Before I burrow my head into the GDF like a tick into its victim’s soft, pliable flesh, I’ll share with you the story of the mystery person I visited yesterday at his charming home-with-studio near Utrecht: none other than the artiste de kür himelf. Cees Slings had extended an invitation to visit him any time I was in the neighbourhood; and what better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than weaving through the holiday traffic on Holland’s maze of freeways to see the chef at work in his own kitchen, so to speak? I set off with my travel pal of the moment, Kari McClain, in the car the rental company chose to bestow upon me this time, a Citroen Picasso – a strange bubble of a creature, with lots of quintessentially French personality traits, including side mirrors that act like ears – folding in for sleep when the doors are locked, and twirling earthward when the car is in reverse.
Upon our arrival chez Slings, Kari and I met the whole fam-damily: beautiful Mirjam, his wife; seven chickens; two sheep; and of course the newest little Slings, 11 week old baby Vera. Our afternoon inside the world of Slings reminded me how valuable it is for a journalist to take the extra step and meet the people we write about, getting to know more than the public dimension – a lesson I first learned last November in Lyon when confronted by Ghislain (not a snuggle bunny) Fouarges after I had written what I thought of his and other judges’ actions in Hong Kong. Developing even a brief first-hand experience of a person can be very bad if you are trying to maintain an air of deep cynicism, but excellent if you want to understand where your subject is coming from.
It has always been abundantly clear to me that Cees and I represent entirely different backgrounds, and yet both of us work in the same field. Some of the differences are huge: he is a composer-musician and I am not; I am a lifelong rider and he is not. Another enormous difference is the price tags on the fruits of our labours. Cees’ client list is a who’s-who of the world’s deepest dressage pockets: names like Laura Bechtolsheimer, Matthias Rath, Victoria Max-Theurer and Beatriz Ferrer-Salat. I’m sure Cees doesn’t have a rule that you have to own at least one castle to be his client, but it would be an honest mistake to think he did. One thing you do have to own if you want to work with Cees is a Mac. He cannot abide us Luddites who stubbornly persist in plodding away on our PCs.
We hung out in the studio, and Cees showed us what his work looks like in the digital realm with his side-by-side Mac monitors. He treated us to videos of Victoria’s Mary Poppins freestyle for Salieri, but I wasn’t quite successful in prying any detail out of him about the music for his two works-in-progress for Matthias. I guess I’ll just have to wait, along with the rest of humanity, to see the debut in competition. There wasn’t much talk of the EqMusync device, since it seems the FEI judging community has yet to reach out its collective arms to embrace it. Cees officially joins my ‘two thumbs up list’ of people who know how to agree to disagree but stay friends – at least with me, anyway. The afternoon concluded with a delightful meal of Dutch comfort food at an eighteenth century barn which has been converted into a dining hall. Our brains and stomachs full, Kari and I then climbed contentedly into the bizarro-mobile and attempted (almost successfully) to precisely retrace our labyrinthine tracks back to bungalow-land. You know how many North Americans it takes to drive in Holland? Three: one to read the map, one to watch the zillions of signs, and one to steer the car into the few empty spaces along the frenzied road. Kari and I were one man short, but we managed to return back to our rabbit hutch and finish off a fascinating day with a wee splash of port before bedtime.
The GDF doesn’t start for a few more hours, but if it were up to me we’d already be sitting in our chairs at the Academy Bartels. Stay tuned, more as soon as I come up for air tonight.