May 23, 2017
Slow, steady, with excellent taste in books: all hail the noble turtle
by Melville House
At long last, the big day is upon us! For weeks, your home has been festooned with streamers, your heart pitter-pattering, you’ve barely been able to hold a thought in your head. And now, the big moment is finally here: Happy World Turtle Day, everybody! I can’t believe we’ve finally made it.
Thanks to the tireless work of the Malibu-based American Tortoise Rescue, since 2000, every May 23 is World Turtle Day, a special time to celebrate that noblest of species. Turtles: slow and steady, cute yet bitey, exquisitely dressed for all occasions, and generally just magnificent. Turtles are amazing animals. If you have a little extra moolah to toss to one of the world’s only all-volunteer organizations focusing on the wellbeing of turtles, today, dear friends, is the day.
In the meantime, pick out some music, dust off your turtle shoes, grab a pizza, and join us on a brief tour of what Seneca called* humanity’s “Biblioteca Tortugana.” Here are some of the great, turtle-infused scenes from our catalog:
Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography — in this scene, our hero has recently landed in Indonesia:
Balinese humour is like our own and abounds in sex jokes, truisms and play on words. I tested the humour of our young waiter at the hotel. ‘Why does a chicken cross the road?’ I asked.
His reaction was supercilious. ‘Everyone knows that one,’ said he to the interpreter.
‘Very well then, which came first, the chicken or the egg?’
This stumped him. ‘The chicken—no—’ he shook his head, ‘—the egg—no,’ he pushed back his turban and thought a while; then announced with final assurance: ‘The egg.’
‘But who laid the egg?’
‘The turtle, because the turtle is supreme and lays all the eggs.’
Moral: The turtle is supreme. She lays all the eggs. Obviously.
Margot Singer, Underground Fugue — here, Javad, a doctor living in London, remembers his childhood in Tehran:
In the light of the gooseneck lamp, he stretches out on the sofa with the Guardian. Flash flooding up in Yorkshire, suicide bombings in Palestine and Iraq. The doors to the garden are open to the June night. It is too late now for the piano; next door, Esther is probably asleep. He hears it in his head instead, the blue halftones of Bach.
He inhales the night air: humid, earthy, green. In the shady garden of the house on Hesabi Street, there was a shallow pool that turned green as glass in the summer heat. Around it, his mother kept coleus and geraniums in clay pots. They had two turtles, too—Xerxes and Artaxerxes, impossible to tell apart—that he fed lettuce leaves and celery stalks. He remembers how they lumbered, oddly agile, on their stubby legs; the green-brown patchwork of their shells, their armored underbellies, the precise chewing movements of their small, sharp beaks. Turtles were long-lived creatures. Perhaps they were there still. His sister Darya was still living in the house. She and her husband, the dentist, had two daughters, already grown. The dentist was bearded, devout. The women blackbirds in chador. He has not seen his sister in nearly 30 years.
Moral: Even great Persian kings can be turtles.
Sophia Nikolaidou (translation by Karen Emmerich), The Scapegoat — in this scene, young Minas, teenage scion of a prominent Greek intellectual family, is fretted over by his mother Teta and grandmother Evthalia:
Thus it was that Minas’s “social skills,” as Teta called them, never developed through regular interactions with his peers.
—Let the child be, was Evthalia’s advice. He doesn’t have any real peers at school, he’ll nd them at the university.
It was a convenient solution, since it pushed the problem off to a future date, which at the time had seemed fairly distant. At the time. Now, though, when the much-discussed year of exam preparation had arrived and his parents’ high expectations had suddenly flown out the window, Minas’s social isolation presented yet another burden—though at this precise moment such issues paled in comparison to Minas’s provocative declarations concerning the Panhellenic Exams.
Teta watched as the other kids ran their long-distance race. The other mothers never missed an opportunity to update her on their children’s progress. With glee, it seemed to her, though they probably thought they were just being friendly. Teta felt like a turtle missing its shell. Her brief chats with other mothers on the phone and their chance encounters around the neighborhood lled her with a dreadful guilt. No matter how hard she fought it, no matter how many times Evthalia tried to comfort her with the observation that these things happen, just try to adjust, she still felt that she must have done something wrong to make Minas fall apart at the very moment when the other kids were rising to the challenge, even those who were clearly not destined to succeed.
Moral: Be nice to your mom.
Scott Sherman, Patience and Fortitude — alright, this one is admittedly something of a stretch, turtle-content-wise (it turns out we haven’t published that many books in which turtles figure prominently), but here’s turtlekind in a supporting role as Sherman describes public perceptions of the New York Public Library scandal of a few years back:
Meanwhile, the news about the NYPL’s plan was circulating, and polemics were soon matched to satire. On April 7, 2012, radio bard Garrison Keillor used his fictional detective, Guy Noir, to address the NYPL controversy on A Prairie Home Companion. In the segment, Guy Noir has been hired by a Manhattan client keen to sell his “big one bedroom” apartment for $11 million. Rumor has it that an elusive Russian “natural gas multibillionaire” from Siberia might be interested in purchasing the unit. “Go find me that Russian,” Noir is told.
Noir races around New York City in search of a Russian accent, and nally shows up at the 42nd Street Library — “to see if anybody had taken out Pushkin recently.” A hunch-backed librarian, whose name is Igor, uses an old elevator to bring the gumshoe deep into the “sub-sub-sub basement, in the stacks”:
NOIR: And then I saw the forklift. A guy in a hard hat was running it and it was scooping up stacks of books and putting them on a conveyor belt that carried them off down a dark passageway. It was like a coal mine except they were mining books. IGOR: We are clearing out all the books. But here are the Pushkin over here. NOIR: How can they clear out the books? It’s a library. IGOR: Nobody reads old books. Only new books. Only on iPad and Kindle. NOIR: But you’ve got millions of books down here. IGOR: Three million. Maybe four. NOIR: This is a world-class library. IGOR: World-class warehouse. NOIR: What are they going to do with the space? IGOR: It’s valuable real estate. Parking ramp and condos. NOIR: Where are the books going? IGOR: To Turtle Mountain in North Dakota. NOIR: There are no mountains in North Dakota. IGOR: There will be when these books get out there.
Moral: Fight for the dignity of our nation’s libraries, much as an adolescent, genetically divergent, trained tortoise assassin might do.
* He didn’t, of course.