Friday, 12 February 2010

Wintry Wonderlanding

I am weary from a serious blast of winter wonderland fresh Minnesotan air. Half an hour's drive out of the cities and we arrived, with Scott and Nicole from the crew with whom we hired a 4x4 (yes you read right) at Preston's family friend's hideaway. Turning five minutes down a hidden birch arched drive way, we were greeted by a chocolate box fairy tale log cabin. Enormous trunks, cut down from their some 80 acreage had been cut and crafted to create the sort of house Hansel and Gretel would not have looked out of place living in. Add to this a couple feet of snow all round, bright blue sky, unabashed February sunshine and a truck load of musical folk high on fresh air and you have yourself a great day out. Boy was set from the start, managing to describe all fifty of his imaginary gang to Nicole in great detail. He now, apparently, has "five thousand children!" Anyhows, no sooner had we arrived and had the grand tour of the jaw dropping woody loveliness of the place so tastefully pieced together (eyes out for the odd bit of branch left poking out of the larger timber) than it was time to do some serious bundling up and head out for a quick drive onto the ice. There could be almost nothing more counter intuitive on so many levels than the image of me, in the boot of a 4x4 being driven onto a frozen lake. But so we did. And it didn't crack you will be pleased to hear. You see, Preston, his dad and his dad's mate Chris had gone "scouting" earlier, and armed with their mega ice cutter and fish finder and general wonders of the technological world had already pitched geometric vision of tents and drilled 12" diameter holes all over our little camp. On we trod, most of us gung ho beginners, sniggerring and sliding about in the morning sunshine. Chris talked Cory and Sammy through the details of the ice fishing challenge. I relinquished the rod for documentation purposes (somebody has to be in charge of the camera right?) but, after watching the two of them jiggle and struggle I couldn't resist a moment by the icey hole. The art of fishing, is, I have come to find out, rather addictive. There I sat, warm but for my toes tingling with the beginnings of frost bite glaring eagerly at my bob, or bobbit, or, thingamig what the bait goes on. I wondered on the whole notion of my excitement of the prospect of my hook going sharp into some unsuspecting fishes mouth. Turns out they got wise pretty quickly to the novice up top. That was until the lovely Chris came into our little hut, all hunting gear and viking weathered skin. With a knowing hand he fiddle faddled with my bait and such, gave me a few instructions in his Minnesotan twang and lo and behold there was a fish. A sun fish apparently. Cute little thing. Looked at him just long enough to give a quick apologetic smile and in he was thrown back down to his icey abode to eat some other bait. I was in such shock at actually getting something I didn't even shout out to Cory and Sam. They missed the whole thing having gone out of our little tent to try and re-engage their circulation or something like that. Outside most of the troupe were huddled around various other holes alternately hurumphing with frustration and elation. When lunchtime rolled around we all drove back across the water (Jesus jokes abounded) and stuffed ourselves with home made chicken and wild rice soup with a hearty side of tangy pulled pork sliders (so called for the ease with which they, well, slide down). All the other children were there for the day (canine variety), folks cosied on the fat sofas whilst others hit the trail. Snowmobile trail. Motorbike on skis basically. Boys were delighted. I rode on for experience. Every time Cory hit 15m.p.h my legs involuntarily squeezed the blood out of his sides. I believe he still has the bruises. There was something quite elating about charging across the countryside and at the same time so terrifically out of synch with that which we were enjoying. I think I lacked the subtle boyseyness to appreciate the whole petrol speed fuelled cross country jaunt. No dog sleds in modern America after all I guess. It probably would be time I moved with the times but I remain somewhat unmoved and a little bemused by the whole motor on the snow thing. I am not a speed demon. This is probably at the heart of it no doubt. Or maybe, riding at the back with the fumes floating you ever so slightly beyond reality might also have something to do with my non-committal to the diversion. Does bring a zing to the cheek though and a thoroughly outdoorsy glow to the best of us. Needless to say we all fell asleep on the way home - boyo almost made it through the night from 4.30 in the afternoon! He had played hard. With everybody. We laid low the following day, still all a bit winter weary and rested up for our matinee weekend. On the one week stops this generally involves me rallying up all patience reserves for doing copious washing and packing whilst trying to encourage Sam to mantain his top helper status. I take two Patience pills every four hours or more if needed. Least that's the plan. It was made easier this time round by a visit from our cousin Lynsey who is studying at Carelton College just under an hour away. Her much anticipated arrival topped off with a t-shirt of her college for Sam and her involvement in Sam's bedtime little rituals. With great pride, and voice, he recited our little blessing and then urged her to join us for his bed time books. In we all snuggled under the covers, Sam finally drifting off, gazing into Lynsey's eyes to the sounds of Mrs. Tittlemouse getting busy with her hedgerow storerooms. We topped off our Mineapolite stay with our matinee outing. Having filled the hamper, Cory's dresser Debbie took us under the stage and straight out into the front lobby. A beautifully renovated house, which had been one of the most important Vaudeville haunts in its day, still with the original silver gilt domed ceiling. Chandeliers cascading all about, the audience tingling with anticipation. It was a warm house, though apparently not as raucous as the saturday version. My highlight was Cory ad libbing with the signers down right. House loved it too. The over all highlight of the trip to the theatre however was my tour with Dave, the otherworldy looking house operations manager. Cory dropped me off back under the stage at an area loaded with an antique metal menagerie whilst he and Sam carried on a bike ride to the orchestra pit. Come to find out what I was looking at were old cash registers, an original spot light form 1920 complete with coloured gel aparatus, a chandelier, various old electrical motors and instruments all used in the theatre and some fabulous original billboard and line up signs from the venue's hey day. Dave then took me round the corner to his storeroom and pulled out an array of framed vaudeville prints, signed by various perfomers and addressed to his grandparents who had been head of the wardrobe union and carpenter in this very theatre. Dave's father had been a sound man, his brother also, and he himself worked his way up through the ranks; from coal man to manager. I snapped pictures of the motley crew of folk he presented images of, including his great aunt Irene in mid comedy pose, my imagination doing back flips and listening for the applause they might have enjoyed. After the last print was put back into his locked store I pushed him for stories of the ghost kind. "Well," he says to me with a kind of shrug to the heavens, "I don't believe in all that stuff really." I am, obviously, not put off. Never better a ghost story told than by someone who doesn't believe. Minutes later he casually tells me about strange happenings on most of the opening nights of the various travelling shows, and he has seen plenty of them, having worked at the theatre under its 8 different owners, including almost a decade under the leadership of Bob Dylan. He tells me that at he opening night of Phantom he came down to the boiler room to find every single belt having been removed from all of the motors. When Julie Andrews premiered with Victor Victoria a sink blew off from the wall. When we are moving towards stage door he throws back to me over his shoulder, the story of him shovelling coal over night to the sounds of someone tap dancing on the stage above. "Folk on the stage door would be running around with all sorts of equipment trying to trap the darn ghosts. Gotta be a rational explanation I say. I just listened. Nothing more." A few breaths later he also adds a quick story about how two constructions workers during the renovations had heard opera singing on stage on several occasions. No better way to experience a new theatre than in the company of the Dave-man. It will be a cherished memory of the place. And, so it came about that travel day, was, once again on the horizon. We packed the bags and braced ourselves for another two flight day.

Here I am, typing in our roomy Kansas city hotel suite. We are on the 20th floor of a tastefully renovated art deco building which basked in the limelight of its roaring hey day, when the city was given the title of Paris of the Plains. When we landed the rolling plains struck me as the perfect backdrop for the canvas wagons we have come to associate with this part of the world. Our views from our new nest spread across the city. One of our desks (yes you read right) looks out onto the skyline. All I need is a pair of those thick rimmed glasses, a noisy typewriter and I will be a bone-fide writer. We have two bathrooms, one which has been converted into a kitchen/bimbo room (by the by I have discovered some evangelical users this side of the pond who have devoted entire blogs to the thing!). We are back to the kind of luxury I am scared I will get used to, and once again, wondering at the gift that this adventure is to all of us. Sam was stoic throughout our nomading today, through our dinner downstairs where the maitre d' took him on to help her with taking menus over and drinks to others from the troupe, unpacking and p-j-ing with only a very brief melt down before a few calming pages of Dr. Seuss sent him off to dream land.

Cory has his feet up on our retro sofa, a black and white documentary on the Kennedy's is on. I, blog into the near distance and set up our little map of the states ready for Sam and I to draw our next red line marking our progress so far. The blistering cold of Minneapolis is behind us, ahead of us only the promise of some true mid western barbecue delights....

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