Monday, February 24, 2014

The Unbearable Sharpness of Cats

The dilemma, when a cat who loves you has jumped up,purring, onto your shoulders, is that if you bend over only enough to provide the cat a gentle slope so that it can climb down without having to dig its claws in and shred you, you are not providing adequate incentive for the cat to climb down in the first place.

"Why," says the cat to itself (cats being fairly introspective creatures), "why would I jump down now, just when things have gotten so comfortable?"

Cats are too fond of comfort to pick nits about whether they are actually comfortable. This may be the most ancient and insoluble paradox of domestic catdom. Unlike, for instance, the most ancient and insoluble paradox of, say, wild honey-badgerdom, which is how to be the most badass thing since Chuck Norris' beard's solo career without actually getting eaten by leopards.

We all make sacrifices.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bend. Big Bend.

Can you think of any reason you might not want to attend the Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest?

Well, if you're you, there might not be a reason, because it's awesome. Riding a bike off-road is awesome. Big Bend is awesome. Here, by the way, is the moon setting over Terlingua at sunrise as we headed towards Big Bend Ranch State Park's Lajitas station, where most of the rides begin.
Just think what I could do with an iPhone 5!

The only problem with attending this event, of course, is that we suck. The boyfriend is slow, but soldiers on through moderate obstacles, whereas I tend to stop and dismount if I see anything likely to exhibit unpredictable behavior, such as a rock.

The people who sign up for the Bike Fest ride off cliffs as a matter of course. If I go to an event like this, I am participating as obstacle, not rider.

Nonetheless we put in several very fun miles along the easy routes (fire roads) and met some extremely friendly and tolerant people. Not to mention brightly dressed. One tremendous rider dropped off a steep descent and flew past me, walking my bike, and overtook my boyfriend, riding (but slowly and cautiously) a couple hundred feet ahead.

The rider was wearing a bright pink kit, the same shade as my jersey. For a split second, as he approached and passed, my boyfriend had a momentary impression that I had grown a pair. It only takes a moment - and one can only hope that, as the actual serious badass biker blasted past, he found encouragement in the heartfelt shout of "GREAT JOB, HONEY!" that he received.

Otherwise, better luck next year.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Send In the Warms

Holiday weekend coming up, and it should be a beautiful one. Time to get outside!

But not tonight. Tonight I am bundled up with flannel PJs, a bathrobe on the back of me, a Snuggie on the front of me, a blanket over my lap, and a couple of cats in my hair. The plants are all inside or covered with blankets. All the faucets are dripping. I am so over this.

Here's a nice, warm image: this mural stands at the entrance to an interpretive exhibit at McKinney Falls State Park, on Onion Creek in southeast Austin. It shows typical examples of people who have frequented the area through the ages, past and - well, not quite as past.
Any time now I expect to go back there and see a guy in a fedora and skinny jeans to the woman's right.

I wonder who she was? Presumably, somebody modeled for that painting. Hope she's keeping warm.

Labels: ,

Sunday, February 09, 2014

For the Record

In case it ever comes up, which one ardently hopes it doesn't:
I post this because of the way the news media typically report cyclist deaths: A texting, speeding SUV driver jumps the median and swerves across three lanes of oncoming traffic, taking out a cyclist in the opposite bike lane before attempting to flee the scene and ending up wedged through the front window of a laundromat. "It wasn't clear whether the cyclist had lights," the article will conclude.

The laundromat is usually presumed to be innocent.

The driver is as well, unless it turns out that s/he was intoxicated. Being spectacularly and fatally unable to control a motor vehicle while cold sober is perfectly normal, and nothing to be concerned about.

I also wear a helmet every time I ride these days, though I'm doubtful of its usefulness in the above scenario. Helmets are really designed for lesser collisions, such as if you suddenly lose your balance for no reason and fall on your head at five miles per hour. This does actually describe my cycling style pretty well. In fact, I should probably wear it for walking too, and definitely in the shower, though getting it wet might void the warranty.

But one thing I adamantly don't do is advocate for helmet use. I really can't stand sanctimonious helmet-pushers. I was chewed out by one, after a helmetless excursion, a few years ago. She wouldn't drop the subject and actually grabbed my arm and yelled at me for my wanton disregard for my own well-being, a cigarette dangling from her free hand. I haven't gotten over the trauma, and to this day, if I saw her coming the other way on the hike-and-bike trail, I'd take my helmet off and throw it into the lake rather than let her see me wearing one. You don't want to encourage these people.

This was a great weekend to get a little biking in - highs in the mid-70s today, and beautiful and sunny, after wintry mix last week and another bout of sleet and possible snow in the forecast by Wednesday. But one unfortunate side effect of wildly bipolar weather is that you end up getting too sick to enjoy the good days. We did a few miles on the South Walnut Creek trail yesterday. Today, I contented myself with giving the bike a bath and charging up my lights.

Tomorrow I'm reporting for jury duty in District court. Those are typically traffic violations. I'm hoping that if I show up sneezing, shivering, soaked, helmeted, and bitterly resentful, they'll just send me home.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Long Dark Weekend of the Soul

The problem with government employee holidays is they always sneak up on you. There you are, innocently minding your own business, and you suddenly realize that LBJ's birthday falls on the next Monday and if you don't make spectacular plans for it, you're completely frivoling away one of your few chances to thumb your nose at the private sector.

One excellent plan would be to visit the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park in Stonewall. This is the site of LBJ's ranch, and by the way, the only state-designated Ranch Road in Texas (Ranch Road 1). We have lots of other state-maintained roads colloquially referred to as ranch roads, but they're not. They're really Ranch-to-Market Roads, which are the same thing as Farm-to-Market Roads (technically the same classification), so you can call them RMs, but they are really FMs, and RRs? Nope, just the one.

The more you know.

Anyway, the LBJ Ranch features the Texas White House, a nice, reasonably modest old frame house which houses the late President's office-away-from-the-office. There's a set of throw pillows there - no, really, this is where the joke about Dubya came from - embroidered with a saying of Mr. Johnson's to the effect that this is his place and he'll do as he damn well pleases, except that for some reason the word "well" is left out. Probably the same reason that my grandfather said "a-TALL" instead of "at all." It's some weird old people thing.

There's also a very cool collection of some of LBJ's cars, including the amphibious one he used to drive into the lake with unsuspecting passengers in tow just to see the expressions on their faces, and the ranch's specially bred herd of cattle.

Now - and this perked up my biking bits; God help you if you have a mental image of what those might be - there is also a 9+ mile circuit of paved roads throughout the ranch on which you are encouraged to tune out, clip in, and spin to your heart's content on your road bike, free from the terrors of traffic. It sounds enchanting, to me, because the countryside out there is gently rolling, never terribly steep, you can do as many loops as you want, and Texas winter weather is on the mild side of schizophrenic.

There are loose livestock to contend with, of course. But as long as your own character is irreproachable, this is nothing to be concerned about.

But my boyfriend wants to go to Big Bend Ranch State Park and bring the mountain bikes. Which is a whole nother issue.

Sure, there are loose livestock - I mean, I'm sorry, but cattle are what they are. But there are also heavily armed cacti, javelinas, and other general hazards, including rocks. Generally speaking, I love mountain biking, but would really prefer if the trails were paved. And I had smooth tires. On, you know, something a little more nimble and lightweight. Also, my boyfriend has an unfortunate tendency to be a wheelsucker, which doesn't end well when we're mountain biking and I find myself required to dismount suddenly because tree.

Those fuckers come out of NOWHERE.

So one way or another, we're going on a road trip, in honor of whichever holiday is coming up this time (I can't be bothered to look it up if we still get mail delivery on it). Happy whatever it is, all of you who are stuck in the office! I'll be fending off the advances of cattle and running into the underbrush.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, February 02, 2014

On Opera, Football, and Saying F It and Watching Netflix

In Giacomo Puccini's Tosca, Mario Cavaradossi explains to his friend, the escaped political prisoner Cesare Angelotti, that he has not told his girlfriend about hiding the prisoner because Tosca is devout, and keeps nothing back from the priest who hears her confession.

Fair enough. Tosca is deeply religious and has a trusting nature. She believes in the sanctity of the confessional. Her lover, Cavaradossi (who incidentally is easily the least interesting character in the opera and needs all the help he can get) tells us with this observation that he (1) accepts and loves Tosca's innocence, and (2) has a much deeper and more realistic understanding of the political situation in Napoleon-era Rome.

This ties in perfectly with the last act. Think about it!

So, when the Austin Lyric Opera decides to translate this line on the supertitles as "Tosca is a wonderful woman, but she can't keep a secret," they malign Tosca's character, refrain from telling us a key background/foreshadowing plot element, and deprive Cavaradossi of what little he's got going for him.

I guess that's the most concrete quibble I had with their production. The singing was quite good; the timing of the stage direction just didn't work - but most of my other objections would amount to artistic differences, and as long as I'm merely a member of the audience I probably just need to suck those up.

Except for the new trend - I don't know if this is ALO, or more probably just the Long Center's policy - of actually allowing food and beverage IN THE HOUSE DURING THE PERFORMANCE.

I mean, drinks would be one thing. They don't make noise, although one operagoer noisily kicked over an empty plastic cup while trying to make a discreet restroom exit. But plastic trays of crackers, cheese, and grapes? Cellulose bags of cookies? These things are loud!

Likewise, you can't blame ALO for the fact that audiences add stage-whispered commentary to the action ("YES!" hissed the woman behind me as Tosca snatched a knife from the floor - at the wrong time; I'll get into that in a bit) and are woefully ignorant of the proper use of "Bravo," "Brava," "Bravi," and "Brave" (that last pretty much never comes up except at performances of Suor Angelica).

They also dress abysmally. "Riff-raff!" exclaimed my boss, as I was trying to explain to him all my problems with the production. But, seriously. My parents took me to the opera frequently when I was a very little girl. Women wore long gowns, and men wore evening clothes. There was enough fur to re-introduce robust mink populations to the wild. And for Christ's sake you chugged the remnants of your wine in the lobby when the lights dimmed.

These days, jeans and Uggs apparently qualify as formal wear, as long as you pair them with a sparkly sweater.

And, finally, the timing issues: some appeared deliberate, as when Tosca picked up the knife before agreeing to give herself to Scarpia, which makes a significant difference. Having her make a few practice feints in the air as he's writing out the safe-passage just sells out a dark and tense scene for comic effect. And in fact there were far too many serious elements of the story played broadly for laughs in this production. Tosca's final stand before throwing herself off the Palazzo Farnese was slow, stiff, and awkward, though not intentionally played that way. The whole performance felt sluggish and poorly timed.

So, naturally, the audience gave it a standing ovation (which is now apparently the bare minimum expression of not completely loathing something) and then hastened out to their cars without a second curtain call. Do we need to give opera-going lessons here?

On a probably unrelated note, the Seattle Seahawks won the Superbowl (or superb owl) tonight, and I was pleased, inasmuch as I found Seattle to be a highly agreeable city on my recent visit. Mind you, I've been to Boulder as well, and it's nothing to sneeze at. So I wouldn't have been in the least upset if the Broncos had won either, especially since Seattle's color scheme is dreadful; really, navy and lime green? Really?!

I tried drinking beer, but you can only watch so much football. We Netflixed Portlandia to pass the time between commercials. It's similar to Seattle.

But you have to hand it to East Rutherford, New Jersey. They got an actual opera singer to do the National Anthem. Bravi, Seahawks! I hope to tour Italy one day and maybe get my butt grabbed as much as Russell Wilson did tonight.

Labels: , ,