Sunday, October 22, 2006


Walking into the hotel lobby this morning to take advantage of the complimentary breakfast, I vaguely noted, in the sense that I barely noticed what everyone else would find glaringly obvious, the place was full of people wearing black, and it was deathly quiet.

Later, immersed in the paper, and wrestling with one of those muffins that lies somewhere near the roots of our obesity epidemic, the otherwise funereal stillness was punctated by laughter. More quiet. More laughter. Then a more protracted expanse of quiet, followed by even more laughter.

Which, when the rest of the obvious finally hit home, is what you get when a room full of deaf people are signing jokes. Perhaps even at my expense, intolerantly poking fun the deafness impaired.

Shortly thereafter, one of the men decided to engage me in some conversation. At first I was a bit discomfited, and not only because I had to drag myself away from the paper.

Conversation? With actual strangers? That seems a bit, well, extreme.

Reasonably quickly, though, I gathered he was probably practicing his spoken English, much as an eager foreigner might want to practice his second language skills.

So, and I'm sure this comes as no surprise to anyone, I did what all Americans do: I replied slowly and loudly. Only, since volume would be entirely wasted here, I substituted exaggerated lip movements. I probably looked like one of those carnival gold fish three days after it gets home, and about nine hours before it is floating belly up in the loo.

After answering his opening questions, I gamely held up my end of the conversation, asking "So, what brings you to this neck of the woods?"

"Oh, we are a choir."


Blogger Brit said...

"Oh, we are a choir."

It's this sort of thing.

The Brit matriarch was a teacher of the deaf and is involved in similar events. It's really quite impressive when you see it. 'Dance troupe' would be inappropriate, so it's 'choir'.

Re: breakfast, I've never understood how you yanks manage to swallow muffins and other sweeties first thing.

You should have something light and bacon, sausage, fried bread, scrambled eggs, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms and black pudding.

October 23, 2006 1:56 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

I've had the very bizarre experience of being royally chewed out in sign language, complete with an interpreter. I do some pro bono work for a disabled support group. We give a few free hours, but a common, frustrating problem is that many are tied up in huge bureaucratic fights for some kind of benefits that have gone on for years and they now have huge complicated files. The bureaucrats have dug in and the disabled are now convinced their case represents an important constitutional and human rights precedent any lawyer would be lucky to have the chance to pursue full time forever for free. I had to tell this very embittered deaf guy that I had gone as far as I could go without some monetary support. He was not pleased and did I ever "hear" about it.

This whole issue throws me bigtime. On the one hand the cranky curmudgeon in me wonders how much special celebrating we should do and how many resources and expensive laws we should invest in overcoming disability (and how many unreasonable expectations we will put on them as a result), especially when I see twenty unoccupied handicapped parking spots in an otherwise full lot. But I saw the other side a few times over the past couple of winters and it blew me away completely.

Our local ski-hill has a couple of Saturdays every year where the disabled get together to ski with special instructors. It is astounding the contraptions that have been built to give the lame, the limbless and even the blind access to this sport one hardly associates with disability. There is a very strict etiquette --everyone talks about how "great" it is and no one dares admit impatience at choked tow lines (they get priority) or trying to avoid taking one of them out on the hills. Many of them look so out of place and like they would rather be anywhere else. Also, humour is verboten, even though there is lots of fodder for it (A ski instuctor overheard saying to two parapalegics skiing in specially designed chairs: "OK, this week we're going to work on our upper bodies."). OTOH, I was moved to tears when I watched the whole crazy scene across the hill and contemplated the thousands and thousands of hours of time donated to working with these kids, designing amazing equipment, etc.

Then one Saturday last year they held the national championships for the disabled at the hill. I stood at the bottom of the hill watching these armless and legless kids from all across Canada race. It looked just like regular Olympic trials. It was the most mind-blowing, moving thing I've ever seen and I would never have believed it had I not been there. It was enough to make the most hardened Duckian believe in miracles.

October 23, 2006 5:54 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

And kidneys, ummm, kidneys

October 23, 2006 9:55 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Since devilled kidneys are indeed devilishly good, I'm just going to read Harry's appreciation of them at face value and assume there's no sarcasm intended...

...But on the subject of delicious internal organs, as you Duckians are all Joyce-ignoramuses as well as soccer-ignoramuses, you won't remember his introduction of Bloom in Chapter 4 of Ulysses:

Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods' roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.


October 24, 2006 1:06 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Although I cannot get them in Hawaii, I relish a broiled veal kidney.

All that other stuff, too, though I notice Bloom does not go for hog maws. Me neither.

One way to fit in to a culture that you are obviously not an original member of is to enjoy its food. Unlike some haoles (whites), I get along pretty good with locals. Part of the reason is that I am known as 'the haole who eats tripe.'

Ummm, tripe.

It works both ways. Field Marshal Sir John Dill is buried in Arlington National Cemetery (as is, surprisingly, Orde Wingate). He was much admired at the Pentagon, not least because he stooped to eating corn flakes for breakfast.

October 24, 2006 11:22 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Harry - you should definitely do a gastronomic tour of the British Isles (an inexplicably unpopular pastime).

In Ireland you get white pudding as well as black with your breakfast.

But the Welsh really push the boundaries, adding cockles and laverbread (just listen to the recipe: "The seaweed is boiled for several hours: the gelatinous paste that results is then rolled in oatmeal and fried...")

October 25, 2006 2:33 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Should you visit Hawaii, we will offer our patented Innards of the Islands tour, featuring:

-- Loko stew from Ah Fook's Market. (Yes, that's really its name.) Loko is the pluck of a pig, plus the chitlins.

-- Ake maka. Sliced raw liver. This is a somewhat mysterious dish. The Hawaiians didn't have any animals with livers except dogs and chickens. According to 'The Last Kings of Thule,' dog liver is poisonous.

-- And, for the piece de resistance, a stop at Asian Sports Bar & Grill for Korean intestine stew, which is, basically, chitlins boiled in kim chee. It's not on the menu, but it can be arranged.

October 27, 2006 11:18 AM  

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