Tuesday, October 05, 2010

“Vas you effer in Zinzinnati?”: The 2010 Remix

dla-ein-prositI know, I know: “Yo, Mister Black Hat Dude, where's the party?” Well, gentle reader, it will take a while to explain.

You've got a while, right?

If you draw a line from Cincinnati to Saint Louis, then from there to Milwaukee, then back to Cincinnati again, you will encompass what historians call “The German Triangle.” Indeed, Germany was the most reported country of origin in said region, and most of them were Catholic. It is in and around these confines, that the parish Oktoberfest is as American as baseball and apple pie. So this year, our gal Sal was treated to yet another slice of Americana, as yours truly returned after a long absence, to the annual celebration of his hometown parish.

But first, let us build the suspense to a frenzy, as we go through the preliminaries, shall we?


We arrived at my brother Kevin's house on Friday evening. He and his wife "Karen" (no, I'm not using her real name either) have three boys. The oldest one was married about a year ago, and the second one is away at college, leaving the youngest one home as a junior in high school. With a nearly empty nest, there were two rooms available for Sal and me. She was initially a bit reticent -- I spoke to her friend while she was on the phone with her: "You gotta call her early and often, Emmy. She's alone here in a sea of white people." -- but they quickly put her at ease, and she felt right at home.


... was Sal's first jaunt in downtown Cincinnati. Our first stop was Findlay Market, the oldest continuous farmer's market in Ohio. It's located in the upper part of downtown known as “Over-The-Rhine.” In the nineteenth century, the German immigrants settled to the north of the canal that ran across the city center, what is now Central Parkway. That's how it got it's name. Of course, it's now a major avenue, which is how it was easier to cross as we ventured further south to the city's heart. We visited Fountain Square, where I captivated her with my knowledge of the city's history, and the story of the Tyler-Davidson Fountain. That's when she was thrilled to discover there was a Tiffany's across the street.

Not even I can compete with that.

But I managed to stall her from heading towards it. Just diagonal to the Square, also across from Tiffany's, was the Carew Tower, Cincinnati's tallest building. At its base is the historic Netherland Plaza Hotel, where most of the guests to last year's wedding stayed. I led her into its magnificent Art Deco interior, and treated her to a glass of Merlot at the bar. (I had iced tea. Hey, I'm driving.) From there we went to the other end of the hotel lobby, overlooking the indoor shopping arcade below, also beautifully restored. Then she spotted a TJMaxx, yet another distraction. So after looking for the perfect pair of shoes, we finally made it to Tiffany's, where a girl can dream ...

cincydancingpigs@arnold'sAh, but the best was yet to come.

The evening took us to Arnold's Bar and Grill, Cincinnati's oldest tavern, first opened in 1861. As I worked on a New York Strip, and Sal enjoyed the Meat Lasagna, we thrilled to the sounds of The Cincinnati Dancing Pigs. (“Dance and dine with ye syncopated swine!”) It is difficult to put into words the experience that is the Pigs. It is best to experience them for oneself, as folks in the Queen City have done for nearly forty years. I knew three of the members from my coffeehouse days in the 1970s, so we all had a reunion during the break. Their repertoire of jug band music and early jazz is quite impressive, and we exchanged contact information about mutual friends, some of whom I hadn't seen in years.

You gotta hand it to Facebook for reconnecting people.


Just over to the fabled West Side, in a run down section once populated by Germans, then Italians, now half-boarded up, is Sacred Heart Church. Here a weekly Traditional Latin Mass has been celebrated for years, at the relatively convenient time of 11:30 am. If the breakaway sects hadn't such a foothold in the city -- SSPX, SSPV, various sedevacantists based uptown -- there would have been more than the 120 or so who attended. I checked into the sacristy and offered my services as an acolyte. As only one of their regular servers had arrived in time, they appeared to be in need of me. So I served Mass that day, like always.

After that, it was on to the Oktoberfest. The sign at the Miami Boat Club in the little town of Miamiville said "Private. Members Only." Sal was worried that I'd be trespassing. "Oh, don't worry, we're already members for a day." For this is where my parish has had their Oktoberfest for the past ten or fifteen years.

pig@oktoberfestWe got there at two in the afternoon, as the first keg was being tapped. Sal wondered how she would ever fit in. That's when she spotted it at the far end of the site. Back in The Philippines, they roast a whole pig on a giant spit -- a lechon, they call it -- and once again she felt right at home. The fine folks at Milford's own Lehr's Meats have been supplying this treat to the festivities for years. We promised to send them a special Filipino sauce recipe.

The beer was great. We shared a waltz. Sal took some incriminating pictures of me doing the Chicken Dance with a bunch of little kids. But after a couple of hours, we left to visit Mom and Dad.

The last thing I heard from Mom was: "Don't worry, we're not going anywhere." I got there to see Mom getting ready to take Dad in the wheelchair, load him into the conversion van, and take him to the Oktoberfest in what time they had left. "We got tired of waiting for you, David." Like I'm supposed to tell when she gets a burr in her saddle, right? At 78, with arthritis and several joint replacements, she's in no position to do any of this without help. That doesn't stop her. So Sal and I gave her a hand. She had a pretty good head of steam on her by that time, but it was 1) nothing I didn't hear as a kid, 2) nothing I wasn't used to hearing on the phone (occasionally), and 3) nothing I couldn't handle. Really.

We followed them (back) to the festivities. I led Dad in his wheelchair, while Sal took Mom in hers. We parked them right in the middle of the place, their wheelchairs together facing opposite directions, and just let everyone come to them. They feasted on bratwurst and freshly-cooked kettle chips, and caught up with old friends.

Personally, I was gratified for a number of reasons. It gave me an opportunity to appreciate the effort my brother and two sisters make toward Mom and Dad's quality of life, to ensure that they can live out their days in their own home. It gave Sal the chance to show how she too could fit into the family, which was a remarkable transformation in such a short time. To witness Cincinnati for the friendly town it really is (which is another story for another day), and to see her gradually wish she could stay for the whole trip, rather than fly home early.

All in all, not a bad weekend.


Square With Flair said...

So I'm assuming that most of these Germans in the "triangle" were Bavarian? Although I am not especially devout, I am proud of my Catholic heritage, and when visiting in Munich, it is comforting to be in an atmosphere that is so heavily and historically Catholic. One feels at home and not as if it is necessary, out of political correctness, to hide one's faith and heritage.

If you've never been, Oberammergau is a Catholic dream come true...as aesthetically beautiful religous art and architecture as you can imagine. I have treasured religious carvings from there in my home.

David L Alexander said...


Thanks for writing. Bavaria had a particularly high concentration of Catholics relative to Germany, so I would imagine you are correct. And speaking of the German Triangle, we'll have more episodes of our travels in the heart of it soon. Stay tuned, and stay in touch.