Three Paragraphs of Near and Far

No doubt you read about the recent suicide of Alireza Pahlavi, younger son of the former Shah of Iran. Last week I had lunch with a coworker whose father had been a high-ranking minister under the Shah. His position required that he travel with armed guards and two cars, one a decoy. As a boy my friend kept “a string of polo ponies.” He was seventeen at the time of the revolution and the family fled to India where they spent ten years (“the happiest of my life”) before coming, finally, to California. It’s hard to imagine such irrevocable dislocations. I wonder sometimes about the circumstances of my own family’s removal to the colonies three hundred years ago. It can’t only have been for the delight of living in the then-wilds of New Jersey. I suspect that we kept very few polo ponies back in Britain.

If box office stats were drawn from movies screened in our living room, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd would still be the world’s biggest stars. Last week we premiered Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936). The Tramp’s improvised version of Leo Daniderff’s Je cherche après Titine was a big hit. Its first audiences, I think, had never heard Chaplin’s voice on screen before. This past weekend we also watched Lloyd’s Speedy (1928) for the second time. It’s one of my son’s favorites. The chase scene with the horse-drawn train car through the streets of New York, the Coney Island sequence, the taxi ride with Babe Ruth, the street brawl of blunt-nosed toughs and octogenarian Civil War vets: it’s as much an education as an entertainment.

I took my five-year-old daughter to the park recently. I watched her play a while and then we sat on a bench to eat apple slices and pretzels. She had just told me not to stand so near her while she was playing (“I might want to make a friend,” she explained) when behind us we saw a great blue heron, no more than a dozen feet away. We were mesmerized, in the presence of an alien intelligence. We admired the way it scanned the grass for insects and how it craned its neck at a wary tilt when a hawk passed overhead. The heron was about the same height as my daughter, and wearing the same color. It seemed to share her concern about my proximity too. I tried moving a little closer for a photo but it drew the line at about eight feet. I used that for a rule back at the playground and had no further complaints from Miss Gimmespace.

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