Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Night Birds

I was up very early this morning (around 4 a.m.) and met this little fellow out for a stroll along St. Ann Street on Jackson Square. He's a Yellow-crowned Night Heron, naturally. Here's what my Book of North American Birds has to say about his kind:
The bird's cloak is the color of pewter in moonlight, and his legs look amber-glazed. Surprised at close quarters, the bird will often freeze rather than fly, studying the intruder with sleepy, half-opened eyes. In turn, the lucky intruder wins a rare opportunity to study a bird of uncommon beauty.
Just so.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pretty Plantations All in a Row

I've always admired the 18th century plantation houses on Moss Street with their West Indian style, hipped roofs and graceful second floor galleries. For some reason, I thought there were only three. But on an early evening walk on Bayou St. John today, I discovered two more. I felt like an amateur astronomer finding a new comet or asteroid. More astonishing was that these houses are all within four blocks of each other. 

I was so glad I brought my camera. So here they are, starting from the Esplanade side of Moss Street:

Old Plantation New Orleans
Number 1: The Pitot House, built around 1800.
Number 2: The Rectory of Holy Rosary R.C. Church.
Bayou St. John homes
Number 3: This one was new to me, but it's been there since 1784 tucked away on the corner of Grand Route St. John.
Number 4: I had dinner in this house once, a guest of the former owners. It's every bit as elegant on the inside.
Number 5: And how did I miss this beauty for so long? Hiding in plain sight at Dumaine and Moss.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


New Orleans Athletic Club swimming

Tell me, dear readers, is this not a spectacular place to swim? Even old Caracalla would have to admire the classic natatorium at the New Orleans Athletic Club.

I’ve been swimming there every night lately – a half a mile at least, sometimes a mile or more when I’m feeling all stretched out and relaxed. Crawl, breast stroke, back stroke. Forty yards to the lap, 44 laps to the mile. The pecs, traps, and lats on this geezerly torso are shaping up nicely. The wind is back in my lungs. I’ve dropped two belt notches. And I’ve had moments of blissfully expanded consciousness during longer swims. Nirvana is waiting.

The NOAC pool looks the same as I remember from my first dip there in the early ‘70s. Meanwhile there have been policy and physical plant changes that make the whole experience a little less remarkable. The water used to come from a deep artesian well under Rampart Street and was claimed to have the same consistency of salts and minerals of mid-Atlantic seawater. The ancient Greeks had a word for the thalassatherapeutic effects of brine on the body and mind.  The word escapes me now. But I do recall the pool was very salty, and it felt great.

The club was strictly stag back then and we all swam naked. Now it’s co-ed and bathing suits are required. You can guess which part of club policy I’d like to amend.  Hubba hubba, wouldn’t that fog the goggles?

Even a solitary pursuit like swimming laps is a social exercise in New Orleans. I’ve developed a small circle of pool buddies. There’s a Broadway show producer sojourning here, a U.S. Army intelligence officer, public radio reporter, art dealer, landscape architect and other interesting company. And when I’m completely alone, I find myself communing with the spirits of all the swimmers who have trained in this pool since it opened in 1929 – especially the great Johnny Weissmuller.

Weissmuller swam here whenever he was in town on publicity tours for his Tarzan movies (if you haven’t seen one lately, go right now to Netflix. They’re enormously entertaining and sexy in that pre-Code Hollywood way). It pleases me no end to paddle along in the champion's wake. Some nights when I feel exhausted and ready to stop, I hear someone sweetly popping the speed bag on the mezzanine over the pool.  And I think of Weissmuller, so perfect in physique and character. I push off for another lap, telling myself: "You can do this."         

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Nicholas Cage Prepares for Death

You wouldn't think there was any real estate left for development in thickly-settled St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, but leave it to some Hollywood type to snap it up. Here is actor Nicholas Cage's new tomb in New Orleans' oldest bone orchard. It's only six months old, and already huge cracks are developing along the sides and foundations --  the humbling effects of our perverse climate and soil. My jaw dropped when I saw it this morning and it got me wondering how arriviste Nick will pass eternity with all those Crozats, Janviers, de la Rondes, Charbonnets and countless other dead Creoles potted nearby. Dear readers, this is a folly so rich that I hope for reincarnation as a fly on those ancient walls.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Perfect Day Mid-City

We're driving down South Broad on our way to City Park to play touch football with Harrison and Jake, the LeBlanc brothers. Simon says: "Stop the car, Dad." Homage is paid to superior beings, the Bunny Men of the old Falstaff brewery.
First stop, lunch at the original Bud's Broiler on City Park Avenue. Public service announcement: It's now open 24/7. Remember where you heard this.
Arthur Smith grave Holt Cemetery
I say to the kids: "Hey, let's visit Arthur Smith's grave, it's right across the street." We find this desolate scene at Holt Cemetery. What's happened to Arthur? Is he finally dead? Sick? Has he just lost interest? Does anyone know?

Python girl
In City Park, we meet Ashley Brown and her pastel ball python, Colonel Mustard. Beautiful girl, beautiful critter.
Let the games commence, at last! Final score: Blogger and son, 21, LeBlanc brothers, 14.  Like I said, a perfect day.