Saturday, March 31, 2012

Need adventure?

Muscle-tensing drama, breath-stopping excitement, heart-pounding action, adrenaline-rushing exhilaration, senses fully alive and abandoning comfort for risk; that is adventure. Whether we watch Mission Impossible, read Swiss Family Robinson, or bungee jump off of a suspension bridge, there seems to be an irresistible drive to seek out the challenging, experience the unexplored, pursue the fear-producing, sacrifice security or even double in the dangerous. Odd behavior, isn't it? But doesn't it make you feel more alive? We find out who we really are in the grip of adventure.

"It is in the compelling zest of high adventure and of victory, and in creative action, that man finds his supreme joys", said Antoine de Saint-Exupery (who was famous while alive as an aviator, dying on a reconnaissance flight for the Free French Air Force in 1944, only posthumously becoming known as the author of "The Little Prince"). 
Ever since I was a young boy I have been an avid adventure-seeker. Skydiving, scuba diving, motorcycle riding, wilderness hiking, driving across the Atlas Mountains in winter in order to reach the Sahara desert sailing flat out in the stormy. Eating snake in a restaurant in old Canton, China, my life has been a series of adventures. But the biggest one yet will start on May 1, 2012. 
Going around the world may not be a choice of many. Doing it with 16 stops in 75 days (who needs 80?) is rare. Not doing it to see the sights is virtually unheard of. But I, and my friend, Carson, are doing exactly that.

Leaving May 1, 2012, from Vancouver, we will be flying in sequence to:

Lima, Peru
Cuzco, Peru (gateway to Manchu Picchu)
Santiago, Chile
Buenos Aries, Argentina
Johannesburg, South Africa
Kigali, Rwanda
Nairobi, Kenya (side trip to Maasai Mara)
Kisumu, Kenya (on the shores of Lake Victoria)
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Kuwait City, Kuwait
Mumbai, India
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Sydney, Australia
Auckland, New Zealand

We will be returning to Vancouver on July 1, 2012; 75 days and approximately 40,000 km (25,000 miles) later. Now that's a Grande Adventure Of a Lifetime. 
At each stop, it is our plan to visit with leaders of charities, nonprofit organizations and ministries doing good work effectively in each country. As well, I will be seeking out members of the global Parkinson's disease community, be they practitioners or patients, researchers or association leaders. I want to learn from them, share with them and, along with Petey, invite them to my country, Canada, for the World Parkinson Congress in MontrĂ©al, 2013. Maybe you know someone I should meet along the way. If so, let me know. My e-mail address is 
I hope you will come along, virtually speaking that is, as I blog about our experiences, the people we meet, and what we learn. It won't be a travelogue or a monologue or catalogue of tourist sites. It will be a dialogue with cultures I try to understand, and citizens I have never met, from countries I have never seen.

Why am I doing this? Why does anyone seek out adventure? Do I have something to prove? Maybe, just maybe, I need to prove that a person with Parkinson's disease can still live the adventure. I need to prove that it is possible to be Positively Parkinson's!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Price of Admission

The long street was lined with clubs. Not the kind that attracted lonely man who yearn for something or someone to transport them outside of themselves. These were proper establishments with brass plaques on their doors, although some were written with indecipherable script, while others were chiseled with bold letters on granite columns, and still others finally etched with such a thin engraving that the words were barely discernible. Some of the associations were fraternities, other sororities, but most of the clubs required proper identification for access. Admission was sometimes gained by merely appearing at the building entrance, whereas other times entrance required special passwords, secret signs or unnatural motions. Some of those who traveled this long boulevard were members of many clubs with inexpensive dues, while others could only gain entry to only a few, and then only at a very high price. Some memberships were open to a diverse and international group of individuals, whereas others were very small, impenetrable and exclusive.
Although we lived 6800 miles (10,700 km) apart, and had never met, Daniel and I were members of the same club. That was enough. Despite a litany of differences, we became friends. Remarkable when you think that we did not share citizenship (he is Israeli. I am Canadian), living circumstances (he lives in an apartment in heavily populated Jerusalem. I live in semi-rural British Columbia), our flexibility (he is passionate about tai chi, I am about as pliable as a 2 x 4 piece of lumber), our faiths (he is Jewish, I am Christian), employment (he is on permanent disability from his aeronautical employment, whereas I seem to work too much at the practice of law). While we are generally about the same age, both have been married more than 35 years, and we have three children each, some adopted, it is unlikely that we would stop on the street to engage in conversation were it not for our club membership. You see, Daniel has had Parkinson's disease for 12 years. I was diagnosed a little more than six years ago. We are, to some extent reluctantly, part of an international community of people with Parkinson's. Membership came at quite a cost.
As I shared a very pleasant evening with him and his wife in their home, I was fascinated by how we were drawn together by a common theme: doing what we could to improve the lot of people with Parkinson's. He does it by engaging others through teaching tai chi (see: I attempt to relate to others to this blog and other interpersonal engagements. It was our shared disease that kindled these passions.
One refrain that has been repeated by people with Parkinson's who are impacting their communities, their countries and the world is this: WE ARE NOT ALONE. As in battle, the odds of success improve as we stand together. Families, friends, alumni, fellow workers, team members, congregations and communities are all really just clubs. Whether we voluntarily join or are conscripted, they provide opportunities to deal with life in relationship to others. To share our days whether vanquished or victorious, downtrodden or domineering, happy or heartbroken. The truth is, not only do we function better together, we need each other.
As I walked to the hotel door on that cold and cloudy Jerusalem night after exchanging a hug with Daniel I knew my life had been enriched, my understanding deepened by gaining this new friend.  I smiled broadly. I wondered what PD club members I would meet in my upcoming trip around the world. Unquestionably, those experiences would be life-changing.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Themes of Israel and Parkinson's Disease

Israel, like Parkinson's disease, is complex. It astounds even the astute observer. It defies definition. It exists in a constant state of tension. It falls victim to denial while clinging to idealism, suffers depression while expressing incomprehensible hope. It is a land of courage and fear. It is a place of questions, many of them left unanswered.
Despite confusion, Israel welcomed me, as if it knew that there was some strange affinity between the disease I carry and the country I came to explore. Its boundaries have shifted like the symptoms of PD, sometimes gradually and other times suddenly and painfully. Its excavations disclosed such a troubled history. The dirt and dust is whisked away to reveal each succession of occupants building its empire, layer upon layer, not knowing how long their dominance over the land would prevail. Israel's origins, like those of my disease, lie buried beneath the passage of time, largely unknown but for an occasional clue unearthed.
The themes of the land became obvious. First, the juxtaposition of bountiful and barren. As we traveled north from Tel Aviv to the land around Capernaum, the contradiction of the lush and green with brown and barren seemed artificial. It was as if someone had drawn a line between the land of the good productive life and the desert of disability. It was a line I felt I understood. Staring from the Golan Heights into Lebanon and Syria, noticeably lacking the green fields, it seemed there was so little defense along this uneasy boundary. What would the future hold? Would it remain the "promised land"?
The second theme was unpredictability. Crossing the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias) started out glassy smooth, the boats slicing the water as soundless skates on a freshly flooded ice rink. I felt at peace without knowing why. But it was temporary. The historic reality of this temperamental body of water became evident as we were about halfway across. The sun was setting. Night winds disturbed the waters, and the cold cut through my fair weather clothing. The message was clear; the future may hold storms for which better preparation may be required.
The third theme was fulfillment of destiny. Those same Galilee waters, which had found their genesis on the snowy slopes of Mount Hermon were destined for the Dead Sea. It was as if their travels along the Jordan River, that ancient boundary, would find themselves at the lowest point on the face of the earth with too much salt (or too much dopamine) to be useful.
And the final climactic theme, written on the land and etched into the determined stare of every settler: defiance. We learn to laugh in the face of our fate, and fight to stem the flow.  It is what we must do. Even floating in the Dead Sea, buoyant, uplifted, we know that its salts, though stinging, heal our wounds. This is our hope. This is our battle cry. We will not give up.
Like the land of Israel we will cling to life. Like the people of Israel we will work and pray for a better day; a time when trembling will cease and peace will reign. A time of Shalom.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Petey Appears in Israel

Israel was a strange place to make his debut. Raccoons do not frequent this part of the world. And yet, circumstances dictated that as my traveling mascot, Petey the Raccoon, was brought along. Having been "born" from a sketch from well-known PD cartoonist, Peter Dunlap-Shohl from Alaska,, and refined by a new friend, Laura Vanderwel, it seemed an opportune time to get off the drawing board and into my suitcase. 
Petey will be traveling with me on my upcoming trip around the world. Now lest you think that he is simply a prop, a self-aggrandizing photo opportunist, or purely a promotional gimmick, I want to assure you that you're right. Petey’s purpose in life is to promote World Parkinson Congress 2013 (WPC 2013), happening 18 months from now in MontrĂ©al. He will be caught in photographs, in" Flat Stanley" style, in world locations that may look familiar or entirely unusual, depending on the circumstances.

Now, why a raccoon, you ask? This pudgy-looking masked bandit is intelligent, resourceful, nocturnal, adaptable to both city and country life, and found in great numbers in Canada. It seems to me that, besides the fact that I was nicknamed derivatives of raccoon (like "coon" or "coonskin") throughout my childhood, it is a fitting animal to stimulate global awareness of Parkinson's disease and promote the WPC 2013. 

First stop, the Dan Panorama Hotel, Tel Aviv. There I was privileged to meet with three men involved in the leadership of the Parkinson's community in Israel. After a short introduction to Petey, who seemed to represent neither a threat to national security nor an excessive embarrassment to their offices held by these men, they agreed to welcome him, as they did me.

Let me introduce you to three fine gentlemen who apparently share my love of alliteration (at least in terms of their first names).

Amir Karmin  - President, Israel Parkinson Association
Alex Moisescu – CEO of Israel Parkinson Association
Amichai Arielli -European Parkinson's Disease Association representative
Although somewhat unfamiliar with the World Parkinson Congress, they readily engaged in dialogue, asking plenty of probative questions that proved to identify the importance of this global meeting. Of particular interest was the 2010 genetic studies relating to Ashkenazi Jews and the significant increase of Parkinson's disease generally. While a relatively small organization, the Israel Parkinson Association ( believes there are over 20,000 people with the disease in Israel (a population of approximately 8 million people). Clearly, the need for a more coordinated awareness development plan is in the forefront of the thinking of the stream and, as they reach out to support a population that is often distracted by other critical areas of concern.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Rocks

The land was strewn with rocks. Everything from immovable boulders to stones tumbled smooth in streams. They were every texture, color and shape. Some were unbreakable, while others were soft. As days passed I became increasingly convinced that it was the rocks that defined the country and its history.
Israel is a land of contradictions and confusion, conflict and convergence. Within its always curious and sometimes flexible boundaries resides an almost unfathomable depth of history. Though small in comparison to most countries, attempting to gain anything but the most superficial understanding of this land would take infinitely more time than what we have allotted. Even explaining a fragment of its overwhelming impact on our senses is a daunting task. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes and even feel of this small portion of the globe defy precise definition. Whether expert archaeologist, historian, theologian, political scientist or casual traveler, they remain with seemingly unanswerable questions regarding this country. In a way, it is like trying to explain Parkinson's disease. It is so many things. Different for each person caught in its grip, it seems to confound each observer, be they researcher, medical practitioner, caregiver or casual acquaintance.
And so it is that I have chosen to comment on the rocks of this country, manifest not just in its geological past, but in virtually every scene of its human history and perilous present. The first night after arrival at Ben-Gurion airport found us hungry and searching for a restaurant in the general direction of Joppa, the ancient Mediterranean seaport. Immediately noticeable was the rubble that lay apparently discarded in empty lots adjacent to modern concrete buildings. But even as we walked back to our hotel through the half lit streets after an extraordinary Middle Eastern meal at Big Itzik’s Grill, the usefulness of such discarded stones became apparent in the numerous walls, cobbled walkways and decorative arches. It was as if the stones that had been carelessly tossed aside would always remain the foundation of this part of the world.
And so it was that the next few days were an endless repetition of different rock-strewn scenes. We saw seemingly barren patches of land in the Golan Heights marked off by ancient waist high walls created by Syrians, Lebanese, Israeli or itinerant farmers from some other occupying force. There were barriers built with huge boulders along the border roads, supposedly to slow the advance of any mobilized aggressors. The re-created village of Nazareth displayed terracing to create vineyards, the guard tower, the humble two-story dwelling with its two rooms no larger than a North American walk-in closet and walls for defense, all formed by strategically placed rocks. The whole system of extracting every drop of oil from the precious crops of olives was built around the use of stones; the processes of crushing, squeezing, collecting all depended on special-purpose stones. Hand-hewn cisterns were chiseled out of immovable rock slabs. While lumber was rare, and saved for special use, it was the common rocks, found in abundance that constituted the very cornerstone of this culture. Its geography, architecture and history, both current and ancient, sacred and secular, are informed by the granite and sandstone, the boulders and pebbles of this land.
We saw round slabs of stone rolled into place to cover the entryways to tombs. There were rocks tossed into the glassy waters of the Sea of Galilee.  In places, huge square stones stood sentry-like at the main gates of excavated cities or formed the walls of Jewish synagogues and pagan temples. Whether stories of soldiers hidden in caves, or slingshots slaying giants, or the stone plateau of Masada that still stands for the stubborn defense of Jewish sovereignty. Granite or limestone, basalt or chalk, it is as if the rocks define the people, the place and the purpose for which they exist.

Is this what will happen with my Parkinson's disease?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

US 762

It was four o'clock on Sunday morning and my mind was occupied with the day ahead as I waited for the airport shuttle. Through the haze of half of a night's sleep I was puzzled by the flight schedule planned for me. Why must the flight from Vancouver to Tel Aviv go via Phoenix and Philadelphia? Could it be that some alliteration-addicted air-traffic controller dictated travel through the only two major American cities starting with the phonetically unnecessary letters "PH"?
It seems to me that air travel these days could only be enjoyed by a paramilitary masochist. My journey that Sunday culminating on US Airways 762 left no doubt. As a relatively experienced traveler, I still found it irksome to be viewed with suspicion and cross-examined by everyone from the parking attendant to the check-in clerk to the baggage handlers. And that was just the beginning. Next I lined up with my fellow travelers in order to run a veritable gauntlet of humiliation. The squadron of surly security personnel forced me to remove my shoes, belt and jacket, put all liquids in plastic bags, and surrender my sharpened pencils, all the while eyeing me with a bold accusatory look that communicated, "Who are you, really?" I wanted to respond, "Sir, the reason I am shaking is because I have Parkinson's, not because I have something to hide!" But before I can say a word these soldiers of safety "requested permission" to peer through the recesses of my personal carry-on luggage.  That was followed by offering the choice of a pat-down of my private parts, a strip search, or standing with my arms appropriately held up high while standing in their latest techie toy, the screening machine.  That wonder of science puts to shame any preteen boy's fantasy of super-powered glasses that see through walls and people’s clothes. As I stood there trembling and embarrassed in the surrender position, I imagined all the physiological flaws undergoing carefully trained scrutiny.
But even after managing my way through security I was then confronted by the authorities aboard my plane who were somehow appointed to "keep me safe"; the flight attendants. I think that air marshalls have given way to this tougher breed. Images of attractive young female stewardesses who work as part-time models or movie stars have long since evaporated. They have been replaced by flight attendants primarily comprised of authoritarian men or post-retirement women. Our flight, being on an equal opportunity airline, included both.
Travel by air used to be enjoyable. Of course, that was 25 years ago or more. Back then the check-in process was short and security clearances were either nonexistent or perfunctory. Business travel was modestly more expensive but meant being welcomed by pleasant reception staff into a well-stocked airport lounge in which to work and while away waiting times. We expected meals during the flight complete with cloth napkins, real cutlery, China plates and hot delicious dishes with exotic titles.

Today, if any meals are served at all, whether at an additional cost or otherwise, they are hastily dropped on trays about the size and strength of an 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper, accompanied by plastic utensils.  Meals come sealed containers in which sit an indescribable serving of what purports to be either "chicken or fish". Like prisoners in a small cage we are compelled by the often repeated order to "stay seated with your seatbelt buckled" throughout the flight.  Upon with any trip to the toilet being carefully timed to avoid a lineup lest some congregation of disgruntled inmates hatch a plot to rush the cockpit with unreasonable demands for personal entertainment devices that actually work or seatbacks that actually recline more than 2 inches. Yes, more travel may be affordable, but it is more like punishment than pleasure, especially for someone with Parkinson's disease.
Despite spending over 24 hours in airplanes and airports this past Sunday and tense times when supposedly anticipated turbulence tested my bladder control, we arrived in Tel Aviv, exhausted but forty-five minutes early due to a favorable tailwind.

Travel in our post-9/11 world has been taken captive by our demand for "security". Smiles have often been supplanted by sneers. Service has suffered at the hands of cost-cutting accountants.  And I find myself anticipating traveling again seven weeks from now.  Doing 25 flights in 75 days is beginning to leave me wondering about the sanity of my upcoming adventure.