Goodbye, Saint Louis!

I didn’t know this for certain until today, but this is my last day in Saint Louis. There have been a few hiccups in finding somewhere to stay in Miami, and yesterday, the day before my flight was due to leave, I still had nowhere to go once I land there. A friend of mine was calling friends of his and waiting for their responses, and while I waited I had a goodbye meal with friends, packed my suitcases, and eventually went to sleep without knowing whether or not I was really leaving. This morning I woke up with an email confirming that a place has been found, and now all I’m waiting for is a phone call to make arrangements to be met at the airport. One of my personal philosophies is this: ‘Don’t worry. Ever.’ (Deep, I know.) So to be left without knowing where I am staying until the last minute has been a test of this mind set. (I’d like to say that I have passed this test with flying colours).

Now I know that I’m definitely leaving, I feel kind of sad. I arrived in Saint Louis two months ago (it feels like only two weeks) without having any idea of what to expect, but during my time here I have met new people and made lasting friendships which I really value, I have come to love the city of Saint Louis, and (here comes the cliché – brace yourselves:) I feel I have grown as a person (sorry).

I am truly going to miss this place and the friends I have made, but I am definitely going to return some day, hopefully very soon. This is a short post because I need to finish packing my suitcase and get it into my head that I am actually leaving in a matter of hours. I also need to arrange being met at the airport. Anyway, I will update you on my travels when I arrive in Miami!

The Houses of Saint Louis

One of the things I particularly like about Saint Louis is the city’s houses. People here take great pride in them, and making them look pretty – painting them in different ice-cream shades, adorning them with matching pots of flowers, decorating their porches. It really makes for pleasant walks, especially now in the summer time.

Here are a few photos I took of some houses while walking around the Central West End:

This last one is my favourite – I want to buy it from whoever owns it now! I guess I will need a job first though.

I don’t know if my photos show how charming the area really is, you might have to come and visit for yourself!

Happy Flag Day!

Here in America, believe it or not, today is Flag Day (yes, it seems they have a day for everything here). So I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you a little something I have learnt about the flag while I’ve been here. This may be my most boring post to date, but I found this difference between American and British culture rather interesting.

 
Last week I was watching the news and found myself amused at one of the stories that the station was featuring that evening: a store owner had been flying an American flag, which happened to be a little old and tattered, over a ‘strip mall’ (retail park, for us English people). Here you can read the story.

 
That was the whole story. And it was one of the main stories of that evening. The feature included interviews with members of the surrounding community who were all deeply disgusted with the state of the flag, and who looked sadly into the camera as they told the reporters with genuine hurt how offended they were at the ordeal.

 
I couldn’t help but think how trivial the issue was. The point of the news story was that the flag was ‘tattered and torn’ and that it was disrespectful and insulting to the nation, to which the reporters, interviewees, and TV audience all seemed to agree.

 
In England, or any other country I’ve visited for that matter, people do not seem to care about their nations’ flags like the people of the USA do. Here the star spangled banner flutters from the doorway of most every home; hangs nobly outside malls, businesses and restaurants; and flies regally above every government building. You cannot drive for one minute down the street without seeing those broad stripes and bright stars at least five times.

 
The rest of the world, I would say, is indifferent to flags. Perhaps they might like their countries flag to some extent, but it wouldn’t go any further than that – into the kind of obsessions that the Americans show for theirs. That is why I couldn’t understand what the major concern was on this news story; about an old flag flying above an insignificant retail park, and the response of outrage that this received to me seemed like somewhat of an overreaction.

I smiled as I watched the story, snorting from time to time with derision and incredulity, when I turned my head to find Mike and Linda (the couple with whom I’m staying) solemnly shaking their heads. From then on I resisted the urge to laugh at the news feature out of respect for them. But when it was over I asked them what the big deal was.
Linda explained to me how important the flag is for the people of America, for everything it represents. She even showed me a leaflet entitled ‘When and How to Fly the Unites States Flag’ that was kept in a kitchen drawer. Here is what it says:

 
• The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
• The flag is never allowed to touch the ground or the floor.
• The flag of the Unities States of America should be at the centre and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of states or localities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs.
• The flag should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds but always allowed to fall free.
• Never fly the flag upside down except as a signal of distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
• The flag is never flown in inclement weather except when using an all-weather flag.
• The flag can be flown every day from sunrise to sunset and at night if illuminated properly.
• The American flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin, being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.

 
At first I found this all kind of ridiculous and amusing, especially later when I found out there is a national annual holiday solely for the American flag. But as time went on this principle began to grow on me, and I have since become quite impressed with the attitude towards not only the flag, but the general outlook of respect and patriotism that the people of this country have for their nation.

 
It was recently the Queen’s diamond jubilee. All the streets in the UK were lined with Union Jacks, people threw parties and dressed in the colours of our flag. In a way I am disappointed that I was not home to take part in this – one of the rare occasions in British culture that allows for patriotism. The only other time in my life that I have felt a shared sense of loyalty and a common patriotic spirit was during the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. I think we in England could learn something from the Americans about being proud of, and respectful to our country.

 
Happy Flag Day!

Baseball, Pagans and the Ghetto! – A Quick Update of My Time in St. Louis

A heavy thunder storm has recently passed, and I have come to sit out on the wooden porch, my favourite part of the house, to enjoy this fleeting moment in time where the rain has just ceased to fall and the sun has proudly re-emerged. The earth and its buildings and trees are now momentarily lit in exaggerated colours against the black clouds, and the branches, still dripping, stretch out and hang above the porch on which I am currently sitting, upon a wicker rocking chair, listening to the birds which have just re-appeared.

I thought I would take this opportunity to write, as it has been almost three weeks since I last posted, to give you a quick update of some of the things I have recently been up to.

I went to my first baseball game. Actually, it was the first sporting event I’ve ever attended, not just baseball. I didn’t go out of a love for the sport. Not even a lukewarm affection. In actual fact, I knew nothing (and still don’t) about baseball – I just went for the cultural experience. Everyone in St. Louis supports the Cardinals baseball team, so going to watch a game was something I had to do while I’m here. After sitting through the game, I came to the conclusion that I haven’t been missing much by having never gone to a sporting event before. I felt like I spent the entire three hours just waiting for the game to begin, when suddenly everyone got up and left and apparently the game was over. I can’t say I completely didn’t enjoy myself though. It was fun to see how involved the crowd got with the game, even though I couldn’t tell what was going on, or even if anything was being played. The jolly organ music which played sporadically was like something I think I’ve heard in movies (probably My Best Friend’s Wedding), and the singing of ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ during the 7th inning (is that the correct terminology? – I don’t really know what I’m talking about) was fun (though I didn’t join in. 1 – I don’t know the words, and 2 – I don’t sing. Ever.)

I’ve visited many restaurants and have been introduced to some new cuisines including Vietnamese and Ethiopian. (Both extremely delicious and I will be looking for similar places in London when I return home)

My first taste of Vietnamese food. So good!

I found myself walking through a Pagan festival, and quickly came to the conclusion that the title ‘Pagan festival’ was just a cover-up for what was in reality nothing more than a weird people’s convention. Stalls sold things like magic wands (sticks obviously picked up from the park floor a few meters away), chainmail bikinis, paranormal investigation services, and lots of tie-dye. The festival attendees were some of the strangest people I had ever seen, and to see so many peculiar characters in one place was truly a memorable experience. People came dressed like wizards or extras from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (but they were serious) or half naked in swim suits (if not in chainmail or tie-dye). I was dying to take photos of this – the most surreal situation I have found myself in to date. But I didn’t feel comfortable pointing my huge SLR in these bizarre people’s faces, being uncertain of the reactions this might have provoked from them. My friend, however, was slyly taking photos of everyone using her phone whilst she pretended to text. When I get hold of the photos she took I will upload them onto this post for your viewing pleasure, but for now I will leave them to your imagination.

I took a driving tour over to East St. Louis – a separate city to St Louis (though they’re often assumed to be one and the same) located on the other side of the Mississippi, which is the dividing line between Missouri and Illinois. The area is known for being the most deprived ghetto in the United States, and I was interested to see the striking contrast between living conditions from literally one side of the river to the other. East St Louis has the highest crime rate in the USA, including a murder rate of 101.9 per population of 100,000, in comparison to the US national average of just 5.6 per 100,000. We drove through the city, a crumbling ghost town that resembled the set of some post-apocalyptic movie, without stopping; except for when Zach, the designated diver for the day, drove over one of the innumerable potholes too fast, causing the engine to shut down and the rear-view mirror to fall off. The car ground to a halt under a decaying railway track, and I thought the whole ordeal was quite hilarious. Zach, however, did not; and upon finally getting the engine to successfully restart, drove back over the river as quickly as he could. A curious fact which I find quite sad, is that the city’s racial makeup is 98% black, in a nation where black people make up just 12% of the population. Visiting the city made me wonder why nothing is being done to revitalize the area, which seems to have been abandoned and discarded – sitting squalid and depressed just a two minutes’ drive across the bridge from a city of million dollar homes and thriving businesses.

(I didn’t take these last two photos – I found them online. I thought that was a smarter idea than taking my camera with me over to the east side.)

On a brighter note, I went to Food Truck Friday (again). A growing trend in American cities is food truck dining. No, not those greasy kebab vans that we’re all too used to in England; the food is good, restaurant quality, gourmet stuff. The trucks are generally extensions of already established and well-loved independent restaurants, which drive to a different location of the city each day, informing their followers of their whereabouts via social networking sites. Though generally it is the successful and independent restaurants which launch their own trucks as extensions of their businesses, it is not uncommon for food trucks to begin as just that – self depending food trucks; sometimes even launching a restaurant in a fixed location as a follow up of the truck’s success. Driving through the city you will often see a food truck parked on a street corner with its patrons crowding around it. Erin, the daughter of Mike and Linda, works for a prominent food magazine here in St Louis, and on the second Friday of every summer month the magazine hosts ‘Food Truck Friday’, where some of the city’s best trucks (around 20 of them) come together at a park for the afternoon through early evening, and around two to four thousand people show up to buy good quality food and have a picnic, accompanied by live music! It is a fun event; the trucks do all kinds of food – Indian, Middle Eastern, American, German, Vietnamese, Mexican, Korean… Mexican and Korean fusion! The list goes on. There are also trucks that specialise in desserts, and there I tasted the best cupcake of my life (sorry mum) it was salted caramel… mmm.

One of the trucks (you can’t see well on this photo but it even has a roof garden!)

The cupcake truck’s menu board

These are just a few of the things I’ve been doing during my stay here. I’m enjoying myself, making new friends, and getting to know and love St Louis more and more each day! Next week I will be flying to San Antonio, Texas to spend a week with friends there, before returning back to St Louis for a final week. I am looking forward to this, and will let you know what I get up to in my next few posts.