Saturday, April 27, 2013

Nursery Crimes

Do parents still read nursery rhymes to their children? Probably not. Nowadays, nursery rhymes are probably considered inappropriate—as well they should be. Take, for example, this classic:
Jack be nimble,
Jack be quick,
Jack jump over
The candlestick.
Clearly an invitation for children to play with matches and possibly set their pants on fire.

Then there's that lazy Little Boy Blue, who was supposed to be looking after the livestock but instead took a nap under a haystack. And Tom Tom the Piper's son, guilty of grand theft swine. And remember Wee Willie Winkie?
Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town,
Upstairs and downstairs in his nightgown,
Tapping at the window and crying through the lock,
Are the children in their beds, it's past eight o'clock?
These days, running around town in your nightgown and tapping at windows would almost certainly get you arrested. As a matter of fact, as I recall, that's exactly what happened in the Bullwinkle's Corner version.

Remember Bullwinkle's Corner?

When I hear nursery rhymes in my head, I often hear them in the sweet, gentle voice of my mother, who used to read them to me at bedtime when I was a child. However, I'm just as likely to hear them in the stentorian, adenoidal voice of Bullwinkle J. Moose.

Bullwinkle's Corner originally aired over fifty years ago, as part of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (aka Rocky and His Friends).  If you're too young to have seen it (or too old to remember it), some kind soul has posted most of the segments on YouTube.

"Now," as Rocket J. Squirrel would say, "Here's something you'll really like..."

Saturday, April 20, 2013

"This Book Changed My Life"

A woman called out with a frown,
When surprised by some callers from town,
"In a minute or less,
I'll slip on a dress—"
But she slipped on the stairs and came down.
The above limerick popped into my head yesterday. It was one of my favorites from the Arrow Book of Funny Poems, a book I purchased nearly half a century ago through the Scholastic Book Club. Remember the Scholastic Book Club? Nothing but Christmas could equal the anticipation of waiting for ordered books and the thrill when they finally came—delivered right to your desk by your teacher, your order form tucked neatly between the pristine, brand-new-book-scented pages.

I looked up the Arrow Book of Funny Poems on the Internet. It's out of print, but you can buy it used on for—get this—$0.01. No, I didn't misplace a decimal. That's one cent. A penny. One one-hundredth of a dollar. I don't think I've ever seen anything for sale on for a penny—or anywhere else, for that matter (at least not since the price of a gumball soared to a nickel). Of course, shipping costs $3.99, which makes the actual cost of the book $4.00—probably about eight times what I paid for it when I was a kid.

Still, it's worth it.

There was only one customer review, with the heading: "This book changed my life." This bit of hyperbole made me laugh—until I thought about it. The Arrow Book of Funny Poems and other books I ordered from Scholastic Books when I was a kid turned me on to reading and, eventually, writing.

By golly, this book did change my life.

And guess what? Kids can still experience the thrill of ordering books like this at school. That's right, the Scholastic Book Club still exists. Not only that, but Scholastic holds the American publishing rights to the Harry Potter series.

Well done, Scholastic!


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Beauty Tinged with Darkness

My first-ever book of poetry was John Ciardi's You Read to Me, I'll Read to You, illustrated by Edward Gorey. Like most of my favorite children's books, it was a gift from my Aunt Vonna. Amazingly, it's still in print. Here's one of my favorite poems from the book:

The thing about a shark is—teeth,
One row above, one row beneath.

Now take a close look. Do you find
It has another row behind?

Still closer—here, I'll hold your hat:
Has it a third row behind that?

Now look in and... Look out! Oh my,
I'll NEVER know now! Well, goodbye.

This served as my introduction to poetry, and it may explain why my taste in poems still runs to the dark side. Here's a favorite passage from what might be my favorite poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T.S. Eliot—who, when he wasn't writing charming children's poems about cats, could be very dark indeed:
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

It seems to me that the most beautiful works of art, like the most beautiful lives, are tinged with darkness. Without darkness, you can't see the stars shine.

Happy National Poetry Month!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Cycling in Ile-de-France

This post has nothing to do with cycling in Ile-de-France, or, for that matter, cycling of any kind. "Cycling in Ile-de-France" is the title of an article on a web site called "Freewheeling France." Yesterday I received an e-mail from the site's webmaster, Lynette Eyb, requesting permission to use the following picture from my Flickr account to illustrate the article:

Château de La Roche-Guyon, Ile-de-France

I was honored, although I didn't have the heart to tell Ms. Eyb that I wasn't cycling when I took the picture. I was on a bus. Also, there's a good chance I didn't take the picture. Loretta might have taken it. I honestly don't remember. It was ten years ago. But I will be happy to take the credit.

The picture was taken (by either Loretta or me) on the road between Versailles and Giverny, on a day trip we took out of Paris on June 11, 2003. When we purchased the tickets for the tour, Loretta told the Parisian at the ticket counter that we wanted to visit "Versailles and Givenchy."

"Madame," the man replied in that wonderfully disdainful tone that can only be achieved with a good French accent, "Givenchy is the perfume. Giverny is the home of Claude Monet."

I'm pretty sure I'm the one who took this picture of Monet's water lily pond:

Le bassin aux nymphéas de Claude Monet

I thought there were too many tourists in the picture, so I removed them with Photoshop:

Le bassin aux nymphéas de Claude Monet (sans touristes)

Even with all of the tourists, it was a tranquil and incredibly beautiful place. If you're ever in Paris, make sure you visit it.

Just remember—it's "Giverny," not "Givenchy."