the diary thing 
THIS DIARY IS TWO YEARS OLD. A year ago, I said that this was the longest I've every kept a journal. I suppose by now I'd have to say it's twice the longest. How can I say I've surpassed even my own best expectations?

It's also a year since we moved into our new place, and a month and a day since I left for Spain. In a day, it will be a month since Nato died.

In a year and a few months, K. and I will be married. In four days, I'll be thirty-six. It's been two and a half years since K. and I got together. In three months, our friends Greg and Vicki will be parents.

Sometimes, the only way I can tell how quickly I'm moving through life is by measuring the distance between significant events. It's not so much a map of my life as a kitchen wall, with pencil marks next to the door jamb.

"All history, so far as it is not supported by contemporary evidence, is romance"
- Samuel Johnson in Boswell's Tour to the Hebrides

Second anniversary; the new kitten; some grousing about historical movies; K.'s new job; I become a household drudge. Note the new summer colour.

TadoI'M WRITING THIS AS TADO, our new kitten, is climbing up my leg and into my lap. She's already quite a bit bigger than she was when we got her, three weeks ago, probably because she eats like a starving longshoreman, and shits just as prodigiously -- great foul turds that stink like rotting meat. 

She's a tortoiseshell, and must weight a pound and a half by now. Half of her face is black, the other a mottled brindle of brown and cream and coffee and black. She moves like lightning and is impossible to see in a dark room. She lies down with her front paws crossed and watches t.v. with an enraptured look, sometimes rising up on her hind legs to jab at the images with her paws.

She sleeps on K.'s pillow at night and has covered my hands with tiny scars and cuts from her overenthusiastic playing. Tado is short for "Cortado", which is Spanish for "exact", or "a leap or jump in dancing". It's also the name of my favorite after-dinner coffee ("Un cafe cortado, por favor.") in Spain. She fetches the crumpled up magazine subscription cards we're always throwing for her, and brings them back, if she doesn't lose them under furniture or doors.

Keebler, pouting
Keebler copes, barely

She steals Keebler's food and nips at his heels when he walks. When we first got her, she followed him around the apartment and mimicked his every move, cleaning herself when he did, scratching when he scratched. Pretty cute.


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 a tortoiseshell."

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 form.

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 hordes. 

I've seen all the usual Roman epics -- Cleopatra, Spartacus, Ben Hur, Anthony Mann's The Fall of the Roman Empire (set in the same historical period as Gladiator, 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.

Spoilers ahead...

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.

and writing 
Rick McGinnis
...the past
back to diary index
send me mail
the future...