GoatMan: How I Took a Holiday from Being Human
by Thomas Thwaites
Princeton Architectural Press
2016, 208 pages, 5.9 x 8.6 x 0.9 inches
Thomas Thwaites has a curious idea of what it means to take a vacation, at least if the just released GoatMan: How I Took a Holiday from Being Human is any indication. What started off as a casual observation about how Queen Elizabeth’s dog, Noggin, probably worries a good deal less than his royal master evolved into a quixotic book full of ruminations on ruminants. Animals, Thwaites imagined, live in the moment, free from worry, at one with the land. How wonderful to be so unburdened, he thought. So, after briefly considering becoming an elephant, he decided to try his hand at being a goat.
Along the way, Thwaites learned a good deal about goats. Humans, Thwaites tells us, have been interacting with them since 9000 BCE – from the domestication of bezoar goats somewhere in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains to the mythical, sexual subjugation of goats by the goat-horned, Greek god Pan, as depicted in a rather graphic sculpture discovered under layers of ash deposited on the city of Herculaneum by Mount Vesuvius in the year 79. Much to our relief, Thwaites just wants to be a goat, not to “do” one.
Which is not to say the book is not occasionally disgusting. The section describing the R&D behind his goat suit includes the dissection of a goat named Venus, who died of natural causes and whose skinned limbs, palm-sized brain, and oozing guts are explored in gory detail. I’ll spare you. Suffice it to say that in the end, Thwaites gets his opportunity to clomp about on all fours on the steep hillsides of Switzerland, where he hangs out with a herd of Swiss goats and does what goats do – he grazes. For the record, the green-green grass, he reports, is sweeter than the blue-green stuff, which is bitter. Later, Thwaites makes a meal of the grass he’d been chewing and spitting into an artificial goat stomach, using decidedly non-goat cooking techniques to make it digestible for his human digestive system. The resulting “burnt grass stew,” he confesses, was the “most unappetising meal of my life.” Perhaps, though, if Thwaites had simply spent a few days hiking on two legs instead of four in this beautiful place, he would have had fewer goat concerns on his human mind.