I stayed with my brother for a couple weeks once. I never thought of him as a reader, I was the “bookworm” in the family. In his living room was a lovely big bookshelf that he had made, filled with books.
The largest single collection was Louis L’Amour paperback westerns. I was far too politically correct to ever have read a Louis L’Amour, but they were handy when I needed a book so I started my very first one. When my brother got home from work several hours later, I was just finishing it. I hadn’t moved from my chair. I read all the Louis L’Amours he had, averaging one a day.
My brother said what he liked about Louis L’Amour was the books were short, easy to read and told “a good story and you learn a lot.” If he wanted to know more about something he read in L’Amour, he’d go to the library or bookstore and look further. Louis L’Amour got rid of my academic and political snobbery. I continued reading his books – Westerns and adventures. They tell heroic tales of physical and emotional achievement. They include information on places and ways of doing things. They read quickly, keep you entertained and pose questions about morality and human behaviour.
Other fiction does that too, but westerns slide it in without you even realizing until you find yourself pondering the dilemma of the hero after you’ve finished the book. Reading does not have to be work. It can and sometimes should be. Understanding the existential condition of humanity should not be reduced to simple dictums. Complexity needs to be examined. But sometimes you just want a nice untaxing read. What I learned is that Louis L’Amour gives you that and those existential questions too.
I moved on to other tales of the west. I read Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Doveand rediscovered Tomson Highway’s plays. I read Thomas King’s satirical look at movie Indians. I’d read academic literature on First Nation history, now I read the cultural histories in fictional form. I watched old Western movies with a new eye, seeing how the cowboys were presented and the Indians. I watched new Westerns, seeing the shifts in perspective. The lore of our existence in popular culture for is situated in a time and place, both in the story and its telling. Both change with time and different narrators. Taken together, you get the fabric of our North American world – history and folklore, ideals and critiques.
My exploration of popular culture cowboys and Indians, armies and warriors led me to the most amazing book on the topic that I’ve ever read. Evan S. Connell’s Son of the Morning Star weaves all those threads of perspective, ‘reality’ and ‘belief,’ between its covers. It’s the story of the Battle of Little Big Horn from everybody’s point of view. It’s not an easy read, being kind of magic realism in style, but it’s riveting. It has to be, to keep straight who’s who and who’s telling the story when. Several years after reading it, I found the movie Son of a Morning Star in the library. I could not imagine a movie of that book. I watched, expecting the worst, and was pleasantly surprised. They managed to tell the story, in all its magical complexity, very well.
Last month, the new prime time tv programmes were rolled out. Many are good. They threw my life into chaos because I actually wanted to watch them.
Person of Interest, Prime Suspect and Pan Am are my new “can’t miss” tv. I’d seen ads for Person of Interest – wasn’t sure. Too many kinda spooky ‘person with special powers’ series in the past years. But Person of Interest has an interesting angle on it: a post-911 Big Brother analysis of “national security.”
Prime Suspect I was doubtful of. British series are usually done best by the British, and I didn’t like the idea of the wonderful Helen Mirren series being replicated, or mutilated, by Hollywood. But it isn’t. It stands on its own merits as does the star Maria Belo.
The ads for Pan Am were wonderful. Could the show live up to them? Yes. I’d feared a pale imitation of Mad Men, cashing in on the 1960s milieu evoked so wonderfully by it. (We’ve watched the first seasons of MM on Boxee.) Or superficial “coffee, tea or me?” T&A. But it’s a beautiful looking history and geography lesson with good stories and good acting.
I watched the premiere of The Playboy Club. Same ‘60s women-centred setting. Overtly T&A, fitting the subject matter. Hmm, wait and see was my opinion. No time – it was cancelled after three episodes! I was sorry because I have a soft spot for Eddie Cibrian who was the male star. I interviewed him when he was bad boy Matt Clark on Y&R and liked him. I was delighted to see him in a big prime time series.
Our favourites are still on and still good. House has had big changes and it’s still great. The CSI, Criminal Minds and Law & Order franchises (including L&A UK), Harry’s Law and the excellent Canadian Flashpoint. And now, new shows! It’s been quite a change in our household. We’d become accustomed to having the tv on the least annoying programme while we worked on computers. That was ok, except when you really wanted to watch something good and all that was on your 500 channel galaxy was America’s Got Talent and its clones.
I was ready to cancel cable – it was very expensive “white noise.” I took these pictures one evening last year when I’d really wanted to watch tv. The best thing I could find was Riverdance in Beijing on PBS. While good, it wasn’t what I wanted, so I just went to bed with a book. $100 a month for Rogers Cable basic HD package, and my entertainment was a novel borrowed, for free, from the library.
I can’t blame Rogers for network programming. But I can ask why they organize their channel packaging the way they do. You know there are shows you want to watch, but you have to pay extra for their channels. You get, ‘free’, a lot of channels that just slow down your guide scrolling. The Fireplace Channel. Rogers-owned sports teams channels. Shouldn’t they be specialty channels paid for by thems that want them?
Recently, my stepson hooked up a wire to our tv, without cable. We got in six channels clearly. Only CBC, our national broadcaster, was snowy. If I knew the networks would keep the quality and type of programming they introduced this fall, I’d cancel cable and rely on what we can get over the air. But I can’t be sure, so Rogers dodged a bullet.
In need of a book for bedtime reading, looking through bookshelves – and finding a Dick Francis mystery you haven’t read. That is true happiness.
I thought sadly that I’d read all of Dick Francis’ many novels. Then, twice in a couple months, when library books were finished and I searched my own books for something to tide me over, I found unread Dick Francis novels.
I love mystery novels. You get both a mystery and a glimpse into another world. With Francis, it’s many topics but always with some horse racing, whether steeplechase or flat. He was a top steeplechase rider for many years. Then he began writing about that world, wrapping a lot of horsey information in a good who-dun-it.
I’ve read that mystery novelists are accorded lesser status in the literary world than regular novelists. Like romance novelists, they are considered “genre literature.” I don’t agree with that difference in status ranking. In mysteries, I’ve explored human emotion and reactions, both good and evil, learned about subjects I’ve never really thought about before, and it’s all working toward an end – who did the dastardly deed.
Elizabeth George, Ian Rankin, Quentin Jardine, Michael Jecks, Martha Grimes, Andrew Greeley, Janet Evanovich, P. D. James – these are writers that I have devoured. All different in writing style, lead characters, subplots and settings. All have protagonists whose lives progress throughout the lifespan of the novels. With them, after randomly reading one of a series, I went back to the beginning and tried to read them sequentially. Among Canadian mystery writers I’ve discovered at the library are Lyn Hamilton and her archeological mysteries and the Murdoch books by Maureen Jennings.
Murdoch, a police series set in Victorian Toronto, has been very successfully adapted for television. The tv shows go beyond the books and I find them just as entertaining and insightful as the books themselves. Can’t say the same for the television adaptation of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series. I enjoy the Lynley shows, but they are not as rich as the books – truncated and not accurately reflective of the books’ characters.
I’m not fussy on the “cozies” – the Miss Marple-ish amateur sleuths (although I love the real Miss Marple) but I love some village series such as M. C. Beaton’s Highlands’ Hamish MacBeth books. I have no time for the young woman P.I. who never has any food in her house, but I make an exception for Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum. I find tiresome protagonists who put themselves in trouble because they insist on refusing help. I don’t like glib, wisecracking heroes or heroines although, again, I love the originals of this persona in the novels of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and the incarnation by Robert B. Parker in his Spenser.
I like books that delve into the human, and societal, condition in their plot lines and characterizations. All the authors I mention above do that, in very different worlds. And, being mysteries, they add a second layer of information processing in figuring out who committed the crime and how they did it. They may be “genre” but it’s a genre I like.
Other really good mystery novels by great jockeys.
In the morning, when Helen opened her cabaña door, the dog was standing beside it. She was surprised. She’d seen him on the beach but never around the cabaña. He moved away when she came out, but not far, and he didn’t back off when she said “hello doggie”. She walked on, heading for the indoor café across from the beach where she could get café con leche. She needed air-conditioning and white tablecloths to help her think about being on holiday alone, with her limited Spanish.
In the restaurant she dawdled, pouring the hot coffee and hot milk from their small covered pots into her cup only a bit at a time to keep the liquids hot as long as possible. She ordered more and a sweet roll. It had been easy, with Robin as translator, protector and all things male and acclimated. But Robin had gone to San José the previous afternoon. He had work to do, and she’d meet him in four day’s time. Before he’d left, the thought of being here alone was exciting. She knew more Spanish than she had last year when they were here. She knew the beach and the sea, she knew the café vendors that spoke English. She knew the trails and picnic spots in the parque nacionale that bordered the public beach. It was the best place to test her Español sea legs. It was still scary though, knowing there was no Robin to provide backup.
Even accustomed as they were to turistas soaking up the cooled air of their restaurant, the waiters began pointedly glancing in her direction. They were replacing tablecloths, setting up for lunch, wanting to clear her table. She finished her coffee and took a deep breath as she went outside, to the heat and the linguistic challenges waiting beyond the anglicized environment of the café.
Close to the door but far enough away from anyone taking exception to his presence sat the dog. When he saw Helen, he stood up and gave one wave of his long tail. “Hello again, what are you doing here?” He didn’t move away, but she didn’t want to push her luck by going near him so she walked back toward the beach. The dog followed a couple of paces behind.
From his belly up, he looked like a perfect German Shepherd in head and ears, colouring and body shape. It was only his legs that made you wonder about the other part of his parentage: short little Corgi legs. He’d hung around her and Robin the past couple days, but wouldn’t come near. They had put bits of food down for him. He wouldn’t go near it until they stepped back. There were many stray dogs on the beach, some quite ferocious looking. Most came to the beach only at dusk, foraging for food people had dropped. This one hung around in the day too and looked like he should be someone’s pet. No, un perro de la playa – a beach dog – they were told. He likes the tourists, they feed him. Helen started ensuring she had a bit of leftover from any meal. This morning, when it seemed he was changing the terms of their relationship, she’d forgot to save any of her sweet bun.
She crossed the road to the beach and walked the length of it, the dog closing the distance until he was at her heel. She turned to him and put her hand out. After a minute, he sniffed her palm. “So, we’re friends?” He licked her hand. She ruffled his large pointed ears. “Hola, perrito, mi amigo.” He wagged his tail.
They walked on, side by side. She bought a pop and sat at a picnic table to study her language book. The dog lay beside her under the table. A boy came to clear tables. He saw the dog. He said to Helen in English, “The dog bothers you?” and jumped to shoo him away. The dog didn’t move, just sat up alongside Helen’s leg. “No, no, he’s fine. He’s with me.” The boy looked amused and went back to the stall. Helen saw him talking to his boss. A while later, he came back with a paper plate of meat scraps and plantain chips. “Here, he like this.”
Everywhere she went that day, the dog went with her. Some of the beach concessionaires smiled to see them, some asked if he was annoying her. None seemed surprised that he’d attached himself to her.
Helen had dinner at the thatched-roofed restaurant beside her cabaña. She ordered a full meal, so she’d have mucho leftovers for Perro who lay under her table. Clearly, he’d defined his job – to protect her. She was learning hers – to provide for him while he was in her employ. They went back to Helen’s cabaña, with the leftovers. Perro waited outside but came in when he saw Helen putting the plate on the floor. Perro had his dinner and slept on the floor at the end of Helen’s bed. Next morning they went to an outdoor beach café for breakfast. Perro lay under Helen’s table and nothing was said about his presence by the proprietor or the boy waiting tables.
Helen wanted to swim. She had her bathing suit on under her sundress and contact lenses in. She had a towel, a novel and sunscreen in a tote bag. She hoped it was safe to leave it on the beach. She and Robin had, but it’s different when you’re alone. Different for you and perhaps for thieves. But she had no choice if she wanted to swim. She preferred to not wear contacts in the water. In surf like this, big Pacific rollers, a near-sighted person is challenged. Contacts can be torn out, glasses can be ripped off. The options are wade sighted in the shallows or go blind into the surf. Helen usually chose blind but this time decided good sight was better, to see what Perro would do and if her bag was left alone. She hoped he would prove useful as a guard dog. It was a faint hope; Perro was surely on closer terms with the local thieves than with her. If she stayed close to shore, she could have a brief swim and keep an eye on her gear. She headed to the water, and Perro came right behind her.
The main beach is silky sand with rolling waves pounding ashore. There were no surfers that day, but the surf was worthy of their efforts. Helen had learned to body surf on these breakers, first time she and Robin were here. She strode into the sea, Perro following. So much for him protecting her bag. She had to battle the waves just to walk out far enough to swim. She didn’t think Perro would keep following, but he did. He was soon in over his depth. Helen returned to him, trying to get him to go ashore. She wanted to swim, and Perro wanted to keep her near him. She went out farther and farther, figuring the waves would force him to give up. He kept swimming, waves pounding in his face and then over his head. Helen looked back, astounded to see his head bob up from the surf, battling to get to her. His face, when it wasn’t submerged by waves, was frantic. He was in over his head and, in his mind, so therefore was she. He couldn’t let her be that far away.
Helen let the waves carry her back, he swam out. When they met, Helen coming inland, Perro going seaward, he climbed up the front of her, exhausted. She held him and let them both be driven back to shore. Helen decided to try again; maybe Perro would realise it was best to leave her to her watery fate. No, he swam out again, and again they floated in, gripped together. Third time, Helen stayed closer to shore. Perro stayed at the water’s edge, with eyes on her. If she crossed his designated depth line, he was in the water, to save her. If she didn’t, he stayed on the beach. When he felt sure that she would stay nearby, he took up sentry duty beside her bag. She was free to have a leisurely swim as long as she stayed close enough to not worry Perro.
After her Perro-permitted swim, Helen trotted up to where he stood guard. They lay down on the towel and sunned their bellies and their backs. Helen read and Perro dreamed with moving paws and whiffling noises. Was he chasing rabbits or swimming in his dreams?
For dinner Helen and Perro walked to a fancy restaurant about a half kilometer up the road. She told him he deserved it. The waiter said no dogs. She wasn’t asking to take him in the dining room, Helen said, she just wanted an outside table for “myself and my dog”. English in a haughty tone got them a lovely patio table and a delicious doggy-bag.
Next day Perro and Helen use their agreed-upon system for swimming. Helen stays near shore and Perro guards her stuff. She wears no contacts or glasses. She’s promised Perro she won’t go out over her head, but she can still duck inside the waves, surf with them and let them roll over her head. Perro sits spine rigid beside her pack. A man walks past, too close for Perro’s liking. He snarls until the man passes, and resumes his watch over her. Helen comes out of the water. Perro keeps his position until she reaches him, then wags himself silly in delight that she’s back safe and sound.
She asks him what they should do for dinner. Being a beggar dog, he knows to keep his own counsel and let the donor decide. She decides well – a thatched hut bar up the beach. The owner knows Helen. He tried to talk her and Robin into operating the bar in winter so he and his wife could go to San José or maybe to San Francisco. There’s a cat, the bar mouser, and a parrot. Helen lets the parrot sit on her head where it squawks at Perro. No one else makes a fuss about Perro’s presence; he is a welcome guest. He just has to put up with that insufferable parrot, and the cat staring at him with malevolent eyes. Pay-off is big time! A big plate of fresh shrimp.
Next morning, Helen packed a small bag with water and biscuits for them both. They walked across the wide swath of public beach and entered the jungle, heading to the parque nacionale. Helen had been in the park before; she knew there was a small, protected beach. Without surf, it would be nice for Perro. Perro also knew the park, and the park rangers, and he lagged behind as they neared the entrance. He knew he wasn’t welcome.
Helen strode to the park gates. She too knew dogs weren’t allowed. The guard saw him, and said quite a bit, the only words Helen could pick out being “prohibidos los perros”. Helen said “El es mi perro, él viene conmigo.” The guard said in English, “No dog in park, get away.” To make sure his point was clear, he raised his rifle and aimed it at Perro.
Helen jumped in front of it screaming, “put that gun down right now. Are you a lunatic?” “No dog in el parque. Stray dogs get shot. You not want that, get away.” “You’ll have to shoot me first and think how that will look on international tv.” She carried on in that vein, despite knowing no cameras were anywhere around. Perro snapped ferociously, from behind Helen. Using both Spanish and English, the guard told Helen he had the right to arrest her, and shoot the dog. Helen said “no tienes jack shit. Si you touch este perro, yo kill you myself. Y yo soy una norteamericana, una canadiense. You want to defend yourself against headlines – ‘el guard en shootout con una canadiense y perro de la beach’?” The guard put down his rifle. “We know this dog – un parásito, always begging. This one time, go in.” Helen didn’t know, but hoped, that her impassioned defense, fracturing two languages, helped Perro win the day. And his action! He too confronted the guard and he knew, better than she, the risk he was taking. They walked fast as soon as they got in the park. Get some distance, in case the guard changes his mind.
They passed the first beach, one with large waves but not as large as those that hit the public beach. Some people were way out, riding the waves. Families with small children were on the beach or in shallow water where ebbing waves washing over the children gave them a thrill without endangering them. Ten minutes more walking brought them to a small beach tucked in a cove. A couple of people were at the far end. Quiet beach and quiet water, just as Helen remembered it from a day there with Robin. Helen and Perro waded in. Helen swam and floated, Perro dogpaddled alongside her and sometimes rested in her arms. They swam, sunned and swam again. They left just before twilight and walked across the public beach in darkness.
Supper at her cabaña restaurant, steak. Not what Helen would usually order, but she’d be leaving the next day and Perro needed a good meal. How could she take him with her, give him a home? But she and Robin are going on to Nicaragua – part of this working holiday. Borders, planes, hotels, vets, vaccinations, not enough time. There is no way she can take Perro, and should she even try? She tells herself she’s not the first turista Perro has made feel at home here, and there will be more.
The morning bus arrives. Helen boards and so does Perro. She tries to explain to him and the driver while she puts him off the bus. The driver puts the bus in gear and again finds he has an extra passenger, a very determined dog. All Helen can hope, as she pushes the dog off the bus the final time, is that another turista comes soon for him. Maybe one who will take him home. She stumbles to the back of the bus, tears streaming, and looks back. He sits at the bus stop, watching the bus as it snakes its way out of town.
It started with an email I received. You may have also got it, it’s making the rounds. A woman turned a jet into a house for only $30,000. It’s astounding, as is where it’s situated. I thought, well, you might luck out on beautiful wood and fixtures at the scrap yard. And just because you didn’t spend much converting it doesn’t mean you don’t have the money to buy ocean-view land in the tropics.
My husband delved into it further (sorry, links are no longer valid). The email is partially true – more accurately, it’s two true stories mashed into one. A woman did convert a 727 for $30,000 – on a country lot in Mississippi. And there is a converted jet with fabulous teak paneling and chandeliers overlooking a beach at the Hotel Costa Verde in Costa Rica. That’s it in the picture at top. My husband’s opinion was that the real story of the $30,000 conversion is interesting on its own, as is the story of the fancy hotel one. I agree, but for me the story really hit home when I checked out the hotel jet story.
I yelped with almost physical pain when I saw Hotel Costa Verde, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. Manuel Antonio is my very favourite beach in the world. There is a public beach and a national park side by side. Here it is as I remember it. Never crowded when I’ve been there – maybe it is when Costa Ricans take their vacations, but not when tourists flock to resorts.
There really were no resorts there then, 20 years ago. Some small hotels, clusters of cabañas on the beach. That was it. Especially near the national park, a wildlife refuge, there were no tourist developments. You had to make sure you took your own water and food into the park because you wouldn’t be able to buy any there. On the public beach, small huts sold food and drinks. Picnic tables to eat at. This is a small bar on the beach where they also rented surfboards and bicycles. There was a bar parrot, here sitting on my head. Also a bar cat who patrolled his territory but would deign to eat a shrimp if you gave him one off your plate. The food was delicious, the owners delightful.
Manuel Antonio wasn’t hard to get to. Drive or take a bus, fly to nearby Quepos and take the small bus to the beach. If you wanted to only hike in the park, walk a couple hundred yards from the bus stop across the beach and you were at the park entrance.
Now, I can’t imagine it. A private path into the wildlife refuge for hotel guests. Special packages for wedding parties. Edgy brides frightening the bejabbers out of poor monkeys who thought they were safe in the protected forest. It doesn’t bear thinking about. Yet I can’t help but think about it. I had a special experience with a dog here, a dog with no name so I called him Perro, Spanish for dog. I wonder if the stray and feral dogs still roam the beach, most not friendly but a few like Perro enjoying human company. Pigs too roamed the beach, at night, cleaning up the scraps left.
Aren’t there enough beaches and islands that have become resort-land? Don’t bridal parties and package holiday seekers have enough options already? Do they have to go to Manuel Antonio too?
Perro has stayed in my mind for 20 years. A few years ago I started writing a story about him. I finally finished it to my satisfaction last year. Click here to read it.
If I don’t reply to your query, it is because I have no information. I don’t want to add to the comments with ‘I don’t know’. If you can help answer someone’s question, please post!
The internet is a good place to find out about your family history. Unfortunately, it ain’t as easy as the tv ads for ancestry.ca look. Often those ads with cheerful people clicking on a leaf and finding some fascinating bit of information about their great-granddaddy come on as I’m struggling to figure out whether this Peter is son of this Paul or that Paul. It’s all I can do to not throw a shoe at the television.
There is a lot of information on the big genealogy websites like ancestry.ca and genealogy.com. And there are lots of other sites with information where you don’t have to pay a membership fee. Some have vital statistics on them – birth and death records, census information etc. Others are the product of family researchers. Below are sites related to Newfoundland Mi’kmaq families that I have found useful.
A word of warning: do not rely totally on any one source as the gospel. Primary records have enough inconsistencies of fact and, with websites, you have the added possibility of error of transcription. Dates get typed in wrong, names get misspelled. There’s lots of room for error. Plus some information is simply inaccurate or conflicts with other sources. So with primary documents and the internet, be judicious, check and double-check.
For other family trees, genealogical and vital statistics information and sources, go to Bay St. George Genealogical Society. There is a lot of material in the main site, but for $10 a year membership, you get to go in the ‘Members Only’ section. There you find many of the invaluable papers on Newfoundland family history written by Allan Stride among other materials. NL GenWeb and Newfoundland Grand Banks are also great resources for vital statistics data.
A wonderful source for information on Burgeo history and families is the 1925 Diary of Burgeo by Joseph Small. Also valuable for those interested in south coast families is Dr. Litchman’s index of the 1921 census for Burgeo-LaPoile, available in Kindle format at Amazon.
Some of these sites are easier than others to navigate around. I’ve linked to home pages whenever possible so that you can see what’s there. I’ve used all these sites, so know it is possible to get around if there’s more information there. If there’s so much information that you don’t know how to find who you’re looking for, try searching with ‘control’ and ‘f’ keys on PCs or ‘command’ and ‘f’ on Macs and type the name or place in the little search box. At least within the ‘page’, that will find them.
These links are valid as of now, March 2011. (*Checked & updated March 2016.) They may change or be removed in future. They’re not my sites so I apologize in advance if problems develop with them.
The thing that annoyed me most about the movie Secretariat was that the horses playing him were not in the credits. In particular, the one who played him in close-ups was superb – playing to the camera, acting the ham. Just like the real Big Red, so those who knew him say. I hope I will learn his and the others’ names and more about them on the dvd.
Ok, that’s my criticism. Other than that, I loved the movie. It’s the story of Secretariat’s fabulous 1973 Triple Crown win, and the story of his owner Penny Chenery Tweedy. Now, I’m a Man o’ War girl when it comes to that important question – who was the greatest racehorse of the 20th century? It’s not a decision based on any real knowledge of thoroughbred racing, just that he was the first racehorse I knew anything about. I had a put-together model kit of him when I was a kid, and it caused me to find a book about him in the library. And, even if you’re in the Secretariat “greatest horse” camp, you can’t deny the magnificence of Man o’ War, the original “Big Red”. His stride, as marked out at the Kentucky Horse Park, is still the longest of any known horse, including Secretariat.
The 1973 Belmont
But that win by 31 lengths! Nothing has ever been seen like that. I didn’t see the actual race. I was living outside North America and didn’t have a tv set. I’ve watched replays since but, thrilling as even that is, I cannot imagine what it felt like to actually see the race not knowing what the outcome would be. By 1978, after Seattle Slew and Affirmed won back-to-back Triple Crowns, I felt that having a Triple Crown was pretty exciting but not particularly unusual. I never imagined that it would not be done again for so many years. No horse, before or since, has won even one of the individual races that make up the Triple Crown in such a spectacular fashion. Especially the Belmont, the longest and most grueling of the three. Watching him is like watching a horse fly. It’s magic and majesty and pure joy.
The sheer magnificence of Secretariat is why I didn’t find jarring the overvoice of a passage from the Book of Job at the movie’s beginning and end. Such beauty and strength as a horse possesses calls up reverential words and imagery. The solemnity and beauty of the words fit the magnificence of the animal, one of the most beautiful in creation.
After seeing the movie, I checked online reviews. My interpretation of the use of the Book of Job is at variance with most of those I read. Quite a big deal was made of the fact that director Randall Wallace is an outspoken Christian. I did not know that going in so it didn’t influence my viewing of the movie.
Oh Happy Day
Two other scenes of the movie are focused upon as evidence of the Christian message of the director and/or Disney Studio. The choice of Oh Happy Day, as music coming from the stable radio, and as the horses are coming down the final stretch in the Belmont. The first time, when it’s coming from the stable radio, I just heard it as a popular song by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, and fitting when everybody in the scene was happy and feeling good about Secretariat and his prospects. The second use of it, in the ultimate race, I found distracting just because it was loud and I’d have rather just heard the hooves pounding on the track. Music accompanying that beautiful sound is gilding the lily. Not necessary, not an improvement.
Two reviews stood out for me. One is by Steve Haskin in Bloodhorse Magazine. This is a fair and insightful review both about the movie and the story of Secretariat and his connections. He points out a number of inaccuracies and glossovers of actual fact. One he doesn’t mention is that the coin toss which decided Secretariat’s ownership was actually more complicated and dramatic. To save movie time, I suppose, it was abbreviated. Still tense with drama, but if you want to read the real story, look for The Secretariat Factor by Tom Kiernan (Doubleday 1979). That’s where I read it, but I’m sure it’s also told in other books.
The second review is by Andrew O’Hehir in Salon. He says that he wanted his review to be provocative and well, yes, it is. His reading of Secretariat is as “Tea Party-flavored” propaganda for a mythical American past when all was well. For this, he holds the director and Disney responsible for perpetuating the myths of nostalgia and inaccurate simplification. That, I believe, is hardly news. O’Hehir for sure has read Critical Theory and wanted to be sure that we all knew he had. The argument is along the lines that popular culture is a particularly effective way to create political or ideological propaganda because the consumers are entertained primarily and therefore unaware that they are being fed propaganda. Ok.
Can you, as does O’Hehir, read Secretariat as Christian right wing propaganda? Of course. Just as you can read iconoclast comic Dennis Leary’s tv drama Rescue Me as anti-Muslim propaganda. Everyone in North America developed a heightened pride in and respect for police officers and firefighters after 9/11. Leary became a well-known advocate for firefighters in thanks to them for their efforts after that tragedy. The tragedy was caused by anti-American extremists – Muslim extremists. So do the math the same way, and you can consider Rescue Me propaganda just as easily as you can consider Secretariat right-wing Christian propaganda.
The movie Secretariat and real-life
O’Hehir argues that the movie’s negligible mention of the social and political upheaval in early 70s America is evidence of its propaganda/mythologizing of the past. Maybe it is. Maybe, too, those events didn’t directly affect the lives of the people whose story this is except through the schoolgirl political activism that is shown. Like O’Hehir, I lived through that time period, but my conclusions on the inclusion of sociopolitical context differ from his. I don’t think you need to cram in historical context just because it exists. Not if it doesn’t fit with your characters’ story.
As a teenager at that time, I was aware of what was happening in the US. I was active about it at about the same level of political acuity as Mrs. Tweedy’s daughter. My social concern got about the same kind of attention from my parents as did hers. It wasn’t that my family was living in a rarefied zone of privilege and wealth.Nor were they unaware of political and social events. It was that they had their hands full just getting on with their own lives without worrying about other people and cerebral political notions.
I think perhaps the same thing would have been true for the Tweedy-Chenery family. It may not be any more complicated than that. Mrs. Tweedy was a housewife with four kids and ailing parents. She had enough on her plate. If I asked my mother, I think I’d get the same answer.
A story of horses
Anyway, I loved the movie Secretariat. Steve Haskin said that the actor horses didn’t “capture the majesty and physical presence” of Secretariat but that there “isn’t a horse alive who could’ve done justice to him”. Secretariat is a feel-good story with a happy ending (except, of course, for Secretariat’s main competitor, the magnificent Sham, who made him run the race he did). And Secretariat’s story is not told in its totality in the movie. How could it be? What is told, however, is worth watching – and cheering and crying.
Newfoundland Mi'kmaq, family history, Coronation Street, etc.