Wednesday, July 25, 2007

heartbreakingly beautiful

It's trite to start a post saying that a picture paints a thousands words...but there's often simply no better way to convey a feeling, a color, a mood or a story.

I wish we'd taken more pictures, I wish we'd had more energy and motivation to be those people that constantly had their cameras ready...

I wish you could understand the heartbreaking beauty that we saw day in and day out...I wish I was back in New Orleans.

Bourbon Street, colorful, vibrant, would not be complete without a Mango Mango at each corner!

The French Quarter was charming...


and decrepit, all at the same time...

We saw the Bayou in all of its glory...

And we were witness to culture, proud and true....

We saw heartbreak....

But we also saw beauty...

and pride...

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

An Open Letter To New Orleans

You are a mystery worth discovering for so many reasons....yet you keep us guessing because there is far more substance to you than what you'd like to let on. You are not all Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras...

You are young musicians playing trombones on street corners, you are old jazz men wearing white hats sitting on bar stools, you are speak easy pubs where local legends stop in and get invited on stage, you are kids glistening shirtless giving tap performances using buttons stuck to their sneakers because they can't afford tap shoes.

You are gumbo and jumbalaya, sure thing...but you are also twenty foot oyster counters, lobster stuffed ravioli, fried aligator, sugar coated beignets at 2am, po' boy sandwiches for less than 10$ and portions that are good for the soul.

You are tragedy and heartbreak... but you are also resilience and passion and kindness. You are the guy at the end of the bar who has moved 9 times in the past two years, you are the guy in the Vodoo store who admitted to not yet having a kitchen, you are the entire family who was taking our cooking class who was from a parish that was completely destroyed...who was still laughing and still there...

You are about calling people 'Ma'am and Sir', you are about tipping your hat, you are about asking complete stangers you meet on the street 'How y'all doing today?'...

You are where the Saints live and play...on so many levels... and despite all that you've been through in these past couple of are most definetly open for business.

Friday, June 29, 2007

And...we're off!

After a 5am rise in our hotel room, and clearly feeling the effects of only a few hours sleep, we are now in crappy Montreal airport, with an, ugh, 3 hour lay-over.

However, we do see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel: we will be in NOLA in less than 8 hours.

At which time we will be sweating like pigs, drinking our alcoholized beverages in plastic cups in the middle of the street and jazz hopping.

As they say often in Cajun country:
Let the good times roll!
Or more appropriately:
Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Thursday, June 21, 2007

New Orleans 1 - The Big Easy

Alot of people we know don't tend to travel. They list many reasons for not traveling among them; lack of money, lack of time, and surprisingly, lack of interest. While I get the first two, I seldom get the third. I (Natalie) do think that it IS possible to travel with limited means and limited time when you plan ahead (we are both young professionals, we understand this and also understand that it's not easy) but I GET that not everyone is interested in traveling this way, on a budget and with a plan. I do get it, sort of. I also get that the Trans-Siberian Express is not everyone's "cup of tea".

In speaking to friends and family about recent trips, I've noted that generally we get that waning look or that wide-eyed look...people generally fall into the "I could care less about Mongolian culture camp" or "you two are certifiably insane camp". I have NOT however see either of these two looks when talking about our next destination: New Orleans, Louisiana. It seems to be a popular place....YAY. Anyone want to join us? It's still a week away!

In just over a week, Erik and I will leave on a 9-day trip to NOLA. While both of us have expressed interested in visiting the Big Easy many times through the years, this trip came about in a rather strange kind of way. It all started with the Police. Not the real "police" but rather the musical Police. Many of you know that The Police are one of my all-time favorite bands. EVER. Erik has known this for years and has even gotten extraordinary entertainment out of this fact in foreign countries. (I recall a day in Amsterdam, summer 2001, where I spent a frantic 20 minutes trying to spot Sting in a crowd....simply because Erik thought it would be funny to get me going...NOT FUNNY, imagine the injuries I could have sustained?!?). I really did assume that I'd never get the chance to see The Police live. I mean who would have imagined that they'd reunite to tour and play music?

So when the tickets went on sale this past Spring for the Police reunion tour, Erik and I tried to make what seemed like the impossible...possible. I logged onto an hour early. We had chosen Boston as our destination (close, drivable, as it were) and we even knew what kind of seats we wanted, it was the perfect plan. But the ticket gods had other plans. Rejected, I sulked for the rest of the day.

Then it dawned on us (ok, on Erik)....AIRMILES = UNLIMITED POSSIBILITIES

And thus a trip to New Orleans was born. We will be flying out of Halifax, NS on June 29th, returning via Washington DC and Halifax on July 9th, 2007. While in NOLA, we will be staying at a (hopefully) fabulous hotel in the French Quarter. As we are staying for just over a week, we are optimistic about getting the chance to do more than just eat, drink and see live music.

When I think of the Big Easy, I imagine early morning walks, long lunches, smoldering afternoons, lively people and places, chilled wine and spicy food on luscious patios and easy nights filled with smoky bars and smooth sounds. Easy, fun, relaxing and invigorating.

Updates and pictures soon. Please leave a comment with any useful information.

Natalie (& Erik)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Bleeding hearts in San Francisco

There's a saying that goes something along the lines of not being able to visit San Francisco without leaving your heart behind. I (Natalie) get it, I really do, but that's not really want happened to my heart when I was there over Christmastime. Yea, a little of my heart got left behind but a whole chunk of it got smashed, broken and melted into a tearful and sobbing mess.


One of the first things you notice about spending time in San Francisco are the sheer number of homeless people living on the streets. With the easy climate, dearth of places to live and eclectic nature of the city, one can easily understand the reasons for this occurrence. I assume (possibly naively) that it would be easier to be homeless in San Francisco than in NYC.

In the past decade, I've been to quite a few big cities in several countries. I've seen homelessness before that has tugged at my heartstrings (there was an incident involving the Statten Island Ferry terminal that haunts me to this day) and I've even visited cities with horrendous child poverty problems but NOTHING prepared me for the homelessness in San Francisco. It is rampant, it is sad and it is everywhere.

Some of the homelessness in San Francisco is easier (for me) to take; the artist siting and sketching against a parking meter in Haight or the young dreadlocked couple playing instruments near one of the Piers. I'm not saying that any aspect of their respective lives is easy, I'm simply saying that I was less affected by the tragedy of their particular least what was perceptible to me. I ingorantly assumed (and may be totally wrong) that these kids probably have some kind of skill that will get them by and will probably find their way to a better life, eventually. There were however many others, including an aggressive man who approached me on Christmas Eve, for whom I don't hold this hope or belief.

As a small town Canadian, extreme poverty and homelessness isn't something I encounter (at least not to this extent) on a daily basis. I don't have a tough shell when it comes to dealing with the problems and personalities of people who are forced to live on the street. Yes, I do see people living on the streets. I try to buy samosas for the guy standing outside of the market on Saturdays and I try to remember to bring along extra coffee money for the guy that stands outside of the Tim Hortons each morning. However, that's about the extent of my day to day involvement with homelessness.

When it comes to homelessness, I don't understand, I can't relate. For this, I am eternally grateful. However for this I am also eternally guilt-ridden, upset and angry.

There is a part of me (which is not so small) that secretly wants to bring all homeless people home with me, feed them, clothe them and give them each a part of my life savings. I once almost naively invited a couple sitting on the curb, with their mangy dog, to sleep on our kitchen floor (it was all we had as we were living in a Bachelor apartment at the time). Believe it or not, I had to be convinced (in my slightly drunken state) that this was a colossally bad idea and was extremely unsafe and unwise. (duh!)

I naively think (and still do) that all people that I set out to help will be nice, kind and grateful..... I am a bleeding heart liberal. I can't help it, it's the way I am built. It probably comes as no surprise that I am woefully unprepared (emotionally) to deal with homelessness when we travel and often find this aspect of any trip to be particularly difficult.

There is another part of me however that takes a certain comfort in the fact that despite being exposed to so much homelessness and so many tragic situations that I haven't become hard. Sure, it would be easier, sure, it would make traveling a little less emotional at times. But the fact remains that I never want to become hardened to to the problems of humanity.

I guess I am doomed to more frustration, more anger and likely more tears. I can strengthen my resolve to take more action to help improve the lives of those around me and around the world.....but I won't strengthen my resolve to the point of judgment or ignorance.

I can't...I won't.