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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mexicans do camp, they just have trouble sleeping

To Chill A Mockingbird, Use a Flashlight

“Mexicans don’t camp.” I explained to my new partner when she first proposed the idea of a camping trip to Big Bend when we had about two weeks off together in the early spring. The only way she got me to warm up to the idea was having a dog accompany us. A real dog, as in large and protective. We found our Catahoula, Josh, at the animal defense league in San Antonio and he was such a grateful adoptee that he willingly stayed inside our yard even when the gate was open, for the next ten years, save for the two weeks he was dognapped and the animal communicator-dog psychic in California and a lost dog ad in the newspaper helped us find him.

It’s 18 years later and we are camping en route to New Mexico. No dog, this time. We own two large rescues, one a Border Collie and the other a Coon Hound. There’s not enough room in a moving van for those two dogs, and especially not in our little 1999 Toyota Pre-Runner with our hastily-acquired-on-Craig’s list camper top that cost us half of a hundred dollars. It just sounds a tiny bit better to say it that way.

As everyone knows Mexicans do camp. At least this one does, now. Whether they sleep while they camp is another story--This one:

Sonora Caverns campsite had plenty of space for us, and the fall of dusk came with the sounds of bleating lambs from the ranch next door, guinea hens, peacocks and turkeys that roamed around the campgrounds. A sprinkler spritzing the trees and grass that a worker set near us was the last sound I heard until around two a.m. when the happy, varied and amplified Star Wars sound effects repertoire of a mockingbird shook us awake.

I remembered a spell of sleepless nights in the early 80's when I lived with a roommate from Laredo on Magnolia Street in San Antonio. The sleepless spell was also caused by a similar songfest outside our open window. I remembered I had used a flashlight to scare away the happy little bird back then. For several nights I had to clomp down the stairs, cross the street and stand like the Liberty statue in my nightgown holding up my flashlight shining up into a tree until the singer was either confused by the immediate arrival of dawn or his ego was bruised and the singing stopped.

Camping has improved in the past 18 years. Last night all I had to do was swivel around upon our plywood and foam mattress, aim our high tech spotlight and with the precision of a hunter on safari, silence, sweet silence. For about twenty minutes after dawn and nightfall came and went again and our impassioned serenade started all over.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Sinking of The Romantics

You understand why you are uncomfortable throughout this entire film during one of its early scenes. Old college friends and lovers gather at a rehearsal dinner and offer awkward toasts to the bride and groom. The scene is made even more tortuous by not knowing if the couple will be getting married the next day.

The main character, the maid of honor, played by Katie Holmes, is the strangest of the bunch of friends reunited by the wedding. Not only does she seem a generation older than her pals, she seems as confused as we are about her inexplicable role as maid of honor to a woman whose fiance she has been seeing on and off for ten years.

Poetry--the English variety from Blake and Keats and others from the romantic era--is the glue that binds the benighted couple who are not yet finished sorting out the end of their affair, even as the night of the rehearsal dinner turns to morning. How strong a glue poetry and its first cousin, romanticism can be against the storm that’s coming in with the wedding is the tension that ebbs and flows with the wedding party's stores of alcohol and other treats to make more comfortable the rite of passage.

In the movie’s best scene, in few words and rare logic, the reluctant groom explains why he’s marrying who he’s come to marry and not the maid of honor. The passion and intensity of their relationship was too much for him, he confesses. It gave him morning-after panic attacks. These he saw as signs of needing to run clear of Katie Holmes’ character and into the arms of the willing and wealthy woman who is free of romantic danger, but devoid of passion or poetry.

We all know the bridegroom’s frail, fearful logic and also its allure. But it’s not enough to carry an entire movie. The question of whether the wedding will happen or not kept me in my seat when I sometimes wanted to bolt from the movie as badly as the groom from his wedding to the wealthy, emotionally antiseptic woman to whom he is engaged. She spends most of the movie sequestered from her friends wearing, no, I’m not kidding, a blue facial mask to prepare her complexion for the big day ahead.

Questions that linger after The Romantics ended: If you’re going to have just-one-last-time sex with a soon-to-be married guy, why would you select for the setting a spot beneath a well-lighted tree that is already the anchor to too many night scenes at a huge, beach-side estate? Where did the short actor from Lord of the Rings disappear to during half the film? Was he shooting another movie elsewhere during the filming of The Romantics? Did Katie Holmes push for this vehicle for herself without noticing that only parts of it were well written? Why didn’t Candice Bergen have at least one good ass chewing scene, especially when it’s clear everyone in the wedding party needed one. It seems a crime to not let the character who plays her daughter who is about to get dumped have a dose of Murphy Brown’s anything-but-romantic straightening out. I’m betting one or two scenes with Bergen going berserk would have added comic relief that might have saved The Romantics from the seriousness that sank it.