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Pittsburgh

October 21st, 2007

I love the old brick work, the soot-stained stone, the relics of a city built on heavy industry and old money. It is here that my parents met; she attended Chatham, an all-women’s college, and he was at Carnegie-Mellon. As she tells it, her friends cajoled her into attending a fraternity party–not the riotous, sports-loving kind of frat, but more the type which today builds $20,000 carbon fiber soapbox cars from scavenged research project parts to race around campus. At this party my dad made a big to-do about creating her name tag, utilizing art skills which would later take them Urbana-Champaign for his MFA, and the story where he spent their last few dollars on a roll of film for an art project. (left: the cathedral of learning, 42 stories of it)

It is also here where my younger sister Johanna, also attending Chatham, met her fiance Mark, who was studying at Carnegie-Mellon. Unlike the sixties, when my parents were here, the heavy industry has moved on. Trains and barges laden with coal still ply the riverways (there are three rivers), but the massive steel works have succumbed to upscale developments and tech firms. Still, in spite of the shift from blue collar, housing prices are ridiculously low–compared to Seattle. Somewhere in the 250’s for a view condo up on “the mountain,” a hill on the south side of town overlooking the rivers’ confluence and the downtown core. I’m not sure you could find a hovel in Seattle for that price, the land would be worth too much. I imagine Mark and Johanna, both gainfully employed, are likely to buy soon. (right: my mom outside her old dorm at Chatham)

The wedding is Sunday at the Phipps Conservatory followed by dinner at their favorite restaurant Soba (of which I know nothing about), while today–in classic form–was an extravaganza of family expeditions. What I find most entertaining, although at times stressful, is the contrast between the Storch timeliness and the Matsui tardiness. I’d like to think it’s our west coast laid-backedness, but really I think it’s just in our genetics. We’re not terribly prompt. (at right: Jess and Steelers stuff at the deli)

My youngest sister Jessica and I took a late morning walk to the Strip District; north of downtown it hosts wholesale vegetable vendors, meat warehouses, and the old Cork Factory which was recently transformed into upscale lofts. Across the river are the stadiums and, no surprise, in the Strip District there was no lack of Steelers paraphernalia. Hungry for a sandwich we were directed to Smallman Deli, ostensibly the best sandwiches in the neighborhood. Judging by the paucity of garnish, I think it was more an excuse to pack as much meat as possible between two slices of bread, but it was good enough. Just different. (at left: Smallman’s in the Strip District)

This, of course, pressed us for time and ratcheted up the anxiety but we managed to make it back out to Oakland where the folks were meeting the in-laws to check out a Chihuly installation. The younger Matsui’s, with friends in tow, went to Squirrel Hill, one of many neighborhoods tucked into the gently undulating landscape. Coming from the west I keep on expecting to crest a hill and find a sweeping panorama fringed by mountains or an expanse of water stretching to the horizon. But it’s a little flatter here; I was able to run up “the mountain” from the hotel to some of the most expensive view homes in the city, round trip, in 45 minutes. With time to enjoy the scenery. (at right: the old cork factory)

Dinner this evening was courtesy of the Storches; as the wedding party is small it was an intimate affair, just as Johanna and Mark want it for the entire weekend. Close, low-maintenance, a simple ceremony and a great meal. I like that. Dinner was held in the Grand Concourse which, in Pittsburgh fashion, is an old train station. (at left: Mark and Jess at dinner)

Tomorrow, before the wedding, I think I’ll see some more sights. I’ve enjoyed my wanderings, even if Pittsburgh is flat and full of rabid sports fans. Plus, I’m not needed, not even for photos. They hired a professional. Which is fine; even though my sister is telling me what to do (oh, sibling stubbornness), I’m going to enjoy simply watching. (at right: downtown from the southside).

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