Monday, August 26, 2013

Dies Caniculares

Which, for the non-Latin speakers and readers out there in the larger world, means "Dog days".

It's that time of the year, the dreary days of late summer. Although, in fact, "dog days" does not specifically refer to August; it could also include most of July. My online etymology dictionary tells me that the "dog days" are simply the "hottest and most unwholesome time of the year", usually July 3 to August 11, "but variously calculated, depending on latitude and on whether the greater Dog-star (Sirius) or the lesser one (Procyon) is reckoned."

It has nothing really to do with dogs, per se, although the image of the overheated canine, panting, tongue dangling, is usually conjured up by the term.

By way of further explanation, I found this online: Dog days are actually referring to the star Sirius, also known as the dog star, found in the constellation of Canis Major, and deriving its name from the Greek word “seirios”, which means "scorching".

So, now you know; as do I.

August does seem sometimes like a dreary time. It's often too hot, and too sultry, and one longs for shade and rest, and respite from strenuous activity. It was probably no coincidence that the past week saw several of my fellow bloggers come out with apologies for not having done their regular posts. I sympathise. I am feeling a bit ragged around the edges myself. It didn't help that early one morning last week, a neighbour stopped by, as I was finishing breakfast, to tell me that his vintage (1979) Corvette had somehow slipped its parking gear and rolled across the communal garage to collide with my Mustang. Happily the damage is not great; but there is the bother of spending time on the phone with insurance companies, and more time consulting with an auto body shop to arrange for repairs.

Thinking about August and dog days, though, brought back a memory from 1962. That was the year Marilyn Monroe died, and her death occurred on August 5. I attach her picture, which will likely be the most attractive part of this post by far:


Along with the shocking news of her death – she was only 36 – was the equally shocking comment from a news media person in New York City, who said something along the lines that he was as sad as anyone that she was dead, but that if she had to die, he was glad that she died in August, because August is always a terrible month for news. (He might even have said "dead month", but I do hope not.)

Continuing along this "August" line of thinking, there is a superior Hollywood film that focussed on the dog days of August; Dog Day Afternoon, directed by Sidney Lumet, and starring Al Pacino and John Cazale as two hapless bank robbers who hold up a Chase Manhattan Bank and take the bank employees hostage.

The film was based on an actual bank robbery attempt that took place in Brooklyn on August 22, 1972. Just about everything that can go wrong in the attempted robbery does go wrong; and needless to say, the film ends very badly for the would-be robbers, neither of whom is terribly bright. It is a great film, though, with standout performances by Pacino and Cazale. Really worth watching if you haven't seen it; or seen it recently.

There is also an odd Canadian connection to the actual robbery, although I don't think it makes it into the film. At the time - and still for that matter - there was a CBC Radio interview program called As It Happens.  The program host at the time, Barbara Frum, telephoned the bank during the hostage drama and interviewed the Pacino character, "Sonny Wortzik"; the real-life character's name was John Wojtowicz.

(The late Barbara Frum, for those of you who follow American politics, was the mother of David Frum, a Canadian-American journalist, and a leading conservative Republican spokesperson. He was also a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. Yet something else that a substantial number of Canadians will likely feel we should apologise for.)

I had actually intended this week to write about two columns from last week's New York Times. One had to do with choosing names for characters in novels. The other had to do with a writer's likely reaction to the dreaded two-part question from a friend on a work in progress; a question along the lines of, "What's the story about, and how's it going?" I think every writer has been there. And dreads being there again.

I will look at those items next time out.


Charlotte Hinger said...

And for me, there's a childhood association of closed swimming pools during "dog days" to cut down the risk of polio.

Thomas Rendell Curran said...

Thanks, Charlotte. I remember those days well, growing up in Newfoundland. Every late summer and fall, the lists of polio cases were assembled and printed in the papers and read out on the radio. Then came Salk's vaccine and the disease literally went away. Amazing to think about that in the context of the loony anti-vaccine movement that flourishes today.