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text 2015-05-09 22:18
Reading in Progress: Mort by Terry Pratchett - Ceiling Crocodile!
Mort - Terry Pratchett

I've been meaning to read Pratchett for years. In fact - as is usual for me - there's an ebook of his somewhere on my ereader this very moment. Recently, when Pratchett died, a friend said "oh really, you must read this" and gave me her copy. Which, because it is Someone Else's Book (capitalized to indicate respect!), I treat as though it's made of glass and only read it when at home, when I'm no where near food or anything else potentially damaging. If I'd been reading it as train/bus-commuting material I'd have definitely buzzed through it by now, because it's great stuff. As yes, many have told me.

 

Here's the quote from this book that I've waited way too long to read Pratchett.

 

Wait - first, for those who've probably missed it, my rambling on about The Ceiling Crocodile:

 

Why I Will Eventually Have A Stuffed Crocodile Hanging From My Ceiling (Aug 2014)

 

Reading in Progress: A Traveler in Italy: Return of the Ceiling Croc (Aug 2014)

 

So there, that's background.

And now on to today's quote:

 

p. 44 (see? I'm just poking along), Mort has entered the home of the wizard Igneous Cutwell:

"The big low room inside was dark and shadowy and smelled mainly of incense but slightly of boiled cabbage and elderly laundry and the kind of person who throws all his socks at the wall and wears the ones that don't stick. There was a large crystal ball with a crack in it, an astrolabe with several bits missing, a rather scuffed octogram on the floor, and a stuffed alligator hanging from the ceiling. A stuffed alligator is absolutely standard equipment in any properly-run magical establishment. This one looked as though it hadn't enjoyed it much."

Having looked at a fair amount of drawings and photographs of ceiling crocs I can say with a small bit of authority, most don't look as though they enjoyed it. The really old ones look moth eaten at best.

 

Also, I know, I haven't posted much of late. I need to get back into a pattern. But the usual time that I'd write is sort of removed from me - and now after work I'm basically brain-fried and good only to watch a bit of videos before I crash. (Seriously, this is even taking time out of my video gaming. Though mostly because once I start playing I lose track of time and end up not getting enough sleep.) Hopefully I'll manage better in a few more months when I've built up some stamina.

 

On the plus side, I do love mass transit - it is the greatest thing for anyone who reads. Because given the choice between an hour plus car ride or the same via bus and train during which I can read - NOT a hard decision.

 

(Oh and if you bother to read that first linked post of mine? Pratchett quote is in it. Which I only just realized while writing this. Which is probably why Mort was so high on my I Need To Start With This Pratchett list.)

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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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