So, three days to the fourteenth, and we have reached the last leg of our fugacious tour. Let us get on with it then, without any more delay.
I had learned the name of Joss Whedon when we had watched The Avengers, back in 2012. An article somewhere (or was it an Honest Trailer video?) described him as ‘god of nerds.’ Back then, I did not know why. Then I found out that this was the man who created Buffy the Vampire Slayer – a series I hadn’t watched but knew to be a cult classic. He also was – the cyberspace sylphs whispered – the creator of an old television series called Firefly.
Firefly is one of the gladdest discoveries of my life. Malcolm Reynolds is one of the very few people I’ve met whom I’d be happy to call Captain. I liked everyone in the crew, maybe with the exception of Jayne – he was kind of a pain in the neck – even though he too had his redeeming moments. The relationship between Zoe and Wash is doubtlessly one of my best-loved romances on the screen (right up there with Peter Parker and MJ, and Jim and Pam). I have already talked about how much I liked Inara. But, as I had mentioned, Inara wasn’t my crush in the show. My crush was Kaylee.
I have watched Firefly only that one time, so I won’t try to describe her character in detail – I won’t do a good job of it if I try. What I remember is that she was enormously sweet, good-natured to a fault, and madly affectionate towards her machines. To her, the ship Firefly was like a beloved pet – she knew her every mood and humour and could tackle her every idiosyncrasy. Of course, she was a genius technician and engineer. Kaylee was that person on the ship no one could be angry at, her company was enough to melt your ill-temper. Well, I don’t know about you, but I sure found a lot of comfort in her. She was one of those really good, pure characters – something we rarely find in stories, and almost never in life.
While Firefly is one of the shows closest to my heart, there’s another one I discovered around the same time and became a huge fan of. It was House MD, arguably the best show I’ve seen, also one of my biggest favourites. You can probably guess which character on this show I had a crush on. It was Dr Allison Cameron, played by Jennifer Morrison.
I had a crush on Cameron purely because of how beautiful she looked. So, it would be more correct to say that my crush was Jennifer Morrison. For a span of time – weeks, or months maybe – I held that Jennifer was one of the most perfectly gorgeous actresses to exist. Her svelte figure was something secondary – I was far more taken by how stunning she seemed any time I looked at her face. And Cameron was a strong character too. I’ll wrap up with this little snippet of conversation between her and House in season one:
House: The only thing that matters is what you think. Can you do the job?
Cameron: You hired a black guy because he had a juvenile record.
House: No, it wasn’t a racial thing, I didn’t see a black guy. I just saw a doctor with a juvenile record. I hired Chase ’cause his dad made a phone call. I hired you because you are extremely pretty.
Cameron: You hired me to get into my pants?
House: I can’t believe that that would shock you. It’s also not what I said. No, I hired you because you look good; it’s like having a nice piece of art in the lobby.
Cameron: I was in the top of my class.
House: But not the top.
Cameron: I did an internship at the Mayo Clinic.
House: Yes, you were a very good applicant.
Cameron: But not the best?
House: Would that upset you, really, to think that you were hired because of some genetic gift of beauty and not some genetic gift of intelligence?
Cameron: I worked very hard to get where I am.
House: But you didn’t have to. People choose the paths that grant them the greatest rewards for the least amount of effort. That’s the law of nature, and you defied it. That’s why I hired you. You could have married rich, could have been a model, you could have just shown up and people would have given you stuff. Lots of stuff. But you didn’t… you worked your stunning little ass off.
I had Jennifer Morrison again when I was watching Once Upon A Time, in the role of Emma. But because of some reason, OUAT is not what I think of when I think of her; it’s always House MD.
My next crush would be someone we fell in love with – and if we’re being honest – a little bit ‘in lust with‘ – over several films, in all of which she delivered her roles so well that it was impossible not to be an admirer. It was not just my generation – her fanbase extended far beyond my age-group, – on both sides. I found myself watching her movies systematically one after the other – drawn to them because of her, and profiting twofold because of how good they were as films. I saw her alongside a very young, pre-Matrix Keanu Reeves in Speed; I saw her on the big screen in Gravity, measuring up to the challenge of surviving outer space with iron tenacity and obstinate willpower; I saw her in Demolition Man, partnering up with Stallone to take down a psychopathic, mass-murdering Wesley Snipes (What a performance from the man in this film!); in The Heat she delivered unbridled comedy, and in The Blind Side she reminded me of Finding Forrester and Good Will Hunting. Latest we saw her in Bird Box, a film my so-called students had watched before me, and once again she showed us what a great artist she was. A truly extraordinary lady, indeed, and one of my definite crushes in recent years, Ms Sandra Annette Bullock.
The thing about Sandra Bullock’s movies is that she does such great work as an actress that you feel guilty catching yourself ogling at how good she looks. Take the iconic ‘floating foetus’ scene in Gravity. Sandra Bullock was fifty years old when this film was made. In the scene, you are left wonderstruck at the brilliance of the imagery, the depth of the emotion it invokes, the intensity of the actor’s performance; but you are also left thinking, ‘How does she look this awesome at this age, doing a scene like that?’ – She’s simply special, that’s how.
While I was going through these years, the time when I watched House and Gravity and Firefly and all that, I also discovered in a big way the world of women’s fitness and bodybuilding, almost entirely due to my increased familiarity with the internet. I had been aware of the field since long – I knew about Cory Everson, and I was already familiar with athletic ladies like Yelena Isinbayeva – my first Amazon-crush from the real world (in the realm of fiction it was Diana, aka Wonder Woman). What I found now was a whole new world – a veritable Diagon Alley of female athleticism that I gained access to through the Leaky Cauldron of Everson and Isinbayeva.
These ladies were not our run-of-the-mill pretty ladies. Here was a whole new standard of beauty, an entirely different paradigm of the ideal female body. The women here were muscular like Greek heroes in marble; their physique exuded power at the same time they exuded sensual appeal. In stark contrast to commonly seen beauties, they looked dauntless rather than delicate and lusty rather than dainty. — I realized that this was, at long last, thousands of years of fiction come alive in reality. These were the Amazons of antique Greek history, – these were the Ishtar and Durga of ancient Asian myths.
Little was to be found about the personalities of the athletes. All that was obvious was their clear dedication to their sport, and their boldness to swim against the current in a misogynistic, patriarchal society that criticized them unkindly day in and day out with unfailing regularity. These ladies were all strong, both mentally and physically. However, here it’d be shamelessly hypocritical to say that I was drawn to them because of their ‘inner qualities.’
While all of these ladies had gained themselves near-perfect bodies through years of hard work, not everyone was equal in the prettiness element. As a result, I respected them all but was attracted more to those who looked like supermodels and fitness champs rolled into one. But I cannot say these all were crushes – they’re mere fascinations, too superficial and shallow to be dubbed ‘crush.’ Among the more permanent admirations, there are a handful of people – Brooke Wells (from Crossfit), Eleonora Dobrinina (from bodybuilding), Rafaela Montanaro (from pole sport) – to name a few. I have varying degrees of different kinds of admiration for all of them, and I find them all fanciable. But in this account, I pick one single name to represent this category – someone I have admired, respected and been attracted to in equal parts – the Russian fitness legend, Oksana Grishina.
I’ll let the picture speak for itself – as far as looks are concerned, Oksana is clearly a captivating woman. There’s this beautiful piece of ballet and piano that I like to use to introduce someone new to Oksana, and in this, her appeal is more powerfully manifest. But she is more than a pretty sight. Oksana Grishina is a legend in the world of women’s bodybuilding. She won four consecutive Ms Olympia titles from 2014 to 2017 in her category, and won ten consecutive Arnold Classic competitions. She is a trained dancer – she once used to work as a choreographer with kids at the Tchaikovsky School of Music and Art in Kaliningrad, Russia, and later won great popularity with her ‘Joker‘ and ‘Michael Jackson‘ choreographies as part of her stage routine. In 2018 she bid goodbye to the sport of bodybuilding, and now devotes her time and energy to running her own dance academy.
That is, in brief, her cee-vee. However, talented people are common in the world of modern fitness. Admittedly, an Oksana is rare, but I wouldn’t have grown the respect I have for her if I hadn’t known her to be a decent, humble person in all her interactions on social media. There are literally hundreds of hot fitness ladies on any social networking platform, and there are scores who are talented and are going places. The ones who retain the freshness of humanity and the humility to mingle with fans with an honest smile, – they are few and far between. The biggest reason I like Oksana is probably her choice to mentor younger artists and athletes after she hung up her mantle. A real tree bears many seeds.
And that brings us to our next stop, Samantha Peszek.
Samantha Peszek’s story is one of the many cloud-capped rainbows in the world of competitive sports. In 2008, she represented U.S.A in the Olympic games, her partners being stars like Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, Alicia Sacramone, Bridget Sloan and Chellsie Memmel. But things went wrong. Just minutes before the women’s qualification, she injured her ankle during warm-ups, and as a result, could compete only on the uneven bars. Samantha would go on to compete in both elite and collegiate gymnastics later in her career, winning many awards and accolades, but that was her only Olympics; her team won the silver.
2008 was also my final year at school. That was the year I had had the crush on Isinbayeva. The newspapers must have covered gymnastics too, but I do not remember Samantha from then. I discovered her later on YouTube, probably out of the suggested videos line-up while I was watching something else. And as I watched her through a few of her routines, I was struck. She was like a comic-book figure in real life, both in how she looked and how she moved. We’d been in awe of gymnastic backflips and air-kicks since we’d been reading Spider-man and Batman, – she was all that in flesh, and living proof why strong was the ‘new sexy.’
There were other gymnasts who were Samantha’s peers, and some were perhaps her better in skill and mastery of the art, but there was something amatory I saw in her that set her apart from the rest. There are many comments on YouTube – and on her Instagram – that acknowledge her charms in rather coarse words, as modern netizens are often wont to do, but as far as the sentiment of those comments is concerned, I find I don’t disagree. – Samantha does have an “It” factor.
I came to Samantha from Oksana, because like her, Sam is also someone who has come forward to give back to her roots. Since 2017, she has been organizing “Beam Queen Boot Camp”, – a training program designed to help young gymnasts navigate their beam struggles in a way that is beyond the scope of a typical gymnastics camp. I’ve seen her BQBC posts on Instagram – it looks like a great hit. And I believe that’s what will bring her story full circle. They say nothing succeeds like success; well, what is success if you don’t have successors to inherit it?
From the stage to the floor, and back to the stage. I’ll keep this short. My next name is Lindsey Stirling.
You probably know Lindsey Stirling. She’s a violinist who’s also a dancer, and she does both at the same time on the stage. Her story is an inspiration – she was told by teachers in her childhood that dancing and playing the violin are essentially incompatible and can’t be done together, she had to choose. – She chose to go after it anyway, and like Neil Gaiman says,
People who know what they are doing know the rules, and know what is possible and impossible. You do not. And you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can. If you don’t know it’s impossible it’s easier to do. And because nobody’s done it before, they haven’t made up rules to stop anyone doing that again, yet.
Lindsey Stirling is a testimonial to that statement.
I remember how I found her. I was on YouTube that day, tripping on Hallelujah. I was looping all my favourite covers of the song, – Leonard Cohen (live), Leonard Cohen (studio), Bon Jovi, Jeff Buckley (I discovered Buckley that day, too), even Bob Dylan. And amidst all of those heavyweights, there was this girl playing this violin rendition in a subway station, and the crowds stopped there, or gently passed.
That was the start. Soon I went on to listen to her own music, Transcendence and Shadows being on my playlist for days. I used to listen to them on a loop, alternating the two songs, moving in and out of the colours and the greys of my heart. Lindsey was an artist, there were parts of her to be found in both; but the song that spelled out the connection between us was Shadows. I think it was really the song I had been in love with, – and with the song I am still in love. Watching Lindsey Stirling in that music video I realized that I had found this song for myself. It was not just her up there with her song, it was a duet with me, and my many memories.
You find pieces of yourself in strange and unexpected places. I found my shadow in Lindsey Stirling’s song. And in that same year, I found a big part of myself when I watched the Netflix show Daredevil. Marvel made good films, agreed, but this was on an entirely different level. This wasn’t simply a great story…for me, this was a journey inward.
I will save Daredevil for another day. Let me talk about the person I first met here, and ended up having a crush on by the time I was seeing her on Punisher. Karen Page didn’t just have the hearts of Matt and Frank; she also had mine.
And she deserves it, as you surely know if you’ve watched the shows. People talk about Captain Marvel and Scarlet Witch when they discuss Marvel’s handling of ’empowered women.’ Pshh. Go home and watch Daredevil, and get to know the character that’s Karen Page. And be wowed.
Karen Page, in the comics, isn’t even a B-list character – she’s one of the forgotten C-list supporting characters whom no one remembered. Then came along Drew Goddard and redrew her for his show on Netflix. Goddard had worked on classics like Buffy and Lost before; he did a terrific job again. This Karen Page was awesome. She was brave. She was a badass. She was not afraid of standing up to the lawbreakers and she was not afraid of standing up to the law. She was one hell of an investigative reporter. And she looked progressively more gorgeous with every new season that was airing on Netflix. I haven’t seen any other work of Deborah Ann Woll, – I don’t know how much I’ll like her on True Blood if I ever get around to watching it. But as Karen, she was a killer.
Karen Page isn’t the only Marvel girl I had a crush on. I also liked Simmons a lot. Remember Simmons? Jemma Simmons, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.? – Played by Elizabeth Henstridge, one of the most adorable British hoomans you’ll ever have seen, Simmons was an instant favourite with millions across the world. Her inseparable partner was Leo Fitz, – everyone always referred to them as Fitz-Simmons like they were a single person. For all intents and purposes, they were, though. But let me stop right there: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is still current, and it will be wise to say no further on Jemma Simmons here on this blog. Do yourself a favour, watch the show. It was developed by Joss Whedon, so yeah.
How can we be talking Netflix shows and not be mentioning Stranger Things?
The whole world is in taken with Stranger Things right now. It is a beautiful show, and I love it. But even apart from all the tributes and callbacks to the 80s, ST has some unexpected offerings up its sleeve, like I found out through the character of Joyce.
I don’t know if the teen-viewers have noticed this, but Joyce is a surprisingly good-looking woman. I picked it up early. This was a character going through some very messed-up happenings in her life, and she was on the verge of going halfway-crazy, but you could still see it — beneath all the weariness and woe, this here was a really, really beautiful woman. Who’s the actress, I wondered. And then I found out.
She was Winona Ryder. I didn’t know who she was, because her most memorable film came out before I was born. She was in it with Johnny Depp. Tim Burton was the director. The film was Edward Scissorhands.
You’ll need to watch Edward Scissorhands if you want to understand why Winona Ryder is on this list. I have not seen anything else by Winona Ryder, but between ST and Edward, it has been enough. I don’t want to talk about this film now. It is not something to be talked about mixed up with all these other things.
And that brings me to the final name on this roll. It was only last year that I started watching Vikings.
Vikings is something I did not advise my younger friends to watch. For one, it is too real and raw. For another, a little knowledge of British-European history helps in understanding the show better, which most of them do not have yet. I am no expert myself, but I know enough to roughly put the things in their places. The story tells of Viking leader Ragnar Lothbrok and his adventure through the ups and downs of fate. The tale is inspired by some of the best-known Norse legends and sagas – historians are dubious about their factuality. In that way, Ragnar is a folk hero, – much like Robin Hood.
And Ragnar has a wife, his partner at home and in war, on the sowing fields and the fields of battle, the magnificent lady Lagertha. Lagertha the shield-maiden, whose spirit outshines her strength, and whose strength outshines her beauty.
Which is saying a lot, because Lagertha is exceedingly beautiful. I think almost every man who has met her and mingled with her on the show, has been taken with her. Her story is like a string of wooing lovers, strong leaders and bold warriors all, who did not eclipse the regal force of her own person. I would be giving away spoilers if I said any more, so I guess I’d rather stop.
So – that’s that, then. This was all, – the long catalogue of those women whom I – and many of my own – have been in love with through all our gone years. I am sure I missed out on some, in my forgetfulness; I am certain there will be many more to come, in the coming years. But in all their endless comings, they bring some beauty into life and this world, and when they leave, some glimmers of that beauty stay behind. Writing about all these people I have come across, by paper or by screen or in my own mind, and having met them, paused to admire, – it finally reminds me of these lines by an anonymous British poet:
Yesterday’s flowers am I,
And I have drunk my last sweet draught of dew.
Young maidens came and sang me to my death;
The moon looks down and sees me in my shroud,
The shroud of my last dew.
Yesterday’s flowers that are yet in me
Must needs make way for all to-morrow’s flowers.
The maidens, too, that sang me to my death
Must even so make way for all the maids
That are to come.
And as my soul, so too their soul will be
Laden with fragrance of the days gone by.
The maidens that to-morrow come this way
Will not remember that I once did bloom,
For they will only see the new-born flowers.
Yet will my perfume-laden soul bring back,
As a sweet memory, to women’s hearts
Their days of maidenhood.
And then they will be sorry that they came
To sing me to my death;
And all the butterflies will mourn for me.
I bear away with me
The sunshine’s dear remembrance, and the low
Soft murmurs of the spring.
My breath is sweet as children’s prattle is;
I drank in all the whole earth’s fruitfulness,
To make of it the fragrance of my soul
That shall outlive my death.
And on that note, au revoir.
(That’s all, folks.)