Organ Grinder, 2001
There’s an old story that goes something like this:
In retirement following his term as Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger continues to make bold strides in peacemaking. He has convinced a lion and a lamb to lie down together in a manger in Jerusalem. Millions of people come from all over the world to see this scene of domestic tranquility in the middle of a region known for it anger, division and discord.
One day a newspaper reporter comes and asks, “Dr. Kissinger, you’ve been successful at bringing many people together who could not get along before. How did you do it? The lion and the lamb have been enemies for centuries. How did you bring them together?
Dr. Kissinger, answering in that deep, gravelly voice of his, “Vell, you see, we bring the lamb in first and make it comfortable. And when all is calm again we quietly bring the lion in and make it comfortable.”
The reporter takes a deep breath in realization of this great lesson in peacemaking she had learned. “Is there anything else you’d like to tell me about how you do this?”
First looking both ways to make sure no one else is listening, Kissinger leans in close toward the ear of the reporter and whispers, “The truth is, we go through a lot of lambs.”
When you travel you become accustomed to seeing things out of the ordinary. For some people that’s upsetting. For others of us, that’s the whole idea.
One of the things you see in European cities more than you see in the U.S. is street performers. Some are official and authorized. Some are thieves. Some are beggars. Some are just what the British call buskers. Nearly every major public plaza in the most touristy areas of European cities has at least one person standing somewhere playing an instrument, singing, doing tricks, miming, or just standing in place while painted silver or gold. Most have a hat, a box, a guitar care or other receptacle for accepting tips.
The first time we saw the organ grinder, above, he was in a side street near Paris’ Opera Garnier. From a distance, we saw the organ. We saw the man turn the crank to make music. What we didn’t see was a monkey dancing around nearby. As we approached, all we could see was several stuffed animals in front of the organ. We didn’t think that made for much of a serious busking effort. But because a crowd has assembled, we continued to get closer to see what was going on.
That’s when we saw the little bed on the sidewalk beside the man. The dog and the cat slept peacefully beside one another. What that many people milling around—it was July and there were lots of tourists—either of the animals would have looked up. But neither did. We wondered aloud how long they would stay in bed together.
Later than afternoon we happened to be walking down the same street again. The organ grinder was still at the same spot. The dog was still asleep in the same position as we had seen it six or seven hours ago. But there was a different cat, nuzzled up against the back of the dog just as the one in the morning had been.
My wife and I stopped into a nearby café and asked the counter attendant what he knew about the organ grinder. My wife was incensed that the dog might have been drugged, and maybe the cat, too.
The counter man said he didn’t know much about the organ grinder, but that he had noticed that he does “use a lot of cats.”