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Posts Tagged ‘Lewis Carroll’

The St. Louis Art Museum sits atop Art Hill in Forest Park. A fine statue of King Louis IX on horseback overlooks a long sweep of grass—excellent sledding turf after a good snow. It’s a welcoming place, filled with beautiful things and charming people.

A few years back I visited the museum before Christmas to buy something in the gift shop. I don’t remember what I went there for, because I got distracted when I discovered a basket filled with little three-legged clay pigs, called chanchitos.  Made in Chile, they are considered good luck. They were darling, and I decided to buy one for my brother-in-law, Mike.  He already has everything he really needs, but all of us can use a bit of extra luck.

As I paid for it at the counter, a second clerk said, “Does this chanchito have a butt?” She was probably in her 50s, with a chin-length blonde bob. She looked like the sort of museum lady who would know a great deal about setting a proper table and baking delicious tea cakes.

I looked blank.  “He has a tail,” I said uncertainly. 

“Some of them have actual butts,” she said. “Not all of them. I think they’re really cute.”

While I finished paying she went over to the chanchito basket and started rummaging through it, presumably to find one with a butt.  I joined her, with my butt-less chanchito in its little bag in my hand. 

She said, “Someone put the price stickers over the butts, so I’m having to peel them back to check.”  I started helping. 

“What are we looking for, exactly?” I asked.

“It’s just a little hole, like one of the eyes. I think it’s so cute.”

None of the other chanchitos had a butt, as it turned out, and we decided that increased demand for lucky chanchitos had probably led to the need for greater efficiency in their manufacture—thus the butts had been discontinued. 

But all of that happened later. When I first arrived at the museum, I thought I remembered that the large gift shop was on the 2nd floor, so I entered through the back door, walked across the lobby, and took the stairs on the north side of the building. They are the type of stairs that go up seven or eight steps to a landing, then the stairs turn and go up another seven or eight steps to a second landing, turn again, and finish the trip with a last set of steps to the top.  At the second landing I noticed a plaque on the wall.  There was no piece of art nearby—not even a nail on which a piece of art might have once hung—but I stopped and read it anyway. 

You can make yourself enter somewhere frightening if you believe you’ll profit from it. The natural response is to flee but people don’t act like that anymore.

I said, “Huh.”  Then I moved on to the 2nd floor.  At the top of the stairs I stopped, turned around, and went back down to the landing. I copied the words carefully on the back of my grocery list (diced tomatoes – 2 cans, cabbage, carrots, coffee), then I went on to the 2nd floor, realized I was in the wrong place, and came out at the stairs on the south side of the building. A directory near the elevator didn’t appear to list the gift shop, but I remembered that it was near the café, which was on the lower level. I started down the south stairs, and this time I was prepared when I saw an artless plaque on the wall.  I stopped and pulled out my grocery list.  This one read:

Exercise breaks at strategic points during the day enhance productivity and provide simultaneous sensations of relief and rejuvenation.

“Isn’t that great?” A woman coming up the stairs stopped and looked at the plaque with me. She wore a museum name badge. She said, “I sometimes stop as I’m coming up and down these stairs and read that out loud.”

A year or two later, I received my own chanchito from my nephew, Ryan.  Ryan understands how much I like pigs. The chanchito sits on my desk and regards me with his deep, gimlet eyes and panting mouth. His front legs are spread apart in a pose that implies he’s only pausing temporarily and will soon make a sudden, pig-like dart to resume his energetic, rejuvenating exercise.

He is, alas, butt-less.

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The Mad Hatter said, “You might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’!”

“You might just as well say,” added the March Hare, “that ‘I like what I get’ is the same thing as ‘I get what I like’!”

– Lewis Carroll,  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Two days after Christmas Ernesto and I took a short road trip to Jefferson City, Missouri. We have lived here nearly five years and haven’t seen our capital city, and it seemed like a good idea to check it out. We woke up Tuesday morning to find a healthy dusting of snow on everything, but the temperature was rising and the sun shone brightly, so we headed west.

As we crossed the river and entered Jefferson City, we saw the capitol building right away. We began with a visit to the capitol museum. We naturally parked across the street from one of the building’s non-functioning entrances, and had to circle the building to get in. We walked up the stairs to a sort of portico, and I applied a lip salve as we walked. Ernesto lamented not having his chapstick. “You can use this,” I said. “It’s for girls, but it doesn’t really have any color to it.”  He applied my lip stuff liberally, not bothering to stay within the lines.

“You know what?” I said, digging in my purse for a mirror, “it’s actually got more color to it than I thought.” I held the mirror while he checked himself out, and soon he was scraping off the lip gloss with the same facial expression as a little boy who has just received an unwelcome kiss from a whiskery old lady. He wiped his finger on the white marble of the portico, leaving pale rosy smears behind. I’m sure it’s all on a security camera.

I liked the capitol itself very much; the rotunda was beautiful, rich with blues and heavy with carved-in-stone scripture (“The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof”). We wandered through the museum’s exhibits on the history of Missouri and a special Civil War exhibit, and then headed out. We saw the beautiful, gingerbready governor’s mansion multiple times as we drove around trying to find an on-ramp to 54 westbound. We finally found our way and drove to Lake of the Ozarks.

By the time we were in the little village of Lake Ozark it was quite dark. Neither of us has decent vision in low light, so we are no good to anyone after night falls.  But we did manage to see a sign for the Lodge of Four Seasons. I knew from my visitor’s guide that it was located on the lake and was in our price range during the low season, so we followed the signs to the Lodge. I loved it as soon as we walked in. A cozy fire burned in the center of the lobby, and we received a special rate with free breakfast. The Lodge even had a steakhouse called HK’s on site, meaning that we wouldn’t have to drive around in the dark anymore. We decided to eat.

Here’s the thing: The Lodge was really not expecting many people to show up, apparently, but several of us did, and the result was a sort of minor traffic jam in HK’s.  I didn’t quite catch the reason–something about a problem in the kitchen, insufficient staff–it was all a bit of a mystery. We were invited to wait at the bar.  Instead, we took our luggage up to the room and got settled. When we returned we only had to wait about 5 minutes to be seated, but the service was amazingly slow. Fortunately, we were in a mood to be more entertained than irritated.

I wish I had kept track of how long it did take between ordering and receiving our meals, but I didn’t. It was a mighty long time, that’s all I know. Some tables received baskets of bread; we received none. I suppose we should have asked for bread, but it was as if we were in a dream and could only watch in amused bewilderment at what went on around us. Our waiter was enthusiastic over every item we ordered, and when he finally, finally delivered our meals he set the dishes down with a flourish and said, “You’re in for a real treat.”  We were. I had flat iron steak and Anson Mill grits, and the combination was fantastic. I loved every bite and even shared a slice or two of my fabulous beef with Ernesto, who had ordered lamb shanks. We split a delicious warm chocolate cake with ice cream for dessert.

The next morning, we watched the sunrise from our lakeview room (see photo), and then enjoyed a free breakfast. “And the chronic under-staffing continues,” Ernesto remarked. It did. The wait wasn’t as long as it had been at dinner the previous evening, but we had trouble getting the food we ordered. Ernesto said, “After all, they ask the customer, ‘What would you like?’ We tell them what we would like, but then we must eat what is set before us.”  I ordered orange juice and received milk. Ernesto ordered a side of French toast which never appeared.  We had to inquire about my bacon, and something had gone wrong with the toaster which meant that part of Ernesto’s whole wheat toast came a bit behind the rest of our food. It felt Alice-in-Wonderlandish, which is not necessarily a bad thing if you’re in the right mood. And we were. We decided it was like Alice in Wonderland even before we got back home and I found the quote above, which is a nearly perfect transcription of our breakfast conversation.

I hope that 2012 is filled with a similar magic.

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