Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday Lyric of the Week

"See these eyes so green
I can stare for a thousand years
Just be still with me
Ya wouldn't believe what I've been through
Well, you've been so long
It's been so long
And I've been putting out the fire with gasoline
Putting out fire with gasoline"

David Bowie, "Putting out Fire [Cat People]"

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pizza and Poppers in New Orleans

So, this past weekend I went to New Orleans. It was a family visit kind of thing, which generally necessitates a great deal of drinking, so it would appear that I went to the right place. In the past, conversations I’ve had with my father while traveling have included the following bits of dialog:

“What time is it?”
“Is that too early to have a drink?”
“Where do you want to go?”

“Do you want to get a drink?”
“No, thanks.”
“You can have a drink.”
“I’m really not in the mood.”
“Don’t not drink on my account.” [He had stopped drinking then.]
“Really, I don’t want one. We’re going to dinner in an hour, I plan on having one then.”
[Deep sigh and rolling of the eyes] “Suit yourself.”

I fondly refer to a trip to Washington DC several years back as the drinking tour, since we matched every sightseeing stop with a bar stop. We even justified a drinking stop as a sightseeing opportunity (the Watergate Hotel). To put it properly in perspective, for his part, it’s more about the opportunity to stop and rest, as I walk a lot normally and he doesn’t. But, anyway, I digress. This post really isn’t about drinking.

In New Orleans, one is expected to drink. It’s a little depressing, really. People go just to drink in the street. Before Katrina, there still was that, of course, but there was also easy music and a cultural vibe that permeated the French Quarter. You could walk around and hear snatches of jazz and zydeco pouring out of the bars or on the street corners. Now it is one big frat party. Jazz can still be found, but you have to look for it (outside of the jazz and French Quarter festivals, of course). Most of the music is karaoke, juke boxes, or really, really bad cover bands.

It’s actually kind of weird. The hotel staff and local business owners all promote the nightlife and street drinking (24-hours a day, they remind you), as if it were the only reason to be there. And, indeed, after 10 it is. We got in late the first day, so by the time we went out looking for dinner, there were no restaurants open. Finally, we found Jimani’s, a corner, neighborhood-type of bar. After a 12-hour trip complete with misdirected luggage and staggering airport waits, we weren’t rewarded with étouffée, but rather poppers and pizza. I could’ve just walked down the street for that. But at least the beer was cold and the people were friendly.

The city is still in a state of flux. (Years too long, but that’s another conversation.) The next day, at the event we were in town for, there was a gospel/jazz singer. Part of her banter was about how the city would never go back to the way it was, but that New Orleans was struggling to find its “new normal.” It is a battle between pandering for the tourist buck and rediscovering the vitality that was. But there are signs that the vibe is coming back. In both this visit and the last, a few months ago, the street performers, artists, and tarot card readers in Jackson Square are finally beginning to outnumber the “For Sale/Rent” and “Help Wanted” signs.

In the meantime, now that I’m back in Boston and the pressure is off, I’m going to have a drink.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"I am plunging into the night. I am navigating. I have on my side only the stars....The first stars tremble as if shimmering in green water. Hours must pass before their glimmer hardens into the frozen glitter of diamonds. I shall have a long wait before I witness the soundless frolic of the shooting stars. In the profound darkness of certain nights I have seen the sky streaked with so many trailing sparks that it seemed to me a great gale must be blowing through the outer heavens....I felt no weariness. It seemed to me that I could go on like this at the controls for ten years. I was happy."
~~Antoine de Saint-Exupery (From Wind, Sand and Stars, 1939)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Where have all the sportswriters gone? To the business pages.

After receiving my umpteenth e-mail news alert today, not to mention this week, it occurs to me that I haven't seen this much attention paid to the Dow since I can't remember when.

It's become the sports event of the season. (I guess since the Red Sox got ousted we need one...) I half expected the scoreboard that had been a regular feature on during baseball season to be replaced with one for the stockmarket averages to better track the play-by-play action.

While I have my doubts on whether the attention being paid by the media is such a good thing (I haven't checked into this, but I expect that financial planners and investment counselors have become quasi-psychologists to their clients. I also expect that the drug companies that make anti-anxiety meds are thrilled...), it's been a boon to the creativity of business writers.

It used to be if you wanted to see colorful writing, you went to the sports pages. Now it's the business pages: The Dow is diving, plunging, sinking, bouncing, and seesawing...why just today:

"The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Standard & Poor's 500 tumbled as fears of a full-blown global recession intensified" in the Telegraph (UK).

"Wall Street looked set to be heading for another substantial plunge as fears of a global recession and a wave of profit warnings stirred panic among investors and sent world financial markets into a tailspin." from the Press Association (UK)

"Wall Street plunged on Friday morning, following the world stock market down the tubes..." from under the headline "Wall Street Takes a Walk on the Downside."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"Close observation of a passion often reveals the panic that feeds it."

~~Nick Bantock (From The Museum at Purgatory)

Friday, October 17, 2008

"Joe Bracchitta, that's B-R-A-C-C-H..."

He used to be a musician, until he fell under the spell of disaster-recovery sales.

That’s why I love writing. Everybody, everywhere has a story. I regularly travel by train between Boston and New York, and there’s always someone interesting to talk to. In the past several months, I’ve met an executive who works for fun at a friend’s tree farm, a lawyer for a terrorist, and my all time favorite: the divorced lawyer and his ex-wife who were coming back from their daughter’s law school graduation. (The lawyer’s latest girlfriend was the same age as his daughter.)

Yesterday it was the disaster-recovery sales guy. If he had told me what he did first off, he might have had a sale. If I could use anything, it would be disaster-recovery insurance. Unfortunately, they don’t offer that to writers, for good reason. But I digress.

He told me the company in first class was generally boring—mostly business people and sales people (and people like me who get bonus upgrades) talking about their kids and “shallow stuff.” Joe clearly doesn’t like pools and golf courses. What he does like is cooking. He learned technique from his mother, but not recipes. He says if you ask his mother for a recipe, the first ingredient is always a big sigh. He cooks the same way—off the cuff, not full of sighs. One gets the impression that his family recipes are full of laughs and smiles, not sighs, the best kind of cooking.

He describes himself as being a Guinea ADD-type of from Yonkers. He got off in New Haven, so I guess you can take the guy out of Yonkers, but you can’t take the Yonkers out of the guy.

Joe and his wife, Lori, recently went on vacation to Italy, a small town outside Rome, to visit family. He said he could have sat the whole time—either watching the world pass by or just watching the world (nature is a wonderful thing if you can find it.) And, guess what? That’s exactly how he spent his vacation. He claimed he wasn’t exaggerating, his wife had to go back to Italy, with his mother, to see the sights. (They left Joe at home.)

As a final note, or coda if you will, Joe and I have an understanding. Even though he ’fessed up to being on the phone with his lawyer while we were on the train, he won’t sue me because I warned him I would be writing this after a couple of glasses of wine. He said he understood, writers being tortured souls and all that. As for Lori, well…hopefully she’s as understanding (and doesn’t have a lawyer on speed dial). Again, the reason why a writer never qualifies for disaster-recovery insurance, but should probably have a disaster-recovery plan…

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain."
~~James Baldwin (from "Notes of a Native Son")

Monday, October 13, 2008

Happy Columbus Day...or not

As I was walking through the Christian Science Center this afternoon, I was greeted with a concert on the lawn. I was a little surprised until I remembered that today, in celebration of Columbus Day, Fenway museums hold their Open Our Doors event, where admission charges are dropped and most hold special events (like the aforementioned concert).

I covered this event a few years ago, so I tend to notice it even if I don't partake. One of the things I think about is the somewhat awkward timing. From one perspective it makes sense. Odds are it will be a beautiful, fall day and most parents are home with their kids looking for something special to do. However, from another perspective it's a bit insensitive. Organizers of the event tout it as a way to give back, and they try to target the black community (Fenway neighbors Roxbury, Dorchester, and the South End) specifically in their attempt to welcome those who might not otherwise visit their museums. When I interviewed some of the organizers, they were commenting on the low turnout of inner-city residents. Of course, most in that community don't see Columbus Day as a holiday worth celebrating, so it seems an odd choice of days.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I guess it's all about who's giving the experience...

When Clinton was offering up his "experience" in the Oval Office, well, people thought that was just wrong. But somehow when it's Betty White (the "Happy Homemaker" from The Mary Tyler Moore Show) offering it up to Barack Obama, well, it's just funny. I guess we all have to do our part to support our particular candidate of choice. Some people knock on doors, some send checks, some go all out...

Watch it here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"You have to draw a distinction between hope and optimism. Vaclav Havel put it well when he said 'optimism' is the belief that things are going to turn out as you would like, as opposed to 'hope,' which is when you are thoroughly convinced something is moral and right and just and therefore you fight regardless of the consequences. In that sense, I'm full of hope but in no way optimistic."
~~Cornel West, in The Progressive (Jan. 1997)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

When the parents become the children

They said it was bound to happen. Every family faces the same situation eventually, when you wake up one day and realize with a start that there has been a switch between the roles of parent and child...

I was having lunch with my parents who are, well, older than me. (My mother would kill me if I put her age in print.) And then it happened.

The talk turned to politics and eventually Sarah Palin. (Is there a conversation anywhere that doesn't go there?) My mother asked if I had seen the Katie Couric interview (no) and then if I had seen the Saturday Night Live skit (no, again). My mother is up-to-date on SNL...and I'm not?

Excuse me while I go tool around on YouTube and try to put the universe right again.