Thursday, March 30, 2017

Classic Wisdom


“Never touch your idols: the gilding will stick to your fingers.” Flaubert made this observation in Madam Bovary which was written in 1857. I believe it’s as on target and right as rain now as it was then.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Dead Fish


The fish in the pond closest to the entrance at the off-leash dog park are dying. The banks have been littered with their bodies. Others are scattered through-out the park where they were dropped by the dogs.

This pond is downhill from a nearby apartment complex with pristine lawns brought about by frequent sprayings from their lawn service. The consensus among the regulars is that the chemicals used on the lawn have washed down into the pond killing the fish.

If the chemicals are harsh enough to kill the fish, they must also be polluting the pond where most of the dogs swim and/or drink.

My better-than-standard poodle, George, hasn’t eaten in two days. I suspect he’s eaten some aged dead fish. Yesterday I boiled a couple of chicken backs and wings to make him some broth, but he didn’t even eat that. The regular food I put out this morning is still untouched at mid-day. If he doesn’t eat by tomorrow, we’ll be visiting the vet.  

In the meantime, I’m grateful for weather warm enough for us to keep the back door open because if flatulence was a sport, George would be eligible for the Olympics.

 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Best Defense is a Good Offense


When the current administration makes an outrageous accusation such as the alleged wiretapping of Trump Tower during the election by the Obama administration, I’m forced to wonder what is the man really doing?

He reminds me of a slight-of-hand conn artist.  I suspect he wants us to get caught up in following the wiretapping complaint and not notice something else more nefarious he’s trying to accomplish.

A Gentleman in Moscow

Amor Towles writing style in A Gentleman in Moscow is the epitome of civility. The use of language and depiction of one elaborate scene after another is light hearted and charming and slightly over the top. His occasional use of magical realism adds an “other worldly,” almost fairy tale quality to the story that might convince the reader that his tale is merely entertainment, and he has no ulterior motive.

Count Rostov is tried by the Stalinist regime for being a “corruption to his class” and found guilty, but because he wrote a poem in support of the rebels prior to the revolution, he’s sentenced to spend his life in the Hotel Metropol rather than death by firing squad.

It reminded me of the story of The Man Without a Country in which an American seaman is tried for treason and in the moments before sentencing, is heard to mutter, “I wish I’d never heard of this country.” The judge grants his wish and sentences him to life on board a series of American naval vessels where he’s denied the access to any contact or knowledge of his former home.  

The tone of A Gentleman in Moscow is consistently upbeat. The Count has a positive attitude (along with four desk legs of gold coins) and manages to construct a meaningful life within the walls of the Metropol Hotel. He recognizes it as a world within itself and makes the most of it.

This alone would make it a successful piece of work suitable for a long plane ride, but halfway through, it becomes a bit more. The tone of the language never changes, but the weight of all the senseless and terrible things the government inflicts on the people finally pushes the work from the light fiction category into scathing political satire.
The Count’s ability to slip a glass of liquor into his hip pocket to hide it from the hotel manager and carry it to the chef in the kitchen without spilling a drop is magical realism. Another example taken from that same scene is the chef forcing the hotel manager out of the kitchen with a stalk of celery rather than his cleaver.
The main character is a highly intelligent man who has been forced to spend too much time suffering too many fools.    Under the ultra-polite, highly cultured veneer, I suspect there’s one hugely outraged Count Rostov. He’s incensed not merely for himself or for his family but for the entire nation.

This reader was not amused when the authorities forced the hotel to remove all the labels from the wine bottles and declared all the wine to be either red or white. At that point, I realized I was reading political satire. The description of the national department store’s liberal decision to allow city residents to shop there was even more scathing; the man who would “buy your grandmother’s jewelry at half its worth”. This totally sold me on the satire aspect of the story. The author lured me into a piece of fluff and entertained me while also reinforcing the lesson that Communism under Stalin and Khrushchev was cruel and dysfunctional.

 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Quick, Get the Broom


 

The city limits of early twentieth century Memphis, TN, were delineated by North and South Parkway, two wide lanes going each way with a broad median between landscaped with ancient trees and flower beds carefully tended by the city. Traditional columned brick houses stood on either side behind ornate wrought iron fences with more primal trees and age-old shrubs. The Parkways were an architectural and horticultural showplace. Over the years, the trees grew forming a canopy over the streets.

The Memphis City zoo is in Overton Park bordering on North Parkway. Directly across North Parkway from the zoo is the Parkway House, an upscale mid-twentieth century high-rise apartment house. Most of the units have balconies offering wide panoramic views of the surrounding city.

A half block long and wide mound of rock with dead trees set here and there for the residents to climb and surrounded by a stream for drinking and to keep them away from the visitors, Monkey Island was one of the major focal points of the zoo. The stream was moat-like and butted up against a wire fence that surrounded the entire exhibit.

One memorable day in the early 1960’s, someone forgot to close the gate on Monkey Island. The first tall object available outside the zoo for a monkey intent on exploration was the Parkway House.  Most of the residents of the Parkway House were venerable ladies of a certain vintage who regarded their broom as a valuable means of defense as well as a cleaning tool. “Quick, get the broom,” could mean something needed to be swept up or the household was being invaded by a raccoon in the back yard, General Sherman’s entire army, or in the case of my own beloved mother, the horses had jumped the fence again and were eating the fruit trees. A Southern woman swinging a broom is not to be regarded lightly.

It was a hectic time for the zoo keepers who had to lure their charges down from the heights of the Parkway House before they got swept away, but no real damage was done. It was a high adventure for the monkeys, and made an amusing memory for a couple of women who were attending nearby Southwestern College at the time.

 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Nudist Etiquette


What do you take to a cocktail party at a nudist colony? Why, a towel of course. It makes sense, but seems rather inconvenient. The main point of a cocktail party is to mill around and talk to everyone which means every time you get out of a chair, you must remember to take your towel. (stand, fold the towel, and hang it over your arm)

After a couple of drinks, it could be a challenge to keep up with your towel. Wouldn’t it be much easier to wear underpants?

And while we’re on the topic, imagine attending a cocktail party of senior citizen nudists. Not a pretty thought.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Waste Not, Want Not


Our children’s first dog was a Toy Poodle/Pekinese we adopted from the Memphis Humane Society. His name was Tyrone. Tyrone was extremely macho despite weighing less than fifteen pounds.

Someone had spent considerable time with this dog who was housebroken and had some obedience training. He was found hanging out in the parking lot of a grocery store in a largely Black suburb of Memphis and went out of his mind with excitement any time we encountered anyone of color. Tyrone trusted me but would offer to eat me alive if I put a towel over his head to dry him after a bath. All indications suggest he’d been raised by a Black family and left in the car at the grocery while his master/mistress went inside to shop, and the car was stolen with the dog inside. The thief threw something cloth over his head and threw him out of the car.

Tyrone fit in beautifully at our house. We treated him like one of the children. At the McDonald’s drive-thru, I’d order four Happy Meals and one junior burger with no pickle for Tyrone.  He ate Mighty Dog canned dog food, and I must add, you haven’t lived until you’ve been awakened by someone asleep on the adjoining pillow who has Mighty Dog breath.

Tyrone lived with us seven years before developing a heart condition. I had to put him to sleep in May, 1991. At that time, there were no medical specialists for pets.

Three years ago, I decided it was time for another dog in my life and went in search of another twenty or so pound poodle mix. I wound up adopting George, a better-than-standard-Poodle.

Both dogs I’ve adopted have been exceptional to the point that I grieve for the people who lost or had to give up them up.

Since the hamburgers, table scraps and popcorn Tyrone ate probably contributed to his heart condition, I decided to invest in the best possible dog food for George. The only table food he’s allowed are cheese, boiled eggs and salmon scraps.

Pets are big business in today’s world. The veterinarian schools through-out this region offer specialists for everything from skin conditions to cancer. I buy dried dog food and treats at one of a chain store specializing in dog food. A clerk there recently put his bag of chips down to wait on me laughing as he did that he’d never allow one of his dogs to eat such junk. Our dogs have a better diet than many humans.

It can take a while to get used to the treats offered there. You can buy dried duck feet one at a time or in a bag. The same goes for pig ears and snouts. The healthiest treat is freeze dried lamb lungs. (Say that five times quickly.) Some enterprising soul at the slaughter house has discovered a profitable business in the animal parts inedible to humans. Waste not, want not.