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Wow, this has been a trip and a half!

[Ed. Apologies for not getting this to you all before Lynne’s first RT post yesterday. As you know, life happens…but better late than never.]

I set out on Wednesday 14th April (a significant date, as it turned out), arrived on time in Chicago, and went to my hotel room. I’d booked an early flight and a room at a hotel different to the one where everyone else was staying. I’d snagged a bargain, and got a cheaper flight. Sleeping off the worst of the jetlag made sense. (It was the Aloft at O’Hare – recommended, and it had free Internet in the room. I’d stay there again).

So I spent a quiet evening, and went to bed. The next day I woke, checked out, went to the Marriott, where I had a roomie and an exciting three days ahead of me. Someone said, “You were lucky to get here. The volcano kept a lot of Brits from coming.” I said, “What volcano?”

I was attending Chicago International, which is to the world of miniaturists what Romantic Times is to book lovers. Yes, my dirty little secret is out, I’m a miniaturist.

For the next three days, the words “beautiful,” “Do you do this in one inch scale?” and “Volcano” shared equal time. The Marriott at O’Hare, a fairly good hotel, btw, was host to the biggest fair and exhibition. I saw some breathtaking things. I had a wonderful time, and my roomie was lovely, and there, since she only had to come from Utah.

Europe was closed for several days, and the people at the convention from Europe and Australasia knew they might not be able to get home when they planned. For the traders that meant the extra hotel nights ate into their profits, and for the punters, that meant they might not have had as much to spend on the minis as they planned. Except that you can’t keep a miniaturist from the object of his or her desire.

Titania and OberonI saw many beautiful pieces, but I’ll share just one with you. Jamie Carrington, a lovely man and a superb miniaturist, produces sculptures to die for. They are far more than dolls, and they have prices to match. He creates characters, people you can look at and know their stories, and this one was so beautiful I went back several times to look at it. It’s around a foot high, all told, and it’s called “Titania and Oberon’s Last Flight.” Jamie doesn’t tell you the stories of the sculptures, unless you want him to, other than the title. This one gave me ideas. I’d have loved to have bought it, and then given it away at RT, but you’d have had to tear it from my cold, dead hands, and it was too expensive for me (but worth every penny, and likely to increase in value). Jamie wanted $1,000 for it.

So, the fair done, and people stranded at O’Hare, I went on my merry way to my pre-booked room in downtown Chicago (the Allerton). Actually, I did make sure nobody I knew was short of a room, because it could have been upped to a double and shared, but Chicago didn’t seem short of rooms.

I loved my room. I’d read some not-so-good reviews of the Allerton, but my experience has been nothing but positive. My room has a view all the way down Michigan Avenue, and really, how cool is that? And it’s a historic hotel, quirky, so the room had a few problems. The heating wouldn’t come on, the TV wouldn’t work, and I couldn’t close a window. Two of the three were my fault. I’d accidentally pulled a connection loose on the TV when I looked for an on switch, I opened the window and then couldn’t close it. The engineer arrived within half an hour, fixed it all and it’s been fine since. Service with a smile, as well. I haven’t had a maid knocking on my door at stupid-o’clock, either, and since I wanted this week for a leisurely sightseeing visit, that was great.

And yes, Chicago is beautiful. It reminds me strongly of the two cities near my home, Manchester and Liverpool. It has that same loyalty from its citizens and the same background, heavy industry, a convenient location for the industry that made it great and the industry having long moved away, leaving a great heritage of buildings. The Wrigley building even looks a bit like the Liver Building at Pier Head, Liverpool. A tad taller, though. It even had its protesters and reformers (an African American lady who campaigned for female emancipation, and the writer Upton Sinclair, who wrote a seminal book on the meat packing trade). They match our Mrs. Gaskell and Friedrich Engels.

And yes, I am so going to write a book, or maybe two, based here.

I signed some books in Borders on Michigan Avenue, which was a thrill, and I went back today to buy the latest Nina Bruhns and some of them were gone! Okay, but for me it’s a big deal to see my books in the bookstore, and a real kick to get to sign them.

Next I head out to Columbus, where I can probably expect storms to delay flights, so I’ll make sure my Ipods are charged up, ditto my Ipaq reader and its spare battery, and my netbook, and prepare to be patient. Ha!

I’m staying at the Westin in Columbus for the first three days, then moving to the Hyatt Regency for the main event – Romantic Times! Yes, kids, it’s that time of year again, and Internet permitting, I’ll put in a report every day (the only downside to the Allerton is its crappy Internet connection and the cost of having it in your room – I made do with the lobby). With the publishing industry in flux, it’s going to be an interesting RT, to say the least.

Then home. Wait – there’s something going on there, isn’t there? Not that you’d know it from the US news reports, and yes, there is a world outside. Oh, I’ve got it. A General Election. Such a trivial occurrence slipped my mind for a minute there.

See you in Columbus! Keep everything crossed that I arrive there in one piece and on time!Lynne Connolly, Crystal Tides