Archive for May, 2010|Monthly archive page

Louisiana: 2

In Uncategorized on May 29, 2010 at 12:34 am

After hours on the Louisiana highway, we stopped to visit a cemetery. Bayou graveyards are famous for above-ground mausolea, owing to the soft ground. I can’t imagine the earliest grave-sites — the floods that unearthed corpses and spat them onto lawns. It’s no wonder, given such folklore, where the idea of zombies came from.

The cemetery was organized into a tight grid, and not a single plot was wasted. Entire families were encased in these marble cabins, and many were decorated with flowers, Virgin Mary statues, American flags, and even dolls.

But as time passes, flowers wilt, and the groundskeepers have to dispose of all those rotting petals. I was startled to find a beat-up trashcan full of bouquets — a mash of colors, also laid to rest.


Louisiana: 1

In Uncategorized on May 29, 2010 at 12:27 am

As I photographed this gecko on the wall of my hotel, the front door slid open and a blond teenager stepped out. He was skinny and walked with attitude. He wore the coveralls of a maintenance worker, and he pushed a gurney full of rubbish.

“Where y’all from?” he asked. No hello. Just inquisition.

“Uh, Pittsburgh,” I said. Then added stupidly: “Pennsylvania.”

“That’s awesome,” he said.


“Yeah. I wish I could live up there.”


“Yeah. Louisiana fuckin’ sucks.”

“Does it? How come?”

“The police,” he said. “The crime.”

“I did notice a lot of sheriffs on the road,” I said, snapping the lens-cap on my Rebel.

“They’re everywhere,” the kid exclaimed. “And the crime is…” He just shook his head, overwhelmed by all the crime.

“Is there really a lot of crime in Thibodaux?”

“Well, mostly in New Orleans. But it’s everywhere, man.”

As I walked toward my room, I ruminated: Was the kid exaggerating? Or was Thibodaux a hotbed of meth-labs and drive-bys? I’d spent three days here, and the most dangerous person I’d seen was a drunk girl grinding with her friends at karaoke night. Then again, a brief stay at a Days Inn wouldn’t give me much perspective.

I wondered whether that kid knew anything about Pittsburgh. Or was this just a code-name for somewhere other than here.

An hour later, I checked out.


In Uncategorized on May 29, 2010 at 12:17 am


I blame the beer.

We met up with our friends Adam and Allison for happy hour. The Harris Grill, a great place for after-work pints.  It wasn’t long that Adam and Allison told us about their discovery: Recently they’d found a litter of kittens under their porch. Three baby cats, each colored white and orange.

Two hours later, we were leaning over a cardboard box in their bedroom, ogling the tiny felines. They slept in a pile, then broke apart to forage for food. They scratched at their litter and rolled onto their backs.

At this point, it’s nearly impossible for a red-blooded homo sapiens to walk away. Especially after four pints of hopsy brews. Ky and I hummed and hawed. We already have a cat. We have no time. What if the new cat ended up with worms, or leukemia?

But if I have a weakness, it’s newly-opened kitten eyes. We zeroed in on the tiniest of the three — a clumsy little thing nicknamed “Runty.” We decided to try a visit to the vet, and if Runty was given a clean bill of health, we’d keep him.

Well, her.

Since we’d already settled on the name Felix — to complement our first cat, Oscar — Felix she would be. Latin Club geeks will recognize felix as the third-declension noun for “cat.” Most people suggest other names, but we’re steadfast. Felix is rapidly growing up in our bathroom, her placid life occasionally interrupted by sparring sessions with Oscar. So yes, I blame the beer for all this fuzzy good-will. One more Victory Hop Devil, and we’ll end up being Octomoms.

Egypt: 10

In Uncategorized on May 16, 2010 at 10:20 pm

As our cruise-ship approached a lock, we were surrounded by a fleet of rowboats. The boats were manned by merchants — skinny, smiley hawkers who hurled their wares at the ship’s main deck and demanded money for them.

“One hundred Egyptian pounds!” they called.

The garments were all wrapped in plastic bags, and the merchants chucked them masterfully into the air. The sun-deck hovered over two stories above the rowboats, but somehow the merchants managed to land every throw.

“The system really depends on the honesty of tourists,” Kylan observed. “I mean, we could just keep their samples and not throw any money back, and what could they do about it?”

Luckily, the tourists were all honest enough. Still, I wished I could try the other side — working as a merchant in a rowboat, calling out prices and bargaining with pudgy foreigners. I had never considered the joys of being a hawker — the thrill of negotiation, the bazaar’s network of friendship and comraderie, the joy of fleecing an imperialist, whether he knows it or not. I could get used to that.

Egypt: 9

In Uncategorized on May 16, 2010 at 10:09 pm

In Giza, there are two government shops, located right next to each other. One is a papyrus shop, which was a dream come true: I have always wanted to see paper made from scratch, and the process is simple but enjoyable to watch. We bought a number of manuscripts, all recreated from ancient sources. If we must amass souvenirs, these seemed particularly fitting for a writer.

The second shop sold fragrances, and this interest us at all. After all, nobody I know wears cologne or perfume; most of my friends would consider the practice tacky. Meanwhile, the store’s spokesman was a monotone lug — the kind of meathead who teaches middle-school social studies and coaches the soccer team.


To prove this theory, he drew a packet of kitchen matches, but he failed to strike the first three sticks. At last, he sprayed the Chanel No. 5 bottle, and the mist flared slightly. The Egyptian version, stored in an elegant bottle, did not.

I walked away with only this picture, which has delighted every woman I’ve shown it to. Take that, Chanel.

Egypt: 8

In Uncategorized on May 16, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Because of our agreement, I have very little “alone time” in Egypt. Until the last day, my only solo excursion was in the Valley of the Kings. Seeing Tutankhamon’s mummy cost extra, which Kylan’s mother was only too happy to pay, and Kylan herself had to attend. But I was allowed to hang back and explore the Valley on my own.

A path led me into the hills, where I met Ahmed, an old man who invited me into an obscure tomb. For a short time, it was only me, Ahmed and a flashlight, rooting around in a dark, hieroglyph-etched corridor. The alabaster tomb remained, deep within the cave, but most of the belongings had been looted by grave-robbers.

Although Ahmed was a legitimate tour-guide, just another freelancer hanging out in the Valley of the Kings, it felt like a Tintin adventure.

Egypt: 7

In Uncategorized on May 16, 2010 at 9:54 pm

The point of this visit was to fufill Kylan’s mother’s lifelong dream — to see the remains of Ancient Egypt. She had little interest in Modern Egypt, and in this way we were opposite. I enjoy hieroglyphics and mummies as much as the next guy, but I was far more interested in Muslim Egypt — the Egypt of the past 1,000 years. So I convinced Kylan and her mother to see Khan Al-Khalidi, an historic souk in Cairo. The mosques and many buildings have survived centuries of politics and war; and although medieval merchants never sold CD’s and pharaoh T-shirts, the bazaar has teemed with activity since 1382.

This may be my favorite picture of Egypt — a moment so serene and romantic, yet quintessentially Islamic.

Egypt: 6

In Uncategorized on May 16, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Unlike a Carnival cruise, which is basically just a giant floating hotel, the M.S. Medea afforded some intimate views of the Nile. This was a photographer’s dream — to catch glimpses of life without being asked what the hell I’m doing. These kids were playing near a system of locks; and ragged though they were, I was enamored of the colors of their garments and street. Like much of Latin America, squalid conditions are routinely masked by bright and festive hues.

Egypt: 5

In Uncategorized on May 16, 2010 at 9:43 pm

The strangest presence was our nameless “secret agent,” a handsome young man who joined our tour-group for only one day.

“This is our undercover-not-so-undercover agent,” quipped Mohammed.

Not-so-undercover was right. In temperatures of 105 degrees F., our agent wore a suit and tie. The blazer barely concealed his machine-gun. The man smiled and nodded to me every time we passed each other; he seemed pleasant enough. But with no name or apparent English skills, his presence became an amusement for his flock. He joined us on a trip to Philae (my favorite temple, located on an island), and to the High Dam, a startlingly huge civil engineering project. Then he disappeared.

Or did he?

Egypt: 4

In Uncategorized on May 16, 2010 at 9:35 pm

We grew accustomed to seeing well-armed policemen on the street. Side-arms are not nearly as common as light machine-guns. This soldier was stationed only a block from the Egyptian Museum, which is essentially the Smithsonian of Cairo. Sentries were positioned everywhere — in front of entrances, at checkpoints, near hotels, even at the ATM. Every major entryway required that we step through a metal-detector — although nobody seemed to care about X-raying our bags, even where the machines were available.

“It is all for appearances,” said our guide, Mohammed.

But the threat to Egyptian security is all too real: On Nov. 17, 1997, Al Qaeda operatives attacked Hatshepsut’s Temple near Luxor. They massacred 62 people, mostly tourists, before killing themselves in the nearby caves, which were designed for the burial of ancient workers.

Thirteen years, we walked around Hatshepsut’s temple, having no idea how many people were murdered in cold blood, right where we were standing. Whether or not security was maintained for appearances, I was grateful for their presence.