the equestrian chronicles part I

What are horse dreams made of? When I was a little girl on family drives in the countryside, I would imagine myself astride a magnificent horse galloping alongside the car. The horse’s mane, tail and my own long hair flew behind us.

I come from a family of horse people. On school holidays my father was sent from his provincial town to stay at his aunt’s boarding house in Havana so that he could study horsemanship at the Spanish Equestrian School. My father was an expert horseman and he loved Palominos most of all. He had at least two that I know of. His favorite was a giant stallion named Napoleon.

Top from left: Camelia's grandfather; great grandfather and grandfather; great grand mother. Bottom from left: Camelia's grandmother; grandfather; grandfather with great uncles. Cuba

Top from left: Camelia’s grandfather; great grandfather carrying grandfather; great grandmother (on left). Bottom from left: Camelia’s grandmother (on left); grandfather; grandfather (on left_ with great-great uncles. Cienfuegos, Cuba

Growing up, my father told me horse stories and I wove all of them into dreams of Palominos and the dappled greys that I loved the best. But they remained fantasies because I was a city child. Sometimes on birthdays I would be driven to a stables in the outskirts of the city and treated to a trail ride.

When my father told his horse stories to his grandchildren, only one of them heard. It was my oldest Camelia who clung to his every word and wove her own horse fantasies. She was the one who got her friends to play “Black Beauty” in kindergarten and read every book in the series by the fourth grade. Camelia wore out the videotapes of the “Horse in the Grey Flannel Suit” and “National Velvet”.  As a city child growing up in Loisaida, Camelia’s horse dreams were just like mine, only fantasies – not attainable, really.

Things changed one very boring weekend in late winter when we were feeling the cooped-upness of February. It was dull and snowless and everything was brown. Over my morning coffee I decided an outing ought to be taken. Maybe I could take them to a real stable for a proper riding lesson. Camelia had never been on a horse outside of the occasional school street fair pony and in her own horse dreams. We found Frog Hollow Farm and at the age of seven, Camelia sat for her first lesson in her blue jeans on the stalwart school pony Ludwig.

That was when Camelia’s horse dreams changed from being images on a TV screen and in her mind’s eye into the real smells of leather and horse sweat, and the mastering of skills.

Camelia at HITS on the Hudson and Wellington, FL

Camelia at HITS on the Hudson and Wellington, FL

In the summers my parents sat on a grassy knoll in old wrought iron armchairs overlooking the outdoor rink to watch Camelia in her dark green riding breeches.
Her grandfather would watch the only child of his line to have realized her horse dreams. I could see the pride and satisfaction in his green eyes. His gaze intent on horse and rider, he would smile softly and nod approvingly as we sat under the shade tree. In her training he saw his training and it continued, this ancient connection to the horse.

At the age of fourteen, Camelia became a working student where the trade was work in exchange for riding lessons. All through high school, Camelia would rise every Saturday morning before dawn to catch a bus to the farm, and returned home on Sunday evening. She did her homework on the bus ride. I used to joke that she had the discipline of a Marine. She would surf the internet for horses that were for sale. Often, while cooking dinner, I would hear her yell “Mom, come look at this one, what a beauty!”

I missed her when she went to the farm on the weekends and then as she grew older for longer periods of time during summer vacations. But I let her go, because I understood this horse dream. My daughter has a gift. Maybe this gift is in the blood. She is after all, only one generation removed from people who were physically connected to the horse for centuries. People who sat astride horses from toddlerhood until they died or could not get out of bed.

Camelia Montalvo is a dressage instructor and trainer in New York. At the time of this writing, she was a working student for Jennifer Baumert of Cloverlea Dressage in Wellington, FL for the winter season.  

hibiscus flower tea for me

I’m done with diet sodas and sugary bottled juices. Water is what I sip, but no matter how many lemon or cucumber slices you put it in, it can get a little boring. Sometimes you just feel like sipping a cold flavored beverage.

agua de jamaica

agua de jamaica

I discovered Agua de Jamaica (prounounced Ha-mike-ah) at a neighborhood Mexican restaurant. It is delicious and refreshing and good for you. Hibiscus flower tea is full of antioxidants, vitamin C and lowers cholesterol and high blood pressure. It is usually served sweetened because it is a tart drink, but I’ve gotten used to drinking it straight without sugars. I buy the dried hibiscus flowers at my local herb shop Flower Power where all the herbs come from US organic farmers.

Flower Power herb shop in the East Village

Flower Power herb shop in the East Village


Here is the recipe:

Add 1/2 cup of dried hibiscus flowers to 4 cups of water and boil for a few minutes. Turn off flame and let it steep for at least a half hour (the longer you steep it the darker it becomes – a beautiful magenta color). Strain it and add sweetner to taste and put it in the fridge.

dried hibiscus flowers

dried hibiscus flowers

All photos were taken on my phone with the Hipstamatic app using Blanko film and the Hornbecker and the Libatique 73 lenses.

the garden in winter

In the most urban of cities, I look out my window and see a meadow. The meadow is there because of urban blight gone good. From the empty lots sprung the meadows. We call it the garden and it is one of the many community gardens in Loisaida.

The past weekend’s snowstorm brought out the neighborhood children in droves on a sunny Saturday morning when the garden was a winter wonderland of fluffy new snow – the kind that’s perfect for snowmen, the building of forts and snowball fights. It was lovely to hear the children’s laughter all day long until the snow turned blue as dusk fell. I was reminded of my girls when they were little and played in the garden in winter.

All the photos are by David Schmidlapp.

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winter biking

I can smell the cold when I step outside. The clean and brittle smell carries the smoke of the wood fire that heats a church on my block. The winter scent wakes me up more than the cold itself. I touch the cold metal of locks and free my bike.

I only started riding a bike in New York City a year and a half ago. I’d always been too chicken to ride in the street before. With the proliferation of bike lanes, I bought a bike from my neighborhood shop Recyle-a-Bicycle and started bike commuting to my office. Now you can’t get me off it. Only a downpour will get me back onto the slow and jammed-packed crosstown bus.


I’ve discovered the trick to being comfortable is to keep the feet, neck and especially the hands warm. I wear an ample wool cowl that I knit myself that you can pull up to cover your face in the biting wind. You can get the free pattern here in the post Winter Knits for Biking.

Oona modeling the super warm knitted bike cowl

Oona modeling the super warm knitted bike cowl

I wear double gloves, but in the warm hands department, these win. The food delivery guys have developed an ingenious system of using plastic bottles and bags to block the wind from the handlebars. Maybe soon we will see fancy versions of these contraptions for sale in the high-end bike shops.

delivery bikes outfitted with plastic bag windbreakers

delivery bikes outfitted with plastic bag windbreakers