We’ve Kept You Posted

Yearly Recall Takes
a Blurry 2015 Picture

It was a year of record refugee waves, with boatloads of heartbreaking stories landing en masse on European shores. Greeting them, equal parts of compassion and vile political pettiness, and a stunned world reacting as it usually does: with violence.
As usual too, there were plenty of staggering deaths – massive, laser-focused, or undiscriminated – due to terrorism, war strikes, stampedes, and in the U.S., racism and too many guns. And, of course, a fair share of encouraging news about climate change, for instance.
This post hardly covers them all, though. For these Colltales stories we’ve picked are more of a counterpoint to what was going on then. Rather than rehashing what was on everyone’s devices in 2015, they run a parallel track of commentary, criticism, and even comic relief.
Just as global temperatures kept rising, our pulse on the year’s events was better reflected on the weekly editorial Newsletter/Curtain Raiser. So we were free to report another kind of news, neither Pollyanna nor downright depressing. You know, the Colltalers preferable way. Enjoy.

ELVIS, CATS & RIO IN WINTER
The terrorist attack that killed nine journalists at the Paris offices of the Charlie Hebdo, on Jan. 7, was arguably the biggest news of the first three months of 2015. But the following day, we featured Elvis Presley‘s 80th birthday. And never looked back.
Stories about crows, unemployment, that old fave Voynich Manuscript, and a quirky take on Valentine Day followed. A personal darling was the 450th anniversary of Rio, our city of birth. Bandit Maria Bonita, cats, caturally, and life after death, online, completed the bunch.

A SPRING OF RACE & TIME
By then, the biggest refugee crisis of our era was already creeping in, but within the U.S., an old scourge was robbing the headlines: racism. Our own second quarter, though, was deep into Continue reading

John & Poe

October & the City Link
the Walrus & the Raven

Edgar Allan Poe (d. Oct. 7, 1849, Boston) and John Lennon (b. Oct.9, 1940, Liverpool) would’ve likely enjoyed each other’s company. One could even picture them sharing a coffee in Greenwich Village, just a few blocks from where they both lived briefly in New York.
Sharing a certain sensibility, they’ve twisted rules and noses with their talent and non-conformism. While Poe’s genius was acknowledged mostly after death, Lennon’s was still shaping his own times when life was brutally taken away from him. Despite their enormous sway over our era, they’ve both died at 40.
Their status as two of the world’s most recognized pop icons often obscures the depth of their art and endurance of their legacy. And maybe their irresistible appeal owes more to a contemporary deficit of revolutionary artists than to their particular take on human expression.
Or it may be that we’re so desperate to find paradigms upon which to pile our frustration about the world, that a walking wound such as Poe, or a talking head like Lennon, may offer the conduit we seek to connect and placate our own shortcomings. Just like it ever was.
They couldn’t help it but being such tragic heroes, either, with terrible upbringings and disturbing deaths to boot. But that’s when shallow similarities between the two begin to falter, and no longer serve us to rescue their relevance out of the amber it’s been encased.
THE MESMERIC & THE MAUDIT
Poe, who lived in three separate places in Greenwich Village, New York City, before moving to a farmhouse uptown where he wrote The Raven at age 36, is the only American writer routinely mentioned along the French poètes maudits.
The Paul Verlaine-concocted term encapsulated the romantic ideal of the artist as a tragic hero, not suited to this world, who inevitably self-immolates. We won’t get into how flawed and self-indulgent it is such notion, but the literature the group produced transcended it all.
Perhaps the best known among those poets was Charles Baudelaire, who championed, translated and wrote essays about Poe, (more)
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Read Also:
* Murder & Unkindness
* Hallowed Ground
Continue reading

Murder & Unkindness

Nevermore, or When the Corvus
Talked Through Poe & His Poem

Emissaries of rebirth from the great beyond, or omens of bad things to come in ancient traditions, crows have soared over our imaginations for ages. Scientists are baffled by their social skills, cognitive abilities, and use of tools. Old Aesop may have been onto something after all.
As January 19th marks Edgar Allan Poe’s 206th birthday, and The Raven’s first print 170 years ago this month, we review research being done about the black bird that feasts on carrion and whose collective nouns convey the finality of sudden death and sorrow of lost souls.
Before Claude Lévi-Strauss called the raven a mediator, antiquity took care of inscribing the winged creature into an assortment of narratives and roles, including it in all holy books, from the Talmud to the Bible to the Qur’an, Greek-Roman mythologies and Hindu cosmology.
Old Germanic and English texts also assigned the species a prominent role, and so did Pacific tribes and Native Americans. Which may confer oversized meaning to their annual winter arrival at Waterloo, England, for example, or instances of mass deaths, as it just happened in India.
But before going any further, let’s get the distinction between crows and ravens out of the way. Crows are smaller and live only eight years, to raven’s average 30-year lifespan. Crows, which caw-caw, also live closer to humans; ravens’ croaks are heard mostly in the wild.
A crow’s wing is blunt, and its tail, fan-shaped, while ravens have pointed wings and wedge-shaped tails. All else may not be easily noted because the birds are commonly sighted in parks and cemeteries, where people go to fulfill a function or when they’re, well, dead.

WHO IS BIRD-BRAINED NOW?
We should all be weary of studies comparing the intelligence of radically different species, say primates vs. cetacean, for instance. Mainly because for a long time, we’ve considered cognitive intelligence and social skills to be our monopoly and of a few other animals only.
Also, we still don’t know enough Continue reading

Remarkable Apparatus

Kafka’s Harrow Contraption & Cute  
Names for Chinese Torture Devices 

This won’t hurt a bit. But as far as absurd literature master Franz Kafka was concerned, worst than physical pain was not to know its origins. His tragic characters were often at loss to fully grasp why they were being accused, punished, and ostracized. Or acted numb, while being described in detail a despicably grotesque torture device, as in the 1919 story In the Penal Colony.
That device, the Harrow, has now been recreated for a show, and unless you’ve read the book in its original German, it may pack an equivalent emotional punch in its visual brutality. It certainly invokes the horrors of the Inquisition, but everything about it, including its name, greatly contrasts with the almost light-hearted names the Chinese had given to similar contraptions.
Without dwelling much in the horrors of torture, an ever present but rarely discussed issue in times of political turmoil, and under the banner of war on terror, for example, we do tend to think about the Catholic Church and its systematic use of it for over 600 years, in many parts of the ‘civilized’ world. And all supposedly in the name of a loving god, no less, of course.
But alas, with all its consistency and increasingly sophisticated methods, the church was far from being the first, the last, or even the worst at it. We’ve been physically torturing each other since, well, you give us a date, as far back as you can conceive it, and we’ll add a few thousand years even farther than that.
Every single conqueror and emperor and invader and king and sheik and warlord and centurion and clan-leader, their followers, family and friends, all went after their opponents with every possible means of inflicting pain till dismemberment and death. All in order to extract Continue reading

Zombie 101

Go Back to School Where
Edgar Allan Poe Is Buried

JUST IN: Hundreds marked Poe’s birthday this year but their hopes of seeing the mysterious “Toaster” to come back once again to the writer’s graveside were dashed: once again, he or she hasn’t showed up, breaking perhaps for good a 60-year-old tradition.

What about taking a course where you get to watch classic horror flicks and read comic books? That’s what part of University of Baltimore’s English 333 is about, a study on zombies and their appeal, being taught by author and museum curator Arnold Blumberg.
No one is quite sure why the lore of the undead holds such a grip on popular imagination, but movies and literature certainly have a lot to do with it. The class in Baltimore is just the latest addition to such a quasi-discipline. Chicago’s Columbia College and Iowa’s Simpson College have been teaching related classes for years.
So if rotten flesh and tales of people coming back “to get you” are your thing, sort of, go ahead and sign up. As a bone, er, bonus, you can take a walk on the same street where Poe collapsed in 1849 and even visit his grave. After all, some do consider “The Fall of the House of Usher” a precursor of this ghoulish sub-genre.