Oh, New York, you beauty. Sometimes the city is a real kick in the guts, and sometimes it is a gilded wonder full of love, flower crowns, good music, old friends, and truffled egg toasts. Guess which one it is this week?
Just stumbled upon this wonderful never-before-seen video one of my favorite (wanderlust) songs, Joni Mitchell’s “Refuge of the Roads”, directed by Miss Joni herself and interspersed with super 8 home movies and awesome Joni-in-the-80’s fashions. Click that ‘ol link. It won’t let me embed the video for some reason. Do it, if you know what’s good for you. Ok… now that you’re listening: For me this isn’t one of those songs that you put on when you’re actually on the road (unless you’re stopped at a strange new cottage in Berkeley and it’s rainy and there’s coffee and they happen to have Hejira on vinyl), but rather one that you listen to in the darkening twilight once you’ve finally made it home. The exact right space between wishing you were travelling again, bittersweet you’re not, and quiet and triumphant and content that you’re home. And here at home, as it gets dark earlier and a stream of fall storms cross over the mountains, twilight has been getting out of control. These are some Michelangelo clouds (muscular with gods and sun-gold) if I’ve ever seen ’em.
The last time that we were in New Orleans, we split our time between two sets of friends, the fabulous doctors-in-love completing their residencies and living in a gorgeous walk-up in the Garden District, and an amazing boho restauranteur couple who were savvy enough to snag a double shotgun in the Bywater ten years ago. As most hosts would do, they both gave us recommendations of their favorite places, seedy-wonderful dives and juke joints, po’boy shacks and wine bars, fancy oyster houses and music halls. Occasionally, the lists overlapped, and we saw (perhaps in a head-slapping-obvious moment) that whenever both sets of friends, very different and divine in their differences, both recommended the same thing that that thing was undeniably the best. We’ve followed this mandate ever since, and it’s taken us to Luke’s for 50 cent oysters, Robert’s and Jeni’s in Nashville, Cole’s in LA, Edo’s Squid in Richmond, the Tomales Bay Oyster Pound, Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, the farmstand in Bolinas, The Tip Top in Bed Stuy… if two people recommend that you do something in their fair city, go out of your way to do it. Simple, brilliant.
In Nashville the music goes all day. Every morning, the neon starts to buzz and the doors fling open with a gust of that very particular bar-beery-bleachy funk that quickly gives way the smell of cooking breakfast and the sound of a thousand honky tonks tuning up. From 11am, to 2am, music comes from every doorway, a buncha “Friends in Low Places”, a few “Redneck Woman”s, and a whole lotta “Wagon Wheel”s. And while every place has a (pretty incredible) live band, only Robert’s Western World plays the old country music exclusively. Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams… the good old stuff. A recession special gets you a thick-fried baloney sandwich on white bread, a bag of chips, and a beer for $5, the walls are lined with boots, the floor is covered in sawdust, and from morning to midnight it’s absolutely glorious.
Move over plastic pumpkins, decorative gourds, and automated motion sensor witches that say things like “Witch goul are you!?” when you walk by (seen/vaguely startled by this yesterday at Lowe’s while trying to buy rake hands). Those kind of cheap-o made-in-China disposable decorations? Pshaw. This house, a low-slung shotgun in New Orleans’ Bywater neighborhood, has it nailed. So simple, so awesome, I’d keep this crazy driftwood-spanish-moss-raven tableaux up all year. Thanks to Miss McKay for adventures in spanish moss and for the top picture.
Well, hello there. It’s been a while since I’ve seen you, America. A long while since we’ve gotten down and dirty and traveled an expanse other than the I-95 corridor. A while since we’ve flown past cotton fields just starting to brown and jut out their soft fluffy whiteness, through soft old mountains and densely wooded hushed battlefields, across ancient migratory paths and deep silted deltas, sawgrass palmetto swamps with Spanish Moss overhead and small cool rivers gilded in a Miami-pink-and-aqua deco-copper palette sunset with geese reflected in the almost still water, heading to warmth as winter marches ever southward. It’s been too long since we heard your music, your mountain twang, your river strut, your slouching blues, your wealth of sound, as thick as the cicadas still are in October on the dark dirt byways of the Natchez Trace. It’s been a while since I’ve seen your moon from the road, watched it go from a tiny crescent over Appalachia, grand and slow over the big river, and foggy and waxing almost full over the Bywater. And, just as we were gone, now we’re home. The garden needs tending, the leaves are down, wood needs to be stacked, and America, you are here too.
map from here, it’s a very large file size, I’m thinking of maybe having it printed large scale? thoughts tousle at home…
That’s what the ancient woman in the white dress said: “In New Orleans, you’re never hungry and you’re never lonely”. A motto for the luscious crescent city where I’ve spent the last woozy week, certainly, but crystallized there could be my own personal motto. Never Hungry, Never Lonely. My heart vibrates on that powdered-sugar dusted string. On that resonating note, our incredible hosts told us that if you love New Orleans she’ll love you back, and I think that’s absolutely true. The wet-hot afternoons and perfect spring-chill evenings, the orange blossoms, azaleas, and bougainvillea, the endless strains of music, the big dusky river wind in your hair, the endless flavor and constant cocktail, the ease of it all, never hungry, never lonely. I have a lot to share, so I’ll just start now with some greatest hits:
From top: The incredible beignet choux rolling machine hiding secretly around the back corner at Cafe du Monde, the actually-better-than-Cafe-du-Monde beignet at Cafe Beignet (don’t be fooled into thinking that I had a single morning without a chicory-coffee-and-beignet breakfast at several different locales), Preservation Hall, a tray of 50 cent oysters that we devoured with Sazeracs like good tourists/brilliant geniuses, One of infinite glorious balconies in the French Quarter. That’s some hits, tomorrow, the adventures.
If you’re needing a little dose of wonder and beauty this morning, go here. With this incredible 360 degree panoramic view of the Sistine Chapel, you can zoom in and out on any panel, move around the room as if you were actually there (or as if you were actually flying up by the ceiling), and—in an INTERNET FIRST—the site’s built in heavenly music is totally awesome. The Vatican has really stepped up their web presence. While you may want to zoom in on the Drunkenness of Noah or (my personal fave) Judith slaying Holofernes, it’s also just pretty cool to check out the oft-ignored “Sistine Floor”.
En route to a dear friend’s wedding, I came down to south early this week in the name of TCB: seeing Miss Ann Marie’s new digs in DC and handling some doctor’s visit nitty gritty (did you know that under the small provisions of Obamacare that have already been enacted my insurance is required to cover my lady-doctor checkups!? Pretty stellar considering how essential these things are. But I digress.). It has been glorious Indian Summer in Virginia, maples just starting to change, the last yellow wildflowers and British Soldiers brimming over well kept yards and highway medians alike, beautyberries shining purple, zero humidity (!), and glorious sunsets. Last night we went out to the original Jamestown landing site for a party. Bluegrass (played by my dad’s band, featuring the head archeologist for the active Jamestown dig on banjo), BBQ, and this view through the magnolias. This 1607 landing spot was the place of the first permanent English settlement in America, where the first vote was cast, the first beads traded, the first oyster eaten. Yesterday it seemed as if they may have picked this location for its beauty, its softness and light. But, then you’ve gotta think they picked this spot essentially because this island is the only place on the James river between the Chesapeake and the impassible fall line at Richmond where they could pull their boats right up to the land, tie their bowlines to the trees, and hop ashore. In essence, and perhaps with the most American impulse of all, they stopped here because it had the best parking. In fact, I think that’s why New York wasn’t settled until 1625, those guys had to keep circling the block looking for a spot.