Literary Hamster Reference
Monday February 23rd 2009, 9:38 am
Filed under: Books
Now that I am wrapping up my last book on my WWI reading list, I have been trying to catch up with some blog posts I have had in the works for three months now. It’s time to get the medieval obsession full-fledged already – and to do this I need to clear off the twentieth century history stuff.
I only read one fiction book as part of my WWI obsession: All Quiet on the Western Front.
I used to be a literary reader in my teens and twenties; for the last few years, I have really grown to love non-fiction. I like footnotes and put up with endnotes as I always make sure there’s a source for a statement, not the author just making things up. (Though I am surprised when researchers cite a Victorian work, all by itself, as the sole progenitor of some outlandish fact. Does anyone else not completely trust nineteenth century historians?) I scour the bibliography after finishing a book to see what else I can read on the subject. I even have a severe book dart obsession, now that a librarian warned me that post-its harm books and my brief period of dog earring made me feel like a vandal. I have to crosscheck facts, clarify information online and see pictures of whatever historical beauty or thug the author mentions.
Historical fiction bugs the hell out of me. Fascinating though the facts may be, I really can never know if everything I have been sold is a real fact or some convenient anachronism. Coworkers keep recommending such fiction to me. I have too many books already on my reading list without polluting the list with badly written romance. Ugh.
However, Erich Maria Remarque wrote All Quiet on the Western Front based on his actual experiences fighting in the trenches and published soon after the war. Plus, by reading this book, I could right a wrong from childhood: my high school did not have it as required reading. For our literary education, we watched the Playboy version of Macbeth instead and the teacher left the room before each naked woman, to give the boys a chance to rewind and watch the naked women again. A lawsuit for corrupting us should have taken place. That’s another story.*
Thus, I can accept All Quiet on the Western Front as based in fact. I must have, unlike the rest of you, missed out on the high school discussions about this book. I zipped through my copy and could not get into the stories. I already had read a couple of books on real men’s trench experiences and seen real photos of disfigured faces and amputated limbs. I cannot feel so much for a fictional character, however much he is based on a real person, if I know he is still only something imagined. In other words, I did not get much from the book.
Not all is lost! There is one redeeming snippet to the book! It has a hamster reference near the beginning:
“He is as fat as a hamster in winter, but he trundles his pots when it comes to that right up to the very front-line.”
Of course a German would know about the European or black-bellied hamster (cricetus cricetus)! Europe swarmed with the cuties once. My parents’ adopted street dogs even gave me a tribute of a dead European hamster in 2003. These European hamsters are guinea pig sized, inflated versions of the small pet store inbreds. Remarque’s idea of a hamster and my dead European hamster may have been a swimmer, filling its cheek pouches with air when it swam (Spiegel says so), it may have left a burrow stocked with about “90 kilograms of grain, peas and potatoes” (according to University of Bonn researcher Dr. Carole Gee).
That quote of Remarque’s is going into my pop culture book on hamsters in history.
*I suppose we never had to watch the Penthouse version of Caligula for history class. I corrupted myself with that later on in life. I can only blame myself for the horrid memories. Oh, that awful decapitating machine!
A Queen, Rabbits, Carrots and a Very Painful Backside
As I wrap up my WWI obsession, I am already two books underway with my new medieval Europe obsession. Matt made me read Pillars of the Earth, which in turn inspired me to finally begin my medieval project by taking out half a dozen library books. (It’s for work but a perfect excuse to learn about something to which I didn’t pay enough attention when I was in school.)
The first nonfiction medieval book was Queen Emma and the Vikings by Harriet O’Brien. A supposedly cunning and mean English Norman queen living in the early 1000s, Emma was renamed Aelgifu by her first husband Aethelred the Unready to match the 90% of Anglo-Saxon women who were called that. Her cool husband was the Viking king, Cnut, a teenager who conquered England and won a place in my heart.
Queen Emma makes the best of shreds of evidence. The author manages to overcome the meagre information on the queen by describing the fascinating times of Anglo-Saxon England. For example, did you know that England at the time had hares but not rabbits? The Normans – Emma’s people – brought over rabbits only after 1066 “as a useful source of protein.”
Then there are the carrots. O’Brien explains that the English had white and purple carrots, not orange carrots, which were a seventeenth-century development. The internet begs to differ: carrots made it to England only in the fifteenth century, far after O’Brien’s book suggests (see the Carrot Museum and others, all repeating the same information as the internet is wont to do).
But the crowning element of this book is poor king Edmund Ironside’s death on November 30, 1016. Cnut’s worthy opponent may have died on the toilet.
The devious nobleman Eadric Streona is rumoured by later chroniclers to have coerced his son or bribed some of Edmund’s men to ambush the king in the latrine. The twelfth-century historian Henry of Huntingdon says that the attacker(s) were even hidden in the depths of the toilet itself. Edmund Ironside was stabbed in the butt or the bowels; Geoffrey Gaimar in the 1100s wrote that Eadric used a crossbow operated remotely to shoot an arrow that “went as far up as the lungs.”
Presumably, all of you, my dear little zombie fans, have already pre-ordered your copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith. The book will be published this April:
[Grahame-Smith] and an editor at Quirk Books, an independent publisher, developed a diagram tracing connections between seminal period novels to cult movie genres, including robots, vampires and aliens.
“It quickly became obvious that Jane [Austen] had laid down the blueprint for a zombie novel,” said Grahame-Smith, a television comedy writer. “Why else in the original should a regiment arrive on Lizzie Bennet’s doorstep when they should have been off fighting Napoleon? It was to protect the family from an invasion of brain-eaters, obviously.”
(From the Times Online)
Here’s some more alterna-Austen for you: Pride and Predator. Predator as in alien like Schwarzenegger’s mud wrestling buddy in the 1987 film. Produced by Elton John of all people.
Written by Will Clark, Andrew Kemble, and John Pape, the film will have some sort of alien landing in England and slaughtering – please, oh, please – Mrs. Bennett and Lydia.
There are apparently other so-called Monster-Lit books coming out:
- Jane Eyre with Mr. Rochester’s bigger, creepier secret
- Wuthering Heights with Japanese ghosts
- The Mill on the Floss with human sacrifice
(On a less exciting note, there’s also a cartoon Gnomeo and Juliet being made, which is like the Shakespeare teen sob story with gnomes.)
Yes, I agree, Hollywood is getting desperate. Yes, this means my horror schlock film-watching society will have many more zombie crap evenings to come!
Tuesday February 17th 2009, 10:05 am
Filed under: Texas
Trapped in the Denver Airport on the day before Christmas, we discovered that certain washrooms had this status:
So. I was in tornado country.
I always thought that flat prairie was tornado country, while this Denver place looked mountainous to me. But, hey, if the locals claim that they’re in danger from big whirly air things, who am I to argue?
Later, when Matt and I were driving to Amarillo, I asked him what we should do if a tornado suddenly struck while we were in the car. The answer was to jump out of your car and hide in a ditch. If you need to outrun a tornado, run diagonally from it.
Then there are dust devils, which resemble large skinny tornadoes made of dust. They are about a hundred metres tall and result from hot weather – whereas true tornadoes happen as a result of thunderstorms. Dust devils can be almost as mean; Matt encountered one that swivelled his car a few degrees over.
I wasn’t quite sure what the women were supposed to do if a tornado struck the Denver airport. So we make a run to the safety of this bathroom/tornado shelter. Then what? Do we hide in the stalls? The main bathroom entrance didn’t have a door; wouldn’t the tornado suck the women out the stalls? Wouldn’t assorted debris – music records, two-by-fours, cattle, etc. – be a danger to the women in there?
Skin Cream Queen
Monday February 16th 2009, 11:13 am
Filed under: Personal
How did I end up with so many? I counted all the body lotion bottles, moisturizer squirters, hand cream tubes, body butter jars, and foot cream containers in the house. I have 55 types. This doesn’t include the assorted lip balms, shower gels, bath bubbles, soaps and scrubs I have.
When I grew up, I always envied friends who could afford to shop at the Body Shop. I asked one of the popular girls in grade eight what she used for her beautiful skin and she told me Oil of Olay. When I checked the prices, I knew my parents would never agree to fork over that much money. We were a cheap bar of glycerine soap kind of family.
Thanks to a higher standard of living and better jobs, look at me now.
I guess it’s time to for my daily greasing.
Road Kill? You Want Road Kill?
How about some genuine Texas armadillo?
This one’s for you, Lyn.
The only other armadillos I had ever seen were the two at the Plano Cockroach Hall of Fame, including the dessicated beer-drinking taxidermied armadillo, back in ’06. But those specimens, in the hallowed grounds of the roach museum, comical alcholism and all, seem too far from life.
My Highway 114 armadillo had shortly been alive. Its friend and partner scurried away from the body as we ran across the street. We’d driven half a kilometre before we realized what we’d seen. We u-turned and tracked down our find so that I could document my first encounter with the xenarthran.
I remembered then that armadillos carry leprosy. I got a bad feeling that I was stepping into armadillo ooze, that I would carry it back to the car, that it would get on the carpet, that the leprosy germs would drift up and I would end up diseased. Leprosy is treatable these days. But how would I recognize the symptoms fast enough to get medical help?
The armadillo had cracked open as if it had a gelatinous membrane. A little bit of red innard spilled out. And it was tiny, its body hardly bigger than a medium-sized cat.
I kept my distance – you know, bewaring of leprosy and corpse flies.
About a couple of kilometres later, we saw a second dead armadillo but we did not stop for it.
Being Won Over by the Koalas
In 2002, when I was a teaching assistant in Japan, I worked at a school called Minuma Junior High in Gyoda, about an hour from Tokyo. Most of the girl students were fluffy airheads, aside from my now-friend R. and one or two other girls. The boy students had slightly more variations of human personality among their ranks: there were the thugs, the nerds, the Japanese strain of jocks with a healthy dose of Keanu Reeves surfer slack about them, the up-and-coming serial killer types, and so on.
Every year Gyoda would send out one boy and one girl from each junior high for a four-day trip to Australia. The all-expenses trip was a chance for many of these kids to leave Japan for the first time; the idea was that they would come back, be inspired to excel at English and in turn inspire their classmates, hence dragging Japan up to economic greatness again. My job in this was twofold. At first, my boss would make the chosen students stand on the table and look down on me, making them see that a white person could be a shriveled, unintimidating turnip from the right angle. Then, as I became a respected employee, I was entrusted with interviewing students at one of the junior high schools, to weed out the unworthy and narrow down the Australian-hopefuls to one boy and one girl.
One of my questions was, what do you know about Australia? Depending on the answer, I could gauge the student’s actual interest in visiting this foreign country vs. those morons who just wanted a free trip. Unfortunately, I was trapped in endless interviews with nothing but koalas as part of the answer, with the occasional kangaroo thrown into the mix.
Fuck, I thought, You’ll exhaust all conversation with your host family within two minutes, dummy! The interviews were just a squealfest of how cute koalas were and how the student thought Australian international relations involved marsupial fondling. By the fifteenth interviewee, I was ready to send off the lot to Australia and phone up that Crocodile Hunter dude to unleash a horde of rabid ebola virus koalas on them.
There was one glimmer of hope for Japan’s wayward youth. A boy I called Merlin. The outright choice for the Australian trip was a nerd who was into Harry Potter and general weirdness. I don’t know what his father did or if his parents were divorced – Japanese fathers, even without divorce, are often completely lacking in some families. His mother supported the family by cleaning houses. Merlin, when asked why he wanted to go to Australia, answered that he was curious about Aborigine culture and wanted to hear from Australians themselves why the Aborigines ended up with the bad-end of the stick. Merlin showed more political interest and, out of all the kids, demonstrated that he paid more attention to the world instead of just colours and sounds.
I argued that my choice deserved to go to Australia because he’d never traveled nor would get many chances considering his family’s lowly station, and he was motivated enough to learn something about the host country beyond the prosaic koala. Being Japan, the kid who went in Merlin’s place was a guy from a more traveled, richer, outgoing family. I think this latter kid had koalas as part of his reason for wanting to go to Australia on the exchange.
So I came to blame koalas for the inequity in the world. To me, they were the bitchy blondes on a the Top Model world stage, getting friends and showering influence only on the merit of their appearance. Koalas are soft and cuddly? Pshaw! Damn the undeserving furballs to hell!
Then, a baby koala wandered onto Tracey Young’s property in Maude, near Melbourne. Here are the Cute Overload photos. Photo #4 just killed me.
Soon afterwards, a firefighter called Dave Tree shared a bottle of water with Sam, a koala in Mirboo North, southeast of Melbourne. Watching the poor little fire-surviving thing hold the firefighter’s thumb as he drank was too much. Seeing the wee creature humbly accept the care of the wildlife rescue person as her paws were slathered with burn ointment further won me over to the koala platform. Here are more photos of Sam and other rescued koalas. I am happy that, out of tragedy, Sam has found love. (See the last photo.)
Finally, many photos of thirsty koalas drinking from ladles, bottles, water cans, pools and plastic containers have entirely convinced. These animals are pretty cute. I admit it.
The Japanese airheads may have been right on the koala front. I still reserve the moral standpoint, however, that Merlin should have gone to Australia.
Besides, the airheads forgot to squeal about wallabies. Now those are cute animals too.
The night I returned from Japan, I watched Ju-on. You know, the movie the Americans had to remake as The Grudge with the whole cast of white people living in Tokyo.
With creepy dead women (see above), I am certainly glad I didn’t watch this before I went to Japan. It would have made my friend’s house seem eerie and her four adorable cats would have reminded me too much of the weird kid.
A few days later Ju-on 2 arrived in the mail. I was in Japanese horror heaven, needless to say. So I put The Grudge on my list. I expected to be disappointed.
But guess what? It had something that the Japanese version didn’t have. Or, rather, it was missing something that the Japanese version had…a lower jaw:
Mommy, I’m scared.
YVR’s Homeless Closet
I’ve found my new favourite place at our glorious arirport.
Go to the last stall on the west side of the women’s washroom – the washroom smacked between the giftshops by international departures. Open that door:
It’s a mystery closet, with a lock on the inside:
It’s some sort of piping closet:
Women – presumably – have left all manner of crap in there. Not literally crap, it’s more like a homeless squatter den:
If YVR weren’t tasering central, I would love to go into that stall, leave the door unlocked, wait ’til another woman came in, then leap out when she’s least expecting it.
Yeah, people have no sense of humour.