Exoticism Redeemed: Patrick Leigh Fermor in the Caribbean

Bina Gogineni at Salmagundi:

Rather than repel or frighten him as it might a conventional English gentleman travel-writer, this “atmosphere of entire strangeness” calls to Fermor, pulling him into the fray. Not only does he foray into the local market before even reaching his hotel, but soon afterward he investigates all things Créole—the language, the population, and the dress. Within a mere two days—and despite the fact that Guadeloupe ends up his least inspiring destination—he has so thoroughly immersed himself in the very things whose strangeness had captured his attention that he can bandy Créole patois terms with ease and has decoded the amorous messages indicated by the number of spikes into which the older women tie their silk Madras turbans. What is striking is the thoroughness of his inquiry and his capacity to explain the exotic without eviscerating its alluring quality of otherness.

Fermor’s sustained immersion in the complexities of the exotic in these early expositions adumbrate the ethos that will become ever more striking throughout the travelogue: he is always in the service of the exotic, dutifully pursuing his every resource to learn and render it in all its complexity.

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Looking Back at a Half-Forgotten Pioneer of Method Acting

Isaac Butler at The New Yorker:

The Criterion Channel is hosting a retrospective of films featuring the late John Garfield, a superstar of the nineteen-forties whose body of work has long gone under-recognized. In the course of a career that stretched from the height of the studio system to the depths of the Red Scare, Garfield pioneered a new, naturalistic approach to acting for the camera, one rooted in the same techniques that would soon be called the Method. Garfield died in 1952, his performances overshadowed by the actors who followed him—particularly Marlon Brando, who rose to fame playing Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” a role that Garfield turned down. Brando, despite his protestations to the contrary, was often credited as the first Method movie star, the one who inspired generations of young men to move to New York and learn the Method at its high temple, the Actors Studio. It’s tempting to see Garfield, who worked as the doorman for the first session of the Actors Studio, in 1947, as also holding the door of acting history open for BrandoMontgomery Clift, James Dean, Ben Gazzara, Paul Newman, and others to walk through. But Garfield is much more than a footnote.

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Annie Proulx on Why “Fighting” Climate Change Is No Longer the Answer

Liam Freeman in Vogue:

At the dawn of the third millennium, the American novelist Annie Proulx was living in Wyoming and saw a perfect but terrible storm brewing. Extended droughts and warmer winters were providing the optimal conditions for the mountain pine beetle to thrive, and its ongoing infestation—as well as wildfires continuing to ravage the state’s old dense forests, including those of Yellowstone National Park—was turning towering lodgepole pines into ashen tombstones. “That was the first moment when it really sank in that something momentous is going on,” Proulx, who is 87, recently told me over the phone. “I’m a great believer in keeping notes on what you see from year to year. Repetitive observation is my idea of the way to live. This is not a once-in-a-lifetime chance, but a once-in-a-species existence, to observe these huge changes.”

And so began her transition from fiction to writing about ecological issues. In her latest book Fen, Bog and Swamp (Scribner), Proulx delves into the history of peatland destruction and its role in the climate crisis.

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Discovered in the deep: the ‘mermaid’s wineglass’ made up of one giant cell

Helen Scales in The Guardian:

Growing between the tides around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, in the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, are clusters of what look like tiny, green mushrooms. In fact, this is a type of seaweed, or algae – each one made from a single, gigantic cell.

In 2021, scientists named them Acetabularia jalakanyakae, also known as the “mermaid’s wineglass”, because of its umbrella-shaped cap.

Prof Felix Bast, a phycologist from the Central University of Punjab, was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale, The Little Mermaid, to give this new species a mythical twist. “I first thought to name it syreni, which is Latin for mermaid,” says Bast. “Then I changed my mind. Why go with Latin? This is from India, and I am Indian.” So he landed instead on the Sanskrit word for mermaid, jalakanyakae.

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After Neoliberalism: All Economics Is Local

Rana Foroohar in Foreign Affairs:

For most of the last 40 years, U.S. policymakers acted as if the world were flat. Steeped in the dominant strain of neoliberal economic thinking, they assumed that capital, goods, and people would go wherever they would be the most productive for everyone. If companies created jobs overseas, where it was cheapest to do so, domestic employment losses would be outweighed by consumer benefits. And if governments lowered trade barriers and deregulated capital markets, money would flow where it was needed most. Policymakers didn’t have to take geography into account, since the invisible hand was at work everywhere. Place, in other words, didn’t matter.

U.S. administrations from both parties have until quite recently pursued policies based on these broad assumptions—deregulating global finance, striking trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, welcoming China into the World Trade Organization (WTO), and not only allowing but encouraging American manufacturers to move much of their production overseas.

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How Genes Can Leap From Snakes to Frogs in Madagascar

Veronique Greenwood in Quanta Magazine:

Perched on a leaf in the rainforest, the tiny golden mantella frog harbors a secret. It shares that secret with the fork-tongued frog, the reed frog and myriad other frogs in the hills and forests of the island nation of Madagascar, as well as with the boas and other snakes that prey on them. On this island, many of whose animal species occur nowhere else, geneticists recently made a surprising discovery: Sprinkled through the genomes of the frogs is a gene, BovB, that seemingly came from snakes.

After poring over genomes from frog and snake species around the world, the scientists reported in April in a paper in Molecular Biology and Evolution that this gene has somehow traveled from snakes to frogs at least 50 times all over the planet. But in Madagascar it has inserted itself into frogs with startling promiscuity: 91% of the frog species sampled there have it. Something seems to make Madagascar an exceptionally conducive place for the gene to get mobile. When Atsushi Kurabayashi, an associate professor at the Nagahama Institute of Bio-Science and Technology and the senior author of the new paper, first saw the snake version of the gene in frogs, he was puzzled. He asked a colleague who specializes in genomics about it, and the colleague immediately shouted, “It must be horizontal transfer!” — the transfer of a gene from one species to another, in contrast to the vertical inheritance of genes by a child from a parent.

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Talking About Grief with Anderson Cooper

Amanda Petrusich in The New Yorker:

When the CNN anchor Anderson Cooper was ten, he lost his father, Wyatt, to heart disease; when he was twenty-one, his older brother Carter died by suicide. In 2019, his mother, the artist and clothing designer Gloria Vanderbilt, passed away at ninety-five, of stomach cancer. (Vanderbilt had watched, desperate and helpless, as Carter leapt from the terrace of the family’s fourteenth-floor apartment in Manhattan.) For Cooper, who is now fifty-five, loss has become an unexpected beacon in his life—a way of constantly reaffirming his humanity. “My mom and I would talk about this a lot,” Cooper said recently. “No matter what you’re going through, there are millions of people who have gone through far worse. It helps me to know this is a road that has been well travelled.”

In September, Cooper started “All There Is,” a seven-episode podcast about his passage through grief. It is a tender and elegantly honest exploration of how death can crack open the lives of the people left behind. Full disclosure: I am also grieving. This past August, my husband of seventeen years passed away; we have a beautiful one-year-old daughter, Nico. So far, I have found the experience of grief bewildering. Sometimes I feel like a zombie that’s been stabbed in the heart with a sharp stick, but rather than collapsing, or dying, I just keep on lurching about, moaning haphazardly, stumbling toward the horizon. I found my way to Cooper’s podcast when I was feeling hungry for fellowship and support. It really helped.

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Daisies: Giggling Generals; One and Two

Carmen Gray at The Current:

The title of Daisies (1966) evokes innocence and simplicity—an expectation that the prankster accomplices at its heart, Marie I and II, gleefully subvert. Giggling and batting their eyes, they mimic pliable femininity, then turn the tables on the men who would exploit them, in a full-scale assault against decorum. When the Czech director Věra Chytilová made Daisies, her second feature, Czechoslovakia had endured nearly two decades of repressive Communist rule, and she was one of the leading voices in a new generation of filmmakers who expressed resistance through gestures of allegorical insubordination that were semantically slippery enough to possibly get by the censors. Similarly, the Maries operate like guerrilla insurgents across Prague, disguising their true intentions and refusing to dutifully submit their bodies for either labor or male gratification. Their antics are set in the context of modern warfare from the first frames, which jolt us with footage of a World War II dive-bomber’s annihilation, as drums beat a militant march.

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The Mad Emperor: Heliogabalus and The Decadence of Rome

Bijan Omrani at Literary Review:

These tales of flower petal asphyxiation and macrophallocracy are entertaining, but are they true? The source material is famously unreliable. One of the most raucous accounts, the late fourth-century Augustan History, is for the greater part a work of creative fiction. In recent years the academic fashion has been to treat all of the written sources on Heliogabalus with extreme scepticism, and to doubt whether very much at all can be known about him. The author of this new biography, Harry Sidebottom, who is both a historical novelist and an Oxford classics don, pushes against this trend. His account, which combines down-to-earth scholarly rigour with highly entertaining storytelling, critiques a number of received academic ideas. For example, he denies the notion that successive Roman emperors created an ‘official narrative’ hostile to Heliogabalus that was then parroted by contemporary historical writers. He also argues that just because the reports of the emperor’s actions echo those relating to a predecessor and thus appear to be topoi, or literary commonplaces, does not necessarily mean that they are untrue.

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Beyond Catastrophe: A New Climate Reality Is Coming Into View

David Wallace-Wells in the New York Times:

For decades, visions of possible climate futures have been anchored by, on the one hand, Pollyanna-like faith that normality would endure, and on the other, millenarian intuitions of an ecological end of days, during which perhaps billions of lives would be devastated or destroyed. More recently, these two stories have been mapped onto climate modeling: Conventional wisdom has dictated that meeting the most ambitious goals of the Paris agreement by limiting warming to 1.5 degrees could allow for some continuing normal, but failing to take rapid action on emissions, and allowing warming above three or even four degrees, spelled doom.

Neither of those futures looks all that likely now, with the most terrifying predictions made improbable by decarbonization and the most hopeful ones practically foreclosed by tragic delay. The window of possible climate futures is narrowing, and as a result, we are getting a clearer sense of what’s to come: a new world, full of disruption but also billions of people, well past climate normal and yet mercifully short of true climate apocalypse.

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Brazil election: Lula win hailed as victory for the Amazon

Luke Taylor in New Scientist:

Defenders of the Amazon rainforest were overwhelmed with relief on 30 October as Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva narrowly secured Brazil’s presidency.

Lula, who was president from 2003 to 2010, beat incumbent Jair Bolsonaro by just 1.8 per cent of votes in the divisive presidential election.

The tight victory could save the Amazon just as it has reached a crucial tipping point, say Brazilian environmentalists.

“During the past four years, the Amazon has been threatened, attacked and destroyed as the government openly promoted environmental crimes,” says Erika Berenguer at the University of Oxford, who was in tears as she spoke to New Scientist. “It was like having to silence a scream inside you every day as you watched the object of your life, your career and passion destroyed. Lula’s election is a victory not only for the region, but for humanity and life itself.”

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A Cookbook for Surviving the End of the World

Sam Lin-Sommer in Atlas Obscura:

THE SUN IS BARELY VISIBLE in the soot-filled sky; for thousands of miles in every direction, the air is gray and unseasonably cold. Crops are dying en masse, and an age-old question arises: “What will we eat?” If humans are faced with a volcanic winter (an eruption-induced catastrophe that scientists say has a one in six chance of occurring in the next century) or a nuclear winter (its manmade cousin), feeding ourselves will be no easy task.

One possible solution, according to the artist Paul Gong, is to eat garbage. In the imagined world of his Human Hyena project, resourceful humans could transform the taste and smell of spoiled food with a magnifying glass–shaped “Taste Transformer” utensil made from Synsepalum dulcificum (the so-called miracle berry that makes sour foods taste sweet) while inhaling stomach bacteria from hyenas that would allow them to successfully digest putrid food.

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Tuesday Poem

Knitting a Hat for my Small Jizo Statue

Because the hat I knitted for my dead boy taunted me
on the pile of abandoned baby clothes.
Because my fingers ached to hold something, anything.
Because the winter days, though short of sun, were as long as years—
each day a bear holding the hours in its mouth like a limp carcass.
Because I could stare in the mirror and not recognize myself as living.
Because I wanted to be living.
Because I watched the planes cross over Cincinnati every night from my window,
and it didn’t bring him back.
Because I needed somewhere else to go while staying right here.
Because the Japanese do much better with grief and someone gifted me a Jizo statue.
Because death doesn’t care if you’re a republican or democrat, a knitter or MMA fighter.
Because when you feel hurled out of orbit, there’s always a trail of yarn to follow back.

by Rae Hoffman Jager
Contrary Journal
published Summer 2022

A new generation of black artists are changing fashion photography

Ann Hanna in More Intelligent Life:

As a teenager growing up in Peckham, an ethnically diverse area of London, the photographer Nadine Ijewere observed the way that the women around her dressed. The neighbourhood “aunties”, as all older women were known, paired Nigerian patterns with Gucci handbags and Burberry motifs; they would style their afro hair in a way that was almost sculptural. Ijewere was interested in fashion photography, but she began to notice that the prints and hairstyles she saw everyday didn’t appear in magazines. She didn’t understand why these “pieces of art in themselves” were not more visible. At weekends, she would take photographs of her friends, many of whom were of mixed heritage like her, in the local park.

In 2018, at the age of 26, Ijewere became the first black woman to shoot a Vogue magazine cover, featuring the singer Dua Lipa draped in white feathers. Ijewere soon became known for her ethereal backdrops, her work with mixed-race models and her meticulous attention to black hair. In 2020, she did another photoshoot with Vogue, which accompanied a piece praising Nigerian “aunties”. The women in the shoot wore traditional head wraps and metallic floral and chequered prints in clashing colours. “I looked at those photographs and saw the women I grew up with,” Ijewere said. “I saw my heritage. And it was special.”

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Uterine Cancer Cases Are Rising. Here’s What to Know

Dani Blum in The New York Times:

A new national study has suggested that chemical hair straighteners could pose a small risk for uterine cancer. Rates of the disease are still relatively low, said Dr. Alexandra White, head of the environment and cancer epidemiology group of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the lead author on the study. The research also did not definitively show that hair straighteners cause cancer. But the findings are cause for concern, she said.

Rates of uterine cancer have been increasing in the United States, particularly for Black and Hispanic women. The number of cases diagnosed each year rose to 65,950 this year, compared to 39,000 15 years ago. Black women are also more likely to have more aggressive cases of the cancer, Dr. White said, and the study showed they were disproportionately more likely to use hair straighteners.

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