Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Emperor of the World

New Englanders have probably never heard of the Emperor of the World. He is the kind of man who can only come out of New Orleans. New Orleans Slate: Emperor of the World

I've never seen the Mother-in-Law Lounge open but I've admired it every time I've passed by. I've paused before it, bewildered at how such a beautiful, handmade thing can be in the world on such a scale.

Ernie K-Doe's and Antionette's story is an inspiring thing. The place itself will take your breath away and stretch your credulity. It exists, at least for now, a beautiful piece of New Orleans.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


How many people start out from someplace else and hit the road and end up in New Orleans?  Not many, I'll bet.  It's not a place you land in by accident.  If you were riding a flatboat or a barge or a steamer that you boarded somewhere between Cairo, Ill. and Baton Rouge, LA you could be pretty sure you'd end up in the Crescent City.  Taking the interstate highways though?  You only get here by design.

Louisiana is shaped like a gangrenous foot, eroding away a little bit more every day.  New Orleans is somewhere in there, a little south of Lake Pontchartrain which looks like a carbuncle on a map.  New Orleans has always seemed an improbable place in which to site a great city.

It is a great city, nonetheless.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Popular tattoos

When you walk around Boston, you see three popular tattoo designs.  One is the iconic 'B' that represents the Red Sox and, by extension in this baseball-obsessed city, the B that spells out Boston itself.  Secondly, there is that pair of red socks that are the Red Sox logo.  Thirdly, there is the shamrock, a symbol of solidarity for the many Bostonians who are of Irish descent.

Here and there you see a Celtics mascot tattooed to somebody's skin.  I can't recall seeing a Patriots logo or a Bruins logo.  If they are there, devotion to Boston's football and hockey teams pales compared to the display inscribed on biceps for Boston's beloved Sox.

In New Orleans, the most common tattoo is the fleur-de-lis.  You can see it on bodies everywhere.  While New Orleans' football team claims the fleur-de-lis as their symbol, that abstract flower is trademarked in black and gold.  Tattooed fleurs-de-lis come in all colors, from simple black on flesh to the official colors of Mardi Gras: purple, green and gold.

The fleur-de-lis is the symbol of New Orleans itself, not just its most popular sports franchise.  When most people decide to put ink and needle to skin for a permanent mark of their devotion, they are doing it declare love for this city rather than an NFL team.  Bostonians do the same thing, but you won't find any red socks on the Boston flag.  You'll see an antiquated portrait of the city's skyline.  It may be Red Sox Nation but the city doesn't acknowledge it on its seal.

In New Orleans, the fleur-de-lis came first and the Saints adopted it.  You can see fleurs-de-lis everywhere, not just on football helmets or incorporated in tattoos.   This is a regal city with a regal symbol.  I've been tempted to get my own fleur-de-lis tattoo  myself but I'm not quite ready to commit.  I see it in my future though, I just haven't found the right artist.

I was never tempted to make the Red Sox logo a permanent part of my anatomy.  Geaux Saints!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Three guys and a ladder

A perfect example of how things are done differently in Boston than in New Orleans:

Let's say you're driving down a street in Boston that is lined with old, overhanging trees, Melville Avenue in Dorchester for instance, and the branches need pruning.  This requires the following equipment:  A cherry picker to get into the high branches, a dump truck to collect the refuse, a pickup truck with lights to block off traffic, cones and signs to demarcate the work zone.  Each worker will be assigned cups of Dunkin' Donuts coffee.

Besides a man with a saw in the cherry picker, there would be a couple of extra personnel, let's say three but more probably five, to staff the operation on the ground when the branches come down.  One man would do the actual work while the others monitor the coffee supply.  There would be one supervisor at all times to make sure everything goes according to plan and one additional supervisor to stop in and monitor progress.  Of course there would also be a police officer, officially there to direct traffic but his or her time will mostly be spent on a cell phone or just enjoying the shade while watching the progress.

We were driving down Prytania Street this morning in front of Touro Infirmary where such a pruning operation was going on the New Orleans way.  The whole outfit consisted of three guys and two ladders.  One ladder was 24 feet tall and the other was a 12 foot model.  One guy was the saw man, climbing up and down the ladders.  One guy collected the branches as they fell and stacked them on the sidewalk.  The last guy directed traffic while holding the ladders.

We passed again after an hour and the crew had moved a little further down the street.  There was no evidence of any accidents and work was proceeding apace.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dueling clarinets

Well, they weren't really dueling so much as complimenting each other, each clarinetist egging the other on.  I always associate wind instruments with traditional jazz and usually the brass ones more often than not.  This isn't being fair to Benny Goodman and it certainly isn't fair to the two clarinetists we watched the other night at Fritzl's.

We've taken our bikes and the Ninja through the French Quarter but haven't really spent any time there until Thursday night.  Bourbon Street lived up to its reputation with music pouring out windows and doorways.  While it is packed with people, most of them are harmless.  Yes, it's full of tourists but so what?  Tourism is New Orleans' main industry at the moment.  

The band enjoyed themselves and so did everyone who listened.  It was a very diverse crowd and I was intrigued by the twenty-somethings enjoying this music.  A piano, a drum kit, a bass, two clarinets.  A simple set up for some very intricate and sophisticated syncopation.  While the band stuck to what I assume are Dixieland standards meant for the tourists, their artistry was impeccable and they certainly know how to put on a show.

I've been to Fritzl's before.  I like the stained wood ambience and the benches arranged into a small auditorium.  Are there better venues?  Probably.  I'm certainly interested in finding them.  The level of New Orleans musicianship is first rate whether in the clubs or on the street.  Jazz really is the pulse of New Orleans and I'm glad I'm hear to listen to it.

This afternoon, I learned who Gen. Albert Pike was.

Friday, June 25, 2010

New Orleans Tourist Board needs a spokesperson

Short post today.  My afternoon was taken up with motorcycle maintenance, and it wasn't a zen experience even though there were plenty of tests for my patience.

I'm working on a small project employing my trademark, drifty prose that readers from New London, Conn. and my earlier days in Boston may be familiar with.  Call this an impressionistic prose poem, short on details while pregnant with how I experience my new home after two weeks....

New Orleans, if the humidity doesn’t kill you the heat will set your sweat glands free to do as they please.  The air, redolent with decadent scents and enticing promises, hangs like tinted gauze over the parti-colored tapestry of a metropolis woven with dreams and small scale miracles.  New Orleans, robust and sultry, seductive and forthright, is a city plump with secrets that wears its passions for all to witness.  When New Orleans winks, wise folk smile and exchange knowing glances.  
Have you been to New Orleans?  If you’ve been once, you’ll want to go twice.  New Orleanians are among the most blessed of Americans; they daily sup on cream and spice.  A meal in New Orleans is food for the soul.  A day doing nothing in New Orleans is better than a day at work.  The play’s the thing and, in New Orleans, Play is king.  
Fortune and Fate conspire in the best of unexpected ways.  Common courtesy and uncommon revelry hold sway over the multitude of events that unfold in a day.  West Bank, Uptown, Mid City, Riverbend, in all the faubourgs and all the corner grocery shops, where the levees meet the sky and the oaks knurl the ground alongside sidewalks, time spent in New Orleans is better than best.

That's it for tonight.  I'll be back on schedule tomorrow with a story about dueling clarinets.  I never got a chance to write about that in Bean Town!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

BP's tin ear

This week's New Yorker arrived yesterday and I spent this morning reading Patricia Marx's clever The BP "I Hate to Clean Up" Cookbook.  I especially enjoyed 'Chef Tony's' commentary accompanying each recipe. While I am not following this environmental crime very closely, it's hard to avoid being exposed to developments.  When the World Cup isn't on television in my usual haunts, the news is.  New Orleans news stations are rightly dominated by coverage of the Gulf oil spill and its ramifications.

What makes the New Yorker article so apt is that it demonstrates how ineptly BP is trying to whitewash this manmade disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  The satire is so black that it's funny even if the company's actions are so deplorably depressing.

Imagine my surprise at the serendipity of today's article in the Times-Picayune about BP's rosy reportage of events along the Gulf Coast.  For the love of decency!  I understand the art of public relations is about swaying opinion to your side but this ham handed purple prose is as ugly as an infected, self-inflicted wound.  Patricia Marx has got nothing on the 'reporters' BP has in the field.  At least she was writing for a laugh.  The BP blogs are meant to be serious.  Frankly, Chef Tony's Fun Fact: "As far as can be determined, nobody has ever sustained permanent injury from a smell," tells me as much about how BP seems to feel about their culpability as the fact that "one bird rescued is one victory."  The latter was penned on June 20 by Paula Komar on the BP blog.

BP, you've got a lot more victories to win to make this right.  You are a company whose name is mud, no matter how you churn it.  It's going to take a long time to put this crime behind you, as long as it takes to restore the coast and the seafloor.  Own up to your malfeasance like a responsible citizen.  Only then will you be taken seriously.

...... On a lighter and more New Orleans specific note, this description of  St. Mary's Park appeared yesterday.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Communal coffee

Community Coffeehouse is a chain but it's a local one with nice locations, at least the locations we've visited recently.

I don't like Starbucks' coffee and I don't like the Seattle's Best coffee served in Borders book stores.  I don't mind Community Coffee.  If that sounds like faint praise, it's the best I can muster.  I always finish my small cup of black, unsweetened coffee over the course of reading the newspaper.  That's saying something.

I don't mean this to be an endorsement of one coffee shop over any others.  We just happen to have enjoyed three Community locations over the past week and each for different reasons.

The one at 2917 Magazine Street has a nice courtyard hidden from the street.  The shop shares the building with a yoga and exercise studio and a cafe.  It shares the courtyard with the cafe.  There are always people coming and going and the semi-secluded tables offer a bit of oasis.

The one at 900 Jefferson Ave, on the corner of Magazine Street further Uptown, has tables along the sidewalk under an awning sporting overhead fans.  The fans keep the sidewalk cool and this easy going neighborhood location is laid back and lackadaisical.  The other day a mother left three under-school-age children and their dog at a table while she went inside to fetch refreshments.

We went to my favorite today and the lady of the house agreed that this one is probably best.  The shop at 2800 Esplanade Avenue is a triangular flatiron building, two stories tall with its stucco exterior painted a faded orange-pink, with an array of tables in a triangular park shaded by tall and wide, twisted old oaks.  Even though there aren't any fans there is ample shade to beat off the day's heat.  Esplanade Avenue is a beautiful street so even though this locale is out of our way, it trumps the Magazine Street outlets for charm if not convenience.

This was my second time at the Esplanade shop and the people are more talkative and outgoing there.  We've been to all three locations more than once.  This unscientific sampling shows that each of New Orleans' neighborhoods has its own vibration.  Everyone has been friendly and helpful no matter where we've been, be it in Central City or Mid City or Broadmor or Carrollton, the Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans East, or the Lower Garden.  A city is a collection of people and New Orleans has collected some of the nicest I've ever had the pleasure of meeting.  

For our New England-based readers:  Esplanade Avenue is pronounced ES-plan-aid, not es-pla-NAHD as we are accustomed.  This one was relatively easy for me to master.  Though I thought I was making some initial progress, I still find myself saying crayfish instead of crawfish.  It's led to some double takes but everyone knows what I'm talking about since I tend to point while talking and it's readily apparent that I'm not from here originally.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A good mechanic

I'd like to thank the folks at Dewey, Cheatham and Howe for recommending Cacamo's Auto Repair.  This mechanic at 2205 Bienville Street really lived up the reviews.

We needed a mechanic for car repairs rather than the motorcycle variety.  One bump too many on New Orleans' atrocious roads broke the spring supporting the front passenger side of the car.  Allen, the owner, wasn't satisfied with the price of a pair of new springs so he called around for a complete spring and strut combination and even did something to the axle.  It's not my car so I wasn't really listening.  The owner though paid attention throughout and she is thoroughly satisfied.

When we were departing the shop Allen asked, "So from where up north did you bring this car?  It's so rusty underneath it had to have been driven where they salt the roads."  Good eye, Allen.  We admitted the car came from Boston.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monday haircut

It seems impossible to get a haircut in New Orleans on a Monday.  It's probably not impossible to find a barber open for business but, as a newcomer to this fair city of inscrutable ways, it is improbable.

I have a job interview tomorrow morning so I figured a touch up was advisable to show I'm as neat about my appearance as I am about my work.  I did find one shop that was open on Magazine Street.  I walked in and nodded to the chap who was in the chair.  The barber came from out back and asked if I had an appointment.  An appointment for a ten-minute haircut (ideally)?  I said No. "Can you come back at 2:00?"  I said No, could he tell me where there's a barber shop I could walk into?  "Not on a Monday."

He didn't lie.  I drove around town in search of a barber shop.  Every one I found was closed Sundays and Mondays.  I went home and trimmed over my ears.  It's a good thing I wear glasses.  That, and I'll wear an eye-catching tie and pocket square to distract from my shaggy coiffure.

You can find a bar in New Orleans any hour of any day to enjoy a smoke and a beer over a little conversation.  You'll be hard pressed to get a haircut on a Monday though.

To be fair, it took me a while to identify a network of acceptable barber shops in Boston that were open when I was ready for a trim and had minimal waits.  I don't like to linger in the barber shop.  I like to get the job done and get on with my day.  Small talk and old magazines don't add any luster to my haircut experience.

Old Italian gentlemen have always been my preference.  Nothing fancy, get out the clippers, flourish the scissors, finish up with a straight razor and I'll see you again in two or three weeks.  I haven't done my relevant research in the twelve days since I've arrived.  There's a lesson here, one of marginal importance but, in a pinch, a man needs a decent haircut when he needs it.

As has been the case since arrival in New Orleans, I need to temper my expectations.  I'm not in New England anymore.  In many ways, I'm glad of that.  The other night I watched some drunken couples dance and sing along to a jukebox playing the Rolling Stones.  I wasn't particularly interested at the time but I now realize they were mouthing something very profound.  You really don't always get what you want, but you do get what you need.  Looking in the mirror, I suppose I didn't really need a professional haircut after all.

Today's illustration is courtesy of Lint.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Watch the streetcar tracks!

I recently had a run in with the St. Charles Avenue streetcar tracks that reminded me of a recent death under similar circumstances in Boston.  A nice thing about New Orleans' streetcar system is that the tracks mostly run on the neutral ground between lanes.  The main exceptions are the St. Charles line in the Central Business District and where the Canal Street line crosses road intersections.

Train tracks usually make me extra cautious when I'm on my motorcycle.  Experience in Boston, where the E Line runs along the street between Brigham Circle and the VA Medical Center at Heath Street (Green Line), has taught me fear.  These tracks are especially treacherous, even for a motorcycle's wider tires, as the grooves can run particularly deep.  New Orleans tracks conceal what amount to slight depressions along their right of way, but it is the steel itself in this situation which provided me with my hazard and scrape with mortality.

We went on a long bicycle ride on Friday night and our route brought us along Carondelet Street into the French Quarter.  Bicycling in New Orleans is a mostly pleasant experience as far as elevation goes.  The landscape is, as you might imagine on a flood plain, flat.   Some of the pavement conditions leave much to be desired but so far we haven't come across any ill-tempered drivers and, as I say, the lack of hills make peddling a breeze.

As we approached the end of the St. Charles line, where Carondelet meets Canal Street, I ran my tires over the tracks and slipped, port side down, immobile in the flow of traffic.  It had rained earlier in the day, the tracks are polished smooth after decades of twenty-four hour use, and perhaps the ambient humidity made them extra slick.  Whatever the reason, I was inattentive enough to lose my balance in an undignified way.

Perhaps I was lax because of the slower speed and inherent control pedals confer.  Perhaps I was distracted by all the sights and sounds.  Whatever the reason, I lost control.  My bicycle was on top of me rather than the other way around and I was lying on my side.

No real damage was done.  I quickly recovered and got upright, walking my bike to the sidewalk.  People asked if I was alright.  I was: a bruise on my hand, a scrape on my leg, two small holes torn in my shorts.  The worst injury was to my pride.  I like to think my motorcycling has honed my wits extra sharp.  Proof again that on the road, only a fool lets his or her guard down.  Street hazards don't only come from other users; sometimes the road itself can be an antagonist as well as an ally.

A word from the humbled:  Look out for what's under your tires as well as for what's around you.  Watch the streetcar tracks.

Thankfully, no automobile operators behind me were distracted.

Today's link:  Soraparu Park.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Saturday officially begins

4:26AM, Saint Charles Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana.

The first streetcar of Saturday pulls by headed toward Riverbend.  The car is half full.  Its opposite passes, headed toward Canal Street. ten seconds after.   There is a temporary commotion but otherwise the night rolls on undisturbed.  There is no pause, only rhythm.  The jukebox doesn't skip a beat.    

What I saw this morning

3:20AM, Saint Charles Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana.

The last streetcar rolls through the night along the neutral ground that separates inbound and outbound automobile traffic.  The car is brightly lit, its windows open to the breeze.  Every well worn, wooden seat is full with people either stoically sitting bolt upright, leaning together in tight, animated conversation, or nodding in the half dreams of the contentedly exhausted.  The headlight illuminates the grass as the wheels grate the rails.  The muffled sound of transit passes along the street, approaching and receding, moving.  Friday seeps into Saturday. Next car: one hour.

Taxi cabs inch along the pavement trawling for passengers lost and in search of a drive train.  Pedestrians walk the sidewalk, to and fro, woozy and enchanted in the early summer, pre-dawn humidity.  Seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit and balmy, the air is still save the intermittent chatter of cicadas and humanity.  Streetlights and neon dim all but the brightest stars that persist in punctuating the night sky.

Ice cubes sparkle and clink after three AM, bright spots of crystal in a warm gloom.  Talk winds down as some sleepy heads head bedways along elliptical routes.  A few stalwarts order another round as they wait for the next street car home.  The New Orleans night is quieter, not still, still not yet asleep.  The pulse has slowed, the murmur subsided but still going.  The night keeps flowing till daybreak and then it will quicken anew.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A human metropolis

I visited Bayou Bienville again, a melancholy visit.  I've been to this part of the Lower Ninth Ward before but this morning didn't make it any less surreal to see.  I brought company with me this time and while we sat on the levee overlooking the brackish marsh that is Bayou Bienville, my companion could only say, "This is such a lonely place."

Lonely indeed.  Not only is the bayou an expanse of unrippled algae mats punctuated by decades-old, dead cypress stumps; in the other direction are the overgrown, abandoned blocks of the north side of the Lower Ninth Ward.  The land isn't totally abandoned to nature, but the scrub grass and shrubbery are running a slow motion, quiet riot over evidence of civilization.  Bushes overtake half the roadways.  We turned down one street and had to turn back, the pavement had dissolved into muddy, impassable sink holes.  It is quiet in this part of New Orleans.  Too quiet.  There are inhabited homes scattered along the remaining grid of streets but they are few and far between.  It must be lonely to live there, especially if, half a decade ago, you were used to having neighbors.

I stopped for gas on North Claiborne Avenue and found the best price I've had the pleasure to pay in a long, long while: $2.34 for a gallon.  While filling the tank everyone who walked past between pumps and cashier said hello.  Even in this part of New Orleans where the evidence of tragedy is self-evident for anyone with eyes to see, people partake of common courtesy and humanity.  As usual, we chatted motorcycles and weather while the gas pumps filled our tanks, mine much quicker than anyone else's.

"Hope you don't get caught in the rain," one man said.  "No thunderheads yet," I replied, looking up. "Not yet, but they're coming.  Keep dry," he answered.  "Will do.  You too," I said.

We took North Claiborne home.  My companion said, "The Ninth Ward is still devastated so many years after the fact."  I couldn't do anything but agree.  The further you get from downtown in that direction the more proof you see that work needs to be done.  Tourists don't see it.  We don't really see it where we live, but the wounds inflicted on the city remain deep and raw, undressed.  If they are being addressed, it is a slow process and most probably a painful one.  It is a black mark against the federal government's reputation as much as the oil slick currently polluting the Gulf of Mexico.

I have a lot to learn about my new city, the good about it as well as the less so.  I remember my New Orleans moment on the corner of Humanity and Metropolitan Streets.  I hate to keep bringing it up but it cemented my view of this city, one that is bittersweet yet full of hope and the scope of life.  I am a stranger in a strange land yet I feel I'm home even if I don't speak the language fluently.  Sure, I'm part poseur and neophyte.  Sure, I romanticize what I experience.  Struck with so much culture shock traveling from block to block, how can I be anything else?   I cannot apologize for being what I am not.  Like New Orleans, I can only strive to be better than what I am today.  Time will take the measure of this man as it will take the measure of this city in the face of all odds against it.

With Union, Justice, and Confidence,
Qui Transtulit Sustinet.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Settling in

I don't usually like to plug my other endeavors on the Dot Matrix, but as further proof that I am permanently relocated and committed, I have changed my role at  Instead of being Boston's Fringe Neighborhood Examiner, a title I never felt entirely comfortable with, I am now New Orleans' Parks and Open Spaces Examiner.  

As I commented on yesterday, I appreciate a smidge of structure in order to produce and I figured describing the many public parks and neutral grounds would be a nice track for me to follow.  I love to go out exploring and I am interested in the civic amenities New Orleans offers.  One of the first things I noticed about New Orleans' parks is that, unlike Boston, the mayor's name isn't plastered on every sign and umbrella and trash can.  Even much-maligned Mayor Nagin had more class and less hubris than Boston's Mayor Menino.  In Boston, you can't go anywhere without seeing Mayor Menino's name inscribed on some piece of infrastructure, no matter how humble.  I have yet to see newly installed Mayor Landrieu's name anywhere beyond the pages of the Times-Picayune.  I like that.  I like it a lot.

I could just write willy-nilly, whatever comes to mind, and that is often my modus operandi.  I've been known to think of the posts contained on the Matrix as jazz riffs; I rarely know where I am going to end after I start.  This whale-may-care attitude was compromised a bit when I took my motorcycle journey between Boston and New Orleans.  During the trip, I chronicled my impressions left over after ten hours of cross country motorcycling (first installment here).  That saga ended on May 7.  May 8 was my first fully fledged day in the Crescent City and it provided a leitmotif that I hope will stamp every following encounter between myself and the City Care Forgot.  

I feel remarkably carefree.  I am working part time in my field and doing some freelance work for pocket money.  I have little inclination to get into a daily grind, though I realize that is probably in the cards.   At the moment, I am content exploring my new surroundings.  My creative juices are churning, the sap is rising, the sky is the limit even when daily thunderheads rain on my personal parade.  The sun always comes out at storm's end and, while I get wet, I have yet to be dispirited.  

New Orleans is laid on fertile, alluvial soil.  It's climate encourages fecundity.  If am a seed, I will grow where planted.  I am from Connecticut and the Nutmeg State's official motto is "Qui Transtulit Sustinet."  Words to live by.  In English: "He Who Transplants Sustains."  I will be true to my roots in this new garden.  Louisiana's motto is: "Union, Justice, and Confidence."  I can live with that.  With Heaven's blessing, I hope to thrive.

And now, this essay has turned out not one bit as I originally intended.  Thank you for stopping by.   

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What's in a name?

If you look at the top of this page, you'll see the name of this blog is the Dot Matrix.  This is because I've been headquartered the last three years in Dorchester, Mass., the biggest and best of Boston's neighborhoods.  Dorchester is affectionately referred to as Dot by those who live there.  It is a pleasant shorthand turn of name.

It took awhile for me to change the name of the blog to Dot Matrix.  This originally started with the eponymous title Whalehead King, which was fitting enough since articles tended to emphasize the author's exploits tooling around New London, Conn. on a motor scooter.  After a few months, the Dot Matrix title took hold since the focus had changed more to the tessallations of a wide ranging, interwoven sub-unit of a major city.

I find myself in another major city, one far different from the one I left.  I'm not against changing the blog's name once again but I'm not sure what it should be.  Dot Matrix still works fine for me in the idea that my viewpoint is a dot in a wider weave and weft and woof that is New Orleans.  It may take a while before I settle on a masthead.  Nothing is broken but I can't resist fiddling.  A person shouldn't mess with perfection, but this blog is far from perfect.  After a week in New Orleans permanently (today is Day Eight) I am still getting my bearings.  Fools change a name where angels keep conservative?

While I am toying with new names to indicate my new direction, I haven't settled on a compass point yet.  Stay tuned.  Soon enough, ye olde Whalehead King will hit his stride and begin reporting his world as he encounters it: fresh off the griddle.  Until then, I'm afraid these posts will be noodling, stumbling voyages in discovering my surroundings.  I haven't written any gold for a few weeks.

Apologies for the thin gruel and thanks for checking in.  We guarantee shiny nuggets of interesting prose will be forthcoming.  Until then: stay tuned and thanks for showing up.

With a handshake,

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

An old reputation

From the WPA New Orleans City Guide published in 1938.  This book opens with the following stanzas reportedly written a hundred years before, presumably in the 1830s:

Have you ever been to New Orleans?  If not you'd better go.
It's a nation of a queer place; day and night a show!
Frenchmen, Spaniards, West Indians, Creoles, Mustees,
Yankees, Kentuckians, Tennesseans, lawyers and trustees,

Negroes in purple and fine linen, and slaves in rags and chains,
Ships, arks, steamboats, robbers, pirates, alligators,
Assassins, gamblers, drunkards, and cotton speculators,
Sailors, soldiers, pretty girls, and ugly fortune tellers;
Pimps, imps, shrimps, and all sorts of dirty fellows....

It goes on but you get the idea.  Plus ca change plus c'est la meme chose.  The more things change the more they stay the same.  New Orleans has had a reputation for a while.  I would change a few words here and there but the essence is the same as you'll find in any guidebook.

I don't know how much I disagree except to say that the above only paints a part of the picture this vast city encapsulates.  A tiny part.  I am glad to be a tiny part of this milieu.

That's a picture of New Orleans' official flag at the top, by the way.  I'll explain the symbolism another day.  For the moment, let's just say that it's the flag of my disposition.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Ten Muses?

As I've mentioned once before, the street names in New Orleans are poetic, they spark revels in the mind when you trace them on the map.  It turns out that the nomenclature isn't limited to the inspiration that gave them their official designations.  Traveling along these thoroughfares likewise enlivens the imagination.  The scenery is gorgeous.
My classical education serves me well when I navigate one part of New Orleans, at least.  I'm referring to the "Muses streets."  Just north of Lee Circle, crossing St. Charles Avenue, are nine streets that, if you know what the names mean, you'll know you're in the right neighborhood.  These streets are named after the Nine Muses in classical mythology.  They are, in order from Lee Circle heading Uptown:

Calliope, the muse of epic poetry;
Clio, the muse of history;
Erato, the muse of lyric poetry, though some say love and erotic poetry;
Thalia, the muse of comedy;
Melpomene, the muse of tragedy;
Terpsichore, the muse of dance;
Euterpe, the muse of music;
Polymnia, the muse of choral poetry that some say includes hymns, sacred songs, and oratory.  The more   traditional spelling is 'Polyhymnia' ;
Urania, the muse of astronomy.

If I can talk a moment about Terpsichore Street, which I am most familiar with, one part of it between Coliseum Park and Prytrania Street is divided down the middle by a strip of neutral ground (median to non-New Orleanians) planted with trees and benches and a path down its middle.  It is a perfect place in which to dance your way from one end of the block to the other.

You'll notice that all the Muse streets cross Prytania Street (parallel to St. Charles Ave.), who was not a Muse no matter what the name sounds like.  The name doesn't seem to have a definition.  A little cursory googling ties the word to Hecate, the classical goddess of witchcraft.  I stopped looking after that, satisfied with that connection.  New Orleans is a magical place and Prytania is a magical street, like so many others.

If you know your Muses, when you reach Thalia Street you'll know what district you're in.  Who said memorizing Greek mythology was a waste of time?  Not me.

Thanks to Rue de Etymologia for the illustration today.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

New Orleans wildlife

I was looking for this sign while walking along the water in Audubon Park this afternoon.  I didn't see it.  Neither did I see any crocodiles or alligators.  There were plenty of benches to sit on.

I did see ducks, geese, egrets, kingfishers and blue jays.  I also saw some birds I didn't recognize as well as a woodpecker about the size of my pointer and middle finger pressed together.  Pigeons in New Orleans run more toward buff than pearl gray the way I'm used to seeing them in Boston.  I have yet to see anyone feeding the pigeons, but it must happen.

My neighborhood is full of cats.  I saw a skinny rat cross the street in front of my house today in broad daylight.  She wasn't in any hurry and no one paid her any mind.  She had the lean physique of a marathon runner.  The cats were absent from the streetscape at the moment as it was threatening a thunderstorm which eventually dropped a few spatters that did little more than darken the pavement but left the sidewalk under the trees untouched.  Cats don't like to get wet and neither do I.  I have a covered porch that protected my head from the halfhearted downpour.

The only alligators I've seen are on menus.  I keep peering into canals as I cross them, looking for suspiciously floating logs.  No luck so far, just waterlogged wood and some soggy Rally's wrappers from late night, drive-thru feasts.

A tip of the fedora to Dr. Hermes for today's illustration.  If I ever come across an alligator in New Orleans, I'll remember not to sit on it.

New Orleans state of mind

I've been aware of both pre- and post-Katrina critiques of New Orleans culture and economy for a while.  The accepted truth is that it's a great place place to visit but not the best place to live in.  I guess I'll be both testing and, hopefully, disproving that hypothesis.  It seems like a better than good place for me to hang my hat and there are plenty of corroborative testimonies to back me up.

Let's say New Orleans has its warts, like most places and most people, and leave that at that.  It also has an undeniable charisma, which is more than most people or places can claim.

I stumbled across an article from three years ago by a former mayoral candidate.  There is no doubt this gentleman loves the Crescent City.  There is also no doubt for anyone with eyes to see that it has probably been a long, long time since New Orleans deserved its moniker "The City Care Forgot."

I'm not a man of strong opinions.  When I have them, I usually forget them in a day or two.  I intend to approach my sojourn in New Orleans with an eye toward citizenship.  I have a lot of learning to do as well as a lot of living.  New Orleans seems to be the best place to do both.  I identify the city's strengths with my strengths and I correlate its weaknesses with my own.  The two combined have always served me well so I figure the multiplier effect will be beneficial for all concerned.  Time will tell.

I'm not without a care in the world at the moment but I can't think of anything that's bothering me.  That, to me, is a New Orleans state of mind.  I have things that could worry me but I have no worries.  Strange and surreal and relaxing.  There are worse places to be, both physically and mentally.

Date Line: New Orleans.  Saturday, June 12, 2010 AD/CE, Quartedi, 24 Prairial CCXVIII, the day of Caille-Lait, (Bedstraw in English).

Friday, June 11, 2010

New Orleans coffee

If you are from New Orleans, you may not have heard of Dunkin' Donuts, a chain that has virtually conquered Boston.

DD has been around for decades, but its creep has increased as the years go by.  When I lived in Connecticut, and earlier in Rhode Island, I watched it fill available corner lots and storefronts with alarming  determination.  There are still local shops that will brew you a cuppa joe, but I suspect by century's end DD will dominate the field even more than it does now, if corporate HQ has their way.
Common chicory in flower

The Crescent City coffee scene seems more varied.  Community Coffee and PJ's are easy enough to find and there are a few Starbucks, but the little guys still have clout in their neighborhood niches.  I've been to Cafe du Monde once as a tourist, but I haven't been back.  I'm no coffee connoisseur and I'm content with pretty much anything that's hot.  This may be why I haven't noticed the chicory that is supposed to be the hallmark ingredient of New Orleans coffee that separates it from all other blends.

Chicory coffee may be a myth used to lure tourists, another legend like voodoo that helps cement New Orleans' reputation as a unique place on the globe.  I know it's an ingredient in the Cafe du Monde blend and I've seen it listed on the sides of cans in the supermarket.  I just don't know how common it is.  My unsophisticated palate may never know the difference.  The issue bears further investigation.

With all its experiments over the years, I don't recall Dunkin' Donuts test marketing a cajun blend of coffee featuring chicory.  Of course, Boston did recently acquire two Popeye's Chicken outlets so it may just be a matter of time before DD starts selling this combination of two natural diuretics in a brew.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

How hot is New Orleans?

When I was in Boston last week, I had a visitor from Hamburg, Germany who complained it was too humid a quarter mile from the shore of Dorchester Bay.  "Will New Orleans be humid like this?" he asked. Brother, he didn't know the half of it.  Not only is it more humid, it is 20 degrees (Fahrenheit) hotter.  I'm not complaining.

It is Day Two in the Crescent City and our experiences thus far are pretty much limited to unpacking boxes.  By motorcycle on the back roads last month the trip between Boston and New Orleans took a tad over 2000 miles in six days.  For this trip, the lady of the house and I left Boston on Monday morning at 10:00 (June 7, 2010) and arrived at the UHaul office on Tulane Avenue on June 9th at about 11:00AM.  I can't say a packed 17-foot UHaul trailing an equally packed Ford Focus was our vehicle of choice.  Only a masochist would choose to take this pig of a truck (which UHaul insists is an oversized van); it was our vehicle of necessity and we stuck to interstate highways only.  Total distance traveled via interstate: 1551 miles.

The difference between backroad motorcycle travel and interstate truck travel was a savings of about 450 miles and about 48 hours travel time and accompanying hotel bills.  I haven't tallied up the gas bills but here is what two people spent on meals.

June 7:  We ate breakfast at home, consisting of what perishable odds and ends we couldn't pack.  We ate a late lunch that served as dinner at the Airmont Diner somewhere in New Jersey.  It was a nice place and probably the last Greek diner we will see in a long time.  Total cost of dinner (all totals include tip): $25.11.
June 8:  The lady of the house, German by birth and never having been outside New England, had never heard of Waffle House.  We had an suitably exotic breakfast at a Waffle House in Raphine, VA for $12.68.  "So cheap?"  Get used to it, we'll be seeing a lot of Waffle Houses the further we go.  We did.  For lunch, we stopped at a Hardee's, also never seen by my companion.  It was somewhere in the middle of no name Tennessee.  Total cost: $8.78.  The review:  "It's like McDonald's.  I can cross this off my list."  For dinner, we supped at the Cracker Barrel in Meridian, MS.  It was surprisingly adequate and we paid the $25.89 total without regrets.

June 9:  Breakfast only, again at a Waffle House; this one in Picayune, MS.  We dropped a $20 bill.

It cost us a total of $92.68 for regular meals on this trip, not counting coffee and snacks, mostly odd candy found at truck stops along the way.  Lodging cost marginally more.  Gasoline was another matter.  As soon as I unpack some scrap paper, I'll provide that total spent on that commodity.  Naturally, no BP products were consumed in completing this journey.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

New Orleans pilgrimage

We are in Mississippi as I write this and it is 5:55 AM Central Time.  There are about 200 miles and change left to travel to New Orleans.  It has been a very different trip in a 17-foot UHaul truck trailing a car than it was on a little 250cc Ninja motorcycle, light as a feather and free as a bird.

I've had chest pangs every time we've stopped for gas.  As usual, I will be doing a tally of miles traveled and gallons consumed.  It will be an interesting comparison.

We'll be in New Orleans this afternoon.  Once things are unpacked a bit and I approach being settled in, I'll share some of the details.  I bet you can't wait, Gentle Reader.  I know I'm ready to write it.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Celebrating Dorchester Day

As poetic Fate would have it, my last full day in Boston is Dorchester Day.  I had to be elsewhere much of the day but I caught the tail end of the parade since I live only a few streets from the end of the parade route (the length of Dot Ave).

My last full day in Boston is also the day that celebrates the part of this fair city that I have enjoyed the most.  I find this as fitting as it is accidental.  I really wasn't paying any attention this year.

As I drive down the Mass Pike tomorrow morning I'll being thinking of Dorchester as I cross the Allston line into Newton (I think it's Newton).  A Huzzah to Dot in it's 380th year!  I wish I could stick around for many more of them.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Legal seafood

I've only eaten at Legal Sea Foods twice.  One of those times was last night.  While one of my companions went on record saying he preferred the Legal Sea Foods at the Aquarium to the Gaslight on Harrison Ave, I think this is an apples-to-oranges comparison.  I like Gaslight too, but I've also only eaten there twice.

I've heard Legal Sea Foods described as being an expensive 99.  I don't exactly agree with that either.  While both may be New England chains, everything about Legal is geometrically better than whatever is offered at 99.  Legal doesn't necessarily feel like a chain.  99 can't help but seem like anything else.

I pinched a placemat last night and was reminded that since 1981 serving Legal clam chowder at Presidential inaugurations is a tested, bipartisan tradition.  I'm not going to rave about the restaurant.  As much as it's good, it also tends to be very crowded.  It isn't the cheapest seafood in Boston but it has a reputation for being reliable and, as the marketing will tell you in the T and on the sides of buses, the fish is fresh.

The collection of various fish sculptures in front of the restaurants is a testament to good taste and they enliven the streetscape.

You can learn all the facts here, if you are so inclined.  If you want to check them out the old fashioned way, their phone number really is 1-800-EAT-FISH.
The Legal cod are for eating, unlike this chap we discussed yesterday.
Publish Post

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Sacred Cod

We took a tour of the State House today.  If you ever visit Boston, I recommend it.  It's free and the memorials all over the inside the building (which is much bigger inside than it looks from the outside) are fascinating.  The memorial hall in the central rotunda is breathtaking.

We happened to have timed our visit just right and we were given the tour of the Senate chamber by Senator Brian A. Joyce himself.  Likable man.  He had his picture taken with a group of three Germans, one Englishman, and one Nutmegger (what we call people from the foreign land of Connecticut --- that's me).

The Sacred Cod is the gilded codfish that hangs in the House of Representatives chamber.  No law can be passed unless the Cod is in the chamber.  The Europeans found this very odd until I explained that Massachusetts is the Land of the Bean and the Cod, and why the codfish is so important to Bay State history.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

If only

If only this link were true.

If you are wondering why I was at the Parker House yesterday, it's because that is where the lady of the house and I spent our first night of matrimony.  I have a gaggle of Europeans visiting and they ask me about the Gulf oil spill.  What can I say besides that it is criminal?  BP has black hands but so does every other involved party, my own federal government included.  It is a difficult time to be patriotic.

I tend to keep politics off the Dot Matrix because I tend to be mostly apolitical.  This is a sad time to be in America and to be an American.  Not only because of the man-made environmental disaster but because our government, one that I believe is the best in the world, turned out to be something less than effective.  This event is my Watergate and I had little faith to begin with in Washington's abilities.

I hate to be cynical but I can no longer suspend my disbelief.

Thanks, as usual, to the  New Orleans Ladder for the above illustration.  I will be in New Orleans for good next week, bombarded by bad news.  New Orleans, witness to its share of tragedy, maintains the high moral ground.  An odd position for a place many people associate with easygoing sin.

Our more usual fare will reappear tomorrow, but I wanted to vent my disgust at this whole situation.  Over the years, it hasn't always been easy to be a proud American, but I have done it.  In this case I find it impossible.

The Last Hurrah

The Last Hurrah is the name of a movie starring Spencer Tracy (not pictured above) detailing the life of Boston's notorious Mayor Curley.  It is also the name of the bar located in the Omni Parker House Hotel.  Yes, that Parker House.  The one where Parker House rolls were invented.  Boston cream pie was also invented there.  Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes dined there regularly.  It's quite the hangout.

We stopped for drinks at the Last Hurrah last night.  It was nice but if you are stopping for cocktails in downtown Boston, may I recommend the Marliave.  While it is difficult to find, once you know the way, you'll kick yourself for not figuring it out.  It is easy to reach the Granary Burial Ground (essentially across the street) and also from Bromfield Street (which could be its address, but it isn't).  The cocktails are at Marliave, like the decor, is old school.  The Molasses Flood is a favorite and I recommend it for anyone.  The Warren Harding, is a gentleman's drink that shouldn't be wasted on anyone under the age of 35.

We were at Marliave last Thursday and oysters were for sale a dollar apiece.  I had six Wellfleets and they were delicious.  They were a perfect match for my Warren Harding.

The drink menu for anyone interested.  I also like the W.C. Fields.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Commonwealth Avenue

I've always thought this is one of the more beautiful streets in Boston.  For those who don't know, it has a park running down the middle that is full of trees, benches and statuary.  The houses on either side are town houses, row after crenellated row.  The fronts follow a pattern of advancing and recessing rooms in regular order.

I walked the South End linear park between the Mass Ave T station and Back Bay station.  It's a nice winding, leafy route and while the brick townhouses along it aren't the best examples of South End charm, they is nothing wrong with the atmosphere.  At Back Bay station, we cut over to Commonwealth Ave, through Copley Square in front of the Library, and hit Commonwealth where the firefighters' memorial is.

Quiz:  What would the park in the middle of Commonwealth Avenue be called in New Orleans?
A:  Neutral Ground.


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