Where in world...?

An old friend phoned the other day. He never phones. But this time he just had to know: "What are you doing living in Florence?"
He thought I was in Florence, Italy. I told him it was Florence, Massachusetts.
Here are some answers -- my occasional wanderings through Florence, MA and the surrounding Pioneer Valley.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Happy Valley of Cholesterol

WebMD, Cholesterol Slideshow: What Your Levels Mean
Though today's weather is damp and overcast, it is actually a good day in other ways, perhaps unexpectedly. At the doctor's office this morning, I was told that my cholesterol count was excellent and spectacular. In comparing the numbers with last year's lab work, the overall cholesterol lowered by 23 points (it is now 180). The LDL (lazy, bad cholesterol) was lowered by 22 points. The good cholesterol, HDL (or, as my physician's assistant called it, "happy" cholesterol) was up 2 points to 68. I was told the HDL eats the LDL cholesterol, which might explain why it's happy. Numbers aren't my strong suit, but these numbers were amazing to me because a little while ago the doctor's office was starting to watch my cholesterol count because it had crossed the dangerous border past 200 milligrams.

While we typically look at travel and destinations on this blog, we might interpret the numbers presented above through that lens. My new residence in Florence has promoted a happier, healthier lifestyle that has encouraged better habits to flourish, thereby lowering my blood cholesterol count significantly. My family medical history keeps me checking such numbers every year, and this is the first year the numbers have shown a remarkable positive change. Even eating oatmeal for breakfast one year (yes, nearly the WHOLE year) did nothing to make this happen as much as this overall lifestyle change. In fact, the medical news I received today might technically put me in the category of travelers who goes someplace for health reasons. I think I'll talk a little more about those characters in upcoming blogs, since I'm feeling a kinship with them right now.

1976 edition. (Wikipedia)
The amazement I felt caused me to think about the idyllic Happy Valley in The History of Rasselas (1751) by Samuel Johnson. Rasselas is a Prince of Abyssinia who seeks to leave the Happy Valley in order to satisfy his deep curiosity about the ways of man. Rasselas leaves with one of his sisters, Princess Nekayah, and his learned manservant, Imlac. They eventually make their way to Egypt, where they learn astronomy and engage in abstruse debates with other learned men. They also rescue a woman kidnapped by Arabs, Princess Pekuah. Together they resolve to set up various altruistic schemes, but at the novel's end the narrator tells us that when the yearly flooding of the Nile River plain is finished, these schemes are destined to fall away for the return to the Happy Valley. We are told that "Of these wishes that they had formed, they well knew none could be obtained." Returning to the Happy Valley fulfills the idea put forward earlier by the Prince's tutor, as he declares that "if you had seen the miseries of the world, you would know how to value your present state."

While I did not start out in the Happy Valley or in Florence, it appears that some of its cares slough off when you enter. In this case, I am enjoying one of the more material benefits of living in the happy valley with its outdoors lifestyle, and athletic interests. Moreover, eating out in Northampton and Florence offers more healthy alternatives overall, compared to where I had been living before. I'm more than happy to leave behind the miseries of the world, or at least most of the miseries from my previous world.

Rasselas Valley, Tasmania (State Library of Tasmania Catalog)
Though Rasselas found the Happy Valley enervating, he needed to experience the harder edges of life to better see what made the Happy Valley the haven it was. The problem with this allegorical travel narrative is that we know the return home can never happen. Even if his dad's palace and servants all remained in place, with the same abundance of food and comfort, we can be sure Rasselas and Nekayah will never be able to lie around in the same degree of ease and ignorance.

I used to wonder why travel narratives never talked about the return trip towards home, but when we think about Rasselas giving us the figurative motivations and lessons about travel, we can see how the disillusionment and the resignation can become problematic in keeping up the narrative's earlier tone of excited anticipation. However, in this case, I am more than happy to avoid returning to Mount Cholesterol, preferring to stay in the Valley. I am especially pleased with the six-pack of cider donuts I bought right after leaving the doctor's office.

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