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and good wishes to all!

I've been working for the last few hours, then came downstairs and saw that the old-fashioned art deco clock on the mantelpiece said seven minutes after midnight, on Christmas Eve morning; and I suddenly felt the magic I used to feel at this time. I took the dogs out for their walk, and there was barely any wind; the world in solemn stillness lay. We walked to the first curve on the hill, where I could see the dark hills, the dark sky, and the lights in houses here and there.

I was particularly glad, because two nights ago I took the dogs out, and when we were at that very curve, the furthest point from home, I heard an unsettling animal sound. The alphabet provides poor resources for conveying such things, but if I had to, I'd write it as "BOWWWWW-OH!" Now, I've often listened to coyote packs howling nearby, and though they concern me, I haven't heard of any local coyotes attacking humans. The hope is always that I can scoop up Gracie in time and hold onto Harry's leash long enough to get home. The unsettling thing about this particular cry was not just that I couldn't identify the animal -- ("It's not a dog... it doesn't sound exactly like a coyote... could this be what a mountain lion sounds like?") -- it was the aggression packed into it. It sent the message "I'm looking for a fight." I can't explain why, but the second I heard it -- coming from somewhere down the slope to the northwest -- I looked at Harry and Gracie and said, "We're going home." Harry paused long enough to take care of business, looking at me with uncertain eyes; and the strange baying came again, this time from just down the road. I turned and ran. I ran all the way to my gate, holding a leash in each hand, up the last part of the Hill of Verticality, puffing and gasping and thinking that it probably wasn't the best idea for a 56-year-old out-of-condition woman to do this. But in all my walks with the dogs, I count on the fact that animals are reluctant to attack humans. If whatever-this-was was genuinely aggressive, I had no plan.

I never heard that cry before, and I haven't heard it since. But I was ready to appreciate tonight's gentle stillness, and couldn't help thinking of the lines:

And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallowed and so gracious is the time.

Tonight's peace was also a fine ending to a somewhat chaotic evening. I'm embroiled in Phase 2 of a project and am committed to turning it in on Christmas; that means I need every bit of time. Today I took the dogs out in the afternoon to enjoy a few minutes of Dog Hour (when the neighbors go out with their dogs into the cul-de-sac and throw balls). A new couple just bought a house nearby and are having it renovated before they move in. The husband, Kevin, drove over and got out of his car to see how the workmen were doing. He was carrying a pit bull puppy in his arms. Of course, we told him he fit right in, but he said the puppy wasn't his -- that he'd found him loose at the bottom of the hill.

Well, we are all dog people here. I told him I could take the dog for the night -- I have provisions, and the owner was most likely nearby. Another neighbor immediately took a picture with her cellphone and went back to her house to print up flyers. A third neighbor got into her car and drove down the hill to inquire of people at the bottom if they had an idea who might own the dog.

Though I love the magic of Christmas, I am not a believer, and this time I thought of the words of "the Great Agnostic," Robert Ingersoll: "The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so."

Much of my evening was spent reconciling Harry and Gracie to the newcomer, and petting and soothing said newcomer. Rather to my surprise, though he was only here a few hours, I discovered that when you have three dogs in the house it is better to address each by a name. I called him Blue. And he answered to that! I was freaked and amazed by how easy it is to convey the meaning of "name." Eventually he settled down on the cushion under my desk and gnawed a rope bone as I worked.

Sometime around nine I got a call from Kevin, saying the owner of the dog had called him. At ten the owner came by with a bottle of blueberry-flavored vodka and best Christmas wishes. I invited him inside and we talked about dogs for a while; then he took "Blue" -- he'd only had him for a week! -- and the rope bone, Blue's Christmas present, and went off into the night.

And then I went back to work. This project has kept me ridiculously occupied. At the beginning of December I was trying to finish Phase 1 and hand it in; and meanwhile was getting closer and closer to a long-planned trip to Long Beach to spend two nights on the Queen Mary, that temple of art deco history. I left for Long Beach much later than I planned, and finally had to write to the person expecting my work that I would have to continue it on board the Queen Mary. He wrote back that he'd told others they could expect the work today. I trumped his card, emailing in reply that my ride was here and my suitcase was being loaded into the car. He then trumped me, saying, "Can you work in the car on the way? Since you'll have a driver."

For the next two days on the Queen Mary, my friend and I would randomly say, "Can you type in the car?" and burst into dark laughter.

Incidentally, while there, I fell head over heels for an amazing old cross-sectional illustration of the Queen Mary, clearly drawn to the aesthetics of the time. It was huge and magnificent, and I had to take dozens of photos to get it in. I only wish the center part of it were lit better -- I really don't think this art is properly valued, even by the people running the ship. But maybe I'm the only one to feel its delight.

Here's the merest taste:


For anyone who might care, here's the gateway page to the sets of shots I took of the cross-section -- wide-angle, mid-range, and close-ups (note you can click on these pictures to make them bigger):


Soon after arriving, my friend and I had noted there wasn't a great deal of room for luggage in the staterooms, and considering that people in those days must have meant business when they traveled between the US and Europe -- you wouldn't spend a fortune on a five-day voyage just to stay for a weekend -- there must have been heaps of luggage. Trunks and things. I said, "Probably they had you take out the clothes you'd wear on the voyage and then they put the rest in storage." As we examined the cross-sectional picture, I pointed and said, "Look! It's the luggage storage!" And there it was, suitcases jammed from floor to ceiling. (There's also the level where the grand old automobiles were stored, and the first-class and tourist-class swimming pools, and the three-story dining room... how could anyone not love this picture?)

And here are photos of the Queen Mary's art deco brilliance, including my stateroom:


Consider them my Christmas present! And to all a good night.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 24th, 2011 11:53 am (UTC)
Wow, you really have had a lot happen the last few days!

You did the right thing taking the dogs and running when you heard the howl. You really can't count on a wild animal not attacking. Even if it didn't go after you, it might go after Harry and Grace. Beating feet was the only way to go.

Good luck on your project. It sounds very interesting!

Merry Christmas!
Dec. 25th, 2011 02:06 am (UTC)
Merry Christmas to you! Another beautiful still night here in LA... let's hope there are no Baskerville Hounds out there.
Dec. 24th, 2011 04:29 pm (UTC)
Those are wonderful photos of the Queen Mary cross-section; I had never imagined a depiction like that, other than blueprints.

Your description of the early morning un-encounter is eerie.

Also, work trumpage oneupmanship made me smile.

Merry Christmas!
Dec. 25th, 2011 02:06 am (UTC)
Merry Christmas!
Jan. 3rd, 2012 09:06 pm (UTC)
It's all go with you!

That howling noise would have seriously unnerved me. I'm glad you and the pooches decided to exit stage left. It was probably perfectly safe, but I wouldn't have stuck around to find out!

Your neighbours sound like a really nice bunch of people.

The cross-sections of the ship are wonderful. Thank you for posting them.

Wishing you all the best with the project, and happy new year, too.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )