This is my idea of a good trip. The biggest factor in that is that I'm not here to work; Lucy is. It isn't that often that I'm free for the duration of one of her jobs, or vice versa, and more often than not we'll spend weeks thousands of miles apart. I could have stayed in England, watering the garden, being a Saddo and pottering about at home, but it seemed infinitely more sensible to come to St Louis and have, you know, a married life.
Lucy is singing three cameo roles in John Adam's "The Death of Klinghoffer" for the Opera Theatre so it's not as if she should be rehearsing a great deal, nor does she have the pressure of a major role to worry about. Unlike most companies the Opera Theatre doesn't work downtown but out on a university campus to the west of the city. They perform four operas, all in English, over about a month and that's it for the season.
The other thing that makes this a good trip is that I get to explore a new city. So far I'm liking St Louis a lot. And by the way, for those of you who think it's pronounced Saint Looey, it isn't. It's Saint Looiss. Despite the song from the movie.
And talking about the movie, let me tell you a little about our digs. The fees are not generous here. Not by any means. But there are willing hosts who will put you up rent-free for the duration, and that makes a substantial difference to the take-home pay. Now normally I would run a mile from such an arrangement. I like my privacy. But first off, this isn't my call (not my job) and secondly, on this occasion the toast has landed butter side up.
If you have seen "Meet Me In St Louis" you'll remember that Judy Garland's family lives in a sizeable Victorian villa in a leafy suburb. And so it is with our hosts. This makes them sound grand but far from it. Nor are they intrusive in the slightest and, more remarkably, they seem more than happy for us to potter about the house as if it were our own. We are more restrained than that, but any day now we'll take advantage of the swimming pool and hot tub knowing that they'll be very pleased we have. We have a huge bedroom and our bathroom is, I think, as old as the house. It is panelled with marble and has a massive claw-foot bath. So, all-in-all not bad.
Since we've been here we haven't watched one second of television. In America that is absolutely extraordinary. I've been in houses where the TV is on pretty-well all day, jabbering in the background. There is one in the house but I haven't seen it yet. Best of all, even if the TV were on I'm very sure it would never be tuned to Fox News.
So, so far so very good. There's a singular absence of anything to moan about or which could lead me into a state of scornful apoplexy. I'm typing this - and I'd look a right poseur if I were the only one doing so - while sitting outside a thoroughly lovely coffee shop in The Hill, a sort of Little Italy. The coffee shop used to be a bank and while it is sad that this clearly used to be a neighbourhood with a main street of bakers, butchers and greengrocers, it still has maintained a cultural identity that is charming and interesting. There's a wonderful deli next door and nearly every corner has a tempting Italian-American eatery that makes Manhattan's Little Italy look corny and fake. I'm enraptured.
To get here I walked through a couple of miles of old suburbia. Neighbourhoods change dramatically from block to block and occasionally I felt very conspicuous by my Anglo Saxonism. But, without wishing to sound preachy, the world might be a happier place if we all learned to walk through each other's neighbourhoods and care a little less about our cultural and ethnic differences.