Monthly Archives: October 2010

Inca trails: This is probably a page from

somebody else’s journal. It was in a pile of stuff brought from the old Gringo House in Lima to the new one. I hope I am not violating anyone’s privacy by publishing this.

….One of our team, Apoteoso Arco-Balena ( I suspect that was not the name that his Whitefish Bay , WI parents gave to him either in the hospital, or at his baptism or christening) spoke hardly a single word of Spanish, and his only language,English, wasn’t really intelligible unless he had been off of hallucinogens for at least 48 hours, which, alas, never happened on this trip. He did discover, however, a new species of hallucinogenic moss (or so he claimed, he was usually on several questionably obtained drugs at any given moment and I don’t know how he could tell the difference, unless maybe it’s like those wine experts who can detect the same chemicals present in  blackberries, currants, and cowhide that are present in a single sip of wine), that heretofore had only been used in aboriginal religious ceremonies, but which Apoteoso claimed made a reasonable substitute for breakfast cereal, his favorite brands not being available in the Andes.

Apoteoso generally tried to make up for his lack of Spanish by attempting what he called “interpretive dances” which he claimed was better than learning Spanish, as “music’s the universal language, dude–even a guinea pig knows that.” He was unfortunately limited, though, by only having a poor quality (but loud!) boom box and a single cassette tape which consisted of Mama Mia, Afternoon Delight, and Rock Me Amadeus. In general, most of the Andinos thought he was crazy, and when the locals in Cochapata–half out of fear, half out of compassion–offered to lock him up in the local mental facility (“no criminals! not since the new alcalde had them shipped away! We promise!) the rest of us thought that it would hardly be polite of us to refuse this offer. Besides, in spite of his quirks, Apoteoso was devilishly handsome, and was generally getting first choice of all the chicks when we got to a new town, and I would be lying if I said that the rest of us weren’t a bit frustrated and jealous….


Fernet-Branca? Don’t do it!

Verrrrry bitter. So hard to stomach.

From a reader:

The Fernet arrived today.

I do not recommend that you pay good money for this ghastly shit. It’s bitter, it’s viscous, it’s vomitrocious! I really thought I was going to barf after the first sip. So, I couldn’t get enough of it down to determine what its effects on me might be. I may try it with Coca-cola later,after enough time has elapsed for the trauma to subside. Unless you want the challenge, or are really, really curious, I wouldn’t buy any, unless you can find an Italian or Argentinean restaurant where you can buy it by the drink. Personally,I think I’ll stick to Pinot Noir.

What exactly does one get for $50,000? Getting an MPH, part 1

A seat in very large lecture hall?  More letters behind one’s name?

Somewhere in the last 30 years, society decided that it was a good idea–or at least acceptable–for young adults to be saddled with a crippling amount of debt. I am not sure how this acceptance crept into our society, or why we take it lying down.

As I watch (with anticipatory dread) how friends or their children struggle with paying tuition, it astounds me how we all like sheep have gone astray. While a sizable part of the country is finally convinced–or at least it was in November two years ago–that government does have a role other than providing us with an army, police, courts, and a class of self-serving chest-pounders, we apparently continue to believe that post-high school education is largely an individual responsibility.

It is up to the individual to work hard and to use university education for something other than a four (or increasingly, a five) year reprieve from responsibility and accountability, but it is at the same time both selfish and short-sighted to say that society should not have an interest in the development of these young adults who (let’s face it) will someday be checking our nether regions for tumors, running our banks, teaching our children and grandchildren, and searching for ways to make our environment safer and our country more competitive.

Yes, we do have public universities, but the quality and cost vary widely. The question is whether or not we want a two-tiered society;  whether or not we want to restrict the supposed benefits of certain universities to the increasingly small group of students able to afford them or who picked the right state to grow up in; whether or not 18 or 21 year-olds–or anyone who has never really been in the adult job market–can truly comprehend the level of debt we used to associate with buying a business or a home.

(No, I am not a socialist, unless Milton Friedman was also a socialist. And while deploring selfishness seems to spit on the grave of the sainted Adam Smith, the last ten years have deprogrammed me from the party line I took hook, line and sinker from the good ol’ U of Chicago.)

In the next series of posts, I’m going to examine the Masters in Public Health (MPH) degree I received at the Boston University School of Public Health and if got what I paid for. Whether my experience can be extrapolated to the student body as a whole, or whether the BU experience is representative of all graduate schools of public health, I can’t say. However, it may provide a cautionary tale. Of course, to make this discussion more useful, it would be invaluable to hear the stories of fellow alums from BUSPH, as well as elsewhere.

Back in the Saddle Again, Curative Cocktail in Hand

¡Hola Argentina!


A fisherman in the Plata Basin-Gran Chaco region


When speaking of South America, I have so far only written about Peru. They are, obviously, very different countries. From the point of view of this blog, the biggest differences are in the poverty levels and in their favorite cocktails (No, I don’t equate them in importance). Argentina had a poverty level of 13.9% in 2009, compared with nearly triple that rate in Peru–36.8%. Argentina has had remarkable success in reducing the rate of Chagas’ Disease to background levels (there are notable exceptions in certain regions of the country, most importantly the Gran Chaco), whereas in Peru there seems to be roadblocks, like less money and lack of political will.

As for cocktails, we’ve already mentioned the Pisco Sour, the national cocktail of Peru. It’s an easy drink to like, and the pisco kind of creeps up on the drinker in gentle way.  Searching for the national cocktail of Argentina, the consensus seems to be that anything mixed with Fernet-Branca, especially Coca-Cola, is considered characteristically Argentine. Fernet-Branca, however, does not come from Argentina. Fernet originated in Milan, from a formula crafted in 1845 by Bernardino Branca. It  uses around 40 different herbs and spices, including myrrh (follow this link for Monty Python’s info on this), chamomile, gentian root and saffron. Italians call it an amaro, meaning bitter, and it was purported to have medicinal qualities, being good for gastrointestinal upset, menstrual problems, hangovers, and cholera, thus allowing me to make this post in good faith on a public health blog. As for these claims being true, you are on your own.


This stuff is horrible. “Acquired taste”  is only true if by acquiring you mean having your taste buds removed. Here are some quotes gleaned from the Internets:


Fernet Branca: the trendy drink that makes you gag. Fernet Branca is an Italian liqueur with a taste so pungent that your first sip has a good chance of making you either want to throw up or wash your mouth out with Pepto Bismol.

From the

Your first sip of Fernet Branca, an Italian liqueur, will be akin to waking up in a foreign country and finding a crowd of people arguing in agitated, thorny voices outside your hotel window.


It is the colour of road tar, smells like hell, tastes worse, and has to be shot straight back, with no hesitation.

I wrote this post after trying to find something out about myrrh, but it led to this. Never having been to the country, Argentines are free to refute my claim that Fernet and Coke is the national drink.