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.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Morning Haiku: The Lightest Rain Falls1

The lightest rain falls.
The sky gray; the air whisps cool.
Fall greets us at last.

1 My dear aunt is in the hospital right now, very sick, an unfun business. She loves haikus. Many a Sunday lunch, we sat together, as she sipped her Beefeater martini on the rocks with olives, passing a sheet of paper around, upon which she demanded, then and there, that we compose haikus. We mostly indulged her. Good, bad, or indifferent, I dedicate these haikus to her.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Morning Haiku: My Camo Snuggie

As Seen on TV,
Light dappling the forest floor,
My camo Snuggie.1

1 Though fitting the form (if you pronounce “dappling” with two syllables, “dap-ling,” instead of three, “dap-ul-ing”), I’m not sure this exactly follows the spirit of the haiku. But it is a sincere expression of the respect and affection I feel for my camouflage Snuggie, which I have donned this early morning for the first time since last winter. The current temperature is seventy degrees, which is almost the sixties, which by my standards, is cold. (Ah, and it is the autumn equinox. I suppose that is an appropriate time for the onset of Snuggie season.)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Pocket Doodles


I’ve been having my fun for a while  iDoodling on the iPad (and previously on the iPhone), but of late I’ve returned to pen and paper. Not a judgement on the merits of one or the other. Just a shifting whim, for whatever reason. And I’ve been carrying around a little sketchbook and pen in my back pocket, in which I doodle little pictures of folks I see (or make up). They’re nothing fancy, crude sketches, but it’s fun to do, makes one notice and think about people and their details and quirks. (And when you start really looking, people sure do have a whole lot of details and quirks.)1

1 Totally tangentially, I’m officially cold right now. It’s 5:20 in the morning, I’m sitting outside, and I’m cold. (I put on a sweater!) Admittedly, I’m the guy who’s always chilled, when everyone else is warm, but this is decidedly not New Orleans summer weather. (Whoah! I just looked at the date, and it’s already late September? I guess it’s about time for the seasons to start getting mixedy-uppedy again.)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Morning Haiku1

On the balcony,
The moon above the willow,
A truck rattles by.

1 Your turn?

Reunited And It Feels So Good

The reunion: I confess, some part of me dreaded it. Would we all look old and fat? Would it be socially awkward?1 But people looked great, better than ever. (College kids often make horrible aesthetic choices.) And it’s amazing how, with the people one knew well, it’s like no time passed at all. Conversation flows as easily as ever.2 Old friends. The old school. Truly gratifying.3 (It took me a couple of days to get around to posting because I returned absolutely exhausted — way too much fun crammed into way too little time.)

1 And I’m pathologically bad with faces and names, and I had an anticipatory fear that I would make some blunder and completely blank on someone who I was supposed to know well.a (I was at a distinct disadvantage because I’m not a regular Facebook user and haven’t been tracking these peoples lives for the past however-many years.) But all the faces and names gelled quickly, and there was nought to worry about. (There were only a couple of people who I had trouble placing, and in my defense, I only knew them tangentially, and they had gone through major stylistic overhauls, glamming up significantly since their college years.)
a I should mention that we went to St. John’s College, which is a teeny-tiny school, and everybody knew everybody.b
b I should also mention that St. John’s is where The Lady and I met.
2 Of course, there was a fair bit of drinking, which tends to speed along this re-bonding.

3 The girls came along. They acted like the whole thing was way too dorky and lame and adult-ish, but in truth, I think they were busily soaking it all in.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Twenty Years

We're at out twenty-year. Lovely seeing the old school and old friends. But holy crikey! Two decades! How much time has passed. How different life is now. We were such babies then. Each era has/had its joys and challenges. But it's been a long road (and if we're lucky will be a much longer road; how 'bout that fiftieth reunion?). Holy crikey! Two decades!

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Sweet Sixteen

Sarah and I had our 16th anniversary yesterday. Not too shabby.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Slim's Aphorism of the Day

If life doesn't humble you, you haven't been paying attention.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Waiter



June drew this. I think it's awesome.

Washington State: Up Above

The girls were like billy goats, up and down all the rocks.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Silly Animals, Redux

Remember that Alphabet Animals series I did I while back? That worked out pretty well. I have a hankering to do a doodle (or two) in that mode again — some animal wearing something silly. So I'm taking suggestions: What kind of animal should I draw? What sort of silly attire might he/she wear? All notions welcome.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sometimes

Sometimes, after gulping the first several gulps of a mug of coffee, I then savor the last sip. And by "savor," I mean I linger over it, save it, for an hour or more, long after its gone cold, long past its prime. But it's just so sad when it's gone. Alack alas.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Sunday, August 17, 2014

DJ Tiny with Toy


A ridiculous dog with a ridiculous dog toy. (You'll note how the yellow squeak toy is itself a dog, a  sort of elongated dachshund-esque creature with a silly face and a big toothy smile.) Ridiculous.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Guy With Big Beard and Fur Hat



I haven't been drawing enough, so… here's a random quick doodle of a man with a big beard and a fur hat.1 (Not the best but good enough.) We don't wear a lot of fur hats around here. Baseball caps are much more common.

1 Attribution: I doodled this from some random photo I found somewhere on Google Images.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

First Day


First day outfits

So the girls started back at school yesterday. Fifth and eighth grades. My my.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My New Baseball Cap

My new baseball cap. A while back, while traveling, I lost my favorite baseball cap, a red Kreuz cap from Lockhart, Texas. (It currently resides somewhere out back on the family farm in Virginia.) Tragic. Sarah quickly found me a viable replacement (I'm picky), a Yeti coolers hat from a fish and tackle shop in Maryland. (I absolutely have to have a good baseball cap on a road trip.) Then recently, I lost that hat somewhere around the house. (Why do I keep losing them? Will it eventually turn up?) Now I've got a new new one, a Callahan's General Store hat, from Austin, Texas (purchased recently on yet another road trip). It's currently getting settled in, broken in.1 I like it.

1 For me, a newly purchased baseball cap is just a starting point. It must be rigorously molded and stressed: extensive bending and shaping of the brim,a steady wear until it softens and conforms. Until it sits just right, natural-like.
a There are two primary brim styles today:
  1. Conventional (bent): Traditionally, folks bend the cap brim to some degree, increasing eye-protection.
  1. Hip-hop (flat): This is a common youthful style, the brim flat, as if straight from the store.
Like most of my generation, I choose the former. But conventional/bent is a spectrum, and in my rural upbringing, the tendency was towards heavily bent brims, a markedly rounded arc, and I myself continue to favor this style today (though I am less extreme than the country boy I saw at the airport the other day, who's brim was bent in a sharp inverted U, almost to the point of folded in half).

Sunday, August 10, 2014

So...

So, Washington State. The Olympic Peninsula. Almost freakishly beautiful. Yes. Each element is exceptional: the waters, the cold stony beaches,1 the islands, the forests, the mountains. And their weird proximity to each other, all bumped up together in this faraway corner of the contiguous U.S. (CONUS). I couldn't live there. I'm ensnared too deeply in our funky southern web. But a week, hiking the ups and downs,2 craning our necks at the ancient trees, dipping our feet in the frigid summer waters. Mighty fine, mighty fine indeed.3

And 'twas a last calm cool breath before we return to the hustle bustle of the school year.4 Hi ho, hi ho...

1 I faced a painful conundrum. The beaches were strewn with some of the best skipping rocks ever — the perfect size and weight and heft and flatness and rotundity. But the waters were determinedly un-skip-friendly, endless mild breaking waves. Nonetheless, I found my opportunities, skipping in the brief placid lulls — getting frequently two, and occasionally six or eight skips — before the next wave came crashing forth. (Rock skipping was one of the little joys of my youth.)

2 We're mighty flat in New Orleans. Ups and downs are a novelty — and a cardiovascular challenge.

3 Plus the girls got a little dose of Twilight tourism. Plus we snuck in a day in Seattle. (Ramen and and shoppinga and sushi. Mmm...)
a I got a fresh pair of black Doc Marten shoes, a deviant but happy variation on my personal uniform.
4 Not that we ever get all that hustle-y and bustle-y.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Olympic Peninsula, Washington State


Feet and stones



Louise, Marymere Falls



Kayaks



Quileute Reservation, Second Beach, the girls running on the sand



Quileute Reservation, Second Beach, the girls climbing on the rocks



June, Rialto Beach



Hand and wood

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

June Presides Over the Sunset, Strait of Juan de Fuca


Yes, we're in Washington State, Port Townsend to be precise, another phase of our multi-varied summer. I'll tell you, there aren't many more beautiful places on earth.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Chit Chat: Skyscrapers

Our chit chat continues, next subject: skyscrapers.

For starters, Anonymous informs us that skyscrapers, in the past, were sometimes (rather dreamily) referred to as "cloudscrapers". I did not know. That's pretty cool. Can we go back to calling them cloudscrapers? Curiously, the term is both dreamier and closer to factually correct. I've never actually seen a really tall building scrape the sky,1 but I have seen the tops of tall buildings enshrouded in clouds, "scraping" them, as it were. Dreamier and more accurate. Hmm... One wouldn't have thought it possible.

But wait. I've got more to say about sky/cloudscrapers. In fact, I've got a gripe.2

Skyscrapers3 have a two-fold aspect: they are seen from without, and they are occupied from within. This is true of any building, but with skyscrapers, the disparity between these two experiences of the structure is exaggerated.
  1. From without, they stand masterfully tall, the great creations of our time, forming a city's skyline, often elegant and sculptural, neck-craning and amazing.
  2. But from within, they often kind of suck. During my couple of years temping in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time working in a lot of skyscrapers. And inside, they're mostly just crappy generic climate-controlled fluorescent-lit unremarkable office spaces. Sure, occupants around the perimeter are granted fantastic views, but these views are often reserved for the mucky-mucks, leaving the majority of worker bees stuck in the windowless interior. (And as a temp, I was the lowliest, windowless-est of the worker bees.) And the only breath of fresh air, the only escape from this interior nowhere-space, is a long elevator ride away. (The interior is even more interior than most interiors.) I just wish more of the architects who design these wondrous creations would consider the experience of the internal occupants as much as that of the external viewers. A little less grand ego; a little more thoughtful consideration.
That's what I've got to say on the subject of sky/cloudscrapers. Gripe over. Whew! I feel better.

1 'Cause, y'know, "the sky" is really just an artificial construct of us ground-dwellers, used to refer to what appears to be an over-arching blue dome but is really just an optical effect created by the fuzzy blob of gasses that surrounds our little planet.

2 Ooh! Slimbo's got a gripe. Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!

3 Sorry, I'm going to run with the standard term for now.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Chit Chat: Dating

So we have some proposed subjects for chit chat. We'll try to address them all. But first up, Adrew "Spambot" Miller wants to talk about dating:1

"Dating" is a funny word. Its meaning seems to have shifted over time. These days, it often just means a pair is a romantic couple.2 So-and-so and so-and-so are dating. They may never actually go on a "date" per se.

But more traditionally, it asserts that a couple is actually going on dates. And what exactly is a date? The line is blurry. I might provisionally describe it as an arranged meeting between two people (a prospective or current couple) in a neutral place, e.g. a restaurant.3 But that's a little too rigid. Dinner, movie: unambiguously neutral territory; classic date material. Going to a party together? Maybe sort of, but it's not archetypal. Is it a date, or are they "just hanging out"? (In general, couples seem to be doing less formal dating and more "hanging out".) Dinner at one or the other person's home? That could, at one stage in a relationship, be considered a date. At a later stage of romantic entanglement, it's just plain old dinner.

I dunno. Times change. Words change. Behaviors change. Dating is complicated. That's what I've got to say.4

Thank you for the suggested topic, Adrew "Spambot" Miller.

1 I'll preface this by saying that I've been off the market a long time, so I can't claim any sort of expertise on the subject whatsoever.

2 Though typically the term describes a couple in the early stages of their relationship. I don't think I would describe a couple that's been together for five years as "dating".

3 During my years waiting tables, it was always fun to play "spot the first date". It wasn't hard. There's a distinctive combination of body language and conversation that sets a first date apart from other sorts of social engagements.

4 See? I can babble crapa about just about anything.
a Maybe I'll rename this blog "Babble Crap".b

b Entirely tangentially, I had a weird dream/low-grade nightmare last night that Blogger/Blogspot automatically restyled this blog with some sort of hideous over-the top style with icky fonts and a gross hyper-graphic background image; and I spent a long time trying to change it back, and never succeeded. Yikes.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Chit Chat

So now that the London tales are over, we'll have to find something else to chit chat about. But what? Horses? Monkeys? Aardvarks? Skyscrapers? Dappled light? Robots? Dog food? Wishbones? Primary numbers? String concatenation? Windshield wipers? The etymology of the phrase "chit chat"? Mangoes? Worming sheep? How weird honey bees are? Dwarf stars?

Or anything else. I'm open to suggestions. Chit chat. Chit chat. Chit chat.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

London: Homeward Bound (Planes, Trains, and Automobiles)1

Oh yeah, where we again? London. Well, every story needs its denouement,2 and ours is the return home. Let's wrap this sucker up.

Up and out: So we got up and did all the last minute flitting and tidying and packing, and down the stairs and out the door;3 onto the bus, the massive heap of luggage piled in the area designated for strollers, earnest hopes that some poor lady with a stroller wouldn't hop on; the tube to Victoria station, the seemingly endless tube to Heathrow, crammed in, again with our heap of luggage, along with everyone else going to Heathrow and their own respective heaps of luggage; myself standing in the middle of our heap, having to skinny-up every time the doors opened and others entered; our neighbors, a pair of stewardesses commuting to work (who later turned out to be our attendants on our plane); and finally, arrival at the airport.

Heathrow: We dropped off the wifi thingamabob; traded in our Oyster Cards (the little public transports scanning doo-dads), a bureaucratic process seemingly designed to make you give up on trying to get your money back; exchanged money; went through security; and made a crisp little groove to the gate (we didn't have oodles of time to spare).

Up, up, and away: The plane ride home simply can't be as cool as the plane ride there. And it was daylight the whole time, so there was none of the initial flight's ambient grooviness. (Though we still got fed, which still excited June.) The little back-of-seat plane-on-the-map wasn't nearly as interesting this time. I watched Goodfellas and Moneyball. And we were state-side.

Dulles: Lots of long walks down lengthy corridors, until we finally had to part with my mom, our little London cadre sadly breaking up; and on we went, again through security (which made us extra-secure since we'd already been securitized once and had never left a secure area); customs, which when we witnessed the lengthy line, convinced us we would miss our connection (we didn't have a lengthy layover); but the giant queue as the (England-landers say), zigged and zagged at a reasonable clip (we repeatedly crossed paths with this hilarious little baby who seemed mesmerized by the girls); the customs dude gave our passports a cursory glance and waved us through; we also did some sort of silliness with our luggage where we retrieved it somewhere along the way and then dropped it back off again;4 and with little time to spare, we did indeed make our connection.

The last leg: After becoming sophisticated worldly jet-setters, as we now are, domestic flights are... well... just so domestic. Really though, I remember essentially nothing about this flight.

And...: Home! A taxi ride (the "Automobiles" part of this post's title), etc., and in our front door. I've said it before, but no matter where we go — even to far yonder London — I'm always happy to come home: the raggedy streets, the funky heat (I sat out in the dark back yard for a while once we were settled in), our own beloved New Orleanians. Ahh.

Epilogue:5

Getting back into the daily grind after a far away adventure is hard. Jet-lag makes it harder. Back at work, I had to warm up with very basic tasks,6 waiting for my brain, which was still somewhere over the Atlantic, to catch up with me. But eventually we got back in the groove, graced with great memories which we'll never forget.

(And of course, I got to have my fun, reliving the whole thing via this bloggy-machine. 'Twas nice. Journey over. Thanks for reading. Catchya on the flip side.)

1 The trip took a week. It's recounting has taken how long? Silly Slimbo...

2 That's one of those big English class words. I hope I'm using it right.a
a And I suppose not every story needs its denouement. This is the post-modern era, right? And we can adopt any experimental narrative structure we want. But for this one I'm going to stick with classic linear. Denouement it is.
3 I say "out the door" like it was a casual thing. It was actually excruciating. Getting the girls — in their full tween-dom — out of the house on regular day is a laborious process, a myriad of last minute (last many minutes) tweaks to attirea and whatnot, during which I'm usually standing at the bottom of the stairs, tapping my foot and trying to find a Zen place (though often uttering rather un-Zen hollers of, "What are you doing?"). Getting out the door for an overseas flight was the same thing, multiplied manyfold.
a As an adherent of the wear-a-personal-unchanging-uniform-every-single-day philosophy, I find last minute attire tweaks entirely alien.
4 I have no doubt that all these procedural shenanigans serve their purpose... but still, it was all kind of silly.

5 Ooh! A denouement and an epilogue. Aren't we fancy?

6 Though I'm a software nerd, and coding, of its nature, is complex. There were definitely some initial moments (minutes... hours...) of staring at the screen, with my brain in another time-zone, thinking, "What the hell does all this gobbledygook mean again?"

Sunday, July 06, 2014

London: Day 6, Friday1


On the train: the girls play their weird made-up Lifesavers game.



Louise watches the countryside pass by.



Old downtown Lewes



The girls, atop Lewes castle, giving big ridiculous smiles to whoever is "really" taking the picture. (What is June doing?) Note the chalk cliffs in the distance.



Mom and I, in front of our old house. It's actually three row houses stuck together. We were the one in the middle. Somebody has done some considerable gardening since we were there, making it look decidedly quainter.



Onto the Downs. ("SHEEP in this field. Please keep DOGS under _______ CONTROL." What's the missing word? "STRICT"? Sounds about right. Polite yet disciplined.)



The wind blows Louise's hair. June assaults the rest of her.



The girls tiptoe towards the sheep.



Sarah gazes into the distance.



Mom, the sheep farmer, attempting to make the acquaintance of these two. The sheep really wanted nothing to do with us.


Our last day. It was finally, for the first time since our first day, pleasant rainless weather. We had one key item left on our trip's checklist: visiting the little town of Lewes, where my parents and I lived for a year when I was eight.2 It's about an our south of London, outside the hustle and bustle of the city, a little medieval town nestled in the South Downs, eight miles from the English Channel. (From the highest hills, one can see the sea.)

The public transport in London had proved wonderfully proficient. The train system beyond the city (in our brief experience) was a hot mess. We were to depart from Victoria Station. After a long wait in line, we purchased our tickets. It was subsequently revealed that the ticket guy had screwed up and substantially overcharged us. We wandered confusedly amongst the platforms until we found the right train and scrambled aboard. Several minutes into the journey, it was announced that at one of the junctures, the train would be splitting in two, with several of the cars going to Lewes and the rest to some other town. We had no idea what car we were in. Finally some kindly gent checked our tickets, assured us that we were in the right car, and we would indeed find our way to our destination.

Once we settled in, the journey through the countryside was charming and relaxing. The girls invented some weird game with Lifesavers, which kept them busy. About an hour outside of London, the marvelous green Downs rose before up in a steep escarpment. And then, a few minutes later, we arrived in the little town.

We strolled down the main street, lined with medieval buildings, shops, a castle further up the hill. I'd done research and found a good restaurant. We stopped for lunch (our one true "upscale" meal in England). Good stuff. (June ordered "posh fish and chips," a fancy modernistic interpretation of our regular culinary staple. Afterwards, we went to the castle. I remembered it well from my youth, not the grandest castle, but damn cool regardless, teeny spiral staircases to the top of the towers, the archers' slits, spectacular views from the top of the Downs stretching to the horizon.

And then it was time for the curious bit of the trip: visit our old flat where we'd lived. It was at the edge of town, entirely off the beaten tourist path, and getting there and back would be logistically complex. Eventually we found a kind cabbie3 who agreed to take our party up there and return an hour later to fetch us. Seeing the old house, three-plus decades later, was semi-surreal: the funky little post-war flat where I'd spent a year of my youth. (If any neighbors were watching, I'm sure we made a strange sight, standing outside of a nondescript home, posing and snapping pictures.) The neighborhood itself was unremarkable, but its one virtue was that it abutted directly upon the Downs themselves.4 After our brief stop in front of the old home, we wandered out into the great beyond.

The Downs are unique: profoundly green, nearly treeless, they seem to roll on and on forever. We hopped a fence that hadn't existed when I was young. Sheep grazed in the communal fields. We stopped at an ancient drinking hole, then roamed further, following an ancient trail. (There was a tremendous amount of sheep poop, scattered like land mines, making the roaming a careful business.) After the dense business of London, it was a gratifying lovely respite. We dallied a while. And then we retraced our (poo-laden) path back to the spot where our cabbie was to pick us up. He was briefly delayed. We were briefly concerned that we'd been stranded at the edge of nowheres-ville. But he did indeed show up, apologized, and took us back to the center of town.

We'd hoped to grab a late afternoon tea at the dainty little shop on the main street, but alas, they'd just closed. Instead, we grabbed coffee down the street (at the chain cafe called Cafe Nero, which used a squarish angular font for its signs, making it look like its name was Cafe Nerd).

And then it was time to catch the train back. Back through the countryside. Back into the city. Back to the flat. And the packing for our regrettable departure.

And as always, sleep.

1 I'm not sure why it took me so long to post about this last day. I didn't want the trip to end. Maybe I didn't want its narration to end either.

2 I will go ahead and say it: my youthful year in England was less than idyllic. My memories consist primarily of steady rain and regular fisticuffs with the xenophobic future soccer hooligans who populated my school.a
a This not to say there weren't also many wonderful, eye-opening experiences. (I saw a lot of awesome castles and other cool stuff.) But the daily routine wasn't so great.
3 The cabbie sort of fascinated me, just so archetypally what he was, a certain sort of epitome of a certain sort of working class Englishman: polite, diligent, and with an accent unlike any other.

4 This was another of the upsides of my year in England. Our house was literally at the very edge of town. I could walk the length of our long backyard, climb through the overgrown back hedge, and in an almost Narnia-esque transformation, find myself standing at the edge of miles and miles of glorious green rolling hills.

Monday, June 23, 2014

London: Day 5, Thursday


At the fish and chips shop, weird "Non Brewed Condiment"



My lovely Hokusai mug



The girls in the BBC broadcast booth. They're sort of hard to see, but that's them through the window, at that darkened table. Actually the better view of them is in that top monitor, second from the left. (Ignore the dudes in the way-background.)


Two items on the agenda:
  1. The British museum,
  2. A private tour of the BBC (as per Day 3's invitation from Lucy).
The morning was clearer. We got a late start. By the time we made it to the middle of things, we were already hungry and decided to grab an early fish and chips lunch. (Yes, our diet does seem to have consisted almost entirely of fish and chips and Indian food. Not so bad.) We found a funny little no frills place run by eastern Europeans, not far from the museum. It wasn't a culinary pinnacle, but it was hearty and filling. (They didn't have vinegar for the chips (fries). They had variously flavored (excuse me, flavoured) things labeled "Non Brewed Condiment". What does that mean? Aren't most condiments non-brewed?)

The British Museum: I confess, I'm a culture-less Neanderthal. I tend to find museums overwhelming and exhausting. And the British Museum was especially so. It's a beautiful building, with a gorgeous sky-lit atrium, but it's enormous and so full of deeply culturally significant treasures that the head reels.1 Sarah, who finds museums invigorating, was on fire, eagerly traipsing from one beautifully chiseled rock to the next. The rest of us tried to keep up. We passed through the mob-scene Egyptian exhibit with its mummies. I did, myself, finally light on fire when I learned that the museum contained an original Hiroshige print2 (one of my favorites), and I dragged the gang up to the obscure back-of-the-top-floor Japanese exhibit (which included other cool stuff like a full samurai suit of armor) for a gander. After all the varied gazing and wandering, we finally settled back in the atrium for a respite. Gift shop: I purchased my sole London keepsake, a nice little mug with a rendition of Hokusai's "Under the Wave, off Kanagawa."3 Food court: They served espresso, which helped alleviate the museum-daze.

The BBC was the surprise treasure of the visit. We met Lucy in the lobby, where she signed us in and got us visitor's passes. (I don't think the BBC gets many whole families traipsing around its inner depths. As Lucy brought us through security, she joked, "And this is my herd," to which the guard quietly responded, "Large herd.") It's a tremendous building, the kernel of the old original building, which then, over the decades (as Lucy explained) received many ad hoc add-ons, growing in a sort of U-shape, and then, more recently, underwent a massive and successful modernistic resuscitation: a groovy many-story beehive of industrious news gathering and dissemination. (The standard format throughout the building was open-air workspaces, with each person having their own little station with a computer and a phone and whatever else they needed.4)

Lucy led us past the main TV news studio, with its anchor people in funny off-camera down-time. We wandered around the perimeter of the main giant news-room. Y'know how when you're watching the news and there's a whole bunch of people off behind them doing industrious-looking news gathering work? That room. (It's conceivable that at some point during one of the main BBC newscasts, we were teeny-tiny dots in the background.) She led us (again, as the lead sound engineer) into one of the small recording booths, where on the other side of the glass, one of those ladies with the perfectly polished BBC accents read a brief radio news clip, which turned out to be something about the rape and abuse of young women in south Asia, which made everyone in the booth feel a bit awkward. No worries. Then the sound engineer gave a not particularly coherent explanation of how a sound-board worked: it's very simple, just one part over and over, and once you learn the one part you know the whole thing. (I'm sure he's right. We just didn't know what he was talking about.)

We moved on. It gets blurry. We took an elevator (each of the elevators plays a different BBC radio channel) up to the groovy pop-music channel floor, where with-it looking young staff  whisked about. We travelled down to the international news floor, where each of the major world regions has its own section. Above each section was a teeny sign identifying it, but they weren't really necessary: one could pretty easily tell from the composition of the staff what region each section covered; the Africa section had lots of Africans, etc. Ultimately we wound up in the main (unoccupied) recording studio for the BBC radio world service. Y'know, the studio where the BBC news comes from. Lucy set the girls up with earphones and mics and coached them on how to do a proper BBC news sign-off. Pretty friggin' cool.

Ultimately our tour ended. We thanked Lucy, returned our visitor's badges, and went to the gift shop. Sarah broke some stuff, apologized profusely, and bought a BBC mug. I got more coffee at the little cafe. Outside, it started pouring rain. We split up, Sarah and Louise off for a bit of tween shopping; Mom, June, and I headed home to rest our tired butts.

It stopped raining. The gang reunited back home. Indian dinner up the street. (Yes, fish and chips and Indian; an archetypal dining day.) After dinner (I think5), we revisited the foot-crushing playground. I wanted to swaddle Louise in bubble wrap, but she mercifully didn't break anything. Then back to the flat for some vegging in front of the telly.6 And again, sleep, sleep, sleep.

1 Of course, most of this deeply culturally significant stuff is stuff from other cultures, which has caused plenty of controversy in recent years, with some of the aforementioned other cultures wanting their stuff back. There were some unintentionally funny placards in the Ancient Greece exhibit that danced around the subject, obliquely alluding to the controversy but then saying how fortunate it was that these artifacts had been spared the degradation they would have suffered in the polluted environs of modern Athens.

2 As mentioned in one of the very first Slimbolala posts, in my youth, I went through a passionate (and idiosyncratic) Hiroshige fandom phase.

3 In addition to being lovely, the mug is also one-and-a-half times the size of our other mugs, allowing it to contain an extra-large dose of caffeine. I've been using it religiously since our return.

4 It's funny, in one sweep of the eye, seeing so many people in their workaday mode: some dressed upscale, some  down, some eating their lunches at their desk, some chatting with neighbors, some intensely focussed, some looking at Facebook (though I speculate that the Facebook-looking might have been for actual social-media news-research purposes; the open-air workspaces didn't afford much privacy).

5 My journal got sloppier as the days went by, starting with  multiple detailed pages, ending with a few chicken-scratched bullet points.

6 The brain needed an occasional respite from the overload of the sights. The family we were renting from had a set of Simpsons DVDs, which were in heavy rotation with the girls during their off-time. (Go to Europe. Watch "The Simpsons".) That night, we briefly delved into local network television but could never agree on what to watch. I wanted to watch a special on "the worst British football team ever". (I know nothing about British football but found the show wildly entertaining from a socio-cultural point of view. (Ooh! Ain't I fancy.)) Nobody else wanted to watch it. On a new BBC-phillic kick, Sarah wanted to watch the BBC news. (It was — briefly — entertaining to see news broadcast from the very spot we'd been earlier that day.) Nobody else wanted to watch it. June wanted to watch some trashy British talent competition reality show. Nobody else wanted to watch it. We reverted to the Simpsons.