Tag Archives: New Orleans

Storm memories

I’D LIKE TO BE able to say that I got out of Houston in the nick of time. But nearly 18 years ago hardly qualifies as a “nick of time,” but I did get out.

As the nation’s fourth-largest city dries out, I am happy that only two people still live there for whom I have feelings. One is my former wife, and the other is Victoria who is now a real estate agent with a child she adopted four years ago.

I emailed my ex-wife the day after Harvey hit to inquire about her well-being and that of the house I so generously and perhaps stupidly gifted her shortly after our divorce in 1995. She replied from Oklahoma! She and a friend had fled Houston on Thursday, a day before Harvey arrived onshore.

I asked about the house, and she said it was high and dry. I asked how she knew that, but she has yet to reply. I also emailed Victoria. She, her home and the tyke are well.

Before moving to Mexico at age 55, most of my life had been spent within spitting distance of hurricane-prone coasts. In spite of that, I got hammered head-on just once by a hurricane.

Once was more than enough.

Betsy in 1965, New Orleans. Category Four.

The eye went right over my head.

I want to tell you something: Hurricanes are scary! And I don’t mean Halloween scary. Or fun scary.

I mean, Am-I-going-to-see-tomorrow scary.

I was 21 years old and holing up with my parents. The three of us had moved to New Orleans from Nashville just months earlier. None of us had been in the middle of a hurricane before, which is why we stayed put in New Orleans. We were clueless.

Perilously uninformed.

We were in the second-floor of a duplex rental.

People who’ve not been hit directly by a major hurricane have no idea what they’re up against. It is beyond belief. I always roll my eyes on seeing news clips of “hurricanes” supposedly during one. I have never seen a news clip that even approximated what you experience in a real hurricane.

What you usually see is billboards flapping, lots of rain, some dumb reporter in a raincoat leaning into the wind, tins and bottles hopping down the sidewalk and street.

This is dangerously misleading.

Believe this: In the middle of a major hurricane, you don’t go outside to shoot news film. You don’t even approach a window or glass door unless you’re feeling suicidal.

A major hurricane is incredible. You’ve heard tornadoes being described as “sounding like a freight train.”

The tornado freight train lasts just seconds or a minute. The hurricane freight train goes on for hours. If you stick your head up from where you’re squatting on the floor and risk a look through a window that’s not boarded up, you see this:

Trees bent at 45-degree angles or more. Electricity leaping along power lines like escaped white snakes.

And the incessant roar. Everything in the neighborhood flying all over the place in every direction possible.

My father left his Rambler parked beside the house, not even in a garage, which shows how dumb we were. Later we found a number of small holes in the car body that had been caused by stones penetrating it at bullet velocity.

I left New Orleans and my parents two days later and moved to Baton Rouge to enroll at LSU. Baton Rouge’s damage was minimal, nothing like New Orleans where my parents did not get electricity in the house again for weeks.

No matter. We were lucky to be alive, and I learned a permanent lesson. If a hurricane is on the distant horizon, hightail it to Oklahoma. Fast as you can. Don’t dally.

Far from home

Cuban spread

WE PASSED 15 years of matrimony last month and had planned on spending a few days on the Pacific sands to mark the happy event, but it never happened.

My dental work intervened, not just the visits to the dentist but the cost too, which took a good chunk out of the checkbook. Sure, we could still go to the beach, but the moment has passed, plus it’s hot as hell there right now.

We decided to just “celebrate” with a nice meal at a Cuban restaurant in the state capital. The restaurant offers a “Cuban banquet,” and we ordered that … for two.

That was last weekend. The banquet is quite good. The only beef I have with it is they plop everything on your table at the same time. It should come in stages, especially the warm dessert.

We’ve also eaten Cuban food in Cuba, of course, and it was good, but I wouldn’t recommend visiting Cuba. It’s depressing.

Lying in bed this morning before dawn, I was thinking about the United States where I was born and where I have not set foot in eight years. I likely will never set foot there again.

Years of separation, living in a very different society, affects your mind, your viewpoint, your perspective and so on. I’m sure that a visit now would be jarring.

The Germanic efficiency, the rules, the regulations, the cops who actually pay attention to your speed, the need to watch your mouth, be “sensitive.” Indeed, the entire humorless, asexual, multicultural mess that exists up there.

Don’t think I’d care for any of it.

I would enjoy a New Orleans snow cone and beignets on the banks of the Mississippi. But I would reel at prices that would seem stunning due to the exchange rate of the last few years and my no longer having access to dollars.

But mostly it would be a thump to my psyche.

Most Americans who live down here appear to flee back over the border on a regular basis, avoiding that thump.

I have no plans to return, ever.

Not to America. Not to Cuba either.

Newspaper days

I WAS A newspaperman for about 30 years before I retired at age 55 in late 1999. I never called myself a journalist, and I’ve never taken even one journalism course.

I’ve also been a taxi driver, a loan shark and a repo man.

But it was newspapering that I was best at.

There’s a link in the right-side column that takes you to Newspaper Days, a description of my decades in that world. It was a profession I fell into, just one more path in a life that’s been almost entirely haphazard.

Take a look if you have some spare moments. It’s a quick tour through exotic places like San Juan and New Orleans, and even haircuts in the Virgin Islands.

You’ll also encounter mangy dogs, suicides, alcoholism, unionism, motorcycles, political correctness, feminist zealotry, homosexuality, paste pots and old typewriters.

Living with tourists

scene
I shot this photo on a sunny day recently.

MUCH OF MY life has been spent surrounded by tourists. There was the 18 years in New Orleans, and now the 17 years in my Mexican mountain town.

It adds up to about half my life. The rest of my adult life was spent almost entirely in Houston, Texas, which is also a swell place to live, or it was when I left.

Not too touristy though.

I also lived almost almost two years in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which is so touristy that cruise ships harbor there.

People come to tourist towns, look around, and say, boy, it must be great to live here. Guess what? It is.

I landed in New Orleans by pure happenstance. But I came to my mountain town deliberately. I will die here.

Surrounded by tourists.

Train times

WE MAY HAVE iPods and iPads and iTunes and even flaming Samsungs today, but we do not have trains. Freight trains are nice, but passenger trains are lovely.

One advantage of being vintage is that you had trains in your life, and now you have trains in your mind.

A railroad track passes directly behind the house across our street. Freights thunder by day and night. My favorite is the 5:45 a.m. Who needs an alarm clock?

Most passenger trains are gone, and we’re left with the occasional line that transports tourists. Alas.

As a child I boarded trains at the huge station in Jacksonville, Florida, and rode 200-plus miles northwest to Sylvester, Georgia, where I stepped down onto dirt.

Grandparents picked me up in an old Ford, and we drove to the farm on rutted, red-clay roads.

new-imageOne evening in 1962 a staff sergeant deposited me at the station in San Antonio, Texas, handing me a ticket and ordering me aboard.

The Air Force paid for a solo sleeper to Rantoul, Illinois. I woke the next morning and watched a forest of white-barked birch trees passing. I’d never seen birches.

Also courtesy of the Air Force, a few months later, I railed from Rantoul to the San Joaquin Valley of California, via Chicago. All the way across much of America.

From New Orleans I would ride the elegant Southern Railway to Atlanta to visit my parents. “Southern Railway Serves the South.” It surely did. But not anymore.

Traveling solo with two bottles of tequila, I rode in a sleeper from Mexico City to Ciudad Juárez. I stood outside on the bucking platform between cars and watched the desert mountains in the distance, which was romantic.

With the woman who’s now my second ex-wife, I took a train from the English Channel to Paris, and a few days later an overnight sleeper to Barcelona.

The following year found me on a train alone from Edinburgh to Inverness and a few days later, with a new traveling companion in the form of a lovely American anthropologist, aboard a train from Inverness to the craggy coast of Scotland.

From there we ferried to the Isle of Skye.

I stood outside, six days later, as my traveling companion, leaned out the train window (just like in the movies) as it pulled from the station in Chester, England, taking her to Wales. My ride, an hour later, went to London.

I never saw her again.

Again with my second ex-wife, I took a train from Los Mochis, Mexico, to Chihuahua with an overnight at the Copper Canyon. After a following night in a Chihuahua hotel, we took a jammed, third-class train to Ciudad Juárez.

That was in the 1980s, and it was my last train ride.

Bars I’ve loved

batey
El Batey these days.

I WENT ON the wagon in 1996, but I once was a drinking man. Not a falling-down drunk, but a constant imbiber.

Every day. Without fail. For 25 years.

Not recommended. It affects relationships.

No matter. Some bars I have loved. In a recent post, I mentioned that a bartender who served me in the 1970s in New Orleans is a part-time resident here on my mountaintop.

It was one of the bars I loved. The Abbey.

My most beloved bar of all — El Batey — was in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Recently I did an internet search, wondering if El Batey still existed, and it surely does.

It’s now the oldest bar in Old San Juan, and it has its own Facebook page. But what business doesn’t?

El Batey has changed a lot over the years, but outside more than inside where the only alternations seem to be more wall graffiti. Here is a current exterior shot, just below, and a photo from when I drank there, farther below.

batey-outside-now
Today.

Note the street surface in the photo to the left. It’s blue stone that Spaniards brought to the New World as ballast in sailing ships.

So it’s said.

It was recycled into cobblestones in what is now Old San Juan, which is San Juan’s version of New Orleans’ French Quarter.

You don’t encounter blue streets very often, and they take on a particularly lovely cast when slicked with raindrops.

When I moved to San Juan the first time in the early 1970s — I was there twice, once for five months and a second stint of 11 months — I had a black BSA motorcycle shipped down from New Orleans in the hold of a Sealand freighter.

old-days
When I drank there.

A decade ago I wrote El Morro Sunrise about a late night in El Batey while the black BSA leaned on the cobblestones.

My two spells in San Juan were separated only by a year or so. When I returned for the final time I brought a record from New Orleans. It was one of Jimmy Buffett’s lesser-known ditties, titled Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw?

The owner put it on the jukebox.

El Batey was owned by Davey Jones. In the early years, while I was there, he had a business partner named Norman, a spectacularly delightful man.

My second ex-wife and I visited Puerto Rico in the early 1990s, about 20 years after I lived there, and the only time I’ve returned. We went to El Batey, and Jones told me that Norman had died. Far too young.

norman
Norman
jones
Davey

If memory serves, Davey was one of those mail-order ministers with the legal right to perform marriages.

I was smitten at the time with an Argentine floozy who’d overstayed her visa. I decided to marry her so she could stay in San Juan, and Davey agreed to perform the ceremony. But it never happened, thank God.

Which is why you shouldn’t drink, boys and girls.

During that 1990s visit, I checked the jukebox for my Jimmy Buffett record, but it was not there.

One of Davey’s daughters, Maria, told me on Facebook that he died last year. He was in his early 80s. R.I.P.

* * * *

The Abbey

abbey

Both fore and aft of my times in San Juan, I favored a bar on Decatur Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, a city where I lived off and on — mostly on — for 18 years.

For a time after my first divorce, my ex-wife tended bar there, and it’s where she met her second husband, the guy who jumped bond on a marijuana charge and hightailed it to Canada with my ex-wife and my daughter.

The Mounties nabbed them three years later, and they were returned to New Orleans where everything eventually got straightened out, and both ex-wife, second husband and daughter are now upstanding citizens.

The Abbey is one of a handful of New Orleans bars that never close, a characteristic that suited me wonderfully.

On Sundays, back when I was a patron, the owner laid out a spectacular free spread of snacks that negated your having to buy your own main meal that day.

Between the two, I favored El Batey, but I’ve spent far more nights in The Abbey.

If you stumble out of The Abbey at dawn, lurch right a couple of blocks to Jackson Square, look left and you’ll see the levee that holds back the Mighty Mississippi.

You’ll spot freighters passing above the levee’s crest because the river is higher than the city.

It’s like watching ships sailing in the sky.

* * * *

(Note: El Batey is a plaza for community events, a word that comes from the Caribbean Taino people.)

 

Moving pictures

cameraVIDEOS ARE not my main thing, but I’ve done them, and maybe I’ll do more.

I have lots of videos from years past in a couple of internet corners. Links are elsewhere on this page.

Recently I discovered a video host that I like, and I opened a free account and inserted 10 very brief movies from those olden days that collectively provide an accurate flavor of life here on my Mexican mountaintop.

They are the wheat filtered from the chaff.

Small world: In the first video there is a blonde woman sitting at a café table. Her name is Robyn, and she was my bartender at a Decatur Street dive in New Orleans in the 1970s.

Her being here and my being here are totally coincidental. However, she’s only a part-timer on the mountaintop. I, on the other hand, am a permanent fixture.

new-image

Down the hallway

ON THE BIG plaza yesterday, I had a nice café Americano negro with a vanilla muffin that I bought in a pastry shop near the San Juan Church and Hospital.

After the café Americano negro, I walked to the other side of the plaza to buy a little lemon ice. It’s just like they sell in New Orleans but at a lower price here, of course.

About 5:30 p.m. it was, and the plaza was full of happy-looking people. There was no gunfire, no grenades. The air was clear and cool, and the towering ash trees rustled.

The fountains made water sounds, and the pigeons crapped on the heads of long-dead heroes and priests who — being stone — just stood there and took it.

I drove the Honda home. As I walked through the Hacienda’s downstairs hallway toward the closet to slip on my PJs, I noticed the mask that was bathed in light from a large glass brick in the ceiling, which is the terraza floor above.

maskThis is the mask of a viejito, an old man. There are dance troupes in our area who perform for tourists.

dollThis doll would get me kicked out of modish households in the United States. The skull face is cut from metal.

boat
The hull is made of something that sloughed off a palm tree.

We bought this boat on a pier in Zihuatanejo. It brings back memories of happy days in sunshine and blue seas with a beautiful woman who spoke to me in Spanish.

The Ironman

weightsI AM TRIM and, to all appearances, quite healthy for an old fart.

I attribute this to years of steady, light exercise, salads and a child bride. Don’t discount the latter.

In 1980, I weighed 60 pounds more than I weigh today. Oddly, I was not so much fat as formidable.

It was in that distant year in New Orleans — where I often would eat French fry po’ boys — that I decided to get trim and svelte.

Being fat is not an issue of hunger. It’s about habits and emotions. Services like Weight Watchers can address your bad habits, but they do little with your emotions, which is why 99 percent of overweight people get fat again soon after ending a weight-loss program.*

Of the two — habits and emotions — it’s emotions that play the primary role. They form the habits, after all.

Here’s how I took and kept off 60 pounds, and you can do it too. Well, except for those sneaky emotions.

I quit eating crap, and you know what the crap is: cakes, pies, burgers, Snickers, deep-fried anything, etc. You don’t need to buy a book that spells it out. It’s common sense.

And I started exercising. Twenty minutes of brisk walking five days weekly does it.  Thirty-five years later, I’m still at it.

Most folks start brutal exercise routines, weary of it within two weeks, and that’s the end of that. Don’t overreach.

In addition to walking, I do what my wife considers a laughable series of weight-lifting. That’s my weight machine in the photo. Three times a week, and it takes about 10 minutes.

I weigh what I weighed at age 21, half a century ago.

Before buying the weight apparatus, I visited a gym here three mornings a week, but the gym went out of business about five years back, so I purchased my setup at Liverpool in the capital city for the peso equivalent of about $600.

So there you have Felipe’s Foolproof Weight Loss System. Don’t eat crap, do light exercise five days a week (forever!) and marry a child bride, preferably Mexican.

You womenfolk can adjust that last element to your liking, but know that folks will gossip behind your back.

* * * *

*Don’t ever start a “diet” because they never work. The concept of a diet implies a beginning and — when you reach your “goal weight” — an end. When you end your diet, you start eating like you did before. And you get fat again. Never go on a diet. Instead, change your habits permanently.