The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘longevity’

Venus of the Woods

October 4, 2016 | by

Celebrating the history of the beloved ash tree.

Charles May, The Old Ash, photograph, 1863.

Charles May, The Old Ash, photograph, 1863.

As a small child, my mother was taken to the Lake District, in the hope that she would have a better chance of survival under the shelter of the northwestern hills than at home on the flat, overexposed coast of Lincolnshire. It was early 1940. It would have been a grand adventure, were it not for the constant reminders that things were not as they should be. It was not just the absence of fathers, uncles, brothers, but the presence in the hotel grounds of oddly damaged things: a blind cat, a broken wheelbarrow, a man who had been at Dunkirk and did not seem quite like other grown-ups. What my mother remembers most vividly is a young woman, pale in face and dress, who spent her days sitting outside, staring up into the branches of the tall ash tree and drawing what she saw. When the sun came out, her pencil lines darkened, turning the tracery of tiny branches into black lace veils. She never spoke, but day after day she looked up and re-created the impossible patterns on her large, flat sheets of paper. What did the ash tree mean to that unknown woman? Or to my mother, in whose agitated, impressionable mind it took root and has remained ever since?

The ash tree is known as the Venus of the woods, and it seems to stir powerful feelings in those who gaze on its graceful form. Whether it is standing in spacious parkland or in an unkempt, November hedge, or rising naked from a sea of bluebells, the ash’s curvy limbs taper to an end with tips pointing to the heavens. A young ash is often like a half-open peacock’s tail, not quite ready to display its beauties; the branches of a mature ash, once fully fanned out, will slope down toward the earth, before sweeping up again, as if to send the buds flying. Through the summer the boughs cascade in all directions, wave-shaped and covered in green sprays. There are no angles on a young ash tree—everything is rounded and covered in fluttering foliage, soft as the feathers in a boa or the fur of a chinchilla. The boughs gain a few inches and furrow with the passing years, but with maturity come striking attitudes. In winter their silhouettes stencil clear skies like a row of unframed stained glass windows. The ebullient black buds stand proud, as if impatient for the spring, but in fact the ash is usually the last to come into leaf and the first to shed its seasonal foliage. The uncovered form of the ash, though, is just as compelling as the full-dress splendor of more eye-catching trees. Read More »

Readers Live Forever, and Other News

August 9, 2016 | by

Look, son! Health!

  • Premise one: all your free time can be monetized. Premise two: in the future or maybe even tomorrow, really ordinary sounds from our day-to-day lives will be interesting to someone. Conclusion: you should buy yourself a microphone rig and become a “sound hunter,” one of those “who roam city streets and remote countrysides to capture the dramatic and unusual as well as the plain but underappreciated noises that surround us. Some of them release albums and even play concerts.” The most prominent of these is Chris Watson, whose latest field recording included “the noise of the insect known as the water boatman in the moor’s pond, said to be the loudest animal relative to its body size. ‘It’s the sound of them rubbing their penises beneath their abdomens to sing to attract females,’ Mr. Watson said with a boyish smile.”
  • Today in haircuts: academic research has at last confirmed what many have suspected for years—rich white dudes have no truck with the barbershop. Instead they favor upmarket salons, where someone is around to file your nails and there’s none of that pesky male companionship. As Kristen (ahem) Barber writes, “The young licensed barbers working in these salons also seemed disenchanted with the old school barbershop. They saw these newer men’s salons as a ‘resurgence’ of ‘a men-only place’ that provides more ‘care’ to clients than the ‘dirty little barbershop.’ And those barbershops that are sticking around, one barber told me, are ‘trying to be a little more upscale’ by repainting and adding flat screen TVs … Barbershops, they said, are for old men with little hair to worry about or young boys who don’t have anyone to impress.”
  • Frederick Olmsted literally changed the landscape of American parks—but he did so, as Nathaniel Rich notices, with a strange sleight of hand. “An unmistakable irony creeps vinelike through Olmsted’s landscape theory: It takes a lot of artifice to create convincing ‘natural’ scenery. Everything in Central Park is man-made; the same is true of most of Olmsted’s designs. They are not imitations of nature so much as idealizations, like the landscape paintings of the Hudson River School. Each Olmsted creation was the product of painstaking sleight of hand, requiring enormous amounts of labor and expense. In his notes on Central Park, Olmsted called for thinning forests, creating artificially winding and uneven paths, and clearing away ‘indifferent plants,’ ugly rocks, and inconvenient hillocks and depressions—all in order to ‘induce the formation … of natural landscape scenery.’ He complained to his superintendents when his parks appeared ‘too gardenlike’ and constantly demanded that they ‘be made more natural.’ ”

The Eternal Ham

September 25, 2015 | by

Anne Vallayer-Coster, Still Life with a Ham, 1767.

Dorothy Parker is said to have been the author of one of the best quotes in history: “Eternity is a ham and two people.” Like many such quips, it’s hard to find the original source—although in this case, we can safely assume that life was certainly the direct inspiration. 

It’s not just that hams are big—they were even more massive in Parker’s day than they are now—or that a little of the salty meat goes a long way. It’s also the fact that a ham goes immediately from a thing of festive beauty (cue pineapple rings, scored surfaces studded with cloves, glistening patina) to a professional leftover. It goes very gentle into that good night. And, because it is cured, and because it can be used in so many ways, and because you can always, always scrape more meat off that bone—well, you’re really never justified in throwing it away. It’s with you for eternity. Read More »

How to Photograph the Inside of Your Body, and Other News

March 18, 2014 | by

body photo

If this digestive tract thrills you, imagine what a kick you’ll get out of your own! Image via Beautiful Decay

  • The eccentric poet Bill Knott once faked his own death, but last week he really died. (Unless this is one hell of an elaborate ruse.) He wrote of himself: “my poetic career is nugatory … no editor will countenance my work; i’ve been forced to self-publish my poetry in vanity volumes; i am persona non grata and universally despised or ridiculed by everyone in the poetry world.”
  • The truculent, condescending subtext of the word actually.
  • Checking in with Alejandro Jodorowsky, everyone’s favorite cult filmmaker: “‘Maybe I am a prophet,’ he said in 1973. ‘I really hope one day there will come Confucius, Muhammad, Buddha and Christ to see me. And we will sit at a table, taking tea and eating some brownies.’”
  • One way to get a glimpse at the inside of your body: swallow a frame of 35 millimeter film, “folding each piece in a brightly colored capsule that allow[s] for the acids and bodily fluids to process the film with minimal risk of colon damage.”
  • Punishments of the future: “What happens to life sentences if the human lifespan is radically expanded?”