Ping – The clinking of champagne glasses.
Crash – The explosion following a victory.
Soundless – The splintering of a daydream.
There exists a feeling in all of us that allows us to forget everything for a fraction of time. For a slice of a second, we forget where we are, what we are doing, and are transported into a wonderland comprising of a mirage of clashing colors and clinking cocktails.
And then, Snap.
The buzz of a fly, the cheer of a crowd, the gallop of a stallion, the shudder of a cloud casting a spell over the sun, or sometimes just the silence of a renewed thought. Any stimulus external to our dream-like vision zaps us into reality.
In times when sporting high tea outfits and swooping hats is reserved for the opera, a polo match brings this vision to life. If only there were more occasions when we could trot into a land of make believe, dress in veils and bowties, perhaps peer through peculiar binoculars in hopes of seeing more than just Alice’s furry white rabbit. But for now, I am content with having graced the Veuve Clicquot polo match for two successive years.
Modern day costume dramas can still exist outside the façade of starry cocktails, launch bashes and enigmatic masquerades. All one has to do is pretend to be British, sip overpriced but refreshingly clannish champagne from sunflower yellow bags on a field devoted entirely to checker cloth picnic blankets and herds of people dressed in their formal brunch best. 2011 showed over 17000 inhabitants on a tiny Governor’s island, proclaiming to the world exactly why New York remains a hub for the affluent, influential, and wannabe crowds.
The polo match makes for a great place to people-watch and socialize. Staring glares tend to linger for just a little longer. Compliments tend to flow into meaningful conversations. And wafer thin gadgets enable instantaneous facebook friendships that can last eternally. However, despite the transgression of many barriers, I still find the classical form people watching to be most enjoyable. After all, a polo match is one which demands intent visual attention, since the eyes give adrenaline the cue to gush through the body at an accelerating pace.
The sport itself is one of regal heritage, thus making it a fashionable upper crust affair. This owes itself to the history of the sport, which was a training game for elite troops in a king’s reign, becoming somewhat of a battle. Eventually played from Persia to India to Egypt by kings and sultans, it made its way into becoming a British associated game, perhaps owing more to the bleached starkness of the outfits worn whilst playing. Today, Polo exemplifies globalization, given that its name derives from the Tibetan word “pulu” (ball), its officialization is credited to the British, and its rules are designed from Manipur in India. Perhaps this is why its racy, competitive and vibrant appeal resonates so deeply with cultures worldwide. Unlike a cricket perhaps, which Americans steer away from, or American football, which the non Americans frown at.
Team Black Watch won in a 6-5 win over Team Veuve Clicquot, thanks to ace player and Polo poster-boy Nacho Figueras, who shamelessly showed that sponsoring teams could lose too, bringing faith to a world that rests on suspicion of otherwise rigged games. Being an animal lover, I found it only natural to casually speak with the horse caretakers, avoiding the manure stench and leaving behind the bright yellow Clicquot umbrellas and paraphernalia that exuded so much more grace and poise. Yet, I learned a few interesting facts about these polo horses, who had to be selected for the sport, akin to our children being handpicked for Ivy league universities. Given that horses are full grown by five, they are best equipped to play closer to eight years, which is after five years of training! (And we thought we had it distraughtful with our complex school systems, beginning with pre-kindergarten.). Apparently a good horse contributes to the skill of his player greatly, and victory truly depends on the horse’s speed, responsiveness and reactive sense. Which is why viewers saw the players swapping horses during the breaks, to give the poor souls a rest and a bite. The horses were the true stars, thudding across the grassy field in gleaming fur, with dapper manes that fell like Flynn Ryder’s locks, and immaculately knotted tails.
And one could not help but notice the flocks of crowds and spectators, where it was easy to spot those who obeyed, enhanced, and butchered the rules of polo dress code. Although no true dress code really existed, most adorned themselves in what we envisioned the Europeans to wear on a lazy day to sip champagne, or what we ripped off of moviedom in the name of inspiration. Nevertheless, it made for a lovely afternoon to fashion gape at those enjoying a luscious picnic and those posing for anonymous or oblivious shutterbugs.
The most prominent feature of all looks was the variety in hats and headpieces. By far, all the women in particular adorned an ornate bejeweled and feathered headpin, or more commonly, sported an exaggeratedly wide hat, varying in texture, color, size and level of embellishment! Feathers were a common accessory, sprinkling mischief on otherwise pseudo classic outfits, or sometimes purposefully adding subtle flashes of bold color. Straw woven hats remained my favorite since they genuinely exuded yesteryear charm, and when laced with air spaces, casted enviable sunspots on veiled faces peering into the light.
Ladies in summer dresses were a sight for all men to wag tongues and pop pupils at. Backless, strapless, yet never vulgar; bold, flowery, yet never gaudy; and in ripe sun soaked colors, making the entire ensemble nothing short of a soothing fruit cocktail in the simmering sun. Naturally some carried these off better than others, owing to natural curves or a winter packed with workouts. And while some accessorized these with matching shoes and legwear, others chose to plop about in comfy sandals or ugly flip flops. The winning combination was obvious.
Boys in shirts and blazers and bowties ruled the roost, giving hope that even men in America could give the fitted linen clad Europeans and Asians a run for the gym when challenged to wear their Brit-best. From skinny blazers to blazing bowties, metallic tees to crisp collared shirts, it seemed that the Gentleman’s Quarterly had been an entry examination for those wishing to enroll in an afternoon of horse power, sunshine, babe-watching and gluttony.
For once, the fashionable ambiance was not restricted to just clothing, but to accessories, foods, and picnic paraphernalia. The tiny yellow binoculars sported by a lady in a matching dress portrayed how the efforts of accessorizing paid off, as she continued to focus on something possibly much beyond me, unaware that the world was sprinting into megapixel zooming. The umbrellas, or rather sunbrellas, were more intricate, either made of paper reminiscent of the Orient, or bringing memories of lacey trends on streets of Antwerp in Belgium, owing to their vintage style and dress-like accents.
And moving on from savvy accessories were those that were also functional: a fan from the Orient, for instance, to blast away the heat by blowing more hot air on it. My own bright blue Lacoste bottle stood smartly, if not starkly in contrast to the Polos and Ralphs more dominating in the sport of interest. And what’s an afternoon without a Sex and the City image evoked by a box blossoming with Magnolia cupcakes, perched precariously next to a Lauder bag, gaping into the dusty fields with its own inviting tentacles.
And while not a typical family affair, the few kids that were present were indeed a treat to watch. Dressed as miniature parents, with girls in bright pink shoes and cute floral dresses, and boys in petite blazers and stitched trousers, these cuties were always ready to pose for the cameras. These mini fashionistas stole the limelight over somewhat less dashing celebrities.
Less dashing celebrities? The famous often grace such occasions either looking immaculate and irreplicable, or simply plainer than their larger than life selves. Nacho sans horsegear fell into the former, whilst Hugh Jackman and Naomi Watts fell into the likes of the latter. It is at times like these when I find that mainstream urbanites or independent fashion enthusiasts are far tastier eye candy with their gaze-worthy, neck-swirling and mind-blowing appearances.
And thus concluded an inviting and intriguing match and people-watching exercise, accentuated by the thundering gallop of horses and the consequential clinking and occasional crashing of champagne glasses.
These are sounds, after all, that break the spell of lazing with an Alice on one side and the March Hare on the other, sipping a cup of never-ending tea. Replace croquet with polo, and you almost entered my vision.
When is the last time your day dream came to life?