Sunday, December 31, 2017

Missouri: Springfield: WOW Aquarium and Wildlife Museum, Part 1


WOW Aquarium, Springfield, Missouri. December 2017.


December 2017

My two sisters, one of their friends, and I visited the new Wonders of Wildlife (WOW) Museums, the aquarium and the Wildlife National Museum.


WOW Aquarium, Springfield, Missouri. December 2017.


The visit ain't cheap. And, really, visiting both exhibits in one day is a challenge, especially for minors and for the most senior among us. Not just because it might be tiring, but because of the sensory overload, exacerbated by the hum and movement of the other visitors.

WOW Aquarium, Springfield, Missouri. December 2017.


If I lived close by, then I'd just buy the ticket for one of the two exhibits and return another day for the second exhibit. If I'm staying overnight, then I'd forego the savings of buying both tickets together and buy the tickets separately so I can go to one exhibit the first day and the second exhibit the next day.

WOW Aquarium, Springfield, Missouri. December 2017.



In this article, I'll focus on the Aquarium, and tomorrow, the Wildlife Museum. 

WOW Aquarium, Springfield, Missouri. December 2017.


At first, I was pretty underwhelmed by the Aquarium. In the beginning, the traffic path isn't clear and I thought perhaps there were only two floors of the museum, one of which was consumed by award-winning fisherfolk. Which I didn't care about one whit. But one of my sisters noted there was a third floor, which I went to and that's when I began the long journey through the quite large Aquarium.

Three standouts for me:
  • Two jellyfish tanks
  • The darling, charming, personable sea snakes (who knew?!)
  • The flirting or fighting Caribbean spiny lobsters

I had fun putting music to the jellyfish videos I took here and here (with one embedded below).



And here's a slide show of my jellyfish photos:

WOW Aquarium, Springfield, Missouri. December 2017.



The sea snakes reminded me of the gladness of watching prairie dogs and meerkats.


WOW Aquarium, Springfield, Missouri. December 2017.


And below is a video. Enjoy:

.

And here's a video of two Caribbean spiny lobsters conducting a dance or a battle.


If you'd like some gentle moments of serenity, I invite you to sink softly into a cloud of Pachelbel in blue below:




A deep breath.





Monday, December 11, 2017

St. Louis: Art Museum: Cell


Cell, by Louise Bourgeois, St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri. December 2017.


December 2017


I met an acquaintance for coffee at the St. Louis Art Museum. 


Cell, by Louise Bourgeois, St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri. December 2017.


It's probably a sin, but I didn't look at much except for this exhibit, practically at the entrance.


Cell, by Louise Bourgeois, St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri. December 2017.


  I figure I'll make up for it later.


Cell, by Louise Bourgeois, St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri. December 2017.


 And the gods will forgive me.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Ferguson: The Christmas Home Tour

A house on Ferguson's Christmas Home Tour, Ferguson, Missouri. December 2017.

December 2017

Ferguson's annual Christmas Home Tour is a fundraiser for the Caring League.

I've never been much excited about home tours.


"Home tour" at Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey. June 2012.

But my mother likes them, and I martyred myself for her by buying tickets to the Ferguson event.

But what was this?! At the very first house, I saw what I may have been missing all of my adult years: Vodka, wine, schnapps, and many sweets. And a repeat at the second house.

If this is the norm, no wonder such tours are so popular!

Disclosure: My mom is 88 years old, and schlepping into two houses maxed her limit, so we spent the next hour just driving around Ferguson neighborhoods and admiring the town's charming architecture and the yellow, green, and gold beauty of its mature trees.

In one of the neighborhoods, we stopped the car to watch a dancing blanket of sparrows swirling up and over and around a house and tree.






Monday, November 20, 2017

St. Louis: Early Days Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon


Miss Jubilee, Evangeline's. St. Louis, Missouri. November 2017.


November 2017.

Connect brunch and early-days jazz and pizazz and you've got a guaranteed good time on a Sunday afternoon.

Miss Jubilee, Evangeline's. St. Louis, Missouri. November 2017.


Miss Jubilee and the Humdingers have a standing date with brunchers at Evangeline's Bistro on the corner of Washington/Olive and Euclid.


Evangeline's. St. Louis, Missouri. November 2017.

For your judicial review, I present my evidence below:



You can even get a personalized "dancake" at Evangeline's. Free!

Evangeline's. St. Louis, Missouri. November 2017.

Evangeline's. St. Louis, Missouri. November 2017.


I don't know how they taste. As my aunt June once replied to the offer of a sugary delectable: "No thank you, the visual feast is enough." I could enjoy the prettiness of others' dancakes without paying the penalty for the indulgence.

Miss Jubilee, Evangeline's. St. Louis, Missouri. November 2017.


The little scrub board held by the percussionist, put together with Evangeline's New Orleanic persona, gave me a tug toward South Louisiana.

Miss Jubilee, Evangeline's. St. Louis, Missouri. November 2017.


No dance floor, alas.



Saturday, November 4, 2017

Arkansas: Lake Catherine State Park, Part 3: Squeaks and Squawks


Lake Catherine State Park, Arkansas. October 2017.



October 2017
On the way to Missouri

Lake Catherine State Park

On Monday morning, squawking geese trundled into the lake. I guess, traditionally, geese honk, but that would mess with my alliterative gimmick for today's title, so I'm sticking with the squawking. I'd also like to throw in the possibility of "squacking," but that might be overmuch. Also, I can't guarantee I actually heard any squawking, honking, or squacking on said morning when the geese slid into the water, but let's say it could have happened.


On Monday afternoon, I took a guided walk in the woods. After a year in the high desert of El Paso, it was a wonder to be back in the land of the deciduous. 

Lake Catherine State Park, Arkansas. October 2017.

Lake Catherine State Park, Arkansas. October 2017.

Lake Catherine State Park, Arkansas. October 2017.

The bridge offered up satisfying squeaks as one walked over it. As below:



As I walk over it again (in the video), maybe it's more of a creaking than a squeaking. But again, alliteration. You know what I love? That I can walk over this bridge again and again and again every time I watch the video. No, every time I feel and hear the video. Gosh darn, it makes me smile.

The bridge's squeaks and creaks remind me of the sounds of the carriage ride I took on Heybeliada Island off of Istanbul, here and here.

One of my co-hikers was a solo nomad like me! More on her later. 

In my campsite, a glittery butterfly drew my eye. Sadly, it was dead.

Butterfly, Lake Catherine State Park, Arkansas. October 2017.

Butterfly, Lake Catherine State Park, Arkansas. October 2017.

Butterfly, Lake Catherine State Park, Arkansas. October 2017.

Butterfly, Lake Catherine State Park, Arkansas. October 2017.

My best guess is that it was a black swallowtail. My research tells me, however, that in future, I need to examine the bodies more carefully to note the color and shape of the insect's torso and the wings' topside.

I'm also thinking that if I were to pick up a hobby in which my choice was between birding and butterflying, then despite my affinity for birds, 'capturing' butterflies and moths might be more accessible to me.






Friday, November 3, 2017

Arkansas: Lake Catherine State Park, Part 2: "Two White Boys Nervous ... "


Lake Catherine State Park, Arkansas. October 2017.



October 2017
On the way to Missouri


At Arkansas' Lake Catherine State Park, I encountered a couple who had recently moved to a private development on the lake. Young, robust retirees with two sons in and just-out of college. When they learned I'd lately come from El Paso, the wife shared that their younger son had been there in early September for the Sun City Music Festival!

Cool, I thought! Along with a wistful wish that I might still be in El Paso.

Then the wife remarked that her son and his friend had tried out one of the famous eateries in El Paso - one that Food Network had spotlighted - Chico's Tacos.

I asked how they liked it, and her response startled me.

Her son had described the visit, and as she related it to me, his story began with "two white boys nervous about" going in to Chico's.

Wha?!

This statement has stuck with me. "Two white boys nervous about ...."

What the holy fuck did these two young, upper-middle class, presumably educated men think might happen when they visited this restaurant?

It's a myth that only the so-called "uneducated" carry irrational fears about people, places, and things which represent the unknown, the Other.

I'm using the word "irrational" as a bucket to hold: statistically unlikely, untrue, untested, uninformed, racist (conscious or unconscious), classist, and, yes, thoughtlessly stupid.

Through my domestic and international travels, I've observed that irrational fears are not bound by education, socio-economic status, race, culture, religious beliefs, age, gender, and no, not even by allegedly-enlightening travels.

Irrational fear is a terrible, terrible thing. We exclude people we fear. We demonize people we fear. We de-humanize people we fear. We denigrate people we fear. We kill people we fear.

Out of fear, we imprison ourselves in enclaves - in bubbles - of pretend safety. We deny ourselves access to the entire banquet table that life offers us, partaking only of certain foodstuffs available in one small section of the buffet.

"Two white boys nervous" about going to Chico's Tacos in El Paso. 

Jesus. Such statements believed and uttered by men who, in their future professional lives, will likely make decisions that impact dozens, hundreds, perhaps thousands of people in their circles of influence.

Such things just make me want to cry.


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Arkansas: Lake Catherine State Park, Part 1: Nostalgia


Sunrise, Lake Catherine State Park, Arkansas. October 2017.



October 2017
On the way to Missouri
Lake Catherine State Park


After completing my South Louisiana visit, bound for Missouri, I intended to book an airbnb around Hot Springs, Arkansas, so that I could get some work in. I'd found a fabulous place: A congenial hostess, lovely digs, strong and reliable internet (which I need for my work), affordable, and a good base for exploring Hot Springs. But that's when I hit up against airbnb's new "we take security seriously" gate, and I decided that even the sweetest temporary home was not worth sacrificing the seriousness with which I  take my security.

After considering various options, I decided to hell with trying to find a place to land with fast, reliable internet, and just go camping!

Geographically speaking, Arkansas is a gorgeous state. Lake Catherine State Park caught my eye because it sparked a pleasant memory. Many years ago, my mother and a sister booked a cabin at this state park. My mother brought back a soft sage-green (one of my favorite colors!) sweatshirt for my daughter, which had "Lake Catherine State Park" on it.

Decision made. I'd camp at Lake Catherine State Park for a couple of nights.

I arrived on a Sunday evening, which is a good time to roll into a campground without a reservation, as the weekend campers have long since left.

It was after 5:00 p.m., and the park office had closed, but thoughtful staff had left a sign noting available sites:

Lake Catherine State Park, Arkansas. October 2017.


With my snap of this sign, I drove over the campground to see which of the available sites made me feel good.

My criteria for good sites are:
  • Close proximity to toilet;
  • Shade trees;
  • Flat area for tent;
  • Prettiness of view or site; and
  • Relative privacy from neighbors or frequent walk-through traffic. 

Having selected my site, I mentally expressed oohs and ahhs over the luxury of an electric site. Wow. I could bring out my coffeemaker for my morning coffee! Or a lamp!

Lake Catherine State Park, Arkansas. October 2017.


It was especially pleasing to use my portable table, which I have schlepped with me to each of my year-long stays. This is the table I bought from my friend at her moving sale an eon ago. I sent her this picture. It is my office. It is my dining table. And in Arkansas, it was my kitchen counter. I love you, ma chérie table.

Speaking of nostalgia, the hanging dunk bag in the photo below is also a cherished item. My daughter and I made dunk bags together back when she was a Girl Scout Brownie. Only the one has survived, and I use it every time I camp.


Lake Catherine State Park, Arkansas. October 2017.


That's my tent in the background. On a flat surface. Foreshadowing: Engineering drama emerges later in my stay.

By the way, the fact that I had to attach my trash bag to a table leg and my dunk bag to the campsite reservation post should tell you there was a lack of (reachable by short me) resources to suspend housekeeping sorts of things. This is a pet peeve I have about some campsites.

Fortunately, I carry a l-o-n-g rope, and even though the distance between the two closest pairs of trees was also long, the length of my rope was up to the challenge. So later I was able to hang both my trash bag and dunk bag, plus other stuff like towels, in a right proper manner. 





Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Airbnb: Goodbye, My Sweet

Derelict motel, Vaughn, New Mexico. July 2013.



From South Louisiana to Arkansas, on the way to Missouri. October 2017.


I can love someone but still break up.


Airbnb, I loved you, but we're finished.

You had my email address. You had my phone number. At our multiple rendezous, you had my credit card number. You had my photo.

But all of a sudden these weren't enough. You wanted government photo ID. You wanted a new photo. And then another. It didn't matter that I had a sterling track record of good references from past hosts.

Think about it, Airbnb. Do you take my security any more "seriously" than Wells Fargo? Than the IRS? Yahoo? Equifax? The National Fucking Security Agency?

Yet you want me to put all this juicy data in one convenient spot for hackers: photo, government photo ID (!), credit card, phone number, email?!

You haven't been hacked yet? Sweetie, it's only a matter of time. Or it's already happened, only you don't know it yet. Or haven't told us yet.

And it's not as if the sick man who shot and killed so many people in Las Vegas would have been stopped by your new requirements. Remember him? The guy who booked lodging through Airbnb?

What you're doing is, in fact, irresponsible, because in the name of security theater (like TSA confiscating my new tube of toothpaste), you're exposing all of your Airbnb hosts and renters to inevitable hacking.


I grieve for the loss of our years-long relationship, but you're just too risky for me.




Saturday, September 23, 2017

Louisiana: Return to Zydeco Nation


El Sido's hurricane fundraiser, Lafayette, Louisiana. September 2017.

September 2017

The famous (might we even say "historic"?) El Sido's hosted a hurricane fundraiser on the Sunday following my return to South Louisiana.

El Sido's hurricane fundraiser, Lafayette, Louisiana. September 2017. C.J. Chenier and Louisiana Red Hot Band.



By the time I left the event, it was as if a reservoir inside me, almost dry from the long absence of live zydeco, had been refilled to almost-overflowing.

El Sido's hurricane fundraiser, Lafayette, Louisiana. September 2017. Horace Trahan and the Ossun Express.


As is too often the case in South Louisiana, we few in the audience received far more than we deserved from the musicians, who - every one of them - delivered performances as if there had been a crowd.

El Sido's hurricane fundraiser, Lafayette, Louisiana. September 2017. C.J. Chenier and Louisiana Red Hot Band.


Not to take away from the power of the other bands (including Horace Trahan and the Ossun Express, Corey Ledet and his Zydeco Band, Jeffrey Broussard and the Creole Cowboys), the penultimate act by C.J. Chenier and Red Hot Louisiana Band blew me away.

A taste below:





El Sido's hurricane fundraiser, Lafayette, Louisiana. September 2017. Horace Trahan and the Ossun Express.


El Sido's hurricane fundraiser, Lafayette, Louisiana. September 2017. Horace Trahan and the Ossun Express.

El Sido's hurricane fundraiser, Lafayette, Louisiana. September 2017. Jeffrey Broussard and the Creole Cowboys.


Makes you glad to be alive.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Louisiana: Back Into the Music


Roddie Romero and the Hub City All Stars, Lafayette, Louisiana. September 2017.


September 2017


A suburban lawn concert fronted by Roddie Romero and the Hub City All Stars opened the door into my September 2017 South Louisiana visit.

Roddie Romero and the Hub City All Stars, Lafayette, Louisiana. September 2017.



A high-energy, skilled band. Roddie's band played the classics and some contemporary pieces. Below is the traditional Joe Pitre a Deux Femmes (Joe Pitre Has Two Wives). The older couple, with the woman wearing the red blouse, is always a pleasure to watch; I've seen the two dance at other venues.





Sadly, I didn't dance.

Roddie Romero and the Hub City All Stars, Lafayette, Louisiana. September 2017.


This last in a summertime concert series took place at the new development called Couret Farms. A pretty enough suburban neighborhood, but the glorification of a plantation nostalgia in the developers' ad copy does not sit well with me. I wouldn't attend another event here unless the advertising approach changed.

Roddie Romero and the Hub City All Stars, Lafayette, Louisiana. September 2017.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Missouri: The Travel Warning


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



Not long before I left El Paso to wend my way to a year in Ferguson, Missouri, the NAACP issued its first ever travel warning to people of color for an entire state.

That state was Missouri.

In the light of events - the local systemic culture of racism, more accurately said - in Ferguson and the University of Missouri-Columbia, this seems sadly inevitable.

(In 2015, I updated Part 5 of my Take a Budget Road Trip Guide to include a section on Road-Tripping While Brown.)

Missouri also figured in: 

A number of years ago, I mentioned to my mother that I was going to Sikeston, Missouri, for an overnight business trip. Her flash reaction to my comment was, "That's where they lynched a black man."

My mother was born in 1929. The Sikeston lynching occurred in 1942, when she was 13 years old.

For more than 60 years since, Sikeston and that lynching have been mated in my mother's brain like a name carved onto a tree with a knife.

In his 1999 New York Times review of The Lynching of Cleo Wright, Sikeston native, Terry Teachout, wrote: 
"... the only time Sikeston made news was after an event nobody likes to talk about: one Sunday morning in the winter of 1942, a man named Cleo Wright was dragged through the streets by an angry mob, doused with gasoline and burned to death. 

....  Of course I knew a man was lynched in Sikeston. It was no secret: my father watched from his window as Wright's near-naked body bounced over the cobblestones of Center Street."

Note: There is an active KKK contingent in Sikeston, Missouri. 

Missouri's official depiction of slavery in the history exhibit in the state capitol is a weasel-y discounting and distancing from the state's dark history of slavery.


Less than 10 years ago, a relative of mine camped with a caving group in a state park not far from Springfield, Missouri. One evening, while the group sat around a campfire, a figure emerged from the surrounding woods, walking toward the fire. He was dressed in the unmistakable, chilling garb of the KKK. He was apparently lost and had mistaken this campfire for that of his racist brethren.






Wednesday, September 20, 2017

On the Way to Louisiana: Rest in Beauty

Chamber County Rest Area, Interstate 10, Texas. September 2017.


Ohh, Texas has some glorious rest areas.

The Chambers County Rest Area is one of them.

The ladies' room threw sparkle on my little soul as soon as I walked in. What a cheery surprise.

Chamber County Rest Area, Interstate 10, Texas. September 2017.


Is this not a living testament to the Declaration of Independence's ideal of our inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? And the power of a government to share beauty, and therefore the pursuit of happiness, with its peoples?

We can choose to share beauty in anything, right? Including a public bathroom alongside a highway?

Yes.

There is even a human-engineering logic behind it.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

On the Way to Louisiana: A Sulky Sunset


On the second day after leaving Big Bend National Park, en route to Louisiana, I'd made it through Houston and the aftermath of Harvey, and had Louisiana within my sights.

It was after 8:00 p.m. and darkness loomed on Interstate 10. 

But before she reluctantly slid off the side of the earth, the red sun laid a blistering last harrumph on us all.

She was a sight to see in my side mirror.

Sunset, Interstate 10 between Houston and Louisiana, September 2017.

Sunset, Interstate 10 between Houston and Louisiana, September 2017.