Meeting the Spider, and Other Adventures in Week Gone Past; A Vampire (Sort-Of) Lagniappe

So once again I was away from the computer cave, having just now returned from a visit to nieces (3) and sister (1) in Washington DC or, more precisely, across the Potomac in Fairfax Virginia.  We ate, we talked, we watched horror movies on my sister’s TV, and we went on field trips, most notably a downtown tour of Historic Fairfax (a Yankee general was captured there, for one thing, during the War Between the States, but also one of the first to be killed, this time on the Confederate side, was on the grounds of Fairfax courthouse).  And we also revisited Space Shuttle Discovery (see May  8 2012) and other air and spacecraft at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center annex of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in nearby Chantilly.

And one thing more.  We also saw the little corpse, preserved in a vial of liquid, of Astronaut Spider “Anita” who, with Astronaut Spider “Arabella,” were the first two Earth arachnids to voyage

arabella

“Unofficial” Inflight Portrait of Astronaut Spider Arabella

into space (Astronaut Spider Arabella, who was “found dead after splashdown of Skylab3 mission” has also apparently been preserved, perhaps at the main museum in DC?).  While each spider had been served a fly before their July 8 1973 launch, enough for several days’ sustenance, were provided with sponges with water in them, and later fed shavings of filet mignon, presumably from one of the human astronauts’ dinners (the early days of space-paste food in toothpaste-like tubes having long been over by then), Astronaut Spider Anita died in space, it is believed of dehydration.

Astronaut Spider Arabella, however, completed her mission — an experiment to see if spiders could spin webs in zero-gravity conditions — first spinning a clearly lopsided web (see, especially, lower left of picture below), then when half the web was destroyed by human experimenters, eating the other half (this is what spiders of their sort do, on or off the home planet, when a web is

Astronaut Spider Arabella and Her Web

Astronaut Spider Arabella and Her Web

sufficiently damaged) and, having learned from her first attempt, spinning a second nearly perfect orb web.

(Well, my nieces — the two who accompanied me and one of the nieces’ husband on this year’s mission — were especially interested in Arabella’s fate, one speculating that perhaps she’d had to be scraped off an astronaut shoe sole,  but I was able later to confirm her more honorable demise on the internet.  I had sort of hoped myself that she would have been buried with honors at Arlington, but I suppose, technically, both were still civilian spiders.)

Then, while not quite apropos, I survived airport waits, etc., on the way to Dulles and back by bringing a biography with me of 1910s silent movie star Theda Bara called VAMP.  Theda Bara, incidentally, was the inspiration for Marge Simon’s cover picture for my poetry collection VAMPS (A RETROSPECTIVE) which appears in the column just to the right.  She also had a sandwich named after her in 1916, consisting  of minced ham, mayonnaise, sliced pimento, and sweet pickles on toast and, according to biographer Eve Golden, “served warm, of course.”

And so, for a “sort-of” lagniappe (because I didn’t write it myself, but to the question of why one reads a biography of Theda Bara in the first place — other than just being interested in early film), the following verse, quoted in VAMP from the January 1917 edition of MOTION PICTURE magazine:

Theda Bara do not pause,
For Vampires we adore;
And may the New Year give you cause
To Vampire more and more!

Bet you didn’t know it could be used as a verb.

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  1. I find all of this simply fascinating –from the Fairfax part & the Civil War –to the diligent astronaut spiders. Or one of them was, anyway. Nice they are on display. Also that part about no more eating goop from tubes, for the modern astronaut. Filet mignon?!

  2. The IMAX movie we also saw there (about the space shuttle and human astronauts though–not spiders) did say steak is on the modern space menu. The meals looked like the ones you used to get on airplanes when they still served food, but I’m guessing there also might be some kind of sauce or gravy to help glue stuff in the tray until it’s lifted out on a fork–at least we didn’t see parts of dinners floating past diners (except for one guy deliberately letting something float so he could bite it in mid air as a stunt). Something elsewhere when I looked on the internet about the spiders specifically said filet mignon (for Miss Arabella’s refined tastes, no doubt?), but if you think about it, filet mignon translates as “boneless and tender” which, in zero gravity where you might not want eaters sawing away overly much with knives or generating inedible garbage, may be the way you want to go. (And Miss Arabella doesn’t want to eat the bones either.)

  3. Ha ha! Very true, no steak knives needed for their fare. I wonder if they get a choice of protein? Peanuts, chicken or filet mignon?
    Ah, yes, Miss Arabella wanted no bones. That’s the last line of an arachnid poem I’m going to write. Maybe tonight!

  4. Hi Marge, I’ll look forward to the poem! I think the movie did say there was choice of protein, such as chicken (but maybe limited to sliced white meat, no drumsticks?). I think we saw, at mealtime, several astronauts eating visibly different selections, although all looked pretty much like TV Dinners of various varieties.

    “For the Arachnid of Good Taste”? (As opposed to The Arachnid That Tastes Good, which may be on the astronauts’ dinner menu.)




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