Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Sad Farewell

  Some British readers might sympathise with this. Our village shop has closed. Not that it was any great shakes. It always had a musty smell that lingered on the plastic bags in the car and in the house after you got  the stuff home. I rarely bought anything there, apart from milk and the local paper which you could usually guarantee would be fresh. Though one time I needed some of those small frozen onions to make one of my few American signature dishes, creamed onions, for Thanksgiving (I like them because they were the favourite dish of Errol Flynn as General Custer in They Died With Their Boots On).  I noticed the sell-by date was some time last year, so I pointed it out to the checkout girl. "Oh Darn", she said, or something stronger, "That's always happening. I cleared out some shelves and found some yoghurt which had, like, mould growing on it (except she said mold) yeeeaaaw."  But it was somewhere you could park right outside - it was actually called "Park and Shop" - and rush in to get your milk without the palaver of a long queue. There was very rarely a queue of any sort. And at one time they sold maple syrup made by some people up our lane, so it actually had our lane's name on it, which was great for presents.But now it's gone and there's going to be a Dollar General instead, which will lower the neighbourhood's tone a few notches. (Think Woollies in the last sad years before it went bust and the sort of places you used to find it.) And we'll have to resort to getting milk from the garage.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Flowers and Flowers and More Flowers

Update: The clematis, one of my few gardening successes, currently adorning the sunny side of the garden shed, has insisted on being included. I waged a one-person war to save it from caterpillar speculators that couldn't find any more room on the oak leaves. When summer finally gets here, it's worth it.

The mountain laurel (above - a few weeks ago) was something I never saw before I came to WNY. It has  the most exquisite flowers. They live wild up in the wooded hills but our two stunted specimens have been regularly eaten by deer most winters, especially when I forget to put a net round them. But they struggle on.

Meanwhile multiflora roses (aka those !@#$$**! prickers) seem to have absolutely no natural enemies. They're beautiful for a couple of weeks in June and a pain in the neck the rest of the time, turning any untended parts of the garden into a Sleeping Beauty-style inpenetrable jungle. I swear they actually reach out and grab you as you try to fight your way past. It takes all sorts around here.

Thatched Cottage Western NY Style

Am I hallucinating? Suffering from separation anxiety or clinical nostalgia? Did I just doze off and wake up in Hampshire? No, this really is in our local town, Olean, New York, though I suppose the picket fence gives it away. It makes a change from the usual clapboard but it really should have roses growing over the door, Hollywood-style.

Seriously, our neighbourhood is not one for experimental housing - most people don't have the wherewithall for that.  So it was a pleasant surprise, tucked away on an ordinary sort of residential street. What's next? A Fish and Chip Shoppe?  I doubt it. It's not that sort of America around here.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Western NY Treasures: Buffalo's Italian Memories

The small, scuffed sandals,  worn by a long-ago little girl, balance on top of an old travelling trunk. Next to them, a crochet hat and a lacy white dress.  Nearby,   glass case displays a Bishop’s red socks and his gold-embroidered gloves.

  The new museum at the Italian church in Buffalo is exactly the sort of museum I love;  no high-tech stuff,  just a glorious cornucopia of objects, a goldmine of memories.  And it tells a tale of hardship and homesickness, tears and laughter,  that  speaks to anyone who’s left their home for somewhere else, including me.   

  The inner-city church, St. Anthony of Padua has been a focus for the Italian community in our nearest metropolis   since 1891. Then, Buffalo,  on the eastern shore of Lake Erie,  was one  of America’s richest cities,  a rising commercial and industrial force and immigrants, including thousands from impoverished southern Italy, poured in, many lured by dodgy recruiting agents.


These days,some 80 people still attend the Sunday Italian Mass,  more on special feast days.  But most descendants of the Italian settlers have left the neighbourhood for more affluent areas  No longer mostly dockers,  labourers, organ-grinders,  the butt of cruel jokes,  but policemen,  business leaders,  doctors, lawyers and politicians -  assimilated Americans.  Italians have contributed rather more to America than macaroni and the Mafia.
   Is it still worth preserving their ethnic heritage?  St Anthony’s new parish priest thinks so. Monsignor Fred  Voorhes  (the name’s Dutch;   the Italian bit comes from his mother), inherited a church which already oozed history, resplendent with murals and statues:  St Martha,  St Rosalia, St Anthony of course, cradling Baby Jesus, St Lucy holding her eyes on a plate.  

But rooting around in cellars and attics, he found a lot more.  “Why hide these wonderful things that people would enjoy seeing?”  If nothing else, the courageous efforts of the  migrants,  travelling to the New World, was worth commemorating.
   Monsignor Voorhes found room for the museum in the church basement. An appeal to Italian-Americans in, as he put it, the “fashionable suburbs” raised 8,000 dollars.  More interesting were the objects donated.   A woman had just called to offer her grandfather’s  “railroad watch” (he’d worked on the railways) and her grandmother’s christening robe, from her baptism in St Anthony’s in 1902.
    The diocesan archives turned up probably the most valuable exhibits,  a rich set of fiddleback vestments, the kind used in the days when the Latin Mass was still the norm.  
    There are reliquaries and tabernacles,  zampogna - Italian bagpipes - and a mandolin,  elaborate silk banners, painstakingly worked and inscribed with the name of a women’s group,  “Societa Femminile S.Raffaele Arcangelo”, a faded Boy Scout flag.

 Msgr Voorhes’ predecessor,  Father Secondo Casarotto, himself born in an Italian village, was an avid historian and had already collected piles of photographs.  Now they’re on the museum walls:  tenement-dwellers, vegetable vendors, children playing in a gutter near a dead horse. Some small boys visiting the museum couldn’t get enough of that one.  
   There are processions winding through streets of houses now mowed-down in the name of urban renewal,  faded sepia basketball teams,  brass bands,  legions of altar boys and  First Communicants,  graduating classes from the now defunct church school.   

  The red socks belonged to Msgr Voorhes’ uncle, Bishop Pius Benincasa, Buffalo's only bishop of Italian blood. He was also distantly related to Saint Catherine of Siena, as is the Monsignor,  “I’ve looked at a portrait of her and we seem to have the same dimple. Now is that purely  coincidence, or was it passed down through the centuries?”
    Buffalo has fallen on harder times, the old industries disappearing,  the population declining,  several of the city’s great churches closed, including some built by other ethnic groups, Polish, Irish, German.   The museum has come at the right time,  before people truly forget – or stop caring.  It depicts not just a vanished Italian community but a vanished Catholic one - and a vanished America.  

“Tell your British readers we’re only 20 miles from Niagara Falls,” said Msgr Voorhes, “Come and see us!”

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

You Know Who You Are, Ma'am

   Hubby has related a sorry story. On the way home from a business meeting today, he drove through lots of Western New York villages. Near one of them, Java, (another of those local international names) he spied a farm stall with some likely-looking peaches and stopped to buy some. And very juicy they were too - my first decent ones of the season. I'm always amazed that peaches grow in Western New York, considering the hard winters.
  It was one of those stalls with an "honesty box" for putting your money in and mostly that works well around here. While he was there, the lady owner came out and told him that a woman had just stopped and made off with several bottles of maple syrup and other produce without having the decency to pay.  Apparently the security camera missed the car's number plate, but, said the lady, "It got a good look at her face".  I hope she sent the photo to the local paper. Farmers in these parts have enough trouble making ends meet without vile people like that to contend with. Well, if she, or whoever benefited from the maple syrup, happens to be reading this blog....

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Great Kate Baby Wait

 being over, I am again left wondering why the Americans bothered with their Revolution. There has been wall-to-wall coverage all day: "We're waiting for a major announcement from London". Although, as one commentator suggested, it's a nice change from arguing about George Zimmerman. (The expression in the title above was coined by Fox News, or at least that's where I heard it first.)
  CNN reflected the gravity of the matter by bringing in their international news supremo pundit, Christiane Amanpour, to stand outside Buckingham Palace and I've just listened to an earnest debate on who will be holding the baby when they leave hospital. (Stop Press: Hubby has come in on it and burst into hoots of laughter. Not every American is royal baby mad.)
  In a less illustrious publication, I noticed "Barack" at 200-1 in the betting for Baby Cambridge's name.
  It reminds me that, when Kate first suffered from morning sickness, our friend the obstetrician was dragged out of the delivery room (well not quite - he refused and delegated to a junior) by the massed ranks of the Buffalo media to give his view on whether she'd be OK. When I asked him privately what he thought, he wearily said "Yes". He'll be glad to have been correct. And so am I of course.

ps.  Americans might notice a deficiency in the baby announcement. American baby announcements always include the baby's length as well as weight. They'll be perplexed at this omission.

Western New York Idyll: Goodbye Caterpillars

  And hello to some more congenial visitors. Thank goodness the hot, muggy, wet weather did for the brutes but we'll have to be wary next year.

Glad someone's appreciating the annuals I planted.

Chippy's carefree idyll might be getting more problematic as another furry neighbour re-appeared this morning. There was no explanation about her long absence .....

but then, she's a cat.

A quick paparazzo shot of ma turkey through the back door screen, sneakily casing the joint and probably biding her time for the blueberries to ripen. The ribbon is there to warn British visitors, who aren't used to screens - our desperate defence against six-legged flying marauders - against cannoning through it. We've already had to repair it three times.

The American goldfinches are the greediest guzzlers on the planet. They have me at their mercy. They think they can get away with murder, just 'cos they're so pretty. But that goes for most of the fauna around here.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Lego Labour of Love

   I had a quick visit back to Ohio at the weekend, so here's a flashback from a longer trip, a few weeks ago and something rather sweet....  

  St Catharine's church in Bexley (Bexley, Ohio, that is) was built in the 1960s. 

   The church was impressive enough but what I saw inside was, you could say, even more so. There was another St Catharine’s,  just as intricate, just as sumptuous.  Except that it was five feet long and two-and-a-half feet high ( Americans still do feet). And it was made entirely out of Lego.

  Now I expect you will say there are plenty of Lego churches around but this one was pretty special. It was an exact replica. And I mean exact. Every tiny detail was reproduced, right down to the numbers on the hymn board and the flowers in the beds outside. And the stained-glass windows.

and little


  Local fireman Tim Allwein.....

.. built the Lego church in 2009 with his daughter, Abi,  then  only nine years old.  It was their first venture into serious Lego construction.

and little

Here's the grand baldachino

Here's the priest with the altar servers.  Abi decorated the church floor to match the real thing.

The choir warbling away.

And a couple of latecomers running for the start of Mass. They Know Who They Are. 
  And Tim and Abi aren't stopping there. Their Lego Church won 2nd prize in the Best Large Building category at the Lego Fan Convention (yes, that's right) in Chicago, losing out to a football stadium. Now they're planning an eight-foot-by-ten town.  

Who said Lego was just a bunch of red and yellow bricks? As I often say, you never know what you're going to find in America. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Foggy Update

 This morning - even foggier than yesterday - there was a police car. In this case a dark blue State Trooper, one of the many and varied forms of law enforcement in America which I still have to get my head around. He followed me all the way from the police forensic lab into town so I had to be very careful to stop dead at all the Stop signs and not just slow down as we do in England. As I said, it was very foggy. And he didn't have his lights on. I despair.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Culture Clash: Foggy Mornings Revisited

  Yes, they're back again and Cattaraugus County drivers are still indulging in their favourite foggy pastime of driving without their lights on. I have been pondering on a suitable way to alert them, by which I really mean a suitable way to vent my wrath when I see the usual grey pickup truck blithely emerging out of nowhere, probably thinking to himself, "No problem, I can see fine."
 NO Dude, (as hubby would say) the problem is, I can't see YOU. How much does it take to drive that into your thick head?
 If I was in Britain, I would flash my own lights a few times, which would probably mean that he would eventually get the message. (Though of course, if he was in Britain, he would probably have his lights on in the first place.)  But in America, flashing your lights at someone means something altogether different. It means that you have passed a police car lying in wait and are helpfully warning the other chap about it. There's been talk of making flashing your lights illegal. So that's no good. If only there WAS a police car. That would serve 'em right. But of course, police cars the world over never show up when you need them.
  This morning, I actually caught a lightless driver as I was jogging up our lane. I tried sign language - making circles round my eyes with my fingers. He probably just thought I'd lost my glasses.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Chipmunk Heaven

  Chippy is no longer alone.  There are now at least three chipmunks chasing each other around the woodpile and the network of tunnels under what passes for our lawn has expanded so much that I fear if I were to jump up and down we'd all go down into one enormous sinkhole. But the little chaps in their striped pyjamas are so charming that I am putty in their paws. Always busy, they'll soon start stuffing their cheeks with grub to take down for the winter. This is one specimen of American wildlife I can't get enough of. I've conveniently forgotten that, last summer, they gobbled up all my blueberries.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Wild WNY Sunset

  The heavy, humid, stormy weather reached its peak last night; there was a severe thunderstorm warning and we eyed the generator anxiously, especially as we've got guests staying. But it was a mild goodbye by local standards and this morning the air was cool and fresh at last.
 Last night's sunset was one of the most extraordinary I've seen, with light effects from brilliant white to scarlet, mingling with the billowing thunderclouds still hanging on -

I can't decide which one to choose - have 'em all.

I'm probably getting a reputation around these parts as a madwoman, driving up and down our lane, trying to do a tiny bit of justice to the spectacular display with my unsophisticated camera..

I must have turned round in the Five Mile Baptist Church car park at least three times, to go back up the lane and get just one more shot. Unfortunately it was wednesday night - church night - and the departing  worshippers could be forgiven for casting me some odd looks..

But it was worth it - I don't think we'll get a sunset like this again in a hurry...

But of course it was at its most beautiful along the Five Mile Road, where it's not easy to stop.

It was as bad as trying to get a pic of the leaves last autumn. You should see the ones that got away.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Have a Safe Holiday

  I am perplexed at the ubiquitousness of this slogan. At the start of the summer holidays, the two neighbourhood high schools both display it on their electronic signs.  It wouldn't be the first thing that would come to my mind. "Have a good holiday", perhaps, or a "pleasant holiday", or a "happy holiday", certainly. But a safe holiday? What sort of danger are these kids going to be in in Cattaraugus County?  Getting a stiff neck from sitting at the computer? Tennis elbow from too much texting? Even the bears around here are black bears which don't normally eat people.
  I think it's just a symptom of the nervous nanny state that America has become, something constantly derided by baby boomers, who think back with nostalgia to a time when parents sent their children out on bikes without helmets, knee pads and suntan lotion, let them eat nuts, swim in rivers without a lifeguard and actually walk to school, when coffee cups didn't carry a "Warning: Hot!" label, etc etc. "How did we ever survive?" they ask.  The Wall Street Journal had a whole spiel about it at the weekend.. But it falls on deaf ears. These days, there are serried ranks of bureaucrats whose only task is to come up with new scenarios to be scared of and more laws to ban them.  As soon as they stop,  they'll be out of a job. And they're cheered on by legions of Accident and Injury lawyers whose mugs smile down from giant billboards all along the motorway.
  Having said that, the local citizenry, being mostly of the huntin', shootin' and fishin' persuasion, still includes some more old-fashioned parents. The lad who mows our lawn got marched down by his dad to get his gun licence on his fourteenth birthday and shot his first wild turkey soon after.
   Still, I spotted the following on a skip (dumpster in Americanese) somewhere in town.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

WNY Pleasures: the Bisonburger

   We get bison meat from a buffalo ranch up in the beautiful hills behind our house. It's lean and healthy and delicious, from animals ranging in spacious rolling meadows and grazing on succulent Western New York grass. I have to be careful not to get too attached to the bison, though - they're such magnificent beasts. The herd galloping over the hill is an unforgettable sight. Many centuries ago, our neighbourhood was part of the great migration route for giant herds of bison moving up and down from what's now North Carolina. Of course the early pioneers and hunters put paid to all that.
   Some other neighbours keep a few highland cattle - they're pets, really, with names and only once did they slaughter one. It was for a family reunion; everyone was sitting round the table ready to eat roast beef when someone piped up, "Is this someone we know?"
  "Er, yes, actually, it's Fred".
  And no one could eat a thing.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Fourth of July

To my American friends. Sadly, we are having traditional British weather - perhaps as revenge.Rain, rain and more rain and the lawn is a soggy morass.  Our local town has admitted that the fireworks won't be up to snuff this year, as they can't afford it.  That's really going to bring in the crowds. Though some little girls heard about it and have been frantically fundraising, selling lemonade. Incidentally you can't buy your own fireworks in New York - you have to drive to Pennsylvania. The nanny state par excellence in action.
  In honour of Independence Day I've just read the book de jour, "Revolutionary Summer" by Joseph J. Ellis.  Despite having been a historian in a previous life, I'm embarrassed at how little I know about the American Revolution. Or perhaps we got a quickie version in Britain.
  Revolutionary Summer tells me that, in 1776, most of New York City was on the British side (well Western New Yorkers will tell you the Big Apple lot are still a law unto themselves). Hubby speculates that might be something to do with the Dutch connection, the Dutch preferring to trade rather than fight.  Secondly just how badly Washington messed up in his early career as commander of the American troops. He apparently had little concept of defensive tactics and preferred all-out attack in impossible situations. Well that was all going to change. The British of course messed up as well. If they hadn't been so heavy -handed, America might now be Canada.   The British forces also nearly won in 1776 but despite all the men and ships and firepower and the untrained American soldiers running away at every opportunity (all that was to change too) they still managed to lose. I suspect that, as with most freedom movements, America would in any case have won in the end. Another thing - the amazing erudition of the Founding Fathers, particularly John Adams, who read the Classics widely and studied Ancient Greek and Roman fighting methods to get some good ideas. Alas American education standards have gone down ever since. Plus, there's the wit of Benjamin Franklin, who refused to have anything to do with the Declaration of Independence as he didn't want to write something that would be edited by a committee afterwards. So Thomas Jefferson went ahead and did it and spent the rest of his life grumbling that they changed his immortal words. "Told you so", said Franklin. I sympathise with them, having suffered badly from sub-editors in my life.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

They Just Don't Get It

  There they go again. Why is America the only country in the world that doesn't get the beautiful game? I mean football of course. Real football, the sort played with a round ball which one actually kicks.
  Today I was watching Wimbledon, more precisely the Djokovic match, getting ready for Andy Murray and the camera lingered on the handsome visage of Nemanja Vidic, Manchester United's captain and arguably the greatest defender in the world. In a natty suit and tie, he was in the audience, presumably cheering on his fellow Serb. And what does the American commentator say, "Oh um,dunno who that is, must be some well-known British athlete (sic). We have to take the pictures the BBC gives us and they keep showing him .... etc etc." Now I defy any sports commentator from any other country not to recognise Nemanja Vidic when he sees him. Lamentable. Utterly lamentable.
  In the same vein, the Wall Street Journal columnist, Joe Queenan, is usually good for a mild laugh. But last weekend he went too far. Suggesting, tongue somewhere near his cheek I trust, that, should there be a boycott of the World Cup in Brazil, it would be a good thing - I ask you!  It appears Mr Queenan's main beef with our football (I can't bring myself to call it "soccer" since I saw our local paper refer to the World Cup as the "Men's World Soccer Championships"), a sport, he claims,  "short on thrills" and "rooted in cowardice and duplicity",  is that there are not enough goals. In one match he watched there was just one goal.  Doesn't he see that that's the whole point? Football is not basketball where goals come with tedious regularity and nothing much happens except goals. Blink and you've missed one. They are debased currency. No, goals in football are precious things. Their comparative rarity makes them so. And contributes to the subtle build-up, the wild anticipation, the terrible anti-climax of the miss, the frustrating "what might have been" of the struck post.  And at last the glorious ecstasy of that bulging net. I love Americans but in too many aspects of their lives, they just want instant gratification.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Marina Sunday Scenes

 And amazingly, while the skies were emptying around our house, an hour and twenty minutes to the north, in Buffalo,  the sun was out. As were some pretty boats.

This one was adorable and reminded hubby of a Winslow Homer painting and me of Swallows and Amazons..

Meanwhile as we were coming in to harbour, we just dodged Miss Buffalo, the local pleasure boat, chugging her way past City Hall .....

.....and out to sea - or rather, lake.

Some excitement as the sheriff's helicopter landed in the grass over by the restaurant.  I don't know where he left his horse.  Or why he was there at all.

But he was soon off  again.

Meanwhile in the car park it was family day again. They've grown since last week and are getting lessons on what to do with (and on) the grass, to maximum effect.

 Dad would rather be sailing.

They'll slip all right when we're finished...

Oi!  Gizza handout!

 Or a lift at least.

Some nice cars tend to gather at the Marina on Sundays, like this early Mustang in great nick. Now, once again, with all these people here, could we please have somewhere to get a decent cup of coffee?