The plain girl who thought she was kept away from all things pleasant and pretty because of a suspected hex cast on her was walking toward the setting sun sinking into the west end of the horizon, smearing the sky with scarlet halos. The sky was burning, burning with a day’s unfulfilled passion, aborted wishes, and ridiculed hopes until a moon and stars appeared from the west and calmed the fiery sky that was still ablaze with shattered dreams. The sky was her heart as though someone with magical power had been watching the poor, plain girl all along, or so she thought.
Nothing miraculous would happen to her by her futile onion alone unless a kindly immortal being made her life merry and worthy of living because the plain girl was heading to her death. So first, through the forest paths out into a field of flowers, then upon the hill overlooking the wavering ocean, she loved so much for its wild, untamable nature that resembled her own.
The moon was full and high now, and the world became alive with spirits and sprites rejoicing the serenity of the night and the silence of the day. The plain girl saw the souls of the dead at sea rise from the tidal waves and walk on the crest of waves toward the mysterious melodies coming from the west of the moon. They all looked enchanted, so she coveted the enchantment and followed the watery paths she believed would lead to meet the Fates and ask them to give her a new fate.
Who would have thought of it? The evening was alight with pillars of fire, and Washington was burning. The heart of the young republic streets was filled with a cacophony of screams, footsteps, and hollers as the king’s soldiers from the old country unfurled the British flag over the capital city. It was August 24th, 1814, thirty-eight years after the U.S. become a sovereign independent country from Great Britain.
The British invasion of Washington resulted from a combination of a longing to bring back its former colony and vengeance upon the former colony’s brazen-faced act of independence. The U.S. invaded the British territory of Canada in 1812, attacking the city of York, modern-day Toronto as well as Port Dover, which saw American troops destroy a large number of food supplies. However, thanks to the Canadian militia and the Native American forces, the U.S. attempt to take over British-ruled Canada flopped and only fueled the British fury for the imperious behaviors of the young country. To destabilize American power from within, the British supported the Native Americans, who continued to resist the U.S.’s westward expansion and impressed American merchant seamen to become crew on British ships, alluring them with better pay and higher career prospects. Moreover, the British could devote their time to the American affair when the war against France ended triumphantly, exiling the French leader Napoleon to St. Alba in 1814. So, it was ripe time for the British to march into the streets of the American capital city during the presidency of James Madison.
However, the British army was not altogether barbaric in ransacking civilian houses and burning historical and cultural artifacts like the Taliban. For example, the Taliban destroyed the ancient Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in 2001 that were incredible historical artifacts showing a spectacular combination of Indus and Hellenistic civilizations. The British didn’t harm the U.S. Patent Office, whose then-superintendent Dr. William Ornton’s plea for preserving the artifacts of humanity chimed the bell of the universal mind. They also didn’t set ablaze on civilian houses or buildings, except for the Capitol Building and the U.S. Treasury building. However, they did capture many of the valuable pictures and works of art, including the paintings of George III and Queen Charlotte from the President’s House (modern-day White House), later transported to Bermuda. How duplicitous it was to find the portraitures of the royalty from which Americans bled to gain independence owned by the American President’s House!
That might have become a great war between the two countries ended in the British retreat, thanks to the American blessing of untamed natural climate. An unexpected tornado pushed the British back to their ships and carried them back to their motherland, the Queen’s land. Come to think of it, America has been blessed with luck and timing, not to mention everlasting youth. Yet, this relatively unknown part of American history I have recently learned from a history magazine confirms that history is a series of vengeance on generations upon generations, as Herodotus observed. In that regard, the British burning of Washington reminds me of Julius Caesar’s burning of the library of Alexandria, the Greeks’ burning of Troy, and Nazi Germany’s burning of Paris. American is certainly no exception to the natural cycle of human history, invading and invaded, continuous in cycle and epicycle.
A team of scholars has recently reexamined a conch horn discovered around the Marsoulas Cave in southern France, the famous cave art site, and concluded that the conch was more than just an ornamental artifact used for a drinking vessel or any other trivial purpose in Upper Paleolithic Age, aka Old Stone Age, dating from around 17,000 to 12,000 years ago. It was an age when Cro-Magnons, a Homo Sapiens nomadic tribe in western Europe, emerged as formidable hunter-gatherers of reindeers and horses from a new cold and gray prehistoric horizon in the dawn of the ages of man. They were Magdalenian, named after a rock shelter located in the French Pyrenees where the artifacts and human remains were discovered. They left the prehistoric legacy in the form of the Magdalenian conch.
By using a carbon dating system and other state-of-art scientific apparatuses, the scholars posited that the conch horn was a musical instrument to enjoy the prehistoric Magdalenian symphony in the cave. The cause of reason for the hypothesis is a purposefully cut-off apex of the conch horn as if to adjust for blowing and making sounds. In fact, a modern music player tried playing it at its initial discovery and found out that the tunes were ranged close to the notes of C, C Sharp, and D, making it the oldest wind instrument of its kind to this date. Moreover, the conch patterns were similar to those appearing in the pictures of cave walls, which scholars deduced that they were significant in denoting cultural functions in the communes.
However, although the connections between the cave art and the conch horn are intelligent hypotheses, the idea of the conch as a musical instrument doesn’t quite hold water to me. First of all, the image of a conch horn always conjures up the dystopian vision of the boys in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. In the story, boys blow the conch whenever they convoke meetings, which usually spring from sinister motives resulting in gloomy consequences. Also, the god of sea Poseidon blows a conch when he heralds his formidable divine presence, shaking the waves of the oceans. The use of the conch was to be more of notification of alarm for political or social events, not of a musical instrument for cultural appreciation. Besides, as aforesaid, a conch is often associated with the sea, unfittingly matched with hunter-gatherers in the mountain or sea-locked regions. Although scholars pointed out that the Magdalenian could travel to the shore and brought a conch as a souvenir, using it as a pastime wind instrument is a bit of stretch, a romantic imagination about the cave people differentiated from ruthless, animalistic, highly advanced kinds of ape.
If the scholars’ educated guess becomes a theory, then the Magdalenian conch horn will be entitled to the first place in the history of musical instruments. But considering the geographical reason and natural tendency related to a conch shell drawn upon historical and literary contexts, the Magdalenian conch shell must have been either a curiously collected souvenir from a trip to the shore or a valuable instrument to call upon meetings in the communes. Also, it could have been a convenient alarm to indicate a sight of animals for a hunt or protection. For melodious variations pleasing even to uncultured ears, the sounds of strings made from the leftovers of hunted animals hung on pieces of wood would be perfect for their hunter-gatherer entertainment.
St. Frances de Sales’s advice, “Have patience with all things but first with yourself.” is no more so than with the three weeks’ heartbreaking ordeal to win back my cat Toro’s trust in me. His traumatic visit to the veterinarian now seems to dissipate across the feline Elysium slowly, or so I want to think. He is not hiding under the bed in my presence, becoming a sweet writing company on my desk once more.
I have recently watched a YouTube that goes viral about an unlikely friendship between a stray cat and a young woman, which makes me think of my relationship with Toro and what it means to build trust between two lives. The woman found a stray tabby cat around her house and began to acquaint him with food. She named him “Tiger,” not least due to his perspicacious tiger stripes and adorable feistiness, giving him a distinct personality and charms that were all the more endearing to the sensitive woman who was also in need of company in her solitude.
Thenceforth, they became complementary to each other for consolation, security, and most of all, love. Tiger is still his feisty self, and the woman is still trying to adjust herself to his whims and caprice. Still, they feel comfortable in their presence and love. The tears welled in the windows of her soul when she said that building trust between two took time and patience. You can’t make someone love you arbitrarily by force. You don’t need a love spell or magic potion to enslave someone into your desire of possessing the body and mind, as the ancient Greeks and Romans used to. Without Psyche, Eros would not/could not have culminated in perfecting the art of love as a primordial god of Love.
Toro is in some way like Tiger: his name means a little tiger in Japanese with his distinctive stripes, and M signature proudly marked on his little forehead. Although not as feisty as Tiger, Toro has a remarkable personality of adventurousness, curiosity, playfulness, and resilience, all affectionately wrapped in his good nature. But I don’t take for granted that wonderful Toro is my cat, and therefore, I deserve his trust and love. Animals, especially pets, also have hearts that pump up the blood and feel the feelings. I regard them as friends, companions to enrich our existential human lives with a touch of sentimentality that we hardly express when we are among our species in fear of being regarded as a sign of weakness. And I am always thrilled to feel his little heart at my feet as a friend.
When my eleven-months old cat Toro started drooling in white foams last Wednesday evening after swallowing a tiny flying insect in my bedroom, I was in a panic. I called nearby emergencies, describing the state Toro was in, but they told me his symptoms were not regarded as critical. Instead, they told me to monitor him, so I did. He stopped drooling the next day and drank a lot of water. Nevertheless, my concern was still growing, doubled with regret that Toro should have met an owner in a vast, spacious home with that which would make him happy. The pang of grief punctuated my already broken heart, and I was distraught.
Luckily, a vet to whom I had previously taken Toro for his difficulty in excreting in Little Tokyo said she could see Toro on Saturday morning. The waiting period until the appointment was an ordeal by the torture of the heart. My spirit was sunk in a sea of sadness, blaming myself for not providing Toro the optimum environment to thrive in his best feline nature. The bedroom is so tiny that it is more of a den, and the living room where my elderly infirm mother spends most of the day intermittently is off-limit to Toro by keeping him alone during the day when I am working. My evening playing with him might probably bore him to death because my lack of creativity fails to invent more stimulating kinds of play that will perk up his energy. I cannot help but think that I am becoming a bane of Toro’s existence, the cause of his unhappiness.
To pour lead on my open wound in the heart, when I finally took Toro to the vet on Saturday, she diagnosed him with idiopathic cystitis. She showed me a scanned copy of Toro’s mildly swollen bladders with information on the illness caused by stress. That’s it. The diagnosis realized my imagination and shattered a slim hope of something other than STRESS. I see all the cares I had given to Toro as best as I could beyond my measure by taking him to vets and telling him how much I loved him as much as I could dissipate into the elusive dreams of my little happiness with Toro. My happy moments with Toro vanished into yesterdays, bidding farewells to tomorrows.
It’s been a week since the diagnosis, and now Toro has changed. Toro now hides under the bed, doesn’t come up to my bed, and avoids me when I am home. Besides, he doesn’t eat as much as he used to, about which the vet told me to be patient because that could be the effect of changing his prescriptive diet from gastrointestinal to urinary care. What is strange about his sudden change of behaviors is that he was never like this from his previous visits to vets. Come what may, Toro seems to be unhappy, and I am very downtrodden for his changed behavior. He was the only one who showed me his affection.
I still remember his adorable, curious big eyes peeping out of an opening from a box carrier when I brought him from Ventura Animal Shelter last August at the age of nine weeks. Purring and kneading are long gone. My reason suggests that re-homing Toro is the best I can do for his happiness, yet my heart tells me not to listen to it and look for another place for a better living environment. Nevertheless, I yield to my heart’s voice and want to believe that there is still hope for us to be happy in a better living condition. I hope to see mirth wonton around us and happiness sparkle before our very eyes soon.