As always, the only thing linking the two items mentioned in this post in my mind is that they both start with the same letter of the alphabet.
You’d think what with Light making an appearance on this side of the list only a few posts back, anything associated with darkness couldn’t possibly show up in the same spot, wouldn’t you? And yet, nothing could be further from the truth.
For one thing, if by our biorhythm we’re either “larks” or “night owls” (i.e., morning or evening people), I’m definitely a “night owl”: I have absolutely no problem staying up and working until late at night or even into the wee hours of the morning. For the longest time, that routinely used to include work-related allnighters, though of late I’ve tried to limit them to absolute “crunch time” moments — but while I was still working at larger firms, every so often a colleague passing my office early in the morning would ask “Are you here still or already?” The answer was, more likely than not, “still”: Whenever I’m compelled to get up early (and make no mistake: to me “early” is at hours that the larks out there would consider perfectly normal), for the first half hour or even hour I’m on complete autopilot, with no active brain involvement whatsoever, which means that every single item involved in my morning routine must be exactly where I (unconsciously) expect it to be. A misplaced toothbrush, towel, or item of clothing is apt to throw me into complete and utter confusion, and it will considerably extend my morning routine due to the ensuing frantic search. (The only upside is that at some point during that search, my brain will eventually kick into gear.) For the same reason, I am utterly unable to get up within seconds of my alarm clock’s first ring — there were times when I would have two alarm clocks going, with snooze buttons set at different intervals, and only after at least one of them had maxed out its snooze intervals would I even make it out of bed. (And, just for the record, this applied regardless how many hours I had slept that night.)
It’s not merely a matter of biorhythm, though. Even when I was a kid I loved the quiet of the night; whenever my mom and I would find ourselves walking outside, with the moon and the stars shining down from above, I treasured every moment, and I eagerly sought and pointed out the constellations I knew — Orion with his three-starred belt, the Great Dipper (Bear / Wagon), Cassiopeia and the Northern Star.
Also even in my childhood, some of my favorite events, such as the annual St. Martin’s Day lantern parade and bonfire, took place after the break of darkness; and the same is true today with regard to more recent local traditions, such as “Rhein in Flammen” (“The Rhine on Fire“), an annual May 1 Koblenz to Bonn boat parade accompanied by fireworks all along the way, and “Bonn Leuchtet” (“Bonn Shines“), an annual light display usually occurring in November or early December. As, of course, it is against the darkness of the night that lights of all kinds shine even more brightly as a general matter: candles, fairy lights, lanterns, and fireworks … ever heard of fireworks in the daytime to begin with?
Then again, in a crowd, such as a theatre or cinema audience, it is the darkness that helps me to block out the other people all around me and focus on what is happening on stage or on screen — even more so in an open air performance, where the darkness of the night considerably adds to the atmosphere and enhances what is happening on stage.
And at home, there is nothing like concluding your day with a read by your bedside lamp — and a cat or two stopping by for a final cuddle!
“Rhein in Flammen / The Rhine on Fire“
“Bonn Leuchtet / Bonn Shines” (old city hall / university, with city hall in the background / Beethoven monument / Sterntor, a replica of one of the gates of the (demolished) medieval city walls)
Ferris wheel at the tiny biannual carnival (every Easter and fall / Thanksgiving)
on the banks of the Rhine near my home
Winter nights in my neighborhood and our garden
Holiday nights at home
Bedtime reading … and Sunny & Charlie stopping by for a cuddle or two!
Bregenz Opera Festival: Giordano Bruno: André Chénier (2012) —
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Magic Flute (2013) — Giacomo Puccini: Turandot (2015)
Globe Theatre, London: Twelfth Night (2012 – left)
and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2013 – center & right)
Scotland: Loch Torridon (Western Highlands)
Scotland: boarding the (very) early morning ferry from Tarbert (Kintyre) to Islay (left photo)
and from Uig (Isle of Skye) to Harris and Lewis (center & right photos)
Left: The London Eye. Right: Pre-09/11 New York City skyline, seen from Brooklyn Bridge
Santa Monica, CA: Night falls where the boulevard (Wilshire) meets the ocean
Egypt: Aswan bazaar and Luxor temple (obelisk, walls and sphinx)
(all photos in this section from “Bonn Shines” downward mine)
Nicotine: molecular structure
Nicotine is an alkaloid that is naturally produced in the nightshade family of plants, most predominantly in tobacco (where it is especially present in the leaves) and the Australian pitchuri (or pitcheri) thornapple. However, smaller quantities of nicotine are present in all nightshade plants, including not only such poisonous creatures as the deadly nightshade (atropa belladonna, aka devil’s cherries), but also their much more wholesome cousins, the potato, the tomato, and the eggplant. The substance owes its name to Jean Nicot, a 16th century French ambassador to Spain, who first introduced tobacco to France, where it quickly became a popular craze after the French court had taken to it. The Spanish, in turn, had first imported tobacco plants from the Americas a few decades earlier.
Nicotin is considered to be at least as addictive as (if not more addictive than) heroin and, in addition, enhances the addictive quality of other drugs, such as cocaine. At the same time, in humans the median lethal dose of nicotine is a mere 0.5 to 1.0 mg/kg; i.e., one or two drops (40-70 mg) of injected or inhaled nicotine are enough to kill an average adult, which makes nicotine itself actually even more toxic than cocaine. (A lethal dose of ingested, i.e. eaten or drunk nicotine is 500-1000 mg, or 10-20 drops.) As a poison, it is easy to conceal: at room temperature, it is a clear, colorless liquid that mixes with both water and alcohol without leaving a residue; when exposed to air, it turns whisky-colored — which has proved a source of more than an occasional accidental poisoning as, ever since the 17th century and until it was eventually banned for the purpose in recent decades, liquid nicotine solutions were a popular insecticide. And yes, nicotine has also been used for outright murder; in fact, it was an 1850 case of deliberate poisoning by nicotine that led to the development of the method still used today in order to extract alkaloids, from plants as well as from human and other animal bodies, the so-called Stas-Otto Method (named after its progenitors, Belgian analytical chemist Jean Servais Stas and German pharmacological chemist Friedrich Julius Otto).
As an everyday drug, nicotine can be absorbed every which way you can imagine; through the mouth and nose (by smoking, inhaling or chewing) as well as through the skin (viz, nicotine patches). The reason why it is unlikely to kill, in and of itself, when being smoked is that dried tobacco only has a nicotine content of merely 0.6% – 3%, only a small part of which (ca. 2 mg per cigarette) ends up being absorbed into the blood stream. Smokeless tobacco products such as snuff and chewing tobacco, however, have a higher nicotine content and generate higher long-term absorption and distribution levels, because unlike in cigarettes, none of their nicotine content is burned, and their concentration in the blood also builds up more slowly and peaks later than that of smoked nicotine. Absorption through the skin likewise generates significant levels of nicotine in the blood; in some parts of the world, over the course of a harvesting season as much as 89% of all tobacco pickers (though depending on harvesting methods and equipment, elsewhere the figures are lower) are subject to a condition called green tobacco sickness, which induces sickness, vomiting, headaches and sweating, as well as, in more severe cases, accelerated heart rates and respiratory difficulties that require emergency medical treatment.
Nicotine targets a certain type of receptors (actually known as nicotinic receptors) in the muscles, the central nervous system and the brain; the latter is where the addictive quality of nicotine manifests, because nicotine (like other addictive drugs such as cocaine) makes dopamine more readily available, which triggers the area of the brain that is responsible for feelings of pleasure. As the body builds up a nicotine tolerance the more of it is taken in, higher and higher doses of nicotine are required to produce that stimulating effect. However, nicotine only acts as a stimulant in comparatively low doses; in higher doses, it acts as a depressant (i.e., a drug that slows the activity of the central nervous system and other vital organs of the body). As such, nicotine has an array of potential side effects ranging all the way from a burning sensation in the mouth, throat and stomach to headaches, diizziness, diarrhea, as well as respiratory and cardiac irregularities. Death from a nicotine overdose occurs as a result of paralysis of the respiratory muscles.
Oh yes — and then, of course, there is the whole cancer thing. While it seems unlikely that nicotine in and of itself acts as a carcinogen, there is no doubt that all tobacco products contain carcinogens galore (see the FDA’s Established List of Harmful and Potentially Harmful Constituents in Tobacco Products and Tobacco Smoke in its full glory here). And yet, the purveyors of the stuff still rake in staggering double-digit billion figures of profits per year, at an annual worldwide cost of more than 7 million lives and $2 trillion (PPP) in healthcare and lost productivity.
So in short: nicotine is a lethal con artist that tricks you into a closer and closer acquaintance and eventually wreaks havoc with your body; even if not directly, through its close acquaintances and neighbors, the carcinogens. And unlike other substances of its ilk, such as heroin and cocaine, it is legally available; however strongly regulated — and its purveyors are partying all the way to the bank.