Tuesday, January 30, 2007

An artist's tribute

Following her comment left on my blog, I discover an artist fusing art with social activism.

Do check out artist and horse-lover Ashley Cecil's tribute to Barbaro


The first horse that entered my consciousness though I was too young to have appreciated his greatness was the magnificent Irish racehorse, Arkle, a champion and legend. Another very famous Irish steeplechaser was Shegar, though he was stolen in his prime from his stable and never recovered--presumed shot when the thieves (many theories abound as to who they were) could not get the owners (a consortium) to pay the two million pound ransom they were demanding.

The next legend was the diminutive Stroller (14.2 hands), a show-jumper ridden by Marion Coakes who was famous when I was a boy. God, I loved watching the spellbinding beauty as the pair of them soared with ease over the jumps at various competitions including the great win at Hickstead. (He died in 1986 of a heart attack at the age of 36.)

Captivating me after that was Red Rum. I was still a teenager and he won the Grand National three times and all of Britain and Ireland loved him. I wagered for the first time in my life on him and won a tenner. (He died at age 30 in 1995 and is buried near the starter post at Aintree.)

And then came Pennsylvania's Barbaro. How we rooted for him to win the triple crown and how we watched in agony as he sustained a terrible injury during the initial stages of the race and had to be withdrawn.

I was filled with respect for his owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, who did not bow to the call of greed by having him destroyed as so many owners do in order to cash in their multi-million dollar insurance policy. They knew their horse. They knew his indomitable spirit and will to live. They loved him.

And he improved, thanks to the care of his wonderful vet Dr. Richardson and the team at Penn's veterinary medicine department, and we all believed he was going to win his fight and retire to the meadow, retire just as Smarty Jones did the previous year, retire as is the right of all good racehorses.

It was not to be. Another infection came and he tried to overcome the odds. But it was not to be. On this day of first snow in the commonwealth, Pennsylvanians learned at ten o' clock in the morning from a sad yet resigned co-owner and from an emotional vet that it was 'enough' and they'd put their beloved horse and spirited hero, Barbaro, to sleep. He'd fought but in the end could not overcome this new infection arising from that complex fracture he'd sustained on that fateful day at The Preakness. He'd had good days during this extended eight months of life, but he'd also had much pain and enough was enough.

Farewell trusty Barbaro

Monday, January 29, 2007

The visit

Charles and Camilla flew into Philly from London on Friday night on a British Airways airbus. He didn't want to take a private chartered flight as he was mindful of protecting the environment. They were in town to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Academy of Music and, apparently, it's been one hundred and forty seven years since a Prince of Wales visited the city, officially. They holed up in the Four Seasons hotel on Friday night, then did a tour of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall the following day followed by the event at the Academy.

Coverage of the visit was by our local 'fires, shootings, murders and storm warnings' media and milked extensively, though the number of welcoming American 'royalty groupies' looked to be scant no matter how diligently they tried to disguise it. (We also had to endure a barrage of advertisements featuring an American male actor attempting to speak in a "By Jove" upper-class English accent with the purpose of flogging the Philly Inquirer--I think it was the Inquirer.) One young couple walking briskly past the Four Seasons entrance on Friday evening--the coldest day on the East coast thus far this year and the only people braving the elements--were stopped abruptly by a reporter and asked, "Are you here to see Prince Charles?"
"No," the woman said. "We're going into the bar next door. Why, is he in town?"

Predictably, the local media resorted to every conceivable cliche to highlight the irony of members of the Brit royal family taking a tour of America's cherished sites of liberty and revolution the following day. The national media appeared indifferent though, allocating only a twenty second spot to show a fleeting image of a hatless, smiling Camilla and Charles visiting the Liberty Bell--I thought I saw Camilla tenuously extend her gloved hand to give it a pat or a poke at one point as if taking the measure of the crack's severity--which I guess spoke volumes about the importance of the visit in the eyes of Americans. Also very predictable was the throng of members of the silver-haired 'Brits living in exile' groups waiting to cheer them as they passed by aboard the 'Duck'(Philly's amphibious half boat, half van tourist vehicle), many of the men wearing tartan kilts and head dresses. Okay! Okay, I'm joking about Camilla riding a tacky Duck--there's a limit to being environmental.

From Philly, Charles and Camilla boarded a train--a private one, not the Acela Express--to New York City where they toured a charter high school in Harlem before they dropped by the Harvard Club for a drink and a nosh while picking up an environmental award from Al Gore. At one point, I laughed heartily when a journalist asked a young African American woman standing outside the charter school what she thought of the royal visit to Harlem.

"I'm so happy to be here," she said. "It's historical...I never thought I'd get to shake hands with Prince Charles and the Queen."

Saturday, January 27, 2007

From her heart

One of my Gather friends, the poet Barbary Chaapel, wrote an article recently about having a heart attack. As the symptoms of male and female heart attacks can be markedly different, she would like to share her experience so that women can be more aware of the condition.

Here is her article in full:


Somewhere in this hospital, someone is baking

A blueberry muffin for my breakfast.

I'm allowed out of bed today

To sit in my corner window, wish

Upon the white-stars-falling-snow-storm,

Breath in the scent of potted white hyacinth

Wrapped in purple paper on the cold window sill.

We’ve been told there are differences in men’s heart attacks and women’s heart attacks. Now I know first hand. Here are some of the things I observed or learned from my heart attack:

* An elephant did not sit on my chest.

* The EKG at the ER did not show my heart attack.

* My mysterious, lower leg pain that had made me cry in the night never
returned once the stent was in place.

* My fatigue for the past year had a reason.

* Those previous pains that I had last May and October, lasting half hour, Was Not a
panic attack!

* Chronic stress will eventually try to kill you.

* The medical staff at the ER really does move as fast as they do in TV
dramas. Thank heavens!

ATTACK OF THE HEART: From A Feminine Viewpoint

On January 17th, 2007 I was standing at my kitchen sink, doing dishes and looking out the window at a green cardinal in the butterfly bush, puffed up from the cold. Bill was cleaning Tom’s kitty litter. Ordinary day. I began to have piercing pain in the middle of my chest, radiating through to my upper back. My shoulders and upper arms felt dead with pain in my elbows. The pain immediately spread to my neck and jaw. My upper teeth ached like a severe toothache. I had a drenching cold sweat. I became nauseous.

Bill asked 911 or drive? I said drive. Our hospital is thirty miles away and takes one hour driving time because of our road terrain. We live on a one lane dirt road in mountain-curving country.

We decided long ago if possible in an emergency one of us would drive the other to the ER. An ambulance would first have to find our unnamed road, then their policy would be to drive us to our nearest, tiny hospital, which would not have a cardiac doctor on staff.

Luckily, the roads were bare of ice or snow. Bill put on the Jeep’s emergency
blinkers and prayed coal trucks, timber trucks, other drivers would pull off the road and let him pass them. For the most part, they did so. It took us 45 minutes to reach the ER.

Once in the ER a flurry of activity began for me. The EKG did not show a heart attack, but the lab tests and my own demeanor showed the attack was still in progress. The heart catherization and stent emplacement in the 100% blocked artery gave me immediate relief!

Five days later I am home. I will celebrate Valentine’s Day this year on a
different level, sending love and profound thanks to those who saved me, to family and friends.

And love to my own heart.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Stirring memories

Been reading John Grogan's Marley and Me (he's a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer) while on the elliptical at the gym. It's about he and his family's life with their labrador and it's a very interesting and entertaining read because their dog was large for his size and a bit mental. I'm coming now toward the end and Marley is old, arthritic and coming to the end of his life.

Already, I've begun sniffing with occasional hot leakage from the corners of my eyes while on the machine and doing my best to conceal it all so that people--especially Hornet who may see it as weakness and move in to gloat!!!--on the adjacent machines don't think I'm mental. It's hard to maintain a stiff upper lip because his descriptions--the prose is spare and pointed--and the dog's condition are bringing back stinging memories of what we went through during Spice's final days almost a year ago.

Worse, I'm finding it increasingly hard to open the book because I know what's coming and dreading the moment I turn the page where it's described. But so is life, I suppose.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

In the House last night

Regardless of whether one is a Democrat, Republican or Independent, last night's State of the Union address underscored something I think we do take for granted in the United States, namely that we live in a stable democracy. Sure it's flawed and under constant threat from the insidious encroachment and corrupting effects of 'big money', unscrupulous politicians and lobbyists--most of whom are from my profession, unfortunately. But nevertheless it is a democracy that functions and we are free to pursue happiness and do as we please so long as we do not act outside the boundaries of the rule of law. And yes, there are other models of democracy, but I do believe the American model is one of the most tested, vibrant and, because of America's current position as the sole superpower, subject to extreme vitriol and ridicule when its appointed leaders make mistakes.

Last night as I watched George W. Bush walk into the chamber of the House of Representatives, we could see the embodiment of our democratic institutions. The three pillars of American democracy--judges of the Supreme Court in their flowing black robes, members of both chambers of the legislature, and members of the executive as represented by Bush and his cabinet--were gathered to hear about the state of the union. For the first time, George W. Bush entered the chamber with another political party in control of the legislature and paid his respects to a Madame Speaker, the first woman ever to be third in line to the Presidency. That shift in political power had occurred at the ballot box and not the battle field. He delivered his speech in a more conciliatory tone than in the past and the opposition gave standing ovations when they agreed with what he said and remained respectfully silent when they didn't. The shift in power and gathering of the three branches occurred just as the founding fathers intended all those years ago.

I think we forget all these basic truisms because we're so focused on the detritus of living our lives and forget about the Constitution. I think we forget that we are all Americans at the end of the day regardless of our political persuasion and that our objectives are the same----at least the majority constituting fair-minded, rational Americans--that we are working for the greater good and prosperity of America and for all Americans, working to make the world a better place to live, that we know our system is flawed and corrupt and constantly has to be tweaked and improved, but its framework is rock solid and does work. Coming from Northern Ireland, I've seen another type of democracy firsthand that doesn't work because one of the political parties refuses to participate in the process with integrity because they want back their absolute power, want to bring down the government. They adhere to a warped ethos of 'no surrender' and, as a result, no true and lasting progress can be made for the benefit of the citizenry as a whole. In short, they are not mindful and do not care for the betterment of their population as a diverse whole.

The same applies to the Middle East whose leaders regard democracy as a word to be feared and spurned except in the case of a smattering of states. Often, I try to imagine Arab populations watching the results of an American election coming in on election night and wonder whether they feel a sense of awe when they see political power transfer from one party to the other and next morning see us getting up and going about our business as normal. I also try to imagine what they feel when they watch the State of the Union address and see the three branches of government gathered in the chamber. This year, I wondered too about their thoughts when they saw Nancy Pelosi stand up and wield the gavel to bring the House to order. I wondered if these concepts are so alien they don't even think about it, or do they hunger for their own version of democracy. Maybe they're not even allowed to see the American political process in action, although I believe the totalitarian regimes such as that existing in Saudi Arabia and Iran can't restrict the programming on television as they used to do.

In any event, I'm happy to have been born and live in democracies no matter how flawed. But I really do wonder what the everyday Arab thinks...

Monday, January 22, 2007

Whoopi fun

I was listening to Wakeup with Whoopi with Whoppi Goldberg and her co-host Cubby on the radio this morning, as I do when I'm not listening to NPR. She's hilarious, good-spirited unless it's railing against something she doesn't like such as NYC's mayoral office's recent decision to close down a respected, well known hospital when so many poor people are going without proper medical treatment and she was encouraging New Yorkers to attend a protest rally (the show's out of New York City but syndicated throughout the country as it deals with topical items that are national in scope) and am glad she's back on the airwaves. This morning--I guess flowing from Hillary Clinton's decision to run for president this weekend--she's decided she should perhaps run as well. (Her attitude to national politics on the show is to 'just add a sprinkle because we don't want to scare the people, do we Cubby?') Cubby thought running would be a bad idea as Whoopi has skeletons, but she retorted something to the effect that we all have something in our closets and the self-righteous people who threw stones at President Clinton got caught up in the fire because all she could hear was the sound of breaking windows all over the US at the time. Check out her website, which I'm providing because according to Whoopi if you add an 'e' or another 'i' to her name by accident, you'll end up at a whole different kind of Whoopi.

Regarding my own website, this weekend was a bit of a milestone. My publisher's website guy had sent me an email before Christmas that my website domains were up for renewal and, after much deliberation, I decided I wanted to take over responsibility for my site. So, after much backing and forthing and setting up a new hosting account and having the domains transferred and renewed and him sending things called FTP files--sounded very scary and something I wanted to avoid getting involved in because I dislike dealing with technical stuff--to the new site, the transfer is complete and I am now utterly in charge of www.soncalledgabriel.com and damianmcnicholl.com. In the future I think I'll have my website redesigned around my name as many authors do and its current content revolving around the novel will become one element of the website design.

Since I've also recently upgraded my blog, I now have the possibility to transfer its contents so that the blog will also reside within the website at some point. But that's down the line and I'm in no rush. We'll see. Baby steps.

Friday, January 19, 2007

There are consequences

Grey's Anatomy star, Isaiah Washington, admits he has some major issues he needs to address. In October, he attacked co-star Patrick Dempsey after Dempsey was angry that Washington called another of their co-stars, TR Knight, a 'faggot' when Washington was angry about being kept waiting on the set.

While it was common knowledge among the cast that Knight was gay, it was not common knowledge in Hollywood and Washington's public outburst effectively 'outed' him in a profession that is at best squeamish about having gay actors play leading roles. Being a human being as well as an actor, Knight felt he could not allow the slur to pass without comment and stood up to the plate to announce in an interview with People Magazine that he is gay and Washington was out of line.

Even more shocking, Washington (who'd apologized to the cast and suits at ABC in October about his outburst) showed he'd no balls and that money and retaining his job were of more importance than personal principle because he denied calling Knight a 'faggot' when asked about the October incident by a reporter as the entire cast was interviewed about their win backstage at the Golden Globes.

I do like Grey's Anatomy this season--last season, I stopped watching it as the plot lines were a bit too mushy and maudlin but am glad I gave it a second chance the writers are back on form--and like to forgive, but I think in this instance Washington must go. In America, we keep saying 'there are consequences to our actions' and this is a case where Washington must be made to pay the price. His apology in October appears to have been insincere.

It is not acceptable to use the 'N' word and it is not acceptable to use the 'faggot' word, either. Children have been beaten up and called 'faggot' for years in playgrounds--in fact, it's now conceivable Mr. Washington could have been one such bully during his school days--and Matthew Shepard was tied up, tortured and killed in a lonely Wyoming pasture for being a faggot. Have we not moved forward?

A producer of the show is reported as stating it's not acceptable to fire Washington and to think about replacing him with another black actor. She holds the view that that is insulting to blacks. Obfuscating or attempting to mitigate the real issue, HOMOPHOBIA, by introducing the issue of black discrimination is at best disingenuous. Forget about the tons of money you're earning and try and set the world right in this matter. It is good Mr. Washington is showing a willingness to change his attitudes but there are consequences and the price must be fully paid.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A lesson now learned:Part I

I'm Irish and am burdened with what I suspect to be an Irish Catholic complex that I can't quite throw off, but am making strides to do so. This complex relates to a reticence about telling another Irish person--even an Irish American--about one's achievements, which in my case is the publication of my novel, A Son Called Gabriel. As I said, this complex is solely limited to Irish people and thus indefensibly bizarre. I imagine it comes from growing up in a conservative tradition that, while wholesome and caring in general, has a tendency to regard any form of talking about one's abilities and successes as boastful and arrogant.

In my day--though I do not believe it to be the case now, at least with regards to children--a person was given short-shrift by a quick-tongued family member or jealous, tongue-wagging neighbor if they did not qualify their success in academia, business or sports with a sally to the effect 'I was lucky, that's all' or 'it was all to do with prayer' or 'I went to Lough Derg...or Knock...or Lourdes, etc.' In other words, for the recipient of the success, it was just not done to say 'No, I wasn't lucky. I really worked bloody hard!' or 'yes, I do deserve it' or 'I did make a lot of money in the business because I knew what I was doing, etc.'

Americans, by contrast, are so confident and refreshing in this regard. They simply announce they did something great and it it is not mean to be boastful (okay, with some people it is, but we all know that type of arrogant jerk and they're found in every culture.) In other words, the success is feted by friends and family alike and no-one talks behind the successful person's back about how 'full of shit they are' or 'where did he or she get the brains to make money, because it sure didn't come from the father or mother's side of the family?' or 'Pure luck is how he got it.'

In my case, this complex manifests in another insidious way, which is the true subject of this post. I have a reluctance (even, perhaps, a shyness) to tell Irish people who inquire about the nature of the novel about what the plot is about because, well...er...ahm, it deals with sex including homosexuality, the former being a difficult and the latter taboo topics in the Irish milieu. Often I resort to banality or avoidance as a means to stop having to talk at length about the work and my writing of it (i.e.) I tell them in a roundabout manner about the plot, trumping up the Irish political and heterosexual issues and rarely mentioning the fact that the boy is struggling with his sexuality and this afraid and confused.

Why do I do this with my fellow countrymen and women? Is it because I'm afraid? Is it because I, too, am burdened with an inability to talk maturely about sexual matters and divergence? Is it because I wish to protect those whom I know are likely to be conservative and narrow-minded?

The answer, am now convinced, is a bit of all of this.

At a Barnes and Noble signing during the book's softcover campaign, a man with a weather-beaten face entered the store. He greeted me (the table was near the door) and began to chat. I learned he was a brickie and from Northern Ireland. He picked up a copy of the novel and saw it's subject-matter was Irish. He appeared delighted. As we conversed further, I concluded he was from nearby where I grew up--even mentioned a name I knew but pretended I didn't--and began to sweat.

"So what's your book about?"
"It's a young boy's coming of age...and there's a dark secret in the family," I said.
"Would I like it?"
"I...I'm not sure. There's some complicated issues in it."
He laughed, then scoured the blurbs and flap copy. "Any sex?"
A surge of warmth occurred under my armpits. "Nothing graphic."
Well, I'll tell you what. I'm looking for a book for my girlfriend but I'm going to come back for one. You'll sign it for me?"
I willed the remaining hour to fly so I could pack up and leave. He didn't appear and I began to relax. Twenty minutes later, he returned, picked up a copy, and asked me to sign it."
My mind must have been working overtime in his absence and out came, "I don't think it'll be your sort of book."
"What do you mean?"
"It deals...it deals with a sexually confused boy in part?"
"What...he's growing up gay or something?"
A silence occurred. I watched the people milling by the "Summer reads" table while he examined inside the book, flicking through and stopping to read passages here and there."
"Okay, do you sign it for me now or do I have to pay for it first?"
I was shocked. "Oh, I'll sign it now."
"Thanks...and we're not all backward, you know?" He grinned.
"What do you mean?"
"My accent might be broad and all, but I've been around quite a bit and I know a thing or two about life. I know about gays."
I was stunned. I'd concluded he was a brickie, Catholic and conservative, was probably a guy who'd tortured the lives of kids at his school who he thought might be gay.
"And my girlfriend will like it, too. Can you put her name in the inscription too?"

As I watched him walk toward the cashier, my mind tried to process what had occurred and how it was me who's made the assumptions. A lesson had been taught. But had it been absorbed. Had I overcome a scourge of my upbringing? No. That became apparently when a senior Irish American man befriended me at the 'Y' and recently found out from someone I was a writer who's published an Irish novel.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Dues got

I was delighted that Helen Mirren won not one Golden Globe, but two. First, she won for her role as Queen Elizabeth 1 and then later in the evening for her role as Queen Elizabeth II. I laughed when she said Queen Elizabeth already has her orb so I'm going to keep this.

I was also delighted when America Ferrara won for her role as Ugly Betty, which I was reluctant to watch initially when it first appeared on ABC but then got hooked when there was nothing to watch one night on the telly and got hooked. It's full of good, intelligent writing, certainly enough to make you forgive the occasional cliche and forays into stereotype. Ms. Ferrara's speech was full of genuine surprise, delight and gratitude--the sort of raw emotions that make you joyful that they won--not the usual professional litany of 'thanks yous' and 'this is a thrill.' The same applies in equal measure to Jennifer Hudson, who made a class speech when she won for her role as Effie in Dreamgirls.

Not so, the acceptance 'speech' of Mr. Baron-Cohen who won for his role in Borat, a film I haven't seen yet but will. Hey, the guy's funny, witty and, yes, being earthy is part of his stichk, but he should know when to switch off the Borat alter ego, reign in the drive toward eccentricity, and accept a prize with a bit of grace. He should also know to take the measure of his audience, in this case an American audience. For five minutes, we had to listen to him skewer his uncomfortable, black-tied sidekick and talk about his having to endure the guy's testicles against his face and the guy's personal smells from between his legs, etc. You get the visual, I'm sure. Cracking one joke made the Globe audience laugh, but then it quickly became uncomfortable when he went on and on...well, like Borat...and he was eventually 'played off' and had to start his litany of 'thank yous' to the rising strains of the orchestra. I just wish he'd taken his cue from Meryl Streep--she appeared on stage earlier--about how to slip into a role and how long to play it during an acceptance speech.

The Joan Rivers and daughter team were on the telly this morning attempting to render humorously low brow opinions on the fashions and accessories worn by the women (and a few men) at last night's event. She was somewhat subdued for Joan, though still pushy because she was in a lather to get it in that she and her daughter (she's started to Botox or something now too judging by her peculiar lip profile) were wearing some kind of silver material in their dresses just like all the other hot actresses who were doing so at the awards. No matter how hard I try, I can't somehow force myself to peel my eyes off Joan's face when she's on the telly. It's just so stretched, so flawless, so astonishing.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Getting their dues

The buzz is certainly that Helen Mirren and Judi Dench are strong contenders to win the Best Actress award at the Golden Globes for their roles in The Queen and Notes on a Scandal. I'm routing for either of them, Mirren because I saw the movie and loved it and Dench because, while I haven't seen the movie, I know what a tremendous actress and how professional she is and know it would be well deserved.

I watched Mirren last week on the telly when she was interviewed by Morrie Shafer of 60 Minutes and the chemistry between them as they ribbed one another was palpable.

At one point Mirren, who was born Ilynea Lydia Mironoff, walked through the working-class seaside resort town (Southend-on-sea) where she was raised--her father was a penniless Russian aristocrat and her mother a working-class woman--and she said her family were always regarded as a bit eccentric by the neighbors. As a kid, she and worked as a 'blagger' at the fun-fare and demonstrated how she was required to attract passing members of the public to the rides by shouting out something nonsensical to them. When they'd approach and ask what she said or wanted, she'd repeat the nonsense and then quickly segue into a spiel inviting them to try whatever ride she was trying to sell. Great training for the theatre, she went on to say.

At one point, Morrie asked if she or her husband ever regretted not having children. Looking him straight in the eye, she replied 'absolutely not' and went on to say that they'd have prevented her from the freedom to follow her path in life. It's a decision shared by some married couples I've got friendly with here in the states.

I could almost hear the collective clucks of disapproval from many women (and men) who believe the chief purpose of life is to marry and have children--especially some demanding parents who believe they have an unassailable right to become grandparents (some of whom were lousy parents, it might be said). I've even come across such people on occasions, people who look at you oddly when you say you've never wanted kids. So I admired Mirren's assertive honesty and conviction here. Not everyone is destined to have or want children and there's nothing the matter with people that don't...or their articulation of it.

On the other hand, Dench has one daughter (Finty) by her late husband, Michael Williams--also a great actor who died of cancer six years ago--and they're very close, so I can imagine her saying the opposite of what Helen Mirren said if she were asked the obverse question. I've seen Finty accompany her mother to the various awards ceremonies. This morning Dench was interviewed for a piece on Sunday Morning on CBS and there was a very poignant moment when she said she's been working very hard ever since the death of her husband. When asked if this was her coping mechanism, there was a pregnant pause that spoke volumes.

It's tremendous to see older actresses celebrated--Dench is 72 and says she has no intention of quitting--and respected for their craft and getting their dues because I find the tendency in America to exalt young actresses and put the older ones out to pasture very shallow and, frankly, despicable.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Royal dilemma, what, what?

In the US, we're getting our share of glimpses of Prince William's attractive long-term girlfriend, Kate Middleton, at the moment because of intense speculation (and there's still six months before the 'silly season' due to lack of news begins over there) as to whether he'll pop the question and thus make her the Queen of England twice removed. Apparently the paparazzi are hounding the poor woman every waking moment, though we're told she's handling it with poise and dignity. Yesterday, I caught a snippet on the telly of her coming out of her apartment, strutting down the sidewalk, and getting into her VW Golf in a manner eerily reminiscent of Diana, though with one exception in that she was smiling.

As she's not entitled to any security from the Royal family--unless she's out clubbing with William and then it comes as a sort of add-on--the Queen has in effect asked the paparazzi to bugger off and leave the girl alone. Known to be a frugal woman who once is reputed to have asked her guests to put on an extra sweater when they complained they were 'a bit cold, Ma'am' while staying with her at Balmoral, she may be concerned she might have to splurge on a bit of security for the lass. I can just imagine the conversation between her and Philip.

The Queen pours herself some Rice Krispies from the tupperware, adds milk and takes a seat at the table where Prince Philip is reading the newspaper. She turns her gaze to watch the news on the telly and sees Kate surrounded by photographers yet again.
"This really is so like the Diana situation...when she was hounded so mercilessly by the paparazzi, isn't it dear?" she says to her husband. "It's very worrying. We can't have all that happening again."
"What's that, Cabbage?"
"The way this poor girl...Kate...is hounded...so utterly familiar, isn't it?"
"I do hope William comes to his senses soon." He peers over his newspaper at the telly. "How long's it been now? Two years? Time to stop sowing his wild oats and find the proper sort of woman....a woman commensurate with his station"
"Yas, but they're getting hard to find...and I don't think we can say anything too strong about that anymore."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, his mother was a commoner, too."
"There's commoners and then there's commoner's, Cabbage. Diana was a Spencer, not the offspring of merchants."
"I suppose."
"No supposing about it. We're the Royal family and, as such, the country expects us to do the right thing. We can't have bring someone in whose grandparents were coal-miners, can we now? We can't have someone in whose grandparents stood downstairs by the fountain to cheer and clap when your mother and father walked out on the balcony."
"No, I suppose not. Do you think we should extend security to her, though?...until William...comes round."
"What? I think not. Only members of The Family get security." He emits a snort of laughter. "Ask Tony when you see him next. Tell him to pay."
"Hmmm." She flicks her eyes back the telly. "She doesn't dress like a Sloan even...jeans, jeans, jeans. Not once have I seen a decent tweed skirt."
"How could she? She's not even a Sloan."
"The parents are self-made though, dear. This is the new Britain. You don't think it would help The Family's image a little if I dipped into my purse a little for her security?"
Philip guffaws. "Maybe we've got a few pieces from her parent's catalog in this very room."
The Queen looks around her. "Very much doubt it, dear...I don't believe they deal in tupperware." She sighs. "Sometimes I think I should just let Charles take over the business."
"Don't go all dark on me, old girl."
"No really, I mean it. No one understands how hard it is...well, except perhaps for Helen."
"Mirren. Remember how she said in that interview we saw...you know...how she's changed her mind about me. She knows now how hard it is for me and appreciates the institution."
"Royals can only understand other Royals, dear. She's an actress. She knows you'll see the interview and is angling for a spot on next year's Birthday list."
"Do you think so?"
"Of course. Actors are all the same...all self-serving. I hope you're not softening, Cabbage. I was not portrayed flatteringly."
"No, you weren't, were you?" A silence occurs. "I am just so tired of eating Rice Krispies. I think we should move to cornflakes or Weetabix after these are finished. What do you think?"

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Penn Epiphany

Last Saturday night was our annual Epiphany Party (12th day of Christmas a.k.a the visit of the Magi to adore the baby Jesus a.k.a Little Christmas throughout Latin America, Puerto Rico, Spain, Italy and I think France, too) and it was a hoot. In Ireland, it's not a party event, rather a Holy Day of Obligation involving a pop-in to church for mass. Because Larry's Puerto Rican, we celebrate and hold the party on the actual January 6th night regardless as to which night of the week that date falls on.

The party has become a sort of unofficial end-of-party-season event among our friends and, we always vow to keep it 'small this year'--more so on my part--but invariably never do. This year we had forty guests and we keep the list reflective of the neighborhood we live in so we have gays, lesbians and straights, Christians, Jews and atheists in attendance, all sharing a love of good food and alcohol including vino, lashings of vino. Larry, of course, served up the traditional Pernil and rice with pigeon peas--this year with a bit of a twist because he added pieces of dried mango and apricot that made it even more yummy. In addition we serve sauerkraut--which is my Irish contribution to the bill of fare!!!!!

Next morning, we rose early to travel up to the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) Museum where David Silverman is the co-curator of the exhibit Amarna, Ancient Egypt's Place in the Sun. It's sort of an appetizer to the national Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibit he's curating that begins at the Franklin Institute in February when it moves to Philly from Los Angeles. David and his partner Gary had organized a private tour of the exhibit--before it opened at 1.00 pm to the public--with brunch afterwards, and all twenty guests were required to be in the museum lobby at 10.30 a.m. precisely to keep things on track. Both Larry and I are geographically challenged and it didn't help Gary had inadvertently written among the directions 'Take 676 East towards Philly Airport....when he meant 676 West." We whizzed up I95, luckily encountered no traffic cops, and the Egyptian Gods were with us because no matter how many mistakes we made--and there were many including a foray into one of Philly's dodgier neighborhoods--and much cursing, we still made it into the museum carpark at 10.28 where an ashen-faced, nervous Gary was meeting other arriving guests, having just been informed twenty minutes earlier by one of the party that his directions were wrong. It all went well and everyone, bar two, got there on time.

What a magnificent exhibit. Truly fascinating. What was most enlightening was how Tut's father, Akhenaten, moved the Royal Court to Amarna and then proceeded to extinguish the ancient Egyptian's worship of many Gods in favor of a single God, which was the sun known as Aten. Moreover, he consolidated his power by stating that worship of Aten could only be achieved through him as Pharaoh--only the Royal family and priests could enter the temples--which in effect elevated him and his family (including Queen Nefertiti) to the level of a God. In this way, the Pharaoh became divine. Effectively, he established a new religion with the Royal Family at its center and the God Aten was no longer depicted as an ornate figure--similar to the ones we see depicted in the tombs--but rather as a simple disc with sun rays that ended in hands reaching to the Pharaoh and his family's uplifted hands. Akhenaten's 'renaissance' if you will was short-lived however, because his son, the boy king Tutankhamun, came to understand his father had been wrong and returned the Royal court to the ancient capitals and reinstated worship of all the Egyptian Gods, restoring Ra to his role as the supreme God, the God of creation.

And as I was about to leave the exhibit--my tongue already anticipating the first refreshing slake of ice-cold Mimosa--and was peering at the God Amun's miniature statue (the one featured on the Museum's exhibit details page), I had an epiphany. I thought about our own modern day relationship to God (or lack of it) in His/Her/Its many manifestations and how the various world religions have been manipulating and packaging God and associated images to their audiences in order to serve their ends throughout the millenia. Are they so very different to Akhenaten?

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Friday, January 05, 2007

A rolling stone can indeed gather dross

Often when I've had enough of reading, I like to sit on my recliner and watch the telly. Last night was one of those nights. I'd read quite a few pages of the latest book--Marley and Me--which I'm enjoying quite a bit. It's about a Philadelphia Inquirer correspondent, John Grogan, and his family (born subsequent to the dog's arrival) living with their incorrigible Labrador "Marley" in Florida and his wife and his attempts to 'house break' him.

It's coming around to mid-season for the networks and ABC, obviously deciding they wanted to be first out the gate and gain a bit of traction before the competition splays their wares, introduced a couple of new shows, including a comedy called The Knights of Prosperity. As I'd seen advertisements plastered on buildings in Manhattan when I was up a few weeks ago as well as having watched a few subsequent trailers, I was intrigued and decided to watch it. The premise is five or six characters (including a couple of janitors) decide they've had enough of their work, wish to make money fast to satisfy their divergent needs, and finally decide to rob Mick Jaguar when the principal character sees him on telly showing his luxurious Manhattan penthouse.

What an unsalvageable disaster. (I knew things weren't promising when the opening scene took place in a lavatory and it rapidly went down the spout from there.) I really like the Rolling Stones and Mick Jaguar, but I wonder what possessed him (other than perhaps to satisfy ego or a need to generate more PR because Mick's reputation as a shrewd businessman as well as a competent musician is well known) to get involved with such pitiful mediocrity. Mick plays himself and is seen describing his luxurious kitchen as he bounces through it, then acting mean to his androgenous Japanese valet--for example, kicking a soccer ball and hitting him in the face--and finally tossing tennis balls while dressed in gold-colored trousers into his indoor swimming pool where about six of his dogs are exercising. I've got a sense of humor and, had any of it been a teeny weeny bit funny, I'd have laughed.

In an attempt to make the sketch palatable to an American audience, who would find a show premised on robbing people blind, even rich Brits living in Manhattan, very alarming, the sub par writers toss in their own tennis ball of dialogue to the effect that some of the 'profits' will go to various charities selected by the robbers, including 'feline aids.' Right, you now see what I mean about the degree of wit and humor. Nor, can I assure you, was any cliche left unvisited. We were treated or must endure (depending on one's sensibilities) a scene wherein the male robbers salivate over a voluptuous Colombian robber--speaking in a painfully exaggerated Hispanic accent in case one missed where she hailed from--who leaves her waitressing job at a diner and is running away from a fellow countryman and drug baron called Henri, a scene of the unattractive male lead bending over during a planning meeting only to have one of his co-robbers point a laser pin light at his sizable rump while the others chuckle and, of course, a lacklustre scene of a botched attempt to gain entry into the building.

Someone I know was offered a job at one of these Hollywood 'writing mills' a few years ago and helped write a few episodes of a comedy that was scheduled to be aired mid-season. He hated it and the show didn't make it, either. Neither will this one. Mick's appearance--it may be only for one or two shows because I think Fran Drescher and Sally Jesse Raphael are also in line to get robbed, though I think the show will be canned before those air--can not save it from the Manhattan garbage heap where it truly belongs. Down the line, Mick may well come to count himself fortunate that his error in calculation was not viewed by many in the United States or that the show never made syndication and thus eligible to be offered for sale in his native England. I really do hope he'll stick to the stage he knows best in the future and leave comedy to the professional clowns.

Now back to Marley and me.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The deer hunter

The man who used to hunt on our land dropped by today. (Back when the land was still a ninety acre farm and woods, he called and asked if he could hunt for deer during the 'shotgun and rifle' season and Larry agreed provided he would post "NO HUNTING' signs on the property because he was fed up with drunken louts from nearby towns arriving to 'hunt' without asking permission, necessitating his having to contact the Pennsylvania game warden for our area who came out to arrest or fine them on a number of occasions--a dangerous proposition because many of them were so pissed they couldn't distinquish what was animal and what was human on the approach.

After a house was constructed on the last lot two years ago, it was no longer possible to hunt because of the Commonwealth's laws related to shotgun bullet distances, etc. and the hunter thanked us for the years he was permitted to hunt on the land and went on his way. (Twice a year, he used to arrive with delicious German sausages and bread from a bakery nearby from where he lives, as well as large bottles of rum which Larry used to drink but didn't have the heart to tell him he didn't drink spirits and not to buy it anymore. He did tell him eventually when the hunter happened to ask if he was still a 'rum man' one day but then the guy started buying him expensive vodka out of a need to buy him something alcoholic.)

This hunter's in his early sixties and from the old school--by that, I mean he's got integrity--gallons of it--and equal measures of good manners and knowledge of what's right and proper. (I think he's also lonely because his wife died of cancer a few years ago at Christmastime and his kids are grown up.) Even though he no longer hunts our property and has nothing to gain, this man still drops by with gifts around the holidays. We tell him not to bring anything, to just stop by and say 'hello', but he still arrives with large bottles of booze.

"I spent many happy years of hunting on your property,' he said today, after we'd finished our remonstrations. "I will never forget that. And you gave me permission when no other city people owning homes here would. I love the deer too, but these people just don't understand the herd in Pennsylvania has to be culled in order to keep them healthy."

I was moved because I understood where he was coming from and appreciated his honesty. He considered it a duty to continue to acknowledge a favor given him years ago. All too often today, people reciprocate or act decently only when they see an advantage or know they, too, will also gain something. Often they stop assisting-- even stop seeing a person--when the advantage or benefit to them as a result of the relationship ends.

I see this kind of behavior in business professionals and, in my opinion, lawyers are the worst offenders. I also see it among acquaintances. I see it in people who are parents. I see it in many adolescents, probably as a result of what they've seen their parents do. I've even been guilty of it in the past.

America seems to celebrate individuality above the many human character traits we should aspire to so perhaps this is one of the unfortunate results of such celebration. We tend to excuse bad manners by saying society's become too complex and we're all in a terrible hurry--that's a cop-out. The hunter reminded me about what's proper. Would that there were many people with his values and consideration, a man who cares about the deer he hunts and remembers favors granted in the past.

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