My Buffalo Home

I’ve lived in Buffalo off and on for seventeen years. The first three were full time, when a was a Dean here. The next four, I was a Dean in New York, while Phil continued to work in BLO, and we took turns doing the weekend commute to be together. For the next five years, I was in Canada, and made it back for one weekend a month. Then back to New York for two years of weekend turnabouts again. Finally, three years ago, I moved to Buffalo “full” time, with weekends in Brooklyn twice a month. Whew!

Yet I have never really felt a part of this place, and that is odd, because with all the other places I have lived, including a small town in Nova Scotia, I tended to dive right in and adopt the new surroundings as my own. Even in Canada, when people would ask “Where’s home?” I would say, ” Right here,” and explain that I was like a turtle, carrying my home on my back. That never really satisfied them, because “home” to them was the place you were born, and always wanted to return to. Since I never wanted to return to where I was born, this didn’t resonate with me, so we reached an impasse.

But I am still bemused by my alienation from Buffalo. The city has lots of positive features, like some of the most beautiful housing stock I have ever seen. The summers are ten degrees cooler than in Brooklyn, there is an Olmsted-designed park five minutes from our house, I have made some wonderful friends here, and winter is no longer the snow-bound hassle it once was. A nod to climate change.

Our house is not one of the architectural wonders, but it is cozy, with a front and back yard, three bedrooms, eat-in kitchen and dining room. And we bought it for under $50,000, about 13 years ago. We joked at the time that we could put it on our credit cards.

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But then there are the negatives. The media delights in that snow-bound reputation, and exults at every flake, the civic attitude is not one of “can do,” but rather, of complaint and finger-pointing. When I left in 1999 there was discussion of building an improved Peace Bridge, to compete with the crossing from Canada near Detroit. In 2012, the Detroit crossing had doubled its span and traffic, and nothing but talk having developed in Buffalo, the issue was finally laid to rest and defeat.

Despite the financial reality that a lot more money comes into this region from the State than ever goes out in taxes, there is the iron-clad conviction that somehow Western New York and Buffalo are supporting New York City. And when young people see no future here and leave, that is somehow someone else’s fault too.

The major enthusiasm the residents seem to have is for the losing sports teams, the Bills and the Sabres. The University even spent untold sums to bring its football team from Class III to Class I, though to what end remains unclear. A new Medical Campus is being built downtown, but meanwhile the Pharmacy building was given a major renovation before the Department’s imminent relocation to the new campus.

I have met many good people here, and wish the city well, if it could only stop stepping on its own feet!

The Human Guinea Pig

At one point early on in my scientific career, before I decided that I would build a research program that required neither calculus nor live animals, I worked with guinea pigs. I convinced myself that the work was for the greater glory of the human race, and that my scientific findings would have great importance, but I hated it. The same with the dozens of white mice whose paths crossed mine, to no good end-for them.

Little did I know that I would one day begin to experiment on myself. Or maybe it was inevitable.

I’ve mentioned one of my enthusiasms, the Fitbit. After a year and eight months using it, I can confidently report that I have walked 8 million steps, about 3000 miles, and climbed 16,000 flights of stairs, the equivalent of the seven highest mountains in the world. I enjoy the encouragement of the online community, located around the world, and stand amazed at my new British friend Susan, who at 64 has walked an astounding 11 million steps and climbed 16,000 flights of stairs! Now I have started a virtual walk across Australia, and am climbing mountains in space. Taller ones than Everest.

A parallel enthusiasm is the FastDiet, or 5:2 Intermittent Fasting. Originally conceived by Dr. Michael Mosley, I learned of it when Phil watched some BBC health-related specials on our marathon flight back from Sydney. Mosley is both an M.D. and a journalist, and has looked at the effects of interval training and intermittent fasting on his own body. The research being carried out in a number of labs, which he visited, and his own experience are compelling. For those of us familiar with Yom Kippur, fasting means no food or water for 25 hours, with headaches, lethargy and a longing for sundown. This is different. Two days a week you limit your caloric intake, to 500 calories for women, and 600 for men, and lots of water. That’s it.

Turns out that intermittent fasting leads to very positive effects in reducing cholesterol, blood sugar, IGF1 (a cancer-supporting growth hormone) and weight. What’s not to like?

I started seven weeks ago, and have lost twelve pounds painlessly. For me, restricting calories is not a problem,and I enjoy the challenge of squeezing interesting meals into that limit. I can ignore any hunger pangs, though drinking lots of water usually keeps them at bay.

On a typical “Fast” day, I have an egg and coffee for breakfast, a giant salad for lunch, with a tiny amount of oil and a good splash of balsamic vinegar, and a dinner of salmon, a vegetable, and more salad. Voila!

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There is serious scientific research behind this intermittent fasting. Mice who are calorie-restricted live 40% longer, and the humans who are trying to live that way every day are still a work in progress. Of course the joke about the permanent restriction of calories is that these folks may not live longer, but it will seem that way, with so little pleasure in food.

Will check my cholesterol in a few weeks, as I join the ranks of the human guinea pigs looking at better living through less eating.

Chicken Rinsing

I found out to my horror recently that, all these years I have been rinsing off my chickens before cooking them, I have likely been spreading bacteria all over my kitchen and myself. This is almost as bad as the dread “toilet sneeze.” These made me reflect on so many of the other things that I have learned over the course of my life, which I have later had to unlearn. After awhile it gets confusing.

For example, there’s Kurt Waldheim, and Austria itself. When I studied world history, Austria was “Hitler’s First Victim,” invaded in the Anschluss. Years later, I met Gertie, who had been there at the time, and described the cheering crowds surrounding her, a Jew, as the Nazi troops marched by. And Waldheim, who became President of Austria,and Secretary-General of the United Nations, had been a member of the S.S. during WWII. Justice may wear a blindfold, but history has amnesia.

And then there are the medical advisories that constantly change. With my first child, I was chided if I gained more than fifteen pounds; eleven years later, weight gain was encouraged, to a magnificent thirty plus; and only four years after that, back to a limited number, somewhere in between. And I was starting off at pretty much the same weight each time. Have no idea what the weight rule is today. Just glad I don’t have to follow it!

When I was young, we swam all summer in Long Island Sound. It was something of a garbage dump, with flotsam and jetsam from boaters occasionally drifting in, along with the jellyfish and horseshoe crabs. But the nearby ocean was considered to be infinite, and all sorts of things were tossed into it, on the assumption that no damage was being done. And while the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” swirling in the Pacific may be a myth, the coral reefs worldwide are eroding, and stocks of various types of fish are decimated. Saw porgy on the menu recently at a fine restaurant. We used to consider them “garbage fish” and throw them back. But now cod have almost vanished, and there are no wild Atlantic salmon, just farmed ones.

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Pacific, yes; garbage, who knows?

Again, when I was growing up, eggs were considered a superfood, then they somehow turned into poison, and now they are back as a good thing to eat. Similarly, fats were blamed for heart disease, and many (not I) resorted to bland, low low fat eating, to stave off the plaques. Now it seems that it is a lot more complicated, and those fat-free regimens have helped to contribute to today’s obesity epidemic, as the shift to added sugar and carbs in lieu of fats in food helped put on the pounds. Take the fat out of the cookie or yogurt and you have to put something in there!

While I might sound like I am whinging about all of this, in fact I am delighted to keep learning about new and better ways to deal with the world, my health, and the varying facts of life. As a scientist I know that we never reach “truth” in the work that we do, but that we can learn more and more about the issues. And sometimes that requires us to rethink, and relearn, what we thought we already knew.

So my chickens will go straight into the pan for their thorough cooking, and I will lower the toilet seat cover after use, I promise.

Coffee, Mate?

Coffee never lived up to its promise. I would smell the grounds when my mother opened the bag, and watch her prepare the brew. She would add water from the tap to the battered metal pot, then insert the rod and affix the basket to it. Carefully measure out the fragrant grounds, put on the lid with the glass bubble, and put the pot over a flame on the stove. Wait for the brown liquid to boil up into the glass, and lower the flame and boil for five, or was it ten minutes. The resulting pale brown watery brew bore no relation to those heavenly grounds, and was only marginally improved by lots of sugar and milk.

Newly married, I replaced the stovetop pot with an electric one, but the quality of the product remained the same. The fact that it also upset my stomach further reduced my interest in its consumption. A trip to Israel changed all that. There, cousin Gila introduced us to “botz” (mud) or Turkish coffee. Dark, sweet, and whatever you do, don’t drain the cup! On a visit to Brazil, I consumed numerous daily thimblefuls of their dark brew, to only good effects. But again, back in the States, coffee’s charm faded. Until Australia.

Setting out on a two month visit there, I was determined to try the “flat white” I had heard so much about. One cup, and I was a goner. Though it turned out that a flat white was really a latte in disguise. Seems that Australia has had a huge influx of immigrants from Italy over the years, and the renowned Italian coffee culture came right along with them. Espresso, latte, cappuccino, wonderfully brewed and served everywhere, from our local Bar Coluzzi, beloved of John Travolta and Luciano Pavarotti, to a diner down south with wild kangaroos hopping around out back, the coffee never disappointed. And my daughter-in-law Miriam got me on my feet every day with an outstanding cup as well.

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Immediately upon our return, we fired up the espresso machine that had been gathering dust since I got it on sale from Amazon, and the flat whites and cappuccinos began to stream forth, while the milk steamed and frothed. All those wondrous health benefits I’ve read through the years that coffee confers can now be mine. And, as a friend informed me, I have now been inducted into the International Society of Coffee Snobs. Take that, Starbucks!