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If It Ain’t Broke...

GOOD explores seven practices that haven't changed much over time for one simple reason: they got it right on the first try.


Technology has come a long way in the past 50 years, but some things still work better the old-fashioned way. GOOD brings you seven examples.

Prostitution

originsOften called the world's oldest profession, the exchange of sex for money dates back to ancient Greece.toolsWit, charm, and sex appealOlivia Delamere, courtesan:I've been a courtesan for a year now. So much has been written about what courtesans actually do, but most of it is a myth. I do get to travel a certain amount, and I do meet some very interesting people, but 80 percent of what I do is sex.Courtesans have a long tradition. The word itself dates back to 16th-century Europe, where it was used to describe women who were high-class prostitutes or mistresses to wealthy men, but the concept dates back to the hetaeras of ancient Greece. Courtesans were skilled in intellectual, conversational, and artistic pursuits, and they enjoyed more power and freedom than many women of the time due to their independent resources. I'm a traditional courtesan in that I believe the role of a good courtesan goes beyond the purely physical. I also think modern courtesans are rated as much on their ability to perform sexually as they are on their intellectual and creative abilities. To put it bluntly, if you suck in the sack, then all the education, travel, and listening skills in the world aren't going to make you a good modern courtesan.I think there will always be a demand for what we do. This is one of the few professions that's genuinely recession-proof, especially at the higher end. My clients are normal people, the vast majority of them are married, most are professional, and some are wealthy. I tend to appeal to a certain type of man-someone in his 40s or 50s who is erudite, charming, and usually not short of company; who is outwardly successful but perhaps inwardly a little lonely. For some, it's mainly about the sex and about a tryst without ties, for others it's about excitement and the frisson of a double life, and for others it's more about affection and warmth and companionship. Details of where we go are private, but suffice it to say that hotels feature prominently on my itinerary, as do more unusual locations. The wildest thing ever requested of me is subject to a confidentiality agreement, and the second-wildest one is unprintable. The third-wildest one was sex on a mountaintop. I not only did it, but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it!

Maggot Therapy

originsThis practice has a well-documented history both in Mayan and aboriginal cultures, as well as in Renaissance Europe. Its popular use in the States resurged in the late 1980s.toolsMaggotsPam Mitchell, maggot-therapy patient:I'm a diabetic, and diabetes has its complications. I got a cut on my toe that didn't heal and got infected down to the bone. I had to go on an antibiotic IV for six to eight weeks, but it didn't work, so I had to have the tips of my big toe and the one next to it amputated. I was on all these antibiotics, all these creams, all these high-tech treatments. And they had me wearing these shoes that cut me, and that got infected, so I had to have surgery.\n\n\n
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They put 600 maggots in the hole in my heel, and then they put pantyhose over them so they wouldn't get out. Of course, they really don't want to once they start feasting.
When they do surgery, they cut away not only the bad tissue but also the good tissue. So I came out of surgery with a hole an inch deep and two inches around in the bottom of my heel. I had half an inch of exposed bone and a bone infection. I'm in the hospital for 10 days and they're telling me, "You'd better think about amputation." By chance, I called a friend, and she told me the only time she had ever watched The Learning Channel it was about maggot therapy, and I thought: "I'm going to ask my doctor about this."We had to order the maggots from California. They send a jar of about 1,000 of them and you can't even see them without your glasses. They put 600 in the hole in my heel, and then they put pantyhose over them so they wouldn't get out. Of course, they really don't want to once they start feasting. At first, most people can't feel anything, but if you have pain in your wound to begin with, you will feel the maggots-they're actually doing microsurgery in there. You can feel them moving around. They're like puffed-rice when they come out. Then you can see them. They eat just the dead, infected tissue, they don't touch the good tissue, and they excrete enzymes to promote healing, and they also kill all the bacteria. It is better than anything that man can come up with.

Shoemaking

originsSince roughly 1200 B.C., folks have made shoes, but shoemaking in its modern form was established in the second half of the 19th century, in England.toolsHides, lasts, and hand toolsPerry Ercolino, bespoke shoemaker:I've been in business for myself for 27 years. In today's fast-paced world, I guess that's longevity to be proud of. I learned shoemaking from my father many years ago. The technology is basically the same today, still plodding along the way it always has.The process starts with sitting down and talking to people. I ask what they need shoes for: Are they retired, are they still working, are they in the corporate world, are they traveling between countries, are they dealing with different cultures?Then I trace the feet, both sitting and standing. I take a tape measure and run it along certain points of the foot. Once I have all of that charted we sit down and start talking about styles. Then I start to make a last pattern based on their foot profile and what I think will work. You've got to know how to design to make the shoe graceful and aesthetic, you have to know where to pinch and gather and whatnot. Each shoe requires about 50 hours of work by hand.Things have gotten so cheapened up in the world because of mass production. I think that's why there's been this newfound gravitational pull toward these handmade items. There's definitely been an uptick in my business.Will it last? I don't see anybody taking up this tradition, at least not in this country. No one wants to work trades anymore. Nobody has any concept of what this is all about. This is one of those professions that will go the way of the dinosaur. But there's nothing like it.

Beekeeping

originsEvidence of honey harvesting dates back to 13,000 B.C., though sophisticated cultivation without destroying the hive or colony wasn't mastered until Lorenzo Langstroth received a patent for the movable comb hive in 1852. The technique has remained roughly the same ever since.toolsMoveable frame hives, smoker, and protective clothingSharon Gibbons, beekeeper:I started beekeeping because I was trying to feed my kids healthy foods, so we eliminated sugar and took up honey. At that point, I decided I should have my own hive, although I thought my husband was going to be the beekeeper. That quickly fell by the wayside, and I ended up with a couple of hives.The basic idea of beekeeping is still the same as it was in the 1800s. The Langstroth hive is named after the scientist who first discovered what we called bee space-three eighths of an inch. That's their travel space, they won't junk it up with honey or anything. Beekeepers take advantage of that, and that's how the hives work. Most of us got into beekeeping because we're into healthy food and we don't want to fool with pesticides, but we've got some new diseases and mites that we didn't have 30 years ago that require treatments that most beekeepers hate. Other than that, it's pretty much the same.I've been doing this since 1976, and now our business has close to 1,000 hives. There are 60,000 bees per colony, so that's 60 million bees. We make over 100,000 pounds of honey a year. I get stung any time I go out. I don't even notice it anymore. It's just a little prick.

Hanging

originsHanging became common in the 17th century. Today, it remains the most practiced form of judicial execution worldwide. Still legal in three states, the most recent U.S. hanging was performed in 1996.toolsA gallows, a noose, a hood, and handcuffsSteve Fielding, hangman expert and author of:Hanging was abolished in the U.K. in the 1960s, but all executions by hanging around the world that use the U.K. method would be much like this: Hang-men were required to be at the prison at 4 p.m. on the day preceding the execution to view the prisoner and be given details of their height and weight, which were crucial to the hangman's calculations. Once the hangman had calculated the length of the drop, he would fill a sandbag to the same weight as the condemned, attach it to the noose, and test the apparatus. The bag would be left to stretch the rope overnight, and the hangman would retire to his quarters.An hour or so before the execution, the hangman and his assistant would return to the execution chamber, detach the sandbag, reset the trapdoors, secure the noose in position with cotton thread so that it hung at head height and finally make a chalk mark in the shape of a "T" across the trapdoors where the prisoner would line up his toes. The assistant would help the executioner secure the prisoner's hands behind his back and then escort the convict the 10 or so paces to the trapdoors. Here the assistant would drop to his knees and secure a strap around the prisoner's ankles while the hangman placed a white linen bag over the prisoner's head before placing the noose, adjusting it into position. Once all was ready he would push the lever and the man would drop to his death. The average time for execution would be around 10 seconds.

Letterpress Printing

originsThe movable-type printing process was perfected by Johannes Gutenberg circa 1450.toolsLead or wood type, ink, paper, printing pressJulie Belcher and Kevin Bradley, printers at Yee-Haw Industries:No matter how much you finesse that Macintosh, there's no warmth of the human touch coming through it. What separates us from the pack is that we know how to carve type and we know how to draw type. But we don't use the computer in the process. It's all hand-carved blocks. Real letterpress is lead type, wood type, and wood blocks. It's what Gutenberg printed the Bible with, and we keep it real.Everything is backward in letterpress. You set up a form in reverse and it prints forward. It's all relief printing, so the pieces that are raised, that's what the roller hits and inks up. The places that are carved away or that are the negative space the ink doesn't hit.There's beauty in being able to arrive in the morning and take these pieces and put them together like a littlepuzzle, mix up the color ink you want, pick the kind of paper you want, and thenby the afternoon you've made something.We're always on the fence, and the business is always changing. But there is always demand out there for a handmade product, something that's essentially art. Every time we do it we think, "Who else would be crazy enough to carve a wood block in 2007, and use 200-year-old type?" And we feel really good about that.

Ship Towing

originsThe first towing vessel, the Charlotte Dundas, made its maiden voyage in 1802.toolsTugboatAdam Graves, Mate, McAllister Towing:I'm on watch from midnight to six in the morning, and then on again from noon to six at night. The boat runs 24 hours, so I live on the boat. We're two weeks on, two weeks off. Sometimes I get a little crazy on the boat, really wanting to get off, but you can't beat having a two-week vacation every month.In my 12 hours, we probably do eight to 15 ships. We meet the inbound ships out by the Verrazano Bridge at the entrance to New York harbor, and then we follow them to the dock. The average-sized container ship is 965 feet (that's the biggest ship that can fit in the Panama Canal), and they really wouldn't be able to maneuver to the dock or away from the dock without us. It's a game of leverage. If you can get to the furthest points of the ship, you have the most effect on it.The tugboat I'm on is a 4,000 horsepower tractor tug. It's not like the old tugs because it has these drives that spin 360 degrees, which make the boat highly maneuverable. I've also worked on old single-screw tugboats, which is a completely different ballgame: Everything has to be planned out with the winds and tides because you're so much less maneuverable. That's how they used to do it back in the old days. But the ships weren't nearly as big then. Animals Do It BetterFour jobs Mother Nature does besttruffle-hunting pigs The traditional truffle hunt, or cavage, has long been the work of portly, female swine. Their snouts can sniff out truffles covered in mud and dirt-partly because the tasty tubers smell like the sex hormones of male pigs. Bon appétit!silkworms Animal-rights activists bemoan the harvesting of silk, but the mulberry-tree silkworm has been cultivated for more than 5,000 years. Since it no longer exists in the wild, to stop using it for silk production would be to eradicate the species.firefighting sheep Especially helpful during unexpected dry spells, U.S. Forest Service sheep will graze so relentlessly that they can entirely eliminate fields of the dry brush and grasses that might otherwise become fodder for massive wildfires.leeches Though they're no longer the miracle cure that our ancient, medieval, and Victorian predecessors thought them to be, leeches are still useful in surgeries that require clotting inhibitors and increased blood flow. Their anticoagulant even has a natural anesthetic.
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