Bread and Circus

by Kate

A few days ago my brother Rob and his lovely bride Nicole set off from the green ridges of Wisconsin to visit the sooty city of Steubenville, Ohio where they went to college, played basketball, and fell in love. Yesterday they came in to spend Sunday in the city. It was a spectacular September afternoon- bright blue sky, warm breeze, leaves just beginning to turn.

After mass at the Pittsburgh Oratory we set off to explore the Oakland neighborhood. Olympia particularly enjoyed her perch on Rob’s shoulders. She kept flinging her arms open to embrace the wind.

We were joined by Nicole’s friends Maura and Paul. I was totally jealous of Maura’s outfit, which I am pretty certain would have looked hideous on me and perhaps also on every other woman that I know. But on Maura the dress worked perfectly.



Our first stop was the Carnegie Library Main Branch, which is in my opinion one of the best places in Pittsburgh to spend a Sunday afternoon. The architecture is beautiful, baroque and marble and full of intricate detail. Here is a glancing shot of the ceiling of the marble staircase which reminded Rob of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC.

Every Sunday there is live music or dance in the Silent Reading Room at the Carnegie Library. This Sunday there were a group of Indian Bhangra dancers from Carnegie Mellon. We have been watching a lot of bhangra on youtube in our home lately, so Olympia was thrilled.


We tramped up and down staircases and in and out of the stacks and made our way out of the library on the other side, near the entrance to the Carnegie Natural History and Art Museums. I rarely visit this calm and contemplative space, but always vow to do so more often. I find it a particularly restful sort of beautiful.

After tearing Olympia away from her headlong rush towards the fountain, we wound around the library building, skirting the deep ravine where an entire power station rumbles and hisses and emits billowing plumes of steam. Rob pointed to a peeling tower reaching high into the sky on top of the ravine and said “Hey look, there’s guys up there painting it!”

The painters were taking a break- and giving us a peace sign, which I would never have known without the zoom feature on my camera.

Coming back around the library, we wandered into a group of people in front of the Carnegie Main Library setting up tightropes between the trees as vintage circus music played softly in the background. Drawing closer, we discovered that the tightropes were actually slacklines- AND that you are allowed to get up and try them.

Rob immediately pulled off his boots and leapt on.

To the surprise of the slackrope organizers, he made it all the way across after about a minute. They asked if he had any experience, and he said no, he’s just from the country. Then he gracefully dismounted and started to juggle three balls high in the air. Of course this meant that I had to attempt the slackline- disregarding the fact that I was still wearing my Sunday church dress.

It took me three minutes to make it across. I did pull of some interesting unintentional arabesques though. Meanwhile, Olympia grabbed two golden hoops and began dancing with them.

I looked around at my brother and my daughter and realized I didn’t need to run away and join the circus. I already grew up in one. I am pretty sure Olympia will, too.

After our brief stint as circus performers, we headed across the green, past a live jazz concert, to find “Pittsburgh food” to eat, at Rob’s request. This meant that we soon ended up at Primanti Brothers.

The restaurants, located only in the Pittsburgh area, also offer an authentic coating of grease and grime and lots of beer on tap. As for food, it’s all about that Primanti Chees Steak “No.2 Best Seller”

The Pittsburgh Cheesesteak is  a massive stacked sandwich consisting of thick Italian bread…

and cheese, steak, tomato, coleslaw, and french fries….

prepared as you watch on the open grill.

It is a pretty spectacular sandwich.

Plus, there is an unlimited amount of hot sauce to pour on it.

 It might be a tiny bit awkward to actually fit the thing in your mouth….

but Nicole looks just like the painting on the wall, which must mean she was doing it right.

After we finished our massive sandwiches, we headed back across the green campus towards our car. Thankfully it was a long walk, because we needed it.

It was a beautiful afternoon in the city. Bread and circuses and water towers- those Romans knew what they were doing with city living, didn’t they?

What did you do with your weekend?

5 thoughts on “Bread and Circus

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