Time for a Little Leitmotif

I began to notice a pattern. First there was an organ grinder in Berlin, right near the Brandenburg Gate—a real, live organ grinder, but without a real, live monkey. Instead, so that we’d get the idea, he had hung from his organ a toy monkey, useless as a collector of coins but cute and still a monkey. Then we went to Dresden and visited the Zwinger, an elegantly groomed estate with a couple of museums, one of which was devoted entirely to porcelain from the collection of Augustus the Strong. In addition to his other interests, which mostly had to do with ruling countries, Augustus was a champion of porcelain arts. His collection includes impressive pieces from Japan and China: large vases, cachepots, pieces that look like gigantic ginger jars, teapots, and figurines. Augustus was also instrumental in establishing a home-grown porcelain industry. The galleries devoted to Meissen pieces were my favorites, especially those showcasing Augustus’s porcelain menagerie. I saw lions and lambs and rhinoceroses, but what I liked best was the grouping that included a set of monkeys engaged in everyday activities like taking snuff or eating grapes.

When I was a child and lived in New Bedford, my mother would often take me to Buttonwood Park. I would play on the swings and slides, and then my mother would buy me a box of Cracker Jacks. I didn’t like the popcorn part of the Cracker Jacks, but I liked the peanuts, which were not plentiful, and the toy hidden somewhere in the box. I would find the toy, eat a few peanuts, and hand the box to my mother, who liked Cracker Jacks quite a lot. Then we would head over to the park’s zoo. There were bears inside a double-fenced enclosure that included a pool to splash around in and a cave to hide in when they got tired of being gawked at. There was a buffalo that was very careful not to step on the chickens walking around him. There were goats and geese, as well. Two or three years after my brother was born, one of the geese bit him on the finger; I guess my brother shouldn’t have been poking his finger through the wire fence and calling “Mother Goose, Mother Goose!”

There was also a monkey house. I thought the monkeys were cute, and I liked visiting them, but I never got to spend much time there because my mother was always yanking me out the door. She didn’t approve of the monkeys’ behavior, but I was a little girl and didn’t notice that they were doing anything wrong. Maybe one of them was taking snuff and setting a bad example.

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