Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Empty Promise of a Sausage Roll

 I feel cheated.  I was in Tops supermarket buying rolls for our beloved bison burgers (fresh from the local buffalo ranch) when I spied something that sent a wave of nostalgia gushing through me. In one of the bakery compartments a sign read "sausage rolls".  Sausage rolls! Could it really be? Since coming to America, I hadn't clapped eyes on a sausage roll, or on a proper sausage for that matter. It's not that I eat sausage rolls that much when I'm in London but they are a part of my old life, something, if spotted in the land of exile, to be grasped with both hands. Which I did. The sausage rolls (I treated myself to two) seemed rather large. But then I thought, this is America, everything is, as they say, bigger, bigger, BIGGER. They also seemed suspiciously light but in my excitement I didn't grasp the significance.
  I brought them home trembling with anticipation and pondered whether to heat them up or eat them as is. I decided on the latter and took an eager bite. Then another and another. Wait a minute. Where was the sausage? I got to the end. No sausage. If the roll was filled with anything, it was filled with air.  "Maybe that's just a duff one", I tried to cheer myself up and bit into the other.  The same thing!  I vented my frustrations on poor hubby, who tried very hard but ultimately unsuccessfully not to laugh. In fact he thought it was the most hilarious thing he'd heard in ages. Enough said. What sort of country is this where you buy a sausage roll and have to provide your own sausage?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Hitting the Slopes

 I finally got out to ski. When I was living in Britain, arranging a ski-ing trip was a big, expensive deal, planned for months in advance, then hours on the Eurostar and a week of feeling you just had to hit the slopes to get your money's worth , no matter what the weather was throwing at you. Here, on the other hand, I can be shovelling snow and observe, "Sunshine!" and "Great powder!" After which, work and laziness permitting, I can sling the skis into the car and bat off to Holiday Valley, just 20 minutes up the road.

But before British friends get too jealous, I have to say that Holiday Valley, while extremely well-run, like most American ski resorts and with high-tech snow cannon going nineteen-to-the-dozen, is no Aspen (despite the fact that it hopefully advertises itself as "The Aspen of the East".) Nor is it the Alps. But it has nice, short, gentle runs like  "Mistletoe" (above), where you can really think yourself up in the mountains  Today I virtually had the slopes to myself, save for the clank of the chairlifts and the smell of woodsmoke from the warming huts on the air. Sadly not the smell of Gluhwein though. Americans are prim about that sort of thing,
  A downside of Holiday Valley is the X-rated lift. This has underwear hanging all over the trees, which apparently has something to do with "Mardi-Gras" (sic) which HV doesn't celebrate on Shrove Tuesday but on some other date when tourist appeal can be maximised.  You get a lot of people coming down from Canada, which is very flat just across the border.
  The other problem is that having ski-ing that close has made me choosy about the weather conditions. I have got so spoilt I don't fancy turning out in the cold, wind, ice, slush, heavy snow, light snow, sleet, fog - the list gets longer as I get older.  Which means I haven't been out all season. Shame on me and why I had to rectify that today.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Picnic in the Snow

Horses grow thicker winter coats here than they do in Britain.  It's odd that you see them out in the fields but very rarely spot people riding. Perhaps they just like to collect horses - a reminder of the old pioneer days. And there's plenty of space for them.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

This is Not New York City

 If anything sets Western New York apart from New York City, it would be this event yesterday in our local town park.

Angry at a new New York state law imposing heavy restrictions on gun ownership, supporters of the Second Amendment turned out in force, despite the ice and snow.

The right to bear arms did not, proclaimed one speaker, come from the Second Amendment but from God, along with the right not just to hunt deer but to self defence and to stand up to tyrants. In rural America, that's fairly typical talk. Prayers and pledges punctuated the proceedings.

They seemed like a genuine cross-section of the local community, fed up, they said, with government encroachment on their freedoms.  A lot of hunters' camouflage, the odd grizzled ponytail, old soldiers, families, kids, dogs. The media and the urban chattering classes would probably like to portray them as nutters. I may not be exactly on their wavelength but I've seen more nutters walking down Oxford Street.

The Cattaraugus County Sheriff (yes, they still wear stars) got the biggest cheer and shouts of "Go Timmy!"

Three other Sheriffs were there too. One announced that he would not ask his officers to enforce an "unconstitutional" law.  The local Congressman, Tom Reed, was a speaker.

The state senator and representative sent messages of support.The way to ease the pain of Sandy Hook and prevent more atrocities, they argued, was not through banning guns.

Though not everyone agreed. One person was spotted carrying a placard saying "Gun Control Works",  but on this occasion, he seemed to be a lone voice.
  People carried flags with slogans from the Revolutionary War. "Here at Lincoln Park is our line in the sand!" said another speaker.

 New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo is not a popular bloke here..

And it's not just about guns.

It reminded me a bit of the Countryside March that surged on London a few years back.

Everyone was polite and friendly. They seemed really to believe in something - an idea of freedom that they saw as part of America's soul. And they believed that few in the corridors of power, in Washington, in the state capital, Albany, cared about their concerns. It was all oddly moving.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Small Turtle Interlude

 I think this blog is looking a bit too monochrome.  A short Florida Flashback is called for:

While our local Western NY town, Olean, boasts squirrels, Venice, Florida

has something a little more aquatic.

 He is not amused.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Road Trip Through the Arctic Tundra Continued

  Sometimes I think the whole of America must be on the move. Even in freezing conditions and blowing snow,  people are crossing the country on giant Interstates that go for miles and miles and days and days, stopping at rest areas, the equivalent, I suppose, of the old staging posts, though not nearly as well-equipped.

 And the rest areas are so few and far between, which, in such a safety-conscious nation, seems odd. The ones on our trip down from Western New York, through Pennsylvania and on to West Virginia, were as skimpy as they could possibly be - just a utilitarian looking building, a couple of vending machines, sometimes, if you're lucky, a rack of maps and that's just about it. Outside, some welcoming signs:

Oh yes and the picnic tables of course.

No Little Chef, no shops, not even a McDonalds. You have to go right off the motorway for that and in fact  motorway intersections have become a forest of fast food joints and cheap hotels - which probably explains why they don't want the rest areas to compete. But if you just want to stop for a bit it's a dreary desert. So very un-American I think, considering what a hospitable  people they are.
  To be fair, I hear they're much better elsewhere. At least, after you cross the Florida state line, you get a free thimbleful of orange juice.  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Road Trip Through the Arctic Tundra

  aka Interstate 79. Nice that they had picnic tables at the rest area though:

More on this tomorrow, when I'm back.....

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Your Money or Your Cast!

  A word of explanation for my British readers:  You may have an image of American TV as full of endless commercials and American radio as full of ranting polemics and country-and-western music. You'd be right. Sort of. There is an alternative and it's called Public Broadcasting. That has an image too - of slightly left-of-centre earnestness and political correctness and because it also needs to make money, instead of commercials it has something if anything even more irritating, the Pledge Drive. It seems that every time I turn on Public Radio they're having a pledge drive, or "begathon", as hubby calls it, a sort of "cough up and we'll shut up" fest. One can understand why they have to do it but sometimes it can go just a little too far.
  So, no sooner had Americans surfaced from reeling at the cataclysmic end of series 3 of Downton Abbey, on Public Broadcasting's TV flagship, "Masterpiece Theatre, which gets a lot of good British stuff  (yes, they've only just aired series 3 here) than the announcer came on and asked for money - more money and yet more money.
   After which a friend sent me this cartoon:

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

WNY Rural Landmarks: The Sentry Box

 I wondered what these little wooden huts are, often to be seen at the end of people's drives - like this one, up our lane.

 Hubby enlightened me. The drives out here in the country are often very long and children waiting to catch the school bus need some shelter.  Or rather they did. The sentry boxes around our way look little-used and rather neglected.  There aren't as many children here as there used to be but I suspect the reason is also that they now get taken to school in their parents' luxury heated SUVs. And if they take the school bus and have to wait any length of time, their parents probably sue.
  Gone are the days when there used to be a one-room schoolhouse within walking distance of every child. They're still scattered around here, converted into houses, or left abandoned. Of course in those days, walking distance was defined as a mile or so. Did 'em good. No need for the First Lady to worry about childhood obesity. But the parents would probably sue.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

On Driving in Snow (Again)

   This winter isn't as hard as some I've been through here but for me it's hard enough. Coming from London, where you get half a dozen snowflakes and everything grinds to a halt, it’s amazing to see people going about their ordinary lives through feet of the white stuff, schools and offices open, buses and cars actually moving. But then they don’t have an alternative. They can’t just shut up shop and hibernate for four months.
  Driving in snow is my nemesis.   You can’t see the road markings, you can’t see through the windscreen, the lanes suddenly get a whole lot narrower with treacherous banks of snow – or pools of icy slush – at the sides, just waiting for a slight deviation. And at night on unlit roads, with whirling snowflakes coming at you from all directions, when only switching off your headlights (or shutting your eyes) helps – forget it.

The mixed blessings of following a snowplough
 In my early days here, I got some brisk advice about winter driving from the nurse at the doctor’s surgery. “Wear panty-hose (that’s tights) AND socks. Leather pants are good. Keep an ice scraper in the car. And do you know about the trunk?”  “Trunk???” I stammered. “Oh, you mean boot.”  “Keep a blanket in the trunk and a shovel and a bottle of water AND a bag of kitty litter.” “Er – kitty litter?” I asked, fearing the worst. “To scatter in front of the wheels of course,” she snapped. “Oh and make sure there’s somewhere to charge up your cellphone (that’s a mobile).” At the time, with the trees still green, I couldn’t think what she was talking about.
       One of the hardest things is negotiating the few paltry yards of our drive.  One time, in the days before I got a 4WD,  I miscalculated and impaled the car in a hard-packed ridge. The wheels raced, spattering snow and mud in every direction. I tried digging, shovelling, everything, mopping my brow, sweat dripping down my neck. I had of course forgotten all about the kitty litter.  It was a matter of pride to get the car dislodged  before my husband put in an appearance – or, worse, the neighbour opposite, whose drive is always immaculately swept.  I finally managed it, scooped on fresh snow to hide the skid marks and collapsed in a heap for the rest of the day. I think no one saw me. Another time, I suddenly got cold feet about turning into our drive and found myself going further and further up into the hills on an icy road, desperately looking for somewhere to turn - and of course there would be a car hard on my heels, wouldn’t there?
The mixed blessings of not following a snowplough
     And every winter so far, there's been The Skid. My worst was last year when I ended up straddling a roadside barrier, with the car sloping perilously sideways. These things of course always happen in places where you can't get mobile phone reception. And as it happened, the first driver I flagged down for help turned out to be a friend. Typical around here.Then along came a State policeman, the first whose attention I'd ever attracted. He was also friendly and assured me that I hadn't skidded because I was British; people were sliding off the road all over the place due to a particularly insidious variety of black ice.

Not this roadside barrier
  Then there was another, a couple of years ago on the Five Mile Road. I'm still not very good at judging road conditions and the white stuff looked innocuous - until it sent me, slowly but inexorably into a field.  Just when I thought I'd have to walk home, a pickup truck appeared containing a man and boy. "Need help?"  And before I could say anything they were out and had their shoulders to the car and pushed me onto the road. They jumped back into the truck and off they went before I'd even had a chance to say thank you. All in a day's work in Western New York.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Americans, You're Being Cheated!

  I mostly harbour benign thoughts about my life in America. I love America and Americans. True, there are the minor culture-clashes, the teeny little misunderstandings -  but all that is tolerable, even interesting and of course, there are many things which are better than tolerable. But there are also certain things that are not tolerable and what follows is one of them.
  When I have the time, I like to read. I like to read American books. There are some excellent American books but sometimes I feel, surely with some justification, that I would like to read a British book. When I'm in Britain, I don't find it hard to find American books and indeed, when I visit my local library here, I can find plenty of British books. "Hooray!" I say to myself, "A nice British detective story - just the ticket for a bit of relaxation". Then I open it, start reading and get a nasty shock.
  These so-called British books have been doctored for an American audience. "Mommy"  substituted for "Mummy", "football shoe" for "football boot", "cookie" for biscuit. I'm constantly finding examples. But quite the most egregious is the book I picked up yesterday. It's a detective story by Peter James. Peter James, is, so far as I can tell, though he did spend some time in America, a British author. More to the point, his book is set in Brighton, that most quintessentially British of seaside towns. And what do I find? Cellphones! Cop cars!  Attorneys! A parking lot!*  Something the hero orders in a pub which is referred to as "bitter beer"! What the heck is bitter beer?  I never heard an English person use that expression for a "pint of bitter" in my life!  But worst of all and this was something that really did make me jump out of my comfortable window seat and hurl the book across the room, was when our hero had a headache and reached for the Tylenol. TYLENOL! British people haven't even heard of Tylenol! Even I, who now live in America, have a job remembering what Tylenol is. In Britain it's called paracetamol. The fact that a British man with a headache in Brighton would even think of the word Tylenol is as unimaginable as, oh I don't know, serving Marmite at the White House.
  So what was intended to be a nice, relaxing afternoon has turned into a furious, spluttering, bad mood. Sorry, readers.
  There can be only two explanations. One is that the British authors write that way from the start. I don't know. Perhaps someone can enlighten me as to why. The other is that the publisher who markets their books in the US employs some elf with nothing better to do than sift through the book,  replacing perfectly normal British expressions with crude Americanisms. Why, why, why?
  Even when I was a child in Britain, I read a lot of American books; "Little House on the Prairie" comes to mind, as does "What Katy Did". They were full of American expressions and never once did I need a dictionary. I accepted from an early age that there were words from across the pond that were different from ours and it was fun learning them and expanding my transatlantic knowledge. Are Americans idiots that they can't do the same? Of course not. As with Downton Abbey , they're being sold short. Sold a fake version of Britain that adds absolutely nothing to the story and only distorts it. Sadly, most Americans probably don't even realise they're being cheated.

*Translation:  mobiles, police cars, solicitors (or barristers), car-park.

Bird Feeder Cabaret: Disney at the Woodpile

  Sun on patchy, frozen snow. Quiet and still outside, except for the whirr of little wings, as the chickadees launch themselves off the crabapple tree and onto the feeder....

  .. and the red squirrel's reappeared after a long time and is enjoying the leftovers.

He's not quite like our shy European ones, with their long ear-tufts. This one is quick, cheeky and resourceful. At least, this winter he doesn't seem to be tucking in to the white wicker chair, or indeed the phone line, as in the past.
  I haven't seen him for a while

Nor indeed my nemesis

But other trouble looms

 Yesterday, a neighbour was showing off, climbing the big maple.

Feigning, for now, a lack of interest. It's an ethical dilemma I wrestle with constantly - I think it's too cold for her this morning but I fear the birds shouldn't relax too much.          

Friday, February 15, 2013

Culture Clash: I Like it Hot

   Because America is relatively close to Britain in cultural terms - and getting closer by the day, it's the unexpected little things that throw me.  Like when I'm driving up to the window in Dunkin' Donuts to get my latte.  I make the order and the query inevitably comes back, "Is that a HOT latte?"
  I am stupefied. What kind of idiot question is that? Of course I want a hot latte!  I can't think of anything worse than a cold latte, unless it be a lukewarm latte. But, clearly, Americans like 'em cold to the extent that, in summer, I've started getting a slight complex about requesting a hot one. I have to stop myself going all British and saying, "Well if it's not too much trouble......"
  The same goes for tea. In diners, I've discovered, you have to ask for "hot tea".  There is something called "iced tea", apparently, which is popular among Americans, especially in summer, is available ready made in all kinds of containers and tastes - well, tastes like cold tea. Not for me.
  And while I'm on the subject, my other American tea horror is asking for milk and getting cream. CREAM! Or half-and-half (which we don't, incidentally, have in Britain). Actually IN your tea. Yeugh!  It's possible they have read about something called "cream teas" but these, of course, include cream not IN the tea but WITH it, on scones, with strawberry jam.  But they won't be told, of course. Given half a chance they'll put the strawberry jam in the tea as well.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Flashback to Florida: The Warbirds Land

I can't resist a few of these flashbacks while the weather's still cold. This is from a couple of weeks ago......

  “Warbirds at Venice Airport.”  The sign puzzled me at first. What was a warbird?  A pelican wielding an AK47?   Hubby, being American, explained.  Above is a fine example of a warbird. 
  Before I go on,  a word about Venice Airport.   That is, of course, the Florida Venice, not Venice, Italy, though there is an Italian-American club there with a gondola outside.  
    Venice is a quaint unassuming seaside community, very un-Florida-like. And the airport is tiny, with little prop planes and the odd private jet which probably meant to land in swanky Naples (also Florida), further south.  A few years ago, Venice Airport also became the most infamous in America; in the days before they ran too many background checks on student pilots, it was where the  9/11 terrorists learned to fly -  and appeared not to be interested in learning how to land. The town doesn’t really like to talk about it.
   Seeing the Warbirds was a sort of expiation, perhaps. They were part of an educational tour called "Wings of Freedom". Next stop would be Fort Myers, down the coast. 
        The queues  for a tour stretched out of the airport.  We’d have had to wait an hour to get close. “Come back first thing Monday morning,” someone said, which I did, only to find the plane crews packing up to leave.  The wheelie bags looked a little incongruous.
But in the meantime I and some other early risers could wander around virtually at will, taking in the grimly magnificent B-17 Flying Fortress, with a cartoon of Christopher Columbus (I thought it was George Washington at first - more fool me) thumbing his nose at Hitler,
the B-24 Liberator , the last one, I'm told, left flying in the world (and they don't know how long that will keep flying, it costing millions to keep it in the air)
and the silver fighter, the P51 Mustang, America’s answer to the Spitfire, this one nicknamed “Betty Jane”.  ( Mustangs were actually based at Venice when it was a wartime base, which makes the airport’s subsequent brief notoriety all the more ironic.)    
The Flying Fortress flew daylight missions out of Bassingbourn,  near Cambridge, in waves of a thousand aircraft. They left the night-flying to the RAF, joked one of the modern crew, as the Brits could see better.  I took a peek at the cramped, functional interior, smelled the oily smell.
    Nostalgic US Air Force World War Two veterans, some in wheelchairs, were there, modestly  reminiscing about their experiences.  One former gunner described the perils of crouching on a  low-backed metal seat, squeezed in the gun turret under the B-17’s belly. At one point, a large piece of flak lodged in the seat back.  A little higher and it would have lodged in him.  
   Jack C. Hubbard, Major USAF (Retired) was selling copies of his book, "Patriots Will". 

 The handout had a promising extract:  "BANG! Hubbard kicked the bomb trying to dislodge it...."
  He hoped it would "help young people better understand World War ll in a way some modern-day history books fail to do."
   The present–day pilot told me how fascinated children were by the Warbirds,   “They don’t teach about World War Two in our schools any more.”
   He also mentioned that some American towns don’t want them,  due to misplaced political correctness. While the Allied bombing certainly had its controversial side, it’s still a view I find hard to fathom. And I'm quite well-qualified to say that as these picturesque WMDs bombed the hell out of my mother's home in occupied Slovenia leaving only a willow tree on the riverbank. But she forgave them since the the family had by then been ousted, Grandpa sent to Dachau as a political prisoner and the Gestapo in residence. In fact, she said, she heard that the neighbours cheered.  I tried to tell the modern pilot the story but he didn't seem interested. Your own country's war is always more important.  
         Some years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing the late Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, VC, for a book on his life.  He was one of the RAF’s most decorated bomber pilots and later founded a worldwide charity network.  I got some insight into what these, often alarmingly young, wartime airmen went through and the sacrifices they made. Seeing the American veterans brought a big lump to my throat.
     We waited for the planes to take off. They were refuelled by modern Shell trucks,

the checks made, the great propellors spun round.  

Some passengers who’d paid 400 dollars for the ride had their photos taken and got on.  Baseball caps were blown off by the blast of air from the Liberator’s rear. Then they were off, first trundling a little clumsily down the runway, then picking up speed and with a great roar taking off into the blue. The man next to me shook his head, “Just imagine a thousand of them all together!”


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

UPDATE Culture Clash: The Great American Pancake

  I discovered, soon after I came to the United States, that their pancakes are not like our own. Although they bear a passing resemblance to the Scottish variety, they are bigger and brasher and so very American. Thick and fluffy and perfectly, symmetrically round, they are made to soak up gallons of maple syrup - the real stuff if you can get it, as made by our farmer neighbours out here in rural Western New York.  (Hubby shrinks in horror at the synthetic gunk you get in cheap diners and such).  American pancakes are not eaten with lemon, nor indeed icing sugar, nor rolled up (they're much too thick) and not generally as a dessert but most popularly for breakfast, with bacon and eggs, with sausage (we're not, to my sorrow,  talking British sausage  here), with blueberries or bananas. They may be made with buttermilk, with buckwheat, even with pumpkin.  Hence, if tossed in a race, which they're generally not, around here, they would  prove a formidable missile.  Personally, I like them with dollops of sour cream and fresh raspberries - oh and butter in between them. How quickly one gets on the road to perdition!
   In a restaurant, you can't order just one.  They came in stacks - if you only want a couple, it's called a "short stack".  Here is a short stack of American pancakes, before and after embellishment, as seen and later devoured at the Southern Belle Truckstop.

I'm not sure that America cherishes the concept of Shrove Tuesday as "pancake day", as Britain does. Every day is pancake day in America.  The restaurant chain IHOP, which, I only recently realised, stands for "International House of Pancakes" did hold a pancake day this year but I think they got their wires a little crossed. It was on February 5th. Hence I've had to educate hubby, who is an American-style pancake chef par excellence.  And as I write, I can hear him, quite unprompted, getting the griddle out.



Monday, February 11, 2013

We'll Miss Him

The Americans remember Yankee Stadium; I remember Wimbledon on a September evening in 2010. Good night and good luck, Holy Father!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Western New York Idyll: Sunny Snowy Sunday

A full forty degrees F (Americans don't do C),  although it was minus 3 (F not C) overnight. Rather idyllic really.  From early morning on Chapel Hill....
....with the trees covered in icing sugar, good enough to eat, especially in America, where it's called confectioners' sugar.

And someone's secret hideaway exposed. A little fairytale in the woods, it just appeared from nowhere.

To the afternoon up our lane, where we observed the re-emergence from hibernation of a strange species, our neighbours.  Americans out walking - worthy of a headline.  A sequence of pleasanteries, "How you doin'?  The first beautiful day we've had in ages! Glad we're not in Boston!  Take it easy!" Normally we don't see them for months on end, as everybody drives everywhere. Except this chap, who likes to put himself about.

There's no knowing where he's off to when nobody's looking....

Though those may belong to his cousins, who've eaten my mountain laurel bushes. I hope they've got indigestion. 
Meanwhile I've noticed that the neat, white-and-purple house up the hill  has an old anvil outside the garage.

There's the stream where, last summer, I saw a strange animal swimming. A muskrat perhaps, or a fisher, alien names to me. Too small for an otter.  It's all quiet now.

As is the lake at the top of the hill - under all that white stuff and now looking very different.

Seeing the changing seasons is one advantage Western New York has over Florida.  I'm sure there are plenty of others. Ask me again in the summer.