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review 2016-08-08 22:50
The Dream City of Bruno Schulz
The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories - Bruno Schulz,Celina Wieniewska,Jerzy Ficowski,Jonathan Safran Foer

Bruno Schulz had an imagination like no one else. His metaphors, similes, and personifications whirl the reader through a cosmos as vivid and surreal as Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” His characters prophesy like the enigmatic beings that inhabit the pages of William Blake. At once fiction and nonfiction, prose and poetry, memory and dream, The Street of Crocodiles defies categorization.

Schulz is sometimes compared to Kafka, but he should not be. He is not Kafkaesque. The world of Kafka is a nightmare world ~ a nightmare from which one cannot awaken. The world of Schulz is the real world touched by the fantastic, the real world as perceived in a dream. Nor is this magical realism, for elements of fantasy do not truly invade the real world. It is only the narrator’s perceptions which import the fantastic or the grotesque into the real.

The distortions of reality—of time and space—are distortions imposed by the mind of the observer. And the observer is the mythopoeic visionary Bruno Schulz, a man whose dream world is superimposed upon the real one, a man who is at home with the visions of prophets and madmen, a man who never quite lost the childhood ability to see behind the curtain of the mundane, to glimpse the cosmic wonders through which the mass of men and women sleepwalk. Schulz is like one who awakens in a dream.

The following passages highlight three dream elements in The Street of Crocodiles. First, there is spatial distortion.

I stepped into a winter night bright from the illuminations of the sky. It was one of those clear nights when the starry firmament is so wide and spreads so far that it seems to be divided and broken up into a mass of separate skies, sufficient for a whole month of winter nights and providing silver and painted globes to cover all the nightly phenomena, adventures, occurrences and carnivals.

It is exceedingly thoughtless to send a young boy out on an urgent and important errand into a night like that because in its semiobscurity the streets multiply, becoming confused and interchanged. There open up, deep inside a city, reflected streets, streets which are doubles, make-believe streets. One’s imagination, bewitched and misled, creates illusory maps of the apparently familiar districts, maps in which the streets have their proper places and usual names but are provided with new and fictitious configurations by the inexhaustible inventiveness of the night...
” (87-88).

Second, there is temporal distortion.

Everyone knows that in a run of normal uneventful years that great eccentric, Time, begets sometimes other years, different, prodigal years which—like a sixth, smallest toe—grow a thirteenth freak month.

We use the word ‘freak’ deliberately, because the thirteenth month only rarely reaches maturity, and like a child conceived late in its mother’s life, it lags behind in growth; it is a hunchback month, a half-witted shoot, more tentative than real.

What is at fault is the senile intemperance of the summer, its lustful and belated spurt of vitality. It sometimes happens that August has passed, and yet the old thick trunk of summer continues by force of habit to produce and from its moldered wood grows those crab-days, weed-days, sterile and stupid, added as an afterthought; stunted, empty, useless days –white days, permanently astonished and quite unnecessary. They sprout, irregular and uneven, formless and joined like the fingers of a monster's hand, stumps folded into a fist.

There are people who liken these days to an apocrypha, put secretly between the chapters of the great book of the year; to palimpsests, covertly included between its pages; to those white, unprinted sheets on which eyes, replete with reading and the remembered shapes of words, can imagine colors and pictures, which gradually become paler and paler from the blankness of the pages, or can rest on their neutrality before continuing the quest for new adventures in new chapters
” (125-126).

And last, there is the uncanny ~ the revelation of an occult world that coexists with the real world, a world hidden from all but the few whose peculiar nature allows them to discover it.

... at that late hour the strange and most attractive shops were sometimes open, the shops which on ordinary days one tended to overlook. I used to call them cinnamon shops because of the dark paneling of their walls.

These truly noble shops, open late at night, have always been the objects of my ardent interest. Dimly lit, their dark and solemn interiors were redolent of the smell of paint, varnish and incense; of the aroma of distant countries and rare commodities. You could find in them Bengal lights, magic boxes, the stamps of long-forgotten countries, Chinese decals, indigo, calaphony from Malabar, the eggs of exotic insects, parrots, toucans, live salamanders and basilisks, mandrake roots, mechanical toys from Nuremberg, homunculi in jars, microscopes, binoculars and most especially strange and rare books, old folio volumes full of astonishing engravings and amazing stories.

I remember those old dignified merchants who served their customers with downcast eyes, in discreet silence, and who were full of wisdom and tolerance for their customers’ most secret whims. But most of all, I remember a bookshop in which I once glanced at some rare and forbidden pamphlets, the publications of secret societies lifting the veil on tantalizing and unknown mysteries
” (89).

Familiar streets transformed into a marvelous labyrinth, time extending beyond its natural limits, an esoteric ‘other world’ concealed in the midst of the ordinary and everyday ~ this is the dreamy Drohobych of Schulz’s imagination, a mythic city described in rich prose that alternately drips with the golden juices of ripe fruit or scuttles mechanically on spidery legs or entices the mind with cryptic messages of mystical import.

The Street of Crocodiles is a weird and wondrous book. When Schulz was murdered at the age of fifty, shot by a Nazi soldier, the world lost a truly unique artist.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1318295385?book_show_action=false
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text 2016-03-20 17:19
Kancil and the Crocodiles
Kancil and the Crocodiles: A Tale from Malaysia - Noreha Yussof Day

APA Citation: 

Day, N. Y., & Teckentrup, B. (1996). Kancil and the crocodiles: A tale from Malaysia. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.



On a hot, sunny day, Kancil the mousedeer and his best frind, Kura-Kura the turtoise, spot a tree full of ripe, juicy fruit that would be the perfect snack to satisfy their thirst. The only problem is, the tree is on the other side of a crocodile-infested river. Can crafty Kancil trick the hungry crocodiles into helping them cross the river? Full color.


Author Information: 

Noreha Yussof Day is a published author of children's books. A published credit of Noreha Yussof Day is Kancil and the Crocodiles: A Tale from Malaysia.


Awards: N/A


Target Audience: Children's Literature, PreK-4th


Genre: Folklore


Interest: Malaysian Culture, folklore, moral, values, story telling.  

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text 2015-10-27 10:57
Genio Desconocido: Bruno Schultz
The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories - Bruno Schulz,Celina Wieniewska,Jerzy Ficowski,Jonathan Safran Foer

John Updike en su ensayo sobre Bruno Schulz le llamó ¨un gran escritor que sabe cautivar el mundo¨. En el mismo texto citó a Isaac Bashevis Singer que dijo que ¨Schulz escribió unas veces como Kafka, otras como Proust y, en ocasiones llegó a abismos tan recónditos que ninguno de ellos había alcanzado antes".




Es cierto: aunque a lo largo de su vida también se desempeñó como artista gráfico, pintor, dibujante y crítico literario, el autor de los relatos recogidos en Las tiendas de color canela y Sanatorio bajo la clepsidra, que evocan en ciertos aspectos la obra de Franz Kafka, cuyo Proceso tradujo al polaco, es considerado uno de los mayores estilistas de la prosa polaca del siglo XX.


Polaco de origen judío nacido el 12 de julio de 1892, hijo de Jakub Schulz, un comerciante judío de tejidos en Drohobycz, una pequeña ciudad al suroeste de la Galitzia austrohúngara (luego Polonia, hoy Ucrania). Los padres de Schulz no cultivaron tradiciones judías y en su casa hablaban solamente en polaco. Desde pequeño hablo tanto polaco, como alemán. A una edad muy temprana se interesó por el dibujo. El mismo en una carta dirigida en 1935 a Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, uno de los representantes de la vanguardia polaca, Bruno Schulz escribió: "Mis inicios como dibujante se pierden en una bruma mitológica. Aún no sabía hablar cuando ya llenaba todos los papeles y márgenes de los periódicos con garabatos".


Tras finalizar el bachillerato, Schulz ingresó por consejo de su entorno en la Facultad de Arquitectura del Instituto Politécnico de Lwow. Era el año 1910. El mismo año, por la enfermedad de Jakub Schulz, la familia tuvo que vender su tienda y todos se mudaron a la casa de la hija mayor: Hanna Hoffman. Pronto una enfermedad que afectó el corazón y los pulmones obligó a Bruno a interrumpir sus estudios y ingresar en un sanatorio en Truskawiec hasta 1913. Cuando intentó volver a la clase, el comienzo de la Primera Guerra Mundial se lo impidió. Después de eso, Schulz viajó con toda la familia a Viena, donde asistió a algunos cursos de Arquitectura y comenzó a frecuentar la Academia de Bellas Artes.

Al cabo de un año la familia se vió obligada volver a Drohobycz y pronto después, el 23 de junio de 1915 murió a los 69 años el señor Jakub, padre de Schulz. Su enfermedad afectaba a toda la familia ya desde hacía años y el efecto de eso se ve mucho en obras de Bruno, especialmente Las tiendas de color canela.

Schulz vuelve dos veces mas a Viena para continuar sus estudios, pero la verdad es, que no había nada de cosmopolita en el; su genio se alimentaba en lo local y lo étnico. Menos para estudiar, trabajar o cuidar su salud no salía de su ciudad natal, y su vida adulta fue la de un ermitaño.


En 1918 despues de 123 años, se restaura Polonia en los mapas, la ciudad de Drohobycz es otra vez teritorio polaco. Al retornar a su localidad natal a partir de 1922 enseñó dibujo en el instituto de Drohobycz y empezó a exponer sus obras. Ese año editó un volumen singular, El libro idólatra, que parece inspirado a medias por las pinturas negras de Goya y La Venus de las pieles, de Sacher-Masoch.


Lo más curioso es que Bruno Schulz comenzó a escribir para aliviar el aburrimiento provinciano. Todo empezó con la colección de cartas enviada a su amiga, la novelista y poeta Debora Vogel, en las que narraba episodios de su infancia, que fue descubierta por otra escritora, Zofia Nalkowska. La correspondencia en el caso de Schulz, cuya vida giraba totalmente en torno al "arte", representaba una auténtica "autobiografía fragmentaria". En ocasiones, Schulz relataba cuentos o fábulas enteras a sus amigos, hoy en mayoria perdidos, en las cartas abundantes que les enviaba. Nalkowska quedó fascinada por la originalidad y la fuerza poética de aquellos textos, y le propuso a Schulz su publicación. Son esas cartas que se convirtieron en Las tiendas de color canela, que para sorpresa de todos publicó en 1933.


El libro es pequeño y está compuesto de relatos cortos, conectados únicamente por el tema, que se supone componen una novela. Los relatos no tienen casi trama y no son cuentos en el estricto sentido de la palabra, así como no son capítulos de una novela tampoco . Es más bien una crónica de su infancia en Drohobycz elevada por Schulz a la categoría de “República de los Sueños”. Describía a los comerciantes de la nueva era (a un lado, el mundo de las tiendas humildes y anacrónicas; al otro, la temible calle de los Cocodrilos), a Jakub Schulz, el padre contradictorio, dulcísimo y tiránico, un soñador al que la enfermedad permitió abandonar el negocio de telas y que en el libro aparece como un demiurgo enloquecido, a la temible Adela, la criada que quintaesencia el orden racional. El universo literario y vital de Bruno Schulz, como escribió Kapuscinski, “era un triángulo formado por las calles Florianska, Zielona y la plazoleta de la panadería”.



De no ser por el exito de Las tiendas de color canela, probablamente no habría salido de ese triángulo. Pero la excelente acogida crítica le llevó a colaborar en varias revistas literarias. Se hizo amigo de Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz y de Witold Gombrowicz. Fue el primero en escribir una reseña entusiasta de Ferdydurke de Gombrowicz. Witkiewicz fue quien le animó a escribir Sanatorio bajo la clepsidra, su segundo y último libro de cuentos, que publicó en 1937.

En ese libro lo mas visible es la desolacion y la soledad. El padre había muerto, pero Josef, el mismo protagonista del libro anterior, el alterego de Bruno, lo encuentra de nuevo en el misterioso sanatorio del título. Un médico, que bien podría llamarse Valdemar, le dice: “La muerte que alcanzó a su padre en su país aquí no ha llegado todavía”. El sanatorio quizás no sea muy distinto del
sheol judío, una suerte de purgatorio donde los muertos siguen existiendo pero viven una especie de vida congelada, la sombra de una vida: no experimentan nada ni tienen conciencia de nada, ni siquiera de Dios. Así lo vio Wojciech Has, el genial adaptador del Manuscrito encontrado en Zaragoza, cuando llevó al cine Sanatorio bajo la clepsidra en 1973.


Con ese libro empezó un periodo muy oscuro en la vida de Bruno Schulz. La escritura de Sanatorio bajo la clepsidra no fue fácil. En 1935 murió Izydor, su hermano mayor, y Bruno tuvo que hacerse cargo de toda la familia: su madre, Henrietta, su tía Hannia, las dos hijas de esta, la esposa e hijos de Izydor y una vieja prima. Sus únicas fuentes de ingresos eran las clases, que tuvo que multiplicar, y las reseñas literarias. Para ganar algo más de dinero tradujó al polaco El proceso de Kafka (1937) con la ayuda de su novia, Jozefina Szelinska. Fue una relación breve y tragica: la familia de Jozefina se convirtió al catolicismo y se opuso frontalmente a que se casara con un judío.


En el mismo año, 1937, Bruno Schulz viaja a París en un insensato intento de exponer sus dibujos. Pero ese intento acabo en un fracaso absoluto: se plantó allí sin apenas contactos y en pleno verano, con las principales galerías cerradas. En otoño 1938 la Academia Polaca de Literatura le concedió el Laurel de Oro, un premio muy prestigioso pero sin dotación económica. Escribe su unico relato en idioma alemán, una pieza de 30 páginas: Die Heimkehr, de tema similar a El sanatorio de la clepsidra, con el fin de interesar con su obra a las editoriales alemanas, pero este pasa desapercibido.

Entre clases y reseñas solo encontró tiempo para trabajar en un nuevo relato, Cometa, casi una “nouvelle” y para preparar una novela larga, El Mesías, interrumpida (y desaparecida) a causa de la guerra. El estallido de la II Guerra Mundial en 1939 tomó a Schulz viviendo en Drohobycz, que estaba ocupada por la Unión Soviética. Tras la invasión alemana de la Unión Soviética fue forzado, al ser judío, a vivir en el gueto de Drohobycz.


El 1 de septiembre de 1939 Alemania invadió Polonia.
El 11 de Septiembre el ejército nazi entró en Drohobycz.
El 17 lo hizo el ejército ruso.
El 24, los alemanes se retiraron dejando el territorio en manos de los soviéticos, que mantuvieron a Schulz en su puesto docente pero le obligaron a dibujar carteles de propaganda.
La ocupación soviética duró dos años: desde el 17 de septiembre de 1939 hasta el 22 de junio de 1941, cuando Alemania invadió Rusia.
El 1 de julio 1941 los nazis ocuparon Drohobycz por segunda vez. Cerraron las escuelas y Schulz perdió su trabajo. Poco más tarde recluyeron a todos los judíos en el gueto. Schulz y su familia fueron trasladados a una casa en ruinas, en el número 18 de la calle Stolarska. Le encomendaron una nueva tarea: catalogar las bibliotecas polacas confiscadas primero por los rusos y luego por los alemanes.


Felix Landau, Haupt schar führer (entre suboficial y jefe de pelotón) de las SS había llegado a Drohobycz al mando de un destacamento encargado de confinar y exterminar a los judíos de la zona. En su terrorífico diario, que envíaba en cartas sucesivas a su novia, hablaba de sus cotidianos “ejercicios de tiro” y de que “tiene un nuevo perro, que dibuja muy bien”. Ese perro era Bruno Schulz. Un “perro” era un “judío útil”, un esclavo al servicio absoluto de un nazi.

El primer (y último) trabajo que Landau encomiendó a Schulz era la pintura de un mural en la habitación de su hijo pequeño, con escenas de los cuentos de los hermanos Grimm, por el que recibirá “varias raciones extras de comida”. Y entonces pasó que en uno de sus “ejercicios de tiro”, Landau asesinó al “dentista personal” de un jefe de la Gestapo llamado Karl Günther.


El 19 de noviembre de 1942, Schulz estaba planeando escapar del ghetto, de Polonia ante la insistencia de sus amigos y familiares. Había conseguido los papeles falsos que un contrabandista le había conseguido y algo de dinero gracias a unos amigos, a los que encomendó la custodia de sus dibujos y manuscritos.

Aquella mañana había terminado el mural infantil y cruzaba el “barrio ario” rumbo a su casa de la calle Stolarska, con unas barras de pan bajo el brazo como pago por su labor. Su amigo Izydor Friedman fue testigo de su muerte, que tuvo lugar en la esquina de las calles Czacki y Mickiewicz. Todo fue muy rápido. Karl Günther se acercó a Schulz, desenfundó su pistola y le disparó un tiro en la nuca. Luego, al parecer, se presentó ante Landau y le dijo: “Mataste a mi perro y yo he matado al tuyo”.


Dicen que Schulz había terminado ya la primera versión de su obra maestra, El Mesías. Su libro, como su cuerpo, probablamente enterrado en alguna fosa común, aún no ha sido encontrado. Se especuló mucho con que la novela estuviera en poder de la KGB.

En 1946, uno de los supervivientes del ghetto de Drohobycz reconoció a Felix Landau en Linz. Fue detenido por soldados del ejército americano y conducido al campo de prisioneros de Glasenbach, del que logró escapar en agosto de 1947. Diez años más tarde le localizaron de nuevo: bajo el nombre de Rudolf Jashcke dirigía una tienda de decoración de interiores en Bavaria. Acusado de incontables asesinatos, un tribunal de Sttutgart le condenó a cadena perpetua.

Se puede decir que Bruno Schulz murió dos veces: asesinado por los nazis y sepultado por los comunistas, que le consideraron una reliquia del pasado, un típico ejemplo de la podredumbre burguesa. A finales de los cincuenta, sus amigos y compatriotas Jerzy Ficowski y Artur Sandauer localizaron algunas cajas con sus dibujos y manuscritos. Aunque se habían perdido muchísimas cartas y El Mesías jamás apareció, había suficiente material como para comenzar a reivindicar su obra y darla a conocer mundialmente, tarea a la que dedicaron sus vidas.

La escritura de Bruno Schulz ha sido fuente de inspiración para Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick, Nicole Krauss, Ugo Riccarelli, David Grossman, para el teatro de Tadeusz Kantor (especialmente La clase muerta, inspirada en su relato "El jubilado"), para Jonathan Safran Foer y su texto llamadoTree of Codes que es una reeescritura de La calle de los cocodrilos, su cuento favorito de Schulz.

Su escasa obra, se engloba dentro del realismo simbólico, y se caracteriza por su prosa poética con gran complejidad narrativa.


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review 2014-09-30 00:00
The Crocodiles: A Novel
The Crocodiles: A Novel - Youssef Rakha,Robin Moger Received a copy of The Crocodiles by Youssaf Rakha through the First Reads Giveaway program in exchange for an honest review

"The tale of a country girl who crosses a river of poverty and ignorance aboard a boat called culture and on the other bank discovers herself to be something beautiful. This crossing concerned us personally: the idea that culture (or writing, or ideas, or activism) could be a ferryboat; that a girl could cross over, or that she could become beautiful; that she could then discover herself to be so. How splendid the sails and oars...leave aside the fact that one of us loved her."

A revelation occurs on the twenty-first birthday of a Cairo born poet none simply as Nayf. For many twenty one signifies a new found freedom and independence as you join the age of majority. For Nayf he is going to assume these responsibilities and embark on a path to enlightenment. A few blocks over from Nayf's party site a forty-four year old writer, intellectual, and activist Radwa Abel throws herself over a balcony, killing herself with no motive behind her fateful decision. This sets the tone for a group of contemporaries as they traverse the city learning about relationships, change and finding more about themselves along the way. Class distinctions and their identification with poetry brought them together, they would acknowledge each other at the same avant-garde literary gatherings, but nothing more. On June 20, 1997 in a cafè on Tahrir street a group of friends Nayf, Paulo, and the narrator Youssaf formed a secret literary club with a vow to champion a movement for an Egyptian revolution that six months later would be more formally known as The Crocodiles. Like the Beat Generation before them, Nayf would find courage, sex, drugs, and self-sufficiency as key traits that were lacking in the Crocodiles. As time went on they would find love, they would consume drugs, Paulo became fascinated with photography, Nayf found Allen Ginsberg, and Youssef learned about Radwa Adel. As an individual and as a whole they evolved and officially joined the ranks of the intellectuals circle. The group would have a decent run but would disband after four years, some feel that a woman led them to their demise, some say the new millennium put an end to their stories, some say that their distinctive backgrounds affected The Crocodiles philosophical ideologies. Whatever the reason may be, the learning experience for these three young men would last a lifetime.

"I've come to understand that evil begins when you disdain what you need: refusing pity when you deserve it, luxuriating in failure when you burn for success, setting your desires aside in favor of some social project, or seeing your desires as inimical to achievements."

This book is a retrospective on a turbulent time in Egypt as tensions were rising throughout the art scene and the social climate as well as the political fallout that followed. There was a blatant disconnect between generations as one was striving for intellectual freedom and an end to a fundamentally-accepted dictatorship while the other was content on conforming to social expectations. The narrator is primarily fixated on the death of Radwa Abel and the tipping point that sealed her fate. He is obsessed to the point of researching and finding out specific information about her. He would realize that she was regarded by her friends as the flower of her generation and how her lightness made her special, like an angel. Radwa had her own social movement encouraging a revolution and how her failures as a feminist and activist may have led her to her tragic decision. She was searching for reasons to persuade her not to do it as she believed in honor but didn't know how to attain it, she needed evidence of god's existence, but in the end her lack of faith in her potential for change made her decision. In comparison to the other writers in the group Youssef was the least ambitious, but the most capable. With the right motivation he would try his best to use his talent to achieve the right results.

"Idealists are often less moral than non-idealists in the end, just as the pious are less faithful and the politicized less orthodox in their ideology. Similarly, romantics-I think-can be immeasurably harsher than others. Their romanticism's a veneer; deep down lies a scorn for life and a ruthlessness; a quite terrifying ruthlessness these romantics have."

There are numerous accounts of each of the members love affairs with older woman which provides an interesting relationship dynamic along the way. Some had interest in the same woman which lead to some infighting while some had some rather pointed remarks about current relationships of the time. One woman in particular would use her wiles to play with the three friends in order to maximize the love she would receive, not worrying about the damage she would cause.

"What he said about pain gave her no pause, or didn't seem to, but as she got out of the car, after she'd hugged him, she said, at the very last moment, ' Hurting you would work for me, I'll bet your pain is sweet, ' then whirled round and scampered into the building's entrance before he could reply."

At first being so young and naive they were arrogant, brash, brimming with confidence, feeling like they could change the world. They felt like big fish in a small pond and eventually would come to realize that they were in fact forcing the city to wash its hands of them. Youssef's detached observation, Paulo's thirst for action and accomplishment, and Nayf's continuous search for life's meaning gave them their self-confidence to voice things that were bothersome as well as principles that they believed in.

I am not going to pussy-foot around, this book was extremely difficult. The author goes back and forth in time to monumental moments in each characters lives which makes it hard to keep up and even stay afloat. At times I wanted to give up and just drown but I felt like I owed it to myself and the author to see it to the end. However; I am not sure I grasped everything the author had intended me to. This book will not be for everyone, it delves deep into the mindset of an artist with all of their complexities, insecurities, successes, as well as their struggles.

"I am Youssef, Gear Knob, anyone you please: the founding member of the Group for Secret Egyptian Poetry. And what is certain is that with these words, written in a future that dangled down from the mid-nineties on, I end the first document in the file called Crocodiles."

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text 2014-08-28 00:37
Reading in Progress: A Traveler in Italy: Return of Ceiling Croc!!!
A Traveller In Italy - H.V. Morton,Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

Isn't it weird how sometimes the right book comes along at the right moment? This is not going to be an epically loved book for me or anything, but it's the kind of book I've kept thinking I'd eventually set aside and stop reading. But then I've read just a bit more. And so on. It's been interesting enough to take me out of myself when I've really needed stress relief - and been the most fun in those moments where I've found myself rereading the same paragraph over and over because in my mind I'm having an imaginary trip to Italy. I've also discovered that travel books are a wonderful way for me to waste even more time online, because there are photos of almost everything if you dig around enough. Which is especially helpful since this guidebook dates from 1964 and the photos are all in black and white. I actually have another weird history/link post to make (Italy + Alice in Wonderland + alchemy + medicine + candy + British candy folklore), but this post had to come first.


After my post on Stuffed Crocodiles Hanging From The Ceiling - which a quote from pg 338 got me launched off on - I thought that'd be it for the crocodile-related entries. (In this book anyway.) But noooooooo! I did not suspect that 212 pages later there would be a Sudden Surprise Appearance of The Ceiling Croc! Remember, back on pg 338 it was just a mention of a crocodile in a sculpture, not an actual ceiling croc, that had gotten me all wound up over the beasts. (Technically the creatures here are both "alligators," but ceiling croc just sounds better.)


And so here's the quote. Imagine me reading this with my mouth open, making a ridiculous expression, saying to myself "wait, I just burbled on and on about these things, and now they pop up in an obscure town?!!" Specifically The Hermitage and Monastery at Camaldoli, in Tuscany. (More here and here.) Pg 550-552:


"I entered the monastery and found myself in an ancient pharmacy where nothing had apparently been altered since the Middle Ages. A dusty alligator hung from the rafters and beneath it a bustling young lay brother in horn-rimmed glasses stood behind a rampart of objects on a well-stocked counter. Near the door, where in other chemists' shops there is usually a weighing machine, I noticed an upright coffin in which a skeleton was propped. I went to examine it and read an inscription: 'In this glass you see yourself, foolish mortal. Any other glass is not telling you the truth.' On a shelf near by I saw a good selection of pickled vipers and I noticed some badger skins, which I seemed vaguely to remember are infallible in cases of sorcery.


There must be a mediaeval hypochondriac hidden away in me, for this was the place I had always hoped to find: the apothecary's shop in which one could ask for half an ounce of crabs eyes, or a packet of powdered coral, or perhaps even a jar of hart's horn jelly, the wonder drugs of yesterday. And it did indeed look at first sight as though, isolated upon this Apennine, men were still searching for the Elixir of Life. Who could say what countless little drawers held in the beautiful, age-blackened walnut panelling; what, in spite of his horn rims and his modern air, might not the lay brother have under the counter? Fascinated, I stepped into another, smaller room full of mortars and pestles and retorts (and another alligator), a room which gave the impression that an alchemist had just slipped out to look up something in Galen. A stuffed armadillo gave a homely touch to one corner and upon the wall, framed perhaps for ready reference, I read a formula which contained the words grasso umano - human fat.


[The store also sells modern things like razor blades, cologne, and face cream.]


...I asked where his customers came from. He said they were living at the hospice up the road and were on holiday. Every year people came to spend a week or two in the pine-scented air of the mountains, to walk, to ride, and to fish; and the pharmacy was the village shop."


Apparently the author of this book can't always be relied upon for facts - so I've been unsure how seriously to take some of his descriptions. It's hard to know how much artistic license he's taking. It's especially hard to tell because the book is 50 years old, and there aren't any citations.


But then I found this on wikipedia under Camaldoli:

"In the monastery of Camaldoli there is a welcoming room, a great hall, and an old style pharmacy. The pharmacy was originally a laboratory where monks studied and worked with medicinal herbs. These medicines would be used in the old hospital which can still be visited today. The precious walnut decor dates back to 1543."

Couldn't find any photos. But the ceiling crocs alligators might still be there...


[Here I'll note that I could now go off on another tangent about stuffed armadillos. I even own a framed photo of a taxidermied armadillo holding a beer bottle. Because, Texas. But I'm restraining myself!]


MOMENTS LATER: I may have said "squeee!" aloud when I found this:


Camaldoli’s Antica Farmacia: charity without words


I don't see the ceiling crocs in any of those photos - but the skeleton in the coffin is there!!!!


HOURS LATER: I think I've found two Flickr photos with ceiling crocs/gators - only it looks as though these are wall walking:


Farmacia - photo by Come L'abete (on the wall to the right, possible armadillo on back wall)


Simon Luca - photo by Come L'abete (you can't really miss this one)

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