Archive for December, 2012

Way Not Complete

December 23, 2012


  Maurice Herzog led an expedition of French Alpinists that in 1950 became the first to summit an 8,000 meter peak, Annapurna.  His stirring account remains the best selling mountain adventure book to this day – more copies having been sold than even Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air.  Herzog’s final line: “There are other Annapurna’s in the lives of men” has been an inspiration to many.

  Herzog died last week which is why I dug up my copy of the book, the cover of which you see above.  Interesting how cartoonish the image appears to us these many years later.  Had to be that way, I guess, because the nature of the narrative had not yet entered the common consciousness, hadn’t become part of the zeitgeist.  Sir Edmund Hillary, National Geographic, and the likes of Patagonia have changed all that.

  Subsequent books, one by Herzog’s daughter, portray him as having been controlling and egocentric.  Other members of the team had to sign a pledge not to publish their own accounts of the climb until long after his was on the market.  This resulted in the diminution of the heroic efforts of the others, particularly his partner on the summit Louis Lachenal.  M Lachenal remained essentially unknown while Herzog was highly decorated and went on to hold important government posts.

  Whatever happened, it remains an incredible and famously macabre tale.  According to Herzog, Lachenal suggested that conditions were too severe, that they retreat.  They of course did go on to make it to the top and back down, but at the cost of terrible frostbite.  The attempts by Dr Oudot to minimize the ramifications of exposure to high altitude and low temperature can only be described as horrific.  They lost all fingers and toes.

  Whatever he may have been, his description of his first time in the Alps sure makes me think about doing something other than stare into a screen:  “I believe what I felt that day closely resembles what we call happiness.  I also believe that if I felt such happiness in such rigorous circumstances it is because the planned, organized, predigested happiness that the modern world offers is not complete.  It leaves certain sides of man’s nature unsatisfied”.   

  He wrote that in 1953.  Jeesh.

*The quote appeared in his NYT obituary – 12/15/12 




Benefits To A Wife For Being Nice To Her Husband

December 15, 2012

  Anne Boleyn

  This is three steps from being original, but I found it so touching that I could not but pass it on.  Not original because I didn’t do the research, haven’t read the book, and did not conduct the interview.  Heard Terry Gross discussing Man Booker Prize winning historical novel Bringing Up The Bodies with author Hilary Mantel.

  This is the second in a series of three books set during the time of Henry VIII in 16th century England.  The first concluded with the demise of Thomas More because he opposed Henry’s move to split with the Church of Rome in order to facilitate his trading Catherine of Aragon in for a newer model – Anne Boleyn.

  As you might know, a relationship with Henry doesn’t turn out all that well for Anne either.  But in the interview I learned that it wasn’t because Ms Boleyn wasn’t able to produce a male heir as I’ve long thought and most fiction holds.  Author Mantel says: “I think it is a great mistake to regard these women as victims.”

  The power that accrued to a Queen of England created a far larger sphere of influence than existed for other women of the era. And both Catherine and Anne were very intelligent, strong, political, and clever. “They are really strong; they are really involved.  They’re deeply drawn into the political process, and they’re actors in it…agents of their own fate.”

  Henry divorced his first wife for her inability to bear a son, he didn’t kill her.  Anne Boleyn didn’t have a son, but her fate was different because her activities led Henry to believe that she had become a diplomatic liability and perhaps involved in a plot on his life.  She had to be executed.

  The benefit to Anne for apparently not having made ice cold Henry’s heart?  Glad you remembered to ask.  He ordered for her the most expeditious manner by which to leave this world and enter the next – a horizontal swing of a broadsword through her erect neck as opposed to a chopping block and a grunting axe man.  The former was thought to be more humane. 

  “But she will kneel.  She must be informed of this.  There is no block, as you see.  She must kneel upright and not move.  If she is steady, it will be done in a moment; if not, she will be cut to pieces… Between one beat of the heart and the next, it is done.  She knows nothing.  She is in eternity.”   

  Ms Boleyn would have been blindfolded and the executioner (of renowned talent and brought all the way from Calais, by the way) approached  silently in slippered feet from an unexpected angle.  Nice guy that king Henry, really.  He could have had her burned or hanged, let alone dispatched with an axe.  I’ll admit though that one does wonder what of his qualities most attracted wives three through six.

*Interested in the last thoughts of anther wife’s head?  Go to post of May 20, 2011

**Photo above of Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn in “The Other Boleyn Girl” in which she goes to the block for failing to produce a male heir…

Hope I Get Asked Back

December 8, 2012


  Yep, it was time again earlier this week.  I had put it off longer than the recommendation and had not been made fearful by a “you’re overdue and consequences may be severe” letter from the office.  Well, not fearful till I finally scheduled the dang thing.  Started to think about a friend who recently left this world because he’d put it off a bit too long.

  You know how your mind works.  As the appointment drew near, I began to consider rescheduling because our insurance will soon change and if it was to be that something nasty was lurking within, the transition could prove problematic and/or expensive.  Being a college grad I realized that was stupid.

  Night before, I opened the prep kit and read the instructions.  “Sulfate salts provide sulfate anions, which are poorly absorbed.  The osmotic effect of unabsorbed sulfate anions and the associated cations causes water to be retained within the gastrointestinal tract.”  You can say that again.  I was so squeaky clean that wife, little black angel, and I took a five mile run early in the AM before my 7:00 inspection.

  Was soon there, signed voluminous “hold harmless” sorts of documents, changed into one of those gowns that would only flatter a Reef model (, had IV inserted, and was rolled into the chamber where several smiling faces looked down upon me.  Very strange sort of perspective.  And it got stranger.

  There was a big screen and pretty soon we were all watching something that looked exactly like when, in Star Wars, Han Solo piloted the Millennium Falcon through a deep cavern which turned out to be the bowel of a huge beast.  Remember that?  Anyway, Doc kept making comments in the manor of a geologist following a vein.

  He found nothing of interest.  Not even one bit to clip off and send to a lab.  I was under the influence of something certainly, but just as obviously had some level of awareness and so a quick feeling of relief gave way to a few jokes.  I’m not sure, but think that I told a favorite involving mice in a bar, a cat, sex, and the f-bomb.

  Doc said, “see you in five years”, but I guess I hope I didn’t offend anyone present, my file doesn’t get “lost”, and I do in fact get asked back. Everything considered, it wasn’t all that bad.



“Oh the things you can think up if only you try!”*

December 1, 2012



  The object you see above, a late 19th century Nkisi Nkondi power figure from a place now either in Congo or Angola, is one of many objects used in a collaboration between the art museum and medical school of a prominent Ivy League college.  (Hint: it is the only one of them not in a slum)

  The program, “The Art of Clinical Observation”, endeavors to exhort med students to “learn to look”, and employs a five step approach.  First, closely observe.  What is it made of…?  Second, analysis.  Without reading the label, think about what you see.  What are the nails for?

  Third, research.  Read the label.  Does it reinforce or surprise?  Fourth, interpret.  What does it tell you about art and culture?  Fifth, critical assessment and response.  How well do you think it served its purpose and – you’re no more or less human than those for whom it was made, what emotions does it evoke in you?

  Evaluations of the program have been very positive and participants found it to have been very useful in their lives more broadly.  There are many “Learning to Look” efforts in art museums across the country and this was not the first collaboration with a med school, but is apparently one of few.

  A Nkisi is created through a collaboration between a sculptor and a shaman.  The first carves and the second adds the spiritual strength.  Such objects were possessed of considerable force and power and were used for redress and revenge by victims of crimes ranging from theft to adultery.

  A dormant Nikisi would be awakened by verbal harassment and the driving of a nail into its body.  Its spiritual power would obtain from materials contained in medicine packs in the head and abdomen which could include such stuff as dirt from a grave, herbs, and minerals.     

  The victim, with the help of ritual experts, would then be able to direct the Nkisi’s awakened fury to the great dismay of the perp who should expect to have some sort of pestilence visited upon him.  Very interesting.  Brings to mind thoughts of the evolution of consciousness and religion.

  Take away for me though is a reinforced appreciation of the incredible relationship between mind and body.  I have little doubt about a Nkisi’s intercessional efficacy and, uh, Lord help me should roommate get her hands on one of those things.

*Dr Seuss/last clue.

**Lesley Wellman, the Curator of  Education at this museum and person who developed this program, was named the National Art Educator of the Year for 2912 by the  National Art Education Association.