Close Encounters

A Brush With Three
Magnificent Whales

A visual dialogue between a Big Blue and a man longing to understand it. A dead Pygmy ashore, and a two-million year old puzzle. And an eye-to-eye with a giant Right whale. As the alarms sound all across the land, deep underwater these mysterious creatures remain elusive.
While only a minority among us has managed to touch them, soon enough not even that will be possible. The Requiem is about the biggest animal on Earth on a fast track to disappearance. The dead one was not supposed to be around. And a Right one comes up close and personal.
As awareness grows about the impossibility of keeping in captivity wild animals em general, and marine mammals in particular, we face a quandary: how to reintroduce them back into their natural habitat, when it’s already depleted and has been steadily shrinking?
As we learn more about these stupendous creatures, we realize how inadequate zoos and seawater resorts are to provide for the wild life under their care. Dwindling funds and business constraints have often turned these facilities into the main factor conspiring against the animals’ own survival.
The case of cetaceans, specially, is particularly tragic. Despite their huge brains, and their presence on Earth for millions of years, we remain ignorant about basic facts concerning their evolutionary traits, social organization, and, let’s face it, how many of them are out there?
It’s been known for a while that some species are already in rapid decline, possibly due to our increasing occupation of their habitats. That’s what makes the occasional discovery of a new species, or a specimen of a kind thought to be extinct long time ago, so baffling.

A FLYING BLUE WHALE
The Dutch actor Rutger Hauer and film director Sil van der Woerd have created a stunning tale, Requiem 2019, that imagine the colossal mammoth floating about, its skin playing back bloody scenes of whalers on the hunt, while it closely observes a semi-paralyzed, and embarrassingly little, man on the ground.

The species, said to be reduced now to less than 10,000 individuals, from a couple of hundred thousand in the 1900s, has dwarfed every creature that has ever lived on this planet, including dinosaurs and other little-known species, felled by adverse evolutionary conditions.
They beat them all, but unfortunately met mankind. In the relative (more)

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Read Also:
* Thinking With Tentacles
* The Whale Report
* The Saddest Song

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Museums of Something Else

Looking for Van Gogh
in a Roomful of Clicks

You’re about to fulfill a lifelong dream: getting up close with your favorite masterpiece. This painting’s haunted your memories for years, and it’s now about to make living in this city all the worthier. But when you’re finally ready for its close up, your reverie suffers a low blow.
Between you and the frame, a phone-picture-taking crowd is busy, turning your dream into a blurry background to their selfies. Miffed, you swear never to come back again. Which brings us to today’s offering: museums are important, but don’t have to suck. Here’s why.
As depositories of humanity’s cultural and artistic achievements, museums have been incomparable. Often the sole local well of knowledge, they anchor communities around a shared past. No wonder they’re also useful for tyrants to stake a claim into the future.
Besides displaying disturbing mementos of our brutal heritage, and the vanquished civilizations we’ve helped destroy, these warehouses of memory and fractured narratives also face crushing competition of the present day’s increasing obsession with accessibility.
Round-the-clock knowledge at one’s fingertips is rendering irrelevant the need for an actual physical place to house art and the past. But the Internet has potential to turn voyeurism into something intimate and personal, in ways that museums seem to be faltering at.
We’re not ready to give up on them just yet, though; just pointing to alternatives that may enhance their mission. Read and click on the illustrations to open up new possibilities. It may sooth your soul and give you a healthy reason to skip that rude crowd this weekend.

THE MOURNING ART COLLECTION
For a place displaying death-inspiring art objects in its galleries, and housed next to a cemetery, the possibility of sudden demise should be never too far. But since its 1990 inception, the Museum of Mourning Art has thrived, even if it had to auction some of its artifacts to survive.
It sits next to Arlington Cemetery (no, not that Arlington), Philadelphia, and it did have to close briefly, while it sold some items. But unlike its neighbors, it’s bound to come back to life, and in line with Americans’ peculiar taste for anything related to the departed.
Its art focus is distinct from similarly lugubrious institutions such as New Orleans’ Museum of Death, Houston-based National Museum of Funeral History, and New York’s Morbid Anatomy Museum. Step into these places for a glance of what’s literally coming next.

POP-UP FEELINGS & BROKEN HEARTS
For an unfortunately brief time, New York had its throbbing pulse measured by art. The pop up Museum of Feelings mixed ‘social media and real-time data from local news, weather reports, flight delays’ and even the Stock Exchange, and translated them into colors.
It was the kind of tactile, refreshing experience traditional museums have to avoid these days, lest not give ideas to deranged minds. It’s now limited by the Web, but it still suggests an alternate reality (more)
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* Scary Night
* Broken Hearts

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Medieval Crafts


Would You Rather Find a Job or
Be a Vagabond 500 Years Ago?

If you’ve been feeling left out of this so-called gig economy, imagine how you’d fare in another time. As in traveling back in time to, say, 500 years ago, just to check one of London’s job listing boards circa 1550. In fact, who hasn’t imagined, from the safety of one’s mind, of course, how Medieval townsfolk went about their business?
You could meet Cornelis Bos, for instance, who enjoyed drawing what looks like taxis driven by satyrs. Have a chat with Willielmus de Lench, a grain thresher, or try a brew with Matild de Grafton, an alewife, all common names and occupations of the time. Or you could find easier pickings as a jarkman, another word for vagrant.
There are plenty of records about that particularly gruesome time to be alive anywhere, but as the saying goes, history is told by the powerful. So while you may be wise to King Arthur and his gallant knights, there’s no word about their ostler, the guy who’d take care of their horses. Which, as most occupations of poor people, would run in families.
Don’t be discouraged though. Even if we may not find a suitable position for a person of your qualifications, you still may learn a thing or two about how people would make a living then, some of the common surnames that have survived to these days, and the surprisingly variety of outlaw types populating the era.
Oh, and throughout this post, check the exquisitely elaborated 1550 art of Cornelis Bos. You may as well pick a few interesting subjects to use in your next job interview, so to give the recruiter a bone to chew, while you think about how to answer that minefield of a question they all love to throw at you: so, what have you been doing all this time?

WORKING FOR THE MAN
As anyone may have already noticed, a lot of traditional surnames have originated from common occupations, geographical locations and even physical characteristics. In English, that’s likely the case if your last name is Baker, Brown, Blacksmith, Coleman, Taylor, White and so on.
But you’d be surprised with the bulk of professions still relevant, five centuries and a whole universe of technological advances later. People still work in government, or for someone, have their own business, or simply own a crooked idea of what it means to make a honest buck.
One could argue, though, that few thieves or professional criminals would’ve dressed up as wealthy people then, while now, heyday of sorts for the lying business, we may have one at the White House. But really? What when they’d pillage and burn to the ground a whole country? That’d assure them graces and riches from aristocracy and royal titles to boot. So, it all always comes down to being humans.
For the government, you could be a catchpole, a ‘chicken catcher,’ a hayward, an officer in charge of fences and hedges, and a liner, who’d set property boundaries. You wouldn’t want to mess with a bailiff, who could arrest and execute you, but you could be friends with reeves, which was how church wardens were called, and wouldn’t hurt you to know a master of the revels, those in charge of court entertainment.

VALUABLE LEARNING SKILLS
At large, there were military and religious occupations, sailors and scholars, flora and fauna laborers, your usual share of artists and entertainers (we heard that a bard, some Shakespeare dude, is quite good), and an infinitude of craftsmen and merchants, a category to which alehouse keeper Matild belonged to, as did olde pal de Lench.
But perhaps it’s under the ‘regular folk’ lists where demand for a variety of skill sets would get you by, as well as some of those names could be found. Did some traveling? you could be a palmer, someone (more)
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* Badass Ladies
* Call Upon You
* Medieval News

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Hallow Talk

Dolls, Dummies & Porcelain Gore: the
Unsinkable Allure of the Talking Dead

Most people would never admit it, but there are no two ways about it: we like Halloween because it’s creepy. We like the gore associated with it, the scary stuff, and the lure of death, breathing coldly upon our neck. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.
What’s curious in American culture, however, is that even talking about death and the departed and what happens to decaying bodies and what we’re supposed to tell our child about their deceased relatives remains taboo for the whole year, except on October 31.
We use the children’s still unguarded approach to the world as a perfect Trojan horse of an excuse for peeking into the depths of our dark corners, where fears reign supreme, and the sun never shines. And tell everyone that it’s all for their own good.
But heaven forbid if they’re to inquiry about the finality of death, or the possibility – fiercely denied by billions but ever and again confirmed by all the evidence anyone can come up with – that this is it, there’s nothing beyond the Big Sleep, and one’d better making it count while it lasts.
We entrust the wee ones with the task of facing the most terrifying recesses of our psyche, while at the same time disenfranchising them from developing a critical mind about, say, coma, or rigor mortis, embalming, or cremation, and all fun things in between. No wonder they place so much currency on material goods these days.
Whether there’s a point in this cheap thrill of vicariously exposing children to dread towards the unknown, which we all share throughout life, just so they get use to feeling frightened, is truly up to discussion.
For what we, grownups, get out of Halloween is so rewarding to that nook within us which enjoys being spooked that all damage it may inflict on tender minds seems negligible. After all, we tell ourselves, soon enough, they’ll have to handle all of that on their own.
We’d have no problem assuming whole heartedly that we love Halloween. Even as memories of spending those hot South American days of our youth at cemeteries, visiting families and friends who went before, are not our particularly favorite recollections.
We still treasure that we did the time, and remember the smells of fresh flowers and sweat, mixed with a faint scent of recently dug up graves still encrusted deep in our brains. Not quite like the Mexicans, who actually party and camp at the gravesite on the Dia de los Muertos, but still a day to honor all souls, specially the finados.
So we could now proceed to tell rehashed tales about ghosts, goblins, strange apparitions and odd Jack O’Lanterns, stories about unexplained occurrences supposedly told to trustworthy people, rumors from the friend of a friend who’s heard an eerie chime echoing somewhere, perhaps even a dead celebrity sighting or two. But we’d rather not.
As usual, we’ll divert, digress, er, depart from that general theme and find our own niche to mark the date. We’ll focus, (more)
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* The Flours of Evil
* All Hallows Eve
* Hallow Ground

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Head & Tails

Who Is the Mad Dog 
Murdering English Cats?

Maybe it’s Internet envy. You know, people who hate you just because you’re all over the Web. And your name is Justin Bieber. The culprit is unlikely to be among cat’s biggest enemies (no, not dogs): bird lovers. But watch out: the U.K. has a serial kitty killer on the prowl.
Nothing cute about it, though. Someone is beheading cats in the South London Croydon neighborhood, and police has no clues, other than the killings are gruesome and ostensible: the psycho leaves mutilated bodies where their human companions can easily come across them.
Again, it may have to do with Internet access and its magnifying effect. For justAtop a Mountain, in Calp, Spain (Aleksandr Osipov:NatGeo)a few decades ago, serial killers were known mostly by law enforcement agents. Now, you need to ask your Uncle Bob to please, shut up already, when he babbles about them as if they were his pub buddies.
Their creepy habits, pathology, and biographies are a constant theme of family dinner conversations, and inspiration to countless movie plots; best seller books and even songs have been written about them, and everybody seems to have heard of that lonely soul who married one in jail.
That’s how most of us know of a particularly haunting trait they all seem to share: an early childhood taste for torturing and murdering small animals. Thus, the British press, not particularly known for nuanced coverage, sobriquet for the newest psychopath: Croydon Cat Ripper.

BLOOD SPREADING OR COPYCATS?
Cats have attracted extreme passion or fear throughout history, and the overstatement needs no emphasis. From ancient Egyptian adoration to Dark Ages‘ obscurantism to redemption through the Black Plague, the domestic feline trajectory with humans has been as vertigo-inducing as a roller coaster.
But once clichés are set aside, a richer picture emerge, of a creature with a rare appeal, both aloof and Zen-like tempered; independent, suffused with mystery, and yet, resolutely loyal to those who (more)
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* Ailurophile, Caturally
* Suddenly, Last Caturday
* A Farewell to Furs

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Present Time

Flexing Your Exquisite
Skills For Being a Gifter

It’s finally here (and you know you want it): our Peculiar Gift List. But why, you ask, another list of presents for other people, (instead of the ever more fulfilling one of things given to you)? Hasn’t the insanity of being nice run its course that time when all you’ve got was a lousy pair of socks and a 3-VHS package?
We’ll get back to you, you Grinch, but this year’s selections got you covered. Jesus Freak uncle? Check. Crazy nice aunt? Check. Serial killer trinkets? You’ve got it. Sure, you won’t please everyone, but they did give you the finger then, right? At least you’re not poisoning them or something. Just proceed with caution.
For that was that time when the little girl next door gifted you with her oh so cute drawing, and you got caught cold-sweating bullets. Her precocious rendition of your backyard, which impressed everyone, scared your shitless. That evil glint in her eye was a message.
As if saying, I saw you dragging that body out of your back door, the other night, and you thought no one was watching. Well, I was. That warning was all you’ve got, but who knows? What if this time she’s coming for a payback? Better be prepared. Hence having a handy list.
Dying people have their buckets, but yours is for protection. Just when they come for the killing, you stun them with a nicely wrapped memento. It’s the thought that counts, remember? Or the message. But just in case, don’t turn your back on her. And calm yourself down already.
Above all, it’s a list custom-made for the regifter at heart in you. As long as you’re judicious redistributing the goods, you’ll be fine. Oh, and don’t forget the scorpion vodka, the snake rum, and the 5-hour Darth Vader Yule Log playing on TV to set the mood. Go ahead, be merry.

FOR THE NICEST CAT LADY YOU KNOW
She’s spent the whole year forwarding you all sorts of links about silly, intriguing, and slightly disturbed cats. You even thought about a fitting revenge, but in the end, couldn’t be mean to your sweet aunt. Result: a bottle of cat forehead-scented Fluffy Fragrance Fabric Water.
She’ll love it. It says how much you care about her, and how nice would be for her to drown on the scent of her own multiple kittens. Who, of course, won’t care less. You know, cats. Still, you’ll impress the party. Or get all sorts of weird stares. Congrats.

HANDLE THE ‘JESUS MILITIA’ SUBSCRIBER
Family gatherings are always tricky, but the table clears ever so quickly when Uncle Bob starts talking Fox News politics. There’s always one point when you’re left on your own to defend lesbians, gun control, legal abortion, and Obama. But this time, you’ll win.
Give him the ‘Dancing With Jesus‘ DVD, and watch his face light up like the gun-themed Christmas tree you know he’s spent hours putting together at his place. Keep a straight face and you’ll see him (more)
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Read Also:
* Last-Minute Gift
* The Most Wonderful Time
* Holiday Fare
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The Hidden Ones

If the Abyss Stares Back,
Better Count Your Fairies

You show up one day, coming from nowhere (stardust, they say). With luck but mostly little success, spend a lifetime learning what’s all about, and then your time is up. You’re done and soon vanished, never to be seen again. It just doesn’t make any sense at all.
No wonder religion’s been around this long. Only a much bigger world, where life, death, and even your ticket to the final destination, are ruled over by powerful invisible beings. Speaking of which, the British are conducting the first Global Fairy Census. It’s about time.
They’re not alone, of course. Coming to think of it, you do try it all on too, if only for size, and avoid complaining too much about it, right? We all have experimented with our own brand of magic thinking, so things don’t look too chaotic. Heard of coincidences?
It’s a brain trick, of course, but we run with it. Even what we see is a representation of the world, not the world itself, but we carry on as if our lives depend on it. They often do. It’s all part of the game, so if you believe in prayer, now it’s a good time to try it too.
Please keep us in your wishes, for we know not how are we supposed to land on the other side, with some semblance of rationality, another gimmick we’ve invented to measure an unmeasurable universe. After all, don’t they play cricket too? But where were we?

SEEING THINGS THAT AREN’T THERE
Oh, yes, variations of pareidolia, our age-developed habit of imagining familiar shapes on random configurations. Bunnies in a cloud? check. Shadows in the closet? check. Spiders on your pillow? check, wait, that’s a real one, run! But enough of big words, and fears.
The very exercising of seeking patterns our brains so painstakingly pursue every day, otherwise known by that household name of a word, apophenia, is part of a desperate aim at making sense of a merciless world. By the way, no more fancy words for you.
To understand reality, we’ve created complexity and complicated everything in the process. Take science: it still can’t explain most natural phenomena, but we learn wonders with it. Mostly useless, one’d argue, but still. We know a lot about gravity, for instance.
Or do we? Take California’s San Andreas Fault, earthquakes, that sort of thing. Just don’t ask when the Big One will strike. Or why some Nevada rocks atop each other haven’t been toppled since well, ever. It all comes down with a slight temblor, says gravity. Not us, say those rocks.
ELVES & GNOMES WITH AN ATTITUDE
Gravity has nothing on Iceland‘s elves either. In fact, when it comes to their fairies, and Australian gnomes, the universe’s fourth (more)
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* Warped Worlds
* Neverlands
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