Sunday, July 15, 2018

dear dr. granville, there’s been a discovery

I just read about the latest discovery in the pyramids—a mummification workshop. Will the great mysteries of Egyptian mummification at last be revealed? Will there be any mention of beeswax? So far I’ve read only of “oils and substances” being found, but surely specific identifications will come, and suddenly my research into Dr. Augustus Bozzi Granville (father Italian, mother Cornish) feels a bit less abstruse. I’m glad I found and snatched up just this week that one copy of his autobiography found online (“First edition, 2 volumes complete, in half leather boards with marbled end papers and cut edge. Minor signs of repairs to the spine creases of Volume 1 and its end paper hinges reinforced with a strip of red tape. Boards clean and bright with some rubbing of the edges. Both books firm with contents in nice condition.”). The books are coming from England. The title alone brings joy.
Autobiography of A. B. Granville, M.D., F.R.S.,—Being 88 Years of the Life of a Physician Who Practiced His Profession in Italy, Greece, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, The West Indies, Russia, Germany, France, and England. Edited, with a Brief Account of the Last Years of His Life, by His Youngest Daughter, Paulina B. Granville.
To refresh, Dr. Granville (1783-1872) is the guy who scraped adipocere from a mummy, thinking it was beeswax, turned it into candles. Yes, that Dr. Granville and no, I’m not done with him yet because I am so glad to have his account of this event. I perused parts of his autobiography online. He writes of obtaining the mummy:
A young baronet, Sir Archibald Edmonstone, just returned in bad health from a long incursion into Egypt, applied to me for advice, and at the same time commenced a conversation on the subject of Alexandria, which we had both of us visited, branching off into an account of a visit he had paid to the kings’ tombs, where he had been able not only to penetrate into the mummy pits, but, a rare privilege, had purchased one of the best preserved specimens, judging from the exterior case, which was perfect both in material and painting. This he had brought home with him, and kept in his house in Wimpole Street, where I went to see it. …
Of the unwrapping and dissection:
The case was in Savile Row the next day. On that day week my dining-room was open at one o’clock to some scientific and other friends, to witness the examination of the mummy. During the week I had had the case carefully opened, which proved to be made of sycamore wood an inch thick, whitewashed or plastered in its interior, with long ranges of hieroglyphic inscriptions painted in black characters. The body, enveloped in all its cloth wrappers, being taken out and deposited on a long table, was searched all over for papyri or amulets or any ornament, but nothing was discovered except a few segments of very slender glass tubing, tinted pale blue, and looking like enamel, and a few grains of wheat that looked as fresh as any grain of wheat of the last harvest. …
Of the wax:
I claim in this laborious investigation to have demonstrated the fact of wax having been the ingredient which was successfully employed, not only to preserve the body from putrefaction, but also to keep the membranes as well as the ligaments in their supple condition, so that when the wax was discharged from them by the process of boiling in water, the soft parts came out with their natural structure, and in less than twenty-four hours underwent decomposition and putrefaction. To these facts antiquaries and such persons as are versed in the old Egyptian language, add the information that the Egyptian word corresponding to wax is “mum.” …
And, finally, the lighting of the candles made from the wax:
… some of the wax obtained being manufactured into small tapers, which were lighted and burned during the lecture. …
Dear Dr. Granville, Thank you. I turn to you for the last word (for now):
When I look back to the work I spontaneously took upon myself to perform unsolicited by anyone, and to the nature of the work itself, I fear that I must confess that the motives that induced me to undertake it were akin to that spirit of restless impatience which the good preceptors in my college early divulged to my parents, when they sent me home for my holidays with a very gratifying encomium of my intellectual progress somewhat damaged by an explicit lament over the listlessness of my temperament and my love of change. I was born to be a reformer! …


Sunday, July 8, 2018

josie’s world, my world: deer, porcupine, a soybean menu, and adipocere revisited

Josie’s been negotiating property rights with a deer.


And one evening Josie spotted a porcupine by the kitchen stoop. I was elsewhere, but he let me know I might want to look at this thing here and when I saw what it was, I picked up Josie, took him inside, got my camera, went back out.


And as I contemplated writing a book about wax, which of course brought to mind all the times I have contemplated writing a book about anything at all as well all the times I have not written a book about anything at all, I began revisiting my wax posts, taking it from the top, just to see if there was something there (there is always something there, the question is, what is it? what to do with it?), and if nothing else my interest in the topic grew deeper. Which is how I came to learn that in 1941 the Ford Motor Company created a car touted as being made from soybeans, a “soy car.” Apparently Henry Ford was a soybean fanatic and you, too, can see some fun pictures and read all about it at Henry Ford: Soybeans and Henry Ford and His Employees: Work with Soy. For some reason, I found this menu more interesting than the car.


Suffice to say that with this topic of wax I realized there was a bit more to delve into. Which is how I got back to adipocere, the wax our bodies create after we’re dead, and that story about Dr. Granville’s big mistake, mistaking adipocere (which apparently wasn’t something anyone knew about in Granville’s time, two hundred years ago) for beeswax and making candles from the stuff (the stuff he had scraped from the insides of a very old Egyptian mummy that he had unwrapped, dissected, studied, diagnosed, apparently in his own home) and subsequently lighting a lecture hall with said candles while he made a presentation on said mummy and his findings. I found the article he wrote on the mummy and as well the subsequent paper from 2009 that re-examined the mummy, leading to the summation that what Granville took to be beeswax was actually adipocere. I have not yet read the 2009 paper, but I did read Granville’s. I had to look up a few words to get a better grasp on what he was saying, but, all in all, I found it fascinating. Whether it’s more good stuff for a book or not, I don’t know. Whether I actually have the discipline or whatever it is one needs to write something longer than, say, a blog post, I don’t know. Whether the end result of any such effort would be any good, or of interest to anyone else, which, judging by my experience talking to folks at the farmers market and gauging at what point they lose interest in the broader topic of wax, well. Stop now. But, I don’t know. And of course there’s really only one way to find out.

According to Granville, the beeswax made its way into the mummy, the dead body, thus helping to preserve it, by virtue of embalmers soaking it in a bath of wax and bitumen.
To have penetrated thus far, and to have lodged between closely adhering membraneous folds, this mixture must either have been injected quite warm into the cavity of the abdomen, or the body itself must have been plunged into a vessel containing a liquefied mixture of wax and bitumen, and there kept for some hours or days, over a gentle fire.
He goes on about this probability, turns it into an almost undeniable fact, and sums up
that admirable method of embalming, devised and followed by the ancient Egyptians, which my inquiries have been directed to ascertain, and which may be summed up in a few words by saying: that it consisted in impregnating the body with bees wax.
Granville conducts his own experiments with the soak-em-in-beeswax-over-a-gentle-fire embalming method that lend a certain amount of proof, or, shall we say, well, maybe. But he was wrong. Or so they say now. But still, he made candles from the wax he found in a mummy, whatever it was—beeswax, human wax—and the candles burned and no one knew.

A drawing of the head of the mummy Granville unwrapped, dissected, and wrote about.
From the aforementioned article in Philosophical Transactions, Royal Society Publishing, January 1825.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

kool & the gang & all that jazz (sshhh ... ) the night pastor is about to appear

Kool & the Gang. A favorite. Are you thinking “Celebration”?


I like the song, sure, but that’s not it, not my favorite, my favorite is Kool & the Gang’s “Kool Jazz” album that I owned and loved until I no longer owned it, jiminy crickets who knows why, we gather and gather and then winnow away until oops, one day, wait a minute, where is that thing, that song, I loved it … and we go online searching for that thing, that song (that’s why the internet was invented), and all I remember about this one particular song on “Kool Jazz” that truly made the whole album worth it (even though the whole album = very good) is that it had something to do with night, no, wait a minute, it was “Dujii,” that’s it, “Dujii”!


One of my favorites.

Dave Brubeck on the way to the farmers market … Blue Rondo a la Turk jammin’ like walking down a street and all you’re doing is seeing face after face, each face passes by, young, old, middle-aged and pink and red and brown and black and ghostly white; no noise, just music, the groove, the beat, the riff, the storefronts, awnings, scraps of paper, a paper bag, sidewalk, bench, the side of a bus and kids jumping rope; like skimming along on train tracks, a lighted tunnel then over a bridge and woods and mountains flash by between wooden or rusty steel lines, beams and cross-beams, a glimpse of river, lakes, sun sparkling on water, going by, passing by, all in a groove, fish jumping, walking along, moving along, Blue Rondo a la Turk, Take Five.

I inherited from my dad “Sing Sing Sing” on vinyl as recorded famously live at Carnegie Hall in 1938 and I remember another Benny Goodman record and it’s on the hi-fi and I’m dancing in the living room pretending to play a clarinet which was all I could do when it came to playing the clarinet—pretend—and my dad is there and I still have that record, too. And at the farmers market almost every week now a jazz combo plays and I love these guys, just kids, talented, lucky kids playing “Take the A Train” and take everything else and it’s just music, kind and pure.


There’s a Ramsey Lewis Trio record I picked up somewhere, “The In Crowd,” recorded live at the Bohemian Caverns in Washington, D.C., 1965, and there’s a strange and wonderful record my mom had—had something to do with her P.E.O. affiliation, I think—called “The Night Pastor and Seven Friends Play Chicago Jazz.” I don’t remember ever hearing this record growing up. I discovered it as an adult when helping out during a move. No, Mom, I don’t want the china or those salt cellars old so-and-so gave you as a wedding present. But can I have this old record?

The Night Pastor was a real guy, an episcopal priest, The Reverend Robert H. Owen, and a minute or two into Track 1, Beale St. Blues, he says:
Hello. This is the Night Pastor. I’d like to visit with you for a moment, so please pardon me for cutting in on this fine music. First, a million thanks to the musicians who are recording this album and to Dave Remington who got them together. Secondly, thank you for your interest. The Night Pastor program aims at giving pastoral care and guidance to those who work or play at night, called by many “the people of the night.” They are the entertainers and the entertained, the lonely and the lost, those who serve and those who are served, the loving and the loved, the unloving and the unloved, the sleepless, and others who are active at night. Because of the late or strange hours, or for other reasons, many of them have been unable to get the guidance they might want or need. The Night Pastor program is one attempt at helping these people of the night to solve their problems. If you would like to know more about the program, please write to the Night Pastor, 30 East Oak Street, in Chicago. Again, thank you very much. Now let’s get back to the music.
But the music never stops as the pastor’s seven friends jam away quietly below his words turning his entire spiel into poetry. Side Two begins with Saints, as in when the saints go marching in, and this is the only other time the album is adorned with voice, the pastor’s voice, as he riffs along with the musicians starting with just the snare drum and cymbal and the pastor praising Him in all sorts of ways and then Praising Him in the sound of the trumpets (enter the trumpets!) … the lute and harpstrings and pipeswell-tuned cymbals … Well damn and jam. This is absolutely one of my favorite albums. It was recorded in 1965 in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, by Claremont Record Company.


(There is a second Night Pastor album, “Music to Lure Pigeons By.” You can listen to it on YouTube.)

I have a number of instrumental jazz albums and CDs randomly collected sans any real education or guidance, knowledge of what I was doing (though my mother would like to interject: “Leslie once took jazz piano lessons and she was very good. She could have been a jazz pianist.” And I will roll on the floor now, in agony.). Among these records and CDs are horns, pianos, marimba, bass, drums, vibraphone, mambo, Dixieland, ragtime, bossa nova, Tito Puente!, standards, classics, improv, the usual and the unusual, stuff I like. Stuff I haven’t yet given away. Stuff I think I will turn to for a while now, as long as it takes, as long as I need to, for pastoral care. Just line it up, let it play.