May 16, 2012

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

I'm a big fan of Douglas Adams, so it's probably shameful of me not to have read Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency until last week.  I love The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, whether it be the books, tv series, or movie.  (I haven't listened to the radio shows yet.)  Adams did great work on Doctor Who as both a writer and a script editor, penning some of my favorite episodes.  And yet, for some reason I had neglected his two Dirk Gently books.  When I saw the new British tv show loosely based on Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, I was reminded of my oversight.  

Dirk Gently is a private detective who believes in "the fundamental interconnectedness of all things."  He uses these connections between sometimes seemingly unrelated people or events to solve his cases.  Dirk could be described as eccentric and his methods unorthodox.  Most people just think he is nuts.  The police think he gets in the way.  In this book he has to deal with a ghost, a time traveler, a monk who happens to be an android, and the possible extinction of life on earth.  Plus, there is the matter of the lovely horse who inexplicably appears in an upstairs bathroom. 

This being a Douglas Adams book, it's more science fiction than mystery.  I was surprised to find elements of the Doctor Who stories "Shada" and "City of Death."  The novel is funny, and it's filled with great characters.  Douglas Adams was excellent at creating well-drawn, interesting characters.  I expect the sequel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, to be just as good.

Sadly, there are only two Dirk Gently books.  Douglas Adams died in 2001 at the age of 49, having only completed eleven chapters of the next Dirk Gently story, The Salmon of Doubt.  Although those chapters were published posthumously in a collection with some of his essays and other writings, readers will never know how Douglas Adams intended that novel to end. But to me, Dirk Gently will always be out there, using the interconnectedness of all things to explain the impossible and the improbable.

May 9, 2012

The beagle has a birthday

Kenobi is turning eleven this week.  Maybe it would be better to say he is turning as close to eleven as close to this week as we know.  That is because my wonderful, loving, gentle beagle is a rescue dog.  He came from BREW, Beagle Rescue, Education, and Welfare.  BREW took him out of a shelter, and his prior history was unknown.  Since the vet estimated him to be about a year and a half old when we got him, we designated his birthday as the day a year and a half before the day we took him home.  I am incredibly grateful to BREW for taking him in, and I am incredibly lucky to have him as my dog.

Kenobi likes to sit on the couch
I feel very strongly that people should consider rescues and shelters when looking for pets.  There are so many animals out there in need of loving homes.  If giving a pet a second chance isn't enough of an incentive, there are other benefits.  Kenobi was already house-trained, and we knew he had a good temperament.  He is also the quietest beagle who ever lived.  Who ever heard of a beagle that didn't howl loudly and often?  No one.  But Kenobi does not.  I've heard him howl or bark only a handful of times in all the years I've known him.  He makes more noise in his sleep.

Kenobi is a one in a million dog.  He is always available for hugs.  He insists on sleeping under the covers.  He likes to crush me as much as a 25 pound beagle can while I'm reading or watching tv.

He often lounges on pillows
He enjoys going for walks.  Kenobi's absolute favorite place for walks is Valley Forge Park.  He tends to stalk the deer.

He is a very happy dog.  His tail wags constantly.  He has had back problems, so his waggy tail doesn't stick straight up like it used to, but he still wags it as much as ever.  Kenobi is so happy that he is even happy when he goes to the vet.  No dog likes to go to the vet!  They hate it.  They are afraid.  Not Kenobi.  Kenobi wags his tail and gets excited to see the vet and the nurses and everyone who works there.

He also likes blankets
Kenobi makes friends wherever he goes, and he goes everywhere.  He is a regular sight at family functions.  I can't say how many times people have told me, "I've never met a dog like Kenobi!"

The beagle is also extremely stubborn and dedicated to following his nose when he is outside.  Little furry creatures interest him the most.  He has seen a horse, but it didn't faze him.  Kenobi is friendly with other dogs, but he'd much rather be with people.  He loves people.  He can't get enough of them.

The reality of Kenobi getting older is starting to set in.  It's upsetting to think about.  I look at photos of him when he was younger and see him before his face turned grey.  I notice him slowing down.  The onset of arthritis has him going up and down stairs more carefully.  That being said, catch him at dinner time or at my grandparents' house where he knows he'll be getting several treats and a continual supply of ice cubes, and it's like he's three again.  That's the thing about dogs, isn't it?  They bring such joy into our lives, but they are destined to break our hearts.  Kenobi is my forever dog.  I cherish each day I have with him.

May 1, 2012

Chopin, and a visit to Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris

I've been listening to a lot of Chopin lately.  I like classical music, and I often put it on as background while reading.  Amazon had a whopping eight hours of Chopin for $2, so I couldn't pass that up.  Gorging myself on Chopin for the past few weeks has made me think of my aborted piano lessons.  I wish I could play the piano.  If I tried, I could probably still read sheet music and pound something out, but it would not be good, and I could never play anything like Chopin.  Christmas carols, Beatles songs...Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.  I didn't get far in my musical education.  I know the exact reason why.  I started two things the summer after I turned eleven: piano lessons and riding horses.  Horses won easily, and the piano was abandoned. 

My mother, however, could play quite well when she was younger.  I'm allowed to say that because she would be the first to admit that she is out of practice from not playing for years.  But, I have seen the impressive and intimidating sheet music from all the classical composers she used to play.  The piano in my parents' house is the one on which she herself learned.  In fact, the thing I still play the best is the duet she taught me when I was eleven.  After hearing the stories about her piano teacher, I'm amazed my mom learned anything.  Well, maybe they were more about things being done to her piano teacher.  I seem to remember one about someone hiding on the stairs of my grandparents' house and sending spitballs her way.  The teacher blamed it on my uncle, but it was my grandfather!  Anyway, having attempted to learn to play the piano myself, I feel like I have a greater appreciation for Chopin.  I experienced firsthand how difficult it is and how accomplished you must be to play his music.  And, ultimately, how beautiful and moving it is. 

Now, having said all that about Chopin, I'll share a photo I took of his grave in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.  I should note that Chopin's heart is buried separately in Warsaw.

Père Lachaise is an extraordinary cemetery situated on over one hundred acres in eastern Paris.  It's in the 20th arrondissement, if you want to get technical.  It can be overwhelming.  To find specific graves, the purchase of a map is a must.  The cemetery is a who's who of impressive people.  There is an exhaustive list here, but the non-famous far outnumber the famous.  Let me share a few more photos I've taken there.  First up is Oscar Wilde.  Wilde is brilliant and witty and known for writing The Picture of Dorian Gray, among other things.  This is how his grave used to look.

All those red marks- those are kisses.  People put on lipstick and kissed his monument as a tribute.  Someone had even drawn a face on it here.

The caretakers of the cemetery kept finding it necessary to clean the grave, so Père Lachaise recently decided to do something about it.  The stone was made pristine again, and a glass barrier was erected to prevent further graffiti.  No, I did not add my lips to those seen above.  But, knowing that now I never can kind of makes me wish I had.  Père Lachaise says that the grease from the lipstick and the cleaning it necessitated were eroding the stone, but the kisses were such a touching display of adoration from Wilde's fans.  This was a man who was sent to jail for being gay, was forced out of England, and died in poverty.  I wish he could have seen this outpouring of love. 

Molière was one of the first "big names" to be buried in Père Lachaise.  He and Jean de La Fontaine are buried next to each other.

Honoré de Balzac and Gertrude Stein are also buried here.

You can see in the photo of Gertrude Stein's grave how crowded Père Lachaise Cemetery is.  Jim Morrison's grave has been repeatedly vandalized.  It used to have a bust of Morrison.  Now it is a simple stone marker.  A guard is stationed there, and a metal barrier keeps visitors from getting too close. 
I could go on and on about all the people buried here, so let me just mention a few more:  Sarah Bernhardt, Georges Bizet, Colette, Eugène Delacroix, Ferdinand de Lesseps (architect, Suez Canal), Edith Piaf, Camille Pissarro, and Georges Seurat. 

Bellini and Rossini both were originally interred in Père Lachaise but later had their remains moved to Italy.  You can still see their tombs.  Maria Callas, also from the world of opera, had her ashes buried here.  After the ashes were stolen and later recovered, they were scattered at sea, but her memorial remains.  

It's not only the graves of these inspiring people who contributed so much to our culture which makes this cemetery a great destination.  It is a serene place in a busy city.  It is so large that while a lot of people may visit every day, it doesn't feel packed with tourists.  There are unique headstones and mausoleums.  Père Lachaise is a beautiful place. 
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