Tale as old as time… Film review Zzzz

Look, if you liked Beauty and the Beast – read no further. I’m not here to argue, to burst bubbles or to make young children cry. I’m just going to explain why a certain movie (Beauty and the Beast) did not work for me. I liked the cartoon version fine. It was cute and the music was terrific. I adored the old black and white French version by Jean Cocteau with Jean Marais and Josette Day – the atmosphere was perfect, the costumes gorgeous, and the setting was creepy/gothic/fantastic. Image associée

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Cassandra hangs up her crystal ball

Cassandra stood at the window,  wondering where whispers went when they finished with her…and where alliterations came from. Was it all in her head? Why didn’t those voices stop, and why did no one ever listen to her? So many questions…and yes, she  knew the answers. The problem was, no one paid attention.

When she told them not to open the gates and bring that horse into the city … Oh, it did no good. Why think about that now? It was so long ago. More recently, she’d screamed from the rooftops that invading Iraq was a bad, bad idea. Did anyone listen? No weapons of mass destruction, she sobbed. Only weapons of self-destruction, as the US, once a formidable, wealthy nation hit its proverbial iceberg and sank, electing Trump as a sort of self-inflicted coup de grace.

And Brexit. So they thought no one would vote for it, and, just to show they protested, they voted for it, never thinking Other people would be stupid enough to vote for it en mass – only they did. Cassandra tore her hair and gnashed her teeth. The “I told you so’s” were lost in the wind. Now, the wind was blowing once more. She points her finger at England. “You have one more chance.” She says; “here is my prophecy. You have two choices. You can elect Corbyn and go along with his radical program. He’s going to make England one of the most secure, educated, and peaceful nations on Earth. Or you can elect a conservative and make England into a new Feudal society, just like in the good old days. Two choices. Cater to the rich, or cater to the poor. One leads to contentment, the other to revolution.  Government ‘one-oh-one’ – when there are more rich, cater to the rich; when there are more poor, cater to the poor.”

Cassandra put her hands to her eyes. It was better if she didn’t look. Knowing things  was not worse than actually seeing them happen.  She took her hands away and gazed upwards. The sky was blue, a few fluffy clouds sailed across it like sheep ships…was that another alliteration starting? Between those and the prophecies, she thought she’d go mad. The blue sky mocked her – especially since her dreams had been filled with thunder and lightning. She glanced again at the sky. A sheep-ship winked at her. She turned from the window and picked up her crystal ball. It was heavy and inert. It was only for decoration. Like her. With a scream that made the curtains flap, she hurled the crystal ball out the window. “I quit!” she shrieked. As usual, no one believed her.

Auguste gets sick

There is an expression, “Sick as a dog”, that means just what it says – when dogs get sick, they get very sick. When Auguste was a puppy, he got his first or second round of vaccinations, and when I took him home and looked at him, I noticed I couldn’t see his eyes anymore. His little face was all puffy and his eyes were just slits. I rushed him back to the vets, where he got some emergency care for a violent allergic reaction. A few hours later, we were back home, Auguste asleep on Julia’s lap, his face back to normal.

A few years later, I noticed a bump on his back, near his spine.  It looked like a blood blister, but I took him to the vet, and she took a sample and had it tested. It turned out to be a particularly nasty sarcoma – so off that went. Operation, recuperation, home  for the holidays. He has a small scar, but everything healed nicely.

Auguste loves bones – he used to get veal bones as a treat – until the day he ate his, then stole Rusty’s veal bone and ate that too – and got an intestinal obstruction. That was serious. I rushed him to the vet after seeing him walking around, straining. He spent nearly a week at the clinic and came back home covered in feces, but healed. I dumped him in the bath, scrubbed him, and put him out on the porch in the sun to dry (he was so tired, all he could do was sleep). He had a large, infected sore on his back too,  and as he lay outside, a fly laid its eggs in it, and the next day, he was covered in maggots. It was horrifying – but oddly enough, they cleaned the sore so well it healed within days and never left a mark.

Auguste didn’t learn from his bone debacle. He scarfs down anything he can fit into his jaw – crunches and swallows it before we can get it away from him. Most of the time, we can, if we act quickly, grab his muzzle and stick our fingers into his mouth to pull the whatever it is he’s eating (dead bird, chicken bone, fossilized pizza crust, candy along with wrapping…) out of his jaw. But he’s a dachshund – he is low to the ground and he’s fast – he smells garbage and dives at it before we can see it! The upshot of that is he gulps a lot of garbage – and he comes home and is sick afterwards.  Our conversations go like this:  “Quick! He’s sick! Get him off the rug!”   “Where did he go today? The stables? Weren’t you watching him?!”  “Of course I was! (fingers crossed behind back – who can watch a dog every second?) He went into bushes!”   “What did he eat?”  “How should I know. Ugh. You clean it up!”

Sick as a dog. Makes sense – they eat everything and decide later if they want to keep it. But then, yesterday, he didn’t look good at all, and he refused his food. That made 2 days in a row. We took him straight to the vet, and he was diagnosed with a large tumor in the spleen. How did we miss it? I was devastated, but the vet reassured me. Apparently these tumors develop in less than a month – in three weeks it can go from nothing to a grapefruit size. Auguste didn’t even notice until it started to press on his stomach, taking away his appetite. He wasn’t in any pain – he just seemed slightly less boisterous than usual – and as he’s nearing his 12 year birthday, we figured he’d finally calmed down.

An emergency surgery took place last night. He’s resting this morning (minus one spleen & tumor). Hopefully he’ll be able to come home in a few days and with any luck, he’ll be up and around in a matter of weeks – ready to go back to the stables, chase cats, ride Kalin with Julia, and eat all the garbage he finds on the ground!


Paranormal Books we probably won’t see

Sleeping with my Dog
Glenda put up with Ron turning into a wolf and mauling her every full moon, until the night he ate her precious poodle. Then she packed up and left. But how can she escape a man with a nose like a bloodhound? Especially since she can’t seem to give up her exclusive perfume…

My Ex Vampire
Sharon broke up with Dexter, but now she fears for her life. She bought a sun lamp and sleeps with it on all night long. Her worse fear? Lighting storms will knock out the electricity – and Dexter will come and get her.

The Ghost who Stalked Me
Sally Mae can’t get rid of the feeling someone is watching her – all the time. In the office, at the club, in her house. Day and night. And then she meets Fred. He’s dead. But he’s decided to stay in with her to watch her every move. Forever and ever.

Bringing Back Baby
Zelda loved George so much that when he died she begged a bokor to bring him to life. He agreed, in exchange for a lock of Zelda’s hair. And now George is back – but he’s different somehow. And Zelda is terrified of her zombie husband. Something is not right. And what is that smell?

Look Who’s Coming to Dinner
Trish just met Henry, and she wants to introduce him to her parents. But he’s a werewolf, and they’re both weresheep. She’s afraid Henry will cease to love her if he knows she’s a weresheep too. Is there a future for a weresheep and a werewolf? And what will their children be? WereWeeps?

A Vampire’s Book of Southern Style Living
Mary, a 600 year old vampire, is bored, so she gets a group of southern vampire women get together on the porch every night and they talk about life and love and trade recipes. Blood pudding, blood sausage, bloody Marys and such. A cute book about friendship in the afterlife and recipes galore for the picky vampire.

I remember when…dogs

I remember when Auguste was a puppy, and he used to hunt the lizards in our garden. When he saw one, he’d bark and run at it, and whine in frustration when it escaped (it always escaped). He would stare at the spot he last saw the lizard. He would remember the spot and go back the next day to stare – and never notice the lizard sunning itself on a nearby rock.

I remember when Rusty was a puppy. She had an undershot jaw, so the breeder sold her to us for a pittance. When we took her to the vet, just days  after we bought her, he examined her and said she was perfect. No problems with her jaw. We figured she’d held her jaw like that, so we could buy her.

When Fudge was a puppy, she started to sleep on Alexander’s bed. She slept on the foot of his bed all her life – and I never realized it, because she’d slip in his room after we went to bed, and would be back in her own bed in the hallway when Stef came downstairs in the morning. I remember when Fudge brought us a baby bunny. We kept it for a few days and released it into the wild. Fudge was always bringing pets into the house. Once she found a kitten. They slept in the same bed. She carried the kitten around until it grew too big and dragged on the ground.

I remember Auguste would often dig under the fence to run about in the village, and the postman would bring him back. “I have a package for you,” he’d say, holding Auguste under his arm.

I remember my very first dog, a golden collie named Lassie. Yes, I named her. I was only 5, give me a break!

My husband and I bought Fudge for the twins when they were five.  We told them they were going to have a surprise – a D-O-G. They were all excited – they thought we were getting them GI Joes.

Rusty was Julia’s birthday present the year she turned five. The little chocolate Lab with the undershot jaw, (that wasn’t undershot at all). Rusty was sweet, but she would leap on Julia and knock her down. Labs are rambunctious. Julia used to go outside with Stef’s riding whip to keep Rusty from making her fall. They ended up best freinds. Julia trained Rusty to do tricks with a hoola hoop. I never saw a dog jump straight up in the air in the hoop, like Julia taught Rusty to do.

I remember when Fudge snarled at a boy of about twelve. I was shocked and grabbed her by the collar, intending to punish her, when the boy pulled a knife out of his pocket. I let go of Fudge, and she chased the boy out of the park. Fudge defended her twins. She would sit by them, and if anyone suspicious came near, she would utter a low, menacing growl and bare her teeth. Not many people came nearer.

Rusty never growled, nor did she bark. She was a silent dog. The only time I heard her barking, I rushed outside to find her running around a hedgehog in the garden. She must have tried to bite it and pricked her nose.

I remember Auguste and Rusty would lie on their backs in the hallway with their legs propped on the wall. When someone knocked on the door, they would open their eyes, and wag their tails – but otherwise would not move. They were the worst guard dogs in the world. Fudge was an amazing guard dog, and would bark when a stranger came to the door. She also hated gypsies and would become hysterical if they approached. I think it is because they often carry knives.

I remember when we first saw Auguste. We went to pick out a puppy from the litter, and he was the biggest, fuzziest puppy. When we stepped into their kennel, he was the first to rush over and he tried to untie Julia’s shoelaces. She picked him out. We gave him to Stef as a surprise for Christmas. We put him under a box, but when he went to pick up the box, Auguste ran, and the box slid across the floor. I’ll always remember the expression on Stef’s face!

Igor, we hardly knew you…

Ever since she was little, my daughter has named things. Her first doll, a Raggedy-Ann doll hand-made by my friend Jill, was called Karen-Tina. She had a stuffed flamingo she called Eagle-Eggs. She named flowers, trees, our dogs, her dance – “Look, Mom and Dad – watch me do the chicken dance!” And our suitcases. Since we travelled a lot, we had suitcases, and my daughter named them. There was Mr Wilson, who, on his first voyage, caught on something and tore. I repaired it with duct tape, and then every time he appeared on the baggage carousel, she’d shout, “Look, there’s Mr Wilson with the tape on his butt!” 

I bought too many new clothes (at the thrift shop) and when I tried to pack, I saw we needed a new suitcase. So, we went to back the thrift shop and there was a suitcase on wheels. It stood as high as my chest and was covered with a richly patterned brown and green tapestry. It looked like something the Adam’s Family would use. My daughter thought it was terrific, so we bought it (5$) and  started to wheel it outside. “We’ll call it Igor,” said my daughter, patting it on the side.  “I hope it isn’t too big,” I said, doubts starting to assail me. It hadn’t seemed so big in the thrift shop, standing next to the refrigerator. Outside, on the sidewalk, it suddenly became a lumbering giant. I steered it to the parking lot, where my mother was waiting with the car. “What is that?” she exclaimed. “It’s Igor”, said my daughter.

My mother looked doubtful. “It’s awfully big,” she said. “When it’s full, you’re not going to be able to lift it.”

“It has wheels,” I said. I wasn’t so sure, actually, if the wheels would hold it. I started to remember the saleswoman’s expression as I’d wheeled it to the counter. What I’d thought had been awe was, in hindsight, more like incredulousness – as in ‘I can’t believe she’s taking that thing off our hands’. 

We tried to get it into the back seat, but it didn’t fit through the door. My mother popped the trunk, and we tried to cram it in, but it was too big. It hung out. My daughter gave a sigh. “Poor Igor”, she said. “We’ll have to take him back.”

We did. Luckily the saleswoman was understanding and gave me a full refund (5$). I went to a sporting goods store and found a more manageable sized suitcase (a lot more than 5$). Back in the car, my daughter and mother pretended to mourn Igor.

“It’s so sad,” said my daughter. “We hardly knew Igor.” 

“It’s for the best,” I said. “We underestimated him.”

My mother nodded.  “He just didn’t fit in the family.” 



Burke in the Land of Silver

I love Argentina – it’s a wonderful country.  My husband and I spent our honeymoon there, and we went back several times – each time was magical. That’s why, when I saw this book was set in Argentina, I didn’t hesitate to buy it. It lived up to my expectations – it was fast-paced, fun, thought-provoking, and I learned much about Argentina’s history.  If you like spy stories (think James Bond!) and history,  a dash of romance, and lots of adventure, then this book (based on a real person!) is for you.

BurkBurke in the Land of Silver (His Majesty's Confidential Agent) by [Williams,  Tom]e in the Land of Silver, by Tom Williams.
A fantastic historical novel set mainly in Argentina during the Napoleonic wars. Burke (James Burke!) is a spy for the English who doesn’t hesitate to work for what he feels is right against a background of war and greed, as gold and silver are used to fuel the huge war machines of the three great powers of the time: England, France, and Spain. “Burke in the Land of Silver” took me back to a country I love, Argentina, and I learned much that I didn’t know about its history. But mostly, I followed the fascinating adventures of a gentleman spy caught between three warring countries intent on sacrificing their young men in order to gain wealth and power. The book was wonderfully researched and fast-paced. I couldn’t put it down, and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading the next books in the series.
Questions for the author:
Me: What made you choose James Burke as a character?
Tom:  After I wrote ‘The White Rajah’ my agent (yes, I did briefly have one) said that I needed to write something more accessible as a first novel. He wanted it to be historical. So I was looking for possible story material and I mentioned this to friends, including an American woman I had met in Argentina. She said that there were lots of potential stories around Europeans who had been involved in the opening up of that country, so I started reading around the period and came on some references to James Burke. He sounded interesting, so I tried to research him. The only thing I could find in English was in an Irish journal. (I’m pretty sure there is a reference in the Historical Note at the end of the book, which answers some of your other questions too.) There is other stuff, much of it in Spanish, which I don’t read. Anyway, limited as it was (he was a spy so we really don’t know that much) it gave the basis for the story. The outline of the tale is all true. He was almost certainly the lover of the Viceroy’s mistress, the Queen of Spain (but so were half the court) and the Princess in Brazil. He did spy in Argentina and help the British invade. The British fleet was guided up La Plata in fog by a local pilot, though the details in the story are entirely fictional. The details of the invasion are pretty accurate as are the politics. We were ‘liberating’ Iraq at the time and I was very struck by the way in which we told the people of Buenos Aires that we were ‘liberating’ them. I’ve seen the proclamation (in English and Spanish) in a museum here. The details of the defeat of the British are entirely fictional, though they were firmly defeated
Me: Had you been to Argentina before you wrote the book?
Tom:  Yes, as you can see from this, I have been to Argentina before. Far, far too often. I really did ride through snow in the Andes because I wanted to know what it was like. Cold. That’s the answer. Very, very cold. But staggeringly beautiful.
Me: What is fact and what is fiction in the story? (Note: There is a list at the beginning of the book identifying the real people.)

Tom: The events in Spain all really happened, though Burke couldn’t have been in Madrid for the uprising. The timings are out by a few weeks, but I cheated. It’s too good a story and the details of the attack on the coach are true.

Wellington really was preparing an army to invade South America. The decision was made to divert it to the Peninsula, thus arguably changing the course of world history.

De Linears was a real person and I suspect deeply unpleasant. He was pretty certainly a duplicitous bastard, but details of his duplicity are imagined.
Burke did go to Argentina. He did work alongside a Mr O’Gorman, he did seduce Ana, he did cross the Andes and explore Chile and Bolivia, he did aid the invasion. The plot outline is essentially all true.
The part  with de Linears (real person) is made up, as is the British defeat. (They were defeated but not like that.)  And Burke really did run off with Ana, but they split up before he got back to England.
Me: I loved the character – he’s so romantic, idealistic, (yet not naive), and he’s got a very strong moral fiber. I can see where that makes it hard for him to follow certain orders or remain loyal to what he sees as a corrupt system. Is this how you wanted to portray James Burke? What ideals do you want to convey with your hero?
 Tom: I see Burke as someone who was desperate to be accepted as a gentleman and who wanted to succeed in life. He wants to be ruthless and get ahead, but he is handicapped by a fundamental decentness. I wanted a hero who is romantic and brave and all the other things but also a bit of a chancer and an appalling snob. There’s more than a touch of Fleming’s Bond about him.
Me: I see that! It’s exactly what I meant. Thank you so much, Tom for chatting with me!
A note to my readers – Tom Williams was in Argentina as I wrote this, and very kindly took the time off his vacation to answer my questions!

The eternal optimist

Hope, so they say, springs eternal. It’s the sort of saying you think of when March rolls around and it’s still snowing, but the forsythia is blooming. “I hope spring will come,” you muse, as you shiver by the window. The words hope and spring sort of join naturally, like peanut butter and jelly.  I believe myself to be a hopeful person. Naturally I’m naive, I think the best of everyone, and “don’t worry, be happy,” could be tattooed on my forehead (it’s not – no worries). However – and there is always a “however” – I sometimes feel like hiding under my covers and not coming out. Continue reading

Where did time go?

I have twins – did I mention that? They are fraternal twins & nothing alike; one is calm, the other excitable; one can sit still for hours and the other never stops moving; one eats everything on his plate, his brother picks everything apart and won’t touch vegetables, meat, fish, cheese…; but they are strangely similar as well. They fell in love at the same time; one with a delicate, petite brunette, the other with a tall, willowy redhead.  I wonder where time went. When they were little, I could never imagine them as gown-ups with families and jobs. Where did the time go? The world, so they say, is flying through the universe at mind-boggling speeds, shooting off into space as if fired from a cannon, dragging time with it like the tail of a comet.

3000When they were born, three months premature, I could not imagine them grown up. I could barely imagine them as normal, chubby, babbling  babies because they were so tiny and weak. When they came home, each weighing barely 4 pounds, they slept in the same bassinet, curled up together like fern fronds, their hands so small they fit on my thumbnail. After months, years even, they started to catch up to their age. Time was all it took, and lots of care, and love, with a fierceness that would catch me by surprise. I never thought that children were not like baby birds, hatching from eggs, growing in a nest. They were vines, growing from your belly, with tendrils wrapped around your throat, heart, stomach, hands, arms…so much a part of me that I could feel their pains and joys as if they came from my mind.

An image: the twins running towards me, one hand outstretched, the other behind their back. Three years old. Standing in front of me, panting, eyes brilliant, cheeks flushed, “A surprise for you, Mommy!” and whipping out hands clutching bare stems – the red poppy petals had fallen off in the race. Their joyous laughter dissolving into tears. “They were so beautiful!” 

They are still in my heart – these bare green stems clutched in your small fists, along with your smiles and your tears.

Time marches on. We move from England to Argentina to the States and back to France.  One of the twins looks at me one day and says, “We’re known all over the world!”  Yes, especially after a lost tooth in front of a full stadium prompted the announcer to ask the spectators to help look for it….or when, on the first day of school, the door jammed and the teacher had to call a repairman to come, and parents and children gathered around to shout encouragement at the door. Afterwards, people would stop me on the street and say, “Was it your son trapped in the bathroom?”  And the time they killed Halloween

And still time slides by, marked by the giant snowball on the golfcourse that didn’t melt until April, the trip to Rome, the stint as a fireman (4 years!), the university, and the first and second apartments, the jobs, the voyages, and, yes, now the analogy rings true – the birds stretch their wings and fly. I watch, from the ground, as they circle above me. The sky is very blue – like me, somehow. Blue, and joyous at the same time.