Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Flashback to December 2010: Guatemala May Be in My Future

On December 22, 2010, I wrote this post: Guatemala May Be in My Future:

Guatemala May Be in My Future

This apartment rents for $700 per month at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Perfect for a vacation, especially with a roomie or two

I wonder if there's a language school in the area. Will have to check.  

As nice as the above is, apparently one can find hotel rooms (private bath + wireless) for less than $200 per month.

On today, December 22, 2015 --> Stay tuned.

Monday, December 7, 2015

South Louisiana: Buggy Mayhem

Within days of making South Louisiana my temporary home - back in November 2013 - I noticed two things:
  1. Parking lots strewn with shopping carts (aka "buggies"), abandoned willy-nilly by departed customers, taking up valuable parking lot spaces, even handicap spaces; and 
  2. That maddening phenomenon in which an individual squats like a fat spider in a parking lane, waiting for her target parking spot to free up, when the customer hasn't even quite arrived at his vehicle yet, much less unloaded his purchases or got into his car, thereby said spider jamming up traffic for everyone else. 
Dear South Louisianans, I love you, and I'd like you to know that the above behaviors are NOT universal. In most communities, inhabitants actually park their carts in the corrals designed precisely for such a purpose. As for the squatting, I see this happen in other regions, but usually it's restricted to prime holiday-shopping times.

I mentioned the buggy abandonment to a native South Louisianan recently. She looked startled for a moment, then said, "Oh, I do that all the time! I never even thought about it. I don't know why I do it."

Sometimes, when looking out upon the field of scattered buggies, I consider theories of how this custom might have originated: 
  1. Someone Else Theory: "It's someone else's job to put the buggies away, not mine." (Or you could substitute "someone else" with Mom.) 
  2. Job Protection Theory: "If we put away our own carts, someone might lose their job." 
  3. I'll Be Damned Theory: "I work hard all week and I'll be damned if I'm going to put away the buggy. Let the store do it, by God, they take enough money from me as it is."  
  4. Everyone Else Does It Theory: "Everybody else does it. If I put away my buggy, I'll look stupid / weak." 

Is the buggy-abandonment tradition tied to the sad litter problem in South Louisiana?  I don't know, but it seems possible. On the other hand, New Mexico also has a litter problem, but based on my anecdotal observations, New Mexicans put their carts away. (According to this article, Louisiana is one of the 11 most littered states in the country.)

I met a woman once who makes a practice of herding abandoned carts into the proper corrals. She does it as a way to give anonymous service to others, which helps her in her personal growth. Frankly, this would never have occurred to me as something to do, but ever since she told me of her practice, I follow it on occasion, too.

Oh, and here is The Parking Lot Jesus:

When I encounter a habit that appears irrational on the surface, I remember a story.

Some years back, in a village in South Africa, the elders dug a well in the middle of town. There was much gladness for the well because girls and women no longer had to walk a long way to the nearest stream to gather water. The close-by well saved time and energy that could be devoted to other pursuits.

But shortly after the well was dug, vandals broke the mechanism designed to draw the water up. The village made repairs, but again, vandals broke the mechanism. Why someone would do harm to such a wonderful amenity was inexplicable! This happened one or two more times before the vandals were caught.

The culprits were adolescent boys. Why did they do it? Hahahaha - they did it because the well had closed off their opportunity to flirt with the girls when they walked down to the stream to get water. What had appeared irrational on the surface now made sense.

So I'm guessing there is - or was, at one time - some rationale for buggy abandonment in South Louisiana.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Opelousas: Death in Black and White

Myrtle Grove Cemetery, Opelousas, Louisiana.

There's a good chance that if you're brown and you live in Opelousas, you'll die 15 years sooner than your white neighbors.

How do I know this?

Soon after I moved to Opelousas, a couple of events got me looking at local obituaries.
I looked at the obituaries of two local funeral homes: Sibille and Williams. The first thing I noticed is that Sibille is the funeral home for white folks and Williams is the funeral home for those of color.

Over time, as I periodically visited the obituary listings, it seemed that the ages of death over on the Williams obituary page were notably younger than those at over at the Sibille page. This was odd.

To test this perception, I looked at all of the obituaries at Sibille and Williams for the people who died in October and November 2015
  • White: average age of death = 79.36 years
  • Brown: average age of death = 63.67 years
  • 79.36 minus 63.67 = 15.69 average difference in age

OK, what about outliers? Brown people who died extraordinarily young and white people who lived well into their 90s? They skewed the average for these two months, yes?

I crunched the numbers again, this time tossing out the oldest white decedent and the youngest brown decedent. Results:
  • White: average age of death = 78.24 years
  • Brown: average of death = 65.0 years
  • 78.24 minus 65.0 = 13.24

In this adjustment, Opelousas residents of color died THIRTEEN years younger than their white neighbors, still shocking.  

Now I needed a control group, so I looked at deaths in central Missouri, whence I came, using two funeral homes there: Millard Family Funeral Chapels and May Funeral Home. Unlike Sibille and Williams in Opelousas, there is some integration of services at Millard and May, but there is still a strong bias in the clientele served. Generally, Millard's clients are white. Generally, May's clients are brown.

Results for October and November 2015 in mid-Missouri: 
  • White: average age of death (served by Millard) = 72.85 years, after excluding the oldest and youngest decedents
  • African-American: average age of death (served by both Millard and May) = 60.17 years after excluding the oldest and youngest decedents 
  • 72.85 minus 60.17 = 12.68 years average difference in age upon death

So from a slice of mid-Missouri, African-American decedents died an average of TWELVE AND HALF YEARS younger than their white neighbors.

Note: In the Missouri sample, there was what seemed to be an aberrational number of infants who died (at least I hope it was aberrational), both white and black. So for the Missouri comparison, I excluded the oldest individual and the youngest individual in both white and African-American groups. 

Side note: Jesus. Why are mid-Missourians, generally, dying so young? And it's astounding to compare the average age of African-American deaths in mid-Missouri to average age of white deaths in the Opelousas area - almost TWENTY years difference!

Centuries of institutional racism have a long, long reach.

But maybe you think that I happened to choose two months in a particular year that were non-representational of the facts. Wonderful! By all means, please dig deeper. Please do.  

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Learning to Dance, Part 5: Anticipation

Lincoln University dance recital, April 2010. Jefferson City, Missouri.

When it comes to ketchup and romantic trysts, anticipation is a good thing. It's not so good in the context of dance.

When I "anticipate" in dance, it means that I take a dance step that I think will correspond to what my dance lead will do in the next moment.

Anticipation is a well-meaning attempt of a new dancer to:
  1. Avoid making a mistake; and
  2. Paradoxically, follow well. 

Notwithstanding the good intentions, anticipation is a bad habit. Anticipation is an attempt to control the unknown. It's about living in the future and not in the moment. It's about making assumptions about your partner, which may not be true. It's about trying to get into the head of another person and, in the process, losing touch with one's own thoughts and feelings, the flow of the music, and the physicality that's happening in the now.

When I refrain from anticipation, I sharpen my dance skills because I am forced to pay closer attention to signals from my partner. Because I let go of my illusion of control, I am freer to get inside the music and to feel the physical interplay between me, my partner, and the music. I accept that I will make mistakes.

Related posts: 

Learning to Dance, Part 1: Solving for X
Learning to Dance, Part 2: The Tao of Following
Learning to Dance, Part 3: The Pause
Learning to Dance, Part 4: Signals

Monday, November 30, 2015

Flashback to November 2011: Looking Beyond Caucasus Georgia - Plan A

Remembrance of a lovely coffee with "Mary 2" in New Rustavi, Caucasus Georgia. August 2011.

In November 2011, I was at the mid-point of my time in Caucasus Georgia. During my visit to the USA during the winter holidays, I interviewed for Teach for America. Below is my post for that time

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Looking Beyond Georgia: Plan A

I've completed half my tenure with Teach and Learn with Georgia (TLG), and I'm in the midst of the Teach for America (TFA) application process. My final interview for same is on Tuesday, November 29.

If I am invited to join the TFA corps (and if I accept), I'll begin teaching somewhere in the U.S. for the 2012-2013 school year. TFA "corps members" sign on for a two-year commitment to teach in a school that is in a low-income community. Might be rural; might be urban.

If I get in, I'm hoping to teach English language learners (ELL).

And if I get in, I suspect I'll need to brush up on my acronym skills. They're a bit rusty (TABR).

On January 17, I'll find out if I made the cut. If no, it's on to Plans B or C.

Talking about Plans A, B, and C gives me the opportunity to share a great quote from Ashley, a TLG colleague:
... I am a planner. I always have a Plan A, and am rarely caught without a Plan B. I plan for the most minor of externalities. Catch me at any consequential moment and I've usually got two plans and a lie already prepared.
Once I put the interview behind me, I'll be able to focus on a great Georgian party here in Missouri, where I can share the homemade wine, chacha, and churchkhela so generously shared with me. We'll make toasts to the folks back in the Caucasus and to ourselves and our loved ones.

... and a toast to another semester in Georgia!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Learning to Dance, Part 4: Signals

RR crossing, Lordsburg, New Mexico.

As the follow in a partner dance, I need to catch the lead's signals so I know what he intends to do next or what he wants me to do next.

As a novice dancer, it is common for me to misinterpret or miss a signal.

Sometimes I smile when I think about dance signals because it puts me in the mind of a horse and a rider. An equestrian gives the slightest physical cues to a horse, such as a bit of leg pressure on a horse's flank or pressure on both sides at once, or a subtle lead on the reins - all to ask the horse to turn to the left or right, or to move into a higher speed, or back up or move forward. 

Sharing this analogy with a dance partner could lead to a whole other category of signals, so I just keep it to myself.

This way. Highway 3. New Mexico.

The Mystery of the Right Hand  

In October, I was dancing with an out-of-town partner - let's call him Jacques - and in the midst of a dance, he suddenly said, "What, are you afraid of where my hand is going to go?"

In my rapid-fire wit, I said, "What?"

Jacques said, "You're grabbing my hand and moving it."

I said, "What?"

He repeated his statement, and I said, "What are you talking about? I'm not doing that."

Jacques assured me that this was exactly what I was doing.

I proposed that he tell me when it happened again so I can try and figure out the deal.

Presently, he did. And then I understood.

It was a signal mix-up on my end. When we were dancing in an open position, sometimes Jacques would put his right palm up and I knew that meant we would begin to dance with our hands held, but still in an open position. Other times, when we were dancing in the open position, he would move his right hand toward me, but NOT with his palm facing me. I hadn't put it together yet that when Jacques did this, it meant we would dance in a closed position, with his right hand on my left shoulder blade and my left hand on his right bicep or on his right shoulder blade. So what would happen is that - often - when I saw Jacques' right hand come up, I thought we were going to dance with hands held, but in an open position. Therefore, I would mistakenly grasp his hand while he was in the process of trying to put it around me and onto my left shoulder blade.

Consequence: We both jumped to inaccurate conclusions based on the misinterpretation of physical signals, me on the basis of inexperience and Jacques on the basis of a past experience with a dance partner who did accuse him of cheekiness.

A Brain Shift

A day or so later, I danced again with Jacques, this time in a different dance venue.

About halfway through the event, I noticed that Jacques began to execute a new-to-me hand signal. We had been dancing with both of our hands connected, but in an open position. He disengaged his right hand from my left, and flicked his partially-closed right hand toward his right. Jacques' movement had the appearance of a careless toss of junk mail that you're flipping over to a counter.

Somehow, I understood this was a signal for me to turn to my left, and I laughed and joked, "I guess the honeymoon is over," editorializing on the apparent carelessness, the laziness - the taking-for-grantedness - of the gesture.

Even though my teasing was truly in fun, it did reflect my limited knowledge of signals. You see, in previous dance lessons and subsequent real-life practice, I knew what it looked like when a lead dancer wanted me to turn right when we were in a one-hand-held, open position - he made an extended sweep of his left hand, almost pointing me in the direction he wanted me to go.  I hadn't yet been exposed to the movement Jacques made with his right hand.

Jacques took the teasing in stride, without comment, and it wasn't until later the same night or maybe at a different venue altogether, that I noticed exactly the same gesture made by other lead dancers.

And do you know, once I realized this was a signal used and recognized by experienced dancers, things recalibrated in my brain with the result that I saw it in an entirely new light - as a smooth, studied move and not a casual, careless one.

Now, isn't that something? That brain shift?

Related links: 

Learning to Dance: Solving for X
Learning to Dance: The Tao of Following
Learning to Dance: The Pause

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Opelousas: Breathe It: Sebastien's West End Seafood

When I saw the fish flashing, I wondered how I could have missed it so many times before.

Sebastien's West End Seafood. Opelousas, Louisiana.

Everything about the sign pleased me. That glittering like the sun. The black and caramel and mother-of-pearl-white of the fat fish. The cheeriness of the chartreuse border and the joyful blue dots and lines. Gosh.

Of course, I had to pull over.

And then I could see all the colors and textures of flowers and foliage in front and on the side. Bright apple green and deep burgundy leafy cheer of sweet potato vines. Happy yellow lettering on windows. A banana tree. With bananas!

Sebastien's West End Seafood. Opelousas, Louisiana.

And then, and then, when I walked into the store. ...  Deep breath. An aromatic slap from the sea, of fish dead and alive, that briny salty attractant-repellant somethingness that explains why a dog likes to roll in half-putrfied, dead fish on a beach.

A sensory storm, this place.

Below is a slide show:

A shout-out to staff member Walter and his colleagues for their friendly patience while I absorbed it all.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Louisiana: The Church of Zydeco

Performance center, Vermilionville, Lafayette, Louisiana.

Every Sunday afternoon, Vermilionville hosts the Bal du Dimanche ("Sunday Dance") from 1:00 to 4:00. Usually they alternate Cajun and Zydeco each week, with the occasional "swamp pop" or blues thrown in to the line-up.

I love both Cajun and Zydeco, mind you.

But. ... On every Zydeco Sunday, the same strange phenomenon occurs: I walk into the gift shop, show my membership card, get my paper bracelet, walk out of that building and into the courtyard, pass by La Cuisine de Maman's, and as I hear the Zydeco waft from the nondescript Performance Center in front of me, my mouth begins to form into a smile. It's an involuntary response, I tell you.

The nearer I get to the Performance Center, the louder the music gets as it flows through the cracks of the doors, and the wider my smile becomes. Heck, it makes me smile just writing about it.

A pale, pale sample of this phenomenon is in the video below:

On this particular Sunday in June, the Most High Reverend Mister Curley Taylor preached, along with his holy men, Zydeco Trouble.

Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble. Vermilionville, June 2015.

We celebrants confessed our sins and were blessed for another week. Or until later the same day for serious sinners, who congregated at Whiskey River. Or again that night, maybe at Randol's or O'Darby's or Feed n Seed.

Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble. Vermilionville, June 2015.

When a Zydeco band gets into a special groove, and the band members are in the music, and they lead us, the audience, up the road with them, and we add our energy to the band's energy, and the entire room thrums with a soaring, transcendent force, it evokes to me a trance dance that brings euphoria, of connection with humanity of today and humanity going back, back, back all the way to our very beginnings.

It's not just Zydeco music that does this, of course. Any music can do it. I remember a singular experience at the Lupus Chili Fest in 2013, in a garage. I described the feeling like this:
Sometimes when you listen to music, live especially, it pushes against you like an ocean wave or like a force of air, where you feel exhilarated and breathless at the same time, where your head actually falls back a little from the strength of the sound coming at you.  

This is what it felt like in the Lupus Garage when The Harvest Season played, as the band's flow rolled up and back in small waves, then pounded the shore in a rush against the beach.
If they had been calling to people at the back of the church to come to Jesus, why, I might have been tempted to do just that.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Missouri: Happenings On the Road

Sunrise on Highway 179, Missouri. November 2015.

Early one Sunday morning, I started back to South Louisiana from a visit to Missouri.

Here are some things I saw along the way:

An extravagant sunrise in video below on Highway 179, north of Jefferson City, with a cameo appearance by the Missouri River, accompanied by the sexy, bluesy Clifton Chenier waltz, I Am a Farmer (Je Suis en Recolteur):

South of Freeburg on Highway 63, in the video below, some wayward cows took a Sunday stroll along the road. I'm sure a farmer received several phone calls from local drivers-by: "Lloyd, your cows are out again!"

Just north of Rolla, still on Highway 63, was a crash scene that looked deadly: 

Scene of Highway 63 crash.

When I passed by the scene after about a 20-minute wait, I saw the crashed car, horribly mangled. It was a wonder there were no fatalities (which I learned by checking the Missouri State Highway Patrol crash page).

When I drive by such events as a crash or the cows being out, it makes me think about how travelers zoom by live scenes all the time. To us, the scenes are a backdrop to our day's "movie." So often, what are still photos from a traveler's moving landscape, could be life-changing moments to individuals we flash by.

On a bus trip in Ethiopia, from Addis Ababa to Gonder, I saw something I still ponder about. Out the bus window, I viewed several girls and maybe a woman running. They were running to a point our bus had not yet reached. They appeared alarmed.  Presently, our bus passed a man. He was on his knees. Or maybe sitting. I don't remember. But his mouth was open in pain. There was blood. The bus continued. I saw other girls, maybe women, running, alarmed. These women ran toward the man our bus had passed. What happened? Did he heal? Did his injury hurt the family's well-being? Did it look worse than it was? Was it worse than it looked?  

The crash on Highway 63, early on a Sunday morning in November - none of us gets up in the morning and thinks, "today I will be in a crash, and suffer serious injuries." I remember this when I embark on a long trip. I remember not to take safe arrival for granted. To not waste life-moments by revisiting the unchangeable past or projecting into an unknowable future. To pay attention. To seek beauty around me. To feel grateful. This requires work on my part because I am easily distracted by a brain that likes to stir up trouble.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

10 Gifts Under 10 Bucks for the Portable, Budget-Minded Minimalists Who Like to Travel

A budget-minded, portable minimalist's space, dressed by light. Opelousas, Louisiana.

The title sounds so specific that surely it's all about me, right?

In a way, yes. But only in that I'm using myself as a focus group of one. This is because travel gift lists tend toward the extravagant. "Living simply" gift lists tend toward the smug and expensive. And "frugal" and "budget-minded" mean different things to different people, mostly resulting in gifts that are still over my price range.

If I were to create my own list of gifts for the portable, budget-minded minimalists who like to travel, this is what would be on it:
  1. Write a letter with a pen and mail it to the recipient. Doesn't have to be lengthy or detailed. Might just be three sentences telling the recipient you were thinking about them, hope they are well, and that they have a wonderful year ahead.  
  2. Make a phone call. Express the same three sentiments as above: I was thinking about you, hope you're well, want to wish you a wonderful year ahead. 
  3. Cash. It fits everyone, is accepted everywhere (except Norway), and has no expiration date. Quantity unimportant. Five bucks- woohoo! There's a lot one can do with five bucks. 
  4. Whistle. For one, whistles are cool. They're small. They're useful for security (or at least a reassurance of security). They may or may not scare bears.
  5. Travel alarm. Sure, your recipient has a phone with an alarm clock app on it. But shit happens. The phone, for whatever reason is inaccessible or unusable. You inadvertently set the alarm volume to zero. (Not that I've ever done this. Not even three times.) You can get a perfectly serviceable, eminently packable travel alarm for less than 10 bucks. 
  6. Paracord lanyard. If you're crafty, you can make your own and distribute them as gifts. Otherwise, you can buy one. I like the idea of a paracord lanyard because of its utility, strength, and style. Search on "paracord lanyard" and you'll find lots of DIY instructions and also where to buy them readymade. 
  7. Drawstring bag (aka "sack bag"). I've come to appreciate my two cheap-ass drawstring bags, which I got free as promotional items from a booth at some event. They're lightweight, take up virtually no space in my car or apartment, and they attract no covetous interest by strangers. I use them on short hikes, at the grocery store as a plastic-bag substitute, and at dance venues, so I can take along a fan, bottle of water, and a few other items. 
  8. Small flashlight. Do some review searches for the best-quality small, budget flashlights. Sure, your recipient may have a camera with a flashlight app, but this assumes a charged phone when, where, and for how long she may need it. Besides, like whistles, little flashlights are cool.
  9. Duct tape. You can buy a travel-ready roll or you can create one for your recipient
  10. L-o-n-g clothesline. Cotton or nylon, whatever. Just the rope; no fancy-schmancy hooks or rigs. I say long (i.e. 20 feet) because it will still pack up compactly and offer maxium utility to the recipient: Camping, tying down trunk lid when transporting bulky stuff, hanging laundry in hotel rooms, etc. If necessary, the recipient can cut off a length as needed. I currently use my clothesline as a way to hang artwork on one wall in my apartment. The excess length is coiled neatly (kind of) in a corner.

But I'm not much for creating lists. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Welcome to America, My Syrian Friend

I don't know you yet, but welcome to America, my friend! I am glad you're here. We are an immigrant nation, and you are our newest members.

In my travels in different parts of the world, whenever I ran into people who'd visited Syria, they told me how warmly you embraced them, how good they felt while in your company, and in your country. I thought, I must visit Syria some day!

But horrible events intervened, smashing your communities, your livelihoods, your families. You were forced to become rootless, wrenched from your homes, but lucky enough to be alive.

I wish we weren't meeting under such circumstances. But I'm happy we were able to make a place for you here.

A fellow blogger, Wandering Earl, was one of the folks who shared how he loved your country. Here are a couple of his posts about Syria:

From which I borrowed the title to my post today: Welcome to Syria My Friend (2010). An excerpt:
.... from the moment I crossed the border into Syria, just about every single person I’ve met, from the hotel manager to the falafel vendors to the shop owners to the strangers I’ve passed in the street to ‘Tony’, the old man who sits in a chair on the sidewalk every night puffing away on his shisha, has welcomed me with nothing but a cheerful smile and open arms. I am simply unable to recall any other country that I’ve visited where I’ve been so instantly and warmly welcomed and I still cannot believe how many people have approached me in the streets just to literally say the words “Welcome to Syria my friend!” (I’m not sure if they learn that line in school but even those who don’t speak English know these words.)

The Most Important Word in the World (2010). An excerpt:

Finally, I had found a town in Syria that was not as ridiculously super-friendly as all the rest. I had been expecting it to happen at some point, because, after all, it would be impossible for every single city, town and village in this country to maintain such a high standard of hospitality. ... 

And so, on my third day, while I was wandering the streets of [Palmyra] in search of a local place to eat lunch, I was no longer surprised by the lack of assistance I received. At one point, I simply gave up, stood on a street corner with hands on my hips and made the decision to buy some bananas from a shop near my hotel instead.
Of course, as most travelers would learn to expect, that’s also the very same moment that I heard a voice, in English, say “Hello.”
I turned around and found a middle-aged local man standing before me with a huge smile on his face and so I naturally returned his greeting, although all I could muster was a quick, mumbled “Salaam”. He then asked me if I was lost and when I explained that I was simply looking for some good local food, he didn’t hesitate for even one second before patting me on the back and stating, “Let’s go!”.  He then led me to his minivan which was parked across the street.
The next thing I knew we were speeding through the backstreets of Palmyra. ....

Welcome to America, my Syrian friend.

Credit: Refugees Welcome Music

Other posts related to Syria here.


Friday, November 13, 2015

A Visit Back to Missouri: A Barred Owl, Dead

Barred owl, Arkansas. November 2015.
I recently made a visit to Missouri.

There was a stretch of road in Arkansas with an inordinately high number of dead birds of prey. If I'd caught on to the trend earlier, I would have counted them.

Barred owl, Arkansas. November 2015.

 The beauty of this barred owl compelled me to turn around and go back.

Barred owl, Arkansas. November 2015.

A strong breeze riffed through the owl's feathers, suggesting a life that no longer was. Its head appeared to be gracefully tucked into a wing.

Was it the victim of a good intention?

Not long ago, I learned at a state park event that we drivers are discouraged from throwing food remnants, such as apple cores, out our car windows. We may think we are doing good - a lil mouse or rabbit or other creature will enjoy our largesse. But it's possible we've set into motion a series of events that ends in death. 

Barred owl, Arkansas. November 2015.

Apple core out window --> mouse steps to roadside for delicious snack --> owl spies juicy mouse eating said morsel --> owl swoops into roadway --> owl and oncoming vehicle collide --> dead owl.

Other recent carcasses include:

Dead frog. Highway 190, west end of Opelousas.

Dead snake. Convent Street, Opelousas.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Opelousas: Happy Making at Briskett Baskett

Briskett Baskett owner, Wilfred Kinnerson, with his brother Wilbert Kinnerson. Opelousas, Louisiana. November 2014.

There are many ways to save the world.

Years ago, a friend described how the masses of blooming bluebonnets that Lady Bird Johnson sowed on the Texas highway meridians brought joy to thousands of drivers when they whizzed by.

She proposed: Do not such simple and relatively small acts have as much merit as other good works?  

Mr. Wilfred's sisters, Miss Linda and Miss Ramona, and their niece, Miss Deborah. Also known as The Briskettes.

It is in this spirit that I appreciate the smiling warmth radiated by Briskett Baskett owner, Wilfred Kinnerson, and his family members whenever I see them.

A happy Briskett Baskett customer. October 2015.

We can't measure the quantity or value of happiness moments we derive from natural beauty or from small gestures of loving humanity, but isn't it a string of such moments that contribute to a good life?

Fresh chicken from Briskett Baskett, Opelousas, Louisiana. October 2015.

On several days in November 2014, I cruised the streets of Opelousas looking for promising neighborhoods with rentals, in anticipation of my relocation to the town in February 2015.  On one such foray, as I drove slowly down North Market Street, I noticed, hey! A Briskett Baskett sign outside a building! Being around lunch time, I pulled in, where Mr. Wilfred and his brother, Mr. Wilbert, told me the building remodel wasn't quite complete, but they generously took me on a tour of the almost-finished restaurant.

Briskett Baskett front porch.

Mr. Wilfred described his vision for the future, which included good food and drink, a place for folks to watch the football games, a venue for some jazz and other musical evenings, and maybe a slot machine or two.    
Soon after I visited in November 2014, the Briskett Baskett restaurant opened for business.

Recently, Mr. Wilfred got his liquor license (a critical piece of paper in South Louisiana, sha!).  

Briskett Baskett food truck, albeit with previous owner's artwork

I always smile when I see Mr. Wilfred or one of his family members because I know that in just a few moments I'll be on the receiving end of some warm rays of human sunshine.

There are many ways to save the world.  

Monday, November 9, 2015

Opelousas: Street Fallings

'tis autumn.

Street fallings, Opelousas, Louisiana, near Vieux Village. November 2015.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Opelousas: The Palace Café Sign

The Palace Café Billboard, west end of Opelousas on eastbound 190, Louisiana.

When I enter Opelousas on eastbound 190, coming in from Lawtell, it pleases me to see the Palace Café billboard.

I like everything about it. The turquoise and coral. The title's Art Deco font. The ubiquitous crawfish jutting out on the side. The lines of shade and light that play from the tree behind. The coulee it overlooks. The red and white checkerboard header.

The Palace Café Billboard, west end of Opelousas on eastbound 190, Louisiana.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Opelousas: Morning Glories

Morning glories, Opelousas, Louisiana. October 2015.

I visited Briskett Baskett on North Market Street the other day and saw these sweet morning glories in the back yard. Technically, I think they are in the neighbor's yard, but let's not quibble.

Morning glories, Opelousas, Louisiana. October 2015

Friday, October 30, 2015

Opelousas: The Honey Comb Barber Shop

The Honey Comb Barber Shop, Highway 190, Opelousas, Louisiana.

Every time I passed this barber shop, which is on the west end of Opelousas, on Highway 190, I wanted to pull over to take pictures. Finally, I did so.

The Honey Comb Barber Shop, Highway 190, Opelousas, Louisiana.

I'm glad I did because there is a plan to repaint the barber shop, according to a gentleman who lives nearby. But maybe the new will be just as sweet as the old.

The Honey Comb Barber Shop, Highway 190, Opelousas, Louisiana.

I always smile when I think about men in barber shops, and also in local diners, where groups of them gather in the mornings after the first breakfast rush passes. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. Women take the rap for gossiping, but men are no slouches in this department.

The Honey Comb Barber Shop, Highway 190, Opelousas, Louisiana.

In the photo below, I like the listing of oils, lotions, and incense. A tradition of millennia, is it not? To soothe one's skin and spirit with tactile care.

The Honey Comb Barber Shop, Highway 190, Opelousas, Louisiana.

A ritual of self-grooming and social grooming that all of us living creatures seem to need.

The Honey Comb Barber Shop, Highway 190, Opelousas, Louisiana.

Monday, October 26, 2015

South Louisiana Musicians: The Band Courtbouillon

The Band Courtbouillon, Festival Acadiens et Creoles 2015, Lafayette, Louisiana.

The Band Courtboullion is an assembly of principals from three crazy-popular South Louisiana bands: Wilson Savoy of the Pine Leaf Boys, Wayne Toups of, well, Wayne Toups "zydecajun," and Steve Riley of Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys.

The Band Courtbouillon, Festival Acadiens et Creoles 2015, Lafayette, Louisiana.

At the Festival Acadiens et Creoles 2015, Courtbouillon played on the lawn of the Hilliard Art Museum.

The Band Courtbouillon, Festival Acadiens et Creoles 2015, Lafayette, Louisiana.

As their bands' leaders, the three musicians play the accordion. But as The Band Courtbouillon, Wilson Savoy often picks up the fiddle and Steve Riley the guitar.

The Band Courtbouillon, Festival Acadiens et Creoles 2015, Lafayette, Louisiana.

The three men have distinct singing voices. This cubes the band's repertoire, as the band can present three songs with but one set of lyrics, with each lead singer able to offer a different translation of the same song.

The Band Courtbouillon, Festival Acadiens et Creoles 2015, Lafayette, Louisiana.

The Band Courtbouillon, Festival Acadiens et Creoles 2015, Lafayette, Louisiana.

Here's a short interview the Courtbouillon members in 2013:

Friday, October 23, 2015

Loose Ends: New Mexico: Bottomless Lakes State Park

Bottomless Lakes State Park in New Mexico presents sweet surprises to its visitors.

I discovered recently that I have a 360 video of a spot in the park's Wetlands Trail: 

Below is my original post about the park, published on May 7, 2013:

Bottomless Lakes State Park: Another New Mexican Surprise

Bottomless Lakes State Park, New Mexico 

I didn't have high expectations for Bottomless Lakes State Park. The photos on the New Mexico state parks page are a bit shoulder-shrugging, but since visiting all of New Mexico's state parks is one of my goals, I made my plans and went.

(A note to the state of New Mexico: I like your "find a state park page," but once you click through, the information for each of the state parks is inadequate in presentation and content. There aren't even directions to get to the parks. And wouldn't a link on each park page to your parks events calendar be nice? And because New Mexico is so rich in federal public lands, perhaps a link in that direction, as well?)

One of the coolest things about New Mexico's geography is that in one spot, you can look out over the horizon and see an uninterrupted plain of scrabbly flora and sandy soil. But take a few steps forward and a new world opens at your feet.

Thus Exhibit A at Bottomless Lakes State Park:

Exhibit A, Bottomless Lakes State Park, New Mexico

 And Exhibit B, just a few steps into the frame, so to speak:

Exhibit B, Bottomless Lakes State Park, New Mexico

Thanks to the very pleasant volunteer at the park's visitor center, I learned how deep are the sinkholes - or cenotes - that dot the park, and how salty the water.

Bottomless Lakes State Park, New Mexico

Visitors can swim in one of the sinkholes. At that lake are a couple of pretty stone buildings and shade structures with picnic tables.

Bottomless Lakes State Park, New Mexico

On the day I visited, there was lots of activity at the swimming hole.

Just across the street from this large sinkhole was a quiet boardwalk trail (the Wetlands Trail) with intermittent stick-built structures, I'm guessing birdwatching blinds, but also the perfect cool, shady places to lug your folding chair to and have a cool lunch, with only the sounds of birds, bubbling water, and sweet breezes to keep you company. I had this pleasant boardwalk trail entirely to myself.

On the surface, the wetlands soil is a mass of white or off-white crystalline crusts, some flat against the surface; others clustered around twigs, plants, or objects. If you push your finger into the surface just a little bit, you'll bring up water.

Do you see the perfect little paw print below?

Bottomless Lakes State Park, New Mexico

I placed an earring close by for a size perspective.

Bottomless Lakes State Park, New Mexico

It's funny how there's a thin, red layer of silt over the white gypsum at the park.

The tamarisk, aka the Water-Sucking Soldiers, were in bloom the weekend I visited. 

A slide show: