Thursday, May 1, 2014

Raleigh/Durham NC

Got in late for a gig the next day. The air is warm and a little soupy, with a light breeze blowing.
Despite the late hour, birds chirped intermittently in the trees, sounding more like a slowly waking dawn chorus than a midnight motel parking lot.
The next morning, a short walk around the area revealed the shopping precinct with its ubiquitous hum of traffic to and fro.
All the while , out of the thick sunny air, mockingbirds, cardinals and a host of others unrecognizable to me held sway in the air directly above us, their chatter occasionally piercing the low hum of engines.
Surrounding us on every side, lush green forested hills rose gently to the horizon, still, like giant cupped hands holding the hustle and bustle in safety as it rolled in and out between its fingers.

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Raleigh/Durham NC

Monday, November 18, 2013

New Orleans

New Orleans. Overseeing volunteers in the Lower ninth ward.
The neighborhood's narrow streets are spotted with banana trees and lined with grass margins and shotgun-style homes, some still completely ransacked by the hurricanes, others beautifully rehabbed.
Theday was spent sanding and priming - chatting and laughing with the others made the day pass quickly. Afterward, the shower coulda used a traffic light. The French volunteers made dinner and it disappeared in seconds . Now the downtime - a cup of coffee and a game of cards and the hours unwind with an easy rapport unfolding between everybody.
Plenty more to do tomorrow .

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Cafe Hawelka

Cafe Hawelka, in Vienna is as much a part of the city as the city is a part of European history.
First opened in 1939 , it has changed little over the following decades and since that time has been operated by the Hawelka family, handed down from generation to generation. Through the twentieth century it was and remains a meeting point for writers and artists to share ideas over a melange or two, and maybe one of the famous pastries that are still made in house from recipes handed down directly from the matriarch Josefin Hawelka.
Among the artists, housewives take a break from their errands. Businessmen take lunch, or random blow-ins like me come in to look at them.

On a rainy Saturday afternoon, the dark wood and dim lighting invite the weary pedestrian to hang their coat and follow the maitre d' to a booth or table. From the deep colored wallpaper hang photographs of the family through the century and some beautiful original artworks - some original paintings hang from once unknown painters who, without the money to pay for their lunch, would offer a work of art instead. These hang proudly , some of them now priceless, in a room with no music or radio or any vestige of the modern world ,; a place to view art, enjoy coffee, and hear the low chatter of one of Europe's most elegant cities, and allow a small portion of the day to tick down at its own chosen speed.

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

North Country

Outing, MN just North of Emily . Way up in the pines . Duck boats gather under a blue sky - the log-built bait shops dot route 169 and the camouflage hats and jackets dominate as 4x4s and flat beds file in and out of the parking lots .
The day ticks down at the pace you'd expect from a northern Minnesota village.
Still plenty green on the trees , but sure to turn soon. The slight chill in the air is a clue to what's up ahead, but for now, the sun's shining and there's time to kill. 

There's a play in Emily tonight that'll draw a good chunk of the little town - dinner theater: pulled pork and a musical comedy from Screen Porch Productions to wash it down. Maybe a beer at the Bungalow Inn on the way home.
Until then, a  guy could do worse than just kick back and look around. Think I will....

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

One Saturday Afternoon.....

The root beer was from the Abita Brewery in Louisiana. A good one - not too sweet and full-bodied.
The Blues City Deli rotates its root beer selection regularly and always has something worth trying. The locals file through in a steady line , heading for the counter- best sandwiches in town and they all know it, but that wasn't the only draw today.
At 1pm the Rum Drum Ramblers were hitting the stage with their unique brand of pre war blues- style original songs. These guys are local favorites and for good reason. These afternoon shows at the deli are few and far between these days for the Ramblers, so when the word goes out it travels fast. By the time I'd grabbed my root beer, it was standing room only. By the time I'd finished it, you couldn't fit a sardine in the room , and maybe it was time for me to switch to something stronger.
Local St Louis micro brewery Schlafly is well represented at the Deli, and 3 bucks bought me a bottle of their Pale Ale- smooth not too hoppy and a little nutty. Just a little.
Vinny, the owner. smiled and served me and then fought his way through the crowd to introduce the band, then fought his way back.
The band jumped straight in and in no time flat had the joint hopping - double bass bounced the harp player into a frenzy . Matt held down the guitar rhythm - nailed it to the floor, and a guest appearance from a waif like young girl dwarfed by her baritone sax completed the picture. The crowd , shoulder to shoulder , bopped and sang, whooped and hollered with each solo. Vinnie had announced it as the first gig of the year and proclaimed his intention to start as he meant to go on - with good music and great sandwiches - and man are they good. The Po' Boy's are incredible - the roast beef being a huge favorite. I opt for the veggie Po' Boy every time, and one of these days I may well have earned one of the house t-shirts with the slogan - "If it wasn't for Vinnie, I'd be skinny".
The line moved slow and insistent like cooling lava for the whole gig, and over time it felt like the whole neighborhood had squeezed its way into the roughly 400 sq ft room.
The band bopped til 3.30, and I left a little before, weaving through some couples dancing a two step on the street - the only space around to do so. I wandered out with a full belly and great music ringing in my ears, and a promise to myself to get back there soon. Hopefully I'll see you there.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Even in Anywhere USA.....

Socorro NM was the next exit off of the highway, and where we had plans to bed down for the night.

We harbored visions of a desert hamlet, windswept and interesting, steeped in history, the air filled with coyote howls, the back streets with tumbleweed.

As we pulled off the midnight highway , we were instead met with the ubiquitous glare of hotel chains, golden arches, fast "food" signs and the usual garish clutter that makes a starry night invisible.

"Where are we?" Cathie said. "Anywhere USA" I replied.
We checked into our hotel and fell asleep.
The next morning, I decided to walk the strip, the bright sunshine dominating the sometimes bleak landscape of now unlit fast food joints and second tier motels offering " ree Breakfa & Wifi" .
On either side of this retail thoroughfare, single wide trailer homes and two room houses created ramshackle neighborhoods that ran into the desert and toward the snow capped mountains, as if fleeing the urban sprawl.

Amid all of this I found El Camino - a diner and coffee house from a time gone by, it's huge roadside sign an echo from the days when cars had fins and teenage boys and girls would "go steady".

After coffee in it's red leather and carpeted environs, I rambled further, and was happy to discover that even corporate-heavy consumerist landscapes cannot subdue a town with roots far deeper in the desert sand than anything thrust upon it in the last few centuries: the unique architecture and adobe styling developed by early settlers by necessity still informs the modern structures, and even among these, only a block away from the the grey hum of business route 25, stands the San Miguel Mission, established in 1562, and still standing tall and strong.

The missions were set up to offer a halting place for weary travelers and pioneers in search of a better life on their trek north from Mexico through the desert heat, and those that stand today serve as houses of worship for the Christian masses.

Socorro slowly revealed it's charms. The Manzanares Coffeehouse served up a good sandwich and a friendly artisan space to kick back and admire some local art or just stare out the window at a quiet plaza where life moves pretty slowly - a scene that makes it hard to imagine that just 15 miles away, in 1945, the first nuclear test explosion was carried out, setting the wheels of the atomic age in motion. These days , mining and mineralogy are what keep many of Socorro's wheels turning, with the local technical College drawing students, or "Techies" as they're known locally, from all over the country.

That's a lot of stuff going on for a small desert town, but Socorro seems to carry that weight effortlessly .

Before leaving Socorro the next morning, I made room for one more stop at El Camino. I ordered breakfast and sat at the counter with coffee and the paper. The friendly waitress seemed to be three places at once at all times, my coffee cup never getting below half full, and much sooner than expected, i was looking at a full plate of food - The Eggs Mexicano were magnificent, and set me up for the road ahead. I lingered long on the plush counter-stool, sipping coffee and soaking up the quiet steady flow of locals that came and went. When the time came to leave El Camino and Socorro behind us on the desert highway, it was with a silent mental note- get back here sometime.