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Digested week: New Yorkers mourn death of Flaco, America’s first ‘celebrity owl’ | Emma Brockes

Digested week: New Yorkers mourn death of Flaco, America’s first ‘celebrity owl’ | Emma Brockes
Digested week: New Yorkers mourn death of Flaco, America’s first ‘celebrity owl’ | Emma Brockes


The death of Flaco the owl, erstwhile symbol of New York, beloved avian icon, and brief good news item in a sea of grim tidings, continues to reverberate two days after he suffered the most urban of fates and flew into the side of a building on the city’s Upper West Side. He was found late on Friday night, dead on the sidewalk, a few blocks from Central Park.

New York, a sentimental town, has not under-reacted to this event. In the year since escaping from Central Park Zoo after a random act of vandalism breached his cage, Flaco, who was 13, had what seemed to many to be the quintessential New York career, rising from his small-time origins in the zoo enclosure to become America’s first “celebrity owl”. In keeping with every ascent up that particular greasy pole, Flaco’s journey entailed learning to identify and kill rats, charm observers, and outfox those who would put him back in his pen. And like all homegrown celebrities, his death made the front page of the New York Times, whereupon the business of mourning began.

Within hours of Flaco’s death, a large oak in Central Park identified as Flaco’s “favourite tree” had become an unofficial shrine, attracting letters, portraits and tributes to the owl. A petition had been whipped up lobbying for a statue of him in Central Park, which has attracted almost 3,000 signatures.

And legislators in the state senate had suggested renaming an obscure bill known as the Bird Safe Buildings Act, the Flaco Act (Feathered Lives Also Count Act).

This was all lovely and apt. But the detail that did it for me was that of the woman who told reporters over the weekend that, prior to Flaco’s death, she and her friends had thrown an informal barmitzvah for the bird, as is proper for a 13-year-old male, and in a city where, despite soaring costs and corporatisation, New York’s essential eccentricity and warmth somehow always manages to slip the net.


Another finale, this one less moving, in the form of the last episode of True Detective: Night Country. Nic Pizzolatto, the creator of the original show, had in the weeks prior to the finale popped up on social media to attack the fourth season as badly written and ill-conceived, an opinion that was, simultaneously, obnoxious, true, and also put Night Country in line with every other season of True Detective, including the ones written by Pizzolatto.

“So: the two women in the house at the end,” says a friend, days after the final episode has gone out.


“Was one of them a ghost?”

“No. At least – hang on. Why would Navarro be a ghost? I don’t think so. ”

“OK. But what about the tunnels?”

“I don’t know about the tunnels.”

“So who killed the clump of men?”

“I thought it was the Indigenous ladies.”

“How was it the ladies? They were busy throwing the orange out of the pit.”

“That was the ghost of the dead child.”

“I thought the ghost of the dead child was the one-eyed polar bear?”


I should point out it had taken us three episodes to recognise Christopher Eccleston, so not all of this confusion was on the writer. Still, lack of concentration aside, the only possible position to take in relation to this season’s True Detective is, “I feel embarrassed for Jodie,” and, “what was Fiona Shaw thinking.” (I think I know what Fiona Shaw was thinking, which was, “a few months filming in Iceland, how nice,” plus, since Jodie Foster had requested her specifically for the role, what was she going to do; say no?)

‘This is what not having a $464m judgment against you looks like!’ Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images


Every few years a story comes along to remind us that, whatever trouble we get ourselves into in life, there is always someone making weirder mistakes. So it was this week with Christmas Tree Woman, a 36-year-old from Ireland called Kamila Grabska who, after suing her insurance company for a £650,000 payout on the grounds she hadn’t worked for five years after a car crash, was photographed winning a “Christmas tree throwing competition” in Ennis, County Clare.

There’s a lot to unpack here but let’s start with the competition, which took place at a charity fundraiser in 2018, and which Grabska won by chucking a 5ft spruce in the air in what the judge would describe as “a very agile movement”. Grabska’s lawyers argued tossing a tree in the air is not incommensurate with a life of pain, but smiling photos of Grabska that ran in the local newspapers made this line hard to defend.

In what must have been a busy week for the media team at the high court in Limerick, Justice Carmel Stewart threw out the woman’s claim, the photo of the winning tree throw went viral, and future TV writers on network shows based around the exploits of a low-rent private detective hired to sniff out insurance fraud, were gifted a new spin on an old favourite: the removal of a claimant’s neck brace caught on long lens and produced with a flourish in court.


There may be no further value to squeeze out of the Willy Wonka experience, the debacle in Glasgow last weekend that left children “in tears” when their immersive trip to candy land turned into a traipse around some old props in a warehouse. Still, in the interests of economy, let’s try. Even close followers of the story may be unaware that Paul Connell, described by Cosmopolitan as “one of the three actors who took on the iconic role of Willy Wonka” at the event, broke his silence midweek and weighed in on TikTok.

Connell, who was hired by organisers to greet visitors at the entrance to the experience, was given a script that he describes in his post as a “15-page monologue of AI-generated gibberish”, and included the lines, “there is a man who lives here, his name is not known, so we call him the unknown. The unknown is an evil chocolate maker who lives in the walls”. Don’t remember that from the book. In spite of his character’s obscure motivation, a complete lack of direction and a non-sensical script, video footage from the event showed Connell giving it his all, bringing show must go on energy to his performance in an effort to lift the spirits of the disappointed children. I hope he gets a tonne bookings out of it.


For reasons of taste I didn’t want to write about the Princess of Wales, but at the end of this week the discourse around her jumped from the internet into the New York Times, which ran a piece on the “feverish speculation” around Catherine’s whereabouts. This is an old trick of the posh press to get tabloid stories into their pages without seeming too gross, and I will continue the relay race here. “A Spanish journalist named Concha Calleja,” ran the piece in the Times, “claimed that she spoke with a source within the royal family. The source supposedly told Ms Calleja that Catherine faced serious complications after surgery, requiring “drastic” actions to save her life”. The Buckingham Palace rejected this story as “total nonsense” but, of course, that hasn’t prevented anyone from repeating it.

‘Go on then, explain molecular wavefunction.’ Photograph: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

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