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August 4, 2007

BehindTheMedspeak: Hippotherapy


Baffled me too when I first saw it in the July 17, 2007 Washington Post Health section, the subject of a front page story by Eliza McGraw.

Long story short: It's using "... the natural movements of a horse as a tool for physical, occupational and sometimes speech therapy."

Here's the article.

    More Than Just Horseplay

    One spring Saturday morning in Great Falls, occupational therapist Colleen Zanin prepares for a day of treating clients. Instead of assembling floor mats and exercise balls, however, she is checking the halter of a tall gray horse named Traveler.

    Three-year-old Zachary Hoffman [top] is Zanin's first client of the day. He arrives crying because he had to leave his bagel behind, but once on horseback he's happy and responsive, looking directly at Zanin and reaching for Traveler's mane. During his session, Zanin has Zachary ride backward, hang rings on a post and give Traveler voice commands.

    Zachary, who has low muscle tone, developmental delays and problems with sensory integration, is one of a growing number of participants in hippotherapy, which uses the natural movements of the horse as a tool for physical, occupational and sometimes speech therapy.

    While people such as Zanin and Sharalyn Hoffman, Zachary's mother, have no doubt that these sessions help Zachary, hippotherapy is rarely covered by health insurance, partly because it does not lend itself to the kind of statistical evaluation that measures more conventional medical treatment.

    Nonetheless, it is sought out by people who believe that riding a horse can bring psychological as well as physical benefits.

    Hoffman says that Zachary's condition led her to seek forms of therapy that might help him in areas where his development was delayed. Zachary has been coming to Lift Me Up!, Zanin's nonprofit riding center, for more than six months.

    "We had a long list of goals," says his mother, "and they [the Lift Me Up! staff] integrate them all in."

    Unlike therapeutic riding, which teaches people with special needs how to ride, hippotherapy (the name derives from the Greek word for "horse") focuses purely on the repetitive motion of the horse's walk, which mimics an average person's gait.

    "The big difference is that it is a session," says physical therapist Jill Wagner, who works with hippotherapy clients at Simple Changes, a nonprofit center in Lorton that offers both hippotherapy and therapeutic riding. "With therapeutic riding, the basic goal is to teach... a lifelong love of riding, where in physical therapy, it is always one-on-one, and we change the movement of the horse to get the movement we want."

    Used in Europe since the 1960s, hippotherapy took off in the United States in the 1970s. The American Hippotherapy Association, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary, began with a group of North American physical and occupational therapists, including Zanin, traveling to Germany to learn from therapists there. Now, the AHA holds training sessions and certifies therapists.

    Most therapists are supportive of hippotherapy, Zanin says, although they are aware that it is not cheap. Hippotherapy requires not only a horse, but also a lot of volunteer support, and stabling and a riding arena make for a much more complex setting than a traditional clinic, hospital or school.

    Some therapists enter the field knowing little about horses. "[My motivation is] just a love for the kids," Wagner says. "I've had to learn a lot of horse stuff that some people go in knowing,"

    Even Zanin, a lifelong rider, offers an analytical assessment of the horse's role in hippotherapy. "The horse is a conduit for us to reach our goals," she says. "The horse is just custom-made to give rhythmical dynamic input to the flexors and extensors of the trunk, and even the obliques that give you rotation. It's just a beautiful tool."

    Zanin chooses another horse, named Finn, for her next client, Daniel King, a 9-year-old boy with cerebral palsy. For most of his day, Daniel sits in a wheelchair and struggles to keep his head up. Zanin and his father lift him directly from his chair onto Finn's back. At Daniel's side, Zanin instructs him in exercises such as leaning back, with his head settling on Finn's rump, and turning from side to side. "Daniel? Head up! Where's Daddy?" calls his father, Steven King, from the arena gate.

    "If you're sitting 15 hours a day, you get weak abdominals and weak backs," Zanin says. "With a horse, you have the broad base of straddling, and you can move through space independently."

    "We've done quite a few different things with Daniel," his father says, "and this is one we've stuck with, because of his interactions with the horse."

    Parents and therapists agree that these interactions are what makes hippotherapy work. Candidates for the therapy include people with cerebral palsy and those with traumatic brain injury and autism.

    Therapists may work with adults as well. But William Benda, an emergency physician and advocate of hippotherapy in Big Sur, Calif., is more enthusiastic about hippotherapy's effects on children than on adults. "The future benefit is much greater for the 4-year-old than a 40-year-old," he says. "Injury to the brain is static, but the function worsens over time. Children's bodies have to grow around an asymmetrical disability, and they get worse. So we try to catch them as early as possible."

    Benda also has a less quantifiable reason to involve the young. "I think children, before they become so numbed by culture, can sense another creature's energy and love and power, whereas adults are desensitized to that," he says.

    To maximize the connection between horse and rider, hippotherapy horses are rarely saddled. Instead, therapists use bareback pads so riders stay attuned to the motion of the animal. For more physically challenged riders, additional gear might include a foam bolster to lean on, or a surcingle — a strap around the horse's chest — to grip for balance. One person generally leads the horse, and side walkers — one of whom is often the therapist — monitor each side.

    Helen Tuel runs the nonprofit Therapeutic and Recreational Riding Center (TRRC) in Glenwood, which caters to riders with special needs. TRRC is outfitted to support hippotherapy clients, with gentle horses, therapists on staff and a hydraulic lift, designed and built by an Eagle Scout, to help wheelchair users onto their horses.

    Trails wending through the center's woods feature an alphabet's worth of signs telling riders what they might see in the woods, such as D for deer, or O for owl. "If you're in a wheelchair, the horse may be your only way into the woods," Tuel says.

    Funding presents an ongoing problem for those seeking and giving hippotherapy. Zanin says she relies upon volunteers and donors. She charges clients $40 per session, which she says is about a quarter of the cost.

    Hippotherapy's adherents hope that its benefits will become more obvious and are constantly seeking funds for more research. In a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2003, Benda focused on children with cerebral palsy, measuring their muscular spasticity. A control group of seven children "rode" a 55-gallon drum with a fleece pad on it, while eight others rode horses. Those in the horse group had a reduction in spasticity after only 10 minutes of riding. Those astride the barrel showed no significant change. He's in the process of repeating the study with a larger group.

    The psychological aspect of hippotherapy — the simple joy of horseback riding — appears to help clients as well. "We tend to think of physical results," Benda says, "but what we don't understand is kids with disabilities spend their lives in a wheelchair or in bed, and there is a huge psychological benefit there. To be honest, not that many kids ride horses, and it does an amazing thing for their sense of self-worth, what they perceive to be risk behavior. It is a sport, and they can't play sports. In essence, they are leapfrogging beyond what a normal child can do, and that is what they need."

    Twelve-year-old Daniel Gesalman has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. He goes from wheelchair to Finn. "He is learning the balance to sit independently, which until recently seemed pretty unlikely," says his mother, Claire Gesalman. "Riding gives more dynamic input, and he's made excellent progress."

    Gesalman sees another, potentially more important result. "He realizes it's something he can do that is something sort of normal."

August 4, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Gerhard Richter + Cologne Cathedral = 65-Foot-Tall Stained Glass Window Mashup


Carolyn Rauch wrote about it in the August, 2007 Wired magazine, as follows.

    Pixels, Not Parables, for Cologne Cathedral's Stained Glass Window

    Blood-spurting martyrs, biblical parables, ascendant doves — most church windows feature the same preachy images that have awed parishioners for centuries. But a new stained-glass window in Germany's Cologne Cathedral, to be completed in August, evokes technology and science, not religion and the divine. Contemporary German artist Gerhard Richter designed the 65-foot-tall work to replace the original, destroyed by bombs in World War II. As a starting point, he used his own 1974 painting 4096 Colors. To create that piece — a 64-by-64 grid of squares — Richter devised a mathematical formula to systematically mix permutations of the three primary colors and gray. Funny coincidence: 4,096 is also the number of "Web-smart" colors that display consistently on older computer screens, a limitation some Web designers still take into account. (Today's monitors, of course, can handle pretty much any hue.) The Cologne window is made of 11,500 four-inch " pixels" cut from original antique glass in a total of 72 colors. Why not 4,096? Turns out there are stained glass-smart colors, too. Some hues in Richter's initial design were either historically inaccurate or too pale — they would have outshone the squares around them. So the artist modified his palette to include only colors with a suitably archaic cast. Because it's fine for a church window to look like it's been designed by a computer, as long as it's a computer with a gothic sensibility.

August 4, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Baby Giant Anteater Born at National Zoo — First in Zoo's 118-Year History


It happened in the middle of the night on July 24, "surprising a keeper who discovered the tiny creature clinging to its mother's chest."

The week old giant anteater is pictured above, clinging to its mother's back.

Watch it on video.

Brigid Schulte's story in today's Washington Post peels away the veil and takes you inside the anteater habitat where it's all happening — as they say, at the zoo — right next to Lemur Island.

    Baby Anteater Is Latest Addition To Zoo Population

    Mornings Are Best Bet for Viewing

    Moments after the National Zoo's first baby giant anteater was born last month, it most likely let out a high-pitched screech worthy of a velociraptor.

    The shriek is what keeps it alive: Anteater mothers are fairly blind and none too bright, and the cry kicks in the mothering instinct. "It's like, 'What's this noise? What's this noise? What's this noise? I gotta make it stop," animal keeper Marie Magnuson said. "Kind of like humans and crying."

    It's also probably why some baby anteaters born in captivity have died: Their easy-to-startle fathers have wound up killing them. "The sound kind of freaks them out," Magnuson said. And they start slashing with their razor-sharp claws — which can beat back a jaguar attack — to make the noise go away.

    For just that reason, when the baby was born July 24, its father, a studly 5-year-old anteater named Dante, was sleeping in a separate stall.

    Yesterday, Dante wandered around the leafy exhibit designed to look like his native Central and South American range, probing the air with his long, thin nose in search of rotten logs to claw open and juicy termites to suck, occasionally sticking out the tip of his two-foot-long tongue.

    Anteaters can eat up to 30,000 insects a day. Dante gets a mix of insects and food from the zoo. He's partial to yogurt. The new father most likely has no idea that he has a baby, which will be out in the exhibit for the public to see for the first time this morning. Nor will he ever know.

    In the wild, giant anteaters are fairly equal opportunity breeders. They mate and move on. "They're tramps," Magnuson said. "Non-monogamous." Males are never involved in bringing up baby. So Dante will be kept separate from mother and baby from here on out.

    That leaves mom, 4-year-old Maripi, to do the heavy lifting. Literally. Once they let out that life-or-death screech, baby anteaters climb on their mothers' backs. And, though they do get down from time to time, many will stay there for nearly a year. A mature male such as Dante can weigh as much as 90 pounds and stretch as much as seven feet from snout to tail.

    The new baby has yet to be named — keepers have not figured out whether it is male or female. Giant anteaters, it turns out, all look rather the same. Both sexes have what's called a "cloaca," Magnuson said. So it may be more than a month before they can get close enough to find out.

    For now, Magnuson just calls it "Little Schnozzy."

    Although it is the first anteater born in the zoo's 118-year-history, that's largely because the zoo hasn't kept giant anteaters. It had a pair about 20 years ago, but the animals didn't hit it off, apparently. Last year, when the zoo decided to again add anteaters to the collection and breed them, two keepers drove a pickup to Nashville — which is apparently the place to go for giant anteaters — and came back with Dante and Maripi.

    From the start, zoo employees watched for hard-to-detect signs of breeding behavior. They noticed little dings on Maripi's shoulder, marks that Dante was swiping her and forcing her to the ground. Giant anteater breeding, it turns out, looks a lot like wrestling.

    In most cases, zoos can't tell when a giant anteater is pregnant. So, to be safe, Dante and Maripi were always separated at night. Then, about six months ago, Magnuson started giving Maripi weekly sonograms — offering peanut butter to her to soothe her. And the baby watch began. "If we hadn't been ultrasounding, we could easily have missed it," Magnuson said.

    Zoo officials figured Maripi would give birth sometime this month. They wanted to videotape it. But the IT guy wasn't scheduled to install the camera until last Tuesday. By then, the baby had been born.

    An anteater being born in captivity isn't necessarily rare. Zoos in Nashville and San Diego have seen their fair share. It's more that it's fairly rare to have giant anteaters at any zoo.

    "We think they're cool," Magnuson said.


    The exhibit at the National Zoo is next to Lemur Island, and the zoo says the mother and baby are most apt to be seen between 8 and 11 a.m.

August 4, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

What is it?


Answer here this time tomorrow.

August 4, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Joe Bravo is 'The Tortilla Artist'


That's him above, with his canvas on his left and one of his finished works — which sell for up to $3,200 — on the right.

Visit his website, www.joebravo.net, and meet the artist (virtually) yourself.

More tortilla paintings (all for sale on his website) appear below, along with


today's Washington Post Style section front page story by William Booth.

An Artist in Flour

Where Other People See a Tortilla, Joe Bravo Sees a Feast of Images

Behold the humble tortilla! Home for beans, room for cheese, the welcome mat for all grilled meats. You or I? We see a tortilla and we think, yum, burrito night. But not Joe Bravo. No, mis amigos, Bravo looks at a toasted tortilla and he sees the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Or perhaps a sleeping pit bull. Or Emiliano Zapata. Or a cockroach, its head bursting into flame!

The point is that we have the eyes, but do not see. And that is why Joe Bravo is traveling to Hong Kong this month for an international exhibit of his tortilla art, and we are eating lunch at Taco Bell.


"One morning," says Bravo, 57, the memory still as fresh 35 years later as a crunchy chip with a scoop of salsa, "I was looking at this corn tortilla..." (He has since moved on to flour).

And? "I saw a canvas."

This was back in his wilder student days, at Cal State Northridge, a hothouse for Chicano art and politics in 1972, when he first took acrylic-paint brush to unleavened round bread. The early efforts were inspired. But, alas, short-lived. "I made a mobile of hanging tortillas, they were all painted, but they didn't preserve that well, and it blew apart in the Santa Ana winds."

Scattered like leftover Doritos in the storm.


Why the tortilla, one could ask. Why not the ceiling of, say, a chapel in the Vatican? "Necessity is the mother of invention," Bravo explains. "Mexicans, we Latinos, we have a history of being a resourceful people. We'll paint on tin, on walls, on cars, on anything." (He is a former art director for Lowrider Magazine.) One has the feeling that if you sat still long enough on Bravo's comfy couch at his tidy little bungalow in Highland Park, he might paint on you, too.

Because — watch! Bravo is skiddling around his house/studio, showing off his painted tortillas. Here he comes, wearing an Aztec mask, made entirely of tortillas, and in place of jade and precious stones, he has pebbled the headdress with kernels of corn. "I'm thinking of making a whole suit of tortillas," he says, and you think, please, can some foundation immediately DHL a large check to this man so the world can witness the suit of painted lard and flour?


It has not been easy being a tortilla artist. For many years, Bravo worked as a commercial graphic designer (he proudly put two sons through Stanford and UCLA), but lately the world has come around to knowing eccentric genius when it sees it. Recently, his work was exhibited at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Los Angeles, which led to a current solo show at the Arte Americas cultural center in Fresno, which led to his upcoming trip to China, where he will display 20 tortillas at a huge mall in Hong Kong and perform demonstrations of his mastery of the medium. The buzz has garnered him pieces in the Los Angeles Times, on Spanish-language TV, and an upcoming entry in "Ripley's Believe It or Not!," which is like the Sotheby's catalogue for artists who work at the outer limits of human potential.

More accolades: Bravo got a runner-up stroll down the red carpet in Miami Beach at the 2007 Food Network Awards in the "play with your food" category (he lost to sculptor and photographer Liz Hickok and her "San Francisco in Jell-O" series). Bravo says that actor Cheech Marin, who is also an astute collector of Chicano art, is angling for a piece. Recently, Michael "Flea" Balzary, the bassist of the rock band (and interesting food pairing) Red Hot Chili Peppers, bought a large-format tortilla. Bravo's larger flour works are now selling for $3,200 (though a minor work on corn would go for $800, and a poster for $10).


How does he do it? Naturally, it all begins in his kitchen. Tumaro's Gourmet Tortillas company ("Can you give them a plug?" Why sure!) is now providing Bravo with especially large, custom-made flour tortillas measuring 32 inches across. "I felt I had to go bigger," he says. "An audience sees a painting on a little regular tortilla, they might go, okay. But to see a really, really big tortilla? That gets their attention."

To continue. Bravo places the tortillas on his stove top and fires up the gas. The round moist bready flesh begins to crinkle and toast and then burn in spots, creating a topography of subtle peaks and valleys freckled with brown, black and white. Then, Bravo lays the tortillas, steamy hot off the grill, on his cool tile countertop and puts a board on top and weighs it down with a pair of dumbbells. When they are cold and flattened, he covers one side (the back) with burlap (he gets it free from the local fire department; they use it for sandbagging against floods) and seals the tortilla with a varnish — and then examines it, quite artistically.

"You see patterns," he says, "like when you look up at the clouds. Here," he points, "I'm seeing the fur of a jaguar." The correspondent is seeing a No. 3 special with extra onions from Tito's Tacos. "You're working with the environment of the tortilla," Bravo says. "It's almost like a collaborator, the tortilla is."


Like maybe how Michelangelo saw David trapped in the marble? "Yeah," Bravo says, arching his eyebrows, "something like that. But don't get too serious about it." In his kitchen, there are four or five tortillas ready to paint. He'll do some — like the pit bulls — in a hip-hoppy, lowrider style "for the young people." For the traditionalists, it is portraits of the revolutionary Zapata or Mayan kings or Aztec princesses. For the Hong Kong show, he did some Chinese dragons and "Ethnic Elvis," the King, but a pinch darker. The Tate Gallery in London included in a catalogue a Bravo tortilla called "Fridalupe," which is Mexican artist icon Frida Kahlo as la Virgen de Guadalupe, the 16th-century Mexican icon of the Virgin Mary. Also, he's done clown Ronald McDonald for the McDonald's launch of its new "snack wrap."

For that, someone accused Bravo of selling out. His response? "All the money that McDonald's has made off the Latino community? Are you kidding me? If they want to give a little back, I'll take the gig."

Bravo mentions that he is not the first to create tortilla art. "It's been done before," he says, "but I want to elevate the art form." And he has, says Abelino Bautista, curator at Arte Americas in Fresno, where 20 Bravo tortillas are now on display. "We were wondering ourselves, should we do this? Is this is a gimmick? I can tell you it is a very, very well-received show. His work is unique and original and excellent. The public has flipped over this."


There is just something about seeing a painting of a raging bull with flame-red chili-pepper horns on a vinyl-like tortilla. Bravo knows, too, that his art is quoting popular history here: News of the apparition of the divine on the humble tortilla appears occasionally. Religious folklore -- in Mexican culture and many others -- is crowded with reports (some pious, some not) whereby the faithful have seen the visage of Jesus or Mary in gnarled bark or passing clouds or on a cheese sandwich (auctioned on eBay). Bravo is not a mocker. It is beautiful that some people have seen such visions, he says.

Bravo sees things in his tacos, too. "I've solved the problem for everyone," he says. "Now they can go to exhibits and there is the image of the Virgin, big as life, right there on my tortilla."

Oh, I see how it is — now all of a sudden you want to see more.

I thought this might happen.


Once again then, from the top: the artist's website: www.joebravo.net.

August 4, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

mister stoopid visits bookofjoe


Last night when I went to bed I glanced at the little box that shows my high-speed/no-speed cable modem status and noticed that the second green light from the right was solid instead of blinking on and off.

Just for the heck of it I noodled around on my bedside iMac and the speed was mos def "Comcastic."

See, after several years I've learned that steady green means my high-speed internet is up and running.

But that's funny, I thought, since my laptop downstairs, where bookofjoe happens from astride my treadmill, has been offering dial-up only for the past 40 hours, yet another in a series of pretty much daily outages ranging in length from minutes to hours.

There's a reason I call myself a TechnoDolt™ and try to explain to everyone who offers tips on tags, toolbars and their ilk that I don't know a bit from a bitter and therefore can't benefit from any of the well-intentioned help that comes my way on a regular basis.

So I decided to try an experiment this morning, when I awoke to the very same situation re: modem box solid upstairs/dial-up only downstairs.

I unplugged the phone jack from the side of my treadmill PowerBook.

Guess what?

Instead of the speeds you see up top, which are what my dial-up connection's been giving me to work with the past two days, all of a sudden I got the blistering numbers below.


And thus you get perhaps another glimmer of why I'm a crash test dummy for the brain-dead.

Oh, yeah, mister stoopid up top: it wasn't a very long trip — just to the mirror.

I guess you could say that the "L" in LAN around here stands for "Limited."

August 4, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

So It Is In Life — by Daniil Kharms


Born in St. Petersburg in 1905, Daniil Kharms [above] was one of the founders, in 1928, of OBERIU, or Association of Real Art, an avant-garde group of writers and artists who embraced the ideas of the Futurists and believed that art should operate outside the rules of logic. In his lifetime, Kharms produced several works for children, but his writing for adults was not published. In 1931, Kharms was charged with anti-Soviet activities and briefly exiled from Leningrad. In 1941, he was arrested by the N.K.V.D. for making “defeatist statements”; sentenced to incarceration in the psychiatric ward of a prison hospital, he died of starvation the following year, during the siege of Leningrad. It wasn’t until the late nineteen-seventies that Kharms’s playful and poetic work began to appear in mainstream publications in Russia. Several books followed, as did festivals in Kharms’s honor and critical comparisons to Beckett, Camus, and Ionesco. The following texts have never been published in English.

At two o’clock on Nevsky Prospekt, or, rather, on the Avenue of October 25th, nothing of note occurred. No, no, that man who has stopped near the Coliseum is there purely by accident. Maybe his bootlace came untied, or maybe he wanted to light a cigarette. Or something else entirely! He’s just a visitor and doesn’t know where to go. But where are his things? Wait, he’s raising his head for some reason, as if to look into the third floor, or even the fourth, maybe even the fifth. No, look, he simply sneezed, and now he’s on his way again. He slouches a little and his shoulders are hunched. His green overcoat flaps in the wind. Just now he turned onto Nadezhdenskaya and disappeared around the corner.

A shoeshine man with Eastern features stared after him and smoothed his fluffy mustache with his hand.

His overcoat was long and thick, of a purple hue, either plaid or striped, or maybe, damn it all, polka dot.


How strange, how indescribably strange, that behind the wall, this very wall, there’s a man with an angry face sitting on the floor with his legs stretched out, wearing red boots.

If one could only punch a hole in the wall and look through it, one would see right away that this angry man is sitting there.

But it’s better not to think about him. What is he? Is he not a particle of a dead life that has drifted in from the imaginary void? Whoever he may be, God be with him.


We lived in two rooms. My friend had the smaller room, while I had a rather large room, three windows across. My friend would go out all day and come back only to spend the night. As for me, I was in my room all the time, and if I went out it was either to the post office or to buy something for dinner. In addition, I had a case of dry pleurisy, which gave me all the more reason to stay put.

I like being alone. But then a month went by, and I got sick of my solitude. Books didn’t entertain me, and I often sat at my desk for long stretches without writing a line. I would pick up my book again, leaving the page blank. And in that sickly state on top of everything! In short, I started to sulk.

The city I lived in at that time was loathsome to me. It stood on a hill, and everywhere you looked it was like a picture postcard. I became so disgusted with those views that I was happier to stay at home. And, really, apart from the post office, the market, and the store, there was nowhere to go.

And so I sat at home like a hermit.

There were days when I ate nothing. On those days I would try to manufacture a joyous mood for myself. I would lie down on my bed and smile. I’d smile for twenty minutes at a time, but then the smile would turn into a yawn. That was not at all pleasant. I would open my mouth just enough to make a smile, but it would open wider and I’d yawn. I’d start daydreaming.

I saw before me an earthen jug full of milk and pieces of fresh bread. And myself sitting at a desk and writing quickly. On the desk, the chairs, and the bed were sheets of paper covered in writing. And I wrote more and more, winking and smiling at my ideas. And how nice that nearby was the bread and the milk and a walnut snuffbox full of tobacco!

I opened the window and looked out at the garden. Violet and yellow flowers grew right next to the house. Tobacco was also growing, and a big military-chestnut tree stood farther away. And, over there, the beginning of an orchard.

It was very quiet. Only trains whistled under the mountain.

Today I couldn’t do anything. I paced the room, then sat down at the desk, but soon I’d rise and switch to the rocking chair. I’d pick up a book and right away discard it, and pace the room again.

I suddenly had the impression that I had forgotten something, some incident or important word.

I painstakingly tried to remember this word, and it seemed to me that it began with the letter “M.” No, no! Not with an “M” at all but with an “R.”

Reason? Rapture? Rectangle? Rib? Or: Mind? Misery? Matter?

I was making coffee and singing to myself all the words that started with “R.” Oh, what a tremendous number of words I made up beginning with the letter “R”! Perhaps among them was that one word, but I didn’t recognize it, taking it to be the same as all the others.

Then again, perhaps that word didn’t come up.


A neck stuck out of the collar of the fool’s shirt, and on the neck was a head. The head was at one time closely cropped. By now the hair had grown out like a brush. The fool talked about a lot of things. No one listened to him. Everyone thought, When will he shut up and leave? But the fool, noticing nothing, continued talking and laughing.

Finally, Elbov couldn’t stand it any longer and went up to the fool and said, curtly and viciously, “Make yourself scarce this very minute.” The fool looked around, at a loss, without a clue to what was going on. Elbov gave the fool a clout on the ear. The fool flew out of his chair and dropped to the floor. Elbov gave the fool a kick and he went flying through the doorway and rolled down the stairs.

So it is in life: a fool through and through, and yet he wants to express himself. He needs to be punched in the snout. That’s right—in the snout!

Everywhere I look I see this foolish mug of a convict. A boot in the snout is what he needs.


A window with a drawn curtain was getting brighter and brighter because the day was beginning. The floors squeaked, the doors creaked, chairs were being moved around in apartments. Climbing out of bed, Ruzhetsky fell on the floor and smashed his face. He was in a rush to get to work, so he went outside, covering his face with his hands. His hands made it hard for him to see where he was going. Twice he bumped into an advertising kiosk; then he shoved some old man in a vinyl hat with fur earflaps, which sent the old man into such a fury that a janitor, who happened to be in proximity, because he was trying to catch a cat with a shovel, said to the increasingly agitated old man, “Shame on you, Gramps, for making so much trouble at your age.”


A Frenchman was given a couch, four chairs, and an armchair. The Frenchman sat down on the chair by the window, but then he wanted to lie around on the couch. The Frenchman sat on the couch, but then he wanted to sit awhile in the armchair. The Frenchman got up from the couch and sat down in the armchair like a king, but in his own head he already had thoughts like: It’s a bit too opulent in the armchair; better to be a little plainer, on the chair. The Frenchman switched to the chair by the window, but he was restless in this chair, because there was a kind of draft coming from the window. The Frenchman switched to the chair near the stove and realized that he was tired. Then the Frenchman decided to lie down on the couch and rest, but before he made it to the couch he veered off to the side and sat down in the armchair.

“Now, that’s good!” the Frenchman said, but right away he added, “But it’s probably better on the couch.”

(Late nineteen-thirties)

Marina told me that one Sharik visited her in bed. Who, or what, this Sharik was I couldn’t for the life of me determine.

A few days later, this Sharik visited again. Then he started coming quite often, about every three days.

I was not at home. When I came home, Marina told me that Cinderyushkin had called on the phone asking for me. Apparently, if you can believe it, some Cinderyushkin wanted me!

Marina bought some apples. We ate a few after dinner and left maybe two apples for later that evening. But in the evening, when I wanted to claim my apple, the apple was not to be found. Marina said that Misha the waiter had come by and taken the apples away for a salad. He didn’t need the cores, so he had cleaned the apples right there in our room and thrown the cores away in the wastepaper basket.

I found out that Sharik, Cinderyushkin, and Misha usually live in our stove. It’s hard for me to comprehend how they got settled in there.

I was asking Marina about Sharik, Cinderyushkin, and Misha. Marina tried to avoid giving me any straight answers. When I let her know of my fear that this company was possibly not completely good-natured, Marina assured me that, in any case, they were “Golden Hearts.” I could get nothing more out of Marina.

Over time, I learned that the Golden Hearts had not all had the same level of education. To be honest, Sharik had received a high-school education, and Cinderyushkin and Misha had received none at all. Sharik had even written some scholarly works. And for that reason his attitude toward the rest of the Golden Hearts was somewhat haughty.

I was very curious as to what sort of scholarly works these were. But that remained unknown. Marina said that he had been born with a pen in his hand, but didn’t divulge any more details of his scholarly activities. I began to suss it out and, finally, I learned that he was in the cobbler’s line of work. Whether this had anything to do with his scholarly activity I was unable to determine.

Once, I learned that the Golden Hearts had had a party. They’d pooled their money and bought a marinated eel. Misha had even brought a jar of vodka. It should be said: Misha likes to drink.

Sharik’s boots were made out of cork.

One evening Marina told me that Cinderyushkin called me a troublemaker because I’d stepped on his foot. I also got angry and asked Marina to pass on to Cinderyushkin that he should stay out of my way.


When sleep is running away from a man, and the man lies on his bed, dumbly stretching out his legs, while nearby a clock ticks on the nightstand and sleep is running away from the clock, then it seems to the man that an immense black window opens wide before him and that his thin little gray human soul is going to fly out through this window and his lifeless body will stay lying on the bed, dumbly stretching out its legs, and the clock will ring its quiet bell: “Yet another man has fallen asleep.” At that moment, the immense and utterly black window will swing shut with a bang.

A man by the last name of Oknov was lying on his bed, dumbly stretching out his legs, trying to fall asleep. But sleep was running away from Oknov. Oknov lay with his eyes open, and frightening thoughts knocked inside his increasingly wooden head.

(1938) ♦

(Translated, from the Russian, by Matvei Yankelevich, with Simona Schneider and Eugene Ostaeshevsky.)


The above appears in the current (August 6, 2007) issue of the New Yorker

August 4, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Portable Rechargeable Fluorescent Light


From the website:

    Rhino Tools 8900 9-Watt Portable Rechargeable Fluorescent Light

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August 4, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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