Monday, September 10, 2018

Missouri: Of Wooly Worms, Vultures, and Trance Music

Wooly caterpillar crossing Highway 94, Missouri. September 2018.

Highway 94 is one of Missouri's gems, unbeknownst to most cross-country drivers who zoom through Missouri along Interstate 70, dismissing the state as a boring four-and-some hours they must endure before entering another snoreful passage in Kansas or Illinois, depending on which way they're headed.

But for much of its length, Highway 94 is the Missouri River's playful younger sister. The roadway zips through flood plains, corn and soybean fields. She sidles alongside river bluffs. She chuckles up and down and around hilly woodlands and bosomy pastures.

Wineries dot Highway 94, as do riverine villages. The Katy Trail is a fellow traveler; it is the longest developed rails-to-trails pathway in the country.

I took a Sunday drive the other day, following Highway 94 from Jefferson City to up north of St. Charles. Come join me for a bit of this drive. Put your seat belt on, sha, and listen to Tinariwen's trance-inducing music while you look out the window.

In September, before the leaves begin to turn, the wooly worms dart and scuttle across the road.

Wooly caterpillar crossing Highway 94, Missouri. September 2018.

They move faster than you might imagine, sniffing to the right and left like puppies.

There were so many wooly caterpillars crossing Highway 94, it reminded me of several experiences in New Mexico, also about this time of year:

Wooly caterpillar crossing Highway 94, Missouri. September 2018.

But what were these wooly caterpillars so busy about on this Sunday in September on Highway 94? I'm not always the sharpest crayon in the box, but I was pretty sure caterpillars didn't engage in sex, so I didn't think they were looking for love. So what was the deal?

  • Here is an annoying non-answer. 
  • Still no answer here, but the writer may be a kindred spirit of mine. 
  • This offers an explanation I've read other places, but September seems awfully early for house-hunting in Missouri, so I don't know. 

But there is consensus about how fast these critters move!

On my drive, I also saw a vulture who had to get out of my way during its snack. Normally, I don't think I would have taken this video of a vulture, but earlier in the day, I interrupted a hawk or other bird of prey while it dined, and I regretted not having filmed that. So the vulture shot was likely a compensatory thing. Here it is, accompanied by Tinariwen:

Sunday, August 12, 2018

St. Louis: For the Senses: Seafood City

Seafood City, University City, Missouri. 2018.

Am I so far off from a dog? I'm beginning to think not.

Seafood City, University City, Missouri. 2018.

A dog of my childhood joyfully rolled in putrefying fish on a stony beach, the rot taking color in yellow and orange, to sing with the squishy stench.

Crawfish, Seafood City, University City, Missouri. 2018.

One of the joys of entering Rouse's Market in Lafayette was the smell of fish, both raw and cooked.

There was that not-quite-right blend of boiled, spiced crawfish with sticky sweet buns and a bottom note of crawfish etoufee at the Crawfish Etoufee Cookoff in Eunice. Here's what I wrote about that then:
It's extraordinary to smell the fragrances of  muddy bayou, spicy crawfish boil, and cinnamon buns all at once. I couldn't decide if I loved it or felt repelled by it. Attempts to come to a conclusion required many careful inhalations, to no avail.

So when I entered Seafood City on Olive Street in University City this summer, the intake of breath brought a sensory rush from the mixture of fresh and fishy, raw and cooked, the living and the dead, beauty and gore.

Seafood City, University City, Missouri. 2018.

There is pleasure in this as there is in approaching a terrifically pungent, soft cheese. The aroma is preposterous, but the flavor and texture are so fully sensual, and the combination of all is splendid. Which reminds me of this one anchovy I consumed recently. This small, floppy grayish-silvery thing, homely; but its oily, fishy, salty dimensions of flavor required deliberation of thought and closed eyes to extend the life of their chorus.

On my first visit to Seafood City, I saw my very first jackfruit. Until then, I'd only read about them. They are huge!

Jackfruit, Seafood City, University City, Missouri. 2018.

The idea of a Buddhist style chicken puzzled me as I guess I thought Buddhists were vegetarian.

Buddhist chicken, Seafood City, University City, Missouri. 2018.

I wonder how "fresh" is defined. Minutes? Hours? Days?

Fresh pork blood, Seafood City, University City, Missouri. 2018.

A slide show of my visits to Seafood City below:

Seafood City, St. Louis, MO

This isn't the first time I've been a "scentsual" tourist. There was a satisfying trip through the Celestial Seasonings plant outside Boulder, Colorado in 2016.

I will likely need another hit of Seafood City before I leave Missouri this year.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Ferguson: "Michael Brown Died Today."

Michael Brown
Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri. Photo: Found at St. Louis Post Dispatch, attributed to a friend of Michael Brown's.

A few days before August 9, 2018, I created a reminder on my calendar for that date, which synced to my cell phone.

The reminder said: "Michael Brown died today."

On August 9, each time I accessed my phone, there it was:

Michael Brown died today.
Michael Brown died today.
Michael Brown died today.
Michael Brown died today.
Michael Brown died today.
Michael Brown died today.
Michael Brown died today.
Michael Brown died today.
Michael Brown died today.

When I think of Michael Brown, I think of:

.... an image burned into my brain, put there by a racist, hate-mongering individual in South Louisiana who is a minor celebrity. On his social media page, which he proudly affiliates with his employer, was a disgusting image of a "memorial" to Michael Brown, comprised of human excrement.

... the draconian military response to Ferguson protests by then-Governor Jay Nixon.

... people who are dear to me, who must always be ready for that surprise slap in the face, at any given moment, in any given place, by any unexpected person, that reminds them they can't move through their days with the same thoughtless presumption of emotional and physical safety as others can.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

St. Louis: St. Alphonsus Liguori Catholic Church

St. Alphonsus Liguori "the Rock" Catholic Church, St. Louis, Missouri. November 2017.

When I visited Toronto a couple of years ago, it refreshed me to hear a common theme on various public platforms: "We cherish our interculturalism, our varied complexions, our diverse languages."

Is it Kumbaya Land in Toronto? Of course not. But at least there is the public embrace of interculturalism as a national value.

Would that it were so in the United States. Instead, we apply the phrase "political correctness" as a sneer, a smirk. As if being inclusive is a bad thing.  

This thought is my lead-in to a Sunday in July at St. Alphonsus Liguori "Rock" Catholic Church.

My nonagenarian aunt attended St. Alphonsus Liguori High School way back in the day. Then, the church was predominantly white. In 1945, the Archbishop Cardinal Ritter directed the integration of all Catholic churches in the St. Louis Diocese. Today "the Rock" is predominantly African-American. (A brief history of the church here.)

When I think of African-American Catholics, I think of:

Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Opelousas, Louisiana;

Knights of Peter Claver (established in 1909) - and wonder why I never knew about this organization until I moved to Louisiana, despite my having been raised Catholic; and

This bit of Louisiana history, which James Lee Burke described in his book, Creole Belle (2012): 
We crossed Lafourche and Jefferson Parishes and flew over Barataria Bay and then crossed the long umbilical cord of land extending into the Gulf known as Plaquemines Parish, the old fiefdom of Leander Perez, a racist and dictatorial politician who ordered a Catholic church padlocked when the archbishop installed a black man as pastor.
Note: Unable to find this precise historical datum, but here is a similar situation that involved Mr. Perez and an African-American priest in Placquemines Parish. 

Anyway, on this particular Sunday in July, I attended Mass at St. Alphonsus Liguori "Rock" Catholic Church, and:

The entrance processional walked to the altar to the accompaniment of the church choir, which sang a version of the Truthettes' Can't Nobody Do Me Like Jesus:

The entrance processional was a fusion of our Americanness. It included the ceremonial fragrance of smoking frankincense from East and North Africa and the Middle East, held in a round, wooden, tasseled bowl of African influence, carried by an African-American woman, barefoot, dressed in a caftan that bespoke traditional African dress.

The choir covered New Direction's song, When All God's Children (aka What a Time) during the preparation of the gifts:

During communion, the choir sang Dorothy Norwood's and Alvin Darling's Somebody Prayed For Me:

The choir sent us on our way with This Little Light of Mine:

I didn't think overmuch about the song, This Little Light of Mine, outside of its pleasing sound and lyrics ... until this came across my newsfeed from NPR: 'This Little Light of Mine' Shines On, A Timeless Tool of Resistance.

The introduction to this article:
Ask Freedom Singer Rutha Mae Harris, and she'll tell you plainly: You can't just sing "This Little Light of Mine." You gotta shout it: 

"Everywhere I go, Lord, I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!"

On a Monday morning, Harris' powerful voice fills the small church right next to the Albany Civil Rights Institute in Georgia. She's showing them how she and her fellow Freedom Singers — a renowned quartet that raised money for student activists during the civil rights movement — belted out songs to get through dangerous protests.

..... a unifying affirmation that gives the crowd a taste of that feeling from the 1960s. She says the song helped steady protestors' nerves as abusive police officers threatened to beat them or worse.

And later in the article: "Last year, Reverend Osagyefo Sekou used 'This Little Light of Mine' to curb passions during a counter-protest, before a crowd of white supremacists and alt-right supporters gathered for the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va."

A video of that singing here:

This is yet another example for me of how we are surrounded by history in our everyday lives. A song. A mural. The style of earrings a woman wears; the width and arch of her eyebrows. The waistband on a pair of jeans. How we do our hair. A flag. The name of a street. The route of a road. The cluster of volunteer irises on the side of an empty stretch of road. Why Monday was wash day and red-beans-and-rice day.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Ferguson: Backyard Fox

Fox, Ferguson, Missouri. July 2018.

There was a fox in my backyard early in the morning.

Fox, Ferguson, Missouri. July 2018.

A lanky one.

Fox, Ferguson, Missouri. July 2018.

And entirely unexpected.

Fox, Ferguson, Missouri. July 2018.

I am regularly surprised at the pleasing rural-urban mix that is Ferguson. Having a fox in one's backyard is only one gift of the community.

A shaky video below:

When I think of foxes in a suburban environment, I think of my house in Jefferson City. My immense backyard ended at a creek that you could follow all the way to the Missouri River.

Through the years I lived there, sometimes at night, I would hear an unsettling cry. Like a woman crying out in pain. Or maybe even a child.

Finally I tracked it down to a fox call. A "vixen's scream" to be precise, although it's not only female foxes that make this call.

A sample of this call below, which actually tells an entertaining story:

Friday, June 29, 2018

Ferguson: History I Don't See

History mural, Ferguson, Missouri. June 2018.

On the corner of North Florissant and Airport/Hereford, there is a US Bank. The bank has a mural on its side depicting Ferguson history.

History mural, Ferguson, Missouri. June 2018.

Who's not there?

History mural, Ferguson, Missouri. June 2018.

We've got to stop being so blind.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

St. Louis: Luchadora!

Luchadora play, Theatre Nuevo, Mustard Seed Theater, St. Louis, Missouri. June 2018.

June 2018

When I saw the promo for the play, Luchadora, it was a must-go-see for me.  A connection between my current home in Ferguson and my most recent home in El Paso, by way of my new guilty pleasure, lucha libre.

Luchadora play, Theatre Nuevo, Mustard Seed Theater, St. Louis, Missouri. June 2018.

It is high praise, indeed, for me to tell you that the play kept my attention for both of the 45-minute acts.

The main theme is the self-empowerment of girls and women both today and in the Vietnam War era. Where girls and women literally fight, albeit incognito, for their places at the grown-up table of the world.

It's a personal story that a grandmother tells her granddaughter, the former a secret luchadora and the latter, a hopes-to-be boxer.

It's about keeping secrets from family members who keep you back and from the larger society that would keep you boxed in.

The Spartan set design was clever and effective. Granddaughter and grandmother, in today's time, sat in an upstairs alcove. Grandmother's story played out on center stage. A bridge between the modern-day alcove and a large staircase was a platform for real-time play action and as a mechanism for "unseen" characters to reveal their thoughts or the contents of their letters.

Luchadora play, Theatre Nuevo, Mustard Seed Theater, St. Louis, Missouri. June 2018.

The Mustard Seed Theater, within Fontbonne University, is petite. Very comfortable seats! And they are roomy. Plus each row is sufficiently higher than the one below it to assure all attendees a fine line of sight onto the stage.

Ticket prices are not inexpensive. Fortunately, it appears that plays are accessible to most for at least one performance of each play, when attendees can pay what they can afford if they also bring a canned good for donation to a food pantry.