Saturday, September 29, 2012

WNY Idyll: Back Again

  There's no cure better for jet lag than a jog through the cool, autumnal mists, with the sun slowly breaking through the clouds.  I've come back to what looks like the beginnings of a spectacular leaf-show. I can't remember the early flashes of red in the maple tree on our front lawn and on the trees that border the creek, ever being so vivid.

  Other trees are turning yellow, others gold and the tough little asters are still hanging in there, fringing the roads and carpeting our garden trails. It's quiet too. No lawn-mowers, just the small thumps of falling acorns. 

  Up our lane this morning I spied our wild turkey family, or  maybe their friends and relations. They appear to have deserted us for some neighbours who recently moved down south and have put their house up for sale. But sadly not many takers around here. This isn't Knightsbridge. I saw the turkeys picking their way through the grass, perhaps knowing they wouldn't be disturbed.  Autumn in Western New York is all the more beautiful for being so short-lived.  And you never know when the trees will be at their peak - people signing on for expensive leaf-peeping trips to New England might well be disappointed. We don't get coach-parties here but our colours are just as good without the tourists.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

In the Air

  I'm bidding farewell to London and will be back in WNY at the weekend, after which blogging service (I was going to say, "normal" blogging service but that may be a misnomer) will resume. I doubt they'll let me bring any bangers back though, more's the pity but I've got a suitcase full of tea and tasteful birthday cards..

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Culture Clash: Cards for All Occasions

     Only a couple of days left in London and I've been stocking up on birthday cards.  Here follows the reason why.....
   I was in our Western New York supermarket recently, looking for a birthday card. I just wanted an ordinary birthday card that didn’t have a weak joke that underlined the fact that many Americans don't share the British sense of humour. An ordinary birthday card that didn't have sixteen verses of soppy, lilac-printed poetry . This was not proving easy  – though I suppose if I lived in Manhattan and not out in the sticks, the selection would be, how can I put this, a little more artistic. My eye couldn’t help straying, however, and soon I got caught up in a phantasmagoria of glittered offerings that ranged from special cards for your boss, your nephew, your sister-in-law and your New Love, not to mention your priest: “Dear Pastor, may you awaken to blessings each day and may mercies bring peace to your nights”,  to cards marking Confirmations and Bar Mitzvahs - containing a little pocket for money -  alongside those for Pet Bereavement and A Troubled Relationship: “No matter how difficult things are, I really want to start focussing on what’s right about our love”.   Sneer not - they wouldn’t design these cards if people didn’t buy them – and believe me, an awful lot of people do buy them. I’ve come to realise that Americans, whatever their image on the world stage,  just love to try and make people feel good.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Culture Clash: A Short Musical Interlude

  One of the good things about getting back to London on occasion is to be able to go, as hubby and I just did,  to a concert and listen to classical music without a running commentary. In America in my experience, you see, it's quite normal for someone to come on and introduce the musicians,  then for the musicians to introduce their music. Each piece of music that is. And since one American trait that I've noticed is a great fondness for talking, they often use the opportunity to go on at great and tedious length. Or they make a string of bad jokes. All this implies that the audience a) can't read the programme (or have mislaid their specs)  and/or  b) are a couple of apples short of a picnic. This is unfair to American music- lovers, who, after all, have some of the greatest orchestras and classical music venues in the world.   But having said that, they do do a lot of encores.  Americans going to concerts in Britain, where the music does the talking, must be a little confused  - or perhaps relieved.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

On the Road

A reminder to my readers:

   As previously mentioned,  I am travelling off base until 28th September including time in dear old London. But posts will continue in some form until my return to Western New York.

             This is by way of a nostalgic fantasy. I hear the weather is pretty bad there now and frost expected. Farewell flowers!                                                      

Saturday, September 22, 2012

On Fashion

 I am in London for a few more days and London Fashion Week has just ended here, which explains why there are so many bizarrely-dressed people on the Tube.  Or perhaps these are just the Londoners I used to take as perfectly normal.  One thing though, if I see another young girl stumbling along in scuffed ballet shoes, I shall scream. Especially when paired with bulging leggings and a short, flouncy skirt. Ballet shoes are totally unsuitable for city streets and always look as if they're about to fall off. Their wearers like to stand, posing, feet slightly turned out, gabbling or texting on their mobile phones. But I expect this fashion craze will fade as autumn approaches.
 Western New York fashion, on the other hand, is simpler to understand. To be hip is to have a new pair of trainers, or sneakers, as they call them.  And for middle-aged ladies, those baggy three-quarter-trousers that make everyone look barrel-shaped, especially when sporting a crew cut, as is the norm for the over-sixties. For the men, a baseball cap, never to be taken off, even in a restaurant.   Skirts or dresses on women are virtually unheard-of, unless they're members of a religious sect. It's a good thing people in WNY aren't too desperate to get with the latest thing, as I don't know where they'd buy it. I never thought I'd be so homesick for Marks and Spencers. (Wal-mart is good for cheap shorts and t-shirts, though, especially for wearing in London, where no one knows where they've come from. For the same reason, I wear things from M and S in America and pretend they're haute couture.) 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Transatlantic Social Butterfly

  I see from the British newspapers that a monarch butterfly has been found in Dorset. It seems that the poor chap was on his way from North America to Mexico and got swept 3,500 miles off course by Hurricane Isaac. Apparently thousands of butterfly-watchers have descended on Dorset with their cameras, so the monarch probably feels a bit like the Duchess of Cambridge.
   In our Western NY garden, we see the big, beautiful monarchs every day in summer, along with lots of others, like this one, which is similar but not, I think, the real McCoy. Any butterfly experts out there?

          A friend once raised a monarch caterpillar in a jam-jar, feeding it on milkweed leaves. It reached butterfly-hood and then flew away without so much as a thank you.  (As an aside, an elderly local gentleman told me that,  as a small boy, he was paid to collect the siken tendrils from milkweed pods as they used them to make parachute silk during the War.) The butterfly paparazzi could do worse than come to us. Except I'm not disclosing the address.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Perfect Sausage

  See below.  Here is a small update. I have just had the perfect British banger from a stall at the Southampton Boat Show.  Big, beautiful and stuffed with pork and herbs and nestling in a crisp baguette - admittedly not very traditional but just the thing for a takeaway lunch. I ask myself again, why can't the Americans do this?  There, it would be a flabby, insipid hot dog, the consistency of congealed blancmange and only made palatable by gallons of glutinous relish. And it would be in a soft, white, flavourless bun. "They'd sell 'em in America," hubby pronounced, "but I guess they've decided there isn't a market." Obviously, Americans on an outing prefer their hot-dogs - when they aren't munching on deep-fried dough. Just can't understand it.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

WNY Driving: Russian Roulette on Wheels

On trips back to Britain I note, with a new sense of wonder, how Home Counties drivers negotiate roundabouts. They drive around them like ducklings to the water, without a qualm. While on the other hand.....

  Americans don't get roundabouts. At least Western New Yorkers don't. They  recently introduced the first one in Hamburg, a suburb of Buffalo and it's been met by a spectrum of emotions ranging from puzzlement to abject horror. That is despite copious signs and instructions. But in my own opinion as a foreigner, the American alternative is even more terrifying.
    Where there are no lights, instead of the perfectly sensible British mini-roundabout, America has devised a fiendish system which I call Russian Roulette on Wheels. You get to a crossroads and every road leading to it has a red “Stop” sign. The drivers have to go in the strict order in which they arrive. And if two or more arrive at once, it's the one to the right of you that has priority. (A devious complication is when the road going across does not have stop signs. Sometimes this isn't made very clear, especially if there are trees around.)  And you have to work all that out without the benefit of a photofinish camera. For this you need a careful balance of courtesy and decisiveness that I’ve only encountered in America. Locals seem to have an uncanny way of knowing when to go, whereas with me it’s, “Oh is it my turn? No - you go first. OK forget it then……OOPS!”
I don't think this would work in Italy.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Transatlantic Concerns

  I'm in London, drinking in the sweet, nostalgic scent of the Tube, lulled to sleep by sirens, not cicadas. Meanwhile I'm worrying a little about my Western New York garden, which I've left to the tender mercies of the weather and any visitor who might happen along. 

Still, there's nothing to be done. Mother Nature will have her way - though at least the blueberries are all gone.  And we won't get snow yet. Probably.


Friday, September 14, 2012

WNY Gourmet: No Sausages

When I'm in London, I have a rather odd diet - mainly seeking out foods that I can't get back in rural Western New York. Not that the shops there aren't full of surprising delicacies ... ever eaten a mousecherry? No? Well I didn't eat this one either.

    But despite that, WNY still has a deep, culinary black hole.  Things are no doubt different in Manhattan which, I assume, has a number of Ye Olde English Tea Shoppes and the like. In WNY, however,the steaks may be sublime, the pork chops to die for, but alas - there are no British bangers to be had anywhere. I've scoured the colder reaches of Tops supermarket but despite enough sausage varieties to make your head spin: Polish Kielbasa, Kosher, Italian, Texas Hots, Bratwurst, fifty different kinds of hot-dog, from every ethnic group that ever made it past the Statue of Liberty, I have looked in vain for good, honest pork sausages in proper skins. The kind that sizzle and pop, you know?   There are plenty of American diners that do a wonderful breakfast but believe it or not, what they call "sausages" are flat, round discs of sausage meat.  A little like mini-burgers with some kick.
The closest I got to bangers was in a motel somewhere in deepest Pennsylvania. I even forced my way into the kitchen to ask the chef where he got them. But they still didn't quite, as it were, cut the mustard.  After searching long and hard, hubby found me something called “link” sausages. I dashed for the frying-pan in drooling anticipation but, well, if truth be told, they were nice but they weren’t bangers. The disappointment was matched only by going into the Party Shop to buy Christmas crackers and being directed to the grocery store opposite. Crackers are things you eat with cheese in America - and they don’t even come with a silly hat.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Culture Clash: How to Behave in a Restaurant

There follow some observations I made earlier about eating out in America...   

  The place where American bonhomie can get a little troublesome is in restaurants, where the server, as they call them here, invariably appears at my elbow, asking, “How are you guys doing?” and again, five minutes later, “Everything OK for you folks?” and after another five minutes, “How’s it going here,” and so on throughout the meal – and always manages to hit the moment when my mouth is at its fullest. (Nor am I a guy.)  After one particularly creative girl came back an umpteenth time and having nearly exhausted her reprtoire of queries, asked if my salad dressing was all right, I very nearly shouted, “Yes my salad dressing is fine, my breadroll is fine too, so is the napkin, so, for that matter, is my knife and fork - and my plate – and the table. If you really want to know, the only thing that isn’t OK is YOU!” but felt that wouldn’t be very Christian, especially with my mouth full. Nor would putting a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the table. But wait a minute – I'm surprised no one's thought of that! 

  Alas I now note this habit is starting to paddle across the Atlantic.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On the Road

Note to my readers:

I am travelling off base until 28th September including time in dear old London. But posts will continue in some form. Some will be those I prepared earlier - to coin a phrase.  On my return, I shall also be announcing the results of the newly instituted Flying Turkey Travel Awards.   A certain airline and a certain lady official at a certain airport are currently in pole position.  Watch this space.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


To remember 9/11, here's part of an article I wrote for the fifth anniversary in 2006.
  Our nephew was one of the lucky ones.  Five years ago on September 11th 2001, he was trading stocks in the World Financial Center, across the street from the doomed Twin Towers. From his office, he saw the flames after the first plane hit, watching, horrified, the desperate people jumping from the windows. Then the second plane hit. “Our building shook and paper started flying around outside. We were told, ‘Get your wallet, phone,  keys – and evacuate’”. Twenty floors down, on the street, he was amazed to see thousands of people milling around and just looking up. “Dad always said to me, ‘If you’re in a bad situation, just get out of there’, so I said to my friend, ‘Lets’s start walking home’. So we did, weaving in and out of the crowds. I didn’t look back.”

  Ground Zero, where the towers stood, is now on the tourist trail. Like other out-of-town visitors to New York City, I felt I just had to see it – an empty, bleak building site, the  tall cross formed of rusty girders from the wreckage watching over it. Ironically the World Trade Center, symbol of modern America,  was just a block away from one of the oldest parts of Manhattan. Nearby is the little Episcopal Chapel of St Paul, where George Washington once worshipped and where his personal pew is still marked, with its churchyard that belongs in an English village. Five years ago, the graves were enveloped in dust and ash, the church turned into a sanctuary for the firefighters and rescue workers. Among the volunteers who took a turn helping out, was my sister-in-law, so thankful that her son was alive that she felt she just had to do something. She worked the night shift, handing out  socks, bandages , Kleenex, breakfast,  a listening ear. She swept the floors and helped make up the cots for exhausted workers. It was such a very American operation. They laid on massage therapists for the firemen while a pianist played to calm fraught nerves.

   There’s an exhibition there now – one of the cots,  covered in soothing teddy bears, still displayed.  Among the letters and gifts sent from all over world, a British policeman’s helmet and in the churchyard, a bell from the City of London to symbolize the links with the City of New York, “forged in adversity.”  And round the corner, St Peter’s Catholic Church – the oldest Catholic parish in the city –where the body of firemen’s chaplain Father Mychal Judge, officially the first casualty of September 11th,  was brought and laid before the altar. Even years later, it was impossible to see it all and not cry.

  Here in the countryside, we’re light years from Manhattan. People say, “We’ve moved on”, but they can’t help talking about what they were doing when the planes struck. On an ordinary morning, kids safely in school, my friend, who runs a stables, came back from riding to find a message from her husband: “Annie, put on the TV, the children may need you.” Everyone thought of their families first.

  Our nephew still works in New York. Taking the subway every day, in an increasingly volatile world, he’s conscious that it may just be a matter of time before something else happens. “I try not to think about it and try to think about moving forward – you have to. We’re going to be undeterred and keep going on and doing our daily work. But we’re never going to forget.”


Monday, September 10, 2012

WNY Idyll: Where the Buffalo Roam

    In the early days of the pioneers, when bison roamed America, a single herd could stretch for over a hundred miles.  Here in Western New York, some of our old roads can be traced back to bison trails, where the huge, shaggy bovines migrated down from the Great Lakes. Hunters put paid to that and at one point there were only a few hundred bison left in America. Our main city of Buffalo – you’re not really supposed to call bison buffalo, although most people do – has some fibreglass ones strategically placed along the motorway intersection but it’s not quite the same.
  But bison numbers are growing again, thanks to conservation and commercial farming. Bison now compete in shows and get gold medals. 

  Jeff,  in the next village to us, has a bison ranch. He was in a high-powered job, taking some 150 flights a year and as he puts it, burning himself out. He went out West, studied bison, tasted the meat and was hooked. He came back to live in western New York, reclaimed the old family dairy farm, added some more land and set off to a South Dakota sale to buy his bison. He realised quickly that the ones that won the gold medals were going for 11,000 dollars each, a bit beyond his budget. So he waited for the  also-rans, by which time everyone else had gone home. He brought back 56 calves.
   It took the young bison a while to acclimatize – they had tummy trouble at first, getting used to the richer grass and wetter conditions of the east.  After a while, Jeff could start selling bison burgers and steaks and delicious they are too, lean and tasty, untainted by chemicals.  “That”, said Jeff, pointing proudly at his herd, “Is what the Good Lord meant us to eat.”
  We were riding in his pickup truck in the late autumn sunshine, over a wide, grassy hill with some of the loveliest views in the county.  85 of the stately animals eyed us curiously, sniffing and grunting and blowing. “They’re very communicative,” said Jeff.  The curly long hair on their massive heads and shoulders is there for a reason, as they stand with their faces to the wind and dig deep in the snow for their food, something cows can’t do, which means the bison can survive in harsh conditions. In the spring the hair falls off – you can collect it and use it to make scarves. You can’t even try to keep bison in a barn. They’re highly intelligent, they can run at 35 miles an hour, turn 360 degrees on their fore or back feet and jump six feet. A male can grow to 3,000 pounds. Jeff’s fences are electrified to withstand 185,000 pounds. Still, if they really want to get out, they will, especially when two males are fighting for rank.


  They’re not naturally aggressive to humans, Jeff assured me, unless it’s a mother protecting her calf. Though the ones he reared treat him like a brother bison, which means challenging him for a place in the pecking order. Sometimes it’s expedient to get out of there and quick.  “If you see their tails go up and their heads go down, it means they’re getting stressed”.


  “Means they could charge.”

  Jeff is fascinated by his bison, “ “See, they look real slow and docile but man, when they kick it up a notch, they’ll go flat fast – going 35 mph in the truck you’ll see them looking through the window.”

     High on the ridge, we drove past the foundations of former farms, marked now just by rows of stones. Five generations of Jeff’s family farmed here and his great-great grandmother lies in an old cemetery on the hill opposite.

   Ironic really – the houses had gone, the bison had returned. Just then, two deer raced across the field, one taking the fence in its stride. The bison herd had gone back to grazing, tails safely down, grouped on the brow of the hill, framed by the sun, just like one of those old Westerns.

“People think I’m nuts,” Jeff laughed. “But this sure beats riding on a plane”.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Gang's Back


Remember yesterday's post - and my fully expecting to see an egret flown in from Florida? Well as coincidence would have it, look who came visiting later that morning!  This is the first time we've seen our turkey family - probably descendants of the original gang - for many months. And in the middle of a violent thunderstorm to boot. (Though no tornadoes here as yet.) Evidently, they like wet weather and were very interested in something in the grass. They didn't show much enthusiasm for the sunlounger. Well it was raining. And they're not stupid.

Of course, it's hard to get good pictures. Their hearing is so acute that make just one small sound and they're off. So these were taken through two sets of windows.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Weather Update: It Smells Like Florida

  Hubby called me early this morning to stick my nose out of the front door.
"The air smells", he remarked, "Like Florida!"
  And it did smell like Florida - a sort of exotic, flowery smell that didn't come from the woolly thyme I'm trying to nurture on the garden path, nor from the acrid Siberian Lavender that pops up optimistically in front of the house every year. No, this was bougainvillea and plumbago and even, perhaps, a whiff of a duny beach. I half expected to see a white egret come tiptoeing past the door, like Hopeful Charlie, who used to cadge outside our holiday flat in Longboat Key a couple of winters ago.

But it was still. Even the two woodpeckers who'd been chasing each other yesterday had gone.

  I remembered one time when I was ski-ing in the French Alps and woke up one morning to see the ski slopes tinted pink. When you trod in the snow, the lower layer was white.  Locals said it was a fine dusting of sand blown northwards all the way from the Sahara.  Perhaps this was a similar phenomenon.
  We looked at the two flags on our flagpole - the Stars and Stripes above and the Union Jack regrettably but according to American etiquette, underneath. They were still. Then, suddenly, they blew outwards.
  "I hope we're not getting a hurricane", I mused.
   "Of course not", said hubby. (Where have we heard that one before?)
  As I set off up the lane for my morning run it was muggy, with an odd, misty light. Then I heard a clap of thunder. Then the rain came in giant, plopping drops. Then I turned on my heel and ran back down the hill. By the time I got back to the house I was drenched to the skin.  I am posting this quickly before we get a power cut.

Friday, September 7, 2012

WNY Driving: The Yellow Peril

   Having to learn another country's driving ways has been a chastening experience. First, there is the obvious difference – Americans drive on the right.  And the steering wheel is on the left. I once had a truly surreal moment, when I got into the car and fumbling for the ignition, realised uneasily that something wasn’t quite right. Then I looked around me. Someone had stolen the steering wheel. It took me several seconds of mounting panic to work out that I’d got in the passenger seat.  I still can’t approach my car without thinking hard and hoping nobody spots me changing sides.
  Then, to complicate things , the rules are slightly different. For example, you can turn right at a red traffic light. This may sound like a great idea but unless you’re born and bred to it, it can be a poisoned chalice. As a newcomer, I revelled in the thrill of driving through a red light – rather like a first teenage kiss – but forgot I also had to check there was nothing coming. 
  And there are more hazards in store, among them the school bus. Now it's September, these yellow monstrosities are back everywhere on the roads  - America’s equivalent of the sacred cows that wander India’s streets and woe betide anyone who gets in their way. The rule is, when you see a school bus flashing its red lights, just stop. Never mind whether you’re a yard away, a hundred yards, ten miles away, just stop. This is to allow children to develop a false sense of security as they charge blindly on and off the bus, knowing that all the traffic’s frozen around them. I’ve never seen a single child actually looking to left and right. As in, just in case, you know?
    I've also begun to see why obesity is such a problem here. These buses stop at every single house. The children of modern America can’t even walk to the end of the street.  It seems I'm not alone. An impassioned letter from a school bus driver in the local paper put his side of the story, which, as I recall, went something like this: "I know we're the most hated people on the road. But it's not our fault. Try telling the parents were stopping outside one house and not another..."  Consequently I get stuck behind the buses, late, frustrated and germinating tender thoughts about King Herod.  

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Bear Essentials: Where are the Bears?

    Bears have a special fascination for Americans. People here wrestle all the time between being ultra cautious - not letting children walk to school and exterminating every germ in the house - and yearning for a time when life Stateside really was an adventure. There’s something about bears that epitomises all that. Americans love to go camping in the National and State parks and the greatest prize is to see a bear.  Here in western New York we have black bears, which are smaller and shyer than the fiercer brown bears and grizzlies out west.  But they’re still exciting.  At our local State Park they warn you to be “bear aware” and not leave “bear attractants” like food, toothpaste and suncream in your tent or car. “This park is home to black bears. We are their guests.”…and so forth.  Indeed, a few years ago, a girl scout camping in neighbouring Pennsylvania woke up to find a bear tugging at her sleeping bag.  Screams saw him off and she was OK, but still...
    Now I wouldn’t fancy a pillow fight with a bear but I must confess I would like to see one.   The State Park shop sells pottery bears, plush bears, bears on T-shirts, bears on hats. There’s a stuffed one in a glass case.  But I sometimes wonder if there are real bears here at all. Or if it’s all a scam for tourists and befuddled foreigners. Yes, they drop stories in the local press about the bear that walked into supermarket  and the one that turned up at a local high school. Children keen to see the bear, said the local paper, were “smashed against the windows”. Relax, that’s just an Americanism. 
   I’m a bear bore – asking everyone I meet whether they’ve seen one. It’s amazing how they all say, yes, they’ve seen one, or their husband has seen one or their brother-in-law’s cousin has seen one.  My dental hygienist: “Lots of times! This one time we were cycling along the trail – it was a foggy morning - when we saw this dark shape in front of us. …and there was the other time a mama bear and her baby were crossing the road….”   (“Uuuuhhh,” I spluttered,  wanting more information but by the time I could talk,  she’d changed the subject.)  My neighbour:  “Oh yes – someone once saw a bear at the top of the road. That was”, she thought for a bit,  “About thirty years ago.” My sister in-law: “We were taking the dog for a walk and there was one at the end of the drive.” It seems everyone’s seen one except me.

    The perceived wisdom is to go to the State Park at dawn and hang around the rubbish bins.  Now I once visited friends in Canada and they swore that, if we sat in the car at the rubbish dump, we would definitely see a bear. We sat there for four hours until we gave up and went home. So I thought I’d try a different tack. I set off up a forest trail, reluctant husband in tow.  “I’ve got a bear attractant” I said, breezily waving an apple.
 “Don’t even think about it!” 
“Joke” I muttered. We climbed further.  I started to feel just a bit uneasy. Supposing we did actually see a bear?  What should we do? Play dead? Climb a tree? The advice is inconsistent.  I started to see dark shapes round every corner. We heard a rustling in the bushes. I clutched hubby’s arm. My heart pounded. Then with a swish, a tiny chipmunk scurried across our path. I thought, if the Lord had meant me to see a bear, he would have meant me to see a bear. There’s something called pushing your luck. We turned round and legged it back to the car.                                                                   

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

WNY Gardening: The Yellow Army

 This is not a gardening blog. I am an amateur gardener in every sense of the word but I do like a riot of flowers and that has been my aim in trying to tame the jungle around our house. But working out what actually does flower here, through winter snow, early and late frosts, summer thunderstorms and the ministrations of our furry, flying and crawling friends is a steep learning curve.   Talk about survival of the fittest;  this is really it.  You can't be fussy about flowers here; you have to take what you're given.
  And what you're given is limited and mostly very yellow.

  Take a drive around our neighbourhood and you'll see an ocean of yellow blackeyed Susans, or to give them their posh name, rudbeckia.
  Like assistants in some fancy boutique, the garden centre checkout girls at  Home Depot (America's version of B and Q) tend to complement you on your choice of purchase.. As if you had a choice. "Ah! Blackeyed Susies! I haven't seen those in a while!"  said one. She was being a little economical with the truth.  That was back then, of course, when I was still buying them. Little did I know what I was letting myself in for. These days, I spend most of my time trying to cut them back, thin them, transplant them, find gaps to fill with them, shove them into vases. Basically, they have the fecund joie-de-vivre of weeds. Even when I've got fed up with them smothering everything else in the flower bed and shifted them somewhere else in the middle of the August heat, they've still come up cheerfully - and in spades - the following year. Actually it's an open secret that they are really weeds. But let's face it, what would we do without them? 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Language Barrier Part 4: Quite a Misunderstanding

   When I was just visiting America as a tourist, I never realised there was a language barrier. Perhaps that was because I was a tourist and went to the sort of places where they're used to talking to tourists, like Manhattan or Washington DC.  Oh yes, I knew all about sidewalk (pavement) and candy (sweets)  and even purse (handbag). Conversely, hubby, having long been an Anglophile and a frequent traveller to Britain, likes to say "tomahto" and "chap" and so on.  But there are subtleties, the depth of which neither of us could ever begin to imagine.
  Take the seemingly innocuous word "quite".  Once, in the early days I slaved over a meal for hubby, which he pronounced "quite good".  Now, you British girls, what would you say to that?  Sulk? Shout? Call the divorce lawyer?  Well perhaps not the last but it would come pretty close.  "What", I asked calmly, "do you mean, 'quite good'?"
 Hubby looked perplexed.
"Quite good", I explained between gritted teeth, "in Britain is not a complement. It means something is mediocre, so-so, possibly even awful and you're trying to find something nice to say about it. Like the curate and his egg you know?"
  "But I liked it! It was, it was wonderful!" Poor man. I could tell he meant it.
  So. That is what "quite good" means in American. It means wonderful. Now you know. And should you be thinking of embarking on a transatlantic marriage, consider yourself warned.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Western New York Idyll: The Little Visitor

  It's the Labor Day holiday - the second bookend of the American summer (the first being Memorial Day, at the end of May) and it's about to rain. We're probably getting the dregs of Hurricane Isaac but thankfully only the dregs. 
  On Saturday it was much better. I was sitting in the infamous sunlounger, not much the worse for wear for its encounter with the turkey family when suddenly there was a noise like tiny helicopter buzzing past my ear. It was a hummingbird, scarcely bigger than a bumble bee, heading for the miniature tomatoes I have growing fetchingly from a hanging-basket stand.  He hovered over a tomato, realised it wasn't a flower, took a look and then, disgusted, sped off towards the petunias. 

  Hummingbirds love red things. Once, when I was wearing a red shirt, one actually brushed me with his needle-sharp beak.  People put out hummingbird feeders with fake, red plastic flowers and I used to do this. Particularly one spring when a hummingbird showed up early, with no flowers in sight. I had to rush inside and start boiling up water and sugar, which is a messy business and I'm sure they prefer the real thing.
 It's extraordinary to think that these tiny creatures fly thousands of miles to summer in Western New York - the last place I'd expected to see them. They have extraordinary spirit, are tough, tenacious, territorial and not a little tetchy.  They can hover, their wings beating so fast you can't see them and they can even fly backwards. They weave their nests with spider silk. Few of Nature's wonders are as wondrous as they.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Election Latest: Signing the Bus


     Who needs the Party Conventions when you've got the Carmike Cinema car park? 
  Election fever in Cattaraugus County, as previously noted , has taken a while to get going but may well be hotting up.  The hit political documentary "Obama 2016" has arrived at our local flicks. Now, I have not seen Obama 2016 but this is a film which I understand to be rather more popular among the President's detractors than his supporters. On Friday evening, I happened to be in the Carmike Cinema car park, which connects with the one for Walmart and Home Depot (America's equivalent of B and Q) and stumbled on a small but enthusiastic crowd of local Tea Partiers and others, who were having a tailgate party (the sort of thing Americans do before football matches) and handing out cupcakes, before going in en masse to see the film.  They included builders, lawyers, a dentist, a blueberry farmer, the owner of the hardware shop and a nun.  I have to say that,  contrary to the popular image the Tea Party has in some media, none of them looked like escaped lunatics.
  A lady wearing a red, white and blue garland bounced up to me, "Do sign the bus!"  I made my excuses. Being a foreigner and scrupulously impartial, I never sign anything if I can help it. But I wondered if I'd heard right. Sign the bus? And indeed, there was a huge bus parked nearby, daubed with the Statue of Liberty and flying the Stars and Stripes and the Revolutionary "Don't Tread on Me" snake flag.  Its purpose, I was told, was to educate people about the American Constitution, with which, the organisers evidently believe,  the current administration is playing fast and loose. The bus had been doing the rounds of a number of towns and cities. And sure enough, it was pretty well plastered in signatures, along with slogans like "God Bless America" and "Let Freedom Ring." One said, "Not racist, not violent, just no longer silent."
  In a particular type of American way, this all seemed to be celebrating a concept, which could loosely be described as Freedom from Big Government, rather than a candidate. Though a fair number said they were warming to Mitt Romney. And a man was standing brandishing a "2012 America vs Obama" sign at the various cars passing the  Carmike on their way to Walmart. A few of them tooted merrily as they went past. In the interests of impartiality, I do have to report that at least one car went by, also hooting vigorously, its driver grinning and waving a "Vote Obama" sticker.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Western New York Idyll: Tapestry Time

  The tapestries are up by the roadside. Tapestries on one side, Impressionist paintings on the other. It's that time of year again when yellow goldenrod and white Queen Anne's lace and daisies and purple asters all get together in a rowdy floral fest, fringed at the verges by lanky powder-blue chicory, or as they call it here, cowboy coffee - because in the old days cowboys would dig it up, grind it up, stamp on it, boil it, whatever, and make a coffee substitute which I assume they drank along with their baked beans.
  Further up in the high hills, deep violet gentians almost hide, coy celebrities pretending they'd rather not be spotted.
  It's warm and dry and windy here in Western New York and the nights are noisy with chirping crickets. But the small rash of red in the clump of maple trees I see as I drive into town grows bigger every day and leaves are floating and settling on the grass. Some are still last year's, dislodged by the wind. Others, I fear, are not.