Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Two Homes, Two Canals

Entry for 22 October, 2006, Toledo, Ohio

1. Back in the USA. We've made it safely back to Toledo and have reconnected with our kids. Jet lag bad this time -- up at 4:30 after only 4 hours sleep, but we will manage with naps or early bed tonight. The kids were very glad to see us, after our time away, and we headed straight for our favorite chinese restaurant before even going home. Things are weird at home: the street is torn up for road work so we can't park, let alone get our car out of the garage. The living room is pretty empty and lots of things have to moved around by Linda, our friend who has been house-sitting for us. There are lots of things that we know we didn't bring with us to Scotland and didn't throw away, but now we can't find them in the aftermath of the seismic shift.

But it is still nice to be back in our other home. Rather than choose, it feels right to to know that we have two places where we belong right now. It's all evolving.

I will go out for a run in a bit, then if the rain doesn't put people off too much, we'll all go out to one of the parks for a walk. Mayumi has class tomorrow, but Kenneth and Brendan, who are on Fall Break, will stay on until Tuesday night, when we will drive them back to Cleveland and stay the night there. We have various bits of business to do here this week, but the most important feels like putting quality time in with the kids and using the time to take stock of where we are in our new life.

2. The canal connection. This week’s Saturday Adventure was pre-empted by the big adventure of flying back home so we had it on Sunday instead. Out for drive, we ended up at Providence Metropark, in Grand Rapids, Ohio, where there a section of the old Cincinnati-Toledo canal restored. The parking lot was practically deserted. We’d been here before, many years ago, with the kids, and I didn’t really expect the canal to be open on a cold, windy late October Sunday. I certainly didn’t expect a company of historical interpreters in period costume ready to put on their show for the five of us. But there the canal boat was, with washing hanging out, a fellow with a couple of donkeys hanging about, and a lady in the ticket office. We couldn’t resist, and, using Mayumi as an excuse to indulge in the experience we, bought our tickets and opted for the “first person version”, i.e., an enactment of an 1876 canal boat ride. In short order, two women dressed 19th century dresses and a fellow with a fake german accent appeared, and began to cast off, while the donkey driver attached the long rope to his team.

What was so special about this for us was that we are now living 3/8 mile from the Clyde-Firth Canal, and, as readers of this blog will know, the canal is a central part of my experience of Glasgow. So this became a way of deepening the connection between our two lives and homes, and I was eager to engage with the experience at this level.

The barge was 14 feet wide and 60 feet long, making it considerably larger than the boats I have seen going up and down the Clyde-Forth Canal (those look to be about 8 feet wide and 30-40 feet long. This canal was proportionally wider, to accommodate passing boats, and much straighter, at least on this stretch, than the Clyde-Forth. Part of the charm of the Clyde-Forth is its twistiness. And of course here there were no feats of engineers in which the canal was aqueducted over roads and rivers. This canal was wide, straight… and only about half a mile long, having been orphaned about a hundred years ago. But they had restored one of the original locks to mid-19th century standard, and it was fascinating to watch it go through the lock from inside the barge itself. By contrast, the Clyde-Forth contains an anachronistic collection of bridges, and the locks have been restored to a more modern condition, although the basic technology and design of the lock gates was the same. This is a charming historical recreation, while the Clyde-Forth is a piece of living, working history. And of course the most modernistic piece of the Clyde-Forth is the Falkirk Wheel, a marvellous piece of steampunk engineering in which 4 or 5 locks have been replaced by a single, gigantic wheel, which lifts the barge up to a higher level in one go.

The Cincinnati-Toledo Canal, or at least the remaining bit of it, is by contrast, basically a large, plain ditch struck through the former swamp land of Northwest Ohio (which used to be known as the Great Black Swamp). In its own way it seems very American, as is the contrast between museum history (however lovingly re-enacted) and living history.

In any event, we had a grand time bargeing up and down this length of the canal, pretending to be in 1876 on a cold, windy late October afternoon, an unexpected adventure and connection.

3. Residence and Domicile. In the same way, our two homes are not exactly the same, as we have since learned from our accountant: We are living in the UK (or "staying" as the locals say), but we are "domiciled" in Toledo. Our domicile is our once and perhaps future house, but with Linda's help, it is going its own way without us. The place where we really live, at least for now, is in Glasgow.

(October 30):
1. In our wanderings through Ohio last week, we kept running across canals, first drving south from Zanesville along the Muskingum River, which is a river/canal, with dams and locks every 10 miles or so, as it runs down toward the Ohio River. Then on several songs on a great CD by an Athens Ohio group Home Remedy, whom we heard the first night of the NASPR conference. Canals are woven through the history of Ohio in a deep way, as they are in this place also.

2. For some reason, comment don't work particularly well on this site, so I am adding a comment that my nephew Aidan Elliott-McCrea back-channelled to me:
"I was reading your post about Two Homes and I was strongly reminded
of a song by Ed Miller, a Scottish folk singer, about the same kind
of thing, but in the other direction: 'At Home with the Exiles'."

This song, from an out-of-print album by a Scottish ex-pat living in Texas, really captures the mixture of nostalgia for the old country and affirmation of the adopted country which I imagine is a common part of the emmigrant experience. In the end, he sings, "We are all exiles".

No comments: