data wrangler
1839 stories

Moments that feel alright

1 Comment
A rose bush in bloom

I’m on the front porch.

Just closed a book and the breeze is ebbing and flowing.

The rose bush is in bloom.

I prune dead leaves off a small fern and release them to the wind.

The temperature, perfect.

Birds are having conversations.

A Slack notification on my wrist.

That can be dealt with later.

The sound of cars whoosh by on the main road.

A rotary saw off in the distance for a brief moment.

Some hammering.

Mental note made of moments that feel alright.

Audio from the moment

Reply via email

Read the whole story
1 hour ago
I'm so glad Chris Glass has left up his RSS feed.
Louisville, KY
Share this story

Is an unknown, extraordinarily ancient civilisation buried under eastern Turkey?

1 Comment and 2 Shares

I am staring at about a dozen, stiff, eight-foot high, orange-red penises, carved from living bedrock, and semi-enclosed in an open chamber. A strange carved head (of a man, a demon, a priest, a God?), also hewn from the living rock, gazes at the phallic totems – like a primitivist gargoyle. The expression of the stone head is doleful, to the point of grimacing, as if he, or she, or it, disapproves of all this: of everything being stripped naked under the heavens, and revealed to the world for the first time in 130 centuries.

Yes, 130 centuries. Because these penises, this peculiar chamber, this entire perplexing place, known as Karahan Tepe (pronounced Kah-rah-hann Tepp-ay), which is now emerging from the dusty Plains of Harran, in eastern Turkey, is astoundingly ancient. Put it another way: it is estimated to be 11-13,000 years old.

This number is so large it is hard to take in. For comparison the Great Pyramid at Giza is 4,500 years old. Stonehenge is 5,000 years old. The Cairn de Barnenez tomb-complex in Brittany, perhaps the oldest standing structure in Europe, could be up to 7,000 years old.

The oldest megalithic ritual monument in the world (until the Turkish discoveries) was always thought to be Ggantija, in Malta. That’s maybe 5,500 years old. So Karahan Tepe, and its penis chamber, and everything that inexplicably surrounds the chamber – shrines, cells, altars, megaliths, audience halls et al – is vastly older than anything comparable, and plumbs quite unimaginable depths of time, back before agriculture, probably back before normal pottery, right back to a time when we once thought human ‘civilisation’ was simply impossible.

After all, hunter gatherers – cavemen with flint arrowheads – without regular supplies of grain, without the regular meat and milk of domesticated animals, do not build temple-towns with water systems.

Do they?

Virtually all that we can now see of Karahan Tepe has been skilfully unearthed the last two years, with remarkable ease (for reasons which we will come back to later). And although there is much more to summon from the grave, what it is already teaching us is mind stretching. Taken together with its age, complexity, sophistication, and its deep, resonant mysteriousness, and its many sister sites now being unearthed across the Harran Plains – collectively known as the Tas Tepeler, or the ‘stone hills’ – these carved, ochre-red rocks, so silent, brooding, and watchful in the hard whirring breezes of the semi-desert, constitute what might just be the greatest archaeological revelation in the history of humankind.

The unveiling of Karahan Tepe, and nearly all the Tas Tepeler, in the last two years, is not without precedent. As I take my urgent photos of the ominously louring head, Necmi Karul touches my shoulder, and gestures behind, across the sun-burnt and undulant plains.

Necmi, of Istanbul University, is the chief archaeologist in charge of all the local digs – all the Tas Tepeler. He has invited me here to see the latest findings in this region, because I was one of the first western journalists to come here many years ago and write about the origin of the Tas Tepeler. In fact, under the pen-name Tom Knox, I wrote an excitable thriller about the first of the ‘stone hills’ – a novel called The Genesis Secret, which was translated into quite a few languages – including Turkish. That site, which I visited 16 years back, was Gobekli Tepe.

Necmi points into the distance, now hazed with heat.

‘Sean. You see that valley, with the roads, and white buildings?’

I can maybe make out a white-ish dot, in one of the pale, greeny-yellow valleys, which stretch endlessly into the shimmering blur.

‘That,’ Necmi says, ‘Is Gobekli Tepe. 46 kilometres away. It has changed since since you were last here!’

And so, to Gobekli Tepe. The ‘hill of the navel’. Gobekli is pivotally important. Because Karahan Tepe, and the Tas Tepeler, and what they might mean today, cannot be understood without the primary context of Gobekli Tepe. And to comprehend that we must double back in time, at least a few decades.

The modern story of Gobekli Tepe begins in 1994, when a Kurdish shepherd followed his flock over the lonely, infertile hillsides, passing a single mulberry tree, which the locals regarded as ‘sacred’. The bells hanging on his sheep tinkled in the stillness. Then he spotted something. Crouching down, he brushed away the dust, and exposed a large, oblong stone. The man looked left and right: there were similar stone outcrops, peeping from the sands.

Calling his dog to heel, the shepherd informed someone of his finds when he got back to the village. Maybe the stones were important. He was not wrong. The solitary Kurdish man, on that summer’s day in 1994, had made an irreversibly profound discovery – which would eventually lead to the penis pillars of Karahan Tepe, and an archaeological anomaly which challenges, time and again, everything we know of human prehistory.

A few weeks after that encounter by the mulberry tree, news of the shepherd’s find reached museum curators in the ancient city of Sanliurfa, 13km south-west of the stones. They got in touch with the German Archaeological Institute in Istanbul. And in late 1994 the German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt came to the site of Gobekli Tepe to begin his slow, diligent excavations of its multiple, peculiar, enormous T-stones, which are generally arranged in circles – like the standing stones of Avebury or Stonehenge. Unlike European standing stones, however, the older Turkish megaliths are often intricately carved: with images of local fauna. Sometimes the stones depict cranes, boars, or wildfowl: creatures of the hunt. There are also plenty of leopards, foxes, and vultures. Occasionally these animals are depicted next to human heads.

Notably lacking were detailed human representations, except for a few coarse or eerie figurines, and the T-stones themselves, which seem to be stylised invocations of men, their arms ‘angled’ to protect the groin. The obsession with the penis is obvious – more so, now we have the benefit of hindsight provided by Karahan Tepe and the other sites. Very few representations of women have emerged from the Tas Tepeler so far; there is one obscene caricature of a woman perhaps giving birth. Whatever inspired these temple-towns it was a not a benign matriarchal culture. Quite the opposite, maybe.

The apparent date of Gobekli Tepe – first erected in 10,000 BC, if not earlier – caused a deal of skepticism. But over time archaeological experts began to accept the significance. Ian Hodden, of Stanford University, declared that: ‘Gobekli Tepe changes everything.’ David Lewis-Williams, the revered professor of archaeology at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, said, at the time: ‘Gobekli Tepe is the most important archaeological site in the world.’

And yet, in the nineties and early noughties Gobekli Tepe dodged the limelight of general, public attention. It’s hard to know why. Too remote? Too hard to pronounce? Too eccentric to fit with established theories of prehistory? Whatever the reason, when I flew out on a whim in 2006 (inspired by two brisk minutes of footage on a TV show), even the locals in the nearby big city, Sanliurfa, had no conception of what was out there, in the barrens.

I remember asking a cab driver, the day I arrived, to take me to Gobekli Tepe. He’d never heard of it. Not a clue. Today that feels like asking someone in Paris if they’ve heard of the Louvre and getting a Non. The driver had to consult several taxi-driving friends until one grasped where I wanted to go – ‘that German dig, out of town, by the Arab villages’ – and so the driver rattled me out of Sanliurfa and into the dust until we crested one final remote hill and came upon a scene out of the opening titles of the Exorcist: archaeologists toiling away, unnoticed by the world, but furiously intent on their world-changing revelations.

For an hour Klaus (who sadly died in 2014) generously escorted me around the site. I took photos of him and the stones and the workers, this was not a hassle as there were literally no other tourists. A couple of the photos I snatched, that hot afternoon, went on to become mildly iconic, such as my photo of the shepherd who found the site, or Klaus crouching next to one of the most finely-carved T-stones. They were prized simply because no one else had bothered to take them.

After the tour, Klaus and I retired from the heat to his tent, where, over dainty tulip glasses, of sweet black Turkish tea, Klaus explained the significance of the site.

As he put it, ‘Gobekli Tepe upends our view of human history. We always thought that agriculture came first, then civilisation: farming, pottery, social hierarchies. But here it is reversed, it seems the ritual centre came first, then when enough hunter gathering people collected to worship – or so I believe – they realised they had to feed people. Which means farming.’ He waved at the surrounding hills, ‘It is no coincidence that in these same hills in the Fertile Crescent men and women first domesticated the local wild einkorn grass, becoming wheat, and they also first domesticated pigs, cows and sheep. This is the place where Homo sapiens went from plucking the fruit from the tree, to toiling and sowing the ground.’

Klaus had cued me up. People were already speculating that – if you see the Garden of Eden mythos as an allegory of the Neolithic Revolution: i.e. our fall from the relative ease of hunter-gathering to the relative hardships of farming (and life did get harder when we first started farming, as we worked longer hours, and caught diseases from domesticated animals), then Gobekli Tepe and its environs is probably the place where this happened. Klaus Schmidt did not demur. He said to me, quite deliberately: ‘I believe Gobekli Tepe is a temple in Eden’. It’s a quote I reused, to some controversy, because people took Klaus literally. But he did not mean it literally. He meant it allegorically.

Klaus told me more astonishing things.

‘We have found no homes, no human remains. Where is everyone, did they gather for festivals, then disperse? As for their religion, I have no real idea, perhaps Gobekli Tepe was a place of excarnation, for exposing the bones of the dead to be consumed by vultures, so the bodies have all gone. But I do definitely know this: some time in 8000 BC the creators of Gobekli Tepe buried their great structures under tons of rubble. They entombed it. We can speculate why. Did they feel guilt? Did they need to propitiate an angry God? Or just want to hide it?’ Klaus was also fairly sure on one other thing. ‘Gobekli Tepe is unique.’

I left Gobekli Tepe as bewildered as I was excited. I wrote some articles, and then my thriller, and alongside me, many other writers, academics and film-makers, made the sometimes dangerous pilgrimage to this sumptuously puzzling place near the troubled Turkey-Syria border, and slowly its fame grew.

Back here and now, in 2022, Necmi, myself and Aydan Aslan – the director for Sanliurfa Culture and Tourism – jump in a car at Karahan Tepe (Necmi promises me we shall return) and we go see Gobekli Tepe as it is today.

Necmi is right: all is changed. These days Gobekli Tepe is not just a famous archaeological site, it is a Unesco World-Heritage-listed tourist honeypot which can generate a million visitors a year. It is all enclosed by a futuristic hi-tech steel-and-plastic marquee (no casual wandering around taking photos of the stones and workers). Where Klaus and I once sipped tea in a flapping tent, alone, there is now a big visitor centre – where I bump into the grandson of the shepherd who first found Gobekli. I spy the stone where I took the photo of a crouching Klaus, but I see it 20 metres away. That’s as close as I can get.

After lunch in Sanliurfa – with its Gobekli Tepe themed restaurants, and its Gobekli Tepe T-stone fridge-magnet souvenir shops - Necmi shows me the gleaming museum built to house the greatest finds from the region: including a 11,000 year old statue, retrieved from beneath the centre of Sanliurfa itself, and perhaps the world’s oldest life size carved human figure. I recall first seeing this poignant effigy under the stairs next to a fire extinguisher in Sanliurfa’s then titchy, neglected municipal museum. Back in 2006 I wrote about ‘Urfa man’ and how he should be vastly better known, not hidden away in some obscure room in a museum visited by three people a year.

Urfa man now has a silent hall of his own in one of Turkey’s greatest archaeological galleries. More importantly, we can now see that Urfa man has the same body stance of the T-shaped man-pillars at Gobekli (and in many of the Tas Tepeler): his arms are in front of him, protecting his penis. His obsidian eyes still stare wistfully at the observer, as lustrous as they were 11,000 years ago.

As we stroll about the museum, Necmi points at more carvings, more leopards, vultures, penises. From several sites archaeologists have found statues of leopards apparently mounting, riding or even ‘raping’ humans, paws over the human eyes. Meanwhile, Aslan tells me how archaeologists at Gobekli have also, more recently, found tantalising evidence of alcohol: huge troughs with the chemical residue of fermentation, indicating mighty ritual feasts, maybe.

I sense we are getting closer to a momentous new interpretation of Gobekli Tepe and the Tas Tepeler. And it is very different from that perspective Klaus Schmidt gave me, in 2006 (and this is no criticism, of course: he could not have known what was to come).

Necmi – as good as promised – whisks me back to Karahan Tepe, and to some of the other Tas Tepeler, so we can jigsaw together this epochal puzzle. As we speed around the arid slopes he explains how scientists at Karahan Tepe, as well as Gobekli Tepe, have now found evidence of homes.

These places, the Tas Tepeler, were not isolated temples where hunter gatherers came, a few times a year, to worship at their standing stones, before returning to the plains for the life of the chase. The builders lived here. They ate their roasted game here. They slept here. And they used, it seems, a primitive but poetic form of pottery, shaped from polished stone. They possibly did elaborate manhood rituals in the Karahan Tepe penis chamber, which was probably half flooded with liquids. And maybe they celebrated afterwards with boozy feasts. Yet still we have no sign at all of contemporary agriculture; they were, it still appears, hunter gatherers, but of unnerving sophistication.

Another unnerving oddity is the curious number of carvings which show people with six fingers. Is this symbolic, or an actual deformity? Perhaps the mark of a strange tribe? Again, there are more questions than answers. Crucially, however, we do now have tentative hints as to the actual religion of these people.

In Gobekli Tepe several skulls have been recovered. They are deliberately defleshed, and carefully pierced with holes so they could – supposedly – be hung and displayed.

Skull cults are not unknown in ancient Anatolia. If there was such a cult in the Tas Tepeler it might explain the graven vultures pictured ‘playing’ with human heads. As to how the skulls were obtained, they might have come from conflict (though there is no evidence of this yet), it is quite possible the skulls were obtained via human sacrifice. At a nearby, slightly younger site, the Skull Building of Cayonu, we know of altars drenched with human blood, probably from gory sacrifice.

Necmi has one more point to make about Karahan Tepe, as we tour the penis chamber and its anterooms. Karahan Tepe is stupefyingly big. ‘So far,’ he says, ‘We have dug up maybe 1 per cent of the site’ – and it is already impressive. I ask him how many pillars – T stones – might be buried here. He casually points at a rectangular rock peering above the dry grass. ‘That’s probably another megalith right there, waiting to be excavated. I reckon there are probably thousands more of them, all around us. We are only at the beginning. And there could be dozens more Tas Tepeler we have not yet found, spread over hundreds of kilometres.’

In one respect Klaus Schmidt has been proved absolutely right. After he first proposed that Gobekli Tepe was deliberately buried with rubble – that is to say, bizarrely entombed by its own creators – a backlash of scepticism grew, with some suggesting that the apparent backfill was merely the result of thousands of years of random erosion, rain and rivers washing debris between the megaliths, gradually hiding them. Why should any religious society bury its own cathedrals, which must have taken decades to construct?

And yet, Karahan too was definitely and purposely buried. That is the reason Necmi and his team were able to unearth the penis pillars so quickly, all they had to do was scoop away the backfill, exposing the phallic pillars, sculpted from living rock.

I have one more question for Necmi, which has been increasingly nagging at me. Did the people that build the Tas Tepeler have writing? It is almost impossible to believe that you could construct such elaborate sites, in multiple places, over thousands of square kilometres, without careful, articulate plans, that is to say: without writing. You couldn’t sing, paint and dream your way to entire inhabited towns of shrines, vaults, water channels and cultic chambers.

Necmi shrugs. He does not know. One of the glories of the Tas Tepeler is that they are so old, no one knows. Your guess is literally as good as the expert’s. And yet a very good guess, right now, leads to the most remarkable answer of all, and it is this: archaeologists in southeastern Turkey are, at this moment, digging up a wild, grand, artistically coherent, implausibly strange, hitherto-unknown-to-us religious civilisation, which has been buried in Mesopotamia for ten thousand years. And it was all buried deliberately.

Jumping in the car, we head off to yet another of the Tas Tepeler, but then Necmi has an abrupt change of mind, as to our destination.

‘No, let’s go see Sayburc. It’s a little Arab village. A few months ago some of the farmers rang us and said “Er, we think we have megaliths in our farmyard walls. Do you want to have a look?”’

Our cars pull up in a scruffy village square, scattering sheep and hens. Sure enough, there are classic Gobekli/Karahan style T-stones, being used to buttress agricultural walls, they are probably 11-13,000 years old, just like everywhere else. There are so many of them I spot one of my own, on the outskirts of the village. I point it out to Necmi. He nods, and says ‘Yes, that’s probably another.’ But he wants to show me something else.

Pulling back a plastic curtain we step into a kind of stone barn. Along one wall there is a spectacular stone frieze, displaying animal and human figures, carved or in relief. There are leopards, of course, and also aurochs, etched in a Cubist way to make both menacing horns equally visible (you can see an identical representation of the auroch at Gobekli Tepe, so similar one might wonder if they were carved by the same artist).

At the centre of the frieze is a small figure, in bold relief. He is clutching his penis. Next to him, being threatened by the aurochs, is another human. He has six fingers. For a long while, we stare in silence at the carvings. I realise that, a few farmers apart, we are some of the first people to see this since the end of the Ice Age.

Read the whole story
1 hour ago
"The solitary Kurdish man, on that summer’s day in 1994, had made an irreversibly profound discovery – which would eventually lead to the penis pillars of Karahan Tepe, and an archaeological anomaly which challenges, time and again, everything we know of human prehistory."
Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm
2 hours ago
Louisville, KY
Share this story

This Old Man | The New Yorker

1 Share

Another message—also brief, also breathtaking—came on an earlier afternoon at my longtime therapist’s, at a time when I felt I’d lost almost everything. “I don’t know how I’m going to get through this,” I said at last.

A silence, then: “Neither do I. But you will.”

I am a world-class complainer but find palpable joy arriving with my evening Dewar’s, from Robinson Cano between pitches, from the first pages once again of “Appointment in Samarra” or the last lines of the Elizabeth Bishop poem called “Poem.” From the briefest strains of Handel or Roy Orbison, or Dennis Brain playing the early bars of his stunning Mozart horn concertos. (This Angel recording may have been one of the first things Carol and I acquired just after our marriage, and I hear it playing on a sunny Saturday morning in our Ninety-fourth Street walkup.) Also the recalled faces and then the names of Jean Dixon or Roscoe Karns or Porter Hall or Brad Dourif in another Netflix rerun. Chloë Sevigny in “Trees Lounge.” Gail Collins on a good day. Family ice-skating up near Harlem in the nineteen-eighties, with the Park employees, high on youth or weed, looping past us backward to show their smiles.

Recent and not so recent surveys (including the six-decades-long Grant Study of the lives of some nineteen-forties Harvard graduates) confirm that a majority of us people over seventy-five keep surprising ourselves with happiness. Put me on that list. Our children are adults now and mostly gone off, and let’s hope full of their own lives. We’ve outgrown our ambitions. If our wives or husbands are still with us, we sense a trickle of contentment flowing from the reliable springs of routine, affection in long silences, calm within the light boredom of well-worn friends, retold stories, and mossy opinions. Also the distant whoosh of a surfaced porpoise outside our night windows.

We elders—what kind of a handle is this, anyway, halfway between a tree and an eel?—we elders have learned a thing or two, including invisibility. Here I am in a conversation with some trusty friends—old friends but actually not all that old: they’re in their sixties—and we’re finishing the wine and in serious converse about global warming in Nyack or Virginia Woolf the cross-dresser. There’s a pause, and I chime in with a couple of sentences. The others look at me politely, then resume the talk exactly at the point where they’ve just left it. What? Hello? Didn’t I just say something? Have I left the room? Have I experienced what neurologists call a TIA—a transient ischemic attack? I didn’t expect to take over the chat but did await a word or two of response. Not tonight, though. (Women I know say that this began to happen to them when they passed fifty.) When I mention the phenomenon to anyone around my age, I get back nods and smiles. Yes, we’re invisible. Honored, respected, even loved, but not quite worth listening to anymore. You’ve had your turn, Pops; now it’s ours.

I’ve been asking myself why I don’t think about my approaching visitor, death. He was often on my mind thirty or forty years ago, I believe, though more of a stranger. Death terrified me then, because I had so many engagements. The enforced opposite—no dinner dates or coming attractions, no urgent business, no fun, no calls, no errands, no returned words or touches—left a blank that I could not light or furnish: a condition I recognized from childhood bad dreams and sudden awakenings. Well, not yet, not soon, or probably not, I would console myself, and that welcome but then tediously repeated postponement felt in time less like a threat than like a family obligation—tea with Aunt Molly in Montclair, someday soon but not now. Death, meanwhile, was constantly onstage or changing costume for his next engagement—as Bergman’s thick-faced chess player; as the medieval night-rider in a hoodie; as Woody Allen’s awkward visitor half-falling into the room as he enters through the window; as W. C. Fields’s man in the bright nightgown—and in my mind had gone from spectre to a waiting second-level celebrity on the Letterman show. Or almost. Some people I knew seemed to have lost all fear when dying and awaited the end with a certain impatience. “I’m tired of lying here,” said one. “Why is this taking so long?” asked another. Death will get it on with me eventually, and stay much too long, and though I’m in no hurry about the meeting, I feel I know him almost too well by now.

A weariness about death exists in me and in us all in another way, as well, though we scarcely notice it. We have become tireless voyeurs of death: he is on the morning news and the evening news and on the breaking, middle-of–the-day news as well—not the celebrity death, I mean, but the everyone-else death. A roadside-accident figure, covered with a sheet. A dead family, removed from a ramshackle faraway building pocked and torn by bullets. The transportation dead. The dead in floods and hurricanes and tsunamis, in numbers called “tolls.” The military dead, presented in silence on your home screen, looking youthful and well combed. The enemy war dead or rediscovered war dead, in higher figures. Appalling and dulling totals not just from this year’s war but from the ones before that, and the ones way back that some of us still around may have also attended. All the dead from wars and natural events and school shootings and street crimes and domestic crimes that each of us has once again escaped and felt terrible about and plans to go and leave wreaths or paper flowers at the site of. There’s never anything new about death, to be sure, except its improved publicity. At second hand, we have become death’s expert witnesses; we know more about death than morticians, feel as much at home with it as those poor bygone schlunks trying to survive a continent-ravaging, low-digit-century epidemic. Death sucks but, enh—click the channel.

I get along. Now and then it comes to me that I appear to have more energy and hope than some of my coevals, but I take no credit for this. I don’t belong to a book club or a bridge club; I’m not taking up Mandarin or practicing the viola. In a sporadic effort to keep my brain from moldering, I’ve begun to memorize shorter poems—by Auden, Donne, Ogden Nash, and more—which I recite to myself some nights while walking my dog, Harry’s successor fox terrier, Andy. I’ve also become a blogger, and enjoy the ease and freedom of the form: it’s a bit like making a paper airplane and then watching it take wing below your window. But shouldn’t I have something more scholarly or complex than this put away by now—late paragraphs of accomplishments, good works, some weightier op cits? I’m afraid not. The thoughts of age are short, short thoughts. I don’t read Scripture and cling to no life precepts, except perhaps to Walter Cronkite’s rules for old men, which he did not deliver over the air: Never trust a fart. Never pass up a drink. Never ignore an erection.

I count on jokes, even jokes about death.

TEACHER: Good morning, class. This is the first day of school and we’re going to introduce ourselves. I’ll call on you, one by one, and you can tell us your name and maybe what your dad or your mom does for a living. You, please, over at this end.

SMALL BOY: My name is Irving and my dad is a mechanic.

TEACHER: A mechanic! Thank you, Irving. Next?

SMALL GIRL: My name is Emma and my mom is a lawyer.

TEACHER: How nice for you, Emma! Next?

SECOND SMALL BOY: My name is Luke and my dad is dead.

TEACHER: Oh, Luke, how sad for you. We’re all very sorry about that, aren’t we, class? Luke, do you think you could tell us what Dad did before he died?

LUKE (seizes his throat): He went “N’gungghhh!

Not bad—I’m told that fourth graders really go for this one. Let’s try another.

A man and his wife tried and tried to have a baby, but without success. Years went by and they went on trying, but no luck. They liked each other, so the work was always a pleasure, but they grew a bit sad along the way. Finally, she got pregnant, was very careful, and gave birth to a beautiful eight-pound-two-ounce baby boy. The couple were beside themselves with happiness. At the hospital that night, she told her husband to stop by the local newspaper and arrange for a birth announcement, to tell all their friends the good news. First thing next morning, she asked if he’d done the errand.

“Yes, I did,” he said, “but I had no idea those little notices in the paper were so expensive.”

“Expensive?” she said. “How much was it?”

“It was eight hundred and thirty-seven dollars. I have the receipt.”

“Eight hundred and thirty-seven dollars!” she cried. “But that’s impossible. You must have made some mistake. Tell me exactly what happened.”

“There was a young lady behind a counter at the paper, who gave me the form to fill out,” he said. “I put in your name and my name and little Teddy’s name and weight, and when we’d be home again and, you know, ready to see friends. I handed it back to her and she counted up the words and said, ‘How many insertions?’ I said twice a week for fourteen years, and she gave me the bill. O.K.?”

I heard this tale more than fifty years ago, when my first wife, Evelyn, and I were invited to tea by a rather elegant older couple who were new to our little Rockland County community. They were in their seventies, at least, and very welcoming, and it was just the four of us. We barely knew them and I was surprised when he turned and asked her to tell us the joke about the couple trying to have a baby. “Oh, no,” she said, “they wouldn’t want to hear that.”

“Oh, come on, dear—they’ll love it,” he said, smiling at her. I groaned inwardly and was preparing a forced smile while she started off shyly, but then, of course, the four of us fell over laughing together.

That night, Evelyn said, “Did you see Keith’s face while Edie was telling that story? Did you see hers? Do you think it’s possible that they’re still—you know, still doing it?”

“Yes, I did—yes, I do,” I said. “I was thinking exactly the same thing. They’re amazing.”

This was news back then, but probably shouldn’t be by now. I remember a passage I came upon years later, in an Op-Ed piece in the Times, written by a man who’d just lost his wife. “We slept naked in the same bed for forty years,” it went. There was also my splendid colleague Bob Bingham, dying in his late fifties, who was asked by a friend what he’d missed or would do differently if given the chance. He thought for an instant, and said, “More venery.”

More venery. More love; more closeness; more sex and romance. Bring it back, no matter what, no matter how old we are. This fervent cry of ours has been certified by Simone de Beauvoir and Alice Munro and Laurence Olivier and any number of remarried or recoupled ancient classmates of ours. Laurence Olivier? I’m thinking of what he says somewhere in an interview: “Inside, we’re all seventeen, with red lips.”

This is a dodgy subject, coming as it does here from a recent widower, and I will risk a further breach of code and add that this was something that Carol and I now and then idly discussed. We didn’t quite see the point of memorial fidelity. In our view, the departed spouse—we always thought it would be me—wouldn’t be around anymore but knew or had known that he or she was loved forever. Please go ahead, then, sweetheart—don’t miss a moment. Carol said this last: “If you haven’t found someone else by a year after I’m gone I’ll come back and haunt you.”

Getting old is the second-biggest surprise of my life, but the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love. We oldies yearn daily and hourly for conversation and a renewed domesticity, for company at the movies or while visiting a museum, for someone close by in the car when coming home at night. This is why we throng <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a> and OkCupid in such numbers—but not just for this, surely. Rowing in Eden (in Emily Dickinson’s words: “Rowing in Eden— / Ah—the sea”) isn’t reserved for the lithe and young, the dating or the hooked-up or the just lavishly married, or even for couples in the middle-aged mixed-doubles semifinals, thank God. No personal confession or revelation impends here, but these feelings in old folks are widely treated like a raunchy secret. The invisibility factor—you’ve had your turn—is back at it again. But I believe that everyone in the world wants to be with someone else tonight, together in the dark, with the sweet warmth of a hip or a foot or a bare expanse of shoulder within reach. Those of us who have lost that, whatever our age, never lose the longing: just look at our faces. If it returns, we seize upon it avidly, stunned and altered again.

Nothing is easy at this age, and first meetings for old lovers can be a high-risk venture. Reticence and awkwardness slip into the room. Also happiness. A wealthy old widower I knew married a nurse he met while in the hospital, but had trouble remembering her name afterward. He called her “kid.” An eighty-plus, twice-widowed lady I’d once known found still another love, a frail but vibrant Midwest professor, now close to ninety, and the pair got in two or three happy years together before he died as well. When she called his children and arranged to pick up her things at his house, she found every possession of hers lined up outside the front door.

But to hell with them and with all that, O.K.? Here’s to you, old dears. You got this right, every one of you. Hook, line, and sinker; never mind the why or wherefore; somewhere in the night; love me forever, or at least until next week. For us and for anyone this unsettles, anyone who’s younger and still squirms at the vision of an old couple embracing, I’d offer John Updike’s “Sex or death: you take your pick”—a line that appears (in a slightly different form) in a late story of his, “Playing with Dynamite.”

This is a great question, an excellent insurance-plan choice, I mean. I think it’s in the Affordable Care Act somewhere. Take it from us, who know about the emptiness of loss, and are still cruising along here feeling lucky and not yet entirely alone. ♦

Read the whole story
6 hours ago
Louisville, KY
Share this story

LEGO reveals 21333 Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh as next Ideas set [News]

1 Comment

After announcing it in February of last year as the next fan-designed set from their crowd-sourcing platform Ideas, LEGO is finally taking the wraps off the official set, letting us get our first look at 21333 Starry Night. The original project, depicting Vincent van Gogh’s famous 1889 painting of Saint-Rémy, France, was submitted by Hong Kong-based LEGO fan Truman Cheng (aka legotruman) back in July of 2020 before reaching the 10k votes threshold to be considered by LEGO just a month later. The final set contains 2,316 pieces and includes a framed version of the painting with sculptural elements to mimic the brush strokes, along with a minifigure of van Gogh and a miniature printed version of the painting on an easel. The set also represents a new licensing partnership between LEGO and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which owns the artwork. The set will retail for US $159.99 | CAN $219.99 | UK £169.99 and will be available to LEGO VIP members starting May 25, with a general release on June 1.

Read the full press release and see more pictures below.

Here’s the official press release from LEGO.


17th May, 2022: In tribute to Vincent van Gogh’s famous painting, the LEGO Group has revealed the LEGO® Ideas The Starry Night set.  This beautiful set was designed by Truman Cheng, a 25-year old Hong Kong based LEGO fan, through a submission on the LEGO Ideas platform, and has been created in conjunction with The Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The three-dimensional set reimaginesVincent van Gogh’s renowned 1889 painting in LEGO form, with strong emphasis on the artist’s striking brush strokes and colour choice. Inspired by the view from his window at the Monastery of Saint-Paul de Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy, France, where the artist spent twelve months, The Starry Night is one of the world’s most well-known post-impressionist works and has been a visitor favourite at MoMA since it first arrived in 1935.

Art lovers can swap paint palettes for LEGO bricks and re-create one of the world’s most recognisable masterpieces. From the twinkling stars and mesmerising moon to the sleeping Provence village below, van Gogh’s image has been brought spectacularly to life in brick, capturing the artist’s swirling brushstrokes.

To celebrate and inspire creativity, the LEGO Group has also launched a competition encouraging fans to submit their own mini LEGO builds inspired by the night’s sky. Winning designs will form part of an installation displayed in the lobby at the Museum of Modern Art this summer. Participants in Spain, UK, Germany, France, Canada, Mexico and Poland can enter by simply visiting or select LEGO stores.

Honouring the celebrated artist, the set also includes a van Gogh minifigure, complete with a paint brush, palette, easel and mini painting on a printed tile, which can even be attached via an arm to show him painting the scene. The intricate set can be displayed standing or on the wall, thanks to the hanging feature.

When developing the original concept, Truman Cheng, a PhD student and LEGO fan, was just playing with LEGO bricks when he realised that stacking them together in random intervals looked a like van Gogh’s iconic brush strokes.  “It was a was a good brain tease to come up with tricks and techniques to capture the look of the original painting,” Cheng said, talking about his design “The brushwork goes into many directions in the moon and the swirling cloud, so there was some creative use of bracket and clip elements involved.”

Once Truman’s design had received 10,000 votes from the LEGO fan community, it was considered for development by the LEGO Group.  Talking of the decision to turn the design into a real set, Federico Begher, Head of Global Marketing, said, “What makes The Starry Night so irresistible is the expressive brush work and vibrant colours used throughout, which tell the story of humanity’s everlasting dream for better things. Truman’s design was a masterpiece in itself – showing how many different LEGO elements and techniques could be used to replicate van Gogh’s iconic painting.

At the LEGO Group, we want to inspire the world to get creative, so we’re incredibly proud to have brought this set to life in partnership with such an iconic institution as MoMA, allowing fans to be artistic with bricks, and to create and display their own masterpiece.”

“At MoMA, we celebrate the opportunity to connect art and audiences, and are thrilled to be part of a new way to experience van Gogh’s work, and to inspire the creative impulse in people of all ages,” said Sarah Suzuki, Associate Director, The Museum of Modern Art.

The set will go on sale on 25th May exclusively for LEGO VIP’s ( and MoMA members ( and then will be available globally from 01st June for £149.99 / €169.99 / $169.99 on,in LEGO stores and with MoMA Design Store in New York City and online at

The post LEGO reveals 21333 Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh as next Ideas set [News] appeared first on The Brothers Brick.

Read the whole story
6 days ago
Soo... are there going to be more MoMA sets?! My wallet wants to know.
Louisville, KY
6 days ago
The need for this... she is mighty.
Share this story

Gravity s Grin

1 Share
Gravity s Grin Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, published over 100 years ago, predicted the phenomenon of gravitational lensing. And that's what gives these distant galaxies such a whimsical appearance, seen through the looking glass of X-ray and optical image data from the Chandra and Hubble space telescopes. Nicknamed the Cheshire Cat galaxy group, the group's two large elliptical galaxies are suggestively framed by arcs. The arcs are optical images of distant background galaxies lensed by the foreground group's total distribution of gravitational mass. Of course, that gravitational mass is dominated by dark matter. The two large elliptical "eye" galaxies represent the brightest members of their own galaxy groups which are merging. Their relative collisional speed of nearly 1,350 kilometers/second heats gas to millions of degrees producing the X-ray glow shown in purple hues. Curiouser about galaxy group mergers? The Cheshire Cat group grins in the constellation Ursa Major, some 4.6 billion light-years away.
Read the whole story
7 days ago
Louisville, KY
Share this story

Happy Non-Optional Legally Mandated State-Enforced Mother’s Day

1 Comment and 2 Shares

In light of the recently leaked Supreme Court opinion, which would overturn Roe v. Wade and allow the creation of forced-pregnancy states, we’d like to wish you a Happy Non-Optional Legally Mandated State-Enforced Mother’s Day. On this soon-to-be compulsory holiday, we should all take the time to appreciate the people with uteruses who will be forced to give birth against their will, the recommendation of licensed medical professionals, and their basic human rights.

But how can you celebrate the unwilling mothers in your life? Here are some helpful gift ideas:

Make them breakfast in bed—and make sure that bed is in an abortion clinic, in a state where abortion is legal, and where extraditing them and charging them with a crime in their home state is not. They deserve to relax and feel taken care of for a change, whether it’s with a tray of eggs Benedict or the right to bodily autonomy. “Shouldn’t we take care of them all the time and not just on this holiday?” you might ask. Nope. Not in the United States of America—the only wealthy nation with no federal paid family and medical leave. It’s also one of the only industrialized nations without broad support for affordable, quality child care, and has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries (that rate is even higher for Black women).

If breakfast and policy change isn’t your thing, though, you can still order the uterus-having person a little something special to eat. With so many great options, like Edible Arrangements, gourmet candy, expensive chocolates, and mail-order abortion pills, it can be hard to choose. But isn’t it nice to have a choice? The people with uteruses, who will no longer have a choice thanks to the faux religious beliefs of the conservative capitalist crypt keepers in power, sure think so.

But what if you want to skip edible gifts altogether and do something truly over the top? Try celebrating obligatory motherhood with a day of pampering at the spa. Because there’s nothing like a full-body massage to take a person’s mind off the fact that an organ in their body is being annexed by the government. Time in the sauna will melt away thoughts like, “Isn’t it weird that living people with uteruses are being legally forced to preserve ‘life’ with their internal organs, but literal corpses in this country can’t legally be forced to do the same when it comes to donating internal organs they’re no longer using?” If that infuriating question is impossible to ignore, a dip in the plunge pool should cool any lingering rage and resentment.

Now, in a real pinch, there are always flowers. It might seem cliché, but most people with uteruses love receiving thoughtfully arranged bouquets, especially if those bouquets happen to include well-known herbal abortifacients. As old-fashioned as that probably sounds, it’s something to keep in your back pocket for when all other gifts fall through. Desperate times call for desperate measures, right? Right. Why am I crying?!

If all else fails, you can never go wrong with a heartfelt handmade card. On the outside, draw a heart (or, more relevant, a reproductive organ) and write something simple like:

“Happy ‘Holy Shit I Can’t Believe They Can Legally Force Us to Become Mothers’ Day.”

And on the inside, consider writing something more personal:

“Hi, my name is _____________. I live and vote in your district, and I need you to codify Roe v Wade into law to protect abortion access. Please, I am begging you. Have a nice day.”

Then, set aside the overwhelming feeling of futility and send it to your state senators. It’s really the least you could do for those special people in your life whose uteruses are being policed by a governing body of cis straight white men and their fear of what declining birth rates will do to our exploitative capitalist economy.

May this incredibly depressing but necessary gift guide give you all the tools you need to celebrate mandatory motherhood this year—whether you want to or not. Because, unfortunately, it looks like we’re about to have no choice.

Read the whole story
18 days ago
McSweeney's cutting it too close to the bone again.
Louisville, Kentucky
18 days ago
Louisville, KY
Share this story
Next Page of Stories