detoxify \ ( ' ) de-täk-se,fi\ vt -fied; -fying (ca. 1905) 1 : to remove a poison or toxin or the effect of such from 2 : to free (as a drug user or an alcoholic) from an intoxicating or an addictive substance in the body or form of dependence on or addiction to such a substance. Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.
There is one thing for which I am grateful to George W. Bush. The day after he was "elected" for the first time, I got on the treadmill, stopped listening to NPR (too choppy and too much bad news), and started listening exclusively to the long ambulatory grooves of Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
In 1968 I was inoculated with intoxicating afrobeat rythyms when I saw Fela, his band and dancers perform in the tiny basement which was the Bohemian Caverns in Washington, D.C. Three feet away from me he stood and belted out sonorous baritone politically charged phrases while the female dancers' feathered hips brushed up against my aura and imprinted me with a life-long love of Fela's dynamic, forward driving beat.
No other music would do to take my mind off hanging chads in November of 2000. Day after day, looking out on my zen view (small) of Lake Washington, I wandered on my treadmill and I began to think about walking. I walked for eight years.
Every time I got on the treadmill I thought of 16th century chronicler, Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, a bookkeeper who was sent to the "New" World to look after the Spanish King's interests. Born in Badajoz in 1490, he was part of the cabal of conquistadors who hailed from that harsh, dry, windy and unforgiving plain region of Spain called Extremadura. Cabeza de Vaca's conquering co-horts were Pizarro, Balboa, De Soto and Cortés, the five biggies in the "New" World, or, as I call them, those Extremadura Boyz. Cabeza, for short, landed in Florida in 1527 a conquistador and walked through the southeast and southwest and lived with the Indians until he was found in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico eight years later, transformed into a humanitarian.
In his understated account of his travels, "Naufragios y Comentarios" (Shipwrecks and Commentaries), his was the first first-hand description of a hurricane; his was the first anthropological description of the Mississippian mound-building cultures in the southeast. He observed how sometimes the Indians would prefer to run than walk -- why? Possibly because they could, and oh, they got there faster. They could run at such a steady pace they would out-run their prey until the deer got tired. He documented how Indian mothers would supplement their childrens' diets with breast milk until the age of 12. He described how much they loved and cared for their children and that when a child died from famine, the parents, relatives and the whole group mourned his death, crying for him in the morning, afternoon and evening for an entire a year.
He and his fellow conquistadors went from eating ship-issued two pounds of hard biscuit and one pound of bacon to eating their horses. His diet changed when he was captured and enslaved by the Indians who found him, shipwrecked near Galveston, Texas. For the next eight years he walked. He learned their customs, made combs and trinkets and traded them, became an intermediary between tribes, walked up the Mississppi and became a healer, who was followed by a growing Fellini-esque motley contingent of Indians who believed in his powers. Subject to the same feast or famine conditions, he was forced to become an omnivore. He ate corn, squash, beans, insects, small game, oysters, fish, grubs, roots, blackberries, walnuts, pecans and prickly pears -- but not all at the same time. Following the seasons, they would go to one place and eat ONE thing for three months until it was gone and they would go on to the next thing and work that until it was gone. Sometimes they did not eat for days on end. That sounds like a detox to me -- a little extreme, but that's probably what it took for him.
There are some people in history with whom I would love to have dinner, Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, the embodiment of transformation, is at the top of the list. He probably would not appreciate it if I invited him to dinner and served him prickly pears.