TIGER, TIGER BURNING BRIGHT


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Tiger, tiger, burning bright
in the forests of the night.
What immortal hand or eye,
dare frame thy fearful symmetry.” William Blake

It’s easy to see why Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s fantasy novel, Life of Pi, became a surprise success story around the world, winning four awards from eleven nominations in the Academy Awards.

It is a story both striking and unique telling of Piscine Molitor Patel, a boy growing up in Pondicherry, India, the son of a zookeeper. Piscine changes his name to “Pi”, to avoid being teased by his classmates, who pronounce his name “Pissing”.

This change of name is only the first of several fascinating changes in Pi’s experience. Some, like his name, are more or less under his control, like his pursuit of truth by simultaneously studying Christianity, Hinduism and Islam at the same time. He tries to understand God through the lens of each religion and comes to recognize benefits in each. Some, like his father’s decision to move the family and some of the animals to Canada, are not under his control, especially when the ship carrying the Patel family sinks, the rest of the family is lost, and Pi is stranded in a lifeboat for 227 days with only a zebra with a broken leg, a hyena, a gentle orangutan and a 450 pound tiger named Richard Parker for company.

The bulk of this fascinating and colorful story focuses on Pi’s struggles to survive and to make sense of the dehumanizing condition in which he finds himself. The hyena first eats the zebra and then the orangutan. The tiger has found a place to hide under the tarpaulin on the lifeboat, but the tension grows as you realize it is only a matter of time before he will emerge to kill off the hyena and then Pi.

The tiger indeed kills the hyena, but then miraculously goes back under his tarpaulin, where there is an occasional growl, keeping Pi alert for constant danger. Meanwhile, Pi is developing survival skills and learns to live alone with the threat of the tiger always present. Throughout the odyssey, it becomes apparent that when Pi is angry or fearful, the tiger comes out from his lair, and Pi strugges to regain his strength and domination over the animal.

When the journey is finally over, and the little boat reaches land in Mexico, Richard Parker and the boy are weak with hunger and near death, and the skeletal tiger silently slips off into the jungle.

Several years later, Pi has settled in Canada, and is interviewed by the insurance company for the sunken ship, who are still trying to learn how and why the ship was lost. Pi tells his story, but the men do not believe that a 13 year old boy can survive with a live tiger in a lifeboat, so Pi tells them another story, this one involving the base and vicious cook from the ship, a sailor with a broken leg, and Pi’s mother, who had miraculously made it into the little boat, and the tiger, Richard Parker.

In Pi’s mind, to shroud the utter horror of his condition, the cook has become the hyena, who kills and eats the helpless zebra with his broken leg. Pi’s mother is his next victim, with Pi cowering at the end of the boat awaiting his turn. Giving a huge roar, Richard Parker emerges from beneath his tarpaulin, and quickly disposes of the hyena and returns to his den to sleep and digest his meal.

Who then, is the tiger?

There is a tiger within all of us, sleeping, but capable of taking control unless constrained. It represents our fear and our anger. This is our ultimate strength: we are endowed with the ability to choose in which path our best interest lie. Do we conquer the tiger, or learn to subdue him?

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GARDEN-CHIC STYLE


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Give us a few days of sunshine and a bit of warm weather and the gardeners climb out of their comfortable chairs and set aside the seed catalogues to see what winter has wrought in the garden.

Time to check the gardening wardrobe. In case you are behind the times, gardening clothes have gone haute couture, adopting the English manor look for yard work, exchanging ratty jeans and worn-out old shoes and $400 waterproof utility jackets from Ireland, for English riding breeches tucked into $500 imported Wellies. After all, you may be outside in full view of the neighbors and you want to dress the part even if you’re only pulling a few weeds. They even have a tool belt you can sling around your waist that they advertise as “sexy”, and it’s “only” $58. It sort of identifies you as a gardener without looking too corny. Gosh, where have I been all these years? I always thought garening almost required you to get dirt under your fingernails.

I remember when I first saw the “boots”. We were having lunch at a small restaurant in Malibu when I saw the greatest boots I had ever seen. I had actually seen them on someone on TV a short time before and thought they were the cat’s pajamas, so when I looked up and saw them again on an actual person I flipped. Before I could ask where they got them, my daughter cautioned me by saying “That’s Larry Hagman, you can’t ask him!” Well, O.K., but my husband had gone into another part of the restaurant to watch a football game and so had Mr. Hagman, so I sauntered over and just happened to mention the boots. By the time I arrived, the two men had become football friends, and had exchanged pleasantries and addresses.

As it turned out, they were the first Ugg boots we had seen, and not too practical for garden wear, but his jacket, from L.L. Bean was a real keeper. His wife was also an artist and had painted fish motifs on the coat, which was warm and waterproof and cost about $75. It goes well with my ratty jeans, worn-out tennis shoes and baseball cap. And who cares what the neighbors think?

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MY MOTHER


Yesterday was the thirtieth anniversary of my mother’s dying. So long ago and in another life. Sometimes it hardly seems as if she was here at all.

She was such a tiny wisp of a lady at only 4’11”, and gone too early before her 73rd birthday. My father had given her a snow mobile the winter before, which she drove through the snowy Oregon woods at top speed. They lived at Diamond Lake, Oregon during the summer months, and in Mexico during the winter. She took classes and learned to speak a passable Spanish, while my father simply pointed to what he wanted.

In her last year or two they remained in Oregon, buying a home in Brookings on the coast, but still spending a lot of time at the Lake, where she worked in the resort grocery store and ran a gift shop at the Lodge. She had never worked, always using possible poor health as her reason, but in her role as a “lady of some importance”, she bloomed. Earning her first money, she was able to spend something on herself. She had had very dark hair as a young person, but it began turning grey when she was only in her 20’s. It became a lovely white, and since she had an innate sense of color and style, she was as pretty as she had been when my father married her.

They married at the age of 19, and the love affair lasted through all those years, surviving the many absences caused by his Naval career, including five long years during WW II when he was at sea.

Though she never seemed to be a strong person, being overshadowed by my Grandmother, in whose home we lived, I’m sure she had a certain inner strength. During peacetime when we were often stationed in another place, I never heard her complain about starting a new home, however short a time we might be there. More often than not, she was given only a week or so to pack and move. She was a good seamstress, and if we happened to be living in a one-room apartment, which we sometimes were, she made curtains, bedspreads, etc. to make it as pretty as she could. I often had a small cot on one side of the room, and if possible, she hung a dividing curtain between my side and theirs.

When we were stationed in Connecticut at the Submarine base, my father did not want to live on the Base, so they found a rather ramshackle place out in the country which we called home for the next 2 years. It had been a trailer, to which a room had been added. There was no running water, a wood stove and an outhouse a distance away. It sounds awful, and it may have been, but they were the happiest 2 years of my childhood. I have often wondered why that should be. My Grandmother’s rooming house was large and in a fine neighborhood, and the Auntie with whom I often lived during a great deal of my childhood had a lovely home. But we were all together, and my little mother was happy, which was not always the case.

She was given her grandmother’s name, and I was given hers. My Granddaughter is also a Kate, so she will not be forgotten. After she died, I came across a small slip of paper she had tucked away which said “I hope if they remember me they will say I was fun”.

THE BRILLIANCE OF MOMENTARY DECISIONS


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Presidio Sunset” by Kayti Sweetland Rasmussen

The new Bay Bridge between San Francisco and the East Bay is well under way and we decided to try and get a closer view. A year or so ago when it was first begun, we took a boat and picnicked in the lee of Treasure Island and watched its birth pangs a number of times, but had only seen news pictures of it of late, so we decided on a recent brilliant holiday morning with clear skies and a feel of Spring in the air, to try and see it from our side of the Bay.

Somehow or other, we missed the last turnoff before the bridge approach and with no other choice at hand, we were forced to drive across the bridge, but we got a good look at its progress. A number of years ago, I was on a flight with a young man who was going into the City to present his plans for the bridge. I got a first hand look at his plans, although they were not the ones chosen for the project. Nevertheless I felt exhilarated to think they might have been.

Aside from it being a decidedly Springlike day, there was no traffic! Unheard of in our area. We went on to one of our favorite coffee houses in the entire City—Delancy Street, where they purvey not only coffee and food, but have the absolute best selection of current books and cards. If I lived closer, I would never go to Hallmark again.

I met a lovely woman wearing a stunning hand-woven coat she had bought in West Africa. She was quite tall and thin, handsome rather than beautiful, African-American with magnifient bone structure, large dark eyes and very white teeth. She wore her hair clipped close to her head, and had large dangling earrings. I have always said if I were African-American that is exactly how I would look. Not easy for someone only 5’1/2″ with grey hair, but I can dream. I feel sad that I could not paint her.

San Francisco on a sunny day offers a world of street entertainment. We saw someone, a man or a very tall skinny woman, petitioning cars at a stop sign and wearing a large brown dog’s head, and carrying a hand-printed cardboard sign saying “FEED ME”. I had to admit it was clever advertising.

Down along the Marina Green, where the America’s Cup race will be the drawing the boating crowd next year, there were dozens of small sailboats out testing the wind, looking like tiny white flowers flitting across an extraordinary blue Bay.

We grabbed a sandwich at the nearby Safeway, and settled down to enjoy the other picnicers, runners, bikers, dogs, and kids flying some pretty wild colorful kites. We often replayed this same scene through the years with our daughters, and then with grandchildren with their own kites. On at least one such outing, the pigeons joined us. The late columnist Herb Caen always referred to them as “feathered rats”, but we have at least one grandson who once raised both arms out to the side at shoulder height, and received the “blessing” of an armful of admiring pigeons. Herb may have thought they were no-account birds, but obviously one little boy disagreed with him.

We finished our lovely day at the Presidio, where the sunset was coloring the sky and the ocean with unimaginable and unpaintable beauty. I’m so glad we missed the last turn-off before the bridge.