Monday, September 30, 2013

"Have a Good Winter!"

 Said the girl sunning herself on the boat next to ours at Buffalo Marina. (Around this time of year, this expression replaces "Have a Nice Day" in WNY.)  I'd regretfully bid her goodbye until next summer.  It seems very early to be getting Titanic 2 out of the water, with the Indian summer as glorious as it is but there you are. In a couple of weeks, the Marina will be closed, the floating docks taken up, as Western New York hunkers down for snow and ice.
  You can hardly believe it when the Marina looks so innocently picturesque under goldening leaves.

No worries, we've got plans.

We motor out for the last sail of the year and the lake is smooth as glass.

What fun - seaplanes!

Over the HSBC (90 per cent empty) building.

They're trying to have a race but the America's Cup this isn't.

 When the wind got up a little, this chap passed us.  "We're having trouble getting up on our foils!" hubby yelled.

Meanwhile, back at base, a patient owl. He's been patient for a while now. In fact he hasn't moved for years.

He's not fooled.

In the foreground, the Hatch restaurant where we famously once saw a seagull grab a hot dog straight out of a little boy's bun. Signs do say, "Birds Will Help Themselves".  In the distance, the red Buffalo fireboat leaves.....

 ...and returns.

The flowers, autumn "mums" now, still put on a brave show, the old lighthouse in the background.

And lightly burnished leaves soften City Hall.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


 (See below) Well in retrospect it was probably a good thing they didn't. This blog is going into mourning for a while....

NBC (Spoil)Sports - PAH!

  ( Rant alert: Non-football fans look away now).
   A big thumbs down to NBC. In the old days, we had Fox Soccernet, which no one knew about, except the cognoscenti,  so those in the know could quietly enjoy all Man United's Premier League matches in America. That was one really good thing about living here. And they had two parallel channels, so if there were two big clashing games, they'd show both and you could choose. Then NBC Sports barged in and announced with a great fanfare that they'd now be showing the Premier League, or as they call it the EPL, matches and were sure that Americans would get very excited about them. Result: half the service we had before and today they're showing the Man City match! Don't they know there are far more Man United fans in America?  Yours disgruntedly. And yes I know I can watch online but it's not the same and you can't record it, if you're going to be out, which we are.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Broadchurch American-style?

The grim and gripping detective series has just finished here, on BBC America and now we're in the loop, along with you people at home.  If you still don't know whodunnit, look away now.  No sooner had I breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn't the Vicar (the Church gets enough of a bad press) but dodgy Joe who did for young Danny, I was alarmed to read that they are going to remake it, American-style, a bit like they did with that dark Scandinavian thing, the Killing. I suppose they thought some Americans wouldn't be able to cope with a Scottish accent.
  So how will it turn out?  For a start, no one's going to get anywhere near that cliff because of the safety barriers. They'll have to think up another crime scene. The press, with few worries about libel and reporting restrictions, will rake up everyone's seamy past far more quickly, thus considerably shortening the series to allow for more commercials. The church services will be packed full of happy-clappies and the insomniac Reverend will end up with his own cable channel (Megachurch?) Beth and Mark will get Oprah to work out their marriage problems on air, with viewers offering meaningful advice.  The warring detectives (above) will definitely get together by the end, since sniping at each other is normal in American on-screen courtships, ala When Harry Met Sally. American hospitals will sort his ticker out in a jiffy - assuming he has the insurance. They both, however, will have to smile a lot more. Plus, dour Susan, on her nocturnal seaside dog walk, will surely be carrying a Smith & Wesson and will let rip with it when she spots the scarpering perp, saving everyone a lot of trouble.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dawn over the Hills

Sadly by the time I'd got the phone to turn on, much of that streak of gold had faded but you get the picture. I snapped it a few days ago; already there are patches of red among the green in the hills, especially on higher ground. Leaf-peepers get ready. Autumn is coming fast.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Bear! A Bear!

Well sorry, not quite. This is, according to hubby, called a Woolly Bear. Could it actually be a good caterpillar? Or at least a relatively harmless one? I am constantly seeing these small chaps crossing the road, taking their lives in their hands (or feet). They are a sign, as if we needed one, of impending winter. They appear in the autumn and literally freeze solid in the cold months, to emerge again in spring. Some say you can predict the length of the winter by the length of the copper-coloured part. Full disclosure: I took this photo last autumn. This fella's copper-coloured part was wide, which should mean a mild winter. Sort of right. It wasn't the worst winter I've had here but not the best either.
  Whatever, at this rate, it's probably the closest I'll ever come to seeing a bear.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Who Needs Garlic When You've Got Elvis?

  Sadly, I can't bring news of this year's Cuba Garlic Festival - Cuba being a village to the east of us, not the fabled island. (Which, if it had a garlic festival, would be something worth travelling for.) No, Cuba is one of those Western New York places blessed with an exotic name, at which I frequently wonder. But it was raining so badly on Saturday that we reluctantly gave it a miss. However, what do they say about God closing a door and opening a window?
  The day after, we stumbled on something else. It was Rock n'Roll weekend at Ellicottville, our local ski resort and the most touristy place hereabouts. They are always dreaming up new things to keep the punters happy before it snows again.  As the strains of "Sealed With a Kiss" trilled through the Olde Wilde Weste village, we feasted on the car show.  Every man and his dog was there...

The red corner...

...the powder blue corner..

the sublime...
 ...the ridiculous..

 and the very very old (1904, apparently).  He's appropriately parked outside the Historical Museum, a nice example of American tautology.

 Here's my favourite 'vette, my car of choice, when I win the Powerball.

And some Harleys for good measure.

 A little embellishment goes a long way.

Now what are they all excited about?

Wow! It's Elvis!

He's singing "Hound Dog". I hope the chihuahua in the first photo enjoyed it.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Train!

 I'm always crossing this bumpy level crossing, or, as the Americans call it, "grade" crossing and never once have the gates been shut. Never once have I seen so much as the ghost of a train. Then, a couple of days ago, blimey, if the gates weren't closed, the red lights flashing and I realised there really are working railways in America.*

I wasn't the only one to be excited. This chap had stopped his car and was taking a picture. When I told hubby, he was incredulous. According to him, there are no such things as trainspotters in America.  My guess is that they exist but they're different, a little like twitchers, who tell each other about the arrival of some rare bird and rush off to see it.

 And there she goes.. the Western New York and Pennsylvania no less. It does sound romantic. Nothing like the Arcade and Attica steam train of course but there's something thrilling about the fact that it's actually out there working and not just preserved for tourists or in some old Western film.

* this is a little poetic licence. If the wind's in the right direction, we can sometimes hear faraway trains from our house, with their lugubrious whistles. All freight trains these days of course. The station in Olean is now part of the Community College.  And some of the freight trains are extremely long, so I was lucky. This one was just an engine.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Encore: Where are the Bears?

   No one puts it like the Americans. "The interaction between bears and humans was definitely up this year", noted our local paper, the Olean Times Herald quoting a forester at our local State Park.   This is probably not what he meant and in any case, if this fella was from the State Park, he was playing truant with a couple of friends at Spragues Maple Syrup Farm.

But I bemoan the fact that this is still the closest I've come to photographing an actual bear, or even seeing one. It seems that everyone has seen a bear but me.

Apparently campers in the State Park were being warned of "high bear activity" (see above).

And of course if you get on the wrong side of an angry mother bear, it's no joke - though our black bears are not nearly as fierce as the brown bears and grizzlies you get in that mythical place people around here call "Out West".
But I would just like to see one at a safe distance, just once. Please................

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Welcome Back

 To another mass shooting. It just wouldn't be the same without it. And yet, driving down from Buffalo airport I noticed signs proliferating in our quiet, church-going, rural neighbourhood demanding respect for the Second Amendment and repeal of New York's new gun restrictions. I have still not managed to get my head around that contradiction. Or maybe it isn't a contradiction. It depends who you talk to.

The Banana Beagle

Another beagle
  Having returned from travels, I'm happy to report that I shan't be awarding a Flying Turkey this time, except perhaps a general one for Chicago O'Hare Airport which just can't cope with huge swathes of people going through immigration. Though of course it's nice to know so many people want to come to America. Interestingly, I remember when Jacques Chirac was elected President of France, his home patch, Correze, suddenly acquired a new motorway and everything started to run a little more efficiently. Sadly the same thing does not seem to have happened to Chicago.
    And American officials do like to yell at the tops of their voices, getting everyone in the right queue, as if we were a herd of deaf cows. It can be disconcerting for visitors who don't realise that Americans have many admirable traits but subtlety is not generally one of them.  
  I would, however, like to give a special mention to the tail-wagging sniffer beagle  who cheered us up and kept us entertained in the queue, with his handler feigning joky exasperation at his antics. The beagle is apparently trained to sniff out bananas and apples (we were told) and his handler was carrying a plastic bag, which she was rapidly filling with a haul of fruit.  One woman behind us had to surrender a couple of what looked like Waitrose apples. I would like to assure Americans that Waitrose apples are very hygienic and they really don't need to worry their heads about them. But that's modern life after all.You can't be too careful.  I wonder if they send the fruit back somewhere on a plane or whether it's just thrown away - in which case it's entered America anyway, hasn't it? Puzzling.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Summer Garden Memories

I'm on a short break - blogging will resume next week. But in the meantime, I can't resist reminiscing about my Western New York jungle.


Look too closely and you'll see the weeds (oh yes and a bee, above) but I still love it.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

WNY Landmarks:The Little White Church

   Some time ago, I was driving through a nearby village called Great Valley, when, right in someone’s front garden,  I spied a tiny white chapel. In the middle of an immaculate lawn, topped by a cross, flanked by flowers and two white benches, it looked built for Hansel and Gretel. A sign said, “The Little White Church”, with, underneath, the words, “Welcomes You.”  Did it actually mean that?  Could anyone just walk in?  Being British, I checked first. There it was on the web, “The Little White Church in the Dell”, claiming to be the smallest roadside church in America and indeed open to anyone passing by. 
  And apparently it’s not the only church vying for the “smallest” title.  Extraordinary, when you’d think Americans would like everything big, big, big, that they’re so fascinated by tiny churches. I had no idea before I came here that Find-the-Smallest-Church-in America is a pastime among travellers.  There’s even another contender in our New York state, on an island in a lake. It accommodates just two people but it probably doesn’t count as a roadside church, since you can only get to it by boat.  Then there was the one I drove past on highway 17 down in Georgia. “The Smallest Church in America”, it said,  “Where folks rub elbows with God”.  It had its own miniature bell-tower and had been founded in 1949 by Agnes Harper, a local grocer, who took out the deed in the name of Jesus Christ.  It was non-denominational but people had left all sorts of Catholic mementoes – rosaries, miraculous medals, St Anthony candles.  That church was 10 feet by 15 – space for thirteen people if they held their breaths, according to the publicity. 
   But I’m afraid western New York has Georgia beat. Our Great Valley church is five feet by eight, big enough for four worshippers, max.   
  The owner, Gail Archer, showed me the exquisite little interior. There were gilded cherubs, brocade cushions for kneeling by the rail in front of a crucifix flanked by purple velvet curtains, a frieze of angels around the walls, plaques saying “Count Your Blessings” and “Be Still and Know that I am God” , an old Bible open, with a pair of round spectacles placed on it and a clever device to start bell chimes ringing when the door opened.  Music played softly – Gail didn't have it on all the time but tried to watch for people approaching. And it was air-conditioned too. Outside, the Ten Commandments greeted visitors and wind chimes tinkled in the breeze.
  Gail got the idea when she was cycling near Niagara Falls and came upon a similar tiny church. “Why, I’d like to have one!” she decided.  Hers was built a couple of years ago, with fifty people at the first service, sitting on the grass outside.  Gail told me it also hosted weddings. The neighbours were sceptical at first. “Do you really want people traipsing all over your yard?” but Gail went ahead anyway. She said she didn't want donations, for her, the satisfaction was providing a place of “rest and reflection”.
  The other day, though, I noticed, the "Welcomes You" sign had gone. I hope The Little White Church is still open.  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

All Aboard

  I’m a sucker for steam trains and it was a happy day when I discovered I could take a trip in one right here in Western New York.  We had some young relatives staying,  so that was my excuse - but to be honest,  I didn’t really need one.
  It’s one of the paradoxes of America that railways, or railroads as they say here of course, were so important to America’s history and the country’s development  – just think of all those great scenes in the Westerns – and yet, these days, hardly anyone travels by train. It’s considered a bit of a joke. But give people a steam railway and they’ll come running.

   There’s not much in the little village of Arcade, save a couple of cafes, catering to the train-tripper trade but as we arrived, the refurbished ticket office at the “depot”, already had a long snake of families  waiting, marshalled by officials, dapper in old-fashioned peaked caps and waistcoats.

  “No picnic coolers”, warned the sign. It’s hard to separate an American from his picnic cooler and the day was hot and getting hotter. There’d be cold Coke and popcorn on the train though – for a small extra fee. 

The guards came in all shapes and sizes.

We walked out onto the platform where the vintage carriages stood ;  we’d been assigned to Number 311. 

Technically, there wasn’t actually a platform. This train, like American trains of old, would travel  at street level through the town. You had to scale the heights to get into it. We settled into our vintage seats, with backs you could usefully flip forward or back, to face either way. National Rail please take note.

  There was a small problem. There was no engine. Or rather there was one but it was away in the distance, being serviced.   We could see intermittent puffs of smoke but as yet no forward movement. 

 “There’ll be a very short delay” said a peaked-cap.   

 My heart sank.  Having done a lot of flying in America, I’m familiar with the “short delay”. It usually means you can kiss your day goodbye.  Or, in this case, get the substitute diesel engine, which would be a bit of a let down.

  Meanwhile, a man with an accordion walked up and down the carriage geeing everyone up with  “She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain” and  “Old MacDonald had a Farm.” As he started that one,  a small boy jumped off the train, hotly pursued by Dad.
 “Get back in here!”
 “No! I hate that song!”
 Some early trauma caused by the fabled farmer evidently trumping a train ride, the kid departed at a fair lick.
  “You can block your ears. Get back in here!”
  The kid reluctantly returned.
  At last, the engine started to move, got attached and with a groan and the clang of a bell, we were off.
 That’s a euphemism. We crawled. But it was a chance to wave to the onlookers with their cameras as we crossed Main Street and pulled laboriously out of town.

  Smoke blew past the open windows – full of smelly memories for the oldies and a frisson of excitement for the kids. The railroad, ever mindful that America is the land of lawyers,  said it admitted no responsibility for sooty clothes.

   The train limped through fields of just-springing corn, past lazy rivers and thick groves of summer trees. Something moved among them and I listened for yelping Indians.  But it was just a couple of deer scampering away.
    In the middle of nowhere, we jolted to a halt. There was a tiny museum with old telegraph and weighing machines and hot dogs and ice cream. The wheels got oiled...

 And I bought some rhubarb jam made in Yorkshire. Yorkshire, the village in Western  New York, that is.

Then we all clambered up for the journey back.  The kids gradually stopped waving and started wriggling and I heard the first plaintive,   “Can we get off now?”  We nostalgia freaks had forgotten something:  steam train journeys could be a mite boring.
   Still, I wouldn’t have missed it.  I expect that, in the future,  when they’ve learned to beam us everywhere,  Star Trek- style, they’ll advertise rides on slow old Boeings and Airbuses  -  complete with built-in delays of course.