Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Barrages of applause

It's about time that there was some good news for Terry Pratchett—excuse me, Sir Terry Pratchett—on this, the eve of the Year of the Pensive Hare.

I very much want to post one of my squintillion favorite Richard Wilbur poems here, but considering the lack of written permission from the publisher blah blah blah, I'll just link to "Year's End" here. It's beautiful and dark, and it reminds me of the late and much lamented Johnny Cunningham, who once summed up the "dank spirit of a proper Celtic holiday season" in his inimitable brogue: "Ye're born en pein. Ya live en feir. Ya die aloone. [beat] Mairy Christmas."

Happy New Year to all, drive carefully, eat a lot, drink in moderation (champagne hangovers are vicious unforgiving things), and I'll hope to see everyone when the calendar has flipped.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Dear Santa

Lordy me, it's easy to develop expensive tastes. Gobi the wonder pony and Pat's sumptuous luxury of a dressage saddle would not fit in my stocking, but the easily $20K I could drop on them would. As ponies go, Gobi is a dream: beautifully trained, responsive, well muscled, and polite, not to mention plain cute. His one foible is a taste for licking people's hands, which is a welcome change from Lear's habit of gnawing on all and sundry. And oh, that saddle. It's a poor craftsman who blames her tools, and that goes double for horsemanship, but damn. Damn. Anyway, with those two advantages I should've done really super-bien, but mostly it was just okay. Last week, one of the new guys rode Gobi and basically racked the hell out of him [ETA, for clarity: put so much strain on the horse's mouth that the horse threw up his head and hollowed his back in an attempt to avoid the bit; no nadgers were harmed in the telling of this story]; in my attempts not to do likewise, I overcompensated the other way and used too loose a rein. But we did some good yields and lovely canter work, enough for the covetise to further consume my soul. La Mère and Seesterperson came out to freeze their butts on the ring benches and critique my form. Or really, La Mère gave post-class comments; Seesterperson settled for chirping, "Inside leg to outside rein! More with the outside rein! Inside leg!" Well, she does have the basics right.

In standard holiday news, procrastinatory ways ahoy! I was all a-scramble to assemble Pat's Christmas present, so rather than filling a stocking with heater packs and carrots, I crammed the goodies in a holiday loofah mitt with "Naughty" on the scrubby side and "Nice" on the suave one. Cheesy as can be, but it was (a) all that was left in the CVS Christmas aisle and (b) sufficient as a bag of holding. That feeling of panic means it's the holidays, right?

With January 7 creeping ever closer, I already owe shout-outs to several great gift-givers: 5starjoe for his annual holiday compilation (which did not include "Mr. Misteltoe," so I don't have to slit my wrists in festive reds and ichory greens), 4mastjack for a signed print of one of my favorite xkcd strips, Iosif for the adorably wack merino-and-possum gloves, and Teal for a panda purse I would never have bought but which made me fall over laughing. Back in the fall, Gee-Clef and I went in together on a stained-glass tree frog for Teal, who is both crafty and fond of things batrachian (batrachial? batrachiose?). She got Gee-Clef a book of fiery ethnic recipes, he being the poor soul who can never convince restaurants to bring sufficient pain, and some duct tape bandages; he liked those but was a little nonplused by the Chinese cicada kite I got him in honor of his new hang-gliding certs and overall computer wiz-dom ("It's not a feature," I explained. "It's a bug," he responded, nodding). Why is gift-giving always so angstful? Why can't it always be easy-peasy?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Well, I woke up today, and the world seemed a restless place

For those not celebrating on January 7, best wishes for a happy Christmas Eve, a happy third night of Hannukah, and a joyous return of the sun. Y'all otter know you're loved.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

In the bleak midwinter

It's horse time once again. It hasn't been terribly cold since I got back from the west coast (earwormed almost fatally by the Magnetic Fields' "Come Back from San Francisco"), though compared with the city by the Bay DC is all asphalt and gloom, but the relative warmth means not having horses wired up and popping around.


Lear decided that going into the ring in full kit meant that I was dying to play tug-of-war, nip-tag, and chasing games. Most of that I handled by staying still, holding the reins firmly, and tactfully reminding him that trying to bite meant getting stung ("Oh my tender noseparts!"), but not until Pat took him in hand could I get him to stand long enough to get on his back. At which point, one small spook notwithstanding, he directed most of that wacky energy into doing good work. He's not the horse of my heart, but he's hella educational. He also tossed his head at just the wrong moment when I was slipping on his martingale, so the metal ring on the breast section flew out and smacked me under the jaw. Good thing his aim was off, or I'd be all week explaining that no, it isn't a hickey, it's a bruise, and no, I don't need a safe place to stay.

Next week, we'll be riding on Christmas Eve, and as an early present I may get to ride the prettiest horse on the roster, a privately owned seal-point TB named Gobi. His owner events, and Gobi's in wonderful training, but it looks like you've got to have very soft hands to bring him onto the bit. Lear rewards softness sometimes, or maybe it's just that I don't always give him softness (nobody else in the class has ridden him in the last six months, so it's hard to compare how I've done), and fingers crossed that I don't confuse Gobi with good intentions badly performed. Of course, if we do work well together, it'll be tempting to jump the fence and head for the hills with him. You see the dilemma.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mas fottergrafs

I'm still going through the pile of photos from California, but bit by bit I'm getting them posted to my Flickr page, so if the mood strikes you can click over to the San Francisco set and browse at leisure.

Now, if you really want to engage the old envy circuits before the holidays proper get under way, skip my pics and go straight to Iosif's New Zealand sets. He and I managed to get a flight back from San Francisco together, so for much of the flight he regaled me with Kiwi stories and photos of his adventures. As we touched down in DC, I heard him sigh, "I want to go back." Lawsy me, I can't think why.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Proj on

William Gibson's short story "Skinner's Room," which later grew into Virtual Light and thence the entire Bridge Trilogy, is an interview between a Japanese sociologist and an old man who lives in the thriving illegal community that's colonized the Golden Gate Bridge after the much-feared Big One destabilizes it too much for traffic. The scientist, crouching in a room built out of plywood lashed to the top of one of the towers, asks what it was like to be there the night squatters swarmed the fences and claimed the bridge. Skinner, the old man, tells him about the crazy energy, the way he remembers the shoes of the man ahead of him, the roar of joy as people met up and danced on the tarmac, "they were singing, hymns and shit," and the impromptu decision to keep climbing, to scale the pylons and cables and go up as far as nerve would allow. The scientist asks him, "How did you feel?" but the old man just blinks at the question. "What did you do then?" the Japanese man prompts. And the old man says, "I saw the city."

The Japanese Tea Garden is almost empty on weekdays.

The local cuisine is intriguing.

Even the most directionally challenged can figure out the city's grid.

Hot diggety, are these good truffles.

The deity is in the details.

There is a carousel right next to the conference center.

And I really really love that the city puts up with people like me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I aten't ded

But I am having far, far too much fun trying to walk off a metric ton of deem sum on San Francisco's sadistic hills to have made time for a full write-up. Suffice it to say that now I see how people can ignore the earthquake risk; this city is Borgesian in its beautiful dreamy strangeness (and that's without the contact highs). Walk and eat, photograph and shop, walk and eat some more, that's the order of the day. Sometimes we break it up by eating and then walking, shopping and then shooting.

If anyone is heading out thisaways soon, don't miss the chance to go to Christopher Elbow for the hot chocolate. Yes, it's $4.50 a cup, which seems kind of astronomical, but the soi disant whipped cream is actually creme fraiche drizzled over the froth on top of the cup, and the flavors in the Chinese five-spice or Venezuelan fiery cocoa will last you at least half an hour of stoned-out sippin' joy. I'm not sure but what this might be the sovereign specific for reconciling everyone to their fellow man.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Where Sam Clemens got his start

"I've met a lot of kings, and emperors and heads of state in my time, Joshua. I've met them all. And you know something? I think I liked you best."

Off to the Bay. Y'all be good, now.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Aiming High
Originally uploaded by drp
There is no traditional gift for the 19th anniversary. The spenditary industrial complex, however, says that bronze is the appropriate gift. I kind of like that.

I celebrate December 1 as my survivorship anniversary. I can't actually remember the precise date when I was diagnosed, and family recollections vary, but it was right after Thanksgiving weekend, about a day after I was finally admitted to the hospital (my pediatrician did what they tell doctors to do, which is, on hearing hoofbeats, to think horses; they should append advice to check the atlas and make sure you're not on the savannah and surrounded by zebras). I also can't remember the date of my last treatment, which was April sometime, or the exact date when I went into remission. But in the dark and cold of the year, I give personal thanks for the things that were missing back then, like not being full of needles and a feeling of lurking doom, and being able to eat whatever I want. The emotional landscape is not entirely untinged with a bit of vengeful satisfaction—hah, cancer, we showed YOU—that will not surprise anyone who knows me personally.

And most years I forget; this is a busy season, there's lots to do that's more fun, and I've never run out to host a party. But this year, when bronze is appointed (and how much better than china for a celebration): hey, guys. It's good to be here.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gettin' board

I know I've got at least a couple of ajedrez-playin' readers out there, so here's a link to a Spanish-language post inspired by a shot I took in Buenos Aires last year. I mentioned some time ago that Argentina's graffiti seemed in general to be more elegant and thought-provoking, not to mention funnier, than what DC usually gets, and Mariano has taken my photo a step further by quoting Jorge Luis Borges at it. For those of us whose Spanish vocab didn't include the terms for chess pieces, here's a translation of what he's quoting.
Fainting king, slanting bishop, fierce
queen, straightforward tower and cunning pawn
on the black and white path
searching and fighting their armed battle.
They ignore the player’s pointing hand
governs his destiny,
they ignore that a tamed severity
holds his will and day.
The player is himself a prisoner
(the sentence is Omar’s) of another board
of dark nights and light days.
God moves the player, and he, the chess piece.
Which God behind God begins the conspiracy
of dust and time and dream and agony?
Translated by Blanca Lista.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Baila, baila

The Silver Spring Thanksgiving Parade has an agreeably funky local feeling. I don't always go, because it's on a Saturday morning and I belong to the Church of the Sacred Lie-In, but when I have crawled out of bed in time I've enjoyed myself. You get the might-as-well-be anonymous councilmembers perched on the back of convertibles, marching bands from the various area schools and the Washington football team, assorted scout troops, and, eventually, Santa. It's cute but a little staid, or at least it used to be.

Because now, the Bolivian dance troupes have discovered the parade, and these days it's like Philly's Mummers Parade by way of the Andes, which is to say sparkly, jingly, and sometimes deeply strange. It can also occasion profound audience sympathy. Flying Lily mentioned the other day that her students were wearing shorts on a 13-degree day; is that better or worse than having to shimmy down the street in a miniskirt when it's 20 degrees with the windchill? Discuss.

After the parade, most of the girls wrapped heavy blankets around their waists. You wouldn't have known it to watch them dance, but they were definitely feeling the cold.

ETA: I eventually retreated into Nicaro, home of the dreaded Negroni debacle, for brunch second breakfast and general thawing out; the restaurant's huge window onto Georgia meant that I could enjoy the parade while restoring feeling to my fingers and toes, not to mention while narfing down an omelet full of asparagus and brie and, oh God, the free brunch offer of hot beignets with creme fraiche. AND they offer dessert after brunch. How can a poor girl stand such times and live?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Slave to the food meme

Ganked from Stuff I've tried is in bold.

1. Venison (not crazy about it)
2. Nettle tea (is it just me, or is this entry oddly specific?)
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare (and its sinful Korean equivalent, yook hwe)
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding (as well as morcilla, and to both of them I say: PLEH)
7. Cheese fondue

8. Carp
9. Borscht
(what, are we godless people?)
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
(hail, oh Vietnamese soup, and again I say thee hail)
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart

16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns

20. Pistachio ice cream (best at the motherlode)
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
(in their forms blue, straw, rasp, black, and salmon)
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche (of which too much is never enough)

28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar (on a particularly horrible day in December 1989, I made a vow never to smoke, so no cigars for me)
37. Clotted cream tea (thank you may I have another)
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects (we're not counting accidentally inhaled ones, right?)
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more (BUT I AM OPEN TO OFFERS)
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut

50. Sea urchin (I have limits, and this is one)
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (cf. limits)
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini

58. Beer above 8% ABV (hail the Brickskeller)
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S'mores
(any two of the ingredients pair well, but squished all together, they leave me cold)

62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (pica is for type and not diet)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs' legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette (I'm not counting my addiction to down-home sopa de menudo)
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini (but of course)
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost (two esoteric cheeses on the list and no deep-fried candy bar? lame)
75. Roadkill (that's taking terroir a leetle too seriously)
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
(officially not on my list of good foods)
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky

84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant (again, open to invitations)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash

88. Flowers
89. Horse (AGH!)
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
(on multiple occasions, which is some sort of quality-of-life indicator)
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox

97. Lobster Thermidor (lobster, bleargh)
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake (rattle, to be specific)

Ectomorphism ain't all it's cracked up to be

Gearing up for class on a chilly evening:
  • Two-piece thermals.
  • Fleece britches.
  • Jeans over the britches, for the walk to the car.
  • Wool socks.
  • Chemical toe heaters (BEST THINGS EVAR).
  • Paddock boots.
  • Half-chaps (over the britches, after the jeans are off).
  • Turtleneck.
  • Fleece pullover.
  • Fleece jacket.
  • Down vest.
  • Fingerless gloves.
  • Riding gloves.
  • Helmet.
Being able to ride without losing sensation in any bits or pieces: Worth the hassle.

Having Lear try to bite my shoulder and get nothing but a mouthful of synthetic fluff: Absolutely priceless.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


A friend recently asked me why I don't post more pictures of the horses I talk so much about. There are several simple reasons.
  • No flash. It be agin the rules at Rock Creek. For the most part, the horses at our very public facility would probably take camera flash in stride, but it takes just one freakout to make the others edgy (to say nothing of what it would do to the nerves of anyone having to deal with said large flailing animal). The barn and ring are dim, and these days it's dark outside when I arrive for class, so it's hard to get a natural-light shot.
  • No angles. Assuming arguendum that there's enough light in the barn and the horse is standing still, you can shoot a no-flash pic and have it come out in focus, but it's beyond me to get a good angle on a horse on cross-ties in a narrow aisle.
  • No hands. I've snuck glances in the ring's mirror and can confirm that Lear looks entirely adorable when he goes on the bit or floats over cavaletti. He's even kind of cute when he's at peak goony spasticness. But given his history of squirreling out over random things, when I'm working with him I try to keep both hands on the reins and all my attention on him.
  • No skill. You get right down to it, a not-very-good photographer is a not-very-good photographer. I'm working on it, I promise.

When I rode in Canada this summer, the guide, Pierre, often walked beside his horse if there wasn't a trot or canter coming up. Eventually we learned that it was safe to drop our stirrups when he was on the ground; it is for that reason alone that my patellar tendons still flex.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I never had the Latin

This is a shameless ganking from Neil Gaiman's site, for which he'll probably forgive me. Back when they were childless and full of good intentions, the parentals decided that they weren't going to have a TV until their children were set in the readin' way. Their plan succeeded to an almost alarming extent, considering that I can and sometimes do spend five minutes wandering around to find something that I can read while I brush my teeth. That's not a healthy fondness for the written word, there, that's a sickness.

But anyway, the lack of TV meant that we ended up listening to radio plays instead, which sounds so wholesome that I'm not sure how to disabuse anyone of the notion, except that some of the Halloween stuff on "The Big Broadcast" freaked my little wits out ("The Thing on the Fourble Board" petrified me, and I don't even know what a fourble board is). For a while I wanted to be an insurance investigator, because "Johnny Dollar" made it sound so glamorously noir. Oh, and the radio version of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"? That warps the young mind a treat. The only program I remember not liking was the "Star Wars" series, which did terrible things to movies Seesterperson and I had seen and enjoyed.

It is equally disconcerting to find that some of our very most favorite shows, "Beyond the Fringe" and "The Goon Show," are available in video. Anathema! Anathema! Well, not really. But a little.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Back when I was in college, I got a small grant to do pretty much whatever I pleased for a summer, which is how I came to spend six weeks in the Alaskan taiga, swatting terrier-sized mosquitos and learning the basics of field archaeology among the mortal remains of Dishkakat (or, variously, Dishkaket), a small Gold Rush town. Rule one of rural Alaskan field school: Put mosquito netting up around the latrine before you do anything else, because skeeters on the nethers sounds funny until it's happening to you. No, wait, that's rule two—rule one is to be all kinds of Emily Post to your campmates, because many of them are carrying rifles, and six weeks is a lot of time for resentments to build up.

Anyroo, that was many moons ago, but I'm pretty sure that these are photos of the building in whose ruins I spent many hours, troweling away the years in my one-meter square. Our crew of twelve found a silver coin (probably a Liberty dollar, but worn almost smooth), a clock's hour hand, decorative metalwork from a rifle stock, part of a compass, half a bottle of some sort of hooch, and a pair of black stockings jammed into the space between two of the logs remaining in the wall. Mostly we found dirt.

The town, which was built on the site of a Native seasonal fishing camp, wasn't a great success in the Gold Rush, and it was abandoned by the end of World War I. By the time our class arrived, most of the buildings were just lumps among the trees; this one was a slightly bigger set of lumps, since the bottom two or three logs were left in place. Rule three: When in doubt, assume that the town's biggest building is the bar.

It was those chimes, they drove me mad, they went ding ding

Things Lear did in honor of the full moon:
  • Chewed on his reins while we waited for the ring to open. He looks very pleased with himself when he gets the leathers in his teeth. The fact that his big pink tongue sticks out a little as he does, giving him a goofy smugness that his two IQ points don't merit, makes it harder to for me to get too worked up about it. Lear: The Horse Who Flossed.
  • Pricked his ears warily at the gate end of the ring and seemed vaguely let down that there was nothing scary there. All the deer that usually hang out down there making faces at us are celebrating the rut by running out onto the Beltway and causing huge traffic jams. Aw, no spooking for him.
  • Spooked at the nongate end of the ring when someone honked a car horn. I stayed on, class continued, boring boring. (Later, Pat told a story about a fall several years ago that she doesn't remember. "I called my husband on my cell and said, 'Do we have a horse?' He said that I did and wanted to know why was I asking. 'Because I'm standing in the middle of a park wearing riding clothes, but there's no horse anywhere.' I couldn't even call 911, because I didn't really know where I was. Apparently I did find my way back to the barn, where I walked up to a volunteer and said, 'So they tell me I own a horse. Would you mind telling me which one?' The first thing I remember is seeing my husband standing in front of QC's stall." I think my helmet religion just held a tent revival.)
  • Tried unsuccessfully to stealth up on the bag of horse treats Pat had brought. After class, when given one of same, he mouthed it carefully and then dropped it to the ground. What the hell, pony? Did you just want the thrill of chasing a stationary bag of sweets?
  • Dove into his dinner bucket and rattled it so emphatically that grain sprayed halfway across the aisle. Yeah, that'll show those other horses who's boss. When he do stare, see how the subject quakes.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Veterans Day is not just American, so this isn't entirely appropriate, but I leap on any excuse to quote Richard Wilbur. From "For Music."
Mourn for the dead who died for this country,
Whose minds went dark at the edge of a field,
In the muck of a trench, on the beachhead sand,
In a blast amidships, a burst in the air.
What did they think of before they forgot us?
In the blink of time before they forgot us?
The glare and whiskey of Saturday evening?
The drone or lilt of their family voices?
The bend of a trout-stream? A fresh-made bed?
The sound of a lathe, or the scent of sawdust?
The mouth of a woman? A prayer? Who knows?
Let us not force them to speak in chorus,
These men diverse in their names and faces
Who lived in a land where a life could be chosen.
Say that they mattered, alive and after;
That they gave us time to become what we could.
Grieve for the ways in which we betrayed them,
How we robbed their graves of a reason to die;
The tribes pushed west, and the treaties broken,
The image of God on the auction block,
The immigrant scorned, and the striker beaten,
The vote denied to liberty's daughters.
From all that has shamed us, what can we salvage?
Be proud at least that we know we were wrong,
That we need not lie, that our books are open.
Praise to this land for our power to change it,
To confess our misdoings, to mend what we can,
To learn what we mean and to make it the law,
To become what we said we were going to be.
Praise to our peoples, who came as strangers,
Who more and more have been shaped into one
Like a great statue brought over in pieces,
Its hammered copper bolted together,
Anchored by rods in the continent's rock,
With a core of iron, and a torch atop it.
Praise to this land that its most oppressed
Have marched in peace from the dark of the past
To speak in our time, and in Washington's shadow,
Their invincible hope to be be free at last—
Lord God Almighty, free
At last to cast their shackles down
And wear the common crown
Of liberté, of liberty.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Who Eats Free at Ben's

DC locals will get a kick out of this: Ben's Chili Bowl has updated their who-eats-free policy to reflect the changing demographics of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Is this the terrible first step toward state control of the means of production of chili dogs? Only time will tell.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Main screen turn on

Heeeey, is back up, resurrected after having been slashdotted into oblivion by BoingBoing's link to the posts on retitled SFF favorites (posts the first, second, and third). This is a good complement to learning that our new president-elect is himself something of a nerd, and if the story about him responding to someone saying the magic words "all your base are belong to us" by quirking an eyebrow and asking, "What you say?" is true, a lot of the interwebs may swoon dead away. MGK also has a good review of Nation up, in which the writer says much more eloquently what I have tried to say about the book.

At riding this week, I was reunited with the inimitable Cappi. After a few weeks with Lear, Cappi feels like those kindergarten water fountains; you can't believe that anything that small was ever comfortable. But a few minutes' work is all it takes to get readjusted, and it is a relief not to be constantly nervous of strong teeth. The barn is debating Lear's future: He's unpredictable enough that he can't be used for any of the lower-level students, and he's nippy enough to keep even the more relaxed riders on their toes all the time. I'd like to hear that they'd found a dedicated skilled customer to take him, but that remains to be seen. Anyroo, the Capster and I had fun being back together. He now does shoulders-in beautifully and offers the promise of an easier haunches-in, as well as doing the pretty leg-yields he mastered months ago. Apparently smart and flexible is a pretty good combo for this sort of work. After class, he was distracted from the promise of dinner by Calamari, the newest barn cat; he seems fascinated by her, though she still walks wide of all of the horses when she can. Eventually I look to find her curled up on Jackson's back, but right now she's more interested in the mice. Work before love, huh?

In totally unrelated news, hey! The NYT namechecks Seesterperson's former derby league! And WJLA runs a great piece called, "Friends, Family Set Sights on Your Couch for Inaugural Week." For the record, I have a sofabed that would sleep two friendly people or one tall sprawly person, and by-reservation-only hardwood floors are also available. I'll shove the paperwork and books aside, but I can't promise more in the housework department.

Friday, November 7, 2008

And now for something completely different

Photocred to JackZodiac

A rare year, in that I had and executed a costume idea, mostly in honor of the Zodiacs' willingness to host a fantastic party. Scrubs and hat were from a local costume chain; the vampy claws were an impulse buy in RiteAid. They looked cool but drove me nuts the entire night. Mental note: no acrylics for this witch. They get in the way when you're trying to go through a box of Christopher Elbow truffles like locusts through the seven-year harvest.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Letting our breath out and our hair down

I had planned to spend part of the evening in Virginia, where BK was hosting a watch party, and then to cruise up to 5*j's for a Silver Spring bash. But the best-laid plans went gang awry when Virginia's numbers were tighter than expected; the idea of getting on the train or into a cab (driving was, hic, not an option) and being cut off from a constant feed of TV and interweb news was terrifying. So I ended up sitting with BK and friends, flipping between MSNBC, CNN, and the Daily Show, while BK himself loaded and reloaded FiveThirtyEight and the state and county pages as we asked demanded ("Give us the Prince William returns!" "No, but Arlington first!" "Wait wait wait, is Indiana really turning blue? The home of the Klan, THAT Indiana?"). We got more and more hopped up on drinks, sugar, and numbers, and then Jon Stewart, a fellow W&M graduate, announced that Virginia was being called for Obama. And then he said, "We would like to announce that now, as of 11 PM, Barack Obama is America's next president."

A pause that seemed long, and then there was a clamor for CNN and MSNBC, BK flipping on the Ode to Joy at volume 11, and from there on all I really remember is a welter of shouting and crying and an incoherent burst of toasts that wiped out a bottle of excellent German mead in the name of "the 21st century!" "the America we dreamed of!" "everything we worked for!" and hugs and yet more tears. Oh, and Obama-logo cupcakes.

But eventually you've got to get home, and Metro was closed, and come to find out, free cabs were in very short supply. I ended up shepherding a trio of German schoolteachers onto a downtown-bound bus, assuring them that it would take them to within walking distance of their hotel. They had come for a week to see the election, and they seemed a little disappointed at the lack of celebration in the streets of Arlington. I figured DC doesn't really party and that the earlier televised festivities had already broken up.

Hah. We heard the first screaming whoops as we rolled through Georgetown, and Dupont from K Street north was the best party I've ever seen in this self-conscious city. People high-fived and cheered anyone who smiled; cars honked incessantly in a triple beat as their passengers screamed and waved flags out windows or sunroofs or off the backs of pick-ups; chants broke out as people passed one another on the sidewalks; fireworks exploded over Adams Morgan and U Street. The teachers hugged me warmly when they found their hotel; "Congratulations," said one. "We feel it is a privilege to be here tonight." The driver of the bus I eventually caught heading home wouldn't take fares; his passengers, packed together hip to hip, laughed and cheered, hugging one another over jolts in the road or chattering as the last of the buzz gave way to incoherent fatigue. I staggered through my door around 3 AM, happy and exhausted.

I mean, I dunno about you guys, but I had a hell of a night.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ye ballot if caft

I voted, of course. The polling place was run by a much larger—and younger—group of volunteers than in the past, and they were cheerfully efficient, but the sheer number of people meant that the line was an hour and a half long. The woman in front of me met up with her husband as he was leaving; apparently, turning up when the polls opened meant a two-hour wait. Ouch.

Although my district is about as liberal as it's possible to get, the feeling in the line was not really woohoo-party in spite of the promising numbers. People weren't talking about the candidates, or talking much at all; it was as though this was a lull before the nervous watching of the teebee returns. One pair of women, probably first-timers, stumbled out laughing and crying as they hugged, but most people emerged looking calm or smiling just a little. The poll workers checked the line occasionally to find anyone who might have trouble waiting without a seat; Voter Protection Act volunteers did a circuit to provide the numbers and URLs to use if there were problems; a single guy in an Obama shirt came by to offer Democratic sample ballots. That was the extent of the excitement. The rest of the time, you'd have thought we'd been taking queuing lessons from the British.

After I voted, the guy handing out stickers looked at me reproachfully. "Voting is a happy time; why you lookin' so down?" I hadn't realized I looked sad; I was just trying to process the mundanity of voting with the history involved in this election, and it was making me a little sniffly. "Aw," he said, "First time voting?" No, I said, but the first time I'd been so happy to vote for someone, naming no names. He smiled. "Good feeling, isn't it."

I walked past the line on the way out. It was down to an hour and a quarter.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A final word on one of my many crushes

Nate Silver is one of the wonkiest dudes ever to be claimed as everyone's internet boyfriend. I wasn't going to say anything else about him, but, well, there's another resolution down the pipes. Damn, way to quote appropriately.
For the organizers, the volunteers, every damn brave last one of you:
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

-- William Shakespeare, Henry the DXXXVIII

One more dawn, one more day

Maryland my Maryland doesn't have early voting; even if it did, I'd hate to miss being at My Official Polling Site (a church hall that smells like the ghosts of casseroles and play-doh, as well-used halls tend to do) to see everyone come out. There's never been much of a line, at least not when I've gone in after work; this is the first year when I plan to go early, the better to flaunt a "Yo voté" sticker all day, and man, if there's ever going to be a crowd, it'll be tomorrow. Although we're not remotely a swing state, there has been huge volunteer turnout over the last few months, most of it focused on reaching people in Virginia and Pennsylvania. Tomorrow, the work will be closer to home, as people switch to helping out in their own districts: A computer-wiz neighbor is planning to serve as an election judge "because I know how to hack a Diebold machine and can tell when someone else is doing it" (yikes, thanks, and please keep the white hat secured in the morally upright position), while several of my coworkers will be out ferrying voters of all descriptions to the polls or working on site. And everybody is making plans to get to the voting sites, read our books in long lines if we must, get checked off the rosters, solemnly/joyfully fill in our choices, double- and triple-check our ballots, collect our stickers—which are redeemable for booze, coffee, doughnuts, and sex toys—and head back out past the lines with great big grins on our faces for reasons other than the aforementioned commercial blandishments.

In conclusion, also, and such as, this is just to say: VOTE. Or else your penis will fall off.

[ETA: Dammit, there is nothing to say about Obama's grandmother dying the day before the election, except that I am glad he took the time to see her. The family is asking that donations be given to any charity or organization dedicated to curing cancer. Do that, if it moves you, and be sure to hug your people, whoever they may be.]

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Here's an elegant bit of elegaic geekdom wot I am posting not just because David Tennant is pretty but also because he's been a fantastic Doctor. Christopher Eccleston left some big shoes to fill, but Tennant made it look easy.

I will post photos from last night's Halloween entertainment later, though I regret in advance not having been able to get reaction shots of the two guys in front of us in line at Giant. Apparently in the Dominican Republic you don't often see a giant Tigger and a witch in green scrubs buying booze and talking stats. It seems a shame that that would be the case, but no doubt they've got their own expected times and places for becostumed wonkerie.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Barnoween, Ye Madnesf

Yes, these pics are terrible. I'm a wretched photographer at the best of times, but the lack of light, lack of flash, lack of tripod, and lack of subjects who would stand the hell still, dammit, I think that's a challenging combo for anyone to finesse. But the event was too fun for me to repine about the bad photos. Lots of the kids came in excellent costumes, there was a reeeediculous amount of candy, the barn decor must've taken hours to set up, and nobody called out my half-arsed costume (I wore barn-appropriate clothes, stuck a tiara on my head, and called myself a liberal elite). Good times!

Heza maintains a modicum of dignity in his rodeo-lookin' patriotic tack. He wouldn't leave his hay long enough for me to get a shot of his matching halter, though.

Queen's Colors got a red ermine-trimmed cooling sheet, a white veil, and a homemade velvet crown. Notice the ears sticking out above the brim. She was completely unbothered by the fuss and continued her usual habit of nuzzling everyone who came near.

Dakota put up with this, further proving that he's ridiculously sweet.

Princess the ballerina! I can't believe they let the kids name such a huge draft Princess.

He may look like a rabbit, but Sterling's a (God help me) horse hare. His owner also brought in a maribou boa, so that if he got fed up with the fly guard he could be horse feathers. The pain, the pain.

Leila is ignoring the hell out of us, because she's got this one tiiiiiny shred of dignity hidden in her hay.

You might not credit it, but this is Doc, whose costume was listed as "ghost." Looks more like "haunted billboard," but we'll let it pass.

Not shown: Scooby, the eye-rolling permanently spastic pony, who last year almost lost his fool mind spooking at falling leaves, dressed as a Starbucks barista. Roosevelt, decked out with a little green felt leaf in his forelock and both a Macintosh sticker and a gummy worm on his side. Outlaw, sporting a Robin Hood hat. Huge hunter Manhattan, draped as a knight's charger. Grayson, wearing only a bandanna (shocking!) after he refused, categorically, to wear his Hell's Angels outfit. Dylan, who himself was not dressed but whose stall was festooned with bones and a warning sign about his fearsome carnivorosity. Princess Lea [sic] the pinto, wearing warpaint, beads, and feathers. Summer, wearing a shimmering purple dragon outfit.

The barn ponies, with the obvious exceptions of Grayson and Scooby, put up with an awful lot for us without protesting. But since they too got treats (to be doled out at intervals, lest they climb the walls all night), I suppose it's not so bad.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Invisibul nitting needul

I woke up at some wee hour of Wednesday morning feeling as though someone had rammed a dowel rod straight through my left ocular ridge and out the back of my head. In such moments do we learn whether we've taught ourselves to open the child-proofed analgesics bottle without even turning on the light. I knocked back some naproxen sodium and went back to sleep, hoping that the merry elves who live in the pills would do the job while I snoozed. Alas, either the little buggers were on vacation or the Campaign for Equal Heights had declared a work stoppage.

A hot shower proved useless for pain relief, and I made it through all of two hours of work before deciding that what I really needed was to spend some quality time in a dark room, whining softly from beneath a cold washcloth (or...GENIUS! one of those chilled gel eyemasks, the invention of which should have earned someone a Nobel). Five hours of quality nappage later, I felt closer to human than to hemicranial shish kabob, but it was still painful enough that I canceled on my riding class. Call me a wimp, but I want all my brainy parts working when I'm around large animals. Instead I watched the Obama infomercial, swapped reactions with IE via text, and went to bed early. Life is mo' boring when there are no horses.

Ordinarily I would've written this off as a regular migraine, but in catching up on the webs today I learn otherwise; clearly it was my body's reaction to the BBC's horrible news. Nooooo, they be stealin mah Tennant!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I know you have all been on tenterhooks waiting to hear about Barnoween, and I have not yet uploaded my photos. I can, however, tell you that a dark barn plus a prohibition on flash plus horses that are a little het up about their costumes and the bizarrely dressed people parading past their stalls is not a photographer's friend. There are maaaaybe three photos that came out even slightly acceptably, in that you can tell that they're of horses and not strange blurry fungi.

One brief anecdote to whet the appetite (and because Stephin Merritt's basso "tell more anecdote" instruction to Claudia Gonson at Sunday's Magnetic Fields show was one of the funniest things I've ever heard deadpanned): The owners of the buckskin Fjord horse had wrapped his legs in yellow fur and teased a huge poof of brown wool out around his head, in a very good four-hooved approximation of the Cowardly Lion. But unfortunately, someone noticed that that's not who he really resembled: "You dressed your horse as Art Garfunkel?"

Thursday, October 23, 2008


If Horse A will not move for any price or any rider, and Horse B is acting even flakier than usual, and Horse A is a young mare and Horse B is a young and incompletely gelded gelding, and the air is snapping dry so you know it's not the humidity...

What are the chances it's the heat?

This Is Just to Say
I have petted
the cat
that was in
the inbox

And which
you were probably
was a mouser

Forgive me
it was adorable
so sweet
and so furry

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hurled with great force

The stranger tides that govern all our base the Web are aligning with the Aerial Squash Fandago ley lines this year. Friends, relations, and by now total strangers know of my love for the Yankee Siege trebuchet, which is to my mind the most elegant of the Chunkin engines. Now the RSS feed coughs up not one but two Got Medieval posts on trebuchet-related marginalia in the Maciejowski Bible ("A fmafhing blockbufter of a texte," and yes I stole that joke from Good Omens).

I also wanted to post a link to MightyGodKing's fantastic take on fantasy novel covers—seeing a Mercedes Lackey novel retitled My Little Pony Goes to War set me howling—but it done got slashdotted by the hordes and is unavailable until MGK finds another provider. BoingBoing uses a retitling of Stephen R. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant books (Asshole Leper Hero) as the teaser, setting off a fiery parry and riposte about the series dans les BB comments. I couldn't get past the first chapter of the first installment of that particular series, on account of it was hideously dull and badly written, so I'm indebted to the person who summed up the problems with Donaldson's work by quoting a single sentence: "The horses were almost prostrate upon their feet." I mean, that just ain't right.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang

We're not quite there yet; we're just beginning the glorious last hurrah, but it's in the wind. The days get short, the urge to hibernate under a pile of feather duvets gets large, and we find out what kind of year it's been for apples. Damn good, fortunately, so now my fridge is full of Jonagolds and Honeycrisps and some Asian apple-pears, as well as carrots and sorrel. Next week I'll get a double batch of sorrel and take it down to Il Padre, Soup Wizard sans peur et sans reproche, so that he can turn it into schavelni' sup, a soup that looks like pond weed and so good that you just don't care. Fall time is food time.

I took advantage of the glorious weather to get outside a lot, at least once the effects of a late Friday night drinking demon rum with the visiting Expat and her husband KD had worn off. Apparently they don't have pirate-themed bars in Deutschland, which I think we can agree is a terrible loss, and while KD was kind enough to serve as designated, the Expat and I went through the menu of silly cocktails with a vengeance. 13 Feet Under? Of course! A 666? Mais non! A Davy Jones Locker? What could possibly go wrong?

All of that being drunk said, I did get up in time to join Gee-Clef for a day at the Fest. He loaned me his enormous black Jedi cloak, because circulatory system have I none and it was chilly, and we strolled about to see shows by the slinky Mediaeval Baebes, Shakespeare's Skum, and the Rogues, a roughly Scottish group who still featured "the best bellydancer in Dundalk." Who was frankly wonderful: not only was she a lovely dancer, she skipped the sultry vamp look in favor of the smile of someone who is actually enjoying herself. The fact that small girl-moppets belonging to the band were engaged in pitched nerf-sword battles in front of the stage did not detract in the slightest. Between and sometimes during the shows, we played Treasure Hunt, spotting examples of the various Fest genuses and arguing about whether strictly Linnaean-style rules could possibly be applied in such a sartorial free-for-all, because we are tremendous geeks in our own right. Mostly it was an excuse to murmur, "Oh, hey," at the more astonishing costumes.

Lacking a horse of my own, I can't post photos of a perfect autumn ride, but perfect fall weather is good even when you're on your own feets.

You don't even need to Photoshop any pixels to improve on it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The bonny brown steed

We had a packed house last night: seven pairs in the ring, what with having El Bandito back from travel, a barn instructor signed up for a class, and a new student in for assessment. Our ring can comfortably hold about six pairs, so there was a certain bumper-cars element. One of my former teachers used to exhort us with cheering cries of, "Nobody crash and die!" We didn't, but what with different skill levels, horse speeds, and hearing abilities, there were some iffy moments. There's a real adrenaline zing when you find that the person who used to be behind you didn't hear the command to switch reins and that both of you are suddenly playing chicken.

For once I was glad not to be on Lear. Thing the first, he sometimes corners poorly, which is bad in any event but doubly so with the sort of lobster quadrille we dance in a crowded Grayson-having ring; thing the second, imagine how much fun it would've been to have him spook in a crowd. BIG FUN. But he was hors(e) de combat with a leg wound, having kicked out at the canter during an earlier class, stuck his foot through the fence, and tried to get free by thrashing around like a big eedjit. For some reason he was put on the horse list for our class anyway, and I all unknowing signed up for him. His zen attitude of last week was gone like the morning mist, forcing me to deal with a flurry of nips as we haltered and went to the ties, so not until he was secured to the port and starboard did I spy the vivid blue bandage on his near hind leg. After I got the full story, I chucked him back in his stall, then went and looked pitiful until the barn agreed that I was owed a horse and could use little Connemara Dylan.

We did decent work together, this time without bucking or other egregious misbehavior. He's still convinced that the gate end of the ring is haunted, although he walks through it cheerfully enough when it's time to go home. We did lots of bending, sailed through transitions between upward trot and the forward version, didn't pitch fits over Pat's sadistic 3/2 waltz-time post exercise, and handled the canter with aplomb. He's an easy lad to sit, though so small that I always have trouble finding his center of balance for the post (the effect, for anyone curious, is that if you tip forward at all as you rise, there is no horse in front of you—there you are, balancing on the edge of a cliff and about to fall).

After class I ran into Doc, who was standing on cross-ties as we were untacking, and he whickered at me to put him away. He has been taken out of all the adult classes and now spends his time carrying the little kids, who weigh less and don't ask much except not to fall off (Doc: "No probs"). The barn has had his hocks injected with steroids to reduce some of his arthritis, but there ain't no real cure for aging. I'm trying to get the barn to give me his schedule, so that I can hand-walk him in the park when he's not being used. I owe him that at least.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


For my continued mental health and perennial obsession, I will spend at least the first portion of tonight's debate at the barn, wrapping up from what I hope is a good session with His Long-Legged Skitteriness, and maybe taking a few photos of him if I remember how to use a camera.

So somebody else will have to play spot the buzzword and make a next-day YouTube response. (Not that I'm Mocean. But, you know. If I were.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Reading Nation

I tore through both The Graveyard Book and Nation this weekend, a double dose of literary smack that is an excellent definition of being spoiled for choice. The former, ostensibly a book for the younglings, is a satisfyingly disturbing version of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, complete with adoptive family (ghosts not wolves), strange guardian (a [redacted] in place of a panther), and wonderfully creepy villains (both the monkeys and Sher Khan have analogs here). By the bye, anyone who has not read the original Kipling entire has missed out so bad I can't even say; it holds up for adults and you should look well, o wolves, to your local booketeria for a copy. As always, Gaiman's writing gives the sense that the inside of the man's head is something of a fantastic library, full of Victorian children's clothes and strange mythologies. The Graveyard Book is scary without being gross; it sends a fine elegant shiver down the back and is perfect autumn reading.

Nation, now, I'm not sure I can explain my reaction clearly. It's the first of Pratchett's books in a long time not to be set in Discworld, and based on things like Johnny and the Bomb I wasn't sure how it would be. The Johnny books are good, but they haven't had the fine edge that some of the Discworld books have had. The Post's review was glowing, though, and reading it was never in question. I thiefed the family copy and opened it up.

Honestly, I can't say whether it's up to spec, because I spent a goodly share of the book in tears, which is not the typical reaction to Pratchett's writing. The book is passionately angry and joyful and curious about the world and our role in it, especially about who we are when disasters like flu pandemics and tsunamis hit us where we hurt (which is in our people); the man who wrote it is facing a disease that will probably strip away his ability to ask those questions as he watches. All of the anger that you feel at that kind of news is channeled here, into the lives of the two protagonists, but so is the fierce joy in life that makes the diagnosis stand in such sharp relief. People have commented that some of the recent Discworld books, including Nightwatch and Thud!, have been stronger for their darkness and the intensity of the characters' convictions; Nation is all of that without the Vimes, so it's both kinder and a lot more painful. Nation is no-foolin' on the short list for Books of the Year, but I'd be surprised if I were the only one sniffling at the end.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Be with your nutcase

Weekly horse report ahoy! Lear again.

I had the tacked gloves that worked so well last time, but for most of the week I've been reading Be With Your Horse, which focuses on rewarding your horse with moments of zen. Ask for a thing, and if the horse does it, stop for a second. Stop doing, stop being, stop talking, stop trying. Just give the horse a moment where you're quiet and have released all pressure, physical or mental. It's tempting, especially with a hot feisty horse, to try to keep moving with successes and to try to push through failures. Instead, the author says, if you get the result you want, use a brief release to tell the horse, "Yes, that was right." He also advocates waiting a few seconds after a cue to see whether the horse figures it out; some of them need more time to process, and if you keep piling on the cues, they get confused and resentful and start trying to find a way out of being with you, because they think that there's no way to make sense of your demands.

Well, what harm could it do. I walked into Lear's stall and clicked to him, and he turned toward me. I swung the lead over his neck and asked him to turn further; he paused for a moment, then stepped around. Now well within nipping range (but also ready to deploy an elbow), I paused by his shoulder and tried to project calm: eyes soft, breathing slow, body relaxed. He stood still. I brought the halter up and fastened it on, then again with the mellow routine. No bites. Out of the stall and onto the crossties. Still no nipping.

And so it went, through grooming, saddling, and even bridling, when he usually tries to chew on the noseband. He tried to push into my space as we walked to the ring and once nipped at my sleeve while we waited for the gate, but both times just making a sharp gesture made him back off to a polite distance, and he stood quietly for a final girth check and the mounting block.

Honesty compels: I didn't do as well with this in the saddle, and our yield work especially was uneven. We did some beautiful trot work, though, going from a forward trot to a slower collected trot and back on cue. Lear is getting better about going onto the bit and seeking contact; he used to be very nervous of being popped in the mouth, but now he'll reach down into the long rein and seems to enjoy the chance to stretch his neck and back muscles (which, by the way, have gotten glossy and buff over the last six months, and now he looks jest darlin').

It's hard to tell whether Lear was having a calm night anyway or whether the "small still point" approach made the difference, or whether it was some combination of the two. What I do know is that I found myself paying a different sort of attention to what I was doing and how Lear was reacting and that I enjoyed the work more. It was surprising how subtle I could make the ground cues to stop or walk on and still have him respond, as long as I was willing to wait an extra half-second for him to see whether he would do what I'd asked. Willing myself calm is not one of my strong suits, but going through the physical effort to relax helped; so did approaching it as an experiment, rather than a technique I had to get right. With a school horse that I don't work with every day, our progress is bound to be uneven, but clarifying and gentling my cues and rewards is transferable, as is the effort to cultivate patience when I ask for something. One of these days I might even know what I'm doing.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

All hail the expendable crew!

Abney Park, official soundtrack providers to the neo-Vicky steampunk generation movement wossname, are offering a Halloween zeppelin ride for the low low price of $785. I can't justify flying cross-country just to drop that kind of coin and miss the next day's Punkin Chunkin. But if you can, by all means, follow your bliss. Just please please please take pictures.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

To my Shadow and Claw co-obsessives

There is no category of human activity in which the dead do not outnumber the living many times over. Most beautiful children are dead. Most soldiers, most cowards. The fairest women and the most learned men—all are dead....Who can say how intently they listen as we speak, or for what word?
Allow me to greet you on the day of the martyr Thecla (steady reppin' Old Calendar style). Reports of her life bear little resemblance to that of the Chatelaine's, which is a bit of a surprise considering that Wolfe used a very recognizable Catherine as the Guild's patron, but then the conventional St. Severian was a bishop and never climbed the Andes either, so maybe I should quit while I'm ahead.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Thou shalt not question Stephen Fry

Hat tip to Seesterperson for this one.

And as to why one should not question Stephen Fry, if you have to ask, well, I simply despair.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Hearts full of youth, hearts full of truth

I made a terrible mistake last night at the VP debate watch party: I ordered my first Negroni, figuring that I like Campari, gin is good, and how bad can sweet vermouth be? Oh merciful Lord. Apparently the drink is an aperitif, meant to stimulate the appetite. One can only assume that that's another way of saying that this decoction o' dismay will make you so desperate for anything to take the hidz medicinal taste out of your mouth that anything remotely edible is guaranteed to get a rave review. I shuddered but decided not to send it back; I'd just chalk it up to experience and move on.

G-Clef and I found a spot at the bar and busted out our Palin bingo cards, sharing an extra with a larger group (judging by the shouts later, everyone agreed that it was a pity that you could only check off "maverick" once). Our adorable bartender, between his sprints up and down the bar, peered at the cards and burst out laughing; a later arrival raised his eyebrows at us and sagely observed that this must not be a Republican stronghold. Well, no. We grow canvassers for export.

The crowd kept reasonably quiet for the debate, and the addition of the bingo cards kept people from heckling Palin quite as loudly as they might otherwise have done. G-Clef got well ahead in the early running, but for some reason Palin wouldn't say "Pakistan," despite his muttered beseeching, and I hit a streak of luck. Meanwhile, the acid in my drink was eating away at my tastebuds, reducing my ability to notice how vile it was, and I absentmindedly drank the entire thing as the show wore on. Off the bailout, through the tax breaks, into foreign policy...and then it happened. She said "National Guard."

I got bingo.

And the bartender, smiling, rewarded me with another Negroni.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dispatches from the front

So it was Lear again last night, and this time, mirabilis, I was ready. Before I headed out ze door, I pushed thumbtacks through two pieces of card and taped them in place, then slipped the cards into my gloves so that the points stuck out on either side of the middle knuckle of my hands. Lear gnawed on the lead rope as I haltered him, but once I got him on cross ties he went into his usual routine of trying to bite me instead. I followed Ms. Jahiel's advice, holding the lower part of his halter as I groomed his neck, and sure enough he swung his head to try to nip me. I couldn't manage the savoir fair she suggests, which involves humming steadily as the horse runs himself into the prosthetic stingers, the better to imply that you have nothing to do with the penalty, but he got the idea soon enough. After three or four abortive attempts—swing to bite, get stung, yank the head away in shock—he figured it out.

Lear remains convinced that the gate end of the ring is haunted; it took me two near-spooks to realize that a towel someone had left in a heap on the gate wall was the booger du jour. After that was vanquished, he settled a little. He went neatly onto the bit, doing most of the bending maneuvers (haunches-in remains fail, woe) and a stretch of pretty canter that was surprisingly easy to sit. Pat is under the mistaken impression that I am physically flexible (this is not false modesty; I wish it were) and thinks that I've gotten better at moving with the horse. It would be lovely to give her all the credit, but honestly I think that it's largely a matter of saddle time, since I see the biggest improvements in my seat after long riding trips, when what matters is not looking good but staying on and out of the horse's way.

In Halloweenly news, Pat has decided to dress her big mare as a queen: red cooling sheet trimmed with faux ermine, a crown, and maybe some clasply bling. The horse next door is being dressed as a knight's charger. Apart from the cognitive dissonance caused by the species involved, it sounds like it'll be very cute. Anybody wot'll be in the DC area the weekend before Halloween and who wants a giggle and a sugar fix, drop me a line. Costumes, need I point out, are mandatory.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Brought by the lee

So it turns out that my 95% certainty is worth very little. This is an object lesson: Don't expose yourself to ridicule by approaching possible celebrities in person. Do it on the internet; it allows a much larger group of people to enjoy your mistake.

Least I didn't lend the guy money.

Monday, September 29, 2008

It's turtles all the way down, young man

Terry Pratchett will be online on Wednesday to chat on the Post's website from 11:00 to noon. Michael Dirda mentioned reviewing Nation when I talked with him on Saturday, but I didn't expect the review to run the very next day. Now it seems even more certain that the man himself was at the signing, managing the neat trick of going undercover by not wearing one.

To fill the time before I get my mitts on The Graveyard Book and Nation, I've picked back up with Who Murdered Chaucer, a tasty popular history that underlines the idea that the Monty Python guys were smarter than the average sketch comics. As someone whose knowledge of medieval political affairs is drawn largely from Shakespeare's Richard II and the inimitable Geoffrey Chaucer Hath A Blog (currently being guest-hosted by H. Bolingbroke: "O, stop yower bullmerde about Chaucer and Kyng Richard. Kyng Richard will retourne whan it is good for the realm. I and the othir lords appellant are loial to the Crown of Engelonde and the Kyng who beareth yt. I haue no intencioun to evir taak the crown from Richard. I haue too much CRUSADING to do first."), I'm finding it a gripping tale of revenge, betrayal, and clerical skullduggery. The book ys, indeed, rad, a term rarely applied to discussions of the Lollard heresy. And its size makes it convenient for smacking elevator doors open with an authoritative whump, so it's got that going for it too.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Heaven in a black leather jacket and 90% humidity

Notwithstanding the gharstly heat and humidity of the morning, I did make it to the National Book Festival this AM for the annual fix of hangin' with the bookfolk. Last year's mobscene around the Terry Pratchett reading was still in memory green, so I got there early enough to get a good spot and ended up hearing a couple of other authors speak. One, who writes picture books about historical figures in the African-American community, would be a first-rate presenter for little kids, but I get the squirms when someone demands that there be audience participation, especially if it involves singing. The second was more my speed; although he writes mainly for teens, he seemed to notice that the pavilion was rapidly filling with adults, so he ramped up the technical content about researching primary sources and Native American languages. I had never heard the term "agglutinative language," but now I know that Abenaki is one. ("Like German and Russian," said BK, who I was surprised to find sitting just behind me. "But Turkish is considered the classic agglutinative tongue." I hadn't expected to see BK at the Festival, still less at the Gaiman event, but it turns out that his girlfriend got hooked on Sandman at 16 and has been a hopeless fan ever since. Clearly a woman of taste and sophistication.)

The tent was entirely packed by the time Michael Dirda took over from Ron Charles (bah) and introduced Neil Gaiman, who despite the heat was wearing his usual leather jacket. In trying to describe his interaction with his fans to IE, I settled on saying that he's treated as our favorite uncle, who happens to be a rock star. He probably wishes he weren't so widely recognized, but he deals with it gracefully. He read a bit from The Graveyard Book and answered some questions. Best line, in talking about how he'd stolen a book idea from something his son had said, "I told my five-year-old son that he had to go to bed, and he said furiously, 'I wish I didn't have a dad! I wish I had a...,' and you could see him trying to think of things you could have. 'I wish I had...some goldfish!' And I thought, what a good idea. He has never seen any of the royalties." Best I-think-it-was sighting: Terry Pratchett, who without his signature hat can blend into a crowd better than Alec Guinness, but who I think saw me eyeing him.

We decided not to risk the storms just for the chance to stand in an endless signing line, but as the crowd was streaming away, I took the chance to thank Mr. Dirda for returning to his column at Book World and especially for his righteous ticking-off of Neal Stephenson's latest crypto-brick (for the record, I ripped through Snow Crash with glee, liked The Diamond Age despite its random ending, enjoyed Cryptonomicon but struggled with its overload of math lectures, and threw Quicksilver across the room after three pages). Technical material and research is all very well and good in its place; its place is not in 500 pages of your 600-page novel.

A very pleasant lunch at Brasserie Les Halles (baked brie with cracked black pepper and honey, and a salad with apples and sugared walnuts), and thence homeward. Neil is probably signing still.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Crunchy spine

The stranger tides of the horse list last night said that Lear was back, and me without my tacked gloves. That horse puts a lot of effort into getting his teeth on, not just the bit, but also the noseband, his cross-ties, a dressage whip, my gloves, and—with lamentable success—my arm. Good thing he got mostly polarfleece (it's terrible, hearing a horse try to spit), but I still made him think that the wrath o' God was about to fall upon him. Not the right day to forget the tacks for the gloves. Pat, who saw me get nipped, sighed. She thinks, to coin a phrase, that the vet who did the gelding done it on the cheap and left a chip, because most geldings are nowhere near this mouthy. Stallions, on the other hand, are constantly looking for things to gnaw on. (Well, I mean, that's not all that they're looking for. But it's what's germane to this discussion.) If Lear is in fact suffering the effects of residual testosterone, he'll be the second such horse I've ridden; the other was less nippy but was head over heels in love with a mare who wanted nothing to do with him. He pined. I think I'd rather that.

Once I'm in Lear's saddle, at least he can't bite. Pat had us doing a sadistic exercise at the trot: post for two strides and sit for one, or the reverse. Getting into a balanced three-beat rhythm during a two-beat gait is, and let me phrase this carefully, very very difficult for those of us with limited natural grace. Her point was that we could, by doing the waltzy beat, learn to control the speed of the trot, but what I mainly learned is that I still do not post very well. It needs much practice to keep my legs from woggling about.

Pat also had us work on half-halts, which are used variously to tell the horse to rock back onto its haunches, to slow it down, and/or to ask it to pay attention before something new happens, by having us go from trot to walk and back ten or twelve times, then go from trot to almost-walk and back. Tricksy work, requiring very delicate hands and seat, not to mention a horse who can remember where he put his feet half a second ago. Lear did pretty well, all things considered.

The be-saddled low point was when we worked on the canter. I hadn't done any canter work with him at our previous session, and I certainly didn't know that he has a ticklish spot a about half an inch behind where the standard canter go-button is. If a foolhardy rider lets her leg slide back there, she gets to hang on through an extraordinarily balletic (or so say witnesses) kick-to-the-four-winds equine flail before Lear gets down to the business of cantering. The immediate adrenaline rush masked any soreness in the short term, but the compromised integrity of my erector spinae showed up with a big shit-eating grin and a suitcase this morning. I'll live, but I'm-a whine.

The barn's been doing a trick-or-treat event ever since 2002, when the DC snipers made people nervous about letting their kids go outside at night. It's continued since, mostly because it's enthusiastically silly. Over the years, the costumes—evil Grayson in a pink tutu, pinto QC as an Oreo cookie, Sterling as a plumber (complete with XXXXL butt-revealing jeans and a pair of boots)—have raised the bar to the point where plans among the private boarders are closely guarded secrets. The sugar is almost secondary to the giggling. Pictures, we hope, to come.

Two years

And still I miss Mike Ford, despite the minor fact of never having met or spoken to him. I eventually forgave him for naming a madam in The Last Hot Time Chloe Vadis, though getting to that point took a certain amount of agonized writhing on my part. Let's hope that wherever he is they appreciate him. In the meantime, fire up the heavy artillery in his memory: Infernokrusher Romeo and Juliet!

Ro-Mo. Your windows are still mirrored; taunt me not,
But show your colors, dare to challenge me,
These lips are two shaped charges, primed and hot,
That wait the go-code for delivery.
J-Cap. The flag is to the deadly, not the loud,
Yet aim as well as posing shows in this;
The worthy throwdown's always to the proud,
And hammer down is how the hard girls kiss.
Ro-Mo. My draft is stopped; I struggle toward the clutch.
J-Cap. And would a charge of nitrous make thee run?
Ro-Mo. Too much; but what else is there but too much?
Let me take arms, and elevate the gun.
J-Cap. Small arms but hint what demolitions say.
Ro-Mo. Then, gunner, gimme one round.
J-Cap. On the way.
[H/T, of course, to Making Light]