I haven’t posted in several days, partly because my brother was in town for the Memorial Day weekend and partly because I’ve been out being a tourist. One day I tried doing this on public transport, as I’m a firm believer in the stuff, but while the MetroLink train – a fairly new light train system – was very good and shot me from west to east in no time, the buses were a bit crap. I had very long waits – I gave up once and walked the two miles I wanted to go – and the sad fact is that in this town (unlike New York for instance) bus travel seems to be exclusively for the impoverished or the slightly deranged. In my khaki shorts and pink polo shirt I looked and felt desperately out of place. Fellow travellers looked at me oddly, thinking perhaps that I must have been caught Driving Under the Influence and banned from driving; though one man tried to engage me in a conversation about some recent shootings-cum-killings and I really didn’t want to get into that on a crowded bus.
Sad to say that most of the impoverished are black. Indeed the only army recruiting office I have seen so far has been in a neighbourhood best described as poor and predominately African-American. Ugh.
This is not The South though. Indeed, without getting into a history lesson, Saint Louis has played a massive and pivotal role in the advancement of Civil Rights.
What have I seen? A quick rundown:
The Arch, Saint Louis’ most famous landmark. Built in the 1960’s it’s America’s tallest monument at over 600 feet and very impressive it is too, bang next to the slightly flooded Mississippi. There’s a lift-tram thing that takes you up the inside but we ran out of time to do that. Just as well as I suffer from vertigo and I think I would have been in several kinds of torture at the top. We did watch a fascinating old documentary on the building of the Arch and the aerial views of steeplejack floating around on girders hundreds of feet above the ground were enough to give me the heeby-geebies. Try and work out how to erect an enormous arch built out of stainless steel and your mind quickly boggles. The way they did it was extraordinary and too long to detail here. No wonder it took well over two years to build.
The Art Museum is really excellent and FREE! As is, wait for it… the zoo! I haven’t been to the zoo, but when was the last time you saw a free zoo? Free entry is guaranteed by statute, which is a very civilised thing. Both are sited in Forest Park which is simply enormous; bigger than New York’s Central Park, and the site of the World’s Fair of 1904. The Art Museum’s collection is not especially spectacular but there are some lovely things in it, especially the German Expressionists.
Also in the park is the Missouri History Museum, also free, and worth visiting especially for its exhibitions on the World’s Fair and on Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly the Atlantic in 1927 in the Spirit of St Louis. I had no idea that he became an environmental campaigner in the 1960s. The size of the World’s Fair was and is truly extraordinary. The Art Museum and a smallish pavilion are the only two buildings remaining from the Fair. All the rest were built out of timber and covered in a sort of plaster which gave them the appearance of massive, classical pavilions complete with columns and domes. Disneyland is small by comparison. They held the Olympics here in the same year but it was little more than a side show.
The Cathedral is really quite new but built on very traditional Romanesque lines with mosaic covered domes. It’s impressive but oddly un-enthralling. Well, to me at least. Perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood after a long and fruitless wait for a bus to get there.
The bus I eventually caught from the Cathedral to Downtown dropped me near Union Station, once one of the busiest train stations in the country. Now it’s a hotel and shopping mall and really rather shit. Trains now leave from a characterless shed a few blocks away. The demise of railway travel is one of the saddest things in this country and every attempt to reverse the decline seems to hit the buffers. We’re taking the train from here to Chicago in a few weeks’ time. Might as well while we still can.
Downtown near Union Station is bleak and grim but just a few blocks north and the city is hip and lively. Saint Louis is a beer town, thanks largely to its German immigrant roots. There used to be several big breweries in town, most of which were sucked into the Anheuser-Busch empire. They are the people who make the unspeakable gnat’s piss called Budweiser, and who are now owned by Belgians. In the last twenty-odd years several small breweries have emerged to satisfy the thirst of people who want proper beer, pre-eminent among which is Schlafly. And by golly their beer is good. We went to their Tap Room, a bar-cum-restaurant in their downtown brewery, ate really well and drank a black beer and an American Pale Ale which were knockouts. The APA is strong, about 6%, and has an extraordinary aroma of caramelised orange peel. I ate a big dish of mussels with salsa verde and fries and was a very happy camper.
Not so far away is Pappy’s Smokehouse, a good old-fashioned barbecue joint that closes when it runs out of food. The first day we tried it was the day after the Memorial Day holiday. We got there at 5.30 and they had already run out of what we were after, their spare-ribs. We made do with brisket and some turkey. We went back the next day at about 4 and secured a half rack each. They were very good but, I have to say, not as good as the sample I got from Bogart’s in Soulard, despite having the same executive chef. Bogart’s is only open at lunch from Tuesday to Saturday so there’s no two ways about it; lunch it will have to be.