This is a transcription of ‘The Hermanus Whale Festival and Two New Books — 22 September 2023’
Melissa: Coming up, a fascinating nonfiction book about an everyday object.
David: A new book from two of my favorite graphic novelists.
Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.
David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.
Melissa: My favorite pair of skinny jeans has front pockets that are so tiny, my fingers only fit into them up to the first knuckle. What is the point of a pocket that small? It’s enormously frustrating and not unusual. Women’s clothes often either lack pockets or have fake pockets or tiny, useless pockets. Why did the manufacturer even bother? And where was the designer in this process?
Melissa: Author Hannah Carlson wrote a book that answers these questions and more. It’s called ‘Pockets: An Intimate History of How We Keep Things Close.’ Carlson teaches dress history and material culture at the Rhode Island School of Design, and she’s trained as a costume conservator — which, honestly, sounds like a cool gig.
Melissa: In this book, she explores how pockets have changed over the last few hundred years. In medieval times, there were no pockets. Men and women both carried their stuff in small bags or purses. She writes that ‘the medieval belt and purse were highly desirable accessories, marks of taste and wealth, an indicator of sex appeal.’ She also includes a lively exploration of codpieces and how they may or may not have been used as pockets. Around the 17th century, pockets started to be sewn into clothing… MEN’S clothing. But not women’s. Despite their convenience, pockets were regarded as suspicious in some circles. Another quote from the book: ‘Only the smallest minority of men were murders or robbers who relied on pockets for their dastardly schemes.’
Melissa: This book is packed with tons of delightful illustrations, photos, and reproductions of paintings, plus anecdotes and details that are both amusing and confounding. If you like delving into the mysteries of stuff we use every day, you’ll enjoy this book. It’s ‘Pockets: An Intimate History of How We Keep Things Close’ by Hannah Carlson.
David: Jillian and Mariko Tamaki are cousins who work in comics and graphic novels. Sometimes they work together; sometimes they don’t.
David: In 2014, they released a fantastic graphic novel called ‘This One Summer.’ I mentioned it when we talked to Anne Bogel about a strong sense of summer on her show. That book was a magic trick for me. It made me feel like I was thirteen and walking down a gravel road in flip-flops during the last week of July in about 1978. It is a portrait of being a young teen during summer and all the drama there. It’s well-written; the art is gorgeous and fluid.
David: That book went on to win a whole sack of awards, including the Caldecott Honor in 2015.
David: The Tamaki cousins have a new book out. It’s called ‘Roaming.’ This time, they take on what it means to be a young adult and what it’s like to visit New York for the first time at that age.
David: One of the reviewers said, ‘Roaming made me wanna be 17 all over again. Mobbing the streets of NYC with my angsty, goofy, dare-devil friends, skateboarding at the cube on Astor Place, and riding the Cyclone at Coney Island, screaming at the top of our lungs, feeling like nothing could ever stop us. The Tamakis give us NYC youth magic on a platter scuffed with glitter, make-out sessions, and tourist stops at Times Square. It’s a love letter to the greatest city in the world and all the beautiful, tender queer kids running wild and free.’
David: I’m very much looking forward to reading it. It came out two weeks ago. If you’re curious, there’s an excerpt on the publisher’s site. We’ll point to that. It’s ‘Roaming’ by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki.
David: And now our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]
David: On the southern coast of South America is a little town called Hermanus.I think the English pronounced it huh-mun-us. Or that’s Katherine Hepburn. It’s about a 90-minute drive from Cape Town. It’s a small fishing village. About 6000 people live there. They’ve got a couple of beautiful sand beaches, restaurants, and shops. From what I understand, it’s usually pretty sleepy. Except that once a year, for a long weekend, around 150,000 people blow into town. They’re there for the Hermanus Whale Festival.
David: Hermanus is famous among whale watchers. It’s one of the best places in the world to see them — particularly from the shore. They’ve got three kinds of whales that tend to show up: Humpbacks, Bryde’s, and the Southern Right. And the Southern Rights are not afraid to come up to the shore — sometimes within 15 feet or so. There’s a natural bay there that they use to rest, mate, and give birth. Taking care of whale business.
David: One journalist reported seeing fifty whales in a day from the shore — as she sat and enjoyed a tea from a seaside restaurant. The festival is a celebration of the return of the Southern Right whales after their migration. The intention is to raise awareness about how to protect the animals. Biologists and conservationists are there to give talks and answer questions about sea life and the local environment.
David: But it’s not all educational. There are also craftspeople with handmade African artwork, and local musicians; there’s a parade with classic cards and a brass band. There’s food [ Bunny Chao, Walkie Talkie, Jhonny’s Roti, Smiley, Boerewors, Biltong ]. There’s a 10k Fun Run and a strong-man competition. There’s also a professional whale crier. Hermanus has a person who’s job is to blow a horn when he spots the whales. He’s the only person in the world with that occupation.
David: Of particular interest to us, there’s also a bookstore in Hermanus. It’s called Hemmingways. They sell used books and trinkets from a very cute building about a block from the beach. If you Google’ Hermanus Hemmingways,’ you’ll see it.
David: If you’re more of an action figure, Hermanus is also not too far from an outfit that will put you in a cage so that you can look at great white sharks close up.
David: The Hermanus Whale Festival starts next Friday, the 29th. If you can’t get there by then — it’s not too early to start making plans for next year. Or you could drop by. Whale season in Hermanus is from June through early December.
Melissa: Visit strong sense of place.com/library for more about the whale festival and all the books we talked about today. You can also connect directly with the handy links in your podcast player.
David: Thanks for joining us on the library of last time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent bookstore to lose some time yourself.
Melissa: Stay curious. We’ll talk to you soon.
Top image courtesy of Thomas Kelley/Unsplash.
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