Impromptus

Syracuse Journal

The airport here is undergoing some serious renovation. It ought to be spiffy when it’s finished. It better be — costs a lot, of course. What’s the airport called, by the way? “Hancock International.”

John Hancock, with the distinctive signature? No — Clarence E. Hancock, a congressman from 1927 to 1947. (His father, Theodore E. Hancock, had been attorney general of the state.)

“International”? Sure — the airport has flights to and from our great neighbor to the north, Canada.

• Behold one of the eateries here in the airport:

I remember a friend of mine, who loved the medieval period. She was aghast that people used the word “medieval” to mean “primitive” or “barbaric.” Laughingly, she quoted toughs in the ghetto who would say, “I’m about to go medieval on yo’ a**.”

• I’ve come to Syracuse to attend the New York State Fair. I’m going to write about it, and state fairs in general. I won’t get into this now, but just so you know . . .

The New York State Fair is the oldest state fair in the country. It began in 1841, right here in Syracuse. Among the activities was a plowing contest. For the next 50 years or so, the state fair moved around — to Elmira, Poughkeepsie, and many other places, including New York City. The fair was open every year during the Civil War. In 1890, the fair settled in Syracuse, permanently.

• We better have a word about pronunciation: Here, they say “Sare-acuse.” Not “Seer-acuse.” Back in the Midwest, I know a lot of people who say “Ellinois,” rather than “Illinois.” Also, we drink vanella shakes, made from whole melk.

Just so you know . . .

• Also, Syracuse is known, fondly, as “the ’Cuse.”

• Here’s kind of a nice slogan:

Yes, do your thing (and let’s hope it’s good).

• A very interesting sentiment, a very interesting notion:

• All over downtown Syracuse there are these flower pots, really lovely things:

• There is a lot of orange, here in Syracuse: orange shirts, orange hats. It’s the home of Syracuse University, whose sports teams are known as the Orangemen.

Behold a little street:

• The king of Syracuse, I would guess, is Jim Boeheim, the coach of the basketball team — and one of the most successful coaches in the history of the game. He has been on the Syracuse campus since he enrolled as a student in 1962. Imagine that.

I hear stories about Boeheim, all of them positive.

• Hang on, Syracuse as “Salt City”? I spend part of every summer in Salzburg, Austria — now there’s a salt city (in its very name). But Syracuse? Yep — I look it up: a salt capital before the Civil War.

Check out this mural:

• Someone tells me, “Just go through the breezeway” — I love that word, which I learned as a child, in Michigan. “1. a porch or roofed passageway open on the sides, for connecting two buildings, as a house and a garage.”

• This monument says “For Valor,” as you can see. Underneath, it says, “So long as this rock endures, let Syracuse remember and revere these gallant dead who gave to duty the last measure of devotion.”

Erected by the city “in memory of these heroes who lost their lives in the Collins Block Fire on February 3, 1939.”

• Want to see a beautiful building?

• This tribute was fashioned in 1934. It thanks the Onondaga Indians for the help they rendered sick pioneers in the 1790s. Rather moving.

• In the distance — far away — I see the tell-tale sign: the giant cowboy hat. And I say, “You’re not gonna get a jamocha shake. It’s 10:30 in the morning. You’ve had breakfast and you’re gonna have lunch. You’re not gonna get a jamocha shake, you’re not gonna get a jamocha shake.”

As I get nearer, that changes to, “You’re not gonna get a large. You’re not gonna get a large.” And I don’t, either.

• The cashier is a woman — younger than I — who tells me, “You’re all set, honey.” That’s the second time I’ve been honey-ed today. I like it.

• A little bit of language? More language? At the entrance of the state fair, a man says, “Show your barcode and you’ll get in quicker. Or I should say, ‘more quickly.’” Nope, the first way is perfect English as well. “Quick” is an adverb, as well as an adjective.

• The heart of Syracuse is Clinton Square, I gather. It is beautiful, stately, elegant — even glamorous. There is a Civil War memorial, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument: To the Brave Sons of Onondaga Who Served Their Country on Land and Sea That the Union Might Be Preserved and the Constitution Maintained.

Yes. Thank you.

• How ’bout this beauty, from 1875? Can they still build ’em like that? If they wanted to, would they know how? (I should say “we.”)

• And how ’bout this beauty, from 1867? (In those days, Erie and Oswego boulevards were canals.)

• This is a little different — Art Deco, from 1936. Teeth of the Great Depression. Hasn’t held up well, IMHO.

• Earlier, I passed the Saxenian Rug Company. But obviously, Armenian Americans excel in other businesses too, to wit:

• A youth and his horse — and so it once was:

• This was once the Wesleyan Methodist Church, a stop on the Underground Railroad. It is now a restaurant. Attractive, right?

• At the top, you read, Open Ye the Portals of Righteousness. I Will Enter and Praise God. The synagogue — Temple Adath Yeshurun — is now a hotel. May I tell you something, blunt? I detest the conversion of houses of worship into secular places. The sight of such a place is an offense to me. Honestly, I would rather see them razed.

I told you it would be blunt . . .

• On Saturday, late in the morning, I have a walk downtown. So many beautiful places. There’s no one but me and assorted vagrants. Most of them squint, glower, and smoke. Almost all of them have smartphones. There is everything but tumbleweed here.

Some neighborhoods in the city are now dilapidated, but you can tell that they were once something — handsome and prosperous.

The sight of Syracuse is a bit sad to me — because Syracuse seems like a city that was, rather than a city that is. I am familiar with such cities. We have a lot of them in my native Midwest. What can you do?

That is the subject of papers and books and prayers . . .

• I go into a convenience store, attached to a gas station. There is only one employee — a kid behind the register. He looks startlingly young. I say, “Are you old enough to be working? Aren’t there child-labor laws?” He asks me to guess how old he is. Not wanting to be specific, I hazard, “High school?” Yes, he says. He’s 15.

He is of South Asian background, and he speaks with an accent — so he’s an immigrant. His father owns the store. The kid will go back to school in a few days. He’s been working all summer.

That is classically, wonderfully American. Gives me hope.

• I have lunch with my friend Don Murphy — a Syracuse institution, you might say. He represents classic, true-blue (or true-orange) Syracuse. Bob Hope used to appear at the New York State Fair — Don served as his driver. He also did a sound check once for Helen Traubel, the great soprano. His daughter-in-law is another great soprano, though not a Wagnerian, like Traubel: She is Heidi Grant Murphy. (Actually, she handles the Woodbird in Siegfried!)

Don and I have lunch at Shaughnessy’s pub in the old Hotel Syracuse. The hotel is now a Marriott, and restored to splendor. It is really a splendid place, right out of the movies. If you set a movie in the 1920s, let’s say, it would be perfect. Shaughnessy’s is pretty splendid too. The floor is a basketball court — or rather, a former basketball court.

The Syracuse Nationals played from 1946 to 1963. For most of those years, they played at the Onondaga County War Memorial. Then the Nats became the Philadelphia ’76ers. The floor they played on? It’s now the floor of Shaughnessy’s. And the pub is stuffed with Nat memorabilia.

• I’d like to linger — but it’s back to Hancock International Airport. I look forward to my next visit to Syracuse, whenever it may be. Loves me some ’Cuse. Thanks for coming with me, ladies and gents, and see you later.

 

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