Empty Your Own Chamber Pot, and Other News
January 7, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- The Swedish Academy keeps its lists of potential Nobel winners confidential for fifty years—meaning that, at last, we can see who coulda been a contender for the 1965 prize in literature. That year it went to the Soviet writer Mikhail Sholokhov, of And Quiet Flows the Don. Among the writers in contention, though, were Nabokov and Borges, neither of whom would ever make the cut. According to his maid, Borges was “tortured” by the annual spectacle surrounding the prize: “On the day of the announcement journalists would queue outside his door. This would happen year after year. The news each time that he had not won would make him very sad.”
- In 1894, communes dedicated to the teachings of Tolstoy began to spring up in England; two of them still exist today, vowing to keep the flames of pacifism, anarchism, and clean Christian living. Kelsey Osgood paid one a visit: “Another community resident, Jo, wearing knee-high Wellingtons and a flashlight on her head, showed me the outhouses and taught me how to sprinkle wood shavings into the bucket to compost the bodily waste. (The shavings were from pine trees that they grow on their land and sell at Christmas.) I thought of how Tolstoy asked a young Desmond MacCarthy, the Eton and Cambridge-educated literary critic and journalist, to empty his own chamber pot while visiting Tolstoy’s grand house at Yasnaya Polyana, because the Count thought it degrading to ask the servants to do it.
- A friendly reminder: mice are people, too, often somewhat literally. Maud Newton has humanized mice on the mind: “According to New Scientist, the researchers put human brain cells into mice by injecting ‘immature glial cells’ from human fetuses into baby mice, where they ‘developed into astrocytes, a star-shaped type of glial cell,’ and became invasive … It’s impossible to know how many kinds of humanized rodents exist, in part because, if you’re a researcher, you can have the mice tailor-humanized just for you. One company claims to provide at least seventy-five hundred strains … So far, whatever discussion exists in the scientific community about how humanized mice themselves might be affected by, for example, having human brain cells, seems to focus on the ways we’ve succeeded in making the mice more like us.”
- The New York Public Library’s special collections department has released some 180,000 images into the public domain. You want postcards? They got postcards. You want maps? They got maps. You want rare images of “Town Ball” and “Old Cat,” two stick-and-ball games that were precursors to baseball? You got rare images of “Town Ball” and “Old Cat,” two stick-and-ball games that were precursors to baseball. “It’s not just a data dump,” said Dan Cohen, the executive director of the Digital Public Library of America. “It’s a next step that I would like to see more institutions take.”
- If you’ve ever arrived in New York through the Lincoln Tunnel, you’ve probably espied the big red sign for the New Yorker, a hotel whose iconic name has nothing to do with the magazine. This was “the hotel of the traveling salesmen, pilots and aircrew on short layovers, tourists and GIs being shipped to the European Front … If the Waldorf-Astoria were a well-dressed woman in an elegantly feathered hat, the New Yorker would be a salesman in a crumpled suit, drinking a whiskey and soda.” But what goes on there? What went on there? Early photos tell of a glut of Art Deco glamour—and a secret tunnel leading to Penn Station.