Monday, 30 May 2011

Day 59: Amtrak from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh

We left 30th Street Station in Philadelphia at 12.42 in the afternoon and rode through the farms of Lancaster county again, then along the red Susquehanna river.  Our seats are much larger than the ones on European trains and we are quite comfortable.  Mike has bought some kind of system that means we can have internet most of the time on the train.  He himself is watching episodes of the wire on his computer.  We had a minute's silence for memorial day announced by a girl with a nasal voice, then stopped for an hour or so in the middle of a wooded embankment to wait for a freight train with what seemed like some 50 or 60 wagons to go by!!  I had planned a whole unit study on trains this week for Antonia so it was nice that we got to admire embankments, cuttings, tunnels and viaducts as we crossed the Appalachians.  At one station we came to, I was amused by the lift for helping passengers in wheelchairs off the train.  It had to be cranked by hand, in this day and age.  Many of the towns we came through seem a bit dilapidated.  It's one of those places where you wonder what people DO.  I found the Appalachians mildly attractive.  They're not spectacular considering the landscapes I'm used to, but it's nice to be out of the megalopolis anyway.  

I kept my GPS on for most of the 8 hour ride, just so I could see how fast we went.  Oddly, the train seemed to be doing a 65 mph average when it was going so the only explanation for the incredibly long journey would seem to be a circuitous route and/or stations.  They tell me Philadelphia -> Pittsburgh can be driven in 4 hours.  We followed brown rivers pretty much all the way, but of course in the middle of the Appalachians they were narrower, and in the middle we were crossing rivers perpendicularly. 

I wasn't sorry that we were arriving an hour late in Pittsburgh.  Though it would make us eat quite late, it's all the less time we would have to wait for the night train to Chicago, just before midnight.  Or so I thought.  Of course, when you turn up in Pittsburgh on Memorial Day evening the place is dead.  Antonia said it's so the memorialised ghosts can look at the architecture.  We finally found two fast food restaurants side by side with not much to choose between the two of them.  Still, the civilized thing about rail travel in the US is that you can check your luggage on some trains, so we had parted with our heavy suitcases before we started wandering around looking for food.  So here we are in the waiting room of Pittsburgh station where we have at least one and a half hours to wait.  I have done this so many times in so many countries I am quite blase about it.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Day 58: Tomorrow we leave Philadelphia

We will be taking the train all the way across the country, calling in Pittsburgh for dinner on Monday evening, spending a day in Chicago then taking the South Western Chief to Los Angeles.  Our final destination is Joshua Tree.  Although I love Philadelphia, I'm looking forward to being on the road again, for reasons related to our destination and for reasons to do with travel in its own right.
  • I'm looking forward to being in a hot, dry climate rather than a hot, muggy one.  It's a matter of personal taste and health.  Philly's dampness tends to bring me out in a rash.
  • I'm looking forward to being in a wilderness, rather than trapped in the urban sprawl. I can't wait to go hiking and climbing, see the stars, draw plants and avoid rattlesnakes.
  • I'm looking forward to getting there, on a train across the whole US, with all those spaces in time on a train in which there are so many things I won't be able to do that I'll end up doing some of the ones I really wanted.
  • I'm looking forward to a change of scene, just for the sake of the sharpened awareness I get from new places.
  • I'm looking forward to having a whole new set of furniture, living space and a neighborhood to explore and get used to.
  • I'm looking forward to Mike not working office hours out of the home any more, since that put a lot of pressure on me and Antonia.
  • I'm glad that packing up all my stuff gave me the opportunity to review it and get rid of any accumulated uneccessary items - mostly paperwork.  I was starting to get that encrusted feeling.
I don't really have a list of plans for Joshua Tree.  Just a general expectation of hiking, reading, natural history and astronomy.  I expect we will be in our element and won't have to work too hard to entertain ourselves. We may have to re-arrange our schedules a bit to avoid the worst of the heat of the day.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Roadschooling unit study on studying people

 Of all the people we studied, Thomas Jefferson is Antonia's favorite. 
For writing what she refers to as The List of Complaints !

I thought it would be fun to talk about some of the things Antonia's been working on in our roadschooling.  I especially like it when we found ourselves working on a unit study without even knowing we were going to.  In the last few weeks we've learned a lot about the study of people.  I think that's partly because the US lends itself to that subject.  When you see how much they are into biographies and famous people and searching for heroes and mentors is when you realise they're not kidding about the whole individualism thing!  They do it a lot more than us anyway.  So here's what we have done:
  • Read biographies on William Penn, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John and Abigail Adams.  The public library has been great for this.  I've just picked out picture books that are quick and easy to read, which is how we got through so much.
  • Learned to use and make timelines of people's lives and important events and how to interpret them.  We used the timelines in the biographies and also made our own using this free internet site.
  • Did some real and pretend interviews.  The real interviews were part of a structured exercise in one of our course books.  The pretend ones involved the exhibit at the African American museum in Philadelphia called conversations.  This is a brilliant exhibit that would really take too long to describe, but in it you get to 'interview' a dozen African American Philadelphians from various times in history.
  • The most sophisticated thing we did was develop a biography map. This was based on the idea of the story map that's also in our books, but is a bit more complicated.  It's a form of things to fill out to structure our knowledge of a person we're studying: name, date and place of birth and death, places lived, family background, education, professions, talents and personality, health and so on.  We developed this after we read the book on the Founding Fathers and tested it at the African American museum. It was a tough project but very helpful.
What I liked about this project was that apart from learning a lot of facts about individual people and times we developed techniques for studying history.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Day 52:Baseball Game

So now we are getting to the heart of American life because we were eating Philadelphia cheesesteaks, drinking beer and watching the Phillies thrash Cincinnati.  I have to say that Cincinnati didn't seem to care whether they won or lost, which suited the audience.  So long as they were losing we paid no attention to them, and just talked amongst ourselves when they were batting.  When the Phillies came on to bat, we sat up and watched!  Our friends told me that these guys play three or more games a week during the season, so perhaps they are a bit strategic about when they put their backs into it.

I had a fabulous time and learned the rules of the game with the help of the American friends who took us.  The pitch was much smaller than I thought so there is a real feel of being close to the game. I would definitely go again if I had some friends to hang out with, though I don't think I could get as obsessed with the game for its own sake as some people are.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Day 47: Benjamin Franklin Bridge

We walked the bridge!  For us, it means going at least 6 blocks inland to get on the end of the bridge, then 6 blocks back out till we even get over the water.  It's worth it though.

Day 47: Adventure Aquarium in Camden

Just across the Delaware from our marina is the Adventure Aquarium.  If we had swum across, that might have been the easiest way of getting there, but never mind...  When we first arrived, it was full to the brim of schoolchildren.  They were interacting with aquarium by shrieking 'wow, a fish!!!!' (or whatever), at the tops of their voices, flashing the cameras on their cell phones at everything and buying trinkets.  We didn't know how we were going to survive a whole day with all the noise.  Luckily, they all went home at about lunchtime and we had a lovely afternoon interacting with the aquarium by drawing representatives from six major phyla of animals.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Day 46: National Liberty Museum

We wandered into the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia more or less by chance.  It is one strange place.  It contains:
  1. Some very beautiful art works such as the 'flame' by Dale Chihuly,
  2. Propaganda of the 'America, land of freedom' type,
  3. The small print that tells the truth about extermination of Native Americans, slavery, incarceration, grinding poverty, hate crime, violence,
  4. Walls of biographies.  Biographies of good guys, bad guys, Nobel Peace Prize winners and dictators, people who've overcome disabilities or fought for human rights,...
I don't know what to think about this place, I'm still making up my mind.  On the other hand, it worked out quite well for the roadschooling because we seem to have found ourselves doing a whole unit on biography.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Day 42: Horseshoe crabs

The dunes of Cape Henlopen, looking towards the Atlantic

Today, I got to tick another item off my list of ambitions: see a real live horseshoe crab.  When we arrived at Rehoboth Beach yesterday, I did not have the highest hopes.    The Atlantic coast is pretty enough, but it's a barren desert when it comes to wildlife.  It turns out that the secret is to get into the Delaware estuary just a few miles north on the other side of Cape Henlopen.  We found live horseshoes, eggs, and lots of dead carcasses.

A horseshoe crab minding its own business...
Antonia imitating David Attenborough

The nether regions of a horseshoe crab

Bonus dolphin sighting on the Atlantic side of  Cape Henlopen

Friday, 13 May 2011

Day 41: Half way through the East Coast stay

We are about halfway through our stay in Philadelphia.  Since someone else had pre-booked our houseboat for this weekend, we had to move out temporarily.  We've gone down to the Delaware beaches to look for horseshoe crabs.  We are staying in a nice hotel, the Bellmoor, in Rehoboth Beach, which is also quite nice.  We found a vegan restaurant, and Mike is going back for a cooking demonstration there tomorrow.

Although I like Philadelphia, and still have a few things I would like to do, I am nearly ready to move on.  I've never found the east coast of the US stunningly attractive.  Some of it is plain ugly, and some of it is pretty enough and a few bits are interestingly authentic or grungey.  The Philadelphia skyline seems to the jewel in its crown (sorry Manhattan, I never was that impressed).  My worst problem with the east coast is that it gives me serious attacks of claustrophobia.  I thought it would be a bit easier having our own place, and it has been, but still...  The problem here is the lack of public space and especially access to any piece of countryside big enough to go for a walk in.  All the land is private, suburbanized, and there are few to no public footpaths.  You get caged into the narrow channels of streets and highways, if the cars will save you any space.  If you're welcome somewhere, it's usually so you can be sold something.  The state parks and the beaches are tiny oases where you can't realistically walk for more than a couple of miles.  Even they are better set up for drivers than walkers.  I started to realize that even the center of Philadelphia is a small oasis as far as walking is concerned, surrounded by mile after mile of urban or suburban smush, probably with no sidewalks! There is definitely an irony to the Americans being so proud that they can have access to anything they want, at least in their big cities.  Unfortunately, the things I miss most are not on sale at the mall.  I feel like a caged beast! I'm hoping things will be easier for me when we get out to the west and where our trip is basically centered around the national parks.  Big wide open spaces, here I come... in about two weeks time.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Day 40: Thomas Jefferson and Declaration House

Today's roadschooling: the declaration of independence

Thomas Jefferson's parlour

We read the US declaration of independence and I tried very hard to explain all the sections of it to Antonia.  Later, we wandered over to the library to find a picture book about Thomas Jefferson (who wrote the declaration, for those who don't know).  Our nearest library is right next to Declaration House. I think this is a reconstruction of the house Thomas Jefferson was renting when he wrote the declaration, more or less on the same site.

In the library, after we read our picture book, I was looking at a completely unrelated book and learned that Thomas Jefferson had been unhappy with the way his colleagues had edited his declaration, but that he found it so hard to express himself orally, he didn't say anything.  I had been struck by the way the declaration changes style quite radically in at least one place, so it made sense.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Day 39: Fireworks over the Delaware

One of the great things about our houseboat is that we have the best view of the fireworks over on Camden Waterfront.  They seem to let them off very regularly and we just climb on to the roof deck of our boat and sit and enjoy.

Fireworks from our houseboat

We don't know why there are so many fireworks, but this evening is special as they are opening the Race Street Pier promenade.  This is a little park a couple of piers north or ours and it supposed to help to rejuvenate the waterfront.  Tickets for the opening event were $150 dollars each!  That's why our photos of the promenade are from the next day.

Antonia bouncing down the brand new seating

I can think of a few things that would improve the usability of the new park (and only cost another couple of billion dollars!).
  1. More attractive pedestrian access from the Old Town district, 
  2. Pedestrian access to the walkway over Ben Franklin bridge, perhaps from the stone pillar that's right between Old Town and the pier.
  3. An outdoor cafe in summer even if small.  Or even an ice cream stand!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Day 37: Museum of American Jewish History

I've mostly been catching up on my own work, but sneaked in a visit to the Museum of American Jewish History.  Getting in is quite a big deal.  They have airport level security bag checks.  They made me empty out about an ounce of water that was left over in my gym bottle.  Strange, because most of the exhibits are not of intrinsic value and a lot of it is actually panels of information and stuff like that.  The history of Jews in America is a close parallel for the history of Europeans in general.  The exhibits brought out a lot of questions of freedom.

Religious freedom was a main concern for earlier settlers.  In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the exhibit echoed what I learned from family: that the US offered the freedom to avoid getting killed, but not a whole lot else.  It has always seemed to me that conditions for immigrants to the US show just how little it takes to be better than death. It seemed like for every wave of immigrants, religion became less of a concern, which led to the ongoing question of preservation of identity.  The exhibits talked about the tensions this posed between personal freedom for individuals (to follow religious rules and customs or not) and the 'freedom' of the group to survive.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Days 34 and 35: Amish Country Pennsylvania

Mike and I spent the weekend in Lancaster County, the area of the United States with the highest density of Amish.  Everything is a little bit different there, in an interesting way.  We couldn't learn much about a society by just visiting for weekend, but we came away with a few observations.


The Amish don't use cars and often get around in horse drawn buggies.  One of the first things I wondered was how dangerous this has become with all the car traffic.  Sure enough, when we visited the Amish Village in Strasburg, one whole panel showed newspaper articles about accidents involving buggies and debates about the safety of buggies.  There has been some conflict between the Amish and their neighbors on this subject, and not all the arguments against buggies seem to have been very valid.  It is silly to complain about horse droppings in the road when cars are responsible for so much air and noise pollution..

Worse, car drivers should not argue that the roads belong to them as apparently they have been doing.  The Amish respondent pointed out that it is thanks to the Amish community and the tourists they attract that Lancaster is doing so well economically.  He is right, first because they maintain the attractive farming landscape and produce goods of interest to people, but also because they offer an opportunity to see a different lifestyle. Buggies are part of the 'Amish tourist deal', and from my observation non-Amish are quite active in marketing and benefiting from that. 

We rented bicycles to cycle around the farm country, so we also had concerns about the car traffic, and different solutions to propose, neither of which are likely to fit in with American society.  Mine was to ban cars throughout Lancaster County.  I would allow large car parks at the entrances to the county and shuttle buses between the villages.  Mike would like an alternative network of roads just for buggies, and presumably for cycling tourists.  Interestingly, the Amish don't use bicycles.  They use scooters (the kind kids usually have, not the motorized kind).  By the time I had got saddlesore from cycling ten miles through the countryside, I envied them.

Farm country is something of a rarity in the parts of the East Coast where I usually end up, so this was refreshingly open, gently undulating country.  The style of the farm buildings isn't like anywhere in Europe that I know of, but the general impression is.  In particular, the size and arrangement of home and utilitarian buildings is quite familiar.  The twin silos of most Amish farms and the fans along the sides of the animal sheds are defining features.  Looking out over a large expanse, the silos give the landscape quite an industrial air, but mostly it is green and pleasant.  The fields are worked with machinery drawn by teams of horses, and just maintaining all the livestock needed to do that involves some pretty serious farming.

Churches are such a defining feature of European rural landscapes that I noticed their absence.  It turns out that the Amish hold church in their homes on alternate Sundays, rotating among the twenty or thirty families in their group.  On the intervening Sundays, their bishop goes to hold the services for their sister group, whilst the group who don't have church visit with each other.

Another thing missing from the landscape that is nearly ubiquitous elsewhere is the American flag.  On the other hand, there is a kind of star symbol that is very common in Lancaster County. 

There's an irony in the fact that clothing chosen to deflect attention from the wearer makes the people who are wearing it into a center of attention.  In fact, let's be honest about this, the Amish dress is part of the 'picturesqueness' that attracts tourists.  Still, it's easy to see the point that within Amish society people conform to the expectation of plain dress.  But I have always felt that clothes that attract attention are a distraction from the individual wearing them and in that context, uniform, plain clothing frames and emphasizes the person wearing it.  I argue back and forth with myself about whether Amish clothing does, should or ever can achieve its stated goals.

Home life
The Amish Village attraction included a visit of an old house done up to represent the contemporary Amish lifestyle.  They use a strange mixture of old-fashioned techniques and appliances like oil lamps and appliances running on alternative power sources like diesel powered fridges.  The Amish don't have decorations in their homes, but they do have decorative functional objects like clocks or calendars.  The most surprising things to me in the house visit were the expressions of astonishment on the part of our American fellow visitors. They find this way of life different, astonishing, ...  I find it to be quite close to that of all our not so distant ancestors.  I can't help wondering how their grandparents lived, and how they come to have forgotten.

We didn't meet any Amish people except to pass them on the street, where they are uniformly pleasant and friendly.

Amish crafts and produce

I will say this about Amish life: some of it may be 'plain' but the cakes are not.  I bought a sticky bun for lunch that was dripping with sugar.  We got a small Shoofly Pie to take home.  Shoofly Pie is a kind of cousin to the treacle tart but made with molasses.  In the evening I tried Whoopie Pies for dessert.  These seem to be the authentic ancestor of which the Oreo cookie is the degenerate offspring.  They are made with two small(ish) pieces of sponge cake shaped like cookies, with cream sandwiched in the middle.

Amish country draws a lot of tourists, and the main roads are filled with shops selling furniture, quilts, and well... basically stuff.  A lot of it is kitsch, pseudo-cottagey junk, often with horrifically sentimental phrases written all over it.  I can't imagine what it has to do with the Amish.  If you look around a bit you can find some nice things.  Mike and I went into a quilt shop where they sold lovely fabrics that reminded me of Provencal cloth.  We also saw a quilt we would have bought if we had a home to put it in.  Since it cost nearly $700, it's just as well we don't.

The Fulton Steamboat Inn
I picked this hotel because it got good reviews on trip advisor.  Looking at its outside, we had to laugh.  Talk about kitsch!  I think this is what they must call a theme hotel.  It even has a moat running round it. The staff are referred to as 'crew members' (instead of 'associates'!), and if you take full board they call it a 'cruise'.   Despite this it is very nice, with large rooms, a hot tub and a fairly decent restaurant, so yes it is good value for money.

Marsh Creek State Park
Though hard to find, it was fun when we got there.  Marsh Creek is basically a boating lake with a bit of parkland around it. We rented a paddleboat and had good luck spotting some of the local wildlife.  Then I went all American and had a hot dog and pink lemonade.  Hopefully, I have got that out of my system and don't need to do it again.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Days 32 and 33: Paris from Philadelphia

There are two temporary exhibitions that focus on Paris running at the same time in Philadelphia. In fact there seems to be a whole 'French Connections' program going on in Pennsylvania.  Does that mean we're forgiven for saying the Iraq war was a bad idea??

Free to Be

Free to Be is at Philadelphia's African American museum.  It looks at the lives and work of African Americans in Paris in the first half of the 20th century, especially artists, writers and musicians.  One of the major themes of the exhibition is that Paris consistently offered more opportunities to black artists than the US at that time. I remember hearing the same thing about London in connection with Paul Robeson.  It's interesting to compare the importance of African Americans in the European capitals early in the 20th century, compared with the African and West Indian dominated black cultures we have now.

They included Paul Robeson in this exhibition, which I though was stretching it a bit, since his connections with Paris were pretty minimal.  He did tend to get everywhere and his internationalism is one of the reasons why I'm interested in doing some research on him, so I'm not complaining.  They exhibited his costume from Emperor Jones and I think it's the first time I've actually felt moved by a piece of cast off clothing.  I stood there quite a while trying to figure out how tall Paul Robeson was! Next to this was a mink coat belonging to one of the most Parisian African Americans you could possibly get: Josephine Baker.  I had never realized quite how much of a French patriot she became.  That was the showbiz side of the exhibition.  The rest was pretty interesting to as well.  It was curious to see which of the paintings had noticeably French characteristics, either in the subject matter or the style.  I also learned more about W.E.B. Dubois which was cool.  Unfortunately, the program of films and concerts that went with the exhibition was over by the time I got to Philadelphia.

I had a secondary goal at the African American museum which was to look around the permanent exhibits quickly and see if they would be interesting to take Antonia to.  I know I tend to complain about the educational quality of museum exhibits.  Pretty often, I'm afraid they suck!  But wow! the exhibitions here are coherent and interesting. The Conversations one is especially suitable for kids Antonia's age, so I guess we'll be back.  The only thing that could go wrong is the room filling up with 30 children pressing all the buttons at once. 

A Window on Paris

The primary focus of the exhibition was Chagall's career in Paris, and the painting the exhibition was named for was a beautiful centerpiece.  There were some other excellent Chagall paintings and several etchings.  There were also a lot of works by other expatriates in Paris, especially Russians or East European Jews.  There was a whole room on the set and costume designs for the Ballet Russe.  The quality of the paintings and sculptures is very high.  It's basically a visual experience.

The most interesting of the Perelman Building's other exhibitions was The Peacock Male, a collection of the most flamboyant male clothing they could find.

In which I get in to Philadelphian life
I wanted to read Burning Lights by Bella Chagall for my research and tracked it down to the Central branch of the Free Library, in the Art Reference Department.  For the first time in my life, I had to wait for 20 minutes while they fished the book I want out of the bookstacks.  Then I nearly fainted when I saw how thick it was because I had to read it right there.  Fortunately, Bella had originally written it in Yiddish, which was really a childhood language for her, so even the translation reads pretty fast.  I got through it in two and a half hours.

I've also found a gym that'll work for me at least until I get to LA and I've figured out where to get fresh bread.  That's a luxury item in the US, and boy, does it cost money!  And I've wandered through the streets of the Old City on Friday night.  It's not as 'rough' as Britain but there's plenty of people around.  Most of them seem to be wandering in and out of art galleries wearing black mini-dresses in the rain.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Foury traverse l'Atlantique

Voici le premier épisode des aventures de Foury, le petit dragon débile qui fait le tour du monde en compagnie de ses maitres.

This is Antonia's first story about Foury, the crazy little dragon and his adventures traveling the world with his master and mistress - only in French !!

Chapitre 1 - Le dragon et le Queen Mary 2

Le jour avant d'embarquer sur le navire Queen Mary 2, Foury, le plus petit dragon de feu, dormait sur son tapis.  Il rêvait du tas de poissons qui l'attendaient!  Il rêvait encore des 4000 humains qui l'attendaient sur ce bateau!  Foury se reveille.  Il reste immobile jusqu'a ce que sa maitresse l'appelle.  It court a sa rencontre et mord sa cheville.

Chapitre 2 - Sur le bateau

"Foury  !  Viens ICI  !"

Troplala, c'est toujours la même histoire, toujours.  Pauvre, pauvre Foury n'a même pas le droit de mordre, griffer, enflammer ou courir.  Pauvre Foury n'a même pas le droit de manger, meme pas de renifler...  C'est trop injuste: 

"Foury  !  VIENT VITE  !"
Voilà.   C'est ce que je dis.


Le bateau part.

Chapitre 3 - Le dragon le plus débile du monde

Foury s'ennuit dans sa cage.  C'est trop énervent.  Son maitre et sa maitresse sont partis.   Mais une bonne (ou peut-être pas si bonne) idée se faufile dans la tête de Foury.  Un petit tour du bateau ne ferait pas de mal.  Foury se depêche de casser sa cage et de bruler un trou dans la porte.  Foury est pret a être le dragon le plus débile du monde...

Chapitre 4 - Ou est passé Foury  ?

Les maitres de Foury rentrent du bal.  Ils sont epuisés.  Ils ouvrent la porte, et c'est la catastrophe  !

"La cage de Foury est cassée  ! dit la maitresse de Foury.
- Oui, et il y a un trou brulé dans la porte  !
- Ca mauvais dragon va faire des bêtises."

Et en plus, c'est vrai.

Chapitre 5 - Un dragon trop curieux

Foury se promène dans le bateau.  Il y a un panneau.  Foury le regarde.  Le panneau dit en grandes lettres:  SALLE A MANGER

Pour tous les chers lecteurs qui lisent ce livre, vous pouvez dire "Oh non  !  Ca recommence  !"  Et vous avez raison.

Alors Foury entre dans la salle à manger.  Au moment ou il entre tout le monde s'immobilise.  Une dame cri "A l'aide, un dragon  !"

Elle lance son plat.  Foury s'échappe juste à temps, mais il court si vite qu'il fonce dans le bassin de la piscine !  Rendez-vous compte, Foury est un dragon de FEU....

Chapitre 6 - Ca recorecommence  !

La seconde ou Foury touche l'eau il s'évanouit.  Il se retrouve allongé sur une chaise.  Le maitre de Foury dort à côté de sa maitresse.  Foury décide de leur atterir dessus alors il se précipite dans l'air et.... PATATRAS  !  Il tombe par terre.   

Mais qu'est-ce qu'il se passe?,  se demande Foury.  Il se retourne et cri AAIIIIEEE !!  Les maitres de Foury se réveillent et baillent.

"Oui, Foufou, dit la maitresse de Foury.  Je sais que ton aile est cassée.
- Ah  !  Sophie  !  On est en retard pour le dîner  !"

A ces mots, ils sont partis.

Foury a l'impression que quelqu'un le guette, puis il se rendort.  Quand il se réveille il va s'asseoir sur le pont du navire. Foury décide de faire un peit tour au dessus de la mer.  Le pauvre a oublié son aile cassée  !  Il se lance dans les airs.  Il commence à tomber vers les vagues.  Mais, soudain un autre dragon l'attrape.  Il est sauvé  !

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Day 31: The Philadelphia Flyers break a wing

I spent most of the day getting Antonia off for a week with her grandparents.  I didn't even get out until 5.00 pm to have a drink with Mike as he finished work, so I thought I would have nothing to write about.  But actually, any time you go out in a new country interesting things happen to you...

1.  ...such as a truck blocking the road while it unloaded.  Why is that interesting?  Because I have spent 18 years stuck behind trucks with Mike and listening to him say "Only in France".  I made him take a photograph as evidence.

2.  If you want to know where to get Thai take-out food in Philadelphia Center City, there are people wandering the streets in uniform whose job is to tell you. Apparently, Center City residents have to pay extra taxes for this kind of public spending, but it's easy to see how it works as marketing for the businesses here.

3.  If some people overhear you finding out where Thai take-out food is to be had, and they want some too, they come along with you.  It turned out that one of our new companions played ice hockey.  We were on our way to watch the Philadelphia ice hockey team sort out the Bostonians (ha!) at my brother-in-law's, and they were off home to do the same.  The guy we met had toured Europe with an ice hockey team, and since ice hockey is also big in Grenoble, I was interested in his experiences.  He told me that it is a much more aggressive sport here, and that in Europe, he usually ended up with about 30 penalties in the first minute.  It is true that the kids who play ice hockey in Grenoble are much more fascinated with their own skill on the ice than their boxing capabilities.  When I was small in France, I used to watch ice hockey one evening every week while my parents went bowling, so I was looking forward to this new cultural experience.

Unfortunately, the Philadelphia Flyers flew about as well as the dragon in Antonia's latest story!

What a disgrace!  The match only lasted about twenty minutes, because my brother-in-law had pre-recorded it and there were large sections he could not bear to watch.  Although only the goalie was formally sent off, the Flyers didn't seem to have the best offensive game going - apart from the moment where two or three of them decided to down sticks and engage in a longish boxing match with the Bostonians.  Although ice hockey rules include all kinds of technical details I hadn't been aware of, scrapping is perfectly OK in the North American version, and the referees just stand around until the fighters fall on the floor.  After that, they politely encourage them to get back to playing ice hockey.  At least I got my American culture fix!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Day 30: The walls of Philadelphia

Mural Mile
Philadelphia is famous for its murals.  It even has an organized Mural Arts Program to make more of them.  It's one of the things I love about Philadelphia.  The city is organized on a near perfect grid system, and every so often a house is 'missing' from the grid and replaced with a small car park.  Most of the murals are on the empty side walls of buildings, facing the car parks.  This afternoon, I copied the Mural Mile walk onto my SEPTA (public transport) map, and Antonia and I set off to view murals, walking through the pretty old neighborhoods of the Washington Square area.  It wasn't until we saw the first mural that Antonia realized that this has got nothing to do with graffiti.  Then she was hooked.

Toastmasters meeting
A while ago, I decided that some form of speaking was probably going to be part of my future career plans.  Since I've spent a LOT more time writing than speaking over the last 20 years, I feel pretty incompetent. It seemed like Toastmasters might be a good opportunity to get a bit of practice in and see how it goes. So today, I went to a meeting, to see what it was like.  I actually think that in the last 18 years, this is the first time I've met any Americans who weren't introduced by my in-laws and directly connected with my in-laws in some way, so it is a big deal for me!

The meeting turned out to be at the top of a 23-floor skyscraper belonging to Blue Cross Insurance group.  There must be hundreds of people working here and most, but not all, of the 'Toastmasters are probably employees. I was relieved when I walked in to discover that I'd managed to pitch the dress code about right, despite having almost nothing suitable for ordinary office wear.  I was really happy to be welcomed by a very nice guy who explained the meetings to me, and to have another conversation with a Brit who recognized my accent at the end of the meeting.  I was happy to be in a group with a bit more diversity than I usually get to meet in America.  It reminded me of London.

It turns out that the meeting and the Toastmasters program are very structured, which is probably a good thing.  I got caught up in listening to the three speeches which were so good, it was scary!  I have mixed feelings about how practical it would be to participate in Toastmasters while traveling, but a lot of people have been pretty welcoming and encouraging in that respect as well, so perhaps I will give it a go.  OMG, the first thing I would have to do is come up with a speech introducing myself!  Hmmm!

Just as we got Antonia to bed, we got an impromptu treat:  fireworks on the other side of the river.  We got up and sat on the roof of our houseboat watching the display.  They were beautiful, but we have no idea what they were in honor of.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Day 29: Liberty and Patriotism

It's been quite a week for patriotic displays in the media, what with the royal wedding in Britain and now the assassination of Bin Laden.  The newspapers show the Americans throwing street parties, on the actual streets you would hardly know it had happened.  Just the Fox building broadcasting its headlines to the outside world, one person offering a non-committal 'Heard the news?', and the State Department emailing Mike a travel warning for the whole planet, suggesting that they, at least, are not sure the world is any safer.

The Liberty Bell

Yesterday, I was complaining about the tone of patriotism at Valley Forge.  Today we decided to concentrate on the Liberty Bell, and of course, we got a whole lot more of it.  This, I think, is where the real damage is done.  The education at the Independence site consists of patriotic propaganda, hero-worship and anecdote.  But have you ever tried to explain the concept of political liberty to a nine-year old?  Or the meaning of the constitution?  It takes a while...  At these sites, people, children especially, are learning that something is very, very important, before they have the maturity to understand what it is.  Then they fixate on the symbols: a flag, a founding father...  The primary sources of the period include some of the more interesting things I've read, yet they completely debunk the almost religious aura that's been created around America's formation.

Antonia beside the Liberty Bell, with Independence Hall in the background

Antonia on Liberty (I thought she did well, like I said, it took a while)
People might not feel free because they have to follow the law, but people feel more free if they make the law themselves.  If you are religious, you want to feel free to follow your own beliefs.
The Library
I decided the public library could solve some of our limitations over the number of books we can carry around.  We would drop in and read through a few picture books about William Penn, George Washington.  The first task was to figure out the library's organization.  Children's fiction books are in a separate children's area.  I searched in vain for the non-fiction section until I discovered that children's non-fiction was integrated with adults.  Except for biographies, where there is yet another separate bookcase reserved for children!!  We found a space in the huge Chinese language section of the library, and read picture books about William Penn and the Liberty Bell over each others shoulder.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Day 28: Valley Forge

There are two main reasons to visit Valley Forge near Philadelphia.  The first is to get out of the city into a more natural environment.  The second is to have a look at the winter campground of George Washington and his army.  It is not absolutely perfect for either of those purposes in our experience. 

1. Getting there and back from Philadelphia can be a bit of a struggle.  There was a lot of traffic, roadworks and poor signposting when we went.  This was made worse in our case by the fact that we had to get hold of a car before setting off, and return it afterwards. We did not make it to a trail head until after noon.  Then of course we had to have lunch.  We had time to stroll around for 3 hours, after which we fought our way home.  Valley Forge is NOT worth 3 hours of walking for 8 hours of miscellaneous messing around. There is a public transport bus between Philly and Valley Forge which may be a much better option. 

Covered bridges are supposed to keep the ice off the roads

2. As contact with nature goes, it isn't a perfect place. Valley Forge is pretty to drive through with open fields and woodland and a few reconstructed log cabins at strategic spots.  But, we quickly realized that the trail around the park, which we would have liked to have walked, runs along the busy road for miles and miles. We just weren't ready for that much noise.  We checked the map more carefully, found a trail at the other end of the park and went back to get our car.  We got on the Horseshoe Trail which goes on for miles and miles until it joins the Appalachian trail.  Very soon we found we were leaving the park, and entering what Mike calls suburbia.  Homes that look like enormous plastic dolls' houses are dropped at random in the woods, like so many witch's mansions, assuming that  Barbie would be playing the witch.  The fences that delimit their property boundaries hem the trail in on both sides. I am allergic to this type of environment and Mike said it might go on for 30 miles or more, so we turned back into the park. 

This cottage and vestigial white picket fence are in the back yard of a house ten times the size!

Valley Forge is a tiny oasis in a wasteland, well, sort of.  The woods here feel surprisingly barren as there is much less undergrowth than in deciduous woods in Europe.  We are just learning to recognize poison ivy, the Super Nettle, and there is a lot of it.  We stopped for a while to admire the bluebirds and listen to woodpeckers, before descending Mount Misery at the point where a covered bridge crosses the road.  If I was already feeling 'poisoned' by the whole ambiance of the place, it was to be Mike's turn. All along the creek are big signs warning fishermen not to eat anything they catch as the water is polluted.  Polluted water rightly freaks him out.  It did not seem to be deterring the fishermen, one of whom pointed out a mass of half a dozen snakes lying on an exposed branch.  He told us they are common and often drop on him out of trees as he pushes through the narrower parts of the creek.

Truly, Valley Forge is the sort of place where witch and ghost stories are made. I wasn't sorry to return to the more wholesome urban mess of Philadelphia.

3. As 'history' goes, this is probably more of a patriotic ritual.  Still perhaps that's your thing!  Valley Forge was the winter campground of George Washington and his army, now a National Park.  I suspect there is very little to see in the way of actual remains, but there are reconstructions, statues and memorials, park rangers in costume and other miscellaneous stuff scattered around a 5 mile circuit.  It feels a bit like the Stations of the Cross! Eventually we reached some real buildings, one of which was rented by George Washington as his winter headquarters.  It has been filled with period furniture, uniforms and plastic food in the kitchen, so in fact, it is also very much a reconstruction. The tone of American patriotism in use at these sites is starting to really grate on my nerves, and I'm saving my patience for the Independence park in Philadelphia.  Its effect on Mike is electrifying, though.  Suddenly he is using the pronoun 'we' to discuss the War of Independence with his daughter (who is half English, and who's first ancestor to live in America was in about 1903)!!  Fortunately, the information in the Visitor's Center is quite well laid out and thoughtful, but I often feel that this kind of information can be obtained just as well from a book.

Reconstructed log cabins at Valley Forge

Moe fresh air in and near Philadelphia
More American patriotism
Other bloggers talk about Valley Forge
Valley Forge information site