Category Archives: Travel

In Love with Nanook: Eskimomania

Amoureuse de Nanouck (Oogie-Oogie Wa-Wa)’ by Archie Gottler. French Lyrics by Léo Lelièvre & Henri Varna. Published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1923) and illustrated by Dorothy Dulin.

The Parisian flapper dressed in her fashionable fur-trimmed winter coat is obviously infatuated with Nanook, an Inuk hunter. We can imagine that she travelled so far up North to meet the subject of her fancy, after having seen him in a Paris cinema. Nanook of the North, a docudrama filmed by Robert Flaherty in 1922 was a world-wide sensation that prompted an ‘Eskimo craze’ in the Western world.

From 1910 Flaherty had made a few explorations to the North. At one moment he started shooting film of the Inuit life. In 1916 he had collected enough footage for a movie, but he lost almost all of it by dropping a cigarette onto the highly inflammable film. Flaherty returned to the North and this time concentrated on one Inuit family. His cinéma-vérité tour de force is considered a masterpiece even if most of it was staged. Nanook wasn’t the real name of the protagonist and his children were not his real children, nor were his wives his real wives. During the filming these ‘wives’ even became Flaherty’s mistresses. And with one of them he had a child that he later abandoned.

Promotional poster for the 1922 docudrama Nanook of the North. Wikimedia Commons.

Since it would have been impossible to film inside the dark interior of an igloo, a special set was built consisting of half an igloo. The film was meant to give impressions from the far north of the Polar Regions. In reality Flahertys shots conveniently came from the north-eastern part of Hudson Bay. But at that time there were no rules for filming a documentary.

Nanook of the North was a kind of advertising film distributed by Pathé. It was financed by the Parisian fur traders Revillon Frères. They were the largest fur company in France with branches in London, New York and Montréal, and 125 fur trading posts. Nanook of the North was filmed near one of their trading posts at Inukjuak, Quebec.

Oogie Oogie Wa Wa‘ by Archie Gottler, Grant Clarke & Edgar Leslie, published by Mack Stark & Rubey Cowan (New York 1922). Cover illustration by Rosenbaum.

After the release of the film, Margaret Young introduced the humorous song Oogie Oogie Wa Wa in vaudeville, a song with the usual double entendre. Quickly the song became one of the popular tunes of the day and was translated in French as Amoureuse de Nanouck. It was one of Al Jolson’s greatest hits. At one point it was banned from being played at local music pavilions until it had been analysed by the Morals Committee.

Girls like simple things,
Beads and ten cent rings,
They kiss you for a chocolate drop,
Imagine if a fellow had a candy shop…

Around the same time, Salabert published the song South Sea Moon. I don’t know what got into Roger de Valerio when he illustrated the cover for this song with a couple of Inuit resembling Nanook and one of his ‘wives’. One normally associates the South Sea with tropical Islands and blue lagoons.

South Sea Moon‘ by Louis A. Hirsh, Gene Buck & Dave Stamper, published by Salabert (Paris, 1922) and illustrated by Roger de Valerio.

Maybe he confused it with the Southern Ocean? But then again, in his drawing de Valerio combined penguins (living in the Antarctic region) with the happy-looking Inuit couple (living in the Arctic).

Still from the mockumentary ‘Qallunaat: Why White People are Funny’.

In the mockumentary ‘Qallunaat: Why White People are Funny’ a man from the Book Correction Division is crossing out with a marker all the penguins in drawings where they are pictured together with polar bears. The film is written from the Inuit perspective on the oddities of Qallunaat, the Inuit word for white people.
Quite Humoreskimo!

Humoreskimo‘ by Alfred Bryan, Pete Wendling & Henri Berchman. Published by Sam Fox (1928, Paris), unknown illustrator.

I have to end this post with one of my favourite songs from the seventies: Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow by Frank Zappa, about a man who dreams that he was an Eskimo named Nanook.

And my momma cried:
Boo-a-hoo hoo-ooo
And my momma cried:
Nanook-a, no no (no no . . . )
Nanook-a, no no (no no . . . )
Don’t be a naughty Eskimo-wo-oh
(Bop-bop ta-da-da bop-bop Ta-da-da)

An’ she said
(Bop-bop ta-da-da bop . . . )
With a tear in her eye:
Watch out where the huskies go
An’ don’t you eat that yellow snow

El Plesiosauro: Nessie in Patagonia

el plesiosauro cover copy
El Plesiosauro‘, by Rafael d’Agostino, illustrator unknown, 1922.

The tango ‘El Plesiosauro’ was composed by Rafael D’Agostino and dedicated to Clemente Onelli (1864-1924), the Italian-born director of the Buenos Aires zoo. In 1922 a letter informed Onelli that an enormous animal had been spotted in a Patagonian lake. It had a huge neck like a swan, moved like a crocodile and left traces of large footprints. This was no doubt ample proof of a surviving specimen of the plesiosaurs, an order extinct at the end of the Cretaceous Period, approximately 66 million years ago.

Clemente_Onelli tango
Left, the portrait of Clemente Onelli. On the right, the cover of El Plesiosaurio, tango by Arturo Terri (not in our collection) with a cartoon of Clemente Onelli riding a plesiosaur.

Onelli, a palaeontologist, hoped to find a new specimen for his zoo and arranged an expedition. To prove his point he had published accounts of other sightings well into the previous century. His case was backed by a Canadian student in divinity and his father who  wanted their fifteen minutes of fame. They reported witnessing the Patagonian monster twelve years earlier, in 1910.

Article published in the Toronto Post, April 6, 1922

At the request of the Argentine Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Argentinian Minister of the Interior prohibited the capture of the beast. Onelli protested heavily against this decision in the ‘name of science’ and the expedition, armed with elephant guns and dynamite, plunged into the wilderness. Onelli himself did not participate because of health problems. The quest for the beast got worldwide media attention, such as in this article of The New York Times.

times plesio
Article published in The New York Times, March 7, 1922.

The expedition was even mentioned in an article of the Scientific American, titled Is the Argentine Plesiosaurus a Fake or a Scientific Marvel?’. The author concluded ironically that if the plesiosaur ever existed, it appeared to have fled elsewhereNeedless to say that the expedition was fruitless. This lead to much mockery and merriment as witnessed in this photo of the plesiosaur carnival float in 1923.

Carnival float of Plesiosaur (1923)
Carnival float in Bariloche, Argentina, 1923. Source: Archivo Visual Patagónico

Plesiosaurs were large aquatic reptiles that lived at the same time as the dinosaurs. The first two plesiosaur skeletons were found by Mary Anning (1799-1847) an English fossil collector and amateur palaeontologist. Being a woman she never got the recognition she deserved during her lifetime. Mary came from a working class family in Lyme Regis. She never went to school but could read and write a little, and she drew rather well. Her father taught her how to find fossils on the beach and sell them to tourists. Mary hunted on the beaches and cliffs between Lyme Regis and Charmouth, part of the Jurassic Coast as it is called now.

Mary Anning with her dog Troy who was killed during a landslide on one of her excursions.

When she found a special fossil she would send her drawing of it to potential buyers. One of Mary’s major discoveries was what we now call the plesiosaur. She found its skeleton in 1823 and made the following sketch for her fellow scientists and for possible buyers.

Mary_Anning_PlesiosaurusAccording to a science blog on the Guardian’s website the two persons on the photo below could well be Mary and her lifelong friend Henri de la Beche, a geologist. Although the supposition lacks evidence, it provides a nice picture to end our palaeontological post.

The Geologists, 1843, Devon. Salt print by William Henry Fox Talbot. Photograph: The National Media Museum, Bradford

Further reading: Austin Whittall, Patagonian Monsters

The Hippopotamus Polka: A Royal Affair

Sheet Music - The Hippopotamus Polka
The Hippopotamus Polka‘ by L. St. Mars published by Charles Jefferys (London 1852) and illustrated by Brandard.

In February two giant pandas arrived in Belgium from China with a lot of pomp. On their journey they were accompanied by a team of two animal handlers, a veterinary physician and a plentiful supply of 100 kilograms of bamboo. Their panda house was inaugurated by the Chinese President Xi Jinping and Belgian King Philippe, along with their lovely wives. The pandas are called Hao Hao & Xing Hui.

In 1850 the first hippopotamus arrived in England from Egypt with a lot of pomp. On his journey he was accompanied by two snake charmers, a keeper and a plentiful supply of fresh milk, provided by cows travelling on the same boat. Queen Victoria, along with her lovely children, visited the hippopotamus at the London Zoo. The hippopotamus was called Obaysch.

The British people got The Hippopotamus Polka, composed in honour of Obaysch. The Belgians are still waiting… for The Panda Hop?

Obaysch (1852) – Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Chinese President Xi Jinping, his wife Peng Liyuan, Belgian King Philippe and Queen Mathilde visit the panda house at the Pairi Daiza zoo in Brugelette, Belgium March 30, 2014.