Sunday, May 1, 2011

Dead Rabbit Blues

The Trigger

As I left work a few days ago and walked towards my car I caught the familiar whiff of decay, quite strong but not overpowering.  I looked about and quickly found the culprit; a dead rabbit stretched out by the low wall formed by the down-ramp into the underground parking garage.

For some unfathomable reason the words "dead rabbit" popped into my head and a number of associations with that phrase appeared in my mind; because I can't seem to get anything else off the ground lately, I've decided to trace the arc of my thoughts in this here post.

Watership Down

Long-time LoS fanatics know that the idea of "development" as applied to exurban expansion is a bit of a hobby horse of mine.  We have over several posts taken a diverse look at the definition of space and the definition and control thereof.  In the most obvious form, this is basically the old land grab.  New roads are a crucial part of this.  Presented as a way to alleviate traffic problems, they usually just a pretext to open up more land for "development".  Buy up empty land in order to re-sell it for new buildings.  Raise the tax base.  Keep the economic machinery oiled.

In the last ten years, the urbanization around Toulouse has undergone a rapid expansion and this process is being repeated ad infinitum.  The countryside isn't being transformed from a "natural" to a suburban state.  The existing environment is (becoming was) an already completely artificial, if more bucolic, agricultural landscape.

Toulouse has averaged 10,000 new residents per year recently.

So what does this have to do with rabbits?  In a median along one of these newer highways, poetically known as the Milky Way, I often see a small group of rabbits and I am always cheered by the persistence of nature, even in the tiniest of vegetal interstices.  Such a small place.  I often wondered how so many can cram into such a small place.  Much like the human population of the city.

So I wonder if the dead rabbit was once part of that band of merry survivors.  And I wonder what laid him low?

Mr. Mojo Risin'

According to Wikipedia's entry on the Rabbit's foot, it was R.E. Shay who said, "Depend on the rabbit's foot if you will, but remember it didn't work for the rabbit."  Indeed.  Still this was the next flash in my mind.  I even for a nanosecond considered going back to the dead rabbit and cutting off its feet.  But like I said, this thought made me chuckle at my own in(s)anity before it was even finished. 

Anyway, according to that same Wikipedia article, there are two many conditions that must be met before a rabbit's foot charm will work:

  • First, not any foot from a rabbit will do: it is the left hind foot of a rabbit that is useful as a charm.
  • Second, not any left hind foot of a rabbit will do; the rabbit must have been shot or otherwise captured in a cemetery.
  • Third, at least according to some sources, not any left hind foot of a rabbit shot in a cemetery will do: the phase of the moon is also important. Some authorities say that the rabbit must be taken in the full moon, while others hold instead that the rabbit must be taken in the new moon. Some sources say instead that the rabbit must be taken on a Friday, or a rainy Friday, or Friday the 13th. Some sources say that the rabbit should be shot with a silver bullet, while others say that the foot must be cut off while the rabbit is still alive.
Disembodied feet are a long-standing (hee-hee) LoS preoccupation, and you who have been following the Canadian foot mystery will recall there have been at least two hoax feet consisting of sneakers stuffed with animal paws.  On a more abstract note, you may also recall that we've examined the conflation of hands and eyes and nipples, or various combinations of how the part represents the whole.  The rabbit's foot legend is related to this second preoccupation:

These widely varying circumstances may share a common thread of suggestion that the true lucky rabbit's foot is actually cut from a shapeshifted witch. The suggestion that the rabbit's foot is a substitute for a body part from a witch's body is corroborated by other folklore from hoodoo....Given the traditional association between black cats and witchcraft, a black cat bone is also potentially a substitute for a human bone from a witch. Hoodoo lore also uses graveyard dust, soil from a cemetery, for various magical purposes. Dust from a good person's grave keeps away evil; dust from a sinner's grave is used for more nefarious magic. The use of graveyard dust may also be a symbolic appropriation of the parts of a corpse as a relic, and a form of sympathetic magic.

Not much different from the cult of the saints and the rage for relics among medieval Christians methinks.  Medieval did I say?  Contemporary examples of the phenomenon are not long in coming. to mind.

The rabbit's foot was also of some importance among the pre-Christian Irish.  Which somehow relates to my next thought.

Gangs of New York

The Dead Rabbits were a street gang from Five Points and their story was fictionalized in Scorcese's Gangs of New York.  Which is how I know of them and it should be obvious why the sight of a dead rabbit sparked this memory.  The biggest impression I have of that film was the theme of nativist reaction against Irish Catholic immigrants which is, and I imagine Scorcese's point, a great paradox of the US.  A country founded and made up of immigrants, one wave is quick to take up the nativist banner against the next.  This is not a relic of the past, but we see it today.  The widespread negative feeling against illegal immigrants from Latin America, the Birther controversy, etc.

This last bit is especially stupefying for me and leads me to suspect the whole idea of national identity is bullshit.  The fear that Obama wasn't born in America seems more of an expression of the fear that given his parentage and upbringing, he is some how less American than his fellow citizens.  I take this personally, having a mother naturalized when I was four and having lived over a quarter of my 40 years outside the US.  This actually caused me some problems last time I wanted to renew my passport.  Oddly, all the bother seemed forgotten when this was revealed to be a result of the fact my father had a military career.

Recall now that the rivals of the Dead Rabbits were the Bowery Boys, affiliated with the Know-Nothings.  Both were anti-Irish and anti-Catholic.  They favored extremely tough immigration policies and English-only policies in education and government.  In many respects they are ancestors of today's Tea Party and aspects of the religious right; there is a certain cross-over between the two.

It all boils down to the fact that these people don't feel there's enough space for everyone.  Like those rabbits in the median, confined to little islands of green among the burgeoning metropolis.  That Watership Down reference comes in handy again.  This is the tale of a group of rabbits forced to leave their warren in light of its impending destruction from "development."  They thus set out to find a new place to settle.  When they arrive at their destination, they come into conflict with another warren led by a tyrant.  Bloody conflict ensues.  Lots of dead rabbits.  Bowery Bows vs. Dead Rabbits, Minutemen vs. Illegals, and so on.

The Rabbit Done Died

Finally, I thought of the popular belief that a dead rabbit somehow indicated a woman was pregnant.  Not quite true.  In the rabbit test for pregnancy the rabbit almost always died.  In the test, rabbits were injected with a woman's pee and a few days later its ovaries were examined to determine if the woman was indeed pregnant or not.  A far cry from peeing on a swizzle stick.  Snopes has the dope on this one.
I can't figure out how this ties into our story.  Unless we bring this into play: Census 2010: 50 Million Latinos; Hispanics Account for More Than Half of Nation’s Growth in Past Decade.  Apparently, a lot of people like to use the expression "breed like rabbits" when discussing Latino immigrants.

So the next day the rabbit was still there in the morning, but by evening it was gone.  All that remained was a moist, black patch of flattened grass, crawling with small maggots.  I first took that black spot to be the remains of a fire, asking myself, "What?  Did they burn the rabbit?!"  Of course they hadn't.  But it did lead me to another thought.  When I was a Boy Scout and we sat around the campfire and when the smoke blew into our eyes, we used to say "I like rabbits" as a way of making it go away.  I don't know why we did this, but it was weird to be hanging out and all of a sudden some kid said it.  Why rabbits, where did this little bit of folk-magic come from?  I don't know.

Anyway, that's all folks.  A few random thoughts sparked by the sight of dead bunny.  The day after Easter no less.  Just thought of that now.  The Easter Bunny seems to be of German origin, which is appropriate, because there's a great word in German appropriate to my meandering thoughts.  So, I'm thinking this rabbit died because instead of a field, he was navigating his way through a warren of parking lots and office space.  Looks like he ran out of Lebensraum.  That and luck.

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