A sweet but sick dog, a touching movie, and a concert of Renaissance music

by Rob Tiller

Stuart Tiller feeling better

Sally believes that Stuart has the most friends of anyone in our building, and from our elevator rides down to take him out to pee, I’m certain that more people know his name than know mine. He’s a Bassett-Beagle mix, with short legs, long ears, and big brown eyes. He’s nine now, and not as athletic a leaper as he used to be, but he still has a lively step and a perpetually wagging tail. He’s a sweet, curious, affectionate little dog. His three great passions are eating, going for walks, and being petted. Yes, he’s prone to barking loudly when visitors first arrive, but nobody’s perfect.

Earlier this week Stuart got very sick. We’re familiar with bouts of digestive problems when he eats something inedible off the street, but this was different. In the afternoon, he seemed subdued, moving about very slowly with his back arched and his tail down. That night, he woke us in the wee hours with high-pitched whining — a sound he’d never made before. When I got up and knelt beside him to pet him, he suddenly let out a loud bark that sounded like a scream. He seemed to be in agony.

The sweetest dog not feeling at all well

We discussed taking him to the emergency vet and decided to wait until morning. He still seemed to be in pain when we got up, but Sally doubted that the vet would be able to easily diagnose the problem, and might cause additional discomfort from probing and testing. By that evening, he had quit whining and seemed to be out of the crisis. He seems to be most of the way back to normal now.

On the subject of caring for those less fortunate, on Friday night we watched a Netflix move — What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Released in 1993, it stars Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio and Juliette Lewis. Depp plays Gilbert Grape, who lives a hardscrabble life in a small town with his family and is charged with caring for Arnie, his retarded younger brother played by DiCaprio. I missed it when it originally came out, when I think I thought it was about something else. It was surprisingly honest about the deceptions and indignities of small town life, and also about the hates and loves of family life.

DiCaprio, who got an Academy Award nomination, is completely believable, and somehow manages to give the younger Grape a sweetness and inherent dignity beneath the surface of unregulated id. I have a hard time putting to one side his character in Titanic, but this is a reminder that he’s a actor with considerable range.

On Sunday afternoon we went over to Durham to hear a concert by the Tallis Scholars in Duke Chapel. The outstanding group of ten singers and director Peter Phillips did a program of music of William Cornysh and Jean Mouton, court composers of Henry VIII and Francis I respectively. The monarchs met in June 1520 for political discussions and a festival that featured their finest music. In short, it was early Renaissance music. The concert was a time machine that brought to life an ancient world.

The music was gorgeous. The Scholars blended into one extremely subtle instrument. The prevailing mood was more melancholy and introspective than I expected from the description of the Henry-Francis summit, but that was OK. I was happy to hear these great musicians and this rich, almost unknown repertoire. I was also happy to see that several hundred people showed up to hear this out-of-the-mainstream entertainment.