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Today we feature something completely new for Ferrebeekeeper–a contest!  This challenge will test your acumen, breadth of knowledge, and grasp of cultural and biological material.  And this is not just for bragging rights (although those are certainly to be had); there is an actual prize–a good one.  Hopefully this contest will also simulate the joys of travel and the delight of discovery in this sad & locked-down era.

Here are the rules:  below are 13 images of things and 13 images of places.  Whoever is first to identify these images most correctly will win the prize–an original, unopened mint-condition box of “Safarimorphs” mix-and-match animal toys which I made when I was a foolish young person who believed that success could be had in America without selling out to a huge monopolistic corporation an entrepreneur.   Zoomorphs the company died a hideous death…but not because the toys lacked quality.  Even to this day, strangers still hunt me down on the internet trying to find if there are any toys left.  [Sean Connery voice] This is one of the very last boxes in existence so think carefully about your answers!

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Unfortunately there are some problems with web contests, like Google’s search-by-means-of-image feature (which is for losers, but will probably work).  Worst of all, I can’t imagine where to put the answers (my email sometimes plays havoc with unknown incoming messages) so we are going to have to put them in the comments below.  If you don’t see your answers at first, don’t worry, I will approve them in the order they come in (assuming you don’t cuss TOO much), but it does mean that other contestants can see your answers too, so consider carefully before posting!  Also, there could be multiple right answers–a featureless arid plain could be “The silk road”, or “Kazakhstan” or “a desert” or “The Northern Hemisphere” all of which are right, but some of which are more right. Our highly qualified and morally unimpeachable judges will determine the MOST right answers by means of secret deliberation to which there is no appeal.

The contest ends next Tuesday when I will announce the winner and give my own answers.  The number refers to the image immediately below it. Good luck and thank you for playing (and thank you even more for reading).  Speaking of reading, there are some hints for a lot of these in Ferrebeekeeper…somewhere in those 2000 posts before last week, so maybe you should browse the archives. OK! Here are the images:

THINGS:

1.

1

2.

two

3.

3

4.

4

5.

5

6.

6

7.

7

8.

8

9.

9

10.

10

11.

11

12.

12

13.

13

PLACES:

1.

ONE

2.2

3.

Three

4.

four

5.

five

6.

Six

7.

seven

8.eight

9.nine

10.

ten

11.

eleven

12.

dozen

13.

t

 

You probably know them all already…but at least the images look quite strange and impressive with this white box gallery format.  Post you answers below and good luck! Let me know if you have questions and thank you so much for everything.

Welcome back! Ferrebeekeeper’s jubilee celebrating our 2000th post is ongoing until Fourth of July fireworks close out the celebration.  Reaching this milestone has made me look back at our first posts from 10 years ago and, boy, things were a lot different back then! For example, back at the beginning of Ferrebeekeeper, one of our main subjects was gardening.  In those innocent days, I had an exquisite picture in my head of a magical cloistered garden of beauty and symbolic delight which would be an oasis from the madness and stress of New York City.  As any of you with gardening experience will recognize, my attempts to create that garden in the real world have never resulted in anything like the glistening platonic image in my head (an ideal picture which has actually changed quite a bit over the years).  However it turns out that the years of  careful & patient gardening were actually the true source of happiness and peace (even if the &$%# plants cost a bunch of money and died even when I screamed and cried for them to live).

Anyway…the crown jewel of my ideal garden are roses, (which are called “the queen of the garden for a reason).  To match this vision in the real world  I have planted so many hybrid tea roses, floribundas, grandifloras, and miniature roses.  I carefully put these cherished beauties in the sunniest spot of my garden…yet even that was too shady (when I first moved in, there was a single tree of heaven in the neighbor’s yard…but soon another appeared, then another and another and another and now my poor garden is surrounded on all sides by these giant invasive monsters).

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Only one rose remains in what is now definitely a shade garden.  This last survivor is a complete unknown which was obtained in the following circumstances.  A few years ago I was looking around a nursery in Brooklyn during August and I noticed a bunch of pots filled with shriveled brown leaves and needle-sharp thorns.  The shop keeper had optimistically placed a sign which said “half off!” over these decidedly dead looking plants which I though might have once been fancy roses. I went over to examine them to see what NOT to plant in my garden when the nurseryman spotted me looking at the only one with a single green shoot and he said, “I’ll let you have it for two dollars!”

Now this was clearly another one of New York’s infamous scams, but I had been wandering around in the nursery for a while without finding a plant, and I felt guilty scoffing at this ridiculous lowball offer for a rose (no matter how dead).  I bought the rose and planted it in the last patch of sun, and now it is the last of the roses planted in the garden.  The $2 rose is a sprawling ground rose and it is really lovely! Its blossoms are as to the fancy hybrid tea roses what hobbits are to Aragorn,  They do not have the same aquiline lines of pure beauty…and yet they are clearly of the same stuff.  During June, the $2 rose has little pink double blossoms with slightly rounded petals. They really do look like cute little hobbit children.

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I am sorry these photos don’t do it justice–it looks  much more beautiful in person,,,but maybe only if you know its story.  I was going to see if there were some newly opened buds to photograph today, but a terrifying gully washer tore all of the petals off of every opened flower (the storm was so intense that it left the neighbor’s garden underwater…so I guess I can’t really complain).

The little rose makes me think of happiness, both because it makes me happy (and seems to embody that emotion in color and form) and because of its provenance.  None of the fancy expensive roses which I coveted could survive in our physical world of blackspot, bugs, and darkness. The tiny pink $2 rose has ended up as the accidental queen of my garden of shadows  (when the cherry tree isn’t blooming anyway). Yet if the Goddess Flora appeared in my door and offered the reddest and most perfect rose from the garden of paradise for my $2 tiny ground rose, I am not sure anymore that I would trade (although I might ask her for some tips).

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Ok! We (finally) had our 2000th post yesterday, and the great Ferrebeekeeper jubilee continues apace. I promised give-aways, special posts, contests, and…pageantry.  Now I have plenty of weird art and cool toys to give away (provided I can think up a contest), but what do we do for Gothic pageantry (it’s Gothic because, well, what other sort would we feature?)?

Alas, my plans to hire great troops of pipers, marchers, ornate festival birds, and dancers have come undone because of coronavirus concerns (although hopefully you are all enjoying the very special fireworks displays which I orchestrated throughout the nation).  Thus, due to, uh, the constraints of this era, our pageant will have to come together in our imagination rather than in the real world.  We can list out the elements here though and fantasize them coming together as a sort of parade!

When I thought about what sort of Gothic pageant we would want, my first question was whether those splendid glistening white peacocks are available in Gothic black.  It turns out that they very much are (although such peafowl are quite rare)

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Next I wanted pipers, and when I looked up “gothic pipers” I was taken straight to Ferrebeekeeper’s own long forgotten post concerning pig bagpipers (which were a popular medieval ornament for reasons which are now subject to debate).  Obviously these musical pigs are perfect, so after the sable peacocks lets have some of them.

Following the peacocks, pigs, and pipers, it would be good to have some soldiers (who esteem pageantry on a supreme level that only the most flamboyant showfolks can ever hope to match).  I have taken a page from the pope’s book here: my favorite soldiers (for decorative novelty use only, of course) are late medieval/early Renaissance billmen with ridiculous heraldic garb.  The pope’s own Swiss Guard are instructive here, although of course pipers in our procession would be wearing magenta, vermilion, and  icterine.

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I think a legion of such characters would be extremely impressive (especially coming immediately after the black peacocks and the musical pigs).

Next we would need fashion mavens dressed in resplendent gowns covered with lace appliques and dark ribbons.  I couldn’t find the right picture on line (and I started to get scared/alarmed by how many dress pictures there are), but this sort of thing should do.

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Finally, we would need a parade float to serve as centerpiece.  My favorite underrated artist, the matchless Piero di Cosimo, was famous in his time for designing parade spectacles and, although the actual originals are, of course, long gone,  I imagine that his floats would be much like the monster in his masterpiece, Perseus Rescuing Andromeda.  I would have a similar float to Perseus and the monster, except it would be Cronus mounted upon an enormous flounder.

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Sadly, this is how my brain works and I could go on and on like this forever…creating ridiculous fantastical processions which the world will never see, but I think we had better wrap up by putting the entire extravaganza in a great pleasure garden with a Gothic folly tower in the middle.

st-_annes_church_exterior_3_vilnius_lithuania_-_diliffThe The real world example which best suits my taste is St. Anne’s Church in Vilnius, Lithuania (pictured above) which I think is the prettiest building ever, however the master illuminators of Belgium also loved such structures and they drew them without any real world constraints which bedevil architects.

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Imagine all of those strange magical animals and people and frogfish passing in front of this, and I think you have imagined the Ferrebeekeeper parade we would have staged…if only we could fully assemble outside right now (and if I were an impossibly rich archduke of fairyland).

The fun of this exercise is really imagining what sort of procession you would craft if you were a grand parade master and could do anything.  Tell me your ideas below! Maybe we can incorporate some of your plans into my next parade…as soon as I finish teaching these pigs to play the pipes and sewing all of these orange and purple striped tights for mercenaries.

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Wow! It seems like just a few days ago I was talking about Ferrebeekeeper’s 10th anniversary, but I guess that was actually back at the beginning of April…  back in the world before the quarantine.  Anyway, in that long-ago post, I mentioned that Ferrebeekeeper’s 2000th blog entry is coming up (if you can believe it) and we would celebrate with some special posts, pageantry, and little treats.  Boy I really failed to follow up on that, and now today’s post is already our 1999th…

But there is still plenty of time for a Ferrebeekeeper jamboree (“jamboreekeeper”?)! Let’s start the festivities today with a special gift for you: a free flounder PDF for coloring:

2020 Coloring Flounder with Invaders

If you don’t feel like downloading the PDF, there is the black and white drawing right up at the top of today’s post.  It features a timely flounder for 2020–a big invader flounder with dead black eyes and a pitted lifeless surface of desiccated craters and impact marks.  Upon the flounder are alien shock troops…or maybe cyborgs? (…or maybe they are more familiar political militia). Space seeds and mysterious cardioids float down from the night sky onto a writhing landscape of burning Gothic cloisters, ruined mechanized battle equipment, and little refugees (and wriggling, beached flatfish of course ).

In some ways, this chaotic picture is not what I wanted for a celebration (where is the lavish garden party flatfish PDF already?), but in other deeper ways it is perfect for this moment of international floundering. Anyhow, you didn’t really want to color more ribbons, jewels, and roses did you?  Well maybe you actually don’t want to color at all, but if you do break out your pencils and crayons, send me a jpeg of your efforts at wayneferrebee@gmail.com and we will post a little disaster gallery! And, as always, keep tuning in! There is more excitement for our big MM celebration…or there will be, as soon as I dream it up…

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Happy Bloomsday!  The entirety of James Joyce’s great magnum opus Ulysses takes place on one day, June 16th, 1904.  Thus June 16th is forever celebrated as sacred to Joyce enthusiasts (and to those who esteem the English language and the Irish people).

If you have ever tried to write about Ulysses, you will recognize that it is problematic to grapple with the great tome since it touches deeply on most aspects of Western history, art, science, culture, law, and letters (to say nothing of the fundamental social and existential dilemmas which lie at the heart of both the novel and human endeavors).  As in life, these themes are tangled together in such a way that pulling at any thread disgorges a mass of seemingly disconnected narrative and philosophical threads which are actually a single thread…which is everything. Good luck writing a pithy blog post about THAT.

Fortunately there is a miniature odyssey within the greater book which we can concentrate on.  It is even appropriate to this year of desperate washing…and the tiny story does indeed echo the novel’s great theme of pleasure (and human beings’ secret lifetime pursuit thereof…even as they desperately and performatively pretend to be engaged in loftier pursuits).

In Chapter 5 (“Lotus Eaters”) The book’s hero Bloom is killing time before a funeral.  He reads an amorous letter from a secret correspondent, ducks into a church to listen to a bit of Catholic mass, and stops at the chemist’s to order some lotion for his wife.  While at the shop he spontaneously purchases a bar of lemon soap while he thinks about drugs, baths, and flesh.

The clunky bar of lemon soap goes with Bloom the rest of the day (and it is some day!).  He wraps it in a newspaper. He sits on it uncomfortably at the funeral.  He moves it from his hip pocket to his handkerchief pocket as he escapes the underworld the cemetery.  At lunch he fumbles through his pocket and comes across it and moves it to another pocket. Later, at the tavern, it becomes wet (from sweat or potables?) and he is concerned that he smells like lemons.  At sunset, after his…episode… on the beach Bloom worries about his failure to go back and collect his wife’s lotion and pay the four pence he owes for the soap.

At the novel’s climax in the “Circe” chapter, the soap exploits the crazed magical transmogrifications of the bordello to temporarily gain the power of speech. It ascends to the apex of heaven as the sun (complete with the freckled visage of the pharmacist):

BLOOM: I was just going back for that lotion whitewax, orangeflower water. Shop closes early on Thursday. But the first thing in the morning. (He pats divers pockets.) This moving kidney. Ah!

(He points to the south, then to the east. A cake of new clean lemon soap arises, diffusing light and perfume.)

THE SOAP:

We’re a capital couple are Bloom and I.
He brightens the earth. I polish the sky.

(The freckled face of Sweny, the druggist, appears in the disc of the soapsun.)

The soap even gets opened and used for handwashing in Bloom’s elegiac penultimate chapter which explains everything with diagrammatic clinical precision (indeed we learn that this is ” a partially consumed tablet of Barrington’s lemonflavoured soap, to which paper still adhered, (bought thirteen hours previously for fourpence and still unpaid for).” Molly even thinks about soap in her own chapter (as a young woman, she had her own trademark Albion milk and sulphur soap which Bloom had used to wash ink off his hands as a courting pretext.

That’s some journey for a little bar of soap! But why am I writing about this? Why did Joyce write about this?  As you can imagine critics have come up with various answers.

Marxist literary critics even assigned a central role to the bar of soap. In their telling, capitalist society fetishizes commodities in such a way that  take on a meaning greater than human life.  They might be on to something: if you look this soap up on the internet, you will find many opportunities to buy a bar for yourself long before you find essays like this one which discuss what the soap’s journey means.

Yet in obsessing about the cruel goad which we have made for ourselves with labor, the Marxists miss the beguiling carrot which draws us onwards.  The soap is a little pleasure.  It was purchased because of its delightful smell, and even though it is always in the way, Bloom keeps it with him, moving it from pocket to pocket and worrying about it.

Bloom’s perspectives about his little bar of soap are always changing.  He worries about how it makes others perceive him. He worries about paying for it.  It is uncomfortable at points…and yet

…the soap has a use value.  It dissolves in order to make you clean. It speaks to the sacred and transformative pleasure of bathing (which is as central a theme in The Odyssey as it is in Ulysses). More to the point, the soap represents an idea of private & luxurious pleasure (Bloom fantasizes about the perfect bath as he buys it at the chemist’s shop).  Ulysses privileges us with a glimpse into peoples’ secret hidden minds, and although we find lofty questions of being and non-being there, we also find lots of little private side quests for self-gratification and secret fantasies which can, for a moment shine like the sun in the firmament before being moved to another pocket, or forgotten, or occasioning very slight social anxiety.  The quest for the truth of people’s hearts is slippery and convoluted!

 

You have seen the news.  You know what is going on.  It is time to do what I have always dreaded.  I need to write about a subject which I always swore I never would write about: a festering thorn of toxicity which has been rankling in America’s underbelly ever since the storming of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. I am speaking of course about “The Dukes of Hazzard”

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What?? What in the hell?

Hopefully you have forgotten about this terrible TV show. Produced by CBS between 1979 and 1985, it featured the extended adventures of two work-shy yokels who drove around committing low-grade crimes in a vermilion Dodge Charger with the confederate battle flag painted on the top.  The authorities in the small Georgia town were weak, stupid and incredibly corrupt (we are talking about Georgia in the American south, not the nation on the Black Sea). The Duke Boys had kinfolk everywhere.  Hazzard County (which looked suspiciously like Nowheresville, California) was a warren of back roads and washed-out bridges.  Lessons and laughs were few, but canned country music and folksy narration were 100% guaranteed.

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I had never heard of this abominable thing until I was 7, but then my family moved from Cape Cod to the Ohio valley.  At recess when I wanted to play “Secret Agent” or “Johnny Quest”, my new friends informed me in no uncertain terms that the only game in town was “Dukes of Hazzard”. As the new kid I was forced to play Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane, a bumbling nitwit (and crooked cop) who said lots of things like “hoo diggety durnit!”

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“hoo diggety durnit! I’ll get them Duke boys good!”

The game was basically tag, with Sherrif Rosco always being “It” and chasing the popular Dukes.  If other kids decided to play, they got to be other characters as appropriate (the husky kid was Boss Hogg, cute girls were Daisy, other nerds were deputies, etc.).  Whenever Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane (i.e. me) caught the Dukes (i.e. the other kids) he was obliged for contractual reasons to let them go.  He could never win. And here was the problem: I never saw this awful show and I couldn’t understand the logic behind the policeman losing.  When I asked to watch “The Dukes of Hazzard” at home, I was told it was louche and not for children (an assessment of surprising acuity), so everything I knew about it was passed on in breathless narration from my new chums.  This was a problem because my questions had no reasonable answers.

“Why don’t the townsfolk vote out the crooked commissioner?” I would ask.  It was impossible, I was told.

“Why did the police always lose?” I wanted to know.  “Because they were crooked cops”.

“Why didn’t outside forces curtail the bad cops” I asked.  There was no answer. And on and on…

I did finally see this show as a teenager. Although I was more impressed with the good-hearted Daisy Duke than I would have imagined as a child, I found the rest of the thing to be an enormous let-down.  Each episode consisted of the sloppiest clichés hastily festooned with atrocious faux homespun moral lessons. It was patronizing in the worst ways and lazy to boot. And yet my childhood schoolmates had loved it so much! Apparently so did the nation: the show was the 2nd most-popular television show in America in 1981.

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The winsome Daisy Duke

And here is the real problem with “The Dukes of Hazzard”: it turns out that to all-too-many red-blooded, blue-collar, white Americans, this is the true national foundational story, and it is moral disaster! Here is a non-inclusive list of fundamental problems with this television program:

Environmental Degradation: The only thing anyone in Hazzard County does is drive around all day in 35 foot long muscle cars

Lack of viable economic productivity: the only economy in Hazzard County revolves around real-estate scams, roadhouse drinking/alcohol, and car culture

Union Busting: (the actors who played Bo and Luke Duke asked for more money and were replaced by appalling scabs for season 5 when rubber-faced pod people “Coy and Vance” Duke temporarily and inexplicably became the protagonists)

Failing infrastructure: Hazzard County is all dirt roads, dangerous washouts and fallen bridges

Institutional corruption: The President County Clerk of Hazzard County Boss Trump Hogg is a colossally crooked imbecile whose crooked schemes drive the plot…to nowhere

Incarceration: The Dukes could never escape Hazzard because they were on eternal probation for moonshinin’

Substance Abuse: aforementioned moonshinin’ (although the show towed the party line about the evil of other mood-altering substances)

Brutal and corrupt law enforcement: That sheriff!

Sexism: Daisy Duke is forced to wear hotpants and serve men all day

A failure to internalize the lessons of the Civil War: the meaning of that confederate flag (and other pro-southern references) were in no way abated by “very-special” episodes when the Dukes would rescue inner city orphans from human traffickers or whatever…

Over-reliance on automobiles & reckless driving: Hollywood definitely made speeding and unsafe driving look super cool. What could possibly go wrong?

Anti-authority: The boss was despicable…yet the heroes clearly had no good ideas about how to run anything or make anything work. Their idea of greatness was stunt driving!

Anti-intellectual: there were no books in Hazzard County

Now, obviously “The Dukes of Hazzards” was slapped together by cynical drug-addled Hollywood producers to appeal to their imagined versions of rural cretins. This post has been gently ribbing this hayseed extravaganza…except…

In the end, the Dukes of Hazzard wasn’t good clean fun.  It was nihilistic.  There was no way to get rid of the crooked leader or the bad cops.  The heroes were criminals (and dullards) who would have killed hosts of children and hapless pedestrians with their reckless driving.  Yet it was impossible to root for “the law”.  The show venerated rebellion against authority in a way which was not rebellious or useful.  It fostered a culture where nobody was right and there was no way to change the status quo. If you rub away the folksy Dixieland patina, the show was a classic 18th century farce where we are laughing at the weakness and depravity of humankind itself. Do you want to be the cruel, preening aristocrat or the harried underling who keeps bumbling into trouble? Well, nobody cares what you want: society’s strictures are set in stone.

My mom was right about this show: it fostered immoral ideas under the pretense of being family appropriate entertainment .   If you have read to this point in the article, you have probably noticed that the United States of America, the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nation, now seems disturbingly like a sadder & scarier version of “The Dukes of Hazzard”.  I believe we can get rid of our crooked leader and reform our crooked police. But how do we reform our crooked selves?  How can we make ourselves want things that are worth wanting? And how do we get rid of the show runners who keep playing this sort of thing just to make a buck? 

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One of the things about humans which troubles me greatly is how anthropocentric our worldview is.  Even among close friends and clever scientists, I am shocked at how many people regard animals as, I don’t know..soulless machines made of meat.  This haughty view breaks down somewhat when it comes to talking about mammals, who are, after all, our immediate family and self-evidently share our preferences and our dangerous cunning (and our limbic system), but it is still disturbingly widespread in reference to reptiles or fish, to say nothing of poor invertebrates.

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A group of eastern garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) hanging out together

That is why I cherish the subject of today’s post.  Scientists at the Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada recently conducted a clever study which established that snakes have friends.  To be more explicit, the study demonstrated that eastern garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) have social preferences for particular eastern garter snakes.  The young serpents seek out the company of these preferred associates (apart from any mating or hunting needs).  After obtaining snakes from heterogeneous sources and carefully marking them, the researchers established their sociability by carefully filming their behavior in a large terrarium.habitat.  You can check out their methodology and conclusions over at National Geographic, but their work seems to have definitely established the existence of snake social preferences.

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Speaking of preferences, eastern garter snakes are a lifelong favorite of mine, ever since childhood when the colorful little snakes would bask in a climbing rosebush beside a stone wall in our front yard in Cape Cod.  It is particularly gratifying (albeit somewhat unsurprising) to hear that they are in the vanguard of studies concerning reptilian emotions and social niceties.  I am looking forward to learning more about the behaviors and feelings of reptiles.  After all, humankind shares kinship with them too (since today’s reptiles share distant reptilian ancestors with us). I wonder what people will make of this garter snake friendship study.  Nobody has commented on my post about rat compassion (a subject which I found very moving and troubling), so perhaps the sociability of particular snakes will not move people’s hearts much either.  Yet as more and more of these studies emerge, scientists are shedding some of their own cold aloofness and acknowledging how prevalent fellowship, compassion, and complex emotions are among our fellow living beings.  What we fire-wielding apes, selfish, angry, and tragic, will make of such wisdom remains anybody’s guess… Friendship implies ethical choices and didn’t somebody say knowledge of right and wrong was a sole province of humankind?  Clearly that was a self-aggrandizing lie.

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Here is an interesting story from days gone by.  Back at the beginning of the 21st century, when there was a faint sense that things could be improved somewhat (a sentiment which has entirely vanished from the present moment) the world famous engineers of Mercedes Benz looked afresh at the animal world to see if they could find a way to maximize maneuverability, structural integrity, flow resistance, AND maximize space for a small fuel efficient car.  In the past such design exercises always centered around racing–and thus concentrated on sharks, falcons, and swordfish–animals which are fast and maneuverable but not really suited for carrying a little passenger cubicle.

The engineers of Stuttgart found an unexpected animal to mimic–the boxfish!  It turns out that boxfish are maneuverable, spacious, and tough but have an astonishingly low drag coefficient of 0.06 (as opposed to a swimming penguin which seems like the height of sleekness but has a drag coefficient of 0.19). Their amazing design capyured some of the sleek simple lines of the boxfish, while still keeping the functional practical aspects of a smart small hatchback (although the engineers could not figure out or incorporate the fish’s elegant heat-exchange mechanism (located in the tiny gill opening) nor could they utilize the creature’s three point tessellated scale plates (speaking of which, we need to talk about tessellation, if I can ever bring myself to look into the underlying math).

This car looks awesome to me, and I wish they had pursued the idea further. Probably some automobile executive informed the team that car companies are in the business of killing the world as quickly and thoroughly as possible, and so ended the quixotic project, but you never know, perhaps some boxfish elements will crop up again if and when autonomous super-efficient cars start to make their way onto the road (assuming that ever happens).

Here at Ferrebeekeeper, we have featured some very ancient crowns (like this ancient Greek funerary crown, the legendary grass crown, the polos, or the pharaoh’s crowns from Ancient Egypt).  All of these rich and venerable royal headdresses beg the question: what is the oldest crown we know about? As with most questions, the correct answer depends on how you define the terms of the question.  Is a crown a chieftain’s hat or an ornamental star-shaped thing made of precious materials or a very specific royal object made a very specific way?  We fed these queries into the Ferrebeekeeper crown algorithm, and it spat out this strong contender for the oldest crown: a copper-age headpiece from the Judaean Desert (by the Dead Sea in what is now modern Israel) which was discovered in 1961 as part of the mysterious “Nahal Mishar” Hoard.

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Dating to circa 4000 – 3500 BC, the crown is wrought of copper and features two vultures next to two strange  shamanistic portals (or that is how the shapes are generally construed, at any rate…maybe they are elderly flamingos next to peg boards.  Maybe this isn’t a crown at all! Perhaps it is a trivet or a potholder or something. The piece did not come with an explanation).   Based on the other objects in the hoard (pottery vessels, ossuaries, religious statues, and wands/scepters) it is believed that this crown was utilized in the funerary ceremonies for high status individuals.  However the Nahal Mishar hoard is still perplexing to archaeologists.  Their best guess is that is that the objects are the sacred regalia of a shrine at Ein Gedi, (a habitation site twelve kilometers away), but nobody really knows what most of the objects are or why they were hidden in a cave.  Just to add to the ambiguities of today’s post, here are some of the other objects (sans explanation, of course).

 

Let’s get back to talking about New York City’s enormous sad potter’s field at Hart Island (hey, why are all of  my readers leaving?) Well anyway, when we left off, we had explained that the island is rich in poignant, important-to-remember narratives.  For example, the island’s history strongly contextualizes mistakes made early in the 1980s HIV crisis (not that we’ll ever have another viral pandemic hideously mismanaged by pro-big business apparatchiks in national government).  How can we draw attention to this history and properly memorialize the souls whose mortal remains are interred there?

As an artistic exercise, I thought about what sort of memorial would fit a small coastal island next to one of the world’s busiest ports.  Despite advocacy by the Hart Island Project, a nonprofit organization (which also helps family members locate graves and works to beautify the site) , it is still difficult to visit the island, so the monument needs to be visible from the water or the coast. However, New York is already a chaotic place! We don’t need any more giant light beacons or 100 meter tall green ladies (although if you know of a friend for Lady Liberty, maybe let me know in the comments).

There is a sort of building from the past which fits all of these criteria perfectly: a lighthouse! Most of New York’s original lighthouses have been retired or are now cultural sites/tourist spots instead of working maritime devices.  I am sure we could fit a memorial sculpture in (in fact my favorite New York memorial is exactly such a thing), but how would we make it obvious that it is a monument to victims of HIV?

As a preliminary attempt, I designed this lighthouse  in the shape of a virus.  I painted it a cheerful pink to make it pop-out from the muted coastline colors of Hart Island, and of course to call attention to the unhappy stigmatization of queer communities which made the ravages of AIDS so much worse than what should have been.

lighthouse

Model for Hart Island AIDS Cemetery Memorial (Wayne Ferrebee, 2019)

Let me back up slightly and explain this somewhat peculiar model. The base is largely irrelevant (it is meant to illustrate that the lighthouse/sculpture needs to be landscaped into an appropriate vantage point on the old AIDS cemetery on Hart Island).  There is, however, one important landscape feature which doesn’t read very well in this little diorama: I hoped that the pathway from the main path over to the memorial plaque at the base of the lighthouse/sculpture might be a site where mourners and interested entities could place mementos.  I thought if these were all the same color (a chromatic convergence easily accomplished with an inexpensive vat of enamel) it would make the overall presentation more powerful and emotional. I chose pink since it is a sacred color to the LGBTQ community (I also thought the light beacon might be pink as well), however there are other virtues to pink.  It is visually bold and highly visual, however it conveys renewal, joy, and beauty. It is an unusual memorial color for an unusual memorial. But it is just an idea (pink is also one of my favorite colors). Black, white, or rainbow would all work too and each of those options also have many strong supporting reasons.

A virologist might point out that this actually a bacteriophage (or actually an abstracted  symbolic likeness of one).  That is entirely correct.  I wanted this to be a symbolic likeness so as to not have people’s final resting place overshadowed by an overly realistic version of the disease which killed them.  in the past, such a memorial would probably have had robed allegorical deities and subdued personifications of Death and suchlike figures (in the manner of the extremely beautiful USS Maine monument at Columbus Circle), however in the modern world I don’t think we have many (or any) sculptors capable of such exquisite figurative work, plus such a sculpture would fail to feature the component of hard-won medical knowledge which needs to be central to this monument.

lighthouse 2

Speaking of which, why have a monument at all? I am sure there are readers thinking this is all “too much” or something we don’t need in a world of monetary woes and immediate problems.  I am more sympathetic with such a point of view than you might expect from someone designing abstruse neoteric memorials! However I think we really DO need pandemic memorials.  Consider the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. We swept it under the rug and moved on with jazz age excess as fast as possible.  In doing so we forgot about the critical lessons of the Spanish Flu (to say nothing of its victims and its stringent hardships), and that was obviously a terrible mistake.  There are, of course, even more victims of Spanish flu than there are AIDS victims right there at Hart Island.  Maybe we actually need a comprehensive viral pandemic monument to honor them and the AIDS victims, and the souls who have suffered and perished in the continuing coronavirus pandemic.  That final post of this three-part series will have to wait though (since I need to get back to my studio).

In the mean time, please take care of yourself. Be safe and be of stout heart.  Hart Island reminds us that these terrible times have happened before (how could we have forgotten??) but it also reminds us that the pain and loss and suffering have all been endured before and that we grieved and kept moving forward.  Perhaps that is the real secret to navigating treacherous passages which are memorialized in funeral monuments.

lighthouse 3

Oh, one more thing. Please leave your comments and opinions below.  The more points of view presented, the better that memorials are able to represent all sorts of different viewpoints!

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