Friday, February 28, 2014

Suspended Disbelief: Fun with Antimicrobials

Guaranteed to turn heads at the airport

In the midst of an al fresco tamale festival in San Cristobal, my friend Roger eyed my little bottle of hand sanitizer sitting on the table (judiciously applied before putting hands to mouth, tamales, or anything else) and said, "I wonder if you could float stuff inside of that."

A little bottle with endless possibilities.

The rest is history. If you, like me, carry hand sanitizer when you travel and tuck a bottle into your pocket or shoulder bag on a daily basis at home, particularly during flu season, then you may be in for some big fun. Hand sanitizer turns out to have amazing abilities when it comes to suspending light plastic objects. The only limit to creativity is size: the objects have to be small enough to fit, fold, squeeze or jam through the neck of the bottle (see the amazing hand-in-a-bottle below). Here are some early hand sanitizer assemblages.

In microbial utero

An ambiguous short story in a bottle involving a baby, scissors, and a coffee cup

Hand sanitizer

Blue boy in a swirl of fortune-telling charms

Pacific Gyre Happy Clams revisited (click link to see original concept)


The human element: Pacific Gyre Happy Clams 2

How-To Tips:

For the most amazing aspect of this phenomenon (the suspension) you needn't do anything at all. Whatever formula they've come up with for that 98% alcohol gel works miraculously well at suspending light objects and holding them aloft and in place indefinitely. Nudge the items with a toothpick or slender chopstick to arrange items within the gel to your liking. I even created a little hook with a long handle simply by twisting a piece of light wire to give me even more maneuverability.

The big challenge: getting the sticky label glue off of the bottle. Here is a dead-easy method.

Step One: peel front and back labels off of bottle

Step Two: Use paper towel to apply olive oil all over front and back of bottle. Let rest for about an hour.

Bottles being prepped

Step Three: After bottles have rested for about an hour, first rub them with a little more olive oil in a circular motion, then wash them free of olive oil with soap and water.

NOTE: Purchase a large, counter-size bottle of hand sanitizer and use to refill your little pocket-size assemblages whenever necessary. Your only challenge will be deciding which bottle to bring along to baffle airport security. Also consider whipping a bottle out, cleaning your hands, and casually setting it out on a conference table during an otherwise boring meeting.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Stitching Leaves in the Lacandon Jungle

During a recent visit to Chiapas in Mexico, I stayed for a while at a cabin in the Lacanja River Camp, run by an indigenous Lacandon family in the Lacandon Jungle.  This is the same family that originally discovered the Mayan ruins of Bonampak and served as guides and the primary source for information on the Lacandones people for archeologist Frans Blom.

Lacandon man in Lacanja Chansayab, Selva Lacandona (

With little to do but hike through the jungle, talk to the family about their encounters with early explorers, or watch the river roll by from my front porch, I unpacked my sewing kit and started searching for broad, pliable leaves. This is the result. Materials used: two leaves, 1 small fern sprig, needle and thread.

Leaf shoe, fern buckle.

The sole.
Once the shoe was completed I derived considerable entertainment in staging it in various locales in the jungle.

Leaf shoe on a leaf.

On a tree root

On a fern.

On a log.

When a member of the family came along through the forest and was curious about what I was doing, I handed him the shoe to look at. He held it in his palm and was extremely puzzled, but then said thank you and walked away with it. The moral of this story? If you have a needle and thread you need never be bored.

The end.
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