Tag Archives: Michigan State University

The Geneva Conversation

(C) 2015 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved

Quick Notes:   The Geneva store is now located on the second floor of the Centro Comercial Atlantis, in Bogotá–L-209-2A.  Jorge Rodríguez, the young man with whom I spoke, is now teaching in one of the District’s schools.

The following is about an experience I had in a store in the Atlantis Mall, here in Bogotá, in April 2015.

Went crazy for a while in a new store at Atlantis. Not horribly. Just tossed aside everything that bothersO/angers me and wrapped myself in music. . .

I was on my way to Samsung to pick up my phone ($15,000 pesos to tell me the display doesn’t work (I knew that) and $65,000 pesos to replace it; I said no to both; phone worked anyway). I got off TransMilenio at Héroes and walked to Atlantis specifically to use their ladies’ room. But saw Geneva Lab’s windows (went in Atlantis’s “back doors”) and four large framed photos of “rock legends” (Lennon, Janis Joplin, Hendrix and F. Mercury). All bad digital copies, I discovered. Up close, Freddie’s arm was a weird brocade pattern. Need I say more? (Yeah–someone really does not understand how to do a good scan and print of an ISO 400 b&w negative!!!)

I digress.

So anyway–

Ostensibly, I went in to the store to look at the prints more closely.

Spiritually, I needed the music and my OSC book and stuff like that. Heavy-duty symphonic.

I was clear that I could not buy anything, but the sound system looked interesting (very 50s, but not exactly retro). There was no one coming, it was noonish and lunch crowds moved blindly past the red-painted showroom. (Cadmium red with black floor, white ceiling and white couch.)

The salesman, Jorge Rodríguez, was a really nice and helpful young man. Offered to demonstrate the large white slab (on metal legs) in a corner, glistening like new plastic. (In fact, the finish is actually 8 coats of natural lacquer, polished between each application; also comes in black.) This thing is connected to an iMac desk computer (21″ monitor) in a nearby corner. I said great, and requested Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2.”

The whole demo turned into a class on classical music, taught by me, in Spanish. (I can hear friends laughing about this. Don’t blame them.)

But first–the first playback system was Youtube, which very clearly can not handle the sound requirements of a full symphony orchestra. Within a few bars, I said no, this is too compressed.

The young man instantly switched to iTunes and I was surprised at the difference. iTunes could reproduce all the sound and distribute it as it was recorded (and engineered), so we continued with that.

Jorge could not find the concerto, but did lock onto the waltz from Act II of Swan Lake and turned up the volume. Much much better.

We did more Tchaikovsky and then I requested Wagner. I wanted the overture to the Ring Cycle, but Jorge couldn’t find it in “Essential Wagner.” (The Ring Cycle is not essential but Meisterssingers is!?)

But since I have the OSC playing Meisterssingers on tape (okay, bootleg edition; mine), I just shut up and listened. And suddenly, I was conducting it, with small movements of my left hand.

Completely surprised myself.

From there to a long discourse on Elvis, the Supremes, Barry Gordy, Jerry Lee Lewis, changes in US society as reflected in pop music and so on. This also included what  I listened to growing up–Bach at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church played on the immense pipe organ; the technical changes in sound reproduction (the Geneva system reverts BACK to old stereo–1 tweeter, 1 woofer in 1 cabinet); my father playing piano in the Music Room at 720* and realizing hehad grown up playing in a room designed especially for the pipe organ built into the western wall of his grandparents’ house; the piano and evening recitals also held there, given by professors from Michigan State’s College of Music; the acoustics of the junior high school; being in choirs; and having an aunt with pitch perfect hearing who played the organ as well.

And again, suddenly, I was breathless.

I grew up with music. It talks to me, feeds me, keeps me alive. The OSC book encompasses me, as a part of who I am and how I am formed and live and react.

But in the meantime–

The salesman at Geneva suggested I write a blog essay about changes in sound systems, the evolution of record players and recordings–from monophonic to mini-components and home theater and now, back to the original stereo with the Geneva system. I should do it as I have experienced them and how they reflected their social periods (socio-historical periods). Good idea. See Part II.

But other parts of the conversation at Geneva remain with me. For example–

Hitler liked Wagner because both were anti-Semitic, because Wagner’s storylines were nationalistic and because the music was and is uplifting.

But Hitler would never have seen or understood the social commentary latent in those same storylines, especially in the Ring Cycle (e.g., Siegried and Götterdämmerung). It’s pretty clear that Wagner wanted to keep women under fairly strict control (Brunnhilde, Isolde), so the question is, What was it about women that frightened Wagner? Hm. . .m. . .?

I mentioned to Jorge that  King Ludwig II of Bavaria was a patron of Wagner’s, as well as a kind of “swan fan.” He had a passion for swans and was pretty much (pretty closely) certifiably crazy (but not dangerous).

Wagner, on the other hand, was an over-the-top composer recognized as a genius.

The question(s) become(s)–how much of Ludwig’s “way out there” ideas or theories or fantasies were incorporated into Wagner’s work (in music or plotlines)? How free-wheeling would have been these conversations as they walked around Ludwig’s private parklands? How and where did Wagner incorporate the ideas or how was he inspired by these conversations? And finally (old question)–what separates Wagner’s genius from Ludwig’s insanity? (Possible answer:  Wagner kept control of his mind (able to exercise mental and emotional discipline and channel his energies into his work), while Ludwig could not, for various reasons. Also, the king was more or less straitjacketed by formal rites and expectations, while Wagner was not.)

Meanwhile–FF–the social impact of Elvis and other early rockers, as well as their musical impact, seem to remain difficult to explain or incorporate. Although Scott Joplin was a serious composer whose main body of work is still seen as pop, he should be included because ragtime was an early crossover from black audiences to white. Later on, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, as examples, were men with clear talent but little education. They were indeed charismatic and inventive–whorehouse and honky-tonk music mixed with gospel and revival theatrics was presented to contemporary and educated white audiences, who were young and eager to have something different from their parents’ tastes. At the same time, church-going was still the norm, which meant exposure on a large scale to dead composers (Bach et al) and live “concerts” such as gospel choirs on Sundays.

Barry Gordy’s genius with Tamla/Motown was more than finding talented singers and songwriters. He took the singers to Detroit’s best stores for up-to-date clothing and hair styles. Diana Ross and the Supremes and I went to Saks Fifth Avenue and Jacobson’s of Michigan. Even my mother could tell you in which department of which store Miss Ross got the dress she wore on The Ed Sullivan Show or American Bandstand. I probably had one like it in my closet (different sizes, though). This dropped racial barriers faster than anything else, at least in the North. The southern states were still having problems, 100 years after the Civil War.

All this from about an hour and a half of conversation with a stranger concerning music, which is clearly more important to me than I had realized. Thank you for your time and interest, Jorge Rodríguez!

And also thank you to César, for the inspiration. Please feel free to tell me where I made mistakes in this piece, okay?

*”720″–My great-grandparents built a mansion in 1905 in Lansing, Michigan, whose address was 720 South Washington Avenue. Their daughter–my grandmother–inherited it in 1950, after their deaths. My brother, sisters, cousins and I grew up calling it simply “720” (seven-twenty). It was torn down in 1963 by the State of Michigan to make room for an expressway, even though land for the expressway was available one block to the south.

(C) 2015 by Metta Anderson. All Rights Reserved.


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Another Saturday

(C) 2015 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved 

It’s cold, overcast and starting to drizzle. I’m listening to the Beatles and singing along with most of the lyrics. It’s Saturday afternoon in Bogotá.

In. . . hm…m… m… 1967? Maybe.


Actually, 7 March 2015. Yes, I can remember the lyrics because I bought the records and played them endlessly–as did the rest of my generation–and learned the lyrics because they were included somewhere on the album. Sometimes on the back of the album, but more often on the inside sleeve holding the record. In the case of Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club,”  it came out in July 1967. I was in the US because my brother REO was getting married that month and I was going to be a bridesmaid. I bought the LP at the Disc Shop, next to Kewpie’s on Grand River Ave., in East Lansing, and across the street from the MSU campus. Took the record home to my parents’ house and played it, as much as possible. In this case, a lot, really a lot, because my mother and stepfather liked the Beatles, too. My stepfather, in fact, had studied clarinet and was in his high school’s marching band. My mother had studied violin. (And I studied piano and sang in choirs.) REO liked the Beatles, later more drawn to the Rolling Stones and these days, streams The Grateful Dead on his Jeep’s sound system. Whatever blows your hair back, as one of my art teachers used to say.

What fascinated me today, listening to the Beatles on headphones connected to my celular, was how exceptional was their playing. It sounds relatively simple, considering how it was recorded in the Sixties, but  up close, with digital reproduction. . . WOW! Damn good pickin’ there, George! (For those who aren’t familiar with basic rock set-ups in the Sixties, and the Beatles–John was lead guitar, Paul was bass, George was melody guitar and Ringo was drums. Classically stated–John was first violin, George was second; Paul was either viola or cello (depending on the composition) and Ringo was percussion. Some things do not change.) I know I’ve  listened to the Beatles and other British groups from the period hundreds of times in a lot of  moods and using a lot of different equipment. With the Beatles–bought the LP in the US, played it on a German-made stereo in my apartment in Bogotá; said stereo was purchased at Sears (the store) in 1966, and was state-of-the-art at the time. I’d sit on the floor and sing along. The music was on when friends dropped by (kept the volume down, of course). It was on when I wasn’t home in order to keep my dog Mariposa company. (The radio, not the stereo.) These days, I tend to listen to classical music and opera, but the music is on just the same. But the question becomes–why do we keep listening to this? Why does it still sound so G-O-O-D!?!?!?

Personally, I think it’s because, until very recently, musicians and other artists really cared about their craft. No offense, but what is Beyoncé’s craft, exactly–shakin’ her booty in front of a bunch of drunk horny guys? Lying to younger women that her bump-and-grind is a liberation for women? (Really? Is that why Salomé danced?) Craft is caring about what you do and  how you do it. It’s why people outside the arts consider all artists (regardless of medium) whiny prima donnas. The Beatles cared a great deal about what they did and then had the truly great good fortune to work with a man whose musical experience included producing classical music albums, especially Baroque. His name was George Martin. Other  rockers from the Sixties (Zeppelin comes to mind, and then Queen in the late Seventies) cared just as much and–like the Beatles–it still shows. I’ve seen the Beatles and Queen live in concert and their perfectionism carries over onto the stage. The tickets were worth the price. And you know what? Their lyrics were good–not offensive nor insulting nor threatening. These days, groups like these find themselves categorized as “Christian” or are considered so bland they don’t even get contracts or air time. The American group Iron Butterfly would still be playing in dives and bars today, their classic 17-minute piece Inna-gadda-da-vida virtually unknown. (Look it up on Google! The composer was the son of an organist at a Lutheran church in the Midwest. You can hear Bach in it.)

So there we were on the Eje Ambiental this afternoon, Friday and Fabiana and me, in the light drizzle forming little rings on the surface of the Río San Francisco,  TransMilenio buses rumbling by, and I was singing along to the Beatles. I know I wasn’t singing very loudly because no one paid attention to us (fortunately; my voice isn’t all that good any more). But that music sounded as good this afternoon as it did in  the Sixties when I first heard it and first bought the LPs. Javeriana Stereo is right on this point–this music has become classic, not  because of its age, but because of the craft behind it. It’s worth listening to, over and over and over again.

I have a friend who was only 7 when Sargent Pepper came out. He became a musician. I have to wonder what would have happened if he’d been able to listen to this music before he started classes (at age 8) at the Conservatorio del Tolima. That’s just a thought. . .

(C) 2015 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved


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Photography and Economics 101

(C) 2012 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved

First of all, economics for me is more like conceptual art–there are concepts which are abstract but relate to a specific idea, usually money. However, in this case, economics ties into what I want to talk about, which is Kodak and photography and social history. Together. And not necessarily under separate categories.

Kodak, once known as “The Great Yellow Father,” was founded in 1889 by George Eastman. My great-grandparents on my father’s side were born in June 1864 and got married right around that time. They were photographed together for their wedding announcement. Their daughter, my grandmother, was born in July 1892, and was photographed often as she grew up. This year she would be 120 years old, so Happy Birthday, GaGa.

Her husband, my grandfather, was also born in 1892, in February, in Pueblo, Colorado, and much of his life, like my grandmother’s, was photographed. In fact, over the courses of their lives, if they were not taking pictures of events, someone else in the family was. And that’s not all.

My great-grandfather, R. E. Olds, not only loved photography, he loved films!!! He began Oldsmobile, and later the REO Car Company, and between those two industrial events (recorded with photographs), he could hire camera people to FILM parties at Albemarle (his house on Belle Isle, in Michigan) and at other homes he owned in his lifetime (such as the 17-bedroom cottage at Lake Charlevoix).

His daughter and son-in-law, in addition to the photos they took, made a few films, too. One in particular was taken in the 1930s, before their divorce, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. There’s my father as the defiant teenager of the time, next to his sister, and unhappy teenager, and my grandfather’s mother,  mugging for the camera in a grainy black and white.

The film rolls on. My grandfather is showing us the landscape and some of the customs of the area, and then, lo and behold, a small adobe church which would become a major art icon just a few years later, on the canvases painted by Georgia O’Keeffe. She’s not in these films, but another artist is–E. I. Couse. He was part of the Taos Artists’ Society, and a little elderly when the film was shot. He’s seen coming out of the screen door of his house in Taos, walking toward the tiny garden. His resemblance to Monet is striking, which is cool, because the Taos group brought the philosophy and techniques of the French Impressionists to bear on American painting in the Western US. My grandfather bought their art and photographed the artists as they painted outdoors in the Taos-Santa Fe area.

At some point, my father and his sister got their own cameras and recorded the rest of their lives with them. My father went into photography for personal but never expressed reasons. I came to that conclusion after looking at his films and photos. He liked the aesthetics of photography and he liked the chemistry of it. He learned to print color in his own darkroom (he had an Omega enlarger which probably still works, with the appropriate set of Kodak filters), and I sincerely regret that I never got that far. There is a fascinating combination of chemical precision leading to the possibility of flights of fantasy when working in the darkroom that just does not exist in digital. Digital avoids the “happy accident” that has often resulted in more interesting photos than the photographer had planned.

For years my father used a Speed Graphic that took 6 x 7 cm negatives. He knew that camera so well that he used it as a kind of spy camera, sneaking shots that surprised everyone later. He took it with him to Egypt and accidentally photographed the name “E. Anderson” scrawled in an upper right corner of a tomb wall by some irreverent person who, we still hope, is NOT related to us.

He took the camera on a trip to Japan. He got a lot of the usual tourist shots, but the one I liked best was taken of the Golden Temple from across the lake in front of it, but through the pine branches. Dad said that the group was led to a spot across the lake by the tour guide and told that, from there they could all get nice photos of the temple. Dad agreed that yes, you could, but when he glanced at the ground, he discovered that the spot was worn down to nothing by the endless army of tourists who had stood in the same spot to get the same damn shot. Good for them, but not for Olds Anderson.

He moved off to one side and wrapped himself–sort of–around the trunk of a pine tree. Through its branches he could clearly see the temple, but through the viewfinder (parallex corrected), he could compose something much more interesting.

And another Kodak moment was born.

When I was born in June 1945, my father got permission to photograph me in black and white, no flash, in the bassinet in the pediatric ward. I was less than 24 hours old.

And when I was five, I got my first camera, a Brownie that took 620 film. Later I got another Brownie, and then a Fiesta and finally a Pentax Spotmatic (1968), and so on.

I am, at this point, very pleased to report that the films and photos from my great-grandparents’ and even grandparents’ generation are in museums. Try the Transportation Museum (R. E. Olds Museum) in Lansing, Michigan. Try the Museum at Michigan State University. Try the Michigan Historical Society. And then, “if you’re feelin’ lucky. . .,” get in touch with my brother and my stepsister and my half-sisters.

And I have not even touched upon the incredible collection of stereo-optical slides taken by my stepgrandfather, Harry L. Conrad, in his travels and events. Michigan State University’s Museum has those, too.

My mother’s family also took pictures, but my mother was pretty bad about keeping them, so few exist. I think my brother has them.

When I say that Kodak is part of my family, I’m not kidding.

Therefore, to see Kodak in financial problems is almost like being told that a member of the family has been poisoned and is dying a slow and painful death. But, who did it?

My money is on Wall Street, and yes, the pun is intended.

Brokerage firms have been telling the American public for too long that it has an obligation to its shareholders, and then presents the image of decrepit elderly people barely hanging on til their next dividend check arrives. Boy is that a crock!

Yes, corporate law dictates that corporations pay dividends to its shareholders (who are its investors) as a reward for loaning the corporations money in order to keep going. (I’m referring to publicly held companies, national and international.) But those shareholders are large pension funds which have invested in mutual funds (when they don’t set them up for their own benefit) and hedge funds and private equity groups. They could care less what Kodak or GM or even Hershey’s produces. They only care about the bottom line and how much (quantity) of the product has been sold so that a good-sized dividend can be paid out. Better yet–let’s produce it abroad (say, China or Afghanistan) for fifty cents per item, pay no Social Security nor other benefits to their workers, pay little taxes in the host country and make ga-zillions of bucks. Tax structures allow for write-offs and deductions, so the pure profit is much greater. Figure that the dividends represent maybe 15% of gross (or net), and the rest goes to the executives, and then down to secretaries and some other people. This structure sidesteps the issues of social responsibility–the amounts of money previously set aside by corporations for funding cultural or social programs locally or nationally.

I think Kodak fell into this trap. It is a multinational corporation, but like other companies, its product line is relatively narrow–photography and the items related to that. (I am excluding GM from this. Not only does that multinational have multiple product lines, it made some financial mistakes and buried itself in its own hole in Detroit. Only psychiatrists with experience in forensics will ever be ablel to understand GM’s problems.)

But here’s the interesting part. Kodak–in this sense like GM–sells its products quite successfully OUTSIDE the United States. The Chevrolet Division of GM has excellent sales in Latin America. In Colombia, Chevrolet is the number-one-selling automobile in an expanding market. That may not represent much in US dollars, but it certainly helps fund the shrimp platter at a GM cocktail party in Bloomfield Hills.

Also OUTSIDE THE US–people still take pictures with film! Really! Kodak and Fuji are easily available. Kodak has a manufacturing plant in Mexico, which lowers its distribution costs for all of Latin America. It used to have another distribution point in Bogotá for the Andean region (Venezuela, Colombia, Equador, Peru, maybe Bolivia), and the network may still be in place. I don’t know how Fuji handles distribution of its products, but it’s probably similar to Kodak, and frankly, I think Fuji’s black and white film is fabulous, especially in the 120 format!

The US has covered itself with quite a bubble, and maybe even bubbles within bubbles. Digital photography has gained ground for a lot of reasons, one of them being that it’s exceptionally simple. Actually, so was shooting color with a Brownie in 1960. The only real difference that I can see is this–digital is ever so DISPOSABLE!!!!!!!!!!!! With a negative, you are stuck with the image. It’s always going to be there, unless you burn the negative, which might be a little difficult because of the chemical nature of the film itself. With digital, on the other hand, just click on “Delete” and it’s gone, just like your memories. In fact, the digital image is like the film image–it is a visual memory of what was in front of the camera at the split-second the shutter was pressed. With film, the memory stays. With digital, it’s gone.

That has become so Very Very Very A-M-E-R-I-C-A-N!  ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !  NOTHING is permanent!!! All is ephemeral!!!!!! All is DISPOSIBLE!!!!!

I read just last week in a column in “El Espectador” newspaper that if Kodak had migrated to Silicone Valley, it could have saved itself by being in the center of all the new technology and all those hot young minds who are so (wowie!) up on all the latest trends!!!!

Actually, the bigger problem is not Silicone Valley nor Rochester, New York (nor even Rochester, Michigan). It’s the American lifestyle that has gone off the deep end in terms of gullibility, of wanting Absolutely EVERYTHING RIGHT THIS GODDAMNED VERY SECOND!!!!! In short, a nation of snotty little kids. In the roughly 45 years I’ve lived in Colombia, I’ve flown back and forth between Bogotá and Detroit (and other US places) more times than I can count. The distance between Bogotá and Miami is fixed, geographically, and the flight time has not changed very much (approx. 3 hrs 20 minutes, airport to airport) regardless of the type of aircraft involved (707 to 747 to Airbus).  In the past, it was a nice flight. These days, it’s just a little horror with wings, and I’m not talking about security. It’s the airlines’ idea that you absolutely MUST pack into the plane more people than can comfortably fit, and THEN! Not serve them. No food. No drinks. Just, “Shut up and SIT THE FUCK DOWN!”

And once you get to Miami or Atlanta or wherever, you are disgorged from the aircraft and pretty much forced to do a double-time march through miles of airport corridors in order to get on the next plane, which left ten minutes ago.

It is absolutely NOT the fault of the passengers that jet fuel prices skyrocket. It is probably not the fault of the passengers that they really have to carry luggage and can not live out of a small briefcase for two or three weeks. For most airlines, the ideal passenger is George Clooney in “Up in the Air.” Well, sorry, but we’re not. Deal with it.

It is this mindset that is killing Kodak and many other businesses, not the products nor how and where they’re manufactured. Yes, fast food chains are “upgrading” their product lines  (along with their prices, of course), but the genuine bottom line is that eating even healthy food quickly and then running off to do something the eater thinks is “important” will make you sick. It’s not that “healthy fast food” (such as it might exist) will keep you slim. It won’t. The stress of daily life will keep the pounds off for a while, but when people are stressed out, they eat. And they eat in a hurry (so as not to get caught eating), they end up getting sick. Or even sick-er.

With photography, yes, in many cases, the digital image is very helpful. Commercial photographers love to be able to show clients and art directors or whomever a series of images right on the spot. And yes, it’s fun to take pictures at a party and be able to show them seconds later. I had that experience once, using someone else’s new Polaroid X-70. Polaroid worked on its product so that you could get the image in about 10 seconds, instead of 60. (I remember my grandmother GaGa experimenting with a Polaroid in the late Fifties. It only took black and white, and she had to have my father’s help to pull the photo out of the camera body, so she stuck with her Minox, whose color film had to be sent to a special lab in St. Louis, MO, or maybe Chicago. She loved getting her pictures back, even though she had to wait a few days.) In Colombia, the university students now seem to need to take pictures and videos all the time with their cell phones and upscale (purchased in Miami over Spring Break) DSLRs, but their parents and grandparents are quite happy to wait for their film to be developed and printed at Foto Japón and other minilabs. What’s the big rush?

Kodak and GM need to sell their products in order to survive. DUH! But I think the public is asking for miracles. Film is film, and it is not instant, but it is definitely a viable visual medium. More than that, it becomes a link to a personal past over time. GM needs to produce cars, but it is without question absurd to insist that the corporation create a “crash-proof car.”  Cadillac used to be a prestigious marque, but after the 1970s and a few unfortunate movies, I see an Escalade or Sedan de Ville and think, “Pimp-mobile.”  (And then I see a Mercedes-Benz and think either, “Nouveau so riche the ink’s still wet,” OR “narco. . .”) I know from experience that Nikon is an excellent camera and so is Hasselblad, but I find their advertising so male-ORIENTED and, in some instances, so full of crap that I refuse to own either one. I do own a Kodak Z981 digital camera, because very frankly, it has a Schneider lens (Schneider-KREUZNACH Variogon with ED (extra dispersion) glass). I find that it reproduces the quality of the light here in Bogotá breathtakingly, and I suspect its film speed algorithms are based on certain Kodak films. Great! But I still love my Pentaxes and Mamiyas and the films they use. I still like to work in the darkroom, and more so now that the Epson Stylus Photo R1900 that I purchased in November 2010 is doing strange things. Please Note:  A US$500 price tag for digital equipment may not seem like much in the US, but when translated into a foreign currency, it may become prohibitively expensive. In Colombia, US$500 for a printer translates into Pesos $1,500,000.00, because the exchange rate is just below 2000 pesos to the dollar, but factor in import and local taxes, and the exchange is 3000 pesos to the dollar. The average Colombian will definitely think twice before getting into digital photography with these prices.

I think that Kodak, GM and other companies these days face this conundrum–poor sales at home, good sales abroad, and “shareholders” (those pension funds) who just do not understand that life is lived differently outside the US.

How to deal with this? I don’t know. Privatize? Sell off all the publicly-held stock and let all the employees and their families and friends buy into the corporations. What the corporations earn goes to their employees. The pension funds and their kith and kin can go suck blood someplace else.

So to answer my question, who’s poisoning Kodak, I think the answer is–the American people who made it great. How’s that for maturity?

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About Apricot

Apricot about to go for her morning walk ('10)

This the Apricot in the title of this post, photographed in March 2010.

(C) 2011 by Metta Anderson — All Rights Reserved for Images and Text

Apricot is one of my three dogs. The others are Friday, a neutered male, and Fabiana, a neutered female. After having puppies in June 2008, Apricot was also neutered, supposedly to prevent future mammary or uterine cancer. No doubt a good idea at the time, the result has been the opposite. In January 2011, Apricot was diagnosed with bone cancer, in her skull down to her left jaw. And now, she’s dying.

I’m writing this because I hope to ease my own pain about losing her. I’m going crazy myself, and on top of the sadness, feel enormous outrage. All my dogs live comfortably. I walk them on leashes, they have a large terrace area to use as a bathroom when I’m not home (and the terrace is kept clean at all times), they get their shots every year along with basic check-ups, they have regular bathing and haircuts, and they listen to classical music all the time (Javeriana Stereo, 91.1 FM in Bogotá). On weekends they may be overexposed a little to opera, but so far, have not complained. They sleep on the furniture. Apricot and Friday sleep with me. All three were rescued from the street as puppies, so their breeding is unknown. Each is unique, but when we’re out together, they work as a team. They are almost a dog food advertiser’s dream.

And something of a veterinarian’s nightmare. They are not rude nor mean with vets, nor do they bite. In fact, I’m told they’re very well-behaved, and more so when I’m not around.

Fabiana on a bench waiting for her Chocorama ('10)

Fabiana needing a haircut, standing on a bench in a park ('10).

Losing Apricot is more than losing a dog or even a member of the team. She’s the alpha, partly for her size (50 lbs when healthy, compared to 25 lbs for Friday and 20 lbs for Fabiana), but mostly because she’s imposing, but in a queenly way. She’s sweet. She likes to greet visitors by standing up on her back legs and trying to embrace the newcomer, as well as kiss him or her. Most people freak out when she does that, even though she’s not lunging at them, so I don’t let her do that too often. When I come home, of course, we hug.

Friday with a new haircut, June 2010

Friday in my darkroom in June 2010.

I think I should explain my anger a bit more clearly, though. The fact that she got cancer at all is strictly a question of bad luck. No one could have predicted it. No one can be blamed for it. But I am angry that a healthy 8 year old dog should have her life cut short like this. It should not have happened, but it did, and it makes me cry.

Apricot was diagnosed in January because I had noticed a weird deformation in the top of her head, on the left side, and it was also becoming obvious that her left eye was starting to protrude. Toward the end of 2010, she began to lag behind and tire easily when we went out for long walks, although I did not connect her problems on the walks with her physical problems. Anyway, when I sent the three dogs to the vet in January for baths and haircuts, I asked that the veterinarian examine her and, if necessary, do an X-ray. Also examine her teeth, as I thought she might have a cavity or an infection along her left jaw. That concern was prompted by the fact that she also developed a problem opening her mouth.

When the dogs came home, I received the X-ray and the vet’s note that the X-ray showed nothing, but that he recommended she be sent to another (and very well-respected) vet, who had access to scanning equipment.

I have to point out here that the Departments of Veterinary Medicine at the universities in Colombia, starting with the prestigious National University, in Bogotá, do not have any of this type of equipment. They also lack treatments and therapies. Their students form long lines at embassies in order to get student visas and finish their training in the US and Europe, which do offer specializations, labs, diagnostics and other equipment. The National University does have specialists on its staff, buteven they are handicapped by the situation.

Anyway, I was told that Apricot needed a scan, that this was e xpensive (which it is) and time-consuming to some extent. I live in downtown Bogotá and do not have a car. Apricot needs an ambulance or I have to hire a taxi for transportation. All these details were worked out in advance, and Apricot received the full three-dimensional scan. The results were printed out on a kind of 11″ x 14″ contact sheet (a set of them), plus being uploaded to a DVD. Even though the contact sheets were in black-and-white, they were extremely clear–the tumor was covering the left side of her skull like a cap, but missing the eye and its socket, travelling instead down to the left jaw.

The radiologist’s commentary was that she had a sarcoma and required surgery immediately. The well-known vet agreed, and the surgery was scheduled for 20 January 2011.

When Apricot came home, she looked incredibly elegant. Her head, neck and ears had been shaved down to the skin, thus defining her elegant bone structure, but leaving a ruff of hair around the base of her neck. Viewed from the right side, she only needed a slender diamond necklace to look like an haute couture model.

Viewed from the left, the scar was long but clean, from the top of her head and down near her ear, but stopping before it got to her jaw. The skin had been pulled up and back, re-shaping her left eye into something oblique, and quite exotic.

She was kept at the vet’s for almost five days, and I would call every day. I was told that she would be home the next day, but that she was doing well. Finally, the clinic said she was “unhappy”–difficult to deal with. I said she was depressed, and firmly said I wanted her home as soon as possible. Depression complicates recovery.

She came home the next day and raced up the stairs to the terrace like a grayhound. She stopped long enough to pee a good-sized replica of Lake Superior, making my partner and I wonder if she’d stopped urinating in protest, and for how many days. But then she bounced over to the water dish and almost drained it. Smiling and panting, with water dripping from her mouth, she turned to greet us.

I ws given her medications and instructions and the bill for all this. The surgical vet was strongly recommending chemotherapy and radiation therapy at the same time, starting immediately, without a biopsy and without waiting for the pathology report.  He believed it was enough to say, “In my experience. . .”

Well, it is not enough to say that. I refused to start any therapy until after the pathology report came back. I also explained to him where I live and the complications of transportation. I forgot to mention I live in a triplex apartment–Apricot would not be returning to a luxury condo with elevators and doormen (like many of his patients, who live in the north part of Bogotá) nor to a single-family dwelling with two live-in maids (also like a lot of his patients). It”s just me, a big apartment, and my partner. And NO CAR!!! Under the circumstances, I thought that chemotherapy would be the best option–it seemed to present milder side effects–and the surgeon’s parting remark was, “It’s up to you, madame. . .”

The surgeon wrote up the protocols for the chemotherapy and passed them on to the original vet. I never saw them nor the pathology report til last Thursday. By then, Apricot had such a bad reaction to the third session of chemotherapy that she almost died. I cancelled more sessions and made an appointment with the National University’s Small Animal Clinic.

The UN (Universidad Nacional–called the UN in Colombia) has a vet who specializes in cancer in animals. He examined the dog. The first thing he said was that chemotherapy was not the recommended therapy for bone cancer in the skull. It almost never works. While a combo of radiation and chemo right off the bat would have been the recommended route, he did not understand why I was not informed of side effects of either therapy. He knew the surgeon, in part because the guy is one of the very few vets licensed and specialized in oncological surgery and treatment in the country, and was surprised that that man had accepted my choice of chemotherapy without protest. (Later, it turned out that the surgeon felt he was a “contract player” in all this, and that the vet who requested the surgery would give me all the details later. It occurred to no one at all, and certainly not to me, that the originating vet had no experience in dealing with a cancer patient, nor with the disease nor much of anything else related to cancer therapies. I hope the reader can follow this.)

After three consultations at the UN, the cancer specialist sat down with me last Wednesday and said the following:  1. Apricot’s left eye is viable (she can see out of it), but that the eyelid is paralyzed; the animal ophthalmologist prescribed artificial tears, and they have helped.

2. The eye is viable, but she would lose it if she had more surgery. The surgery would try to remove all the cancer tissue remaining in her head, but would be agressive, extensive and invasive. It would not cure her, either.

3. Radiation therapy was a better option for what she has, but it will not cure her and the side effects are worse than for chemo.

4. It would be a good idea to consider euthanasia “before she gets worse.!

Okay, here’s what happened after that chat.

She’s getting worse, and quickly. She bleeds from her nose, she won’t eat too much (but she does eat something) and she has sneezing spasms that make my apartment look like a scene from C.S.I., any episode. Her breathing is bad. Her breath smells of blood.

I was absolutely numb until Friday morning, when I woke up with the realization that I was being very politely asked to donate my dog to science, under a “fresh is best” idea.

I understand this last bit pretty well. I grew up pretty much on the campus of Michigan State University, which has a very high class veterinary medicine department. Animal Planet ran two seasons of a diary of vet med students filmed at MSU’s animal clinic. University clinics do a lot of  research. The National University’s animal clinics (miniscule compared to Michigan State’s) do the same. The difference is that MSU gets the money and the equipment to train students and professionals from all over the world, while the UN is surviving on handouts. Apricot has a common-enough cancer, but in an unusual place. Objectively, she’s an encyclopedia for a specialist and his students.

But she is still my dog, and she is currently still breathing. She lives with two other dogs. At the time she had puppies, I was in bad shape emotionally and financially. But taking care of those puppies and watching them and watching her, and then watching the relationship between Friday (father of the puppies), Apricot and the puppies themselves was the break I needed in order to re-think my life in ways I had not wanted to before. Often, in the late afternoon, I would sit at the top of the stairs to the terrace, enjoying the sun and surrounded by the dogs. It was so peaceful that I wanted to spend the rest of my life like that.

The other result of that experience was that I decided to start writing again. So Apricot, when she gave life to the puppies, also helped me get back to the life I had wanted since I was a girl–to be a writer. My dog did something my mother tried her best (and her damnedest) to get me to do–reorganize my life. I owe her a lot of respect, as well as love.

When I’m not being rational about this, I also feel that the veterinarians took my healthy dog and returned a sick, dying and broken animal to me, and then asked for money in return.

You people are lucky I don’t sue you.

So, at the end now, I will add two more photos. One is of Friday and Apricot at the top of the stairs, sitting together. The other is Apricot playing with Friday on my bed one morning. They liked to do that, and that’s how I want to remember her.

Apricot and Friday at the top of the terrace stairs ('10)

Queen Apricot and her consort Friday, in February 2010.


Apricot playing on my bed in the morning, Feb. '10.

Apricot playing on my bed in the morning, Feb. 2010.

(C) Images and text 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved


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