Unlike my two middle sisters, I am not a runner. They both glory in pounding the pavement of the rough ridge roads, spinning gravel and leaping across the ridge leaving a trail of dust in their wake while breathing far more easily than should be possible and catching up on all the latest ridge gossip in a breathy chat back and forth as the wind whips by. I have always preferred to take it more slowly, and am a huge fan of the walk. I love the idea that I am setting out on a meandering adventure with a whole world to discover. I will admit that as a home schooled teenager reading Tolkein, this did sometimes involve wearing a cape and setting out with some sort of walking stick and a bag of bread and cheese. Passing farmers shook their heads and my brothers begged me to stop pretending that I was in Narnia, or Middle Earth, or Ireland and to please remember that I was firmly located on a ridgetop in dairy country in a solidly German settlement in Middle Ridge, Wisconsin.
Now I am living halfway up a ridge in the midst of a solidly Polish block in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, and I love walking through the city. City walking offers not only scope for the imagination, but the practical benefit of running errands while walking. I have left my cloak far behind (in fact it is located in the dress up bin at my parents farm) and exchanged it for a new accessory- my 20 lb baby slung in a sling.
That sling has been the most amazing child rearing tool in the world, making it possible for me to hang laundry, make breakfast, nurse the baby on the go, and accomplish innumerable things while walking about the city. I fear the day when I must succumb to the stroller. I am so not a stroller person, and can’t figure out how to become one. We have a big, beautiful, capacious stroller that has the storage space to provision a team hiking the Appalachian Trail for a month. Last year I hauled it out of the basement to take it to the farmers market so I could use it to purchase and transport a bushel of apples. I was wearing the baby in the sling, and as I twisted to lock the front door I accidentally let go of the stroller which hurtled down our steep set of stone steps and flipped end over end before settling on the sidewalk in front of the street full of horrified rush hour commuters in cars. I waved at them, pointing at the baby who was safe on my body, and contemplated the fact that I really shouldn’t use the stroller to transport a living creature until I was a bit better at it.
Let us continue on our walk, with no stroller in sight. I live across from Arsenal Park, a fact which delighted my sister Clare when she visited last year. Her class had just been studying the role of the Pittsburgh Arsenal in the Civil War.
I fully intend to learn more about the Arsenal and the great explosion there, and to share it with you. In the meantime, you can learn more at the Carnegie Street House Restoration blog which has some great pictures of the historical Arsenal. These days the old Arsenal spot is a park with soccer fields, play sets teeming with children, and a baseball diamond. Looking across the partk you can see the spires of St. Augustine’s Church, a beautiful red brick German edifice.
The red brick church and ball diamond soothe me and remind me of home every day, since I grew up on a ridge across from the red brick St. Peter’s church with a baseball diamond on our side of the road. Granted, the basketball courts here are flat and even. My brothers played and still play on the bottom of a hillside, with the ball bouncing crazily down into the pasture regularly.
Onward and up the hill! Just around the corner is the Carnegie Library of Lawrenceville.
This library opened with great fanfare in May, 1898, as the first branch of the Pittsburgh Carnegie Library system. It narrowly averted being closed last year due to severe budget shortfall. The residents of Lawrenceville fought hard to keep the library. It is an incredibly beautiful building, rich with history. There are soaring high ceilings, marble floors, decorative iron curlicues on the stacks. There is also an amazing children’s room.
We spend a lot of time here. In fact, Olympia is convinced that she is actually the Library Assistant.
Maybe Olympia could help (un)shelve something for you?
Oh dear. This is tiring. Time for a rest.
Moving along away from the libary and up the hill, we leave behind the Polish people of Lawrenceville and enter the gloriously Italian neighborhood of Bloomfield. This is where I holy cards, pasta, coffee beans, and homemade doughnuts. Well, no doughnuts during Lent, but it is still a great adventure. Casey is a religion teacher, and now and then for some reason he needs holy cards, a holy water font, or an obscure book of some sort. Luckily, I can pop into the Sacred Heart of Jesus store where there is always a pot of coffee and a heap of religious items to face any conceivable needs.
I always enjoy talking to the two sweet and surprisingly energetic ladies who run this store. I was surprised to learn that one of them was a bellydancer in her youth, before she became a nun. She makes undulating hand movements at Olympia and Olympia dances back while I browse through the holy cards.
There are heaps of obscure and useful books in the Sacred Heart of Jesus store.
They are musty and beautiful and besides inspiring me to step up my Spiritual Life, they remind me of the fact that Ikea and Anthropologie keep sending me catalogs full of stacks and stacks of hardcover books. They also remind me that we badly more bookcases at home. The nuns are not particularly orderly bookkeepers, but they have my current system beat.
Onwards to Donatelli’s, the little Italian grocery where I buy my anchovies, my pasta, and my coffee beans.
I always have a strange desire to buy the dried fish, but have no idea what to do with it. The little old Italian lady with the black kerchief, camel coat, and white tennis shes does, though.
They have the cheapest and some of the best bulk coffee in town tucked in the tight aisles. After procuring my groceries, it is time to head down the hill and back home. I like to explore the allies, many of which are still cobblestoned. They have beautiful names. Here is one of my current favorites:
Bowery Way! These street names always conjure up visions of romance for me, especially as everything begins to blossom. I love finding bits of wildness in the midst of the city and cobblestoned history in the midst of the present. I also love that the dramatic ridges of my neighborhood remind me of the ridges of my Wisconsin home.
And so, down the hill with my bag full of coffee and sling full of baby, I reach my front door and my adventure is over for the morning. Thank you for virtually coming along on this walk with me. Until next time,