So I’m meeting a friend at the wine bar at Centro and she asks rather too casually whether I’ll be bringing the imaginary dog and, if so, whether the cafe will object and does he smell? He doesn’t smell – although of course he sniffs. But they know him there and don’t mind as long as he doesn’t bother the other patrons – which he never does. He really is extraordinarily intelligent. He has a very extensive vocabulary. In addition to the vocabulary that most dogs have – “squirrel,” “walk,” bad dog,” “dinner,” “biscuit,” “Did you do that?” “pee-pees and poo-poos,” “Why are you always on the wrong side of the door?” – he knows, I would say conservatively, 800 or so additional words and phrases (as many as some university students according to what you read in the papers), including “stilton” (which he loves; we both do), “Glenmorangie” (the Gaelic pronunciation), “that bitch,” “packaged extruded meat products” (which, on the advice of the personal trainer and the vet, we both avoid like the plague; they are loaded with chemicals and the tiniest forms of life), “excuse me?,” “move over buddy, I’m driving,” “Q4 earnings” (we frequently discuss the portfolio), and “Poppa’s got a brand new bag.” All this and he never sleeps on the furniture. On the advice of my psychiatric team, I am thinking seriously of getting an actual flesh and blood dog, but I worry that that it will suffer in comparison to the Dingleberry. You see my point.
Another wonderful late fall day for a dog walk! Dingle (the imaginary dog) indicated to me this morning that he would like one of his friends to join us. How did he let me know? As I’ve mentioned before, he really is the most intelligent creature; he simply looks up at me with his limpid brown eyes and I know exactly what he is thinking. The other night I asked if he would like to join me in a bit of straight malt (I sometimes add a drop or two to his water dish) and he glanced askance and curled his lip and I knew at once that he meant, “No thanks, too peaty.” He actually prefers Speysides, the poor brute. At any rate, we strolled around the corner to pick up Bailey whose human companion was away in New York (my ex-wife, in point of fact), and then to Sherwood Park.
Say what you will about the imaginary dog, he is much more biddable. When I wanted to take a picture, Dingle sat like the perfect gentleman he is, while Bailey strained and gamboled like the 14 month old adolescent he is (see photo). Bailey likes to investigate puddles and sewers and to jump up on friendly strangers. I must speak to my ex-wife about this.
All the same, I am thinking quite strongly of acquiring an actual flesh and dog to join our little household. My daughters seem to think it would be a step in the right direction. (To say nothing of the therapist.)
Did you hear about the dyslexic agnostic? He didn’t know if there was a dog. I was reminded of this old joke by Sarah Hampson’s article in the Globe (“Living in an era of dogmania gives paws for thought” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/relationships/news-and-views/sarah-hampson/the-problem-with-loving-your-dog-too-much/article2226234/) in which she writes, “Just because we all know what d-o-g spelled backward says, that is not a ‘sign’ of my spiritual wisdom. I am a dog. Get it? I pee on fire hydrants, not in toilets. I eat garbage. I sniff crotches.”
Exactly. I looked up from my paper this morning to see that Dingleberry had been joined in the garden by two of his disreputable friends, Montmorency and George, who live down the street. George is a schnauzer and Montmorency, despite his fancy name (his owners are the Talbot-Ponsonbys), is a motley mix, mostly German shepherd. And do you know what they were doing? What dogs generally do in the garden. This makes raking the leaves and putting then into bags particularly challenging. But they are only dogs. So I forgive them. (Not like some people I know.) And I never let Dingle sleep on the bed. Even though you would hardly know he was there.
Another wonderful fall day for a dog walk. Took Dingleberry to the ravine; then he watched while I raked. He loves watching humans work – he can do it by the hour. We always meet people when he and I are out and about; he is an unprepossessing fellow (see picture – Dingleberry and his favorite hydrant; Dingleberry is on the left), but he has the most wonderful eyes – limpid brown (rather like my ex-wife’s husband). Plus he is extremely intelligent (Dingleberry, I mean). I know everyone thinks that their dog and their children are extremely intelligent, but Dingleberry really is – off the chart. (So are my children, BTW.) We have a very intuitive relationship. I always know what he is thinking about – generally, food, sleep, mounting someone, relieving himself and squirrels. And he always knows what I am thinking about (along the same lines, although almost never squirrels). This afternoon we met my neighbour J. and her 2 dogs, and she told my of the incident last night with the skunk – her dogs chased the skunk to beneath my car, where he seems to have done his final explateration, or whatever the term is. Anyway, the car smells awful. I may have to sell it. I am so glad Dingleberry was indoors at the time. Of course I would never sell him. We have a serious and committed relationship.
October 8. Magnificent day on the water. We drove up to Beaumaris inside the islands – so warm, and the leaves in their colour – cruised back on the open lake. In the evening, across the lake for dinner, then back by the moon and starlight, with the wind beginning to freshen from the south. For dinner last night sautéed scallops and chorizo with a wine reduction; for lunch roasted red peppers, goat cheese and tapenade on toasted garlic baguette, Caesars to drink. Thanksgiving for all this – brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, friends, amazing daughters, the wind and the water, this wonderfu lplace.
April 10, 2011
In Robert B. Parker’s Promised Land, Spenser makes lamb for Susan Silverman and Pam Shepard, the missing wife he’s been hired to find. He pounds lamb into cutlets, which he then dips in four, egg, and bread crumbs. He cuts some potatoes into small egg-shaped oblongs, which he browns in oil in a frying pan, before putting the lid on and letting them cook over a low heat. In a separate pan he browns the breaded cutlets, adds some Chablis and fresh mint, and lets them cook too. There are fresh drinks while he makes a Greek salad with feta and ripe olives. He takes the lamb from the pan and cooks down the wine, to which he then adds a swirl of butter for the sauce. With the meal, there is warm Syrian bread and California Burgundy.
Sounds pretty good. I haven’t tried this one (although I have replicated a couple of chicken dishes), but it’s along the same lines as many of Spenser’s specialties – meat or chicken sautéed with a reduction. On the whole, pretty simple and straightforward. (Although there is peculiarly repellent sounding pork chop concoction in Early Autumn, involving canned pineapple, canned mandarin oranges and cream.)
The making of the meal is engaging and is often accompanied by the imparting of information or some business or other important to the direction of the story. Sometimes the food is already prepared when the scene begins, like the cold poached salmon, boiled new potatoes and peas in the pod (accompanied by Rolling Rock Extra Pale Ale) that Spenser and Paul Giacomin have after Susan Silverman moves to San Francisco to pursue her career (Valediction).
The thrown-together snacks in Spenser’s kitchen sound pretty good too – French bread, with goat cheese (“milk-white, with a dark outer coating,” ibid, p. 18), nectarines, pale seedless grapes, Cuvée Dom Pérignon, 1971. Even when he’s on his own for breakfast, attention is paid: freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee, with perhaps a mushroom omelet with sherry, and a warm loaf of unleavened Arab bread (Mortal Steaks). Omelets also make a good late night snack — like the scallion and potatoes one that Spenser and Susan argue about how to make properly — especially when accompanied by two bottles of Great Western champagne (Ceremony).
Food and cooking are important to some novels. In Spenser’s case, they are part of his character, along with the ex-fighter, well-dressed, sensitive tough guy persona. Robert B. Parker must also have loved food and cooking. He died in January, 2010. He was a master at what he did. I bet he was also a great host.
March 20, 2011
Winston Churchill had his first drink of the day after breakfast, a weak (only three ounces) Johnny Walker Red and soda, which was near at hand all morning while he worked in bed. At lunch he had a glass of wine (generally Champagne), and with dessert, usually stilton and a pear, he had port. After lunch he had a glass of brandy (vintage Hine) and a cigar. He would perhaps take a stroll in the garden, and then work all afternoon, writing, often with a secretary to take notes.
After a short late afternoon nap and his second bath of the day, at 7:00 p.m., he would come downstairs for dinner at 8:30; the wine was plenty of cold champagne, and then more port, brandy, cigars and conversation.
There were always people in the house and interesting guests for dinner.
And there was always alcohol in his system, which reached its peak “late in the evening after he has had two or three scotches, several glasses of champagne, at least two brandies, and a highball.” (William Manchester, The Last Lion). At around 1:00, when the guests had left or retired for the night, he would go back to work – writing, reviewing, editing – until about 3:00 a.m.
During these years, the thirties, when he was a backbencher and living mostly in the country, he was making a very good income as a writer. He wrote newspaper articles, magazine pieces, and books, finishing, in the late 1930s, his biography of the Duke of Marlborough (2 volumes, each a thousand pages) and beginning what would become his four volume A History of the English Speaking Peoples. In his time as a backbencher (1929 – 1939) he published and wrote about a million words. He was remarkably productive, despite the alcohol and despite his age – he turned 64 in November, 1938, two months after the Munich Agreement (which he characterized as “a total, unmitigated defeat”), by which time he was again very active in the House of Commons. His writing career was, for a time, over.
Literature is supposed to have begun when cave people sat around the fire telling stories about themselves. Then they started to embellish, either to instruct or to entertain.
But archeologists believe that the earliest writing system, in Mesopotamia in the 4th millennium BC, was developed to keep track of livestock and produce. Such record keeping had become complex after humans started living in settled communities. The writers drew pictograms on wet clay tablets with long reeds from the marshes. Eventually they also recorded daily events, astronomy, history, and eventually sagas about origins.
Perhaps it was the same with the cave people: they sat around the fire not telling tales but talking about how much they had and how much they needed. Supply and demand. Then came the myths and stories. What if the accountants came first?
February 21, 2011
It turns out that we need novels for democracy. Poetry and the arts call on us to understand the inner world of others—essential for active democratic citizenship.
In Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton, 2010), Martha Nussbaum writes that understanding the great world requires more than knowledge and logic. It requires “the narrative imagination…the ability to think what it might be like be in the shoes of a person different from oneself, to be an intelligent reader of that person’s story, and to understand the wishes and desires that someone so placed might have.” (A bit akin to John Rawls’ notion that to come up with a just social structure, you must assume you don’t know your place in it; you don’t know your skin colour, sex, weight, abilities, industriousness, health, income, inheritance or anything else.)
Nussbaum notes that the “ability to feel concern and to respond with sympathy and imaginative perspective is a deep part of our evolutionary heritage.” But it needs cultivation, and our schools and universities—with their emphasis on training for technological and economic growth—are failing us.
More theatre, more dance, more poetry.