Monday, May 27, 2013

High Times in NOLA

St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square

Dear George
We first became admirers of New Orleans when my parents took us on a vacation there in 1969.  Our son J was just three months old at the time.  Then when J and K moved there in the 1990’s we became enthusiastic annual visitors.  Now, with V and L there, our four-year-old grandchildren, we regard the city as roughly equivalent to paradise.  I went down for a six-day grandfatherly visit about two weeks ago.  Here are some of the highlights. 

K, L, and V at a bridge in City Park

J, K, and the kids live within walking distance of City Park in Mid-City.  With its lush avenues of live oaks, walking trails, picnic areas, and scenic ponds, it’s like a gigantic playground for the children.  We did a couple of park expeditions during my stay.  Here are V and L building a birds’ nest on one of the bridges.

At the Sculpture Garden   

City Park is also home to the New Orleans Museum of Art and its adjacent Besthoff Sculpture Garden (Rodin, Moore, Segal, etc.).  The Art Museum was featuring “Mother of Invention,” a collection of absolutely exquisite, cutting edge craft and design items (glass, china, jewelry, furniture – Tiffany, Lalique, etc.) from Worlds’ Fairs as far back as the 1830’s.  I also enjoyed the House of Blues folk art exhibition at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and numerous art and photo galleries in the Warehouse District and the French Quarter.    

On the train at Global Wildlife

One day we drove across Lake Pontchartrain on the world’s longest bridge and visited Global Wildlife, a “safari” like outdoor adventure place where hundreds of African and Indian animals wandered free in a 900-acre reservation and visitors could feed them from a train.  New herds of animals rushed up wherever we went, and some gobbled up food right out of the children’s hands.  Here’s L getting ready to feed the deer.  

The catch of the day

After Global Wildlife, we went to J and K’s country place on the lake’s North Shore.  J went fishing with the kids at the pond behind the house and caught a two-incher.  I proposed it would be fun to put the fish back in the water, but V was determined to cook and eat it.  J cooked; V ate. 

At Morris Jeff
The children will soon be finishing their preschool year at the Morris Jeff  charter school, and they’ll enter kindergarten at a Spanish immersion public school in the fall.  They enjoy school a lot and are doing very well.  Both got “purples” (just about the highest accolade possible) on the day that I visited.  

At the Zoo

On Sunday we went to the Zoo in Audubon Park.  With all the southern flora, it’s beautiful.  I particularly like the Louisiana swamp exhibit with its albino alligators.  L not only petted the boa constrictor, but fed the turtles and touched the elephant’s thick hairy hide.  

V and L meet a goat at the Bayou Bougaloo Festival

The children get exposed to tons of music in New Orleans.  We made two visits to the Mid-City Bayou Bougaloo Festival which offered three music stages, numerous art vendors, and other festivities.  J took V on a kayak ride in the canal.   Then she wandered off in the crowd for a while, prompting J to write his cell phone number on her arm with a magic marker. 

My best NOLA bargain

On days that J and K were working I took the trolley down Canal St. to the French Quarter, sometimes transferring to the St. Charles trolley to the Garden District.  If you reach a certain esteemed age in New Orleans, the trolley only costs forty cents.  On one trip I only had two quarters available, and the conductor gave me a paper ticket worth a dime which I could redeem later.  It’s exciting to ride the trolley.   

The National World War II Museum

I go to the World War II museum just about every time I visit.  It’s is such an incredibly powerful place, and, with my dad, uncles, and family friends having been WW II veterans, it always brings tears to my eyes.  I visited the current exhibition on POW camps in Germany, the Pacific Theater wing, and the new Boeing Center featuring a collection of military planes.  It was a good precursor for Memorial Day.   

Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf

J and K staged performances of Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs for our amusement at City Park.  In this scene Red Riding Hood is confronted by the Wolf.  

Dragon Master Showcase

The French Quarter was filled with street musicians and other performers.  Dragon Master Showcase were sidewalk gymnasts who carried on an amusing patter with passers-by as they did their high quality routine at Jackson Square.  One guy skidded 20 feet on the top of his head, no handsies, and another guy did a running somersault in the air over seven kneeling adult volunteers.   

On the backyard swing

Not to be outdone, V and L did their own acrobat routines in the back yard at home.  J had hooked up a swing from a tall tree, and the children did daredevil swinging, high in the air, spinning in circles.  I could barely watch. 


I missed our sheepdogs a lot for the first couple of days, so I took family dog Iko on more walks than he was accustomed to.  He became quite attached to me as a consequence and decided to sleep in my room at night.   

The Spotted Cat Music Club

I’m not much of a nightlife person in Cincinnati, but J regularly takes us out to hear local jazz on NOLA visits, and it’s always thrilling.  This time we went to a couple of clubs in the Marigny neighborhood and heard some foot-stomping music.  This is Miss Sophie Lee at the Spotted Cat.

The children are four and two-thirds now.  I hadn’t seen them since Thanksgiving, so the intervening time amounts to about twenty percent of their lifetimes.  As usual, they’ve grown a lot, particularly by becoming much more verbal.  V and I took Iko on several walks in the neighborhood, and it’s almost like conversing with a young, excitable adult.  L’s a little shyer, but he has his own sense of humor and gentleness.  I’d once again forgotten how demanding a job parenting is, and two active, high energy children who are much more of a challenge than one.  K and J deserve medals for their patience, calm, and ever present dedication.  The children, of course, provide lots of love and fun.  I’m eager to see them again soon.

G-mail Comments
-Phyllis S-S (5-28): Dave,  What a great trip - those statues look wierd though - not Rodin I would assume.  The kids are changing so much - and J*** looks more like you, I think.  Did you do your play/theater with the grandchildren?  Canada was terrific.  We saw the best Salome opera I've ever seen, saw Christopher Plummer and his wife (2 rows in front of us at Measure for Measure) and Brian Dennehey.  Phyllis

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sheepdog Verse, Keep It Terse

Duffy, Mike, and Sophie in the Forest

Dear George,
My poetry writing was mostly confined to my sophomore year in college when I’d switched to being a lit major and thought that poems might be a good way to interest girls.  It didn’t really pan out.  Instead I became a psych major and got interested in interpreting dreams.  Now that I have more time on my hands, I decided I should give poetry writing another try.  As a first step, I’ve done some research on the types of poetry one can choose from.  There seem to be seven major categories of poems.  These are: limericks, sonnets, haiku, love poems, death poems, epic poems, and Old English Sheepdog poems.  Sheepdog poems are a recent addition, but it looks like they’re becoming the rage in Anglo-American literary circles.  It’s probably because the nobility of the species transcends more mundane topics like love, war, or death.  Since we own two Old English Sheepdogs, Mike and Duffy, writing poems about sheepdogs seems a natural for me.  However, it’s challenging -- you practically have to become a dog whisperer.  So I’ve been working on refining my dog empathy skills at the same time that I’ve been searching for words that rhyme with sheepdog (e.g., treefrog, prologue, peat bog, leapfrog, yule log, seadog, beanstalk).

Most contemporary poetry is written in free verse, i.e., without rhymes or any fixed rhythm or length of lines.  In grade school I was always taught that poems rhyme.  Thus, I decided I better start out by writing sheepdog poems that rhyme. There are, of course, different forms of rhymed poems. Some of the most important are: rhyming couplets, tercets, quatrains, limericks, sonnets, and villanelles.  Here are some sheepdog examples of these forms.       

(1) The Rhyming Couplet
A rhyming couplet is the simplest, shortest form of poetry.  As the name suggests, it’s a pair of back to back lines that rhyme.  Such line pairs can be very short poems (cf. Ogden Nash) or, more typically, subunits of a stanza or of a longer poem.  Here are a few sheepdog rhyming couplets.  

Being a sheepdog is such a big hoot
The kiddies all pet you and think that you’re cute

Duffy and Mike form a two-dog pack
If Mike misbehaves, Duffy gives him a whack

Our dogs never fraternize with real-life sheep
If they ever do, they’ll giggle in their sleep

The sheepdogs and I took a stroll down the block
We ate Graeter’s ice cream and heard some punk rock.

If I were a sheepdog I’d certainly wish
To live free like a squirrel or maybe a fish.

(2) Tercets
A tercet (or a triplet) is three lines of poetry.  It can stand alone as a short poem or be a sub-unit (e.g., a stanza) in a larger poem.  Usually it’s the first and third lines that rhyme in a tercet.  Tercets are a favorite form for sheepdog poems.

Duffy gives Katja a big sloppy kiss
I think it’s disgusting
But she thinks it’s bliss

Each year the dogs have creakier hips
They can still get from there to here
But with far fewer flops and flips.

(3) Quatrains
Quatrains are four lines of verse.  Usually the four lines have the same meter or rhythm so that they flow together.  They can follow various "rhyme schemes" (see below).  Here are examples of some of the most common rhyme schemes:

AABB (lines 1 & 2 rhyme; lines 3 & 4 rhyme)

When the dogs and I camp out in the woods
I bring along most of their worldly goods
Two balls, ten chewies, our big spacious tent
They think it’s dog heaven to which they’ve been sent.

ABAB (lines 1 & 3 rhyme; lines 2 & 4 rhyme)

Sheepdogs are much bigger than lizards
And more handsome than pot-bellied pigs
They’re not quite as brainy as wizards
But they’re better at chewing on twigs

ABBA (lines 1 & 4 rhyme; lines 2 & 3 rhyme)

Duffy acts like he’s Big Mr. Tough
Trying to frighten other pups in the park
He gives them his loudest and scariest bark
But those dogs know his toughness is bluff

ABCB (lines 2 & 4 rhyme)

Duffy was always the Alpha dog
And Mikey was usually submissive
But now Duffy’s calmer than Melba toast
And Mike’s become Mr. Aggrissive

(4) Limerick
Limericks are five line poems that have a distinctive rhythm.  The rhyme scheme is AABBA.  The first, second, and fifth lines are longer than the third fourth.  Limericks are usually humorous and are often racy.  Sheepdog limericks aren't usually racy though (but rather are quite serious).  Here's are a couple of examples.

There once was a sheepdog named Duffy
Whose hair was incredibly fluffy.
When he walks in the rain
It creates so much pain
Cause Duffy turns fluffy to scruffy. 

We own an old doggie named Mike
To lie on his back he does like
He does it all day
Till his itch goes away
And then he leaps up like a tike. 

(5) Sonnet
A sonnet is made up of fourteen lines.  Traditional English sonnets use four quatrains and a windup couplet in the following pattern: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.  While Elizabethan sonnets are usually about love, sheepdog sonnets are mostly about sheepdogs.


When Mike and Duff were very young dogs
They loved to chew on our stuff
They ate twelve pairs of Katja’s clogs
And that was barely enough

They ate my glasses; they ate my keys
Ball point pens would drive them wild
I begged them to stop with endless pleas
But the dogs just nodded and smiled

Now that Duffy and Mike are more mature
They’re content to just nap on the floor
It’s not that clogs have lost their allure
It’s that chewing’s become such a bore

So that’s the end of my story for now
The dogs could say more if they only knew how

(6) Villanelle
The Villanelle was invented by French poets and didn't appear in English poetry until the 1800s.  Villanelles are made up of 19 lines which are divided into 6 stanzas.  The first 5 stanzas have 3 lines apiece and have an ABA rhyme scheme with the first and third lines rhyming.  The sixth stanza has 4 lines, and it ends in a rhymed couplet consisting of lines 1 and 3 from the first stanza.  Only two rhymes run through the entire villanelle (see the example below).  The villanelle was a favorite of Sylvia Plath and Dylan Thomas.  Writing villanelles is pretty hard (sheepdog villanelles are the hardest). 

                           The Sheepdogs’ Day

The sheepdogs’ day is a joyful affair
They’re busy from morning to night
Mike and Duffy are such an astonishing pair

At eight o’clock they feel the sun’s glare
They leap from the bed in a beam of light
The sheepdogs’ day is a joyful affair

At nine o’clock they crouch by my chair
A bowl full of food is a welcome sight
Mike and Duffy are such an astonishing pair

At one o’clock we go out in the air
A two-mile jaunt is our daily rite
The sheepdogs’ day is a joyful affair

At six o’clock the dogs get a scare
If supper’s late they’re extremely uptight
Mike and Duffy are such an astonishing pair

At nine o’clock it’s time for a prayer
Another day finished, another day right
The sheepdogs’ day is a joyful affair
Mike and Duffy are such an astonishing pair

So far it looks like couplets are my most promising medium, and villanelles are beyond me.  However, I’m going to keep working at it.  I hope that this info about forms of poetry inspires some creative writing among readers.  If you send me one or more poems about your pet, I’d be glad to publish them here.

G-mail Comments
-Donna D (5-22): david, this is fantastic!  since i don't have the internet at home anymore except on my phone, i try to check it everyday at work.  I just loved reading this!  did you actually come up with the content of these poems?  donna

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Katja's Lost Childhood

Katja, age 3

Dear George,
Katja says she remembers hardly anything about her childhood.  That can’t be entirely true because she’s told a lot of anecdotes over the years.  Last week we sat down and chatted about her recollections in more detail.  Here’s the picture that Katja provided.   

I always thought of Katja as a Southern belle, and it turns out there’s a kernel of truth to that. 
She was born in Roanoke, Virginia, in the late years of the Great Depression.  Her mom, Helen Werrin, was 25 years old and had graduated from Temple University with her degree in nutrition and diatetics.  Her dad, Milton Werrin (henceforth Buck), was 30 and had received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Penn.  His job for the U.S. Army took him around the state of Virginia, inspecting meat at military bases to make sure it wasn’t infected. 

Katja, 17 months, in Roanoke

The family lived in a beautiful white house in Roanoke.  They got together regularly with family friends, the Pressburgs, who had two small boys about Katja’s age.  The children played lots of  baseball, and one of the Pressburg boys smacked Katja in the forehead with a baseball bat.  She still has the scar above her left eye.

Buck’s and Helen’s families lived in Philadelphia, and, homesick, they decided to return in 1941.  Buck bought his brother Nate’s veterinary practice and house at 408 S. 20th Street in center city.  The animal clinic was on the first floor, and Buck, Helen, and Katja lived upstairs.  As a young girl, Katja loved the 20th Street neighborhood.  She was allowed to be out on the street by herself, and it was very exciting.  There were tons of kids, lots of different kinds of people, the streetcars ran right by, and something was always going on.  Her mother disliked 20th Street though – the city heat, the smells coming upstairs from the animals, the noise, the shabbiness of the neighborhood.

408 S. 20th Street (today)

When Katja was four, her parents enrolled her at the Settlement Music School, a famous community school and daycare center.  The children were introduced to music and the arts through lots of rhythm instruments.  Katja’s specialized in playing the triangle.  She went to school every day and completely enjoyed it.  In fact, until she got to high school, she always loved school -- the whole idea of going off to school and being part of a place.

In 1942 Katja started kindergarten at Spring Garden School, a couple of miles away at 12th and Parrish streets.  Getting to school required a trolley ride, and Katja began doing this on her own by first or second grade.  Occasionally Buck would take Katja and her friends – Joanne Soloff and Charlotte and Judy Kaplan – to school in the family Chevy.  The children loved riding in the rumble seat, even though Joanne had a propensity to get carsick.  Once there, Katja’s favorite subjects were English, History, and Music – just about everything as long as it didn’t involve arithmetic. 

Spring Garden Public School, 12th Street

Katja’s siblings, Ami and David, were born during her early years of grade school.  The family home was a few blocks away from Rittenhouse Square, and Helen would take the three children to the Square on outings.  Katja got to push Ami and David in their double-decker baby carriage, and Helen called her  “my little mother.”  There was a bronze statue of a goat with little horns at the center of Rittenhouse Square, and the children’s favorite activity was climbing on the goat.  As they got a little older, Katja would take the two kids on outings to Rittenhouse Square by herself.  David was a cutie-pie, though he often suffered from his eustachian tubes being inflamed.  Katja remembers Ami as being mysterious and very organized.  When they later shared a bedroom, they’d get into fights because Ami wanted Katja’s side of the room to be as clean and neat as her own.  Katja did have lots of responsibility as a child.  She took the bus, trolley car, and/or subway to school by herself, and at home she cleaned up the house, did the dishes, and helped with the laundry.

In their 20th Street neighborhood most of Katja’s playmates were young African-American girls.  The children’s favorite activity was double-dutch jump-roping.  While Katja participated regularly, she was awed by the abilities of her fellow rope-jumpers who did triples, somersaults, and all sorts of fancy moves.  She summed up, “They were great!”  At home Katja spent a lot of time curled up by the radio, listening to the Lone Ranger, the Shadow, Fibber McGee & Molly, the Green Hornet, and Superman.   

Around third grade, Katja started helping her dad in his vet practice after school.  She’d feed the boarding animals, play with them, and try to quiet the animals down while Buck was working on them.  Her most significant task was holding puppies or cats in a blanket while Buck was castrating them.  He’d explain, “It’s all over in just a minute.  Just hold them around the head in the blanket so they can’t move.”  The puppies and kittens were usually just a few days old, and they didn’t seem to mind it much.  Katja said about her vet assistant duties, “I loved it.”  Buck in turn helped Katja with her homework.  Everything except math, which was his worst subject too.  In general, Buck was the more lenient parent; Helen, more strict.

Buck and Helen (circa 1970)

Helen’s father, Samuel Brooks, owned a custom tailor and dry cleaning shop in Germantown, a Philadelphia suburb where he and Katja’s grandmother lived.  Helen’s biological mother had died when she was only three, and her father remarried Dora, who Katja knew as Grandmom Brooks.  Katja went regularly to her grandparents’ house for the weekend.  She was very close to her grandparents, and her love of opera traces back to her visits with them.  Mr. and Mrs. Brooks kept a kosher household, so the only thing that they did on the Sabbath was to listen to the Metropolitan Opera on the radio. When Grandmom and Grandpa Brooks came to visit at 20th Street, her grandfather would always pull a candy bar out of his pocket to give Katja.  She remembers him taking her to her first movie, The Dolly Sisters with Betty Grable and June Haver.  Grandpa Brooks liked to take Katja and her siblings places, but he was very poor and money was always in short supply.  He had excellent taste, but never any extra money for luxuries.  He was very proud when Helen completed college.     
These childhood years on 20th Street weren’t an easy time for the family.  Buck’s veterinary practice was a struggle, and there were always money woes.  Helen was working as a substitute home economics teacher in an inferior public school, and she was unhappy there.  Her salary was $5 a day – better than nothing, but very low pay.

Katja’s Grandpa Werrin (Michael) and Grandmom Werrin (Anna) were Russian immigrants who had met and married in America after their arrival around the turn of the century.  Grandpa Werrin had an egg candling business on Water Street.  He imported eggs from Vineland, New Jersey, then distributed them to local grocery stores, making daily decisions about how much to pay and how much to charge for the eggs.  He loved to play cards and won a seashore hotel in Wildwood, NJ, in a card game.  He and Anna operated the hotel in the summer for many years.  Grandma Werrin cooked and ran the hotel.  Customers would come for a week, month, or the entire summer, and their room price included three meals a day.  Buck met Helen there when she applied for a waitress job.  Years later he sent Helen and the three kids to Wildwood each summer to protect against polio in the city.  Usually they would stay in Wildwood with Grandpa Brooks, but Katja also stayed in the Werrin’s hotel on occasion.

“The Vampy Scamp” (Katja, age 8, at Wildwood)

Grandmom Werrin had a reputation as an excellent cook, and the entire family would gather at their West Philadelphia home on Friday nights.  Because Anna wasn’t allowed to cook after sundown on Friday evening, a live-in maid did the cooking on Friday and Saturday nights.  They’d have bagels, cream cheese, and lox; smoked whitefish; smoked sable; bialys; Manischewitz wine, and some hard liquor as well.  Katja remembers those meals as much like scenes out of The Godfather, Part 1.  Michael and Anna had five children: Doris (who later married a wealthy chicken king from Chicago), Beatrice (married to Joe), Nate (married to Sophie), Milton (with Helen), and Miriam (married to Moe).  Grandpa Werrin had an explosive temper.  He could be loving and warm at one moment, then yelling and throwing things seconds later.  Buck and Nate had inherited some of that volatile temper themselves, so Katja describes extended family gatherings as very noisy.  There’d be lots of fighting and uproar; then everybody would get over it and get back together.  Helen often felt caught in the middle.  After the meal was over everyone would gather around the tiny TV and watch boxing.

Katja  was always told by her dad that she had inherited “bad blood” from his side of the family.  Once when a friend came over for a tea party, the little girl broke one of Katja’s toys, and Katja pushed her down the stairs.  Another time she got in a fight with one of her little boyfriends, and she went to his house and hit him over the head with a sock full of potatoes.  The boy’s mother called Helen and said Katja was forbidden to ever play with her son again.  These incidents seemed to confirm the bad blood hypothesis.  

Ami (left), unknown friend, and Katja, age 8, on the Jersey shore

One year Helen took a summer job as the dietician at Girl Scout camp, and Katja got to go along for free.  She wasn’t enthusiastic about sleeping in a tent, and, because Helen was on the camp staff, Katja had to dig latrines to avoid being labeled a “teacher’s pet”.  She had a much more enjoyable time during the summers of 1947 and 1948 at Camp Galil, a Zionist youth camp in Buck’s County.  Katja loved Camp Galil and acquired her first boyfriend there, a good-looking boy named Jules Cohen.  It was the time of the War of Independence, and weapons were hidden on the camp’s grounds for shipment to Israel.  Buck and Helen also took the three kids on a big trip one summer to Maine, Montreal, and Toronto.  The kids spent the whole time in the back seat reading comic book tales about Emma and the Cement Mixer.                       

Katja’s family always had dogs.  Buck gave Katja her first dog, a little dachsund which was to be her own.  Katja loved the dachsund.  A week later her dad said he had to take it back because the previous owner’s daughter who had polio missed it so much.  Katja was heartbroken.  The family also had a beagle that was completely untrainable.  Their beloved boxer, Tammy, who was really Ami’s dog, died of cancer, and everyone felt very sad.  

Katja, age 10, and David on a hayride at Farm School
Starting at age 12, Katja took piano lessons after school once a week.  Her teacher was Miss Theresa, a heavyset woman who had been blind from birth.  Katja’s not sure whether Miss Theresa lived alone, but there was never anybody else at her house.  She lived in Little Italy in South Philadelphia, and Katja travelled there by herself on the hour-long trolley car and subway trip.  Miss Theresa was very nice, but the piano lessons themselves were boring.  At home Helen played the upright piano in their living room.  Katja did too, though she didn’t like to practice.

One of Buck’s veterinary clinic clients, Mrs. Scott, took an interest in Katja and gave her books and a subscription to the London Illustrated News which was full of articles about royalty.  Katja became very interested in British royalty.  Mrs. Scott also talked a lot about going to France, and that became one of Katja’s major goals.  Katja says she always wanted to go away and have adventures from the time she was a little girl.

So those are some of the highlights of Katja’s girlhood.  Her Philadelphia world and family life were pretty different from growing up in Menominee in the U.P.  That’s what makes for the spice of life. 

G-mail Comments
-Ami G (5-22): This version of Katja's life proves that everyone grows up in a different family, even sibs!  Very nice tale!  Our Boxer's name was Jennie (actually Sad Sack Jennifer) and her very coveted puppies payed for the family's dining room set!