That was the week that was

United States 2005

Laziness got the better of me this last week thus keeping this travelogue quiet; now I’m behind, so I’ll write up a few titbits to get back on track.

The weather here is very changeable: on any given day it can be sweltering, snowing, or anything in between. One day last week it was incredibly hot — it could have easily passed for the hottest day in an Edinburgh summer. Alas, I didn’t know this as I pulled on heavy jogging-bottoms, two t-shirts, and a woolly hat, and prepared to run around Forest Park. I walked out of the building and wandered, blinking like a new-born baby, into the blinding sun and uncomfortable heat, and I realised I was overdressed. Faced with a short walk upstairs to the apartment to strip off excess layers or an hour overheating in the sun I took the option available only to the perversely lazy, and continued walking.

I sweated my way around a five-mile (eight-kilometre) course — although running only about four miles due to the heat — which for the record started at the history museum and took me past Washington University, up the hill and down to the zoo, through the World’s Fair Pavilion, past the boat house and back to the History Museum. Forest Park is one of the largest city parks in the US (it’s over 1 1/2 times bigger than New York’s Central Park) and I doubt that I circled half of it so there’s room for improvement. Edinburgh Marathon, here I come.

Settlers of Catan

We spent an evening in the company of Joe, Mary-Cath, and Tim: bold but gentle Americans, and great company. Joe and Mary-Cath are married and expecting their first child, and live in the house built by Joe’s grandmother in the 1940s. They were the most comfortable couple I’ve ever met and their nascent family made me a touch envious; was that the first hint that I’m almost ready to start thinking about maybe settling down?

We ate at a restaurant where vegetarianism seemed to be held in as much disdain as communism (more on the States’ veggie-unfriendliness in a later entry), and headed back to Joe and Mary-Cath’s house for some board-game fun: us blokes readied for a game of Settlers of Catan while Mary-Cath went upstairs to study for the Illinois bar exam — which I can only assume is a euphemism for whooping with laughter as David Letterman fires a potato gun on the Late Show, which is what actually happened.

Settlers of Catan turned out to be a great strategy game along the lines of Risk or Axis and Allies, only faster to play and more abstract. Each player starts two small settlements on a shared island with the aim of expanding your settlements while blocking that of your opponents. There are no battles, just tactical resource collection and expansion: first to ten points wins. I would love to say my English nous triumphed over those dirty Americans — in fact I will: my English nous triumphed over those dirty Americans. But this is a lie. I lost, and I lost badly. In the second game I came in last with two points; anyone who’s played the game will know that a player starts with two points. Let’s just say I had a brilliant long-term plan. Unfortunately Joe had a brilliant short-term plan that won him the game.

St Louis Mills

I also went out into the county with Rich and Brian to St Louis Mills, a shopping mall so large it could be its own town. It’s big enough to be split into neighbourhoods and it has its own skate park, go-cart track, and black-light mini golf course. It’s not even the biggest in the US! Brian reckons the entire state of Wisconsin will be a shopping mall in a decade.

The secret world of Riggott and Suda

I finally got around to posting some photos to my album, and they’re getting positive responses from Flickr’s St Louis group (e.g. the Old Courthouse and the Arch at a rakish angle). This last week we took some photos of the Arch with Brian’s SLR film camera using a 180° fish-eye lens, so I’ll add them once they’ve been developed — with luck they’ll be better than the others. Keep an eye on my USA 2005 album.

Hunter S Thompson commits suicide

Late last night Hunter S Thompson, an inventive American author, was found dead in Colorado having shot himself in the head. I’ve not read any of his works (the most famous being Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) or heard much about him, but anytime anyone mentioned his name I always thought of my old postgraduate tutor, Henry S Thompson. I liked to think that Hunter was Henry’s superhuman alter ego, as befitted his wonderful first name. But now it seems Henry is the only famous living Dr H. S. Thompson. Perhaps both were involved in a Fight Club-inspired scene where Hunter was found to be a fiction of Henry’s imagination.

Coverage of Hunter S Thompson’s death has been muted in America’s traditional media, apparently because they don’t like to highlight such behaviour on the grounds of it glamourising something without glamour, but the internet media has been more forthcoming (as the Technorati cosmos will tell you). The Guardian carried a decent obituary.