The E@L And The Ant

The captain opened the mouth of the sack; it looked as if it contained garden loam or chemical manure, but he put his arm in and brought out a handful of what seemed to be coffee grounds and let this trickle into his other hand; they were dead ants, a soft red-black sand of dead ants all rolled up in tight little balls, reduced to spots in which one could no longer distinguish the head from the legs. They gave out a pungent acid smell. In the house there were hundred-weights, pyramids of sacks like this one, all full.


... in every garden, in every house I sensed a stream of ants climbing the walls, covering the fruit trees, wriggling their antennae towards anything sweet or greasy; and my newly trained eyes now noticed at once mattresses put outside to beat because the ants had got into them, a spray of insecticide in an old woman's hand, a saucerful of poison, and then, straining my eyes, the rows of ants marching imperturbably around the door frames.
Italo Calvino, 'The Argentine Ant', 1952.


Ever get the feeling you're living in some modern fable-teller's macabre masterpiece?

I have three types of ant in my place. Combined, they make up about 45% of the biomass of the apartment, unless I bring a guest home from the 4FoWs. OK, 45% may be an exaggeration, but it also may be an understatement…


Who knows? Maybe Edward O Wilson?

Ellen DeGeneres (I was channel surfing and dropped the remote - OK, OK, I threw it at the TV) did a riff on ants the other day which pretty much prefigures what I was going to say today. One thing in particular: In the kitchen, you only ever see one ant but when you squash it, then there's another ant right there in front of you, and so you squash it too, and then there's *another* one right there… Must be something to do with the configuration of the optic chiasm. Or maybe it's the SAME ANT come back to life! Ever think of that Ellen, in your cozy lesbo lifestyle which we shouldn’t be showing on Singapore TV because it's against everything the heartland stands for - small-mindedness, homophobia and the "erosion of values and breakdown of the traditional family unit". [Or did I get that wrong? E@L]

Three types of ant, as I was saying. A large one that pretty much sleeps, eats or copulates wherever it pleases. Or hang-on, was that my ex-flatmate? Tiny little ones which die if you say boo! to them. And a middle size one that is for all intents and purposes eternal and can survive several finger-point squishings - they just unfurl again and take off, a little worse for wear but still haphazardly gyrating along on the pheromonic pathway of their life's annoying journey.

You think I am joking? YouTube, front and centre please!

And what complicated pheromonic pathways they lead. Calvino's line is dead right about their imperturbable march.

I took an Amaretto digestiv the other night, along with the dregs of a tub of Rum and Raison ice-cream, kicked my sandals off and watched a bit of late-night telly . No, not Ellen. As the evening drew towards morning, I stumbled to bed and left the dirty stuff on the table by my chair a la my usual bachelor routine.

When I arose next morning to clean up the place in case the Air-Con man came (another story) I found that ants had attacked the sweet remnants in the glass. Where the fuck are the buggers coming from? I got down and followed their approach and retreat route back to its source...

They came down the glass, across my huge and impressive chess book (my chess game is not so impressive) down the table leg, past my sandal to the Pakistani carpet, along the edge of the carpet past the couch where they turned and ran a crooked mile past a dropped DVD (Val Lewton's Horror Collection) towards the sliding doors to the small (tiny) patio. Bastards! How on earth did they find that glass, ant-miles from the patio, up in the air? Was it some enormous chess game of hunting/gathering for them, a move forward here, a retreat there, some invisible garden of forking pheromone paths, some rising gradient of atmospheric molecules for their twitching antennae.


Composite photo (with close-up insert) to show their path. If you zoom to full size you might see the little blighters in the close up section.

Motherformicas! Let's spray their formic acid arses (cloaca?) to antdom-come.



There was this Monty Pyth'n episode - I remember seeing it 1976, in my first year of work at the old X-ray department. Let's Talk Ant The restaurant has normal waiter and a normal patron pretending to have to talk with antennae wiggles and foot stomps - very funny.

"May I take your coat?" signals the waiter(Graham Chapman).

"I don’t have a coat. I am an ant," signals the patron(Michael Palin) ending the dance with a grab at the waiter's bum.

"Aren’t we all," he signals back, also ending with the buttock clutch.

The concept was just so unnervingly surreal. You talk to me with a question appropriate to a human, but in ant language. Your question is meaningless to me because, even though I look human and AM wearing a coat, I am ant: I'll deny the reality of my jacket, because I AM an ant!

Just soooo stoooopid, but philosophically deep at the same time - Wittgenstein said "If a lion could talk, we wouldn't understand him." [Or her, presumably, it were a lioness. Not that many can understand Wittgenstein for that matter.]

Next morning at work one of the other students and I used white-out and a Texta to modify one of the radiation protection warning posters we had around the department - If You Are Pregnant, Or Think You May Be, Please Notify The Radiographer. You can guess what we changed it to...

It became - If You Are An Ant, Or Think You May Be, Please Notify The Radiographer.

We were pissing ourselves even as the Big Boss tore us to shreds. The surreality of this line just cracks me up. I still think of it when I want to cheer myself up...

I also squish ants. A lot.



Posted by: expat@large on May 02, 08 | 5:21 pm | Profile


been sniffing the bugspray a bit too much, sugar? xoxo

Posted by: savannah on May 02, 08 | 9:17 pm

That is odd. I dreamt about ants last night. I was walking along a dry riverbed somewhere (Western Australia?) when I stumbled across a miniature version of Rouen cathedral. Naturally I couldn't resist turning it over and there they were...millions upon millions of them...

Posted by: Dick on May 02, 08 | 10:50 pm

Sav: read the Calvino story, you'll know where I'm coming from!

Dick: I've had that dream too, except there were lots of naked women who wanted to have sex with me.

Posted by: expat@large on May 03, 08 | 1:53 am

When I worked in exporting I gave this company some help in selling to Asia. They are very advanced in controlling pests using a science based approach which could appeal to you Expat.
They developed a solution to effectively wipe out the invasive yellow crazy ants from Christmas island, they may be able to help with Singapore?

Posted by: sino man on May 03, 08 | 6:43 am

Thanx Sino: next time my red crab breeding program is threatened I'll give them a hoi.

Posted by: expat@large on May 03, 08 | 11:37 am

They might not be able to save the red crabs I saw in Singapore.

Those Chilli Crabs looked way beyond assistance!

Posted by: sino man on May 04, 08 | 5:01 pm

Had a monster one Friday night! Huge! He no antser to my attack! Lots
of chili sauce and fried buns... yummy...

Posted by: expat@large on May 04, 08 | 6:14 pm

I think you might need Aerial Bombardment!

Posted by: sino man on May 05, 08 | 7:54 pm

I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

Posted by: expat@large on May 06, 08 | 12:26 pm


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