hairy creatures of God


Amazing things you find when researching for a book. In this case, I found an item on the Greek bean (broad bean), from Dioscorides and translated by John Goodyer in 1655:

The Greeke beane is windy, flatulent, hard of digestion, causing troublesomme dreames; yet good for the Cough, & breeding flesh being in ye midst of hott and cold. Being sod with Oxymel, and eaten with the shucks, it stayes dysenteries and the fluxes of the Coeliaci, and being eaten it is good against vomiting. But it is made lesse flatulent, if the first water in which it was sod be cast away: but the green is worse for ye stomach and more windie.

A little on Roman cities in the pre-underwear age, as I am immersed in finishing The Time of Troubles. Although public baths had toilets, albeit shared in common, and although the most lavish peristyle house might have had a latrine next to the kitchen, most places did not. So people would relieve themselves on the street, in alleys, on stairways of houses, a corner of the bathhouse or even on tombs. A walk along the street would encounter many piles of fresh and not so fresh bowel movements. Apart from the smells and sights, a number of writings indicate how common this was.

You read to me as I stand, you read to me as I sit, You read to me as I run, you read to me as I shit (Martial, Ep 3.44).

And in various cities the following notices were scrawled:

Shit with comfort and good cheer, so long as you do not do it here (Pompeii).

If you shit against the walls and we catch you, you will be punished (Pompeii).

Twelve gods and goddesses and Jupiter, the biggest and the best, will be angry with whoever urinates or defecates here (Rome, Baths of Titus).

Whoever refrains from littering or pissing or shitting on this street may the goddesses in general favour. If he does not do so let him watch out (Salona).

With a few weeks to go until Time of Troubles is due with the press, I am engaged in intensive reading and writing, which absorbs me for most of the day. Every now and then, I come across a delightful insight. This one comes from a study of Roman bathhouses.

People urinated into buckets in the middle of the street (and the urine was then used as detergent), men and women shared open toilets at the public latrines. Overall, in this pre‐underwear age, body parts that we today tend to conceal were much more on display.

From Yaron Eliav, ‘Bathhouses as Places of Social and Cultural Interaction’ (2010).

I have been to more conferences than I care to remember and have often listened to old, old fogeys spouting forth. But one of the more fascinating experiences is when some very old man or woman ends up delivering a mish-mash of odd ideas, if not simply rambling on incoherently. I have wondered about knowing when to stop, when your mind and mouth are no longer what they used to be. I guess it requires someone else to tell you.

But over the last few days another idea hit me: an old fogey panel or series of panels. This would be reserved for exactly such garbled presentations, full of vague and wandering ideas. How would it work? The inspiration comes from China. A couple of years ago I attended a large conference, where one particular very old invited speaker was less than impressive. In fact, it was pure rubbish. Yet, after his presentation, countless people came forth, shook his hand, wanted photos taken with him and so on.

Puzzled, I asked the person next to me, ‘How can people be so impressed when what he said was so bad?’

‘Oh’, said my colleague. ‘We deeply respect old people, especially the very old. We show them the utmost respect. But we don’t listen to a word they say’.

Exactly why there should be old fogey panels.

Have you ever met people who are afraid of trees, animals, or indeed anything that resembles nature? Our strata executive seems to made up of such people. For them, trees are dangerous, threatening to overwhelm us all unless we fight them and subdue them. Any animal that may even dare to be in the vicinity is a ‘rodent’. This includes possums, birds, snakes, cats, dogs, lizards and the usual types you find around our place. What next? Perhaps all the green areas will be cemented over. Or they may start poking rifles out of their windows, picking off any animal that dares venture within range. Did I mention that many of us think they are barking mad?

On our journey across the Gulf Country – the Gulf of Carpentaria – we happened upon this intriguing piece of art amongst the graffitti of a rest stop:

IMG_1626 (2) (427x640)

One cannot help wonder what situation generated this one.

By the early 1930s, Klara Zetkin was suffering from the heart problems from which she would soon die. In the meantime, she needed injections of camphor to raise her blood pressure. On the occasion of one such injection, the nurse administering the stimulant began to prepare her left buttock. Zetkin instructed the nurse to find another site on her body. ‘That one’, she said, ‘belongs to Dr Zamkov’.

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