Friday, 29 January 2010

Toasting Marshmallows and the Road to Suwanee

Headed north on route 75, passing the monumental Church In The Now (complete with school and acre-age), up by Friendly Village of Crooked Creek (I kid you not), Beaver Ruin and Shake Rag driving in the direction of Chatanooga (almost as fun to type as to say) lies the city of Suwanee. Just beyond that live Cory's cousins, Raymond and Lil Crabtree, descendents from the family who were raised in the Skulls and Schoals Woods. Raymond the only son to Sarah Crabtree (nee English) who was but a year older than Cory's colourful grandfather Owen English knows the family tree well. We were welcomed into their beautiful family heirloom-full home with warm Southern hospitality and treated to a lovely lunch and plotted history of the English clan. Cory is still bristling with excitement after his return to the woods alone yesterday to a. find missing hat and b. find more grave stones. He was disappointed on the hat front but glowing from the treasure hunt the lady from the chamber of commerce had sent him on. Turns out, Grandpa Owen's father, who died in an overturned cart accident in 1924 is buried in Woodville cemetery which is, quite literally, in a wood. On the map were directions of the two-paces-forward-skip-a-tree-look-right sort. We now have information dating back to Granandpa Owen's grandfather James English, who worked as a Justice of the Peace back in the early 1800s. Beginning to get a sense of where the acting gene came in eh?

Whilst Cory was on the hunt, Sam and I had a relaxed day at home with a quick foray outside to soak up the hot spell. Bitter-sweet reminder of spring before we hit the never ending snow of Michigan next week. I will always remember that Centennial Park day (built during the olympics of 1996) because it was the first time I ever saw Sam push another little boy, totally unprovoked down a slide of some height. Both his mother and I flew up to the two, she shaken, taking her boy away from my son, the 3ft agressor and I ushering said fella to a quiet part of the park to lay done the law in what I hoped would be a firm but gentle discipline. Fifteen minutes later, the Sam-man now into the lofty realms of hysterical tears is still refusing to apologise or at least acknowledge his wrong doing. Twenty minutes later, the boy and his mother have left, and so tykey ends up apologising to me instead for not apologising. Over my coffee and his muffin later, I broach the subject again. He tells me, all puppy dog eyes, after I have finished my piece, "I didn't hear that mum." I tell him, as kindly as I can, that I know he did. Its only when our wandering Dad returns and the first thing Sam tells him about is his transgression at the playground do I know the point has hit home.

Its no wonder then, after such a turbulent afternoon that the little fella conked out directly once he was strapped into the car after the show as the three of us headed out into the Georgian starlit night for a party at Shuler's family home (a.k.a the "creature" in the show). Twenty minutes out of the city, past a Marietta town's square twinkling with fairy lights but very much closed for the night we arrive at a pine tree lined drive, alongside National Forest where a coach load of actors and crew are unloading out into the crisp air. We reach the house and Shuler's brother greets us into his triple height ceiling'd front room where a fire is roaring and we move on downstairs to munch on an array of tempting snacks. Boy is schlepped down by dad in car seat. Fast asleep with the party babbling on around him. A hay ride is announced and in groups of about ten we bundle onto Shuler's father's hay wagon and he drives his tractor with excitable troupe on the back wobbling and giggling under the full moon doing their best not to sink into the hay bales. We chug into the darkness and after driving by the original stone family home we arrive at the bonfire. By a lake. Tree stumps are placed around it and on top of the largest is everything you need to make S'Mores. So called, I soon learn, because once you have one you just need.....s'more.

I watch the group fiddle with sticks and stab marshmallows, set fire to them and then smush them inbetween graham crackers (biscuits to the Brits) with a square or two of hershey's chocolate for good measure. The gooey, chocolatey, crunchy, toasty taste is sticky and delicious. I managed to stop after three. Any more sugar and I thought I might start leviatating. Cory arrives after the second load of hay riders, in our car, having schlepped the boy back up the stairs, still in seat. He is now in the back. In the car seat. Fast asleep.

We stand around the fire, munching, crunching, chatting. We stare at the flames, the moon, the halo around it. We learn that it heralds rain. We talk about preparing for the next month of packing and unpacking and survival in Detroit. Nothing but trees and stars about us. It is just what the doctor ordered. Shuler tells us all about running around the woods as a kid for sometimes whole days at a time. He and his brother's game of pushing over the dead trees. Swimming in the lake. The "grump" stump where the kids (or adults) were sent if they were in a huff (or in the dog house). Not difficult to see why he and his family look forward to being able to live there permanently one day. As we waved goodbye to the party and began our journey home Sam opened his eyes, gave me a smile and fell back to sleep.

He is now, once again in the land of nod and his mum will soon be joining him. Cory, in contrast is showing our relatives aroudn the back stage of the Fabulous Fox. Raymond and Lil's son and his family, two fantastically sociable young fellas of 14 and 20 treated us to dinner southern style. On the menu of the place they took us were Grits and Jambalaya. I opted for buttermilk fried chicken. It was crunchy and delicious. As too were the fried green tomatoes we shared for starters and the chicken livers and the huge basket of home made corn bread rolls. Cory's pork chop was tangy and tender. We all found room to share a few banana puddings and pecan pies. Then we scrambled into the freezing rain to make Cory's accustomed crazy dash to the theatre. Whilst they saw the show Sam did his best to orchestrate an intricate make believe journey of plane travel with me back at home, to various cities and hotels concluding with a cruising height of some feet at the dining area table, where we ate apples and yoghurts and generally put the world to rights.
"I miss London." he says.
The book we have read five nights in a row has one of the characters talking about missing people.
"What do you miss?" I ask.
"London." he answers.
I'm beginning to feel dizzy from the circular motion of this conversation when he adds, "I miss the plot mum." Better than loosing it I spose I think to myself, noticing how uncannily Sam has mimicked the exact way Cory and I had been talking about our little corner of vegetable land just a few hours ago. I think the sentiment is more an excercise in mimickry than an expression of what he really is aware of thinking. Another bite of apple and we are onto another "flight" to Florida this time with his "friends" Blue Ian and Silver Ian. i like those two. They know how to pack light.

London most definately feels a world away from out here. Digging is just going to have to wait Sammy boy. Just for a little while....

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Skulls and Shoals

My first vision of Atlanta was from the sky. The city and its skyscrapers poked out from the dense surrounding forests as if it had been beamed in, entirely formed, from outer space. It was a crisp but slightly blustery day up there, cloudless for us to enjoy the vastness of the Georgian landscape. This will be etched in my mind as my first memory of Atlanta. That, and turning around just after landing to see our boy effortlessly vomit his entire morning's consumption all over himself and myself and daddy scooping up the debris and changing his clothes before you could say seats-for-landing. Similar situation happened this morning on our drive into the Country. It came to mind that tykey might be going through a motion sickness phase. Stillness sickness more like. On both occasions he was forcibly strapped in, in one way or another. Luckily neither episode has dampened the spirit of adventure Georgia has inspired in all of us.

I'm tempted to apportion blame on the Car. We have all american wheels for this week's stay and its a good job because this city was not built for the pedestrian. Things have a way of sprawling out into the horizon in most of the American cities we have visited. A bit like us when we have palatial digs. Give our three cases and our travelling hamper more than a single room and you have yourself a hurricane of belongings. I have developed some slightly unhealthy attachments to my knives and peelers. Cooking is by far the quickest way for us to feel at home. Took all of five minutes to do so here. Ceilings are high, heating is soundless and efficient, Clarke Gable and Vivien Leigh stayed here when Gone with the Wind (written in a house up the way) premiered at the Fabulous Fox Theatre across the road - which is where Cory is taking his bow as I type. The place has character, despite a classy modernisation. People say ma'am and sir and wear white gloves to open doors. The folks seem, well, happy. Southern hospitality is alive and well and the gentle drawl has got me hook line and sinker. Iced tea in a silver urn at the lobby, washer and dryer in our - extremely large - bathroom, oven, dishwasher, two bedrooms, views of stone mountain and more forests. A girl could get used to this way of life.

We celebrated our anniversary on the night we arrived. Yes, eight years ago Cory and I were nearly turfed out of the registry office on account of his hysterical laughter and our inability to recite the lines. As the registrar hissed at us, in his best bad cop impersonation trying to get us to straighten up, "People who have never been on stage in their lives don't fluff it!" Way to create a romantic atmosphere. In fairness we were a bedraggled mottley crew, blown in from the wet winds of January. Our parents were there, my aunt Patricia, my sister (who took amazing pictures) our niece (who had half her hair sprayed bright red) my cousin (who had just had emergency ovarian surgery a week before) and my uncle (who filmed bits illegally and almost cost us the ceremony for the third time). No rings (we were saving up for that ceremony later that year), no dress, Cory didn't even have a tie. The words actor and actress on our certificate got the registrars all hot and bothered. Still, the stories will ring on. I had warned him that if he carried on saying "awful wedded" wife as a joke around the house, chances are he would fluff on the day. Never a wiser word spoken. At least I have fodder for at least another 8 years I hope....

After a cocktail at the bar (just half a finger of beer for the boy) and ingestion of various delicious foodiness served in unusual recepticles we made plans to do a little ancestry trek the following day. Turns out Cory's grandfather on his father's side - one Owen English - was raised an hour and half from where we are. A relative who lives in Suanee, north of here (I am actually going to visit a place with that name. Makes me want to run out and play a harmonica in dungarees by a muddy river) had passed on details of where the clan were based exactly and also their graves. This morning, armed with snacks and maps we took, if a little late, to the road. It took less than half an hour to be out in the expanse I had enjoyed from the air and our hotel window. Tree lined rolling red clay earthed Georgia spread out in front of us. What a tonic after city living for the past few months. We passed glass like lakes, swooping hawks and gargantuan trucks. the latter obviously the favourite for our backseat driver. After about an hour the roads became narrower and the pines taller. Eventually we came to the somewhat ominously named, "Skulls Shoals" Road. Cory's face lights up with delight. I brace myself for rental car damage as we hit dirt track. Half way down a tree almost blocks the path entirely leaving just enough room for us to squeeze through in our Chevrolet Malibu. Rubbling along we eventually get to a dead end where there are a few picnic tables and deserted barbecues. A little visitor information sign is up explaining what the ruins we are gaping at all meant at one time.

So there it was. Skull Shoals. Grandpa Owen's once bustling little Paper mill village now reduced to scattered bricks in various sites around the larger ruin of what once would have been the founder's house. The disintegrating red brick structure fighting a loosing battle with the ivy and thickets stood eerily silent against the backdrop of the fast running muddy waters submerging the trunks of the surrounding forest. A picturesque scene of decay. Half the sites we had found out about on the internet were swimming under the wintery waters but with only us and the forest to enjoy the peace we were more than satisfied. AFter an unhurried visit we were back on to the gravel tracks for the cemetery where we went on a ravaging hunt for the English clan. After another dirt road, this time red clay rather than stone we arrive at Penfield, dotted with a few large be-colomned homes but mostly still very rural. The cemetery was small with a low wall surrounding and our threesome took photos of all the English we could find, including Grandpa Owen English's Grandfather. Our little pea brains took some bashing with the maths (Math). It was all very exciting and moving for the Cory man. Sammy happily picked leaves and skipped around the place blissfully unaware of the meaning of it all. We didn't broach the subject in its entirety - there's plenty of time for that - but waited for his questions. We managed quite well on the whole I think, not lying or hiding the truth but keeping conversation simple. He was content on looking for the word English for quite sometime. We only ran into muddy water when he asked why his name wasn't there? A snack was produced, a game of leaf piling was played and the subject was forgotten. It was a very peaceful place. The lack of mechanical sounds of any sort, deeply settling.

Back then, into the car once again, in contrast surrounded by mechanical technology to help us arrive at our last destination of the day. Cory's mother had worked for a family for many years, looking after their children and helping them in the house. The couple had moved to a retirement home down here but the husband died suddenly months before they were to move in properly. The widow, who now has moved into the home was most welcoming and insisted on feeding us a delicious feast. She had told us that her home was within a gated community. I was expecting a little apartment in, well, a gated area. What greeted us was a 100 or more acre woodland with houses hidden amongst the trees flanked by more forest, and golf course. Retirement a la luxury. Her roomy luminous home greeted us, complete with her grandson's toys much to the delight of mini man and deliciousness from her oven was scoffed with joy.

Our stay was short - someone has to earn a living around here you know - and we said our goodbyes and headed back out into the Georgian sunset. Boy sleeping in the back, husband and I enjoyed the glow of the afternoon light. Felt more like a sun kissed drive back from the beach of a summer afternoon than the crisp early evening of a late January cruise home. Cory at the wheel satisfied with his finds and our little foray into the wilderness. Me weary on fresh air and good food and great company. It was just about then that we realise we have lost one of our prized possessions. Nothing against the bimbo, also purchased by the same person, but the hat in question is of great sentimental value. Its Sammy's little knitted number, bought in a french market during Patricia's final months with us as she went to reconnect with her French cousins (Sardinian descent). The pictures from her stay there were among the best anyone has ever seen of her, infact the favourite is even on her tombstone in Ozieri. She is smiling, beaming with utter happiness, life. There is nothing about that picture that says the subject would pass away four months or so later. The little hat, that protects our son's head draws comments from most people and always makes me feel like she is somehow watching over him, quite literally. I remember a frantic ten minutes when we left it behind in a coffee bar in Brooklyn last year just after he turned two. Anyone would have thought by the sweat running down our faces that we had left a child behind not a little bit of knittedness. Go ahead, baulk at my sentimentality but I'm afraid it appears to be somewhat entrenched. I am still trying to convince Cory that he needn't make the 3 hour trip there and back tomorrow morning to see if he can find it. Should the hat need a resting place, seems to be no better place than on the forest floor where his predecessors grew up.

He has just returned from work, radiant from a fabulous audience at The Fabulous Fox. The 5,000 seater was originally built as a Shriner temple (offshoot of the Masons) in the islamic style. The canopy belies it size but as you turn the corner you can see it steadily creeps up a la Morroccan staircase into grandness. Sammy and I sit tight for our visit there on Saturday afternoon for the matinee. I am looking forward to the "starlit" ceiling and the gold excess.

You gotta love a little 1920s gold excess.

If it was good enough for Ms Leigh then it is good enough for me!

Friday, 22 January 2010

Just Can't Shake That Feeling

I had a feeling it was going to be One of Those Days.

All started well and sprightly. Sam was in good spirits. Mum had had a good nights sleep. Breakfast was smooth. Sun shone. I suppose really that feeling of the planets being ever so slightly misaligned started after Cedric, who had kindly, once again driven us up to the commune - sorry nursery - in the woods turned to me as we got out and answering my question about whether he might be free to pick us up and take us home he said, with his broad immaculately white toothed Trinidadian grin, "You know I will be here!" I closed the door and fought off that shifting feeling of uncertainty.

There we were, some hours later, boy and I sat on a log happily munching our apple after playgroup when I have Cedric on the phone explaining he would not be able to get to us till after 12. It was 11.10 at this point. We were fairly in the middle of not too much-ish and a foresty trek to the nearest bus stop. I had agreed to jump around with my friend Beth at 12 back at the ranch. "Ok," I say trying to hide my disappointment and steadily rising frustration seeing as we had, after all, made an arrangement (its a hormonal time of the month, more on that later). Rising into intrepid explorer I saddle boy on my back and we pretend to be Andean mother and child braving the South American wilds in search of bus number 1, which my too-clever-for-its-own-good iphone tells me is leaving in 5 minutes from quite a ways uphill away...

I am a sweaty mama by the time I have power walked to the stop. Sam has been instructed, somewhat forcefully I might add, to stand perfectly still on the muddy bank by the bus stop (where did the nature loving free and easy mum go who looked a lot like me back in the playgroup go?!!!!). Taking a moment to sigh - a little loudly - my frustration away we begin our meditation on waiting for buses in neighbourhoods you don't know and opposite forest. It is a nice day after all. Could be raining. Or thunderstorming. Or hurricane-ing. "You happy mum?" he asks. No better way to keep your demeanour in check than a three year old lookng at your frown and making you realise what a mountain you are making of a missing bus induced mole hill. No sooner had I surrendered to the wait does a car pull up.

When the window winds down I realise that it is the handsome couple from playgroup, Deidre and Otis and their beautiful little daughter Zealand (yes like the country, I never did catch the full story). Minutes later Sam and I are ensconced into the back of their car being driven back to the city, and I am enjoying hearing the story of their romance. Having met at high school, they are now respectively a Doula and Pastor. Two deeply nurturing souls and their young daughter is a testament to their talents. They ask me about ou rjobs. I explain our plans and alittle of our itenarary. I tell them my official title for the year is Blogger-novelist apprentice - and - green-card-applicant. Oh yes and Mum. And wife. And P90X student. I also warn them not to take offence at the fact that I affectionately refer to our playgroup as the commune, just in case they do have a look at the blog....

Perhaps I was a little hasty on the whole planet alignement thing. From experience I have found this thought state to be a brutally self fullfilling prophecy. Just ask old Macbeth he'll vouch for me. So, there we are, witnesses to the kindness of strangers, back safely at home and I am poised and ready to sweat when I realise I barely have time to run an errand of a "feminine kind" at the store (as are, I am told, most of the women in the troupe. We are now officially a pack). I dash down to the deli on the ground floor of the hotel and head to their sundries cabinet. Quickly I realise I cannot reach the top shelf for what I am needing. It soon becomes apparent to the man mixing a take away salad that we are about to enter into a somewhat awkward conversation in which he has to sell me something I would rather buy discreetly at a supermarket amongst my groceries. Exchanges about size pass between us and I don't care for the look that sweeps across his eyes when I tell him which packet I need. Rumble number two.

A little sweat does a world of good though, especially when the boys join us - Cory with his white t-shirt tied up high to reveal his ample belly and Sam sporting his father's dance belt over the top of his trousers. The four of us pump out the last half hour of a seriously army style cardio session with belly laughs in between. That room has never been witness to such a motley crew nor will it again. I'm sure the security folk on the cameras upstairs must have enjoyed the comedy.

Off we then leave for the streets and the search for a suitcase for Sam. Turns out a small carry on is not enough for him after all (remember how everyone spoilt him on his birthday?!). We find a suitable receptacle in a cut price store, though the numbers on the tag don't seem that cut price to me. Victorious after our search we jump in a cab and head for France, aka Bonaparte's bakery down by the old harbour. It stands looking out over the water, tables on the cobbles outside, inside all classical music and fat tea house chairs reproduced from those of 19th century studies. Cookies, croissants and coffees all round. Turns out my body is craving just a little more sugar after losing half it's weight in sweat a few hours ago. We laugh, we put the world to rights. We generally give thanks for these precious moments of ease and joy in each other's company. We ponder on the fleeting nature of time and space and reality. On the decadence of the chocolate in the chocolate almond croissant I don't really need to have another bite of. We take in the 4.30 afternoon sun. And then that little pang. Its a familiar belly whack which our little unit seems horribly accustomed. Once again, we have left belongings in the cab. Namely case and pushchair (stroller). It becomes my mission to get both back home by the end of the night. Cory, in vain, tries to remind me that a case, is not, a son, but I will hear none of it. Its the principal.

Perhaps I should spare all the tedious details. Suffice it to say that cabby number two gives us cab office number. After four, yes four, calls to them (three of which I apparently talk with a breathing automated response unit) I finally connect with a lady who actually asks the relative questions (hormonal surge number two abated) and a message is sent out to all drivers. When I miss two calls in my room three hours later - I hadn't realised it was our phone unaccustomed to it ringing as I am - I ring front desk. They tell me no-one has called for me. I explain about the cab and the possibility that it may be someone calling regarding that. They say they cannot help. I am awoken at 9.30pm (the bedtime story even put me to sleep) by our driver from earlier on the room phone who tells me he has tried to call twice and left his number behind the desk for me to ring and verify it was indeed my baggage in his car. After another 15 minutes of two and fro-ing with the front desk who seem reluctant to send my belongings up in the lift with somebody seeing as I can't leave the room with Sam alone, the driver himself eventually does the job. I hand him a beer and what I thought was a handsome tip. Later my husband explains that double what I gave him would be the acceptable sum. I am, it would seem, still English after all, despite the new haircut and the dreaded transatlantic twang seeping ever so slightly into the end of a few worrrrds. Round two of the kindness of strangers. I send a quick prayer of thanks to the working wheels of the universe.

Then came the email. It was exciting at first. Some news from immigration. I click it open with anticipation. Scanning the message the words "held up" and "request for evidence" ping off the screen. Mr or Ms. Immigration Officer needs more proof. Nothing to worry about I tell myself, most likely they don't have all of the five hundred and one things the lawyers asked us to prepare. I quickly forward the email to the lawyers office to keep them abreast. I have learnt my lesson from november when for three weeks they failed to chase us on immigration office fees and we assumed they had charged our card. The delay they caused in this action (You can be sure if it was their fee we owed they would have been hassling me everyday) has made me take on the role of chief nagger. Just as one does back home say, when dealing with solicitors and buying a house, who always seem to take on too many clients and slow down the process for all parties involved. I am terrier number one. Top dog. The one they can't wait to get green-carded so she will stop sending messages and questions. I receive a reply some moments later, from our lawyer himself, explaining that whilst communication is important he does not have time for this "back and forth" dialogue with all his clients. In other words get off my back. I did not reply. I will wait, obediently, as he requests, for the letter to reach his office in which the USCIS will tell him what they need. I can't promise I won't resume my bee in a bonnet behaviour after that however. I must get to my best freinds wedding in May you understand. This is my underlying motivation for pestering. All prayers and good vibes on this are most welcome...!

It seemed that the night held unsettling vibrations for others in the troupe also. Anne, who plays the blonde bombshell Inga, was taken incredibly ill with what appeared to be food poisoning. She spent the night in the ER. Whilst she and Beth were there (they are sharing a room in the hotel this stay) they found out another colleague was at the hospital also. Jen, who is a dancer and plays a number of parts in the show and has been travelling with her father whom she looks after. I mentioned her some months ago, in awe as we were by the fact that she was taking on the role of nurse during the day with her father having been left somewhat dependent after his stroke a few years ago. Her husband is touring the country with another show and between them and the hired help of professional nurses they took their roles on with impressive fortitude.

It can as a deep shock to learn that her father passed away this morning. He didn't recover after a seizure. Turns out they were a regular occurrence, but when the one this morning seemed to be going on longer than usual an ambulance was called but he had passed before they arrived. Jen was surrounded by colleagues when it happened. Lara, a fellow dancer offered some comfort, words which stick in my head, "You can close the door of this bathroom Jen. You will never have to see this again. You are not at home where the memories will linger in the air. You can just leave." And so she has, for a few days at least. The girls packed her cases and trunk. Head of hair, Jeff, fixed her locks before she left, literally helping her paint on a brave face. The touch of caring hands are priceless in times of stress. Everyone rallied around and all are in various states of shock. Cory rang just now from the theatre at intermission to say there are gremlins running around stage. Props are being dropped, actors are tripping up or falling. Perhaps that funny feeling wasn't so far off after all, though how it affected my day and it's little irks obviously pail into insignificance compared to Jen and her family's plight.

I lit a candle for Jen's dad. I never even met him, only managed to send him some sauce back in Chicago as a meagre offering of support. Apparently only a few days ago he met up with an old friend and enjoyed a couple of burgers and beer with him, reminiscing, living it up a little. He had a happy time here in Charm City. I know she will return to the troupe and find the travel a tonic. We will all cry for her in turn. When death touches one we know a deep human need for empathy makes it near impossible for it not to flood you with memories of loosing your own loved ones. I wonder if we ever allow ourselves to stop it feeling so very recent? Is this our true source of comfort? Perhaps a more painful sense of loss is our eventually relinquishing the grief. That seems far too final. More so than death itself.

Our jobs may be deemed pure escapism of sorts but living a life on the road with a host of different people and their converging lives the business of show feels intrinsically real.


Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Watery Wanderings and Wonderings

I am in a reflective mood. Something about meandering around fish for the best part of the day at Baltimore's aquarium can do that to you. How can you look at the breathtaking elegance of a school of silver fish swimming purposefully but without tension through "moonlit" waters without letting your brain wander up into a meditative plain. The jellyfish alone in their watercoloury translucence began the ride into otherworldly ponderings. You can't look at one of those magical entities without it challenging your reason d'etre surely? How blissfully purposeful and purpose-less they are. We are.

That last bit is going to have my dad fidgeting in his seat when he reads it I can be sure - I can hear him mumble (loudly) at the screen wanting me to get to the bit about the city. And so, for the sake of peace, and my tenuous grasp reality, it is here I shall begin. Our day started with surprising efficiency considering the somewhat early call. The up side of little fella waking around 7 rather than 8ish/9 is that I get to take in the glorious Baltimorean sunrises over the past week. We are on the 34th floor with a view of the harbour. The sky, once again is wide. No offence meant to Washington, but it is good to see the world from a different perspective again. The calibre of my coffee making was surprisingly good (this I find is always a good omen for the day's outcome or at least my likely reaction to it) and I was more than pleased with the Peruvian blend we had bought yesterday at Federal Hill's coffee joint. Turns out I can find places such as these after all. The one in question sis Spoons. It is all wood and mis matching chairs and bare brick. We plonked our behinds on a red velvet sofa so that we could enjoy our smooth espresso whilst keeping an eye on the Sam man who had thrown himself heart and soul into the easel and toys laid out by a small area cordoned off by wooden sleepers, "I need to do some art," he had explained to the "barrista" who handed over the markers. So, there we are, Sam all train driver, me all happy coffee slurper when we are graced with Cory's weary but good humoured presence. Its a treat in our household to spend the mornings altogether. Like old, unemployed times eh?! Careful what I wish for...

So anyways, with both boys ensconced after food in a puppet show of great complexity I took the opportunity to hit the streets and find me the immigration office down the road. Last night, I received an email from our lawyers with a date for my biometrics, which happened to be the day after we are due to arrive in Atlanta. Here's me re-arranging flights in my head, adding up the possibly horrendous costs and so on, when, with some heavy influence form Cory, "I" come up with the marvellous idea of heading down there in person to see if they would pretty-pleas-with-a-cherry-on-top see me another time. Today perhaps?

And so it was that I arrived on the second floor of the Bank of America building on South Charles Street Baltimore at just past 9 in the morning and very politely, with the most unthreateningly demure english accent I could muster asked the clerk if she would consider allowing me to be seen today? She asks to see my itinerary for the Atlanta trip, I explain my situation. She sends me to her manager barely looking me in the eye. In I tip toe, mild but trying not to appear too meek and seek help from the higher power - in more ways than one. I clock framed family member portraits on the manager's desk and try to subconsciously tap into her maternal side. Without much ado she agrees she will see what she can do. In under five minutes I had even beaten Jesus to the post, and he had been there when I arrived (no pun intended), along with several others. I made a quick scan of the international crowd. Where did I fit in? Somewhere between Jesus and his mexican cousin and the young Korean woman infront of me perhaps? Writing my "alien" number on the top of the form I felt a bit overcome. I look up at the clinical flourescent lit blue walls and catch Obama smiling encouragingly down at me, "I've been to your house," I smile to myself. Suddenly my number is up - 315. I take this good omen number two because it is Cory's area code. 315-ers are passionate about being so. I am half way to being native asmy mobile number begins with these three auspicious digits. I am met by Ms. Efficiency. She has got the immigration attitude down pat but something about her touch tells me she is actually a big softie. It is her job you see to give me a hand massage - least that's what it felt like - whilst pressing each of my fingers on the scanner to get reading on the computer. It takes all of two minutes. Technological Ellis Island. Next I am told to sit on a chair and remove my glasses. "Look here." she orders. I try, but, without the glasses am not sure where I should be focusing. I move to stand up, "Stay on the chair!" she barks. I then look in the approximate direction of where the camera is and within a second or two she has taken a photo of my eye and my information and I are riding the computer highways back to an office in Chicago where a nice Immigration officer is waiting to give me the a.ok. Least that's the scenario I have chosen for us. I walk back uphill to our home with a skip in my step, having shaved a week off the process with a little proaction.

It was in this state of mind that we found ourselves the fish. It all makes a little more sense now I suppose. After a quick pit stop at the cafeteria (I had the fish, for the sake of irony you understand) and another hour of watery wanderings we headed for Fells Point. An area of cobbled streets greeted us, nestled on the harbour but a little further up from where we had just been. Brick terraces stretch out off the main strip which is dotted with cafes and pubs. Following our snack ready noses we came upon Pitango's and feasted on their delights which included Pennsylvanian Quince and Chocolate Orange sorbets and Sicilian Almond gelato. This was topped off with decadence in a cup a.k.a marrochino; Single espresso topped with rich Italian hot chocolate and whipped cream. Hanging tenously to my nutritiona regime, I skipped the cream and topped up my caffeine levels with a double of the strong stuff instead. Pure deliciousness on a spoon. The chap behind the marble and wood counter knew his stuff and was almost as passionate about the creamy offerings as were in trying. Almost every one of them I might add. The area has become a hub for artists, attracted to the large warehouse spaces and lower rents. When we left the ice cream den we found the "oldest running theatre in America" run by the "Vagabond" players. I know me some of them I thought to myself. It was closed unfortunately but its premises, a double fronted Georgian brick number was very appealing. So too were the quirky antique shops that lined the neighbouring streets. Sammy methodically posted imaginary post into almost every door and I imagined what might be behind the, mostly, closed shop fronts. One in particular, a black wooden framed double fronted antique shop with lace curtains hiding its wares but for a pair of multicloloured glass mosaic lanterns hanging in the window. It seemed the kind of place you would seriously think about going into if you wanted to find a wardrobe that you could get inside and it would take you through to other lands. Sounds strangely familiar....

I am starting to realise why the title of "Charm city" has not sat uncomfortably with the place. Between this neighbourhood and Federal Hill which we have visited over the weekend you have an expanse of characterful brick homes that line historical streets with food and shops to match. Those cobbles saw some serious Raven fan action last saturday when we were out with my cousin's celebrating the eldest's boyfriend's birthday. The super-bowl is looming and the local team was playing arch rivals the Colts. I am not going into sporting history right now, suffice it to say the Colts used to be the local team but skipped town over night for Indianapolis some years back leaving fans and stadium deserted and betrayed. Only days earlier, prior to the covert operation had the team manager publicly rebuffed rumours that they were leaving. Baltimoreans it would seem have no desire to bury their hatchet for the time being.

We found ourselves a seafood place - Maryland and Crab go so beautifully together - and whilst we slurpped seafood the game build up was being blasted over us so much so that conversation was almost reduced to syphons after a while. It was delicious though. So too was the banana cream pie from the aptly named "Dangerously Delicious" pie shop where we were served by the peppy "Krismas with a K" and her modest ring through her nose. It was my P90X night off.

By the by, talking of changing waistlines and triceps that can be seen and not just heard, it would appear that the program's fever has taken over an ever growing number of the troupe. To date I think there are about 6 of us trying it out. By the end of the run I will be organising class schedules and we will send Mr Tony Horton group before and after shots! I now have a "workout" buddy in the form of the lovely Beth who, in her own words is all "pumpkin coloured hair" and Californian sunshine. Picture her: tall, limber, athletic, indefatigable, next to me, a foot shorter, wider and minus the faint shadow of an eight pack. We pack a comedic punch and I love jumping around with her. Besides she is in love with my son and being with me is a close second for her. Anyone walking by the little gym room would have enjoyed the sweaty randomness of our moves. As the fellas did who walked by me air punching and heavy breathing into nothing the other day. There are worst things.

Like the eery alarum that sounded yesterday whilst we were playing the relative balm of a 15 degree day (thats 50ish Farenheit to Yanks) over from the harbour up to reach us on Federal hill playground. It was like the last scene of "happy" life near the beginning of a post apocalyptic film tale, sounds of the children's laughter drowned by the unstoppable onslaught of terror. Gees. The green card anxiety really has got my imagination into over drive. Friendly Dad whose kids were befriending a deeply exciteable Sam explained that it was a regular occurence (the apocalyptic visions or the alarm? I thought to myself). No sooner had the little fella clocked his kids did he turn to his dad and, almost apologetically shout out, "I must go Dad! I have friends!" Familiar feelings of concern about Sam being lumbered with us two loons as playmates for the time being wash over me. They dissipate as quickly as they manifest. I know we are hitting the playgroup rounds again tomorrow you see. He even asked me to pretend to be Karen, the leader, during our bedtime stories. I think it was a ruse come to think of it, especially the bit where he asked me if it was time to "play with the toys?" Luckily Karen has a matriarchal leadership about her and was able to steer him towards the soporific stories instead.

Cory is sweating out on a stage somewhere right now, whilst I didle daddle on our machine. My favourite story he has brought home to me so far is of the local sound engineer. It seems this job attracts men with history - most definate capital "H". On his little station lay a couple of thick wads of photos stacked amongst what I imagined were an army of impressive looking buttons and l.e.d's. It is a truth universally acknowledged that soundies pride themselves on their knobs. "Take a look at the old days" he swung at Cory gesturing him towards the first stack of memories. Not wanting to seem impolite but really having come into the area to watch the basketball game on the tv at the time, my husband took a glance over them. After the third picture of Michael Jackson with the "soundie" in camera operator guise came up, the game was finally eclipsed. Sound man then went into a brief history of his time which had involved several circuits around the planet on the as the sound and visual operator for several music mega stars. "But the best thing I ever did?" he turned rhetorically to Cory,"was making my wife stay home with the kid. Yeah. Sure was the best thing I ever did was that." Mini feminist discussion ensued at home. "Best thing he ever did?" I asked the grinning Cory-man. Both he and the long grey haired eccentric who worked the circuit boards of Chicago, a millionaire with a secret passion for writing and publishing hiking books share a deep characterful streak that is attracted to the likes of Cory. I am looking forward to what Atlanta might offer us in this light.

On the subject of sound, Cory will be aired live nationally tomorrow on one of the country's radio channels. It is a phone in and interview with himself, Roger (Dr. Frankenstein) who plays the creature in the show and the lovely Brad Oscar who turns in a fine Officer Kemp and Hermit. A good threesome I feel, all blessed with sublime instinct for comic timing and a natural flair for precision. Son and I will be sat round the wirelss eager to hear. Till then I have but to finish my book (whoever knew it took sooooo long?!!!!!) and ponder on one "" who has written to my agent for a signed autograph. In his forwarded email he has also envoked Jesus and his chariots of fire to bless me and my family. He lives in Vermont apparently. I am suddenly glad I have written the blog under my real name. Ok, so Vermont is not exactly Maryland but still. For someone with an overactive thyroid, sorry I mean imagination, 2 + 2 is always just over 4 if you know what I mean.

Perhaps it is time to return for a consultation with the fish.....

Friday, 15 January 2010

Make My Coffee a Red Herring

In Cedric's taxi this morning - a wizened retired Trinidadian who gets most of his work through the doormen at our hotel - the talk radio show was airing local's views about the tragic Haitian disaster. As Sam, myself and my unintentionally Victoria Beckham hair (thought Candice did a rather splendid job of it down in Italy the Little until I saw a picture of Ms. "Posh" earlier today) got ourselves situated I caught the tail end of a caller's rationale; according to he, the Haitians had clearly sold themselves to the white devil and this was punishment from God. I opened up the discussion with Cedric, with many interjections from Sam who was desperate to relay every detail about his real and imaginary life to the patient driver. In Cedric's view - yes we are on first name terms because a. he has a cool name and b. we have jumped into his cab a number of times now - the caller's views were far from the truth, "God does not punish," he said, "He does no ill, sends no bad to people. It is Satan who does this." Conversation stopper. On my part anyhows. I didn't feel like ruffling the feathers of a man who was driving my fella and I back from the commune - sorry nursery - especially after he had been so personable to Sam and having educated me on the merits of living in Trinidad - free health care and a handsome retirement pay of $2000 a month. "Is it difficult to emigrate there?" I asked quickly, "Goodness no!" he laughed back at me, "Stay there for a few months, apply and that's that." I have booked our flight.

Come now, what could possibly tear me away from what the bench down the road quotes as "The Greatest City in America." I am still on the fence on this one (or bench?), but then I haven't been here for even a week yet. Other quotes of note that punctuated our journey into the woods this morning included a billboard telling me "Married people earn more. Marriage Works." And if, as a married, I should let this go to my head and use all my new found earning for crime I need but drive by the prison on Freeway 83 headed north because a banner hung by the inmates tiny windows will remind me to "Drop the gun or pick a room." Also good to know. And, just for good measure, health campaigners here are eager to tell young Baltimoreans that Virgin is "not a bad word." in graffiti font for cutting edge city urban d'ya ge me yeah?

Up a winding forest lined road we went and at the top we reached Baltimore's Waldorf school. Mention of these establishments have dotted my blog so far, because, for a few months before we came over we had taken Sam to several sessions. Even if the pastel pink and hippy silk scarfness of it brings a wry smile to my face both the little chap and I enjoy the tranquility of the spaces and the general good feel about the playgroups. Also, most of the places we will be stopping in have such schools and in a few hours I am able to connect with local parents and Sam can mop with little friends to his hearts content (they have a home area with mini mops and wooden cooking stuff). Barbara, our teacher here, has long greying hair that reaches down to the bottom of her back, turquoise and coral silver dangly earrings and hair clip to match and big been-to-Woodstock blue eyes. Her mother was a Waldorf home schooler and her sister is teaching at such a school in Hawaii. She led us in bread making and songs at the end which we all mimed building a Snow woman. Whenever I need a dose of Liberal america I always know where to come. I'm sure it will be a tonic when we reach Texas in June...

So. Played out, and Dad all happily lied in, and then mum all P90x'd (shoulders, biceps and triceps workout number 3 people, come on keep up) we were all ready for a jaunt about town. I had googled coffee roasters earlier in an effort to sniff out another bohemian corner of the city. Noticing a theme here? We had cut it fine regarding time so we hopped in a cab whose driver told us about his by-pass his break of a 3 packet a day smoking and over drinking and his trip to the Punjab tomorrow. Yes, we had the time, I forgot to ask the phone how far the place was, and $20 later we stepped out into Greektown. A sea of white and blue flags flapped on the wind dotted with little Greek delis and Kafeinon with men drinking small cups of tar and playing cards. We walked along taking in the antique manequin dressed in Greek folk dress outside a heavily curtained restaurant with stickers on the door boasting its rating from 1962 and the music centre shop next door with plaster statues of gods and goddesses still covered with their cellophane and flanked by plastic red roses. Onward we went trying to find my haunt. It was about ten minutes later when Cory turned to me with that face coinciding with the realisation I had sent us on the hunt for a coffee roasters, that, well, just roasted coffee, somewhere.... We never even found it in the end. We got as far as an abandoned factory and some glass littered rail road tracks before we called off the search. There was nothing about the street by the dilapidated warehouse that said, "hey, come and hang and have a coffee friends!" Nothing against highway 83 or anything but its not really our idea of a pleasant wintry Baltimorean walk. Still, it led us onto South America. Suddenly, after the rumbling overpass all the shops and restaurants were emblazoned with colombian colours, mexican flags, the inviting smell of pungent barbecue. The air heavy with roasted chicken and cakes. We were, however really pushing time now and weary of getting caught in rush hour traffic. I just had time to take in the bridal shop with green sequined puff ball shoulderless bridesmaid dresses (must let Gabby know) and black and white lace layered bride gowns before Cory scrambled all of us into cab number two. It took us only a split second to realise we were being asphixiated by the smell of patchouli and curdled cheese. Nobody spoke. We just put our tongues to the wind from the hurriedly rolled down window like thirsty dogs till we were back home. Turns out tea at in room 3403 was the best bit of our little trek today....Perhaps we should have just gone up the road to Red Emma's an"anachist" joint that offers propaganda and coffee to, mostly impressionable students from what I can gather. A worker-owner collective it is both a bookstore and drinking hole.

Now I am about to whip around the room and hurricane like make it presentable for my cousins who are visitng from New Jersey tomorrow and before you get any fanciful ideas, they are not those sort of New Jerseyans. They were born and raised in Niagara Falls on the New York side, turns out only a few hours from Cory's home town. Our grandmothers were sisters, on my mother's side, from Sardinia. My grandfather had been tempted to follow suit and search for a new life here in the states but at the last moment got cold feet. I like to think the clan made to America in the end though, and it is special to be in contact with my lovely cousins especially since their grandmother and mine were so close. They wrote to each other regularly, I'm sure each were a source of great strength to one another, especially when small town living must have made it hard to confide in people wholeheartedly. It was forty years before she made it back for a visit, with my aunt Pat, who had become a nun. I remember meeting over here for the first time at the convent's beach house in Long Island. I had packed the most high necked wear I could find, not knowing what the protocol for beach and nuns was exactly. I remember ringing the bell of the cottage and the door swinging open with my white haired aunt Pat bear hugging me with all her tiny frame her face in a broad warm grin and then her offering me a cold beer from the fridge. "Happy fourth of July indeed I thought to myself." That was the beginning of the rekindling of our connection. Since then she and her brother, my cousins father, and the cousins have visited Sardinia and London and we swap allotment anecdotes and tips. Cultivation is in the blood there's no denying that.

At this moment though, my head is still jangling from our son's last surreal ramblings before his mind and he agree to relinquish to sleep. Today's comma-less patter (takes after his mum obviously) went something along the lines of this:

"And then my tree has happy faces on it and and and thumbs and it walks like this and theeen Blue Ian and Silver Ian and Green Ian come in and a dog not a bitey dog a nice boy dog its a boy and a dog come in and then in my show there is a door and it goes down and up and then up up up up up up and I crash into it and so does Bo Bo and Maggie and aaaaaaalllll my actors in my show because I have to do a mum. Read."

Ah, I though he'd never ask.

I suppose even a son of mine can't dream up a story for twenty minutes without a breath. Try as we both might. It would seem that whilst his parents tour Sam has been developing work of his own. He's not going to be a kept man. No. He is going to be Mr. Gee. He asked me to make a top hat the other day for his show. He pushed the cardboard creation (didn't do 9 months on CBeebies for nothing you know!) down hard onto his head, stripped naked, put on his sunglasses and jumped into a frozen pose yelling "Abraham Lincoln!" I, of course, have accepted responsibility for the lasting effects of mixing american travels with theatre. It is after all a heady mix for even the most laid back three or thirty three year old.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Vive La Tasche!

Well my moustache and I survived and, if I do say so myself, the slightly shocked laughter was most encouraging punctuated as it was by the screamer near the front of the platform whose soprano belly laughs almost made me crack out of character. I left a supportive husband and slightly bemused son ("dad's the one who leaves for shows, and what is with the big sardinian flag this time of night ma?") ensconced in bedtime stories and fled into the washingtonian night. I arrived after a somewhat bleak taxi ride through no-mans land at the Palace of Wonders. To be fair, I didn't visit the museum of oddities upstairs but the downstairs was more camden damp than wondrous washington. Perfect for Mariela. I signed up as Chaplin to the wry smiles from the two male comedians organizing the pot and dashed to the loo for a final facial fix up and eyebrow ruffle. A vietnamese lady had ripped so much of them away last week I did what I had to paint them in somewhat - something thought I would never do. Look at any of my groucho marx pictures from puberty up. I knew it was time to face the hairy music when the producer of my first tv series, gave me the address of a red door spa in town for me to doctor the hair up there because on screen they were reading, in her words, "more like a marker pen line than an eyebrow." She tried to soften the blow by quickly adding, "You are so very expressive you see." Many expressions ran through my head at that point. I have to say their hairiness did the trick. The crowd, mostly aspiring male stand ups + two women: silent laugher and loud howler, especially liked the bit about her giving birth to a sheep, who sadly soon died, but tasted good. It's a carnivore's world out here. A cackle came from down left when I mentioned Mariela's boob-cheese pie. Get your filthy brains out of the gutter - its not what you think. There is a delicious cheese hung in farm yards all over sardinia that is called panedda (give those d's some wellie when you pronounce it) and they look remarkably like a boob. Sort of. Least that's what Cory and I came to the conclusion one visit. Usually I pull one out of my bra during the act and cut a hunk off for a hunk. It doesn't travel well though. I had been using one for the past few years pulling it out of and returning it to, the freezer. The smell made it more difficult for me to leave the sort of impression I would have hoped for with my contemporaries backstage. Vanity winning out once again.

The next day, high from my little dalliance into NE Washington and still pumping with adrenaline from having survived a short cab ride with quasi-sleeping driver coupled with successful escape into cheeky chappy taxi which got me home in one piece all added to the excitement and fuelled the family filming trip around the sights the following morning. We must have looked quite a sight. One yankee stuffed into posh kennedy centre evening coat with his young Frankenstein hoody's hood hanging out, a mini me bundled so much he could hardly walk and a loud sardinian woman in a head scarf waving her flag under the spangled banner by the monument screaming some shoutiness into the air looking every hair the passionate female muslim extremist the BBC pulls footage out of the archives for stories covering the middle east. After the enth mistrustful glare from the police and convincing a couple of americans to partake in a few bars of sardinian folk dance with me for the camera, we took our leave. Certainly wouldn't look good on the old green card app being arrested and all. Besides we had our rental car parked and Loaded and ready for Baltimore. Ehem, that's Baw-mor to you.

The hype surrounding our new home from within the troupe was somewhat less than sunny. One actor asked Cory why he was subjecting his family to the place on the monday when sound check wasn't till the tuesday. The whole walking in pairs to the theatre thing, The Wire thing, yes, the future appeared bleak. And yet, as is always the case, when you are clouded by, well, clouds, the outcome is usually surprising. Don't get me wrong, the entrance to the city is littered with historical baseball and football grounds (Camden Yards for all you Oriole fans out there) and music bars, but also an expanse of abandoned buildings, neighbourhoods that appear tired and its inhabitants teetering the line of a poverty. Once arrived in downtown the atmosphere changes, but not so completely that you feel its a rich at one end poor at the other kind of place. Or maybe I'm still in my honeymoon phase with the place, it has only been 48 hours or so. Picture Kilburn circa 1987, not the one we know today littered with young professionals who can't quite afford Queen's Park homes. I have missed this feeling the past few months. Its what spurred me on to negotiate local bus routes to get us to a church hall playgroup I found for the Sam man in an effort to delight in a city's cloak of anonymity. Fat chance. Between the accent, the p's and q's, the fidgeting trying to figure out the correct change I was most definately sporting my spot-the-tourist-badge. There are worse things. Our number 3 took us uphill (haven't seen one of them in a while either) past a monument, greens, narrow georgian streets, wider avenues lined with chocolate box Victorian homes with colours to match and larger blocks a.k.a Wimbledon or Richmond circa 1932. Churches, as in most of the places we have been, abound, from Unitarian to New Reformed past Methodist and Seventh Day adventists. Faith is fervently alive and well over here.

Playgrouped out we hit Little Italy. For old times sake. A cluster of narrow streets, bench lined for afternoon gossip and dotted with restaurants greets us. Darkened windows de rigeur. No-one needs everyone to know where they are dining and with who right? I notice a plack to John Pente - a proud supporter of little Italy. Nice way of putting it I spose. His pot laden porch was certainly impressive. I imagined an immaculate house behind the front door with polished linoleum floors, the furniture in pristine condition from the wedding in 56 and a well stocked and organised basement full of last year's crops in jars and bottles. We had a simple salady inexpensive lunch at Chiaparelli's and gluttony for desert at Vaccaro's across the street after. I had the best espresso of the year. It was so smooth and tasted so of elevensies in Sardinia that I cried. Now that's a coffeholic for you. Its a dangerous place for me to be in, the sentimental fray, because that's when I do silly things. Like book in for a hair appointment across the street. At that sweet little place opposite the corner shop, sorry I mean corner bank, literally the size of your friendly newsagents. Seen a lot of notes there I bet. Tomorrow I am going to be a mafioso wife for real. I am chancing a bit of colour and a hefty cut in a cash only "tax included" joint in Little Italy. Unheard of. Tax - 8%ish - is always added after at the till. That's why you run around with 2 kilos of, sorry, 5 lbs of change in your wallet all the time and why, on my first ever trip I had pointless discussions about being incorrectly charged with long suffering cashiers at tourist traps. Call me reckless. Aw, heck, just call me Carmela Soprano. I will have the highlights to match Signori!

All in all our first two days here are a refreshing change to the politico mood down in the dignified DC. We were ready for change as were most of the troupe. And learning to feed our family with only the bimbo, a microwave and a tiny fridge will teach me a. how to live in a camper van, the idea of which we toyed with for the tour and b. the art of organisation like nothing else could. I wanted to relinquish some attachment to the material on this trip and hotel room (ok make that suite - they have cut us a great deal, but still) living is bringing it home. Either that, or I'll feed my inner hoard with electric gadget clutter for the time and space craving domestic goddess. A mini George Foreman grill can't hurt can it? Apparently my arteries will thank me for it later.

Yes, the hotel manual reminds me to keep my door locked at all times. To keep cash in the hotel's safety deposit box. The sirens have swung by a couple of times tonight. But, as Brad Oscar says, when playing the role of Officer Kemp in the show, around about half way through act one when the villagers are hungry to stampede the Frankenstein castle, "Let's not rush to judgement." I would add, lets rush to put on the kettle and brew us a nice cup of Sainsbury's own cuppa cha.


Sunday, 10 January 2010

A Be-tasched Ta-rah!

I am sick to my stomach. Its not from a rotten egg white (I think I have consumed around 24 of these this week, but more of that later) or a dodgy take away (or "out" for my yankee friends). No, its because in about an hour I will be shading in my moustache, fluffing out my eyebrows and donning my Sardinian woman disguise to brave the open mic night at DC's Palace of Wonders. It is a burlesque venue (no nipple sparklers for me though) and oddities museum and late night bar. It has a vaudeville stage. Ah, for a nostalgic like me this paring of words is like a call to arms. I'm mixing my metaphors horrifically - must be the nerves. Yes I am nervous. No, terrified. I have performed my little act quite a few times but not enough to have padded out to an entire show but this is the goal. No better venue I thought than an open mic night beneath heavy velvet curtains and a line up of misfits, which is what Mariela Frushtuupulu most definately is; a mother who has given birth to 4 girls, 4 boys and one sheep. The latter died (but tasted good) In Mariela's words "I milked all of them myself". She is a widow experiencing a second lease of life after her husband Erneshto has gone to his farm in the sky. She has an irreverant sense of humour and a somewhat warped sense of what the world is. She talks about topiary of her pubic hair and sings songs about past lovers. But she seldoms offends totally. I think its a 5ft thing. Still, if the act falls on its face, no harm will be done, we skip town tomorrow for Baltimore.

Yes, we are headed to a city where the cast have been asked to walk to the theatre in pairs. Not sure if they have to hold hands too though. The earth beneath our feet shifted a little on reading this. No strolls back after the matinee for me and Sam then. Apparently the theatre has been renovated to its jaw dropping beauty but is placed in a desolate par of town. If its anything like London, in about 10 years time it will be a melting pot of trendiness with fashionistas swanking the pavements (sidewalks). And so, DC, it is so long, till next time. For you see, dear DC, I fully intend to be hanging on my fellas arm or indeed he on mine when one or other of us gets invited back to the little house of white on that hill. I think I will make that a new years resolutions of sorts - one full on swanky night out once a year, at the least.....

Hey ho, goodbye Georgian terraces, fat museums, dignified avenues that stretch the city, History proudly puffing out its chest and strutting off into the sunset from every corner. It has been a good stay. Now, it would seem, reality beckons. Mum has gone home after 2 days of snow related delays and we are back to our little triumvirate. Certainly taking her to a deserted Dulles airport at night with only musak and the odd lonely broom a-sweeping in the cavenous corridors to send us on our way, was not on my top ten list of fun things to do. Especially the goodbye bit. She was, as usual, stoic in all her 5 ft-ness. I was, as usual, a watery residue of myself by the time I got Sam and I into a cab. It feels like we are abroad again. Having folks from home here, made me feel like I was almost back in London, now I have my traveller's eyes back into sharp focus. And my moustache eyebrow powder at the ready. It is of note, to me, that I have chosen to perform when the entire crew is on an overnight load out and all the cast have travelled back to their homes in New York for a couple of nights over travel day. I have the performing bug, that much is sure, but there appears to be a part of me that enjoys an annonymity. Actually I don't buy that attempt at modesty. In truth I must be scared it won't go down well and if our touring family were to witness this I would have to live with the memory of egg on my face for the next year day in day out. Ego schmego.

Speaking of eggs, I don't think my body knows what has hit it entering as it has into merely the 6th day of a 90 day grueling fitness regime. It is purely an experiment you understand. Why not experience this side of america whilst travelling? It can't all be food, drink, food, drink, drink food. Or can it? All I can say on the matter is that I am craving bread and pasta and generally food other than turkey bloody jerky and cottage bloomin cheese. I mean, either of those in or around a jacket potato perhaps, drizzled with excellent olive oil is rather tempting but it is of endless entertainment for my husband and I to watch myself eat like one of those posey tricepy men sweating down the heavy end of the gym. You know the ones I mean. The ones I mocked unashamedly back in Cleveland. Now look at me. Still, its only 90 days. There are worse habits I could be taking up other than extreme fitness. You, my friend, will most likely be spared the "before" and "after" shots. Or will you......?!

For now I take in our little home, the football blearing confused game from the box, my boys are talking in "touch-down" a language I have absolutely no desire to become fluent in. I can speak fairly fluent "finger-paint" and am enthusiastic about conversational "3-year-old" but the understanding of this stilted muscle bound ball obsessed knock down game is not strumming my heart strings in the least. Neither was weight training a few weeks ago. If I start writing about joining the local amateur football club please send in comments reminding me I am an actress and keeping ribs in tact is well within my interests.

Just when what my job is was becoming a slightly blurred memory of a not so distant past (I tell myself my job at the moment is blogger and novelist...neither of which are raking in the rent money but both giving me deep satisfaction) I got a call from my producer on the series I just finished filming for the BBC back in september. Its a comedy show, aimed at the pre-teen market. In a nutshell, there's a lot of time travel and crazy characters, of which I got to play a whopping 14. I was like a pig in poop swopping wigs and costumes and personas sometimes three times a day if the schedule demanded. Anyhows, my producer has asked for me to record some voiceover stuff and our soundies are going to help me. There will be a few bob and a case of beer in it for them. Everyone's happy. Course what would make all of us really happy would be for me to be looking at a fat green card stamp on my passport right now. Somewhere in the not so distant state of Illinois is our nice little case file sitting on a friendly immigration officer's desk waiting for the A.OK welcome to the land of the free tick so I can work and travel at will. This image has a habit of pricking my memory around about the time I have finally convinced Sammy back to sleep after his dead-of-the-night-pee. Its around 3. The witching hour.

So, from witches, to sardinian switching. My brow calls. My moustache wants to tickle the trendy burlesque hungry DC crowd. Wish me luck. Or just wish me laughs. Alright lets just pretend we are there....

My name is Mariela Frushtuupulu.
But they call me Charlie Chaplin because I have a
moustache and sometime I liked to hit my
husband with a stick.

Likka dis..........(chaplin wiggle).....(laugh?)

Saturday, 2 January 2010

There's a Chill in the Air

We welcomed in the New Year with a bang. Well, several, to be more accurate. These emanated from some 1,000+ balloons that were let down at midnight over the crowded grand foyer of the Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts and that were promptly destroyed by them. Which, by hook or by crook, my family just about managed to stay awake for. Perhaps cocktails and Big meals were not the wisest thing to do in the afternoon that preceded the party. If truth be told, the foyer celebrations felt more like being in a rugby scrum than a swanky ball gowned party. I was crouched on the bottom step by one of the stages where a big band swung in the distance beyond tall people's heads. My son, who had lasted till 11.15 before sleep knocked him into subconsciousness, lay strewn across me. My parents were on the steps behind me nestled in between bejewelled Washingtonians crammed next to one another. Not too unlike what it must have felt like to travel fourth class on the sweaty underbelly of the Mayflower. When new year struck and the war zone noises began my son lifted his head, gazed, unfased at the behaviour of the adults about him, took in the balloons and then made the wise choice of falling back to sleep. I too, have felt this kind of confused bemusement at the way we roll in January 1st. Now don't get me wrong, I love a party, and the dancing and everything that comes with it but I have an annoyingly inherent contrary button built into me somewhere deep down that no-one, not even myself could possibly reset. I would have been a very bad pack animal. I would have been the one they would have left to die in the wilderness or, more practically perhaps, eaten for dinner with cold cut leftovers for breakfast. I love a leftover cold cut. But I ramble, the point is, I find pre-booked group celebrations sort of numbing. I suppose I don't really like to pre-empt what I ought to be feeling at a certian time goverened by a handful of ancient men-types who decided it was January in the first place. I remember suggesting to a new colleague that we start radical change by challenging our division of the day by an unyielding structure of 24 hours that, most likely, are not in line with any sort of natural bio-rhythm. His look said it all. I never broached the subject again. We were, in fairness at the beginning of quite a long contract. But, at the risk of sounding negative I will add that it was very special to be able to cheer, if slightly confused, in the company of my parents and my husband and our sociable little son, who, despite being woken up numerous times after the big bang conducted himself in a remarkably amiable manner puffing out his be-tweeded waistcoat and english bulldog tie, proudly standing as a bastion of bi-continental living. I was very proud.

And so, perhaps, this is really what New Year was about. Taking a moment to contemplate our new, year. Of taking a breath to send some love to those absent friends who are so very dear, both living and dead for, on both fronts, we have quite a few, travellers as we are. This is why, come cabin fever o clock this afternoon, after the negative wind chill had sent us scurrying inside on an aborted trip to the outdoors I surfed for our friends on the net. Our wishes were granted when we were able to connect with friends in LA, whose little girl Arden is nestled firmly in Sammy's heart (they performed for each other, being as they are of creative parentage. It was the best show I've watched in ages) and also our best friends in London-town. They, great second parents to Sam as they are, performed some classic Skype tricks for Sam. My favourite being the one where he gives them a piece of his chocolate and they, having preprared the relevant props ahead of time, pick up a piece of chocolate their end and eat it. Doesn't get much better than that does it? This friend is one who moved into my world when we were about 4 and has remained an important fixture ever since. How she survived the bossiness of my childhood self (yes yes I know it hasn't quite been laid to rest) I will never know but it moves me so to think that in a few months time our little son will be the ring bearer at her wedding. I wish I could be there to listen to her fuss about details of the day. Though, to be fair this would be unlikely, she is an event planner extraordinaire and has already spreadsheeted every minute of the day. I would be more of a hinderance I would imagine.

Not to be sombre but in true honesty I think I may have hit my first soggy patch of homesickness. My dad went home yesterday, my mum is leaving in a few days time. Harsh wintry cities are on the horizon. We are entering the winter period of our journey. No shim shammy jazz handy cities in the near distance. Only the kinds of places that when you mention them to people they look at you with a barely concealed hint of condolences. Can Detroit really be that bad? Is Baltimore as dangerous as the rumours the crew have spread around about shootings and muggings and other all too real-life things to stop me sleeping at night? It would appear so. And yet, I resist with a little bit of might, pre-judgement, tourist as I am. Besides, hibernation may be in order. I have a novel hanging over my head that Must Get Finished and a children's story itching to be read by a publisher and illustrator (all suggestions very welcome). Besides if the nights get long there's always P90X to keep me company. Yes, for the true American experience I ordered something off an infra-mercial. Now, I feel part of it all. Yes, for just over $100 I have been promised a new physique. Inside and out. Food will not be scarce but utterly wild-ricedely healthy and protein rich, for you are reading the lines of a soon to be owner of abdominal muscles that do what it says on the packet. I mock myself, slightly embarassed as I am at admitting to the fact that I enjoy the challenge of seeing whether I can return from the land of the over-size a few sizes fitter. Also, it will be good comical fodder for the blog not doubt, that's if the workouts don't sap the energy from my runaway fingers. There's always vlogging should that happen. Sounds like something to do with vomiting but actually it stands for video-blogging. Not a good look for me. Besides, editing would be a chore even for little ole me.

And so to the New year. Resolutions? I am wary of them, seeing as the ones I might have set I most likely have broken already. If I am really honest it is to finish my book, get fitter, and discover the wonderful if somewhat illusive world of Patience. If I can keep watching the telly I might see an infra-four-low-payments-of-commercial for it. I am in the land of opportunity after all....