PHILADELPHIA is where best-beloved daughter and Michael Brownstein recently celebrated their marriage, which in fact occurred one year ago, but they have their own version of chronology.
Philadelphia is where my ophidiophobic* sister and I were strolling beside the river when we saw a pudgy man striding along with a fat yellowish snake, about 8 feet long, wrapped around his waist and draped over his shoulder. He would periodically stop, look around to see who was watching, and then stroke his snake, call her a “lovely girl” and a “pretty missy” and then kiss her on the lips. Or the mouth. I don’t actually know if snakes have lips. My poor sister ran ahead in a state of profound misery. Instead of following to hold her hand, as a good sister would have done, I stayed behind to learn that the snake in question was an albino reticulated python, and that she had a very mellow temperament. I asked how one could discern a snake’s temperament. Her pudgy keeper told me that she liked to sit on the couch and watch reality television with him. As if that proved his point. I would like to say for the record that kissing your snake in public is not a good idea.
This is what an albino reticulated python looks like when she is not being kissed.
Philadelphia is also home to the Hyrtl Skull Collection, in the Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians. The collection was amassed by Joseph Hyrtl. He was born in 1810 in Austria, where his father played the oboe in Count Esterhazy’s band. In university Hyrtl studied the osseous systems of fish and later collected over 800 fish skeletons. He also collected organs of hearing. But it is The Skulls for which he is best remembered. There are 139 skulls, mostly from Central and Eastern Europeans. And each one has a hand-written placard giving the nationality, the name, age, religion if known, occupation, means of death, and a description of any skeletal anomaly. In his collection there are 16 suicides and 11 executions. Here is a small sample of his captions:
Szigeth (Hungary or Romania)
Geza Uirenyi, 81; Reformist, herdsman. At age 70 attempted suicide by cutting his throat. Wound not fatal because of ossified larynx; laryngeal fistula remained. Lived until 80 without melancholy.
Araschtan Gottlieb, 19
Suicide by potassium cyanide because of suspected unfaithfulness of his mistress.
Jaska Soltesz, age 28
Reformist, soldier. Died of pneumonia.
Everted Gonial angles (bilateral); dental caries, potential abscessing.
Magyar (Hungary) from Transylvania
Reformist, guerilla and deserter
Executed by hanging, 1861.
Bilateral flare of gonial angles.
Julius Farkas, 28
Suicide by gunshot wound to the heart because of weariness of life.
Depressed nasal root.
*this is not the only thing she has in common with Indiana Jones.