A few scenes from Manila

Open market with street stalls selling hot food. Fried chicken and pork are really popular here.

Open market with street stalls selling hot food. Fried chicken and pork are really popular here.

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A calamansi is a little tiny lime, about the size of a thumbnail. So calamansi soda (with honey!) is lime soda. This was the only bottle I drank, it's too sweet for me!

A calamansi is a little tiny lime, about the size of a thumbnail. So calamansi soda (with honey!) is lime soda. This was the only bottle I drank, it’s too sweet for me!

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I love this sculpture. It's called "Thanksgiving" and depicts two fishermen in a canoe, pulling a net filled with fish from the sea.

I love this sculpture. It’s called “Thanksgiving” and depicts two fishermen in a canoe, pulling a net filled with fish from the sea.

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Just sharing a few images to give a glimpse into what life is like in my neighborhood.

It’s been quite an adventure so far! More to come soon…

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The Rushing of the Water – Hurricane Sandy – Part One

One Hurricane Sandy Story … from Jersey City

BEFORE

I don’t know why human beings consistently underestimate the impact of predicted disasters, but like everyone else that was there, I stayed in Jersey City on the night of October 29th, 2012.

In the days before, I watched the television with its dire warnings of an unusually high storm surge expected due to the full moon that night, and offshore models depicted a precise landfall trajectory for Hurricane Sandy to cause the most damage. I mentally made a note that I should buy a bottle of water along with my diet iced tea and two days of food. And I did too, I got a 12 ounce bottle of water.

I’m sure I was much less prepared than most: I had candles but no matches, I didn’t fill my car with gas, I had no flashlight, no battery powered radio, and not even a hand crank can opener. I also had no cash on hand, well unless you count two dollars. No, my preparation consisted of “stockpiling” 48 hours worth of fresh food – enough for the day of the expected storm and the day after, when I imagined any clean-up would take place.

And even after I heard low-lying areas of Jersey City were under a voluntary evacuation, I just assumed since I am “many blocks” from a marina inlet just off the Hudson River, and because there was no flooding during Hurricane Irene last year that I did not live in one of these alleged low-lying areas. Let me add that at no time did the news specify which areas of Jersey City were low-lying, we were just expected to know.

What does a prospectus to an investor say? Past performance is no indication of future results.

These are words printed regularly on documents warning human beings about, essentially, human nature. We underestimate what we think the worst could be until it happens and then we readjust our new reality accordingly based on our direct experiences.

For some of us, our parents or grandparents lived through the Great Depression. Many of us couldn’t understand the strange behaviors of a whole group of people who “lived without” for decades. Toasting slightly stale bread because it was “still good” or saving what seemed to be junk because it might have a future use, or putting savings away even when you didn’t have a lot because you should “just in case.”

In case of what, we always asked? We could never imagine.

Until I became an adult I never understood any of it, but these childhood experiences and conversations came back to me as I lay in a pitch black apartment during the storm. Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

THE FATEFUL MOMENT

So, as I said, I ensconced myself in my second floor apartment with two days of food in my refrigerator. I also plugged in my computer and cell phone in the unlikely event I’d lose electric for a few hours.

The television repeatedly said the worst of the surge was expected at 8pm EST. The wind was howling outside at that time, and the branches of a nearby slender tree whipped against my window in bursts, but the rain didn’t seem too severe. It was the wind that was frightening because it was much more ferocious than what we experienced during Irene, when I was also in my apartment, and thus could compare the impact of each storm to the other.

At about ten minutes after 9pm, I heard a loud POP and a transformer on the street light across the street on the corner exploded, sending yellow electrical sparks flying everywhere. Then a terrifying second POP as another transformer exploded beside a tree directly across the street, and the tree caught on fire.

My heart started racing and I began cursing aloud in my empty apartment. I ran down the stairs toward the front door, wondering if the neighborhood, which consists of connected row houses, would soon be burning to the ground. It would be extremely easy for a fire to spread rapidly.

When I got to the top step of my front porch, I was momentarily relieved when I saw the rain put out the tree fire. Then I looked down the street and instead of pavement, I saw a rippling river of surge water flowing toward me.

The view from my top porch step during the height of Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge

The water was already covering the bottom-most step of my front porch, which meant it was already above the street level and above the curb and above a full porch step. It did not occur to me at that moment, but that level was also already above the window line of basement garden apartments on my block.

Eerily the lights of a tavern diagonally across from my building illuminated the scene. Unbenownst to me five feet of water was also rushing into their less-than-a-year-old commercial kitchen, located in the building’s basement.

As I looked in the other direction, my heart sank. My car was parked on the street just twenty feet duther down from my front door, with the water creeping up the wheels of my two month old brand new car. I just stood there in shock imagining water rushing in between the door seams and into the muffler, completely totaling the car. I remember feeling so helpless to stop it.

The wind continued to gust and howl, and there was nothing to do but go back upstairs. When I got there, the lights began to dim in a brown-out fashion, so I turned off the television and all the lights…but then the electric went out anyway and the street went dark. I didn’t fully realize it at that moment, but my cell phone signal also went out.

Only the howling of the wind kept me company.

I began pacing back and forth for an hour in my living room. I repeatedly looked outside to see if I could catch my car’s final demise if anyone drove down the block, but I just couldn’t tell where the water line was. I decided to go to bed in the hopes that when I woke the storm would have passed and any damage could be easily assessed and repaired.

Little did I know, or comprehend, of what was to come.

A car speeds past me during the height of the surge, trying to race to higher ground.

END OF PART ONE

Photos: Memories of Minnesota

Gooseberry Falls – Minnesota

Gooseberry Falls is an easy walk down a paved trail. While this isn’t the largest waterfall I’ve seen (I think Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge probably holds that distinction for me at 200 feet), it was a pleasant walk and an enjoyable photo op.

According to the entry plaque at Split Rock Lighthouse – it is one of Minnesota’s most cherished landmarks.

I didn’t spend a lot of time at Split Rock Lighthouse (you could say I saw the lighthouse and split… groan.) The reason, at least for me, was that the hiking trails along Lake Superior had ugly chain link fences separating visitors from the foliage and lake shore. Maybe they get so many visitors in the summer they want to protect the landscape, but it creates an eyesore. Not an enjoyable hiking experience.

The view from Split Rock Lighthouse onto Lake Superior and the shoreline.

In addition to the Split Rock Lighthouse, I also slept in the Two Harbors Lighthouse (see previous post) … and I saw the Harbor Light in Duluth.

Duluth Harbor Light reflected in a puddle

One of the nicest features Duluth has is its “river walk” a long stretch of a winding pathway that runs right along the Lake Superior riverfront. At one end of the riverwalk you’ll find this harbor light.

Duluth Harbor light and sailboat – view from river walk

Of course for me, the very best view I had for my entire Minnesota trip was this one:

Three handsome nephews – the Army uniformed groom to the left, his little brother in the center, and his Navy uniformed brother to the right

 

NoLa Diary #12 – the amazing people of New Orleans

No amount of words can express how wonderful most of the people are here in New Orleans. A few encounters today encapsulate the best of my experiences.

I went out and did some shopping before the holiday, and as I walked down Magazine Street, I stopped to photograph a charming storefront. It was Probst Decorating and Interior Design. I liked their old time lanterns, potted plants and worn brick building combined with green holiday wreaths along with the requisite NoLa bicycles out front.

Probst Decorating - Magazine St

After taking the photo an older woman looked at me from inside the store – even though the sign on the door said Closed. I walked up to the door and wondered if I was in trouble for taking photos of her store. When I got to the door she said through the closed door, would you like to come in? Yes please, I answered. So she walked into her back workroom to get her door keys then back to the front of the store where she unlocked the door, let me in and started turning on all the lights.

I’m not open today, but I saw you wanted to come in. I don’t keep the door open when I’m here by myself, she said. That turned into a wonderful conversation about how her family has owned this 130 year old building and run this decorating shop in it for the last 60 years, and she has worked in it all 60 of those years. She told me about her mother opening the shop, and how after 60 years she is ready to turn things over to her daughter. She mentioned she makes all the pillows and curtains and is now referred to as “the lady that works in the back.” I joked with her that they only needed to call her one thing: Da Boss. She laughed at that. We said our warm goodbyes and she encouraged me to come back around sometime to visit.

I went across the street to pick up some groceries and walked to the bus stop to grab it going back home. A man approached and struck up a conversation with me while we waited together. He asked me if I was from New Orleans, because he thought I was. When I told him no, but that I’d been in town for about 2 weeks, he asked if I was staying for Mardi Gras. Unfortunately no, I said. That’s too bad, he answered, because I’m about ready to adopt you as a native once you been to your first Mardi Gras. And anyway, he continued, by the end of this conversation we’re gonna be just about family.

An extraordinary glimpse of Mardi Gras in December - pure luck!

 

And that sums it up for me: we’re all just about family – the human family. New Orleans can be such a great example of how people rise up to meet their humanity. The family of compassionate souls includes people like that woman, making pillows and curtains for 60 years running her decorating shop. Or the man at the bus stop, who got up early today to deliver donated toys to children on his way to work as a painter and said gently yes, he was a little tired. When he shook my hand with his paint covered hand, I felt like I’d never done an honest day’s work in my life.

New Orleans is a very special place, and I’m extremely glad I decided to come here and stay awhile. These vignettes and experiences in the neighborhoods are, I’m convinced, the real gumbo of NoLa with an extra helping of love.

Passion for clarinet

This is a collection of photos of the wonderful people of NoLa I’ve spotted in my wanderings here…please enjoy.

Tromboner salute

Of course the French Quarter is an endless source of wonderful images of musicians…

Singing her heart out on Royal

This gal sure could sing. She was belting it out without a mic. She projected loud and strong, along with her back up band doing a great job.

Slice of Life street scene - Bourbon St

The personality of New Orleans pours out of every brick and lantern in the city, and of course from the hard working people…

Workmen in the French Quarter

There are quiet moments when you can’t help but be charmed by such a place….

Resting by Traceys - Irish Channel

And take in so many smiles and good wishes…

Man with bowler and bicycle

…yes, these things and more are what gives New Orleans its flavor.

Enjoy this wonderfully moving song by Susan Tedeschi called 700 houses, her impressions of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina…

and Happy Holidays everyone.

NoLa Diary #11 – A story in signs

Everywhere you look in New Orleans you’ll find scribbles, scrawls, grafitti and interesting street art. I took some of the shots I got and made up a little story.

If the Angry Birds had NoLa cousins, these would be them.

These grafitti birds (above) were on the side of a building on Magazine Street. I imagine they have names like Earl or Bobby Joe, and they’re probably the NoLa cousins of the Angry Birds (who are city slickers.) The NoLa birds aren’t as angry as they are mean; they’re so mean they have teeth, which is saying a lot for a blue bird.

Then again, NoLa is also a place where dirty means tasty. We can stroll through the French Market to buy a plate of Dirty Rice at the Cajun Cafe, which you might eat along with your Alligator Sausage Po’ Boy.  Yummy, n’est pas?

Alligator Po' Boy anybody? Get one at the Cajun Cafe in the French Market

After you’ve eaten your share of Gator, you say you want to do some dancing to work off those Cajun calories. So, we point our feet to Frenchman’s Street. Before we get there, at the corner of Decatur and Esplanade, we’ll pass the BMC club. From the look of their artwork (below), they sure like to swing.

But since we’re going on to Frenchman, we’re going to have to cross over Esplanade at that corner, go past the firehouse on the right hand side and continue towards the left down Frenchman Street.

BMC Club - 504 Esplanade

Frenchman has tons of clubs and is known as Bourbon Street (minus strip clubs, thank you very much) for the locals and those in the know.

It's all about the mermaids and jesters on Frenchman Street

I don’t know the name of the club whose doorway I photographed (above) but we can call it The Mermaid. Remember, in NoLa, you get extra points for no signage, or if you’re place is very hard to find, and especially if it looks run down. This club qualifies in a few of those categories so it must be fantastic inside.

Dark Meat Fried Chicken Special

But look! Across the street we could have had Jamalaya Dark Meat Fried Chicken and Greens on special today. Too bad we ate that Alligator Po’ Boy, now we’re full…

Electric Ladyland Tattoo - Frenchman Street

Oh gosh, I told you not to go drinking with Earl and Bobby Joe, those guys are bird brains! It’s no surprise you wound up at the Electric Ladyland Tattoo parlor on Frenchman Street. Thank goodness they have a sign in the window (not shown here) that says No Drunks. Whew, you almost wound up with that mermaid on your forearm.

You can hardly stand up anymore with all that dancing and those shots of bourbon you drank. Let’s head on home…

Possible Side Effects

Wow, I should have never let you convince me to go for a beer at the Saint, that after-hours place on St. Mary Street near Magazine. As we saw from the “possible side effects” sticker on their dumpster while you puked alongside it, there is some truth in advertising.