Milen Ruskov (b. 1966) graduated from Sofia University in 1995 and began making his living as a translator in 2001. Since then, he has translated more than 20 books, including Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas De Quincey, Novel Notes and The Angel and the Author and Others by Jerome K. Jerome, Money by Martin Amis, Transformation by Mary Shelley and others. He is also a writer and has written two novels: Pocket Encyclopaedia of Mysteries (2004) and Thrown Into Nature (2008).
There is hardly anything more natural than hating Nature. Yet people don't realize this, because of their crazy ideas. For example, many think that this world is ruled by the Devil. As some of the ancients put it, the Devil saw the Kingdom of God and tried to make something similar. He is a sorry imitator, by their own admission. Yet not entirely inept, they add, and mighty cruel, too. But all of that is stuff and nonsense. Others reckon that the world is God's doing. If this is so, then He is not who they think He is but just some experimenting idiot. All that is stuff and nonsense, too. But if it's not the one, nor the other, then what is it? – you may ask. That is a stupid question. This is what: the world is simply mad Nature's work. Which is precisely why it looks the way it does, since it is her work. She is absolutely mad, the incarnation of chaos, a game of blind chance. I feel a deep-seated hatred of Nature. Yes, I do! If there is something I deeply and truly hate, it is Nature. Is there anything more endlessly energetic, more lavishly fertile and at the same time crazier than she? Of course not! If Nature put on a human face and strolled around the streets of Seville, she would have long since been locked up as a dangerous maniac, perhaps even burned at the stake by the Inquisition. She would be of the female sex, of course, giving birth to a child every five minutes, laughing and jumping about at the same time, and impregnated without a visible agent, as if by the wind itself. Yes, Nature is absolutely mad!
Yet she and she alone is the procreator of the world. Not the Devil or God, not some evil genius or some experimenting idiot, much less the Good Lord, but simply a mad, all-powerful, all-purblind, accidental and chaotic Nature. As a member of the medical profession, it actually behoves me to hold such an opinion. Moreover, it shows that I've found my true calling, since I sincerely and profoundly profess the above-stated opinions.
My name is Guimarães da Silva. The "da Silva" part is made-up, by the way, since an aristocratic title causes people to pay more attention to what you say. And besides, Dr Monardes wanted me to change my name so he could introduce me as his assistant without embarrassment. "This is my assistant da Silva," Dr. Monardes now says, and it really does sound better that way. Sometimes he even presents me as "Dr da Silva." Of course, I am not yet a doctor – although I hope to be some day – but rather a mere helpmate and student of Dr Monardes. Incidentally, he never mentions that I am Portuguese. The Portuguese are thought to smell bad, spread malaria (since they wade through the swamps around the city), constantly present themselves as noblemen who just happen to end up in Seville and who try to swindle everyone they can out of piddling sums. "I," he says, "am João da So-and-So, and I have come to buy a parcel of land in Peñana at a good price" or "to build a ship in Cadiz." Then he starts playing the fool, so that you'll swallow the act and decide to join the venture, usually on the cheap or for a huge profit, at which point he disappears with the ducats. The curious thing here is that the notorious seductive power of money addles the mind of the one forking it over – a relatively rare and interesting phenomenon that lies behind the prosperity of many a crook; for example, the owners of gambling houses – for if he had preserved even a bit of his presence of mind, he would have asked himself why anyone would come to buy land or to build a ship in Spain, given that it is far cheaper to do so in Portugal. Yet clearly people cease thinking in such cases. For this reason, Seville is full of fake receipts from Portuguese shysters. Even Dr Monardes has one.
At the inns, they now ask the Portuguese for their money upfront, since previously they would stop for the night and eat and drink their fill, but never so much as to not be able to get up before the first cock crowed the next morning and sneak away without paying. Rumour has it that they would only pay some servant to wake them up early in the morning. Since most of the servants at the inns are also Portuguese, this made it all the cheaper for them. A Portuguese would kill a man for a ducat and himself for two. The only thing preventing him from doing the latter is the fear that you would swipe them afterwards. A real sly dog.
Of course, all these revolting characteristics do not pertain to me. I consider my fellow countrymen to be complete abominations and if I were in the habit of paying attention to abominations, I would be ashamed of them. But I do not pay attention to such things, nor, in recent days, to practically anything. The side effect of this, however, is that one suffers from insomnia. Yet such disinterestedness is also one of Dr Monardes's pieces of advice. "Don't pay attention to anything except medicine," he says, "and to a number of very simple and obvious everyday necessities, which are, in fact, so self-evident that you may easily carry them out without paying them any particular attention. You must" – the doctor insists – "always keep your mind focused on important things, and in the absence of such things, on nothing at all. Although in the latter case you ought to think long and hard about why and how you ever reached such a condition in the first place." Yes, Dr Monardes is a person from whom one can learn much, not just about medicine, but about life in general. He understands the modern world and human nature like no other.
My Portuguese provenance, of course, can easily be discerned from my name. So how did I hit on precisely that name? When Dr Monardes requested I add an aristocratic title, I recalled the village where I was born. The principle behind such appellations, as everyone knows, is to indicate where you come from. However, the village had a nondescript name. Yet by way of compensation it was ringed by magnificent forests. Thus, I decided to christen myself "da Silva" a er the Latin for "forest." Dr Monardes approved the name, and I like it, as well – it was a good choice.
Perhaps my reader might object that this does not tie in well with my hated of nature. First of all, I would like to state that it is in no sense obligatory for something to tie with anything else whatsoever, except in the healing practices of medicine, but even then it is far from necessary in all cases and, as one gradually comes to understand, sometimes it is impossible and even harmful. I know of many cases in which the most logical path to healing has turned out to be fatal. In my work with Dr Monardes, I have been witness to cases in which the most illogical intuition turns out to be life-saving. Incidentally, Dr Monardes is a person with exceptional intuition. The exercise of reason is something he places within strict boundaries and always keeps reined in, like a horse trained under a heavy hand. "Every disease can have at least three causes," Dr Monardes says. "Your knowledge helps you to distinguish them. One of them always pops into your mind first. And it is usually wrong."
I suspect that if this were not the case, every reasonably well-read person could become a medical man. So why do I want to become one? Above all because this profession is no worse than any other, and often more profitable, too. At the same time, it offers me the opportunity to confront Nature. People are the victims of Nature. Not that I have any love lost for people. People… What can I say?... The craziness of the universal procreator is reflected in them, they are her offspring. But the sick person is a victim of Nature. In her madness she has created within his body one endlessly complex and poorly regulated mechanism, always on the verge of breaking down, yet at the same time unpredictable, chaotic and random – he might collapse from the tiniest thing, yet he might also withstand the most monstrous experiences. Take, for example, the sailor, Francisco Rodrigues, one of the 18 survivors from Magellan's expedition (he was also Portuguese, by the way, which is surely one of the reasons he died in so absurd a fashion), who somehow endured a three-month fever in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, far from any source of succour, only to die from the prick of a rusty nail on the vessel Hyguiene anchored in the Port of Seville, of all places, as he was looking her over, deciding whether to join her crew – an endeavor that he incidentally was under no financial compulsion to undertake, since Magellan's spices had made him rich. He explained his intention to once again take to the seas by the fact that he was squandering his wealth so freely that in five or six years' time, as he liked to say, it would be all gone.
This unpredictability of the body – to get back to my original thought – is a consequence of the chaos, randomness and unpredictability of Nature itself. Did I say unpredictability? In fact, this is not always the case. If there is any great marvel whatsoever in this world, it is that Nature can sometimes be controlled. For that, of course, extensive skills and knowledge are necessary, but in principle it is possible. Figuratively speaking, you can drag Nature out of the madhouse and force her to do something. Of course, she continues lurching and grimacing, keeps babbling nonsensically, but she does it. Then next time she won't do it. It depends.
There are certain means through which she can be forced, in particular circumstances, to act as we wish. Such a means, practically omnipotent, was discovered by our seamen in the Indies over the past half-century or so. This well-nigh magical means was completely unknown to Antiquity, whose number includes even Herodotus, Heraclitus, or whatever they called that mighty ancient healer, whose name escapes me for the moment. Of course, we are talking about the almost almighty tobacco. This is precisely the medicine to which Dr Monardes has dedicated his book about its healing powers. Dr Monardes is an ideal innovator, a true discoverer. is was the first and, at the time, the only book of its kind in Europe. However, I will let the author speak for himself:
My assistant and colleague Señor Dr da Silva asked me to write a few words in his work – a request I responded to joyfully, being flattered by the faith shown in me, for which I wish to thank him sincerely. Henceforth I shall express myself more briefly (due to pressing engagements). My tract about tobacco was published in Seville under the title On Tobacco and Its Great Virtues, by Dr Nicolas Monardes, M.D. LL.D. I.S.O. M.A. D.J. M.C. The latter is a selection of my titles. It is also known by the same name in France (without the titles, however). The tract in question is part of my book A Medical History of Remedies Brought From the West Indies or, in short, Historia Medicinal. In England, due to the singular whim of its translator, it appeared under the title Joyfull News Out of the New Found World. Following my indignant inquiry, I was assured that in England if something does not begin with “Joyfull News” no one buys it and reads it. The English, as I came to understand, look upon all books, including medical writings, primarily as a means of entertainment to pleasantly while away one's spare time, for which reason every other title there now begins with “Joyfull News.” For example, if the work in question addresses the massacre in Lancaster, the book will be published as Joyfull News Out of the Massacre in Lancaster. I give this example because I have seen it with my own eyes. In short, I was forced to back down.
This was merely a clarification. Now I would like to offer the reader some useful advice:
1. Go to bed early. The best time is around eight o'clock in the evening in the winter and nine o'clock during the summer.
2. No fewer than eight hours of sleep. The advice above could be paraphrased more simply as follows: Go to bed one hour after sundown, get up one hour before sunrise. The more attentive reader will most likely note that this is precisely a simplified paraphrase. However, with the passage of time I have become convinced that, not only in England, where it is absolutely necessary, but also everywhere else, it is best to state things in a simplified manner, as this is the only way they will be understood. With the exception of France, however, where it is preferable to state things as complexly as possible, ideally so that nothing whatsoever can be understood. Then in France they will declare you a philosopher.
3. Food – three times a day. Lavish breakfast, fair-to-middling lunch, light supper. The reader may imagine food as a slide: in the morning you find yourself at its highest point, at noon in the middle, and in the evening at its lowest part. Its lowest part is not necessarily a place where one falls on one's arse and subsequently spends the next hour thus in the privy.
4. Meat dishes should be alternated with meatless ones, ideally on the same day, but if this proves impossible – then every other day. Overconsumption of meaty foods leads to diseases of the kidneys, while eating only meatless fare weakens the organism.
5. Moderate labour. If possible – none at all. Avoid working in the afternoon and especially the evening. Do not forget what the Bible teaches us – labour was something used to punish Adam.
6. Warm clothes during the winter. If when you look outside you reckon you will need one woollen jersey, put on two. It is of particular importance to keep your feet warm, thus the same applies to socks as well. Countless people die of colds that could easily be avoided, except in the cases of the most destitute, among whose ranks our reader can scarcely be counted. Furthermore, one's neck should be wrapped in a scarf.
3a) It is sufficient for a person to go to any pub whatsoever to see gluttonous animals. Overeating gathers all the bodily fluids in the stomach, leads to a feeling of heaviness and upsets the activity of the entire organism (from whose extremities the fluids are withdrawn so as to aid digestion within the stomach). In cases of systematic abuse, this leads to corpulence, which thins the bones and encumbers the heart. Stop gorging yourself!
3b) (7.) It has been said many times, but let us repeat: Do not abuse alcoholic beverages. Two glasses of wine a day maximum, one at noon and one in the evening. Spirits – only in the winter, 75g maximum. Yes, I know it seems like very little. This is not news to me.
The above-mentioned advice could be formulated in a more simplified manner (and summarised, which is, in fact, the same thing) as follows: He who eats and drinks a lot dies young. You have certainly heard the so-called blessing "Eat, drink and be merry!" To the same effect they may as well have told you: "Die sooner!"
8. Use tobacco habitually, in the form of smoke for inhalation. This protects the organism from infection and strengthens it as a whole. Señor Dr da Silva has informed me that in the present work he will discuss several illustrative examples of tobacco's healing power, thus I will conclude, remaining
Your fervent well-wisher
and most humble servant,
Dr Nicolas Monardes, M.D. LL.D. I.S.O. M.A. D.J. M.C.
P.S. For other examples of the healing power of tobacco see my above-cited tract On Tobacco and Its....
My intention in the present book is to describe approximately 36 examples of the healing power of tobacco (it is I, Guimarães). I do not know whether it will be necessary to cite all of them – this question will be decided in the course of the writing. In any case, I can categorically claim that the unconquerable substance alluded to here can cure between 30 and 40 illnesses and bodily indispositions. Now I will begin to cite them, beginning with the most illustrative.