Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The last hurrah...

As I post this, I have already attended my first class of the semester.It has been a pretty good start, overlooking the fact that I missed a class I wanted to sit in on this morning because I had it in the wrong time slot in my calendar. But this post is not about the beginning of the school year. This post is about that gloriously tragic portion of the year we call the end of summer.

I'll start by wrapping up the summer reads...

I know this much is true by Wally Lamb

I finished this, and it was an incredibly beautiful book. Wally Lamb certainly has a gift for capturing the bizarre and yet mundane about life, and for writing in a way that makes the incomprehensible absolutely quotidian. I really liked this though, as I've found with many great novels, it was somewhat disturbing. I've discovered that I enjoy books with multigenerational plots (think Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides) that are connected by more than a family tree. The story of the grandfather in this book is infuriating to read, but only more so when the same themes are echoed through the story of his twin grandchildren. Overall I really liked this one, and enjoyed the time it took to work my way through the thick volume.

Better by Atul Gawande

I didn't like this when I started it. It seemed like yet another doctor listing the amazing accomplishments of medicine: smallpox eradication, end of life care, etc, as well as bemoaning the difficulties in the profession. As I kept reading, however, I found myself enjoying the book, and appreciating the thesis. Gawande suggests that although good ideas are important, and definitely needed to make significant progress, the proper implementation of the technology we already have would make as much, if not more, impact on the world. Nevermind the fact that this is not a new idea, because it is a good one. I'd argue that people in public health have been struggling with it for decades if not centuries. Gawande makes a convincing argument though, and I can only hope that doctors everywhere will read his book, be inspired by a need to evaluate our healthcare system domestically and across the globe, and decide that funding public health is a good idea.

That's about all I've read since I last posted, in addition to assorted magazine articles and some riviting pieces on the theory of the total institution and incarceration in the US. The best part of this last piece of summer, however, is the vacation. The MSTP allows fellows to take several weeks of vacation over the summer. In practice, this rarely happens as we have work to do and want to graduate in 8-ish years. Most of us are able to take a few long weekends, however, and carve out a little bit more time than usual to read, bike, swim, sleep, and relax. Alicia and I decided to fly to Montreal for 5 days and really get away. It was lovely.

We walked around downtown quite a bit. Apparently Mark Twain described Montreal as "the city where you cannot throw a stone without breaking a church window." Despite what is probably rather sloppy paraphrasing, this sentiment is true. There are lovely buildings, many of them religious, scattered liberally throughout the city. We also biked along the St. Lawrence Seaway, which was wonderful. I got to see one of the locks where they raise and lower the ships, which I think is fascinating. Apart from a small amount of sunburn, and slightly more ill-fitting bikes than we¿re used to, this was great fun.

We also climbed the Mont Royal which gives the city its name. Oscar Wilde is said to have offended many by referring to it as a "hill" rather than as a "mountain," but I'd have to say I agreed with him. In spite of being a rather steep climb for a good 15-20 minutes, we did, in fact, summit the "mountain" in 20 minutes. I don¿t think this can count. It did offer a spectacular view of the city, regardless of its geographical classification.

In addition to all of this walking, we ate a lot. Montreal is a great city for food, and we enjoyed a lot of it. I must say, however, that the traditional Quebecoise cuisine left a bit to be desired for me. This is mostly because it is very heavy on the meat. Their signature dish is a smoked meat sandwich. Alicia gave it a decent review, after noting that she doesn't think she really likes red meat. I tried the "poutine," which consists of fries covered with cheese curds and gravy. I left off the gravy, and found cheese curds and fries to be a delicious combination. Alicia was unimpressed, however, which is unsurprising as she is a fry connoisseur and prefers only ketchup. Apparently there is also an option for "poutine Michigan" which substitutes tomato sauce for the gravy. This sounded horrible to me, and I was similarly put off by the fact that any food with the adjective ¿Michigan¿ appended seems to mean "with tomato sauce on it." Is Michigan really such a culinary low?

It is also of note that we were in Montreal for the International Film Festival there. We saw one of the feature length entries from Spain, titled "Bienvenido a Farewell-Guttman," and a short entry from France titled "Break." Both were entertaining, though we were pretty tired by the end of the films. I really liked "Bienvenido a Farewell-Guttman," and it was a somewhat novel experience to see a show after only reading a one sentence description and not having seen some kind of preview or trailer. I thought it was a well-done piece of cinema, and I appreciated the dark humor that permeated the film.

The trip was a great way to end the summer, if there can be a great way for a summer to end. My consolation lies in the fact that classes look good this year, and the beautiful cool season that is my favorite is clearly on its way. Not to bad...

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