Links, Curiosities & Mixed Wonders – 14

  • Koko, the female gorilla who could use sign language, besides painting and loving kittens, died on June 19th. But Koko was not the first primate to communicate with humans; the fisrt, groundbreaking attempt to make a monkey “talk” was carried out in quite a catastrophic way, as I explained in this old post (Italian only – here’s the Wiki entry).
  • Do you need bugs, butterflies, cockroaches, centipedes, fireflies, bees or any other kind of insects for the movie you’re about to shoot? This gentleman creates realistic bug props, featured in the greatest Hollywood productions. (Thanks, Federico!)
  • If you think those enlarge-your-penis pumps you see in spam emails are a recently-invented contraption, here’s one from the 19th Century (taken from Albert Moll, Handbuch der Sexualwissenschaften, 1921).

  • Ghanaian funerals became quite popular over the internet on the account of the colorful caskets in the shape of tools or barious objects (I talked about it in the second part of this article — Italian only), but there’s a problem: lately the rituals have become so complicated and obsessive that the bodies of the deceased end up buried months, or even several years, after death.
  • This tweet.
  • 1865: during the conquest of Matterhorn, a strange and upsetting apparition took place. In all probability it was an extremely rare atmospheric phenomenon, but put yourselves in the shoes of those mountain climbers who had just lost four members of the team while ascending to the peak, and suddenly saw an arc and two enormous crosses floating in the sky over the fog.
  • The strange beauty of time-worn daguerrotypes.

  • What’s so strange in these pictures of a man preparing some tacos for a nice dinner with his friends?
    Nothing, apart from the fact that the meat comes from his left foot, which got amputated after an accident.

Think about it: you lose a leg, you try to have it back after the operation, and you succeed. Before cremating it, why not taste a little slice of it? It is after all your leg, your foot, you won’t hurt anybody and you will satiate your curiosity. Ethical cannibalism.
This is what a young man decided to try, and he invited some “open-minded” friends to the exclusive tasting event. Then, two years later, he decided to report on Reddit how the evening went. The human-flesh tacos were apparently quite appreciated by the group, with the exception of one tablemate (who, in the protagonist’s words, “had to spit me on a napkin“).
The experiment, conducted without braking any law since in the US there is none to forbid cannibalism, did raise some visceral reactions, as you would expect; the now-famous self-cannibal was even interviewed on Vice. And he stated that this little folly helped him to overcome his psychological thrauma: “eating my foot was a funny and weird and interesting way to move forward“.

  • Since we’re talking disgust: a new research determined that things that gross us out are organized in six main categories. At the first place, it’s no surprise to find infected wounds and hygiene-related topics (bad smells, excrements, atc.), perhaps because they act as signals for potentially harmful situations in which our bodies run the risk of contracting a disease.
  • Did someone order prawns?
    In Qingdao, China, the equivalent of a seafood restaurant fell from the sky (some photos below). Still today, rains of animals remain quite puzzling.

EDIT: This photo is fake (not the others).

  • In Sweden there is a mysterious syndrom: it only affects Soviet refugee children who are waiting to know if their parents’ residency permit will be accepted.
    It’s called “resignation syndrome”. The ghost of forced repatriation, the stress of not knowing the language and the exhausting beaurocratic procedures push these kids first into apathy, then catatonia and eventually into a coma.  At first this epidemic was thought to be some kind of set-up or sham, but doctors soon understood this serious psychological alteration is all but fake: the children can lie in a coma even for two years, suffer from relapses, and the domino effect is such that from 2015 to 2016 a total of 169 episodes were recorded.
    Here’s an article on this dramatic condition. (Thanks, David!)

Anatomy of the corset.

  • Nuke simulator: choose where to drop the Big One, type and kilotons, if it will explode in the air or on the ground. Then watch in horror and find out the effects.
  • Mari Katayama is a Japanese artist. Since she was a child she started knitting peculiar objects, incorporating seashells and jewels in her creations. Suffering from ectrodactyly, she had both legs amputated when she was 9 years old. Today her body is the focus of her art projects, and her self-portraits, in my opinion, are a thing of extraordinary beauty. Here are some of ther works.
    (Official website, Instagram)

Way back when, medical students sure knew how to pull a good joke (from this wonderful book).

  • The big guy you can see on the left side in the picture below is the Irish Giant Charles Byrne (1761–1783), and his skeleton belongs to the Hunterian Museum in London. It is the most discussed specimen of the entire anatomical collection, and for good reason: when he was still alive, Byrne clearly stated that he wanted to be buried at sea, and categorically refused the idea of his bones being exhibited in a museum — a thought that horrified him.
    When Byrne died, his friends organized his funeral in the coastal city of Margate, not knowing that the casket was actually full of stones: anatomist William Hunter had bribed an undertaker to steal the Giant’s valuable body. Since then, the skeleton was exhibited in the museum and, even if it certainly contributed to the study of acromegalia and gigantism, it has always been a “thorny” specimen from an ethical perspective.
    So here’s the news: now that the Hunterian is closed for a 3-year-long renovation, the museum board seems to be evaluating the possibility of buring Byrne’s skeletal remains. If that was the case, it would be a game changer in the ethical exhibit of human remains in museums.

  • Just like a muder mystery: a secret diary written on the back of floorboards in a French Castle, and detailing crime stories and sordid village affairs. (Thanks, Lighthousely!)
  • The most enjoyable read as of late is kindly offered by the great Thomas Morris, who found a  delightful medical report from 1852. A gentleman, married with children but secretly devoted to onanism, first tries to insert a slice of a bull’s penis into his own penis, through the urethra. The piece of meat gets stuck, and he has to resort to a doctor to extract it. Not happy with this result, he  decides to pass a 28 cm. probe through the same opening, but thing slips from his fingers and disappears inside him. The story comes to no good for our hero; an inglorious end — or maybe proudly libertine, you decide.
    It made me think of an old saying: “never do anything you wouldn’t be caught dead doing“.

That’s all for now folks!

Tabù alimentari

L’uomo è un animale onnivoro, e può mangiare e digerire cibi di origine vegetale e animale alla stessa stregua. Eppure la maggior parte degli esseri umani consuma soltanto poche varietà di prodotti alimentari.

Alcune popolazioni si nutrono di alimenti che disgustano altre popolazioni: i tabù alimentari sono fra i più radicati, e intimamente legati al gruppo etnico di cui si fa parte. Secondo alcuni antropologi (tra cui Marvin Harris) sarebbero stati i fattori ambientali a far prediligere un certo cibo a un determinato popolo. Il tabù della carne di maiale per ebrei e musulmani nel Medioriente deriverebbe dalla difficoltà nell’allevare questo animale, che è tendenzialmente stanziale e abbisogna di ombra e acqua: permettere il consumo di carne di maiale avrebbe significato mettere in pericolo l’identità stessa della tradizione nomade.

Secondo altri antropologi (come ad esempio Steven Pinker) il tabù alimentare sarebbe alla base stessa della nostra identità. Nel primo periodo di vita di un bambino sarebbe assente la distinzione fra cibi buoni e cibi disgustosi: così, proprio nel periodo cruciale in cui si apprende a preferire dei cibi piuttosto che altri (fino ai 4 anni), i genitori escludono dalla dieta del bambino alcuni alimenti, e questo basta affinché i bambini crescano trovandoli disgustosi. La tattica, poi, si perpetua da sé: i figli, crescendo, diventano dei genitori che non danno da mangiare cibi disgustosi ai propri figli.

Nelle tribù è talmente importante questo elemento aggregativo (il pasto comunitario, le regole interne per la consumazione del cibo), che si è notato come la maggior parte dei tabù alimentari proibiscano proprio il cibo preferito dalla tribù nemica.

Oggi, nel mondo, esistono ancora fortissimi tabù alimentari. Quello che è buono e appetibile per alcuni, per altri è disgustoso e detestabile. Insetti, cavallette e lombrichi sono cibi prelibati per milioni di persone; ben quarantadue popolazioni mangiano ratti, mentre sono molte le popolazioni che non berrebbero mai un bicchiere di latte, in quanto secreto dalle ghiandole animali, come la saliva o il sudore. Per non parlare del formaggio, che altro non è se non latte andato a male. Un americano inorridisce in una nostra macelleria se gli viene proposta carne equina, e noi facciamo lo stesso di fronte a una zuppa cinese in cui galleggiano due zampe di cane. E come reagireste se in un ristorante sushi tradizionale in Giappone, vi servissero un pesce spellato e tagliuzzato, ma ancora vivo?

Praticamente tutti gli animali sono commestibili e vengono mangiati, in tutto il mondo.

L’entomofagia (il mangiare insetti) è fra le pratiche globalmente più diffuse. Questo signore ha provato ad importare questa tradizione culinaria “adattandola” ai gusti occidentali, proponendo un menu interamente a base di insetti:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3f7I_HAm4d8]

In tutto il sud-est asiatico, invece, uno dei cibi più apprezzati è il balut: si tratta di uova di anatra fecondate, che contengono cioè l’embrione quasi completamente formato del pulcino: lo stadio di sviluppo al quale sia preferibile consumare questa prelibatezza è strettamente questione di gusti personali.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpUW0b8G9Dk&feature=fvw]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6I9_ooR_7wE]

In Papua Nuova Guinea i pipistrelli si fanno arrosto:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ImfTlurKDVE&feature=channel]

Anche da noi sono considerate commestibili le cosce della rana; ma ne mangereste il cuore ancora pulsante?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhLAb83oUNE&feature=related]

Forse l’unico tabù fondamentale condiviso dalla maggior parte delle popolazioni al mondo è il divieto di mangiare carne umana; eppure perfino il cannibalismo è stato accettato, in certe culture, nonostante fosse regolato da precise condizioni, e rigidamente motivato all’interno di un determinato quadro simbolico e tradizionale.