Sunday, May 31, 2009

Margin Notes: Scenter, Urban Decay, McCrepes

A sign at Yankee Candle in South Deerfield, Massachusetts declared itself the "Scenter of the Universe" on 31 May 2009

WARE, MASSACHUSETTS - Those familiar with Massachusetts' state capitol, Boston, know that it thinks of itself as the "Hub of the Universe," inspiring creative derision from the rest of the world. One of the better plays on that title was noted today at the Yankee Candle store in South Deerfield, Massachusetts. While "Scenter of the Universe" refers to the scented candles sold inside, the one-letter difference from "center" is hard to miss.

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The other sign outside Yankee Candle touts its Christmas store, and indeed I was impressed with the international Christmas traditions represented in the store. My favorite from visiting German holiday markets, Rauchermen or dolls that burn incense and appear to be smoking a pipe, were prominently featured, as well as a few things I hadn't heard of before. The best of these was the glass pickle ornament--with its green color, it is hard to find in a tree and thus the person who found it first in the morning would get a special gift. Apparently, this tradition died out early in the 20th century.

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Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited passed an old mill building in Worcester, Massachusetts that had been re-occupied sometime in the five years before 30 May 2009

I was concerned yesterday that I was going to find the city of Worcester, Massachusetts to look like it had died out early in the 20th century, as it had been showing signs of serious urban decay when I had last visited in 2004. I found a mixed bag; downtown looked terrible in many places, including the former Common Outlet mall that apparently closed in 2006 and now had only its parking lot in use. However, Union Station looked as good as ever since its 1999 rehabilitation and now featured the bus station as well as train service, and a western neighborhood that was starting to feel unsafe five years ago had actually been revitalized with new businesses.

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Rain started to fall on the Cultural Survival Bazaar in Amherst, Massachusetts on 31 May 2009

Unquestionably impressive was the Cultural Survival Bazaar held this weekend in Amherst, Massachusetts. The bazaars are held to fund programs to maintain the cultures of indigenous people around the world and feature very interesting crafts for sale from four continents. I really appreciated the Senegalese food I had for lunch and some of the stories told on stage by local Native Americans.

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I should have known better than to think that I would have a cultural experience with food at the McDonald's in Montreal, Quebec's Central Station on Friday morning. With little time during my layover, I decided to head for McDonald's, wondering if there would be a different menu in Quebec and became excited when I saw "McCrepes" listed. Thinking it would be something approaching the crepes sold on the street in Paris, I ordered one. Of course, it was an item right off the American menu--McGriddles (which I have never liked) are called McCrepes in Quebec.

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What exactly did this bumper sticker mean, found on a car in Northampton, Massachusetts on 31 May 2009?

The college town of Northampton, Massachusetts is always a cultural experience, yet sometimes not an easy one to explain. Progressive bumper stickers are expected, but there was at least one I didn't understand. What exactly is "Eat a Pizza with Satan" supposed to mean?

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