A desire to make a choice of some kind… I am concerned with magic, awe and wonder, with ontological insecurity.
—-Michael Sandle

The Drummer, Michael Sandle

The Drummer, Michael Sandle

The Drummer, Michael Sandle, The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, New Orleans Museum of Art

I am very aware of the way that Britain has a habit of interfering overseas. Years ago I did a Mickey Mouse machine-gun sculpture as a comment on the Americans in Vietnam. I was interested to discover from my historical research how we’d meddled with the place after the Japanese surrender. It wasn’t the Americans who started it and it wasn’t the French. It was us.

Coming to the Royal Academy: death, brutality and Adam and Eve of No 10
Controversial artwork showing Blairs naked unveiled as the centrepiece of summer exhibition
—-Michael Sandle

Belgrano Medal – a Medal of Dishonour

Faulkner House Books

When I’m lucky enough to visit New Orleans I try to avoid the more obvious tourist traps. I see nothing special about the bitter Joe and greasy dough at Cafe Du Monde, rarely set foot on Bourbon Street, and try to walk out of the Quarter (or at least skirt the edges) whenever possible. Still, there is cool stuff even in the heart of touristland.

One special little spot is Pirate’s Alley. It’s a narrow passage that runs alongside the St. Louis Cathedral, connecting Jackson Square with Royal Street. History drips onto the cobblestones like Spanish Moss from an iron balcony.

Usually I like to aimlessly drift through and see what there is to see. There is usually something interesting. Once, I stumbled across a fashion shoot in the alley.

Fashion Shoot in Pirate's Alley (click to enlarge)

Fashion Shoot in Pirate’s Alley (click to enlarge)

On our last trip – I walked down Decatur from Canal, headed for Pirate’s Alley. This time I was going somewhere in particular – an unusual state for me in the Big Easy. I had realized that I had never visited Faulkner House Books – a tiny bookstore located in the alley.

What makes this store so famous is that it occupies an apartment on the lower floor where William Faulkner once lived. There, in that very space, he hammered out his first novel Soldier’s Pay, begining the transition from unknown poet to Nobel prize winning novelist.

So I crossed Jackson Square – ignoring the thick crowd of artists, musicians, tourists, and fortunetellers – strolled down the alley past the Absinthe House and pushed the doors open to the bookstore.

It’s a small place – not hard to imagine it as a tiny apartment for a young, struggling writer. It’s packed with bookcases, every inch of wall covered, plus a collection of free-standing cases.

“Can I help you?” a woman asked.

“Umm, I’m just looking.”

“Well, the rare and first editions are around the corner, and ask me if you need anything.”

I glanced and saw a well-dressed elderly gentleman delicately thumbing through the case. The woman walked over to him and began to talk about the history of each volume he was examining. I heard him talking about which editions he already had in his collection and what holes he was trying to fill.

Those books were obviously not in my price range so I moved back toward the entrance and began to peruse the ordinary mass market offerings – after all, I had to buy something. I considered picking up a Faulkner novel but decided instead on Same Place, Same Things, a book of short stories by Tim Gautreaux. A South Louisiana writer, I had read another collection of his, Welding With Children, and really liked it.

We had talked about Tim Gautreaux while walking around on our New Orleans Writing Marathon the day before. I had discovered that he had written a story, Waiting for the Evening News, (contained in the book I chose) based on a train derailment in Livingston, Louisiana in 1982. I wanted to read that story because I had worked that train derailment when I was a consultant to the Emergency Response Division of the EPA.

Paperback in hand, I waited while the other man paid for his purchases – two beautiful, large books. His bill came to just under a thousand dollars. After he left, I handed my little trade sale paperback to the woman.

“Sorry, my purchase isn’t quite as big as his,” I said.

She ignored this. “This is very good work, have you read him before?”

I said I had and told her a quick version of the story of the derailment. She smiled and rang me up.

The entrance to Faulkner House Books

The entrance to Faulkner House Books


Right after I took a photo of the plaque, this guy did the same thing.

Right after I took a photo of the plaque, this guy did the same thing.

He and his wife never went in the store - he just moved along, not even taking his eye out of the viewfinder.

He and his wife never went in the store – he just moved along, not even taking his eye out of the viewfinder.

An old video of the train derailment at Livingston. I worked there for a couple weeks – providing technical assistance and taking samples to help determine when the residents could return home. I’m in the video, though unrecognizable, at about the nine minute mark.

You Can’t Get There From Here

Though I am a ridiculous old fat man on a bicycle, I have been working on increasing my mileage and exploring how to integrate cycling into my daily activities better. My goal for 2013 is three thousand miles on my bike. I knew I would start out behind (the weather in the winter is too often simply too nasty to ride) but I try to get as many miles in as possible.

Saturday was a gray post-misty day, cool but not cold – usually considered depressing winter weather – but without a breath of wind, perfect for a bicycle ride. I cruised all over Richardson and North Dallas, getting in about thirty-four miles of city riding, which is a lot for me. I was pretty well worn out.

Sunday was more of the same, a little warmer and a little windier and I wanted to ride somewhere and get a few more miles in – somewhere more or less useful.

About eight miles away (as the bike rolls) is White Rock Coffee, one of my favorite independent coffee spots. There are a number of Starbucks within walking distance of my home, and a couple of bubble teas/smoothie emporiums, but White Rock is the closest non-national-chain coffee spot. There is a new branch of The Pearl Cup, under construction in Richardson, and when it is done it will be a nice bicycle destination. But they are still working on it – so until it’s done it’s White Rock Coffee.

The problem is, I can’t find a good route to White Rock Coffee. The biggest choke point is LBJ/635 Interstate Highway loop. The best crossing between my house and the coffee place is the pedestrian bridge next to the Skillman DART station.

The pedestrian bridge over LBJ at the Skillman Dart station - photo from Googlemaps.

The pedestrian bridge over LBJ at the Skillman Dart station – photo from Googlemaps.

Once you start looking at that crossing you realize a nefarious little bit of nasty city planning. The bridge is useful, mostly because it connects a couple of neighborhoods of rundown apartments (on either side of the freeway) with the train station and each other. The problem is that it is almost impossible to get into or out of those neighborhoods on foot or on bicycle.

I don’t think this is an accident. Streets running up to these areas lose their sidewalks – some residential streets are cut and blockaded. It is obvious that the powers-that-be don’t want folks walking out of their rundown apartment complexes into the more upscale areas of housing.

So I have been working on finding the best route. I came up with one and it’s not that great – there are several nasty road crossings (Yale and Walnut, Leisure and Forest,  and Adleta and Skillman are the some of the worst), four places where I have to walk my bike, and some heavy traffic. A long stretch of narrow, crowded residential street with parked cars filling both sides – the door zone fills the whole street. It’s especially tough because I’m riding my road bike right now – I’m rebuilding my commuter/bad weather bike. The narrow tires are pickier about terrain.

I decided to give it a go today – stuffed my laptop and an extra shirt into my backpack and set off. I know eight miles isn’t very far, but it’s a tough eight miles. The backpack was heavy and I was always riding into the wind (how does that work?). It’s all crowded urban stop-and-go riding.

That’s the thing about riding a bicycle in the city – you see things you never do from a car (or on foot, really, because you can’t travel that far). You see beauty, notice hills you never would otherwise, connect with the weather in an intimate, organic way… but you see a lot of nasty, brutish, and ugly stuff too. A lot of trash, homeless people, and neglect.

I hadn’t anticipated the amount of broken glass on the streets and sidewalks in some of these neighborhoods. Sure enough, crossing 635 on the pedestrian bridge I put a sliver of shattered malt liquor bottle through my rear tire and had to patch it in a nasty little parking lot covered in antifreeze and oil that had been dumped there, keeping an eye on the crack dealers that were keeping an eye on me.

Life in the big city in this best of all possible worlds.

I had better finish this up and drink the rest of my coffee and get home – I don’t want to do that ride in the dark.

Source Figure

“The reason why I know the Blue Dog is important today, really, is because it relates to so many kids. If you relate something to the children, then you know you’re on something that’s sincere, that’s truth, that’s truth that’ll never die.”
—- George Rodrigue


Source Figure, by Robert Graham, and We Stand Together, by George Rodrigue

The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, New Orleans Museum of Art

Robert Graham’s bronze, Source Figure, (Graham was well-known as Angelica Huston’s husband until his death)

– in front of We Stand Together… one of George Rodrigue’s  Blue Dogs.

Technium Rex

I love exploring the city by bicycle. Here’s my old Raleigh Technium locked up and guarded by the TRex in Exposition Park, Dallas.

My bicycle locked up to the TRex in Exposition Park, Dallas, Texas

My bicycle locked up to the TRex in Exposition Park, Dallas, Texas

Taken during the Deep Ellum Holiday Boutique Shop & Ride.

What I learned this week, January 25, 2013

Dallas Tweed Ride

Save the Date: The Official Dallas Tweed Ride, February 9th **Updated Date**

Be there or be square. I’m stoked.

Tabasco Gumbo Recipes

10 Beautifully Designed Beer Products

It’s the Little Things:
5 Ways to Spend Less & Reduce Clutter

I was at Target the other day, and standing in front of me in line was a gentleman buying a plunger. That’s it. A plunger. While I really should have been feeling bad for him, because after all, the poor guy was out on a plunger run, I found myself staring at him in wonder, dazzled by his ability to get out of Target with only one darn thing.

Raise a glass at Dallas-area craft breweries, where tours are like little parties

Composer Duncan Sheik Gives New Information About American Psycho: The Musical

15 Remakes Worthy of Your Time

October is so far away. This should be cool.

The Aurora Project

Shane Pennington is one of the founders of Aurora. He did this amazing sculpture/installation in the Arts District.

I wrote about it…
Here – Piedras en el Hielo
Here – The Next Day
Here – Ice Melts in the Rain
Here – Ice Melts in the Sun
and here – A Week and a Day

30 of the Best Beer Can Designs


The Universal view melts things into a blur.
—-Emile Cioran

You must have a colorful fork.

You must have a colorful fork.

New Orleans, French Quarter

I enjoy sitting at a little sidewalk table, sipping something – maybe my notebook is out – watching the world going by. If you move too much, you miss everything. Stay still, and it will come to you… sort of like hunting from a blind. It may not seem so exciting, but it’s how to bag the big game.

Having a camera does ruin things a bit. I don’t like looking at the world through a viewfinder. I don’t like closing my mind so I can think of angles, exposures, ISO.  But if I don’t make that sacrifice I can’t share it all with you, can I… so enjoy what you can… viddy well, my little droogies, viddy well.

Of course, another option is to set the camera on the table and simply reach out, now and then, and tap the shutter.

Reflected Trees With Chihuly Red Reeds, redux

Trees reflected in a pond, inverted, with Chihuly, Red Reeds

Trees reflected in a pond, inverted, with Chihuly, Red Reeds

A second version of a photograph I did the other day. One of my most overused and trite photographic techniques – taking a photograph of a reflection and then inverting it. This is one of trees reflected in the pond of Chihuly’s Red Reeds, at the Dallas Arboretum. So overused… I’ve done it again.

I think I like this one better, though I like the floating leaves in the other.

Chihuly, Red Reeds

Chihuly, Red Reeds