Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Originally uploaded by jonathanpberger

Happy, happy, happy Halloween, you crazy kids. Enjoy rotting the teeth and warping the minds of the next generation.

Cultural bleed

About five years ago, La Mère and I went to Mexico where the warm winds blow for a week of riding with Cabalgatas La Sierra, Day of the Dead touristing, and DF sight-seeing. The riding was spectacular, right from the moment when Pepe, splendidly photogenic in a huge sombrero and ignoring his black horse's capers as he lit a cigar, met us in front of the stable's arched plaster gate. The cigar lit and installed to his satisfaction, he nodded to the grooms, said mildly, "Bueno, vámonos," and spun his horse on its heels to bolt out onto the roads. I wanted to look around for the film crew, because surely nobody was this much like a 1930's movie, were they?

Although my horse was a true prince of his race and kept me from several nasty falls on loose ground, spending long seven-hour days in the saddle is hard if you're not used to it. So it was that I found myself wandering the cobblestone streets of Valle de Bravo in search of some bandages and tape for a twisted ankle (trust me, you need strong ankles to ride mountain trails). The town had a gracious plenty of small storefront pharmacies, but one after another was flat out of bandages. Was it a translation error? Was I missing the right word? No, the women behind the counters assured me, they knew what I wanted, they were just out of stock. Each recommended that I try the next place down the street, maybe they'll have some. After five or six of these discouraging conversations, one pharmacy came up with a tiny roll of narrow-gauge gauze and some athletic tape, which I eked out to last the rest of the trip. It was weird, though: How could they have so many medications in stock and yet not carry something as basic as two-inch bandages?

Now, Day of the Dead proper starts October 31, with children traditionally given treats on November 2, but there is growing concern at the increasing popularity of Halloween, trick-or-treating, and associated American-type rituals among the Mexican youth--who, no dummies, know that multiple days for getting candy are better than just one. The kids are even starting to dress up for Halloween itself, although they're still asking for calaveras and noshing on pan de muerto. The costume choices are also pretty traditional: witches, vampires, the occasional Frankenstein, all thick with makeup and costumes made from day-to-day clothes. There were one or two Power Rangers in plastic store-bought outfits, but they were the rare exception.

Oh, yes: And there were mummies. OLD-school mummies. Homemade mummies. Mummies dressed not in commercial costumes or skeins of toilet paper, but in yards and yards of carefully-arranged layers of...have you guessed yet? Those damn missing bandages. We found the town's entire stock on the hordes of kids roaming the central plaza with their parents. These kids had gone Method; some of them could barely walk for trailing gauze. I couldn't do anything but laugh--at them, at my confusion, at the image of grabbing a spare end and spinning someone like a top. I hope that the kids keep up the effort. And these days I bring my own first aid kit when I ride.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Frolic? Yes please

Colic? No thanks.

There is one thing that seems consistent with horse-based businesses, which is a certain flaky vagueness in the front offices. I showed up for my one-on-one time with Doc tonight only to be warned off riding him or giving him the usual apple: He colicked up hard yesterday and is still recovering. My irritation at the lack of notice is small next to my relief that he's okay.

It sounds odd that colic is such a serious disease in horses, when it's a byword for nothing worse than chronic fussiness in babies. Well, I say "nothing worse," but obviously it's hell for the sleep-deprived parents. Still, colic in humans isn't generally a fatal condition; in horses, the term refers to a variety of issues that sometimes do kill. Horses' digestive systems are one-way roads, so anything they take in has to go all the way through their GI tracts and out the back. Unfortunately, that long coil of innards isn't entirely anchored in place, and sometimes a bit of food gets stuck or a section of intestine kinks like a hose, and the pressure starts to build. If the obstruction isn't moved along or the twist unflipped, the tissue can lose circulation or gas can accumulate; death can come in a matter of hours, often sooner than the vet. Even the vet is hampered unless there's a surgery nearby; you can't really do a sterile operation in a working barn. Colic is more common in stalled horses, who cannot walk and graze all day the way the animals are designed to do, but it can appear in almost any horse.

Horses have not yet evolved to the point of being able to hold up a sign reading, "Hello, I am colicking," but the indications are usually clear: The horse seems dull or uninterested. It won't eat or drink and may begin to sweat heavily. It may turn to look or bite at its sides to try to find the source of the pain. It may exhibit stretches that look like the flehmen response. Given anything like enough space, it will roll and roll (most horses roll for a few moments to scratch their backs; a colicked horse will thrash around for much longer). Treatments depend on the cause of the colic, but walking the horse and letting it roll once or twice at a time is a basic start.

Somehow or other, with the help of a dose of a muscle relaxant called banamine, Doc got things back to where they should have been, but he's still on what Stephen Maturin would call a low diet. I gave his usual apple to QC, then spent some time in Doc's stall grooming him and disappointing him by not turning into a pile of hay. I had missed the barn's annual Halloween trick-or-treating extravaganza, going to a Last Train Home show instead (Eric Brace? Still one of my favorite singers. IOTA? Still my favorite DC-area club, and made untritely Halloweenly with webs of tiny lights and huge glowing orange paper lanterns hanging from the rafters over the stage. Guy wearing a fake furry spider and a Phantom/Harlequin mask, offering cigs to everyone in the club? Still...not sure what was going on there), but the giant bats, strings of novelty lights, and corn shocks showed that the barn staff did a great job with the decor for the trick-or-treating kids. Among the costumed (sorry, Expat, no dancing) horses, QC had been dressed as an Oreo and Sterling as a plumber. The photos cannot come soon enough.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Correcting scurrilous rumors

I hope the three people who read this site regularly don't get too tired of horse gossip, because they tend to get the intel about my job and personal life over e-mail and what's left is largely equine scuttlebutt. People who don't spend a lot of time around horses may well wonder how much you can really say about a horse's personality and exploits, which is something I can't correct without first-hand stories.

Each day, a barn assistant draws up the horse list, assigning horses to each class in a balancing act between making sure that the horses are appropriate for the class level, that nobody injured is on the list, that a horse that's been out several times already gets a break, and that any other problems are addressed. Which somehow is why I didn't get Cappi for dressage this week; I got a choice between Lady, who I've never ridden but who apparently comes with the bound set of Issues, and Grayson, a black-and-white leopard Appaloosa who I've mentioned before is a grumpy bastard with a rep for bad behavior. He is also the only horse at the barn who has thrown me, back in my early days in English training: got out of balance at the canter, he waited until a corner and then threw his head down as though scratching an itch on his knee, and, following certain inarguable newtonian laws, I went right over his shoulder into a full somersault. He then had the nerve to come nuzzle the pocket where I was keeping a pack of mints, all, "Hi! I put you on the ground! Treats now?"

Grayson's ground manners are infamous: He tries to turn his butt toward and kick anyone who comes into his stall (the options are either to offer him a treat first, to bring his head around, or, more riskily, to duck in fast up to his shoulder, grab his mohawk of a mane, and pull his head toward you as hard as you can, after which he will behave perfectly for about five minutes), pins his ears and snaps while he's on cross-ties, rolls his eyes and wrinkles his speckled mouth at anyone who passes by, threatens to kick other horses if they get too close, and will certainly cow-kick at anyone who approaches with a crop in hand (he's bad but not stupid). So why do we put up with all that?

Well, strangely enough, the evil creature is almost perfect under saddle. He used to do high-level competitive dressage, and if he figures out that a rider is the boss (not the case all the time, due to fear or lack of skill), he is a complete dream to ride. I wasn't sure where I fell on his spectrum of respect/ignore. The first few minutes of class weren't promising: Grayson poked along, appearing not to notice my legs, even as I squeezed him so hard that my hip popped. After about five minutes, Pat nodded in my direction: "Want a stick?" "Yeah...this isn't working." And lo, as soon as I had the stick in my hand, he moved out at a fine pace. I never even tapped him with it, but with it in his field of vision we did a full hour of fast and slow trots, moving from one speed to the next at a touch of calf or rein; leg-yields and shoulders-in flowing smoothly to and from the wall; a 90-degree turn using only the hind legs; and even an uneventful canter circle. We also avoided unpleasantness with the other horses, which given that two are young and undertrained and the third is herd-bound and spooky was quite the accomplishment. I felt practically charitable toward him afterward, and his efforts to bite me as I rubbed him down seemed half-hearted. Perhaps there's something to this practice thing after all.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Late-breaking Venn diagrams

Am I the last one to the Indexed party? For lo, it is full brilliant. I always use a Venn diagram metaphor to explain Punkin Chunkin (circle A = rednecks, circle B = engineers, intersection C = airborne cucurbit mayhem).

H/T Light Reading.

We band of what now?

Drat. DRAT. Yesterday was the day of Saints Crispin and Crispianus, patron saints of shoemakers, and I missed it. It's one of several saints' days I try to remember for reasons largely unrelated to church standing, right up there with the days of Saints Thecla and Severian (Gene Wolfe is pretty sneaky for an Aggie). The Crispin/Crispianus connection is the really obvious one about it being part of the speech that, to paraphrase a better writer, reached down the throats of a band of tired wet miserable outnumbered men and pulled them to their feet by their testicles. I'm sure Henry V only wished he'd been that eloquent, but whatever he said did the trick and the rest is just posing for the photographers. Portrait painters. Whatever.

Apropros of the young king's big day, however, herewith an excerpt from the modern version, from the late lamented Mike Ford. I will pay my penance by having "Bon Dieu, achetez-moi un Mercedes-Benz" stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

HARRY. What is not messed with, there we do not mess.
Our beer is strong, our judges paid on time,
And every jerk we whack has whacking won.
So lay it on the table from your boss
And what is up his snoot.

AMB. Let's cut the crap.
You sent a note that him what's runnin' France
Should give a wad of territory up
'Cause Crazy Eddie ran a game there once.
On this, my boss the Dolphin ain't so keen,
Says that you is a, or is smokin', dope,
An' wonders how you got in them long pants.
You risk a grabbing by the wide lapels,
And havin' your hat handed you real hard.
But hey, he pays his markers. So here is
A bunch of boodle that should square things up,
And put this stupid tsimmis in the bag:
So's all the gloves stay on. Thusly the swag.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

All hail Quetzovercoatl!

Quetzovercoatl: Half man, half chicken, half jaguar, half serpent, half scorpion, half mad.

Although he now has to avoid reading fanfic for prophylactic legal reasons, Terry Pratchett has said that writing the stuff can be a useful training exercise for aspiring authors and that one of his own early stories was a Jane Austen/J.R.R. Tolkien crossover fic (the MS is tragically lost to history). He was particularly proud of the scene where the orcs attacked the rectory.

All of which is by way of saying that "The Night The Aztecs Stormed Glasgow" reminded me of Pratchett's gleeful wholesale rummaging through world mythology. Doesn't he seem the sort of man who would appreciate a song that rhymes Quetzalcoatl and anecdotal? For my own part, I cherish the illusion that perhaps such an invasion would have prevented the invention of butterscotch-flavored candy haggis.

[H/T Making Light, again some more.]

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The summertime is fading

We're coming up on the last week of the Silver Spring farmers market, sniff. After this weekend, getting Stayman apples (ostensibly for Doc, really mostly for me) will entail riding a whole stop down the Metro to Takoma Park, which has a larger market but which is a lot more crowded. Also it lacks the European Gourmet Bakery stall, whence comes my cinnamon roll fix. Woe.

But there's still a weekend left for the local market, and this time I am heading straight for Babes in the Woods, a stall that sells forest-fed pork. Yeah, go ahead, figure out the name; it took me a few seconds and then I was torn between grimacing and laughing hysterically. The proprietor and his uber-cute daughter explained how they let the pigs run loose on 78 acres of land, only bringing them in for vet checks or slaughter, and I imagine that the meat is pretty damn good. After missing last week's market for Festing, I was doubly determined to pick up something there this weekend, maybe a pork loin to fix with rosemary and garlic and salt, but then I read Orangette's post about brats and apple compote, and now a pack of sausages has to make the list. Blow winds and crack your cheeks, I'll be fixing comfort food to keep you at bay.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Another one (not me) bites the dust

Schadenfreude? Moi? NEVAIRE. Okay maybe sometimes, like with this story: major GOP funder Richard Mellon Scaife, having cheated on his second wife and having (oops) forgotten to arrange a prenup, faces paying the equivalent of $24,000 per day in alimony. What's that Dorothy Parker line? Oh right, "And sweet's the air with curly smoke from all my burning bridges." Truly, the values party is an example to us all.

Slightly closer to home and much less acrimoniously, Doc and I worked more on downward transitions tonight, trying to go smoothly from the canter to the trot. It was only moderately successful, what with him wanting to run and run and run, and he tripped several times, at one point pulling me forward in such a way that something in my back went *plink.* Oofah. He could use another rider to work with him, preferably one with more training experience than I have, but that's true of lots of the schoolies and therefore seems unlikely. Kim came down as we were wrapping up and turned out her new mare in the paddock just next to the ring. The bay and Doc checked one another out quietly for a few moments, then suddenly she squealed and kicked and so we called an end to that particular session and left her to play with Kim. Doc made faces at his neighbor Princess (or, I like to think, at her pink Izod halter) while I rubbed him down, then he walked very decorously into his stall and stood still while I took off his halter. Half the time he lunges past me to get to his grain bucket (he's pretty well muscled for someone convinced he's starving to death), but we're getting him better at waiting politely. Little steps.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Not enough free time in the week

Lessons from the weekend:
  • Live reggae in a coffeehouse offends the gods, who will soak the surrounding areas in icy rain. Which we need, but possibly could not so much of it have gone sideways?
  • If you want to see the face of desperate addiction, the counter of the only coffee bar in the Ren Fest at 10:01, where the victims customers glare at staff who seem unable to keep track of orders, is a good place to look. Or a very very bad one.
  • The Mediaeval Baebes' live show is oddly similar to that of the Pipettes: moderately decent singing, excellent backup musicians, and heavy emphasis on the "pretty women doing dance routines" aspect. Without the heavy engineering, they sounded a little thin, which might also have been due to the outdoor acoustics.
  • There are still people who do not realize that you should know your drink order BEFORE you reach the bar and that thoughts of murder percolate in the heads of those behind you in line if you wait until you are facing the bartender to say, "Wait, what do all you guys want?"
  • Michael Rosman does a phenomenal juggling routine with cigar boxes, a thing I haven't seen since the Moscow Circus came to town. (Speaking of which, hurray! The feds are keeping us safe from the dangers of international performers! Jesus Christ.)
  • If you want to make a new mother very happy, sign her up for a massage appointment and don't let her say no.
  • My aggro levels go up when I have to listen to an acupuncturist tell a roomful of people that proper chi maintenance prevents cancer, heart disease, and immune disorders. No wonder we are overrun with 900-year-old kung fu masters. Oh wait.
  • Wong People's lion dance kicks ass. Not only do the young drummers have a "Do not fear, WONG PEOPLE ARE HERE" banner, their lion does cartwheels. Cartwheels! And also, at one point, he appears to lick his harbls, which I have never seen a dancing lion do and find greatly amusant.
  • Dumbledore was, unbeknownst to all save the slashers, teh ghey. Hilariously, actor Michael Gambon, who plays the headmaster in the movies and is apparently known for taking the piss out of interviewers, once told a reporter that he has no problem playing gay characters because he himself used to be homosexual but was forced to give it up "because it made my eyes water." Dear Lord how I do love the British.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Finally I stop squeaking

Western again last night, this time with somewhat better results. We got the slower speeds more consistently, but Doc had some problems that are probably related to stiffness on one side of his body, so I will work with him in the next few weeks on getting more balanced. Nothing is as much fun or easy when you're all achy along one side, although he did his damnedest to assure everyone that he was perfectly happy running on the wrong lead, just let him run can we run now please to run fast run now? (I paraphrase.) The fox that has taken to strolling across the ring as though it is his private demesne did not show up, perhaps because on Monday, after he sauntered into the middle of the ring, Doc and I herded him right back out. He yawned at us from beyond the safety of the fence; Doc snorted and turned away.

Congrats to Rock Ninja, who is all be-shotted and ready to head out to Uganda for a cool new project ("You've done great work! Now go get some needles stuck in ya!"). I am jealous and can only hope that the meetings my group is mulling over hosting in Rio or Buenos Aires work out sooner rather than later. Texas and Washington state are nice enough, but I've made my feelings about Argentina clear; not all the breakfast tacos in Austin would woo me away from a pampas-lean steak. Should we sway slightly northward, well, a lonely pot of feijoada will alway have a home with me. Pass the cachaca?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Oh hell and death and yay!

I sometimes get very frustrated in dressage. I've been working steadily with Cappi, who as I've mentioned is tiny and makes me feel sometimes that I'm trying to balance on top of a tootsie roll, which is a problem because I've got relatively long legs and find myself having to pretzel myself up just to get some contact with him. (Wow, after that sentence I suddenly want a ton of junk food. Back in a sec.)

But he still runs away, and sometimes he's not responsive, and it's tough to tell whether I'm not getting the right results because I'm doing it wrong or because he's confused or both. No cabe duda that I've managed to improve my seat and hands, vide my ability not to fall off when Cappi takes off in terror of invisible cthulus, but basic stuff like bending the horse at the walk, getting the leg yield, and turning smoothly so often evade me. It's a little like those annoying yoga teachers who tell you not to compete with other students, but when the intern on the next mat has tucked her heels into her armpits and looks transcendently smug, you always do anyway (it's either that or reach over to tickle her to see what happens); I am trying to be happy with my own progress, but I want to be doing more. In other words, I'm perfectly pleased with how I'm doing, I just wish I were doing better faster sooner.

Tonight went fairly well, with only one runaway, and we tried some bending work that I kind of sort of managed. But after class, as I was rinsing off Cappi's bridle, Pat came up and said firmly, "Put your helmet back on and come ride my horse. I want you to see how the shoulder-in should feel." I couldn't decide between "ohshit" and "fuck YEAH," because Pat's horse is (a) enormous, (b) super sensitive, and (c) highly trained. She's universally popular, because she loves spending time with people and will happily snorgle you for hours, but Pat's told us enough stories about her training adventures that I was a little nervous about putting a heel wrong and finding myself hanging from a treebranch. Pat snapped on a lunge line, though, so I probably wasn't going to get a fast trip anywhere exciting and therefore had no excuse to chicken out, and I climbed up feeling like I was reaching the third story of a building (Cappi: 14.2 hands; QC: 17+, or about a foot and a half taller). We did some simple bending work that was noticeably different from Cappi's intermittent responses to my confusing signals. It was like dancing with other dance students and then briefly getting paired with an experienced partner; there was a real clarity and sense of relief from having my signals interpreted correctly or at least seeing QC react when I fixed my hands. Cappi is probably not the best horse for me (Seesterperson: "I do not trust this Cappi. He seems to be a wild one"), but my goal is to understand him better and make it easier for him to do what I want, so each step is helpful.

But it still feels like I'm building a sand castle one grain at a time.

Et cetera

A day without riding is a day that will be followed by some singularly pointless posting. It turns out that an evening of laundry, paying the bills, and eating the butternut squash soup I made from Weebat's recipe (not shown: extensive prolonged cursing during the struggle to peel the squash) doth not a fruitful posting make.

Randomly, then, I bring glad tidings about the NYC yogurt chain's for expansion: "We will 'berry you." Also, here's a bit of fabulous from Defenestration magazine, the less-irritating heir of McSweeney's and makers of the pitch-perfect abridged Jude the Obscure vid. This one's for The Vamp, who lately has been operating on about twenty minutes of continuous sleep per night due to her new arrival's jet lag; maybe laughter can sub for some of the missing snooze time.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Training pays off

Or so I am assured it eventually will, but after an hour of arguing with Doc about whether he was going to be allowed to run around like a mad thing or whether he should run at a more measured pace, I'm a bit disheartened. He's a sweet sweet horse, but he needs more speed work than the barn affords such a calm fellow, so he takes advantage of chances to run. Better he do it with me on his back than some terrified moppet, since I not-so-secretly get a kick out of how much he's helped improve my seat and ability to relax at faster gaits. But still, I was hoping to lay down some good foundations for the next western class, when we're supposed to run a pattern that tests your control of transitions from trot to canter. Our mutual taste for speedy work may have put paid to that idea for a while.

Here, however, is an example of what good training can do. Cutting is a rodeo sport derived from standard cowboy work, when you may need to cut individual cows out of a herd for doctoring or other herd maintenance. In competition, a rider cuts a cow out of the herd and is judged on how well the horse works on its own to keep the cow separated from its bovine fellows. A good rider with a well-trained partner will just sit calmly in the middle of the horse, letting it jink and dive to block the cow. In this video, the rider apparently fell off not long after pointing his horse at the cow he wanted. The horse clearly feels that that is just details, people, details. There's a cow to thwart! Yow.

Desultory review: "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"

I had no problems with the original "Elizabeth"—how could I, with Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, and Christopher Eccleston all snarling and snapping at one another in a deathmatch power struggle?—even though it took some liberties with the actual history. Kapur got the story pretty much right, following Elizabeth's transition from politically inexperienced young woman (granted, it's debatable that she was ever truly naive, given her family) to iconic figure and skillful manipulator, and more to the point, the story actually progressed. With the sequel, he's got John "You Can Call Me Doctah" Dee, Francis "I'll Be In My Hammock" Drake, Walter "Put That In Your Pipe" Raleigh, and the whole bloody Spanish Armada, along with Elizabeth's burgeoning cult of personality; you'd think the movie would be a cinch. But no, apparently it's not exciting enough to show how a schemey competent woman handled national crisis; far better to have lots of her waffling between her political goals and her need for lurrrrve, with occasional breaks for posing and endless shots through glass because DO YOU SEE, IT'S ALL ABOUT DISTANCE AND IMAGE DO YOU GET IT YET DO YOU? Halfway through the movie I gave up hope, slumped down in my seat, and waited for it to be over, whenever that might be; eventually the ships would show up and maybe then I could go home. So sure, fine, the Armada was completely destroyed by fireships off Tilbury rather than just being driven to their destruction off Ireland. Hey, okay, Raleigh was so studly that he rode a blazing frigate straight into a Spanish ship, steering with his force of personality rather than the wheel. Good, whatever, Philip of Spain learned of his defeat by intoning (in dreadful slow mincing Spanish), "Elizabeth is the dark, I am the light," and seeing a candle blown out. I dun care. You've smothered me into indifference with the Elizabethan vogueing and the flirting with Raleigh and the Raleigh/Bess smooches and the oh here's Mary Stewart and the hey Jesuits hang out in a basement dyeing shit red because it looks more ominous and the Catholics generally all flashing the evil eyeliner and I am putting on my WTF parka and heading for WTFistan because you've somehow made this all so dull.

Seriously, if the words "bored now" come to mind in describing your depiction of one of England's best-known historical events, yor doin it wrong.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Mother Nature spent this week acting like someone who misplaced her appointment book and then had to scramble around catching up, all, "Oh, shit, it's supposed to be autumn, I totally overslept, damn damn damn." So the weather went from summery hot to crisply autumnal in about 20 minutes, without the benefit of rain (which, and oh God do I sound like my raised-in-an-epic-drought grandmother, we need). I love the crispy time of year, but did I mention being nervous about the horses when the mercury takes that kind of dive? I was nervous.

As if it weren't enough that we were facing frisky ponies, we also have a new teacher for the Western class, Teacherwoman Mk 1 having taken a job that will involve too much travel during the week for her to keep up a regular class schedule. Mk 2 is a very different woman, and her insistence that we use three-quarter rein rather than one-handed neck reining will take getting used to, but it sounds like she's going to be better about having plans for each class. God knows she made Thursday's hour a workout. We were down in the lower ring, where the wind and cold were making Doc see giant boogers in the woods (he had already dropped one rider that day, and a crashing sound in the trees sent him skittering, head high and nostrils flared, to the other side of the ring), and Mk 2 had us doing jog/lope transitions. The problem with that plan was that Doc, once he gets to speed up, doesn't always want to come back down right away. The idea was that we would do five strides of jog, three or four of lope, and back down, repeating it all for several turns around the ring and being sure not to cut corners, drift, get the wrong lead, jerk the reins, bounce in the saddle, or commit a multitude of other sins, any of which was quickly pointed out. By the end of my time on the rail, I was panting, but Doc was doing his transitions just as I'd asked rather than pitching headlong down the track. Quoth Mk 2, "Too many people at this barn think Western is about sitting back and looking cute. IT AIN'T." Yes ma'am. "Although it helps if you're cute to start off." Heh. The barn is planning an informal show in early November, so we're being urged to pull out our most cowboy clothes and make it look flashy. Maybe it's good thing that I haven't yet gotten the fringe trimmed off my chaps (me to Seesterperson on buying them: "Great, I'm the only person in the family with assless pants." Seesterperson: "That you know of").

There may finally be a new student joining our Western class, after years in which Sterling's mum and I were the only constants; one of the guys who works at the barn and has been riding English is interested in crossing disciplines. He's completely sweet and very good with the horses, which are points in his favor, but he's so young that I feel like a granny lady around him. It doesn't help that he's ridiculously polite to his elders, which is laudable in theory but turns out to be somewhat discomfiting in practice. I'll just have to make peace with that.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Thursday, October 11, 2007


A few years ago, Making Light proposed a useful rule of thumb: "If, on appropriate occasions, the members tell, enjoy, trade, and/or devise transgressively funny jokes about their denomination, it’s a church. If such jokes reliably meet with stifling social disapproval, it’s a cult." The sorts of jokes made around my church are certainly esoteric (I once made a pun about omphaloskepsis and a convert who worked at the Naval Observatory, and other people got the joke), but that's part of the fun.

Still, the time I told a young Greek priest who visited me in the hospital that he was ten minutes too late, the Catholic guy had made a better case and I was off the Ortho roster? Probably not funny enough (in my defense, it had been an epically bad week). Certainly it didn't reach the guy, who turned out to be just out of seminary and therefore temporarily not in command of his sense of perspective. I think he recovered; word has it he's turned into a good guy to talk to.

That said, I'm still not going to forward him the Colbert Religion Randomizer, even though I can't stop pressing "CONVERT" and laughing. CONVERT! CONVERT!

Same city, different day

How do I love thee, Manhattan? Well, to be frank I love thee a little less when it's warm and humid, because your perfume, she is not so fabulous. The fougere of hot dog water with a base of fermenting trash and exhaust, touched with pungent notes of exotic dried's bold, don't get me wrong, but it's maybe a bit much, yes?

But olfactory issues aside, NYC remains my favorite place to meander around, finding things strange and wonderful (Munchies Paradise, Edge*nyNOHO), strange and disturbing (9/11 commemorative socks? bu yao), familiar and caloric (hail, Via Brasil, to your inky black beans and their symbiotic partner, a vicious caipirinha), and, of course, expensive and alluring. Oh, Tom SoHung's full-skirted black cashmere coat with the wicked vampy collar and zebra-print lining, ours is a forbidden love. We musn't, darling, it would be so wrong.

Perhaps the oddest thing we saw was a tour group being led into (and just as quickly out of) Rocco's Pastry. The place has been there since 1974, which you wouldn't think qualified it as a historical landmark, but it's evidently enough of a neighborhood institution to have made the bus lists. As La Mère, Seesterperson, and I were resting our tired feets and recharging with some of Rocco's finest on Sunday, we spotted a guide hectoring his ducklings just outside the door. He then brought them in, led them up and down the pastry counter, herded them away from the tables, handed each a miniature cannoli, and briskly fussed them out again. What the hell? What kind of fun is that? You take me into a famous bakery, just you git out the way and let me ogle the options before I pick summat my own self. Obviously not all of us can hack the tour.

Now that the temperature is dropping in DC, we're all breathing a sigh of relief. The speed with which it's falling makes me a little nervous, on account of Doc acts like a Sugar Smacked toddler when it gets cool, and while frisking around all colt-like is very fine in its place, he's a 1200-pound beast and his gambols carry some weight. We will have to talk about restraint, and, probably, will do some extra running around to let him feel his oats. It's nice to know what to expect, at least. Last night when I went in for dressage, he was being tacked up for a different lesson; his manners are too good for him to walk off while he's being groomed, but his head came up and his nostrils widened, so I patted him and promised him an apple after he got done. His affections can't necessarily be bought, but they can certainly be swayed.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Great Pumpkin dreams of flight

Given that it's 90 degrees and humid in DC right now, it's a little hard to believe that it's almost time for the annual pilgrimage to Millsboro, Delaware. Not to dispute the importance of sitting around the groaning board and disassembling a turkey and its accoutrements, but come on, that's hardly the most important thing about the coming month. Did you forget? Did you fail to mark your appointment book? Is it not written in letters of fire upon your lids?

Knave, know thou well that the first weekend of November, as has been ordained from time immemorial, we honor the understanding that squash do not wish to live after the feast of All Saints. They dream of catching air. They dream of glorious death. They dream, in short, of Punkin Chunkin.

Punkin Chunkin, which is usually held on a particularly isolated bit of Delaware cornfield encircled by pines, feels like a cross between a medieval miracle fair, a county fair, and an air show, heavily salted with rural Americana. You’ll see GOP stickers on the Harleys and NASA technology in the competing engines, little kids learning to calculate trajectories, historians trying to pin a date on the different catapults, and amateur movie critics wondering whether "Pirates of the Punkin Chunkin" is actually a better choice than, say, "The Return of the Killer Cucurbit."

The machines are arrayed in a rough L shape on the field, with the big guns along the bottom edge of the field and the smaller machines running along the upright, facing away from the audience. The basic rules vary only slightly for the different age- and machinery type-based categories: The pumpkin, which should weigh between 8 and 10 pounds, must be intact during flight; ignominious disintegration is scored as pie. Scoring in all categories except Costume/Theatrical is based on distance, so teams have up to 3 hours to find their shots, dispatching helmeted riders on ATVs head toward the treeline after many shots (for the more powerful engines, which can send a pumpkin about a mile, laser triangulation—of course, what else?—is used to give the riders an idea of where to look). Air cannons cannot be made out of PVC, for reasons that became spectacularly although nonfatally clear two years ago, and explosives are also illegal.

Each group of machines competes separately, roughly in order of size: First there is the spectacularly loud firing of the giant guns, whose shots are usually heralded by an air horn and crackly loudspeaker announcements of "fire in the hole"; then there is the terrifying thrum of the giant centrifuges; and then homemade catapults, trebuchets, glorified slingshots, and human-powered machines of varying levels of ingenuity take turns going for distance. Once the smaller engines take over, you’ve actually got a better chance of seeing the pumpkins en l’aire for the full arc; shots by the larger machines go up so fast that you probably won’t see the squash until it reaches the crest and starts heading back to earth. The day ends with a flinging free-for-all, pumpkins crashing everywhere on the field as the sun sinks into the west.

For the audience, the competition is definitely the main attraction, especially with devices like the trebuchet that require slow, suspense-building preparation as they are winched into position. (Nota bene: The machines are built by amateurs. Misfires are possible, especially among the smaller machines, and the audience is only about 30 feet back, so keep a sharp eye out. Ten pounds at 32 feet per second squared is funny until it looks like it’s right overhead, 200 feet up, and heading your way with all the dispatch gravity can muster.) But there are also carnival rides, bands, beer and fried-food booths, charity raffles, a recipe contest, and a wondrous array of pumpkin-laced foods for sale. The pumpkin funnel cake is a perennial favorite, but the pumpkin cake with cream cheese icing is also worth a couple of bucks.

Finally, at the end of the day, and after numerous warnings to teams that it’s time for a cease-fire, the audience is invited into the pit to chat with the engineers and support staff. Take the time (and possibly a flashlight) and clomp across the deeply rutted cornfield to see Yankee Siege’s 4.5-ton counterweight, and let your own dreams take wing.

A short thought

I have all sorts of trivial fun intel about my last-minute trip to NYC, where I did the usual eat-walk-spend routine and which has caused me to wonder whether I can live without a Tom SoHung wool coat or some of Coko Jewelry's Pattern Recognition-esque photos. But for now, two short love notes.

First, Paul Krugman on why conservatives shouldn't be fooling themselves that Bush is deviating even a step from the right's historical path.

And second, Viggo Mortensen, showing up on Colbert. Mortensen doesn't ring my chimes, but I love watching him ride (which he does much better than most actors), and clearly he doesn't take himself too seriously.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Succumb to the meme

Bolding those you've read, italicizing those you've read a bit of, leaving the rest alone. I put comments in parens, because fish gotta swim and I gotta natter.
Ganked from Pharyngula.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
  • Anna Karenina
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Catch-22
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude (Stone me if you must.)
  • Wuthering Heights
  • The Silmarillion
  • Life of Pi: a novel (An odd book to become a bestseller.)
  • The Name of the Rose
  • Don Quixote (I took introductory Japanese instead of reading this. Chotto matte kudasai; I'll get to it.)
  • Moby Dick
  • Ulysses
  • Madame Bovary (I was talking about this one just the other night. Death by arsenic is apparently no fun.)
  • The Odyssey
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Jane Eyre
  • The Tale of Two Cities
  • The Brothers Karamazov
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
  • War and Peace
  • Vanity Fair
  • The Time Traveler's Wife
  • The Iliad (Endless futzing about. Fight the war, ice your tragic heroes, and go home already.)
  • Emma
  • The Blind Assassin
  • The Kite Runner
  • Mrs. Dalloway
  • Great Expectations
  • American Gods ("Hey, you...Thought, Memory, whichever one you are: say 'nevermore.'")
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
  • Atlas Shrugged (At a certain point in late adolescence, most of us take either Hermann Hesse or Ayn Rand very seriously. I went with Hesse.)
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran: a memoir in books
  • Memoirs of a Geisha
  • Middlesex
  • Quicksilver (Ten pages in I developed a debilitating attack of the eye-rolls.)
  • Wicked: the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
  • The Canterbury Tales
  • The Historian: a novel
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Brave New World
  • The Fountainhead
  • Foucault's Pendulum
  • Middlemarch
  • Frankenstein (Assigned as a high school penalty when I trespassed by reading two books in as many nights and was a smart-ass about it.)
  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • Dracula
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Anansi Boys
  • The Once and Future King ("He'm verminous, but he'm honest." Aw.)
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • The Poisonwood Bible: a novel
  • 1984
  • Angels & Demons
  • The Inferno
  • The Satanic Verses
  • Sense and Sensibility
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Mansfield Park
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
  • To the Lighthouse
  • Tess of the D'Urbervilles (One Hardy novel per lifetime is more than enough.)
  • Oliver Twist
  • Gulliver's Travels
  • Les Misérables
  • The Corrections
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
  • Dune
  • The Prince
  • The Sound and the Fury
  • Angela's Ashes: a memoir
  • The God of Small Things (Not the same as Small Gods.)
  • A People's History of the United States: 1492-present
  • Cryptonomicon ("Bobby Shaftoe's gone to sea/ Silver buckles on his knee/ He'll come back and marry me/ Bonny Bobby Shaftoe." The rest of us will plan tourist visits to Bletchley Park.)
  • Neverwhere
  • A Confederacy of Dunces (People who like this book often hate the books I enjoy, so it's a useful litmus test.)
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything
  • Dubliners
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Hee.)
  • Beloved
  • Slaughterhouse-five
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves
  • The Mists of Avalon
  • Oryx and Crake: a novel
  • Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed
  • Cloud Atlas
  • The Confusion
  • Lolita
  • Persuasion
  • Northanger Abbey ("You must not imagine that I am the sort of person who reads novels.")
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • On the Road
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • Freakonomics: a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: an inquiry into values
  • The Aeneid
  • Watership Down
  • Gravity's Rainbow
  • The Hobbit (Do not try to read this for the first time as an adult unless it is your fondest wish to die from cringe.)
  • In Cold Blood: a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
  • White Teeth
  • Treasure Island
  • David Copperfield ("Donkeys, Janet!" Fantastic.)
  • The Three Musketeers ("Athos is a mountain." Also hee.)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

It's easy, there's a trick to it

I am pleased to report that Cappi did not have a jumping fit about boogers in the woods during last night's dressage lesson. He did, however, strongly object to being told to stay on one side of the ring, doing spirals at the trot, while the rest of the horses stayed on the other side of the ring. After his initial arguments met with failure but seemed likely to be repeated on appeal, Pat put up some low poles to remind him of where to work. Confident that he would get the message, what with seat and leg and rein and fences, we began again, Pat coaching from the center and me riding from the top.

Which is approximately when we all learned that (a) Cappi loves to jump, (b) Cappi is quite good at jumping, and (c) Cappi believes that the safest place to end up is about 2 inches from the butt of the barn's most ill-tempered horse, whither he will run at speed. Sweetie, you're supposed to be smarter than poor young Edmund; chasing death at Grayson's heels with a shell-shocked rider on your back is no way to go about proving that the years have made you wiser.

On the plus side, I'm told that I looked less spastic than might have been expected, given that I don't do much jump work. It turns out that Pat really has improved my seat; now we've just got to work on learning to control the horse.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Why marrying kinfolk ain't all it's cracked up to be

Recently the barn acquired a young horse, about 5 or 6 years old, from someone who bought him off the track. Former racers can be great riding partners once they're taught that not everything means "go fast now" or "stop dead," and since many are sold at a loss by barns hoping to make room for the next great hope, they can be good investments for riders looking for project horses.

One of the women who rides our new boy, whom I will call Edmund for reasons amusing to myself alone, took the trouble of running his lip tattoo against the Jockey Club's records. Holy shit, y'all, he's royalty: Seattle Slew on one side and War Admiral on the other. Those are some hellishly impressive names to have in a pedigree. Whenever a horse runs well, the owners hope to make real money from the breeding—witness all the effort put into keeping poor Barbaro alive (Jockey Club rules forbid artificial insemination)—and many horses are bred back to the big Triple Crown names of the past, but it's still impressive to actually see that a horse is the grandson of a legend.

So, was Edmund a boy wonder? Turns out, he ran only twice, finishing well out of the money both times. He is somewhat goony-looking, with a scraggly long neck, and he can't seem to keep track of his feet. He's still coltishly flexible, able to scratch his ear with a hind hoof even with a rider on his back, and he'll probably grow up into a lovely hunter/jumper or dressage horse if his trainers are patient enough. But still. Seeing him try to balance himself in a turn, and knowing about all those big names gleaming like stars in his family tree, is like watching a Hapsburg try to do calculus: You start to wonder whether breeding out might not have helped a little.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Oh, sodding hell and death

It looks like Terry Pratchett and the rest of the serious SF fans in DC were at Mandalay on Saturday night. You know, Mandalay, that funky Burmese place that is approximately ten minutes' walk from my apartment, next to the gun shop, tattoo parlor, santeria supply joint, and used bookstore of fame. Son of a bitch, what a meal to miss.

Let us not linger overlong on my grumpiness, though; here's a fan's very good write-up, which neatly explains the shirt I wasn't close enough to make out, and she was also kind enough to link to the webcast of his speech.

Desultory review: Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton

An insatiable reading appetite combined with dilettante-ism means coming across information in odd ways. Thanks to a note in a review for Nanny Ogg's Cookbook, I found out about Mrs. Beeton's book(s) of household management and cooking. What the Joy of Cooking used to be for young American brides faced with the unenviable task of cooking a bear paw, raw porcupine, or sponge cake, Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management was for young Victorian women starting out in married life. Everything but sex seems to have found its way into the thousand-plus page tome (sex is quite literally covered in the NOC, however, apparently because the publishers objected to having books burst into flames). Despite the temporal incongruity, Mrs. B seems to have continued without a break for over 100 years, advising modern readers on the wonders of the microwave, Caribbean cooking, and how to pick a blender. Quite an accomplishment.

And, according to Kathryn Hughes's slightly uneven but engaging book, she did it with almost no experience of her own. Isabella Beeton was only 21, married less than two years, when she started to help her husband in his publishing ventures, first by writing up fashion and then by lifting enormous chunks of other extant household manuals and compiling them into a monster book. She died only eight years later, probably of puerperal fever, leaving behind two boys. Two other sons died before the age of three, likely infected with syphilis passed from their father to their mother; the same disease is suspected in her multiple miscarriages. (In the age of penicillin, most of us are cheerfully ignorant of the mechanics and side effects of chronic syphilis infection, and long may we remain so. Parts of the book are very grim.) Hughes has done extensive research to show which parts of BOHM are lifted from various sources, showing clips side by side, and she teases out the code used to refer to unpleasant events in Victorian life. Some of her conclusions could probably be argued by someone with more knowledge of the period than I have, but the overall picture of social change, women's roles in the economy and the home, and how one relatively inexperienced young woman became the voice of household authority, bring a period we often think of as dour to vivid life. Good stuff.