Friday, November 9, 2018

Road Trip: Nashville, Tennessee, Home of .....Guess What?

Ha! Bet you thought I was going to say 'country music". Well OK, it is the capital of country music but there's so much more to Nashville. For one thing it has the spectacular Lane motor museum.

Specialising in the European quirky..

Right up my street then. Well actually the above, the 1950 Martin Stationette, was manufactured in New York City but it's too sweet to leave out. In fact there were several microcars.

I looked in vain for a Goggomobil, like the one my parents had when I was a toddler.  (This isn't it but it's similar).

I remember falling asleep and rolling off the back seat (no kiddie seats to spoil things in those days) on the fabled day we drove to The Airport to see off my aunt and grandmother who were flying to Canada. Half the neighbours in the street came with us with their children, so they could brag to their friends that they'd been to The Airport. In those days you could get right up to the planes - I remember, in a fleeting wisp of memory which will always stay with me, being held up against the fence and watching the giant propellers spinning round.
  I told the man at the museum that I'd been looking for our Goggo. They did have one - he found it on his computer - but sadly it was in storage. (I mentioned that our Goggo was not the most reliable of cars. It ran on delicately balanced lawnmower fuel and was always breaking down, usually in an awkward place. My dad used to bemoan the fact that, uncannily, every time he broke down, his neighbour, whose wheels were considerably more expensive, would unfailingly drive past and crow,  "Need help?")
  But there were other things to feast the eye.

Like this push-me-pull-you, which wasn't a joke. It was actually designed for the French fire brigade, for when they needed to reverse in a hurry.

Even more fantastical was this 1932 Helicron, the one and only propeller-driven car.

In the French equivalent of a lot of good old American yarns, it was found in 2000 in a barn, into which it had been driven in the late 1930s. It is apparently approved for driving on French roads, which says something about French roads.

We ended our day in Nashville taking in the lovely Cathedral for the Saturday vigil Mass - and wow what a delight. A perfectly normal Mass with no "Good Morning Everyone!" (All right, it was afternoon), no "Now all visitors stand up and introduce yourselves!", no "Now turn to your neighbour and give them a hug!" I could have been back in London. Bliss. Thank you Nashville.
  We rounded up the day at a fun bar called The Stillery, where we got an enormous plateful of deep fried pickles. They were delicious on the night. They were not delicious the next day after we'd made the mistake of asking,  in time-houred American style, for a box to take home the leftovers.  Deep fried pickles don't keep well.

To be continued.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Elections Upon Us

A typical scene on a road trip in October in election year. 

Personally I think the forests of signs at every street corner for all kinds of different positions and causes make it more, not less confusing. Well long live democracy. I'm not sure how accurate a pointer they are - though memorably, in 2016, we managed to drive down right to Florida without seeing a single Hillary Clinton sign (except one in a field, saying simply "Lock Her Up". ) It gave me a better tip on how that election was going to go than anything else. 
  This year, in our little enclave in south-west Florida,  I've seen more Governor signs for the Democrat, Andrew Gillum, than I have for the Republican, Ron de Santis, but that's neither here nor there.
  As a foreigner I don't think I should get involved in the fray - unlike a British guy mentioned in the Wall Street Journal busy drumming up support for his favoured candidate on dating apps. Apparently that's the way millennials do their electioneering these days. He should mind his own business.
   The press is getting fearfully excited, speaking of turmoil, high anxiety, a frantic last day and so on. Well of course the more turmoil the better for a good story. Here in south-west Florida I don't see much evidence of turmoil. "I'll just be pleased when it's all over", said my neighbour, wearily. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Road Trip: Kentucky Fair and Foul

Sister-in-law and I were bowling through Kentucky, revelling in some gorgeous hilly scenery. As always, we looked for a coffee place, preferably serving food as well. The Masterpiece Cafe had the former but not the latter but there was an interesting gift shop selling T-shirts.

We were to see similar T-shirts again, further along the road, saying "A Little Coffee and a Whole Latte Jesus", which is a bit cleverer, I suppose.
We passed a very vain car...

 And my hopes were raised by the following...

  Wow - complete coverage of UK football! Well no. The phrase contained two misunderstandings. UK wasn't UK but the University of Kentucky. And football, of course, wasn't football. Oh well.
  The biggest disappointment of the day, however, was lunch. We ended up in possibly the worst restaurant I've ever been to and believe me I've been to a few bad restaurants.   As soon as we went through the door we knew we'd made a mistake but the owner, a sprightly elderly lady, was onto us like a guided missile. The place was tiny. We couldn't escape without seeming rude. The room was cluttered with junk and toys but eventually we spotted the buffet from which we tried to salvage something palatable. An indefinable green vegetable cooked in what tasted like dishwater. Fishcakes worse than any school dinner nightmare. The thing about fishcakes is that they usually taste better than they look. This one didn't. It tasted of very old fish.  Worst of all, the owner's four-year-old grandson rampaged around our table, wielding a big stick and periodically clouting a sweet dispenser on the wall right behind our ears, "I've fixed it Nana!" He then changed weapons and grabbed a toy - or possibly real- telephone,monotonously shouting, "Call me Nanaaaaa!  Call me! CALL ME!!"  ratchetting it up until she dropped everything and did so and every so often emitting an ear-piercing shriek worthy of a Hitchcock film. She shrugged her shoulders,  "He's got, whadya call it, ADHD."
  "They called that something else in my day", muttered sister-in-law, looking around for a wooden spoon.
  We were the only customers. I forced down what I could, thinking of the time I enjoyed the hospitality of some Mongolian nomads and couldn't refuse the meal for fear of giving offence. The horse meat on offer was Michelin starred compared with that fishcake.  We stumbled out into the fresh air, cursing the Tripadvisor reviewers who'd extolled the "home cooking."  (I did subsequently read the fine print of the reviews and several had seen through the benevolent granny set up and queried why the place hadn't been shut down long ago.  One simply said, "Gross!")  Incidentally one of the best restaurants I ever went to was in Lexington, Kentucky, so I can't blame the state.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Halloween Interlude

Here for your delectation, the Blog's favourite 2018 Halloween ephemera on the road trip and elsewhere.

In third place, at the  Home Depot (America's version of B and Q), this handsome, bigger-than-lifesize werewolf. The lumberjack flannel shirt is a nice touch.

(It had a bigger-than-lifesize price tag too)

Are some people really that crazy?   In second place, at Huntsville Botanical Gardens in Alabama, a dragon made of tiny pumpkins. It would have won but it looks a little too friendly.

And first prize to the Home Depot again (no, I don't work for them) for these sprightly wolf skeletons. They don't say if sound effects are included.

What will they think of next?

More on the road trip shortly.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Road Trip: A Foggy Morning

 In the morning, after an English (aka American) breakfast worthy of an ocean liner, we hit the road again. The Ohio river was blanked out by fog. Beyond the bushes, you'd think there was nothing there.

As we drove along the river - resplendent with all kinds of industrial stuff - we saw mist swirling up from the surface. "Got to take a photo!" I said.  But we had no end of trouble finding a place where we could get close to the river. We ended up driving over the bridge to West Virginia, to Parkersburg where we'd stayed three years previously. (Goodness, was it really three years?) Too late, we discovered it was a toll bridge but the friendly toll lady pointed us in the direction of some likely spots for taking photos, mentioning a hospital and a car dealers, both of which we found but not the road to the river. I remember the last time we were here we found it hard to get to the river too but this time we were more tenacious. Sister-in-law discovered a road that went upwards - if we couldn't get level with the river we could at least look down on it.  And we found Fort Boreman. And there was frost on the ground.

Fort Boreman, built by Union troops in the Civil War to protect the Ohio railway, had a viewpoint high up on a hill, looking out over the confluence of the Ohio and Little Kanawha rivers.

And the swirling mist was still there.

It was a chilly morning and we were the  only tourists.  Fort Boreman had recently been turned into a park. It was fun to think we might be the only people to know about it. A moment to savour.

To be continued...

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Road Trip: Ohio and Some Unexpected History

It's been a poor year for autumn colours in our neck of the woods and my annual drive with sister-in-law through Pennsylvania and all points south was unusually muted. But never mind, there's always something interesting to see. Like a pen full of turkeys, waiting, no doubt, to Head Off for the Holidays, as the old cartoon goes. It's known I have a soft spot for turkeys but releasing them was above my pay grade. And then there was this fellow...

  I'd looked at the map (yes, proper old-fashioned maps are still an essential on road trips, as I'm about to prove) and spotted a place in Ohio called New Rumley. It rang a bell. Helpfully, the map also stated "General Custer Memorial".  Of course!  The man who led the fabled Seventh Cavalry into one of the US Army's most notorious military disasters, the 1876 Last Stand at Little Big Horn, was born in New Rumley.  Now the General and I go back a long way, ever since I fell in love with Errol Flynn going down gallantly in They Died With Their Boots On.  There was a time when I read every book about Custer I could lay my hands on and realised that he is a far more complex character than modern politically correct history would have us believe. Not all good by any means but not all bad either and he was brilliant in the Civil War. A pity he messed things up so spectacularly at the end and would be forever remembered as a loser.   I also read his wife's books..

...she was no mean observer and a very good writer. All those accounts of accompanying her bloke on military campaigns and camping in a crinoline are a fascinating insight into a time that seems so distant now. 
  It was a dignified memorial, as befits a local boy,  with views over the gently rolling countryside. The little village of New Rumley can't have changed much over the years.
  Then on to another place that had captured my imagination. I first heard of Marietta, Ohio in a children's book. It's an old town by American standards, built on the Ohio River. We found a quaint hotel called the Lafayette, built to resemble one of the old paddle steamers. It even had uneven floors that made you slightly seasick though I'm not sure that was deliberate. I hoped it wouldn't explode, as wooden  paddle steamers with the two big funnels were wont to do.
  The view from the window through the requisite mosquito netting shows that the Ohio river isn't just for pretty leisure pursuits. 

Though again the view the other way can't have changed much over history either.

The grand old Lafayette Hotel had plenty of historical touches.

Excellent idea.

You could dial up and get a potted history. And the foyer had a massive ship's wheel light-fitting on the ceiling.

All great fun and a refreshing contrast to the samey chain hotels that we usually end up in.

To be continued.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Road Trip Begins!

Apologies for the long gap but the blog has been on its annual road trip south to Florida.

Part One starts shortly. Watch this space!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

On Sailing and Stalin

Buffalo marina on an autumn day and here's Titanic 2 (names have been changed) up on the trailer and ready to head down to the neighbour's barn in Cattaraugus County. There was something of a traffic jam on the retrieval ramp - with only a few days to go till the marina closed for the winter, several others had had the same idea, including the noisy restaurant, which was busy hauling away its several various floating docks.  They had to go up the ramp too. Meanwhile we were huffing and puffing and heavy lifting  and attending to all the little details that sailing boats have. It's like undressing an Elizabethan duchess. "I can't fathom" hubby panted, "Why this always takes so long."

Way in the distance you can see to the left, behind the autumnal trees, Buffalo's art deco city hall (I'd say it's more like the Stalin Gothic you get in eastern Europe but it doesn't have a spiky top). It will be a long time before we see this view again.
  And the other way, the pretty 19th century lighthouse - too bad the other buildings in the marina don't match, being a triumph of neo-brutalism.

The blog will shortly be on its road trip south to Golden Beach. I already feel quite nostalgic for autumn frosts - even though, in this bizarre year for weather, we haven't had one yet.
  And speaking of the above, I was trying to book a hotel room for one of this year's destinations and got into one of those "chats" on line with an employee. "Hello", he typed, "You're speaking to Stalin, how can I help you?"  After a frisson of alarm, I was very kind and resisted a comment. He must get them all the time.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Poor Panama City

 Three years ago sister-in-law and I, on our annual road trip south, drove through north-western Florida and the panhandle. As you can see, we took a delightful coast road and in Panama City in a restaurant right on the beach...

....had the best fish-and chips to be found outside Britain. It helped that we were pretty hungry and it was a glorious sunny day. How different things must look there now after Hurricane Michael's apocalyptic devastation.   It's almost impossible to find words to describe it.  Ironic that I'd commented on the houses on stilts that we saw all along the coast, saying how well-prepared they were for hurricanes.  As last year, after Irma, we thank God that Golden Beach was well out of Michael's range but are keeping the people up north in our prayers. My heart goes out to them.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Last Hot Day...

Dateline: Cattaraugus County, Western New York State

  ..Will be tomorrow, they say. Then the temperatures plunge some 25 degrees. It's a swizz - since we've been back it's been rain, rain and more rain.  The apples on the grass are a squelchy mess.

  But today the sun shone and I'd planned an al fresco lunch with friends.  This can be unwise in America because of the preponderance of flying insects exuding varying degrees of menace. But this is autumn and hubby had used a flamethrower on the wasps' nest in the lawn. 
  On the menu were bison burgers from our neighbour, Jeff's herd.  There's nothing better -  plus British apple and blackberry crumble which is always a hit with my friends here.  I said to hubby "What's the betting someone starts mowing."  (For the full gen on the local lawnmower menace, click here.)      Well fate was certainly playing tricks with me today. Just an hour before our guests were due to show up, several trucks appeared and started doing something very noisy with the surface of the lane. Plus everywhere stank to high heaven of tar.   Of all the days to pick...Thankfully they moved along pretty quickly. Just as I'd heaved a sigh of relief, guess what happened? Yep, a mower revved up. And the last surviving wasp buzzed us, bent on revenge.  But there's nothing a good lunch and plenty of ice cold sauvignon blanc can't surmount.
  The jungle, having been neglected for much of the summer, is, admittedly, unruly

But the rose surprised us with an encore.

And I'd found pumpkins for the doorstep  from the same chap we get excellent sweet corn from on the way to Ellicottville. He didn't disappoint - his pumpkins were fat and perfectly round, not with one side flattened like the specimens from the supermarket.

The hydrangeas looked pretty round the bird bath

Not many autumn colours this year but the sun was shining through the trees

And some cheeky mushrooms were popping up. 

These were truly bizarre.

I need advice from my Mushroom Mania friend. He would probably cook up quite a few meals after foraging in our jungle but I'm not about to try it. I'll stick to bison burgers.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Out of the Frying Pan into....

Dateline: Cattaraugus County, Western New York State

  Well hello again!  After a few weeks of travelling, the blog is back at base - for a couple of weeks at any rate, before it heads south.  The travels included a Brexit-obsessed Blighty and just when I'd had my fill of political playground argy-bargy, what happened? I arrived in the United States to more of the same. Once again the air is rent with the sounds of axes grinding, toys crashing out of pushchairs and ancient skeletons dragged screeching and rattling out of their cupboards. 
  I would suggest calming down and having a nice cup of tea or, as my Dad was wont to say, a few convivial drinks (though under the circumstances the latter might not be entirely appropriate.) But I fear it's gone beyond that. 
   As a foreigner I don't think I should enter the fray but I would gently suggest to my American friends that, had they never severed their ties with their mother country , they might not be having this particular set of troubles. I don't recall judges in Britain being selected or opposed because of their political, social and ethical views. They're mostly chosen because they're good at the law and with little public fuss. Nor do their personal lives seem to enter into it much. But then we Brits don't have a Constitution to fight over. And Supreme Court judges Stateside have a crucial role, you could say, in running the country. They, rather than the elected politicians, have made some of its most  momentous decisions.  Hence there's a lot at stake and people get understandably twitchy about getting the right person in. I'm not sure if that's exactly what George Washington and his friends intended but there, I  suppose, you are. 
  So on to other things. We arrived back to find the jungle still hanging in there in its last autumn gasp, 

the sedum perky as ever

Though one of the hardy hydrangeas had mutated alarmingly

And against all odds, the sumac appeared to have been struck by lightning yet again. There's not much left of it. Time to call it a day I think.

That's what I should be doing with this gardening lark. But the Home Depot (America's answer to B and Q) had a good deal today on perennial asters. And I thought I might as well buy some more bulbs. I never learn.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Lookback to a Foggy Lane

These are my late summer early mornings

The mist in the valley like a basket of candyfloss

 Unvarying and ever changing

The sound of acorns and apples dropping from the trees

 The distant foothills of the Allegheny Mountains

 And the sun finally coming out.

There are worse places in the world.