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.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

New room at the inn....

And so it is farewell Cleveland and hello Colombus! With no offense intended I was not sad to hit the highway out of the old place, even though our last few days there were spent very enjoyably with family and much cooking and the surprising last minute dinner invitation to one of the stage hands who had worked with Cory many years ago and who it turns out had been travelling the world for 7 years with David Copperfield's magic show (7 trucks packed and unloaded in less hours apparently. Their troupe had played 22 cities in just as many days with no hitch. Dinner was punctuated by his frustration with our crew, it looks likely that they will hire him as a full timer rather than a local guy in order to remedy the situation) leaving a strew of women and babies along the way ranging from the ages of 39 to the most recent 6 year old daughter who is at prsent enrolled at a Mensa school. He is all ragged curls and weathered skin, a Vietnam vet who Cory remembers waxing lyrical on the art of bomb making. It feels like he is on his best behaviour with me and doesn't miss a p or q, though he still appears at ease. AT least my accent hasn't put him on edge completely. Buenos Aires is where he will retire to apparently, just as soon as he has had enough of this life on the theatrical road and extrapulated himself from his thirteenth marriage that has, it would seem, brought him to sunny Cleveland. In between gulps of gnocchi (I put on a bit of a Sardinian show) and roast beef (my grandma taught me men eat one way, women another. Oh how tradition dies hard) he describes his nightly home-work with his daughter, namely the teaching of Spanish (no the mother is not mexican, its just something he feels strongly about) and reciting the globe. His daughter's teacher called the parents in to test their child when, after asking her if she could count to 100 she had calmly replied with the question "In English or Spanish?". I only get a little unsettled when he starts prophesising her entrance into college at 14 and so on, and have a flash image of those socially inept prodigy brain-children that litter our tv screens and hope that somehow she will be able to grow socially at the same rate as mentally. Perhaps that is a contradiction in terms. I find myself making mumbled apologies for the al dente, sorry, al dentures gnocchi. Perhaps twice too many times, overcompensating when I notice our guest's teeth, or lack of them. I notice too that he polishes off his beer much quicker than his pasta but choose not to take offence (Sardinian roots reach deep). So amongst, packing (I am learning to love the beast), entertaining and generally fighting in the passenger seat with our iphone's GPS (Great Punching Stuff) and bumbling our threesomeness into a Dodge's aptly named Grand Caravan (in my head we are in gypsy wagons crossing the praries) we head on to Colombus. The days of walking into junk stores opposite West Side Market meeting its Jewish owner who spoke like Dustin's Rainman Hoffman's cousin with no commas, full stops or breaths (sound familiar?) serving a bemused Spanish Psychiatrist far behind us. Our parting thoughts on whether Sacha had said yes to the marriage proposal (The banner flying plane had ditched the bacon choc for romance this week) The journey was going well until hunger struck so pulled off the highway. There was a home made peach pie at Grandpa's Cheesebarn with our names on it. In we walked into Grandpa's emporium intoxicated by the pungent spicey smells of the goods overloading every corner of shelf space. Cinnamon candles aglow, homebaked breads and cookies, teas, coffees and on and on into trinket-ville. We found ourselves a table amongst the half a dozen that were dotted along one area of the shop trying not to sit too still in case we were taken as sale goods. Near perfect seconds perhaps. The waitress came over and her shirt told us this joint was "udderly" delicious. Apparently grandpa took over an area about 30 miles from where we were and his daughter and son in law had opened this branch about 20 years ago. The boy was soon chewing on a corn dog - carefully picking off all of the corn bit (think hot dog fried in a cornmeal type batter) to get to the dog whilst his dad and I scoffed sandwiches and bean soups. Peach pie was inhaled for afters. As we made our way out we bought a whole blackberry pie for our friends (an old friend from music camp has settled an hour away from Colombus and she and her husband have invited us for dinner). A few handfuls of the free pretzel sticks and dips later and I was suddenly struck with agonising stomach cramps like my tummy had gone into full on strike. Turns out 32 chews a mouthful isn't such a bad idea after all. In I ran to the bathroom,, and in attempt to brush past this little episode, I will just say I saw my lunch a little too soon after eating if you get my drift. As I open the bathroom door (best part of 45 mins later) my husbands expression tells me the walls are rather thin. Guess they hadn't done roaring trade on the christmas section at this end of the shop then. Hey ho.I mean Ho ho. Ellen, the friendly all mid-western helpfulness sales assistant hands me iced water. I know I am looking a light shade of grey and she and I exchange a look which tells me I need not be embarassed in front of her. Almost works. Out we shuffle and into our getaway car before they commit our episode to their memories. One pee stop (and mum stop to "take a walk", I don't feel like giving an in depth explanation of regurgitation to our little fella right this minute thank you) and fifty miles past London Ohio later and we find ourselves (thank you iphone) in Springfield. The Simpson's reference is a little lost on Sammy, seeing as the houses aren't all primary shaded and so on, and, as our host later points out, that our yellow friend's home is actually Springfield Illinois. Sam clearly one beat ahead as usual. We were welcomed by a warm family poised with pizza and comfy conversation and two very articluate and friendly children who took Sammy under their wing and after dinner, onto their trampoline. We took home one happy almost 3 year old. Peperoni pizza. Jumping. Kicking balls. Doesn't take much. Pam (our hostess) and Cory had been music theatre camp sweethearts for many years and from a very young age. You can imagine the romance? Summer. Music. Camp. I need not say more. Her and husband Dennis were very gracious about me not eating (I suspect I came across rather like one of those wannabe skinny actresses who profess to eating like a horse and then just shuffle their food) The coca cola went down a treat though as did Dennis' tepid bicarb concoction. I paid for half that Oreo I succumbed to on the way home though. But enough of my gastrointsetinal incidents. I was thrilled to wake up refreshed and starving and somewhat extravagantly ordered breakfast in bed in our room. Think great coffee (brewed by the umentionables), open faced smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels with capers and red onion, poached egg topped spinach polenta with pancetta grilled tomatoes and mozzarella and freshly baked breakfast blueberry muffins. If your mouth is not watering you need to consult a doctor. All of which, of course, was eaten in one glance and actually consumed fairly poorly despite its deliciousness. When are my eyes going to get in proportion to my fuel needs?! Opened were the curtains and snuggled in bed were all three intrepid travellers, revelling in their two room suite thank you very much (we get a great deal through the company, its costing us $45 a night) and luxuriating in a good-coffee-great-pillows-special-bedding kind of a morning. Sammy was all toast and muffin. We were all bring-on-Colombus! What a different world we are in. For a start our hotel is place is in a nook amongst five or six large banks, in what I would compare to a St Pauls kind of area in London. There are people. There cabs (orange ones with a picture of an orange on the side, blue with sleeping cabbies in them) there is the hustle bustle you associate with a city. There appears to be economic robustness here in stark contrast to where we just left. I baulk at how quickly I can adjust to a room service lifestyle (my husbands expression reminds me we are trying to save up on this job. Its not all just for a blog I spose) after happily ensconcing myself into cooking overdrive (the spirit of my aunt often comes upon me at these times when in a morning I whip out a sauce, a soup, a cake and a roast. She most definitely lives on somehow. It warms my heart when Sam tells me he wants to be a chef. It woould appear genes cheat death). After taking our rental car back to the shed (leaving blackberry pie inside!) we take a stroll around the arts district. Think boutique vintage haunts, salons, posh pet shops, antiques, and, my personal favourite, paper shops. I don't mean the local rag either. I mean a shop, all distressed floors parisian bakery tabled crumbling white dresser type of shop stacked tastefully in a luxurious arrays of heart breakingly designed paper products oozing femininty and loveliness. Pure glass glitter was on the shelves. Rose shea butter hand creme (after all that correspondence the hands a need a little lovin), mini notebads touched up at the hand of an artist on a sparkle fest, and on and on and on. I was dragged out by my impatient travelling companions. Actually I used them as an excuse not to buy the shop twice over. After some more serious window shopping (there was an ornate set of parisian wooden fold down theatre seats, a copper bath and a french bed stead with our name and a FAT price tag on them) we refreshed at Rigsby's. Boys filled up with pasta, I scoffed a few shrimp and orzo. We had interesting conversation with our waiter, an English Lit graduate with a passion for all things London and then eventually found our way home. Husband was late for his sound check call (I had volunteered to be clock watch. What can I say? The Mr Men impro my son and I had going on distracted me on the job.) and we all had a little dinner downstairs at the San Fran oven, best highlight of which was the guy on the mic announcing orders when they were ready. A cook in a DJ's clothing if ever I heard one. If the music thing doesn't work out he could always find a job at Cricklewood's bingo hall no problem. I went up to collect my salad,
"How can I help you ma'am?"
"Could I have my salad please?"
"No need to say please!"
So thats why my unswerving attempts to help our son remember those little nuggets of politeness are proving to be a little tricky here. Couldn't possibly be his age and so forth. No, better to point the finger at the culture that has so far welcomed me with open if somewhat starbucked arms. Cory has now returned from work, all aglow from the jaw dropping beauty of the new venue (I have already fallen in love with it from the outside alone) and we look forward to tomorrow's day trip to the science centre and lunch at the German village with our friend Ken, the pastor at my in-law's church in upstate NY, now living in the city with his wife. I look up to see Larry David on TV, hanging on for dear life to a woman's full belly, legs dangling off the edge of a roof. My husband is popping pop corn and slugging dark horse (a beer I think. I hope). Hang on, is that a small gin and tonic he has brought up for me? Who says room service is over?

Friday, 23 October 2009

Barbershop Buzzcuts

Cleveland has been our home for a mere 10 days though you wouldn't have known it by the swagger with which we showed my brother and sister-in-law around the place like we owned it. Actually, we were just excited to have them enjoy the market (3 times in just over a week?!) and indulge in Grandma Freda's delicacies - we are going to miss them when we get to Colombus on Monday! To build up our appetites (as if help is ever needed) we took a trip through the city's famous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A plaque just outside proudly informed visitors that the genre started right here. Who'd have known? As you enter the Louvre like building all glass pyramid poised by what today was a rather misty drizzly view of Lake Erie. In we went after a quick bop in the rain to some tunes playing at the entry, catching the Sam-man just as he reached below a boundary rope to strum an exhibited guitar (where was his mother?!!!). After we gave in Cory's driver's license in exchange for a stroller (thats a pushchair to you and me, only drivers are qualified it would seem to operate large machinery) which by luck the little man relished sitting in (that's Sam not Cory). It probably helped that we sold it to him as a "car". Living with two actors the poor boy is smothered in a world of make believe. I wonder if sometimes he wished we would just be a little bit more literal about the real world. Anyhows, he and I left the gang behind as they immersed themselves on a thorough walk through rock and roll memorabilia, history, old film reels, costumes and cars. Elvis' Lincoln Continental more boat than car. I had my eyes on Bruce Springstein's Corvette myself. After taking in all the sights (ode to Michael Jackson a major feature) we went for refuelling at our favourite little chrome place at the West Side Market. The manager served us. My husband informed him he had "made the blog". His expression was a mixture of pride and disgust. He took a double take and then in recognition suddenly added, "Ah yes, the confused Yankee fans! Oh no, you got another one as well with you today'" gesturing to my brother in law. After an overdose on fried goods we scoured the market and stocked up in the Medittaranean cave once more. It was on our stroll to the car, arms heavy with luscious loads that we came upon the city's barber school. Looking through the back door, an open twirly curly white iron number a la 1970 we spied a flurry of barbers. Or should that be a buzz cut of barbers judging by the most popular style being created. It was alive with activity, young students, visions in white, lined the room on both sides by their classic red barber shop chairs under the hospital like flourescent glow of the strip lighting bouncing off the light linoleum. The owner came to us and not without some gybes about being yankee fans let us in. All 6ft 5 of him loomed above me and he loped as he walked every now and then barking out an instruction here and there. Cory is already sat with an energetic and very thorough student attacking his head (Igor likes to keep it short) by the time we get in. There are two women sat behind the desk who glare at me, one Irish the other Puerto Rican, neither of whom you would want to mess with on a dark night or a busy barber shop at 3 in the afternoon come to think about it. I am careful to ask before I start snapping. They reluctantly agree, though they have already given our son a bag of animal crackers (biscuits). I sit next to husband while he and barber exchange pleasantries and gossip not unlike what my hairdresser and I ponder on. Meaning of life, where you live, usual suspects. I glance around the shop doing a bad job of hiding the fact I am trying to soak up all the characters and atmosphere to detail in my blog later. I spy a few black men of a certain age getting a wet shave and the works, another man (white) there with his son both of whom are getting the same cut (could have been a bit less generous on the cutting away of the fringe for my liking but hey? They both looked like they were about to enroll in boot camp). I heard Puerto Rican lady dash over to correct another student in Spanish. What a fantastic hot pot of cultures. Despite the overdose in testosterone there was an orderly and controlled feel to the place. Everything done in brisk, but hushed tones. Now I understand why the women with the reins. $4 later, and having done a bad job of convincing son to copy the other 3 year old in the shop and have his haircut, we went back out into the rain. We were tempted to have a quick beer in the Great Lakes Brewery across the street, or a nice sip of wine at the cosy woody, dimly lit wine bar opposite, but the fear of rush hour traffic got the better of us. Any plans for us to take a jaunt around Tremont were also scuppered. This, apparently, is where its all at. A friendly artist at my favourite coffee haunt was incredibly informative, when I asked, perhaps a little rudely, why on earth this business was thriving where most others seem to be dying a slow and painful death. Five minutes later, and I was armed with a long list of haunts in Tremont, a neighbourhood delineated by its immigrant populations throughout the last century and a couple of interstates, for us to visit. Artist man explained that Cleveland isn't downtown its around the town. I had a feeling there may be some good Greek places somewhere around the city having passed an orthodox church on the way in from the airport. Where there is church, there is food. My list of to taste includes a chocolate shop (two of my favourite things in one sentence), a martini bar and another foodie place. We have hopes to hit them tomorrow before the matinnee show we are all seeing (Sam has given a scene by scene description to his aunt and uncle, I fear the surprise factor may be somewhat marred). A full day had by all. Now the peace of a late night in the comfort of family. The roast is marinading in the oven (not Amish this time), the butternut squash soup (made with a little Amish bacon) is ready for lunch and the boy is dreaming about Freddy Mercury's costumes. Beers are out, houmous will likely follow, runs have been done ( and a few weights lifted with the block's grunter - why must men with over developed triceps do that?!!!) and now the cosy of company is upon us (Cory warns them to watch what they say in the presence of blogger blogging). Best get off this machine if I don't want the moment to pass me by. I must not fall into the trap of living vicariously through my blog.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Where did you go Cleveland?

Its hard to pin point the soul of Cleveland. After passing the fourth closed gourmet coffee shop, the nth abandoned shell of a business, you can't help but feel a sort of sadness for the place. The buildings are majestic yes, most of them with the old grandeur of Victorian architecture or the flair of art deco, and the centre is littered with financial buildings, becolomned, many in the Roccoco style. They stand like abandoned dinosaurs haunting the quasi empty streets. You come across office workers here and there (so there are some people who still work here then) most of them can be spied at Phoenix coffee roasters on East 9th street. Amongst the office blocks and arcades that hark back to a time when the main drag, Euclid Avenue, was the place to see and be seen, there lies a coffee lover's paradise. The smell hits you as you walk in as do the mis matched chairs and upholstered retro sofas (fingers up to chain's souless homogenised version). At the end of the cafe, past the glass coffee beaned canisters that line the fantastically clashing dressers there are helpful staff who, most importantly, share a passion for coffee. The lady that served me was knowledgeable and helpful, reeling off suggestions of beans like an experienced waiter sells you the special in upmarket restaurants, and without blinking an eye, apparently seems to know the best wine to match it. Fancy that. So after some indecision between a Costa Rican and an Ethiopian I settled on a full bodied Colombian which was manna in a cup. A real cup. Coffee should never be to go. Or in polystyrene or paper. Coffee means a moment of calm. Contemplation. Pleasure. Warming. SLOW. Not steaming down the road to get to work, from work. Spare a moment of compassion for those poor little drops of loveliness being schlepped about a paper cup after having been carefully grown and nurtured by farmers (fairly paid we hope) under a burning sun. I mean really. So, as you can see, I am happy to have found my coffee pot for this city, but the sparseness all around it is seriously depressing. Even about the university campus, a stones throw from the theatre the little ma and pa places are all boarded up. But its not just the little places that are suffering bowing under the offence from chains, Starbucks too, looks tired. The lighting, the plaster, the overall cleanliness was not what I would call tip top. I almost feel a twinge of compassion but not quite. Round the corner back at the place where real coffee is made, the Phoenix (how aptly named, rising out of the ashes of a Cleveland bereft of a classy cup o' java) provided the perfect close to a lovely morning with the grandfolks, spent strolling downtown to The Arcade, an impressive bit of highly ornate Victorian mall based on a similar one in Milan. Three tiered and glass domed it is all light and splendour and you can almost hear the shoppers in the city's height bustling about the stores, today still framed with intricate brass. On the high steel beams gargoyles grin down at you like they know all your darkest secrets. There are people, yes, but it still feel like its soul has been kidnapped. The Hyatt hotel has taken over the upper levels, with their rooms backing onto the balconies that circumnavigate the entire building. The revenue from which I am sure keeps the building going. The handful of shops and small food stops certainly don't appear to be bringing in the coffers. We saw one owner lock up their shop during the height of the lunch hour, and noticed the coffee bar abandoned also. The federal coin shop seemed to be doing ok though, and of course the post office upstairs but it felt like a museum piece with a few dodgy exhibits here and there. The empty windows dressed in strange fabrics in an attempt to divert your attention from the fact that there was nothing in them. A world away from it's day. Same goes for the Euclid Arcade, where we counted only one "store" and that was the (closed) Museum of Baseball history next door to the boarded up luncheon stop and opposite the Kabob (American-Lebanese for Kebab I'm guessing) shop. Strange to see a doner, or Shosh as its called here, twirling about within a marbled 1920s strip. We had the opportunity to explore the place a bit more thanks to the arrival of the automobile, ensconced within which we could get a better flavour of the city without changing busses five times or pounding the pavements. To our tourist eyes it seems like there are pockets of immense prosperity, the Cleveland Clinic for example is one of the best hospitals in the country, Cleveland State University buildings sprawl downtown all glass and contemporary architecture and the Museum of Art is a beauty with some impressive exhibitions and framed on the local street by sprawling Victorian mansions. Turn the corner though and you will drive past dilapidated warehouses, the kind that London Bridger's pay an arm and a leg for and which here too, are slowly being brought up to spec once again in an attempt to lure in the crowds. At the end of one strip a little ray of hope, in the shape of the Art's Centre (gallery, cafe) on the ground floor of one such warehouse, illuminated where some inspired Clevelanders hope their city is headed. I would hazard a guess that if I were to return in 5 - 10 years time I might be pleased to see a bustling artistic community that at the moment seems to be somewhat on the fringes of this place rather than at its core pumping creative life force through a Cleveland humming with suppressed magnificence. I know my in laws were astounded at the beauty and overall cleanliness of the place though we all agreed the atmosphere is like the tail end of a party where all the cool folk have left to go on to the even cooler after-party party. One place for which this is not true is the West Side Market which we hit with glee again today, and made sure not to repeat our mistake of fuelling up off the premises before hand. No fast mexican food for us today. Oh no. We lined our gullets with bona fide breakfasts a la americana in that chrome joint we missed last time. Actually when you sit in there you feel like you are in the shell of the abattoir what with the floor to ceiling white tiles and all but the food we scoffed was lush. I had Market hash - poached eggs with potatoes, peppers and onions, Andouille sausage (a cross between sausage and peperoni) drizzled with a Creole mustard. Pure salty spicy gorgeousness. The family had an array of egg pancake sausage combos (real buttermilk-maple-drizzled sort) and my husband inhaled his yearly dose of cholesterol with a 2 egg topped steak swimming in hollandaise. It was worth it though. So too, was the cup cake we all had a bite of after from Grandma Freda's. We found the will power from somewhere to save another one for home (double chocolate. Double MINE) and a pumpkin one for the folk's journey home. Sausages were bought once again (perhaps I won't cook them to a crisp this time) and so too were a boot load of fresh veggies, a bucket of houmous form Judy's Oasis (ahh yes, that common middle eastern name) and Sardinian Gnocchi from the Medittarranean shop. What a cave of delicacies was this! The small corner plot was stuffed with an international smorgasbord of gourmet ingredients. Dried Chamomile flowers, amarinth, chick pea flour, whole spelt, 5 different types of anchovies, an assortment of Dutch licorice, slabs of unsweetend chocolate, coffee beans, 10 different brands of balsamic vinagar, dried procini, truffle oils and so it went on. I could have smelt it for an hour or more. It took me straight back to the health food shop my mum and I would go into as a child. The closest I get to a fix these days is a quick whiff of Neals Yard Remedies in Covent Garden. This place had that wonderful fragrant mix of herby dried things with tangy garlicky cheesy things. It is a heady mix and a joy for someone who loves to cook. Recipes and ideas came flooding in like a manic stream of consciousness. Thank goodness Sam was beginning to show signs of needing to exit otherwise I would be typing now as someone close to bankruptcy. Either that or tired arms. I did manage to bag those Sardinian gnocchi though. Not the dough potatoey ones the Romans are infamous for. No, I mean the dried type. Look a bit like the shells of woodlice when the body has rotten away. Whip up a good marinara and you have time travelled to my grandmother's kitchen table ablaze with loud family dinners under the dim light of the bare bulb casting all our shadows across the vast marble work top. My cousin and I commanding joint head of the table and singing out for "Aqua e Vino per piacere" in unison, our heads just about reaching over the flowery tablecloth. Summer nights in Sardinia. Aglow with nostalgia. Nauseous perhaps to read but unadulterated pleasure to write. Now we have new guests coming to stay (brother and sister in law) I will be able to do a turn or two by the stove and rustle up some more of my good ole day's favourites. A good ole fashioned roast perhaps? Minestrone's already covered (bimbo did a fabulous job, also involved some Amish bacon - all these clogged animals around here!!!) fridge is loaded with all things fresh and green and there is a spring in my cook persona's step. Outside may be hushed by economic uncertainty but inside our little camp and after a trip to Cleveland's hub of deliciousness the home fires are most definately burning.

Monday, 19 October 2009


"What part of Canada are you from?" enquires the nurse as she leads me to my room. I am about to be needled and prodded in the name of green card. Apparently you cannot have the freedom to pay taxes in this country unless you have had a prick or two. Or in my case three. Actually, make that four punctures. The first was to see if I had TB, the second to draw blood (I think she used knitting needle, I have an impressive mass of purpleness where once the needle was), the third for an MMR and the last for Tetanus and Diptheria. "I'm from London." I answer trying not to sound patronising, as she opened the door to a small room overpowered by one of those printed paper photographic murals of a rural Wisconsin scene, all rustic log cabin watermill and autumnal foliage. I wonder if they replaster every season, till I realise it has probably been up there since 1982 such are the orange browny hues of it. As my eye casts a nervous sweep around the room (I'm not into needles and doctors and such) I notice most of the furniture has probably been there since then too, as well as the bed I am perched on. It has all these silver bits and pieces and ledges that whip in and out as and when needed; one to step up, one to extend, another for I don't know what. I don't get a chance to noisy about much before I am told to lie back and blood is drawn. She efficiently informs me my pulse is "normal" and my blood pressure is to her liking. Not that her face cracks into a smile or anything, she has that professional nurse thing going on. Friendly but in no way making you feel like she actually cares about you. She asks me a few questions and I immediately feel guilty. The whole green card process so far I have felt like we are trying to wheeler dealer me into a social security number. Almost eight years of marriage and an almost three year old together and yet somehow I still feel like we may be "found out". Ridiculous I know. I feel the same around police. Oh come on I'm sure you have too. At least once? Anyhows she dissappears out of the room with a "doctor will see you now" but eyes firmly on the her next job in hand, which I gathered from the phone call she was on when we arrived had something to do with her mum's birthday tomorrow, conducted in the same breezy professionalism as her time with patients or wannabe immigrants. A few moments later Dr. Frinzl enters. He looks down at my form, "New York ha? Where's New York?" I am using my in-laws upstate address. I panic slightly thinking that he might be an immigration officer doing a surprise geography test on me but he saves me from any possible nervous drivle but smiling with half of his mouth. He was giving me a classic Frinzl-put-you-at-ease lines Apparently Brits aren't that attuned to irony after all. Well, not this one, not with needles on my mind. I breathe a bit for him, he uses a lollipop stick and I do the "aaah" thing, he counts my knees, my livers, almost pushes the flood gates of my (full) bladder open, lifts each leg (medical or dance coach? The lines are so tenuously blurred) and with a half nod takes his leave. Just me and the orange photo thingy for a bit. I dangle my legs like a nervous 6 year old on the edge of the metal bed and hope that the family in the waiting room aren't getting too restless. Yesterday my in laws arrived after a short ride from upstate New York (6 hours) armed with all manner of local goodies. Zucchini bread lovingly made by Vern, my father in law and even more lovingly scoffed by us over fresh coffee this morning (I just discovered the bimbo grinds up coffee beans. Welcome to sanity!) alongside half a barrel of just picked apples from the farm of his friend. Courtlands and Empires, or as I like to think of them, Sweet n' Sour. Its great to have the apartment filled with all of us though I am wondering if they had wished we had left them there whilst I went for my checks rather than the soul-less strip lit reception. Sam keeps them entertained though, handing out and collecting magazines from everyone and having his hands periodically washed so he doesn't take anything home with him. No sooner have a started to loose myself in some thought or other (mostly how I am going to describe this in the blog) does a veiled lady swoop in greeting me with a warm smile. I don't catch her name because I can't get passed the "student physician" she slips in. I silently enter the ring with Fear and we battle it out discreetly under the table. "What part of Yorkshire do you come from?" she says looking up from my notes. I run over the London thing for the third time. She asks more questions about my circumstances and I decide to double bluff the undercover officers (clearly here is good cop) with trying to make them believe I haven't uncovered their motives. She manages somehow to get out of me that I am in the business too. "Don't say that!" she adds, "You know I will have to ask you to sing!" Aha! So immigration decisions are based on what people would hypothetically add to the humour (or tragedy) of Pop Idol. Looking good. Turns out she has family in Sheffield. It was quite an astute guess of mine even if I do say so myself and her "Yes Ma'am" reply was priceless being somewhat juxtaposed with her appearance. I know I ought to be more worldy than this but I am still shocked when a young Chinese woman speaks in a heavy scottish brogue, or when this physician looking to me like she wouldn't be out of place running the wards of a Somalian hospital talks in a slightly southern drawl. I am sure she was thinking the same about me; Mexican border jumper rambler from the Pennine's mouth on her. I stop trying to get over my prejudices when she flippantly tells me that the needles they have there aren't the smallest. Apparently in Pediatrics yesterday they were like a hair but these? Oh no. I ask her if they are, at least, sharp and her half laugh gives me the sad answer. "well, as long as you don't have to do this," I try to joke miming her punching the syringe into my arm, "then I won't have to do this!" I add punching the air with the other hand. To all intents and purposes I have just promised to cause grievous bodily harm if she hurts me. Not going to go down well in the notes. I make a promise to myself to plead self defence. No sooner as she has squeezed the fat in my upper arm than one is done and just as I realize she is whispering "45 degrees..." to herself as she does the other side it is all over. Frinzl re-enters for the once over and on wednesday I am to collect the forms. $250 later and we are all back out into the crisp Cleveland sunshine and in the car headed back to Little Italy where we found Guarino's, est 1908. The owners have done everything to try and recreate the turn of the century feel but the mirrored glass mosaic oversized cement bows hung al about undercut it somewhat as did the demonic halloween lamp shades. It was dark and fairylit and advertised nonna's upper attic bed and breakfast and private parlour dinner in their menu inbetween veal parm and ossobucco. One of which made it to our table, alongside authentic antipasto (anything topped with good quality artichoke always ranks high with me), pesto pasta and meat besauced angel hair, all washed down with a little chianti and authentic gelato from across the road. The espresso accompanying it was as bad as the ice cream was lush, but I don't want to get bogged down with my obsessive coffee habit. The afternoon was spent recuperating, christmas afternoon style back at the pad. Boy having a surprise nap, husband and father-in-law watching the game, mother in law Fay and I tapwording the hour away on my iphone. As I type, satiated with homemade turkey chilli and bimbo'd ice cream (yes ice cream!!!), Fay is quickly becoming a champion of the game. For those who are still managing not to put a piece of technology at the centre of their existences let me explain. Tapword, brought to us by Tapjoy (?) is a free downloadable game which is basically a word search with a timer and the dictionary used is unlike any I have ever had on my shelf. I have all faith that she will break our 25% average. My father in law is alternately watching the game (American football now, baseball is done and the excitement turned to despondency once the LA Angels beat the beloved Yankees watched intently by the three generations of men in the house sausage and beers in hand) and knitting metal. That's what it looks like in my peripheral anyway, its actually him trying to outwit those metal puzzle wotsits, you know like those monkey rings you have to work out how to separate, aka things that drive me mad with frustration. And as my son knows well, this is not a healthy state for anyone to be around. I think his life purpose at the moment is to find my frustration threshold at all times. How far will she go before she will blow? I am not doing too bad at rising to the bait and then out calming my oponent. Terrible twos terrible shmoos. Terrible threes is what I am bracing myself for. Bigger brain, bigger vocabulary, bigger lungs. It all points towards some testing times ahead. I feel we are on a precipice just as we were when he turned two; after month of intense boundary pushing we were finally back to three happy musketeers again. Yesterday in the supermarket, he tried a new tack by asking what I was frustrated about and I explained that I couldn't work out the lay out of the shop and that it was taking us twenty minutes to find a loaf when it should take five. He gave me a hug and explained that this would make me happy and everything better. He most definitely was right. Who needs bread anyway?

Saturday, 17 October 2009

There Were Three in the Bed.......

After a somewhat gruelling sleep - Sammy decided at goodness only what knows what o' clock that Teddy and Duck and Peter Sam the train MUST come into bed with him and, after finally plucking up the courage to go and get them from the darkened living room himself he proceeded to toss and turn commenting loudly on the fact, in a delirious stream of consciousness. None of us got back to sleep for what felt like the best part of an hour. On retrospect I have a sneaky suspicion that it might have been 7 o clock or there about but incredibly dark. I never get up when it is dark unless I am paid to do so or pretending to have the discipline of a Tibetan monk, the latter of which is the rarer I am thankful to add. But hey, when we did finally arise at a civilised hour I was glad to see that stocks have not run out at Milley's. Apparently Clevelanders aren't ravenous for the rasher stuffed chocolate. Either that, or someone has a mate at the airfield who threw them a good deal. After doing a bit of gerbaling on the tread mill, and, with the help of Sting amongst others (don't curl up your lips, whatever it takes) I managed to get up to 25 minutes before trying my hand at a few weights. I was pretending to work but actually I was watching the guy next to me, who in between reps strutted some moves alla hip hop (ipods make people do strange things) despite being a white man of a certain age. Wandering around back stage just a few hours ago I saw same said man strut by me again, but this time he was dressed in a Young Frankenstein toweling dressing gown with another of the male ensemble following closely behind draped casually in the same garb (blue of course with the big yellow font thing going on). I did a double take, I suddenly thought I had entered an all male spa (no not that sort, though come to think of it...). Turns out hip hop weight lifter is in the show, and a great performer at that. All is forgiven. So after the sweaty stuff I joined the troupe for some freezy stuff. Baseball in Cleveland in October. Not your usual autumnal set up. Biting winds were braved, almost three year olds were wrapped up and the wiffle ball was out. No its not an american pseudonym for gas. To you and me, this is a plastic baseball bat and ball, that is surprisingly playable even for adults. I guess a baseball is too lethal for performers contracted to a show and windows and children and so on. We set up field in a tennis court that had its net taken off and replaced with hazardous puddles. One of the swings (talented performer who covers 8 or more roles. Not the car key sort. As far as I know) became intimately acquainted with one before I arrived in what sounded like a woundless fall of quite some distinction. Sammy took a swing in each "inning" with everyone pausing to chant "exhibition" each time and giving raucous applause and cheers when he managed to make connection and run (or sometimes gallop - that's what you get for going to dance class too often) to first base. Each time this was followed by a pretend fall from the tyke (thats the biggest thing that he is taking away from watching sports on tv) and job was done. In between turns he played with the other tour kids. Jasper, something close to a dalmation but smaller and more bull terrierish and Lila who is a miniture pincher. Both adorable canines and all three played nicely together. Sam was licked clean by the end of the game. Bathtime sorted. After almost building up heat we headed to the West Side Market with Austin the lovely retro-loving pink conversed bequiffed props guy. He is half Lituanian and half Mexican and I will be holding him to his promise of teaching me to cook enchiladas the proper way. Arriving at another of Cleveland's photogenic historic buildings filled this time not with musical theatre but food. Perfect combination. Inside the stalls were illuminated with chrome signs under the cover of the cavernous vaulted ceilings. A vegetarian's hell. All around us were stacks of fresh meat and lively sellers each ready to haggle. My kind of market. The ones where people look you in the eye, try and sell you things, tell a quick joke, move with gusto, make you feel like buying and cooking and laughing. You know the sort. As usual I quickly spent my alloted budget on the heaviest fruit and veg I came across including succulent artichokes, fresh corn, pineapple and grapes. Turns out those "grape" flavour sweets we used to eat as kids actually do taste of grapes. Just not the european ones. No, grape flavour tastes like these perfectly round dark purple berries of deliciousness, known here as concord or table grapes. I wouldn't call them table grapes, they lasted approximately two minutes on ours before Cory and I scoffed the lot. Sam was nonplussed. He knows what real grapes taste like. His expression told me they tasted like artificially flavoured gum. We had the foresight to eat at a mexican place across the street before we shopped (hungry shopper = broke shopper) but on our way out we found an in house cafe, all chrome tables and 50s chairs, white tiles, atmosphere. We walked in and gawked at the cosiness from the doorway.
"Can I help you?" says the manager.
"Should have eaten here." says a shop-wearied husband weighed down to the spot by heavy bags.
"How can I help you?" manager repeats after a beat. "You look confused."
(we did)
"I mean your yankee fans I can see why" he adds.
Apparently my husband and son have the sole responsibility on behalf of the nation for wearing merchandised yankee clothing. Whilst hanging out with a leopard skin coat of course. Anyhows after our cab ride back (where are the buses people?!) I attacked the bimbo with vigour and in under half an hour had rustled a turkey bolognese and a side of garlicky artichokes a la west side market. Some home cooking was definately in store you see in preparation for today's onslaught. I found out that the restaurant across from the theatre thinks that 1 litre's worth of cocktail is an acceptable amount for brunchers when we met up with Cory's old drum teacher from high school and his daughter and her family. Cory led us all on a tour of backstage (this time Sam strutted about like he owned the place) and then we watched the show. It was a dramatic start, a frenetic front of house manager was screaming people into their seats. All fool me for queuing patiently at the box office when I should have gone to the Will Call of course (I've worked in the theatre for over 10 years and have never heard the term. We may both speak english, but we do not speak the same language). When we did eventually find the will place (we call them solicitors I believe) tickets could not be found and so headless chicken man shunted two tickets from his back pocket into my hand and pushed me past the flock of elderly ladies who volunteer their services as very well manicured ushers (red jackets, beehives, MAKE UP) and Sam and I sprinted up into the mezzanine to take our seats. Although we could see the wings from up there we also got to enjoy the luxury of these little table wotsits next to us with low watt shades above them acting as both a store for your bits and pieces and a ledge to rest your refreshments on, which by the way, could be ordered from your seat. Original features. We like. Sam sat bolt upright throughout the show, studying most particularly the bits where Beth appears all glimmering in red and gold and all things shimmery and smiling proudly when his Dad manages to get his nickname into the show. You may think that Samalamadingdong would not be so easy to squeeze in at an opportune time but Mel Brook's gag filled show allows manouvre for randomness and Cory manages it with some artful shutzpah even if I do say so myself. When all the audience have almost left and Sam has told every usher that the monster has run away and that he is only an actor (still working through the fear then) we find Cory's teacher Mr Jerry McClure and his wife Evelyn waiting for us at the sound desk. Marcus, the sound guy comes by with his leather jacket and asks Sam when he is going to make the thunder. His reply is that he does not work in the orchestra. Marcus tries to explain that he makes it with buttons but Sam appears to disbelieve the sincerity of his invitation (when do adults ever really let you touch LOTS of buttons?) and is somewhat poker faced. Not so when his dad rolls up the aisle (unorthodox for an actor and to the old school superstitious actors treading through the house is quite simply gross faux pas daaaaahling) which sees him running into his arms telling him how he enjoyed the show. On a loop. I stopped counting at ten hoping the record might unstick. He did the same to me after a performance of The Odyssey where I played Penelope and Circe. And a pig. No prizes for guessing which part he enjoyed the most. Fair enough. I was a brilliant pig. Trained long and hard for that bit. No seriously I did. We had to do a term on animal work at drama school. Should have seen my ostrich. Unforgettable. Most likely for the wrong reasons. But I digress. Back to the sound desk where Mr Mc Clure handed Cory a present of a T-Shirt with "Keep truckin. You're the Best Cory. Jer" stamped across it after wiping away a few sneaky tears of pride at having watched his little pip squeek student blossom into a fully fledged humped and humourous song and dance man. Most touching was the way his teacher tried to undercut the obvious time and thoughtfulness it had taken to make the shirt, dismissing it as a "rehearsal shirt". My almost hidden tears lost on our little fella. What a liability to be moved by other's touching moments. It was as if I was the conduit for the two men's nostlagia. No matter. I only ever wear waterproof mascara. We saw them off and then walked up to Tower City Centre, once home to the Higabee's store. Think Selfridges but more gold bits and you're half way there. Least thats what it would have looked like in its hey day. Parts of it remain in its grandeur and the Ritz Carlton hotel is housed there alongside the similarly upmarket Renaissance but adjoined is a tasteful mall extension with affordable shops and food. On our way to Shanghai Joe's (you know good old Joe from Shanghai don't you?) we past a fountain, a grabber toy thing, you know like the ones at fairgrounds labelled BIG STUFF (you won basketballs and sinks instead of ducks and squidgy toys. Ok the sinks was a slight exaggeration) and a Truth Booth. The latter being a 4-D ultra sound walk-in service for pregnant women to check what they will be giving birth to in glorious technicolour. I am still a bit confused on the 4 in 4-D in regards to a sonographer. I thought the fourth dimension had something to do with quantum and universe and stuff that makes the dusty back bit of your brain ache a little. Hey ho. What does my little actress brain know? Other than my meeting on the top floor at the spa with the inspiring Antoinette, a beautiful black woman with six children and faith, who performs a few patches of waxing with great care (I inherited my grandma's moustache) and makes me feel like I also need five more kids if its as easy as she makes it seem, has left me with a spring in my step. Nice to have some interaction with local people other than market pleasantries and so on. Now the night lights of Cleveland dot the streets into the near distance like little runways and my bed calls. I look at it not without some trepidation; I have told Teddy that under no circumstance will I be sharing my side of the bed with him. He knows its not personal. A woman just needs her space.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Leave Your Guns at the Door

I woke up this morning - sorry did I say woke up? I think I meant I shuffled into the living room behind bouncing almost 3 year old, judging by the light that it must be just before dawn (it was infact 8.30. That'll be the official start of winter then). In my haze I took a second peturbed look as I spied a small plane zooming by flying a banner behind which read "Chocolate Covered Bacon @ Milley's". It had the effect if shaking me into wide eyed awakeness if still a little confused. Was this a nasty trick from Milley's competitors to disparage their menu? A slight on their somewhat unconventional and, dare I say it, unappetizing preparation of pork? Or, more troubling had we arrived in Cleveland's choco-porko festival time of year when people try to out cocoa their swine friends. Either way it was a wonderfully absurd way to wake up, and to my delight (and relief) it past by several times in the afternoon also so my husband knew I was not making up quirky anecdotes for the sake of the blog. I knew he was thinking that because he gave me that half-lip wry smirk and his eyebrows did a little dance. Dancing also was the skinny elderly man we past by the Greyhound station who was swinging his bones to a musak tune coming from what I supposed to be a getoblaster (but hey could have been an ipod I don't mean to be ageist here) in his blue hold all. I wondered if he was one of the crew (I haven't memorised all their faces or names yet. Pub visits need to be organised for that to happen in earnest) because of the blue bag thing but there were no big yellow Young Frankenstein letters to be seen. Only a "Have a good day ma'am" as he passed by me and then when my back was turned some recitation of a poem most likely created on the spot and delivered without commas or full stops. Or periods. We braved the ice cold rain only as far as the taxi rank and took a cab to Cleveland's children's museum. $30 for the three of us bought us a couple of hours into 3 year old heaven. At least the temper tantrum on leaving told me it had ranked high amongst most amazing places on the planet. That and the shrieks of excitement as Sam approached every new activity and child. Shrieks of excitement that turned into flashes of surly territorialism when, usually younger, more unbridled tykes would crash into a very carefully planned out little game of his creation. When we reached the shopping section I felt like I had arrived in munchkin land having swallowed five of Alice's bottles. Tiny people were rushing about with great purpose filling their mini trolleys to overflowing, manically unloading their goods (gourmet clams alongside apple jacks. It was a clientele with eclectic tastes) onto cashier's belts lobbing wads of pretend cash into the (very young) cashiers faces and then rushing back around again to stock up for more. They have Lidl here too I see. As I followed the boys I caught sight of various signs which looked like they were for the kids but were actually little nuggets for the parents to ponder on. You know, explanations on why it is children play make believe (I never stopped but am lucky enough to get paid for it now) and my personal favourite - the importance of sleep. Now, admittedly, Sam has naturally seemed to have found himself on a more conventional schedule (early nights is what I am really getting to) since we have been over here, which for the purposes of blogging and having a few hours to myself are very accomodating. It is new territory for us though, who, usually are very much on a Mediterranean rhythm. Eating later, sleeping later, loud meals, fat siestas. You know the sort of thing. But hey! All change for the following year so no complaints from me. The only thing of home that we are sticking with is the core three musketeers or Keatons as I may now refer to us in future having come across the image of them during my search of Vaudeville info on the net after our visit to Cory's theatre. More of that later. Back to the "museum". After a request to the bus driver (4 yrs) to get us to London airport Sam sported a pilots hat and checked us in at the mini airport. Ran up the stairs to rock a doll asleep (and fight with a tiny boy who kept snatching his chosen toy) sprinted to the water tray, sprinkled in the loo, climbed up and over some hanging plywood painted to look like waves and encirlcled with wire mesh (keep the anxious parents out and the tykes in) dashed about the indoor slide, flicked the ball on the air-vent-keeps-the-ball-floating-thingy. All of which concluded in an inevitable blood sugar dip and a text book three year old not wanting to leave or get dressed or listen to anything or anyone or I'll scream and scream until I'm sick kind of scenario. Time, without a doubt for food. Where does one go when one is uptown Cleveland in search of refreshment? Why, hit the 125th street and stroll (or power walk, its still raining and its still cold) up Mayfield to Little Italy. Yes, it has become my mission to visit every Little Italy in all the cities on our route (no complaints from husband, he married one for goodness sake). And so it was that on this cold afternoon, Cory, Sammy my leopard skin coat and I strutted past the mural depicting the history of the "Italo-Americano Popolo" and into Mamma Santa's. Could you get a more typically Italian male's nick name for their mother? Mamma Santa literally means my mother the saint. I'm not by any means suggesting that the picture of the woman that greets you as you are led - through a gated indoor arch to the dining room - with the thick glasses and the don't mess with me brow would have been anything but santa. I'm just saying. So pass her we did, invited in by a waitress of a certain age with a short black skirt, olive skin coloured tights, white socks and polished white trainers. She zipped around the room keeping everyone in check and checked and fed including an anaemic looking older fellow behind us with a flat cap and thick glasses (must have gone to the same place as the santa) and the little hoop earring in his left ear sat opposite his date? Daughter? Niece? Accomplice? Not sure which but she more than made up for what he appeared to lack in masculinity inspite of the pink baseball cap. The two of them polished off soups, salads and meatballs and sausage and pasta in the time it took for us to finish our one course (we're cutting back). Not that I was staring or anything. We sat in the mahogonay coloured ply veneer 3/4 pannelling with the uplighting hidden behind casting a sort of greyish light about all of us like we were background artists in an episode of The Sopranos. Tony was in fact sat at the back table, red wine in hand and Carmela walked by me a few moments later. After we polished off our spaghetti with clam sauce and veal parmigiana (creatures of habit) we made a dash for the cafe across the street for some dissappointing coffee (how could they do that?!) and luscious canoli. After reading the sign on the door " Leave the Gun Take the Canoli" we knew we must try. The canoli I mean. I managed to get most of the homemade filling over my hand but had great pleasure licking it off. They were fresh. They were good. Not sure if they were good enough to relinquish my gun for though. Should be used to these suffocating Ohio laws by now. At the Stage Door yesterday when we went to the theatre to unload our hamper (how much stuff does an under 5ft 5" group of family need exactly?!) there was a red sticker of a gun on the door with a line through it. Darn Federal law. Good job I had left mine at home that day huh? In we go to the front desk and back we go into time. The Palace Theatre is like a 360 degree quantum leap into 1920s splendour. I don't know what I fell in love with first. The sweeping stone stair case? The double door elevator with panelling? The 3/4 original (no ply in site baby) pannelling? The original white tiled bathrooms with marble finishes? The tasteful palette used to resurrect this once derelict venue (the four theatres in this district ran into disrepair in the sixties after the mass migration to suburbia in the 1950s and the arrival of the malls sapped this city of its cultural economic life force. Huge $30 million investment in 1988 saved them) back to its good old two-a-day vaudeville days when it was a prime venue on the Keith circuit and one of the places Bob Hope (Eltham born, Cleveland raised) began to hone his craft. You can smell the history here. Cory took us under the stage to the orchestra pit (it took some convincing to get Sam back out again) and through the crackling warrens that lead under the audience and through a curved panelled door (to match the line of the wall in the foyer) to the front lobby that is bejewelled in lavish chandeliers and vast amounts of dark pink and red upholstered walls and carpets. It is all pomp and plush. A perfect example of those roaring times' predisposition to excess and I love it. Back in Cory's dressing room (207 New York. Each room is named after a state) the boys take a pee in the marble bathroom and wonder at the small dimensions of the bath. I am too busy trying to commit the wooden panels, the door with a frosted window over head that opens by way of an intricate metal pulley old fashioned lever thingy, to memory to take enough notice of them. I feel so nostalgic I could cry. Somebody almost falls directly onto the marble step that leads into the bathroom after some convoluting move in his father's empty laundry basket (it was a ship apparently) which quickly snaps me out of my fanciful reverie. Cory is anxious for me to meet his dresser Maura after giving me a blow by blow account of his first meeting with her. I think it went a little like this:
"Nice to meet you Maura."
"Its Mora. You know, like Laura."
"Oh sorry, I thought you being Italian an'all. That's the pronunciation in Italian right? Mahuura?"
"I hate my name."
"Right. My wife's half Italian."
"Big brown eyes, brown hair?"
"All my cousins got that. I hate them. I take after my Irish dad."
Later on she told him that she would be able to judge if he was a good dad or not by the bond evident or not between he and Sammy (is she kidding?! They are like Yogi Bear and the little one. They even dress the same. Really. I am the gooseberry here). Started well then. She may well think she looks more Irish than Italian but her approach feels more Sicily than Dublin. Hey. There's room enough for everyone right? On the subject of Italy you will be delighted to know that the bimbo is in full swing (that's where she was bought). The transformer has transformed, we didn't blow up the apartment and chicken soup was made. In 20 minutes. Gotta love those Germans. Amazing how far an Amish bird will go.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

On wasted Amish birds

There are two ways it seems to me to cure the restlessness that overcomes me on landing in a new universe. I mean city. 1. Get outside and do everything and anything, eat one of everything on offer, ride a tram, eat an ice cream, visit a museum, have another coffee. Or 2. Get on a treadmill and after replenishing with a healthful-ish lunch approach the new place with the keen but calm eye of the travelling observer. Fortunately for my family today I chose the second. The day started well (I made the coffee) and we spent the best part of our caffeine highs (Cory and I that is, Sam's is perfectly natural and enhanced by his ever changing homes the source of unadulterated excitement) moving in. It seems our process of unpacking is speeding up at the same rate as our packing is slowing down. All I know is that it took us twice as long to put away as it did to spread out. And spread out we have. I have taken over the walk-in closet. I feel like Carrie without the clothes or the quads but boy was I working on the eight pack this morning. Yes, me and 6ft tall and wide man were sweating it out some down the in house fitness centre, I counted roughly 20 of my 5lb bicep wotsits to his one breathy lift of 500lb. As I found my way to the floor, as gracefully as I could manage after 20 mins running (I am NOT a born runner, this is BIG for me) to do some belly bashing I saw him stride out, legs wide apart, arms almost able to hang by his sides clutching a fat and well loved leather support belt. I have a feeling it has seen a lot of action. Whilst all my panting and sweating is going on the boys are just the other side of the window in the pool (the weight bit and the sweaty runny bit face onto the water bit). When I say pool, I mean hot tub. We missed out on all those teach your 6 week old to swim in a month classes as we were moving around so much during his first year with Cory's other musical theatre tour of The Producers and were never long enough in one spot to make it worthwhile (hang on, that makes me a WAG after all). Hence our son's slight apprehension to the expanse of somewhat chilly water or maybe he just has a savvy sense of comfort; cold pool in which I will be under constant perhaps even somewhat claustrophobic contact with my father or warm bubbly hot tub in which to let the cares of the world drift away? We all know what we would choose don't we? Excercisaholics aside. 75 lengths any day. There I was, scrambling to make my iphone (that's "i" for irksome) play some sort of morale propping music radio station over the internet (forgot to charge up ipod) but every site I visited asked me for my post code, and after typing it in wrong for the fifth time (how am I supposed to work that keyboard thing anyway? My fingers are slightly bigger than a two year old's!) I narrowly escaped throwing it across the room (there were people there, and it would have undermined my dont-throw-anything-other-than-a-ball policy I lay down for our tyke somewhat) and, as I came to the end of my 5 minute power walk warm up bit I plugged my headphones hastily into the treadmill itself and in desperation settled on the Heavy Metal channel. At the 8 minute mark I was in a self inflicted mental hell. Ahead of me, the seeming distant 20 minute mark and Meatloaf loafing about a sofa talking about something I don't understand interspersed with "music" clips, which is why I mistakingly stopped at that channel in the first place. If it wasn't for my husband and son, popping their little faces up from the hot tub on the other side of the glass where they seemed to be engaged in the most serious of conversations (who the yankees beat last night or quantum physics probably) and throwing me the thumbs up I think I may not have lasted. Thanks to them, and having mistakingly pushed the incline button too many times till it stuck at a way-too-high% for the entire gambit, I came out of that room a quivering slightly euphoric dripping mess. When I meet the boys back up in the apartment I find them glued to the enormous sky scrapery windows plane watching. From our giant panes we can see the shores of Lake Erie (its a biggie but no trendy Garda cafes on the front type scenario going on as far as I can see) and there is a small jet plane runway next to it. Need I say more? This, together with the constant stream of locomotives pulling industrial quantities of coal to the steel mills and you have a boy-heaven. I go into my Carrie room to change and again feel a sizzling smugness to have gone against female stereotypes delighting in the fact I have managed to pack light. I mean to say, I have but a few clothes (I came leaving room for some SERIOUS shopping). To compensate, I seem to have brought a lot of heavy stuff, I 'm blaming it on my books and journals (how could I leave my Shakespeare in Sardinian behind?!) and just in case medical bits and bobs. And boots. Flashback to husband rolling his eyes as my luggage is overweight in Hartford and we are charged a handsome sum. We make a promise to ourselves that we will put more in the hamper. Not a foodie wicker one, our own little square mile of the touring trucks. It looks a little like an oversized laundry basket but so far not as smelly and atop of its canvas sides is a wooden lid with Cory's name printed on Young Frankenstein logo'd adhesive. We are like a troupe with an unhealthy obsession with all things halloweeny. Quite fitting now, I wonder how it will feel in the summer months? And summer it most definitely is not. We braced the gusty if somewhat deserted streets of Cleveland until we found the warming shelter of the nearest diner. It was filled with hungry local office workers and manned by a small, slightly out of synch team, tempers kept in check only by the fact that they were constantly on show. I insisted we sit at the counter (red twsity stools and everything) and our boy had his first hot dog. It took me a few minutes to convince him that it was American for sausage but he wasn't totally convinced until he saw it and inhaled it in under a minute. I do feed the boy, honest. If you will hang out in a hot tub mid morning. I enjoyed the show though. Cook one, grey and black streaky (long) hair, computer analyst glasses, white catering cap. Cook 2, new, pretty, fish out of water and trying not let it show, baseball cap with POLICE written all over it in fat white letters. Either he was an under cover doing a really bad job or loves a man in uniform. I'll never know. What I do know is that I irritated the waitress, slim, fast, put upon. Each time I reached over Sam to get to one of Cory's chips (sorry I meant both times) I said "excuse me" which seemingly happened to coincide with her passing at great speed in front of me. She would stop on a dime and look at me expectantly. The first few times I didn't clock what was going on. That'll teach me for stealing chips. Actually that will teach me for forgetting to put our mouth watering Amish chicken back in the fridge for lunch today. Would have been a darn site more satisfying than my pretend turkey sandwich and I wouldn't have had to steal chips or upset waitresses. The butterfly (or should that be chicken?) effect is something to be reckoned with I tell you. After lunch we picked up a coffee (at the place whose name must not be mentioned) and walked by the theatre. Or should I say theatres. At the end of the relatively dead Euclid st lies a cluster of large theatres, a hark back to how thriving this place was in the 20s. Wikipedia (I don't skim on my research) tells me it had Italian families and organised crime as infamous as Al Capone and his cronies. Now, however, unless we weren't in the part of town where people generally are, the place on first impression is like another one of those sunday afternoons in the city feelings again. Columned buildings, gilt facades but empty streets. I lie, I did see a corner shop with the word "Fancy" somewhere on its sign appertaining to the clothes in its window but there didn't seem to be anyone working there. I think we were walking just around the corner from the "First Third Bank" building I saw when we drove in yesterday which is by the "Progressive" baseball field. Until Cory told me that was the name of an insurance company I thought it was where the players and fans practiced meditation at half time. It didn't take long before we were blown back to the comfort of our little home just opposite the gorgeously deco Greyhound bus stop, all curves, glass brick and clocked standing stoically in the mournful afternoon light. As the boys watch the clouds roll by and the planes fly in I put a chicken casserole on to simmer and after a bath with dad, Sammy is off to sleep and Cory is off to work. I am off to Skype with the in-laws for some catch up, punctuated by play by play texts from husband reporting back on the slightly disastrous opening (an hour late on curtain up because of technical difficulties). Apparently the curtains were closed half way through the first act because the two towers that fly in were late and began to swing in a way that heavy scenery shouldn't. Roger Bart (Dr. Frankenstein, Gene Wilder in the movie) kept the crowd happy with a front cloth turn (Vive La Vaudeville!) whilst the trouble was fixed. When we had walked by the loading dock earlier this afternoon we were greeted with the slightly furrowed brows of our crew. It is after all only the second load in in a few weeks. Even though they were supported by an army of local crew including a fisherman whose boat I had supposed had been blown off course on the lake and he had found himself on quite a different vessel. I'm talking long white hair, thick white beard and moustache, big blue wooly jumper and dungarees. He was like my memory of the man from Cockleshell Bay. A cluster of others joined the merry band of brothers all be-gloved and poised for attack with the rugged energy of a pirate crew on the 1700s seas. Ok maybe the 1700s bit pushed us over the edge. I apologise. In front of the cab, away from the excitement of the luggers are the drivers. Hudling out of the wind, world weary faces and baseball capped heads with the names of musicals on them. Lion King spoke first and made friends with Sammy. Turns out all of them have three or more kids each, all grown, and all had a tip or two to share. Mamma Mia's fondest memory was when the diaper bag finally decreased into nothing after the fourth child, then he knew he was on the home strait. I loved the way this baby talk sounded like a play by play sport commentary. For a moment it took me back to the summer bonfire my brother in law lit in his back yard one night when we were over. I was about 5 months pregnant at the time. I remember sidling into the predominantly male group huddled around the heat toasting marshmallows and drinking beer. It was but a while after I had joined them, trying my best not to upset the equilibrium (My accent seems to have the effect of making everyone mind their p's and q's over here which I know would make some folk feel somewhat restricted and that night I just wanted to be a fly on the wall) that the men each took it in turn to talk about their birthing stories. No-one driving by that night seeing the flickering fire lighting those very masculine men's faces would have ever dreamt they were actually talking about placentas, water breaking, record labour times. Back to the men in question. Cory and Sam feel at home with the crew gang. I feel too, like I am a welcomed member of the group also until I catch sight of the reflection of my leopard skin coat and leopard skin t-shirt underneath and suddenly feel like a crazed fashion victim doing a bad impression of a cat. Either that or I think I am married to Tony Soprano. I am in my satin leopard skin pj's now, looking over at my leopard skin jewelry holder thing (not that I am carrying the crown jewels or anything, it was a present from my mum and her sponsors QVC). Her way of helping me prepare to travel. I inherited some amazing costume jewelry from my aunt (of the sauce and general all round culinary fame) when she left us a few years ago, each with some seriously vivid memories of her attached. I thinks its also mum's way of trying to encourage me to look after them in an uncharacteristically careful way. Most days I am armed with my aunt's wonder woman mother of pearl and silver swirl bracelet the width of a wrist band. It makes me feel like she is visiting the places with me. God knows she would have been wearing it too (it was a travel favourite as I remember) along with her ten rings, fiat badge pins sported as earrings (Uno left, Panda right. My godfather is a partner in a concessionary in Sardinia and my childhood was littered with random merchandise of cars my friends had never seen) and rhinestone trainers. I miss her. I made tonight's dinner in her honour and I am determined not to let this batch of Amish bird go to waste.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Roasting in Cleveland

In between minor bickerings with my husband (thats what a travel day does for you) I am bashing out my installment for today. My first few memories of Cleveland include an aging hippie collecting her baggage at the carousel, a fuschia rucksack strapped to her back three sections of which were made out of a fine mesh which was being systematically pecked away by the large bird that was caged inside. I foresaw one unhappy pet owner opening up her sack only to be torn apart with grief on discovery that her precious bird had taken flight. It took us two flights to reach here from Hartford - one to Baltimore and the second, on the same plane (we did a little musical chairs in between) to our final destination. The first was manned by a delightful trio of bright cabin crew. I knew we had been assigned people of good humour when the first announcement went like this, "Welcome aboard Southwest Airlines, blah blah blah, blah blah blah." When, as we approached take off, Leroy - our frustrated musical theatre wannabe crew guy with a voice to boot gave his rendition of Proud Mary and insisted his passengers join in the chorus I found myself joining in somewhat loudly nonetheless drowned out by my fellow travelers. I guess this is as close to Panto as the yanks get. After drinks were served he also lead a round of applause for the "special guests" on board (he meant the Young Frankenstein lot, plug for show included) and there were whoops and cheers. When we landed he welcomed us to Hawaii over the tannoy and his colleague not skipping a beat told us as we approached the gate that Southwest loved not only our custom but also "our money" so thank you once again and to the tune of This Old Man they had composed their own ditty that ended "if you marry one of us you travel free." Don't get that kind of service on Virgin. I pause for a moment on my reminiscing because I can hear some stifled sobs from the opposite end of the sofa. Oh no. Cory has caught the end of that awful Kevin Costner baseball movie. He is sucker for any happy ending sports movie. Now he's caught sight of me catching sight of him. Don't put this in the blog he says from behind a cushion. After we found our room on the 22nd floor of the apartment building earlier this afternoon we set to forage for food. On the ground floor of the block is a small supermarket. Around half an hour after we had all arrived (crew bus and flown folk's arrival coinciding perfectly) and filled the deserted reception with cases, blue Young Frankenstein logo'd bags and canvas mag bags with pink brains printed on them (thank you Susan Stroman) we were all back down again this time loading up tired shopping trolleys, which, by the way, I refused to push around after a while because it kept giving me intense electric shocks. I wonder if that store had ever seen such a concentrated mass of musical theatre shoppers at one time. You could recognise us quite easily. We were the zombie like lot floating around looking for the wheat free goods, alcohol and any fresh veggies to compensate for the past few weeks of eating out. Sam had a wail of a time asking me whether I needed this or that and then attempting to be Cory's colleagues' personal shoppers also. Loudly of course. This was a moment after the second person had approached us for a spare dollar or two. I don't think I have ever been approached like this in a supermarket before and it gave me that chilling feeling of being one of the privileged classes. I am not going to bow into a phony middle class guilt because somewhere in my escapist brain I live in a classless world and guilt always seems to be such a lazy emotion. Anger usually spurs people on to change but guilt? So perhaps what I was feeling was in all intents and purposes a spark of anger. So accustomed have I become to seeing an America full of over stocked gleaming supermarkets whose shelves almost topple under the weight of the choice of goods they display that to find ourselves in a dimly lit sparse shelved store decked out in 1980s browns and oranges was a shock to the system. Determined not to let our visit deplete out travel high we did what we always do to make ourselves feel at home. We cooked. The royal we and I set about roasting a succulent Amish chicken found amongst the tired fridge displays. I wonder if it took a year out of the pen to travel the real world in nike trainers and bonnet before he settled back into the traditional ways only to be led to slaughter. It was but a passing thought. Not so much to turn me to vegetarianism. No antibiotics in this bird see, and apparently she had been a mean carpenter also. The comforting smell of garlic and herbs makes us feel like we are in our own home once again. I fear however that the smell is likely to follow us around for a few days. We met the coolest post man I have ever met in the lift after buying such bird. Well I say lift. I mean main entrance as we struggled to work out how we were to open the door with a key when there was a fat sign telling us to swipe a card. Along comes the dude. "You live here?" he asks with a smirk. "Yes" we answer looking guilty, "If you pay your money you get yourselves one of these", he replies waving a little grey thingy. "We haven't paid a dollar yet." my husband interjects. My brow involutarily furrows. I think this is going as well as his attempts to start conversation with the tellers back at the store who ignored all three of his humourous offerings. They appeared to have been of the opinion that the jokey openings had come from a middle class guilt place. All credit to him not giving up till he was ignored for the third time. Anyhows, we suddenly discover that we too have a grey thingy on our key. The four of us bundle into the lift. "You must have yourself a pack of money if you are only here for two weeks." says the postman. He goes on to tell us that he knows what he is talking about, that he knows everyone in the building, that he watches everyone and knows what is going on. As we reach his 14th floor he steps out and wishes us well but not before he turns back and just as the doors close tells us that he is "da man." I'd be hard pressed to find a post office worker back home like that of a monday afternoon. Husband has now switched to Supernanny. Tears have turned to a gaping mouth of disbelief. Not sure which I prefer. Sammy is ensconced in his "cushion bed" as he has called it which is literally what it is. Elmo duvet cover and pillow case from home thrown over and he is a happy man. His dad and I have a belly full of roast chicken and green veg and a little red wine and are feeling quite smug at having almost recreated a sunday evening in London on a monday travel day in Cleveland Ohio. Tomorrow we will explore the city, having only seen the dotted skyscrapers loom up on the horizon behind the silhouetted steel mills earlier this afternoon in our taxi ride from the airport. The ride was just long enough for Cory to find out that our driver had been in the marines in Korea, where Cory's father was also stationed in the 50s. A perfect opportunity to tell the tale of him pulling Marilyn out of a ditch when her car had overturned on the way to a concert. Cory was quick to point out that his father had not had the foresight to take a picture of the moment and so all validity remains by implication in question, nevertheless we re-tell it at every opportunity. Till our adventure into town tomorrow we will ensconce ourselves in some serious sofa time and enjoy a rare night in together. If I get off the computer that is.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Marathon hits Hartford

The city was alight with Marathon fever today. Thousands of locals and not-so locals took to the roads for the grueling 26 mile slog. At around 9 o'clock, when Sam (thank you for sleeping in boy!) and I took off for our new coffee local Jo-Jos we passed the relatively relaxed 5k finishees clearly relishing their breakfast bagels. On our way back after our lunch, and after some hard core park-age with his father, Sam and I witnessed the half marathonees sweating through satisfied smiles briskly walking back to reality on the pavements of downtown Hartford. It was not till the early afternoon, after a lengthy laundry adventure involving a quarter-eating non-cleaning machine or two, that we came across the hard core hobbling elite. The expressions on their faces, a moving mix of pain and joy made me want to run baths for them and touched the deep part of me that has been nurtured to be a compulsive feeder. Oh, if only our bimbo were plugged in, I would have rustled them up a plate or three of pasta. I don't think I have ever seen a city so awash with lean muscley running machines as I have done this past few days. Everywhere you went there were lithe beshorted folk in preparation for today. In the evenings our hotel was a carnival of clashing luminous printed T-Shirts with the runner's families showing up in force to support them and their chosen charities. Suddenly, the stiffness in my knee was no more, and, inspired by the numerous foil wrapped individuals crossing our path I too performed my own mini marathon. No, I don't mean a sprint to the cupboard for a chocloate fix, I mean a bona fide, power ballad theme tuned dance on the treadmill. It was in all intents and purpose more like a battle on the treadmill (will it successfully push me off, so abhorred with my lack of technique or mental prowess?) and when I say power ballad I actually mean an ipod shuffle of hip hop and Sondheim with a few Neil Diamond surprises thrown in. Leave it. But in the end I think I won; I am not limping, I am not scared to get back on. Yes, definately an une pointe score to me today. Well, I figure if the lot out there can manage 20+ miles, surely I can withstand 20 minutes. The past few days here have been under a dampish cloud of autumnal humidity. That sort of threatening to rain sort of atmosphere. As I took a walk down main street the church bells were ringing out a chopin waltz, with that slightly off the beat thing that bells tend to do, the sound floating up hill as if underwater. Despite the people hustled around the bus stops all along the strip and the commuters jostling down the sidewalks (Dunkin Donuts coffee firmly gripped) the juxtaposed effect of the music made me feel like I was in a scene from a movie. I half expected everyone to burst into Ally McBeal Fisher King routines. I wouldn't have been surprised if the woman outside the church half way up towards the library had done so however, she was already living partly in another world 25 bags of I-daren't-know-what in hand. We are definately starting to feel a world away from home. Mostly in a good way. Blessed be Skype is all I can say. I wonder at Sam who takes it all in his stride, so perfectly normal is it for him to have a chat with the grandfolks or hang out with my best mate and her fiance (aka second parents to the boy) on the computer screen. To me however, of the Atari generation, it is still so thrilling. Our friends and I hung out for almost two hours and were, almost, apart from some excitement induced antics (my friend pulled out every instrument in their home to entertain Sam. Who would have known they had a blowy piano thingy? Or a shakey metal wotsit?) we (almost) behaved like we were sat in the same room. We even ate muffins together. Well, we had carrot and raisin stuff and they had Cadbury's milk choc biscuits. That probably explains why the streamers came out. I mean I'm not saying our mates can't hold their sugar or anything. I am saying that I love the fact that the four of us, Sam watched on bemused, worked together and used up the entire final stock of their streamer supply (who has those in October?! Their story is that the last owners of the flat left them in the attic. You buy that? People will go to any lengths to make you believe they don't keep a regular stock of streamers.) trying to work out the best angle to shoot it from. On the first four attempts the streamers went right over the camera so that all we got was a bang and not much else. Ok, now I realise why Sam was so bemused. Anyway the point was, we got to play together which was very cool. Only down side was the good bye bit at the end. Felt happy sad tears at the pit of my stomach and decided to keep them there for another time. They don't know this, but we are just priming everyone up to do some Skype-sitting. Sammy is a pretty good listener at the mo, why not take advantage of the fact and give our friends some unadultered time with their boy without us in the way. I don't mean for days at a time or anything, and admittedly bath time might be somewhat tricky, just a half hour of books every now and again. When the rush of interest in being in a new city has begun to fade, you are saddened by so many Skype goodbyes and homesickness begins to rear its little head there is always a trip to the theatre to raise the spirits. In between shows today we joined the troupe for dinner at the theatre. Everyone sat at long tables scoffing delicious catered food and generally making a great fuss of their mascot. He in turn, relayed particulars of his day and at the end of dinner announced he was going to do his fathers make up. Not many boys his age could say the same I would suspect. Up we trekked round the back alleys of the theatre, passing a bass player bowing his instrument who graciously took the time to give our son a brief masterclass. Sam looked up at him and asked if he would show his friend how it worked. He meant Beth of course. The player kindly obliged. Up another floor through the bustle of the pre set, only a few of the crew didn't stop what they were doing to share a moment or two with Sam. He announced to all of them in turn also, that he was going to do his fathers make up and that he would be three on the 19th of November. Up then to Cory's cosy dressing room, which is nestled in the older part of the building. Half the dressing rooms are in the new extension - bright, roomy, luminous and the other half are in the original building and have that familiar old feel about them which I love; slightly tired plaster, original frosted metal framed windows, wooden lengths for the table with innumerable layers of paint, low ceilings and that warm glow from the lamps that always makes me feel overcome with a yearning for theatrical times past (I was regressed once, as an esoterically minded teenager and the "memories" involved a place not disimilar but thats another story) We camped out and Sam perched on the edge of the dressing table taking aim with the appropriate brushes under the guidance of his daddy. Its a good job that Igor's make up can be a little crooked here and there but trying desperately not to be biased I have to say the boy has a good eye. And quite a steady hand. I guess if the all-star baseball team, Michelin star chef, poet-musician thing doesn't work out he can always fall back on the make up. Who knows how our life in the wings is being processed in his little busy mind. All I know is that as we waited outside in the cool starlit Hartford night for our taxi and as we rode home with a rhinestone studded baseball capped driver who had spent many christmases in Manchester our son recited back to me, almost verbatim the notes that the dance captain had just given Cory as we passed him at stage door on our way out. I was a little freaked. But deeply proud. When we got back, half of Samuel Whiskers (I have brought Beatrix Poter with us - its is DEEPLY soporiphic especially when the readers can't work out how to pronounce half the words or read out the monetary references, very British, and supports our deeply Victorian way of parenting) sent him off dreaming whilst I looked, somewhat overwhelmed, at our suitcases to be repacked for Monday's trip to Cleveland Ohio. Let the theatre marathon commence!