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Black Lamb


Black Lamb was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Published monthly. (more)


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Trash talk

December 1st, 2013


I just got back from a run to the dump, or as it’s called now, the Recycling Center. Today, Peterborough is an island of progressives, conservationists, and wildlife protectors in New Hampshire’s sea of conservatives, real estate developers, and gun-besotted Bambi and Tea Baggers, but its shift to environmentalism is of fairly recent vintage. When my wife and I bought our house here, in 1988, the dump was still a dump. You tossed your trash and garbage into the reeking pit of other people’s crap and forgot about it. Out of sight, out of mind — only the trash wasn’t entirely out of sight. Some of the paper and plastic wound up in the Contoocook River that runs through the center of town, washed up on the banks or floating merrily down the stream.

And there was worse stuff in the river, because the dump pit leached all manner of toxic fluids into the ground, and it all percolated into the water. At the end of summer, when the river was low, there was often an iridescent slick on its surface. The Contoocook never actually caught fire, the way Cleveland’s Cuyahoga did in 1969, because it runs too fast. But it stank, and if you stood next to it for any length of time, your eyes would smart and your nose would start running.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Tompkins | Link to this Entry

November 2013 in Black Lamb

Volume 11, Number 11 — November 2013

November 1st, 2013

The All-Europe Issue

In November’s All-Europe Issue, Dean Suess sums up his four visits with the sentences I came. I saw. I ate. In The poor people of Paris, Greg Roberts argues that Europeans live like peasants compared to Americans. Emily Emerson says in C’est quoi, Obamacare? that for medical reasons, she’s glad she lives in France. Toby Tompkins gets to appear in a scene from one of his favorite books in St. Serendipity in Palermo. In Wild rides, John M. Daniel describes a scary brush with drug trafficking. Rod Ferrandino says in I dare say that the youth of Great Britain sound a great deal more articulate than their American counterparts. In Travel cuisine Elizabeth Fournier describes her search as a girl for junk food in Europe.

Two more figures from the world of literature — American novelist Kurt Vonnegut and Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson — are welcomed into our gallery of Honorary Black Lambs. In Keep your hands to yourself! advice columnist Millicent Marshall criticizes the new American penchant for inappropriate hugging. And Prof. Avram Khan gives us another challenging word puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Europe Issue, Month summaries | Link to this Entry

The poor people of Paris

Compared to Americans, Europeans live like peasants.

November 1st, 2013


In the 1970s our family worked for rich people who kept summer homes near Three Lakes, Wisc. Yard work, housework, boat and pier work — we were the avant garde of today’s Mexicans. Not exactly; we were good friends with the boss, a bank president, and he invited us to many an elaborate cook-out with porterhouse steaks the size of Frisbees and glasses of port from the 1930s.

skullscatacombsparis*Jack, the banker, loved fishing and hunting in the British Isles, and during one of his many trips there he bought some springer spaniels. He imported not only these goofy, high-strung animals, he also brought back the gamekeeper and his wife. They would stay on for the summer to train the pups and help set up a pheasant run on one of Jack’s properties.

Alan, the Englishman, visited our house one day and was amazed at what he found. A Ford pickup, a Buick Park Avenue, boats on trailers, snowmobiles, and fine shotguns hanging on the living room walls. He was pole-axed by such wealth in the hands of people who did the same kind of work as he. “Good Lord, everyone is rich in this country,” he said, as if it were leprosy. And later I heard his wife mutter, “Our last big dream was to buy a sewing machine, and we saved the whole year to do it.”

That’s Europeans for you. In spite of the Magna Carta, they never had anything and never will. And they seem to be getting worse. A bicycle ride to the cafe, an espresso and cigarette, and a conversation on Twitter. Man, that’s living! And now it’s time to pedal back home to Mama and Papa, to the same crappy apartment and small room you grew up in.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Europe Issue, Roberts | Link to this Entry

October 2013 in Black Lamb

Volume 11, Number 10 — October 2013

October 1st, 2013

In this October’s issue, Toby Tompkins reports on New Hampshire’s notorious blackfly in State bird. In Civic boondoggle, Gil Johnson outlines a recipe for disaster: the convention mega-hotel. John M. Daniel gives us the second part of his three-part series on his European travels, Schlepping my ego.

On his own in Denver, Benjamin Feliciano encounters a goose in Dying. In London, Dan Peterson relates how the English capital beckons but he prefers Milan. In Junk pile, Elizabeth Fournier describes homemade shelters called Earthships. Karla Kruggel Powell describes that with her two birds, Life is song. Brad Bigelow reviews an excellent early novel by Christopher Morley. M.A. Orthofer reviews two novels by the Italian mafia expert Leonardo Sciascia.

Two figures from the world of literature — English travel writer Jan Morris and American novelist Norman Rush — are welcomed into our gallery of Honorary Black Lambs. In A little prudence, bridge writer Trixie Barkis shows the benefits of caution. Our delicious lamb recipe is for Stout-Braised Lamb Shanks. In Put a sock in it, advice columnist Millicent Marshall criticizes people who advertise their ailments. And Prof. Avram Khan gives us another challenging word puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Month summaries | Link to this Entry

State bird

The not-so-merry month of May

October 1st, 2013


In New Hampshire, May ought to be the best month of the year. October is exhilarating, certainly, with the maples dressed in their glorious colors and the temperature brisk and bracing, but the color and the temperature are reminders that winter is just around the corner. And winter lasts forever, or seems to, in the Live, Freeze, and Die State. November’s a bleak misery, the landscape reduced to grays and browns and the cold rains soon giving way to sleet and snow. December, January, and February are all deep freeze. March is aptly known as mud-time, with thaws producing slush and sticky muck, until the temperature plummets, the mud freezes again, and a blizzard or an ice storm sets in. April’s a mocker: the sun warms a little, peepers pipe up in the trees, and the migratory birds wing in from the south, singing of spring. But the promise in their song is empty, for there’s usually sleet or even snow before the month is out.

And then, at last, comes lovely May in all her lush and tender beauty, warm and sweet, with flowers in her hair. The ground is soft, the garden’s ready for planting, the shaggy green lawn needs mowing, and winter-deferred projects around the house and grounds are all planned out and ready to go.

blackflyUnfortunately, in New England May is a queen held hostage by cruel savages, very small but implacably bloodthirsty, whose tribal name is Simuliidae culicomorpha. They’re common all over North America, known by various names, buffalo gnat and turkey gnat for two. In New Hampshire we just call them black flies, and some people consider them the real state bird, despite the purple finch’s official status. (I can’t remember ever seeing a purple finch in the twenty-six years my wife have had our New Hampshire house, except in a bird book.)

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Tompkins | Link to this Entry

September 2013 in Black Lamb

Volume 11, Number 9 — September 2013

September 1st, 2013

The All-Pets Issue

In this September issue devoted to domesticated creatures, Terry Ross confesses that he misses his recently deceased cat Jimmy more than he misses his dead relatives. Elizabeth Fournier celebrates life with goats in Peaceable kingdom. John M. Daniel describes a neighbor’s unfortunate animals in Randy’s menagerie.

In All I want for my birthday is a horse, Susan Bennett details her fascination with equines. Toby Tompkins admits that he fears dogs in Dog stories. In Must love dogs, Gil Johnson recounts his research concerning single women and canines. Dan Peterson bids Goodbye to his wife’s pet in sign language. In My life is song, Karla Kruggel Powell says her budgies have brightened her existence. Gregory McNamee reviews a book on zoos in Rattling the cages. In Life & death Christine Canfield reviews a book about killing dogs and cats. Terry Ross reviews primatologist Frans de Waal’s latest book on the similarities between apes and humans.

Two figures from the world of literature — Englishmen H.G. Wells and William Golding — assume their status as Honorary Black Lambs. Bridge writer Trixie Barkis checks in with more puzzles. Our delicious monthly lamb recipe is for an intriguing-sounding southern French dish called Weeping Leg of Lamb. Advice columnist Millicent Marshall again answers readers’ questions. And Professor Avram Khan gives us another challenging Black Lamb Word Puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Pets Issue, Month summaries | Link to this Entry

Must love dogs

September 1st, 2013


Out of perverse curiosity, I recently Googled “A dog is man’s best friend,” trying to discover the origin of this old saying. After a good five minutes of following false leads on the Interwebs,
I never found the name of the proverb’s author, though I constantly bumped into a paraphrase attributed to Groucho Marx: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend; inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

The benighted sage who first uttered those words about canine congeniality had his genders confused. Clearly, as conclusively demonstrated by scanning the social media, a dog is woman’s best friend. Or perhaps, it should be “A woman is dog’s best friend.”

Recently I created a profile on the online matchmaking site Okcupid — strictly, harrumph, for research purposes, of course. What follows is a summary of my initial findings.

First, the photos, because let’s face it, men are visual and always check out the photos before reading the words. One of the most common photos in Okcupid ads is the obligatory glass of wine, usually set at a rustic table against a hillside in Tuscany. I was fairly astounded, as well, by the number of middle-aged women who have rafted the Colorado River rapids, explored Amazon jungles, climbed Mt. Everest, and survived skydiving. This could be a bit intimidating to the average schmoe who once made it to New Orleans for the Super Bowl or drove an old VW bus from Cleveland to Santa Fe. But for a seasoned world traveler such as myself, one who has read every book by Paul Theroux, these ventures fazed me not at all.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Pets Issue, Johnson | Link to this Entry

August 2013 in Black Lamb

Volume 11, Number 8 — August 2013

August 1st, 2013

In our August issue, Lorentz Lossius describes buying a harpsichord in The hunt for Dorian. In Sex & other misdemeanors, Ed Goldberg waxes lyrical on Puritanism in the twenty-first century. John M. Daniel recalls his first trip to Europe in My own chariot.

Toby Tompkins laments the loss of a cherished medium in On the radio. In No thanks for the memories, Lane Browning extols the virtue of forgetting. Susan Bennett describes three beloved animals in Interspecies Three Musketeers. And in The movie method, Terry Ross looks at the novels of Pete Dexter.

Two figures from the world of literature — English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson and French short story pioneer Guy de Maupassant — take their places in our pantheon of Honorary Black Lambs and The Ultimate Literary Calendar. Our bridge writer Trixie Barkis tells how to make slam bids in Beginning & end. Our monthly lamb recipe, from a Black Lamb reader, is for a Mediterranean Lamb Loaf. Advice columnist Millicent Marshall again answers readers’ questions. And Professor Avram Khan gives us another challenging Black Lamb Word Puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Month summaries | Link to this Entry

The hunt for Dorian

August 1st, 2013


I'm up at six, an hour before dawn on a grey Melbourne day, cold and dark and not yet winter. I make a strong coffee, then roll a thin cigarette and huddle on the balcony, puffing a dismal little cloud over the city.

I get up, go to the kitchen, and play a bit of Bach and Rameau on Dorian. I’m clumsy and sausage-fingered after so many years away from the keys. Who, or what, is Dorian, might you ask? Let me gather myself and pull together some recent notes about the reasons why, the search, and how I found him.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Lossius | Link to this Entry

No thanks for the memories

August 1st, 2013


I was thinking about forgetting.

No, not forgetting like “Dammit, I know I left my keys here” or “What? I thought that was next Thursday!” and no, not like the henpecked husband who comes back from the store without the pasta sauce or cat litter.

No. I mean pragmatic forgetting. Selective forgetting.

Survival forgetting.

There are classes and books and support groups for helping people learn to forgive, but we really need PhDs in forgetting. It baffles me that each year on the 11th day of September in most parts of the United States we are expected to “remember” the events of that day in 2001. Why? Whom does it serve? What does it prevent or abet? Is reliving catastrophe obligatory? Why do bereaved parents acknowledge, every year, the deaths of their children? What kind of catharsis is there in this? It doesn’t aid the deceased in any way; like humans who lived three centuries ago, they are gone, they are lost but to memory or pages in a book or pixels on a website. There is the notion of “honoring their memories,” but I’ve never understood that.

Is there something wrong with me?

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Browning | Link to this Entry

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