Sunday, July 30, 2006

Hometown Ohio

A very early Thursday morning (13th July) meant we were able to catch a 6:30am flight to Pittsburgh. This was an early enough flight for a commuter, let alone two young boys. Arriving at Pittsburgh international airport (Philadelphia), we were met by friend and Paul’s former employer, David, who was to drive us to Salem, Ohio

When we told people that we were flying to Ohio for the weekend, this was invariably met with a look of incredulity, a pause, then a hesitant “Well… have fun!” Then when met by David, he apologised profusely for making us meet up with him in Ohio. We started to sense that Ohio might not be the ‘hot-spot’ state of the USA. The belief that Luc only threw up in American cars was then shattered when he lost his stomach contents in a Volvo. There goes the European-car-steady-stomach theory. 

We arrived in Salem, checked into the Timberlanes Motel Inn and met up with Bernadette (David’s wife) and their children Aiden (8yo) and Mikayla (5yo). A quick lunch in the Hotel’s restaurant was followed by a walk to David’s parent’s house. The children had a great time hanging out together, playing on the swing, rolling on the lawn, watering the garden and generally being rambunctious. 

Salem is a beautiful old town with some very historic and grand buildings and homes. The land is gently undulating with many established parks and gardens. As is evident in many of the country’s older towns, gardens have no boundaries (fences) and there is a sense of houses sitting in an expansive parkland of lush green lawn with magnificent trees. The low density of housing has a major drawback: a heavy reliance on vehicle usage leading to a distinct lack of footpaths (sidewalks). This meant that a good proportion of our walk was actually on the road.

Salem residents have a strong German ancestry and the town has an evident Quaker heritage (named after Quaker settlement in New Jersey). The town has been a major manufacturing centre, particularly for porcelain and plastic products but has witnessed an economic decline in the past years, meaning a rise in unemployment and migration away. 

We attended some very ‘American’ institutions during our stay as we were there to witness Salem’s Bicentennial. These included the following: A Strawberry Festival dinner at the First United Methodist Church Hall, (menu consisting of: hotdogs, sloppy joes, sweet ham sandwiches, coleslaw, fresh apple sauce, cherry pie, ice-cream and strawberries). Although attended by all ages, a definite demographic became apparent when we walked in to see a sea of white hair. Saturday morning we attended the Frank A. Zamarelli Sr. Memorial Pancake Breakfast put on by the local Red Cross, this served several purposes including a local get-together, a fund-raiser and a means of enticing potential blood donors. We even partook in the wares from a ‘Lemonaid’ stand set up on the footpath outside someone’s house. 

We were a little too late to see some hot air balloons close-up, but these were very impressive when viewed en masse from a distance. We walked down the main street to see the wares of an OId Fashioned Sidewalk Sale, and visited the annual vintage and collectables Kiwianis Antique Show under the shade of some magnificent trees in beautiful Centennial Park. We had lunch with David’s parents at the Salem Golf Club followed by an afternoon of swimming in the Club’s pool. We even made it to the Wallaby’s Grille for a beer. The menu made me laugh with ‘Australian’ food items with a distinctive Cajun, Mexican and Hawaiian influence. Try ‘Tasmanian Wings’, ‘Dunk Island Pretzels’ ‘Oz Quesadilla’ ‘Mildura Ribs’ and lots of items with the title ‘Cobber’ or ‘Wally’. 

The piece-de-resistance was the Bicentennial Grande Parade on Saturday evening. EVERYONE attended this. Chairs had been placed in the prime viewing positions the day before. We sat near the end of the procession on the lawn of a friend of David’s parents.  All manner of local businesses and clubs took part, including the current festival queen and attendants, and those from 50 years ago! Abundant fire engines, services vehicles, marching bands and floats made for a colourful and vibrant procession. The copious candy flung from parade participants ensured that the interest of children was maintained.

Bernadette volunteered to drive us to Pittsburgh Saturday evening. We were so appreciative as it was a long drive there (and back) and we were all suitably exhausted (thank you so much Bernadette!) We had found a 4 star hotel in Pittsburgh through Hotwire, and although more expensive than we wanted to pay, we thought it was all worth it when we lay in our comfy beds (that didn’t try to ‘kill’ us as the Timberlane’s had tried to do to David), and were central enough to do some very fast tourist sight-seeing the next morning. This involved a walk through Pittsburgh’s theatre district to Point State Park (at the junction of the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio Rivers), and the site of the original Fort Pitt (after British Prime Minister Pitt and origin of Pittsburgh’s name) where we were able to view several Pittsburgh landmarks including the Carnegie Museum, Heinz Field (home of Steelers and Panthers football teams) and PNC Park (home of Pirates baseball team). 

It was such a shame that our plane was delayed by three hours as it would have meant the boys (and us) were not so bored hanging around the airport and would have enabled us to visit the Andy Warhol Museum, other Carnegie museums or the National Aviary – some must-sees of Pittsburgh – oh well, another time perhaps… 

We arrived home, eventually, in time for dinner, some unpacking, and ended up collapsing into bed. We had a wonderful weekend, great company, heaps to keep the kids entertained and some great memories.

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Shoulder embrace

A very simple thing that seems to have caught us out in an embarrassing way is the shoulder embrace (for want of a better description). A few times when involved in a greeting, or leaving a situation with new acquaintances – our guest or host has leaned in for an embrace. This has seen us automatically, without thinking, kiss, or brush their cheek with our lips. 

Of course, the level of intimacy differs in Australia, but the norm is a single kiss placed on the cheek, just brushing the cheek or possibly an ‘air kiss’ with a sound of a kiss delivered close to the cheek. Kisses on the lips are usually reserved for family members, although I do have a couple of friends (male and female, and a little older) that place a kiss full on the lips during a greeting and parting. A loud and ostentatious air kiss is often parodied with reference to friendships of a superficial nature or with ‘affected’ or pretentious people. 

The ‘kiss’ part of a greeting does not seem to be what is done here. The hug is shoulder contact only, and it has been a little embarrassing when the kiss part is not reciprocated. Our friend Gretchen helped diffuse the situation a little when Paul ‘went the peck’ and told us that “We are not big on kissing here”. Of course there are exceptions. We have friends, Ann and Allen, a married couple who kiss the cheek during an embrace… Perhaps it is because they are from Virginia (in the east) and non-kissing is a mid-west thing? I will have to look into this. 

It reminds me of the situation in France with the multiple kiss. The number of kisses is totally dependent upon where one is from in France. In Paris, two kisses is the norm, four in some places to the west, and three when down south. I definitely take the lead from the French, but it is well understood that a multiple kiss of some predetermined number is to be expected, with little regard to age, gender or social standing. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

A typical week

Just how do we spend our time during the week? We have some structure to our week, but largely it is played by ear (or by the weather). This is an account of a typical week (lately). 

Monday sees us trek off to a local book shop Barnes & Noble. The fact that it is local, by no way means that it is a small intimate shop. It is an equivalent to Borders in size and selection - it even has a coffee shop. (Coincidentally, the local Borders is just a block away). We attend a story time with a lovely lady, Denise, reading several books to a rapt audience of pre-schoolers and babies. Luc and Nic love this and Luc loves to fetch books that grab his attention. Mostly about Cars at the moment. Mummy loves this outing and is usually seduced into making a book purchase, after feeding Nic over a cup of coffee. 

The last couple of Tuesdays has seen Luc attend an art class. This is held at the Old Town School of Folk Music. The teacher, Laura, reads a story and the art lesson revolves around a theme from the story using a variety of media to construct a picture. Media can include a mix of crayon, sequins and costume jewels, beads, seeds, pipe cleaners, foam shapes, geometric shapes of paper, and paint applied with a variety of brushes, foam shapes, etc.  This is a lot of fun. Our friends Polly and her son Callan have been attending these sessions for some time. Recently we made a visit to Adams Water Park after class with Polly and Callan. This park provides a great opportunity for a bit of water play. Swimming pools are in very short supply here. 

Wednesdays, in the past, have included a trip down to the Zoo to see Mr Singer. Mr Singer is a very energetic kids performer who plays a selection of original and standard songs accompanied by his guitar. Luc’s enthusiasm for this has waned a little so we haven’t done this recently. If we do make it, we catch up with friend Gabrielle and her two sons (James & William) and Leslie (and son Colin), for a walk around the Zoo, a train ride, and perhaps a ride on the carousel.  

Thursdays is a day to do… whatever. We often visit a park. The favourites being Jonquil, Pirate Ship (Supera), Sunshine, Oz, Zoo (Cummings) Parks. Last Thursday we caught a bus downtown. I took Luc out for sushi at Marshall Fields before heading to the Crown Fountain for some fun splashing around. This was followed by a visit to the The Art Institute of Chicago. I had brought the boys here during the winter months. The institute has an excellent collection of modern art including some very famous Picasso, Dali, Magritte, Miro, Cezanne, Gauguin and Monet works. I am looking forward to seeing American Gothic when it is back on display. Luc likes the collection of suits of armour (just like Shrek wears). 

Friday sees us attend Playgroup with a group of mums and kids of a similar age to Luc and Nicolas. Play Group can take place at someone’s house, but is taking place in a park or the Zoo now that the weather is good. Our friends at playgroup include (mums first): Deb, Emily & Rachel; Ann, Hannah & Joshua; Margaret, Liam & Fiona; Mary & Elly; Rina, Logan & Max. I really look forward to this session as a means of venting… oh, and the kids get to play with others! The mums at Playgroup have made us feel oh-so-welcome and provide a path towards sanity when it sometimes appears so very far away. 

Saturday is a family day. We have been taking the boys to Paul’s gym to swim in the kids pool. This pool is predominantly for kids and has a number of pool toys, basket ball hoops, and even includes a spa bath. Family changing rooms, toiletries (shampoo, deodorant, combs, hairdryers) and all the towels you can possibly use make this a very convenient facility. Depending upon the time, we sometimes have lunch at the rooftop BBQ with freshly grilled fish, chicken, burgers, salad bar… 

Sunday: we like to go out for breakfast when we can. Last Sunday we tried out the Golden Nugget Pancake Restaurant. This is the classic American Diner experience with booth seating, huge menu, cheap fare and open 24 hours. Perfect for a family – particularly when colouring sheets and crayons are delivered upon being seated. We ate well and our appetite was sated for hours!  In the afternoon, we went north to visit Deb & Mark and their family (including grand parents Rich & Charlotte visiting from Virginia) for a Playgroup family get-together. This was a great opportunity to meet the Dads, and for the Dads to meet their children’s playmates. We had a lovely time eating BBQ and being able to speak adult speak without having to constantly watch the children. All the children were SO well behaved – very commendable given a crowd of 9 kids! 

Photo: Chicago skyline at night. Looking south from cocktail lounge in John Hancock Centre.