Saturday, June 6, 2015

It’s Impossible to Make a Bucket List

I keep meaning to write a bucket list.  The trouble is the only time I think about bucket lists are when I’m doing bucket-worthy things. 

By bucket-worthy, I’m not talking about a country I want to visit.  To me a bucket-worthy line is more specific than that.  The problem is that I’m not sure I would have known to put them on the bucket list until after I’ve accomplished these line items. 

So if I knew then, what I know now here are a few things I would definitely put on that list.  It is unfortunate that I don’t know now what I will know then or this list would obviously be longer!

1.           WITNESS A LEATHERBACK TURTLE COMING ON SHORE AT TWO IN THE MORNING Watching a leatherback turtle come up on shore to lay eggs is amazing.  I was no more than a couple of feet from her. 

2.           HIKE ACROSS AN ISLAND THROUGH THE RAIN FOREST I walked across Saint Lucia rain forest and listened to the parrots, tree frogs and cicadas singing in unison.  It was grand until we became lost in the forest; then a nightmare, today a great memory.

3.           SLEEP IN A GRASS HUTS AND LEARN ABOUT STRANGE RELIGIOUS PRACTICES I rode a boat across Lake Atitlan in Guatemala with two of my sons.  We stayed in a grass hut.  We went to pay homage to Maximon, the God who is tied to a string.  But first, we had to look for a boy and a girl.  The girl would be holding a chicken in her arms.  They were our guides to witness Maximom on an alter with a few men drinking “spirit”.  While we were there, the people who we paid to stay in the grass hut fished for our dinner.

4.           EAT GIANT MANGOS Costa Rica and Honduras (and probably others) have “real” Mangos that are the size of a small watermelon.  I am sure I will never find that quality again, unless I return to Central America during Mango season.

5.           LEARN THE VALUE OF THE TEAK TREE I probably would not have thought to add a line to learn how people make palm oil.  I learned that in Costa Rica.  I learned that Teak Trees produce an oil to temporarily die skin.  They are a major source of die for the Henna industry.

6.           WASH A STRANGERS FEET  I never would have added washing the feet of a complete stranger in a foreign country.  This is something I did in Saint Lucia at the Seventh Day Adventist Church. 

7.           BECOME A PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER  I was inspired to become a Peace Corps Volunteer while visiting son in Honduras.  Until my visit to Honduras I did not know that my life would not have been complete without it!

8.           EAT SOUP WITH MY HAND  In my wildest imagination, I can’t think of any reason I would have added "eat a strange soup the big dough balls – and eat it with my right hand".  That was definitely a great Ghanaian experience.

9.           EAT SOUP THAT MOVES Another food story would be to eat soup that appears to be moving in a country where few speak English and the ingredients are unknown; an experience in Kyoto, Japan.

10.      ATTEND A PENTECOSTAL CHURCH I would not have gone to the Pentecostal Church with the Pastor and his family but the people were warm and welcoming making the experience rich.  I’m so happy to check that off my list in progress.

11.      FLY INTO ONE OF THE MOST DANGEROUS AIRPORTS Flying into what many call the “world’s most tricky” airport where the pilot admits before landing that the landing strip is not long enough to be safe, further explaining that the mountainous range makes it even more difficult.  Passengers ritually clap when the plane stops safely, but sometimes it doesn’t.

12.      SIT IN A BOAT SURROUNDED BY ALLIGATORS Spend an afternoon on an airboat surrounded by alligators being coaxed closer with the lure of marshmallows.

13.      LISTEN TO JAZZ GREAT ELLIS MARCELLIS Attending a set at Snug Harbor and listening to the great Ellis Marcellis who is over eighty years old while thinking of my dad who loved both Jazz and New Orleans.

14.      REALLY HAVE DIVERSE FRIENDSHIPS  Having met people from all over the world and learning we are different and the same.


Alligators, Oysters, Music and Culture

As Janyn and I pass through the streets lined with hitching posts, I comment, “It doesn’t feel like I’m in the United States”.  But we are.  We are in New Orleans.

The buildings are ornate and old.  Some architecture has a French flair and Greek Revival.  Then there are some buildings that beg the question: how they are still standing?

There are many homeless sitting on the sidewalks, asking for handouts; some are passed out in doorways.  The smell reminds me of many foreign countries I’ve travelled through.

The Cathedral is a tall and ornate church in Jackson Square.  It is the oldest cathedral in the United States. It is the third church on this site and dates in the mid 1800s.  The docents boast of Pope Paul VI visit to the cathedral in 1964 where he designated it a minor basilica.  It’s always a treat to look inside Cathedrals, but once again I feel like I’m in another country.

Jackson Square is a great place to hang out, listen to music, see local artisan work, relax and take in a couple of moments.

We change the navigation direction slightly and move to an area that feels more like the United States. Expensive restaurants and big hotels with artistically lighted palm tree lined streets gives me the feeling of visiting Florida.  Janyn and I enter a building and are immediately hit with bright lights and a stale cigarette odor. Some people are standing around tables waiting for dice to reveal an answer, some cheering at the result at another table. Others, with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in their mouth, quietly feed hungry machines that gobble up coins.  The clanging of coins and musical melodies coming from slot machines gives me the feeling that we are back in Las Vegas.  Neither Janyn nor I feel this is a good use of time and quickly leave away from this modern perfect world and back to the area that we have come to visit.

Nearby the homes are a wide range of bright hue, long and skinny.  They are dubbed “shot gun houses”.

The cemeteries are amazing.  We walk among the above ground tombs that house hundreds of people in each tomb.  Those that buy a package to preserve the tomb are well kept, others are just bricks in a rubble. They are referred to as Cities of the Dead.

Walking through the cemeteries is a walk through New Orleans culture.  And, of course, funerals are part of the diverse culture.  Kerwin James, a Jazz Great Tuba Player was escorted out in a celebratory manner.

Mornings are reminders of the night before.  A curious routine of hosing down the streets is an activity taken for granted by residents but horrifying to any Californian whose lawns are baking in the sun and begging for a drop of water.

Traveling outside the French Quarter and away from the modern city to where people make their lives, things look more “American”.  Typical fast food restaurants, in/out oil change businesses and grocery stores are ever-present..

Back in the French Quarter we notice that many businesses have taken on the Voodoo name.  The liquor store on the corner is aptly named “Voodoo Liquor”. 

Among the many oddball museums is the Voodoo Museum.  The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans is Marie Laveau.  Her pictures can  be seen in may places.  Born in 1801, Ms. Laveau was a free woman who practiced healing and Voodoo.  Her specialty was love potions.

There is the Pharmacy Museum – yes, I said, Pharmacy.  Louis Dufiho, Jr. was America’s First Licensed Pharmacist and pushed to ensure that his profession obtained licensing.  The Pharmacy, complete with contents and is on the National Register of Historic Places was donated to preserve history.  Go figure.  Who would have thunk it! 

As I wonder through the museum looking at old bottles, instruments and the cash register, I also see the “birthing room” where mid-wives ushered in new life.  But there is a curious object in the Optics Department.  There are lots of old glasses and Janyn points out that this must be where the idea of Steve Martin’s The Jerk Opti-Grab Glasses was born.

The Old Mint has a Jazz exhibition.  Pictures fill the hall and include the famous Preservation Hall was founded in 1961 to preserve jazz.  Their music is an important aspect of their culture.  As Louis Armstrong said “This is where you will find the greats”.  We meet a little boy there who lives in Texas.  He moved there after Katrina and the sadness in his eyes said it all.  

This is Preservation Hall - Imagine this is where the greats play.

Just down the street we run into the Preseytere, part of the National Museum.  By chance we walk in and come face to face with a first person emotional account of Hurricane Katrina.  The graffiti is a piece of a house marked after it was searched.  The picture of the man chronicled his day-to-day survival on the walls of a building where he took refuge.

As if to bring the audience out of the sobering mood of Hurricane Katrina, the museum pairs a Mardi Gras Exhibit; the antithesis of Katrina, yet the spirit of the people.

Outside the French Quarter is the National World War II Museum.  Reluctantly, Janyn and I decided to see it.  It didn't sound like something we want to do, but Janyn said, "We are going to be glad we did this because it will be good."  We just cannot imagine it to be that interesting.  We park our rental car.  On the side of a building was "Before I die" with chalk on the ground.  We pick up chalk and write our messages.

Janyn was right - oh do I hate writing that!  The museum was amazing.  It takes us through a timeline of the entire war, bringing more meaning to the immense struggle in this world than I had previously known.  I think about my dad, a Marine, throughout this experience.  I am glad I did not miss this experience.

Then we decided to visit the museum adjacent to the WWII museum.  We have mixed feelings about being in here and feel embarrassed at what we find.  The letter goes with a Confederate Flag that was preserved from battle and refers to it as "a priceless relic from our dear lost cause".  Yikes.

We will only be in New Orleans five days but we established a food routine quite early.  Cafe Du Monde Beignets and black chicory coffee for breakfast, Pralines for snacks found everywhere and Oysters at Acme for dinner.  

There are many places to listen to jazz.  Snug Harbor is one of them.  This venue is an unassuming storefront that provides entertainment by many greats.  I feel like I’m entering a Speakeasy.  Upon entering a receptionist is seen escorting people to their tables for dinner.  But given the right code words: “we have a reservation for the show tonight”, we are escorted to the back of the building.  Once again we give them the right code words and are given the okay to enter. 

We witness a great show featuring the great Ellis Marsalis, now in his 80s.  He is, of course, good, but the trumpet player is the prize.  For anyone who loves jazz, Ashlin Parker is a name to keep in mind.  If you listen to the video above, Ashlin starts at 2:10 minutes.  He can also be found on Facebook, Trumpet Mafia.

I love public transportation.  I’m always envious when I go to places where they do it well.  California just doesn’t get it and probably never will.  The city is just poorly planned.  But talking with New Orleans people, I learn the public transportation system is an illusion.  The street cars are nice, but don’t accommodate people who commute, many of which must get a taxi on Sundays to work in the city.  But for us it is great.  We are able to take the trolly from the hotel all the way to Louis Armstrong Park.

Louis Armstrong park is huge. There is a lake, cafe, an art museum, a place to rent boats or just relax. It is peaceful and a great place to spend an afternoon.  The best part is that a trolly ride to the park is forty cents. What a bargain!

Some tourists opt for horse and buggy touring rides.  Although it looked interesting, we relied mostly on our feet.  There's just more to notice when walking.

A highlight of this trip is riding in a small air boat in the swamps in search of alligators.  It is quiet, beautiful and reflective.  At times we are surrounded by these ancient creatures and the experience of being with a handful of people in a swamp is one of those times when I recognized how wonderful it is to be alive.

And so, I leave this packed five days and this blog post by reminding you that "when the moon hits your eye like a big piece of pie that's amore".