Sunday, October 21, 2012


Today I saw for the second time a fascinating documentary film called Searching for Sugarman, and  I think there is a very good chance the film will be nominated for an Academy Award.

The story is about an American musician -- Rodriguez, a singer -- who recorded two albums in the 1970s while living and performing in two-bit clubs in Detroit, Michigan.  Both albums were flops, so Rodriguez returned to obscurity and continued working in blue collar jobs like heavy construction and building demolition.  In the meantime, bootlegged copies of his albums began circulating in apartheid-ridden South Africa, and over the next two decades Rodriguez became more famous in that country than Elvis Presley.  Despite his popularity, no one in South Africa knew who Rodriguez was or that he was even American.  It was generally believed in South Africa that Rodriguez had died by setting himself on fire during an onstage performance.  What made his music so popular was, like Bob Dylan in the '60s and '70s, Rodriguez's music had anti-establishment overtones, which gave young people in South Africa permission to question, demonstrate and eventually rebel against apartheid, a political system that supported crimes against humanity.

This movie may wind up as one of those poignant word-of-mouth blockbusters.  I feel that seeing the film with as little information as possible is a gift that I don't want to spoil by giving too much of the story away.

I hope you will search for this film in your local theaters and see it as soon as you can.   I can say without hesitation that you won't be disappointed.   It's one of the best films I've seen in a very long time. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Did you know that an adult cat has 30 teeth?  Well, after spending a thousand dollars at the animal hospital,  my beautiful Tonkinese has only 24.  For almost an hour this morning I watched with fascination as the animal tech extracted three pre-molars that were infected and causing her pain, although, like most cats, she didn't give me any clues.  The other missing three?  Well, they were most likely vacuumed up from the rug or the floor some time in the distant past.

Indie, age 9

Indie, short for Indigo, is a platinum mink Tonkinese breed (a cross between Burmese and Siamese) with  aquamarine eyes, a thick coat of taupe-colored fur,  and a muscular build,  weighing in at a little over seven pounds.  She's the sweetest cat I've ever owned, although she can be quite demanding at times with a multi-meow vocabulary that says "Please feed me, I'm hungry" or "Love me, Love me, Love me."  Indie shares the many cat beds scattered throughout our house with her beloved litter mate, Sophie.  As they nuzzle and lick each other's faces and ears with unconditional love, I could sit and watch them for hours.

Tonks, as they are often called,  have been described as being very dog like, which,  for a true dog lover like me,  is a real gift.  It is not unusual for them to follow me around, whether I'm going up the stairs to grab my cell phone and then quickly coming down again to work in the kitchen or just walking from one room to another.   Very slowly they take the stairs one step at a time and then with gusto they race back down like they are heading for the finish line.   When we are having a dinner party, it's not a time for them to sleep.   Each cat selects the guest they think will love them the most, and once they have found a soft, comfy lap, they like to curl up and hang out.  Some times at the dinner table,  it is not unusual for one of them to jump up on the lap of an unsuspecting guest.  Often they are quickly shooed away, but we know of instances when no one has said, "there's a cat sitting on my lap."   If that someone is wearing light-colored clothing,  no one will ever suspect,  but if that someone is wearing a cat hair magnet color like black, then they are in for a hearty brushing with a sticky roller before they leave our house.

Bruce and Indie playing Spite & Malice 
When Bruce and I took Indie to the vet a few months ago,  we learned that she had a significant amount of dental plaque and one tooth that had to be removed.  We were a little taken aback when we heard the estimated price of $650-$850 and possibly higher, depending on the extent of the extractions.  In our case it was a lot higher.   Fortunately,  we already had $450 in a kitty that had accumulated after years of an almost- nightly card game that we always play for money, except when we are on vacation.   Bruce taught me Spite & Malice when we first got together, and although I was not much of a card player, it was easy to learn and interesting because it is a game of strategy and luck.   The essence of the double-solitaire-like game is for each player to get rid of his or her pile of 26 cards,  and the person who loses has to pay 25 cents for each remaining card in their riddance pile.  Some times the losses only amount to fifty cents a game or maybe a couple of dollars, but if you can't get rid of all 26 cards, then the loser has to put $6.50 in the kitty.  It doesn't sound like much each night,  but after years of playing and one of us paying a nightly fine, quite a few dollars have been squirreled away.   The first time we had over $100, Bruce and I wondered what we would do with the extra money.   "Let's use it for the opera," I suggested, "or perhaps a night at a B&B. "   "Naw",  my pragmatic husband replied, "Let's use the kitty to help pay for the kitties' medical expenses," and that's exactly what we've done.  This form of self insurance we call the Kitties Kitty.    

Adobe Animal Hospital is an amazing place in so many ways.  There are 24 veterinarians on staff and about 120 employees.   They have operating rooms for orthopedic and soft tissue problems, and several rooms dedicated for other types of surgeries and dental care, plus radiology, ultrasound and an ICU.  In addition to providing emergency and general services 24 hours a day, they have some of the most compassionate staff I have ever encountered.  As an example, they encourage the family of their patients to be with the animal during most procedures, including dental.  From their experience this helps put less stress on the animal and less stress on the family.   I've been told that there isn't another animal hospital that anyone knows of that encourages this.   For me it really was an education and gave me more insight into the skills and compassion animal health care professionals utilize in their daily work.   I stood along side the highly talented dental tech and watched her use the latest equipment and with her nimble hands make my little girl feel better and healthy again.    I can certainly understand why it's so expensive:  pre-surgery blood tests, anesthesia administered through intubation, heart rate and blood pressure monitoring, lubricants for her eyes that don't blink while she's under anesthesia,  and an x-ray before each extraction to determine whether there is a root surrounding the damaged tooth.  Prior to the procedure, they injected Indie with an analgesic so she would be ahead of the pain curve just a little bit.  In her case, they did a urinalysis because her kidney function, as noted in the blood test, was a tad high.  The results were negative but my veterinarian will monitor this on a regular basis.  After the delicate extractions, the dental tech cleaned Indie's remaining teeth with a high powered tool and finished by polishing with a gritty paste like my dental hygienist uses on me.    After she finished, Indie's teeth gleamed like tiny pearls.   

"Do you ever work on your own pet's teeth?" I asked the dental tech who was working under my veterinarian's indirect supervision.  In a sweet voice that was a little muffled by the surgical mask she was wearing, I heard her say,  "With Indie, I think of her and love her as if she were my own pet."  Wow!  Her heartfelt response gave me the comfort I required to know that my little girl was feeling double love on a day when she needed it the most.  

So, Indie is in our living room now and sleeping in her small carrying case with her devoted sister Sophie curled up by her side.  The metal case lined with soft fleece seems to provide some security, and thankfully doesn't remind her of how she travels to the animal hospital.  I hope she will forgive me over the next three or four days when I have to squirt some awful tasting medicines down her throat.  As unpleasant as these drugs may be, they are absolutely essential to alleviate her discomfort and to prevent infection in the days to come.   

I love my little girls

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


When I stepped off the curb in the city center of Dresden,  I could see the way was clear because I was able to cross between cars that were stopped for a traffic light.   I thought I was perfectly safe.   What I didn't see was the cyclist bearing down on me and traveling at lightening speed in a bike lane between the curb and the stopped cars.  I didn't even notice him until I heard the sound of screeching brakes and saw the terrified expression on the cyclist's face.  We were nose to nose with  his bike twisted  and the front wheel turned up in the air like a pretzel.

"Oh, my God," I gasped in amazement,  shocked that I wasn't knocked down or worse yet, badly hurt or even killed.  "I'm so sorry, I didn't see you.  I wasn't looking for a bicycle. "    In Dresden, like most cities, a bicycle lane is equivalent to a car lane.  In other words,  pedestrians need to keep an eye out for bicycles in the same way you would look for cars.    The young German rider, speaking perfect English, apologized profusely as if it had been his fault and not mine.    

"Are you okay?" we asked each other, and while we were both okay, we were definitely shaken up.   Fortunately,  this cyclist was paying attention and obviously saw me in time to apply his brakes that thankfully were in excellent  condition.   We were really lucky.   Nevertheless, this terrifying incident was a very near miss, and I couldn't help but think about the elderly gentleman who died last year when a cyclist knocked him down in the middle of a San Francisco street.

During our vacation in France and Germany last month, I watched the locals (and maybe a few tourists) navigate back roads and city streets by bike.   I also saw some close calls similar to the one in which I was involved in Dresden.   Riding skills required to maneuver in crowded city conditions aren't ones I've mastered yet.  I would find it challenging to ride a heavy bike that is loaded down with groceries or maybe with a small dog sitting in a front wicker basket.   Exploring a new city by bicycle is not an option I would favor,  although I know this is preferred by some of my biking friends.  I have to admit I'm intimidated by city traffic and crowds of pedestrians on busy, narrow streets.   In some cities, like Montreal,  bike lanes have two way traffic with their own signals,  but those lanes are very crowded so I am sure collisions are common.    In Berlin I discovered that red painted sidewalks are for bicyclists not pedestrians.    One rainy evening I was surprised by the chutzpah of riders who were not wearing bright clothing nor a helmet.  A flashing light somewhere on the bicycle would have added to their visibility.   I even saw a few women wearing high heels and mini skirts as they pedaled by on wet city streets in the dark.

Transporting food by bicycle in Cuba
In India and Vietnam, I rode in a bicycle rickshaw and felt the same vulnerabilities, but I put my faith in the experienced drivers who wore rubber flip flops to pedal on uneven cobblestone streets.  Although I had to hold my breath at times,  I had confidence that they would be able to avoid the speeding scooters, especially in Hanoi and the tuk-tuks and holy cows in New Delhi.  On a bicycle tour in New Zealand,  there were a few times when I forgot to ride on the left and not swerve to the habitual right, especially when making a turn onto another street. 

Next week I will tour San Francisco by bike on what my girlfriends call "A ride of a thousand views."  Fortunately this is a city I know well, so will not have the same apprehensions  I would have if I were to ride my bike on city streets in other parts of the world.  Regardless,  I will keep my wits about me and my eyes peeled for pedestrians,  like the careless pedestrian I was in Dresden.