Blog .:. December 2009 8 Entries

In Memorium

24 December 2009 Comments

Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus
advenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias,
ut te postremo donarem munere mortis
et mutam nequiquam alloquerer cinerem.
Quandoquidem fortuna mihi tete abstulit ipsum.
Heu miser indigne frater adempte mihi,
nunc tamen interea haec, prisco quae more parentum
tradita sunt tristi munere ad inferias,
accipe fraterno multum manantia fletu,
atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.

Catullus 101. It’s a deceptively simple memorial poem for his brother. For a poem by Catullus, it’s almost uncharacteristically straightforward. Latin has the distinct advantage of being a language that allows for very flexible word order, and the first two lines of this poem take full advantage of that, carrying the reader first through the journey Catullus takes and then, finally, to the reason: many through lands and many through seas having traveled / I come these miserable, brother, to the rites. More coherently translated: Through many lands and over many seas, I come to these miserable rites, brother.

More fully expressed in the fourth line: and to the mute in vain I may speak ashes. Translated: And I may speak in vain to the silent ashes. Note that the line is wrapped by “silent… ashes” (ok, except the conjunction, but what do conjunctions matter?) and the apposition of “silence… that I may speak” across “in vain.”

The poem begins to fall apart in the next two lines as he comes to terms with the loss of his brother and then regroups (nunc tamen interea haec, now, however, meanwhile, these things). Ancestral rites—a sense of tradition and continuity—carry the poem to the end and its final line, in which he addresses his brother for the last time: And so for all eternity, brother, hail and farewell. If you scan the Latin, ave atque vale (hail and farewell) actually gets elided. It’s been years since I scanned, so I’m not sure off the top of my head which syllables get dropped, but after all his journey to reach his brother’s grave, and after performing all the duties owed to his brother, these last, final words come and go in a breath, incompletely spoken.

You can find poems out there with more complex imagery and more extravagant expressions of mourning—I mean, if you want a poem that takes mourning to the extreme, you only have to look at Catullus 3, which starts “Mourn, all you Venuses and Cupids, / and all mannered men / the sparrow of my darling has died / the sparrow, the delight of my delight” and continues on to include mock-epic references to journeys to the Underworld. And if you think this is over the top for a dead bird, you should realize he’s actually talking about his own impotence.

Part of the success of Catullus 3 is that he is a poet who is extremely well-versed in poetic conventions and he has a host of literary knowledge and images he can draw upon. You can’t successfully mock and satirize tradition without fully understanding how it is traditionally employed. And so part of the appeal of 101, for me, is that in the face of all he could have done, the memorial poem he ultimately writes for his brother is deceptively simple, but, when you begin to really look at it, beautifully wrought.

* * * * *

My grandmother, who celebrated her 90th birthday yesterday, passed away today. It had been a difficult year for her, and a difficult one for the family as we watched her going, and there is some relief knowing that she is at peace.

Some relief. Not entirely. I’ve been clawing my way through Latin texts all day, looking for some sort of magic nunc tamen interea haec solution to get me through today and the rest of the week. The holidays were already going to be difficult—this has been an exceptionally difficult year for my family—and this is just an escape. Focusing on how grief is expressed by others is just holding off that last farewell, the one that is never truly expressed.

Through many lands and many seas
I have come, brother, to these miserable last offerings,
that, finally, I may give you this last gift for the dead
and speak in vain to your silent ashes.
Since fortune has stolen you—you—from me—
Woe, poor brother cruelly snatched from me—
Now, however, for the moment, these, which by ancient custom
have been handed over, a sad gift for the last offerings,
accept them, wet from a brother’s weeping,
and for all eternity, brother, hail and farewell.

Tagged: Catullus, In Memoriam, Poem 101 by Catullus, Poem 3 by Catullus, Translation

This is the world we live in

23 December 2009 Comments

I just… I… you know… I…

Oddly Specific

It’s not that there’s a blog collecting all these signs, it’s that these signs were necessary in the first place. I’m a little worried about the future of humanity.

Tagged: Interwebz, Sites to See

Feeling stressed about the holidays?

19 December 2009 Comments

I like to do my shopping at the last minute. It makes me feel better to be surrounded by people who are as stressed and unhappy as I am.

My challenge: try to find something for the Chinese Gift Exchange at the cousins’ party that would not suck. The decision: a movie basket: movies, chocolate, wine. The problem: I have no idea which movies are hot right now.

I wandered around the store and finally caught the attention of another shopper, hoping to ask him what was popular.

He stared at me like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming train. “Will my kid like this?” he asked, holding up Saved By the Bell: the 27th Reunion (or something along those lines).

“No?” I guessed.

“What do kids watch these days?” he asked. And then I think he finally actually looked at my face, because he said, “Oh, god, you don’t know either, do you?”

“Not really, but good luck.”

“You too,” he said.

There is a part of me that really, really wants to be in the stores on Christmas Eve, because if we are this desperate already, the poor suckers who wait that long should be quivering masses of jello.

With no better idea of what to do, I went to the box collection section and picked up a random box. Then I headed to the liquor store. I bought a really, really good bottle of wine. Well, expensive. I assume that means good. I drink beer. What do I know about wine? The idea here is that if the movies suck, they can console themselves with the wine.

Then I went home to bake funny cakes, but I made the mistake of opening my bottle of cider before I started baking the funny cakes.

I was awake at seven a.m., hung over, making chocolate sauce. Are your holidays looking up yet?

No worries. An hour later, the cakes were in the oven and I was watching TV.

Then I glanced over and saw smoke coming out of the oven.

The sauce on the cakes boiled over and was charring into a great, black, and above all, smoking blob on the bottom of the oven.

After a moment of mourning for the waste of perfectly good chocolate sauce, I pulled the half-baked cakes out of the oven and began trying to get the chocolate sauce cleaned up without burning myself or the apartment down.

Fortunately, I don’t think any neighbors wandered by, because I don’t know what they would think. She cleaned her oven halfway through baking cakes! Who does that?!

Oven clean, I shoved the cakes back in and turned to clean up the sink… only to discover it was now all blocked up from the charred chocolate.

I would go wrap the gifts for the gift exchange, but I really don’t want to find out that I picked out “The Best of The World’s Most Interesting Tree Bark, Season Three” or something similar.

Happy Holidays. They will be over soon.

Tagged: Cooking Eating & Food, Holidays, Movies

Expecting more from the horse and rider

15 December 2009 Comments

I had two lessons this weekend—one on an upper-level schoolmaster, one on a lesson horse who has recently been used in some beginner lessons, and then I hacked Gabi.

The schoolmaster and I had some significant steps forward—I am beginning to trust that I can push her buttons, and she is beginning to believe that I’m serious when I push them. I finally managed not to throw my body in the canter transition, which meant for the first time we had a nice step up into the canter and maintained a nice canter. Not for very long, because I collapsed on the inside, but it was a huge step forward. I also got my first real taste of her engaged, competition-level trot and… wow!

The next day, I rode the lesson horse, and at one point my instructor commented that riding the upper-level horses really makes us expect more out of the less trained horses, and the less trained horses will deliver for us. I agree completely. When the leg yield wasn’t working quite so well for us, we switched to thinking about a shoulder in across the diagonal instead. The result was a very nice leg yield, but it came out of me thinking that I will put my aids on in such a way, and the horse will respond. And he did.

And so to my instructor’s observation, I would add: if you expect more from the rider, they will deliver. She could have harped on me about not riding every step of the leg yield, but she stepped up the complexity of the (mental) exercise instead, and I rode better.

When I hopped on Gabi, my goal was just a nice, even trot with her stretching forward, down and out. Stretching FDO is our current challenge, so this was not a given. What ended up working for us was thinking about leg yields: if on the rail, leg yielding into every corner. If on a circle, leg yielding out a step or two and then pushing forward and asking for the stretch. It was a combination of asking more of her and finding an exercise that ensured I was riding every single step that finally worked.

I’ve been thinking this over the last day or so, and I realized that I ride the corners very differently on Gabi than I do on the lesson horse. With Gabi, I am conscious of every corner and think about where I want each foot to go. On the lesson horse, I wave at the corners as they go by. With the upper-level schoolmaster, it depends on what we are doing: I use the corners when I am very conscious of needing to regroup or set her up, but I’m guilty at cruising through them if I think everything is going well.

I also know from past experience that I will ride a corner accurately if I know we are going to do an exercise across the diagonal after it: extended trot, free walk on long rein, whatever.

It goes without saying that no matter what horse I am on, everything is better when I’m riding every single movement. It really doesn’t matter if I’m being introduced to half pass or I’m asking Gabi to stretch FDO: I can’t take a single step for granted.

Except, of course, I do. I am better if I make the exercise more complex—if I think about leg yielding with Gabi, if I think shoulder-in on the lesson horse, if I… well, ok, on the upper-level horse I’m just trying not to look like an uneducated monkey while doing exercises she could perform in her sleep.

So here’s the question: how do you, as a rider, make sure you are really riding every step? Obviously for me it’s making sure that I am either thinking of a more difficult movement or setting the horse up for a movement to come. Right now, the idea that I can really ride this movement, at this moment, isn’t quite making it through my skull. Don’t get me wrong—this was an incredible weekend with some major breakthroughs and some important steps forward on all three horses. I am thrilled with what I figured out about my own position and aids. And maybe the one crucial lesson to take away from the weekend is that I should be asking more of the horse and myself at all times.

Perhaps a better question is what exercises do you have that you really like in terms of setting up a horse and rider for success? I am loving the “think shoulder in across the diagonal” for improving the leg yield. Let yielding into each corner does wonders for sharpening both horse and rider for whatever is coming next. I’ve leg yielded into transitions with equal success—particularly in and out of the canter. One of my favorite exercises, ever, is to leg yield from the center line to the rail at the trot, switch aids, and canter off. When going across the diagonal, I find that thinking about a turn on the haunches really sets the horse on their hind end and prepares them for whatever is being asked next.

So what do you use to make a mediocre movement great? How do you keep yourself (or your students) sharp and riding every step? What are some of your favorite exercises to get the “more” out of both horse and rider?

Tagged: Horses, Horses - Gabi, Riding, Riding - Dressage, Riding - Lessons

What Not to Do at the Barn #653

12 December 2009 Comments

My office holiday party was tonight, and I was planning to head out to the barn afterwards and hand walk Gabi a bit. The plan was to swing by my apartment and change, but as I left the party, I realized that I was wearing jeans and I had wellies in the back of the car (a habit from life in the far north, where you always toss extra boots/socks/blankets in the car, unless you happen to like losing toes to frostbite when your car breaks down on the side of the road). So what if I was wearing a white shirt? I had a jacket.

I got out to the barn, pulled on the wellies, walked Gabi for a while, and then decided to actually lunge her.

And then, out of the blue, a storm hit fast and hard. I’m not sure where the first lightning strike came down, but I could smell the ozone so I’m thinking it was fairly close. The thunder was correspondingly loud and prolonged. If I had been a horse, you would have had to fetch me from the next county, and I don’t think my feet would ever have hit the ground while I was getting there. I hate sudden loud noises. After I finished jumping out of my skin, I looked around for Gabi. She’s much braver about storms than I am—she cantered forward a couple strides but never hit the end of the line and was waiting patiently for me to get it together.

At least one of us is sensible.

Then she snorted all over my shirt, because I forgot to button up the jacket.

I know you saw that coming. The only question is why I didn’t see it coming.

Tagged: Holidays, Horses, Horses - Gabi, Weather

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