Monday, February 29, 2016

Mentor, Ohio, Part 1: Poor President Garfield

The other day, Hubby and I found ourselves in Mentor, Ohio, a town with some gracious Victorian villas,  

one of which had a sign saying “James A Garfield National Historic Site”,    James A Garfield being the 20th President of the United States, elected in 1880.  It was bitterly cold and snowy – we could do worse than going inside and taking the tour.

 The former coach house had been turned into a visitor centre,  where you could buy Garfield mugs, books and postcards and dolls dressed as National Park rangers.  
  On this icy Saturday there  were only a couple of other people looking round. When you’re trying to list the American Presidents (a good sleep aid, I’ve found) James A Garfield’s name doesn’t immediately spring to mind.   His administration lasted just six months  and he’s now remembered less for living than for dying in office. He was one of  four US Presidents to be assassinated.

    Still, as we followed our guide, dressed in Park Ranger costume complete with hat, I  found Garfield’s story surprisingly compelling.    A farmer’s son – his father died when he was a toddler - and the last President to be born, literally, in a log cabin,  he epitomised the traditional “American Dream”.  

A  miraculous rescue from drowning convinced him that  God had great things in store for him. He worked his way through college – his mother had donated the last of her savings but it only paid for one term. He read avidly, was a preacher for a time and served as a Union officer in the Civil War. 

He didn’t know much about soldiering but took it up with enthusiasm and guts and ended up a Major-General. He was elected to Congress, where he championed education and the rights of former slaves. To his own surprise he found himself running for President as a compromise Republican candidate.
 He was advised to say little so he would seem wise and made only one major campaign speech. He preferred to meet his public at his front porch -  the very front porch that we were now entering.  Thousands of his supporters used to flock there and he told one group of black students who serenaded him,  “I would rather be with you and defeated, than against you and victorious.”
  Garfield’s descendants did us a service by handing over his house to the nation with almost all the family’s furniture still there. This room belonged to his daughter, Mollie.

His mother also lived with the family. Mollie apparently had some choice things to say about that in her diary.
Here's a cherubic centrepiece in the dining room. A long way from a log cabin.

And an ornate radiator.

In some ways the house, converted from an old farmhouse, seemed surprisingly modern, arts-and-craftsy.

Garfield's wife Lucretia was interested in interior design. The early years of their marriage were rocky but things settled down later. She built a memorial library to honour him after his death.

I liked the little spider motif 

We could see Garfield's tiny desk (he used to sit sideways) 

his well-worn favourite chair (likewise)

 and the bed in which he made his last train journey.

  Because unfortunately, Garfield had no sooner been inaugurated and started work as President than he was shot in the back by a delusional office-seeker, Charles Guiteau.
  In many ways Garfield led a very 19th century life. He sported a bushy beard, two of his seven children died in infancy, he lived in a White House infested with rats and malaria-carrying mosquitoes.  

And he certainly had a very 19th century death, helped along by a doctor who considered Lister’s theories of antisepsis new-fangled nonsense and persisted in groping the bullet wound with dirty hands. 

Garfield lingered for 80 days before infection finally killed him - despite the best efforts of the White House’s Catholic cook, who sprinkled his food with holy water.
     But his death sparked a timeless outpouring of national grief. Queen Victoria wrote a condolence letter..

   Garfield's story gave me some food for thought. He came into office when the gap between poor and super-rich was widening, when the  Republican Party was split by squabbling factions and corruption had made voters cynical about politics and politicians.  Sounds familiar? His supporters hoped Garfield would be different – a man to be trusted. He never had the chance to prove them right or wrong.   But as we came back out into the February cold, I couldn’t help wondering if all that much has changed. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Adorable Pet Contest - A Surprise

I noticed that our local supermarket, aka grocery store, is holding an Adorable Pet Contest.

You can't help passing the table on your way out. You have to vote for the photo of the most appealing pet. Of course, it's impossibe to decide between all the kittens and puppies. How can one pet possibly stand out? Until I noticed that someone had had a bright idea.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Upside and the Downside

...of a western New York winter.  A most perfect day on the ski slopes. New snow, sunshine, blue skies, not too cold and even if it was so-called "holiday week" (the week of Washington's birthday) and the equivalent of half-term, not too crowded. The roads getting there were fine too. For once it all came together.

On the upper slopes you can almost feel you're in some Alpine place,  without the avalanche danger and, unfortunately, without the gluhwein/vin chaud/vino caldo - not even that alcoholic hot chocolate the un-pc French call a Lumumba. Four different cafes and no one offers it. Contravenes health and safety, I expect.

Another upside - driving through romantic old villages, in this case one called Angelica,

the trees frosted with white.

 And fairytale forests along the lanes

Lots of little snowy churches

But then in town you get this

Banks of dirty packed snow, and roads slushy from salt

But unlike in Britain, cars keep driving and people get on with their daily lives.

Well they have to - no public transport to speak of around here.

Though my neighbours talk about the weather an awful lot - even more, surprisingly, than they do in Britain. The weather and who's had what operations are the favourite western New York topics of conversation.
You can forgive them this year. It's been a strange winter. And they say it's going to rain next.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Reality Bites

Dateline: Cattaraugus County, western New York

OK, enough of the fantasising. The blog is back up north and has to make the best of it. At least today looked like this ....

 Unfortunately out back there were deer tracks much in evidence again

 We shall have to wait and assess the damage.

Though in other respects this has been a most abnormal winter.
More to follow.....

Monday, February 15, 2016

Florida Flashback and Farewell For Now

As January ended, it was time to say goodbye for now to our beloved Golden Beach, (all appropriately swathed in muted grey - too much sunshine would make it too hard to leave).  To the lone shark's tooth hunter with his rake.

 To my other beachy friends in all their shapes and sizes

 You never know who might be around. The company's different every day.

 After all, when all's said and done

They own the place

 And here's a shot of St Petersburg on a quick, foggy visit. St Petersburg Florida, that is,a venerable city with some nice old cobble-streeted neighbourhoods and a couple of nifty art galleries but, so far as I could ascertain, no Winter Palace.

 North of Venice, north of Naples - another example of how you can see the world without ever leaving America.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Florida Flashback: Don't Look at Me....

This ad, spotted in a popular hardware store, the American equivalent of B and Q,  rather tickled me. 

Note that everything is also in Spanish. It's the same in our local branch in western New York, where there are not that many Spanish-speaking people. It was some light relief after discovering - wouldn't you know - that the perfect window shutters in the exact colour we were after had just been discontinued. They now come only in black. It seems that no one wants sage green any more. But we just have to sit it out - as when the lady from the rental agency (the one that didn't get our business) turned up her nose at our sofa "Pink! No one wants pink!" And now the design magazines are full of it.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Florida Flashback: Garden Ornaments

Interesting what you can see in people's gardens, aka yards. Yes, definitely, please save our library - it would be a disaster for us islanders if it got shunted off to the mainland. It's somewhere - rare in America - that people can actually walk to. And if the building's mouldy - well, what's a little mould between friends. Libraries are supposed to smell musty - it's part of their charm. 

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the neighbourhood, someone's found a good vantage point, with just the right mix of sun and shade. Well it's only what you'd expect from a cat.

He hasn't spotted the ibises around the corner yet. More interesting than sparrows.

This could be a western New York barn.

 A more typical Florida ornament

But if you really want to impress the neighbours, how about this?

Or, for a more avant-garde look, you could try a judiciously placed rock.

I was impressed at first until I noticed the bolt ...

 Yes folks, it's a fake. Whatever next.