Not your average travel blog
Even though I have managed to reach my environmentally important checkpoints on time, my “unplanned” route has often taken me closer to the colder, Canadian border than I had originally expected. Even into mid May, the temperatures at night have unexpectedly, barely been above freezing, so its been awesome to find that not all Americans are terrible hosts. Sarcasm, apparently is not stocked much in the US, at least not to the suggested levels that Maggie Smith dishes out; maybe it’s vital that I am precise in the description of my humour. I am terrible at sarcasm.
Following my recent welcome in the Thousand Islands (nothing to do with the dressing), I was eager to make a dent into the many miles ahead. However before leaving New York, some delightfully quirky, but also haunting hospitality awaited me in the city of Syracuse. Again, no sarcasm.
I had been offered by email, rather straightforwardly by a lady, a place to stay on my adventure should I ever reach Syracuse. I was keen to accept for two reasons. Firstly, it was still freezing at night in April and secondly, Syracuse is a city – as a tight budgeted traveller, the city is my least favourite place to get caught. Not only are there few and difficult-to-find camping spots, but they demand you spend money in order to not be a nuisance.
I consider myself a good judge of character, something I would advise to be confident in before embarking on a cross-continent adventure, yet there was something surrounding the lady’s character in Syracuse that I wasn’t quite sure of. We hadn’t emailed a great deal or spoken on the phone, yet I was drawn to her in a way in which I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I must add that this wasn’t a sexual intrigue for either of us, it was merely a welcoming, friendly and interesting gesture from a person that I happened to know very little about. Something which is becoming a common exercise; I just have to make a quick judgement call. I was after all going to be staying in a strangers house, where no one can hear your screams. Like many Americans, she may simply enjoy feeding relatively “off-grid”, tasty travellers to her hungry hounds.
I first met Elise in a restaurant. She had striking features including jet black hair, a very pale complexion, striking yet conservative makeup, a definite, dark, vintage look with tattoos and selected jewellery. She wore a black dress with mustard tights and large dark boots, yet she carried it off as if she was starring in a moody, 1950’s, rural, New England horror film. She is tall, and walks with a sense of power that I have seen other strong and successful mothers possess. Exuding an air of carefree dignity and independence (whether they feel it or not); its how mothers walk whilst they’re bringing up confident, well mannered, healthy and relatively happy children. I found out Elise was a single mother, and a brilliant one.
The alternative quirky swagger about Elise is domineering and rather dark, yet her presence is understated and overly polite. I was surprised, as I found myself in discussion with possibly, and I make no exaggeration, thee most softly spoken woman I have ever exchanged verse with. It was like each word was placed on a cloud before it floated into my ears. Listening to her talk about her rather macabre, yet peaceful passions was delightful. She mentioned she thought she had a child’s voice – cods wallop – it was the kind of voice that needs to read ancient fairytales of evil witchcraft, unworldly happenings and ghastly consequences to young children. Scare those ungrateful little sods. Yes, monsters live under your beds: deal with it.
She lived in the middle (and somewhat precariously in the top) floor apartment of a huge, old, character-matching, Adams Family-styled, macabre-looking town house, twenty minutes outside of Syracuse: indeed no one would hear me scream. Elise drove me to her abode in the dark. It was filled with framed, slightly damaged, vintage artwork and photos that she had found on sidewalks. They had been left out for trash. There was also a sporadically-placed collection of rather tatty-looking taxidermy on top of various book shelves, a bust of a famous composer, numerous ancient books and various ornaments which screamed “prop from a horror film”. Her darkness and hauntingly-obscure sense of style promoted her collection of aged, dusty and decrepit vintage dolls. They were strewn around her apartment on every bookshelf and in every crevice of every room.
Later I found out Elise is a seamstress, making her own clothes and in the process of repairing and restoring the vintage dolls that she has rescued. On reflection, it all added to the artistic and quirky creepiness of her home. In the next room was a lone budgie, who I learned had recently helped free his depressed wife from an open window, naturally. I especially liked seeing the two, slightly more modern dolls, kept in an old hanging birdcage behind the couch, flanked by a religious, feminist painting and an old, black and white photograph of a group of unknown gentlemen, proud to be associated with each other. Not macabre at all, as I slept right next to a birdcage of babies.
It wasn’t until after I had spent my first night on the couch, and after Elise had walked her dogs in the morning, that I discussed with her a few of my feelings. I had felt a presence throughout the night, standing in the dining area next to where I was sleeping, and in the same spot in the morning as I made breakfast whilst she walked her dogs (she really does have hungry hounds).
Twice I had walked into the room and twice I checked to see if Elise, or her son were standing there. As I hadn’t been introduced to another house dweller, I wasn’t expecting to say hello to another person. There was the statue of a composer’s head in the dining area, which I assumed was the reason for “the presence”.
Elise decided to fill me in on the whole story. The house was indeed “occupied”. The building had been moved a century ago from down the street, to make way for a school. A pale and slightly frail man now regularly appears, often standing still around the building, staring at things. Dressed in what looks like a night or hospital gown, with a white bandage wrapped around his head, he apparently died in the house or has found his way back to it after his death with other people residing in it. Elise, her son, her previous partner and her neighbours have witnessed the deceased chap inspecting the interior of the building on numerous occasions.
Albeit in an eerily-historic house, with obscure, quirky and haunting ornaments and artwork, macabre piano music (as was Elise’s taste), damaged, vintage photographs of unknown, Sunday-best-dressed people from a century ago and with a deathly silence and presence above me whilst I slept, I stayed for three more nights. I always felt welcome and at home… even if I didn’t meet everyone that hosted me.
Just to clarify, Elise was not the extremely kooky cat lady you may be imagining. Her and her friends were just the right amount of kooky-wonderful for my liking and its because of people like this that us travellers, travel.
I had the privilege of adventuring through its small and relatively peaceful ghetto, but Syracuse was mainly a mix of out of towners and students. The city is split in half by an invasive highway and some of the locals I spoke with believe this has had a detrimental effect on community living.
There is a large population of alternative (mainly) students, with an artistic and hippyish approach to life. Co-operatives, small community stores, artisan coffee shops, a range of restaurants and bars are popular and are keeping the city vibrant and interesting. I jumped at the chance to check out the city museum and Elise also took me to a quirky barn of books a short drive out of town. The largest contributor to the cityscape however, is the university.
Coincidentally, Elise’s son Luke, was due a walk-around tour of possibly his new college in Fredonia, situated just south of Buffalo on Lake Ontario (a few hours drive west of Syracuse). Fredonia is a sleepy little college town, dominated by the huge campus and surrounding it, large, lavish, well kept homes. The high street is small but has everything you might expect. We checked it out and noted some extras that might be good for Luke… It has a vintage clothing shop (Elise was happy), a specialist cake shop (Elise was happy), not too many bars (Elise was happier) and oddly, an oversized toy shop (who wouldn’t be happy?!) Eager to see a new place, I tagged along and we said goodbye in Buffalo; putting me within striking distance of the Great Lakes.
On a night in Buffalo, I had a drink with Ruben Brown whilst I was bought some infamous Buffalo chicken wings. That will mean nothing to anyone back in the UK, but he’s a Super Bowl star! Little bit of a legend apparently in US football circles. He advised me that the best people to hang out with in Buffalo, were the ones that came out after dark. Ill take his word for it. Great wings though!
I mentioned my thoughts on Niagara in the last post, but making my way west from Niagara, I traversed the shoreline of Lake Erie. The cold winds coming off the still partially frozen lake sent the midnight temperatures plummeting to below zero. Camping on the Erie Peninsular in the state of Pennsylvania demanded a fire and some extra pants.
I also managed to visit the small, Erie Art Museum. If you’re a fan of less traditional art with a modern twist, mixed with some enlightening and evocative current topics, I would highly recommend you stop by.
I am having trouble finding decent wifi connection to share photos and videos of the trek so far.
Facebook, twitter are the best pages to find out exactly where I am and what I am experiencing. I hope to be able to successfully load the video clips when I reach a contact in the next ten days.