Monday, November 29, 2010


(Pigs in a Farmyard, Carl Henrich Bogh, 1864, Art

Against my better judgment, I glance into the exterior mirror of the purple El Camino.

I can not believe what my eyes are seeing.

I'm looking straight at somebody's hoof.

I turn away as quickly as possible.

But then sheer curiosity gets the better of me.

I return for a second gawk.

I am horrified to see that the hoof is attached to a.........a.......... leg.

A wave of nausea spills over me as I turn my head away from the grizzly scene.

Thankfully, the leg is mostly covered in white butcher paper.

Gathering courage I never knew I had, I set my sights on the hoof which is attached to the partially covered leg and ask myself these questions:

1. "Why is a dead pig lying in the bed of my new husband's purple El Camino?"

Answer:  Family members in Star Valley, Wyoming are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the dead pig. They want to cut the dead pig into smaller pieces, freeze the meat, retrieve the packages at a later date, cook them and eat them.


2. "Why must newly wedded city girls be subjected to sights such as this?"

Answer:  It comes with the territory. Most studly Wyoming Wranglers deal regularly with freshly dead animals. One hundred and seventy- six percent of them eat the meat from these animals. Let this be a warning to all you citified females out there who are thinking about falling in love with cowboys of any sort:


Hint:  Desensitize yourselves - NOW! - by taking frequent field trips to meat-packing plants during the period of your premarital engagement. Forget the romantic walks leading you to the no-gore-allowed meat section in your local market. As far as you're concerned, beautiful displays of "filet mignon" do not now nor have they ever existed in any supermarket. By following this crucial plan, you will gradually buck up to the realities of your future life with Mr. Studly Wrangler.

3. Why is the dead pig sawed in half?

Answer:  Civilized people would never find the need to ask such a ridiculous question. They understand that dead pigs are not really dead pigs at all. They are pieces of pork - also known as the other white meat.

Never refer to the meat master as a "butcher." A "butcher" carries out his duties in a crude, rude, violent manner. The meat master artfully slices - never brazenly "cuts"- his delicate meat.

The meat master always plies his craft inside a spiffy supermarket. THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS.

The pristine pork is then carefully placed on sanitized white Styrofoam trays. (Blue Styrofoam trays are permissible in a pinch but they are a poor second choice.)

Finally, the meat is hygienically shrink wrapped and labeled with lyrical words such as: "Butterflied pork chops."

Further clarification:



Five hours later, we pull into the driveway at my mother-in-law's farm in Star Valley.

My Wyoming Wrangler has wisely prepared me for the inevitable on the drive up.

That's because he wants to live to see another day.

He tells me that the dead pig is about to undergo further bodily transformations.

A saw will be involved.

I tell him, "OK, cowboy, that's waaaaay too much information."

Twenty minutes after we arrive, I actually get out of the El Camino.

I stare at the shed from my personal vantage point.

Which is 657 miles from the shed itself.

Believe me when I tell you this, I am not moving one inch closer to that shed.

Not in this lifetime or the next.

The electric saw buzzes menacingly from inside the building.

As does the laughter of the people who are busily "transforming" the dead pig into smaller pieces.

A minuscule portion of my new marital family is present and accounted for out there.

My brother-in-law, Ted, shouts across the yard and asks me if I would like to help wrap the piggy pieces in paper.

I tell him with lightening speed: "Gee, no thanks, Ted. I am learning so much about how to cut up a dead pig by studying the entire procedure from right here."

Kindly, Ted replies, "Suit yourself."

Minutes pass as the whirring of the saw and the good-natured laughter continues unabated.

I squint into the darkened opening of the shed for what seems like hours.

Janeene, my saintly sister-in-law, takes pity on me.

She asks, "Merry, would you like to write the labels for us?"

I cautiously inquire, "Labels?"

"Yes," she says, "You can label the pieces of meat for us. That would be a great help."

I nearly blurt out, "Does this mean I won't have to stand within 657 miles of the sawed up deader than dead pig?"

Instead, I drag my feet across the yard as if each of my ankles is wearing 100 pound weights.

I stop cold on the slab of cement just outside the shed.

I peek inside the building and study the scene of the crime.

Then I carefully determine that the parts of the dead pig - which have significantly multiplied, by the way - have been safely enrobed in brown butcher paper.

It all looks innocent enough.

I step ever so slowly inside the shed as Janeene gives me a pencil and small slips of white paper.

She smiles brightly at me and says, "You can write "pork shoulder" on this one."

I immediately decide I love this woman more than life itself.

Never in the history of the world have the letters p-o-r-k  s-h-o-u-l-d-e-r been written with such flourish!

Yes - I can write!

I adore pencils.

The sharper the better.

I can even spell a few simple words.

But dead pigs?

I don't do dead pigs.

Not now.

Not ever.

And my studly Wyoming Wrangler?

He loves his family.

He adores beautiful Star Valley.

He is grateful for the lessons he learned growing up on the farm.

Most of them involved that nasty four letter word w-o-r-k.

But here's the news that always takes me to my happy place:

While I was strategically roping my cowboy many moons earlier, I learned that dead pigs aren't his thing either.

So four months later we packed up the purple El Camino and headed east for Vanderbilt University.

There wasn't a pig - dead or alive - anywhere in sight.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Workin' It: The Floor Scrapers

(The Floor Scrapers, Gustave Caillebotte, 1875, Musee D'Orsay, Paris)

I stand before Gustave Caillebotte's "The Floor Scrapers" and I am mesmerized.

It takes but a quick, six second study and I'm seriously hooked.

Admittedly, there is little about this painting that would normally intrigue me.

The Renaissance madonnas are obviously missing.

Monet's riverscapes of the Seine in Paris are nowhere to be found.

And my beloved gemstone hues?

The crimson rubies, the verdant emeralds and the moonlit sapphires must surely be hiding inside their jewel box.

Here's the clincher:

It's subject matter - work - is my least favorite activity on the planet.

And yet.......

I am transfixed every time I am privileged to gaze upon this painting.

To me, these men possess a type of holiness within their mightily stretched torsos.

Caught in the act of accomplishing a demanding task, they push forward with a diligence that many others will never know.

I'm one of those people who lives in my head.

I can spend more time reading, studying, writing, analyzing and daydreaming than nearly anyone I know.

For the past two weeks, I have spent time painting the walls in a home that will soon be inhabited by my son-in-law's parents.

Please forgive my immodesty, but no one can roll paint on walls like I can.

After all, I learned from the best........

Lisa La Porta on HGTV'S "Designed to Sell."

Lisa instructs: "Always form the letter "W" when you begin to roll the paint on the wall. That technique will help you eliminate vertical lines. Then blend things from that point."

I bow to my master.

I also bend, crouch, and flex my arm muscles in a whirlwind of physical activity each time I paint.

When at last I am through for the day, my roller hand is throbbing and my roller thumb is cramping.

It's so worth it.

I have earned a "high" that no mind bending drug could hope to match.

Need I mention that the freshly painted walls look sparkling clean and colorfully alive?

There is an immediate satisfaction in all of this for me.

Hence, my wall work causes me to relate well to these floor scraping men.

When I see their taut muscles at work I get it.

I almost feel the rhythm of their movements as their toned arms push the scrapers across the floor.

There is a special sort of beauty at work here.

Oh, and perhaps I am wrong about the "missing" gemstone colors.

To be sure, there is a quiet economy of color in this masterpiece.

But I clearly see splashes of smoky topaz (or Hershey dark chocolate!) complemented by ethereal shades of aquamarine on this canvas.

Two welcome escapees from the jewel box no doubt.

We know nothing about the religious codes of the laborers.

But may I please submit this thought to you?

For these floor scraping moments, the workers are certainly creators of the first degree.

And in that sense they are, indeed, godly gentlemen.


Please know that you have the rare opportunity to view "The Floor Scrapers" up close and personal at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts right now!

You won't regret making the effort to see this wonderful work of art.

And as a special bonus, the Musee d'Orsay in Paris has kindly thrown in 99 additional masterpieces for your viewing pleasure.

This particular collection of paintings will likely never be seen in this assemblage again.

It all travels home to Paris on January 23rd.

So lace up your Nike's and get down there A.S.A.P.