If you live in Larchmont, the likelihood is you’ve already been in Paris, or want to go soon. This year, however, for some of us, economics dictate more modest getaways.
Ever been to Pittsburgh? The city that will host the G-20 Summit on September 24 is less than an hour away by air, a day’s drive, or nine hours on Amtrak. You might want to see for yourself why that American city was chosen above Los Angeles, Miami and a few other more likely contenders to host the 250,000 visitors that will converge there this month.
Besides the Steelers (When a Pittsburgh native bleeds, his blood runs team colors black and yellow, they say) what’s there to see or do, anyway?
Most important, on this signal occasion, is the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, with its many skylights, recycled hand towels and other environmentally-friendly attributes. The “green” factor probably contributed to the Summit selection, as did the city’s image: with its mid-size (310,000) population, it’s perceived as an all-American success story.
Pittsburgh reinvented itself in the last fifty years from “hell without a lid” when the sky at midday looked like dusk from the steel factories’ smoke, to the thriving and clean metropolis it is today. Three rivers flow through the city, which has 446 bridges, a pretty park where the Allegheny, Ohio and Monongahela converge, a gambling casino, two large universities – U of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon – as well as colorful restaurants and the “Pittsburgh Cultural Trust,” a fourteen-block entertainment district devoted to visual and performing arts.
And, let’s not forget the ketchup. Heinz, the factory, with its 32,000 employees, began in 1869 with Henry John, the 25 year-old son of a German immigrant, putting his mother’s-recipe horseradish into a jar. From there the business grew into an international empire with nine billion dollars in sales. And in Pittsburgh the Heinz name is ubiquitous: Heinz Field, (stadium) Heinz Hall, (performing arts theater) and, most appropriately, the Heinz History Center. This is in large part a sports museum, but it dedicates its fourth floor to the Heinz story, and includes 4500 artifacts, from original glass bottles to old advertisements to kids’ pickle games. On display is H.J’s motto: “Do a common thing uncommonly well.”
This could also be the motto of Andy Warhol, another native, whose eponymous museum features, appropriately enough, a display of Heinz Ketchup boxes as well as the iconic Marilyn Monroe portraits, his music album covers and titillating film videos.
A more traditional art museum is the Carnegie, its works neatly arranged in chronological order, beginning with the thirteenth century and ending with the present. Half of this museum is also dedicated to science, and its connection to Carnegie Mellon University underscores its commitment to research and the practical application of its exhibits.
It goes from the ridiculous to the experimental to the quite good (but not sublime, by Larchmont foodies’ standards). The ridiculous is the historically relevant and beloved Primanti Brothers sandwich comprised of meat, coleslaw and fries jammed between two chunks of bread. No alterations to this — take it or leave it! Or, try the inspired Coca Cafe, where anything your heart desires is baked into a waffle, from bananas to soy protein, to rosewater to powdered vitamin C. There are one hundred options, and then, no kidding, it’s topped with ice cream.
For the even more adventurous, there’s Yo Rita, where the chef folds into tacos what Mexicans never imagined: crabmeat or foie gras, for instance.
Will President Obama go for this? More likely he’ll try one of Pittsburgh’s high-end places, like LaMont or Grand Concourse. What makes these restaurants fabulous is the spectacular views, architecture, and décor. The Grand Concourse, a seafood place, offers a view of the Mononghela River and at night, a lighted skyline reflected in its waters. The bread is the best, and the dazzle of the ambience makes the food taste five-star.
For a stunning view of the city’s “Golden Triangle” (downtown) take the Duquesne Incline, which is a little train that goes up the side of a mountain. Five minutes later, you’re there. The panorama is best at sunset, when the Pittsburgh sky goes dark and the city lights begin to glow. Maybe you’ll wish we had something just like this in Larchmont.