Entangling Alliances

From Alaska to France, kindred spirits find common ground

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Wikimedia Commons

Although the two Native Alaskan groups who live closest to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) remain divided over whether drilling for oil should be permitted there—a question that the U.S. Congress plans to take up this fall—they have much in common, says Scott Wallace, author of "ANWR: The Great Divide." Both the Gwich'in, who oppose drilling, and the Inupiat, who support it, depend on animals for food, clothing and their sense of cultural identity. For the Gwich'in, it's migratory herds of caribou that provide most of this sustenance. For the Inupiat, it's the bowhead whales that migrate off the Arctic coast. "I think the Gwich'in and the Inupiat, despite their differences, are united in their fear of what development could mean for the animals they subsist on," says Wallace.

"I'm as fond of a banana sliced on cereal as the next guy," says Craig Canine, who wrote our story on America's favorite fruit ("Building a Better Banana"), "but I hadn't tasted a really good banana until I went to rural Cameroon, in Africa, and tried a Gros Michel ('Big Mike')." Compared with the Central American Cavendish, which is the only variety familiar to most Americans, Big Mike's flavor, Canine says, "is richly complex, much less cloyingly sweet. There are hints of berries and a pleasant understated tartness. Panama disease, which wiped out most Central American Gros Michels in the 1940s and '50s, has robbed us of a better-tasting banana."

Now the Cavendish is facing a similar fate. Several different pathogens threaten it, prompting farmers to use ever more pesticides. No one wants to see the Cavendish wiped out, but, Canine suggests, it would be nice if American consumers had a few more banana varieties from which to choose.

Hilary Spurling, whose second volume of her ambitious biography of Henri Matisse (Matisse the Master) was published in September, writes about the artist's relationships with his models for us ("Matisse and His Models"). "They were all, without exception, remarkable and powerful women," Spurling says. "He liked women who were his equals, women who could box back. That's of course why so many of them look so modern to us." What most surprised Spurling "was the models' extraordinary strength and determination—their power and presence. I talked to Lydia [Delectorskaya], his last model, at the end of her life. She would have become a doctor if the Russian Revolution hadn't happened. She gave herself to the cause of Matisse and his work, and it was his great good fortune." And ours.