Checking in on the Bright Side

A fall-ish scene in City Park.

It feels like I’m in the home stretch of this super-busy period for my day job. It also feels like I’ve been going on about it (read: complaining) for these past few weeks, so my apologies. As I see some light up ahead, I sense my default mindset — I’ll call it a blend of realism and optimism — returning.

Just another ten days or so, and I should be able to get back to my preferred pace, which is a lot less class-five rapids, a lot more babbling brook.

But I also find, while I should have lots of stuff to write about, I have nothing to write about this week. No spark of inspiration, no anchor to wrap a post around. In lieu of that, here are some pictures from this past weekend. The first two from a run in City Park, and the last from the new Louisiana Children’s Museum, which recently reopened in a new location (in City Park).

Come to think of it…if I didn’t have City Park so close by, I’m sure I’d have a harder time finding stuff to write about. I also wonder if my default mindset might not be a little less optimistic…thanks, City Park!

The remaining attractions from Scout Island Scream Park are visible across the bayou.
I’ve always loved butterflies. The optimism of rebirth and renewal.

Summer 2019 Wrap-up

Okay, so, I’m still working on the re-writes for my third novel, The Conclusion on the Causeway. Editing is taking longer than I’d like. Procrastination shares a good bit of the blame for that.

My current diversion? Writing this post. Now that it’s autumn, a new season, I thought I’d go through my pictures from this past summer, and share some photos that never made the leap from my phone to the social-media-sphere. Which, in my case, exclusively means Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and this blog.

The following photos are from the morning hours, my favorite time of day to get outside. Truthfully, during a New Orleans summer, I find it’s the only time of day when the temperature’s tolerable. All the pictures, save the last one, were taken in New Orleans City Park.

June 28, 6:02 a.m. Close to the earliest sunrise I’d see this summer.
July 3, 6:07 a.m. This summer not only marked my 50th birthday, but also the Apollo 11 mission’s. Folks practicing yoga at the Peristyle, beneath a banner which reads “The Eagle has Landed. City Park salutes the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission.”
July 11, 6:10 a.m. Most mornings, I’d find this congregation just past the Peristyle. I dubbed them “The Duck Council.”
July 16, 5:55 a.m. Bayou St. John (right across the street from City Park). This spot became one of my favorites for sunrise viewings.
July 20, 8:26 am. On the anniversary of the moon landing, I happened across an event for STEM students getting set up in City Park’s Scout Island.
August 3, 7:18 a.m. Taken during the second workout I logged using the “Map My Run” app. I went exactly 4.56 miles.
August 31, 6:49 a.m. Lake Pontchartrain.

 

 

On Turning 50: Misty Mountain Hop

Tavolino Pizza
Our table at Tavolino Pizza.

So, I had a milestone birthday last Thursday. I took that day and the next off from work, and celebrated my birthday during an extended five-day Labor Day holiday weekend.

I threw big parties when I turned 30, and again when I turned 40. I had no such desire this time around. The trip to Ireland with Tim, back in May, was an early 50th birthday present. That was the “big” celebration. I’ve learned enough so far to know that I’m better suited to smaller, more intimate gatherings. I like to think that my focus on writing, especially in the last five years or so, has had the beneficial side effect of an improved awareness.

The short work-week leading up to my birthday, and the extended holiday around it, afforded the opportunity for multiple mini-celebrations. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • My friend Carol was in town from Milwaukee, and we went to dinner at Meril. It’s one of Emeril Lagasse’s newer restaurants, in the Warehouse District. I’d been wanting to try it out, and both the food and the company provided an exceptional kick-off to my birthday week.
  • I had dinner with my Godfather at Superior Seafood the night before my birthday. Superior Seafood is in Uptown New Orleans, and it’s where he and I usually eat during our occasional lunches. We almost always say we should go during a time when we don’t have to go back to work, and this was the opportunity. We split a bottle of rosé, something we never do during lunch.
  • The night of my birthday, I had dinner at Tavolino Pizza and Lounge, in Algiers Point, just across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans. My good friend Hillary opened the restaurant about two years ago, and I’ve been wanting to get there ever since. The food was AMAZING: handmade pizza, fresh toppings, an extensive wine list…I’m already planning my next visit.
  • Yes, there was a lot of eating and drinking — this is New Orleans, after all. But I also worked in some exercise. Saturday morning, I ran my favorite route: a seven-mile round trip to the Lake Pontchartrain lakeshore and back. It was the first time in years I had run that distance. I had thought age, and wear-and-tear, had closed it off to me for good. I was delighted to learn otherwise.

And so many other great moments, that I’ll keep a little closer to the vest (Nicole, Cece, and Sue: Godzilla; Julie and Jim: Sid, gnats, and the Mandela Effect).

Finally, on my birthday day, several songs entered my consciousness, ones that reside far down in the way-back. The one I’ll note here was in heavy personal rotation during my teen years.

For whatever reason, I really had a yen to hear the funky rhythm of Led Zeppelin’s “Misty Mountain Hop.” Maybe it was because of what Rolling Stone describes as: “Jones’ humid electric piano locking in with Page’s headlong riff and Bonham’s slippery avalanche of a groove…”

Or maybe, just maybe, it was because I could offer a (mostly) unequivocal “yes” to this question from the lyrics:

Why don’t you take a good look at yourself and describe what you see
And baby, baby, baby, do you like it?

Lake Pontchartrain
Lake Pontchartrain at sunrise, just about the halfway point of the run.

Marconi in New Orleans

Marconi Drive New Orleans

Marconi Drive is a street in New Orleans that figures into my fiction with some frequency. (It’s early, and my alliterative bent is apparently in absolute overdrive.) It’s also a street I travel pretty often — write what you know, right?

Returning home from breakfast Sunday morning, Husband Tim asked if the street was named after the Marconi who invented the radio. Without hesitating, I answered, “yes.” But then I struggled to remember the circumstance that led to one of our streets being named after Guglielmo Marconi. I wanted to believe the Marconi Company had a radio relay station somewhere around these parts, because that’s just the type of stuff that gets my imagination going.

Alas, a ruined early-twentieth-century radio tower lives only in my imagination. Here’s what I discovered: Guglielmo Marconi visited New Orleans in 1917, six years after he won the Nobel Prize for physics, and was welcomed by big, adoring, crowds. Roughly twenty years later, part of Orleans Avenue was renamed in his honor. This information comes from Hope and New Orleans: A History of Crescent City Street Names, by the talented Sally Asher. (Thanks, Sally!)

Marconi died in 1937, and it seems he was pretty well thought-of. In 1938, the same year the City of New Orleans dubbed a thoroughfare after him, Franklin Roosevelt approved a memorial to Marconi in Washington, D.C. Even though Marconi had been aligned with Mussolini’s fascists since the 1920s. (This information courtesy of Mental Floss and Wikipedia.)

Pre-WWII America must have been a different place. Because my imagination kicks into overdrive again when I think of the inevitable backlash Marconi would have faced if he’d lived and invented and been a political animal in our current century.

Maybe the negative attention would have caused him to withdraw from society, and live a recluse life. In an abandoned radio tower somewhere in the vicinity of Marconi Drive in New Orleans. 🙂

 

Silver, Blue and Gold

New Orleans morning
The color of the sky, I’m told

“Silver, Blue and Gold” is the sixth track from Bad Company’s 1976 album, Run with the Pack. Writing credit goes to Bad Company front man Paul Rodgers, whose distinctive vocals can be heard covering the lyrics.

It’s also a song that gets called up in my internal playlist under certain conditions. (If at all curious about my internal playlist, see also: While You See a Chance, or Pink Floyd.) Conditions this past Saturday were primed for a “Silver, Blue and Gold” appearance.

I headed out a little after 6am for some exercise. The sky ahead of me was clear, but a quick look over my shoulder revealed a threatening, dark grey, cloud. It looked ready to share, and it was moving in my same direction. Not one to be put off by a bit of rain — it’s usually welcome during a summer run in New Orleans, as long as there’s no lightning — I sallied forth.

Because the sky was uneven: gloomy in parts, dazzling in others, I was on the lookout for rainbows. Thus, the lyric popped into my head:

Give me silver, blue and gold,
The colour of the sky I’m told,
My ray-ay-ain-bow is overdue.

(Lyrics copied directly from Google, which had the British spelling of color. Also, that phoneticized version of rainbow. Which is exactly how Rodgers sings it: ray-ay-ain-bow.)

That last line, “my rainbow is overdue,” always gets me. I feel like it can apply to multiple situations. Any situation that feels like a constant struggle, with no easy button, and very faint signs of light at the end of the tunnel. Oh, say like, writing a novel, anyone?

So the rain did catch me, right at the mid-point of the run. It was fairly light, and for the heavier bits, I was under a forest canopy, anyway. All in all, not too bad. I’ve definitely been caught in worse. And there was a rainbow waiting for me at the end. It’s pictured at the top of this post, a little faint, it’s the best I could do with my iPhone.

It wasn’t even overdue; I’d say it was right on time. I’ll take that as a good omen.

 

Nutria: R.O.U.S.

City Park Nutria
Two juvenile nutria near the Big Lake in New Orleans City Park, July 20, 2019

Don’t think I’ve written about nutria before. Since I spotted two little ones this past weekend, it feels like an appropriate time to feature this long-time denizen of Louisiana.

While nutria have been around here for at least a century, they’re considered an invasive species. They were brought here from South America when the fur trade was still a thing. And, well, nutria don’t just thrive in our swampy, overgrown, landscape — they dominate it.

They look like small beavers when fully-grown. Some things I just learned: the nutria’s genus is “Myocastor,” derived from the ancient Greek words for a mouse or rat, and a beaver. Which is pretty fitting, since their tails are skinny and rat-like. And they have very prominent front teeth, like a beaver. Another thing: their teeth are orange. Really. Apparently because their tooth enamel has iron in it.

I had thought the orange, or rusty, teeth, were unique to the nutria. But the Internet tells me beavers have orange teeth, too, for the same reason.

You learn something new every day.

So, the tail is not the only way they differ from beavers. The biggest problem — unlike beavers, nutria are not industrious — they’re ravenous. Couple that with their prolific breeding habits, and you can imagine the threat they pose to our levees, drainage canals, wetlands. . .

While I like to think that an army of Westleys go out at night to take on these rodents of unusual size, there is in reality something called the CNCP to combat the R.O.U.S. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ “Coastwide Nutria Control Program” offers a bounty on nutria tail from November to March every year.

Nutria being fair game would explain a comment I received from a passerby, as I stopped to photograph the young rodents. He said, “breakfast.” I wasn’t sure if he meant the nutria were having breakfast, or the nutria would make a nice breakfast. He paused his run long enough to tell me that he once tried nutria tacos at a local high school’s annual “Beast Feast.” He said they did not taste like chicken, and the tacos were actually quite tasty.

I figure the two nutria I saw have about four months to enjoy before they get a price on their heads (or tails). Seems like there’s a lesson — or a story — in there somewhere.

They appeared to be eating when I happened upon them. They seemed unfazed by my presence.

Quarter Report 2019

Lacey Cypress

Hoping to find the exact path and the exact target week over week, quarter over quarter, is simply impossible. Despite knowing how to read the stars, sailors had to tack with the wind, leaving a wake like a zig-zag.–David Schwarz

David Schwarz is a founding partner of the ad agency HUSH. I encountered this quote last week, in a brief article he wrote for AdAge: “If I knew then what I know now … I’d sail more than strategize

Of course, the quote struck me as hugely relevant, with my propensity to “live my life a quarter mile at a time,” just like Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto. And, the timing was good, as I had planned to post a special “Quarter Report” this week, anyway.

What’s so special, you may ask? The specialness concerns the cypress tree pictured above. It’s in City Park’s Couturie Forest, a spot I’ve featured in this space before (most prominently in The Summer Tanager, and City Park Pictorial, Part 3). That cypress is near a picnic table, and next to a very showy live oak — it’s in sort of a natural contemplation / stopping point.

Sometime last year, I really took notice of this cypress. Specifically, the texture of its leaves, or rather, its needles. They are lacy, and soft, just like every other tree of its kind — no revelation to anyone who’s paid attention. I suppose I had never paid such close attention before.

I contemplate my writing quite a bit during my walks in the Couturie Forest, and it was the laciness of the greenery that struck me. As I was trying to conclude a series featuring a protagonist named Lacey, it was a natural connection to make. I dubbed the cypress the “Lacey Tree,” and committed to capture all its deciduous glory over the course of the coming seasons.

So here you have product of that effort. There are a thousand correlations I could make. . . did I despair that I’d never finish the story as I gazed on its spindly, denuded limbs in December? Did the suspense of awaiting new growth in March threaten to distract me from writing?

The answers are probably yes and yes, but there’s a big difference between my writing and the Lacey Tree. I don’t know how old it is, but the Internet tells me bald cypress trees can live up to 600 years. So there’s a good chance the Lacey Tree has been shedding and regrowing its foliage for some years before I ever showed up. As well as a stellar chance it’ll keep doing its thing long after I’m gone.

My window of opportunity to write the stories I want to write is significantly shorter. And my seasons and their effects are not as reliable. Requiring me to do something the Lacey Tree, despite all its magnificent, seasonal, verdure, could never do: tack with the wind.

Back to Work

Monday morning, June 24, 5:49 a.m.

Here’s something I might have mentioned in this space before: how I spent the first two months of 2019 racing to finish a draft of the third and final installment in the Lacey Becnel trilogy. I referenced this “big push” in this post: (Whirly) Word Milestones.

I received a comprehensive edit of the manuscript last month, and had a very productive call with the editor right before I left for Ireland. I had a loosely held intention of diving into the rewrites directly upon my return from the Emerald Isle. But the re-entry back into my day job, and my day-to-day life in general, made it very loose indeed.

So here I am, ensconced back home more than three weeks now, and I’ve finally started the work. Named a new file, and begun the process of combing through the line edits.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the day I started the work is the same day astronaut Anne McClain returned to Earth from the International Space Station.

A few notes about the picture at the top of this post, before I wrap this up. It’s not just another random sunrise photo I’m so fond of taking.

  • The picture is facing east. Just to the north, or the to left out of frame, is the eponymous overpass from The Incident Under the Overpass, the first book in the Lacey Becnel trilogy.
  • So if the northern tracks represent my first body of work, what do the southern tracks represent??
  • Up on the elevated track, the smell of creosote, or coal tar, was overwhelming. The railroad ties are treated with it. The aroma brought me back to my father’s camp on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain — a raised cabin resting on creosote-treated pilings.

The Internet tells me that creosote-treated wood has been banned in Europe since 2003, because creosote is a “probable” human carcinogen. I’ll try not to dwell on that, and instead focus on finishing up my third novel. 😮

 

 

Behind the Photo: Garden District

April 6, 2019, 2:38 pm

This may (or may not) be the start of a new blog feature: “behind the photo.” My thought is to give some context to the impulse that compelled me to snap a photo.

Truthfully, I do this very thing in this space all the time. Look for any of my “City Park” posts. So I guess the only thing that’s new is that I’m attempting to brand the effort. The marketer in me dies hard.

A quick Google search tells me that both National Geographic and Time use the phrase “behind the photo” for sections of their publications. But I don’t think anyone who stumbles across this post will confuse it for either one of those esteemed periodicals.

Anyway, on Saturday, I paid a quick visit to the Garden District of New Orleans, to run into the Garden District Book Shop. (If you’re curious to read more about this great independent bookstore, click here.) What captured my attention at this corner was not so much the sign, but the wall in the background, and in particular, the people there.

That wall encloses Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, one of New Orleans’s oldest cemeteries. As I drove past the entrance, I saw a large group of folks milling about. My guess was that they were sightseers, either about to embark on or just finishing up a tour.

My first thought: Only in New Orleans, do you see large crowds gathered around a graveyard.

But then I remembered a time in Paris, just two years ago now, where I wandered about with friends around Père Lachaise Cemetery.

My second thought: Maybe it’s a French thing.

One final observation to finish this up. Both the name of the cemetery, and the reference on the sign to the “City of Lafayette,” can be a bit confounding to the modern-day Southern-Louisiana dweller. To me, Lafayette is the city about 140 miles west of New Orleans, that one can reach via I-10. The Internet says it’s the 4th largest city in Louisiana, which sounds about right to me.

But apparently, a different city with the name Lafayette was once also a suburb of New Orleans. Back in those days, I think the name was pretty popular, given that the Marquis de Lafayette, or General Lafayette here, was “USA all the way” during the American Revolutionary War. By a very quick and non-official count, it looks like 15 of our 50 states have towns named Lafayette, or some close variation.

Back when Lafayette became part of New Orleans, what I know as Lafayette today was called Vermilionville. It didn’t get the name “Lafayette” until 1884.

So there’s your “behind the photo” scoop, and, bonus, a random Louisiana fact.

Cardinal Sighting

Cardinal photo credit: Ryk Naves on Unsplash. Japanese magnolia credit: Me!

I spotted a cardinal on my Sunday walk. It feels noteworthy, and worth mentioning here. Though when it comes to ideas of what the cardinal sighting might signify, I’ve come up a bit empty.

So I’ll start with a comparison to my last red bird sighting, chronicled here: The Summer Tanager. The location was the same: City Park’s Couturie Forest. And the two birds’ smallish size was roughly the same. But the birds looked very different — the tanager was a brilliant, uniform red, with no crest. The little guy I saw last weekend definitely had a crest, but the feathers were reddish-brown. More similar to the photo above, than to the St. Louis MLB mascot.

As to what the little bird was trying to tell me, maybe it’s just that Spring is almost here. Returning home, I captured the other photo featured here. Two Japanese magnolia trees guard the entrance to the tennis courts on Marconi Drive. A branch on the southernmost one framed the walking path, my way home, just so. I posted the photo to Instagram, with a comment about the vernal equinox being just days away.

Writing-wise, I have some specific intentions for the early days of Spring. The time has come to apply a critical eye to my marketing efforts (for my two novels, and the upcoming third). My advertising exploits have been haphazard up ’til now. And who am I kidding? They will probably continue to be somewhat haphazard for a bit longer, while I figure out what works better than not.

Maybe the little cardinal was a sign that paying attention to my author outreach, at this point in time, will be time well-spent.

Magical thinking or not, I can’t help but think positive things when I see the little red birds.