Wednesday, December 28, 2016

World market

There is so much on offer in Oaxaca! The old central square of the colonial city, or Zocalo,  with vendors of all kinds - from shoe-shine stands to balloon sellers, to sellers of toys with their wares laid out on the pavement.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Oaxacan second line

It was about 9:00 o'clock in the evening - pretty early in this socially active city. The streets were packed due to the annual yuletide Noche de los Rabanos festival. I was sitting at the bar with my three companions in a mezcaleria on Calle Cinco de Mayo.  A mezcaleria is a little place where you can sample mezcal by the glass and buy it by the bottle if you like. Some places are part of restaurants, and serve cocktails like any bar, but this little place only served mezcal.

We were sitting at the bar comparing different pours, sipping the smooth smoky liquor. There was a guy from New Jersey crowding my shoulder. He was drunk, and he was checking my Jersey bonafides by asking me whether I knew which town exit number 115 was.

"Turnpike or Parkway?" I asked him.

When suddenly from outside was a loud boom, following by the unmistakable sputtering squeal of a bottle rocket going off.

The drunk paid for his bottle and, twirling a set of BMW car keys on his finger, headed out the door.

"I sure hope he's not driving," said my friend Alice.

"Oh, he's driving," said the young woman behind the bar. "Look." We watched a black BMW roll slowly down the narrow cobbled street.

The fireworks continued, increasing in frequency and proximity, and suddenly there was one going off right out in the street. We could hear music. "What's going on?" said Janet.

"It's a calendaro," said the woman behind the bar. She explained it was a private celebratory parade people give for weddings and other occasions.

The mezcaleria was a tiny place, the bar just inside the door. We only needed to take a few steps to be out onto the sidewalk for a look.

A man had an apparatus set up in the middle of the street, and as we watched, he shot off another bottle rocket. The sparks glowed orange in the dark, the streets here being far more poorly lit than streets in the United States. The music grew louder, and in the darkness we could see huge fantastic shapes floating toward us.

They were papier mache puppets and spinning globes, held aloft by marchers. They headed up a cortege of parading people - women in flowered and feathered headdresses and others carrying glowsticks. Behind, a brass band blared, clarinets trilled, and cymbals crashed. Crowds of spectators ran alongside.

"Hey," I realized. "It's a goddam Second Line!"

The video I took is very dark, due to the darkness of the street, but the sound of the parade rings true.

I think I like this place!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Hola from Oaxaca

The flight into Oaxaca from Mexico City was delayed by an hour and a half, so I didn't get in until after dark. The driver that had been sent to pick me up, Samuel, was right there and was such a nice man. He spoke excellent English, and guided me to the hotel and gave me some suggestions for dinner.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sending her home

CJ was a beloved person in my neighborhood. She and her late husband held a place in the hearts of so many people that lived, worked, and played in what is known as the "Barmuda Triangle" of the Bywater - a three-block area housing Vaughans Lounge, BJ's Lounge, and the J & J Sports Lounge.

I never met CJ. But I was sitting at the bar at Vaughans last week when people learned that she had passed, and I could tell by their reactions how much they loved her.

Saturday, a celebration of her life was held, and because this is New Orleans, it was marked by a second line parade that started at Vaughans, and then snaked around the block, stopping at the other two watering holes.

Presiding over this was Big Chief Honey Bannister of the Creole Wild West. CJ's friends spoke and related their memories of her. One woman said:
"Here to celebrate our sister as we begin to come and to gathering today.
Know that although her flesh part has left us, her synergy self spirit still circles round above.
Each of us that she touched she is with us in spirit
And let us know begin to give that life walking home for her.
And let us rejoice and live the life that she would have expected us to
Rejoice even in our sadness."

"She was a refined woman!" said one mourner.

"Yes she was," said another. "And funny, and smart."

Then the assembled company took to the street.

As we walked, under the grey December sky, beneath the towering cypress trees that line Lesseps Street, we sang, our song accompanied by the diminished chord-like horn of the train that punctuates our lives here in the Bywater.

"Here come the Indians! Hoo nah nay!"

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Revillion night out

"Revillion" is a New Orleans holiday tradition, although it has been updated since its 19th century beginnings from being a Creole post-Midnight Mass meal to being a celebration of holiday foods in general. Revillion means awakening, and here at the restaurants and bars of the French Quarter, there are plenty of holiday menus to awaken your senses.

We went to a matinee movie and then followed up with a Revillion version of a pub crawl. I am so seldom in the nighttime streets of the French Quarter that it's always a surprise to see it so vital and lit up.

The holiday lights and decoration gave the streets a heightened festivity.

A Vieux Carre cocktail at Broussards
With my three companions, we sipped traditional cocktails and holiday toddies at Broussards, one of New Orleans's old-school Creole restaurants, and then crossed Canal Street to check out the decorations at the Roosevelt Hotel lobby.

Roosevelt Lobby
We wandered through the Ritz and then found a seat at the cozy Bombay Club, just in time to beat the expiration of the Happy Hour menu. With four minutes to spare, we ordered snacks and cocktails.

On the prowl again, we strolled through the French Quarter, stopping off at the Pelican Club. My companions were planning to catch a friend singing later on, but I begged off and caught an Uber car for home.

My social calendar has been quite full this season, and I have to conserve my energy!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Accidental amaryllis

It's growing in the space around the street tree in front of my house, and it's blooming today. Once upon a time a new acquaintance mis-remembered my name and called me Amaryllis.

This is an amaryllis.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


My dog, Jack Waterman, died yesterday. He was an older dog; 11 years. He had been having some bad arthritis pain, which I expected to nurse him through for many more years. Yesterday, he was unwilling to go out to the park. I thought it was joint pain; I gave him a pain pill and he lay on the living room carpet, panting, while I worked at my desk.

After a little while, he moved next to me, lying on the rug by my chair. I came down to the floor and stroked his face, trying to understand what he was feeling. He was still panting, heavily, and I could see that his tongue was pale lavender instead of pink. I thought about getting him to the vet, but how? If he was unable to walk, how could I get a 65 pound dog in the car?

We have a local house-call vet in the neighborhood; their office hours begin at 10 am. It was just about that time, and I was keying in the phone number, when Jack got to his feet.

He staggered weakly into the bedroom, a distance of maybe 6 feet, and then he lay down. I touched him and felt his body move with his breath, then I ducked back to my desk to grab my phone.

When I got back seconds later, he was gone.

Thank you to my good friends Linda and Scott, who helped me get Jack's body to the veterinarian clinic. Jack's ashes will be spread in a national park somewhere.

Thanks to all my good friends who hugged me and let me cry and tell stories of Jack. Thanks to all my friends online who sent me good wishes.

Jack and his friend Franny
Jack was a good dog.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Tuesday in the park with Jack

It's become a morning ritual. Get up around eight o'clock and head out the door to the Crescent Park dog run.

There's a group of about a dozen folks and their dogs that come around the same time. The dogs are now all friends, and most people know all the dogs' names. We even can remember one another's names, instead of designating them as "Augie's mom" or "Petunia's dad."

Jack has been slowing down lately, as a result of his arthritic hips. He had a bad spell this last week when it was so very cold.

But this morning, he was running and playing with the others. It keeps him active.

It's become a little community. We exchange phone numbers and text when we're heading to the park. Or we'll text, "Cold out today, dress warm." We share our social calendar. We turn one another on to cool events that are happening, or give tips on what store to find special items in. The human companionship keeps me active and connected, too.

Friday, December 9, 2016

The bee on the flower

It's cold here - in the low 40s. The cutting wind blows off the Mississippi River into Crescent Park. In the dog run, an alley of evergreen shrubs includes a stand of white camellias.

Even though it is cold and chill, there's a bee nestled in the white flower. A sure sign that life goes on, that spring will come. And with it - at least, here! - Mardi Gras.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

He brought roses

I was sitting at the bar at Vaughan's Lounge, in anticipation of a musical set by Corey Henry and the Treme Funktet. I was with some girlfriends, C. and J., hanging out. The crowd was building, and the place was getting busy. The door buzzer rang, the bartender pressed the button, and someone came in. He was at my shoulder. A greeting kiss and hug - that's how they do it here in New Orleans.

And then he held out a rose to me.

A florist's rose, a large-flowered hybrid tea. The bud with petals still tightly furled, just beginning to open. Like a Valentine's Day tribute only this one was a subtle mauve tipped with crimson on the edge of the petals. Faded from use, but still lovely. The stem was cut short - maybe six inches at the most.

My friend works for a floral and special event company. They have been busy for the holiday season. He had just got off work and had salvaged some blooms from a display. He gave C. and J. rose blossoms as well (J.'s boyfriend filled an empty Abita bottle with water to serve as a vase), and there were still five or six clutched in his hand.

Wholesale roses at the L.A. Flower Market
My friend is a working man, serious and dark, and usually wearing a Saints jersey, jeans, and a pair of sunglasses pushed up on his head. Kind of a badass. The hand that clutched the bouquet was calloused from hard work. I said to him, "I love the way you look, holding a bouquet of roses in your hand."

He said, "There were more when I started. I was walking through the French Quarter and handing them out to people who looked like they should have one. You know - a lady here, a couple there."

Fading but still lovely
Who got the remaining roses that night, I don't know, although I am sure they were just as charmed as I was. I tucked my rose into my neck scarf, and put it in water when I got home.

I love this city.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Friday, November 25, 2016

Post time

A New Orleans tradition that is little known outside of the city is the annual Thanksgiving celebration at the Fairgrounds racetrack. Used to be, the track's opening day was on Thanksgiving, although in recent years it was been pushed back to conform with the autumn openings of other racetracks in the country.

But in New Orleans, traditions don't die, so Thanksgiving Day at the track is an important milestone. People come on out dressed in their finest, including - importantly - fancy hats.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


A view of the super-duper moon last night, from the levee at the Industrial Canal. Not a great photo, but I was there.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Rolling with Style

Click on any photo to "embiggen"
Yesterday was the Second Line for the Sudan Social Aid and Pleasure Club. They were rolling through the Treme in New Orleans, one of the oldest and most historic African-American neighborhoods in the United States.

Spirit 2 Da Street
There was a lot going on in the Treme yesterday - in addition to the Second Line, there was a Gumbo Festival in Louis Armstrong Park, and also a production of Verdi's "MacBeth" at the Mahalia Jackson Performing Arts Theatre. The streets were alive with music and rhythm.

Rolling with the Sudan were subgroups, including the Spirit 2 Da Street Social & Pleasure Club, the Unbreakable Men Social & Pleasure Club, and the Versatile Ladies of Style.

Unbreakable Men
The parade wound through the narrow streets and past the historic shotgun houses and Creole cottages that make up this neighborhood. The joy and pleasure in the faces of the participants was such a wonder to see, following a week of shock and disbelief.

Ladies of Style
Spirit 2 D Street keeping the "Baby Doll" tradition alive

Sudan gentleman
The Ladies of Style made a wonderful spectacle:

Their brilliant suits brought sunshine to a cloudy November day.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


It is lunchtime, and I have gone into Horn's, a little breakfast and lunch cafe in the Marigny triangle, just downriver from the French Quarter in New Orleans. Horne's is a place where you can get a pretty good basic breakfast, a nice spicy bloody mary, and a cup of coffee in a handmade pottery mug.

I don't usually have lunch here, but today I am in the neighborhood and hungry. It is slow now, a little after one o'clock on a grey November day. The lunch rush - if there was one - is long over, and other than a guy at the bar reading the paper, I'm the only customer in the place.

Heart sick

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The spirit world

I am not a religious person, but I am aware of the importance belief has in the lives of people, and the comfort it can bring. I'm also aware of the very human need to petition something beyond our earthly selves when we are in need. You might call me a superstitious atheist.

If you are offended by my cavalier approach to religion, you might want to stop reading now. But please understand I have no intention to comment on your own personal faith or beliefs.

Monday, October 31, 2016

This week's second line

Just because it's Halloween weekend doesn't mean that other activities aren't important.

As usual, on an autumn Sunday in New Orleans, there are a lot of events to compete for your attention. This weekend was the annual Second Line for the Social Aid and Pleasure Club Women of Class, and they assembled on St. Charles Avenue right in front of the storied Ponchartrain Hotel.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

6 t' 9 Pumpkin Parade

Last night, the 6 t' 9 Social Aid and Pleasure Club rolled its 9th annual Pumpkin Parade - the name means from the 6th Ward to the 9th Ward, so forget any dirty thoughts you might have about it.

It began at 6:00 pm in front of the Backstreets Museum in the Treme, but I caught it at its end, near Mimi's bar on Royal at Franklin, in the Marigny. I met my friend Bertie at the New Feelings Cafe, where we ate outside and waited for the parade to arrive.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Sign of the season

Halloween is coming, and this is a holiday that New Orleans fully embraces. What could be more in keeping with the spirit of this city than a holiday that combines remembrance of the dead, macabre spookiness, and the opportunity to dress up in costume?

This morning walking to breakfast along Royal Street in the Bywater, I encountered a man carrying a plastic skull under his arm.

"Good morning!" I said to him.

"Good morning," he replied. Then with his hand he worked the movable jaws of the plastic skull.

"How ya doin'?" it said.

Then, "Oh, don't mind him," said the man. "He's such a chatterbox!"

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Vegetables or art?

Yesterday I went down to the French Market to catch the Crescent City Farmers' Market, which takes place there on Wednesdays. Unfortunately, I was wrong about the time. I got there two hours too early.

So instead I wandered around the shops on Decatur Street; at the downtown end of the French Quarter there are still some funky antique and junk shops, some dive bars and voodoo shops. In one junk shop, I saw a painting on the wall.  It's acrylic on canvas, painting in 1985. For junk-shop prices!

It was too early to buy vegetables, so I bought art.

Get your nourishment where you can.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Black Men of Labor rolling in 2016

My first experience joining New Orleans Second Line celebrations was last year around this time, when our good friend Matt took us to the annual parade for the Social Aid and Pleasure Club Black Men of Labor.

It was an amazing experience, one that introduced me to the traditions of authentic street celebrations, that drew me into New Orleans neighborhoods I had never visited, and that helped me understand the vital forces of family, music, tradition and celebration that abide here.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Celebrating a life

I got a message on Facebook - there was going to be a Second Line parade this Saturday to raise awareness of the need for more funding for the Public Defenders office - a shameful situation in the state of Louisiana and particularly in Orleans Parish. In the local office, only eight attorneys are available to handle up to 350 defendant's cases.

The parade was to start in the Treme, at Kermit Ruffins' Mother-in-Law Lounge on Claiborne. I parked past Esplanade on Villiere Street, and walked up to Claiborne; I heard the sound of a brass band and thought - Oh, I missed the start! So I hurried up and joined the throng parading under the I-10 bridge.