Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Esplanade: June Playing Uncle Chip's Piano



My uncle Chip was a skilled piano player and composer. But as he got older, he performed and composed less. Yet he still kept up with his daily practices. The sound of him playing scales in some distant corner of the house was the seemingly constant soundtrack of my youthful visits.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Monday, December 15, 2014

Esplanade: Scythe



Another fun item, a nice little hand scythe. We found it with the tools in the pantry. Two questions:

  1. Why did they have a scythe?
  2. Doesn't it look like a Toucan?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Ducks and Cypress

Esplanade: Weapons



What’s the fun of going through a big old house if you can’t find some weapons. (We’ll get to the hatchets and scythes later.) That’s an 1890s Smith & Wesson 3¼" barrel double action five shot top break revolver with fixed sights, nickel finish, and hard rubber grips. I happen to know all of this because I had to Google exactly what it was to figure out how to open the weird old thing (I hadn’t never dealt with no “top break” revolver before1) and make sure it wasn’t loaded, which fortunately it wasn’t. The ladies found it tucked in the laundry. And I don’t know the story is with the knife. Except that it looks like one should be wearing a Daniel Boone hat while using it.

Esplanade: Pictures



I’m genericizing the name of the series to “Esplanade”.1 ’Twill include the aforementioned found treasures and curiosities; also ad hoc ruminations; and random snapshots of stuff — such as an assortment of framed pictures, scattered at arbitrary but visually pleasing angles. (In that house right now, you can snap a photo in any direction and stand a pretty good chance of catching something interesting.) The house will be a major theme in our lives for a while, so the series will probably be a major theme for a while too.

1 That reflects our general lingo, referring to the house by the name of the street it’s on. “I’m goin’ to Esplanade…” “I found this at Esplanade…” “I’m feeling stunned and overwhelmed by Esplanade…”

I'm Trying to Figure Out...

I'm trying to figure out how to describe what going through this Esplanade house is like. It's a little bit like it would have been cleaning out Grey Gardens after the Edith and Edie had passed on. We watched a bit of the documentary the other night. It was weirdly resonant. Sarah, having spent the day cleaning out the Esplanade house, was exhausted and fell asleep. June stayed watching, totally into it.

Found Treasures and Other Curiosities: Family Crest



Cool. Apparently we have a crest.1 What does one do with a crest in this day and age? Maybe I’ll get a t-shirt made. I know these things are chock full of symbolism, but the only symbolism I know here is the the tree on the left: "Olivier" means "olive tree," so I'm figuring that's probably an olive tree.I'm curious about the birds.

(So our series is up and running. I promise they won't all be ooh-look-I'm-fancy! There's definitely some fanciness over there but there' also plenty of plain old odd, funny, or curious. On we go.)

1 Olivier de Vezin was the full family name, which was subsequently abridged, as has come up previously.

2 I don't know who did this rendering. Or anything about it at all. (Maybe somebody just made it all up. But if they did, they did a nice job.) Maybe some scrap of paper amidst the many heaps will explain it.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Uncle Chip

Sarah, To Me Yesterday:

“You’d make a good member of a cult.”
Aww, shucks, honey…

Found Treasures and Other Curiosities: Olivier Family Tree

As mentioned before, my dad’s family has been in New Orleans as long as there’s been a New Orleans. And over the generations, to put it mildly, a lot of family stuff has accumulated. As a child, I would come to New Orleans and visit my grandparents and stay in their big old houseup on Esplanade in Mid-City. The house was a crammed-full of a jumble of grand old antiques and every day a bric-a-brac. And the house was laid out crazy, all over-sliced into little rooms and halls. A trove of multi-generational treasures and cruft and everything in between.

And when my grandparents passed, all that stuff went to the half of the house where Annou lived, and the other half was rented out. So the already overstuffed contents of the full house became essentially warehoused on the one side, mounds of things with “goat trails” through them. If there was a show called Southern Gothic Hoarders, this house would have been its premiere episode. Annou had carved out a couple of rooms,s amidst the horde, as her own personal apartment (though her rooms were pretty crowded too). But the rest of the rooms were just dusty heaps of the things, great and small.

Our once large New Orleans family has shrunk to a small one, and I am the only grandchild, so I always knew that someday, I would be heir to this legacy of stuff. And with Annou’s passing, so it has become. And Sarah and I spend our weekends, digging through the stuff, trying to make sense of it all.

And so a series! “Found Treasures (’n’ Stuff)”. I’ll post some of the more eye-catching or odd of the items we go through. First up, the Olivier family tree:


 

This is more at the "gem" end of the gems-curiosities-weird-odds-'n'-ends spectrum, and it may be a tough act to follow, but it's a good place to start. It was made by my grandmother (Daidy to me; Claire to the adult world), around 1970, documenting the Olivier side of the New Orleans family, from the span of 1750 to 1878 (very specific). It's actually a tracing of a more ornate tree that someone else did earlier. (I'll show that later.) I kind of like her traced version. It is certainly one of the more beautiful things we have found, and it's utterly fascinating. (I'm not sure how well you can see them — maybe if you click on it — but the names alone are amazing.)

1 The house itself is a curious entity, apparently an old 1860s structure that dramatically grew and morphed in the 1920s into approximately the structure that it is today. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Sunship Earth

A cool leaf I found. The kids were really into finding and discussing cool leaves.
We go through our regular lives, busy, little ups, little downs, hustling. But once in a while, we’re given some special experience beyond all that. I had such an experience recently when I chaperoned my daughter’s class trip to a program called Sunship Earth.

It’s an intensive five-day sleep-away “school in the woods” that takes city kids to the country (out of town a ways, in the middle of pretty-much-nowhere) and immerses them in a world of trees and meadows and bayous and pinecones and wildflowers and birds and a night sky full of stars; no whiteboards or binders, no phones or iPads or watches (I didn’t know what time it was the entire “non-time” I was there), just hands on visceral experience.

The days were intricately choreographed, activities from the moment the kids woke up to when they hit their bunks at night. (They slept very well.) Lots of games (and catchy songs). Tons of fun. But the games had a purpose. While having all that fun, the kids’ brains were secretly being crammed full of seriously legit earth science knowledge, a sly brilliant curriculum. And there were quieter times, moments for them to share what they’d seen, late-night stories, evenings around campfires (the best built campfires I’ve ever seen; I studied their construction carefully).

We chaperones were “Crew Leaders”, each in charge of our own gaggle of five or six kids (the same kids for the duration of the program; by the end, we were a tight little posse). And the adults were just as immersed as the kids: joining in all the activities, right alongside, silly as can be; dining with them (the food was great); bunking with them (the boys room got kind of funky; apparently ten-year-old boys, when left to their own devices, maintain less than perfect hygiene). The staff was wonderful. And of course, the kids were fantastic: sweet, rambunctious, excited, hilarious; a pleasure. (On a personal note, having recently lost my dear old aunt, it was wonderful to be amongst such youth and energy. Perhaps the perfect counterpoint.)

It was wildly fun, surprisingly moving, exhilarating, exhausting. (I could really gush at length, but I’m trying to tone it down.) I’ll never forget it.

(If you’re feeling charitable, may I enthusiastically encourage you to consider a donation to T.R.E.E., the program’s parent organization that makes the magic happen. It would truly be money well spent.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Monday, October 20, 2014

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Evening Haiku: Lively and Mannered

Lively and mannered —
Blue hat, green jacket, red lips.
"A martini, please."

Monday, October 13, 2014

Goodbye, Annou



It's taken me a little while to write this post. My dear dear aunt, Annou, passed away. A few facts about Annou:
  1. She was profoundly unique. That's not a cliché. The world has never before nor ever again will see another Annou.
  2. She had a PhD in philosophy and taught logic.
  3. She was the most illogical person I’ve ever known.1
  4. In her later life, she couldn't hear a damn thing. For her birthday, we got her one of those little handheld whiteboards and some markers (not the most sentimental gift, but it proved extremely useful in the next couple of months, scribbling messages back and forth).
  5. She lived independently until almost the very end.
  6. Her house was truly southern gothic (and a touch Faulknerian).
  7. She was the first person I knew to get an iPhone.
  8. She was the first person I knew to get a Prius.
  9. She introduced me to the works of Hiroshige.
  10. She, like me, was a total Japan-o-phile.
  11. She loved her Mac products.
  12. She didn't really know how to use her Mac products. Well, she actually could work them fine for many purposes, but she often got jumbled. She was convinced she had an electronics poltergeist in her house.
  13. She drank Beefeaters martinis on the rocks with olives, and she always gave the gin-soaked olives to the girls.
  14. She would sometimes demand that you write a haiku, right there on the spot.
  15. She was one of the last of the old French Creoles.
  16. She remained, in some way, eternally young.
I could add a thousand more details, but I think I'll leave it there. Goodbye, Annou.

1 We had countless good-natured arguments about various topics,a often philosophical, but  ranging broadly. When I was about twelve, we got in an argument about rock stars and pheromones. She said she believed that rock stars were popular, because when they played concerts, they released a lot of pheromones. I countered that this was obviously false: most fans never actually have close physical proximity to their adored rock stars. Photos and film are all they ever experience. No pheromones whatsoever. She didn’t accept my reasoning.b
a Sometimes I legitimately disagreed with her. Other times she simply set me up as her straw man opponent and lectured me at length (mock-seriously) on some point that I actually completely agreed with. When I was young, we argued verbally. Later in life, when she couldn’t hear, we sometimes argued by email. We volleyed forty-plus emails regarding Dedekind. (I was right. She was totally wrong. Arguing that before any given point, there must be a single last preceding point? Absurd!) 
b Much later, when I was a young adult, on one of her free-associative diatribes, she proclaimed that pheromones couldn’t possibly cause the popularity of rock stars because most fans never come close to their idols. I totally busted her on her unwitting flip-flop.