Let me see … the temperature is in single digits (Fahrenheit), my nose is bleeding, and yesterday we sat for an hour and ten minutes in stopped traffic trying to get out of a shopping mall’s parking garage. We must be in St Louis.
St Louis, fan-shaped city of churches and supermarkets, beer and blight, two big rivers, numerous major highways, and an excess of big malls and sports franchises. How I love your Nordstrom’s! How annoying is it that Highway 40 is closed right now? It’s quite complicated to get to the major retail cluster I know as the Axis of Evil on and around Brentwood (the Galleria, Crate & Barrel, Whole Foods, World Market, Borders, Target, and so on).
We’re staying downtown, which is sort of like Chicago without the rivers and stairs. The business district is trying to revive itself, apparently, from the torpor afflicting many American downtowns, so construction/renovation work is going on, despite the frigid cold, and buildings like the one we’re staying in – the former Board of Education, built in 1891 – are being converted to loft apartments. Our loft apartment on the corner of Locust and Ninth overlooks a plaza-in-progress, poetically described by T. Middy as “concrete with trees.”
We stayed down here once before, Christmas 2000, in the Omni Hotel. We appeared to be the only guests. When a light bulb blew in our room, we called down to the desk: some breathless man in street clothes turned up forty minutes later brandishing the bulb, and we suspected he’d driven from home. It snowed that year, and the streets outside were white and silent.
It’s livelier down here these days, though lively is a relative term, especially now, with everything closing for Christmas. There’s a City Grocery around the corner. Yesterday we walked to Macy’s to look at the window displays, but it was too cold to linger, and Macy’s itself was quiet and a little dispiriting. Later we discovered that everyone in St Louis was at West County Mall, trying to get in and out of the parking lot, and crowding out the Apple store.
Apart from trying on shoes at Nordstrom, my favorite thing to do in St Louis – and note I’m opting for American spelling, because T. Middy tells me it’s my patriotic duty – is go to the movies. I especially like the Tivoli in University City, and the little cinemas at Plaza Frontenac mall. But I don’t think we’ll have time for movies this year. I’m cooking English Christmas dinner for the Middy family here in the loft, which means we drove up from Louisiana with a car full of pots, dishes, wrapped gifts, food, alcohol, a fake Christmas tree, outfits for every occasion, etc (“like the Clampetts,” according to TM). Today we have to pick up the turkey at the Smokehouse Market in Chesterfield, so I can begin slavishly following the diktats of Nigella (brining the turkey, making the giblet gravy, etc).
We’ve already been to Global Foods Market in Kirkwood, my favorite supermarket anywhere in the US. It’s a fantastic place for Asian produce and ingredients, as well as things like chestnut puree, caster sugar, golden syrup, and a dozen different sorts of orange marmalade. The only thing we weren’t able to get there was sponge cakes for the trifle: they’d had 20 dozen, the manager told us, but all had sold, so I’ll have to make my own. I’m not inflicting Christmas pudding on the Middy family this year. Like Marmite, it’s an acquired taste, I think, though they’ve been polite and plucky about it before – even the year we got carried away with the burning brandy, and had to beat out the blue flames dancing across my sister-in-law’s new kitchen table.
T. Middy is full of Christmas spirit, blasting Bing Crosby through the apartment, and saying things to me like “No, you cannot buy The Essential Toto,” and “How can you go on The Amazing Race when you can’t even get the cap off the shampoo bottle?” He hasn’t even thanked me for not forcing him to grate suet this year.
Hard to think I was still in New Zealand at the beginning of this month, and that we’ll be in Paris at the end of this week. The weeks in between were consumed with the following: Christmas cards, cooking, references, and our party. And finishing revisions on my YA novel, which comes out next year. And standing in line in the Post Office on Louisiana Avenue, which did not feel obliged to have more than two people working at any given time, despite the long queues, or to have a supply of overseas stamps (I had to use three different stamps on most cards to make up the required postage), or, in fact, to have enough of anything: on my last visit, a handwritten NO HOLIDAY STAMPS sign was stuck on the door.
And a few days after I mailed cards to the UK, we got a call from a woman in Staten Island, New York. The card I’d sent to my friend Bridgit in London had ended up at this unknown woman’s house in New York, even though the envelope had correct overseas postage, an airmail sticker, and an address that read London, UK with the right post code. None of this information deterred the US Mail from delivering it to someone with the same street name in an outer borough of New York. Happy Christmas!
We have photos of our house looking tidy and over-decorated, but they’ll have to wait. The turkey must be collected before freezing rain starts falling. Also, listening to “Christmas in Killarney” is giving me a headache.