Thursday, February 24, 2011

Road to the Roses

It's a kind of interesting day out, weather-wise. There's an almost candlelight warmth filling the sky and mixing with steely grey clouds. If I weren't on my deathbed (okay, not literally, but I do feel pretty *gross*) this is a day that I'd want to be out with a camera trying--often in vain--to capture the glorious light.

But since I'm not feeling up to snuff, it is the perfect day to assemble a Road To The Roses stable--a virtual fantasy stable not unlike something you'd set up for football or baseball, but instead of human athletes you choose from their equine counterparts. And yes, this can be done perfectly well from the privacy of your own home, underneath your favorite quilt, on your comfy sofa and in your flannel pyjamas. In my head it's a little like the treasure box of paper horses that Velvet Brown kept next to her bed.

In the past I've always kept a list, usually scribbled on a scrap of paper when I saw a horse I liked and wanted to follow or even a pile of sticky notes scattered around my desk. But this year I decided to participate and make my picks--such as they are--official.

Unlike the old days where I helped my father pick the fantasy football teams for his office pool--and by the way, I was pretty good at it--horses are often a very sentimental attachment for me. Therefore, my stable is comprised of 5 horses that I think actually have a chance at doing quite well in Derby prep races and the Kentucky Derby and 5 other horses chosen because I liked their name or their sire or dam. Nothing remotely scientific about this process for me, some horses I like, some horses I don't. Horses like First Dude (he's a four year old so he's not eligible anyway) or The Factor will never factor in my stable because they remind me of people I find mostly unpleasant. On the other hand, a horse named Robie the Cat reminds me of Cary Grant and there's nothing unpleasant about that connection.

A few horses like Black N Beauty and Printing Press didn't make the cut, but I'll be watching them anyway in addition to Brethren, Jakesam, Premier Pegasus, Wine Police (genius name) and Vengeful Wildcat. Here's to a safe and interesting Derby trail for all the contenders and their connections! If you'd like to make your own RTTR stable, you can begin here... .

Without further is The Paper Tyger virtual stable (10 horses, 5 of which have to be designated as Power Horses) --

Archarcharch, Jack London, Master of Hounds, Queen'sPlateKitten, Robie the Cat. Most of these have a name or connection that I just couldn't pass over. I love cat and tiger related horse names so Queen'sPlateKitten and Robie the Cat were impossible not to choose. And Jack London is not only a wonderful writer but his equine namesake is out of Tale Of The Cat so another easy choice. And how could I pass up Master of Hounds? Archarcharch is the odd horse out in this grouping. I just like him, like the look of him and hope he's got a nice future ahead of him.

Power Horses (I feel like I should inform the horses they are my designated "active power horses" so that we're all clear about who has to do what here.) Elite Alex, Mucho Macho Man, Sway Away, To Honor and Serve and finally, Uncle Mo. I have had an affinity for Afleet Alex ever since we watched him win the Belmont Stakes in 2005, so his progeny will always get my attention, thus the choice of Elite Alex and Sway Away. I've always liked Macho Uno (as well as his daddy, Holy Bull) so Mucho Macho Man was an easy choice as well. And finally, Uncle Mo and To Honor and Serve are both classy colts with wins under their collective belts and they appear to be serious contenders.

There we are then...I hope there are a couple of sensible picks mixed in with all the sentimental ones. I know there are many contenders who aren't in my stable and that's fine...I've perused the lists and options and these are horses I'm happy with and will look forward to watching as they mature over the next few weeks. With any luck we'll get to watch many of them well beyond the first Saturday in May.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Buy Local! (Historical edition)

The Brookfield Historical Society and Museum, Brookfield, CT

Anyone who has spent any amount of time at all doing research--whether it is into family history or a particular historic event--realizes the treasure trove that may be found at local and county historical societies and their research libraries. 

I spent a few years working in a small county historical society myself so I am generally aware of how vastly the fortunes of places like this can vary depending on funding, donations, and sadly, politics. Some town and county museums are blessed not only with thoughtfully and carefully curated papers, books, documents and photographs, but also with a staff--often many of them are volunteers--who are helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable. So in the same way that buying local produce and meat is better for both you and the economy, spending some time at your local historical society or museum is also mutually beneficial. You'll learn about your family and/or your community and you'll support an organization that has kept the lamps of history lit in quiet corners for decades upon decades. 

Yes, there is a lot of one-stop-shopping to be done when it comes to research and genealogy, and I'm not suggesting there's anything wrong with that. I'm only proposing that if there's a small entity that might hold a document or record that you've been looking for, give them a shot. These (often) small gems can be the repositories of a town's memories or they can track a county's transition from agriculture to medical mecca. And while the state historical society or state library can also be of great help, the smaller sites are so important to the fabric of a community. And hey, in some cases your tax dollars have helped fund these sites so pay a visit and see the good work they are doing. 

I've been researching a small book project off and on for a while now and even though I've had some fun and useful finds online and through the NYT and New Yorker archives, the real gist of what I've been looking for has been uncovered with the help of the hardworking archivists and staff at two local museums--in Danbury and Brookfield, Connecticut. 

I can't say enough about the folks I've been lucky enough to work with at both spots and honestly, I could spend days at the Brookfield Historical Society. It's a charming building and they are rightfully proud of the heritage of their community. A few other people walked in with some queries while I was there and it was fun to eavesdrop on their sounded just like my dad when he and his old high school buddies get together. Needless to say, I felt right at home there, sitting at a large pine table covered with old newspapers and photographs as the shutters rattled in today's harsh wind. I knew basically what I'd hoped to find today, it's always a challenge with a structure that has been gone for a few decades now, and my expectations were exceeded. But not only did I spend time with the "White Turkey Inn" file, I also learned about the Copperheads in Connecticut during the Civil War and chatted about a Revolutionary era cannonball that a local couple had been found on their property. The hour or so I'd planned to spend turned into nearly four hours and I left with a stack of photocopies and a total buzz from all the documentation I'd found. The staff shared their memories with me of a place I'll never  see in person but have, nonetheless, completely fallen in love with. Yes, even reading about zoning battles can be exciting when you look back in hindsight and can piece together how the proverbial dominoes began to tumble.

A gift certificate from the White Turkey Inn

I'll be back for more at both the Danbury and Brookfield Historical Societies because they are important and the work they do is meaningful--just like the indie bookseller or the local coffee joint. We all know to buy local whenever possible, so give your local museum or historical society the same treatment. It's even possible you'll learn something about yourself in the process. It is far too easy to take these places-- and the work they do for granted--only to bemoan their passing after they've disappeared.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Pansies and tulips and hyacinths, oh my!

Hyacinths and tulips outside Rockefeller Plaza, 2006
I'm generally fan of all the seasons, at least for a certain amount of time--I know I could never live in a place where it was one climate all year round. However, when the august swelter of August drags into September, I'm ready for an immediate (and wishful) transition to autumn. And when it comes to the first snow I can barely contain my envy when my more northerly New England neighbors are blanketed with a layer of fluffy, white, snowy goodness before I am. Patience is not among my virtues, generally speaking. 

The time has come, though, where I'm starting to daydream about spring. These past two days of balmy goodness--60 degrees in February?!?!--do have a way of setting a girl's mind to wandering. I found myself drawn to the lilac and jasmine scented candles as I passed shops on my errands today...sure signs of an emergence from hibernation. I know full well there's more snow and dreaded "wintry mix" still to come and I'm not nearly ready to put away my tall boots (for which, my pathetically white legs are more than grateful, I'm certain), but I thought I'd add a little floral inspiration to extend today's sunny temps a little longer. The weather folk are forecasting a chilly stretch to come, so I'm going to enjoy some virtual flowers and a little HWL while I patiently await the arrival of the hyacinths, crocuses, daffodils, tulips and all their hearty floral compatriots. 

Fiery tulips from the Boston Public Garden, 2008

My favorite--purple pansies, 2008
by our beloved Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Spake full well, in language quaint and olden,
  One who dwelleth by the castled Rhine,
When he called the flowers, so blue and golden,
  Stars, that in earth's firmament do shine. 

Stars they are, wherein we read our history,
  As astrologers and seers of eld;
Yet not wrapped about with awful mystery,
  Like the burning stars, which they beheld. 

Wondrous truths, and manifold as wondrous,
  God hath written in those stars above;
But not less in the bright flowerets under us
  Stands the revelation of his love. 

Bright and glorious is that revelation,
  Written all over this great world of ours;
Making evident our own creation,
  In these stars of earth, these golden flowers. 

And the Poet, faithful and far-seeing,
  Sees, alike in stars and flowers, a part
Of the self-same, universal being,
  Which is throbbing in his brain and heart. 

Gorgeous flowerets in the sunlight shining,
  Blossoms flaunting in the eye of day,
Tremulous leaves, with soft and silver lining,
  Buds that open only to decay; 

Brilliant hopes, all woven in gorgeous tissues,
  Flaunting gayly in the golden light;
Large desires, with most uncertain issues,
  Tender wishes, blossoming at night! 

These in flowers and men are more than seeming,
  Workings are they of the self-same powers,
Which the Poet, in no idle dreaming,
  Seeth in himself and in the flowers. 

Everywhere about us are they glowing,
  Some like stars, to tell us Spring is born;
Others, their blue eyes with tears o'erflowing,
  Stand like Ruth amid the golden corn; 

Not alone in Spring's armorial bearing,
  And in Summer's green-emblazoned field,
But in arms of brave old Autumn's wearing,
  In the centre of his brazen shield; 

Not alone in meadows and green alleys,
  On the mountain-top, and by the brink
Of sequestered pools in woodland valleys,
  Where the slaves of nature stoop to drink; 

Not alone in her vast dome of glory,
  Not on graves of bird and beast alone,
But in old cathedrals, high and hoary,
  On the tombs of heroes, carved in stone; 

In the cottage of the rudest peasant,
  In ancestral homes, whose crumbling towers,
Speaking of the Past unto the Present,
  Tell us of the ancient Games of Flowers; 

In all places, then, and in all seasons,
  Flowers expand their light and soul-like wings,
Teaching us, by most persuasive reasons,
  How akin they are to human things. 

And with childlike, credulous affection,
  We behold their tender buds expand;
Emblems of our own great resurrection,
  Emblems of the bright and better land.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

You Want a What?

Toss the confetti, release the balloons, and pop the Champagne corks--only The Widow or better, please--The (prodigal) Paper Tyger has returned. For those of you unaware that I'd been absent, well, no didn't miss too terribly much.

I've kept busy working on writing projects small and large, and other little endeavors as well. So what broke the proverbial ice dragging me back here? A photograph, actually, or the lack thereof, more specifically.

About a year ago I wrote about my trip to Yorktown Heights, NY, to engage in a match with a few other ex-Jeopardy! contestants versus the now famous Watson. It was great fun as I related in the post at the time--more fun than the actual Jeopardy! experience by a long stretch. Not only was there no pressure--though it was still a highly competitive atmosphere--but the IBM campus there is almost perfectly bucolic. Nestled amidst rolling hills the Eero Saarinen designed main building was an unexpected pleasure and absolutely added to the overall experience.

Fast forward to today and I was giving a quick interview about my experience versus the lightning-fast Watson to a reporter when I was asked for the thing I dread most, a photograph. Of me, I asked? Really? Wouldn't you like a gorgeous picture postcard view of the Saarinen building with the sun setting behind it? Or better yet, surely you can come up with some clever graphic or other to fill the space, right? Nope. A photograph of me. Is it too late to back out of the interview? (Cut to ridiculously rare photograph of an actual tiger backing down from a challenge. Can't find one, right? Exactly.)

After much ado--come on, I do fancy a spot of dramatics now and then--I came up with a suitable image (one with my glasses on, even, huzzah!!) and the problem was solved. moving on then. Or, not...

The photograph in question is a perfectly nice image and yet, I'm still uncomfortable with giving it over to someone else. I am, reader, a person with control concerns. (And yes, that's a euphemism.) I, apparently, am much happier being the observer and recorder, not the observed and recorded.  Admittedly I'd have much rather written something myself and had them edit it down or use a few quotes, but that wasn't an option. So there I was this morning, giving an interview to an absolutely nice and very capable reporter but the entire time I was mentally editing myself and framing things the way I'd have written them. Not perhaps the best way to conduct an interview and I'd have been annoyed if I sensed someone doing that with me. But when you're firmly rooted in your comfort zone of being the quiet observer in the background (also known as the anti-George Plimpton) it takes a good old-fashioned hockey check to unseat you.

Clearly it is a good thing to be shoved out of the comfort zone now and again. For me, getting back to writing here is as much a part of that as sending on my photograph to the nice interviewer who was only doing her job. Hitting that send button was harder than it ought to have been and it served as a healthy reminder for me to step back out into the light again. The entirety of the Jeopardy! experience was a good distance outside any comfort zone I've ever owned, so now is as good a time as any to toss my hat back into the ring. Welcome new friends and a hearty thanks for the patience of my old, faithful readers.

In the event you haven't read my scintillating (that's hyperbole in action there, folks...) account of Watson and Jeopardy!...they are here:

Elememtary, my dear Watson...

I lost on Jeopardy!