Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Flashback: The Balloon Rally that Wasn't

   Our little western New York adventure started on a  Friday afternoon with an email. Some friends were on their way to watch a Balloon Rally.  Yes, those big hot air balloons with baskets under. It was in a place called Wellsville, about half way between our respective homes. Would we like to meet them there? 
  Well why not? Better than sitting at the computer.  
  The weather was  ominously thundery  but the drive to Wellsville was beautiful, through rolling hills dotted, occasionally, with the remnants of old oil wells.  The town itself, like so many in our region,  smacked of the lost prosperity of a bygone age.  A hundred years ago,  mansions were built from the profits of an early oil boom, the most spectacular of them a pale pink confection - Italianate crossed with gingerbread and a couple of Grecian statues thrown in.

   We’d arranged to meet  in the car park of the Catholic church,  up on a hill behind Main Street, 

which  would be a good vantage point for watching the balloons.  We sat there, scanning the heavens. The six o’clock launch hour came and went. Nothing seemed to be happening.
  I decided to walk down to the town park to check out the preparations.  It was Wellsville’s biggest weekend of the year – 

policemen directing traffic,  people converging, from all directions, 

bringing camp chairs and picnics. The media were there in force

There were stalls selling local delicacies..... 

And a classy mobile pub

And everywhere  there were balloons ...

 ..just not the sort we were actually here for.   I walked over to where people were staring intently at what appeared to be an empty field. 

The sign looked promising. 
“Is this where the balloons are taking off from?” I asked  a spectator.
   He looked uncertain. “There was a balloon. They got as far as raising it up .. (at which point he helpfully proferred a photo he’d taken) ... but they took it down again.”
   I pointed to what looked like a bundle of red and blue cloth that was clearly going nowhere, 

“That’s the balloon?”
“Uh-huh. Guess so.”
   It seemed that the weather had won.   It was too windy. Seasoned locals shrugged their shoulders and got on with their revelry and their picnics.   Perhaps next morning would be better.
  I hoofed it back up the hill to the church.
 “I suppose”, I suggested, “We could take a look inside.”
  We climbed the steps and tried the door. It was locked.
  We were just about to call it a night and leave when a man came  up, waving.
  “Hi how’re you doing? Would you like to see the church?” 
  He turned out to be the parish priest.  He unlocked the door. The church interior was gorgeous, newly renovated by the same people who did St Mary's in Olean

 Father took us to the Victorian (yes, Americans say that too) presbytery, complete with a “widow’s walk” –a mini lookout tower - atop the roof. It still had its old gas lamp fittings.  

And a friendly pooch.

Two priests were in residence but these days they have six other local churches and chapels to look after as well. On the columned verandah, Father  offered us welcome cold drinks.    
  Sorry I can’t report on my first ever ride in a hot air balloon but there’s always a silver lining.  We got to discover a western New York gem and made some new friends. And as we stared hopefully at the empty skies, Father whipped out his iPhone and showed us some pictures of last year’s Balloon Rally.  There are worse ways to spend a summer evening. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

On My Travels

   The blog is having a break for a week or so, but there'll be a couple of flashbacks coming up.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Mailbox Mania

Mailboxes are such a part of the American scene, the country would be lost without them. Postmen (aka mailmen) don't come whistling up the drive, braving fierce weather and fiercer dogs to push your  letters through a slot. No, you have to do the walking. And if you live in the country, it can be a very long walk to the end of your drive.

 Sometimes, as on foggy mornings, mailboxes take on their own sinister life. From a distance, that could be anything looming up out of the mist.

But for such significant objects, mailboxes are remarkably fragile.The other day, I was driving through town and saw one hurled off its perch, lying ignominiously in the road. And later that day, I walked up our lane and saw.....

...this.  Is this coincidence, or a new form of crime, namely mailbox vandalism? On the other hand, they are quite easy to clip with your car. But mailboxes should be treated gently and with respect, like snow leopards and giant pandas.  Since their contents are surely a vanishing species, it won't be long before the mailboxes themselves end up in some dusty corner of the county museum, along with the telegraph machines and typewriters,  "Look, dear, how quaintly people used to communicate in the old days!"

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Worth Saving

This is the Civil War memorial building in Little Valley, a village not far from us. A group of western New Yorkers, many of whom had ancestors who fought in the conflict, are campaigning to save it from demolition. It used to have a dome, long gone now.

Here's the inscription above the door.

And the date.

The building was actually dedicated in 1914 and local politician James S.Whipple, son of a soldier who was captured at the Battle of Gettysburg and died a prisoner of war, proclaimed that the building would represent the  “sacred memories of the past; the prayers of mothers for boys on tented fields, the loves of maidens who gave up their sweethearts for the nations’s  honour and the sorrows of those who looked in vain for loved ones to return.” They don't make speeches like that any more.
  Interestingly, Mr Whipple alluded to another conflict, then raging in “fair and foreign lands”  calling it a “whirlwind of war and destruction that will change the map of nations and shock the whole world.”  He was more right than he realised.  I hope the Little Valley building gets saved.

Friday, September 18, 2015

WNY Mellow Fruitfulness Part 3

Remember that flowering bush from up the lane? This was a few weeks ago...

I looked it up and discovered it's called a purple-flowering raspberry. And sure enough..

This is what it looked like last week. Not sure how edible it is, though.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Western NY Mellow Fruitfulness Part 2

The farmers' market  

is at its best 

Though sadly that means signs of autumn.. .

Like pumpkins and seriously healthy greens

Delicious tomatoes but not as delicious as ours. The trouble with that, though, was there's only been one of them. So far anyway.

Those peaches were pretty good too. And New York apples appearing at last after several frustrating weeks of last year's mushy ones. Below some hot stuff.

 And Barbara, pie-maker par excellence.

 These are the best lettuces in the world

 "Is that a fancy camera?"

There's still some corn and the ubiquitous courgettes, er, sorry, I mean zucchini

And here's Cooper the calf from our old friend, Flanigan Farm

 Don't worry, he's not for sale.

Spook Preview

As the fog swirls on the lane

 And eerie shafts of light pierce through the trees

Americans are already gearing up for their beloved Halloween.

I'm not sure if it's a good idea for CVS pharmacy to display this gentleman, with all the elderly folks coming to get their medications....A bit tactless, if you ask me.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Western NY Mellow Fruitfulness Part One

Alas the short sweet corn season is ending. No more traipsing outside to peel the cobs and wrangle with the soft, silky filaments, a process that takes longer than eating the stuff. Someone told us that cooking them in the microwave eliminates a lot of hassle but it sounds too good to be true. Dental floss manufacturers will be cutting their losses and the spiky fields are turning brown. 

But if all the sweet corn you've ever eaten has come frozen from Tesco's, you haven't lived. This one of the best places to get it, a typical roadside place but with an ingenious method of collecting money in what appears to be an old drainpipe.

I had selected my corn and put in a bag when the farmer drove up with a tractor and trailer. "Ooh, is that freshly picked?" I asked, just like a knowledgeable American. "Sure", he said and gallantly let me swap mine for some of the new lot. The traditional method is to put your pot on the boil and then rush out to pick your corn but this was almost as good.

I thanked him profusely and gave him back the original ones, "No problem, I'll just feed these to my heifers!" Lucky heifers, I say.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Sneak Preview: St Mary's Centenary Makeover

Wow, what's the Pope doing going to Philly and Washington and the Big Apple when he could come to Olean?   St Mary of the Angels has got to be one of the loveliest churches in western New York, a miniature Gothic cathedral, designed by French-born architect Emile Uhlrich. Ah for the old days when churches were built to look like churches and not gasworks.

St Mary's is about to celebrate its centenary. It's always been beautiful, thanks to some sensible parish priests who didn't try to modernise, aka wreckovate it. Now there's been some more restoration. I sneaked in by a side door and managed to grab some pictures, just as they were removing the scaffolding. "Ah the first photos!" one of the workman quipped. So here you are -  a scoop.

The church and especially the stained glass was always spectacular but now there seems a new, fresh glow about the place.

A positive radiance in fact.

 Not many churches where you can see the old high altar and altar rail still intact.

But what really bowled me over was the ceiling - all blue and gold, apparently restored to its original state.

 I hope it's all still there in another hundred years.