I write this while I sit on the couch at my aunt and uncle's place in the Neshaminy Valley. To my left is snuggled a Rottweiler/German Shepherd cross, to my right, is an American Pit Bull Terrier. The Rottie Cross is snoring gently. The Pit Bull's muscles are twitching as he sleeps - obviously chasing rabbits. Despite initial appearances, these two animals are some of the gentlest creatures I've ever met. They're really sweet - just like pretty much everybody else I've met over the last ten days.
I am with family here in Philadelphia and I've been enjoying myself immensely. I've struggled internally with staying here for the longest time as I really don't have that much contact with blood relations, but this has been a really positive experience. A lot of healing is taking place and this is a good thing. It's not that I've done that much, but it's been really cool to hang out with my Aunt and Uncle, their kids and grandkids and of course, these snoring beasts.
On Tuesday afternoon I bade farewell to Reindert and Corazon. This was a sad event on which I'm trying not to dwell - they're great people to have in your life and as we're not sure when we'll see each other again the sadness of parting is only dulled by the great memories of the stay in Boston. Part of me is thinking of training for the New York Marathon next year - I have enough airmiles to come back... well it's a thought. Reindert dropped me at Logan Airport and down I flew to Philly where my uncle picked me up.
What can I say about my dear old uncle? For starters, as a child he was alway my favorite relation - as my Dad's younger brother he's only sixteen years older than me. He's always been the cool uncle too - he flies jets around the country transporting the rich and famous around the place (He says he loves Goldie Hawn and Kirk Douglas - and Warren Buffett is a good bloke - my six degrees of separation cred has just gone through the roof!) I have fond memories if him taking me to the zoo when I was about five. He was the uncle that went off to the army and flew planes. It's all very exciting when you're a kid. I look at him now and he hasn't changed - only my perception of him is no longer hero worship - now he's just a great big daggy Australian bloke in possession of an American passport.
My uncle is also undisputely a member of my family in spite of him turning traitor and becoming a Yank. We share many of the same genes, traits and foibles. Ice cream is seen as the sixth food group. You can't walk past a bakery without buying something. There is this annoying energy about him that would get on your nerves if he wan't so affable. It's all freakishly familiar to me. He's a successful, driven version of my father.
My aunt is a calming influence on his ragtag energy. She's a counsellor at the local high school working with pregnant teenagers. Challenging and rewarding work. She has boundless compassion - almost as deep as her love of baseball - a game of which I'm rather unfamiliar but gaining a growing understanding. I think it's bit like cricket - just the innings have been designed for the American attention span.
I really haven't been doing that much in the last few days. My uncle and I went into Philadelphia city on the second day I was here and had a look around the city. First stop was the Mutter Museum. Pronounced Mooooter (or Moeter if you're Dutch) it's a fascinating place holding all sorts of strange medical antiquities. They have this huge skull collection along with all sorts of medical strange stuff - pickled babies, bits of bowel the size of bolster cushions, brittle bones, iron lungs, ancient speuclums used for gynaecological exams. (http://www.collphyphil.org/mutter_hist.htm) My uncle and I were equally fascinated - just up both of our alleys - and we spent a few hours taking in the syphillitic skulls, cojoined twins foetuses and other rather ghoulish displays. We also went to have a look at the Liberty Bell (which is still broken) and Philadelphia Hall - but after looking around and trying to find the ticket office, we gave up to go and find some granite for the kitchen backslpash.
Philly's very different to New York and Boston. There's definitely a rougher feel to the place. Like Boston and New York, the downtown areas change from street to street, some feel far more affluent than others.We also went to a southside area to check out more tiles for the kitchen. I chose to go with my uncle rather than sit in the car - it felt decidedly dodgy.
The other highlight of my Philly stay was going to watch my cousin's son play football. Scottie (pronounced Scaaatie) is nearly seven. He's in the pee wee league. There were all these six, seven and eight-year-olds, padded and helmetted up to the max, running around the the field yelling "hup!". There were also mini cheerleaders strutting their stuff on the sidelines. It was a freezing night. The little kids were having a ball. It gave me a chance to get to know my cousin, Scott (pronounced Scaaat) who also explained the rules of this baffling game. Think I'll stick with Aussie Rules and Rugby - they make far more sense - but it was still a great evening. I just wish I'd taken my camera. The little kids in their gear were SOOOOOO cute.
The best thing about this time in Philadelphia has been reaquainting with the family. For people that I only see once every handful of years if I'm lucky, they've made me feel really welcome and the reconnecting has been great - I just hope they feel the same way.We are very different in many ways and have somewhat opposing beliefs, but that doesn't really matter. They're my kin - and lovely kin at that. It makes me sad that they don't live closer.
Tomorrow I make the long journey over to Holland. A three hour drive to JFK airport, an eight hour flight to Frankfurt, then ICE train to Amsterdam, before making my way to a place called Almere in Flevoland where Jan Pieter, Sara and Anneka will be having me for a few days (before I got to Spain)
There will be none of the things I have grown to like over the last ten days there - it will be completely different. And there will be no Hounds of the Baskervilles to cuddle up to for one.
Of the things I have grown to like here:
2. Maple Syrup (abundant here - not so at home - and in all sorts of grades)
3. Good service
5. http://www.hulu.com/ (caught up on a lot of television)
6. Hot pretzels with cinnamon sugar (blame my uncle for that one)
7. The organic movement - so much cheaper than home
8. American prices - AMAZING
9. Spiced breakfast cereal
10. The willingness to celebrate stuff - which appears to my sensabilities that they would celebrate the opening of an envelope, but I like their willingness to do this - we should take this to heart. Celebrating is a good thing to do - we Australians don't do it enough - or maybe that's just me.
I'm leaving here with the knowledge for as much as I generally berate America, it really is a good place. Yes, they appear to be loud - (oh heavens my family is loud - they make me feel very quiet - and I do feel softly spoken in public) and okay, I don't agree with everything their government does or says, but I come away from here rather sad. I know I've only scratched the surface and I'd love to see and do more.