Thursday, July 31, 2008

The ideal soldier in Beijing

The Olympic Games are almost upon us. Which contests are you most looking forward to? I tend to like them all, even the events that aren't immediately understood as sport, like table tennis, rhythmic gymnastics and archery.

One event that dates back to ancient Greece is the pentathlon. In its modern incarnation, athletes must excel at five separate sports: horse-jumping, fencing, shooting, swimming and running. All of these are part of the Olympic Games already, so why the odd amalgamation of seemingly random events?

Isn't it obvious? The five events paint a romantic vision of a military liaison on horseback. When his mount is brought down behind enemy lines, he must fight with pistol and sword, swim across a raging river and deliver his message on foot. The pentathlete is the ideal soldier.

It begs the question, which country can offer the world this soldier? Which military superpower has dominated Aristotle's beloved pentathlon?

After a century of Olympic contests, there are two countries in a dead heat, with medal counts that far exceed the nearest competitor. You probably guessed it -- Hungary and Sweden.

"The most perfect sportsmen, therefore, are the pentathletes because in their bodies strength and speed are combined in beautiful harmony."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I wore polka dots today

...and felt like an idiot. Why? I think polka dots are adorable. They are playful and happy and youthful which are traits I value. And the outfit I had on was classy and cute. So why did I feel anxious that someone might pop over unexpectedly and see my polka dots? I'm not sure, but I changed rather than further contemplate the issue.

I think that maybe polka dots aren't me. Whatever that means. Like all women, I have a closet full of clothes that I never wear. Truthfully, my closet is a schizophrenic mixed bag pining for psychiatric intervention. I must've worn these styles at one time, but I guess I've changed. Or, more likely, they were never me. I just didn't know it, because I was adept at changing me to be a part of the crowd du jour.

I don't think men are this way. A couple years ago, a friend and I took a getaway to Mexico for a few days. We hung out under a big beach umbrella, two pale obviously-American chubbies in a sea of gorgeous foreigners. The women were thin, tanned, and beautiful, but they couldn't hold a candle to the men. Unbelievably fit, glistening brown skin, boy shorts. At once holding a cigarette and a partner's perky breast, we couldn't stop staring at the men.

When the couples eventually got up and dressed, the guys wore capri pants, silky dark shirts, and closed-toe leather sandals. But even through my drool I knew that, were I given the chance, I probably wouldn't date any one of them. Seriously! They were not my type.

As pretty as the beach boys were, my type of guy doesn't spend much time thinking about his hair and wardrobe. A makeover is buying his favorite shirt in another color. I've never succeeded in slipping Bruni Maglis over his tennis shoes, nor a man purse over his shoulder. Even the plain front/pleated front battle can rage for days, so sartorial transformation has never been in the cards. Men know what they are comfortable wearing, and are usually unwilling to indulge our female fantasies. Truly, I wouldn't want it any other way.

If men can stay true to form, why do women's closets suffer from bipolar disorder? Are we multifaceted and complex, or are we being unduly influenced the expectations of our mates, the opinions of our friends, and the daily media mind fuck?

Though my closet doesn't reflect it yet, my chameleon days are over. I am newly unapologetic about my hairstyle, my yoga pants, and my Doc Martens. When I dress up I usually wear black from head to toe. I don't show a lot of skin, and hide my few curves. I wear simple earrings, no other jewelry. I no longer worry about fashion trends, because I refuse to be trendy.

My manner of dress is merely an outward manifestation of the natural, unadorned, athletic, private girl that I am. I cover my body in such a way that I'm not constantly mindful of the fact that I'm wearing something. Something that feels foreign and awkward. Like polka dots.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Seinfeld revisited

By all accounts, Seinfeld was a ground-breaking comedy. Purporting to be a show about nothing, it was in reality a pretty big something.

Unlike typical formulaic sitcoms, Seinfeld's main characters had no roots, vague identities and a conscious indifference to morals. They also lacked any semblance of couth, which was key to the show's success.

Seinfeld was funny not because it was about nothing, but because nothing was off the table. Racial stereotyping, anti-Semitism, masturbation, impotence, faked orgasms, personal hygiene issues, birth control -- everything was comedic fodder. Jerry and the gang bulldozed political correctness into the dust and made us laugh, if uncomfortably, in the process.

I shouldn't have been surprised when last week's decade-old episode featured 6-foot-3-inch Kramer and his new midget friend, Mickey. I'm sure the relationship was funny at the time, but in today's Hollywood diminutive actors are commonplace. I don't know if the dwarf population has increased, or if "little people" are simply willing to be exploited by reality show dimwits. In any case, the bloom is off the mini rosebush.

All that said, I'll bet Jerry Seinfeld would find something funny about ubiquitous midgets. Oompah Loompahs meet Jackass!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

How do you spell relief? G-O-O-S-E.

Tears are free falling this afternoon. Goose Gossage was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and it is about damn time.

Goose grew up in Colorado Springs, graduated from my alma mater Wasson High School, and went on to play 22 seasons in the major leagues. His story is sweet and inspiring, a tale of hard work and unbridled optimism. It's also an indictment of the powers that be, many of whom seem to understand little about baseball.

First eligible for induction in 2000, Gossage was passed over time and time again. I guess his stats didn't clearly illustrate his booming talent. Goose and the Yankees pioneered the concept of the set-up/relief pitcher. One pitcher started the game and threw the team to a lead. The relief pitcher, Goose, came in and "saved" the game. In other words, he didn't throw it away. Goose often had to maintain the lead through 3 long innings. Today's "closers" pitch only the ninth inning so, of course, their stats reflect more saves. "Now it takes three guys to do kind of what I used to do," Gossage pointed out with his usual modesty.

Always a hot-tempered and straight-talking guy, Goose didn't take the induction committee's slight laying down. After being passed over several times, he started making a little noise. Several inductees along the way, most notably superstar Cal Ripkin, Jr., publicly bemoaned the fact that Goose Gossage wasn't being inducted alongside him. When Goose was ribbed for flagrant self-promotion, he distanced himself by saying that he didn't want to see injustice prevail.

Goose finally got the call this past January. His wife told me that he cried like a baby, so I was worried about him today. In Cooperstown, surrounded by family, friends, fans, former coaches and teammates, I thought his words might get caught in his throat and he'd be unable to speak.

Turns out that that was just me.

As we've come to expect, Goose was nearly perfect.


Sexism and the City

I’ve been revisiting old episodes of Sex and the City a lot lately. It’s a fun show for a girl to watch. New York City neighborhoods, ultra-chic fashions, Manolo Blahnik shoes, ever-changing hairstyles. And an endless stream of nameless but memorable lovers.

The show becomes decidedly less fun when any of the girls ends up in a serious relationship. Can a long-term partnership ever compare favorably to a brand new sex-soaked love fest? Surely not. I can handle Carrie and Mr. Big because Christopher Noth is incredibly dashing and always just a hair out of reach. And Charlotte can have Harry because she’s the show’s I-believe-in-love ingenue and she needs monogamy. But the relationship between Miranda, the successful attorney, and Steve, the soft-spoken bartender, is a huge drag to watch.

Miranda is the least attractive of the girlfriends and her personality is off-putting. Brooklyn boy Steve-with-a-heart-of-gold is able to overlook her coarse communication style and soften her with his sympathetic ear and tender loving ways. Okay, fine. I could take that for a few weeks.

But for some godforsaken reason the writers let this stupid relationship go on until Miranda winds up preggers, wants to abort, can’t because Steve’s so adorably earnest, has the baby, decides to keep Steve, blah blah blah. The writers should’ve killed them both off right then. There should be no happily ever after on Sex and the City. The whole point of the show is the friendship between the women. Men are unreliable, thus expendable. But girlfriends are forever.

The thing I really hate about the Miranda-Steve relationship is the whole rich girl/poor boy thing. Charming initially but odious when morphed into powerful-manly-girl/emasculated-but-fighting-nobly boy. Financially secure Miranda is portrayed as shallow, greedy, hardened and immoral, while affable loser Steve is the white knight come to love her into domestic simplicity.

Forget independence, ignore achievement, never mind separate identity. The message is that what we really want, in the deep recesses of our scarred hearts, is to give it all up to a good guy like Steve.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Party of One

I remember when running came to Colorado Springs. Jim Fixx's The Complete Book of Running was published in the late seventies and preached running as the path to good health. The book spent 11 weeks at number one on the the bestsellers list and is credited for starting America's fitness revolution.

I was part of that revolution. Not as a runner, but as a close observer. You see, I'm the sister of a running fanatic.

My brother's friends opened a store called Runners Roost shortly after Fixx's book hit the big time. Between his daily 15-mile runs, Jim worked there for years, while I worked for a bigger, more general sporting goods store at the Citadel. The two jobs hardly resembled each other.

I spent my days shoe-horning Air Jordans onto the feet of just-paid GIs, while Jim watched people run up and down Bijou so he could check their gaits, look for pronation or supination, and make sound footwear recommendations. I pulled Russell Athletic sweat shirts over the bellies of armchair quarterbacks, while Jim sold silky singlets and impossibly short running shorts to fat-free lunatics. Even when I was allowed to fit football helmets on 10-year-old pinheads, and wax the K2s of handsome ruddy-cheeked skiers, I still envied my brother's life. To me, there was something enigmatic and appealing about a long-distance runner. I feel the same even now.

Today my 14-year-old son got up at 4 a.m. and ran to the top of Pikes Peak -- a solitary 13-mile trek. I imagine he wouldn't have mentioned his plan to anyone if he didn't need a ride to the trailhead. Later he told me his finish time, and not much else.

After all these years, it looks like I may have another chance to unravel the mysterious runner's mind.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Encountering the I in China

I got my visa last week, so the China trip is a go! I was a little worried about obtaining permission to visit because I own a cute Go Team Tibet scarf and mitten set, and I was sure the Chinese government would know about it and reject me out of hand. Thankfully the Olympic mantra, Amazing Awaits, has become my own.

The holy-geez-it's-only-a-week-away planning has begun in earnest. As if time pressure and a giant scroll of must-dos wasn't enough to stomp my excitement into nonexistence, my rather significant Other has decided to offer mounds of unsolicited advice, further muddying already clouded waters. Understand that while I've spent the last twenty-something years covered in baby barf and laundry soap, he's traveled the world -- usually with a pretty girl whose name seems always to end with an i (no doubt topped with a cheerful daisy or heart-shaped flourish).

Not surprisingly, Other and I have a difference of opinion as to how I should spend my time in China. Although I'm excited as hell to see the Olympics, I want to see more of China than simply the Bird's Nest and the National Aquatics Center. I am wringing my hands trying to figure out how I can see as much as possible without running myself ragged, while still giving Beijing its due. He, on the other hand, has been to China and has his own ideas. He spent a month in the south of China, visiting only two provinces, and is pushing the notion of me doing a similar mini cultural immersion trip. Truthfully, I'd love nothing more, but I may not be back this way again soon and I'd like to see more of China than his plan would allow.

Long and short of it. I am ignoring his advice and doing things my way. And he's fine with that. But I still have hard decisions to make because there are so many things that I really really want to see and do. Horseback-riding and camping in Inner Mongolia (Genghis-fricking-Khan!). The Li River cruise in Guilin. Biking through the rice paddies outside of Yangshuo. The five Sacred Peaks. The Wall. The Warriors. The pandas. Damn.

I've narrowed it down to this. I want to hike Mount Huashan, known by the Chinese as The Number One Precipitous Mountain under Heaven. And I want to see the city of Li Jiang and the nearby 18,000-foot Jade Snow Dragon Mountain.

Funny how solo travel helps you discover hidden truths about yourself. You can tell by the name of my travel blog, Culture Chakra, that I've always thought that my travel would be about people, about culture. Turns out it's all about the mountain for me. Maybe it's the Colorado upbringing. I tend to feel a bit sluggish below 5,000 feet.

But really, in my defense, aren't towns and villages, and the people who inhabit them, largely influenced by the surrounding landscape? Haven't the best hiking guides come from the Himalayas? And is it any surprise that the Jamaicans don't win the bobsled competition, and the Norwegians kick ass at ski jumping?

The food people eat, the clothes they wear, the houses they build, the instruments they play, even the gods they worship, are inextricably tied to the earth and sky that embrace them every day.

I'm off to pack. But I leave you with a video of Modern Gonzo's Mount Huashan trek.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Beauty contest winner, me

It is the close of a busy and vexatious day — say half past five or six o’clock of a winter afternoon. I have had a cocktail or two, and am stretched out on a divan in front of a fire, smoking. At the edge of the divan, close enough for me to reach her with my hands, sits a woman not too young, but still good-looking and well dressed — above all, a woman with a soft, low-pitched, agreeable voice. As I snooze she talks - of anything, everything, all the things that women talk of: books, music, the play, men, other women. No politics. No business. No religion. No metaphysics. Nothing challenging and vexatious - but remember, she is intelligent; what she says is clearly expressed… Gradually I fall asleep — but only for an instant… then to sleep again — slowly and charmingly down that slippery hill of dreams. And then awake again, and then asleep again, and so on.

I ask you seriously: could anything be more unutterably beautiful?

H. L. Mencken

Friday, July 18, 2008

Big Brother

Mellow yellow

When I visited Southern California in the mid-eighties, I was bedazzled by my boyfriend's beachside neighborhood. Tiny stucco houses. Flowering vines crawling weatherworn trellises. Impossibly narrow streets. Sandy restaurants serving fish tacos. Cramped outdoor patios overlooking the ocean -- the vast inconceivable Pacific ocean. An exciting vista for a Colorado girl.

As with all lovers' trysts, the visceral has faded to ephemera, and I am left with only a sense of place and time. However, one tangible relic remains from my visit, and it was recently brought to mind afresh. If it's yellow let it mellow; if it's brown flush it down. In case you've not heard this California incantation, it is a reference to pee and poo, number 1 and number 2, realities that, to my mind, are best left behind stall doors. In any case, they should not be fodder for a state mantra. Drought be damned!

After many years of recklessly rejecting the admonition, I am prepared to pass California wisdom on to my Colorado offspring. Why? The Gazette reported this week that 1/3 of a typical household's water usage goes to flushing the toilet. A third! I have six Kool-aid swilling children so the flushing in our house, reinforced rigidly by prissy mother me, is nonstop.

No more. New rule. If it's yellow let it mellow; if it's brown flush it down. I have yet to divine an apt consequence for willful disobedience.


Monday, July 14, 2008

iPhone memories

As one who doesn’t like to leave the house much, I am a big fan of the internet. In truth, I can hardly speak a negative word about it. The web has given us unfettered access to news and information, consumer goods, visions pleasing to the eye, sounds pleasing to the ear, easy communication one step removed. I can’t say I miss a single thing about the “good ol’ days.” Except waiting in line for concert tickets.

I love live music. I’ve been to zillions of concerts. In fact, I am going to a 2-day concert event in Denver this weekend. The headliners are Tom Petty and the Dave Matthews Band (woot! woot!). Over the years I’ve seen the Stones, the Who, the Grateful Dead, Elton John, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Michael Jackson — the list goes on and on. And, so I don’t date myself too closely, I’ve even seen ‘N Sync and James Blunt.

Raised in an environment of easy internet access, my poor darling children have never had to stand in line for anything. Until last week when the new iPhone was to be released. After I made the big mistake of describing the many reasons I was considering an iPhone purchase, they decided that their future health and happiness was predicated on having 16GB iPhones. With no advice from me, they decided that they had to get to the store very early or risk failure.

They got to the AT&T store at 1 a.m. They were 22nd and 23rd in line. By the time Eric and I arrived shortly before 8, there were 100 people in line. There were camping chairs and coolers, even a gas grill. Decks of cards, pop cans and water bottles, fast food litter. I imagine there were a few dead soldiers (uh, empty beer containers) although I didn’t see any. The atmosphere was convivial. The camaraderie palpable.

They allowed people into the store 6 at a time. As each lucky buyer emerged, a bright orange AT&T bag signaling victory, their fellow consumers clapped and yelled in celebration.

We (read: they) left with our iPhones at 8:30. I later read that they’d sold out in 40 minutes — many campers went home empty-handed. But my two lucky ducks were thrilled with their phones, made all the more precious by the procurement experience.

Satire gone haywire

Fist-bumping Obama in a turban giving us a sidelong glance. Afro-engulfed Michelle toting a machine gun. The American flag burning in the fireplace. The depiction is obviously satirical, but will the humor be lost on the many?
Recent studies show that an understanding of satirical intent and higher Scholastic Aptitude Test scores are strongly correlated so, yes, the joke will bomb in the eyes of Joe Average.
I appreciate the creative bravery often associated with satire, and I look forward to hearing The New Yorker defend this magazine cover to the lowbrow schmucks upon whom the point is lost.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fierce competitors


Friday, July 4, 2008

What's a mother to do?

Should I freak out and make her remove it?
Should I breathe a sigh of relief that it's not bigger or more sinister?
Should I help her hide it from father?
Should I wonder....why PacMan?

I think I'll celebrate the hilarious weirdness of it all, and hope that it complements her wedding dress.

TODAY. Wave the flag, wear a lapel pin, avoid DUI checkpoints and, most of all, try not to think. Embrace. Appreciate. Exist.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Dancing Beijing

I’ve tried at different times in my life to become interested in things that I thought I probably should be interested in. Gardening, baking, needlepoint, mountain biking among many others. Finally, in my forties, I have given up trying to cultivate new hobbies. I realize that, for whatever reason, I am naturally excited about and attuned to certain things. And I’m too short on time to feign interest where it doesn’t exist.

I’ve discovered over the years that I am wildly interested in literature, human history, the natural world and—yes, it’s true—sport. Most of my travel, and probably yours too, is an attempt to indulge one of these passions. Toward that end, I’ve decided that my next big trip will be to Beijing for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad. I’ve only just decided to go so I have tickets yet to buy and a visa to secure, but I’m optimistic that I can pull it together by August. We shall see.

In the meantime, I’ll undertake my usual pre-adventure learning. Ever since I read Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, I have been fascinated by Imperial China. Of course, Red China was a frequent topic of conversation during my childhood. And now Modern China, with its growing presence on the global stage—including its debut as host of the Olympic Games—is subject to much discussion and analysis in the worldwide media.

To prepare I’ll review Chinese history, become educated about Chinese art and architecture, read Chinese literature—at the moment The Warrior Woman by Maxine Hong Kingston. I'm sure I won’t be able to escape the darker side of Chinese culture: poverty, human rights issues, overpopulation, environmental abuse, nationalism, Tibet. But China has survived for thousands of years, and has gone through many transformations. It’s not a country that can be easily summed up as good or bad. Just as it is vast and varied, so too is its history. And its people. And its many sights and wonders.

Every Olympiad has an emblem. The emblem for the Chinese games is called Dancing Beijing. It is an invitation to the world to visit China and enjoy the banquet she has prepared for us. I, for one, am thrilled to be on the guest list!