May 15, 2013

I Am the Angel of Payback

Most stories do not begin with a man trying to murder a fly. This one does.

Hector stalked between the desk and the door to his bathroom, with a makeshift instrument of death in his hand, nostrils flaring as if Hector could sniff out the source of that venomous buzzing.

Holy shit, they're even more horrid up close.
Photo's beautiful, though. Taken by JJ Harrison.

This one's autobiographic, kind of. I can't work with a bluebottle fly in the room, buzzing away and gnawing at my easily depleted stores of patience and bonhomie. That's right, I would hurt a fly; which must mean I'm not entirely harmless. Just look at that little monster, though. You never see anything that ghastly in a horror movie. No, not even in Mansquito.

Why are flies so damn hard to swat, anyway?

Michael Dickinson, professor at Caltech, has decided to look into that niggling question for you. reports:

Using high-resolution, high-speed digital imaging of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) faced with a looming swatter, Dickinson and graduate student Gwyneth Card have determined the secret to a fly's evasive maneuvering. Long before the fly leaps, its tiny brain calculates the location of the impending threat, comes up with an escape plan, and places its legs in an optimal position to hop out of the way in the opposite direction. All of this action takes place within about 100 milliseconds after the fly first spots the swatter.

Enough about flies and their concomitant horrors. We need a palate cleanser*, so let's look at this wonderful portrait of Helga Testorf by Andrew Wyeth, which he painted in 1979 and called Braids.

Click to enlarge. You'll see even more detail.

Andrew and Helga met in secret over a period of 15 years. Neither Andrew's wife nor Helga's husband knew of Helga's modeling. Between 1971 and 1985, Wyeth completed 247 portraits of Helga Testorf. While they never became lovers, this was a love affair -- between the artist and the muse made flesh.

*Here and there you'll find the delightful phrase, "palette cleanser." Your palate is the roof of your mouth. As for palettes, well...

A palette.

A palate.

The larch.

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