Friday, February 29, 2008


The Voice and I sit in dining room chairs pulled over to the side of the living room, facing the bed where our hostess lies. I don't know her well, although we sang in the choir together for a few years, but she had asked for visitors. Now it's not clear that she knows anyone is in the room. On the wall behind the bed, icons held up with white strips of medical tape face pictures of her, photographs her husband took of her between treatments. He bustles around, gracious but distracted, adjusting her covers and then insisting that The Voice and I take some dried apricots. He disappears into the kitchen for a moment and returns with a box of dates, a tin of caramels, and a bag of layered wafer cookies, setting them next to the teapot and our cups. The tea is a flowery Russian blend, so fragrant that sugar would render it undrinkable. He urges us to eat and drink, asks whether perhaps we would prefer wine, or maybe something stronger, cognac or brandy. We tell him, truthfully, that we're happy with the tea, which is delicious. He runs a hand over thinning hair, shaking his head, then excuses himself to heat the soup that The Voice brought. She and I talk quietly about music, debating whether we should try to sing something; I haven't sung in years and was never very good except at finding the key of flat, while she is in practice and has a clear sweet soprano. We're both at a bit of a loss and don't know what to say to our host. His wife is quiet, maybe sleeping and maybe not.

After he finishes his soup, I ask how he and his wife met. He smiles crookedly and says that they were in a symphonic group together in the Soviet Union back in the 1960's. The group went on tour in buses. "I'm not a lucky man," he says. "If it's a bullet there, I will get it." His bus crashed into something on the road; he, sitting in the front row of seats, was thrown face-first into the plastic divider between the driver and the rest of the bus. He was badly cut and needed stitches all over his face, but the tour couldn't afford to stop. Every two days they were in a new town; every two days he had to find a new doctor. "And I had bandages everywhere, bruises, stitches, they have no anesthesia, can you believe? She made herself responsible for me. Helped me find clinics, keeps the dressings clean, does my bandages." He smiles again. "Three—no, two and a half. Two and a half years later, we got married. And now it's forty years."

When he steps out of the room, The Voice and I gather the nerve to stand and sing, wavering at first. Our hostess was an operatic soprano until cancer took one lung, an alto with the choir until a few months ago. Her eyes stay closed, but now she seems to breathe more easily, and her fretful movements and moaning stop as we sing. We don't have a servicebook, so we do only what we know by heart and can sing as a duet. It's a mixed bag, not entirely appropriate, and I'm as bad as I feared I would be, but we hope the intent will be clear. Her husband comes back in as we stop. "I liked the last one. Was it a folk song?" "A hymn for the bride," says The Voice, a little awkwardly. "Pretty," he says.

Other visitors arrive, one a nurse. We say our farewells and slip out, closing the door as our host carefully dribbles water into his wife's mouth and wipes away what spills. The day before our visit, she was awake enough to talk with visitors and to take Communion. The next morning, word of her death will spread, followed by long e-mail divvyings-up of the grocery list for the wake.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hello Cappi my old friend

Moohahaha, now you'll have that song stuck in your head for a week.

We're suffering the revenge of February, as a batch of nadger-freezing air direct from Canada keeps us all from enjoying the extra hours of sun. I went to dressage last night all y-bundled up, silk tights and fleece breeches and three sweaters under a fleece jacket and down vest, gloves on my icy claws and a pair of chemical packs tucked into my boots (in vain, because when the mercury drops too far, my lamesauce corpuscles won't be tempted past the knee line for anything short of booze-induced capillary dilation). The indoor ring isn't heated, but it blocks the wind and is generally bearable for the riders if not the instructor.

After my long hiatus from dressage, it was a nervous joy to be back with Cappi. Joy because he's fun, nervous because who knows what he'd been up to while I was off. Smoking! Drinking! Lascivious conversation and crim con! Needless worries, as it turned out. He didn't display any bad habits, even when horse A spooked at invisible tigers, causing horse B to ditch his rider in sympathy, causing the horse C to flee the commotion, thereby convincing horse D that he was next on the bogeyman's menu. But Cappi, who had been trotting along, flicked an ear at the noise, slowed to a walk on my cue, and then sighed. Sighed. This is the same horse who three months ago would climb trees if a deer walked within a mile of the gate? The horse who would panic and flee if asked to work away from the other horses? The horse who to this day gives his Western riders fits? I do not pretend to understand. I am only grateful. I confess that I truly love getting him to bend and flex and show off. Pat's trying to make things more difficult for us so that he has to listen and can't assume he knows what he's supposed to do, so the class is never dull, but Cappi seems to have found his groove in dressage.

Apart from the cold fingers, what I really don't like about lessons in the winter is dealing with the blankets, which cannot be laundered every day and inevitably smell of urine (reason one, there are straps under the belly and the horse can't exactly hold them out of the way when nature calls; reason two, the horses lie down in their stalls, wherein they've usually relieved themselves). The blankets are big and bulky, so you have to sort of heave them up and wrestle them into place, and then you have to reach under the horse's belly to get at the surcingles, and what with one thing and another it's nearly impossible not to end up smelling of horse wee. That's my story, anyway, and I'm sticking to it.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Time counts and keeps countin'

I came home from my week of ranchy self-indulgence (ah, the difference a single letter makes) to find a message from the barn letting me know that my lease with Doc is being suspended, effective immediately, for the foreseeable future on account of he needed more time off. Let's see, what's the word...peeved? miffed? ah yes: pissed. I was pissed.

But I took a couple of days and calmed down and didn't ask for details until I was sure that I could do it without flying off the handle, and now I've got an explanation that makes me sad but that I can't argue: Doc is getting old and stiff. Like most horses, he can't talk, so he expresses discomfort by misbehaving. The staff are readjusting his meds so that he'll be more comfortable, and he has a new pair of purple bell boots to help him not step on his own hooves (dignity be damned, though—he looks silly in sparkly violet), but I hope like hell that they're also looking for a comfortable retirement situation. Previous retirees have ended up with some pretty cushy billets; irascible but good-hearted Battle, f'rinstance, is living out his days as a practice pony for an equine massage therapist. We should all have it so good. In the meantime, Doc will have less work, and more of it will be slow. Fortunately, apples are not contraindicated.

At Western this week I got Heza, a cute but grouchy quarter horse who is infamous for ignoring any cues not filed exactly as per spec. Despite his pedantic tendencies, I like him; he's flexible and I've learned the hard way to respect his memory. A few months ago I tried him on a barrels course, doing a simple cloverleaf pattern. Sure, he's a former barrels pony, but how much would he really recall? Yes, the hominid, ostensibly the brains of the operation, somehow forgot that prey animals tend to have extremely precise long-term memories.

Teacherwoman sent us out to practice the pattern slowly at first. Heza's got a jackhammer trot, steady and a bit uncomfortable, so I was focusing mostly on my seat and looking for the line as he clopped steadily around the first barrel. Then the second. Then halfway around the third. And just as I was looking toward the gate, he dropped his inside shoulder almost far enough to pitch me sideways into the rusty oil barrel, bucked hard twice, and bolted for the imaginary chute. I got him back in hand (okay, so the fence did most of the work), swallowed my heart, and squeaked, "What was that? Did something bite him?"

"Ah," said Teacherwoman carefully. "He wants his head on the return, and you were still holding his mouth when he got around there, so he tried to ditch you. Try him again, still at the jog, but let him go on the third barrel. And, er, don't forget to pivot out your inside leg and grab that horn. Grabbing is fine in barrels." Which I did, and when we clopped steadily up to that third point he went around it like an oiled silk scarf and pelted home as I clung on and whooped. Arthritic and punctilious he may be, but he hasn't forgotten a damn thing.

He's good times. I vote we rent a cow and let him learn to cut.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Meet the Press

Oh Ralph. Teach the pony another trick. "Regarding the campaign: here are your laurels. Why don't you lie down on them and take a goddamn nap for once."

H/T The Goo, over at the Expat's.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


I kind of desperately need either this shirt or some way to remedy the fact that I find it funny.

In other news, I'm glad that Geoffrey Chaucer has come out of hibernation to post his epitaph for Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein.

Yif al the woe and teeres and hevinesse
And eek the sorwe, compleynte and wamentynge
That man hath heard in thes yeeres of distresse
Togedir were y-put, too light a thynge
It sholde be for this yonge knightes mournynge.
Withouten hym this world can no wey plese,
Fulfild it is of shadwe and disese.

Finally, since this is less a post and more a random linkdump, have a free Firefly novel, because Stephen Brust loves you [ETA: Having read it, I can only say that Brust is no Joss Whedon...too bad], and a mashup that Joss recommends with the words, "This is actually much better than your inevitably fine children." (Not that he's being nasty; the author wrote, "Sorry, hypothetical future children, if you're reading this and feel jilted. But you are just not as awesome as this video.")

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Please to donning the bad idea jeans

Off the top of my head, there are about three brazilian reasons not to go beyond the usual "four gaits and maybe a little jumping" rides I've been doing for the last few years. After all, I have yet to fall off, sustain serious injury, or damage any horse during the course of those trips. The smart money says that keeping that record is the way to go. If I got to feeling bored, I could switch it up by taking out an Icelandic pony and learning the tolt, making it five gaits and maybe a little jumping.

But certain things run in the blood. Il Padre boasts a bit of Georgian and Cossack heritage, and his father kept a brace of Orlov trotters back in the motherland; La Mère, although the child of generally peaceful Anglo-Saxon farmers, lusts for edged weapons (I got her a knife in Junín and she almost wept), practices tai chi sword for hours at a go, and once spent a weekend studying kyudo. Mix those chromosomes and perhaps it's no surprise that you end up with someone who thinks that spending a vacation learning horseback archery in New Zealand from a Magyar bowmaker would be the ne plus ultra in the history of esoteric leisure-time baddassery.

I mean, the hell with always having the last word; I could learn to always have the Parthian shot.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Back in the...wait

Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here, to the castle beyond the...damn, that's not right either. Back in DC, though, which in certain lights could be considered a goblin city, although so far nobody has reported sightings of David Bowie in a mulleted fright wig. The Hill Country Equestrian Lodge offered good horsey times (Diane, the hostess: "So what would you like to do tomorrow?" me: "Er, ride a lot some more?" Diane: "I think we can arrange that"), along with some moments of humility in the form of not being able to get a trained reining horse to do my will in the ring until Diane came over and shouted instructions at us both. Downsides included a drive to the airport on a guaranteed traffic-free route that is almost certainly so on the weekends but not on Friday at noon, forcing me to make up time by taking the back roads at highly illegal speed ("WHEEE! Fucking hell, town limits, reduce speed to...55?!? Are you fucking KIDDING ME?"—fo' reals, Texas highways are kind of the autobahn with added pickups); having my flights into and from Dallas delayed; and taking a divot out of the runway at National. But them's just minor kvetching.

The HCEL seemed to focus more on clinics in the ring than on pure trail. The only other guests were doing a clinic program, so they spent mornings in the ring and then went out on trail to practice what they were learning. The clinics would be wonderful training for beginners interested in long rides (as indeed this couple were), and even a more advanced rider could learn a lot, but on balance I was happier taking ponies out on the trails morning and afternoon. I'm lazy that way, and after surviving two Equitours adventures have some sense of what to expect in terms of pain and fatigue (vacation, am I doin it rong?). If I were to consider competition in reining and somehow miraculously acquired a good horse and the money-time continuum to ship it down, Diane would be high on my list of trainers, but that's not the case at the moment. Still, it was a good way to see the park and try a different pile of gear and get all virtuously sore from the exercise. Pikshahs to come soon, whenever I can get Flickr to cooperate with my computer, which it was not doing this weekend. Perhaps the site was observing the holiday sensation that's sweeping the nation: Darwin Day!

[ETA: Photohraffies.]

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Shouldn't I have this, shouldn't I have this...

...shouldn't I have all of this and
From you.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tequila sunrise

Our last night in Austin, some of us make arrangements to go out to a Tex Mex place that one of our attendees recommended. It's just down the block from Allen's Boots, my personal den of temptation, and when we're told that it'll be a 30-minute wait, we take our buzzer and stroll into the store. I don't see the black boots of my dreams but am briefly tempted by a pair of Old Gringo boots in pale brown sueded leather touched with gilt. Old Gringos are for those with more money than sense, and I don't bother checking the price tag. The token Y-chrom falls in love with a pair of Ariats; the other X finds that Lucchese's last suits her perfectly. We are reluctant to leave, but the promise of a large dinner and post-meeting margaritas is too tempting.

The joint is jumping, but it's mostly an Anglo crowd, and the food is serviceable but nothing special. The margaritas, however, are excellent, available with all sorts of spendy tequilas, and between us we put away seven of them. When we leave, I find that my feet are a little farther away than usual, an effect familiar to fans of Lauriol Plaza, but otherwise we all feel good. We head to a bar in the hopping Warehouse District and trade stories over yet more drinks. I call it a night fairly early, pleading lightweightness in the boozing department. The other woman and I head back, leaving Y-chrom to lone-wolf off into the meat-markety night.

Apparently selective amnesia about my issues with tequila kicks in as soon as I'm looking at the drinks list, if this morning is anything to go by. I medicate with migas and hibiscus tea and pray for more sense in the future.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Texas loves you anyway

What ho et cetera. The novelty of corporate travel wears off quickly, and I'm well on my way to becoming a hotel snob (Marriott Marquis Atlanta: best beds in the history of ever; Seattle Westin: winnah for most lurfliest shower set-ups; Hilton Austin: best exercise in trekking a quarter mile to find the loos on each floor, plus best chandeliers evoking l'esprit del armadillo inverté). With the exception of my time in Atlanta, where I would use free moments to crawl into the embrace of my bed and nap for all I was worth, I've been trying to counteract the creeping conference-room ennui by bolting out of the hotels during downtime.

Which brings me to Las Manitas. On Thursday afternoon, after strolling on Congress and working up an appetite, I stopped in for a homemade lemonade and a taco al pastor. DC being tragically lacking decent Tex-Mex, the first forkful woke up tastebuds that've been in hibernation for months. I gave up on being dainty and picked up the whole thing, a corn tortilla wrapped around red-sauced pork spiced with lime and chili. The waiter, grinning, dropped by with a stack of napkins after I was done and pointed out that I was wearing al pastor al over my chin. Cost for the whole meal? Five bucks. Yesterday morning, I sprinted out extra-early for breakfast: chilaquiles verdes sharp with fresh tomatillos, refried beans, and hot flour tortillas, plus a strawberry licuado (fruit, ice, and a bit of milk, totally healthy...except for the added sugar). The place itself is kind of unpolished, although the folk art hearts from a gallery down the street perk up one wall and the service is fast. If you're looking for white tablecloths and the good china, you'll get the vapors, but then, if that's what you want, the Driskill is just up the road and serves tea.

A couple of years ago, developers tried to buy the Las Manitas block and build a hotel there. Locals fought back, arguing that the city needed to balance development with retaining the city's landmarks and that Las Manitas supported a variety of local schools and arts groups, and won. Hurrah! Migas for all!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Austin breakfast FTW

I got up at a stupid hour this morning, a time when I was not inclined to deal with the taxi shenanigans that ensue whenever you have to deal with Montgomery County's eedjit cab services, and managed to sleep a few hours on the flight to Dallas. At the DFW airport I wandered around in an uncaffeinated, fasting haze until I found a Starbucks, then meandered over to my gate to find that, whoops, they were almost finished boarding. Would've been so embarrassing to miss the flight. But I got to Austin fine, grabbed a cab, slung my bag aboard, and bid the driver hie us to the Hilton by way of breakfast tacos.

"Okay," he said. "There's a place on the way. You mind if it's grungy?"

Things were looking up.

It turns out that in this case, "grungy" meant "a converted Popeyes in which the redecorating has involved knocking out the order counter, chiseling off some wall tiles and replacing them with other tiles reading 'Mi Cantina,' and adding hand-written strips to the menu board. And you will be the only guailo in the joint." Rock on. I passed on the especial del día ("carne azada") and got a taco de huevos y tocino (a small flour tortilla filled with fresh eggs and bacon) and one of huevos y queso, both enlivened with a cup of fresh roasted-tomato and cilantro salsa. Life and civility flowed back with the cholesterol. The cabbie and I traded notes on barbecue, once I'd established some fresser bona fides (he asked where I went in Lockhart; I passed the test), and he pointed out a 'cue place down the road from my hotel. Since at the last meeting I was at with this crew, our token Y-chromosome finished a pound of steak at dinner, that intel will come in handy.

I hesitate to say how much more I'm enjoying Austin than Seattle, for fear of being thought ungrateful (and really, I keep trying to write up the dinner we had at the Impromptu Wine Bar on Thursday night, but it always ends up a string of obscenity-laced superlatives and l33t-speak, "OMG so fucking good," which isn't much help, but I can sum up by saying that I didn't think the place could match the swoony food pr0n the chef's wife writes at Gluten-Free Girl and I was wrong, amen). But I like it better in Austin. It has something to do with the sun.

[ETA: The hotel is hosting a boxing match tonight. The people-watching is unbelievable; someone could write a thesis on the difference between the ring girls (travel in groups, uniformly blond, ponytailed, and mascara'd into tarantula territory) and the pros (pretty in a way that is also kind of terrifying). And this is four hours before the bell, so it's only going to get better more.]

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Mind games with the innocent civilians

New York is cooler than DC again some more. I've been fond of the wicked people of Improv Everywhere since they hosted a book signing by hot new author Anton Chekov, and their original no-pants subway ride is the stuff of legend. These days it's an annual tradition up there, like Pamplona's running of the bulls but less stupidly risky. (Of course the people who did it in DC notified the cops and the media first, because we are overcautious nerdlingers in a largely humorless city that's patrolled by bored security personnel, a combo that plays merry hell with comedic spontaneity.)

A lot of what IE's done in the last few years has been cute but a little silly, like the time that they set off masses of cell phones in the Strand or practiced for synchronized swimming in a public fountain. But there's some kind of Sturgeon's Law at work, because their Grand Central piece is genius, beautiful, strange, the kind of thing that people who say, "I don't understand art, but I know what I like," would probably agree is art, because what else would you call it? And I bet they'd like it, too.

H/T Making Light, as usual.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Throw me something, mister!

Most years I get hellaciously tired of hearing political analysis around Super Tuesday, because geez, y'all, the election is months away. But this year I have been swept up in the pan-Washington conversation, to the desperate point of even watching coverage while I was in Seattle. The DC metro area is pretty solidly blue, and the people who live and work here resent the hell out of the current crop of venal incompetents and their toadies. They in turn cause us as much inconvenience as possible in making sure that they never have to meet our gazes. Good business for the strip clubs, a depressing pain in the ass for the rest of us. That's not even getting into their policies, because what do you want, for me to get all grimmed out and whiny?

But while I'm not going to do much trenchant political analysis here, I'll go ahead and share my fantasy, which is Obama Obama Obama, possibly with Edwards (who would've been my first choice, sniff) for veep or at least AG. But the Dems could nominate anyone over the age limit and I would vote for him or her, because a choice between anybody Democratic and the bizarrely inconsistent McCain or the just plain freaky Romney (ignoring Huckabee and Ron Paul, because HA HA HA HA HA, don't scare me like that again) is not what you might call difficult. But a lot of other people would come out to vote against Hillary, not to mention try to roadblock everything she does just because she's who she is, and I want this election and its results to be so decisive that it takes the GOP at least a decade to recover. God knows it'll take us longer to deal with the deficits, the effects of our idiocy in Iraq, the erosions in domestic civil freedom, the cutbacks in health care, the damage to women's rights in particular, and so on ad nauseam.

Of course all this is being said better on ML, as it so often is (grumble mutter, professional writers mumble): "So I’m supporting Obama and his train...just as a peasant might cheer for an aristocratic faction made up of reasonably decent individuals against other factions made up of out-and-out thugs. Not because the peasant doesn’t know the game is rigged, or doesn’t have the wit to imagine a better world. But because incremental change matters, and because the right incremental changes can lead, like water flowing downhill, to bigger and more profound ones. Also, while I am a radical in analysis, I am an incrementalist in practice, because life is short."

Vote, y'all.

Monday, February 4, 2008

I can has pink frosting?

Seesterperson! Happy birthday! It is weird to me that you're [redacted] years old, because somehow my sense of our relative ages has me around 12 and you at something like 8 to 10, but that just means that I get to cheer that much more at how great you are as an adult. Aw, now I'm all verklempt. Comfort me with birthday cookies!

A well-regulated militia

Come the alien invasion, Seattle will be locked and loaded. At $600 a pop, Jeff Burnette's spectacular blown-glass Raygunz must remain mere objects of desire, as opposed to stylishly collecting dust chez moi. But my God do I want one.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Back from Seattle...kerflop

That was just four days? Three? And what time is it anyway? The revenge of the circadian rhythms is that you feel like little seventeen-year bugs are crawling around in your brain, resetting your mental clocks. No sense from me, not today anyway.

I checked out this morning and found that the meals I had charged to the room had been erased. Hurrah! An unexpected gift, although not hard to figure out. Herewith the saga.

Scene: A coffee shop, early in the predawn hours.
Characters: Big Guy with Earwire (BGWE), 3PJ
[BGWE and 3PJ wait for their frilly coffee drinks and eye the TV news]
BGWE: Lotta snow, huh? Eighty inches in a week and all the passes closed.
3PJ: Yeah. I'm glad we're not getting any of it.
[They chat idly.]
3PJ: So, um, are you by any chance hotel security?
BGWE: Yes, actually.
3PJ: Oh. See, I'm up on the 38th floor...
BGWE: South tower? The drunk couple at 3 this morning?
3PJ: Right. The relationship drama.
BGWE: Oh yeah. But they quieted down, didn't they?
3PJ: Well, yes. But, uh, did you know that he's passed out asleep in front of the elevators?
BGWE: Wait, was passed out or is passed out?
3PJ: Was as of five minutes ago, when I came down. She must've thrown him out. He's okay, but he's, you know. Sleeping on the floor. Not alcohol poisoning, though, as far as I could see, and I couldn't find anyone at the desk to tell, so... {What I did not say: Drunk Boy's body language clearly said, and I quote, "No, man, I'm FINE sleeping on the floor. It's cool, it's cool." I failed to take a picture and now heartily repent me of my short-sightedness. But for the record, he was sleeping with his hands in his pockets and one foot on his knee. As you do, when you are happy to sleep somewhere away from that crazy bitch, man.}
BGWE: [HULK SMASH.] Excuse me, then. I need to Deal. With. This.

So, long story of Nipponese-level politeness short, BGWE came back quickly to ask me for my room number and offer hotel comps, which I declined on the grounds of insufficient mental trauma, and apparently he force-majeured it into my records anyway. Which was nice, because I don't expect the hotel to be responsible for its guests' relationship fallout.

And so to bed.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Lessons from travel

If you shake the hotel-provided moisturizing hydration cream bottle,
None'll come
And then a lot'll.