Archive for May, 2009

tweeter’s digest

Claire: “I am emptying my Carnavale balloons.” Jeremy: “You are Deflater-mouse.”


Claire: “But the TV is our God!


Ruairi appears with the pony puppet, all tangled in its strings. “I knitting!” he cries. “I knitting a HORSE!”


Small robots marched around my coffee table, and were given tangerine food cubes.


“Lost In The Fog” at the Roxie: boy meets horse, boy loses horse.


Julia: “It’s raining mucher! It’s raining even much!”


Rach betters TV: The News Hour With Tom Lehrer


Claire to Julia, in bath: “The water snakes are not, I repeat, NOT, your friends.”


For all its downsides, a plutonium mug would keep my coffee hot.


Julia: “WHOO! I’m fallin’! Oof! I falled.”


According to my records this is the second Thursday this week.

unhappy love stories, mostly

Kamikaze Heart

Longtime readers (there will be a test) may recall my delight in Sweet Can Productions’ marvellous show Habitat; Kamikaze Heart, from the performance arm of local urban circus school Acrosports, draws on many of the same traditions, including the brilliant and eye-popping art of aerial silks.

The plot of Kamikaze Heart is pretty much a wry tall tale on which to string a bunch of feats. My favourite bit was where the swan-who-was-the-ghost-of-the-beautiful-grantwriter was flying over the b-boy competition on her way back from Iraq (long story) and the performer did a dance with two bungees fixed to her hips from opposite sides above the stage.

As she bounced and swung the rhythm of the elastics really did seem like great wings, beating: a primal archetype for the harbingers of death, or birth. It reminded me of Grant’s description of the first production he saw of Tony Kushner’s Millennium Approaches, where the Angel came down from on a wire above the heads of the audience, screaming.

Where Acrosports won my heart for ever and always, though, was as we came out into the lobby. The whole cast was there, and the instant that Nancy Kate “Fancy Legs” Siefker, in full costume and makeup, laid her eyes on my Claire, she recognized her from Acrosports spring camp, went down on one knee and held out her arms: Claire flew into her embrace.

The Girlfriend Experience

I enjoyed this film as I was watching it. I like Steven Soderbergh’s laconic, respectful direction, his subdued palette and his attention to his actors, and his films have, for the most part, treated women as human – Sex, Lies and Videotape, Out of Sight, The Limey, Erin Brockovich, even the completely unnecessary remake of Solaris. I never bothered with the Oceans films because with few expections I find celebrities boring and the prospect of watching them have a circle-jerk is deeply unappealling.

The best thing about Girlfriend, by far, is Sasha Grey’s performance as the expensive escort. Grey’s a porn star looking to diversify, and she’s brilliant at showing how an escort needs to be a sort of social chameleon, giving every client what he thinks he needs, while keeping her important part locked away where no one can get at it. (She’s also rapturously, implausibly beautiful.)

But Girlfriend left a bad taste in my mouth. The script is from the same team that brought us the Oceans films and while it tries to satirize that clubby, rich-men atmosphere of Hollywood and Wall Street pre-crash and the kinds of people who use wildly expensive escort services, it’s a bit inescapably of that world itself.

Most damningly, the only sympathetic male character, David, a client who actually listens to the escort and who of course she falls for, is played by one of the writers. His name is, guess what, David. The character is a Mary Sue, a Mary Sue of a rich john, and that makes me feel ill.

As another character points out, the only reason anyone is shelling out thousands for the girlfriend experience is because this woman is so improbably gorgeous. No one would care about her inner life if she weren’t so radiant, and by the same token, it’s not really her inner life, her thoughts and feelings and desires and hopes, that everyone is trying to drag out of her. What her greedy clients (and by implication we as the voyeuristic audience) really want is to break down her defenses and possess her.

Yuck. And what if she were just ordinary-looking? I was teaching Julia Marxist chess the other day. “These are the pawns. The point of this game is that the pawns all die, and nobody cares.”

Marie Antoinette

Kirsten Dunst is adorable. I have a new theory about anachronistic period films like this one and A Knight’s Tale; the music is of our youth, and as we age it all gets wound up in generic yardage of Pastness imported fresh from the Past fields of darkest Past-landia. Our high school dances are so long ago now we might as well have been wearing corsets and bustles and have had absurd beehive hair. Winona is Spock’s mother! We are old.

parenting is planting jokes that will take years to pay off

JULIA: Tell me a story! Tell me a story about MERMAIDS!

RACHEL: Well. Hundreds of years ago when the British were exploring the oceans in huge wooden ships, sometimes the sailors would be months and months away from land and they would start to miss women. Because the sailors were nearly all men. And sometimes when they were in the waters around say Australia or Florida they would see dugongs or manatees and think that they were women with the tails of fish. And that is where mermaids came from. Look, here is a picture of a manatee. Isn’t she lovely? Doesn’t she look like a mermaid?


RACHEL: Manatees like to be thought of as very big. So when you meet a manatee, the polite way to greet her is to say “Oh, the huge manatee!”

JULIA: “Oh, the huge manatee!”

RACHEL: Excellent. Go and tell your daddy.

xochitl, on the other hand, is perfectly cromulent

ME: …my old riding instructor, David.

CLAIRE (uncertainly): His name was Day-vid?

ME: Yes, that’s right, David.

CLAIRE (scornfully): That’s not a real name.

ME: Whuh?

CLAIRE: I’ve never heard of it!

ME: *wibble*

CLAIRE (with finality): *I* don’t know anyone called David.

ME: Well. No. I guess you don’t.

it sucks to be a horse

1. ordinary everyday suckage

They love to live in big groups and move around and graze for twenty hours a day, so we split them up and put them in 12×12 stalls and give them a handful of big meals. Eighty percent of show horses have ulcers. We give them grain to build up their muscle; the protein and carbs can make them colic or founder. Horses can’t throw up, so colic is often fatal. Founder is toxic buildup inside the hoofs, where the inflamed tissue can’t swell but must press against the hoof wall. It’s agonizing.

Showjumping champion and USET president William Steinkraus says we keep them like prisoners in solitary confinement.

Just sitting on their backs is bad enough; that’s where a big cat would jump on them to break their necks. The vast majority of us, myself absolutely included, ride badly and jab their mouths, kick their ribs and flop around on their backs.

And this is just the beginning.

2. advanced suckage in many diabolical forms

These are only the English sports, that I know reasonably well.

In dressage, aficionados of rollkur fill the horse’s mouth with bondage equipment that would not disgrace an Inquisition torturer, and force the animal to walk, trot and canter with its chin to its chest.

In showjumping, lazy trainers will have assistants lift the top pole of the fence to hit a jumping horse on the sensitive coronet band, a practice known as rapping or poling. It’s supposed to teach the horse to be more careful. What I think it teaches the horse is that neither its own best judgment nor the sense and goodwill of its rider are to be trusted.

Almost unbelievably, showjumping was also the sport where an unknown but large number of big-name trainers paid a hit man to electrocute their horses for the insurance money.

Eventing may be the ultimate test of horsemanship. It’s the sport I used to watch on TV with my dad, the one I always dreamed of competing in. It combines dressage and showjumping with a thrilling, gruelling cross-country course over fixed fences. In showjumping, if you hit a fence, the fence falls. In cross-country, you fall.

1997 was supposed to be a bad year for the sport. Three top riders died. But the bad year never ended. In the ten years that followed, thirty-seven more people have been killed. That’s not including the catastrophic injuries to riders, or the dead horses. Mike Winter’s Kingpin died at Kentucky Rolex this year. His heart exploded. Phillip Dutton’s Bailey Wick died at Jersey Fresh on the weekend. His pelvis broke and opened an artery. These days it’s considered a good upper-level 3DE if no horse or rider is killed or maimed.

I love eventing, but here’s a prediction so blindingly obvious at this point that it’s practically just an observation. If the sport doesn’t stop slaughtering its own athletes it won’t exist in another ten years.

>thisclose< to falling for it

JULIA: Mama, copy me!

ME, OBEDIENTLY: Mama, copy me!

JULIA: Good!

ME: Good!

JULIA: Julia, would you like some ice cream?

ME: Julia, would you like – hey! Wait a minute!

also, she can see through me like glass

At YO’S SUSHI, soaking up Asahi beer and SUNSHINE. The children are fed MISO. IDYLLIC, it is.

ME: Hey Claire, there’s a position coming open on the Supreme Court.


ME: Do you think you could finish your law degree by, oh, say June?

CLAIRE: But I’m just a kid.

ME: But I’ve always wanted to say “my daughter, the Supreme Court justice.”

CLAIRE, PRAGMATICALLY: Well, you just said it.

There is a PAUSE.

ME: I’ve dreamed of this moment for so long.

JEREMY: At least we know she has the right kind of legalistic mind.


Tricky Elle was sold, which I am pleased about, because all horses deserve their own person. There are also new school horses, including tricky Bella, to keep me on my toes. Bella is a bit smaller and a lot skinnier than the other horses I have been riding, with a somewhat upright shoulder and not much muscle on her neck. (Note that these conformational observations are purely technical; it is equally correct to point out that she is a fabulously beautiful copper-bright showjumper mare.) Although for quite different reasons, because she’s unquestionably a jumper and not a hunter, Bella, like Elle, pulls me all out of balance. And this is a bit scary but it’s mostly very challenging and interesting and makes me appreciate all over again what fun it is and what a huge privilege to ride a bunch of different horses at this exalted level.

In the horse world where I grew up, school horses of this quality simply didn’t exist. I went to a couple of very good riding schools, and when you reached the top standard – a half-Perch or an ancient OTTB – your only real choice was to go get a horse of your own and have private lessons, which is what I did, firstly with Alfie and Tina Wommelsdorf, and then many years later with Noah and David Murdoch. All the Olympians. Now these were peak experiences of my life, so let’s not go imagining that I am ungrateful. But the arrangement had some drawbacks, in that my progress in riding was intimately bound up not only with the capacity but also with the physical condition of one specific animal. Alfie was old, and then he got arthritis and had to be retired; Noah was hot, and then he got a stone bruise, and that was me out for months and months.

Today, instead of having a horse who is boyfriend-and-unborn-children-and-sporting-partner all rolled into one, I have been absorbed into a busy, efficient, successful East Coast-style hunter-jumper A barn, where excellent grooms clean and tack up the horses for me, and excellent trainers condition them, and excellent vets advise on their nutrition and health. The place just absolutely buoys my spirits with its attention to detail, with the many small meals the horses are fed, with the cleanliness of the tack and the aisles and the jumps. And like a proper unsentimental adult amateur in the European tradition, I have ridden four different horses in as many months. I have revelled in the clockwork generosity of Austin and Cassie, and I have worked hard to meet the challenges posed by Elle and Bella. It feels like gross disloyalty to say so, but I can’t help feeling I’ve learned more by switching around like this than I did in whole years at Samurai or Glenoaks.

Today, for example, I had several moments when I thought I was having a very bad lesson. Bella and I got into an unconstructive loop where I was worried about my crest release and kept slowing and slowing her down and looking at the fences or the ground near them instead of up and over and away. And she is little and fast and likes to go go go, and she got more and more irked with me and ended up having a bad chip in front of one oxer. Same old lesson: let go. I had to ease up and trust her speed. I had to look up and over the fences and trust that she would get me where we were going.

And as soon as I did all this, of course, I found my balance on her and she forgave me for everything and we went racing around and over the jumps in glorious style, and the sun came out and I listened to Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba all the way home and my blood turned to apple brandy in my veins.