Monday, August 31, 2009

Eating American

I have been enjoying some of my old favourite eating places and discovering some new ones. I have a friend with whom I share a birthday and we have a tradition of eating out at foreign places--Indian, Turkish, Greek, Mediterranean melange, Vietnamese, and nouveau Italian was all we could manage on this trip. The night we were going to do the new Moroccan restaurant, we got entangled in something else. Now that's what eating American means to me--variety with iced tea, salads and coffee that gets refilled.

I also had a classic American burger and fries and fried chicken and barbecued ribs. All good and accessorized nicely with corn on the cob and fresh sliced, home grown, red ripe luscious, chin dribbling juicy tomatoes. I miss them already. Tonight, my last night here, we went to a local sandwich shop that makes sandwiches to order on large buns lightly toasted and brought them back home and ate them like an urban picnic in the living room as the last light settled out of the sky.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Shower Thoughts

While in the shower, I think some of my weirdest and some of my best thoughts. After a month of living out of a suitcase I offer up a praise song to American plumbing--something about a shower makes you believe that all things are possible.

I do background thinking in the shower--the kind of thoughts you rattle around in the back of your head which may or may not see the light of the day after the steam clears and you look at yourself in the mirror. I have been thinking about what it means to be an American. I have been thinking about that because I want to write about it in my column in the Courier next week. On the way to the 1000 or so words in the paper, many more ideas and many many words evaporate with the steam.

As I showered I thought about my father and his comment about shave-shower-and shake your head to get on with whatever needs doing no matter how tired you might have been. That pragmatism and drive is characteristic of many Americans, but not all. And it is hardly unique to Americans.

I took that drive a step further and imagined that a shower can make you believe in manifest destiny. If you are a bit rusty on your American history, that was the benighted idea that Americans were meant to have not only all of the current US but also Canada and probably Mexico and so on. If you speak about manifest destiny these days you need to make sure that you do so with a wide-open Huck Finn smile that says I know this is a misguided idea from our unfortunate past because there is still in American culture some folks who believe in that concept. They frighten me, so I shook my wet hair and sent those thoughts into the vapour.

And then my erstwhile big thoughts were compressed by my own limitations. After a month living out of a suitcase with occasional forays with inevitably the wrong things in an overnight bag, I need to keep myself sufficiently energized to do the last of the chores that have to be done here, soak up all the companionship of my daughter and grandson that I can to store away for when I cannot be part of their everyday lives, and get the things that I have picked up or dropped off back into my suitcase and home. The last elixir to come out of my traveling bag is a small tube--one of those free with purchase samples--that I discovered clearing up the house. The name of this fragrant lotion is Happy. The sympathetic magic associated with anointing myself with Happy no doubt could complete the transformation the shower had begun. I am manifestly ready to take over my own modest corner of the world.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

District Nine

I love movies and science fiction. In part I love them because they can transport me far away from things that I would rather not think about. So I was delighted when my daughter offered the prospect of a science fiction movie, District Nine.

The plot has some interesting developments, so I cannot talk as much about it as I might like--forgive the circumlocutions.

First, overall it is vaguely reminiscent of Alien Nation--which I liked both as a movie and as the TV series. It suffered, as so many of the adaptations of science fiction to visual media do, from a kind of dumbing down or over explanation of familiar themes. Despite that I liked it, so I welcomed the comparison of District Nine to Alien Nation.

I think District Nine had enough special effects--some of which I actually liked although that is never my particular interest in a movie--to appeal to wide audience. Even those who are not familiar with Alien Nation, which, as my daughter pointed out, was brought out quite some time ago now, can enjoy the tension of aliens more powerful than humans held captive by them. Special effects also included some elements a la Alien and Terminator. Certainly not enough to be derivative, more like a continuation of basic elements of the genre or an homage to those films.

For me, as always, the movie has to have characters that I care about--even the bad guys have to be well drawn enough that I can believe in them. Paramount, though, has to be the story. I need to be drawn into a story, and District Nine did that for me.

One of the virtues of science fiction is that it can more effectively describe very human situations by translating human interactions into creature-human interactions. And this film offers plenty of opportunities for those comparisons. Set in Johannesburg, it also offers the obvious comparison to a new form of apartheid as aliens are set apart in restricted compounds and their behavior is described in stereotypical, quasi enlightened management speak.

The strength of the movie for me as narrative is that the characters grow in plausible but unexpected ways. It seemed like the movie was conceived at least in part as a trailer for a TV series or the first of several films. I would like to see this happen because I want to know more about what happens with the characters--another sign of a good movie.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Visit to a Toy Store

I love toy stores--especially ones like this that feature old fashioned toys that do things and invite you to do things of your own imagining with them--none of that plastic fantastic Barbie franchised merchandise. This toy store was about wood and magnets and LIncold Logs and blocks and old fashioned wind up toys. And this toy store encouraged you to play with the toys--nearly all the boxes and packages had samples available for playing with--and I did.

The store owner was cheerful and eager to help. It is also that kind of a toy store. My friend and I looked like the grandmothers we are and some other time we might well have asked her to step us through the toys or guide us to the section of thus and such toys. This wasn't that kind of a day.

Likewise, many days I share openly the story of my brother whose Alzheimer's has brought me to this store today. Lately my conversation has been too full of "early onset" "yes, still at home" "only a few years older then me, really" and the sympathetic words that follow. By the time my friend and I had walked around the toy store looking at nearly everything to find the things that might engage him without frustrating him or looking too much like a child's toy, my heart was feeling heavier and heavier. And so when the cheerful, helpful owner approached me and demonstrated a toy that an infant could look through and put things in, I first said simply, "I am looking for something more tactile." I didn't want to say that most of the time my brother doesn't see the same things we think are in the world. When she persisted in a friendly, helpful way to ask what age the child was and I replied, "67," she stepped aside. Not unkindly or startled but there was nothing in her preparation that identified such toys and she knew that I was not going to offer the kind of conversations about grandchildren or favourite toys from our childhood that no doubt more often fill the store.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dinner with Ducks

After a long and stressful day, my friend picked a restaurant in Broad Ripple overlooking the canal. The summer heat was cooling enough as evening came on that we sat outside on the deck and listened to the ducks splashing below.

Tomorrow I'll have dinner with another friend in an old favourite restaurant. I am enjoying eating my way around Indianapolis.

Friday, August 07, 2009


Yesterday the heat, although quite temperate for the season, was enough to send me intentionally dawdling trhough a sprinkler set to water parched grass and watering the sidewalk as well. For just that instant I captured the freedom of a child in the summer heat.

now the sky is gray and the air is heavy but still. That betokens rain. Much needed rain. As we walked back from the bookstore yesterday I saw that the river below us was low and slow moving. in the cities that can often mean that the oxygen level gets dangerously low for the fish trying to make their way. It seemed another example of the struggles with the economy here--everything seems at low ebb.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Knitting and Tractors

I am in Chicago. I have been here for two or three days now--depending on how you define "day." I am struggling to find my equilibrium because America is a much changed place from my last visit. I suspect I have changed, too, and so the connections are a bit loose.

I have walked to a Borders bookstore with my daughter and grandson and we have all run off to separate parts of the store. I want to look at knitting books and see if I can get a book of quilts toi get ideas for a log cabin qulit pattern translated into a knit pattern. (This is not gonna be a knit post, so if you are one of my knit pals readsing this, email me and we'll talk!)

The knit books are clustered in among sewing books and crochet books--and books about tractors. I find this association comforting. It reminds me of my home across the water where they have started the combining of the crops in the field. I smile at the familiar yellow and green John Deere logo on the side of the repair manual. Just as I do this, an anouncement comes over the PA (or tannoy) telling shoppers that there is now a happy hour in the coffee shop. I have never heard of such a thing but I am ready for a coffee and always willing to be happy for an hour.

The shoppers special announcement and the urgency with which the woman signs me up for a Rewards card are some of the many indicators I have already seen of the effect of the economy here. Everyone is trying harder and making do with less. The Rewards card used to cost money. Now they give it away in the hopes of creating good will and repeat shopping.

Other indicators of the economy are the vacant store windows, the for lease signs, and a large federal sign promoting a special infrastructure recovery program.

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