Friday, July 31, 2015

Rootless Moon Stories

Lingering moon, Alamogordo Balloon Fest, New Mexico. September 2013.

There is a blue moon tonight, which makes me think of other moons.

Full moon, Kutaisi, Caucasus Georgia. June 2012.

Harar, Ethiopia

My favorite moon experience might have been in Harar, Ethiopia. The moon was so bright, I took a shower by the light beaming through the window:

.... I wish I could stay longer in Harar. Sean McLachlan, the online travel writer, told me of the pleasure of walking in the walled city (Jugal) by moonlight. In the narrow, curving, cobblestoned streets, a hyena might brush against your thigh as it made its silent night-time rounds.

Sean was also in the practice of spending an entire day hanging out with a tailor in his streetside shop. I saw Sean doing exactly that one day. Borrowing Sean's idea, I would spend an entire afternoon and evening with a woman vendor, pulling up my own stool to sit under her umbrella. Maybe I'd even shout out "
faranjo!" when I saw one pass. Or maybe I'd shout out "habesha!" to all Ethiopians who walked by.

But not enough time for either of these things.

As it was, I showered with my bathroom light turned off so I could look up at Harar's full moon through the high window.

Full moon, Oliver Lee State Park, New Mexico. September 2012.

On a train from Batumi, (Caucasus) Georgia

From The Black Sea, Part 5: The Train to Tbilisi:
... Sandy and I had splurged on a two-bed train cabin. We'd bought late-night dinner fixin's.
We each put our pillows at the end of our beds by the door, stretched out, and we could see the big ol' full moon roll with us on the train.

Moonrise, Alamogordo, New Mexico. October 2012.

White Sands National Monument, outside Alamogordo, New Mexico: 

Full moons get center stage at White Sands, as they should.

White Sands National Monument, NM: Into the Night

Summer Solstice 2013 at White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Full moon over Alamogordo, from White Sands National Monument, New Mexico. November 2012.

Moonrise over the Sacramento Mountains

At Oliver Lee Memorial State Park in New Mexico, I was a lucky witness to some spectacular moons.

Oliver Lee Memorial State Park: Always Something Going On

New Mexico: "Dark Skies"

Summer solstice moon, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico. June 2013.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Rootless Brow - zing

The other day, I had my brows waxed. While I lay on the table, I remembered other such times.

In Awassa, Ethiopia, two men at a salon threaded my brows. After my brows got cleaned up, I continued my walk "home," and saw:  
... there were 15 giant storks. Huge. One alighted, then disgorged food into the mouths of two gangly "teenagers." I watched, agog. A short walk further, directly before me, another tree filled with storks. Walking underneath (glad I had my hat on), I looked up and counted more than 10 oversize nests. As with the Bale Mountain forest, this was the stuff of medieval fairy tales.

Around the corner-ish from my temporary digs in Istanbul, I got my whole face threaded. Amazing how that works, cause you wouldn't think it would.

In 2010, on a road trip with my mother, I had my face cleaned up in a Walmart in Canyon City, Texas.

In Rustavi, Georgia, there were a couple of rugged waxings at a local salon. Yeow. But speaking of Caucasus Georgia, the Georgian women have spectacular brows.

Here's one woman's experience getting her brows done in Nice (waxed) and Palestine (tweezed).

Monday, July 27, 2015

Flashback to July 2012: Istanbul: Heybeliada Island

Take a carriage ride with me on Heybeliada Island, from this July 16, 2012 post

Monday, July 16, 2012

Istanbul: Heybeliada Island

Istanbul. Heybeliada Island.

Heybeliada Island: A highlight of my time in Istanbul.

The island is one of several in the group of islands called Princes' Islands. No cars on any of them. Transportation by foot, bicycle, and horse-drawn carriages. I did see a couple of motorized bikes which seemed to be powered by propane.

Incredibly, you can take the ferry to the islands for 2 lira or less (less if you've got the refillable metro card or button) each way. If you hop on-off the ferry at more than one island, then you'll pay for each leg. But still a fantastic bargain.

I selected Heybeliada Island for my journey because, based on my research, it seemed a little less crowded than the most popular (and largest) island of Büyükada.

Before getting on the ferry, I picked up a sandwich with boiled eggs, cucumber, tomato, and a little cheese. Got this from a vendor standing right in front of the ferry building entrance. Only 3 lira, another bargain. It was simple and good.

We made three stops before arriving at Heybeliada. The first was at a pick-up point on Istanbul's Asian side; the second and third were two of the Princes' Islands, which were packed with sunbathers and swimmers on the shores, as seen in the video below:

Got off at Heybeliada and immediately went to the strip of restaurants and stores behind the shore-front businesses. While I caught my bearings in the cool shade of a pocket park's trees, I consumed this:

Yes, it was the same delicious chocolate ice cream bar I'd enjoyed back here.

I checked out the horses in the carriage yard, thinking to take the grand tour for 50 lira.

Unlike the poor wretches in Nazret, the horses here looked reasonably healthy. In fact, Turks must love horses, given the number of kisses I saw bestowed on them by Turkish men and boys.

I took a look at a horse being re-shod. Later, I discovered that tire tread is attached to the traditional horseshoes. Good or bad? I don't know.

Istanbul. Heybeliada Island.

Istanbul. Heybeliada Island.

I signed on for the grand tour around the island at 50 lira, which was about $28. It was lovely, well worth the cost. Would be very romantic for a couple.

Two videos of my ride below (also linked here and here). Understandably, they're a bit shaky. I like hearing the accompanying sounds - the hooves on pavement and the squeaking of the carriage.

During my ride, I saw: 
  • Shady pine woods that invite you to lay out a cloth, stretch out on the soft bed of pine needs, and have a picnic; 
  • Change-out of our horses at the top of the island;
  • Old-style houses that overlooked the sea, set within colorful courtyard gardens; and
  • Sea views of nearby islands  

If I were to ever come this way again, I'd spend two nights on this island. I'd walk up the hill through the pine forest and have that picnic. I'd get my provisions at one of the many fruit and vegetable shops in the town center. I'd rent a bike for a few hours and tool around. I'd sit on a hillside or a balcony and look out at the water. 

As it was, I went for lunch, choosing a plain cheese omelet that was a little heavy on the oil (a similar culinary malady suffered in Georgia), but with a good, pungent white cheese. And no harassing waiter. 

I looked into some shops and then moseyed my way to the ferry dock (after a side trip to a WC) where I discovered I'd arrived just in time to board. Sometimes life just works out that way. 

A slide show below:

On the ferry ride back to Istanbul proper, the ferry was packed. (I can only imagine what it must be like on a weekend.) No seat for me, the price one pays for choosing Heybeliada Island instead of Buyukada Island, which is at the beginning of the return route to Istanbul (and Heybeliada the 2nd). I was lucky to find a spot on the floor of the uppermost deck. I had a front row view of a dramatic row between some passengers and the ferry crew, about what I have no idea. It broke up an otherwise dull ride.

What would world travel be without inexplicable but riveting arguments on the street or in public transport? Especially when bystanders add their 2 lira, lari, or birr.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Opelousas: May flowers in Vieux Village

May flowers in Vieux Village, Opelousas, Louisiana. May 2015.

May flowers in Vieux Village, Opelousas, Louisiana. May 2015.

May flowers in Vieux Village, Opelousas, Louisiana. May 2015.

May flowers in Vieux Village, Opelousas, Louisiana. May 2015.

May flowers in Vieux Village, Opelousas, Louisiana. May 2015.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Updated: Taking a Budget Road Trip, Part 5: Loose Ends

On June 30, 2011, I published Taking a Budget Road Trip, Part 5: Loose Ends. This was from my Take a Road Trip series.

Art and ATM in Armenia. March 2012.

In Part 5, I tie up loose ends:
  •     Money
  •     Should I rent a vehicle for my road trip?
  •     Ask to see the room
  •     Mile markers, exit numbers, and odd/even highways
  •     Road-tripping while brown

Ware Street car, Jefferson City, Missouri. December 2006.


Common budget busters

In the previous articles, I covered the biggest budget busters. Below are some more: 

Not keeping track of your spending along the way. Note your expenditures in a small notebook as you go. (This is actually faster than using your smartphone to do it.) If you don't write down what you spend, you will lose track of your spending. And this means you’ll likely over-spend. Writing down the expenses is also important if you're traveling with others and you split costs. Avoid conflict later. Write. It. Down.

Watch the card use!  We can lull ourselves into thinking that if we put it on plastic, it doesn't really count. Or we rationalize an impulse buy ("A balloon ride! Only $200? Life is short!") that is going to hurt us really bad when we're back home and have to come up with the extra $$$ to pay off that unanticipated credit card debt. But see "forms of money to take" below.

Buying new clothes for the trip. The cost of the trip starts when you start buying trip-related stuff. Instead of buying new clothes "for the trip," go the opposite direction: A road trip presents an opportunity for unloading clothes that you're ready to retire. Old underwear especially - wear 'em, then pitch 'em. Those trousers that are almost, but not quite ready to be tossed? Perfect for long driving days when your only goal is to chew miles. Wear them on those long driving days, then pitch them when done.

Souvenirs. Consider making your road trip a souvenir-free trip. Or set a souvenir budget before you leave and factor it into the overall cost of the trip. Consider what you might do with the money if you choose not to get any souvenirs. Spend an extra night on the road? Pay for a tank of gas? Pay the admission to an additional event or attraction?

Highway 104 between Las Vegas and Tucumcari, New Mexico. August 2013.

Forms of money to take

When I'm at home in the US, wherever that might be, I operate almost entirely by debit card, thus carry minimal cash.  But if I'm on a road trip, I'll consider these options:

Credit card. I have a cash-back credit card, so as long as I have the money set aside to pay my credit card in full after my trip, using my credit card on a road trip offers some advantages. One benefit, of course, is the cash back. Another benefit is that the credit card statement serves as a tidy tracking and analytical tool post-trip. Finally, the credit card company offers me some protections in case I lose the card or I buy defective goods or have a dispute with a vendor.

Paying with a credit card is NOT a good idea for those of us who already have a lot of debt or who tend to be over-spenders.

Debit card. My debit card is my usual payment method of choice for a road trip. Because the money is withdrawn from my checking account immediately, it keeps me on my budget. I also take a credit card; sometimes I'll use it throughout the trip to pay for gasoline.  

Checks. Not an entire checkbook, which is bulky and just weighs me down, but depending on the road trip length, one or several loose checks. There are many small vendors out there who don't take plastic, but they will take checks, even an out-of-state check. I burn a check when the desired purchase will use more cash than I want to release at one time, such as for a local artisan item at a market or fair.

Cash. There are several ways to go with this, such as: 
  • Assume 80% reliance on plastic, and bring 20% of your budgeted amount in cash.  
  • Decide to go primarily with cash so you are more likely to stay within your budget, and in that case, distribute the cash among three places: your wallet, a piece of luggage, and perhaps a money belt.

For me, it's annoying to have to replenish a cash supply, so I prefer to estimate how much cash I'll need and have it with me from the start. My default is the first option above. 

What to have in your wallet

This falls equally into a security category as it does in a money category. Don't take wallet items that will be a pain in the ass for you to replace if your wallet disappears.

  • Credit cards: Take only one. Leave others at home. 
  • Debit cards: Ditto.  
  • Library cards and other local membership cards: Leave at home.
  • Social Security card: You shouldn't have this in your wallet even at home. 
  • Driver's license: Take. 
  • Car insurance card: Take.
  • Health insurance card: Take.
  • Travel club membership cards, e.g. AAA: Take

Should I rent a vehicle for my road trip?

There's no right or wrong answer to this question. Factors to consider include: 
  • Number of people in the party 
  • Road types, e.g. paved roads, some gravel/dirt that are level and in good condition, or some gravel/dirt roads that are heavily rutted 
  • Condition of your vehicle 
  • Gas mileage of your vehicle 
  • Your personal deal-breaker threshold re: the reasonable likelihood of a breakdown in your vehicle or your ability to deal with a break down if it happens 
  • Duration of road trip

If I use myself as an example, I won't hesitate to take my 1995 Toyota Camry (150k 199k miles) on a road trip of any duration or distance, assuming:

  • Number in my travel party is no more than two, maybe three adults
  • The roads I'll be on are paved or gravel/dirt in good condition (my car rides low)
  • My car passes a thorough pre-trip check at my auto repair shop or I can get current or potential problems fixed before the trip

I have AAA roadside service membership, so I'm not that concerned about dealing with a breakdown. I also figure that if my car breaks down on the road, it would have also broken down at home, so I just factor in the repair bill as an ordinary cost of using my car.

Unlike the hapless family in National Lampoon's Family Vacation, it hasn't been my experience that auto repair people have tried to gouge me when I've had a problem on past road trips. (I’ve had a flat tire on the Denali Highway in Alaska, a flat tire in Nebraska, locked my keys in the car in Sedona, needed a jump start in Albuquerque, and needed a couple of new tires in Cuba, New Mexico.)

On a road trip with three or four people, with all their gear, I’d likely be looking at sharing a roomy rental with good gas mileage unless one of my companions owns something comparable and s/he is OK  using it for the trip.

Here's another voice on the matter of renting or not: Your Next Road Trip: Is it Better to Rent a Car or Take Your Own? at PT Money.

Vaughn, New Mexico. July 2013.

Ask to see the room

When you go to a motel, hotel, or hostel, it is perfectly OK to ask to see the room before you commit for the night. No matter how low the price, it is appropriate to expect:
  • Clean bathroom
  • Working locks on the doors and windows
  • Clean bedding (feel free to pull back the bedspread a bit to ensure the sheets are clean)
  • Working shower, sink, and light bulbs

If the room you're shown lacks the above, you can either ask to see a better room or move on to another place.

But let's say you don't find out til after you check into your room that it's a bad one. Don't unpack. Leave your stuff in the room, proceed directly to the front desk, explain the problem, and ask to see a different room. Look at the alternate room before moving your gear. If it's OK, then move. If not, request a refund, put your gear in your car, and go somewhere else.

Be calm, polite, and firm. Most places will try to make you happy.

Columbus, New Mexico and Las Palomas, Chihuahua border

Mile markers, exit numbers, and odd/even highways

Which way? I'd be embarrassed to say how old I was before I knew that odd-numbered highways go north/south and even-numbered highways go east/west. (Don’t try to apply this in Lafayette, Louisiana, however, because you will go mad in the attempt.)

Exit numbers. In most states, exit numbers correspond to the mile markers for the highway they're on.

Mile markers. The mile markers correspond to the number of miles on a given highway within the state you're in. So it's kind of nice to know that if you're going west on Interstate 70 in Missouri, for example, you know exactly how many miles you have left til you get to Kansas. This is because the mile markers descend in number. Once you hit the Kansas border, the mile markers start over; they begin with the last mile, thus you know immediately how many miles you've got to go before you arrive in Colorado, should you follow I-70 the whole way.

Going around. Want to avoid going through a city and instead go around it? Cities of sufficient size build highways that divert traffic around them. They mark such highways by adding a numeral (e.g. 1, 2, 3, or even a 4) in front of the through-going highway’s number. For example, Highways 170, 270, and 370 in the St. Louis Metropolitan area move you temporarily from Interstate 70 to a highway that swings you around parts of St. Louis, and then returns you to Interstate 70 on the other side.

The hotel so hard to find in Dubai's Gold Souk, you need a map.

I mentioned this in Part 4, but it’s worth repeating here: When on a road trip, have paper maps on hand even if you’ve got a smart phone or a GPS.  Phones and GPS devices are too small to give you the big picture you may want (or need) to make informed decisions about where you want to go. Also, mechanical devices and connections fail on occasion.

The Negro Motorist Green Book, 1940, by Victor H. Green. Credit: Wikipedia

Road-tripping while brown

At the time of this update in 2015, there seems to be a spike in overt racism (and, at the same time, an environment of greater harmony). The vast majority of time on a road trip, I'd not anticipate any ugliness. But as one friend has told me, he never knows when it's going to pop up and surprise him.

From 1930 to 1966, African-American road-trippers could consult The Negro Motorist Green Book for guidance on how to get from Point A to Point Z safely and enjoyably. (You can read the entire 1949 issue here.)

You might think such a guide isn't necessary today, but you never know.

NPR's Latino USA did a show on Traveling While Brown, which you can listen to here. Summary: "For people of color, travel can bring all sorts of unexpected experiences, both good and bad. We talk to journalist and author Farai Chideya about how blending in or sticking out can affect travel."

If you run into unpleasant situations in restaurants, motels, or stores, there are good mechanisms for dealing with these (usually after the fact, alas), such as traveler review sites (e.g. tripadvisor and yelp) and letters to managers, owners, or corporate headquarters.

Police stops have the potential to be a different matter, so:

Police stops

Road trips, by their very nature, take us through speed traps and into areas that are hyper-alert to people who look different from the usual residents. If we've got out-of-state plates on the car, all the safer (politically) to stop us.

The following guides are good for all of us, but especially for road-trippers who are brown, for those who are under 25, and for those who appear poor (i.e., without allies):

Be a more boring driver when you're on a road trip. Watch your speed. On the interstate, stay in the right lane unless you're passing. (On the first day of one road trip, I got pulled over - and received a ticket! - for driving in the left lane on a Missouri interstate.) Use your turn signals. Come to complete stops at stop signs.

Tickets are expensive. They could raise your car insurance premiums. They really mess with your happy road-trip vibe. 

Near Capulin Volcano, New Mexico.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Flashback to July 2012: Istanbul: Kind of Like Cincinnati

From my July 20, 2012 post: 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Istanbul: Kind of Like Cincinnati

Cincinnati skyline. Or Istanbul? Photo credit:

Yes, the language is different. Many of the women wear different clothing. The places of worship look different. It's hard to find barbecued pork. Istanbul's got really cool street trams. There are about 12 million more people in residence. And its history is longer.

But other than those things, Istanbul's kind of like Cincinnati.
  • 70% of cars (other than taxis) have only the driver inside; 20% may have two people; 10% have more than two
  • Shopping malls
  • McDonald's, Burger King, Sbarro 
  • Families grilling and picnicking in the park
  • Children's playgrounds
  • Couples walking hand in hand
  • Kiddos having their hair mussed and faces kissed
  • Ice cream cones
  • Bridges and water
  • Suburbs 

Friday, July 17, 2015

St. Landry Parish, Louisiana: A Pretty Cabin

On my way back from a visit to Chicot State Park, I spied this cabin off of Highway 106 (aka St. Landry Road).

Cabin, Highway 106, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. July 2015.

It just makes you sigh, thinking about rocking on that front porch early in the morning before the heat lumbers in. In the evening, it'd be nice to cut a slip from the blooming crepe myrtle, stick it in a Mason jar filled with clear water, and set it on a table on that back screened porch. Then drink a cold, cold beverage while mosquitoes buzz in frustration outside the screen barrier.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

St. Landry Parish, Louisiana: Little Bethel Baptist Church

George Henry, WWI veteran, Little Bethel Baptist Church, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana.

My maternal grandfather was a World War I veteran. There were things he saw that he never wanted to speak of.

When I saw the grave of George Henry, a World War I veteran, in the Little Bethel Baptist Church cemetery, I thought of my grandfather. I also thought about A Gathering of Old Men, by Louisiana author Ernest J. Gaines, which included a story of a World War I veteran:
Coot was there in his First World War Army uniform. The uniform was all wrinkled and full of holes, but Coot wore it like it was something brand new. …. 
“I shot him,” Coot said. ….. “I was the only man from this parish ever fit with the 369th,” Coot said. …. “The 369th was a all-colored outfit. You couldn’t fight side by side with these here white folks then. You had to get your training in France, take orders from French officers. They trained us good, and we helt our ground. … we helt our ground. …
And I was proud as I could be, till I got back home. The first white man I met, the very first one, one of them no-English-speaking things off that river, told me I better not ever wear that uniform or the medal again no matter how long I lived. He told me I was back home now, and they didn’t cotton to no nigger wearing medals for killing white folks. That was back in World War One. And they ain’t change yet – not a bit. Look what happened to Curt’s boy when he come home from World War Two. Because they seen him with that German girl's picture, they caught him – and all y’all remember what they did to him with that knife. Korea – the same thing. That colored boy had throwed his body on that grenade to protect his platoon. Still the politicians here wouldn’t let them bury him in Arlington like the rest of them was buried there. Vietnam, the same thing. It ain’t changed. Not at all.” … 
“I used to put on my old uniform and look at myself in the chifforobe glass. I knowed I couldn’t wear it outside, but I could wear it round the house. Today I told myself I was go’n put it on and I was go’n sit out on my garry with my old shotgun, and I was go’n shoot the first person who laughed at me or told me I had to take it off. … “ 

George Curtis, Army veteran, Little Bethel Baptist Church, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana.

There were two women's graves in the cemetery that suggested they might have been strong women, that of Ms. Helen Sanders and "Big Mama" Elizabeth Curtis.

Helen Sanders, Little Bethel Baptist Church, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. July 2015.

"Big Mama" Elizabeth Curtis, Little Bethel Baptist Church, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. July 2015.

Both lived long, long lives. The things they must have seen.

Little Bethel Baptist Church, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. July 2015.

The church grounds had just been mown when I arrived. It was a hot day. Why do I always seem to be in cemeteries on sweltering days?

The wasps under the church eaves seemed lethargic from the heat.

Little Bethel Baptist Church, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. July 2015.

The church has pretty bones.

Little Bethel Baptist Church, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. July 2015.

A splash of red draws the eye.

Little Bethel Baptist Church, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. July 2015.

Someone laid markers carefully atop the grave.

Little Bethel Baptist Church, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. July 2015.

Little Bethel Baptist Church, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. July 2015.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Flashback to July 2011: Rustavi: In the Society of Women

From July 26, 2011, when I was in Caucasus Georgia, in the city of Rustavi:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rustavi: In the Society of Women

Tonight I enjoyed another evening in the society of women.

I did the same the evening before, the day before that, and the day before that.

At such gatherings, the hostess presents an array of light foods. In the past week, I've seen watermelon, honeydew melon, cheese, nuts, chocolates or cookies, pretzel sticks, khachapuri, bread, coffee, and often, some sort of alcoholic beverage (beer, chacha, cognac, vodka).  A visitor always brings a little something. A large candy bar, a bag of cookies, or some sunflower seeds are examples I've seen this past week.

Credit: Khachapuri

And then women chat about the usual stuff of life - births, deaths, illness, relationships, politics, religion, neighbors, work ...

Toasts are made, offering good thoughts to others present.

It's very nice to be in this society of women. They have been very kind and welcoming to me.

Tonight, when the hostess began to pour the coffee into our glass espresso cups, I watched transfixed as it seemed to crawl out of the kettle like some living thing from the primordial ooze. I thought maybe it wasn't coffee - perhaps it was a thick, thick chocolate drink.  I wondered what it was going to taste like. As it turned out, it was coffee, and it was good.

Our hostess, N., whom we'd visited a couple of nights before, again played the piano while her son, O. sang. Later, despite the heat, he and a couple of the women danced traditional Georgian dances. By this time, we'd drunk a bit of cognac, so all of us felt quite mellow.  The man of the house came in, and we consumed more cognac. He brought with him a deliciously cold ice cream bar for each of us. Wonderfully cold.

Those who can leave Rustavi during this sweating season do so, taking refuge in the cooler mountains. Alternatively, they go to Batumi and hang out by the Black Sea.

I'm hopeful to go to my hostess' family village in Gurjaani this weekend.

I crave the sight of trees, cool streams, and distant mountains. 

Credit: Rural Tourism

Friday, July 10, 2015

Louisiana State Arboretum: Fringe Tree in Spring

At least I think this is a fringe tree:

Possibly a fringe tree, Louisiana State Arboretum. April 2015.

When I visited the Louisiana State Arboretum in April, the tree was in full bloom. It looks ethereal in this photo.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Bonita, Louisiana: Holy Ghost Disturbed Church

Holy Ghost Disturbed Church, Bonita, Louisiana.

Not to make light of the name, but it disturbs me there is a church called "Holy Ghost Disturbed Church." Hopefully, someone can reassure me that the reality of this church is different, but I can only think that this little church envelops its flock in sadness and despair.

Another passerby conjectured the name might be related to the waters of the river Siloam (aka Shiloah), but I don't have the Biblical literacy to suss out the connection, despite my research. Maybe someone can enlighten me.

To tell you the truth, the church's name reflects somewhat how I feel when I take trips North and South. Doesn't matter if I go through Missouri to Arkansas to Mississippi to Louisiana, through Missouri to Tennessee to Mississippi to Louisiana, or through Missouri to Arkansas to Louisiana. There's a lot of poverty to be driven past. It just doesn't seem like we, as a country, really get the extent of our poverty.

Holy Ghost Disturbed Church, Bonita, Louisiana.

The village of Bonita (population 335) is a satellite of Bastrop (population 11,000), which is about 20 miles south of Bonita. Bastrop, by the way, was founded at the end of the 1700s by a Dutch con man.

Bonita and Bastrop are in North Louisiana. Which is not like South Louisiana at all.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Flashback to July 2013: Tsé Bitʼaʼí - Shiprock-the Sacred and the Banal


Going back in time to this post

Friday, July 5, 2013

Tsé Bitʼaʼí - Shiprock - the Sacred and the Banal

Shiprock, New Mexico.

There was a time when I believed humans to be rational beings who sought consistency in the application of our beliefs (religious or otherwise), and that once we had the facts of x, y, or z, we would adjust our thoughts or behaviors in accordance with our espoused beliefs.

Shiprock, New Mexico.

This assumption of mine caused me no end of consternation over the years until I realized that:
  1. Our rational selves have only a precarious edge over our animal selves; and 
  2. It is normal for us to hold opposing beliefs simultaneously, and it doesn't necessarily matter if we know they are inconsistent.

Shiprock, New Mexico.

Which brings me to Shiprock or, in the Navajo language, Tsé Bitʼaʼí., which means "winged rock." It's a sacred place to the Navajo. One of the stories related to Shiprock is: 
A long time ago the Dine were hard pressed by their enemies. One night their medicine men prayed for their deliverance, having their prayers heard by the Gods. They caused the ground to rise, lifting the Dine,  and moved the ground like a great wave into the east away from their enemies. It settled where Shiprock Peak now stands. These Navajos then lived on the top of this new mountain, only coming down to plant their fields and to get water.
For some time all went well. Then one day during a storm, and while the men were working in the fields, the trail up the rock was split off by lightning and only a sheer cliff was left. The women, children, and old men on the top slowly starved to death, leaving their bodies to settle there.
Therefore, because of this legend, the Navajos do not want any one to climb Shiprock Peak for fear of stirring up the ch'iidii, or rob their corpses.

This concern about stirring up the bad mojo in Shiprock conforms with my understanding of the Navajo taboos regarding death, such as talking about it or about those who've died. 

Shiprock, New Mexico.
There seem to be two, and maybe three, roads to Shiprock. I took two of them as far as my low-slung car on a bad gravel road could safely take me. (And I'd read about ill-tempered dog packs in the area, so I didn't want to walk too far away from my car.) 
Both of the roads I took were off of Highway 13. The first one, closest to Highway 491, was littered with beer bottles and cans. The second entrance was clean of debris. Why the difference? I don't know. 
The first road triggered cognitive dissonance for me:
  • Sacred place, yet defiled by empty beer containers
  • If you're going to drink, then why not take your litter with you
  • If the place is sacred, is there no group that comes out periodically to pick up the place?  
  • The Indian "brand" is that Natives revere the earth (some part of that brand being foisted upon them, I think). Yet there is so much visible evidence to the contrary when one sees such trash. But a note: I used to hold evangelicals (insert faith here) to a higher moral standard than non-proselytizers, until I finally got it that they are no more immune to our animal selves than the rest of us, so I took them off the hook. Looks like I've been holding Indians to a higher standard than other folks, and I need to release that.  
Old anti-littering campaign. For the record: Man in photo is not Indian. Credit: The Litter Problem.
And some other disturbing thoughts that are reflective of biases I have:
  • Until I began writing this post, I held the untested belief that the beer trash came from partying Navajos. Maybe my assumption is accurate, but it's uncomfortable to realize how mindlessly I jumped to that conclusion. 
  • Without knowing the cultural context of a behavior (i.e. beer bottles left at a sacred place), all I've got is a puzzle piece without the picture and without other pieces to link it to. 
About that cultural context. Mentioning alcohol and Indian in the same sentence --> aberrant connotations. But if I were talking about Georgians and, say, letting adolescents drink on a school field trip or the custom of anointing the graves of loved ones with wine --> accepted cultural behaviors. 
Another example of context: I learned from a family in Addis Ababa, who lived in a house with lovely bones, but which was in deplorable condition, that if they were to do repairs or remodeling - on their own dime! - that the government would raise their rent, and they would be damned before they gave the government one cent more than what the government already exacted from them. The choice to live in difficult conditions made sense to them within a larger context.
Reminds me, too, of the narrow houses in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. - built so narrowly because home owners were taxed at one time on the basis of the width of their houses. Context.
Shiprock, New Mexico.
On the other hand, we can't control how others perceive us.

Beer bottles and cans littering a sacred place. An observation.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana: A River View

On a lovely day in March, a view from the riverside pocket park in Breaux Bridge:

River view, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. March 2015.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Louisiana Movie: Zydeco: Creole Music and Culture in Rural Louisiana

Carriere brothers. Credit: CD Universe.

One of the reasons I chose Opelousas as my new South Louisiana base is because of its history, especially of the Creole culture and music. Lawtell, just outside of Opelousas, is (arguably) the home of Zydeco.

The 1986 documentary, Zydeco: Creole Music and Culture in Rural Louisiana, is a perfect companion to J'ai Ete Au Bal, the very entertaining movie about South Louisiana's Creole / Cajun music roots.

Some songs from Zydeco: Creole Music and Culture in Rural Louisiana:

Josephine C'est Pas Ma Femme (Josephine Isn't My Wife), below performed by Clifton Chenier:

Blues a Bebe, below performed by Beausoleil. Immerse yourself:

"Bebe Carriere" referred to in the song is Joseph "Bebe" Carriere, a Lawtell Creole musician who popularized this song back in his own day in the 40s and 50s.

Blue Runner, also popularized by Bebe Carriere, performed below by D'Jalma Garnier:

Two versions of Joe Pitre a Deux Femmes (Joe Pitre Has Two Women), a lazy, sexy one by Creole musician, Canray Fontenot, and another, more vigorous one, by Zydeco band Motodude Zydeco:

In the documentary, you can watch John Delafose perform the song at Slim's Y-Ki-Ki in Opelousas. Speaking of John Delafose, he's interviewed in this movie and also in another, just-as-delightful film, The Kingdom of Zydeco. Mr. Delafose comes across as an unflappable guy who doesn't give a flip for what other folks might be doing; he's good with what he's doing. He says about his music: "I think about making everybody happy" when performing.

In both films, you see Mr. Delafose's son, Geno, as an adolescent. In Zydeco, you see Geno Delafose's famous smile, and you also see where he got it - from his mama, Jo-Ann Delafose.

Prominent names from the movie include:

In the musical context, the filmmakers focus on what they're calling the Cajun-Creole cultural renaissance, which took place mid-century-ish.

The documentary also delves into the Creole cultural of Opelousas, Lawtell, and some points a little west of here. It addresses some of the layers of exclusiveness/inclusiveness based on how light or dark one's complexion was. Viewers also learn about the Inseparable Friends Benevolent Society (IFBS), still active today. My understanding is that this organization was largely for Creole men (i.e. Afro-French) who were practicing Catholics.

Here's a 1966 audio-video recording of Canray Fontenot and Bois Sec Ardoin performing the Eunice Two Step and then Bonsoir Moreau.  Aiee, they can make you cry listening. If you go to youtube to watch it, read the comments, as well. Some family reunionizing going on in addition to what I see as a long-time cultural-identification-tension between Cajun-Creole and also the tension that exists in defining what it means to be Creole.

Look at Mr. Ardoin's foot go! Reminds me of another favorite foot-stomper, Wilson Savoy.

What comes shining through this documentary is the strong sense of family, community belonging, hard work, and that ol' joie de vivre that are intrinsic to the South Louisiana culture.