Duck Life

Around this time every year, I usually see the duck couples. Waddling around in pairs, touring the local environs. I’ve always fancied they’re house hunting, or habitat hunting, or something.

Several years ago, I remember a pair walking down the sidewalk in my Mom’s neighborhood. Mom’s been gone more than 5 years now, so maybe this was 7 or 8 years ago? Her house was a good half block of paved street away from the nearest water source, a drainage canal.

This pair took a detour onto her lawn and perused her garden, then continued down the street. Why they chose to waddle, and not fly, I couldn’t tell you. I’m not fluent in duck-speak (though I kinda wish I was). I suppose you get a much better feel for a place when you’re on the ground, rather than many feet above it.

I had a surprisingly emotional reaction when I encountered a duck couple, just a few days ago. Yes, it’s the time of year I’d expect to see them. But so much is extraordinary about these times we find ourselves in, I was touched to happen upon something so ordinary and expected. I guess it’s business as usual for aquatic fowl.

Since I’m accustomed to practicing social distancing with wildlife, it was business as usual for me, too, as I observed the pair for a moment. I hope they find what they’re looking for. And I look forward to seeing more duck couples in the few weeks ahead, and then certainly again next year.

The couple from a few days ago is pictured above. Below are some other photos I captured on that solitary, sunrise walk.

In times of war, disaster, epidemic, and illness

Spotted during a “socially distant” walk along the Mississippi River levee.

So, a couple of things. First, it’s rapidly becoming clear that New Orleans is a hot zone for the COVID-19 outbreak. While these are strange times all over, it feels extra strange and scary here. It doesn’t take a great leap of logic to assume that this contagion was silently spreading among us as the city celebrated Mardi Gras, just three weeks ago.

Second, I continue to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace. (Why wouldn’t I continue, now that isolation is the order of the day/week/month?) I’m at the spot in the story where Napoleon’s march on Moscow is imminent. This quote struck me in a particular way as I read it:

“As the enemy closed in on Moscow the attitude of the inhabitants to their situation, far from becoming all serious-minded, actually became more frivolous, as always happens with people who can see a terrible danger bearing down on them.”

Now, New Orleans is not Moscow, nor is this viral pandemic Napoleon. But New Orleans is no stranger to either war or epidemic. We had our own war in 1812, the same year Napoleon invaded Russia; and yellow fever was a major scourge to New Orleans for most of the 19th century.

Which brings me to the title of this post. It’s from a prayer, specific to the Archdiocese of New Orleans. I’m pretty fond of this prayer. While I don’t know all the details of its provenance, I assume it was crafted with the intention of stemming the tide of gun violence in our city. Now feels like a good time to share it.

A few notes, regarding some very New-Orleans-Catholic references: Our Lady of Prompt Succor is the Virgin Mary, a long-time patroness for the city. (Prompt succor means “quick aid.”) Mother Henriette DeLille was a woman of color who founded the Sisters of the Holy Family holy order in the 19th century.

Here’s the prayer. May you read it with the faith that we will get to the other side of all these scourges.

“Loving and faithful God, through the years the people of our archdiocese have appreciated the prayers and love of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in times of war, disaster, epidemic and illness. We come to you, Father, with Mary our Mother, and ask you to help us in the battle of today against violence, murder and racism.

We implore you to give us your wisdom that we may build a community founded on the values of Jesus, which gives respect to the life and dignity of all people.

Bless parents that they may form their children in faith. Bless and protect our youth that they may be peacemakers of our time. Give consolation to those who have lost loved ones through violence.

Hear our prayer and give us the perseverance to be a voice for life and human dignity in our community.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Our Lady of Prompt Succor, hasten to help us. Mother Henriette DeLille, pray for us that we may be a holy family.”

More photos from the river levee walk.

2020 TCS New York City Marathon

So, I did a thing. I signed up for the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon. November 1. About eight months away.

Hmmm.

Marathons are tough. I’ve run three of them. All in the decade between thirty and forty years old. In the decade between forty and fifty, the mechanics of my mortal coil started complaining, more loudly. A case of sciatica, or something like it, sidelined my running for a few years. I have long had the New York City Marathon in my sights — something about running through all five buroughs really appeals to me. I even mentioned it in this blog four years ago, in “Writing and Running” (click here). But that post was written before I temporarily gave up running. In the years since, I wasn’t sure another marathon would be possible. I’m certainly not getting any younger.

My running expectations were in need of an edit.

Nieces Nicole and Cece have helped that editing process. I wrote about a 10K race we ran together at the end of last year (click here), which was in preparation for a half marathon we are running together in April. For that upcoming race, I knew I had to get my legs used to the miles again. And while I’ve been getting used to the miles, I realized that it would be quite possible to run another marathon.

Pictured above are the results of my run last Sunday. My average pace is a lot slower than it used to be. But I figure at that pace, which was very comfortable, I could finish the marathon in less than six hours. I’d be more than okay with that.

I feel like it’s no coincidence that the decade where my running got adjusted is the same decade when I began writing in earnest. There have been so many concurrent lessons about putting in the effort, adjusting expectations, and finally, doing something just because you love it (with all the joy and heartache that entails) and because it offers fulfillment.

In writing and running, I’m going the distance.

War and Peace: 54%

N for Napoleon? Photo by William Krause on Unsplash.

Okay, so, I can say this about Tolstoy’s War and Peace: it’s certainly immersive. And those privileged characters I found unsympathetic when I was roughly 20% through? I have a bit more sympathy for them now.

I feel like that immersion is definitely expanding my knowledge base. Right now in the novel, it’s the summer of 1812, and Napoleon has commenced his invasion of Russia. I don’t remember learning much about this in school, other than it was one of the times Russia employed a scorched-earth policy. When you grow up in New Orleans, and learn about the War of 1812, it’s about the one where the U.S. declared war on Great Britain. And inevitably, how Andrew Jackson won the Battle of New Orleans. Fought after the British has ratified a treaty ending the war. Reading about Napoleon’s campaign against the Russians, I’m getting the sense that things were pretty bad all over in 1812.

About my changing sympathies for the characters…I have to admit, I got caught up in the whole storyline of Natasha getting engaged to Prince Andrew, having to wait a year, getting impatient and almost running off with the louse Anatole. Melodramatic? Absolutely. Really engaging? For me, yes. Tolstoy had a way of capturing the inner life of his characters that is worth some attention.

And don’t get me started on the Freemasons! You’ve got Pierre, the same character who tied a bear to a policeman at the beginning of the story, becoming a Freemason. This might be the most I’ve learned about Freemasonry since the “Stonecutters” episode of The Simpsons. I have more sympathy for Pierre, now, too. The last chapter I read featuring Pierre showed him realizing he’s in love with the aforementioned Natasha (who’s in a love quadrangle?), but nothing’s happened between them yet. I get the feeling that things are going to get real messy when Napoleon starts making his way toward Moscow.

So, yeah, I guess I’m enjoying the reading experience a bit more than when I first began. I still wish War and Peace was a little shorter. 🙂

Mardi Gras and Lent

Marking the Mardi Gras season at our door.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. Yesterday was the end of all the festivities that make up the Mardi Gras season in New Orleans.

I’ve come to realize over the course of many years of adulthood that Lent fits into my lifestyle more easily than Mardi Gras does. Especially my writing lifestyle. When you work full-time, and focus on writing during your “margin” times, I look to the weekends to make progress on my works-in-progress. Or at least think about making progress while I’m doing laundry and other stuff I tend to save for the weekends.

This year, I made a conscious effort not to feel guilty or anxious about the writing I don’t do over Mardi Gras. I had some success; I certainly felt more at ease with the frivolity this year than I have in years past. That writing anxiety is pretty much antithetical to the whole spirit of Mardi Gras, and I would hate to be against the spirit of the season.

Making progress on positive, life-affirming goals — writing and otherwise — is what Lent is for, anyway.

Every Saturday before Mardi Gras, the Endymion parade turns our neighborhood into one big block party. Stared at this float while waiting for the parade to start.
Touring the neighborhood Saturday, captured this gorgeous tree in bloom. Not sure if it’s a Japanese Maple, Elm or other.
Early Mardi Gras morning, I watched the Clydesdales load up and head out toward the parades.

Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier

Photo by Trevor Kay on Unsplash

Alternate post title: How War and Peace introduced me to Corb Lund.

Corb Lund is a Western and Country singer-songwriter who’s been around awhile, but also someone I’d never heard of until a couple of weeks ago. His song “Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier” is a catchy yarn that encapsulates some epic battles throughout history, specifically ones where soldiers fought on horseback.

Just see the opening lines to the song:

“I’m a hussar, I’m a Hun, I’m a wretched Englishman
Routing Bonaparte at Waterloo
I’m a dragoon on a dun, I’m a Cossack on the run
I’m a horse soldier, timeless, through and through”

And here’s a YouTube link to the whole song, it’s worth a listen: “Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier

So how does this relate to my reading of War and Peace? Keeping in mind that the story is chock full of hussars, Cossacks and Napoleon, there is much to correlate. As it happens, I came across a reference to this song when I was looking up a definition of “uhlan.” (Uhlans were Polish-Lithuanian cavalry armed with lances.) An entry for “uhlan alles uber” caught my eye. I discovered “uhlan alles uber” is from the lyrics of “Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier:”

“With a crack flanking maneuver, I’m an uhlan alles uber
Striking terror into regiment of foot”

That bit of the lyrics also led me to a really great article by Jim Mundorf on Lonesome Lands. (Click this link to check it out.) Mundorf gives the details on all the references in the lyrics, so you don’t have to research them yourself. Thanks! Though I disagree with him on “alles uber” being turned around just to make it sound right. I think the term “uber alles” is just so fraught that maybe Corb Lund turned it around to make it less so.

Anyway, so that’s the story of how War and Peace introduced me to Corb Lund and a really cool song.

 

‘tit Rəx

Keeping with upside-down things (the Schwa), I watched the parade on St. Roch Avenue, and this is how the picture of the street sign showed up on my phone. Coincidentally, St. Roch is where my Dad grew up.

I watched the ‘tit Rəx Mardi Gras parade this past Sunday. I like this parade’s contrarian aspect; while most of Mardi Gras is about doing things in a big way, this parade celebrates small things.

It’s even in the name — “tit” is pronounced “tee” — the shortened form of the French word “petit.” By way of example, former quarterback Bobby Hebert, a.k.a. the “Cajun Cannon,” has a son who’s known around these parts as T-Bob Hebert. So think “T,” or little, in place of junior.

And I always think of a dusty memory from French class, many, many, years ago: I was told that certain French speakers would sing The Beatles song “Let it Be” as “les petites billes” (sounds like lə p’tee bee), which means “the little marbles.”

Anyway, just another example of how the French word for “little” winds up becoming / sounding like “T.”

More contrarian things I like: how the name sounds just like the king of the dinosaurs, T-Rex, yet there’s nothing big about this parade. Also the schwa, or upside-down “e.” It was instituted as part of the name several years after the parade was founded, to circumvent a claimed copyright infringement from a behemoth of a carnival krewe.

As an aside, I spent way too much time trying to figure out how to type a schwa, until I just wound up copying and pasting one. Why do I insist on making things harder than they need to be?

That last question is probably the subject of many blog posts, or perhaps an epic novel. But in the interest of keeping things small, I’ll conclude with a few pictures from the ‘tit Rəx parade.

The parade theme was “That’s a Little Much.”
The lead float was a memorial to Nancy Parker, a local journalist who died in a plane crash last August.

The tail-end of the parade.
The ‘tit Rəx micro-comic (my watch for scale).

Chewbacchus 2020

Lightsaber Drill

Saturday was the 10th annual roll of the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus! Chewbacchus is a science fiction-themed Mardi Gras parade; this was my 6th year taking part as a Leijorette. (The Leijorettes dress up as Princess Leia from Star Wars and wear boots — originally conceived as Majorette boots — thus, Leia-jorettes.)

Here are some links to Chewbacchus-related posts from prior years, if you’re curious: 2016, 2017, 2019

For the first time since I began marching in this parade, it concluded in the French Quarter, which was pretty awesome. It was a clear, cool, night, and passing by Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral was quite an impressive sight. (It happened too quickly for me to get a picture.)

I’ll conclude this post with some pictures I did manage to capture…

 

Themed drinks were prevalent.
An impressive tauntaun costume.
Steampunk Yoda by day…
…and by night (photo courtesy of Niece Nicole)
Niece Nicole participated as a Red Shirt (parade escort) this year!
This year’s crop of parade throws (giveaways) from Sister Elizabeth. The Baby Yodas were all claimed well before parade day.

Spring Festival

Sunrise on January 25, 2020, New Orleans City Park

This past Saturday marked the start of a new year. We ushered in the Year of the Rat by the Lunar, or Chinese, New Year. A few observations regarding this new year, from the past week or so:

  • I’ve been told the Chinese word for rat and mouse is the same — it does not differentiate the rodent the way our English words do. I’ve also been told that Disney, sensing a huge marketing opportunity, is going all in with “Year of the Mouse.” I’m headed to Disney World in April, so I’ll let you know how this manifests in the park.
  • This from the website Daily Om: the Year of the Rat “brings with it the promise of prosperity.” Also, “Since the rat sign is the first in the Chinese zodiac calendar, we may feel the energy of a cycle beginning. We may also feel a pioneering spirit that helps us to forge ahead with a completely new endeavor.” The “energy of a cycle beginning” ties in nicely with the start of this decade, and also coalesces with a certain hopeful vibe I’ve been feeling since the start of 2020. (Yes, I pay attention to vibes. This is a trait which I’ve found it’s useless to try to ignore. It also has a significant influence on my writing.)
  • Tying into hopeful vibes, the New Year’s holiday is celebrated as a week-long “Spring Festival” in China. (The company I work for has an office in China, and our global calendar has January 24-30 blocked out as Spring Festival for that location.)
  • I like the idea of heralding spring. We’re still about two months out from the official start, but we know it’s coming, sure as the Earth continues its annual loop around our star. And even though winter in New Orleans probably feels like spring to most of the rest of the country, we can still get wintry days, and things don’t grow like they do in spring and summer. I’m looking forward to seeing what blossoms this hopeful vibe the Year of the Rat (Mouse) produces.

War and Peace: 19%

Photo by Filip Bunkens on Unsplash

So, I started reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace on January 1, via Serial Reader. My goal is to finish it by the end of April.

And I’ll be honest: so far, I’m not loving it. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and most of them are pretty unsympathetic. It doesn’t help that a preponderance of them are referred to as princes and princesses. Also, in many instances, facial expressions are described with “as ifs,” something I find highly annoying:

“Prince Vasili’s two valets were busy dressing him, and he looked round with much animation and cheerfully nodded to his son as the latter entered, as if to say: ‘Yes, that’s how I want you to look.'”

I guess the “as ifs” were the simplest way to translate the Russian to English, at the time the version I’m reading was translated. But I really don’t care enough about the story or the characters to get a better understanding. I’m satisfied with just the suspicion that there must be some nuance to the Russian language that is lost to me.

And speaking of unsympathetic characters — one of the main ones, Pierre, ties a policeman to a bear early on in the story. Yes, a bear: the big, shaggy, omnivorous, plantigrade mammal. I’m not even sure how this is done, because it’s only referenced in the past tense, as the event that gets Pierre thrown out of Saint Petersburg. I’m having a hard time getting that vision out of my head.

But, the reading experience is not without some benefits:

  • I’ve been much more engaged and enlightened by the war scenes (over the peace scenes, which mostly take place in society parlors and the like). I’ve learned that a unicorn was a type of Russian cannon from the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • I’m pretty sure I’ve never read any Russian literature before. I’m all for expanding my frame of reference, even if the experience is not 100% pleasurable. There’s some sort of lesson in the discomfort, but I’m not sure what it is yet.
  • The settings are like a fantasy to me. I’ve never been to the parts of the world where the book has taken me (Moscow, Saint Petersburg, parts of Austria), nor have I ever lived in a snowy place. There’s a scene where old man Bolkonsky (Prince Bolkonsky) has snow shoveled back onto the road to discourage the above-referenced Prince Vasili’s visit. It was kind of funny, and it’s what I was thinking about when I chose the image featured above.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about War and Peace in future posts. That’s it for now!