A Professor in San Francisco

sfsuStudents often wonder what it is like to be a professor. I remember when I was a graduate student, and I saw the professors sitting in their offices all day long. In those days, before email, they were on the telephones a lot. What do they do? It turns out that they are actually really working. I am teaching three classes this semester, “Parasitology”, “Parasitology Laboratory”, and a graduate seminar class called “Environmental Impacts on Infectious Diseases”. Add to that research projects, graduate students, writing manuscripts and grants, plus departmental meetings: it adds up to a very full but varied daily schedule. Every morning, I make a list of the things that must be done that day, and mark the emails that I must answer. Then it is always interesting to see what unexpected things come up. Slowly, some of the things are checked off the lists, but you quickly learn that the work is infinite. Curious students walk in the classroom at 8 am, and I try to engage them as much as possible. The Parasitology midterm exam was definitely challenging. Here is a sample question.

A friend of yours, Francisco from Brazil, comes to see you complaining of intermittent chills and fever that have been going on for 5 days. He has lived in San Francisco for the past 10 years, and visited Brazil 9 months ago. The present illness, fever and shaking chills, began 5 days ago. Four days ago he had a normal temperature in the morning, but developed a temperature of 102° F and shaking chills in the afternoon; this subsided in the evening. Two days later he had a repeat of the episode. You order some lab tests and they show anemia, but tests for liver function were normal.   What is the name of the parasite (Genus and species) that caused his illness?

The answer is Plasmodium vivax, because it is typical case of the relapse of liver hypnozoites.

So professors learn to prioritize. Right now I am prioritizing making foods with delicious tomatoes. The dry-farmed early girl tomato season is long this year, due to the warm summer weather. Cooking with fresh vegetables insures that everything turns out tasting delicious.

My vegan chili recipe is simple: quickly fry some garlic in olive oil, add brown mushrooms, and fresh corn until slightly brown. Then add cumin, paprika, mole (from Mexico city), chipotle chili powder and some salt. Add a lot of tomatoes, dino kale and at the end kidney beans. Serve with corn bread. It always turns out great.

View from the bassoon section, at a rehearsal of the Berkeley Symphony

There are plenty of concerts and events going on in San Francisco. On Wednesday the 14th, the Berkeley Symphony had a concert featuring a multidimensional piece entitled “Laterna Magica” by Kaija Saariaho. This included us in the wind section whispering phrases about light in German. The second bassoon part in Ravel’s Bolero simply involves playing a few notes repeatedly, with the main challenge counting measures, so it is simply fun.

Also don’t miss the performances of the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, where admission is always free. Robin Sharp, gave a brilliant performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade for violin and orchestra.

Last night, I was at the 3rdI Indian Film Festival, for a Bollywood movie, and finally, Smack Dab is an open microphone performance once a month in the Castro neighborhood where I live. You never know what to expect, and it is refreshing to see poetry and performances in this expensive city, where we consistently hear that all the artists have left. Clearly, the city is different than it was 30 years ago, but every day, there is enough going on here to fill a lifetime.

Diversity and Culture in DC


After a very successful Malaria of Wildlife workshop, what better way to spend the weekend than a visit to Washington DC. It has been rainy and chilly, but the museums are open and not crowded at this time of year. Some type of mini-hurricane is affecting the city, but I still see people of the nation’s capital jogging outside, and the tourists can never get enough of the monuments.

Gustave Caillebotte was one of the French impressionists, but not a starving destitute one, so besides creating his own works, he also collected his friends’. The exhibit at the National Gallery of Art opened my eyes to his unusual sense of perspective and diverse styles. The museum is vast and beautiful, with its interior courtyards and the marble columns and stairs. I believe, as it is with this gallery, that all museums worldwide should have free admission. Free admission encourages people to visit museums more than once, and also gives the flexibility to visit for a short time. I primarily focused on seeing this particular exhibit. Maybe our politicians of the world truly know what they are doing, and we need to have wars. But I believe that in the future, government spending will focus on protecting the environment and preserving the human condition through arts and culture.

I made my first visit to the museum of the National Archives, which houses the very faded original Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. There is also an exhibit of the Magna Carta and human rights. Most interesting to me personally was the information showing that before 1965 there were strict quotas on immigrants to the USA, and Europeans could enter this country easily, but people from China, India, and Africa could not. When my father entered the USA as a student in the late 1950’s, there were only about 100 Indians in the Bay Area. There were no Indian restaurants. It was a different world. I am one of the relatively few third culture kids, (with parents from two distinct cultures), of that generation. Only with age have I begun to understand how that has shaped my life, and I somehow relate to others that have similar multicultural backgrounds. The reality is that humans are flexible, and can adapt to new cultures very quickly, if they are allowed to.


The huge bronze statue of JFK’s head at the Kennedy Center lies at the junction of the entrances to the opera house and the symphony hall. There are computer screens that allow viewers to select videos of his lofty idealistic speeches, ranging from his initiation of the Peace Corps, to the moon landings. People have written volumes on whether the world would be better if he had survived. Can one individual politician have that much influence on humanity? I personally think not, and I always question whether there are evolutionary and genetic mechanisms underlying human deification. But it is undeniable that JFK was a charismatic speaker and delivered some great ideas. To me his bronze bust represents not a martyr, but a reminder of a different time. A time before I was born: but I am still close to people who remember him, so his history seems real. Olof Palme is the Swedish counterpart and the statue of Lincoln seems to serve the same purpose, although no one has any personal connection to Lincoln any more. Who will be the next American deity? Do they have to die to get that status? Is that why we don’t have gun laws? Interesting thoughts in my mind from this influential city.