11/20/2010, New Orleans, LA
"C'est un plaisir; c'est le dernier qu'on quitte.
Est-il éteint? bientȏt il ressuscite."
- Monsieur de Saint-Just 1807
Cruiser to couch surfer - there appears to be little difference at first glance, each passing through the lives and cultures of others. But they are not the same. As a cruiser, by bringing our floating home with us, we establish our own wandering biosphere with our private space, routines and time. We shop, engage, entertain and interact and thereby become, ever so slightly, part of the place, though not attached to it - epiphytes. As couch surfers (bums or hobos as my folks have so endearingly pointed out!) we hardly touch the surface, accompanying, observing, waiting, and peripherally joining in the lives of others. Setting no agenda, we blow through like autumn leaves.
Lexington to New Orleans, seven hundred and fifty miles, not so far, but farm and foxhunting to food and fringe festival is a long way. New Orleans is many things, but we are we are with Daisy and to her, now, it is about her friends, their lives, their appetites, their theatre, their music, the food they cook, the shows they plan. So we share, or at least we do in our waking hours that coincide.
There's probably more bad food served for good money in New Orleans than in any other city but underlying that is a unique and vibrant cuisine. Felipe, friend of Daisy and chef at Butcher, an artisanal charcuterie, delighted in recounting how he chides his New York friends for their assertions that they have the best of all food. "You have the best Ethiopian, the best Thai, the best French and the best Italian, but we have our own, developed here and only available here. In contrast you have nothing." He went on to riff on the wonders of Boudin, he plans to convert me from ambivalence to disciple. But Gumbo is as Creole as it gets. Here a few words borrowed from a 1962 essay in Gourmet magazine by Eugene Walter to spike your curiosity and make your mouth water.
This filé is a preparation of dried ground sassafras leaves that have been pounded in a mortar, sifted through a hair sieve, and bottled. It is a thickening agent and is used in many Southern variants of gumbo and jambalaya. It is always added just before serving and is never cooked. It is the ingredient often missed when these dishes are prepared away from the South. But there's no excuse for lacking gumbo file if you belong to the cult. The specialty food shops have it or can get it for you.
Okra is often used to impart to gumbos a special smoothness, a kind of figured-bass accompaniment to the piquant spices. Okra is the seed-pod of a plant belonging to the mallow or hibiscus family: the rose madder and marshmallow are its cousins. Sassafras is native, but okra was brought from Africa by slaves. Sometimes, to confuse things, okra is called gumbo (or gumbo plant) - both are African words. Gumbo means "everything together" - for example, gumbo ya-ya means "everybody talking at once." The most subtle gumbos employ okra and file."
"Well, that gives you an idea, doesn't it? People are always asking me what gumbo is. As you see, it's not a soup exactly, it's not a stew, not a ragout, it's uniquely and incomparably gumbo! It is dark and as thick as river mud, unctuous, spicy and satisfying."
04/27/2010, Green Turtle Cay, Abacos
Less than 200 miles "down trajectory" from Cape Canaveral we got to see this when the boys played with their toys. An Atlas 5 launch, carrying a new Air Force mini Shuttle, it was spectacular, pushing a bow shaped con trail and then blowing off booster rockets that glowed like fireworks as they fell away. The project is secret and some say it augers the further militarization of space. Here's hoping they can find something really worthwhile to do with their considerable skills.
02/05/2010, Matthew Town, Great Inagua, Bahamas
Discouraged with the current economic trends in the U.S. or Europe? Are you an innovative self starter? Do you have good organizational skills, are you a people person? Would you enjoy living on "island time"?
If you answer yes to any or all of the above, there is a business crying out for your attention in Matthew Town, Great Inagua, Bahamas. This is the most southern and one of the largest islands in the Bahamian chain, lying just fifty miles north east of Cuba. For cruising boats entering the country from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba or Jamaica the stop at Matthew Town to rest, clear customs and re-supply is important and should be gratifying. Sadly this is not the case.
The boat basin, where customs inspections are obligatory, is a disaster zone. It is subject to large ocean swells and what little room there is for maneuvering is hogged by half sunken trawlers and sundry maritime craft. We arrived the same day as another cruising boat and since we both needed to check in, had to "raft up" on the wall as there was no other space. Once secured to the wall, the dock is strewn with rubble, rusty cable and scrap metal. There is a "phantom phone booth" whose phone was long ago disgorged, leaving an explosion of wires and glass. The office building is ramshackle and although there is a toilet open, the showers were locked and out of commission. For this mess each boat is charged $6.00 per day. A night spent in the boat basin is to be avoided as the wrecked trawlers are home to armies of hungry mosquitoes who like nothing more than skuzzy sailor for their midnight snack. The whole experience is unpleasant, but it only requires some muscle and a hauling truck to make a significant difference. Then some diligent work to re-establish the facilities, retain willing maintenance workers from the under-employed settlement residents and build a break from the swell to protect harbored boats.
Great Inagua has a falling population of 900 residents, half of whom are employed by the Morton Salt Company, where salt is dried out from the ocean in the hot Bahamian sun and wind and piled ready for shipment on large cargo ships. There used to be a movie theatre in town, now there is not even a playground for the town's children and with no prospects the youth of the island leave and properties are left derelict. A well run marina facility, leased from the government would supply work for countless people. The town's services would all get a shot in the arm with visiting, happy cruising folks re-supplying their boats before venturing further up the island chain. Eventually a small café with internet (already on the island) and easy access to water and diesel, a few waving palms and Adirondack chairs would make it a must stay destination. The people who we met in town were incredibly welcoming and helpful and it would reflect their positive outlook if arrivals by boat were greeted by order instead of chaos.
The island's lighthouse is well worth the hike out to the point, and if one climbs all the way to the top, one is rewarded by stunning views of crashing surf, coral heads, the wildlife preserve, the salt flats and a dazzling flock of flamingoes.
If we did not have other pots to boil we might have gone further than dreaming about it. Anyone out there interested in the challenge?
01/20/2010, Manzanillo, Cuba
For all those worried because we had not posted for a while we are still in Cuba, working our way along the south coast. There has been no internet for 200 miles.
We will e'mail individually shortly and will post again before long.
Thanks for the concern,
R / V
11/20/2009, N W Caribbean Sea
To the long distance and circumnavigation sailors, a 650 mile passage is not that out of the ordinary, but it has been a first for us. All being well we arrive in Grand Cayman on Saturday the 21st in the morning, which will be seven days at sea.
Mandy has mostly babysat us as we have stumbled through with minimal chores, sickness and sleeping. She almost tells us what she needs in the way of sail changes and steering and although our performance has been below par, she has ploughed onwards, eating up the miles with her dependable enthusiasm.
Somehow, I picked up a horrid flu virus in Cartegena; probably off the shopping cart, while doing our provisioning. On top of mild seasickness (from being away from the boat for a couple of weeks) flu is not good. Richard got through with odd combinations of food being thrown to him, but by the fourth night we were both suffering from fatigue and maybe some dehydration. We slept randomly and our usual three to four hour watch schedule deteriorated to an hour or two of rest where we could steal it. Mandy batted away undaunted.
At the end of our first night out in big seas the auto pilot began pulling out of its embedded hole. In successive attempts, Richard tried three different epoxy glues to re-bed it, finally trying to bolt it through the wood. Nothing held for very long. We employed the wind vane to steer, but to date we have not been able to get it working dependably and we found ourselves again being pulled to windward and off course. We worked so hard on installing it correctly in San Diego, but it has never been right somehow. We ought to try and get some kind of wind vane guru to give us a bone.
By the fifth day out the movement and misalignment of the repaired auto pilot broke the arm inside the barrel altogether and that was that. Our next and only option was to tie the tiller mid-ships with bungee cord to allow us some hands free time, but the prospect of hand steering for thee days and nights was unpleasant. The trade winds blow consistently and strongly at night, and it worked reasonably in this situation to tie the tiller, we just can't leave it unattended.
Despite everything we have racked up 100 mile days and all that is left is the distance of our first tentative voyages from San Diego to Catalina, back in the early days with Mandy.
All things being equal, I am certain that I am not cut out for long weeks at sea. Crossing an ocean for a week has been an experience I would not want to miss, with many amazing moments, but I am seriously questioning the whole Atlantic crossing thing in my own mind. Meanwhile, I know we are going to love the Cayman and Bahama Islands - with plenty of stops along the way.
11/05/2009, New Orleans, LA
A blast of furnace hot and greenhouse humid air walloped us in the face as we exited the small Avianca air craft that brought us back to Cartagena on the last leg of our return from New Orleans, LA. There we had enjoyed some brisk seasonal fall weather during the week long family and wedding festivities and the difference was quite a shock.
Looking back at the "wedding week" of celebration for Daisy and Keith, it is hard to choose my favorite from the multitude of happy scenes and sweet moments, so here follows a collection of some of them.
Daisy whirling in dance amongst her closest high school friends and her two brothers at a concert at the New Orleans Circle Bar, where I also met Keith's father and his wife for the first time.
The pleasure of watching Keith as he lead the way proudly around the French Quarter to find us a restaurant serving the rich and spicy Creole food of his hometown.
Embracing my brother Mark the night he arrived with my mother from England. Although we seldom see each other he never fails to make me laugh and wish we were able to spend more time together. He is a special person and a very gentle man.
Barbara (fresh from a recent replacement hip operation) waving her walking stick above her head as she sashayed among the crowd down Bourbon Street while the jazz bands played on.
Mummy flushed from a walk in the New Orleans sunshine and a ride on the Mississippi boat Natchez.
After decorating the room with fresh, homemade flower arrangements the morning of the wedding, I sat breathing in the heady scent while enjoying the unexpected treat of the band "Or the Whale" (see side bar for link to their amazing music) as they practiced some of the melodic songs they had lined up for the wedding festivities. I was tired, but their music in that intimate setting filled me with emotion and energy.
Daisy with her eight year old flower girl (cousin Rosa) at the hairdressers having their tresses arranged around the incredible floral crowns that were part of their wedding finery. Squeezed for time, we commandeered a taxi to escape traffic stopped at a police swat scene and made it to the wedding only fifteen minutes late.
The sight of Richard leading Daisy, so alike in stature, on his arm up the aisle ( a tough walk if ever there was one) as beloved family and friends looked on with huge smiles and wet cheeks.
Keith's beautiful wedding proclamation to Daisy, full of his love for her and his joy of sharing his life with her in the future.
Archie dancing with Lindsey and Katie Levy and Grandma, looking like he has spent way too many hours clubbing into the early hours in the last two years, but boy is he good.
Rupert and Thomas dressed as luny hippies for Halloween night, one with a huge afro wig, the other with a Rasta beret and a peace pendant, both with round hippy sunglasses and an arm around each other. It took me all the way back to California Terrace.
It was quite a week of family reunion and reaffirmed friendships filled with intimacy. I missed David and Jo, Abuelito, Manda, Lucy, Alma and Alison many times over as we celebrated the joining of an incredible, inspiring woman with the sweet man of her dreams. We are so thankful to everyone who made the journey with us and we feel blessed.
More photos here:
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