Thursday, March 25, 2004

Rain is falling and playing percussion on the roof. I'm glad to be indoors, pondering cosmic questions like What are tomatillos related to, and how did anyone think to make salsa from them? I often wonder about the origins of various foods and drinks. Who would think to make drinks from rotted potatoes or fermented mare's milk? I've been told olives are almost inedibly bitter in their natural state (and some friends would claim they remain inedible even after processing). Who first thought to pickle them in brine? The oxalic acid in rhubarb leaves is toxic, though not nearly so much so as the neurotoxin in blowfish; how did we end up eating these things? Even my cup of tea -- flavored with osymanthus flowers today -- is a bit of a mystery. According to one tradition, tea was discovered when a few leaves blew into a Chinese emperor's kettle, but that story is likely apocryphal.

I finished my corn chips and salsa with lunch. That salsa is wonderful stuff. My friends all found it too salty -- but I've always had a weakness for salty foods, to the point that my flatmate once suggested we install a salt lick. With the chips and salsa gone, my cupboard looks startlingly bear. I have the ingredients for sour cabbage for dinner, with some bread and cheese on the side, but then I will need to visit the grocery store.

I briefly visited campus today, before the rain started, and checked out a book on the physics of musical instruments. I also photocopied an article on the effects of air loading and acoustic radiation loss on the sounds of kettledrums. To all appearances, the books in that library are organized by Library of Congress codes, but the journals are organized alphabetically. I could be mistaken; whether I was mistaken or not, though, I certainly was bewildered. By the time I wandered out of the physics library with my prizes in hand, it seemed like high time to have a cup of coffee and a snack.

The Free Speech Movement Cafe on campus is in the basement of Moffitt Library, which is next door to the Doe Library Building where the physics library is housed. I often enjoy something there when I'm visiting the libraries. Despite the spring break holiday, the cafe was open and busy today. I found a table where I could skim my article, but spent less time reading than I spent listening to the group at the next table, who seemed to be discussing the results of some experimental data on groundwater contamination. While their discussion was spirited and sounded fascinating, it was also distracting, and so I finished my coffee, got on my bike, and headed home.

The rain started when I was only a few blocks from home.