Friday, October 28, 2011

Things that make you go "Hm".

As my wife and I walked towards downtown Saint Paul in the afternoon sun, we turned the corner of St Paul Cathedral, National Shrine of the apostle Paul, overlooking the city from its perch at the end of Summit Avenue. The Cathedral is a testament to Archbishop John Ireland's determination in 1904 to provide a "mother church" for the community, and standing 306 ft with walls of solid granite and local stone from Mankato MN, it looms large on the city skyline.
It was in the shadow of this magnificent structure, and after a short lull in the conversation that my wife idly inquires " Have you ever seen a squirrel poop?".
I had to say I haven't.
"And" she continued, "do they poop on the ground or in the trees?" .
Once again I was stumped, and the implied threat of the latter question was not lost on me. I felt a quiet sense of gratitude that the skies in these parts were mostly populated by sparrows.
Back to the burning question though- anyone out there seen a squirrel poop? let me know, and no fibbers.

A Maine Event

In Carthage, western Maine, the woods grow thick with Oak, Beech, Ash and Pine. As I looked out over a late September morning, from my hilltop lodging, I saw the faint hint of crimson and yellow begin to bleed ever so slightly into the dappled greens that spread to the horizon, where it met a cloudless blue sky.

One  way up to my lodging - the Skye Theater and Arts Center - was a  dirt road that was laid in the early eighteen hundreds by settlers who farmed the surrounding land and founded the community of Carthage .
From the road, this sparsely populated woodland reveals a few barren cemeteries that stand like ruins, shaded by the towering forest, and serve as the only evidence of a once busy and bustling thoroughfare, now mostly used by logging trucks and a few remaining families on the hillside.

Come breakfast time, Phil, a longtime resident of the hillside, and active community member, pointed us in the direction of The Front Porch Cafe in East Dixwell, and his recommendation did not go amiss.

The Front Porch Cafe, an old rambling colonial style house, has been converted on the inside into a carpeted, wood-lined dining room that butts right up to the kitchen, the aroma of blueberry flapjacks held me for ransom almost as soon as I walked in.
Now normally I'm an eggs n hashbrowns kind of fella, having learned a long time ago that my eyes grow much larger than my belly, but those blueberry flapjacks are singing my song and staring up at me from the menu. I know I'm gonna get crushed under a 3-stack of dish-diameter 'jacks, but I go for it anyway.
The coffee was great , and here , if I may, a word -

I like coffee. I like good coffee and I'm even happy to suffer the "other stuff" if need be, the stuff that looks like coffee, smells like coffee. but man it ain't coffee. But that "other stuff", to my mind, does also have a rightful place; namely that place that glares at you through the midnight dark from the side of the highway, all garishly colored neon shouting " roadside diner" - the greasy spoon - home of the hangover breakfast . I expect the "other stuff" in that environment and I oddly look forward to it's role in completing the scene- greasy  cafe/ diner and a cup of the other stuff to wash down whatever the hash slinger slings my way. In fact, when I am served good coffee in that environment  I'm oddly disappointed, sorely tempted to hail the waitress saying " Take this back - this is excellent!" but I never do of course.

This cafe though, although serving hashbrowns and eggs-a-plenty, was no "other stuff"- serving diner. The deep bean coffee aroma filled the homely dining area, and wafted outside into the chilly morning , beckoning passers by like comely sirens from shore. Ok that's a slight exaggeration, but it was pretty durn good, and served in tall chunky ceramic mugs made locally, and before I knew it, I had washed down the whole 3 flapjacks, covered in maple syrup. I felt like a real man- an overstuffed, bloated fat real man that needed to take a nap pretty quick.
Before that could happen though, there was a surprise in store;
As we filed out of this established, full and feeling it, the owner followed us outside saying" Hey - you guys met Murphy yet?"
With that, she faces the garage that was kitty-corner to the cafe shouting " Murphy!! Murphy!! C'mere, boy!" And with that , Murphy, a black n white dappled mutt, came scampering over the roof of the garage, greeting all he surveyed with an excited bark or two. The garage roof is clearly his domain; he was happy to stand , not budging and just happy to greet his audience from on high.
As our host  said "Murphy, will you sing for us? " for a moment, Murphy looked almost as confused as we did, but as she launched into the opening strains of The Monster Mash,  Murphy howled right along; a good two verses of harmonizing,  entertaining us with a unique rendition of a Halloween classic before we finally had to take our leave. Thanks Murphy. Now about that nap......

Friday, June 10, 2011

Brooklyn NY

Marine Park

Between avenue U and Fillmore, on a small corner of Marine Park's green space is an oak shaded loop-walk  for strolling, jogging, cycling or , as was my intention, just whiling away a hot June afternoon. At one corner, a Bocce Ball court (see above)  keeps a handful of older men engaged in their game and a little conversation, or maybe a lot of conversation and a little of the game.
In the middle of the loop, bating cages are scattered throughout for future A-Rods and Jeter's to hone their skills, and what park benches were shaded by those grandiose oaks never found themselves alone for too long. Although the hiss of traffic is omnipresent, the space remains quite peaceful, and it's surprisingly easy to find oneself unwinding steadily among the dog walkers and sun worshippers.

After a stroll around the loop, I decided to grab the next available bench and watch the squirrels, who in turn watched the starlings as they also foraged in the grass, both seemingly unaware of the frisbees skimming right above them.

Amongst the joggers, baby strollers, and cellphone huggers, I saw a small disheveled sandy colored dog moving e-v-e-r   s-o  s-l-o-w-l-y in my general direction, idly sniffing at the base of each oak before moving in a slow, gentle movement that almost looked like a kind of dog- Tai Chi. Directly behind him was his master, an elderly gentleman with glasses, in a white t shirt and wearing a baseball cap.

"Good seat" he said, stopping to look in my direction. "Yup - not bad" I said. " I can feel the breeze on my back." he offered.  " Feels good I'll bet".  "Oh yeah. I've lived here my whole life, just beyond those trees"  he said, pointing.  "Oh?".  "Born 1931. That's a long time. The mayor back then told my mom not to sell the house - they're going up in value, he said."  "He was right". I said.
He  pointed in the opposite direction ; "I used to swim over there. We used to swim and fish, and even then, there was a sign saying 'water polluted' " . "Hm" I grinned.  "Yup. Take care my friend, C'mon Rusty", and with that, the two old timers shuffled on. I took one more stroll around the loop, stopped and looked at a squirrel for a minute or two, and moved on. I hadn't expected to feel so relaxed in the heart of Brooklyn, but there I was, happy to have stumbled upon an oasis of sorts not realizing that just the next morning I'd find another one......

The Oasis Diner

The Oasis Diner, on Quentin Rd and Flatbush Ave is a family run Greek diner that was calling my name as soon as I saw it one morning with breakfast on my mind. This place hit the spot- the server pointed me to a booth and handed me a coffee and a menu. I took my time perusimg the many options as around me a steady stream of neighborhood faces filed up and down  the aisle and filled the room with their familiar exchanges like " Hey George, how's the wife?" and "'zat your car out front ? she's a beauty.."  

After I ordered I sat for a while, continuing my people-watching as three guys at the register discussed the Yankee's chances this season. An older woman picking up an order  blessed us all as she left, and my plate landed in front of me with a "there y'go, hun. Enjoy." from a waitress who was a blur most of the time.

The cheese omelette was great , the home fries were among the best I've had, and the coffee kept coming. I took my time over breakfast , savoring the atmosphere as much as the food, and as I payed at the register, I mentioned to the young guy taking the check that I'd be back again. With a  faint smile he said " Oh good - I'm happy." Me too , I thought.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

One day in Dublin , Ireland......

This is Pat Ingoldsby, a poet, and a Dublin icon. He was siting on Westmoreland Street, surrounded by his books and busy finishing a poem in his notebook when I approached. The self made sign above his head read "Dublin Poet - anywhere else I'd be a god."

"Howrya Pat", I said " I want to buy a book from you". " Ah, howrya", he said, "and I've just finished one - can I read it to you? Tell me if you can relate".

He proceeded to recite a poem recounting his difficulty with math and his love of words as a young boy. When he was done he looked up at me and inquired earnestly; " well - can you relate to that?". Indeed I could and I told him so, and after he had lamented the presence of letters in mathematical equation, I suggested that perhaps it's just the words trying to invade and overthrow the math world. He liked this idea and a warm smile spread broadly from under his hat.

Pat is at once whimsical, sincere, biting and curious in his observations of the world he sees around him.His poems reflect the  people he meets as he sits peddling his literary wares on the streets of Dublin, as well as reflections on the natural world as he sees it from the strand in Howth where he lives. In his life he has known both fame and obscurity and  I would hazard a guess that he has little time for either.

As we chatted, he picked up a book and signed it to my wife and I in a large, looping deliberate hand that , when he had finished, read "thanks Patsy and Heather for saving my day". before we parted he recited one more poem that  came to him; a few lines pondering whether the pursuit of wealth is as valid as the value of natural beauty.

And with that , we said our goodbyes - warm handshakes, broad waves and smiles and a mutual wish to enjoy the rest of the day.

"What the world needs now is love, sweet love".  Burt Bacharach wrote that.
" - and a few more Pat Ingoldsbys". I wrote that.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Good morning

In Dallas TX, The  Cafe Brazil offers a spinach omelette with Rosemary potatoes and grilled thick sliced white bread that sets a body up for the day. The help-yourself coffee bar is music to this guy's ears, and the lady beside me at the counter offers me the morning paper with a smile. I thank her, thinking to myself that this is a good start to a new day in a strange town .
I come across an article on a border control snafu in Brownsville, south Texas, where US citizens are finding themselves at odds with the new  fence - rivers bend, but it would seem that fences don't, and residents are left with questions about what land is theirs and and what the government owns.

Baseball season approacheth, and as I wash down the omelette with my umpteenth bottomless cup, I read news of a scuffle in the Cubs dugout, and the Twin's Joe Nathan "feeling fine" after surgery.
The wind picks up a little outside, and it's time for my 3 block walk alongside the highway buzz back to the hotel. The Cafe Brazil offers an antidote of coffee aroma, great food,  and all the color, rattle  and hum that human traffic has to offer . remembering Oscar Wilde's line about being able to resist everything except temptation, I grab a coffee to go.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Columbia SC

What's Columbia got to do with Egypt?

I know - what kind of dumb question is that, right?. I hear you , but there I was , strolling along a meandering country road on the outskirts of Columbia South Carolina, taking in the afternoon sun, and hearing the sounds of the far off State Fair wafting across the September breeze, when I follow the road around the tree-lined bend only to be met with a 20 foot fresco of the ancient Pharaoh Rameses, or someone who looks just like him, peering down from his throne, and surrounded by heiroglyphs of due respect, his face weatherd away by the elements. I was left with only one thought - "What the....?"
Maybe I had some preconceived notions about what traveling in the Carolinas might be like, and maybe it's my own fault for not being open minded, but Pharaohs?
The image is painted on a concrete slab which is clearly the remaining wall of some considerably less ancient structure than a pyramid or catacomb, but has a few seating benches and tables set at its base for the casual wanderer to sit and enjoy their diet coke and fritos, safe in the knowledge that the ancient gods of Egypt are watching out for them.
The jarring visual stimuli didn't stop there.Carrying on my stroll and slowly recovering from my impromptu date with a Pharaoh, I was soon met with a white two story building that boasted the painted image of the Incredible Hulk (sure, why not?) punching his way through the wall and snarling at me. Over his left shoulder near the corner of the building , was the word 'GROW' in grey letters and groovy script.

At the green super hero's feet, a small table soaked up the sun, with an arrangement of blackened and burned engine parts resting on top, and beneath, between it's legs and in the shade, a burned out bird cage. You heard me. Wondering if maybe I had wandered into a Terry Gilliam movie, I dedided to head back to base, and quiz my host - a Columbia native - about these odd sightings.
My host, Davey, at the Redbird School of Irish Music, assured me that I wasn't losing it just yet, and that the white two story building was an artist's collective, once known as the Grow Cafe - a coffeehouse and venue/artist space, now just a studio , although still it would seem very much inhabited by the ghosts of it's former glory.
As for the Pharaoh, Davey could shed no light.......hmmmm...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Mississippi Mud House

The above picture is just to get your attention and has nothing to do with the following post - just something spotted in O'Fallon MO.
Speaking of MO....

The Mississippi Mud House St Louis MO, on Cherokee and Illinois, is one of the coolest coffeehouses in the mid west : great menu (check out the Portabello Rueben) , great coffee (duh) and a very hip ambience. The salad greens are grown out back, for the most part, and the emphasis is on local produce.

A back wall houses books for sale while surrounding brownstone walls are adorned with local art and retro advertising, and it's WAY easy just to sit back, put it all off 'til tomorrow, and just while away the hours with a hot coffee or three, watching the local Cherokee Street traffic as they stop in for lunch, meet a few buddies, chat with staff, or just sit back and watch you watch the local.....well you get what I mean.

Oh yeah, the French Toast is also top notch.

I first wandered in there with my buddy Kevin after a hard morning recording. Two coffees and a lunch hour later, we found ourselves wandering back to the studio saying, " wow, cool place". We dont say that too often. When I was back in town about a year later, I headed down for breakfast, and ordered the aforementioned  French toast. Hot syrup. Bananas. Hot coffee. Mmm. 
Me and Kevin headed in for lunch  after a morning gig , and man, they did it again . I reacquainted myself with the Portabello Rueben ( we're an item now) while Kevin inhaled the Club Sandwich with emphatic nods of approval.
I'm telling you. You should go. Really cool place.