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Accordions, bologna and The Woman Who Drinks Her Own Pee

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Travel expands one's horizons, opens one's eyes, broadens one's mind. You bump into things when you're travelling you just might miss staying at home. Even if home is a cute, albeit overcrowded resort municipality.

Never in my wildest dreams, for instance, do I imagine Whistler will host anything like the annual accordion festival I once saw in Kimberley, B.C. Alas, it is now history having become "economically unsustainable." What is normally an ersatz Bavarian alpine village was, for one week, transformed into an orgy of accordion music where people from far and near brought their favourite squeeze to town to get down and jam in the streets. Impromptu accordion bands were cobbled together on street corners and inside rockin' RV's and just as quickly abandoned when someone suggested a contrapuntal rendition of "Louie Louie" or a reprise of "Lady of Spain."

Conservatively doubling the population of this industrious ski/mining town, there were more accordionists, friends of accordionists, and accordion groupies encamped for the week than most of us probably imagine existed in the whole wide world. Whistler, Kimberley's loss could be our gain.

The highlight of the week I was fortunate enough to attend — okay, I was only there that day — was an appearance by a 40-accordion orchestra from Cologne, Germany. Yes, a 40-accordion ORCHESTRA flew over from Germany to cap off an orgy of accordion culture. I wasn't sure I was up to Wagner rendered on a colourful mob of piano and button squeeze boxes but I could imagine the 1st of the 9th flying their gunships over the jungles of Vietnam and screaming an accordion version of the "

Ride of the Valkyries" to the puzzlement and unbridled laughter of the Viet Minh below, wetting their black PJ's before being napalmed to a crisp turn.

But accordions are probably high culture compared to Yale, Mich.'s Bologna Festival, a four-day event that just wrapped up honouring the varied talents of the humble lunchmeat and meat byproduct. Bologna being one of those foods people usually stop eating when they either discover what's in it or they're finally able to afford something better, which is to say just about anything, it's heartening to see the townsfolk pay it such a tribute. There are bologna-sandwich eating contests, recipe contests, bologna cookoffs, including a crossover category labeled "Bologna Chili," and, of course, the Bologna Queen. Imagine if you will, the humility, the agony of a near-miss, that attaches to being first runner-up to the Bologna Queen, to spend the year in anticipation of the accident or scandal that will make the Queen unable to finish her term, allowing you to become Miss Bologna.

However, both of these celebrations and all the sights I've seen since hitting the road pale in comparison to The Woman Who Drinks Her Own Pee. Some encounters make all the travails of travel worthwhile and this is one. Let me put your mind at rest; we're not talking about some grimy, street-livin' bag lady, or some over-the-top sexual fringe pervert, or a certifiably insane soul walking the streets of outport Newfoundland. We're talking about a well-educated, articulate, personable woman whose "medical" advisor said she should drink her pee as part of a, uh, therapeutic program.

Human urine is a sterile liquid when it leaves the body. If you were, say, miles from any medical help, surrounded by stagnant, polluted water and sunk an axe into your leg, you might just consider using it to cleanse your wound before you stitched yourself up. If you lived in Winnipeg and trundled out to your car you parked in cheapo Lot E at the airport a week earlier and found your doors iced over solid, you might, if you were a guy, give passing thought to the only source of steaming, hot liquid under pressure at hand, such as it were. Carefully. But unless you grew up in Frank Herbert's fictional world of Dune, drinking your own urine probably wouldn't be one of those things you'd approach without at least a smidge of squeamishness.

Wealthy tribesmen of the Koryak people in northeast Siberia used to drink a concoction called mukhomor brewed from Fly Amanita mushrooms. It made them silly, got them high, gave them powerful hallucinations and generally amused them hundreds of years before television. In what I'm sure was an elaborate set of rules honed over generations, stoned tribesmen were not allowed to just wander over to a rock and pee on the ground; they had to go into bowls. It was the law. Their pee was — as usual, I have to pause at this point to tell you I'm not making this up — drunk by poorer tribesmen who were able to get a buzz off it and join the party. It was said a really potent brew of mukhomor might last through four or five people. Tribal lowlifes selling straight pee that didn't get you high were routinely stoned to death.

Okay, that's it. Other than some Old Spouses' Tales, those are the only useful references I can find or remember when it comes to drinking or using human urine. A medical doctor I queried about this arched his eyebrows, gave me a chemical-biological analysis of what would be involved with drinking urine, winked and quacked like a duck.

I really wish I could tell you why a modern woman would pay heed to the advice of her friend, who happened to be a homeopath and who told her to drink her pee, but I can't. I had to promise not to ask. It was killing me. Here I was, sitting in the same space as someone who engages in an activity that is, how shall we put it, bizarro in the extreme, and I can't ask her any of the questions going through my head.

Questions like, is it more effective hot or cold? Or does it matter? Are we talking about the morning's first rich void or will any old pale pee after three cups of coffee do? How much is a dose? How often? Is it something you get used to? What's it taste like? How about the day after you've had a big feed of the spring's first asparagus? Do you drink it when you're sick? If not, do you store some in the fridge from when you're well? Do you mistake it for apple juice? Do you use a special cup or glass? Do you add anything to it, vinegar or vodka, for example? Do you know other people who drink their pee, sort of a self-help group? Have you ever been abducted by aliens? What do the voices in your head say late at night when there's only you and the cosmos?

Some questions are better left unanswered.

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