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Posts Tagged ‘flies’

No Known Remedy

December 1, 2015 | by

Illustration: Wellcome Library, London


 The flies have conquered the flypaper. —John Steinbeck

The thing about a flyswatter is, there’s a limited number of places you can effectively wield it. Sure, it’s easy enough to whisk the swatter and even to make contact with your target—but it’s surprisingly difficult to find a surface on which to swat cleanly. And make no mistake: by swat, I mean kill, ruthlessly.

Writing about the phenomenon of house flies a few years ago, the New York Times quoted the dipterologist Harold Oldroyd’s book The Natural History of Flies:

A house or other building is … no more than a large flytrap. It is found that the same building is infested year after year, while the house next door may be immune. At present there is no known remedy for these visitations except to move.

My home is, as I write this, benighted by flies; a neighbor said it was “because it’s getting cold” and that the flies come indoors to prolong their meager lives. Between seasons, and then all summer long, they’re an urban blight. They’re maddening in a way that feels personal. I bought the flyswatter and then some flypaper.

Your modern flypaper comes on a little spool, topped with a small red loop and fastened by a brass thumbtack. One removes the tack, unrolls the tape, and then affixes the whole business to the wall or ceiling (“wherever,” as the packaging puts it, “flies are a nuisance”). It’s very efficient and strangely beautiful: it looks like a coil of amber hanging there, all the more so when it ensnares an unsuspecting fly.

One small fly trapped himself almost at once, which was satisfying. An old boyfriend of my mom’s liked to call it “Jewish hunting.” I quickly swatted it dead and left the paper hanging—partly as a Spartacus-style warning, partly to attract this fly’s foolish compatriots, and partly because it seemed too extravagant to remove a strip of tape after only five minutes of use. But then the paper hung there with its single squashed corpse for days, and the flies buzzed in our ears, and it was not even worth invoking the devil or the Bible or Sartre or Jeff Goldblum, especially since I didn’t actually have anything much to say about them. They are, like bad weather, a banal nuisance. And besides, come winter, my husband and I knew they would all go away, and that we were, in any case, very lucky to be the humans. 

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.

Swat with Scruple

June 3, 2014 | by


Balthasar van der Ast, Flowers and Fruit, c. 1620

From “Why We Hate Insects,” an essay by Robert Lynd, collected in his 1921 book, The Pleasures of Ignorance.

It has been said that the characteristic sound of summer is the hum of insects, as the characteristic sound of spring is the singing of birds. It is all the more curious that the word “insect” conveys to us an implication of ugliness. We think of spiders, of which many people are more afraid than of Germans. We think of bugs and fleas, which seem so indecent in their lives that they are made a jest by the vulgar and the nice people do their best to avoid mentioning them. We think of blackbeetles scurrying into safety as the kitchen light is suddenly turned on—blackbeetles which (so we are told) in the first place are not beetles, and in the second place are not black …

There are also certain crawling creatures which are so notoriously the children of filth and so threatening in their touch that we naturally shrink from them. Burns may make merry over a louse crawling in a lady’s hair, but few of us can regard its kind with equanimity even on the backs of swine. Men of science deny that the louse is actually engendered by dirt, but it undoubtedly thrives on it. Our anger against the flea also arises from the fact that we associate it with dirt. Donne once wrote a poem to a lady who had been bitten by the same flea as himself, arguing that this was a good reason why she should allow him to make love to her. It is, and was bound to be, a dirty poem. Love, even of the wandering and polygynous kind, does not express itself in such images. Only while under the dominion of the youthful heresy of ugliness could a poet pretend that it did. The flea, according to the authorities, is “remarkable for its powers of leaping, and nearly cosmopolitan.” Even so, it has found no place in the heart or fancy of man. There have been men who were indifferent to fleas, but there have been none who loved them, though if my memory does not betray me there was a famous French prisoner some years ago who beguiled the tedium of his cell by making a pet and a performer of a flea. For the world at large, the flea represents merely hateful irritation. Mr W. B. Yeats has introduced it into poetry in this sense in an epigram addressed “to a poet who would have me praise certain bad poets, imitators of his and of mine”: Read More »



August 5, 2013 | by


“Do what we can, summer will have its flies.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson