Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Children of Paradise

To have lived and never have known Jean-Louis Barrault and Arletty is a life shortchanged--a life deprived. Barrault and Arletty were two of the flaming stars of Les Enfants Du Paradise, perhaps the greatest movie ever made. And made it was under extreme difficulty in occupied France in the last year of WWII. The director was forced to employ French collaborators as extras in his large cast and their job was to report back to the Germans any hint of anti-Nazi sympathies in the story and direction. Jewish actors and technicians were carefully protected and sometimes hidden. Starving extras stole much of the food in the banquet scenes before a shot was taken. Forbidden then to make pictures over ninety minutes long, Director Marcel Carne created two movies and spliced them together when it was shown shortly after Germany was defeated. It's a long film but you don't notice time passing. I can't do justice to describing it here. Instead I'll hand that job over to Roger Ebert who wrote eloquently about it in a review a few years ago when Les Enfants was relased on DVD by the Criterion Collection:

Excerpts from Roger Ebert / January 6, 2002/Posted on Netflix

'All discussions of Marcel Carne's ''Children of Paradise'' begin with the miracle of its making. Named at Cannes as the greatest French film of all time, costing more than any French film before it, ''Les Enfants du Paradis'' was shot in Paris and Nice during the Nazi occupation and released in 1945......

"That this film, wicked, worldly, flamboyant, set in Paris in 1828, could have been imagined under those circumstances is astonishing. That the production, with all of its costumes, carriages, theaters, mansions, crowded streets and rude rooming houses, could have been mounted at that time seems logistically impossible (''It is said,'' wrote Pauline Kael, ''that the starving extras made away with some of the banquets before they could be photographed''). Carne was the leading French director of the decade 1935-1945, but to make this ambitious costume film during wartime required more than clout; it required reckless courage......

"Despite the fame of ''Children of Paradise, most of the available prints are worn and dim. It used to play every New Years' Day at Chicago's beloved Clark Theater, and that's where I first saw it, in 1967, but the 1991 laserdisc was of disappointing quality, and videotapes even worse. Now the film has been released in sparkling clarity on a Criterion DVD that begins with a restored Pathe 35mm print and employs digital technology to make the blips, dirt and scratches disappear. It is likely the film has not looked better since its premiere. There are formidably informative commentary tracks by Brian Stonehill and Charles Affron......

"The movie is not a historical epic but a sophisticated, cynical portrait of actors, murderers, swindlers, pickpockets, prostitutes, impresarios and the decadent rich. Many of the characters are based on real people, as is its milieu of nightclubs, dives and dens, theaters high and low, and the hiding places of the unsavory......

"Carne plunges us directly into this world with his famous opening shot on the ''Boulevard of Crime,'' reaching seemingly to infinity, alive with activity, jammed with countless extras. This was a set designed by the great art director Alexander Trauner, working secretly; the credits list his contribution as ''clandestine.'' To force the perspective and fool the eye, he used buildings that fell off rapidly in height, and miniature carriages driven by dwarves. The street is a riot of low-life. Mimes, jugglers, animal acts and dancers provide previews outside their theaters, to lure crowds inside. One of the first attractions we see is advertised as ''Truth.'' This is the elegant courtesan Garance, who revolves slowly in a tub of water, regarding herself naked in a mirror. The water conceals her body, so that she supplies ''truth, but only from the neck up.'' This is also what she supplies in life....

"Garance is played by Arletty (1898-1992), born as Leonie Bathiat, who became a star in the 1930s and was, truth to tell, a little old to play a sexual temptress who mesmerizes men. Like Marlene Dietrich, to whom she was often compared, Arletty's appeal was based not on fresh ripeness but on a tantalizing sophistication. What fascinates men is that she has seen it all, done it all, admits it, takes their measure, and yet flatters them that she adores them. Even cutthroats fall under her spell; when the criminal Lacenaire tells her ''I'd spill torrents of blood to give you rivers of diamonds'' she looks him in the eye and replies, ''I'd settle for less.''

"Around Garance circle many of the movie's most important characters. The mime Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault) sees her from her stage, defends her in pantomime against a pickpocket charge, is rewarded by a rose, and falls for her. So does Frederick Lemaitre (Pierre Brasseur), as an actor who dreams of doing something good--perhaps Shakespeare. And Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand), who with his ruffled shirt, curly hair, villain's mustache and cold speech is the Rhett Butler of the piece. And the Count Edouard de Montray (Louis Salou), who thinks he has brought her but discovers he was only renting.

"It is possible that Garance truly loves the innocent Baptiste, who triumphs in a bar brawl and brings her home to his rude rooming house, where he rents her a room of her own and retires separately for the night. But Frederick, who lives in the rooming house, has no such scruples--and, for that matter, Baptiste is no saint. He marries the theater manager's daughter, sires ''an abominable offspring,'' in the words of Pauline Kael, and cheats on his wife by still loving Garance. Lacenaire, who strides through the underworld like a king, basking in his reputation for ruthlessness, thinks he can have Garance for the asking (''you are the only woman for whom I do not have contempt''), but it is the Count whose money makes her his mistress. When Lacenaire pulls back a drapery so that the Count can see Garance in the arms of Frederick, so many men think they have the right to her that the actor observes, ''Jealousy belongs to all if a woman belongs to none.''

"Carne's screenplay was by his usual collaborator Jacques Prevert; they not only set their story in a theatrical world but divert from the action to show the actors at work. Kael counts ''five kinds of theatrical performances,'' and they would include Baptiste's miming and a scene from ''Othello'' that provides oblique reflections on the plot. It is Baptiste whose art leaves the greatest impression. Jean-Louis Barrault (1910-1994), then a star at the Comedie Francais, is first seen in clown makeup, glumly surveying the Boulevard of Crime, brought to life only by his mimed defense of Garance. Later, he stages his own extended mime performance--only to see, from the stage, Garance flirting in the wings. No one's trust is repaid in this movie."

Easy to read and absorb subtitles.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays 2007

Our first blizzard swept in last weekend on its way to New England, but the snow didn’t stop us from going off and plunging into the heated blue waters at the Medina Rec, or from walking the indoor track and warming off in the sauna. It’s do or die when you get to our age. A new little boy named Noah arrived at granddaughter Julia’s house last February to live with 4-year-old Ben and dad Drew. Meanwhile granddaughter Jen’s reward for graduating college is living the good life downstate in scintillating Columbus. In Akron Wendy’s readying Peter Pan with real flying for spring production at the Miller-South School for the Arts. In Medina a splendid new main library opens soon and Phil’s efforts on the board have helped bring to our little village our own branch with fireplace nooks and windows overlooking woods and marshes. Growing up he always dreamed of a real library in his own back yard instead of a bookmobile. Over in the U.K. sister Sonia has become computer literate, making communication so much easier. Three miles down the road new neighbor, multi-millionaire Cleveland basketball player Lebron James, is building a house that is only a little smaller than the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and just as fortified. Haven’t given up yet on our yearly escape to the Blyth Festival in Ontario and Phyllis and Emerson Mitchell’s B&B breakfast feasts.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Holiday Letter from Row D, Seats 20 and 21

Jeeze! A month gone by since last I wrote here. My Christmas cards are on their way with my blog address included and nothing here to say for myself since the middle of November. Better do something quick. Unlike some moaners and whiners I enjoy the newsletters sent along with some cards and happily read the accounts of lives lived over the past year. Those epistles are the stuff of life--from friends and relatives who want us to know "We're still here."

This year we heard for the first time from the occupants of Row D, Seats 20 and 21 at the Blyth Festival Theater in Ontario. We know Don and Bernice from having adjoining seats for several years, and we've chatted before the shows and during intermission. We've tried to explain George W. Bush to them and why we spend our money on futile wars but don't have a universal health system like they do even though only a border separates us. Don and Bernice are in their 80s now. He's a spry fellow. She's been slowed down by a hearing loss. Both are very nice Canadians and I'm glad they are "still here" and hope they will be for years to come.

They are not online, and won't see this. But good luck, Don and Bernice. We'll see you next summer!

Monday, November 19, 2007

"Christmas in Connecticut"

Years ago in 1945 when I was a teen I saw the movie Christmas in Connecticut and have never forgotten it. Barbara Stanwyck plays a popular women's magazine columnist (think Martha Stewart) whose publisher requires her to entertain a naval hero with her family in her bucolic Connecticut home. The problem is, she doesn't really have a home in the country or a family and fast work is needed to come up with them. Sidney Greenstreet, Dennis Morgan and other good Warners' actors fill out the cast. What took my breath away was the deep, crisp snow of New England, the lovely spacious house and its sparkling decor inside, and the magnificent Christmas decorations and presents under a huge tree--all of those absent in England in the dreary last year of the war when our tree was a spindly little twig and my "best" present was a second hand copy of a book by a favorite author. I've just learned that Christmas in Connecticut has been issued on DVD

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Beware of "Water for Elephants"

What to do when you begin the latest book group selection--a best-seller-- and find that you hate it? I had good vibes for Sara Gruen's Water For Elephants, anticipating a good read about a young man's adventures with an itinerant third-rate circus traveling the byways of America back in the 1930's Depression. I like trains and I liked circuses, but this book with its cliche characters, tiresome plot, predictable events, and banal dialogue that just goes on and on is a major disappointment. How could The New York Times praise it and 612 Amazon readers give it five stars when it's obviously such a chore to read? Not all Amazon readers were fooled, however. In 1 or 2 star reviews they were critical of the poor writing, while others reeled away from the animal cruelty depicted or a really creepy description of a strip-tease artiste plying her trade.. . I've given up on the book after about sixty pages. Here are a couple of Amazon two-star reviews, the first from neighboring Fairlawn--five minutes' drive away. I feel vindicated. For the one-star reviews, go to Amazon. They offer valuable advice.

By M. G. Jamison (Fairlawn, OH USA) - See all my reviews
Last week, halfway through my own reading of WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, I decided to check the customer reviews to see if any other readers were rolling their eyes as much as I was, and, to my surprise, not many were. 900 hundred reviews and most of them were five stars! What seemed paper-thin and kind of ridiculous to me was "beautiful and moving" to nearly everyone else. Everything about this book seemed like a cheat--like the warning you get on a bag of chips--"contents may settle"--to explain how there are only three chips in a family-sized bag. Even the inclusion of the period photographs seemed to excuse the writer for not making clear enough pictures of her own. It's not just the implausibility of the story either (elephant speaks only Polish). If the details are right, I can be drawn into even the most ridiculous of stories (THE RUINS and THE TERROR come to mind)), but the paragraphs here are so flimsy (usually no more than three sentences long) that I never pictured (or believed) a word of it. I'd close the book and pick it up a few hours later and have absolutely no idea what had happened. It was an "easy read," but I don't know many writers who would consider that a compliment.

2.0 out of 5 stars Sara Gruen owes William Styron some royalties, July 26, 2007
By Craig Keller (Chicago, IL) - See all my reviews
I rarely pick up best-sellers, but I felt compelled to torture myself through this one after Gruen was awarded -- in a baffling but sickeningly telling example of how lowest-common-denominator and bottom-line the book publishing business has become -- $5 million for her next two, as yet un-penned books. I've got $10 that says they involve touchy-feely maudlin interaction between people and animals and cliched romanctic treacle. I wouldn't be shocked to see a unicorn rear its head.

This novel is cliche and a pastiche of formula coopted from other, better books from cover to cover. The dialogue is PAINFUL. Every line feels prepackaged for the movie studio executive Gruen undoubtedly set out to placate before writing one word. Worse, while characters speak in cliched colloquial style, it remains ONE style. There is little to distinguish one voice from another. The plot, too, proceeds along a rote path -- I was predicting nearly every turn of it paragraphs, and then pages, ahead of time.

Gruen is justly commended for her research into circus history, which is the only original element she brings to the table. She clearly delights in it, though even that reads like dutiful observations culled from a torrent of microfiche and historical society archives. It's clear Gruen has spent a lot of time with her nose in books, and derives her style, such as it is, from other sources -- most notably, and unforgivably, William Styron's "Sophie's Choice," from which she shamelessly pilfers the very specific dynamics of that novel's central ill-fated love triangle, around which all else revolves. Gruen's Nathan is an equestrian director named August (interesting to note there are six letters in each name), and he's a Jewish paranoid schizophrenic. When Gruen's protoganist -- surprise! a young, precocious, naive but quickly maturing lover-boy bred from earnest all-American stock -- finds himself caught between the couple (Sophie is renamed Marlena here), all hell breaks loose ("all hell breaks loose" incidentally is a cliched phrase that appears several times throughout the book -- consider my usage a wry homage).

Do yourself a favor and buy the original, not the infantile copy.

The New York Times
was generally favorable. 916 readers so far have reviewed it online at Amazo. 612 of those gave the book five stars (tops). But over 50 disagreed, awarding only 1 or 1 stars.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Peter Lorre and "The Mask of Dimitrios"

Turner Classic Movies has been running a string of classic film noir these past weeks, and here the DVR button comes in useful. Last night I watched The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), and found myself tangled up in a web of mystery, spies, dark alleys, continental trains, seedy hotels and flats, and murderous intentions. The time period is late 1930s, although no expectations of a forthcoming world war are indicated. Hungarian actor, Peter Lorre, playing against his usual sinister type is a meek Dutch novelist who is required to travel by train to locales we are now familiar with because of current American foreign intrigues--from Athens to Istanbul to Sofia, Belgrade and Paris. The film was actually made on Warner Brothers' Hollywood back lot but they did a good job of making you think you're in Europe. Sidney Greenstreet, the large stout Englishman who often performed with Lorre is the master crook and in their scenes together they regularly upstage each other as they did in other films including Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. Lorre usually plays creepy criminals, so it's quite interesting to see him play nice for a change. Except for Faye Emerson as femme fatale (she was married for a while to FDR's son. FDR Jr.) and Zachary Scott, the handsome Hollywood actor who managed to project sleaze and danger at the same time, the other actors are mostly European--and when you look at the credits you're reminded how Hollywood became a refuge in the 1930s and 40s for a large number of Jewish European artists, composers, actors, technicians, directors, etc. who fled from Germany in the 1930s and found work in California. Peter Lorre was one of them.

The Mask of Dimitrios was adapted from a novel by Eric Ambler.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Bright November

Noted: November's here disguised in the garb of October; trees still wearing their red and gold leaves under a brilliant blue sky. If' this isn't a sign of global warming, I don't know what is. In the yard, the golden birch leaves and the red maples form a gorgeous diaphanous curtain, screening against the sun's bright rays. .Next week: will I be welcoming a big fall of early snow?

Shopped Marc's supermarket this morning. Seniors clogged the checkouts, spending their precious first-day-of-the month Social Security money. It was a Harvey Pekar moment--like the one in his movie American Splendor when he silently cursed the elderly woman ahead of him holding up the line over the price of drinking glasses. He ended up abandoning his cart. (Good old Cleveland's Harvey Pekar who won the Golden Palm at the Cannes Festival for his first movie)

At our checkout the clerk was distinguished by a a splendid braid of black hair that reached down her back to the bottom of her bottom. I wonder if she knows about the project that uses hair donations to make wigs for cancer patients. Perhaps she does know, and grows her hair for that purpose.

This morning it takes $1.05 American to purchase a Canadian dollar. No doubt Brian and Ruth are looking forward to living in luxury in Florida next February on their annual snowbird trek. The British pound is no slouch either, having zoomed into the stratosphere of $2.08 against the pound. Good for my little British pension, but not so good for Americans traveling abroad.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bel Canto

Funny how things work out. The Oct. 1 New Yorker runs an article about Ann Patchett's new book, Run and the library schedules Bel Canto for their Nov. discussion and with the stars aligning themselves like that I got hold of Bel Canto and couldn't stop once I started it. She uses a situation in Peru some years ago when terrorists took hostages during a party at the president's house. Their prize is an opera singer whose voice has thrilled audiences around the world.

Readers could sit around all day talking about the characters. who gradually adapt in surprising and unexpected ways. It's not exactly the Stockholm Syndrome. Something more subtle is at work. Perhaps it's something about the power of art to heal. There's the music as the opera singer begins to share her gift with the others. Because most of the hostages aren't familiar with the music, the reader doesn't have to be either.

New Yorker review of the book here:

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Wind That Shakes The Barley

We saw an Irish film last night: The Wind That Shakes The Barley. Directed by an Englishman, Ken Loach, it is harshly critical of British rule in Ireland. What made it spooky was how the action in it reflected what's going on in Iraq at the moment. But in this case the bad guys are the British, not the Americans. It's the British who beat people up and destroy their homes, and call them horrible names. The time period is Ireland in 1920-21 when the Irish Republican Army formed to resist British rule. The focus is on one unit of men who form in County Cork to fight British rule. Vastly outnumbered they still manage to inflict damage and casualties on the British. But the British regiment, the Blakc and Tans, inflict far greater torture, deatb and destruction on the Irish. The Black and Tans were mercenaries hired by the government for better pay than soldiers got. The resemblance to Blackwater and its mercenaries in Iraq is clear. Not a very good film to go to bed on! I told Paul I'd pick a nice light and frothy French comedy for our next film.

Am reading a fine novel at the moment, Bel Canto by Ann Patchet.. Our library will hold a discussion on it in a couple of weeks, and I'll go and hear what others have to say about it. I'll tell you this.
A banquet is under way in the home of the Vice President of a poor Latin American country. A famous singer with the most beautiful voice in the world has been invited to perform. 200 people are guests. After the concert, the house is invaded by terrorists who take everyone hostage, including the singer. The streets outside begin to fill with rescue units......

The is from an online comment:

Even better the second time, September 28, 2007
By E. Almond (Boston, MA) - See all my reviews
I just finished Bel Canto for the second time, and enjoyed it even more than I did on first reading. Without rushing towards the end to find out "what happens" -- which I did, in spite of myself, the first time, I was able to luxuriate in Ms. Patchett's elegant, evocative sentences. Her characters are so deftly drawn that they will remain with you long after you close the covers of the book. She's able to do the impossible, it seems: write about love and music within a highly charged, almost over-the-top scenario, without ever becoming melodramatic or maudlin. I believed this book so deeply, it seemed every word was true. Every character was real. Every note of music was there for the listening. I understand why another reviewer bought every one of Ann Patchett's books after reading this one -- I'm about to do the same!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (1852)

Read Uncle Tom's Cabin lately? I recently came to it for the first time and, you know what, it's a compelling page turner. It has a suspenseful plot and a readable style. No wonder it sold millions of copies, helped Harriet Beecher Stowe and her spouse get out of debt, and drew thousands of readers to the docks at Liverpool to greet her as she began her first European tour.

Stowe, who lived in Cincinnati for over twenty years, tackles American slavery head on and shows its corruptive influence on owners and slaves. Families are split and never reunited, pretty light-skinned young women are shipped down to the bordellos in New Orleans, children are torn from their mothers' arms and never seen again. Not all owners were cruel to their property (other than owning them of course), but Tom's kindly owner has to sell him down the river because of overwhelming debt. The worst of all slave owners is Simon Legree and eventually Uncle Tom falls into his hands and suffers vicious and graphically described tortures.

In reading the book I discovered that Uncle Tom was not an Uncle Tom. Later stage versions changed the character to a shuffling fool who pandered to his owners). In the novel he is noble and brave--a Christlike figure--who protects and sometimes saves his fellow creatures--some of them white.

When Abraham Lincoln met Harriet he said to her, "and you're the little lady he started the Civil War." The book had power then, and it still does.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

John Lanchester's Memoir

I'm in the middle of reading Family Romance: A Memoir by British novelist John Lanchester. The centerpiece is what Lanchester finds out about his mother after her death--that she had lied to his father in order to get him to marry her (no mention of her many years in a nunnery, and she put her age at 31 even though she was actually 41 and pregnant with John. (The man must have been a bit gullible). She never let her son know anything about being immured in one of the most strict and harsh Catholic orders in Ireland. They were The Sisters of the Good Shepherd, and coincidentally a few years ago the movie The Magdalene Sisters exposed the cruel treatment that went on in that sisterhood. For Lanchester, having a mum who had spent decades being a nun before she finally saw the light and escaped and married at the age of 41, it meant having a mother who could express no emotion or love, and lied to cover up her past. It gets a bit bogged down in parts, and I'm skipping some, but in the main it's good.

Shakespeare Wallah

This evening we saw, courtesy of Netflix, a most engrossing movie--Shakespeare Wallah--Merchant-Ivory's first picture, made in 1964.

Felicity Kendal was seventeen when she played the daughter of an actor-manager and his wife who spent their years with a little troupe of English actors touring India with productions of Shakespeare during India's post-independence period. It becomes increasingly difficult to get bookings and one scene is quite painful when the actor-manager faces up to rejection from one of his most reliable patrons. Lovely scene at a boarding house with the grand name of "Gleneagles." The actors have stayed there over the years many times, but it seems that it's in its twilight. . It's run by a Yorkshire woman who herself is dealing with rejection while a palatial new hotel is being built across the street.

The story is based on the experiences of Felicity's parents who themselves toured Indian for years and play themselves in the film. The DVD includes comments from Felicity, now in her sixties and still beautiful. She's very active on the London stage these days.

A review in The Daily Telegraph of her performance in a recent play says she took the challenge of taking over a part played by Judi Dench and made it her own.

Here's a reader comment from online:
.Set in post-independence India, it tells the story of a small, though thoroughly professional traveling Shakespeare company fallen on hard times. The troop, built on the talents of the three Buckingham family members, including the young and fetching daughter Lizzie, is slowly dissolving in a culture increasingly hostile to their art and readier to worship the queens of the silly Indian pop cinema.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Closely Watched Trains

I'm reading some of this week's New Yorker online since it hasn't yet arrived in my mail box. Anthony Lane reviews a new movie with an important role for a train. The Darjeeling Limited seems to be about some American guys who take a train journey across India. Lane goes with a profound question in his opening paragraph.

Can you have a thriving movie culture in a country without enough trains? The decline of the American railroad neatly parallels that of the Hollywood studio system, and something about the train traveller and the moviegoer catches the eye: both are required to sit with their fellow-men, and to start their journey at a particular time, not of their own choosing. Both are left alone, yet their privacy—tinged with dreaminess—is of a very public kind. Set a movie on a train and you get the best of both worlds, for your audience will feel an instant kinship with the souls packed together onscreen. Preston Sturges knew this, as did the Billy Wilder of “Some Like It Hot”; these days, however, the thrill of the ride has shrivelled to a dull metropolitan commute.

He's right about the train/Hollywood parallel. Wasn't the first American movle with a plot
The Great Train Robbery? Let's ask OK, here's an answer:

By Alex (Chicago) - See all my reviews
"Its hard to believe but this film was made more than 100 hundred years ago; it has to be considered to be a technical step forward for its time. The plot is basically a train robbery. It is also the first western. This was a stepping stone for what movies could be,

D. W. Griffith directed this historic movie. Anyway-

I love the train movie genre. Especially memorable are
The Lady Vanishes, Night Train to Munich, The Twentieth Century, The Great Train Robbery, Runaway Train, 3:10 to Yuma, Strangers on a Train,
and the great Marlene in Shanghai Express. . . .

Stage coaches aren't bad, either.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Should cats eat kibble, canned, or mice?

From dawlishgal

Following snatched from comments to Norah Ephron's column today in the HuffPost:

Our experience with kibble and our cat:

When we took him in for his kitten checkup, the vet told us that she gives her own cat canned cat food only on (get this) CHRISTMAS Eve...the rest of the time it makes do with kibble.

We felt guilty while we continued to feed ours a mixed diet of kibble and canned food, and ,when he developed chronic constipation and blockages that almost killed him, we blamed ourselves for not following the vet's advice.

NOW, a week after the latest episode and thirteen hundred bucks poorer, we have been told the whole thinking on cat diet has changed, and the theory is that now cats and dogs ought to be eating what they would eat in the wild (vermin?). Some wily petfood manufacturer is bringing out a version of THAT kind of natural food at a price higher than for human food. At the same time there is a new kind of digestion-problems kibble that goes for 10 bucks for a little bag. It is almost impossible to know what to do. And the cat would be better off eating MICE, forgawdssakes!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Comfortable Cats in St. Petersburg

From the BBC today:
Go for the best in news each day

Maria Khaltunen with cat
Maria Khaltunen sees the cats as part of the palace traditions

Hermitage palace is cat's whiskers
By James Rodgers
BBC News, St Petersburg

The Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia, is famous as the palace of Empress Catherine the Great.

The greatness of its cats is the less well-known side of its astonishing story.

They have been here since the 18th Century. Fed up with rodents running through the palace, Empress Elizabeth sent out a decree that the best ratters in Russia should be sent to St Petersburg. The first to respond are thought to have come from the city of Kazan - then apparently famous for the rat-catching skills of its cats.

The cats survived the Napoleonic wars. They lived through the revolution of 1917. Their royal masters, Tsar Nicholas II and his family, died in a hail of Bolshevik bullets the following year.

As Russia turned communist, the cats kept their regal home.

They only disappeared during World War II. Hitler's armies laid siege to St Petersburg, then known by its Soviet name, Leningrad. Hundreds of thousands of people perished as for 900 days, the Nazis tried to strangle the life out of the city.

The most important items in the Hermitage collection were removed to storage in the Ural mountains, far from the front line. The museum's cellars became bomb shelters.

Winter shelter

In peacetime, a new generation of cats was welcomed to the palatial surroundings their predecessors had made home.

Now, two full-time employees take care of them. Cosy corners of the Hermitage's cellars are their shelter in the depths of the icy Russian winter.

They are no longer chosen for their ability to catch rats. Poison has taken that job away from them. They have come here from the streets, and the Hermitage is happy for them to move on to good homes, where they can be found.

Officially, there are 50 of them. Museum staff make voluntary contributions to pay for their upkeep.

They are considered so important that they even have their own press secretary. Maria Khaltunen combines that role with her job as assistant to the museum's director.

While we spoke, one of her charges did its best to leap from her arms.

"We like them," she explained. "And all our staff decided to keep up this tradition: to have the cats, and to like them."

Office antics

They may have retired from rat-catching, but a trip to the Hermitage's accounts department shows the cats are still there when a mouse is around. But these days, that's a computer mouse.

To be honest, the cats are more likely to be getting in the way than helping. Some have made their home with the book-keepers. They lounge across desks or curl up to snooze in open boxes of printer paper.

They are not allowed in the galleries. But that does not mean they are cut off from the artistic atmosphere. Some of them appear perfectly at home among the statues in the Hermitage's gardens and courtyards - even occasionally seeming to strike poses copied from the classical-era art which surrounds them.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/10/05 10:55:48 GMT

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

On The Loss Of A Cat -- Human-Animal Bonding : Excerpted From Natalie Angier's Article In The Times Today)

"A couple of weeks ago, while I was out of town on business, our cat, Cleo, died of liver failure. My husband and daughter buried her in the backyard, not far from the grave of our other cat, Manny, who had died just a few months earlier of mouth cancer.

"Cleo was almost 16 years old, she’d been sick, and her death was no surprise. Still, when I returned to a home without cats, without pets of any sort, I was startled by my grief — not so much its intensity as its specificity.

"It was very different from the catastrophic grief I’d felt when I was 19 and my father died, and all sense, color and flooring dropped from my days. This was a sorrow of details, of minor rhythms and assumptions that I hadn’t really been aware of until, suddenly, they were disrupted or unmet. Hey, I’m opening the door to the unfinished attic now. Doesn’t a cat want to try dashing inside to roll around in the loose wads of insulation while I yell at it to get out of there?

"I’ve just dumped a pile of clean laundry on the bed and I’m starting to fold it. Why aren’t the cats jumping up for a quick sit? Don’t they know everything is still warm?

"We expect the bonds between children and parents, or between lovers or close friends, to be fierce and complex, and that makes them easy to understand. We expect the bonds between people and their pets to be simple and innocent, an antidote to human judgment and the fog of human speech, and that can make the bond paradoxically harder to track or explain. How do we feel about the nonhuman animals whose company we crave? We think we know. Our pet is our “best friend,” a “member of the family,” a surrogate child for the adults, in loco parentis for the kids and the best possible pillow for whoever has first dibs.

. . ..

"We love our pets and we love the idea of pets, of reaching beyond the parochial barriers of the human race to commune with other species. When Alex the African gray parrot, renowned for his ability to communicate, do simple arithmetic and describe objects by their color, size, shape and material, died last month of cardiovascular disease at the age of 31, his obituary appeared everywhere, and Irene Pepperberg, the scientist who had trained Alex since 1977, was flooded with condolences.

“Alex touched so many people,” Dr. Pepperberg, a lecturer and research associate at Harvard University, said in a telephone interview. “He broke all preconceived notions of what it means to be a bird brain.” She admitted to feeling devastated. “There’s a parrot-size hole in my life,” she said.

. . .

"Marc Hauser, professor of psychology at Harvard and author of “Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think,” says ambivalence and tension have long been woven into our feelings about animals. “On the one hand, we feel a connection to other animals and we can’t imagine a world where we’re the only species on the planet,” he said. “On the other hand, we’re always trying to show that we’re not animals. We’re like them, yet we don’t want to be like them.”

"Dr. Hauser traces this tension to self-defense. We use animals, and we want to feel justified in using animals. We eat their muscles for meat, flay their hides for shoes and accessories, inject them with experimental vaccines, genetically engineer them into grotesque morphologies to study human diseases. This requires a certain mental distance.

"So we adore our pets and lavish time and money on them. Annual pet expenditures in this country have doubled in the last decade and are now more than $40 billion a year. And then we scold ourselves for our foolish fiscal priorities.

"We adore our pets and can come to identify with them so deeply that we attribute to them some truly daffy notions, like the radio listener who called in a comment to Colin Allen, a philosopher and cognitive scientist at Indiana University’s Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior. “She wanted to tell me about how her cat had very gingerly brought in an injured bird to show her, as though to say, It’s hurt, please take care of it,” Dr. Allen said. “I suggested there might be other interpretations for her cat’s behavior.”

"Yes, we love our pets and anthropomorphize them to the point where we think our cat might enjoy wearing the mouse hat Halloween costume now on sale at And still we abandon difficult pets, and shelters euthanize some 10 million pets a year.

"I understand the ambivalence of the human-animal bond. I loved my cats, and I miss them, but I resent them, too, for showing me what a creature of small habits I am, and for reminding me that even love is not enough. Life, like the laundry, will always cool down."

The article gives helpful sources to tap for further reading. When our twin foundling kittens who grew up and became seventeen years of age, their inevitable death stunned me. Missing them was everything. The house was empty and sterile without them. No furry faces welcomed us home at the end of an outing. Their pictures on a shelf helped, but not enough Then two 15 week old rambunctious pitch-black kittens and a grey and white 18 month year old changed everything. Life came back again.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Sick Kitty Gets Holistic Vet Treatment

A friend writes about the health of her cat. Kitty hadn't been eating, was listless, and when he did eat a little, he brought the food back up again. A visit to the vet emergency did little good, and so my last week my friend decided to take kitty to a local holistic vet. She reported as follows:

"Just thought I'd tell you that I went to see the holistic vet yesterday. A whole little world there--in that little town. Kind of interesting. The vet was a small, trim woman in her 40s, soft spoken and with a tendency to hum to herself. She runs the office entirely on her own, and our first appointment was an hour long. (Actually, it may have run a bit longer than that.) She spent the time sitting on the floor with my cat and gave him a typical hands-on examination and concluded that there could be as many as five or six possible diagnoses, none of which we could be exactly sure about without an endoscopy (which he can't have because of his heart disease). So we decided on a food change and some supplements designed to heal the stomach naturally. They won't interfere with his heart meds from the cardiologist and can't they hurt him in any way, so why not? She sent me a few doors down to an animal, natural food store to choose some organic, all-meat food. It's an animal complex in this little strip mall. There's dog training and doggy-daycare as well as the vet and the food store."

Thought I'd blog this in case someone would like to know that there are holistic vets out there who approach a sick animal's health problem a little differently. This particular vet often employs Chinese acupuncture techniques.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

All-American Apple Pie

We're not as young as we used to be. Seventy-six years or thereabouts was once considered "terribly old." My grandmother was 73 when she died and she seemed absolutely ancient, but she did understand that she couldn't do all the things she did when she was younger.

With today's science to help us, we live on and on......but if we expect (or are expected to) to do everything the same as we used to do there's no wonder women fall into their chairs in the evening and have a long nap.

Some spouses (not mine) on the other hand scale back if they feel like it and do the things they like to do best--even if it is sitting in a rocking chair most of the time. Or, if they are busy they often do the fun things--like writing that novel, painting that picture, or building something creative. Doing the laundry or serving up dinner doesn't appeal to them!

They still expect to have somebody else (little wifey) fix the breakfast, serve the coffee, come up with a tasty lunch, and finish off with a great dinner. When the little woman is finally carried off to the cemetery the neighbors rally round and help the helpless husband. My sister's husband can't even boil an egg! That's ridiculous. My cat could boil an egg.

When I purchased the other day a pair of frozen pie shells, spouse was shocked!!! "I like your home-made pie crust better," he said. But I said, okay, if you want a pie it will be made from these because making an apple pie takes time (peeling and cutting the apples, finding the spices, getting out the sugar, the rolling pin, etc. and making home-made pie crust takes even longer). He got my point. When the pie came out of the oven, the crust golden brown and tender, and the apples inside steaming away, it didn't take him long to cut a slice and declare it delicious.

So, we look for ways to give us more time to do the things we want to, like read a book, or write a letter, or take a walk.

Sometimes an old person has to make a decision between two loves-- baking bread and making jam, or making a painting. Not both. Well, you can buy jam and bread, but you can't buy your own original painting. And only the painting will remain for you to pass on to the next generation. (You can pass on recipes for bread and jam, but that's not the same!)

But if apple pie is what you do best and love to do, then do it. You will always be remembered and loved for it.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Not So Hot on Hillary!

I'm not so hot on Hillary today! Shortly after I wrote my rave endorsement for her candidacy I watched the latest Democratic Candidates Debate on MSNBC. I kept in mind that she is preparing the ground for the time when she is the party's presidential candidate and will then have to present herself to the voters as the candidate of choice. In order to defeat her Republican opponent she will have to appear to be middle-of-the-road or even a bit rightist. In actuality, although her politics have no doubt mellowed since she was a flaming leftie student at Wellsley College, she remains a devoted Democrat.

But another problem haunts me, and that is her warlike stance--voting to allow George Bush to once again invade another country (Iran) if he feels like it. At least Hillary puts to rest the old saw that if women ran the world there would be no war. We have examples already of warlike women from Elizabeth I to Margaret Thatcher, in fact.

Friday, September 28, 2007

When Connie Schultz Came to Town

Connie Schultz came to town yesterday to talk about her new book. She wowed an audience of over 400 people --mostly women it must be admitted--but there was also a fair sprinkling of members of the the male persuasion on hand as well.

Connie's visit was sponsored by the Medina Branch of the American Association of University Women (of which I can proudly say I'm a member) and the proceeds from ticket sales will go towards our permanent endowment fund aimed at providing university scholarships for non-traditional women students. Very generously, she donated her time to the cause. Because of the turnout, our fund has been much enhanced.

Although Connie is an admitted liberal Democrat her audience came out regardless of party. She was a fearless speaker: fearless about being a feminist in a post-feminist age, and fiercely proud of her working class parents who literally gave their lives to helping move their four children out of poverty and into professional careers.

Connie shared with us the some of the details of how her life has changed since her husband Sherrod Brown went to Congress this January as Ohio's new Senator. It was during his campaign for election that the idea for her book came into being.

. . . . And His Lovely Wife recounts her adventures on the road in support of her husband. At hundreds of meetings around the state she was invariably introduced from the platform as the candidate's lovely wife. As far as her own identity and successful career were concerned, they didn't appear to exist. Fortunately, her lack of ego combined with a sharp sense of humor and irony, play to her advantage in in her very wise and funny book--which may earn her a second Pulitzer Prize.

In 2005 Connie received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her first book, Life Happens : And Other Unavoidable Truths, a compilation of columns she had written over the years for The Cleveland Plain Dealer. The Pulitzer not only confers enormous prestige on the winner, but also on the paper she works for. Not many papers in the U.S. can field a Pulitzer winner, but here in Northeastern Ohio we benefit from her columns that tackle with wit and compassion the issues that beset us in today's difficult world.

In her talk Connie discussed many concerns including women and families, jobs, racism, health, and the war. She encouraged audience members to raise questions, and what ensued was a lengthy conversation between those in the seats and Connie on the stage.

These days, Connie's not so much a local girl. She travels abroad, participates in national conferences on journalism, and spends time in Washington, D.C. often mixing with the likes of Hilary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and other knowns and lesser knowns. (But come to think of it, in the question and answer period, no one asked her about Senator Larry Craig. Just as well, I guess).

Even Borders Bookstores benefited because afterward many people lined up to buy personally signed copies of Connie Schultz's books for permanent keepsakes of an evening well spent.

Stephanie Grant Duke

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I will vote for Hillary and I'll tell you why

I've made up my mind about Hillary. She's my choice. Why? I'll tell you:

First, I'm not swayed at all by skeletons in her closets like taking money from a guy who turns out to be a loony tunes ponzie schemer. Which one of the candidates is unflawed? I'm also unswayed because she's changed (or felt she had to change to be elected) her politics from idealistic left to pragmatic center Democrat. (She has to be in the center to get the votes.) And Ill be unmoved by any other flaws that may or may not come down her pike.

It's my last chance before leaving this earth to see the possibility of a woman president. It will take decades for another one to grasp the brass ring.

I want a woman president to represent me and all the sisters in this nation--black, brown, white, gay, young, old. I want to see a woman stand in front of the convention next summer and receive the cheers from an overflow gathering of Democrats. I want to hear her acceptance speech. I want to see her take the Presidential oath and then walk down Constitution Avenue in Washington with Bill beside her, or a teeney bit behind her. I want to see her send George W. Bush on his way out of the White House to oblivion or better still, to a trial in the World Court along with his cronies. I want to see the generals salute a woman as their Commander-in-Chief and I want to witness her walking into the Congress amid huge cheers that won't be quelled and getting up there on the podium for her first State of the Union address (followed over time by seven others).

Not much to ask, is it?

Interesting essay:

Is It Last Call Tonight For Obama And Edwards?

Monday, September 24, 2007


On a cat blog the other day I saw some ocicats. So lovely.

They cost $500, and that makes me think their owners would be averse to letting them go outside for strolls. Sweet though they are, I won't be springing for an ocicat anytime soon. And anyway, our three commoners are just as precious even though they lack aristocratic lines. So we keep them inside, protected from hawks, traffic, coyotes, and anything else that would do them in.

James Wolcott, a lively intellect, began a blog post last week this way:

Chill descended on Cape May last evening, the pre-dawn morning so nippy that our youngest ocicat, the personality-plus Veronica, batted at the covers until they were lifted, allowing her to scoot under them and bank herself against my back for warmth. I give off a lot of heat even when inert. We--"we" being my wife and I, Veronica and her two ocimates preferring to "sleep in"--rose early, the drop in temp coupled with northern winds indicating an auspicious morning for fall migration. Yesterday at the hawk watch there were merlins lancing the sky, an American bald eagle, cedar waxwings, etc., along with the scrappy advance scouts of the monarch butterfly migration set to arrive in legion force."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Birds, Turner, and Diana

This Saturday morning I'm looking at beautiful birds online and my favorite (I think) is the red-throated parrot finch, but they are all so beautiful. These photos are beyond beautiful. I think my favorite is the red-throated parrot finch, but it's really hard to choose.The article has orange-colored links to other bird watcher sites if you have the time. Oh, the miracle of the internet! I haven't learned yet the art of including links into my posts. In the meantime, you can copy and post links into Google.

This morning, on The New Yorker Online, there's a terrific slide show of some of the paintings of J.M.W Turner (article discussing them and others by Simon Schama is there too). They are being exhibited at the moment at the National Gallery. One of the paintings is from the Cleveland Museum of Art--The Burning of the Houses of Commons and Lords. Turner did two versions. Both are in the show. What he did with color and light is out of this world.

I've just read The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown. It's a fantastic read because Brown has incredible access into the highest levels of the aristocracy. With all her insights plus her considerable intellect, her humor, and her advanced university degrees, and her wicked writing skills honed as editor of The New Yorker among others, she has produced a book that probably puts the others on the subject in the shade. I'm not a Diana fan, or a Royals fan, but the characters in the book and the events are part of British history now and that's what makes it interesting to me. Diana comes off in a much better light than Camilla (it's obvious Tina doesn't like her very much). One appealing aspect of Diana was her liking for being with the people who worked "downstairs." She loved to iron! Was never happier than when she was ironing friends' dresses or shirts, or washing their dishes, or tidying up. Tina's not too thrilled with Charles. The Queen she treats with respect, but the woman comes across as so entrenched in her role that all humanity seems to be absent. Anne's not a favorite either. Surprisingly, Paul Burrell comes off quite well in the book, but that may be because he dished stuff to Brown that hasn't appeared in his books.

Truth be told, because Brown renders all the characters in full dimensional detail, none of them come across as villains or saints. Other interesting "characters" are the stately homes of all the friends and relatives of Diana each of whom apparently lives in a country mansion each set upon thousands of acres of ground.

No wonder the rest of the British live in pokey flats or houses clustered close together on handkerchief-sized lots. The aristocracy still owns most of Engllish soil and many of them open them up to ticket-paying tourists. There's Althorp House, her family home, now a tourist attraction run by Diana's brother the Earl Spencer. It has a gorgeous website. Camilla has a nice country retreat at Raymill in Wilsthire. Pictures online show that it's a huge, castelated palace. Controversy surrounds it because British taxpayers have assumed its restoration.. To list the houses lived in by all the royals would be too exhausting. Suffice it to say that beyond Buckingham Palace there's Windsor for the weekends, Sandringham for Christmas, Balmoral for the summer, Clarence House for Charles and Camilla, Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh for Scottish official visits, and Kensington Palace with apartments for the "lesser" royals. . Anne has a home in the Cotswolds, Gatscombe Park. The lands surrounding it are so beautiful you would think she would wear a smile every day. Most of these places can be visited online.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Domestic Manners of Americans

If you haven't read Fanny Trollope's Domestic Manners of the Americans by all means do so. Fanny arrived in Cincinnati by riverboat in 1829 and stayed three years creating the city's first department store and keeping a journal. She brought three children, a starving artist, and two servants with her and was astonished when the servants preferred to stay in Ohio rather than return to London. The book was a best seller at home and here. Americans wanted to find out for themselves the extent of her waspish criticisms of their crude ways, and of course the English wanted confirmation that America was indeed that rough and rude country across the pond.

What's most important about the book are descriptions of Ohio when it was basically frontier country--all forests and streams, her means of travel (before the railroad), Washington, D.C., slavery, and the beautiful Niagara Falls--pristine and untouched by commerce (certainly no casinos). She raved about them. The thing she hated most about American society was that common, ordinary people were in charge. That was not the case in England where aristocracy ruled and everyone knew and stayed in their pre-ordained place.

From Amazon reviews
> Fanny spent most of her time in the U.S. in Cincinnati and in her book is very hard on the city and its inhabitants. She especially objected to the pigs' role as garbage collectors. (In those days, pigs roamed the streets freely, like sheep grazing.) Fanny felt most of the people she encountered were loud, dirty, vulgar, and fanatically patriotic. It is her vivid descriptions of the physical conditions and the people that give this book its historical and entertainment value.
> While she was living in Cinci, she opened a retail emporium and filled it with rather shoddy merchandise sent from England by her husband. She also attempted to bring culture to the inhabitants. Not surprisingly, both ventures failed.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Thank you Senator Sherrod Brown for voting against the resolution that targets and muzzles dissenting voices against the Iraq War. Stay strong for your Ohio Democrats. Move.on has a perfect right to speak its mind in behalf of the millions of Americans who are against the Iraq War.

As for Senator Voinovich, I will work as hard as I can here in Ohio to help replace you when it's your time for re-election. Your vote today in favor of the resolution was craven and shameful. Where were the voices and votes in the Senate when the Swiftboat team declared open season on Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and when Max Cleland was viciously attacked by Republicans in his home state of George? It's time for all good Americans to wake up and repudiate the anti-democratic senators--twenty-two of whom were cowardly Democrats--who voted for this scurrilous resolution today.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Free at Last

Tomorrow we can read Frank Rich again for free.

Today The New York Times corrected a gross error--the one they made two years ago when they put their columnists and other reporters behind a wall they called TimesSelect and slapped an annual charge of over fifty dollars for the privilege of reading them. Well, they've discovered that the money they made from subscribers doesn't equal the money they've lost from advertisers.

So tonight at midnight (Septemner 19, 2007), the entire Times will be free.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Betray-Us, Betray-Us

So much righteous steam steam has blown out of the media's outlets after Move-On had the nerve to suggest that General Petraeus has been "cooking the books" and is "at war with the facts." With their corporate blinders on the media criticizes Move-On for "embarrassing" the good general. But in truth, our cowardly media is betraying us just as surely as Petraeus and his Commander in Chief.

Petraeus the panderer, by saying what Bush wanted him to say or ordered him to say, has betrayed Americans at home and in Iraq. What his testimony last week basically told us is that he intends to keep our troops in Iraq for an indefinite future. We've devastated their country, killed and wounded over a million Iraqi people, and scattered millions more to the four winds. Displaced Iraqi young women are now working as prostitutes in Syria just to earn enough to keep families alive. Most Americans don't even know this because they don't like reading or hearing "unpleasant" news. We've planted dozens of huge military bases across Iraq and have just completed an obscenely humongous multi-billion-dollar American Embassy in Baghdad. With all that in place, of course we don't plan on leaving anytime soon. The billions of dollars going down the Iraqi drain could fund a universal health system here at home twice times over. We are horribly betrayed.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The International Association of Turtles

Yesterday I bought a new wallet. Well, not quite new, but it's in fine condition, and I'm happy to have it. Its supple black leather gleamed at me from the shelf of our local hospice's thrift shop and when I picked it up it felt soft and buttery. It's a Rolf--once the aristocrat of wallets. They don't seem to make them like that any more. I like a wallet to have plenty of credit card pockets, a roomy section to keep my huge pile of dollar bills in, and an attached change purse, When my last one --found ten yeas ago at an Akron tag sale-- fell apart I was forced to replace it with a shoddy little plastic and environmentally harmful one from Target. Lacking pockets and having a mingy little change purse it still cost $8.00. So when I found the Rolf at the Medina hospice shop I speedily paid the $1 they asked for it, brought it home, got out some saddle soap and cleaned it up. It looks divine now.

Then I made a little discovery . I found the name of the previous owner on cards she'd tucked way inside. One is her certificate of voter registration for 1987, and the other, dated 1964, is a membership card for the International Association of Turtles, signed by the Imperial Turtle. This card carried the following command:

We assume all prospective turtles own a Jack Ass. On this assumption is the reason for the password. This password must be given if you are ever asked by a new member, "Are you a Turtle?" You MUST THEN REPLY, "You bet your sweet ass I am." If you do not give the password in full because of embarrassment or some other reason, you forfeit a beverage of his choice. So always remember the password.

listed are several riddles that are part of a member's initiation and all of them are surprisingly risque for 1964. I'll include them in another posting.

The name of the previous owner I'll keep to myself. She may be still living, and I'd hate to embarrass her. But the first name is Ruth. .


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Perfect Symmetry

Really something! Perfect symmetry. Al Qaeda assassinates today Sheik Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi, the leader of the Anbar Province Sunnis --on the very day that Bush is going to tell the nation that things are improving in Iraq! Those cunning Iraqi insurgents. Bush has been touting this leader as a prime example of the new U.S. and Anbar Sunni truce. As a reward we've given them tons of money and guns. Somebody evidently didn't go for that kind of collaboration. and now the Sunni sheik is dust. This killing also happened a day after General Betray-us went to Congress and a day after a day after the memorials to Sept. 11. Oh those fiendish followers of Bin Ladin!
Every day a ghastly new chapter unfolds. When are Americans going to snap out of their perpetual snooze and demand a stop to all this and an impeachment of the president?.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Listen to Joe Biden

"The truth of the matter," said Biden today, who just returned from Iraq, "is that this administration's policy and the surge are a failure."

Listen to Joe Biden. Just returned from another tour of Iraq the Delaware senator is telling it like it is, unlike all the other senators and representatives who've come home from Baghdad mindlessly burbling on about the "progress" being made there. Biden, in his small state, is more able to meet with ordinary people on the street and get an earful from them. He's not isolated in Washington, as so many of our Congress people are.

Even with the Great Decider and our censored media keeping the whole truth from us, and Bush still, even today, connecting untruthfully 9/11 to Iraq, we know we have sentenced Iraq to unremitting chaos, from Baghdad to Basra and all the way over to Anbar Province. You can tell by Biden's face on Meet the Press today that he's shocked by what he has seen in Iraq. We've failed, he said in so many words, and he says the only kind of government in Iraq that has a chance is de-centralized, local-controlled government, town by town, village by village--under a very loose federal umbrella.

I believe Doomsday will come before the secretarian leaders in Baghdad will accept some kind of rule by unity or cohesion. They are the spawn of 900 plus years of religious separation and hatred and are unable to change.

Dame Mickey

Imagine Hollywood star Mickey Rooney, 86, cavorting onstage at the Sunderland Empire in Britain as a pantomime dame in Cinderella!

Londoners who want to see Mickey as an ugly sister will have a long distance journey ahead of them because the city of Sunderland is in the wildest, coldest, most windblown part of northeast England. . It should be worth it though because the Empire is historic and has been restored and is now in state-of-the-art.condition.

Rooney will be making his panto debut at the Empire beginning early December. His wife Jan will play the fairy godmother. Hope he stays in good health and wows those usually taciturn northerners.

From Wiki:

The dome on the 90ft tower featured a revolving sphere bearing the statue of Terpsichore, the Greek Muse of dance and choral song. These were removed during World War II for safety reasons, after a bomb which had fallen nearby rocked the building. The original statue is now located at the top of the main staircase, with a replica on the dome itself. The dome and tower have recently been refitted with a state-of-the-art LED and floodlight system that illuminates the main entrance in the evening.

For more information including description of the unique auditorium, go to Wikipedia
Sunderland Empire Theatre
Shown here are the Main Doors, with the secondary Stalls entrance to the left. The Box Office is located 20 yards down the street.
Country United Kingdom
Owned by City of Sunderland Council
Capacity 2000
Opened 1 July 1907
Previous names The Empire Palace

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Richardson Stumbles

Wonder how critiques like these will look when the primaries begin early next year. How many faux pas can a candidate make and still be considered viable? Here's Markos himself writing on Richardson's remarks yesterday.

More on Richardson

Tue Sep 04, 2007 at 10:02:41 AM PDT

In short, an RNN reporter asked Richardson if he would vote for the Iraq Supplemental that was about to come to a vote and had been dominating the news for days (if not weeks). His answer:

I'm just not familiar with the supplemental. Which one is that?

It was particularly unfortunate given that his overall answer to the question focused on a complete pullout from Iraq. Yet with that quote above he betrayed a shocking ignorance of the war debate and how it was playing out in DC, and the sort of weak political instincts that are mocked in this video. It's this ignorance of the current political climate that could explain why he's still using obsolete 90's-era, DLC-style, Democratic Party-bashing language when just about everyone else outside of the Bush Dogs has moved on. Perhaps that political tone deafness explains why his campaign's top aide has no problem going on Fox News to yuk it up with Ann Coulter.

Richardson is clearly a man of great accomplishment, the "CV candidate" of this election. But it's amazing how skills that have served him well at the congressional and state level, as well as on diplomatic missions, have served him so poorly on a national presidential stage.

Update: The campaign responds to Richardson's dreadful remarks about the Iowa caucuses (they're Constitutionally and Scripturally mandated), claiming it was a "bad joke".

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Democratic Candidate: Who Shall I Choose?

I'm still working on making up my mind on who to support among the Democratic presidential candidates. As a woman I would like to see a woman in the White House before I shuffle off this mortal coil, but that's not my whole consideration. I don't think the blogger jct on Daily Kos will mind my passing along his/her post today --not if it can assist voters as they study all the reasons why they should support one Democratic candidate over another. Some of these reasons are fluffy, and 3 and 10 are practically the same, but nevertheless a call to consider Edwards seriously is worth thinking about.

Top ten reasons I support Edwards

Sun Sep 02, 2007 at 05:57:21 AM PDT

For me it always comes back to Edwards, none of the other candidates come close. Here are my top 10 reasons for supporting him (in no particular order):

  1. He is out front and strongly pro-labor. He mentions the need to strengthen unions in every speech at every stop. Bonior, a great friend of labor, is his campaign manager. Who a candidate surrounds him or herself with shows who they are.
  1. He is out front and strongly against corporate power. He doesn't tiptoe around the issue by talking about how we have to tweak the rules, he calls it like it is.

[The system is] controlled by big corporations, the lobbyists they hire to protect their bottom line and the politicians who curry their favor and carry their water. And it's perpetuated by a media that too often fawns over the establishment, but fails to seriously cover the challenges we face or the solutions being proposed. This is the game of American politics and in this game, the interests of regular Americans don't stand a chance.

  1. His personal history shows he has always held these values. Coming out of law school he must have had his choice of jobs. In law school students are heavily steered towards corporate law. Instead, he chose to challenge the corporations on behalf of the average person.
  1. He is personally very appealing and this counts big time. In the studies cited in "The Political Brain" by Drew Westen it is one of the top reasons voters choose a candidate.
  1. He speaks to my heart when he talks about how America can be a leader in the world to help people. It answers a longing for the end of this nightmare of horrors being done in our name.
  1. He is working harder than anyone to get the nomination, as shown by his much more frequent appearances in the early primary states than the other candidates.
  1. His health care plan offers a government program that gives people the option to have health care run for people not profit. Sure, I'd prefer single payer, but, this is the best being offered by anyone but Kucinich (who has a truckload of other problems).
  1. He comes from a working class background.
  1. Elizabeth Edwards. It tells you a lot about a man who he chooses as his wife.
  1. Hey, if we have to look at someone's face for the next 4 (let's hope 8) years, let's have it be a handsome one.

So why do you all support Edwards?

Tags: John Edwards, 2008 elections, president, primaries, labor, unions, Recommended (all tags)

View Comments | 335 comments

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Royal Ballet's Cinderella

My goodness, August over and only one entry! How fast the month flew. Will September be better? Last night we watched Cinderella from Netflix, made in 1957 during the Royal Ballet's cross-country tour. . This was the late, great Frederick Ashton's version. Music distinctly Prokofiev. Ashton did the choreography and danced one of the ugly sisters--the short, shy one. Kenneth MacMillen did the tall skinny skapstick one. Both were glorious pantomime dames. NBC commissioned this special TV version to show off color, but it was preserved only in black and white, and grainy at that. But its quite the artifact now, accompanied by quaint commercials of the time period and a narrator's ghostly fifties voice. Margot Fonteyn looked so young and beautiful, but Michael Somes as Prince Charming showed how dull male dancers were pre-Nureyev.

Liked it so much I returned to the Netflix index for more Ashton and found his Tales of Beatrix Potter, which I've put at the top of my queue. In addition, there are loads of ballet films at Netflix.

Netflix description of The Tales of Beatrix Potter:

With Frederick Ashton's choreography, John Lanchbery's music and Reginald Mills' direction, the Royal Ballet Company brings the fascinating Beatrix Potter characters and stories to life. Jemima Puddle-Duck (Ann Howard), Hunca Munca (Lesley Collier), Squirrel Nutkin (Wayne Sleep), Jeremy Fisher (Michael Coleman), Peter Rabbit (Alexander Grant) and others grace the stage in this engaging collection of children's tales.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Dyed Hair Not Always a Picnic

Dear Diary:

I dropped into the hairdresser's this morning to give Lori my stylist the photo of the wedding dress crocheted by Alex. in 1971. As I walked though the door with yesterday's brassy orange-red-gold hair gleaming in the sun, Lori gaped in horror from across the room "Give me five minutes and we'll do something," she said as she finished up a man in the chair. I sent Paul over to McDonald's to have a coffee and Lori got to work. She applied a toner--blue and violet she said--and after it cooked for a while she shampooed it away and behold, my head was almost back to normal--not quite--but so much better it seemed a miracle. I asked her to cut it shorter and that helped by ,removing some of it. Then she told me that the entire staff had gone on a picnic yesterday to a local private park. They had won first prize in their Presidential (Bet Cuts) contest for best salon of the year. A substitute staff was working in their place, culled from other Best Cuts locations, . No wonder I didn't recognize any of them including the woman who tinted my hair--and she did try to her best to rectify the problem. Trouble was it didn't make much difference. The effect looked as if a bright reddish-brown feather duster had landed on my head. Lori, however, knew what to do. Moral of the story is, don't jump impulsively into a situation that could easily backfire on you.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Minneapolis Bridge Disaster

Dear Diary:

Such a horrifying disaster in Minneapolis. When I heard about it I thought, oh no, not another bridge disaster. They seem to happen once in a generation. It's the realization of bad dreams experienced by many of us who never feel comfortable crossing large spans.

I've been impressed by the city's very competent officials as they discuss the latest details on television, and we're also hearing about how much help they're getting from volunteers. They all exhibit the right Minnesota stuff as exemplified in the writings of Garrison Keillor.

There's a bridge in Canada that gives me the willies every time we cross it. It's the Burlington Bridge and goes way high over water near Hamilton. Here it is and it is a beauty, but to cross it you have to drive up a very high and long ramp--like climbing up into the sky.

I found a good picture of the Burlington but I don't yet know how to insert photos here. Must learn.

Bridge disasters have taken on a mythology of their own. One of the most famous is the Tay Bridge Disaster near Dundee in Scotland in 1879. The bridge fell during a violent hurricane and an entire train fell into the river Tay estuary taking 90 victims to their deaths still in their railway cars. This was a new bridge, over two miles long, and was opened with lots of hoopla as one of the great structures of the Victorian age. It lasted about a year

Oddles of websites. The attached shows how the media told the story in 1880. Surprisingly similar in spite of having to use drawings instead of photography/. Here's the link:

A bad poet wrote an epic poem. Here are the first lines:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away,
On the last Sabbath day of 1879
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

Then there's The Bridge at St. Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder. But that's fiction.

Alas! I am very sorry to say

Friday, August 3, 2007

A Poem I Liked Today


She peels cod fillets off the slab,
dips them in batter, drops them
one by one into the storm of hot fat.
I watch her scrubbed hands,
elegant at the work,

and think of the hands of the midwife,
stroking wet hair from my face as I sobbed and cursed,
calling me sweetheart and wheelling in more gas,
hauling out at last my slippery fish of a son.
He was all silence and milky blue. She took him away
and brought him back breathing,
wrapped in a white sheet. By then
I loved her like my own mother.

I stand here speechless in the steam and batter,
as she makes hospital corners of my hot paper parcel..

Jean Sprackland
The New Yorker, July 9 & 16, 2007

I turned to Poetry for information about Sprackland and and learned this:
Born 1962, she is the author of two books of poems and a collection of short stories, and has been shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, the Whitbread Prize and the T. S. Eliot prize. She was chosen as a Next Generation Poet in 2004.

There is an attention through Sprackland's work to the spark of mystery left in what we have allowed to seem domestic or ordinary.

She is a native of Burton on Trent, England.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Horrible Bush/Brown Press Conference

Horrors. I just watched a YouTube playback of yesterday's Bush /Brown press conference. Downright embarrassing--Brown answering questions directly and crisply and that fool Bush looking for all the world like an unprepared high school student trying to answer an oral exam question with reams of B.S. and ending by charmingly asking, "What was the question?" Everyone, including Brown and the press ignored once again the lack of the Emperor's new clothes. Bush in his rambling answers once again made up his own words (eg. suiciders), lectured us that his job is "hard work," managed to insult the Scottish people with stupid Scots jokes, and picked on one newsman for having a bald head. Ha. Ha. Very funny.
You can see this travesty on
But have a barf bowl at the ready.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Remembering Ingmar Bergman

I must comment on Ingmar Bergman too. I feel I own a piece of him , even if the plots in his "art" films were sometimes dark and deep and full of symbolism and his characters' motivations were obscure and often perverse.When we were young and impressionable his movies made us feel grown up and intellectual, and so what if we couldn't always figure out what was going on in them, we knew we weren't in Hollywood anymore.

Now Ingmar is dead and everywhere you look today online, on TV, and in the papers, Woody Allen and everyone else is remembering him. On an international scale he is being recognized for the greatness of his achievements. .Only the death of a reigning monarch or national ruler could surpass in volume all the reports, stories, reminiscences, pictures, and praise for the Swedish maker of films who left us at the age of 88.

Out there in the blogosphere thousands are debating the contributions Bergman made to film as an art--some are denigrating his emphasis on the dark side of human nature. But Bergman didn't make only dark and deeply symbolic movies. Could anyone else have brought off his beautiful version of The Magic Flute--all color and lightness of spirit? Mozart would have loved it. Most often recalled today has been The Virgin Spring.

I was struck by how many commented on their first encounter with a Bergman film, recalling where they saw it (for the most part in little ratty art houses back in the sixties). For us to see a Bergman picture back in the sixties meant schlepping across town to the grubby little art cinema on Cuyahoga Falls.

Netflilx makes available many of Bergman's best films including Torment, a picture made so early in his career that he only wrote the screen play. Somebody else directed. In it are the themes that will follow in many of his later pictures: tormented characters caught up in traps of good vs. evil, symbolism, class struggle, young vs. old, revenge. The plot is simple. Virginal high school boy on the verge of graduation falls for a woman in town who is not as good as she should be, only to find that his malicious schoolmaster has already ensnared the girl , setting her up as his mistress. Since the teacher has the power to make or break the student (exam results, etc.) the boy finds himself out of his depth. Tragedy ensues. Today it's remembered for turning unknown Mai Zetterling into a star. In her older years she too became a director.

I read today that Bergman had no delusions about life after death. In the final analysis his life satisfied him and he said he was content with that.

Tomorrow we'll get out the tape of Fanny and Alexander and play it once again.
For more on Bergman go to Wikipedia