Obituary；Nora Ephron and Lonesome George
Nora Ephron, observer of sexual behaviour, died on June 26th, aged 71. Lonesome George, habitual abstainer, died on June 24th, aged perhaps 100
THE first story Nora Ephron had to write for the New York Post—the one that made the guys on the city desk fall around laughing, got her the job, and launched her on a career of witty, wise writing on surviving modern life—was about a pair of hooded seals at the Coney Island aquarium. They were not only not mating, as they were supposed to, but also refusing to have anything to do with each other.
Lonesome George could relate to that. Though he was probably the last surviving example of the giant Galápagos tortoise Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii, he too refused to perform. Scientists, tourists, journalists, conservationists and the government of Ecuador all waited for two decades for him to mate successfully or, indeed, get it on at all. He wasn't playing. In 1993 two females of a slightly different subspecies were put into his corral. He ignored them. When at last he decided to do his duty, in 2008 and occasionally later, the eggs failed to hatch. Clearly, he was a slow burner. Possibly he was gay. He refused to be turned on even when a female Swiss zoology graduate, smeared with tortoise hormones, gave him manual stimulation for four months.
At which stage Ms Ephron might have asked, couldn't he at least have faked it? Women did that all the time. The most famous scene of her highly successful screenwriting career—which included “Sleepless in Seattle”, “You've Got Mail” and “Julie and Julia”—was the one in “When Harry Met Sally” (1989) in which Sally faked an orgasm over lunch at a deli on New York's Lower East Side.# After she had reared, moaned, gasped and shouted “Yes!” for what seemed like five minutes, the elderly lady at a nearby table told the waiter: “I'll have what she's having.”
George couldn't. But then he didn't have the advantage of living, like Ms Ephron, in Manhattan, where something was almost bound to happen to you if you simply stepped outside, and if it didn't happen you could pick up the phone and order it. He was living in a volcanic field on Santa Cruz island 500 miles off the coast of Ecuador, where you couldn't find a decent bagel if you tried: in fact, a place a lot like Washington.
Besides, he was no looker. Ms Ephron, though striking and svelte all her life, worried in the niggling way of women that her breasts were too small, her neck too crêpy (“I Feel Bad About My Neck” was the title of one book), her skin dry and her purse just wrong. George, whose neck was three feet of scrag and whose skin would have made several dozen purses, all thick, dry leather, didn't care two hoots. His one concession to fashion was a shell in taupe. Ms Ephron preferred black; but taupe, especially on a couch, didn't show the dirt.