Posts Tagged ‘animals’
September 22, 2016 | by Laura Bannister
A brief history of London’s Tower Menagerie.
It was New Year’s Eve 1764, and John Wesley—founding father of Methodism, horseback proselytizer, teetotaler—stood before the structure now known as the Tower of London, accompanied by a flautist, who was, in turn, accompanied by his flute. Wesley had traveled to this sprawling complex in the hope of testing a hypothesis. Could music soothe the most savage of beasts? If it did, Wesley might clear up a burning theological ambiguity—the question of whether nonhuman animals had souls. With his contracted companion in tow, he marched through the tower, determined to find some big cats and to smother them with song.
Zoos, as we know them today, did not exist in Wesley’s lifetime—the zoological garden is a distinctly modern phenomenon. Even the London Zoo, one of the oldest “scientific” outdoor sites for animal rehoming, opened six decades after his tower trip. If Wesley wished to glean the spirituality of lions firsthand, the infamous citadel, all arched cages and grilles, was his best bet in England. (Spoiler: the reaction to a live flute performance was mostly lukewarm—only one out of five lions stirred and stood up on all fours—not quite what our preacher had been hankering for.)
For those unfamiliar with the capricious usage history of the Tower of London, it might be hard to imagine parts of the site used as a full-blown menagerie—one that lasted about six hundred years. But through its almost thousand-year history, the place has morphed like a sort of Room of Requirement, having served variously as a palace, a public-record office, an armory, a torture chamber, a private ground for beheadings, and the Royal Mint. Its most recent incarnation is as a magnet for jewel-ogling, cash-happy tourists. Today the tower’s official website reflects this diversity—it includes a Peasants’ Revolt Quiz (“Are you revolting?”), details on venue hire for weddings, and an e-shop peddling miniature armor and replica Lionheart shields. Read More »
September 21, 2016 | by Rachel Mabe
On confronting death, in the road and elsewhere.
The rented farmhouse in North Carolina sat at the midpoint of a dead-end street, where the only light came from a streetlight in my neighbor’s front yard. Every night before bed, my dog, Henry (David Thoreau), and I walked down the circular drive and into the road, going as far as the light reached and back again. This provided time for the night to settle in, the stars to announce themselves, and Henry to take care of business.
One autumn night, Henry found a dead frog where the light fell brightest on the pavement. I stooped to examine the creature. He lay on his back, red innards escaping from his perfectly still mouth.
The following night, I searched ahead for the frog as we walked out of the dark driveway and into the light. Henry sniffed him and moved on. The frog was in the same place as the night before, only flatter.
The next night he looked less like a frog. After staring at him for a while, I needed more. Read More »
September 8, 2016 | by Shihab Al-Din Al-Nuwayri
This week, we’re publishing four short excerpts from The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition, a fourteenth-century encyclopedia of … well, everything, or everything known to Arab civilization circa 1314. Compiled with dogged dedication by Shihāb al-Dīn al-Nuwayrī, the book runs to more than nine thousand pages; an abridged version is now available for the first time in English. Ultimate Ambition lives up to its bold title—its eclectic, protean entries cover lunar cults, the sugary drinks in the sultan’s buttery, and how to attract your dream woman by burying a crow’s head. Its translator, Elias Muhanna, believes the compendium affords “a view into the kaleidoscopic and multifarious intellectual tradition of the classical Islamic world”; the New York Review of Books calls it “a bizarre, fascinating book that illustrate[s] the sprawlingly heterodox reality of the early centuries of Islam.” Today’s extract: Read More »
August 22, 2016 | by Matthew St. Ville Hunte
I had to bury a dog in my backyard yesterday. She was a light brown mongrel and came up to about my knee—not huge, but not tiny, either. She showed up in the neighborhood a few months ago and gave birth to a couple of puppies under a neighbor’s water tank. She came around my house a few times and I fed her, so she and the puppies mostly hung around. A few days ago, she went off somewhere and came back with a wound. We tried to patch her up as best we could, and she seemed to be stabilizing, but eventually she died on the lawn, which had been stained violet from the iodine antiseptic.
But now I had to figure out what to do with her. I chose a spot at the back of the house, between the protruding roots of an old, flamboyant tree, right next to what’s now a well-fertilized plantain crop. (Years ago, one of my brothers, not grasping the reality of the situation, excitedly reported that our neighbor had “planted” one of his dead puppies.) With a rusty hoe and a crooked fork, I managed to loosen the stony ground before digging a hole a couple feet deep. I cut open an old flour bag, wrapped her in it, and lowered her in. There were no last rites, but I did mark her grave with a few pieces from the trunk of a fallen coconut tree. Read More »
August 19, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Today in nomenclature: having lived for years in total ignorance of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), I was at last moved to pay attention, because the names of our cheeses—the entire foundation of our nation’s fragile relationship with dairy—are in jeopardy. Mark Hay explains: “Deep within the bowels of the treaty, there’s one clause that could have a profound effect on everyday American life — by making it illegal for U.S. cheese makers to use common names rooted in regional European culinary traditions like feta, muenster, or parmesan … And the U.S. has officially pushed back, arguing that EU producers can just file trademark applications for protection in the U.S. Just like under the EU’s system, this would prevent people other than the trademark holders or licensed users from labeling their cheese with specific names in America … But for Europeans that’s not enough; the trademark for Parmigiano-Reggiano doesn’t extend to parmesan, which to them is a synonym, not a generic genus term.”
- People love to be protected from rattlesnakes—that’s just so typical of us! But no one asks about the snakes. Do they want to be protected from the people? We’ve been murdering them with impunity for centuries now. It’s time to make amends. And so I give you Rattlesnake Island, a new snake place. Christopher Benfey writes, “Timber Rattlesnakes, nostalgically recorded in local place names like Rattlesnake Gutter … and Rattlesnake Knob, once thrived in New England. Not anymore. They have been wholly exterminated in Maine and Rhode Island, and it is estimated that not more than two hundred survive in a few disparate colonies … Under the circumstances, it seemed reasonable to conservationists and herpetologists to find an uninhabited island, outfitted with the belowground dens essential to snake survival in the winter, and slowly introduce a small colony of rattlesnakes, one by one, equipped with monitors to track their location. Mount Zion is large enough, at 1,350 acres, that snakes, according to experts, ‘would have little motivation to leave.’ ”
- Elif Batuman has been reading Psychobook, a new collection of what can only be described as vintage psychological tests. The book is designed for many things, but not to make its readers feel sane: “No less than the many tests in its pages, Psychobook is itself a kind of inkblot, certain to evoke different emotions and associations from different people. For this reader, one recurring sensation was that of a deeply American beleaguerment, with some Eastern European overtones. I thought again and again of the immigrant woman, landing like Kafka’s hero on American shores after a long and, one feels, psychically taxing boat ride, facing the first of many new puzzles in a strange new land … It’s not immediately clear why this book exists, but it would probably look great in a therapist’s waiting room.”
- Today in junk that might also be art—or, at least, junk that you could soon own: Tekserve, a computer-support shop not far from the Review’s offices in Chelsea, ended its twenty-nine-year run this week. As a kind of progenitor of the Apple store, the business amassed a lot of obsolete technology over the decades, and now you can buy that stuff at auction. Have you had your eye on a Philco Predicta TV? An early “magic lantern” slide projector? A Braille display processor? A Nagra 4.2 portable mono tape recorder? Or perhaps the storied “Mac Museum,” “which comprises thirty-five computers that represent the development of Apple from 1984 to 2004”?
- Since 1982, the London Review of Books has had featured writers from all over the world for their Diary column. Until this week, no one could say which corners of the globe, exactly, had been represented in the LRB’s pages—but now they’ve gone ahead and marked all eight hundred of their contributors on a map. Note the presences, of course, but also the absences. No one has ever filed a diary from Mongolia or Indonesia, for instance—book your flights now and refine your pitches from thirty thousand feet.