It’s been about 2 years since I last got my arse into a studio and did a ballet class. Good reasons for finding other physicalities to entertain myself since then, going deep in cyclocross and riding, enjoying cold and wet and windy work outside. But I missed ballet. I missed the good things of being in a studio doing the work, I missed being there with good teachers and brilliant pianists.
And this week, I’m back working with Isabelle Schad (remotely, of course), and needed something to get me going, something quick and snappy with a variety of intensities and velocities, something to put me in where I needed to be for the work. And I found Het National Ballet are live-streaming a ballet barre. And first day of doing it was wow have I come far from all that, like a memory of being a dancer but watching myself in the mirror (of course I did, it’s ballet training) I was laughing at how I have all these muscles that are very not from dance, and how much and how my body has changed in the last two years. On the third day though, I started to see it all again, physicality waking up and unburying, and yeah, enjoying it so much.
Ernst Meisner is such a cheerful teacher and Rex Lobo is a joy of a pianist. And doing it live, knowing they’re both in the studio as I’m here in my apartment, and there’s hundreds or thousands of other dancers whereever and we’re all doing it together, it’s truly beautiful and reminds me of how dance saved me over and over (and how dance is also a hard bitch, but, yeah, let’s just enjoy the good stuff for one day, eh), and how special dance is, how fundamental moving together is for life.
Ever since I saw Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado racing a couple of years ago, not even 20 years old and smashing it in the Under-23 and Elite levels (’cos of course women’s cyclocross is only now beginning to approach parity with the menz) she became my Number 1 fave. Yes, I am a fan. Her 2018-19 season was what gets called a breakthrough, but this season 😱. Currently she’s 1st in the DVV Trofee, 1st in Superprestige, was so close to winning the UCI World Cup until that last off-camber at Hoogerheide, ending 2nd there, 1st also in UCI Under-23 World Cup, Netherlands National Championships, UEC European Under-23 Championships, plus enough 1st’s and podiums in so many races she could retire now, at age 21, and still be one of the all-time greats.
And today, having decided a couple of weeks ago to race in the Elite UCI World Championships and not the Under-23s, on an utter slog of a course, where her mad technical skills were going to once again come up against Annemarie Worst’s sprint, in a race which came to those two in a sprint, she utterly fucking smashed it.
World Champion right there.
I did not expect her to win the rainbow bands this year. On a muddy, sandy, cold, technical, up and down course like Namur, against Annemarie Worst or Lucinda Brandt, yes, but this flat grind which would always favour sprinters, I thought she’d need another off-season to work out how to do that. Maybe it was Hoogerheide, which she was going to win until that slide out of the muddy rut blew it all apart, the first time all season she’d had such a catastrophic wipeout. This was her comeback race and for those three riders, it was a truly brutal one from start to finish.
And yes, it’s so important she’s Dominican-Dutch, one of the only brown riders in a sport that’s so white — historically cyclocross is a sport for weird Belgian and Dutch farmers in winter, but even in the UK, US, Canada, and elsewhere where’s it’s become huge, it’s dead slack on diversity — and the only one at that level who’s getting any regular attention. Plus I will always rate big curly hair.
Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado 🌈🥇🇳🇱🇩🇴 2020 UCI Cyclocross Women’s Elite World Champion.
My fave cyclocross rider for the last couple of years, probably my fave rider full stop, Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado. And one of my favourite races, the very sandy, very hilly, very intense Koksijde. I was screaming when she opened the gap in the last sand section towards the end of the last lap, after five laps of head-to-head with a quartet of the best, screaming even louder when Lucinda Brand cooked the last hairpin (though I wish she hadn’t). Mad good racing and loving Ceylin taking her first World Cup elite victory, especially at Koksijde.
Last of my favourite races until the cyclocross starts again. Giro Rosa, 10 days of riding in northern Italy, and Our Girls smashed it. Annamiek van Vleuten winning the GC, points, and mountains classifications as well as 2 stages; Amanda Spratt 3rd overall, Lucy Kennedy almost winning stage 3, and Mitchelton-SCOTT all-round the most enjoyable team to watch. Elsewhere Marianne Vos utterly shredding it with 4 stage wins and showing mad cyclocross skills, Kasia Niewiadoma almost on the podium at the end (and team with best-looking bikes), Anna van der Breggen, Elisa Longo Borghini and others just showing brilliant riding. More of this, please and thanks.
Glamour to me isn’t wearing fancy clothes or all the make up or perfect hair. To me it’s is the process of putting your heart and soul into something to be the very best version of you that you are physically and mentally able to be. It’s not always about the result it’s often about the perseverance and dogged determination that to me is glamour. So guys this is what my glamour looks like!
Late to blogging this, Annemiek van Vleuten of Australian UCI team Mitchelton-Scott winning the 2018 Giro Rosa last Sunday. Third place overall to teammate Amanda Spratt, and second to Ashleigh Moolman Pasio. Women’s cycling is smashing it the last couple of years, brilliant races, brilliant riders, like Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig said, “Watch more women’s cycling!”
Continuing with this amended way of blogging about what I’m reading, another small pile of books I picked up a couple of weeks ago and am currently getting through.
Akala came up in my Twit feed a while ago, I watched him utterly destroy at least one idiot white British politician on TV, decided he fitted into where I’m reading at the moment in combinations of UK / London / Colonialism / Black / Grime history, realised he’s the brother of the deadly Ms. Dynamite, laid into it at the same time I was reading Dan Hancox’s Inner City Pressure: The Story of Grime. Pretty much highly recommend Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, even though he’s kinda weak on the feminism / queer side of things — bit of a cishet male bias there, mate — but he’s talking from his own experience growing up as a black boy and man in London, and it’s grim shit we need to hear and read.
Small aside, I went on a Giggs binge last night. First time I heard him was JME’s and his Man Don’t Care. Dasniya said she liked his voice more, something kinda menacing and slow but also “cinnamon tea”. He was live at Roundhouse earlier this year, and closed with Whippin’ Excursion, just watch the crowd fucking lose it when the bass drops, it’s a madness. Then go back to Talkin’ da Hardest in 2007 or even further, 2003, dejavu FM pirate radio and the Conflict DVD. That’s where grime came from, the rooftops of council housing tower-blocks (yeah I know Giggs isn’t grime, but he works with a lot of grime artists, so, keeping it simple here), rough as guts and dead end and set up to fail and go down or die. So belabouring a point here, the political and social significance of someone like Giggs filling the Roundhouse and having a packed crowd go the fuck off … gives me shivers. Good, deep, world-changing shivers.
I haven’t read Charlie Jane Anders’ Six Months, Three Days, Five Others yet. But I’ll always read her. The more of my sisters in this game, the better.
Corinne Duyvis’ On the Edge of Gone I probably heard of from the usual places, io9, or someone in my Twit feed. Reasons for reading: it’s sci-fi, she’s queer, lives in Amsterdam, is autistic. I’m not sold on the ‘science’ part of the science-fiction yet, set in 2035 and interstellar generation ships are a somewhat mature technology — this might be a ruse, but still, large-scale ships for hundreds or thousands of people, able to launch from Schiphol Airport seems improbable for 17 years from now. Maybe I’m reading that part wrong. Nonetheless, an autistic main character — and you all know my love of Feersum Endjinn and Whit. (I’m not even going to tell you about my own neurofuckery and my spreadsheet which I use to remember people I’ve met.)
Obviously I bought Deji Bryce Olukotun’s Nigerians in Space for the title. I’m still kinda on the whole, “I don’t really read menz” thing, for so long it’s not even a thing, it’s more of a “I read women authors and non-binary authors on the feminine side of things,” because obviously I want to see my people represented and that means all my people and their people and their people’s people. So sometimes I read a book by a guy. I have this habit, where I read an author’s acknowledgements and count the names and divide them into male-ish, female-ish, and I dunno. Pretty reliably, male author’s female-ish names count tops out around 30%, ’cos we all know 1/3 female feels like half or more than half in the real world. It means I tend to read male authors with suspicion, it’s a question of do they really genuinely care about and practice what we currently call intersectionality, or are they fortunate enough (truly though, I mean impoverished) to not have to make it a necessary part of their lives. So far, then — I’ve only read the first dozen pages — Nigerians in Space is a hilarious sci-fi thriller of straight men making really, really bad irreversible decisions.
Lucky last, Nuraliah Norasid’s The Gatekeeper. This one via JY Yang and / or various Twit mentions (I’m taking a long pause from the Twit, ’cos it’s not good for my moodiness or neurofuckery), and / or a bunch of South-East Asian blogs in my feed. I dunno what’s happening over Singapore way, but the sci-fi fantasy spec-fic stuff I’ve been reading is on fire. This is her first novel, and reminded me of Sofia Samatar’s The Winged Histories (or maybe more A Stranger in Olondria). There’s a lot I love in this, but some poor narrative decisions that seem more about manufacturing drama leading to an uncomfortable conclusion where the main character is incarcerated and pregnant and we know her children will be taken away from her to be experimented on. Which is an ongoing reality for colonised indigenous peoples, but here it was more in the vein of the awful Joss Whedon Black Widow trauma porn backstory. There’s a much tighter, more cogent story here that doesn’t rely on weak tropes, and which finesses out the cataclysmic acts of the main character and her sister (I’m ignoring the rich boy, ’cos he could be dropped and the story would only grow). First novel though, another author I’ll read again.
A few pieces of European mediæval art I saw on my very wrecked, post-season, post-bumpout afternoon in the NGV National Gallery of Victoria. Considering how long I lived in Naarm / Melbourne, and considering I spent five years across the road at Victorian College of the Arts, I’m pretty sure I went inside a total of maybe once, and that for a special exhibition which I can’t remember — the permanent collection and the building itself I never wandered through. Mainly ’cos I wasn’t into museums then.
So, mediæval European stuff, ’cos I am into it. Weird to go to Australia to see bits and pieces of back home. I was looking for Saint Mauritius (of course), because somehow I got it in my head they have a rather nice painting of him. Didn’t find it. Might not be on display. Didn’t find it on their website either, but that’s a horror to search so … Did find exactly one Biblical Magi / Heilige Drei Könige / Aanbidding der Wijzen (it’s from Antwerpen, let’s go with that last one), very buried in the bottom right corner of a retable, which I shone my phone light on to get some illumination to photograph (then butchered it in Photoshop — is not my best work).
The first room, with the wooden sculptures reminded me of Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu (still one of the best mediæval collections and museums I’ve seen), but the dissonance of German next to Spanish next to Italian next to Flemish made for an odd journey. A small collection, lack of space, prioritising newer art and temporary exhibitions can justify the jumble somewhat, yet it proposes a strange, fantastical idea of the history of Europe, a Europe that is monolithic, singular, consistent. Yeah, I’m spoilt here. I can go to small cities like Magdeburg and see a thousand years of history from just that region of central, northern, Germanic Europe all in the original church, and the depth and detail imparted shapes a massively different reality for Europe’s history.
But still, they have a Hans Memling, some Dürer etchings, and a pile of other works that are pretty solid examples of what was going on in Western Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries. The German pieces are solid and heavy and dark; the French all flowing in International Gothic style; the Italian ramping up for the Renaissance. Most of the pieces aren’t brilliant, though pretty much all are solid pieces by renowned artists, and nothing is of the poor, regional copies that litter museums over here. And occasionally there’s a work I’m frankly surprised got out of Europe, which speaks of the kind of money backing the NGV.
Favourite piece? Jaume Cascalls’ St Catherine, from around 1350 in Spain. Not just because she’s my favourite saint, patron of unmarried girls, spinsters, archivists, jurists, librarians, mechanics, scholars, and fucking knife sharpeners.