(Horses in a hockey rink. What could go wrong?)
This week, because my nieces wanted to, I went to see the Royal Lipizzaner Stallions at a local arena, where we witnessed something simply amazing: nine beautiful horses that, for nearly two hours, did not “go to the bathroom.”
Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, let me say that I don’t like to get sued. So, in the spirit of not liking to get sued, let me say that the Royal Lipizzaner show is an outstanding entertainment that proudly represents a major historical contribution to the rich tapestry that is Europe. And when you’re stuck for two hours in an enclosed space with nine enormous warrior animals, it’s a bit of a blessing that they’re enormous warrior animals that are also house-broken.
But America and Europe have always had different attitudes about, well, let’s call it personal aroma (“l’odeur de corps”). Even today, you can walk along most any Parisian street (“rue”) and get absolutely blinded (“rendre aveugle”) by someone’s, well, let’s call it aura (“le funk”). It’s as if they were hiding their own personal paper mill. It’s like a live thing, a thing that wants out, a thing that could suddenly annex Poland, or vastly improve Detroit.
To be fair, it was quite a show. The Lipizzaner Stallions have been touring the world for 41 years now, which, as I’m sure you’ll agree, is a really long time between bathroom breaks (“le colostomy”). The show revolves around a presentation of “dressage,” which is French for “Imaginary Horse Tutu.” But though perfected in Europe, dressage was mentioned as far back as 400 B.C. by the Greek historian and military leader, Xenophon (literal translation: marimba).
Dressage includes many amazing elements, including the Walk, the Lope, the Eddie Cantor, the Galumph, and the Trotsky (literal translation: small trot). One of the more fascinating maneuvers involves the rider commanding the horse to walk briskly, without actually going anywhere (literal translation: filibuster).
(Don’t quote me on this, but if I heard the emcee correctly, there’s another maneuver known as the “extended trots.” I’ll move on. I have way too many immature male genes inside for me to loiter in this paragraph, thinking up jokes.)
As the evening continued, though, things grew increasingly interesting. I realized that dressage is a lot like a formal state dinner in Washington. Big on form, small on substance. Each participant announced with great fanfare. Each participant arriving from (and eventually returning to) a plush, coddled life largely funded by other people’s money. Lots of prancing about, lots of public drooling.
Dressage here, politics there. Red carpet here, red carpet there. White horse here, white house there. Imaginary horse tutus here, self-policing ethics committees there. Overdressed people with whips here … see what I mean?
The bubbly emcee of the show, whom I’ll call “Paolo,” provided a running commentary (see “extended trots”). Paolo proved to be an entertaining mix of host, historian, carnival barker, and open-mike-night comedian. And Paolo did inform, introducing me to several previously unknown facts. For instance, I did not know that 60% of a horse’s weight is borne by the front legs, unlike, say, a kangaroo, or Paris Hilton.
On this night, the arena itself (a hall most often utilized for ice hockey) was nearly empty. But the last time I was here (again, because my nieces wanted to), we had come to watch a Monster Truck rally, and the place was packed to the rafters. So I don’t know exactly why the Lipizzaner show failed to draw. Maybe because of very cold weather. Maybe the night was yet another victim of the “worst American economy since last week’s worst American economy.” Maybe the promoters should think about staging a tag-team wrestling event, a cage match, pitting the stallions against the Monster Trucks.
(If you’ve never attended a Monster Truck rally, it’s just a big, unbelievably loud anger management seminar where people purge pent-up aggression by destroying several dozen cars and trucks. Basically, it’s just like being in the parking lot of a South Florida deli when the retirement home crowd arrives for Sunday brunch, but with fake skulls staring out the back window. Plus, at a Monster Truck rally, they take turns.)
Now, in the spirit of still not liking to get sued, even ten or twelve paragraphs later, let me say that this local arena is an outstanding entertainment venue that proudly represents a major historical contribution to the rich tapestry that is not Europe (though it sometimes smells the same). Also, it seems to be heavily involved in the trafficking of smuggled holy relics.
If you’re planning a visit, you should know that this venue serves bottled holy water. At least, I assume it’s holy water, given the price they’re asking, with a straight face, for a bottle of the stuff. The arena also hawks holy popcorn, blessed beer, and (again, based on the price) a variety of possibly unleavened funnel cake that can trace its lineage directly back to the first Passover.
(I noticed a kiosk selling hot dogs, too, but they were unable to complete my credit check before the show began.)
For two hours, the horses performed, and were perfect. Elegant, exquisite, perfect animals. Their riders, likewise. But I couldn’t help worrying about the ticket holders who had been seated in the front row. At many points during the evening, they were literally within inches of these parading, magnificent beasts, with their magnificent necks, and their magnificent ability to drool and slobber like Winston Churchill on a three-day brandy binge. Sitting on that front row would have been just like being too close to the stage at a Gallagher concert.
One more interesting factoid: did you know that all that drooling and slobbering is considered a Lipizzaner asset? So says Paolo. In a Lipizzan, it’s a sign of good breeding. In my neighborhood, it’s a sign of someone who survived an accident involving a large farm implement.
And after sharing that little Lipizzanian tidbit, Paolo smoothly segued into another joke, this one about drooling (“le phlegm”). According to Paolo, a favorite expression around the Lipizzaner community is this: “Spit happens.”
And the arena erupted in a non-deafening wall of thick, utter silence. The place turned into a tomb.
(Note to Paolo: When performing in the Bible Belt, eighty-six the “Spit happens” sketch.)