Something Good #81: Deluged
This is what happened: last week we were in Toronto when an ice storm, the likes of which had not been seen in these parts since 1998, knocked Montreal sideways. This time, over a million people were without power—including, technically, us. At first smug that we had escaped the city in time for a massive blackout, as the outage dragged on, we began to worry about our fridge, and more urgently, our fish.
Longtime readers of this newsletter may recall that I am low key a tropical fish enthusiast. Deprived of heat, and more importantly, of the oxygenating effect of filtered water, our little community—a handful of neon tetras, some excitable yellow shrimp, a maudlin, bottom-dwelling zebra corydora, a sun-bright honey gourami, and, sequestered in her own tank, a beautiful but dimwitted galaxy tetra named Astra—was surely doomed.
Was there anything we could do? I remembered a dumb purchase I’d made a few months before, a pair of USB hand-warmers meant to fit inside gloves and pockets. They were about the size and shape of an aquarium heater… Hmmm. I asked our very helpful neighbours, who were keeping an eye on the place, if they could somehow turn them on tape them to the outsides of the tanks.
They could. They did! And when we returned days later, the results weren’t as bad as we’d hoped. Astra survived. So did our honey gourami. The shrimp took the opportunity to multiply and pretty much take over the tank.
Meanwhile, our basement flooded.
But that is another story, and shall be told another time.
Here are some interesting things I saw while visiting the Royal Ontario Museum while we were in Toronto. This museum was a childhood favourite of mine, and it is still of delightful, dubiously-sourced artifacts, even if the building itself has been more or less ruined by an architectural debacle in which a gigantic “Crystal” (possibly cool) was jammed into the front of the building, but then the glass itself had to be removed because it was unsafe or bad for some reason and replaced with aluminum (so it’s not even a crystal anymore). Now it is apparently Canada’s most-hated building. Nice!
This is a Halitzah shoe. The deal with this shoe is, in Jewish tradition, if a man’s brother died, the man was then obligated to marry his brother’s now-widow to, presumably, take care of her and her children, preserve the family wealth, etc. This was known as “levirate marriage.”
However, if either party did not want to marry their former sibling-in-law (reasonable!), there was a whole ceremony for this, which amazingly, involved a ritualized shaming in front of the community. Deuteronomy, via this article in My Jewish Learning:
But if that party does not want to take his brother’s widow, his brother’s widow shall appear before the elders in the gate and declare, “My husband’s brother refuses to establish a name in Israel for his brother; he will not perform the duty of a levir.”
The elders of his town shall then summon him and talk to him. If he insists, saying, “I do not want to take her,”
His brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, pull the sandal off his foot, spit in his face, and make this declaration: “Thus shall be done to the man who will not build up his brother’s house!”
And he shall go in Israel by the name of “the family of the unsandaled one.”
“The unsandaled one.” Harsh.
I found this sign among a collection of Filipino artifacts. It seemed strangely… neutral on the whole issue of how these artifacts managed to be collected, displayed, and presented here almost without comment over a century later.
Of course, a cursory search revealed that there was a bigger, more complicated story than “a series of specimens illustrative of Philippine Ethnology.”
From Bonnie McElhinny’s article “Meet Me in Toronto: The Re-exhibition of Artifacts from the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition at the Royal Ontario Museum:”
One of the fair’s most popular, and controversial, features was the Philippine exhibit, a twenty-hectare section with five ‘tribal’ villages in which 1,100 Filipinos lived for the duration of the fair in a human-zoo setting, demonstrating arts and crafts, selling products, and being observed in their daily lives. At the fair’s end, the artifacts were sold to notable U.S. cultural institutions. A largely unknown part of the story is the afterlife of some of these artifacts in Canada.
This study unit at the Asian American Education Project goes into the background of this exhibit and its repercussions:
After the Philippine-American War ended in 1902, Americans became fascinated by the natives of the newly acquired territory, which led to the development of anthropological exhibits showcasing what “primitive” life was like in the Philippines. During this time period, anthropologists adopted an evolutionary perspective rooted in white superiority. One of the exhibits featured the Igorot people, who anthropologist Albert Jenks believed were the most uncivilized tribe in the Philippines. These exhibits/human zoos sparked the creation of negative stereotypes of both the Igorot people and the Filipino community.
Museums—wonderful places, but never as neutral as they’d like to appear.
What I’m reading now: I’m lucky enough to be reading two books by friends at the moment. First is Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America by longtime friend of the newsletter Abraham Josephine Riesman, who I interviewed way back in issue eight of this newsletter, about her Stan Lee biography, and who I hope to get back on here soon. Next is already-NYT-bestseller Camp Zero by old, old friend Michelle Min Sterling. Both, so far, are just great.
And of course I am still re-reading Jan Morris’s Hav for our book club. In case you missed it, you can find the first post below.
Short story idea: a group of commandos mounts a midnight raid on Omelas to extract the town’s suffering child. Title: “We Don’t Walk Away”? I dunno. This has been a soggy Something Good. If you liked it, please tell a friend or subscribe below: