28 September 2007

A kingdom behind it all

Dave Gahan - Kingdom [CDMute393] Released 08 October 2007 on Mute Records.

A brand-new single from the frontman of Depeche Mode. I cannot wait.

27 September 2007

Frivolous Freelance Friday Fritillaries

The world revolves slowly. One continous day and one continuous night are perpetually chasing one another across the surface of the planet, crossing an imaginary line drawn through the ocean that causes human beings to flip the pages of their calendars and diaries. I have been tagged by karen little, several time zones removed from me now, but always close, somehow. Tagging is fun and infuriating at the same time. I am one of those people who openly define themselves by what they do, and only privately by what they are. The Orchidhunter is just one, eclectic-electronic version of me. But let's see what I can come up with...

The rules:
  1. Post these rules before you give your facts.
  2. List 8 random facts about yourself.
  3. At the end of your post, choose (tag) 8 people and list their names, linking to them.
  4. Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they've been tagged.

The randomness:

1. I'm a member of the American Orchid Society.

2. I have had the same pencil tin since starting my undergraduate degree. It's a beaten up metal tin with the words "2000 - the millennium year and beyond" still just barely visible on the top. Apart from the traditional collection of stationery, this tin has always been home to the following: two marbles; a nut with no bolt; a small ball-bearing; two bright red beans from the common coral tree Erythrina lysistemon; five bright red beans from the broad-leaved coral tree Erythrina latissima; three speckled calypso beans; a small plastic lizard from a surprise egg, given to me by my sister's youngest daughter; a green foil smiley face - a table decoration from some long-forgotten party; two red nerite shells I collected on the beach at Jeffrey's Bay in 1993; and tablets of paracetamol.

3. My living room is decorated with photographic prints of sea nettles, jellyfish in the genus Chrysaora. These beautiful organisms are very amenable to aquaculture and are housed in specialized aquariums around the world. I'd love to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, where they have a splendid display called 'Jellies: Living Art' combining jelly tanks with the organic glass masterpieces of Dale Chihuly.

4. Certain smells that seem to delight other people leave me with nothing but a headache. I cannot stand the smell of jasmine. Discovering that the smell of jasmine actually has 'a definite faecal undertone' in Sharman Apt Russell's immensely readable Anatomy of a Rose, just confirmed what my olfactory nerves had suspected all along. I also cannot stand scented soaps, incense, scented candles, or the smell of most household cleaning agents. All those dreadfully synthetic pink smells. Give me the good old chemical smell of plain bleach anyday. Why must your home smell like cinnamon-pumpkins for Thanksgiving? Why can't it just have the neutral smell of air? You know: 78% nitrogen, 20% oxygen, 1% argon, 1% carbon dioxide, the name you know and trust? Are you vainly trying to mask the foetid odour of a house inhabited by the filthy mammal you really are? What are you trying to hide? The sense of smell is such an intensely personal thing, intimately tied to the cerebral process of memory. Why waste it on an artificial, so-called 'lily-of-the-valley' tea candle? It's just offensive.

5. Unlike other people, I find it impossible to sing in the shower. The acoustics are always bad. And how do you sing without swallowing water?

6. I study the molecular and genetic interactions between plants and aphids. As far as bizarre goes, few things can beat an aphid. Imagine an insect that is always female, gives birth to live nymphs, is born pregnant, feeds exclusively on plant sap which is so poor in nutrients that the aphid has to secrete most of what it ingests as sticky honeydew out its arse, is actively farmed by ants because of its nectar-like poo, drinks its liquid lunch through a set of mouth parts 0.5┬Ám in diameter, and causes billions of dollars worth of damage to crops annually. This year, I hope to do some EPG (electronic penetration graph) studies, which are basically the aphid version of an electroencaphalogram: you attach an electrode to the aphid with metallic glue and proceed to monitor its feeding behaviour through alterations in electric current. I'm hoping to combine this with virus-induced gene silencing of certain candidate genes in the plant, in order to tease out what actually makes some plants resistant to aphid attack. Now, if it all just works out...

7. I love going to music concerts, but have chalked up way too few so far. Hopefully living in Colorado will soon change this for the better. I pine for those live concerts I've missed, never to return again: Talking Heads. Jimi Hendrix. The Smiths. Anita O'Day. Before I die, I'd love to see the Scissor Sisters live. Or Goldfrapp. Massive Attack. The Knife. Fischerspooner. Ladytron. The list goes on. The only thing that could ever beat the best live show I ever attended, though, would be another Depeche Mode concert. Such great memories. My sister took me to my first big stadium concert - Gloria Estefan live at Loftus - so many years ago. Although the only song I was actually familiar with was Conga, the whole experience of being part of the crowd, experiencing the dynamic artistry on the stage, instilled in me an instant addiction. Live concerts for the hell of it are sometimes fun: I was the only person in the crowd at a Counting Crows concert in Johannesburg who had not heard Mr. Jones before they actually played it onstage. I'm still not a fan, truth be told. But to attend a concert as a fan, with like-minded friends, is one of life's biggest pleasures. Encore!

8. People are confused by the name of this blog. It's long and no-one knows what it means, apparently. However, it captures the reasons why I blog perfectly. There are several meanings here, all intertwined like the roots of orchids growing in the cloud forest. Orchids are epiphytes. Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants. Epiphytes are not parasites, they simply use the bigger plants as perches, as support, as a means to get closer to the light and the air. I love orchids and all things horticultural and botanical. This blog hopes to provide support for the many eclectic and diverse things I'm passionate about, bringing them out of the dark corners of my brain and into the light of the blogosphere. The blog is a platform for my opinions, my creative outlet. I post short pieces I'd like to believe are at times witty or humorous, not exactly epigrams of course, but you get the idea. I only write about things I'm interested in or passionate about. Things that move me. Electrophoresis is the movement of charged molecules - such as DNA - in the presence of an electric field, thereby separating them and revealing their true nature. Do you understand now? Eclectic Epiphytes and Electrophoretic Epigrams is an ever-evolving collection of posts about the thrill of existing in the 21st century. The things that have grown on me. The things that move me.

That's it, I suppose. Now to tag some other victims, erm... bloggers. I'm only tagging four of you though (to leave more people to tag later on, see?). Let's go with Adam, who I think is always up for the job; Mike, who is bound to make it revealing; Arcadia, who is sure to make it beautiful; and Twanji, who actually reveals less of himself than I do.

13 September 2007

A certain ambivalence

You cannot integrate into a new culture in merely a month. My new environment is different and strange. You grow up watching American movies and cinema, but until you've been to the country yourself, you really have only a vague concept of what it's like. To be honest, I still feel like a tourist: a visitor to the zoo, looking in, not part of the multicultural tapestry that is the US of A.*

Since I love making lists, and my last proper list on this blog was posted in May, I thought it would be diverting to list some of my recent discoveries in the form of a comparative analysis with my home country. But instead of slagging off one country as these lists usually go, I'll focus on the good things about both the USA and the RSA. I cannot say that it's worse or better here. What i can say is that it's definitely different.

  • Technology. Access to broadband internet in the US is excellent, cheap and ubiquitous. The whole Downtown Fort Collins is rigged up for wireless, as is the whole university campus. On the other hand, I do miss the cellular communications systems in South Africa. SIM cards, GSM networks, number porting between service providers, and consumer choice of handset as wide as you can imagine. Come back Vodacom, all is forgiven! The winner: the USA, by several Kbps.

  • Food. US supermarkets are stocked with the most amazing variety of products. From the seventy kinds of peanut butter, ninety flavours of ice cream and thousand formats of Coca-Cola, to the incredible selection of south-of-the-border treats like blue corn chips and chipotle salsa. On the other hand, I miss South Africa's supreme cornucopia of fresh produce: Cape apples, cling peaches, avocadoes by the bag, litchis by the box, papayas from Nelspruit farm stalls, spotless potatoes from Fruit-n-Veg City. Where's a Woolworths when you need one? The winner: sunny South Africa, by a head of cabbage.

  • Nature. Colorado is an amazingly beautiful place, sporting snow-covered mountains, valleys covered in pines and aspen trees, and fast flowing rivers stocked with trout. It's a place where you can walk out of your front door and find squirrels and red foxes co-existing in the suburbs. On the other hand, South Africa has a particular beauty all it's own: once experienced it is never forgotten. It is unique and precious; it is the landscape of my spirit.** The winner: South Africa, by a mountain that looks like a table and some wild horses wearing stripey pajamas.

  • Society. Americans are easily the friendliest, most helpful people I've ever met. Folks have no qualms with striking up an anonymous conversation on the bus, and everyone seems genuinely interested in where I come from and what I'm doing here. Online purchases are delivered to my door, and actually stay there - untouched - until I return home in the evening! On the other hand, South Africa is the only place where people really know how to do a proper barbecue -it's called a braai, folks. South Africans have a wonderful sense of humour and know how to laugh at themselves. It's the only place where people get what the word lekker means, which says a lot. The winner: The USA, by a white picket fence, patient drivers and a host of friendly store clerks.

So in the end, there is no real winner here. Some aspects of living in a new country are exciting, some are infuriating, some are delicious, some are fattening, some are confusing, some are gorgeous, some are quite scary. But better or worse? Hmm, I just can't tell you yet...

*Ooh, that last part was so twee, I think I just threw up a little as I was typing it.
** Urgh. I think I did it again.

9 September 2007

Suburban conspiracy theory

I live in the south of Fort Collins. This area is apparently called SoPro by some of the locals, as it's south of Prospect Rd. This area has a different character to Old Town Fort Collins in the north; it's an endless stretch of strip malls and big-box stores. I cannot walk around this part of town without humming the tune to (Nothing But) Flowers by Talking Heads to myself:

Once there were parking lots
Now it's a peaceful oasis
This was a Pizza Hut
Now it's all covered with daisies
I miss the honky tonks
Dairy Queens and 7-Elevens
And as things fell apart
Nobody paid much attention

Some of the residential streets look like Agrestic a la Weeds. All taken, it pretty much represents a generic kind of suburban sprawl. It's comforting, somehow. But somebody at town planning must have had a sense of humour. There's a street - very close to where I live - called John F. Kennedy Parkway (or JFK Pkwy for short). It's a busy street, home to banks, supermarkets and the post office. Several other streets in this college town are named after famous universities, like Stanford, Cornell, Princeton, Oxford, Rutgers, Monroe, Columbia, Yale, Pitkin, Cambridge, Baylor and many others. Right where I catch the number 1 bus to campus is the intersection between JFK and Monroe.

So, although Monroe Ave. is obviously named after Monroe College in New York state (itself named after U.S. president James Monroe)... you kind of have to wonder. It's just too beautiful a coincidence. Could they have snuck a secret reference to Marylin Monroe in there? While waiting for the bus one day, this is exactly what went through my mind. A nice little conspiracy theory, all my own, which I now share with you. I haven't yet figured out exactly what the conspiracy is, though. Maybe you could come up with some suggestions?