Monday, August 4, 2008

Feeding the Tiger

So, while we were in Spokane for MERPcon, we took a little time before the con started and during the evenings to explore the city as well. In addition to a v. nice riverwalk and interesting downtown area, we got to go up to the Cat Tales Zoological Park in Mead, a small feline zoo north of the city. Not only did I get to pet the resident Bengal, who lay snoozing in the path without a care in the world, but we saw a bobcat, cougar, panther, leopard, serval cat, two bears,* the mellowist lion in the world, and tigers. Lots of tigers. Tigers soaking in pools and tigers on the prowl. Tigers sleeping in the shade and tigers pacing in the sun. White tigers (melanistic) and tiger cubs (adorable) and one lightly tiger-striped lion (a liger or tigon, perhaps?). Best of all, we got to feed a tiger.**

It's clear that when working out how to let people feed a tiger, the zoo staff has put some serious thought into idiot-proofing the process. First they push a huge plexiglass shield -- actually more like a three-sided clear cage -- up against the tiger's cage. This plastic wall has a hole a few inches wide in one side. Then they remind you of the rules -- that if a piece of meat falls to the ground, the attendant picks it up, not you. Then the attendant hands you a short plastic skewer which looks for all the world like one of those candles you hold for a midnight vigil or Christmas Eve service. Then she puts a piece of meat (about the same size as the chunks you buy already cut up for stew at the store) on the end of the little skewer. You stick the skewer through the little hole and through the mesh of the cage, and the tiger (who's been waiting with interest this whole time, ever since the feeder's cage hove into view) delicately takes the morsel from the other end. Repeat. Each person gets ten pieces of meat, and the tiger sometimes almost dropped one and used a paw to shove it back in, very like Winnie-the-Pooh in the famous Ernest Shepherd illustrations. Both Janice and I gave it a go, and enjoyed it immensely. If you like cats and find yourself in the area, definitely recommended.


current audiobook: THE CHILDREN OF HURIN, read by Christopher Tolkien and Christopher Lee.

*the black bears were there, although they didn't fit the theme of the little zoo, because had Cat Tales not taken them in they would both have been shot, having each been a wild bear who ventured into populated areas in a desperate search for food. A rather tart notice posted beside one bear's cage said the zoo owners were well aware the bears needed bigger quarters and encouraged those who were worried about them to contribute something toward building them better accomodations.

**in our case, Selim, whose little brother snoozed in a nearby cage; their big brother is famous for having appeared in the arena with Russell Crow in GLADIATOR.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The High Price of Dirt

So, we just got back a few days ago from a trip to Spokane (home of MERPcon 08), returning by way of Kennewick and the Columbia River gorge, with stop-offs at Fake Stonehenge nr Maryhill and the Mt Adams area on the way. About 875 miles all told, averaging about 41 miles per gallon in our Honda Hybrid and costing us about $70 in gas, at prices ranging from $4.10 a gallon up to $4.27.

That's a lot to pay for a gallon of gas. Somewhere in the back of mind, the right price for gas is 33 cents per gallon, the price it was in Arkansas throughout most of my youth (unless you did that weird new pump-it-yourself thing down at the Road Runner, in which case it was 29 cents). So while I know four or five dollars per gallon is here to stay, it feels unreal to me, and I can pay it with a horrified fascination to see the total for filling up a tank, yet with a sort of detachment.

If that detachment were suddenly to desert me --say, if gas were to get really expensive--I'd have to remind myself of how good we still have it in this country. It's hard to be philosophical when you're feeling pain at the pump, but the next time I fill up I'll be thinking of a news item I saw recently:*

The Price of Dirt just went up 40% in Haiti.

Why dirt? Because the price of rice doubled. And a lot of Haitians are so poor they couldn't afford enough rice before, so they would take dirt, mix it with baking soda and some shortning, bake it, and eat the resulting 'dirt cookies'. As all little kids know, dirt is technically edible, so it helps fill them up. And apparently the Haitian dirt had a little calcium in it, so they actually got some minimum nourishment from it.

Except now, with the price of rice going so high, too many people have been forced to fall back on dirt, and our old enemy the law of supply and demand has forced up the price of dirt.

Food for thought.


*source: Chuck Shepherd's NEWS OF THE WEIRD, reprinted in the June '08 issue of THE FUNNY TIMES. A little quick checking shows that Shepherd originally reported it the week of March 30th, taking the news item from a January MSNBC piece; National Geographic also reported it back in January.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Name That Tune

So, the week before last I was watching the first few episodes of an anime that was new to me, TWEENY WITCHES, when I was struck by the closing song. Obviously a recasting of a famous song, but I couldn't place it, between the changes they'd made and the distracting fact that the lyrics were in Japanese, which I don't speak. And, as is the way of such things, the tune got stuck in my head, where it repeated over and over.
By the next day I realized I'd been on the wrong track: it wasn't a popular song but something classical. I would almost have said it was the Blue Danube Waltz, except that it wasn't a waltz, being in 4/4 time.
Finally I broke down and listened to some samples of the Blue Danube on Itunes to refresh my memory and confirmed that this was indeed the original source of the anime tune, which had been given the title of "DuDiDuWa lalala". And while they hadn't quite given it the Walter Murphey treatment, they had changed it to 4/4.
Live and learn.