Dogs, Festivals, folklore, music

Ay Chihuahuas!

Shayla, the Life Guard, winner of Chihuahua contest.  © Norine Dresser, 2013.  All rights reserved
Shayla, the Life Guard, winner of Chihuahua contest. © Norine Dresser, 2013. All rights reserved.

Salsa Fest in Las Cruces features salsa bands, salsa tasting, and a costumed Chihuahua contest.  I skipped the salsa tasting because I knew I’d over-stuff myself with chips.  I laughed at all the dressed-up critters and agreed with their choice of winner, Shayla, the Life Guard Dog.

Mostly I enjoyed the fiery live salsa music and set aside my cane for one dance with my daughter.

Salsa music, or more accurately Latin music, has played an important role in my life.  At age 14, I spent Easter vacation with some girlfriends (chaperoned by a mom) on  Catalina Island, 26 miles off the coast of Southern California.  That’s where I became mesmerized by the song, “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás,” played twice daily by a Mexican trio greeting tourists as they disembarked from the SS Catalina, also known as the Great White Steamer.

Four years later, when a handsome stranger, Harold, asked me to dance at a UCLA social event, I accepted but was disinterested until he asked, “Do you like Latin Music?”   We left UCLA and he took me to a small club in Santa Monica to dance to the syncopated Cuban music of René Touzet, at the start of his successful musical career.

Shared love of this music lasted throughout our almost 56 years of marriage.  We even won a rhumba dance contest aboard a cruise ship one year.  Passion for Latin music persisted through Harold’s death and beyond.  Before he died, he agreed when I asked, “Would you like me to play the Buena Vista Social Club music as guests enter the funeral chapel?”  One year later, at his memorial service, my son brought his contrabass; I passed out song sheets and rhythm instruments to close friends and family, and we sang one of Harold’s favorite songs, “Guantanamera.”

Even though, he has been gone for over six years, I frequently listen to salsa CDs that evoke wonderful memories of our dancing together through life.  I often dance alone in the kitchen.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who loves Latin Music.

Nature, Nature

Waiting for Whitey

While purchasing bird food here in Las Cruces, I stood next to a woman who appeared to be a regular customer.  The owner advised, “Caryl, your live meal worms are here.”

Whitey at top left corner of patio wall sconce.  © Norine Dresser, 2013.  All rights reserved.
Whitey at top left corner of patio wall sconce. © Norine Dresser, 2013. All rights reserved.

In my common role as Nosy Norine, I asked, “Which birds eat live worms?”  She pleasantly responded that the recipient was Whitey, an albino curve-billed thrasher, that comes for the worms after Caryl calls her by name.  After I left the store I realized I missed an opportunity — but not for long.

Last week I met Caryl Hammel in the parking lot of a popular Mexican restaurant in Mesilla and followed her car about five miles through an agricultural setting and then up a dirt road to her home that sits on a mesa dense with high desert vegetation, rabbits, and varieties of feeders bursting with food.  The resulting cacophony of sounds from the feasting birds delighted me.

Once I settled inside Caryl’s home, she kept going outdoors to call “Whitey” and worried because she hadn’t seen her bird that morning.  That was unusual because Whitey was sitting on her third nest on the year.   Whitey’s mate, Beau, helped the fledglings and he was present, but there was no sign of Whitey.

Finally, Whitey grabbed some worms off the patio table and flew back inside the the wall sconce where she had built her nest.  Then she poked her head out and watched us.  Afterward, Caryl placed some worms in a dish outside the front door and called, “Whitey, Whitey.”  Before long Whitey obliged.

Whitey dining on worms.  © Norine Dresser, 2013.  All rights reserved.
Whitey dining on worms. © Norine Dresser, 2013. All rights reserved.

Caryl and Whitey have had over an eight-year relationship and Caryl is emotionally attached to this thrasher.  As she recalled what she deems as a privileged moment when Carol actually held Whitey in her hands after rescuing her from the chimney, Caryl’s eyes filled with tears.

I know how she feels,  Even when my cat, Tommy, snuggles with me in bed and lays his front leg over my arm, I am so touched.  I think of it as magic — loving interaction across species.

I once wrote a paper for a veterinary textbook, Companion Animals and Us.  Called “The Horse Bar Mitzvah,” the essay explored human/animal interactions.  Why?  What satisfactions did humans receive?

My favorite response came from a former Roman Catholic Jesuit priest when I asked why he and his wife had given their 13-month-old kitten a Cat Bat Mitzvah.  He explained that they wanted to celebrate the beauty of creation as manifested in a particular little animal.  By so doing, they realized their own at-homeness in the universe.

Having a deep connection to another species is a religious experience.

Norine Dresser

Norine Dresser is a folklorist and animal lover

customs/rituals, folklore, good luck/bad luck

Lynn Welling Tuned My House

Sounds and their benefit to the human psyche fascinate Lynn Welling, an academically trained musician.  Thus, when she offered to tune my new home here in Las Cruces, I was excited, even though I had no idea what she was talking about.

Tuning one wall of the house.  © Norine Dresser, 2013.
Tuning one wall of the house. © Norine Dresser, 2013.

First, she played a CD that produced a single tone; then she struck tuning forks to begin their vibrating and placed them against a wall; next she waited until the wall’s tone matched the sound emanating from the CD.  Amazingly, this occurred each time.  She did this for each wall of the house and by the time she finished, literally and metaphorically, the house was in tune with itself.

Tuning the house is a kind of a purification rite that reminded me of what various Native American tribes do when they smudge a house.  They ignite a bundle of sage, blow out the flames and then move the ensuing smoke in and out of all the rooms.

Smudging generally occurs before a person moves into a home.  I even know of someone who had her house smudged after a divorce.  The ex-wife, who planned to remain in the home, wanted to remove all traces of her ex-husband.

This reminds me about the birth of my first granddaughter.  Before her Persian father left home to pick up my daughter and their baby from the hospital, he took a strainer and placed some leaves of the rue shrub in it.  Next, he ignited the greenery and when lit, blew out the flames.  He than moved the smoking strainer in and out of each room and door.

I watched in amazement because I had never witnessed anything like this before.  When I asked him why he did it, he explained, “To keep away the evil eye.”

As a new grandmother that shocked me, but as an experienced folklorist, I thought, “How could it hurt?”

Rituals are powerful methods for achieving peace of mind.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who lives in a well-tuned house.

able/disabled, disabilities, independence, mobility

Cane & Able


After several bad falls, I promised my family that I would use a cane whenever I was away from home.  This depressed me because I associated canes with those ugly brown ones dispensed by the hospital after my three hip replacement surgeries.  No, I don’t have three hips.  My artificial left hip had to be revised when I dislocated it a few times.

After I acquiesced to using a cane, a friend suggested that I collect unusual ones.  I

Ornamental canes.  © Norine Dresser, 2013.
Ornamental canes. © Norine Dresser, 2013.

instantly seized upon her fabulous idea and Googled “ornamental canes.”  Consequently, I have a container stuffed with canes of all kinds.  Now when I leave the house, I select the one that best goes with my outfit.  My cane is no longer a tool.  Instead it has become a fashion accessory as well as a conversation starter.

Frequently strangers come up to me and comment, “I love your cane.”  Just as often someone will launch into a discussion about someone in the family who uses one or tells me that she has a collection of canes that belonged to a deceased relative.

When I ordered my first cane online, the owner of the company told me that she originally had a gift shop in a resort area on the East Coast.  She noted that very chicly dressed women would stop in but their plain hospital-issue canes destroyed their sophisticated looks.  She experimented with creating artistically designed canes, and that was the genesis for what has become her successful ornamental cane enterprise.

Several years ago while in Jordan, the tour bus driver stopped at a shop selling souvenirs.  I admired a gorgeous cane inlaid with mother-of-pearl but decided not to purchase it because then I would have to carry two canes for the rest of the trip.  One of my bus mates warned, “If you don’t buy this incredible cane for only $18, you will regret it forever.  I agreed and to date this cane receives the most compliments of my collection.

Now with creeping decrepitude, I have begun wearing hearing aids.  Do you think a collection of ear trumpets will be as successful as my canes?



able/disabled, driving, independence

You Still Drive?

Routinely, my physician asks, “How did you get here today?”  When I tell him I drove to his office on my own, he asks with astonishment, “You still drive?”

Norine STILL behind the wheel.  © Norine Dresser, 2013
Norine STILL behind the wheel. © Norine Dresser, 2013

Perhaps, as he reviews my history before stepping into the examining room, he notes my age and assumes that I am no longer capable behind the wheel. He has no way of knowing that in my 81 years I have received only two moving violation tickets.

I took an AARP refresher course to convince my family that I was still a competent driver. Image my consternation when the instructor admitted that he was blind in one eye, had lawsuits pending regarding vehicular accidents — in one he backed into a woman pushing a baby stroller — and best of all, he had Alzheimer’s.  After eight hours of his teaching, I felt as capable as a NASCAR driver.

Still the association of age with loss of driving skills is worrisome.  While leaving a manicure shop, the technician called out, “Someone picking you up?” I assured her I would be just fine driving myself.

I am ambivalent about being old.  On the one hand, I try to dress stylishly and keep my hair up-to-date.  And I must admit that I was flattered when my new physical therapist expressed surprise at how I looked after he first checked my medical history listing all my ailments and surgeries.  I wasn’t nearly as decrepit as expected.  On the other hand, I relish the senior citizen perks at concert, theater, and movie venues.
Once I had a university student who was a newcomer from China.  He worked nights as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown and told of a puzzling event that occurred there.

One evening a middle-aged Anglo couple placed their dinner order and expressed surprise at how quickly he brought them the food.  My student explained, “We always serve the elderly first.”

Immediately, the customers called over the manager to complain that being called “elderly” offended them.  After apologizing to the couple, the manager called his waiter into the other room and scolded him for calling the couple “elderly.”  My student was confused for in his culture the elderly receive the highest respect.  He could not understand why anyone would reject being held in high esteem. 

Norine Dresser