1/22/12

Meditations on Pittsburgh

Recently, I was re-watching one of my favorite episodes of My So Called Life, and it ended with a shot of Angela riding her bike (or maybe it was Brian Krakow’s bike?) down a suburban street. She’s moving away from the camera, trying to let go of the handlebars to ride with no hands. She lets go and then grabs back on, lets go and grabs back on, before finally letting go and raising her hands in triumph up in the air. And as I watched, I thought about Pittsburgh—the city Angela lives in and the city where I grew up. I was reminded of the freedom I felt bicycling down very similar suburban streets as a teenager and a pang of nostalgia hit me hard, knocking me into a daydream where Matt and I moved back, I got pregnant, and we lived there, with a little yard, fewer neighbors, and a couple of animals.
Coincidentally, or perhaps guided by my daydream, I checked in on my friend who just moved from Los Angeles to the suburbs of New York to see how the wintry transition was going. And she told me her personal theory of how living in Los Angeles was just too easy and how she has learned that she needs winter to appreciate those first cold spring days. “There is always something to look forward to when you have four distinct parts of the year,” she wrote, and the poetry of her argument resonated with me. Maybe Los Angeles—with its perfect weather, proximity to the mountains and ocean, the pretty people and prettier produce, the special places like Runyon Canyon and Koreatown with its Korean spas—is too good for our own good.

So, I went home to Pittsburgh with all of this in mind, and without telling anyone, I decided I would try to imagine what living there as an adult would be like: what neighborhood Matt and I might move to, what the price of a house was there, how we might spend our Sunday afternoons, and what it would feel like to be so near the support of family.
And then I stepped off the plane into the jetway, and the cold, Pennsylvania-in-January air blew right through my purchased-in-Los-Angeles winter coat and boots, and rested in my bones where it would remain for the rest of the night.

As is customary on the first night back, Mom and I picked up Grandma, and we went for sushi. Since my last visit, because of failing kidneys, Grandma has cut sugar out of her diet, and though Mom warned me that she had lost a lot of weight and was teeny tiny now, I still wasn’t ready for the change.
In the morning, the icy wind burned my eyes, filling them with tears as Matt and I walked from a breakfast spot in Lawrenceville to the cute coffee shop a few blocks away. And when we arrived at Matt’s parents new loft space where construction just finished, instead of being able to properly ooh and aah, all I could do was sit on the couch and try to bring life back to my feet, which had become two low-functioning blocks of ice. My body had completely forgotten about winter. 
But, later in the day, I was ready to give the outdoors another shot. It was dusk; it was snowing, and I wanted to breathe in that frosty, clean air. I offered to walk Matt’s parents’ dogs. I borrowed a hat and gloves, grabbed a Havanese and went outside.

I lasted three minutes. I wasn’t even at the neighbor’s house before I handed my dog over to Matt, who was doing just fine with the other one, and ran back to the house.

That night, we were having a family dinner with both Matt’s and my family, which included Grandma, my brother and his girlfriend—these latter two I hadn’t seen in over a year and a half. Matt’s dad made a fire, Matt’s mom made chicken Parmesan, Matt made his famous garlic bread, my mom made her famous Caesar salad, and I did nothing more than clean a few mushrooms and pour red wine. It was the big holiday dinner I’d wanted all holiday-season long. And about halfway through the meal, I felt the color return to my face and the circulation to my feet.
The next day, my recluse of a dad, who lives in rural Pennsylvania, drove down to see my brother and me. He doesn’t exactly travel and so, I haven’t seen him since my wedding, over three years ago. If I was a little upset to see my grandma’s weight loss, I was even more upset to see Dad’s weight gain. He had open-heart surgery a few years ago and doesn’t seem to be taking care of himself or making the lifestyle changes I had hoped he would. In his defense, he says his dad died at 62 and that at 63 he’s living on extra time. Even if his response can be considered an argument, I find it very lacking. The good news? Between navigating controversial family topics and political conspiracy theories, he tells my brother and I about his new, online chess “clan,” the Chessperados.

Pittsburgh is cold and complicated.
*
For those of you unfamiliar with Korean spas, let me tell you that this is reason enough to live in Los Angeles or any other city that has them. For only fifteen U.S. dollars, you can spend your day spa-ing away, and for an additional thirty, you can get a body scrub that will rid you of skin layers you didn’t even know you had. Of course, my first time there, I did it all wrong. I went from the hot shower (You must shower first. This, they make very clear.), to the hot steam room, to the hot sauna, to the jade room (not sure what the benefits of this room are, but I like it.) to the scalding hot tub and back again. It was fun. So many options! And all of them hot! But by the time the woman called my number(!) for my scrub, my face was lobster red and I was having trouble stringing a sentence together. She took one look at me and diagnosed my condition: “Too much sauna!”

A week or so later, I came across this super interesting article, which among other things, discussed the spa culture of Sweden. The article revealed my mistake: I hadn’t cold plunged. I had gone from hot to hot to hot to hot, and guess what? Body don’t like that. And now that I thought about it, I had seen a few brave women plunging themselves in this one tiny pool, but when I dipped my toe in and it nearly froze, I promptly trotted off toward the sauna.
*
Two knots in my lower back had me dreaming of a massage all weekend long, and so when we got home to Los Angeles, I ran myself to the Korean spa where the price is right when it comes to massages. As a seasoned veteran, I know now to cold plunge between trips to the sauna and steam room. This knowledge doesn’t make it any easier. Your whole being is screaming to get out of that freezing water. What does make it easier is knowing how great you’ll feel once you’re out. Maybe life is like this. Hot and cold—no matter where we live. And maybe the trickier part is in the moments in between, when we’re not sure where we're headed or how to feel.

Pittsburgh is a beautiful city. And for better or worse, it's responsible for much of my constitution.
But this morning, Los Angeles didn’t feel so scattered and demanding. We woke up to rain, and Matt made pancakes, substituting the called-for milk with half and half. And guess what else? That dreamy shot of Angela Chase riding her bike on that suburban street? I bet they shot that in L.A.
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52 comments:

Matthew said...

I loved our trip and this post, and sometimes, at lunch, I still sneak fries in my sandwich.

jeana sohn said...

I love the story. (and the last picture!) You are an amazing writer, amy!

sara said...

That last photo is the best thing I've seen in weeks. Seriously.

And guys - the cold gets easier. Pinky swear.

W said...

Chesssssperaaaaaados....when will you castel y'r defeeeeenses?

And you didn't even mention the professional photo shoot and the request that we both do individual shots?!

Good things you left out: This post WAS shot in Pittsburgh (unlike Mission Impossible 4), Mom is both becoming more technologically skilled and putting away her doll babies (one of which is an animal/human hybrid?), you witnessed some suburban crime, we got to hang solid at the NTB, lentils (left at Mom's?), and Charlotte, too, has both beach and mountain access within a morning's drive...

W said...

and in trying to cutely play with syllables to match the words to the melody, I misspelt castle...

Mark and Marsha said...

Such a beautiful post -- visually and prose-wise. Pittsburgh is a beautiful city and when it's really cold outside it's all the more warm and cozy inside.

Rebecca said...

I daydream about moving somewhere with seasons. Winter seems so romantic from our palm tree-studded existence. And yet... each time I'm back home I find the constant rain draining, the cold a little too cold, and it upsets me. The solution I came up with was to stay here, where my husband needs to be for work anyway, and earn lots of money to afford trips to snowy places often. Still working on that last part, but *shrug* you gotta have goals in life.

Jennifer said...

You mention going to a Korean spa in Los Angeles, which one?

Rebecca said...

Jennifer- don't know which one Amelia goes to, but Wi and Olympic are my favourites. Wi for days with friends, and Olympic for alone with a book.

amelia said...

yes, have heard good things about Olympic! Though I usually go to Natura on Wilshire.

Jessica said...

I've been following Bon Appetempt for over a year and this has to be one of my favorite posts to date! You write how I feel. A truly moving, wonderful post.
-Jess

HAILEY said...

Amelia,
I LOVE the way you write. I've been an avid follower of this blog for almost two years now and I always get excited when you post. Although I have only commented a handful of times maybe, I just thought you should know what you're doing (the food, the writing, the pictures, the video, the life...) is good, and sharing it with us on the internet is even better. Thank you.

I grew up in Southern Oklahoma, went to school in Montana, moved to Colorado, then just came BACK to wintery Colorado after house sitting in Florida for six months. So, your timing is perfect and I couldn't relate more. My body is actually enjoying the sudden cold though. It's a shock to the system that I think sometimes we need.

Questions:
One) where can I buy Bon Appetempt paraphernalia? (I saw a t-shirt being screen printed on your first video.)
Two) When are you going to write a book? :)

Anonymous said...

I totally relate to this, I feel like I've been searching for a place that feels like home for much of my adult life. Thanks for sharing. Also, would love to hear more about the Chessperados.

Matthew said...

btw -- I'm haunted by the well-dressed, rabbit baby.

la domestique said...

It's funny to read your story, and I can definitely relate in sort of an opposite way. I grew up in the oppressive heat of the south, and now live in snowy Colorado. Going home is always a shock (temperature-wise and life-wise). That last photo is absolutely fantastic!

amelia said...

Hailey, thank you sooooo much for writing! To answer: 1. I have some tote bags here: http://www.etsy.com/listing/64216853/bon-appe-tote-in-magenta-orange-blue I'll try and update with shirts as soon as I can.
2. Great question. Perhaps I will have a post on this soon? :)

keepfeeling said...

i can really relate to this. i go back to houston where i grew up and get a crazy case of nostalgia, but i never get struck by the cold. it's more like getting struck by the absurd heat that starts to get my brain thinking about all kinds of things related to life, what it might be like if darryl and i bailed on LA, etc. etc. but then i come back to this magical place and get sucked back in (in the best way) and realize that i really have it pretty great.

great post, amelia! you really are a gifted writer. : )

Mary Anne said...

This was just plain soulful. Who needs a trip to Sweden and saunas when you can be nurtured with thoughtful, honest writing like this? Thank you for contributing to my own wellness tonight.

Anna @ The Littlest Anchovy said...

What a wonderful piece Amelia. Even though I have never been to the places you have just written about, I felt like I was there.

e'clair said...

I don't think I've ever commented before, yikes! But think I have been reading your blog for a few years now, so mea culpa.
I was moved to write because of what you wrote about whether some places are easier to live in than others. As an American who has lived in many places, I would definitely say some places are easier to live in, and often think about that - which is this post was so meaningful to me. I still haven't solved this particular riddle in life. (Also, these days I've been led to the writings of Gottfried Herder, who is like the grandpa of anthropology and comp lit.)
By calling some places easier, I do not mean to say that life elsewhere is without problems, rather, those problems will seem just as difficult relative to the smoother sailing. That said, one needn't pursue turbulence for the sake of it: we are all called to live our lives in the way that feels best for us. I really like the comment above (Mary Anne's) for this reason.
Your post has given me something to mull over - in giving me the "hot/cold" theme to consider. Thank you so much for that. I've already linked to your post in my most recent one (do tell me if you want me to remove it), but I may link back again if I come to any further understandings! :)
Thank you again.

Heather Taylor said...

LOVE

Anne Zimmerman said...

I adore this! Really, adore.

K said...

This post totally resonates with me.

I also found this: http://www.iamnotastalker.com/2011/01/06/the-my-so-called-life-house/

South Pasadena often pretends to be the east coast. It also has a great farmer's market.

Meister @ The Nervous Cook said...

What a beautiful and complicated reflection on a beautiful (in its way) and complicated place. "Home" just digs into a deep place inside us sometimes, we can shake it and we can't shake it all at the same time.

Stacy said...

These are lovely musings on home and change and complication and the heat and the cold...and life. Beautiful thoughts--thank you!

Tom Pugh said...

mmm.... I'm rather jealous of you at the moment.

I live in Tasmania, we are in the midst of our summer and I am very much a winter person. But if the chill is getting to you, I have recently made a discovery which may prove enjoyable/useful for you also.

http://lympuslife.blogspot.com/2012/01/london-fog.html

Bon Appetit!

- tom

Eggton said...

I remember that episode because I must have watched the end several times. She goes over the crest of the hill, doesn't she, and there's a shot from behind as she disappears, maybe? Maybe not. DAMN that show was good. I had the CD from it, too, at the time. It had Johanna Hatfield and Toad the Wet Sproket on it. Ah those were the days.

amelia said...

yes, exactly! The episode is called "Pressure" I think, and it's just absolutely brilliant. I could watch it a million times.

amelia said...

hahaha WOW. Now that I look at it, it does feel more South Pasadena than Pittsburgh...but maybe the photo just needs some snow? :)

Marnie G said...

The words and the pictures are clear, crisp and inviting. I wanted you to love being back in the Burgh, as I want all young, creative, inspiring folks to want to be here to raise their families and enhance our fair city. Beautiful piece with beautiful pictures--they made me smile and appreciate.

dulci said...

I like this post and your elephant scarf.

http://ladulcivida.blogspot.com

corinne said...

This is beautiful, Amelia. So honored to know you.

The Wimpy Vegetarian said...

I grew up in Pittsburgh, moved around the country with work for a decade or more, and ultimately settled into northern California. My parents are both gone now, and I haven't been back there for years. It was a great, great place to grow up - family oriented, culture, great ethnic food, safe (other than all that air pollution from the steel mills), and I miss the 4 seasons. But it's complicated, to be sure, in so many ways, and I'm firmly and happily rooted here now. Loved your photos that really captured the feel of Pittsburgh, and the memories you unearthed for me. Thanks!

Luisa said...

You and your brother are so cute! What a beautiful, melancholy post. I can so, so relate.

mari said...

I just want to say that this was a joy to read because I love a good come-full-circle story, how could Angela make her way back to your story? Bam, there she is all of a sudden going down a Los Angeles street instead. The mirage of everything, especially nostalgia and how making tough decisions is what moves life forward. Inspiring. AND, what is the best Korean spa? Are there any that you don't have to get totally naked?

laura k said...

I'm with you. I never understand why east coasters feel you need to suffer in order to fully appreciate something. Let me tell ya, I suffered through six years of Boston winters, and you know what I appreciate? Being back home in California where I don't have to do that anymore. Just yesterday I was walking to the market and found myself filled with elation for the beautiful, beautiful day, and the community of people buzzing around my neighborhood, and how fantastic California is, in general. No need for snow and sub-zero temperatures to make me realize that. :-)

amelia said...

THANK YOU all for these thoughtful, generous comments. You guys make the Internet a better place!!

amelia said...

Hi, Mari! Unfortunately, the Korean Spa and full nudity go hand in hand. Fortunately, it does get easier with each visit! :) :) I really like Natura on Wilshire but I hear the Olympic Spa is great too. all the best!

Vivier said...

Wow, Amelia , great portrait of what it's like to never have a "home" again once we move away from our families and hometowns. Bittersweet all the time. And that pic of you at the end is beautiful.

Ms.Nožisková said...

"Pittsburgh is cold and complicated." I love everything about this line. How it captures the underlying sentiment of your entire piece, but particularly it's placement - the way it's orphaned there. We walk with you down a path of re-connections, believing we're on a bridge that turns out to be a pier, there's a murky ocean of unknowns where there were supposed to be answers, and you so appropriately offer us a verbal shrug with nowhere else to go.

Also -- on a wholly different note -- the black bottom bunt cake? That looks ridiculously good.

ginny said...

ahhh. still miss the jimjilbang in Seoul. We used to walk over in the brutal cold and spend the entire day soaking/scrubbing. They even had a big room with ondol (in the floor heat) where you could relax in your jimjilbang pajamas. The co-ed areas aren't naked ;)

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Pittsburgh and return each Christmas to visit my family. I too fantasize about moving back and getting together with relatives each week for Sunday dinner. Alas, LA has been my (our)home for almost 20 years and while it's always great to come back to sunny LA from gray Pittsburgh in winter, I truly do miss it. It's a great city, beautiful, charming, modest and filled with warm people, even when it is frosty outside.

amelia said...

what a beautiful comment. thank you for writing! (p.s. go Steelers?)

amelia said...

thanks, Whitney. Love your take, as always.

Julie D. said...

This is a seriously great post. It hits all my nostalgia parts. I've not lived in my home state (Oregon) for over 11 years, and every time I go back I'm always looking for something that's just not there for me anymore. It bums me out a bit, but I also feel really grateful for the place I am now.

JENNIFER N said...

Wow, this is a great post. Thanks!

Beth said...

what a great post -- especially because mentioning my so-called life triggers all kinds of nostalgia for me.

what the weather folks call wintry mix is falling from the skies in austin today, and i've been complaining about it all morning. but reading about pittsburgh gave me some perspective; this is one of the probably four days of the year that things will be icy here. seems to me there's nothing wrong with finding a sunny place where life seems to flow a little more easily and sticking with it.

amelia said...

Thanks, Beth! And by the way, I've only heard the dreamiest things about Austin. Would love to visit and see for myself someday!

Chuck said...

Thanks for this thoughtful post and for the photos, especially the ones taken in and from your in-laws' loft. My wife and I are considering returning to Pittsburgh from Georgia when we retire in about 7 years, and that area from the Strip to Lawrenceville is very appealing. Looks like your in-laws probably live in the same block as the actor featured in this story:
http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/sectionfront/life/spirit-of-pittsburgh-620348/

maya said...

the last picture looks like a scene from a Wes Anderson film. so awesome!

amelia said...

LOVE Wes Anderson!! thanks, maya!

Laura said...

Hi,
Just came across this and I had never realized that yins were from Pittsburgh! I moved back to PGH last year after leaving for college, and staying away for a dozen or so years,so this post really resonated with me. Pittsburgh is SUCH a complicated place and the deicsions to stay away or to return are hard and complicated, but I guess I will just say, that if you ever decide to come back, it isn't that bad! (that is much easier for me say now that the polar vortex is months behind us!)
Thanks for sharing!