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Curiosity

By Hyon O'Brien

Recently I have been reading a rather unusual book called "The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating" by Elisabeth Tova Bailey.

Bedridden and immobilized by an unspecified disease, the author receives a plant from a friend and is intrigued by a common woodland snail that peeps over the rim of the pot and becomes, in effect, her rescue animal. She reads everything that can illuminate her curiosity about this snail, and the research keeps her focused and comforted in the stillness of her room. She forgets about her immobilized state and her sickness as she shifts her attention to her companion snail.

The entire book is an account of her observations, which help her deal with the suffering caused by her disease. As the author says, "Whereas the energy of my human visitors wore me out, the snail inspired me. Its curiosity and grace pulled me further into its peaceful and solitary world." And elsewhere: "The snail kept my spirit from evaporating."

In this book I discovered more than I ever thought I would know about snails. Among other things, this particular snail (Neohelix albolabris) has 80 rows of teeth, each row with 33 teeth (2,640 teeth in total). The snail gets a totally new set of teeth every three to four weeks. The teeth point inward so as to give the snail a firm grasp on its food. If you wonder what sound a snail makes eating, you can hear the crunching and munching on the author's website.

A reviewer aptly put what I was experiencing from the book as a remarkable journey of survival and resilience, showing us how a small part of the natural world can illuminate our own human existence, while providing an appreciation of what it means to be fully alive.

Last month we enjoyed visits from loved ones ― a cousin from Colorado and our older daughter and grandson from Washington DC. As usual we ate out a lot during their stay, trying out our neighborhood restaurants and beyond.

One of them was an Italian eatery that opened only a year ago. Inside the restaurant, my curiosity was piqued by a wall that was adorned with numerous trophies and medals. It seems that the owner and the chef of the restaurant have been winning many medals as a world-champion pizza maker in various global competitions (the menu has six full pages of different pizzas). I asked our waiter to meet the chef. What an honor it was for me to chat briefly with Massimiliano Stamerra and convey my admiration for his achievements! He came to our table to shake hands with my family with a broad smile.

We loved our dinner: pizza, eggplant parmesan, gnocchi and shrimp dishes were all delicious. We decided to skip dessert and paid our bill. As we were about to leave, our waitress stopped us and set out four plates and dessert forks.

Our chef had decided to gift us his amazing desserts; delicate chocolate cake with whipped cream, very dainty cookies powdered with sugar, and vanilla ice cream covered with raspberry syrup. Even though we were very full, we delved into these kind offerings with much enthusiasm and sounds of appreciation. After we gobbled up everything, my daughter said, "Mom, your genuine curiosity about the chef resulted in this dessert."

All my life, reading books has helped me cultivate that curiosity. Whenever I am back from a trip, I search for books that will educate me about the people and places that I have just encountered. After staying in the island of Corfu for two weeks, I was thoroughly immersed in the book called "My Family and Other Animals" by Gerald Durrell. He wrote about Corfu in the 1930s where as a pre-teen boy he was allowed to roam around between homeschooling lessons by various friends of his older brother, author Lawrence Durrell.

His accounts of collecting and observing insects, birds, tortoises and other creatures around the island brought discomfort and great horrors to his family. However as a reader I had a marvelous time. His insatiable curiosity about nature around him fed me with more layers and depth of understanding the island of Corfu and the Greeks. Gerald Durrell went on to become a world renowned naturalist, founding the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Jersey Zoo, an endangered animal sanctuary on the Channel Island of Jersey.

Every day I check "today in history" to learn about happenings through the years. Today is July 6th as I type my column and I will share with you:

In 1885, the French scientist Louis Pasteur tested an anti-rabies vaccine on a nine year old boy who had been bitten by an infected dog; the boy did not develop rabies.

In 1957, Althea Gibson won at Wimbledon, the first African-American tennis player to achieve a singles title there.

In 1971, beloved American jazz trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong died in New York at age 69.

Someone may ask me what use it is to know all this information. All I can say is, "I am curious, therefore I am."


Hyon O'Brien (hyonobrien@gmail.com) is a former reference librarian now living in the United States.


By Hyon O'Brien

Recently I have been reading a rather unusual book called "The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating" by Elisabeth Tova Bailey.

Bedridden and immobilized by an unspecified disease, the author receives a plant from a friend and is intrigued by a common woodland snail that peeps over the rim of the pot and becomes, in effect, her rescue animal. She reads everything that can illuminate her curiosity about this snail, and the research keeps her focused and comforted in the stillness of her room. She forgets about her immobilized state and her sickness as she shifts her attention to her companion snail.

The entire book is an account of her observations, which help her deal with the suffering caused by her disease. As the author says, "Whereas the energy of my human visitors wore me out, the snail inspired me. Its curiosity and grace pulled me further into its peaceful and solitary world." And elsewhere: "The snail kept my spirit from evaporating."

In this book I discovered more than I ever thought I would know about snails. Among other things, this particular snail (Neohelix albolabris) has 80 rows of teeth, each row with 33 teeth (2,640 teeth in total). The snail gets a totally new set of teeth every three to four weeks. The teeth point inward so as to give the snail a firm grasp on its food. If you wonder what sound a snail makes eating, you can hear the crunching and munching on the author's website.

A reviewer aptly put what I was experiencing from the book as a remarkable journey of survival and resilience, showing us how a small part of the natural world can illuminate our own human existence, while providing an appreciation of what it means to be fully alive.

Last month we enjoyed visits from loved ones ― a cousin from Colorado and our older daughter and grandson from Washington DC. As usual we ate out a lot during their stay, trying out our neighborhood restaurants and beyond.

One of them was an Italian eatery that opened only a year ago. Inside the restaurant, my curiosity was piqued by a wall that was adorned with numerous trophies and medals. It seems that the owner and the chef of the restaurant have been winning many medals as a world-champion pizza maker in various global competitions (the menu has six full pages of different pizzas). I asked our waiter to meet the chef. What an honor it was for me to chat briefly with Massimiliano Stamerra and convey my admiration for his achievements! He came to our table to shake hands with my family with a broad smile.

We loved our dinner: pizza, eggplant parmesan, gnocchi and shrimp dishes were all delicious. We decided to skip dessert and paid our bill. As we were about to leave, our waitress stopped us and set out four plates and dessert forks.

Our chef had decided to gift us his amazing desserts; delicate chocolate cake with whipped cream, very dainty cookies powdered with sugar, and vanilla ice cream covered with raspberry syrup. Even though we were very full, we delved into these kind offerings with much enthusiasm and sounds of appreciation. After we gobbled up everything, my daughter said, "Mom, your genuine curiosity about the chef resulted in this dessert."

All my life, reading books has helped me cultivate that curiosity. Whenever I am back from a trip, I search for books that will educate me about the people and places that I have just encountered. After staying in the island of Corfu for two weeks, I was thoroughly immersed in the book called "My Family and Other Animals" by Gerald Durrell. He wrote about Corfu in the 1930s where as a pre-teen boy he was allowed to roam around between homeschooling lessons by various friends of his older brother, author Lawrence Durrell.

His accounts of collecting and observing insects, birds, tortoises and other creatures around the island brought discomfort and great horrors to his family. However as a reader I had a marvelous time. His insatiable curiosity about nature around him fed me with more layers and depth of understanding the island of Corfu and the Greeks. Gerald Durrell went on to become a world renowned naturalist, founding the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Jersey Zoo, an endangered animal sanctuary on the Channel Island of Jersey.

Every day I check "today in history" to learn about happenings through the years. Today is July 6th as I type my column and I will share with you:

In 1885, the French scientist Louis Pasteur tested an anti-rabies vaccine on a nine year old boy who had been bitten by an infected dog; the boy did not develop rabies.

In 1957, Althea Gibson won at Wimbledon, the first African-American tennis player to achieve a singles title there.

In 1971, beloved American jazz trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong died in New York at age 69.

Someone may ask me what use it is to know all this information. All I can say is, "I am curious, therefore I am."


Hyon O'Brien (hyonobrien@gmail.com) is a former reference librarian now living in the United States.




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