Another quiet start to the day was followed by a trip out with Saranya and Sudha. Sellappan’sparentsr e went to a temple, where the gods were under a large tree outside. The main god was inside the temple, which wasn’t yet open. We sat for a while under the tree as lots of people made offerings to the gods, lit lamps and walked around the tree.
We went to a restaurant and had a quick snack – I had Bombay kulfi which was kulfi with some stuff in it. It was saffron yellow. The final stop on the quick tour was a fabric shop, which was a special mission for a certain patchworker. I was after patterned cotton, and there was a big selection to choose from! There were also plain cottons in every colour imaginable, and the long, narrow shop stretched back impossibly far from the street. Then assistants were very helpful as I looked at lots and lots of different materials and stacked up the ones I wanted, and asked for a metre or two of each one.
When we got home, there was some time to relax, before Sudha went home and Sranya’s pupils arrived. After they had gone, Saranya prepared dinner (chapattis) and soon Sellappan’s parents were home from their function. As Sellappan was arriving at 3am, I went for an early night.
After the usual morning routine and lunch, I spent some time writing and doing some origami, taking a look at Sellappan’s dad’s coin and stamp collections (British and American) and watching TV.
At about 4pm The Doctor¹ called to take me to meet his friends and family. First we flew the TARDIS² across town to Ragu’s place (another of Sellappan’s many friends). Ragu is the MD of a rice mill on the edge of town, and is a big fan of green technology. His house water is actually rainwater collected on the roof (though it very rarely rains, when it does it pours) and is powered by solar panels (now this, I can definitely see!) also on the roof. He also rents a second place with similar technology installed. As an added bonus the 360 degree view from his roof comprises the hills of Salem, lots of greenery and the rice mill itself. After meeting Ragu’s lovely family and having snacks and tea we looked through his wedding album, much to the Doctor’s amusement.
Next we went to the Doctor’s place and I met his family, and his tenants³ and we had yet more snacks and tea. Vijay’s mam asked me about my lack of jewellery and showed me her wedding jewellery which she always wore. She wears a necklace and silver rings on both feet every day. She also asked me how often I went to church and showed me the house’s puja room and lit some incense for the gods. Vijay’s parents were both maths teachers before they retired, and his mam was keen to learn some origami.
Vijay, his wife and his mam made a lotus flower each, after I had made a talking crow for Vijay’s son, who has tons of energy. He is top of his class in abacus and drawing, and loves animals just as much as his vet parents do. He also treated us to a dance show with his friend – another of his passions.
After the dancing I took the chance to teach a couple of ceilidh moves to the assembled family, with poor Vijay volunteering to help. I think it’s safe to say that everyone enjoyed that, just judging by the giggling. I also learned some more Tamil words and phrases from Vijay, who was a keen teacher. Watch out Sellappan is all I can say…
Vijay’s wife was feeling tired, so rather than eating at home we went out for dinner, and I had the spiciest dosa I’ve had so far, as well as French onion soup which was packed with chilli powder. The TARDIS materialised again back home, though a few hours later than when we had set off.
¹ Sellappan’s friend Vijay, Casper’s vet. Sellappan calls him Doctor.
² He drove the Honda Civic.
³ Pun forcibly inserted, Whovians.
Yesterday I was awoken at 8am by some dogs barking and the subsequent shouting that came with it. I got up after a while and breakfast was served at 10am. After that I had to wait half an hour for a shower so my food digested properly. Then pretty much immediately there was snacks, then lunch.
Sellappan’s parents went out to a coming of age function an hour and a half away, to be back later that night. Sudha came over again and we made some origami kusudama flowers, big and small, with paper that she brought. It was coloured on one side and white on the other, so was perfect for making the flowers. Saranya’s tutees arrived at about 5pm and left at 7.
Saranya cooked some fresh dosa and we had it with the remains of breakfast, and before we knew it Sellappan’s parents arrived back home and it was time for sleep!
During the drive up to Stowe the roads got smaller, the temperature began to drop, and millions of fir trees started to appear. I was in Vermont for nearly three weeks, here are some of the highlights in no particular order.
I think it’s fairly safe to say that Stowe does well to cater to tourists. The ski resort brings in plenty of business to the area, and as a result the small town supports plenty of arts and crafts places, cafes and restaurants. There is a supermarket and a few general stores as well. The atmosphere in the town was extremely friendly, and very relaxed. Even though it wasn’t peak season, there was plenty of life around the place and enough to do if you weren’t on the mountain. The buildings are picturesque and colourful, and there’s a recreation path too.
Three out of the four of us had Hibachi, which is sort of like performance cookery. There is a flat grill in the centre and the chef cooks there, with the diners sitting around on three sides. There was a lot of setting things on fire, and the chef cooked as well as giving us a show. At one stage he was chucking things at us to catch in our mouth and cheering when we managed. I’ve never had so much fun while performing this feat. I had a bento box and really enjoyed it, especially the sushi which was fantastic. Naturally I had a try of the hibachi as well and it was also lovely. You can see pictures on their website.
Maybe it’s more spectacular in the depths of winter, or during the summer, but this easy walkway down by the river was a lovely way to spend an afternoon. I walked out of town along the roadside path, and headed back in towards the church along the recreational route. It was fairly chilly, but there was evidence in the snow of plenty of people using the route.
Ben and Jerry’s Factory Tour
This was lots of fun. The inside of the building is pretty psychedelic, and the tour guide we had really knew his stuff (even when asked some non-standard questions about cows). We were given a free mini-cup of ice cream at the end of the tour as well. The tour itself lasted about 30 mins, and only cost $4, which is a bargain. This factory is no longer the largest factory, but it was the first one where the ice cream was produced. If you like the ice cream, it’s a fun thing to go and see. They also have a flavour graveyard, with headstones erected to flavours no longer made. This comes complete with styrofoam crows.
Definitely one of the best days ever! I had never skied before coming to Vermont, and learning to ski with my hosts was absolutely brilliant. Josh took charge of the lesson and was very patient with me all day, and I made much faster progress than I had expected with only minimal falling over and frustration! We started off on a small bump (not even a hill), then I graduated to the Magic Carpet (whose witchcraft I still don’t understand) and I managed to ski down a beginner slope (Inspiration) before lunch, with Josh helping me to improve by giving me strange feats to perform. The lessons on Inspiration continued after lunch, and my much more experienced hosts kept me company at times, practising more advanced techniques. As well as feeling good about knowing some skiing basics, I feel much more confident about trying other athletic activities now too. Taking off the ski boots at the end of the day felt amazing as my normal shoes felt like slippers… After a fun day skiing we went to the Matterhorn and had a drink and something to eat, and I was absolutely exhausted!
My time in Vermont was very relaxed. It was lovely to drink delicious milk bought from the farm in the next town, to go to the supermarket and the food co-op. It was lovely to take Loomis into the woods or on walks at lunchtimes when I was in the house, and it was lovely to meet other people who worked at the mountain. Every day I was woken up by Loomis sniffing my face and the skiiers getting ready to be at the mountain for lift-opening time, and we went to bed early too as the light faded. There’s no doubt about it, it’s a pretty nice lifestyle!
Yesterday (Wednesday) was cold, wet and rainy, so we had a lazy morning and went to see The Hunger Games at the cinema at the Promenade. We polished off a box of Junior Mints (which are like peppermint cremes) almost before the trailers were over. After the film it started to snow and we went to The Green Pepper which was “The Authentic Burrito Joint!”. There was only one woman working there and she was VERY friendly – apparently there hadn’t been a lot of people in because of the cold weather. You did the ordering on touch screens, and took your receipt to the counter to collect your food once it was ready. The food was excellent, very natural and fresh. There were also Jarrito sodas which were super sugary and brightly coloured – a bit of a contrast to the rest of the offering! We spent some time playing pool and started a game of Risk, which turned out to be one of those ones destined to go on forever. When dinner interrupted we happily abandoned it for the beef with (the much-sought-after!) kaffir lime leaves that Diane’s mam had prepared – it was delicious of course. Jamie the cockatiel also came out to meet us, and his fascination with socks and other bits of fabric was well-demonstrated for the visitors. He even whistled us a tune alongside his usual cheeping.
It’s Thanksgiving today, and as I type the kitchen is a hive of activity. We’re not planning to eat for another five hours or so, but there’s a lot to be done. Diane’s sister and her family are coming over, as well as her grammie and grandpa, so it’s going to be a very busy day for everyone! Loomis has been taken on a mountain bike ride with Diane and Josh in a bid to wear him out before all the exciting people come over, but this has been known to fail in the past!
Diane and I went to Philadelphia on Saturday and the first stop was Spataro’s in Reading Terminal Market for a cheesesteak. When we got to the market (indoors) it was packed, and we shoved through the crowds to look for cheesesteaks. One woman had set up a stall in front of the directory and was selling books about cupcakes. She asked us what we were looking for as we were squinting over her head, and she then told us she had written a cheesesteak book before the cupcake one, and in her opinion the best place was Spataro’s.
The stall had a big open kitchen, and as we got closer to the place they take your order you get to watch the cheesesteaks being made. We waited in the queue there for about 20 minutes, and after giving our orders (cheesesteak, cheese type, onions or no onions) and our first names, we moved around the corner and waited for them in front of the grill. There were several people working at the huge grill, one was looking after the meat, another was cutting hoagies (like foot-long sub rolls), and another was putting the cheese and onions in place. Once the meat was ready, it was shredded and the pre-cheesed bun was slapped on top. Then it was just one quick movement to scoop up all the meat, close the sandwich, chop it in half and wrap it in paper and foil. Clutching our hot parcels, we headed to a park bench to eat. As we sat outside the museum of We, The People, we watched a mob of boy scouts being worn out by their leaders. A couple even stopped to ask us where we’d gotten our delicious-looking cheesesteaks. The cheesesteaks were indeed delicious – I had mine with the traditional Wiz.
Suitably full up, we headed to the Independence Mall to take in some history, but not before pressing a souvenir penny and trying a bottle of Dr Physick’s Soda Pop (it tasted of Black Cherry and then metal). We took a look at the Liberty Bell though the glass (the queue to see it “in person” was enormous), and found our way to Independence Hall to take the tour. There were lots of facts about the declaration of independence, the constitution and the bill of rights, and it was an interesting tour for a foreigner like me. The tour guide was very funny and kept asking the crowd questions in a game show host voice.
After spotting a few tourist characters (jaywalking man in tricorner hat being a highlight) we headed back to the car for the hour-long drive home. This turned out to be easier said than done, and we were denied the chance to go West out of Philadelphia, which resulted in a very brief visit to New Jersey as we tried in vain to find a place to turn around. Finally home, we were greeted by Diane’s nieces (9, 18 months) and nephew (3) who wore us out until dinner time.
After breakfast on Sunday we escaped from the house just before the bairns arrived and ran some errands. We gave Loomis a good run around to wear him out before we headed to a small farmers’ market close by. We were on a mission to find lime leaves, which unfortunately failed. Loomis thoroughly investigated everyone we met, and was rewarded at a baked goods stall with a fragment of cookie and a fuss. Though we didn’t get any lime leaves we did find veggies for dinner and I got some apple cider (which is what we would call apple juice) which was very refreshing. I also visited a stand run by a lady who has some alpacas. She was selling wool as well as knitted goods, which were all undyed and very soft. It’s easy to see why their wool commands such a high price! We then went to Best Buy to pick up a cheap phone handset and top-up for me as Diane will be out working again soon, and international texts are stupidly expensive! The salesman was very helpful, and I didn’t have to do any setup myself. As he worked away he was asking lots of questions about British life, and he said it was strange to think we didn’t have Thanksgiving here. I explained about Bonfire Night and he seemed pretty interested in our effigy-burning tradition.
The last stop on the way home was at a farm which has a herd of goats as well as their cows. We bought some raw cows’ milk and some goats’ cream cheese, and Diane made cheesecakes at home while I watched a game of American football with her dad. He was very helpful in explaining what the heck was going on, which was very useful considering the interruptions from adverts and the on-screen graphics. The Philadelphia team (the Eagles) won at home. After that the kids decided to bounce around and tire us out some more, and we played lots of games until dinner time. I was given a tour of the garden by the eldest, which included the pool, the adventure trail, the rocks and the treehouse.
We went to Lost River Caverns, which is a set of limestone caves near Diane’s. It is named as there is a river running through and under them and no one has yet found out where it goes. Our guide told us that in the past various experiments had been done to find out where the river went, including dying it with red food colouring, sending an intern down it and filling it with ping pong balls. None of these shed any light on the final destination of the river. The entrance to the caverns was a wood cabin, which contained a gem shop and jewellery making tools and materials as well as the standard gift shop items.
We were the only two people on the tour, and saw the “frozen waterfall”, which is a series of stalactites which appear to be draped over the wall. They are white and shiny with the water running over them, and the lighting makes them look quite spectacular. Apparently candle-lit wedding ceremonies used to be held there, as well as dances and other events. This eventually had to stop as people began to understand the effects of a whole lot of candle smoke in the delicate, no-ventilation cave.
After paying our way out of the cavern we headed to the Promenade, an outdoor shopping arcade. We spent some time in Barnes and Noble, and also went to LL Bean where I also picked up a nice cosy flannel shirt (a staple of the American wardrobe).
I arrived here yesterday after the longest flight I’ve ever taken – it was a fairly smooth flight and everything went well, though I was definitely ready to get off by the time we landed. As I’ve only ever flown with the likes of EasyJet before it was a nice surprise to be given edible food and drinks etc, and the in-flight entertainment system meant I could at least sit and watch the Big Bang Theory and Monsters Inc to pass the time! By the time we were flying over Canada the skies had started to clear, and as we descended I got a great view of the East coast. As we landed in Newark I got my first glimpse of Manhattan and all its skyscrapers, and even spotted the Statue of Liberty on her island, looking very green in the distance.
After an hour in immigration (queuing, being photographed, having prints taken, having my luggage inspected – Jaffa Cakes are suspicious on X-Ray it appears) and picking up my bag I was happy to see that Diane hadn’t given up waiting for me in arrivals, so it was straight out into the car and off to her parents’ house in Pennsylvania. During the drive I was treated to seeing big American trucks and yellow school buses, along with a beautiful sunset as we got to her parents’ house.
Everyone was very relaxed and we spent the evening and morning eating delicious home-made food and fussing Loomis, Diane’s dog. I’m sure he appreciated all the extra attention.