Good grief! This new discipline is positively out of control. Day three and still no signs of being distracted from the task in hand. Or head. Or wherever on earth I’ve got it stashed.
Wednesday. Not wordless for me, I’m afraid. Rather I thought I might devote Wednesday to Wanderings. I thought about making it a day to share walks but decided that, being somewhat discursive by nature, that I would inevitably stray from the path. Wandering, on the other hand gives scope for excursions other than walks – a junket here, a jaunt there, a foray and a forage. Much more pleasing to one as naturally meandering as I.
Words to accompany these expeditions may be many or may be few but I do promise lots of pictures which may or may not please the eye. I’m of the little lauded ‘Myopic Point and Shoot School of Photography’ so be gentle … I don’t profess any excellence, simply enthusiasm.
Today’s little ramble was more than four years ago when I was first living here in Massachusetts. We subsequently returned to France for eighteen months and I commenced my present life here two years ago.
Arriving anywhere in winter gives a naked narrative to the unfamiliar landscape. Nothing is hidden, all is laid bare and it is a season I love for that reason. Three things struck me immediately about this place: the water, the light and the sheer volume of trees. Fortunate since water, trees and light are three abiding succours of my soul.
This set of pictures was taken in the Assabet Wildlife Reserve which is literally on our doorstep. I share them with you for a flavour of what I mean by water, trees and light. This triptych captivated me then and still does now. In winter, they are particularly lovely to my eyes. But in honesty, they are particularly lovely to my eyes in Spring, in Summer and in Autumn also.
Weak rays of sunshine burnish the trees and the water reflects them back at us. One tree is seemingly suspended like a diving acrobat, refusing to succumb to the ground to rot and feed it’s still living compatriots.
Late afternoon light provides a satin lustre to the wetland and the sky silken above deepens as it lights the water beneath
Nature snoozes but never truly sleeps ….
The rosy gleam of the setting sun shimmering on a natural mirror
A long-legged lumber man silhouetted against his eternal landscape
PS: the unavoidable PS: The title is a line from Emily Dickinson’s lovely ‘There’s a certain Slant of Light’. Dickinson was from Massachusetts, born in Amherst, directly west of here. She captures her place quite perfectly.
I’ve been absent for several weeks whilst we deftly orchestrated and executed a somewhat major and moderately emotional move. I will write of that on Friday, but in the meantime, lest you have missed me even the teeniest smidge, here, as a trifling placeholder, is a picture of a rather cute couple snapped by my husband a few days ago. It seems to fit rather snugly with the Photo Challenge of the Week titled Liquid of which you can find a veritable treasure trove of other entries here . It was only when ambling through my recent photos to find something pertinent to the theme that I noticed the tiny turtle. I have a propensity for the romantic, for which I make no apology. Therefore, I see her gazing longingly at a suitor positively transfixed by her petite loveliness. For the avoidance of doubt, my fanciful leanings didn’t lead me to intervene and give him a peck on his wide froggy mouth to test for Princeliness.
PS: The title is a line from a song I have sung gustily and quite possibly tunelessly since childhood: Froggie Went a Courtin‘. Here as your bonus is Bruce Springsteen with my favourite of all favourite versions of the shenanagans of the amorous amphibian. I sincerely hope this little croaker is armed with neither sword nor pistol.
By the by, I don’t know if this is a green frog or a bull frog – perhaps a herpetologist could help me out ….
This year my husband and I agreed to spend Christmas apart. Fear not, this is no dramatic announcement of impending divorce, but rather a reflection on the bloated airfares during the season of goodwill. In due time, I will tell of why we presently live one on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, but for now I will keep my council. It was my very own idea and I feel that it was a worthy protest, though I imagine it was inconsequential to the point of silence to those responsible for pumping up the prices with such unfettered glee.
Unwilling to risk being peeved by my own decision, I settled on a different solution to the celebrations than sitting in solitary splendour brooding over a meal for one all the while being eyed meaningfully by The Beady Greedy Bean.
In France, as in many other countries, la veille de Noël (Christmas Eve) is traditionally the biggest celebration. A large and lengthy meal with your loved ones culminates in the stealthy arrival of Père Noël (insert your own word for the snowy bearded wonder with grandeose paunch and snazzy white fur-trimmed scarlet suit) who soundlessly leaves gifts around midnight. It is a time of great joy and festivity for most but for others, to many others, it is a sad, solitary night, a time to dwell on past pleasures and the knowledge that there is little solace in the idea that the sun will rise again on the morrow. I speak of the old and alone. Those whom, for whatever reason, have no-one to care for them, those that subsist on tiny incomes and those that tend to be invisible to the masses. So I signed up to assist the Big Christmas Eve dinner laid on by a wondrous charity called Les Petits Frères des Pauvres. Translated as ‘Little Brothers of The Poor’ you may recognise the international federation it belongs to. If you don’t, I urge you to check it out for yourself. If you feel so inclined.
Donning the compulsary Bonnet dePère Noël, but fortunately no beard nor plumping suit, I had three seniors to collect from their homes, because I had also volunteered my car named Franck. I had one gregarious gentleman (aged a twinkling 98 if you please) and two lovely ladies (87 and 89 respectively). I delivered them to the venue, parked Franck and then joined the, incidentally mostly millennial, gang to serve dinner, play games, sing songs and greet Père Noël bearing gifts at midnight. Before we started and after we had seated our table after table of venerable guests there was a silence to remember those who fell serving in the Résistance. Grenoble is one of three cities and two villages awarded the Ordre de La Libération at the end of The Second World War and it is hard to describe how moving it was, that moment of respect standing head bowed amongst those who were directly touched by the indescribable bravery of those who refused to be cowed.
It was 2 a.m when I finally took my exhuberant and energetic charges home to their still silent dwellings. We had sung songs I knew and others I didn’t, played games that had to be explained to me and others that were comfortingly familiar and danced polkas they foot-perfect, I flat-footed. I feel tremendously priviliged to have been allowed to join in and to give beaming cheer where otherwise there would have been the bitter chill of loneliness in a world that too often scurries past rather than observing, for a moment, and perhaps acknowledging that, if we are deserving of conviviality and gaety and levity and simple companionship, then they surely are too. The waning years of human life should not label the bearer untouchable and past your sell-by date and fit to be cast into a metaphoric bin as though your odour is no longer tolerable.
I was motivated to share this moment by the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge labelled ‘Silence’ and as ever you can view, if you feel disposed to, the far more meritorious entries to the gallery here.
The picture was taken in Massachusetts in February 2016. Of course the United States has seen far more than it’s share of snow this winter season and the fat lady is not ready for the final song yet. I imagine, amongst all the chaos and hardship such weather induces, there has been that sense of muffled stillness that snow produces. That softly muted quiet that I love. Because silence can certainly be golden. It can also be heartbreakingly heavy.
PS: The title is taken from C S Lewis that wisest, gentlest most considered of scolars. He said ‘I have learned now that while those that speak out about their misery usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more’ … I recommend to everyone that, apart from the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’, you should read his work more widely and that his letters, published in several volumes to the many he corresponded with contain much wisdom, whatever your beliefs or views on faith and spirituality. That aside, I did, of course that morning in the woods, feel that I had stepped into the kingdom of Narnia.
There is a second part to my Christmas which I will chronicle separately in due course
And your bonus: The Tremeloes singing ‘Silence is Golden’. Although Frankie Valley and his Four Seasons recorded it first, this is the version as an English girl that I remember best.
Imagine if you will a real-life, modern-day Saint Francis – not all the high-born and father didn’t like his name stuff, but the animals part. The friend to all creatures, critter-whisperer. That Saint Francis. Well, here’s the thing. I know this man. This latterday guardian of all living things. All living things except humans which might be construed as a crucial difference between this man Frank and the Assisian original.
In fact Frank is of the opinion that there are far too many of us human varmints jostling and barging one another through life, and that instead of dwelling on our own selfish needs we need to protect our planet for those that have no voice and no means to halt the uninvited destruction of their world. I imagine his sentiments are perceived at best as highly eccentric and at worst with a great deal of suspicion by many. But much of what he quietly iterates resonates with me.
I had heard much of Frank before I met him. I knew that he had a squirrel whom he had nursed back from injury and who he had recently discovered was in fact Josephine rather than Joseph. She has the run of his backyard now that she is fit and hale again but during her long convalescence had a tree, a full sized tree, in the house to be her natural squirrelling self in. And for the avoidance of doubt, the house is a modest house, in an ordinary street not a gaspingly vast mansion. She is a cared for and nurtured squirrel and he files her claws regularly since she is not scampering around a wide-open space as she would have been had she not succumbed to a speeding car in the particular suburb of Boston that she lives in. His next door neighbour is a Dental Surgeon and he has asked him to make braces for Josephine’s teeth since he worries that her fang-angle is becoming an issue. Not cosmetically, you understand but rather in terms of her ability to gnaw gustily. Excited to meet this tiny mammal saviour, I had rehearsed my appropriate conversation opener. Donning my most charming and inclusive smile, I commented that I had heard all about his squirrel and that in fact my mother is called Josephine. He stared hard and with undisguised mild alarm and softly murmured ‘Your mother? Is a squirrel?’ Seldom lost for words, my powers of pithy response evaporated and the previously alluring smile froze unbecomingly on my nonplussed face giving me a distinct air of rampantly and irreversibly imbecilic. It turns out that there really is no comeback from the disquieting visual of your mother become rodent.
Most people discourage mice in their homes. Frank calls them ‘the little people’ and actively ENcourages them by leaving all their favourite treats in prominent places. He doesn’t shoo them off the table but rather invites them to share his plate. I do not have a word powerful enough to describe what a peace-loving soul Frank is. Strange certainly but bloodless and I feel remarkably tranquil simply writing of him.
Frank is companion and protector to all animals. He is their true and unwavering friend. He does not do this in the name of anybody’s God but simply because he can and he wants to. Surely that is what true friendship should be based in. Love, decency and kindness. This little traipse into the world of Frank is prompted by the Weekly Photo Challenge dubbed Friend. You can potter through the superabundance of delights here, and in honour of Frank and Josephine here are two plumptuous Squirrels partaking of the feasts I put out daily, when I’m in residence, for their delectation in our Massachusian backyard.
PS: The title is stolen from Zeffirelli’s 1972 film of the life of Francis of Assisi, ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon’ which in turn come from Saint Francis’ own praises for all creatures written when he was very sick himself. I reproduce a little excerpt here because, despite not being of his faith, I am of the belief that a beautiful piece of writing should be celebrated simply for being a beautiful piece of writing, not tainted nor tarred with prejudice, nor owned exclusively by one self-elected sector of society. Simply embraced and cherished. Like friendship.
Praise be to Thee, my Lord, with all Thy creatures, Especially to my worshipful brother sun, The which lights up the day, and through him dost Thou brightness give; And beautiful is he and radiant with splendor great; Of Thee, most High, signification gives.
Praised be my Lord, for sister moon and for the stars, In heaven Thou hast formed them clear and precious and fair. p. 153
Praised be my Lord for brother wind And for the air and clouds and fair and every kind of weather, By the which Thou givest to Thy creatures nourishment. Praised be my Lord for sister water, The which is greatly helpful and humble and precious and pure.
Praised be my Lord for brother fire, By the which Thou lightest up the dark. And fair is he and gay and mighty and strong.
Praised be my Lord for our sister, mother earth, The which sustains and keeps us And brings forth diverse fruits with grass and flowers bright.
And for your bonus, Donovan sings the title song he wrote for the movie:
‘Brother Sun and Sister Moon, I seldom see your tune – preoccupied with selfish misery’ ….
We might be minded to take that line to heart, do we think?
Gosh, I jolly well hope none of you were holding your breath for this ‘and finally’ moment because if you were you are surely an unbecoming shade of grey-navy by now. But ‘and finally’ it is. My silly series of alphabetic ramblings on a year spent in The New World completes here and not before time, given that it was supposed to coincide with my returning to Europe on 1st December and we are now hurtling through a not so New Year for which I wish you joy and laughter, peace and content and above all things love, which, I firmly believe, really IS all we need. Hey presto bongo here we go:
U. U is for USA naturally enough. I’m a simple soul and I’m as apt to fall for the properganda and misinformation of others as the next girl or boy. It’s fair to say that before I had this opportunity to actually be in this place that it did not really penetrate my consciousness just how absolutely vast and varied it is. And this comes from a person who, in reality, has only scratched the teeniest scritch of New England. Like Europe, the USA is a country made up of lots of different countries except that they are called States. Since I take in my stride the fact that Italy is not at all like Germany, Belgium not a satellite of France but it’s very own bird and Spain certainly not a smidge like Britain it stands to reason when I take my silly specs off that California is really not at all akin to Alabama nor Wisconsin analogous to Texas or Maine to Hawaii. I understood after a while that New England is it’s own special corner of the USA and that it in turn, rather like the place I was born in is made up of five particular personalities who have their own idiosyncracies and peculiaries and delights. It may seem like kindergarten learning but it really did take living in the place to even begin to understand what a colossus it is. When I return, which I hope I will later this year and for at least twice as long, I intend to travel and feel for myself why Massachusetts is no more representative of the whole Union than Florida or Alaska or California or The Dakotas. I should also mention that the British tend to be a bit sniffy about the fact that many Americans have not travelled outside of their own country. Well my people, I have news for you …. I was brought up by parents who believed that it is essential to understand and know your own corner before you start venturing into foreign lands. With such a wealth of terrain, culture and, dare I say, history (for we Europeans tend to be snobbish in our assumption that these Americas are too young to have accumulated substantial history and in that hypothesis we are foolishy wrong), in just this chunk of North America without even venturing upwards to Canada or downwards to Central and South America, it strikes me that it is entirely forgiveable to live a life restricted to this continent.
V. V is for Viagra. Actually it’s for medical advertising but that doesn’t fit my carefully constructed alphabet so I’m stretching the elastic. Coming as I do from the land of the National Health Service where we are entirely at the mercy of whatever is passed fit and fiscally viable to prescribe by a body called (eroneously many would argue) NICE, I was fascinated by the sheer volume of advertising for drugs and medical aids all of which are accompanied by lengthy disclaimers about side-effects uttered by the voice-over artist at death-defying pace in a crescendo from insignificant rashes through paralisis and loss of limbs to death (I am entirely serious). Sometimes they are also chaperoned by the statement that if you are allergic to a particular drug you should avoid taking it. Really? … you know you are allergic but you decide to take it anyway, presumably in a fit of boredom that might be alleviated by a jolly solid and possibly deadly bout of anaphylaxis. In the case of Viagra, a slinky lady is seen to be skillfully seducing a fellow who is clearly very willing indeed to be enticed, and voice-over man states very distinctly that if you experience an erection lasting more than four hours you should seek immediate medical help. I nearly choked on my passion fruit the first time I saw this advertisement but when I asked meekly if anyone else found this odd I was greeted by tumbleweed and a sense that I was very clearly a foreign body. Or V could be for Vermont. We visited the North Eastern Kingdom at the outset of Fall and I left a little of my heart there. Not only did I get to wave at Canada from Newport (and get waved at by an amused train driver hauling huge cargo behind his glorious richly hooting engine) and to see the burgeoning of the incredible gilded spectacle of leaves donning their most outrageous regalia before falling away to leave the trees slumbering for winter; I got to stay in an enchanting log cabin at a magical place called The Olde Farmhouse in Danvilleand I got to sate myself on covered bridges which have long been an interest that blossomed into an obsession when Meryl and Clint played out their sweet-sad love story in ‘The Bridges of Madison County’. Covered bridges are not a purely New England oeuvre, they pop up in varying density from Alabama to Quebec. Indeed you will find a few in Europe too. I unswervingly adore them. They are evocative of so much to me from Headless Horsemen to Beetlejuice and endless galloping horses clattering over them on some or other grainy film on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I’m pretty sure John-Boy Walton must have driven over one in that truck of his and certainly there were imagined teenaged canoodlings with whoever was the dream squeeze of the hour in my youth peppered with American TV which was surely so much more enticing than anything Oxford could possibly offer a gauche girl like me. They just seem so romantic and being incapacitated from our usual walks and hikes gave left us free to hunt them down and snap and be snapped in my best Meryl poses all over this beauteous landscape.
W. W is for White Mountains. My leg injury put the brakes on our aspiration to hike all the 4,000 footers of the Presidential Range through late Spring and Summer but we did walk up Mount Eisenhower in December (naively without poles nor crampons) which revealed the most exquisite Narnia moment as we hit the snow-line (or more accurately that day, the ICE-line). I’ll be back and with The Bean we will conquer those peaks and drink in the magnificent panaramas this range exposes over New Hampshire and Vermont. And W has to be for Weather. I am of the opinion that if those bonkers nutcases that boarded the rickety Mayflower in 1620 had not landed at Plymouth and colonised what became Massachusetts, that it is entirely possible it would have been left to it’s own devices. It seems to me, a girl used to a little cold and a little heat that no-one in their right minds would willingly settle in this climate of extremes. In my year-long tenure the temperature plummeted to -24°F (that’s -32°C) and rose well into the 90°sF (40°sC) with high humidity in summer. I, being British, am hard-wired to be weather obsessed. I make no secret that had I my time again it would be as a weather girl and in idle moments I can be found practicing my sweeping hand gestures (with back to map) and seemlessly eddying between hilarious weatherly quips and serious warning face. Here though my fascination snowballed (quite literally) into a full-blown mania and I found myself lipsinking and second guessing my two favourite weather men Mike Wankum (yes, really and no giggling in the back row please) and the sublime Harvey Leonard. Both are incumbant on WCVB-TV and were I not happily married I might suggest a meteorological ménage-à-trois whereby we would huddle together and discuss the gravity of all the impending storms that we would watch closely for the viewer to facilitate a worry-free day for them, safe in the knowledge that the W-Team had got it covered. And of course we would be zealous in ensuring that all were versed in what effect the weather will have on a Patriot Game …. never mind that juggernauts might be crashing off bridges or houses washed away in floods, the important thing, the really important thing is whether The Gronk is going to get cold toes whilst he struts his finest at Foxborough. And if you are wondering what The Gronk is – Rob Gronkowski is Tight End for the New England Patriots … well you did ask. As a point of interest, last winter brought few storms and relatively little snow (which still seemed a fearful lot to me) to Massachusetts but Harvey was watching all sorts like a rear-gunner in a Lancaster bomber presumably swivelling hither and thither on his stool as he craned his neck for the best view. Despite this, however, he managed to entirely miss the two biggest we had, so twice I opened the back door to let The Bean (6″ at the shoulder) out for her morning airing to watch her quite literally submerge headlong into the snow mountain and then reverse indignantly shaking legs, tail and ears of the cold white stuff that encased her. Comedy value rating 10/10
X. X is for Xing. The first time I saw a sign saying Ped Xing I thought it was some sort of martial art. Then I saw Equi Xing and chewed on what on earth it could be for days. Finally my husband put me out of my misery. It means crossing. So Ped is Pedestrian and Equi is Horse aand there are many others including my favourite Moose Xing which they never did but they might have which is quite beguiling to a dull English girl like me. I don’t know if this is a New England foible but I must comment that America seems to love a little shortening (and not just in pastry). I find it quite endeering though it did make it near impossible for me to complete the weekly X word in the local paper as I struggled with acronyms and initials and generally had to content myself with the kids korner (stet K) to satisfy myself that I could fill in a grid at all and believe me even then it was barely.
Y.Y is for Yard. In France I have a jardin, in England I had a garden and in the US I had a Yard. This took a little getting used to because in England a yard is generally a concrete area and if it is domestic, typically swing-a-cat-at-your-peril tiny. In Massachusetts we have 1.6 acres (almost 3/4 hectare) of which much of the back is woodland. HB2 is proud of the fact that he has left this to be mostly natural not out of laziness but to ensure the wildlife have unimpaired habitat. We have chipmunks and squirrels as previously noted, we have deer and groundhog and skunk and racoons, turtles, toads and snakes and bullfrogs who croak their glorious bass choral mass through the night in mating season beating out their territorial warnings beginning with a loan booming bellow and rapidly escalating as not to be outdone they all join in their admonition of none shall pass here; there are mice aplenty which we discourage from the house and there are opossum. for me, I am ever hopeful that the black bear spotted in our neighbourhood will take up residence in our backyard but so far it has resisted my open invitation to join my Teddy Bears Picnic. And there are birds. If pressed I will admit to previously being phobic of birds and yet the birds captivated me when I was incapacitated by my leg injury and I turned into something of a latterday Snow White. I counted over 30 species from the rudely red Cardinals to the tiny gutsy Chickadee (state bird of Massachusetts) and graceful bluebirds which had me whistling Zipadeedoodah zipadeeay tunelessly; little Titmice with big startled eyes and mourning doves with their soft gill-of-field-mushroom-pink plumage. And occasional visitors including brown headed cow birds, grackles and starlings who fly in lairy gangs and face off like avian Sharks and Jets in a backyard West Side Story. Raptors too flying in on spec and emptying the yard in a fraction of a flash as their threatening sillouette looms stealthily overhead. The chipmunks were keen to nibble up the cast offs of the messier birds, sitting sweetly under the feeders and gratefully gobbling the nuts and seeds that hit the deck, their cheeks swelling comically like a child with mumps. The squirrels were less polite and we eventually conceded that the only thing to do was to give them their own food which they took an eternity to find (squirrel brains are quite tiny I imagine) but once found were bluntly offended if I forgot to replenish them regularly. And Yard sales. How I love Yard Sales. Sometimes they are efficiently advertised for weeks ahead both on a special website and by hanging signs on lamposts and trees and other times you are driving along and just like that, there it is …. the contents of attic, bedrooms, garage, shed, barn or any combination of the above and more spewed onto lawns sometimes neatly laid out and priced, other times just there and ask me. You can pick up fantastic bargains or you can find the owners a little over-confident of the value of their legless dining table – it’s all part of the fun. And finally I must give a nod to one of our neighbours who I am convinced sat with a pair of powerful binoculars trained on his lawn and ran out with nail scissors when a blade of grass was audacious enough to grow taller than his compulsory short back and sides – or possibly he used hair clippers to keep it so epically uniformed but I’m sure he remains appalled at our un-American approach to grass as a status symbol …. for me I’m happy to let it grow awhile because those dandelions are so damn pretty!
Z. Z is for Zucchine which ranks high amongst the vegetables that I had to remind myself are named differently than I’m used to. A zucchine is a courgette, an eggplant is an aubergine, a ruderbager is a swede and so on. This is not leading anywhere except that I haven’t forgotten my promise that I will write a piece devoted to the tangle you can get in when speaking English in America and vice versa. Z should also be for Zamboni. My first Ice-hockey (or more correctly, if I’m in the vernacular, just plain hockey) game was in Cambridge between Harvard and Cornell. I have been to a couple of games in England where it is a low-key sport but this was much more serious and although I must report that it was not the gmost exciting of contests – end of the Varsity Season and all played out, I imagine, I got the flavour and mostly I got to dream of driving a Zamboni in the break between each period. I too could sit like a casual cowboy on his non-bucking bronco, ironing that ice to sleek perfection and effecting effortless turns as I float on my grandiose and frankly heroic beast to the unfettered admiration of the packed stadium. Or at least that’s how I imagine it would feel. In fact it’s probably rather a self-conscious exercise and as thankless as the groundsmans task on a cricket pitch …. we see it, we admire it but we never really acknowledge it …. And finally Z is for Zzzzzz which is probably what you are doing now that you have endured the whole of my saunter through my sojourn in the States. I thank you for staying with me and I’ll see you on the other side ….
PS: If you want to read the other nonsense in this series simply type ‘The Question is’ into the search box – I shan’t be offended if you don’t. And as your long-service medal, here are my favourite moments from The Bridges of Madison County. I am you see, hooked on the memory of you, USA.
This Eve of Christmas I wish you all a peaceful and joyous festive season and the hope that whatever path you choose from here that it may bring you to the best of all things yet to come in your life.
My picture, taken in the woods near home in Massachusetts reminds me of the wisdom of Robert Frost and fit’s perfectly, at least in my opinion, the photo challenge set by WordPress this week titled ‘Path’ … if you are twiddling your thumbs for a moment you might like to take a look at the full gallery of beauteous entires here
And PS: I have tended to opt for the road not taken in my own life and it has made a difference which others will doubtless take pleasure in judging the value of. And so, living as I did this past year in Massachusetts which, though not the birthplace was the home and deathplace of Robert Frost, this poem which has been tucked snugly in my heart for as long as I can remember, seems appropriate to share with you as we all gently propel through the holiday season and towards the New Year.
To your undoubted relief, this is the penultimate instalment in the musings of an alpha-betic woman on the occasion of her leaving the United States. Papa to Tango here we go. My father was always Papa to his grandchildren and he was very light on his feet though I am fairly certain he never tangoed.
P. P is for Patriot’s Day which is celebrated each year in the States of Massachusetts, Maine and Wisconsin on April 19th to commemorate the battles of Lexington and Concord which formed the start of the Revolutionary War in 1775. Since we live very close to Concord (pronounced Concud) we decided to go and watch the re-enactment on the day. And a jolly event it was. We joined crowds walking down the street from the rosette, garland and banner festooned town square passing waiting carriages bearing presumably important dignitaries and gathered in the Minute Men National Historic Park just up from the Old North Bridge where the battle took place. We watched as British Troops in their foolish scarlet coats, fur and feather adorned hats and bright white breeches, not to mention glistening gold braid which was never going to see reputable service as camouflage, marched towards the bridge and the excitement mounted. All of a sudden a shot rang out and the commentator told us that this was ‘the shot that was heard around the world’ I have to confess I hadn’t heard of such a shot before but that is surely because I learned about this period in History from a British perspective because I was schooled in Britain – history is all in the retelling, don’t you find … the drama and tension crescendoed as the British took aim and fired and the rebels, warned by the relentlessly galloping Paul Revere (is that where the word ‘revere’ comes from because he is truly revered hereabouts) that the army was on the move, flooded down on them. All on the little wooden bridge you saw at the top of the last post. Then mayhem. All around me people screeched and bellowed ‘go home Lobsterbacks’ and I, mildly bewildered at the rising zeal mildly anxious at my Englishness in the face of this sudden hostility and probably lightheaded, enquired of a particularly vociferous woman why the Minute Men are called Minute? I was careful to utter the word as I thought it was pronounced – My Newt? Is it, I enquired because they were particularly small? She gaped at me in a way that told me exactly and precisely what a buffoon I am and explained very sloooooowly that its pronounced Minit but I was left no wiser as to what that minute was as she carried on hurling abuse at the British once more, her fervor presumably further piqued by her newfound surety that we are a tiny nation of ignorami.
P is further for Pie … I worship at the alter of all things pie and pastry and in this country pie is a venerable artform. When I wandered into the store the day before Thanksgiving, I was greeted by more pies than I have ever seen collected in one place, in so many varieties as to make my eyes water with glee. I won’t tell you what my favourite pie is … I am after all an international woman of mystery and it is important for me to keep my veneer intact. But suffice to say – you can tempt me with most but the sweet potatoe marshmallow affair proved a pie too far. And P has to be for Poets. This country has produced some of the finest and this corner a good slough of my favourites. We have Longfellow and Thoreau and Poe, we have Plath and Dickinson, we have Stanley Kunitz and at his death there was Robert Frost. It is hardly surprising to me that this place breeds poets of note. I should note the light …. it is quite unlike any other to me …. soft and subtly iridescent. Maybe that is true all over this continent. One day I will discover for myself. I really will. And finally P is for Pompositicut which is the Native American and original settlement name for the town we live in. Forgive me, good people for thinking it said Pompous Idiot when I first arrived ….
Q. Q is for Quantity. I am used to metric measures and I am used to imperial measures. Here in the kitchen I must use a cup and in the car I must remember that a gallon is smaller than I am used to. This is something that makes my childish husband smirk – a ten gallon hat is smaller here than in Briton. I rather think that the average Brit would look foolish in a Texan 10 Gallon let alone a magnified british one. The bet bit for me is that my US Dress Size is two numberals lower than my British one meaning that I can almost kid myself that all the pie has not made a jot of difference and indeed has mysteriously sylphed my figure …. Q is also for Quite. One thing I had to understand quickly was that this word is actually very complimentary. If something is ‘quite nice’ it means it is really good. If you quite like it you are genuinely enamoured – it is a word to express enthusiasm rather than the dullard, non-commital rather average way it is used in Britain. And Q is for Quaint. I was born and raised in a place that would certainly be thought of as ‘quaint’ by Americans …. thatched rooves, little brick or stone cottages, white-wash and half-timbering are plentiful though of course the myth-busters can compile a polar opposite list to pop the utopian bubble very easily. But, you see – I find it ‘quaint’ here … the houses clad in wood painted in a luscious variety of colours, the veranda’s and porches and the churches some brick some wood but always with a white spire reaching optimistically towards it’s heaven.
R. R if you know me at all was bound to be for River and in particular because it runs close to the house here and I have spent SO much time walking by it, the Assabet. And running. Our go-to running trail is along the river so I guess R must be for running trail too.
And if you know me a little better than at all there will be absolutely NO surprise that R is for Rowing. I’ve been to two big events this year. The Women’s Varsity Boatrace in Shrewsbury in May which is in effect like the Oxford and Cambridge University Boatrace in Britain but with many crews rather than the two blue boats doing herculean battle one on one. The top crews will decamp to Henley-on-Thames in June for the Women’s Regatta and I can report from personal experience a few years ago, scarily good they tend to be too. In October we headed for the Charles in Cambridge to watch the Head of the River race there. Head races, for the unitiated are time trials and taken from a rolling start. The river is broad and not a snip to navigate and some of the classes were clearly particularly hard fought. The carnival atmosphere was infectious and although Rowing can never be regarded as a spectator sport the crowds were clearly undeterred by that very minor detail. My daughters will all attest to the uninspiring vision of watching rowers battle it out on river or lake, having spent many many hours of their childhood watching mummy compete or more accurately getting distracted by something much more interesting, like a blade of grass and altogether missing mummy’s glorious triumphs. I am scarred by their collective disinterest.
S. S is for Sport. Sport is a mahusive part of the culture here. As it is in Britain and in France and probably in most places. But there are differences. The obvious is that what I call Football they call Soccer and it is a minor sport. Football is like armoured rugby and fanatically followed. Our local bigshots are The New England Patriots and everything stops for a Patriots Game. I watched the Superbowl Final (not featuring The Patriots last season) on TV in an attempt to feel American and understand the game. By the end of the match I can confidently say that I do. I think. And that I hope one day I will go to a real game. And take part in a Tailgate party in the stadium parking lot. This is where you mass cater a huge picnic amongst a group of spectators and basically have an al fresco banquet in the carpark served out of the boot (or trunk) of all your huge trucks and SUVs. I believe this, in itself can get a trifle passive-agressive competitive amongst the ladies but this may be an urban myth. Then there is Basketball (local side The Celtics) where it is an advantage to be at least 6′ 7″ tall and lean like a runner-bean with un-naturally long legs and arms. Ice Hockey also favours tall people (as does football where your shoulders need to be as wide as you are tall and the upside down V is further enhanced by enormous body armour) and is possibly the most violent game I have ever witnessed. I was therefore quite shocked to discover that a Mini Mite starts out at less than 7 years old straight into playing the full game thus batised and fired like little iron-men they progress through Mite, Atom, PeeWee, Bantom and Midget before fledging as Juniors at 18+. To be frank I wouldn’t tangle with a Mini-Mite let along a Midget. Our big side is the Boston Bruins but I have only been to a Harvard-Cornell college game which was quite tame in comparison to the professional game presumably because it is somewhat important not to flirt too zealously with concussion which is an ever present risk even with the compulsory and quite gladiatorial helmets. Finally there is of course Baseball (Boston Red Sox) …. this is played in summer and I found myself slowing down many times as I passed school teams playing – let me tell you THIS is the stereotype of America that a dull English girl like me imagines. It really is. Baseball players chew tobacco and spit and the pitchers seem to develop rather pronounced derrieres. I don’t know why. And S is for Salem. Famed for the Witch Trials of 1692, Salem was also one of America’s most influential ports. Brimful of history it is also an extremely laid back and slightly offbeat place. Very artsy and full of excellent restaurants I have a love of it and it has to be included.
T. T is for T. I haven’t lost the plot. The T is the public transport system for Boston and Greater Boston region. Run by The Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority no-one has yet been able to tell me why it is called The T. But if you want to get about Boston you’d better buy a Charlie Card and hop a subway or bus rather than try driving in a city which is only for the brave or foolhardy and probably both. I get the subway from Alewife (pronouced Al Wife) to Park Street on the Common and find it surprisingly restful particularly when it chugs across the wide expanse of The Charles. I like The T.
T is also for Trash. We have a huge bin for trash and a gigantic bin for recycling provided by our trash contractor, which is very green and pleasant. Our trash goes out on a Tuesday which makes for a satisfying American Alliteration. I try not to be prone to being over-interested in what others do which might sound odd given that my writing is all observational but I have no desire to be Pinnochio. However, having spent a year here I couldn’t fail to notice that one of our neighbours manages to fill to overflowing and beyond both bins every week. How do you produce so much waste in one household (apart from the fact that the pizza van is a nightly visitor) and what sort of an example is it to the two children who are part of the family. And why do you never shut your garage doors … do you encourage deer and racoon to reside there? And mostly why do you walk across my front lawn as though it is your right and let your two dogs poop on it. It is time for me to go, there is no doubt because these questions have begun to permeate my nights, riddle my dreams and have me rehearsing withering retorts in the bathroom mirror. When I return, which I hope to next year, I will endeavour to maintain my swan-like serenity but if you do read, in the Boston Globe that there has been a hideous trash-related incident in Metro West Massachusetts and a deportation has resulted, it’s been nice knowing you ….
PS: Because it’s another song that surely sums up America to an English girl, here is Don McLean with his monumental American Pie. Singalong, please do!
The top and bottom pictures were taken in Autumn, the fourth season I passed here.
A rapid but never vapid retrospective of what on earth this is about: I leave the United States in two days time and I am giving a little alphabetic eulogy to my time here – time I’ve loved with a piquant sprinkling of things I have loved a smidge less and a dollop of the things that have given me joy.
Today, a pugilists dream … K-O which is, surely, a knockout but just in case it isn’t, I’ll simply present you with my Kilo to Oscar of what has floated my kayak-O during my New England sojourn.
K. K is for Kennedy a name of particular significance to me because it is the name I was born to. In fact as a child, I used to claim that the road in our village called ‘Kennedy Drive’ was named for my father. My school-friends fell for it for years. They fell for the fact that I claimed my Uncle in New Guinea had gone native and stuck a bone through his nose too. I was always a little fanciful. I need hardly tell you that the Kennedy’s of Massachusetts are, and were, a compelling family. Whatever your politics, that much is undeniable. The very first time I entered the USA at Boston Logan Airport the immigration official carefully examined my passport (it was before I married) and said ‘your name is royalty here’. That covers it. Quite naturally, therefore, we set off to lay eyes on splendid Compound at Hyannis Port a few weeks ago and equally splendidly failed having left the address on the kitchen table. But I can report that the curious curled arm that is Cape Cod is absolutely alluring out of season (I’m sure it’s lovely in season too but I’m a bit antisocial when it comes to sharing beaches) and it must be wonderful to pass summers safely cocooned on your estate on Nantucket Sound breathing the clearest air seasoned with a good pinch of seasalt, the lullaby of the ocean and the winds, gentle to brisk, relaxing you from what must surely be such a taxing life. I shall go one-day and present myself as a significantly overlooked ‘Ugly Head’ relly. That’s what Kennedy means, by the way – Ugly Head. Which was a source of extreme embarrassment when it was discovered at school and probably served me right for my earlier misleadings vis-a-vis the road and the Uncle’s nose.
And K is for Kiss. I, most recently come from the land of bisous. To faire les bises in France is the customary greeting. It involves touching cheeks (from 1-4 times depending on where you are geographically not your social standing) and making an air kiss, but crucially not planting lip on cheek. Unless you know the person well, when you can actually kiss the cheeks if you are both of the same mind. Children will present one cheek to be kissed. Here, people recoil in horror if I look as though I am going to kiss them. They seem to favour a sort of bear hug but not a hug as I know it. This is the hug of a flapping bear who is cringing at the dread idea of any physical contact, even through layers and layers of goose-padding, mittens and salopettes. Handshakes work just fine but I find it uncomfortably formal with people I know reasonably well. I fear I have left a trail of the scarred. New Englanders who thought I wanted to Kiss them. I didn’t – I simply wanted the most featherlike glance of cheeks but that, I think, is enough to make them shudder. And K must be for Kindness because it would be quite wrong of me not to mention the kind nature of most people here. And this is New England were the reputation is for brusqueness and a lack of warmth. As a rule the people are certainly direct but once you get accustomed to the bluntness it is not rude at all. ‘The kindess of strangers’ as breathily extolled by Tennessee Williams’ tragic Blanche Dubois is bounteous here, just not at all frilly or frou-froued up.
L. L is for Liberal, Liberatarian and (flinty) Lobstermen … To explain – I was listening to a radio show called ‘Wait, wait – don’t tell me’ which I am a slave to and it was broadcasting from Rhode Island (more later) and the presenter ran through the traits of the various states that make up New England …. Vermont, he declared is full of Liberals (Bernie Sanders is their Senator as a clue), New Hampshire full of Liberatarians, Maine has a population of flinty lobstermen and Massachusetts is full of smug jerks. I couldn’t possibly comment. Really I could not except of course to graciously disagree whilst noting that a term often used for Massachusetts by outsiders is, I’m rather afraid to share ‘the masshole’, so skipping smoothly on I will tell you that L is assuredly for Lobster. The often rugged coastline of New England is a haven for seafood and lobster is the unabashed monarch of revered crustacea. Even MacDonalds trots out Lobster Rolls in season (and has the decency NOT to call it a ‘MacLob’) and there are little stands dotted liberally on the roadside where you can chomp a freshmade bun bulging with lobster meat. Or you can eat in any one of a multitude of restaurants maybe gently lulled, maybe mildly grated by a percussive symphony of crunching claw-crackers. Lobster is part of every gathering at home or away. In Maine they doubtless feel theirs is superior and I shall just smile beatifically and remember that this is my KO and I don’t want a right-hook to blot my lobster pot this late in my stay. L would not be L without three references to Lights. Holiday season has descended and the lights are beginning to blaze. And this is a blue-chip five star blaze. Most get it just right … sparkling but not too showy – subtle with a just the right amount of glitz to remind us all that this IS the season to be jolly. But the few just don’t know when enough is too much and I cannot begin to imagine what the electricity bill is like in January for the homes with not just a light on every corner of the inside and outside of the house and every bush and tree and inch of picket fence but also the seemingly compulsory blow up santa, snowman, reindeer, snoopy, spongebob, minion AND christmas tree. Some are actually bigger than the house and I genuinely kid you not. The other L for Light which it would be wrong of me not to mention is the traffic light. Now call me old fashioned and a little naive but I really do think that there is a value in putting the things on a pole (particularly in the French way which is to have minature set at eye level as well as the big bazookas atop the sturdy stick (or indeed high above the road on a stonking beam). Here, they are strung like cumbersome fairy lights on strings across the street. And when the wind blows they dance scarily above you and in any event if you are first in line it is impossible to see what colour is beckoning you without sitting with ones head cocked sideways like a curious parakeet. And when they change it is straight from red to green with no amber to help you compose for the off, so the next thing, if you have foolishly decided to rest your aching skewed neck for a moment is a rude blast of the horn from the vast truck behind you almost certainly driven by a person who would come up to my navel but who, on account of the sheer beef of the vehicle, truly scare me. This maybe designed to get me moving but is tragically likely to produce a magnificent kangaroo-leap of a stall. And it doesn’t end there. I’m used to turning right on red now but for the first couple of months my nerves were so frayed that my hair started to shed …. red means STOP where I come from but here, unless expressly forbidden by a sign you are free to turn if the road is clear. And let me be very clear. It works REALLY well once you get over the fear factor but the road to being comfortable with it is extremely anxious. And the third L for Light are the lighthouses that dot the coast of New England. And mesmerically lovely they are.
M. M is not merely for moving swiftly on, M must be for Massachusetts (or Massive Chewsets as I amusingly call it when on my own in a darkened room). This is where the Pilgrim Fathers landed in the Mayflower in 1620, this is where Paul Revere rode through the night to warn that the English were on their way to quash the rebellion, this is where the Boston Tea Party took place and this is where the M for Minute Men mustered and lay in wait, a lethal militia fired up and ready to take unfettered ownership of the land they had colonised for their very own and let no faraway King tax them. And M is for Maine where we spent a blissful few days in May and where I experienced not a single Flinty Lobsterman but rather a population of hardworking, decent and laid back people who live in a corner of Heaven in my opinion. If you are British think Cornwall, if you are French think Brittany …. it has the strongest echoes of both on it’s coastline and we didn’t even begin to explore inland. And it has Acadia (which sounds very Greek and necessitates images of Pan posing with his pipes on little cloven feet with those rather muscle-bound furry legs of his) which is a small but perfectly formed National Park where you can climb a mountain and look over the sea all in one piece and the granite is pink and I could lose myself in it forever. In early Autumn I was confused by signs popping up everywhere for large or small M for Mums … being a mum myself and probably on the larger taller side of mumkind I was disappointed that my retail value was a paltry $5. Eventually the predicatably slow penny dropped in my pint-sized brain and I understood that they are crysanthemums and they adorn porches and entranceways and verandas alongside plethoras of plump pumkins and their entrancing tiny baby cousins and really do herald the change of seasons. In France crystanthemums are put on graves for tousaint and I wonder how such different meanings became attached to the flowers beloved of batallions of Grannies in England and only recently revived as retrotastic there.
N. N is for New York. When our youngest daughter was staying in the last gulp of summer we breezed down and back for a weekend. Taking the Greyhound from Boston (and yes I do know it should be Pittsburg) gave me the opportunity to tire my travelling companions with endless dronings of ‘America’, the Simon and Garfunkel classic. Given that we set out at 4 a.m one day and got home just 45 hours later, it’s unsurprising that I was a split hairsbreadth from the upper cut to KO me on Broadway. We did what we set out to do. We mingled in Times Square, we marvelled at the Empire State (though my Sleepless in Seattle moment will have to wait for another day), we ate monumental and complicated sandwiches in a steaming, noisy deli and I revelled in yelling ‘hold the mustard, extra pickles on the side’ just because I could , we stayed in a tiny appartment in Hells Kitchen, we took the Subway to Harlem, we strolled in Central Park and we took the ferry to Ellis Island stopping to nod to Liberty herself and note that unlike most extremely large statues I did not get my usual creeping feeling of anxst driven unease but rather I found her gentle, unyielding gaze to be comforting. Ellis Island is levelling, moving, disturbing and hugely evocative. And I cannot close our speed-dating moment in the Big Apple without mentioning the 9/11 Memorial. I do not have the words in my frail armoury. It steals your breath in that silent lightening way that only the most iconic places can. I have my memories, I am sure you do too of where you were the day the horror show played out and our lives changed forever. This is a beautifully worked, utterly fitting remembering of those whose lives permanently transformed in the worst way possible either by their own deaths or through their own loss or by being there. And do you know what it really speaks of? It speaks of hope. Which resoundingly smacks the trivia of life into perspective.
O. O is for Ocean State. The Ocean State is Rhode Island, smallest state in the Union and not actually an Island. Go do your own research … I’ve taken far too much of your time already. We visited very briefly a few weeks ago so that I could say I’ve had a foot in every State in New England and I can report that the diner we visited was top notch. We popped into Providence (the State Capital) and took the compulsory foolish-grinning picture of self in RI. I mostly know it, though for the joys of Ocean State Job Lot (Strapline ‘A lot more, for less) … these discount stores are a little like pound stores in Britain. They have what they have and when it’s gone it’s gone in general though some things, including many groceries remain. I buy teabags in Ocean State. Proper Tetley red boxed tea. Strong tea. Tea you can add a dash of milk to, in a sturdy mug and have your spoon stand to attention. Tea to put hairs on your chest. Tea that we proudly call ‘Builders Tea’ where I come from. Not that insipid almost transparent scared of it’s own shadow fake tea that is generally called ‘black tea’ here and ‘thé noir’ in France and is very nice with a slice of lemon or indeed stark naked (the tea, not the drinker – though who am I to stop you except to caution against scalds) as are the ‘infusions’ beloved of the French and the various fruit and flavoured and green teas equalled revered here. But first thing in the morning, when my life-skills only barely stretch to kettle-teabag-mug-pour-milk-drink it is the toothcurling tanin of a British Teabag that I need.
And on that note, I will finish today’s jog through the alphabet and go and brew a proper cuppa.
PS: I couldn’t possibly leave you without a rendition of the song that nearly had me butchered in Hell’s Kitchen by Two Brains and the youngest bratling. And by the way, the man in the gabardine suit was certainly a spy …
The top and bottom pictures were taken in the Minute Man National Historical Park very close to where we live. In summer – the third season I passed here
To recap – I will be leaving this New World on Thursday 1st December, exactly a year after I arrived from Europe. To celebrate my year here I am making a little tribute to what I will miss and what I won’t miss so much, by way of an alphabetic account surgically divided into five to be posted on my five last days. If you want to catch up simply type ‘The Question is’ into the search box and you will be magically transported to my plentious tome. Procrastination, get behind me … here come my Foxtrot to Juliet tidily presented in their rightful order:
F. F is for Freedom. And before you think I am going into a diatribe about the land of the free or freedom of the individual or freedom of speech, rein in your horse because I’m not. If you only know me a little by now you surely know that making such political statements is not my style. Mostly. I’ve got as many dents in my halo as the next girl and satin knickers can make the best of us slide off our pedestal from time to time but in general and particularly when I am a guest (as I have been here), I keep my mouth and my typing fingers taped. So F is for the Freedom Trail The Freedom Trail runs through Boston for 2 ½ miles and leads you through the area where as Bostonians have it, history was made and the course of the world changed forever. And I can’t argue. In effect what you are seeing are the collection of places that formed the end of English occupation and rule and successful struggle for Independent free rule for the people who had made this place their home. That the people are proud of it is entirely justified, athough I do think the term Boston Massacre might be a teeny bit optimistic for a death toll of 5 at the hands of some British soldiers which in terms of modern gun crimes in this country is frankly feeble. Ooops – sorry, I said I wouldn’t be provocative so on that note I will step decorously back into my gilded cage and recommend anyone who ever has the chance, to visit Boston which is undeniably a beautiful city and assuredly oozes and reeks the history on which this great nation was built.
G. G is for Gobbler. In my recent post on Thanksgiving and Christmas, I talked a fair bit about Turkeys. What I didn’t mention is that for me, the live wild ones register high on the excitement richter scale when I spot them. You’ll round a corner and come to a halt as a rafter of them saunter casually from one side of the road to the other, you can spot posses of them pecking idly in gardens and cemetaries and it is common to stumble upon a gang of them in a parking lot seemingly preparing to queue for a donut or pick up some groceries. The collective nouns for Turkeys, by the way, are rafter, gang or posse which conjures marvellous images of the Wild West for me and a gang of turkeys-gone-bad in secret locations high in the rocky wilderness, plotting their next violent bank robbery whilst the good-guy turkeys collected together by the Pinkertons are gathering in a posse to bring these no-goods to justice. I haven’t decided whether there are horses involved nor if it is safe to allow them a saloon … would alcohol just make it ugly? Anyway, back on point – imagine my delight that on Thanksgiving morning, aided by my amazing Allard Brace which enables me to walk and run as elegantly as I did before my accident, which is not to say that I will ever be graceful but simply that it is my normal gait rather than the comedy-clumsy carriage caused by being left with ‘drop foot’, honestly imagine my delight as I lined up to run our local Turkey Trot which is riotously called ‘The Gobbler’. I truly gave thanks at the end when I picked up my time and it was only seconds slower than I had been before my sorry tale of busted leg woe and that Gobbler has spurred me on to knowing that I can get back to full fitness which in turn means I am able to pursue a couple of personal goals that I had thought had been crushed. Back to the feathered colossi …. my husband was almost taken out by a low-flying one not so long ago – in the retelling it seemed to resemble one of those huge, lumbering Lancaster Bombers en route to the Rühr Valley to release Barnes Wallace’s recently perfected bouncing bombs to destroy the Möhner and Edersee Dams. In this case, the bomber had failed to gain sufficient altitude and was heading straight for the windscreen of the car. Given the sheer bulk of the birds in question I am confident that a lucky strike would have been extremely unlucky for them both. I am also relieved that it didn’t release an egg in its moment of horror when eyeball to eyeball with Two Brains it thought it had gobbled it’s last …
H. H is for Halloween. In Britain and in France Halloween is creeping in and becoming a tradition but I can honestly say that Europeans have an awfully long way to go before they can say they are fully conversant with this bad boy. For a start, I have never EVER seen so many pumpkins. And practically every house is decorated with jackolanterns and black cats and witches and ghouls and sinister cobwebs and whilst trick or treating is, I am told, mildly on the decline, you still witness tiny, small and slightly larger children dressed as every conceivable and many inconceivable incarnations of their own or their parents imaginings, with their predictably enormous bags to contain the booty that is on offer at all houses not inhabited by grouches (whose porch lights tend to be forthrightly turned OFF). Many communities have special events and they are all about Fancy Dress. If you are a runner, expect to run in costume if an event falls on or around Halloween. And the next day …. the day that I thought I would nip in and pick up a cut price pumpkin to put out for the critters. Gone. Not a pumpkin to be had. Whether this was because the locust hoards had grabbed every last one or whether it was because they are swept away to make way for Thanksgiving and pies of every conceivable type imaginable (and some that shouldn’t BE imagined) I know not. But I do know that my smart plan to feed the squirrels backfired and I shall have to be niftier another time.
H is also for Harvard which in reality is the reason I am here. Two Brains is a well-seasoned Harvard boffin and has been these past 27 years. That is why he is here and that, by proxy is why I am here. But Harvard as you quickly discover is NOT in Harvard. Harvard is a lovely town just west of where we live and contains a place called Fruitlands Museum which provoked my recent borderline obsession with birds (more later). Harvard University is in Cambridge which in a personal way is fortuitous. I’m English born and from Oxford. Cambridge are Oxford’s arch rivals. When I was introduced to my husband I presumed, knowing he was a Professor, that when he said he was based in Cambridge he meant OUR Cambridge and although that is a teeny hike West to East in England it is inconsequential in the context of facilitating the possible blossoming of a romance. Call me slow. Call me dense, dopey or downright retarded but the fact is that it was quite some while later that I realised that he actually meant Cambridge Massachusetts …. fortunately by that time I was a sufficiently smitten kitten to fling caution aside, ignore the doubters who gave grave warnings about a long distance relationship and these few years later, I can graciously report that it was the best decision of my life. Kismet dresses in many kimonos but tends to favour an open heart.
I. I is for Ice-cream. Mainly it is for Ice-Cream parlours like Erikssons just over our town line. These shrines open up some time in April each year and close again at the end of summer presumably when the student workforce returns to school. The array of flavours is staggering and the size of a single scoop is positively swoon-worthy. I always have two. On summer nights people gather in their cars and park up in the heat and pick up dessert on the fly. For me it is the most delightful incarnation of what I imagine American Tradition to be. I’m from the Happy Days, American Grafitti, Grease era and these places somehow seem to evoke that time in my past when I dreamed of being in an imagined American dreamland dancing, cruising in an open top car with a bench front seat and being what seemed to be the epitome of free-as-a-bird young. Envision my glee when my daughter was staying and we took her for one last ice-cream before she flew back to England and a whole platoon of vintage forties and fifties cars paraded into the lot. The owners were delighted that we wanted to take pictures and affably invited us to sit in the cars ‘that’s the whole point of having it’ said one. Sadly the pictures are on HB2’s phone and despite having a cavernous intellect he has never been fully in control of a cell-phone and thus they are entombed and I can only offer my meagre descriptive powers to try and evoke them to life.
J. J is for Jeopardy. It’s fair to say that I am obsessed with this iconic quiz show. Alex Trebeck hosts us 5 or 6 nights a week and I sit glued and giving my answers in the acknowledged style. For the unititiated this means that if the answer is a person you must preface with ‘who is’ and if it is anything else you preface ‘what is’. In Britain we had a programme called ‘Mastermind’ and my definition of a triumph was when I answered a question in a contestent’s specialist subject (in other words they were some sort of an expert) round correctly which they either couldn’t answer or got wrong. My definition of a triumph here is when I can answer a question on Americana correctly that none of the contestants get right. This tends to bring forth an unseemly whoop and sadistic grin and I transform into something eerily resembling Ghengist Khan after a successful pillage. And this is probably why it is time for me to take a gracious pause from this country and leave you all in peace for while. But not before I have noted that J is also for Jelly which I call Jam and Jello which I call Jelly. And J is for Jiffy-Lube. This is a national chain and I am sure they are absolutely wonderful but I can assure you that we would never EVER call a place by that name in England for the same reason as in France it is unwise to ask for Vaseline …. we tend to associate the word lube with something you slather on your nethers when the lights are dim, the music breathy and the atmosphere hot. Which explains why this overgrown schoolgirl has a peurile snigger to self everytime I pass one ….
PS: You surely were waiting with breath a-baited for the predictable PS and never one to disappoint, here it is. Jeopardy first came to my attention unwittingly in the marvellous movie What is ‘The Bucket List’ with the incomparible Who is Jack Nicholson and Who is Morgan Freeman (whose character -Who is Carter Chambers – is as obsessed as I with What is Jeopardy) – here’s a snippet if you care to watch it.
The top and bottom pictures were taken in Spring the second season I experienced here.
On Thursday, I will have been here for exactly a year and to mark this significant anniversary I will be leaving on a jetplane not knowing when I’ll be back again. As it rightly should, that decision rests with the venerable United States Customs and Immigration Service.
It has been a captivating sojourn in many ways and so as I prepare to depart, I leave you with an alphabetic homage to the melting pot of things that I’ve loved muchly, not loved quite so muchly and been altogether bemused by whilst living an everyday life in this USA.
Not wishing to tax you, I’ve divided the alphabet into 5 almost even chunks so today we have the Alpha to Echo of ‘Osyth Stateside’:
A. Let’s start at the very beginning, which is, Miss Andrews tells us, a very good place to start! A is for American and the first thing you learn here is that being American means a micro-awareness of your heritage which one is given by way of introduction. ‘Hi, I’m Delores O’Fanakapan …. my father was Irish-American and my mother was German-American but my Great Great Great Great Grandfather was actually Swedish-American’. The builder who is working on this house is Italian-American and always says ‘ciao’ at the end of every conversation but was entirely confused when I spoke to him in Italian. He’s not Italian. His ancestors were. You can buy an Ancestry DNA kit for $99. I’m altogether tempted …. Which brings me to A is for Accent. To be very clear, I don’t have an accent … I speak what the British would regard as BBC English circa a distant and all but forgotten epoque, but here my accent is an object of fascination. My husband has a Scouse (person from Liverpool) accent, particularly when folded into the bosom of his family, and sounds entirely different to me. I would be ribbed as posh in Liverpool, but here we collectively have a British accent. It’s not unsual for people to simply not understand us. Therefore I have developed a sort of verbal tick – I automatically repeat what I have just said but very very slowly and a little too loudly. And I smile. A lot. As for the language of American English – that deserves a post all of it’s own and it shall get one. Suffice for now that I speak American like a Spanish Cow in the same way as I speak French comme une vache espagnole.
B. B is for Beaver … they live here and are probably no more exciting than a badger is to a Brit but for me they are a source of amazement and delight. From their tree felling to their lodge building to watching them silkily cutting through the water and stealthily, silently diving under for a quite breathcapturing length of time in the river at the end of the road I am captivated and I will miss them deeply and achingly. I would include B is for Bear because we have had recent sitings in our town but I haven’t seen one yet so it feels a little like cheating. Instead I will say that B is also for Biscuits which is VERY confusing for a well dragged up English gal. A biscuit is what I call a scone and I would serve it with butter and jam and if I was feeling greedily decadent, clotted cream, but here it is served with gravy which isn’t even vaguely brown but palest creamy white and it has bacon or sausage broken up in it. What I call a biscuit you call a cookie. Biscuit means twice cooked, cookie’s are definitely once cooked because they are delectably chewie and often absolutely gargantuan. Biscuits in my venacular are dry and snappy. Rather like me. It’s fine though, no hard feelings – I’m very happy with your biscuits and I’m extremely satisfied with those cookies. And I do know that you know about scones too … and may I say that B probably should belong to Baking because heavens to betsy you people can bake!
C. C is for Critters … where I, as an English girl have wildlife in my garden you have critters in your yards. And they are all SO cute! C is especially for Chipmunks with their tails at 90 degrees to their bodies like a flagpole and those squidgeable little stripey faces … honestly and surely, no-one could say they are not adorable. I had one in the kitchen on a hot day in summer. I don’t know who was more surprised. Fortunately The Soporific Bean didn’t notice …. The critters here include skunks (they walk SO slowly and awkwardly it is hardly surprising that they get rolled over on the roads a fact that is signalled by their singular stench from a great distance) there are turtles and frogs and bullfrogs that belch and groan in chorus all night long in summer, which I find surprisingly restful, and we have a groundhog that lives under our shed, there are raccoons (generally referred to as bandits) with their masked faces and little leather gloved hands and pink tailed oppossums and there are squirrels – big fat bruising greys that are sometimes black and look like they’ve been pumping iron and steroids and little red ones that nip about at a crazy pace and treat me to their finest squirrel pose when they find nuts or corn to nibble. We also have ground squirrels which I believe to be the love-child of a red squirrel and a chipmunk – perhaps I should try Ancestry.com DNA on one ….
D. D is for Diner. I worship at these holy temples. They vary of course but the good ones …. with wonderful staff who fill your cup with coffee tirelessly and cook breakfasts and lunches or that combined wonderment called Brunch … eggs, bacon, sausage, home-fries and a short stack with oozing butter and smothered in maple syrup must rate as one of the finest of fodders the world over. And the opportunity to eavestrop on the best of intimate conversations ranging from politics to pumpkins and cosmetics to contractors is irrisitible. Or I could drive by D for Dunkin’ Donuts (‘America runs on Dunkin’ if you didn’t know) but my husband doesn’t. In fact recently at our nearest Mall and suffering from terrible bun-lag (a condition discovered by my mother many decades ago which is that moment when you are shopping and you start to fade and only cake will revive you), I persuaded him to queue with me at the Dunkin’ (by the way I don’t think there is a single community, plaza or mall n Massachusetts, birthplace of Dunkin’, that doesn’t sport it’s own, however small) … he is a man of fastidious palette and I don’t think a Dunkin’ has ever passed his lips – I was so sooooo tempted to go for the Reeses Peanut Butter filled caramel topped cream donut but the look of absolute and abject pain and disgust on his face made me volte face and opt instead for a sober plain pumpkin ring. It was nice. It was really nice but the regret will live with me ever more (or until I can sneak one on my own and guzzle it in solitary splendour some day over the rainbow).
E. E has to be for Election (that Presidential one in case you are in any doubt) but only to note two things. The first is that I have been genuinely privileged to be able to follow the proceedings at first hand from Primaries to President. And a privilege it is. I noted once before, in France, that my opinion is of no interest to anyone but I was fortunate to see it with my own eyes – watch entire news programmes, read several newspapers and journals, watch the ‘Town Halls’, the debates and the interviews, speak to people whose country it is and who were going to vote for someone, as the spectacle, a gruesome bloodbath that might have been more fitting to an amphitheatre full of baying Romans watching Christians wrestle lions and Gladiators Gladiating, unfolded. I feel extremely lucky and my American friends who have been embarrassed by the antics and apologised – please, there is no need. To be in a country which is electing it’s leader rather than in another gathering snippets and thinking you have the facts is a quite amazing opportunity and I am glad I was here. What I was horrified at was the manner in which the media conducted itself and I do hope that a little less partisan behavior might ensue one day. Sadly, I think it won’t. In fact I have often noted that the British have an unfortunate knack of embracing the worst of this side of the Atlantic whilst seemingly being blind to the many wonderful things they could grasp and cleeve to and it seems the British media is becoming smitten with the same tune so I fear we just have to go with it and try to retain our own faculties sufficiently to understand when we are being beaten round the head with someone else’s opinions rather than being given a plateful of news to sort out in our own sweet way. E is also for Enormous. I thought of making B for Big but it simply doesn’t cover it. Everything is humungous. Cars, trucks, cups of coffee, meals out, banners (starspangled and otherwise), TVs, houses – everything is just so much bigger than I am used to and on occasion I have felt like Alice after embibing the cherry tart, custard, roasted turkey, toffee and hot buttered toast spritzer and shrunk herself to teeny tiny. We drive a mini cooper which is possibly not helpful. And E is for Eggs. I’ll take mine over easy …
So there you have it a little stroll through a few of my favourite things and a nod to my not so favourite. Meet me back here tomorrow and I’ll treat you to my F-J if you can stand it.
PS: The title is from Henry David Thoreau in a journal that he started at the suggestion of his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson. You cannot, simply cannot be here in this corner of New England without getting immersed in the pair of them. Thoreau’s impact on modern American thinking cannot be underestimated and it is a further joy to me to have been able to walk in his footsteps on more than one occasion.
The first and last pictures were both taken in Winter when I first arrived.