Don’t cramp my style

economist-logoFROM music to medicine is an unusual career path, but Victor Candia is an unusual man. In 1993, when he was preparing to graduate as a guitarist from the University of Music in Trossingen, Germany, he noticed that the fingers of his left hand were starting to curl up as he played. It felt to him as if a magnet in his palm were preventing him from opening them. A week later, he could not play at all. He had succumbed to what doctors call focal dystonia, golfers call the yips, and instrumentalists and scribblers, respectively, call musician’s cramp and writer’s cramp…

This article first appeared in the Economist on 27 March 2014. To continue reading, click here.


Watch this 2010 performance of Agustín Barrios’ La Catedral (Part III: Allegro) by guitarist Gonçalo Cordeiro, following the latter’s successful treatment for musician’s cramp, aka focal dystonia:

Twilight zone

telegraphFacebookONE day in September 2005 Sarah Tomkins went to the top of the stairs to wave her daughter Caitlin off to the village school. Still in her pyjamas because she was feeling under the weather, she suddenly felt lightheaded. Before six-year-old Caitlin knew what was happening, her mother was lying at the bottom of the wooden staircase with blood on her face. Tomkins’s fall that day resulted in a massive haemorrhage that destroyed the front left-hand side of her brain. If it hadn’t been for quick-thinking Caitlin, who immediately phoned her grandmother, Tomkins would have died. As it was she spent three weeks in a coma before she opened her eyes. For the next couple of months doctors could elicit no response from her and diagnosed her as being in a vegetative state (VS). Then they began to see fleeting signs that she was aware of her surroundings. The diagnosis changed to minimally conscious state (MCS), and Tomkins was moved to a rehabilitation centre at Leamington Spa, where she came under the care of the neurological rehabilitation consultant Derar Badwan…

This article first appeared in the Telegraph Magazine on 22 March 2014. To continue reading click here.


Former racing car driver Michael Schumacher’s prognosis is still uncertain following a skiing accident in late December 2013, since when he has been kept in an artificial coma:

Karma of the Crowd

UnknownON February 10, 2013, overcrowding at a railway station in the northern Indian city of Allahabad led to a stampede that killed 36 people. The city was full at the time. Very full. It was hosting the world’s largest religious gathering, the Maha Kumbh Mela, and the authorities estimated the number of pilgrims in the city that day hit its peak, at 30 million. The stampede made headlines around the world and is what most non-Hindus remember about the festival. But there’s another story about the Maha Kumbh Mela that hasn’t been told…

This article first appeared in the February 2014 edition of National Geographic. To continue reading click here.

White War

telegraphFacebookAT first glance Peio is a small alpine ski resort like many others in northern Italy. In winter it is popular with middle-class Italians as well as, increasingly, Russian tourists. In summer there’s good hiking in the Stelvio National Park. It has a spa, shops that sell a dozen different kinds of grappa, and, perhaps, aspirations to be the next Cortina. A cable car was inaugurated three years ago, and a multi-storey car park is under construction…

This article was first published in the Telegraph Magazine on 22 March 2014. Click here to continue reading.

Rue Centrale in English

Rue Centrale: portrait of a European city is now out in English from Editions L’Age d’Homme.

spinney_couv_e-2Lausanne is a cosmopolitan city located at the heart of Europe. Viewing it as a microcosm of the continent as a whole, Laura Spinney goes out to meet its inhabitants. The result is a portrait of a European city painted in the words of the people who live and work there. Encountered in the street, in their bedroom, on a barge or in the belfry of the cathedral, 68 individuals talk about their hopes, their fears and their daily lives. Bankers, prostitutes, illegal immigrants, pillars of the community… Word by word, from the grassroots up, they build a city in Europe at the beginning of the 21st century.

Rue Centrale is available from Payot, Lausanne’s English bookshop Books Books Books, the three kiosks of Lausanne Tourisme and online on the L’Age d’Homme webpage.