Italian fathers, farmers, and country veterinarians repeated these processes for over two hundred years, the curtain of secrecy drawn more closely in some provinces than in others. But the sin of unnecessary dismemberment was punishable by excommunication everywhere, so the altered boys all came to choir ready with excuses. It was most fashionable for gelded choirs to blame their injuries on swan bites or, in [18th-century soprano Carlo Broschi, known only as] Farinelli's case, a horse-kick to the groin. In the 1750s, every last one of the soprani in the Sistine Chapel was an alleged victim of a wild pig attack.

(from "hey big spender," in elena passarello's let me clear my throat)
we had what we called a swanami at the wildlife hospital this winter; at one point five mute swans jostled for space in reception, in the waterfowl room, in the pool. it was a bit like having five pantomime horses in white turtlenecks knocking around the center; swans are always something else in disguise. "i love him," R once said as a massive swan nipped at her arm. "he's such a bastard." i've racked up a few swan bites in my time, but i wouldn't feel comfortable saying they were capable of making off with something important, greek myth and my limited understanding of historical pants aside. then again, what do i know? last week i didn't realize i had warm pigeon shit on the end of my nose until i looked down and saw its vapour trail on my scrubs.


my dear german journalist friend V disappeared for several months last fall after hip surgery, and i was afraid to write her while she was recuperating at home; i feared she'd say she wasn't coming back to volunteer at ye olde charity bookstore cafe again at all. "you were afraid i was dead!" she cried in her fantastic accent.* that isn't even a little bit true; V will outlive us all. she will be back visiting friends in the british virgin islands (where, as you may recall, she once opened a cinema and discovered a serious local demand for kung fu movies) when joe and i are visiting our friends in the dominican republic. we both love swimming but have yet to do it together, so i told her i think we need to swim to each other from our respective islands. you know, diana nyad it up out there. it will work.

she came over to give me a hug as she was leaving the store this evening—only the second or third i've gotten from her, i think—and looked uncharacteristically misty as she said that she wanted to say goodbye before we parted for a month. i grew suspicious and ground my strands of german DNA against each other like a boy scout starting a fire: I WILL BE EXPECTING YOU IN THE SEA.

*i told her today that a new volunteer had observed that everyone has exciting accents on our shift (in addition to V we have a few brits, a new zealander, and a belgian), and she looked crestfallen. "i thought i didn't have an accent," she said. "i start out one way in the morning and then i get tired, i get more german as the day goes on." maybe we all do, i said.