Lately I’ve had horses in my head, mostly made of wood (the horses, not my head), painted in vivid colors, and engineered to prance counter-clockwise in a circle. The track at Belmont Park is an oval, not a circle, but like carousel horses the thoroughbreds run counter-clockwise, just as they do in every other racetrack in the United States. Before the American Revolution, racing in the Colonies was clockwise to conform to the practice in the mother country. I’ve read that our change of direction was meant as a deliberate expression of our independence. In England most of the racetracks are still clockwise, but a few now copy our habit of racing against the clock.
I thought of all this Saturday as I was sipping my manhattan and watching the pre-race coverage of the Belmont Stakes. Although I have never ridden a horse, I love horse racing and have been to races at Saratoga and Canandaigua and at tracks in California and Dublin. According to the Chinese calendar, I was born in the Year of the Horse or, more accurately, the year Wu (Horse). I first heard of the Chinese calendar when I lived in San Francisco in the late 60s and early 70s. The calendar is very complicated and I won’t pretend to understand it, but I believe the twelve animals used to indicate the years are technically part of the Chinese Zodiac. Every year has an animal assigned to it, and at the end of twelve years they start all over again. I remember going to Grant Avenue to watch the magnificent parade held each year to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The parade would feature an assortment of floats and marching bands, but the finale would always be the many-footed dragon that would dance and bob and threaten and delight to the sound of drums and firecrackers. During my time in San Francisco I always lived close enough to Chinatown to spend a lot of time there, and once I had an opportunity to see the dragon up close, although certainly not personal. It was the year I took a course in spinning and weaving; our class was held in the Chinese YWCA, and our instructor had arranged to let us into the gym where the dragon lived in all its glory while it was being assembled and adorned for the big day.
I loved those parades, and I loved the dragon. But am I attracted to the sport of kings because I was born in the Year of the Horse? It’s possible, I suppose. As for the Belmont Stakes, the odds-on favorite, American Pharoah, proved that he was a true descendant of the daughters of the wind by winning the Triple Crown by a splendid margin. I am truly happy!
After France, we found we missed all those noisettes we had been drinking in Parisian cafes. The noisette, an espresso with a touch of cream, was our drink of choice for a whole glorious month, but when we returned home we realized there were no noisettes to be had unless we made them ourselves. That was why, a few days later, we headed for Destiny USA in search of a Nespresso machine.
Destiny USA is a shopping center in Syracuse. It used to be called the Carousel Center because of the restored antique carousel in the food court on the second level. Built in 1909 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, the carousel had several homes before being purchased for the Carousel Center, where it was placed in 1990. It survived the mall’s name change and remains a hard-working carousel with unusually fierce-looking horses, some outfitted with weapons and some with animal skins on their backs instead of saddles.
Did we buy a Nespresso machine? Mais bien sûr! Then it was off to the food court to watch the horses go around and around.
We passed one on our first morning in Paris. We were walking down the Rue de Rivoli, and there it was in the Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville, a lovely double-decker merry-go-round with old fashioned horses and carriages. I was confused, because I was on the lookout for the Apple Store, one branch of which was in the Carrousel du Louvre near the inverted pyramid. The carousel we saw was definitely not an underground shopping center, and it turned out that the shopping center had nothing to do with carousels. (I hadn’t noticed the difference in the spelling; I was in another country, after all, where they spelled in a different language.)
But wait, there’s more. Paris is full of carousels. We saw one near the Eiffel Tower, one in the Jardin du Luxembourg, and one near the St. Paul Metro station. And when we left Paris for a short trip through Normandy and Brittany, we saw carousels in Saint-Malo and in Honfleur. Most of them were not limited to horses but included lions and tigers and elephants and chickens and cars and planes. I loved all of them.
When I was a child, my mother would occasionally take me to Acushnet Park near Fort Rodman in New Bedford. The park is long gone, and it never was serious competition for Lincoln Park, whose carousel had an impressive collection of horses and carriages. Lincoln Park is, alas, also gone. I was very young when Acushnet Park disappeared from my life, but I still remember the carousel, which was not limited to horses but included geese and rabbits and other animals. I was particularly fond of the rabbits.
On the carousel in the Jardin du Luxembourg, the children riding the outside circle of horses are given sticks that they use to attempt to spear metal rings from some sort of ring dispenser. I remember once riding a carousel in Oak Bluffs that featured a ring dispensing machine, but I don’t remember being given a stick. We had to reach out and grab the rings with our fingers, and I think there was a knob on the horse’s neck to hold the collected rings. I wasn’t fast enough to grab more than one each time around, but the Oak Bluffs kids would grab two or three at once. Anyone who got the “gold” ring would win a prize. It was fun, but I really wanted to ride a rabbit.