Wednesday, December 23, 2009

California. Oh, California.

There's nothing sexier than bare feet covered in computer cords. I know, because I just looked down, and my bare feet were covered in computer cords, and I thought, 'That is dang sexy, Rona.'

However, that has nothing to do with anything related to blogging on the road, unless to indicate how I do it.

A lot has happened since my last post: Sedona, Joshua Tree, L.A., Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Big Sur and other such coastal wonders. And I can't decide if I should just post pictures and be done with it, or try to describe the moods and settings, or maybe a combination of the two. I've also found an interesting dilemna with my new-to-me collages (which I love, as I can post oh so many more photos now), and that problem is my inability to caption them individually. Which is usually not a problem, not really. But sometimes I look at a particular photo and I have something to say about it. Or more often than that, the words come when I'm TAKING the photo, like the moment, the place has something to say--and that's why I'm taking the shot, to hear it and give it voice--and then later I sit down and I look at the hundreds and thousands of them on the screen, and the din of their clamor is deafening. And into a collage they go, making a giant commotion all the way.

Alas. So it goes. On to the ruckus.

First, Sedona:

You know, it's funny, but I'd always heard about Sedona in terms of its new-age-spiritual-feel-goodery-crystals-and-detox sorts of activities. But when I was actually there, it felt for all the world like a ski town. Maybe that's because these giant rock mountains were right up on the streets, all 'yo yo look at me not at that bagel and coffee,' and that's the same sort of aggressive mountainous talk you get in ski towns. But either way, it was interesting and unexpected and I liked it. I'd be curious to someday try one of those secluded spa-retreat places, where they starve you all day with chai tea and teach you to meditate, but until that day happens, please to love Sedona's red rock majesty with me.

Then we have Joshua Tree:

Joshua Tree National Park pretty much speaks for itself: it's got trees. Rocks. Brush. Rocks. Trees. More brush. Mountains. It's very rad, very 'mojave desert.' Very, 'you need a jacket and a bottled water, and don't hike too far in or you might die.' Which is all one can ask for out of their national park, really.

And then we have central coast California, the lush and lovely green opposite of all the deserts and hot springs and rocks that have been loved to date. How can these places be so different and yet both so absolutely perfect? 

Someday I want a house with a palm tree. And a lemon tree. And maybe some small rows of grapes, just to check out what all the fuss is about. Someone, tell me you want to do this with me. And we'll do it.

It's breeding and birthing season for Elephant Seals right now. Did you know that? I didn't until hitting Morro Bay, where kazillions of them hang out, lying around like so many giant lumps of blubber on the sand. According to the many informational signs posted, the male elephant seals have this sort of chest armor for all the chest-thumping they do when battling with other elephant seal males. Another sign explained the sounds one would be hearing from the beach--the coo'ing of the pups to their mothers, the roars of the males to each other--and it mentioned that the females snarl when the males come near to ward them off. Which I thought was pretty fantastic. Then another sign that said that all the battling between the young males provided good experience for mating season, although it didn't say exactly why. Hmmmm.

I was going to put some Big Sur pictures up, but I realize now that's too much for one day. Plus Big Sur was so wild and dark and mystical that it really stands alone.

Off to Bodega Bay now, land of barbequed oysters and miles of foggy, rugged coastline...

Until we meet again, hugs and kisses,

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Life on the rez

Welcome to my weekend in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, a.k.a., 'the rez.' I was there visiting my Pima cousins, and it was one of the most fantastic experiences I've had on my road trip yet.

I learned how to make Indian frybread and red chile stew (top left), helped decorate the tree in the yard for Christmas (only in Arizona would it be warm enough), and pin-curled my hair for the first time. And you see those sunsets above? THOSE ARE THEIR VIEWS.

This is Zakira. She's three quarters Pima and one quarter Black.

This is Zakira's stepsister Alyssa. She's half Navajo, one quarter Pima, and one quarter Mexican.

Random Pima facts: historically, their rival tribe was the Apache. While the Pimas were agricultural in nature and also sharers of their bounty, the warrior Apaches survived by looting and pillaging. The round-faced Pimas apparently snapped one day after years of being ransacked, blew into an Apache tribe, and wiped them all out in one go. Awesome.

And what is turning into a regular feature: Road Pics. Meet Arizona, as seen from the highway: 

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Oh, good morning, Desert. I love you, too.

I woke up this morning to the above view outside of the double glass doors of my room at A Lodge on the Desert. I didn't know I had this view when I drove up at eleven o'clock last night; all I knew was that it was very, very dark, and I was very, very sleepy, and I needed to climb into the rich, soft, red four-poster bed awaiting me and close my eyes. And then I woke, after the warmest and softest night's sleep of any room yet, and there it was. The view of a lifetime. This is all the more remarkable considering this place (complete with a kitchen) cost the same price as this place.

And then I went outside to take photos, and SERIOUSLY. Do you see the eagle in that second photo? THAT'S A MOTHER EFFING EAGLE WAKING ME TO THE DAWN. I swear the desert is trying to steal my soul with all of its scrubs and birds and mountains. It's TOO MUCH.

And now I'm off to the Pima Reservation in Arizona to rediscover my tan side! After stopping at a farm for some famous Hatch green chiles, that is...mmmm...
Oh, and more random photos from the road:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

No Man's Land

Today was a lovely, lovely day on the road. It was also longer than my average run, with more tourist-related stops and more swerving-onto-the-shoulder-I-have-to-take-a-picture stops. I am now both exhausted and exhilarated and absolutely in love with the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas. Oklahoma's panhandle is rightly called No Man's Land, and it is a dark, desolate, and lonely place (the bottom right picture and top left were taken there). I expected the Texas panhandle to be much of the same, but as I came around a bend between two hills, a canyon opened before me that was so huge and so unexpected and so utterly, utterly stunning that my heart felt like it was ripped from my chest and flung into the rolling, plateaued vastness stretched below me. I hope hope hope that there's more of the same on my way to Roswell, New Mexico, tomorrow morning, although I don't know that my heart could take much more.

I have formal shots of the day, ones related to my actual activities (a tour of Boot Hill, a visit to Dorothy's house and the yellow brick road, Beaver Dunes State Park and Shaman's Portal in Oklahoma, and an early dinner at Ned & Darlene's Cafe--the best roadfood experience I've had yet), but for now I need to lie my head down and in their place, I just want to share with you a couple of the aforementioned roadside snapshots. I hope you like them.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

And I thought Milwaukee packed a punch.

See that bright red spot on my cheek there? Where it looks like I've been hit across the face? Well, THAT'S BECAUSE I HAVE BEEN. BY THE MOTHER EFFING WIND. The wind that is responsible for the current wind chill of TEN BELOW ZERO. That's a NEGATIVE, people. THAT'S A NEGATIVE TEMPERATURE.

I spent eight hours on a six hour journey today, crawling through the arctic tundra that some call 'Kansas.' The country highways I had to take from Kansas City to Dodge City were so iced over that the only hope of movement without skidding was to keep one's vehicle in the tread marks created by the other crawling vehicles. If, say, a gust of wind at 33 mph--oh yes, the same wind that slapped me across the face--were to buffet your car and push it out of the tread marks, your vehicle would scuttle sideways like a crab across the ice until you could realign it, hands white-gripping the wheel. There were no formal lanes today; the highways were snowed over beyond recognition. There were hours in which I was the only vehicle in sight on either bleak horizon. It was lonely, dangerous, and by far the most entertaining drive I've had yet. I think this was the first day I didn't contemplate closing my eyes for a few minutes and letting cruise control take over while I napped.

There were a load of photos I wanted to take--a black windmill against a white field and a white sky, a graveyard of red stones--but because the entire road was covered was ice, I couldn't brake or pull over. I was immeasurably disappointed by this, but I hope you can at least imagine the gorgeous starkness of such a forbidding landscape.

And--just when I thought it couldn't get any better, I got to my Dodge City lodging. I picked it out based on its name (and price) alone. Look how fantastic it is:

This place is exactly what I dreamed the American road motel to be. Please note that every car in the parking lot with the exception of mine is a pickup. Please also note that my room cost me, with tax, a mere $35. And I've got a fridge and a microwave in my ROOM. And free wifi! And cable television! And coarse tuscan-themed bedcovers! I know. It's like a dream come true. I think I made it happen with the power of my mind.

Tomorrow morning I'm going to actually try and * see * Dodge City. Boot Hill sounds absolutely fantastic--the American Old West preserved, from the apothecary to the general store to the old doctor's office and saloon, complete with all the appropriate antiques on display. In the summer they have gun fights in the street and a troup of candy girls doing a cabaret-style dance, but in the winter they just have an arse-kicking wind.

Speaking of the weather I have to look forward to: tomorrow morning is supposed to be a wopping zero degrees, with a wind chill of -18. So, you know, ideal for a pleasant stroll around town. By the time I start heading south, the day's high will be peaking at 10/-3. Just in time for me to get the heck out of Dodge.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Wisconsin, Peoria, and on the road crazy-style

'There are some days I think I'm going to die from an overdose of satisfaction.' --Salvador Dali

These next few days on the road are going to be a whirlwind: I'll be hitting a city (I use that term loosely) a day until I hit Phoenix in five days. Yesterday was Wisconsin to Peoria, Illinois. Destination: the planetarium. In the summer, Peoria is home to the largest solar system model in the world, with the Lakeview Museum acting as the sun, and planets placed to scale, reaching as far as 60 miles away. While I didn't get to see that, I WAS lucky enough to catch a show on black holes that was so realistic that the room appeared to bend and dip and spin and fly through space; I was frequently dizzy and not a little nauseated. Light speed is FAST, you guys. Don't do it. But DO go to your nearest planetarium as soon as possible and discover how awesome it's gotten since you were a kid. It is SO much more than little white stars on a black canvas. It's an effing ADVENTURE. Oh, and just so you know, I learned the sun is going to flip out in about FIVE BILLION YEARS. So get started on organizing that airing cupboard, because time is TICKING. You are NOT going to like the way it starts behaving when it turns into a red giant or a white dwarf. NOT NICE, SUN. NOT NICE.

Before it gets too late, let me share with you a little Wisconsin-in-Pictures. This first sequence I call 'Trying to Photo a Barn and Making a Friend, Instead.'

The next two collages are a montage of Ixonia, Watertown, and Oconomowoc, sweet little Germanic Wisconsonian villages:

What I think I love best about these towns are their mottos: Oconomowoc: 'A Public Power Community.' I don't know about you, but I find this to be really stirring. I personally feel publicly powerful on a regular basis.  And Watertown's is even better: 'It's Our...Water.' I feel like the ellipses mark really packs the punch here. It's like Watertown is thinking about it: 'It's Our...wait, wait, it's coming to me...come on, Watertown, what have we got?...Oh, hey! Water! It's Our...Water!'

A few things about Wisconsin that make it Special and Unique and so very, very German: its affinity toward bratwurst, beer, and deep-fried cheese curds, its weekly Friday Fish Fry, and the celebration of St. Nick's Day. I don't know why the rest of America isn't celebrating these latter traditions, but I'm personally gonna BRING it.

Now if you'll excuse me, my Kansas City hotel room is calling...along with a bed so fluffy I'm going to drown in the pillows with joy.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Have you found this in a motel room?

I just walked into my motel room to the pervasive smell of smoke in my non-smoking room. Apparently the previous guest thought 'non-smoking' meant 'less than a pack a day.' Either that, or this little 'no smoking' card on my night stand was put in mere moments before my arrival.

But I'm not gonna complain. I'm cool. Plus this room was so cheap I wouldn't be surprised at finding a body or a bullet-hole.

Then I go to unpack my toiletries next to the sink. The surprisingly clean sink, the sink with the well-ordered linen pyramid and the tidy trash can and the soaps folded into a clever washcloth boat. Then I see it.

Is it...?

No way.

Oh yes. Oh yes, it is.

It is a half-finished bottle of wine.

Re-corked, just chillin' here on this sparkling counter like it moved in with the last patron and thought, 'Yeah, yeah, this feels about right. I think I'll stay.'

I was startled. It wasn't like, say, a tissue in the trash, something that is understandably overlooked. This is a bottle of WINE. It's not a QUIET thing, a blending white crumpled thing. It's red, and it's got a long neck, and it's on an empty COUNTER.

I moved it with my elbow so I could see the label. Not that if it were nice I'd OPEN it or anything. Unless it were a Cakebread. Or a Duckhorn. We'd all become depraved humans at that opportunity.

But it was as I suspected: A Motel Red. That is a category of wine I'm now creating. Motel Red is the wine you get when you're staying the night in a smoke-infused motel room on an empty highway with nothing but an old t.v. and crusty remote control to entertain you, where your evening is spent half-heartedly flipping through staticky local programs from atop a coarse bedcover in a tuscan color scheme. Motel Red is a wine you buy when you don't really care--you're only going to have a glass (maybe two) anyway, and nobody's around to question your taste, and anyway, it will help you sleep. And when you pack your bags the next day, you leave it, because it has served its purpose. It's Motel Red. The one-night-stand of the wine family.

But it's still a bit shocking the maid didn't notice Motel Red perched merrily next to the bath linens. Maybe it was hers, something she brought along to take the edge off her shift. Or maybe she had planned to take it home and then forgot. Or maybe she's so used to half-drunk wine bottles in her own bathroom that this one flew by undetected. Either way, it's a strange, strange thing to find next to a bar of tissue-wrapped waxy soap.

Also, she neglected to leave me a glass. How am I supposed to drink my...water? 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What American City is This?

Let's play a little game called 'What American City is This?'!

Here are the rules:

1. You look at the photos.
2. You guess what city it is! Everybody who guesses right is a winner and everybody who guesses wrong is a loser. But only figuratively speaking, because I don't have any ribbons or anything to pass out. Although I guess if you're a loser, I can pass out some judgement. But I probably won't do that either, because I'm pretty awful at geography myself, and I only judge people for crimes that I consider myself above committing.

Here we go! An American city in pictures:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How I spent Thanksgiving

‘If I could grow one of those mutt chop mustaches, I would just tutt all the time. Tutt tutt tutt!’ –Joe Hunter

In my constant effort to do blog posts on cities now long gone, I feel a word is due about how I spent Thanksgiving.

I was worried about Thanksgiving in the planning of this trip. Restaurants and shops shut down here on Thanksgiving Day. Everybody goes to the warm embrace of their family, and they cook for hours on end, and it's oh so warm and fuzzy. And I initially thought I'd be on the road when this happened, or even worse, I'd be an awkward participant at someone's family affair.

But instead I was in Chicago, staying with a novelist and an artist, where they invited me to celebrate the day with their friends at a giant, wonderful potluck. It was a community of artists and story-tellers and comedians, and it was such a warm and open group that I didn't feel out of place for a second

A brief cast of the day's characters, if I may:

There was Joseph Terrance Thomas Hunter. He and his wife—the Lovely Reasonable Tara from Texas—had a beautiful baby girl named Lucy Monster. He told stories about his eccentric mensa uncle--complete with imitations--that made the table roar with laughter. This is a man who could tutt tutt tutt.

There was Madeline of Twinkletheuncanny fame—who looks alarmingly like Keira Knightley and aspires to obesity—and who makes fantastic videos on youtube. You wouldn't believe her age if I told you. (But ask me and I'll tell you.) Then there was a doubly-artistic married couple with a propensity for food who gave me a list a mile long of places to eat eat eat while I was in town, places I totally tried and loved beyond reasonable measure. And if that wasn't enough, later in the evening the husband embraced a departing guest with, 'Brothers don't shake hands! Brothers gotta HUG!'--only one of the greatest lines in cinematic history and one I use all the time but that is usually received with a blank stare. Because that's how I roll.

There was also our charming hostess Beth with her marimekko table setting and china too gorgeous to touch, with daughter Elena, who taught me about the greatest item ever that was invented while I was away in London--you have to watch the video it's hilarious--and last but not least we had Kim and Fatima, who looked like characters from The Babysitters Club and who I would like to model for my Colors of America campaign. Though they insist that we find a person in a wheelchair to complete the set.

Actual conversation from the evening:

Me: Lucy Monster sounds like Snuffleupagus!
Joe Terrance Thomas: I was just thinking about Snuffy!
Luke: It’s those long eyelashes, isn’t it? Who can resist eyelashes like that?

So was fantastic. Truly a day to be thankful for.

Monday, November 30, 2009

I didn't know personal growth could taste so good.

Well, folks, the moment we've all been waiting for has arrived:

I have officially outgrown my jeans.

I know what you're thinking: 'Really? In only a month on the road?' To which I reply, 'YES. Because I am THAT AWESOME.'

It turns out the road food of America is pretty kick-*ss. (That asterisk is for you, Grampa.) And I like to eat it. ALL of it. And then I like to get in my car after eating it, and drive for hours, and maybe at the other side, I like to sit on  my friends' couches and discuss what's for dinner. Because this is my life now. Just me, and the road, and our food. And this triumvirate of power is warming this cold winter in much the same way as my extra stores of fat. I feel like a survivor in the wilderness, stocking for winter. I feel like a grizzly bear. I feel like I can roar powerful roars into the world as soon as I lift my face from this bloody carcass demanding my attention.

Despite an increase in my body fat and a decrease in my cardiovascular fitness, I feel strong. Almost as strong as the elastic holding up my leggings, which are the only things I can fit into right now. I love you, leggings. You don't judge me. You accept me and envelope me and don't pinch my stomach in half when I sit down. I can't thank you enough for this. I think I want to marry you and bear your children.

Now if you'll excuse me, I must go back to my journey of soul and self. And today this spiritual path is leading me right down to the cheese aisle of the Wisconsin grocery store. Dairy State, let us two be one.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

On the foods of St. Louis and Chicago

I think 'critters' is my favorite word. Either that, or 'victuals.' It's even better when I can use them together: 'They love their critter victuals in Louisiana.'

Speaking of victuals, St. Louis has four original food items unique to their city: a processed cheese called provel that's made of cheddar, swiss, and provolone (and according to Natalie, tastes like 'shit' and 'comes on EVERYTHING'), the Gerber sandwich, the Slinger (a hamburger patty layered with hash browns and eggs then covered in chili), and (drumroll please) toasted ravioli. Also called t-rav, toasted ravioli is breaded and deep-fried meat ravioli served in a basket as finger food with a bowl of marinara sauce for dipping. It is also so ridiculously good you will never eat regular ravioli again. They tasted just like pizza rolls except GOOD. Seriously perfect bar food. If one were to find herself at a bar. Which I obviously didn't, Grampa. Because you can buy it in the freezer section, in a giant bag. To bake at home and eat alone in the dark while watching the entire 3rd season of Veronica Mars. Which I also didn't do. Uh.

Chicago--where I arrived Tuesday night--has its own culinary delights: there is of course Chicago-style pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs, both so famous they don't need description, but then--let's get down to business--we have the sandwiches.

I don't know where to begin to tell you about the sandwiches. So I will list them, because when I am in doubt, I always create a list.

1. The jibarito. Jibarito means 'little hillbilly' in Spanish--only the most useful word in the Spanish language I have EVER learned, which has now surpassed my OTHER favorite word in the Spanish language 'ronoso,' meaning 'mangy,' and now they can be combined into 'jibarito ronoso' to form 'mangy little hillbilly', which is really the only thing I can take from my eight years of Spanish learning with pleasure and awe--but ANYway, the jibarito is a puerto rican sandwich similar to a philly cheesesteak (thinly sliced skirt steak, sauteed onion, cheese), except it's bounded by two strips of fried PLANTAINS instead of BREAD. I KNOW. I'm speechless, too.

2. The Italian beef sandwich:  this treasure is roast beef seasoned with garlic and chile before being cooked in its own juices (making a spicy gravy jus), served up  on an italian roll with peppers--sweet or hot peppers, your call.  If you like, you can also order the sandwich 'wet,' at which point THE ENTIRE THING is dunked in the jus. I'm going to try this lovely at Al's #1 Beef, and I'm going to use ALL the right lingo like a total pro, since apparently you're supposed to order already knowing what you want (wet or dry, sweet or hot). Me, I'm going for hot and wet. Because that's how I roll.

3. And now...the mother-in-law. I feel like we need a moment of silence before I begin.

* silence * * moment * * silence *

Okay, we're ready.  Pay close attention here, because this is (I hope, anyway, dear God) like nothing you've ever seen before. Okay, close your eyes. No, figuratively speaking. I need you to read this. Okay, now with your eyes figuratively closed, picture pork or beef. Now take this pork or beef, and stuff it into a tamale. Got it so far? Pretty straightforward, yes? Now take this tamale. And stuff it into a hot dog bun. OH YES. A HOT DOG BUN. Okay, so now we're feeling a little funny inside. A little weird, a little alarmed, maybe in equal parts slightly repulsed and fascinated. Now take this bun-with-tamale in it. And cover it in chili. * another moment of silence * And then--OH THERE IS A THEN--you cover this entire thing in the toppings of a chicago-style hot dog: mustard, relish, onions, sliced tomatoes, pickles, hot peppers, and a dash of celery salt. And now you have a mother-in-law sandwich. How do you eat this? Like a hog in a trough. Or with a fork, like the weakling I am. And APPARENTLY there's a place here in Chi-town that even does a FATHER-in-law, which is the same thing as a mother-in-law except with LIQUID CHEESE instead of chili. Is your mind not blown? IT'S SO BLOWN.

So this is what I sought yesterday, this wet, messy mother-in-law. It took some research to find a place that had it--the sort of place that serves this doesn't have a website--and found three. Three places in all of Chicago. There may be more, but if so, I couldn't find them. They probably exist in dirty sandwich places or ghetto dog stands. I decided on Johnny O's (it was a toss up between that and Fat Johnnie's Famous Red Hots, which is where you can find the father-in-law) on 35th.  And it was INCREDIBLE. As was Johnny O himself, with whom I shared a booth in the stockroom (turns out Johnny O's is a convenience store--read 'no seating unless you ask, at which point they show you to the back and allow you to sit among boxes of beer in a ramshackle, abandoned booth with the store's owner, which will turn out to be the greatest treat of your life'), and here Johnny O told me story upon story of the neighborhood's history (turf wars between the Polish west of Halsted and the Italian-Irish mafia/politicos east of Halsted, with some peace-loving Lithuanians smack dab in the middle making their living as undertakers--of course my people are undertakers--and about how Bridgeport is now home to the artists of Chicago), and all of these stories rolled over me as I ate ate ate. He told me of singing the national anthem at a professional baseball game under the name 'Johnny Power' as a young man--there was a black and white photo on the wall to prove it--and about  how his old school friend Norbert 'Lefty' Mikalonas was Lithuanian like me and how there were so many of them they got their own street, Lituanica, just four blocks away, and how he opened his first hot dog stand in 1959, even though he sold them out of a cart when he was a young boy...and as these stories flowed over me, the mother-in-law flowed down my arm, and I was in heaven.

Johnny O's, ladies and gents. Johnny O's:

After all this bliss, I went down the street to Zhou B. Cafe, a free art gallery opened by these two Chinese guys with a built-in cafe/bar, where locals were spending a quiet evening playing chess and reading and working on their macs.  Zhou apparently has a late open house the third Friday of the month that's supposed to be RAD, but I missed it by a week. I ALWAYS miss things by a week.

Bridgeport Chicago, at a glance:

Monday, November 23, 2009

A little bit of Memphis and my favorite Memphibians

As per usual, I'm posting my pictures about a week late. This time, Memphis shots as I'm leaving St. Louis. Which means you'll see St. Louis roughly as I'm leaving Chicago. And so on, and so lovely forth.

Every morning during my stay in Memphis I woke on my living room futon to the sound of a tiny voice in the kitchen: 'Where's Sharona?' 'She's in there, on the futon.' A few seconds later I would hear the same small voice, this time much, much closer: 'I want a hug.' He didn't shake me, or pat me, or even bother to find out if I was awake. He just stated  his desire and simply waited. As a result, I got out of bed every morning in pretty much the greatest mood humanly possible. He was impossible not to love instantly.

Introducing Elek, the precious precious PRECIOUS three year old son of Diana and Peter, my Memphibian hosts. Diana (or 'Dinana,' as I like to call her) and I go way back to our college days, and Peter is her esposo, who had the good sense to escape for work before this photo shoot. His son, however, LOVED the camera. He did everything I asked for, and in spades: 'Elek, give me post-apocalypse angel!' and he'd gaze tragically toward the heavens. 'Elek, give me 'I live in a forest!' and he'd stand in a V with arms outspread. 'Give me rockstar!' and you'd get KISS. He'd stand anywhere he was asked, in whatever posture you asked for, and would patiently make whatever expression you could possibly desire: happy! sad! depressed alcoholic! He was a genius. I've never photographed anyone like this in my life. And he's THREE. He's obviously inherited his mother's modeling gene.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

the chosen king of the fairies

“Old Ralph Rinkelmann made his living by comic sketches, and all but lost it again by tragic poems. So he was just the man to be chosen king of the fairies…” --George MacDonald

It's time to hit the road again, folks! I know what you're thinking: 'Did you just spend three days in Memphis and not tell us a thing about what you did?' Why yes, yes, I did. But I WILL be sharing with you photos of my wonderful Memphian friends and tales of all the wonderful food we ate (Peggy, I want to marry you), oh so very soon. Oh! But before I forget, I need to print a correction from yesterday's post: it turns out my use of 'memphisian' was appallingly incorrect. They are 'memphians.' Like 'amphibians,' except not. Or like 'Memphibian.' MEMPHIBIAN. Holy cow. I'm so using Memphibian from now on. You do it, too. It's the only way we can make this take off.

So as I was preparing to leave my Memphibian friends for the next great adventure (St. Louis hooooooooooooo!), this morning became Library Fox scan time for more free audio books!  And what did I stumble upon this round? GEORGE MACDONALD. Oh, yes, my friends. ONLY THE GREATEST SCOTTISH FANTASY AUTHOR WHO HAS EVER LIVED A HUNDRED YEARS AGO. I totally forgot he existed since college--which seems to be an alarming trend--but then just now I was cruising the Library Fox catalog and saw his name and right away I KNEW he was going to be the storyteller on my next leg. I mean, this guy was Lewis Caroll's MENTOR, he was all bff's with Tolkein and crap, and he's like the FATHER of effing fantasy as we know it. Oh! And per my wiki hit on him just now, he founded the kailyard school of scottish writing! I don't even know what that MEANS! Man, George. You're an outta control hot mess that is not apologizing for it. Seriously. I love you. And that wacky crazy beard. Is that to stay warm through the Scottish winter? Because otherwise, WHOA. People probably crossed the street when they saw you coming.

I'll see you all again in St. Louis, where once again I'll be posting information relevant to days past and struggling to keep up with the present. But then, that seems to be the story of my life. Will I ever enter the future on time?

Hugs and kisses,

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ramblings unrelated to N'awlins, Nola, or the Big Easy. And some photographs that are.

This is the fourth blog post I've started today. I keep getting about two paragraphs in, then I wander off to switch a load of laundry, or refill my coffee, or eat a tomato, and then by the time I've returned, the moment is lost, the thread is gone, and I can't reclaim it or even remember why it seemed relevant at the time. Or somehow my opinion would change on the topic while I was away and I'd come back and be like, 'I wrote THAT? I don't even BELIEVE that,' at which point it would all have to be tossed, because one should only post absolute truth when possible, or absolute untruth, but certainly not something wishy-washy in between.

I lost my favorite chapstick today and so after lunch I went to Whole Foods to pick out the cheapest one I could find to tide me over until I get to Chicago in two weeks (where I can get it again). Except I didn't bother to read the label on the tube, and now my lips taste like patchouli and I can smell hippie everywhere and it's like the Haight just walked across my face. I'm also feeling a strange desire to burn incense and hang blankets on the wall and replace my couch with floor cushions.

Also, it's a whopping 46 degrees in Memphis today. For those of you from Scotland this is child's play, but for Memphisians (and myself), this is intolerably frigid. As Diana so eloquently put it, 'This is why I'll always live with black people. And mosquitos.'

And now for some New Orleans pictures. Not the bayou ones, they're not ready yet (and by 'ready,' I mean, 'even looked at'), but a couple others.

The French Quarter

The 9th Ward rebuild

The food! Over the course of five days, I had crab cakes benedict with creole hollandaise, biscuits and gravy with boudin (pronounced 'boo-dan') patties (a local spicy sausage with rice in it)--both breakfasts courtesy of Surrey's Juice Bar, which was one of my greatest finds while there--beignets and chicory coffee from Cafe du Monde, and fried eggplant with crawfish au gratin from Cafe Des Amis. Cafe Des Amis was actually located in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, a couple of hours west of Nola, where I passed through on my way into town. It was absolutely worth the detour. And apparently they have a Saturday morning Zydeco brunch complete with live music and dancing! When I heard that, I felt my heart hesitate with a pitter-patter: 'Maybe we should just stay HERE instead of going all the way to New Orleans...'

I passed Grit's Bar (though didn't actually go in) when I was wandering through a residential neighborhood looking for Domilises po'boys, which was a mega-ghetto old school po'boy shop and fabulous. In the same neighborhood I also stumbled upon McKeown's Books and Difficult Music, the greatest used bookstore on the planet where I totally nabbed a Thurber anthology for fifty cents, and last but not least we have Juan's Flying Burrito in uptown, a 'creole taqueria' that I couldn't resist because it combined two of my favorite elements: 'creole' and 'taqueria.' I had the super shrimp burrito and am STILL dreaming about it...

oyster gravel, a st. charles plantation, surrey's breakfast, and a hurricane evacuation route

And lastly we come to the Preservation Hall, one of the jazz meccas of New Orleans. (For tourists, at least.) The two photos on the right were taken with my iphone since my camera batteries died soon after arrival, an action which caused the band leader--Mr. Leroy Jones, bottom right--to announce to the very large crowd in the very small venue in which I was sitting in the very front row of three, 'No taking videos with your iphones! And I know you can do it, because I've GOT an iphone!' (The small matter that my little 3G has no video capability whatsoever was not taken into account.) However, as I was the only one poised with my iphone in the air during this announcement, I felt a * little * self-conscious. The crowd murmured agreement and disgust over such gross and disrespectful bootlegging, and I slunk out after the show with an internal protestation of my dignity. But before I left, I had the loveliest conversations with the members of the band and they were wonderful, charming fellows all. They also mentioned that I should look up a fellow musician friend of theirs who plays in San Francisco now--a funk drummer named Zigaboo Modeliste. Which I totally will.

Monday, November 16, 2009

a crazed out black cat of a city

New Orleans is a city of drunken dreamers. A night out means a host of new friends, new adventures, and hundreds of dreams and promises made to be broken. As you go out on the town with these new companions on an evening--them excitedly pointing the way at every step--you remain discreetly sober, because this is the only way to remember it all. They don't notice--they're getting more and more generous and distracted as the evening goes on--but you're making mental notes and pictures and praying you don't forget a thing. You spend all night loving them as they put on their technicolor dreamcoats and twirl madly through the broken streets, and while you end the evening with plans plans plans to see each other again, you know it was for one night only, a vaporous and fleeting thing.

My five days in New Orleans was a whirlwind. It was melting sun and sagging porches, weeping willows and oyster po'boys, cracked sidewalks and cascading flowers, wrought iron courtyards and mosquitos mosquitos, boudin patties and alligator sausage, turtle soup and biscuits and grits, jazz and funk and rhythm and blues, and hey darlin' hey baby and you havin' a nice day, and chintzy wallpaper and tassled lamps and crawfish etouffee.

I have photos for you. In the hundreds. In the eights and nines and tens of hundreds. I'll be spending my day going through them all, attemping to process and sort and develop. I'm slightly overwhelmed: I've got so many I don't know where to begin. There are photos of the 9th Ward and the French Quarter and the food and the jazz musicians and the food and the Garden District and the food and then a dusty used bookstore in the middle of a lost nowhere that makes one want to read read read again and a roadside market on a tiny riverside highway with oh more food and then there's the bayou--OH THE BAYOU.  It's vast emptiness, it's nothingness as far as the eye can see. It's a barren, alien landscape. It's different from the swamp, which is where people usually go, on airboat tours with guides who drop marshmallows into the water to draw the alligators near for viewing and oooohs and ahhhs and faux shrieks of terror. The bayou is--for the lack of a better word--a community. People live in houses on the water and get around by boat, and back Before Katrina all the kids got picked up every morning by a school bus-boat, and there was a store out there, too, and a cemetery with white white gravestones, glowing in a landscape of browns and greens and rust reds. And for a living they harvest shrimp with giant nets, and sit on their docks with poles and lines catching red fish and speckle trout, and the boys slip in and out of the water like bronzed fish, and this is them. And the bayou stretches and stretches and stretches into nothingness all the way to the horizon.

So as I settle into my new perch in Memphis--where I arrived late last night--to get started on the hours of work before me processing these photos, let me leave you with some pics I took early last week of a lovely girl in Spring, Texas. I'll see you again tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gaining weight faster than my pregnant girlfriend; the library fox begins a revolution

So currently my best friend is like a kazillion months pregnant and we spoke today and it turns out she just weighed in at 117 pounds. ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTEEN POUNDS, PEOPLE.  THIS IS HER GAINING. So yeah...I don't think we're going to be friends anymore. I haven't weighed a hundred and seventeen pounds since I was FIVE. And on top of her teeny tiny-ness, she's all TALL and BEAUTIFUL and crap. I seriously can't handle it. Thank GOODNESS she's carrying my new nephew, or we'd have words.

I just made that up. Not about her weight gain--that's just too unreal to be fiction--but the nephew part. We don't actually 'know' the gender yet. But I'm still going with nephew because I already have two nieces from my sister and it's time to mix this bag up. Plus I'm like a gender savante. Like those old witchwomen that drop newts' organs into teacups and divine your future.

Other tales of back home: remember my super-rad downstairs neighbor of yesteryear? Well, per a  recent conversation with my sweet-sweet old roommate, he's now opened a cafe on Baker and McAllister! Can you BELIEVE it? My favorite handyman-neighbor is now a successful business owner! HOW LONG HAVE I BEEN GONE?! Also the kitty my roommate got after I left turned out to be a Killer Death Kitty and she had to sleep with a spray bottle for self-protection and then he tried to take her vet-dad's eye out and so now he is living in a safe place while they look for a nice farm that NEEDS a Killer Death Kitty, because he is very good at hunting and killing, you just don't want your small dog or child around him. So if you've got a place like that, you let me know.

On related news, I rolled around in a field today. And on a railroad track. But not in a dangerous way, not like I was tying myself down and waiting for rumbling earth or anything, but because there were photos to be taken from down there.

Other ways in which people are making my life more wonderful by the second: Treena Balds (a.k.a. TB, a.k.a. my jamaican honeybun) gave me a link to the raddest online audio library EVER. And do you know WHY it's the raddest online audio library ever? Because the readings are FREE. And why are they free? BECAUSE OF MAGIC. I call this service the Library Fox even though it's LibriVox because once my mind catches a glimpse of something and assigns it a value, that value is fixed. And I don't even bother trying to correct it, because there's really no point once my brain has decided to file something under the label of its choosing. This service will always be Library Fox, and in my mind he will always wear a black eye mask and a  black cape  too and be my little fox bandit. That's just the way it is. Plus Library Fox's byline is 'the acoustical liberation of books in the public domain.' THE ACOUSTICAL LIBERATION OF BOOKS. Does that make anybody else imagine books being freed by the Library Fox from their paper prisons with Jerichoan shouts? Did I just make up the word Jerichoan? According to these red squigglies, I did.

I selected for tomorrow's journey the following from Library Fox's bounty: 

2 B R 0 2 B by Kurt Vonneget, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (and Through the Looking Glass), and a handful of Fitzgerald's short stories. My drive tomorrow is going to be a TRIP. Which is important, because this is the longest leg of my journey yet: Houston to New Orleans. Six hours of hot, stretching highway. Six hours of eyelid-propping, leg-pinching, heat-induced mellifluous madness.

If you don't hear from me by this time tomorrow, just wait longer.

"There's no reality except the one contained within us. That's why so many people live an unreal life. They take images outside them for reality and never allow the world within them to assert itself." --Herman Hesse

Monday, November 9, 2009

Saturday, Day 8: the Boggy Creek Farm and my arrival in Houston

My last morning in Austin found me at the Boggy Creek Farm, a recommendation I got from Saveur, which has yet to lead my road trip dining astray. It turns out this farm has also been featured in the Wall Street Journal as 'Where Whole Foods Shops' and they were on Rachael Ray last Friday night. And let's also not forget their food blog on The Atlantic Monthly. All this coverage is shocking when you get there and realize: this farmer's market is actually A MARKET AT A FARM. It was tiny--there weren't dozens of tents and food vendors and flowers and fancy coffee stalls. It was so different from my love affair with the San Francisco Farmer's Market. This was the EPITOME of straight-from-the-source shopping and as fresh as fresh could be. And it was so peaceful I never wanted to leave:


The actual, lived-in farmhouse of the Boggy Creek Farm.

And the owners! Don't even get me started on the owners. This is Carol Ann Sayle and that's her husband, Larry Butler, on the tractor in the background.  He was tilling the earth in preparation for their winter cabbage, which is apparently gorgeous and tissue paper thin and so super delish that Carol can't wait. I love her. I also got her cookbook and she signed it for me and she spelled my name right. That was when I decided to erect a tent and never leave. In fact, I'm blogging right now from the bushes.

Okay, so I couldn't justify carrying a bag of organic radishes on a road trip, but I COULD justify a bottle of honey! This is Gause Yaupon, named from the local yaupon flowers that the bees go nuts for. Apparently a host of Austin chefs use it in their recipes because of it's 'signature flavor.' Alison, we'll put this to good use when I arrive in San Francisco. And by 'good use,' I mean, 'we can eat it by the spoonful.'

More stuff I wanted but couldn't get...check out those ancho chiles!

And the japanese radishes!

And the gourds!

And the shopping baskets!

And the craft stall!

This is Buddha Hill, the winner of the Austin Chronicle's best mother-daughter design team award last year. Try as I might, I couldn't find a website or Etsy page or anything for them, but if you're ever planning on being in the Austin area, you should definitely track them down. They made gorgeous, functional things--totes, aprons, wrist-warmers, purses--and with really good, quality materials. These bags were STURDY. And as someone who compulsively buys tote bags, I'm a pretty good judge of what's crap and what's not. Because I own a LOT of crap.

Speaking of compulsively buying bags...I COULDN'T STOP MYSELF. I HAD TO BUY THIS BAG.

Okay, and this--THIS I WILL BE ORDERING AND SHIPPING UNTIL THE DAY I DIE. I will not live a life that does not include Herbs de Tejas from here on out. I got the spicy one (they've also got original and orange), which has organic oregano, thyme, lavender, basil, sage, savory, rosemary, garlic chives, and jalapeƱo, all of which they grow themselves (with the exception of the basil, which they get from the boggy creek farm). And OMIHEAVEN. I've been making scrambled eggs with it the past three days and there's an explosion of happiness with every single bite. It's supposed to be great on chicken, too, which is next on my list. Along with salmon, and potatoes, and anything I will ever throw on a grill. (Before I forget--they don't have a website, but you can email them at laketravislavender at waynegibson dot com if you'd like to find out more. They ship!)

And then I arrived in Houston on Saturday afternoon! I kid you not, this is where I'm staying. I KNOW. I think they're part of the Kennedies or something. They're currently pretending they don't know what I'm talking about, but luckily I can see right through their protestations, which is why I'm selling  personalized tours of the house everyday while they're gone. * cha-CHING *