Fairy Tale Trees

January 29, 2010 § 9 Comments

There are amazing and wonderful pictures (elsewhere) of the banyan tree. Still and all, to be slogging nonchalantly around the southern streets and suddenly see these arbory monoliths, well, some of us slip immediately into a mythical world, a fantasy of living stuff that makes one go right up and touch tthe tree, it doesn’t flinch and fortunately doesn’t mind yet oddly when photographing them (as amateur), they don’t translate. It would take time, methinks, to circle the tree and just keep shooting and shooting with a delicate smart camera. But then, the photographer is completely distracted to see an avenue of these mighty wood structures, and boom, here comes the plot of a fairy tale again.  Perhaps to sit amongst its roots while writing…! 

These don’t grow in Missouri, oh no, they prefer consistently warmer climes who won’t trick them with the occasional icy wind or some errant blast of strangled strange weather.

So I had to learn a little about them, and share a few things remarkable enough to be remembered and repeated.  You never know when you might need to wax a wee bit knowledgeable about the mighty banyan. 

My thanks and a shoutout to the quirky-not-100-percent-right-on Wikipedia for the following slight info:
“The seeds of banyans are dispersed by fruit-eating birds. The seeds germinate and send down roots towards the ground, and may envelope part of the host tree or building structure with their roots, giving them the casual name of “strangler fig.” Older banyan trees are characterized by their aerial prop roots which grow into thick woody trunks which, with age, can become indistinguishable from the main trunk. Old trees can spread out laterally using these prop roots to cover a wide area.

The largest such tree is now found in Kolkata in India.
Another famous banyan tree was planted in 1873 in Lahaina’s Courthouse Square in
Hawai’i, and has now grown to cover two-thirds of an acre.

Like other Fig species (which includes the common edible fig Ficus carica), banyans have unique fruit structures and are dependent on fig wasps for reproduction.

Buddha is believed to have achieved enlightenment in Bodhgaya in India while meditating under a banyan tree of the species Sacred Fig. The tree is known as Bodhi Tree.
The first banyan tree in the U.S. was planted by Thomas Alva Edison in
Fort Myers, Florida. The tree, originally only 4 feet (1.2 m) tall, now covers 400 feet (120 m).”


bump in the night … there is a book

August 5, 2009 § 11 Comments

DSCN6722Irish and Laylou finish their hurricanes in to-go cups. Or, is that “to-ghost” cups?

I can laugh at campy horror stories and I can scream at suspense stories. Ghost stories are another story.
And so it was with healthy apprehension that I set off with HM and the “kids” on a ghost tour, that is, a historical haunts tour, trekking around the French Quarter for two hours.  There was far more history and ghostly accounts than there was trekking. 

The tour began in front of Reverend Zombie’s Voodoo Shop.  Out in front. It was 6 o’clock.
Oh, ridiculous, you say. What kind of hour is that to go on a ghost tour? You can’t get scared in the daylight.
Oh yes, you can.

Our guide was a savvy fellow, very skilled in storytelling  and knew his city history well. He had enough actor in him to make it worth one’s while to pay close attention. He also made us laugh. Sometimes, this was necessary.

DSCN6704That’s our guide holding the sign. I don’t know what he does in his spare time but he has a BA in liberal arts.

I will jumble and bumble through any factual recountings he gave but can tell you that on many a well trod street in the Quarter there are dozens of ghosts.  Our first tale was on St. Louis about a fire that broke out.  New Orleans then and now does NOT  handle fire well at all but “then” it was built of wood and haystuffing as insulation. One such fire took out an entire city block. The bells of the St Louis Cathedral did not ring as they should have that first time and shops and lives were lost. When it happened a second time, the fire alert came via the church bells but again, disaster fell. It is said that on the anniversary of that night more than 100 years ago, on a certain spot between two city blocks (I’ve forgotten the streets), you can hear the church bells ringing.

OK, I know, that doesn’t sound scary.  But it’s known to be true. And there wasn’t a single time during the rest of our stay there that I didn’t pay close attention when bells were ringing, making sure they really were.

Another story rises up out of some of the barbarism between the Spanish and the French who both vied for control of the city in the 1700s.  There is  a story of six French soldiers who were executed in front of the cathedral and the Spanish general would not allow them to be buried. Finally after several days of rot and civilian shock, they were carried by their colleagues, against the Spaniards’ wishes, down the side street on the west side of the Cathedral and to a resting place. And as the rescuers marched their dead fellows along, they sang Keiri Eleison. It was a stormy hellacious night as they broke their captors law.  And it is said that if you’re caught on that street in the midst of a storm breaking and at that same time of evening, you will hear the song echoing against the backdrop of the thunder.


(the St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square…it was getting ready to storm…)

Of course, clouds gathered as he told the story. He used this to serious dramatic effect.
I cannot  even come close to the storytelling our guide did, of weaving actual historical events to ghostings and hauntings. 

We traveled on to hear more history with more ghostly underpinnings  clinging to the stories.  We penetrated the Quarter and came to a very residential area, all prettied with flowers. A huge grey house stood on the corner. We all stood across the street as our guide told its story.  This was about the LaLuries and how they lived and inflicted horrors, then fled the house in a fire said to be started by the slave that was kept chained to the kitchen stove.  And the firemen, gaining entrance to the house, unearthed horrors and suffering that leaves the house haunted to this day, to the point of being inhabitable.  

Our guide related that he did NOT stand next to the house when he took tours there. Oddly, there were of course “incidents” as we were there.  One girl fell ill, felt someone was pushing her and she couldn’t see or breathe. Her mother took her back to her hotel. Irish’s blackberry froze; wouldn’t work, wouldn’t resuscitate. 

No one has been able to stay here, even when the house offered free board. All historically packed up and left. The house is presently owned by Nicholas Cage. He doesn’t live there but keeps one room. Prior to arriving, he reportedly notifies the staff. They try to get the room in order. The room is always trashed by some unseen hands. Nicholas visits but does not stay overnight.  

Crazy old Nicholas.

The Andrew Jackson Hotel is haunted by the schoolchildren and staff who perished there in a fire when it was a school building. It’s open. People stay there. However, there are reportedly guests who have experienced hauntings and hear laughing. This one is to be a “lighter” story, with more hijinx than fear.  One couple who took this same tour told our guide they were indeed staying there.  Their last night there, they went to bed very very late and exhausted. They were leaving the next day. They had used up the film on their camera , they knew this for a fact. Nevertheless, when they had the film developed later, they found two extra pictures on the roll. The two pictures were of the couple, sleeping.

It was an excellent tour.  Corny? silly? ridiculous? Maybe all of those but the saving point was the historical anecdotes and the guide’s familiarity with the city and his research into the basis of a lot of the stories.

New Orleans is apparently the most haunted city in the US. They say it’s harder to find  a spot that is not haunted.I asked the guide if there was a book of his stories, or from which he took his stories. Yes, he said, titled JOURNEY INTO DARKNESS and some of the local shops might have it.
I didn’t find it, though. Never mind. It’s probably just as well.

ferns and flower power …

July 29, 2009 § 6 Comments


(picture taken in Pirate’s Alley. It’s the Faulkner House Bookstore, a tiny shop with room for perhaps 10 people to browse. I stop there every time we visit the city. The shopkeeper recognizes me but isn’t quite sure why. She always helps me find a book about or relating to New Orleans. I have not yet, however, been able to finish A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES.  I will share in the next blog a nice little treasure that I found there on my own!)

It’s not all peaches and cream in NOLA but you might believe it is. Even this soon after Katrina. It’s going to take a long time for Katrina to fall out of the Crescent City’s connotative vocabulary, to fall out of the national vocabulary, in fact.

Five years later, there is still damage everywhere. Bricks jut through walls.  Vinyl peels from siding, gutters are rotten. There are still mattresses and old bathtubs and the flotsam and jetsam of daily life in the pretty little courtyards, back behind the gorgeous iron grillwork and the ferns and flowers.

The city has done an enormous amount of work.
But is it nice? Is it OK to go there? Yes. Of course. Go.
There is a terrible fragility about the place but it has always been there.
And also still there, now and forever, are the New Orleans residents, those who could stay or return and rebuild.
And they still love their red beans and rice on Mondays.

There are hundreds of pictures like this one to be taken in the (good old) French Quarter. Hundreds.
Adn if you’re really really hot – it was 102 degrees most of the days we were there – you might be lucky enough to walk under someone’s balcony as they are watering their plants.

The hotter it is, the hotter the hot sauce you can tolerate.
The hotter it is, the stronger the drink and you just plain will not notice.
The hotter it is, the more you wonder about the difference between the tap water and the toilet water.
The hotter it is, the more you understand a culture that has grown and thrived in spite of the weather, in spite of being surrounded by water that is higher than the land, in spite of the way the air and the light and the scents of the place all melt and glom together.

You would think that walking around the French Quarter several times would be enough. But so many buildings have stories. So many people in the shops and on the streets have stories. And they tell them. They tell them with glee, they tell them with smiles or eye-rolling or accents thick with the swamp, with an earnestness that belies the truth. It is a city of storytellers. This city might just top the 8 million stories that NYC reportedly has. Yessuh, this city might just out-story all the others.

It is a writer’s city.


Home again home again jiggety jig …

July 21, 2009 § 8 Comments

Home from the Crescent City aka NOLA, a place that most associate with Katrina (not to be taken lightly), with Mardi Gras, with Bourbon St. (it smells like pee  season-regardless) and with Jazz (how many cities are the birthplace of jazz?), we walked in, plunked down our bags, took a look around and sighed that sigh that goes with the little red shoes…home sweet home.

It is a fine thing to live in another city even for 8 days and 8 nights, in a huge old house made of stone and glass and giant crafted tiles, with ceilings 15 feet high and windows and doors just as high, and fans and two balconies on each of two floors and a private little courtyard with hammock and bbq, several bedrooms, more than enough baths and enough lights and switches to make a mood-setter swoon.  And just down the street, take a right on Magazine St. (can you believe it? “magazine” street?!), there is everything you need to “make” a home including food shopping, sno-cone boutiques, coffeehouses, boutique restaurants, clothing, art, antiques, etc.

It is a fine thing to get to know a city without a map, without a tourist guide, without a guide.  It is a fine thing to hear its church bells ring on Sunday and the school bells ring on summer weekdays and the buses, the streetcars and the etceteras go by on the main streets while you are sequestered in a residential area. It is a fine thing to cook in big old kitchen and gather everone around the big old stone table and drink ice cold drinks without the ice because the drinks are chilled and the glasses are chilled. It is a fine thing to see the slant of the sun all the live long day no matter where you are walking or standing and think, wow, a day is a lovely long thing… And it is a fine thing to encounter so many friendly people who have stories great and small to tell. And it is a fine thing to see the strength and steeliness of such a city that is yet somehow so fragile and lovely that we all pitch in to make sure it endures.

There are many tales to tell.

In the meantime, this is where we were…


and this is where we are … home again home again jiggety jig!

Texas in a Lexus …

July 1, 2009 § 4 Comments

texas map

(all photos from Google images)

OK, well I wasn’t really in a Lexus (I was in a Sonata which is not the worst rental car in the worl) but  Lexus rhymes with the big hat state and sometimes you just have to write a bad line. 

We had four days of biz in the Alamo City and I had no (time for) Internet, only a little phone  time (I kept forgetting to keep it on me rather than in my purse and anyway, it was set on “vibrate”   which of course makes it impossible to hear if you’re getting a call from more than 10 feet away.



(above: the Alamo; just above: the Riverwalk)

I thought I would at least do a lot of reading, but no.  I took magazines to bed and fell asleep with the light on and the mags stacked neatly nearby. I thought I might even do some writing – ahahahaha! And pictures?  I took only a few at the new office.

And after all, I do love Texas. How on earth did that ever happen? I dunno. And I have nothing of it to show you. Just take my word for it.


(San Antonio at night)

Oh yeah, BTW,  it’s bliss to be home.

Texas Top 10 … after 3 days as a tourist

February 10, 2009 § 8 Comments


1.) Denim
2.) Boots
3.) y’all (and “all y’all”)
4.) the sweetness of the nearly spring air, being outdoors, being in water (swimming!) in February
5.) the clean sweep (Houston is clean.) (The wind is clean.)
6.) all the smiling going on
7.) ma’am (when a Texan says it, I do NOT feel old. Or, sassed.)
8.) the swagger (it goes with all those long lean jeans and boots)
9.) the pickup trucks (these are NOT like the kind left to rot in rural backyards))
10.) the food, the jewelry, the hair – it’s all glitzy and delicious (It’s  fun with a hard and serious edge beneath it.)


1.) those giant belt buckles
2.) the accent when it stretches like rubber throughout a sentence so you’re not sure if the speaker is still on the first word or the second or third or fourth or …
3.) the big empty spaces (cuz I don’t know what to make of them) + wind = lonely
4) the mixed zoning (Houston: powerful big city, but hey, what’s up with the bowling alley next to the residences next to the empty air hangar next to the …?  Let’s do some urban planning here, people!)
5) the big hair, the big blond hair (kinda ’80s) but damn, they pull it off effortlessly!


Ya’ gotta admit there’s acres and acres of charm and sincerity and energy there.
I mean, really.
They also make a tourist feel at home.
Is it  like that when you actually live there?


O Canada!

August 16, 2008 § 2 Comments

Above picture taken from the car going 110 km…








The park, seemingly in the middle of nowhere had visitors, people who appeared more likely to live nearby (in the surrounding 50 km): lovers on the rock near the falls, an senior couple picnicking near the water and engaged in lively conversation even after all these years, two nimble path-walkers, a giant raven ransacking a table top for tasties, a cyclist en route to somewhere important and the only sound the rushing of the clear water, so clear it had that green tinge, the good green, a green that also said this water is freakin’ cold so if you think you’re going to stick your foot in here and then go home and tell everyone about wading in an Alberta river, you’re nuts.


I couldn’t help taking the mountain pictures… having grown up in the Adirondacks (NY), I was suprised to find how good it felt to be back among the mountains crowding around me like old friends, old quiet friends, old friends with stony tops that on our return trip to Calgary, their slate and shale peaks shone like snow in the full moonlight.

And then there was Banff…










Imagined conversation between me and HM:
ME: I could live here.
HM: No, you couldn’t. It’s too isolated.
ME: Yes, I could. It’s gorgeous. I’d own a bookstore.
HM: You’re an urbanite. And it’s cold here.
ME: I love all their winter fashion stuff. And being outdoors.
HM: On the second or third day of below-freezing weather and no couture shops and sliding into a reindeer in your car and deciding that the best part of skiing is the brandy in the lodge bar, you just might want out.
ME:  silent…
HM: I’ll take you there on vacation. We’ll stay at the Banff Springs Hotel…how’s that?

ME: hugging HM

I’d like to thank Canada for showing me a really good time. Yes, yes, I was there on business and put in 2.5 days, starting at 8 a.m. and finishing (on the whole days) at 6:30 p.m., working full tilt. (The third day was a hyrbrid:  work the morning, then get to the airport to fly home.) So I did work. A lot.


But because of its lovely arrangement with the universe, the sun doesn’t go down in Alberta ’til about 10:15 p.m.  OMG!!!  So much time to recreate even after staying late at work!!!  So we changed from pumps into tennies, grabbed jackets and drove out into the moutains both evenings; the first evening, Bragg Creek and Elbow Falls, and on the second evening,  Banff was our destination.

With all the natural wonder and the awesome factor in terms of the people and the surroundings and the moderness and the ecological considerations and with the animals who showed up, cued as though in a Disney movie as we drove along – the elk, the moose, the black bear cub and the giant jackrabbits (what DO they eat?) and with everyone’s general affinity for fitness and walk-about (and Tim Horton’s), it was a tremendous view of a tiny bit of a huge country, eh?

And yet it’s always so nice to go home.

Where in the world…?

August 15, 2008 § 1 Comment

This is not anywhere in the Midwest, USA (which is where I live).
Maybe this cityscape (taken while driving) looks somewhat (somehow) familiar? Better clues to follow – gotta get back to the office…

Table for one…

July 7, 2008 § 3 Comments

HM is at a conference (which means he’ll be eating dinner out) and the waitress will probably say, “Just one for dinner?” and he will give her that look that says obviously I am – don’t rub it in. He hates it when they strip away the other table settings.

And I’m here at home with just the dogs and insanely I decided to bbq (salmon) – for myself? Well, I just didn’t want to be in the kitchen even though it’s cooler in there than it is out here. Pretty much as close as I get to pioneering yet how satisfying it is to keep it simple.

Biz Trip…

May 23, 2008 § Leave a comment

Four hours of flight time.

Two 14-hour work days.

One VOGUE magazine. Cover to cover.

Two article ideas.

                        Four days of vacay now.

                        One day of writing. Now.

(photo from VOGUE image files)

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