A Child's Book of Scorpions of Medical Importance

Things that may one day save your life

Satan wants his Dog Back

My girlfriend sneaked in a few late-night blog posts, between novels about dogs, consumed without interruption from 9 AM until 3 AM, and during one of those rare moments of pause when she isn’t either looking at puppy videos on the internet, or holding one-sided conversations with ‘Rocky’, who is the subject of this post, and the reason why human beings need to take a cold, hard look at their relationship with their ‘best friends’.

I felt the subject might receive light and unfair treatment at her hands – http://bittle1.soup.io/ – so while she is sleeping off the effects of ‘Marly and Me’ or ‘Bark Less, Wag More’, I got up early to strike a blow for the truth.

Let me get a few things out of the way before I begin.  She convinced me long ago that dogs are worthy of our loyalty:  we bred them to resemble us, to depend on us almost entirely, and so we owe them affection, and lives as long and comfortable as we can afford.  Evolution and selective breeding have granted dogs the mimicry of traits humans admire, but, in the same gesture, have dulled the instincts and stripped many of the protections that would keep the jackal from swiftly snatching a poor dog’s bone, and then heckling his useless, stubby legs and pronounced underbite while trotting back into the bush.

We owe dogs a living, and so even the smelliest and most disobedient merit no less than to be judged ‘worthy of affection’ or ‘loveablesque’.  In most cases.  The rare exceptions are worth noting:  terriers have been bred to kill, to kill anything weaker and smaller than themselves in a fit of violent, snarling rage.  The dogs of Lhasa have been bred to maim those who offend their superstitious masters.  If, for instance, you were to find a dog who married the particular aggressions of both breeds;  who had been raised by white supremists; and who had then been left alone at a young age to fend for himself on the hard streets of Oakland, California,  and to reap the bitter fruit of his intolerance, then you may need to reassess the rules.

But in this case, the combination of genetics and circumstance that would guarantee for a human being a lifetime without parole in an isolated supermax prison has been unable to extinguish the gleeful tail wagging and proud exuberance that our calculated breeding has carefully etched, over centuries, into the very foundation of ‘dog’.

I have strong reason to believe that Satan lives in Oakland, and one day, after hours cleaning and cataloguing his collection of assault rifles, he paused momentarily, bewildered at the unaccountable silence, normally punctuated continuously by barks and growls, and thought to himself ‘I wonder where Rocky is?’  And, not finding the dog, didn’t press the matter further, deciding that he ‘wasn’t much of a dog person, anyway’.  Although I also suspect that they still maintain a faint, supernatural connection, and occasionally, when Rocky tears at the ankle of a child, or vociferously reminds a passing black or Chinese person that they are not welcome in his neighbourhood, Satan feels a passing regret, and thinks fondly of the puppy he had hoped to raise into a monster, but who slipped beyond his influence before he could fully nurture the instinctual kindness out of him.

Luckily, Satan doesn’t know that shortly after Rocky was adopted into his new family, he developed a systemic condition known as ‘dermal lupus’, that causes pustules and rashes to form all over his body, and a dark, pussy excrescence to mat his hair into demonic little dreadlocks.  This might be the same condition that causes his anal glands to clog up periodically, and then to release in a torrent on car seats, and a select array of expensive furniture and Persian carpets.  I’m not really sure, but I strongly suspect that if Satan were aware of Rocky’s sheer toxicity he might try to reclaim his protege a little more actively.

But he can’t have him back.  The small, and unbelievably arduous progress we have made over the years in saving Rocky’s meagre and blackened soul have qualified me for beatification.  My flaws are largely eclipsed, and I always have somewhere to point when things go wrong (followed by a few chin scratches and a swift, whispered apology to Rocky when my girlfriend’s back is turned).  In some small part thanks to Rocky, I am kind of a hero.

Pauvre Belgique!

There is no better way to spend the little spare time I have than to visit a good, European museum on a scorching afternoon.  Vienna reached thirty-five degrees celsius today, and the dim, air-conditioned halls of the Kunsthistorisches  Museum were particularly welcoming.

I can’t visit museums like normal people.  I can enjoy a small exhibit, or take in a few paintings over the course of an hour, but racing through the Louvre in four hours is nerve shattering:  I absorb nothing, as if I were listening to five symphonies played at high volume, sped up, simultaneously.

The best exhibit I have ever seen involved only one painting, Manet’s ‘The Execution of the Emperor Maximilian’ at the National Gallery in London.  The exhibit toured the development of Manet’s work, moving through sketches and historical documentation he used as signposts in a long journey to the final, massive painting, that served as an indictment of the colonial French betrayal of its lackeys in occupied Mexico.  A little under two hours for the understanding of a single work is about the right balance of attention and painterly effort.

So I was happy to see the Kunsthistorisches  Museum had an exhibit on Cranach the Elder, Holbein and Duerer. German portraiture went through a remarkable metamorphosis in just a few generations from the late fifteenth to the early sixteenth centuries.  Humanist ideals, and the growth of printing and sketching brought an amazing, revolutionary naturalism to the depiction of the human face.

Unfortunately, as with so many good things in the past 200 years, Belgium reared its muddled head and ruined everything, like the alcoholic uncle who shows up uninvited to Christmas dinner.  I won’t go into the full list, but if Belgium were solely responsible for the squalid last years of Baudelaire, and his miserable death, the scramble for Africa and its eventual rape and colonization, or the paintings of James Ensor, it should be sufficient to trigger a UN sanction restricting Belgian artistic and political activity for generations.

This time, it was the proud son of Belgium, Jan Faber, who spoiled the party.  Squished between two Holbein works was a blue scribble, executed in ball-point pen, called ‘De Lijmstokman’.  I won’t even bother to translate, because it doesn’t matter.  I thought a student from the local academy had snuck in, and managed to hang his painting while the docents were snoozing. And this wasn’t a singular occurrence.  Faber’s scratches had been systematically wedged in between monumental German renaissance works by some anxious curator, fresh out of the local art history department, keen to mix a little ‘edginess’ into an otherwise academic mix of world-transforming portraiture.  Fine, it was a bit of a nuisance, but no more disruptive than someone farting loudly between the first and second courses of an otherwise delicious dinner.

That’s when I stumbled on Faber’s ‘tapestries’.  Faber thought it would be worthwhile to take a ball-point pen, and a 12-metre by 8-metre piece of nylon (labeled ‘artificial silk’ in the museum placard) and cover the entire thing in blue doodles.  I wondered briefly how many pens had been sacrificed.  Perhaps the massive curtain represented the depths of his despair at being born Belgian.  I checked his biography and found that he had once covered an entire building in ball-point scribble, a phenomenon he labeled ‘Bic-art’.  I wouldn’t call this art so much as compulsion.

Again, absolutely none of this would have mattered, except that Faber’s tapestries (yes, he felt compelled to execute more than one of the massive, nylon scrawls) were hung from floor to ceiling, one metre in front of walls covered in renaissance German and Flemish masterpieces.  Large signs warned the visitor in five languages ‘Do Not Touch!’ in case he were tempted to brush aside Belgium’s shame to gain a view of the epic transformation of European art in the sixteenth century.

Throughout the entire exhibit, Faber kept springing up like an annoying child screaming ‘Hey, dad, look at me!’  and I wondered if the EU couldn’t put his whole country up for adoption. Or, at the very least, no dessert for a week.

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