23 July, 2007

a big storm, and a tiny pony

What a fabulous time we've had here with Cici to add to the vacation cheer. The first day of her visit was a washout, which was actually perfect: cozy indoor times for Avery and Cici to catch up on all the year's gossip and news, time for me to bleach out the nasty kitchen cupboards that had gathered cob- and spiderwebs all year, to empty out the pantry staples that didn't survive the winter, assess what needed to be brought home from the supermarket, watch a little "Days of Our Lives," revel in the enormous washing machine (but it doesn't do half the job our much-maligned tiny Miele does in England: you can get either efficiency or capacity, it would seem but not both).

The lawn thrived over the winter, as you can see, with the intrepid help of our grass-care team who refuses to bill us. Honestly, we live in fear of the day that whoever in the office at that outfit finds out they haven't billed us in four years. How many times can we beg for an invoice? "Ayep, I'll have to talk to Eric/Scott/David in the office and they'll be in touch about that. See ya." Oh my. We'll owe the national debt. It's just one of those Connecticut things. They exist on a different plane here.

Avery had a tennis lesson! A nice Eastern European man called Val, in superb physical condition, with a nice no-nonsense manner, taught her for an hour, very relaxed but exacting, and by the end of the lesson she was able to hold up her end of a very respectable rally, or volley, or whatever it's called. Then, sadly, the next morning during HIS lesson with Val, John tore up some essential muscle in his back and spent the day full of Advil and feeling every one of his 43 years. It's tough to get old! We girls on the other hand spent the day lazing around at the Southbury Municipal Pool, soaking up carefully screened sun, paging through books (Avery was amused to see that a lady across the grass was just about as far through the fifth Harry Potter book as Avery was herself!), watching clouds cross the sun at infrequent intervals. At one point I heard a voice say, "Hey there," and then, "Hello!" and finally decided the person was talking to me, and I gazed up with my hand blocking the sun to see... my sister Jill! Have you ever been taken completely unaware by a person who most definitely didn't belong where she was? I felt that an alternate universe had opened up, or a hole in time. What fun to have an unexpected chat! She had been on her way from checking on a race-support truck in New Jersey (the life of an ESPN executive stops for no one) and decided to take a detour and see us, and was sent to the pool by the patient John, flat on his injured back. We made a plan to get together over the weekend.

Finally we had to go home, with a stop at the grocery store to get ingredients for a lip-smacking barbecued rib dinner complete with corn on the cob. I sent Avery and Cici over to invited Anne and David from across the road, and it was but the work of a moment to put together a variation on the barbecue sauce I gave you last week:

Barbecue Sauce Part II

equal parts: ketchup, soy sauce, sesame oil, lime juice
1-inch knob of giner, peeled and minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
zest of 1 lemon

Mix all ingredients and slather over whatever you plan to grill. Our baby back spare ribs took about an hour on medium heat, after marinating for half an hour. Longer marination would be better even than that, but they were really tasty.


What a delight to have Anne and David back in our lives. I try not to think, during the year in London, what it used to be like to have their friendship a road's width away every weekend. As much as I adore my London friends, and our happy social circle (happy for the most part, of course!), there's nothing like old friends, who have known you under lots of different circumstances: being introduced on that first sunny house-hunting day so long ago, when we first encountered Red Gate Farm. We were all standing across the road, having just met, looking over at the house and feeling the first thrill of ownership. Anne was most diffident in explaining her connection to the neighborhood: having been raised there weekends with her famous grandmother, Gladys Taber. David described a very small bit his upcoming book publication, which later of course was revealed as the extremely well-researched and unputdownable Crash Out, about Sing Sing Prison. Both of them were completely unnecessarily nice to Avery, then just a small five-year-old with a penchant for behaving already as if she belonged in a covey of adults.

Since then of course there have been countless visits over the fence, a heartwarming bagel brunch on one anniversary of September 11, when it felt right to be with other New Yorkers, candelit picnic table dinners by the dozens, a Christmas Eve cocktail party here with all Gladys Taber hors d'oeuvres! And so many lively discussions of books, films, the antics of Quincy and Emmy the cats. How many times have they entertained Avery just on her own? It takes unusual people to want to answer the screen-door knock of a six- or even ten-year old girl, to hear what she has to say.

So we sat on by the light of the candles on Friday evening, watching moths do their kamikaze routines, while the girls watched a movie, and just caught up. As we do every time we go back and forth between America and England, we ended up surveying the world scene as we see it and comparing American views to what we've been exposed to as English views, analyzing politics of the past and present, wondering what is on the horizon for the coming year or so. I always come away from these talks wishing I were even half as well-informed and analytical as they are; I think of them as true New Yorkers who would not let the week go by without thoroughly perusing the Times (which I could never manage even when I lived there) and giving ample thought to the week's events, critical of what they see and read, ready to have a passionate opinion on just about everything, but in the end, optimistic and full of energy. Such fun just to sit back and revel in the discussion. Then, too, we heard stories about the Land Trust activities around here (always grateful for every piece of green earth that escapes the developers!), the various wildlife cruising the neighborhood, they heard stories about Avery's manic London schedule, John's real estate obsessions, my cooking goals. It's always hard to look at the clock and admit we should all go to sleep and be ready to face the next morning!

Which brought a trip into town, eventually to see "Wicked," but first to stop off in Riverdale for a riding lesson with Avery's beloved and much-missed trainer Christine. Oh, the contrast between her London experiences and these in New York! There is no way to prefer one over the other, but it's night and day. In London Avery's responsible for tacking up, cleaning saddles, forking hay, cleaning up all the muck, sweeping up poo from the streets as they make their way home from Hyde Park. Then there's a little bit of time riding! The stable is presided over by the regal Kirstie Nye (unless her 80-year-old father is around!) and the children are an integral part of the workings of every day. And the horses! Big ones, small ones, mouths of steel, temperamental prima donnas, enormous guys who are terrified of a tissue floating by, and then little 37-year-old ponies who have seen it all. But at Riverdale: Avery shows up in her riding togs, and a lovely young man who speaks no English leads her to a perfect, completely pristine white pony who looks as if she just stepped off a carousel. Avery is given a "leg up" onto the pony and rides regally down from the stable to the ring, where she is mercilessly screamed at (why she loves this I do not know) for an hour, going round and round, jumping ever higher and more perfectly, on jumps set up by a groom before her arrival. At the end of the hour, she rides serenely back to the stable where she's relieved of the pony by another groom, and goodbye!

There's room in the world, certainly, for both approaches. I love seeing her on a specimen of ponydom that simply has no flaws, and with whom it's possible for Avery to achieve any skill without thinking about what the pony wants or needs. On the other hand, seeing her get to know many different horses' personalities, leading them to their stalls and taking off all their little bits and pieces, understanding their weaknesses and flaws: that's lovely too. And I wouldn't want to have to choose, full-stop, between the gorgeous red barns and white fences of Riverdale, and the urban glories of Hyde Park. How nice we can have both.

It's great to be back. I keep trying to analyze what makes life in Connecticut so different from life in London. Some of it is nothing more than the difference between suburban and big-city life: it's so much easier to live out in the boondocks where the parking spaces are plentiful and all larger than you need, where the supermarket aisles are ridiculously wide and there is always everything you need in the store! No traffic jams, no pollution, no crowds, and GREEN everywhere, plus the sound of a rolling brook when it rains, and the sight of a flock of wild turkeys in the meadow! And did Gary the groundhog eat the melon rind you left for him? It's such a welcome change from remembering complicated schedules, circling the block to find a place to put your car (I know! we shouldn't have one at all), dragging home too-heavy bags of stuff for dinner, for lunch at the barn, all the bustle of city life, as much as I adore London.

But some of the contrasts are in the differences between America and England. America feels so relentlessly young! Energetic, spontaneous, positive, powerful, ambitious, friendly, optimistic, endearingly naive sometimes, and undaunted by... anything. England in retrospect feels very historically grounded, complex, slow to make judgments about people, reserved and elegant, reluctant to commit itself, a little disappointed, I think, in the world around her, sophisticated and cosmopolitan. Does that make sense? I love them both, and the flip side of loving them both is that I always miss the energy of America when I'm in England, and miss the thoughtfulness of England when I'm in America. What would we have if we could combine them? In either a person or a country. Maybe if we play our cards right, we could have... Avery!

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