Tuesday, December 19, 2006

whale vomit

i know, not the most salubrious title for a post, but i wanted to note an article in today's ny times about ambergris. i do like learning about new stuff, y'know :-)

nu - a woman in montauk, long island, just received a seasonal gift from her sister in iowa, which could be a giant hunk of whale vomit worth about $18,000. there are a couple of problems with this - first of all there's been no luck yet in finding anyone who knows enough about it to establish what the lump actually is. secondly, endangered species legislation means that it's illegal to buy or sell ambergris (the proper way to describe whale puke).

the article by corey kilgannon goes on to say:

"Ambergris has been a valued commodity for centuries, used in perfume because of its strangely alluring aroma as well as its ability to retain other fine-fragrance ingredients and “fix” a scent so it does not evaporate quickly. Its name is derived from the French “ambre gris,” or gray amber. During the Renaissance, ambergris was molded, dried, decorated and worn as jewelry. It has been an aphrodisiac, a restorative balm, and a spice for food and wine. Arabs used it as heart and brain medicine. The Chinese called it lung sien hiang, or “dragon’s spittle fragrance.” It has been the object of high-seas treachery and caused countries to enact maritime possession laws and laws banning whale hunting. Madame du Barry supposedly washed herself with it to make herself irresistible to Louis XV.

In “Paradise Regained,” Milton describes Satan tempting Christ with meat pastries steamed in ambergris. In “Moby-Dick,” Melville called it the “essence found in the inglorious bowels of a sick whale.” Old newspapers show clippings every few years describing some whaling crew coming upon a hunk, or some vacationing family finding it on the beach and either cashing in — or discovering it was just ocean detritus."

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