Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Reprinted for those who have disney princess issues.....

this entry was written after several weeks of hearing commercials for Disney's Little Mermaid, the muscial. I snapped.

Even as a child, I considered the Little Mermaid to be an idiot. There's a storm, the Prince is swept overboard, and the Little Mermaid finds him floating, unconscious, in the sea. She takes him to the shore. He's still unconscious. She drags him onto the beach. He's still unconscious. She waits just offshore. He's still unconscious. Villagers find him and carry him off. He's still unconscious.
The Little Mermaid decides she's in love, and wants to change who and what she is to win the love of the Prince. The Prince whom she doesn't know anything about (aside from that he's handsome) because for the entire time she's been around him, he's been what? That's right - unconscious.
What happens when our pathetic little mermaid goes to the Sea Witch for help? Let's consult the text:
"I know what you want," said the sea witch; "it is very stupid of you, but you shall have your way, and it will bring you to sorrow, my pretty princess. You want to get rid of your fish's tail, and to have two supports instead of it, like human beings on earth, so that the young prince may fall in love with you, and that you may have an immortal soul."And then the witch laughed so loud and disgustingly, that the toad and the snakes fell to the ground, and lay there wriggling about.
"You are but just in time," said the witch; "for after sunrise to-morrow I should not be able to help you till the end of another year. I will prepare a draught for you, with which you must swim to land tomorrow before sunrise, and sit down on the shore and drink it. Your tail will then disappear, and shrink up into what mankind calls legs, and you will feel great pain, as if a sword were passing through you. But all who see you will say that you are the prettiest little human being they ever saw. You will still have the same floating gracefulness of movement, and no dancer will ever tread so lightly; but at every step you take it will feel as if you were treading upon sharp knives, and that the blood must flow. If you will bear all this, I will help you."
"Yes, I will," said the little princess in a trembling voice, as she thought of the prince and the immortal soul.
The price for this potion? The little mermaid gives up her voice (and her tongue) to the Sea Witch. She gives up who and what she is, she gives up her power, she gives up her truth and the ability to speak it, she chooses the way of pain - all for someone who is unaware of her existence. And, there's a catch. If she fails to win the Prince, if he chooses another, the Little Mermaid dies. Which is what happens. (Yes, Disney sanitized and ground into meaningless musical fluff yet another story. FYI - Cinderella's stepsisters mutilate their feet to fit the glass slipper and have their eyes torn out by birds at the reception, Sleeping Beauty's mother-in-law hates her and steals her children, Esmerelda is hanged, and Pocahantas goes to England and dies of tuberculosis). The Prince chooses someone else, the Little Mermaid dissolves into the foam on the sea. As a reward for what Hans Christian Anderson termed her patience and devotion, she gets 'promoted' to an air spirit, with the chance of someday earning a soul.
Some people look at the Little Mermaid as a tale of spiritual yearning, striving, sacrifice and fulfillment. On some level that fits - there's definitely yearning and sacrifice. There's also a presumption on the part of the author that only humans have souls. Which irks me. Although the idea that souls are earned is interesting; the idea sounds familar, but I'm not sure where I've heard it before.
The Little Mermaid doesn't love the Prince - she loves her perception of him. The Sea Witch,although cruel, is honest - only pain and sorrow will come from this choice. The Little Mermaid makes it anyway. I see the underlying message of the Little Mermaid as follows:
If you try to make yourself into something other than what you are in order to make someone love you, the result will be misery, pain, and failure. If you make this mistake, then learn something, and move on. Be who you are, and stop walking on knives.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Peasant Mermaid

My Love, My Love, or the Peasant Girl, by Rosa Guy, is the book that the musical Once On This Island is based on. The book is darker, and the ending is totally miserable. No death followed by transformation into a magical tree, just death. Instead of being tenderly cared for by the gods (wrapped in a wave, carried gently to shore, cradled by the Mother of the Earth) her trampled lifeless body is tossed onto a trash heap by a bestial groundskeeper. No uptempo musical ending, just rain falling on a corpse.

It's a good book, it's gripping, told in a hypnotic storytelling style, but it's grim. It couldn't be otherwise. It's magical, it's beautiful, it's grim. It's a real fairy tale. An old school fairy tale. Not a sanitized Disney piece of fluff. Wishing won't make it so, and there's a price to be paid for every desire, every choice, good or bad.

One of the many things left out of the Disney version of the Little Mermaid was the price paid for exchanging a tail for legs - every step she took was as though she were walking on knives. Rosa Guy works this important detail into the story. TiMoune is a peasant. She has never in her life owned a pair of shoes. In order to get past the gates to reach the object of her love, she has to wear shoes. She is given a pair of shoes, and they are too small. They hurt. She has to walk miles in them. Every step is agony.

She's trying to fit herself into a world that doesn't value her the way she is. Of course it's painful.

But what about the prince? Does he pay a price in any of this? Yes, in the book he does. He becomes like his father, a man who carries a perpetual tired sadness and is unable to see beauty when it's right before his eyes. He's locked into a world of doing the expected, proper thing. He's not dead, but he might as well be.

Spring Sunday

I push my little pink camera to the limit.
Yesterday I learned that if you have a steady hand
'landscape' works well for closeups of things far away
like this squirrel in a tree
that I would have missed
if we walked our usual route.

Ditto for this guy
the no-neck heron
we took a turn onto a tiny footpath
that meanders along the smaller pond
we've never taken that trail
and were rewarded with my first sighting of the season of this oddly shaped bird.

A muskrat popped up out of the water,
saw us, did a flip and dove beneath the surface.
Puppy kept waiting for him to reappear
but he didn't. So there's no photo of him.

Small dinosaurs stalk the neighborhood . See the flying fish in the background.

Early afternoon

is prime turtle-spotting time

they like to sunbathe

and are really good at holding still

She's on her nest, so that suspicious look and the hissing are completely understandable.

Here's a photo of someone taking a photo,taken from across the big pond. We met up with her later on the covered bridge. She was wearing a sweatshirt and pink pajama bottoms. I was wearing baggy sweats, sunglasses, and my sunhat. Snappy dressers, both of us.

"I'm taking a photojournalism class and I'm supposed to be asking people if I can take their picture, so I'm photographing geese and ducks...." She seemed harmless and friendly, so I said ok, and she took candids of me and Puppy. So Melissa's class will be seeing photos of a sleek beautiful dog and her frumpy taking-a-break-from-making-pies human. Melissa's camera is big and powerful. But it's not pink.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

we dance

we dance to the Earth

we dance to the Water

the gods awake and we take no chance

our hearts hear the song

our feet move along

and to the music of the gods


It's the opening number of Once on this Island, a musical adaption of a novel. It's loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid, set in the French Antilles. Instead of a mermaid in love with a human, a peasant descended from African slaves falls in love with a Grand Homme, the light skinned mixed race descendent of African and French lineage. Two different worlds, not meant to meet. The gods get involved. There's no happily-ever-after. It's beautiful. Passionate. Sad. The ending moved me to tears (which Ginger can tell you is a rare occurance).

We saw it in a tiny theater in Lakewood. So tiny that the front row was in danger of being kicked by the actors during the dance numbers.

The dance numbers - this play was originally written for a black cast, rather necessary given the subject matter. But theater being what it is (make believe) this play often ends up being performed by actors of various hues. My colleague Ron used to teach music in middle school - he did this play (somewhat edited) with 7th grade white kids. This company was 'multi-cultural', which amounted to white, latino and gay. With a few changes to the dialogue, it works.

What really worked was the drummer - I haven't heard drumming like that live since the orisa ceremonies I went to in New York. More than music, more than a show tune, it was an invocation. There were times I could feel the energy, times when the drums and the singing and the dancing came together and created more, more than actors going through a script, a song, a dance routine. It was magic. In that tiny, hot theater, they made magic. In spite of all the nitpicking that could be done over individual performances, the whole was alive and powerful.

It wouldn't have happened with lesser drummer. From the first beats he had me, I felt that internal dance, the one that can happen even when I appear to be sitting still, the dance that would have been visible if only the seats hadn't been so close together. The drum started, the dancers followed, the song began, and the Presence was there. I can still feel the rhythm. Where can I find an African Dance class.......

Our hearts hear the song

Our feet move along

And to the music of the Gods


Sunday, April 13, 2008

I can resist anything, except temptation

Oscar Wilde said that. I doubt he was referring to plants.
I didn't mean to buy anything. Really. I was just looking at plants, contemplating the Aero Garden (down to 129.99 from its original price of over $200) sighing over fountains. Wondering how long those blooms on the orchids would last. And there they were. Masses of gardenia plants, deep glossy green leaves, an occasional blazing white blossom, a heady fragrance, and hundreds of furled buds. Just waiting to be rescued.
I fought it for about half an hour. I walked around looking at bird seed, sneered at the so-called 'squirrel proof" feeders, looked at all the seeds.......
I surrendered to temptation. She's about three feet tall, covered in buds, and can happily live a long productive life as a potted plant.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Keeping up Standards, or It's been a while since I had a good Rant

A friend/former pastry classmate will be assistant instructor for the upcoming pastry class at our school. She's done it twice before, and the other day she sent me an email that started off "Don't get mad, but I've talked Chef M. into dropping the piping homework". She then went into a list of rationalizations of why, and that if someone wanted to learn piping, she'd help them with it.
Don't get mad. A very basic skill is being dropped from the program. A skill I worked very hard on. A skill I use almost every day. A skill that can be the deciding factor in whether or not someone gets a job. Don't get mad.
I pointed this out, that being able to write 'happy birthday' in chocolate on a plate can be the key to getting a job in an upscale restaurant.
The response - you're right, but.....there followed a long list about no one from our class really went on to a restaurant, the last class was mostly line cooks looking to increase their pastry skills, no one in the class before that was really into piping, carrying piping homework back and forth was a pain, it got messed up on the bus.....blah blah blah. But on the bright side Kate, Chef M. has decided not to have open books tests this time. (She did it last time because students were whining about the class being "hard". Oh, waaaaaaaaaah!) Then nobody bothered to learn the material because they just copied their notes during the tests.
I couldn't let that go. School is supposed to be a challenge. Lots of homework is part of school. If students don't want to do homework, they can either suck it up and do it or they can take the F. The culinary world is hard - school's the place to start learning that. If students want to pick and choose what they learn, they don't belong in the professional program. There are home cook classes for that sort of thing. Coddling people does them no favors. And failing to teach basic skills makes the school look bad. If someone came to me for a job, and their pastry program hadn't taught them something as basic as piping, I wouldn't bother giving them a bench test. If several appplicants from that school hadn't been taught something that basic, all resumes listing that school would go straight into the trash.
Standards are important. They should be high and they should be consistent. If the standards for the pastry program go down, it cheapens the school's reputation. And the perceived value of the education and diploma that so many of us worked so hard for is also cheapened.
This program is five weeks long. That's it. Five weeks to learn the basic skills needed to function in a pastry kitchen. There's no time for coddling. No time for consensus building on what we want to learn and what we don't. No time for talking about our feelings about our feelings about our pastry cream. Just barely time for - here's the skill. See it. Learn it. Do it. Do it again for homework. Here's the next skill. See it. Learn it. Do it. Do it again for homework. Here' s the next skill......
I was a bit more gentle in my response to my friend, but the gist was the same. Piping homework shouldn't be an option in a pastry program. The options - you take the class or you don't. You do the work or you fail. That's school. That's pastry. That's life.

Friday, April 4, 2008

This tag ends with me

because I have no one to pass it on to, unless Sean Bean, Queen Latifah, James MacIvoy (whose name I have probably misspelled, call me, I'd love the chance to apologize, have you seen him as Macbeth? Set in a restaurant? wow) Gordon Ramsey or Cate Blanchett read this and get on board.

So, the questions -

What if I could meet someone in the art world to chat with? I'm not much for chatting with strangers, but I'd like to ask Andy Warhol - how the bleep did you convince people that a can of soup was art?!

What if I could make a wish for the benefit of all mankind? World peace, Stan.... actually though, I've always thought it would be a good idea if the ability to reproduce was linked to emotional rather than physical maturity. Immature? Self-centered? Just plain stupid? No ovulation or sperm production for you! Might not be the best thing for the survival of the species, but on an individual basis, it would work out very well.

What if I could travel anywhere in the world? France, for an extended stage with world class pastry chefs. Ireland, Scotland, the Pacific Northwest, the South Pacific, New Zealand, and maybe Antartica.

What if I could live in a time period other than the present for 24 hours? I'd love to see Colorado when it was an ocean, or a dinosaur hangout. Of course, I might not last 24 hours with dinosaurs......

What if I could make over 3 areas of my body? I would make over my metabolism so that it runs more efficiently, I would lose the superfluous body hair, and I'd trade the gene for prematurely gray hair for one that gives one awesome streak of white in jet black hair.

What if I could be an animal for 24 hours? I'd be a dolphin, after Ginger's clean up the world program has taken effect so that I wouldn't get caught in a tuna net or a giant island of floating plastic.

What if I could bring somebody back to life for 24 hours? Sigh. Did we learn nothing from Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Leave the dead alone. They've moved on. They don't want to come back. They get all disturbed and cranky. Gosh!