It’s amazing how many New Friends you make when you walk into an equine supply shop and announce that you’re buying your first horse and you need some advice. I’m sure that it’s a factor in the New Friend Factory that you might as well have said “I’m coming in to drop BIG BUCKS here!” but I’m equally sure that this is not the major motivator behind the Tsunami of Goodwill and Interest that breaks over your shores. My experience is that Horse People love horses. Riding them, grooming them, maintaining them, standing around and watching them eat, and playing with their lips (this is actually a whole lot more fun than it sounds – horse lips are damn near prehensile, and they’re rubbery, and they’re covered with fuzz and whiskers, and are generally totally irresistible…the good news is that most horse want to use their lips to play with you, so there’s total goal convergence). The next-best thing to being around horses is talking about horses. And right after that is buying stuff for horses. I had previously considered Alpine Skiers to be Ultimate Gear Hounds, but Horse People have that distinction in the bag.
In addition to this, being a Horse Person is like a disease. Actually, it’s more like a birth defect. All of the horse people I have met were born that way, not made. It’s not genetic – all the time you wind up with Horse People being born into Non Horse families – but it’s definitely some kind of disease, an addiction that no Horse Person actually wants to kick. And since misery, etc. loves company, Horse People like to watch other Horse People getting hoovered a little further into the hole. It’s not exactly schadenfreude, because the person getting sucked in is usually doing so with pleasure, if not with outright glee.
So today, I drove out to one of the big regional tack shops, in a town called Framingham. It’s on the outskirts of Boston. Generally, we don’t have a lot of suburban sprawl here – property values are way too high and there is a vast amount of conservation land – but I would pitch Framingham against any soulless suburban hell spawned in the pits of Houston or Dallas. Every minute I spent there sucked 1 year of life out of my soul. I could feel it happening. Fortunately, my new BFFs at the tack shop restored much of that spirit.
I instantly got everyone’s attention with my announcement above, and they wanted to know all about my horse, what breed, what color, how big, how old, do I have any pictures? It was deeply gratifying. As was their response when I told them I needed help picking out a saddle that would fit both of us, and displayed his wither tracing.
“Oh my gosh, those are high withers!”
“And wide shoulders!”
“Where did you take this measurement?”
I am happy to say that I’d taken pictures of the flexible curve on the horse, so I actually had an answer for that in the form of the photograph on my smartphone. Awestruck silence fell when I showed it.
“Oh, my gosh, and they get even higher.”
“Look at his shoulders! He’s huge!”
“And so cute! I love his chrome! Look at that blaze!”
And then they were off like little chirping birds. I had measured his withers in exactly the right place, they said, and someone produced a neat little tool for deciding the shape of a saddle tree (the firm thing inside the saddle that gives it its shape). According to the tool he needs an Extra Large tree.
“You’re right – this is going to be a tricky fit!” someone said. Then they started educating me and didn’t stop for the next hour. I tried saddle after saddle on the stand, and we narrowed the selection down to four or five that fit me pretty well, so it’s just a matter of getting them out to the barn to try on Huey. Someone at the store actually does that – travels around with saddles for this purpose – which is why my trainer suggested I start with them. All of the saddles that fit me were dressage saddles. It’s just as well that I wanted to go that direction anyway.
I had about three hours in the car to spend listening to music and cogitating. And, of course, because it is September 10 today, there was a great deal of discussion of the the events of ten years ago tomorrow. And that sent me directly into the Land of Philosophy. And what I was considering, in that three hour drive, was the question “whence and whither the arts?” Historians, we know, have an imperative to examine and analyze history. But they don’t typically write it – that is left for the journalists and the clerks to do. But the recording of history by these individuals is going to be focused and the scope narrow, defined by the particular job for which the recording is performed. The historians, then, specialize in identifying these narrow pieces of information, and assembling many of these pieces in the hopes of obtaining a larger view.
But there is another group that may bear the social imperative not just for recording history, but for analyzing it and helping others to make sense of events: I speak here of the artists. I ask, is there a social obligation laid on the heads of our artists to preserve and interpret historical events? The answer that I have arrived at over the years is this: yes. Possibly, there is an even greater obligation on the artists than there is on the historians. Why? Because historians deal in facts…and while facts are absolutely necessary and of great import, a strictly fact-based accounting of an event leaves out the critical dimension of Feeling. I believe that there is value in understanding not just “what happened?” but “what was that like, to be there?” It is my experience of human nature that people rarely change as the result of being presented with an assortment of facts…but if you can induce an understanding of the facts with feeling then, and only then, do people attain a level of understanding that promotes change.
The events of 9/11/01 changed us all. And many artists stepped up to the plate to shoulder their responsibility. In many instances, with collections of exploitative and tacky dreck. (There’s more, too.) But many stepped up to the plate with honesty and courage, and these acts were seen in unexpected places. The Onion came through with surprisingly emotional content. Not Knowing What Else To Do, Woman Bakes American-Flag Cake stands out as one of my favorites: it captured perfectly the anxiety, the need to do something, the dazed grief, and the instinctive turning toward one another in the shock. This article also expresses the superficiality of many responses, but the overarching feeling is never permitted to descend into vacuousness: “[after] Mixing the cake and placing it in the oven shortly after 3 p.m., Pearson sat at the kitchen table and stared at the oven door until the timer rang 50 minutes later.” The shock was just that huge, the national grief just that obliterating.
The artist who – in my opinion – left us with the best depiction of how this event was for those of us who did not have personal ties to New York City is Alan Jackson:
Capturing the incredibly broad range of responses that individuals had to the event had to be a truly daunting task for an artist but I would be willing to bet that anyone who was an adult ten years ago will find themselves somewhere in this song…and possibly in many places in this song. I remember when I first heard this, in the late fall of 2001, I stopped the car so I could listen better, and I had one and only one thought: that he had accomplished the impossible. That this song, when people listened to it ten, twenty, thirty years later, would still have the power to convey what it was like for us at that time.
And yes, I do remember, perhaps not every other memory, but many times per year. It was Tuesday. A front had blown through my part of Texas and left the sky sparkling and the air dry, and what passes for “crisp” in the Gulf Coast. I was teaching full time for the first time, and had just delivered my first lecture the day before and was getting ready to do it again the day after. I was teaching at Texas A&M, a school with a significant military population. Sophomores. Intro to Accounting I. I had a doctor’s appointment in the early afternoon for an allergy shot. The phone rang early. It was my ex-husband, telling me to put on the TV. I turned it on just in time to see the second plane hit. I fell to my knees and didn’t move for an hour. I cried for days. I had an obligation to help my students, 19 years old and already feeling a little lost, make sense of things. I don’t remember what I said to them instead of talking about balance sheets and income statements, but I think it had to do with understanding that the world had changed, and things were going to be harder now, and they would have to grow up faster because of it.
I did not bake a flag-shaped cake. But when they shut the school down on Thursday morning and sent all 40,000 students home to their parents for the weekend, I did throw a leg of lamb into the truck bed and took off, myself, for home, and cooked, and cried, and cooked some more.
Here’s an insanely good late-summer soup. Everything you need for this is waiting for you at the produce stand, right now!
Tomato and Peach Bisque
1 onion, chopped
2 T butter
2 lb tomatoes, peeled, cored (but not seeded) and coarsely chopped
2 medium peaches, peeled and chopped
½ C cream
½ t salt
Heat butter in large pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, peaches, salt, and a T of tarragon and simmer about 20 minute or until the tomatoes break up. Puree in a blender and add cream. Serve hot or cold. Top with more chopped tarragon.