Looking at Various Stages of Syphilis, or, What I Did on My Holiday

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:40 pm

It feels kind of pointless to write about travels having not having uploaded any photos, but this gives some indication of how behind I am in simple tasks.  It’s also why I’m not posting about the libraries I visited just yet – illustrations are good!

It was my first time on the east coast of America – my husband Stuart and I travelled to Washington DC (him for a conference) and New York.

It is a small point of pride for me that we spent our first wedding anniversary in New York, eating amazing Mexican food in Chelsea before going to see the Dwarves at Bowery Electric.  That show was one of the best I’ve been to in a long time – I’m only a casual Dwarves fan, but they were fantastic live, and the energy in the crowd (and the pit) was electric.  I would’ve danced the night away with the rest of the crowd had I not been feeling less than brilliant; however, I got almost as much beer spilt on me as I would’ve dancing anyway, so it’s a wash, really.  As for the wedding anniversary aspect, I like to think that we’ve started as we plan to continue – and when you run away to Vegas to get married by Elvis, you kind of set yourself a precedent anyway.

My favourite way to structure a holiday is to do touristy stuff that interests me during the day (and since I love museums and galleries, there was a lot to keep me entertained), and try to sample the local nightlife of an evening.  This trip I was also able to catch up with some old friends, which was absolutely fabulous and I’m so pleased we were able to arrange it!  We also managed to view karaoke performed with a live band in the East Village, Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley’s gig in DC (I would say the Evelyn Evelyn gig, but we actually managed to miss that part of it), and a taping of the Letterman Show that proved the man is even more smugly loathsome in the flesh.

America, I have to say, does museums really well.  It also does diversity in museums really well.  Shamefully, I did not get to nearly as many of the Smithsonians as I’d planned, but I adored the Natural History museum; Stuart suggested that I should seek work as a museum guide.  If anyone from the Smithsonian Institution is reading this, and you want to liven up your guided or audio tours with a guide who declares things like “Fuck yeah, MASTODONS!” and “Hey look, it’s the Starbucks logo chick!” (admittedly that was about a siren statue at the Metropolitan Museum of Art), contact me!

It was two slightly unusual museums that really stood out for me, though.  We took a day trip to Philadelphia to visit our friend Steph, who very kindly took us to the Mutter Museum, the College of Physicians’ medical museum.  Dead things in jars are my favourite type of museum exhibit, but many of the exhibits were still…challenging, to say the least.  Challenging and fascinating, of note for many reasons but partly, I think, because so many of the items on exhibit would have been collected in ways that would be considered unethical today.  The wall of skulls (exactly what it sounds like), for example, had a number of Eastern European and gypsy skulls that I suspect may not have been attained in the most wonderful of ways.  Another big challenge were the books bound in human skin; interestingly, this was done as a sign of respect for the deceased, rather than with the horrible intentions later evidenced by the Nazis.  That said, the one that still had a tattoo visible completely creeped me out.

As to the title of this post…given that I’ve read that syphilis is making a comeback, I think it would be very educational to send people with a laissez faire attitude towards sexual health for a visit, where they could see casts of faces affected by sores, and skulls damaged by late-stage syphillis infections.  Having also seen pictures of what syphilis microbes look like, I feel like I’ve followed the damn disease from its conception, as it were, to its bitter end.  And recalling some of those casts and skulls kind of makes me want a shower.


  1. Nicole said,

    06.07.10 at 10:24 pm

    I wasn’t sure I could handle the Mutter but instead, wanted to see the tour of the Mint. That’s my kind of dorkiness. Unfortunately it was a Sunday and they were closed! :(
    Sounds like you got to see a lot of fun stuff!

  2. jo said,

    07.07.10 at 9:50 am

    That Mutter Museum sounds awesome! Your description brought to mind Harry Potter and Nocturne Alley and all the creepy things inside the shops. Can’t wait to hear more of your experiences

  3. Steph said,

    09.07.10 at 9:20 am

    Ooo fix the Mutter link pls. You have an extra HTTP in there.

    But HOORAY to see mah citay in print.

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