IN BARELY A MONTH I've already had to think to remember
the sound of Nato's meow, or the feel of the fur on her chin, or at the
base of her tail. I've had to stop looking at the envelope with the pictures
of her, the adoption papers, the medical records, the condolence cards
from the vet and K.'s mom. It's hard to figure out what changed around
here when she left, but I can say that it's a lot more quiet -- Tado isn't
at all the talker Nato was.
We'd probably have gotten another black and white, except
that, in the cab on the way to the Humane Society, I asked K. what she
was looking for in a kitten.
"Anything really," she said, after a moment. "But no tortoiseshells. Every tort I've had was crazy."
Needless to say, in a bottom cage at the corner of the
room, among all the other kittens and cats, a tiny tortoiseshell got up
from her little quilt and walked to the front of the cage, thrust out a
little paw and tried to play with K.'s hand as she read the notes on the
clipboard hanging from the bars.
K. looked at me with a stricken look. "Oh my God. She's
We made another circuit of the room, had our hearts broken
several times, and came back to the bottom cage. The little tortoiseshell
got up from her quilt and reached through the bars again. I turned to K.
and asked her if this was the one she wanted.
"She's awfully cute, isn't she. And she doesn't put her
claws out to play." She bit her lip and looked at me. "Is there any other
one you want?"
I smiled and said no, and got up to find an application
WENT WITH MY BUDDY TIM to see Gladiator
the other night, and enjoyed myself thoroughly. I've been in the mood for
a historical epic for weeks, and it looked promising. I'd have to say it
was worth it alone for the opening scene, a battle on the frontier of the
Empire, in the forests of Germania, between the hero's legion and the barbarian
I've seen all the usual Roman epics -- Cleopatra,
Hur, Anthony Mann's The
Fall of the Roman Empire (set in the same historical period as
and I'm certain Ridley Scott watched it a few times before making the newest
film) -- but none of them ever gave me much of an impression I was watching
the legions in action, and blur together in my mind as one, stock scene
of extras in helmets and banded armour marching in neat squares under the
bright sun of locations in Spain or North Africa. These films have the
best intentions, of course, but the action seemed as convincing as the
plodding soundtracks that try to convey Roman might with rumbling parade
ground drums and off-key trumpet voluntaries.
Gladiator begins with Maximus' army facing the
edge of a forest, his catapults, archers and legions standing amid the
burnt brush and split tree-trunks of an earlier battle, waiting for the
barbarians to arrive. They show up, brandishing the head of a Roman envoy,
and the battle begins with volleys of flame-tipped arrows and fiery catapult
bombardments of the forest. A long pan across the battle lines, with fusillades
of arrows and napalm-like explosions in the trees, looks nothing like the
tidy battles of Spartacus and more like, well, Vietnam. The griminess of
Maximus' troops, the happy lack of ersatz-Shakesperean dialogue, and the
convincingly bloody prosthetic feats of modern movie warfare make the ensuing
carnage seem very credible -- no flailing sword-parries or spacious duels
fought in the midst of the battlefield.
I wish I could say that the rest of the film took such
pains to be realistic, but I've long since given up on Hollywood respecting
the letter of history. It's a good, dramatic story, with an essentially
cynical moral -- the pure man must be sacrificed to redeem the corrupt
state -- and I can't say I felt cheated of my ticket price, but I went
right to my Gibbon
when I got home to figure out if a bit of it was true.
Commodus did indeed succeed Marcus Aurelius as emperor,
and was indeed an evil tyrant who promoted the games to distract an unhappy
populace from their corrupt government, but the similarities end there.
Lucius Verus was the name, not of Commodus' nephew, but of his late brother-in-law,
wife of his sister Lucilla (he also had another, older sister, Fadilla).
It was his concubine, Marcia, who drugged him with wine and had him strangled
by a young wrestler. He was succeeded, not by his nephew and the (apparently
fictional) senator Gracchus, but by Pertinax, the only senator still alive
once in Marcus Aurelius' circle of friends. The movie makes the events
of Commodus' reign seem to transpire over the course of a few months, while
in fact he reigned for twelve years.
There's a cable channel up here -- History
Television -- that has a respected journalist introduce movies, and
comes back to her at the end, often to have her explain that the events
we've seen were, in fact, largely made up, or altered beyond recognition.
Often she has guests -- veterans or academics -- explain the historical
particulars ignored by the film. I'd like to hope that everyone watches
movies supposed to be based on real events with a helping of skepticism
as big as their jumbo popcorn.
I've read that Mel Gibson's new film, The Patriot,
takes even more wild liberty with the Revolutionary War, and shows British
troops committing Waffen-SS style atrocities. Forewarned is forearmed,
and I probably won't be seeing it, but I suspect that Gladiator
will do a little bit less harm overall to popular historical misperceptions,
since we don't really have to deal with many Romans these days, while England
remains Canada (and America's) closest geopolitical partner. I can only
wonder how many harried, overworked or lazy history teachers will be slipping
the cassette of Gibson's film into A.V. dept. VCRs instead of patiently
explaining the overwhelmingly economic motivation for the war.
K. STARTED A NEW JOB LAST WEEK, as entertainment editor
of a new free daily put out by one of the big papers in the city. It's
a big step up for her, money- and career-wise. The down side is that she's
working brutal hours that keep her at the office from late morning till
late at night, and we barely see each other more than a couple of hours
most days, unless I try to stay up late -- something I used to do as a
habit, but the habit's long gone.
I've been tight for money since getting back from Spain,
and K.'s been waiting for her first paycheque, so I've been making extra
at dinner for her packed lunch the next day. Every morning, while she gets
dressed, I put together a sandwich or a container of stir-fry, a tub of
soup or some cold pasta, along with some fruit, bread sticks, granola bars
and a juice box. I kiss her as she leaves, and wish her a good day. During
the day, I try to work, do the dishes, feed the cats, do some laundry and
field phone calls from friends of K.'s who don't know about her new hours
yet. I've been renting Japanese samurai movies and fishing shows. Except
for the last bit, it should be obvious that I'm turning into a housewife.
I don't mind, really. It's a good gig for K. and the extra
money will bring us a bit closer to, one day, buying a house, provided
I can keep up my end. In one move, K. has started making twice as much
as I could hope to make in a year. They've even given her a cell phone
(though I have to admit I'm less envious about that.) It's a bit sobering.