Fourth of July Dogs on Parade

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As Covid-19 cases resurge across the U.S., our Independence Day celebrations will be constrained, and numerous traditional events — fireworks, fun runs, festivals, parades — have been canceled, including a favorite local institution, the dog parade.

Let’s revisit one of these fun events held in our California neighborhood. My partner and I are fond of dogs, though we don’t have one, and what photographer could resist a chance to shoot cute canines in patriotic costume on a bright July morning in the park?

We quickly spotted the parade queen: a petite Hollywood star in stylish hat and sunglasses, relaxing in her elaborately decorated carriage. Here she is taking a beauty nap before the show gets underway.

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With the costumes and accessories some dogs were sporting, I wondered: Do they enjoy any of this? Or, do they just gamely soldier through it to humor their beloved humans?

The queen’s owner assured me when I walked up to chat that the little star loved to dress up, caper around the house and elicit cheers for her performance.

Observing the scene, I found it plausible that dogs might enjoy these dress-up performances. They were certainly getting lots of attention from children, photographers and other parade goers, as well as their devoted families.

Some even seemed to be playing to the crowd: The parade queen sprang from her nap refreshed and sparkling when the event began, and here she is rolling along like a star engaging with an adoring audience.

MV C3179-LR Star on float-680

Imagine discerning dogs choosing their outfits, being groomed, arrayed, and checking the results in the mirror as the household cat trots by with a snicker heading for secret, solitary adventures.

The popular bulldog below outdid the parade queen for fancy attire in a dress with varied patterns, textures and decorative details. She even managed to keep those flags attached and intact.

MV C3197-LR Bulldog in dress-680

Next is the gregarious chihuahua I call “Ms. Congeniality.” She strolled the crowd before the event with her ruffled skirt rippling behind her, meeting, greeting and shaking hands. Was her stylish costume made by the bulldog’s designer? Look at the design details. Those two were the most elaborately dressed dogs we saw.

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Other dogs chose the minimalist route, such as these two rocking some glamorous neckwear and a “less is more” attitude.

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All were very civilized and fun to watch and photograph. I hope their photos and stories have provided some holiday humor and cheer.

Wishing all my readers and their canine companions a peaceful, refreshing and hopeful weekend.

Copyright M. Vincent 2020. All photos copyright M. Vincent 2018-2020.

Food/Photography Friday: Cookie Predator Invades California Cafe

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Welcome to Food/Photography Friday 2020. If you’re new to the series, you’ll find the kickoff post here.

By the look of today’s international news, we could all use some whimsicality and humor to start the weekend, so I’m doing my part with some fanciful food photography. I hope you’ll enjoy this harmless predatory visitor to the café.

No holiday gift is safe from an avid photographer, and the toppings on these cookies were so — well, over the top — I had to put them into a photo shoot. I took a few serious shots, the cookie plate on a festive holiday table sort of thing, then hastened to have some fun with the lion ornament among my props.

 

He and this wild version of Italian biscotti — their icing chunky with nuts, chocolate or caramel chips, and sprinkles — seemed made for each other. I imagined him prowling down a rocky road of these textured confections, investigating, and taking bites here and there.  Hence, the cookie predator.

Enjoy the weekend, maybe take a news fast, and create something for fun yourself.

Copyright M. Vincent 2020.  Photo copyright M. Vincent 2019-2020.

 

The Cat Who Played Bocce

 

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Introduction

I’ve been meaning to write this story for some time, and revisiting American humorist James Thurber and his quirky canines in some earlier posts (here and here) inspired me to finally do it. It’s a tale based on a real incident, and the cat (though a creature rarely found in Thurber) could well be one of his animal protagonists.

Many years ago we stayed at a small farm in the Italian countryside on the border of Umbria and Tuscany. Tucked among the trees in a green, hilly landscape, with 15th century stone buildings rising against the sky, our agriturismo (Italy’s term for a farm offering agricultural tourism) was a charming spot for a quiet holiday away from the rigors of urban life.

20031003 Covento Novole buildings Brad Nixon (640x419)

Had we arrived a month later, we could have joined in the olive harvest. As it was, we had a delightful time living in the converted chapel and using it as a base for exploring the historic towns, cities and natural beauty of the area. The property was once a convent whose original buildings, dating from 1450, became the farm’s guest accommodations.

When we travel, my partner and I like to stay in a place long enough to get a sense of the local culture and what it would be like to live there. We shopped for food and wine in the nearby village, bought fresh local ingredients from the farmers market, and cooked in our well-equipped kitchen, which included a large, thriving pot of basil thoughtfully placed outside the door.

We encountered several animals at the farm:

Novole horses MV (640x445)

a pair of affable horses that we met walking by their stable, two very friendly and proprietary dogs, who served as official greeters, and two roaming cats who regularly arrived at our kitchen door when dinner preparations were underway.

Two pillars flanked the door and each cat would leap on top of one, where both sat staring into the windows with an imploring look – especially the night fresh fish was on the menu. “Please cooks, can we have a taste?”

The dogs were a charming, amusing duo: Chiquita, a perky little black and white terrier with long floppy fur, and Pongo, her constant sidekick, a tall, sleek brown hound with a serious mien. They rushed to welcome us when we arrived and always ran to the car to meet us when we returned from a day of exploring.

Some feisty insects figured in our visit too, but The Hornets Who Took Over the Kitchen is a story for another time.

We enjoyed relaxing at the farm and could have done more of it, but with so much we wanted to see so near, we chose a more ambitious agenda – for who knows when we’d be able to return? In a week, we visited Perugia, Assisi, Siena, Deruta, Montepulciano, Todi, Bevagna, Cortona, and Gubbio, where I found this cat appropriating a motorcycle for an afternoon cat nap:

Gubbio motorcycle cat (640x446)

It was the right decision, but as we left the farm each day we always looked back at the bocce court. My Italian grandfather taught me to play, and my partner and I love a friendly but competitive match. We had to play at least one game on this inviting Italian court in its beautiful country setting:

Novole bocce Brad Nixon (430x640)

Close to the end of our stay, we took a rest from our travels and spent a lazy day just hanging around the farm, savoring the last of our time there. The autumn weather was glorious, and in the lovely late-afternoon light we headed to the bocce court.

We had the place to ourselves – even the dogs, Pongo and Chiquita, were nowhere to be seen. We gathered our balls, tossed the pallino down the long, smooth court, and dove into our match with focus and intent.

About halfway through our close and challenging game, I saw one of the two “pillar cats” trotting along the right sideboard. She gave us a quick glance as she passed, moving as if she were on a mission. I turned back to the game, and gave her no further thought.

We played on, with all the balls so close to the pallino that each throw increased the tension. On the last throw, it was my turn, the game mine to win or lose. I braced for an underhand throw, tried to gauge the right velocity and trajectory, took a breath and let go.

My ball rolled down the court, knocked one of my opponent’s balls away and was about to stop, almost kissing the pallino. As it did, the cat suddenly leaped out of the bushes next to the sideboard and pounced on the ball.

She’d been there watching us, waiting for her moment to jump into the game. We broke out laughing at this whimsical twist and went to inspect the final results. The cat, still grasping the ball with her front paws, gave us a triumphant look.

Despite my opponent’s initial protests, the cat had made no illegal movement of the ball. She’d simply jumped onto it where it landed, as if formally declaring the game was over and she was claiming the winning ball.

More than a decade has passed, and the animals who graced our visit have likely been succeeded by others, but I like to imagine the bocce cat still there in spirit, tracking the action on the court, preparing to pounce.

Note: For information about the guest farm in this story, Novole, go to http://www.novole.com/.  It appears from the website that some refurbishment has occurred since we visited 15 years ago, so it may not be quite as rustic.

Copyright M.Vincent 2018

Bocce cat multimedia and animal photos copyright M.Vincent.

Novole buildings and bocce court photos copyright Brad Nixon, used with permission.

Limericks: Can You Write Just One?

Limericks remind me of that brilliant Lay’s® potato chips slogan launched in 1963: “Betcha can’t eat just one.”

Here’s an ad from Lay’s marketing campaign with the slogan, featuring actor Bert Lahr (perhaps best known as the cowardly lion in the film, The Wizard of Oz):

Lays Chips Lahr Devil Ad

Like eating that first chip, composing limericks can be devilishly difficult to stop. They’ll pop into your head at the slightest provocation, and if family or friends are fond of them too, you can find yourself caught up in a lively spate of limerickal exchange. But why not? It’s food for the brain and calorie-free.

A Little Limerick History

A poetic blog post I read this week and a St. Patrick’s Day-inspired limerick contest that later arrived in my email sent me down the green limerick road for a bit of research as well as writing:

Chaco Canyon emerald hiking Brad Nixon 4042 (640x451)

I knew some limerick history, but was curious to find out more – including whether the city of Limerick in Ireland gave the limerick its name. From a recent article in The Irish Times, it appears that question is unresolved. The author presents various theories, as well as other historical tidbits from his book, The Curious Story of the Limerick.

One sure connection between poem and city is the annual Bring Your Limericks to Limerick international poetry competition organized by the Limerick Writers’ Centre. The 2018 event will take place from August 24 – 26.

Mention limericks and most people will think of Edward Lear, the English artist and poet who’s been called the father of the contemporary limerick. Here is a well-known example:

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, “It is just as I feared!—
Two Owls and a Hen, four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard.”

While Lear popularized the form, beginning with his illustrated A Book of Nonsense, published in 1846, he didn’t invent it. I was interested to find that the form emerged earlier than I imagined and well before Lear’s time.

In an article about famous limericks, Allison Vannest says the form probably came to life on the streets and in the taverns of 14th century Britain, which seems a likely time and venue. Others say it debuted as early as 1260, though it wasn’t called a limerick until the 1890s.

The limerick has been used by a range of writers, including James Joyce, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Pynchon, and even Shakespeare. It appears as a drinking song in Othello, Act II, Scene III, for example:

“And let me the canakin clink, clink;
And let me the canakin clink.
A soldier’s a man;
A life’s but a span,
Why, then, let a soldier drink.”

Guidelines for Composing the Limerick

Here is the basic structure for this humorous five-line rhyming form:  

  • The last word in lines 1, 2 and 5 must rhyme
  • The last word in lines 3 and 4 must rhyme
  • Lines 1, 2 and 5 should have 7–10 syllables
  • Lines 3 and 4 should have 5-7 syllables

My St. Patrick’s Day Limerick

When the limerick challenge appeared in my email, I was thinking about Irish soda bread, which I like to bake for St. Patrick’s Day. As a result, this limerick popped into my head:

Keep Calm and Cut a Slice
Some look upon carbs with a loada dread
But why be afraid of this soda bread?
It’s low sugar, whole wheat
And a fine Irish treat
So grab butter and jam, and full speed ahead.

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And so it begins. Now, I can’t help but take on that challenge … 

Ready to create your own limerick?  Betcha can’t write just one. 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Copyright M. Vincent 2018

Lay’s is a registered trademark of Frito-Lay North America, Inc.

The Lay’s “Betcha” advertisement is intellectual property of Frito-Lay, and not to be reproduced for commercial purposes.

Green limerick road photo copyright Brad Nixon 2018, used with permission.

Going to the Dogs

Readers Respond, But “Thurber” Remains Inscrutable

Recently I wrote about writer-artist James Thurber and his famous cartoon dogs. I introduced my china Thurber hound look-alike, “Thurber,” and asked readers to submit their captions for this photo of the contemplative canine: 

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What is Thurber the hound thinking as he ponders the upcoming lunar Year of the Dog? Here are the responses from readers, ranging from a Zen koan from “Tom Tzu” that perfectly fits the context, to a question that suggests more than one meaning:

“As long helps define short, dogs define years. Dogs are now. They have no time, except that assigned by others.”  — Tom 

“While every dog has its day, now we have an entire year.” — Brad

“Get your own ball. I’m not a working dog.” — Gloria

“(Sigh) Why don’t they just sit down?” — Brian

Regarding Brian’s question, who are “they”? The ever-scurrying humans Thurber finds around him? The dogs becoming over-excited by thoughts of a year devoted to them? Or, … ? 

And yes, Gloria, the Thurber bloodhound is not a ball chaser. When he is working, he’ll be out doggedly tracking something or someone.

Thurber hound tracks (640x480)

Re Brad’s caption, it’s likely that Thurber is having long thoughts about a whole dog year: Just a lot of hoopla? A chance to make progress reforming humanity? …

My thanks to all of you for stopping by and taking the time to submit a caption.  Whatever he’s thinking, Thurber is not saying.

Thurber Discoveries

As I wrote in my prior Thurber post, my youthful introduction to his work was The Thurber Carnival, which made a lasting impression. When I started that post, I hadn’t read Thurber for several years. Revisiting favorite stories like “The Night the Bed Fell,” I found myself laughing as much as ever.

At the same time, I discovered Thurber books and stories I hadn’t seen before as I focused on his dogs. One of the books was The Dog Department, cited below. Another was Thurber’s Dogs, the master’s hand-picked collection of his dog stories and drawings.

The recent writing of other Thurber fans, including some like me who’d grown up with his work, was another pleasing discovery. I especially enjoyed this post by Devi Norton who grew up with a Thurber-quoting dad and is now sharing the joy of The Thurber Carnival with her sons.

Thurber Dogs in Advertising and Apparel

In reading The Dog Department, I was interested to learn that in his heyday Thurber’s art was featured on ties, scarves, dresses and tableware, as well as in product ads.

I found a few of the advertisements online, including a couple for Bug-a-Boo insect spray that are delightfully Thurberesque in more ways than the drawings. Michael Maslin wrote about this one on his website, Ink Spill, devoted to New Yorker cartoonists:  

Thurber Bug-A-Boo Ad 2-Blog

Maslin said the ad appeared in 1935, but he didn’t know if Thurber wrote or had any involvement in the copy.  

I’m disappointed that my research so far has not turned up a single image of the apparel, at least some of which appeared in the 1950s and featured the distinctive Thurber hound. If you have any information, please let me know.

Fitness with Fido?

In my latest auto club magazine I came across a short article entitled “Fitness with Fido.” It was accompanied by a photo of a small white terrier in an orange life-jacket adrift in a rowboat on a large lake.

The writer opened with an observation that made me wonder how James Thurber would respond: “Like their human family members, dogs like their routines shaken up every once in a while.” 

She went on to describe a business that offers doggie-and-me fitness activities, such as group hikes and runs, a boot-camp class and yoga. The owner didn’t want to leave her terrier behind when she went to work out , so she came up with ways for humans and their dogs to exercise together.

I leave it to all of you Thurber fans to visualize the results of this concept, drawing on the observations of the master. The potential humor is inescapable.   

Thank you, Mr. Thurber, for your captivating canines. May we all keep going to the dogs. 

 

Drawing of bloodhound tracking footprints copyright Estate of James Thurber.

The Dog Department: James Thurber on Hounds, Scotties, and Talking Poodles, edited by Michael J. Rosen, copyright © 2001 by Rosemary A. Thurber (art, texts, compilation) and Michael J. Rosen (compilation, introduction).

“Fitness with Fido” can be found in the Out & About section, Westways magazine, March/April 2018 issue, published by the Auto Club of Southern California.

Copyright M. Vincent 2018

Thurber Contemplates The Year of the Dog. What Is He Thinking?

Growing up in a house filled with books, I became an avid reader and book lover early in life. The varied collection of hardbound editions was a magnet for a curious child, and exploring the shelves I never failed to discover something fascinating. One of my finds was The Thurber Carnival by James Thurber, which held two attractions for me: short stories, which I quickly got into and found hilarious, and a cartoon section with riveting line drawings of people, dogs and various other creatures such as seals and rabbits.

As a kid, I loved the facial expressions of Thurber’s cartoon characters and the wacky world they inhabited, and they still make me laugh. Here are a couple examples of the cartoons:

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Thurber rabbit 2 (640x502)

This post was inspired by Thurber’s dogs; specifically, the hounds or “blood hounds,” with their intelligent, generally dignified, and contemplative demeanor. Keep this image in mind:

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About James Thurber (1894–1961)

For those not familiar with Mr. Thurber, we’ll detour for a brief biography: One of the foremost American humorists of the 20th century, Thurber was a prolific author, journalist and cartoonist whose work spanned many genres. He’s best known for his cartoons and short stories, which were featured regularly in the New Yorker magazine, where he was on the staff from 1927–1933. All his life Thurber owned, admired, drew and wrote about dogs. In 1926, he published Thurber’s Dogs, a collection of the dog stories and drawings he personally selected as his best. His distinctive canine characters appear throughout his work.

 A Surprise Discovery

Now, fast forward several decades from my youthful discovery of Thurber to the laden shelves of a large antique mall where my partner and I are searching for additions to our midcentury modern dinnerware collection. As I scan an overloaded display, something surprising catches my eye; the Thurber hounds etched in my memory leap out and I reach for the startling object:

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Remind you of anyone?

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I’m holding what looks to be a 3-dimensional version of one of those Thurber Carnival bloodhounds with wrinkled brow and unperturbable expression. Of course, I take him home and name him “Thurber.”

 A Lunar New Year Inspiration

I recently learned that in his heyday Thurber’s art was featured on ties, scarves, dresses and tableware, as well as in product ads. (Michael J. Rosen refers to this in his introduction to The Dog Department, cited below.*) Perhaps someone commissioned a Thurber hound figurine? No markings indicate who made my china “Thurber,” but he was a fun find –– and this year, a photo inspiration.

I enjoy creating stories in photography, and “Thurber” inspired a Year of the Dog photo from the dog’s perspective. I envisioned him relaxing in a cartoon setting, reflecting on this momentous year for dogs. A little Asian vase I had was the perfect centerpiece for making it a living room, keyed to the thoughtful, discriminating Thurber hound.

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What’s Your Caption for this Photo?

I’d love to hear from you. Channel your inner James Thurber, consider what your own dog might be thinking, or draw on whatever fuels your imagination. Have fun, and submit a caption during the February 16–March 2 new year celebration. I’ll feature the responses in a future post. Happy Lunar New Year!

Copyright M. Vincent 2018

All James Thurber cartoons copyright James Thurber Estate.

*The Dog Department: James Thurber on Hounds, Scotties, and Talking Poodles, Michael J. Rosen editor – Copyright © 2001 by Rosemary A. Thurber (art, texts, compilation) and Michael J. Rosen (compilation, introduction).