na foine ting

Thursday, July 29, 2004
OK, taking a break from memoir for hockey, which is a relief to some of you, I'm sure.

I got a new stick.   It's a Koho Revolution 4490, Jagr blade, and is one of the ugliest pieces of hockey equipment I've ever seen next to Big Steve's red hockey pants.

The Stick.

After two years of hockey, I came to the realization that I am 5'4" and a girl.  No, really.  And while I'm not exactly petite, I can't muscle an 85# flex stick, particularly when it's had about a foot cut off it and is probably more like 100#. 

Then there's the issue of small hands, which I have, and caused me no end of trouble in firefighting, and now I guess in hockey.  Gloves don't fit.  Handles for tools are awkward.  A senior shaft is wide and hard to get a grip on.  That kind of thing.

So, there was this epiphany moment when the heavens opened and the words "intermediate stick" resounded in glorious chorus, and I couldn't wait for the internet order and I got a really good deal and yes I know I said I loved my Mission stick but

--but God this stick is cool.

I guess we'll see tonight at practice if the thinner shaft and greater flex really make the difference I'm looking for, or if all the glorious chorus was just a bunch of hooey.


I attended the State of the Sharks forum at the Tank last night, which was as good and honest and straightfoward and reasonably propaganda-free as a ticket-holding fan might want.

Given, that is, that no one knows dick about what will happen with the CBA and so really then all the other questions and comments were largely moot.

There were a couple of people who did some mild CBA soapboxing along the lines of "what about the fans," and how we're being betrayed somehow, which is ludicrous and naive, as though we're the beneficiaries of some charity rather than customers of what is--and should be even more--a profitable business.

Then the inevitable discussions about the nets, and people who don't sit down for the whistle and how we should have wraparound scoreboards and how distasteful all that nasty violence is and

--and kudos to DW for nipping that crap right in the bud with the necessary "hockey is a physical sport" and "we'll play as rough as they play"--

and seven games of TV blackout and a bunch of reasonably non-hockey-related stuff.

Marleau was there, and can't talk his way out of a box, which is sad but predictable and really it doesn't matter if he does what I think he'll do this season (if there's a season).  He's there to score and lead the team, and yeah it would be nice if he were articulate, but he isn't, and that's really all right.  A sense of humor and his evident good nature will probably take him a long way.

There were things that it was worth having gone to hear.  DW said what he needed to about Reech, what the fans need to hear and what he really should make sure comes out about Reech in the press.  That Ricci's mark on the team is indelible, and enduring, and he'll still be here in team legacy long after he's gone. 

They finally admitted that Parker had been hurt during the playoffs (told you so), but as DW said, you don't go publicizing that your nuclear warheads are busted if you're in the middle of a cold war.

RW made it clear that he'll stand by his coaching strategy, which is long term and not about a just a one year win.  Merit based, as they said, and a certain implication that it's down to business and playing hard, now that the loudmouth stars are gone and out of the way.  The implication also that we never really needed them.  Not them nor any UFAs waiting in the wings, when we have such strong young talent working diligently up the line.

I found myself proud to be here in this city, with this team.  I spent a lot of time last year at games and watching practices, and last night felt like a lot of the gut feelings I had about the team and where it's at and the ethic that's driving it were proven true.  I was proud of last year's success, sure, but more proud of what we became last year, especially given where we'd just been.

I did have some questions to ask, but was fine not asking them.  Mostly as irrelevant as the net stuff, having to do more with local hockey.  Like what was the club and SVSE going to do about promoting hockey in the valley, and if they want us to play hockey and get involved in hockey and thereby watch hockey, what can we do about the critical ice shortage? 

Like why hasn't the "Sharks in the Parks" street hockey program expanded the way it should have?  Why isn't the club working harder to help get inline hockey into youth programs and schools?

Why doesn't the community hockey development include introductory programs, classes and so on that aren't prohibitively expensive and miniscule in class size?

Obviously the Fremont facility and fourth rink at Logitech will create space for more opportunties, but somehow I doubt we'll see more than the current youth hockey, expensive classes and leagues.

I don't think you can hope to create a fan base without making the sport itself widely available.  I think playing and watching to a large extent go hand in hand.


I've gotten to a point in playing where my personal performance each game is no longer critical, huge.  I get out with a sense of continuum, of playing one game in many, of knowing that I'll give this hour everything I have, but there's a bigger picture here.

Not that it doesn't matter--it matters enormously, like it always does.  But I don't come out of every game asking everyone "did I do all right?  Did I mess x up?  Did I play well?"

One, I know how I did.

Two, once the game's over, it's learn from the mistakes, take a mental note of what needs noting, enjoy what you got from it, and move on.

It's a relief, in a way.  Like I'm not skating every game with some giant performance monkey on my back.

I mean, there is a Monkey on my back, but it's that bastard, Steve Lo



Wednesday, July 28, 2004
Claus Winkler was a tall, gaunt German who wore starched white linen shirts almost every day.  He carried a crisp white handkerchief, and cigarettes.

According to my mother, Claus met his wife Dorette during WW2.  He was a badly injured soldier recovering from imprisonment, she was an army nurse.  These were not stories I heard from the Winklers, who had left that past more or less behind them;  I knew them only in their older, more settled years in Samoa, where Claus worked for the FAO and Dorette kept an impeccable house, and gardened.  On weekend mornings they would sit in lawn chairs with their coffee outside, all crisp expatriate propriety while enjoying the view of the rampant jungle as though it were a serene vista of the Rhone. 

I know because I saw them enjoying a serene vista of the Rhone several years later, in the hotel where Claus was honored retroactively for combat valor in a ceremony which he both dismissed in conversation and did not permit me to attend.

"Boring speeches," he said afterwards.  "Even the food wasn't very good."

Claus had a severe face, a beaked nose and hollowed, jutting cheekbones.  The muscles of his left arm were twisted by scar into and under bone, knotted so that his forearm looked as sinewed and strong as the other one, but also strangely skeletal.

His voice could be sharp, and later I would wonder if that clipped bark was what those other soldiers heard, under his command.  Later I would get a glimpse of whatever Claus had been, riding horseback against tanks in the Russian forests.  A cavalry officer.  Decorated.  SS.

At ten, I questioned very little about Claus, only enjoyed his many kindnesses, his interest, his humor.  He playfully mocked our American quirks, my slang, and what must have seemed to him a very Californian, bohemian and perhaps too permissive lifestyle.

This, while taking me seriously in ways that a precocious foreign service brat and only child might crave.  We had considered conversations about books, life in Samoa, horses.  When I said I'd always wanted a horse, Claus gave me a horse care book for my birthday, and promised another surprise when I'd read it cover to cover and he said with mock severity, memorized its contents.

Which I happily did, and then Claus had got me an interview with a weathy Samoan business tycoon who after a meeting in his office in Apia--an event that in retrospect I think was staged mostly to humor Claus and terrify me--agreed to let me help train his racehorses in the off season.

Samoa has one racetrack, and the Samoans--having gotten the legacy and the horses from the Germans and New Zealanders--take racing very seriously. 

Most often Claus drove me to the job, where I groomed, fed, mucked and then helped the Samoan boys exercise the horses each day.   It was hard work, the horses were high strung and the boys exacting, my Samoan was poor and no one spoke any English.

Daily exercise rides were down to the beach and back, a terrifying event where I had to somehow control a heated up thoroughbred far too big for me, with only a hackamore and one hand while the other hand held a lead rope. 

I was galloped into many ditches, scraped off onto many walls, fell onto the road, onto the grass, onto the sand, and into the tycoon's flower beds.  We rode on thin blankets and without saddles or stirrups, so that at the end of the day I had bruises and raw blisters on my ass from the horses' bony spines.

I had bruises from being kicked while swimming them, hanging on to their manes like a terrified wet rag doll, trying to stay relaxed and not drown them while at the same controlling them.  And staying out of their way.

Claus found all this amusing and satisfying.  We would discuss the job, and my adventures, and he would laugh and nod and approve.

Eventually I admitted the horses were too much for me.  I thanked the tycoon for the opportunity, and stopped working there.  I wondered later if Claus had predicted, even planned for that too.

I was seventeen when my parents sent me to Germany to visit the Winklers.  Travelling alone, and reluctant to face the man who had been a friend and mentor, but also sexually abused me for the better part of three years.

I feared and dreaded going.  I told my mom what had happened, but the revelation was dismissed, and I was sent there anyway.

The Winklers' home in Secklendorf is a rambling mansion built from a three hundred year old barn.  Its halls are narrow and dark and rooms small and shortened by sloping eaves, but every table had a vase of flowers on it, and white linen can brighten almost anything.

We had coffee at four o'clock promptly every day, around a table in the garden surrounded by Dorette's roses.  Conversation was much as it had always been, gently mocking, interested, often serious and considering.  

Neither Claus nor I mentioned what had happened in Samoa, and I don't think there was any need to.  We made our peace in other ways, and after his death I came to be glad of them.  Like white wine drunk to excess at a restaraunt table in the Black Forest, where I said that the Nazis were monsters and he growled that I had no fucking idea about the truth of any of it.  Sitting there in the half-dark, the place otherwise empty and only a bottle and two glasses between us, a cheerful checkered tablecloth where we leaned and had this intense, oblique and oddly weighted conversation.

He was right;  I was seventeen and didn't know shit about war, his war or any of the other ones.  But I said what I thought and he bothered to argue with me, until we came to silence and the last of the wine.

Then he told me a story, about his cavalry horse Ulan, and being lost in the forest after the rest of his men were also either dead or missing.  He said he'd ridden for too long, trying to avoid capture and make his way back to his own lines, exhausted and cold and in danger of making fatigued mistakes that could prove fatal.

"I had to sleep," he said, and put his hands up, matter of fact.  "So I dismounted and lay down on the ground and put the reins in my belt, like so."  Demonstrating.

And slept, trusting that if anyone came Ulan would lift up his head and warn him, and apparently it worked because he was sitting there in the Black Forest telling me about it.

In Secklendorf, Claus had a seventeen and a half hand Trakhener, also named Ulan.  Ulan was deep bay, young, hot, brilliant, and beautiful.  I feared and admired him, and deliberately kept my distance.

After a long ride one day, Claus brought Ulan back sweating and slid to the garden grass with the ease of a man much younger than seventy.  He handed me the reins, and politely ignored my stammering.

"Take him back to the paddock," he said, and walked away.

He meant ride, I knew he meant ride, and I stood there looking at the stallion, surrounded by roses and clipped grass and all that Winkler garden beautiful severity.

"All right, then," I said, and was seventeen and a better rider by then.  Older, and I took up the reins and swung up and let Ulan have some slack while he sidled and then settled.

I rode him back down the half mile or so to the paddock, kept him more or less under control, and marvelled at the power and sheer gorgeous elegance underneath me.  In the paddock I slid off and took the bridle and saddle off, and stood in amused surprise as he hung around to nudge and nuzzle at me. 

Then I walked back to the house and to the garden, where coffee was set out and Claus was sitting, smoking, showered and dressed.  I saw him start to offer me a cigarette, from the pocket of his white linen shirt.  And stop, but not before I understood the place we had come to, and how much had changed.





Tuesday, July 27, 2004
I've been reading RLS in Samoa, a sort of bizzare postcolonial Stevenson biography which details the last years of Stevenson's life in the Pacific.

We lived in a compound carved out of the jungle behind RLS's estate, in a small village called Avele, just north of the village of Vailima.  Vailima means "five rivers," and the best beer brewed in Samoa--arguably in the South Pacific--also bears that name.

In the eighties of both Stevenson's and my own century, there was only one road that traversed the Samoan island of Upolu.  It goes through Vailima, and likely the only difference between that road (which has never been called anything other than the vague "Cross Island Road") then and now is that it's paved.


Our own road was a dirt track off the main road, cut by the dairymen who brought their cows down to the river (whether it's river Tasi, Lua, Tolu, Fa or Lima I don't know and Stevenson didn't know and I don't think any Samoans know either).  The compound itself was a serene postage stamp of manicured lawn with three cinder block houses on it, teuila (ginger) and hibiscus bushes.  On three sides around our compound the jungle rose in a solid wall of green;  on the road side, trees yielded to a view of Mount Vaea, where Stevenson is buried.

The forest between our house and the house where Stevenson lived was primarily kapok trees.  Kapok is lightweight and porus, and makes good paopao (outriggers).     Kapok pods are round and fit in the palm of your hand, and are very good for practicing juggling.  We also found lots of uses for the cottony kapok fluff, which fell to cover the ground like snow and could be used to stuff dollhouse mattresses or to make doll's hair or the manes of sock-headed stick horses.

Stevenson's wife Fanny--Aolele to the Samoans and eventually everyone else too--planted everything from roses to Scottish pine on their property, and if you hike through the kapok forest, skirt the back of the estate and go over or under a few fences you wind up in sudden and unlikely groves, dark and solemn and threaded with mist, as though you'd stepped into the highlands and out of Polynesia altogether.  I would find myself there, still and silenced in such a grove, or emerged into a rioting plot of sunflowers taller than my head, as adapted and thriving in the island climate as I was.

It is impossible to live isolated and separate in expatriate Samoa.   We palagis came with our furniture and nice cars and notions of things like personal space, and eventually it all was lovingly eroded, transformed.  Claus Winkler's white Mercedes carried its patina of persistent red dust, we stopped expecting stores to open or events to begin when they were supposed to, and we accepted that Sunday mornings belonged to our village neighbors, who would come down the road after church bringing us fiafia:  roast pig, taro, palusami, breadfruit, fish, chop suey and sticky white cake. 

Samoan permeated our language, where English words failed local ideas and experiences.  "Talofa lava," said heartfelt in gratitude for delicious Sunday morning fiafia, or on leaving a village where I'd stayed with a friend's family for the weekend, or in greeting to people we didn't know but were about to stay for five or six hours.  "Fa'alavelave" to explain why after six hours someone needed to go home.  Or to say "thank you" and "no thank you" simultaneously, a useful thing to be able to do in Polynesian culture.  "Fa'a Samoa," said affectionately and exasperatedly, realizing that things just were they way they were.  Respectfully, to indicate that we understood why.  And when sweet comeuppance befalls one's enemies, the very rude and satisfying "wahmaahhhhhhh SNAKE!!!"

(Complete with hand gesture of striking snake and demonic expression of glee.  I am happy to teach it to anyone who thinks they will find such a gesture useful, which I can assure you it is.)

In Samoa, everyone dances.  No child, no infirm old man, no reticent papalangi is exempt:  you get up, you make your bare feet do windshield wiper on the floor, you keep your hips from doing those rude and unseemly things that hula girls do, and try to make siva hands.  You look stupid, and are mocked, lovingly and thoroughly.  Fa'a Samoa.  Samoan way.

Samoans are tough, and exuberant.  Exacting when it comes to custom and tradition, forgiving when inevitably you make mistakes.  They are proprietary of friends, even palagis, and kind.

On Sundays I would hike to the top of the mountain, after trespassing thoroughly on the Stevenson property and maybe taking a dip in the waterfall.  From the mountaintop where Stevenson's grave lies you can see the villages and countryside all around you.  On Sundays the smoke from several thousand cooking pits rises in a purplish haze.

Stevenson's biographer writes about the Samoans as savages, noble but still uneducated, unsophisticated and backwards socially and politically.  While he is sympathetic to Samoan independence and knowledgeable about Samoan political history, he fails to see Stevenson in Samoan context, and instead insists on describing Samoa and Samoans only in non-expatriate relief.

Clearly he has not lived there.

Samoa is pervasive, and sustaining.  Samoan traditions and heritage are the most unchanged of any remaining in Polynesia, and the islands themselves maintain national and cultural identity despite the Germans, the Americans, the New Zealanders and all the trade and tourists over the centuries.  They have been owned, ruled and governed but never really transformed.

And for those palagis living there, we were like a grove of Scottish pine in the midst of kapok.  Flourishing in the sun, fed by Samoan soil and the waters of those unidentified, possibly entirely fictional five rivers, we adapted, thrived.  We slowed down to the pace of Samoan life, Samoan way, Samoan time.  We had our fiafia on Sunday mornings, and learned to tuck our bare feet under us when sitting on fine mats.  We learned that church lasts as long as the pastor decides it needs to, and didn't argue with the wives of matais.  We swerved and hit trees to avoid running over pigs.  We spoke the language and wore white on Whitsunday, no matter what our religion.  We surrendered much of our own culture willingly, and when it was time and the drumming and music started, every one of us got up and danced.

(courtesy of The Travel Year , this is how it sounds)



Wednesday, July 21, 2004
I know, sorry.

Read someone else, see the sidebar. 

I'll resurface.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004
So the most important news is that Ethan Hunter Sparks was born over the weekend! Huge congratulations to Brian and Margo, and kisses on Ethan's baby nose.

Of lesser note, but of possible interest to those of you who have been trying to get ahold of me: I'm sick. I've been sick for days. Fever, fever, fever, fatigue, fever, and so far the Kaiser folks are intrigued by the lack of any other symptoms but have no idea what I have. Because of the fever, I'm stuck at home. Because of the fatigue, I'm mostly on the couch. Draggy and apathetic, which means I can't really even make use of the down time to get writing done.

So I'm around, but don't have access to work mail and am not on the home computer much.

That's about all.

Well, not exactly all. I read everyone's blogs and sort of poked around on the web in general, and find myself feeling hugely disconnected and like I'm stuck here in the dark while the world spins on merrily without me.

I truly, honestly, and emphatically *don't* like being home sick.

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