Thursday, October 30, 2008

Beijing Report: 08-10-08

It is hot. Hot. God it's hot. She lilts to the left and offers me a red blanket. Waterless beaches fill with angry children. Miniature suns streak across the horizon and pelt the sand into fine sizzling dust. Habanero clouds hang like humid night-orange fruit. Wait. Jesse James said that. I am not allowed. "Why isn't she?" I ask, as another door silently closes. My fingers grow embarrassed into her and around her neck choking the yellow from her eyes. She whispers a math equation. Three plus infinity equals.... No, it is a chemical problem. Heat and stupidity create an unstable, volatile mixture. Yes, yes. The water returns. And... with that... I am...


Or almost. Opium is a hell of a drug. I am awash in a thick sheet of sweat. The room seems to be entirely two-dimensional and my eyes are filled with cotton. Chan suddenly appears before me. He has a severely burned hotel towel wrapped around his waist. Using a barking noise combined with a type of epileptic semaphore he is trying to communicate with me.

-you were sleeping
-I was dreaming
-you didn't look too good
-it was something about a lizard
-we have to get out of here

We grab the tickets for the Equestrian Dressage and head for the Volvo.

The road to Sha Tin Stadium in Hong Kong is empty except for the free Tibet protestors, uniformed with Richard Gere masks and empty gerbil leashes, who pop up like mile markers along the 1000 mile corridor. Chan and I re-acclimate ourselves narcotically and spend the bulk of the trip in a smooth gurgling warmth. The Volvo, resistant at first, more than lives up to its reputation and we find ourselves at the city limits in record time.

Equestrian Dressage is commonly regarded as the most civilized event at the Olympics, using terms like "Airs above the ground" and "Baroque", and it hits a strong 8.7 on the Fitzfield-Klein Gay Meter. From the videos I researched it appears to be a sport predicated on the idea of getting your horse to behave well at a tea party. This takes years of training and involves many esoteric techniques. Controversy has surrounded this event ever since the Foundational Uniform Codifying Knights of Equestrian Dressage, the sport's governing body, instituted the practice of 'cosseting', or the sewing shut of a horse's anus in an effort to prevent virulent discharge, in 1989. PETA was involved and the sport's Olympic status was in peril but Ingrid Newkirk was plied with bourbon and coupons for Black Angus and here we are.

Chan and I made our way to participant's table, where the brightest lights of this proud event were gathered, and sat down. Isabell Werth, of the troubled German squad (steroids, white slavery), mistook Chan for a Japanese dignitary and presented him with a gold plated marmot. The table was laid out with expensive champagnes and inedible cheeses. Debbie McDonald, Dressage's elder stateswoman and a notorious drunk, was doing her best to live up to her legendary reputation, but the rest of the table was in fine spirits.

In an uncommonly refined move, the participants had decided to forgo the actual events and to determine the winners by means of a brisk and heart felt conversation. Steffen Peters opened with a comment on the beauty of the sylvan landscape, but was shrewdly cut off by Courtney King-Dye's observation that the Chinese were no longer using infant girls as currency. The Austrians mounted an attack but accidentally broke into song and were disqualified.

It seemed all but settled when, out of nowhere, Canada's Eric Lamaze blurted out something about Nietzche's use of irony in his critique of Kant's idealism. It was a tremendously risky maneuver; a less gifted rider had tried a similar approach in 1996 and subsequently lost three fingers on his left hand. But after twenty minutes of back and forth it was decided. Canada would win its first equestrian gold.

I am not one for emotional outbursts, but I am not ashamed to admit that I misted over as the strains of Oh Canada reached their resounding conclusion. Chan and I thanked them for the marmot and for their courageous performances and made our way back to the Volvo.

Tomorrow would be another day, and another event (team handball), but today belonged to those champions who put their lives on the line to make horses behave more like people. And to them I dedicate these immortal lines from The Horses Prayer:

Examine my teeth when I do not eat; I may have an ulcerated tooth, and that, you know, is very painful.

Very painful, indeed.

No comments: