The New Year greetings, pious sentiments, genuine good wishes, hysterical fireworks and overblown hopes and fears are becoming overwhelming. Truly, there are fears as well as hopes in equal measure – but we prefer hope, don’t we.
So, two little oddities that the Petchary enjoyed this week… Silly distractions are needed, for now.
Firstly, the Jamaican clubbing birds. No, not night-clubbing, although plenty of that has been going on among Jamaica’s rich and narcissistic, over the holidays. According to the National Geographic, researchers from Yale University and the Smithsonian Institution have been studying fossils from Jamaica. They are, the scientists say, the bones of an “enigmatic flightless ibis.” They were apparently found in Red Hills, St. Andrew, where elaborately ugly houses perch one above the other, looming over and looking into each other’s chintzy bedrooms and concrete car ports. Not a likely place, but there you have it. The birds lived in Red Hills as “recently” as 12,000 years ago – no bed flounces, security grilles and SUVs up there in those days.
Now, here is the oddly interesting part. Apparently, flightlessness and fear of flying was a regular feature of ancient birds that lived on islands. Was it that they were afraid of not being able to fly far enough, and plummeting into the sea? After all, they were probably not particularly well designed in those days. So there they were, stuck on their old island, and no doubt suffering from the “island fever” that afflicts the Petchary at regular intervals – rather like Jamaicans who are unable to get a visa and can’t fly anywhere.
In order to try and fight their way off their island, the enigmatic ibises developed “wings like nunchucks.” Now, the Petchary had to go away and look up what a nunchuck is (in fact, the word is nunchaku in Japanese), and as she feared, it is something rather unpleasant. It is a traditional Okinawan weapon consisting of two sticks connected with a short chain or rope at their ends. You whirl it around, seeking to incapacitate your opponent in some way – perhaps making him/her fall flat on his face. Bruce Lee was, of course, a whizz with one.
These birds apparently had “club-like” wings. They swung their arms/wings around “so that thick, curved hand bones hinged at the wrist would deliver punishing blows,” says Nat Geo. Who were they beating up? Possibly each other, in territorial conflicts, much like the Jamaican gangs of today. Maybe snakes and other predators.
It’s a pity Jamaica’s ancient bird could not have been a peaceful one – a charming little ancient dove, perhaps. But no, being Jamaican, it just had to be aggressive, combative and downright mean. The humans may have got the upper hand though. The birds were pot-size (like large chickens) so perhaps they ended up bubbling over the ancient Jamaicans’ campfires, and thus went extinct.
Come to think of it, though, it would be nice to bring a few of them back. Perhaps they could teach Jamaican gangsters a thing or two with their nunchakus… And not a single shot fired.
Well, the Petchary has also been doing some crunching lately. Map crunching, to be precise.
She has been wandering down a cold, empty road in rural Romania, lined with small neat houses peppered with snow. The sky is the color of dirty grey washing, and there is no sign of any Romanians.
She has found herself, surprisingly, scrambling up an ivy-covered rock in Macau, eventually falling down into a parking lot. Suddenly, an impeccable, silver-white villa comes into view, surrounded by clipped evergreens, with an impeccable security guard looking through the gate. Who lives there? The Petchary will never know, and she is afraid to zoom in, in case the security guard arrests her. He looks serious.
Now she is whisking along Mandela Drive, somewhere in South Africa, with an enticing thin line of ocean to the left. But she can’t seem to float over there, and there is a crumpled crash barrier in the way. The sky is the color of a washed out blue linen suit. Oh. The ocean turned out to be a line of flat, low hills on the horizon. A disappointing emptiness on Mandela Drive.
So finally, let’s go to… France. The Petchary lands in a leafy street in the town of Grasse, in Provence, right across the road from a simple country house with pretty blue shutters. Oh, at last – humans! A man is leaning against the wall, chatting with a middle-aged lady with a shopping bag. The Petchary wonders what they are talking about, frozen in time on a nice sunny day. She ends up snooping on their neighbors, peering over garden walls and through the shrubbery at shuttered houses.
Welcome to the wonderful world of MapCrunch, one of the greatest escapes on the Internet. The website says that you can teleport to random places around the world. Random, indeed. You never know where you might end up (at the moment, the Petchary is, quite happily, entangled in the branches of an olive tree while trying to peer into a Frenchman’s back yard).
If you want to escape (and who doesn’t – the poor enigmatic ibises couldn’t, after all) map-crunching is as good a way as any. Sometimes, the Petchary wishes she could be more random. Hey, look at this pretty little church in the Czech Republic. Who’s that lurking in the doorway?
Why, it looks a lot like me…