As well as being the location for the Boxing Hall of Fame, Canastota (Pop: 4,600) was also the location for the Biograph Company, active between 1895 and 1916, the first company devoted to film production and projection in the USA. I am constantly surprised at the way in which small out-of-the-way places like Canastota have made a contribution influencing our lives so many years later.
We were following the Erie Canal for only a short while today. As we have worked our way east, the standard of maintenance of the canal has dropped as the original has been by-passed by a larger replacement. At times, it looks like the Cromford Canal, clogged with weed or fallen trees, or covered in green algae, a sorry sight:
What we have seen very little of is actual boats travelling along the canal, even when wide and navigable. When we were following the Canal du Midi in France to train for this trip, there was a constant flow of pleasure cruises hired out by holiday companies in the same way you can hire a barge in the UK. The future of the Erie Canal would be better secured if only someone with similar initiative would do the same, with consequent benefit to towns and businesses along the course of the canal.
When we left the canal, we passed mile after mile of large houses, testifying to the wealth of this part of New York. These dwellings were not part of a town, just an urban sprawl. It’s a shame that the state has been allowed to be spoilt like this, in my opinion. This is a typical example of a house standing in acres of grass (hardly anyone actually grows anything, they just mow the grass every week). You’d probably build at least twenty houses on this plot in England:
Today was both a short day of only 55 miles but also a day interrupted by rain so we took refuge in the Oneida Historical Museum in Utica (‘Ootika’) where we met the director Brian (I’m never sure whether these posts are paid; Brian was in his forties and ‘at work’ on a Friday so I assume he is). He is a regular cyclist and let slip that he’s done an Ironman two weeks ago. (Well, we’ve cycled 5000 kilometres; how long was your Ironman again?) We have rather had our fill of canal museums and this made a change, being concerned in part with what we call the War of Independence (The Revolutionary War), which like it or not, we lost. There was a battle near Utica called Oriskany in 1777 one of the bloodiest of the war; the Americans lost 50% of their troops, the British 15%, but this was not a victory as the British left most of the fighting to the Iroquois who subsequently fell out causing the loss of a valuable ally and ultimately the whole campaign. There was a cannonball on display from the French and Indian War of 1756. Unfortunately the rest of the museum was less inspiring and failed to explain the history of Utica (based on textiles) so it only gets a GV rating of Two.
Our search for a decent bakery continues without a great deal of success. Dinner-time coincided with Utica, but the fact that we passed two bakeries that were not just closed but closed down altogether suggests that if the US is eating bread, it is not fresh from the local bakery. On our way out, we saw an Italian Bakery so we called. In Italy, you are never short of something to eat at lunchtime (although, of course, by actual lunchtime, the bakery will have closed for lunch) because you can buy sumptuous focaccia with sun-dried tomatoes and soaked in olive oil, or savoury tarts or pasties filled with spinach, eggs, onions. But not in an American bakery where ‘pastry’ means calorie-crammed sweet pastries, buns, cakes and biscotti. That’s not what we wanted so we moved on.
We saw another Italian Bakery in Frankfort and tried our luck again. We met Rick Vitti whose family has run it since 1961 when it used to be a German bakery. He looked at me blankly when I described the savoury delights on sale in Italy, but despite his grandparents being Italian immigrants, he’d never actually been to Italy, or indeed out the country. He was selling cannoli and pustry. I’d heard of cannoli, but didn’t know what they were (Sicilian tubes of fried pastry dough filled with ricotta). I’d never even heard of a pustry, and this turned out to be a small pie filled with chocolate fondant. OK, it still wasn’t savoury but it was delicious. Val asked for a cinnamon twist, but Rick advised her not to have one on display as they were made yesterday; he fetched some fresh from out the back. This explains why he’s still in business while others have closed down.
Earlier in the tour, I ordered some pie and was asked if I wanted it ‘a la mode’. I hadn’t a clue what this meant either, but I was told that it is generally accepted as meaning ‘with ice cream’.
Little Falls is a great little place. It’s the sort of town that when you’re standing in the queue for Old Sal’s Home-made Ice Cream (two scoops for less than $2), someone will introduce you to the local judge.
The hotel is opposite the town’s Historical Museum which was due to close at four so we headed there straight away and met our second cycling museum director of the day. He gave us a quick guided tour of the highlights.
Little Falls started out as a Mohawk village because the drop in the river meant that all boats and their cargo had to be carried around the ‘falls’. The settlement developed into a village when it became a fur trading post between the local Mohawk tribe and French trappers coming down from Canada. Eventually it grew into ‘the Cheese Capital of the World’. The fame of cheese in Herkimer County meant that the USA’s first cheese exchange (if you can imagine a cheese exchange) was sited in Little Falls. It fixed the price of cheese for the whole country, thereby influencing the cheese prices in Europe, hence the title. An GV rating of Four (which takes account of a recommendation for ice cream and dinner).
Little Falls also doubles as a film location. Earlier this year, A Quiet Place was released starring Emily Blunt. This well-received sci-fi horror – 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and they’re inevitably making a sequel – was based on the ingenious premise that aliens have taken over the world, they are blind but have hyper-sensitive hearing so attack anything that makes a sound. It was filmed on Little Fall’s Main Street.