austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

Fun for all that children call their favorite time of year

The big thing we wanted to do Saturday was to drive to Flint, preferably arriving just after sunset. This may sound counter-intuitive to what most people expect of Flint. No matter. Our objective was the Crossroads Village, in Genesee County, an assemblage of historic buildings mostly of the 19th century. Around the village re-enactors give demonstrations of the techniques of doing whatever it is exactly blacksmiths did with hammers, or dancing to banjo music, or grinding wheat into bread by however that gets done. We were coming in later than that, though, because for the Christmas season they decorate most of the buildings with lights that may strain the historical authenticity (at the least, they shatter the hopes of making the village represent any specific era except perhaps the Colombian Exposition) but make for great spectacle.

It was cold. It wasn't the coldest I'd experience this winter (although it was my coldest to date), and it wasn't the coldest bunny_hugger had ever experienced, but it was still cold enough to justify going into some buildings less out of interest for what they might have in them --- such as a former single-room town hall whose interior was now festooned with railroad memorabilia and pennants and the like --- to warm up, or to buy bags of kettle corn as much for the warmth as for the general good idea of having kettle corn. It hadn't yet snowed, which had its good side in that it meant the unpaved roads were less messy to navigate, but had its bad side in that it made the night all the darker. I always like taking photographs in challenging lighting conditions and this was remarkably challenging.

Although I don't get to this sort of historical-recreation village often --- there's one near my brother and his wife's that I've driven lazily by but never got out on foot to see, for example --- I like them, not just for the old buildings but also for the chance to look at all the little artifacts of life gone by. History, classical graphic design, oddball inventions of almost forgotten purpose ... well, I'm sold. bunny_hugger and I managed to spend a remarkable time just in the gift shop/`dry goods store', looking at things from oddball cookie cutters through miscellaneous toys through books that offered kids the chance to learn how to draw examples of mythological creatures. The book section also had a healthy bunch of children's books, including --- I think --- a whole bunch of Thornton Burgess other than Peter Rabbit,.

Really drawing my attention was a book of children's games of the 19th century which seemed designed to give kids the pretext to begin brawling. There were some I still recognized as games I actually played growing up, such as, er, Duck, Duck Goose, or this ``base-ball'' thing the kids get so excited about. But others seem more contact-prone. In the Post Office Game, for example, kids are to gather in a circle, each taking the name of a city --- Toronto was one of the given examples --- and one kid would be the Postmaster. The Postmaster calls out, for example, a letter is to be delivered from Chicago to Toronto, and the kids with those cities have to swap places without being caught by the Postmaster. A more striking game was called Cudgel, in which two kids form .. cudgels ... of rolled-up newspaper, lay on the floor facing opposite directions, and try to beat the other into submission. I can imagine inventing that game easily with my siblings, it's just, our parents wouldn't approve our playing it.

As mentioned I love photographing under challenging lighting conditions and Christmas-lit buildings in the dark with no snow on the ground makes a satisfyingly challenging bit of work, and would have been even if I had my tripod. In fact, before long I'd managed to wear out the last of my batteries and ... well, there was the counter in the dry goods store where I could get slightly anachronistic, not to mention non-rechargeable, AA batteries. The batteries were loose, but the clerk insisted I check that they weren't on the brink of death before I left the building. They weren't so nearly dead as we might have feared.

There are, besides the buildings and the kettle corn, three big attractions to the village. One is the Huckleberry Railroad, a narrow-gage coal-fired steam locomotive with wooden coaches. It runs for ordinary fun most of the year; around Christmas, it's also a tour of more elaborate lighting fixtures that show off Santa Clauses, reindeer, snowmen, and even a wide circle where the train loops around with the surroundings decorated to the theme of ``The Twelve Days Of Christmas''. I understand fully why bunny_hugger regards this as one of the essential pieces to getting properly into the Christmas spirit, and closer to the holiday must make the effect all the more impressive.

The other two big attractions are tucked farther in back of the village, I believe near the lake --- it's hard to be sure what with the predominant night all over the place --- but still: there are a couple of amusement park-type rides there. One is a small Ferris wheel from about 1910, which was (a) outdoors and (b) still operating despite the cold, although it wasn't doing enormous business. bunny_hugger and I would be the only passengers on it when we took our ride, and there wasn't a rush just before we got there. It's not too large, but it makes up for this by being very fast, and we got decent little views of the village from slight elevation, and better views of each other zipping up and down again.

And the other big attraction is an (indoor) carousel, also dating to about 1910. It's got an attractive set of animals, as well as an example of an un-restored carousel animal to show just how severely the needed restorations can be, and the ride also goes rather speedily. If it's not the fastest carousel I've been on, that's just a virtue of radius; it felt faster, certainly. It's in fine shape and I did pick up from the gift shop tables around it a CD of carousel music which felt like it should be applicable to Roller Coaster Tycoon games. (It should be, but I haven't had the chance to figure how to do that just yet.)

Another attraction which we hadn't gone on because it doesn't run in winter was the Venetian Swings. I'm not perfectly clear on just how the ride works, since I can't easily find a description or ride video, but it appears that riders sit in these boat-shaped cars and ... swing ... by some mechanism. I'm curious how they work.

We did a lot more wandering around: as might be expected, we closed out the park's scheduled operating hours, which didn't run as late into the night as I might have expected. But we found our way out without being chased, and drove back to Lansing, where bunny_hugger knew just the place to eat. Michigan hasn't got quite the diner culture New Jersey has, but there are diners of the 24-hour and somewhat chrome-laced diner set and this was a fine one to get to. I was a little unsure what to make of the ``hippie hash'' in multiple permutations as listed on the menu, but we found comfortable and valuable favorites (omelettes, French toast, hot tea considering the cold). We also got a little distracted by the computer-equipped ordering system. Perhaps this all sounds a little silly. Perhaps we're a bit silly.

By now it was getting pretty late, and past midnight if I'm not mistaken, but bunny_hugger remembered something we'd been meaning to get around to all week, other than having cranberry sauce: there was the Michigan State Tree, decorated for Christmas and really not far from her house considering how we'd managed to keep missing it. We drove over and got a parking spot comfortably nearby the tree, just outside the capitol, and unlike previous post-midnight weekend ventures around state capitols I don't think I drew the attention of any state police. (Ask rcoony.) The tree was comparable in size to the Rockefeller Center tree, although given the location and hour was a little less crowded. It was densely covered in predominantly blue lights, inspiring wonder about whether blue was the Official State Color (well, it turns up in the flag, after all), although the regularity of the lighting drew our eyes to the mesh covering the tree and making sure there weren't any sparse or dense patches.

In the process of getting pictures of the tree, and capitol, in that dark that makes such an exciting challenge to photograph, my new batteries from the dry-goods-store wore down and I turned the camera off rather than drop from Low Battery to Battery Dead status.

Back to her home, we started to face the sad truth that I was leaving for my normal life again within 24 hours, and went to a sensible way to handle it: watching the third series of Father Ted. I've seen the first two series but somehow failed to locate the third (even the library system around me seems to have it only when I don't have the time to borrow any DVDs). It is, after all, a wonderfully funny show and the only sad part about watching it this way was each half-hour spent watching was another half-hour less that we had together. But time would have passed that way in any case and this was the series with ``Speed 3'' and the football/kicking-Bishop-Brennan two-parter in it, and who'd want to miss either?

The show also lead to our discovery --- which in retrospect shouldn't have surprised us --- that the Bishop George Berkeley of some philosophical importance and at least one prominent joke in the philosophy departments (with the frustrating state that I found the joke funny but couldn't pin down why it was funny) is the same one modestly renowned in the mathematics departments for making accurate yet mostly irritating critiques of the logic underlying infinitesimal calculus. (All his mathematical objections could be answered, rigorously, although it would take until 1966 for the job to be done.) I'm not sure if we should have been more or less surprised by that.

Trivia: Although Abraham Lincoln had his cabinet vote on the gauge for the transcontinental railroad in January 1863, he immediately pocketed the ballots so no one would know the outcome. On the 21st Lincoln announced he had chosen the five-foot gauge. Source: Empire Express: Building The First Transcontinental Railroad, David Haward Bain.

Currently Reading: The Fallen Colossus: The Great Crash Of The Penn Central, Robert Sobel.

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