Tales of Terror for Tiny Tots

I bought 9-Year Old Daughter a box set of classic paperbacks packaged by Wordsworth Classics. Peter Pan. Treasure Island. The Wizard of Oz. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. The usual suspects.

I was complaining that I was out of reading material so she went up to her room and came down with a book from that set. English Fairy Tales. She knows I’m an old Anglophile and I’m always pushing books under her nose so turnabout is fair play. Besides, the illustrations were by Arthur Rackham and I’ve always admired his work.


For the love of GOD what are you British people feeding your children!? These are not at all like the delicate, sanitized fables that I’ve been reading to my poor young innocents all these years. It’s basically the same story over and over. Male royalty discovers downtrodden female commoner, falls in love and marries her. It’s Cinderella over and over and over, but with acts of extreme violence and cruelty. To wit.

This is from Mr. Fox, the tale of a beautiful young maiden (They’re always young and beautiful unless they are a “witch-woman” in which case they’re old and ugly.) who discovers a secret about the man she is soon to marry. While exploring the castle she discovers…

Why! a wide saloon lit with many candles, and all round it, some hanging by their necks, some seated on chairs, some lying on the floor, were the skeletons and bodies of numbers of beautiful young maidens in their wedding-dresses that were all stained with blood.

In Babes in the Woods, a three-year old boy and his younger sister are abandoned in the woods by a mean uncle. Is there a fairy tale happy ending? Nay.

Thus wandered these poor innocents,
Till death did end their grief;
In one another’s arms they died,
As wanting due relief:
No burial this pretty pair
From any man receives,
Till Robin Readbreast piously
Did cover them with leaves.

The Red Ettin is a fearsome creature who…

…stole King Malcom’s daughter, The King of Scotland. He beats her, he binds her, He lays her on a band; And every day he strikes her With a bright silver wand.

The Fish and the Ring is (yet another) fable of a parent who unwittingly entrusts their child to the tender mercies of a cruel adult.

Well! the man he nigh jumped for joy, since he was to get good money, and his daughter, so he thought, a good home. Therefore he brought out the child then and there and the Barron, wrapping the babe in his cloak, rode away. But when he got to the river he flung the little thing into the swollen stream and said to himself as he galloped back to his castle: ‘There goes fate!

In Molly Whuppie and the Double-Faced Giant, the giant is cheated out of his own riches by a conniving young man, and is tricked in a most heinous way:

For in the very middle of the night, when everybody else was dead asleep, and it was pitch dark, in comes the giant, all stealthy, feels for the straw chains, twists theme tight round the wearers’ necks, half strangles his daughters, drags them on to the floor, and beats them till are quite dead.

The Little Red Riding Hood of my youth always ended with the hunter slaying the wolf. Not in the original English version:

‘All the better to eat you with, my dear!’ says that wicked, wicked wolf, and with that he gobbled up little Red Riding Hood.

The end.

I have a vague recollection of Disney making a movie out of the classic Tom Thumb. I don’t recall how the movie ends, but I’m willing to bet it didn’t end the way the original story did:

Thus Tom was once more in favour; but he did not live long to enjoy his good luck, for a spider one day attacked him, and though he fought well, the creature’s poisonous breath proved too much for him; he fell dead on the ground where he stood, and the spider soon sucked every drop of his blood.

The Rose Tree borrows a page from Sweeney Todd. Or perhaps it’s the other way around.

And the child did as she was bid without fear; and lo! the beautiful little golden head was off in a second, by one blow of the axe. Because she was a wicked witch-woman, knowing spells and charms, she took out the heart of the little girl and make it into two savoury pasties, one for her husband’s breakfast and one for the little boy’s.

The English might be a bunch of crazies, but I still wish I was one of them.

Two sides of the same NYC coin

I just came from Lincoln Center where I saw a piano recital. I know most people would find that to be a big bore-fest of an evening but that stuff feeds my needs. The program included Bach’s Tocatta and the beautiful Six Moments Musicaux by Rachmaninoff. The pianist was Xiayin Wang and, oh Sweet Mother of Jesus, what a performance! Do you realize the level of musicianship someone needs to attain in order to play at Alice Tully Hall? It takes a superhuman, almost mystical capability. You have to be, quite literally, among the best in the world.

They completed a major renovation of Alice Tully Hall just two years ago. The concert hall itself is a work of art. It’s all soft angles and perfect acoustics and warm wood and full sound. And it’s super-comfortable, to boot. I was sitting on the side balcony, which is the perfect view to watch her fingers dance across the keyboard.


The program had this to say about Bach’s Tocatta:

The intervening slow passage raises questions of its own in its harmonic circling, and has to deal with an early crisis in the form of an extraordinary diminished-seventh tremulation.


What a bunch of pretentious gobbledygook. They could just as well have written this:

Gpungh elwengh crothzen leumbh geewee goygoy fungsell weveweve neng.

# # #

The day before I was bathed in Lincoln Center splendor, I passed this on Varick Street in Soho on the way to work:

 20photo(2)201401Yeah, vermin proof if the lid is on. What kind of twisted city ordinance requires that the garbage bins that are vermin proof need to be labeled as such? Vermin can’t read. I like the lettering. It looks like the cover of a death-metal CD. I am happy to report that I saw this near the Trump Soho Hotel. Make of that what you will.

Since I work on the third floor, I don’t bother with the elevator. I take the stairs up. Right after I saw vermin-proof, I bumped into this little fella right around the second floor:


It looks like someone mushed his little head. They call these “water bugs” but that just a pleasant name for a BIG cockroach. I should have put a coin next to him to give you a sense of scale. He’s a bit larger than your thumb.

New York. You gotta take the world-class pianists with the vermin.

Head on a stick

Ai Weiwei is a contemporary Chinese artist. He helped design the “bird’s nest” stadium for the Chinese Olympics and recently had an exhibit at the Tate Modern in London where he covered the turbine hall floor with sunflower seeds that were made from porcelain.

He is currently sitting in a jail cell in China. (No one knows exactly where.) He was snatched as he boarded a flight to Hong Kong. The government said he has committed “economic crimes.” I don’t suppose his detention has anything to do with his outspokenness, does it? China is a terrible, terrible place. They’re not our friends.

A fantastic sculpture exhibit by Mr. Ai, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, just opened outside of the Plaza Hotel at Central Park South and 59th Street. The exhibit was long planned and he was supposed to be there for the opening, but it’s hard to attend your opening when your legs are in shackles.

The bronze sculptures are 12 heads of the creatures of the Chinese zodiac. They’re much, much bigger than I thought they’d be. I was told by the guy selling exhibit books and tee-shirts that they weigh 800 pounds each!

There’s rat, ox, tiger…

…rabbit, dragon, snake…

…horse, goat, monkey…

…and rooster, dog, boar.

Dragon is, by far, the most beautifully rendered. Click on this and have a look.

The heads are replicas of versions that were made by European Jesuits for the Manchu emperor Qianlong. They were looted in 1860 when the Summer Palace was ransacked and burned by British and French troops during the Opium Wars. The Chinese government eventually retrieved five of them (ox, tiger, horse, monkey and boar). Two of them (rat and rabbit) are part of designer Yves Saint Laurent’s art collection. The remaining five are presumed lost forever.

Unlike Mr. Ai, the exhibit is FREE! FREE! FREE! It runs through July 15th.