Sunday, August 2, 2015

Front porch

At our new house, we've got the right kind of porch for sitting on. But when we arrived the four hanging baskets of Boston fern were sadly wilting. And after a few days of heat, it was clear that they were dead.

So today I went up to Harold's Plants on St. Claude and bought what I needed to refurbish the baskets. 

Here they are now - I've planted each one with a large begonia and surrounded it with interesting foliage plants - tradescantia, ferns and creeping jenny.

Bobby at Harold's Plants told me how to plant with the coco-fiber baskets. Harold's is right next to the Press Street railroad tracks, and is a gardener's paradise. I have a feeling I'll be spending a lot of time up at Harold's Plants. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Another part of town

Yesterday evening we met friends Naomi and Louie in another part of town. This is the marina on Lake Pontchartrain, by the yacht clubs and fine seafood restaurants.

When we pulled off Lakeshore Drive into the public parking lot, the air was still warm off the lake, and to the south a huge pink cumulus cloud bulged in the still-blue sky. We took an elevator up to the restaurant. Below its pilings a bad dixieland band played and misters cooled people sitting out at the casual cafe by the boats.

After we ate our fill of charbroiled oysters, crab cakes, and calamari, Louie said, "Follow us," and we caravaned after their Prius around the marina, past little stilt-raised houses and boats, to the end of the breakwater.

Here, people parked at the circle, looking out over the lake or back over the harbor where the neon-trimmed lighthouse tower glowed in front of a dusky sky. Men crouched patiently on upturned buckets, casting lines out into the water. Teenage girls sat on the roof of a van, their faces upturned to catch the breeze, and their bare feet planted on the still sun-warm windshield.

The pink cloud was now a dark thunderhead, flashes of internal lightning fluttering within like a moth in a lamp.

We sat around the bend of the concrete breakwater, sheltered from the splashing waves, watching the boats come back into the harbor, as the sky slowly darkened. You could see a pale glow beyond the lights, where the full moon was rising up from the misty horizon.

This is a Blue Moon, the second full moon in a month. It wasn't actually blue, though, not this one. It was golden, like an apricot hanging low from a branch. Just ours for the taking.

Friday, July 31, 2015

My my

There are cryptic messages all over New Orleans. There's something about life in this city that inspires its residents to make their feelings known, emblazoning the environment with their own unique forms of expression.

Both verbal and non-verbal, the messages may range from stern admonishments against unauthorized parking to philosophical musings, or simple expressions of joy, like draping one's porch railings with hundreds of carnival beads.

There are many iterations of the ubiquitous "Be nice or leave" slogan created by street artist Dr. Bob - no less truthful, despite its simplicity.

This is a place where messages abound, and it's sometimes hard to figure out their meaning.

The other day walking down Chartres Street to breakfast at Elizabeth's we spotted a message inked on the clapboards of a Creole cottage under renovation. "My my," it said. And then a good distance away, "Got ahead of yourself huh."

Who's to know what the author this message meant, and for whom it was intended? Was it for someone in particular or was it a warning for the public in general? Was there a connection between the message and the wall it was written on,or was the wall chosen at random?

Because there are so many messages, and because meaning is hard to fathom let's just say it's best to take them all in stride.

Don't get ahead of yourself.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The afternoon storm breaks

It was a hot afternoon, so steamy that I was glad I'd brought my cheap Chinese dime-store parasol to shield me from the baking sun as we walked out. On Dauphine Street, we turned into Vaughan's Lounge, soothed immediately by the cool darkness of the bar-room.

The place was almost empty. There were two TV screens. One was tuned to a sports channel; the other one to the weather channel, showing blue maps with swirling green and orange storms.

The bartender brought me a gin and tonic and a tall glass of water. It went down cool.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Flight over Los Angeles

Image from wikicommons
The week before we moved out of our Topanga house, we took a quick trip up to the Bay Area, to visit our son at Berkeley.

The plane coming home flew south along the coast then it turned inland, flying over Los Angeles.  It was late afternoon, and it was crystal-clear and bright. I looked out the window at the city, taking in the details. Everything looked as crisp and as sharp as a satellite photo.

There's UCLA. Century City, windows glinting in the sun. The Hollywood sign, right there! There's Griffith Observatory. There's Dodger Stadium. There's the downtown library, and the Eastern Columbia Building, its aqua tiles gleaming. I was so moved by the view of the city that I couldn't even think to take a photo.

Just over the Los Angeles River the plane banked around and headed back to the coast, descending over the 405 freeway to the runway.

It was like the pilot had given me a parting gift, an overview of my city. Farewell to Los Angeles - for now.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

In the Bywater

Our front porch
 Our new neighborhood in New Orleans is called the Bywater. In New Orleans, you don't talk about north, east, south, or west; your directional references are the two bodies of water that exert their tidal and cultural pull on the city that nestles between them - Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River.

So instead of saying something is west of the French Quarter, you say it's "uptown." And instead of saying something is north of the French Quarter, you say it's to the "lakeside."

This morning's train
 Here in the Bywater, we are downtown from the French Quarter, and we are definitely riverside. The Mississippi River runs just beyond our street, beyond the levee. Railroad tracks run between us and the river, and the music of trains' horns, the shriek and sizzle of wheels on tracks, and the rumble of moving cars are a part of our daily soundscape.

The tracks take a turn through the neighborhood at Press Street, and this is the uptown boundary of the Bywater. Its downtown boundary is the Industrial Canal. The neighborhood used to be known simply as the Upper Ninth Ward, but in the 1940s, to distinguish it from new housing being developed lakeside, it was dubbed "Bywater" after the telephone exchange prevalent in the area (remember named telephone exchanges?).

It's not a fancy place. Its rows of Creole cottages and shotgun houses were built for working class people, who worked on the Mississippi docks and in the industrial and service businesses in the neighborhood. During the '70s and '80s, as the economy worsened, the neighborhood declined and became a dangerous slum. In the '90s and early 2000s, artists and a more bohemian element moved in, but even in 1996 when I first started coming here, tourists were warned to stay out of the Bywater.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, the Bywater remained mostly dry, like the French Quarter, being on ground marginally higher than the rest of the city. It wasn't until after Katrina, that the gentrification of the Bywater really began.

Today, it's kind of a mixed bag. When I take my morning walk with Jack, I'm sometimes astonished at how bad the streets and sidewalks are - cracked and bulging, broken or simply not there at all, and weeds overgrowing anyplace they can take hold.

And sometimes they're not weeds, but beautiful flowers - yet still overgrown.

Beautifully restored houses sit side-by-side with ruins - although most of these ruins have building permits tacked up on their siding, fortelling improvements to come. On one block, a graffiti-smeared warehouse is ringed with razor wire, while on the next block, a similar warehouse has been transformed by real estate developers into "artists' lofts." There are rusty old heaps parked at the curbs, and respectable new compact cars (no luxury cars, though, not yet anyway.)

Artist loft real estate development
On my morning walk, I encounter a lot of different people, who all greet me. There's an elderly lady who sweeps her doorstep and waters her plants; an eccentric old gentleman who sits on a cluttered stoop with his cat, reading the paper, I say good morning to young black men or boys riding their bikes to work or school; to a jogger running with his pit bull; to a young woman dressed in business attire, leaving for work.

At the coffee shop, the other morning, we saw two men at another table eat their breakfast and tend to a toddler in an elaborate stroller. Down the street, a dad and his three kids rode by on fat-tired bikes. Our next door neighbor drives a vintage black hearse, emblazoned with slogans, and around the corner yesterday evening, a man sitting on the curb drinking a beer joked about how the neighborhood has changed. "You can't find a good crack whore anywhere these days," he says. He lives in a three-story mansion, enclosed by a fenced garden of lush banana trees and palms.

Out of the corner of your eye, you'll see quirky things - painted signs with proclamations, or odd artifacts and tokens.

It's a strange place; a place with a shabby beauty. It's a place people feel conflicted about. It's changed a lot - certainly if it hadn't changed, we couldn't safely be here -  but our very presence here as outsiders is changing it, too.

Yet even living here one week, I am already feeling a kind of irrational nostalgia. This is a common phenomenon with gentrification. It's an ironic joke - the hipster who came here two years ago deploring the "new people" moving in.

This will be a year rich in experience and inspiration.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Summer cold interlude

Neighborhood snapshots
What's worse than a summer cold? It hit [The Man I Love] last Friday, just as we were finishing up our move out of our Topanga house, and organizing the trip to New Orleans, with all its complications - shipping the car, shipping Jack the dog.

When we arrived, he spent much of our first days sleeping, though we ventured out occasionally for meals.

The cold hit me this Friday - stuffy head and stuffed-up nose, raspy cough and an achy feeling.  I'll go for a few hours feeling marginally better, then I'll hit the wall, tailspinning into coughing jags, shivers, and spasm-like sneezes.

I alternately sweat between the bedsheets, and shiver in the air conditioning. Perversely the 99 degree heat outside is almost a comfort to the cold shivers - at least for a few minutes, taking Jack a short walk around the block.

I can tell the disease is evolving, My cough has taken on a hollow barking sound as things really come up. I've been coughing so much it hurts, my diaphragm muscles so sore it feels like there's a steel band around my ribcage.

Meanwhile, our new city awaits beyond the sickroom. It was a good idea to move a full month before my classes start - at least I can grant myself the luxury of convalescing without pressure. I'll get through this, and then be ready to start our new life here.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Yes, I know

I have to update my profile, page, header and everything else. Give me a break, I've got a cold! Start with this - a picture from my neighborhood.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Rolling on the river

When we arrived in New Orleans, [The Man I Love] was suffering from a bad cold. He's getting better, but now I've got it. So we're taking it easy.

Today we took a walk through Crescent Park, along the mighty Mississippi River. Here's what we saw there.

It's all just on the other side of the levee.