Excerpts from my journal while touring the southern United States with new photographs and stories. The main shows are Gaza Steadfast, Bethlehem the Holy, The Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel, and Quakers in Palestine/Israel. (I’ve completed the tour and I’m now happily at home in Cambridge Massachusetts for the foreseeable future.)
November 14, 2009, Saturday, New Orleans, University of New Orleans, Training, Rehabilitation, and Assistance Center, guest room (where I began this entry), and the train bound for Atlanta (where I completed the entry)
Many dreams last night, recallable, probably because I needed to arise early this morning to meet the taxi, to meet the Amtrak station, to meet the train to Atlanta, to meet Jean Chapman who will meet me at the Atlanta station, to meet the Buddhist dojo, to meet my bed for tonight, to meet the pilgrims tomorrow, eventually to meet the School of the Americas and close it, then to meet my train home. And to meet my home and all will be bliss.
All that might be considered a dream.
I’m writing now since the night is fresh, but I won’t have time to finish—in a few moments I’ll have to walk across campus to meet my taxi.
To the dreams: sharing a home with Fran, my dad, him wanting to have all of us prepare lunch together, me resisting, raiding the fridge to make something for myself, trying to clean it, complaining about how messy the fridge and kitchen were, partly because of a very young Katy [my daughter] who’d made herself toast with butter sprinkled with brown sugar.
Preparing to make a huge print, talking with someone, a Japanese man, about how to prepare the printer, clean it of dust, run a test print which will require much ink.
While talking with someone about selling his bike—a slim yellow cone with tiny wheels and foldable pedals—I suggested the Bike Workshop in Cambridge. Then I was there, a sort of worker, but not getting my hands greasy. In walked a large delegation from Friends Meeting at Cambridge on some sort of procession; they were all dressed up, men in suits, women in dresses. Would they recognize me? A few did, far fewer than I’d hoped. I’d learned earlier by stumbling into the meetinghouse early that this was a special day for men, honoring men. Andy told me that. I’d have to miss it.
During family camping, I was counting quarters donated to my wife and me, separately. I was confused, partly because the counting platform was wet and dirty, and some boxes supposedly of money had other materials not money. Fireworks were part of the dream.
I note that one theme of these dreams was family: my father and Katy, my wife and our kids, Quaker family. Absent from my recurrent themes: women (except for P), sex, and love.
I devoted yesterday to exploring New Orleans, post Katrina, and with memories of my 2-week visit here in 1998 fairly fresh. I’d ended my romp with the Middle Passage Pilgrimage, I’d formulated my plan to return to the south for 4 months to volunteer my photography, I’d arranged with Sister Clare and Brother Kato to drive the dojo car back to Leverett, and with Y to reside with her for one month to get ready for the next leg (as a couple our worst month ever). I was free to stay at the church the pilgrims had used. I believe they had left for the Caribbean so the church was relatively empty.
(This all reminds me of Kato’s devotion to Clare. He’d planned on leaving the pilgrimage to return to temple building. He understood she needed his support so he decided to go the entire way. What a difference between Y and me, my devotion to her so embarrassingly slim.)
Yesterday, under conditions different from the pilgrimage, I bussed in to the center of the city. The route took me thru the St Bernard area. Only African Americans rode the bus, many of them looking destitute, and the neighborhoods were a mix of new construction, boarded up homes, and vacant lots. This was the No. 52 bus; I could later check its route.
Part of my mission was reconnoitering the route from my room on campus to the train station, planning to catch the Atlanta train at 7 am while the first bus ran at 6. A chore. Doing this, realizing how long it was and how difficult with my luggage, how much I’d worry, and that if I missed the train I might miss the pilgrimage to close the School of the Americas, I decided to book a cab for about $20 and ease my anxiety, assure my timely passage.
First stop: library and Internet. This is the same facility I used 10 years ago, upgraded. Didn’t learn much thru my email.
I rode the St Charles street trolley thru the Garden District, as I’d done 10 years earlier, this time finally—but too late—remembering I could video from the trolley. So I tried, with mixed results. As memory infests much of what I do and who I am, New Orleans notably from my one and only visit here in 1998, the trolley brought back many childhood experiences riding a trolley much like this one, similar vintage, along Stony Island Avenue on Chicago’s South Side. Same grinding sound as the motors increased their rotational speed, a sound I could simulate by turning my dad’s grinding wheel faster and faster. Same squealing brakes like pigs being slaughtered. Same thundering sound of metal wheel against metal rail. And same bobbing motion—a land voyage on a tour boat.
In the French Quarter, wandering like a lost ghost alone and eager for excitement, to return to life—resurrection thru sex—two black prostitutes welcomed me. Ah, thought I, had I only the guts and the gonads and the bucks I might try this. Yet, for one fleeting effervescent moment of pleasure I might be saddled with deadly poisons. So: ladies, no thanks. From other buildings frenetic music roared. I ducked into one of these places to pee and felt repelled by the singing of what looked like a mad man, belting out fuck you’s and shit’s.
On the street people sipped from brightly colored tubes that turned out to be grenade drinks, rumored to be powerful, each Grenade and its sipper a walking testimonial to the buzz of the drink and the buzz of the marketing campaign.
Jazz from 2 outdoor bands contrasted with the boisterousness of this first bar music. One of them all black except for the tuba player, the other all white and this band included dancers, one couple reminding me of M and her man friend, how they might dance together. Standing by a railing in Jackson Park behind the first band, which was playing outside the park, I tried for an unusual vantage point, showing their backs and the listeners. Moving to be in front of them, I concentrated on the trombone player, his one puffed cheek, and the washboard player, his silvery washboard gleaming in the sun, his face equally gleaming. I also thought of a Robert Frank photo—I think it was his—showing a man hidden behind his tuba. Tried the same arrangement of player and instrument.
Photographing the other band, all young, vibrant—why haven’t I fallen in love with a musician, maybe the blond clarinetist in the band? Is this the next episode in my love life?—the dancers appealed, how they darted about in perfect synchrony (do they have sex together, is it good, as the sex between M and her friend, she says, is good?). The sunlight glanced off them, adding to their appeal.
The casino was a hit. Slot machines that emit an otherworldly hum (music of the gambling spheres?), electronic versions of all games, like poker, blackjack, craps (I assume) and roulette, “gaming” tables filled with not so jolly “gamers,” each table serviced by a bored looking “player,” windows where patrons can order more money, various food lines depending on one’s membership type, all in a darkened womb-like huge room or series of rooms, the outside world effectively blotted out now for the fantasy of hitting the big time. Few do. Posted around the casino: if you’re having a gambling problem, call…
I gambled on making photos, surreptitiously pushing my shutter button while the camera was draped casually over my shoulder. I’d preset it in the bathroom to not be noticed. I’m sure plain clothes security prowled the joint, some may have noticed me gliding back and forth looking very suspicious, but no one interfered. I assumed the worst that could happen was ejection, and I’m used to rejection, my close cousin.
A few photos might later be useable, most I soon jettisoned because of blur.
Incidentally, reading the October 2009 issue of the Sun Magazine, an essay by Jim Ralston called “Confessions from a Conversion Van,” he says while encouraging a young student he’s about to fail to write one essay in his own language: and include one detail about your girlfriend dumping you. How’s that supposed to fit in?, says the student. That will be the part that makes the piece worth reading.
And this may be one of the main reasons I include similar material in my blogs, and why I find writing about failed and successful loves so appealing in my journal.
This also from Jim Ralston: I’m not ready yet to look at the smiling pictures of us [Jim and his former girl friend, Raven] vacationing in Guanajuanto. Her letter is emotionally detached compared to the way we talked to each other fairly recently. She says she never meant to hurt me, that she’s learned so much from our time together. (The ultimate kiss off: “I have learned so much from you.”) Fuck you, Raven…
As I was about to enter the river front area I reached for my sunglasses—gone. Where’d I leave them? The retired surfers restaurant where I’d eaten the delicious fish tacos? Fallen off my head when I placed them there and forgot about them. Somewhere else? Should I return to the restaurant? Ditch that idea and simply assume I’d not find them and would soon replace them. After all, didn’t they need replacement anyway, scratched and perhaps not filtering out UV?
So I squinted my way along the waterfront, noticing for the first time how many did and didn’t wear sunglasses. I’d say the ratio of did to didn’t is about 4 out of 5.
Another discovery and new since I’d last visited the river was the holocaust memorial. I tried to figure it out. It consisted of a series of tall colorful panels, vertically oriented, that seemed to compose new figures depending on one’s vantage point. Exactly what these futures were partially cleared up when I found the obligatory artist’s explanation. Essentially a Star of David symbolizing the Jews massacred during the holocaust turned into 2 radiating spheres, symbolizing humanity recovering. Or some such. Thanks to god for the explanation; otherwise this would remain in mystery.
~~On the train we are now zipping past what looks like a suburb; a housing development, flat fields, low sun illuminating all. We’ve just passed a graveyard, all graves hovering over the wet earth.~~
On my 1998 visit I’d noticed for the first time living statues, people earning money by pretending to be frozen. Very clever and perhaps hard to do. This time I only noticed 2: a perfectly still black man caught in mid movement, and later, at a trolley stop, a woman in silver—silver makeup and a silver costume sliding from her body. She sat on the tub she used to collect money. She appeared dazed as she inhaled her cigarette. She looked drunk. She looked sorrowful, like I feel sometimes when considering my misguided love life. So, to show myself, I show her. I snuck the photos by holding the camera low, viewing the scene on my flip out screen, and snapping without anyone noticing.
~~On the train we are now racing along a huge water body, one of the lakes near New Orleans, Lake Pontchartrain, between the water and a levee, homes and fields on the other side. The levee has thickened from about one meter to about 3 meters, reminding me of the separation barrier in the West Bank. What happens to the tracks when the water rises?~~
Finally, finding my way back to the campus in the early evening (dark descends here at about 5:30 this time of year), thanks to friendly Black men who knew where the No. 52 bus would stop, proud of myself, I discovered the campus student center was not only open (Friday evening early) but its dining hall features all you could eat take out for a mere $7. Can’t pass this up. I’ll eat in my room, reading mail and news on the computer. And go to bed early to rise early, 4:15 am, to meet the cab, to meet the station, to meet the train, etc.
But first, tomorrow: who’d meet me at the Atlanta station and when would I join the pilgrimage? I checked the pilgrimage schedule, discovered to my horror that tomorrow evening the walkers would have driven to Koinonia after walking to the Martin Luther King Center in the morning. There might be no one home? Now what?
Call Dave. He’s not coming until Monday.
Call Denise, and hope she’s not grouchy as she can be. Reach Denise who turns out to be sweet and loving and patient. You’re lucky, she chimed, we had a slight change in plans, someone sick whose partner is driving down to retrieve her. So someone will be here on Saturday evening and can pick you up. You’ll drive on Sunday morning to meet us.
Oh, thank god for that, but not for the illness. I hope she does not have the H1N1 flu. I read that it is striking the world hard, in the US some 500 children already dead (is this accurate?), with something like 3,000 adults dead. God in heaven if this is so, and when will it end? Should I be more careful with hygiene? I’ve had shots, I carry flu remedy.
So far, the only illness I’ve suffered on this tour is a slight flu-like symptom already reported here. It passed. I feel good, currently.
~~We are now perilously streaming past two large water bodies, Pontchartrain on the left, another lake on the right, with numerous bridges spanning the water. What happens to the tracks if the water rises? What happened during Katrina? Isn’t this precarious?
I’m about finished with this writing for now, might break for coffee and food from my larder, a breakfast while gliding over treacherous waters. Later to spell and grammar check.~~