Sunday, April 27, 2014

honour among graffiti artists

When I walk from our place in Pointe St-Charles up to the Lachine Canal, and from there up the hill into the city (which is why I call downtown Montreal "uptown"), I pass what I call Graffiti Wall. I have no idea what the actual policy is, but from what I observe the wall has been given to graffiti artists to use as they will. 
There have been astounding 3-D locomotives, nonsense lettering, abstract cityscapes, psychedelic flames, a clothesline strung with fancy lingerie, avowals of love, surrealistic sexual imagery, homage to hockey players and more. It is rare for any one tableau to last more than a couple of weeks, if that. It doesn't matter how long someone laboured or how many cans of paint were used. Graffiti art is temporary. That seems to be the code: as you cover whatever is underneath, you will be covered too.
Last December someone did this portrait of Nelson Mandela. To either side, the wall has metamorphosed umpteen times. So far no one has touched him--not even to add a moustache, an earring or a pimple.  

The bike leaning against the wall are Rapunzel's new wheels taken out for their first spin.     

Thursday, April 24, 2014

grimms / die zertanzten schuhe / the twelve dancing princesses

R asked the other day if I had The Twelve Dancing Princesses in my copy of Grimms.

I remembered a story with twelve dancing princesses but not with that title. I flipped through the pages and found Die Zertanzten Schuhe. Schuhe = shoes. The title isn't translated literally because there's no English equivalent for zertanzt, which means something like "danced to smithereens" or "worn to nothingness from dancing". You can see the stem of the word dance or tanz.

Did you know that once upon a time English and German came from the same language? You can still see that in everyday words like sun/Sonne, moon/Mond, salt/Salz, milk/Milch, etc.

In German, when you put the prefix zer before a word, you add destruction. For example, to zerschlag a bowl doesn't just mean you broke it. You shattered it into tiny bits. Shoes that were zertanzt aren't even worth taking to get reheeled. They've been danced to garbage.

There may not be a single English word to translate zertanzt, but gee. The story could have been called Shoes Danced to Shreds. Or how about Dance-Mashed Shoes? Almost anything would have more pizzazz than The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Especially since the twelve of them exhibit no individual characteristics. They're simply a gaggle of girls who wreck their shoes with dancing. The twelve pairs of shoes matter more than the princesses do. Only the eldest and the youngest ever speak.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.

There was once a king who had twelve daughters, one more beautiful than the next.
--I don't like these kind of family comparisons. It doesn't foster good relations between siblings.

They slept in a room with their beds side by side, and in the evening when they went to bed the king locked the door behind them.
In the morning, though, when he opened it, he saw that their shoes were danced to shreds and no one could understand how this had happened.
--me neither, but I'm glad the girls figured out how to escape a father who locked them up every night. And look at that fancy collection of shoes!

The king made a proclamation that whoever could discover where his daughters danced in the night would have one of them for a wife, and after his death would inherit the throne. However, if a person came forward and discovered nothing after three days and nights, that person would be put to death.
--I suppose that's one way to make sure only serious (or stupid) contenders come forward.

In little time a prince arrived to undertake the challenge. He was made welcome and in the evening led to a room outside the bedroom where the princesses slept. A bed was made for him, and so that he could watch where they went, the doors were left open.
But the prince fell sound asleep, and when he woke in the morning the twelve pairs of shoes were worn through with holes from dancing.
The same happened on the second and third night, and so he was beheaded without mercy.
Others came to try their luck and lost their lives to the wager.
So it happened that a poor soldier, who was wounded and could no longer serve his country, found himself on the road to the city where the king lived.
He met an old woman who asked where he was going.
"I don't really know," he said. And as a joke added, "I wouldn't mind finding out where those princesses wreck their shoes dancing so I could become king."
--he would also get one of the dance-besotted princesses for a wife, but that doesn't seem to be an incentive

"That's not so hard," the old woman said. "Don't drink the wine they bring you in the evening and pretend you're sound asleep." Then she gave him a cloak. "When you wear this, you'll be invisible and can follow the twelve princesses."
This good advice made the soldier decide to go to the palace and undertake the challenge.
--more than the advice, I'm thinking the cloak will do the trick

He was welcomed as the others had been and brought royal clothing.
--maybe he didn't have formal wear in his soldier's duffel bag and they wanted him to look nice at supper?

In the evening, when he was brought to the room outside the bedroom, the eldest daughter brought him a cup of wine. He'd tied foam under his chin and let the wine soak it up so that he didn't drink a drop.
--I'm trying to visualize this and can't, but I didn't write it; I'm only translating.

He lay down and after a while began snoring as if sound asleep.
The twelve princesses heard him and laughed. The eldest said, "What a fool. He could have saved his life too."
--it's the first she's spoken and already I don't like her

They got up and opened their wardrobes, brought out their magnificent clothes, preened before the mirrors and looked forward to the dance. Only the youngest said, "You're all so happy but I feel uneasy. I'm sure something bad will happen tonight."
"You're such a goose," said the eldest. "You're always afraid. Have you forgotten how many princes have already tried and failed? I didn't even have to bring that soldier a sleeping potion. He's such a lout he would never have woken."
--the eldest princess seems made of the same stuff as her father who locks up his daughters and chops off heads. Or is the eldest princess like this because of her father? A chicken and egg argument.

When the princesses were ready, they checked on the soldier who had closed his eyes and didn't move, and they believed they were quite safe.
The eldest went to her bed and knocked on it. It sank into the earth
--the word is Erde--earth--not floor

and they stepped through the opening, one after the other, the eldest first.
The soldier, who had been watching, didn't hesitate. He swung the cloak around himself and followed the youngest princess down the stairs. Halfway down, he stepped on the edge of her dress. She cried out, "What's that? Something's caught my dress!"
"Don't be so silly," the eldest said. "There was a hook on the wall."
They continued down the stairs until they were at the bottom where there was a magnificent alley of trees that had leaves of silver that gleamed and shimmered.
The soldier thought he should take proof with him and broke off a twig. The tree made a tremendous crack and the youngest princess said, "Did you hear that? Something isn't right."
The eldest said, "Those are cries of joy because soon our princes will be free."
They came to another alley of trees where the leaves were of gold, and finally to a third alley where the leaves were of glittering diamonds. In both, the soldier broke off a twig and each time the tree cracked with such a groan that the youngest princess shrieked. The eldest still insisted the sounds were cries of joy.
They came to a lake where there were twelve small boats, and in each sat a handsome prince. Each princess stepped into a boat. The soldier followed the youngest into hers.
The prince said, "The boat seems heavier today. It's taking all my strength to row it."
"Why should that be?" said the princess. "The air feels so close too. I feel hot."
Across the water stood a beautifully lit-up castle where trumpets and drums were making merry music. The princes moored their boats, and each led his princess inside where they began dancing.

The soldier danced invisibly along, and if someone held a cup of wine, he drank from it, so that it was empty when they lifted it. 
--this, like the sponge under the chin, is hard to visualize. Unless, of course, he had a straw. 
Okay, I just looked this up: straws date back to prehistoric times. Obviously not the plastic straw as we know it, but hollow reeds were used for sucking up liquid. It is possible the soldier who had an invisible cloak also had some form of straw. After all, he was equipped with a sponge. 

The youngest princess was alarmed when she saw that her cup, from which she hadn't drunk, was empty, but again the eldest calmed her. 
The princesses danced until three in the morning when their shoes were worn through and they had to stop. The princes rowed them across the water again, and this time the soldier sat in the first boat with the eldest. On the bank the princesses took leave of their princes and promised to come again the next night. The soldier ran ahead and lay in his bed, and as the twelve exhausted princesses slowly climbed the stairs, he snored so loudly they could all hear him, and they said, "We don't have to give ourselves any worries about him."
They took off their fine clothes, put them away, set their danced-to-shreds shoes under their beds and lay down. 
In the morning the soldier decided to say nothing so he could follow and watch them again, which he did for a second then a third night. Everything proceeded as on the first night. Every night the princesses danced until their shoes were worn to holes.  
--I would start to get bored, but I'm not a princess. Also, one must never underrate the attraction of the forbidden.

The third time the soldier brought a cup away with him as proof. 
When the hour came that he was supposed to give his answer, he took the three twigs and the cup and went to the king. The twelve princesses stood behind the door and listened. The king said, "Where did my twelve daughters wreck their shoes in the night?"
"With twelve princes in an underground castle." The soldier recounted all he'd seen and brought out his signs of proof. 
The king called his daughters and asked if the soldier spoke the truth. When they saw their secret had been discovered and lying wouldn't help, they confessed to everything. 
--I expected that at least the mouthy eldest daughter would put up some resistance, maybe try to discredit the soldier, object to his supposed articles of proof. This doesn't make for any drama. The princesses are discovered and they surrender. Or maybe the Grimms brothers decided it was time to end the story. 

The king asked the soldier which daughter he wanted for a wife. 
--my guess would be the youngest because he's already stepped on her dress and drunk from her cup, but the soldier isn't reading from a Hollywood script. Or perhaps he's looking forward to years of domestic revenge for being called a lout. The German, by the way, in the event you're travelling and need it, is Lümmel. 

"I am no longer so young myself, so give me the eldest."
The wedding took place on the very same day and he was promised that he would inherit the throne upon the king's death. 
The princes were cursed for as many days again as they had danced with the twelve princesses. 

I announce the end because the objective of the story is so unclear, you might not know the story is finished. I turned the page myself, expecting something else to happen. It bothers me that ten of the twelve princesses never made a peep except for a collective laugh. Why include twelve princesses if they serve no purpose in themselves? For the crowd effect? The two who spoke were no more than stereotypes. What must the eldest have been thinking when she had to marry a man she thought a lout? Or maybe her opinion improved when she saw he'd succeeded where the others had failed.  
Questions, questions. 
I don't believe this story is about the princesses at all.  It's about the shoes. 
Which brings me back to my objection to the English version of the title.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

how not to steal a purse / easter eggs

I'm not giving lessons on purse-snatching do's and don'ts. Heck, I just lost a purse! But as an overview, simply observing...

Yesterday I was browsing through the kitchen aisles of a large thrift store. I'm not trying to hide the name. It used to be the Sally Ann, aka Salvation Army, on Notre Dame, which is what I still call it. I think it has a non-denominational name now, but I've never paid attention to what it is.

It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and lots of people were in the store, shoving through hangers, stretching sweaters across their chests, picking up dusty cups, discussing the virtues of chipped veneer dressers. I want to make a tabletop greenhouse. I'll explain how and why in another post. I had just spent a hefty $40 at Canadian Tire for part of what I need, and was trying to find something to cover the table. R said he'd make me a glass or plexiglass box, but in the meantime I want to get started. I thought I might find some cheap cake covers at the Sally Ann.

A woman was walking through the store, shouting in a strident, potentially crazy voice. You know that register where you don't listen because it doesn't sound like the person is saying anything you want to hear or that will make sense. I wondered that the employees didn't ask her to stop.

She got closer to where I was looking through the larger dishes--her voice so loud and insistent--I couldn't help but hear. "I don't care about the money but there's important papers in that purse. Take the money. Give me back my purse. I need those papers. I know you're in here. You just took my purse. Give it back. Give it to the ladies at the cash. I need the papers in that purse. Take the money and get out but give me purse. I need the papers in that purse."

She wasn't crazy. She was demanding. She didn't need a megaphone. Her voice carried. I'll bet she has six kids--all grown up now--and they still hear her voice in their dreams. She was about sixty, maybe older. Her hair was dyed an orangey red to match her voice. She wore beige slacks and a cream sweater with a glittery design. High heels. She was out for an afternoon of leisurely shopping. Her coat was thrown over the handle of the shopping cart she was pushing. Presumably her purse had been next to her coat. She strutted up and down the aisles. She wasn't panicked. She was set on flushing the thief from between the winter coats or the curtains or wherever she imagined him hiding.

I'd found two cake covers and decided to look at the back of the store among the lamps and ancient computers. You never know what gets filed where in a thrift store.

I didn't find anything else and went to the cash to pay. She was at the front of the store, triumphant, with her purse in hand, talking on her cell phone. The cashiers were excited and talking amongst themselves. It seemed the man who'd stolen the purse had left the store then returned with it--maybe to try to steal another purse, maybe to return the purse from where he'd taken it? I gathered no one asked him. He walked back into the store with the purse he'd already stolen in plain view. One of the cashiers recognized it and gave the alarm. Some Sally Ann employees chased him into the street and got the purse back. I didn't see him anywhere, but they were saying they'd got him too.

Excitement at the thrift store. Plus I got two cake covers for $2.70.

And here are some Easter eggs. The two small marbled eggs have real gold leaf on them. That's Austrian handiwork, made by my cousin Sabine who unfortunately, far too young, passed away last year. I can't recall who gave me the flower egg. I used to have a completely gold-leafed goose egg (also from an Austrian relative--my aunt Franziska?) that was accidentally broken. The custom is to hang Easter eggs from window frames or chandeliers. That's how the golden goose egg got broken, so I don't do it anymore. R and I painted the other eggs.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

reading to children / curious george

If you have children, or if you were read to as a child, you're probably familiar with the phenomenon of Curious George--a monkey captured in Africa by the Man with the Yellow Hat who brought him to a big city to live in a zoo. Yellow bananas, yellow banana-shaped hat.

Curious George has adventures that backfire. Despite tense moments, everything ends with a smile. I think children enjoy the naughtiness of George's daring. Critics discuss the post-colonial representation of a slave-capture narrative.

The first Curious George book was published in 1941, followed by a series of more Curious George books, followed by television, followed by more books.

I'm not sure how I grew up never hearing about Curious George. I only know about the monkey since I've started reading to children at an unidentified place which I cannot name. I'm taken aback by the number of children who aren't interested in the two large bins of books we can choose from--one English, one French--the instant they see the monkey. "Curious George! Georges, le Petit Curieux!"

I thought of printing up a few of the essays about the slave-capture narrative to give to the committee who purchases the books, but later Curious George books don't refer to his arrival from Africa. He's simply here in the city. The more recent Curious George books have grown more tame in response to parental concern that George wasn't a good role model. George's adventures aren't even all that naughty anymore.

I find Curious George dull to read, especially after having read the books out loud a few dozen times already. I don't have a child's fascination for ongoing repetition. (What is that all about? Does it make kids feel  secure?) What I do now is hide the Curious George books in the cupboard. I show the kids the other books I can read to them.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

dancing in mexico city / one statue one skeleton

Anyone who expects a picture of me dancing doesn't know me very well. I have a major disconnect between the way my ear hears music and however my brain sends those signals to my limbs. When I was younger, people used to insist I try--only to tell me when I was out there wagging my elbows and swaying my hips that it was true: I can't.

One aspect I love about Mexico City--and no doubt elsewhere in Mexico--is how people get dolled up in their finery on weekends and come to the parks to dance. In larger parks there's a band or a DJ. Sometimes there's no more incentive than a boombox blasting music. I took a lot of pictures the first Saturday we were there, but my camera was stolen. After that, I could use R's camera, but I felt cranky about bothering to take pictures if who knows who might run off with them. So I took only a few.

These are mostly pix of older couples because I was interested in how older women continue to see themselves as sexy and desirable even as their waists thicken and get truck-driver heavy. The men, too, retain a fine sense of how to dress up. I watched these couples, some of whom must be dancing together for fifty years, and wondered if the gentleness and sureness with which their feet moved in time translated to their private lives. I certainly hope so.

I know for a fact I will never have the kind of self-assurance--or whatever it is--it would take to wear a hot pink dress shirred up the butt crack.

This next couple broke my heart--the woman in the orange and yellow dress. She'd had a stroke. Half of her face was partly sagged. One side of body dragged a bit. Her husband handed her around so delicately, keeping her well away from anyone who might bump into them.

This woman's outfit is complete even to her bracelets matching the straps on her shoes. I'll bet her lingerie matches too. Her partner looks more stoic than enthusiastic in this photo, but you can't see the rhythm in his movements or how deftly he twists her around.  

 There were younger dancers too. Free-style.

Here's a picture from one of the many amazing exhibits in the Anthropology Museum. It makes me think of how important a nose is to a face. Without a nose, it's hard to broadcast a come-hither look.

On my stolen camera there were lots of pix of skeletons--skeletons dressed up in costumes, skeletons arranged in lifelike poses, skeletons with human masks strapped to their bony skulls, pretending to be people, dioramas of small skeletons enacting historical scenes. Those pix are gone, but here's one that R took.