Memorable Times in New Orleans

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From Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo to Jimi Hendrix’s guitar to an on-site filming of NCIS New Orleans, you never know what you’re going to encounter on the streets of the Big Easy.  When I visited recently with my wife Sharon we stayed in the Quarter, which we’ve done regularly for each of our trips.  In particular, we enjoy getting a room at the Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street, which, in addition to its convenient location, well-appointed rooms, and superb staff, also lays claim to a place in literary history, having been featured in works by Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, and Ernest Hemingway.  From there, it’s an easy stroll to Bourbon Street, Jackson Square, Canal Street, and the Mississippi River.  Before mentioning anything else, I want to acknowledge the jazz quartet that entertained us in the baggage claim area of the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.  They were a pleasant surprise, to say the least:

On our first night, my wife and I stopped for dinner at the Bourbon House restaurant, after which we took a walk down Bourbon Street.  Since it was a Monday night, most places were open, however, the street was comparatively uncrowded, making it easy to get around.  While the site-seeing and the music were a kick, getting hit up by panhandlers who were very honest, shall we say, about wanting money to get a fix wasn’t as enjoyable.  In fact, they scared my wife a bit.  Consequently, after dropping in Madame Laveau’s House of Voodoo for some unique souvenirs, we avoided Bourbon Street for the remainder of our stay.

Tuesday, on the other hand, was a completely different vibe.  After a satisfying breakfast at the Criollo, which is the Hotel Monteleone’s excellent restaurant, my wife and I were unexpectedly greeted by a children’s choir performing in the hotel lobby.  Talk about something wonderful!  Needless to say, we felt blessed:

We then headed out and browsed in the shops along Royal Street, where my wife found a gorgeous vintage necklace and I admired the autographed guitar that Jimi Hendrix played at the Isle of Wight, which was on sale for $42,000 at an antiques and collectibles shop.  Wow!

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From there we had an appointment with Royal Carriages, an historic tour that began at Jackson Square and moseyed throughout the Quarter.  Highlights of the tour included seeing the Café Maspero, where Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page met his second wife, the house where Tennessee Williams lived, and the last bank that Bonnie and Clyde robbed before their legendary death in a police ambush.  After our mule-drawn tour ended, we walked down Decatur to the Louisiana Music Factory, then caught some of the live acts on Frenchman Street, among whom was Andy Forest, who was performing for a sparse afternoon crowd at The Spotted Cat:

Our Tuesday evening also included a free concert at the St Louis Cathedral, where we had a nice time listening to Irma Thomas sing Christmas standards.  I say listen rather than see since there was a large pillar blocking our view.  Obviously, we should have gotten in line much earlier than we did.  There must have been close to a thousand people in line ahead of us!  Still, it was a very nice time, which we capped off with a Tempura Udon dinner at the Sekisui Japanese Restaurant on Decatur.

On Wednesday, after some delicious omelets at The Café Beignet, we headed down Canal Street to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, which is next to the Mississippi River.  On our way we ran into what we thought was the dreadful aftermath of an accident or even a murder, as there were emergency vehicles and police everywhere!  Fortunately, we found out to our joy and relief that a crew was filming a scene for an episode of NCIS New Orleans.  In fact, we had the pleasure of seeing Scott Bakula and CCH Pounder in action!  As for the aquarium, it’s a place that my wife always insists on visiting, which I don’t mind accommodating.  The exhibits are well-maintained and the creatures are delight to see, complete with a shark tank and a pool in which you can pet stingrays:

We never tire of this city with its Old World charms and the pleasant and always gracious people we meet.  We certainly never get bored with the people watching, the street performers, or the delicious food.  Indeed, New Orleans is a pleasure to explore virtually anytime of year, even in the middle of December, which is when my wife and I paid our last visit.  Speaking of which, please follow the link below to a photo album I created on flickr, in which you can see much more than my words can describe:

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Video and photo credit: David Martínez

 

“Sing Me Back Home”: The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

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My first trip to Nashville, TN included a day at one of its most important historical destinations, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.  Equally renowned as a research institution and as a popular attraction, its three massive stories are a temple dedicated to the sonic permutations of the folk, hillbilly, western, and blues music, which have sprung from American soil.

After standing in long line for tickets, which moved rather briskly, I stood in another line for the elevator that would take me to the second floor.  As instructed by the docent operating the elevator, I began my tour with a small exhibit about the Southern country rock band Alabama.  From there it was simply a matter of going with the flow from one gallery to another, in which case after case displayed an assortment of historically important instruments, stage costumes, and other paraphernalia.

For me, “real country” means those artists I listened to on my parents’ kitchen radio during the 1970s.  In which case, seeing one of Johnny Cash’s black suits and matching boots, Dolly Parton’s sparkling coats, or Hank Williams’ guitars brought back a flood of memories.  As a museum experience, it felt very much a like a Smithsonian, only instead of seeing Lincoln’s stove pipe hat or Dorothy’s ruby slippers, you get to see the Pontiac Firebird from the Smokey and the Bandit movies.  For more, please follow the link to a short photo album I created documenting my visit on Saturday, November 12, 2016:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ndnthinker/sets/72157676774206926/with/31138709395/

Anything But Weird: My Visit to the Portland Art Museum

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Image credit: David Martínez

Sitting at the end of the Oregon Trail in downtown Portland, not far from the Williamette River, in the heart of Chinook Indian Country, is the Portland Art Museum. Locally referred to as “PAM,” the museum was founded in 1892, making it the oldest such institution in the American West. When I visited across two days, April 10-11, 2015, the galleries, including a special exhibit titled “Italian Style, Fashion Since 1945,” spanned three stories. Comparable to other regional museums, such as the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona, PAM strives at providing visitors with a carefully curated array of lesser works by historically important artists, in addition to exemplary works by unknowns, a collection of Asian art and artifacts, not to mention regional settler-colonial American art (featuring Oregon sculptor Chris Antemann), and what strives at being a comprehensive collection of Indigenous art (primarily from North America, including México).

Like many museums in mid-size cities, PAM aspires at mimicking the magic of loftier collections, such as New York’s Metropolitan Museum or the Chicago Art Institute, without (hopefully) losing its connection to local communities. As a tourist, I can sincerely say that I enjoyed my visits, even though as I strolled through the European galleries I felt myself yearning for the Louvre, which I visited a few short weeks earlier. However, the one space in which I didn’t find myself comparing PAM’s exhibits to more prestigious establishments was in the Native American gallery, especially when I was looking at the Pacific Northwest Coast collection. While I’m unaware of which items on display are actually indigenous to what is today the state of Oregon, I nonetheless experienced an authentic connection between work and place, which was accomplished in a different way when looking at works by local non-indigenous artists. An unexpected delight was an exhibit titled “Breaking Barriers: Japanese Women print Artists, 1950-2000.” I was particular enchanted by the work of Oda Mayumi, whose goddess images are powerful and lyrical expressions of the feminine spirit inherent throughout nature and the cosmos. In the end, as I headed across the street to the Behind the Museum Café, I felt satisfied.

Medieval Beauty in the Heart of a Modern City: My First Visit to La Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris

 

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Photo credit: David Martínez

Appropriately enough my wife Sharon and I paid our first visit to Notre Dame on a Sunday during what was also our first visit to Paris. While fully aware, based on the friendly advice of Parisian friends, that Paris is much more than its “tourist attractions,” we nonetheless felt drawn toward the medieval heart of this very modern and secular metropolis. Neither of us are Christian, however, both of us—like countless people around the world—grew up hearing about this legendary place. So, we simply wanted to see it with our own eyes.

What we saw that morning was simply magnificent! For me the source of my experience wasn’t in Notre Dame’s relationship to the biblical God but to beauty and grace—it was the aesthetic experience that filled my heart with joy. The high ceilings, the stained glass windows, the carvings, statuary, and paintings, which transformed the interior of this church into a world unto itself, left my eyes straining to take it all in. It was like slaking a thirst I didn’t even know I had until I was here. However, the experience was more than visual. At the same time a mass was underway the perimeter of the cathedral was swarming with visitors, silently watching the ritual, taking pictures, occasionally lighting a candle (including making the suggested donation), then moving on. The mass in turn was performed flawlessly as word, music, and ceremony came together in an orderly universe of Catholic worship.

Then there was the journey up to the top of the tower where the gargoyles keep their watch over the city. You stand in a line outside of the cathedral, which moves sporadically until you’re finally let into the tower’s entrance. You climb several stairs to a room where you wait, buy souvenirs, and tickets (unless you have a Paris Museum Pass). From there it’s a long steep climb up, nearly 400 steps in all in a narrow spiraling stairwell. As for the view, even in a modern world of skyscrapers, the view from atop Notre Dame is nothing short of extraordinary! It is from this vantage point that you can finally appreciate why this place, not just the building, is so special. As you see Sacré Cœur and the Eiffel Tower in the distance, as well as the Seine and the city below, you may sense as I did that you’re in a space whose sanctity extends deep into the earth below and goes back innumerable generations into the mythic past. I hope my photographs do this place some justice. Please click on the picture above to see more. Thank you!

“We’ll Always Have Paris”: Seeing the Louvre for the First Time

 

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Photo credit: David Martínez

Although I have wanted to travel to Paris my whole life I didn’t make it there until very recently when I took my wife Sharon on what was our first trip together to this wondrous place. She had never been there before either, so we shared in the excitement of seeing this city for the first time.

Inevitably we went to the Louvre. In fact, it was the one thing that I wanted to do most of all. So, on Friday morning we took a taxi from the Hotel Joyce on Rue La Bruyère to Le Musée du Louvre along the Seine. Almost simultaneously, as we rode into the rotary around La Pyramide Inversée, we spotted the famed Louvre pyramid on our left and the Eiffel Tower in the distance to our right. I couldn’t believe we were finally here!

Fortunately, when we got in line we went in swiftly with our Paris Museum Passes, which we purchased at the Charles De Gaulle airport upon our arrival. Then, after checking in our coats and backpacks—which you do at separate counters—we looked at our museum map, then headed up the Denon entryway in pursuit of the Italian Renaissance galleries and the Mona Lisa. What we saw first made my heart beat faster. It was the Winged Victory of Samothrace! There she stood at the top of a wide staircase, bathed in light and splendor.

In a very peculiar sense going to the Louvre was comparable to my first trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Allow me to explain. They are both places that have lived in my imagination since childhood. They are also places whose images have inundated my visual world for so long that the idea of going to see them in person was going to see something that I thought was abundantly familiar. However, when you finally see them in person you realize in a wave of amazement that none of the countless photos and videos do justice to the lived experience. In the case of the Louvre, and my initial moment before the Winged Victory Samothrace, I was seeing this with newborn vision. In a word, I was awestruck! Indeed, that feeling of genuine wonder stayed with me throughout all the galleries, from the ancient Greek sculptures to the Flemish and German paintings.

As for Da Vinci’s “La Joconde,” of course I had long heard about how you will be disappointed with how small it is in actuality. Consequently, I did not enter the first floor gallery expecting a life-size image, but rather the 77 X 53 cm painting I had read about, in addition to seeing in art history books. What I did not anticipate was the radiant energy this otherwise modest work emitted from behind its glass encasement. The “Mona Lisa, Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, Wife of Francesco del Giocondo” is displayed in the middle of a large gallery, surrounded by dozens of other 16th century works. Yet, there was only one image in that room that everyone wanted to see, and it was hers. So, no, I was not disappointed by this nor any other facet of my first trip to the Louvre. On the contrary, it left me wanting to return to Paris as soon as possible.  In the meantime, please click on the link below, which will take you to a flickr album I created, where you can see several more photos I took during my transformative visit.  Thank you.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ndnthinker/sets/72157676692772101/page1/

Sea-Wanderers of the Deep: A Story of Whale Watching Along the California Coast

mother-baby-blue-whale-newport-beach Photo Credit: Mike, The Cheap Route

When I was about twenty, my mom and I took my mom’s younger sister and her family to Newport Beach to go on a whale watching tour along the coast. I remember the tremendous creatures that gracefully came up for air in an elegant herd as our boat, the Catalina Holiday, sailed slowly within a mile from shore. Were they humpbacks or blues? They were great and powerful mysteries wrapped in deep blue. I also remember one of my cousins missing the whole thing because he was down below, feeling sick as a dog. Haha!

Just as important, I recall vividly when we hung out by the pier, seeing all the people, many of them swimming and playing in the water. I remember watching this very pretty Asian girl in a one-piece swimsuit walking out of the waves. She didn’t seem to notice me but I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. Then, suddenly, I remember the roar of excitement when a school of dolphins was spotted leaping out of the water, one behind the other.

They were heading northward, I knew not where. Maybe they were following the whales. Some people thought they were sharks and ran out of the water! But they were dolphins and everyone stopped to watch them. They were wonderful. They were like playful spirits that unexpectedly sprang from the depths of the ocean. I’ve never seen such a sight again, yet I remember it all like yesterday. Whale Watching   Photo Credit: Marilyn T Martinez

The Heart of Texas Is the Heart of America: Postmodern Cowboy Culture On Stolen Indian Land

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Photo Credit: David Martínez

Sitting along the banks of the other Colorado River, Austin is “deep in the heart of Texas,” as Alvino Rey and a host of others once sang. It is also in the heart of what was once the Tonakawa homeland, who called the area “Round Rock,” and whose neighbors were the Comanche and Lipan Apache. Perhaps when the Spanish, Mexican, and American settlers were taking turns invading the region there were still open plains and roaming coyotes of which the old song sings and which the Indigenous people knew firsthand. However, when my wife and I visited for the first time recently this summer, Austin was a sprawling metropolis, which, at least in the 6th Street area near the University of Texas campus, was abundantly proud of its “weirdness.”

Good food and great music complemented the extreme heat and humidity of our mid-July trip. And in case you’re wondering about Austin’s claim to weirdness, especially in comparison to, say, Portland or New Orleans, you need look no further than The Museum of the Weird, which is dedicated to freaks and oddities throughout modern history, including the Minnesota Ice Man and Texas Bigfoot!

As for music, we enjoyed everything from seeing The Sniffs perform at the Water Trough, which is part of the Lone Star Court to seeing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the Moody Theater for a taping of Austin City Limits. In-between was an arduous but worthwhile trek from Congress to Lamar to checkout the merch at Waterloo Records.

In a word, Austin was a blast! Be it the food at Thai Passion or Swift’s Attic, chocolate shakes at Hut’s, shopping for Ultraman action figures at Toy Joy, or waiting for the bat’s to swarm out from under the Congress Street bridge, you’ll have a memorable time. Like other cities in otherwise very conservative states, Austin maintains an unexpectedly liberal environment, which, I suppose, is commonplace in areas where there is a college or university nearby. In any case, come for the music and take back memories of the people. You may not see much of the Old West, but that’s okay, the “Old West” was Hollywood bullshit, anyway. Instead, go to The Jackalope for a beer and burger then head down to the Mexic-Arte Museum for a soul enriching experience.

My Austin Photo Album On Flickr