Links, curiosities & mixed wonders – 3

New miscellanea of interesting links and bizarre facts.

  • There’s a group of Italian families who decided, several years ago, to try and live on top of the trees. In 2010 journalist Antonio Gregolin visited these mysterious “hermits” — actually not as reclusive as you might think —, penning a wonderful reportage on their arboreal village (text in Italian, but lots of amazing pics).

  • An interesting long read on disgust, on the cognitive biases it entails, and on how it could have played an essential role in the rise of morals, politics and laws — basically, in shaping human societies.
  • Are you ready for a travel in music, space and time? On this website you get to choose a country and a decade from 1900 to this day, and discover what were the biggest hits back in the time. Plan your trip/playlist on a virtual taxi picking unconceivably distant stops: you might start off from the first recordings of traditional chants in Tanzania, jump to Korean disco music from the Eighties, and reach some sweet Norwegian psychedelic pop from the Sixties. Warning, may cause addiction.
  • Speaking of time, it’s a real mystery why this crowdfunding campaign for the ultimate minimalist watch didn’t succeed. It would have made a perfect accessory for philosophers, and latecomers.
  • The last issue of Illustrati has an evocative title and theme, “Circles of light”. In my contribution, I tell the esoteric underground of Northern Italy in which I grew up: The Only Chakra.
  • During the terrible flooding that recently hit Louisiana, some coffins were seen floating down the streets. A surreal sight, but not totally surprising: here is my old post about Holt Cemetery in New Orleans, where from time to time human remains emerge from the ground.

  • In the Pelican State, you can always rely on traditional charms and gris-gris to avoid bad luck — even if by now they have become a tourist attraction: here are the five best shops to buy your voodoo paraphernalia in NOLA.
  • Those who follow my work have probably heard me talking about “dark wonder“, the idea that we need to give back to wonder its original dominance on darkness. A beautiful article on the philosophy of awe (Italian only) reiterates the concept: “the original astonishment, the thauma, is not always just a moment of grace, a positive feeling: it possesses a dimension of horror and anguish, felt by anyone who approaches an unknown reality, so different as to provoke turmoil and fear“.
  • Which are the oldest mummies in the world? The pharaohs of Egypt?
    Wrong. Chinchorro mummies, found in the Atacama desert between Chile and Peru, are more ancient than the Egyptian ones. And not by a century or two: they are two thousand years older.
    (Thanks, Cristina!)

  • Some days ago Wu Ming 1 pointed me to an article appeared on The Atlantic about an imminent head transplant: actually, this is not recent news, as neurosurgeon from Turin Sergio Canavero has been a controversial figure for some years now. On Bizzarro Bazar I discussed the history of head transplants in an old article, and if I never talked about Canavero it’s because the whole story is really a bit suspect.
    Let’s recap the situation: in 2013 Canavero caused some fuss in the scientific world by declaring that by 2017 he might be able to perform a human head transplant (or, better, a body transplant). His project, named HEAVEN/Gemini (Head Anastomosis Venture with Cord Fusion), aims to overcome the difficulties in reconnecting the spinal chord by using some fusogenic “glues” such as polyethylene glycol (PEG) or chitosan to induce merging between the donor’s and the receiver’s cells. This means we would be able to provide a new, healthier body to people who are dying of any kind of illness (with the obvious exception of cerebral pathologies).
    As he was not taken seriously, Canavero gave it another try at the beginning of 2015, announcing shortly thereafter that he found a volunteer for his complex surgical procedure, thirty-year-old Russian Valery Spiridonov who is suffering from an incurable genetic disease. The scientific community, once again, labeled his theories as baseless, dangerous science fiction: it’s true that transplant technology dramatically improved during the last few years, but according to the experts we are still far from being able to attempt such an endeavour on a human being — not to mention, of course, the ethical issues.
    At the beginning of this year, Canavero announced he has made some progress: he claimed he successfully tested his procedure on mice and even on a monkey, with the support of a Chinese team, and leaked a video and some controversial photos.
    As can be easily understood, the story is far from limpid. Canavero is progressively distancing himself from the scientific community, and seems to be especially bothered by the peer-review system not allowing him (shoot!) to publish his research without it first being evaluated and examined; even the announcement of his experiments on mice and monkeys was not backed up by any published paper. Basically, Canavero has proved to be very skillful in creating a media hype (popularizing his advanced techinque on TV, in the papers and even a couple of TEDx talks with the aid of… some picturesque and oh-so-very-Italian spaghetti), and in time he was able to build for himself the character of an eccentric and slightly crazy genius, a visionary Frankenstein who might really have found a cure-all remedy — if only his dull collegues would listen to him. At the same time he appears to be uncomfortable with scientific professional ethics, and prefers to keep calling out for “private philantropists” of the world, looking for some patron who is willing to provide the 12.5 millions needed to give his cutting-edge experiment a try.
    In conclusion, looking at all this, it is hard not to think of some similar, well-known incidents. But never say never: we will wait for the next episode, and in the meantime…
  • …why not (re)watch  The Thing With Two Heads (1972), directed by exploitation genius Lee Frost?
    This trashy little gem feature the tragicomic adventures of a rich and racist surgeon — played by Ray Milland, at this point already going through a low phase in his career — who is terminally ill and therefore elaborates a complex scheme to have his head transplanted on a healthy body; but he ends waking up attached to the shoulder of an African American man from death row, determined to prove his own innocence. Car chases, cheesy gags and nonsense situations make for one of the weirdest flicks ever.

Korla Pandit

Nel 1948, la televisione era nata da poco ma già migliaia di persone ne possedevano una. Quello fu l’anno in cui, negli Stati Uniti, cominciò la prima vera e propria programmazione televisiva, e fra i vari spettacoli offerti da questa magica e strana scatola delle meraviglie ce n’era uno davvero unico: lo show di Korla Pandit.

Chi all’epoca era bambino, e per la prima volta accese la televisione in quell’anno, lo ricorda ancora: occhi magnetici, turbante bianco impreziosito di rubini, sorriso dolce ed enigmatico, dita affusolate e abilissime. Di quest’uomo dai lineamenti indiani si conosceva molto poco, la sua vita era già un mistero. Si diceva fosse nato a Nuova Delhi, figlio di un brahmino e di una cantante lirica francese, e che avesse in seguito abbandonato l’India per studiare musica in Inghilterra, e infine a Chicago. Durante  il suo spettacolo, intitolato Korla Pandit’s Adventures In Music, egli suonava un organo Hammond e un pianoforte a coda Steinway (spesso contemporaneamente) proponendo particolari arrangiamenti di melodie esotiche e mediorientali. Il suo modo di utilizzare l’Hammond in maniera “percussiva” gli permetteva di eseguire da solo la base ritmica, rendendolo un vero e proprio one-man-band.

Ma non erano soltanto le sue abilità pianistiche ad affascinare gli spettatori. Certo, le atmosfere romantiche e misteriose delle sue melodie erano pressoché inedite per l’epoca; e facevano la loro parte anche le scenografie arabeggianti puntellate di orchidee, con nubi rischiarate dalla luna che venivano proiettate alle spalle del musicista… eppure l’elemento vincente era proprio l’alone di mistero che circondava Korla. Durante lo show, egli non pronunciava mai una sola parola. Comunicava attraverso il “linguaggio universale della musica”, come avvertiva la voce narrante nell’introduzione. E, soprattutto, guardava in camera, verso gli spettatori, con un misto di serenità e saggezza, ma anche di malizia… lo sguardo penetrante di un mago che conosce i segreti della seduzione, e sa usare le note per aprire qualsiasi cuore femminile.

E, infatti, sembra che molte donne fossero letteralmente impazzite per quegli occhi sibillini. Si dice che gli spedissero regali sempre più costosi, in una vera e propria frenesia d’amore. Con il suo sguardo magnetico, Korla di certo sapeva sfruttare il potere ancora sconosciuto della scatola magica, la televisione. La leggenda vuole che migliaia di padri spaventati, e di mariti furibondi, si fossero convinti che Pandit stesse davvero ipnotizzando, attraverso la TV, le consorti e le figlie. Scrissero rabbiose lettere all’emittente KTLA, fino a spingere la rete a cancellare lo show dell’indiano. Nel 1953 Korla Pandit, all’apice della popolarità, viene licenziato dall’emittente. Passerà il resto della vita nell’anonimato, dando lezioni di musica, suonando in piccoli club, inaugurando concessionari d’auto e supermarket. Nessuno più si ricorda di lui, tranne Tim Burton che nel 1994, per il film Ed Wood, gli affida un cameo/omaggio nel ruolo di se stesso. Negli ultimi anni della sua vita, trova un piccolo ritorno di carriera grazie ai revival di musica lounge ed esotica, ma ormai si sta facendo anziano: la leggenda svanisce.

Eppure pochi sanno che quella leggenda nasconde un sorprendente segreto. Korla non è affatto indiano. Era nato a St. Louis, nel Missouri, ed era afroamericano: si chiamava John Roland Redd. A quell’epoca, per un uomo di colore non era facile sfondare nello show business; così nel 1948, assieme alla moglie Beryl (artista dello studio Disney), decise di inventarsi un personaggio che potesse essere maggiormente accettato e, al contempo, abbastanza misterioso da avere successo. E fa la mossa giusta: la televisione, ai suoi albori, aveva già di per sé una qualità magnetica che oggi non possiamo nemmeno immaginare, e lo show di Korla faceva leva su questo magnetismo, innalzandolo ai massimi livelli, e portando in migliaia di case una dimensione di sogno, sensuale e romantica, un’atmosfera magica e sospesa.


Korla Pandit muore nel 1998, all’ipotetica età di 77 anni: ipotetica, perché quando glielo chiedevano rispondeva sempre, con un enigmatico sorriso, di avere intorno ai 2000 anni.


Il sito dedicato a Korla Pandit.