Clip, Clop

Yesterday we walked around the historic section of Charleston, including the beautiful St. Philip’s Church and its adjoining cemetery. The cemetery has some magnificent live oak, magnolia, and myrtle trees and is home to the gravesites of some notable American historical figures, like John C. Calhoun.

There were many horse-drawn carriage tours on the streets of the old section as we meandered along, so our stroll occurred to the accompaniment of the clip-clop sound of horse hooves on stone streets and the smell of large working animals on a warm autumn day. It’s a peaceful sound and smell, especially in comparison to the roar of pickup trucks rumbling by, revving their oversized engines and spewing exhaust. The sight, sound, and smell of passing horses contributed to the historical feel of the area, and made me reflect on the fact that what were common, daily sounds and smells to our ancestors are now sensed so rarely—so rarely that they are a conscious means of creating a historical feel for tourists in an old American city.

I enjoyed hearing that clip-clip sound.

Around Lake Louise

Yesterday we drove to Lake Louise, which is about an hour away from Banff via Canada highway 1, the Trans-Canada highway.  It’s a pleasant ride through more of the towering peaks of the Canadian Rockies.

One of the locals told us that Lake Louise is the most photographed place in Canada.  If that bit of local lore is true, it’s not hard to see why.  The water in the lake is a brilliant turquoise color, like you might find in the Caribbean, and the lake is surrounded by craggy mountains with glaciers at the far end.  It’s a fantastic, beautiful place.

We followed a walking path from the grounds of the Fairmont, which anchors one end of the lake, down toward the glaciers.  The trail runs for about a mile and a half along the rim of the lake.  We shared the path with lots of other gawkers and some trail riders.  

There is still snow melt running into the lake, and the water is icy cold.  At the far end, there is a beach and then the lake becomes a kind of marsh, with the glaciers hovering on the mountaintops far overhead.

I’m not ashamed to say that I took my share of pictures of this wondrous place.  I’ve helped to add even more credibility to that bit of local lore about Canada’s most photographed spot.

Horrors! Horsemeat!

There’s an interesting scandal playing out in Europe.  Products marketed as beef in fact contain horsemeat, and consumers and governments are outraged.

IMG_0445In all, “beef” products sold in 16 different countries have been found to contain horsemeat.  Efforts to trace the source of the horsemeat follow a tortured path from British stores to France, Luxembourg, Cyprus, and the Netherlands.  Ultimately, the trail leads to Romania, where officials disclaim any role in a fraud:  if Romanian slaughterhouses are producing horsemeat, they say, it is forthrightly labeled as horsemeat.  No one, therefore, quite seems to know how horsemeat got into the  “beef” product chain.  That’s why the British Environment Secretary says the scandal involves some kind of international criminal conspiracy.  No one has gotten sick — although health ministers want to test products to make sure they don’t include an animal painkiller that could pose risks for humans — and the fraud claims all relate to simply mislabeling horsemeat as beef.

At bottom, the issue seems to boil down to squeamishness about eating horsemeat.  No one wants to eat My Friend Flicka.  Why is there a cultural taboo in some countries about eating a horse?  We eat cows, chickens, buffalo, pigs, goats, sheep, lambs, ducks, geese, and other birds.  Why should those animals be knocked off to enhance the food supply, but not horses?

I’ve never eaten horsemeat — at least, I don’t think I have, although as this EU scandal indicates, you never really know — but I wouldn’t hesitate to give it a try.  Meat is meat, and meat is protein.  In my view, the fact that it once wore a saddle doesn’t change the analysis.

Blue-Collar Horses

This afternoon I took a walk and chose the south path near the Homestead’s entrance.  The path took me down around a fenced-in meadow where two horses were grazing.  As I approached, they sauntered over to check me out.

If, like me, you aren’t around horses often, you forget how big they are.  These two were working horses – huge, heavily muscled, coats matted, with enormous hooves.  These aren’t the glory boy thoroughbreds who run in races and get pampered in between.  No, these are the blue-collar guys, who get yoked to carriages or pull sledges of logs for their supper, and who are grateful for some free time in a meadow on a sunny afternoon, when they can munch on grass and let their aching muscles rest.

From Grandpa’s Bookshelf: A Noble Horse

Not everything that I’ve inherited from Grandpa Neal’s bookshelf is a book.  Like most of us, his bookshelf also contained pictures, knick-knacks, souvenirs, and other stray items — including a striking metal horse.

I don’t know much about this horse, except that it is a beautiful little piece — about eight inches high and eight inches long, from the tip of the horse’s head to the end of its tail.  The horse has been expertly cast and appears to be made of bronze; it stands, nobly, on a plain pedestal of off-white marble.  Unfortunately, there are no markings of any kind on the marble or the horse that identify where it was made, when, or by whom.

Perhaps Grandpa had an affinity for horses.  He grew up in a rural area, in an era before automobiles, and may have ridden horses as part of his chores.  Or perhaps he was given this horse as a work-related present and kept it at his office.  He may have considered it to be some kind of good luck token; the metal on the horse’s back and belly seems to have been rubbed more frequently than the rest.

I look at this horse, and I think that I would like to know its back story — but I almost certainly never will.  In the meantime, I’ll just appreciate it, and think of Grandpa as I do.

From Grandpa’s Bookshelf:  Optimism Amidst The Great Depression

From Grandpa’s Bookshelf:  Grandma’s Book Of Sayings

The Horse In The Lobby

Good hotels seem to like to have some sort of landmark in the lobby.  Maybe it is just an added feature to make the lobby a bit more memorable, or perhaps its true purpose is to give guests a distinctive place where they can link up after dropping off their bags in their rooms.  (“OK, let’s meet by the clock in the lobby at 6:30.”)

I stayed at the Houston Four Seasons recently, and it is a fine hotel, indeed.  Its “lobby landmark” is a large carved wooden horse that is found at the corner of the lobby, next to the central staircase.  The horse is life-sized, or pretty darned close to it, made of blonde wood, and extremely realistic in appearance.  The craftsmanship on the piece really is quite striking.  As landmarks go, the “blonde wooden horse in the lobby” is pretty strong.

There’s only one problem, apparently.  The horse is located right next to the lobby bar, and according to the bartender there have been occasions where a guest has had a few too many and tried to ride the horse.  This is Texas, after all.