It’s officially Derby season (or has been for more than a week now) in Louisville. Here are some pictures of people “keeping Louisville weird” at the Cherokee Triangle Art Fair last Sunday.
Category Archives: Cool Characters
A cheval. On horseback.
On the edge of the pasture, saddle in one hand and frayed cotton rope attached to horse in the other, I position myself to hoist the former onto the latter’s back. My feet are planted deliberately between the front and back hooves of the giant draft so that, in plunking the saddle down I resemble a yogi stretching from the core, reaching toward the horizon as I leave my lower half firmly planted out of harm’s way.
I’ve been stepped on before, but not by the likes of these horses, who not only might unintentionally do serious damage, but could also be quite long in budging a gigantic hoof if ever one were to break out in hysterics under the pressure of a ton of horseflesh. It’s a double-edged sword with Satine’s breed: more docile and gentle than the lightest and flightiest Thoroughbred, these horses are incredibly massive and powerful. I have one toenail that grows oddly because of a run in (or run-over?) with a Thoroughbred. If the same happened with Satine, I might not have a toe at all.
So, I mind my distance. As I struggle to tighten the girth around a very stout belly, I point my toes inward, transforming from yogi to duck.
“You okay over there?” Mélie shouts from the shoulder of her other horse, Utique. “She giving you a hard time with the girth?”
I smack Satine lightly on the belly. “Suck it in, girl,” I say. Then, to Mélie: “I’ve got it!”
With the same attention to my feet, and hers, I lift the bit to Satine’s mouth. Then, all straps buckled, I lead her to the opening in the barbed wire fence, resisting the urge to announce that such a barrier would never effectively retain a Thoroughbred. In the middle of a one lane country road I swing my leg over Satine’s back and heave a sigh of relief. It’s safer up here than on the ground with all those car tire feet.
A cheval. On horseback. I was born here, and now that I am in the irons again I feel secure. I reach forward and stroke the caramel coat under Satine’s mane as she marches slowly and methodically along the road. Clip. Clop. Clip. Clop. Mélie instructs from the back of Utique.
“We’ll turn left onto the trail up ahead. Satine knows the way.”
And so does Satine’s foal, Baya, who intermittently trots along behind or canters ahead beside the road. This is the Franche-Comté region of France, where people drive their cars with the knowledge that they share the road with animals – mostly cows, but sometimes horses. Mélie is not concerned. When a little beat up Renault rounds a corner, she marches Utique out into the middle of the road and holds her hand up, signaling to be aware of the little one. The car scoots cautiously past a very nonchalant Baya.
Into the woods, what looks like an old logger’s trail opens up before us and I turn in my saddle to tell Mélie how much it reminds me of home.
“It’s just like this behind my house,” I say. “The tunnel of trees, deer trails, and moist, hilly terrain. I could be out here with my dad right now, but it’s you behind me instead!”
We talk about pony club and trail riding and the psychology of little girls and their horses. The reins are loose as I look over my shoulder at Mélie, who nudges Utique to catch up with Satine’s longer stride.
When we emerge from the woods, we’ll find the winding road that leads to Mélie’s village. Approaching their big farm house – one that in another age contained the cows under the same roof as the owners – we will be greeted by her children’s voices. “Satine, Utique, Baya!” they’ll sing, exiting the house at a run. The horses won’t be fazed by the serenade, nor will they balk when the kids run right up beside them, reaching to stroke their soft muzzles and grasp their cream colored manes.
A cheval. As I sit at my computer, thousands of miles from Satine, Utique, and Baya, I look out my window and see two sleek bay Thoroughbreds in the pasture below.
In France, you can be à cheval when your feet are literally in the stirrups and you are “on horse.” You might also be à cheval sur les principes, which means you are a stickler for principles. But, most fittingly for me, you can be à cheval entre hier et demain, with one foot caught in the stirrup of yesterday and the other in that of tomorrow.
Today that’s where I am. Looking back, looking forward, looking to France.
Voila another video from Cyprien, who, I gotta tell ya, is impressively making a real name for himself with his video blog. This month he and a few of his equally successful “vlogger” friends put on a live show at the largest cinema, theater, and music complex in Paris and it sold out just days after they announced the Janauary 12 date. He’s famous and he’s never paid a centime to market himself. Pretty cool times we’re living in.
I’m posting this latest installment because coffee, a drink that has always had cultural significance, has taken on new meaning in France. In the last few years especially there has been quite a bit of buzz (pun intended) caused by 21st century home espresso machines, especially the Nespresso model, which has been everlastingly linked to the sexy, smooth talking American actor George Clooney.
(You’ll hear Cyprien give his best shot at Clooney’s salesmanship 29 seconds into the video, with the very sexy blare of the machine in the foreground.)
As Cyprien says, “I was obligated to buy a coffee machine, in order to be classy. You can’t be classy with soluble coffee, for example.”
Soluble, or dissolvable, coffee is a French cultural enigma. I just don’t think they could market that kind of thing in America. But it’s really popular in France, and it’s much faster than a coffee maker, and I have to admit that I used to drink it every morning in my little studio in Dijon. It’s not that bad, but it’s certainly not classy. Not like Nespresso.
Cyprien pokes fun at the marketing strategy behind the “capsules” you can buy to make different kinds of espresso. They all have names you can’t remember, which means they all end up being referenced by color. “It’s a brown capsule,” he says, after reading the name “Livanto.”
“And they all have more or less the same taste,” he adds. “At a certain point you have to be honest.” He reads some of the distinguishing characteristics, like “complex and balanced” and — his favorite — “mild and liquid.”
“A liquid coffee,” he says. “They take us for idiots, huh?”
(Of course, the word “moelleux” can also mean smooth, which is surely Nespresso’s intent, but the potential misreading is funny nonetheless.)
“Coffee connoisseurs” don’t make it out of Cyprien’s video un-poked either. It’s easy to feign recognition of the “complex and balanced” aspects of an espresso, but only if you know what specific characteristics go with the names of the capsules. (He serves a shot of Coca Cola to call the imaginary connoisseur’s bluff.)
The real test, though, is whether someone can drink his coffee without sugar. “I drink it without sugar,” Cyprien’s character says. But what he’s thinking as he takes a sip is, “it’s bitter, it’s disgusting, it’s bitter, it needs sugar, it’s bitter.”
TRADUCTION A LA MELIE: Continue reading
Yesterday I couldn’t help but laugh every time a car passed me on my short little three mile run. Armed with multiple layers and ski gloves, I had pulled the drawstrings of my sweatshirt around my chin so tightly that only my eyes and nose managed to peek out from the tight hole. Yes, I would be back in 28 minutes, and yes, this was Kentucky, where it never gets cold enough to warrant such ridiculousness. I’ll blame it on my West Coast roots.
All this to say that while I was running my measly three miles I remembered that one year ago at this time, I was training for a semi-marathon and running ten to twelve miles on a regular basis.
My friend Val, who was studying abroad in France while I was doing my teaching assistantship, and I had decided to train together to combat the effects of all the delicious French food we had become so used to eating. We were both runners, but had never done long distances. When we found out about the Nuits Saint Georges semi-marathon, however, our interest was piqued.
13.1 miles through the gorgeous vineyards of Burgundy seemed appealing, but neither of us could deny the real draw: talk of “wine tastings” along the way. At first we thought it must be an oral legend, a bit of Burgundian mythology that had spread over the years. We imagined a few runners nearing the end of their course and being rejuvenated by a winemaker with a beret and a sparkle in his eye. Years passed and word traveled; runners began knocking on the winemaker’s door for a little kick when their fuel ran low.
These are the kinds of things we hypothesized during long runs anyway. Laughing, and sometimes grunting, Val and I got to know each other over the miles. She was the faster runner, but I brought a strong dose of competition, so most of the time we stayed neck and neck. Once on our third tour of the Parc de la Colombière in Dijon, having just beaten our two previous 400m interval times, I pleaded for mercy, saying we should be careful not to injure ourselves beating the time on our third effort.
“We’re already going faster than planned for today,” I reminded her between gasps on the rest interval. “Let’s try to relax a little.”
Nearing the starting point, Val fingered her watch. I sucked in one last deep breath.
I don’t remember much but pain and the desire for oxygen when the timer was ticking. The big, shady chestnut trees that seemed so pleasantly encompassing on regular runs became a blurred tunnel as we whizzed by. I detested their solidity and I yearned for their stillness.
We beat our time again. Continue reading