Archive for the ‘Americana’ Category

April already and not much to post about on the face of it so here’s a ramble. Formula operating today: (Hands dry and aching + dodgy back) = (decorating and gardening last few days) so recommendation is a day of rest in the hot sunshine / cool house of a peaceful Sunday afternoon. I agree with myself and am complying.

One hundred and twenty years of neglect and over-painting of seized-up study sash windows presents quite a challenge but investigating the state of the cord and weights was interesting. Replaced the cords, in the course of which one of the heavier weights from the larger window rolled off the sill ( daft place to leave it) onto my foot, picking out for special treatment the toe next to the big one which went blue, along with the air. Hopefully that’s the major wound which usually occurs at some point in my “projects”. Good to see the bare wood of the frame – hot air gun and Nitromors, lots of scraping and glass-paper. Back to it tomorrow with final sanding and white primer. Aaaaaah …………. relax.

Next door’s two primary age children E and J came round yesterday and helped with our gardening. We all enjoyed J’s skilled performance on my shoulders as he tied up the top of 4 canes to create the wigwam shape for the beans in the pot below. Not sure he totally enjoyed it though as he approved greatly of my fetching out the steps for him to do the next set of canes. Emma collected some more rainwater from our butt for her triops eggs experiment. I cooked a mushroom risotto from the recipe on the rice packet. I thought it was fine and B liked it better cold. E and J had a portion without any great enthusiasm, but it all went.

We have a date for B’s hip-replacement operation – May 11th, the day before son E has an interview for a job. Could be quite a week. While on medical matters, must remember my appointment on Bank Holiday Easter Monday to donate platelets. Even had a letter about it, urging donations in holiday times, when stocks get really low. Heard statistics on the radio recently showing that donations from black and Asian people are much lower proportionately than the rest of the UK population. Something cultural apparently.

Literature classes have come to an end until the Autumn. One will definitely resume, on the theme of “Empire”, which should be very interesting. News about what is happening with the other one is imminent, from two of the members charged with coming up with ideas and making premises arrangements. I missed the final session as it was B’s birthday and I wasn’t too sure it was happening anyway, but it turns out to have been the wonderful John Toft on Henry Miller. John has sent B and me another book he has written and in the accompanying letter he says he was disappointed not to hear my views on Miller and that everyone “pretended not to be shocked”!

Have received the second monthly Newsletter from the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust which I joined recently. It is a very good publication and this one features a 2 page spread on my local Reserve, Parrot’s Drumble. Must get there again soon, before the bluebells have all gone.

Time for lunch.

This morning Irma Kurtz did Something Understood on BBCRadio4 which she called Happy Accidents.  Having just woken up when it started I pricked up my ears and consciousness because I knew I had a book of hers downstairs called The Great American Bus Ride, which I had enjoyed very much, having traveled a few thousand miles on Greyhound buses myself back in the 1990s. When the programme was over I found my copy and sat with it over breakfast. After traveling with her for a few bus rides or so I found the receipt between the pages, from when I had bought the book. It was from Dillons in Oxford Street, 17 years ago in 1994, on 20th March, which is today’s date. Serendipity? Coincidence? Irma says this in the programme blurb:”Serendipity differs from mere coincidence – it doesn’t knock at the door and you can’t go out to look for it.”

I am really tired tonight but in a placid mood conducive to a bit of casual blogging without too much thought. It’s so much milder now after some severe frosts and the coal fire has created an almost sweltering temperature in this front room.

Gill from down the road came with me today to first session this year of our ‘America in the 30s’ adult education group.

It was my turn to make a contribution. I had been sort of ‘volunteered ‘ for it as John Toft thought I was an expert on William Faulkner. Anyway, I did my best with a long lead in to a consideration of As I Lay Dying, Sanctuary and Light in August, the latter being my favourite book of all time, if I was forced to choose one for a desert island.

I played Faulkner’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech from a recording he made reading it, rather than the actual speech which was never recorded successfully for the public. I also played Rednecks by Randy Newman, which caused some consternation with his regular use of ‘nigger’ – the ‘n’ word as it was referred to!

Nobody seemed to have read the books except for the wonderful John Toft, which detracted somewhat from what I had hoped would be quite a lively discussion period. If nothing else, I think my enthusiasm for Faulkner’s writing got across and I hope it may have encouraged at least someone to give him a go, armed with some of the insights I offered, perhaps.

Had a visit from Ian, home for three weeks from his work in New Zealand. Much good conversation, news and gossip was exchanged which cheered B up a bit from her unwell miseries. Several cups of tea also featured, obviously.

Have received the annual gift of the Oxford American magazine from Liz in Pennsylvania.

Wonderful surprise from the backlog of deliveries by Royal Mail. Two Christmas cards accompanied it. Today is 13th January. Never mind, quite pleasant really to have surprise deliveries. I had become rather anxious a few days ago that some new USB-powered speakers would not make it here in time for my above-mentioned presentation, but they did and are an excellent £9’s worth. That apostrophe looks a bit odd but I think it’s right.

First long conversation in Chicago was on the El from O’Hare to Monroe in the Loop, as the passenger behind us turned out to be an education lecturer from Leeds, UK!

First meal was an excellent shared spinach pie in the Marquette Inn. (Not until the last day did I explore the exhibition in the Marquette Building itself, learning about the MacArthur Foundation and the restoration of the building).

Had fun in our excellent hotel room (Central Loop, 111a West Adams St.) figuring out how to convert the sofa into a bed.


Did not get lost on venturing out to buy provisions, given that we had a kitchenette.

Leaving the Art Institute to an anticipated grey or rainy day, Day One was to the Robie House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. On turning the corner to lay eyes on this iconic masterpiece, I was sorely stunned and disappointed at what seemed the moderate size of the edifice. In my mind picture, from images at a lecture I attended in the Spring, it was going to be much larger. Anyway, on a second visit to return a too-small gift sweatshirt, the house had come into its own as the fine piece of design that it is rather than anything scaled up and imagined.










The shirt is my birthday present from Beth and depicts Falling Water, a FLW design that I consider surpasses the others.

The Bean (or Cloud Gate) sculpture was a delight to both of us; like everyone else’s, our cameras clicked away in the brilliant Saturday morning sun.










Andersonville had been featured in the NYT as worth a visit some weeks before our trip and the article sent to me from our cousin Liz in State College, Pennsylvania; we were not disappointed to explore this neighbourhood as the main stretch reminded us a bit of Brighton back home.


The next neighbourhood we picked out from its description in The Little Black Book of Chicago was Bucktown / Wicker Park. I was pleased to happen upon Nelson Algren’s house and to have Beth snap me under the street sign for Division Street. Joined those waiting on the pavement (sidewalk) outside The Bongo Room and after an hour we were called in. Eggs Benedict and salad (Beth) and omelette with chives, tomato and bacon (me) was worth the wait. My omelette ingredients were all together in a pocket fashioned by the egg part of the omelette, which I thought was interesting but it probably isn’t. This visit was not dominated too much by bookshop browsing but we found our first here at Myopic Books where I found an analysis of Faulkner’s Sanctuary original galley proofs and the revisions he made; Beth also found a book worth toting all the way back home. As my style guru she advised me on a shirt purchase, which I like very much.

The Art Institute was obviously memorable. Beth liked the Armour and Arms section especially and I at last got to see Nighthawks and American Gothic and some Whistler.



We went on to another equally impressive-to-me building and institution , the Harold Washington Library, to sit for a while after an overdose of “Art” and write postcards.










At least, I did, while Beth updated her Facebook page and used it to arrange to meet up that evening with a complete stranger later at a gig – which I understand involved some music and food. After all, she is a social media consultant in real life.

Later that afternoon we walked through torrential rain to see the film 127 hours, which was worth the soaking. Taxi back to the hotel through the persistent downpour was driven by a recent immigrant from Nigeria who regaled us with his consternation at the Americans’ abuse of the English language, with their calling the car boot the “trunk” and so on.

Some impressions of our activities, with an undue emphasis on eating it seems to me, is given on my Flickr set and Beth’s. A favourite shot, taken in a split second before we boarded our train on Quincy Station is this one:

Arrived early enough at O’Hare for our return trip to be offered an earlier flight to Newark, where we then had time for some good Japanese food before the six and a half hour flight to Heathrow. Arriving back home in Alsager after a day in Beth’s flat in Brighton, the cold that hit my face on Alsager station platform was harsher than anything we had experienced in Chicago.

One week to my Chicago trip with Beth, starting with a train journey to Brighton next Wednesday, then Heathrow Thursday. Resurrected big red quilted coat yesterday and bought 2 thermal T-shirts today. Ed says the red coat will help Beth and the Chicago PD to locate me when I get lost.

Ed’s colleague Prof. John Hassard has given a paper today on the Hawthorne factory at Cicero outside Chicago and the experiments there in 1924. The museum is only open for tours by appointment. The Museum website claims, ‘”The company subsequently invented the loudspeaker, public address systems, radar, brought sound to motion pictures, and most importantly, the transistor for which Bell Labs researchers won the Nobel Prize.” Radar, indeed! And we understand that the Industrial Revolution started on the Eastern seaboard of the United States of America too (tourist in Manchester UK). Just got diverted for half an hour to read a brilliant article titled  The Hawthorne Studies – a fable for our times? by E. A. M. Gale in a medical journal.

Anyway, a big sunny day today in several ways; the literature class on Maupin’s Tales of the City and sexual / female liberation in general proved very interesting in the group of 12 women and 4 men; Rosie visited in the afternoon; I got some work done on my Faulkner paper; two good salad-based meals; the anti-TNF injections B is having seem to be having a beneficial effect; students marched with lecturers on Millgate and “violence broke out”; as Ed has said on FB, “The BBC is talking about how the student violence in London might distract from ‘sensible debate’ on tuition fees; would this be the sensible debate where the Tories go “we’re doing it” and then they do it?” and I won £25 on ERNIE – Premium Bonds.