Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Six Words: Write More, Fear Less, Love Deeper

As the year winds down and I am confronted by the reality of just how severely I've neglected my blog (no doubt leaving countless reader(s) bereft) I offer my hopes, thoughts, resolutions, and wishes for 2010. Everyone else is doing "Best of" lists and the like, but I've decided I'm very ready to be done with 2009 and look ahead to the as yet untarnished promise of 2010.

The six words in the header came from a twitter hashtag...#6wordresolution. I thought it was a fun idea and as the words gradually came to me, I realized that most of what I really wanted to envision and/or achieve for the New Year was encompassed in those few words. So here goes...

1.  Write More. That should probably be in BOLD and all caps...WRITE MORE. Whether it's here or in a journal or a favorite old Moleskine is immaterial. I want to write more and I need to write more. 'Nuff said. (And if you catch me slacking, don't hesitate to send on any sort of virtual nudge. I'll more than likely be grateful!)

2. Fear Less. Again, FEAR LESS. As someone who had a nice editorial job in publishing, preceded by fulfilling museum curatorial work, this "freelance" status is difficult. Constantly putting oneself out there, as a possible writer or editor, is difficult and can be rather daunting. It's not the putting oneself out there that's tough, it's risking the rejection of your peers or possible clients. I want to work and "participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world," but the whole "courting process" of finding work can definitely be humbling. But rejection is as much part of all our lives as is breathing or laughing, so there we are. As the quote goes..."Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." So this coming year is about being more fearless or less fearful--either way, it's about reaching and stretching and leaving my comfort zone in the dust. And come on, there are SO many things out there that are more important than silly little insecurities and fears. So like my predecessor, Roald Amundsen, I'm heading for the Poles, gang...

3. Love Deeper. It's easy to make both love and life difficult. And the good lord above (or wherever he or she abides) surely knows that this reigning queen, this empress, this high monarch of the over-thinkers can make anything difficult. (Me and Bette Davis, apparently. And if you've read any earlier posts, you'll know of my undying admiration for Ms. Davis and her many cinematic personas.) At any rate...this is about forgiving and letting go so as to love the good people and good things more. For me it's about not sweating the small stuff and moving beyond the trivialities and detritus of daily crappiness. I think this goes hand-in-hand with No. 2 above. When you're less fearful, you're more open to deep love and the vulnerability needed for it.

This is just my take for the coming year, and I can tell you, it won't be easy. But the great thing? It's going to be worth it. As I explore new horizons in the kitchen and at the paddock; as I fall harder for my now beloved Montreal Canadiens (Go Habs Go!!!);  as I cut The Snow Monkey some slack; as I spend more time writing....it's going to be more than worth the mostly small adjustments I need to make.

So here's to the next 100 years of "Les Habitants" and the success and failure that will no doubt exist therein. And to my expanding my cooking horizons...Julia Child you are definitely one of my heroines, right up there with Scarlett O'Hara, Dorothy Parker, Gertrude Bell, Coco Chanel and of course, Velvet Brown. No horsey girl is without a whisper of Velvet Brown about her, trust me.

So let's consider this my ramping up post to the end of the year...I will do a little retrospective because hey, I'm a nostalgia fanatic, what I do best is look back. But that's TK in the next day or so. And there will be horses (why Rachel Alexandra is the ONLY choice for HoY); hounds (hmmm...); and definitely hockey (stay tuned for my photos from the big centennial celebrations for the Canadiens held in early December in Montreal.

Stay warm out there...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Literary Widows and Orphans

I'm finally feeling a little bit closer to conscious. This ridiculous cough has really laid me low for the past few days and it's good to feel a little more like a human being again--as opposed to the mass of quivering, sneezing, phlegmy germs I've been since Friday last.

Since I've spent a good deal of the last few days in my childhood bedroom (in an attempt to quarantine myself from happy, healthy sorts) I've had a lot of time to stare at the bookshelf that faces my bed. In fact, while not sleeping last night I turned on the light for a while and just looked over all the titles to see what I remembered of them, which I'd read, loved, etc.

I seem to have books in many places. A few hundred favorites at my flat in Connecticut, and heaven only knows how many are in boxes, on shelves, and stored in the spare bedroom here in Minnesota. (That sound you hear is my mother commenting that I'm welcome to take ALL of them back to Connecticut any time I'd like.) My mother is right of course, but there's never been an optimal time to schlep them all back East, nor is there likely to be one in the immediate future. (NB, Mom!) Nevertheless, I imagine that there are many treasures among those in unlabeled boxes.

Surely my old set of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books are all there, as are my beloved old Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries and all my well-loved and well-worn Judy Blume favorites. I always loved Starring Sally J. Freedman, As Herself. I don't know if it was the post-war time period, the funny stories that Sally made up in her head or the old movie stars she fantasized about, but the book really struck a chord with me. I'm so glad I grew up with Judy Blume books to read and ponder over. I am admittedly a little envious of all the YA horse-related literature and series that little girls have today...but I think I'd still love all my Black Stallion and other Walter Farley books just the same, as well as the many wonderful adaptations of Black Beauty that I've collected over the years.

So all those boxes are yet to be pored over (yes, Mother, I will get to them...) but that brings me to the widows and orphans that populate the shelves at the end of my bed. I say widows and orphans because they are not, for the most part, books of my youth. (Save one beloved Rupert the Bear volume that I love dearly.) Rather, these are volumes that were left behind on moves or when I'd over-packed my suitcase and that meant the books ended up as casualties of cruel airline luggage regulations. The breadth of topic and genre also attests to to how scattered, complicated, and fickle my interest can be.

A quick scan of the topmost shelf yields, among others, copies of John Irving's Cider House Rules, Mann's Budden Brooks, mysteries by Martha Grimes, Anne Perry, and Agatha Christie, Anne Rice's Taltos, Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams and three coffee-table pictorials of Ireland. And the other three shelves? A veritable pick-a-mix of reading: The Deep End of The Ocean, Biography of a Cathedral, Vol. 1 of Graham Greene's life, a bio of Dashiell Hammett, galleys of The Highest Tide and William Boyd's Restless. Inserted at odd angles are paperbacks detailing the great rise (and eventual fall) of my favorite EPL team, Chelsea.  Scattered as well are classics like Spenser's The Fairie Queene and D.H. Lawrence's Women In Love. The lowest of the layers contain the oddest mix...many old texts and college books on the middle ages, various French phrase and translation books, a plethora of Iris Murdoch titles, design books of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, a few Paulo Coelho novels, a near library of Granta magazines, and second copies of my favorite Milan Kundera titles.

Among the orphaned old-favorites, a few real treasures that will be heading back to Connecticut with me. First, an antique volume on Paris, called Paris of To-day from 1891, complete with engravings and fantastically over-written prose about one of my "hometowns." I also found a library discard copy of Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge which is a book I've read so many times, but probably not for 5 years or more...it's getting the "call-up," so to speak. In addition to Rupert the Bear, a volume of the brilliantly silly Calvin and Hobbes is also making the trip with me.

There are two stand-outs within this little literary gold-mine, though. One is A Sense of Life by the sometimes overlooked Antoine de Saint-Exupery. (He's high up on my list of people I'd love to sit next to and converse with at a dinner party.) I'm not implying he's not well-known and beloved for The Little Prince, but his other work, is, I think, sadly underrated. I read his Wind, Sand and Stars with Flight to Arras and Wisdom of the Stars and I was utterly taken aback by his skilled prose. It might read a little flowery by modern standards, but his descriptions of the sky, stars and desert are achingly beautiful and they make you want to sit out and star-gaze. Coupled with his keen insight into humanity, these books are absolute classics that I can't recommend more highly. Dip into his Wisdom of the Sands or The Tale of the Rose by his widow, Consuelo, and you will not be disappointed. These are literary treasures to be savored again and again.

The other is the movie edition of Gone With the Wind. If you've read some of my previous posts, you'll see Scarlett O'Hara and GWTW references now and then. It's been my favorite movie since I was 6--and hey, no judgment of my parents for letting a child watch a film of that nature. I've got my grandmother's old hardcover--sans dust jacket--and a few other editions of the book and movie (Beta, VHS, DVD...) so it's safe to say I'm a fan. This particular movie tie-in edition was published in 1940 and has glorious full color pictures of the cast and scenes throughout. Fiddle-dee-dee, indeed! (I love the scene below, at the Wilkes' barbecue, when Scarlett is "complimenting" India Wilkes on her "beautiful" dress. You can practically see the sneer on Scarlett's face.

When I do start back East tomorrow morning, I'll be carrying a few of these little gems with me. There will be fewer literary widows and orphans on my shelf...but still more than enough to enjoy on my next visit, and plenty to pluck off the shelf with new interest and curiosity.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Horseman's Dilemma

I've been following all the post-Breeders Cup Horse of The Year discussions with keen interest. Obviously, I don't really have a horse in the race, so to speak, but I'm very curious to see how and or if the racing industry will resolve the HoTY dilemma.

I've seen strong arguments made for two of the options. (1) Choose either Rachel or Zenyatta and (2) Having these two fillies share HoTY honors. Let me say that I think that there's even a discussion is great, but I think it needs to resonate more strongly out into the larger racing community to really have an impact.

If one horse is chosen over the other--and with no races of the match or any other variety imminent--then there will always be question marks...and maybe that's good for the sport in the same way baseball aficionados debate past and present favorites. These sorts of discussions bring out the most arcane bits of knowledge and allow for much fun speculation, but I don't think it serves the greater good of racing.

I'd imagine that most everyone in the industry would agree that having a few stars that really captivate the public is important to all of horse racing. Whether it's Secretariat or Seabiscuit, Rachel or Zenyatta, Mine that Bird or Smarty Jones...some horses just really make an impression on people. The pull of these special animals reaches beyond the few weeks in May and June that encompass the Triple Crown races and keeps us all involved in the entire race season. But these horses are the exceptions, not the rule. The fact that Rachel and Zenyatta were both trending topics on Twitter (when the BC 09 was not) is somewhat of a testimony to the fact that regardless of what these two fillies are running in, people will pay attention.

Look, I get that there are not two Heisman trophies or two World Series champions. But this is different. Best actress Oscars have been shared (Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand) with no "watering down" of the award and I think a shared HoTY award, for two fillies who are likely to go down in history as among the best Thoroughbreds ever--of either sex--is a win-win for the industry as a whole. How can you possibly lose with two such outstanding equine athletes? And this still allows for debate and talk of match races or other meetings between Zenyatta and Rachel...but it also recognizes that in 2009 there were two exceptional horses who were (sometimes literally) head and shoulders above the crowd.

Someone wrote on a blog or column that naming the worthy Zenyatta over the equally worthy Rachel would be a sort of just dessert for the Jacksons--their Curlin beat Zenyatta for HoTY in 2008. I guess, but why would you want to punish owners like the Jacksons and Moss'? I mean what's worse than receiving the "make up award?" You know what I mean...like giving Dame Judi Dench the Oscar for Shakespeare in Love as a "make up award" for her being robbed of a well-deserved Oscar for Mrs. Brown. Now I think Judi Dench is pretty much always damned brilliant, and probably deserved and Oscar for both performances, but we all know the SiL Oscar was a sort of backhanded apology for the earlier injustice.

My point? I'd have to believe that the connections of both horses would be just fine sharing HoTY honors for their lovely charges. I think horse racing shoots itself in the foot--especially in the eyes of the more casual fan--if it chooses one or the other rather than both. And let's face it, gaining more fans of any ilk, casual or not, has to be among the top concerns for the horse racing industry. Any sport's leadership would be considered fortunate to have two such popular stars in it's stable...let's give both Rachel and Zenyatta their due and be thankful we've all had so many opportunities to see their magnificent races.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


(From the NY Times / Harry How, Getty Images)

I've said many times this week whilst draping, lighting, and decorating that less is more. And while I generally think that is the case...sometimes a little hyperbole and hoopla is well earned and much deserved. Zenyatta is one of those cases.

While I'm mostly in the Rachel Alexandra camp for HoTY (to be fair, she's the one I've seen in person, so I think that's part of why I'm so taken with her) I have to say I was thrilled when the big lady Z worked her magic in today's Breeders Cup Classic. She was a Woman among boys and showed us all what great heart and will to win she has.

After Quality Road's pre-gate drama, it was hard to say who would prevail in the Classic. I always think it's like a false start in an Olympic sprint or swimming race...super hard to recover after you've used up that adrenaline rush. But recover they did and a splendid race was afoot. Kudos to Mike Smith for showing yeomanlike patience during the opening furlongs. I've sometimes been critical of Mike for not being as patient as I thought he should have been (and let's face it, my criticizing him is utterly laughable, but yet I persist) but this time he really made good on all Zenyatta's great promise. And I have to add at this point how impressed I was with Gio Ponti's performance. For such a fantastic turf horse, he sure seemed happy on the Pro-Ride today. Well done to Gio Ponti and his connections as well.

Oddly, I wasn't skittish before this race as I always seem to be when Rachel runs. Part of it could be the NyQuil and cold meds that are dulling all my senses (and I'm thankful for that, really) but as much as I love Zenyatta, she simply inspires me a little less than Rachel does. And that's okay...I love them both, just Rachel a little more. What a quandry to find oneself in, right? Choosing a favorite between two of the best fillies/mares in the world is a pretty nice dilemma to have and one I'll happily mull over my "vote" for HoTY.

And here's my one small moment of schadenfreude...Mine That Bird bringing up the rear. Now I know that since he  won the Derby he should be the horse to cheer on. I'm sorry, but he just never captured my imagination. Sure, I was probably just unhappy about I Want Revenge's situation and overwhelmed by Rachel's Oaks win...but the little bay gelding never got to me. Nothing against him, but I never thought he was all that and a bag of chips, so I'm not surprised at his poor finish here.

A wonderful weekend of racing and I'm just glad I got to see so many wonderful performances. Huzzah to one and all who competed and made the 2009 Breeders Cup races such fun for the fans. All hail Zenyatta, for she truly won the day.

Monday, October 26, 2009

It's Never Too Early...

(The Dining Room @ Mayowood, decorated with a hunt theme by Kay Caskey, Ramona Trachsel and Chuck Potter--November 2008)

Having survived the arduous drive (and anyone who has ever done it knows it isn't a picnic...) from Connecticut to Minnesota, I think I'm now fully recovered. The post-drive recalibrating--hour time difference, different bed, more people--was over by the end of Sunday and I stepped right up and got to work this morning.

Being an un and or underemployed editor (freelance sounds better, but it for me basically means underemployed) it's not always easy to feel that pride one would normally take in doing a good days work. Even volunteering sometimes falls short...but I'm lucky in that one particular volunteer job never fails to put a little extra wind in my sails and remind me how good it feels to be part of a big event--decorating for the Christmas Tours at Mayowood. (Okay, I know it's not even Halloween, but the tours are held in the pre-Thanksgiving weeks of November, so now's the time!

A million years or so ago, before I moved to NYC, I was the "Jane of All Trades" at Historic Mayowood Mansion, the country mansion that was home first to Charles H. and his family and later his son,  Charles W. Mayo and family. I took riding lessons at the old Mayo stables as a child and I'd always loved the place. I started out as a summer tour guide during my college years and over the course of time, I ended up as curator/guide supervisor/garden supervisor/event planner and a few other odd titles tossed in for good measure. I can tell you it wasn't a lucrative gig, but even with the challenges posed by oft-absent and often obstinate maintenance people and ineffective board members, it was a great experience.

(The Study, decorated with an equestrian theme--with Dr. & Mrs. Charles W. Mayo pictured in their togs--by Deb Angelotti, November 2008.)

Even after I left the actual job, I'd go back and volunteer (and drag along any friends and or family whom I could talk into a shift or two) and take part in some of the annual fundraisers. And now that my services are not required in other arenas, I'm fortunate to be able to come back and spend time with my family (and yes, the dog, too...) and help out a little up at Mayowood while I'm here. I'll be fluffing garland and artificial trees, untangling twinkle lights, re-shaping bows and ribbons and decorating some of the foyers and staircases...and those are the glamour jobs! It's a big old country pile with large rooms and lots of stairs...and I love every inch of it. I'm more than happy to get to spend time with old friends from days gone by--whether we're lighting wreaths, wrapping packages or carefully and strategically placing accents on a tree. It's a total win-win situation: I get to feel all nice and useful and they get someone who knows the ins and outs of the house in her sleep. Plus, I get to hang around in a beautiful home that has wonderful history and a sophisticated country charm.

(The CH Mayo master bedroom, November 2008)

All this to say, I'll be having fun and helping to raise money for a cause that's near and dear to my heart while I'm here in Minnesota. For full details on tours of Mayowood throughout the year, go to www.olmstedhistory.com and all the info you need is right there. These tours are a big revenue source for the History Center here in Rochester, and help to keep Mayowood and the grounds surrounding it open to the public. Stop by if you're in the neighborhood!!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Burgoyne Surrounded

There was a tweet earlier this morning from the American History Museum about today being the anniversary of General John Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga in 1777. The museum was tying it to a pistol or gun they had in their collection--and I think they do a wonderful job of highlighting their collections this way--but it made me think of something entirely different: a quilt pattern called Burgoyne Surrounded.

There's a wonderful history behind most traditional quilting blocks and Burgoyne Surrounded is obviously a commemoration of his surrender at Saratoga. It's a very geometric pattern, with a sort of thin, single Irish Chain pattern running through the main blocks. It's gorgeous when done in just two colors, but I've seen some very attractive ones with more color as well. I'm particularly fond of this pattern reversed--using a dark background and having the white or muslin color be the chains and blocks.

Now, when I'm in Minnesota for more than a week or so (and sometimes even then) my mother and I have often put together a quick quilt top. I love choosing the fabrics and sewing and piecing the blocks, but I have no patience (nor any skill) for the actual quilting. That's either my mother's job or the machine quilter's, depending on size, interest, etc. (As a general rule, my mother doesn't hand quilt bed-sized quilts...only the smaller throws and wall hangings. And if she's not in love with the pattern I've chosen, she'll be sending that off to the machine quilter, too. And hey, if you're going to spend hundreds of hours on something, you should like it!!)

I'm really liking two color quilts lately, the contrast allows you to really see the great patterns. Our first two color was a very basic Ohio Star. I've said for years that I wanted a nice two color quilt, but it took us forever to just get it made. Every time we'd set out to do a two color piece, we'd find some gorgeous fabric and be distracted, in the end opting for multi-colored or richly patterned quilt.

(The pre-quilted Ohio Start top, complete with stray threads)

In the past we've made lots of star patterned quilts, but I think Burgoyne Surrounded might be a good winter project. What do you think, mom? You up for a good Burgoyne Surrounded piecing marathon? Let's go two colors, too....

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Barbour: An Appreciation

(Key New England wardrobe: Beloved Barbour Beaufort, Boston Red Sox cap and yellow slicker)

The other day I had a bit of a whinge about some bygone (or soon to be bygone) products and companies that I'll miss. From favorite old department stores to less than well-loved airlines, it's still hard sometimes to say goodbye to things we've grown accustomed to. Let's consider this post the anti-whinge...an appreciation of something I love and that has always provided me with the utmost protection. Further, I am pleased to say we are celebrating only the first of many milestones along our walk down life's highway, our 10th anniversary. Yes, kind reader(s), this is a celebration of my BBB...Beloved Barbour Beaufort.

I remember unwrapping the parcel from the North of England on the day my BBB arrived...the smell of the waxed cotton, the stiffness of the fabric, the little green and gold enameled collar pin that said in clear Arial-ish sans-serif font: BARBOUR. I thought perhaps I'd made a mistake and that this was going to be one of those rigid coats--like a bad jean jacket--that you would always want to wear, but the garment itself would make it no fun to do so. Au contraire, mon ami!!

If you've never had the singular pleasure of breaking in a Barbour, well, it is certainly something to be savoured. Yes, it was a bit stiff for the first couple of wearings, and I fretted mightily over the first few scratches, but like the best sterling silver, Barbour's develop a deep, rich patina by way of all the scratches, folds, and wear. They become like the one pair of jeans in your wardrobe that aren't too loose or too tight and that wear like they were custom made for you. Every wear-line and fade-line becomes part of the essence of the garment.

Now, I can already hear the Gore-Tex fans out there protesting that their garments are lighter, more breathable and more waterproof than my BBB...and everyone has a right to their own opinion. And I have nothing at all against the lovely folks who make and use Gore-Tex, either...but this is about the BBB.

In the interest of full-disclosure, I did once stray from the waxed cotton path over to the synthetic textile path, but I was young and silly, then. Many years ago I'd purchased a parka made of the above-mentioned textile from a well-known Maine retailer and it seemed fine, certainly it was lighter-weight than my BBB. So along comes a very rainy and sloppy day and the boyfriend decided we should go to the Yankees game--it was April, I think. So because it wasn't all that cool outside, and the parka was a little longer in length, I wore it to the game rather than the BBB. BIG MISTAKE. First off, it wasn't all that waterproof by the end of the afternoon and I was soaked to the skin--and cold. So cold and wet, it turns out, that the only thing that could revive me and render me conscious again was a Double Steak dinner for two (with cottage fries, creamed spinach and a Grey Goose martini) at the original Palm restaurant in NYC. Shortly after, the parka was sent back to the famed Maine retailer and that was the end of my dalliance with non-waxed-cotton outerwear. The BBB was never to be doubted or underestimated again. From October to April, the coat most likely to get the call is the BBB.

I'd imagine that every other Barbour lover out there also has their favorite "model" if you will, but I have to say I'm rather partial to the Beaufort. It's just the right length and has loads of pockets...even hand-warmer pockets lined with soft, cozy moleskin. Delightful. And while I never thought I'd actually use the "game pocket" that runs all the way across the back of the coat, it has proven to be a great place for tucking newspapers or magazines on rainy, slushy days. I'm not sure which model HRH Queen Elizabeth prefers, but it looked like a Beaufort (with brogues and an Hermes scarf) in the movie, The Queen. Brilliant.

Now, obviously I'm not the only one who feels like this. In fact, it was the piece in The Times of London about how Barbour is "back" that got me thinking about my BBB. Here's a link to the full piece "Big, battered and the colour of gunk, the Barbour wax jacket is back. How one heritage brand was reinvented without any brand strategists and without really trying." (I'd argue it never went anywhere, but I won't quibble with the Times.)

From strolling past the Opera Paris to cheering on my Chelsea Blues in London, and from Vienna, Austria to Rochester, Minnesota, the BBB has been part of many of my great memories of these past 10 years, and will be for many years to come.

OH...And in other quick news, I wanted to thank Troy Tinker from the World Famous Lipizzaner show (he's the narrator/emcee) for the kind information he posted as a comment to my Dancing Stallions post. He notes that the Spanish Riding School will be doing 5 performances on the East Coast in 2010, and that there will be links on their website when the dates and venues are announced, so stay tuned! Here's their website again www.lipizzaner.com and as I said, if the show comes to a town near you, do plan to attend. You won't be sorry.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Bracing for what will no doubt be a full-fledged gloat-fest staged by the New York media, I want to present a slightly different take. The anti-gloat-fest, as it were.

I'll say from the outset that I didn't really think the Twins would prevail over the mighty Yankees who have a payroll roughly triple that of the Twins. I don't say this to be defeatist, just my take on the situation--I'm a generally polite Midwesterner with modest expectations. The Yankees have been very tough to beat this year and the Twins play a different kind of baseball...small ball--scrappy with an emphasis on fundamentals. And when you play that kind of baseball, you have to execute well and make plays that allow you to capitalize on your opponent's small missteps. The Twins have had so many opportunities to do just that and they haven't been able to close the deal. Against teams like the Detroit Tigers, that can work for a few games, but not against the mighty pitches and bats of the New York Yankees. The numbers just didn't add up in favor of the Twins this October.

But you know what? It's okay. I love my Twins and I love the kind of baseball they play. The represent Minnesota and Minnesotans very admirably. They go about their business and don't expect too much praise or fuss about things. It's a strong Midwestern work ethic that I heartily approve of. My hat is tipped, proverbially, to you all. (Call me, Joe Mauer, if you ever need a guided tour of Connecticut or horse racing/handicapping tips...*grin*)

So thank you, Minnesota Twins and Ron Gardenhire, for bringing us all along for the ride this season...we've had a REALLY good time. You've played with great heart and emotion and you've never let us down, not really. Don't let all the big meanies out here in New York tell you any differently. Pitchers and catchers report for duty in 120 or so days, and there's a beautiful new outdoor ballpark that I can't wait to sit in some sunny afternoon next summer. If that's not a sure sign of hope springing eternal, I don't know what is.

The Dancing White Stallions

By this point, it won't come as much of a surprise to any of you (or both of you, as the case may be) who read my ramblings, that not only am I a mass (or mess) of complicated contradictions, but I am drawn to others with similar issues. A complicated and complex genius will get me every time and if they are a tortured, complex, and complicated genius (think TE Lawrence) so much the better.

Among the people whom I find fascinating is George S. Patton, aka "Old Blood and Guts." I shamelessly admit that I love the movie and George C. Scott's portrayal of the bundle of vanity, erudition, and arrogance that was General Patton. I doubt that there was then (and likely not today, either) a military officer who was better read than Patton or who had a better sense of history. That said, Patton was a pretty good poster boy for hubris in all its many connotations. Add to all of this the fact that Patton was an accomplished horseman, as many cavalry officers of the time were. (Interestingly, up until 1952, the Olympic equestrian events were only open to commissioned/serving male cavalry officers.) George Patton had spent a lifetime around horses. After his graduation from West Point, he played polo and took part in steeplechases and fox hunts. In 1921, when a major in the cavalry, he wrote that "a cavalry leader must have a passion—not simply a liking—for horses.” And after the car accident that would eventually take his life in December of 1945 he is said to have asked his doctor, in reference to his prognosis, “What chance have I to ride a horse again?”

(Patton on horseback after his graduation from West Point)

So as much as I appreciate the history-loving Patton, it's Patton as horseman with whom I feel a kind of kinship. And it is in large part, due to his passion for horses, that the world renowned Lipizzaner Stallions are still reproducing and thriving today. The joint efforts of Patton, Col. Charles Reed (and the Third Army's US 2nd Cavalry), Polish Colonel Alois Podhajsky and a handful of horse-loving German soldiers, resulted in "Operation Cowboy" that rescued over 1000 horses, including over 350 Lipizzaners. (All of the above, including the captured Germans, feared that if the horses were not rescued they would be taken and used for meat by the approaching Soviet Army.) If you haven't seen The Miracle of the White Stallions (yes, it's Disney, but it's really well done) netflix it or get it from your local library. It's fun to watch despite the obvious Disneyfication of the story.

So what, you must surely be asking yourself by now, does this have to do with anything? Does she think we needed a history lesson? In my defense, I think the more we learn about history the less likely we are to make a dog's breakfast of everything over and over again...but this is actually leading up to my afternoon with the Lipizzaners yesterday.

I'd seen the Royal Lipizzaner Stallions when I was a mere horse-mad tot...probably five or six years old. Enthralled doesn't even begin to cover how in awe I was of the leaping, dancing and prancing of the majestic white horses. And many years later, in Vienna, I visited the famed Spanish Riding School at the Hofburg and was equally awestruck. The palatial room where they performed their practice maneuvers was just too beautiful, but it somehow seemed perfectly appropriate for the grace and elegance of the Lipizzaners.

(The Winter Riding School arena at the Hofburg in Vienna)

And here's where things take a little detour. Apparently, there are Lipizzaners and then there are the Royal Lipizzaners of the Spanish Riding School. What I saw on Saturday were the Lipizzaners sans the royal connections.  The emcee was careful to note to the small but enthusiastic crowd assembled at the Arena at Harbor Yard that they were not affiliated in any way with the famed Spanish Riding School in Vienna, but that they worked closely with them and several of the stallions in the show were from the stud in Piber. In all honesty, the "World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions" were most enjoyable, but they were not at the same level as I'd seen in the earlier performances, and while the riders were certainly competent dressage athletes (and far better than I could likely ever be!!) they were not of the caliber of the masters I'd seen in Vienna. It's like seeing a Broadway touring company or the performance of Grey Gardens I saw at The Ordway in St. Paul. Great fun, talented performers, but not like seeing Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson at the Walter Kerr Theatre.)

(The Courbette)

That said...I had a really good time and if they are coming to a town near you, they are definitely worth going to see. Firmly believing that no time passed in the company horses is wasted, I settled in and enjoyed the show. The horses were magnificent, make no mistake about that.  From the mounted quadrilles and dressage exercises to the airs above ground, the Lipizzaners do not disappoint. During one set with an Andalusian, the horse's elegant and graceful bow elicited an audible gasp from the crowd--it was beautifully executed and so charming. (Note to boyfriend...any man that approaches on a horse that then bows has me from hello.) The troupe did a very fine job of presenting the history of the stallions and of the military background of the incredible maneuvers they are taught to do. While the emcee was less than entertaining, I have to say I found some of his spiel interesting--especially when it came to the Foundation Stallions or Sires. Just like Thoroughbreds have the Byerley Turk, The Darley Arabian and The Godolphin Arabian, modern Lipizzaners have Foundation Stallions: Pluto, Conversano, Maestoso, Favory,  Neapolitano, and Siglavy. The names of these stallions are passed on to their progeny so you typically see one of them as part of a Lipizzaner's full registered name.

A few things did catch my attention...there were mostly women riders, whereas the Spanish Riding School didn't admit any women riders until 2008. I was most pleasantly surprised that some of the stallions in the performance had been rescued and rehabilitated. According the emcee, several Lipizzaner stallions had been found neglected and in very poor health at a facility in the Midwest. The horses were rescued, restored to good health and now are actually in the show, some performing the very difficult "airs above ground" exercises. Finally, BIG cheers to the Bridgeport Mounted Unit for being outside the venue to greet the crowd. In light of the disbanding of the Boston Mounted Unit, it was great to see the Bridgeport team out and about. And the crowds love them...little girls (and big girls, too) walk up and pat the horses who patiently stand there taking it all in. People love to engage with horses and mounted units can really be a great way to liaise with the community.

(The Bridgeport Mounted Unit outside the arena)

Fun links...

And as if that weren't enough...the schlag on the sacher torte of my lovely day, was getting home in time to see Zenyatta gracefully stride to her 13th victory in as many starts. Here's the VIDEO from yesterday's Lady's Secret Stakes. Queen Z's class, size (roughly 17 hh) and elegance really show in this race. I still think Rachel's better, but we may never really know and I genuinely enjoy watching them both run.

I'm pretty sure I went to bed last night with the same satisfied and slightly dreamy expression that Velvet Brown has during the scene in National Velvet where she longingly and lovingly sighs "horses."  And the photo below is a pretty close approximation of what my equestrian dream looked like!

(A young Lipizzan just starting to turn white!)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Welcome to SkyMiles. Here's your new number.

Eh? Skymiles?

By way of explanation, the email begins..."As part of the Northwest/Delta merger, your WorldPerks® account is now a SkyMiles account. Please begin using the below SkyMiles account number — instead of your WorldPerks number — for all future Delta, Northwest and partner transactions."

As a frequent traveler between the Eastern Seaboard and the Midwest, most of my travel time was spent on Northwest Airlines, for better or worse. And during times of great frustration they were generally referred to as that (insert your favorite curse word here) airline or more mildly, Northworst. Yet, I knew the ins and outs of NWA and where the good lounges were, how quickly I could get to Starbuck's or Caribou Coffee from the NWA terminal at various airports without missing my connecting flight. I was rarely thrilled with the service (I'd always had better experiences on Jet Blue) but I adapted and adjusted my expectations and was comfortably discomfited.

When all of the merger talks started with Delta I inwardly groaned, but didn't think it would all change so much. I hadn't considered that Northwest Airlines (formerly Northwest Orient Airlines--if anyone is old enough to remember the old cartoon commercials with the bird..."It's the ooooooonly way to fly...") was really going to disappear. Not only   from the tails and signage of their fleet, but all the lounges, terminals and apparently, from their loyalty scheme as well. Let's just say when the "Welcome to Skymiles" email came, it wasn't so much that I was surprised, but a little sad to see that NWA was really going the way of the dodo and the t-rex.

And this got me thinking...thinking of a few things that I've loved that have become, for lack of a better world, extinct. Things change so quickly these days, it's kind of surprising how many stores, products and objects have just disappeared.

And at the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney (a MUCH younger and cuter version who has nicely groomed brows, thank you very much, but still...)

Dayton's and Marshall Fields. Dayton's was part of most Minnesotan's lives. It was the big department store in downtown Minneapolis--think Mary Tyler Moore tossing her cap...you can see it in the background of that opening sequence! They held Christmas displays and Spring flower shows in their huge auditorium and no trip to The Cities was complete without making a stop at Dayton's downtown. They had outposts in Duluth, Rochester and a few other mid-sized Midwestern cities. In 1990 Dayton-Hudson acquired Marshall Field's and many Dayton's stores were rebranded as Marshall Field stores. That was one thing...one midwestern favorite replacing another. Then when Macy's got involved in recent years, all the stores were branded as Macy's. Minnesotan's by nature aren't necessarily quick to adopt new things (we can be a contrary lot...) and more than a few people I know still call it Dayton's and will likely never call the flagship store in downtown Minneapolis anything but Dayton's. I'd have to believe that Chicagoans are of a similar ilk...it's always going to be Field's.

Banana Republic. Yes, Banana Republic still exists, but it's not the BR of old. I loved the fun, quirky old "safari" khakis and great white cotton blouses of the old BR. Now-a-days (did I really just type that??) Banana Republic is office wear, for the most part. That's fine, but I liked them better the old way.

B. Dalton Booksellers, Musicland or Sam Goody stores. Perennially one of my favorite Christmas gifts was a gift certificate--the precursor to the ubiquitous gift card--to B. Dalton. I could pore for hours over which books I was going to take home. And the same with Musicland--I loved going there to check out the cassettes...and eventually CDs. Both are basically gone, there may be a few B. Dalton's left out there, but not many. The internet has forever changed the way consumers purchase both books and music.

There are other silly little things I miss...John Frieda's Beach Waves spritz for my hair (the B&B stuff is great, but that's also hard to find); Pepsi-Lite...I always loved that little tinge of unnatural lemon flavor.

Don't get me wrong...I love my mod-cons. My beloved BlackBerry (yes, there I said it, I LOVE MY BLACKBERRY) is perpetually at my side, tucked in my bag, slipped in my pocket, or clutched in my hand...don't even ask what I'd do without it. But I still have--and love in an entirely different way--my Filo-Fax. It's the BlackBerry backup. And I've already sung the praises of XM radio allowing me to listen to the Twins vs Royals the other day as I ambled around Kensico Cemetery.  And iTunes is such a blessing. I can't even begin to count the number of cassette tapes I had to buy when there was only one actual song that I liked. (Yes, Mom, next time I come home I'll go through some of those boxes.)  The ability to be able to listen to at least small bits of every song on album before buying--let alone buy just one or two songs--is a great thing for a fickle music lover like myself. So I'm not knocking modernity, I'm just saying there are a few little things and places I remember fondly and am sorry to see are gone.

Farewell Northwest Airlines, Dayton's and Marshall Field's...I'll have many happy memories of you all. (Well, probably not NWA, but I'll be generous here.)

Anyone out there have any other favorite shops, restaurants, brands or items they miss?? It's healthy to share...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Cracker-Jack Day!

Just as rumors of Mark Twains demise were exaggerated, so was my funeral bell tolling for the Metrodome. The Twins winning in true Minnesota Twins fashion (scrappy, small, National League style baseball) in 12 innings was the cherry on my hot fudge sundae of a day.

I spent most of the night reading a wonderful novel that a brilliant writer friend wrote--I told him he kept me up nearly all night. And he did. He's a lovely writer and has lived an extraordinary life that makes his work rich and full of detail.

Since the forecast called for a sunny day, I forcibly removed myself from my nice cool sheets this morning and dragged my lazy (I'm blaming it on the late night reading) arse to the beach. SO WORTH IT. I stand by my previous statement...no time spent by the sea is wasted time. It was unbelievably beautiful and I basically had the beach to myself--save a family whose male parental unit must have bathed in some sort of hideous cologne that you could literally smell up and down the shoreline.

Once the offending odor dissipated it was smooth sailing. Maybe because I'm a pisces I find water very comforting and calming. A heavenly day.

Upon my arrival at home I was greeted with a parcel from Mom and Dad. A new fall quilt of tumbling leaves from my quilting obsessed mother--thanks Mom! And fun photocopies of the Cat That Clumped book that I wrote about a while ago. It's kind of scary how clearly I remembered every detail of the book.

And if that wasn't enough a small job offer, not editing, but art research which I'm happy to do as well. A job is a job no matter how small. (Horton will forgive the trespass, I hope.) It's a one off, but I'm in no position to complain.

But there was still one more little happiness from the Universe...the Twins winning in 12 innings against the Tigers. I'm not sure I expect them to do all that well against the ginormous payroll and talent of the Yankess, but I'm glad they've made it to the playoffs, especially after losing the one game playoff to the White Sox last year. Now if the Red Sox can get off to a good start, all will be well.

Happy Happy Joy Joy!

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Bells of Valhalla

Joseph Campbell has a lovely quote that goes something like, "The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are." I've already set forth my little manifesto a few posts ago, but among the things I am is a lover of cemeteries--great and small. I guess it's pretty well known amongst my family and friends because when I told them I was going to Kensico Cemetery, in Valhalla, New York, on Sunday, there was nary a "why?" or "huh?" More like a virtual nod via email that I was heading off on one of my little adventures again.

I've been to (literally) hundreds of cemeteries during my life. The "gentleman of significance" in my life and I have wandered the "streets" of Pere Lachaise befriending the resident cats while we ambled; we've walked and held hands in the beautiful surrounds of Mount Auburn and Forest Hills cemeteries near Boston. I've walked many miles and spent many happy hours in London's Highgate and Brompton cemeteries (as well as some of the other "Magnificent Seven")--followed closely by eager packs of roving squirrels on both occasions, I'll have you know. (They were very interested in sharing my sandwich from Pret a Manger!) And one of my favorite parts of living here in New England has to be the small graveyards that populate the edges of so many towns. Not only churchyards, but small familial plots of 10 or 20 stones from the 17th and 18th centuries.

So you get the idea...I'm very well acquainted with cemeteries. It's not so much that I'm overly interested in the entombed stars and luminaries (though that often is the impetus for a visit) it's more about the sentiments expressed and the art and architecture of the place. I've seen some of the simplest and most elegant thoughts expressed on headstones--"be still" (all lowercase); At Rest (often seen with low-relief carvings of clasped hands). And over the years I've become an aficionado of the antique varieties of grave markers, most too unique to be labeled mere headstones. From the moving and poignant small lambs usually reserved for infants or children to the large scale mausoleums of the wealthy and well-known, it all fascinates me. As a small digression, I must say, I rather disdain of the modern style of headstone or marker when compared to those of bygone days. Contemporary headstones are rather cookie cutter when held to the standard of 19th and early 20th century granite and marble achievements. There used to be many variations of masterfully sculpted and carved sheaves of wheat, grieving goddesses, veiled urns, rough-hewn wood-look crosses and of course, the obelisk and the column. And then there are the really unique markers...a small stone kepi for a Civil War soldier, the beloved 'Stone Doggie' at Forest Hills, the Famille Raspail tomb at Pere Lachaise, and one that I saw today that is unlike any I've ever seen before--the marker for Hillary and Margaret Ireland Bell at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, NY.

I should say at the outset that if you're in the area, on a nice fall day, you could do much worse than a good stretch of the legs around Kensico. The administration office is very friendly and happy to help you find whatever/whomever you might be looking for. There's a nicely done handout that they print, as well, of all the big names--lots of entertainment sorts--that includes a very sufficient history, too.

Now on to the good stuff! It was getting on in the afternoon and I'd already hiked like a mountain goat (a well shod one, but still...) around the various plots and the only thing left that I really wanted to see was the Ziegfeld plot, which I couldn't find for anything. (I did, eventually, but it was more due to being able to identify a weeping beech tree than any map or directions!) While driving around I saw this odd elevated stone...very unusual. I grabbed the camera, turned off the Twins game and set off for a closer look.

This unconventional monument, the gravesite of Hillary Bell and his wife, Margaret Ireland Bell, isn't on the "greatest hits" part of the tour, but it's quite special. It's built, for lack of a better word, as though it's atop a pedimented roof and supported by four simple columns. Like a Grecian temple that's 3/4 covered by the debris of time. On the "roof" part is an open book, a large and simple cross, and artist's palette with flowers and what appear to be stylized palm leaves. Each of the four corners is guarded by a lion's head. Nothing very unusual, symbolically speaking. As I said though, I've never seen a monument quite like this--the empty space under the structure, the unique method of design. It was quite a nice find, I thought. Yet, I couldn't help but wonder who merited this scale of memorial--but wasn't included among the "famous" inhabitants of Kensico?

So who were the Bells?

Hillary Bell, born outside of Belfast, Ireland, was many things. An artist, dramatist, and theatre critic for The New York Press at various points. He married Margaret "Rita" Ireland at the Church of the Heavenly Rest on 5th Ave in NYC in June of 1888. According to the society page in the NYT from 7 June, 1888, it was a "very pretty church wedding" and, "the bride wore a dress of white corded silk and the traditional veil." Her sister, Florence, was her maid of honor and they held a reception at the home of the bride's parents at 44 W 47th Street, NY, NY. It appears that the couple then made their home in Manhattan--a news story from 1889 recounts Mr. Bell as being among the artists who suffered losses when there was a fire in some studios above the YMCA. And in May 1893 the couple is listed, again on the society page, as sailing for Europe on the Britannic for an "extended tour." In an odd sign of the times, their address was even listed in the announcement--52 E 23rd Street in Manhattan. (Note to burglars--they were going on an "extended" tour!) There are small mentions of Hillary's playwriting and such, but sadly, he was to die suddenly in 1903. His death, under very odd circumstances, while hiring a servant girl from the Mission of Our Lady of the Rosary--a Roman Catholic home for Irish immigrant girls--warranted a spirited write up in the New York Times from April 10, 1903. The cause was apparently apoplexy and the article does tell a good deal about his portrait painting, the play he produced in San Francisco and his marriage to "Rita" in 1888. (Try this LINK to the NYT archives from 1903 for the full piece.)

Rita, or Margaret Ireland Bell, would survive him and her name is found occasionally in the listings of ladies who attend various weddings and such. She died in 1929. They had no children.

I found a small mention, in a google-digitized magazine on granite and marble from January of 1905, that The Harrison Granite Company had "just completed the Hillary Bell monument at Kensico Cemetery. The monument, of Barre granite, is a departure from beaten styles and is much admired."

"A departure from beaten styles" seems an understatement, but I would hope it remains much admired. As a monument, it's a mix of styles, ornaments and symbols...that somehow seem together to form a cohesive piece of art. I've always felt that people are less gone from our presence and memory if we speak of them or mention their names on a daily basis. Today then, I fondly recall the artistic vision of Hillary and Margaret Ireland Bell and the monument they've left behind to inspire and intrigue us.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Winner Take All

I had an utterly perfect day today, due in part to the success of my favorite teams. And through the miracles of technology, I was fully apprised of all the games while I was out doing other things--mostly considering the architecture of the dead. Loyal Denver Bronco and NY Yankee fan (and non-Raven follower), Flyboy, texted me with the latest New England scores and the Chelsea FC scores. And the XM radio on my car supplied me with the Twins radio broadcast so I heard all the big home runs (and the tense 6th inning) for myself. With both the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox winning--and the Twins continuing their dramatic late season play, it was a full day. All tied up with the Detroit Tigers, the two teams will now play a one game play off to see who wins the division. While the circumstances are different, this one game winner-take-all playoff feels an awful lot like deja vu all over again!

I left my little sacrifice to the baseball gods at Lou Gehrig's gave today, so I'm hoping it brings the Twins a little luck. Yes he was a Yankee, but he also made several trips to Rochester, MN to visit the Mayo Clinic when they were all trying to figure out what his ailment was. I have two wonderful photos of Gehrig on my wall, one of him in front of a microphone at the old local radio station, KROC; and another where he's sitting comfortably in an old over-stuffed leather chair. In both he has a huge grin on his face and is as handsome as Gary Cooper was when he portrayed The Iron Horse. Tributes must be paid.

I made a very interesting discovery at The Kensico Cemetery, in Valhalla, NY, today. In addition to seeing the final resting spots of Lou Gehrig and Tommy Dorsey (among many other NY notables), I found something decidedly more interesting...more to come on that tomorrow as I finish up the research. See who all is interred at Kensico (www.kensico.org).

With that...I'll leave you with a little view of the trinkets (inlcuding the 1936 penny I left as a token of respect) that adorn the top of Gehrig's monument.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Fog of Memory

("The Catch" with Dan Gladden in pursuit in case Kirby missed. Kirby didn't miss.)

It's always interesting how memory can soften over the years. Or maybe we become more nostalgic and the annoying bits melt away leaving only the important touchstones.

In a day of bone-idle laziness and sloth, I was watching the Twins-Royals game--after the all the big horse races were done, of course--and noticed many signs professing love of a sort of the Metrodome. The Humpty-Dumpty Dome, The Hefty Bag...yes, THAT Metrodome. The oft-derided and heckled air-bag that has been a boon to the Twins thanks to the difficulties posed by it's ceiling.

When things are coming to an end, I suppose it's good to look back over the highlights and great moments. Knock wood and cross fingers...there will be a few more games for the Twins this season at The Dome, but if not, then their last game will be tomorrow, Sunday, 4 October. The Gophers moved to their new on-campus stadium this season (and it looks utterly fantastic) so the Vikings will be the sole occupants, henceforth, of the re-named Mall of America Field at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. (The irony, of course, is that the Metrodome replaced Old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington which was razed and replaced by....The Mall of America.)Yeah, try saying that five times quickly...

At any rate, I do find it midly amusing that people will now "miss" The Dome. I'm pretty sure that what they will really be missing are the great memories of Kirby Puckett, Frank Viola, Gary Gaetti, and Danny "Gladrags" Gladden. They'll think back on Kent Hrbek pulling Ron Gant's leg off of 1st base in a World Series game against the Atlanta. Fans will discuss how "Puck" was introduced...(Kirrrrrbeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee Puuuuucketttttttttttt--sometimes it sounded more like 'dirty bucket') and the decibel level when The Dome was rocking during any of the home playoff games. The heroics of Jack Morris and his 10 inning marathon pitching victory in 1991's 7th game--they'll be thinking back on that. But they won't miss indoor, climate controlled, stale-air baseball on sunny summer afternoons. It will be chilly (and perhaps snowy, even) for Opening Day more often than not, and it will be cold to watch (especially if the Twins are losing) in September and October. But that's half the fun. Baseball is meant to be watched outside, as is football (sorry, Vikings.) Besides, Minnesotans are generally a pretty hearty lot.

The man in my life likes to say that the Twins will never win another World Series once they move to Target Field next year. He thinks The Dome was their secret (or not so secret) weapon. To those of his mindset, it's not hard to figure out why the Twins won all their home playoff games during their 1987 and 1991 campaigns--the bounce of the ball on astroturf, the field dimensions, and the tendency of the ball to become easily lost from view of the fielders in the white teflon ceiling and unfriendly lights. That's the technical answer to "Dome field advantage." But the rest of the answer is just as much part of the equation...fundamentals and fans. The Twins, regardless of what you wish to say about the spending habits of their front office, play fundamentally strong baseball--small ball. They are scrappy and they play every hit with the same intensity. And the fans, well, every team has a fan advantage at some point, but get 55,000 screaming Minnesotans into an enclosed space and the din is deafening, literally. Those two Fs will not change--though the noise will disperse differently--in the new stadium.

I've got happy memories from School Patrol sponsored trips to the Old Metropolitan Stadium to see the Twins back when they played in those hideous light blue uniforms. And I have mixed memories from the Metrodome--but the lesser ones are generally football, not baseball, related.

Regardless of the outcome of this season, the Twins faithful will be packing up all their fond memories from the Old Met and the Metrodome and schlepping them to Target Field for Opening Day, 2010. They'll reminisce about the old days--good and bad--but I don't think anyone will be pining for the stuffy confines of The Dome.

A rousing chorus of the Twins victory song, and a little thought for the joyous spirit that was Kirby Puckett as the 2009 season winds down...I hope he'll be one of the "friendly ghosts" that will inhabit the Twins new home.

We're gonna win Twins, we're gonna score!
We're gonna wins Twins, watch that baseball soar!
Knock out a home-run, shout a hip-hooray!
Cheer for the Minnesota Twins today!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

4 October, 2009: Celebrating our Animal Heroes (Yes, there are horses AND hounds!!)

(Bellini's St. Francis in Ecstasy @ The Frick Collection in NYC. One of my favorite works housed there!)

When you wake up in the morning you never know where the inspiration to write will come from--at least I don't. There are usually a few things rumbling around in my cluttered brain, but some I have to think through more, and others it may not be the right time for. So happily this morning Horse & Hound delivered me a nice little package of inspiration all wrapped up and practically tied with a bow!

The weekend of October 3rd and 4th is the date that many churches across the country celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi by having a blessing of the animals. It's always wonderful to see the usual array of adorable cats and dogs supplemented by the occasional iguana, llama, pony or gerbil. (I always wonder how the day manages to come off without some little animal being eaten, bit, or otherwise compromised...)

So back to that H&H parcel...one of their tweets this morning (they are found at horseandhound on twitter ) was about World Animal Day--a nice, ecumenical version of St. Francis Day--and how The Brooke was asking people to especially remember the working horses and war horses this coming weekend.

I was completely ignorant of the good work being done by The Brooke until a couple of years ago and this tidbit was a timely reminder of their mission to bring needed aid to horses, mules, and donkeys who are working in very poor and unsafe conditions all over the world. They send mobile vet teams to check in on and treat donkeys and horses in the poorest parts of the world where the animal and their owner are often completely dependent on one another for eeking out even a meager living. Additionally, they provide free treatment to animals and train animal owners, local healers, farriers, saddlers, feed sellers, harness and cart makers.

The Brooke's history is fascinating and they are celebrating their 75th Anniversary this year. Here is a brief history of the organization from their website (www.thebrooke.org)

"From humble beginnings as a hospital for warhorses in a dusty Cairo street founded in 1934, the Brooke has become the UK’s leading equine welfare charity for working equines in the world's poorest communities. 
The 700,000 horses, donkeys and mules the Brooke now reaches each year are a living testament to the dedication of our founder, Mrs Dorothy Brooke.

The wife of a British army major general, Dorothy Brooke was appalled to learn that these walking skeletons were ex-war horses of the British, Australian and American forces. All of them had seen service in the First World War and when the conflict ended in 1918, they were abandoned and sold into a life of hard labour in Cairo. Poorly cared for, they were old and many were in terrible pain. 

The final paragraph of her letter is very poignant to any animal or horse lover:"If those who truly love horses – who realize what it can mean to be very old, very hungry and thirsty, and very tired, in a country where hard, ceaseless work has to be done in great heat – will send contributions to help in giving a merciful end to our poor old war heroes, we shall be extremely grateful; and we venture to think that, in many ways, this may be as fitting (though unspectacular) part of a War Memorial as any other that could be devised."

Read the full-text of Dorothy Brooke's original appeal letter from 1931 HERE.

The public were so moved they sent her the equivalent today of £20,000 to help end the suffering of these once proud horses. Within three years, Dorothy had set up a committee and bought 5,000 of these ex-war horses. Most were old and in the final stages of collapse, and had to be humanely put down. But, thanks to her compassion and tenacity, all of them ended their lives peacefully.

Dorothy knew that her work could not end there, thousands of horses, donkeys and mules toiled and suffered in Cairo. In 1934, Dorothy Brooke founded the ‘Old War Horse Memorial Hospital’ in Cairo, with the promise of free veterinary care for all the city’s working horses and donkeys…the Brooke was born.

From such simple beginnings, the Brooke has grown into the international equine lifesaver it is today. We now work in ten countries across the world - Egypt, India, Pakistan, Jordan, Israel (Palestinian villages in Israel and the West Bank), Afghanistan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Guatemala and Nepal."

They'll be posting many photos from this anniversary weekend on the website, it looks like, so I hope you'll check in and see the work being done. They've got an American Friends of The Brooke group, as well, which I'm going to investigate. There's an interactive map as well, where you can leave your personal tribute to these hard working horse heroes.

It's easy to overlook the heroic contributions of our fearless equine and canine friends these days. There are seemingly endless disasters and human tragedies, and in so many of them, animals come to our rescue. Who can forget the incredible service rendered by rescue and sniffer dogs as they worked ceaselessly with their handlers trying to find survivors after the September 11th attacks in NYC and Washington, DC; or the dogs who worked with volunteers after Hurricane Katrina.

And while horses are used much less in wartime situations than in previous eras in Western countries, that is not usually the case in the less developed world. Horses, donkeys, and mules are all used as pack animals as well as means of conveyance for soldiers, not unlike the ways in which the animals were employed here in the 19th and early 20th centuries. (Think building the Erie and other canals, the barge mules and horses.) No less important and equally as hard working are the special mounted EquusSearch teams who go out in groups looking for evidence, and missing or abducted people. Texas EquusSearch is one of these groups that we hear about on the news when a search is launched for missing persons.

Let's remember all our furry, feathered, and piscine friends this weekend. Maybe give them an extra treat or two, take them to a blessing of the animals if there's one nearby or just give them a little more love in celebration and thanks for all the humor, joy, and goodwill they bring to our lives.

For further info on any of these organizations:
Texas EquusSearch Mounted Search and Recovery
American Friends of the Brooke

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Farewell, September, we hardly knew ye...

Can anyone tell me where September actually went? I have this sort of funny mental picture of a cartoon me grasping tightly onto calendar pages that are blowing too swiftly past (like they used to in old movies) to no avail. After the august ennui of August, September was a mere blur...a shadowy glimpse of a month you caught out of the corner of your eye.

This is my favorite time of year and I suspect that's why it seems to go by altogether too fast. I wait anxiously, enjoying the summer for a while, but mentally summoning the first cool evenings of fall. It's like the vacation you wait all year for and it zips by too quickly...that's what all of autumn is for me. The smell of leaves, the smoky fires, pumpkins and hearty soup. And there's nowhere like New England to celebrate the natural wonders of the season. While there are too many miles of scenic roads to ever get to see everything, it's still fun to venture out and stop at apple orchards and pumpkin farms. It's as pretty as every old movie or picture postcard that you've ever seen.

And while we're on the subject of old movies, (okay, we weren't, but I am too written-out from other work to manage a nice clean transition here) I have to admit I am a major fan of Bette Davis. The classic weeper, 1939's Dark Victory, is on now and in addition to her fine performance, I find myself seriously coveting some of her ensembles. During the first half of the film Bette is a total thrill seeker--living a life of fast cars (for 1939), handsome bachelors, and fast horses. So that means Orry-Kelly gowns and an utterly classic wardrobe. There's also an adorable plaid jacket--very Pendleton--that she wears! The movie features an all-star cast of men, too...George Brent, Ronald Reagan (looking stunningly good in a tuxedo) and Humphrey Bogart with an Irish brogue (because all horsemen are Irish and have brogues.) And of course there are horses...a horse named Challenger competing in the Grand National. It's marvelous. And I'm not the only one who thinks so...it was nominated for a few Academy Awards in 1939, but that was a tough year to be any other film than Gone With the Wind. Bette was given a Best Actress nod but lost to Vivien Leigh. The movie also lost Best Picture to GWTW.

So I can hear you wondering, what is her favorite Bette Davis film?  And thank you for asking so I didn't have to make another awkward transition. Hmmm...it's a toss up between All About Eve and Now, Voyager. All About Eve has some of the quickest and most acerbic dialogue ever...it's witty and never dull. Now, Voyager, though, has an edge as it is one of my all-time favorite films. My Jeopardy friend, Myshkin, (we didn't play against each other, but were in LA at the same time for the show) and I have devoted hours of email and discussion to the familial relationships portrayed in the film. I don't think that there's been a frame of the movie that we've not analyzed with scientific intricacy--in the most loving, scientific way, of course. I stop short of actually saying the lines along with Charlotte (Bette Davis' character), but only just.

With apologies for rambling on and a promise to be more cohesive and focused tomorrow (really, I'll try)...I think I'm going to try to watch the Minnesota Twins vs the Detroit Tigers for a few minutes. Any regular readers know that my saying I get a little jittery at defining moments (for team, horses...) is an understatement and tonight is a biggie for the Twinkies.

I'll sign off for tonight with a little Now, Voyager.

HERE's a link to listen to the 1943 Lux Radio Theatre version...it's AWESOME. (Ida Lupino playing the Bette Davis Role and Paul Henreid in his same role.)

And here's a little Walt Whitman...

Now Finale to the Shore
Now finale to the shore,
Now land and life finale and farewell,
Now Voyager depart, (much, much for thee is yet in store,)
Often enough hast thou adventur'd o'er the seas,
Cautiously cruising, studying the charts,
Duly again to port and hawser's tie returning;
But now obey thy cherish'd secret wish,
Embrace thy friends, leave all in order,
To port and hawser's tie no more returning,
Depart upon thy endless cruise old Sailor.

The Untold Want
The untold want by life and land ne'er granted, 
Now voyager sail thou forth to seek and find.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Books + Horses = Lucky 1st Graders!

One of the things I greatly enjoy are dispatches from the old hometown. My parents often send me newspaper clippings of various things or they'll alert me to something of interest in the online version of the local paper, usually it's something relating to an old friend or cause I used to be involved with.

Obviously from my previous posts here, I love books and I love horses, and I especially love books about horses. And to any horse-loving child, the books of Walter Farley are like peppermints to ponies. From the original The Black Stallion in 1941, all the way up until 1989's The Young Black Stallion which Farley wrote with his son, Steven, the series maintained a consistently high standard for its young readers. If you didn't read these classics as a child, it's not too late, you'll no doubt find them in your local library.

So to tie these two loose ends together, the aforementioned hometown paper, The Rochester Post-Bulletin, ran a story over the weekend about two area horses who are going to be auctioned off with the proceeds going to the Rochester Regional Equestrian Center. The RREC will then use the money to partner with the Black Stallion Literacy Foundation to provide two hardcover books to each first-grader at a local elementary school. Riverside Central, the school that would initially benefit from this program, is in the city and has a fairly large immigrant student population. What a great opportunity for city kids, many of whom are not likely to ever get to really spend any time with horses, to possibly be inspired by the these noble creatures. The article goes on to note:

"I've seen firsthand how children bond and relate to horses," said Carol Fosdick, chair of the RREC auction, who has given riding lessons for 10 years. "This program is a definite win-win situation for all beginning readers and their schools."

In the spring, the students would be taken to a local barn to learn more about horses -- how they eat, how they are cleaned and taken care of, and how the tack, such as saddles, bridles and bits, are used. They will even read to the horse, an experience supporters say leaves an indelible impression on young people and fuels a life-long interest in reading."

The full piece by Matthew Stolle is HERE.

The BSLF (check out their website at www.bslf-online.org) has a great mission..."The Black Stallion Literacy Foundation helps children discover the joys of reading and the excitement of learning through the wonders of live horses and Walter Farley's Black Stallion books." What a great way to get kids to read and appreciate animals and the bonds we forge with them. Any time you can get books into the hands of children it's a recipe for success.

The RREC's website also provides lots of good info about this upcoming wine-tasting and fundraiser for the project. They're at www.rrec.info. Also take a look at the two Thoroughbreds that are being auctioned off, one out of Ghazi, one of Minnesota's leading Thoroughbreds. Both are gorgeous and Rushford, won a great race at Canterbury with superb Minnesota jockey Dean Butler in the irons. Their info can be viewed HERE.

What a nice way to begin a Tuesday morning, horse books for lucky 1st graders, new homes for some Minnesota Thoroughbreds and a literacy foundation working hard for horses and kids. Wins all the way around.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Banning of Atlanta? (sort of)

It's Banned Books Week (September 26 - October 3, 2009) and I was trying to decide what, if anything, I'd have to say on the subject. Honestly, we all know it was unlikely that I was going to remain silent. As I glanced over the banned and challenged list--particularly those that are generally considered classics--I was surprised to find my beloved Gone With the Wind on it. Banning Scarlett's exploits from the greater reading public? Fiddle-dee-dee, as my favorite heroine would no doubt say. To paraphrase the late Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing, "nobody puts Scarlett on a banned book list!"

However, to say it's in good company is an understatement. The list includes The Great Gatsby (actually rather a lot of F. Scott and Faulkner are on the list), To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch-22 and seemingly all of Steinbeck's work. Full disclosure, I'm not a huge Steinbeck fan, but would NEVER for a minute want his work to be off limits to anyone. The list, from the ALA website can be found HERE. (There are several lists, actually, most banned/challenged which is updated every few years and then the classics list.)

I have particularly strong feelings about reading and the freedom to explore and learn--about not only far away places and eras, but more importantly, about ourselves. My parents have my unending gratitude for always encouraging me to read--even when it was checking out The Cat that Clumped** for the millionth time as a very young reader--and never censoring what I brought home from the library or bookstore. Due to my rather "willful nature" (don't you think that's a lovely euphemism for stubborn or mulish?) I would likely have campaigned for my reading freedom had it become necessary, but thankfully, it never was.

Growing up with such great literary choice, I was never terribly conscious of the numbers and types of books that were being banned and challenged in communities and libraries across the country. My friends and I all read what we wanted, we passed around racy romance novels and James Michener books with the "good" parts noted by dog-eared pages; we read Stephen King and sadly, yes, even Alexandra Ripley's ill-considered and poorly written "sequel" to Gone With the Wind, Scarlett. I think for the most part, silly youthful reading choices aside, we turned out pretty well. The brain candy of my teenage years was supplemented with excellent English Lit courses that I devoured, and my reading tastes and interests continued to evolve.

I'm well aware of the arguments put forward by the people who want to keep certain books off shelves for whatever reasons. They'll plead untoward influences or uncomfortable situations; sexual innuendo, racial epithets, explicit language--the usual. But there are more sinister reasons as well. Books allow us to share our experiences and ideas, and even live vicariously through our favorite characters--that's a very potent and real danger in the minds of a few organizations and individuals. Now, I am not a parent, but I can fully understand the wish to protect your child and to guide their reading choices...but that's a far cry from challenging a book in a library or school so that no child is given the opportunity to read it. Parents ought to check in with what their children read and if they don't approve, then that's fine--for their child--but please don't attempt to make that decision for everyone. I don't believe that any one person is qualified to judge a book's merits for the rest of the reading populace. And to my mind, the downside and negative impact of this kind of literary censorship is exponentially worse than any small positive perceived by the pro-censorship lobby. The great works of literature (hell, even the less-than-great) make us feel and think, they raise our aspirations and nurture our empathy. The bawdy adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn; the battling passion and malaise of Hemingway; the brutal precision of Truman Capote--they all are part of the collective literary consciousness. To deny a reader the right to participate in this mind-expanding world is criminal. (And also damned ignorant, if you ask me, but I digress...)

So have I been unduly impacted by the books I've read? Absolutely, and I'm proud of it. I'm utterly corrupted by the written word and I'm at least in part the sum total of my literary consumption. But that's a gift...not something to be concerned about. The more you read, the more you know...it's pretty simple. The more you know, the better equipped you are to think for yourself, choose for yourself, and make an impact of your own. And on the worst days, when everything seems to be wrong, we readers are blessed with our own literary therapists--those go-to books or authors that help make sense of a situation or make us laugh (or cry) so hard that we are able to forget our troubles for the moment. Books help us gain perspective and offer us new lenses through which we can view the world.

In the end, it's about trust, I suppose. Trusting our children or other citizens enough to allow them the opportunity to read what they want without fear of repercussions. Believing that we all benefit from sharing ideas and experiences, from feeling less isolated and more connected. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for trusting me enough to let me enjoy everything on the literary buffet, without guilt or question.

**(For those of you who weren't horse-obsessed children, The Cat That Clumped was about a cat, Hubert, who lived with the Baron. The Baron owned race-horses and Hubert wanted to be a race-horse. But of course he was a cat...therein lies the 'dramatic tension' of the book. Happily, the Baron figures this all out and puts washers on Hubert's feet so he can clump/clomp like the horses and it all ends well.)