Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Post-Parade Blues


With cooler weather in Georgia and a to-do list of projects to catch up on, we've been content to spend time at home in recent months.  But warmer temperatures have propelled us back on the road, this time in search of a little blues music.  On the way to New Orleans, we spent a few days with family in Alabama, including a visit to our niece Gina's home in Mississippi on Saturday night.

In addition to seven of sister Jeanne's grandchildren, our nephew Steven was there, along with a half dozen kids from the neighborhood.  With that many kids together and a massive dress-up collection in the house, a funky fashion show was inevitable.  Even they guys were good-naturedly drawn into the parade, which came in five or six waves of kids ages two to thirteen.  Everyone except two-year-old Layson changed into a new costume for the next set.  And each show ended with a dance and group photo.

Kids being kids, and knowing their adoring audience was eagerly awaiting the next show, they tossed costume pieces here, there and yon as they prepared to wow the indulgent adults with yet another fashion phenomenon.  By the end of the final parade, the playroom and several adjacent spaces looked as if a tornado had blasted its way through the dress-up closet. When the extravaganza finally wound down, the kids were pretty pooped from all the pomp and pageantry.  As soon as each one's head hit the pillow, sleep came quickly and morning arrived much too soon to suit these sultans of chic.

The following day we bid the family farewell and headed south to New Orleans, one of numerous birthplaces of the blues we plan to visit on this sojourn. Just short of the I-10 exit for our hotel in Kenner, a red sea of brake lights appeared ahead, prompting us to exit in hopes of catching a quieter parallel surface street for the final couple of miles.  Little did we know, we had just thrust ourselves into the aftermath of Metarie's Irish Italian Parade, the final event in the New Orleans area celebration of St. Patrick's Day.

As we crept east in the logjam on Veterans Memorial Boulevard, we noticed a debris field of growing proportions in the westbound lanes of the divided street.  Finally we found a place to park on Aurora and went to investigate.  In fine New Orleans tradition, the street was littered with thousands of strings of beads along with foods that Irish and Italian parade participants had tossed from their floats—potatoes, cabbage, oranges, carrots, and cucumbers.  Assorted beer and soda cans, cups, and other debris joined in the mix.

According to the friendly members of the NOPD we chatted with, the sanitation department's clean-up is almost as good a show as the parade itself.  First come the guys on foot with leaf blowers, moving all the debris to the middle of the street; then the sweepers conglomerate the debris to a position where front end loaders remove it to trucks.  Within a couple of hours, the trash-strewn streets look as they did before the parade began.

How the people attending the parade feel may be another story based on the content of the litter left behind.  Like our kids from the fashion show, they may be feeling a bit of post-parade blues.  But in both situations the clean-up crews feel the real brunt.  Luckily, this does not appear to be a long-lived strain of the blues.

We'll spend the next couple of days in New Orleans chasing other forms of the blues.  Unfortunately, we haven't done much planning, but we're hoping serendipity and circumstance will be kind to us.

Daily Stats:
  • Beads in the street:  239,165
  • Oranges in the street:  2,781
  • Potatoes:  3,612
  • Clean-up crew:  126
Shop Front Sign of the Day (Grove Hill AL)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Beginning of the End


Days 35 & 36:  Auckland, NZ.  Though Auckland offers all the cultural, dining and shopping amenities one would expect from New Zealand's largest city, it manages to retain a friendly and relaxed, small-town atmosphere.  Before diving into the city proper, we decided on Tuesday to explore its surroundings.  We set out on the scenic drive through the Waitakere Ranges, a chain of hills along the coast northwest of Auckland.  Formed by ancient volcanic activity, the ranges are covered in lush native forests and crisscrossed by hundreds of miles of walking trails.

Lion Rock (use your imagination!) in Piha
Like many locals, we stopped in the seaside town of Piha, a favorite beach destination for Aucklanders, where even the neighborhood dogs are friendly.  While walking on the beach, Ken was approached by a canine beach bum, who pulled a stick out of the sand and tried to persuade Ken to toss it for him.  Long, tall waves offered up by the Tasman Sea invited surf school participants to try out their new skills.

At a scenic overlook, where we paused for lunch, we chatted with six young twenty-somethings on vacation from China.  When we expressed an interest in visiting their country, they were quick to warn us about China's severe problems with pollution, though one patriotic young man asserted that air quality there was improving.

Pedestrian bridge over SH-1 offers great view of Auckland skyline and Westhaven Marina.
After checking out some of the other beach towns, we returned to Auckland in late afternoon, stopping at Point Erin Park at the southern end of the Auckland Harbour Bridge.  We still had not planted a letterbox in New Zealand, and Auckland was our last opportunity.  From the park, we took advantage of the pedestrian lane and crossed the bridge over the SH-1 freeway to Westhaven Marina, searching for possible letterbox locations along the way.  Finding nothing but a great view of the city, we returned to our apartment, hoping for better luck on the following day.

By Wednesday morning, we had dreamed up the perfect spot for our letterbox, on a path near the SH-1 overpass, just across the street from Point Erin Park.  Like Victoria Park across the street from our apartment, Point Erin was active with numerous groups engaged in various forms of exercise, from yoga to rugby and cricket, basketball, skating and even juggling.  Aucklanders clearly like to stay fit.

Auckland Art Gallery
Our boxing business behind us, we set off for the stunning Auckland Art Gallery, home of New Zealand's largest art collection with more than 15,000 works ranging from classical to contemporary.  The gallery reopened in 2011, after a comprehensive renovation of the original 1887 structure and construction of a modern addition which blends smartly with the old. Graced with a lofty ceiling inlaid with native kauri timber, the extension provides a grand entranceway to the country's oldest art museum.

Tiny patrons of the arts at AAG
With both exhibits and activities designed to appeal to all types of people, the gallery was teeming with patrons on this Wednesday morning.  We were quite amused by a group of adorable preschoolers craning their necks to examine works in the Mackelvie Gallery.  On the museum's entrance floor, a 40-ft table held an interactive exhibit composed of three tons of white Lego bricks, which visitors were invited to use in creating their vision of a future city.

Creative AAG signage
Throughout the museum, signage, brochures, notecards and posters in the giftshop, and most every other written communication emphasized that this was a place for ART. Creators of these notices were quite clever in their choice of wording to allow incorporating the not so subliminal ART message. Even the menu at the Gallery Cafe, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch of charred broccolini with smashed avocado in a beautiful setting, was ARTful.

Adjacent to the gallery is Albert Park, occupying an area which once housed Albert Barracks, an early European military fortification.  Converted to a park in the 1880s, the space is home to some enormous specimen trees, including several Moreton Bay figs and an ombu tree.

Some of Albert Park's stately Moreton Bay fig trees
From the gallery, we headed southeast to Auckland Domain, the city's oldest public park and home to the Auckland War Memorial Museum, an imposing neo-classical landmark overlooking the park.  So much more than a repository for military artifacts, the museum boasts a wide-ranging collection of works featuring Maori culture, human history, and natural science.  Military exhibits commemorate New Zealand's involvement in two world wars and other more recent conflicts.  

Auckland War Memorial Museum
Unlike the Auckland Art Gallery, admission to the museum was not free.  After paying $9.00 to park, we paid the foreigner admission fee of $25 each.  (New Zealanders are admitted at no charge.)  Orientation from the helpful ticket agent informed us that military exhibits were on the upper floor, natural history (where you'll find hundreds of kids, she advised) was on the middle floor, and an extensive collection of artifacts from Maori and other Polynesian cultures was on the ground floor.  We spent a couple of hours checking out the fascinating exhibits.

Leaving the museum in late afternoon, we got a taste of Auckland's rush hour traffic, as we drove five miles out Broadway, through a very busy retail and commercial district, to the aiport.  We were checking in at an airport hotel in preparation for our early flight to Honolulu tomorrow morning, planning to return our rental car this evening and find transportation back to the hotel and catch the shuttle to the airport.  

View from our hotel room
Little did we know until we arrived that the hotel was literally across the street from the terminal.  Hertz was a hundred yards away, so we were able to accomplish all our goals, ready for a smooth exit in the morning.  After dinner at the hotel restaurant, we packed and weighed our bags, ready to catch our Air New Zealand flight to Hawaii tomorrow on our way home.

Daily Stats:
  • Started & ended in Auckland
  • Mileage -  111   (Trip to date: 15,832)
  • Weather - 41° to 56°, sunny to overcast

More Photos from Auckland

Exquisite kauri timber ceiling at Auckland Art Gallery
Long winding bench on Art Gallery sculpture terrace, commissioned for the gallery's reopening
Massive windows blur the line from interior to exterior at Auckland Art Gallery.
Ground level salons in the historic AAG building
Interactive Lego installation attracted many patrons, young and not so young. (AAG)
Albert Park
Decorative headrest from Papua New Guinea helped protect elaborate hair styles as the owner slept. (AWMM)
Main museum entrance
Bird's eye view of ticket desk (AWMM)
Maori pataka (storehouse) at AWMM
Supermarine Spitfire, a British warplane donated by the RAF in appreciation for New Zealand assistance in WWII (AWMM)
World War II Hall of Memories
A Kiwi postie (mail carrier).  Most ride bicycles, rather than motorbikes as in Australia.

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