I’ve read a few accounts about a French soldier known simply as, Tarrare (1772 – 1798). He was renowned for his ability to consume massive amounts of food – baskets of apples, whole eels, wheelbarrows full of bovine entrails, just about anything he could find. Modern doctors presume this “ability” was more likely a symptom of hyperthyroidism, or perhaps a damaged amygdala.
In fact, Tarrare did seek medical help from a doctor named Baron Percy (the first page of Percy’s account of Tarrare’s unusual condition is pictured below). However, 18th-century medicine was not advanced enough to provide Tarrare with an effective treatment plan. Percy could only authorize an extended hospital stay for Tarrare so he could be observed over a long period in a clinical setting.
After a toddler disappeared from that same hospital, the blame fell squarely on Tarrare. Though there was no physical evidence linking him to the child’s disappearance, Tarrare was rumored to have consumed live cats during his stint as a street performer in Paris. From there, it wasn’t much of a stretch for hospital staff to believe he was capable of cannibalizing a small child. Percy’s professional reputation was on the line, and he decided to permanently ban Tarrare from the campus.
Tarrare died some years later in Versailles, likely from tuberculosis. I’ve always found this story quite tragic. Here was a man who suffered incessantly from a profound hunger – a hunger driven by a pathology unknown to the medical practitioners of his time. The story also piques that morbid curiosity that seems to dwell in most of us, but I suppose that’s just human nature. That’s not to say we don’t have the same capacity for empathy and kindness, and Tarrare certainly could have benefited from a little bit more of that.
Tarrare’s hunger –
barrels of tripe could not fill
his ravenous soul
When I was in college, I knew a professor who told the class quantum mechanics gave him nightmares. He said that, for a long time, he approached quantum mechanics as a strictly academic endeavor. However, there was a time when he finally began to understand the complexities and nuances of his studies on a deeper level. He said that it was difficult to think in terms of classical physics after that point.
Even something as simple as throwing a baseball with his nephew became an abstract thought experiment involving probability clouds and virtual particles. So, he gave up his formal studies in quantum physics and started up a manufacturing firm. He got rich and retired, but eventually came back to academia to teach Philosophy and Law.
I’m not smart enough to get really freaked out by quantum mechanics. I don’t think I could ever understand it in such a fundamental way. I do, however, appreciate the profound implications that arise from the mindbogglingly tiny underpinnings of our universe. Here’s a haiku about it. Enjoy.
emerges from a cloud of
I thought I’d try a Drabble today. I didn’t have time to count it, but the software says the word count is exactly 100 (however, hyphens sometimes distort the count, so this might not be a perfect 100 words).
It’s based on a true story. I saw a parrot perched up in a tree last December and somebody set up a ladder to try to reach it. But it just flew to another tree top. I guess it ended up freezing to death. The thought of it really bothered me for some reason. Anyway, here’s the story.
Somebody’s parrot has gotten loose, vibrant red and yellow fluttering in a pallid sky like the first bold strokes of an artist’s brush.
It lands in the naked branches of a twisted oak, and I want to believe it has done something courageous and beautiful – that a few days of freedom are preferable to years of life in a cage. But maybe that’s just me trying to see the world through rose-colored glasses.
The sun sets quickly in December, and coyotes are down there in all that darkness waiting to sniff you out when you fall from the high branches.
I originally posted this haiku about a year ago. At the time, I was incredulous about a blinding snowstorm that had hit my region during Spring. The same thing happened as I was driving to work yesterday morning. Apparently, the heavy snowfall was localized to a relatively small area. Of course, I just happened to be in that particular area when it hit. Go figure.
snow in early spring,
trees bowed in the arctic gales –
Winter’s ghost shrieking
Longshoremen double check the cables and shackles before sending the last lift out of the cargo hold. The piece weighs in at about 120 tonnes, so somebody throws in a Hail Mary for good measure.
Tardigrades, commonly called water bears, are eight-legged microscopic animals. They are among the most resilient lifeforms on Earth. They can survive massive doses of radiation, pressure that exceeds that of the deepest ocean trenches, years of dehydration, and a temperature range of minus 200 Celsius to 149 Celsius. Low Earth orbit experiments have demonstrated that some species of tardigrade can survive for days while exposed to the vacuum of space.
Despite our best efforts, humans could never destroy the Earth enough to render the tardigrade extinct. Perhaps at some point in the distant future, some highly evolved descendant of the tardigrade will happen upon our ruined civilization and tsk-tsk us for our recklessness.
in the anemic light of