Sand, Mammary Glands, Museums, and Pool Parties

If I were to gather containers of sand from Charleston’s various beaches – the Isle of Palms, Sullivans, Kiawah, Seabrook, and Folly – I doubt anyone could identify where each container came from.  The sands of our barrier islands are pretty much indistinguishable. This, however, isn’t the case with the three beaches we’ve visited in Andalucía – Zehora, Caleta, and Tarifa.


Caleta Beach, Cadiz

Zahora’s sand reminds me a bit of slushy snow – it’s wet and sticky and orange-ish in hue (think Trump’s spray-on tan), and its blanket holds smooth rocks, ocean glass, and some cool shells.  The sands of Caleta, on the other hand, are drier, but also orange-colored.  Alas, Caleta’s beach is strewn with seaweed and litter.  By far the nicest sand is found in Tarifa, a funky mecca for surfers and kite boarders. There the sand is white, dry, and fine. Unlike the sands of Zahora, you can brush it off with a flick of your wrist.  One of my traveling companions, Brooks, age nine, was so taken with it, she gathered some and took it home to the apartment.


Perhaps of more interest to the general reader is the topic of naked female breasts, which, of course, are on display at most European beaches.  Like Mr. Palomar, the protagonist of Italo Calvino’s novel of the same name, I feel awkward when I get the opportunity to gaze at a total stranger’s mammary glands, and like Mr. Palomar, I do end up sneaking a peek, which I hope won’t be taken the wrong way by the flaunter of aureoles, which unfortunately isn’t the case when Mr. Palomar encounters a topless beachgoer in the novel.


In college, I remember being peer-pressured into going to a bar that featured a topless waitress.  When I entered, immediately, my inner-Victorian[1] took over as I stared intently into her sardonic eyes while she cracked jokes about the awkwardness of the situation. I was way uncomfortable in the head-hanging area of what might be called un-fun, but, of course, I couldn’t help indulging in a surreptitious glance or two (or maybe eight or seventy-eight).

Well, at the three beaches mentioned above, you occasionally encounter bare-breasted women but not to the extent I did in Cannes and Mykonos in the early ‘80s.[2]  Here in Spain, all but two of the topless I’ve encountered were closer to menopause than puberty. But, hey, I admire their lack of inhibition.  Bikini tops (and bras) look uncomfortable. Why not give the voyeur a thrill and Mr. Palomar the heebie-jeebies?

I don’t mind, however, staring at whatever in museums, and Caroline, Brooks, and I have taken in quite a few.  My favorites on the Vejer leg of our holiday are located in Gibraltar and Cadiz.  Both display a rich trove of ancient artifacts dating back to Paleolithic times. The one in Gibraltar has a couple of Neanderthal replications, “Nana” and “Flint,” constructed according to skeletons found in caves in the rocks.  Caroline questions the unkemptness of these two.  Wouldn’t they groom one another she wonders.

The museum in Cadiz has an impressive cache of Phoenician, Greek, and Roman artifacts. Photography wasn’t allowed there, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

flint and nana

So here’s a naked breast for you voyeurs out there

All in all, we’ve had such a good time, especially hanging with Charlie and Concha. We even got to go to a  pool party at the home of one of Charlie’s acquaintances, allowing us a more intimate peek at the Spanish having fun. Everyone was so nice and welcoming.

In general, I have found the Andalusians to be incredibly helpful and patient, whether it’s demonstrating how to operate a parking meter or preparing a special dish for Brooks. And, by the way, the food here in Vejer is wonderful.  The town has justly earned a reputation for fine dining. You won’t find sand in your food or topless waitresses but some absolutely delicious Moroccan cuisine to go along with traditional Spanish dishes.

Buenos noches from Vejer.


View of Vejer from our apartment’s terrace

[1]Hat tip to Charlie Geer for this useful coinage.

[2]Those beaches don’t have sand at all, but what the English call shingles, pebbles that are uncomfortable to lie on without a blanket.

Witless Trump Ain’t No Insult Artist


I read the other day that almost all of Trump’s supporters – 90% of Republicans according to a recent poll – admire him because he tells it as [he perceives] it is. For example, Maxine Waters is “low IQ,” Senator Mark Warner “a drunk,” and “whimpering” Jimmie Fallon less than “a man.”[1]

In other words, they admire him because he is a vulgarian.  But he’s not a clever vulgarian – his insults lack wit.  I never found Don Rickles funny, but compared to Trump, Rickles seems like Churchill vis a vis Lady Astor.

For example, Trump could utilize someone on his staff to crib insults from the Internet, since plagiarism didn’t seem to hurt the campaign one iota.

“Hey, Fallon,” he might tweet, “you’ll never be the man your mother was” or he could bitchslap Maxine Waters with, “If I ever wanted to kill myself, I’d climb up the top of your ego and jump down to the level of your IQ.”

“You know Senator Warner has a bad drinking problem: one mouth and two hands.”

Har har har.

And Republicans are whining that civility is at an all time low.

[1]That the leader of the so-called Free World” might be investing his time in more important ways than stooping to celebrity bashing doesn’t seem to occur to them.

Making the Rounds in Ronda

In Ronda, we made the rounds of museums, first Museo Lara, owned by a collector of oddities who lives in an apartment above those cultural artifacts on display, obsolete and obsolescent gadgets like telegraph apparatus,  gramophones, and typewriters and other interesting collectables like pipes and musical instruments.


More interesting — at least for me — are the rooms dedicated to the Inquisition where you can actually run your hands across the spikes of an iron maiden or check out the crudity of a head crusher or a chastity belt and marvel at other ingenious instruments of torture.



Then there’s a room devoted to the so-called black arts.  Here you can see such wonderful specimens like this:


Bat-headed crab?

The dioramas are also worth a peek.


Next we visited the Museo del Bandoleros, a unique collection dedicated to those highwaymen who have become the stuff of legend in Andalusia. Some of the more famous ones actually have comic books dedicated to them and comic-book like poetry, some in couplets, others in terza rima.



Our favorite is Juan Jose Mongolla, aka Pasos Largos,  who favors the Moore family.


Anyway, these marauders lived in caves along the highway and would swoop down  on horsemen and stage coaches divesting their victims of cumbersome gold and jewelry.  They also appear to have been popular with the ladies, if several paintings and woodcuts can be trusted that show the bandoleros on horseback serenading women troubadour-style.


They also were on hand to rescue damsels in distress.


These cats aren’t as lucky.


We also visited the Plaza del Toros, the bullring, one of the most revered in Spain, according to our travel guide.  Although it only seats 5,000, it’s circumference makes it one of the largest in Spain.  Hemingway, of course, was a paying customer here.  You can read about his association with the town here.


Still, one of the town’s coolest attractions is the Hotel Enfrente Arte, Spain’s answer to New York’s famous Chelsea Hotel.  I failed to mention in my previous post the wonderful breakfast they serve, which like beer and wine, is included in the daily rate.  A vast array of culinary delights are available.  My favorite was quail eggs and bacon with tomato on toast, brought to your table with a loud ta-da by the gregarious chef.

Our last night in Ronda, we hit another Flamenco show.  Although inferior to the performance we caught in Jerez, this one did feature a female dressed to the nines who was very impressive.  As she stomped her feat and contorted her body, an occasional bangle would disengage from her costume and fly across the stage.

Here she is the afternoon before the performance with one of her fans.


Like all good things — long-running sitcoms, bottles of Jamesons, happy marriages — our stay in Ronda had to come to its end.  On Thursday, we retrieved our rental car and made our way down to Vejer, which I have dubbed the Beirut of Southern Spain.  Here, we’re going to visit our first beach, so stay tuned.

A Morning after Flamenco



When I was little, when away,

I suffered homesickness,

Though my house stank

Of stale (and fresh) cigarette smoke.


This hotel room shares the same smell,

The smell of disappointment,

Of tattered smoking jackets.


Outside, trucks idle,

Doors clang shut, the blue sky stretches

Across Andalucía and Africa.



Like one just awakening.

Hotel Magic

You know you’re dealing with an ancient human settlement (9thcentury BCE according to our guide book) when the city center is named La Ciudad.[1]  We’re now in Ronda, a ridiculously picturesque cluster of buildings perched on a cliff overlooking a precipitous gorge.


Getting to the hotel through the narrow twisting streets (think Theseus/labyrinth) produced in me something like claustrophobia.  My rear view side mirrors came within centimeters of those of the cars parked along the curb, and pedestrians strolled as obliviously as if they’d just mainlined some anti-Darwinian drug (okay, smack) that rendered them oblivious to the (albeit creeping) oncoming traffic. I recalled the unsmiling face of rent-a-car woman at Seville’s airport suggesting we purchase extra insurance.[2]

However, ever so propitiously, as Caroline shouted, “There’s the hotel,” and suggested I park illegally for a sec while she ran in the inquire, a space came open right dab across the street.  Parking had been an issue in Jerez. Concha had directed us where we could park for free on a tree-lined street, which was great, and worked (no towing, smashed in windows or Yankee Go Home graffito), but our rental did look as if it had been a vehicle parked in the town of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.[3]


The hotel itself — Enfrente Arte — is dada-esque.

I’ll let the photos do the talking.


Here’s what’s hanging in my bathroom.


The most exotic amenity is a sitting area where fish provide pedicures (or, to be truthful, nibble your feet).



The Romantics and Hemingway dug Ronda, and it’s no wonder because it is wonderful.


[1]One of my favorite scams to pull on Brit Lit students is to pose the question “What was the name of the first theater in Elizabethan England?”  They always answer, “The Globe,” but the correct answer is “The Theater.”

[2]I’ve driven a lot abroad (including Jamaica, Ireland, Scotland, and England) and the only damage that happened (in Portugal) American Express took care of.

[3]I.e. bird shit splattered.

Spanish Holiday, Days 2 & 3

Monday 13th

If I were a real man, i.e., drove a Ford 150 Raptor with a Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” sticker emblazoning its bumper, I’d take in a bullfight while here in Andalucía.[1] After all, like many macho wannnbes, I read lots of Hemingway in my youth, commencing, of course, with The Old Man and the Sea, then The Sun Also Rises in my teens, all of those great short stories in my twenties (along with A Farewell to Arms and To Have and to Have Not).  I concluded the grand tour in ’83, half a lifetime ago, with For Whom the Bell Tolls, which I finished in Athens, Greece, the summer before Judy and I conceived our first son Harrison.

Note that the catalogue lacks Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway’s non-fiction paean to the ritualistic blood ballet of bullfighting. That’s just how much I’m not into bullfighting.  People say read Death in the Afternoon for the writing, but I’m hip to Hemingway’s style.  Nope, I ain’t doing it. Bullfighting gives me the heebie jeebies.


In fact, I’m so not macho that I actually didn’t enjoy the Real Escuela de Arte Equestre (Royal School of Equestrian Art) horseshow I saw in Jerez today at noon. Caroline dubbed it “animal cruelty lite” and Brooks considered it “just sad.”

Don’t get me wrong.  No one stuck picas or banderillas in the horses and finished them off with a sword thrust through the heart; however, the horses – and they were beautiful – were forced to be unnatural, to sidle, to prance, to rear, to rear and kick, and none of these stunts were particularly graceful. The rearing reminded me of a weak tween after great strain successfully accomplishing a pull-up in PE.


The final act, though, was the best.  A dozen or so horses and riders did a sort of Bugsy Berkeley routine where they interlaced to form patterns that would no doubt be kaleidoscopically cool looking from a bird’s eye view perspective.

But, hey, consider the source, non macho me.  Virtually everyone else besides us seemed to dig it big time, clapping vigorously with each rear and kick. They say if you visit Jerez you have to see it, and we did.


Now, Flamenco is another thing altogether.  Caroline, Brooks, and I met Charlie, Concha, Concha’s sister Maria Jose, and her friend Marissa at a tiny club half a block away from our apartment.

The stage consisted of a percussive board on the floor.  The show started around ten with three performers seated in chairs in a row.  To my right was a terrific guitarist, a vocalist in the middle, and what seemed to be a foot percussionist to the left.  The guitarist went to town while the other two provided frenetic percussion with hand claps and foot-stomping, and the time they kept was complicated, at cross currents.  The singing was plaintive, a sort of extended, insistent lament that featured dramatic, pained expressions.  Undoubtedly, his baby done him wrong or perished in a fire or something else permanent scar producing.

Eventually, the fellow on my left jumped up and started dancing, doing that staccato, rapid fire foot stomping that I associate with flamenco. He, too, was quite dramatic, almost campy, leaning back, throwing his arms into the air.  This short video doesn’t do it justice, but I was too close to the stage.[2] Later cousins joined in with extended vocal solos, and a couple of women took the stage for some solo dancing.


So, all and all, it was a full, day punctuated by a delightful hour long snooze during siesta.  Today we’re off to one of Charlie and Concha’s friend’s house to watch Spain go against Portugal.

 Fun Facts/ Personal Notes

 Few people speak English here, so I’ve become an expert mime, hoisting my hands into the air, scribbling on an invisible notebook to summon the waiter, etc.

Wednesday night we had a delicious dinner provided by Concha on the rooftop patio of their beautiful home.   Check out their views.  Adios!


[1]No, I drive a Mini Cooper with a “Howl if you like City Lights Bookstore” slapped crookedly on the back bumper.

[2]Alas, I’m non my school laptop that doesn’t have iMovie, Final Cut pro, or even Photoshop for that matter, so forgive the crudity of the video.

Holiday in Spain: Jerez, Days 1 & 2

Here in our first full day in Jerez, a lovely, laidback city in Cadiz Province in Andalucía,[1] a solution to the over development of South Carolina’s Lowcountry dawned on me, plopped upon my head like that proverbial Newtonian apple.

The county councils of Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester counties should impose mandatory siestas from 3 to 6 pm every day of the week. [cue John and Yoko’s “Imagine.”]

For example, here is a normally busy street in Jerez at 4 pm.  And let me tell you, it’s as quiet as it is empty.


In my dream world where Americans love themselves more than lucre, business chains in the Lowcountry would relocate for the sake of shareholders because 3 hours of closure each day would harm the bottom line. With fewer people, traffic with its incumbent pollution (air and sound) would decrease.  Workers and school children could nap, listen to music, watch soap operas, or catch up on homework.  Returning refreshed, their productivity would soar, and the nighttime, so squandered in the USA, could be reclaimed as a time of comingling with humans outside the narrow confines of condo or apartment (not to mention ranch home or McMansion).

Of course, the odds of this happening are as unlikely as Clemson deciding to change the school colors from orange to fuchsia or Donald J Trump coming up with a nugget of self-deprecating humor.

Suggested example: Trump to Kim:  You’re having a bad hair day!  Christ, you don’t know the meaning of bad hair day.


Nevertheless, in the world of retirement, where I am the master of my time and I can enjoy socialized medicine, I shall live like an Andalucían.

After a my extended nap, I’ll ride my bicycle to Chico Feo (but not Taco Boy).

Fun Facts/ Personal Notes

People here speak with a lisp.  Cerveza is pronounced cerveztha and gracias, gracthia (no-s).

Like in Germany (and probably every other country in Europe), you get a ticket from a parking meter machine and place it on your dashboard.

Here are a couple of photos of our two-bedroom apartment (hat tip to Charlie and Caroline for finding and booking it).

And here’s a photo of Caroline, Brooks, and Charlie.


Charlie, by the way, has recently become a bit of a celebrity in Spain.  Here are a couple of reasons:

Check him out.

[1]I suspect calling any city in Andalucia laidback reeks of redundancy.

A Footnote to the Previous Post RE Bill Clinton and Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A not-so-quick footnote to yesterday’s post:  During the Reagan Administration, Garcia Marquez was labeled a subversive and denied visas to enter the US.  After Clinton was elected President, he lifted the travel ban.  Here’s a snippet from an article from Salon that is no longer available detailing Garcia Marquez’s first meeting with Clinton at William Styron’s house with the Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes also in attendance:

Garcia Marquez with Clinton

Dinner began at 8, with some 14 guests around the table, and lasted until midnight.  Bit by bit, the conversation came down to a kind of literary round table involving the president and the three writers.  The first topic that came up was the forthcoming Summit of the Americas.  Clinton had wanted it held in Miami, where it did take place.  Carlos Fuentes considered that New Orleans or Los Angles had stronger historical claims, and he and I argued strongly for them until it became clear that the president had no intention of changing his plans because he was counting on reelection support from Miami.

“Forget the votes, Mr. President,” Carlos said to him.  “Lose Florida and make history.”  That phrase set the tone.  When he spoke of the problem of narco-traffic, the president heard me out generously.

“Thirty million drug addicts in the US go to show that the North American mafia are more powerful than those in Colombia, and the authorities much more corrupt.”  When I spoke to him about relations with Cuba, he seemed more receptive.  “If Fidel and you could sit and talk face to face, all problems would completely disappear.”

When we talked about Latin America in general, we realized that he was much more interested than we supposed, although he lacked some essential background.  When the conversation stiffened a bit, we asked him what his favorite movie was, and he answered “High Noon,” by Fred Zimmerman, whom he had recently honored in London.  When we asked him what he was reading, he sighed and mentioned a book on economic wars of the future, author and title unknown to me.

“Better to read ‘Don Quixote,” I said to him.  “Everything’s in there.” Now the ‘Quixote’ is a book that is not read nearly as much as is claimed, although very few admit to not having read it.  With two or three quotes, Clinton showed that he knew it very well indeed.  Responding, he asked us what our favorite books were.  Styron said his was “Huckleberry Finn.”

I would have said “Oedipus Rex,” which has been my bed table book for the last 20 years, but I named “The Count of Monte Cristo,” mainly for reasons of technique, which I had some trouble explaining.

Clinton said his was the “Meditations of Marcus Aurelius,” and Carlos Fuentes stuck loyally to “Absalom, Absalom,” Faulkner’s stellar novel, no question, although others would choose “Light in August” for purely personal reasons.  Clinton, in homage to Faulkner, got to his feet and, pacing around the table, recited from memory Benji’s monologue, the most thrilling passage, and perhaps the most hermetic, from “The Sound and the Fury.”

Faulkner got us talking about the affinities between Caribbean writers and the cluster of great Southern novelists of the United States.  It made much more sense to us to think of the Caribbean not as a geographical region surrounded by its sea but as a much wider historical and cultural belt stretching from the north of Brazil to the Mississippi Basin.

Mark Twain, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and so many others would then be just as Caribbean as Jorge Amado and Derek Walcott. Clinton, born and raised in Arkansas, a Southern state, applauded the notion and professed himself happy to be a Caribbean.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Whippersnappers, Stage Moms vs. the Would-Be Wisdom of the Elders (starring Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

For decades social critics have grown hoarse decrying the indisputable fact that North American culture has declined into a cult of youth.  Among other touchstones, they cite sitcoms that almost universally depict adults (especially males) as intellectually inferior to the wisecracking ten-year-old ironists who ultimately rule the ranch(-style) houses of Televisionland. No matter that in real life these child stars possess all of the autonomy of their collie colleague, Lassie, as whip-cracking stage mothers, robbing them of their childhoods, herd them into blinding klieg lights.

Remember Brittany Spears?

I can’t resist.  Check out these before and after pix of Brittany:



And, of course, if you buy into perverse premise that aging is horrible, you’re pretty much doomed to a life of diminishing satisfaction as hairlines recede, varicose veins branch out, dogs die, and crowsfeet deepen into talons.  What traditionally has offered recompense for this physical decay is an accumulation of remembered experiences that have formed patterns of meaning that ultimately lead to an august understanding that the life cycle is natural and that death is the mother of beauty. [cue: Ecclesiastes, the Byrds]

However, and here’s the rub, many 21st Century citizens mostly experience “life” through the looking glass of mass media. For example, I calculate that my stay-at-home maternal grandmother spent the last forty years of her life in 16-hour stints of non-stop TV.  If that’s your lifestyle, the patterns you’re accumulating are illusions concocted to sell products and services, so ultimately, you’re experiencing a wildly disappropriate number of happy endings and a constant barrage of eye-pleasing artifacts and sculpted spokespeople who sell the concept that beauty is skin deep.  In the above scenario, the TV saturated senior citizen glued to reruns of Murder She Wrote or, worse, Fox News is less likely than the sober-minded 30-something social worker in providing good advice.

On the other hand, some old soul who has experienced an intense, widely travelled existence, who has weathered childhood, young adulthood, parenthood, widowhood, disease, exaltation, depression, and compassion should be treasured, the way I treasure the planet’s greatest novelist of the last quarter of the previous century.  I’m talking about my man, Gabo, i.e., Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  And when that old soul transformed his experience into a novel, what we got (and get) is not a concoction, but a revelation, the embodiment of wisdom.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, his wide Mercedes, and their two sons in Barcelona, c. 1960

A late novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, offers a case in point.  Ostensibly, the narrative explores an incurable romantic’s life.  Quixotic Florentino Ariza has had a lifelong fixation on an instantaneous infatuation, which, as far as I can determine, has only resulted in one happy ending (see La Comedia Divina).  Love in the Time of Cholera depicts long-lived lives in which wisdom alchemizes from the dross of life, particularly the life of Fermina Daza Urbino, who stands out as one of the greatest female characters of the last fifty years.  Here she is via free indirect speech (in Edith Grossman’s translation) thinking of her dead husband:

For now she understood him better than when he was alive, she understood the yearning of his love, the urgent need he felt to find in her security that seemed the mainstay of his public life and that in reality he never possessed.  One day, at the height of her desperation, she had shouted at him:  “You don’t understand how unhappy I am.”  Unperturbed, he took off his eyeglasses with a characteristic gesture, he flooded her with the transparent waters of his childlike eyes, and in a single phrase he burdened her with the weight of his unbearable wisdom: “Always remember that the most important thing in a good marriage is not happiness, but stability.”  With the first loneliness of her widowhood she had understood that the phrase did not conceal the miserable threat that she attributed to it at the time, but was the lodestone that had given them so many happy hours.

Here are Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza finally consummating their love in their seventies, a scene that no doubt would send most of my current students to the medicine cabinet for some Dramamine:

She took him to the bedroom and, with the lights on, began to undress without false modesty.  Florentino Ariza was on the bed, lying on his back and trying to gain control, once again not knowing what to do with the skin of the tiger he had slain.  She said, “Don’t look.” He asked why without taking his eyes off the ceiling.

“Because you won’t like it,”  she said.

Then he looked at her and saw her naked to her waist, just as he had imagined her.  Her shoulders were wrinkled, her breasts sagged, her ribs were covered by flabby skin as pale and cold as a frogs [. . .]

It was the first time she had made love in twenty years, and she had been held back by her curiosity how it would feel after so long a respite, but he had not given her time to find out if her body loved him too.  It had been hurried and sad, and she thought: Now we’ve screwed everything up.  But she was wrong: despite the disappointment that each of them felt, despite his regret for his clumsiness and her remorse for the madness of the anisette, they were not apart for a moment in the days that followed [. . .] They did not try to make love again to much later, when the inspiration came to them without looking for it.  They were satisfied with the simple joy of being together.

Carpe diem indeed!


How Not to Teach “The Most Dangerous Game”

The first lesson I remember teaching in high school was the Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” one of the most idiotic short stories ever written.  Not only does plot pull the plug on your “suspension of disbelief,”[1] but also the prose is as bad as grammatical prose can be.

For example,

“You’ve good eyes,” said Whitney, with a laugh, “and I’ve seen you pick off a moose moving in the brown fall bush at four hundred yards, but even you can’t see four miles or so through a moonless Caribbean night.”

Girls and boys, this is called exposition, background information, and, of course, no one talks like that.

“Hi, Judy, your balding husband of twelve years has arrived home after teaching high school English to a group of high achieving, mostly upper-income adolescents who live in and about the city where the Civil War began!  How about rustling me up a Heineken, stay-at-home mom, since it’s 1985 and feminism hasn’t kicked in yet down here?”

Actually, the late Lawrence Perrine put the story first in his text Literature, Sound, and Sense to demonstrate why commercial fiction shouldn’t be taken seriously.  Of course, most of the kids liked the story before I began my butchering.  You got clearly defined good and evil, not to mention “Malay Mancatchers” and “Burmese Tiger pits.”  My method was to mock the story in the mode of stand up comedian, to act out some of the scenes.

The plot goes like this. Sanford Rainsford, an American big game hunter, is talking on a yacht in the Caribbean about how he has no sympathy for the prey he pursues.  Happily, in an act of idiocy that could land him a Darwin Award nomination, he falls overboard.

[After hearing gunfire,] Rainsford sprang up and moved quickly to the rail, mystified.  He strained his eyes in the direction from which the report had come, but it was like trying to see though a blanket.  He leapt upon the rail [as if that would help] and balanced himself there, to get greater elevation; his pipe, striking a rope, was knocked from his mouth.  He lunged for it; a short, hoarse cry came from his lips as he realized he had reached too far and had lost his balance. The cry was pinched off short as the blood-warm waters of the Caribbean Sea closed over his head.

As he swims toward Shipwreck Island, he hears more gunplay, and we’re treated to perhaps the most ludicrous dialogue prompt in the history of world literature:

“Pistol shot,” muttered Rainsford, swimming on. [Here I pantomime an Australian crawl, and as my head emerges from the water I mutter “pistol shot” and then continue swimming].

As it turns out, Shipwreck Island is the home of proto Bond villain General Zaroff, a Russian aristocrat so cartoonish he makes Boris Badenov from Bullwinkle look like Fyodor Paviovich Karamazov.

Rainsford makes it to the island, manages to sleep on the beach until “late afternoon” and begins to engage in Cartesian interpretations of physical nature:

“Where there are pistol shots, there are men.  Where there are men, there is food,” he thought.

He discovers some human footprints that lead to General Zaroff’s compound.  Oddly, Rainsford loses confidence in his powers of observation, like maybe he’s flashing back on some windowpane acid he dropped back at Yale after WW1.

“Mirage,” thought Rainsford. But it was no mirage, he found, when he opened the tall spiked gate.


At the door he’s greeted by Ivan, Zaroff’s henchman, “ a gigantic creature, solidly made and black-bearded to the waist.”

ZZ Top meets Andre the Giant.

Rainsford is conducted to a room where “Ivan had laid out an evening suit.”  As he puts it on, Rainsford notices “that it came from a London tailor who ordinarily cut and sewed for none below the rank of duke.”

Oh, those were the days.

Zaroff serves Rainsford a vague meal consisting of unspecified “cocktails” and “a particularly well cooked fillet mignon.”  Was it cooked to perfection or cooked well done? Who knows?

As it turns out, the tables are turned on Rainsford.  Zaroff’s hobby is hunting human beings, i.e., “the most dangerous game.”

When Rainsford voices outrage at the concept of hunting humans, Zaroff replies, “I refuse to believe that so modern and civilized young man as you seem to be harbors romantic ideas about the value of human life.”

Boo! Hiss!

The game doesn’t seem all that fair to this non-hunter.  Ivan supplies Rainsford with hunting clothes, food, and a knife whereas Zaroff gets a pack of hounds, Ivan, and an armory of high-powered weaponry.  If Rainsford manages to elude his predator for three days, he’ll be placed “on a the mainland near a town.”  Zaroff adds, “I will give you my word of honor as a gentleman and sportsman.”

So now the fun really begins.  As Zaroff tracks Rainsford through the jungle, Rainsford engages in the very un-Darwinian habit of talking out loud to himself.

“I will not lose my nerve, I will not.”

Cat and mouse. Rainsford fashions a “Maylay man-catcher” and – the highlight of the story for me — a Burmese Tiger Pit.

Rainsford “stepped back from the quicksand a dozen feet or so, and like some huge prehistoric beaver, he began to dig.”

A Beaver!  Why a beaver?  Remember studying about pre-historic beavers the size of mastadons? I don’t.

Of course, good triumphs over evil. Trapped at the end of the story, Rainsford jumps off a cliff, presumably to his death.

Here’s how it ends.

When the general and his pack reached the place by the sea, the Cossack stopped. For some minutes he stood regarding the blue-green expanse of water. He shrugged his shoulders. Then be sat down, took a drink of brandy from a silver flask, lit a cigarette, and hummed a bit from Madame Butterfly.

General Zaroff had an exceedingly good dinner in his great paneled dining hall that evening. With it he had a bottle of Pol Roger and half a bottle of Chambertin. Two slight annoyances kept him from perfect enjoyment. One was the thought that it would be difficult to replace Ivan; the other was that his quarry had escaped him; of course, the American hadn’t played the game–so thought the general as he tasted his after-dinner liqueur. In his library he read, to soothe himself, from the works of Marcus Aurelius. At ten he went up to his bedroom. He was deliciously tired, he said to himself, as he locked himself in. There was a little moonlight, so, before turning on his light, he went to the window and looked down at the courtyard. He could see the great hounds, and he called, “Better luck another time,” to them. Then he switched on the light.

A man, who had been hiding in the curtains of the bed, was standing there.

“Rainsford!” screamed the general. “How in God’s name did you get here?”

“Swam,” said Rainsford. “I found it quicker than walking through the jungle.”

The general sucked in his breath and smiled. “I congratulate you,” he said. “You have won the game.”

Rainsford did not smile. “I am still a beast at bay,” he said, in a low, hoarse voice. “Get ready, General Zaroff.”

The general made one of his deepest bows. “I see,” he said. “Splendid! One of us is to furnish a repast for the hounds. The other will sleep in this very excellent bed. On guard, Rainsford.” . . .

He had never slept in a better bed, Rainsford decided.

So that’s it. Rainsford puts on his pajamas and falls asleep in Zaroff’s bed.

The end, no contemplation of what he’d just experienced.  Let’s hope he loots the joint or at least cops that duke grade tuxedo.

[1]This is Coleridge’s term for our willingness to allow magic carpets to defy Newtonian physics for the sake of the story. However, we readers (or movie watchers) will tolerate only so much.  Cf. Mystery Science Theater 3000.