Thursday, June 26, 2008

Big Chief standin on Magnolia Bridge

Both Bob and I have visited New Orleans plenty in the past. I had the good fortune to have a great old friend who ended up in a series of mansions in the Garden District, so I used to stay with her, and learned about neighborhoods outside of the Vieux Carre - Riverbend, Mid-City, and the Garden District. Later, my boss had a house in Bywater, and I worked with a guy who went to Loyola. I got my New Orleans history and geography little by little. It didn't hurt that one of the best implementations of an online photo archive was that of the Historic New Orleans Collection, and I used to visit it often to poach ideas (sorry, Chuck!). Doesn't appear to be online now, though.

When Katrina hit, I scoured the web for information about streets and neighborhoods that I knew. So much was unrecognizable.

I am happy to say that many of the neighborhoods that I knew and loved look great. They've been rebuilt. Some businesses, like Mandina's Restaurant, were closed for 18 months and still managed to come back. There are beautiful stories everywhere. I commented on the excellent local radio station we were listening to last night and was told that none of its music library had been digital, and all their music was destroyed in the flood. The station solicited donations from listeners, and was able to rebuild the collection from donations of music.

But many neighborhoods, huge swaths of residential New Orleans, are still wrecked. It is apparent all over town that there is no concerted will on the part of the federal government to rebuilt these communities. And Bob's cousin, who lives in Algiers and works for one of the last remaining hospitals in town, told me that Congress has just declined to pay the bill for the care the hospitals extended to city residents during and after the flood.

But we are here to eat and walk around and take pictures. We have managed to find us a muffaletta, some red beans and rice, two different kinds of gumbo, an awful lot of fried stuff for the children, and the best sushi in town. And this morning we introduced the kids to beignets. I'm glad I got pictures of that!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Trite thoughts

I think it's impossible to walk around New Orleans and not think about writing.

It's the houses - they're all shuttered up at street level, but they have those second-floor balconies. The tension between privacy and social life, that compartmentalization, that's so Faulkner, so Tennessee Williams, so Tom Pearson. You can't help but make up stories like that when you see how the buildings mimic the psyche.

This view of backyards that we can see from our hotel fascinates me. Some are lush little gems, some are completely derelict. I've been wandering around taking pictures of buildings ever since we got here.

I'm outraged by how much is still broken and abandoned.

Still uploading photos to Flickr.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Hooray for Dollywood

Ok that's a totally idiotic title but give me a break I'm in Alabama at a Best Western. It's hell late at night and my husband and my six year old are still awake and watching the cartoon channel - those loud, quick-cut, sardonic new cartoons that cause ADHD?

So I'd say that so far we're having a vacation that's about 300 awesome, as Zhou would say.

We woke up yesterday morning at Brother Joe's in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We'd gotten a jump on the road trip by driving down there Thursday night. It is so gorgeous there, especially on a late spring morning. You could eat the air. We stopped to say hi and bye to my parents, who were in the neighborhood, and Dad lent me his telephoto lens. Expect dolphin photos later.

Drove to Pigeon Forge, where Dollywood is, and spent the night, so this morning we were at Dollywood when the park opened. I was dreading the amusement park experience - I was picturing hot, greasy, crowded, fake-butter-scented, sweaty, fat, money-gouging, and exhausting. Bob was astounded that I had proposed it in the first place, but I thought we couldn't ask yon children to suffer Baltimore to New Orleans all in one go.

What a relief - since we arrived so early, the temperature was sweet, the place was empty, and there were NO lines. First thing we hit was this Mystery Mine thing. I'm not well-versed in the whole ride vocabulary and architecture, so it wasn't until after Mao and Bob had disappeared through the ride's gates that I realized: that twisting, looping double strand of tubing up there? is part of the ride my SIX YEAR OLD is ON. I thought:

  1. "He's going to go hysterical and they'll have to stop the ride."
  2. "He's going to throw up and we'll have to go back to the car."
  3. "There is NO WAY those restraints are tight enough for his little body. They're used to giant Southern children around here, he's just going to slip through the bars."

Turns out it's the scariest ride in the park. It actually belches fire at you. Bob was mightily impressed, and Mao was appalled. He came off fine - no crying, no puking - but he was like, "That was INSANE. What is WRONG with people, they come up with shit like that? I mean SRSLY. OMG. WTF?" Not in so many words.

I was really impressed by the structures, the landscaping, and the use of materials in the park. There were buildings legitimately made of logs and stone - not just crappy facade stuff. The rocking chairs that were set out for people to rest on were made of wood. There was water trickling everywhere, little creeks and waterfalls, and a working water wheel at the grist mill. The craftsman stuff felt pretty contrived, but it wasn't fake - you can't sit there and pretend to make a broom.

The one thing that I thought was weird was that there was very little Dolly in Dollywood. I expected her face and her voice to follow us around all day. I expected at least a wooden Dolly figure with the face cut out so you could have your picture taken. I would have taken that picture, come to think of it. I had to look hard in the gift shop to find a t-shirt that had her face and the word "Dollywood" both. Maybe she has sold it.

We did a rather tame kids roller coaster so that Zhou could have a shot at a big-kid ride. There was a little splash to it, which he wasn't very happy about. Afterward, we were discussing which rides to go on next, and Mao said, "Nothing that goes upside-down, because those rides freak me out." I swear, he's really six. Then Zhou adds, "And nothing with water, because those rides give me a pissy fit."

"Hissy fit" we hastened to correct him. "Hissy."

Luckily, there have been very few of those so far. Tomorrow we drive to New Orleans though, another long day in the car. Luckily, I brought CDs of the first three Percy Jackson and the Olympians books, and the kids love them as much as I do. Unluckily, the reader, a Jesse Bernstein, slurs his 'tr' sound so much I'd like to kill him. If Percy looks out his 'bedgeroom' window and sees a 'chree' on the 'shtreet' below I think I'll have to hurl the disc out the car window, as my brother once did with a Sinead O'Connor cassette in Colorado on a road trip with his roommates.

Happens to the best of us when road fever is upon us.

All our pictures here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Eat it!

cake tasting, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

My parents' 50th anniversary cake is coming from Charm City Cakes - Duff, the guy with the fancy cakes with the show on the Food Network. Ace of Cakes, that's what it's called.

We met with him yesterday to confer on the design, and came away with six samples to taste, which we shared with the kids. They took their job very seriously, as you can see.

The design of the cake will be based on my parents' china pattern - Wedgwood Florentine Black.

I thought about this a long time before I came up with the china pattern. Sure, it's classy but when you look at it close? VERRRRY weird. Griffins and sea monsters with long curly tongues. I've spent many a holiday dinner trying to figure out just what the fuck is going on in the border of her plates. It's like that scene in The Birdcage when Dianne Wiest thinks the young men on the bowls are playing leapfrog.

Anyway, I think it's a good compromise between her aesthetic (pink polo shirt) and mine (pink hair).

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Hit the ground running

Green monstah, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

This is us, getting ready for a two-week road trip through the American South.

  • Mao: gathering Ricky Ricotta books and picking out DVDs for the ride
  • Zhou: picking out toys to play with at the hotel in New Orleans and at the beach
  • Bob: clearing out the fridge
  • Me: grinding teeth, heaving vicious, loaded sighs

I've printed out the TripTik, checked out a million books, bought travel toothpaste. Checked our route against Bought tickets to Dollywood, made hotel reservations. I'm gradually doing all the laundry, which will be folded directly into our luggage. TWO WEEKS. TWENTY-SIX HUNDRED MILES. Gas is over FOUR DOLLARS a gallon. GOD!

We're spending a week in New Orleans, then driving to my cousin's place on the beach in Georgia. I love my cousin. She suggested that we drive safely:

"As opposed to the way you and Bob usually drive. On suspended licenses. Tailgating. Speeding. On a donut. Three sheets to the wind. Changing lanes in intersections. Smashing your empty beer bottles against other cars as you whiz by. Letting the kids sit with no belts or hanging out the window shooting birds at retirees bound for St. Simons. Throwing your smoldering butts into bales of hay as you pass trucks full of Baptist children on the church hay ride. Shouting "Flaming cracker asshole" at cop cars. Punching out the cops who pull you over for doing all these things and telling them, 'I may be from below the Mason-Dixon line, but I am NOT a booger eating moron like you!'"
Aaand... all of a sudden I'm excited about our trip all over again. Woo hoo! The SOUTH, y'all! Cracker assholes! Breakfast sausage! barbecue! Brunswick stew! Fried fuckin okra!

Watch out, y'all. Pink-headed freak comin' your way.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Just because we use cheats doesn't mean we're not smart

God, it's been just as hot as the devil's heineyhole around these parts lately. And just about as stinky. When Baltimore gets hot, it gets swimmingly humid as well. Sweat does not evaporate from one's skin without the encouragement of a fan. But waving a fan back and forth is nauseatingly effortful.

Here are some of the things that happened during the heat wave.

xkcd saved my butt
My laptop quit on me. Wouldn't recognize me as a user, wouldn't even attempt to find our wi-fi. Without the laptop, I am stuck using our desktop computer in the hot hot dining room, so I freaked out. And it's Linux, which I don't know, and it didn't come with any documentation or a CD, so I ended up late one night downloading Ubuntu, burning a CD, then trying to reinstall on the laptop.

I had to type "blah blah blah --configure -a" at the command line, and the goddamn thing still wouldn't respect my authority. "You must have superuser privileges to run that command".

And that's when I remembered an xkcd cartoon that I had never understood.

So I typed "sudo blah blah blah --configure -a" and... it worked.

Mom's Casa de Stijl
I sheared the children. Did not a bad job, considering I'd never wielded clippers before. Had some tips from my friend Chris. Only a couple little bald spots, and the kids look much cooler.

I then dyed the children. Mostly it was an excuse to shove them into the shower a couple times in an afternoon. Zhou went green, and looks like a tree fairy, and Mao looks like the Human Torch.

Your 100 Degree Heat Index kung fu is no match for my Two Hours at the Multiplex Strategy!
I took my children and 3 others to see Forbidden Kingdom at the $3 theater. It's PG-13, I know, but I am ok with kung fu movies. There's violence, but it is highly stylized, artful violence, neither angry nor brutal. Plus, few if any guns. In many kung fu movies there are strong, competent women, and children, and older men.

That was fun as anything, watching that movie with 5 little kids. They were bouncing up and down in their seats cackling with delight. "Did you SEE that?" Mao kept gasping.

Then last night during dinner, a front rolled in and the temperature dropped ten degrees in as many minutes. Today the sky is high and blue, the air is clear, birds are singing, and girls play the Moldy Peaches on guitar in sun-dappled shade.

Monday, June 09, 2008

You can beat my brains, beat my brains, beat my brains but don't kiss me again

Our first carrot!

A famous author and public radio commentator, let's call him Faniel Blinkwater, is a troll. Now, before you go getting all "Hey, just 'cause a guy is fat and bald and adenoidal and possibly lives under a bridge, you can't just go calling him a troll," hear me out.

This guy was so offended by a single sentence in my 2-paragraph review of a picture book that he authored in 1972, that he came on Pink Me and left this comment:

A comment from the author: Marginally sorry if the book is superfluous. I don't write books because of some perceived need other than my own. I needed it, I wrote it--around 1972. This present incarnation, with D.B. Johnson's wonderful drawings is its third. If it pleases, amuses, or becomes a personal point of reference for certain readers, naturally I am happy. But I can't claim I wrote it in order for it to be part of someone's educational armamentarium. See, it's a work of art--in addition to being about a work of art. If you think books are tools.....well, you need to read this book.

Troll, no?

This was a while ago. I didn't respond because, you know, first of all, who cares? I vet books for parents on Pink Me. It's not like it's international diplomacy or something. And secondly, I am not dumb enough to respond to that kind of baiting.

You might not think of bar fights as educational opportunities, but I have taken away one important observation from my (admittedly limited) experience of them.

(Limited to:

  1. threatening to relieve my ex-husband of his (basically useless) manhood if he ever set foot in "my" bar again and
  2. policing my old friend Carol, who liked to pick them with total strangers (something that I never understood AT ALL, especially given the fact that Carol was TINY, and if anyone had ever taken her up on it she would have had her flat Long Island ass handed to her trussed up like a pale, raw turkey.) (Seriously, she was so small that in order to keep the peace I would frequently end up lifting her bodily and carrying her out of the bar. Her methods of antagonism were so precise and persistent that, in spite of her size and gender, she would actually manage to push people (almost always men) to the brink of violence. My intervention was not so much on her behalf: in my opinion, if she had finally taken a pasting for her efforts it might have served her right, but I couldn't allow some hapless man to give her a shove, and then bear the social, legal, and possibly emotional consequences of her insane need to be an unbearable cunt (that's what we used to call trolls).) The day she finally picked a fight with me, I came awfully damn close to punching her in the face. I was in the process of turning all my rings inward toward my palms so that I wouldn't cut her when I hit her, when someone noticed what I was doing and hustled me out of the bar.))

My bar fight observation is this: when someone wants to start one, that person gets up in someone else's face and starts a sentence with "See..."

  1. ("See, YOU left ME. YOU slept with Christine D____k in OUR BED. YOU made ME figure out how to get a divorce. AND when you finally came to pick up the rest of your CRAP, you trashed my apartment! So YOU can FIND ANOTHER PLACE TO DRINK or the next time I see you in here you will leave WITHOUT your shriveled DICK."*
  2. "See, you men just have no concept of the female orgasm. You take and you take, and then you want us to shake our ass for you. You like this? Uh-huh, that's what you like... am I shaking it hard enough for you? Oh, you want me to stop? Should I go make dinner for you now?")**

Here's hoping we all - including Mister Flinkwater - get over our anger issues, get remarried, quit drinkin', and don't get slapped. Because, while I actually don't think that books are tools, I sure know at least one author who is one.

* At least in my head that's what I said.
** Ver. Fucking. Batim.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Kingdom of rain

flag, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

I just liked this photo I took at Clipper Mill a couple weeks ago. It was actually a really sunny day, but all the green puts me in mind of the nightly rains we've been having. Everything growing in the yard is just sucking it all up - the grass brushing our ankles, the peas bursting their pods, the volunteer pumpkins getting aggressive.

In fact, I better get out there while the sun is still shining.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

5 years old today

Yesterday, actually.

Likes: LEGO, playing Dad Dad Mister Mad with daddy and Mao, energy mushes, chicken and rice, coloring, drawing.

Best imaginary friend: DragonMan

Is ostensibly afraid of the dark.

Can count to 238.

Likes to stay home.

Sings all the time.

Insanely photogenic.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


Hands!, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

I believe this is the nursery school I went to. Explains a lot, don't it?