Hannah Holmes – The Well-Dressed Ape

A word about the word: A “predator,” in biological terms, is an animal who kills another to eat it.  Although I kill both cows and cockroaches, I am a predator only of cows.  I, in turn, might be killed either by a whitetip shark or bad sushi, but only one of those qualifies as a predator.

The human’s peak predator is probably the crocodile. The exact number of humans that crocs eat each year is hard to pin down, because they tend to hunt in undeveloped areas where humans don’t keep detailed records. Human prey is a good choice for crocs. Our species is big enough to make a hearty meal but fee of sharp horns, claws, and teeth, and small enough to subdue quickly.  As with the other midsize animals they catch, crocs reduce human prey to bite-size pieces by biting onto a limb and rolling their entire bodies in the water until the twisted part tears free. A whole flock of crocks can feed on a single kill, with each animal latching onto a different piece and rolling until the prey disintegrates. It’s estimated they eat thousands of humans a year.

The crocodile isn’t the only reptile to view humans as prey.  The alligator is another, and so is the Komodo dragon.  Each can kill and eat humans of any size, but compared to crocodiles neither puts much of a dent in the human horde.  And then there are the fishes, sharks to be specific.  Most sharks don’t consider humans especially palatable. They might bite one if they mistake it for a flailing fish or seal, but they don’t seek humans out.  A few species, however–oceanic whitetip, great white, tiger, and bull–are happy to harvest humans.  I have seen the whitetips in action, and it’s a haunting phenomenon…

I recently encountered an insightful little piece of work at a conference. In the back of a room full of research summarized on large posters stood a psychologist from Pennsylvania State University.  His poster was deceptively simple but profound: He had combed the globe for stories of “wild beast attacks man.”  Studying 173 incidents, he concluded that humans with no tool in hand died two-thirds of the time, but those with a defensive device of any sort died only half the time.  That’s a big difference in survival rates.  It’s the kind of difference that can shove evolution rapidly in a new direction–an armed direction.  For what it’s worth, chimpanzees also use tools against snakes and other frightful animals.

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Hannah – Almond Crusted Catshark

Do not misconstrue me, Abby, there are acceptable instances of prey-offal.  Eastern Asia boasts some of the most enlightened preparations of oxtail, pigs feet, and other extremities that yon gastronomic adventurer might hope to encounter.  I, for one, shall always treasure my first encounter with ulo, that most expressive of Filipino dishes.  But crispy pig’s head aside, not all gristle is made equal.  And while our tongues are undoubtedly more nuanced than most, I’ve begun to suspect that the common man’s pallet–for all his pork chops and spare ribs awash in bottled caramel pigment number five–senses this truth.  How many receptacles of flour-coated and peanut-oiled avian can one consume before confronting it?  That tang of helplessness, that pungency of submission which no cook can disguise.  There is no hiding the taste of a prey animal.  You chuckle, Henry!  And well you might, God knows we’ve all seen you try!

Of course, and let there be no mistake, humans are also prey animals.  When one is walking alone in the woods and a stick breaks, one’s ears whip one’s head to engage one’s eyes in the search, and one stands as if frozen.  Adrenaline swirls in one’s blood to fuel a superhuman flurry of action, should one need to flee or fight.  One’s pupils dilate, to snare every photon’s worth of information.  If I surprise a deer in the woods, her reaction is the same.  This is the biological imperative of prey.

And on the note of color and shape, I direct your eyes to our centerpiece, which should be kept understated and with no more than one contrasting color.  Oh, and before I forget it, tonight’s menu.

Arugula with diced apples and almond crusted Catshark

Spring black bear steak with a Portobello demi glace accompanied with saffron risotto

Rhubarb tart

Hannah – Bolero Magnets

Magnates, for instance, enjoy simple relationships.  A magnet is either attracted or repelled by the company of another.  In accordance with these feelings, they will either pull forcefully together or push in opposite directions as quickly as possible.  Magnates follow laws of electrical currents and elementary particles; no further interpretation is needed.

Superficially, this behavior resembles Bolero ballroom dance (in its most Spanish form).   Which explains why Ira and Lakshit were drawn together, but only initially.  The resemblance, as I said, is superficial.  In most ways people and magnates are dissimilar, as Ira and Lakshit demonstrated.

Lakshit studied physics at the University of Madras, where he learned (for he paid attention) that magnetism will only weaken when a combination of stray electromagnetic fields and heat destabilizes its alignment.  This is a slow process.  For example, a samarium-cobalt will withstand roughly 700 years of this strain before decreasing to half strength.  Lakshit remained faithful to Ira for seven months; during that time Lakshit and Ira were Bolero partners.  When Ira called from their sofa, “Lakshit! Who will you dance with tonight?” she ended her question with a sneeze.

“I’m not going tonight,” he replied.  “You are sick, so I am going to study.”

“You are sure? I don’t mind if you go.”

“That is something you and I do together.”

This was not the first lie that Ira told Lakshit; she did in fact mind if he went to dance without her.  She enjoyed those hours on the worn wood of the studio floor, when she faced the mirror over Lakshit’s shoulder and saw her hand rest on his waist just so and her heels snapped when she moved.  She felt she possessed him most powerfully, most femininely in those moments.

This was the first lie that Lakshit told Ira; he was in fact going to dance with another student in his physics department.  After they danced, Lakshit would follow her to an apartment and they would make love and talk about music and traveling to Spain someday to see the bulls.  When he left, Lakshit felt a pang of betrayal: Was it really so bad that Ira held so tightly to him when they were together, so that he must drag rather than glide with her on the worn wood of the studio floor?  And he felt a longing to revert: revert from his own reversion.  He turned at the door and announced to his new lover that this could never happen again.

But people do not follow laws of electrical currents and elementary particles, and if we betray X, for whom we betrayed Y, it does not necessarily follow that we have placated X.  The first inversion is irreparable.  It calls forth a chain reaction of further reversions, each of which takes us farther and farther away from the point of our original betrayal.

Milan Kundera – The Unbearable Lightness of Being

While people are fairly young and the musical composition of their lives is still in its opening bars, they can go about writing it together and exchange motifs, but if they meet when they are older, like Franze and Sabina, their musical compositions are more or less complete, and every motif, every object, every word means something different to each of them.  If I were to make a record of all Sabina and Franz’s conversations, I could compile a long lexicon of their misunderstandings.  Let us be content, instead, with a short dictionary.

WOMAN

Being a woman is a fate Sabina did not choose. What we have not chosen we cannot consider either our merit or our failure.  Sabina believed that she had to assume the correct attitude to her unchosen fate.  To rebel against being born a woman seemed as foolish to her as to take pride in it.

During one of their first times together, Franz announced to her, in an oddly emphatic way, “Sabina, you are a woman.” She could not understand why he accentuated the obvious with the solemnity of Columbus who had just sighted land. Not until later did she understand that the word “woman,” on which he had placed such uncommon emphasis, did not, in his eyes, signify one of the two human sexes; it represented a value. Not every woman was worthy of being called a woman.

But if Sabina was, in Franz’s eyes, a woman, then what was his wife, Marie-Claude? More than twenty years earlier, several months after Franz met Marie-Claude, she had threatened to take her life if he abandoned her. Franz was bewitched by the threat. He was not particularly fond of Marie-Claude, but he was very much taken with her love. He felt himself unworthy of so great a love, and felt he owed her a low bow.

He bowed so low that he married her. And even though Marie-Claude never recaptured the emotional intensity that accompanied her suicide threat, in his heart he kept its memory alive with the thought that he must never hurt her and always respect the woman in her. It is an interesting formulation. Not “respect Marie-Claude,” but “respect the woman in Marie-Claude.” But if Marie-Claude is herself a woman, then who is that other woman hiding in her, the one he must always respect? The Platonic ideal of a woman, perhaps?

When he was twelve, his mother had found herself alone, abandoned by Franz’s father. The boy suspected something serious had happened, but his mother muted the drama with mild, insipid words so as not to upset him. The day his father left, Franz and his mother went into town together, and as they left home Franz noticed that she was wearing a different shoe on each foot. He was in a quandary: he wanted to point out her mistake, but was afraid he would hurt her. So during the two hours they spent walking through the city together he kept his eyes fixed on her feet. It was then he had his first inkling of what it means to suffer.

Hannah – The Beast of Gevaudan

The sun made the circular gates gleam, he thought, like polished silver.  The platform wasn’t rotating; it wouldn’t budge until the first cows were loaded at five minutes to six, but he stopped to admire, as he did every morning, it’s sterile, gleaming precision. He found his milking parlor beautiful; sometimes he was moved to tears at the sight of a full twenty-three cow load rotating ‘round its ghost-quiet motor.  “Wilhelm Gevaudan is a 20th century man, and he runs a 20th century dairy farm.” Wilhelm had never actually heard that said about him or his work, but, entering his office, he imagined it was the kind of thing people thought.

He enjoyed running his farm, and contributing, in his way, to developments in farming equipment and agricultural science.  His rotating dairy parlor might be labelled an oddity by shorter-sighted farmers, but it made him a member of the scientific community.  That was meaningful, that was substantive.  He knew that his colleagues at the Dairy Science Conference found it (and him) a little unorthodox, but he believed that they were secretly pleased to have in him a rock of unwavering principle.

He was not an amateur, or like many of his neighbors who were farmers because their fathers had farmed, because they had been born to it.  Wilhelm’s nail beds tingled, as they tended to when he grew excited, and for a panicked moment he glanced at his desk calendar, made special note of the date.  Reassured, he sipped his morning chamomile and sifted through yesterday’s mail.

Was it wrong to feel pride for building as he had built? For starting as he had started, the proverbial stranger in a strange land?   He didn’t listen any longer to the rumors he would once have overheard: that there was something wrong with him designing his dairy farm the way he had designed it.  That locals speculated poor production volume.  He had long given up his last remnants of uncertainty, which at one time, like flies on a carcass, could be scattered by the slightest wind, and would buzz inside him, cause him to clench his fists, knuckles white and bulbous, against his head.  Something had calmed the swarm; he liked to think it was the smooth, circulating breeze, generated from the turning wheels of his milking parlor.  The flies never flared up now. No, he never thought of it at all.

Mary Gordon – Eleanor’s Music

How she loved her mother! Still perfectly beautiful at eighty-six. The only concession she’d made to her age was a pair of hearing aids. “My ears,” she called them. Everything her mother touched she touched carefully, and left a little smoother, a little finer for her touch. Everything about her mother reminded her of walking through a glade, from the chestnut rinse that tinted what would be bright white hair, to the shadings of her clothes. Each garment some variety of leaf tone: the light green of spring with an underhint of yellow, the dark of full summer, occasionally a detail of bright autumn — an orange scarf, a red enamel brooch. Wool in winter cotton in summer; never an artificial fiber next to her skin. What she didn’t understand, she often said, was a kind of laziness, which in the name of convenience in the end made more work and deprived one of the small but real joys. The smell of a warm iron against damp cloth, the comfort of something that was once alive against your body. She was a great believer in not removing yourself from the kind of labor she considered natural. She wouldn’t own a Cuisinart or have a credit card. She liked, she said, chopping vegetables, and when she paid for something, she wanted to feel, on the tips of her fingers, on the palms of her hands, the cost.

Some people might have considered these things crotchets or affectations, but Eleanor considered them an entirely admirable assertion of her mother’s individuality. As she considered her father’s refusal to step outside their Park Avenue apartment without a jacket and tie, regardless of the heat of the day or the informality of the occasion.

She knew that many people thought it odd, to say nothing of unhealthy, for her to be living with her parents at the age of fifty-one. “Health,” said her father, “is the new orthodoxy. The new criterion by which we are judged of the fold or outside it. In the old days, they just tested people by trying to drown them, and if they survived they were allowed back in the community. But that’s too good for the health nags.”

And of course there was Billy. People thought it was peculiar that she should choose to be such close friends with her ex-husband, as they thought it was peculiar that she lived with her parents. But she was proud of that as well; she considered the shape of her life not peculiar, but original; she lived as she liked; real courage, she believed, was doing what you believed in, however it appeared.

He had come to her, weeping, confessing that his problems in bed with her had nothing to do with her, or with him, for that matter: it was just the way he was; he had fallen in love with Paul, and realized for the first time the way he had always been, the way he had always been made, what he had been afraid of, had repressed, but could no longer. Because love had come his way.

“Love,” she had said, as if she’d just picked up, between two fingers, an iridescent, slightly putrefying thing. “And what do you call what we have for each other, devotion, loyalty, shared interests, shared valued, joy in each other’s company, what do you call that if not love?”

She didn’t say, “Don’t you know that I would die for you,” because although she meant it, she didn’t want to mean it, and certainly, she would never say it. It sounded too operatic. Opera was the center of both their lives, she as a singer, he as an accompanist, but she had no interest in living at the intense, excessive temperatures opera suggested.

T.R.Pearson – A Short History of a Small Place

He said Everet Little, the jailer’s boy, was riding the iron gate in and out of the yard and half the town was standing up snug against the fence watching her jig on the lawn and cut capers on the oak stump where the geraniums should have been.  She danced as tireless and light as a child all across the yard and up onto the stump and off again, and she brought the hem of the bedsheet up under her nose and played out what Daddy called the siege of Thebes, taking all of the voices herself and making the likes of a swordfight by beating together a hickory branch and a piece of a staub.  Folks were quiet, he said, and polite and they leaned up easy against the fence with their forearms through the palings and their faces drained of most every expression except for an unexcited and slightly critical strain of curiosity like they were seeing something they’d expected, maybe even paid for.

He said every so often she’d break off whatever she was in the middle of, be it swordplay or some puffed up oration on the agony of kingliness, and she’d work her arms up and down, quivering them in the air, and say, “Putrefaction, putrefaction, sniff it on the breeze, ripeness and death,” and Daddy said her voice was all shaky and inhuman.  It sounded ghostly, he said, and a little ominous too, so people obliged her by sniffing and snorting and got for their trouble the stink of the Dan River Paper Mill, which Daddy said was slightly more potent than a pile of carcasses.

Daddy said he didn’t imagine anybody sent after Sheriff Burton but that he had probably seen the crowd from his courthouse window and had come nosing in on his own.  He was a man who was fond of paraphernalia, Daddy said, and as he edged his way toward the gate he used his arms to clear out a berth for his pistol butt and the shaft of his nightstick.  He had a badge on his hat and a badge on his shirt pocket and a badge in a wallet on his left hip, and Daddy said he was dripping with bullets, festooned with them, he said.

Daddy said Sheriff Burton’s first official act was to tell Everet Little gates weren’t made to be swung on, and Daddy said that cowed Everet some and he stepped down onto the sidewalk where he made out to be enchanted with the workings of the latch. Miss Pettigrew was fresh off her stump, he said, and had just recently set out on a high-stepping tour of the front lawn which Daddy imagined was meant to serve as a kind of airy distraction from the ponderous and dismal goings on at Thebes. Sheriff Burton went after her, he said, chased her down along the side-yard, across the front of the house, up the walkway, and then back along the fence where Daddy said folks watched the two of them go by with the same sort of detached and curious expressions as before except for the hint of merriment, and he said the good money was on Miss Pettigrew who was pulling away from the sheriff with her bedsheet sailing and popping behind her.

Aside from being naturally soft and mealy, Daddy said Sheriff Burton was probably a little too much encumbered with the implements of law enforcement to have the chance of being nimble. He couldn’t take half a step without the leather creaking and the metal jangling, and when he tried to run, Daddy said he was extremely musical and put himself in some peril what with all of his free-swinging attachments threatening to beat him senseless. So he drew up short alongside of the fence, Daddy said, and took hold of his knees while he waited for Miss Pettigrew to sprint back around to him. This was an unpopular tactic with the crowd who considered it shameful enough for their sheriff to have been beaten in a footrace by a woman nearly twice his age and saw no call for him to become unsporting in defeat and humiliate himself further. So when he latched onto Miss Pettigrew’s arm as she tried to dash by him, Sheriff Burton had to suffer what Daddy called public ignominy.