"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Friday, January 31, 2014

Faith Filled Friday: Marriage Prayer from the Book of Tobit

I just finished reading the Book of Tobit from the Old Testament and found it wonderful.  What a joy, first, since it’s one of those books that Protestants didn’t include in their translations, I didn’t need to read it from the King James Version.  [For an understanding of the Apocrypha Books, read here.]  Second it’s not a history, or the laws and rituals, or even the prophecies.  It’s the first of the poetical/wisdom books, and in this case it’s really a short story.  And third it’s a fast, easy read that provides sheer delight.

Here’s a quick summary without a spoiler: The story is about a man named Tobit, who goes blind and sends his son, Tobiah, to the distant Persian city of  Media to bring back money he had secured there many years before.  At Media there is a young lady named Sarah who has had seven bridegrooms die on her the night of their wedding prior to consummation as a result of an evil spirit.  Through the help of the angel Raphael Tobiah marries Sarah and overcomes the evil spirit, and brings her home to his family.  That’s just bare bones plot.  There’s more, so read it here. 

Another joy in the read is that there are six prayers spread throughout the work which are so sweet.  For this Faith Filled Friday, I’m going to post the prayer that Tobiah and Sarah pray on their wedding night after the expulsion of the evil spirit. 

blessed be your name forever and ever!

Let the heavens and all your creation bless you forever.

You made Adam, and you made his wife Eve

to be his helper and support;

and from these two the human race has come.

You said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone;

let us make him a helper like himself.’

Now, not with lust,

but with fidelity I take this kinswoman as my wife.

Send down your mercy on me and on her,

and grant that we may grow old together.

Bless us with children.”

They said together, “Amen, amen!”  Then they went to bed for the night.
                                    -Book of Tobit, Chpt 8, 4-9

That is so wonderful.  I would never have thought of a prayer on my wedding night.  I wasn’t very religious then.  If I had known of this passage I would have had it read at my wedding ceremony. 



Saturday, January 25, 2014

Purgatorio by Dante Alighieri, Introduction

First off, let me say that I consider Dante’s Divine Comedy to be the greatest single work of literature.  I’m not one who usually speaks in terms of greatest, or this one is greater than that one.  Once a work reaches elite status, it’s really hard to discriminate one from another.  But when it comes to La commedia, as Dante called it, I have long reached the conclusion that by any standard this is truly the greatest single work. 

Why?  Let me count the ways.  First, it is epic in scope.  If you want to present large themes, you need a large story.  Second, it is a national epic, which carries more weight for it captures the character of a nation.  Third, the language of the work deeply shaped the formation of the language of his people, and in this case, Italian.  Dante’s Tuscan dialect became the official Italian language.  Fourth, the writing, which in this case is poetry, is of the highest achievement, that is in terms of eloquence, sound, rhythm, originality, turn of phrase, metaphor.  To listen to it, is like listening to music.  Fifth, the characterization is realistic, natural, and authentic.  Sixth, the themes are profound.  Seventh, the story is emotionally captivating, aesthetically constructed, and captures the human condition.  Eighth, the work captures the zeitgeist of the author’s time and place. 

Now one might say that there are many writers who have produced great works that might meet all those criteria.  One can cite Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare, Milton, Melville, Dickens, Joyce, Twain, Faulkner, Cervantes, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Goethe, and so on.  Why is Dante’s work the greatest?  Where Dante supersedes the others is that The Divine Comedy does all that and does it in a way that is integral to each other.  Here’s what I mean.  Ttake what I consider the three central themes of the work: man must be civically responsible, man must be true to Christian faith, and that divine beauty shapes the world.  Notice how the three interlock.  All divine commandments reduce down to Christ’s two commandments, love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself, which are integrated because by doing one you do the other.  Civic responsibility through Christian values is an act of loving one’s neighbor, which leads to loving God, and by loving God one is blessed to see the beauty and perfection of God’s creation, which reflects God Himself, which generates the beauty of one’s artistic creativity, which enlightens one’s understanding of one’s neighbor, which leads to civic responsibility.  Three themes which on the surface seem disparate form a comprehensive vision.  Dante arrives to that vision through his journey where he encounters sin, justice, redemption, beauty, love, friendship, morality, responsibility, suffering, holiness, virtue, and so on.  One could write a book how all these concepts address the three central themes in the work but I’ll have to leave it at that.

In addition to the thematic integration, there is a high degree of textual integration.  Events and ideas that happen in one section, say the Inferno, are balanced and contrasted in other sections, say in Purgatorio or in Paradiso, or even in other sections of Inferno.  An idea or motif typically may be examined in all three sections from different perspectives.  While it may appear that Dante the character is moving in an episodic, disjointed way, there is nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, that is disjointed.  It all interlocks.  Finally, that thematic and textual integration is overlaid with what I’ll call visionary integration, but the Germans have a more precise word in Weltanschauun.  Dante’s understanding of the world is an integration of the classical with the Judaic that forms the Christian.  The Old Testament events are pre-figures of the New Testament and the Classical world provided the metaphysical underpinnings that explained Judaism.  Classical, Judaic, and Christian motifs all relate to each other in some fashion.  So to conclude this, what makes The Divine Comedy exceed all other works of literary art is the complex thematic, textual, visionary integration, all presented in an aesthetic construct that harmonizes every detail.  That’s all rather abstract, so I don’t know if I made myself clear.  I’ll try to present examples as I go forward.

I can’t give a comprehensive overview for someone completely unfamiliar with The Divine Comedy.  You’ll have to read up on the various websites, but I’ll provide the briefest synopsis I can.  The poem is told in first person where Dante the character has returned from a journey through hell (inferno), purgatory (purgatorio), and heaven (paradise) which occurred during Easter in 1300.  The journey starts on Good Friday where Dante finds himself lost in a wood in mid life trapped by three beasts and unable to find the way out.  Of course that is all allegory, and through the aid of divine auspice the spirit of the poet Virgil is sent to lead Dante out, but the way out is to travel through the three realms of the dead, Inferno (the realm dislocated from God), Purgatorio (the realm of purification), and Paradisio (the realm of salvation).  The journey then is the most fundamental archetype, of acquiring knowledge, of release through redemption, and ultimately of assimilation. 

Something should be said about Dante’s poetic form in the Commedia.  Each of the three canticas is divided into cantos, each cantica having 33 cantos except for the Inferno, which has 34.  Actually that fist canto in Inferno is the introductory canto where Dante is lost in the earthly woods, so actually the passage through all three supernatural realms requires 33 cantos, thirty-three the age of Christ at His death.  And yet the sum of 34 for Inferno, 33 for Purgatorio, and 33 for Paradisio totals 100, a harmonious and complete value.  There is a lot of numerology going on through the Divine Comedy.  Each canto is roughly between 120 to 150 lines in terza rima rhyme [A-B-A, B-C-B, C-B-C…] scheme.  The meter is the hendecasyllable, which is an eleven syllable line that comes from classical sources but once Dante uses it in his epic, it becomes the principle meter in Italian poetry.  The stresses within the hendecasyllable line tend to be dactyl, but with enough variation so that it doesn’t feel repetitive.  The combination of the hendecasyllable line with the terza rima rhyme scheme accentuates a sense of forward motion.  Rhyme schemes that circle back create a sense of stasis; here the sense is progress. 

To get a feel of the Italian, here is a reading of Canto 2, and I’ll just post the first 24 lines, where Dante standing on the shores of Purgatory sees the setting sun and the stars and planets in the sky, and then from the corner of his eye sees a bright light advancing toward him.


Già era 'l sole a l'orizzonte giunto
lo cui meridian cerchio coverchia
Ierusalèm col suo più alto punto;
e la notte, che opposita a lui cerchia,
uscia di Gange fuor con le Bilance,
che le caggion di man quando soverchia;
sì che le bianche e le vermiglie guance,
là dov'i' era, de la bella Aurora
per troppa etate divenivan rance.
Noi eravam lunghesso mare ancora,
come gente che pensa a suo cammino,
che va col cuore e col corpo dimora.
Ed ecco, qual, sorpreso dal mattino,
per li grossi vapor Marte rosseggia
giù nel ponente sovra 'l suol marino,
cotal m'apparve, s'io ancor lo veggia,
un lume per lo mar venir sì ratto,
che 'l muover suo nessun volar pareggia.
Dal qual com'io un poco ebbi ritratto
l'occhio per domandar lo duca mio,
rividil più lucente e maggior fatto.
Poi d'ogne lato ad esso m'appario
un non sapeva che bianco, e di sotto
a poco a poco un altro a lui uscio.

The quoted lines run to 1:17 on the youtube clip.  I’ll provide the Anthony Esolen translation here for you:

To that horizon had the sun now come,
an arc that circles both the hemispheres,
whose zenith stands above Jersualem,
And night below, in circling the same way,
rose from the Ganges with those Scales she drops
when length of darkness conquers length of day,
So that the white and rosy cheeks of Dawn,
the lovely heavens, where I was standing, turned
yellowish orange in the aging sun.
We were still walking by the sea, as those
who dwell upon the journey they will make—
the body lingers, while the spirit goes—
When, look! just as surprised by morning haze,
through the dense veils of mist to westward, Mars
sets in the sea with all its blushing rays,
Such a light now appeared—ah may I see
that light once more—surpassing any flight,
so swiftly did it move across the sea.
And in that moment when I turned my sight
to ask my guide about it, glancing back,
I saw it had grown greater and more bright,
And then from either side I caught a glow
of something seeming-white, and gradually
another gleam emerging from below.

In order to prepare oneself to read the Divine Comedy, you should briefly familiarize yourself with the life of Dante Alighieri.  His life and politics of his day run throughout the work.
Finally a word on the translations I used.  I don’t think I can say it better than as I said this over in my summary of my reads for the 2013 year:

I read two different translations of Purgatorio because shortly before I started to read the Durling translation I discovered that Anthony Esolen, a scholar I hold in high regard, recently had come out with a translation of The Divine Comedy for Modern Library Classics. I also found out Esolen was a poet as well as a medievalist scholar, which I hadn’t known before, and so I got his translation of Dante and decided to read two translations side by side. Plus I realized that while I have read Dante’s Divine Comedy before, my readings of Purgatorio and Paradisio were cursory. I had read Inferno several times, know it fairly well, but I had just blazed through the other two once, and mostly just to say I had read them. One doesn’t typically read the other two unless one is majoring in medieval lit or Italian lit. I want to understand and know Dante like I understand Shakespeare, Homer, and Virgil. And it took me over three months to read them both. I was saturated in Dante. The differences between the two translations are noteworthy. The Esolen is certainly more poetic and tries to hold to Dante’s form. The Durling translation also in meter isn’t so concerned with maintaining Dante’s tercets and will spread out to four lines if needed for precision. Also Durling’s translation provides extensive notes. Esolen too provides notes, but I would say Esolen’s notes mostly focus on understanding the passage at hand while Durling’s notes crisscrosses the entire work to show the high integration of the Commedia, and once you appreciate that integration you can fully understand why I (and many others) consider it the greatest literary work. I might characterize the differences in translations this way: Esolen’s is for the undergraduate student while Durling’s is for the graduate student. But then Esolen’s poetry is excellent, about as good as any of the Dante translations I’ve ever perused. I’m curious to see what his original poetry is like.


So in my posts on Purgatorio I’ll draw from both the Esolen and Durling translations.  I consider both excellent.  Wikipedia has a page just on the history of the English translations, here.  Off that page, the one’s I would endorse are the Mark Musa and the Robert and Jean Hollander.  The Hollander is online here at the PrincetonDante Project, which has a lot of other great resources.   Others have recommended the Dorothy Sayers translation, but I have not sampled it to feel comfortable recommending it.  I grew up on the John Ciardi translation  which was very popular when I was young, and until recently I might have even recommended it.  Perhaps it's dated now.  In this recent read, while stacking it against the Esolen and Durling translations, I found it somewhat deficient.  It’s good if that’s what you have, but you can do better.  You can find several translations on the internet, but since the Hollander is provided free, I have no idea why you would want to try any of the others. 

Literature in the News: Shakespeare in the Original

I came across this review by Noah Millman in one of my favorite website magazines of two Shakespeare play productions currently on Broadway.  What’s unique about these productions is that they will adhere as strictly as possible to the original Elizabethan presentation:

The two hottest Shakespeare tickets in New York right now, in a season chock-full of wildly divergent takes on the Bard, are, in a sense, the most old-fashioned productions of the lot. “Twelfe Night” and “Richard III,” both at the Belasco Theater and starring Mark Rylance, one of the most celebrated classical actors living, are “original practices (OP)” productions—that is to say, they seek to perform the plays as they were staged in Shakespeare’s time.

This theatrical movement, promoted by Shakespeare’s Globe in London—a faithful recreation of Shakespeare’s own theater where both productions originated—is centered on three principles: a close attention to the rhythms of the verse; a theatrical style that acknowledges the presence of the audience; and a rejection of modern stage contrivances that would not have been available in Shakespeare’s day. But these productions go further: they use all-male casts—as was the practice in Shakespeare’s day—build costumes out of traditional materials and with traditional fasteners, and incorporate traditional instruments and dances.

That sounds really cool.  Yes, it is true, there were no female actors in Elizabethan stage, and men played the female roles. 

Elements like these suggest that OP is a kind of antiquarian fundamentalism, akin to Civil War reenactments—hardly a model for living theater, nor the basis of a Broadway smash. Is the point of OP to recover a lost theatrical tradition? Or is the point to give us the illusion of being Elizabethans for a day?

That is a good point.  Why go to that extreme when simple suggestion of similar era-style costumes can fill the need?  I don’t know, but I would love to see to assess. 

“Twelfe Night” and “Richard III” are an interesting pair of plays to use to showcase OP. The first because the play is (among other things) Shakespeare’s greatest cross-dressing farce. Viola, shipwrecked and stranded in a foreign land, disguises herself as a man for her own protection. She offers her services to the local Duke, Orsino, who is in love with Olivia. Olivia spurns his overtures, so he uses Viola as a go-between to press his suit. Olivia winds up falling for Viola instead of Orsino, and meanwhile Viola falls in love with Orsino herself—but can’t reveal her love because she’s disguised as a man. The play loads on additional comic complications—more suitors, a mistaken-identity plot when Viola’s brother, whom she thought drowned, returns—but following the original practice of an all-male cast foregrounds the question of sexual identity and presentation.

I have to say that Twelfth Night is one of my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies, and the cross dressing costume shifts does make it ideal for this.  I’m not sure why they picked Richard III, perhaps for its historical setting as Millman states. 

“Richard III” is an interesting choice for a different reason. For Shakespeare’s audience, the play covered relatively recent history—foundational history for their political system. The play is a searing portrait of a self-loathing, manipulative psychopath, but there is a providential scaffolding around the action, the notion that Richard was the “scourge of God,” sent to purify England of the final stains of the Wars of the Roses, before being defeated by the man who would finally unite the white and red.

I was curious whether an “original practices” production would try to recover that political context. But this production goes in the opposite direction. Indeed, it goes so far in wiping out the War of the Roses that the part of “mad” Margaret, the character who directly articulates that providential theme, is cut entirely.

I’m not sure the politics of Richard III synergize with the use of original period production.  The reason why one would chose Richard III is that it’s the closest of Shakespeare’s histories to his day, and the use of original costume might provide a the realistic visual to the audience.  However, one could have gone in the opposite direct, chose a history play the most distant from Shakespeare’s day and see if the costume clashes.  But that’s more of an assessment by subtraction, and why would a playgoer want to spend his money on something that might be discordant. 
Which brings me to the price.  I would love to go and see this production of Twelfth Night.  I checked out the prices, since I’m so fortunate enough to live in New York City.  Yikes.  The cheapest seats in the very back are $123 each.  Broadway prices have gotten outrageous.  Who pays for these shows?  Well, my wife would not be interested enough to justify spending that amount.  So I will have to pass.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Notable Quote: Fyodor Dostoyevsky

To mark a sad anniversary, a tragic anniversary I offer this consoling quote by Dostoyesvky taken from a work I plan to read some time this year, Crime and Punishment

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars,
The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Music Tuesday: Adagietto from Mahler's 5th Symphony, In Memoriam of Claudio Abbado

I was saddened to see this (Monday) evening that classical composer Claudio Abbado passed away.  He was eighty years old.  You can read the NY Times Obit here.  In his career he had either been principal conductor or the musical director at La Scala in Milan, London Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Vienna State Opera, and Berlin Philharmonic.  Those are some of the world top orchestras.  I think I saw him conduct once as a guest conductor at the NY Philharmonic many years ago.  I'm not adept enough to distinguish what makes one conductor superior to another, but he had a great reputation.  I have several of his recordings on my ipod.

The Times Obit says he was particularly adept at interpreting Mahler, so here I present him conducting the fourth movement, Adagietto, of Gustav Mahler's 5th Symphony.  You can read about the piece here.

Lovely.  Requiescat in Pace, Maestro.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Lines I Wished I’d Written: A Boy’s Ambition by Mark Twain

I’ve been reading Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi and thought this passage was well worth sharing.  It comes from Chapter 4, titled, “A Boy’s Ambition.”  Life on the Mississippi is a sort of memoir looking back to Twain’s years as a steamboat pilot on Mississippi River. 

WHEN I was a boy, there was but one permanent ambition among my comrades in our village {footnote [1. Hannibal, Missouri]} on the west bank of the Mississippi River. That was, to be a steamboatman. We had transient ambitions of other sorts, but they were only transient.

When a circus came and went, it left us all burning to become clowns; the first negro minstrel show that came to our section left us all suffering to try that kind of life; now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates. These ambitions faded out, each in its turn; but the ambition to be a steamboatman always remained.

Once a day a cheap, gaudy packet arrived upward from St. Louis, and another downward from Keokuk. Before these events, the day was glorious with expectancy; after them, the day was a dead and empty thing. Not only the boys, but the whole village, felt this. After all these years I can picture that old time to myself now, just as it was then: the white town drowsing in the sunshine of a summer's morning; the streets empty, or pretty nearly so; one or two clerks sitting in front of the Water Street stores, with their splint-bottomed chairs tilted back against the wall, chins on breasts, hats slouched over their faces, asleep-- with shingle-shavings enough around to show what broke them down; a sow and a litter of pigs loafing along the sidewalk, doing a good business in watermelon rinds and seeds; two or three lonely little freight piles scattered about the 'levee;' a pile of 'skids' on the slope of the stone-paved wharf, and the fragrant town drunkard asleep in the shadow of them; two or three wood flats at the head of the wharf, but nobody to listen to the peaceful lapping of the wavelets against them; the great Mississippi, the majestic, the magnificent Mississippi, rolling its mile-wide tide along, shining in the sun; the dense forest away on the other side; the 'point' above the town, and the 'point' below, bounding the river-glimpse and turning it into a sort of sea, and withal a very still and brilliant and lonely one. Presently a film of dark smoke appears above one of those remote 'points;' instantly a negro drayman, famous for his quick eye and prodigious voice, lifts up the cry, 'S-t-e-a-m-boat a-comin'!' and the scene changes!  The town drunkard stirs, the clerks wake up, a furious clatter of drays follows, every house and store pours out a human contribution, and all in a twinkling the dead town is alive and moving.

Drays, carts, men, boys, all go hurrying from many quarters to a common center, the wharf.  Assembled there, the people fasten their eyes upon the coming boat as upon a wonder they are seeing for the first time. And the boat IS rather a handsome sight, too. She is long and sharp and trim and pretty; she has two tall, fancy-topped chimneys, with a gilded device of some kind swung between them; a fanciful pilot-house, a glass and 'gingerbread', perched on top of the 'texas' deck behind them; the paddle-boxes are gorgeous with a picture or with gilded rays above the boat's name; the boiler deck, the hurricane deck, and the texas deck are fenced and ornamented with clean white railings; there is a flag gallantly flying from the jack-staff; the furnace doors are open and the fires glaring bravely; the upper decks are black with passengers; the captain stands by the big bell, calm, imposing, the envy of all; great volumes of the blackest smoke are rolling and tumbling out of the chimneys--a husbanded grandeur created with a bit of pitch pine just before arriving at a town; the crew are grouped on the forecastle; the broad stage is run far out over the port bow, and an envied deckhand stands picturesquely on the end of it with a coil of rope in his hand; the pent steam is screaming through the gauge-cocks, the captain lifts his hand, a bell rings, the wheels stop; then they turn back, churning the water to foam, and the steamer is at rest. Then such a scramble as there is to get aboard, and to get ashore, and to take in freight and to discharge freight, all at one and the same time; and such a yelling and cursing as the mates facilitate it all with!  Ten minutes later the steamer is under way again, with no flag on the jack-staff and no black smoke issuing from the chimneys.  After ten more minutes the town is dead again, and the town drunkard asleep by the skids once more.

Excerpted cited from Literature Network. 

Isn’t that a lovely passage, full of imagery and pantomime? 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Personal Note: In Memoriam, Brandi - UPDATED

UPDATED: 1/17/14, 12:15 AM - I added a few more pictures, Brandi as a pup, another with Matthew, and one with my wife and Matthew.

As many of you now know, our beloved Yellow Labrador Retriever, Brandi, passed away a number of weeks ago.  She had cirrhosis of the liver due to canine hepatitis and lymphoma, a double whammy from which it was impossible to treat.  The hepatitis was something she had for quite some time.  She nearly died from it a year and a half before, but she responded to treatment then.  This time no matter what we did her liver function numbers kept getting worse, and then when we decided to do a biopsy (we didn’t know whether it was hepatitis, canine copper storage disease, or some liver inflammation from something toxic she might have picked up) they found her spleen to contain cancerous nodules which turned out to be lymphoma.  I don’t know if she felt pain in her last days, but we could tell she wasn’t well and she barely ate.  We tried to coax her with all sorts of her favorite foods, but other than some turkey from Thanksgiving she just didn’t have an appetite.

We got Brandi from a breeder near Pittsburg, which is about seven hours drive from where we live.  I found the breeder on the internet.  She was from a litter of three, the light female of three females, and I put dibs on her before she was even born.  We waited for her birth like expected parents and the breeder sent us photos the day after she was born.  We couldn’t wait to bring her home.  We picked her up just before Christmas.  She trembled on the long car ride back, and I think that traumatized her against car rides for the rest of her life.  She was anxious on every car ride she ever had.  Actually the last car ride to the vet where we ended it all was probably the only one she wasn’t anxious, which goes to show how ill she must have felt.  It killed me that her last day required a forty minutes long car ride.  I wished her last day didn’t entail that.

The way I always think of Brandi, and this goes back to her pup days, is that she was a dog’s dog.  Some dogs, like Sasha our previous dog, living amongst humans begin to take on human qualities.  Brandi loved to do doggy things all her life.  She loved to bark, chew bones, spring after birds, chase squirrels and cats, protect her territory from her perch against the front glass slider and bark at the pedestrians in the street, and call out to the other dogs.  She loved the company of dogs, and though she never hurt a fly, she could roughhouse with Rottweilers and Pit Bulls.  She was fearless.  An aggressive dog never intimidated her; she assumed they all wanted to play, but when they showed their teeth she could show hers back too.  She would go from roughhousing on one corner of our walks to sniffing and rubbing shoulders with the friendly dogs on the next.  Once catching me by surprise and dragging me along (she was very strong) she lunged after a kitten on the street that was caught unaware.  To my shock she actually caught the kitten, not with her mouth, but by hovering over it, and instead of biting she licked it, until the kitten realized the huge dog over her and darted away.

Brandi was the sweetest dog you would ever know.  There wasn’t a mean bone in her body.  She loved to bark, and her barks could be loud.  She had strong lungs.  When strangers came her barks held them in their tracks.  But then you heard the rhythm of her barks, a rhythm of threes—woo, woo, woo—woo, woo, woo—woo, woo, woo—with rising upscale notes made you realize she was there to rub up against you.  She just wanted affection.  And she was persistent.  As with our first dog, I refused to let Brandi on the sofas.  But she wouldn’t take no for an answer, and once she got her way she would squeeze between me and Rochelle on a two person love seat.  She was a ninety-five pound Lab who thought she was a lap dog.  She was always pressed up against one of us.  And then she got her way again by climbing into our bed.  It wasn’t so bad at first at the foot of the bed, but by morning she found a way to angle in so that I was half falling off.

When Brandi was a pup we thought she was dumb.  After all, our previous dog, Sasha, was a Golden Retriever and smarter than most humans.  Brandi, we thought, couldn’t possibly measure up.  She didn’t pick up on training at first.  In fact she almost failed her dog training class.  But it wasn’t from a lack smarts.  She just had an exuberant personality.  When we were in private she performed her commands flawlessly.  But at the class with all the people and dogs around, with play noise and barking sounds, and with the smell of foods in the air, she just wanted to engage people and join the action.  She really wanted to play with the other dogs.  

So we thought her dumb but she repeatedly outwitted me.  As a pup we would limit her to the kitchen when we were out, especially since both of us worked and she was alone for a good part of the day.  I would block her in the kitchen.  Wouldn’t you know it, when we got back she was out and roaming the house.  Usually she would be on the top of the upstairs landing since she knew how to climb the stairs but hadn’t yet learned how to go down.  I would say she would escape just about every day no matter what adjustments I made.  It came to the point that we decided to call her Houdini.  I never did know how she kept getting out. 

And really I have to say she might have been smarter than Sasha.  In one of the fields we’d walk to, there’s one ball field that sectioned off a playground with a high chain linked fence.  I would throw a tennis ball over the fence and she knew how to go down about forty yards to the playground entrance, make her way through the playground on this chopped up rubber tire turf, the slides and jungle gyms, forty yards back, find the tennis ball, and make her way back out and to me.  It’s not like I trained her.  She just figured it out herself.  All I did was throw the ball over, and she came up to the fence, looked at the ball, and ran toward the entrance.  And what joy she had when she came out with the ball and ran towards me.  Like most Labs, she did nothing at half speed.


Brandi was just a great family member.  She would always be around one of us.  Once Rochelle stopped working Brandi became her shadow, lying by her in the kitchen as she cooked or by her feet while on the computer.  There was just a special bond between the two.  If Rochelle and I were sitting on different sofas, she would be by Rochelle or on the sofa with her head on Rochelle’s lap.  Her greatest act of love was in accepting the baby when we brought Matthew home.  We worried she might be jealous as some dogs who have established their role in a household might be.  We worried she might be aggressive with the baby.  But she just sniffed his tush and tried not to bump into him.  And she stood under his high chair hoping for food to fall down.  She loved us and we loved her.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Matthew Monday: Matthew the Superhero

Matthew has been playing superhero lately.  My goodness, he’s jumping like Spiderman, wrestling invisible bad guys like Batman, and powing invisible evil robots like Superman.  It’s been a bit exasperating as he leaps from the top of the bed, spontaneously runs from one end of the house to the other, or suddenly falls to the floor and does a roll, all with a sigh that “the Joker got" him. 

So Sunday I was driving him over to my mother, who is eighty years old, and as I unbuckle him from his car seat, he says, “Come on Robin let’s get out of the Bat mobile.” 

So in my stern voice, wondering how my mother is going to handle him, I said, “I don’t want you jumping around at Nonna’s.”

So he replies in a breathy, rebellious whisper, “OK.  I’m going to FLY around," with emphasis on "fly."

All I know is when I got back to pick him up he said he “scored ninety goals on Nonna.”  I can just imagine what went on.