This and That

Musings on Being a Writer and My Life
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Buffalo

  • August 15, 2016 2:19 am

new buffalo skylineDear readers,

I just returned from one of two visits to my hometown of Buffalo, New York this summer—the first to attend my brother-in-law’s funeral and the second, to celebrate a family reunion. I reworked this blog post from four years ago. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Buffalo, my home town. Name by French trappers, according to legend, after the river that flows through it. The Queen City of the Great Lakes, famous for snow storms, chicken wings and the Buffalo Bills and the Sabres Hockey team.

Buffalo is becoming an “It” city–with a newly revived waterfront that includes busy Canalside ( a terminus point for the Erie Canal), and the Inner Harbor. The lakefront is crowded all the time, as is Larkin Square, another historic area that is jammed with concert-goers, food truck aficionados and people enjoying the lovely summer evenings Buffalo offers. Travel through the Elmwood Village and admire the wonderful gardens that are lovingly tended, making Buffalo’s Garden Walk in July a highlight of the summer for garden enthusiasts from all over.

Buffalo is the place where I was born, attended grade school, learned about the world, came of age and earned two college degrees. The place where I made my first communion and was confirmed. The place where I fell in love, married and raised a child. The place I spent my happiest days and some of my saddest days. It is where my parents and one of my brothers are buried, and where two of my seven siblings live now.

It is also a city of uncommon beauty—wide boulevards lined with mature trees that are crimson and gold in fall, elegant public buildings—some designed by the most famous of American architects. Situated on Lake Erie—one of a chain of inland seas—cooled by breezes from Canada, it is circled by a necklace of Olmstead parks—green oases for the working class. Populated by the children of immigrants who came here to find the Promised Land and by the descendants of slaves who found refuge at the last stop on the Underground Railway.

I ran away from its harsh winters fifteen years ago looking for endless summer which I found here in Florida.

And now I wonder if I am called back to that place I never stopped loving.

I see a city rich with opportunity, full of the promise of intellectual and spiritual growth. A city where I can attend theater, concerts, and visit art galleries easily. (There is a saying in Buffalo that everything in the city is twenty minutes away…and it’s true.)

I can sit in bistros and watch the bustle of the world go by—and eat wonderful food and not have to mortgage the house to do so. I can drive through neighborhoods and admire Arts and Crafts style homes next to Frank Lloyd Wright houses.

I can be soothed by the rhythm of waves rolling into the marina, enjoy a sandy beach or drive to the undulating hills south of the city.

And I can be among those I share a history with—who have known me all of my life—who love me for who I was and am now. People whose memories I share, who loved the same people I loved. I can be among the next generation in our family, and revel in their beauty, intelligence and goodness. I can see our family’s heritage and the future in their eager faces.

Buffalo is aptly named. It’s is an earthy name—unpretentious, it isn’t a beautiful sounding word, rather one that jars a little. The same way we are jarred by the real thing—by reality. It is a genuine place filled with people who feel authentic.

The moment I arrive in this city—my city—I feel the joy of arriving home, like returning to the warmth of a mother’s embrace.

 

 

Image of Buffalo skyline at night courtesy of city-data.com

 

 

 

 

 

Antidote

  • July 13, 2016 2:47 am

 

Recently, I was talking to a friend who enjoys reading my blog. She mentioned that it had been a least a month since I updated it. There’s a reason why. When I started this blog, my main goal was to attract a following for my writing. I promised that it would not be political because I subscribed the old fashioned notion of avoiding talking about religion and politics.

But somehow, writing a blog like mine in the midst of mass shootings, including sniper attacks on police officers and the death of Black citizens at the hands of law enforcement seemed frivolous.  Every time I thought I had a good topic, another national tragedy would occur—so I decided to wait a week or so. The week turned into a month and threatened to become six months and then a year.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that especially because the news is so grim so much of the time, perhaps a blog entry that brought a smile or a nod of recognition to my followers might be cathartic.

This revelation came to me while I was perusing Face Book after the mass shooting at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando, which is the nearest big city to where I live. Even though I personally didn’t know anyone who died that horrible night, I still felt deeply saddened. Face Book was full of memes about “love winning” and posts about the night of terror. The news was brimming with stories about the perpetrator and most importantly, the victims.

Then my brother-in-law died.  It was a tsunami of sadness and shared grief.

I found myself seeking out Face Book posts showing pictures of children, dogs and kittens—and gardens, rainbows and waterfalls and—well, you get the picture. I was seeking an antidote to all of the sadness around me.rainbows-1082107__340

So, I decided that it was time to get back to the blog and writing about the sometimes silly and quirky observations about my life.

I hope you understand. See you tomorrow.

(And here’s a picture of a waterfall and a rainbow!)

Picture courtesy of Pixabay

 

 

 

 

 

Memories

  • February 1, 2015 1:31 am

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fleeting snippets of events, memories, have flashed through my mind of late. Most of these memories make me smile, or remind me of the love I have for the people who are important in my life.

I wonder about the role memory plays in constructing who and what we are. Various members of a family experience the same event differently. When asked to recall an event, they may have widely dissimilar versions to relate.

One memory that has played in my mind of late was many years ago when I was in grade school.  I was walking to school or church with my brother. It had snowed (we lived in Buffalo, New York and it was winter), and there were soft, light flurries falling around us. The sunlight glimmered off the snow, catching the ice crystals, making them shine like diamonds. My brother wanted to pretend that we were walking through a diamond mine. I still can recall how magical this mundane walk seemed at the time.

When we were kids, my Dad would take all eight of us to the zoo (and other locations) for the day during his summer vacation.  My Mom would pack a picnic lunch and off we’d go with just Dad—leaving poor (or so I thought) Mom home alone! I always felt a little sorry for my Mon until I became an adult and realized how precious those few “days off” must have been to her.

My Dad especially liked to watch the ducks at the zoo. He would try to get us to sit on the concrete bench that was built around the duck pond for what seemed like forever. It probably was to rest his chronically aching back. We, of course, were anxious to go, go, go!  Eventually, the older kids would take some of the younger ones off to see the rest of the zoo while Dad took a breather.

I remember another field trip to Niagara Falls, a short ride from Buffalo. We had a VW bus (remember those?)  Dad, my sister, the three little kids in the family, and I were on this trip. I don’t recall if any of the older kids were along—I was already in high school when we took this excursion.

The rain came down in sheets, making walking around the “Falls” and eating a picnic lunch a little dicey, to use one of Dad’s words. We ended up having our picnic in the fogged-up car, which sounds a like more fun than it was. I had to pass out sandwiches and drinks from the front seat all the way to the back of the VW bus. I felt like a contortionist trying to accomplish that task.

These memories are a part of the history I share with my family. There are many more, of course.

And, as time goes on, they seem to become even more precious.

 

 

 

 

Snowstorm !

  • November 26, 2014 1:04 am
Buffalo Snowstorm

Buffalo Snowstorm

 

Readers of this blog know by now that I am a native of Buffalo, New York.

Yes, the Buffalo that made headlines last week for a monster snowstorm that buried parts of the region in up to 7 feet of snow in a day.  Not fluffy, oh-how-pretty snow, rather wet, heavy snow that is hard to walk through and exhausting to shovel. The snowstorm which is being called “Knife” by the Weather Service also included embedded thunderstorms—adding to the already anxiety producing event.

One of my sisters still lives in the house we grew up in. She sent a picture of the street right before she was liberated from her snow-bound house.  It was impossible to discern a street or steps leading down from the porch. All that could be seen were piles of white, featureless snow.

Now try to imagine what it was like to be literally snowed into your house.  You can’t open the door because there is a snowdrift that makes it impossible to push the door open. Even if you did open the door, your egress would be hindered by the heaping mounds of snow. There would be no reliable visual clue to help orient you to the front steps leading out of the house, or to the street.

If you tried to walk, the snow could easily reach your hips, making walking almost impossible.

Most of us could handle this for a day or maybe two—but imagine living like this for 6 days.

You are actually imprisoned by snow, knowing that someone from outside would have to come and shovel you out of the house—or you would have to wait until the snow compacts and you might be able to open your front door.

For my sister, this story has a happy ending. She was finally freed after 6 days by a combination of front loaders that came down the street and plowed it out, neighbors who worked together to shovel out the entrances to their houses and a moderation of the weather.

Thirteen people died during this storm and buildings collapsed.

Yes, Buffalo does get a lot of snow—but this storm was monumental and unforgettable. It was not the “Oh goody—I have no school today” kind of storm.

It was a weather event that changed lives.

 

 

A Taste of Home

  • August 1, 2014 3:25 pm

I think everyone who moves away from home nostalgically remembers foods they loved and can’t get anymore.

New Yorkers wax poetically about bagels, pizza and well, just about everything else. Those of us from Buffalo have a soft place in our hearts for chicken wings (notice I did not say Buffalo wings), beef on weck, Ted’s hot dogs  and the Friday Fish Fry , to say nothing about Anderson’s ice cream.

When I go back to Buffalo, I look forward to these delicacies. This last trip was no exception, of course. On my way to the hotel after I arrived in Buffalo, I stopped at Danny’s, a landmark restaurant, and indulged in the “Taste of Buffalo Platter” which included a small beef on weck with horseradish, and four delectable chicken wings. Weck, by the way, is a crusty roll with rye seeds and kosher salt on top.  Delicious!

The next night, I had dinner with some family members—and I ordered a traditional Buffalo fish fry. If you’re from the Midwest or many places in New York State, you know what a fish fry is: a huge piece of fried fish served with macaroni salad (notice it’s not pasta salad—that’s for you fancy types), potato salad and Cole slaw. It’s not Weight Watcher’s food—but it’s yummy.

These local delicacies are not found in chain restaurants or upscale restaurants. This is comfort food and is found in bars, which usually have a back room which serves as a restaurant.

Is there anything better than the taste of home?

This is Buffalo? Really?

  • May 20, 2014 6:45 am
Frank Lloyd Wright Darwin Martin House

Frank Lloyd Wright Darwin Martin House

 

 

 

Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m very sensitive to the way my hometown of Buffalo, New York is portrayed in plays, movies and TV shows.

I lived in Buffalo for more than fifty years. I found it to be a friendly place populated by people who were always willing to lend a hand.

It’s also a beautiful city—with great parks designed by Fredrick Law Olmstead ( the same landscaper who planned Central Park in New York and other famous green spaces) remarkable buildings designed by some of the greats of American architecture like Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan H.H. Richardson, Eliel  and Eero Saarinen and Louise Blanchard Bethune, among others. The New York Times recently described Buffalo as “home to some of the greatest American architecture” and a “course in modern American buildings.”

Does Buffalo have run down neighborhoods? Of course—do Paris and London and New York City? Again—affirmative.

If you see Paris portrayed in a movie, at some point you will probably see a view of the Eiffel Tower or some other stunning sight.

If you see a play or movie set in Buffalo, chances are the setting will be a run-down area that is grim, dirty and ugly.

A case in point: I went to a local theater this past weekend to see “The Full Monty” (the play, not the real thing). The playwright who rewrote the movie score set it in Buffalo.

The set designer (for reasons known only to him or herself) portrayed Buffalo as an extremely unattractive place. The main set was fashioned from corrugated tin set on edge surrounded by red brick walls. I was annoyed to say the least. There are no performance venues in Buffalo that I am familiar with that look like an industrial warehouse in a rundown harbor. In fact, the theater district is housed in several historic buildings downtown or on college campuses. The club district is also (for the most part) housed in another historic district.

The only place where I’ve ever seen the widespread use of corrugated metal for buildings is Florida.

This makes me wonder why the set designer didn’t just search for images of Buffalo on his/her computer.

I see this pattern repeated again and again in movies and TV shows: in “Hide in Plain Sight” a move from several years ago, the action was set mostly in a derelict waterfront location which I think the movie producers designed.

So, why am I upset by this trend? Because it perpetrates an untruth about a beautiful, historically significant city. The image of Buffalo that is portrayed is negative—and just not true. I can’t imagine that Parisians would be complacent if their city was subjected to the same treatment—or New York City residents, either.

I think it’s time for Buffalo to receive better treatment and have a more correct image presented in movies, TV and plays.

 

 

 

 

 

View of the Buffalo Marina

View of the Buffalo Marina

Celebrating the Fourth of July

  • July 6, 2011 7:00 am
Like most Americans, I love to celebrate the 4th of July. It is the most American of holidays¾
much like Thanksgiving. There is something about seeing the red, white and blue on people, places and things¾including me!
And why shouldn’t we celebrate our freedom and be grateful that we live in the best country on earth?
When we were still  in Buffalo, we had a tradition of having a cook-out on the 4th of July at the beach. Then we would all walk down to the beach to watch an unauthorized fireworks display (which was amazing, because New York State has a ban on the sale or possession of fireworks.) One of the great traditions we loved was the building of huge bonfires on the beach¾some  were several feet tall. They fire pyres were by doused with kerosene and ignited with torches, or more creatively with M-30s¾a large firecracker.
I loved how egalitarian and how crazy this celebration  was. And I even enjoyed the element of danger¾
huge fires and indiscriminate fireworks. Of course, we enjoyed all of this from the safety of a break wall located a hundred yards away from the festivities.
Well, now I live in Florida , near Disney World. And yes, I could go to see fabulous fireworks at Disney, rubbing elbows with thousands of tourists, all of us sweaty and hoping for some relief from the heat and humidity. I am happy to pass up that opportunity .
In the past, my husband and I have gone to see a wonderful fireworks display in the city of Kissimmee. This year, we thought we would try something new. We decided to go to a very upscale community near us. We paid a hefty fee to reserve a front row table at a restaurant with a million dollar view of the fireworks.
The fireworks were spectacular and went on for a full half hour.
What wasn’t spectacular was the  blaring 80’s music on the main stage which was about 200 feet from where we sat  with our friends for an hour and a half waiting for the fireworks. Then we waited an hour and a half for a shuttle bus to take us back to the parking lot where our car was parked.
Next year I hope that I will celebrate another 4th of July back in Western New York, enjoying the cool summer evening with my family. And maybe, just maybe, there will be someone who “imported” fireworks and we can relive some of the best summers of our lives.

Buffalo

  • May 12, 2011 4:20 am

      Buffalo, my home town. Name by the French trappers, according to legend, after the river that flows through it. The City of No Illusions, Queen City of the Great Lakes, famous for snow storms, chicken wings and the Buffalo Bills—a team that went to the Super Bowl four times and lost every time.

The place where I was born, attended grade school, learned about the world, came of age and earned two college degrees. The place where I made my first communion and was confirmed. The place where I fell in love, married and raised a child. The place I spent my happiest days and some of my saddest days. It is where my parents lived and are buried, and where three of my seven siblings live now.

It is also a city of uncommon beauty—wide boulevards lined with mature trees that are crimson and gold in fall, elegant public buildings—some designed by the most famous of American architects. Situated on Lake Erie—one of a chain of inland seas—cooled by breezes from Canada, it is circled by a necklace of Olmstead parks—green oases for the working class. Populated by the children of immigrants who came here to find the Promised Land and by the descendants of slaves who found refuge at the last stop on the Underground Railway.

I ran away from its harsh winters twelve years ago looking for endless summer. I found that summer here in Florida.

And now I wonder if I am called back to that place I never stopped loving.

I see a city rich with opportunity, full of the promise of intellectual and spiritual growth. A city where I can attend theatre, concerts, and visit art galleries easily. ( There is a saying in Buffalo that everything in the city is twenty minutes away…and it’s true.)

I can sit in bistros and watch the bustle of the world go by—and eat wonderful food and not have to mortgage the house to do so. I can drive through neighborhoods and admire Arts and Crafts style homes next to Frank Lloyd Wright houses.

I can be soothed by the rhythm of waves rolling into the marina, sit on a sandy beach or drive to the undulating hills south of the city.

And I can be among those I share a history with—who have know me for the six decades of my life—who love me for who I was and am now. People whose memories I share, who loved the same people I loved. I can be among the next generation in our family, and revel in their beauty, intelligence and goodness. I can see our family’s heritage and the future in their eager faces.

Buffalo is aptly named. Buffalo is an earthy name—unpretentious, it isn’t a beautiful sounding word, rather one that jars a little. The same way we are jarred by the real thing—by reality. It is a genuine place filled with people who feel authentic.

My visit home was the first in two years. I became ill last year, and spent almost ten months recovering from surgery, unable to make plans to travel. Then an invitation came to help celebrate an uncle’s ninetieth birthday—an opportunity to gather with our families and be reconnected again. I eagerly jumped at this chance—and put together a trip in a few days.  And the moment I arrived in this city—my city—I felt the joy of arriving home, like returning to  the warmth of a mother’s embrace.

Buffalo—my birthplace. I hear your siren call.