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Monday, February 27, 2006

Tony The Devil

Do you watch "Reservoir Dogs" with your toddler in the room? He can't talk, after all, and barely understands the world around him, right? The doctor told you not to bother letting him watch television because it's just a bunch of flashing lights and disconnected sounds, like our doctor did, right? And if he can't understand "The Little Mermaid," why would he understand "Silence of the Lambs?" And you can stop swearing when he learns to talk, too.

I have my doubts. My ten year old son, who's hardly unsophisticated, leaves the room during the commercials when we watch football games, because the vast majority of the spots are for other TV shows about picking over dead corpses, hunting around for abducted children, and generally getting your entertainment out of the horrifying misery of other people. It boggles my mind that you might watch the actual shows with your children in the room; I scramble for the remote every time there's a 30 second time out because I know there's likely as not going to be kidnapping, rape, garroting, transfixion or cannibalism presented as a fun kind of puzzle, and that's just a 30 second come-on for the stuff. The commercials are disturbing enough; why would you wallow in it for hours at a time is beyond me.

My two year old doesn't talk yet. Does he know what's going on? You tell me:

I discovered an interesting website for my older child. It's called: Devices of Wonder, and it's an online presentation of goodies from the Getty Museum. They have a fabulous little movie of an automaton from 150 years ago. It's the kind of thing that delights and interests people even in our age, where any visual trick is made possible by arranging ones and zeroes on a disk in a Pixar cubicle. You try to put yourself in the place of its original audience, who've never even seen a movie, and picture their wonder. Check it out:

Antonio Diavolo

Well, the elder boy liked it well enough, but the little one was transfixed by it. He demands I play it over and over again, and giggles every time the little fellow nods his head to take his bow during his performance.

The performance is accompanied by a familiar piece of music, even for those not that interested in classical music: Kinderszenen op.15 by Robert Schumann. Kinderszenen means "Scenes from Childhood" in English. They chose the most recognizable snippet from the whole piece, "About Foreign Lands and Peoples" for the presentation, and it's lovely. You'll recognize it immediately, I'm sure.

Back to our story. I own a nice version of Kinderszenen on Deutsche Grammophon, performed by Martha Argerich. The woman can pound the elephant teeth, I'm tellin' ya, though she appears so demure as to weigh less than little Antonio Diavolo himself. I removed Vivaldi or The SpongeBob Movie Soundtrack or Louis Prima or Jimmy Cliff or Respighi or something from the disc player and put in Martha, as one thing always suggests another, and I wanted to hear all the other szenen too.

Momentary pause; out pops "About Foreign Lands and Peoples." The little one's head bobs up like a prairie dog, or a bloodhound with a scent. There is a short interlude of confusion, excitement, and a hint of recognition. (this is my new definition of life, by the way; a short interlude of confusion, excitement, and recognition) Then the Wee One is up on his feet like a shot, left arm windmilling for balance as he tries to keep his stocking feet underneath him on the polished floor while sprinting around the corner, tearing down the hallway, desperate to get to the computer in the office to see his friend Antonio.

Antonio wasn't there, of course, the screen was shuttered and dark. He came back, confused and disconsolate, and we were all laughing, which must have seemed awful in his disappointment, but he wasn't through amusing and educating us yet. He ran to me and made his Up, Up! gesticulations, and I knew he wanted his all knowing and all seeing father to make the magic box spit out the pictures of his friend Tony. Or so I thought.

I grabbed his wrists to pick him up, and he ran his feet straight up my chest to the shoulder and did a backward somersault to the floor. I barely held onto his hands or I would have had to look for him one floor down through the hole in the floor. Again, again; Up Up!

Trust me. They're paying attention.

Devices of Wonder


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