Friday, December 17, 2010

Great studio and the Grand Canyon

The following day we visited my Aunt's painting studio. Ed and her had remodeled an old Citgo station, working nearly every weekend for two years. It was enormous and comfortable with heated floors. It had a clean room and a work room. It had built in ventilation. It had two bathrooms. It had a garden. Come on...
Keppie had met a Grand Canyon Park Ranger while running a workshop at Berklee this past year, so after a glorious breakfast at the Frontier Restaurant we headed for her house. When we got there we chatted with (Ranger) Elysha for a bit. She told us that about ten people commit suicide by driving their cars into the canyon each year. They have special helicopters to pull the cars out. She told us that in the summer the walls of the canyon have an average temperature of 115 degrees or more. She said a common mistake was people not having enough salt, they'd bring water but nothing salty and their muscles would seize up. First they have a feeling of impending doom, then they get angry and then violent. These people are referred to as "dickheads", or rather "diccheads". Disoriented, irritable, combative and then comatose. Serious stuff.
The most dangerous animals in the Grand Canyon are squirrels. "Rock squirrels", she said. They steal food. They chew through peoples camel bak tubes to get to their water. They are super aggressive and they carry the bubonic plague. If you are not treated after they bite you within a few hours you develop lesions all over. Gross and fascinating.
We hiked about a mile and a half into the canyon. Keppie had a lot of fun, looking around, taking pictures and strolling confidently down the narrow dirt path. I was terrified. I have a healthy fear of heights but this height was ridiculous and my fear grew proportionally. Gravity is unhelpful in situations like that, it wants you to run and trip and accelerate. I kept saying things like, "lets just get this over with'. I didn't have much fun on the way down, but gravity helped me feel heavy and solid on the way back up. It was worth it absolutely.

The canyon is completely massive and stunning. It is really hard to think about rationally.
There were mules.
And we fed this bird pistachio nuts.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Texas has some tiny towns

We had sunshine as soon as we passed over the border into Texas. It was still fairly cold but the sun did heavy lifting for tiny car morale. My favorite time in New England is hands down that first warm day of spring, when people rediscover their humanity and acknowledge one another. Smile and make eye contact.
The landscape was also quite striking, these massive pyramids of rock in an otherwise monotonous plane of shrubbery and yellowed grass. Slow fly covered cows swishing and chewing and squeaky oil derricks plumbing back yards. We passed barns, derelict lean-twos of sheet metal and sun brittled wood, sitting in isolation. I'm not sure they were ever used, maybe as movie sets.

We stayed in Austin with my aunt Mary and her husband for a day and a half. It was nice and quiet and they had a pack of snorting wiener dogs. At one point they all howled together like they were singing, but not well. I have heard so much about Austin and wish, like most other places we passed through, that we had had more time there. The best spot we checked out was Domy books. Domy is an art book store with a gallery in the middle. Very cool (thanks Jared).

The rest of our Texas time was spend driving and eating BBQ. We stopped at this gas station cafeteria off the highway where pigs and things were roasted in thick concrete boxes. It was delicious. And the thick fat collected in pickle buckets looked delicious.
We also passed these.
Truth or Consequences kills me...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Finally a living city!

I know we traveled through Chicago, Cleveland, Memphis and many other cities in the winter on weekdays. I know we looked in the wrong areas and I know (trust me I do) that it was raining and windy and grey. We only had one short day in each city too. I am aware that we were thirsty for movements (blues, soul, etc...) that happened ages ago. I know I am lazy sometimes as well. What I am getting at is that our sense of each city we strolled through, the slow, desolate, forlorn feeling we got in those cities may not be an accurate depiction.

But man, it feels great to be in a city with some red blood flooding its veins.

We stayed in the French Quarter, a section of New Orleans that was not really affected (physically) by Katrina. The buildings in the FQ are generally 2 story houses, painted in bright pastel colors with porches full of plants that looked like they had been frozen as they exploded green leaves and flowers over the streets. All the windows have shutters painted in contrast to the houses. Even with the narrow streets empty I bet they would have felt busy.

We got in fairly late and so woke up early the next day and walked around the city. There is a kind of bohemian thing going on, loads of street punks, homeless and buskers (a lot like Venice Beach in that respect). The Audobon Aquarium of America is right along the Mississippi river where we were walking. Hands down the best part was the very first exhibit of young stingrays. There is a large glass tank with an arched walkway through one section that let the flat little ghosts glide up and over us. Great thin smiles with tiny little bone white teeth and squinty eyes.

For lunch we went to a Po-Boy (sandwich) shop. They had a classic New Orleans menu of gator sausage, gumbo, fried crawfish, jambalaya, jumbo shrimp and loads of other cool stuff. Keppie ordered a bowl of sea creature gumbo and half a breaded shrimp po-boy. In my mind I was going, "Gator sausage or crawfish po-boy, gator or crawfish, gator crawfish gator crawfish gatorcrawfish..." When the friendly blonde girl at the counter turned to me and asked what I wanted I blurted, "BLT!"

Stupid. I was grumpy for the next two hours. Probably just some leftover energy from the Sun Studios tour.

That second night we met Jenny (friend of a friend kinda thing). Jenny, a writer from Salt Lake City, had dreamed of living in New Orleans all of her life and had finally made the move a few months earlier. Both Kep and myself were in awe (and more than a little jealous) of her sense of belonging. Every time Jenny mentioned an aspect of the city she would light up, almost glowing with love and fascination. That kind of thing is infectious.

Aspects of the city seem fictional. Individual areas of the city have beautifully evocative names; The French Quarter, The Marigny, The Bywater. They sound like names from a China MiƩville book (who if you have not had the pleasure yet, is... incredible. Perdido Street Station had me wet). We went to Frenchman Street to the Spotted Cat and saw some great jazz and drank beer and liquor from small plastic cups. The place was packed and people were dancing, smoking and drinking and laughing. The range of ages and ethnicities were pretty stunning as well. I think it was a wednesday evening, and cold.

I want to get back there some time.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Sweet Memphis.

We stayed in this Christian place called the Pilgrim House run by Young Christian Leaders. We got there and were given extensive instructions (about 20 minutes worth) by a girl named Katie. She did send us to a great BBQ place though. Ahhhh, ribs.

Memphis is a strange place. After ribs and pulled pork we went to see some Memphis blues on Beale street. Very much a repeat of Chicago, touristy, but this time with really terrible music. All the lyrics were things like "Here you are on Beale street, This is where the blues are happening, Hooray for you and Beale street." but backed by something that used to be a wonderful Muddy Waters or John Lee Hooker track.

We started the following day with an embarrassing (for me) tour of Sun Studios, "where rock and roll was born". I wrote quite a bit about that which can be found at the bottom of this blog entry (didn't want to make you read too much if you didn't want to). Here is a picture of me to entice you into reading though. Awkward...

After that we went to the Civil Rights Museum as well and saw the spot where Martin Luther King was killed. It was really sad. Then we went to see Megamind, which was not as sad and in 3D.

The Stax Museum was pretty awesome as well. Soul musicians, who I had never given much thought too, have thee funniest album covers of all time. So good. Also Isac Hayes had the coolest car in the world.

Memphis is a gorgeous city, green with wide streets and incredibly diverse architecture. The city was fairly empty though. Part of that is that we keep arriving on like a monday night and going, "where is everybody?" It was also amazing the number of boarded up buildings. We tried to take photos of them but it rained a lot of the time. It was strange, there were whole blocks of really nice looking brick houses as well as blocks that would have rows of occupied buildings and then one boarded up house just stuck in the middle. We asked a few people about it but nobody even really seemed to know what we were talking about. Normally that wouldn't strike me as weird, but this time it did.


Better late and with two tiny torturers than without.

We drove from Chicago to Missouri in what continued to be one long grey week. Kep and I found Chicago a little disappointing (except that it looks like a city from the future of the 80's) and were happy to be back on the road.

We got our first flat that day. We had hoped that once we got into Missouri the freezing windy grey would give way to warm weather and blue skies. Instead our tire gave way (oooh!) and we figured out how to change a car tire. I AM A MAN (right?).

We arrived at my sisters place on Thanksgiving around three. It was awesome. Nell (my sister) and Steve cooked this totally crazy meal. Just to start with when we got there we had dates wrapped in bacon, spicy lobster salad on endives, blue cheese and brie on fresh baked bread, smoked salmon and a little red wine.

Matilda and Freya (my nieces) kept me quite busy. For some reason my connection with kids usually comes out of terrible violence and ceaseless tickling. They are fantastic.
Both (especially Matilda) draw all the time, probably more than I do, and have many many wonderful ideas. Drawing with kids is a bit humbling because of how genuinely creative they are. Over the years I have internalized so many little rules about line, form, color, mark making, etc... that I don't notice until I run into someone who doesn't have those rules (yet).
From left to right: Matilda, Freya, Nell and Steve.