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.

Monday, February 20, 2012


In the laid back desert city of Albuquerque NM, in the heart of downtown , stands the Kimo Theater. Opened in 1927, a competition was held to find a name for the building. A native American chief entered the name Kimo, meaning "mountain Lion" and "King of All", winning the grand prize of 25 dollars.
We arrived for our sound check and were met by our stage manager, Cathy who showed us around and made sure we had what we needed.
"Do you have WiFi here?" I asked. "Yes we do," she said, "the password is Bobby". I thanked her and asked "Why Bobby?". "Bobby's our ghost" she replied. Sensing my piqued interest, she asked me if I would like to see "the shrine". "Oh come on," I thought, "quit pulling my leg."

Sure enough, at the end of the hall, nestled in an alcove under the stage sat a mixed and colorful jumble of tchotchkes and accoutrerments from various acts that had previously graced these halls and left a little something to appease the ghost of Bobby - ballet shoes, masks, candy, drumsticks etc. So finally the obvious question- who was Bobby?
Well, back in 1951, during one of the Kimo's regular movie matinees, a 10 year old boy named Bobby was scared by what he was seeing on the screen and ran from his seat, following a stairwell downstairs beneath the theater, and close o the boiler room where he stayed, safe from the on-screen bogie men. As fate would have it, one of the boilers in the room exploded, fatally wounding young Bobby.
I asked Cathy if Bobby ever made his presence felt here in the theater.
She recounted a tale of one musical act that came to the theater, and on hearing the story of Bobby and his shrine, one of the band members proclaimed quite plainly "I don't believe in ghosts".
That night , just before showtime, the sound-mixing desk refused to power on, much to the frustration and bewilderement of the technicians at hand. In desperation, a staff member ran downstairs, respectfully placed a small bag of candy on the shrine to Bobby, and returned to the stage area. The sound-mixing desk powered up and the show proceeded without a hitch.
Before our show, I took a guitar pick, signed a quick "thank you" on it for Bobby, and left it on the shrine. We had a great show, and left with very fond memories of the KiMo theater in Albuquerque NM. Thanks Bobby.


The plane was the smallest I had ever boarded. I should have expected as much when I asked the girl at he gate if there was room in the overhead for my guitar, and she replied "There is no overhead."

Me, 17 passengers, a pilot and co-piiot hopped on board. Turns out the co-pilot was also our cabin steward, and from where I sat, I could see out through the front windows in the cockpit. The cheery co-pilot made the usual announcements - no microphone or speaker system necessary , and if he had added "....and as we approach our destination, we will fill the cabin with brine and land in the canned food section of the supermarket." , I would not at all have been surprised. Neither would it have been the first sardine reference heard on board.
Looking through the cockpit window, I couldn't help but notice how small the window was as it sat atop a myriad buttons and dials. But then it struck me - why have a big windshield on an airplane? When's the last time 18 sardines at 30,000 feet hit a deer?

We took off from Denver CO, where, as I may have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, people just seem happy, and as my wife - a one time resident of the state - likes to point out, it's hardly surprising given it's natural beauty, clean mountain air, sunshine and endless outdoor pursuits. I've heard it said that Colorado is an expensive state to live in, but I suspect it to be money well spent.

We were headed for Farmington NM, a quiet town on the Colorado Plateau that shares Denver's mile-high elevation and sits at the confluence of the San Juan and Animas Rivers. Soaring towards our destination, the clear sky allowed us a perfect view of the San Juan mountains below us, snow-capped and silent, standing like noble elders, perhaps bemusedly watching the coming and going of us tiny creatures over centuries, our lives lasting no more than a blink of their eyes.

We touched down on a cool sunny day, and I headed for the hotel. My driver told me that coal mining and the power plant are major employers here, and it does feel like a working town. It seemed like every second car on the road was an unwashed flatbed of some kind, many of them lining the broad main street like so many tired horses, hitched to their post and dutifully awaiting their master's return.

Once I reached the hotel, I was told that a river walkway ran right behind the premises, and that it was worth checking out. Later in the day, I headed back there as a bright sun was starting to fall behind the trees. Mallards and Canada geese populated the banks. "Maybe looking for sardines" I thought, chuckling. The shallows of the Animas river babbled along beside me as I walked a loop of 2 miles or so, and although never far from the sound of traffic, the river serves as an easily accessible respite from the urban landscape, perfect for joggers, walkers and nature lovers.

My friends JD and Emily, who live in the area, told me of Farmington's apparently under utilized array of hiking and biking trails in the area, and if time had allowed I would have investigated further, but this is a working town, and I had to go to work. Oh well. Next time, but if you get to it before I do, let me know what you think.