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The Art of Observation

A monkey's eye view. SUV fit. Mob scenes. Al Gore's two friends. Andrew Sullivan excommunicated. Plus a lot more.

9.23.02

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MORE MONKEYING AROUND
Re: Francis X. Rocca's Curious George Forever:

Francis X. Rocca writes, regarding the line of Curious George spinoffs in a bookstore: "Not having enough time to evaluate the later efforts, I stuck with the 1941 original." A few years ago a collection of all seven of the Curious George books by H. A. Rey was published in a single hardcover volume called The Complete Adventures of Curious George, including the seven original titles (Curious George, Curious George Takes a Job, Curious George Rides a Bike, Curious George Gets a Medal, Curious George Flies a Kite, Curious George Learns the Alphabet, and Curious George Goes to the Hospital) and a biographical sketch of H. A. and Margaret Rey. The alphabet book doesn't read well as a story (Dr. Suess does better with the subject), but the rest follow the same pattern as the first book, and are just as much fun: George, left on his own, gets himself deeper and deeper into trouble, but comes out all right in the end.
-- Mike Bates

I was gratified to read Francis X. Rocca's appreciation of the Curious George stories. Mr. Rocca confined himself largely to praising the charm of the stories. As you may remember, I tried some time back to write an appreciation of H.A. Rey's art -- I consider his skills to be astounding. I foundered, unfortunately; I'm not an art critic, and I just didn't have the knowledge or the vocabulary to praise him adequately. But, given Mr. Rocca's column as an opening, I will try briefly here.

1. Furniture and interior decoration: The Reys lived in Paris, New York, Boston, and Los Angeles while writing the Curious George books. The illustrations are spot-on snapshots of the furniture and interior decoration of the era, always in fine and enduring taste. See the Man With the Yellow Hat's study -- the simple lines of his desk, the elegant wooden chairs, the wide pine floor.

2. Cityscapes and panoramas. See Curious George's ride down what I think of as Lexington Avenue in the 1950s, on top of a bus. Fascinating detail, down to every store front. See also the suburban street George rides on his bicycle as he abortively delivers newspapers. And there's a fabulous aerial view of Montmartre in the first book.

3. Size, perspective, and aerials. For a cartoonist to be able to imply vast distances is a considerable feat, and H.A. Rey does it over and over again. Check out George's wild flight into the sky on the tail of a kite, or look at the panel where he hides in the straw under the elephant -- with the elephant looking every bit as big AS an elephant must look to a monkey.

4. Self-portraits. Unfortunately, the modern combined edition of the original six or so Curious George books cuts off the original format horizontally. Every book contains at least one double-truck illustration that includes a self-portrait of Augusto, always smoking a pipe, and usually with a drawing pad in his lap. Augusto also peeks out of apartment doorways, looks out the doors of houses, and generally pops up throughout the strips.

5. Satire and observed detail. Check the movie producer's clothing, for example, in the panel where George signs a movie deal: the shadow-stripe suit, the heavy-rimmed tinted glasses, the tiny Italian loafers, the translucent ribbed socks.

6. Coherence of massed scenes. This is the most astounding stuff. In every story, George precipitates some disaster, generally involving lots of people in a big setting -- a farm, a hospital, a zoo, a city street. And every participant in these scenes is rendered in a few deft strokes, with the composition of the whole realized in stunning success.

H.A. Rey's skill as an illustrator is nowhere clearer than when you read some of the more modern knockoffs, written by Augusto's widow Margret, but illustrated by some inadequate publisher's hacks. It's enough to make you cry.
-- Lawrence Henry
North Andover, MA

USEFUL TOOLS
Re: Dave Shiflett's SUV Heaven:

Great article on the anti-SUV movement which is lining up right behind the attack on smokers. I have been driving for 51 years and have had just two fender-benders -- both of them when I was younger than 25. I'm a fair sized guy -- 6'2" and 220 pounds. Except for a full-sized SUV or a Ford Crown Vic, aka Mercury Grand Marquis, there is not one currently manufactured vehicle I can get in or out of without contortions which are painful on this old stiff body. Further, there is the fear factor in facing the swarms of inexperienced, inattentive, distracted, cell phone using, makeup applying, sandwich chomping and beverage slurping drivers whose idea of good driving is to give full attention to the road a space somewhere between picking one's nose and admiring the image of self in the mirror....

My personal vehicle of choice is a full sized 3/4 ton two wheel drive pickup truck. Its extra height allows me to scan the road ahead over the tops of the road lice and its extra weight and strength gives me an added degree of safety if I happen to turn a road louse into a speed bump. I know that I do not get the unlimited mileage from a tank of gas that a tiny car does, but I consider the extra expense as an insurance premium that I am willing to pay even on my retirement income.

In December my wife purchased a 2002 "full sized" Pontiac Grand Prix. Shoot, my first car, a 1941 Chevrolet 2-door sedan, had far more room and was very easy to get in and out of. I have driven her car only once and shall never do so again. It is with reluctance that I even ride as a passenger.

To the anti-SUV scolds: Keep your grubby mitts off my pickup and when the image of my grill fills your rear view mirror, get out of the way.
-- Al Martin
Portland, OR

In his excellent demolition of Keith Bradsher's attack on SUVs, Dave Shiflett writes: "[SUVs] use more gas than Hondas, are bigger than Hyundais..."

Some SUVs are Hondas and Hyundais. Honda makes the Pilot; Hyundai makes the Santa Fe. Both are rugged, comfortable, good-sized vehicles that burn a fair amount of gas. Asian manufacturers are not limited to itty bitty cars. Let's leave prejudices and stereotyping to jackasses like
Keith Bradsher.
-- Rich Rostrom

NEVER BELIEVE A DEMOCRAT
Re: The Washington Prowler's Sour Grapefruits: Al Show No-Shows:

Guess you didn't vote for Mr. Gore last election time. You seem worried he might run again.
-- Carl W. Goss

Your single source on this seems pretty biased. Al Gore did come back to Florida last April 13th, did thank Floridans, and never acted "like it didn't happen. See http://www.algore04.com/tv. His Florida speech is the first one listed.

If you think "well, it took him until April 2002 to talk..." -- well,
this was really his first speech out of the gate since his concession
speech in 2000.

Need to do some fact checking before you report someone else's lies.

Thanks,
-- Chip Mosher

MOB SCENE
Re: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.'s My Mafia Memories:

Mr. Tyrrell, my siblings on the East Coast saw your Mafia column and forwarded it to me. As products of River Forest, we all enjoyed it.. We all went to St. Luke's in the 50's and Trinity and Fenwick in the 60's and knew the Mob kids, too. Your piece made us laugh because it was so accurate. FYI, a guy who's played a gangster on TV -- Larry Manetti -- is also from the area. His brother attended Fenwick the same time as my brother. (I had reason to meet him professionally several years ago here in Hawaii when "Magnum, P.I." was still in production.) Thanks for reminding us of our own distant and minor links to the world of "The Sopranos."

Aloha.
-- Eileen Mortenson
Honolulu, HI

CHOP TALK
Re: Christopher Orlet's Mencken's Axe:

My all-time HLM favorite frequently comes to mind: "No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American people."
-- Brooks Hughes
Ann Arbor, MI
(I am one of the thirty-two right-wingers in this fair city!)

DASCHLE FOR LUNCH
Re: The Washington Prowler's Sour Grapefruits: Brilliant Tom:

The Prowler writes: "But there was very little, if any, substance to Daschle's address. Instead he stayed on the DNC message the party has been touting for weeks. The Senate majority leader charged that Bush was doing little to spur the economy, had failed to address concerns about unemployment and the retirement fund losses Americans had suffered of late. He complained about the shrinking budget surpluses."

What's a poor, class warrior, Democrat supposed to do? Does Daschle actually believe he can scare Americans with "shrinking budget surpluses"? "Oh my," I said to my wife, "the government is going to be overtaxing us less with these horrible shrinking surpluses"!!!! Pssst, it's the spending, Tom!!

I find this stuff funny coming from the leader of the party that gave us nothing but deficits for 40 years, a $5 trillion debt and a $26 trillion unfunded liability with a ponzi scheme called Social Security!
-- Greg Barnard
Franklin, TN

Daschle may not just be reluctant to lead, he may not know how. Something I have been saying for over a year now is that Daschle is in way over his head as Senate Majority Leader. He really isn't very bright. He may have a "nice" personality and he may be a great Senator (out of 100), but he has no idea what he's doing. Not that I'm complaining. W. gets regularly trashed as being an idiot, but just as regularly he eats Daschle's lunch. So who's the real moron?
-- Andrew Macfadyen

MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW
Re: Enemy Central's When All Is Sarandon:

Bill Clinton may never land a newspaper column slot, but fear not because the man who "never had sex with that woman" will have his "mistake" immortalized as a Russian musical. According to Page Six of the NY POST (9-21-02), "Russian composer Vitaly Okorokov is turning Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky 's love affair into a musical, but shifting the action from the White House to the Kremlin and renaming the leads "Vladimir Putin" and "Masha Lewinskonova.'" Musical knee pads anyone?
-- Kitty Myers
Painted Post, NY

EXCOMMUNIQUE
Re: Jeremy Lott's Pope Andrew the First:

Forgive me for taking almost half a year to get around to Jeremy Lott's excellent article entitled "Pope Andrew the First."

We recently tussled with individuals who felt it was "unfair" and "unchristian" to remove Andrew's blog from our semi-definitive list of Christian blogs entitled "blogs4God.com" (about 400 sites & counting). I tried to explain to the various screeds that one of our published requirements is that the individual practice historic Christianity -- not individuals who want to dump it for something shiney-new and postmodern.

I only wish I had stumbled onto your article earlier so I could have used it in response to members of "the fortress."

Keep up the good work!
-- Dean Peters
Rockville, MD

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