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.