Sunday, May 19, 2019

Postcards from Indiana: Intro to Bloomington

I miss Indiana! I never thought I'd write those words but I spent a few delightful days there in spite of my misgivings, some bad weather, and some misplaced water. 

I’ve spent very little time in the Midwest and in some ways, it was as foreign a place to me as London. Our trip, back in late March, was very good for me. New places, new people, and new experiences are generally good for everyone. Yes, Indiana is the state that gave us Mike Pence, but Bloomington is not like him. Everywhere I saw signs that said "Everyone Is Welcome" here. 

I found the average Bloomington resident to be fabulous. Everyone, on campus and in town (except for a few students, evidently from New England), was remarkably friendly. I met many strangers who treated me like an old friend. 

Our vet (who went to grad school there) told me the antiquing was good so, right after we checked into our hotel on the Bloomington campus, I went out to visit the two shops I'd found online. Thunderstorms were in the forecast for all of Saturday, so I decided I'd see as much of Bloomington as I could while it was dry. I'd also have to find some dinner.

It was a Friday afternoon, increasingly muggy and warm. Girl were walking around in sundresses and halter tops, which still seemed premature, while I was overdressed in jeans, a turtleneck and raincoat. First, I headed to the three-story antiques “mall." I had wondered how Midwestern antiques might be different from Eastern ones. While this place was also full of the stuff you see in New England and everywhere (vintage clothes, china, colonial reproductions, toys, record albums, mid-century modern everything, etc.), it also had a variety of what I consider to be regional items: unusual (non-deer) taxidermy trophies, animal skins, hunting and trapping gear, camping equipment, weapons, Native American textiles and baskets, and spatterware enamel kitchen pots and pans:

It was all very masculine, as if a series of hermit mountain-man cabins had been cleared out. Or maybe just one, belonging to a hermit mountain-man hoarder:

It seems like there'd be plenty of this stuff in Maine, too, but I don't find it there, at least not in this quantity. Maybe it all goes to New Hampshire.

I actually like taxidermy but I'm not allowed to have any. After the wolves and wolverines, I was very interested in this English salt-glazed sugar bowl and creamer. The price tag said they dated from about 1820 — the same year Indiana University was founded in Bloomington:

The sugar bowl is large — it holds a several cups of sugar — and I wasn't sure it would fit well on the crowded counter of our tiny kitchen. So I took a photo to show my husband to see if he liked them, He didn't. Nevertheless, I went back (in the rain) the next day for a second look, decided I didn't care what my husband thought, and shelled out $43 for them. I think they are exceptionally pretty and I never liked refilling our tiny sugar bowl. This one holds about four times as much, while the pitcher holds teaspoons. We both admire them and they are a perfect souvenir of Bloomington.

The antique mall had a fine collection of children's books, including various Nancy Drew editions, and some of the Cherry Ames series (about the adventures of a raven-haired student nurse):

I'd forgotten there were so many series, and I remember reading somewhere that there are new versions where Nancy has a cell phone. (I think that one problem with contemporary fiction and drama is that it has to include a massive amount of cell phone use to be realistic, and that is always boring to read about or watch. Phones make our lives more boring. But who am I to talk? I use mine too much, too. And I get excited about vintage children's books in Indiana.)

"My" edition was the yellow version, below, but my true favorites were the original blue ones, where Nancy wore frocks, which sounded both more intriguing and frillier than ordinary dresses. She drove a blue roadster, a gift from her rich, handsome, lawyer father, who was seldom around.

I reread a few chapters of The Sign of the Twisted Candles as I stood there. I had forgotten Nancy's chums Ned and Bess. I had forgotten the books' clever, slangy dialogue.

On my way out, I spotted a collection of "Cornware," for lack of a better term. Perfect for the Midwest:

My next stop was The Garrett. How could it not be? Look at it:

It was about 5 o'clock when I arrived and I thought I'd only have a few minutes to browse before it closed. I walked in and saw no one. I called out a few increasingly loud hellos as I went around, but no one replied, so I explored the whole jumbled, crumbling, interesting place on my own.

The purple walls of one room had a strong hippie vibe. The colored glass displays in the windows glowed in the late-afternoon sun, despite layers of dust:

I debated about going upstairs since I couldn't tell if it was private. There were "private" signs on some doors downstairs, but nothing was blocking the stairs, and I figured I'd never have another chance, so up I went:

There I found chairs on the ceiling and lighting fixtures on the floor, and piles of you-name it everywhere else. The best thing was a fancy walnut tool chest we didn't need.

I assumed a man ran the place after seeing this:

But as I was getting ready to leave, I finally heard a gentle voice from a distant corner, and soon met Nancy Garrett. Silver-haired and in her 80s,  she was pretty and gracious, reminding me of one of my favorite, long-lost aunts. I had a lovely time talking to her as she showed me her collection of mineral specimens and shells:

She and her husband had bought the house in 1964; the name on the second-story sign was his idea. Now she's a widow, running the place by herself, although her children help sometimes. I couldn't leave empty-handed, so I bought an amethyst sphere. 

Meeting her and wandering around her house made my whole trip worthwhile. I was a long way from my airport crankiness. I explored the rest of the town, which had many funky, affordable little shops, as college towns do. I checked out a vintage clothing store and had a number of deja-vu experiences over synthetic disco dresses, platform shoes, and denim vests. I found a French bakery and Janko's Little Zagreb Steakhouse, which seemed promising. I went into an independently owned kitchen store as they were starting to close. It was huge compared to our one independent shop in Boston, and as good as any I've found in New England. So I said so, and instantly made friends with the three shopkeepers. 

"And where are you eating tonight?" one asked me as she rang up my purchase. All three waited for my reply. I said I didn't know — what could they recommend?  They asked what I was in the mood for, so I told them about the memorable flatbread I'd had in Indianapolis. They talked among themselves and gave me the names of two places. One was the Roost, where they were all going after work, since it was closing for good that weekend. The other was called Michael's. 

As I left the shop, my husband texted to ask if he could join me for dinner. Earlier, we'd assumed he'd have every meal with his colleagues, but he had changed his mind, which I found completely understandable as I've met some of those colleagues. I texted back YES!, and tried to find both restaurants using my malfunctioning iPhone's demented, buggy, mystifying Maps app. (I'd gotten to both antique shops by asking humans for directions and following street signs because Maps kept lying to me.)

I gave up trying on Michael's; I later discovered that only locals call it that, since they know Michael. The restaurant's real name, on all of its signage, is the "Uptown CafĂ©." I kept passing it, wondering where Michael's was. So I texted my husband to meet me at the Roost, which I knew was on the street that would lead me back to campus. I stopped in a secondhand bookshop, looked around, and asked how far it was to the Roost. As the owner gave me directions, he mentioned that he would be going there later.  

One of the best things I learned on this trip: Ask people working in kitchen shops where to eat. They know.

I spotted my husband on the street. We added ourselves to the waiting list for a table and wandered around town together:

We didn't take photos of the crowds of kids in summer clothes piling into the bars. We were more artistic, taking photos of the lights outside one of the bars:

I waved a car past us as we stood in a crosswalk and, instead of hitting the accelerator, as happens in Boston, the driver rolled down his window and he and his passenger wished us a lovely evening before driving off. The Midwest is charming!

Back at the Roost, we chatted with the hostess as we waited for our table. She recommended her favorite flatbread, the "Queen Bee": prosciutto, mozzarella, gorgonzola, pecorino, white truffle oil, and honey. We were seated at a cozy corner table. The place was hopping. I spied the people from the kitchen store across the way, sharing a bottle of wine. I asked our server how she was dealing with the restaurant closing. She said she was expecting to cry a little and eat a lot of flatbread over the next two nights because the owner was removing the pizza oven and converting the place to a coffee shop. She would still have a job, but she would miss the oven terribly. 

I soon knew how she felt. I couldn't decide if I was eating the best or second-best flatbread of my life. I loved every bite. Our server seemed genuinely pleased when I told her how great it was. My husband loved it, too. 

We could feel the temperature dropping as we walked across the campus to our hotel. Before we went to bed, we strolled around the vast Student Union. The campus bookstore and a Starbucks were also on our floor, a few minutes' stroll away. A big formal party, probably a sorority event, was happening somewhere upstairs, and we kept seeing groups of young women in short, summery white or pastel party dresses, matching heels, heavy makeup and serious hair. 

I found a nice lounge with leather club chairs and a gas fireplace not far from our room, and decided I'd go there to read sometime.

Here's one of the Union's banquet halls, used for parties and Sunday brunch:

Back in our room, I filled out a card to have my breakfast delivered, thinking fondly of my room-service breakfasts in London. This trip was turning out to be not so bad.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Oh, Hello There

The cats are all enjoying the big tote bag the Boston Landmarks Commission gave out as swag at their annual awards ceremony last week.  I twisted and tied the handles so no one would get their head caught or try to eat them, and then it became the place to be:

I'm not sure why I'm not posting more these days. I finally wrote out my long list of tasks , and now they loom and lurk, and get in the way of writing, which is not to imply that I'm making much progress on them, either. 

I still want to tell you about my trip to the exotic land of Bloomington, Indiana, which was in late March. And we've just been to Mount Desert Island, and Brimfield is coming up, too.

And then there are the cats. They are flourishing. Wendy will sit on the sofa next to me now and I can pet her, up to a point. She flees from me everywhere else, but with less enthusiasm. Two recent visitors here have seen her, on separate occasions. She sat at a safe distance and stared at them, huge progress for her. When they noticed her and exclaimed over how pretty she is, she disappeared.  

Possum is his usual splendid self although he's got a bit of a dandruff problem. He blames it on my lack of vacuuming, and says it's just dust, but I think not. He is always lounging all over my husband when he is home, but I also get used as seating furniture when he's away. And I'm properly grateful.

Lion still gets mad if I talk to him or try to touch him when he is in his daylight "hiding" mode. If I see him curled up on a dining chair under the table, for example, and touch him, he gives me the "feral eye" (similar to "stink eye" but with very dilated pupils) and slinks off to a better hiding place. He'll be all cuddles and chatter later, when he's in a more sociable mood. 

Toffee is very sociable these days and welcomes attention from visitors. Our neighbor was sitting on our tiny kitchen floor the other day (we are both planning kitchen updates) and Toffee wedged himself into the corner beside her and demanded petting, flinging himself against her and rolling into strange contortions so she could stroke his belly. He used to be much more reserved, so it was good to see.

And Harris is Harris, and what could be better than that? He is still chucking pinecones to the floor and throwing things off my desk (including my new phone, often) because he can never get enough attention. I need to wash my neck because he was just licking it. 

They all finally have vet appointments next month, as our two favorite vets are finally opening their new practice, the Cambridge Cat Clinic. (Click that link if only to see the good cat video on the homepage.) They'd initially hoped to open in November, and we knew better than that, but we never thought it would take ten months instead of three. Everyone is overdue for shots, dental exams, everything. June will be full of cat carriers and everyone hissing at each other because they smell like the vet.

I will try to post more this month, since I don't want to get rusty at writing — so prepared to be bored on a number of fronts.

Monday, April 29, 2019

A Sweet Little House

This house on Boston's North Shore went under agreement right away and you'll see why.

It has personality: every room isn't painted light gray and staged to look like every other house on the market, with bland furniture and nothing with a hint of color or character. There's some gray here, but it looks intentional. This house has been staged but it looks believable, with many of the family's own belongings.

The front door looks welcoming with the porch lights lit and that bushy wreath against the blue:

But here's the magic weapon:

That does it for me. I want this house.

The starfish in the windows are a coastal Massachusetts tradition. I've seen them from Marblehead to Cape Cod.

Here's the other magic weapon, covering all the bases because not everyone is a Cat Person:

I almost never see animals in listing photos; when I do I feel sorry for them: they don't realize that big changes are coming. They think everything is fine, and I desperately want things to always be fine for them. I think these two will be okay. This family seems to know how to do things well.

Look at that confident cat! How can you not want to live in this house, with such a cat? (I'm trying to ignore those tulips, which the cat should not eat. He may be smarter than my cats.)

Let's look around inside, and let's take those tulips with us.

Oars have been turned into a coat rack:

 If this coastal neighborhood floods, you could take it apart and paddle away.

Fish art, parent-child guitars, and a harpoon add personality in the living room:

There's also a window seat with colorful pillows and more starfish:

This dining room looks real, not staged. I like the wall color and the mismatched chairs:

The kitchen has vintage cabinets, vinyl flooring, and old Formica counters. I think it's charming:

A sweet, summery but staged bedrooom:

A child's bedroom, or is that another window seat? That object on the wall is either a toddler's oar or a large flyswatter:

The garage looks like Mari Kondo was let loose in it but it also looks real:

The picture-perfect neighborhood — Swampscott, I think:

A scooter in the driveway is a final piece of staging brilliance. Living here would be lots of fun.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Postcards from Indiana Cemeteries

On Friday morning, our itinerary included breakfast, two cemeteries, returning the car at the airport, and catching the shuttle bus from there to Bloomington. After the cemeteries, I figured it would be downhill all the way. 

It was a dark, gloomy morning with drizzle and showers, which suited me fine since I had a raincoat with a hood and Sorel waterproof boots. 

For our Capital Grille breakfast, we ordered eggs, English muffins, sausages, and tea. The only tea was Lipton, which puzzled me until I remembered I'm a spoiled New Englander. I found that Lipton isn't bad. I'd hated it as a kid, perhaps because my Irish grandmother never used sugar or milk and had me drink it boiling hot. 

We used both of our Siris in the car for directions. Normal Siri on my husband's phone quickly brought us to the highway, while diabolical, sociopathic Siri on mine just kept telling us to "proceed to the route." Both Siris have nice British accents, because we find that American Siri has too much attitude. 

I should mention that, on our house tour the night before, and on this cemetery drive, I tortured entertained my husband by singing along to a playlist from my iCloud library, which I deemed suitable for the Midwest, including the Traveling Wilburys, Michelle Shocked, Judy Collins, Tom Petty, Fastball ("The Way"), Springsteen, Orbison, and Dylan. Also Harry Belafonte's "Day-O, (The Banana Boat Song)," just because I like doing as many of the dance moves from Beetlejuice as can be performed in a seatbelt. 

He tolerated this patiently, I have to say. I believe I had as much fun on the Indiana highways as one can legally have. When we pulled into the first cemetery, our soundtrack was The Red Clay Ramblers' "I Crept Into the Crypt and Cried"—it's a 1920-style tune, written in the 1960s, and it starts like this:

I went away to Egypt to work there for awhile
And fell in love with Tara, the flower of the Nile.
I had to make some money so she and I could wed,
And so I got a job there workin' on a pyramid

The Pharaoh of all Egypt, a crummy little creep,
Would come out almost everday inspectin' in his jeep.
He had a big fat stomach, a little pointed head,
And everyone that saw him thought he was already dead.

And then one day it happened, the Pharaoh of Egypt
Came out to see how we were doin' on his creepy crypt.
He took one look at Tara, and him she did beguile,
The next thing that I knew he took her sailin' down the Nile

So I crept, I crept into the Pharaoh's crypt
And cried, all alone there in that creepy crypt I cried.
I saw him sail away from me, my Tara at his side,
And so I crept into the crypt and cried . . .

What could be more perfect than a song about Egypt as we about to visit the dead relatives of a dead Egyptologist? I was so pleased. My husband made me turn it off.

The first cemetery did not disappoint. I explored a decayed caretaker's cottage while my husband visited the family graves of his biography subject, George. I had the better deal:

Talk about potential! And the neighbors seemed really quiet and easy to get along with:

It will be charming when they raise enough money to fix it up. It will have a red clay tile roof; pallets of new tiles are stacked nearby. I'd say they'll need to do a bit of structural work here and there first.

A married couple owns this cemetery and they've listed it for sale. My husband talked to the wife and was told that taking care of is a lot of work and they mow the whole thing themselves. Their conversation was far from a ringing endorsement of cemetery ownership. It's not such a profitable business although, you know, people are dying to get in. I'm drawn to cemeteries but I'd never considered owning one — it never occurred to me that people could own cemeteries. I'm not in the market. Too lazy.

Some of the flat gravestones my husband wanted to photograph were half-covered in sod and mud. Since he was wearing dress shoes, I used my clunky-soled boots to scrape the markers clean. For the rest of the day, my boots were a muddy, grassy mess. I also discovered that my socks were wet: the waterproof claim was a lie.

In my wet, mucky boots, I went back to exploring the house:

Since there was a tall chainlink fence (with an opening) I probably wasn't supposed to be this close to the building, but the owners were not around. (They were probably still exhausted from their last mowing.) I didn't go inside; there were holes in the floor.

I hope that someday I'll see the "after" photos. This house could be charming with a thoughtful renovation.

A bird's nest in the rubble:

The house was the only picturesque element of the cemetery, the rest of it was your basic vanilla suburban graveyard, not so interesting in terms of funerary art or landscaping. At least it was bordered by woods and fields:

The second cemetery, Crown Hill, was much larger and more well-to-do, with some elaborate chapels and gravestones, and a notable collection of specimen trees. The cemetery was founded on Indianapolis's highest hill in 1863, the site of a tree nursery and farm, and a favorite spot for picnickers. I picked up a tree map for future reference, and it came in handy as we drove around.

The entry gate looked grim under the cloudy sky, but on a sunnier day, I imagine they look more fun. You know, Disney Gothic:

The cemetery is large and divided into scores of numbered sections, with many winding roads. We'd park, and then separate to save time as we walked up and down across a section, checking the names on every stone within sight until we found the right one. It took us a while, and we got wet.

One of the best sculptures we saw:

Fancy tree stump markers were popular here:

A chapel:

The last grave we wanted to find was an unmarked plot belonging to George's parents. We knew the lot number but there were no markers to identify those. I began typing some of the more unusual names on the stones in that section into, which helpfully provides lot numbers. Eventually I found the right row, and then the spot we wanted. It was a patch of lawn. I asked my husband why George and his siblings had never chipped in to buy their parents a tombstone. He had no answer.

Maybe I'll find out if I read George's biography, once my husband has written it.

I'll spare you details of the drive to the airport and the bus to Bloomington. Southern Indiana is flat and that's all you need to know.

On the Bloomington campus, our hotel was located within the 500,000 square-foot Student Union, which also houses study rooms, function rooms, a Starbuck's, the bookstore, restaurants, and a bowling alley. Daffodils were blooming and students were wandering around in shorts and flip flops although it didn't feel that warm to us. My husband hurried off to his conference, leaving me on my own for lunch and dinner.

I put on dry socks and cleaned my muddy boots. I ended up making a little swamp in the bathroom sink; there was no other way, but I cleared out all the grass before it could clog the drain. Then I went out to explore Bloomington.