"Do I dare to eat a peach?"; wrote T.S. Eliot. "I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think they will to me.";

The mermaids might have been aloof in Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, but their sisterly songs have reached have long enchanted Amanda Adams, a UBC-trained anthropologist who has gathered images and lore for a cross-cultural study, A Mermaid's Tale (Greystone $32.95).

"All of us are attracted to the mermaid's open-sea liberation,"; she says. "We know how freeing it feels to swim topless in the ocean, sea foam pushing up under our arms like a housecat nudging for affection.

"We feel the wet hair down our backs and the shape of our shoulders in the setting sun. These ephemeral moments of connection to the air, the sea, the light, are the kind you experience when you're alone or in the company of women friends, not when your boyfriend is sitting behind you on the beach, drinking a beer and waiting for your return. They require a sense of the infinite. As does the mermaid.";

Adams blames the medieval church in twelfth-century Europe for transforming sirens and mermaids into evil temptresses. According to Adams, the mermaid always possessed elements of danger and moodiness, but she had not yet been acquainted "with passionate sex and an insatiable hunger for love exceeding all human limits-not until, that is, some leaders of the clergy decided she should be.";

She says, "I am as obsessed with mermaids as any Grecian sailor."


[BCBW 2006] "Women"