I haven’t quite fallen off the face of the earth and I’ll try to do a substantive post soon, but today we are trying to clear out after a nor’easter targeted the Binghamton NY area with almost three feet (0.9 meters) of snow.
B and I baked an election day pie early this morning with an important message: VOTE! We did early voting last week and will be watching television coverage as the returns begin to come in this evening, by which time our tummies will be full of our fruits-of-the-forest pie. Today’s rendition is made with apples, raspberries, blueberries, and rhubarb.
A timely reminder that I saw on a bench when I was heading into the grocery store.
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This is my last full day in the North Adams area. MASS MoCA is closed today, so I planned to go back to Monroe Bridge, Paco (my dad) and my hometown, and Hoosac Tunnel, Nana’s (my mom) hometown. I thought it would take a couple of hours this morning and I’d be back to the hotel by noon.
I got carried away.
I wound up stopping at a lot of old-but-changed haunts and taking tons of photos. (Don’t worry. I’ll only share a few.) Many of the ones I won’t show are unlikely to be meaningful to anyone without long-standing personal history in the area, as there is a lot of “what used to be here” in play. Warning: There will also be a lot of dams and reservoirs and hydroelectric plants. Paco was superintendent of the Upper Deerfield River (southern Vermont/western Massachusetts) for what was then New England Power Company and my sisters and I grew up traipsing around powerplants and such.
The building in the photo below was built by the WPA in the 1930’s. My father and some of his siblings attended school there when it was new. It also housed the town office and library. They are still there, but most of the building is now offices for the current successor of New England Power Company. The array of mailboxes is a poor substitute for the post office, which was the center of town life for many years. Olga, the postmistress was a good friend of my mom’s; they saw each other nearly every day and stayed in touch after retirement and moves put them at a distance.
I went down to the river and crossed the bridge; our town’s name was Monroe, but the mailing address became Monroe Bridge because they would leave the mail at the Monroe bridge. This iteration of the bridge was built in 2015. The dam is quite a lot older. Part of the old paper mill was torn down and replaced with a little park. The rest is still there, although the worse for wear.
I continued downriver. I visited the Dunbar Brook picnic area, which was deserted except for a toad that I startled as I walked across the grass. I got to take a ride on a swing, which was refreshing and nostalgic. When I went back to my car, I was surprised to see that the old road along the river leading toward the Bear Swamp lower reservoir was open. I drove all the way down to the gate just before the Number 5 Station.
When I went back up to the main road, I stopped to pay my respects at the Legate family cemetery. When Nana and Paco were first married, they lived in the old Legate House, which was then owned by New England Power. The house was torn down decades ago, but the little cemetery is still tended to.
I wish I could show you a decent photo of the lower reservoir for Bear Swamp. I wish even more that I could tour the underground powerhouse that we visited with Paco so many times as it was being built and after it was completed, but it is all fenced in for safety and security reasons. I will close, though, with a photo of the Hoosac Tunnel. Nana grew up in Hoosac Tunnel, a part of the town of Florida, Massachusetts, because her father headed a maintenance crew for the Boston and Maine Railroad. At the time it was built, the Hoosac Tunnel was an engineering marvel. This is the less-fancy eastern portal. The North Adams side was more decorative, befitting a growing city in the late 1800s.
I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to revisit my roots. I hope that the sense of connection and the energy and the comfort of familiarity will stay with me so that I can make progress on my poetry collection after I am home.
If not, I may have to come back.
Or, maybe, I’ll come back regardless.
Unfortunately, the Boiler House Poets Collective‘s reunion residency at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts planned for this fall had to be postponed to fall 2021 due to the pandemic. We are all disappointed not to be together in North Adams. Fall 2021 seems impossibly far away.
I had hoped to get in a lot of work on the collection that I am working on about the area and my family history here. It’s already a years-long project and the thought of not having concentrated time to work on it was difficult.
I had begun to make plans to come on my own when a poetry reading that I was set to participate in was pushed back. I hurriedly moved up my plans, taking advantage of the fact that neither New York nor Massachusetts are requiring quarantine against each other.
So, here I am, in my hotel room overlooking one of the newest MASS MoCA community arts installations:
Tomorrow, I have a reserved entrance time at the museum and a reserved tour for an exhibit by Wendy Red Star. The reservations are part of the COVID precautions in place. The buildings and grounds are very spacious, so, while everyone will be masked, it will be easy to keep a healthy distance from other visitors and staff. I will have a notebook with me and see what strikes me as something to write about, now or later.
I’m trying to let things unfold as they will, although I have already had a bit of a bump in the road. As I was driving to North Adams, a stone or something impacted my windshield and cracked it. It is relatively small and should be repariable, but I’ve already had to spend time online and on the phone to schedule the repair for Saturday.
I’m hoping that unexpected cracks do not become a theme for my private writing retreat…
When we visited London in December, E got tickets for us to go to the Warner Brothers Studio – The Making of Harry Potter tour! The Harry Potter books and films were very important to our family, so we were thrilled to be able to go. We went on a weekday when our son-in-law had to be at work, so we were a party of five – my spouse B, our daughters E and T, our granddaughter ABC, and me. E was the only one who had been there before.
The Studios are outside London, so we needed to use trains and buses to get there. The last segment is on special studio buses. One of the first things you see after entering is a very large dragon in flight. We weren’t sure how ABC, at two and a half, would react to such things, but she loves dinosaurs and accepted dragons as a dinosaur-variant. (T is holding ABC in the foreground.)
Because so many people visit, the start times of the tour are staggered throughout the day. There are some introductory remarks from tour guides and a short film before your group is ushered into the Great Hall. Because we were there in December, everything was decorated for Christmas, including, of course, Christmas crackers at each place at the table.
You can see little details of the set, like the tree-toppers with flying witches…
and the wreath around the crest on the fireplace.
After the Great Hall, the rest of the tour is self-guided, laid out in a uni-directional way. There are lots of sets, like Harry’s Gryffindor bedroom,
costumes, like these from the Yule Ball,
and props, like this display of wands.
There were certain displays that ABC did not like, such as these disembodied hairpieces.
Sometimes, context mattered. For example, we rushed ABC out of the dark Forbidden Forest Set with its spiders because she was not a fan, but, later, when we saw the huge model of Aragog, Hagrid’s former pet giant spider, which was several meters wide, mounted on a wall, ABC decided to sing “The Eensy, Weensy Spider” to it.
As a big fan of trains, ABC enjoyed the Hogwarts Express.
Even better, we got to walk through the train cars!
For some reason, I had to rush ABC through the grand Gringotts Bank set, because she did not approve.
The destroyed Gringotts was much more to her liking! She insisted on watching the scene multiple times. It must have been the attraction of the dragon…
The last part of the display before the obligatory exit-through-the giftshop was the model of Hogwarts used for the external shots. ABC was a big fan!
It was a beautiful model. Because it was winter, we got to see it with snow which made it look even more magical!
We all had a lovely time. I hope we will be able to visit again in the coming years. It will be fun to see how ABC reacts over time. Warner Brothers also continues to add new displays, as well as having various limited time features, so there will be new things to see each time.
Eventually, ABC – and any future siblings – will be able to read the Harry Potter books and see the films. Perhaps, E and L will embark on our family tradition of reading each book aloud as a family.
Maybe, B and I will be able to join in via videochat…
One of the great things about going to visit family living in a historic and dynamic city is that you get to experience non-touristy, neighbourhood life. (I hope all my UK and Commonwealth friends will appreciate my remembering to put the u in.) L, E, and ABC live with L’s parents in Plaistow. The row houses there remind me of ones that you see in some US cities.
L’s parents love gardening. The weather in London is mild enough for flowers outdoors in the winter. There were definitely no flowers co-existing with Christmas wreaths at our house in upstate New York!
We were surprised to see a tree full of parakeets! Apparently, escaped parakeets have led over the decades to thousands of these birds flying about London.
We learned that while most of the utilities are underground, the phone lines are not. Londoners get a lot of use from one utility pole!
While we sometimes went in a family car, we most often got around by train or bus. Never having lived in a large city with good public transportation, I appreciated the extensive network of routes. While people in the US tend to think of double-decker buses as tourist vehicles, they are the common bus on most routes. They can carry twice as many people as regular buses and there are definitely a lot of people on the move.
ABC loves to go on the buses and trains, especially when she can sit in the front of a train car or the top level of a bus. She likes to pretend she is driving.
Another advantage of being with Londoners is that they can direct you to phenomenal neighbourhood fish ‘n chips shops that a tourist would never find. We decided on haddock and there was so much food it overflowed the plates!
It was also great to have so many home-cooked meals, especially when we had Filipino dishes. Given that most of us came down with a cold, it was especially great to have homemade soup.
Earlier, I posted about the beginning of our trip to London. Continuing on…
Why, you may ask does London have the “world’s tallest and longest tunnel slide”?
Answer: Because the Olympic torch structure was very, very tall and curvy.
When we watched the 2012 London summer Olympics, we didn’t really appreciate the scale of the torch, but we certainly did standing near its base and looking up. We did not go on the slide. It was very windy, damp, and chilly the day we were there. Maybe on a future visit when it is warmer.
Parts of the Olympic Park are open for walking, biking, etc. There are gardens from the different continents, which were interesting to T, who has a master’s in conservation biology of plants, even though it was winter. The former Olympic stadium is now home to the West Ham football (soccer to US folks). Interestingly, the old West Ham stadium used to be next to L’s church. That site is now being redeveloped as housing and such.
I’m sure you notice the crane and construction site in the foreground. Much of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park area is under development. (It’s good to be the queen! You get lots of things named after you.) Most of the new venues will be cultural and/or educational. In the future, there will be museum space, a theater, the London College of Fashion, the BBC music studios, and more, including a hip hop academy.
There are already many stores open near the Park. We spent quite a lot of time at Marks & Spencer, a London-based chain of stories that combines a department store, grocer, and cafe rolled into one. Here is ABC sharing her grandpa’s chocolate cake. We think she may have eaten more than he did! ABC was also rockin’ the ever-expanding dinosaur section of her wardrobe.
We also visited E’s favorite chocolate shop, Hotel Chocolat. They offer lots of yummy treats, including vegan chocolates for the lactose-intolerant segment of the family and white chocolate for me, who, sadly, can no longer eat cocoa. It was a fun place to shop for Christmas chocolates to bring home. Just in case you needed a reminder of how long it has taken me to roll out London posts…
Last month, my spouse B, younger daughter T, and I made our first family trip to London to visit daughter E, her spouse L, our granddaughter ABC, and L’s family. After almost three years of waiting, E’s spousal visa finally came through and she and ABC relocated to London in October.
Yes, I am horribly late posting about the trip. I came home sick and had a hard time shaking it and there were holidays and technical issues – I am notoriously bad at dealing with photos – but I’m hoping to get out a few posts in the coming days.
We arrived in the UK on Saturday and did central London sightseeing on Sunday, after attending mass the church where Larry serves as organist and director of the adult choir. We had bought advance tickets to ride the London Eye, also known as the Millenium Wheel.
It was nice to see some of the historic London landmarks from above. Here is the Palace of Westminster, where Parliament meets. You can see the clocktower which usually houses Big Ben shrouded in scaffolding as part of the ongoing restoration project.
Two-and-a-half-year-old ABC was much more impressed with the boats on the Thames than the buildings!
After our ride on the Eye, we grabbed some lunch and went on a walking tour. On future trips, we may try to tour some of the buildings. We anticipate many trips to London in the future!
Because daylight hours are short in London in the winter, as we walked in the area of Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus, we were able to see some of the holiday lights.
In Trafalgar Square, we were drawn to the sculpture on the Fourth Plinth, part of “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist” by Michael Rakowitz, a US artist of Iraqi ancestry. It is a replica of Lamassu, a protective deity from the gates of Nineveh in 700 BCE which was destroyed by the Islamic State in 2015. This sculpture is made from 10,500 empty date cans; dates were once a major part of the economy in Iraq, but 90% of the 30 million date trees have been destroyed in the long years of war. Rakowitz is trying to recreate all the art that was stolen from the museum in Baghdad or destroyed at sites across Iraq. The art on the Fourth Plinth changes every couple of years and this sculpture will be replaced in 2020, so we were fortunate to have seen it.
As we were walking in the Piccadilly shopping district, I was delighted to see this building with Advent calendar decorated windows. It is Fortnum & Mason, a fancy department store. We went in to browse a bit, but it was so crowded we could barely move. We are definitely not used to that!
It was fun to see some of London with holiday lights. While we expect to visit frequently in the coming years, I don’t know how often we will be able to go in December. Time will tell…
Photos courtesy of B
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