Saturday, April 26, 2008

Funny what you remember ...

When I was a little kid my family went to Montreal on summer vacation. My parents always seemed to find places that nobody in my school had gone to or heard of. Then again, if it wasn't Florida or the Jersey Shore, chances were that the place was unknown to my classmates.

When we went to Montreal, we went to Man and His World, and the amusement park next door, La Ronde. Both were leftovers from Expo 67, the 1967 World's Fair. Like virtually every other world's fair, this one had had exhibits and pavilions for various countries and industries: the United States building was a big Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome. There was even a model Habitat 67, an experiment in economical apartment living. Several of the buildings stayed open after the fair closed, thus becoming part of Man and His World.

It was pretty cool for us as kids and as Americans. Given that this was during the Cold War, it was fascinating to go into the USSR pavilion and see actual Russian stuff without all of the anti-Communist propaganda. I can recall getting a couple of souvenir wooden toys there, including a carved bear on a platform that appeared to wash his hands when you swung the attached ball beneath the platform. It had Cyrillic lettering on the bottom, and I remember that my mom was concerned that we'd be stopped at the border and questioned about it. Needless to say, we didn't stop by the Cuba pavilion for cigars, either. There's a great site here with information and photos of most, if not all of the attractions.

As much as I remember the exhibits and the incredibly fun rides and playground, what still sticks in my mind is the deserted part of the park. While the operators had continued to run most of the place as a going concern after the fair closed, several of the buildings were shuttered, and a whole area of concessions, restaurants and so forth was closed up behind fences. For the most part, it wasn't visible at ground level, but you got an eyeful if you used the minirail or gondola ride to get from one end of the park to the other. I can remember fanciful buildings -- something very Seussian in nature, very futuristic.

I don't know if the rides went over the closed area during the day, but I can vividly remember gliding over it at night. The area was darkened but for a few safety lights, and even at the age of seven or eight, I was fascinated by the idea of this formerly vibrant and even festive-looking area being shut down. Even as that young child, I felt the sense of having missed something by not being there when it was open. What was it like? While we had fun, it must have been delirium when everything was operational.

Man and His World eventually closed in the mid '70s, and LaRonde is still open as a Six Flags amusement park. The islands on which the Expo took place are now a public park, and at least some of the buildings were removed to the countries they'd represented. The futuristic apartment complex is still open, and a much desired place to live in Montreal.

And as I did a little research to get information for this post, I was once again hit by how amazing the passage of time is. Thinking about that young child who imagined the world that had been there that she missed, I'm struck by the fact that that part of me hasn't changed much. Likewise, I know she would have found it so cool that more than 30 years later, she'd be able to summon up a bunch of stuff about it on a screen sitting in her living room, just by typing a few words into a box.

Sometimes when I remember places like Man and His World, I consider going back to see what's there now. Somehow I think it's better just to check it out on the web. Less chance for disappointment.

Monday, April 21, 2008

If cats get communion, what's the sacrament?

With the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to New York, we've been treated to a wealth of data about him and his pre-election life, including some of his hobbies, likes and dislikes.

As it turns out, the Pope is an animal lover with a specific fondness for cats. While in his previous Vatican job, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger cared for the cats in his neighborhood, who often walked him to work in the morning. In fact, following his election to popehood, his housekeeper worried about who would take care of the kitties after he moved to the papal apartment.

Unfortunately, even if you take the travel and time-consuming nature of his job out of the equation, the Pope can't have cats now. Interestingly enough, he suffers the same restrictions of so many other apartment dwellers: no pets allowed. Forget about the strays in the courtyard; he couldn't bring his two indoor cats with him, either.

What's that all about? I mean, he's the Pope. Doesn't he have the right to change the rules? I sincerely doubt that God put a 'no cats' clause in the lease. And what happens if he breaks the rule? Does he get kicked out of papal housing? Does he get fired?

You have to wonder if maybe this whole pet restriction thing has played into papal elections in the past. There's been a great deal of conjecture over the secret discussions that take place, so the potential is there. Imagine it: the College of Cardinals takes the vote and informs the winner that he was selected by his peers to get the big job with the big hat. And the lucky cardinal turns it down when he finds out he can't take Fluffy and Purr Purr with him. Who knows? Maybe that's what it would take to get the rule changed.

I have to believe this rule is a fairly recent phenomenon. Turns out that Pope Paul VI was so crazy about his cat that he once dressed the feline in Cardinals' clothes. Perhaps Felix Cardinal Catus got defrocked after missing the litterbox once too often, or for breaking the rules of celibacy. One bad apple spoils it for the whole barrel.

Friday, April 11, 2008

You've got to be kidding

In the movie High Fidelity, John Cusack, as the music snob/record store owner Rob Gordon states, "It's what you like, not what you are like. Books, records, films, these things matter. Call me shallow, it's the fuckin' truth."

I have to admit it -- I agree. I've shut down matches on eHarmony who claim the last book they read and enjoyed was The daVinci Code, just as I have turned men down who think 'alot' is one word that means 'many.' In fact, several (but not 'alot') of them have been offenders on both fronts, which makes it even easier. I've been called a snob for it, but, to quote, "these things matter."

I fear I've been judged similarly, but perhaps more benignly. Having learned that I majored in English, my neighbor, a retired English professor, regularly invites me to plays I have no interest in, and I'm too ashamed to admit that I don't really like Shakespeare all that much. She's a very nice person, and I'm sure she wouldn't think less of me for my tastes, though she did lament once that one of our otherwise intelligent neighbors preferred Harlequin romances to literature. And despite her kindness, when she called to see if she could borrow a copy of George Eliot's Middlemarch, I couldn't tell her I'd never read it -- nor wanted to.

The funny thing is that no matter how well versed any of us are, we're all subject to others' snobbery. While one person feels that anyone who reads and understands Ayn Rand is a genius, another may think the person is a poseur.

Sometimes it's almost laughable, like a noted tome sitting on a bedside table, never read. Is it meant to be some sort of turn on? 'Wow, this guy's deep.' I thought we were supposed to have gotten past this in college.

And why does it seem that the most indecipherable foreign film gets five stars in Time Out New York while something like Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle gets panned? All of that got thrown out the door for me in early adulthood, when one of the biggest snobs I've ever worked with insisted that I had to see Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure because it was her favorite movie.

I could never figure out the pecking order. I still snicker when I hear the Smiths on the radio, recalling the "Morrissey is God" grafitti in the bathroom stalls at Douglass College. Silly girls, Clapton is God. Get it straight. But who trumps whom -- a guy who learned how to play guitar from Buddy Guy, or some British dude whose songs all sound the same?

This differs from the quirkiness I brought up in a post last year, but it has a similar impact when used as criteria for who you let into your life. Some of us are just more selective than others, or maybe we just have odd ways of being selective.

Then again, I guess the real test is what you do when you find out a longtime friend never actually read whatever it is that you consider to be a requirement of everyone you have in your life. Do you ditch them?

Man, that would be shallow.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Forty years

Today is the 40th anniversary of the day Rev. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, and as expected, there were scores of remembrances, rallies, speeches and news reports to commemorate the civil rights leader's life and work.

What's always struck me about remembrances of Dr. King -- his birthdate, specifically -- is the tendency to categorize them as 'black' or 'African American' events. Yes, he did tremendous good for the black community, that's undeniable. But I think that restricting our thoughts to what he did for one part of the population is rather limiting.

It occurs to me that when inequities are brought to light and corrected, we all benefit. Well, except for the people who perpetuate the discrimination. It's often been said that society wins when smart, caring and talented people are given their just opportunity to contribute regardless of background or ethnicity. Yes, a woman or a black man or Asian or whoever should be able to be president just as a white man can. However, I'm thinking much more locally -- the ordinary people in our lives.

I'm just glad to have the opportunity to know people and like or dislike them on the basis of who they are as individuals, and not let irrelevant factors get in the way. I think about the people I've met and built relationships with that I might never have met if we lived in a world that had never had people like Dr. King. Those folks aren't necessarily doctors or teachers or other authority figures. They're friends, classmates, coworkers, "ordinary" people who have made a difference somehow in my life. Some of them have been people I didn't necessarily like, but then I've found that often you learn the most from the people you like the least.

Our lives become enriched when we get to know people different from us. It's that simple. Our eyes get opened a little farther, and hopefully we can learn from what makes us different and see what we have in common. And maybe we can have some fun and enjoy each other's company. How about that?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

With fans like these...

As most people in New Jersey know, James Gandolfini of The Sopranos fame is a proud alumnus of Rutgers University. In fact, his buddy Mario Batali used to be a line cook at one of my favorite lunch places in New Brunswick, Stuff Yer Face. I still have this weird fantasy of going to Babbo and asking for an Emily Boli and a Molson on tap.

Anyway, I found this poster on a great blog called Where is the Line Between North & South Jersey?

Click on the image and take a look at what it actually says. Needless to say, Don Imus would think twice...