Extreme Napping

Today we received more boxes in the mail with gifts for Peter.  I opened the boxes with scissors and read one of the gift books to Peter.  Afterwards I decided I would take a power nap on the couch.  At that point I realized I still had the scissors in my hand.

Susan said, “It would be rather dangerous to nap with scissors.  Would that be Extreme Napping?”

And that clicked in my mind an idea for a fantastic competitive sport.  Extreme Ironing already exists, so why not Extreme Napping.   It would be death-defying, yet restful at the same time.  Think of it:

  • Climbing to the top of Mt. Everest … and then taking a nap.
  • Tying oneself to the hands of the clock face on the Houses of Parliament tower just as Big Ben is about to strike 12 … and taking a nap.
  • Leaping off a bridge and landing on the top of a moving train … and then taking a nap.

I figure that competitors can have those EEG monitors put on their heads to measure how deep a sleep they fall into during their extreme activity and that can be counted toward their score.

In real life, the most extreme places I’ve slept are:

  • While working on a rooftop on a house in Appalachia (with the edge of the roof over a deep gully) I nodded off right there on the roof.
  • In Bermuda, I slept on top of casemate overlooking the ocean at the Royal Navy Dockyard.
  • Of course, I’ve also slept at 20,000 feet above the ground and underneath the English Channel, but I suppose it’s not too extreme to sleep on a commercial airline or a Eurostar train.

I suppose Gary Cherone would be good at Extreme Napping, more than words can describe.

2007 Beer in Review

My friend Brian recently observed that I’ve been reviewing more books and fewer beers since becoming a parent. Indeed, one of my goals for this blog was to sample and review new beers, but I didn’t get too many reviews up (although I did drink the beer). Nor did I accomplish my goal of putting my old list of beer reviews online.

I rate beers by awarding points for their appearance, aroma, taste, how they look after a few sips, and overall quality on a ten point scale. Any beer that earns 5 or more points is worth trying again and I rank these with one to five stars. Any beers below five points are on a descending spiral of badness. I tend to screen out bad beers ahead of time so I don’t get many no star beers. Sadly though, I’ve not encountered many Five Star beers this year either.

Here’s a handy chart of all the beers reviewed in 2007:

Five Stars

Four Stars

Three Stars

Two Stars

One Star

No Stars

May 2008 be a good year for beer!

Book Review: Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird

Before reviewing Andrew D. Blechman’s Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird (2006), a book I learned about on the WBUR radio show “Here and Now,” I’d like to relate a few of my own pigeon memories:

  • I’ve long been a fan of pigeons and enjoy watching them (but not feeding them) in Boston’s parks. Once in the North End, I saw a bunch of big pigeons figting over a chunk of bread in the Paul Revere Mall. I thought if I tore the bread up into smaller pieces, every pigeon would get an equitable share without fighting. It was a social experiment gone awry. More pigeons arrived out of nowhere and now there were the same number of pigeons fighting for each of the smaller pieces as there were for the original big piece.
  • In London’s Trafalgar Square, famed for its pigeons (with a song in Mary Poppins no less), seemed fairly bereft of pigeons. I saw a bird of prey circling the Nelson Monument, so I asked the Heritage Guards what type of bird that is. “It’s an ‘arris ‘awk,” replied on of them. When we asked if the hawk keeps the pigeon population down, he responded “It keeps the pigeon population moving. The lads who come on Saturday morning with shovels keep the pigeon population down.” Grim stuff.
  • Nearby in Hyde Park, a father and daughter are feeding the waterfowl in the Serpentine. The father tells the daughter, in a blatant display of anti-pigeon bias, not to give any bread to the pigeons. “Nasty ol’ pigeon,” says the girl as she drives away the innocent rock dove.
  • Meanwhile in Piazza San Marco, the famed pigeons are still an attraction. One of them dive-bombed me within minutes of disembarking. Tourists feed the birds and pose for photos with the pigeons on their arms and heads. According to Rick Steves, the vendors sell a birdseed with pigeon birth control drugs mixed in. While the pigeons are an attraction in Piazza San Marco, John Berendt writes in The City of Falling Angels that they are actively discouraged in the rest of Venice. After reading this book and learning about pigeon behavior, this sounds like Venetian officials are trying to have their cake and eat it too, an impossible task.
  • Who can forget the pigeons hatched and raised on our porch in Somerville? Unfortunately for my former landlord, I’ve learned that due to the homing instinct of pigeons, that porch will forever be home for those two young pigeons.

This is a lovely book about pigeons. The subtitle refers to how pigeons are much beloved in certain niches while despised as “rats with wings” by the great majority of city dwellers. In fact, pigeon-hatred is a relatively recent phenomenon, and Blechman hypothesizes that people don’t so much hate pigeons as they hate large numbers of pigeons and specifically pigeon droppings. Blechman explores several aspects of pigeon-loving and pigeon-hating society and dispels some myths. For example, pigeons are not a significant health risk for carrying and spreading disease, as the anti-pigeon front would have us believe. Here are some things I learned:

  • the lives of pigeon-racing enthusiasts, especially Orlando of the Borough Park Homing Pigeon Club in Brooklyn who prepares his birds for the Main Event. This race sees pigeons shipped to far away places like West Virginia where they are released to race back to their coops.
  • heroic pigeons such as Cher Ami who rescued the Lost Batallion in the Argonne Forest despite being wounded himself, G.I. Joe who saved the lives of British soldiers in Italy in WWII and was honored in the Pigeon Hall of Fame, and pigeons who worked for the CIA.
  • The National Pigeon Association Grand National where fancy pigeons are displayed and judged (and sold), a major event for pigeon fanciers akin to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. This includes a Parlor Roller competition, birds that bizarrely roll across the ground (as opposed to roller pigeons that do mid-air somersaults, also a strange and non-beneficial behavior). Here’s a video of roller pigeons in action:
  • Charles Darwin’s fascination with the study of pigeons which was central to The Origin of Species.
  • Live pigeon shoots throughout history, including the controversial Labor Day event in Hegins, PA which became a target of animal rights activists.
  • Dave Roth who lives in a house full of pigeons in Arizona and founded the Urban Wildlife Society and has influenced communities toward more compassionate and effective bird control methods. Other organizations such as PiCAS have established humane methods of reducing pigeon populations in cities my reducing public feeding and setting up lofts for the pigeons throughout the city.
  • The extinction of the passenger pigeon by over-hunting, with the last pigeon Martha expiring in the Cincinnati Zoo. “It’s the only instance in history when the moment of a species extinction is known: September 1, 1914, at about one P.M. (p. 118).”
  • Pigeon People, a New York-based listserv that acts as a rock dove rescue league. Blechman also meets an underground pigeon protection network called Bird Operations Busted that prevents the netting of birds for pigeon shoots.
  • Heavyweight fighter Mike Tyson is a devoted pigeon fancier, although Blechman is unable to get an interview with Tyson.
  • Squab are also considered tasty to eat.
  • Paccom Films about pigeons.  I kind of want to get these DVD’s now.

This is a great book for pigeon lovers, and perhaps even better to recommend to pigeon haters. I think the noble pigeon is all the more my favorite.

Movie Review: The Longest Day

Once again inspired by watching Ken Burns’ The War, we watched The Longest Day (1962) a dramatization of the D-Day invasion.  Its a long film with a mammoth cast that appears to be trying to tell the entire story of D-Day from every angle all at once.  Despite some typical Hollywood hokiness, The Longest Day does a good job of sticking to the story.  Every character speaks his/her native tongue and typical stereotypes are avoided, although each nationality is colorful in their own way: the French are rather nutty, the Germans are arrogant and dismissive of the Allies even as they’re losing the battle, the English are eccentric, and the Americans are goofy in an aw-shucks kind of way.  The film tries to be accurate in depicting the invasion to the smallest details but they do leave out one of the most interesting parts to me, when the naval captains disobeyed orders and brought their ships dangerously close to shore to provide artillery cover for the landing forces.  The film has some great film sequences including a tracking shot over the beach that must have needed thousands of well-coordinated extras.

The Longest Day’s cast is full of the top American and European actors of the day, although I think I’d have trouble picking them out even if I knew who all of them were.  Some big name actors like Henry Fonda are basically reduced to one-scene walk-ons due to the massive scale of the film.  One of the stand-out performances is Kenneth More as Colin Maud standing on the beach with his bulldog encouraging British shoulders by telling them “the war is that way.”  Similarly,  Robert Mitchum rallies the troops on Omaha Beach as General Norman Cota.  John Wayne has a big part as paratrooper Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Vandervoort and plays it in the typically corny John Wayne manner (ducks as John Wayne fans come in to defend the Duke).  One performer, Henry Grace, was not an actor at all but cast merely because he resembled Dwight Eisenhower.  It’s a pity that they did not go through with the plan of having then-former President Ike play himself.