newyorksubalien has evolved. New city, new life, new blog

newyorksubalien has evolved. New city, new life, new blog.

Yes, I’m still socially-insecure and still deemed too primitive a life form for a bank account. I still can’t say ‘water’ correctly and voice-recognition software still doesn’t understand my number 8.

Meanwhile Superalien is still as super (at least in my eyes), Male Mini-Me is taller than all of us and Mini-Mum has returned to the home of the Mini, only popping back from London to sleep, be fed and help balance out testosterone levels.

But in my new home of Chicago, I can at least lay claim to my own subgroup. I’m now Chi-rish as in Chicago Irish. Apparently the hyphen is important so as not to be confused with Chinese Irish or the town in Armenia. But I’m trusting my readers not to be churlish and to forgive these, my (hyphen-less) Chirish chatters…..

Friday, November 22, 2013

Did you hear the one about the turkey and the menorah?

I come from the wee corner of the Green Island not known for its integration and cultural togetherness. So I can only turn green with envy observing the preparations for a once-in-a-lifetime event about to be celebrated across this much larger island.

Next week is Thanksgiving, that most sacred of secular holidays in America, when the current natives, no matter their religion, commemorate the dinner enjoyed by the settlers and the then Native Americans after the pilgrims’ first successful harvest.

Thanksgiving is always observed on the last Thursday in November. But what makes this year’s holiday so unique is that November 28 is also the first full day of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.

Never slow to come up with new names for cultural “mash-ups”, this year’s festivities have swiftly been dubbed Thanksgivukkah. And given both celebrations focus heavily on eating, not surprisingly there’s no shortage of extra-special, cross-cultural delicacies on offer such as turkey-shaped challah bread, sweet potato latkes and pumpkin spice donuts.

One of my favourite collaborations is the menurkey, the brain-child of an actual child, who thought up the idea of combining the Hanukkah menorah, the 9-branched candlestick integral to the Festival of Lights celebrations, with - you guessed it - the turkey.

I’ve seen various versions of when Thanksgivukkah was last celebrated and when it will next appear on the (two) calendar(s). But given the most recent past occurrences are put in the late 1800s and those in the future plotted around the 78,000s (yes, you read correctly), I think it is fair to call this year's joint festivities a once-in-a-lifetime event.

And while not quite once-in-a-lifetime, next week’s holiday is also notable in that it is one of the latest Thanksgivings possible, falling on the 28th. This has less of an impact on the big day itself than on the even bigger day after that – Black Friday. 

This, as you may well know, marks the start of flash sales, lasting up to 72 hours, designed to kick start the present-buying bonanza ahead of Christmas. Except that this year, the late Thanksgiving has robbed retailers of 6 potential days of revenue, making it the shortest pre-Christmas run-up in 11 years. The result is an Inbox inundated daily with sneak peaks, hush-hush previews, Countdown to Black Friday daily deals and the outright blatant “Black Friday starts this Monday”.

I'm a little relieved however the earlier start to the Black Friday activities doesn't seem to have extended to the associated "Blackout" Wednesday goings-on. 

The latter refers to the night before Thanksgiving when everyone home for the big day hits the local bars, figuratively that is (usually). Here in Chirish-land, Blackout Wednesday is apparently a bigger party night than New Year's and even St Patrick's Day. From Turkey Crawls to Very Special Black Wednesday goth nights, the options for revelers are endless - or at least until they have to turn up for the turkey dinner itself. The down-side is that Black Wednesday is rapidly becoming the biggest night of the year for drink-driving arrests and incidents, not only in Chicago but nationwide. 

So on the eve of this extraordinary cross-cultural family holiday, I'd like to add my own humble wish - don't be a turkey and leave the mash-ups to the sweet potatoes. Happy Thanks-give-up-car!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

From Big Apple to the Big Onion – a newcomer’s first thoughts

The Big Onion, the Second City, the Windy City – our new hometown has as many nicknames as our old one.

The Big Onion you might not have heard of and derives from the original Native American name for the area – shikaakwa (you know you want to say it aloud) or wild onion.

Second City evolved at the end of the 19th Century when Chicago became - guess what - the second largest city in the USA in terms of population. Then it became more of a derogatory term in the continuous battle with New York. But no point in Chicagoans being offended as Chicago is now actually the third largest city in the USA after NY and LA.

And as for the Windy City, you can take your pick. Some say it’s the obvious. That great big puddle right by the city called Lake Michigan may have something to do with it. But sure it’s only about four times the size of the wee corner of the Emerald Isle that I come from so why would that make any difference! Others agree it’s to do with a large amount of air – but hot air expended tirelessly by its politicians.

If that were the case, then New York would also be in the running for that title. But it seems to me the two cities make more noise about their differences than their similarities. For example...

Don’t mention tall buildings – this week Chicago’s Willis Tower lost out to New York’s nearly-finished Freedom Tower as America’s tallest building. Both rely on tall pokey bits at the top (ever the architect’s daughter) to get those essential extra inches. But it would appear that the Freedom Tower’s pokey bit is a little more permanent than that of the poor Willis Tower. So it’s been pipped by a slightly longer post.

All this ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ goes back a long way. While most people associate New York with skyscrapers, Chicago was the birthplace of all things multistoried, with the first 10-floored, steel-framed beast rising from the depths of Chicago in the mid-1880s.

Hot dog battles – in New York, use of ketchup is optional; in Chicago it’s a crime

Gotham and the City that Never Sleeps – two well-known names for New York. Less well-known is that Chicago masqueraded as Gotham in the recent Bat Man movies. That’s probably because Chicago does go to sleep, giving production crews the chance to film in empty streets from about 10:30 pm….or 9pm on a week night.

Pizzas – we’re back to size again except this time it’s not about height but depth. But there’s no question here over the winner. While the New York variety is thin and crusty, Chicago is thick and deep, up to 3 inches deep and baked in a cake tin. We’ve yet to steel ourselves to try one (it’s not got THAT cold yet). But anyone worried about the health issues could perhaps try out one of the deep pizza walking tours on offer, complete with promises not to put you into a food coma.

Taxis – everyone knows the iconic New York taxi is yellow. But probably few know the story that the idea of decking out a fleet of cars in bright-custard hues was born in Chicago. This was after a gentleman whose surname is now eponymous with a well-known car hire company asked the local university to pinpoint the most standout colour. He then founded the Yellow Cab Company in 1915 and it is also no surprise that yellow is still used as the background colour in said rental company's logo today. 

What has changed is that Chicago cabs are not always yellow, in fact apparently only one in four are. Today the most popular hue is white, either on its own or in combination with another colour. This takes a while getting used to but at least allayed my concerns about the many blue and white “police cars” that seemed to frequent our local area!

For all their differences, there is one way in which Chicago and New York are seen as closely linked - at least in the subalien household. First there were many Aprils in Paris, then there was New York, New York and now it's fair to say that My Kind of Town, Chicago is. Yup, it's all getting a wee bit like some weird Frank Sinatra pilgrimage. Perhaps there is something Super's not telling me. San Francisco next?