ moment. Just for a moment Pop?

So what of those flickers, gleams, glints and sparkles? That delicious cacophony you have with someone. It’s rarely physical. Probably never will be. And that’s why it’s so goddamn palpable. I’ve got one word for you: rollercoasters. What makes them work isn’t the steep drops, the loops, corkscrews and hard banking turns. It’s the loooooong build-up before launching into the ride.

Amongst the hilarious words in Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine—a plotless, stream-of-consciousness examination that details the lunch-hour activities of a young office worker named Howie, whose meal (popcorn, hot dog, cookie and milk), and purchase of a new pair of shoelaces, are contrasted with his reading of a paperback edition of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations—there’s this gem:

‘Has anybody said publicly how nice it is to write on rubber with a ballpoint pen? The slow, fat, ink-rich line, rolled over a surface at once dense and yielding, makes for a multidimensional experience no single sheet of paper can offer.’

How do we understand tangible flying sparks, fireworks even? Why do they ignite so intensely with some? It doesn’t seem rational, even though science would have us believe that it’s all down to chemistry.

In Swiss zoologist Claus Wedekind’s famous lab experiment, participants were asked to wear a T-shirt for two days, sleeping and sweating in it. The shirts were then collected and placed in containers. Other participants of the opposite sex were asked to rank the shirts in order of which they thought smelled best. The data showed that people favored the shirts of the participants that had immune systems that were different from their own based on blood tests that had been taken prior to the experiment. Maybe we just don’t want a redundant mate for offspring, so, we can sense, in a way, their immunity?

The thing is, I’m not thinking (or wanting to think) about any of this when I’m in the moment of a spark. And maybe I defy physics and my chemicals aren’t either. I’m too lost in eye contact or a slight feeling akin to: is there a tiger in the bushes? Well maybe not a tiger, but you know what I mean.

Sparks are potent wizards. Is the fact that we may never act on them a reason they’re so incendiary, or would the heat be generated just the same if we did? It’s a question I’ve been pondering. In the way of glows and beams. And all that is seen and unseen. That’s my (chemical) spark (again and again) right there.

Or, as Diane Ackerman noted in A Natural History of the Senses:

‘Our skin is a kind of space suit in which we maneuver through the atmosphere of harsh gases, cosmic rays, radiation from the sun, and obstacles of all sorts.’

And this:

‘since feeling is first

who pays any attention

to the syntax of things

will never wholly kiss you.’

ee cummings



source: savethedeco.com



I once heard a medical examiner at a dinner party say: “If you really want to learn forensic pathology, do a rotation in New York City, all kinds of great ways to die there.” It stuck with me. And then I moved there.

Maybe it’s my South African heritage, but I’ve always been a little paranoid. It started when I was teeny tiny and I’d check under my bed (it had a huge gap) after I watched something scary, and most definitely if I was home alone. Then it manifested when we lived on Eaton Place, a street known for its (some might say) eerily quiet calm and dark back mews. And then, because I took forever to pass my driving test and was a bit rubbish on the tube (wink wink), the humble British taxi became my scare-mare. I started pulling out a small strand of hair every time I got in a cab, thinking that if for whatever reason I was squired away forever, a piece of me would be glaringly imprinted on the linoleum floor. My theory: everyone loves a mystery. Or, more specifically, everyone loves an ingeniously solved mystery. But how about just being clever and preempting the mystery entirely?

So by now, you’re thinking I’m slightly quirky – or is that too generous a word – but hey, it never hurts to be cautious. Hear me out though. Keratin, the main component of human scalp hair, contains all 21 amino acids, but the ratios depend on the body’s biochemistry and differ from person to person. Hydrolyzing the amino acids and measuring their quantities yields a profile that, when compared with a database, gives an indication of a person’s sex, age, body mass index, and region of origin. Boom.

Now, sophisticated analytical techniques are giving hair a new role in forensics. The goal is no longer matching a suspect to a crime scene but using hair to infer physical characteristics or even the travel history of an unknown criminal or victim. Boom, boom.

The ratios of isotopes—atoms of the same element that differ in the number of neutrons—in hair can also yield clues. The ratios of hydrogen and oxygen isotopes in drinking water vary from region to region and are also captured in hair. As a result, isotopic analysis of hair can provide clues about where a person has been in the previous months—or years, if the hair is long enough (mine most certainly is). In 2008, a Utah company called Isoforensics discovered that “Saltair Sally,” an unidentified woman found dead in Utah in 2000, had repeatedly moved between the Pacific Northwest and the Salt Lake City area before she died—a clue that helped identify her in 2012.

I really think there is something to be said for leaving a little lock strewn around on your travels, a stab at fate no less. Governing our minds certainly requires a sparkle of madness and my goodness, I got me some hair to play with.



I like to gain insight into the daily routines and wellness journeys of inspiring practitioners. One such fellow is Abdi Assadi, M.S., Lic. Ac., an acupuncturist and spiritual counselor in New York City. Hope you enjoy this inspiration he wrote for my blog as much as I did.

There is a lot of talk about wonder, joy, beauty and magic. These words, and more importantly their experience, are connected and intersect one another. The one thing they all have in common is that they can only be experienced when we are in the moment. Which any of us rarely are. Being present to the moment is in fact one of the most difficult things we can do.

It takes tremendous discipline and practice to be fully here here and now. We live in a culture that promotes all manners of activity to keep us distracted. Incessant thinking and worry, checking our phone every other minute, constant listening to music or news, spending hours at a time on the internet – all ways we keep our inner life at a distance. We are utter and total strangers to ourselves. What gives?

Culture is a reflection of us, and as such mirrors back our immense anxiety. In order to be in the moment we need to learn to tolerate our anxiety. It is a muscle that needs to be developed by actually practicing being present with and befriending ourself. That in turn can only be done by learning to have an honest relationship with our self and tolerating our anxiety.

No need for exotic practices to practice being present. It is amazing how we can do all kinds of body/mind practices and do them while not being in our bodies. Place the name of your favorite practice here. Just like exercising while listening to music, we can go through the motion while being totally checked out.

Here is a practice for you: look at/sit in front of or with/hold something you love. It can be a picture, an object, a pet. Feel the ground beneath your feet, drop your breathing and really be absorbed by what you truly love. Do that a couple of minutes every day and feel what happens. Don’t think about it, just do it.

The wonder, joy, beauty and magic that we are seeking has always been, is and will continue to be in the moment. We look every where but the here and now. We are either lost in the past or musing about the future while missing the present. Instead of being addicted to pursuing things why not be bathed in their presence? Instead of reading menus, why not grab a seat and eat a full meal?



One of the things that gives me enormous pleasure is seeing the face of people as they discover a smell they weren’t expecting; the whole body is involved as olfactors stoop, bend and stretch. You can see the sense of possibility expand in their being. Both culture and expectation weigh heavy on a city’s smellscape, so it’s lucky I’m not attached to any particular one at the moment. But at this present time I live in New York, and I can smell spring. I was in Beacon – a small town that hugs the Hudson – on the weekend and I caught a tangible odor of promise (literal) and then lyrical – the smell of history embedded in the surrounding architecture. The air was sweet and billowy and it got me excited. Even with semi-forlorn trees and buds that hadn’t yet sprung, the sense of the earth getting ready to blossom again felt palpably wondrous. Growing up in a city as contained as London didn’t seem conducive to being able to appreciate a seasons’ overflowing, but my family brought South Africa with them – barbecues, crocuses, daffodils, passion fruit juice and soul food. They brought their strong accents and multiplicity of tongues, their histories from Eastern Europe mingled with generous dollops of fortuity. Maybe that’s why it’s my favorite time of the year wherever I may be walking.



My uncle – who has a lovely sense of irony about many things – asked me yesterday how a new project was going, to which I replied, “I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” Well I text it. And obviously those luminous words belong to Mr Hemingway and not Miss Jacobs.

The description of the intricacies of a moment in time are as ambiguous as the shades of a walnut don’t you think? Can you describe an unraveling to someone on the other side of the world? Can you measure the color of change? My German friend Nina’s favorite word is entfalten which translates as ‘to unfold, to open or spread out.’ I think that’s the essence of Hemingway’s directive and it’s never felt so poignant to me personally or professionally. Chaos theory teaches that seemingly insignificant initial circumstances can effect global, even universal events. As the theory has it: a butterfly flaps its wings in one country and helps to cause a tornado in another.

The same applies in our lives. On my travels, I’ve discovered emotions I recognised that I didn’t even know had names, such as Amae, which in Japan describes the feeling you get from surrendering to another in perfect safety; and others I didn’t even know existed, such as Acedia, a short-lived listless despair brought to the fourth-century desert monks by noonday demons. I offer this collection of emotions as a gesture against those arguments that try to reduce the beautiful complexity of our inner lives into just a handful of cardinal feelings. Because one thing I’ve learned is that we don’t need fewer words for our feelings. We need more.

Hemingway also said, “As a writer you should not judge. You should understand,” and just like the world around me, I want to  invest in wonder, weave rainbows and never eclipse slack-jawed splendor with anything other than utter marvel.


source: thetaoofdana.com



We are sentient creatures, our skin exposed tantalizingly often to all the elements. But has it become reticent? Whereas our ancestors once sported full-fur suits, Homo sapiens today are almost embarrassingly naked. I’m in Cape Town, a city whose winds huff and puff. A city whose breezes dance on my skin like no other. It’s got me thinking about instant palpable perception. The iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones and the oxygen we breathe are the physical remains — ashes, if you will — of stars that lived and died long ago. Those inchoate seeds of life emerge in the distance don’t they. But our body hair? All the soft, downy stuff that barely shows up on your body? The bits that stand on end or caress us gently depending on what’s happening? It’s called vellus hair, and apparently it’s an evolutionary relic. Humans don’t need it anymore, but it’s not doing any harm either, so there it stays.

Hair norms began to change in the late 19th century, with the confluence of several wider currents. The dissemination of Darwin’s landmark Descent of Man increased interest in our connection to other animals – and in removing reminders of that animal ancestry. The rise of organized scientific and medical professions gave fresh authority to diagnoses and treatments of excessive hair. The proliferation of print media and, later, radio expanded the reach of the growing personal care and beauty industries. And the development of increasingly sophisticated tools of hair removal – from electric needles to X-rays to mass-produced safety razors – gave consumers fresh options for managing their hairy bodies.

What we do know for sure is that humans’ site-specific hairiness forced us into new forms of communication. Now that we can’t raise our hackles or use coat patterns to signal who we are, we’ve lost a powerful—and badass—way to send messages about who we are and what we’re feeling. Yet, to evolutionary biologists, humans are amazing not because they have so much hair, but because they have so little. The compilers of Genesis write that as soon as Adam and Eve realized they were naked, they sewed themselves aprons made of leaves from the fig tree, and that the Creator himself made them more durable skin coats before evicting them. Humanity has used an impressive array of tools to remove fur and it’s changed our modern sensory acumen, manifesting in an array of ways: piercings, tattoos, makeup…and a little thing called language. Losing our hair didn’t just cool us down. It made us the people we are today.



source: Olimpia Zagnoli/Bruno Depetris



My teenage party trick; a Myanmar hot-air balloon obsession; helium and celluloid – otherwise known as zealous love for the extraordinarily tender movie “Up” (who doesn’t want a house that can soar) – got me thinking about my enchantment with the balloon. The gas, used to cool atoms to around -270C to reduce their vibrations and make them easier to study, is now becoming worryingly scarce. Research facilities probing the structure of matter, medical scanners and other advanced devices that use it, may soon have to reduce operations or close because we are squandering away the world’s limited supplies of helium on party inflatables. I know, I couldn’t quite believe it either. Ironically, helium is the second most abundant element in the universe, it’s just that helium is scarce on Earth.

Five years ago, Robert Richardson of Cornell Univeristy, who won the Nobel physics prize for his work on superfluidity in helium, issued a warning that it was being used at an unprecedented rate and could be depleted within a generation – the United States produces about 75 percent of the world’s helium, with Qatar coming in second. Professor Richardson warned the gas is not cheap because the supply is inexhaustible, but because of the Helium Privatisation Act passed in 1996 by US Congress. The Act required the helium stores held underground near Amarillo in Texas to be sold off at a fixed rate by this year, regardless of the market value. The law instructed the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to sell the helium at a constant rate and at a price that would recoup the $1.3 billion that the government had spent accumulating it, but BLM had a mandate to continue the sales only until it had recouped the government’s investment. That would have occurred in September 2013, with roughly 370 billion liters still in the ground. So Congress passed the 2013 act, and last year 10% of BLM’s helium sales were through auction. But the change didn’t broaden the market as hoped.

Having just been the recepient of multiple scans pre knee-op, I found out that liquid helium is vital for its use in cooling the superconducting magnets in MRI scanners, and there isn’t a substitute because no other substance has a lower boiling point; it’s also fundamental in the manufacture of liquid crystal displays and fiber optics. Maybe we won’t suddenly wake up in a helium-less universe, but we may well look back with something like disbelief; imagine if in our 60’s, we couldn’t have medical scans, use flat panel displays or transmit calls at the speed of light because we blew up too many balloons in our 30’s? I’m already guilty as charged.


source: weheartit.com