Thursday, November 15, 2007

Back in the Land of Ketchup and Sidewalks

I am back in Chicago. I was born here though I spent so many years in Indiana that I think of myself as a Hoosier. Still, like a salmon, I come back to Chicago. My daughter and grandson are here. That makes it home enough for me. I hope to drink in as much as I can of their everyday lives so that when I go back to the North of Scotland I will have details enough to fill my mind's eye with them. It is a far distant second to the real thing, but details help me to hold on until the next visit.

I had the pleasure of seeing an oak tree while in Dublin on our way here. I am not a Druid, but the familiar oak leaf after months of sycamores and birch and beech and larch were just a hint of what was awaiting me. I had been alerted to the fact that a late autumn meant many leaves were still in colour and on the trees. I hoped to see the whole panorama of mixed forest in full array and I have taken the first glorious step in that direction. Chicago, being a city, cannot host all the trees, but it has some lovely exemplars of deciduosity--scarlet maples reigning over city streets or tucked into vest pocket front yards, sturdy maples crowning at the height of third story windows in green and yellow splotches, and piles of leaves on sidewalks and in the park.

As my husband and I walk to a favorite local breakfast place on our first full day in Chicago, I want to walk through the park. I cannot explain why, but he accedes, and we cross to the park and my feet take me faster than a matron of my age normally moves to go shuffling through a carpet of green-gold-yellow-brown leaves of all shapes and textures. I scuff along the sidewalk and then swoop into a carpet of leaves and make a wide figure eight liberating the green grass beneath the carpet of leaves. Then, content for the moment, I join my husband on the path for a more sober sided stroll the remaining distance to the breakfast place.

When we walk in, the manager instantly recognizes us and smiles. My husband is a character and perhaps because we danced out the door the last time we were there, they remember us. Or maybe it was because he put salt on his oatmeal and called it porridge. At any rate, far from home, my husband has someone who knows his name and welcomes him back. It is a good start to the holiday.

Now that we are back on my side of the pond, it is my job to make sense of the words we see around us to him. "What is a 'side'?" he asks puzzling over the menu. As I muddle through an explanation of that I have to try to remember what I have worked hard to un-learn. Although ketchup is available in all the places we routinely eat (along with brown sauce and tartar sauce and vinegar), it often goes by the name of "tomato sauce." Likewise, when we stop in a local grill for a Diet Coke I ask if they have potato chips. That sounds easy enough except that I have to stop my inner translator from converting "potato chips= crisps". I also have to stop from adding, "or anything savory?" because savory is not that kind of category over here. Thus, it is both perplexing and refreshing to have the old foods with their old names.

Some words however just don't translate well. I emailed a friend back in Scotland that we had taken the elevated train into the center of the city. I thought by using the full name rather than the customary term, El, that I had made it clear. It never occurred to me that there are no Els in Britain. My friend asked was it like a monorail. Well, yes, and no. And did she go on one in Seattle. I have never been to Seattle, which is almost as far from me here as Scotland is.

And for some reason in Britain the sidewalk is "pavement", so phrases such as "pounding the pavement" have to be amended to make any sense at all. Fortunately, Chicago is a cheerfulk city that enjoys sharing itself with misplaced Americans and curious Scots so Morris and I are assured of a good time whatever the word for it.


At 9:15 PM, Blogger scorrie said...

wow // back in Indiana , or mearly so anyway // good to walk in to "Toast" and be greeted like old friends,which we are // nice to read of the transition across the so called "pond" by "Home in The Highlands " // scorrie

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Hayden said...

I like Chicago - have a wonderful time, I know you will!

At 9:09 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Thanks, Hayden, I have been enjoying Chicago. Now I am in Indiana at my sister's new (to her) farm and having a different kind of good time. I have so much to write but I am still full of pumpkin pie and turkey and my poor muse cannot take flight.

At 6:47 PM, Blogger The Curmudgeon said...

The el is just the tube above ground: Wouldn't that work?

Except when it's underground, of course.

Or running in the expressway median and not ELevated at all.

But "train" confuses people here -- they might think that we're talking about the double-decked commuter trains that ply the suburban routes. "Train" seems just a touch too grand for the el.

Hope your stay in Indiana has been nice as well.

At 8:51 PM, Blogger Heather L. said...

Hello! My sister met you today in the Stitches and Scones knitting shop and told me about you. She probably mentioned that my family and I lived in Scotland for four years and that I've been anxious to find a blogger in Scotland. :)I'll look forward to reading your blog!

At 1:57 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Thanks, Cur, so far Indiana has been on its best behavior--no snow or big winds or even drizzle to speak of. It is 27 today with a wind chill of 19 and my husband thinks it is cool. I just grinned.

At 1:58 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Hello, Heather L. I have always had wonderful adventures i nStitches and Scones and so talking with your sister and discovering that you live din Scotland were only a little surprising. I told her I would write about the gales and the lack of central heating so that you would maybe feel a little less homesick.


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