I felt kinda hungry, it was close to midnight, bit late for dinner…even for Greeks…! I have been sitting in my chair for 5 or so hours, working from home, remotely, with my team, with texts, facetime, Skype and voice calls, a race with time to finish sending four abstracts of our work to the four-yearly (!) World Congress of Neurosurgery, this coming August, in Istanbul. Monday, March 27 at midnight was the deadline for abstract submission, we had a few hours to crunch the numbers, filter the data, make sense out of spreadsheets, databases, outcomes and results. When everything was ready, members of my team in London and Glasgow pressed the “send” button, minutes before midnight…we made it!
The World Congress is a fun-fair of Neurosurgery…surgeons gathering from the four corners of the earth, different races, skin colours, faiths, but all sharing the same privilege, to operate on the human brain. My good friend Ugur Ture is the Chairman of the XVI Congress tasked with a super demanding event… Ugur was my guest a week earlier at the Royal College of Surgeons, at Lincoln Inn Fields, as my co-director of the First White Matter Dissection Course in Glioma Surgeons. This was a course for Consultant Neurosurgeons only…When we release the dates, within hours we had about sixty UK Consultants, for 10 places
We spent two days dissecting brains under the microscope and discussing ways to remove tumours while preserving function. With us we had another guest, who flew with Ugur from Istanbul…Gazi Yasargil, a living legend of Neurosurgery…named man of the century from Neurosurgery Journal…you can hardly go to a conference and not hear about Yasargil techniques, methods, and results…at 92 he rarely travels but was just a great surprise to see him coming to our course…how did it happen? I had a sudden, crazy idea to ask Ugur Ture to invite him on my behalf, it worked! I like to act on sudden ideas…within seconds…before my rational mind kills them as impossible to happen…!
In his talk, Ugur Ture showed us slides of Bosphorus, a narrow strait that separates the sea of Marmara with the southern eastern black sea also know as euxeinos pontos (hospitable sea). This is the breathtaking sea that, the poet of poets, Homer, calls in Odyssey, οἴνοπα πόντον (yes, this is ancient Greek! for “wine-dark sea” btw, translating these Homeric sounds is nearly a sacrilege…the depth and the sounds of the ancient language are impossible to translate and feel!).
When I was in med school I stumbled upon a stunning essay, “Νηφάλιος μέθη” written by a Peruvian monk, Father Symeon, who had travelled the world and spent years in Paris studying art and poetry, with the money that his mother gave him after selling her beloved original art. His father was Mayor of Lima at the time…Symeon ended up at the Mount Athos where he became an orthodox monk… I still remember some of the phrases, so I googled it and found it! (God bless Google…!).
In his short essay, written by him, not in his native Spanish, but in a staggering, impeccably formal Greek language, he concludes asking his audience to pray for him in order to “τιμονεύω μὲ νοῦ καὶ λόγο, σοφά, τὴν ψυχή μου, ἀκάτιον στὸν γλυκὺ οἴνοπα πόντο“. No way to translate this folks…! but, as a (very) loose meaning, he’s wishing, as he lives now and as he prepares to die, to wisely navigate his soul, like a small, open boat, crossing the “sweet, wine-dark sea” of life…!
On a separate, linguistic note, such is the power of the ancient language, that if I see the word “sweet” means very little…my brain just brings in mind something sugary…but if I see the word “γλυκὺ” makes my mouth physically water…! Even so, you get the idea of the οἴνοπα πόντον…!
Pontos has a special meaning for me, as my great-great-grandmother was forced to leave from there, leaving everything behind, along with nearly a million other Greeks, during the exile of Greek refugees in 1922, after Greece’s defeat in the Greek-Turkish war, where they were forced to… walk! to Greece with thousands dying en route over several months…Like many other families, from my great grandmother’s 9 children, only two arrived alive.
The family, of course, lost all their wealth and settled in northern Greece but from the ashes, they built a new life…I still remember visiting, as a little child, the village and still remember the fresh smell of little mountains of grain inside the barn, while my grandfather, a man of few words, standing tall, would paint Laurie, the family’s favourite dog on the exterior white wall of the barn. Of course, the Greeks and Turks were close, then and now, but politicians (what a surprise…!) and their senseless greed for power resulted in the national catastrophe of 1922….
Out of some strange coincidence, I am writing this blog while listening to Pierluca Chimienti playing a mix of ethnic/Anatolia (Greek for East) music on Radio Istanbul…one tune stood out… emotional and dreamy…I shazamed it, here it is… Vilken Arman’s “Rosas”, Remix by NU, had to download it from iTunes, best 99p ever spent…!
A couple of weeks earlier had flown to Lisbon, invited to speak about a new technology, an ultrasonic aspirator for safe brain tumour removal. The scientific program was a great success and the organisers very hospitable.
But had the weekend free, time to rent a car and explore. I don’t like touristy stuff…looking at maps…taking taxis…searching for sights…waiting in lines…how boring! I prefer to explore and discover… as they say “be a traveler not a tourist”…and what a place to be true to that, other than Lisboa, where Columbus started one of his four voyages when he discovered the new world. Okay, never been to Lisbon before but the place is stunning. Beautiful sandy beaches, lighthouses, centuries-old churches, open spaces, and endless sea.
One of our recovery Portuguese nurses told me earlier its easier to drive in London than in Lisbon. I thought what was the big deal, until… I decided to drive in the old city…! Narrow, steep roads where you have to start and stop and start and stop, competing with local taxis, tricycles, bicycles and…trams!
At the end of my talk, I played a little clip, from my two days travel around Lisbon and Southern Portugal. I know everybody else preferred the hotel and walking in the old town, so I thought to show them a bit of Portugal outside the city. Here’s the clip I played, 60 (edited) seconds, with the music captured from the radio stations, during driving…!
Driving to Souther Portugal we bumped to a stunning lighthouse, Cape Espichel Lighthouse.
Okay, I started writing this blog a couple of weeks ago and now that I sat down to finish it, all our four papers have been accepted for oral presentations at the World Congress of Neurosurgeons in Istanbul (well-done team!) and I am preparing my bags for another trip to Lisbon, in less than a couple of weeks, invited to speak at an oncology seminar on low-grade gliomas http://leapingforward.hospitaldaluz.pt/sessions/neuro-oncology-auditorium-2/Symposium And now, I have a new favorite song, the hypnotising Amor (Original) by the German genius NU!
Yes, yes, you are right, I have to write this blog more often…!