Been There, Done That

commentary on many different thoughts

Month: January, 2016

Harper Lee

Will get back to the Trip shortly.  Needed to air this op-ed piece first!

I always take reading material with me on any trip.  This time, my paper companions were Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird, and the sequel (or pre-quell, depending on your outlook) Go Set a Watchman.  I hadn’t read Mockingbird since high school, (it differs in marked ways from the outstanding film with Gregory Peck) so I thought it would be a good idea to catch up on that one before reading Watchman.  Spoiler alert:  there will be details, so if you haven’t read Watchman and are planning on it, you might want to stop here.  Your call.

First off, Atticus Finch (as portrayed in the film by Gregory Peck) is about half of the reason I became a lawyer (the other half is a long story and for private conversation only).  Atticus Finch in the film and the Atticus Finch in the book are two distinct characters.  This definitely colors the take on the second book.

The media buzz on Watchman was expressed with horror that Atticus Finch, that icon of Truth, Justice and the American way, turns out to be (shudder) as bigoted as his fellow Alabamans.  There is a passage in Watchman which underscores a chance remark in Mockingbird and sets the stage for the entire issue.  If you read the two books in sequence, (and not the film) you will find that Atticus clearly states that the last thing in the world that he WANTS to do is defend Tom Robinson.  He is defending Tom Robinson because he had no options – the judge appointed him for the defense.  Being the honorable man and upright attorney that Atticus is, he will fight the good fight and provide Robinson with the best defense he can give him – not because he wants to but because he is a man of honor and believes that everyone is entitled to fair treatment in court.  This is, by the way, what inspired me.

Granted, you probably wouldn’t pick the changes up if you hadn’t read Mockingbird in conjunction with Watchman. The media hype is revisionist history.  Watchman is set in Alabama (rural Alabama – going to Birmingham or Mobile is going to the “big city”) in the 1950s, and the attitudes expressed clearly reflect the attitudes current in the 1950s, not the enlightened present.

 Jean-Louise’s overreaction to watching her father (whom she had previously thought perfect) tumbling off the pedestal she made for him is enough to put me off “Scout” forever.  Truth be told, there are many books that are what a friend of mine calls “shoebox books”, the ones the writer puts away in a shoebox after writing because they’re not good enough to submit to a publisher, or maybe if they sit for a  few years and then come up for re-writes, they might eventually make it.  Watchman was obviously one of those books that should never have seen the publisher’s desk.

100 Horses in History


Gayle Stewart, 2015, Blood Horse Publications, available on Amazon.  I’ve been asked to review.

If you have a horse-crazed 10-12 year old, this one is the perfect coffee table book.  Brief sketches of famous horses (fact or fiction) with sound-bite biographies.  Easy read, lovely photos.  The concept is, I believe, to display horses who had an impact on history.

There were several horses who did not appear whom I thought should have rated mention:  Wing Commander, the American Saddlebred poster boy;  Ruffian, the filly who won – and broke – our hearts with her courage; Poco Bueno, American Quarter Horse extraordinaire; and Maximus, the cavalry horse from the Disney cartoon Tangled, who should definitely have been included over Prince Phillip’s cartoon horse Samson.  She does, however, include my absolute all-time favorite short story, Kipling’s The Maltese Cat.

The only real objection I have is the use of the film version of National Velvet as opposed to the book, although the author references the book.    In the book, the little girl wins The Pie (a piebald) in a lottery, and determines to run him in the Grand National, despite the fact that he’s a grade horse (Thoroughbreds are not piebald genetically), that traditionally the Grand National has been won by thoroughbreds and you must have a thoroughbred to run in the Grand National, and – worst of all – she’s a gurr-ul and there is no such thing as girl jockeys.  The movie makes big play of the “she’s a girl” part but completely misses the point of the book – they cast a chestnut thoroughbred as “The Pie”.  I would have liked to have seen the author pick up on this.

On the whole, a charming look at history, art, films and legend, and any horse-crazed kid will appreciate this one.

By The Way

Since I dropped the ball on these posts for a few months, there is another exciting happening that needs mentioning.  In October, I got a chance to participate in the Academy National Finals again.  In what was quite a competitive class, Big (he is formally W.C. High in the Sky) and I finished second in the preliminary round of Academy Pleasure Driving.  I was informed that my sweeping turn through the center of the ring (between the judges’ stand and the photographer’s display) was “not done”.  Pity; it was a lovely, sweeping change of direction, and we were already on our trot before the others had even turned around.  Ah well.  Who lives, learns.

In the championship, we were reserve champion – second in the nation!! We beat the pair who beat us in the preliminary round,  but couldn’t quite get the first-place pair.  Something to aim for next year.  According to my wonderful teacher Courtney Huguley, I put in two of my best performances of the whole year in these two classes.  That means a lot.

Big champ

I am beginning to get  the feel of communicating with the horse at a distance – Big and I “talked” the entire time in the ring.  Thank you again, Courtney, for a fabulous year, and thank you Big for taking such good care of me.

On the Side


I think the barista liked me!

Just as an aside, the demographics of the cruise were interesting.  Since we sailed on the 5th of December (before schools let out), there were very few children (yeah!) and the majority of the adults were retirees.  Heavily Brazilian, Argentine and Canadian.  Quite a few Americans.  What was really embarrassing was the number of passengers (unfortunately primarily American) who heard only “summertime” and “South” America, and packed t-shirts and shorts.  Only t-shirts and shorts.  By the time we got to the Falklands, we were well into the Furious 50s (50+ degrees south latitude), and the temperatures never cleared 30 degrees.

Shout out and thank you to the Emslie brothers, who advised me to pack every warm piece of clothing I own.  I even brought enough to lend.  And the ship’s store did a land office business in turtlenecks and sweatshirts.

The Falklands

Our next port of call was Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands.  Or, if you are from Argentina, the Malvinas.  And believe me, they do hold a grudge.

I was planning to visit a sheep-ranch, where the plan was a sheep-to-shawl session, which I thought was going to be fun.  There was only one problem.

Port Stanley harbor is not deep enough in draft for the big cruise ships.  So one must take a launch in to the dock.  So far, so good.  But the launches stand about 3 meters tall.  The day we were supposed to dock, the waves were running 4.5 meters minimum.  No Falklands.  But had lovely adventures on a rocking boat.  About half the passengers played possum for the next couple of days.

Puerto Madryn

Next stop on the cruise was Puerto Madryn, Argentina.  We visited wildlife refuges and a penguin rookery.  Saw guanacos (relative of the llama but running wild), rheas (relative of the ostrich), sea lions, elephant seals, dolphins, orcas, and, of course, penguins. (The white blob in the bottom photo is the elephant seal!)


This Year’s Big Adventure

My big travel adventure this year was the fulfilment of a lifetime’s dream. I have always wanted to see Tierra del Fuego (don’t ask me why), and this year, I finally got to do it.  I flew to Buenos Aires and met the cruise ship there.

First port of call was Montevideo, Uruguay.  Lovely, lovely city.  Just outside the terminal, there is a memorial, shown below.  This is the anchor of the Graf Spee, which was scuttled in Montevideo harbor during WWII.  According to maritime law, any ship (even an enemy ship during wartime) must be permitted to limp into harbor for repairs and the harbor personnel must furnish them.  The repairs are only required to the extent that the ship can drag itself home, not resume action.  The captain of the Graf Spee opted to scuttle the ship, and committed suicide as it went down. The anchor was retrieved.

Montevideo is across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires (above lower right).  The river, at this point, is 125 kilometers across, which completely blew my mind.

There Will Be Blog!

Back in business after a bit of a hiatus.  Just in time to wish everyone a very, very Happy New Year and a wonderful 2016.

Gumpaste poinsettias by yours truly to brighten the season!