Sunday, February 27, 2005

Ave Atque Vale (Hail and Farewell)

Doogie (SRV-Aellen's Noble Scot) padded off to the Rainbow Bridge yesterday at about 3:30 PM. He went quietly at the end; he seemed relieved that he could finally relax and be free of his tired, worn-out old body. Greg and I held onto him and each other until he was gone. Greg cried. I babbled nonsense to Dr. Mike, who reassured me that we had done an exceptional job in keeping the old dog happy and healthy for as long as we could have. We hugged Dr. Mike goodbye and left with Doogie's collar.

The house seems so quiet today. Charlie seems subdued, as though he's at a loss as to what to do without another dog around. He's never been an only dog before. I keep listening for all the sounds Doogie used to make: his panting and sighing and snoring, and the sound of his big old dog feet padding around the house. The old bugger certainly has left a Doogie-sized void in our world with his passing.

I feel simultaneously relieved and guilty for feeling relieved; I hadn't slept through the night in months, since Doogie needed help every couple of hours. Without my ears half-tuned to his cries for help, I slept about 13 hours last night, and could have gone for more if it hadn't been so brightly sunny this morning (my bedroom faces east). Likewise, the kitchen floor seems bare without the pads and newspapers we had set out for him, but I am guiltily relieved at the lack of cleanup I've had to do, and at the much-improved smell of the place. We removed everything, scrubbed the kitchen floor, and steam-cleaned the upstairs carpets last night. It's been a long haul, for him and for us.

We've started talking about another puppy, but not with conviction. Not yet. We all need time to miss Doogie, and I'm just not ready for another go-round with housetraining and sleep deprivation.

Requiescat in pace, Doogaboo. There will never be another one quite like you.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Waiting

What do you say to an old dog on the last full day of his life? How do you tell him that he has until tomorrow afternoon to do all the living he can do?

I've done it. Yesterday, I called Dr. Mike (the vet) and explained that poor old Doogie was too weak to get up on his own any more, and that he was unable to stand for more than a couple of minutes. He has been incontinent for some months now, and he rarely goes outside. He's not living a good dog's life any more.

Still, is this how you reward an old dog for giving you almost nine years of his life? (Doogie was 7 when he came to me, and he is almost 16 now.) I could call Dr. Mike back and reverse the decision, but how much longer would it be before I had to call again and remake that appointment?

The decision was obvious when it was Duncan's turn. Duncan's kidneys were failing, and even if he responded to short-term treatment, he faced nothing but a painful downhill slide as his body shut down. He would never be able to leave the hospital and come home. I had to decide to euthanize him in order to prevent him from suffering horribly. (It's true: dogs do ask to be released when they know it's time. Duncan came into the treatment room, put his muzzle into my hands, looked deeply into my eyes for a moment, and then lay down.)

It's not that obvious with Doogie. He's like a Mexican taxi that's been driven half a million miles: pieces keep failing, but the engine continues to chug on. His decline has been ever so gradual; he has faded little by little. He has not asked to go, and I feel I'm betraying him by making the decision for him, before he asks.

Dr. Mike agreed that there was only so much that could be done for him, and that it was probably time to help him on his way to Doggie Heaven. We'll bring him to the hospital tomorrow afternoon about 3, and he should be sharing bones and stories with Duncan, Merlin, Cadence, and Briscoe about ten minutes later.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Snow Day

I've been officially Sick Of Winter for weeks now, but today's storm hasn't been such a bad thing. Neither of us has had to be anywhere today, and it's been nice to kick back and just have an extra Sunday today, without all of Sunday's obligations (Greg's organist work and my chorus practice).

The snow's still falling outside at the moment, and I stopped counting after 8 inches. Doogie and Persephone are napping inside, and Charlie is napping outside. (He's the only one of us who still gets excited at the sight of snow.) Greg's playing Brahms and Schubert on the piano, and I've been making progress on my poncho when I haven't come back to the computer to answer email and catch up on this blog.

Greg had some very good news today. The regular organist at the Congregational church where he played yesterday wants to take off the entire month of April, so the music director emailed Greg and asked whether he'd like to fill in. Of course he agreed -- not only does he like playing for a friendly audience, but it means he gets to play for four Sunday services and four choir practices. This church pays very well, and they're a 5-minute drive from home. Greg expects that he'll be even busier in the spring, when more people want to take time off, and the wedding season starts up.

I'm not yet sure what the evening will bring in the way of entertainment. Pirate and Mr. P have been watching some terrific stuff on DVD of late, but it seems Greg and I haven't sat still long enough to get through a whole movie in ages. I started watching "Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters," which I've had out from Netflix since New Year's, but only managed to get through half an hour's worth or so before I was interrupted.

Did you all read that Hunter S. Thompson, the man who defined "gonzo journalism," committed suicide yesterday? How sad. Somehow I expected that he'd have gone in a blaze of glory, or maybe having blown himself up after running afoul of one of his ether canisters and a large, gasoline-powered vehicle, cursing the Fat Cats right up until the explosion, and flashing the bird in the general direction of the White House. Ave atque vale.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

I'm a wiener!

Wow -- I never win anything from knitblog contests. People give away the nicest prizes, but somehow my name stays at the bottom of the fishbowl when the little paper slips with names get picked.

Well, I'm happy to announce that my perfect streak has been broken. Thanks to Lisa from blogdogblog, who visits here occasionally, I'm a wiener -- well, actually, she has wieners and I'm a winner. Wow! Thanks, Lisa! I really appreciate it! (Go see Lisa's dachshund -- wiener dog --pictures. She has three very cute black-and-tan longhairs. She also does an amazing amount of charity knitting for the homeless.)

What did I do to achieve such an honor? I came up with a caption for a Dachshund photo, and my entry was kind of lame... but it was based on true-life adventures here with the Beardie Bunch. Anyway, Lisa awarded everybody some sock yarn for their entries. (I would love to have a sock yarn stash so big that giving out 30+ prizes wouldn't even make a dent!)

Not that I've been making huge progress in the knitting department, unless you want to count the mercantile-therapy side. I went to the LYS yesterday to inquire about the multiple skeins of Lamb's Pride I need for a couple of tote bags. It wasn't in -- apparently those poor folks at Brown Sheep had their roof collapse on them this winter, so they're still catching up. No matter; I happened to see some hand-dyed wool in DK weight from two local spinners in my home town. It was purple; I had to have it. What for? Don't ask. (I don't know yet, but it sure is pretty.)

I have been making some progress on the Lion Brand Warm Winter Poncho, and have completed a couple of "idiot knitting" garter-stitch eyelash scarves. I have reached the point where I can do garter stitch in the dark, though I still have to look down when doing anything involving purling. "Idiot knitting" is the kind of knitting you do when you're watching a movie in a darkened room, or when you want to knit, but your mind just wants to rest. In the 5 minutes per day that I have to myself, that's the sort of knitting I get to do. I inflict most of my scarves on family and friends, but I'm considering saving some for the New England Old English Sheepdog Rescue annual auction.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Change of season

We New Englanders know better than to trust any weather that's too spring-like, especially this early in the calendar year (though the feeling has been known to persist into April, even after the advent of the baseball season). We're so used to relaxing and enjoying warmth and sunshine, only to get bombarded with snow and more cold weather. People "from away" think we're not trusting, and they might be right. We're too used to being betrayed by our climate.

I've seen a few indications that spring might arrive this year, though. Yesterday a lovely female cardinal spent some time in the pine tree outside my office window, eyeing the boughs as nesting prospects. (They were occupied by a family of robins last year.) Okay, cardinals don't migrate, so I shouldn't get so excited at having seen one... but I did catch some early-morning birdsong recently when letting Charlie out at sunrise.

With the new season comes a new choral repertoire. Sunday night we started our first rehearsals for the Rutter Magnificat, which we'll perform in the spring. (Yes, I know it's Christmas music. I don't program these things; I just sing 'em.) The Rutter is lots of fun to sing, though, and it's the kind of piece our chorus can really get into. We're also learning the "Dies Irae" from Verdi's Requiem, with an eye toward performing that piece in the fall. The donors who responded to our grant applications have graciously consented to let us hold on to the money for a few months, while we try to raise more funds to pay the orchestra. In the meantime, we can rehearse, and dream.

Monday, February 14, 2005

A good day to give in to lust

Happy Valentine's Day, everybody! In our household, it's another Monday. We did our celebrating over the weekend, knowing that today would be another long work/school day. Greg's still on the train home, and it's started to snow again. He'll have to take it very easy on the drive back, and I'll have to plop him into the hot tub with a glass of screech-and-OJ for a good long while to thaw him out, poor baby.

Anyway, I did give in to unbridled yarn lust. I bid on eBay on 10 hanks of that luscious Noro Iro that I need to knit into that gorgeous Fletcher sweater from the Simply Noro book. I suppose I should have jumped into the Valentine's thing feet-first and bid on the red (#9) colorway shown in the book and on the shop model, but I picked the blue/pink/purple/black colorway (#16) instead -- it's more me, and will coordinate with all of the pink and purple stuff in my closet. All things considered, the final auction price was a bargain, even with shipping. I'm not sure I could have plunked down the full price for that many hanks of yarn without weeping just a little.

A friend at work in one of our California offices sent me a Snapfish album full of pictures from Stitches West, just to make me feel even more jealous. She was in better control of her wallet than I would have been, purchasing only a few different quantities of hand-dyed roving for spinning.

The Only Beauty Pageant Worth Watching

Tonight and tomorrow night, the USA Network broadcasts the group and Best In Show competitions from the Westminster Dog Show. Since "One Man and His Dog" is no longer broadcast on the BBC America channel, this is about the only sports event that I watch every single year, no matter who wins. (The USA Network Web site even has streaming video of the breed judging -- how cool is that?! You can bet I'll be watching the Beardie judging tomorrow, no matter what!)

Fans of the movie "Best In Show" will recognize Westminster as being the big dog show lampooned in the movie, and the more you know about the show, the types of personalities involved, and the network broadcast, the funnier the movie is. Fred Willard's performance as the Joe Garagiola manque is abso-freakin'-lutely hilarious, not to mention dead-on. It's only because of Fred Willard's impression of him that I'll miss Joe Garagiola's wildly clueless commentary in the real thing. Garagiola was as qualified to do color work for dog shows as he would have been for, well, anything else that wasn't baseball. (Yankees suck!)

Sunday, February 13, 2005

A little now, more later

Wouldn't you just know it? We were lucky enough to have been able to stay warm and well-lit all during the snowstorm, but yesterday, when there wasn't a climate disturbance to be seen anyplace, the power went out for several hours.

I wasn't here when it happened -- I was off helping a friend set up for our chorus's annual Valentine's Day musical event, and then had an appointment -- but Greg was here and nursing his rotten cold. No sooner did I arrive home with battery lanterns from Home Depot than the lights came back on... so now we're warm and well-lit again, plus we have backup lighting for the next time.

The wireless router seems to have suffered from the latest power outage, though. I tried to revive it, but it's very dead. (Yes, it was plugged into a surge suppressor.) Fortunately, the company says it's still under warranty, so off it goes on Monday for replacement.

Tonight the full chorus meets for its first rehearsal of the season (not counting the tsunami-concert rehearsals and performance). We didn't get enough grant money to be able to hire the orchestra for Verdi's Requiem, so we'll probably be doing the John Rutter Magnificat and Requiem instead -- perhaps with other Rutter pieces as well. We'll all find out this evening.

Greg has been working away at multiple pieces at once. His Pavane-Galliard for Harp is a grad school assignment, and he'll even have it played tomorrow if he's feeling well enough to attend class. The instructor brings in instrumentalists to the classes, so the composers can hear their pieces played "live" right in class -- a pretty neat idea!

He has also been busy printing and sending parts for his wind quartet (Double Fugue in One Movement, I think) to the instrumentalists who will be playing it in a concert later this spring. He has also been working on a larger orchestral work called River. He's contemplating switching composition software, so he's been importing a lot of his works in progress into the new package. Once they're there, he can't help but go over them again. A lot of his pieces have been getting attention this way, so he'll probably finish many of them fairly soon.

Unfortunately, the untimely death of the router has us down to one working Ethernet connection between us, so my computer is the only one that can access the Internet. This will be an inconvenience until the replacement router arrives.

Valentine's Day on the installment plan

We've been celebrating Valentine's Day in bits and pieces this weekend, since we'll both be gone on Monday for most of the day. We had our celebratory dinner on Friday night at our favorite place, and it was magnificent as always. It was just nice to dress up in girl clothes and go have a grown-up meal (which I didn't have to make) for a change!

After the power came back on last night, we were able to exchange gifts. I'd actually bought his gift already -- a battery for his iBook (hey, it may be boring, but it still beats ties and socks!). He bought me a model of Fenway Park, complete with working ballpark lights. (I'm a third-generation Red Sox fan; what can I say?) We have nothing against the whole flowers-and-wine stuff -- we both love flowers and wine -- but we're pretty informal people. I'll be off singing tonight, and he'll no doubt still be composing when I get home.

There's so much more catching up to do (I got a great price on the Noro Iro for my Fletcher sweater on eBay!), but it'll have to wait a little longer. More later!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

"Never mind all that talk about yarn. Feed me!" Posted by Hello

That's another fine mess you've got us into...

Sorry. I just can't help myself.

This time my fascination with Noro yarns will prove my downfall. Oh, in times past I could be happy with a couple of skeins of Kureyon and a scarf pattern, or something felted... but no more. Now I really need a mountainous stash of the stuff -- and a winning Megabucks ticket probably wouldn't hurt.

I blame Jane Ellison. I happened into The Yarn Sellar in York on my way home yesterday from the computer shop (where I bought more RAM for the laptop and received much adoring attention from the two resident chocolate Labs). There I was in the yarn shop, admiring all of the lovely yarns and the enchanting shop samples...

And Then I Saw It.

The shop had a sample of the Fletcher Sweater from Jane Ellison's book Simply Noro, knit in that stunning flame-colored colorway #6 of Noro Iro. I fell in Serious Knitter Lust. (Yes, I'm capitalizing. It's not polite to shout.)

I must make that sweater, I tell you. Its construction is simple enough that even a novice knitter like me can make it, and the directions are equally straightforward. This project was Meant to Be. At $20 a skein and with the pattern calling for 11 skeins, this sweater should more properly be entitled "investment" rather than mere "clothing." I'm in love, though, and love is madness -- so much so that I'm willing to spend the endless hours, trolling for sale prices on eBay, whispering "Fletcher, must knit Fletcher" under my breath.

The Quarter Stitch

Oh, it seems like ages since I've been able to post anything about knitting! This ties right in with my adventure stories from New Orleans...

If you're ever planning to visit that city (and I know that Sharon will be), be sure to make time to visit The Quarter Stitch. Here's where they're located:

The Quarter Stitch
630 Chartres Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 522-4451

Not only does the shop enjoy a terrific location in a historic building just off Jackson Square in the French Quarter, but its huge word-of-mouth reputation for amazing customer service is well deserved. The wonderful ladies who work there will spend as much time as it takes with you to make sure everything is exactly right (I experienced this in spades with a needlepoint canvas once) -- and if you get home and find yourself running short of a yarn, just call, mail them a snippet, and they'll come up with more of the exact fiber you need. They give impromptu lessons. They match yarns and find patterns. In addition, the way they package your purchases really describes the concept of lagniappe ("a little something extra").

Jody and I have been visiting The Quarter Stitch for years -- it's always a part of our "must-do" list for all of our return visits. For folks who don't knit, they stock a number of needlepoint canvases (prices include all the yarns, which they will help you match to your liking), and they have a back room filled with cross-stitch charts -- some from local designers or depicting local scenes.

Another stitching friend of mine and her husband also have placed The Quarter Stitch on their permanent New Orleans "must-do" lists. She stitches, and her husband ties his own fishing flies. They both find the exact fibers they need at the shop.

But oh, the yarns! The folks who set up the displays have wonderful color sense, and they carefully place different kinds of yarns near each other according to shade. Of course, you'll pick up a ball of yarn here, a skein there, and you'll already have projects for everything you see. Sure, they have inspirational samples everywhere you look, but the sheer color will give you creative adrenaline rushes.

Again and as usual, I didn't leave the store empty-handed. I came home with a skein of Colinette Tagliatelle merino tape in the Lilac colorway, and another skein of locally hand-dyed boucle yarn in a sort of wine colorway. Jody, generous soul, bought me two skeins of Prism Dazzle in the Orchard colorway.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Charlie's hoping for some more snow tomorrow. He's about the only one! Posted by Hello

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Gorgeous Gamelan

Yesterday, Greg and I took in a gamelan concert up at Bowdoin College. One of his grad-school classmates belongs to a gamelan group in Cambridge called Gamelan Galak Tika, and they were in town to play with a Balinese composer who was doing a residence at Bowdoin.

Everything I know about gamelan would fit into a miniature thimble without danger of overflowing, but it's fascinating stuff -- very complex and shimmery. It's a form of music native to Bali, sometimes accompanied by dancers in gorgeous silks and traditional headdresses. The music is remarkable in many ways -- including the fact that almost all of the instruments used are basically tuned percussion, mostly metal, with the bass line provided by gongs, and rhythm by hand drums and cymbals. The instruments are all deliberately tuned slightly differently, which makes them sound a little out of tune to Western, equal-temperament-trained ears. The difference in tuning causes the sound waves to "beat" against each other, and that effect produces the "shimmery" effect of the music. Apparently, this also causes the music to be audible from many miles when performed outdoors.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the entire concert, and the group graciously allowed the audience to come up and play the instruments afterward. Greg and I explored the chords you could create with the instruments in the different pitches, and he was pleased that you could form a few seventh and ninth chords with the right combinations. I had to play the bass gong, just once.

Mardi Gras Parades and Other Stuff

New Orleans Mardi Gras parades are like nothing else you've ever seen before. Technically, "Mardi Gras" (Fat Tuesday) really only refers to the day before Ash Wednesday (February 9 this year), but the Carnival season leading up to it commences at Twelfth Night (January 6) and continues all the way up to its climax on Fat Tuesday (February 8).

Even if you abhor crowds, it's worth it to see at least one full-blown Mardi Gras parade. You'll be standing on a sidewalk with thousands of other people, listening to the bands and finding it impossible not to jump up and down, if you're too hemmed in to dance. As the floats pass by, the entire crowd starts to roar, as the float riders toss beads, doubloons, cups, and other parade souvenirs to folks on the sidelines. You've never seen such a scramble for plastic beads in your life, but it doesn't take long before you get into the spirit of things and try to catch as many goodies as you can. (At some parades, you can get hand-painted coconuts, spears, condoms, dog biscuits, and so on. More about some of that later.)

The organizations who make all this happen are called Krewes. There are many, many Web sites out there that explain the history of the krewes, their names and origins, and so on. Suffice it to say that some of them have been putting on Mardi Gras parades since the late 19th century. They spend the rest of the year raising money for the parades and floats, the fancy-dress balls and parties, the costumes, and so on. Each Krewe member pays a membership fee (which ranges from a few hundred dollars to several hundred) for a costume, the throws (the stuff they toss to the crowds), tickets to the Krewe ball, and so on.

Each Krewe has a name (Rex, Endymion, Zulu, Isis, and so on), and each individual parade during Carnival season is sponsored by a Krewe. Oftentimes, a Krewe will invite a celebrity to be the Grand Marshall of its parade. This year, Sean Astin (Sam from "Lord of the Rings") is the marshall for the Bacchus parade. Last year, Elijah Wood held that honor, and he will ride in this year's parade with Sean.)

(By the way, Elijah and his sister have two Bearded Collies. They rock!)

These days, almost all of the parades roll outside of the French Quarter, since the big floats have a lot of difficulty navigating the Quarter's narrow streets. However, a few parades that are smaller in scale, without the larger floats, still roll within the Quarter.

Jody and I always plan to be in town for our favorite parade, the Mystic Krewe of Barkus parade. Barkus is an official New Orleans Krewe, and its parade rolls right through the French Quarter. It's the one Mardi Gras parade for dogs and their owners, and it's just a hoot. (It's also a very family-friendly parade, and some people bring their dogs to watch it as other dogs march in it.) Proceeds from the pre-parade ball and parade registrations go to the LA SPCA (and perhaps some other dog rescue charities as well).

Barkus gets bigger and better every year. This year, the parade theme was "Hairy Pawter and the Sorcerer's Bone," so a number of the dogs and the people were dressed as characters from "Harry Potter." One of my favorites was the dog dressed up as Fluffy, the three-headed dog from "Sorcerer's Stone," with two extra stuffed heads. There were dog dragons, a number of dog Harry Potters with glasses, big dogs, little dogs, purebreds, mixed breeds, and... one pretty Beardie girl! My friends who live in the city were there with their miniature Dachshund, Chester. Chester looked very handsome in his jester collar in Mardi Gras colors (purple, gold, and green).

Oh, yes -- they do throw beads and goodies at Barkus parades. I usually catch a pretty good supply of beads, and have also caught dog biscuits (including one covered with green glitter), squeaky toys, rubber and plastic footballs, and other goodies as well. This year, Greg even caught a red-white-and-blue football from the Coast Guard "float." Considering he spent 12 years in the Coast Guard and Coastie Reserve, it seemed fitting.

Airline-Safe Crap

A couple of years ago, I caught a rubber dog poo at the Barkus parade. I laughed like heck, tucked it into my purse, and immediately forgot about it.

About a month later, I had to fly out of Portland on my way to Phoenix. I went through Security, and they determined that nothing I was wearing was dangerous to the safety of the flight. So far, so good.

The inspectors saw nothing wrong with my carry-on, but they did feel the need to go through my purse. The inspector who examined my purse looked at the PDA and cell phone, the car keys, and so on. Satisfied but not finished, he continued to dig deeper. Out came the collection of highlighters, the feminine products, the one or two matchbooks, and... the rubber dog poo.

The inspector looked at the poo, then at me, then at the poo again. "Thank you. You may go." I might have been imagining this, but I thought I saw him wipe his hand on his trousers after he left me to restuff my bag.

Raining on My Parade

Jody and I were window-shopping on Royal Street last week (Greg was already off on his own mercantile-therapy adventures), when we saw a number of costumed folks emerging from the Court of Two Sisters across the street. Transfixed, we stopped to take in the scene, as more and more people in increasingly magnificent costumes came out of the restaurant entrance and proceeded to assemble a parade right in front of us. There were Vikings, Kings and Queens, goddesses, brides, '20s gangsters, hippies, monks in habits, courtiers with plumed hats and velvet cloaks, elegantly dressed modern ladies and gentlemen... and the one thing they all had in common was that they carried full wine glasses. Many of them wore grapevine wreaths, or had grapes fastened to their costumes or shoes. They even had a small brass band.

It turns out that this was the parade for the unofficial Krewe of Cork, the wine-lovers' Krewe. One of the members handed us Krewe of Cork beads, which had wine bottles and a Krewe medallion on them. (I've heard that there's a rule that you may not throw things to the crowd before the parade rolls, but apparently there's no such prohibition against nicely handing stuff to a few people.)

We watched as the Krewe members set off past us down Royal Street. No sooner did they all start rolling than the skies opened, and a horrendous monsoon of a rainstorm pounded down upon our heads. We pulled up our hoods and ducked into a doorway under a balcony. We couldn't help but feel worry for the Krewe, though -- all those plumes were ruined, the velvets soaked and weighing down their wearers. Some of the brides were carrying parasols, but even they wouldn't have had much protection. What a shame!

That's the chance the Krewes take with the capricious late-January weather, though. Parades sometimes do get postponed because of rain. (To the locals, this means another day of redirected traffic and blocked-off streets.) Because the Carnival season is shorter in years when Lent comes early, there are fewer opportunities to reschedule parades due to bad weather, so people keep an eye on the weather reports and hope they can still roll.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The French Quarter Death March

I'm not a big fan of guided tours. If I really want to see and experience a place, I much prefer to get myself a decent guidebook or a self-paced recorded commentary. That way, I can proceed at my own pace, observe details, and just get to know a location by just being there. Call it a Zen Tour, if you like.

My dear Greg, on the other hand, needs to be a Man With a Plan. He admitted to feeling at a loss about our trip to New Orleans until he got online, saw all that there was to do in the city, and started formulating an itinerary for himself. He saw that there was a literary tour of New Orleans available, and jumped on that right away. He planned to fit that tour in between trips to the Louisiana Music Factory and a trip uptown on the streetcar, a quick lunch break, and evenings out at a jazz club.

You can't really blame him for that. This was his first trip to New Orleans and my fourth, and one thing my traveling buddy Jody and I discovered about New Orleans is that you just can't get too ambitious when you're down there. The city quickly works its voodoo magic on us hyper Northern types, and before we know it, we're blissfully sipping coffee at Community Coffee, munching our slices of King Cake, and not caring whether we rise from our chairs at all that day because we're just so content to be where we are. Greg hadn't fallen under the city's spell yet, and he was rarin' to go.

Anyway, Greg wanted to take that literary tour in the worst way. The minimum number of people who could take one happened to be three, so Jody and I both agreed that we'd accompany Greg on this adventure.

You probably know that New Orleans has a rich literary history; it was and is a magnet for literary and artistic types who go there to live and work, and drink, and socialize, and get into trouble, and... Some of the authors who called the place home at one time or another were Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Lillian Hellman, Zora Neale Hurston, and on, and on, and on. Truman Capote was born there, though he left at a young age when he was orphaned and sent to live with relatives. Anne Rice still lives there, as does Richard Ford.

So Greg called the number for the tour. It turned out that the historian who usually gives the tour was recovering from knee surgery, but he was happy to recommend another guide. Greg called that guide, and she agreed to meet us at the Cafe du Monde the next morning.

The morning started out nicely enough, with more cafe au lait and more fresh hot beignets beneath powdered-sugar snowdrifts. The guide, an older lady named Inez, met us there and took us on a tour we'll be talking about forever.

To her credit, she did show us some real points of interest, such as the attic flat where Tennessee Williams wrote "A Streetcar Named Desire," and the balcony where the annual "Stella!"-screaming contest takes place. All of these interesting and picturesque locations would have fit neatly into a nice little hour-long tour around the Quarter.

However, that was not to be. Inez, determined to give these Yankee tourists their money's worth and to impress us with her very special "localness," marched us all mercilessly around the French Quarter for three solid hours while talking mostly about herself (and occasionally, on her cell phone). In between the actual points of interest, she entertained us by stomping into Galatoire's in search of a first-edition book ("Of course, I get all of my books wholesale"). When the poor hapless waiter there didn't produce the requested volume immediately and the maitre d' attempted to explain that the book had undergone additional printings and they no longer had first editions, she proceeded to tongue-lash them both and forgot completely about her primary objective for having led us in there, which was to show us Tennessee Williams' favorite table. We never did see it.

At least Jody and I had a chance to do a little window-shopping while Inez stomped on, muttering to us about having to find out the poor waiter's name so she could Get Him Fired ("Though of course Michael, my personal waiter, always takes good care of me. You can dine at Galatoire's without a personal waiter if you must, but yada yada yada, blah blah blah...") She blathered on about the hapless waiter's impending doom as she dragged us into the Haagen-Dazs store to admire the cartoon mural of famous authors on one wall, and to explain to us how she buys and consumes frozen yogurt there once a month only out of obligation after walking through there so often. Yeah, right.

(I hope this old harridan doesn't spend all her waking hours giving locals a bad name. A high school classmate of mine married a man from a wealthy New Orleans family, and Steve is about the nicest, kindest, least pretentious person you'd ever want to meet. I have never seen him abuse waiters or anyone else, and especially not for the sake of entertainment.)

There are some actual literary landmarks on Bourbon Street, if you can stand the racket long enough to go see them. We did go up to see the Old Absinthe House and read the plaque outside mentioning its most famous patrons (too many to list, but I was impressed that Jenny Lind was one of them). After passing Antoine's and Arnaud's ("where we all have simply the best parties on Mardi Gras, and then we all dance in the streets"), we inexplicably ended up at Pat O'Brien's, which is definitely a city landmark, but not really a literary one. (Remember, this was supposed to be a literary tour.) Once inside Pat O'Brien's, Inez marched up to the bowl of after-dinner mints, grabbed herself a double handful, stuffed them in her pockets, and proceeded to grab fistfuls of Pat O's postcards and matchbooks and thrust them at us. Although the waitstaff would have been delighted to have offered us these things for free themselves, it was a tad embarrassing to have to accept them as the waitstaff looked on, as embarrassed as we were and too genteel to say anything about it.

The rest passes pretty much as a blur, though we did get to spend some time outside the William Faulkner House (now a very nice little bookstore) and listen to a laundry list of all the exclusive places that Inez could get her oh-so-influential self into and yak yak yak. We finally ended up on Royal Street and said our goodbyes, and each paid her for the tour. I'd have paid her three times as much to have kept it shorter and kept to the subject of literature, thankyouverymuch. I would have tipped the poor waiter at Galatoire's, too.

By the end of our three-hour tour, our dogs were realllly barkin', and Jody and I were seriously starting to resent having lost valuable vacation time listening to all that blather without so much as a biology break. Greg, though happy to have learned a few literary tidbits, apologized profusely for having dragged us on such a forced march. He didn't know and thus had no need to apologize, but we did agree on one thing: No More Freakin' Tours.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Anybody for groundhog burgers?

According to the official Punxsatawney Phil Web site, the groundhog did see his shadow this morning. Traditionally, this means we'll have six more weeks of winter. More often than not, getting only six more weeks seems like a mighty attractive proposition to me. Freakin' woodchuck.

Canadians have their own official ground-dwelling, sun-spotting rodent, but I forget his name. I take it that the sun shone brightly there as well. Yahoo.

Shallow End of the Memepool

A bunch of bloggers I know have been "tagged" by other bloggers they know to answer questionnaires about movies and CDs and such. These questionnaires remind me of the ones going around the Internet in which you're asked what type of toothpaste you use (Tom's of Maine, naturellement, and fennel flavor when I can find it) and whether you prefer bacon bits or croutons on your salad (both, silly!). After you're done filling out these questions, which don't really reveal all that much about you, you're to send the same questionnaire to everyone else you know. I usually humor the person who sends one of these to me by filling it out and sending it back to just that person. I don't know whether I've promoted deeper understanding through my preference for Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap and the color purple, but there you are.

Maybe in my mythical spare time, I'll come up with a questionnaire that actually does reveal interesting things about my friends, and which people will really want to answer.

And the good times sure did roll

Yes, we're back from New Orleans, and that had to have been the shortest vacation in history. No matter that temperatures were in the low 50s F (roughly 11-12 degrees C) and that it was cloudy the whole time. We had such a blast that it may take me a few day's worth of postings to tell you how great it was to be there. Thanks to Pirate, Drainy, and Sharon for the nice bon-voyage emails.

Greg and I arrived there last Thursday afternoon, dropped off our things at the bed and breakfast, and headed into the French Quarter almost immediately. Our ultimate objective was the Cafe du Monde, but I wanted to give Greg a quick tour of Royal Street and Jackson Square, plus the locations of a few authors' houses that he wanted to visit.

Of course, no first visit to New Orleans is complete without at least one quick pass through Bourbon Street, but that area bears little if any resemblance to its Jazz-Age past. I've been there (this was my fourth visit) and know that it's basically just a frat party with beads, but Greg needed to see it once. Once was certainly enough. Yes, people of both genders do flash the balconies for beads, and yes, the NOPD is there watching and ready to pounce... but if you go there, you yourself will be so busy watching the sidewalk to avoid the puke puddles and trash that you won't see much of a show anyway. Don't even bother. It looks much more interesting (and less smelly) on reruns of "Cops."

But ahhh, the Cafe du Monde. Fresh, hot beignets buried under confectioners' sugar and cafe au lait! Going back there is a real homecoming. Not only are the coffee and beignets as heavenly as I remembered, but the people-watching is fabulous. We were seated next to a great round table of nuns in habits, and an old man with a soprano saxophone ran through his repertoire as we all sipped our coffees, with our sugary white fingers gripping the cups.

The band Love Jones (fabulous lounge band; their song "Paid for Loving" is on the "Swingers" soundtrack) does a song called "Bacchus Girl," about glimpsing a girl at a Mardi Gras parade. "Beignets and au lait, Cafe du Monde..."

Greg, being a musician, was wildly eager to check out the local music scene and find out whether any local bands played acid jazz, or anything else he likes. (He's a picky one.) During his research on the Net before we left, he discovered some wonderfully funky-sounding streams from a band called Have Soul Will Travel. They play all over the city, but they were appearing at a little hole-in-the-wall club called the Funky Butt. (No, sadly, the Funky Butt didn't have T-shirts for sale at the club, but you can order them through the Web site.)

We had a wonderful time at the Funky Butt! The band was smokin', and had a couple of musicians from other bands sitting in. One was the keyboard player for the funk band Galactic, and the other was a killer trombonist named Big Sam. Big Sam could make that trombone sob, scream, chuckle, and tell jokes (almost). He even used the slide to tease the two tables of college girls in front of us. We bought the Have Soul Will Travel CD from the drummer and took it home. It's still in my car's CD player.

More later. I haven't even scratched the surface yet, and I need to tell you all about the French Quarter Death March, the Barkus Parade, the Quarter Stitch, and the rained-out wine-drinkers' parade.