No animal escapes the cruel knife in the end…

“Man is the only creature that consumes without producing..."
“Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.” ? George Orwell, Animal Farm (1945) Read More...

Tamer Instincts

For circus performers of yesteryear, having a head for business meant having one that could fit in a big cat's mouth.
Of those who could claim to have rested their head on a lion's lower jaw Isaac van Amburgh was the first. An intrepid animal trainer, he accomplished feats of derring-do that went unmatched in his time. He and his pride of tamed felines became something of an international sensation, commanding the attention of no less estimable a personage than Queen Victoria, who commissioned a portrait of him, so deeply had his talents impressed her. Others among the great and good stood equally astounded. The Duke of Wellington once reportedly asked Van Amburgh, "Were you ever afraid?," to which the celebrated lion tamer responded, "The first time I am afraid, your grace, or that I fancy my pupils are no longer afraid of me, I shall retire from the wild beast line." (more…) Read More...

Staying on Their Toes

For nineteenth-century ballerinas, the precariousness of dancing en pointe was nothing compared to the precariousness of their financial situation.
Slip behind the swinging door of the Parisian theater and you will discover the coulisse, the performer's secret world of greasepaint, foot bindings, levers and pulleys. Off-limits to the ordinary audience member, this world has guarding its gate an incorruptible Cerberus. He will step aside only if you speak the name of M. le Directeur and present to him a passeport. (more…) Read More...

Still Life

At once profitable and precarious, the moonshiner trade attracted only the most spirited individuals.
The moonshiner treats strangers with suspicion. Rarely do they visit his mountain shack, and rarely does he visit town. He isolates himself among mountain and valleys, which he leaves only once or twice a year. When a batch of corn mash has fermented, he distills it into "mountain dew" strong enough to make eyes water and throats burn. Barrels of this he packs in his wagon under hay and overripe apples (their scent masks that of the liquor) and winds his way over rocky, narrow paths to market. (more…) Read More...

My wife left … on the arm of a svelte yogurt distributor

"The scale over there across the street is truly an ingenious device...."
"The scale over there across the street is truly an ingenious device. One preprograms the desired new weight into it, and if one has achieved or gone below that new low weight, the scale bursts into recorded whistles and cheers and some lively marching-band tune....  A failure ... results in a flatulent dirge of disappointed and contemptuous tuba." — David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System (1987) Read More...

Love Bites

The story of the dentist McTeague's wooing of his patient, Trina, is one readers can sink their teeth into.
Temptation rides a whiff of ether in Frank Norris's McTeague (1899). The novel relates the romantic adventures of its title character, a San Francisco dentist who falls in love with Trina, a young lower-class woman who visits him for treatment of a carious tooth. (more…) Read More...

Seeing and Nothingness

Some people watch what they eat. The narrator of one obscure French novel would rather watch than eat.
The narrator of Henri Barbusse's 1908 novel Inferno (L'Enfer) spends his days and nights peering through a chink in a boarding room wall. He cannot help himself, he protests; for as a man unmarried, rather short, with no children (and, he adds, with the intent that he "shall have none"), as a man with whom "a line will end which has lasted since the beginning of humanity," he felt himself "submerged in the positive nothingness of every day." (more…) Read More...

Kitchen Wisdom

In precapitalist times wealth was considered neither a rational consequence of thrift and smart investment nor evidence of some inborn excellence. Rather, it was regarded as status enjoyed at the sufferance of providence and was therefore subject to revocation. A sudden turn of Fortune's wheel and Dives became Lazarus; Lazarus, Dives. Giving charity appeared, then,
The politics of leftovers smoothed relations between rich and poor for centuries. When it was scrapped, things got crummy. In Chile I once ate a bull's testicle. My family and I were staying in Santiago when our second night there we received a dinner invitation from a colleague of my father's, a stout, mirthful industrial engineer who was reportedly a crony of the dictator, Augusto Pinochet. The meal consisted of quail eggs and arugula for the adults, and for the children a dish that I took to be baked apples dusted with cinnamon. I eagerly popped one in my mouth. What met my bite, however, was tough, cartilaginous, and had a slight metallic tang. I must have grimaced because a maid rushed over, took my hand and led me to a toilet into which I could spit the offending morsel.… Read More...

For him I was a phenomenon….

"After a slow start, things went off like clockwork...."
"After a slow start, things went off like clockwork. At first we went out to dinner and the movies or theater and didn't go to bed. Finally we went to bed. We then had dinner out and went to bed. Then we mostly went to bed, not bothering with dinner at all, and talked of getting engaged. Yes, engaged. We had this horrible compulsion to be Proper."--Sue Kaufman, Diary of a Mad Housewife (1967) Read More...

Butterfly Effect

Men were like butterflies to Margaret Fountaine: They were apt to flit away without warning or leave-taking....
The life and loves of one Victorian butterfly enthusiast go to show how hard it is for a lepidopterist to change her spots. Men were like butterflies to Margaret Fountaine: They were apt to flit away without warning or leave-taking. Either creature she nevertheless pursued with vigor, and she recorded her experiences in thick leather-bound diaries she took with her everywhere. They contained accounts of her bicycle trip through France and her motorcar excursion across Tenerife, which she made with eight young Spaniards. In Corsica she took up with a gang of bandits before sailing for Cuba and Chile. Her many affairs she characterized as "so many gates leading on, through paths of sorrow, to ultimate disaster and final loss." This sense of disappointment attached only to her wingless loves, however. For the other kind her affection went undiminished. No… Read More...

All I needed was a sandwich to make me believe in miracles …

“You know about innards? The trick they play on tramps in the country?..."
“You know about innards? The trick they play on tramps in the country? They stuff an old wallet with putrid chicken innards. Well, take it from me, a man is just like that, except that he's fatter and hungrier and can move around, and inside there's a dream.”--Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night (1932) Read More...

Reindeer Game

In the harsh arctic region Laplanders inhabit, joy, like summer, is fleeting.
Love Laplander-style requires thawing frosty relations--with lots of brandy and boiled meat. The first days of September summon the Lappish hunter to his yearly ritual. He puts on reindeer-skin coat and cap (camouflage that serves to fool his quarry) and searches out a copse of pine trees to use as a place of ambush. Once situated, he bellows lustily. In sight there eventually wanders a reindeer whose curiosity has gotten the better of it.  Arriving to discover the source of the noise so like the one it itself makes, the creature discovers instead that its fate is sealed. The hunter flings his weapon--an arrow, a spear, sometimes a stone--and it strikes fatally home. A similar knack for deception the Lappish man brings to a hunt of another sort. Should a woman turn his head, he shows no overt signs of… Read More...