Monday, March 31, 2008

The other day I was sitting in a van waiting for some clients to finish their business lunch when a truck pulled out in front of me and the driver began unload groceries. Not long after, a man wearing work gloves rapped on my window and motioned for me to roll it down. I rolled the automatic window down and, assuming he was helping unload the truck, asked him, "Do you want me to move back?" He said no, inclined his head and said "Salaam Aleikum."

Having taught Arabic students, I knew the correct response is "Aleikum Salaam." Instead, my mouth merely hung open until my bewildered look registered with the speaker. "You don't speak Arabic?"

I shook my head, "sorry."

"Oh sorry man, you look Arabic."

About a year ago I went to a Subway Restaurant here in Gatineau and proceeded to order my submarine sandwich in flawless French. I immediately swallowed my pride in my linguistic accomplishment when the server threw a French sentence at me that I couldn't comprehend, "I'm sorry, could you repeat that in English?"

"I said, aren't you from Pakistan? There's pork on this sub."

To be fair, I had a beard at the time, but I still feel that I don't look particularly Pakistani. Now that Islam has overtaken Catholicism as the world's largest religion, I can be assured that I will fit right in - at least superficially.

Meanwhile, prospective Muslim Immigrants to Quebec can be assured that there is at least one server in a Subway Restaurant in Gatineau who has their dietary laws at the forefront of his mind.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Fable

The animal kingdom had a well-known pecking order. At the top, of course, was the lion who claimed that his authority stemmed from his magnificent mane. The lion, who was fond of puns, would often say, "I'd be lyin' if I were to say that it isn't the main reason for my position." Most of the animals would feign laughter at this point, except for the long-horned cow who would stoically chew his cud. The lion took this indifference for stupidity when, in fact, the cow - along with most bovines - had a highly developed sense of humour. Cud-chewing was the only way the steer could keep himself from uttering any one of the several caustic rejoinders on the tip of his fat pink tongue. "Puns," he once sneered to the wildebeast, "are the last refuge of the drowning comedian." Of course, at the time, this was a fairly witty turn of phrase. Most animals could remember how the clownish sphinx had drowned in the great flood while uttering one last ridiculous riddle. No one missed the sphinx, a very tiresome individual.

When the horse started campaigning for greater authority by flaunting his luxurious mane, the lion was quick to correct any notions about equine royalty by making a meal of the horse's cousins, the unicorns. The horse was never quite the same after that, and began to alienate the other animals by joining the dog in its disturbing fascination with mankind. "They're going the way of the chimera," the cow observed dryly. The chimera, contrary to myth, did not have three heads. Its only head was similar to a lion's, but with long curved horns. This might explain human confusion about the goat-head in the middle. As for the third head, a supposed snake-head, it is unclear where this human embroidery came from, except from the propensity mankind has for blatant exaggeration. Still, it should be noted that the chimera did have a really ugly tail, but it resembled a corpulent salamander more than a snake. As for the cow's remark, there is some history behind the remark which bears explaining: the chimera had become so obsessed with mankind that it had attempted to walk on its hindlegs, tripped on its ugly tail, and impaled itself on its own long twisted horns. The cow's saying entered the animal lexicon as a proverbial warning against attempting to be something which one is not.

The donkey, too stolid to learn from the horse's example, also began to flaunt his mane. Very few animals beyond the flamingo and the louse showed any real interest in the donkey's coarse mane. And as everyone knows, the flamingo's aesthetic tastes leave much to be desired. As for the louse, his interest was more selfish than complimentary as the donkey discovered several days later after a fitful sleep. The lion was never one to allow his authority to be put into question, no matter how small that question might be. He soon proved, once again, that his authority lay less in his mane than in his sharp claws and powerful jaws. Despite his stubborn claims that he was not in the least affected by the lion gnawing his long ears menacingly, the donkey's offspring remained stunted and had a dissonant bray which was slightly less than endearing.

There was also, of course, the grizzly who some animals argued had the ability to pummel the lion into a shell-shocked kitten. However, the grizzly was an anarcho-libertarian, a political label he had fashioned for himself. He claimed that it meant he believed in a Hobbesian state of nature where might made right. The phoenix helpfully pointed out that the bear's beliefs were more akin to Social Darwinism. If the phoenix had been given the chance, he would have been satisfied to indicate that the quick meal the bear had subsequently made of him was irrefutable proof of his argument. Unfortunately, the phoenix is not reborn in a blaze of fire as humans insist. No, once they've been eaten they're gone forever.

The wolf had been suitably cowed by various displays of leonine power. He took his frustration out on three pigs who had just moved away from home.

The tiger had been convinced by the lion that the divine right of kings stemmed from the mane and had begun praying fervently for God's favour. The lion was actually an atheist, but had no problem using the idea of God to argue for his position. The leopard, a sensitive soul, had slunk off in the forest after the lion began mocking his spots as "repetitive pattern displaying the worst tendencies of unimaginative and ladybug-derivative textile design." The cow would have laughed, but the lion quickly added, "I'd be lyin' if I said I didn't spot that a long time ago." The cow groaned while the rest of the animal kingdom feigned laughter. This caused the tiger, the leapard's close friend, some consternation as he wondered how a God who had just been indirectly scoffed at by his chosen leader could remain unmoved towards an old-fashioned smiting. Shamed by his lack of faith, the tiger began a regimen of flagellation which left his hide with distinctive stripes.

In actual practice, the lion did very little ruling beyond random acts of intimidation and occasional unreasonable commands for animals to perform various difficult acrobatic moves. The dragon and his entire family had perished tragically when they were unable to execute an aerial maneouvre in which the smallest dragon somersaulted through a ring of fire created by his parents. It may sound unbelievable that the lion was able to overpower and consume an entire family of dragons, but dragons were actually much smaller than is traditionally believed. Over time, the mythical dragon grew far beyond his actual historic size. St. George's horse had actually trampled a sleeping dragon, a story which humanity had twisted into an unbelievable duel. In fact, the lion was responsible for the extinction of the dragons. Thus, humanity had no need to create such an unbelievable tale to counter their guilt over the thoughtless trampling of St. George's horse.

The actual administration of the animal kingdom fell to the lion's assistant, the raven, who owed his longevity to convincing the lion that ravens tasted like broccoli. The lion, a fastidious carnivore, was therefore disinclined to even contemplate eating such an unsavory meat. Beyond his survival skills, the raven was an effective administrator who was able to juggle the repeated appeals of the zebras and gazelles for royal mercy while, with bureaucratic prowess, ignoring dogged requests of the beaver to be reclassified as a fish.

Incidentally, the beaver was somehow able to eventually get through to the Roman Catholic Church. The beaver managed, through an intermediary, to convince Thomas Aquinas that animals should be classified not just by their anatomy but by their behaviour. Later, the church classified the beaver as a fish so that the residents of New France could consume beavers on Fridays during Lent. The beaver was pleased with this victory but spent the entire season of Lent cowering in his dam.

Near the bottom of the pyramid of authority was the rat who was slightly less powerful than the badger but slightly more powerful than most weasels. Nevertheless, the rat hungered for more authority, imagining himself ruling the animal kingdom with iron claws. The rat plotted for what seemed an interminable time until he came up what he thought was the perfect plan.

On that fateful day the rat chewed off the lion's entire mane while he was sleeping. Then, carefully arranging the lion hair on his own pate using a sticky clay, the rat assumed the lion's kingly position on top of a tall ridge.

The lion awoke, completely unaware of his missing mane, and was startled to see the rat hunched proudly in his kingly place. Actually, it almost looked as if his mane had assumed his royal position without him. Enraged, the lion swallowed the rat, mane and all and resumed his rule of the animal kingdom. Afterwards he growled, "I'd be lyin' if I said that my mane is the only main reason for my position."

The cow rolled his eyes and muttered under his breath, "A rat can assume a mane, but that does not a lion make him."

"I don't get it," replied the wildebeast.

Who deh?