Sundaes, Solzhenitsyn and summer afternoons

August 5, 2008 | Uncategorized

So I’ve decided that today is going to be Stream of Consciousness Tuesday. I’m just going to ramble aimlessly until I say everything I have to say. Feel free to do the same in the comments.

Last night, after Chiara and Olivia were already in their princess nightgowns, Noah mentioned that we have not yet been to Tastee Freez this summer, an oversight for which there is simply no excuse. Tastee Freez is our local soft-serve ice cream shop that heralds the arrival of spring each year when it opens March 21 or thereabouts. At first we said that it was too late to go out and get ice cream, but our hearts weren’t in it. I think Dennis and I both knew that we should take them, although we tortured them a bit by saying that it was too bad the girls got into their pjs so early or we would have gone.

So we packed them into the van, princess nightgowns flapping in the breeze, and it immediately brought back memories of my own childhood. I can remember piling into the back of our red pinto with my brother and sister, all of us in our pajamas, to make the pilgrimage to the nearby Dairy Queen. We would lay down in the back of the Pinto (back before seat belts were required and before anyone realized that Pintos were rolling time bombs), and we would look up at the night sky, watching the stars. Back when I was a kid, there were no hot fudge sundaes on the menu — at least not on my father’s version of the menu. It was a cone, a small cone. I don’t even remember if sprinkles were allowed. But we splurged last night and let Noah and Olivia get hot fudge sundaes, complete with cherries on top. Chiara, still content with the basics, settled on a mini cup of plain vanilla. Our lives are so busy and so harried that we really don’t do the small but spontaneous things that make memories. I know that one day our kids will remember going to the Tastee Freez in their pajamas when they should have been in bed. It doesn’t get any better than that.

What does any of this have to do with the recent death of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the great Russian novelist who spent years in the Soviet gulag and then years in exile because he wrote about it? Absolutely nothing. It’s just that Solzhenitsyn, surprisingly enough, also brings back lots of good memories for me, of the college variety. When I read “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” for my Russian lit seminar at Pace University, it was the beginning of my love affair with Russian novelists. I still rank Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” as one of my all-time favorite novels, if not my most favorite, and I was quite the fan of Dostoyevsky after reading “Notes from Underground.” Don’t you wish you had the time to read that kind of stuff again? I couldn’t even get through the New York Times obit on Solzhenitsyn no less the Gulag Archipelago. Here’s a quote from the Times obit that will make you want to know more about Solzhenitsyn if you don’t already know about him:

“At Ekibastuz, any writing would be seized as contraband. So he devised a method that enabled him to retain even long sections of prose. After seeing Lithuanian Catholic prisoners fashion rosaries out of beads made from chewed bread, he asked them to make a similar chain for him, but with more beads. In his hands, each bead came to represent a passage that he would repeat to himself until he could say it without hesitation. Only then would he move on to the next bead. He later wrote that by the end of his prison term, he had committed to memory 12,000 lines in this way.”

And I can’t even memorize my own recipe for pesto sauce! Clearly I’ve lost quite a bit of gray matter since those Russian lit days.

Talking about all this Russian stuff makes me think of propaganda, which leads us to our last topic of the day: the Disney film Wall-E, which was very cute in a carbon foot print sort of way. This was Chiara’s very first movie in a theater. She was so adorable when she sat down in the aisle seat and asked if Wall-E would be coming past her chair. Clearly I should have explained the whole movie experience before we arrived at the theater.

I rarely go the movies, alone or with children, so this was a very big deal. It was actually part of a barter agreement. If Noah and Olivia could watch Chiara for me in the morning while I wrote a piece that is due this week, I would take them to the movies in the afternoon. After a bumpy start — about five minutes into their assignment — they managed to get on track and stay there. So we went over to the Spectrum, which is a small independent theater in Albany that I find much less intimidating than the super theaters at our local malls. Of course, I should have realized that if the Spectrum was playing a children’s movie it had to include a certain type of message.

Now I don’t want to hear from all the Wall-E fans (are there any Wall-E fans among the two of you who read this blog) about how I’m being unfair. Wall-E was cute. Eve was cute. But come on, it was a little much, don’t you think, what with all the allusions to Wal-Mart and fat Americans and lame presidents. Talk about hitting us over the heads. Fortunately, when I asked the kids if they got the message of the film, Noah simply said, “Don’t pollute.” No harm done, I guess, although, as Dennis pointed out when I explained the premise of the film, I’m sure Disney can find a way to get around their newfound disdain for gross overconsumption if it’s for, say, a lovable Wall-E doll or watch or lunch box. Somehow I have a feeling Disney owns quite a large chunk of America’s landfills, if we want to start pointing green fingers.

Chiara did great for the first hour of the film, sitting there in her little booster seat that I brought along. There were only two other people in the theater (see why I love the Spectrum), so it was a very relaxing little experiment, which she passed with flying colors. By the last 30 minutes, she was on my lap and fading fast but that wasn’t because she was being difficult. It was because she was overtired and because, quite frankly, I don’t think she could take any more messages — subliminal or overt — about saving the earth. I could have sworn I heard her cursing Al Gore under her breath at one point.

So there you have it folks. Stream of Consciousness Tuesday. Any rambling thoughts you’d like to share? Fire away.

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