Showing posts with label travelogue. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travelogue. Show all posts

1.2.19

Ten Things to Do in New Orleans for First-Time Visitors (From a Former New Orleanian)

What to do if you find yourself in New Orleans? Here are my top-ten fun things to do in the city that care forgot.
Iconic view of Saint Louis Cathedral with Jackson Square in the foreground (exterior)
Photo by Stephen Walker on Unsplash
Since I am from the New Orleans metropolitan area, friends, co-workers, and other such folks (who have never visited the Crescent City) often ask me for my advice on things to do and places to see. Last Summer, I hosted teacher friends from China who were in town to visit and it made me think about formalizing a list for first-time visitors. So here it is!

Replica of Colonial-era signage at the entrance to Jackson Square in New Orleans
New Orleans has been governed by the Spanish,
 the French, and the Americans in its long history.
FYI: New Orleans’s number one export other than oil is tourism. Except maybe for mid-August when even the locals complain it’s too dang hot - the city is abuzz with activity. My list just touches the tip of the NOLA iceberg. I do not even mention the numerous festivals and events that converge on the city each calendar year  Jazz Fest in May, Mardi Gras in February or March, and Southern Decadence for Labor Day  just to name a couple of popular events that pop into my head.
      Additionally, my list does not go beyond the traditional - so I don't mention trending spots or places that I have never visited. I lived in New Orleans as an adult for several years, and growing up I lived in the suburbs west and north of Lake Pontchartrain (in Saint John the Baptist and Saint Tammany Parishes, respectively). So I hope you enjoy the list and maybe you have your own contributions - which you should add in the comment section below.
Here's my unofficial list of things to do in New Orleans for first-time visitors:

31.3.16

Photograph: Spring Day in Philadelphia

"Around Panama Street, I Wouldn't Wonder."

A photograph in Philadelphia of decorative Crabapple trees that line the street with their purple petals.

4.8.08

Writing From a Laptop in North Beach, San Francisco, CA at Café Trieste

Writing this blog post from Café Trieste in North Beach, San Francisco, CA (But I mainly focus on my trip to Oregon, to see Ruy and friends, and that time I went to the Water Lily Festival).
I am posting this blog from lovely San Francisco, CA but the pics are from various and sundry places I have visited thus far so enjoy the unorganized panoply of prose and pics!
My friend Suzanne and Shawndeya know how to string a harp like the angel's on high. The chords made even the sea nymphs and forest fairies come out and sing.
At the Crystal Falls, Sarah told me in her best French, "laissez les bon temps roulez"! She did not want me to tell you guys that she has been trying to act cajun even though she is from the mid west.
This is common wood sorrel that Kevin and I tasted and concluded that its acidic taste is delectable but soon afterward can cause serious stomach churning.
Ahh, here is Ruy, Sarah, and Kevin relaxing at the Falls. AHHHHH. Isn't life sweet?

In San Francisco, early in the morning, the Golden Gate Bridge is veiled in a layer of fog and smog the color of cappuccino.


I drove through Humboldt County's version of the Redwood Forest. I cannot compare it to the actual Redwood National Park, but I was impressed. Man, those trees are ginormous.
This picture was taken on Mount Shasta in California. As I was ascending the mountain in my Toyota Echo I must have seen thousands of these creatures swarming, hitting against my windshield. I felt bad but there were so many of them it was like a love bug cloud you would find in the south but these guys are much more beautiful. By the way, Mount Shasta is gorgeous; some say it has a numinous quality about it that has led to conjectures about its mystical nature. I saw these hikers on the side of the road. They had hiked to the peak of the mountain which is about 12,000 or 13,000 feet up and they needed a ride to their car so I did my numinous duty and drove them back and they then, in turn, gifted me with twenty bucks.
I needed a break so I took off all my clothes and swam in the river. Do you believe that? Hey?! No one was looking but it sure did give new meaning to the phrase, "colder than a witch's tit"!
This young lady introduced me to the art of writing poetry on the back of a bamboo shedding. We went to the Water Lily Festival in Wilsonville, Oregon. It was da bomb.

30.10.07

Poem: 'Jakob'

Innocuous halls of a candy store:
glass, safety, sweetness all around —
somewhere in københavn,
but it could have been anywhere,
my lovely dane,
anywhere,
with the same saccharine, sick smell,
but here his hand was somewhere,
counting change in my hand —
really, with no meaning at all —
just to count change. Softness on softness.

I felt his touch, slightly, a brush
and his name tag remarked
‘You’re from abroad?’ —

for a moment only us,

a caress; it was only us:
‘Yes, I’m from abroad,’ then a laugh, a smile.

I wanted his touch; though, I only grinned
And Jakob smiled back,
Then, gone,
I kept rushing and swinging, relishing and imagining;
I kept breathing, He: continuing, space lengthening
into an ephemeral distancing then gone
into banal innocuity: a saccharine sweet smelling calm forgetfulness

15.7.07

Google Maps and the Christ Haunted Way to Jackson, Mississippi

Read about a backroads car trip from New Orleans, Louisiana to Jackson, Mississippi.
Figure 1: The route I took on a recent backroads car trip from New Orleans to Jackson
    Obsession with the world’s best search engine and an itch to travel led me to plan a trip for myself earlier this summer with Google Maps.  With Google’s clever map service I can actually get satellite imagery of my own backyard, sans the barking dog, by typing in an address and presto -- after a couple of seconds, an overhead satellite image appears on the screen. Like electrons swirling in a vacuum, maps are possibilities, discovery.  Looking from above like a god over a cosmic machine, I can see the earth’s surface, tops of houses, beaches along rivers, even the shadows cast by buildings. The ripples of water over a lake. Matchbox cars parked on the sides of the streets. If you peer closely, even mailboxes. The odd thing is, I noticed, after playing around for an hour or two -- the streets are empty, hardly a person in sight, which causes me to believe that the planet is vacant.  Where are the people? Inside, hooked up to high-speed internet? Well, why not? It is delicious information accessible to the layman. It feels intrusive, yet enticingly fun; almost too powerful for the ordinary person. Without even being there, without the aid of an airplane, from a chair, I can pan over a river that follows a paved two-lane road. When I click on the Hybrid button it indicates in startling yellow that this is Highway 17 (See figure 1). Wow.  Well. That’s awesome. I check out my friend Tony’s apartment.
   I can’t peer into his window with Google, but it’s pretty darn close. There are limitations to this voyeuristic peeping tom engine. Limitations. Restraint. I am restricted to the US and a little bit of Canada and Mexico and an outline of the rest of the world. As of this printing, you can’t get a bird’s eye view of the Louvre or the Great Wall. And, even in the ole US of A, you can’t see everything crystal clear. There are coordinates that Google won’t allow you to see. Either the satellites didn’t take pictures of these regions or Google technicians haven’t gotten to it. Or maybe Uncle Sam wrote them a letter, saying -- whoah now, you can’t be showing the tops of those oil refineries or those top secret coordinates. When I scroll over those areas with my mouse, it’s all a gray ambiguity but I can outline the details of every housetop in the French Quarter in New Orleans and survey the breach in the levee caused by Katrina along the industrial canal. I enjoyed the aesthetic of taking note of the design of the roofs, a strange patchwork of L’s and Z’s built on a solid uniformed grid. Strange.
    It is interesting what Google purveys to the common user and what it shuts out; maybe it’s arbitrary. Some of the satellite images are discolored and difficult to zoom into, but urban areas are crisp and easily zoomable. I can get a great shot of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Lower Manhattan. I can even zoom over the roof of my own house. While I’m in it! It becomes a tad solipsistic: here I am with a laptop computer outside a coffee shop wirelessly tapping into the world wide web, looking from above, exactly where I stand. As I get a bird’s eye view of where I stand here, I stand before me, looking straight out into the parking lot. I look up into the sky to catch a glimpse of the satellite that took my picture. All I see is blue sky, clouds on the edge of the horizon. No sight of the all-seeing eye. I found out later Google Maps is not a real-time camera. The images are created by still Landsat satellite images.
    And most practically, I was able to map out a trip to Jackson, Mississippi without using interstates.
    I wanted a Christ-haunted trip through the old south. The back lanes of rural Mississippi. I wanted to see the white starched steeples of every church even before I drove by. So I packed some notebooks, a pencil, my Power Book G4, a flashlight, trail mix, a few books and a bathing suit in case I wanted to swim in the Bogue Chitto River or the Pearl and I set off in mom’s car. I was on a mission to find the South I had read about, her regal lords and ladies, whitewashed churches, myths and images of Eudora Welty, Beth Henley, Lewis Nordan, Walker Percy. Even O’Connor (not born in Mississippi, but I am sure that her characters populate its hamlets).
    And in reality, there they were. I saw ‘em. On Sunday I was there. And saw. Looked. Wrote. Every town I drove through was like a queer recursive. In Tylertown. Georgetown. Monticello. Florence. Pearl. Lexie.
    I started out on Highway 437. It’s called Lee Road by the locals because supposedly General Lee marched down it with his troops. I stopped at the corner store to fill the gas tank. As is usual with corner stores, there is a dumpy matron positioned behind a counter who serves you without a smile, suspiciously eyeing any stranger who walks in; I wasn’t a regular so I didn’t get a cordial “hello,” just a stare. I was in and out of there but I did notice on the way out the cover of the Times-Picayune: Local Gas Stations Fudge Tax Rates. Through no fault of their own, it seemed, local corner gas stations were overcharging tax on goods without realizing it. 
    From seven in the morning until three in the afternoon everyone was in church. Every time I drove by it was a different stage of worship: the gathering at the steps; the Sunday waltz inside the main doors, the big-bosomed belles pulling themselves out of their cars in time for service. By half-past one I was still seeing the same scene, becoming a little afraid that I would be caught inside this never-ending reel of praise and worship. On Sunday along Highway 27, the only “hopping” places are the churches. If you aren’t in church you’re reminded of Jesus on every corner. Jesus saves. Jesus the Lord of All. Have you read your bible today? Jesus over Tunica. Get right with Jesus. It is a constant reminder inscribed on every inscribable pulp, branch, and tree. Names of the churches stick in my mind: Abundant Life Church. Starlight Church. New Life. Living Word. King Solomon’s Church (White and small with a big propane tank out front with a graveyard on the side). Cornerstone Church. New Bethel. Saint Paul the Apostle (that was the one Catholic church I spotted). Some churches were plain white clapboard edifices while others were veritable theaters, replete with jeweled studded bas-reliefs on the sides which at night lit up in neon like the downtown cineplex. All the Baptist churches had similar architecture. Reddish brown buildings with a simple white steeple. The differing characteristics were the size and the extent of the stained glass windows. In one town, the largest Baptist church I saw, boasted tall windows detailing the life of Jesus in stained glass. Graven images, I thought. But no. These windows are didactic, not worshipful.
    Also status. The name of the pastor printed in large letters on the front. People ask, “Which church do you got to?” At the Catholic church, the priest processes out with a handful of children at his side, the electric organ bubbling away orthodox tunes while boys sitting next to me snicker and yawn. At Greater Starlight Church there is a menagerie of color and light, the pastor not processing out but skipping, jumping. Not chaotic. It is very organized. As if everyone knows their role. The older folk get into it much more, while some of the younger people fold their arms. In one church there is a coffee shop just outside the sanctuary so you can get your joe on the way out, just before picking up the kids at Children’s church. Clever. One church proclaims: Make your family apart of our family. Doughnuts and jam available in the parish hall after Mass. Signup sheets for vacation bible school.
    I swear I was waiting to see Manly Pointer come out of church with his hard top bible and shitty grin, gin underneath the flaps of his books. But I didn’t seem him. Nor Hulga. Everything looked clean and decent. But I didn’t check the contents of folks’ bibles. The dilapidated Hard Times junkyard was certainly O’Connoresque. As well as the propinquity of the bars to the churches. The downtowns were unchanged; old store fronts. Some closed up with boards while others still open for business. 
    Walking the streets of Jackson on a Sunday afternoon confirmed my suspicion the South is still alive. A car stopped at an intersection I wanted to cross. The window rolled down. A beefy African American woman eyed me down. “Wanna come to my place?”
    “Ummm. No. Have a good day,” I said.
    I walked around her car. And walked through the park. I realized the city was mostly dead. Everything was closed on a Sunday. But the park was full of people. And the few cars circulating traffic were ladies looking for a quick fix. I was not really in the mood to pay out cash for a quickie, especially with a beefy lady. And none of the blokes in the park looked that attractive. So, I found my mom’s car and fled Jackson and headed for the burbs. Ate Chinese food. Found the interstate and avoided the Christ Haunted route.

27.12.04

Meditations Aboard the Saint Charles Streetcar

On Carrollton and Claiborne the Streetcar begins about three blocks from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans.
The streetcar that I ride is classic Christmas green with brown edging. Usually once a week I’ll walk down to the streetcar stop to take a ride. My destinations vary. Yesterday I took the streetcar to visit a High School religion class on Saint Charles Avenue. I spoke to all four classes and at the end of the day got back on the streetcar, a train that does not care about race or sexuality, education or gender. We all sit in the same car (thanks to Rosa Parks) and commence on our respective journeys.  One little girl about as tall as my knee told her girlfriend how she couldn’t wait to get home to eat cornflakes, take a hot bath and get a nap in before her momma got home. On another day, the driver spoke to me about the Presidential elections. He was very passionate about his election choice, warning me about the next four years. I thanked him for his observations and got off at the Latter Library. Another time some tourists in front of me were murmuring about how loud it was and how they should have stayed at the hotel to take a nap. I sat on the seat clutching my bookbag, protecting my laptop so it wouldn’t fall. Streetcars are bumpy, you know. The benches are hard so your body feels every movement, every shock of electricity. The lights will dim off and on near Carrollton and Willow. No one announces the stops. You just have to know. There are no maps in the car, just the signs from the windows. As I ride along, I watch the people get on and off and sometimes I hear the driver announce the next stop. She’ll even announce a good place to eat if you listen. This is journey. I’ve learned you have to listen if you want to reach some kind of spiritual maturity. It is a spiritual journey because it is humanity gathered together  I see it as nearly as I see my own hand typing these words. It is humanity in the fullest sense, an existential snapshot of the human condition right there on Carrollton and Claiborne.
If you liked this post about New Orleans — read more in my book
Things I Probably Shouldn't Have Said (And Other Faux Pas).
On the streetcar you see lots of things out of your window. Low-economic housing and a few blocks away on the same street, huge Garden District mansions, College campuses, zoos, and parks.  Pedestrians and bikers. I was translating Ancient Greek at the car stop one afternoon and was yelled at by college guys in a red truck. They called me a freakin’ queer. I had my back turned to the street, sitting on the concrete with a book bag, an open Greek book and two stacked notebooks by my leg.  I heard their taunts and whipped my head around.   I didn’t say anything, just heard their jeers and saw their contorted faces. A jolt of anger ran through me.  Who were these boys to lash out at me because of their own insecurity? Do we live in a world where it is insane to read? Where reading is queer, different, out of touch? Sometimes in this journey, I feel like I live in a dystopia.  It is then that I feel lost and discouraged, reluctant to take the ascent to a newer level. I become despondent and alone, jaded about the world around me and discontent with the state of affairs. I fail to see the possibility of spiritual ascent.  All the ladders seem broken, all the paths are one-way streets. I envy Jacob and his ladder. The vision of angels descending and ascending. Spiritual life is in the midst of the urban jungle. There is a world pulsing at every moment. But, I can stop on a street corner and take a deep breath of acrid air, sigh, lift my hands high and thank God for his many gifts. I thank God for how he has blessed me.  I say a small prayer on the earth that I stand, no matter where I stand. I whisper prayers to myself as the car rumbles.  I can hear the electric lines above snapping and recoiling, their vicious dance apparent as we roll down the oak-lined street. I think of the ladder of ascent. I pray to God to illumine my eyes, to soften my heart and to open “the ears of my heart”. These are not stages. I am not on the journey one day, and then on the next, ascending the spiritual ladder. At the end of the day, I do not suddenly become mature in my faith. The journey is continuous. Whether it be here in New Orleans or back home, whether in the motions of my heart and mind or in the paths of my friendships and loves, in the intimate whispers of my prayers to God. Maturity is marked along the path.  Sometimes without a street map handy to guide the way. Off the cuff and without warning I have to be Father to someone in need, and just as unrehearsed I have to be nurturing mother. The reality of father is new to me.  The reality of son is a comfortable role for me. I notice that I am being called to spiritual fatherhood. I sense that this is an important step in my spiritual journey. I am nurturing mother in the way that I care for the elderly in my community and my family. The opportunities for maturity are there, surely, I just do not always apprehend them as I should. Because I am lackadaisical and unaware of the possibilities around me to grow in my faith.  I certainly have the knowledge.  I certainly have the brain. But as my mother has told me in the past, I do not always have the heart. Sometimes my heart says things I do not know how to articulate.  Sometimes I am at the end of the streetcar line and I have to get off. The outside wind is often cold and the ground is hard on my feet. I have a few quarters in my pocket, not enough to take the bus.

So, I walk, meditating again in the urban jungle.  Suffice it to say I am on a journey, a mediocre journey (I have come to terms with my own mediocrity long ago) and not always sure where the road will lead. I am okay with only having questions.  I am not so naive, or vain, or prideful (thank god) that I need answers. I am a seeker. That is the best word that describes my spirituality. I am a seeker on a particular rung of the wheel.
Saint Charles Avenue Streetcar, New Orleans, Louisiana
To me, the ascent is rather a wheel than a ladder. A ladder presupposes one way up; while a wheel implies by its very design that different spokes can reach the same spiritual center.  The wheel turns with all of its spokes intact.  The center will hold; I believe that.  I am on the streetcar now and it has come to a stop, so I really have to get off now.  I can hear the driver yelling already!