31 outubro 2006
O fold me away between blankets
And leave me alone.
And let the door of my room be locked forever –
Never to be opened, even for you, should you come.
Red wool and soft bed. Every chink definitely sealed.
Not a book by my bed – no, not one book.
Instead, at all times, there, just in reach,
Gorgeous patisseries and a bottle of Madeira.
Because I can’t take any more. I don’t even want toys.
What for? If I had them, I wouldn’t know how to play.
What are they doing to me with their precautions and their attentions?
I’m not cut out for a fondling. Hands off! And leave me alone.
Let there be night in my room. The curtains always closed,
And I – tucked up neatly in my nest, all warm – what a darling!
Yes, to stay in bed forever, never to stir! To grow mouldy!
At least, it would be a complete rest . . . Nonsense! The best of lives.
If my feet hurt and I don’t know how to walk straight
Why should I insist on going to parties, all dolled up like a lord?
Come, for once let my life go with my body
And resign itself to being hopeless . . .
Why should I go out if I catch cold unfailingly?
And who can I expect here, with my temperament?
Let your illusions go, Mario. Cosy eiderdown, cosy fire . . .
And forget the rest. This is enough, let’s face it . . .
Let’s give up. My longings will land me nowhere.
Why should I slog about in this imbecile crush?
Pity me! Help! For Christ’s sake, take me to hospital . . .
That is, to a private ward: send the bill to my father.
That’s the answer. A private ward, hygienic, spotless, modern and peaceful.
Preferably somewhere in Paris – it will make a better story –
In twenty years’ time my poetry might get through,
And to be bats in Paris has a certain distinction, in the grand manner.
As for you, my love, you may come every Thursday,
If you want to be nice, and find how I am.
But you’ll not set foot in my room, no, not in your sweetest mood –
Nothing doing, my pet. Baby’s sleeping. All the rest is finished.
from the Portuguese of MÁRIO DE SÁ CARNEIRO (1890–1916)
Nobody leads the cow
To the greenery cropped and dry
To the greenery without caresses.
The grass which receives it
Must be sweet as a silken thread,
A thread of silk sweet as a thread of milk.
For the children it is not lunch,
But the milk on the grass.
The grass before the cow,
The child before the grass.
from the French of PAUL ELUARD (1895–1952)
“The tiny ant . . .”
Brings the sun’s flame, burning and clear
Out of the ancient caves.
The sage, who learns instantly
Then tells the others
Where the mean peasant cunningly hid
A small mound of grain.
So out hurries the black, possessive horde,
One by one
They come to the pile, and they go.
They carry the plundered bounty
In mouths and in hands.
They arrive eager and light,
Heavy and loaded they go.
They block the narrow path,
And collide. While one sets down his burden
The other gives him the news
Of the new booty, more attractive,
And so the delicious labour
Always invites him.
Trodden and thick and laboured is the long track.
If each one comes with something,
Dearer, and always more cherished,
As it should be, is the thing
Without which there can be no life.
The stolen load is light
If the tiny animal dies without it.
So my thoughts
Scamper lightly to my fine woman,
Bump against hers coming to me.
They stop and confer.
Sweet is the prey
If they bring, as the ants do,
Anything at all to the precious
from the Italian of LORENZO DE’ MEDICI (1449–92)
The Interrupted Concert
The frozen drowsy pause
Of the half moon
Has broken the harmony
Of the deep night
The ditches protest silently,
Shrouded in hedges,
And the frogs, preachers of shadow,
In the old inn of the village
The sad music is over
And the most ancient star
Has doused its look.
The wind has lain down in the caverns
Of the dark mountain
And a single poplar – the Pythagoras
Of the blank plain –
Lifts its hundred year old hand
And strikes the moon.
from the Spanish of FEDERICO GARCÍA LORCA (1898–1936)
These poems will appear in Selected Translations by Ted Hughes, to be published next month (232pp. Faber. £20.)
But to my wife, my napping is the sign of a basic character flaw.
"You're napping again? I can't believe how lazy you are!"
She's not alone. To be an enthusiastic napper in 21st-century North America is to be out of step with your time and place. In most of the industrialized world, a nap is seen as a sign of weakness, either physical or moral. The very young and the very old nap. Sick people nap.
Bums nap. Healthy, productive adults do not nap.
We are a culture that celebrates action, doing, achieving, an attitude that leads to a disdain for sleep in general. We stay up late and get up early. We pull all-nighters. We'll sleep when we're dead, and in the meantime there's always a Starbucks on the corner.
It's a misguided attitude. A good nap is one of life's great pleasures, and the ability to nap is the sign of a well-balanced life. When we nap we snatch back control of our day from a mechanized, clock-driven society. We set aside the urgency imposed on us by the external world and get in touch with an internal rhythm that is millions of years old.
A nap distils the sweetness of a whole night's sleep down to a few minutes. Ideally, it starts on a soft bed, in a dark room, with a warm blanket. At first your mind lingers on what you've done that day, and what you still need to do. Then your thoughts start to unravel a little, become less coherent, more dreamlike. You feel your breathing deepen, your body relax. You lose yourself; you're asleep. After a few minutes you gradually become aware again of the bed, the room. You open your eyes, gather your thoughts, throw off the blankets. You're a new person.
There's no shortage of important historical nappers, many of them men of industry and action. Napoleon Bonaparte, John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, and Winston Churchill were nappers in the heroic vein.
On the literary side, Samuel Pepys, the 17th-century diarist, would sometimes have a nap in his office after a boozy lunch. The world's most famous insomniac, Marcel Proust's alter-ego in In Search of Lost Time, slept poorly at night but always managed to have a little nap before dinner.
Michel de Montaigne, the 16th-century French essayist, says nothing about his personal napping preferences, but he writes so admiringly of ancient generals who napped before their battles (and sometimes even during) that I'm sure I detect a fellow napper.
As a species, we seem designed to nap. Sleep researchers have long known that our natural circadian rhythms show two distinct dips in energy and alertness. The major dip starts in the late evening, helping us get ready for a good night's sleep.
But there's another significant dip in the early afternoon that, in a saner world, would have us all dropping off. From an evolutionary point of view, this pattern makes some sense — our ancestors evolved in the tropics, where a desire to sleep during the hottest part of the day probably helped ensure survival.
Sleep researcher Claudio Stampi, founder of the Chronobiology Research Institute in Boston, thinks the tendency to nap might have an even deeper meaning. It could be the remnant of ancient "polyphasic sleep" — a sleep pattern with no long nighttime sleep but lots of short naps throughout the day and night. Many animals sleep this way, as well as newborn babies. If Stampi is right, there was a time when our pre-human ancestors slept only in naps.
Still, by the time we were fully human, about 100,000 years ago, we had probably settled into getting our sleep in two major chunks: the big one at night, with a smaller chunk during the day. Modern hunter-gatherers, whose lifestyle is closest to that of early humans, tend to be big on afternoon snoozing.
The practice of napping continued through the human shift to agriculture. A late 16th-century painting by Flemish painter Abel Grimmer depicts a tired peasant snoozing on a haystack.
This daytime siesta became institutionalized in Spain and Latin American countries, with workers closing up shop and going home for a big meal and a nap before heading back to work for a few more hours. However, modern pressures seem to be gradually eliminating the siesta, at least in cities.
In fact, modernity and industrialization seem to have killed the nap for most of us. We no longer toil in the fields, or at home, or in a small shop. Instead, most of us head to offices, stores and factories where our employers purchase our labour by the hour. Understandably, they would rather not pay us for sleeping.
But sleep experts say a lot of us really could use that nap. James B. Maas, the Cornell University sleep expert, says most people don't get enough sleep and that an afternoon nap can help. In fact, Maas coined the term "power nap" to emphasize that a nap can make a person more productive and energetic.
Many studies have shown that napping improves mood and performance.
This year, researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, reported that they took test subjects who had had only five hours of sleep the night before and let them have naps of varying durations.
They found that even a 10-minute nap made the subjects feel less sleepy and more vigorous, and led to improved cognitive performance.
Nevertheless, mainstream sleep researchers are only grudging boosters of the nap. They tend to see it as second-best, necessary only for people who haven't gotten enough sleep the night before.
"A nap can rejuvenate you to get through the rest of the day," Maas says. "But we'd much rather have people with good nocturnal sleep, so they would not need to take a nap."
Sara C. Mednick, a psychologist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., has gone a step further. She says that naps can help even people who get plenty of nighttime sleep. In the lab, she took well-rested subjects and tested them with and without naps. She found that those who napped did better on various tests of cognitive performance than those who did not.
"Many famous, successful people have been using this as their secret tool," Mednick says. "What I've always found is that the CEO is usually the one who's allowed to nap. It's a huge leap, I think, for bosses to consider letting employees do the same thing that they do to be productive."
Those same bosses won't blink when an employee heads out to grab a cup of coffee to perk up — even though Mednick has found that coffee actually has a slight negative effect on cognitive ability.
Mednick, whose book Take a Nap! Change Your Life is coming out in December, says her research has converted her into a devout napper.
"I'm always amazed at how well I feel after I nap," she says. "It's a real gift."
In New York City it's a gift you may have to pay for. A company there called MetroNaps sells naps at $14 (U.S.) for 20 minutes. You go into one of their two locations and get into a nap "pod," a fancy reclining chair with a dome over it that blocks out light. Then you put on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and snooze. (MetroNaps also has a location in Vancouver International Airport.)
Like Mednick, MetroNaps sells naps as a productivity-enhancing experience for office workers, one that will send you back to your high-powered job with a better attitude and a better ability to get the job done.
If that's what it takes to pry a little room out of the day for more napping, I'm all for it. But for me, the productivity enhancement is almost beside the point. It's as if someone were arguing that I should eat lunch so that I could work harder.
In fact, the emphasis on productivity threatens to rob the nap of one of its pleasurable qualities — its illicitness. In an anti-sleep culture, taking a nap lets you feel that you've stolen a little piece of the day just for yourself.
Whether you're in your bed, on the couch, or under your desk, a nap is a chance to forget about the clock and tune into your own internal rhythms. When I nap, I accept my own nature, and the nature of the universe that made me. I become a Zen master of sleep.
Unless my wife is right. It could be that I'm just lazy.
“Don't write, Ralph. You'll bring shame on your family,” is another Thompson quote Steadman is fond of.
But where indeed is Steadman these days, that co-creator of early 1970s drug- and booze-drenched gonzo journalism as the artist who sketched Watergate-Middle America grotesqueries to accompany Thompson's words, and who decades later helped to shoot Thompson's ashes out of a 150-foot cannon? Where's Steadman when we need his satire the most?
Comfortably at home in England, thank you. “I was playing with my grandson, and you came and interrupted it,” says Steadman, who is now 70, over the phone. “And now they are going! Goddamn, I can't deal with this! Ah, bless your heart! What is this, The Globe and whatever?”
29 outubro 2006
"I can't talk about it, it cracks me up. There was a child ... Some other people were supposed to get on the boat, and they couldn't because it was too heavy, there were too many people on it. And the mother decided to drown" - she is wrestling with sobs now - "put herself in the water, to let the other children live. That for me is amazing." She falls silent for a long, suitably Gallic pause, her pupils flickering to the left and the right in agitation as she looks off into the middle distance, rudely interrupted by the wall behind my head.
It is utterly confounding to watch Juliette Binoche cry up close. It may be because it feels so familiar - she would doubtless consider her choice of roles diverse, but in the 20-odd-year sweep of her career she has shown a particular facility for tragedy. Most of her best and best-known roles have been women who, at some point, are shaped by sorrow:
Tereza, the unhappy waitress and wife in The Unbearable Lightness of Being; Michele, the homeless painter going blind in Leos Carax's Les Amants du Pont-Neuf; her Oscar-winning role as Hana, the nurse in The English Patient; the bewildered wife dealing with a stalker and a disintegrating marriage in last year's Hidden. There is a moment in Kieslowski's Three Colours: Blue, perhaps her greatest role and the one that made her a star, in which her character lies under a blanket, watching a video of her husband and daughter's funeral - she has been too badly injured in the crash that killed them to attend in person. Her face is almost immobile; and then there is a sudden, tiny pucker of her cheek that could knock you flat with the force of its grief.
But Binoche's tears are also astonishing because, frankly, interviews with famous actors in bland hotel rooms to promote their latest movies are not experiences that generally lend themselves to high emotion. Binoche is not the prickly subject that some who have encountered her describe, but she's a little cool, perhaps understandably. So it is fair to say I do not expect her to break down over the sort of anecdote that she must, on days like this, unearth and offer up to strangers countless times. It half occurs to me that she's acting it, and though I can't really believe that she has either the cynicism or the energy to bother, it's certainly deeply odd.
We are talking about motherhood because Breaking and Entering, her new movie, has a lot to say about the subject. Binoche plays Amira, a Bosnian refugee who fled Sarajevo with her son Miro, and now picks up work where she can as a seamstress in north London. After catching Miro breaking into his office, Will (Jude Law) follows him home, later engineering a meeting with Amira. The pair embark on an affair, Amira hoping to prevent Will from reporting Miro to the police. Will lives with another woman, Liv (Robin Wright Penn), but feels shut out by her closeness to her autistic daughter. He is squeezed between two women who have forged infinitely stronger relationships with their children than he can with them, a mystery he is unable to crack. At one point, pivotally, Binoche's character says to him: "You must know about mothers: they'll do anything to protect their children."
"I think that's true," Binoche says emphatically when I mention the line. She has two children, about whom she absolutely refuses to talk, and it occurs to me that she might be warning me off.
Binoche's own mother divorced her father when the actor was four and placed her in a boarding school, an experience she has said she can scarcely believe she survived. I mention that I found the line slightly crude, a view of motherhood that felt like the sort of thing someone who wasn't a mother might write for a movie. "Yes, I understand what you are saying." A long pause, while the eyes flicker again at something unseen over my shoulder. "It depends on mothers, maybe." And then she tells her story about the Titanic.
Breaking and Entering was written and directed by Anthony Minghella, the first time he and Binoche have worked together since The English Patient. It is a very different film; instead of the sweeping deserts of North Africa, Minghella has set his drama on the building sites transforming the seedy streets around King's Cross, and in sentiment it is very north London. Will works as a landscape architect, and the film declares its interest in what happens to a city and its underclass when it is "regenerated" by the well-meaning but slightly guilt-struck. It has much more in common with Truly, Madly, Deeply, Minghella's equally well-intentioned 1991 north London ghost fantasy, than the English Patient. (Minghella tips the former a wink by casting Juliet Stevenson, who had a memorably tearful scene with her therapist in the film, in a cameo role as Liv's counsellor.)
The film is not shy of its big themes - "cleaning up" an area pushes the invisible underclass to colonise another part of the city; crimes that fling rich and poor together result in "something [getting] smashed that's not just windows". At one point, Binoche's character actually says that "stealing someone's heart is the real crime". "Well, Anthony has that," Binoche says, then smiles. "He is like that. And you can't deny the human being you are. That there's a need of being moral somehow. And that's him. You have to allow the human being to be." In any case, she says with a little shrug, "it wasn't my concern because at the end he is editing, and this film has to belong to him. As well to me, but in a different way."
Making the two films with Minghella was a surprisingly similar experience, she insists, and yet she doesn't describe it that way. "On English Patient I was trembling the first month of shooting, I was always like" - she holds out her hand and quivers it - "a sheet of paper. You know. I felt my weaknesses, I felt so fragile ... Because of the trust Anthony gave me on The English Patient, it is like a moment I will never forget. Before a scene, for example, he wouldn't say words, he would say 'Fly!'" She flaps her arms, with a great big wide grin. "Fly! And I understood what he meant, because it was like, OK, getting into a void of not knowing what was going to happen. It's so frightening."
She has just finished a film called Orsay, with the Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien, which was fully improvised. "Before a shot you don't know where the camera is going to shoot and you don't know where you are supposed to be in the room. There's no mark, and you don't have the dialogue written." That kind of challenge is "now such a need for me as an actress. It becomes so much more [about] making movies out of trust and not out of fear. Because you have to trust that it's going to happen, the impossible is going to happen." She leans out of her chair and reaches for a terribly French, skinny white cigarette. "Is it OK if I ..."
She is assured enough of her clout in the industry to feel she has no reason to fear for her career. Today she is a frankly alarming, scorched platinum blonde, tufts of which she clasps distractedly in her hands. Despite it, she looks, even at a distance of a few feet, a decade younger than her 42 years, that luscious mouth as captivating as it ever was, to the point where you can catch yourself staring from time to time. All the same, she acknowledges that her roles tend to be mothers these days more often than lovers, a transition that not every actress regards with equanimity. Binoche, though, is pointedly bored by the suggestion that the roles, after a certain point, become scarcer or more limiting. "No, I have too many projects on the go." Can she appreciate that that might not be the experience of other women in the industry who are less privileged? "I see it more in journalists' questions than in reality. I don't have that problem."
In any case, she says in passing as we part, it would be dreadful to be 20 for your entire life. "I had a doctor-acupuncturist and she told me that sometimes when she has suicidal cases, she says to them: 'Stay alive, it's better than suicide because it's slow suicide, and it's kind of an abdication of your own self,' you know!" And she breaks into a cackle that comes out of the blue and hits you like a car.
"It's true! You're losing your teeth, you're losing your hearing, you're losing your body, it's degrading, bit by bit. Slowly. It's the best way. You wanna commit suicide, stay alive!" And her laughter is scarcely less perplexing than her tears.
Guiden doesn't speculate on the site about casting yet (though she is insistent that Brad Pitt is not now, nor has he ever been, interested in playing Buckley himself), but no doubt Buckley's many fans out there have their own ideas about who should play the lead role. Buckley was 31 at the time of his death -- there are a lot of actors out there who might fit the bill. Speak up, legions of Buckley fans: Who would you love to see play the part of Buckley in Mystery White Boy, once the script is ready to go?
Until recently, Portugal's cultural reference points - golf courses in the Algarve, and Mateus Rosé - weren't exactly aspirational. But with Mourinho, overcoated, excitingly surly and rugged, in one man embodying more style and machismo than the entire Italian peninsula, surely now anything is possible.
"Has there been a Mourinho effect on the sale of Portuguese wine?" I ask Danny Cameron, outgoing chairman of the Association of Portuguese Wine Importers.
He smiles wryly. "Not exactly, though when Mourinho gave Sir Alex Ferguson a bottle of 1964 Barca Velha [the iconic Douro red], we generated more wine PR than we managed in the whole of Euro 2004. But mostly we are plugging away with what you might call marginally unhinged enthusiasm. Portugal accounts for only about 0.33% of wine sold in restaurants and bars, and just over 1% sold elsewhere in this country. But it is steadily getting better as people start to realise what the country has to offer, especially in the £6-£9 range."
What's best about Portuguese wine - obscure and tongue-twisting grape varieties, a "real" and untamed taste, rather than that of a "commercial product" - can be offputting to some, but I kind of like that. It is, therefore, slightly galling for me, as a Leeds supporter, to have to report that the directors of Chelsea FC recently put a Portuguese wine on their corporate hospitality menu. According to the bemused importer, "It's been going so fast, everyone's taken aback. The producer, Quinta do Vallado, is only small and can't quite believe what's happening."
There are four great Portuguese wines below. Buy them before the Chelsea fans get to them.
Casa de Saima 2003, Bairrada
Description: When the word 'alive' appears in my tasting notes, it's always a good sign, and this wine is one with which you could almost converse. Tantalisingly perfumed, with firm but elegant tannins bound with a forest berries taste.
Drink it with: Deep, rich winter stews, black pudding, or chewy chunks of salami.
Quinta de Azevedo 2005, Vinho Verde
Description: This dry, prickly, sharply acidic thirst-slaker is a model vinho verde from northern Portugal. In summer it's a casual hammock or pavement cafe drink; in autumn and winter, it needs a lounging-round-the-kitchen attitude.
Drink it with: Nibble at roasted almonds and move on to salad and not-too-meaty white fish.
Vale da Clara Douro Tinto 2004
Description: A hearty but surprisingly refreshing blend of port grapes from the steep, hot slopes of the Douro Valley. The wine is unoaked, and veers towards a savoury swell rather than stickily ripe character.
Drink it with: Lamb tagine.
Quinta do Vallado Reserva 2004, Douro
Description: The elder sibling to the wine the Chelsea set have been necking, and a trophy winner at International Wine Challenge. Made from port grapes, this is solid, complex, earthy, burnished and delicious.
Drink it with: José Mourinho or, failing that, a very fine joint of beef.
A iniciativa - que tem como parceiros a Comissão Nacional da Unesco e a Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia - visa galardoar investigadoras com menos de 35 anos. Este ano as galardoadas são: Filipa Mendes, 30 anos, bióloga, a fazer pós-doutoramento no Instituto Nacional de Saúde Dr. Ricardo Jorge, em Lisboa, pelo trabalho mecanismos moleculares associados à Fibrose Quística, ou Mucoviscidose; Leonor Sarmento, 33 anos, bióloga, investigadora do Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, em Oeiras, pela investigação sobre a proteína RAG (Recombination Activating Genes) e a sua influência no desenvolvimento da Leucemia; Patrícia Figueiredo, 33 anos, doutorada em Neuroimagiologia pela Universidade de Oxford, e investigadora do Instituto Biomédico de Investigação em Luz e Imagem, da Universidade de Coimbra, pelo seu estudo sobre aprendizagem e Rosalina Fonseca, 29 anos, doutorada em Neurociências pela na Universidade Ludwig-Maximillian e investigadora do Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, pelo estudo da reacção dos neurónios a vários estímulos.
1. Kurt Cobain - $50M
2. Elvis Presley - $42M
3. Charles M. Schulz - $35M
4. John Lennon - $24M
5. Albert Einstein - $20M
6. Andy Warhol - $19M
7. Dr. Seuss - $10M
8. Ray Charles - $10M
9. Marilyn Monroe - $8M
10. Johnny Cash - $8M
11. J.R.R Tolkien - $7M
12. George Harrison - $7M
13. Bob Marley - $7M
By Forbes via Luxist
27 outubro 2006
Prospero, duc de Milan déchu de son trône pour avoir préféré la quête du savoir à celle du pouvoir, se voit forcé à l'exil avec sa fille Miranda. Après quelques années passées sur une île mystérieuse, un alignement inusité des astres lui permet d'orchestrer une tempête qui fait échouer sur le rivage l'ennemi responsable de sa chute, le roi de Naples, accompagné de sa suite. Profitant alors des vertus magiques de l'île et des ruses de l'esprit Ariel, Prospero entraîne ces naufragés dans un dédale d'illusions, dans le dessein de se venger. Ses machinations porteront fruit, mais non sans l’avoir obligé, au terme de cette aventure, à quelques renoncements.
De cette pièce-testament de Shakespeare, traduite et adaptée ici par Normand Chaurette, les créateurs multimédias Michel Lemieux et Victor Pilon, en collaboration avec la metteure en scène Denise Guilbault, offrent une lecture des plus inspirées. Sortilèges, apparitions et poésie créent, grâce au virtuel, une tempête inimaginable qui s’adresse tant aux sens qu'à l'intelligence pour donner à l'oeuvre toute son ampleur onirique.
Après avoir ébloui le public avec Anima et Orféo, les créateurs de 4D art ont choisi, pour leur première collaboration avec le Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, un chef-d'oeuvre du répertoire classique, et déploient tout leur savoir-faire pour mettre en action l'« ingénieuse machine » dont rêvait Shakespeare s il y a 400 ans. « L'étoffe dont les rêves sont faits » devient, à l'heure du numérique, évanescence et pure magie!
de William Shakespeare
de quem é?
26 outubro 2006
a gostarem das outras pessoas e a serem bem comportadas, certo?"
...e o rapazinho de quatro anos continuou...
"Bem, os cães já nascem a saber fazer isso,
portanto não precisam de ficar cá tanto tempo como nós."
25 outubro 2006
An emigrant to Berlin himself, author Mark Ehrman breaks down the top 50 expat countries and offers true-life tales from American expatriates worldwide, documenting their experiences and compiling all the best tricks to help the process go as smoothly as possible.
Getting Out is the second volume in Process’ Self-Reliance Series, a new series aimed at helping urbanites make smart choices to live sustainably and self-sufficiently in the 21st century.___________
I know habeas corpus was suspended during the American Civil War, but now? Why? Jeez
"Two misleadingly comical anecdotes reveal the abysmal depths of coalition unpreparedness. Having allowed the dispersed Iraqi army to stay dispersed, the American viceroy started building a new one, catchily called the NIC (or New Iraqi Corps). It was pointed out, after a while, that this was the Arabic equivalent of calling it the FUQ. Similarly, when Frank Miller of the National Security Council joined a Humvee patrol in Baghdad (March 2004) he was heartened to see that all the Iraqi children were giving him the thumbs-up sign, unaware that in Iraq the thumb (shorter yet chunkier) does duty for the middle digit."
"GEORGE W. BUSH HAS prevailed in two general elections because, very broadly, male voters feel that he’s the kind of guy “you can have a beer with”. Whereas in fact George W. Bush is the kind of guy you can’t have a beer with, under any circumstances: as they say at AA, he has come to treasure his sobriety. You can have a beer with John Kerry and Al Gore; and you can have a beer with Bush Sr and Bill Clinton (and pretty well all the others, including George Washington). But you can’t have a beer with Bush Jr."
I start my journey to Koh Chang island, Thailand, at London Waterloo. Stepping on to the Eurostar to Brussels, knowing that I am about to travel 8,000 miles overland, feels mind-blowingly epic. At Brussels, I connect to another high-speed service that gets me to Cologne later in the evening. I have a couple of hours to while away in Cologne HauptBahnhof before embarking on the 36-hour service to Moscow. It is not a bad place to be killing time; there is a cathedral outside and a food mall downstairs.
When I board the train to Moscow, a burly Russian conductor shows me to my three-berth couchette. This train feels alien, as if I am in another country already. In the early hours of the morning, a young German mother and her two small children join me in the couchette, and a couple of hours later we are woken by a thunderous banging on the door: Polish border control.
I have a mad scramble for my passport and a torch in my face before I once again try to sleep. It is stuffy with four of us in the couchette.[Read on, and Part 2 here]
24 outubro 2006
Bombarded by petty rules, bossy advice and celebrity tittle-tattle, we have forgotton how to be adults. It's time we grew up, says Michael Bywater
I imagine myself to be a grown-up, as, presumably, do you. You think that because you negotiated puberty and developed secondary sexual characteristics, and got qualifications and opened a bank account and subjected yourself to the scrutiny of anti-terrorism laws and anti-money-laundering laws and learned to drive and got a job and perhaps a spouse and maybe children, and quite possibly even pay your taxes, you are a grown-up.
Sometimes, things strike you as a bit odd. It strikes you, for example, as out of kilter that between getting off the plane and reaching the outside world at London Heathrow there were, at last count, 93 notices telling you off for things you hadn't done or which it hadn't even occurred to you to do.
The plain fact is that you are being treated like a baby. You, I, all of us are on the receiving end of a sustained campaign to infantilise us: our tastes, our responses, our behaviour, our private thoughts, our decisions, our buying habits, our philosophies, our political sensibilities.
We are told what to think. We are talked down to. We are distracted with colour and movement, patronised, spoon-fed, our responses pre-empted and our autonomy eroded with a fine, rich, heavily funded contempt.
Here is a random sample of what is implicit in the assumptions that are made about all of us:
We are unable to control our appetites;
We cannot postpone gratification;
We have little sense of self, and what we do have is deformed;
We have no articulable inner life;
We are pre- or sub-literate;
We are solipsistic;
We do not have the ability to exercise responsible autonomy;
We require constant surveillance and constant admonition;
We are potentially, if not actually, violent;
We have no social sensibilities beyond the tribal;
We have no discrimination.
Do we still want to sign up to this? Do we want to be Big Babies?
My grandfather was born in 1888 and he didn't have a lifestyle. He didn't need one: he had a life.
He had a hat and a car and a wife and two sons and a housekeeper and a maid and a nanny for the children, and the housekeeper had a dog and the dog had a canker and lived in a kennel.
My grandfather read Charles Dickens mostly. Sometimes they went on holiday. His house was furnished with furniture.
There were some exotic things in it, brought back from exotic places. The most exotic things were African carvings and
The brassware was brought back from
Dr Chand didn't have a lifestyle either. Nobody had a lifestyle then, because there was nobody to tell them to, and anyway they were too busy having lives.
They were grown-ups. They went about their business. In my grandfather's case, it was seeing patients and making them better, where possible. In Dr Chand's case, it was the same, because he was a doctor too.
I suspect that my grandfather's life was real in a sense that my father's life hasn't quite been, and my life is not at all.
The crucial difference is my grandfather's lack of self-consciousness, and that self-consciousness is a hallmark of the perpetual, infantilised adolescents we have all become, monsters of introspection hovering twitchily on the edge of self-obsession, occasionally aware that the life that exists only to be examined is barely manageable; barely, indeed, a life.
It is a preparation for a life. The consistently introspective life of the Big Baby is as much a simulacrum as life on Big Brother.
To keep the simulacrum going we need help. And we need that help because that help is available.
It's the old paradox. We need distraction from our fragmented and solitary lives because the distractions available to us have rendered our lives fragmented and solitary.
And we need lifestyle advice from magazines and websites and newspaper supplements and health advisers and personal trainers precisely because we are being nagged about our lifestyle all the time by magazines and websites and newspaper supplements and health advisers and personal trainers…
If one of the markers of adulthood is autonomy, then one of the preconditions of autonomy is being left alone.
My grandfather wasn't nagged. Once he turned 21, he was a man, and a grown-up, and nobody battered him round the clock with opportunities he was missing, miseries he didn't know he had, aspirations ditto, inadequacies doubly so.
Nobody told him about being good in bed, grooming tips, what his car said about him, what he should have to eat, how much he should drink, what his house said about him, how Benares brassware was so over, where he should go on holiday, what this season's must-have product would be, how his suits should look.
He knew some of these things, and didn't care about the others because nobody was drawing them to his attention. He knew what his suits should look like: trousers, waistcoat, jacket, all made out of the same material.
He knew about grooming: you shaved. He knew what he should eat: breakfast, lunch, dinner. He probably had no idea that good-in-bed even existed, or that furniture did anything except furnish, or that where he went on holiday was of any significance, or that his car said anything about him at all, except 'Oh, here comes Dr Bywater, I recognise his car.'
But the Big Babies have no such autonomy, and are harangued to death; nor have they learned the adult trick of simply ignoring the fishwife-and-huckster voices. Instead, Baby tries to comply.
Believing it when he is told that he is unhappy, he then believes the cure the same fishwives and hucksters proceed to offer.
The house, the furniture, the car, the exotic holidays, the new wines to try, the squid and worms and foreign muck cooked in jam with the gravy underneath the meat, the peculiar vegetables like weeds or tumours, best thrown away; the uncomfortable places to go, the uncomfortable ways to get to them ('Travel the Amazon on anaconda-back'), the uncomfortable and dismaying sex ('Do we have to do buggery?'), the uncomfortable and dismaying life, funded on credit, built on debt, Carol Vorderman smiling as the bailiffs home in and the Official Receiver prepares for another day's official receiving.
And it is all a world of make-believe, a set of status symbols notable only for symbolising someone else's status… except that when there is nothing but status for the Big Baby in the Age of Distraction, then our symbols are our status.
We live on a diet of shadows, and we can only imitate them, stuck in the playpen, waiting to be distracted.
Admittedly, it's tricky, being grown up. The great thing about being a Big Baby is it's so easy and so rewarding, and everybody else can just bugger off.
Once one has embraced the 'isms' that characterise the Baby Boomer's creed of modernity - individualism, relativism, voluntarism - and lapsed into the hooting, crooning self-validating babyhood that inevitably follows, then one is beyond criticism.
Anyone who says otherwise just doesn't understand us and, what is more, is just plain wrong.
Being grown up is not nearly as comfortable. Let's, just for a moment, beg the question and say that one of the qualities of being a grown-up is what the Romans called discrimen and what we would perhaps call 'discrimination', though that doesn't quite cover it.
Discrimen is the ability to judge a situation and to take right action without being sidetracked by peripheral considerations. Sailors would call it 'seamanship'.
Surgeons speak of 'decisiveness'. In all cases, discrimen is about knowing what to do in the circumstances, even if there is no guarantee of pulling it off.
But if discrimen is a cardinal virtue of adulthood, the tenets of infantilism work against it. Discrimen calls for right judgment; but the idea of something being 'right' is in profound conflict with individualism (which says I can only claim my judgment as being right for me).
It is in conflict with relativism (which says others may have different ideas, which are right for them) and with voluntarism (which says that those different ideas are just as valid as mine, because they, too, have been chosen).
Infantility, indefinitely prolonged, is also the indefinite prolongation of (false) promise.
It's never too late… never too late to stomp, cadaverous, around the stage singing 'Can't get no satisfaction'.
Never too late to cast off the old wife and find a new one. Never too late to make the big killing, to score the goal, to find the perfect shoes, to acquire the perfect six-pack, rack, complexion, butt, pecs or thighs. Never too late (hell, someone must be answering the spam) to get the perfect dick, pumped up with a scoopful of mail-order Viagra; never too late to give her the perfect orgasm, get the perfect house, fill it with the perfect furniture, take the perfect vacation, drive the perfect car…
As the body ineluctably decays (the mind's long gone, of course; who needs it?), perpetual infantility glosses over the rheum, the pains and creaks and flaccidities. As the opportunities dwindle, perpetual infantility offers us illusion on easy terms with pick-'n'-mix spirituality, self-improvement, angels and goddesses, diversion and aspiration.
As time slides past, doling out its irreversible quanta, perpetual infantility offers us… the perfect wristwatch: shockproof, waterproof, antimagnetic, a perpetual movement which says everything about us except the single intolerable truth: that we have had it and are headed for oblivion, tick by tick.
We have had to make it up as we go along, we Big Babies. And we have not done a terribly good job. We want (don't we?) to grow up. How? Here's the simple answer: watch carefully, ask why, and mind our manners. It's really that simple. How would the world be if everyone did it?
It would be grown up.
Don't be affronted. Being affronted (or offended, or complaining about 'inappropriateness') is no response for a grown-up. Only children believe the world should conform to their own view of it: a sort of magical thinking that can only lead to warfare, terrorism, unmanageable short-term debt and the Blair/Bush alliance
Mistrust anything catchy, whether it's the Axis of Evil, advertising slogans, or blatant branding ('New Labour'). Catchiness exists to prevent thought and to disguise motive. Grown-ups can think for themselves
Ignore celebrities, except when they are doing what they are celebrated for doing: acting, playing football et cetera. Skill does not confer moral, political or intellectual discrimination. (Except in the case of writers. Writers know everything and can lecture you with impunity.) If a celebrity is not celebrated for doing anything but being a celebrity, smile politely but pay no notice
We should not assume that market forces will decide wisely. The market is rigged by manipulation and infantilisation
Consider our own motivations. We may rail about being treated like children, ordered about, kept from the truth, nannied and exploited… but are we complicit in it? Could the reward actually be infantilisation itself?
Autonomy is the primary marker of being grown up. Babies, children and adolescents don't have any. We don't want to be in their boat
Suspect administration Its purpose is to free the organisation to do what it's meant to do: but the triumph of the administrators - the lawyers, the accountants, the professional managers - means that too many organisations now believe that what they are meant to do is administer themselves. This is a profoundly infantile attitude
Do not love yourself unconditionally. Such love is for babies and comes from their mothers. Ignore fashion, particularly in clothes. You don't want to look like a teenager for ever
Never do business with a company offering 'solutions' as in 'ergonomic furniture solutions which minimise the postural strain associated with sitting' (chairs) and 'Post Office mailing solutions' (brown paper). The word suggests we have a problem, but since we are grown-ups, that is for us to decide
Denounce relativism at every turn. Shouting 'not fair' is childish. Demanding respect without earning it is childish. Don't fear seriousness. Babies aren't allowed to be serious
Watch our language. Is there really much difference between a six-year-old in a fright-wig and his father's waders shouting 'I'm the Mighty Wurgle-Burgle-Urgley-Goo' and an ostensible grown-up demanding to be called 'Tony Blair's Respect Tsar'?
Hide. Grown-ups are not required to be perpetually accountable, while the instincts of government and big business, both of which are, almost by their nature, great infantilisers, are to keep an eye on everyone all the time
Eat it up. There is nothing more babyish than having dietary requirements
Never vote for, do business with or be pleasant to anyone who uses the words 'ordinary people'
The BridgeMore people choose to end their lives at the Golden Gate Bridge than anywhere else in the world. THE BRIDGE offers glimpses into the darkest, and possibly most impenetrable corners of the human mind. The fates of the 24 people who died at the Golden Gate Bridge in 2004 are linked together by a 4 second fall.
It's on on Hollywood and it's out on DVD.
Brian Cox is Lektor (yep), Tom Noonan is the best Dollarhyde, a very young Joan Allen is Reba, and a very, very young William Petersen (who? CSI :) is Graham.
I like everybody in Red Dragon, nonetheless (and why not?)
And the music is overpowering prog-rock... And Goth?
23 outubro 2006
Independent bookshops are supposedly on their knees - so what would drive a lawyer with no retail experience to open one? Introducing a regular blog on the trials and tribulations of the book trade, Nic Bottomley, proud co-proprietor of Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights, explains his decision.
Eight months ago I worked my final day as a finance lawyer in the Prague office of a large law firm. My wife, Juliette (also a disaffected lawyer), our Czech dog, Vlasska, and I moved into our new house near Bath and began plotting our new careers as independent booksellers. Joining us in our venture was Juliette's brother, Harvey (a disaffected forensic accountant), newly returned from a year of travelling in Asia.
We have no retail experience. We love books, but have never before attempted to sell them. But all three of us wanted a new challenge, to escape office life and to be motivated by our work. Most of all, we wanted to create a bookshop that focused on the pure indulgence of reading; that would be everything that everyone tells you a bookshop should be. Two weeks ago, after months of planning, we finally opened Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights on John Street in Bath.
Starting in earnest later this week, I'll be blogging for Guardian Unlimited Books on the life of a new, independent bookshop, swimming against the chain-filled stream. Before I begin, though, in order to explain where we've been so far, here are some of the questions and comments we've encountered most frequently since announcing our decision, and my thoughts on them.
It was something we decided during our honeymoon, on the balcony of an Alaskan B&B. "Why don't we," I suggested, "try doing something that we're really interested in? We could create a fabulous bookshop like that one in Seattle ..."
"Well," said Juliette, "why don't we?"
And that was that.
"You'll never make a penny. Independent bookshops are a dying breed"
When we started our research it was easy to find hundreds of articles on the plight of the independent bookshop. It was trickier to find any suggesting that bookselling was a good thing to go into. But there are two things that continue to fuel my belief (on good days) that we will succeed and grow.
The first is the momentum in media and public opinion behind the pro-independent movement across all trades. Every week you will find articles on this website, and in every local and national paper, praising the personal service and quality products found in independently-owned shops.
The second is a belief that it is at least possible to avoid the most obvious pitfalls. One of the first research books we read was the Complete Guide to Starting and Running a Bookshop, published in 2003 by the Booksellers Association. Although on the whole remarkably on-point and rather useful, its chapter on stock control contains five pages on card index stock control systems. I couldn't believe my eyes. Surely any such chapter should begin "Historically, bookshops used manual stock control systems. However, to manage a profitable bookshop now, it is essential to use a computerised system"?
I don't want to come over all Darwinian, but if you spend your time grumbling about supermarkets' deep discounting, the rise of internet booksellers and the dominance of Waterstone's instead of getting on with differentiating your stock, enhancing your service and buying a computer, then you don't need bookselling experience to see that you will fail.
Having said all that, it's altogether possible that we won't make a penny. Watch this space.
"Oooh, you are brave" ( for which, read "foolish")
For me, this has always been an ambitious project. We want to build a great bookshop and one that will pay our mortgage and eventually make us a good living. That's why we ended up in the centre of Bath rather than in any of the smaller towns that we first considered when we began our research.
Ultimately, in fact, we ended up just 100m from a branch of Waterstone's - but I see that as an opportunity rather than bravery. If we are to be a genuine alternative to Waterstone's and other chain stores, then we need to be close by so that the book lovers of Bath have no excuse not to give us a try. And if those customers that profess to like independents carry on using Waterstone's, that will tell us we still have work to do to.
"How do bookshops get their books?"
I could write a book (a dull one, admittedly) on the things we've had to think about for the first time - from figuring out where you buy books, to sourcing shelves and cash registers - in the seven months since we began the real nitty gritty of setting up our business. Of course, starting from scratch, we've had moments of incredible self-doubt. The time when we wrote the words "Business Plan" on a blank word document, stared at them for five minutes and then went to make another cup of tea, for example. Or the occasion we wrote "Abbott, Edwin A., 'Flatland', 014043531X" - and realized that that left us with just 7,499 more books to choose. Or the day we stood in the empty premises we'd just leased, looking at the pink, furry, 70s wallpaper stretching up to the dado rail and the skeleton of a starling in the fireplace, and said "Right, let's get these mouldy carpets up, for starters".
We've had a handful of real lows too. We lost out on the first shop we looked at after shelling out over £800 for a survey. We were messed around by our bank, which offered us the overdraft we needed and then bizarrely tried to change its mind. And by the time our business plan had reached 60 pages and we'd been adding book titles to spreadsheets for 14 hours a day for six weeks, exhaustion and an overwhelming need for a day off (which still hasn't materialised) did begin to override the "excitement of a new challenge". But all that's behind us now, and here we are.
"Are you part of a chain?"
We opened our doors with very little fanfare on June 19, in order to give ourselves a chance to master the scariest thing about the whole project: the till. To our amazement, as soon as the doors were open, people came in, bought books and said nice things. They said they'd tell their friends, and then their friends came and told us they'd been told. They said we'd created a lovely place to browse. A retired publisher said we had a wonderful selection of books. I could have kissed him. That comment alone validated the process of painstakingly selecting every one of those books.
And yes, on day three, one customer did ask if we were part of a chain. I decided to take this as a compliment: that we'd made something professional enough to be mistaken for a chain. I'm confident that closer inspection of our claw-foot bath book display, our pot of coffee and, hopefully, our eclectic mix of books, allows our independence to shine through.
"Can you repeat that?"
We came up with the name over dinner. We'd been playing with lots of horrific pun-ridden names ("Fully Booked", for example, or - gulp - "What a Word's Worth") and just couldn't take any more. Instead, we started thinking of something far more over the top and came up with "Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights". We liked the idea of something unique, that sounded old-fashioned and ground-breaking at the same time.
And yes, I suppose I'm Mr B, although in my head he is an anonymous cane-wielding philanthropic book collector who searches the world for great books for our customers while the shop is manned by his faithful assistant the Book Monkey (the character on our logo).
Actually, I suppose that makes me the monkey.
· Mr B will begin blogging on the Culture Vulture later this week.*
Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights, 14/15 John Street, Bath, BA1 2JL, is open 9.30am-6.30pm Monday to Saturday (except for Thursdays and Fridays when it opens late until 8.30 for pre-dinner browsing). Read more about the shop and buy online from it at mrbsemporium.com from Monday July 17.
The Animals We Love, The Animals We Eat
As I write this, one of my cats is sitting on my lap. If a cat is not on my lap, or playing chase across the keyboard, or meowing for attention; if a cat is not calling for more food or fresh water, or seeking the warmth and tickle of my hand and the sound of my voice saying, “Yes, you are a lovely cat,” it is because all three of them have finally wandered away to warmer corners of the house for their naps. Principessa, my clumsy and rambunctious collie, stays outdoors. If she were inside, she would make it impossible for me to do anything besides entertain her and provide her with constant reassurance that she is loved and noticed. Her favourite trick is to run circles around an unsuspecting human, and once her target is sufficiently overwhelmed, to flop on her back for a tummy scratch. There is no such thing in her world as too much attention.
As a veterinarian with a practice in rural Quebec, I live and work with animals, but I still find it hard to let go of a sense of wonder when I consider our relationship to cats and dogs. I continue to be amazed at the way these two particular species have become fixtures on the positive side of our emotional experience?—?at the same time that livestock and poultry are increasingly invisible, distant from our thoughts and our daily lives. The gap between pets as companions and the flocks and herds of similarly sentient creatures that provide us with food seems to be widening each year. The deeper our empathy grows toward pets, the more startling becomes our indifference to the animals we eat.
After a few thousand years of providing casual companionship and help with hunting, guarding, and pest control, it has taken only fifty years, along with a few technological and medical innovations, to allow cats and dogs to cross the final frontiers that separated them from the most intimate spaces in our homes. Now they sleep in our children’s arms, occupy our beds, stroll along our countertops, and laze in our bathroom sinks.
It was only in 1947 that cats moved indoors full time. This was when clay-based kitty litter was first commercialized, a product that was much cleaner than the sand-, dirt-, or ash-filled boxes that people had previously used. When cats crossed the threshold, their needs became integrated with the family’s. Before, if a cat fell sick, we would assume that it was too late to treat whatever was wrong with it. We assumed the animal would know it was time to head off to a secluded place to die. That was “natural.” Now, we consider it natural to go to extremes to address our pets’ illnesses, prolong their lives, and respond to their suffering from the earliest signs. Even though cats are famously grumpy patients?—?I can attest to that?—?they do seem to know we are trying to help. At least, we like to think they do.
These changes have all come about since the early twentieth century, when feline medicine was even more marginal than the lowly canine practice. In those days, veterinarians treated large animals exclusively; the most skilful ones specialized in horses. When automobiles began to replace horses, many veterinarians felt that their profession was on the wane. In fact, the boom in animal care was still to come.
Today, there are 9,602 licensed veterinarians in Canada, of which 4,347 work with pets. With so many cat and dog doctors out there, specialized knowledge inevitably trickles down. Experienced cat owners have learned to identify a few common feline diseases; they know, for instance, that a middle-aged cat who suddenly loses a significant amount of weight might be suffering from diabetes, an overactive thyroid, or cancer. For dog owners, the first signs of bladder infection are small red-tinged puddles in the house. Nutrition and health care (including anti-flea medication that is almost 100-percent effective), along with a few grooming techniques, have made life with pets much more manageable.
Cats and dogs now have longer life expectancies than ever, which has forced us to recalibrate the standard equation of one human year equalling seven dog or cat years. A few years ago, I assisted with the euthanasia of a thirty-year-old Siamese cat?—?the wizened feline equivalent of Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the record age of 122.
Our connection to pets is so strong that we will do anything to keep them alive. We initially become attached to our animals because of their temperament and idiosyncrasies: kittens are predictably cuddly and playful, dogs cheerful and mature, cats enigmatic. Their habits soon become part of our daily routines, and a source of comfort; health researchers have noted that animals reduce tension and anxiety levels in humans. While people might once have considered it silly to grieve over an animal’s death, it is now perfectly acceptable to mourn the death of one’s pet, sometimes to the same degree as the death of a close friend.
Our pets now share our lives in every way, including many of the same diseases and lifestyle risks: a rising obesity rate from too many cheap and easy calories, hormonal disorders, arthritis, cancers, and the indignities of geriatric life. Like us, they also face the potential dilemma of being unwanted. One of the most common causes of death in cats and dogs is euthanasia for unclaimed or abandoned individuals; the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies estimates that 19 percent of dogs and 43 percent of cats presented to shelters are euthanized.
We love them, we leave them. And still, cats and dogs are the animals we care for the most. We have developed safe and mostly painless ways to tidy up the messy problems of their sex drive (and they go on to behave as if they hadn’t lost a vital part of themselves). Best of all, they look us in the eye and inspire a response.
I believe that cats have a specific cat-to-human dialect. Nearly every cat I know appears to talk to humans, using sounds and a register that they don’t use to communicate among themselves. One study I still like to cite, even though it was done in the 1940s, concluded that felines have a vocabulary that includes expressions of acknowledgement (“mhrng”), bewilderment (“ma ou:?”), and anger (“wa:ou:”). (The colons indicate vowel prolongation.) The cat-word I hear most often around my house is “mhng-a:ou,” a complaint applied to the children, the weather, a lack of attention, and most of the time, each other.
I never fail to notice when writers and celebrities admit their attachment to pets. Doris Lessing and Colette have loved their cats in print. Marley and Me, the story of a relationship with a dog, has occupied bestseller lists for more than a year, and Roy MacGregor has followed up with The Dog and I. Interspecies friendships seem to be on the rise.
The manner in which people make pets part of the family is touching; it sometimes distracts me from my disappointment over the conventional brutality of human conflict, our inability to maintain sensible momentum toward social and economic justice, and our muddle-headedness about environmental distress. It’s been a long road to canine and feline integration, but we now seem to have arrived at a place of mutual good feeling. Humans and their cats and dogs have bonded.
This is the success story of our relationship with animals. Now for the depressing part. When it comes to cows, pigs, chickens, and, more and more in Canada, sheep, it seems as though we would prefer it if these animals were efficient machines or fast-growing plants. In North America, during roughly the same period in which our attachment to dogs and cats has become so intense, we have increasingly segregated these other domesticated animals from everyday life and kept ourselves in the dark about the unpleasant specifics of industrial farming and slaughterhouse conditions.
If only eggs would grow in petri dishes instead of inside hens, locked up in tiny cubicles in windowless warehouses, then this most perfect food wouldn’t be spoiled by our knowledge that something about the process seems terribly wrong. The senses we share with animals tell us it is wrong, but because most of us are physically removed from the realities of industrial farms, these instincts and sensations stay buried, and we are soothed instead by the arguments of advertising and accounting.
On several occasions, I have tried to overcome these instincts through repeated exposure, but this turned out to have the opposite effect. I remain shaken by the scale and structure of industrial farming — by feedlots in Saskatchewan and Alberta that host fifteen thousand head of cattle, by mégaporcheries hidden at the ends of rural roads throughout Quebec (credibly exposed in Hugo Latulippe’s 2001 documentary, Bacon, le film), and especially by our versions of industrial American dairies, which are remarkably inefficient.
On industrial dairy farms, many cows become lame or infertile, or are culled for ground beef at an early age because of the stresses associated with intensive milking. Before a farm can profit from a cow, she must be raised to maturity (which takes fifteen months, during which time she receives vaccinations, other medical care, and specialized feed), successfully impregnated (nine months), and milked through her first lactation cycle (ten months). Not until the second lactation cycle, following another gestation period, does a cow’s milk production pay off the initial investment. Thanks to superior genetics, milk production averages an impressive 9,242 kilograms per cow per year, but individual cows are not valued. Only the sheer scale of the industry and the demand for cheap hamburger seem to prevent the system from collapse.
Cutting-edge poultry and egg operations are even less humane. And when these manufacturers boast of having achieved a source of cheap protein that is safe and nutritious, they fail to mention that the meat and eggs are also tasteless and that the truly affordable wings and thighs contain too much grease, water, and gristle. My kids refuse to eat bland white mass-produced breast meat even when it’s fried in crispy batter and served with honey sauce. They’ve tasted better chicken closer to home, and they’re holding out till it comes around again.
In veterinary school, I learned about chicken anatomy and physiology, and about virulent and contagious diseases?—?serious threats to chickens kept in overcrowded, stressful conditions. Once, we visited a chicken abattoir, following which my roommate was ill for ten days with a confirmed case of campylobacter diarrhea even though she had not come close to a carcass. We also studied the problems of heart failure and ruptured leg tendons, and observed scientists penetrating the chicken genome in pursuit of new ways to maximize production.
Now that I live on a small farm with chickens, I have seen first-hand how they enjoy foraging for grass and scrounging and pecking for earthworms. But in veterinary schools, there is little or no discussion of the value of foraging. Also barely mentioned are the human-animal bond and gerontology, both of which have become serious issues in dog and cat medicine. No wonder there are only about fifty poultry vets in Canada; students don’t want to be chicken doctors.
Domestic chickens have essentially been split into two separate groups. The skinny “frugal” breeds don’t put much flesh on their bones, and their metabolism is devoted to pushing out an egg every day. But at least they are mobile — or would be if they didn’t spend their short, disposable lives in laying cages. The other group comprises the heavy meat-producing breeds with huge breasts and names like Color-Pac or Cobb 500 Slow-Feathering Females. These are genetically selected to grow from a weight of about 40 grams to 2.5 kilograms in only six weeks. They remind me of garden vegetables that must be harvested before they become overripe, lest they rot. Many of these factory birds develop gait problems, waddling around top-heavy. Slaughter must come as a relief; if it is delayed, some birds develop a water-retaining condition called ascites, which is a symptom of heart failure.
I have been raising laying hens on our farm for the past few years. Two of them turned three this year and still manage to produce an egg every day or two. Once their laying days are over, we sometimes turn them into slow food, such as poule bouillie, which involves a few hours of slow boiling in the oven or on the stove, then a short broil for crispier flesh. (It’s also slow because you need a few days to get your mind around the fact that you are going to kill.) That is the kind of chicken my kids will agree to eat. They remember the taste for months afterward.
Unlike my love-starved collie, chickens aren’t demanding or particularly needy, and it wouldn’t occur to them to monopolize my attention. A balanced diet, water, a few nests for the eggs, and a place up high to roost at night is all they require, but they don’t mind if I hang around long enough to say a few nice words. Introducing new birds among them has to be supervised and managed gradually, or else there can be fights. (Commercial operations deal with this problem by slicing off the sharp point of the beak.) This year in Canada, few chickens will be sitting outside in the morning sun, feeling the cool summer rains, or taking dust baths — the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has recommended that all poultry be kept under house arrest because of the threat of avian flu.
I’ve tried to make up for this with extras from the kitchen and garden, and with more hay and straw pour leur faire plaisir (as my son says when he digs up earthworms from the garden to give them). My hens have overcome their fear and general dislike of animals bigger than themselves, and one of them sometimes stands still to let me stroke her just above the tail feathers. It’s the same way I stroke my cats. And like the cats, my hens look me right in the eye when I give them the chance.
In the vast numbers of the industrial food chain, chickens, cows, and pigs don’t get the chance to look us in the eye. This detachment hardens us to the periodic culls that such conditions help create. How easily we dispose of our “food animals,” either for economic reasons or out of our sometimes unreasonable fears of animal-spread disease.
For instance, in 2001, foot-and-mouth disease swooped in and knocked the wind out of agriculture in the United Kingdom, resulting in massive culls that were the result of exposure — or potential exposure — to the virus. The numbers climbed quickly into the hundreds of thousands, and there wasn’t enough space to bury or burn the mounting piles of corpses. Some farmers committed suicide in response to this final assault on a way of life already being crushed by industrialized farming. In the end, more than four million sheep, cattle, and pigs were culled, though by September 2001, only 2,030 cases of fmd — a disease usually only fatal to young animals — had been confirmed.
I don’t think this was merely a preventive cull that went awry. I don’t even think it was panic. While I don’t want to minimize the severity and pain of fmd lesions or the importance of keeping domestic herds free of contagious disease (in the same way I do not shrug at mad cow disease, anthrax, avian flu, tuberculosis, or E. coli), I feel the strongest factors that pushed for such a draconian cull were trade and disease status issues (the UK wanted to regain its fmd-free status as quickly as possible) — and our collective emotional and practical detachment from the species involved.
In other words, the conditions and pressures experienced by our “food animals” have direct consequences for how we deal with epidemics and threats of epidemics. These circumstances not only encourage the spread of disease, they also provide an excuse for us to disengage from the animals and to gaze upon herds and flocks with distaste or indifference. We care for our cats and dogs with increasing devotion and tenderness, but the way we currently go about turning cows and chickens into human food demonstrates that our empathy with animals only goes so far.•