• faint hope for the Monarchs

      The Monarch figures for 2017 were released in February: down 1/3 from the previously year, which was only slightly better than the figures for 2014 and 2013, the lowest in at least 20 years, a decline of more than 80% in recent decades. According to a report in the New York Times by Michael Wines there […]

  • why fear miscegenation?

      The caste system of Mexico held that there was racial mobility in miscegenation. A mestizo line could move forward to become Spanish after three generations of interbreeding with pure Spaniards, whereas mixing with Africans moved one back toward the pure African. Gary Winogrand’s Central Park Zoo photograph from 1967 plays on a buried notion […]

  • dark chocolate

    Café Tacuba, a 100-year-old restaurant in downtown Mexico City and our first stop whenever my family visits the city, is as much national metaphor as a place to eat. The restaurant is a veritable shrine to mestizaje, the fusion of Indian and Iberian that produced the Mexican culture. As food writer Raymond Sokolov has pointed out, it is […]

  • Why the butter in ‘butterfly?

      Whether it is their metamorphosis, their vibrant colors, their gentle fluttering, their beauty, something about butterflies touches our imaginations. They transcend our negative associations about insects and seem more fairies than bugs. Perhaps this accounts for the great variety of names for butterfly in different languages. The “monarch” was named by a 19th century […]

  • ‘butterfly’: a linguistic anomaly

      How can we account for the world-wide variety in word ‘butterfly’? The most interesting essay on this linguistic mystery comes from William O. Beeman, of the Dept of Anthropolgy, Brown University, 2000: The Elusive Butterfly. He notes that since the 19th century, “one of the bedrock principles of linguistic analysis” has been that most words […]

  • the bugs and us

      My parents, like the Monarch butterflies, wintered in Central Mexico. Fleeing icy Manhattan to join their friends in Palm Beach or Palm Springs would have been too easy. Instead, after my father retired from dentistry at 80, they set up house in Ajijic, a small lake-side village outside Guadalajara with a big ex-pat community […]

  • wine cellars and mortality

      One of the essential appeals of “laying down” wine is that you can buy it when it is young and relatively inexpensive, after which it can sit in your cellar aging and taking on value. Over the years, you can chortle at the high price a wine is fetching— in a wine store or […]

  • Why are smells so hard to recall?

      The sense of smell has a conflicting relationship to memory: the memories it evokes are the most intense and emotional, while scent itself is so elusive as to seem beyond memory. Proust may have been the first person to describe the phenomenon of scent/taste-induced memory, a memory so complete that it feels like the […]

  • bellicose bambini

      The history of Italy is a gory tale of non-stop internecine fighting. If Disney had animated it, the tongue would be trying to devour the toe, the grommet to strangle the lace. To walk the otherwise charming old streets is to tread on centuries of dried blood, fratricidal blood. Other travelers may focus on […]

  • the 7 Wonders: lost and found

      By the end of the Roman Era, all the Wonders except the pyramids had disappeared and only the idea of a List of Seven Wonders survived. For several hundred years no record existed of the original list’s makeup, though new lists continued to be developed. In the early 1500s, after Antipater’s poem had come […]

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