Cycling Through a Blast Furnace

“Just as the Mediterranean separated France from the country Algiers, so did the Mississippi separate New Orleans proper from Algiers Point. The neighborhood had a strange mix. It looked seedier and more laid-back all at the same time. Many artists lived on the peninsula, with greenery everywhere and the most beautiful and exotic plants. The French influence was heavy in Algiers, as if the air above the water had carried as much ambience as it could across to the little neighborhood. There were more dilapidated buildings in the community, but Jackson and Buddy passed homes with completely manicured properties, too, and wild ferns growing out of baskets on the porches, as if they were a part of the architecture. Many of the buildings had rich, ornamental detail, wood trim hand-carved by craftsmen and artisans years ago. The community almost had the look of an ailing beach town on some forgotten coast.”
― Hunter Murphy, Imogene in New Orleans

Every year during the New Orleans Writing Marathon I make a point of crossing the Mississippi River on the Algiers Ferry. This year a group of poets decided to walk through the French Quarter and make the crossing. I’m no poet, but the rules aren’t too strict, so I tagged along.

I love riding the Ferry, though I have done it more than a few times. The Algiers Ferry moves cars, pedestrians, and cyclists from the dock at the foot of Canal Street across to the town of Algiers on the West Bank. Even though you are going from the Eastern half United States to the West, due to the twisting river the boat actually goes sort of in another direction. There is something about crossing the Mississippi, though I always think of the ferry as the spot where John Goodman’s character committed suicide in the series Treme. If you’ve ever seen the film Déjà Vu this is the ferry the terrorists attack.

The day was incredibly hot and humid and we maneuvered our route to the ferry to use as much shade as possible. The trip across is two dollars, cash only, no change – I always take a stack of ones and quarters with me when I go to New Orleans for the ferry and the streetcar.

Saint Louis Cathedral from across the Mississippi River at Algiers Point

Two women and a dog In the middle of the river on the Algiers Ferry.

On the Algiers side we went to a trio of spots to write. First was breakfast at Tout de Suite Cafe, which was very good. Right next door was the excellent cafe/coffee shop Two Birds, One Stone – they had a back room full of pinball machines and big tables, a perfect place to write. The young owners were very accommodating to our group – I want to visit again and recommend you do too. I wrote snippets of text at both, then we walked on to Congregation Coffee Roasters for a third stop. I decided to churn out a poem, since that was what everybody else was doing.

Rented Furniture

A worshipped monolith
made of translucent plastic
red and stained
a machine of fire and water

A cylinder, a totem
raised on a dias of wood
life that needs washing
escape and revelation

We didn’t make the payments
and they took the furniture
when we were gone
and returned to find
an empty room, with
only a bong on a wooden
wire spool table

It was still fairly early, but some of the others had to get back to do a radio broadcast – everybody piled back on the ferry for the trip back.I was distracted by two bike share rental bikes at the ferry terminal and, checking the map on my phone, discovered there was a bike trail on the top of the river levee on the Algiers side – so I opened the app on my phone and unlocked a bike – deciding to go for a ride.

New Orleans Bike Share Bike

The New Orleans bike share bikes are built like a tank, and as heavy as one – but the city is flat so that doesn’t cause too much of a problem. It took me a minute to find the control and downshift so I could climb onto the Levee and the swept handlebars took some getting used to. But soon enough I had it all in control and was moving down the smooth levee trail.

I rode south (or more exactly, downriver – the Mississippi curves) for a few miles, down past the Naval station. It was fun – the view of the river and giant ships and barges on one side – the picturesque streets of Algiers on the other. The path sort of petered out and I rode back, past the ferry station and upriver to the giant double bridge… the Crescent City Connector. That was about seven miles and about all I felt up to, so I rode back to the ferry and parked my rented bike.

It was a lot of fun, but there was one problem. It was so hot. It was like riding through a blast furnace. There was no breeze at all – no cooling relief coming off of the river. The top of the Levee is very exposed, not a bit of shade. The burning sun, the boiling air, and the famous New Orleans summer humidity made for a sweaty, exhausting ride.

I was so worn out that when I made it back across the river I was lazy and took a streetcar through the French Quarter (still had a dollar bill and a quarter) back to where we were meeting. A long day, a hot day, but a nice time.

Can’t wait to go back.

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The Essential Hot Sauces

“He who controls the spice controls the universe.”
― Frank Herbert, Dune


Oblique Strategy:
Don’t break the silence

I am all about the hot sauce. Food exists largely as a means to shovel hot sauce into my mouth. There is a simple test – if it doesn’t make the top of my head sweat – it isn’t hot enough.

Ok, I’ve been digging around my archive USB hard drive and found a blog entry from 2006, my second version of The Daily Epiphany, called The Essential Hot Sauces.I had a magazine ask for an article version of this – though they settled for a different one.


Right now, I have only three essential hot sauces. There are others that are good, but these are essential.

Cholula

First, is Cholula, the one that I guess would count as my single favorite. It’s the one with the wooden ball for a cap – easy to spot on a shelf. What makes it special is the fact it is made with Chile Pequin (or Piquin, similar, but not quite there, to the cultivated Tepin), a tiny wild chili instead of some cultivated pepper. The sauce costs more because of that but it has a complex flavor unmatched in cheaper sauces.

Bufalo Chipotle

Next, I still have Bufalo Chipotle on my list. None of the other Bufalo brand sauces are very good – but their Chipotle is the best. I’ve enjoyed the various uses of chipotle (smoked jalepeno peppers) for years, long before they were as famous as they are now, and am a little perturbed at something I like so much become chic, Americanized, and homogenized. Still, the old standby, Bufalo Chipotle hasn’t changed a bit. Its flavor, from a smoked pepper, is very different from any other type of sauce, and it great for a change of pace. Also, it’s thick and dark in color (almost a black-purplish-brown) and can be attractive when used with a contrasting sauce such as:

The third sauce is one I learned to like since 1998. It’s Sriracha, and is an Asian sauce – the one in the plastic squeeze bottle with the rooster on the front.

Sriracha

It’s thick too, and a bright orange, and mixes well with other stuff. I think I eat more of this than any other kind.

I think I need to add a couple more – a Louisiana sauce at least (Something other than Tabasco – that old favorite seems to be getting too thin and vinagar-y lately) and maybe a habanera-based sauce (these are so hot… I want to find one with some flavor in it).

Any suggestions would be appreciated.


It’s funny to read this after all these years. It’s odd to thing about a time before Sriracha because it is now such a ubiquitous part of my life. Otherwise, those three are still essential.

At the end, I wondered about Louisiana hot sauce, since then I made up my mind and wrote a blog entry about it:

Tabasco or Crystal

A tough choice.

Crystal it is.

And I wondered about Habanero based sauce. I have a homemade habanero sauce that is great and the link takes you to a blog entry and recipe, but I don’t make it too often – it’s too dangerous (I’m sitting here sweating, just thinking about it). I will buy a Yucateco sauce, green or red, to keep on hand in case of emergencies. Be careful with it, it’s hot.

But what I wanted to write about, is that I am addicted to a new hot sauce. We were at a restaurant (already forgotten what it was) and they had a green Sriracha sauce that was delicious. It wasn’t very hot – but it had a great flavor. They had red and green, but the green was something new.

Green and Red Sriracha

What caught my eye was that the bottles were labeled Distributed by ALDI.

Aldi, if you don’t know, is this cool new model of a grocery store. There is one at the end of our street and over a block. I like it especially because it is uphill from the house. I ride my bike uphill and then buy milk or water or other heavy items and coast downhill back home.

Now every time I go there I buy three bottles of the green Sriracha. I eat a lot of it because it isn’t all that hot – so I put too much on. I put it on everything. And I mean ever-y-thing. It’s too soon to say if I will add it to the essential list – I might tire of it. We’ll see.

Human Beings Would Not Be Human Without Them

“Any technological advance can be dangerous. Fire was dangerous from the start, and so (even more so) was speech – and both are still dangerous to this day – but human beings would not be human without them.”
― Isaac Asimov

Gas Space Heater, St. Charles Guest House, New Orleans, Louisiana

Gas Space Heater,
St. Charles Guest House,
New Orleans, Louisiana

A cold snap came through New Orleans the day after Halloween. When we came back to our room in the old guest house in the Garden District an unseen Prometheus had lit the gas space heater in the bathroom, filling the cracked and colorful old Art Deco tile designs with a warmth of blue, red, and orange.

Sushi and Georgia O’Keeffe

Crazy Fish Sushi and a book of Georgia O'Keeffe paintings (Click to Enlarge)

Crazy Fish Sushi and a book of Georgia O’Keeffe paintings
(Click to Enlarge)

It was way too hot. The mercury was rising well past the century mark and the Texas sun was beating down, roasting the world with its searing incandescence – still, I wanted to get out and do a bike ride – get some mobile urban photography done – for fun and fodder for blog entries. I packed up, rode to the station, took the DART train downtown and started wandering around.

The night before I had ridden some similar streets with a lot of other folks – the Critical Mass Dallas last-friday-of-the-month ride. I had a blast. We rode from Main Street Garden Park, through downtown, past the Hyatt Regency and across into Oak Cliff, down to Bishop Arts, and then on to a Cuban-Themed party on a rooftop along Jefferson Street (a few doors down from the Texas Theater).

A lot of cool folks, a good time. We rode back across the Jefferson Street Viaduct bike lane – which was spectacular at night. I’m going to have to repeat some of that ride with a camera and a bit of time.

At any rate – one nice thing about a night ride is the cool air.

By noon the next day – cool air was only found inside.

I locked up my bike in Deep Ellum and started walking around, but the heat was getting to me. I was feeling dizzy and my mind was fuzzing up like an old slice of bread. So I thought about bailing and heading home to flop around in the air conditioning, but I had brought two liters of iced water in the cooler that straps to the back of my commuter bike. I’ve learned that I can take the heat pretty well as long as I keep moving and drink as much cold water as possible.

I drank some water, rode a bit, drank some more, found some shade… and felt a lot better.

A week ago, I had been in Klyde Warren park, killing a few minutes, and had thumbed through a book of Georgia O’Keeffe paintings that was set out in the reading room in the park. One quote from the book was still rattling around in my head – but I couldn’t remember it exactly and without the exact words couldn’t find it on the Internet. I wanted to use the quotation for a bit of writing/photography. The mystery quote was bothering me like an unscratched itch so I decided to ride back there and take another look at the book.

While I was there I bought a sushi roll from the Crazy Fish Truck (plus more cold water and a diet coke ). Then I was able to get a little green table in some dappled shade and sit down with the paintings and my food and hang.

Oh, I did misremember the quote a little bit. I am happy to set the record straight – but I’m thinking that my misremembered version might be… if not better, more useful for my purposes.

Crazy Fish Sushi Roll, and a Georgia O'Keeffe

Crazy Fish Sushi Roll, and a Georgia O’Keeffe

Short Story Day 2 – Heat

2. – Heat
Joyce Carol Oates
http://www.classicshorts.com/stories/heat.html

Ok, now for something completely different. We swerve away from the careful, slightly arcane prose of W. Somerset Maugham to the modern, spare, gut-wrenching writing of Joyce Carol Oates.

I have read a lot of her stories over the years. As a matter of fact, I’m working through a massive tome (well, it would be massive if it wasn’t stored as a collection of electrons in my Kindle) of her collected works… spanning more than four decades of her prodigious output.

One of her best is the classic, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been – which I re-read a week ago, read carefully, trying to fully understand the implications and observations of that frightening tale of adolescence and loss of innocence.

Heat is a very short, odd story. On the surface it is a horror story – the tale of the murder of twin girls, little more than children. It is more than this salacious collection of lurid facts, however.

The story is told from the point of view of another girl, a friend of the murdered twins. It is told in a simple, yet disjointed style. At first, it seems like a mannered, but straightforward telling of a horrific incident in the narrator’s youth.

If you pay close attention, however, the narrator begins including details that there is no way she could possibly know about. You can’t help but think, “Was she there? Did she see something? Was she involved in some way?” Of course she wasn’t… the reader knows this – but you can’t help but think.

Then there is the connection with the narrator’s adult life – her passions and destructive behavior. What is the relationship between these passages and the deaths of her twin friends from her childhood? Is she a reliable narrator? Why is she telling us all this?

The final line of the story seems to provide an answer – if not a complete and not a fully understandable one.

Now, if W. Somerset Maugham in his story seemed to hint at a second world, a world of chaos and primitive passions, one that civilized men almost always lack the courage to embrace – here we have Joyce Carol Oates completely tearing the tissue-like barrier between the two completely away – leaving the frightening reality that lies just beyond our everyday thoughts and actions completely exposed. It sits there bleeding and pulsing like a disembodied heart – and she enjoins us to look at it and acknowledge its existence through her fiction.

Or at least I think so.

Behind the icehouse in his car I’d think of Rhea and Rhoda and what happened that day upstairs in Roger Whipple’s room. And the funeral parlor with the twins like dolls laid out and their eyes like dolls’ eyes too that shut when you tilt them back. One night when I wasn’t asleep but wasn’t awake either I saw my parents standing in the doorway of my bedroom watching me and I knew their thoughts, how they were thinking of Rhea and Rhoda and of me their daughter wondering how they could keep me from harm, and there was no clear answer.
—-Joyce Carol Oates, Heat

Old Engine

I’ve been working hard, riding my bicycle from five to ten miles every day. It’s getting really hot, but luckily, you make your own breeze on the bike and it’s possible to get some riding done in the heat. Staying hydrated is the key. I carry two water bottles and a big liter container full of iced water in a bag and that helps. As the summer gets worse, I’ll start wearing a hydration pack – though the thing is a pain to fill and to keep clean.

What I do when it gets hot is to ride a bit, then stop, rest, drink some water and maybe read some on my Kindle. Ten miles and three short stories seems to be a nice bit of morning’s work.

I still feel stupid riding around, but I’m getting used to that. Feel stupid, look stupid – after a while it’s all the same – you have to do what you have to do. It’s more a matter of survival than of vanity.

Sometimes I carry a small point-and-shoot along with me, though I don’t see much worth pointing at or shooting. I did run across this car. I’m not a car expert or a connoisseur of automobiles but this one looks pretty darn cool.

If it has the original engine inside – it’s the same age as the one on my bicycle.

1957 Thunderbird

A gecko in the watering can.

gecko by chancew1
gecko, a photo by chancew1 on Flickr.

The terrible heat continues…. It’s always hot here in the summer, of course, but this is crazy. When I left work today, going out into the parking lot, it literally felt like I was walking into an open oven door.

At any rate, I took this picture a few years ago… it looks cool and relaxing somehow.

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Oh, and here’s some music from a band I really like… and you have never heard of. They are called “My Favorite” – I have no idea where I first heard their stuff, but I really liked it. They broke up in 2005, I don’t know anything about what’s happened to their members since. They did have some fans.

Music never really goes away though, does it.