Sentimental Journey: Our visit back to St. Louis, MO, the Show-Me State
Nostalgia is old news. What does change is our attitude toward looking back. Reminiscing tends to get rosier, we discovered, when we went to St. Louis recently for a signing of Not Dead Yet at the Schlafly Library hosted by Left Bank Books. Here's a link to the talk, emceed by St. Louis Jewish Light's editor, Ellen Futterman. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWyUfGzmAaE
Getting on the plane to St. Louis got us out of our COVID bubble. For Barbara, it was the first time she had been on a plane in more than three years and revisiting St. Louis in six years after living there for 23 years. Margaret, who grew up in St. Louis and lived there most of her life, had jetted out to California at one point to see her daughter's new condo. She hadn't been back to St. Louis since she moved to New York City almost three years ago.
When the Uber left us at the Southwest gate at the overhauled now spiffy La Guardia airport, it looked as if there had never been a pandemic. We spotted hordes of people stepping from their cars, busses and shuttles, maskless and carrying suitcases with many wearing spongy neck pillows. Once inside, we went through the airport rigmarole logging in at a kiosk, checking our bags and going through security. On the half-full plane, few, except us, wore masks. Flying over the Heartland with its green flat fields, we both felt that tinge of nostalgia and feeling we were going "home" and to a place we each loved.
After we landed, we grabbed our bags and were shuttled to Budget Rent a Car where Barbara stood in a long line to get our car. As soon as we drove off the lot, we got lost, heading in the wrong direction as we so often do for we are directionally challenged. Thanks to the Waze navigation app on Barbara's phone, we got back on track and on the right road. All of a sudden, everything seemed familiar and endearing.
It was a dazzling sunny Spring day and the suburbs where we stayed bristled with unexpected beauty. Lawns with serpentine gardens were filled out with flowering bushes and wildly curving vines, parrot tulips were peeking up, multi-colored azaleas and rhododendrons, dogwoods and cherry trees were in their glory sprouting white, hot pink, lilac-hued and cotton candy blooms. Many yards have swimming pools or fountains; this is a city with suburbs that come alive with its long warm weather season and homeowners take full advantage.
During our three-day stint, good friends and family feted us. We went to our favorite shopping mall, restaurants and clubs where we saw some of the same wait staff and shopkeepers. A walk down certain streets was a stroll across dozens of years. We both stayed with Barbara's good friend, who was a friend of Margaret's, too, and who opened up her home and welcomed us with St. Louis Southern-influenced graciousness and charm. Her dog, now old, was happy to have additional company and especially Margaret who quickly bonded with her.
A huge part of this journey was the pleasure of girlfriend chatter, which we realized we had missed more than we thought and haven't experienced since COVID started. Our host and the two of us donned our PJs and robes and stayed up late each night munching on great jellybeans and chatting about life and our day's events, reminiscent of teenage sleepovers. We were up early to drink coffee and chatter more. We barely stopped and knew it was the best antidote, secondly only to our vaccinations.
Of course, we had to go by our old homes and neighborhoods. As visitors, no longer residents, we were seeing areas we took for granted when we lived there in an entirely new light. Barbara also visited her daughters' school with one of their favorite teachers and saw its wonderful new wings and classrooms filled with students. She wondered if they knew how lucky they are to attend such a fine institution.
The rhythms, sights and smells of the city are inimitable, a visceral biography of its cuisine, places of worship, museums wonderful botanic garden and other attractions. Despite its new architectural facelifts, the many teardowns and new construction (particularly with condos and bigger houses), St. Louis, we thought, remains the same slow, lovely, humid, stubborn place we remember. There are still many of the same restaurants, bookstores, galleries and boutiques, lofts, businesses, arts centers, music venues including our beloved St. Louis Symphony, soon to go through a renovation, theaters, sports arenas and more. At some of the restaurants and clubs, men wore blazers and suits and ties, another blast from the past we rarely see in New York City unless going to a club or fancy restaurant with a dress code.
In addition, St. Louisans/Missourians are still making wonderful beer, hand-crafted chocolates and colorful jellybeans, bread, pastries such as gooey butter cake, toasted ravioli, wine and its iconic ice-cream "concretes," which inspired native son Danny Meyer with his Shake Shack ice cream concoctions, now sold in the city, too, after starting in his adopted New York. These are our comfort foods and Margaret especially misses Basinger's for candy, Dierbergs for grocery shopping, one club's cheese bagels and some of the bakeries.
Barbara commented on how much she wanted to have a salad at one favorite spot, which dear friends provided at their home, and how she appreciated some of the specialty shops, including a wonderful store in the Clayton/Ladue suburban area that sells olive oils and vinegars and another where she bought her daughters their smocked dresses when young. Now, she was buying her first boys' clothing for her younger grandsons.
Yes, cities change. They must. We may mourn what they were or what they become. But in St. Louis, we found solace in the fact that it hadn't really changed that much, if not at all. So many of our friends are still there, and you can pick up where you left off. Of course, we've lost others to death, which breaks our hearts. Some have dropped us, not intentionally, but because many aren't good about keeping up. But overall, we are reminded that a good city-like a good idea or even good book-is always relevant and part of our hearts and that context, while important, isn't everything.
Sometimes, all we need is the opportunity to see something we knew before with a fresh set of eyes and greater appreciation. Maybe, it's not a revision we're seeking but it's actually heartening since we can go home again and find it pretty much the same. The best news is that we can't wait to go back and will, and sooner than later.
Recipe for our favorite cheese bagels (which we ran in a blog in 2018 titled, "A Simple Bagel with an Oh-So-Good Cheesy Twist")
Set oven to 350 degrees
Slice a plain bagel paper thin so you get about five slices for each bagel Grate a wedge of fresh parmesan cheese Melt 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
How to make them:
Put sliced bagels on a cookie sheet (crust side up if there is crust) Brush melted butter on one side Toast it in a preheated oven for 10 minutes Take it out, flip on the other side, brush melted butter on that side, and toast for another 8-10 minutes. Check periodically to make sure they don't over cook.
Take it out and generously pile on the grated parmesan Toast until the cheese is bubbling--for another 3 minutes. Be vigilant. Watch each bagel slice to make sure they don't burn. If you like a little brown crust, turn on the broiler for less than 30 seconds Imbibe while they're hot.
Of course, you can change it up. If you want to get creative, add garlic, a different kind of cheese, prosciutto and on and on. We opt for the original recipe. And if you serve them to guests, who undoubtedly will "ooh" and "ahh," and maybe even comment that they taste just like those cheese bagels made at a certain country club-- just smile and don't tell them how easy it was to do.