Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Dulcet Tones

Dulcet Tones

If one chances to catch what passes for television entertainment these days, one cannot help but be exposed to the sad virus that seems to have grievously infected the voices of a great percentage of American females.  In what is perhaps best labeled “The Kardashian Effect”, scores of young women seem to have sacrificed any attempt at mellifluous speech for the odd and infinitely annoying noise that emanates from these three, oddly Macbethian, sisters that rule the realm of celebrity from atop their lucrative mound of inanity.  Once, the sound of these three (which can only be described as a quacking of sorts, blended liberally with a painful rasping whine that is powerful enough to strip paint off any passing vehicle)  seemed to be an anomaly, heard only if one chanced upon their “reality” television show by accident and was unable to move one’s fingers quickly enough to change the channel before one’s ears were assaulted.  These days though, I’m sorry to report, this newfangled squawk is being heard with more frequency, from the lowly commercial to the six o’clock news.  It’s practically rampant on the Home and Garden channel.

Now I realize I am walking perilously close to the edge of that suspect set of opinions that tend to define one’s age.  If I say Justin Bieber possesses not a scintilla of talent, for instance, you know automatically I am well past my teen years.  Or if I tell you I think Miley Cyrus should be jerked off her current tour and thrown into a strict gruel-serving boarding school for the next twelve or so years, you would guess I am out of my twenties.  So it’s possible, I suppose, that the current fingernails-on-chalkboard sound with which so many young women are attempting to communicate is actually appealing to other, younger, people.  But before they slide all the way into this cacophonous pit, I beg to remind them of some of the more individual, silvery,  harmonious voices; voices that have managed to successfully communicate with sound as well as words.  Think of Lauren Bacall’s sultry tones.  Or Billie Burke’s whimsical lilt, see the end of my last post for that.  Cate Blanchett, Grace Kelly, Annette Bening, Joanne Woodward.  Each voice distinct; each voice captivating.  

I suppose what I lament more than the disappearing honeyed tone of voice is the encroaching  homogenization in our culture. Everyone wants to be like everyone else.  This is nothing new of course, it just seems a bit more prevalent these days.  As someone who revels in individuality in all its technicolour forms, I think a person’s voice should be as unique as their opinions.  Growing up in the South I was privileged to hear many varied accents, some as thick as sorghum syrup on a cold day. Women would tend and cultivate a voice in the same way they honed a personal style. There were ladies whose speech sounded more like music than lyric; teachers who could render my three syllable first name into something much longer and grander than  what appeared on the page.  One rarely hears such accents today and I must confess that I miss them.  After all, none other than that bulldog of a Brit, Winston Churchill, once said, “The most beautiful voice in the world is that of an educated Southern woman”.  

Of course I myself think I have no true Southern accent anymore.  But I was proved wrong one bright September morning in the tiny village of Ballantrae, Scotland.  I’d come into the local post office to mail some letters and the young man working there asked me where I was from.  I told him and he remarked on my “Southern accent”.  I told him I didn’t think I had an accent, to which he replied, in the thickest Scottish brogue imaginable, that he didn’t have one either.  We both looked at each other in amazement for a long minute, then fell about laughing.  

In celebration of the truly original voice, 
here’s one of the most charming ones I’ve ever heard,
 and such a delightful example of a true Yorkshire accent. 
 Eat your heart out, Kim Kardashian.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Bronze Monkey and The Fire Hose

The Bronze Monkey and The Fire Hose

With a tip of the hat to the cliche... it had been one of those days.  My accountant was waiting for my tax information. (What receipt? I was supposed to KEEP that??)  There were bills to be paid and a stack of letters to be written. (You haven’t written that thank-you note YET??!)  I needed to run to the vets for Apple’s joint medication. (Yes, Yes, active dogs who’ve had knee surgery need JOINT medication.  Who knew?)  A bag of tweed suits sat forlornly by the front door waiting to be taken to the cleaners. (What if I just put them in another closet till next fall?  Would that be SO bad?)   The phone was ringing nonstop. (Just let it go to voicemail this ONE time! And nobody ask me ANYMORE questions!)  I had a long overdue list of emails waiting my reply. (Maybe they’ll forget they’ve written me?)  I had absolutely no idea what to cook for dinner and after a short perusal inside my pantry, knew that whatever I concocted would require a lengthy trip to the grocers.     (Dinner out?  AGAIN?)   The ferns and alyssum needed water, as did the birdbath. (Oh Lord, isn’t it supposed to RAIN sometime this week?)  Edward wanted a walk.  (Soon, Buddy.  Soon!)   There were wilted flowers in vases all over the house and a row of late night knitting had gotten off pattern and was waiting to be taken out and done over. (WILTED flowers!  WHAT a metaphor!   And would anybody EVER notice that knitting mistake if I just IGNORED it?)  I had an appointment with a decorating client who’d chosen the wrong carpet and now wanted me to choose colours for the walls that would, somehow, alleviate the need for ripping it all out. (Why, oh WHY, didn’t you call me in FIRST?!)  As chairman for our neighbourhood home and garden tour, I was writing the tour program, looking for volunteers and sponsors, and delivering tickets. (HOW many years have I done this now?)  Delighted with the cool, sunny Spring weather, both Edward and Apple had obviously been exploring the newly blooming garden regions as there was now a tell-tale trail  of green grass and clover down the bedroom hallway, and.. WHAT... was that a paw print in mud?  (What do you MEAN the vacuum is out in the studio? There’s MUD in the hallway!)  At ten I received a text from my manicurist.  (Did you forget about me?  Your appointment was thirty minutes ago!) The neglected characters from the book I am writing kept knocking on the inside of my brain, desperate to escape and land, neatly arranged, on the page.  (WHO am I kidding?  I’ll NEVER be able to finish this!  Virginia Woolf and that BLASTED Room of her Own!  Right!) It was also one of those mornings when I seemed to have too much hair.  Too long, too wild, to ever  arrange in any way resembling attractiveness. (Visions of Judi Dench, Sinead O’Connor, and Curly from the Three Stooges  floated temptingly into my head.  (Can I just CUT IT ALL OFF myself??) Fortunately, I did have a appointment with my hairdresser at noon which, miraculously, I had not forgotten.

There is a phrase going around these days describing various types of modern irritations as “first world problems” and while I fully recognized mine to be sitting squarely in this category, I could feel myself fraying nonetheless.  One tiny innocuous question, one wayward quizzical look.... that was all it was going to take to send me up on the roof in a full Brunhilde breakdown.  Then... just as I was preparing to leave for my hair appointment I saw the line of dust behind the bronze monkey that sits, holding bananas, on my kitchen counter, a line of dust that seemed at that moment to signify all that I still had to do and would never manage to get done in the measly twenty-four hours allotted to me in one day.

In total over-reaction, I placed my palms flat down on the edge of the sink and took a deep, somewhat shuddering, breath.  Then I began to laugh.  Not the laugh of the amused, mind you.  No, this laugh seemed to emanate from a part of my brain usually reserved for that moment in time when one narrowly misses being hit by a train.  Jerky, too loud, and with a soupcon of sardonic blackness that worried me just a bit.  Taking a deep breath, I reached for my car keys and sunglasses.  Ignoring the gazes, both canine and human, of my family, I calmly walked out the front door and climbed into my little green Fiat.  I rolled down the windows.  I turned up the radio.  Petula Clark.  Ah, yes.  A hair cut would make me feel better.

Arriving at the salon, greeting my hairdresser of over twenty years, I had just settled in for a relaxing hair wash when he suddenly lost control of the sprayer and hit me square in the face.  Not a trickle, oh no, but a full on blast of water not dissimilar to that bursting forth from a fire hose.  My hairdresser’s profusely delivered apologies excepted, silence landed on the floor of the salon like fistfuls of cotton; combs and clippers froze in mid-air. Everyone waited to see what the poor soaking wet, sputtering lady in the grey jeans was going to do.  Well of course, it was funny.  And this time my laughter was deep and therapeutic.  I howled.  In less than a second, the entire salon was rolling in laughter along with me.  For several whole minutes a roomful of strangers forgot the insignificant irritations that collect like dust around each of us every week as we all roared with laughter, at me.  Yes, I was an object of absurdity and happy to be so, for no one deserved to be laughed at more than I.  

Now I am not proud of this comparison, make no mistake.  But as a personal penance of sorts for my momentary lack of centeredness and calm that was restored only by a blast of cold water to the face,  I shall share this small clip from the old classic movie, Dinner at Eight.  Billie Burke’s speech here bears an uncanny resemblance
 to my own capitulation to trivial troubles.  
Feel free to laugh at me.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy, Happy Easter!

The year's at the spring
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hillside's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in His heaven -
All's right with the world!
Robert Browning
Happy, Happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Canine Art of Communication... An Edward Story

The Canine Art of Communication

Though he wears his privilege with a degree of insouciance befitting his humble nature, The Big White Dog is well aware of his exalted station within his family.  How could he not be?  There is, for instance, no piece of furniture that is off limits should he chance to require a nap.  His dinner is never late, often cooked, and served in a fur-matching white bowl purchased just for him at Harrod’s Department Store in London.  His advice is frequently sought by both The Lady and The Man and indeed, one of his serene, sapient stares seems to work wonders on both of them in equal measure.  His dignified handshakes are not only affectionately proffered when asked for, but he is quite ambidextrous as well.  Modesty prevents him, as it does most of his kind, from flaunting his expansive vocabulary but from many years of listening to, and often being read to by, The Lady, he does recognize a rather wide range of English words and even a couple of nonsensical German-sounding ones that appear, at least to his observation, to be reserved solely for moments of extreme toe-stubbing pain or irritation.   Rarely does the need arise for The Big White Dog to parade his powers of comprehension and articulation, but one morning just last week, it did.

While it is no secret he would much prefer his pack of four stay together at all times, there are lapses, seemingly unavoidable, when one or the other of them chances to wander off on their own.  The Big White Dog doesn’t like this one bit and has convinced his roommate, The Big Black Dog, to stay close at all times, though it is a different matter with The Lady and The Man.  They seem to do what they want.  He has learned, somewhat begrudgingly, to live with this though he is placed into a state of high vigilance whenever one or the other of them walks out the door.  Such was the case last week when The Man ran out on an errand.

It was one of those early Spring mornings that always seem to cast a spell over The Lady.  She moves differently - slower, dreamier - as though an invisible carpet of flowers was unrolled by genies in the night.  She puts on music and hums along. She opens all the windows. She throws open the front door and latches the screen.  She asks his opinion on the strangest things:  the best sort of chocolate for bunnies, the best shade of pink for Easter eggs.   Frankly, he frequently has cause to worry about her in Springtime.  On this particular morning The Big Dog watched as she absentmindedly latched the front screen door after The Man went out.  He saw her wander off, humming quietly, through the kitchen, down the hallway, through the bedroom and out of sight.  With one pack member off in the car and the other out of sight in the farthermost reaches of the house, he decided to situate himself in the midway point of the kitchen.  The hardwood floors are cool to his belly here and from this position he can easily keep watch over both parts of the house.  So he waited.  

Sure enough, he soon heard The Man’s car pull into the drive.   A door slammed.  He heard The Man’s trademark whistling as he opened, then closed, the gate.  Then a tug on the front screen door which, as the Big Dog anticipated, yielded no result.  A pause.  He heard The Man call The Lady’s name.  He waited, ears cocked.  Nothing from the back of the house.  He rose, trotted into the entry, and stood beneath the door, looking up at The Man.  Perhaps he would hear one of those strange German sounding exclamations he sometimes chanced to hear in situations such as this.  But no, not this time.  Instead, The Man addressed him directly.

“Edward!”, he said with a smile.  “Go get Mamma!”

The Big White Dog looked up in amazement.  A direct order!  He waited a second to make certain he’d heard correctly.  

“Edward.  Good Boy.  Now, go get Mamma!”

The Big Dog turned immediately and with a purposeful trot, headed out of the entry, through the kitchen, down the hallway, through the bedroom, where he soon found The Lady in front of her mirror in the process of changing her lips from one colour to another, a daily activity The Big Dog has always found utterly odd.  He stopped in the doorway and stared at her, hard.  She turned.

“Hello, handsome!”, she said, smiling.  She turned back to the mirror.

He stared.  Harder.  

She turned again.  She stared back.  “What’s up, Edward?”, she asked.  He heard the flicker of concern in her voice and re-emphasized his stare.  

All of a sudden he saw the penny drop.  “Is Daddy home?”  

The Lady looked at him quizzically for a moment, then turned to follow.  He jumped and wagged his tail, moving out into the hallway and turning back to make certain she knew to come with him.  She did!  Through the bedroom, down the hallway, through the kitchen, into the entry and to the latched front door where she found a grinning Man.

There followed quite a lot of “Good Boys!!” and “Well Done, Edwards” but really, The Big White Dog found it all much ado about nothing.  Just another of his often unseen feats of wonder done for the safety and benefit of his family.  Whatever would they do without him?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Birthday Beach

Birthday Beach

The Artist has chosen a limited palette today; only tiny gradations betwixt sky,  sea and sand.  The waves come in like sighs. Three large pelicans, their strange anatomy more noble than humorous in the paleness of this light, glide along atop the water, wings stretched kite-straight, sleek silver feathers casually grazing the water. Like grey rocking horses, a tracing of porpoises, parallel to the shore. The horizon vanishes, married finally to the sea, and all that remains is soft wind, soft sound.  My book remains as unopened as my thoughts.  I wrap my spring green shawl round my shoulders and close my eyes.  There is no better way to spend my birthday.  Be back soon.