Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Statues - Mauthausen

I've written about walking the grounds of Mauthausen already - that story is here, if you're interested.  I think I mention somewhere that there isn't an inch of the building that hasn't been turned into a memorial.  What I forgot to mention is that just beyond the central camp buildings, out where the grass is green in a way that belies its sordid history, is a statue garden.  Built by the nations in honor of those they lost, these statues are a promise.  A promise to never forget how deeply hate can burn.  A promise to never forget the lives that were lost, and that still can be lost, when prejudice is manipulated.  And above all else, a promise to learn, and to prevent this from ever happening again.  Now, the sculpted steel giants on the lawn of Mauthausen guard that promise, and when you walk among them, you'll want to guard that promise, too.   

Monday, August 30, 2010

Last time, I swear.  I'd have stopped after the first one, but there's just too much.    

One last look at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Baby, You're Lost Out There In A Different Place

[*A correction to something I said yesterday: those pick-up trucks?  The ones backed up against the fence?  Those might as well be V.I.P. seats.  You have to reserve one of those spots (though they usually go to the parents of the teens in The Scramble - no better place to cheer on your kid than at ground level, where they might be able to hear you under their helmets).]

[*And my apologies for the increasing lack of picture quality.  We lost the light as the event rolled into the evening, and however bright the stadium lights might have made things, it just couldn't compare to the light of the sun.  Sorry.] 

Anyway.  The Scramble.

The rules are simple.  High School girls participate in the Pig Scramble.  If you catch a pig, you have half an hour to get the pig into the chalk circle at the center of the arena.  As long as your hands are on the piggy, it's yours - no one can come and steal it out of your arms.  But if you lose your hold on the pig?  Then it's fair game.  And if you get your pig to the circle, you're guaranteed an animal to raise and show at next year's fair.

The piggies scatter as the girls run into the herd, diving face first into the mud, scrabbling for pig legs.  Some of the lucky pig-catchers gamely get their legs under them, hauling the animals off the ground and carrying them to the circle.  They know this is not a game of stamina.

The others hunker down over their pigs, holding them still with their whole bodies until they can work out a plan of attack.  

(Don't fret for the piggies, though.  These animals weigh just as much, if not more, as the girls lying on top of them.  If anyone's feeling broken and abused by the end of the night, it's not the ham.)

From there on, the techniques vary.  Most shimmy their way forward on their knees, arms tightly latched around the pig beneath them, pushing their way towards the circle one agonizing inch at a time.  The vultures have descended at this point, girls with empty hands standing at the ready over the mud-covered pig-holders, waiting for the moment the pork makes a run for it.  Last year's participants are also nearby, barking out warnings to the troublemakers trying to startle the animals, and ready to help the exhausted winners out of the mud.  

One by one, the piggies get to the circle.  One girl lays on her side and kicks her way backwards through the mud to the chalk.  Another, to the delighted cheers of the crowd, wraps her arms and legs around the animal, and barrel-rolls herself and her pig to the center of the arena.  The stadium roars when the last girl drags her pig home, and she leaves the arena with jelly legs, while the rest of the challengers leave with mud.

The Calf Scramble isn't much different, though everything feels like it's been kicked up a notch. 

Teenaged boys are released into the arena to chase down the calves.  Once they get their hands on the beef, they have forty-five minutes to correctly tie a harness on the animal and lead it into the newly drawn chalk circle.  Like the pig scramble, as long as you're touching the animal, it's yours, and like the pig scramble, if you lose it, you're out of luck.  Get the calf to the circle, and you've got an animal to show at next years fair.

The stadium rumbles under the cheers of the crowd, the energy of the boys, the racing of the calves.  Over the loudspeaker, the announcer tells us that only one of these animals weighs less than 500 pounds, and we hold our breath when a boy disappears under the legs of a beast.  He pops up right after, covered in mud but no worse for wear.

Number 8, the only boy not taller than a calf, captures our hearts when he pushes the sleeves of his too-big sweatshirt up over his hands and throws his arms around the first animal that comes his way.  He digs his heels deep into the mud, and sets to tying his harness around the calf's head.  We cheer his certain victory.

On the other end of the arena, other boys have caught and harnessed their own animals, but there's still one rogue on the loose.  It runs from one end to the other, down to the place where Number 8 is leading his stubborn calf towards the circle.  The rogue barrels through the space between them, ripping the rope out of Number 8's hands, and the crowd boos as a vulture swoops down and hastily unties the harness from the newly liberated calf.  Number 8, with mud on his front and his hands rubbed raw, hangs his head.  He will not win a calf today.

The rest of the evening is less inspiring.  The boys with the longest arms wrap the leads around one hand, and wrap their other hand around the tail to better navigate their stubborn calves.  The rest just dig their boots deeper into the slippery mud, pulling forward while the animals plant their feet and push decidedly backwards.  And if one of last year's boys comes around the back to give the beast a motivating slap on rump, just to move things along, well, maybe we all pretend not to see it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Everything is Fine and She's Now Mine

I almost forgot about the fair.

That's no small feat, let me tell you.  Springfield, Ohio is the birthplace of 4-H (there's a plaque on the sidewalk and everything, so you know it's real), so the Clark County Fair is quite the event 'round these parts.  We've gone every year that we've been here, though it's sometimes been out of duty instead of desire.

So we'll go, and do the fair things: walk the midway with a bag of cotton candy; stroll through the produce pavilions, and wonder what makes this zucchini better than that zucchini; coo over the (big) little piggies and chuckle darkly at the Pork Producers' stand selling delicious chops just across the way from the barn, the smell of barbeque just nearly masking the smell of manure.

But the main event, the one that the folks here come back to year after year, packing the stadium full on a Friday night (and if there are no seats left in the bleachers, they just pull their pick-up trucks around to the other side of the arena) is The Scramble.

It starts with the Kiddy Pig Chase.  While the parents cheer them on from behind the chalk line, children run barefoot through the mud, chasing down four pigs, hoping to catch one of the red ribbons tied around the piggie bellies.  There's a bit of drama - there always is.  Parents who won't stay behind the chalk lines like they're told.  Parents who are so sure that their child got to the ribbon first.  A rumor floats down the line that one of the kids, outraged that she wouldn't be able to keep the ribbon she stole from the hands of another child, bit one of the teenage volunteers in the ankle.

But outside of the few sour grapes, the pig chase goes well; the winners get their prizes, and the rest happily splash in the mud puddles until their parents come to collect them.

The teen volunteers heard the pigs into their pens as quickly as possible, so as to spend the most amount of time playing "Who Can We Make the Most Dirty Against Their Will?", which does include the time honored trick of kneeling behind another person's legs and waiting for them to step backwards.  Even the Fair Queen gets in on the act, walking delicately across the arena in her clean white dress, mud slicked up the backs of her thighs.

Once all the kids are safely out of the mud, a volunteer runs out to re-draw the chalk lines, adding a big white circle in the middle of the stadium.  It's nearly time for the Main Event.

The Scramble.

Come back tomorrow, and hear the rest of the story.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Just a Little Green, Like the Color When the Spring is Born

And here, still more, from the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

If you've never been, you ought to go.  Atlanta's worth seeing anyway, as it's a big city with lots of things in it.  Go in the morning, before the air gets too hot, and wear a little bug spray, should the mosquitos grace you with their presence, and enjoy your time among the flowers.

(And if you get too hot, just duck into the Highlands Room, where the brisk mountain temperatures will cool the sweat on your skin, and quails will scurry along the floor and coo at you from behind the shielding plant fronds.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I Ate That

That is an unbaked apple strudel.  Or, as they say in Austria, "apfelstrudel."

It's a traditional Viennese dessert, though we were in Innsbruck at the time, stopped at a pastry school that sat on top of a hill.  (Years later, I'd find out that Friend Ashley had gone to school to become a pastry chef.  I didn't ask if the two were related, but I like to think that they were.)

Our big group of forty American teenagers split down into ten groups of four, one for each of the ten baking stations in the big, sterile kitchen, each station with the ingredients carefully measured out for us.  The instructor, a small man with grey hair and a kind smile, barked out instructions from the front of the room in heavily accented english, making big, comical gestures with his arms when he couldn't find the right words.  We'd take turns rolling the dough and chopping the apples, trying to find the best way for four people to make one apfelstrudel.  And once the apple filling had been carefully folded into its dough pocket, and the glazed pastry baked gently in the oven, we'd titter headily at the rum the recipe called for, and how much extra we'd pretended to put in the filling, making sly references to smuggling the bottles, still capped at our baking stations, out of the school under our jackets.   

The finished pastries would come out of the oven with varying degrees of success, but we didn't care.  We made them!  And though ours was a little lumpy, and had too much cinnamon for my taste, we ate every last crumb. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Don't Tell Me The Truth That Your Heart Has Hardened

No fancy words today, but I don't think they were needed.  Instead, enjoy this sorry attempt at fancy photography, all taken at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.