A Dickens of a day

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This week we didn’t have to travel so widely to find our amusement. The Downtown traders of Lafayette presented their Christmas attraction – a Dickens of a Christmas.

Those of you with very long memories may recall my rather disparaging description of the downtown area in my first impressions of life in Lafayette. We had strolled down one Sunday afternoon only to wonder why we had bothered. While there are many lovely old buildings (and a quite spectacular court house), they are mostly occupied by professional and governmental offices and there appeared to be not much to do there if you didn’t have serious business to attend to. However, there are in fact some delightful shops and eateries hidden away, and there is an active group attempting to come up with ideas to redevelop and revitalise the down town area (resonates with Toowoomba’s situation, doesn’t it?). One of the promotional events which they have organised for about the past four years is their Christmas Dickens festival. It started with the switching on of the Christmas lights on Friday night, continued with a day of street theatre, carolling, and retailers offering open house hospitality in their stores on Saturday, and finished with a grand parade on Sunday.

We did go downtown on Friday night but the lights had already been switched on and people had returned to their warm hearths by the time we got there. We returned on Saturday morning and really didn’t plan to stay for long. There was a chilly wind blowing, and although it was no worse than a winter’s day in Toowoomba, it wasn’t all that nice to be outside in for too long. We went into a little antique shop if for no other purpose than to get out of the wind. We were greeted warmly and offered cookies and drinks. We spent some time munching and rummaging through the interesting bits of bric-a-brac, and moved on up the street. We were amazed how many lovely little shops there were, and each one had Christmas food offerings free for the sharing. We snacked on pretzels, dips, cheese balls, chips, cookies, hot cider, hot soup, nuts, chocolates, red and green M and Ms, and many other delicious treats.

We were not really too hungry by the time we ate our way to an extravagantly decorated florist shop on Main Street which we discovered was serving a full buffet luncheon in the back room. I was enjoying salmon sandwiches and Peter a mug of Bean and Ham soup when a local singing group came in, sang some carols and then moved on to another store. Up and down the streets, people dressed as Dickens characters directed people to the next street theatre performance. In many of the shops, craftspeople and musicians were demonstrating their skills. We actually spent several hours browsing the shops, watching craft workers, listening to dulcimer players, and enjoying the atmosphere before heading down to the main performance area to listen to one of the many school groups singing Christmas carols. My ideas about Main Street have changed considerably, and I am looking forward to spending more time down there. They have many wonderful antique stores, a craft store that I didn’t know about at all, and which is much handier than the ones I have been frequenting over the other side of town. They also have some great furniture stores and an American Indian place that deserves another visit.

We didn’t make it back on Sunday for the parade, as we had already made other plans. I had decided that it was time to stretch my limited kitchen and domestic resources again and invite some people for lunch. A simple lunch for six people becomes a real challenge when the entire contents of your kitchen cupboards don’t fill the dishwasher. Nevertheless, I have never been known to let a simple thing like lack of resources stop me, so I invited two couples from church to share our hospitality. These people are ones with whom we regularly share coffee, donuts and some lively chat after church each Sunday.

One couple is Adam and Betty Pizzagalli. They are in their late seventies and Adam is a retired designing engineer who spent some time in Australia during WWII. He sought us out early in the piece when he heard where we came from. He loves to reminisce with us about his time in Ipswich and Darwin. The other couple is Joe and Barbara Krause (about 10 years our senior). Joe was a history and geography teacher and now teaches at the technical college. He and Barbara have travelled extensively and spent a year living in Hungary (Barbara and I shared adjustment stories). These people have been wonderful friends to us and have welcomed us warmly to the parish. Our Sunday group also consists of another friend, Pauline, a corn and pig farmer, but she left last weekend to spend the holidays with her family in Oregon. We will have to have her to lunch on another occasion.

I must admit to feeling some fear and trepidation as I planned my menu based on how many serving utensils and containers I had. I was going to start with soup, but decided against that as I didn’t have enough bowls for both soup and dessert. I found some recipes on the internet and with the addition of a couple of aluminium trays that I purchased to serve vegetables, it all went very smoothly indeed. Adam brought a lovely bottle of Australian red wine and we sipped that and spiced cider, and ate well. Of course the meal finished with pavlova. I think I have now made more pavlovas in America than I ever made in Australia, but they have been much appreciated on each occasion. The men were also adventurous enough to try (and claim to like) Vegemite. I couldn’t believe Adam hadn’t had some during his wartime visit, but he claimed no knowledge of it.

They have suggested some other parts of Indiana for us to visit and we have begun to plan for a getaway together in March to a place in the south they have heard about but have never visited themselves.

I think we are shaming people into seeing a bit more of their own area. Peg and Dave called around later in the afternoon and asked us if we would like to walk with them in the local nature reserve just around the corner from us. We have walked there once before, but Peg and Dave admitted that they had never been there in the 10 years they have lived in Lafayette. We were able to tell them all about it.

We are still waiting for the dreaded winter weather to arrive. This week has been very mild indeed and we haven’t had to use the heater for a few days. I have ordered snow for 24th December. I hope it arrives then (and leaves soon after). We’ll see if that happens!!

Many good suggestions were offered as to the origins of the Windy City tag for Chicago. Flatulence had nothing to do with it! Robert’s answer was right again and I will copy what he wrote as it gives more info than I even had on the topic. Can I suggest to you all that if you ever go on “Who wants to be a Millionaire” that you list Robert as one of your “Phone a Friends”. He knows a lot of stuff!

Robert writes:

“I like your question about the origin of the nickname, Windy City, for Chicago. The question seems easy enough if you have ever been to Chicago in the wintertime and felt the wind that is always blowing off of Lake Michigan. But this, of course is a trick question, as it is actually an unflattering moniker that was given to the city when it was competing for a World’s Fair against New York at the turn of the 19th century.
Like the historic competition and rivalry here in Australia between Melbourne and Sydney, New York and Chicago for many years vied for first city honours in America. Curiously, Second City is also a nickname that Chicagoan’s wear with pride, although being second doesn’t sound all that cool to me. “Hog Butcher to the World” is something the poet Carl Sandburg called the city in his famous poem, “Chicago”, but no one calls it that anymore, I’m not sure if they ever did. The poem was a big hit, however, and every American school child has read it. Anyway as the folks from Chicago made excessive claims about their city in their attempt to attract the exposition, an editorial writer for a New York newspaper referred to them as windbags, or some such thing. The name stuck probably because of its proximity to the lake and people confusing the insulting name with the more appropriate metaphor alluding to the weather there. Still, both cities have long since been left in Los Angeles’ dust in population and glitz. They still hold to their nicknames, and Chicagoan’s more than most have turned names intended to detract into badges of honour in some strange way.”

My question for this week is: “What Harry Potter and Dinosaur fan turned 7 on Monday?” If you know the answer, send him an email greeting at batham5@bigpond.com.au