Saturday, August 31, 2013

Horses and Parades and Women’s Lib, Oh My! Part One

August 31st is an auspicious historical date in women’s struggle for personal liberty and the pursuit of happiness. An obscure incident created a stir of minor proportions at the time. The event, quickly forgotten, became a postscript in history, noted in lists of This Day in History events but rarely anywhere else. Yet it marked a turning point for women’s right to wear comfortable, sensible attire unimpeded by society’s archaic norms and served as a symbol for women’s struggle for personal independence.

On Sunday, August 31, 1902, Mrs. Adolph Ladenburg, given name Emily Stevens Ladenburg, created a sensation in the upper crust world of Victorian American high society. Attending summer social events at the fashionable resort of Saratoga Springs, New York, Emily participated in recreational activities, including horseback riding. Her riding apparel consisted of a split riding skirt, allowing her to mount her steed independently and ride astride. This was the first time a respectable woman of means appeared in public in such a risqué outfit.

A picture is worth a thousand words
A split skirt with pants underneath (often called trousers).
The skirt had sections which often could be closed with buttons.
Previously only women in the Wild West – including Annie Oakley - wore trousers or split skirts, but acceptance was limited. In 1895 Evelyn Cameron, an English photographer turned Montana rancher, rode into town wearing a split skirt. The sheriff threatened to arrest her if she did not leave town immediately.

Before moving on to the connection between horseback riding and women’s lib, more on Mrs. Adolph Ladenburg.

I wanted to know more about this daring woman. An Internet search found numerous mentions of Emily’s deed. All noted she was the first to wear the split skirt. And that was it. No details.

Entries were identical, indicating one original source. And they all misspelled her last name. It took some detective work to realize the name was inaccurate and discover the correct spelling. It was initially difficult finding information because her name was misspelled Landenburg.

Entries referred to her as Mrs. Adolph Ladenburg (correct spelling used). It has been a long time since women were referred to solely by their husband’s name. I never liked that protocol. It emphasizes the nothingness of the wife; a total loss of identity and individuality of the woman upon marriage.

Anyway, here is a short bio of Mrs. Adolph Ladenburg.

Emily Louise Stevens was born on December 24 or 25, 1865, the daughter of Alexander G. Stevens, a New York banker, and Mary Stevens.

She married Adolph Ladenburg in 1887. Born in Germany, he immigrated to the U.S., became a naturalized citizen and established the Wall Street firm Ladenburg, Thalmann & Company with a partner. He died February 19, 1896, under somewhat mysterious circumstances, disappearing during a storm while on the steamship Niagara traveling from Nassau, Bahamas to New York City. It was assumed he became ill due to the severe weather, went on deck and was flipped overboard by strong winds and high, rough waves. He left his widow a wealthy woman.

The couple had one daughter, Eugenie Mary, born 1895. Emily never remarried. She died in August 1937.

Now back to horseback riding and women’s lib. There really is a connection!:

Women around the world commonly wore long skirts. As an increasing number of women in the U.S. and Europe began participating in recreational activities such as bicycling and horseback riding, comfortable clothing offering ease of movement became essential. This was especially important for women serious about their horses.

Traditionally women rode sidesaddle. Illustrations dating to Greek times depict women in long skirts riding sidesaddle. The problem with sidesaddle riding is that the rider cannot control the horse. The woman needed assistance mounting the horse and men often led women’s steeds. If a horse took off, the woman was at the animal’s mercy. Regular saddles were designed so, should the horse collapse, the rider could dive away from the animal’s heavy body. It was impossible for the woman, strapped in her seat, to go anywhere. Women were often severely and permanently injured because they could not fall clear of the animal.
Woman riding sidesaddle
Women required assistance getting into the sidesaddle.
Not all women universally wore long skirts while riding. Women of Central Asia, contemporaries of the Greeks, wore trousers and rode astride. Throughout history various women, including Mongols, Comanche women of the American West, and Hawaiians, proudly mounted steeds and rode with their men.

Women in early medieval Europe rode astride. Joan of Arc wore armor and in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales “The Woman of Bath” carried a whip and wore spurs. But as European society became more restrictive for women, their equestrian freedom was also limited. Fashions became more obstructive in terms of movement and activity, and modesty dictated women’s equestrian behavior.

Women could thank Anne of Bohemia for popularizing sidesaddle riding. Anne, the eldest daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor, rode across Europe in 1382 to wed King Richard II of England. Roads were primitive and sometimes nonexistent at the time; horseback was the best means of long distance travel.

It was of utmost importance the future Queen be a virgin. How to ensure that after days of rigorous horseback riding an accident did not put into question her chastity?

A broken hymen and blood on the sheets proved a girl’s virginity. Riding astride could possibly, maybe, just might damage a young princess’ (she was about 16) feminine parts.

A special seat was devised to ensure the princess’ comfort and chastity. This method of travel became popular initially among aristocrats, eventually filtering down to all classes of European society. Sidesaddles became the standard for women on horseback.

By the late 19th century in the U.S. women mavericks, usually living and working in far-away places like Hawaii, abandoned society’s norms and rode astride wearing comfortable clothing. But most women remained literally tied to their sidesaddles.

This was a social war – ‘nice’ girls rode sidesaddle.

Emily’s courageous action, pioneering comfortable, practical equestrian attire at an influential high society event, marked a turning point leading to the demise of sidesaddle riding, enhanced recreational opportunities, and foreshadowing Title IX (1972) mandating non-discriminatory practices.

Nice girls wanted to have fun too.

Watch for my next post and the conclusion of Horses and Parades and Women’s Lib, Oh My! Part Two.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Luxury Car Drivers the Worst

A scientific study discovered luxury car drivers are the worst drivers on the road. The report was recently published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences.

Most drivers and passengers of less expensive vehicles already knew this bit of invaluable trivia. But I guess it is nice to know a formal controlled study verifies the life-long observations of ordinary people and non-luxury car owners. The Institute of Personality and Social Research at the University of California at Berkeley conducted the study.

The results also verified the fact, which most of us know from personal experience, that drivers of fancy cars – synonymous for expensive – display the poorest road manners.

The University of California study was conducted on American soil. A similar study in the UK found that drivers of BMWs, Land Rovers and Audis (all expensive cars, for those who may have spent the past few decades in a carless land, if there is such a place) had the highest incidences of road rage.

In addition the UK findings revealed that drivers of high-end vehicles behaved the rudest on Fridays around 5:45 p.m. I guess they are all in a mad dash to escape the office and get to happy hour or beat the traffic to their weekend getaway.

One more interesting revelation came out of the UK report. The worst drivers were men 35-50 years old. No comment…

So my question is: What do drivers of expensive and fancy cars have in common that they act so badly?

I have no idea, but can speculate.

            Many drivers of expensive and/or fancy vehicles are rich. Rich people believe they are special and do not have to follow the rules that govern everyone else.

            If a person is not rich and bought an expensive car anyway, they are probably very nervous about meeting monthly payments. That makes them intolerant and impatient with others – especially other drivers on the road.

            Individuals who want to appear rich, even though they are far from the top 1% or 5%, often lease an expensive car. Something magical happens when they get behind the wheel. They believe everyone is looking at them, pointing, saying Wow, what a car, he must be cool – and rich. They start acting arrogant, bitchy and condescending towards others.

            Individuals in the throes of a mid-life crisis, which can occur at any age, buy or lease a fancy car to look cool, macho, younger, and richer. If others think they are cool, macho, etc., maybe they are…or can be…

            The men want to catch the eye of knock’em dead women who are probably their kids’ age.

It is interesting drivers of the largest SUV models were not singled out. My extensive driving experience indicates drivers of super-sized SUVs feel they own the road. And many of them are Moms. These women get behind the wheel of a tank, rev up the engine, hit the accelerator and are off…to pick up kids at school, ferry them to activities, shop for groceries, and accomplish other important errands modern suburban women of the 21st century are destined to spend their time doing.

Eventually I will need to replace my PT Cruiser.

Maybe I will join the mid-life crisis gang and buy a monster pick up truck. I will rule the road…

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Countdown to a Colonoscopy

Over two months before:

During a regular physical exam my doctor informed me it was time for a colonoscopy, a medical procedure everybody deplores.

But this was the beginning of summer. The kids and grandkids were here. The weather was beautiful. The beach beckoned. Relatives flocked in from near and far. The barbecue was busy grilling burgers, franks and lots of fresh veggies. Doctors and unpleasant procedures could wait.

One month before:

Procrastination time was over. The kids were gone, the busiest part of the summer over. Time to call and make an appointment. I probably would not be able to get one until fall. Specialists were always backlogged for weeks.

Uh oh. No problem making an appointment sooner than anticipated. Must be the August slow season. Most people, I guess, do not want to ruin two beautiful summer days. Aren’t doctors on vacation while people play? Apparently not.

Three weeks before:

Receive a thick envelope in the mail from the doctor’s office. One item was a referral for a blood test and EKG, to be completed before the colonoscopy. At the same time I got a phone call from the doc’s office requesting I go online and fill out a health questionnaire. There was a problem, however. The call came on my cell phone when not home and I could not write down the information. I did not remember the website to access.

Called the doc’s office and left a message.

Two weeks before:

The doc’s office calls back. I do not have to go online to fill out the questionnaire; I can complete the short form when at their office. Patients were having a hard time retrieving the form online.

I went to a clinic for the blood test and EKG. I purposely went on a Friday afternoon, assuming most sane people would not want to spend a Friday summer afternoon in a medical clinic. I was right. Only one person stood between me and my EKG. When I was done the clinic closed for the weekend. Even medical personnel want to enjoy their summer weekends.
EKG report.
Two days before:

Reluctantly grabbed the papers received in the mail and carefully read them. The paperwork included instructions on how to prepare for the procedure.

Buy an 8.3-ounce jar of Miralax, Dulcolax tablets, and 64 oz. of Gatorade or Crystal Lite. A quick trip to Rite-Aid and the items were strategically placed on the kitchen counter.

Ate a nice, leisurely dinner and splurged on dessert. After all, I was not going to eat for a day and a half. Hub uncovered brownies in the freezer. I savored the forbidden sweet and did not feel one bit guilty.

One day before:

The day started off like many others. I biked to the gym and worked out for an hour. Home again, prep could no longer be postponed.

Prep began with four Dulcolax tablets, tiny pills easily swallowed with a glass of water. The instructions on the box specify take one. Four, I am sure, speeds the process.

An hour later I began drinking the Miralax mixed with Crystal Light. I do not like Gatorade and cannot drink it. I was supposed to drink 64 oz. by 7:00 p.m. (never finished all of it). It did not taste bad; the Crystal Light lemonade overpowers any bad taste from the Miralax.

I poured a glass and went about my activities, staying close to the commode. I did not eat the entire day, as instructed, only sipping the drink all day, but did not feel hungry.

Suddenly it happened. An overall feeling of awfulness pervaded my body. Then the stuff hit and I made a beeline for the bathroom. For the next few hours I felt terrible. There is no sugarcoating the feeling.

A sudden fear invaded my consciousness.

What if I had to suddenly leave the house?

What if there was a fire, or gas explosion, or terrorists invaded my block. What would I do? I would be in the middle of the street and nature would very urgently call. There would be no place to go.

What if I had to run away quickly? I do not really run, but I could scamper pretty quickly if prodded. But if nature called, how could I? How awkward would that be?

I could stay. What would terrorists or robbers do when finding me hunched over the toilet? Shoot and take me out of my temporary misery? Laugh? Take pictures and post on YouTube or Facebook?

What if a tornado or another force of nature hit? There were no weather warnings on, but weird nature events can happen suddenly anytime.

What if an earthquake struck and I was on the toilet? Would it knock me off? Would the toilet, although securely anchored to the floor, tilt or fall or crack? What would happen to me? How embarrassing would it be when emergency workers found me cowering in the bathroom, interrupted in the middle of nature’s urgent call?

There was nothing I could do about any of these possibilities. Only hope it was another boring, uneventful day in terms of natural or other disasters.

The day wore on. I ventured outside once to get the mail. I did not travel far.

I wanted it to be tomorrow afternoon, at a restaurant enjoying my first meal in a day and a half.

I turned the TV on, watching daytime drivel. I discovered a TV show I had never seen -  Major Crimes. TNT ran the show, airing back-to-back episodes until the 9:00 p.m. summer season finale. Major Crimes, I later learned, is a spin-off of The Closer. It will not become must-see TV at our house. When the season finale concluded it was bedtime – finally – with the hope of sleeping until morning.

C Day

I was to report to the surgery center 9:15 a.m. We left the house early, leaving plenty of time to find the place, never having been there before.

Walking into the waiting room our first impression was – Wow – there are a lot of people here. It was a large room with lots of chairs, including three rows situated in front of a big screen TV. I guess it kept anxious patients occupied.

The receptionist checked me in and I sat down, waiting my turn. Hub left to enjoy a latte at a local café.
My wristband, provided on check-in, was reviewed several times to ensure the doctor and nurses were performing the correct procedures.
I was ushered into a small cubicle and told to strip and put on a hospital gown. I sat in a comfortable chair, feet elevated, and the nurse gave me an IV and noted my blood pressure. A couple of nurses walked in and out looking very busy, checking paperwork and monitors. Then the doctor – whom I had never met – came in for about 30 seconds, asked if I had any questions and said he would see me after the procedure.

A nurse walked me to the procedure room, IV dragging behind me. I ever so daintily hoisted myself onto the gurney, turned onto my left side and the anesthetist put the anesthesia in the IV. He said I would be out in 30 to 40 seconds.

The next thing I knew someone was shaking me awake. It took a couple of seconds to realize where I was.

And I felt pretty good.

The nurse gave me a small container of orange juice and two fig newtons. Cannot remember the last time I ate one, but I was hungry.

I dressed lying down – not allowed to stand yet – and in a few minutes the doctor came in. He showed me pictures of my insides, as if I knew what I was viewing. I could have been looking at pictures of the moon or deep-sea terrain. 

And I was out the door. Feeling a bit light headed, hub guided me to the car.

A half hour later I was in a restaurant enjoying my first meal in a day and a half.

And the experience was history.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Cross Country Reunion

The trip described below occurred about five years ago. I wrote about it this week for a writing class.

Coats, hats, shoes, belts and bracelets came off. Pockets were emptied, coins, tissues, keys and small paraphernalia deposited in a dish, suitcases heaved onto the conveyor belt. Finally ready to walk through the airport detection booth, we slowly made our way along the line of passengers leaving for vacation, flying home following vacation, visiting family, rushing off on business trips, travelers on the go.

At last it was our turn. Walk in, stand still, raise your hands, and walk out.
Again we approached the conveyor belt, eager to grab our bags and head for the gate. Quite a few other people also impatiently waited to retrieve belongings, staring at the black fabric ribbons at the edge of the sensor box, hoping their bags would be the next to appear.

A couple of TSA agents huddled around a computer screen, whispering and pointing.

“Whose suitcase is this?” an agent calls out as she points to the next bag coming into view.

“Oh, that’s mine,” Karen says, raising her hand to alert the agent.

“Over here,” she said in a stern voice, walking over to a table and throwing the bag down. “What’s in there? Open it.”

Karen and I look at each other. What could have triggered the monitor? We packed clothes and toiletries for three days in Las Vegas. Nothing suspicious, carefully avoiding banned items such as scissors or containers of liquids larger than three ounces.

Karen opened the suitcase and the agent thrust her hands in, quickly moving around the small overnight bag. “What are these?” she asks, as if she did not know, pointing to several books.

“Books, they’re gifts,” Karen says, a bit perplexed.

“OK, you can go. We weren’t sure what that black mass was on the screen,” she says, walking back to her post.

Karen and I look at each other, stifling our laughter. We hastily gather our belongings languishing at the end of the conveyor belt and walk to our gate.

What a start to our reunion weekend!

An intermediate stop to change planes, entailing a mad search for ginger ale to calm Karen’s stomach – a futile quest - and several hours later we arrived at McCarran International Airport, gateway to Vegas.

Rob picked us up at the airport and we drove to the house. It was late and Barbara was asleep, needing lots of rest in preparation for her active young students the next morning. She was thrilled we were making this trip, Rob informed us, and so was he.

“Barb is feeling much better. Do whatever you girls want this weekend, but remember she tires quickly.”

“Don’t worry, we plan on spending a lot of time talking, eating, drinking wine, and I think we are getting manicures,” I said.

“We just want to hang out together. Now that you guys live way out West we rarely see you,” chimed in Karen.

“I am going to make myself scarce,” and he did.

We spent several hours in Barb’s first grade classroom, meeting her students and touring the private school. The kids had no idea that once a week after school she drove to a clinic for radiation treatments for breast cancer. But the staff knew, offering comfort and support during Barb’s months of treatments. They were glad to meet old friends from her previous life, here to visit and celebrate her journey back to good health.

We strolled through several shops, window-shopping and checking out the latest trends. We leisurely browsed a bookstore, a must stop for three bibliophiles. We splurged on manicures, ate out and prepared simple meals at the house.

One evening Karen and I demonstrated our dancing prowess, Karen twirling through plies, arabesques, releves and pirouettes, me belly dancing to our favorite 1960s oldies.
We drove to Red Rock Canyon, a few miles outside Vegas but light years from the neon lights, traffic and fast-pace of the metro area. We were likewise far-removed from the wet, raw Northeast early spring weather. We did not truly hike, walking along a path far enough to sit on a rocky ledge and view the stark, wild landscape.

On the ride home we detoured to Blue Diamond, population 290 according to the 2010 census, a town right out of a nineteenth century Western. The clapboard general store, next door to the horse corral, was stocked with obsolete and otherwise outdated but interesting merchandise. We sat on the porch, enjoying the balmy weather and movie-like setting, devouring ice cream.

We lounged around the pool, played with the two dogs, talking, gossiping and enjoying each other’s company. Our visits since Barb relocated to Vegas were usually short ones with spouses and other assorted family members tagging along. This time for three days three women who first met in the 1970s as young mothers recently moved to a new town reunited and renewed old friendships.

On the trip home TSA agents once again singled out Karen for inspection.

I am not so sure I want to travel with her again.