Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The What in the Where?

I was watching (with subtitles) Godard and Gorin's cartoonish Marxist rant, Tout Va Bien. In it is this remarkable sequence of lines, as two voices conjure up a movie:

There'll be a country.
In the country, there will be a countryside.
In the countryside, there will be cities.

In most of human history, this last line probably seemed entirely natural. The great secular and spiritual centers, such as castles and temples, were built in part to dominate their surroundings, serving as an overpowering beacon to the visitor from the countryside. And yet, to an urban creature like me, cities are what there is; countrysides are what you obtain by subtraction. To hear of cities as the passive actors, planted into the countryside, is remarkable.

When I'm in Paris, I imagine what it must have been like to boat down the Seine, pass the exurbs of huts and fields, and then come upon the towering majesty of the Ile de Cite. (Likewise for Madern Gerthener's great cathedral alongside the Main in Frankfurt, or any number of other such monuments.) That's why the view of the Notre Dame that most impresses me is from the waterside on the embankment—from down below. Then we see the cathedral as its builders actually intended it to be seen.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Dog Days of Fall

I was driving back home tonight, turning off East Ave onto Blackstone Blvd, just over a mile-and-a-half from home. The area is generally a little dark—there's a cemetery on one side and a park on the other—and in addition, a road light seemed to be out. In the summer there are often people in the park late into the evening, resulting in a row of cars along the road's edge, but it's been a cold day and an even colder evening, so there was nobody present.

Except for a dog-like shape that crossed the road, paused, and then crossed to the other side.

Having grown up for eighteen years with a succession of three different German Shepherds, I'm pretty finely attuned to their profile. This had a similar profile but something was a bit off, like I was looking at the first cousin of an Alsatian: bushy tail, leaner, just that little bit more lupine. On a hunch I pulled over to look for an owner, saw none, then tracked the animal a bit, and we traded stares....


We've had a few coyote sightings in the towns near Providence, and this of course is a matter of some hand-wringing. In an ironic kind of consistency, the same people who typically engage in NIMBYism about development appear to go NIMBY over coyotes as well. There's a routine controversy over whether to kill them or be more humane, and whether killing them actually decreases or increases their numbers.

My inclination was to do absolutely nothing. The animal probably lived in the expanse of the cemetery, and didn't seem to be straying into “town”. And I would have left it there, except that the divider of Blackstone Blvd. has a wonderful running path that a few people do use in the dark. The last thing I want is to wake up tomorrow and read about an animal attack (it's always slow-news days around here, so you can just imagine what the local media would do with that).

So, with some trepidation, I called 911. They answered immediately and, to his great credit, the sergeant was relaxed about the matter. He seemed to be probing for whether I was hysterical about this. Once I assured him I was not expecting that Something Should Be Done, we agreed that the beast probably lived in the cemetery, had a pleasant exchange, he put me through to inform Animal Control (whose officer was equally relaxed), and the matter ended there.

I've had quite a year where wildlife is concerned (as I discuss at the end of my posting about my sabbatical), but right next door! Now it gets interesting.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

How to Enliven the NFL

I was watching the end of a routine game between the San Diego Chargers and the Minnesota Vikings today. Football (the American kind) has a unique notion of “running out the clock”: i.e., wasting time to end the game. This prompted that seer of baseball, Earl Weaver, to reputedly say, “You can't sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You've got to throw the ball over the goddamn plate and give the other man his chance. That's why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”

Anyway, I was watching this game and thinking how generic it was: take away the colors and names, and it could be any two teams playing anywhere. What a waste of local color and character. So it occurred to me: why not allow teams to acquire attributes based on their names?

Imagine if the Vikings had real horns (not painted-on ones) on their helmets, and if the Chargers carried battery-packs that let enabled them to administer moderate shocks. (This would give a whole new meaning to the term “defensive battery”. Aside: the first few hits on Google for “football defensive battery” all refer to assault-and-battery charges on football players.) Various teams (Bills, Ravens, Bengals, Jaguars, Lions, Bears, Falcons, Cardinals, ...) could also outfit with horns, fangs, beaks, and the like. Give the Cowboys lassos, the Redskins tomahawks. The Patriots would be equipped with muskets and blunderbusses: lethal, you might think, but not when you consider the reload time. The Texans presumably arm with concealed weapons and lethal injections. Only the Dolphins, it would appear, are disadvantaged by this scheme.