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before i die, hmmm, i did that one, better think of a new one

2013-12-04 - 9:22 a.m.

Today the local fish wrapper informs me that Candy Chang's Before I Die post-Hurricane Katrina wall has been copied in 400 known places in 60 countries, in addition to the original still standing on an abandoned structure in New Orleans.

Better watch what you scribble, is all I'm saying. I remember once I cut out a little snip of paper in a magazine about the Madagascar Serpent-Eagle being rediscovered and put it on my wall, saying, "One day I'm going to see that."

As far as I know, I may still be one of only six or seven tourists who have done so, although plenty of scientists have. So this stuff has wings. Don't waste it on air like "brighten someone's day." Yeah, "brighten someone's day" is reportedly an actual wish. Why bother. That's easy. Just do it.

Speaking of hard, does David Quammen even want to live? Check out this excerpt from his book Spillover:

"Turns out that, during my journeys with Mike Fay across the Congo basin, seven years earlier, besides footslogging through Ebola country we had also passed very near the cradle of AIDS....I thought it might be illuminating to go back."

That's near the end, but it sure answers one question I had which was: Does National Geographic just call Quammen every time they have a shit assignment chasing some disease that no sane person would take? Or does he actually seek out danger? This dude apparently knows no fear. Random example: A chilling scene where he stumbles by accident into a scary wing of something called the Cholera Hospital. He basically just politely puts a busy look on his face and keeps walking through it until he finds wherever he's really supposed to be.

But it seems like he's in the situation in the first place because he's too polite to tell the driver he dropped him in the wrong spot.

Yeah, polite is the word that frequently comes to mind. On that Ebola trip, he ate the mystery meat in the field. On the trail of SARS, he ate things like little cubes of blood we don't even want to think about. At least he drew the line at drinking the Nipah-laced raw tree sap in Bangladesh...but only because everyone else in his party did the same. One can't help but suspect that if everybody else jumped in the lake, Quammen would too.

"I didn't intend to let anyone hand me a Nipah-dripping bat if I could reasonably avoid it," he assures us at one point in his adventures. The research leader, knowing Quammen better than he knows himself, continues to instruct him in the proper Nipah-dripping bat handling procedures.

"[E]verybody had an assigned role. Mine was to stay the hell out of the way, and occasionally to assist with a swab."

Was Quammen handed any Nipah-dripping bats? Oh who the hell knows?

"Later he [the lead field researcher] said to me: 'Any one of those six bats could have been infected. That's what it looks like. They look totally healthy...'"

At a conference, an unnamed researcher with asthma told Quammen to drop Ebola and start studying asthma "which afflicts 22 million Americans." And for extra bonus points asthma doesn't involve strolling through forests of mysteriously dead gorillas or caves of expired bats and very much alive cobras. But Quammen wouldn't be Quammen if he took the road well traveled, would he?

Anyway, a good read and an important story. Also, part of Quammen being a polite and rather agreeable person is that he doesn't bend over backwards to gross you out. So you can actually follow the story even though it's about disease and death. I think I once read two paragraphs of The Hot Zone, and no. Not going there. Not reading that!

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