Sunday, 27 December 2009

Speaking out of my Foggy Bottom

Foggy Bottom. Thankfully not on our list of symptoms after a few days of yule-tide overindulgence but the name of our area. Childish perhaps, but there is no end to the smirk that wraps around my face every time I hear my son say it in his phony american accent. The name, alongside the houses on our street conjures up misty cobbles of a politically challenged 18th century America all awash with change and hope and glory. And periwigs. You've got to love a man in periwig. For a full dose of past times we took ourselves, on the build up to the Big Day, to The Mansion at O Street. It's hotch potch website described something along the lines of 100 rooms and 20 secret passages. The graphics were a multicoloured assault on the senses but I was hooked. My family followed me to it, somewhat reticently I have to admit, in all fairness I suppose because to be honest I couldn't really tell them exactly what we were going to see. I think Cory was indulging me purely so he could tease me for the rest of the visit if I had made another slightly oblique choice of attraction. We arrived at the heavy wooden door at the entrance to an imposing brownstone (which actually looked rather more red than brown but perhaps this is a translation thing again) and it suddenly swung open. We all jumped a little in spite of ourselves (ok I jumped) but the young lady who greeted us and invited us into the open house soon put us at ease. Once in we were at first greeted by the biggest lowest hung chandelier I have ever seen in my life. At least two metres in diameter a vision in sparkliness casting twinkly brightness over the table below it set ostentatiously for 40 tea-partiers. "Everything you see is for sale" she informs us casting a quick sweep of her arm towards the hundreds of paintings fighting for attention on the high walls and the five or six antique sofas lazing around the space basking in the wintry sun shafting in through the enormous bay windows. "Please explore at your leisure," she continues. And we were off.

Fifty rooms and twenty secret bookshelved secret doors later the family and I were on a mansion house high. Each room theatricality decorated by somebody who has let their imagination run wild. Think golds, sparkles, antiques, fabrics brushed together with dramatic carpets and paintings and lamps and more ands than even I can fill a sentence with. It was like stepping into a designer's imagination before any budget or taste constraints. Each of the bedrooms was offered as part of their hotel service with breakfast taking place, I presumed in the upstairs kitchen, a frenetic mix of 19th century and 1950s furniture with a good measure of 1980s grey black open plan kitchen mixed in for good measure. "Where are we?!" we all gasped at each other basking as we were in our childlike wander of the crazy place.

After we had desperately tried to memorise everything, including the billiard room on the top floors, the log cabin room and the bath perched half way up a wall with secret staircase hidden underneath. It was like nothing I had ever seen before and deeply satisfying. No fodder for Cory this time at least. We followed our visit with a "calming" shot of espresso and once the boy and grandma were comfortably ensconced indoors for a nice evening together the man and I hit the town. I had made reservations for a table by the fireplace at a restaurant named 1789. What can I say? I was having an 18th century kind of day. We arrived at the georgian house huddled on the corner of a beautiful crossroads of a couple of quiet georgetown backstreets. Gas lights flickered at the entrance door and friendly faces greeted us and showed us to our table. There were only about twenty tables set for dinner and the service was indulgently relaxed. No slamming out the food or speed induced indigestion here. We sipped a cocktail, a pre appetiser came (I am a sucker for little un-requested tastes of thingys. Chef's doodles) followed by a little pattie flash fried pork cheek creation of the most mouth watering sort. The wait staff were all bow tied but when our waitress realised we would be sharing our appetiser and second course she had the food divided onto two plates. I asked her whether the chef was cursing our cheap skate ways. She politely humoured me by trying to reassure me that most people do the same. I still don't buy it. The home made miniature sweet potato gnocchi that followed alongside our main courses of pheasant and to-die-for rack of lamb was then served by another waiter with the voice of a late night radio DJ. When we sat at the bar afterwards and closed the restaurant (the staff found out we had grandma babysitting so kept filling our glasses for free) we asked him what he did in real life. He told us he was a late night radio DJ. He also told us we were a cute couple. In unison we replied we are a short couple. Short and talking in unison. A ready made vaudeville double act after all. It was too much even for my own corny sensibilities.

Between then and now we have had a company party, the arrival of my dad and the delight of watching Sammy jump from toe to toe like he was dancing on burning coals when he saw that the "reindeers" had eaten the carrots he had left for them. We may have paused for a brief moment when deciding whether to commit fully to the myth of Santa or to tred the more dour road of reality but in the end we went with the make believe. It's what pays the bills after all. Besides I am very open to the idea that Sam invests in the idea of the unresolved mysteries of life. I refuse to live by physics alone. I am far too romantic for that. Anyway, the boy's reaction was priceless especially when he found a small red racing car as wished for atop the lap of the friendly georgetown santa the boys had met whilst shopping for mummy. Sammy reported back to me immediately whilst Cory took his nap before the show, "We struck out mum, and then we went to a make up shop and found you a -". I stopped him short to teach him step one of secrecy. I will only have myself to blame when he is thirteen. The day itself was delightfully lazy and filled with various games including pre-school bingo (don't believe anyone who tries to convince you it is not as exciting as the one where you win money), prolific finger painting, indoor mini basketball, movie watching and Eating, punctuated by a short speech from the queen over the internet radio. I am not a royalist per se but it was the most English thing aside from christmas pudding that we could think of. Nothing like a bit of british broadcasting to give you a taste of home.

Now we are huddled around the breakfast table steadily dismantling the gingerbread house we so lovingly built only a week or so ago. Everyone is talking at the same time. Dad is delighting in his Young Frankentstein IATSE (I -ya-ts-eeee) shirt. It may sound like a karate club but the name is actually for the stagehand union, members of which within the company are responsible for having the polo shirts made. Sammy is, loudly, describing his Gee Show, a complicated improvisational vaudeville creation with a large cast of make believe performers Bo-Bo Flak-Flak and Maggie amongst the star players. Not without scandal I might add. My son explained that Bo-Bo loves Maggie but hinted that the love was not reciprocated. He then added that he also loved Maggie, "She's a summersaulting kind of girl." Mother approves. Nothing like a prospective daughter-in-law with a bit of zing. Even if she is make believe. Or rather especially because she is make believe. Oh let me not grow up to be one of those mums. Cory is circling around the front door, loudly, pining for coffee filters on their way up with the housekeeping crew, making the sounds of a, loud, hungry dog. My mum is taking it all in whilst her, loud, family crunch a house, play with car and fill the air with noise of their stories. I blog. Slightly frantically, unsociably and perhaps somewhat ill-timed amongst the familiar familial sounds. Tonight we will toast to absent friends after watching the show before our meal in the Kennedy Centre's canteen.

Back to the extended family breakfast - Sam and I started it in hushed tones at 8 so as not to wake the folks, it is now 11. Cory shuffles into consciousness - coffee is finally ready - he breaks off half of the gingerbread roof.

"I am so hungry I could eat a house!" he says.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

On Why's and Who's......

"Why did I hug the actress lady after the show mummy?"

We have just come back from watching Washington Choral's society Family Christmas Concert. Two young actresses, 15 at the most were enacting a Mexican story about children enacting the christmas story. They enacted our little son into a lovestruck trance clearly. I know this because my answer to his question above was:

"I don't know, why did you hug her?"
(I'm training him up to be one of those Knock-Knock gag writers
so he can get himself through college)
And then he, unflinchingly earnest looked me square in the eyes and said, with his brown eyes suddenly chocolate infinity pools,
"Because I love her."

Aaaah. The magic of theatre. That's what we like to see.

It has been a week of revelatory conversations of the like. Usually inspired during post performance de-brief. The other day after watching a free performance in the foyer of the Kennedy centre (a marvel in marble all 1960s glamour and red carpet where a stage in set up complete with proscenium and tabs) Sam asked me what we had just been listening to. I replied that it was a performance by a gospel group, and by the by, goose pimply it was too. When he asked why it was called Gospel I explained a little about Jesus' followers. The next bit of the inquisition went as follows:

"Who is Jesus?"
I take a moment to ponder my answer for clarity and quality control. Before I can offer a response he continues,
"Was he the one saying ladies and gentlemen switch off your phones?"
I gently point our son towards a slightly more commonly accepted opinion of the man and then point out that people tend to pray to all sorts of different people and gods and such like. I don't want to lay it on heavy with the kid, but if he is going to survive life back in London he needs to know not everyone prays to the theatre gods.
"Who do we pray to?"
I take another uncharacteristic pause to think before I jump onto a metaphysical plane at bed time - though in reality this probably is the best time for such discussions. He is in answering his own questions before me yet again. (Note to self: pausing is a good thing on the never ending road of "WHY'S????")

"We pray to Patricia and Susan. Yeah?" he offers.

Let me explain a little more before you think we are conducting ritualistic pagan white witch idolatry, though come to think of it, no no what my son was referring to was our church visit last week. My aunt Patricia died two years ago on December 12th. She was a Catholic (and an expert of Jewish cooking but thats another story) and so mum and I thought it fitting to pay a church a visit and light a candle for her. When we found a cathedral in downtown Chicago we were told that "candle lighting" was only done on certain festivities. Stifling a tear and determined not to break down in front of kindly but slightly officious man in the rectory I managed a quick "Can we at least say a prayer?" he softened and showed us the way in. As we entered the church there were people genuflecting and praying all with luscious red roses in their hands. We came to learn that we had stumbled in towards the end of a service for the Madonna of Guadalupe. A mexican had a vision of the virgin and a festival is celebrated in memory this. No sooner than Sammy had, in his stage Whisper asked whether it was time for him to pray for Patricia than an elderly man came over to the boy, who was fast disappearing behind the pew as he knelt down.
"This is for you sir," he said, offering Sam the rose which was graciously accepted.
We lay the flower on the pew whilst Sam clasped his hands together and closed his eyes looking every inch the novice monk. We sent her our love and other teary thoughts on more love and loss and life. She was cremated with a very simple bouquet of a dozen red roses on her coffin. It all felt, well, quite masterfully orchestrated. She felt, as always so intangibly present.

The explanation of Susan is somewhat different. The short version is that she is the principal of the commune, sorry I mean Waldorf nursery, that Sam went to for a few hours every week in Chicago. She lead the children in a blessing before they ate their lunch, which they had helped to prepare. We have learnt it here in our home, and enjoy saying it every day. I don't sing it in soprano as she did, nor do I wear organic dyed cotton wrap dungaree dresses but the bit about praising Mother Earth gets me every time. I miss our allotment. I like a good praising of the earth and munching on the home grown tis true.

But hey, I have drowned my sorrows in the best way a girl can. Feasting on chocolate in DC's co-co salon. Just those two words in the same sentence oozes luxuriousnessness. So did the crushed latte coloured velvet upholstery, the dimmed lighting, the utter deliciousness of the dark chocolate ganache drinking elixirs. We went for the trio version, in which you get three sherry sized glasses of their various flavours, in our case, dark, milk and salty caramel. Then you sip and ooh and aaaaaah and fly home. Especially if you have a mocha, served in a bowl like whatsit, and a cassis choco macadamia mountain of sweet-toothed engineering to go with it. Credit on the menu is given to the "designer" of the sweets. You've got to love a little pretention here and there and especially when it tastes this good. Our visit was perfectly timed after our after our stroll about the city's christmas market. White tents huddled together in the cold sheltering the art works of town's creatives. Cashmere recycled dresses, glass craft, painting and everything else imaginable off the budget. The sellers must know their market, and in a town awash with lawyers and politicians it is likely they will have the buyers I would imagine.

And then, back home, the weather news came on. Storm Watch played on a loop over most of that Friday afternoon delivering dramatic (with a capital D) descriptions of the snowy treachery that was about to descend. Across the top of the TV read "Nor'Easter". Yes that good ole North Easterly front had set the DC area as its target. Two feet of snow later we are still marvelling at the steady 24 hour snowfall and reminiscing of our snowman work, which by the way has since been shovelled away by the hotel staff. Our street is a winter postcard. My favourite bit of the newsreader's fizz was when he joyfully prepared us for "thunder" snow. We all looked somewhat perplexed and braced for a storm in the true sense. We were left, gratefully, unrequited. Who wants to play in the snow whilst it thunders? I mean really.

So thats christmas covered I spose. Snow has snowed, the tree is up, the popcorn strings have been strung, Santa is definately part of our son's subconscious (though we are using the advent calendar more to mark Grandad's arrival on Boxing day rather than the jolly red man) and the topic of religion has been broached. There is only one thing missing. An oven. I know I know, we have the bimbo, and she has been behaving marvellously especially as we are down to two gas rings in our DC home, but sauteed turkey was never meant to be on the menu. We will just have to sniff out some establishment or other for a slap up christmas eve dinner me thinks.

Cory has a show on christmas day (?!) so overindulgence on the day itself is probably not a great idea. This is a place where film are released on christmas day. People go to the movies on christmas day. No queens speeches to be slouched in front of the telly for over here. Or maybe I just need to accept that not everyone in the world must needs eat too much on the 25th december without always needing to know why. Call me old fashioned. Go ahead call me a glutton. Nothing another 5k on the treadmill won't remedy.

Yes thats right. I am still hobbling from it. Did I mention 5k? I didn't? Sorry I though I had already said 5k somewhere. No? Then mention it I must. Sorry, a little gloating must surely be in order from the almost converted run-a-phobe. I was inspired by Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in Invictus. I am knee high in Bafta screeners at the moment and mum and I are watching a couple a night so that I can make my votes really count.

"I am the master of my soul" is one of the famous lines from his favourite Victorian poem. Yes its a sport-politic flick but it touches on a lot of the things I am passionate about. If the man can survive a 27 year purgatory surely I can go another few minutes on the gerbilmobile. Pool of sweat and tight calves later I am celebrating my achievements with a fat glass of water. Living on the edge baby. Back to movie watching I spose. Mum dozes next to me, boyo dreams of his actress lady, me tip tapping the keys. Our tree is twinkling at me in the corner there. I think our house is becoming a home.

Wherever we lay our hat.......and trunk and five suitcases and hamper and train set and and and....

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

A Corner of this Land Forever London (almost)

No sooner than Cory and I had slowly begun our descent towards earth from our out of body Whitehouse extravaganza do we accelerate back up to manic traveller mode and begin the mammoth repacking of our 6 week stay in Chicago. Yes, it was goodbye to our new-ish home, our memories of a busily social and lovely stay in the extremely windy, and, no way could I live in this kind of cold much longer Chicago and time to board a plane for DC. One jam packed hamper-pushing to the theatre ride later and we were packed (almost) light and ready to fly. In just under 24 hours after our move into our swanky new River Inn suite has Christmas fever sprinkled its glitter glow about us and we have gone into Yuletide super sonic mode. Easier to say than achieve it would seem, as the past few days have seen us traipse the sunny and MUCH warmer streets of DC looking for relevant paraphernalia. Imagine looking for a tree and bits and pieces on a sunday afternoon in the financial district London and you're half way there. Eventually we found our way to Eastern Market, a Victorian brick number and trees were purchased and boys were happy. In our effort to stay light (yeah right) we have made most of our decorations. Pomanders out of tangarines, cinnamon sticks, candy canes (ok not all homemade) and a few little nutcrackers. Boy's father is passionate about the ballet - how tongue tied was he when we found ourselves next to Borishnikov at Obama's joint but a few weeks ago. Probably only the second time I have seen him like this. First time was at our registry office service but that requires a blog posting all of its own. We have tied ribbons around the pictures - oh yeah baby classy is my middle name - and there are pine stuffs draped over mirrors. We smell like a forest and that is just what the doctor ordered. Speaking of which, I have just come off the telephone with inquisition number two from insurance folk. A second doctor was prodding me for more info on my health. I answered the same questions as the ones on monday with the same answers. I think they are testing me for amnesia. In fairness I admit that on both occasions I forgot the zip code of our address (I am using my cousin's for practical reasons) I don't want to imagine what conclusions they are drawing and I have to wait an excruciating 10 days before I know if I am covered. The decision on whether to expand our family further was made easier by the simple fact that maternity cover would cost another $200 dollars a month on top of the $300 we had budgeted for. You can knock the NHS but it must surely top this. Hey ho. On to brighter thoughts. Like the psychadelic car crash that is perched upon our table. It's supposed to be a gingerbread house but it looks more like some LSD induced hippies had a fight with artificially coloured flavoured and preserved derivatives of sugar in a rainbow of shades, which is what you will need to wear if you are sat by it. Boy was happy with his work though. And mum too. And grandma too. And grandad when he sees it because he sent it over via good ole IKEA. Popcorn and cranberry stringing planned for tonight. All we need is an open fire. I think I am just allowing myslef to be seduced by the elegant spirit of DC. On our first day we walked up to the aptly named Georgetown. Unlike anything I have ever seen in the country to date, is a large, mostly residential area of georgian cottages, terraces and large townhouses. It was completely disorientating to me to explore the area, it felt like I was in a dream. You know the ones, where you are in a place but you know it isn't really that place. Put it this way, if I had been feeling nostalgic for the back streets of Hampstead I would only need walk around here. Down to the tiny details of the sash windows, the colour palettes, the foot scrapers still intact, the land rover 4x4s. Bricks. DC NW? NW3 more like. It even smelt like London. Aah. Turns out I miss the vaguely damp slightly less friendly atmosphere of the London streets after all. Nothing a good brew wouldn't cure I spose. Also it was fun picking out which house to buy and have shipped back brick by brick. We are down to top three. More of this anon. We made the mistake of dining in a phony french bistro but are anticipating a gastronomic mega tour in the next month or so. The city prides itself on its restaurants and there is a general genteel feel about the place. Everyone we have passed has been very well heeled, leather filofax mulberry bag and matching shoes kind of folk. The main street, georgian throughout, was wide and endorsed by all the usual mega chains amongst the bewitching boutiques but it was all in good taste and on a European scale. Most pleasing. If you have the bob to go with it I imagine. There were at least two people begging for money on each block. Reality bites.

This morning on our incessant hunt for the elusive tree we took the time to brace the crisp winter morning with a walk about the Whitehouse. Felt so very familiar to me this time my darlings (?). Still thrilling to think I had been invited in there. We saw the tree and each little one from each of the states, we warmed ourselves by the enormous smouldering yule tide logs dug into a pit, we squealed in delight when we saw the Thomas amongst the toy trains whizzing around the track laid out at the foot of the main tree and we braced a hunger induced mini tantrum as we tried to find somewhere for a snack. After a refuel we found ourselves the city's coffee roasters. Delicious coffee = happy mummy. The boy is learning this very well. In the mornings when I shuffle out and leave Cory to catch a couple more hours sleep, Sammy previously would ask me to read or such like. After a few mornings of me replying "After my coffee darling," he now simply asks, "Is it coffee time mummy?" Smart kid. Now all he needs to do is brush up on the old bean measuring coffee grinding water pouring thing and we will be on our way! Anyhows the place we found today - Swingers - has been roasting since 1916. We tried three sorts and each were exquisitely balanced and warm and bold and lush and perfect. The words illuminated on an old chrome sign above the well worn and loved counter read with thoughts that will carry me through for some time I think. That meditation on coffee read as follows:

It must be as pure as an angel
As strong as love
As black as night
And as hot as hell.


Tuesday, 8 December 2009

A Whitehouse Whirlwind

I can't say I know how to begin processing the whirlwind that has been the past few days. Our trip to DC for the grand weekend was quite simply breathtaking. I mean that literally. Its not every day one drops ones clutch BANG on the marble floor of the Whitehouse not only to feel the surge of panic from fellow revellers (it sounded remarkably like a shot gun) but also to have a small man rush over to help me with its spewed contents taking but a second to clock his bright blue eyes squatted down level with mine and realise it was none other than Barishnikov. I managed a gaspy "Thank you Sir". I was Carrie for one fleeting hapless hopeless romantic moment. Its not every day that I have sat 7 chairs away from Scorsese or two chairs away from the President in all his eloquent statesmanship, or swapped seats with De Niro's daughter so she could sit next to her fella at the show. I am getting ahead of myself. Perhaps I should start at the beginning of the adventure. The organisers of the show who had been sending daily emails of constantly changing schedules to Cory over the week before we left had decided to have us sleep at an airport hotel the night before. I left our apartment having tucked in our tyke and hugged my ma tarah. Clocking my reflection outside the lift I decided I looked a little too much like a lady of the night for my liking. A lady posing as a hairdresser had attacked my hair at Macy's a few hours earlier and emptied a 25 gallon can of hairspray onto my head so that I left looking like a spoof of Jackie O. Match this with a carry on and a fox coat and I looked like I had just left a client upstairs with an array of costumes in tow. We were taken after Cory's performance, in a 4x4 darkened window number to the Hilton Garden Hotel, looking very much closed for the night but for the solitary silhouette of a hunched bar man clearing up for the night. We checked in but the actor types were still up and at' em and wanting pizza before bed. Our now friendly bar man from Bromley, Kent looked after us and Roger Bart, his girlfriend, Cory and I chinwagged till around 1ish, during which time Mr Bart had briefed me on the star studded day ahead of us, including a scheduled appearance from Sting. You must understand that for some time now, Sting has ranked as definate number two husband material after Cory. Cory has negotiated a similar position for Penelope Cruz after he argued that Audrey Hepburn was not an equal being of the spirit world as she is. I argued that the first was probably just as likely to become his wife but that did not make any of us the happier so I relinquished my stance. To me, then you see, such news caused the first of many border line hyper ventilating moments. I caught my breath and we went to sleep for about 3 hours before another darkened glass lorry number whisked us off to the airport. By 10am we had entered the world of wonderland aka the wings of the Kennedy centre during rehearsal for the evening honours show. Cory and I followed our escort (the night is manned by a host of loyal volunteers) up a warren of stairs with an army of men and women scurrying around be-headphoned and mic'd moving with terryfying PURPOSE. In the rehearsal room where we ended up I was hugged by Susan Stroman before the three fellas began their rehearsal - an abridged version of their song in the show with comedy cameo by Shuler Hensley as the monster at the end. It lasted all of half an hour. Afterwards we popped down to the green room. A black curtained off area lit with table lamps and fairy lights huddled towards the back of the wings. A table was strewn with fresh fruits and mini pastries and two silver urns of "proudly" brewed Starbucks coffee. I was introduced to Harry (connick junior - hyper ventilation number two) and quickly recognised the voice coming through the TV screens (it was a camera rehearsal you see) as being that of Meryl Streep. I catch her in her civvies practicing her piece of homage to De Niro during her rehearsal and am as spellbound as when she is doing her thing in character. Our escort and I move out towards the wings and in the shadows I catch a familiar silhouette. The woman is talking earnestly to a man with his back to me and as our escort signals me towards him I realise it is Sharon Stone talking to Herby Hancock. We pass on through a small meeting room (hang on, that's Ben Stiller sat there!!!!!) and out into the auditorium where we catch the end of Mr Hancock's rehearsal. It's like having a private concert. The enormous auditorium is filled with about 150 people (later that night it was more like 2000) but the musicians are playing full out on account of the cameras getting some of their solos onto tape to save time during the actual show. The music was electrifying. Harvey Keitel walks past me with a polite nod of the head and then Cory's mob began their routine. Martin Short, Jack Black, Jane Krakowski and Matthew Broderick amongst the merry band. By this time the utter surreality of where we are and what is happening matched with a caffeine drop and genral sugar low is making me quiver. It is compounded by the fact that volunteers are wearing signs of various mega stars for the purposes of the camera rehearsals. For that morning De Niro looked more like a portly blond woman and Springstein was sporting a mean hairpiece. I never knew Mel Brooks looked so good in a form fitting pink sweater either. We get back to our hotel in all its grandeur, dump our bags and try and catch the tail end of a brunch we had been invited to, imagining it to be almost completely over. The host misunderstood us and we almost got sent to another cafe. I suppose we weren't dressed all super star to be honest and she mistook us for guests and not invitees. Expecting to find a few stale rolls we were left open mouthed at the gargatuan array of deliciousness that greeted us. Prawns, oysters and crab piled high on ice sculptures, eggs benedict, lamb cutlets, grilled chicken and risottos in large baine maries, salads, roasted vegetables, breads, sushi is just some of the delights that tempted us. Around the corner, laden on delicate glass shelving was a plethora of dainty cream cakes cut into 1 1/2 inch squares and all utterly irresistible. I have to say my fella and I did not give in totally to gluttony, we knew what we had to wear later. Towards the end of the brunch one Martin Lewis handed us invites to the after show party thrown in honour of Sting and Springstein, on the 8th floor of the hotel. We did that thing of recognising a homelander and his unchanged north west london accent led us quickly to find out that he had grown up round the corner from me and his school had played mine at football. "From Cricklewood to Hollywood!" he told me he had written on his website, "from Childs Hill to Beverley Hills!" Brilliant. We determined to nap after our feast and friend finding managing to squeeze in an hour or so before it all began. No-one wants to go to the Whitehouse bedraggled. Two hours later we had gone through 4 security seraches and checklists and one xray machine and were being greeted by the social secretary at the entrance hall of the Whitehouse. Guests were invited to write out a wish for the upcoming year, roll them up and place them into the corrogated card christmas tree. It was quite moving. Around us oil portraits of important men and women looked down as stars and civilians scribbled their hopes into little pieces of coloured paper. After checking my fox we went on into the christmas tree decorated ladies room where Jackie O posed in oil perfection half smiling down at all of us and then on up towards the state room where strings and grand piano serenaded the hors d'oervres chomping crowd. The first person I caught eyes with was Scorsese. I flashed him a smile. He returned with a confused but polite half nod. Soon people started to move towards the heavy wooden doors towards the end of the room. It was not long before we were all herding together en masse and the doors were opened the crowd filing into the room. You know, the one you see on the news. Gold chairs were laid out before a small raised stage area and we took our seats on the second row. An expectant half hour followed as a who's who of people came through to sit down. Just when we thought our little people watching brains could take no more the honorees were announced and in, to rapturous applause, came De Niro, David Brubeck, Springstein, Mel Brooks and Grace Bumbry. Oh and The President and Mrs Obama. He gave a beautiful introduction on the importance of the arts to the understanding of the American spirit and the success of countries being dependant on the freedom and voice it allows its artists. I found his sentiments deeply moving and some mascara was wasted. One by one he spoke of each honoree with a priceless banter between he and Mel Brooks, (it was real, I checked the auto cue, the man has timing) which ended in the president telling him, "I'm trying to say something nice about you Mel. You have got to stop upstaging me here." The laughter was hearty. And priceless. Then the crwods moved through to look at the main tree and eventually on out to the coaches that waited for us just outside the grounds ready to take us to the theatre. Cory, true to form, cut it fine and managed to loose his place in his delegated car. After a scramble he was told to bundle himself into the jump seat of another 4x4 only to find himself squashed behind Phillip Seymour Hoffman and his wife. On arrival at the theatre they were denied entry (the president was arriving so everything was cordoned off) the producer in the front seat joked, "Don't they know we have Cory English in the car!" The same man left a basket of goodies in our room for our return after the marathon that was the party. The show, after a brief strut down the civvie end of the red carpet (thats red carpet without cameras) was absolutely wonderful especially the musical tribute to Sprinstein that had the audience jumping up in their seats and boogying to the Stingmeister in all his Dickensian glory (he was sporting a fetching beard and old world styley tails and all). A supper extravaganza followed in the foyer and Cory and I danced our steak into digestion by swinging around the dance floor to the fabulous brass of a big, big band. Fighting a deep urge for sleep we made our way back to the hotel and decided to at least take a peek at the after show party we had so zestfully accepted an invitation to. The doors of Tai Pan on the 8th floor were opened to us and the first person we walk by was Mr. De Niro. Starstruck, we shimmyed to the bar where, after ordering our drinks we felt a cheery huggy hand on our backs. We turned, expecting to find one of Cory's colleagues only to find the twinkly eyes of none other than Sing himself smiling down at the two of us. A split second is all it took for me to find my breath and determine not to hurry the moment. "this is Cory! He was the hump earlier!" I announce and we introduce ourselves. We talk about London, where we live, where he lives, I tell him I had worked in his home town, he offered his condolences. As his red wine was served I also tell him how addicted I was to his poetry album just before and during labour. This tickled him. Not as much as I had been having met the man himself and managing somehow to appear delighted but still functioning. I have replayed this moment every five minutes since that night and will do until some other unearthly encounter can top it. Sad, on some level perhaps but to me it is a showreel of deep joy. The next morning as we sat sipping coffee in our fluffy pillowed amazingly comfortable Mandarin Oriental bed we tried to process what we had experienced. Having watched the life and achievements and passions of the legends that were honoured played before us you couldn't fail to question your own passions and reason for being on the planet. At once inspired and overawed by their paths. We flew back the following afternoon and are still on a Kennedy high. Not so that we couldn't find the energy to get ourselves to our Sinatra haunt with a former collegue of Cory's from one of his first ever jobs, or to catch up with a former student of his whose 4 year old son and Sam made a happy friendship this afternoon after his morning session at the commune. The house is a happy one and despite the painful sleet/hail/snow gusts that Mum, Sam and I braved on our block long walk from the train to our apartment (which by the way has made Chicago a little less appealing a place for year round living), and the overwhelming task of packing on the near horizon. The mum and dad of this household still have a party-lagged spring in their step. I just hope I won't have to wait another 33 years to get to wear me a chocolate ball gown again.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

I Shall Go To The Ball!

Cory English and Sara Jane Alexander depart Mandarin Oriental
for the White House

White House Reception
Hosted by President and Mrs Barack Obama

These are excerpts from some of the words typed onto our itinerary. Cory has been asked to perform at this year's Kennedy Centre Honours where Mel Brooks is among the honorees. He will be performing with two of his colleagues as part of a 10 minute medley of his hits sung by a host of respected performers. Its a kin to our OBEs but somewhat more glitzy. And televised. As I type I am falling over the words, overcome with excitement as I am. Further down on the itinerary the words Red and Carpet and Arrivals and our names are in very close proximity. I have been skittish around the city in search of suitable attire (black tie has been specified). Cue visits to Saks and the like with horrendously priced gowns donned on diminuitive and at the same time somewhat ample stature person. Oh to be 5ft 11 or more. What I would save in alterations. And then we (mum and cousin are here hoorah!) discovered the Petite section. A diplomatic label for the vertically challenged. Everything for the regular folk, just a whole lot shorter. After squeezing myself into most of the dresses in the city I eventually settled on a wham bam chocolate coloured thank you Macy's ma'am number, which with a little help of a saver's card from the father in law was bagged for under £100 and the shinny shimmy please-don't-let-me-fall-off shoes for under £30. You can take the girl out of Golders Green......I couldn't possibly be doing any of the above without an army of help of course. When we leave for DC Mum will be babysitting back in Chicago with actor friends from the show popping in and out throughout the day to give her a break and get their Sammy fix. One of our friends in the cast and his fella are even taking Sam to dance class on the Monday as we won't be back in time. Lovely. It will be our first weekend away from the little fella since his arrival three years ago. I'm sure it will feel a little strange. We will simply have to distract ourselves with whatever delights the Mandarin Oriental can offer us. Gloat over. Almost.

Suffice to say that Washington fever is alive and well in our house which has been stuffed full of family and parties and food food food. You've got to love this giving Thanks thing. No meaningless presents or last minute for the sake of it STUFF just a pure meditation on gluttony and the joy of family and friends, oh and did I mention food? Thanks was officially given at a 20 strong table and McCormick and Schmidt's round the corner with turkey stuffed and then stuffed into us. Followed by blueberry pie back at the flat followed by a week full of impromptu dinners and drinks with family and friends. It seems our bimbo thrives on pressure. When my iphone and I were not on speaking terms (literally, it cuts out in the middle of most conversations, or else I put it on silent and then leave it at the bottom of a cupboard somewhere) and I didn't realise that family were joining us around dinner time did I panic? Did my bimbo and I fluster? No sir. We just got busy. In under 20 minutes 12 people were fed. Not a take away in sight I'll have you know. Just the pure taste of homemade german designed fast bimbo-d food (pasta in red sauce to you and me). Delish. In between food we have seen the show and visited the local Christkind market round the corner, where stall holders, toy makers, crafty types and bratwurst cooks have travelled all the way from Germany to set up fairy lit shop in wooden huts huddled under an enormous christmas tree in downtown Chicago. We enjoyed potato pancakes, glu wine, sausage, pork loin. Unfortunately we mis judged our hunger (when will we learn?!) and forgot leave room for fresh warm pretzels and chocolate covered raspberries. There's always tomorrrow, they will be here till christmas eve. We have also admired skaters. From afar. The city is dotted with rinks this time of year. I will not be partaking. I skated once, fairly well as I remember, but my first visit to New York City when Cory and I were still courting cured me of the habit. Sufficed to say, that this cowboy hat wearing tourist lost all kudos the afternoon I insisted Cory take me to the central park rink. He made his excuses and told me he would film me instead. Should have known then he had an incling that the footage would go down in my personal worst moments history. I have hidden the video since. No one wants to be remembered as the walker desperately clinging on to the side whilst olympic twirler lets rip a few yards away in the centre of the ice. But enough of reminiscing, our week has carried on at this frenetically social pace with another highlight being Kingston Mines. My cousin and I (one suffering from jet lag, the other from over entertaining) chucked back the coffee, plastered on "awake" faces with the help of our favourite ingredient, one Cornsilk bronzer circa 1982 (only very low shelves of random pharmacy's house it) and hit the town to dig down deep at the famous blues joint in the city. It has been a hub of bluesy talent for the past forty years and serving up tangy moorish soul food this place attracts music pros and tourists alike. Oh yes and loud groups of musical theatre cast and crew. The latter, for the record, making the most noise of the two. We head bashed, we slow danced, we wiggled and giggled and busted moves. One of the headliners, Joanna Connor (who has become the company's idol) did things to her guitar that players only dream of. And made it look easy. She did that awesome air-guitaring thing we all do extraordinaire. Only with a guitar. Amazing talent. We are still paying for it though. It is an unspoken law that parents who get into bed after a big night out around or after 3.30am will be woken before 7 the next morning by a bright and bushy tailed child. No rest for the wicked. Or the gown searchers. Or the manic cram-everything-into-5 days-for-visiting-cousin tireless travellers. I am suddenly distracted by young girls singing ethereal soprano lines in a Norweigan church illuminated only by the candles they hold. They are on the TV beyond my screen. Reminds me of that tingly christmas feeling. I think I might make a secret pack to try and always be over here at this time of year. Between the tykey's birthday, Thanksgiving and all the trimmings of Christmas and New Year its one long trimester of celebration.

It will be three years that my aunt past away in a few days time also, so it is not wholly a hedonistic overload for us. In Sardinia a mass will be read in rememberance of her and here we will find a cosy corner of a church to send our prayers her way. On our travels so far I have stopped counting the times I have seen things and almost bought them for her. How our minds play tricks. She still feels so very present in lives it doesn't seem possible she is not actually here in body. I think I will stick to the denial side of the fence. When I don't, I start crying at incongrous moments. It's probably not the first time someone has shed tears in the perfume department I'd hazard a guess. I left a few leaks on Macy's floor the other day, where I was lured into a free but not free gift on a perfume counter. Upshot is I now have a gold clutch for the Gala Supper Dance after the Kennedy awards. I'm sorry am I bragging? Damn straight. If there ever were a time to do so. Perhaps I should be a bit more dignified about the whole thing, my blog is probably being tapped by the secret agents as I type so they have the history of every person attending. I hope they don't misconstrue any footage they see of my Sardinian widow character over the internet. You never know. It is an honour to go during this administration especially I feel. Sentiments echoed by Mel Brooks himself who is said to have refused to accept the award under previous presidents....

I only hope I won't be lynched on the red carpet. Our cousin who lives just outside the city saw me flaunting my dress the other day (at home in the presence of family only) and made the astute observation that I will positively freeze in the december Washington weather. Two days later and her son drops over with a vintage blue fox coat which has been donated to the cause by a kind friend of hers. As I opened up the garment bag and donned the animal I not only started to cook but felt like my aunt Patricia was standing behind me with a nod of approval. it is she who handed down a vintage mink stoll for Cory and my registry office service back in January 2002 and I know had she been here, she would have, without a doubt raided her overstuffed wardrobe and presented me with yet another classic clothing masterpiece or abomination depending on your politics. I shall raise a glass or two to her. You can bet on that. Its just too sad that I have no-one to steal cutlery for anymore.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

When the circus came to town....

"The Son always shines here". I'm not talking about ours, newly three by the way much more of that in a mo, no I'm just passing on the Message from the sanctuary of divine mercy which we passed on our two hour drive back into the city after picking up mum and cousin from the airport. Yay! Many other sights were passed on our slow drag in (Thanksgiving is busy business here it would seem) including a subway train's tracks running the length of the highway (imagine the tube going down the middle of the M1) double decker trains on tracks beyond that (much joy to boy) and a whole host of glorious holiday traffic. We didn't get bored though, trying to convince a three year old that he can hold his pee just one more mile because there is traffic on both lanes either side of us and we can't stop, keeps even the most laid back of adult (which is not how I would identify myself by the way) on their toes. Some time later family off load into the underground city which is our block's car park and Sammy is the proud creator of a five minute mile long projectile pee. I would have taken a picture to embarrass him in later years but my hands were full of jacket, dungaree and Thomas the Tank Engine Y-fronts at the time. So house is full of holidaying family which is fabulous. The place is starting to feel like a home. We have been maintaining our cup cake high (inspired moment in cake decisions involved ordering 50 cup cakes from local bakery laid out in a number 3 for the Birthday) since the impromtu party. It was a great success. A subdued cast and crew arrived at the crack of their dawns (midday) to a dimly lit billiard area of the pinky ponk tinkle tank arcade. Nibbled demurely at party food (perhaps chicken wings was not their idea of breakfast fayre) and then sang the boy a beautiful harmonised version of happy birthday and inhaled cupcakes. Our guests came to life when they proudly presented the fella with his presents. A family of Magi had been called to the second coming. We're talking serious adoration here. Cory and I were completely overwhelmed by their generosity which included: a bike (yes you read correctly), a toy shop worth of Thomas trains and tracks and two tickets for he and I to see the Ringling Bros circus which is in town. This is but to name a few, not to mention the books, the cuddly toys, the DVDs the the the the. We have promised him oranges for his next birthday. The crew also kindly informed us (perhaps they could tell from our faces that the idea of finding space for all the treasures was going to test our already logically challenged little minds) that whatever the crew had given, the crew would find space for in the trucks. Give in an inch. Next I'll have them stuffing the Bimbo in a back corner to make eyes at Bones, the skeleton who gives consistently solid performances in Dr. Frankenstein's get the audience to love-him wordy jaw cracking opening number. After the gifts were gifted and gawked at (by everyone) we handed out game cards to our guests and together we swarmed to the floor. Some Guitar Hero-ing others Millionaire-making others yet shooting hundreds dead. Horses for courses. Oh there were those too. We raced one another and screamed into the early afternoon. Machines tinged and tanged and rang and buzzed and proffered around 14,000 tickets which were pooled, and, when we had as a group set our eyes upon an executive game set the crew returned to the floor and in a last 5 minute push won another 2000 so that we could take the baby home. All 36lb of chess, backgammon and, most importantly poker, in one pleatherette cube of goodyness. Poker game has been arranged for next week. House better always win, thats all I say. So yesterday, Sam and I took our trip to the circus. Somebody fell asleep in the cab ride over and bemused glances were shot in my direction as I scrambled him in, flopping around my leopard coat as I fumbled for the tickets. What a sight we must have been as I hobbled down to the most expensive seats in the house with a half awake child. I was thankful he woke up before the start of the show though. Nothing says spoilt like a sleeping child in break the bank ticketed seats. The ladies from the troupe had informed us that our seats were "Celebrity Passes". This meant moving onto the ring at a certain point so we could feel very much part of the show. Wonderful. Until boy needed to pee. What a show. Or I should say 9 shows. Because at any given moment there were three different set ups twirling about our eyes. Our heads ping ponged from opposite ends. Where should we look first? The horses? The zebras? The chinese swinging couple? The clowns? The dress wearing puffy doggy things doing sautes across the floor? The uptight barrel Russian guy? Or the two women shooting across the arena from the canon and headed straight for us? It was like circus on drugs. I wondered why the lemonade had cost me $10. When the twelve elephants paraded out to dance together followed by ten tigers and their endorphine overdosed trainer I thought the show had reached its natural climax. Not so. In the final number everybody and everything came parading back on and trumpet sounded (live) and the drums bellowed and the crowd roared. No wonder that in the lobby after the adults twitched and the children screamed, and those good old sellers, they just kept up their bellows, right up until the pavement. Inside they had been hawking overpriced popcorn (worth it for these English tourists. It was packaged in a cereal sized box with a brightly kitsch coloured picture of an elephant on it) lemonade and E-number ectasy on ice. Outside we were offered spinny LED thingamawhatsits and colouring books. And finally, out in the rain, a last desperate call for buyers of five foot long lollipops. Last lot got the raw deal I think. I hope they rotate the team. Inside the arena there was a sign that read WELCOME TO THE MAD HOUSE. Never was a truer word written in public. Some tears later, and one frantic stop for pee in the November down pour we were ensconced in bed with the memory of the circus but a dream. The effects of the late night psychadelia drifted into my son's morning. I know this because his first conversation with me today went like this:
"I want one boob like when I was a baby. Just ONE boob."
"Oh." I reply, wondering if he is having a glimpse of his past in which nursing was infinately easier on the one side and I had sent the other side to hell and back several times till we FINALLY learnt to do it right. I wait for another moment of past life illumination, and then he adds, "No. TEN boobs. And then we go to the bra shop and try one on and... it fits!"
Cinderella meets Priscilla. Not a surprise considering.
The day was memorable not only because of this visual overload. It was marked by an important day in my green card story. The final form has been Fed-Exed. It is waiting on the desk of a Californian lawyer in Valencia (don't you just love the sound of Spain meets US? I take it as a good omen what with my Medittarranean history and all) to get to a kindly immigration person who will give me the once over and then give me freedom to contribute taxes in this country also. I mean, let me become part of society. Ingratiate with what talents I can offer; strange Sardinian character comedy? Bit of honky tonk piano? A turn or two on some boards? Who knows what this world might offer? Or what I will end up offering it? On the way to the Kinko's place (thats Fed Ex for photocopy) I passed Panda Express - a gourmet chinese food take away place (what meat would you like with that sir?) and Rom, an Italian inspired coffee shop with some mean looking java I have to get my lips around one of these days. There is a place for everyone here I suppose. Like the they say. Bit like our flat. The tempo is slowing up here as everyone drifts off into sleep to get some rest before we give Thanks tomorrow. It will be a memorable day. My mother in-law's family, traced when she was in her late thirties after her adopted mother had passed, have taken us all in as if our histories had been intertwined since forever and before. A reservation has been made for twenty. What better way to celebrate? And so, from memories of one circus to another yet to be.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Oh My! How They Grow Up Fast

ACTORCASH. These are the words emblazoned across the top of the debit card Cory has handed me so I can withdraw money without him and pretend I am not a kept woman. Actually its more to do with not being able to get any card of my own, not having a social security number and all. As with any good actor, if there is a significant amount of belief in the playing of a part the audience will usually go along with the illusion, so too then with this card. If I just believe we have bottomless funds it will be true. Just as well seeing as over the past few days I have gone from laissez faire attitude towards our sons birthday to a host of a full on shindig for the troupe and family in a loud Trocadero style game haunt, the sort of which you will rarely find me in. More disappointing than that, is the fact that when we went to check it out I suddenly was craving chicken wings and coins to squander on the machines. What a difference a day makes. We also have abandoned the idea of buying a very modest wooden puzzle to remember his third birthday by to the new one of investing in a tiny miniature wooden toy piano. It sounds like the kind a monkey would have ground back in the day. Its red. I love it. I justify the purchase because I miss our piano and being able to hear Sammy boy tinkle on it. Also there is a part of me that expects him to suddenly come out with a bar or two from the overture of the show, seeing as we have started seriously committing it to memory. I am waiting for the day he starts giving his father notes. As long as he learns to do it with more gentleness and panache than I usually do, all will be well. So there we have it, my free couple of hours this morning whilst Cory and Sammy went to the commune, sorry playgroup, (more on this anon) which I filled with short sharp arrangements of venues, balloons, cupcakes and a tear or two whilst I picked out a card. The nostalgia of the C-section overcame me its true. Especially the tender memory of the (male) nurse who, having met me in for the first time in my last crazed minutes before the epidural took hold for the surgery and who missed my heroic calm and endurance of the previous 30 hours turned to me and told me (without some attitude as I recall) that I had to "just calm down!" Closest I ever got to committing murder. Cory held me down. He still has the bruises. I have been somewhat slack with the blog over the past few days. I put this down to the highly social life we have been enjoying. Over the past few days we have: had my brother and sister-in-law and our nephew over to stay for a long weekend, seen the show with them and the Chicago family, watched said nephew twist and turn in the skate park, drunk in art at the art institute, eaten a Chicago filled pizza (did I say pizza I meant 6ft deep quiche disguised as a pizza. If you struggle with that image, howsabout 3 pizzas cooked one on top of the other? Still not working? Hows about calorie intake for the month? Knew that would get you) partied in the suburbs at one of the producers of the show's home and found Frank Sinatra's favourite haunt in the city. Catch a breath. Yes, life in Chicago is rough let me tell ya. That last outing was a personal favourite. We listen to the rat pack so much its beginning to feel like the boys are one of the family (I remind you again, who we named the tykey after. No pressure kid). On the corner of a tree lined street is a little place called Twin Anchors, a somewhat nautical name for very much a neighbourhood place. I passed two neighbourhooders as we walked in past the awning, in deep Russian mafia type conversation and was surprised to see them in the same positions when we left and with the same level of suppressed urgency and air of conspiracy. Either that or the zesty sauce on the ribs (fall off the bone utterly delicious) had gone to my head. I knew Cory was a little giddy. He even bought a bowling shirt with the name of the place on the back. Two pints of the local ale - day off - and ribilicious dinner turned him into a happy camper. At first we wondered whether Sam would make the meal, he seemed quite upset when we told him we had to wait for a table (the place only sits about 50 and hasn't changed a bit since maybe the late 50s early 60s) but once we sat him at the dimly lit bar and he had dunked a couple of fingers into his dad's beer he mellowed out and made friends with the people who perched next to us. One by the name of Jack who had lived in London for 3 years and had moved to this part of Old Town just because the architecture had reminded him of London (he lived in Kensington and had many friends in Hampstead). My favourite memory of the place is a sign hung overhead that read "Positively no dancing!" Call me a rebel......
Yes the days here have been punctuated by a string of foody delights. After the matinee last Saturday the family headed to Berghoff's, est 1890something and the first place to have its license reinstated after the lifting of prohibition. It is a large wood pannelled schnitzel house with a host of beers on tap, high ceilings separate bar and lounge area and despite the decor being recent the lighting and the atmosphere does induce Victoriana. Sausages and schnitzels filled our table and happiness abounded. Sammy has learnt to take pictures with our phones and snapped the waitress many times, proudly interrupting her at other tables to show her his portraits. Hugs were exchanged. Thats hug with an "s". You've got to hand it to the kid. He has style. She was quite a looker too. Enough already, I'm doing that thing I have started to do, you know, talk in his voice and stuff. I couldn't help myself this morning either when we wrote (yes "we" I dictated letters he punched them in. It took a LOOOONG time) the invitation for the party to be put up on the call board at the theatre. I tried my hand at witty three year old speak. It will either make people smile or send them running Hey ho. Its been great to socialise with the crew and actrines too this week out at the producer's home. A coach arrived to ship everyone over (we drove because insurance does not cover Sam and I) and a feast was generously laid on by our hosts in their welcoming home. David, their 11 year old son, took it upon himself to befriend Sammy and they enjoyed each others company. I will not pretend that I was somewhat alarmed when the older loudly invited Sammy to play on his trampoline downstairs (cue memories of horror stories of children bashing themselves into oblivion on said contraption) I did my best to deliver my "May I see too?" in the most non-panic way I could but got flack from the others later on who had all enjoyed catching my worst acting performance ever. I gave the boys some space and enjoyed mixing with the folk but listening to my antenna I followed the signal downstairs a little while later just in time to extricate Sammy from the eliptical machine which David was riding whilst Guitar Hero-ing with some passion this was after he had been leaping from the trampoline landing on a bean bag stradling my son's head. It was I admit all most nimbly performed and I had all confidence in the young man of the house, its just that mother preserving child thing prevents me from watching our son working out on excersise equipment unaccompanied. Call me old fashioned. Actually Sammy had already been saved by Nicole, one of the stage managers who had been keeping a very close eye on the mascot. He is accruing new mums and dads each day. Its a good feeling. So now, with grandma and grandpa on the road from Rochester prepraring for the big day and with the toy piano wrapped and stashed in the cupboard it only remains for me to watch Letterman, stock up on sauce for the guests, order the cupcakes and dry off the tear stained You're Three! card, and a few hours left of the evening to think about my favourite moment with our son today. He, sat finishing up a number two on the loo, fiddling with his nipple that is making him laugh and looking up at me with two puppy dog brown eyes and asking me, in between giggles what his nipples are called and whether I too have these nickles? Its in the memory bank. Or as the tyke shouts out after anything kooky happens along our travels, "Its in the blog!!!!!"

Monday, 9 November 2009

My son, the Croup-ier

As I walked back to the apartment last night returning from a last minute dash to the local corner drug store (think pharmacy with food and toys and pushchairs and coffee and and and) taking in the balmy air, more late summer than early autumn, the sound of a solo saxophonist playing to a small but attentive crowd outside our block serenaded me on my way. Something about the musician's admirers summed up the feeling of the Chicagoans. They have soul. Not a rampaging, get-outta-my-way kind of soul but a very attractive warmth. When people say have a nice day here you tend to feel they mean it. Its not saccharin. Just sweet. I am loaded with Nature's anti viral bits and pieces when I get in, (my aunt in Sardinia phoned through a cinnamon garlic remedy) I think I have succeeded in running my travelling family into the ground dragging them around the city in a flurry of tourist excitement. Last night, Cory, Sammy and I visited the ER, not really what I had intended when I joked about meeting Clooney on the streets (careful what you wish for I guess). After our feverish tyke fell to sleep and I had sat him upright with a mountain of pillows about him to help the airways, he began to breathe a bit like a 90 year old after a 5k dash. A worried mum and dad skyped cousins (doctors) in Washington state for a second opinion. Half an hour later we were in Chicago's north western hospital with a chatty if somewhat delirious almost 3 year old charming the nurses and doctors with his usual patter of surreal observations of his and our world. I thought we had taken a step too far when dad insisted we take a snap on the iphone of us waiting with our anti swine masks on. This was our main concern you see, what with all the pigs in the Potter stories someone has been obsessively learning by heart over the past few days. I feared the woman who was in some serious pain across from us might swipe us one. We left several hours later, somewhat more relaxed with a hyper steroid-fed croup diagnosed lad skipping down the street stopping every now and then to cough like a dog who has been barking for two days straight. Suffice it to say we finally had a good night's sleep. No wonder the boy are coughing and such we have been zipping about this city and it's "burbs" putting our immune systems under pressure. I have a sneaky suspicion that the less than glorious reviews of the show have not helped. Turns out Chicago audiences have the steely quality of the New Yorkers, and the show was not received well there when it played Broadway to say the least. Cory came back from the show with long faces for the first three days. I think I did not play the supportive role too well when he ran new ad libs by me. After the first 10 suggestions they all sounded funny to me you see. Took four nights and now the smiley chappy I used to live with is back. No one likes to live with an unhappy funny man. Chicago is the kind of place you want to be out in. All the time. Luckily for me, our little fella decided to sleep through dinner the other evening and woke up raring to go around 8.30ish. Never one to miss an opportunity I got ourselves dressed up and he and I took to the night streets of the windy city. Greeting our friendly troupe with a surprise (late) visit as they all came dashing off from their curtain call, Sammy relishing the chance to catch up with all his adoring fans. I also took the chance to don my new bargain find (TK MAXX here too!) to pretend like we had plans for evening parties, thankful for our new found energy despite having spent the day with our relatives, eating and visiting. A very tired husband (two shows + virus) agreed to a quick midnight snack at Petterino's an upmarket Italian joint with black wooden venetians, dim lights, red velvet upholstery and good martinis and calamari and interesting array of moreishly warmed bread. From the way I tucked in you would never have guessed I had already enjoyed a fish dinner at Vincetore's out in the suburbs but a few hours before. The owner there came to greet my relatives and I with the kind of husky bellowy voice of a true made man. A packed restaurant full of happy customers and their babies kept a lilt in his step. A man sang Sinatra favourites by the bar. Sam slept by us, parked out (there is a fantastic playground next to the family's home) and sound asleep whilst we slurpt chianti and polished off the meal. I sat next to great grandma Ellie whom we had picked up earlier from her nursing home. We had tip toed through to her room, past a church service going on in the main open area, occupied wheelchairs around the priest performing communion to the recorded music on the CD player next to him. A quick stop to check Sam's temperature (vigilant nurses enjoying their new young friend) before we headed on through past a group of ladies colouring in pictures of turkeys (its Thanksgiving soon). One looked up at me as we passed like she knew me but didn't remember my name. Her and her friend's demeanor not dissimilar to the border line confusion I read in some of Sammy's contemporaries. I admit I struggled not to succumb to tears at this point, and when Sammy greeted his great grandma and quickly offered to help her up from bed. Later, when we were making our way out, he held on tight to her walker and insisted on steering. Then I struggled to not panic, picturing him pulling her off balance. Once again, Great grandma proved the perfect companion to our son and the two of them put the world to rights in the back of the car on our way to her daughter's house. Cory was pleased to hear updates of our day until I told him his son was glued to the last 20 minutes of Yentil, whilst his aunt and I drank pumpkin spice coffee and scoffed buttery popcorn, Streisand bellowing across the water and such seemed to fill him with dread for some reason. I figured another dose of musical theatre couldn't harm? It seems to be there are a few double standards going on I proffer. After all, he was the one who ushered him into a 4 year olds dance class this morning. We saw the kids going in and thought we were late. Turns out it was the earlier class. A quick "This is Sammy" and the door was shut with us left outside squinting through it's small window, alternately reaching over one another and getting to know two of the mums whose children attend the British school in the city, proudly telling us about the large ex-pat community here. We catch the tyke twisting and turning and running about the place smile permanently stretching from ear to ear. It was in this same joyful state of mind that we descended on Petrillo's later on for lunch (you picking up a theme here?!). A noisy joint run by 50 or more kitchen staff clanging and banging and announcing orders over different mics to more kitchen staff. Think old school McDonalds with a ton more character and people and you're sort of there. One line, to order, one line to pick up, one long line of different types of hot dogs to choose from. I went Polish (roots run deep), Sammy went Yankee, family somewhere in between. Distracted for a moment. Husband watching that wrestling thing. You know the ones with the wannabe actors with triceps doing their pretend fighting thing to screaming crowds (Who said Vaudeville was dead?). Oh no, channel hopping now, antiques road show has caught his imagination. Whilst I am on the strain of food (seems my record is permanently broken) it gives me great pleasure to announce that I have made friends with our new coffee machine and found our local coffee roasters. It has a slightly disappointing name "Intelligentsia" which makes me feel slightly embarrassed about walking in. I don't like to wear my coffee snobbery on my arm, its reserved for people who know me well and, hopefully, won't judge me too badly on it. Also, I don't condone the assumption that someone who knows good coffee is necessarily cleverer. I can be as immodest as the next person but that would be taking it a step too far even for me. Still, embarrassment is fleeting when there is good coffee about. The staff are the usual skinny, thick rimmed Hoxton set, all assymetrical hair and that slightly translucent I-have-been-talking-about-Nietzche-all-night skin. Still, I recognise skilled coffee making set when I see them. Blessed be the patience of the skinniest staff member painstakingly pouring almost boiling water in slow motion from a metal tea pot over a never ending line of drip filter coffees. I wonder if he has extra medical insurance to cover elbow tendonitis? (I will have more views to share on the medical bills no doubt when we receive ours for Sam's visit last night). We are now coming to the end of our two day hibernating recovery and I notice a lack of restlessness on my part (chicken soup nursing does that to me it would seem) which is not a feeling I knew in New York, the only other big city I have stayed in for some time in the states. It strikes me that this is the major difference between the two places and one that makes me daydream about considering living here. When I stay in for an entire day in New York I had that insidious feeling the city sneered at me, jeering that I was missing out on something special. There is something about the saturated excitement and frenetic energy of that city does that to me. Here, the water, the abundance of good theatre (jobs?), music, impro groups, good food, good folk, an elevated train like the ones in the black and white movies all make it, on paper, the sort of place I could get on well with. I think I am still in the romantic love stage of my relationship with the place, granted, but for now, that's a great place to be. Croup or no croup.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The windy city is mighty pretty...

Our departure from Colombus and arrival in the fabulousness that is Chicago was dominated by a string of Larry Davidesque toilet episodes. Suffice it to say that in two days Cory and I have had several embarrassing toilet moments. The first was when my usually wiser other half took himself to the lav just as hotel staff were knocking at the door (they were delivering a fold out table for us to use that evening when friends were coming back to ours after the show). Table rolls in, cue son opening the toilet door nice and wide. Cue polite salutations from staff to red faced husband. Actually I think I felt the most embarassed of the two on behalf of them. Not 5 minutes later, when mama was taking her turn did the staff reappear with chairs. Replay scene one. Very almost, but with a swift Indiana Jones last minute save sort of thing. A mere 36 hours or so later are we settling into our Chicago home (16th floor, 2 bed with a view that makes you feel like you are hovering between skyscrapers) when Uncle Paul comes to call. I let him in leaving son finishing an epic journey in one bathroom whilst husband finishes off in the other. Both doors are wide open. Luckily the short flight here didn't fuzz my brain up too much and this time I manage to shut Cory's door. Actually whilst I am in the drains, I'd like to take a moment ot ponder the barn doors that are american toilets. Why is it necessary to see everybody's shoes while they pee? Why is it necessary to be in a loo wrangling with children who think escaping might be too difficult to resist. It takes me back to our trip over last winter. Big loo. Closed (to the floor!!!) door, EASILY opened. One of those handle unlocks the lock sort of thing. Two year old. Desperate to pee mum. Curious two year old moves near door. White panic. Door is opened. Choice made: make a lunge for door. Nearly decapitate myself, jeans round ankles, manage to stop said two year old. Make small lake on floor. Again, thin walls. Either way this bathroom thing is going to follow me around this place I just know it. If they can't see you they will hear you. What happened to privacy? And this is coming from a shoe lover! On the tack of privacy: note to self, high rise apartment does not mean invisible apartment or, people on other side of the street same level can't see into apartment. I learnt this the hard way after I pulled up my jeans in the loo with the door open. Lights on high. Brain most sadly on low. Agh, what's another loo episode between friends? Chicago has injected a buzz into the household. Sammy shouted CHICAAAAGO down the street with some reference to intoning so that it may have been construed as a song, all the way home from the theatre. One Chicagoan shouted back "I love that! I want to have one just like that!" I assume he meant Sammy and not my coat or the stroller. We invested on some wheels for the boy because his dad is starting to grow a real hump (shoulders were the preferred travel method for a few days now). We had been offered comps for Jersey Boys, and there was quite a number from the cast of Young Frankenstein there. Everyone was in good spirits, a few bars of Frankie Valli had me swaying in my seat much to the dismay of my fellow audiencee behind. Sammy delighted in hearing a number of the cities we have visited being mentioned by the actors on stage. He turned to me in delight wriggling in his seat making silent happy noises. Actually it seems we haven't stopped since we hit Chicagoan soil. Uncle Paul, from Cory's side of the family, (will explain the complex family tree at length another time) gave us a warm welcome, arriving ladened with foody gifts and whisking us off to lunch and then to the suburbs to do a big grocery shop and have dinner with the rest of the family. Sammy met his great grandma Ellie for the first time. The two got on very well. She has plenty of time to listen to Sammy's high energy lectures and he delights in the attention. A 90 year age gap between the two is but a number. After taking Sam to a pizza making playgroup we took a moment to a get the beginnings of a sense of the lay of the land whilst we kept warm clambering around a playground that backed on to the deep tuequiose waters of Lake Michigan. I find it rather intoxicating to be living in the heart of downtown Chicago, with the elevated subway rumbling a few blocks away in easy view of our window (happy 3 year old) and just around the block the expanse of beautiful blueness that is this vast lake. One side bustling metropolis, other side watery calm. What a great combination. Just in my first few hours here, it feels to me like the soul of the city is like New York's older, more chilled out brother. Deeply proud but without quite the same push and shove of the Big Apple. The few people I have had a chance to talk to seem, on first glance, to have a little more time, a little less push past you. To me there seems to be a great sense of creativity about the place (Institue of Art around the corner). I look forward to trawling the food and drink spots over the next few weeks and generally pretending I live here, rather than sniffing the air for a week and then moving on. Walking down State Street (Sammy Davis Junior ringing in our ears, Chicago, Chicago, its a hellova town) we spied mini ballerinas pirouetting on the nth floor of a glass fronted building. The Joffrey Ballet. Renowned ballet school and company, right in the middle of what we might think of as Piccadilly circus or Oxford Street. We watched for a while and then popped up to see whether they might let the tykey strut his stuff whilst we are here. Saturday morning will see us trek up there for a trial. I had to stop Sammy following the boys and girls inside. He finally settled on being the bell boy for everyone using the lift, asking their direction of travel and so on. No tips I noticed. Halloween has come and gone eh. Belly still full from our lunch in Italian Village we then headed back dodging commuters to our flat for a rest before Cory leaves for work. What an experience that place was. Three restaurants in one. The maitre d' without some heavy this-is-not-really-for-children subtext told us Gourmet was on ground, Cantina on lower and Village on upper. We have started at the top and will work our way down over the weeks methinks. We were greeted after the short trek upwards by a warren of little inglenooks and boothes huddled under fairylights and surrounded by a whole scenery storeroom's worth of choice painted backdrops and props. We were ushered into a dimly lit little hut labelled Stalla (stable, roof and everything) and took a few moments to acclimatise to the pink light. Sam told us it reminded him of a mouse's parlour (thank you Ms Potter) and his Dad and I shared a chianti. Pasta and seafoody things were passed around and boyo charmed the Romanian waitress. After he had explained many of his daily points of concentration the two exchanged and unhurried embrace. Can't imagine that happening at home. As we bundled out for the Jersey Boys matinee I caught sight of the other end of the upstairs area. Another theatrical representation of Italian terrace at twilight with accompanying gargantuan statues, pink and green lights and a sweeping curved bar to match. I make a mental note to find out how much or how little it has changed since it opened in 1927. Will come back for cocktails anon perchance. Squinting in the bright wintry sun outside compared to the cave we have been nestled in for an hour, we hustle to the show, giving thanks for another wonderful day in the windy city. Time to pause blogging for a mo to savour the yankees clinching their 27th world series championship. Husband is a-quiver with happiness. I almost feel moved hearing Posada's (a yankee team player for 15 years) voice break talking about the road to the team's success. It is unlikely I will ever become a bonafide fan. Wearing the cap is one thing. Screaming at the TV is quite another. Still, I am happy to have witnessed this jumpy huggy screamy wild crowd moment. A victorious close to a victorious day.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

The Devil is in the Details

Trick. Or treat. Now I am from Italian descent and this age old threat of halloween has always seemed to me to be a way of training up young minds into the world of protection racketeering. Call me a cynic. Didn't stop me getting carried away with half a ton of orange slap and a run away khol pencil leaving my son looking like a demonic pumpkin, and, might I add, smiling from carved ear to ear. I must admit I was rather impressed with the result and after he had shed a few tears over a minor knee bang causing the make up to run slightly he took on the faded pathos of a charlie chaplinesque urchin. Worked a treat though, he managed to "treat" me a crate of "candy" and money - one lady stopped to give him a dollar because she had not come out armed with sugar, and three of the crew gave him a dollar each. If we carry on like this I'll be able to buy that fancy hair product I spied in the hairdressers the other day. I knew I was not going to be able to resist an appointment because when I went in to enquire a lady with an inspector clusoe trench coat, fedora and tie gave me all the info (and a hefty discount). Nuff said. I am a sucker for a trench coat and hat, obviously. The friendly Sarah chopped and painted, and after a free sensory experience (quick massage in of conditioner to you and me) I was ready for the world. Or, for lunch at least. This was a feast of the tall kind as my slightly vertically challenged family perched upon high stools in Betty's, a skinny half shop homecooking joint run by someone with an obsession with 50s pin ups and a fat appetite, in the appropriately named, Short North. They have one of those height things at the start of the strip to make sure you are the sort that has to always look slightly up at people. Ok now I'm being silly. Can you blame me? I am still high on sugar from our, sorry, Sammy's collection. Yes whilst Cory strutted the afternoon boards for the matinee crowd Sam and I popped up north once again and trawled all the shops with the orange balloon flying outside. A section of the street was pedestrianised and the shops who flew the balloon were treater friendly. You see, Halloween is a deeply organised affair here in Colombus. I wanted to do my usual annual witch dance atop a hill somewhere intoning and swaying by the light of the moon but Cory refused. His friendly dresser Scott, kindly printed out a list of the trick or treating schedule. Don't get me wrong, I am a sucker for lists and things of order but a schedule? All around us the air is hot with debate about the role of government in this country with focus on its role in healthcare. More than once I have heard an overall feeling of reluctance to hand over control to the government. Pastor Ken and I talked briefly about the country's general obsession with the term "freedom". I shot from the hip a little, under educated as I am in the intricacies of most things I spout about (doesn't seem to put me off I notice) and he listened graciously. These conversations rung in my ears as I skimmed the sheet of carefully planned halloween time slots. Maybe its my inner teenager but there was some part of me who wanted to run around the houses off schedule just to shake it up some. Green card pending, best not rock the boat I spose. They tell me its something about keeping the children off the streets when the adults go wild on Halloween night. Yup, come 9 pm ish some lucky couple won $1000 for dressing up as mount rushmore in the evening competition up Short North way (if I'd balance on their shoulders I could have done my witchy dance and earned us an extra $100 I bet). Call me a traditionalist, but there was a significant lack of witchy things going on on the streets when it came to dressing up (we sat behind the table of a 6 year old arabian princess and her something-out-of-a-science-fiction-type-baddy-dad. I am hoping he actually took off his enormous headpiece to eat.) We walked by Colonel Saunders (ok fair enough) a few bloody beings and so on, but the general feel here is more of a carnival than ode to all hallows eve. A time to play dress up. This, I understand. We had prepared for the afternoon with a trip to a couple of farms, generously accompanied by Pastor Ken's wife Helen. The first, the fantastically named Hickory Creek came with a characterful woman in the shop vehemently refusing to take us on a hayride because of the rain and likely damage to the tractor, namely getting stuck in the mud. I didn't dare suggest that that might be part of the fun, and great fodder for a new bloggist. Instead we browse the crate load of squashes, big, small, green, orange and all in between, tiny, huge, and the peanut variety (think pumpkin with monkey nuts stuck on it and you're almost there) and ultimately settled on buying some indian corn. It's dried kernels are alternately blue, jewely red as pomegranate, marbled yellow and generally beautiful and not in the least bit practical especially for a family on the road. The brusque farmer's wife had her sales method down pat. Either that or we are slightly too excited about the little things in true tourist form. After a run around Freemans Farm's pumpkin patch we invested in lunch, some loose tea and almost a bottle of health remedy. The ingredients read like a herbally list of "goodness" that would not be out of place in one of my godfather's concoctions. The ones that he brews over months in his cobwebby cantina and taste like the bottom of a wood on a rainy day but with loads more alcohol. Exhale eau de twig for hours. Perfect antidote to garlicy pasta I guess. No wonder then, after this full of a day the little chappy was not too keen on bed. He was still high from the paparazzi. We came across a minnie mouse on the trick or treat rounds who had organised a children's costume parade and Sam told me he wanted to be with the children. I obliged, and a medal later (2nd prize for most funny) we strutted back to the theatre. He told everyone he got a medal for trick or treating, I was quite proud of myself for completely by passing any possible conversations on competition (he has already shown a powerful need to win at all costs) and not so proud of myself when I watched him, somewhat uneasily, readily stop to pose for the paparazzi snapping at the time and later when Cory's collegaues took it in turn to whoop and wow at the boy (I suspect, with some sadness, he has learnt to do this from me) He, unflinchingly gave detailed accounts of our travels up the north way with great emphasis on the balloons and chocolate. He also reassured all that he was not in fact scarey but a bouncy pumpkin. I didn't tell him the orange face and pumpkin stalk cut from our little pumpkin on our hotel's window sill and worn as a hat on his spikey orange (painted) hair kind of gave it away. I would not rob a trick or treater's thunder like that. I am distracted for a moment because the television is telling us that "the devil is in the details!" I am quite sure Halloween was yesterday. Hold on, this is a propaganda commercial against the opening of casinos in the state. A cartoon devil just popped up all evil red smoke. Cory and I looked at each other bemused. Maybe its a thematic bit of PR for this time of year but it will always seem to me that there is no room for the devil in debates on policy. The moment passes. Yankees back on trying to conquer the world against the Phillies. Meanwhile the pumpkin outfit has been packed (my leopard coat and I went as a mobsters wife in case you're wondering) and a moment of reflection before we begin the move to Chicago tomorrow. The lure of the big city is upon us. The anticipation in the whole troupe is palpable. I am hoping our weekly in house poker game will start up (aka party in pjs) as well as daring myself into a few open mic nights, just to test my adrenaline pump is still working. Can't possibly go too long without doing something that absolutely terrifies me can I? I wonder if the devil is in those details? Word.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Come On Colombus!

It took one Winnie the Pooh, a Beatrix Potter and four repetitions of Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham with decreasing velocities to convince our little fella to relinquish to sleep. That's what you get when you indulge in two hour late afternoon naps I spose. There was no way he could have got through till dinner with the full day we had been having. Yes it has been a full few days for 3 and 33 year olds (let us not forget the old 41 year old too of course) as we have joyfully partaken in a tour of Colombus with our friend Ken Watkins, once pastor of my in laws church back home. A most gentle gentleman to show us around his new home and we have enjoyed discovering his new hometown together. First stop today was the North Market. Anything with "Market" at the end of it always has my purse strings tingling. I had to be educated by Cory on my arrival as I tried to drag him into every "market" I saw. Turns out they can be corner shops to you and I, and, shopper as I am, I draw the line at traipsing around every little shops "soda" shelves or crisp piles, I mean chip piles (though between you, me and the street lamp across the way I confess I do actually find this quite interesting also). So there we were, light breakfast almost forgtten and poised for brunch. Always a good time to hit a market methinks. Great atmosphere, I sniffed my way to the corner medi deli as usual and lost myself on the labels of spices and oils dreaming up concoctions, drifted past the (naturally) mutli coloured unpopped popcorns, salivated over the fresh breads and chocolate bomb like wotsits fresh out of the oven and finally tasted the wildberry and lavender artisan ice cream from Jenni's. She is an institution here. Other of her gourmet flavours include goats cheese and cherry, riesling and pear, stout and a bourbon salty caramel number. All of which are astonishingly delicious. I'd go so far as to call Jenni, Colombus' alchemist, turning readliy available ingredients into frozen gold. Moments later I was scoffing a bowl of Vietnamese delights - broken rice, grilled chicken with beansprouts & cucumber drizzled with that lovely chilli limey tangy spicy dressing I love about Asian salads. Cory was hidden behind a Reuben, Ken had a colourful assortment of Indian curries and Sam's face was plastered with hot Daaaag as he likes to call it in his overemphasized slightly phoney american accent he has chosen to claim on choice words. Wadah and Chicaaago are amongst the others (remember those ads for the pizzas? Turns out it was my son doing the voiceover) I am sure more will follow and I will have lost him to the yankees completely by next autumn. Did I just put the words "lost" and "yankees" in the same sentence?! My husband will have my guts for garters. World Series fever has hit. In seven games we will know who are the baseball champions of the world (even though only american teams take part). Phillies? Or the private sponsors of the ALexander-English household? Lets go you-know-who!!! I think Cory would secretly like me to watch the game and text him up to date reports. I'm telling you yankee fans don't go by halfs. The other week when my father-in-law Vern was in the audience, Cory and he had already agreed on a secret set of signals that the latter would use to pass on the score. Left hand LA Angels, Right hand Yankees. The Putting on the Ritz number was performed with an Igor apparently with some hand issues such were the frantic shapes he was making with them. You got to admire their loyalty though. Let me take you back to North Market now, as we satisfied five strapped ourselves into the car and Ken drove us all on to Colombus Zoo, number one in the country. What a beautifully laid out place. Probably emphasised by the fact that most of the usual young visitors were in school. It felt like we had the run of the place. Just lil ole us and a few others and the breathtaking autumn colours (see above picture. Yes, that is a zoo!). Once we got past some of the clubby music coming out from behind hedges at the entrance we took ourselves on a very relaxing foray into the animal kingdom. Struck most by the baby elephant hanging out with her mama, a lion during his vocal warm up, a huge manatee gliding under water watched up close in its tank, fascinating fox bats literally hanging out in their superhero guise and a whole family of gorillas checking out the visiting zoo exhibits passing their windows. Captivated most by the younger ones. Namely one son who enjoyed lengthy political discussions with one of the females before she regurgitated her food and ate it for the second time. On her third round, the alpha of the pack showed his teeth to her, and she, side stepping a fight (they had the visiting zoo there after all why waste time?) monkeyed to the other side after which he promptly licked it up for himself. Now thats what I call a close knit family. Close knit were we too 24 hours earlier when we were snugged into a packed bar at Schmidt's Sausage Haus down in the old German village. You turn a corner and suddenly a warren of cobbled streets welcoms you, each house more chocolate box than the other, all red brick and pointy rooves and shutters and picture postcard. At the end of a cul de sac is Schmidt's empire including a fudge haus. Half a pitcher later and we were clinking (heavy) glasses of Weiss biers (Sam just about pulling himself away from his potato bread to join in) and ordering sausages and sauerkraut all round. Good times had by all especially when the waitress made a mistake with the beer order and we ended up with a comunal one on the house. It seem that here the computer doesn't say noooooo. Cory took a moment to admire the waitresses "costumes". I spose thats what they call them down in the ole village. They were going for the most part for a successful version of beer keller chic. thats B for bosoms, beer, bratwurst and BIG deserts. We shuffled out, bodies happy with post lunch fatigue. What better way to remedy than a body pump class with Cory's colleagues. Yes, for the sake of the blog, I sent myself power walking down the road to pose as my husband (cast get free entry. Good job his name isn't Bob) to pump iron with a handful of lithe 6ft female dancers. All 5ft 2 roundness of sausage eating beer swilling me thought tall and exhaled with the best of them. We bounced about the gym following our leaders instructions whilst she flung prizes in our direction. Beth (of the red wig) was lobbed a $10 voucher for coffee from the unmentionable for guessing a number correctly, the only man in class got a free cap because well, em, he was the only man, a lady got a free t-shirt because it was her birthday 2 weeks ago, and another lady was awarded a cap because of her audience participation. I feel like pointing out that a. we are not strictly her audience, the teacher I mean and b. all of us are participating by actually lifting the darn weights again and again and again in the first place (note to self 10 bicep curls after a run does not count as conditioning). I had feared the trip had been ill-fated when one of the dancers called out "Hi Sara!" from across the room after I had just introduced myself, without some guilty hesitation as Cory to the instructor. The girls made fun of me a few times, or should I say Cory. I simply replied that they would not recognise me later. Not bad going after a full day's sight seeing (was asleep by 9. Hold on the gloat). The morning had been taken up at COSI, the science centre here devoted to children's exploration of the subject though for a few hours at least, Ken, Cory and I certainly had our under 10s heads on and stayed that way throughout the water splashing experiments, the balance boards, the space animation section. Something about the high wire unicycle rides on offer snapped us back to our real ages (though I have a sneaky suspicion my 10 year old self would have declined also), but not before we had run about the kids play area where Sam splashed some more, climbed, ran, sang, threw, rang, tumbled and generally worked up an appetite. Just before we left we found a section devoted to those electrical impulse whatchamahoochies that react to voice and touch. He took one look and told me that that was how the creature is made. In the show. The show. He took a few moments pretending to be Dr. Fronkensteen. As you do.. The buzz of this city is gentle but vital. Some attribute it to its arts communities, many cite the enormity of the university here, largest in the country. Its campus is certainly vast, its stadium holds 100,000 passionate spectators and students numbers are in the region of 50,000. Ken, without a hint of bemusement creeping out from under his gently southern twang, tells me that on game days folk will wear red in support regardless of the sport or whether they are particularly into the game being played. That good old fashioned loyalty rearing its proud head once again. We flicked through channels the other night during commercials (SO many drugs, so little time!) and Cory turns to me after seeing a clip of a marching band. With a half smile he shakes his head and thinks about the frivolity of many of his nations prime pastimes and passions. "Here we are" he says "rooting for this team or other, supporting our marching bands and so on when not so far away people don't even have clean water." I can safely say, any actor worth their salt has thought seriously on this. I don't offer up any neat conclusions and resist any pompous statements on the human condition (those are reserved for the blog), but just let the thought hang a second. Another American sat in the room might have baulked at what could be misconstrued at his offensively unpatriotic behaviour (not such a distant memory from heated discussions over here post 9-11). It seems that I am not the only one seeing the country with the fresh-ish eyes of the foreigner.