Friday, February 29, 2008

Flashback to the 60s

In 1964, you were either a Beatles fan or a Dave Clark Five fan. By fan, I mean fanatic, and that pretty well describes teenagers anyway. I don't even own a DC5 single, let alone album.

For anyone lacking knowledge of that terminology, they were round flat discs with a continuous groove. A single was about 7" across, had one song on each side, and a hole about silver dollar (I'm not getting into that) sized in the middle which required an adapter to play on a turn-table (a device on which you placed the disc so it could spin and permit a needle to drag in the groove at a particular speed--45 rpm for a single or 33 1/3 rpm for an album--which created vibrations which resulted in sound. An album was 12" across, had a 1/4" hole that fit on the turn-table spindle, and contained approximately 6 songs or tracks on a side for about 40-45 minutes of total entertainment for the princely sum of $3.00. For mono. Stereo cost more. This technology was replaced by cds which are soon to be replaced by electronic distribution and I-Pod type devices. Later on, there may be direct jacking into the brain if Bill Gibson is right. (I of course, can hear "Glad All Over" in my brain right now, thank you very much. It's called "memory.")

Since I was a die-hard Beatles fan, the Dave Clark Five don't enter my thoughts much. KRTH will sometimes play a song--I heard one during the "First Hits Weekend" last Saturday, in fact. I was discussing them not long ago with my friend Andy Zax, who explained to me that Dave Clark has not permitted his catalog to be released. Somehow, he managed to keep control of the rights. To which I say, good for him but bad for him too.

Hence, I was left with a chill this morning when the news reported the death of Mike Smith, the lead singer and cute guy on keyboards for the DC 5, two weeks shy of the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The news report made it sound like he died of pneumonia because of a car accident four years ago, which didn't sound quite right or complete. It wasn't. He had a spinal injury because of a fall four years ago and had been paralyzed below the rib-cage since. Although there had been benefits to raise money for his medical expenses, the whole thing had run under my radar while Sir Paul's marital problems are front page news.

I'm a big fan of hits compilations, so I hope that Dave Clark decides to let someone distribute their recordings. I would definitely spring for such a release. Many of them were co-written by Mike Smith. It's been a long time since the fan-only rivalry between the Beatles and the DC5 was the most important conflict in my life. Rest in peace, Michael George Smith.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

What's My Line Live on Stage in New York

I've written about What's My Line Live on Stage before because I've been photographing the show for some time now. The show is a great deal of fun and is done as seriously as the original television series was. I remember watching many an episode of it when it ran on Sunday nights during my childhood.

For anyone living in the greater New York area, WMLLOS will have a 6-week run at the Barrow Street Theatre in downtown Manhattan starting on March 24. WMLLOS has been done as a live stage show out here in Los Angeles for various-length runs at the Acme Theatre since 2005. It is hosted by J. Keith van Straaten, the original host of "Beat the Geeks" and directed by Jim Newman. They both produce.

Information about the L.A. show can be seen here and I am sure there will soon be information about the New York schedule.

Each week, the guests generally consist of someone who deals in a service, someone who deals in a product, someone who performs or demonstrates (like a musician, magician, dog trainer, etc.), and the Mystery Guest, a celebrity whose identity is guessed while the panelists are blindfolded. Out here, the Mystery Guests have included Grey Davis, Michael and Kitty Dukakis, Larry King, Shelly Long, Ed Asner, Camryn Manheim, Lorenzo Lamas, and Elliott Gould. They've had sword swallowers, saddle makers, guitar makers, a bell choir, a marimba band, a bubble expert, a cup cake king, and writers.

My husband originally went on the show and stumped the panel with his occupation of "comic book writer." As it happened, a number of people in the audience recognized him, including one Drew Carey, who was there because Greg Proops was on the panel and Kathy Kinney was the Mystery Guest. Drew, it turns out, is a huge comic book fan, shyly came up and introduced himself, and took us out for drinks afterwards.

Jim Newman is currently looking to book guests for the panelists to guess and if anyone reading this has an interesting job or knows someone with an interesting job OR has contacts with a celebrity who would make a great mystery guest, send me an e-mail and I will be happy to pass the information on to Jim. Please don't post the information in the comments, because my husband does read my blog and I wouldn't want to give him an unfair advantage. He's pretty good at the show as it is and expects to go to New York to appear on the panel on April 21.

Len's Going on the Road

My best beloved husband, Len Wein, will be a guest of honor at Convergence, a convention in Bloomington, MN over 4th of July weekend this summer. Convergence is celebrating its 10th anniversary and has a number of returning guests of honor. I ran across this wonderful piece of art this morning. It falls into the category of comics cross-over. It was done for his Guest of Honor badge when he was last at Convergence in 2005 and (for you non-comic book fans) features his most famous Marvel creation, Wolverine, with his most famous DC creation, Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing is about 3 feet taller than Wolverine (Hugh Jackman notwithstanding.) Since both characters have their own form of regeneration, a fight would be a draw. Bernie Wrightson, who was the artist co-creator of Swamp Thing, will also be a guest at Convergence.

Len is also a guest at MidSouthCon 26 in Memphis , March 28-30, and he may have mentioned something in June, but I don't remember what. For anyone living in the greater New York area, Len expects to be in New York for New York Comicon the weekend of April 18-20, and is planning to appear as a panelist on the limited run of What's My Line Live on April 21 (about which more elsewhere.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Larry Niven

Tonight, Pierce College will host "Creative Voices," the third in our installment of bringing writers (and eventually other artists) to campus to inspire our students. Author Larry Niven, famous for his "Ringworld" series of books, will be interviewed by Barbara Hambly, writer of the Benjamin January mysteries, historic fiction, and fantasy. Barbara also teaches Western Civ here at Pierce. The program starts at 7:30 at the Performing Arts Building and there will be a signing and reception afterwards. Pierce College is located at 6201 Winnetka Avenue, Woodland Hills, California 91367. The program is free to the public, if you happen to be in the neighborhood.

Oscars(R) Redux

The 13 people sitting in my living room enjoyed the Oscars(R) spectacle tremendously. There was plenty of uproarious laughter and clapping. John Stewart redeemed himself from his previous less than stellar turn. Red dresses. What could be more festive?

We had managed to watch "No Country for Old Men" on Saturday night. There are certain perks to being on screener lists. While I can appreciate a lot about the film, I doubt I will ever voluntarily watch it again. It was an unpleasant story and Javiar Bardem's character is relentlessly amoral. It's also strange in that I don't believe that Tommy Lee Jones and Bardem are ever in the same scene. I've also got a problem that the whole plot hangs on someone doing something incredibly stupid--going back to the site of a massacre to give water to someone who is most assuredly dead. "Fargo" had a strong streak of black humor and this film was humorless.

I really enjoyed "Juno" when we watched it a few weeks ago and I think that Diablo Cody deserved to win her Oscar. I'm not sure it should have been up for best picture or best director when films like "Charlie Wilson's War" and "Eastern Promises" were mostly overlooked, but Ellen Pages was wonderful as Juno. My niece Kristina, however, has been raving about "La Vie En Rose" since it came out last year. I'm sure she is jumping up and down with joy over the best actress award.

I am sorry that Viggo Mortensen lost best actor. His performance was very subtle as opposed to the over-the-top acting that I've seen Daniel Day-Lewis do (I have not yet seen "There Will Be Blood," but the ads make it look like over-acting), but I know Viggo wasn't on anyone's list to actually win even though everyone expected him to be nominated. His niece was absolutely beautiful and what a perfect date. "I covered my eyes" during the fight scene, she told one interviewer. So did I.

We called out our opinions about the 80 film montage of best picture winners. I've gone over the list and I have seen 59 of the 80 films. A few I have no interest in catching, but there are several which I think are ones I should see. No doubt, a bunch of them are actually on our shelves. I've seen most of the best pictures from the past 20 years, excepting "Rain Man" (Tom Cruise is no draw for me) and "Crash" (I love Paul Haggis, but that's a tough watch.) There are some films where I know I am not in the minority in asking "huh?" In some of those cases, I like the films that won, I just think that other films from the same year were timeless rather than of their time or were otherwise more important than those which won.

For example, "The Shawshank Redemption" was beaten in all categories by "Forest Gump." I really like Tom Hanks and I enjoyed the film (despite some problems and one or two notes that have me squirming to this day) but "The Shawshank Redemption" is a great film, one which I will stop and watch to the end if I am channel surfing and it is on. Beautifully written, directed, acted, and filmed. It got skunked and it should have swept. I am happy for Frank Darabont that the film had great success on video.

"The Greatest Show on Earth" is fun if you like the circus and it was a Cecil B. DeMille spectacular, but, really. On Sunday, someone asked me "but what else came out in 1951?" Idiot that I was, I forgot that was the year of one of my favorite (and timeless) science fiction films "The Day the Earth Stood Still." Directed by Robert Wise, starring Patricia Neal and Michael Rennie, and set in Washington, D.C., it is an anti-red-baiting, cold-war classic along the lines of "The Crucible." Again, it is a film I will watch every time I run across it. I had an interesting conversation with Patricia Neal's daughter over dinner one night where everyone at the table talked about the film with admiration. She had never seen it.

"You Can't Take It with You" won the year of Errol Flynn's classic "The Adventures of Robin Hood." I'm a big fan of "Capra-corn" (as is Frank Darabont), but, really, that "Robin Hood" is a classic of the genre and has Errol Flynn at the peak of his power. You'd be hard pressed to see "You Can't Take It with You" on TV other than during the "31 Days of Oscar" on Turner. I've stopped counting the times I have paid to see "Robin Hood" projected (the shows are always sold out) and every time there's some new detail I catch in the viewing. The latest restoration of this 3-strip Technicolor film is spectacular and I can't wait to see it in blu-ray.

"Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings" is actually a better film than "LOTR: The Return of the King" but at least the Academy recognized the amazing achievement of the work in total when the latter swept the awards for 2003. I think the total nominations and awards puts the project ahead of any other series of films or at least ties them with "The Godfather" cycle.

"Star Wars" lost to "Annie Hall." "ET" lost. "Citizen Kane" lost. In 1939, a whole lot of great films lost to "Gone with the Wind," but at least I understand why that won. "Titanic" still mystifies me ("A Night to Remember" has a much better story about the sinking and the stage musical tells touching stories about the real people on board.)

That, as they say, is what makes horse races.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Safe Rather Than Sorry

The boarding facility to which I moved the Arabian Prince in late December is on a property owned by an air conditioning installation and repair business. Gina, who works in the office, used to own horses and keeps an eye out on things in the barn during the day in addition to doing the evening feeding. It is so nice to have someone around who actually notices when things aren't quite normal. I'd rather have a quick call that turns out to be nothing than find a disaster on my hands later on.

Gina also knows to call my trainer first, since Gayle is likely to be only a few blocks away at either the boarding facility where she keeps her horse or the one where she's got Family Equestrian Connection set up at the moment (that place has a decent arena but can only house 6 or 7 horses in enclosed stalls--not big enough for all of us and not right for horses who are used to going in and out, so we are scattered throughout the north-west San Fernando Valley.) Gayle can be there in a few minutes where it takes me at least 15 to get there at the best of times. (I do miss having Ace only a quarter of a mile down the road at the college, which is a mile from my house.)

Last week Gina called because Ace was wet when she went to feed. It turned out that Gayle's assistant had sponged him down after his training session (where he acted like a butt-head) and Gina had been out when he came back from FEC. Gina was rightly worried about colic signs. Last night, Gayle called to say Gina had noticed Ace looked sunken in front of his hip so Gayle ran over and did wonder if perhaps he wasn't drinking enough and was slightly dehydrated, another colic sign. Fortunately, it was also another false alarm. I checked out his water bucket and, though he's drinking less than on a warm day, he was not drinking less than he does on many days. Arabs just don't drink as much as other horses and this one drinks even less. The water was pretty cold which may not have suited him on a cold day. Fussy boy, but it is a good example about why a water bucket is a better choice than an automatic waterer.

For the past year, Ace has been in stalls with working automatic waterers but I've always kept a filled bucket available for him as well. He certainly knows how to use the automatics, but he generally chooses to use the filled bucket. It's at a more natural place for him to drink, since most automatic waterers appear to be mounted at warmblood or thoroughbred height, and he can drink uninterrupted for as long as he wants. Purdue did a study which concluded that it is always best to keep a tub of water available for horses because the smaller the automatic waterer, the longer horses spent at them for what amounted to less total water.

As I cleaned Ace's stall last night and he ate, it was a lovely quiet time with no noise other than the rain beating on the roof of the barn. I like that sound when I know the horse is warm and cozy with a nice thick bed of clean shavings to curl up in. I gave him some extra carrots and apples for the additional moisture and gave him a couple of good scratches in his favorite places. The rain had held off for most of the day, so he had been given a training session and deserved the evening rest.

If it clears up today, the arena might be suitable for a lesson tonight. If not, I'll keep my fingers crossed for tomorrow. Rain and wind have conspired against us this winter in a big way.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Party Food

I'm trying to plan some offerings for our annual Oscars(R) watching party, now that there will be an Oscars ceremony to watch. We do it as a pot luck and we've asked people to bring appropriate Oscars themed food. Len has asked that no one bring milkshakes. We're both tired of the radio ad for There Will Be Blood (although I'm thinking about ham for Daniel Day-Lewis.)

I'm inclined toward some Russian zakuski, in honor of Viggo Mortensen's nomination for Eastern Promises. I happen to have a couple of Russian cookbooks, including one mentioned in an L.A. Times article about zakuski in Wednesday's paper. My first husband proposed to me at the famous Russian Tea Room in New York and that bit of information made it into an article that appeared in the Washington Post on the publication of the Russian Tea Room Cookbook back in the days when I did a lot of photography for the post (and as much as I could do for the Food Section headed by Phyllis C. Richman.) (I'm not sure I could have made that sentence any longer.) My roses aren't in bloom, making it difficult to reproduce the rose petal cake from that film.

Of course, being a huge fan of eggplant, Ratatouille's ratatouille (sans Reme) would be the perfect dish, even though my husband wouldn't eat it on a bet. My vegetarian friends would certainly appreciate it. Perhaps the simple roasted chicken instead, though Len won't eat food that looks like itself.

Candied apples a la Enchanted (sans poison) are another possibility, but Len won't eat most fruit.

I'm really looking for some input here.

It would help if I'd seen more of this year's nominees. Despite the number of screeners that arrived in the mail, the only best picture nominee I've seen is Juno. I'm going to try and watch Michael Clayton before Sunday night, but Len keeps booking up our free evenings. If there was an Oscars pool that wanted my participation, I'd really have to punt this time out.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Shameless Nepotistic Promotion

My husband, who has had no small impact on popular culture because of his creation of Swamp Thing and Wolverine, finds that he is possibly equally famous for a quote that appeared in Reader's Digest around 1989 thanks to his personal Boswell, Bill Rotsler. Bill used to follow Len around with a note pad and write down some of the pithy (or silly) things which came out of his mouth. Having discovered literally thousands of references to this quote, Len's gone and set up an office on Cafe Press where it is now possible to buy the quote on all kinds of merchandise. Better he should see a few dollars off of it than whoever starting selling bumper stickers of the quote without royalties to him several years ago. Here's the coaster:

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Primaries Continue

I've said before that I don't really care which of the Democratic candidates wins, I'll vote for either one of them. But as the primaries have worn on, I've started to feel that, despite her weaknesses, I'd rather see Hillary Clinton in first position, with Barack Obama as VP. I truly believe that she is the better qualified candidate. In my bad moments all I can think is that the American public will choose a younger, less experienced (though no less well educated) male candidate rather than elect a smart, well educated, and highly experienced woman as President.

I also realized that I'd like to see someone who looks a bit like me in the White House before I die. Hillary is as close to a contemporary as I can expect to have (she's a few years older), her daughter is almost the same age as my son, we both went to law school and practiced law, we've both done a lot of volunteer work, and we're both married to famous men, which can overshadow our own abilities and accomplishments. I'm far more militant about keeping my own name than she's been, but I'm not in the political arena and don't want to be.

The thing I believe most about Hillary Clinton in the White House is that many more women will be appointed to positions of power than will happen in an Obama administration. It is what women of my generation worked for and I think that it explains why Hillary has so many "grey" supporters.

I'll enthusiastically support and vote for Barack Obama if he wins the nomination. I will be sad for the loss of a groundbreaking role model for young women if Hillary Clinton is not the nominee. There is no doubt in my mind that either candidate is head and shoulders above anything the other side has to offer people like me. Mike Huckabee's peeps believe that the world was created 6000 years ago, that Adam and Eve went to church riding dinosaurs, and that women should be barefoot and pregnant, subservient to their husbands, seen and not heard. What kind of life is that for anyone's daughter?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Haute Dog

I love dogs. I grew up with them. We currently have two aging Golden Retreivers, both of them 13 years old. Muffin we bought as an 8 week old puppy (she was one of 14 or 16 in the litter, one of the nine females, and I chose her when she came over and put her head on my ankle and fell asleep.) Sheba we adopted as a 7 month old rescue. Sheba's older by two months, but she still acts like a puppy with a lot of bounce. Muffin's entered the stage where she sleeps more than she does anything else. Both of them are wonderful, largely silent, companions but Sheba occasionally turns into a watch dog. She doesn't like the gardeners and doesn't like other strangers at the door. Good dog, that Sheba. She's got huge furry feet. If she hadn't come with a name, we would have called her Hobbit.

Last night, I watched the finals of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the most prestigious dog show in the United States. I have no desire to show dogs (I'm not particularly interested in showing my horse, either) because I think my dogs are just happy to be companions (Ace, however, likes an audience) and I'm not interested in the politics of the show world. But I do like looking at the pretty dogs done up to display their best.

The first year I became aware of the Westminster show was 1964. My parents had rented the upper floor of our house to a woman named Irene Harris who owned three whippets. It was the year that Ch. Courtenay Fleetwood of Pennyworth, a.k.a. "Ricky," a whippet, won Best in Show. I think that was the same year that Betsy, one of the three whippets living up stairs, went "Winner's Bitch" in the breed against Ricky at Westminster. (It has been a long time, so I may not be remembering this quite correctly.) I noticed that Pennyworth Kennels had a whippet in Westminster again this year, no doubt descended from the 1964 winner.

Irene later bred Betsy to Ricky (either the same year or a year later) and for what seemed forever (and was probably only a few months) there was an 8' x 8' x 8' cage in the room over our living room where half a dozen whippet puppies would run the Santa Anita Hundred Grander many times a day. I loved those puppies and would sometimes get to baby sit them. I think Irene kept one puppy from that litter, a dog appropriately named Zip.

Irene went on to marry my widowed grandfather and I, unfortunately, lost track of her after he died in 1985. The Internet being a wonderful thing, I tracked down a reference to her co-owning another champion whippet a few years ago and I do wonder how she is doing and where she is living. She was a good friend to me during my difficult teenage years, a good role model (a Seven Sisters college graduate), and helped me get through Latin.

In 1964, we were lucky if Wide World of Sports covered the finals of the Westminster show the week after it happened. Now days, we get 6 hours of coverage in prime time on USA Network, so we get to see at least the breed judging and the Best in Show animals. I like to watch the Hound and Sporting Groups. I only managed to catch the Working Group last night, but I had read about the beagle who won the hounds on Monday and it was clear that he was a crowd pleaser in the Best in Show judging. To the joy of newscasters everywhere, the beagle nicknamed "Uno" won and references to Snoopy abound.

It's hard for me to like poodles, with all of their froo-froo grooming. Pompoms everywhere on the two that made it into the final seven dogs. They were cut almost identically, the toy and the standard, both snow white. What a nightmare to keep clean. I confess, if I had a poodle, I'd let it go rasta. There was a poodle showing that way a few years ago. It looked like a puli. I think poodles are rather cute when they are cut short so they have tight, curly hair. The rest of it is too much work. It's hard to believe they were once raised to be hunting water dogs.

Just to be contrary, I love watching the Afghans, and I'd own one if Len would let me. Sight hounds are so elegant, but they do have minds of their own. "If I see it, it is mine." "If I can reach it, it is mine." "What the hell do you mean by 'fetch'." "I think this bed is mine. See if you can find a space on it." I think that it would be elegant to go riding with Ace with an Afghan keeping us company. What a mess that could be to clean up afterwards, though. Ever since I first read The Lord of the Rings I've wanted a black and silver Afghan I could name Gandalf Greybeard. (I also wanted a grey horse I could call Shadowfax, but I've learned the right horse is never the wrong color.) There was a spectacular, mostly silver, Afghan in the Westminster competition, but a mostly black Afghan won. The videos of all the breed, group, and BIS judging are available at the Westminster web site.

A couple of years ago, I looked into adopting an Afghan, but the Afghan rescue people don't seem terribly inclined to actually find homes for the dogs. I visited the main rescue house two different times, but no one made an effort to visit our house to check it out so we could adopt one of their dogs. My initial experience trying to deal with the Golden Retriever rescue hasn't been promising either. The "adoption donation" at both organizations is really high for youngsters. I don't know if that's to filter people who might not have enough money for dog upkeep or not, but the truth is that the initial cost of an animal is peanuts compared to upkeep. Just ask any horse owner.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Ace's Endearing Habits

Well, some of them are.

I've decided to play along with a game I found on a couple of horse blogs. List some of your horse's quirks. I'll try to not bore you.

1. Ace does not like to get his feet wet. The funniest manifestation of this is that when he finishes urinating, he does a 90 degree turn on his haunches so he can walk forward without stepping in the pee spot. He has no hesitation in walking across a sheet of black plastic in a clinic but he'll jump a 2' puddle rather than walk through it.

2. Ace never urinates in his stall so long as there is a door open into the paddock. If he would just decide to poop only outside, he would be the perfect keeper. He usually chooses opposite corners of his space for droppings (one's inside and one is out), rather like rabbits do. If I am cleaning his stall, he will pose with his tail up long enough for me to get the muck bucket or rake in position to catch poop before it gets lost in shavings. You'd think I'd be able to teach him to use the muck bucket all the time. Trigger could.

3. He is usually the cleanest horse in the barn because he won't normally go stand in the rain or roll in the mud. I call him Mr. Priss or Twinkletoes sometimes and I've suggested that if he were human he'd live in West Hollywood or the West Village in New York.

4. Ace only lays down and rolls on his right side. He does not roll over on his back all the way unless something like a depression in the ground throws him off balance. Then he seems a bit confused about trying to get up from his left side. He clearly missed out on some experience as a baby to be that one-sided.

5. He would rather visit with humans than eat. He absolutely loves people. When he really likes a woman or girl, he will stretch his nose out so he can be kissed on the little white spot which is the vestige of his mama's blaze. He's really a woman's horse since men wouldn't fuss over him like that.

6. After carrots, peppermints are his favorite treat, followed closely by watermelon.

7. His curiosity includes looking for things which will spook him. He's like a kid sneaking a look at horror movies when mom and dad are out "If I watch this I'm gonna be scarred, I'm gonna be scarred, I can't help myself, I have to look at this, I'm gonna be scarred, EEEEK!" The precipitating event is generally followed by a three stride spook which he is too lazy to continue. At the last barn, he'd stand in the arena and wait for the neighbor's dog to come tearing up to the fence and bark and he'd do the faux spook, run a circle, and come back to start the game all over again. In the videos I've uploaded, you'll see him staring out into a corn field. It's actually a corn maze and strange sounds frequently come from it (and sometimes people jump out of it) and is one of the most incompatible-with-horse-keeping things the Enterprise Office at Pierce College ever decided to do. Far better riders than I have found themselves on the ground because of this operation.

8. Ace spooks by dropping his shoulder and ducking to the right. Every time.

9. He'll do figure eights and flying lead changes and amazing sliding stops and spins when at liberty in the arena. He's got a King of the Wind streak in him which will send him racing around a large arena for several circuits, both by himself and when he's got someone to outrace. I just get out of the way and watch from the sidelines. In one of the videos I've posted here you may be able to see him do figure eights.

10. He could be used for teasing mares at a breeding barn. The mares at Pierce took turns claiming him as their own because we often turned them out together. There was a young Peruvian Paso mare at Pierce for a while. One day, when she was in season, she desperately tried to turn him on by winking at him and backing her butt up into his chest. He looked around as if to say "I know this means something but I don't have a clue what." The best he could do was nibble her back a little. She was very disappointed.

These videos were taken one afternoon shortly before Pierce College sent out notices to all of its boarders that it was suspending boarding operations. I haven't looked at these images recently and it just kills me that all of this space and the barely used barns are being wasted while people are desperate to find facilities for their horses all over the San Fernando Valley. It was used for two evacuation operations during the fall fires last year, but there is still no indication when it will be open for boarding again. This facility is three blocks from where I live and was built with public funds on the pitch that such a facility was needed in this part of the Valley (that much was certainly true.) Now it is home to pigeons and black widow spiders. I'm not even sure the riding classes at Pierce have been able to use the covered arena. The Pierce riding horses are kept in large paddocks and not in the new barns. There are trails on the 430 acre campus which are not open to public, which is a shame because there are land-locked horse owners living nearby.

Ace lived at Pierce for over four years and I've worked at Pierce since 2004. I now drive 7 miles in each direction every day to see my horse. I used to see him three times a day. I miss that.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A Little More Blanco

All gray horses start out dark and then go "white" as they get older. Blanco, one of the two horses who portrayed Shadowfax in the Lord of the Rings movies, looks like he may have had a blaze and four white socks when he was a baby. If you look closely at the photographs, the skin appears pink down the middle of his nose and above his hooves, but the rest of his skin is dark under the white hairs. It would be very interesting to see his baby pictures.

The woman with Blanco at Equine Affaire is Cynthia Royal, who, I guess, purchased Blanco when he went on sale in 2006. I did a Google(R) search and found reference to an asking price of $40,000. Not bad for an animal which some sites describe as an Andalusian/Thoroughbred cross rather than a purebred Andalusian.

Demero, the other horse which portrayed Shadowfax, died of melanoma in 2003. Many gray horses develop melanoma at an early age because their color gives them less protection against the sun, I think. Many times the tumors can be removed, but the owner of a gray has to be alert to the danger.

Cynthia Royal is planning to use Blanco in a Las Vegas show featuring at liberty horses. Here is a link to a video of her with Blanco. This falls into the "don't try this at home" category. Working barefoot with horses is a DUMB IDEA. One of my trainers lost her toe when she was a kid because her horse stepped on it while she was washing him/her down. So it's a better idea to wear proper shoes unless you want to have a rude awakening from your fantasy ride. I'd also add that you shouldn't be on a horse without a helmet (I wouldn't dream of it), but I understand that a helmet also gets in the way of a fantasy. Some people don't value their brain as much as I do.

A few years ago, a show called Cavalia came to L.A. It featured a lot of big gray horses, a lot of liberty work and it was just magical. I was lucky enough to get a back-stage tour with other people from Pierce College when Ron Weschler, the professor in charge of the equine program, made the arrangements. It was up close and personal with a lot of really well behaved and pampered stallions--virgins, said our tour guide. They don't travel with mares, which makes things easier. It's not a cheap evening, but I can't recommend it enough if it's in your neighborhood. Here's a link to Cavalia.

I'm most impressed with the fact that Blanco can be left standing by himself and he will stay. In a couple of the photographs below, you can see that he's not tethered. I probably wouldn't do this with my horse in a trafficked area, but Blanco handled it very well. I think they did a great job of desensitizing him on LOTR.

Date Night

We spend a lot of Saturday nights at home watching television. I'm into cocooning when there's rain out here. A fire place is a better choice that bucking traffic in a storm.

Despite a forecast of rain, Saturday night after my whirlwind trip to Equine Affaire and a visit to the Arabian prince, Len and I headed into Hollywood to see Mandy Patinkin at the Kodak Theatre. We were there about 4 hours, half of that time trying to park or leave the lot. We wound up on the sixth level of hell and the competing event involving Pepperdine's Law School got out at the same time we did. It was a mess and there were no people really directing traffic trying to leave the lot under the Hollywood and Highland complex.

We had not been in the Kodak Theatre before. It's the most recent location for the Oscar(R) ceremony. It is very big, although I think it is actually possible to cram more people into the Shrine Auditorium--a place that looks a whole lot nicer when the SAG Awards or the Emmys are held there than it is in person. It's really a ratty venue without makeup. The Kodak is only a few years old and still looks nice, albeit a little gaudy. The Democratic candidates debated there last week, so you've probably seen it once or twice on television. Wolfgang Puck is the exclusive purveyor of foodstuffs, according to the program book. If he also does the catering at the ballroom on the third floor of the complex, it would explain the excellent food we had at the Batman Begins premier two years ago.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to eat Puck cuisine on Saturday night. The parking issue gave us about 45 minutes to eat and get to our seats, so the nicer restaurants were out. We ate at "The Dip" owned by Sasha Baron Cohen's co-star in Borat--the one he wrestles with (so I've been told; I didn't get further than Borat's arrival in New York when I tried to watch it on TV.) There's another one in the Valley that Len eats at a lot. They had a vegetarian sandwich and I'm willing to try almost anything that includes eggplant. It was o.k. I was in a rare mood for dessert, but there was no time.

We had great seats in the third or 4th row of the mezzanine. The seats were made even better by the price we paid, about the same as a service charge on the seats. I think they may have been trying to fill the theatre.

The stage was open to the back wall, stark, with some props somewhat scattered about. Patinkin came on stage with two big floral arrangements, which he put on opposite sides of the front of the stage. He was accompanied by a pianist. He sang Sondheim, Rogers & Hammerstein, some Yiddish songs, and a few other things. The Yiddish songs included "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "The Hokey Pokey." Pretty funny.

There were times when I thought that Patinkin was in love with the sound of his own voice, but overall I had a good time. He has a tremendous range. I was disappointed he didn't include anything from Assassins, my favorite Sondhein (I am not a Sondhead) and Len was disappointed he didn't sing anything from Into the Woods (I wasn't.) He did a medly from Sweeney Todd, which I napped through. The audience got to sing along with "Oklahoma" and dance to the Yiddish version of "The Hokey Pokey."

Because of the parking problems, lots of people arrived late and Patinkin zinged them as they came in: "Good thing none of these other people drove." "Can I help you." "Please sit down." There was one song he did in which he kept repeating a few words of lyrics as people kept coming in. Finally, he had to tell the ushers to turn off their walkie-talkies because it was interfering with the show.

There was no intermission and the show got done about 10 p.m. It took forever to get down the escalators (we'd still be waiting for elevators) to the 6th level below ground and then the very slow trek back up to Highland began. I'm surprised people don't die of carbon monoxide poisoning under those circumstances. Being in an underground parking lot in L.A. is not my idea of a good time under any conditions, but I was ready to barrel through the cars in front of us. It was a good thing I wasn't driving.


Only you can prevent a continuation of the erosion of our civil liberties in this country and the first line of defense is getting out to vote. Today is primary day in California and more than half of the rest of the states. I dropped by my polling place at 7:15 and had a momentary wait until a Democratic booth was empty. I was at work by 7:30.

Do your civic duty and pull a lever or punch a chad.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Celebrity Horses at Equine Affaire

I felt like I had a whirlwind visit to Equine Affaire in Pomona, California on Saturday. Usually, I go to do some shopping along with watching some of the clinicians. My time was really limited this year because I could only go one day and I had to get home in time to take care of the Arab prince and change to go to a concert.

But once I saw the schedule, I knew I couldn't leave the fairgrounds before 4 P.M., giving me the opportunity to see presentations of two of the "Celebrity Horses" present at the event. If they had celebrity horses in past years, I must have missed the notice. Or maybe they weren't from a couple of my favorite horse movies.

The notice that clearly caught my attention was that one of the horses who portrayed Shadowfax in the Lord of the Rings would be in attendance. I'm still not sure how he came to be owned by someone in the States when the LotR:TRotK extras video indicated that Blanco was in happy retirement in New Zealand, but there he was.

I decided against carrying my digital SLR because of the weight, but I almost always have my point and shoot Nikon S1 in my bag and that camera is not so good for shooting still photographs, but it isn't bad as a little video camera. So the first video above of the gray horse is Blanco as he's led back in to the exhibit hall to show off some of his tricks. He's a well-trained liberty horse, as the LotR video showed, and a really sweet Andalusian.

The second video, of the black horse, is TC Bey Cedar, the stallion who portrayed Al Hattal in Hidalgo. He's a stunning Arabian, a son of the famous Bey Shah, black except for a coronet ring of white on his back left foot. He's tall for an Arabian at 15-3, which, with his lovely personality, is how he got the gig for the film. He's got a gorgeous head, which I don't think you really see in the film (I watched it again on Saturday night) because it is somewhat obscured by his tack.

Both Blanco and TC Bey Cedar demonstrated rearing on cue. A way to teach this move was demonstrated by the trick training clinician. I'm not so sure it's a great idea to teach this trick to the average horse and TC Bey Cedar's trainer kept saying to people it is a trick best left to professionals. Rearing is somewhat less controlled than the airs above the ground moves of classical training. Personally, I'm happier when Ace keeps all four of his feet closer to the ground. I'm not even thrilled when he decides to do "the flamingo" where he bends one of his front legs and holds it up for quite a while when I'm sitting on his back. I usually wonder what it is he's trying to tell me is bothering him.

I must say I was disappointed I didn't run into Viggo Mortensen. It would have been cool if he dropped by to visit two of his equine co-stars. Cooler yet (well, nothing would be quite as cool as running into Viggo, I suppose) would be an appearance by T.J., the paint that played Hidalgo and whom Viggo now owns and keeps somewhere in nearby Topanga.

The other neat thing about this year's Equine Affaire was that the horse on exhibit at the Region 2 Arabian Horse Association booth turned out to be a close blood relation to my boy. I noticed the animal's name (I think it was All Flame) and immediately thought, hmm, sounds like it could be. Then I saw the pedigree--a Bask Flame son. Bask Flame is Ace's maternal grandfather. So the chestnut horse on display was Rocky's (Ace's dam, Flames Sirocco) half-brother (technically, a half-sib in the horse world comes from the same mother with a different sire, and different mothers mean a designation of "same sire," but I'm a human) and Ace's half-uncle and they did bear a familial resemblance. Ace has more chrome (white markings.) I did wonder whether Cody had inherited the hot Bask Flame personality that Rocky got or whether his dam had cooled him down. Since Cody's owned by a 12 year old girl, I'm guessing the latter. Cody's actually a few years younger than Ace.

I didn't do any shopping worth mentioning, unlike the years when I've come home with new riding pants or helmets or DVDs. I spent $5, on a 2007 Breyer Christmas ornament to give to a friend. Cheap date.

Clydesdale Wins Super Bowl!

A young Clydesdale named Hank and his Dalmatian buddy were the clear winners in the Super Bowl commercial competition yesterday. Check out the link to the ad here. If it doesn't bring tears to your eyes, you have no heart. What could be better than good horses and good dogs working together. It's better than the one with the little donkey who dreamed of being part of the team and the one with the Dalmatian who had a different kind of adoption. We were up close and personal with members of one team of Budweiser Clydesdales after they appeared at the L.A. Equestrian Center in January. They are such gentle giants.

George R.R. Martin and Viggo Mortensen have something in common today: they are among the overjoyed New York Giants fans in the world. That rattling sound is my father doing a happy dance in his grave. I didn't realize it growing up, but Dad was a huge football fan, somewhat subdued in a family of baseball fans. I knew he played in high school and dislocated his shoulder doing it, but it must have been a conversation we had after I got married that let me know how much he loved the Giants.

We had a small group of friends over to watch the game yesterday, a party Len holds in honor of his father. Unless the Browns are playing an easily available game, I don't watch football at all and Len watches even less. He's limited to the Super Bowl, which he used to watch with his Dad.

Until my freelancing brought me to the Washington Post and into contact with colleagues who were avid football fans, I would never even notice the football season. Then I learned that there were such things as post-season and Super Bowl parties when I got sent off to cover them for the paper. I liked those best when they were Food Section assignments because the pictures were better than when you tried to get a dozen people and the TV with a picture into a photo. This was in the days when it was unusual to see a color photograph in the daily paper.

Several times, the Post sent me out on Super Bowl Sunday to see what people were doing besides watching the game. The answer is pretty much nothing. Particularly when the Redskins were in the game. I remember photographing a deserted mall in Georgetown when one person was on the escalator. Then there were the 3 people at the big movie theatre near Adams-Morgan going to see a blockbuster film.

I started following the Cleveland Browns near the end of my time in D.C. A friend hauled me off to photograph a Browns game one cold December when I went to Cleveland for the weekend. They made it into the playoffs that year, so I watched. When I got to Cleveland to attend law school, there was no question--everyone followed the Browns games. With a lot of fellow students from Pittsburgh, I learned a lot about city spirit.

For a number of years after I moved to L.A. (a city without professional football) and married Len, my girlfriends and I would make of point of going antiquing on Super Bowl Sunday. It was great. Not much traffic. When I got home, I'd watch whatever was left of the game and we'd fast-forward through a video-tape to watch the commercials (often the best part of the game.)

Since I own a horse, antiquing is largely a thing of the past. Now I'm the person in the kitchen making the Super Bowl snacks. I made pots of vegetarian chili and turkey chili last night and we had the usual nachos, potato chips, guacamole, cheese, soft drinks (no one drinks beer in my house), and friends brought pizza and cake. Everyone was satisfied and I've got leftovers for the freezer (a start on the food I will need if there's an Oscars(R) ceremony--if the WGA has a new contract.)

My most ambitious Super Bowl meal was the night I did a fondue party. That was more work than I ever need to do again. Besides, it's hard to watch the game if you're going back and forth to the table for melted cheese or chocolate.