Thursday, 7 April 2011

Back From The Bonkers Fly Drive Trip – Part 4: The Scented Bit (Bloody Fridaville, Ohio)

Right, so I know what you are thinking about the title of this latest instalment in the Bonkers Fly Drive trip report: why refer to Chicago and Cleveland by name, but invent a fictitious place to describe where Bloody Frida lives? Well, I figured that Chicago and Cleveland were both big enough cities to protect the privacy of ScentScelf and Beth respectively, who live somewhere in that metropolitan area. Ohio, however, felt too broad a descriptor (after all, Cleveland is also in Ohio, so we run into some Venn diagram-type problematics there), while the small college town in which Bloody Frida lives in Ohio - is, well, simply too small.

Put it this way, if you compared the act of randomly walking the streets of downtown Chicago or Cleveland keeping an eye out for ScentScelf and Beth to looking for a needle in a haystack, the equivalent search for Bloody Frida in her town is more akin to fleetingly fingering two blades of grass. To illustrate this point, in the course of my weekend there, we bumped into Frida's friend Steve crossing the road (I think I can confidently name him, on the basis that even a town as sparsely populated as BFV is likely to have at least two Steves), no fewer than three times at the exact same spot.

So all things considered, Bloody Fridaville it will be...

Backtracking slightly, after my meeting with Beth I drove out to BFV and checked into my hotel, which had a stripey awning that ran the entire length of the building, of the kind more commonly associated with barbers and butchers. Shortly after I had unloaded my bags, Frida rang to say she was in the lobby. I was happy it was her, and not the front desk asking me if everything was all right with my room, which I had not had time to fully assess. Later I did in fact flag up a missing plug, only to find it later, lurking in a fold of the shower curtain.

Frida - unmistakable from her avatar, and sporting one of her many eclectic knitted hats - had arrived bearing a bunch of flowers, so after a warm exchange of greetings we set off in search of a vase, or other receptacle that could serve as an approximation for one. Within no time, we scored a large plastic pitcher from the hotel bar, and having installed the flowers in my room (which for all I know may have received a courtesy call after we went out, inquiring whether everything was all right with their jug), we adjourned to Aladdin's for a late lunch. This popular eatery has a vaguely alternative menu and specialises in Middle Eastern cuisine, despite having the decor and ambience of a National Milk Bar.

At this point, my and Frida's accounts of the weekend coincide: she mentions the great soups - they were indeed hearty to the point of virtually solid (this is good), and chock full of "particulates" ie bits of - in my case - blackened chicken, blackened no doubt all the better to match the sludgy shade of Puy lentils. We ordered smoothies to wash the soup down (smoothies not being noted for their Middle Eastern antecedents, but delicious nonetheless), and spent a disproportionate amount of time - in the waitress's eyes at least - messing about with our perfume samples, with which the table was by this stage liberally strewn. I suspect there was a direct correlation between the waitress's proactive proffering of the bill and the perceived oddball nature of our impromptu sniffing session.

After lunch and a stroll round the major arteries of Bloody Fridaville ("arteries" being the operative word - "operative" being another operative word!), I returned to my hotel to catch up on work emails and have a little rest, before our big Friday night out on the town. Now you may think I am being ironic here, given the diminutive nature of BFV and its likely dearth of night spots / flesh pots...but you would be wrong. I had the biggest night out in years... and quite possibly ever!

7.30pm saw us ensconced at a window table upstairs at The Feve bar, as Frida mentions in her account. I met her husband, the MOTH (another woolly hat aficionado), and was introduced to a steady procession of her lively and interesting friends, who turned up at staggered intervals over the course of the evening. Indeed, staggering was also involved in people's departures, along with wobbly bike manoeuvres and the odd collision with lamp posts, but I am running ahead of myself, plus I was planning to draw a veil over most of our late night antics.

So anyway, I met Frida's friends in this jumping but rather noisy bar, with its relaxed wooden furniture and stylishly backlit optics. One friend turned out to be from Yorkshire originally, so I tugged the fabric of my sweater in his general direction, and exclaimed: "Look - my jumper's from Whitby!" It may be a small town, but random weird stuff like this, or the multiple bumpings into Steve, can clearly happen at any moment.

As the night wore on, and my two bottles of beer somehow managed to be chased down (note the careful use of the passive voice) by a vodka martini that had been abandoned by one of our party (rude not to drink it, really), I started to feel a bit merry. Indeed I was probably not far off the state to which I refer in my 1984 diary rather more bluntly as "pissed". The rest of the evening is a fabulous blur, but we ended up back at the house of the Yorkshireman and his wife, who lived in a warehouse conversion tastefully decorated with a surreal assortment of art works in every conceivable medium, vintage 50s furniture, and reclaimed industrial materials repurposed as quirky ornaments - in short, a stunningly strange collection of artefacts that had been lovingly curated over many decades. We sat cross legged on the floor knocking back - and partly also, over - rather too many glasses of red wine, munching whole grain crackers with the gusto of people who hadn't eaten for a week, not just a few hours earlier, and spraying the entire length of our hostess's arms with the assortment of perfumes we had had the foresight to bring with us in case just such a consultancy opportunity should arise. We also got to try the only two perfumes she currently owned: Demeter Snow and Fireplace, and empathised over a lost chypre scent she had once loved.

Fast forward to Saturday morning and a mumbled phone conversation between me and Frida, which quickly established that we both felt a trifle delicate - me more than Frida, I sense - as I had mixed my drinks rather more flagrantly. Our planned meeting time of 11am was promptly put back to 3pm, when Frida picked me up and took me on a sightseeing tour of the town in her car. We poked around a fine specimen of Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture, and I also photographed a curious house nearby that looked like a scrumpled up tissue.

Next up, I was craving tea, so Frida had the bright idea of dropping in on her friends Nick and Elizabeth, who could be relied upon to have my preferred beverage in stock, not least because Nick turned out to be another fellow Brit, from Chichester no less. This time I couldn't muster an item of clothing from that part of the world, but I could raise him an aunt who sewed hassocks for the cathedral and a deceased uncle who had collected the offering plates.

It was only 5pm by now, but I was flagging fast, the excesses of the previous night by now catching up with me. So I returned to my hotel and we agreed that I would go over in the morning, giving me a chance to see Frida's house, her menagerie of pets, and the all-important nerve centre of Bloody Frida operations!

Refreshed after 12 hours' sleep, I was packed, checked out and ravenously hungry by 10.30am on Sunday, and went over to Frida's for a delicious brunch of blueberry smoothies and scrambled eggs from their very own hens on home baked bread, fresh from the oven, all rustled up by the MOTH without batting an eyelid - or a wing. I had two mugs of tea (Frida had seen me coming and swung by the supermarket on Saturday night!), and felt fortified for the journey ahead: a flight to Chicago, followed by a 250 mile drive to Iowa.

Not before I had had a good old nosey round the house, mind: I played with Frida's very fetching bottle collection, which lives on her bedroom dresser and includes several dainty Annick Goutals. She was wearing La Chasse aux Papillons that day, her girly perfume "exception". I laid eyes on Bloody Frida's computer (small, glossy black, perched on a shelf in the spare room, dangerously encroached by books and crafting materials). We also rifled through some jumbled tupperwares of decants and bottles (I spotted the mini of Lauren I sent her!), and of course no tour would be complete without being comprehensively jumped up on by the bouncy and ebullient Sephora. The canine equivalent of an eager and importunate sales assistant, but without the free samples!

I was very sorry to leave Bloody Frida and her namesake town after such an eventful weekend, and lingered on the front lawn for a few moments, taking exterior shots of her handsome Victorian house. But the working week beckoned, so we exchanged parting hugs and I went on my way, armed with a clutch of new decants (including Murray & Lanman's Florida Water, BBW Sandalwood Rose & Creed Fleurs de Bulgarie, to name but three), and some great memories. I would just lose the hangover, perhaps.

Photo of awnings from, photo of Aladdin's from, photo of The Feve from flickr, photo of Demeter snow from, photo of La Chasse aux Papillons from, other photos my own


Carol said...

I know I'm gushing here, but I am so happy you visited!! Cannot wait to spend more time with you - and dear readers, the photos of me were taking Sunday morning; sans makeup and still in my pajamas!! LOL! Yep, the real me!

Thanks Bonks - it was a blast to show you my town and our home.

BTW - you can see Sephora in the first photo, peeking out the curtains!

Vanessa said...

Hi BF,

Pyjamas? I thought you were going for the casual lumberjack look... : - )

Yes, I meant to draw people's attention to the snout in the window, so thanks for thinking of that fun detail!

I had such fun meeting you too and the whole Frida kaboodle. Though I missed out the cats, come to think of it? Next time!

Carol said...

Yes, next time!!

Odd that my pjs resemble lumberjack attire, huh? - whoops - more evidence of my lazyness! hahaaa!

lovethescents said...

Sounds like you had a great time. How was the Demeter Snow?

Angela Cox said...

I hope you phoned reception about the plug they deserved it. Its a good job I know who Frank Lloyd Wright is or that sentance starts very dodgy!Frida please say "Hi Steve" next time you meet him if he's got time to stop.

Carol said...

Angela, the MOTH saw Steve last night at a showing of some 1970s films; so I'm sure I'll be bumping into him VERY soon! ;)

Ines said...

It really was a wonderful experience. Even the hangover part, sometimes you need to experience those too (not often though).
I'm so happy for you, meeting virtual friends and befriending them in real life while having so much sniffing fun. :)

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

The Demeter Snow was wet and cold with a hint of some spring florals, and though it didn't wow me exactly, it wasn't a bad throw at recreating snow! More the sensation than the smell, I'd say, for snow doesn't have a scent particularly. I didn't get any earth mixed in with slush, for example, in case anyone is wondering - it was all pretty clean, freshly fallen stuff.

Vanessa said...

Hi Angela,

Ooh, I see what you mean about Frank Lloyd Wright and his fine architecture.... : - )

I did complain about the plug and housekeeping brought me another, shortly after which I discovered the first plug and felt rather silly.

Vanessa said...

Hi BF,

The bumping into Steve thing was very Groundhog Day, thinking about it... And somehow strangely comforting. The third time I met him I was on my own and he knew me immediately. See - 24 hours and I am part of the backbone of the community already - I like those sorts of places!

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

It was indeed a great experience on exactly those fronts. And ever since, I have been trying to convince myself that the hangover was an integral part of it. : - ) So thanks for backing me up on that!

Cymbaline said...

I really love reading your travel-logs! You do a wonderful job describing all the fun bits without anyone losing their dignity :) Terrific read! Thank you.

Vanessa said...

Hi Cymbaline,

Why, thank you! Maybe meeting a man in Iowa who went to school with Bill Bryson has rubbed off on me? : - ) Some "normal" posts are up next, but I am off travelling again quite a bit in the next few months, so I guess it will continue to be a mixture of the two types of post for the foreseeable future!

Anonymous said...

Heartwarming and hilarious, I love your writing! What a great trip, I have a weak spot for small-town America, Bloody Fridaville sounds lovely.

Carol said...

Bonks, you fit in perfectly with us here!!

Vanessa said...

Hi olfactoria,

Hey, thanks for that - and I hope you are enjoying your trip to the UK, if you are over already!

Vanessa said...

Hi BF,

That's sweet of you to say so - I must say you and your friends made me feel right at home.

: - )

JoanElaine said...

I wasn't even on this trip, but now I feel like I was..and I had a great time! (No hangover!)

I really do love reading about your adventures. It's not only what happened during your travel that's always interesting, it's that you write very well. AND your humour always shines!

Vanessa said...

Hi JoanElaine,

Thanks for saying so - I have wondered if my travel posts stray a bit too far from the matter in hand sometimes, so it is nice to hear from anyone who finds them entertaining!

And thanks too for your "thumbs up" signs on Facebook - much appreciated. : - )

Olfacta said...

Sounds like a great meetup!

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfacta,

Thanks, it was a lot of fun!

Suzanne said...

Loved the photos and your wonderful descriptions of Frida's hometown and friends. My, she's quite the social butterfly, isn't she? Maybe that's one of the benefits of living in a small town where everyone knows your name (and not just Frida's name, but now yours too...or at least Steve knows it, right?).

A lot of fun to read, Vanessa. Wish I could have been there for breakfast when Frida's MOTH was manning the range.

p.s. For a small town, there's some impressive architecture in Bloody Fridaville. Nice!

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

Thanks for your comment! Small towns are arguably better for socialising than big cities in the sense that there are fewer people *to* meet, but you are more likely to fall over them... : - )

And you are absolutely right that BFV has more than its fair share of stylish buildings - both old and new!

Anonymous said...

I've been reading these posts about your trip but haven't been able to comment until I lugged my laptop downstairs to HOG THE INTERNET CABLE (I keep telling The CEO we should have gone for either the two-unit hookup or wifi... grr).

I am so. Jealous. Your fumehead meetings sound like giggly sleepovers (sans sleeping bags, plus scent!) and I wish I could have been in on them!

Perhaps someday you'll wind up on the East Coast of the US and I'll come join you somewhere...

Vanessa said...

Hi Muse!

"Giggly sleepovers" is an excellent analogy and you would have been most welcome to join us had you just been a little more westerly. If ever I do fetch up on the East Coast you may be sure you would be on my "hitlist", if that doesn't sound too sinister. : - )

For the full Wooden Shoe experience I should come to visit you at home really, all the way up your famously long road/track? Check out the CEO's special parking spot and so forth.

And yes, you probably could use wifi. I always imagine the Americans to be streets ahead on such technical matters!