Words are Confusing – Recycled Sundays

Considering the complexity of the English language, rich with synonyms, homonyms, and metaphors, it is amazing that humans understand each other as well as they do. Still, if we could eliminate misunderstanding most therapists, lawyers, marriage counselors, and peacekeepers would be out of a job.

 

Children play an old game called telephone or gossip which also illustrates how garbled messages can become once they leave the first pair of lips. A single misunderstood word can give the sentence a widely different meaning.

 

It can be very confusing for a child when they have missed understood a word and then hear it in a different context. I remember when my son was first learning to play Monopoly before he could read most of the words. He thought Pacific Avenue was Specific Avenue. He finally asked me to explain this oddity when I use specific in a non-Monopoly context too many times.

 

He also thought Qaddafi was a car. I wondered what brand of oil Gaddafi would use.

 

News broadcasts, often told too quickly, are a great source of misunderstanding. When President Bush made a cultural faux pas and offended the Australians, it was the topic of discussion at our dinner table.

 

“Did you hear?” said our daughter. “The American president gave the V for victory sign wrong when he drove past some Australians in his car and now they’re mad at him.”

 

“That’s not true,”said my son.

 

“It is so,” I said my daughter. “I saw on the news. We even talked about it in school.”

 

“That’s impossible,” continued my son who was an avid student of geography. “How can the president of the United States drive. his car to Australia?”

 

Perhaps in a Gaddafi.

 

After further discussion of the history of the V sign, my son offered his own interpretation. He thought that perhaps politicians use the two fingers up to signal the postal employees to raise the price of stamps two cents.

 

Even simple words used in slightly different ways can be misleading. My husband said they were 2000 applications to attend the faculty of education this year but only 400 seats were available. My son wanted to know if the rest would have to stand. I hoped it wouldn’t have to be in an unemployment line after graduation.

 

I often wonder about the hidden messages in questions. Recently a waitress asked if I wanted something tall and fruity or short and tart. Neither sounded appealing to my tastes.

 

You can often tell a lot about someone by what they don’t say. In a West Coast First Nations burial ground, time is marked by centuries. The headstones say which century a person died in. That certainly speaks of a long-range view. Without ever having met them, you suspect they are the kind of people who would support Spaceguard. Spaceguard is a proposed project that would track asteroids and comets heading toward earth that are capable of killing  one billion people or more.

 

We are living in a time when the information highway is spreading, yet few people can read the road signs. If you’ve ever followed a debate on a computer bulletin board you will have seen communication and miscommunication at its highest level. Unfortunately, those who don’t learn to ride the information highway will be bypassed or perhaps driven right over. Still, it is a message labyrinth even King Minos would find puzzling.

 

Numerous episodes of  In Search Of and Ancient Mysteries are devoted to unraveling messages left by previous cultures. I shutter to think what future cultures may deduce from our leavings, Madonna videos, Beavis & Butthead cartoons, newspaper war coverage, Snow CDs, bathroom graffiti, and income tax guides. If we have trouble understanding it as we live through it, future civilizations will be stunned. Anthropologists and archeologists will probably term it as the Time of Insanity. The general public will ask them to be more specific, especially about the game called Monopoly.

 

Originally published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times News

February 6, 1994

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Recycled Sundays – You’ll Miss It When It’s Gone

Happy Valentine’s Day. Here’s hoping all your friends, lovers, and family members have a warm, cheery day free of colds, accidents and phobias – especially koro.

I first learned about koro from Omni magazine, a highly respected and forward-looking science publication which occasionally runs a small article on unusual phobias. There appeared a couple of paragraphs on the most bizarre phobia I have yet encountered. Psychiatrist Albert Gaw wants the American psychiatric Association to learn about the psychiatric malady koro. “Victims believe that their genitals, particularly the penis, our shrinking and that once retraction is complete, they will die.“ If they didn’t I imagine they would be in constant stress wondering what might shrink next into oblivion. I knew the world was becoming a smaller and smaller place, but I didn’t realize that some people were taking it personally.

Koro tends to occur in epidemics like the one that swept through Hainan Island, China in 1984 and 1985 affecting some 2000 men. Rumours had spread that spirits – obviously not any relation to Cupid – who in the folk belief inhabit or process individuals, were stealing organs from living Man and we’re not talking lungs here. Gaw cites photos of men who you string or clamps (padded I hope) or even their friends, to hold onto their supposedly retracting body parts. I suppose medical personnel could supplement their income is with a blackbird market business in retractors.

hat did the victims of this phobia say to their friends to get help? “Would you hold onto this for me? I need both hands free for a while.“ Would that be a friendship test or what? How many people do you know who would sacrifice their day securing your ordinary valuables for you let alone look after look after your special one? And what’s with the stealing spirits anyway? Are they jealous that the can living to do something that they can’t? Are they peeved off with men for indignities suffered when they were still living? Or are they just odd collectors?

Gaw says that koro is “for the most part unrecognized in the United States, even though Asian refugee, immigrant, and tourist populations are rising and we are seeing a few cases.“

How do the patients get to the psychiatrist office? Public transit? Wouldn’t that attract a lot of attention? Especially if they are using the buddy system? Do they pay the fare for their friend? I hope this doesn’t become too widespread in counter culture. Wild haircuts, pieces of metal through the skin, enormous tattoos, all seem pretty tame compared to a clamp on your shrinking body part. I would certainly hope that no husband or boyfriend asks for one for Valentine’s Day.

Originally published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News

February 14, 1993

Recycled Sundays – Movie Magic

Movies, films, moving pictures, flicks, motion pictures, whatever you choose to call them, have had a tremendous impact on this century. When Eadweard Muybridge set up twenty-four cameras to photograph a horse race in 1873, I’m sure he did not anticipate generations of screamers, weepers, groaners, and neckers would follow this new entertainment/artform.

In 1889, Thomas Edison built the kinetoscope. One person could watch the action through a peephole. Much of the allure was probably being allowed to see something no one else could see. I cannot imagine why anyone wanted to watch a man sneezing. Then again, it is not apparent why anyone wants to watch Woody Allen.

The Lumiere brothers showed the first group movies, the best showing a train arriving at a station. It is not known whether the train was on time or how much traffic it had backed up in the intercity area.

In 1990, movies begin to tell a story: Cinderella, a trip to the moon, then the great train robbery. We’ve come along way since then: Walt Disney Cinderella, Star Trek the Undiscovered Country, and Thelma and Louise.

In the 1950s 3-D movies arrived, the best being The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Now there’s 3-D, 4-D, Cineplex, IMAX, rides supplemented by film, rides imitating film, film imitating rides, live shows of filmed shows, and actors impersonating film characters who were originally impersonating someone else in a film.

At Universal Studios I covered my eyes with a new intensity while watching Hitchcock’s The Birds in 3-D. At MGM studios I laughed along with Jim Henson’s Muppets in 4-D. Smoke, bubbles, and exploding walls surrounded me. The mother behind me commented to her child throughout the production. My wish for a stray cannon shot to plug her never came true.

I travelled through a spaceport in MGM studios, star tours, surrounded by robots, droids, and special effects, to reach the actual ride. Strapped into a spaceship, the wild film unfolded. As I zoomed through the death star’s canyon, the entire room swerved and bucked. I thought I’d reach the pinnacle of tension until my son announced he discovered motion sickness.

The Indiana Jones spectacular showed stunt people acting out a movie scene done by stuntman acting as actors acting out a story for the movie. I am reminded of David Sukuki‘s comment that Mickey Mouse is a person acting as a mouse who behaves like a person.

We ate lunch at Mel’s drive-in bracket universal bracket from American graffiti almost witnessing a genuine rumble when the lady in front lost her cool and tried to shred the waiter with her tongue. I think she’d had too much heat and not enough cola. We had supper at MGM’s replica of a 1950s drive-in theatre with black and white film clips, a realistic horizon, drive-in speakers, popcorn, and waitresses on rollerskates. The only thing missing was the mosquitoes. Our children ate in the front of the car while my husband and I were in the back. They loved the role reversal.

We survived King Kong’s attack, the San Francisco, being spit on by camels in Aladdin’s Royal Caravan and a trip to ET‘s planet by bicycle. ETA says goodbye to each visitor by name which inspired us for a return trip, incognito. He did stumble a bit with the fake name “Goober.”

At the Kennedy Space Centre the IMAX theatre was the next best thing to a genuine launch. Unfortunately people had to sit on the theatre floor because of poor organization. They can send a man to the moon but they can’t make sure everyone gets a seat. The bus tour bored my son so much he fell asleep. Sometimes fiction is more interesting than fact. Disney offered American Journeys in 360° of circle vision. While standing, we were surrounded by moving pictures. Once the white water rafting started, I understood the importance of the leaning bars. We also learned about sound effects, horror make up, props, editing, shirts, animation, costuming, and special-effects. I have a new appreciation for the creativity and hard work that goes into filmmaking.

On our way home, we decided to visit Hull, Quebec in an attempt to break away from the movie glitz. We visited the Canadian Museum of civilization. Surprise, they have a Cineplus theater.

Originally publish in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News

September 12, 1993

Recycled Sundays – No New Memories

I wrote a blog on how I have been suffering with memory loss in recent years. Imagine my surprise to learn about a man who makes me look like someone with a photographic memory. I have never met him, just read about him as KH. But, even if I had, he wouldn’t remember me. If I met him every day for a year, he still wouldn’t remember. I’ve had a similar effect on attractive young man in the past, but KH is an elderly gentleman with the unique problem.

KH had experimental surgery to control epileptic seizures a few decades ago. It happened back when the medical establishment was willing to take risks with people’s brains until the risk of lawsuits taught them to curtail their adventurousness. They removed tissue shaped like a wishbone, ironically, from KH’s brain. The good news – his seizures ceased. The bad news – KH wouldn’t be able to remember from one day to the next if they had. You see, he is complete unable to keep any new memory.

He can remember most things that happened to him before the surgery: the people he knew, the skills he learned, American history, etc. Yet he cannot remember anything that happened since his surgery. If he met me a week ago and again yesterday we would have to be re-introduced today. By afternoon, he cannot remember what happened in the morning.

Scientists and psychologists would likely give their eyeteeth to work with this guy. He is such a rare and fascinating study. It is rather fortunate that this man is so valuable to research because the scientific community will ensure he is well taken care of. Otherwise, how could be on his own?

Can you imagine? He can’t learn anything new. Talk about being computer illiterate! He could never deposit money. He’d have to have the same bank and same account number as he had before the operation. If the building was torn down and he started a new account somewhere else, as soon as he walked out of the building he’d forget he’d ever been there. I thought I had trouble remembering my pin number but he wouldn’t remember from one day to the next that instant teller’s even exist.

Any foods that he hadn’t tried before the operation would be new to him every time he tasted them. If you asked if he liked tofu for example and he hadn’t tasted it before the surgery, he would have to say he didn’t know even if you offered it to him every day for the rest of his life. If he got on an elevator by himself, would he remember which button to press – and if he did, when he arrived at the floor would he remember where he was going? Talk about the twilight zone.

Imagine turning on the television news in the morning and learning every day for the first time that Madonna wrote a book., Michael Jackson is a grown man, maybe, the space shuttle is launching, and Elvis is dead or working at a nearby gas station.

How could he move to a new house? Every morning, he would wake up in a strange environment. He would have an excellent reason not to be able to find a pen or his keys. He’d have to search every time he needed to go to the bathroom. Would he be able to find his way back to the bedroom? He better not go past the front steps since he wouldn’t know his phone number or his address.

What if someone fell in love with him? Each day they would have to start their relationship from scratch. Out of sight would be truly out of mind. At least he wouldn’t hold anything against her. He won’t remember any of her mistakes. He would also have an advantage over most men, A solid excuse for forgetting her birthday. On the other hand, his wife could say, “Honey I haven’t bought any new clothes in ages” and he’d have to believe her. She never have to complain of a headache. She could just say, “Darling we just did and you were so terrific I’m totally drained.”

I found this short report on KH ‘s life so fascinating that I decided to research him at the library. I searched the periodical indexes for the last 15 years under amnesia, memory, brain surgery, mind, and epilepsy, I couldn’t find a single article that mentioned him. I looked through books and similar topics. Nothing, absolutely nothing. It looks as though everyone has forgotten about KH. Oh well, quid pro quo.

Originally published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News,
February 21, 1993

Current comment.
George Wing also must have found this topic interesting since he wrote the wonderful screen play Fifty First Dates based on this type of brain injury.

Recycled Sundays – Footwear Has a Life of Its Own

People have often entertained the idea that inanimate objects can move, talk, and adventure. Jim Hansen was a marvel at bringing toys, plants and even shapes to life. Disney saw nothing wrong with making flowers, trees, and crockery sing and dance.

TVOntario runs a children show called Readalong. The star has a crush on a pink shoe. But, no need to arrange therapy, since he is a boot. This is no surprise to me. Considering all the anthropomorphism we indulge in, footwear has always seemed the most likely to me to live a life of its own.

I remember the year my son had to share a locker with another classmate at school. By the third week of September, his left shoe had walked away. It was not in any of the three full coffin-sized lost and found boxes, the mud rooms, the classrooms, the office, or the schoolyard. I know. We searched.

We bought him a new pair of shoes.

I think it is unfair that we have to buy shoes in pairs. Why is that? We don’t have to replace all four tires when one is ruined. I felt even stronger about this when my son lost another shoe before Christmas, the left one again. Talk about two left feet.

We bought him a new pair of shoes.

In April, he informed me that there was a “small” hole in one of his shoes. I insisted that it needed to last to the end of the year. Three pairs of indoor school shoes in one year would be outrageous.

A few days later, he told me the hole was beginning to be embarrassing. I told him to bring them home so that I could check them. The sole had pulled away from the shoe for at least 5 cm. Half of his foot stuck out the front. I’d hate to see what he considered a “big” hole.

We bought him a new pair of shoes.

It seems that the constant replacing of a single shoe with a new pair is not just a Canadian phenomenon. My friend, Yuko, told me that Japanese children are just as hard on their shoes, especially when they play the traditional game of geta toss. Getas are sandal-like shoes that people wore with kimonos. Children would play a game whereby they kick one shoe each into the air, much like how we toss a coin. If the geta landed right side up it meant one decision, if it landed right side down it meant another.

Yuko, being a modern girl, wore running shoes just like Canadian children do. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t kick them in the air in a rousing game with her friends. Unfortunately, modern Japanese children have a bigger concern then those who wore kimonos and getas — heavy traffic. Her kick was a bit off-center and the shoe landed in the street  just in the right spot to be crushed by a car. That was one air pump shoe with no more air in it!

They bought her a new pair.

I don’t think they were as upset as I was when my son came home in June of that same year with only one shoe, the left one this time. Ha ha, I thought. I save the right one from the second pair. They may not match exactly, but they’re good enough to play outside in. Unfortunately, they were an entire size different. They would probably make him run in circles just like his mother.

We bought him a new pair.

Somewhere, out there, two like-new left shoes have met up with all the other missing shoes and are high-stepping in the dance of freedom. They’ve join with the partners of all the shoes scattered on the sides of the highway in mockery of those mothers on the way to the shoe store.

Originally published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News

March 7, 1993

NEW NOTE: This story is the inspiration for my upcoming picture book Geta Toss.

Surviving Northern Ontario Winters – Recycled Sundays

Boy, I’m getting tired of winter. Even the snow bunnies seem to have less sparkle in their colored contacts these days.

I miss walking the most. It doesn’t seem to have the same satisfaction combined with the Northern expedition – hands buried deep in pockets, back curved into a semi-fetal position, parka hoods drawn forward (no wonder polar bears can sneak right up on Inuit hunters), feet shuffling as fast as they can trying to grip the icy sidewalk, and head down against the wind.

I’m also going rather stir crazy. The most common pastime I engage in is “warming up the car”. People seem to try unusual things to break the boredom during the long winter months. They start new hobbies. They learn new games. They attempt new sports. They look at things with an overly negative eye.

I suspect it was midwinter blues that triggered the adverse reaction to the camel on Camel cigarettes. What was going through the minds of the public when they decided the cool humpback smoker had a face like… well, like another body part? I suspect it was the same boredom and long, dark days that recently caused an outcry against Nestle. It seems their palm tree symbol is as suggestive as the addicted camel. Upside down that is. What I want to know is this. Did the woman who complain store packages upside down in the cupboard and stumble upon this nutty resemblance when she went to make cocoa? Or, in the stir crazy mind set of a long winter nights, did she try yoga for the first time and gain a new perspective on fruit trees?

At this time of the year, those of us who are not snowbirds often wonder why we live here. I can’t answer that. I’m still trying to figure out why I bought the same kind of vehicle twice when the first one drove me crazy. Surviving a winter like this one, though, does give us a commonality, a shared trauma as such, much like living through an thunder storm that lasts for months. It also encourages us to take stock of things, like emergency flares and whether job security is worth having to climb through the car hatch because all the doors have frozen shut, again.

Friendly readers often comment on my columns, but the quiz on “Are You a Northerner?” seemed to to hit a responsive chord with many. A few women suggested I could dig into the more feminine aspects of being a Northerner since most of the questions pertained to men. There’s nothing like positive feedback to fuel the engine. So, here are a few more you can add to your list. You know you’re a northern Ontarion when…

  • Sixty percent of the labels on your clothing contain the words “warm to 30 below”.
  • You master walking in high heels on carpeting when you’re 11, tile floors when you’re 12, and snow when you’re 13.
  • All your foot wear is two-tone: black and salt, navy and salt, brown and salt, and red and salt.
  • You sign up for midwinter exercise classes to get you out of the house on those long, dark, depressing winter evenings and then missed the first two because it is too cold to go out, go to the third, and then decide you are too far behind everyone else to continue.
  • You have a sign over your kitchen sink that reads, “You catch ’em, you clean ’em.”
  • Half of your friends have more vowels in their names than consonants.
  • You play on a mix baseball team sponsored by a sports store at which you never shop and a mixed curling team sponsored by a tavern at which you are known by your first name.
  • You sign up for a hockey pool at work and at your favorite bar and feel physically ill when you forget to play your numbers in the lottery.
  • You’ve owned at least one vehicle that had holes hidden below the floor mat through which you could watch the highway flash past.
  • You always pronounce “sauna” correctly.
  • You think there is too much stick handling in hockey.
  • You order your garden seeds, all beginning with the words “Quick Grow” three months before planting.
  • You’ve actually eaten, but more probably drank, a food product made from dandelions.
  • You know the difference between a fiddlehead and a conehead.
  • You know how to put chains on winter tires, even when they’re moving.

Chronicle-Journal/Times-News, February 13, 1994

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

Recycled Sundays – Beauty

It never ceases to amaze me what women will do in order to fit their generation’s idea of beauty. Since I have watched a surgeon perform a face-lift on television, I have never felt comfortable around skinned chicken. Not all attempts to be beautiful are as drastic as the ultimate face peel. Most women settle for superficial makeovers.

As long as I can remember, women’s magazines have taken the dull and dowdy for feature makeovers. Ms Plain Jane is described in the before picture as having limp, lifeless hair, an uneven complexion, eye makeup from the 50s, and clothes that do not suit her figure. After Jane is re-made in the image of her sponsors, everyone who read the magazine now knows how horrible she looks when she grooms herself. Every morning she will stare tearfully into her mirror praying she can reach the “after” level on her own.

More than once there had been aspects of “before” pictures that I preferred to the makeovers. The most obvious disaster was when Chatelaine decided to redo Audrey McLaughlin. In the before picture, she look like a hard-working, nicely groomed, dignified, quietly attractive, middle aged woman. After litres of hairspray and make up, she had an entirely new look. Well, not entirely new. It had been done before. She looked just like Bette Davis in the movie Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? It was the kind of picture political rivals could’ve used for blackmail if it hadn’t already appeared in thousands of homes and stores across the country.

I think the beauty experts are not very big on admitting their mistakes. What would it take for them to say, “This didn’t turn out as we expected. Let’s go back to the before look.”? More than I can imagine. I suspect they would insist that a third eye gave the woman a chic look of introspection.

Some women will spend a small fortune in order to smell attractive. Opium perfume cost almost as much is the real thing. In an effort to attract busy working women who no longer have time to sample perfumes at department store counters, companies insert scent strips into their advertisements. Consumers have complained about perfume samples in magazines that cause an allergic reaction. I don’t mind that. It’s the papercut that kills me. Right across the wrist.

Lotion, shampoo, and make up samples are inserted as well. More and more are for older women. Recently I was talking about a cream sample that was supposed to reduce my crow’s feet. In wide-eyed wonder, my neighbour’s child demanded that I take off my shoes and show her.

In spite of accidents, medical complications, and high expense, liposuction is still a popular surgical makeover. Fat is loosened from the overly plump body part, (sliced and diced), is then sucked out through a small hose. For a number of years women have used this as a method to finally fit high cut swimsuits.

The more recent innovation is fat relocation. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with the fat. It just isn’t in the spot where men favor it.  Fat from your marbled thighs can be repositioned to your breasts. Your lover won’t realize he is being turned on by the very same fat that used to repel him. Fat from your buttocks can be moved to your lips. Now you can honestly tell your man to kiss your ass. Perhaps women should be telling the beauty experts to do this instead.

 

Previously published November 14, 1993

Chronicle-Journal/Times-News

Recycled Sundays – Alligator Hide and Seek

One of my favourite things when on a trip is seeing the variety of creatures, great and small. I need periodic contact with wildlife. I anticipated eagerly my first sight of an alligator on our trip to Florida. I was sure we just have to look out the window to see these primeval reptiles.

I was, at first, disappointed. Fortunately, there were many other creatures of interest. White birds abound in Florida. They have become almost as much of a nuisance as our local seagulls. But, these are egrets, a protected species. Traffic stops for these heron-like birds with their curved beaks. Tourists giggle nervously as the knee-high birds scrounge around for drop snacks. I wondered if they were eaten by the elusive alligators as they stood in the cool ditches.

We gained a new love for living in the north after watching the poisonous snakes of Florida show. I am not sure I could remember to wear boots every time I went hiking because of rattlers, avoid sitting on stumps because of spiders, or shake out my shoes at the beach before putting them on because of scorpions. Gee, and I thought the alligators were the big risk. Apparently not.

Crocodiles are aggressive and territorial. They’re the only animal that still has man listed as prey. They will follow a canoeist, waiting for just the right moment to strike. Fortunately, for canoeists not crocodiles, they are almost extinct in Florida.

Alligators are timid and will retreat from an intruder unless cornered. The last word made me pause when I discovered that the open bodies of water we had been passing by car and on foot quite probably held alligators. Camouflage, the knack of keeping motionless, and the ability to remain under water for hours at a time, kept them hidden. What would it take to make a 16 foot creature with crushing jaws feel cornered? I was careful not to find out once I learned to spot them resting in roadside ditches.

However, when you spend a lot of time in Disney World the line between reality and imagination starts to blur. After taking an undersea tour with Captain Nemo through an entire lake of synchronized plastic creatures, an unmanageable wild chipmunk can be refreshing. It becomes difficult to tell what is real. On the Disney world railroad we passed artificial snakes, deer, and a moose, often with moving parts. My first guess wasn’t always right.

 

At a different park we saw several plastic life-sized alligators. I passed by one waist-high fence and commented on the cleverness of having an enormous alligator statue partially hidden in the bushes. As I leaned over the fence to photograph a close-up, my son remarked, “This one’s breathing.”

 

First published

Chronical-Journal/Times-News

September 26, 1993

Recycled Sundays – Writers’ Ten Commandments

  1. Writing is your career and your destiny and you shall put no other jobs before it… Except what you need to get paid the bills.
  2. You shall not take the spelling of your craft in vain, but be sure to use both a spell check and grammar check. There is also nothing wrong with cracking open a dictionary.
  3. Remember your deadline day to keep it prompt, exceptions made for destructive forces of nature such as hurricanes and sick children.
  4. Honor your editor and illustrator, without them your work would be smoke.
  5. You shall not sleep with your editor until after your work has been published unless s/he is your spouse then, by all means, make that person happy.
  6. You shall not commit plagiarism, but may quote, and on occasion misquote, in order to fill your word content.
  7. You shall not malign your fellow writers even if they malign you. Just keep writing and improving until you pass them on the best seller list.
  8. You shall not covet the marriages of other professionals. The artistic are seldom understood. There’s nothing wrong with a cat. Or a dog. Or a cat and a dog. Rescued, of course.
  9. You shall not permanently delete today’s work for tomorrow you may need it.
  10. You shall not covet the bank accounts of other professionals, you are a bloody writer after all.

October 1993

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Just One More Time -The Elusive Nutcracker Ballet. Recycled Sundays.

photo

With Christmas once again looming its green and red visage above the horizon, my thoughts turn to Sugar Plum Fairies and Snow Queens. I chuckled to see that The Nutcracker Ballet is again appearing at the auditorium.

The Nutcracker was the very first ballet I’d ever seen, in my thirties. As a child, I’d been told things like ballets, operas, and symphonies were for rich intellectuals. For kids like me, accordion lessons were the game plan. Nevertheless, I’d caught glimpses of this Christmas ballet on CBC and decided to check it out for myself.

I braved a fiercely cold night with a wind chill factor designed especially to brutalize women in thin Christmas dresses. Most of the nuances of ballet movements escaped me, but the grace and beauty didn’t. The snowscape, twirling flowers, Russian dances, duelling mice and marching toy soldiers were far beyond what I had ever imagined. I loved every minute, except for a familiar refrain playing in the back of my brain, “I should have brought the children.”

I took them to see a different ballet. My daughter loved it but my three year old son gave the auditorium chair the kind of stress test the orangatan gives the luggage in that television commercial. If only I could get him to experience The Nutcracker. Surely then he would learn to love ballet.

Two years later The Nutcracker returned with a different ballet company. I searched stores and libraries for days until I found the perfect picture book explaining the story of Clara and her beloved bucktoothed soldier. I read and reread it to my children until they were in a frenzy of anticipation.

“Wait until you see the giant Christmas tree that grows as high as you could imagine. Sword fights, costumes from around the world, sparkling snow, white and silver reindeer, the magical uncle in his great black cape and the Sugar Plum Fairy.”

I bought front row center seats. In our excitement, we could hardly button our bows and knot our ties.

The front row had a six inch wide brass bar exactly at my son’s eye level. We built him a perch out of coats and crossed our arms in front of him so he wouldn’t keep sliding off. We needn’t have bothered. There were no mice, no dancing flowers, no foreign costumes, and no Christmas tree. This alternate version of The Nutcracker took place on Clara’s birthday. There were two scene changes and two costume changes. The nutcracker, a two foot doll, sat on the edge of the stage, sneering at us through the performance.

Three years later, The Nutcracker came to town again. This was to be the space age version. No matter, the reviews promised they would stick to the basic story. Sixth row center seats.

The morning of the performance, my son woke with a temperature of 102F.

The auditorium was unable to sell our tickets. My daughter and I attended while Daddy put cool cloth’s on our son’s forehead. Oddly, he seemed almost eager to stay home and nurse the child. The ballet was everything a Christmas/battle/space-loving little eight year old boy would want.

The next day, his temperature was normal. We taped The Nutcracker on Ice from television and curled up together. The next week we watched the CBC version.

Finally, the traditional Nutcracker returned. We had good seats, good weather and good health. Afterwards I asked my son if it was what he had anticipated.

“It was okay,” he said. “We don’t have to go again, do we?”

“No. I’m satisfied.”

“Good,” he replied. “I was getting tired of it.” Sadly, he has never attended another ballet.

* * *

I have since remarried. I took my curling and hockey loving husband to see his first ballet, after all, he has learned to love live theatre with me. Afterwards, I asked what he thought.

“You owe me at least two hockey games,” he replied.

I was disappointed to learn there is no Nutcracker ballet this year. My four-year-old granddaughter is almost ready. Perhaps I’ll start with a picture book.

 

Partly published December 1992 in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-news.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages