Reader Submitted Travel Stories:
When hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit Louisiana in September 2005, my wife and I had been renovating our house in Baton Rouge for two years, with at least another two years to go. We were living in the house while all this work was being undertaken (Another story for another time) and hadn’t taken a true vacation during that time. Since we only suffered a few missing shingles from each storm, we just continued on with the project. However, by Mardi Gras time we were beginning to get a little stir crazy. Since we’re very involved with Baton Rouge’s Mardi Gras activities, we decided to take our vacation during Lent.
With the Lenten season being a reasonably quiet and relaxing time in the southern part of Louisiana, we decided to visit New Orleans and stay in the French Quarter. We made this decision because we wanted to see the part of New Orleans we loved at a time when we didn’t have to contend with the large tourist crowds. We also did it because we felt that spending our tourist dollars in a place we liked that also happened to desperately need the business was a good thing to do. A win-win for us and for New Orleans.
When we checked in to the hotel, the clerk asked us if we were in town on business or pleasure. She was caught completely off guard when we told her that we were on vacation. She didn’t quite fathom New Orleans being a vacation spot for someone from Baton Rouge. When we explained our reasoning for coming to New Orleans, she was very thankful.
We had a wonderful stay in New Orleans that week. Everyone was polite, courteous and thankful. My wife and I returned to Baton Rouge somewhat refreshed and very happy that we had chosen to go to New Orleans instead of the many other places we could have visited.
My wife passed away in 2007. The New Orleans vacation is one of my cherished memories.
Lost In Translation
Even honeymooners need some time apart. My new husband and I were in a small port town in Sardinia, a Mediterranean island off the western coast of Italy, and decided to take a few hours exploring on our own. As an avid travel photographer I decided to use my time alone to put to use the sentence I had practiced for weeks in Italian, “Excuse me, may I take your photograph please?” As I got over the nervousness of approaching strangers and hearing my shaky voice try to speak their language, I felt better when most people responded with “certamente” (of course.)
Rambling along the fortified town’s sidewalks high over the Mediterranean, I spotted an old man sitting on a bench, saying goodbye to his buddies and tuning into a hand-held radio. I posed my question and he too responded with “certamente.” I snapped a photo, said thank you and attempted to go on my way, when he gently touched my arm and motioned for me to sit down.
This is what most passionate travelers dream of – the invitation from a local to participate in any way in their daily life. In sleepy Italian towns like these, sitting on a bench talking is the No. 1 activity around. There is one problem here, as he started to speak to me in Italian, we can’t understand each other!
We fumbled awkwardly, making sweeping arm gestures, acting out whatever it was we were both trying to say. Minutes would pass in silence as we both gazed out over our bella vista. We would try speaking again, wanting desperately for something to connect, but I hadn’t remembered any new Italian phrases in the last five minutes and he had yet to learn his first word in English.
After a short while the man started motioning for my purse. It became clear to me this whole time he’d been asking for money in exchange for the photograph, a common travel experience, yes, but I was still caught off guard. This turned quickly into him reaching and tugging at my purse and me trying not to overreact, yet being firm that he wasn’t getting anything out of there. As I was about to get up and leave he pulled out his own wallet.
He reached in, pulled out a small, fossilized shell and handed it to me. Again, motioning for my purse, to put this gift inside my purse. Had this really been the one in a million time when a strange man is pulling at your purse in a foreign country and you’re not getting robbed, but getting a present?
Raphiello’s shell is one of my most prized possessions. I still study Italian as much as I can in the anticipation of returning to lovely Sardinia. When I do return, you will find me sitting on that seaside bench waiting in the hope that maybe Raphiello will find his way back, and next time I’ll be prepared for that conversation.
One of my clearest memories of the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans was a film on Italy that was so impressive that I had longed to visit that country ever since to see its natural beauty for myself. This desire was amplified by my interest in history that had been partially awakened by a story my father had often told me of his participation in the battle at Monte Cassino when he served with the Washington Artillery during World War II. I had finally completed my goal of researching and writing about his military service a couple of years before his death in 2005, and I had presented to each of his grandchildren a copy of his memoirs so they, too, could appreciate the sacrifices he had made for our benefit before any of us were born. Given this background, when my son and his fiancée approached my husband and me about the possibility of going to Positano, Italy for their destination wedding, I immediately cast my vote in favor of the idea.
Last October we had the good fortune to discover that the quaint little town of Positano, nestled in a cove along the Amalfi coast of southern Italy and rising in a palette of multi-colored buildings up the side of a mountain, to be as romantic and spectacular a setting for a wedding as anyone could imagine. The exceptional beauty that Italy has to offer surpassed even our high expectations, and the genuine warmth of its people made us feel particularly welcome. The delightful week our family spent together with the bride’s family exploring, learning, laughing and eating was a bonding experience that we’ll always treasure. An even greater gift was the radiant glow on the young couple’s faces in that quietly exquisite church in Italy as they joined lives and committed to each other.
But this trip held one other surprise for me that I couldn’t have possibly anticipated. Inspired by the gift of his grandfather’s wartime memoirs, my son had developed an avid interest in genealogy, the stepping-stone by which an archeologist working in St. Charles parish contacted him about an artifact that had been found there. And so on the eve of his wedding, when my son stood up in a charming trattoria overlooking the Italian coast to propose a toast, I had no idea of what was to follow. It was then that he presented to me on that mountaintop in Italy the soldier’s dogtag my father had worn in combat at that very location, exactly 65 years previously. I was knocked breathless as the meaning of the phrase “the circle of life” revealed its full impact to me. My already heightened emotions were completely overwhelmed by my son’s astonishing revelation making my father’s dear presence as tangible an experience as if he were there in person. I still get shaky and weepy when I recall the wave of joyous incredulity I felt at that moment and my mind reels at the improbability of such an unlikely sequence of events happening in real life. Were it not for the physical dogtag with my father’s name on it that is now in my possession, my Italian adventure would seem too perfect to be anything other than a wonderful dream.
Sue Lousteau Gisclair
My Brazilian Vacation
22 February 2008
My mom left last week from New Orleans to get on the Silver Sea cruise in Rio de Janeiro. I am supposed to join her today in Fortaleza, Brazil. Yesterday, Mom contacted me from the ship to say that they are not docking in Fortaleza! The next stop three days later is Devil’s Island, French Guiana and they cannot board passengers there. The next stop after that is next Wednesday in Grenada but my flight home is that Friday, so it probably wouldn’t be worth going then. So, I canceled my flight for 6 a.m. this morning.
Then at 6:01 a.m. this morning, mom called from the ship to say that they are going to dock in Fortaleza now. However, my flight left one minute ago. I called American Airlines. There is another flight today that I can take for an extra $700. I finished packing and left for the airport. I went through international check-in and was sitting at my gate in 20 minutes.
I flew to Miami and got in around 4 p.m. I finished my book, The Thirteenth Tale, which I loved, ate, listened to music, started Jane Eyre, then finally got up to take a walk. I realized about 10 minutes later that I left my phone on the arm of the chair. Gone. No more phone with all my PINS and log-ins and I’m getting on an all night flight to Brazil. It is OK, though. I’ll just get online on the ship and contact the bank, credit cards, etc. and change passwords. Then when I get home I can get a replacement phone and sync all my info back on it.
My anxiety is high. The flight is tight, cramped and awful. I mm so anxious that I’m starting to feel sick – which is awesome when you’re in the middle of a row of sleeping people. Oh, and these drunk buffoons on my aisle decided to party all night…loudly!
We get to Sao Paulo and go through customs. I haul butt to the TAM ticket counter to get my boarding pass to Fortaleza and the flight is closed.
So, I leave TAM airlines and go all the way back to American (at the other end of the airport). She books me on the next TAM flight and I hope for the best. She is nice enough to try calling the ship for me to let them know I won’t make it. We can’t connect with the number and call Silver Sea in Florida. The people that can call the ship directly are in a meeting and asked us to call back in 20 minutes. So I run back to TAM, check-in, check my bag and get my boarding pass. I go back to American and try to call Silver Sea again (since I don’t have a phone.) No one in the office can help. Finally we talk to someone and he says, “sorry, the ship will leave at 7 p.m. You will not make it.”
So, now I’m thinking about options. Do I cut my losses and go home? Or now that I’ve spent all this money, should I spend some more and stay? Stay in Brazil? Buy a ticket to Grenada and stay until the ship comes in five days?
The sky has been clear today so I’ve gotten an awesome view from the plane of Brazil’s coastline. There are probably 75 to 100 little fires out in the middle of nowhere all along the coast.
We land. I go to baggage claim and I’m the last one there – no bag. The lady, who only speaks Portuguese, finally takes me to someone else who tells me we’re not in Fortaleza yet. I got off the plane too early. I didn’t know there was a stop in between. And, of course, I’m on the next to last row, so I have to walk back by everyone again.
I should write a travel diary: Here’s a story about everything not to do!
So, I’m in Fortaleza. I found a nice guy at the info desk at the airport who helped me. I called beaucoup hotels in an area he said was nice and at the beach. The room I finally found cost 70 reais. The booth at the airport to exchange money was closed so I had to wing it. I got a cab for 32 reais. He didn’t speak a lick of English.
Before I left the airport, I tried to buy a bottle of whiskey (anticipating that I’d need a drink). The only one I could find was in a restaurant. They had never sold a whole bottle, so they just took the price of a drink and multiplied it by a bunch. They said I could by a bottle for 150 reais. Um…no. My hotel room is only $70. I’ll get something at the hotel.
When I got to the hotel, they didn’t speak English and I didn’t have any reais, so luckily the guy took my American dollars. I met Rao, who had taken my reservation over the phone. He is a guest in the hotel and speaks a little English.
There is no bar in the hotel, so I talked to Rao about going across the street, on the strip, to get a drink. He said I probably shouldn’t go roaming around out there by myself. So, I got a bottle of agua and Coca-Cola Light and hung out in my room. (I should be on a cruise ship in summer gear, so I put on my hat and sarong and held up my empty glass and took a picture of myself.)
I’m feeling pretty isolated. I don’t even know what time it is. I just realized that there is no one in the whole entire world who knows where I am right now. And I cannot contact anyone in the world that I know. I’m pretty scared.
23 February 2008
I spent a lot of time on the phone today trying to figure out my options. The next place I could get on the ship is Grenada. The only way to get there from here involved flying back to the states and was going to cost $2,500. Plus I would have to get a hotel room. So, I tried getting a flight to Barbados because that’s where my return flight leaves. That flight was going to cost $1,300 plus a hotel.
They guys I met in the hotel who speak English said I can’t really do anything around here at night by myself (being alone, American, female and not speaking Portuguese). I would have to take cabs to discos and only one is open each day of the week. They said during the day I could walk around at the beach, but it’s not completely safe and people would be trying to take advantage of me with anything I tried to do. So, even during the day I would have to take cabs to cleaner beaches, restaurants, etc. The two Portuguese guys were telling me I couldn’t swim. They were trying to figure out how to tell me. They finally said, “when you go to the toilet, it goes into the water”. They made disgusted faces and told me, “This is not good for your skin.” Ya think? So, I decided to just go home.
The problem is that they can’t transfer my Barbados flight. Finally, I claimed an emergency at home and they changed my flight for me. However, American doesn’t fly to Fortaleza, so I could only get a ticket from Sao Paolo home. I had to buy another ticket to get to Sao Paolo for $700.
So, before my cab comes, I at least walked across the street and put my feet in the sand on the beach. It was pretty and about 100 degrees.
It would have been OK if I had been here with other people, but it just wasn’t feasible by myself. So, back to New Orleans I went.
I thought by now the shenanigans would be over. We land in Sao Paulo (where I got held up and missed my flight to Fortaleza) and we sit on the runway for about 30 minutes. Then when we finally get off the plane it’s on one of those movie ramp things on the tarmac and we have to get on a frigid’ bus. Then it drives forever and finally lets us off. I get in line at American and it’s exactly one hour before my flight. Great, I’m going to miss this flight, too (there’s a long line). So, a lady comes up and asks about going to Dallas and all of a sudden get this expedited service to the front of the line. They process me and a cute little Brazilian boy with a walkie-talkie busts me right through immigration and walks me to my gate. That was awesome – except if they had done that the first time, I’d be on a cruise right now!
So, now that I’m getting on a flight to the U.S. (Dallas), I’m finally seeing Americans. And, it looks like the flight attendants are actually from Dallas. The one greeting us as we get on the plane is a cross between Dolly Parton and Tammy Faye Baker! Now the pilot is going down the aisle saying hello to everyone. Interesting.
24 February 2008
I’m sure the next part of my saga is easy to guess. My luggage didn’t show up from Brazil. And to pour salt in the wound, no one in this stupid airport is selling alcohol! Just because it’s 7:30 a.m. doesn’t mean a girl doesn’t need a drink. So, I had myself a good cry in the bathroom, went outside to smoke a couple of cigarettes and will sit cautiously waiting for my last flight.
I got back to New Orleans fine. A friend picked me up at the airport. I went to T-mobile to order a replacement phone that would come in the mail in a couple of days. No one had used my phone since I lost it. And my luggage came to my house the evening that I got home.
Carnival Faces – Exotic Places
Our Carnival journeys began in 1975 when the German Ambassador and his wife invited us to visit them for their first Carnival in Haiti. This was the beginning of our winter travels, which followed the sun to far away Haiti, Rio, Nice, Munich, Trinidad and the Canary Islands. We went to see the many faces of Carnival in some of the world’s most exotic places.
Music is a part of Carnival celebrations and it was present everywhere that we went. For two of our sojourns we had the added dimension of enjoying the festivities with friends. Together we listened to the music of Fasching in Munich and the beat of Calypso in Trinidad and the sounds were as different as the places themselves.
The Sunday before Carnival in Trinidad is known as Dimanche Gras and that night in the Port of Spain, a contest is held on the giant stage of the Queen’s Park Savannah. Local Calypso singers in costume compete as they sing and dance and act out their original compositions. The one song that wins the contest will become known as the “road march” and will be played and sung by all marching bands for the next two days of parades. The singers had intriguing names – Mighty Sparrow, Calypso Rose and Lord Kitchener to name a few – and their songs were commentaries on social and political themes all played to the Calypso beat, which was racy, frenetic, loud and brassy. It was a beat that seemed to enter our whole being and, like the samba, became addictive. We left the police strike in New Orleans that year to be greeted by a strike of the steel bands in Trinidad. Nevertheless, there was still music everywhere.
During Carnival when the Trinidadian dances, he calls it “jumping up” and when he wears a costume he plays “mas.” Everyone is welcome to “jump up” and to play “mas” from natives to visitors and visiting dignitaries.
Our next year’s journey took us from the Languid Caribbean to Munich, the heart of Bavaria, and it was wearing its full winter dress: frigid temperatures, ice, snow, bleak days and starless nights. The Sunday before Fasching we were treated to a variety of musical styles as we strolled the ample mall. We heard acid rock, German oompah, Glen Miller swing and our own Dixieland. Since there are no parades we were delighted to find ourselves second-lining to a group dressed in red-striped blazers and straw hats calling themselves The Dixieland Band. Their music was authentic and they were thrilled to learn that we were New Orleanians, and remarked that New Orleans’ best exports is Dixieland music.
Without friends we danced the nights away in the crowded cabaret of the Bayerischer Hof Hotel to the music of Lelo Tartarino and his orchestra. Their music was unforgettable and Lelo sang in six languages. They brought the samba, the beaches and the tropical heat to frigid Munich, and as we sambaed the night away, my husband whispered, “How about Rio next year?”
Cherie Banos Schneider
You have read in the Bible of the Jews wandering the dessert for 40 years. Well, for 40 years I’ve been planning my return to that very dessert in Egypt.
My first visit at 17 was a three-month journey through Europe, the Mediterranean and Cairo, Egypt with my parents. It would be a most memorable trip and it provided me awesome memories and a great bonding with my father. Sadly, it was to be our last family trip including my father.
I suppose you may say this trip made me the great lover of travel I am today. Although at the time, given my age, after only two weeks I only wanted to get home to my friends. My dad required we take all the available tours one could fit in a day. I prayed for just a day to sleep late and avoid another busload of tourists. Toward the end of our journey, it was the Pyramids and Cairo Museum that totally captivated me and spurred my hopes to return one day and follow the 4,000 plus years of the Pharaohs, their architecture and art, with the Nile always in the center of their lives.
Always anxious for my next annual trip abroad, I never dismissed the plan for my husband and I to visit the Pyramids and other cities and sights Egypt has to offer. My research lead me to a large variety of possibilities, places and prices for any budget. A cruise tour from Cairo seemed the only way to go.
Armed with a suitcase of lightweight and cool linens, we set off on a new Delta nonstop from New York into Cairo. A very special hotel, the historic Mena House provided an exquisite first night. It was formerly a turn-of-the-century hunting lodge with lavish Moroccan details and modern day comforts. And if that wasn’t enough, the very foot of the Great Pyramid at this property provided the view from every window.
Having a great Egyptologist was so precious and Dhalia is the best there is. Never off-duty or leaving us the entire time, she carefully and colorfully brought alive the times and the monuments of Karnak, Luxor and the not to be missed Abu Simbel. Our diverse tour group from Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, England and Mexico provided fun and stimulating conversations over meals. The cruise was the perfect and painless way to drift down the Nile and arrive at the temples along its banks.
The Pyramids, Sphinx and Tutankhamen’s treasures in the Cairo Museum and the Valley of the Kings and Queens were just a few more of the seeming endless accomplishments of the great Egyptians over the centuries and we were overjoyed to be able to see them. A better value for your travel dollars could not be had anywhere else.
All the photos and TV specials cannot compare to being there in person.
Today is Mon., Nov. 20, 2006 and I’m writing this from Gate C8 at Louis Armstrong International Airport. My 3:40 p.m. return flight to Miami has been delayed for several hours due to a fuel leak in the aircraft that we had boarded. Now we have to wait until God only knows when.
Anyway, this past weekend was my 30th anniversary Xavier University class reunion (1976) and what a marvelous weekend it was. In 2001 I attended my 25th anniversary class reunion and it was the first XU reunion I had ever attended. I had such a great time then that I promised myself that I would definitely attend the 30th. So, here I am.
The following will be some of the highlights of my trip.
SAINT MARY’S ACADEMY
I arrived on last Wednesday, the 15th, and stayed at the Queen and Crescent Hotel. The hotel was very nice and I would recommend that you stay there, too, if you visit New Orleans.
On Thursday, I visited Sister Jennie Jones, S.S.F. (a fellow XU classmate) at Saint Mary’s Academy, which is presently housed at the site of the former Saint James Major High School on Gentilly Boulevard. Sister Jennie is the principal of Saint Mary’s. We conversed for a while about our days at XU and people we knew.
THE HOLY FAMILY MOTHERHOUSE
On to the Holy Family Motherhouse on Chef Menteur. There I talked at length with Mother Eva Regina Martin, S.S.F. (Creole from Grand Coteau). We talked about New Orleans’s connection to Haiti/Saint-Domingue, as her doctoral dissertation dealt with New Orleans’ connection to Haiti and the African Congo. Some photographs that I brought with me of a Haitian Voodoo ceremony to donate to my photo collection at the Amistad Research Center so greatly impressed her that she wants some of them. She invited me to a picnic on the motherhouse grounds, which was sponsored by the Uptown Saint Francis de Sales parish and held on Saturday.
Also while at the motherhouse, I photographed Creole artisans (the Durand brothers and others) who are renovating the motherhouse chapel. On Tuesday (tomorrow), Archbishop Hughes will celebrate Mass in the chapel in observance of the 164th anniversary of the founding of the S.S.F.
VIEWING OF FLOOD DEVASTATED NEIGHBORHOODS
After the motherhouse visit, I rode around Academy Park (adjacent to the motherhouse grounds), and the Gentilly Woods/Pontchartrain Park neighborhoods (Saint Gabriel the
Archangel Parish). Such a heartbreaking sight. A few people have moved back and are living in trailers in front of what had been their homes. Some construction workers could also be seen on streets repairing and rebuilding homes.
THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN MUSEUM AND XAVIER UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES
Afterwards, I made a stop at the African-American Museum in Tremé. The French government has donated a grant to restore the buildings on the museum grounds.
Later in the afternoon, I went to Xavier to visit the University Archives. The chief archivist, Lester Sullivan, a very cheerful and helpful fellow, was very accommodating and gladly offered assistance with whatever I needed. I reviewed several of the early XU yearbooks for the years 1926-’46. These were years when students of Creole African and Creole African-French heritage were dominant as was displayed in the French surnames of the students.
Later that evening, there was a Jazz concert in the Music Department Building with guest musicians Warren Bell Sr. and Dr. Michael White. Michael White (a former classmate) was outstanding on clarinet.
XU ALUMNI BOARD OF GOVERNORS MEETING
Friday morning was the Board of Governors meeting in the University Student Center. Xavier President Dr. Norman C. Francis was very optimistic in his State of the University Address to the board. Xavier has made a very miraculous post-Katrina transformation and the campus looks splendid in spite of all that has happened.
ALUMNI SOCIAL AND PRESIDENT’S BRUNCH
The Alumni Social was on the terrace of the University Student Center on Friday evening. This is an event where you catch up with those classmates you hadn’t seen in 31 to 32 years. There was a large crowd as the 2005-’06 reunion years were combined due to Katrina last year. Many Creoles were at this event as well as at the President’s Brunch on Saturday morning. The President’s Brunch is an invitation-only affair honoring the donors to the university and the crème de la crème of the Creole elite was there. I was at the table with Vincent Rachal (Cane River Creole from Houston and brother of the late XU Vice-President Anthony Rachal) and his wife, Joyce LeBeau Rachal; Lorraine Rousseve Detiege (niece of the late XU Art professor, Numa Rousseve, and of the late New Orleans educator, Charles Barthelemy Rousseve [author of The Negro in Louisiana]; and Dianne Saulny Gaines, wife of writer Ernest Gaines.
VIGIL MASS AT CORPUS CHRISTI
Later that afternoon, I attended the vigil Mass at Corpus Christi on Saint Bernard. The church is now a shell of its former self. The flood-damaged pews have been replaced with folding chairs. The Mass con-celebrants were Father Charles Andrus, S.S.J. (associate pastor) and Father Ray Bomberger, S.S.J. (pastor).
LI’L DIIZY’S CAFE AND PAMPY’S
I almost forgot. How come y’all never told me about Lil Dizzy’s Cafe on the corner of Esplanade and North Robertson avenues, a Baquet family establishment? My friend Brenda Lee Shepherd picked me up on Saturday morning and we had breakfast there. The young Creole waitress Marlena Newman has a Creole accented English so thick, you could cut it with a machete. After breakfast, Brenda drove me over to the Lower 9th Ward. That scene was worse than Pontchartrain Park. The mental trauma the people from that neighborhood are experiencing has to be absolutely unbearable. Later on, I had a delicious gumbo at Pampy’s (which reopened two weeks ago) on Broad Street and Saint Bernard Avenue.
XU ALUMNI GALA
Then at six o’clock was one of the highlights of the New Orleans Creole social season, the Xavier University Alumni Gala, which was held in the ballroom of the University Student Center. It was a gathering of alums from 1936-2001. When I attended this event, I was overcome with a feeling of such great elation and pride to be a Xaverite!
The following morning was the Alumni Mass (another gathering of many Creoles) in the University Administration Building Auditorium. The Mass celebrant was Father Jeffery Ott, O.P. and the homilist was Brother Herman Johnson, O.P. who gave a very inspiring sermon.
Earlier this morning, Monday, I visited Saint Augustine High School on A.P. Tureaud and was given a grand tour of the facilities by the school president, Father Doyle, S.S.J. Saint Aug has also experienced a miraculous post-Katrina transformation as the school is functional and operating.
New Orleans and Xavier are still very special places for me and always will be. My Xavier friends (some of whom I hadn’t seen in over 30 years) were here this past weekend and it was such a thrill for us to reconnect.
Hopefully, I’ll be back sooner than 2011 for the next reunion of our class.
Marvin Elliott Ellis
Mother and Daughter mezzo-sopranos bring Creole Art Songs to Paris!
I have always dreamed of singing in Paris and was excited to be invited. The best part of the dream being realized was that I could include my daughter on the program.
My June 15 concert “Le Salon Creole” Nouvelle-Orleans et Paris was part of The American Church in Paris’ Atelier Concert Series. I also arranged for us to sing at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and The Scott’s Kirk, a Scottish Presbyterian Church, while there.
We stayed at Hotel Kensington, a very small, slightly charming and inexpensive place. It was steps from The Eiffel Tower, in the Champs de Mars area. It was walking distance to our concert location on the River Seine.
Our accompanist, Richard Bachand, an American of French Canadian descent, lives in Paris. He arranged for us to rehearse at a friend’s home in the historic Trocodero neighborhood. Such a great way to begin our adventure!
All performances went very well. The concert was well attended – almost packed!
Since we were also competing with other concerts and a major opera production, I am thrilled at the outcome! Richard was a gracious and empathetic accompanist.
Additionally President Bush was in town blocking the Champs Elysees all weekend. We almost missed singing the Saturday Mass at St. Joseph’s (Aria ended up filling in for the Cantor who was also stuck in traffic), and we almost couldn’t get back to our hotel after the Sunday morning service at The Scott’s Kirk.
Considering most of the concert program was in French, and they can be tough on outsiders regarding their language, the fact that no one walked out was a win for me. Aria’s French is wonderful. And she really charmed them with the Creole “Chere Mon Leme Toi”. The greatest applause was for our “Belle Nuit” duet from “Les Contes de Hoffman” Many stayed and talked quite a while. They said they loved my “Carmen” and “Dalila” arias. They were really excited about the Art Songs by Free Composers of Color, and all the New Orleans history.
We recorded the concert for a new CD. And sold some of my “Hymns for New Orleans” CDs.
Here are the funny parts: In the hotel at night we watched Roots the miniseries, and The Greatest with Mohammad Ali. Both were overdubbed in French and the TV didn’t give us a subtitles choice! Hilarious! We sat and tried to translate these and other American shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Without a Trace. We also saw Jimmy Hendricks and Otis Redding in concert – not overdubbed. We were so glad to hear anything in English and it has been a long time since any of these have been on TV here.
I clutch onto my ride – a young, attractive Balinese boy, on a motorbike, in a monsoon of a downpour – as we wind up to a cliff-side bar perched high in the village of Amed. I am in East Bali, Old Bali… and everything is foreign. My new friend orders a bottle of Arak, the house wine, distilled from palm sap. We smoke a clove. It is a seriously sleepy community here, settled ages ago over the Indian Ocean. Yet its peaceful people are ever reminded of life’s precarious nature both by the looming shadow of active Mount Agung and by the rocky black sand beaches, formed from a deadly eruption that occurred not so long ago.
It is just 11 p.m. and the only act in town wraps for the night. Seriously, all you can hear on this road are distant waves crashing and the sporadic motorbike whisking by. The few remaining patrons stop to check me out – a drenched, white, American woman with a local boy from their village. I haven’t seen another foreigner since I arrived three days ago.
The bar is an open-air, cavernous wood-and-bamboo structure. Where is everyone? Still suffering the after-effects of two terrorist attacks, it’s only the most popular tourist areas of Bali that get to welcome much-needed visitors these days.
The joint is dark, dimly lit, like almost everywhere in Bali. Not for mood, but because that’s as much juice as they’ve got. Tacked with posters of Morrison and Marley. ABBA plays on CD. It smells of damp jungle, of spilled beers, and nasi goring – Bali’s version of jambalaya.
The band has one more song in them and as they return to the small stage they begin to twang their guitars to something oddly familiar to me. Strangely out of context, yet heart-leapingly, smile-evokingly, familiar, it’s “jambalaya, crawfish pie, file gumbo,” baby! My ma cher amio, how did the bayou get here? I try to share the absurdity, the humor of it all, with my Balinese friend but he just smiles at his curious, bubbling American companion thrilled to have the gift of the familiar in this foreign land.
As a foreigner to your land, albeit a devoted one, I’d dare not claim to know what is it to be a New Orleanian. But I do say that Bali and New Orleans are not so different.
How did I find New Orleans in Bali? Not just in this forgotten bar but in the hearts of the people, in the soul of the land, in their traditions. They respect the spirit world. They pray. Just like you, they celebrate the living and the dead. They cherish family. They love their food and their music.
I found it in their smiles, in your smiles, in their stories, in your stories.
If I ever get back to Bali I don’t know if it’ll be the same. After Katrina I feared my beloved New Orleans was gone but it wasn’t. Whether rising from the ashes of a volcano, or from hate, or from a killer storm, or faulty government, it’s their soul, it’s your soul, it’s my soul – finding the constant in a changing landscape that draws and enthralls this foreigner.
Thank you Bali; thank you New Orleans.
No alarm clocks went off in our Lake Tahoe hotel room Dec. 11, 2008. We made sure to turn them off and put our phones on “silent” the night before, after a long day of traveling from New Orleans to the Nevada/California border. My boyfriend, WDSU reporter Travers Mackel, and I had been looking forward to this trip for a long time. Neither of us had been skiing before (well, not for many, many years), and we were really excited about strapping on our new gear for ski school. Travers was so excited, in fact, that he had insisted on a full dress rehearsal the night before we left.
Wearing boots, goggles and gloves in my apartment, he repeated his favorite line, “Tips over toes,” again and again. “Swoosh… swoosh,” he murmured, focused, knees bent and holding imaginary poles.
When I finally opened my eyes that Thursday morning, I ran straight to the window, much like a child on Christmas morning. Since we had arrived late the night before, this would be my first view of the lake and landscape. I threw open the curtains, anxious to see the snow covered mountains and “heavenly” ski village I had been reading about online.
Imagine my disappointment when I realized there had been no snow in Lake Tahoe that morning. In fact, it was “unseasonably warm” and the town was still desperately awaiting their first big snowfall. This terrible news was reiterated by the concierge who told us our best bet would be to “catch a flick” and hope for snow the next day.
Thwarted, I plopped back on the bed and picked up my Blackberry, remembering that I hadn’t checked it yet that morning. I rubbed my contacts a few times before I could really believe what I was reading. Eighteen missed calls and twice as many text messages and emails were blinking at me. Had something happened?
Something had happened. A rare snowfall had been blanketing New Orleans all morning! “IT’S SNOWING OUTSIDE THE CIVIC!” read the message from my roommate, along with a picture from our apartment window. An email with another picture followed, titled, “My car covered in snow,” from my sister, a sophomore at Southeastern. Travers’ twin brother Fletcher had called to inform us that he’d fallen down the icy front steps while retrieving the paper (and to gloat, I sensed – the Mackel brothers live for two things: news and New Orleans).
Pigs were flying! New Orleans had a blizzard and we were on a ski trip with no snow. We watched images of the St. Charles streetcar, decorated for the holidays and covered in snow, on CNN in our hotel lobby.
Luckily, by the end of the week, snow fell in beautiful Lake Tahoe. It was too late for us to ski, but it hadn’t stopped us from having a great vacation. On the last day, Travers insisted again that we suit up and “at least take a picture” in our ski clothes. While I turned red, he asked a couple if we could borrow their snowboards and to pose with them as if we had been on the slopes all day. Next year, we hope, we’ll get another shot at skiing, and eventually, another snow day in New Orleans!