Saturday, March 28, 2009

Point counterpoint

DC's Second Story Books has reopened after their renovation, luring Dupont locals to paw through a slightly airier layout full of novel temptations. They don't keep an inventory of most of their trade texts, so if you want to find out if they've got, say, a Sapolsky compilation you're reluctant to buy at full price, the only thing to do is dig. A careful shelf-by-shelf investigation of the pulp SF cart uncovered a copy of John M. Ford's Web of Angels, long out of print but hailed as one of the earliest cyberpunk novels (results when I get around to it), and the outside sales rack turned up Doc Holliday, by John Myers Myers. JMM's classic Silverlock drove home to the twelve-year-old me that I was not as well read as I wanted to be; his nonfiction turns out to be even more fun and an exemplar of the changes in biographical style. The book is ostensibly a straightforward life of the famous tubercular gunslinger, but no book published in this decade would include sentences like, "Even the slipperiest fish eventually feels the gaff of human ties," when describing Doc's first encounters with his paramour Big Nose Kate. The unexpectedly whimsical text makes the book seem closer to fiction, and since Dracula, the other book by my bedside lately, is fiction written as non-, it's a fun balance.

Other random balancy news: CoCo Sala, whither Ginsays and I repaired last night, charges too much for its teeny weeny portions of exquisitely described food. But a chipotle-chocolate souffle is the cure for many ills. Given the swingeing prices, I won't be a regular there. HOWEVER. Morelia, whither work is bound at the end of April, is home to the Museo del Dulce, an establishment whose name promises that exploration will be rewarded. Since I'm trying not to get neurotic about Mexico's current spate of drug-related violence, focusing on the promise of tasty tasty historical recipes and samples is the better option.

And finally, oh Joss. "I am your superior." "In every way." Welcome back.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Head-high, his heels to heaven shown

A brief story: We worked more on canter circles to the left last night. I couldn't keep Lear from breaking gait every time we came off the rail, and in frustration I asked Pat to hop on for a schooling ride. When he slowed as she brought him in toward the center of the ring, just as he did with me, she tapped him lightly with the crop, and my hand to God his back hooves went well above the level of his haunches as he bucked. She stayed on him ("This saddle is horrible!" "What are you talking about? Finest naugahyde Wintec POS, that saddle.") and got him to understand what we were asking, but he remains, as MkII put it, the horse with three left feet.

But at least we know that if the barn runs low on money, we can rent Pat out for bronc-riding displays.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Where is the horse and the rider?

Really. Where are they? (Where is they?) Because life is conspiring against me lately, mes amis, and I dun like it.

A friend with whom I used to take Western classes e-mailed today to let me know about the dates for this year's roundup. Danny is a tolerant man and apparently is willing to let me continue to hassle his cows from the back of one of his horses, despite his obvious amusement at the sight of a rider wearing a helmet instead of the cowboy hat God intended. Or maybe because of it. I don't mind being visual amusement for ranchers, as long as they buy me breakfast, lunch, and beerth, loan me a horse, and keep up the pretense that I've helped rather than hindered.

But this year, it's the weekend of Orthodox Easter. COME. ON. If I ran religion, we'd long ago have straightened out this ridiculous mess about the different calculations. Date of Passover, add one weekend, done. Just reorganize the spiritual world so I can ride, is that so much to ask?

The other sorrow is that my forthcoming work trip to Mexico won't be long enough, nor my wallet quite deep enough, to support another visit to Finca Enyhe. There are other riding options in central Mexico, but at this distance it is difficult to tell which ones are legit and which ones involve saddles and horses of equal decrepitude. Pepe and Lucia's outfit is what you really want: The horses are kept in excellent trim, they're scheduled carefully so that the weight a horse loses on one ride can be put back on before the next ride gets going, there are chances for long canters as well as impromptu jumping (reason number 24,297 I'm glad I'm not a guy: what happened when I took a three-foot log while using a Western saddle), the food is aces, and you get to go back to the house every night for a hot shower and a three-course supper. I fell flat-out in love with my horse, a glum-faced buckskin of unflappable calm and balance. At the time, I didn't realize how little I knew (a classic new-rider scenario, and check out my stirrups here for proof), so having a horse who took steep paths, rain-swollen creeks, slick footing, and the occasional crumbling path literally in stride was a tremendous asset.

Oh well. These are high-class problems to have, I know. But if anyone has tips about short rides in Michoacan, please share. Please please please!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

This pump primes backward

I'm going to rat out Gee-Clef here, because sweet lord, whenever I start to think that I'm the biggest geek in the world, he's there to put it in perspective.

As part of his choir's general bonhomie, they make unconventional bets on whatever the basketball NCAA madness thingy is. Stuff like giving money to charity if someone waxes Duke early, nothing too crazy (at least not that he would admit). So Gee, being who he is, offered to donate $10 to the group for each game that ended with a prime number in the score. Now, he does lose geek points for not having done research on the stats in past tournaments, because he figured prime scores would be pretty rare.

He's $200 in the hole two days into the tournament, "And sometimes both teams are ending on a prime, what the hell is that about?" I may start reading the sports pages to see how much further into hock he'll have to go.

[ETA: None of this is meant disparagingly. Gee-Clef's view of the world is refreshing and fun, and the teasing is affectionate. I'm in no position to throw stones.]

Friday, March 20, 2009

Because Torchwood isn't odd enough

Seriously, Wales, is it something in the water? Of all the peculiar things that mankind has done with sheep, this is...okay, well, it's one of the most work-safe. But fantastic, entirely.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Oh d'Lear

Barn people can be all kinds of amazing about horses, but the communication with people end sometimes breaks down. Vide last night, when the saddle marked for Lear was an old saddle retrofitted with new padding and finest brown syntho-nauga. We later found out that the fitter had been through and decided Lear's regular saddle was too wide in the withers, so she got him a narrower one instead. Thing one, there's never been any sign of soreness from him, and thing two, somehow she decided to fit him with a single pad instead of the standard (at our barn, anyway) two, which information never got handed along.

So all unaware of these machinations, I saddled him and clambered up, and we started to work. Lear tends to carry his head high at first and to relax after a few minutes, but this whole lesson was marked by stargazing, extra spooking, and, when we tried to canter circles, kicking out. All the warning signs of a horse in pain, basically, though not so severe that I put them together right off. Pat later found out about the saddle backstory and agrees that next time we'll try him with a single pad, but if that still makes him uncomfortable, fitter be damned, the wider withers it is.

Despite his ouches, Lear did a few things extremely well. We worked on leg-yielding away from the wall and toward it (the horse travels forward and sideways, stepping across itself as it goes). Most school horses tend to hug the rail, because they're used to following along the edge of the ring, so getting them off the track is no mean feat. Lear, however, slid right over and right back at the touch of a leg, switching his tail as he changed direction and looking verreh handsome. He also did smashingly with going from a collected halt to a trot, switching between a short- and a long-strided trot, and not dumping me on my ass during any of his spooks, though we had to do an intervention to get him to go past the gate after a cat startled him. He even managed to walk whilst pooping, something the average schoolie will try to convince you is immmmpossible, as they've all learned that they can sneak in a break that way. But the prey animal that can't fling fewmets and flee simultaneously is usually weeded out of the gene pool in a blur of claws and teeth and gore.

One of the other students and I sat around after we'd put the ponies to bed and talked about horse/rider chemistry, and it all got meta because of the amount of projection we do. I think of Doc as an honest hard-working creature who will work hard to figure out what I'm asking, and whose mistakes are easy to forgive. Tell that to the little kid who is suddenly cantering, though; she'll tell you he's unpredictable and scary (and she's been warned that he bites). Lear, who some girls think is all big action and flash, strikes me as a juvenile twerp with significant technical potential but who will never really move me. The other student loves how how Heza bumps her gently with his nose when she's tacking him up: "It's like he's saying, 'Hey. I'm here. Don't start taking me for granted.' And it's funny, so it's like he has a sense of humor, and that makes me happier to be with him. But how much of that is him, and how much of it is me?" That's a question.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Hallowed day of the sciences

Tis Pi Day! Do celebratory math or make decadent pastry that involves triangles, approximately spheroid fruit, and the one original ichor of the science gods who govern undergraduate life.

In unrelated news, I'm going to try to process the ideas that (a) Ridley Scott is doing a Robin Hood movie; (b) Russell Crowe will be stepping into the title role, following in the eminent footsteps of Kevin Costner; (c) Scott has cast a genuine musician as Alan-a-Dale; and (d) it's actually kind of a perfect casting choice: Alan Doyle, from Newfoundland's Great Big Sea. I first saw the band at Iota, which holds 50 people on a good day, and these days they sell out the Lisner, so I've followed them for a goodly bit of time, and I'm pleased to see them getting more recognition than the thirty-second looped hack job in "The Shipping News" (which, okay, I love me some Judi Dench rocking the peculiar NF accent, but Kevin Spacey needs a smacking). Hurrah for local boys making good, or at least making it to the screen.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Ow ow ow

I survived the ominously named Chisel class, a festival of lunges and squats and curls and push-ups. I festivated with the lightest dinkiest weights they had and was still barely able to walk the two sets of stairs out of the gym afterward. Also challenging: the teacher's heavy Kiwi accent. She would yell instructions over the music (...Alice Cooper's "Poison"? this class is awesome) and I would look desperately for a mirror in hopes of figuring out what she wanted us to do.

By the time I left, most of my bits were shaking with fatigue and lactic acid burn, so I was not my usual power-striding self. Teal was kind enough to not to give me attitude for being late for dinner, and we conducted a highly unscientific survey about the effect large quantities of crepes have on mental health status. Results are positive and call for further research, especially on the strawberry/kiwi/honey front, and the chestnut paste should not be neglected either.

Abs work! Try to keep a straight face through this video of Ricky Gervais and Elmo ad-libbing. Right, right, "Oh, Elmo, bleargh," but trust me.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Structuring the week

Monday: The painful yoga class. I've now gone to four in a row, enough to see what bits remain consistent from week to week (the 20-minute sun salutations warmup; the agony of abs work just when I start to think it's quittin' time) and what changes (the lunges, the balances, the perverse forms the abs stuff takes). I don't participate in the oms that start and end the class, but if I did I'd be hard-pressed not to faff around singing in thirds just to be perverse. Better to stand in silence.

Tuesday: Mini-med! It's back! Aaand Georgetown fail: every single presenter on the roster is a guy. Bring back the goddess of the shiny knife! The first lecture, on obesity and whether it is or should be considered a disease, was full of neurochemical goodness. Human adenovirus-36, you interest me strangely. The second, on drug development, was a disappointment; the speaker covered maybe 12 of his 40 pages, and noncontinuously at that. The Elder Gods reserve special torments for presenters who flip around in their PowerPoints. He covered some of the development process and discussed a couple of things he's working on, including a bizarre but potentially lucrative product that would fluoresce when it reached target cells, so clearly he knew his stuff, but he didn't do a very good job of presenting it. He also got on my nerves by claiming that Viagra was originally developed as an anti-allergy med; it was in fact an anti-hypertensive (and is still sometimes prescribed as such).

Wednesday: Well, we all know about the standing date with Lear or some four-footed facsimile. Last night I got Lear after he'd been worked in a kids' class, so he was less of a fruitcake than usual. We worked on cantering large circles, rather than the full ring, an exercise that forces the horses to balance themselves more precisely; Lear promptly lost track of all his feet. He did, however, do a perfect haunches-in, good turns on the fore, and stretches down for the bit, and he's getting more consistent about collecting himself, so we had progress. Pat has decided to spring for a blood test to find out whether he's incompletely gelded; I await the findings with interest.

Thursday: Pilates, or possibly Chisel, if I can get up the nerve to spend an hour doing what I'm told are many squats. This is followed by going out with Teal for crepes, because balance is very important, and because the thought of Nutella may sustain me through the fitnessing process.

Friday: Watching Dollhouse. Cooking. Passing out.

This whole structured-schedule thing is all very well and good, but how the hell does anyone fit in basic chores, let alone extemporaneous fun, during the week?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Culture without agarvation

One of the hardest things about visiting other cities is remembering that free admission is not the default at 99% of the world's museums. DC's got the Air and Space, the Hirschhorn, the Smithsonian castle, the Museum of National History, the Museum of Natural History (those two are right next to each other; speak clearly when making plans), the Museum of the American Indian, the National Botanical Gardens, and the National Gallery of Art, which is in fact twin museums connected by an underground tunnel. It's a feast of yummy free culture goodness within walking distance of my office.

I go maybe twice a year. Ridic!

Here we are, flirting with spring, temps in the 70s: perfect weather for going inside to peer at art. The current exhibit of Pompeiian artifacts is leaving at the end of the month, so when a friend suggested a get-together this weekend I shanghaied him into coming to the show. We took the long way around, starting in the west building and only eventually getting to the building where the exhibit per se was; this was less a plan than a result of my propensity to get lost and meander. Lots of good stuff before we got to the east gallery: Degas' equine bronzes (the legs are perfect; the bodies are squidged together like rough drafts), a bunch of Paul Manship sculptures (surely Europa shouldn't look so smug?), Herbert Adams' lovely Girl with Water Lilies fountain (water drips from the flowers in her hand into the pool below her feet), Leo Villareal's hypnotic lightwork Multiverse (we smirked a bit at first at its disco fabulosity...and five minutes later were still gawping at it), and a bunch of nautical paintings that inevitably brought Jack Aubrey to mind.

The Pompeii exhibit, which against all odds we eventually reached, was well curated, though a few of the bowls and kraters could've done with rotating stands. I was unreasonably tickled by Cato's criticism that senators were spending more time tending their mullets than their statecraft, and by the little kid who peered at a mosaic of sea beasties and proclaimed, "I see a eew." Oh tempora, oh morays! The great section about the Roman fad for Greek culture included a beautiful bust of Homer, paired with a Pliny the Elder quote about how we long for images of those whose faces have been lost to remembrance (I mangle), and the exhibit wrapped up with pieces showing modern reactions to the Vesuvian eruption. It'll be a cold day in hell when I pick up Bulwer-Lytton's Last Days in Pompeii, if the saccharine goop of The Blind Flower-Seller and Faithful Unto Death is any indication. And despite the museum's best efforts, I still can't name all nine muses ("Clio, Urania, Erato, Terpsichore, and, uh, Scary?") or all of Hercules' labors. Do not pick me as your Trivial Pursuit buddy.

Now that it's finally warm enough that I don't die a little whenever I go out, I'm recommitting to trekking down to local exhibits. Next up: either the butterfly garden or "Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th-Century Chesapeake," depending on how ghoulish I'm feeling. A certain anthro 201 prof took excessive glee in describing causes of death in early Colonial-era settlers in Maryland, and now I kind of want to see the bones.

Friday, March 6, 2009

This again?

Gaaah, visual migraine on a Friday. Talk amongst yourselves.

(Translation: "If sour cream is always so aggressive, I won't be able to love it.")

Thursday, March 5, 2009

When you expect whistles, it's flutes

It having been a while since Lear and I got to work together, I whinged until the barn staff put him on the horse list last night. They were a little dubious, because it was extremely cold and he hadn't been worked all day, a combination practically guaranteed to mean crazy spooking fun times. Hah, sez I to that, Am I not the person who was terrified to ride him not six months ago? What care I for his freakful fits?

By rights I should've changed my mind when it took five solid minutes to get him to stop periscoping his head and bring it down far enough that we could strap on the second cross-tie, which based on his shimmying and snorting must've insulted his momma. But we got it onto him eventually, and he wasn't egregious for the rest of the grooming and tacking up. As we walked to the ring, though, he grabbed for the rein, and once inside he tried several times to nip me ("Ptui!" "Yeah, you nitwit, it's a down vest") and otherwise made it clear that he wanted to frolic. No frolicking! Let merriment be bounded! We used the lunge line to remind him that the ring is for working and people are for respecting, and as I climbed on Pat reminded people to give him extra room.

We did have several small spooks, two of which turned into rather pretty dancing canters, but after I remembered that I've got an inside leg, it was as though someone had turned a switch. He yielded, he bent, he trotted calmly, he gathered into a frame, he played polo and waited at table. It was unbelievable. Even for our canter work, which given his sparky beginning had the potential to become disastrous (well, it always does), he held himself neatly, did perfect polite transitions, and cantered gently without once trying for a surreptitious hand gallop. I spent the final ten minutes of class stretching his neck on circles and composing mental thank-you letters to his trainer.

Monday, March 2, 2009

What we did on our holidays

The parentals recently returned from a visit to the ancestral homeland in Texas, where they toured several small museums that house whatever bits of collected (pre)historic memorabilia anyone sees fit to donate. The Bandera Frontier Museum is a gem.