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 behind the cheerful announcer.

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.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Morning walk with Jack

Here's a sight from my morning walk with Jack.

We climbed the footbridge at the base of Piety Street, going over the railroad tracks to the new Crescent Park along the river. At the top of the bridge, this is the sight that greeted us.

New local

The sky was dark with storm clouds. We had just walked out of Jack Dempseys after a late lunch of fried seafood and got a half block away before the rain came down. Big fat drops the size of nickels spattered the pavement.

There was only one place for refuge, and fortunately, at 3:00 in the afternoon, it was open. Vaughan's Lounge is a neighborhood joint on the corner of Dauphine and Lessups, and its looks might give some folks pause. We were looking for shelter, though, so we went on in.

Inside it was dark and quiet. There was one other customer at the bar, a gray-haired gentleman in a Hawaiian shirt. We ordered a couple of beers and settled in as the thunder growled overhead.

The bartender's name is Beth. When [The Man I Love] mentioned he was fighting a cold, she mixed him a rum-based variation on a Moscow Mule, tingling with ginger. It took us through the storm and some good conversations with the gentleman whose name we learned was Jules.

By the time the sun came out, we knew where our new "local" would be.

Vaughan's lounge has music on Thursday nights, and drag shows on the third Friday of each month.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Arrival day

It's six thirty on the morning and I'm lying in bed listening to the thump and thunder of freight trains shifting on the tracks between Chartres Street and the Mississippi River just a block from our little rental house. 

There's s mockingbird singing outside my window, too. 

Making a new friend
Last night we took a walk around the neighborhood. We had dinner at the local barbecue joint on Royal Street. Pretty good pulled pork and smoked brisket. Everyone in the place was white and elaborately tattooed except for a table of four New Orleans police officers.

I had a nice French rose with my pork, slaw and beans. It cost $5.50. After, we strolled down Royal to Poland Avenue  to the wine bar and I had another glass of rose, this one from Majorca, and it was $10. Still cheaper than Los Angeles prices, but you can see how things are going in the neighborhood. 

Here, too, everyone was white, and there were man-buns in addition to the tattoos. No cops, though; the food here isn't so hearty. 

We listened for a while to some New Age music by a trio featuring a Senegalese cora, and then jet lag began to overtake us. 

Tired and exhausted, we walked back the few blocks to the house, marveling at the brilliance of the sunset.

This is going to be a good place to call home.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

See ya later, alligator!

Goodbye to our house. This is the alligator that is part of our entry gate. Our friend, artist Rick Oginz, created it for us when he was our next door neighbor. Rick and his family moved on, and now so are we.

We did the final cleaning during a very unseasonable Los Angeles thunderstorm. It felt melancholy, but right.

Now we're in a hotel by the airport. We just put my car onto a transport to New Orleans. I just picked up Jack from the boarding  kennel, and he'll spend the night in the hotel. Tomorrow at 6:00 am we take him to Delta Cargo in his travel kennel, then board the same flight he's on.

UPDATE: Here's brave Jack's kennel at LAX Cargo, on the forklift.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

It's really happening

The view we're leaving behind
Controlled chaos - that's what it feels like. At 8:30 this morning, a five man crew from 1-2-3 Moving and Storage arrived, and the house became a hive of activity.

Furniture is padded and wrapped with plastic. One young man spent four hours in the kitchen carefully wrapping and packing all the dishes, kitchenware and utensils. Another young man - the youngest and probably most junior crew member - was assigned to ferrying the scores of already-packed boxes to a loading station in front of the house. Things have been dismantled, packaged, labelled and stowed.

There's a lot of furniture we can't or don't want to keep, and we gave the buyers of our home the right of first refusal to it.  Among the pieces they are keeping are our huge rustic pine table and the barstools for our kitchen island - things we likely won't need in a future apartment. This, plus our ruthless winnowing down of our belongings, will reduce the number of storage pods we need from an estimated five down to three - a good savings.

After a lunch break, the guys returned to start loading everything in the truck.

Our steep Topanga driveway was too difficult to navigate, so everything has to be carried, dollied, and hauled up to the street - the most arduous part of the job. This also came during the hottest part of the day.

It's a good thing we had five beers in the fridge for when the work was done!

These guys are great; friendly, hardworking, and respectful of our home and our belongings. We're lucky to have found them.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Boxing Day

The days are passing very swiftly now. In two days, the moving and storage company comes to pack up our stuff.  We have been boxing stuff up ourselves, though, because this isn't a move like our last move (almost twenty years ago).

For this move, we are separating everything we own into four piles: Store. Donate. Discard. Move to New Orleans.

Our rental house in New Orleans is fully furnished, so very little is coming with us - just clothes, treasures, and important books and papers. That means that we will pay to store whatever we keep - it's a compelling argument to downsize.

It's odd to examine the bits and pieces of crap we've surrounded ourselves with for nearly twenty years. That rusty baking sheet? The paper towel holder? Tupperware?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Tribute to Elvis


It was a little bar in the Mission District in San Francisco. We stopped in for a drink. At first, the bartender was surly, but after some conversation, he warmed up.

The place crafts its own bitters and infusions. One drink was all we wanted, but as we sipped our first concoction, we perused the cocktail menu. We decided we could not leave without trying the Elvis Old Fashioned.

We ordered one to share.

It arrived in a glass with a single cube of artisanal ice (yikes! Is that a thing?). I totally got the bacon-infusion, and maybe the cacao. If you really asked me to stretch it, I could maybe say I got the peanut. But the banana? Nope. Not a whiff.

As drinks goes, it was a sweet Old Fashioned, and quite fine. But as a memory of Elvis? The King has left the building.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Tiki tacky

Trader Vic's, the quintessential Tiki Bar, has outposts all over the world. I remember going to the one at the Beverly Hilton, in Beverly Hills. But I never knew that the chain originated in Oakland, California.  The original restaurant closed in 1972, but the closest thing to it is the flagship location in Emeryville, California, where we sat on a grey and cloudy July evening, looking out across the Bay to San Francisco.

We sipped mai-tais, the original 1944 recipe, according to the menu. Sweet and tart, with lots of crushed ice and sprigs of mint, they were refreshing and super-charged strong. With them, we ordered a Pupu platter - because why not?

It came on a little pedestal holding a warming candle. Coconut shrimp, barbecue ribs, cha-siu pork and crab rangoon were predictably fried and delicious. We got a little dish of meatballs in a too-sweet gingery sauce, and dunked them into hot spicy mustard.

Menu cover
The decor was also predictable - masks and carvings, exotic bark cloth, bamboo and posters of sarong-clad Polynesian beauties. The wait-staff wore Hawaiian shirts.

At a table across from us, two ladies sizzled skewers of something over a sputtering blue flame.  For our second round of drinks, I got a coconut-cream and pineapple concoction in a glass almost a foot tall!

According to our son, the Bay area is rife with tiki bars, though he's not sure why. Perhaps we'll go on a tiki adventure this weekend!


I took a photo of this awesome bug on my front porch. Does anyone know what kind of bug he is? He's big, about one inch long.

Sunday, July 5, 2015


Olive trees on the hillside
Last night, as for many July 4th evenings, we celebrated the holiday high on hilltop in Malibu, with a view of the Southern California Coast stretching from Broad Beach to the Palo Verde Peninsula.

We sat beneath pepper trees, feasting on delicious food, including our hostess's famous dessert, Pavlova, a treat from her native New Zealand.

The remains of the Pavlova
From our viewpoint, we could see three fireworks shows - a show at Broad Beach, one at Malibu Colony, and one directly before us, off the eastern edge of Point Dume. These are "private" fireworks shows, commissioned by the wealthy celebrities that live in those places. We felt we had a front row seat!

There was just a touch of fog along the coast, a haze in the air that dampened the sounds of the fireworks. The party included several small girls who shrieked and ooohed and aahhhhed with every starburst.

We've been celebrating the 4th here for at least ten years. Our hosts' son was our son's classmate and best friend in 5th grade, and it was bittersweet to reminisce with them, as our days in Los Angeles wind down.