Monday, December 24, 2012

All Are Welcome

Horse Christmas party, 12/29/23
LOC Prints and Photographs Division
LC-F8-28154 (P&P)

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Just do what you do best. -- Red Auerbach

A wall of great quotations as you enter the VICTORY exhibit.
"Just do what you do best." Words of wisdom from the one and only Red Auerbach, the Celtics' legendary stogie smoking coach. My friends at The Sports Museum in Boston have done just that--what they do best--in their new exhibition at Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut.

Titled VICTORY, the exhibition showcases some of the greatest moments not only in Boston sports history, but American history. From Jim Craig's 1980 "Miracle on Ice" Olympic hockey jersey and goalie mask to the astonishing quantity of Johnny Kelly's loving cups, trophies, and commemorative medals, the spoils of VICTORY are beautifully displayed. It's hard not to be moved by the wall-sized graphic of father-son marathoning team Dick and Rick Hoyt as they cross the finish line of the 2006 Boston Marathon. Equally sobering is the small display honoring Tony Conigliaro (Tony C) and the horrific injury that cut short a promising career.

Galleries are devoted to all Boston's (and greater New England) beloved teams--the Boston Celtics, the Bruins, Red Sox, and New England Patriots. You can't help but feel like you're momentarily transported to an early autumn afternoon at Fenway Park or the old Boston Garden when you pass an old Red Sox bleacher seat or stand near the parquet floor that was the site of so many great Celtics victories. A theatre area with videos that recall our favorite sporting memories, aptly named for the early 2000s "Decade of Dominance," allows guests to re-live great victories from the various teams.

I was lucky enough to be able to spend a day helping out with the installation (read as: I put hook-and-loop on the backsides of several pieces of foamcore for mounting) and get some behind the scenes details. Sully, one of the superb team at Foxwoods, took me on a "lighting" tour of the various galleries.   If you do visit, pay attention to how beautifully lit the entire exhibit is. Sully and his team--more accustomed to lighting Craig Ferguson or a Celtic Woman performance--are true artists and went above and beyond in crafting the illumination and effects within the exhibit. There's the cute Blue Spruce trees behind a Celtics themed cow (yes, you read that right) and a fiery light that floods down on General Patton's bronze statue. (If you're wondering, "why Patton?" he was a very accomplished equestrian and competed in the 1912 Olympic Pentathlon for the USA.) Fireworks explode over the 2004 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox wall graphic and the 24 second clock lighting looks terribly official.

My stellar contribution...the hook-and-loop mountings for
the programs. Executed to perfection by Ethan from
Cambridge Seven Associates. 
Though I'm not an aficionado of The Sweet Science, Boston has a great boxing tradition and Rocky Marciano and many other boxing legends are well represented here. As are the Olympic Games. Though I prefer to claim the 1980 Olympic team as mostly Minnesotan (and lead by favorite Minnesota son, the late Herb Brooks) I will concede--for this exhibit only--their strong New England connection. I'd also wager most of you have never seen Ted Williams' Red Sox locker. It's on display, too.

And then there's the opportunity to see some great sculptures. If you've never stood up close and personal and studied the work of the incredible Armand La Montagne, do so. La Montagne's life-sized basswood sculptures of Ted Williams, Yaz, Larry Bird, Harry Agganis, Bobby Orr and General George S. Patton are all part of the installation. The detail--down to the ribbing in Bobby Orr's socks--is not to be believed. There are also several of the large painted studies that La Montagne does for each subject on display as well as a video about his process.

Armand La Montagne's life-sized sculpture of Bobby Orr. 
The Sports Museum plays a vital role in preserving and teaching the important lessons of sport. They are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and in addition to saving important artifacts of our sporting history, they promote and sponsor stay in school programs and anti-bullying campaigns in the Boston area. This exhibition is a chance to highlight some of their many treasures and to broaden their outreach across New England.

Re-live your most iconic sporting memories or introduce your children and grandchildren to the legends of New England sports--a trip to the VICTORY exhibit at Foxwoods Resort and Casino will do your heart good. And you're helping a great cause: passing on the value of sport to a new generation and assisting the preservation of irreplaceable sporting history that the Sports Museum is dedicated to. It's a winning proposition if there ever was one.

There are many more photos over on my flickr page at...

And here are the details for VICTORY --
Foxwoods Resort and Casino
Mashantucket, Connecticut
Great Cedar Exhibition Hall, Great Cedar Hotel Lobby
September 27, 2012 - January 27, 2013
Adults - 15$, Children 10$ and Seniors 12$
Sunday - Thursday: 11am - 8pm
Friday - Saturday: 11am - 10pm

Monday, September 10, 2012

Time Past and Time Future

It doesn't really matter if we awaken to a cool, grey mist that morning or to azure skies scattered with cottonball clouds. The day still hurts. And it haunts. I used to think that it was somehow more appropriate when the morning of September 11th arrived with rain and drear. It's not that the drizzle takes the edge off of the pain or shrouds the memories, but in being so completely opposite of the morning in question there is, perhaps, a small amount of comfort to be taken.

That Tuesday morning was so brilliantly sunny. Too sunny. I walked to the 72nd street subway with a spring in my step. Autumn's first crisp breezes were starting to make their way into Manhattan that day and it was beyond beautiful. And then it wasn't. It was chaos and smoke and sirens and fear. The fear slowly but surely turned to disbelief, horror, and then stunning, overwhelming sorrow.

The twin towers of the WTC, taken from the Brooklyn Bridge, Labor Day weekend, 2001.
And so it is once again Tuesday, September 11th. This year there will be copious sunshine and refreshing breezes escorting the summer heat away from the Northeast. There will be silences, bells, moments, observations, and ceremonies. We will each remember in our own way, marking the hours, noting the time, and allowing ourselves to feel the sadness. Each year I wonder if this will be the one, the year when the anniversary hurts a little less. It never is.

I was reminded of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets over the weekend, and this small fragment from Burnt Norton caught me:

Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

Friday, August 31, 2012

New(ish) to Who

When the London Olympics ended a couple of weeks ago I went into a bit of a funk. What would take the place of all the sport I'd been watching so keenly (and at such odd hours of the morning) for those weeks? For a week or so, as my August ennui reached its summer zenith, I looked at photos of the Olympics. Then, I re-watched a few of the Equestrian events. Finally, true to my Pisces nature, I was distracted by something shiny...the promise of 5 sparkling new episodes of Amy, Rory, River and The Doctor. Yes, boys and girls, it's a new series of Doctor Who. There will be Daleks and Cybermen and even the odd Ood, oh my! 

A little over two years ago I was a Whovian neophyte. (You can read my post, about my emotional reaction to Vincent and the Doctor, at the bottom of this piece.) And now I'd say I'm a bona fide fan(atic). While I still don't consider myself a sci-fi kind of girl, I am a Who kind of girl. And here's why...

Doctor Who is about so much more than space and time and aliens. Sure, we learn that time is "really more of a big ball of wibbley wobbley...time-y wime-y...stuff." But in episode after episode, as the villains and monsters come and go, what remains is constant: friendship, loyalty, love, and a sense of history. Rory, who waits for Amy; Amy who waits for both Rory and The Doctor; The Doctor who always returns for his friends--albeit a little late, sometimes--all reminders of how much better the journey is when you travel with people you love and trust. The entire program is also steeped in the value of memory--there are nods large and small to the previous Doctors and their companions. And in many ways, the mere act of remembering someone can--and does-- make all the difference in the universe. Being remembered matters. Traveling (in every sense of the word) with people who matter to you is important. 

I've cried--more than once--over an episode of Doctor Who. I've also laughed, often, and been made to think. These are good things. And as with Sherlock, another favorite program, it is essential that you are actually present while watching The Doctor. You might very well be surprised at what you see and what you feel. Oh, and don't be put off by the Fezzes and bow ties, any proper Whovian knows that both are cool, as are fish-fingers and custard. 

The new season, featuring the 11th Doctor, starts on Saturday, September 1st on BBC-America. If you've never watched, why not start now? I will warn you, though, be prepared to have your heart break, just a little, now and then. Spoilers? Not here, sweetie. 

And here's my original post from July of 2010...

"I'm not a real sci-fi kind of girl. I much prefer nearly any other genre of film or book to be perfectly honest, but now and then even I am drawn to aliens and time travel. I'd noticed on the BBC that Dr Who was featuring a plot wherein the good doctor and his ginger assistant, Amy, would be visiting Vincent van Gogh in France for an upcoming episode. While I may not be an aficionado of Dr Who, I am fanatical about van Gogh and so I had to watch.

I remember very clearly the first time I saw a real live (you know what I mean...) honest-to-goodness van Gogh at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. I'd never seen anything like that before but I knew I loved it. His frantic, swirling brushstrokes, his love of color and the passion that absolutely flooded out of the painting--it was overwhelming. I then looked at pictures of his other works in the library (no internet back then, kiddies) and learned more about his life and grew to respect him even more. I do love a tortured genius (TE Lawrence is another of my favorite people ever) and van Gogh was certainly that. 

Anyway, back to The Doctor. The episode opened with an exhibit of van Gogh pieces at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris with an uncredited and (as always) brilliant Bill Nighy as an art historian leading some tourists through the show. The Doctor and Amy recognize an alien within the window of one of the paintings (The Church at Auvers) and the travel back in time in the TARDIS to rural France ca1889. 

You'd be correct to assume that while things didn't go exactly according to plan, The Doctor, aided by van Gogh did eventually neutralize the capon-ish looking alien thereby making countryside safe for the villagers once again. But the twist--and what got me all choked up--was the end. Van Gogh was famously unappreciated during his lifetime so during the episode his friends from the future resolve to take him back to 2010 and show him how much his work has meant to the world. It's a little Capra-esque device that might sound cloying, but it wasn't, it was quite poignant. Once in the Musee d'Orsay van Gogh sees the throngs of people gathered to view his work and The Doctor himself even engineers it so Bill Nighy's character speaks to the great humanity and passion he sees in Vincent's work. Upon returning van Gogh to his own time, now knowing how beloved he will be, Amy believes that the artist will now not take his own life at 37 and will accumulate a large, new body of work. The Doctor knows better but they rush back to the museum to find nothing changed...van Gogh having died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the young age of 37. When Amy lashes out that they didn't save him or help him after all, The Doctor replies to her with the comment that all of us have piles of good things and piles of bad things and that the trick is to not let the bad pile outweigh the good one. He reassures Amy that they definitely added to van Gogh's good pile.  A lovely sentiment, to be sure, as to how we impact others, and vice versa, in large and small ways.

So there I was, all choked up over Dr Who--of all things--and half thinking how brilliant it would be to be able to go back, meet and spend time with artists or writers that we admire; the other half of me thinking how wonderful it would have been for van Gogh--and so many other talented artists, writers, poets, dreamers--to have known while they lived that someday the world world would come to appreciate their talents. As with van Gogh, I'm not sure that knowledge would really change anything, but it is an intriguing thought."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Plus ça change . . .

I spend more time trolling the New Yorker archive than I spend reading the magazine that arrives in my mailbox each week. I like to think that I've read all of Audax Minor's (Minor was the pen name of George F. T. Ryall) columns at least once, and many of them multiple times. His assessment of the three-year-old crop will sound familiar to us all, and enjoy his mention of Seabiscuit v War Admiral, too.

I offer you, then, without further comment, Ryall's column (post Travers, at the time) from August 21, 1937.

"Occasionally you can have a pretty satisfactory race with unsatisfactory horses. Shandon Farm’s Burning Star, who isn’t one of the Class A three-year-olds, put up such a good show in winning the Travers Stakes at Saratoga last weekend that almost everyone, particularly everyone who bet on him, was enthusiastic enough to place him at the top of the list. It takes so little to lose a race, and Burning Star really overcame so much to win. He was crowded soon after the start, blocked during the run down the backstretch, and finally had to barge his way home on the rails on the turn for home. It was a gallant feat. I can’t imagine, even with my crystal ball and ouija board, what detained him when he was beaten so cleverly by Rex Flag in the Kenner Stakes four days before.

After the Travers was over, War Admiral was brought out, grown sleeker with easy living during his temporary retirement. He evidently believed he was going to the races again, for he wouldn’t stand still to be saddled, but lunged and plunged as though eager to join his old playmates, the assistant starters. Although he has recovered from his mishap in the Belmont Stakes, War Admiral is still in cotton wool so far as training goes. He won’t be ready to run for the Saratoga Cup, and his appearance even in the Lawrence Realization Stakes is doubtful, although he could win that race on crutches. 

These brittle thoroughbreds! Looking through the rats’ nest I call my past performance book, the other day I found a rating of the three-year-olds of 1937, compiled about January 1st by the official leading handicappers. Reading from left to right, War Admiral and Pompoon are resting; Brooklyn, Reaping Reward, Case Ace, Bottle Cap, and Maedic are out of training, and so are Fairy Hill, Clodion, No Sir, and Moonton. Of Matey and Airflame, the less said the better. Privileged may improve. At twenty-fifth on the list, I found Flying Scot, who did so well before he spread a foot. Clingendaal, who picked up so many purses here and there in New England, was thirtieth, and Burning Star wasn’t even considered important enough to have a rating at all. 

While we’re still on the subject of first-class horses, here’s a tip that race cource managements with meetings late in the autumn can take for what it’s worth: The Howards, who own Seabiscuit, wouldn’t mind running their horse in a match race against War Admiral. The only difficulty about that--outside the purse--is that they would peg the distance at one mile and a quarter, although they’d really prefer a match at one mile and a furlong. I don’t know what Sam Riddle thinks about such a race, but I’m sure that if he thinks about it at all, he’d insist on the distance being set at one mile and a half."

On the next page, toward the end of Minor/Ryall’s comments on harness racing, he concludes with a kind of Seen At column:

And at Saratoga: Mrs. Sam Riddle leaning over the rails to pat War Admiral. . . Bob Smith admiring the Man o’ War Gold Cup . . . The autograph hunters following the cinema stars . . . The Milky Way Farm’s grooms parading in new orange, white, and black jumpers . . . Jock Whitney trying to get through the crowd that blocked the clubhouse stairs . . . George Bull counting the biggest crowd at the Saratoga track . . . Colonel Martingale is getting tired of steeplechases for unsound and uncertain horses. He’s thinking of starting a Stop-Running-Steeplechases Week. --Audax Minor

If you're a New Yorker subscriber, you too can browse all of Ryall's work via their archive. This particular column runs pages 52-54 in August 21, 1937 issue.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Gaylordsville United Methodist Church

I don't consider myself a religious person by any measure. A 'cafeteria Catholic' (one who picks and chooses) is probably the most apt description of my beliefs. That said, I have a long-standing fascination with--and passion for--church and cathedral architecture. On these very pages I've written of my love affair with Henry Adams' Mont Saint Michel and Chartres. I've journeyed on my very own mini-tour of the architecturally stunning edifices at Chartres, Coutances, Amien, Rouen, and beyond. The parish church of my youth, St. Francis of Assisi, is itself a beautiful structure with a soaring, beamed ceiling and numerous stained glass windows.

In the Northeast, though, we have special churches and cathedrals of our own, beyond Fenway Park, of course. These white-steepled beauties--whose stately spires dot our rolling hillsides--are at the very heart of New England architecture.

Classic New England facade, ca 1854
Yesterday, while on a photographic quest for my weekly Flickr challenge, I was driving Route 7 here in Connecticut. It's a drive rich with picture taking opportunities, but nothing was really catching my eye. Crossing the Housatonic, I drove into the hamlet of Gaylordsville to get turned around so I could head back south. As I crossed the river again, though, I saw the sharp steeple of a church sticking out above the trees and decided to have a closer look.

The Gaylordsville United Methodist Church is perched on slight incline right on busy Route 7, but it doesn't feel in any way hurried. The simplicity, symmetry, and pedimented façade caught my eye immediately. As I left my car, I noticed a woman working outside--the lawn had been freshly mowed and trimmed--and I greeted her saying that I just wanted to take a few pictures. We exchanged pleasantries about how lovely the weather was and I made my way around the exterior, noting the deep green shutters, the decorative mouldings. Looking through a partially open window I could see the green and amber hued stained glass shedding warm afternoon light out across the pews.

Reflected clouds, green shutters
I'd taken quite a few different pictures of the church from the outside and was about to walk back to my car. As I rounded the corner, the woman whom I'd spoken to earlier asked if I'd like to go in. Really? I'm accustomed to churches generally being closed so I usually content myself with the exteriors. She said to me that something (someone?) just told her to invite me to go inside. I cheerfully accepted the offer.

As we walked through the door I was enveloped by 'old building' smell. It's right up there with 'old library' smell for me and when you add in beadboard wainscoting and push button lighting you have (in my estimation) the hallmarks of a great old building. My new friend--whose name I was too lunkheaded to ask!--told me about how special this place was for her. How it just kind of drew people in, brought people together. Clearly this church was and is an integral part of this small community.

I have what I consider to be an overdeveloped sense of place. By that I mean that I know almost immediately if a place is 'for me' or not. It's a visceral, gut reaction and some places--be they entire cities or single structures--just don't resonate at my particular (peculiar) wavelength. This place, though, this small church, exuded a stoic grace that I've come to identify with these old New England houses of worship. I liked it here.

I walked down the aisle, spent time gazing at the amber glow that shone through the stained glass window, and lingered at a quilt on the wall. I browsed the hymnals, admired the cushioned pews (none of those in most of the Catholic churches of my life) and sat calmly in the quiet amidst the serene blue walls.
Stained glass though the screen
Walking to my car, I stopped to thank the kind soul who had shared her church with me for part of the afternoon. Her love of the place was evident and I appreciated the gesture. Not only did I have more than enough pictures for my photo project (which can be viewed on Flickr here), but I also passed an unexpectedly enjoyable Saturday in late summer when my august August ennui is as its peak. My sincere thanks to my unnamed friend and the community that takes such loving care of this beautiful old church.

Very literal interpretation of the open door
welcome I received

Looking toward the altar

The amber light shining through the stained glass
window casts a warm hue on some of the pews

Detail of the memorial stained glass window

Saturday, August 11, 2012

From the Jersey Shore to The Spa

Looking out over the crowd near the finish line on
Haskell Day at Monmouth Park
 To most of the country, the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby are the biggest horse racing days of the year. Not to take anything away from the weeks that surround the Triple Crown season, but my racing calendar is a little different. My season, the few weeks I look forward to the entire rest of the year, happens at Saratoga.

This year, though, in addition to Saratoga, I was treated to a lovely girls day trip with friends to "The Shore's Greatest Stretch" also known as Monmouth Race Track. When we'd initially discussed attending The Haskell there was an abundance of equine possibilities. Union Rags, Bodemeister, Hansen were all in the mix. And it was the thought of being within a few yards of handsome and talented Union Rags that originally prompted me to even consider a drive down the Shore for Haskell day.
There's a real mid-century feel to Monmouth
 As happens in racing, though, more often than not lately, the "big" horses didn't make the trip to New Jersey. Union Rags was injured and retired, Hansen's connections decided for West Virginia (perhaps a blue-tail friendly Utopia?) and the million-dollar Haskell day was suddenly a little quieter. I'm so pleased I went to spend time with fun, horse-loving friends, see the track and just enjoy a good day of racing. With fewer big-draw type horses, the crowds were a little smaller so I was able to really walk around and see the pretty paddock and get a better feel for Monmouth. A very good day was had by all--once we finally found someone who could show us to our seats--and I'll look forward to more racing days enjoying those soothing ocean breezes.

The good and the great are represented with banners
hung under the grandstands

A classic Saratoga view
 A few short days after my Monmouth adventure, I departed for what passes for heaven for me, the horsey mecca that is Saratoga Springs, New York. The Spa.

The instantly recognizable peaks and rafters of the Saratoga
I've waxed (repeatedly) rhapsodic on the virtues--great and small--of Saratoga, so I'll spare you that in this post. From the architecturally iconic grandstand to the beautiful white ironwork, though, it's hard not to love this place.

I love the signage, beadboard ceilings, and last century
feel that you can't help but soak up in Saratoga
And that's not even mentioning the horses. Horses, **sigh.** This summer I had promised myself that I was going to spend some time at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Selected Yearlings Sale. The closest I've ever been to the sales is when, at an Arabian auction, my parents very nearly bought me an expensive horse while gesturing that it was time to go. Luckily, this time I had a very skilled guide and I got the best possible introduction to the sale and process of getting yearlings ready for the sale. Seeing all the colts and fillies close up, browsing the catalog for interesting and eye-catching pedigrees was great fun. There's just nothing like being able to see the youngsters up close and really get a look at how they move, how they walk, what their bone structure is. 

The Fasig-Tipton sales area is just a block or two from the track
in Saratoga, so parking is at a premium

The beautifully bred and all-class
Bernardini colt that I fell
in love with at the Four Star Sales barn
Needless to say, I fell in love with more than one yearling in the sales barns. I'm totally on board with equine polyamory, by the can't help but love more than one horse. I was like a schoolgirl meeting the classy and handsome Bernardini colt in the Four Star Sales barn. 

The other colt I fell for, hip 182
And then there was this little Arch colt. While I love a dappled grey, I'm also a sucker for a dark bay and this Arch colt just caught my eye.

I look forward to spending more time at the sales, watching and learning, and getting a firsthand look at these young horses, some of whom may be stars some day. If you're interested in any of the other photos, stop over to my flickr page right HERE.

Friday, May 4, 2012

From Chadds Ford to Louisville

Union Rags w/ Julien Leparoux up
Photo courtesy of Frances J. Karon
There are a few topics that can rouse the blood in my family, one of them is whether or not something is art. It can become a kind of "hide the cutlery" kerfuffle at times. These discussions typically include eye rolling, head shaking, and dismissive hand gestures. In the end, it's all in good fun, and there are even many artists whom we can agree on as being masters of their medium. Three generations of the Wyeth family fall into that category.

I'm not sure which N.C. Wyeth illustration was the first one that I saw, but it would likely have been in the company of something by Wyeth's mentor, Howard Pyle, two of my father's favorite artists when he was young. He grew up with illustrated classics like Robin Hood, Kidnapped, Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island--early volumes that contained the visually captivating illustrations of N.C. Wyeth. Needless to say, the name Wyeth--be it N.C., Andrew, or Jamie--has been part of my personal mental art catalog for most of my life. As a youngster with a camera, looking for a 4-H photography project, I had one of Andrew Wyeth's stark and melancholy Pennsylvania barns in the back of my head as inspiration. I have no doubt that part of my love of landscape photography and painting is because of the early influence of seeing those Wyeth paintings. The dearth of color, the composition, and certainly the rural subject matter all resonate strongly with me to this day. The cool realism of Andrew Wyeth, in particular, belies a stoicism and stubbornness that I find appealing.

So what about the horse, I can hear you asking. Well, on the best days, I think, the things we love intersect, connect, and collide. And it is one of these happy synchronicities that brings me to the stunningly handsome colt in the above photograph, Union Rags. I am absolutely whiz-bang, heart-poundingly in love with this horse, though I should think that after looking at him that would go without saying. Every couple of years a horse comes along that I just fall for, head-over-heels (witness Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, Black Caviar.) Oh, and his owner? Phyllis Wyeth, wife of Jamie Wyeth of that aforementioned artistic clan. His trainer? Olympic silver-medal winning equestrian and phenomenal all-around horseman Michael Matz.

Honestly, I think Union Rags is pretty easy to love, regardless of his connections. He's as handsome a horse as I've ever seen. My friends who have been fortunate enough to see him in person all confirm that his presence is one that makes you a little weak in the knees. Some horses just have that charisma, they don't require any theatrics or devices, they are genuine athletes who can render mere mortals breathless and speechless by their speed, grace, and strength.

Obviously, I'd love Union Rags to win the Kentucky Derby, easily the most talked about race of the year in the United States, but win or lose, I'm a fan. I have no doubt that he'll be as ready as he can be, but in the 20 horse stampede that is the chaotic start of the Derby, it's rather unlikely that any one horse gets the right trip to match his racing style. True, the great ones usually find a way to win, but it still requires more than a little bit of luck. More importantly, as a racing fan, I want to see him run to his ability and come out of the race well. I want to see him race more, especially a little farther Belmont Park, maybe, or, better yet, Saratoga. Union Rags at Saratoga where he ran so magnificently on the sloppiest of days last summer...that's a wonderful thought. I hope Union Rags is a star that we get to see run a strong and competitive 3-year-old campaign.

If you have yet to fully fall for this stunning colt, spend a few minutes watching this video on his story...

If you're in the northeast, visit Connecticut's Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford where there are two Wyeth-related exhibits up at present. Andrew Wyeth: Looking Beyond and James Welling: Wyeth are both up until late July.

Special thanks to Frances J. Karon (her blog, with many more wonderful photographs is for generously allowing me to use the beautiful photo of Union Rags at the top of this post.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Muses Are Heard

One of the "big guns" that guarded the Atlantic Coast at Fort Wright, NY. 
“When the cannons are heard, the muses are silent. When the cannons are silent, the muses are heard.” -- from Truman Capote's The Muses Are Heard.**

Most anyone who writes knows that there are days when it is utterly impossible to summon The Muse. You may have everything else you need to write--your trusty laptop or favorite fountain pen, your favorite writing spot, your preferred writing quaff--but the words, the words just won't arrange themselves in a congenial manner. In the worst of times this lasts for months, in better times a few weeks. And then sometimes, just to be contrary, the floodgates open and you can't get the words down on paper quickly enough. Those are the extremes and luckily most of us exist somewhere in the moderately frustrated the middle. 

At any rate, I suppose you're wondering what is up with the gun, other than an extraordinarily literal illustration of silent cannons. I'm generally not big on guns, in fact, my only artillery references are typically in the form of a cocktail, the French 75--a powerful concoction of Champagne, gin, lemon juice, and sugar that is allegedly named after the French 75 mm gun which was considered to be among the first pieces of modern artillery. The gun above is actually a 12 inch gun that was stationed at Fort H.G. Wright on Fisher's Island, NY, part of America's Atlantic defenses for many decades. And it's at this point where this all begins to come together a little. As I said, sometimes the Muses can be very well camouflaged. This is the story of the Muses storming the castle, if you will. Of the Muses announcing their presence with heralds and choirs of angels. 

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to access an amazing collection of WWI letters sent home from The Front to the US. There are two years or more of letters, nearly one a week, that were sent from locations around France back to New England. The letters are newsy and even optimistic. They speak of French farming methods, girls, the Spanish Flu and references to The Bosch, The Huns, and Fritz. In the process of transcribing and inventorying the letters, I've become more than a little attached to the stories and the family of the young soldier. (Amongst my friends we call the subjects of my various research projects "The Dead Boyfriends Club," terribly low maintenance, the members are!) The young soldier was part of the Coastal Artillery Corps and fought in France, close to Chateau-Thierry and then in the Battle of the Argonne. While his letters never specifically say where he is (and they'd have been censored if they had given any locations) it's easy enough today to figure out a timeline of his regiment and where they were engaged in battle. As I've not been a serious student of WWI (beyond the compelling references in two favorite television programs, Downton Abbey and Boardwalk Empire) the dates didn't immediately stand out for me. But the wagoner's little hints and clues made it clear of their path. You see, my solider, Ernest, was a wagoner. He was responsible for the tractors, trucks, and other vehicles that carried the large American guns, like the 12 incher pictured above. He began his service to the United States at Fort H. G. Wright, learning about those big guns.

His story, as it's being reconstructed, is probably not that different from many American GIs of the time. Fortunately there's a lot of story to tell and it's going to be a wonderfully fun project as it unfolds. What I've been most struck by, though, is the transporting feeling his letters convey. You can feel the pull of the mud, the stench of the rot, and the bone-chilling cold of the dreaded evening spent on guard duty. And then there's the issue of modern hindsight...reading these missives you can feel the tension as they approach their objectives. The day I read the letter he wrote home to his mother where he mentioned the approach to what would be The Battle of the Argonne I had a knot in my stomach the whole day. I knew where the letters were leading and even a cursory knowledge of that battle is enough to make most shudder. I hated to think of this soldier, whom I had begun to feel as though I knew, hurtling toward this danger. And yet there, in this letter, Ernest is straightforward and reassuring to his mother and sister, telling them he is safe, warm, and in a trench with four others. It was a bit hard to fully comprehend, yet there it was, that typical and most American of traits, self-assurance laced with hope. 

Needless to say, I've chatted up anyone who will listen, spilling out bits and pieces of Ernest's tale. As it is fleshed out and filled in, there's much to be gleaned from both his experience in France and the larger story of his regiment. I think what's most compelling about these letters is not only that they present us with a first person narrative of The Front in 1918, but they also tell us a great deal about the news he gets from home. These letters are in part a poignant portrait of small town New England in 1917-19.

During one of my little chats about Ernest, a dear friend shared with me some of the story of his great-grandfather's experience with the Scottish Rifles in WWI. He sent me a scan of a letter his great-grandfather had written to his great-grandmother in 1916 and some of the beautifully worded condolence notes from Buckingham Palace. The letter is heartbreaking, and 180 degrees away from Ernest's newsy notes. My friend's great-grandfather, who seemed to foresee his fate, died in the summer of 1916, likely in one of the early engagements in the Battle of the Somme. I read the letter on the screen of my laptop with a lump in my throat and a saddened heart. 
Image courtesy of Kerry Buckley
To our modern ears the names of battles--The Argonne, The Somme...or Gettysburg or Antietam closer to home--can't help but conjure up horror and sadness. When we see those battles in a book or film there is a visceral, gut wrenching, physical response. To young men like my Ernest or my friend's great grandfather, Michael, they were a duty that lay ahead, an obstacle to be conquered on the way to getting oneself home. Something that had to be survived in order to return to home, to family, to the world they had once known. I mean no disrespect when I say that I think the lives of the Europeans were changed, nearly beyond recognition whereas the Americans came home to an altered world, but not on the same scale as that of their allies. 

I promise more to come on Ernest and The Great War, as the long-silent cannons allow the Muses to speak, loudly, and in the 21st century. 

** And if you've not taken the opportunity to read Capote's wonderful non-fiction story of The Everyman's Opera troupe staging of Porgy and Bess in Soviet Russia, The Muses Are Heard...then by all means, DO. It's unique and clever and completely Capote-esque. The quote that I've referenced is actually from a speech given by an official in the Soviet Ministry of Culture. A highly recommended read.