Baby dreams: What will little bundle be?

DRAWING BY DEBORAH DERR McCLINTOCK

Q. You just learned you're pregnant. How might this "dream come true" affect you at night– in your dreams? –M. Esselman

A. First trimester, dreams often deal with issues of accepting the pregnancy– you notice people staring at you, then you look down and see that you're pregnant, says psychiatrist Arthur D. Colman in Pregnancy: The Psychological Experience. Or you may dream of giving birth to an idealized baby like in a baby-food ad, or even to a cute, cuddly animal. Second trimester tends to focus on family dreams– your own Mom and Dad, siblings, etc.

Finally, as the big event nears, anxieties may erupt over what the new baby will be like, says Charlottesville researcher Robert L. Van de Castle, author of Our Dreaming Mind. Will it be stillborn? Or "Rosemary's baby"? Fears are that something may be developing that was not detected by the doctors. Or the dream baby may be distorted in a charming way, such as walking and talking at birth.

There are joyous dream realms as well, says Dr. Colman, where the baby comes out all sparkling, like a god or messiah, or wearing a halo, amid marvelous strangeness. "Such dreams can be awe-inspiring."

Q. Around the world, what are a few of the weirdest foods people eat as regular fare? –T. Burgess

A. "As a Brit who hasn't totally adapted to American food culture, I'd say toasted marshmallows and Fatburgers are both pretty weird," comments University of Edinburgh social anthropologist Francesca Bray. However if you're looking elsewhere, consider:

* Deep-fried Mars bars (Scotland): a common item on the lists of fish and chips bars, the chocolate bar is coated in batter, then fried.

* "Mar i muntanya" (Catalonia): a tasty stew combining ingredients from the mountains and the sea, including snails, pigs' feet, cuttlefish, shrimp and saffron. It is said the Inquisition used to present converts to Christianity with this traditional dish to see if they had truly repudiated Jewish or Muslim dietary laws.

* Stewed elephant trunk or stewed giant forest snails (forest regions of Ghana and other West African countries): the toughness of the meat can be somewhat reduced by rubbing with papaya leaves, but this is definitely not for the toothless.

* Budu (Kelantan, Malaysia): made by sun-drying tiny fish like anchovies, then putting them in big wooden tubs of water set out in the sun behind the house to ferment. "You can smell it from a mile away from the fishing village as you drive in on your motorbike. The Kelantanese use budu in everything to add flavor. They take great delight in challenging foreigners to try it. Most people refuse because it smells so revolting, provoking hearty laughter, but if you like the budu and ask for more, you will be considered a friend of Kelantan forever."

Q. When does wool become so valuable that it must be shepherded to auction by armed guards, with a single bale fetching more than half a million dollars? –L.B. Peep

A. When it's "Primerino" wool from merino sheep at the famous Goodrich family ranch in Warroo Station, Australia, says Photonics Spectra magazine. Said to be the finest, softest wool in the world, against which even cashmere might seem coarse, Primerino fibers measure a bare 11.9 micrometers in diameter– about 1/5th that of a human hair, half that of average wool and 2/3 that of cashmere!

So fine is it that it is graded via an Australia- designed optical fiber diameter analyzer, capable of testing 1200 fleece per day, profiling wool diameter and length, thick and thin places, as well as curliness (curvature). The device even de-greases the stuff. The state-of-the-art Goodrich shed has been dubbed the "Wooldorf Astoria," from which "the wool-world-rocking bale came, containing 90 kilos of the luxurious stuff, or enough to make about 300 suits."

Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com.

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