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Miscellany

Miscellany Fashion

Winston Churchill claimed the soft texture of woven silk underwear was vital to his well-being; “I have a very delicate and sensitive cuticle which demands the finest covering,” he said. His wife, Clementine, told a friend that his pink underclothes “cost the eyes out of the head.”

Miscellany The Sea

“I am not exactly pleased with the Atlantic,” Oscar Wilde is said to have remarked to a fellow passenger aboard the Arizona in 1881. “The sea seems tame to me. The roaring ocean does not roar.” A newspaper subsequently ran the headline: “Mr. Wilde Disappointed with Atlantic.”

Miscellany Music

Beware a comet “if it resembles a flute,” Pliny the Elder warned; “it portends something unfavorable related to music.” The Roman author did not offer further particulars.

Miscellany Comedy

When a former leader of the Tijuana cartel was shot in the back of the head by a man dressed in a clown costume, five hundred clowns from around Latin America joined together at the International Clown Meeting in Mexico City and staged a fifteen-minute laughathon “to demonstrate their opposition to the generalized violence that prevails in our country.”

Miscellany Fashion

After Mademoiselle Bertin became dressmaker to Marie Antoinette, “all wished instantly to have the same dress as the queen,” wrote lady-in-waiting Jeanne-Louise-Henriette Campan. “The expenditure of the younger ladies was necessarily much increased; mothers and husbands murmured at it; some few giddy women contracted debts; unpleasant domestic scenes occurred; several families either quarreled or grew cool among themselves; and the general report was that the queen would be the ruin of all the French ladies.”

Miscellany Fashion

In the days after a July 1917 German air raid on London that killed forty civilians, Harry Gordon Selfridge, the American-born owner of Selfridges department store, took out ads declaring he would award $5,000 of life insurance on behalf of anyone killed by such an attack while shopping at his store. His building, he noted, was made out of concrete.

Miscellany Fashion

In 1999 an Inuit organization complained that representatives from Donna Karan International had come to the Canadian Arctic and paid between $10,000 and $15,000 for handmade Inuit clothing. “They went to the bar up in Yellowknife,” the group told the Ottawa Citizen, “and people just sold them their clothes.” Items purchased later appeared in Donna Karan’s Madison Avenue store.

Miscellany Water

Observing Mars through his telescope in 1877, Milanese astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli saw oceans and canali, meaning channels. The latter was mistranslated into English as canals, implying Martian-made waterways, and an amateur astronomer named Percival Lowell soon began publishing books pointing to these as evidence of life on Mars. By 1910 photographic technology had advanced sufficiently to debunk his extrapolated theories.

Miscellany Swindle & Fraud

To promote malingering and desertion among German soldiers during World War II, the British Political Warfare Executive and Special Operations Executive produced innocuously titled German-language booklets, among them Exercise Protocol for War Marines, into which they inserted information on how to feign illness and escape service. The British then circulated such propaganda using various special-ops agents and balloon drops across Europe.

Miscellany Comedy

According to his biographer Aelius Lampridius, the Roman emperor Elagabalus would amuse himself at dinner by seating his guests on “air pillows instead of cushions and let the air out while they were dining, so that often the diners were suddenly found under the tables.”

Miscellany Disaster

According to sixth-century-BC Greek poet Hipponax of Colophon, in times of drought, famine, or plague an ugly or deformed person was chosen by the community to be pharmakós, or scapegoat. After being fed figs, barley cake, and cheese, he would be struck on the genitals with the bulbs and twigs of wild plants, led on a procession accompanied by flute, and burned on a pyre. His ashes were thrown into the sea. It is believed that Hipponax, whom Pliny the Elder once called “notoriously ugly,” may have been exaggerating the ritual.

 

Miscellany The Future

About how statements get written up by the press, Andy Warhol wrote, “It would always be different from what I’d actually said—and a lot more fun for me to read. Like if I’d said, ‘In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes,’ it could come out ‘In fifteen minutes everyone will be famous.’” About the future, Andy Warhol also wrote, “I really do live for the future, because when I’m eating a box of candy, I can’t wait to taste the last piece. I don’t even taste any of the other pieces.”

Miscellany Disaster

In order to halt or slow the advance of glaciers, the Tlingit tribe of the northwest coast of North America used to sacrifice dogs and slaves by throwing them into the glacier’s crevasses in the hopes of appeasing the ice spirit.

Miscellany Spies

To send a confidential note to Cyrus the Great along heavily guarded roads, sixth-century-BC Median noble Harpagus inserted a paper message into a dead hare’s belly and ordered a servant to pose as a hunter to deliver the corpse. 

Miscellany States of Mind

For the treatment of “delirium and mania combined with shameless behavior,” ninth-century Persian polymath al-Razi offered a remedy by medical theorist Simʿun: “Bathe the patient’s head with a decoction of elecampane and sheep’s trotters, pour milk over him, put dung upon him, make him snuff sweet violet oil and breast milk, and feed him anything that is cold, fatty, and fills and moistens the brain.”