Archive for February, 2009

Beer necessities

Pennsylvania laws are rather peculiar.  In particular the licensing laws. The state runs all the booze shops so you can’t just pick up a couple of bottles of plonk on your way around the supermarket. So you go to a state run “wine and liquor store”. I’ve just about managed to get to grips with that -at least I did once I’d found a local shop that’s OK. I’ve also learned to check restaurants for BYO – lots of places aren’t able to servce you alchol so you bring your own.

That’s all very well, but today I wanted to buy beer – so I went to the same shop. When I asked after beer I think it might have been my accent, so what they must have heard is “I’d like a case of your finest heroin please.” Or at least that’s what the expression on the chap’s face suggested. Ok I guess the clue is in the name, it doesn’t say wine, liquor and beer…. Anyway, if you want to buy beer in PA, you go to a state licensed beer shop. These are strange places, tucked away out of sight. So if like, me you need beer on a Saturday morning (to cook beef in beer as you’re asking) you won’tcorrupt all those innocent shoppers on the high street with your alcoholic ways.

I have no idea why you can’t buy beer and othertypes of booze togehter. Crazy.

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English as a foreign language – the next installment


The longer I spend in the US, the more I realise what a starring role that intonation plays in the language. I knew of course that English has never been as ridgid as, say Italian in these matters (almost always penultimate syllable if you’re asking) but I hadn’t realised quite how fluid it all is.

First there’s the rising interrogative intonation – the rot here seems to stem from California (of course it is also endemic in Oz) . This is a) irritating (people sound so unsure of themselves if everything sounds like a question) and b) catching – quite a few other people have caught it from those already infected.

Then there’s the emphasis on different syllables within a word. Whilst for us Brits that doesn’t make things hard to understand, but for the locals it means that I could be speaking a different language.


UK: PRO-cesses  US: process-SEAS
UK: miGRATE-ory  US: migraTORY
UK: hexAgonal  US: hexa GOnal
UK: sax-OFF-onist  US: saxoPHONEist.

I’ve been here a year now and I’m still not learning the language. I’m ashamed to say that I have however started to overuse the only collective noun recognised over here – a bunch….. Maybe coming up with a collective noun for Americans will help cure me.

How about: A bloat? An awesome? A bellicose? A bunch? Urgh please help.

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3 days in Arizona


Last week we managed to get away from the snow and cold temperatures (yes it has been about -10C but that’s not really a big deal here) to head over to beautiful Arizona for a few days. I’m ashamed to say that I always thought Arizona was a desert. Yes there are lots of hot, flat and uninspiring bits (in particular Phoenix whose only redeeming feature seems to be that it is pleasantly mild in the winter), but actually it is incredibly diverse. There are beautiful desert landscapes – with suaro cacti lined up for miles and miles like thousands of spiky sentries at their posts. Above this there are the mountainous woodlands with stunning craggy outcrops and twisty roads. Then there’s the high desert – surprisingly cool and prairie like.

It was a brief trip – just three days that flew by – I just love to see the landscape roll by like a film, with a completely different scene every 15 minutes. As always I was blown away by the variety – a couple of the highlights out of so many were: -

  • Staying in Jerome – a town of frequent reinvention. A mining town, a hippy community, now a successfully artsy tourist draw with stunning views of the valley. We stayed at a very unusual hotel – once a hospital recently converted to retain some original features- including a radiator strapped to the reception ceiling, an old lift with a standard lamp in it, and apparently ghosts (we were issued with an IR thermometer and some sort of ghost-ometer). We had the BEST breakfast in the Flatiron Café in the centre of town. You couldn’t swing a budgie in there but it was perfect – simple, good food. Yum.
  • A biplane ride over Sedona. Sedona itself is quite astonishingly beautiful. Everywhere you look you see the geographic layer cakes – the breathtaking natural rock formations that have that sunset glow during all daylight hours. Seeing the whole area from the air was astonishing. The rock formations stretch for many more miles in every direction than I could have imagined. Seeing Sedona from a biplane was a very special experience. The simplicity of the technology gives so much more immediacy - you are not a passenger, you are a participant, with a Biggles hat in an open cockpit. As soon as you get in, you are given instructions (don’t touch that – that’s the throttle, try not to bang that line, that’s the rudder control etc). Wow. I don't think I'll ever forget this.
  • Northern Arizona hosts a vast acreage of high plateau landscapes. Up there in the middle of nowhere is a town called Winslow. To be honest it is horrible. Its heyday was as a railway hub and later as a stop on the famous Route 66. Now it is run down, with boarded up buildings, burnt out cars and exceptionally uninviting diners. The reason for highlighting it here is the La Posada hotel. A complete gem in the middle of the town. The owners have restored this old railway hotel in a thoughtful and painstaking way. The greatest joy lies in discovering art, ceramics and sculpture pieces in every corner.
  • And finally – I LOVED the outdoor botanical gardens. Not only was this the motherlode of cacti, the class sculpture exhibition was a pleasant surprise. The venue was perfect – placing the smooth near the spiky was inspired.

Glas and cacti

It's amazing how much you can pack in when you try 😉

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Car teasing

It is generally a lot easier to buy a new car in the US. In the UK you drive one, you spend ages choosing the exact spec you want, then you wait a couple of months or more for the car to arrive. In the US the forecourts are enormous, filled with many, many permutations of car. So you can drive home in your new car if the fancy takes you.


So who owns the cars? It turns out that the dealerships own the cars  – they have them tied up in some sort of complex financing arrangement. What happens when the industry is in the toilet and you have a forecourt full of inventory? You panic. Then you try to shift the stock.

This is a great thing if you happen to like going into car dealerships pretending you want to buy a car. As I do. Quite a lot.

It’s good sport – the sales team are absolutely gagging to get rid of the cars and it is interesting to see how far they will go. I bet some of them would trade in a toaster to shift a car. Recently the sales team at the Porsche garage I was *ahem* visiting was quite prepared to drop their pants on price without any prompting. If their starting gambit is dropping 10-12 percent off the price it would be interesting to see where negotiations might end up. I’d better be careful. I might accidentally buy a 911.

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Groundhog Day – actually a documentary


Do you remember the film “Groundhog Day” with that ridiculous weather- forecasting rodent in it? I just found out that Punxsutawney Phil is NOT MADE UP. The buck toothed blighter apparently saw his shadow this week which means we’ll have another 6 weeks of winter. Here’s the story as reported by Reuters (Reuters! at least it beats all the doom mongering. Apparently there’s some sort of economic crisis going on).

That said, looking at a picture of Phil – and his waistline, I think it is about time he declared Winter over and got his rodenty arse into the gym.

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