Virginie Brasi, née Rubinson, wished to take the veil after converting to Catholicism in 1981. She had a change of heart going through Cambodia. In a passing moment in June, she heard a song on the radio as she moved through haunting ruins in Phnom Penh. Beneath the high, nasal wail of the country’s old opera, she heard an ancient grief, something spoke to her, that faint tinkling of bells, from her childhood. She found herself swerving into the path of a farmer and his carabao: she stopped the car. It was the tinkling of the bells at Central Park Zoo, approximated in the sunlit, dying fall of the soothing Khmer sounds. For a moment, she wished she were Buddhist.
Gus, the famous polar bear of Central Park Zoo died in New York in 2013 after three decades of celebrity. He moved from Toledo, Ohio, to New York at the age of three and immediately after needed a therapist. He had two loves, Ida and Lily (also polar bears). At the death of Ida, zookeepers observed him swimming non-stop, going around in desolate figure eights, at one point for twelve hours straight. His therapist pronounced him “just bored and mildly crazy like a lot of people in New York.” A sympathetic businessman gifted Gus the polar bear with his own endless pool for his endless sadness. Even so, Gus the polar bear had to take Prozac. He became a symbol of the city.