JF Ptak Science Books Post 1276
Following up on yesterday’s autopsy of a snowman comes two fictional autopsies: that of Mocha Dick (the spiritual and motivational father of Moby) and a cookie. Moby first; the famous cookie, second.
Mocha Dick was a terrorizing self-defender of the Pacific, a giant the size of a whaler (something like 110 feet) who makes his first appearance in the year that Herman Melville was born, 1819. He crushes and flips and bites and flukes ships and outboats for another forty years, nine past the publication of Moby Dick and in the same year (and nearly month) as the first edition of On the Origin of Species.
Mocha may have come into Melville’s consciousness in Jeremiah Reynold’s piece in the May 1839 issue of Knickerbocker Magazine (article here, just months before the first newspaper arrivd from Europe with the announcement of Daguerre’s process), and was certainly in the minds of two generations of whalers until he was caught twenty years later.
(Just a note–Mocha took his name from a mountain on Mocha Island off Chile where Reynolds sited him. Melville’s desk at Arrowhead in Pittsfield faces a window that faces a mountain that looks like the Great White Whale. I’ve seen it from a seated position there, and the man could definitely see the mountain from where his desk stood.)
When caught Mocha was a half-blind, snub-toothed shadow of himself, with a battered head and missing eight teeth. Or at least that’s how the story or legend of his lazy capture by a Swedish whaler goes. After all of that, after the adventures that Mocha or other whales mistaken for him were on, he almost made it to the end of his life at the end of his life. He was captured and killed just before he could die.
It was perhaps Madeleine Paulmier from Commercy, France, who gave her name to the cookie that when eaten gave birth to one of the most famous personal memoirs (in eight volumes) in literature. (The OED and various french resources differ on this--no mattre.) Marcel Proust took a nip from the madeleine (at least in the novel, the cookie in real life was different, or so I have read) that brought on a flush of memory.
"And suddenly the memory appeared. That taste was the taste of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray [...], my aunt Léonie would give me after dipping it in her infusion of tea or lime blossom.” (In Search of Lost Time, Swann's Way: Proust page 47).
The cookie that caused this fabulous composition had little to be composed of, itself. Flour. Butter. Sugar. Eggs. All in equal parts. Then lemon rind. Bake. Voila. Reverse engineering the cookie is simple. Actually making it taste like what it is supposed to taste like, is, well, something else.
But the autopsies of a half-sighted, semi-toothless, shriveled and scar-worried whale and four common kitchen ingredients and a snap of lemon don’t lead to much, except for the spectacular imaginations that the autopsies missed.