Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanksgiving

Most Thanksgivings, I stay where I am. I dislike traveling during that week, and of the handful of trips I've ever taken over this holiday weekend, all have been either bus or car rides of only a few hours. This year I planned to hop a Vamoose to Washington, D.C., but at the last moment I decided to stay in New York and celebrate with friends. On Wednesday evening, I picked up the ingredients for my culinary contribution--a Calvados-soaked apple currant pie, the recipe of which I'd never attempted--and then strolled past the balloons for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, which begins just around the corner from my apartment.

Thanksgiving in New York City is a curious thing. On the one hand, the Parade, which remains the focal point of most American televisions on Thanksgiving morning, creates an atmosphere of loud celebration in the days prior; high school bands, dancers, and performers from across the country descend upon Midtown, and the crowds surrounding the balloons the night before rival those of any I've encountered during my time in NYC. But on the actual day of Thanksgiving, the city feels deserted, and oddly quiet. Subway trains run on a slow schedule, many shops are closed, and the rare human beings one encounters on the street are hurrying either to or from the cozy confines of their homes.

This year, I awoke early, made my pie crust, read the paper, and then pulled on my running shoes. The Parade had already left the Upper West Side, and an empty sidewalk surrounded the Museum of Natural History. I entered Central Park through the Hunter's Gate, my gate, and started running. I had enough time to run my favorite route, which is the upper five miles of the giant Park loop; I cut across to the East Side at roughly 72nd St, and headed north past the Met and the reservoir. Other than an occasional dog walker, I saw no one, and I let my mind roam while my feet carried me towards Harlem Hill.

Before too long, however, my thoughts focused themselves, and they chose a subject worthy of that particular day--gratitude. For me, there's no better time to reflect on the things and people for which I'm thankful than a run, and there are few places better than Central Park in which to do so as well. And one of the most wonderful things about my favorite five mile route is that it takes me past the sites of so many memorable experiences of my life here, from the elementary school at which I voted in the 2008 presidential election, to Belvedere Castle, where I celebrated my 28th birthday with a giant egg hunt, to the meadow where I celebrated my 29th birthday with a skateboard triathlon, to the Great Lawn where I and many friends listened to the Philharmonic's outdoor performances, and to the fields where we watched Richard III earlier this summer, to say nothing of the Delacorte, which hosts my beloved Shakespeare in the Park. I ran past trails on which I and my fellow coaches had taken our young athletes for their runs, past lawns on which I'd played bocce ball and croquet, past benches on which I'd attempted crossword puzzles and finished novels, and past the bridle path, on which I'd walked home from work nearly every day for almost two and a half years.

It's been a good run, I thought to myself, in every respect of the word. And then, just as I rounded a corner north of the reservoir, I saw Martha Stewart. In a Park practically empty of human beings, and at a time when one would expect her to be knee-deep in organizing a dinner for dozens up in Bedford, the queen of all things culinary and crafty was walking towards me, her quilted jacket perfectly tailored and her blond hair neatly blow-dried. On a day in which I was to attempt a pie recipe I had never tried (who brings a previously unattempted dish to a seminal holiday gathering?), and on a day when friends and family come together in close quarters with pounds of potentially undercooked poultry and a plethora of sharp cooking instruments at hand, my Martha sighting struck me as a powerful omen. Chaos and mistakes and uncertainties aside, the universe was as it should be. Martha was walking in Central Park, one of my favorite places in the world, and I was running in it. I laughed, danced a little circle in the middle of the road, and let my feet fly.
By the grace of Martha, it turned out well
I've celebrated three Thanksgivings in New York--one in Harlem, one on the Upper West Side, and one, this year, in Park Slope. Each has borne the distinctive feel of its participants and circumstances, and each has been filled with the love particular to a gathering of scattered friends and acquaintances on a day traditionally marked for family. I loved each one of them, different as they were, and I feel lucky to have been included in each one of them. And this Thanksgiving, as I left Brooklyn on the F train, my nearly empty pie pan at my feet (it was good!), I thought about how this sentiment applies to my time in New York, too. As different as it is, I've loved it, and I feel lucky to have been a part of it.
Pictures from four seasons of running in Central Park

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Quotes of the Week

What would I do without LP? Months come and go, and yet he remains my most reliable source of memorable quotes. As a result, I post the two following LP quotes for your reading pleasure--enjoy!
-----

On a co-worker

LP: “He eats very healthy, like broccoli, tofu, vegetables, smoothie, all day”.

CGC: “Well that’s not bad”.

LP: “No, but that diet, it is asexual”.

CGC: “What do you mean?”

LP: “I don’t know what comes first, what is the chicken or what is the egg, or whether it is the wimpy diet and then the asexual or the asexual and then the wimpy diet”.

CGC: “What?”

LP: “As a wise man say, ‘A man always orders and eats a whole steak on a first date’”.
-----

LP: “Do you want to hear a sad story?”

CGC: “Sure!”

LP: “It is about an Afghanistan dog”.

CGC: “Like a dog from Afghanistan or an Afghan dog like an Afghan hound?”

LP: “No, a dog in Afghanistan”.

CGC: “Is the dog an Afghan hound?”

LP: “Stop talking”.

Monday, November 22, 2010

2010 San Francisco Giants, I salute you.

Because you made me truly excited about baseball for the first time since Will the Thrill played at the 'Stick. Because your players and pitchers, complete with Shakespearean nicknames, long-legged strides, mohawks, red thongs, and tar-black beards, roamed the field and stalked the mound of America's most beautiful ballpark. Because your defense was as beautiful to watch as your home runs, and because your team chemistry was more remarkable than any one player, and because you made three generations of my family, spread out across 3,000 miles, insanely happy. Because a team of misfits and castoffs brought San Francisco its first World Series trophy, and because it's felt like Christmas ever since. 2010 San Francisco Giants, I salute you!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cycles of Cycling

In two and a half years of living in New York City, I've never settled back into cycling. I've certainly ridden, and not only outside in Central Park and up to Piermont and Nyack, but also indoors on my trainer on the days when snow falls past my living room windows. These rides have affirmed new friendships and re-invigorated old ones, led to the discovery of my greatest Hudson River valley culinary delight (the Bunbury muffin), and let me pedal through autumnal landscapes with a sense of flight that only cycling allows. But the visceral joy that would course through my veins as I charged Buttermilk in Ithaca, or Mt. Tam in the Bay Area, hasn't reappeared since I moved here, and I wonder at its absence as keenly as I feel it.

This is actually fun.
I've considered these ambiguities before, and I should emphasize that the existence of these ambiguities doesn't mean that I haven't had fun on any rides here, or felt real excitement at flying down the Great Hill, or relished the dappled sunshine as I ride the shady Palisades river road. It's more that I haven't found cycling to be as fulfilling here as I have in other periods of my life, and a strong indication of this lack of fulfillment, so to speak, is that riding doesn't make me as happy as it used to. And so I don't do it as often, if at all. In contrast to my years in Ithaca and the Bay Area, months can pass in NYC without me touching my bike unless I'm either injured (and thus can't run) or want to get out of the city via something other than a train or zipcar.

The root of this disenchantment remains difficult for me to identify; it's certainly possible that the combination of limited places to ride and many, many people wanting to ride in them makes cycling feel more like a chore to me than it does elsewhere. I won't deny that on weekend mornings when I've gotten a "late" start (i.e. 9:00 am or so) and have ridden into Central Park hoping to complete three or four six-mile loops, I've egressed from Olmstead's idyllic fields after just one--the sheer magnitude and general obliviousness of runners, pedestrians, dog-walkers, rollerbladers, pedi-cabs, horse-drawn carriages, bird-watchers, children, Central Park Conservancy vehicles, and other cyclists can make riding impossible and my generally low blood pressure skyrocket. At the same time, however, riding in the Bay Area isn't always a picnic either; anyone who's had to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge when the bike lane is closed, or through Golden Gate Park or up La Honda on a weekend morning, can attest to the extreme riding congestion there as well. And Ithaca had its own host of cycling-related problems, from non-existent bike lanes/road shoulders to enormous potholes and frost heaves to cyclist-hating dogs (they always seemed to find me on deserted rural roads with spotty cell phone coverage).

My guess, however, is that I'm just in a period in which my love of cycling has abated for a while. I'm actually okay with this abatement, because it's allowed space for other activities to emerge again; it was here in New York that I re-discovered the soothing properties of lap swimming, and that I returned to hiking with a vigor that my Ithaca years in particular lacked. At the same time, my obsession with the TdF has yet to suffer a reprieve, and every Fall, including this one, I spend about a week mulling over whether or not I want to do some cyclocross racing. In fact, when AK emailed me last week and asked if I wanted to race in Highland Park next weekend, I spent an hour mentally listing what I would need to do to overhaul my bike in time.

But I'm not there yet, and one reason I know I'm not is because the day that my joyful love of cycling returns, I won't spend an hour thinking about 'cross race prep--I'll just do the 'cross race prep. Ditto for waking up pre-sunrise and wondering if I really want to go spin through Central Park; instead of wondering, I'll simply hop on my bike, just as when I now wake up to go running, I simply run out the door rather than curl up under the covers and ponder my desire to sprint past Sheep Meadow. It's happened before, and it will happen again.
One day I shall again jump 'cross barriers.
As a result, I do have faith that this love will return at some point, although I can't predict when exactly. I recently went through a bunch of my old graduate school emails, and in the process, I came across the following one, which I'd sent to the cycling team on a chilly, beautiful Fall day five years ago:

From: ____@cornell.edu

Subject: Saturday ride, 10am, CTB

Date: October 14, 2005 2:58:43 PM EDT

To: cucycle-l@cornell.edu

At the risk of tempting the rain-gods, I'm posting a ride for tomorrow morning, leaving at 10am from CTB. Right now the forecast says tomorrow will be cloudy with occasional showers, and not too cold, so fingers crossed....

I'm thinking approx 25 miles, 15-17mph, probably Ellis Hollow to Whitechurch to Coddington unless there are any strong objections.

Come ride before snow--not rain--starts to fall!

Best,

CGC

I remember how much I loved riding down Whitechurch, with the leafy hills rising on either side of the valley and the scent of snow in the air. Someday, and probably fairly soon, I know I'm going to feel that joyfulness--the kind that only two wheels can create--again.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Quotes of the Week

Since work has dominated my life to a disquieting degree these last few months, I have few quotes to post, and all occurred, well, at work. Still, each is a subtle gem, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
-----
On an email MJL had just sent.
CGC: "I like that when you emailed to say that she'd stopped by, that you wrote "cher" with a lower case "c" so as to distinguish her from The Queen".
MJL: "Precisely".
-----
While meeting a student at Princeton with AXD.
AXMD: "Hi, I'm Anne".
PS: "What?"
AXMD: "Anne".
PS: "What?"
AXMD: "Anne, like Anne Boleyn".
PS: "What?"
AXMD: "Anne--A-N-N-E".
PS: "Oh, Anne".
-----
CGC: "Maybe in my next life I'll be one of those goats".
LP: "How do you know you are not one who's in a dream of human life?"

Thursday, October 14, 2010

An Interview with Kary Haddad

This week I had jury duty. It was, for lack of a better word, unpleasant, not least because I had to bail on attending a live performance of The Slate Political Gabfest with my friend Kary. As I sat for hours in the windowless jurors' waiting room of the New York State Supreme Court, I tried to think of how best to make said bailing up to him, until, like the dingy fluorescent light bulb buzzing over my head, the perfect solution flashed before me. What better salve than a Freckle interview? The moment the bailiff let us turn on our phones I emailed Kary his five questions, and, good friend that he is, he returned his answers in a matter of minutes. Thus I present to you the arch insights and commentary of Kary Haddad, who not only introduced me to Obadiah Parker's cover of "Hey Ya", but who also helped bring the phrase "PI Land" (meant to describe any tract of land that might possess poison ivy) into general usage. And by "general usage" I mean used by me, him, CMXD, and sometimes LVT.
Kary, in Ithaca, serves an unstoppable ball towards PI land
CGC: What is the worst thing about having to be at work by 8:30am every weekday morning during the academic year?
KH: The worst thing about getting to work at 8:30 is realizing that I am a half hour late, because I am supposed to be there at 7:55 for homeroom.
CGC: Did Roswell, NM, enhance or diminish your sense of empathy towards UFOs?
KH: My sense of empathy towards UFOs is unchanged. My sense of *sympathy* is significantly increased, due to the realization that the UFOs landed in a really uninteresting part of the world. They probably had no idea that they were landing in the type of place where residents think nothing of dressing alien blow-up dolls in patriotic American flag t-shirts without any apparent irony whatsoever.
CGC: Why is Avenue A a better musical than American Idiot? Or is American Idiot a better musical than Avenue A?*
KH: Avenue A is not a musical, and so therefore cannot be better than American Idiot. If you are referring to Avenue Q, then I'd have to say it's a better musical because I have friends that worked on it.
CGC: Fill in the blanks: Glee is to _________ as Rochester is to ________.
KH: Glee is to _underused emotional nouns_ as Rochester is to _fading centers of industry_.
CGC: If you could only play one game for the rest of your life, would it be Beersbie, The Settlers of Catan, or Apples to Apples?
KH: Beersbie, while fun, caused me my first sports-related injury since elementary school so that's clearly out. Apples to Apples is fun, but highly dependent on the crowd you're playing with. So that leaves Settlers of Catan by default.
*This question underscores The Freckle's near total ignorance of contemporary musicals.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The First Monday in October

Early this morning, on my run in Central Park, I had an unusual person on my mind: Elena Kagan. The point of that sentence isn't to suggest that Kagan is essentially "unusual" (although her life now is by no means "usual"), but rather that she or any other Supreme Court justice is an "unusual" individual for me to consider as I round Cat's Paw and summit the Great Hill. This morning, however, thoughts of a determined little girl from the Upper West Side replaced my "usual" mental fodder of breakfast foods and athletically-themed daydreams (last week's featured a long fantasy of what it would be like to run Western States).

Much of the focus on this First Monday in October has been on the Court's docket, which features a number of potentially incendiary cases, and which will reveal how the Court's new liberal minority bloc will act. But the docket and its adjudication are things that I consider while eating lunch or arguing with friends; early morning runs create instead the forum for imaginative epic narratives, the ones with larger-than-life characters and powerful dreams and enormous, messy questions. And so, you see, I found myself charging the Three Sisters while wondering what motivated Kagan to pursue her Supreme Court dream for so long, and what sustained her in pursuit of that dream despite the realization that so much depended on timing, and the other nominees, and the President, and the Senate.

Pondering Kagan's narrative mishmash hasn't led me to any sense of resolution, other than that I'm very impressed that she realized the singular focus of her life-long ambition. It does strike me as almost exquisite that all of the variables listed above fell perfectly into place, and I wonder at the number (10? 15?) of lawyers and judges with similar dreams who came so close to that same realization, only to see it disappear because of one better nominee or one flubbed confirmation hearing. Still, I can't help but think of Kagan and these other would-be justices in light of William Deresiewicz's recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "What Are You Going To Do With That?", particularly with regard to his comments on how we make choices, take chances, and make mistakes. Or more accurately, how many of us don't make choices, or take chances, or let ourselves make mistakes.

What I'm really wondering about, as a result, is to what extent Kagan and the other justices and those would-be justices really, truly wanted the positions that they currently possess (or don't). My guess is that they must have or they wouldn't have achieved them; on the other hand, what if they're seated on the bench because it was easier and more obvious than not sitting on the bench? In other words, a bright, hard-working, driven young woman at seventeen--the year that she wears a judge's robe and holds a gavel in her high school yearbook--has decided she wants to be a Supreme Court Justice, and from that moment on the following steps on this chosen trajectory are clear: college, law school, law review, clerkship, law practice, Justice Department lawyer, law professor, etc. etc. etc. Isn't it easier to follow religiously this completely visible path than to recognize, say, halfway through law school, or while snowed under a mountain of Justice Department cases, that maybe this isn't exactly what one wants, and, harder still, to change direction? Or did she--or any of the others in this data set--pause at each step, honestly assess herself, her happiness, and her dreams, and realize that, yes, this was the path she wanted to pursue?

I have no reason to doubt that Elena Kagan is and was very happy with her choices, or that she is, as Deresiewicz says, someone who "[made her] choices for the right reasons", and who recognized and embraced her "moral freedom". But it's on my mind because right now taking chances is very much on my mind, as is the difference between perceived safe choices and the right choices for oneself. I suppose that what I can't shake is the sense that by sticking for so long, and from such a young age, to the same ramrod trajectory, that Kagan never opened herself to other possibilities (who knows what those possibilities could have been?). On the other hand, I'm very happy that today a fourth female Supreme Court Justice takes her seat.
So, on that note, I say Happy First Monday in October, Justice Kagan. And here's to your new path.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Cold Weather, I salute you

Because your arrival signifies a happy shift to cool morning runs and sweat-free subway rides. Because with your frosts and nightly temperature drops come honeycrisp apples, acorn squash, and a plethora of pumpkins. Because I've missed knotting scarves, wearing socks, buttoning up my peacoat, opening my living room windows, and including my oven in my cooking routine. Because I welcome my electricity bill sans air conditioner usage, and because your rain washes away the NYC street detritus better than any maintenance crew. Because you highlight the simple pleasures of autumn in a northeastern city. Cold Weather, I salute you!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Where I've Been

Well. That was a bit longer than I expected. In fact, I'm not sure how to best explain my absence these last two months. Was it due to a whirlwind of travel, friends, and good books? Or perhaps to long runs, longer bike rides, and even longer days at work? Was it the result of a summer heat-induced malaise, or of an unfocused excitement about Fall's arrival?

This picture basically sums up the last two months
I've decided, while pondering my ghostly blog presence, that listing the events, happenstances, and general phenomena of August and September might yield the clearest explanation for my disappearing act. The medievalist in me loves lists and catalogues, so without further ado I give you the Eighty Seven Thousand Six Hundred Minutes of the Last Two Months, measured not only in love, but also in...
  • Six states, two countries, and five cities...
  • Four airplanes, six buses, three airports, four trains, two rental cars, two pairs of running shoes, one pair of hiking boots, one bike, and four hours in standstill traffic on I-80...
  • One backpacking trip, four rustic huts, two volcanos, and one troll-treasure-hiding waterfall...
  • One inadvertent swim with Montauk jellyfish, one lava-warmed Icelandic hot spring frolic, and one consequently dyed-red bikini...
  • One hip surgery, two head colds, and one perpetual sore throat...
  • Three reunions with high school friends, three get-togethers with family members, two reunions with college friends, one reunion with an Oxford friend, and countless serendipitous encounters...
  • Six novels, eight Old Norse manuscripts, one book of essays, and several New Yorker, Sunset, Runner's World, and New York Times issues...
  • One successful identification of a mysterious painting, one graffiti-esque initials-marking in volcanic ash, one game night, and one visit to the Rubin...
  • Eleven rounds of Beersbie, five volleyball games, seven pond circuits in a kayak, and one hand-built wedding platform...
  • Two Lands End runs, one Piermont ride, one Breakneck Ridge/Cold Spring hike, one Golden Gate Park run, two Baker Beach runs, one Presidio/Crissy Field run, and countless runs in Central Park...
  • Ten pounds of kale, three kleinur, one Peets latte, one perfect Gordo's burrito, and 120+ cups of tea...
  • A lot of work, a few sad goodbyes, and several cherished, laughter-filled moments.
Hmmm. No wonder things felt frenetic!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ride On, Lance.


For whatever reason--for whatever perfect storm of national calamity, difficult personal circumstances, ceaseless high temps, and general malaise that's decided to descend upon us--this summer has been tough for most people in my life, myself included. Maybe it's because, in the last few months, the news from abroad and at home hasn't been good, and never seems to get better. Maybe it's because, since Memorial Day, the heat never seems to cool, and a run in the steamy humidity of 6:30 am feels just as unbearable as one under the relentless noontime sun. Maybe it's because jobs keep not materializing for friends looking for work; maybe it's because clumps of Deepwater Horizon oil could start washing up on the East Coast. Or maybe it's because, all other factors aside, sometimes the only expression that best fits so many of these things is that frustrating and nebulous adjectival phrase, plain old "bad luck".

With this in mind, and as friends and family members know, I tend to retreat for three weeks in July to watch the Tour de France; by retreat I mean I hibernate with my flat screen and clunky window air conditioner for hours and hours in order to watch the peloton circle to Paris. I look forward to the Tour all year--the first week of August is when I experience my post-Christmas morning crankiness--and even in a year like this one, which showcased the Olympics and the World Cup, my excitement has remained unabated. Particularly as this summer has progressed, the Tour has loomed like an athletic oasis, and one in which the event's characteristic unpredictability, epic nature, and challenging geographic context would be most welcome to a doldrums-lingering viewer like me.

The Tour, suffice it to say, has not disappointed, but the ways in which it has not disappointed have of course defied my expectations. I'm neither the first nor the last to state that all one can expect of the Tour is the unexpected, and I embrace the fact that every year the Tour holds true to this maxim. On its 97th journey through the French countryside, the Tour seems to be adhering to the same Boethian cycle that the rest of us have; in other words, Lady Fortune has not looked favorably upon most of the riders. For the first time in years, the Tour de France had to neutralize the results of a stage because so many rides crashed spectacularly on a freakishly oil-slicked descent, a decision the Tour organizers haven't even made when riders have died. Garmin-Transitions lost its team leader, its sprinter, and its lead-out man in a matter of days. Frank Schleck--his GC brother's most trusted lieutenant in the mountains--kissed his Tour goodbye after a collarbone-snapping crash on the unforgiving cobblestones of Stage Three; that same day Lance Armstrong began to lose his maillot jeune dreams with, of all things, a flat tire. Cadel Evans attempted to hide his broken elbow--sustained in yet another crash--on his one day bearing the yellow jersey in the stony Alps, and later broke down on the steps of his team bus as the reality of its loss sank in. And in a move that will be hotly debated by Tour viewers and participants for years to come, Alberto Contador attacked and won the maillot jeune from Andy Schleck not because the Luxembourger betrayed a moment of physical weakness, but because Schleck dropped his chain.

True, for some this Tour has been exceptional; French riders, for example, have won a commendable six stages so far, including an extremely difficult one by the petit blanc Thomas Voeckler, who famously wore yellow for ten days in 2004. Similarly, Thor Hushovd, that sprinting Norwegian "Hammer of the North", continues to defy gravity and re-capture the green jersey on mountain stages poorly fit to his ballast-like frame and fast-twitch muscles. And Clean Bottle man, perhaps my favorite TDF mascot in years, has landed TV coverage on almost every stage (it can't be easy to run up the edge of the Col de la Madeleine in a faceless, full body water bottle costume!). But on the whole, the general mood of most riders and the seemingly non-stop freak accidents--flats? dropped chains? oil-slicked roads?--seem to fit the overall wtf? ambiance imbuing the summer of 2010.

Which brings me to Lance Armstrong. Lance, as the cycling-obsessed public knows, is riding his thirteenth Tour, and hoped to win his eighth. He's thirty-eight years old, but there are older riders this year--Christophe Moreau and Jens Voigt among them--although none were gunning for the podium. He had every single teammate from last year's champion Astana squad (with the obvious exception of Contador), plus he had Johan, the mastermind behind every one of his Tour victories. He began training and racing earlier than he had last season, when he commenced his comeback and placed third; he even had a brand new sponsor. In other words, Lance possessed everything he needed to be a serious contender, and a record podium finish seemed tantalizingly within reach.

And yet...despite acing everything that's within his control, like placing fourth in the prologue time trial, nothing seems to be working right. The man who always seemed to glide by misfortune, even down the side of a mountain, has been caught in crash after crash after crash, including one on the way to the starting line. The man who flicked off any little mechanical like an annoying insect had to wait by the side of the pavé for almost a minute for a new wheel. The man who ruled the peloton as a legitimate patron now works as a domestique for Levi Leipheimer, an amazing cyclist in his own right, but one who as a Postal rider ten years ago wasn't even selected to ride for Armstrong on his nine-man champion Tour squad. It's almost as if, all other factors aside, Lance spun the wheel and landed on several years' worth of straight up bad luck.

Which is why, as the days pass, I'm rooting for Lance. Not because I think he's going to win, but because he's in the Tour at all. Because he never needed a comeback, but he decided to risk one anyway. I choose that word, "risk", deliberately, because it's a big gamble to chance that the last entry on your athletic CV isn't going to be "seven time Tour de France winner", but could instead be "finished 25th in his last Tour de France with no stage wins". Sure, Lance was hoping that it would say "eight" or even "nine" time winner, but he knew that there was a decent chance it wouldn't. And, frankly, I admire him for that. I admire him for doing everything he could to give himself the best possible shot at another win, knowing full well that it could blow up in his face, and then, when it did, for still showing up every day anyway and racing his bike. Because the fact of the matter is, no one who doesn't want to be racing in the Tour de France is riding in it; it's simply too hard. So the man who already had the perfect postscript threw his hat in the ring again, in spite of his age and with full awareness of the risks, because he loves it for what it is.

And so yesterday, as I sat on my couch with my clunky window air conditioner running full blast, I watched Lance attack on the hardest stage of this year's Tour, a stage that justified the Pyrenees' nickname "The Circle of the Dead Men". The peloton released him and the nine other riders who eventually joined him; none were a threat to the overall standings, not even one of the most celebrated Tour winners of all time. Up the Tourmalet and then the Col d'Aubisque he attacked and counter-attacked. He was visibly tired, and in the finish line sprint, he simply wasn't fast enough. He knew it, too, but he sprinted anyway. And as I watched, I remembered watching him win the Limoges Tour stage fifteen years ago, when I was half the age I am now, in the middle of a foggy San Francisco summer. It was only a couple of days after his teammate Fabio Casartelli died, that gifted Italian cyclist whose memorial the peloton passed just earlier this week. Lance, despite winning the 1993 world championship, was no GC rider at that time either. He took off on a solo breakaway, and the peloton let him go; he crossed the finish line alone, and pointed his finger toward the sky. I think now, upon reflection, that these are two of the greatest Tour stages I've ever seen.

"It was a tough day", Lance said later yesterday at the finish line. "I paid for it at the end [...] I warmed up a little bit before the race and it went right at kilometer zero. 200 km at the front took it out of me. I had no sprint at the end. But I tried".

You sure did. Ride on, Lance.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Quotes of the Week

The past two months only produced a few notable quotes, but what quotes they are. Enjoy!
-----
LP: "I have something highly inappropriate to say".
CGC: "What is it?"
LP: "I leave it to suspense".
-----
JML: "I was electrocuted last night".
CGC: "You were?"
JML: "Yeah, just a little bit. It kind of felt good".
-----
LP: "I bought a Dutch tile".
CGC: "You bought a Dutch child?"
LP: "A Dutch tile".
CGC: "Oh. That's inappropriate?"
LP: "No, that wasn't what I was going to say. But, some Dutch tiles are very inappropriate".
-----
While ordering ice cream at Sweet Melissa in Cobble Hill.
MS: "Chocolate chip?!? I am SO OVER that flavor; I've been over that flavor since I was five years old. Tell me one thing that chocolate chip can do that cookies and cream or mint chip can't".
-----
While sitting in the Salt Lake City airport.
CGC: "How come neither Betty nor Veronica ever seriously dated Reggie?"
LRC: "Are you serious?"
CGC: "Of course I'm serious. Why didn't they?"
LRC: "Because Reggie was an a**hole!"

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Morning on Mt. Judah

This past weekend, while at Sugar Bowl near Donner Summit for LRC2's wedding, I decided to go for a run. As this decision was made on Saturday morning, or the day of the main event, I knew that I had about three hours until the wedding began. I also knew that, based on the location, any run would involve an elevation gain of at minimum 1,000 feet, would test my total lack of altitude acclimatization, and would be mind-blowingly beautiful. Indeed, even if I just ran to the end of Sugar Bowl's parking lot and back, I'd still be treated to a vista of Mts. Lincoln and Disney, the shade of lodgepole pines, and bright patches of mid-summer snow. In other words, I couldn't lose.

Since I currently live in Skyscraper National Park, however, I wanted to make the most of my (perhaps) only high Sierra run of the summer, and so after a bit of hemming and hawing, I settled on the Mt. Judah loop. From the Sugar Bowl lodge, this run would take me up and onto the Pacific Crest Trail above Donner Pass, skirt around the eastern flanks of Mt. Judah, lead me up to and over the summit, then circle down between Mt. Judah and Mt. Lincoln back onto the PCT, once more past Lake Mary, and finally back to a shower and my waiting wedding guest garb. Based on the map the complete route looked to be about seven miles with 1500' of elevation gain, and despite little sleep and acclimatization, I sensed that I could run the trail, stop to enjoy the view, and shower/get ready all in time for the ceremony. I slathered on some sunscreen, drank some water, and ran out the door.
Donner Lake, as seen from Donner Pass Road not far from the PCT trail head
The run up to the PCT trail head felt surprisingly easy; granted, I was taking it slowly, but the altitude and searing sunlight--which was exacerbated by the black tar of the Sugar Bowl access road--didn't take as much of a toll as I would have expected. Once on the PCT, I enjoyed picking my way among the loose and dusty rocks up the switchbacks, which is a skill I rarely get to use on the smoother bridle path of Central Park. The trail rose quickly and consequently so did my heart rate, such that the "good morning"s I uttered to the hikers I passed were more strained and breathless than normal. Donner Lake loomed into view below the Pass, and I spotted several hikers enjoying a late morning snack on the rocks above the vista; less than a mile later, I was running east above them on the Mt. Judah loop trail.

Jeffrey and lodgepole pines cast the trail into a cool shadow, and giant cabbage-like plants carpeted the mountainside. Pine needles muffled my footfall as I climbed a bit for half a mile, and then as the trail turned south towards the summit, I encountered my first massive patch of snow. By "massive" I mean I could see the trail disappear underneath it and was at a loss as to where it emerged! Fortunately, a hiker coming from the opposite direction was crunching his way across the snowbank; he said that the trail paralleled the creek running to my left, mentioned that there were several other patches higher up, told me that I'd have no trouble crawling across them, and wished me a great run. I crossed my fingers, splashed up the creek, found the trail as it resumed switch backing out of the snow, and emerged with it above the treeline on Mt. Judah's eastern side, just below the summit ridge.
Almost at Mt. Judah's summit
From here I could see the mountains of Squaw and those ringing Tahoe's western side, as well Mt. Rose to the east in Nevada. With the exception of a light breeze that rustled the treetops, the world was silent. I stretched my arms and looked up at the sky, then turned and immediately ran into a second massive stretch of snow. Luckily, the muddy footprints of previous hikers gave me some idea of where the trail lay; unluckily, my trashed running shoes lacked the grip that their boots had given them. After slipping twice--and catching myself, barely, with my hands on wet, relatively grip-less snow--I chipped out two footholds with my toes and stood up to survey what lay ahead. Since I knew the trail paralleled the ridge line until it joined the ridge and lead over the summit, and because I was above the treeline, I was able to see where the trail "should" be. I decided that my safety lay on the rocky slope just above the snow, and so I scrambled up and then slowly made my way along the scree before scrambling back down to the trail once it re-emerged. I breathed a sigh of relief, ran along the trail as it skirted the flank just above a drop-off into a verdant valley far below, and then, right as the clear path to the summit came into view, hit a snowbank so long and so wide that I knew that I had no choice but to crawl across it. Fortunately, there were no ominous black clouds in the sky! I crouched down and carefully picked my way across, stepping into muddy footprints to the best of my running shoes' ability and squinting against the glare of brilliant white snow in bright sunshine.

I finally cleared the snow and ran the now-dusty trail up and over the Mt. Judah summit; worried about the time since it took so long to make my way over and around the snowy patches, I didn't stop to look around. The summit, at about 8250 feet, marked the high point of my run, and from here the trail commenced a beautiful and relatively languorous descent back to the PCT. I dipped back into the trees and enjoyed the dancing feeling that comes from trail running downhill; right as I turned back onto the PCT, I caught up with two ultramarathoners who were out for a decent, oh, twenty-five miles! I tailed behind them and their dog all the way down the mountain, watching their nimble footfalls and noticing how their arms--complete with a water bottle strapped to each hand--tucked up against their ribs. As I ran off the PCT and towards Lake Mary, they flashed me a grin and gave me a hearty salutation--"great running!"--that sated my ego for the rest of the weekend!
Looking towards Mt. Judah (on the left) from the top of Mt. Disney
Knowing that my mother would be worried, I sprinted the final mile down the access road and to the Sugar Bowl lodge where, sure enough, I found her seated on the deck with an iced tea and a magazine. "I know, I know!" I said, as she smiled and pointed to the time. I ran upstairs, plugged in the kettle for some post-run fuel (instant oatmeal), and hopped in the shower. Within an hour, I was dressed, high-heeled, and waiting for the bride's arrival--and with an aisle seat, no less!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Carve Designs, I Salute You.

Because you are the sartorial brainchild of two outdoorsy, surfing California women. Because your bikinis, board shorts, and dresses are designed for gals with athletic bodies, and because they're perfect for both mountain lakes and oceanic surf. Because you sponsor super-talented female athletes, and because you keep sponsoring more of them. Because when I wear your bikinis out in Montauk or your t-shirts on the Upper West Side, I can pretend that I'm at Ocean Beach or back in the Richmond District. Carve Designs, I salute you!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Summer's Greatest Gift

In addition to steamy subway platforms, hot, humid nights, and a plethora of soft serve trucks, summer in New York City offers what I consider to be the season's greatest gift: outdoor Shakespeare. I heartily partake of this offering each year, and one major reason why this month has seen so few blog postings is because I've been spending much of my free time outside in the company of Stratford-Upon-Avon's favorite son. My devotion to outdoor Shakespeare in this town is not quite as obvious as it might seem, however; as anyone who has spent ten summery NYC minutes with me knows, I cannot stand extreme heat or extreme humidity, and I particularly cannot stand extremely humid heat (n.b. "extreme heat" for me is anything north of 80*F). Why, then, would I willingly spend three hours traipsing through northern Central Park, or sitting in the still, steamy air of the Delacorte, or standing on the hot asphalt of Battery Park, much less four additional hours waiting in line in said humid heat?
Shakespeare in the Park
I've pondered the reasons behind these hot hours of willful Shakespeare-induced insanity, and what's resulted are a few plausible explanations. First and foremost, I love to be outside, and even when the temperature's unbearable, I still rise early to run or ride, walk home each day through Central Park, and embrace eating out outdoors (most recently at Ocean Grill, Pier I Cafe, and Frankies 457). Call me crazy--and I am, because even though I ultimately love to be outside in the summer I still complain freely to everyone within earshot about how gross the weather is--but there's something wonderful about a warm evening spent walking home from a candlelit dinner under the trees and the stars, while wearing just a sundress and carrying only a book and a wallet. I try my best to remember these magical summer moments when I'm sweating heavily on a hot subway platform at 8:30 am.
Second, I really, truly enjoy--dare I say, love?--Shakespeare. I'm not a Shakespearean and I don't claim to possess scholarly insights that others do not, but I have spent several years reading, studying, and even teaching his texts, and my affection for his work only grows as time passes. His rich language, use of metaphor, re-casting of source texts, and general sense of humor continue to impress me as I grow older and spend a little more time in this grand experiment we call mankind. And while every time I re-read one of his plays I see or hear something that I did not initially notice, I also treasure the characters, themes, and dramatic moments that ring as true as the first time I encountered them. Gower sang his "song that old was sung" in my Oxford attic bedroom over Christ Church Meadow eight years ago, and then he sang it again in Riverside Park last year when I was tutoring on Saturday afternoons; Henry V pitched his Agincourt battle in a high school classroom in foggy San Francisco, and drew his battle plans once more one leafy Fall when I drove through Vermont; several years ago Perdita vanished at the Roundhouse in Camden, and she vanishes again this summer at the Delacorte.
Frederick Sandys's Perdita
Attendant to this love of Shakespeare is my delight in seeing, hearing, or reading the same story re-worked in different ways, and not just with regard to the Bard's texts. For example, one of the reasons I enjoy Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida so much is because of my devotion to Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde; I like untangling each author's embellishments and general re-workings, and I find the texts' respective shifts in perspective and interpretation to be more exciting than simply reading a "different" or "new" story. Similarly, to the consternation of an ex-boyfriend, I once created a music playlist that played in succession various musicians' renditions of "Down by the River" (Neil Young's, the Indigo Girls's, and Buddy Miles's, to be specific), because I loved hearing how each artist spun the same song into his/her own. And so while I rarely go to other plays, I see Shakespeare's whenever I can--not only because often each performance is a welcome re-visitation of a text I've read or seen before, but also because every production offers a company's or actor's own interpretations and re-workings as well (e.g. Samuel West's Cold War Hamlet at the Barbican, the almost Edwardian setting of the Public Theater's current Merchant of Venice).
Gorilla Rep's Bottom and Puck, and Hermia and Puck
In sum, the outdoors, a love of Shakespeare, and a desire for textual/artistic resonance are the best explanation for why I would willingly subject myself to weather that makes me want to collapse in front of an air conditioner. After all, heavy, humid air seemed a small price to pay to see fireflies dart around Lady Anne's skirt and hear Clarence's mournful voice float above the meadows of northern Central Park during the New York Classical Theatre's production of Richard III. Ditto for the heady scent of warm grass at Summit Rock on the evening when NCT and I watched A Midsummer Night's Dream, courtesy of Gorilla Rep. Even better, at times the weather can dramatically aid these performances in a way that no air-conditioned theater ever could; last summer, while I was enjoying the Classical Theatre's production of King Lear at Battery Park, the heavens swirled and broke in a massive, dark thunderstorm right as Cornwall gouged out Gloucester's eyes--it was chilling, to say the least.
The Delacorte
Still, I nearly reached the limits of my extremely humid heat tolerance last Wednesday, when I decided to brave the standby line at the Delacorte in the hopes of getting just one solitary ticket to The Merchant of Venice. I joined the line at 4:30 pm as the thermometer hovered around 91*F, and after three and a half very hot and pretty uncomfortable hours sitting on a concrete Central Park path--during which I'd exhausted my reading material, and as it began to seem unlikely that I would end up with a ticket at all in spite of how early I'd arrived--I swore that this would be the last time. No more heat, no more mosquito bites, no more loud New Yorkers screaming at one another about line jumping. At 7:55, with 23 people ahead of me and no obvious standby tickets in sight, I nearly left (visions of my air conditioner were dancing in my head). At 7:58, I positively, absolutely decided that I was only waiting one more minute and then I was leaving. At 7:59, a box office employee ran towards us with a fistful of tickets, and forty five seconds later, as the sun set over Central Park and the Delacorte quieted, I was sitting in the middle of the seventh row, ready to see Bassanio ask Antonio for a fateful 3000 ducats. Somewhere, the Bard smiled.