Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

How I Learned to Love Swissvale

This morning the hotel was afire with excitement, because the Snow Angels are in town!
The Snow Angels are undeniably cool: orange-suited flyers from the frozen north who make Canadian bacon patterns in the sky. Tonight at the tiny hotel gift shop, one came in, post-show, to admiring compliments from a middle-aged fan, and this pilot looked like someone really cool from the Space Academy in the Robert A. Heinlein novel Podkayne on Mars, the one in which the Super Intelligent Aliens put the earth on trial to determine if the planet's atmosphere needs to be destroyed by tilting the planet sideways, not realizing that excessive driving of Ford Explorers and smoggy foreign factories would do the trick in 2 generations. Silly aliens, Trix are for kids.

But neither a borrower nor a Snow Angel be--I went to the museums instead. I was bound for the Carnegie! Then, on to Swissvale, and Bucharest-lawyer-chat!

The 28E bus picked me up at the airport, and dropped me off at the very last stop, right near the University of Pittsburgh. I wandered a bit, but turned out to be right next to the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, which were both open to the public for one convenient admission price.

The art museum was laid out chronologically, with good explanatory materials--and most importantly of all--very small crowds. Seeing a wonderful museum in a non-tourist town is a delight. The museum's collection is fascinating--perhaps analogous to the Nelson in Kansas City, and for me a delight in every way. I walked from painting to painting to video installation to natural history display. When I had just reached the stegosaurus skeletons, my cell phone rang. dabroots was on the line. What are you up to? Why, finishing up the dinosaurs. We soon resolved on a mission. We would visit his home borough, Swissvale.

Swissvale is an old borough of Pittsburgh named for a woman who was a noted suffragist and women's rights activist. It's now an ethnically diverse working class area with a lot of good neighorhood feel. We lunched at a place called the Triangle Point or some such, which was founded by naval guys who named their sandwich sizes "battleship, destroyer, or torpedo?". We walked around a lot, past seventy year old brick houses with tiny yards, past little stores like the fresh fruit vendor who has sold fruit in his store for 38 years without a refrigerator, and past lovely 19 C. Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian churches. We walked down "city steps" which helped make the slopes and hills more accessible. We passed homes and apartments of real live Livejournal users. We saw a woodchuck, who, when not chucking wood, apparently stops to stare at passersby.

Then we drove to Squirrel Hill,and visited an all-vinyl record store, a folk-instrument store (I got a tin whistle, which I'll use to sample into my synthesizer, in all likelihood, rather than playing the lovely song "Danny Boy"), and this great nature park called Frick. We passed a church where a groom in a kilt paused by his bride who would have looked fetching, I think, in a very mini-skirt-ish kilt, but who opted instead for a traditonal white gown. We stopped so I could photograph the Fred-a-Saurus at the public TV station, a sculpture which imagines Fred Rogers as the friendlist T. Rex you ever saw, tie and all. We went to the top floor of Pitt's Cathedral of Learning, and saw great vistas. We stopped to take pictures of rivers, bridges, smoke stacks, and other industrial things. We had great conversation--really a completely delightful afternoon.

I stopped at a little place by the bus stop for salad and pizza by-the-slice,and then went into this wonderful used book store.

Here is what I got at a more than fair price:

1. sci fi short stories in "The best of C.L. Moore". I vaguely think I've read her classic Shambleau,but I'm going to read it again to see if I have.
2. "The Recorder, its Traditions and its Tasks", translated from the original text which was a German work by Hildemarie Peter.
3. "Johann Sebastian Bach, a biography", by C. Sanford Terry
4. "Music in the Making" by Wilfrid Mellers, a composer writing decades ago about the divide between serious and popular music.
5. "Ozma of Oz", by L. Frank Baum, because Ozma is pretty Ozalicious.

As I was about to check out, a college kid popped his head in because he was trying to help a tourist find her bus. She needed to go downtown.

There is only one thing I know about Pittsburgh--how to get downtown. I led her to the bus stop. She proved to be a Rumanian visitor living in Luxembourg. When I asked her what she was going to do downtown, she said she was going to Heinz Hall to the symphony. I told her I am going to that same symphony tomorrow afternoon. She told me about seeing Hillary Hahn play recently. I told her how I read recently in Ms. Hahn's weblog that her European audiences were growing. She said Rumania is really improving, and she gets to go home to Bucharest often--but for now, living in Luxembourg was exciting.

She asked me what I do for a living, and I told her I was a commercial litigation attorney in Texas. She began to laugh: "the first American I meet, and he's a lawyer, too". She proved to be an commercial transaction advocat for the Luxembourg office of a highly respected international firm headquarted in London. She did not know the one guy I knew at that firm. We exchanged cards. It turned out, contrary to my expectation, that the bus I was to take did not stop downtown, but we got her directions onto the next one, and exchanged cards as if we had been in the International Court of Justice in the Hague instead of waiting for 2 dollar buses in the campus fringes on a Pittsburgh Saturday evening. You meet the most interesting people, wherever you are, even if you're wearing a baseball cap that says "Dallas Arboretum" on it, so that people will understand that you don't know where you are, what time it is, or how to pronounce or spell the word Monanghela.

I rode the bus back to the airport, speaking to my wife by cell phone on the lightly populated bus about our respective great days, and shuttled to my hotel. I was pleased that "lost and found" had the cheap digital camera I accidentally left in the breakfast bar.

This was a really charming, fun day. I am so glad I came to Pittsburgh and met dabroots
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