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.

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.

 

Does every picture tell a story?

There’s more to this thistle than meets the eye…

On a run through New Orleans City Park this past Saturday, something caught my eye. My runs these days are a sorta walk-run combo, so I’m not opposed to breaking my stride to satisfy my curiosity. I’m at a point in my life where finding the unexpected is more important to me than reaching some particular cardiovascular fitness milestone.

I was pleased to find a few thistles blooming, right at the shoreline of the lagoon. When you think of New Orleans flora, “thistle” is not one of the first plants to come to mind. Not for me, at least. So these prickly, lilac-colored-bloom beauties were a pleasant surprise.

They were in a fairly secluded area of City Park, set back about fifty yards from the nearest roadway, but only a few feet off the paved walking path. I don’t like to run with my phone, so I made an intention to return the next day for a more leisurely picture-taking expedition.

That’s where the story comes in.

I was out and about early on Sunday morning, so I cheated and drove to the thistle spot. Or rather, I parked near there as I made my way back home. Traipsing the fifty yards across the grass and fallen oak leaves, I could see someone was already there ahead of me. I first thought it was a photographer, setting up to get their own thistle pic. (Photographers are definitely not a rare sight in City Park.)

As I approached, I could see it was a man closing up a backpack. It looked like a nice, solid backpack, not something cobbled together. And he seemed pretty intent on his task—striking camp, I assumed—and not so interested in the nearby runners and / or amateurish iPhone photographers.

But still, I had to do one of those instant threat/need assessments. You know, all the questions and answers that run through your head in a split second. “Does this person look dangerous?” Maybe, but he’s behind and bent over his pack, so it’s not like he’s lying in wait. “Does this person look like they need help?” He does not look like he needs or wants help. “Is this person supposed to be camping here?” Probably not, but I’m not about to call him out on it.

So in that instant, I decided to proceed with a few quick thistle pictures, but not dally doing it. I told him “Good morning” as I approached the lagoon’s edge. He looked up, but didn’t respond. (That’s when I got the idea that he neither needed or wanted any kind of attention). I took the photos, and then hightailed it out of there.

Being a fiction writer, I’ve had nothing but possibilities running through my head ever since. Daylight savings time had begun just about seven hours earlier, so did backpack man think he was striking his camp earlier than he actually was? Was he wondering why so many runners, walkers, and just general people were out so blooming early?

And then, don’t get me started on the thistles. Are they a sign for off-the-grid backpackers, “Here You May Camp”? Kind of like the scarlet pimpernel? Or does some scout come and seed them for off-the-grid backpackers? Is there a Secret Society of the Thistle?

Reality still creeps in. I don’t want it to seem like I am making light of this person’s circumstances. I get the gravitas. Outdoor living is tough, and especially so if it’s not by choice. My sense was his was mostly by choice. But my sense has been wrong before.

Which brings me to one of those things I’ve learned about writing, my writing, in the eight or so years I’ve been at it. And here it is: ideas for fiction—even the zaniest ideas, especially the zaniest ideas—are rarely worth pursuing if they aren’t backed up somehow by the weight and gravity of the real world.

 

Back to Running

Photo credit: S.M. Frost

So, I’ve still been hard at work, putting the finishing touches on the manuscript for The Trouble on Highway One, my second novel, and the follow-up to The Incident Under the Overpass. That’s how I spent the bulk of this past weekend, except for two breaks.

On Sunday, Husband Tim and I saw Black Panther. I really enjoyed it, and found it to be one of the better offerings in the Marvel movie franchise. And the character T’Challa as portrayed by Chadwick Boseman is a definite favorite. (I like to root for the good guys with a sense of humility. And for the record, I’m Team Cap all the way.)

On Saturday, I (mostly) ran the 504k race in Crescent Park. (504 is the area code for New Orleans. And this race is 5.04 kilometers long). For me, having run this race is worth noting for several reasons:

  • It’s the first race I’ve run in over two years. I really don’t remember the last race I ran. The years started catching up with my legs and lower back roughly two years ago, and I followed an orthopedist’s advice and took a break from running.
  • Strike that, I do remember the last race I ran. I (mostly) ran one of the two-mile races they hold in City Park over the summer. But that turned out to be an anomaly. Legs or knees or something started bothering me shortly thereafter.
  • This time around, I followed a physical therapist’s advice and got back into running s-l-o-w-l-y. Like build the miles slowly. Like try running for five minutes, then add a minute a week at a time.

Okay, didn’t mean to go so far into my wonky physiology. What I really wanted to say was how good it feels to be running again, and how much I missed it. And how much fun it was to run a race I’d never run before, in a park I had not yet been to.

Many thanks to my friend Samantha for the entry to the race. She’s on the Board of Directors for Youth Run NOLA, the organizers of the 504k. Youth Run NOLA partners with schools and the community to “help youth develop healthy habits for life through distance running.” All photo credits in this post go to Samantha, too.

Interestingly enough, it’s been about two years since I’ve written about running in this space (I think swimming has made more entries.) Take a look, if you’re interested, it still rings true for me: Writing and Running

Photo credit: S.M. Frost
Photo credit: S.M. Frost
Photo credit: S.M. Frost
Photo credit: S.M. Frost
Photo credit: S.M. Frost