Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Small Historical Note

  I am reminded that, on this day, 30th December 1813, British forces burned down Buffalo. In the interests of mutual harmony,  I shall refrain from further comment.

Farewell to the Lane

 For now. Now if only the weather was always like it was last week, we wouldn't even think of going to Florida.  I walked up the lane in almost springlike sunshine, noting that our neighbour was sporting some seasonal headgear.

And here's last summer's bird's nest exposed like one of those half-demolished houses.

But yesterday the cold started. Chilling to the bone. Flurries of snow coating the ground like sugar. (Just after our snow-seeking Christmas guests had left, wouldn't ya know.)
  I'm eyeing the fetching pink sunhat hubby got me for Christmas and wondering how to pack it. I expect I'll have to wear it. I don't do travelling light.
Florida here we come!

Happy New Year everyone!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Wild and Woolly Christmas

 The road along by Buffalo Marina was strewn with driftwood, washed over the wall from the lake. The waves must have been quite something.

The wind enough to upend an appropriately festive-looking dustbin.

But still no snow to speak of. Whatever happened to western New York White Christmas? Looks like they had more in Manchester.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy (Merry) Christmas (Holidays)

  Whichever way you want to put it. Happy Christmas to my British friends, Merry Christmas to my American ones. (Not to mention Season's Greetings to the British curmudgeons and Happy Holidays to the American ones.)
And greetings from Santa/Father Christmas's reindeer, Chet (left) and Angel outside the hobby shop in Buffalo.

Here's a close-up of Chet, who's 6 months old and a bit tired.

 Reindeer really do have amazing feet, designed for walking on and digging up the snow.

Speaking of which, here's what's left of Buffalo's Snowmageddon, (Scroll down to a month ago.)

The hobby shop also had a Christmas train

 And these festive fellas

Queuing to get on it.

And inside, a slightly smaller model train set chugging away to the screaming delight of visiting kids. At least some pleasures don't change.

I noticed there's a church and a mosque.

And I suppose these days there's got to be a windmill in there somewhere. Notice the helicopter too.

The Christmas train has a sweets car saying "Nice".

And behind the Christmas tree, a coal car saying "Naughty". (Devotees of St Nicholas will understand.)

Ha Ha

And the dodgy lawyers' office is still there.

So stay out of trouble.

And here's a Christmas crib, though this time I'm cheating and it's not in America but in the Hidden Gem church in Manchester (see below).

 Have a good one!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Taking the Train in America

Is not what it once was. Apart from a few commuter routes, few people take trains any more. There are still railways tracks all over the place in western New York but they're mainly used by freight trains, endless and slow and emitting eerie  hoots as though lamenting  a gilded age long past. Gone are the great passenger railroads with names like the New York Central and the Erie Lackawanna. Nowadays there's just something called Amtrak, which is run by the government - at  a loss.

Once Buffalo had a grand Central Terminal

With a sumptuous, gilded interior...

...now stripped bare, while the building stands, gutted, in a wasteland despite valiant attempts to find a use for it. Nowadays, this is Buffalo's passenger railway station, hidden in an inner suburb, almost embarrassed to be there..

Though it does have a handsome buffalo outside.

We were meeting our Christmas visitors who were coming up from New York City. It took them more than eight hours of agonised stop-start. Two hours longer than it would take by car.Take that journey and you'll never complain about Virgin Trains again.
 We waited by an unprepossessing sign.

On a lonely, windswept platform.

Though the train, when it did come in, slowly, slowly, was an impressive sight. Big, mean and muscular and doing its best.

  A few years ago, I too tried an American train, travelling a slightly shorter distance from Buffalo to Albany.  I'd  fantasised about cow-catchers fronting the engine, dining cars laid with heavy silver, pursuing Indians launching flaming arrows, even, perhaps, a silent movie starlet tied to the track
 It wasn't quite like that though one compensation was that  our train had a name, the “Lake Shore Limited”, which sounded scenic and glamorous.  In fact, as I discovered, “limited” just meant it didn’t stop everywhere.
   An official wandered around telling us the “car” (carriage, that is) for Albany would stop alongside the fourth lamp-post on the platform. Apparently everyone for Albany had to get into the same carriage, even if the whole train was going there. 
   “Just look at the state of those tracks,” hubby observed, “We’ll be lucky to get there without being derailed”.
  Then, bell clanging, in rumbled the behemoth, amazingly right on time, its massive engine towering over us. Climbing the steps up was like scaling the Matterhorn. (They provide a sort of footstool to help you get on and off.) The train windows looked grimy compared to British ones, which was quite a feat. The seats had footrests, which, hubby remarked, could only have been designed by the government.
   Disappointingly, the Lake Shore Limited had already skirted the promised scenic waters before we joined it. But the countryside was lovely and we did trundle along beside the Erie Canal, once a great trading thoroughfare and the old, church-spired cities of upstate New York, names reflecting their former grandeur:  Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Rome.
   I was reading the information I’d got off the internet. “Wow!” I exclaimed, “There’s actually a dining car! I’m going to check it out.” Hubby didn’t believe me. But a dazed-looking guard in a waistcoat pointed to the back of the train.  I lurched through the bumping carriages, past a seedy buffet full of loud beer-drinkers. It didn’t augur well. But then, finally, lo and behold, there it was. A proper dining car. There were curtains at the windows, pretty lamps, linen napkins and  little sparkling lights in the ceiling. The menu proudly showed the silhouette of a romantic couple with a Great Lake in the background. 
    Yes, in the mode of American transport that time forgot, there was something remaining of its storied past. 
  I don't know if they still have dining cars. Our friends didn't mention one. But they did admit to enjoying their trip - in a funny sort of way. it seems sad that Americans are so wedded to their cars and planes.   

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Back Across the Pond

 Which isn't shrinking as much as I thought it was. The agent at check-in at Heathrow was asking everybody if they had any illicit Christmas crackers in their luggage. (Explosives, see?) Americans would have been puzzled.When I first came to America and tried to go into a shop and ask for Christmas crackers they pointed me to the cheese and biscuits.

More shortly....

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Northern Lights

Dateline Manchester
A city of many beautiful sights. Such as interesting pub signs..

And signs, if we needed them, that the Atlantic continues to shrink

A wild and wonderful statue of Chopin, who played in Manchester just before he died.

And in the shadow of City Hall

A delightful Christmas market

with stalls from Germany and Italy and France and Finland, with several kinds of Gluhwein, Irish coffee and the like. Not to mention more local delicacies.

And Bill and Ben..

 And over at the Theatre of Dreams, Mr de Gea limbers up

Mr Falcao does his stretches. Gently, please! Gently!

RVP looks much happier.

And the most beautiful sight of all.

Not that I have anything against you Scousers out there but it's only fair after last season, when we had the same result in reverse.
(American friends, just to explain, we are talking about soccer. )

Friday, December 12, 2014

Strange Goings On

 On the way to the airport, we swung by the Marina and Buffalo Harbour. Though not to check on the boat, which is hibernating in a local farmer's barn. It was odd to see the floating docks removed and emptiness where ranks of boats bob in the summer.
Not to mention this...

 We wondered what this dredger and tug (tugboat to my American friends) were up to.

 They were dredging something up. All kinds of possibilities present themselves. Mafia victims? Sunken treasure?

Perhaps they were making Lake Erie deeper to make it suitable for submarines. Perhaps it goes with those strange buoys that have been appearing that look like eyes on sticks. We always smile and wave when we pass them, just in case.

But whatever it was, it was going to take them a seriously long time.

I expect we shall never know the real truth.
Though one thing we did learn. The Lake was very very far from being frozen over, so we can all look forward to some more thrilling Lake Effect Snow.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

To Lands Beyond

The blog is on its travels for a couple of weeks. But hang in there - something may well appear. Watch this space!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Local Landmarks: An Olean Transformation

  People driving down Walnut Street  a few weeks ago, could be forgiven for doing a double-take.   The former Transfiguration Catholic Church was having its steeple removed.
  “Trans” as locals affectionately called it, used to be the heart of the old Polish community, nestled in a district of typical western New York  wooden houses.  Then, five years ago, the church was closed and the parish merged with another one in town.  But it turned out to be not just an end but also a beginning.  

  That bit of the story started three years ago, when disaster hit another church building in Olean. The   historic St Joseph’s Maronite Catholic church, built in 1919, went up in flames caused by an electrical fault near the altar.
   It was a sad day for the town.   It may seem odd to have a Maronite community here in western New York but here they have been for over a hundred years.
  The Maronite Church’s origins lie in the ancient Christian city of Antioch and the name comes from the 5th century hermit and monk, St Maron.
  Maronites are scattered throughout the middle east but particularly in Lebanon. Their Church community is one of  many Eastern Rite Catholic churches, in communion with Rome but with their own distinctive liturgies.
   The forebears of the present-day Olean Maronites came to America either to escape persecution or, like so many other immigrants, just wanting a better life in the Land of Opportunity.
    Many set up small businesses - garment shops, grocers’ and the like.  Their descendants still own, among other enterprises,   a popular local restaurant – the chef’s mother came from Lebanon - and what I reckon is the best dry cleaners’ in the world, name of John Ash. They’re so good, we even bring them clothes to clean in our suitcases from Britain.
   Every year the Maronites have a festival, the Mahrajan, which all Olean  likes to attend for its great food – the baklava is the best – not to mention its traditional belly dancers.
   After  St Joseph’s  burnt down, the Maronites were offered temporary sanctuary in Transfiguration Church. They went on to buy the church  and the current building works, as Father Anthony Salim, whose grandfather came to America in 1911 explained, are all part of  a plan to make it more in tune with the Eastern Rite traditions.
  For one thing,  the statues have been removed, to be replaced by icons.
  And that explains why there's now a dome, not a steeple. And the good news is that it's still a church.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Let's Hear it for Buffalo!

 A reader has chastised me for painting an unfair picture of her city. Here it is, seen from our boat.

"As a life long resident of Buffalo NY I take exception to your comment that Buffalo doesn't have much going for it. Apparently you have not been to Buffalo in a number of years or checked out what is going on in Buffalo. Buildings are being built, old ones are being rehabed as multi purpose apts, offices & retail. Waterfront is alive and well, over 800 events are held from May to Oct. the medical campus employees employees over 13000 people with growth should have 17000 within 3 years. Business are moving to Buffalo. You need to visit and have the convention and visitors bureau show you all that has happened and is happening now. It is a "new and renewed city" Barbara from Buffalo.

     I take your criticism on board, Barbara.  Alas, Londoners can be very arrogant about other places.Though I have to say in my defence that I'm a frequent visitor to Buffalo, as this blog will attest and have said some nice things about it too.  I agree that, amid the swathes of urban dereliction, there are signs of new life, not to mention the many lovely old buildings. So let's hear it for Buffalo! But speaking as a foreign observer, a few attractive cafes at the waterfront (and particularly at the marina, where I spend a lot of my time trying to avoid looking at ugly concrete and queuing for hours to get an ice cream) would prove that it really is alive and well and not just functioning on life support.  Until that happens, I hope that Barbara and other Buffalonians will forgive me for retaining a little scepticism!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Ferrari Moose

Spotted in an Ohio car park, where one local Volvo owner evidently has a sense of humour.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sunrise Over Black Friday

We are back in Easton again, for the T**********g (sorry, lads) long weekend.

But I was surprised to see that Britain's having Black Friday too. And behaving very badly over it, as happens whenever we take on American customs, Halloween being another example. What with the Archers staging a turkey pardon, we'll soon just be one country and this blog will be obsolete.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The T Word

 In deference to my feathered friends above, I will not be mentioning T**********g. But I hope everyone else has a happy one all the same!

Monday, November 24, 2014

In Post-Apocalyptic Buffalo

Where we ventured for some Christmas shopping, the roads are mostly clear. It was odd how there was hardly any snow until we reached the southern suburbs. Then, suddenly, there it was.

 At City Hall, what looks like an operations centre was winding down

Though the TV crews were still hopeful ..

(I sympathise but let's hope they'll be disappointed)

In places, mopping up was still going on

Some names suddenly looked appropriate

 Though getting to them might be an obstacle course

 TJ Maxx car park was a maze..

Though the piles were being efficiently despatched

And looked quite orderly

 If a little grubby

In places

And in Starbucks, life went on.