Thursday, March 25, 2010

By Godfrey, I'm Incensed...

I never intended for my little slice of bandwidth here in the blogosphere to be political, and I promise not to let it happen too often. Politics and the ugliness that seems to accompany it just doesn’t have a place in most of the things I like to write about.

And yet, I can’t help but add my two cents to this already over-flogged, expired equine.

**As an aside, I’m an INFP, that means (among other things) that I generally dislike conflict and I will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid it. One website ( says it this way…”INFPs are flexible and laid-back, until one of their values is violated. In the face of their value system being threatened, INFPs can become aggressive defenders, fighting passionately for their cause.” Oh yeah, and I'm a liberal, too...**

So now back to my .02 cents. *deep breath*

I am one of the nation’s uninsured--laid off and now self-employed. I’m one of the people whom the GOP doesn’t think is worthy of healthcare. I’m one of the people who, as a woman, is considered to have a pre-existing condition—that of being female—which makes my insurance premiums much higher than those of men.

This healthcare bill is not, in all likelihood, going to make a huge difference to me…but the fact that it will help some people makes me very much in favor of it. I also hope that in the future our healthcare system will be closer to those of Canada, Australia, the UK or France. The US is NOT number one in healthcare among other industrialized nations, we’re somewhere around number 37. There are, to be sure, institutions in this country that are among the best in the world, but overall, the country is not at the top. And we should be. There’s no excuse for people dying for lack of basic preventative care. That happens, sadly, in the Third World, it shouldn’t happen in the US.

And here’s what I find so incongruous. Canadians (or the French, British, etc.) would never assume that some of their neighbors should have healthcare at the expense of others…that some deserved it and others didn’t. And yet that seems to be how a good portion of the US feels. And these same people, who don’t want to offer basic preventative care, are all up in arms over the rights of the unborn. What happens after these babies are born if their parents aren’t able to get healthcare? It’s all fine, well, and good to scream about being “pro-life,” but then you have to be “pro-life” for the families and parents of these unborn babies as well. It’s unconscionable. The fact that the people who yell loudest and most vehemently about this are the uber-religious right is even more of a non-sequitur. I mean really, if you are a Christian, you want your fellow humans to be cared for and looked after. You don’t place a higher value on some lives at the expense of others, do you? (I’d think hard about that…)

These are also the same folks who, in large part, put our country’s young men and women into harm's way--with seemingly very little remorse--in wars all over the world. So it’s okay to fund wars in all corners of the globe, wars that we didn’t and don’t need to be in, but we can’t give every American access to healthcare?

The mind simply boggles.

But here’s my favorite. These same folks who are adamant that I and many millions of others don’t deserve healthcare want the country of Iraq to have universal healthcare. In a March, 2004 article from The Seattle Times (heres a link to the full text: the Bush Admininstration fought to get $950 million to start universal healthcare in Iraq. Congressional Democrats at the time criticized the president for promoting something for Iraqis that they wouldn’t even consider for Americans. So our tax dollars can give the Iraqis healthcare, but not our fellow Americans?

How does that make ANY sense?

And to add to this already craptacular pile of dung, we now have a bunch of illiterate, racist, homophobes making death threats against President Obama and many democrats. People who can’t spell and haven’t read enough history to even know what it is that their quaint, folksy posters really mean, are suggesting that their country has been taken away.

Their country? What about my county? The America that I know believes that we are all created equal and that we are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. My America encourages civilized debate and reasoned discussion of difficult issues rather than threats of violence. And in my America we don’t like defeat, but we act honorably and resolve to take it to the ballot box next time--we don't act ignorantly at the behest of some mindless talking head who glibly tells his minions what to think.

I’m dumbfounded, to say the least, at the crassness and violent nature of the Tea Party set—not to say anything of their grammar and spelling. If you don’t have a sense of history and don’t know the context of the little snippets you are scrawling on a piece of poster-board, you are engaging in pretty serious and irresponsible incitement. And the folks you’re riling up? They don’t seem to have a lot of problem solving or conflict resolution skills. They seem to be most comfortable with threats and intimidation. And come on, those things have no place in 21st century America. None.

So that’s my rant and while I’m guessing neither of my readers will make it this far in the piece, that’s okay. I feel better having had my say and now I can move onward and upward. 

Oh...and the title? It's what my great-grandfather allegedly used to say because my great-grandmother didn't approve of swearing. (I can't believe she'd approve of Tea-Party language, either...)

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Forward March of March Ennui

After a spring-fever inducing stretch of ridiculously glorious weather, the clouds and rain have descended for a day that I've decided is best spent lying low and staying in. I'm actively engaged in a death/grudge match against my unruly sinuses and that has lead to a minor episode of March ennui. (see also, Spring Sklunklishness...)

I usually save my most robust and lingering bouts of ennui for August...August's august ennui, I like to call it. But this March I find myself feeling a bit like August, where you're trapped between the two seasons and just can't wait to be fully moved into the next one. We're all totally over winter but spring is just teasing us, tempting us with sunshine and unseasonably warm, balmy days.

Right. That's me done whingeing.

So now on to the subject of my March equine ennui. What I can't shake these days is utter lack of excitement over the way the KY Derby field seems to be shaping up. Either/both of you who read regularly know that I'd expressed some interest earlier this year in Jackson Bend as a Derby contender--and he is still on my radar--but no other horses are, at the moment, really piquing my interest.

Typically by now I'd have four or five horses that I'd be watching, (ogling maybe a more apropos term) and they'd move up and down in the little Derby stable I keep in my head. (Don't try to tell me you don't do the same...I know you do.)

This year is different though. And I'll admit I come at this from a slightly screwy angle. (Shocked, aren't you?) I look at many, er, unusual and unquantifiable things when I'm picking a Derby candidate. Pedigree of course, wins and distances of course. But more arcane things like how I feel about the horse's connections or trainer...what their name is (and does it resonate with me?) color he or she is and whether I'd want to ride them. Ok, ok...stop your laughing right now. I'm surely not suggesting that I have any interest in being a jockey, but would I like to take them over a fence or five...or have a good hack on them across hill and vale?

Don't think it hasn't crossed my mind that I (or anyone) would be ridiculously fortunate to ever put a leg over on any of these thoroughbreds. And while I fully appreciate that, it's not the point. Just like with lovely shoes, you don't want just any trite old designer label, you want the one that suits you and makes you feel pretty, empowered. The same holds true for me with the horses.

For example...Smarty Jones and Funny Cide. Loved their stories, did of course cheer them on, but am not really very partial to chestnut colts/geldings. Therefore, I'd not be very interested in hacking about on them. Whereas, say, Empire Maker, Macho Uno (or Macho Again!) or Medaglio d'Oro or *be still my beating  heart* Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra, I'd practically pawn an appendage to stand within arm's length of them, let alone ride them.

Sometimes it is the horse's name that resonates with me. I'm a fan of the Storm Cat progeny often and other lines who use cat or kitten. El Gato Malo is a horse I'll always have a little thing for, as is true with names like Hold That Tiger or Wishful Tomcat. (And yes, I'd love to have a good long ride through the countryside on any and all of these!)

In really examining the last couple of years of the Triple Crown races, I've been a bit of a contrarian, quelle surprise. While I like Calvin Borel immensely, Mine That Bird (along with all his Bird horse ancestors) never caught on strongly for me and I didn't think the little gelding was all that. I'll also admit to not being overly enthralled by Curlin (though the Snow Monkey LOVED him) or Big Brown. None of them caught my fancy. I was much more intrigued by Desert Party or Pioneer of the Nile and the like. I know it's courtesy and tradition to keep the Derby winner as your horse throughout the weeks of the TC, but that doesn't always work for me. A friend long ago chastised me severely for this "lack of loyalty," but to me it seemed more like bandwagon jumping than anything if I hadn't been with the horse before the Derby.

And I guess that's the long and short of it...none of the present Derby field has even remotely captured my imagination (save, to a smallish extent, Jackson Bend) and so I'm left  to drift in a sea of uncompelling--though very nice--horses, but none is my "glass slipper horse"--no horse is yet, just the right fit. Thus my March equine ennui marches ever forward...

If you want to make a case for "your" horse...I'd love to hear it! Enlightenment and impassioned persuasion are most welcome.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Old Ironsides

There's a scene in Now, Voyager (which, if either of you have paid any attention, is clearly a major point of reference in my existence and development) where Bette Davis's mother, the Brahmin Mrs. Vale, asks her daughter, "Could we try to remember that we're hardly commercial travelers?" The implication being that they were NOT tourists and would not be partaking in anything remotely "touristy."

I certainly try to blend in wherever I am, and I endeavor above all things to never be the "ugly American tourist," but I sometimes am careless about not being a tourist in my own backyard. I'm naturally curious (downright nosey, some might say) and when I was employed in a small county historical society I used to preach (can I hear an Amen??) about the benefits of what people now have termed a "staycation." I would proselytize about the values of our little gem of a museum and Mayowood Mansion to all who would listen.

I'd venture that most of us don't go to the landmarks and special places in our own backyards as often as we could, unless we have friends or relatives to show around. I was the same way in NYC. I of course frequented the Met, the Frick and the Morgan Library, but I didn't go to the top of the Empire State Building or the observation deck of the WTC building until I had a guest. I was too busy doing other things. (As an aside, we went to the top of the WTC in mid-August of 2001...and I'm so glad we did and that I had the chance to experience that unforgettable view.)

The same is true of my life these days. I'm a frequent museum visitor at the MFA and Wadsworth Athenaeum and I've practically got a reserved spot with my name on it at a few beaches, but I've not visited as many of the historical sites around the area as I'd like to. (People would also tell you that American history isn't my passion--and it isn't, really. I'm more of a medieval, European girl, but that's for another day.)

A couple of months ago my father informed me of an exhibition of model ships on display at the USS Constitution Museum in Boston and asked if I'd take some pics, etc. sometime when I was up there. I happily agreed and finally, today, after a decade of living on the east coast, I paid my respects to Old Ironsides.

There could have been no nicer day to visit the Charlestown Navy Yard--and on a crackerjack day such as this, the water does beckon. I'm a firm believer that no time spent on the water (or on horseback) is wasted, so today was most enjoyable.


Old Ironsides herself is really something, a real beauty. But I have to say I really learned a lot at the museum that was next door. They have great stuff for kids to do and you can pretend you're a 19th century sailor (even if you're a grownup!) and get a good feel for the era. The gentlemen who were manning the model exhibition couldn't have been nicer. They let me snap many photos that will be shipped off to my father on Monday and were happy to answer/explain my silly non-model-maker questions. 

And the views from this part of Boston are beautiful. I couldn't help notice, as we looked back at the city skyline and the Zakim bridge in the background, how much the rigging and sails of the USS Constitution must have inspired the design of the bridge. I know there are several similar cable bridges around the world, but when viewed from the Charlestown Navy Yard, the bridge and ship's rigging and masts look to be shadowy and distant relatives of one another. 


If you enlarge the lower image, you can see the rigging and masts of Old Ironsides on the left hand side, and the two towers of the Zakim bridge on either side of the visitor center. 

To tie my entire little tale into a neat package, I've always sort of felt the Mrs. Vale character in Now, Voyager, was probably about as indestructible and unyielding as the USS Constitution and she could easily have been nicknamed Old Ironsides, to boot.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Wearing (and drinking) of The Green

Happy St. Patrick's Day to the Irish and want-to-be Irish among us! I've a few Irish forebears and while I mean no disrespect to my German, Norwegian, Welsh and French ancestors, I've always been more than happy to celebrate the Irish branches of my family tree.

I've taken part in MANY wonderful and enjoyable St. Patrick's Day celebrations. As a child I remember a few times my mother--who isn't even a drop Irish--making corned beef or our having soda bread on the day. If you'll indulge me...a few favorite memories of the day:

While going to school in Chicago one of my roomies was also more than happy to celebrate her Irish heritage so there was rather a lot of Irish coffee, Jameson and other potables on hand. One particularly memorable St. Patty's day we went to see the Boston Celtics play against the Chicago Bulls. We were a sheet or two to the wind and had nosebleed seats, but it was such a brilliant night. We cheered on the Celts loudly and proudly and even were booed by the Bulls fans around us. A good time was had by all.

And then there's St. Pat's in NYC. I don't love crowds, but one year when I was living on the UES I did meet friends and attend the big parade and had a wonderful time. After dinner at The Pig and Whistle and then a concert by the Clancy Brothers et. al. at Carnegie Hall we of course adjourned to a few civilized toasts and poems. A similar wonderful St. Patrick's night was spent with many old publishing colleagues at the Old Town bar on E 18th Street. I've passed many a memorable evening there with friends--and some are much foggier than others--but that was a poignant night as we'd all be going our separate ways in the weeks to come.

And finally, what I think is my favorite St. Patrick's Day ever. It was 10 years ago and I was in England and France for a few weeks...but happened to be in France on the day. I'd been traipsing around Le Mont Saint Michel--my spiritual home for all intents and purposes--and was spending a day and night in St. Malo (the old walled and ramparted part of the city.) I was traveling alone, which never really bothers me, but I didn't really plan to go out and celebrate that night. At the little bistro where I ate dinner there was a group of very lively Brits at the table next to me, all in their 50s or 60s, and they were arguing about football (soccer, for you Americans, hee hee) teams and the subject of my team, Chelsea, arose. Well, never one to step away from a good discussion, I added my two cents worth. They were amused by a young lady (an American, no less) who had such strong and informed opinions on football and I loved hearing their stories. Their wives had given them a cycling tour of France for their birthdays and they had hysterically funny tales of the woes and pains that are part of, I'm quite certain, any cycling tour. We all finished eating and I started to bid them good evening when they suggested I join them at a nearby Irish pub to celebrate. I initially declined and then later, after a short nap and a shower, I decided to join them. The pub was rocking by the time I got there, Sinead O'Conner, The Pogues, The Dubliners, U2, everything even remotely Irish was playing on the stereo. Honestly, I'd never felt so immediately at home anywhere in my life. The trio was bellied up to the bar and when I walked in I was greeted like a long lost relative--and never paid for a drink all night despite offers to buy rounds, etc. The Guinness was even better than I'd had in Ireland (I think that was because I was having SUCH a good time) and the Jameson's was flowing freely. The story behind the pub itself was that an Irish boy had fallen for a French naturally they opened an Irish pub in France. It was so homely and warm, I could practically smell the peaty aroma of the Liffey there. In retrospect, the aroma was more likely the sea crashing against the ramparts, but it makes for a wonderful memory, in any event. I left there with a very charming little half pint glass courtesy of my compatriot trio, which I still have and always reminds me of time happily passed in an Irish pub in France.

Thanks for indulging me in my little reverie, and for your trouble I will leave you with a little Yeats and a little Irish musical pleasure.

The Lover Pleads With His Friends For Old Friends
Though you are in your shining days,
Voices among the crowd,
And new friends busy with your praise,
Be not unkind or proud, 
But think about old friends the most:
Time's bitter flood will rise,
Your beauty perish and be lost
For all eyes but these eyes. 

Slainte and may you be in heaven an hour before the devil knows you're gone!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Feet of Clay

The time comes, in nearly any relationship, where we find out that our heroes have feet of clay, or even hooves of clay. The day dawned when my beloved Joe Montana couldn't engineer the 2-minute-warning miracle comeback that all 49er fans had come to count on. There was also a time when the mighty number 16 was felled by a low-blow by the Minnesota Vikings Joey Browner. (Yes, I can hold a grudge that long...) And there's the moment where you realize, as a Minnesota Twins fan that there's no longer a fit and healthy Kirby Puckett to pluck fly balls from the hefty-bag outfield of the Metrodome.

Or, in a completely different arena, consider the many Sophomore efforts of our favorite novelists and how often they fall far short of the ability promised in their first books. Even the second seasons of some of my favorite television programs fall short of their blockbuster first episodes.

It happens. Winner lose, losers win, and the great ones find a way to come back. And therein, I think, is the key. The getting up after the falling down. And our respect for their accomplishments is maybe made even greater than before we saw them struggle.

I'll fully admit that I probably cried during an NFC championship game where the 49ers lost (hey, I was a little girl, it hurt!!) and I know I've set down a book in disgust when I thought an author took the easy way out or didn't live up to MY expectations. While that's unfair, it's the way of the world. We all have expectations, and when it comes to our heroes they are often lofty and sometimes even unreasonable. But that's the rub of being the hero, sometimes you disappoint your followers. And the fickle ones will leave you as soon as they find someone or something else to idolize. The ones who are really in your corner, though, they will accept your defeat (or fall from grace, or disappointment) as part of the package.

All this to say that I'd be less than honest if I said I wasn't disappointed with the result of yesterday's New Orleans Ladies Race at the Fair Grounds. I love both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, not equally, maybe, but like Champagne and a good glass of red wine. I'll always choose the Champagne (Veuve Clicquot, please) over the red wine, but I enjoy both a great deal. And yes, in this flawed analogy, Rachel is Veuve Clicquot. (Zenyatta fans I am NOT knocking the undefeated Queen Z...just saying in my little Paper Tyger world, RA is my bubbly.)

I'm in no position to comment on the decisions of the owners and connections of either horse, I don't know any of them at all and can only hope that both are indeed doing what is in the best interest of their horses. And honestly, most days horses make a lot more sense to me than most people do, but I digress. Clearly there are a lot of folks who have animosity toward either the Mosses and Zenyatta or the Jacksons and Rachel Alexandra, which I think is unfortunate. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, though, and heaven knows I have mine, little grudges included. And I think rivalries make for more interesting comment and contests. My Red Sox loving heart would not beat quite so fast in September if it weren't for the Sox-Yanks's the best part of the season!

So now that we know Rachel has feet of clay, like most of heroes do...what next? For me? I continue to love a horse who made 2009 a really great equine year for me. I don't get to the races as often as I'd like so my trips to Belmont to see Rachel in the Mother Goose and to Saratoga for the Woodward were HUGE events in my personal racing scrapbook. Nothing and no one will ever diminish those days in my mind. Rachel could have a spotty career from here on out and it wouldn't matter. Will I be disappointed when she loses? Yes, of course I will. We wish success for the teams, horses, people we love, it's human nature. But Rachel gave me SO much more than I could ever have hoped for last year with her courageous campaign that I'm prepared to accept the lows as well as the highs. Her defeat yesterday does nothing to diminish my respect for her truly amazing athletic efforts.

I'll likely shake my head and wonder at some of the decisions that come on the heels of her defeat yesterday, but that's part of being a fan. I do the same thing when my Canadiens start Price over Halak in a clutch game for seemingly no reason.

My hope is that the Jacksons do what is best for Rachel Alexandra, period. Not what is best for them, or we the fans, what is best for the horse. I'm really selfish, I want to see her run again so I can feel those same thrills I felt time and again in 2009.

Monday, March 1, 2010

At the Car Wash: A Photo Essay

I know for a fact I'm experiencing serious withdrawal from the Winter Olympics, but I still had a lengthy to-do list on my BlackBerry this morning. Amidst my errands and phone calls, I took time out for a quick stop at the car wash to attempt to rinse off one layer of salt, grime, and glop from my car. I'm a bit obsessive about keeping my car clean and well-maintained so the car wash and I are well acquainted, and I have to say, it lulls me into a small space of serenity. So today, I started snapping photos on my BlackBerry and I must say, I think there are some interesting images. I'll likely play around with them a little in Photoshop to see what sort of interesting manipulation can be accomplished, but here they are in their original state.

Seriously, before you call for the men with nets and white coats, hear me out with this. The rhythmic sound of the water streaming out from the jets and pelting the car is not dissimilar to the feeling of calm that can be brought on by the rhythm of a summer rain--one of my favorite "noises" sounds to fall asleep to on my iPod. 

And then there are the amazing patterns created by the water and wax as they flow and bead up on your windscreen and windows.

The water patterns can look like the wavy glass seen in the original windows of old houses. 

Admittedly, my favorite part is the candy-scented and pastel-colored wax that goes on toward the end of the process. The car smells rather like an overfilled Easter basket and the yellow, aqua, and pink colors swirl and glide in a psychedelic art show across the expanse of the windscreen. 

And then, like all of the grime and grit of is washed clean and rivulets of water slide playfully down the glass surface.