Friday, March 21, 2014

I celebrated the first day of spring by baking a devil's food layer cake with orange buttercream frosting, laughing at the teenager's snow-day-fueled NCAA tournament debauch, cutting paper flowers out of Tom's discarded photo prints, and handing a 50-dollar bill to the plow truck driver. That was the exact bill I'd earned playing music in a bar on Saturday night, and I had hoped to spend it on something more enjoyable, such as groceries. The Fates, those nasty old bags, decreed otherwise.

To distract myself from this so-called spring, I've been rereading Lampedusa's The Leopard. My thought was that a book set in 1860s Sicily in high summer and featuring scenes of heavily crinolined women riding for 10-hour stretches in closed carriages over dusty, rutted tracks would be sure to take the edge off below-zero temperatures and mountains of snow. Also I was in the mood for animal descriptions, and the book features one of my favorite dogs in literature: Bendico, a big, dumb, bouncy, affectionate Great Dane who rushes around the palaces and courtyards digging up flowers, scratching at priceless doors, and leaving snuffly spots on Prince Fabrizio's silken waistcoats.

I know I've written about the book here before, but I do love it so. The prince is an intense and elegiac character, a man out of his time intellectually and politically yet so eminently part of his landscape.
The term "countryside" implies soil transformed by labour; but the scrub clinging to the slopes was still in the very same state of scented tangle in which it had been found by Phoenicians, Dorians and Ionians when they disembarked in Sicily, that America of antiquity. Don Fabrizio and Tumeo climbed up and down, slipped and were scratched by thorns, just as an Archedamos or Philostrates must have got tired and scratched twenty-five centuries before. They saw the same objects, their clothes were soaked with just as sticky a sweat, the same indifferent breeze blew steadily from the sea, moving myrtles and broom, spreading a smell of thyme. The dogs' sudden pauses for thought, their tension waiting for prey, were the very same as when Artemis was invoked for the chase. Reduced to these basic elements, its face washed clean of worries, life took on a tolerable aspect.

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