Vacation: My Dog’s Life

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At the invitation of my dear friend, I recently escaped the polar vortex to spend a week basking in the South Florida sun.  We left with new snow on the ground and a temperature of 28 degrees and arrived in the full sun of a luxurious 75 degrees.  What divine goodness it was to sink into a lounge chair, the Gulf of Mexico foaming inches away, and feel my bones creak with thanks as they absorbed a dose of Vitamin D.  We slept in each morning until we felt like getting up, we took naps in the sun, we exercised as long as we wanted to and then walked some more.  We ate when we felt like it, not according to the demands of the clock or a social calendar.  Occasionally, someone even rubbed my back occasionally — with sunscreen.

In effect, for a week, I lived like my dogs do most of the time (lucky creatures).  Here is my own dearly departed basenji Cleopatra.  She loved basking in the sun, being scratched and running so fast she could not be caught.

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Coincidentally, while on vacation, I read The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein’s ode to the humanity of the canine; a book I had been avoiding for fear of crying unremittingly the whole way through.  By the end of the first page, I was sure my reluctance had been well-founded.  Enzo, the motley mutt with a man’s mind, begins the book by telling the reader he is about to pass into the great doghouse in the sky.

 

Enzo has gestures, he tells us, gestures only.  As much as he would love to be able to speak in words or write, he has never language nor opposable thumbs.  But Enzo speaks loudly through his gestures.  Through physical gestures Enzo is able to share comfort, enthusiasm, acceptance, and once, notably and hilariously, his disdain. I won’t ruin the surprise for you, but let me just say this:  never give a dog a pepperoncini.

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Enzo himself is full of love and wisdom, many times eclipsing the humans in his life.  The only difficulty I had with this concept was in the vein of “how can those two villainous humans refer to Enzo as a dog?” To me, a long-time dog devotee, it is clear dogs are semi-human or perhaps even super-human.  Science is coming to terms with the reality as well.  For more information on a relevant study see:  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1751-9004.2008.00087.x/abstract;jsessioni.

Read the book.  I give it two opposable thumbs and eight paws (the combined total for my housemates Abra and Eliza) up.  Enzo’s introduction serves as much as a benediction and blessing.

“This is what I love.  I love to run in the wet grass, keeping my snout low to the ground, so the sparkles of water cover my face.  I love to run and smell all the smells.  All the life.  When I return to this world, I will be a man.  I will walk among you.  I will shake hands with other men, grasping firmly with my opposable thumbs.  And when I see a man, or a woman, or a child in trouble, I will offer my hand to him, to her, to you, to the world.  I will be a good citizen.  A good partner in the endeavor of life that we all share.”  

Menu:

Hot dogs would be an obvious choice, but I can’t stomach hot dogs ever since reading The Jungle by Upton Sinclair in high school so I will suggest serving Enzo’s favorite two foods and have a breakfast for dinner party:  Pancakes with Bananas.  And here’s a recipe for Puppy Chow.

Ingredients
9 cups Chex cereal ( any kind)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter, melted
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 -2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Directions
Measure cereal in large bowl.
Set aside.
Microwave chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter for 1 minute on high.
Stir.
Cook for 30 seconds longer or until smooth.
Add vanilla.
Pour mixture over cereal, stirring until coated.
Pour mixture into large Ziploc bag and add powdered sugar.
Shake until well coated.
Spread on waxed paper to cool.
Store in Ziploc bags or large sealed bowl.

Music:

If you have time, you could put together a really fun playlist of songs like:

Hound Dog, Elvis Presley

Hound Dog, Big Mama Thornton

Puppy Love, Donny Osmond (a personal favorite)

Dog Named Boo, Lobo

Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog, Johnny Cash

He’s a Tramp,  Peggy Lee

Throw in a little Cat Stevens for fun

Casting:

There is a movie in the works with Thomas Bezucha hired to direct.  Originally Patrick Dempsey was to play Enzo’s owner Denny the race car driver and since Dempsey is a race car driver he would be perfect.  As to Enzo, I think Eliza my dog would be perfect too.

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On the Way to Hollywood: Louise Brooks and The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

ImageShe never won an Academy Award, but became a film icon, the inspiration for two comic strips, the founder of a national hair style craze and a film historian.  At age fifteen, Louise Brooks decided it was time to leave her Wichita home to dance at the Denishawn Company beneath the bright lights of the big city of New York and Louise’s mother and father could not have agreed more.  They had had enough of Lulu’s notoriety.  So they found a bored, local, empty-nester and paid her to accompany their daughter for a summer in the city.  According to Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone, the summer was more life-altering for chaperone Cora Carlisle than it could be for the already jaded soon-to-be movie star Louise.

“[Louise] was short and small like her mother, with the same pale skin and heart-shaped face, the same dark eyes and dark hair.  But her jaw was firmer, and her cheeks were still as cherubic as young June’s.  Framing all this was the remarkable black hair, shiny and straight and cropped just below her ears, the ends tapering forward on both sides as if forming arrows to her full lips.  A smooth curtain of thick bangs stopped abruptly above her brows.  . . . Really, this girl looked like no one else.”

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Lulu fascinates me, Academy Award or no.  But the book was about Cora’s journey to find her own history through exploration of an extra-marital relationship and the tracing of her adoption at a New York orphanage.  Although this is marginally interesting, I really felt that I was eating my vegetables by reading about Cora’s journey and couldn’t wait to get to the dessert of Life with Lulu.  But Moriarty’s book just allows glimpses of dessert — it doesn’t serve it.

Cora’s obsession with controlling Lulu’s choices grows increasingly tiresome.  The writing is fine.  Nothing grand.  Even the newly-arrived Kansan’s description of New York City is underwhelming:  “It really was something, all the bustle and commotion, so many people everywhere.”

Ummm, yeah.

Moriarty’s story increases in eloquence and passion describing the adoption trains that left New York carrying orphans to be adopted by midwestern families and in describing Lulu’s antics.  But that is not the heart of her story and the basic problem with the novel.

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Should your book club decide to read The Chaperone, you have some great music choices.  Anything jazz age would lend a festive air to the evening.  I particularly love The Bryan Ferry Orchestra’s c.d. The Jazz Age, which adopts modern songs into jazz age style arrangements, and the soundtrack to The Cotton Club (not nominated for an Academy Award by the way!). 

For casting the movie version, Michelle Williams could do a darn good job in a black wig as an adult Lulu, but she’s a bit long in the tooth for a fifteen year old version.  Natalie Portman?  For the chaperone, I’m wanting a Helen Hunt or Laura Dern.

Menu:  start with martinis.  Lulu danced the Charleston in Paris for several years and then joined the Ziegfield Follies in New York.  So mix in some French appetizers.  Maybe a brie with a loaf of crusty french bread, some large green olives.  Kansas is beef country so a New York strip would be a fun choice.  I’d cook it then serve with a large green salad and some frites for a combination New York/Paris dinner.  Here’s a nice recipe for New York strip from the Kitchen Whisperer.

http://www.thekitchenwhisperer.net/2012/07/15/better-than-restaurant-quality-new-york-strip-steaks/

For dessert, I’m passing along my grandmother’s Honey Almond Ice Cream recipe.  Because Lulu was a honey . . . and a nut.

1/2 cup unblanched almonds

2 cups cream

1 cup milk

1/2 cup honey

4 egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Toast almonds in a 350 degree oven until dark brown, 15-20 minutes.  Chop until medium coarse and set aside.  Bring cream, milk and honey to boil in a pan, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and add almonds.  Steep for two hours.  Strain.  Bring mixture to boil over medium heat (whisk yolks and slowly whisk them into 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture (this prevents them from curdling)  Return egg yolk mixture to pot.  Cook until thickens slightly, 2-3 minutes.  Strain, add almond extract.  Chill 2-3 hours or overnight if possible then freeze according to ice cream freezer directions.

If you are interested in reading some of Louse Brooks’ film history writing, here is a link to an article about her friend W.C. Fields:  http://www.psykickgirl.com/lulu/wcfields.html

Enjoy the Academy Awards!