[FYI, these first few paragraphs were written quite some time ago, between my visits in October and December, as you’ll be able to tell from the confusing discrepancies in dates etc. I know – I was not made to be a blogger].
So I’m embarking upon my final journey home before Christmas, to wish my family season’s greetings and to relax a little before my exam on Tuesday. It’s been a long time since I’ve been home, and I’m anticipating luxurious relaxation, silver spoon service and generally a pleasant change of scenery. At the moment, I’m in Palmyra Pizza with a cup of coffee and a clean plate (which used to house a £3.20 hummus falafel, but I made short work of that), and waiting for my bus. I missed the one I intended to get but I’m actually happy with how it turned out – I was hungry, in need of a cup of coffee, and I could’ve done with some time to work on my blog anyway.
So I’m headed home for what I suppose will be the closest I get to the my family’s Christmas this year. There’d better be a tree, or I’ll be pissed. I will not be spending this Christmas with the Currie family in Edinburgh, nor with the Madills in Valencia – in fact, I’ll be spending it, guess where? That’s right, ladies and gentlemen – Zanesville, Ohio!
In some ways it feels like I barely just got back from my autumn trip over there. In fact, the more I think about it, the more recent it seems. It’s been harder for me to be away from Grant this time than it has been before, I think – recently I’ve been having the feeling that, although it’s only 8 days til I see him, it might as well be a year if it’s not right now. Maybe it’s all this talk of “eternidad” that’s got me thinking this way, or maybe I’m just becoming a more “live-in-the-moment” type of person, but really, what does it matter how long I have to wait if I’m not there at this moment?
We have so much fun together… Anyway. When we said goodbye at the end of my last visit to America, I was pretty cut up. In fact, I was pretty hysterical, but in the end he suggested that I leave some of my clothes at his place. It was a good strategy for making my period in Edinburgh feel less like leaving Ohio, and coming back sometime in the future; and more like going away from Ohio for a short month before my return. The only problem with this was that it stopped me from fully returning to Scotland. I didn’t even unpack my suitcase until Grandma came to pick it up about a month into my time there. But it seemed like a very good idea at the time. Anything to stop the tears!
Yes, Grant was very good at consoling me. I put him through a lot of hysteria; I feel kind of bad, in fact. My stay in Akron had been such a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with each other, I think for both of us it was extremely difficult to go back to the whole long-distance thing. We filled our time together full enough of activities that we didn’t feel like we were just sitting around all day, but not so full that we didn’t have time to enjoy just being together.
Once we got back to Akron on Monday morning after our weekend in Zanesville, Grant had to head straight for class. Since my essay deadline was approaching, and it was his birthday, I went with him and made some progress with my essay. I finished my reading, I made some notes and even finished my essay plan! Afterwards, we toyed with the idea to going to the mansion which Mr. Stubbins had recommended visiting, Stan Hywet hall; but in the end we decided to leave it for the next day, and instead we went for a meal at a local Indian restaurant. The food was delicious (albeit hot, despite our requests for a ‘2’ on the 1-5 spice level), but mostly we enjoyed getting dressed up and going out for a meal together. We stopped for ice cream on the way home, goofed around in the flat, and went to bed with full bellies and sleepy heads, satisfied with our day.
The next day, I went onto campus again and made a start on my essay on Louise Labé. After class we braved the cold and went out to Stan Hywet Hall to see what was up. The entry fee wasn’t too steep, and we just took the self-guided tour. Initially, we just wandered around the grounds, visited the greenhouses and the rose gardens, took pictures at the giant chess set, and marvelled at the expansive grounds and the exterior of the incredible building.
It took us several minutes to locate the main entrance to the mansion. Luckily, it was about the fourth one we tried – if we’d skirted the circumference of the place, it would’ve been nightfall before we made it inside! There was a bunch of Girl Scouts (Brownies) ahead of us but we busted through and made friends with a somewhat talkative tour guide who showed us around what I’m assuming was most of the content of the guided tour, for free. We asked a bunch of questions about insignificant things, he gave us a bucketload of random information, we tried to wander on and leave him behind and he accosted us a couple more times and fired some more stuff our way. One of the things he mentioned was that during the winter they put all the Christmas lights up and stay open late. We might go back and see it all decked out with the tree and everything – that would be impressive.
We toured the lower floor and its various reception rooms of the house, which included a performance-type room complete with balcony for the musicians, and a stage on which Charlie Chaplin supposedly once performed; as well as a room with a polar bear rug worth hundreds of thousands, and the head of an elk with the second biggest antler-span of any known mammal in North America. Our jaws gradually inched towards the velvet-coated floors as we explored the bedrooms, bathrooms, music room, “Morning Room”, billiard room, various studies and libraries etc., and the swimming pool. It was extra to view the towers, which included most notably the infirmary (!), so we didn’t end up heading all the way up there; but we definitely had enough to drool over as it was.
By the time we left Stan Hywet Hall, we were both pretty keen to go invent some tyres and become the boss of our own Goodyears and begin our climb towards that kind of fortune. Wandering back out towards our car, I tried to convince Grant that I really didn’t want that much money – really, I didn’t! It was a gorgeous house, and of course I would rather live somewhere like that than in a flat or a tiny cottage; but if I could choose my own level of wealth, I think I’d set it a couple of bars lower than that. It would be easy in all the wrong ways, and it would be challenging in all the wrong ways. Keeping up reputation, entertaining wealthy guests, trying in vain to save the kids from ending up spoiled and greedy… But you’d never feel like you were working towards anything. I mean, I’d love to have a walk-in closet filled with beautiful clothes and walls decorated with original paintings and all that… But having Charlie Chaplin prancing around my stage and entertaining royalty at my 50-seater dining table? I really don’t think it would be for me.
Have I just found self-actualisation?/ References to trashy 1990s teen novels.
For this reason, it was fairly easy to return to Grant’s cozy, nicely-furnished flat without feeling poor and unaccomplished. We made chicken with mediterranean avocado tapenade and drank red wine, and felt good about ourselves.
The next day was Thursday, and after class we headed out to spend some times in the Great Outdoors. There is a walking route up near Merriman which we decided to check out. We encountered many great adventures, including a small stream with stepping stones, and a tree. TUP! We did have a lot of fun though, frolicking in the woodlands and generally being goofy. After all, it is what we do best.
After getting in touch with our inner neanderthals, we felt Friday should have a little more modernity to it. And where better to find it than the futuristic spacecraft-esque Akron Art Museum? Grant finished class pretty early on Friday so we skipped right over to the galleries and wandered around inside. I wanted to ignore the 1850-1950 stuff completely and go straight to the more modern art, but Grant and I didn’t exactly see eye to eye in terms of what constitutes art. Many of the minimalistic canvases were written off with an “I could do that”, although I must admit that there was a great deal of material which I wasn’t impressed with either – I guess that’s art galleries for you. Anyway, we stuck around that section for a while and nodded in Andy Warhol’s direction before moving on to the “Who Shot Rock ‘n’ Roll?” section – a compendium of photographs of notable bands and musicians through the ages – before taking a look at the 1850-1950 section on our way out. Akron Art Museum was a fantastic building with some pretty interesting things inside: more than you would expect from a relatively small and obscure gallery in a small city in Ohio.
That evening, we finally broke out Grant’s Edinburgh Monopoly which I had kindly bestowed upon him during my summer visit. He won. I sulked. Fighting almost ensued. We should have known better.
Saturday was my last full day in America, and we took it pretty easy. We went out to dinner in the evening – a place called Crave, downtown – which was an adventure in itself. The place looked pretty fancy, but unfortunately, despite having booked in advance, we were guided through the cool decor and into a back room which we realised must have been a projector room. There was no ceiling light, only the candles on the tables and what was provided by the streetlamp outside. The light shone orange-ly in through the window next to the corner where our tiny trestle table and patio chairs had evidently been hastily set up five minutes before our arrival. The combination of uncomfortable steel mesh to sit on and the height discrepancy between chair and table forcing me to kneel for the whole experience was beyond uncomfortable. Oh, and it also didn’t help that I had to keep leaning halfway across the table to hear what Grant was saying since our projector room was also apparently where they put the groups of twelve or more – two large tables full of loud diners clamouring for attention and one table of four were our only company.
But once we had deciphered our menus and hastily ordered from a very on-the-go waitress, we settled down a little. It was a Friday night, after all – bound to be busy. And the food was extremely good. So good I can’t remember what we had, although Grant’s soup did come in a memorably cool tilted bowl. Well, in my defence, it was over two months ago now. Anyway, every course was brilliant, although halfway through the meal I remarked and Grant agreed that he felt quite rushed. The waitress was perpetually in a hurry and tended to serve us on the move, which was somewhat stressful. I didn’t want to get in her way…
Anyway, we asked for the bill and while we were waiting, Grant went to the front desk to ask if he could fill out a comment card. They must have seen him coming, because they said they didn’t have any but he could have a scrap piece of paper and a pencil if he wanted to leave feedback. Less than convinced, he filled it out anyway expressing pretty much the same sentiment I just have – a great quality meal ruined by lack of attentive service and a patio table set up as an afterthought in a back room. On our way out he handed it to the girl and said he’d appreciate a follow-up. We resolved to forgive the place its faults – benevolent souls that we are – if he received a call or an email apologising for the standard of service. After all, we both know what it’s like working in customer service and sometimes it all goes wrong with the same customer. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking was received, and that consequently, this couple is boycotting Crave bar and restaurant.
Not a complete bust, as the food really was excellent, but nonetheless we returned to the flat feeling somewhat cheated out of our last evening together. I still had some Thank You cards to make and so I finished that up before we called it a night and went to bed for the last night’s sleep of my Autumn visit.
But never fear, dear readers! For not only was I to return to America on the 18th of December for a further three weeks over Christmas, but I spent so long writing this entry that Episode Seventeen is already partially written! That’s right, it won’t be long before you’re poring over my memoirs outlining my winter visit every bit as attentively as you read this now. My Christmas break may by now be long over, but its documentation is still to come!
Over and out.