Hey, I gotcha right here...

In a move that will tragically diminish the expressive character of the Italian soul and weaken the very fabric of the country's grand and ancient culture, a high court in Rome has ruled that it is no longer permissible for men to grasp the jewels in public. No word yet on whether this pernicious new law will be enforced in the Italian diaspora of Brooklyn.


Dude, my ears were cold...

Barack Obama visits Somali refugees in northern Kenya in 2006 and is dressed as a village elder as a sign of respect.

The author visits Brooklyn refugees in southern Germany in 2007 and wishes he hadn't left the apartment without a hat.

In the death throes of the Clinton bid for the Democratic nomination, campaign tactics are spiraling downward like the whirlpool in a flushing toilet. According to the Drudge report, Clinton staffers were emailing the above Obama image around this weekend under a header suggesting their campaign ought to be trying to exploit it to smear Barack. An intra-Clinton email "obtained by the Drudge report" allegedly asked: "Wouldn't we be seeing this on the cover of every magazine if it were HRC?" Now the Clinton camp is trying to suggest that, of course there is nothing wrong with the picture, and visiting dignitaries including Hillary play dress-up all the time, but if the Obama campaign thinks they are being smeared then there must be something suspect about the way they view people wearing towels on their heads. What we really need to do is choose a candidate, put all this absurd sort of acrimony to bed, and start looking for pictures of John McCain in a bikini.


613 Tons of Homelessness

Some weeks ago I got an email from Carolina Salguero informing me that she was hoping to resurrect her once-excellent but lately dormant blog about efforts to refurbish the Mary Whalen, the 172 foot long rust-bucket of a tanker that she has adopted like a stray kitten. She mentioned that she would momentarily be moving the Mary Whalen from her most recent home in the Red Hook container port, to a new, but also temporary berth in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, that vast pocket of crumbling industry wedged between Williamsburg and Vinegar Hill. "Ooh," I said. "I'd love to come along on that journey."

Weeks passed, and when I did think of Carolina and the Mary Whalen I was forced to conclude that I had been forgotten. I was sure I had literally missed the boat. Then, last week, to the in-box came the message that the much-postponed towing of the Whalen to her new home was to happen on Sunday. What's more, in recognition and thanks for the many countless hours of voluntary toil that friends of the Mary Whalen had put in, scraping up buckets of rust chips, we were all invited to voyage on her decks as she traveled to her new home.

In my case this was a bit of a charade, since the sum total of my work aboard amounted to a couple of hours of painless schlepping, many months ago, on a warm and sunny day at the end of spring. After that morning I managed to let an entire summer and fall season of volunteer days slide by without another visit.

Last Sunday was a chilly one, but we try never to let an opportunity to get out onto the waters of New York harbor go unseized, so, bundled up and fortified with bagels, we trudged down Van Brunt street to the container port.
The tug Nathan Stewart, lashed tight to the Mary Whalen in the container port.

The irrepressible John Weaver prepares to hoist the gangway on deck. In every picture in which Weaver appears he wears this broad, warm grin, perhaps delighting in the fact that, even if only under tug power, the Mary Whalen is once again setting out to sea. In a moment of idle Googling, Weaver and his wife, the daughter of a long-serving captain of the Mary Whalen back in her days of active duty, discovered Carolina and her attempts to save the ship. Since then he has become deeply involved in the project.

Under way at last, lower Manhattan sliding by on the port side.

In a particularly inspired moment, Carolina contracted with a motley crew of musicians known as the Hungry March Band to provide a live soundtrack, as it were, for the move. As the ship prepared to get under way, the musicians got themselves ready to play, strapping on portable drums, lounging on the decks with trombones and firing sample volleys from trumpets. Most had never been on board before, and some had tremendous difficulty finding the ship, hidden away deep inside the vast container port. At the very last moment a Japanese player arrived, rushing up the gangplank just before it was hauled on to the deck and, half out of breath, whipped out his saxophone. Their music sounds like a military band gone to seed, or even to pot, or perhaps an impromptu jam session turned parade, and it lent a glorious aspect of triumph and conquest to our outing. It was cold out on the water, and the music kept our spirits up. I thought of the Russians on the eastern front, and how cheered they might have been to have the Hungry Marchers urging them on. They reminded me, too, of the weirdly joyful clash of instruments I once heard accompanying a funeral procession in rural Haiti, and when I asked one of the band what other sorts of gigs they play besides ship relocations she said "all kinds, really; recently we played a New Orleans style funeral on the Upper East Side."

Raise the Roof! As the wicked winds of winter came whistling in over the waves, many danced to stave off the chill, shaking their groove things to the funky brass band sounds of the Hungry March Band.

I counted at least six video cameras on board filming the historic event, from the palm-sized to the professional. It is starting to feel as though everyone is making a documentary about something. However, despite all the cameras, there were no working soundmen participating in this media frenzy, which may explain why I don't have any gigs at the moment. This dude, from Channel 12, was doing his own sound the hard way. I would have thought having to hold a hand mic for the interview you are filming would seriously limit your ability to choose and hold a nice frame. In the business, this is known as the "one-man band," or "one-man banding it," and we sound brethren frown on this sort of behavior, for obvious reasons. I'm going to complain to my union, if I can get anyone on the phone over there.

Carolina, wearing some sort of Uzbeki yak-herders hat, supervises the docking from her new front yard.

Home, sweet ghetto. The new digs in the Brooklyn Navy Yard seemed a bit on the decrepit side, after the immaculate stacks of containers and tidy blue warehouses of the container port. But it is only temporary. So far, the next stop is unknown, TBD. Do you have a home for the Mary Whalen? An underused two hundred feet of New York City waterfront is all that's needed. All suggestions are welcome. If you see something, say something!

Adieu Red Hook: The Mary Whalen at her new berth in the Navy Yard. I know this picture looks as if it had been taken from on board the tug as it heads back south, the day's work done, but that would only be possible if the Nathan Stewart had kindly offered us a lift back to the neighborhood, which they couldn't have, because their insurance and other policies wouldn't permit it. So, in short, I have no idea how this picture came into existence.


It's time once again for our regular feature

When things are slow here at antarcticiana we like to fill the rare gaps between thrills by presenting for your delectation real life honest-to-God Google searches that helped new and lucky readers to land on these pages. What do we mean? (Many people have expressed confusion about how this works).

To be clear, what we mean is that at some point someone, somewhere, typed each of these search strings into their Google search box. We can't imagine what they were looking for, but what they found was us: Antarcticiana, this webblog, was in every case among the top ten resulting searches, and they then clicked on the Google link to these pages that they found before them. Had they not clicked, they would not have visited, and we would never have known of them. However, in clicking and arriving here, they activated our internet surveillance software, provided by Statcounter, telling us which page they came to us from, along with other useless information like their IP address and vague location. (If you feel threatened or invaded by this, you should know that almost all websites collect such information, and more, each and every time you visit, and most of them know what to do with it rather better than we do.)

As has been the case in our more recent installments of these lists, we like to think of the whole, made up in this case of twelve distinct searches, as a sort of free-associative poem. Like all poems, it should be read out loud, perhaps to a loved one, in order to best appreciate the unexpected linkages between these seemingly random, disparate quests for information. (For those who are new to this and can't get enough of the hilarity, previous examples of this exciting literary experiment are to be found here, here, here and here.)

key elements of a german beer garden

big piles of rocks

cosy french writers

edvard munch primates

"bursting bladder"torment

retching over the side

rod stewart whirling helicopter blades

buy brazilian island 40 room mansion helipad

is super glue gel allowed in carry on bag

why is my finch twitching

frivolous whistling duck

red butts of china's tower of cheese



I would look good on one of these in Brooklyn (updated)

Room for improvement: Eucalyptus suicide scooter, Rwanda

The always excellent Afrigadget is a blog devoted to African ingenuity and invention that has posted about many spectacular creations made from abandoned parts and scrap most northern-hemisphere dwellers would doubtless chuck in the trash. They have a post up now combining two of my passions, bicycling, and bamboo, with a link to this project, which pairs the sustainable (and in many places in Africa, free) plant resource with cutting edge bicycle design.

In Rwanda bicycles are used for transporting almost anything that can conceivably be loaded onto them, and being able to manufacture one out of the weeds growing in the gully would be most helpful

These gents doubtless dropped off a load of cargo in Kigali and are headed back up the mountain the easy way

I've been hanging around over at Atlas HQ most of the week, repairing the world's most beautiful pasta machine, about which more later. (What this really means is that I have been watching Joseph lathe, mill, weld, buff, sand and polish a part I needed to replace on the world's most beautiful pasta machine, but if you come over to dinner and are subjected to my long, explanatory lecture about the pasta machine, its glories, and the long struggle to restore its functionality, I will most likely by then have convinced myself that I did all the work and therefore take all the credit.) Today when I turned up Joseph had a book to show me that his ex-employee Matthew had rescued from the dumpster at Cooper-Hewitt, Matthew's new employer. He had then thoughtfully brought it by as a gift. Turning at random the pages of what looks to be a most interesting and informative look at bicycles and their physics, I stumbled on this page, concerned with alternative bicycle frame materials. It seemed too grand a coincidence to ignore. (Click the image to load it in a readable size)

Scan courtesy of Atlas; permission neither requested of nor granted by the publisher. Please do contact us if you feel the use of this reproduction here is not in your best interest.


Fifteen minutes ago in Red Hook

This is what it looks like when you make the right choice

Went down to the polls after bagels and lox. Just around the corner on Van Brunt and Lorraine. I was glad to see they are still using the old-school voting machines in the old school gymnasium. These require you to pull down mechanical metal switches next to the name of the candidate of your choice and then yank across a massive lever sticking out of the floor, as if you were a lineman diverting a train. They are solid, antique devices from the pre-computer era that make satisfying clicking and clanking noises, the sound of democracy expressed, in response to one's performing one's functions as a voter. Manufactured in an era when this country actually manufactured things. None of this absurd nonsense of flawed and hackable software and the notion, already introduced in far too many states, that we are somehow better off e-voting.


Unidentified Hindu Situation

The northern tip of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, in Queens, at the southern tip of the bridge that brings Cross Bay Boulevard traffic from Howard Beach out to the Rockaways, is a sandy spit dedicated to public recreation. A couple of parking lots, some wind-whipped pine trees, and the odd fishermen walking the rocky bayside coastline seem an improbable scene for a major Hindu religious ceremony. Howard Beach, on the far side of the bridge, is a firmly working class white enclave, an Italian stronghold still notorious for, and perhaps even synonymous with, urban racial intolerance. Further south, the bizarre bay-island community of Broad Channel is little different. Said to be the home of a great density of New York City policeman and firemen, its postage-stamp front gardens are exuberantly and permanently decorated with scenes of dancing gnomes and other outdoors kitsch.

But the refuse scattered along the tideline here tells a different story. There is simply too much of it; worshippers, and many of them, have come here to make offerings. I sent some images to my brother's girlfriend, Melanie Dean, who is currently doing her field work in Tamil-speaking south India. She writes:

From the looks of the photos I would say there was some sort of procession related to Shiva and some sort of ritual bathing in the ocean took place. When people do these baths in the ocean/rivers to cleanse themselves of ritual pollution they often leave all their old clothing behind in the water and on the shore. I went to a river in Tamil Nadu recently where everyone goes to bathe 30 days after a family member dies and the banks were covered with discarded clothing. (One of your pictures) is of a discarded sari. (Another) is of the goddess Durga, but one is the god Shiva and another is a big Shiva lingam. The Shiva lingam is an aniconic representation of Shiva and is basically a penis sitting in a vagina (but most worshippers don't think of it this way when they are praying to it!). Shiva meditated in a cremation ground and was an ascetic, so he is often represented in lingam form - especially in the South.

Probably this group of people did an immersion of some idol in the water there and this is what is left behind. My guess is that this is trash that is several months old and probably from Durga Puja which was in late October or early November. This is a pretty impressive puja that people in Calcutta do up really big. They immerse humongous idols of the Goddess Durga in the ocean.

One possible problem. These photographs were taken in early January, and unless the tidal action is remarkably gentle, and the fabrics extraordinarily resilient, I would if pressed find it difficult to believe that these relics are two or three months old. Bathing, whether ritual or otherwise would have been a most chilling experience since, one would imagine, at least late September. Any further illumination readers might leave in the comments would be most appreciated.

An empty can of Ghee, well above the high-tide line.

Countless yardage of saffron fabric, some decorated with tassels and sequins, lie twisted and tangled amongst the slimy rocks

A scene of post-celebration textile carnage litters the sand underneath the bridge

Could this refuse possibly be several months old?

Flags, affixed to bamboo poles, litter the ground

Across the water, on the Howard Beach side, a flag, still stuck firmly in the sand. Perhaps it was replanted by a passerby.

A lingam for your admiration

A shattered wedding cake? To the north of nearby JFK airport is Richmond Hill, the largest Guyanan enclave in New York, home to thousands of both afro and indo-Guyanese expats. Among the indo-Guyanese are many hindus. Could this Guyanese population, descendants of indentured workers imported from India in the 19th century, be involved?

The ever-popular Florida Water, once a cheap cologne, now an indispensable ritual perfume from Haitian vodoun all the way to hinduism