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Chicago: Surgery and Stamen, Puerperal and Purpurea

It was our last day in Chicago as a triad, and we started it at the International Museum of Surgical Science. I haven’t often considered the great debt I owe to history’s physicians, and I take the relative ease with which many formerly deadly ailments can be healed for granted. Which, when I really think about it, is wild. It was just 100 years ago that a broken femur meant an 80% mortality rate. An 80% chance of dying from a broken bone! The Thomas splint, introduced in 1916 by Hugh Owen Thomas, the father of orthopedic surgery in Britain, reduced the mortality rate from 80% to 20%.

About 200 years ago, doctors started to believe in germs, but there were holdouts into the mid-late 1800s who staunchly refused to accept or understand their role in transmitting disease from patient to patient.  Before the germ theory of disease was accepted (the idea that microorganisms invade the bodies of humans and animals and it is their growth and reproduction that cause disease), doctors would go from patient to patient or from an autopsy to a birthing without washing their hands or changing their clothes despite their being “most thoroughly imbued with effluvia“. Disease was thought to be caused by an “imbalance of humours” or by walking through bad air.

Anesthesia was developed around the same time, with the first successful anesthetized procedure occurring in 1846, and while many doctors were excited about its surgical possibilities, there were, again, some holdouts who considered its use wrong and even immoral. “I think anesthesia is of the devil and I cannot give my sanction to any Satanic influence which deprives a man of the capacity to recognize law! I wish there was no such thing as anesthesia! I do not think men should be prevented from passing through what God intended them to endure!” remarked William Henry Atkinson, physician and first president of the American Dental Association, which makes me wonder what I’m intended to endure when I purchase a toothbrush or paste endorsed by the ADA. 

Still, even doctors who embraced anesthesia for its ability to allow more invasive procedures often found that their successes ended in the death of the patient, and this is the direct result of antiseptic measures not yet being in place due to the idea of germs being rather newfangled. Thanks to the work of individuals like Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister (who promoted the sterilization of operating rooms and equipment in the 1870s), the risk of contracting an infection after surgery has been dramatically reduced. And so, on the few occasions I’ve been under the knife, I haven’t had to gnaw on a belt, conscious, while a doctor rooted around in my insides who may or may not have washed his hands beforehand. Modern surgical science has given us all that.

The Hall of Immortals, sculptures by Louis Linck and Edouard Chassaing

The Right Honorable Sir Joseph Lister, surgeon, pioneer of antiseptic surgery, and for whom both Listerine and Listeria are named.

Marie Curie, physicist and chemist, who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity.

Louis Pasteur, biologist, microbiologist, chemist, discoverer of the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation, and pasteurization.

The books at the International Museum of Surgical Science are soft packed in tissue paper as a means of preservation. 

With all the natural sunlight spilling into the room, I would not be surprised if the top of the desk is discolored around and thus ironically damaged by the sign they placed to protect it.

Antique glasses case made of shagreen, a rough-textured leather that is traditionally from a shark, ray, or horse and dyed a pale green.

Medical device or chill piece of fashion? 

Things that came out of people. And maybe animals? For sure people.

A fascinating series of illustrations demonstrating pioneering techniques for nasal reconstruction by using adjacent flaps of skin. Making your armpit the first thing you have to sniff with your new nose is the medical profession’s way of keeping you humble about your new nose.

It’s going the extra mile in your medical illustration to not only finely render your subject but add a whole rhino in the background. 

All that talk and video of invasive surgery gave me the kind of renewed zeal for life that it takes to eat a slice of deep dish pizza at Giordano’s or any place that deals it Chicago style. I used to be defensive about whether Chicago style was “real” pizza or not (it is!) , but I will now begrudgingly admit that it is not the style that springs to mind when the word “pizza” is uttered within earshot. Chicago style is pizza but it’s pizza that’s being extra by basically being a pizza stacked on top of a pizza.  A pizza casserole,  stuffed with more mozzarella than I’m comfortable contemplating when I’m not eating it. When I’m eating it, I’m more than fine with the amount of cheese in there. 

We drove past this place on our way to the Chicago Botanic Garden and I just…why would you name your outlet for luxe furniture The Dump? What on earth do you think is appealing about that name? Would you name a fancy ice cream shop The Squirts?

It was sweltering when we visited the Chicago Botanic Garden, hot and humid. The kind of heat where you don’t know if you’re sweating or the moisture in the air is condensing into droplets and rivulets on your skin or large amounts of both. The two pounds of mozzarella rolling around in my stomach probably didn’t help matters. It was so steamy that my glasses started to fog up even as my eyelashes spritzed the lenses with sweat for what amounted to a constant blurry filth filter on the world.

We sweatily unfolded the map and determined that the one place on the entire 385 acres we definitely didn’t want to visit was  “Spider Island” so of course we found ourselves on Spider Island almost immediately. It’s the same kind of magnetism that draws a cat over to fawn on a visitor who isn’t particularly fond of cats. The spider hivemind on Spider Island sensed that Dianne and Dee were both vehemently uncomfortable with their kind and by the powers granted to them by Newton’s Third Law they thus reoriented the earth so that they might love us, placing our feet on the bridge even though we were trying to get to the sensory garden.  At least once they had lured us near, the spiders deigned to reveal themselves. Repelled by our sweatiness, they preferred to just peer at us from above. And behind. And below. And just next to the nape of your neck.

Echinacea purpurea

Sphex pensylvanicus, the great black wasp. The gothest of the wasps.

Dahlia

I love a willow draping dramatically over anything.

I feel like I will never have truly lived if I don’t see a martial arts movie where someone uses this kind of banana as a flail.

Gardenia

There were plenty of other visitors, but most had gathered on the lawn for the music event, so we mostly had the grounds to ourselves. And the spiders, of course.

Photo post: Cabbagetown in Atlanta, GA

Catlanta

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All the amazing art in Cabbagetown is made possible through an annual summer event, Forward, Warrior!, which brings Atlanta’s community of artists together for a mural painting exhibition. The paint is donated by the community, and the artists donate their time and talent. Everyone’s murals are completed within a 48 hour period. Super cool, right?

Photo post: Krog Tunnel in Atlanta, GA

The Krog tunnel is ever-evolving. Check out The Daily Krog for all their awesome documentation. If you want the full experience, you should turn your speakers on and blast the sound of a bunch of car horns, especially if you can set it up so they reverberate through the room. 

Atlanta Botanical Garden: Imaginary Worlds

Pachystachys lutea, the golden shrimp plant

Wasabi coleus

Northern Brown Snake, a non-danger noodle

I’m just going to go ahead and assume that there’s a Chihuly present at every major attraction, and it’s my job to find it. Not because I want to document them, merely so I can say “found it!” in a flippant way. 

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Sarracenia Leucophylla ‘Tarnok’, a variety of pitcher plant. This plant was named after its discoverer and propagator, Coleman Tarnok, in Baldwin county, Alabama. He gave a specimen to the Atlanta Botanical Garden, where they have cultivated it ever since. 

Dendrobates tinctorius, a poison dart frog

I don’t know what this plant is called but so help me god if it is not named cobra something or another I am going to give SUCH a head shaking.

Venus Flytrap, stealth murderer

Maneus Magnificus, the most glam rock of all known Pegasii

The Atlanta Botanical Garden is the most delightful garden I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. I was fortunate enough to go during their “Imaginary Worlds” 2018 exhibit, where creatures real and fantastical were rendered in living plants on a giant scale. The scent, the colors, the textures juxtaposed…it was impossibly lush and thrumming with life. I spent hours bugstalking and marveling at the minute details of the plants, so much so that one of the employees in the Fuqua Orchid Center exclaimed she was surprised I was still in there. Lady, I’d set up a camp and spend the night if I didn’t think there was a possibility that I’d trip over a snapping turtle in the dark.

Photo post: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX

Jumping spider? Maybe? 

The famous Texas Bluebonnet was juuuuust coming into bloom on my visit. I particularly like the way its fuzzy leaves appear to be softly highlighted in chalk.

What is this!?!

Looks like a Texas spiny lizard to me! Someone or something startled it and I heard its rustling through the leaf litter and looked until I found it. 

Cecropia moth

 

Highgate Cemetery

It took until our uphill walk from the tube station for it to strike me: people in London don’t put bumper stickers on their cars. It feels like a curious absence, as in the States, it seems as though every third car has a sticker proclaiming the size of their family, their belief in Jesus, and their even more fervent belief that their toddler could kick your toddler’s ass in karate. No truck seems complete without one or two giant American flags just in case its owner might otherwise forget in which country they reside, between arduous tasks like walking from a big box store to their parking spot, diagonally across three reserved spaces at the front of the lot. Once I noticed this difference, I kept a weather eye open for any form of bumper-based cling and spied nary a one for the rest of the trip. How was I supposed to know if a stranger was my ideological enemy without these physical labels? Thankfully, to calm my American sensibilities, I was headed to a place where nearly everyone was going to be wearing a label: the cemetery.

Despite writing an impassioned letter in high school to the editor of my hometown newspaper in defense of goths (this was long enough ago that reporters believed that if you wore all black to school, you were an incipient murderer of other, normal children), I’ve never been fully committed to the goth lifestyle. I enjoy the literature and the music, black clothes are my jam, I am inordinately fond of velvet, and I do belong to the members-only goth club in town (even if I never go anymore). But hanging out in cemeteries and dancing in the rain have always felt outside of my wheelhouse, potentially owing to their involvement of both the outdoors and physical activity, especially if that outdoor physical activity involves the dampening of my velvet frock. Just thinking about moist velvet makes my skin crawl. This was a very long-winded way of saying I don’t often visit cemeteries. St. Louis No. 1 in New Orleans was an exception. Highgate would be another. 

Nearly ten years ago, I saw Neil Gaiman on his tour to promote The Graveyard Book. In the ensuing decade, I have forgotten the book nigh-entirely, save for the fact that its setting was inspired by Highgate Cemetery. Luckily, it’s a fast, breezy read compared to the dense twelve hundred page tomes I’ve been reading lately, and thus I was able to reacquaint myself easily enough. This is when I discovered that the book references Highgate Cemetery west, and I’d visited Highgate Cemetery east, the western side being open only to guided tours booked in advance on weekdays. Doh! Nevertheless, “a sludge of fallen leaves, a tangle of ivy…and fallen angels stared up blindly” (231) could just as easily describe the eastern side, at least when you move beyond the very manicured main walkway.

Entrance to the west side

I know that those marks are IHS with the letters overlaid as a religious signifier, but in my heart, it’s a special dollar sign that only the really rich can use.

look I’m not saying I’m just saying

This angel legit looks like she’s trying to decide which toppings she wants on her sandwich

If there’s a dog I will find him

I told you I would find the dog

The wilder Highgate got, the more I liked it, plants exploding in a riot of life in this place of the dead, plunging their roots into the heart of our remains and springing forth as something new. Not gone, just changed; even as time, decay, and plant matter work to obscure and reclaim the stones themselves, removing the identities and labels people clung to in life, so that in death they may finally rest in peace with their neighbors.  

Our route to and from Highgate also took us through Waterlow park, which has several lovely ponds and was donated to the city by Sir Sydney Waterlow as “a garden for the gardenless”. These gardens also featured some benches for the benchless, of which we availed ourselves while watching some waterfowl paddle around. Sitting on a bench to watch ducks, I’m already vacationing as if I were in my twilight years. This must be very compelling content. 

A common coot, I’m not certain at which point in its life cycle it officially becomes an old coot. Hit me up, ornithologists. 

Scenes From the Vancouver Aquarium

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van-city-22-of-41There is nothing I don’t love about this shark’s huge mouth.

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If I had “fuck it” money, I would definitely use some of it to install a huge jellyfish aquarium in my fortress of solitude. Like, an entire wall of jellyfish that I could read alongside, watching them swish and float as I pause and contemplate a phrasing or passage. Obviously, my fuck it money fund would also have to include the care of an aquarist because I didn’t get rich spending all my time cleaning tanks (presumably).  Until then, I’ll just get my relax on by visiting aquariums wearing noise canceling headphones and pumping up my seratonin by watching this smooshy faced baby:

 

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The Murals of North Park, San Diego

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Near my dad’s place in North Park, they had been having a lot of issues with tagging on buildings, so they decided to implement a program that’s been successful in other cities: murals. It’s intended to channel artistic impulses in positive ways, increase pride and ownership in the neighborhood, and decrease the sort of vandalism that makes an area appear run down and tends to encourage other crimes. So far, it’s been successful, and once a mural has been implemented, it’s rarely tagged over. And if it is, there’s a task force to remove it as soon as possible–there was one right next to my dad’s place that had been tagged overnight, and the next day, it was like it was never there. Plus, so much cool art for everyone to enjoy! Now if only I could get someone to remove the tags on my street…

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