Saturday, November 18, 2017

Ya Got Trouble

Titusville, FL

“… that game with the fifteen numbered balls is the devil’s tool..”

Today, the Mad Hatters, a social group Michelle belongs to, sponsored an afternoon at the theater. After a lunch at Portifino’s, we went to the Titusville Playhouse for a performance of Meredith Wilson’s Music Man.
Mad Hatters at Portifino’s

One might wonder what kind of playhouse could a rinky-dink town like Titusville muster up. Well, Titusville isn’t so rinky-dink. True, the end of the Space Shuttle Program put the city through some tough economic times. But now the Kennedy Space Center is bustling again with the construction of the first commercial spaceport and Titusville is on the way back up. The Titusville Playhouse is a worthy part of that growth.
The Titusville Playhouse

If you’re old (really old like me), while you’re recalling the original space program — Mercury and Gemini — you might recall the original Music Man. The stage play in 1957 starring Robert Preston and Barbara Cook was followed in 1962 by the movie starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones. I think I remember that as the first time the lead actor from the stage production was also the lead in the film. Much later, in 2003, Music Man was presented as a TV Special with Matthew Broderick and Kristin Chenoweth heading the cast.

Here is a recap from Wikipedia:

”The Music Man is a musical with book, music, and lyrics by Meredith Willson, based on a story by Willson and Franklin Lacey. The plot concerns con man Harold Hill, who poses as a boys' band organizer and leader and sells band instruments and uniforms to naive Iowa townsfolk, promising to train the members of the new band. Harold is no musician, however, and plans to skip town without giving any music lessons. Prim librarian and piano teacher Marian sees through him, but when Harold helps her younger brother overcome his lisp and social awkwardness, Marian begins to fall in love. Harold risks being caught to win her.

In 1957, the show became a hit on Broadway, winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and running for 1,375 performances. The cast album won the first Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album and spent 245 weeks on the Billboard charts. The show's success led to revivals, including a long-running 2000 Broadway revival, a popular 1962 film adaptation, and a 2003 television adaptation. It is frequently produced by both professional and amateur theater companies.”

Original Cast Album of the Music Man

I had this album and I wore it out. I sang those songs until I memorized every word. Then I sang them some more while my kids were growing up. We had great fun with those lyrics which I still think are an incredibly masterful use of the English language. Sitting through today’s performance, I surprised myself by still remembering almost every word.

I was a fan of the theater back then – especially musicals. Names like Rogers & Hammerstein and Lerner & Lowe were household names. Everyone knew them. But Meredith Wilson stood alone. For The Music Man, he wrote the book and the music and the lyrics.

Robert Meredith Willson (May 18, 1902 – June 15, 1984) was an American composer and playwright, best known for The Music Man. He wrote three other Broadway musicals, composed symphonies and popular songs, and his film scores were twice nominated for Academy Awards.

Wilson was a native of the Hawkeye State. He played with John Philip Sousa's band and with the New York Philharmonic before he went to Hollywood to work in radio.

Wilson wrote some great popular tunes. "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas", which will make it’s seasonal appearance soon, was written by him. He also wrote the musical “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”. We learned more about the real Molly Brown during our stop this summer in Hannibal, MO. Unsinkable comes from the fact that she was a Titanic survivor. But his story of the con-man-turned-good-guy by an Iowa librarian was the classic that hooked me.

Here is the complete story on Meredith Wilson

“No photography during the performance” means I have no pictures from this show. So I grabbed a few from the public domain to include here.
Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man

I think I’ll use Amazon dot com to buy a copy of the film for my grandkids. Maybe I can infect them with its magic when I see them this Christmas.

I’m pleased to report that as my memory fails, while I may forget some trivial things like my name, I have not forgotten the lyrics to The Music Man.

Thanks to Wikipedia for filling in some of the forgotten factual information

trouble ... trouble ... trouble ... trouble ... trouble ... trouble ... trouble ... trouble ... trouble ... trouble ... trouble ... trouble


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Let's End At The Beginning

Lake Itasca, MN

Where Does the Mississippi River Begin?

I have many posts yet to write about this Great River Road trip. I'll be posting them all winter. But this one is special and I want it to be posted in real time. Today we went to Itasca State Park, MN and stood in the water at the beginning of the Mississippi River.

Mississippi Headwaters, Lake Itasca, MN
Northern Terminus of The Great River Road
GPS:47.239874o, -95.207691o
2:22PM, 06 Aug 2017

The Beginning and The End

Venice, LA
Southern Terminus of The Great River Road
GPS: 29.271952o, -89.353220o
2:22PM, 15 May 2017

Let's Begin At The End

We did go in the water

Our thanks to Katie, Branko, and Lily for taking our special picture


Leech Lake Rec Area (USACE)
01217 Federal Dam Dr NE
Federal Dam, MN 56641
GPS: 47.24560o, -94.22697o
Elevation: 1,349 ft


Monday, July 3, 2017

The Fourth of July

United States of America

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.

God Bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home

Watch, Listen, Remember

Friday, May 19, 2017

Who Needs History?

Lee Circle
New Orleans, LA 70130
GPS:29.943312, -90.072500

When you don't like history ...

Bamian, Afghanistan

... take over power and rewrite it.

Robert E. Lee Monument, Lee Circle, New Orleans, LA, USA

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Vieux Carré

The French Quarter, New Orleans, LA

You know you’re there by the smell. The French Quarter is a creature of the night. Her neon eyes shine bright after the sun goes down. Day people are gone and night revelers take ownership of the streets.

Night on Bourbon Street

I have been to New Orleans several times. The French Quarter has changed, so have I.
No more dixieland and jazz floating from open bars. It’s hard rock now. Money, not love of music, motivates bar owners. Hard Rock sells booze, jazz does not. The jazz scene has moved over to Frenchman Street between Royal and Decatur, just outside the French Quarter. The Maison, Blue Nile, Three Muses, The Spotted Cat Music Club, and Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro are places to go for good jazz along with good food. Tickets are required.

But deep inside the French Quarter, one location, 726 St Peter Street, keeps the old tradition alive. Preservation Hall still offers four shows nightly in a simple unadorned venue with no food or liquor — just jazz. They are the “preservation” hall. Tickets are required there too.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band

There are elegant restaurants in the French Quarter. Places such as Antoine’s, Tujague's, Arnaud's, Galatoire's, Broussard's, and Brennan's with tablecloths, napkins, and nice silverware are world famous. Behind the windows, fancy meals concocted by talented chefs are served by well dressed waiters to well healed patrons. Outside, it’s junk food and alcohol.
Antoine’s; since 1840

At night, steel posts mounted in the streets keep vehicles out and turn the streets into pedestrian malls. The cacophony of hard rock from many places, all with doors and windows open is deafening. Each bar claiming greatness by trying to be the loudest.

Visitors hit the streets intent on a night of wild revelry. Most drink too much, too fast, and too soon crawl back to their hotel to face the hangover that awaits. In the wee hours, waiters, waitresses, bartenders, hookers, and pickpockets disappear to count their loot, sleep, and wait for twilight again.

Morning brings sunlight and the unique smell of the French Quarter — stale beer from the night just past. The steel posts are removed to allow entry to the delivery trucks replenishing the libations for the night to come and carrying off empty kegs and trash trucks hauling away the debris generated by the partyers. Sometime during the day the streets may be washed, taking away some of the smell.

Jackson Square comes awake in the morning. Street people rise from the park benches and melt into somewhere, like the ghosts on Bald Mountain. Artists arrive and set up their tables, easels, and tents to sell their creations. They take command of the square. Where do they come from? … the same places the street people disappear too?
Jackson Square

Walking along Bourbon Street, one would think the Quarter is nothing but restaurants and bars. Not so. What is now the French Quarter was originally the entire city of New Orleans.
Now the French Quarter, originally the city of New Orleans

Many of the streets are lined with private residences. Creole townhouses are perhaps the most iconic pieces of architecture in the city, comprising much of the French Quarter and the neighboring Faubourg Marigny. Creole townhouses were built after the Great New Orleans Fire in 1788, until the mid-19th century. These structures with courtyards, thick walls, arcades, and cast-iron balconies dominate. The facade of the buildings sit on the property line, with an asymmetrical arrangement of arched openings. Creole townhouses have a steeply-pitched roof with parapets, side-gabled, with several roof dormers and strongly show their French and Spanish influence. The exterior is made of brick or stucco.
A Creole Townhouse

Urban living anywhere is living in close quarters. The Creole townhouses were built as fortresses to “shut out” the street. Consider a city street during the early 1800s. Narrow streets with narrow sidewalks — maybe cobblestones, maybe mud. Traffic was horses and carriages – four-legged manure machines freely dumping solid and liquid waste on the street. (Cowboy movies never show that part). Add physical and human trash, and you have a noisy, smelly brew that every resident wanted to shut out. Thus houses had an internal courtyard that was the focus of family living and heavy shutters on the street side windows and doors. Remember that New Orleans is a southern city – hot and humid.
Creole Townhouse Floor Plan

Nights of revelry are ancient memories for these four old cronies. We’re now the day people doing walking tours of a town that sleeps all day. Bars are silent and almost empty, but still, there are hustlers standing in the doorways trying to get you to enter and taste their fine dining or have a drink. The street noise usually comes from trash trucks, but this time the din was from street repairs/construction. In April 2017, the 100 block of Bourbon Street was closed off for reconstruction of the street and its underground utilities as part of the city's $6 million French Quarter infrastructure project. Walking is now through tunnels of scaffolding covered with tarps and construction barriers. The scene loses much of its appeal.

It was 1862. The country was in the throes of the Civil War. The Union troops had captured New Orleans, President Lincoln had just signed the Homestead Act and was preparing to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, and in the midst of all this turmoil, a tiny coffee shop opened in the picturesque New Orleans French Market. Named Café Du Monde, the stalwart little shop became known for three things. First, they only close on Christmas Day and when the occasional hurricane passes a little too close for comfort. Second, they specialize in the gorgeously rich, dark roasted coffee served, New Orleans-style, with a dash of chicory. And, third, they are famous for beignets, the plump, hot, sugared French-style doughnuts whose siren song entices both New Orleans natives and visitors.
Michelle is the one of our group who knows about beignets. She led the way to this very busy morning place. It was our first stop this morning – straight from the Ferry.
Café du Monde

Café du Monde famous Beignets

A few days ago when we entered Louisiana, I met David Hedges at the Sidell I-10 Rest Area and Visitor's Center near the Louisiana border.
David Hedges, Nola Tour Guy

I was impressed that a young man from New Orleans would travel fifty miles to market his tour guide services. I took his card and resolved to give him our business. David is a Chicago native who considers New Orleans his home. At the age of 19, he traveled to New Orleans and quickly became enamored with the city. After finishing college in Chicago he moved here permanently. In 2011, David obtained his tour guide license so he could share his passion for the city with others, but found that many existing tour companies were based out of state and offered only a cookie cutter, watered-down version of New Orleans’ unique history. So David started his own company, Nola Tour Guy.

Today we let him give us a two-hour walking tour of the French Quarter. We joined up with him at the La Divina Cafe e Gelateria at the corner of St Peter Street and Cabildo Alley, where we became part of a larger tour group.
Our tour group for today

David did a good job. Our walking tour was two hours of city history with emphasis on particular buildings and people that played a big part in the development of the city. Our route began at St Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square and finished at St Louis Cemetery No 1 at St Louis and Basin Streets. This is the burial site of voodoo queen Marie Laveau and other historic notables in the 18th and 19th century. There is a lot of St Louis in this paragraph.

I can not and will not recount everything we saw and heard in those two hours – except for two places that sparked my interest. 624 Pirate's Alley (love that name) is the house where William Faulkner penned his first novel. It is now home to Faulkner House Books, a full-service new and used bookstore. The store specializes in literature unique to the city and by authors who lived or wrote here. It's a great place for new and experienced collectors to find limited and first edition prints of books by Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and other classics. Manager Miss Joanne is supremely knowledgeable and can match you with a satisfyingly good read. Sifting through the dusty classics and finding a signed first edition has been known to happen here.
Faulkner House Books

One block away from the Faulkner house is 722 Toulouse Street. Tennessee Williams lived in an upstairs apartment at this address early in his career, and it is now part of The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC). In this apartment, he wrote his short story "The Angel in the Alcove," and it is where he found inspiration for his play Vieux Carré and other works. Under the care of The Historic New Orleans Collection, it looks a lot better than when Williams lived here.
722 Toulouse Street

Williams used this home address in his play Vieux Carré. This highly autobiographical work is set in a dilapidated boarding house at 722 Toulouse Street in the late 1930s. It focuses on a nameless, newly transplanted, innocent, aspiring St. Louis writer who is struggling with his literary career, poverty, loneliness, homosexuality, and a cataract. Although Williams began writing it shortly after moving to New Orleans in 1938, he didn't finish it until nearly forty years later. I never heard of this play. I think I know why. This doesn’t strike me as an uplifting experience. That subject matter could not be discussed back then. How things do change.

Earlier I mentioned Antonine’s as one of the upscale restaurants. They have an annex at 513 Royal Street featuring daily fresh baked pastries, sandwiches, salads, gelato, and coffee. We needed a rest and some refreshment, so we stopped there and enjoyed some gelato.
Antoines Annex

Next to the Annex was our next stop, the Historic New Orleans Collection. In this complex of historic French Quarter buildings at 533 Royal Street, The Collection operates a museum, which includes the Williams Gallery for changing exhibitions and the Louisiana History Galleries tracing Louisiana’s multifaceted past; the Williams Residence (a house museum); a museum shop; and administrative offices.This place celebrates city's history and culture with guided tours and free exhibitions. Their museum shop carries works by independent artists. What caught my eye was the big poster for the Great River Road.
Historic New Orleans Collection

During our morning walking tour, we did not go inside St Louis Cathederal. The cathederal is a ‘must visit’ so we headed that way. On the way to the cathederal, we took a slight detour on St Peter St (between Bourbon and Royal) to Preservation Hall. I wanted Bonnie and Jim to see this place even though it was not show time. The last time we were here, getting in for a show was first come, first served, and the line began forming early in the afternoon. They now sell tickets for specific shows, and they sell memorabilia in the alley beside the hall. Michelle found a patch for our travel quilt.
Preservation Hall

The Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans and is the oldest cathedral in the United States. Regardless of your faith, this building is impressive both outside and inside. Enter just for a short respite from the heat. Sit in a pew and take it all in. You cannot walk out unaffected. You can take a tour of the building.
The Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis

By now, the afternoon was waning and these old birds were getting hungry and feeling the need to get back to our roost. Restaurant shopping was not appealing, so we decided to repeat last night’s favorable experience at Oceana at the corner of Bourbon and Conti Streets -- just inside the French Quarter. Our waitress last night told us to return and show our receipt for a discount. That made the decision even easier.
Oceana Seafood and Grill

Tonight I enjoyed Seafood Gumbo and Alligator sausage (Atchafalaya).

Seafood Gumbo


Michelle had Crab Cakes and we couldn't resist another Bread Pudding for dessert.
Oceana's Bread Pudding

We have mastered the trolley/ferry routine, so ending our day in The French Quarter and getting back across the river to our campground was an easy task. It was a good day – long and tiring but good.

Thanks to Jim Spain for some of these photographs


Bayou Segnette State Park
7777 Westbank Expressway
Westwego, LA 70094
GPS: 29.88990o, -090.16239o


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The New Orleans Garden District

Bayou Segnette State Park
7777 Westbank Expressway
Westwego, LA 70094
GPS: 29.88990o, -090.16239o

Our instructions for today were "Take the Canal Street trolley north to Carondelet, get a transfer, get on the St Charles trolley, ride to the Garden District, and get off wherever you like."

Canal and St Charles Trollies

If Blanche could do it so can we. Today we were determined to see the famed "Garden District".

From the ferry, we boarded the Canal Street trolley north for a very short ride to Carondelet.

The St Charles trolley gave us an interesting view, so we chose to ride to the end of the line and back, then get off in the middle of the Garden District. It has been ages since I rode a trolley. The ride recalled memories from my ‘kid’ days, although my trolley rides didn’t go through neighborhoods like this.

The Garden District is famous for the mansions along St Charles Avenue for much of the uptown section. Click here for more detail on some of those mansions. St. Charles Avenue is one of the chief Mardi Gras parade routes.

I've never been much for walking around adoring the homes of rich people I don't know, but it must appeal to some. There were several "rickshaw" type bicycle carriages successfully hawking tours.

A few old houses on St Charles Avenue
photographed by Jim Spain

We walked about with no particular destination or plan and found ourselves at "Lafayette Cemetery No 1", a tourist attraction of some fame. It is falling into disrepair and obviously not being maintained by anyone. I suspect the tenants are not very happy with the situation. Now there is one spooky place -- even in daylight. If I was into writing scary stuff, I would park myself there for a night for inspiration. I settled for taking a few photos.

Lafayette Cemetery No 1

I know of Tulane University and I know of Loyola University. I know that they are both in New Orleans. What I didn't know until today is that they are both in the Garden District and side by side. You can't get a coat of paint between them. So I learned something today.

Tulane and Loyola -- side by side

After walking the Garden District for a while, thoughts of food became a recurring theme. We reboarded the trolley and headed back to Canal Street where we met Dave.

This is Dave. That’s all I know about him.

Like most people, I try to avoid street people. But Dave wasn’t ‘street people’. He quickly gained my confidence, then took out a map of the French Quarter and marked good places to eat. I asked about places to hear good jazz. His response surprised me. “Good jazz and Dixieland have moved out of the Quarter. It takes hard rock to sell liquor and that is what the French Quarter is all about. For good jazz, you have to go to Frenchman Street. Places like The Maison, Blue Nile, Three Muses, The Spotted Cat Music Club, and Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro.

For dinner at a reasonable price and within an easy walk, he pointed us to Oceana at the corner of Bourbon and Conti Streets -- just inside French Quarter.

Everything on their sign sounded good to us.

Oceana has a lot of character

Oysters on the half shell. Michelle’s favorite.

My Taste of New Orleans included
Creole jambalaya, crawfish etouffee, red beans and
rice with smoked sausage.

Jim and Bonnie split a Shrimp Poboy.

Shrimp Poboy

We split a very large portion of Bread Pudding for dessert.

We ran out of energy before we ran out of daylight. Time to head for the ferry and back to the campground. At our age we need to be home before dark. Seems like that was the way it was when I was a little kid.

Thanks to Jim Spain for many of these pictures