For her first encounter with lions in the wild, staff writer Abigail Tucker flew to Tanzania and hung out in the Serengeti with Craig Packer, the world’s foremost expert on Panthera leo. “I really couldn’t process how beautiful the animal was,” she says of the first lion she saw up close. “He was just much more huge and gorgeous than anything I had expected. There was something so scornful about him. He didn’t move a muscle when we came near him. He just fixed us with this look, and it was like confronting some kind of aristocrat. We were up in a big car looking down on him, but somehow he was in charge. I later found out his name was Viking, which was appropriate.”
Packer, she discovered, is a man of unrelenting curiosity. “He actually figured out the purpose of the lion’s mane. He delved into these obvious questions and came up with really smart answers.” (How does Packer account for the lion’s mane? See “The Truth About Lions,”)
“I hope,” says Tucker, “that people see that lions are not a given on earth, and that it’s totally possible we could someday live in a world where there aren’t any lions. It would be a very shabby world.”
Andrew D. Blechman last graced our pages with a story about racing pigeons, which he later expanded into a book, Pigeons. This time out, the subject is sausage. “I think I’m hard-wired in an unusual way,” he says. “I’m just passionate about other people’s passions.” He learned about pigeon races while waiting in line at a corner bodega to buy a tuna-fish sandwich in New York City. This time, it was a butcher in Düsseldorf, Germany, where he and his family now live, who “turned into a vegetarian and opened a vegetarian lunch counter at his butchery. How often does that happen? And on top of it, he’s a fascinating guy with a great story to tell.” (See “Wurst Case Scenario,”)
The plight of the German butcher, Blechman says, is emblematic of widespread changes in German society, as traditional crafts disappear: “The butcher profession is definitely going down the drain. A lot of other professions are, too. For me, it’s sad to see the loss of craftsmanship. Germany had a culture that really admired craftsmanship and expected it. What’s different now is that the younger generation cares only about price. Just price, price, price.” And that emphasis, as his story suggests, has its costs.