You might think he's doing something else. But in reality, he's learning how to sit/stay, and not doing a very good job of it (he eventually learned how to do so beautifully ... sort of ).

lunedì 19 aprile 2010

April 19th is a problematic day in United States history. In 1775, the “shot heard ‘round the world” happened in Massachusetts.[1] In 1993, a whole lot of people died in Waco, Texas. Two years later, even more people died in Oklahoma City. Four years and one day later, students were gunned down in Colorado.

It’s also a feast day for a whole lot of saints – twelve of them, according to[2] Most of them met bad ends (as martyred saints often do).

In 1990, on the 21st of April, Tillie was officially born. We think. When she was plucked from the Free Puppy Truck that same year on July 21st , we were told that she was three months old. So, like Queen Elizabeth II, she has an official birthday.[3] She would be twenty – an unfathomable age for a dog – were she alive in two days' time.[4]

Tillie loved visiting one of her grandmothers in Pennsylvania. This grandmother was (and very much is) of the “I’ll Feed Dogs Just about Anything I’d Want to Eat” school. As Tillie recounts in her (unpublished) memoirs, “It was there that I first developed a taste for butter liberally smeared on pieces of toasted white bread. I would line up with assorted cousins and await my turn.”

Dogs love toast. In Dodie Smith’s epic Hundred and One Dalmatians (New York, 1956), a marvelous chapter (9) is called “Hot Buttered Toast.” We find Pongo and Missis lapping up hot buttered toast that the Spaniel, with great courtesy, has taken from Sir Charles, and then, while he’s not looking, passes to them. Sir Charles also unwittingly serves them tea, which perfectly complements their hot buttered toast. And then he thinks he sees Pongo and Missis (he actually does, but doesn’t realize it), and remembers his childhood dogs, and says, “I’m pretty close to the edge now—and quite time, too. I’m more than ready. Well, what a joy to know that dogs go on too—I’ve always hoped it.”

When Tillie moved to Italy in 1997, she had a cheeseburger every birthday until she died. Actually, we all did. From her memoirs: “ … my homesickness is purely gastronomic. And what I consider among the crowning achievements of American cuisine can be summed up in one word: Cheeseburger.” She continues: “It’s kind of tough to find a well-made one in this country, though they can be had. You could, if you wanted, succumb to the allure of McDonald’s and yes, I have indeed done so. A few years ago on one of my birthdays, I offered dear Bobo [Ed. note: one of Tillie’s much-loved companions] his first American burger. I even entered into McDonald’s to order it and, despite my frantic efforts to indicate otherwise (a sad, bewildered expression when I heard Her say to the girl at the counter “Two cheeseburgers” – you see, I’d been hoping – secretly – for two cheese quarter pounders) all we came up with were the two cheeseburgers. Now, they were good – do not get me wrong. I believe we both ate ours in the garden, pickle and all, in record time. (The careful reader might remember that I have a thing for pickles which I first discovered in that wonderfully sublime shrimp tramezzino that I gobbled in Rome.)”
It’s still tough to find a good cheeseburger in Florence. Tillie loved the burgers at Danny Rock, which always gets them right. A newish place has opened in the Oltrarno. Expensive, trendy, and it serves limp fries and mediocre burgers to Italians who simply don’t know any better.
Tillie would have sniffed at it disdainfully, before eating it all. A really good, tasty cheap burger can be had at i Cinque Tavoli (the Five Tables, and yes, that’s all there is).
Canadienne Red, Italian Scallion, the Stooges and I burger tonight.

Tillie’s book dedication ran as follows: “This book is for anyone who has ever fed me. I thank you.” As Sir Charles pronounces, dogs do go on.

Here’s missing you, Eric.

Danny Rock, via Pandolfini 13/r, Florence, 055/2340307
I Cinque Tavoli, via del Sole 26R, 055/294438
[1] Go to for Ralph Waldo Emerson’s moving 1837 poem.
[2] Beato Bernardo di Sithiu (d. 1182), Beato Corrado (Miliani) di Ascoli (d. 1289), Sant’Elfego (Elfege) of Canterbuy (decapitated in 1011), Sant’Emma di Sassonia (d. 1040), Sant’Espedito di Melitene (dies sometime in the third century a.d.), San Geroldo (santiebeati are not particularly forthcoming on this one), S. Giorgio d’Antiocha (d. sometime in the 8th and 9th centuries a.d.), San Leone IX (Pope, d. 1054), San Mappalico (dies in prison, of hunger, under the persecution of Decius), Santa Marta di Persia (simply martyred in 341), Beato Giacomo (James) Duckett), an English convert to Catholicism who’s hanged somewhere in England in 1602), and the most interesting San Varnerio (Werner) di Somewhere “è il prottetore dei vignaioli del Reno, della Borgono, e dell’Avernia” (the patron saint of wine-makers in the Rhein, Burgundy, and Auvergne).
[3] Interestingly, the Queen’s real birthday, like Tillie’s, is April 21st (b. 1926). Her official birthday is celebrated in Australia on the second Monday in June; in Canada on a Monday on or before May 24th; in New Zealand on the first Monday in June (which, according to, marks the opening of ski season), and in Great Britain on either the first, second, or third Saturday in June, when she officially troops the colors.
[4] “It’s the only haystack,” said the Spaniel. “All the same, keep your eyes on it all the time you run. I would come with you , but my rheumatism prevents me – and Sir Charles will need me to carry his spectacle-case down stairs. We are an old, old couple, my dear. He is ninety, and I – according to a foolish human reckoning that one year of a dog’s life represents seven years of human life – I am a hundred and five.” One Hundred and One Dalmatians, “Hot Buttered Toast.”
Portrait of Tillie, acrylic on canvas, by Amsterdam-based American artist Claudia Maria Clemente, 2008.

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