The science of sex

I prefer to think of it as an art.
Anyhoo — another shortie for Paste from a coupla years ago:
Mary Roach
Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex
W.W. Norton & Company
If anatomy is destiny, ladies, envy the barnyard sow, whose clitoris lies fortuitously inside its vagina. So notes Roach, the playful author behind those other one-word best-sellers, Stiff (cadaver, not arousal) and Spook. After immersing herself in so much death, she understandably sought a subject with a pulse, and preferably a flushed look of satisfaction, in this survey of sex research. Alfred Kinsey and the usual players get their due in sticky detail, but so does Dr. Ahmed Shafik, who studied lab rats in tiny, drawstring polyester pants, confirming the value of natural fibers. (The rodents could not get laid because they were dressed so unfashionably, Roach speculates.) Her witty writing style begets giggling for the right reasons, with well-turned footnotes that are fun to read aloud to prudes. That impotence was once attributed to witches stashing purloined penises in birds’ nests makes one appreciate the onslaught of Cialis commercials. Just don’t crack this book before a date. So many images of glans, tugged and prodded, will leave you reaching for a fig leaf.


Foxfire phenom celebrates 45 years with book full of moonshiners, conjure-wimmin, haints

To read the entire article, go here:

Confronted by a claustrophobic newcomer who wanted to “reach out and push back the mountains” in Appalachia, poet Byron Herbert Reece observed: “It depends upon whether you feel you are shut in or the world shut out.”

Most of us who grew up in the Southern Highlands can see both sides from our vertiginous vantage-point: Hermits by default, we have been hemmed in—miserably, at times—but also sheltered and safeguarded by a rugged landscape and a clannish culture. This isolation has yielded some distinct, if not gloriously peculiar, folkways celebrated, once again, in Singin’, Praisin’, and Raisin’: The Foxfire 45th Anniversary Book, an expansive oral history collected by high-school students in the Foxfire program, based in Mountain City, Georgia, and edited by Joyce Green and Casi Best.

Published in August by Anchor Books, it features the usual entertaining cast of moonshiners, conjure-wimmin, and “boogers and haints”—all of them flinty, hard-working types—with a special emphasis on music. For the first time in the series, this edition offers a companion compact disc of twangy pickers from its “Echoes” chapter, including mainstays like The Primitive Quartet, as well as others such as LV and Mary Mathis, a seasoned, husband-and-wife duet never recorded until now. (The initials stand for “Lyin’ Varmint,” Mary jokes.)

The sepia-toned nostalgia of Foxfire deepens in its valediction with Singin’, Praisin’, and Raisin’, which is stuffed with wistful reflections on the program itself from some of its first researchers, who, in middle age, still marvel at their role in this ongoing, idealistic, intergenerational phenomenon. Foxfire, named for the eerie, bioluminescent fungi found on rotting logs, began in 1966 as a writing project at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School, where Eliot Wigginton, a Cornell-educated teacher determined to fire up his classroom, charged his students with interviewing and recording their backwoods elders to produce a quarterly magazine. In 1972, faced with a growing demand for back issues, the budding folklorists published an anthology of their writings, a curious hodgepodge of “olden days” storytelling and how-to advice on hog-butchering and the like. Pickled and preserved with corn likker and salt of the earth, The Foxfire Book quickly became a national bestseller, appealing to back-to-the-land hippies as well as antiquarians. A dozen more books, including this recent installment, followed.

For homefolks, Foxfire has served as benediction—and ammo. Note the timing and setting. In 1972, a movie that was filmed in the same county stigmatized the entire region with its enduring stereotypes of inbred, toothless, predatory hillbillies. However, the homespun anthropology of Foxfire offered a note-for-note, “Dueling Banjos”-style counterpoint to “Deliverance” by honoring the ingenuity, resilience, and, above all, the unassailable dignity of Appalachian people. Throughout the rambling anecdotes of “Aunt Arie” the widder-woman, Lawton Brooks in his overalls, and other high-lonesome, no-bull voices, their devotion to family and intimate understanding of nature, their sustaining faith, their mulish work ethic, and their native wit shine through like mica in a creekbed. In effect, they announce to nervous outlanders: Not only are you safe on our rivers, but you also will find sincere nourishment for your mind and spirit—along with biscuits made from the freshest lard—around these parts.

Even so, the Foxfire series affectionately serves up enough grotesquery for fans of Southern Gothicka.

My redheaded grandmother, who wielded a hoe with a vengeance, prized her collection of the books, and while she encouraged me and my cousins to study the properties of yellow-root tea and planting by the signs, she also was leery of our grubby, destructive fingers. So we would read the tales of “boogers and haints” by flashlight at night, growing increasingly spooked and primed to scream. I remember feeling especially terrified by the “hoop snake,” which reputedly takes its tail into its mouth and rolls like a bicycle tire after its prey. My grandfather claimed to have been pursued by one, but he probably was messing with me. Of course, there also were the elaborate engineering plans for whiskey ’stills, presumably run by Baptists since almost everyone claimed that affiliation (a contradiction that continues to bedevil me).

In Singin’, Praisin’, and Raisin’, I again find myself drawn to the juicy bits, starting with the true-crime stories in a section called “Knoxville Girl,” after the old-timey murder ballad, with chapter headings such as “Hell-Bent and Whiskey Bound: A Scaly Mountain Murder” and “Yeah, that stuff’s a-growin’ wild up there,” about bush-hogging the first marijuana seized in Georgia. The legends, Old World and otherworldly, under the heading of “Barbara Allen”—the “little people,” “the deer and the witch,” and one man’s “true encounter” with the devil—probably were exchanged by ancient Celts around a peat-bog campfire.

I had wrongly assumed that the “Raisin’” part of the book was about child-rearing and would involve some controversial one-upmanship about the “strops” and “hickory switches” used in corporal punishment (a favorite dinner-table topic in my youth), but instead it chronicles the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School Farm Family Program, which provided a top-drawer academic education for its tenant families along with its boarding students, with all of them getting their hands dirty with pullets, udders, and cane syrup mills.

My grandmother would have enjoyed reading, and listening, to the “Echoes” component of the book, with its themes of music as salvation, ministry, and respite from back-straining labor. To her, a banjo was, to use an arty phrase she would have sniffed at, a vehicle for transcendence, not the ominous cue for trouble around the bend, as portrayed in “Deliverance.”

The how-to guides that wrap up this edition cover “Tying a True Lover’s Knot”; “Chair Bottoming with Poplar Bark”; and “Braiding a Leather Bullwhip,” among other tasks, which prompted some unwanted, melancholy thoughts: Will anyone bother to follow these instructions? Moreover, now that most of us no longer plow with a mule, will the Foxfire field soon go fallow?

I hope not. The project initially homed in on the arcana of a few hollers in Rabun County, but it has evolved into an educational methodology, known as the Foxfire Approach to Teaching and Learning, applicable anywhere, from a Muslim community in Detroit to the Navajo Reservation—wherever a dialogue between the young and the old can flower.

Co-editor Casi Best offers these reassuring words: “I am a mere nineteen years old. If you mention iPods, Wi-Fi, netbooks, text messaging, iTunes, or anything of today’s modern technological world, I’ll know exactly what you’re talking about…however, mention a water dipper, a mess of greasy white half runners, a sling blade … and I’m lost.”

So she began seeking out those faces cross-hatched with age and experience, asking questions, and “simply falling in love” with her Appalachian heritage. These mountains may close in around us, but they also offer a panoramic view if we scale their heights.

“If you remember anything from this book,” Best writes, “I hope it is this: Every person has a story, and they’re simply waiting for someone to say ‘hello.’”

Candice Dyer writes regularly for Atlanta magazine, and her work has appeared in Men’s Journal, Garden & Gun, and Georgia Trend. She is the author of Street Singers, Soul Shakers, and Rebels with a Cause: Music from Macon.

Ever wonder where the expression ‘get laid’ came from? Meet the Everleigh sisters

One of my capsule reviews for Paste. Sadly, the lovely Ms. Abbott no longer calls Atlanta home.

Long before Hef, a palace of pulchritude

Ada and Minna Everleigh, the Victorian sisters behind the expression “get laid,” might relish their enduring place in the lexicon, but they’d likely sniff at its frat-house vulgarity. In their brothel, the Everleigh Club, Venuses swathed in French couture recited Longfellow while kings sipped champagne from their slippers. Pleasure was an art, hard-won and forever under siege, as Abbott, an Atlanta-based journalist, reveals in this engaging account of Chicago’s bawdy, turn-of-the-century belle époque.

“I want to stress that this is a work of nonfiction,” she writes, as if to wink, “You won’t believe this!” before affectionately introducing her rogues gallery of crafty courtesans, underhanded aldermen and Bible-waving crusaders. Their schemes culminate in a showdown over “white slavery” that heralds, with a ragtime beat, American ambivalence about the pleasure principle.

If only their puritanical detractors had understood: The Everleighs strove to cleanse the red-light district, too, with their own high-end (and scrupulously hygienic) brand of gentrification.