Two diversions

… provided by friends in a time of unspeakable violence, though neither is a totally unmixed pleasure: from Mike McKinley, the 1962 boys’ space adventure yarn Lost City of Uranus, just for the cheap but evergreen double entendre in its title; from Betsy Herrington, a link to the rainbow dreadhead stone lions of Monza, Italy, an admirable exercise in yarn bombing.

The raw materals:

(#1) The sixth and last story of two space explorers, the teen brothers Jim and Ken Barry, with Dig Allen, son of a space scientist; Uranus is pronounced as, take your pick, either urinous or your anus, and I’m going with the latter as the gayer choice — just think! a whole, wonderful, secret world in your anus!

(#2) In a KnitHacker site posting by Danielle on 8/2/17, “Dreadhead Lions Yarn Bomb Spotted in Monza, Italy – One Love!”: two stone lions from Monza, resplendent in rainbow dreads; NYC-savvy viewers will of course think of Patience and Fortitude — from Betsy on FB: “Pazienza e Forza d’animo, mon”

Personal note. I was spectacularly sick on Thursday the 1st, continuing through the 2nd and 3rd (trust me, you don’t want to hear details), and this caused me to fail to post about National Avocado Day and Swiss National Day (stay tuned; I’m up to my waist in avocado material); and then (still reeling from our local mass shooting, on the 28th at the Gilroy Garlic Festival right here in Santa Clara County) I was impelled into the monstrous vileness of the El Paso Walmart shooting yesterday and the (still inexplicable) shooting in Dayton OH’s Oregon District early this morning.

People can apparently keep only two horrific public disasters in their minds at a time, so the Gilroy shooting has disappeared from public consciousness already.

Back when shooting small children to death at school became a thing, at Sandy Hook, I thought revulsion would lead to some sigificant change in the official response to such crimes, but no, and I am now convinced that nothing ever will: there is no event horrific enough to alter the widespread belief that these essentially daily calamities are just the acts of deranged individuals and as such are unavoidable.

So this is the way we live now. No one is safe in public — though we will of course not give in to fear and will brave the danger. Some of us — people of color, Jews, Muslims, lgbt people, among them — are especially threatened, whenever we are visible, but then we’re long accustomed to threading our way through seas of hatred and landscapes of aggression. That always has been our world.

Then to escape, however briefly.

The Dig Allen Space Explorer adventure series. There were six of these boys’ books by Richard Greene, published in 1959-62:

Captives in Space; Trappers of Venus; The Forgotten Star; Robots of Saturn; Journey to Jupiter; Lost City of Uranus

(Uranus gets in there as one of the four planet-based books. No, I don’t know how Greene pronounced the name. Journey to Jupiter is alliterative. Trappers of Venus might be a distant allusion to the Venus fly trap and to the sexual allures of the goddess Venus; or not.)

From the Tim Lukerman reader review (on of the Uranus book, which turns out to be an end of innocence tale:

It’s the story of a long-lost astronaut whose 2 grandchildren still believe he’s alive, after disappearing many years before on a trip to unexplored Uranus. Jim, Ken & Dig become involved in helping the children find their grandfather. This leads them to a vast underwater city on Uranus, the last of its kind, built by an advanced race descended from dolphin-like creatures — peaceful, artistic, gentle, civilized — who rescued & sheltered the missing grandfather.

Sadly, there are others from Earth, driven by greed for the treasures of the ancient city, willing to kill & destroy in order to line their pockets. And in their violent greed, they precipitate the end of this gentle civilization.

I’d guess that after dooming his beautiful utopian otherworld, Greene hadn’t the heart to go on.

A note on boys’ adventure books (and their girls’ counterpart). The many series of such books (notably the Tom Swift books, beginning in 1910, and the Hardy Boys books, beginning in 1927) featured teenage heroes, variously engaged in invention, science, and detection, who were designed to serve as models for younger boys. They provided motivation, via high-action tales, for boys to read; encouragement for boys to go into technology and science; and implicit lessons in decent and responsible manhood (stressing taking responsibility, fairness, resolution, providing aid to others, loyalty to friends, standing up to bullies, and the like).

The girls’ counterparts offered their own lessons, overlapping to some extent wth the boys’ lessons — resolution and loyalty to friends, but also taking charge, exhibiting cleverness, negotiating difference, and so on.

As I regularly point out here, all stories are moral stories. Much more than that, of course, but that (though this is sometimes not particularlyl obvious).

The Monza lions. From the English version of the Monza e Brianza turismo site (Monza lies a bit north of Milan, in the Lombardy region; Monza and Brianza is the name of its province) on “Lions Bridge and Roman Bridge of Arena”:

(#3) A Monza lion (from the tourism site)

Built in 1842 on the remains of the roman bridge of Arena (one of its arches is still visible at one end of the present-day bridge) for the opening of Via Ferdinandea, now Via Vittorio Emanuele II, the Lions Bridge [Ponte dei Leoni] is made up of three arches with granite abutments. On its sides four marble lions, work of the sculptor Tantardini, watch over the monumental bridge. Two footpaths follow the river Lambro, leading to the areas that were once occupied by mills for grinding wheat, irrigation ditches and washhouses. The typical and picturesque houses with communal long balconies are a testimony of this ancient area.

Yarn bombing.  From Wikipedia:

Yarn bombing (or yarnbombing) is a type of graffiti or street art that employs colourful displays of knitted or crocheted yarn or fibre rather than paint or chalk. It is also called yarn storming, guerrilla knitting, kniffiti, urban knitting, or graffiti knitting.

… According to Manuela Farinosi and Leopoldina Fortunati, yarn bombing has become synonymous with the current feminist movement due in part to the reclamation of a traditionally feminine act (i.e. knitting and/or crocheting) to partake in the traditionally masculine and male-dominated graffiti scene. The women and girls who make up the yarn bombing subculture are diverse in race, age, sexuality, class, etc. and create space for themselves and their art everywhere from college campuses to public parks. This creation and preservation of space is what motivates some of the participants, some of whom have never been able to access a political art space before. In her article about yarn bombing, Joanna Mann explains the balance between the art and politics, “Yarn bombing, I argue, does more than feminise the city, for the whimsy with which it is imbued has the capacity to increase our attentiveness to habitual worlds in a series of micro-political gestures.”


Farinosi, Manuela; & Fortunati, Leopoldina (April 2018). “Knitting Feminist Politics: Exploring a Yarn-Bombing Performance in a Postdisaster City”. Journal of Communication Inquiry. 42 (2): 138–165.

Mann, Joanna (March 2015). “Towards a politics of whimsy: yarn bombing the city”. Area. 47 (1): 65–72.

In any case, yarn work is frequently put to political ends, as in #2, which indexes both black identities (in the dreads) and lgbt identities (in the rainbow colors).

On dreads, basic lexical information from NOAD:

pl. noun dreadlocks: a hairstyle in which the hair is washed but not combed and twisted while wet into tight braids or ringlets hanging down on all sides.

Then from Wikipedia (which has considerable historical detail not reproduced here):

(#4) Men’s dreads (from the MensCoolHair site)

When reggae music gained popularity and mainstream acceptance in the 1970s thanks to Bob Marley’s music and cultural influence, the locks (often called “dreads”) became a notable fashion statement worldwide; they have been worn by prominent authors, actors, athletes and rappers.

… In the West, since gatherings of hippies became common in the 1970s, dreadlocks have gained popularity among Caucasian, counterculture adherents such as hippies, crust punks, New Age travellers, goths and many members of the Rainbow Family.

And then on, rainbow dreads for sale:

(#5) The Morris Costumes rainbow dreadlocks wig

The Library Lions. Since Betsy Herrington brought it up, from the New York Public Library site:

(#6) The Library Lions

Patience and Fortitude, the world-renowned pair of marble lions that stand proudly before the majestic Beaux-Arts building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan, have captured the imagination and affection of New Yorkers and visitors from all over the world since the Library was dedicated on May 23, 1911.

Called “New York’s most lovable public sculpture” by architecture critic Paul Goldberger, the Lions have witnessed countless parades and been adorned with holly wreaths during the winter holidays and magnificent floral wreaths in springtime. They have been bedecked in top hats, graduation caps, Mets and Yankee caps, and more. They have been photographed alongside countless tourists, replicated as bookends, caricatured in cartoons, and illustrated in numerous children’s books. One even served as the hiding place for the cowardly lion in the motion picture The Wiz.

According to Henry Hope Reed in his book, The New York Public Library, about the architecture of  the Fifth Avenue building, the sculptor Edward Clark Potter obtained the commission for the lions on the recommendation of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, one of America’s foremost sculptors. Potter was paid $8,000 for the modeling, and the Piccirilli Brothers executed the carving for $5,000, using pink Tennessee marble. After enduring almost a century of weather and pollution, in 2004 the lions were professionally cleaned and restored.

Their nicknames have changed over the decades. First they were called Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, after The New York Public Library founders John Jacob Astor and James Lenox. Later, they were known as Lady Astor and Lord Lenox (even though they are both male lions). During the 1930s, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named them Patience and Fortitude, for the qualities he felt New Yorkers would need to survive the economic depression. These names have stood the test of time: Patience still guards the south side of the Library’s steps and Fortitude sits unwaveringly to the north.


3 Responses to “Two diversions”

  1. chrishansenhome Says:

    One of the interesting things that has happened in my lifetime is the gradual discovery of the nature of the planets of our Solar System and what galaxies really are. I recall a book I had when I was a young child–the idea that Venus was a watery world, Mars had canals, water, and could harbour life–were all put forward in this serious book about astronomy. The idea that anything could exist on Uranus of the nature of a city is now not tenable.

    Isaac Asimov wrote a whole series of short robot stories that had to do with colonies and mining on the Jovian moons. We are now aware that the radiation coming from Jupiter would make it almost impossible to live or work on them.

    It’s my sense that science fiction has moved outward from the Solar System to other stars and galaxies, probably due to the fact that we know so much about our own cosmic neighbourhood these days.

  2. maxvasilatos Says:

    Heinlein wrote some boys-in-space books featuring the Boy Scouts. He was a huge booster for the Boy Scouts his whole life.

  3. maxvasilatos Says:

    Two things about the dreadlocks/lions…

    First, there’s a story/myth/legend/true thing about a group of male lions (the Mapogos) who reigned over large territory in Africa, and somebody made a short video referencing them, called Mapogo: Dangerous Male Lions on Warpath (“Dreadlocks” & “Mr. T” & “Rasta”) which mixes the powerful lion, lion mane, and strength themes, 3:29mins

    Another public broadcasting documentary did me a great service by explaining how dreadlocks work, “The Lockumentary: Natural Hair Documentary”, 22:15mins

    I don’t know how wordpress handles link URL copies, we’ll see.

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