Friday, 6 May 2022

Kunstkamer: An Extravaganza

De Rariteitkamer van Levinus Vincent, Gerrit Rademaker drawing 1680 - 1711
The stage is set for a Cabinet of Curiosities

I can tell you how I felt, Dear Reader, about our night out this week at the Sydney Opera House to watch The Australian Ballet's performance of Kunstkamer. Overwhelmed. Stunned. Captivated. When I thought at one point it was finishing I was bereft it was nearly over. Then I was overjoyed when it kept going. And we joined in rapturous applause with the rest of the audience when it did finish.

But how does one go about describing the sensory extravaganza that is the treasured gem of Nederlands Dans Theater? Others have described it as "monumental", "a beautiful monster", "an experience of dance on another frequency", "an expression of the endless possibilities that exist at the intersection of art and science." 

Geboorte van Christus sculptures (anon.), c. 1850-1900
Flights of fancy

To start somewhere is to say that its eighteen component parts are the brainchildren of four renowned choreographers whose imaginations have taken flight - Sol León, Paul Lightfoot, Crystal Pite and Marco Goecke. But that's no help. 

Portrait of Albertus Seba, Jacob Houbraken, after Jan Maurits Quinkhard, engraving 1731 - 1780
Albertus Seba considers his Curiosities
and inspires a Ballet

Next, that the whole, Kunstkamer, literally Art Room, is inspired by the 18th-century book by Albertus Seba, Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, and Maria Sybilla Merian's C18th scientific illustrations of the natural world, and is reflected in the stage set of a dark grey contemporaneous gallery space wherein these images and objets might have once been housed by eccentric collectors. Again, you are none the wiser.

Bloemenrand met insecten, Maria Sibylla Merian etching 1657 - 1717
O, the Natural World as seen by Maria Sybilla Merian

How about enumerating the roll call of composers from whose works were plucked extracts from operas, symphonies, polkas, even recordings: Ludwig von Beethoven to Ólafur Arnalds, via Henry Purcell and Benjamin Britten, Christoph W. Gluck and Joby Talbot, Johann Strauss Jr and Arvo Pärt, Franz Schubert and ... Janis Joplin.

It then needs to be said that showcased against the luscious backdrop of the gorgeous music, which includes piano, violin and tambourine (!) solos, is contemporary dance exquisitely and precisely executed, gracefully and movingly alongside spoken words, singing (!!) and even film, with costumes elegant and sleek.

Finally, that The Australian Ballet is the first dance company to be entrusted with staging it outside of The Netherlands goes some way to indicate how rare a treat it is to have seen it, with pieces danced variously by the full ensemble, solos and pas de deux, and David Hallberg taking to the stage for the first time since becoming Artistic Director to dance the rôle of the spirit or caretaker, or ghost, of the Kunstkamer.

Rariteitenkabinet, Jacob van der Schley etching 1725 - 1779
Oddities and wonders in order

While none of this can even hint at what kind of ballet should be expected, it does indicate its extraordinary ambition. And, like a Cabinet of Curiosities, Kunstkamer's discrete and disparate choreographies are each beautiful and sometimes strange, hinting at art and science and nature and all belonging together. And altogether rather mysterious. And fabulous.

The Phoenix, Cornelis Troost oil on canvas 1720 - 1750
A fabulous Phoenix



So what did see? 

Glimpsed through the kaleidoscope I saw Mandelbrot sets and fractals emerging from the chaos; DNA strands zipping and unzipping; swimmers in a pool; murmurations of starlings; tableaux vivants à la Delacroix's Liberty; Courtly dancing; puppets and paper cutout animation; moths and butterflies, both fluttering and pinned in their collection drawers; the slightly fast-motion of early silent film; preening and courting birds, and maybe even a phoenix.

But that's just me.

I see Murmurating Starlings
Merlyn Chesterman woodcut

Image credits: 1-6: Rijksmuseum; 7: MerlynChesterman.com


Thursday, 21 April 2022

Many Impertinent Questions & A Dozen Mere Trifles


Even NASA must have looked for answers to impertinent questions.

Have you ever wondered, Dear Reader, if you may have crossed paths with Your Correspondent?  How could you know?

Maybe we stood on the same train platform at Frankfurt airport, you en route to Milan, me waiting for the following train to Prague, perhaps? 

Or did we bob about on foam noodles in the same swimming pool of a timeshare apartment complex on the Big Island of Hawai'i? 

Or perhaps we just passed on the escalators in David Jones department store in Sydney, me on the way up to Haberdashery, you on the way down to Small Electricals. 

Or, more likely, you overheard me Carrying On about a pet topic on the adjacent bench in a park, anywhere really. Stranger things have happened. 

Is it not time, then, to acknowledge that we've known each other long enough now for me to come out of my customary shell, cosy as it is, and so shed some anonymity? 

A flyer advertising long-haired women, to be sure.
But how to tell whom here is Pipistrello?

Forthwith, I shall provide you with some trifles (beyond the unhelpful description of tall, slim, greying long brown hair, spectacles & presently clocking in at age 56) that may help to identify me in the wild, so to speak:

  • I do not drive a car: The woman [insert unhelpful description above] shaking her fist at you as you sail through a pedestrian crossing without stopping could be me**.
  • I have a peculiar sense of humour: The only person (read: woman) laughing in the darkened cinema at odd times could be me.
  • I am allergic to horses: If you own a harras of horses and it is rustled in the night, it won't be me.
  • I was once expelled from a packed lecture hall in front of the other First Year Pure Mathematics students for the mistaken Crime of Flirting (!!): If you recite Miss Ann Elk's Theory on Brontosauruses, with emphasis on the throat clearing, at a woman who then weeps with uncontrollable laughter such that she needs to be removed from a 1000-seat public forum, that could be me. Nota bene: I have more recently discovered Mr. Frank Key (dec.), formerly of Hooting Yard, and believe the same result would have occurred if the interwebs had been at our disposal in 1984.
  • I have convict ancestry: If you have as a skeleton in your family's closet an Anthony Steel or a Margaret Irwin, themselves expelled from Ireland in the early 1800s for Crimes requiring Transportation, we are probably related.
  • I have Swedish ancestry: If you have in your family tree one Augustus Lindberg AB, who may have jumped ship from the barque Choice in Sydney in 1879 (sailing from the Port of Takis in Lithuania, bien sûr), we, too, are probably related.
  • I once travelled on the Concorde: The woman weeping silently behind you on a long and tedious subsonic aeroplane journey could be me.
  • I have never been rescued from a crisis except in the medical sense: If you are a fireman and you carry a woman fireman-wise down a ladder during a conflagration and she perhaps babbles to you that on a scale of 1 to 10 she is not sure if the titanium in her head will set off a metal detector, it could me me.
  • I might occasionally make things up: The woman overheard at the table next to you in a café reminiscing about the time she kissed a (Lesser European) Prince, might make you pause to wonder both if it could be me and is this is one of those occasions? (How will you ever know? ...)
  • I am law-abiding to a fault: The woman who flashes a fake Sheriff's badge at you after having first shaken her fist at you as you sail through a pedestrian crossing without stopping could be me.
  • I believe exceptions always prove the rule: viz.:
  • I once (accidentally) travelled from England to Holland and back without a passport: If you work for Interpol, I shall not divulge my home address.

This dozen mere bagatelles should be enough to be getting on with as a handy taxonomic guide to identifying Pipistrello when out and about. So, if you think you have spotted me, don't be shy and do say Hullo!





* These so-called little known facts are quite likely to have been spoken of before around these pages, or will sometime in the future.

** Both you and I know this is a mere fiction for that would never happen when you are behind the wheel.


Image credits: 1: via: Mr. P but long forgotten and thus unattributable, possibly NASA; 2: Nathaniel Russell's Fake Fliers


Sunday, 17 April 2022

Easter Tidings ...

 


... of the fantastic sort, Dear Reader.

Pipistrello x


Image credit: Hybridizer

Friday, 1 April 2022

April Fooled

Have you ever been done like a dinner on April Fools' Day, Dear Reader? Both Mr. P & I fell one year hook, line and sinker for a very amusing spoof magazine feature on a Nordic ice cream tycoon and his family. But hunting the interwebs for delicious evidence to share has left me empty-handed and now wondering if I dreamt the whole thing. Perhaps this is the key to being properly April Fooled?

Despite spending an unseemly amount of time today perusing archived 1990s trashy magazine covers seeking editions around the beginning of April and only becoming reacquainted with the likes of Claudia Schiffer (so many times) and Jane Seymour (so many children) and 90s-headlining royal covergirls in their prime, Mr. P reassures me that he, too, can visualise the whole glorious thing. So we can't have imagined the magazine spread. But it does seem to have suspiciously vanished from said archives.

We've all pored over the occasional Exclamatory(!) guilty-pleasure magazine in the dentist's waiting room (and, ahem, purchased the occasional copy with an alluring cover) so you can picture for yourself the glossy images splashed across several pages with their breathless yet almost tongue-in-cheek captions:

The Family Portrait comprises a handsome middle-aged tycoon with a nonsense Nordic name posing in his lavish mansion, his sullen and beautiful blonde adolescent scions from a first marriage surrounding his baronial throne, his 20-something sultry and beautiful blonde second wife at his side and at their feet their sweetly blonde twins.

Subsequent Home Interior photos have the trophy wife draped provocatively across furniture, pouting at the camera in a new ensemble for each shot, the sulky adolescents glowering at the camera in the background. The accompanying editorial sings the praises of the brilliant tycoon, gushes admiringly over his beauteous family, the exquisite taste of the home, the furnishings, the fashion labels. It was all so utterly convincing and a brilliant parody of the typical spread found within their pages any other week.

And we fell for it. For an embarrassingly long time. Maybe even for weeks. I can't remember when the penny dropped but it finally did. But in the meantime, I did even tell people, sensible adults, that the Scandinavian millionaire founder of an ice-cream empire had wittily named his twins Ben & Jerry.  


Image credit: via Google


Tuesday, 22 February 2022

Rain Check

There's a little bit of this* going on again today. So Anna and I are taking a rain check on our fair-weather companionable sit in the park. But this is what you might otherwise see of us on a fine day, Dear Reader:

Anna & I

It's not that Your Correspondent is a mere lotus eater. There's also been a bit of this around here:

Progress at my window, eh? The Sound of Sydney.

Speaking of Lotus, this is what's turning heads at our local park:

Everyone stops to look at it,

And photograph it,

By the stone bridge,


Getting the koi terribly excited as you step closer.

This is, of course, the Fish Park by Elizabeth Bay House.

So you may remember this view?

Which can distract one from Anna's company - but I'm getting along nicely.

And in the Random Department:

There are no Beach visits to show for there is none of that nonsense.
Ol' Pipistrello's colouring rather resembles a Guinea Fowl these days!

The Hydrangeas are past their best now,
But this was the recent Glory about the Condominio.

And it's now Crepe Myrtle season

In a rather big way.

Of course the native Eucalypts are just as showy.

What can I say? I Covet this window display of Cos.

Favourite Summer Fruit at the moment.

Favourite Bird. Always.

Street Fair with Bonus Battered Bicycle [& Tattooed Lady].

Finally, when did you last see a sky writer? On Valentines' Day Your Correspondent noticed this:

I waited until he was finished - but it was just Sky Scribble in the end.

It looked like the obvious I 💜 YOU was in play. Not to be! But let's pretend it was so and I'll finish on that happy note!


* Our year of La Niña is making merry with the eastern seaboard of this country. None of the hideous summer bushfires that the Kingdom of Western Australia is enduring have arrived to these shores, which is a welcome change, and the rain rain rain has made our land uncharacteristically green for this time of year. La Niña ordinarily means a cool, wet summer for us, but it's been hot and humid instead. So sultry, as my dear father-in-law used to say.


PS: For the oh so curious, around 105mm was clocked up about the casa for the day, or just over 4 inches in old money. Some parts of the city were graced with nearly half as much again. Of course, the Bureau of Meteorology promises plenty more where that came from in the week ahead. Joy.



Photo credits: Flying With Hands



Sunday, 13 February 2022

The Salad Sandwich Incident

For around US$1.5m, this rather unappealing sandwich could have been yours at Christie's!
Wayne Thiebaud, Sandwich, 1963

It was pure bloody-mindedness on my part that had me insisting for the about the third time that all I wanted was a plain salad sandwich, so I think, Dear Reader, I probably deserved what was served up to me. While I maintain I'm no fussy eater, I can be tiresome on occasion.

We had been in America far too long to know there was no such thing. A sandwich means a rather elaborate affair, unless you make it at home. A sandwich from a shoppe or café means a towering medley of full-flavoured ingredients between a slightly-sweetish bread of infinite variety. So I was getting nostalgic about simplicity whenever we went out. 

Indeed, my usual phlegm about most things was hardening into an uncommon obduracy on matters food in this Land of Plenty, and on this day I just had a hankering for an unfussy sandwich for our lunch on the go.

We were standing before the counter of a formerly unnoticed sandwich bar in a smart shopping mall in California, which appeared like a mirage of seeming familiarity among the tricked up fancies dotted around. The mall had previously been the scene of the Pretzel Incident, where Mr. P had been hypnotised by a snake-charmer selling pretzels as big as his head and dipped in the magical powders wherein their "flavours" were derived, and which shan't be spoken of.

He had already made his choice, a Roosevelt, for the dozen or so options listed in their full glory were named for past American Presidents. But I was struck by dismay at what these illustrious men offered. Between their dazzling array of breads, they out-competed with each other with assorted sliced meats and cheeses and condiments galore, all piled together every which way and sorted under their various presidencies, with each a cacophony of flavours in every bite.

After a quick scan, I could see no President, past or potentially even in the future, was going to go all back-to-basics to give me what I wanted, a simple salad sandwich, so I was going to have to leave my equanimity at the proverbial door and attempt ordering off-menu.

The young man behind the counter was having none of it.

    "A salad sandwich? I don't know ... " 

He turned to the chalkboard and pleaded help from the assembled Lincoln downwards.

    "Do you mean a ... Johnson?"

He was hoping I'd suddenly speak the language he knew.

    "No, just a plain salad sandwich."

    "Umm ... I don't know what that is."

    "You know, a sandwich with salad on it."

    "What do you mean by 'Salad'?"

    "The usual things. Lettuce, tomato, cucumber, oh, I see there's some carrot, so that would be nice." 

Even I knew that beetroot would be a bridge too far. There was no beetroot to be seen in its own little compartment arrayed before my sandwich maker.

    "Oh, and no onion!"

    "Are you sure? ..."

    "Yes, that would be perfect."

    "So, what kinda meat do you want on it?"

    "No meat, just salad."

He looked dubious. 

    "What kinda cheese? We've got ..."

    "No cheese, either. Just a plain salad."

    "And dressing? There's Ranch, there's Blue Cheese, there's ..."

    "No. Nothing."

    "Pickles? ..."

    "No! No pickles, no dressing, no extras of any kind! Just the salad ingredients on their own. On plain brown bread. Oh, and with butter. Thanks."

    "Butter??"

He now looked utterly baffled but I'd turned aside to let him assemble my simple salad sandwich while Mr. P muttered admonishments to me about my intractability over such things for he was more than satisfied with his vertiginous tower of sliced Italianate meats of every description and assorted cheeses and exotiques like sun-dried this and marinated that and mysterious dollops of complicated dressing. (Which makes me think maybe it was a Kennedy not a Roosevelt he ordered?) My chastisement lasted the short wait for the much-anticipated sandwich but I accepted it without demur. 

We took our brown paper bags off to sit in the shade for our lunch. And then my first bite was straight into the unwrapped rectangular pat of butter sitting atop my simple, undressed salad between two slices of unbuttered brown bread.


Image credits: Christies's


Sunday, 6 February 2022

Robots, What Are You Up To?

 

Bots. Everywhere.

They're a bit like aphids, really. All over our roses. You squash them, they come back. You ignore them, they make more merry. Then one day they just vanish. But for why are they here infesting our gardens in the first place? Are we unwittingly in a symbiotic relationship with them? Just what are they up to?

I'm speaking of Bots, actually.  Some of whom/which have names: Like Jemaine and Brett, for inst. above, or Carmen, who outed herself/itself to me this week in an online "conversation" to do with matters financial. I do believe these are just geeks in foil-clad cardboard boxes operating out of the basement of Reynholm Industries.

But what about those robots that seem to poke around our blogs? Lumped in with the somewhat creepy category of spiders and crawlers [shudder ...] Frankly, you'd not notice them if it wasn't for the mysterious Visitor Count in the toolshed of Blogger. When the numbers start whirling frantically upwards or pulsing like Morse Code, mostly during the night, I know it's a fiction, for it's just you, Dear Reader, and me around these pages. 

But 2021 really was Year of the Bot for Flying With Hands. The odometer tripled last year!

I put my hand up to admit that a good 25% of the total so-called visitors are, ahem, moi, fiddling and tweaking things as is my wont. But I've deduced that around 65% has come from bots that visited last year from Indonesia, America, Sweden & Israel. 

My theory up until recently was that the blog was some kind of portal to enable the computing power of my laptop to be harnessed by the robots for the SETI programme. Naturally, they'd be wanting to reach out to Aliens in other worlds. I'm still rather wedded to that idea, and I'm all for it. But lately, I've had reason to think it's something else. 

A project for 2021 was to try to come to grips with the world of Cryptocurrencies, DeFi, NFTs and other whatnots [yes, yawn ...] You know, like, The Future. But it was so terribly tedious, for the aficionados are like Evangelists and do go on rather, and the lecturing and reading was long, boring and heavy on the technicalities, so I kept wandering off to do other things. 

As a consequence, before I really had time to come to grips with the whole shebang, the Crypto-World seemed to want to flush itself down the toilet! Oh, well. It hasn't been an entirely wasted exercise for along the way I think I've discovered what the bots are up to. It's not the SETI programme that my laptop is hooked into while I'm sleeping, it's Mining for Cryptocurrencies! 

The proof of this pudding, of course, is when Dogecoin and his friends went into a tailspin*, my blog's bots more or less vanished. And now the cryptocurrencies are bouncing back again in price, the bots are also creeping back ... Or are they still hunting for Aliens?

Such theory

Anyways, I can't summon up enough interest in The Future, so I've set these distractions aside and gone back to my comfort zone of The Past, for I've a patiently waiting copy of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina that requires reading before we go off to see it at the ballet in April!


* Past market performance is no indicator of future performance is even always the disclaimer for such fictional entities as these.


Image credits: 1: via Google; 2: Redbubble.com


Friday, 21 January 2022

Body Of Evidence Series: The Psychology Of Man

Captain James Cook
Who knew both his seas and his men
Nathaniel Dance Holland, 1776

History is a marvellous wellspring for Your Correspondent, since I find much within its pages both enlightening and oftentimes amusing, and shall not apologise for the impulse that propels me to mine it to furnish the very pages of Flying With Hands. Such forms the Body of Evidence from which will inform topics both of the high- and low-brow, viz. last week's, ahem, well-informed Opinion Piece re the Shape of Man, and today, Dear Reader, the entirety of the Psychology of Man shall be boiled down to a single incident.*

Wiser men are credited with the aphorism that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. But, while it's all very well to know about the bare and bold facts, that's often not enough, and one must rootle down the back of history's metaphoric sofa for some lost and forgotten details to really appreciate the nuances of the episode that brings forth the Lesson. 

Hence, I bring you a choice nugget which illustrates how best to get Man to do your bidding: 

The History Lesson:

During the 1760s, the English Navy's overlords were rather fed up with the lethal and costly pestilence known as Scurvy that bedevilled their sailors and embarked upon a nice early example of the Clinical Trial. They sought to find an effective solution by enlisting four sea Captains to experiment by feeding their men with various long-storage foodstuffs on their long journeys. 

One Captain James Cook had amongst his experimental victuals for the three-year journey on HM Bark Endeavour around 7,800 pounds of sauerkraut. Unfortunately, for the keen Captain-cum-scientist, the common sailor merely turned up his nose at the offering. 

Our man Cook, who well understood the Psychology of Man, simply made it known that the sauerkraut was a delicacy only for the Officers' Table. Lo! a great stampede was made for the pickled cabbage and not a shredded leaf was left when the Endeavour came home nor a single case of scurvy in the Captain's log.

The Message:

It is simple. To persuade a Man to take his Medicine, whether it's experimental in nature or not, the example must first be set by those he considered his Betters. Add a bit of Forbidden Fruit notion into the mix and Bob's your uncle.

Marketing gurus understand this implicitly, and whether they enlist for a goodly sum of pesos some sporting hero to sell double-glazing to the masses, or a self-described social media Influencer flutters a patented brand of false eyelashes at their Followers (for only $49.95 if you click now!), it is with the knowledge that consumers are at heart aspirational

By all means, you can try to lure the punter by setting an example and eating the proverbial sauerkraut before their very eyes, but to really work the special magic to get the punter across the line, the luree must in some way wish to be in the shoes of the lurer. And that usually means the lurer is in someway enviably attractive or in a position of enviable power.

To sell something that might be also Good-for-You, earnestness alone is not enough, for the yokels standing about with their fingers in their noses would otherwise be gladly chomping down the mung beans extolled by the home-woven-&-tie-dyed-hemp-shift-wearing non-ironically-bearded hippy sitting cross-legged at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park, and not wandering off to listen to the glossy-maned tanned-and-muscular telegenic football star with a proprietary brand of protein powder that is the secret to his success with nubile ladies. Or such like. But let me illustrate this as a modern Fairy Tale.

And to do so, we must fast-forward two hundred and fifty years, when the subtle psychological detail behind Cook's Sauerkraut Experiment seemed to have fallen down the back of the sofa like an old button for one Grand Poobah of an island nation when a new and global pestilence swept across the land ...

The Fairy Tale:

Once Upon A Time ...

A Great Pestilence came upon the world. All the Grand Poobahs in all the Great Nations lowered their respective portcullises and wrung their hands wondering what to do next as their subjects clamoured for salvation. 

After a time, two Hausfraus in aprons in a faraway land said "Fear not, we have studied this kind of thing before and it could be a nasty kind of Scurvy. We are experts in the making of Sauerkraut, however, and we think it might prove useful, so we're going to make a tonne of it and send it out to the peoples of the world who have access to a fridge."

And there was a bit of rejoicing at the idea, for they were kindly Hausfraus with kerchiefs around their heads, to boot. And most people said that they had had cabbage before and it wasn't the worst thing in the world and it generally seems pretty good-for-you and luckily they had access to a fridge. 

"So, okay I'll have me some", some agreed. And some Grand Poobahs put in an order with the kindly Hausfraus.

At the same time there were some fancy TV-chefs with spiky hair and no aprons because it covered their muscles and tattoos and they said "Pshaw! Sauerkraut? That's old hat. Any old housewife can make that. We're working on our own Magic-Brassica™ which is made with Cavolo Nero and has secret umami ingredients like anchovies in it and whatnot** and is so fantastic that we're going to sell it to the peoples of the world who can afford it and the fancy cryogenic storage facilities they'll need."

And there was a bit of rejoicing at that idea, too, for they were terribly fancy TV-chefs who made loads of pesos all the time thinking up delicious-sounding recipes. And there were even more people who said they hadn't eaten Cavolo Nero before and didn't know what umami was but what the heck they'll give it a try and they really liked the idea of a fancy cryogenic storage facility to store their brains when they died. 

"Mmm-mmm, umami, I'll have me some", some agreed. And yet other Grand Poobahs put in an order with the fancy TV-chefs.

One Grand Poobah of a small island nation said to his clamouring people, "You ask when you're going to get some of this Scurvy repellent? Fear not! You are the people of a Great Nation and will be given first dibs on the Sauerkraut when the kindly Hausfraus bottle it up". 

And then he consulted widely across his viziers and decided the Magic-Brassica™ looked pretty delicious too and then went back to his people and said "Oh, p.s., the VIPs will be getting first dibs on the Magic-Brassica™ when my good friends of the TV-chefs give them our order". 

Meanwhile, there were more TV-chefs making their own proprietary batches of brassica mix and the Patents & Trademarks Offices got rather busy with so many interesting recipes that there was quite the choice for Scurvy repellent out there, whether with ™ attached to their name or not. 

So the Grand Poobah of the small island nation got in a muddle and became so rather indecisive about what kind of Scurvy repellent his goodly people might get that he forgot to put any of the orders in at all and, in the meanwhile, the Grand Poobahs of other Great Nations got on with it and the people of the small island nation saw this on the news.

The clamouring of the people subsequently got a bit louder and the Grand Poobah said to his people, "Oh, botheration! This is not a race, peeps! It doesn't matter when you get your Scurvy repellent, it'll come eventually. The portcullis is still down so you're not going anywhere, anyway".

And then the Grand Poobah thought he needed a holiday and might like to do some genealogical research into his Grand Family in a faraway land and organised for a camera crew to document him getting to try the Magic-Brassica™ that he somehow got his hands on, with what looked like a little bit of fear in his eyes for he wasn't sure about the anchovies since he didn't like them on his pizza, before climbing aboard a fancy unicorn to fly away over the still-down portcullis on his heartwarming mission.

When he came back he said to his people, "Thanks a bunch, that Magic-Brassica™really hit the spot. I really needed that little holiday. And you really have to see how terrible things are beyond our fortress. This is the lucky country! Oh, and by the way, some Sauerkraut has arrived so get in a line."

And the people went, "What?? Sauerkraut??! We are VIPs too! And we want to climb aboard budget unicorns ourselves and go and be culturally insensitive in some more tropically island nation than our own. We want me some Magic-Brassica™ and we want it now!"

Thus ensued some unseemly chaos within the fortress walls of the small island nation. And given the Grand Poobah was supposed to have had a background in Marketing before he rose to power, this was unfortunately handled. The pestilence continued to go round and round everywhere and many people in many Nations, Great and Small, are no longer around as a result and it was a sorry tale.

After a long time, some of the people of the small island nation got to try*** the Sauerkraut and said it tasted just like it did last time they had some; some people waited it out until they were reclassified as VIPs and got to try the Magic-Brassica™ and then couldn't decide if it really just tasted like fancy cabbage or if they had been imbued with some magical power and were micro-chipped for future greatness; others said their Great-Uncle Horace had had Scurvy in the Olden Days and said it was no big deal so they didn't need any repellent, thank you; others said their own divinations would be repellent enough; others that a wholesome diet and fresh air means they've never needed fermented cabbage and never will for it is just capitalist hype; and still others said that if they got a bit of scurvy and their teeth fell out it would be a good excuse to get the porcelain implants they've always dreamed of. 

The End.




* Let it not be said that Your Correspondent is afraid to embark upon such epic undertakings between household chores.

** And sounds so suspiciously like Pipistrello's own Covid-greens that I smell a rat. 

*** And are still waiting to be allowed a last spoonful of anything that may eventually come their way.


Image credits: 1: Wikimedia Commons; 2: Flying With Hands



Saturday, 15 January 2022

Body Of Evidence Series: The Shape Of Man

Swiss poet photographer Gustave Roud documented the vanishing way of life of the farmer, celebrating the athleticism of agricultural work from circa 1930-1950
The pitching form of a Swiss farmer
Gustave Roud photograph, circa 1940

   Mr Colville's horsekeeper, who read the sky instead of books, learning that I came from London, said, 'I have a brother lives in London.' We were riding out to the fields, each on a plough horse; I was going to have a lesson in ploughing. I asked, 'What does your brother do?' The man replied, 'Bless you, he don't do no work; he just sit a-writing all day!'

    I discovered that he was in a responsible position in the office of a suburban Water Board.

    'He comes down here for his holiday sometimes at harvest-time. I tell him he ought to pitch some sheaves. He's got a belly on him like an old mare in foal. So should I if I didn't do anything.'

Adrian Bell, Corduroy, 1930

Another New Year: a time for reflection and perhaps some solemn undertakings, a.k.a. Resolutions*. One such trope invariably involves some, ahem, reworking of the Shape of Man, especially if that shape is somewhat not as one expected after the Feasts of the Seasons and stands in contemplation before the pristine empty calendar, wondering ... The time is thus nigh to air some Opinions on a subject about which Your Correspondent is eminently unqualified. So today, Dear Reader, I bring you the topic of Gentlemens' Exercise.

Take a poll of your average Gentleman Gym Attendee, asking him for why he toils so vigorously at the pulleys and levers of his equipment or shakes the great heavy python of a shipyard stevedore's rope that I see sometimes in the window of the gym next to our greengrocery, and I would hazard a guess he is not trying to consciously replicate the physique of our labouring forebears by play-acting their working day and would be frankly offended by such a proletarian suggestion.

But whatever his answer may be, the bare fact remains that the ceaseless walking riding fighting tilling ploughing threshing building woodchopping &c. &c. of the pre-Industrial Revolution Man led to a physical profile** much like what the gym-goer generally aspires to. Modern Life has more or less undone the elementary Shape of Man from what was quite unremarked upon in Olden Times. Hence so much of the equipment appears to replicate the former tools and actions of the chores of the past. Just with mirrors and loud music and for short bursts instead of mud and muck or raging seas for hours at a stretch.

One of the Two Peas once invited me to her own gym a few years ago, at the height of Poldark-fever, wherein they had a poster exhorting some extra commitment to the machinery with the infamous image of Aidan Turner as my former amour standing bare-chested scything in a field, captioned 'Get in Shape for Summer'. It wittingly or not constituted a knowing wink at the true design of the expensive equipment.


Early C16th engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi of the Vatican-owned circa C2nd marble copy of the bronze statue of Apollo attributed to the elusive Leochares, circa 330 BCE. So named the Apollo Belvedere as it lives in the Vatican's Cortile del Belvedere.
The Apollo Belvedere
Sans pants to best show off his Poupart ligament
Marcantonio Raimondi C16th engraving

But we can cast back even further for some manly shapes as inspiration for today's gym-goer. Indeed, once even to the epitome of aesthetic perfection itself, in the words of Mr. Wiki. Some two decades ago, as a mania for Ancient History swept over me, I undertook several courses at the WEA under the expert tutelage of an historian and archaeologist whose font of knowledge on the subject was as gospel to me. 

Until one day when he was presenting some images of classical statuary, including Dear Apollo above, and I heard words to the effect that the ancient artists sought only to create idealised versions of the human form, for there is indeed no musculature foundation for what later might be termed as the Heroic Cuirass

My pen stopped suddenly on the page. Hullo, what ...? You, Sir, need to get out a bit more! For sure the ligament above the groin to which he was pointing on the overhead slide may have been rather crisp along its line and a bit exaggerated in its bold baldness but I'd seen one or two in my time. In the flesh, as it were. 

The philospher-thinker not likely to be a model for Polykleitis
[But a very likely template for the Lockdown Physique]

Not to mention that the likes of Polykleitis, whose work we were probably discussing, would have used a live model for their bronzen glories. Perhaps not your sit-around philosopher-thinker but likely the soldier-athlete or perhaps even a fetching farmer-labourer variety for whom either the gymnasia or the baking fields incubated such muscly forms. Of course, neither pointing out this bit of obviousness nor an unseemly digression into the private life of a front-row student was about to happen on my watch, so I let the matter slide uncorrected. 

But I was left wondering about the very nature of the human condition in that we can become ignorant, or just forgetful, of our natural physical potential once we leave the slog & toil of an agricultural and labouring past and settle down evolutionarily-speaking onto our sofas after a long day at a desk.

In the century before the canny Suffolk farmer, too, made his observation about the physical effects of abandoning the fields of toil for a desk job to city-boy-farming-apprentice Adrian Bell in 1920, in Bell's lyrical 1930 memoir Corduroy, another made his mark in a more remarkable way. Enter one Dr. Gustave Zander, inventor of the Medico-Mechanical Gymnastic Devices that sought to rectify the enfeebled bodies of the Modern Man with an hour of targeted exercises a day.


Zander's Abdominal Kneading Machine a.k.a. H1
Prescription: 2 minutes of piston-powered pummelling of the tummy

The Swedes had been all over the subject of a scientific basis for exercising the body of desk-jockeys for health and vigour in the nineteenth century, starting with one Pehr Henrik Ling who invented gymnastics, calisthenics, physical education and also Swedish massage as the sweetener for all that exertion. Dr. Zander then took these ideas further in the 1850s by properly marrying them with the ingenuity of the Victorian age and invented machines to isolate muscles and work them in a controlled environment.

Zander's Vibration Machine, a.k.a. F1
Take a seat for some lower leg vibration or sit astride for a perineal shake
While your gym buddy stands up for a spot rub

Zander Mechanico-Therapeutic Institutes sprang up around Europe and the Americas, and people even bought individual machines for the home, the F1 being rather popular. 

Zander Velocipede Motion Device, a.k.a. B7
No instructions required

Some of the devices were more familiar to any modern gym-goer today, while others required a close reading of his published description of his apparatus to figure them out. Yet others were specifically designed to help iron out the skeletal wrinkles of scoliosis sufferers, which was a pet subject of his.

Zander's Abdominal Rolling Machine, a.k.a. J6
This apparatus "vigorously" promotes emptying of the intestines through
Circular abdominal friction

The Kellogg Sanitorium was one of the institutes which embraced the Zander Method and had a "Swedish Movement Room" full of his machinery, looking not too dissimilar to a modern Pilates studio.

Plenty to be getting on with at the Battle Creek Kellogg Sanatorium

While some of this looks to verge on quackery, our Dr. Zander was short-listed for the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1916! but, sadly, there was no banana that year, what with a war going on. Which was rather a pity as he and his methodology may have had more of an influence on modern exercise than just being reinvented as today's Nautilus machine, for he also had some rather interesting things to say about the etiquette for engaging in a bit of gym time:

Viz.: Arrive quietly and in good time; perform your movements quietly; focus on what you are doing with no chatter or reading; if you are exercising to assist general debility, dancing and late nights are to be avoided; no big meals beforehand, just a cup of tea, coffee or milk and a roll, which are essential if you are elderly or enfeebled; and loose, comfortable clothing is to be worn, as illustrated throughout, avoiding tight neckties, tight garters and corsets. 

As the machines were driven by steam, gas or electricity it would no doubt be rackety enough inside the Institute, so I do like the emphasis on solemn shush as you go about rectifying your enfeeblements. 

He was also wise to the chronically lazy ("patients whose weariness is obstinately persistent") and forecast that many would "abandon the cure too soon". Sounds all too familiar even today. A man truly ahead of his time.

Zander's Foot Friction Machine, a.k.a. J4
Modelled with regulation active wear



* Or not, as a piece in the news today concerned the plight of the fitness instructor and gym operator bewailing the unlikelihood this year of the annual bonanza of the New Years Resolution of Getting-Into-Shape with a gym membership that never amounts to anything.

** Before it probably broke the said Man. As they say, too much of a good thing ...


Image credits: 1: Gustave Roud; 2: Metropolitan Museum; 3: Flying With Hands; 4-7, 9: Internet Archive; 8: Willard Library




Bats In The Belfry