Adam’s Bridge

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adams_Bridge_aerial.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

A curious chain of limestone shoals extends between India and Sri Lanka, possibly the remains of a land connection between the two. The sea between the two landmasses is called Sethusamudram (“Sea of the Bridge”), and early British maps refer to it as Adam’s Bridge. How and when the structure evolved are still sources of controversy among geologists, but historical records suggest that it was passable on foot until a cyclone deepened the channel in the 1400s.

Appealing to NASA satellite images, some sources contend that the bridge was created by Rama to rescue his kidnapped wife Sita, as described in Hindu theology, perhaps with the aid of a human army. NASA delicately observes that this interpretation “is certainly not ours. … Remote sensing images or photographs from orbit cannot provide direct information about the origin or age of a chain of islands, and certainly, cannot determine whether humans were involved in producing any of the patterns seen.”

“The Elephant Who Walked to Manchester”

https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/the-disputed-toll-205152
Image: Art UK

In 1872, as he prepared to retire in Edinburgh, English menagerie owner Alexander Fairgrieve auctioned off his remaining attractions in the Waverley Market. The largest lot was Maharajah, an Indian elephant 7 feet tall with 20-inch tusks. The winning bid, £680, came from James Jennison, proprietor of the Belle Vue Gardens near Manchester, who was expanding his zoological collection. The elephant rebelled at entering a horse box on the Northern British Railway, so his keeper, Lorenzo “Lion Tamer” Lawrence, simply walked his charge to Manchester.

The unlikely pair covered 200 miles in 10 days, arriving on April 20, and the celebrated animal, “having travelled by road from Scotland, via Carlisle, Kendal, Lancaster, Preston and Bolton,” was installed in a temporary glass-roofed elephant house. In the ensuing years he would walk among the visitors, ridden by thousands of children and starring in spectacles such as “Napoleon Crossing the Alps” in the city’s May Day and Whit parades. He died of pneumonia in 1882 at the age of 18.

Heywood Hardy’s 1875 painting A Disputed Toll, above, records an event that probably never happened — it’s said that during their journey, while Lawrence was arguing with a parsimonious gatekeeper, Maharajah simply lifted the gate from its hinges. Accurate or not, the memorable painting now hangs in the Manchester Art Gallery.

Thorough

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Obscure but interesting: In his 1857 history of the West Branch Valley of the Susquehanna River, John Franklin Meginness quotes a 1793 indenture that purports to trace the title to a plot of Pennsylvania land back to the creation of mankind:

Whereas, the Creator of the earth, by parole and livery of seisin, did enfeoff the parents of mankind, to wit, Adam and Eve, of all that certain tract of land, called and known in the planetary system by the name of The Earth, together with all and singular the advantages, woods, waters, water-courses, easements, liberties, privileges, and all others the appurtenances whatsoever thereunto belonging, or in any wise appertaining to have and to hold to them the said Adam and Eve, and the heirs of their bodies lawfully to be begotten, in fee-tail general forever, as by the said feoffment recorded by Moses, in the first chapter of the first book of his records commonly called Genesis, more fully and at large appears on reference being thereunto had …

This goes on for four pages, tracing ownership through the Six Nations of North America to William Penn and finally to one Flavel Roan, the “witty and rather eccentric gentleman” who Meginness says drew up the deed. “His education was good, and his penmanship superior.”

The whole thing is here.

A Lost Landmark

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elefant_der_Bastille.jpg

In 1808, as a monument to his victories, Napoleon planned to erect a colossal bronze elephant on the site of the Bastille. Standing 24 meters tall, the creature would be cast from the guns captured at the Battle of Friedland, and a stairway inside one leg would lead visitors up to an observation platform on its back.

The project fell apart after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, but they got as far as building a full-sized plaster model of the finished statue, protected by a guard who lived in one of the legs. The plaster elephant stood for some 30 years, overrun with rats and gradually falling into ruin. Finally removed in 1846, it was commemorated by Victor Hugo in Les Misérables: “It was unclean, despised, repulsive, and superb, ugly in the eyes of the bourgeois, melancholy in the eyes of the thinker.”

Far From Home

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:George_Stubbs_-_Zebra_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

You’d look forlorn too if you were the first zebra in England. The bewildered creature, known as “Queen Charlotte’s she-ass,” departed the Cape of Good Hope “Noah’s-ark fashion” with another zebra in 1762, but her companion died on the voyage. Installed at Buckingham Palace, she “was pestered with visits, and had all her hours employed from morning to night in satisfying the curiosity of the public.” And, inevitably, there were jokes:

A sight such as this surely was never seen:
Who the deuce would not gaze at the A___ of a Q____?
What prospect so charming! — What scene can surpass?
The delicate sight of her M____’s A____?

Though squeamish old Prudes with Invective and Spleen,
May turn up their Noses, and censure the Q____n;
Crying out, “‘Tis a Shame, that her Q____nship, alas
Should take such a Pride — in exposing her A____.”

She was eventually sold to a clockmaker named Pinchbeck, who led her through Yorkshire in a traveling menagerie. She died in April 1773, eleven years after she’d arrived. “Pray do you not think the fate of this animal truly pitiable?” wrote the Rev. William Mason to Horace Walpole. “I should think this anecdote might furnish the author of Heroic Epistles with a series of moral reflections which might end with the following pathetic couplet: ‘Ah beauteous beast! Thy cruel fate evinces / How vain the ass that puts its trust in Princes!'”

(Christopher Plumb, “The Queen’s Ass,” in Samuel J.M.M. Alberti, ed., The Afterlives of Animals, 2011.)

The Right Perspective

French artist François Abélanet creates anamorphic landscape illusions. “With my creations, I transform fiction into reality,” he writes. “Where there’s a garden, a plaza, a courtyard, or a confined space, I see a playing field where everyone is invited to participate, to play with nature. Indeed, I like the idea that nature lives its own life and becomes its own creation.”

More at his website.

Evolution

Order a beer at Kayabukiya Tavern, in Japan’s Tochigi prefecture, and it will be brought to you by one of five monkeys. Owner Kaoru Otsuka started his business nearly 30 years ago, but business really took off when he brought his pet macaque to the premises and got it to hand a wet oshibori towel to a customer. Now the monkeys hand out oshibori and beer and perform on a makeshift stage.

Under animal welfare laws the monkeys work only two hours a day, and customers give them boiled soya beans as tips for their service. Now they’ve begun donning human masks and wigs — perhaps they’ll soon be opening a restaurant of their own:

Edifice Wrecks

giarre, sicily

Between the 1950s and the 2000s, the Sicilian town of Giarre started a series of ambitious building projects as its politicians competed to create jobs and secure funds from the regional government. Unfortunately, there was no need for the buildings — Giarre’s population is only 27,000 — and today the seaside town hosts 25 half-built and abandoned constructions, including an amphitheater, a sports stadium, a polo ground, and a swimming pool.

“Giarre offers the extreme form of a condition found in most cities, making it a parable of urban planning,” writes social geographer Alastair Bonnett in Off the Map. “It is the epicentre not of merely an Italian but a global phenomenon of accreted unfinished visions.”

“Several companies started the projects without the intention of finishing them,” architect Salvo Patane told the BBC. “These were projects started so as not to lose funds that were available from the regional government. More than waste, this was bad politics.”

Community activist Claudia D’Aita wants to reconceive the abandoned constructions as a park — “a kind of open-air museum” — exhibiting a cautionary new architectural subgenre. They would call it the Archaeological Park of Sicilian Incompletion.

Far From Home

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jan/26/john-daniel-gorilla-drank-tea-school-uley-gloucestershire?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Email

The English village of Uley had a remarkable citizen in 1917: a lowland gorilla, captured in Gabon by the French soldiers who had shot his parents. Uley resident Rupert Penny spotted him for sale in a London department store, paid £300, and named him John Daniel, and his sister Alyce raised him like a human boy.

“Until recently, we had people that remembered him walking around the village with the children,” said Margaret Groom, an archivist at the Uley Society, who unearthed a collection of old photographs. “He used to go into gardens and eat the roses. The children used to push him around in a wheelbarrow. He knew which house was good for cider, and would often go to that house to draw a mug of cider. He was also fascinated by the village cobbler, and would watch him repairing shoes. He had his own bedroom, he could use the light switch and toilet, he made his own bed and helped with the washing up.”

She had to sell him when he reached full size, and he passed into the hands of a circus. Eventually Alyce received an urgent message reading “John Daniel pining and grieving for you. Can you not come at once? Needless to say we will deem it a privilege to pay all your expense. Answer at once.”

She set out immediately, but he died of pneumonia before she arrived. His body was given to the American Museum of Natural History for preservation and remains on display there today.

(Thanks, Steve.)