Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Storyland in City Park

This is the 900th post on this blog.  That's a lot of bytes. 

With the amount of ink that's been spent trying to describe New Orleans, you would think the whole city would be referred to as Storyland.  In fact, Storyland is a special nook in City Park dedicated to bringing children's stories to life, or at least to three dimensions.  It is full of whimsical statues brightly painted.  Today's photos were taken the other night during Celebration in the Oaks.  There are twenty-five exhibits.  
Pinocchio atop the whale, a particular favorite of mine.
Though I am 45 years old and have little patience for children (though that's changing the older I get), I have a fascination for toys and cartoonish things.  I have no patience for Sponge Bob or whatever is popular now but, as someone who loves old things, I find a stroll through Storyland charming.
I may be crotchedy but I am also whimsical, subsisting on a steady diet of daydreams and poppycock (a word with very off-color Latin roots).  I am an honorary citizen of the Land of Cockaigne, having spent many an idyll on Rock Candy Mountain.

 Of particular interest to me was this frog.  An exact replica of the one in the Ryan Playground in my beloved Dorchester, Mass. the biggest and best part of Boston.  
I spent many a moment with this frog's Bay State twin.  It was the only sculpture in the park, tucked away in a corner painted an identical shade of green.  When I eventually move into my new home I hope to find two siblings to guard my front door.  I will call them Patience and Fortitude in honor of a couple of lions I know.  

Speaking of moving, there seems to be some kind of snafu (another word with off-color roots, these an acronym) at City Hall.  I read about this in the paper a week or so ago, so I expected it.  No one knows when the closing will take place because there is some trouble researching the deeds and conveyances.  I'm told few things go smoothly in New Orleans unless you get involved with your City Councilperson.  I don't know about that and I prefer to think things will work out for the best.  After all, I'm a citizen of Cockaigne, expecting freshly baked pies to fall off of trees and fully cooked pigs running around with a knife in them, offering an easy slice of ham as they pass.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Celebration in the Oaks

We went to Celebration in the Oaks last night in City Park.  The website doesn't do it justice.  Neither do my pictures.  Naturally, my camera battery went dead while I was taking a picture of the pink elephant (totem of New Orleans?) so this article is illustrated with pictures from my phone.

What is nice about this X-mas light celebration is that you walk through it rather than drive.  It isn't a solitary event with piped in carols over the radio.  In true New Orleans fashion, a visitor is pressed in with the rest of humanity to enjoy and participate in the show.  Price:  $7.00 admission, $3.00 extra for a train ride.  $17.00 buys you a wrist band entitling you to unlimited amusement park rides if you choose to stay that long and get nauseous on the Tilt-a-Whirl.  
The amusement park is lit up and Storyland is lit up, but the main attraction is the chance to walk through the Botanical Gardens which are strung with lights.  What's a X-mas celebration without a salute to vegetables?!!  Or nuts and city wildlife....
I'm not trying to be facetious.  It really was a glorious display.  The old southern oak in the center of the gardens was jaw-dropping:
Not only is the tree draped with lights, they drip off the branches in real time, so convincing that a mother had to convince her daughter that she wasn't seeing water, only an illusion.  Next I'll find out Clement Moore cribbed the Cajun version of "'Twas Night Before Christmas" to write his famous poem.

The Botanical Garden is a glorious place during the day and well worth the trip.  The chance to walk its landscape at night, lit by millions of diodes, is a treat.  I recommend it.
And for our last memory of last night, Mother Goose sailing over Storyland, the best part of City Park in my humble opinion:
We took the little train around the riverside of the park.  The overhanging trees are strung with decorations accompanied by lots of oohs and aaahs from the passengers.  It's just as rumbly and screechy as the St. Charles Avenue streetcar and moves about as slowly even though there are no stops.  There are just as many oohs and aaahs too but these are uttered by New Orleanians gasping at the beauty of lights in the oaks rather rather than tourists gasping at the beauty of St. Charles Avenue.  Same play, different players.  New Orleans is beautiful.

At night, City Park is a different place.  It's great during the day and it's great at night in a different way.  A good night was had by all.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A conversation with Mayor Landrieu

We went out for coffee this morning.  You'll never guess the pleasant chap with whom we had a very nice conversation.  He introduced himself as Mitch.  He is a perfect charm of a gentleman.

As I've said before, I really like our Mayor.   I admire him and the job he's doing.  We didn't discuss that though.  It didn't seem right for Sunday morning chitchat.

He was full of questions for us: "Where are you from?  What made you move here?  What do you do for a living? etc..."  He had nothing but good things to say about Boston and seemed genuinely surprised that two people would leave it, even for the chance to live here.

He asked where we were living and I said in my pitch perfect Orleanian, "Terps-hickory."  He said, "Terps-i-core."

"Now just a minute,"  I replied, "I used to say it that way and everyone corrected me."  He said, "Really?"  I said, "Yes, really.  I think you're playing a trick on me."

He was bemused.  "No," he smiled, "It's hard to learn how all the street names are pronounced."  Shoot, if it's hard for this guy, I don't feel so badly about it.  On this point though, I'll trust my mailman.  It's "Terps-hickory."

He told us we are moving to a very pretty part of Esplanade Avenue, as if there are any ugly parts, and told us that it's going to be very busy come Jazz Fest.  We replied that we are looking forward to it.

You can judge a man by his handshake and Mitch's was solid.  After we parted company I asked the lady of the house if she knew who we spent the past ten minutes talking to.  "Sure," she said,  "I wonder if he's going to tell his wife that he met two people who didn't know who he was."

His secret is safe with us.  You'll also notice I didn't say where we met.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Frost on the zucchini

Who is this angry man?
It seems odd to feel chilled and wear a woolen coat in a city where palm trees and banana trees still have green leaves.  It seems odd to look serious in a city that is so overflowing with happenstance joy.  If a New Englander frowns, it is because he is disturbed to fetch a heavy sweater out of the bureau drawer to insulate his skinny bones when 50 degrees at the end of November should seem like a lark in the park.

We refuse to turn the heat on in our apartment.  One: it is electric heat and everyone knows electric heat is the most expensive form of all, over oil and natural gas.  Two: it's just not that cold.  Is it?

I woke up with frost on the end of the old schnozzola and when I pressed it into the nape of my wife's neck she yelped as if someone had dropped an ice cube down her bra at a bar-b-que.  Has New Orleans made us so soft already?  I am a flinty New Englander, of good, honest, Housatonic Valley Connecticut stock, used to shoveling snow and withstanding wind chills that would make a southerner wither from frostbite.  I have all my toes despite miles spent marching through slush and snowdrift with inadequate footgear.  50 degrees gives me the shivers.  I must be acclimating.

One thing I can't acclimate to is having a regular 9-5 job.  I can only go to Parkway Tavern and Bakery for lunch on the weekend now and the line for a po' boy stretches a hundred people deep.  On a weekday, it is more tolerable, maybe twenty people, maybe fifteen.  If you time it right on a Thursday, there's no line at all.   I miss being devil-may-care.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Ineffable Magazine Street

"The New Orleans that can be described is not the true New Orleans." -paraphrased from the Tao Te Ching.

Millions of people visit New Orleans every year.  They take pictures; they write postcards.  New Orleans has been captured in literature and history books more than many other American cities.  Tourists tramp the streets, ride the streetcars, take the guided tours and wander the neighborhoods by dint of their own intuition often following nothing more than their noses.  Everyone comes away with impressions, only impressions.  New Orleans is too big and varied to be able to pin like a tattered butterfly to admire at your leisure in a box constructed of words.  It is in constant motion, flickering too quickly to capture in one sitting or a week's worth.  When you think you know New Orleans, it surprises you with a different side catching the light.

"Do not confuse the finger pointing at New Orleans for New Orleans." -paraphrased from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Paul Reps.

The lady of the house and I are moving from one part of New Orleans (the Lower Garden District) to another (Esplanade Avenue).  What these choices of address say about our tastes is immaterial.  Both parts of the city are beautiful in similar ways and they have their admirers for similar reasons.  For myself, I admire all of New Orleans, even the parts closer to Lake Pontchartrain.  While Lakeside and Lakeview, and Pontchartrain Park don't appeal to me personally, they seem more suburban than urban, they have their appeal and it takes more than one kind of housing stock to make up a world-class city.  If New Orleans is nothing else, it is diverse.

The neighborhoods surrounding Esplanade Avenue are very different from the neighborhoods found Uptown.  Things don't seem as... convenient.  Uptown has two strengths going for it (more than two but these are the ones that attract me and the ones that made us consider Uptown first before settling on our future address).

Firstly, I am a big fan of the St. Charles Avenue streetcar.  I am a big fan of mass transit.  We took the streetcar yesterday, on Thanksgiving, when, because of the holiday it was running on its Sunday schedule.  What's the St. Charles' Sunday schedule?  The same as every other day.  I wrote yesterday how much I enjoy hearing the streetcar grind its way through the night, all night.  I'll miss that on Esplanade which, like much New Orleans, is served by bus.

Secondly, I will miss Magazine Street and I am not the only member of the King household who will.  Magazine Street has spoiled us.  It holds everything a body or soul could want. We both travel down Magazine Street every day and we still discover things we never knew were there before.  Between June 9 and November 26, we both have the same impression of Magazine Street:  it is a bottomless well, a inexhaustible cornucopia, a miraculous wine jug that always has a few swigs left no matter how much a thirsty person gulps.

Magazine Street is laid out in a straight line between Canal Street and Audubon Park, you will find what you are looking for eventually just by looking left to right and back again.  The same isn't true in Faubourg Marigny or Bywater.  You have to poke around in those neighborhoods, be in the know, do a lot of exploring around every corner.  There are good things to be said about that, the method and texture have their own rewards.  We are just spoiled by Magazine Street where a platter of delicacies are laid out like jewelers' temptations on mossy velvet.
So it will be another New Orleans adventure.  Another quest to make a home for ourselves in a city unlike any we have ever known before and, if popular wisdom is to be believed, a city unlike any other in the world.  I believe it.  I believe in New Orleans.  I believe that no matter where I rest my head in this city of lights and fevers, I will be home: where the heart is.   Just ask the people who live in Mid-City.

North Claiborne is no Magazine.  North Broad Street is no Magazine.  St. Claude, St. Bernard, Franklin, Elysian Fields, Jefferson Davis Parkway, North Carrollton, North Rampart, Basin Street...none of these hold a candle to Magazine.  There is no other street like it.  Uptown isn't like Downtown.  No one even says "downtown" in New Orleans.  Uptown is a world of its own without a downside reference to compare it to.  There is no up or down.  There are north and south streets (which have nothing to do with compass points) there is riverside and lakeside (when neither river nor lake are visible or relevant to one's bearings), there is east bank and west bank (which are north and south on map).  In New Orleans, everything is topsy-turvy.

It's still New Orleans though.  That is why it is good.  Every neighborhood is a uniquely cut facet in this gem of a place hewn from marsh and miasma to provide the foundation of celebrations and joy come what may, bitter or sweet, hell or high water.    

There is one thing that Magazine Street doesn't have.  New Orleans' best comic book store.  That's on Freret Street.  Uptown, 'natch.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A big, easy Thanksgiving.

When I moved to New Orleans this past June, after some preliminary scouting about documented here in the May archives, I settled Uptown, in the "Sliver by the River" that escaped the worst of the damage that followed the levee failures that accompanied Hurricane Katrina's landfall in 2005.  It wasn't really a conscious decision, just where I happened to be staying and, of course, a beautiful part of New Orleans that many people are familiar with if they take the St. Charles Avenue streetcar.   I was familiar with it, it was picturesque, and we moved here.

I am moving downtown now, to the other side of the French Quarter.  Not in the Quarter itself but equally convenient to it, another fifteen minute walk should the lady of the house and I choose to make it.  The Quarter is nice, it is the city's main industry, but we rarely visit so much as pass through to enjoy the scenery from the seat of our motorcycle. There is always something going on but New Orleans is more than the storied Vieux Carre, there is always something going on somewhere in New Orleans.  We crisscross New Orleans enjoying everything this great city has to offer, the good as well as the less good.

When I move, I'll miss the sound of the St. Charles streetcar grinding its wheels along its tracks in the night air.  It isn't the dead of night.  No hour is dead in New Orleans.  There is always something afoot, people about, a band playing, a barroom open, a cook laboring over a stove to concoct a perfectly savory plate, something to see, someone to talk with.

I'm looking forward to the move.  I'm looking forward to owning a home in a city that feels like home.  I am very happy here and thankful to call myself a citizen.  Balancing the pros against the cons, moving to New Orleans was the best decision I have ever made.

Best wishes for a happy and bountiful Thanksgiving!  And bountiful days until the fourth Thursday of next November!  Measure the good things in your life and measure the things that cause you sorrow.  Be thankful for both.   If there were no suffering, you wouldn't know you were alive.  A painless life may be a charmed one, but it isn't one that can be savored.  Sweetness is enhanced by bitters.  Pungency is a quality best inhaled with wide nostrils and a bare-toothed grin.  Stoicism has its own joie de vivre.  It is a joy to be alive, alive in New Orleans, Whalehead King at the tail end of 2010 with 2011 around the corner: a new life, new possibilities, a new quarter to be drawn from the fiber and meat of being in a most perfect place that encourages fiber and being.

Happy Thanksgiving.  May you find yourself in my shoes.  May you find yourself in New Orleans.
With a handshake,

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A salute to Dorchester, Massachusetts!

You may think you've never heard of Dorchester, but you have.  It's Boston.  To those who live there, it's called Dot for short.  It is Boston through and through, more Bostonian in many ways than downtown.

It's not the North End where Wednesday is Prince spaghetti day.  It's not the part where Mystic River was filmed (though much of it looks like that).  It's not where Bunker Hill is or where Paul Revere set off on his midnight ride.  The Boston Pops don't play in Dot.  It's not where a lot of tourists go unless they are visiting the JFK Presidential Library.  Some tourists visit.  They are either the smart ones or the ones who leave from the wrong side of the JFK/UMASS T station.  Either way, they enter the best part of Boston and when they get back on the Red Line they don't see Boston the same way again.  They have seen its true, better nature.

Dorchester is the biggest of Boston's neighborhoods, some people (present company included) say it's the best.  I lived in Dot for three years and I wouldn't trade those years for the world wrapped with a ribbon.   Plenty happens in Boston...plenty, but much of it involves college students and professors, scientists, doctors, engineers, politicians.  Dorchester life is the common life sprinkled with the kind of minor miracles that make it a pleasure to get out of bed.  A neighborhood of neighborhoods in a city of neighborhoods, everyone is pleasant, they get to know each other and they work together to make a livable place enjoyable for a few blocks or a few miles as far as the eye can see.

Ethnicities rub shoulders and elbows and jowls and bellies in Dot.  If there is any friction, it is smoothed by common courtesy and cordiality.  Bad manners have no place in Ashmont, the Polish Triangle, Lower Mills, Codman Square, Upham's Corner, or at Port Norfolk.  If there is a circle, it is the gravitational orbit that centers around where the Neponset River empties into Dorchester Bay.

Despite the impression of rampant gang warfare and weekly shoot-'em-ups you may cull from the daily newspapers, Dorchester is an overall peaceful and congenial place in which to raise a family and spend a lifetime.  Generations have done it.  A few bad apples can't spoil a bushel or a barrel filled with golden eggs, none of those rotten.

Big things are afoot in Dorchester.  It is a part of Boston where things happen under the radar while regular citizens reap the rewards, spin filigree from flax, glean kernels from chaff, and chafe at a bum rap, all the while getting along, getting ahead, getting together, and having a good time.  Loving one's neighbor is easy in Dorchester and the high proportion of churches ensures it is a chaste affection exchanged between passing pedestrians.  Playgrounds are populated with well behaved, impish scamps who don't know the word "truant."  They scamper about harmoniously with a twinkle in their eyes, bright smiles, and evident good breeding, respect for others, and a sense of fair play.

There are worse parts of Boston than Dot, much worse.  If there are better parts, that's a matter of mistaken opinion.  If you are thinking of moving to Boston, talk to your realtor about Dorchester.  Don't believe the nay-sayers, distrust the haters.  Visit yourself, walk the streets, witness the camaraderie and kindesses and civic pride that is on display.  Walk into the shops, witness the landscape, the streetscape, the peoplescape.  Say hello.  Introduce yourself.  Ask yourself, "Can I picture myself living here the rest of my life?"  When you ask yourself this question, after plumbing the reaches of your soul's needs and measuring the existential bounds of what makes a good life, the answer can only be, "Yes.  I can."  

New Louisiana state flag!!

It isn't often that state flags are in the news.  Louisiana recently passed a statute making it mandatory that the pelican on its flag be pictured with a bloody breast.  With that requirement, the flag went through a redesign.  No major changes, just a more elegant and professional rendition of the state seal.  It was officially unfurled yesterday.

Louisiana's seal consists of what is known in heraldry as "a pelican in its piety."  According to medieval legend, a pelican is so attentive to its young it vulns its breast to feed its young.  Vuln is a very old fashioned word for pierce.  When the state adopted this symbol the mother pelican was meant to represent the government sacrificing its blood for its citizens.  It is a noble concept though a bit difficult to grasp.

The state's website doesn't feature the new flag and the state seal isn't being updated, only the flag.  Here's what the old flag looks like....
You'll notice the three drops of blood on this rendition of the old flag.  The problem was that the blood was not required.  Some flags had it and some didn't.  It was a good excuse for a schoolboy to write a letter to his congressman and get a bill passed.  At least a more attractive flag came out of the process.  I like the new one.

Remember, the study of flags is vexillology.  You can use that in the next conversation when you use the word "vuln."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

New Orleans municipal bird

A blast from the past.  I let you guess who is your humble narrator.
I was in City Park this morning watching the geese.  There were a few Canadian geese, like I'm used to seeing, but there were also the more humdrum, farmyard variety that seem more exotic to me since I've never lived on a farm.  

I am moving soon to another part of town.  I am in the process of purchasing a house to call both home and headquarters since I moved to New Orleans with every intention to stay.  I told the mailman the other day and he declared it was good news.  "That makes it official," he said as he shook my hand.  Everyone says that and thanks me for making my permanency a little more permanent.  "We need everybody we can get," they say with what sounds like faint praise.

I know New Orleans zoning is fairly lenient about keeping chickens at home.  I wonder how the regulations regard geese.  I was pricing X-mas goose this weekend and, much like in Boston, a goose goes for about forty bucks.  It had better be a fine bird.  If I kept a goose at home, assuming I could find someone to butcher and clean it for me, that would be a $40 savings if I didn't mind eating a pet at Yuletide.  

I have to admit, I am surprised I don't see more of another kind of bird either in City Park or anywhere else in New Orleans.

In a city that is always on display I would think a peacock is a natural fit for the Crescent City.  I see their human equivalent parading up and down Canal Street and Magazine Street and Decatur Street every day.  I am sure they are South Carrollton Avenue, Jefferson Davis Avenue, Robert E. Lee Boulevard, and St. Claude Avenue as well.

I don't have any recommendations to make New Orleans a better place but one:  More peacocks!  I happen to know where you can buy them.  If a tenth of the population raised a peacock and set it free, New Orleans would be a more beautiful place.  A royal bird befitting a royal city.  A peacock should be on the city seal.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The lights fantastic

Approaching Lee Circle.  The stop light lasted long enough for me to fetch my camera and turn it on.  Of course, once I got the scene in focus, the light changed and the cars behind started honking.  Above is a photo in motion of the approach to Lee Circle.  The real reason for this post are the photos that follow.
Hotel le Cirque at Lee Circle isn't a pretty building during the day.  Once the sun is past the horizon though, it is a jewel.  What follows are some time-lapse photos while I idled my motorcycle in front of the Circle Bar, in the shadow of General Lee's back.  Hotel le Cirque is the highlight of my commute while I live Uptown...

The colors change constantly.  This is urban lighting done right, a jewel on Lee Circle, which is an odd confluence of the hotel, some kind of oil refinery tribute building, the local architect society, the Circle Bar, which looks like a haunted house, a vibrant gas station and a defunct gas station.  All of this is arranged around a traffic circle with a plinth that is home to a statue of Robert E. Lee, the back of the Confederate Civil War Museum building, and where every St. Charles Avenue street car passes.

I wonder at the pyrotechnics of the Hotel le Cirque every evening and every morning I see it.  It gives me pause.  So many interesting things catch my fancy in New Orleans.  This is one of them.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tip Top Voodoo New Orleans

There's no beach in New Orleans.  The cityscape is entirely manmade, raised from the swamp with little evidence of it's prior existence.  It is paved over and impermeable.  When I saw the above object on the sidewalk, I thought it was a crab claw like I would find every few feet scattered in the dried seaweed that makes up the tideline on a New England beach.  I was on Canal Street though.

While Lake Pontchartrain crabs are reputed to be the best in the world (I discussed this in the past for a few days but don't have the patience to look up the links), I rarely see the remnants of these crabs that get boiled and devoured by the kilo.  I paused to take a closer look.  Crab claw?  No.

Look closely.  One end is covered with feathers.  It is a severed bird beak.  I didn't touch it but I let my camera record it so I could mull it over.  Why?  Why would a bird's beak be so cleanly removed and left to languish on the sidewalk.  I don't know.  Maybe it's a voodoo talisman.

New Orleans is famous for being a home to voodoo but, truth be told, I've seen evidence outside of tourist traps.  Not that I don't wish it were true.  I love drama and mystery.  New Orleans is full enough of mystery though without a layer of voodoo being overlaid on its mojo.

Soon after passing this avian remnant, I came across this storefront...
You can't read in the shadow in this photo so I'll tell you:  Tip Top is gone.  Tip Top is closed.  If you were thinking of going to Tip Top on the ground floor of the Iberville Street Garage between Rampart and Bourbon, forget it.  No dice.  No Tip Top.

There are plenty of other places, a whole city full in fact.  There's no curse, only business cycles.  Spoken like a dry economist.  When I find a severed bird beak on my front stoop and trip down the stairs, I may think differently.  New Orleans is full of surprises.

The NOLA Overground

Because of geology New Orleans can't really have a subway.  Here is a map of what a light rail system could look like.  Just this week I was saying that the only thing I miss about Boston is being able to take the train everywhere.  That map inspires a strongly positive Pavlovian reaction in this confirmed mass transit advocate and user.

Discovery of this vision is courtesy of The Lens, which I rarely read but probably should.  Then I would know that this week is transit week in New Orleans.  

It would be interesting to learn more about this light rail proposal.  Dedicated lanes and stations or at least smart cards would be a necessity.  As I mentioned a few weeks ago, buses qualify as mass transit but they are so danged slow they don't have much advantage over individual means of transport beyond being able to read while you travel.  I race the St. Charles Avenue streetcar most mornings.   I'll let you imagine who wins without really trying or exceeding the speed limit.  No offense to the streetcar.  I wouldn't have it any other way.  It's just not a way to get anywhere in a hurry.  That may be the New Englander in me talking; all business and mission with no time to smell the flowers along the way.

Dreams of an interconnected system courtesy of Transport for Nola, an organization without much information on its website but big dreams nonetheless.  A tip of the fedora is due.  That map is worthy of the MBTA, the best thing about being in Boston.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thanksgiving comes first!

In a city in which Mardi Gras is the major holiday, the others seem like an afterthought.  I haven't heard anyone mention X-mas or July 4th or any of the other major holidays.  In New England, these and Thanksgiving are the big ones.  Independence Day is the big civic holiday.

I mentioned that I had made reservations for Thanksgiving, not having any family here, and the person I was speaking to said she was surprised I didn't just order a prepared meal for home.  In fact, I said I was in Zara's Supermarket on Prytania Street yesterday and saw they were selling a turkey dinner but it included a can of cranberry sauce and I would rather make my own.  "Oh really?!" she sniffed as if that's something unheard of here.  I did see bags of cranberries labeled as "fresh" in quotation marks at Zara's (celebrating 70 years in business).  The quotation marks around "fresh" gave me pause.  Were they previously frozen?  Leftover from last year and stored in the back until this Thanksgiving season?  I'll probably buy some in the next week, cook down a batch of too much sauce and freeze what's extra.  What difference does it make?  I must admit it will seem odd to have such a New England food, a taste of the old Cap Cod cranberry bogs.  I think I've read that Wisconsin is the #1 cranberry-producing state now.

All of this is neither here nor there.  The real news is that X-mas decorations have been hung on Canal Street...before Thanksgiving!
The first picture on this post is a little out of focus but it reflects what Canal Street looks like at 6:00 in the morning.  This second one is a little dark for noon.  It was a brilliantly bright day today in the 70s.  I understand Connecticut has already seen snow.  It is the middle of November and, while I have worn a sweater on some nights, I haven't had to break out a coat.

It's odd to see wreaths and artificial pine wrapped around the light poles in this semi-tropical weather.  The natives tell me not to be surprised if we see snow.  I was talking to a local who had visited Boston in August. "Man!" he said, "It was cold at night!  Even in August!"  Yup.

One last picture of Canal Street in the morning, this time in focus:
Then again, maybe not.  It's very pretty but somehow lights on a palm tree don't really say X-mas to me.  Besides, blue and gold aren't X-mas colors; they're Navy colors.  I have learned thought that purple and yellow are LSU colors.  At least whoever is in charge of holiday decorating didn't go that route.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!  It's a week away and then we can think about Christmas with a clear conscience.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

South of the West Bank

Tchoupitoulas Street.
An old friend asked me what it is like to live in New Orleans.  I trust she won't mind if I just post this excerpt of my reply.  It's not like it's a secret:

"Unlike what we are used to, there aren't many incorporated towns in the surrounding parishes (counties).  I still haven't really figured it out,.  There aren't any towns so much as "places."  I find it very disorienting trying to navigate my way around when touring the countryside since I am used to using incorporated towns as a reference point.  There also doesn't seem to be the ingrained animosity between communities that I am so used to in New England.  People live in Metarie but there's no stigma attached to living in the suburb.  People here seem to love their developments and strip malls." 

I was in Belle Chasse yesterday.  If this were in Connecticut, I would expect to find a town green, a city hall, a white clapboard Congregational Church on the green, and a cluster of old commercial building on the surrounding streets.  The center of town would have colonial homes dating from the 1700s and then other eras in a widening circumference from the center of town.  Belle Chasse (pronounced Bell Chase) is not like that.

The center of "town" (it's not a town, it is the seat of Plaquemines Parish, unincorporated without a government of its own or selectmen or town meetings) is where two state roads meet.  All the homes are gated communities of McMansions and then a strip of shopping centers that goes on and on and on.  There is very little eye candy to delight a sensitive aesthetic sense.  Ungated communities of prefabricated homes seemed to be lining the street grid behind the McDonald's.

New Orleans is a different world from the rest of the American cities I've lived in.  Louisiana past the west bank of the Mississippi River (which I traveled south to reach, it's that convoluted) is another world altogether.  I passed a mix of heavy industry, agriculture, and bedrooms interspersed amidst torn up swampland.  I don't know what the residents of Plaquemines Parish do for entertainment or community.

I ride a motorcycle.  I pass through, I observe, I head home to the city I call home.  I don't know a gol-darned thing about anything I've witnessed.

I did order a new fairing for my Little Ninja.  The old one has rattled so loose and developed so many cracks and faults from the abuse of New Orleans's potholed streets that it is beyond repair.  Every time I hear the front end rattle, it pains me and embarrasses me.  The Little Ninja is a sleek machine, as finely tuned and fit as its driver.  The noises it makes is a personal affront, as if I am a rusty Tim Man jangled by my environment so that I sound like I will fall apart the next intersection.  Untrue.  New Orleans is nurturing me rather than killing me.  New Orleans is making me stronger and more open to the cornucopia life offers those with the inclination to swallow whole.  The Little Ninja shouldn't rattle the same way I don't.

I was given a choice of colors.  The Little Ninja is blue (see below).  Now the fairing around the headlight will be red.  I never want to hear someone say, "I didn't see you."  You can't be afraid of color.  This is a doctrine I employ in my shirts and ties and socks.  As I get older, it is a doctrine I employ in my motorcycle gear.  "See me."  Nothing says New Orleans as much as this statement.  New Orleans commands attention.  It's citizens demand to be seen.
There aren't any hills this tall in my part of Louisiana.  Picture taken in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Motorcycles are everywhere.

Elvis Presley.
A motorcycle sets a body free.  I’m not discussing a wreck, in which a body can potentially really be set free, soaring through the ether to land tumbling against a rock or a hard place.  I mean that sitting balanced between two wheels spinning at high velocity gives a person the confidence to tackle any of life’s challenges.  Being able to navigate the world on two wheels is something an automobile driver will never know.  The vulnerability paired with the skill it takes to stay upright and in motion inspires confidence in one’s abilities.
I have yet to encounter a hill worth mentioning in Louisiana.  The landscape that stretches from the east and west banks of the Mississippi River is level and flat.  The roads are straight.  I’ve travelled the following parishes on the back roads: Orleans (of course), Jefferson, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany, St. Bernard, and, today, Plaquemines.  
Leaving New Orleans, a person enters another world in the territory surrounding this great city.  I am not in New England anymore. There is little that is picturesque in the architecture, mostly pre-fabricated homes or housing developments built on spec, strip malls, chain stores, shopping centers out of an corporate architect’s box. It is industrial land full of oil refineries, marine welders, offshore supply outfits, scrap metal yards, quarries, sugar cane plantations, cows(!), shrimp boats, and swampland.  Odd land indeed.    
Driving southern Louisiana’s back roads doesn’t offer much test to a motorcyclist’s skills but the scenery along the roadside makes up for the lull in hairpin turns and need to downshift.  The people who live in this country aren’t necessarily used to an errant traveller gawking about so a motorcyclist is advised to keep his or her senses sharp.  As usual, we are in the minority and often invisible when we aren’t expected.

I never want to hear these words again: “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you.” 

Frank Sinatra.
This is what an automobile driver invariably says after a near miss or a spill.  Both my knees are a mess of superficial scar tissue because I chose to lay my Little Ninja down and take a slide on the pavement rather than collide with someone’s front fender and take a sail over their hood.  I bear no animus against those who drive cars but I wish they would pay more attention.  I’ve sat in cars and I know it’s very cozy to be enveloped in structural steel with a seat belt and air bag at the ready to preserve my life while I listen to the radio and rummage through the glove compartment and have a snack and a sip from the cup holder.  I have no patience of forgiveness for those who are talking on their phones when they pull in front of me, however.
Overall, I can say that within the City of New Orleans, automobile drivers are courteous of those of us on two wheels whether we are driving a motorcycle, a motor scooter, or a bicycle.  The city contains its own challenges, pot holes mostly, but other modes of transportation sharing the roadway aren’t a major concern.  The good citizens of New Orleans, because of the state of most of the city’s roads, move slowly and are just as focussed on moving carefully and strategically as a motorcyclist.  It is a pleasure to drive a motorcycle in New Orleans.  It is only when one travels in other parishes that mind reading and safety become major concerns.
Whenever two motorcyclists encounter each other they part company by saying, “Ride safely.”  No one who has ever steered the handlebars or leaned into a curve needs to be told this.  It comes with the territory.  It is a way of life that lets us arrive in the territory ahead, Heaven willing.  It is a phrase we repeat and offer each other not to remind us to be careful and sharp, we say it as a charm that others will see us.  As motorcyclists, we hope against the odds that someone will see us before they cut us off and bring mayhem to our trajectory. 
Clark Gable.
The freedom a motorcycle grants is the chance to move like the wind through the elements.  When an fluid force like a motorcycle meets a solid object like a car, there can only be one outcome: two wheels will see the sky while four are planted on the earth, bones will be broken, skin will be broken, blood will flow...  A motorcyclist knows whose blood that will be and that is why a motorcyclist has a certain swagger and confidence.  He or she has cheated Death every increment of a mile both through his or her own skill and the providence of whatever angel watches over those who travel on two wheels.

Look twice.  Save a life.  Motorcycles are everywhere.

Thanks to The Selvage Yard for today's illustrations.  "Get yourself a motorcycle.  'Nuff said."

I'll see you on the road with the rubber side down.

I've added a sidebar in the (your) left column of this blog collecting the posts about my motorcycle journey to New Orleans from Boston.  This was a trip I waited all my life to make, all back roads across a part of our great nation.  Rereading these posts makes me yearn to travel other roads I haven't been on yet.  The future holds promise.

Ride safely,

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Link is mod

Odds and ends today.  Plenty happened but it was all off the record.  Instead, we bear witness to the Rose Tavern which is no longer in business though it looks like good times were had there for many a year.  I'm not clear in which neighborhood this lies.  I think of it as Broadmore but I only have a vague idea of Broadmore's boundaries.  It is in a self-contained knot of streets hard by Xavier University where President Obama spoke a month or two ago.  It could be part of Hollygrove.

Here's a close-up of the sign:
"Home of the Original Calliope High Steppers."  I don't know if the Calliope High Steppers are still doing whatever it is they did or where they call home now that the Rose Tavern is obviously out of commission.  Odd bits of tantalizing, off-the-record history abound in New Orleans.  

New Orleans is steeped in its own broth.  It is hip in a way Miles Davis was hip, like Louis Armstrong was hip, like William Burroughs was hip.  It is home to a gaggle of hipsters now spread all over the city but concentrated, it seems in the Bywater neighborhood.  New Orleans is not mod.
This picture is a recommended link.
There's been a lot of good writing about the kinds of topics I enjoy.  Here is a Boston-based example.  This is the kind of story I like to tell, a real stinker.  My ears are bent and my eyes are open in the Crescent City on the prowl for material. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Other places to live.

Sweet Peanut!?!  McClusky, North Dakota!?  Population 500?!

If I needed a change of pace, McClusky would be the place to be.  I recently underwent a change, moving from Boston to New Orleans.  Though New Orleans is a smaller city in population than the Athens of America, it is bigger in spirit and activity.  A move to McClusky?  I don't think I'm ready, even though it's citizens no doubt have heart.  It is the "Heart of North Dakota."

From the town's website: "McClusky North Dakota is a great place to live and work. If you need a change of pace and are tired of the rat race, or you need to relocate to someplace that you can afford to live, then call us and find out how we can help you."

I'm not knocking McClusky.  The city boosters just aren't tailoring their pitch to someone like me.  Perhaps by design.  Other excerpts...
"Our 500 residents are proud of the businesses that stand ready to serve your needs."  Again, I am used to running into more than 500 people in an hour let alone a whole week in town.

"McClusky North Dakota has a fine medical clinic that is served by a neighboring physician twice a week."  I don't think this is anything to crow about, especially when considering the next fact: "McClusky is located just 65 miles from two of the major medical centers..."  Just 65 miles?  That's halfway across Connecticut!  I'm used to a bit more convenience.

Despite my misgivings about the medical care, a salute to McClusky, ND.  The employment opportunities are there, but the descriptions will break your break your heart.   I don't really like to groove on small town America's misfortunes but the story of the 80 year old plumber and the sick butcher surpass boosterism.  I'm not sure what genre this civic writing falls into beyond honest. 

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Molly Marine

A little early to be thinking about Veterans' Day perhaps, but I don't get the day off so it doesn't seem like much of a holiday as much as a day to rue the fact that I don't work for the government.  That Veterans' Day is not a universally recognized holiday stirs up my bile and not just because I am a veteran who doesn't get a paid day off.

November 11 was originally Armistice Day, a day to celebrate the end of the War to End All Wars.  That didn't last long, obviously, but the day had a historic footprint.  Not that I'm against reserving a day to honor veterans but it seems to get lost in the slurry of other government holidays that aren't really observed.  Memorial Day is meant to honor the war dead but aside from members of the American Legion diligently placing flags on graves, you don't see much honor.  At least veterans have a better reputation are held in more esteem than when I was growing up.

They aren't all heroes and what they do is often the ugliest kind of work anyone would wish on another human being.  We should remember that.  It's not all all guts (courage) and glory.  It is just as often guts (entrails) and blood.  It is a profession I wish on no one no matter how vital it may be or pointless it may seem at its worst.

I don't speak from experience.  My time in the service, even during war time, was much like now.  I commuted to an office and typed for much of the day while staring at a computer screen.  Important work that needed to be done but not one requiring much sacrifice on my part.  This is why I dislike being perfunctorily thanked for serving my country as a veteran.  As Americans, we all serve our country in our own way just by being citizens.  We all free a marine to fight for good or ill, come what may.  This is what makes America great.  Even the bankers responsible for the current recession are add to the nation. What doesn't kill us will make us stronger (In God We Trust).
The statue of Molly Marine stands on Canal Street in the neutral ground that bisects Elk Place, a one block street named after an Elks Lodge of which there's no trace beyond the lingering name.  The neutral ground is also home to a walkway with commemorative plaques that are falling apart from the nation's bicentennial (1976, for those who don't know).  There is also a statue of a head lying on its side that was moved here from the 1984 New Orleans World's Fair, for those who remember that.

That's enough musing for one day.  I have to run.  I am meeting someone in the French Quarter for a nip and a bite before heading out to catch a show.  I can see her anxiously awaiting my arrival now....

You wouldn't want me to keep Mrs. King waiting too long now, would you?

Have a good night, and don't do anything I wouldn't do.
With a handshake,

PS: It's been awhile since I plugged an Amazon product.  Give this a try.  There's no doubting where this patriot stands:

Monday, November 08, 2010

Creole tiki

For reasons that make no sense to me, the main entrance of the old Tulane Medical School is studded with tiki heads.  Its a rather somber art deco building without much ornament except for these.  They are about eight inches tall.

Just another example of the odd bits of eye candy that litter this cityscape.  It's the same building that is home to this around the corner.  Who knows what the architect was thinking.  Perhaps he was drawing up his plans over Sazeracs at the Roosevelt Hotel a few blocks away.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Elvis and I

From the Nov. 8, 2010 edition of the New Yorker Magazine, pg.51, "Brilliant Mistakes," a profile of Elvis Costello:

"I sneaked a peek inside the box one day at a mint-green Stetson, size 7 1/2, with a blue and yellow hat band, purchased at Meyer the Hatter, in New Orleans.  'Does that one have the card in there?'  It did, tucked into the sweatband.  The card read 'Like Hell It's Yours.'"

Elvis Costello and I share the same hatter.  That's a small boast.  While there are other hat stores in New Orleans, none are as conveniently located as Meyer at 120 St. Charles Avenue.  There's a reason they've been in business for over a century and location isn't the only factor in their favor.

My Meyer fedora is black, nothing fancy so much as functional.  I'm not in show business except for my own show and my own business.  I fingered one of the "Like Hell It's Yours/ You Can Get Your Own at Meyer the Hatter" card but decided against it.  My fedora is crushable and I bought it because I can tuck it into the fairing of my Little Ninja until I arrive at journey's end.  If I kept a hat ID card in the sweatband it would soon be a crumpled bit of roadside litter.  Louisiana has a motorcycle helmet law and beaver pelt fedoras don't pass muster as approved head safety gear.  If I could jet around New Orleans astride my motorcycle in a suit and fedora I'd do it.

When you look good you feel good and nothing makes a man feel as good as wearing a suit and a fedora.  If you put a sporty motorcycle into the ensemble, a proper gentleman can't miss.  Chicks dig it.  It works well with motor scooters too, as I can attest.
In Forest Hill Cemetery, Boston, a lifetime ago.


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