Friday, January 9, 2015

Does This Look Like A Mermaid To You?

When I was little my Dad would always read aloud from the newspaper when he saw an interesting fact or bit of local color that he felt we were in need of.  He basically read about half the paper to my mother and I each evening because Dad found everything of interest.  It often started with the phrase "Jane did you know...?" or "Hey Mick, listen here a second...".  I often rolled my eyes and listened begrudgingly to whatever it was, but as an adult I find myself following the same patterns and seeking out these items in magazines and online. 
My brain is packed with useless bits of trivia that will probably only help me if I ever get to be on Jeopardy (which incidentally would be the coolest thing ever and the fulfillment of one of my Dad's most sincere dreams for me).  The random facts and tiny pieces of folklore and ephemera that pop into my head spill out before I have a chance to edit them, so my conversations with people are always filled with non sequiturs and peppered with an array of everything I could possibly add to the topic that has practically nothing to do with where the story was originally headed.  I am the queen of tangents.  I have friends who have been trapped in branches of a conversation tree with me going back to the day we met.  The branches reach so high we can no longer see the ground, but I like the view from up here and I can spot lots of cool stuff.
I recently found out that the History Channel's website has a nice little feature called "This Day In History" where you can explore the kind of events my Dad used to read to me.  It just so happens that today is the day Stallone started filming the original Rocky movie in 1976.  Cool huh?  The following is another interesting fact that happened on January 9th that I've borrowed from The History Channel website:
    "On this day in 1493, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, sailing near the Dominican Republic, sees three "mermaids"--in reality manatees--and describes them as "not half as beautiful as they are painted." Six months earlier, Columbus (1451-1506) set off from Spain across the Atlantic Ocean with the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, hoping to find a western trade route to Asia. Instead, his voyage, the first of four he would make, led him to the Americas, or "New World."
Mermaids, mythical half-female, half-fish creatures, have existed in seafaring cultures at least since the time of the ancient Greeks. Typically depicted as having a woman's head and torso, a fishtail instead of legs and holding a mirror and comb, mermaids live in the ocean and, according to some legends, can take on a human shape and marry mortal men. Mermaids are closely linked to sirens, another folkloric figure, part-woman, part-bird, who live on islands and sing seductive songs to lure sailors to their deaths.
Mermaid sightings by sailors, when they weren't made up, were most likely manatees, dugongs or Steller's sea cows (which became extinct by the 1760s due to over-hunting). Manatees are slow-moving aquatic mammals with human-like eyes, bulbous faces and paddle-like tails. It is likely that manatees evolved from an ancestor they share with the elephant. The three species of manatee (West Indian, West African and Amazonian) and one species of dugong belong to the Sirenia order. As adults, they're typically 10 to 12 feet long and weigh 800 to 1,200 pounds. They're plant-eaters, have a slow metabolism and can only survive in warm water.
Manatees live an average of 50 to 60 years in the wild and have no natural predators. However, they are an endangered species. In the U.S., the majority of manatees are found in Florida, where scores of them die or are injured each year due to collisions with boats."
Now this is my mental image of a mermaid and kind of my mental image of Christopher Columbus too although the artwork dates from much later...
The Fisherman and the Syren, byFrederic Leighton, c. 1856–1858 (Wikipedia)

I bet he was less than thrilled to see a manatee.  Columbus was awfully skillful at managing his expectations and making the best of things though, so maybe he wasn't too upset.

I often wonder what my father would make of the ability to Google the answer to nearly any questions you had about your daily life.  If my Dad wasn't affected by his Alzheimer's would he be online finding bits of news to read me?  I'd like to think he would, but I also figure he'd cling to his newspaper and books because he wouldn't want them to be replaced by the glow of a computer screen entirely.  I think of his love of learning every day and each time I read something "of note" to my husband I think "I am my father's daughter".  When I see my rolling eyes echoed in Andy's wonder at where I get this stuff, I know I am a Kilbert through and through.

1 comment:

  1. When we were last visiting Daddy, Mike showed him Siri. He taught him how to search for planes overhead. Dad was incredulous. He said "Ask her something else!" Then he grabbed the jar of Heinz pickles off his tray (next to the Spam) and said "Jane,Marcia! When were Heinz pickles established?" Mom and I guessed the 1920's. Mike asked Siri, who quoted 1897 (I think). Dad said "Siri wins...and if they had ones of those when I was your age, I'd have ruled the world!" I believe he might be right....