Saturday, February 25, 2012

News from the Apian Clipping Service

Some of you may know that I have a vast and far-flung apian clipping service. This is true: I probably have the most vast and far-flung apian clipping service known to man or woman.
Just this week my friend Mim recently returned from India and used that occasion to rip precious pages from the Air India Magazine. She delivered to me an article about harvesting the honey of Giant Himalayan Rockbees (Apis laboriosa) in remote Nagaland. And my sister (last seen in SQD on the subject of St Haralambos the Bulgarian patron saint of beekeeping, so you may having doubts about her reliability) sent me pages torn from National Geographic Traveler about the tiny stingless bee (Melipona beecheii) of the Yucatan.
Nagaland, bordering Myanmar, is about as far east you can go in India and still be in India. It is extremely difficult of access. Naga is home to the Great Indian Hornbill and Blyth’s Tragopan. Every December there is a Hornbill Festival with many exciting events, including the Fire Eating demonstration, the Pork Fat eating competition, the Naga King Chilly eating competition, the Hornbill International Motor Rally and of course there is the Global Hornbill Film Festival.
Most mysteriously of all, Nagaland is 90% Christian and is in fact the only predominantly (75% of the population, more than Mississippi) Baptist state in the world. How did this come about? You may well ask.
In the photographs from Air India Magazine the hives look like dark shelf mushrooms randomly affixed to the rock face, which rises about 1000 feet from the ground. In order to harvest the honey, some villagers stand at the base of the cliff smoking the bees with torches and some sing, while the harvesters scramble up ladders made of vines and bamboo, to cut out the hives. Do not try this if you have vertigo.
Easier of access are the Melipona beecheii. According to Melina of the National Geographic Traveler, the Mayans considered bees to be mystical creatures who could take messages between the living and the underworld. When she is not doing yoga in Tulum or attending Bikini Bootcamp, she visits a shrine to Ah Muzen Cab, a Maya bee god. Later she visits a family who keep stingless bees. Along with being without a lethal weapon, these bees tend to be less industrious than the European or Africanized bees. The stingless varieties wake around noon and are remarkably picky about their nectar source. But what little honey they produce is delicious, earthy and citrusy, so I am told.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012



PROTOCOL’S VENI VIDI VECI Wins Best in Breed for Doberman
HIGHPOINT’S FIFTH WHEEL DON’T BLINK Wins Best in Breed for Bullmastiff
MARTHA STEWART'S GENGHIS KHAN Wins Best in Breed for Chow Chow

Monday, February 13, 2012

Bulgarian holidays & rhino-insertions

My sister just called and, in that faux-innocent tone that any sister recognizes as the sure sign of the younger sister’s looming instance of superior knowledge, she asked me if I knew about St Haralambos the patron saint of beekeepers. I thought about this, hard, because I normally have confidence in my mastery of that particular niche of hagiology. Was she referring to a radical misspelling of Saint Ambrose of Milan, the most commonly cited patron saint of beekeepers? No, she was not. Nor was she referring to Bernard of Clairvaux, Modomnoc, Valentine, Godnait or even Bridget.
So I gave up. I ceded superior knowledge and cried uncle.
With undisguised glee, my sister read aloud the entire article as it appeared in the Portland-Press Herald, datelined from Blagoevgrad. It relates how on this day Orthodox Christian Bulgarians gather to celebrate the feast of St Haralambos, who is the patron of bees and honey, and also known as the “lord of illnesses”, a dubious distinction. The Bulgarian faithful place jars of honey and candles on the floor of their church in the shape of a cross. It is unclear what happens next, but I imagine it is weird and sticky. Why the only American paper to report on this Bulgarian festivity is in Portland Maine is a mystery for another day.
Distraught at being so humiliated in this hagiographic matter, I did some research. And for starters, I would like to point out that only in Bulgaria is he called Haralambos. Nor can I find any documentation of his patronage of bees. He was born in 89 CE in Magnesia, Greece, of which milk he drank. He was martyred 113 years later. In the rest of the world, or the parts of the world where they practice Eastern orthodox Christianity -

This program is interrupted because my daughter has just walked in, agitated.
“Mom, do you have a snot-sucker. Iggy just got a pea up his nose.”
“Not any more. I gave you the snot sucker*.”
“That was NoseFrida the Snotsucker. Don’t you have a plain old snot sucker with a bulb from when we were kids?"
“No. Those rubber bulbs get old and dried out.” All the dried up and old snot sucking bulbs have been thrown out in one of the recent purges. All the current residents of the house can pick their noses and remove their snot without any external suction.
Shrieks drift in from the other room.
“Never mind, he ejected it by himself. I have such a brilliant child.”

-so we can safely return to hagiography: The name is Charalampus. But my sister, who feels proprietary about this particular saint having brought him to attention, thinks Charalampus sounds silly, as contrasted with Haralambos. There is no adequate response to such an assertion.

*It is perhaps worth pointing out that the very same sister who knows so much about Haralambos gave me the marvelous NoseFrida device, which I then gave to my daughter. For obvious reasons.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

R.I.P. West Athens Parade and Happy Anniversary Cuban Blockade

The news came from my sister at the first glimmer of dawn today: The West Athens 4th of July parade has been cancelled this year.
My sister who lives in Maine does an excellent job keeping us apprised of hot news in Maine that may not be fit to print in the New York Times, but which she knows will be of compelling interest to CSB and me; items such as the possible closing of the Caratunk Post office (tragic) or the rescue of the Good Will-Hinkley School, by a grant from the Alfond Foundation (good news) or the infestation of the Admiral Peary Historic Site on Eagle Island by rabid lemmings (unsure).
And since she knows how religiously we attend the West Athens Fourth of July Parade she knew we would need to know immediately. This is a terrible loss for creative counter culture, for the marijuana industry of central Maine, for coolers filled with lite beer, for Tattoo Pride of Maine, and for devotees of burning rubber. But we suspected this was coming.
The parade began about 40 years ago with a group of hippies and back-to-the-land, off-the-gridders got together to celebrate Independence in their own way. The floats featured raucous political satire, arcane cultural commentary and great costumes. Over time, alas, the focus shifted to inebriation, scanty costumes and burning rubber. If you, like me, have lived a sheltered life, chances are you have never witnessed so many trucks and ATV’s burning rubber on purpose. If you, like me, are clueless, then you have no idea why anyone would do this on purpose.
So with many fond memories and a few disclaimers, here are a few pictures from last year’s Fourth in West Athens.

In other news, I just received this email from my father.
On the television they mentioned the 50th anniversary of the Cuban blockade. Tell me what this is all about because I have lost this. Has this been good? Apparently other countries have dialogues with Cuba. Have we accomplished anything by continuing it? I don't know.

He can recall WW2 and the pony cart overturning as they went to first grade, but not this. And why should he?
I should note that he dictated this email and it was typed by his secretary, because the emails he types himself require creative translation. The emails he types himself look like those word verification gizmos to “prevent automated systems from adding spam”, and that may be why his offspring are quite good at deciphering Captcha and other forms of gibberish.
In case you are wondering, CAPTCHA is not a slang rendition of Captured ya (à la Gotcha) but an acronym for Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart.
Also in case you are wondering, I wrote back to my father that no, the Cuban blockade has not been a good thing.

Monday, February 6, 2012

While most Americans with the Y chromosome, and many without, it were watching the Super Bowl, I was sorting through a pile of papers. And yes, I spend lots of time sorting through papers. Whenever I see an unsorted, unfiled pile of paper, especially with an assortment of print, handwriting and drawings, I am overcome by the urge to sort, file and puge. Papers and books beckon to me like heroin to a junkie, like Thunderbird to a wino, like one-armed bandits to a gambler, like holy water to a saint. Or you might call it a benign form of OCD.
Whence this particular pile of papers?
In the basement of the parental house (the very same basement I have plumbed and mined before for artifacts, and will again) there is a tall wooden cabinet (actually there are several tall wooden cabinets, but this one is green) that was there when my family moved into the house about fifty years ago. Before that my grandfather lived there, and until sometime in the 1930’s, he lived there with my grandmother. Then in the mid-1930’s she left piles of her unsorted papers in the deep drawers of this tall green wooden cabinet, and moved out and never lived there again.
So on yesterday morning I filled a couple of paper bags with these unsorted papers, and brought them back to New York to keep me out of trouble while CSB watched large men in impossibly tight pants run around a field in Indianapolis, an area once inhabited by the Lenape and Miami tribes, a fact which always causes confusion when a Miami that is not in Florida is mentioned.
Here are some of the delectable items gleaned:
• Prospectus for the Happy Valley Association, founded by Annie Besant 1936
• Prospectus from the Sufi Movement, NY Branch
• Several copies of The American Theosophist, 1932, 1933
• Two copies International Psychic Gazette

• A flyer advertising Swedish Massage and Corrective gymnastics in Miami, FL
• Stationary from the Hotel Astoria in Leningrad
Acte de Concession Perpétuelle de terrain de Cimetiere, regarding the sepulcher for Constant Toissaint Lévêque, my great-grandfather, in the department of Manche, in the Arrondissment of Cherbourg, in the canton of Guettehou, in the Mairie of St Vaast-la-Hogue, made to my grandmother in April of 1931, signed, stamped, and stamped again by the notary of St Vaast-la-Hogue, upon receipt of 10 % of 450 francs.
• An article about St. Louis Estes and the many children he fathered in his 70’s.
While most of the papers make some kind of sense, I am often bewildered by the articles that my grandmother chose to neatly cut from newspapers or magazines, and save. What interested her?
Why did she carefully remove the article and accompanying photograph about the 72 year-old St. Louis Estes, the dentist and raw food advocate who was so pleased with himself for having sired numerous children in his later years? He and his much younger wife spawned ten children in 15 years. Their arrangement was that she named the girls (Esther, Dimple, Natasha, Suzanne and Dixie Lou) and he named the boys (St. Louis II, III, IV, V, and VI). The Estes’s employed the last surviving member of the Silesian royal family, Prince de Vigni, to tutor their children, who exclusively wore bathing suits all year round. Luckily for them, they lived in southern California. St Louis claimed to have been bald before switching to a raw food diet. But now he has wavy silver tresses.
There is nothing intrinsically unusual about this story. There is only the question of why she saved it. Did she know St. Louis Estes or someone like him? Did she find him appealing? What did she think of a raw food diet? I assume that, as a Frenchwoman, she would not approve. Would she have preferred to have more than two children?
I can’t answer any of the above questions. All I can do is Google St Louis Estes, and learn that though he lived to be 75, in interviews he lied and claimed to be 15 years older than his true age. After slipping and falling by the swimming pool in 1951, Dr. Estes went into a coma and died. The autopsy report cited “Malnutrition” as an auxiliary cause of death.

Another tiny piece of paper, a short paragraph that fluttered into view after three quarters of a century inside a dark drawer, was titled “Use for Afterbirths”. It described how most animals eat their own afterbirths, and how Dr. Charles McKhann of Boston “gave a placentophagy a new twist” by extracting substances from the placenta and then using them to inoculate children against measles. That is certainly the first and only time I have encountered the word placentophagy, and discovering a word like that is better than the Super Bowl any day.