Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Death of the Arabber

We think of the nineteenth century United States as a land of steel and railroads.  Walk down any urban street in 1890, however, and you would see horses.  Lots and lots of horses, and lots of horse manure: 3300 tons of shit left on the streets per day in New York City, deposited by more than 12,000 railway horses and thousands more privately used ones.  It seems difficult to understand Progressive era municipal reform--efforts to literally and figuratively "clean up" the cities teaming with immigrants and ruled by ward bosses--without understanding these horses and the sights and smells they left behind.  There have been two books written on the subject in the last three years, which I'm hoping to read sometime soon...

I was reminded just how distant this urban world is from our own when I read in this morning's Baltimore Sun that city health officials are quickly shutting down the urban horse stables used by the Arabber community.  One of the most exotic, nineteenth-century vestige left in Baltimore City, Arabbers sell fruit from horse-drawn carriages.  To the health officials--and to the city's suburban population--these Arabbers are nothing more than animal abusers.  The Sun has been exposing their code violations for years.  This round's violations?
Standing water, mud and unsanitary conditions in the stables.... [R]at infestations, lack of proper bedding for the animals, trash and debris.
Sounds pretty vague and, well, urban-like to me.  The urban horse, once such a common sight, is now on the verge of extinction, the result of a century-long campaign to eliminate it and transform the city into something new.  Push the horses into the hinterland and out of the city. Cleanse the city of its dirty areas.  Clean up the dung.  What would a history of the twentieth-century city look like if we looked at the flight of horses from cities alongside the flight of (white) bodies?

Image of Arabbers from the Maryland Historical Society


Blogger The Sheriff said...

You either missed an opportunity for a "the cure" reference in the title or it's a bit too subtle for me. It's funny that this is happening in Baltimore, I think it speaks to the fact of a city in a crisis of proving its 'modernity'. Cairene officials have had a similar if not more maniacal crusade against urban animals pulling carts of all kinds (vegetables, garbage, scrap). Cairo, however, has serious fucking issues and a terrible modernity complex.

On the contrary, if baltimore were truly serious about its own gentrification, it would encourage these sorts of "place-making" amenities, perhaps only ensuring that the vegetables be organic, local, and well out of the price range of any reasonable primary market for such produce.

12:13 AM  
Blogger scantron said...

Aristophanes' "Peace" begins with two slaves kneading shit into cakes to feed a giant dung beetle, which their master plans to ride up to heaven in order to steal back the goddess Peace. (Hi-LAR-ious!)

One slave, despising his work, complains that "if someone takes a shit, a pig or a dog will have a go at it with no shame, but _this_ guy bristles with pride and doesn't consider anything worth eating unless I spend the whole day preparing it, like it was a lady's pastry." The commentator, S. D. Olson, notes in his Oxford press edition that "the pig was domesticated in the Neolithic period and was common in Athens in classical times; many must have lived in large part on the dung and garbage that filled the city streets" (numerous cross-references omitted).

As for the propensity of pigs and dogs to vigorously eat shit, he reports that "Dover [K.J. Dover, the (relatively) famous classicist] compares the experience of a friend, who found that 'when shitting on the outskirts of a Burmese village, he would have to balance on one leg to kick away the dogs who were all eager to be first at his asshole.'"

Truly this is a world we have lost.

Incidentally, Cairo was not far from my mind recently when I heard that they eliminated pigs only to find their refuse piling up. Negative externalities, bitches!

2:20 AM  
Blogger Robot said...

Is the photo I put in not showing up for anyone else?

9:58 AM  

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