Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Butt End Of The Elephant

What with this and that, life has been on the stressful end of the scale these days. So this weekend, with all of us hanging around eating english muffins and watching youtube in bed with our tween-with-a-cold and blatantly ignoring the weeds in the yard, we were ready for a little knowledge to be laid on us. (I figure this is how Aristotle did it, even if he didn't have english muffins.)

Our big revelation came from youtube, of course: Just be happy that you don't have to clean up after elephants. There are a lot of reasons for that, but the most significant one is shown on this video. I think this is one of those guy videos, so if you are prone to wearing pink or don't appreciate fart jokes, just skip this one.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Jewish Pirates...Who Knew?

Over my years of going back and forth to St. John (where that Reef Bay resides), I've learned that if I can manage to pry myself loose from the beach, the snorkel mask, or a colada, there's some really interesting history to be had in the Caribbean. Edward Kritzler's book "Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean" confirms that point once again, and with breathless, interesting aplomb. Throw away all stereotypes of matzo balls and nervous mothers, because that guy that Johnny Depp portrayed so well on screen, well, he was very likely Jewish.

Yes, that's right, between the Spanish Inquisition and about 1670, Jews found a home in the Caribbean, especially in Jamaica. They had been banished from Spain and most of Europe, where the Spanish king and queen divested them of most of their wealth and their lives during the Inquisition. During the ensuing diaspora, the New World seemed like a possible safe place to set up, especially since it was so far from the raging religious intolerance of Europe. Although many Jews ended up being driven from Brazil and other Portuguese holdings, others found safe harbor in Jamaica and other islands. It was here that the Jewish pirates flourished, joining with the British to plunder Spanish ships. And they apparently did such a good job of this, that Spain ended up losing it stronghold in the Caribbean, allowing Britain, Holland, and the Danes put up stakes there. Those Jewish pirates succeeded in taking from Spain some of the blood and profit they had ripped so viciously from their ancestors.

If you want to read a thoroughly interesting book on a forgotten corner of history -- with a bit of justice and revenge thrown in for good measure -- try "Jewish Pirates." The beach will never look quite the same again -- or the deli.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sure Do Like The New Neighbors

If you're a Washingtonian, you look at your president a little differently. Sure, he's signing bills and his family is redecorating the White House residence and his staff can't figure out what the last occupants did to the phones -- all that usual new first family on-the-scene stuff. But there's something else intangible about having a new president move into the White House for us folks who call DC home. Every president leaves his own flavor to the place, to the city's psychological stew. You know how you cook up a batch of something and know that it needs just that one more ingredient? Well, having the Obama's added to the mix is kind of like that -- only multiplied by about a thousand. Taking that food metaphor just a step further, the Obama's represent a delicious, filling chili -- while the previous First Family was more like stone soup.

But now, what a breath of fresh air! For the first time in 8 years, we have a First Family here that actually steps foot outside the White House to do more than just catch the helicopter to get to the plane to get out of dodge. (That's right, for two terms the Bushes did not eat out, go to church, or otherwise taint themselves with Washington. It has to be one of the biggest capital city disses on record.) Our new First Lady takes the time to regularly visit our kids at schools and community centers and free pediatric clinics -- just to say "hi". She's seen out digging new garden beds and wearing clothes that don't need to be ironed. The President is hitting burger joints for lunch and sitting in a regular seat to watch the Wizards. A seat where people can walk by and dispute that foul right along side him. Rather than being treated like we were some sort of mob to be quarantined from, these folks actually seem to like us DCers. Turns out they think we are regular folks too. Who knew?

Even in a world of complex diplomacy and economic issues, it seems that being neighborly still counts for a lot.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Blood Brothers

Yesterday, the Tweenish One and I went to see the new X-men movie, which I'll call "Wolverine 2." It is one of those let's clear up some things in my past life epics, showing Wolverine as a little boy, then spending decades slashing and burning with his evil brother (though Big W doesn't notice that until the guy has slaughtered a few dozen people), leaving the mercenary rat race to settle down with a Good Woman, and getting into trouble all over again. Oh, and his whole body is filled with liquid metal that makes him virtually indestructible. Kind of like Botox, but industrial strength and without the puffiness.

Personally, the best part of the movie was figuring out how Wolverine's early life influenced his later behavior. The Tweenish One and I deconstructed the plot and conjectured on Big W's various problems over chips and salsa after the movie. Over the years, we have become Marvel-based psychologists -- and there is a lot to analyze when it comes to Wolverine. The relationship with his pretend father, his real father who he accidentally kills (alert Freud), his penchant for picking the Wrong Woman, his issues with making lasting friendships. Putting Marvel characters "on the couch" makes for regular conversation fodder in my house. And not just between the grownups, either.

Conversation between two 12 year old boys overheard this weekend:

"Do you think if he and his brother had worked out that father thing earlier on, they might have gotten along better?"

"Yeah, I was wondering about that..."

Move over Tolstoy.