Sunday, November 11, 2012

It's 1925

Today, we delve slightly into the life of Colette.  Although best known as the writer of Gigi, Cherie and the Claudine novels, she led an interesting and varied life and still carried in her heart the life she'd known as a country girl in Burgundy.  As a child, she shared her first glass of wine with her father ( "reddish-brown Muscat de Frontignan, sent from his natal south of France") and as an adult, made her own.  This is a little variation called Vin d'Orange, and I have been wanting to try it for years.  As winter is fast approaching, I thought the time to make it was perfect, although I do hate the wait and may not be able to resist temptation.

"Into four litres of dry, golden Cavalaire wine, I pour one liter of good, honest Armagnac brandy, and my friends promptly cry out.  'What a massacre!  Such a sterling brandy sacrificed to undrinkable ratafia!'  While they are still howling, I drown four sliced oranges, a freshly picked lemon, a stick of silvery vanilla, and six hundred grams of sugar cane.  All this goes into a potbellied glass jar, corked and sealed, to macerate for fifty days.  Then all I have to do is filter and bottle the result.  Is it good, you ask?  Just come home at the end of a hard, late-winter afternoon lashed with rain and hail.  You are shivering.  You feel your forehead, you wipe your nose, you look at your tongue, and finally whimper, 'I don't know what's the matter with me...'  I know what's the matter.  You need a little glass of Vin d'Oranges."  ... Colette

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

It's 1957

1957 was an amazing year, a time where everything in pop culture was right on the verge of "THE FUTURE".

(Just imagine that phrase yelled dramatically through an echoing megaphone by some Ed Wood-esque announcer.)

This was the year Bobby Soxers stopped mewling at Pat Boone and started screaming at Elvis Presley.    Gunfight at the OK Corral and Old Yeller were still playing at the Bijou, but so were Nights of Cabiria and Wild Strawberries.  The Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, The Cat in the Hat finally found a publisher, and in October, to America's horror, the Soviets launch Sputnik.  The Space Race begins, with the bad guys far, far ahead.

As America scrambles to catch up, the Soviets race at breakneck speed to top their original feat and stay in the lead.  It takes America another three months to get a satellite into orbit.  It took the Soviets one.  And this one was both technically superior and morally experiment that still gets people's blood boiling today.


Laika was a tiny two-year old stray found on the streets of Moscow.  Laika and two other strays were rounded up specifically because of their "stray" status.  Stray dogs would be more hardened to suffering.  Laika and her two comrades were specially trained to stay immobile for days on end (up to 20) in progressively smaller and smaller cages and to eat a special, gel-based dog food.  The dog food had two purposes:  to be able to go up into space without floating all over the capsule, and to easily deliver a final, euthanizing dose of medicine when her oxygen finally gave out, because Laika was never coming back.  The rushed show of Soviet power was a Khrushchev-mandated launch that would commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.  In the less than 30 days deadline given, there was no possible way to invent and perfect  a retrieval system that could bring her back alive, and everyone knew it.  Laika, who "won" the contest on account of her calm and friendly personality, was given a special treat just before the launch.  One of the scientists in her charge brought her home for an afternoon of play with his children.  Later, he would sadly give his reason why:  "I wanted to do something nice for her.  She had so little time left to live."

Hunkered down in her tiny capsule, heart racing, Laika became the first animal to orbit the Earth on November 3rd, 1957.  Several orbits later, she also became the first to die there when her capsule overheated.  While she had several days worth of food, and had even eaten the first serving while in space, the humanely planned final meal was never needed.

Laikas body and her rocket disintegrated upon reentry several months later.

Back in America, reports of the space dog were met with a mix of humor and revulsion.  Reporters joked about "Muttnik", but people were infuriated that the heartless commies had deliberately let a little dog suffer and die in space, a feeling that still resonates today as new people discover the story of her sacrifice.  America wouldn't get a satellite in space for another 2 months, and wouldn't be able to launch an animal at all until December of 1958, more than a year after Laika's historic launch.

In 1964, Laika was immortalized in the massive Soviet memorial, The Conquerors Of Space, where her perky little face looks bravely forward to the future.

In 2008, Laika got her very own monument, a beautiful three-dimensional statue of her, curly tail and all, sitting atop her rocket, as if just waiting for a petting.  A picture of the new monument, as well as a doggie space suit like the one she wore, can be found here.  But that's not all...

Laika's story is a sad one, and a well-known one, one that can't be changed.  But in 2011, artist Nick Abadzis created several happy alternative endings to the story.  Nick had previously created the 2007 graphic novel, Laika, which introduced the historic dog to a new audience before breaking their hearts.  No one likes the way Laika's story ended, least of all Nick, so he created better ones. My favorite is ending number one, where Laika is ejected from her rocket and gently parachutes down where her adoring trainer is tearfully waiting for her, at coordinates secretly given to her by a Soviet official.

Further reading:

The micro site for Nick Abadis graphic novel, Laika, can be found here.  In it, you can find stories about his inspiration, artwork and interviews.  An of course, you can always buy it from Amazon.

And just to go out on a happy note, here are Laika's alternative endings again.