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Kimberly, me, Will, Romain

Paul Harvey (radio host from 1952-2008) used to have this radio bit titled “The Rest of the Story.” I am reminded of that title when I think of how some people and places in my life have a story for me that lasts decades, and I expect future decades of story to be added. There is an added richness to my experience when I consider not only today, but also the rest of the story.

My trip to Rhode Island was a great opportunity to meet up with old friends. States are tiny on the northeast coast, so visiting state to state is like driving to another town.

Kim, Will, and I used to work together at the National Weather Service in Burlington, Vermont in 1995-1998. They knew me when I was pregnant with Tara, and got to meet baby Tara in the first weeks of their life. Tara and I went to Kimberly’s wedding. Kim still works for the National Weather Service in Massachusetts. Will still forecasts for Vermont, though he lives in Rhode Island. Romain is a Catholic priest, and was a classmate at Brandeis University and became one of my best friends at school in 2005-07. Tara and I last saw Romain when he gave us a tour of the Harvard College campus back when Tara was deciding what college to attend. These friends weave through my life.

Romain’s birthday gift.

The Superman Building

We met for lunch at a place in between all three of us, in Taunton, MA. We chatted for two and a half hours, but finally Kim had to go to work. It was so easy to get comfortable with them all despite not having seen any of them for years, and I was happy that Will and Kim and Romain easily enjoyed each others’ company though meeting for the first time. Before Romain left he gave me a stunning birthday gift of a glass dragon for the Dragon Lady.

The next morning I had to leave Rhode Island. It dawned that spectacular blue that only happens in New England winter skies, and I had Will hold the car while I finally got a great shot of the Superman Building, Providence’s tallest skyscraper. Will told me that locals call it that because it reminds them of the Daily Planet building in Superman comics. You know, the newspaper where Clark Kent worked.

Being a nerdy girl myself, the idea of a comic book connection was intriguing and I looked up images of the Daily Planet. I think the residents of Providence are generous in their memories, because the building really doesn’t look anything like what I found online. However!! I’m not a connoisseur of comics, particularly not DC, so there might have been a series or an artist that drew the building more like the Providence building. You be the judge.

Now THIS image of the Daily Star building (from an early version of the comic in 1938 before the name was changed to Daily Planet), looks a lot like the Providence building.

An image of the Daily Planet building from 1943.

There is no denying that it’s a stunning building. It’s gorgeous and I love it. The 26-story building opened in 1928. I was dismayed to find out that it has been empty for over 5 years and has such a low real estate value placed on it that there are calls for it to be demolished. There have been a couple of plans to put a new tenant in there, but a lot of rennovation work is required, and the maintenance on that place would be enormous, so the Mayor has not been able to find a new company to occupy the building. Thank goodness someone is trying to save Superman in the meantime.

Superman Building and the Biltmore – two historic and iconic Providence buildings.

Will and me inside the beautiful Biltmore Hotel, our winter weather gear heaped on a chair.

Elevator in Biltmore says “Built in 1978. It’s a Biltmore Classic. Use for Time Travel only.”

I’ve mentioned the Biltmore Hotel in earlier posts and haven’t talked much more about it because I managed to forget to take photos inside. We were usually on our way to do something fun and I didn’t want to stop for photos in the hotel, or on our way back from something fun and I was too tired. I managed to get two pictures that help you get a sense of how wonderful it is inside. At the top of the staircase is a neat old glass elevator that is no longer in use by guests, but Will recalls from his younger days that it was fun to try and sneak onto the elevator for a ride and a view of the city.

Providence downtown, the morning that I left.

Then we went to the airport and I remembered to thank the TSA personnel for working with no pay because of the government shut down. Providence has a small airport like Portland’s, and checking in was a breeze. Soon I was in my seat. I always want a window seat. I was in my first airplane at about age 8 and I’ve been flying commercial since age 16, and yet I still get a thrill when I’m in the air. With a background in meteorology, I marvel at the up-close look at clouds. With an unquenchable yearning for new sights, I spend all the time I can with my face pressed up against the safety plexiglass, peering through the frost patterns, in speechless awe at the planet below.

My flight at the beginning of the trip from Portland to Newark. We took off in darkness, then flew into the sunrise. It was so wonderful. See the star? Although, it’s so big and bright it might be a planet.

Bumping along the updrafts above the clouds.

Orange morning illuminates snowy peaks.

The day I left, our tiny plane flew low from Providence to Newark, so it was easier to watch life on the ground.

On approach, I realized Newark must be close to a larger city.

Yep. “THE” larger city. I had fun looking down onto New York City as my plane landed.

After a long layover in Newark, we left for home in the dark. Goobye New England. I’ll be back!

Soldiers and Sailors Monument in front of Providence City Hall, with the Biltmore in red brick next to it.

With the fabulous Providence Biltmore as a home base, it made sense that one day’s exploration should be just out the front door. As it had been all week, it was very cold and windy. Despite wind chills in the teens, we bundled up and left the hotel lobby to start walking and see where our feet would take us. They took us to some wonderful sights.

Right next door is the Providence City Hall, a beautiful building on the outside, and simply gorgeous on the inside. It was built in the 1870s, and continues in use today as the City Hall. The five-story building is built of iron and brick, and at the time of construction employed some fascinating technology. There was a water-powered elevator that could carry 50 people, but is no longer in operation. Prior to electricity, a central control clock was used, wound up each morning by the janitor like a grandfather clock. The clock sent a signal to all the other clocks in the building. The City Messenger’s office was equipped with bells and speaking tubes that connected to all the other offices in the building. Remnants of these features are still visible today.

Stairs from the main floor up into the heart of the building.

Beautiful at every level.

Clock on the fifth floor.

Old elevators still gorgeous, but no longer in use.

The Hiker

We crossed the street to gaze at a few monuments. The first was the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, shown in the image at the top of this post. Dedicated in 1871, the 40-foot monument recognizes 1,727 Rhode Islanders that died during the Civil War. The figure at the top represents America, and the four smaller figures represent four branches of the military. The bronze reliefs are allegorical representations of War, Victory, Peace, and Freedom.

A short walk away is The Hiker,  installed in 1911 to commemorate those who fought in Spain, the Philippines, and China from 1898-1902. It is a replica of the original The Hiker, installed at the University of Minnesota in 1906. The name comes from a term soldiers in both the Spanish–American War and the Philippine–American War gave themselves.

Providence has a lot of hills, and since we began in a valley, it was inevitable that we would eventually hit an incline. We began walking uphill and a lovely white church caught our attention. It is the oldest Baptist church in America, aptly named the First Baptist Church, and holds a central role in the founding of the state of Rhode Island.

Plaque on the church wall

The church was founded by Roger Williams in 1638. The present building was erected in 1774-5. Roger Williams was a Puritan who left England to escape religious and political persecution. He did not come to America in the first wave however, but a few years later in 1631, and brought non-conformist ideas of what the colonies should be all about. Williams was adamant about separation of church and state, and insisted that the local church totally repudiate its ties with the Church of England. He also declared it a “solemn public lie” that the King of England had the right to grant land to colonizers without first buying it from the Indians. The ideas challenged the legality of land uses at that time and stirred up political and religious unrest, and threatened to upset the fragile economy. All this had been set up before Williams even got there, and his loudly proclaimed contrary ideas were a major disruption.

By 1635 the local authorities had had enough and tried and convicted Williams. As punishment he was to be banished to England. Instead, Williams hiked through the snow from Salem to Narragansett Bay and lived on the hospitality of the Wampanoag Indians. The following spring he purchased a piece of land from the Indians, and with some friends from Salem, started a community. He named it Providence, after the providence God had shown him. His community was based entirely on religious freedom, welcoming all to come and worship in their own way. Williams became a Baptist and began the Baptist Church in Providence, and was its first pastor.

First Baptist Church in Providence. The oldest Baptist Church in the country.

Eye-catching buildings line the street beside the First Baptist Church. That colourful one in the center is the Providence Art Club.

Interior of the church. There is stained glass behind that wall, only viewable from the outside. Not sure what that’s all about. Will guessed it could have been to maintain the humility and simplicity espoused by Roger Williams, who never would have approved an extravagance like coloured glass in his lifetime.

In the early days, patrons would rent their box, and would have a say regarding who was allowed to sit in it.

At the back of the church on the balcony, is an enormous organ. I don’t know if it still works, but the sound must be outstanding! {photo by Will}

We left the church and started uphill once more, coming across Brown University, another institution woven into the fabric of Providence’s early days. Dr. James Manning had been dispatched from Philadelphia to oversee some reforms in the Baptist church in the area, to include starting a Baptist college. (Dr. Manning was pastor when the church in the photos above was built) Originally called Rhode Island College, Manning was its first President. When the school charter was approved in 1764 it was the 7th college in America. Now called Brown University, it remains a premier American University.

Clock tower on a cold Winter’s day at Brown University.

On the grounds of Brown University.

On the grounds of Brown University.

We stopped for lunch and I had Indian curry & Jasmine tea because isn’t that just the thing on a fiercely cold day? (This time I mean Asian Indian, not North American Indian. So confusing. Chris Columbus you goofball.) Then we walked uphill some more and I was excited when it began to snow! We came to a park very high up that Will calls “The other Roger Williams Park,” but it’s actually called Prospect Terrace Park. I didn’t get photos of it but there is a curious larger than life statue of Roger Williams looking out over the city. So we looked out over the city too:

The State House dominates the horizon here.

Downtown Providence

The State House looked so impressive from a distance that I really wanted to go there. Will double-checked with me about that, since it was so cold I could barely feel my face or hands. Like those early settlers here, I didn’t let a nasty winter day get me down. Onward ho! At the bottom of the hill we stopped in the beautiful train station to chat and get warm before continuing the long walk to the State House. As my reward for tenacity, the clouds parted and the sun began to shine. It wasn’t any warmer, but it was prettier.

A lovely New England neighborhood on a hill.

The Independent Man atop the State House

Gettysburg Gun with charge in the muzzle.

Sun came out in time to illuminate the Rhode Island State House

Atop the State House stands the Independent Man, deemed to represent the character of a Rhode Islander. The statue of a muscular man clad in a loincloth and carrying a spear is made of gold and bronze, and was melted down from a donated statue. Previously a statue of Simon Bolivar in Central Park that the city of New York considered an eyesore, the gift from Venezuela was sacrificed. The Independent Man was placed atop the cupola in 1899, and has survived lightning strikes and many many Rhode Island winter storms.

To get into the State House we had to have ID checked and pass through a metal detector. Once inside, I was doubly impressed by the grandeur here than I had been by City Hall. The foyer holds a Civil War gun that was last fired on the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. The gun was struck by a Confederate shell, damaging the muzzle of the gun and killing two soldiers. An attempt was made to reload the gun. Try as they might, members of the Rhode Island Light Artillery could not force the charge into the gun. When another shell hit and blew a wheel off, they gave up. The gun was allowed to cool, sealing the charge in place.

The House of Representatives were going into session soon, and the foyer was packed with people: participants, students, tourists, and the media with their cameras and lights. Will and I ducked the crowd into a quiet hallway and found the original Charter for the state of Rhode Island!

The original charter from the King of England granting religious and political rights to the people of Rhode Island.

In the Royal Charter Museum, three pages that make up the original document are held. In the 1663 document, King Charles II allowed settlers in Rhode Island to govern their own colony and guaranteed their individual freedom of religion. It was the kind of action Roger Williams dreamed of, and was in fact the first time in history that a monarch had agreed to this level of religious freedom. The event is remarkable, and the documents themselves were extraordinary works of art with such elaborate calligraphy that I could not read them.

The first page with calligraphy and illustration.

Close up of the magnificent ink work.

We then wandered the halls of the majestic building. We had been warned by the docent in the gift shop that we would hear bells notifying Representatives to take their seat. She told us the bells would continue till the gavel was sounded. When the bell rang as predicted, it was very loud and sounded like the ring in a high school to notify students to head to their next class. Unlike high school bells, this one continued to ring.

I thought the children we call politicians only pulled their stunts in Washington, D.C. Oh no, their lack of discipline, lack of respect for their office, lack of concern for the pressures that the rest of the world is forced to work under, became quickly evident here at the state level too. The bells rang and rang. Will and I sat in the gallery and watched. Hardly anyone acted as though they had noticed the incessant clanging. People chatted happily and unconcernedly. Pages were summoned and dispatched, returning with requested cans of soda. About 5% of Representatives took their seats, and I seriously wish I could name the ones who were seated, logged in to their desk computers, notes in a neat pile, and patiently waiting. Those people deserve your votes.

And rang. And rang. Every few minutes, another elected official wandered in, chatted awhile, set down some papers and wandered off. The bells kept ringing. I timed them: for TWELVE MINUTES before finally the Speaker banged the gavel. It was ridiculous. These people are treating the job with the gravity of preschoolers who have been told it’s time to move from story mats to the play bins. It felt even more insulting since the federal government is shut down. If this is how they do it in D.C., well no wonder nothing gets done.

Entrance into the State House (I took this photo as we were leaving, when everyone was seated quietly in the House).

Sunlight adds depth and warmth to the arches and domes.

Looking directly up into the dome.

The much smaller Senate room was quiet.

We sat in the gallery and listened to the bell calling Representatives to work for a full 12 minutes.

…and FINALLY they went to work.

Please please do not infer that I mean to disparage only Rhode Island politicians. What I believe we witnessed is a culture that must certainly have its roots in D.C. My best guess is that every single state in the Union takes the job of politician equally (un)seriously. I was disgusted.

But it had been a beautiful day and I anticipated more! Outside the sun was dropping and we saw a pretty sunset.

Sunset over Providence.

I charged Will with finding cake. The day before had been my birthday and I had not eaten any cake for my birthday, which was a grave oversight. I demanded cupcakes. Will said he knew the perfect place.

We walked back to the Biltmore to get the car and went off to have many many cupcakes at Duck & Bunny. This restaurant calls itself “a snuggery,” which their website insists is a word. It is delightful inside, and the tables are scattered throughout the rooms of the former house. We sat next to the fireplace, that was filled with burning candles instead of of logs.

It was an incredibly fun day, the birthday cupcakes were extraordinary, and it still wasn’t over! Next we walked to The Trinity Repertory Company to see a play, which was so good I already did a blog post on it because I was excited to tell you!

Three of the six cupcakes I ate from their filled pastry case.

Entrance of Duck & Bunny is very New England

Inside this classy restaurant is artwork that seems familiar at first, but is distinctly rabbit- and duck- themed.

Vistior’s Center at the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge near Newport, Rhode Island.

For my birthday this year (January 9), I took a cold & windy walk along the Atlantic seashore at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge. The visitor’s center was closed because the government is shut down. No comment.

My five days in Rhode Island were to see my friend Will, who was my guide and chauffeur. Will and I picked a path and started, since one doesn’t need a visitor’s center to go for a walk. As soon as we struck the trail, we met a woman leaving who was excited to have spotted some wildlife. She told us we would not see the Snowy Owl, as though she suspected that was our specific goal.

Our goal was simpler: just to be outside and look at the landscape. For my birthday I asked Will for two of my favourite things: a walk in nature and seafood.

The Ocean Trail wraps around the peninsula and has stunning sea views at all times.

Looking back the way we had come, along a tidal strait called Sakonnet River.

We drove south from Providence to a large island in Narragansett Bay, that is officially named Rhode Island (also called Aquidneck Island), from which I must assume the state takes its name, since this is the location of the earliest settlements here. Sachuest Point NWR is “242 acres that provide an important stopover and watering area for migratory birds,” as it says on their trail map. I liked this place from among other trails in RI because it is surrounded by the sea. If I was traveling from one ocean to another, I  would spend at least one day at the Atlantic, to truly make the trip coast-to-coast.

More than 200 species of birds visit this refuge, and we quickly spotted ducks that were too far away for a photo with the lens I brought. They might have been part of the largest winter population of Harlequin Ducks on the East Coast, but we didn’t identify them for sure due to distance and the raging wind making me reluctant to hold binoculars to my face for very long. Harlequin Ducks are wonderful to see. Here’s a photo I took of Harlequin Ducks near the end of a different post from 2016. Sachuest Point hosts a bunch of different kinds of raptors (hunting birds – I love them!), but I didn’t spot any. Much of the time I had my head bent into the wind, with a foot behind me bracing myself so the wind didn’t blow me over! It was hard to spot birds under these circumstances.

Will spotted a dark animal in the underbrush that we couldn’t identify until another one ran across the trail in front of us later on. It was a mink! I have never seen one in the wild. It was black, and fat, and just exactly as I imagined them. We also spotted a small group of white-tailed deer. The deer were like my “pet” deer at home, in that they let us get very close to them and were unconcerned. They were unlike my deer in that they are a lighter, golden colour, and are bigger and fatter.

A view from Prince’s Neck Overlook. See the two people in the lower left?

Will spotted deer! I was too short to see them until I stood up on my tiptoes.

…but then we rounded a bend and came upon these two beauties.

It was early afternoon, and since it’s winter, that means the sun was setting. Not really, but the sun was low on the horizon for a long time, making it seem like we were experiencing a three-hour sunset. Despite the frigid biting wind coming at us from the sea, we gazed out over the water much of the time. We noticed massive swells rolling in and then crashing as waves once they got closer to shore. I made a comment about how exciting those swells would be if I was still surfing, and Will said there were probably surfers out today. I thought he was joking around with me, but when we left the point that day and passed a different beach (sans all the huge and deadly rocks), sure enough, the water was filled with surfers!

Sun is low over Narragansett Bay

Swells roll into Narragansett Bay

Look at that smile! What cold wind?!

It had been at least an hour out there in the ridiculous freezing wind, and I could no longer feel my ears. I took off my scarf and wrapped it around my head because I had neglected to bring a hat. That helped immensely. I was still very very cold and unable to enjoy the sights much anymore, so we stopped most of our lollygagging and trucked on down the trail back to the visitor’s center. The sunset just got prettier, and I stopped for a few more photos because I’m incorrigible. I did force Will to endure some extending whining about how cold I was. I have lived in places of deep winter and below freezing temperatures most of my life, but more than a decade of living near Portland, Oregon has wiped out all my tolerance for other peoples’ winters.

Light on the water was so beautiful I stopped for more photos, despite wind chill in the single digits.

On the last stretch of the trail I spotted a beautiful church in the distance. When we got back into the car, I asked Will to take me there so we could explore up close.

What I had spotted was St. George’s School, an exclusive, prestigious boarding school. Still in the remaining light of our long sunset, the buildings at the school were illuminated and needed to be photographed.

From the grounds of St. George’s School, looking back toward where we had just come from.

Photo taken by Will, looking down the hill to Sachuest Point where we had walked.

A building at St. George’s School.

The front of the school

And of course the classic gothic chapel, the tallest structure around, on top of the hill, and drawing me here.

Dragons!!!

Irish pub?

Our raw bar selection

It was time for my next request: Seafood! We drove into the town of Newport and had the place mostly to ourselves because of the season. I could easily see this is a tourist town, and must be packed with humanity on warm days. We made our way to the docks and saw that my birthday sunset just kept going on and on, and made a few more stunning scenes. We wandered for a little while around the characteristic old sea town, but could no longer resist the pull of a good meal, not to mention heated indoor seating. We walked into The Mooring, and were told that Wednesdays are half price on the raw bar. We couldn’t resist that, and chose a selection of raw oysters, clams, shrimp, and lobster claws. Will isn’t an oyster lover, so I greedily ate them myself, liking the Rocky Rhodes the best. This fresh food only wheted our appetites and then we ordered full meals. I finally got warm. We had a window seat and watched the sun finally set for real.

Streets of Newport are clear in January.

Black Pearl and Cook House, two seafood restaurants that called to us.

A view from the docks.

The longest birthday sunset I can remember, lingers over Bannister’s Wharf.

Dooky Chase’s restaurant, open since 1941, is famous for multiple reasons including a civil rights meeting place and the source of authentic Creole cuisine.

It was not until my fourth day in New Orleans did I finally set foot for the very first time in the French Quarter, and walk down Bourbon Street, and drink too much, and eat beignets. But first we went to Treme.

Inside Dooky Chase’s. The walls are covered in work by African American artists.

A room off to the side of the main dining room. The painting is of Leah Chase.

I liked the yoni in the bathroom.

Painting of Obama with Leah Chase

Today we skipped breakfast and hit Dooky Chase’s for an early lunch so we could stuff ourselves at the buffet. Part of the interest for me was that we were going into the Treme community, that I know from watching the show by the same name. This is a working-class neighborhood with predominantly black homeowners and shop owners. Dooky Chase’s closed its doors for two years after Hurricane Katrina because this entire neighborhood was flooded. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita came through in 2005, so it has been over a decade, and on the major streets where we were, there was very little evidence of the flooding to untrained eyes.

People who came with us to eat at this iconic restaurant were all here to pay respect to the history and impact of the place. Each person was either quietly humble, or gushing in appreciation, and the staff returned the gratitude with their own for the customers’ support. Me, having never heard of the place prior to my trip, I just kept my mouth shut and watched and listened. Inside the front door are paintings of Obama with Leah Chase, the celebrated head chef and longtime owner of the place. There are photographs of the two most recent popes. In 1941, Ms. Leah was the one to turn her husband’s sandwich shop into a sit-down restaurant and then make it a haven for black organizers and a venue for black artists. In their turn, patrons included Louis Armstrong, Martin Luther King, and the Black Panthers. At 97 years old, she is still an active part of the business and I hoped to see her but did not.

Louis Armstrong’s first coronet.

One of Fats Domino’s pianos, rescued and mostly restored after being destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.

Women in jazz exhibit.

One of the astonishingly magnificent costumes worn during Mardi Gras by a distinct contingent of participants.

These costumes are made of feathers, beads, sequins, and rhinestones and can take more than a year to create.

Detail on one of the masks.

Detail of a face

Ranger Matt and Julie. Ranger James is behind Julie.

Next we went to the New Orleans Jazz Museum, which is in the old New Orleans Coin Mint building so we toured the Mint Museum as well. Both museums were rather small, and we were able see all of the displays in a short time. We were there for the 2:00 pm live jazz performance by the  Down on Their Luck Orchestra. The group had a guest performer, Julia, who played bass cello. It was not what we were expecting, and turned out to be an educational performance: designed to introduce visitors to New Orleans jazz and a bit of the history of jazz in the United States. The two main musicians were Ranger Matt, who did all the talking and played piano, and Ranger James who was mostly on drums but also played saxophone and sang a convincing Louis Armstrong impersonation. In between each song they asked for audience questions and I finally couldn’t hold mine back any longer. As a federal employee, I recognized that identifying themselves as rangers meant they were also federal employees. I had seen them pass through a hallway earlier wearing National Park Service jackets, and both of them, on stage, were clearly in uniform. In my mind I was saying, what on earth is going on?!! I asked, “How common are ranger musicians?”

Ranger Matt explained that, of the 20,000 employees of the NPS, exactly 4 of them were hired to be musicians and all 4 of those are in New Orleans. In other words: ranger musicians are rare. U.S. Park Rangers are entrusted with protecting and preserving natural and cultural resources, and the the NPS decided that New Orleans jazz is one of those resources.

Beignets with almost enough powdered sugar.

Out on the street we stopped for a few moments to listen to the fabulous music of a large percussion band on the sidewalk right there across the street from the Jazz Museum, on the edge of the French Quarter. Next we walked over to an open market where local entrepreneurs sold their wares, and then got in line at Cafe du Monde, another famous stop, and had coffee and beignets. These are fried square pastries covered in powdered sugar – like doughnuts. It had been a windy day and while we sat there we witnessed multiple fierce gusts of wind stirring up sugar tornadoes. Everyone in the outside seating patio was covered in powdered sugar in no time.

Then we plunged into New Orleans’ most famous district.

Ironwork for which the French Quarter is famous.

A street in the French Quarter.

Bourbon Street, looking toward the center of New Orleans.

Lights on Bourbon Street.

The French Quarter dates to when New Orleans was founded by a French colonist. The distinctive architectural styles retain the influence of construction during the late 1700s. Today the age of the buildings is evident, and the most eye-catching design is the prevalence of cast-iron railings and decorative work around balconies of nearly all of the structures.

We walked the entire length of Bourbon Street, famous today for unlimited drinking by people who can purchase alcohol right on the sidewalk and can carry their drinks with them when typical American cities have “open container” laws preventing that. Patrick and I walked through in early evening while the sun was still up, and cars were still moving along Bourbon Street (auto traffic is prevented at night). So we didn’t see the craziness. We did hear live bands on  every single block, however, which is another thing the area is known for. We criss-crossed the district, peeked into windows, and admired the sights until we ended up at Jackson Square. It is a lovely little park between the St. Louis Cathedral and the Mississippi River. I had only one thing on my mind there, however, and that was to express myself to Andrew Jackson.

I am not a fan of Andrew Jackson.

We headed back into the district and found Pat O’Brien’s. We ordered their specialty drink and settled back to listen to the piano duo take turns playing songs requested by patrons. We had several drinks and finally headed out into the nighttime with a neon-lighted street where revelers were just beginning to get warmed up for their night on the town.

Dueling pianos at Pat O’Brien’s

Shadow of Jesus

Swamp ahead!

We showed up for the 9:00 am Cajun Pride Swamp Tours in Frenier, Louisiana. It was hot and sticky that day, as a swamp should be.  As with everything else in my New Orleans vacation, I had no expectations and was prepared to enjoy anything we did or saw. We climbed onto a boat filled with tourists and were soon moving through human-cut waterways through the swamp in a nature reserve on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain.

This was my actual view through the boat railings. I cropped the rest of the photos.

We began seeing wildlife right away. There were many alligators, and most of them rather small. Our captain told us that alligators grow 8 to 9 inches a year in the wild, and can live to be 60 years old. We saw two kinds of turtles, and three remarkable birds: the Great Egret, the Great Blue Heron, and an Osprey. We also saw a lot of raccoons, who beg from the side of the waterways for treats from the boats, but we were most excited about the alligators.

The shores of our waterway were thick with forest.

Cypress were the most interesting trees, and I saw Spanish Moss for the first time.

Great Egret

Abandoned trapper cabin fixed up for tourists. Our captain said it was his home – ha! See the alligators?

Raccoons hoping for treats thrown by the captain.

Whenever you spot an alligator in the wild, chances are good that you are looking at a female. First of all, when there is a dominant male in an area, he will kill any nearby males, to minimize competition for mates. But the greater determining factor is birthrate. If the temperature at birth is 87 degrees or cooler, the entire clutch will hatch female. If the temperature is 88 or 89, there is an equal chance of either sex. And if the temperature is 90 degrees or above when the eggs are laid, they will all be male. It works out that there is a 15:1 ratio of females to males.

There’s a big one.

Turtles on the log.

Our tour boat filled with tourists.

Our boat pilot was a local Creole man and proud of his heritage. He said that his father spoke the French-based Creole language, but he did not. To show us how different the language is from the French language, he played some music for us. French tourists on the boat shook their heads and laughed. They couldn’t make sense of any of it.

He explained to us that the unique Cajun foods were simply a matter of collecting what was available from the land. Obviously the main courses are catfish, shrimp, crawdad, and Nutria (also called a swamp rat) because those are the available meat sources. He said that the spices and garnishes also originate in what could be harvested from the swamp.

We learned that the different kinds of trees we saw are the Palmetto Palm, Red Maple, Tupelo gum tree with long narrow leaves, and of course the famous Cypress tree. I learned that the knobs of wood emerging from the water around the base of the Cypress are its roots! They are called the knees, and apparently you can cut them off entirely without hurting the tree itself. Though Cypress trees are protected, the knees are knot. (heh heh)

There is an interesting legend about the site of this particular swamp tour. A woman named Julia Brown took up witchcraft, which made everyone afraid of her, and she was ostracized. In retaliation Brown warned that when she died she was taking the town and everyone with her. During her funeral in 1915, the wind picked up and a storm moved in. It was a hurricane. Wiped the town off the map and only 22 of the hundreds of residents survived. For this reason, many people believe that the swamp is haunted by the ghosts of the dead townsfolk.

The captain then introduced us to a 2-year-old female alligator that we all got to hold if we wanted to. If you know me, you know I held her.

My new friend.

Farther west, away from New Orleans, was a plantation Patrick said he has always wanted to see called Oak Alley.

We found it and explored the grounds. This was a former sugar cane plantation that had over 100 slaves at its peak production. Some of the slave quarters have been restored, and the home itself is in beautiful shape. It is named for magnificent oak trees that line an alley in front and in back of the house.

Oak Alley Plantation house

Sun lights up the house.

“Please do not ring bell.” I was tempted!! This bell called the slaves to work in the morning and sent them to their quarters each night.

Slave quarters

The Oaks at the front of the house.

The famous Oak Alley. There are 28 oaks in the front alley. This home and its oaks have been featured in many films, shows, and videos.

WWII tent and interpreter were on the grounds.

WWII tent set up as it would have been during the Civil War.

The ticket to enter mainly covers a guided tour of the house, but there is so much more to see, including a blacksmith’s shop, a movie on sugar cane processing and history in the area, a Civil War tent, and of course the Slave Quarters which were set up with educational signs and also had a site interpreter provide a talk on slaves in the time of the sugar cane production. There were a series of information signs that told the history of all the different owners of the plantation and the many uses to which the land was put. We explored it all and saved the house tour for last.

I admit it was awkward for me as a tourist to participate in the tour guided by a black woman. That pervasive White Person’s Guilt struck me, and I wondered what it was like for her, day after day, describing the nearly incomprehensible conditions of the slaves of the plantation, like when their futures were tossed about by the owners of the home as part of an inheritance negotiation. Someone asked our very sweet and smiling tour guide what she liked about being a guide, and she actually said she liked seeing the reactions from people when she talked about the differences between a white person’s life and a black person’s life in a typical day in this plantation’s history. So interesting.

Master bedroom

Another bedroom

The Lavender Room

By this time we were STARVING. We had passed a roadside restaurant on the way through Vacherie, and went back to it, knowing nothing about the place. B&C Seafood Riverside Market & Cajun Restaurant is now my favourite place to eat in Louisiana.

Patrick knew what he was doing at a place like that, and while I ordered something like a sampler, he began listing to the waitress what he needed: a pound of shrimp, three pounds of crawdads, boudin, and a bloody mary. “To wash the shrimp down,” he said. My meal was fried catfish, fried oysters, and smoked rabbit gumbo with hush puppies. Oh man, I can’t even tell you how amazing that food was. We ate every last bite, crawdad juice going everywhere. I tipped up my bowl to get the last drop of rabbit gumbo. Luckily the bathroom had showers to scrub down after the crawdads. Kidding.

We were a distance out of town and decided to just go for a scenic drive as our next plan for the day. Instead of heading east back to New Orleans, we went north, then east, then dropped south to New Orleans so we could drive over Lake Pontchartrain.

Sun setting on Lake Pontchartrain.

Lake Pontchartrain is 630 square miles and the bridge crossing it is almost 24 miles (38 km) long.

Statue of a weeping angel in the Chapman Hyman Tomb. Standing before the statue, I could feel the grief in my own body.

I am one of the lucky few who got out again, after being shut up in a cemetery for the night.

But let me start at the beginning. I’m in New Orleans for a quick trip with a friend. The trip was my idea. He loves the city and I’ve never seen it, so I wanted to be introduced through the eyes of someone who loves it, you know? Anyway, we arrived at night and on our first day out we both wanted to see cemeteries.

We went to Metairie Cemetery first. Built on the site of an old racetrack, some of the curved shape of the track can still be seen today. The cemetery is simply gorgeous, with white shining marble everywhere, manicured lawns and mature trees. Patrick wanted to see the weeping angel first, so we drove to it and parked the car. You can see my photo of her above. The expressiveness of the statue is heartbreaking, and the inscription “Sister” at the base brought tears to my eyes.

Then we walked. And walked. The place is enormous! We didn’t really intend to walk around for two hours, but that is what happened.

The city was founded in 1718 and people have been dying there ever since. As you know, half of the city of New Orleans is below sea level and protected with dikes and flood walls and massive water pump systems. It doesn’t take too much imagination to realize that you don’t want to bury your dead in the ground. So tombs are built on top of the ground. As we walked between them, the ground was often marshy beneath our feet and there were standing pools of water in low spots, reminding us that it is no myth: the city of New Orleans is level with the water table.

One of the tree-lined avenues at Metairie Cemetery.

At this cemetery, tombs are not crowded.

Many of the tombs are elaborate.

The pyramid caught our eye.

Spofford tomb

detail from the pyramid

A tree shades a tomb

Parts of the cemetery were more congested, but still lovely.

This panoramic view shows the arrangement of tombs along the avenues. Click for a larger version so you can see the detail.

I was not able to show clearly this picturesque narrow row of tombs because I was trying to crop out a bunch of bright orange construction cones.

Another row in the apparently more modern section.

One of the many “Woodmen of the World” grave markers.

Interesting aside: we noticed many Woodmen of the World markers on graves, with marble markers in the shape of logs. There were at least six styles of log markers that we noticed, and I became curious. Founded in 1890, Woodmen of the World is a fraternal benefit society. From 1890 to 1900, WOW’s life insurance policies had a proviso that provided for the grave markers, free of charge for members.  From 1900 to the mid- 1920’s, members purchased a $100 rider to cover the cost of the monument. Since then there have been no discounts for grave markers.

As I was leaving, I turned back to look one last time, and saw this amazing sky casting an eerie light on the darkened scene below. I regret that my simple phone camera couldn’t duplicate how beautiful it truly was.

Next we went into the Garden District to Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. This one is famous because author Anne Rice used to live near it and based the tombs of the Mayfair Witches and the vampire Lestat on the tombs she found here. And consistent with that history, this cemetery was more what I anticipated in a New Orleans cemetery: not crumbling apart, but certainly a very old and storied place in the center of busy neighborhood streets.

As we approached the front gate, there was a crowd encircling a tour guide, and other people milling about in every direction. We slipped as quickly as we could through the tourists and between a row of tombs to begin our cemetery explorations in peace. We actively avoided all people while we were in there…which was likely the reason we did not hear the warning to get out.

An avenue in Layfayette Cemetery No. 1

This is what I had in mind when I pictured a New Orleans cemetery.

The Layfayette Cemetery No 1 is much smaller than the Metarie cemetery and the tombs are less elaborate.

After an hour in this much smaller cemetery, Patrick and I had become separated and I found myself near the front gate. I could hear the chatter of people on the sidewalk outside the cemetery. I heard a man’s voice say, “Does that lady know she’s locked in?” I glanced up. “Hey, do you know you’re locked in?” he said to me. I responded with a half smile. He reached over and grabbed the bars of the gate and shook them – presumably to show me that he knew what he was talking about. “I am not even kidding,” he said. Uh-oh.

I began walking up and down the paths until I found Patrick. “Hey, there may be a problem.” “Oh yeah? With what?” When I told him, he remembered that the cemetery was supposed to close at 3pm.  It was a few minutes past.

We went back to the gate and laughed with the people on the outside, and eyed the cast iron gate for footholds. I handed my phone through and one of them got a picture of me. Then suddenly, two tour guides showed up.

The person with the key had locked the gates and left, but these two were still sitting in their parked car nearby and no one had noticed them till they came to the rescue. “We have someone trapped in here once a week,” one of the women told us. “Step here, then your left foot goes here…”

And Viola! We climbed right out.

Me, trapped in a cemetery.

This image is from mikestravelguide.com where he wrote about free things to do in New Orleans.

After that we went to the waterfront and walked along the river. I didn’t get any more decent photos, so I don’t have much more to show you. We took a lovely dinner cruise on a paddlewheeler Creole Queen down the Mississippi River and back again. It was warm and lovely and I was on a ship in the country’s longest river. Our view of the city in the sunset from the water was a pretty nice final scene for the day.

New Orleans from the Mississippi River.

Saline Courthouse in Rose, Oklahoma

Looking along the porch.

In 1841, two years after the Cherokee in Oklahoma had adopted a new constitution, they organized into eight districts, and in 1856 a ninth was added. One of these was the Saline district, the center of which today is in Rose, Oklahoma: due east of Tulsa and north of Tahlequah. In 1883, the Cherokee government voted to build courthouses for all of its districts. Of the nine courthouses built, only the Saline district courthouse survives.

The Saline Courthouse closed in 1898 and passed into private ownership. It remained a private home (and sometimes a party pad) until the Cherokee Nation was able to purchase the structure and surrounding property sometime in the 1980s. The building was in serious disrepair at the time, and required some major rescue efforts from the Saline Preservation Association, Preservation Oklahoma, and the Oklahoma Parks Department. Today the site is the Saline National Park.

I can’t think of a historical building in the country in a lovelier setting, though with all the gorgeous places in our amazing country, maybe there is a place that will give Saline a run for the title.

The spring house, just down the slope from the courthouse.

Beneath the front awning of the spring house, this inviting structure is built, to encourage you to take the water. It’s hard to tell, but the dark hole opens to two feet of crystal clear, cold springwater bubbling up.

The creek as it continues down the slope from the spring house.

A different view of the creek, as I made my way to the cemetery. One of our group pointed to the rocks and said, “This is limestone, and” he pointed out several spots revealing water bubbling right out of the rock on all sides of us, “This is limestone-filtered water. Any real Kentucky bourbon uses limestone-filtered water, just like this.” Since I’m a bourbon fan, this was of particular interest.

The courthouse, while not necessarily beautiful – since it was built for function not form – occupies an irresistibly green, sun-dappled place. It sits on a sloping hill above a generous spring that bursts from the ground nearby. There is a stone building built atop the spring, with sheltered access to the pristine and sparkling pure water from inside and outside the building. So much water gushes from the spring that it’s instantly a creek, that winds its way through trees, rock outcroppings, and the lovely Oklahoma hills till it reaches Snake Creek nearby.

The preservationists have addressed the courthouse itself, attending to the outside preservation first, by restoring the siding the roof and the vandalized window glass. Inside is gutted, but dry and clear and ready for the next step.

The kitchen area inside the courthouse.

Upstairs chimney restored.

At the top of the stairs.

Me, on the stairs in the courthouse.

There was no jail at the time this was used as a courthouse. None of them had a place to lock up criminals except the Tahlequah district, which had a jail. When criminals were on hand, they were chained to a tree or a wall and guarded until they could be taken to Tahlequah. Unfortunately, this is exactly what was occupying Sheriff Jesse Sunday when a storekeeper was shot September 20, 1897. He was far away, guarding prisoners when he got the news, and deputized someone nearby to take his place and headed back to Saline to see what was going on. By the end of the day Sheriff Sunday and the newly elected Sheriff Ridge had also been shot, in what people now call the Saline Courthouse Massacre. The murderer escaped from prison, but then then served a short tour in the Army and came back to Saline and lived the rest of his life in the community. Talk about a get out of jail free card.

I wandered in a wide arc around the area, along the creek, through the trees, and found myself at a cemetery. From the dates, you can see that these people lived here during the time this place was used as a courthouse, and was actually the center of a community.

A small cemetery sits beside the road, not far from the courthouse.

Next we went to see the Cherokee Nation Buffalo Herd. Our Chief is very excited about the buffalo and proud to tell us while we were in Tulsa that we would soon be able to see them. His excitement was contagious for many of the people attending the conference in Tulsa.

I was not appropriately impressed because buffalo herds are not that uncommon in the West. It seems like they would not be that uncommon in Oklahoma too, but perhaps I’m wrong. I’ve grown up seeing buffalo herds here and there, raised like cattle, and I’ve seen buffalo on the menu and in the meat counter. I’ve been close to buffalo herds multiple times in Yellowstone NP.

But still….buffalo are cool. And maybe here’s the difference: the Cherokee buffalo herd is out there just being buffalo. Not being fattened for market.

The sight was pretty spectacular, and I think you’ll agree.

One of the TV buffalo poses for me.

I wouldn’t mind being one of the Cherokee buffalo herd, if it meant living here.

Cherokee tourists.

On our way to the caretaker buildings, we spotted them from the road. The vans stopped and people exploded out into the gravel road with glee, stepping through thistles and nettles and cockleburs to lean up against the barbed wire fence to snap shots. The buffalo ignored us and we soon moved on.

When we arrived, we consolidated into only two vehicles and followed the caretaker (who lugged his year-old grandson on his hip the entire time – adorbs) as he drove us in a careful trek in a road defined only by the fact that you could tell cars had driven that route before. We crossed hills, forged valleys, and finally came out: on the other side of the buffalo! I was puzzled and frustrated about this. We weren’t allowed out of the vans and since I was squished in the back, and on the wrong side, I was not able to use my camera most of the time.

There are 92 buffalo in this herd, and they are living the life. I was glad to have seen them, their massive, massive bodies lumbering to get away from our vans, flowing over landscape changes like you see in movies. You know, that surge of giant bodies moving like a brown liquid into dry creekbeds and then up over mounds and splitting to flow around a tree.

Cherokee tourists now trapped in a van.

The “wild” buffalo. You can tell. Can’t you.

Looking back, as they make their escape from us.

Cherokee tourist beside buffalo sign.

Finally, when we had all returned and were talking in the shade, the caretaker explained that our buffalo have segregated themselves into two smaller herds. “The TV buffalo – those are the ones you saw when you came in,” he said, “and the others are what I call the wild buffalo.” The TV buffalo? Turns out, the group we saw beside the road don’t mind people, and tend to hang out by the road. When Oklahoma television crews come out to do a story on the buffalo, those are the ones they shoot because it’s such an easy shot. The other buffalo don’t like people, don’t go near the road, and don’t even mix with the TV buffalo. “I wanted you to see the wild buffalo,” he explained. “That’s why I took you out so far to see them.” Ok. All is forgiven.

A gorgeous man’s shirt on display at the Gilcrease Museum.

The CCO Conference was open to all Cherokees, but there was a special trip planned afterward for At Large Cherokees. These are the Cherokees who live outside “the 14 counties” considered to be Cherokee country in Oklahoma.*

First thing Sunday morning we piled into vans and went to the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, and arrived before they were open. This was because the Universe wanted to feed my soul. I had been inside a hotel for the greater part of three days and my nature-spirit was dying. The only thing to do while waiting for the doors to open was to visit the adjacent garden. I was also cold and needed to thaw out.

One thing I can never figure out about desert-dwellers is their love affair with air conditioning. And I’m not talking cool-things-off-a-bit AC, what I mean is let’s-recreate-the-arctic AC. If it’s 90 degrees outside, I think cooling things off to 70, maybe 68 is appropriate. But instead we get 54 degrees (maybe I’m exaggerating) and I need to wear boots and a jacket indoors when it’s summer. What a waste of resources. Anyhow, what I’m getting to is that my body needed some warmth. I flew in from a region with a heat deficit to begin with, and then was in a climate-controlled building. I was ready for summer weather!

Let me assure you, after 30 minutes of waiting for the museum to open, I turned into a much happier Crystal. Warm and filled with the quiet sounds and scenes of nature.

The garden has a walking path around a pond, where I tried to identify plants. Luckily I spotted the poison ivy before I walked through it, and also luckily another Cherokee near me pointed to a tree and named it. It was probably the first Redbud I have seen, and I thought of Laurie who is not shy about her love of the tree. The trail passed a demonstration Pre-Columbian garden with plants known to have been in those earliest gardens. Near that was a demonstration pioneer garden. I watched red birds flash through and could not get a photo. Then I listened to the most astonishing bird call that never repeated itself. Cheeps, trills, clicks, warbles – this bird had it all. I was in awe! I think it was a scissor-tailed flycatcher. Oh how I wish I could hear this Maestro every day. I spotted a frog and a turtle too. I’ve had a knack for seeing turtles lately. I didn’t tell you that I found one on my island in the pond at home before I left. But I did tell you about the turtle on the walking trail in Tulsa, and now a turtle at the Museum garden. Pretty good for a girl who has to wear glasses.

The museum has developed 23 acres into themed gardens. I walked through Stuart Park, which holds the Pre-Columbian and Pioneer Gardens.

Statue beside the pond in Stuart Park.

A turtle! One thing I did not expect to find in Oklahoma was so much water: streams, rivers, lakes, ponds…water is everywhere in this part of the state.

After my soul was filled up, I hiked back up the hill to the museum. I was in for a treat. The long name for the Gilcrease Museum is Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art. It was founded by Gilcrease, a member of the Creek Nation. The collection today holds paintings and sculptures from famous artists of the American West, like Charles M Russell, Albert Bierstadt, Frederick Remington, Thomas Moran, Georgia O’Keeffe and John James Audubon. Our guide told us that the museum is famous for Southwestern Art, and since I’m from the West, that brings to mind a particular style of art. I was soon delighted to find that my assumption was wrong, and while the collection includes faves like original CM Russells (I’ve got a print on my wall at home), most of the art draws from creators across the Americas. Indigenous carvings and masks from Central and South America, a Tlingit totem pole from Alaska, a photographic collection of Indigenous people of the West, and another of landscapes. What I love the most, at nearly every museum, is the classic style of oil paintings of real world scenes that tell a story or beg me to escape into them. And portraits by masters. I could stare for hours at portraits.

The Gilcrease Museum leans heavily on Indian artists and Indian themes and Indian influence. It felt warm and validating to be there surrounded by Cherokee people, in a Cherokee part of the country, with Cherokee art on every side of me. I noticed the unfamiliar feeling of validation regarding this weak little Indian vein flowing through me and trying to get bigger. Wanting validation for being Indian is not something I think much about and did not realize I was craving it. Maybe it’s harder to be Indian when there is nothing Indian around me. But there in the museum, being Indian was practically cheered at me. It felt so good.

I think my jabbering will not add much to the experience, so I’ll just fill the rest with photos and captions. Please enjoy the ones I’ve chosen for you.

The Mourners by Joseph Henry

If I could hang Sierra Nevada Morning by Albert Bierstadt on a wall in my home, I’d never have to rent movies. I could just sit in front of this painting and disappear into it.

Blackhawk and His Son Whirling Thunder by John Wesley Jarvis

A painting of Mt. Hood! It was pretty fun to discover this one, while visiting as a representative of the Mt. Hood Cherokees.

I tend to love the paintings best in any museum, but this one had many other impressive displays, that were not of oil and canvas. Though we were not able to see it, there are documents here like an original copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. We saw less valuable but still exciting documents.

An actual cast of Abraham Lincoln’s face hovers above casts of his hands.

Our van driver, Kevin, gets a close-up shot of this amazing story created from string glued in place.

Close up

We spent a lot of time OOooo-ing and AAhhhh-ing over the Plains Indians displays of clothing, moccasins, and bags, with beadwork on everything. Some of the stitching and beading too intricate to be believed without seeing it yourself.

So many beautiful moccasins.

Dresses I would be proud to wear.

Indian toys.

Beaded tobacco bag.

Sequoyah

Plaque beneath the Sequoyah statue. Please click the image to be able to read it. Seqyoyah is the most famous Cherokee because, among other things, he invented our written language.

One of the At Large Cherokees gets a photo of the famous statue, found on many Oklahoma license plates.

*If you’re curious, this is from the Cherokee Nation website: The Cherokee Nation is not a reservation; it is a 7,000 square mile jurisdictional area covering all of eight counties and portions of six additional counties in Northeastern Oklahoma. As a federally-recognized Indian tribe, the Cherokee Nation has both the opportunity and the sovereign right to exercise control and development over tribal assets which include 66,000 acres of land as well as 96 miles of the Arkansas Riverbed.

Vacation car! Most people over about 45 years pointed with delight at this display. The kids were all, "Uh, Dad, what's so great about that old car?"

Vacation car! Most people over about 45 years pointed with delight at this display. The kids were all, “Uh, Dad, what’s so great about that old car?”

We celebrated two things last week: Tara’s graduation from High School (with High Honors, I might add with pride), and – as it turned out serendipitously – Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary.

This amazing theme park was opened on July 17, 1955.  Our trip to Disneyland was planned sometime around September of 2014, and neither of us knew that in the meantime, the big 6-0 would pop up, resulting in massive park renovations, updates of old shows, and all-around spit-and-polish.

A 60th anniversary is the “diamond” anniversary, and thus the park heartily embraced the jeweled theme (glittering diamonds could be found on castle spires, on T-shirts, on signposts, on Mickey Ears), as well as lots of icy blues (in fabric banners, in cupcake frosting, in the flowers planted, in logos).

It's A Small World - familiar to anyone who has ever been here.

It’s A Small World – familiar to anyone who has ever been here.

Lamp post over Casey Jr. Circus Train ride, another 1955 original, named after the train in Dumbo.

Lamp post over Casey Jr. Circus Train ride, another 1955 original, named after the train in Dumbo.

The Mad Tea Party's tea cups have been spinning since opening day in 1955, bringing us six decades of motion sickness.

The Mad Tea Party’s tea cups have been spinning since opening day in 1955, bringing us six decades of motion sickness.

As longtime readers know, I visited for the first time in my life just last year, in March. At the time we felt as though half the park was closed for repairs, and we cursed our bad luck. On this visit, we not only realized why so many renovations happened last year, but we also were able to see and experience all the new stuff!

There are a remarkable number of rides and attractions from 1955 (and those installed in 1958) that are still running today, and those are my particular favourites. I’ll admit, however, that not much can beat the thrill of a modern rollercoaster, or the dazzle of movies shown onto a towering fountain spray of water. And I can honestly say I’d be happy to hanglide in Soarin’ Over California or board a spaceship on Star Tours once a week for a year, because the wonder of flight combined with a sense of realism in those two rides is indescribably exciting.

Goofy walks with a fan through Toon Town.

Goofy walks with a fan through Toon Town.

Blue banners and sparkly spires to celebrate the Diamond Anniversary.

Blue banners and sparkly spires commemorate the Diamond Anniversary.

Metal bonnet over a shop in the New Orleans district.

Metal bonnet over a shop in the New Orleans district.

A larger-than-life ringmaster holds up a tent in Disney California Adventure Park.

A larger-than-life ringmaster holds up a tent in Disney California Adventure Park.

Fabulous rollercoaster above the water in Disney California Adventure Park.

Tara looks out at the fabulous rollercoaster and Ferris wheel above the water in Disney California Adventure Park.

I found a lot of joy this week in observing people find their bliss. Kids went out of their minds with happiness to see their favourite characters, and parents were gleeful when watching their kids interact with the characters. Adults would start to get testy (the crowds, the heat, the lines, the noise), and then suddenly smile and relax as though a voice in their head had just said, “Cool it. You’re at Disneyland.” Teenagers wore completely ridiculous outfits and were proud to be a part of it all. Elderly people walked very slowly and looked for shady spots, and I never saw someone acting impatient with them. Staff went out of their way to get people using wheelchairs into rides. We saw a Disney employee in a wheelchair, and Tara was helped at one store by a Disney employee with Down’s Syndrome.

We are now home, a little sunburned, still recovering our sleep, and still happy.

magical moment

It’s a magical moment for two little girls (the older one got hold of the princess’s hand a few moments later). And then, look at Mom in the back ground.

The Queen

The Queen says to the little girl, “Of course you want me to sign it, because then it will have some value.”
When it was Tara’s turn, their Mickey Mouse pen ran out of ink. “That’s what you get for trying to use a rat to write with,” sneered The Queen. She walked over to a nearby tourist woman, snatched a pen out of her hand, and said, “I’ll be using this.” It was brilliant.

We caught some really great shows. Some on the streets, and some on stage, like this one, featuring King Louie from one of my most beloved Disney movies: The Jungle Book.

We caught some really great shows. Some on the streets, and some on stage, like this one, featuring King Louie from one of my most beloved Disney movies: The Jungle Book.

Tiana, from The Princess and the Frog

Tiana, from The Princess and the Frog

These dancers leapt through the air, launched from stylized surfboards in a piece from Lilo and Stitch, another of my top 5 Disney movie faves.

These dancers leapt through the air, launched from stylized surfboards in a piece from Lilo and Stitch, another of my top 5 Disney movie faves.

Just like last year, I was impressed with the attention to detail in creating realistic scenes to entertain and educate. At the Redwook Creek Challenge, we explored a U.S. Forest Service fire lookout tower.

Just like last year, I was impressed with the attention to detail in creating realistic scenes to entertain and educate. At the Redwook Creek Challenge, we explored a U.S. Forest Service fire lookout tower.

A real U.S. Forest Service jeep was parked outside Eureka Mine No. 2 entrance, at Grizzly River Run (an innertube ride on river rapids).

A real U.S. Forest Service jeep was parked outside Eureka Mine No. 2 entrance, at Grizzly River Run (an inner tube ride on river rapids).

Multiple artist workspaces are installed throughout the parks, and frequently have real Disney artists at work.

Multiple artist work spaces are installed throughout the parks, and frequently have real Disney artists at work.

Captain Hook and Tara were both in good spirits, flashing their hooks.

Captain Hook (despite his rather nasty reputation) and Tara were both in good spirits, flashing their hooks.

Peter Pan has adoring fans. Just catch a load of the face on this girl as she realizes who is walking toward her.

Peter Pan has adoring fans. Just catch a load of the face on this girl as she realizes who is walking toward her.

Oswald (who inspired Mickey) greets his fans.

Oswald (who inspired Mickey) greets his fans.

There's a big Goofy. And a Disney character too!

There’s a big Goofy. And a Disney character too!

I know there's hype about New England foliage, but it's for real. There's nothing like the autumn colours in the northeast.

I know there’s hype about New England foliage, but it’s for real. There’s nothing like the autumn colours in the northeast.

The first day of November in Fitchburg, Massachusetts was pretty wet, but everybody (particularly Tetley the dog) wanted to go out for a walk anyway. The family lives in a beautiful spot in the hills, next door to forests, and we headed out. It turned out to be colder than expected, so it was just a short walk, but fun for me to soak up New England and remember the things I love about it. If you’ve ever spent time in these parts, you’ll know that in the forest there are ubiquitous stone walls that served as ancient property boundaries. I have seen them in New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts.

The boys lead the way through the forest.

The boys lead the way through the forest.

Old stone wall in a Massachusetts forest.

Old stone wall in a Massachusetts forest.

Fire Engine Red

Fire Engine Red

K had created an enormous pile of pancakes for us all to eat that morning, and then went off to the school to work on student progress reports. E and I chatted while we dried off and waited for our ride back to the city. Finally we had to say our goodbyes. E had purchased Vermont Cabot cheese for me as my specially requested New England delicacy (it’s about $15/lb here), and I predictably forgot it in her fridge. Luckily she likes it too!

Reunited with loved ones.

Reunited with loved ones.

Once we were back in the city, our friends took us to Brazilian barbecue restaurant in Cambridge called Midwest Grill, where the waiters brought large hunks of meat to the table and carved it for us. I tried enough meat dishes to last me till Christmas and they practically had to carry me out I was so stuffed. I’d say it’s a good plug for a restaurant when a meal becomes a highlight of a trip! They all went to eat ice cream afterward and I couldn’t order a thing.

Next it was time to visit Fenway. Sadly, though only early evening, the season brought early darkness, hastened even more by the thick clouds and rain. The ballpark was closed, and raindrops splashed my lens, but I was thrilled to be there anyway. R and Tara stayed warm in the car while M and I ran around in the rain.

Ahh, my heart warms just to stand here on the sidewalk.

Ahh, my heart warms just to stand here on the sidewalk.

M and me, snapped by some stranger walking past. I happily handed over my camera. "In another city," says M, "your camera would be gone."

M and me, snapped by some stranger walking past. I happily handed over my camera. “In another city,” says M, “your camera would be gone.”

Yawkey Way. Is there a more Boston-sounding street?

Yawkey Way. Is there a more Boston-sounding street? There’s the big green stadium on the right.

Maybe I'm silly, but this is as much Boston to me as anything else.

Maybe I’m silly, but this is as much Boston to me as anything else.

There was one last friend I was able to visit, and T and I dropped by for a couple hours, till we were all wiped out for the day. My T opened up and talked a blue streak. It’s nice to see when trust develops between a friend and my kid. Yawning, we hugged goodbye and took photos.

Next fun adventure: we walked a few blocks, bought our Charlie Cards, and hopped onto the green line. Then we switched to the red line and headed out towards M’s place again for the night. It was 10:30 at night and though it was November 1, it was also the day after Halloween and a Saturday, so several of our fellow passengers were costumed and heading for parties. It has been a decade since I rode a Boston subway (back then we used token coins, and I’ve still got one in my purse as a memento), and I thought it could be scary, but it wasn’t.

Sleepy friends

Sleepy friends at 10:00pm

Sunday morning M had to jump on a plane, so R made himself available to us once more, between his morning and evening sermons. The weather really had not cooperated during our visit, and had been rainy and cold the whole time. It perfectly suited Tara’s next request: a visit to the Boston Museum of Science. It’s another place filled with memories. We watched a 4-D movie. Have you done one of those before? It introduces sensations like touch and smell. This movie was not as good as the last one we saw: Polar Express, which blew snow into our faces, bursts of wind blew our hair, the chair shook when the train crashed, and the smell of hot cocoa wafted through when was served on the train.

An enormous grasshopper greets us from the second story of the museum.

An enormous grasshopper greets us from the second story of the museum.

We did like this exhibit. The photography of modernist cuisine. Where things were sliced in half and photographed.

We did like this exhibit: photography of modernist cuisine. Where things were sliced in half and photographed.

The main exhibit was the Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed and I was eager to see it. I could have spent 4 hours in that exhibit alone. It was huge and fascinating, but we simply did not have the time to see everything. My favourite part was when some of the museum staff helped me learn to interpret some of the signs on the tall columns. I learned how ancient Mayans wrote numbers! Just to learn one small thing was very exciting to me. I can read Mayan numbers. Hee.

Reproduction of a Mayan tower. The lights flashed on the side are to help visitors learn to read the petroglyphs.

Reproduction of a Mayan tower. The lights flashed on the side help visitors learn to read the hieroglyphs.

I stood here until I learned to read some of it.

I stood here until I learned to read some of it. The numbers are the places with dots on top of/beside parallel lines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tara's birthday was converted to glyphs.

Tara’s birthday was converted to glyphs.

Artwork and tools. This one was very exciting to me, because I guessed the use of the shell sliced in half. Can you guess it?

Artwork and tools. This one was very exciting to me, because I correctly guessed the use of the shell sliced in half. Can you guess it?

A painted vessel

A painted vessel

A gorgeous carving

A gorgeous carving

 

 

 

 

 

Then we hurried off to the airport and in no time were boarding our plane. It was an uncomfortable night flight (I can never sleep while sitting upright), but the reward at the end was being home! We live about 8 minutes drive from the airport, so touching down is synonymous with being home. We snapped the obligatory Portlander-coming-home snapshot of the airport carpet. The Portland Airport Carpet has its own facebook page, can you believe it? Yes, we are a weird city, and we love it. 🙂

Our feet and shadows on the PDX carpet.

Our feet and shadows on the PDX carpet.

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