Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Garden District

If you're going to spend a significant amount of time in New Orleans, you've got to make sure that you don't just stick to Bourbon Street, otherwise you'll miss so much of what New Orleans has to offer. Don't get me wrong, I love Bourbon Street for a night of alcohol-inspired fun, but there's so much more to be had on Frenchman Street and on Decatur Street in the quarter. And you need to head out to the Garden District for some great food, shopping and to see some of the most gorgeous mansions in the country. I spent a lot of time there on this trip. Here are a number of pictures I took of various houses in the Garden District of New Orleans:

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Journey Home

I was up late last night. I had a 6am flight and the airport shuttle was scheduled to pick me up from the hotel at 3am. ChrisMac had left yesterday, so I spent the last 24 hours preparing for the journey home.

I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of a local woman early in the trip who pointed out some great restaurants and who was gracious enough to drive me to the local Wal-Mart last night where I could pick up Cafe Du Monde coffee for half of what the tourist stores were charging. What's better is that the coffee at Wal-Mart comes in vacuum sealed bricks rather than metal cans, so I bought as much as I could stuff in my laptop bag (which amounted to 8 bricks). I don't know what I was thinking. After running my bag through the scanner, a TSA agent took me aside and basically accused me of smuggling drugs. For about 30 seconds, I was sure I was going to get an extra-invasive search, but, after assuring the agent that I simply love Cafe Du Monde coffee, I was allowed to proceed.

I seemed to have the airport to myself and ran through the Delta terminal Jerry Maguire style. As much as I loved my trip, I was ready to come home. I missed my daughter and my friends. But, make no mistake, New Orleans, I will be back.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Ghost Of Muriel's Restaurant

I shot this with my Looxcie Cam while on a haunted history tour of New Orleans. Muriel's restaurant, located in the French Quarter of New Orleans in the shadow of St. Louis Cathedral, is reputed to be heavily haunted. Originally, a structure stood on the property that was used to hold slaves as they came off the boats, before going up for auction. Jean Baptiste Destrehan purchased the property, tore down the modest structures and built a magnificent home upon it. In 1776 Pierre Phillipe de Marigny purchased the residence and used it as one of his "city homes" for when he came into town from his plantation on the outskirts of the town, On March 21, 1788, the Great New Orleans Fire started on Good Friday and burned 856 of the 1,100 structures in the French Quarter, including a portion of the mansion. Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan purchased the building from Marigny and restored the home to its original grandeur. A compulsive gambler, he wagered his beloved home in a poker game in 1814 and lost. The shock of the loss was so intense, before having to vacate the premises and hand over his beloved treasure, he tragically committed suicide on the second floor. Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan is reputed to haunt Muriel's as a sparkly light wandering around the lounge. He reportedly is known to throw glasses across the lounge if a token offering of bread and wine is not put out in his honor.

The tour guide in this video seems to be confused on the name of the ghost involved. He refers to him as Phillipe Devereux and says he was the son of the man who restored the mansion. This, according the current owners of Muriel's, is not the case. The person who restored and subsequently lost the mansion to a gambling debt was Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan. The guide most likely confused the lineage of owners and replaced "Destrehan" and "Devereaux" as well. The tour guide also mentions that the building once served as a school, but the official history of Muriel's does not mention this.

View the video for yourself, as the guide does tell the story well, even though he gets some of the finer details wrong. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Haunting Experience

We decided to go on a haunted history tour of the French Quarter today. Ever since it was first established, the French Quarter has attracted extreme personalities. The numerous reports of hauntings in the area may just be an attempt to re-capture the essence of the fascinating characters who frequented the area throughout the years. But, if you ask anyone who has spent a significant amount of time there, changes are they'll say that there just might be something to those stories of spirits roaming the area.

The two hour walking tour brought us to a number of interesting places. Here are the ones I found to be the most compelling:

  • The Pharmacy Museum (514 Chartres Street): Built in 1823, this building was originally operated by Dr. Duffulo, one of the country’s first registered pharmacists. By all accounts, Duffulo was a great pharmacist and a good man. After his retirement, the pharmacy was purchased by Dr. Dupas and it is Dupas who allegedly haunts the building. Dupas was a cruel man and may not have even been a registered pharmacist. Worse, he experimented on pregnant slaves and conducted voodoo rights in the building. He may have been driven insane by syphilis, for that is what he died of in 1867. Dupas reportedly haunts the old pharmacy after closing hours and is often seen wearing a brown suit and a lab coat. He appears to be in his mid-sixties with a short and stocky build. People claim that his spirit throws books, moves items around in display cases and occasionally sets off the building's alarm system. 

  • The Supreme Court Of Louisiana (Corner of Royal and St. Louis Street): This building was originally home to the local courthouse from 1909 to 1964. In 1964 it became the headquarters of the Wildlife and Fisheries Museum. It then became home to the Supreme Court of Louisiana in 2004. The building is supposedly haunted by two entities who were witnesses in a famous area Mafia trial in the 1930s. Both were murdered inside the courthouse before they got a chance to testify. One entity is an African American man dressed in a white shirt and pants. The other is a young woman dressed in a brown suit and skirt.

  • La Petite Theatre (616 St Peter Street): According to legend, a woman named Caroline haunts the attic of this theater. She was an actress working at the theater in 1927. One account says the she hung herself after losing a coveted lead role to her director-boyfriend's new love. Another account says that she tumbled over the balcony after some affectionate trysting with that same director. Either way, some say that Caroline's spirit never left La Petite Theatre and she is often credited with moving objects around in the attic. Another entity called "The Captain" was once an avid fan of a certain actress and frequently attended plays in the same balcony seat. He is sometimes seen there by actors during rehearsals. 

  • The St. Germain House (corner of Royal and Ursulines): In 1903 a Frenchman named Jacques Saint Germain, who claimed to be a descendant of Comte d’ Saint Germain, arrived in New Orleans. Jacques took up residence in a house at the corner of Royal and Ursuline streets and was often seen with a different lady on his arm every night. One December night a woman’s piercing scream was heard coming from Jacques’ home. The woman then jumped from a second floor window onto the street below. She told the onlookers who had gathered to help her how Saint Germain attacked and bitten her, and that she jumped out of the window to escape. She died later that evening at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. By the time the New Orleans police kicked in the door of Saint Germain’s home, he had escaped. However, they did find ample evidence of his handiwork which included large bloodstains in the wooden flooring as well as several crates of wine, some of which made it to the dinner tables of various police officers. They were disgusted when they realized the wine was mixed with human blood. Saint Germain had been siphoning off blood from his female victims and had been putting it in the wine. You might say that he had a woman in every "port". Saint Germaine is reputed to be a vampire and is occasionally seen in the French Quarter wearing gothic clothing and green sunglasses. 

  • The LaLaurie Mansion (1140 Royal Street): Respected socialite Madame LaLaurie hosted many lavish parties at her beautiful mansion in the 1830's. Her lifestyle was made possible by her troupe of slaves whom she often mistreated. Mistreatment of slaves was illegal and society began to shun LaLaurie after she was witnessed chasing a young servant girl with a whip. The girl leaped to her death from the roof in her efforts to avoid LaLaurie. LaLaurie's slaves were taken away under charges of abuse and sold at auction. She convinced a cousin to buy the slaves and return them to her.

    Soon after, during yet another extravagant party hosted by LaLaurie, a fire broke out in the kitchen. Firefighters had discovered that a servant had set the fire by immolating herself. Before she died, she implored the authorities to investigate the attic. What was found was a grisly attic torture chamber. Nude slaves, most of them dead, were discovered. Some were chained to the walls, some were strapped to makeshift operating tables, and others were confined in animal cages. They had undergone various elaborate forms of torture and mutilation. When news of the discovery became public, an angry mob drove LaLaurie and her family from the city and reports that the house is haunted have been rampant ever since. Many have claimed to hear screams of agony coming from the empty house. Others have seen apparitions of slaves walking about the property.

    The house has changed hands numerous times and has served as a private home as well as a musical conservatory, a school for young women and a saloon. Actor Nicholas Cage owned the house for a while and reportedly spent only two nights in the house before selling it. Although many of the building’s owners have experienced some form of haunting in the house, I doubt that's why Nick Cage sold it. He most likely got rid of it due to his issues with the tax man. Rumor has it that Johnny Depp currently owns the house.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Grave Situation

Taking The Door Off...
After breakfast at Clover Grill this morning, we returned to our room to find that the lock release had malfunctioned. The lock would flash green when I put the key in, but the lock would not disengage. Maintenance came up and tried to open the door. I was pretty pissed that they were taking their own sweet time to get up there, as they probably believed that the keys just got de-synched from the lock.

When they realized that it wasn't the case, they tried a master key, which convinced them that the lock was indeed malfunctioning. They beat on it with a wrench, and tried to pry it open with a crowbar to no avail. I implored the maintenance guys to hurry, as ChrisMac needed his insulin. ChrisMac took the que and began to fake an attack. He leaned against the wall and slowly slid to the floor. Maintenance drilled the lock open a few minutes later and I ran to my duffel bag, took out my own epi-pen (used in case I get stung by a wasp) and pretended to give ChrisMac an insulin shot. Management ended up upgrading our room and giving us a bunch of meal and drink vouchers.

After a free lunch, we headed to St. Louis Cemetary which is the final resting place of famed voodoo practitioner Marie Levaux and Homer Plessy (of Plessy vs. Ferguson fame)  as well as the future final resting place of Nicholas Cage.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Heavenly Lunch and a Spirtual Journey

ChrisMac and I took a streetcar into the Garden District to eat at The Commander's Palace, one of the finest restaurants in New Orleans. This five star restaurant, established by Emile Commander in 1880 captures the charm of old New Orleans. We arrived for lunch unannounced, which was a mistake as The Commander's Palace is one of the area's most popular restaurants, so reservations are required. We were promised that a table would be available for us within an hour, so ChrisMac and I spent some time exploring Lafayette Cemetery across the street. I had been there two years ago and had a bit of an adventure, so it was nice to see that one of the employees I had met was still there.

Lunch at the Commander's Palace was amazing. I had a traditional three course creole meal starting out with a shrimp and sausage gumbo, a seared gulf fish for main course and the most amazing bread pudding I had ever had for dessert. Chris went with the pork loin for for his entree. The Commander's Palace makes some excellent drinks including a great sidecar and some truly wonderful 25 cent martinis.

After lunch, we walked down to St. Mary's Assumption Catholic Church which is the home to the shrine to Blessed Father Seelos. Francis Xavier Seelos was a German born priest who emigrated to the United States in 1843. In 1866, he was assigned to the Redemptorist community in New Orleans. His ministry in New Orleans was brief. That September, exhausted from visiting and caring for the victims of the New Orleans yellow fever epidemic, Seelos contracted the disease himself. He passed several weeks later on October 4, 1867 at the age of 48.

We arrived at the shrine a few minutes before three o'clock, just as the Seelos Welcome Center was closing. I had briefly visited the shine last year in order to purchase a relic for an acquaintance of mine who suffered from cancer, but did not have time to tour the entire facility.

Father Seelos has been beatified which means that the Catholic church officially attributes a miracle to his spirit. One more miracle and he is eligible for sainthood. Obviously, the folks who run the Seelos shrine would like to see that happen and encourage people to purchase relics of Seelos to that end. The belief is that using a relic may entreat the potential saint to intervene with God on behalf of the person who is praying. It obviously didn't work in the case of the person I gave the relic to.

I told the staff my story regarding the relic. They were very sympathetic. We were allowed in and were given a personal tour of both the shrine and the church by the staff. Before we left, one of the staff members took me aside and said "There's a reason why you were called to come back here. I want you to think about that. And when you find that reason, act on it."

I'm pretty sure I was just there to take pictures.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Leaving On A Jet Plane

My alarm didn't go off this morning. Not a huge deal, as I managed to wake only 30 minutes after I should have. Yet, somehow, I kept getting delayed in getting out of the house. I get so paranoid about certain things when I plan to be gone for a few days. By the time I left, I was an hour behind schedule. Thankfully, my trusty and reliable Mustang would ensure that I got to the airport on time. I shot down the highway at ludicrous speed and got to the airport a mere 30 minutes before boarding. I needn't have rushed. My flight was delayed 20 minutes.

My brother, ChrisMac, fared much worse. He got delayed three hours. So, as I sit here writing this blog, waiting for his arrival, the Big Easy is calling my name. This town is going to rock this week.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Get Ready To Take It From Verizon Again

It was fun while it lasted. And we all knew that the sword of Damocles was looming above us. I'm speaking of the impending death of unlimited data plans at Verizon.

Starting this Summer, if you buy a 4G phone, and if you had previously had an unlimited plan that had been grandfathered in, you will be transferred to a tiered data plan. Current 4G phone owners with unlimited plans will be allowed to ride out the duration of their remaining contracts with unlimited data, However, the next time you upgrade your phone to anything with 4G LTE service, your unlimited plan is gone. Verizon will now force individual subscribers onto its basic tiered data plans, and multi-line subscribers will be moved onto shared data "buckets".

So, what can you do about it? Switch carriers? Don't fool yourself. You're stuck with Verizon and they know it. Why? Let's look at the alternatives:

  • Sprint: Non-existent LTE, unreliable 3G, and horrible WiMAX. Yeah, you get unlimited, but that does you no good when the speed is 120K max. It's unlimited nothingness.
  • AT&T: Worst carrier in America. Hands down. We all know this already. 
  • T-Mobile: Zero coverage outside of major metropolitan areas, and even that's sketchy at best. Even if coverage isn't an issue they're still going to throttle your data after listening to Google Music a bit. 
  • MVNOs: Don't go thinking that they are any better than the above options, because they are the above options, just repackaged. (Straight Talk, for example).

The carriers are taking advantage of the consumer and it won't change any time soon because we are dependent on our phones for everything, and most people are oblivious. Most folks are content to play Angry Birds or listen to the occasional MP3 they've put directly onto their iPhone while coming nowhere near 500meg a month. Mobile carriers need to feel the heavy hand of regulation and soon. They can't keep doing this shit. Call your Congressperson.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Vonage Reseller Calls Me

The optimist in me wants to believe that this particular telemarketer claiming to represent Vonage was simply a reseller and not an actual representative of the company. I'm never thrilled when companies call me using heavily accented employees from overseas, and, if this is the way Vonage does business, they can count me out of their list of potential customers.

Anyway, when this particular telemarketer called claiming to be from Vonage, I accused her of being a gigolo named Thomas Vonage. Some minor hilarity ensued. She actually got a few uncomfortable giggles out of this.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Another Grandparent Dream

I couldn't sleep last night/this morning. I'm sure that it was due to the herculean amount of Cherry Coke I had downed between the hours of 8PM and 10PM along with the indigestion I had from the new fried chicken recipe I had tried out. I had a hard time getting to sleep, and, when I did, I had some very vivid dreams. One of them included a conversation with my grandparents. They were huge influences in my life and I often mark the passing of my grandmother as the time I truly became an adult.

It was a good dream. Grandma told me how much she liked that I had shaved my goatee. "That's the real you", she said, "I don't like it when you hide who you are behind facial hair".  My grandfather just nodded in agreement. When I woke up, I felt like my spirit had slammed back into my body. It felt like the aftermath of an intense workout. And I felt beautifully sad.

Loss has always been more of a dull ache for me rather than a sharp pain. Grandma died so many years ago, but I still have nights like this where I miss her profoundly. Yet, the way I miss her is different than the way I miss an ex or an old friend. This kind of loss is a slow ache that stays with me in the background and flares up every so often. At the same time, dare I say that I take a little pleasure in it? Missing her is a huge part of my life because it is in this way that I honor what an amazing woman she was and how much of myself I owe to her. It's a good part of my life, not a painful one. Missing her feels good, like stretching sore muscles.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Technological Memory

A student in one of my graduate technology classes recently submitted a paper on the evolution of affordable blu-ray recordable drives. I reminded me of when I bought my first PC CD-R device. It was sometime in 1998 and the device cost me somewhere around $100. It wrote at 1x speed, which means that, in terms of writing music CDs, however long it took to play through the entire album, that's how long it took to write the album to disk. At the time, a blank CD-R cost around $3.33 depending on the brand. This little trip down memory lane reminded me of one of the first consumer model CD writers. In my office, we've got an old ad for a Pinnacle 1x CD writer that sold for $3,995 back in 1995. Back then, a blank CD-R would cost you $39.

We've come a long way since then and I can't help but wondering what we'll think of when we look back upon these blu-ray drives and lament about how many of them would fit on the latest holographic drive. Or even quantum drive.

Shut Up And Take My Money!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Merchant of Venice Act 2 Scene 2

My daughter recorded the closing night performance of "Merchant of Venice" using my ear-mounted Looxcie camera as well as my regular video camera. I merged the two sets of footage, choosing the shots that worked best.

In this particular scene, Act 2 Scene 2, Launcelot debates with himself about leaving Shylock, his master who is a Jew. After deciding his fate, he encounters his blind sister (usually father, but, in this case, a young lady was cast instead) and plays tricks on her. One the truth is revealed, they speak with Bassanio and Launcelot sets off to meet his destiny.

For me, this is probably the funniest scene in the play (yeah, I'm biased) and, when I was originally cast, the director was going to cut out the interaction between Launcelot and Old Gobbo due to a shortage of actors. I lobbied hard to keep it in and even went so far as to recruit my friend Nicole to play Old Gobbo. During initial rehearsals, Nicole played an old man, but, it was soon decided that the play would be better served in she played an old woman instead. In this running, Nicole's daughter is filling in for her, so the role that was once Launcelot's father becomes his sister.

Friday, May 4, 2012

They KNOW You Made The Mess!

After spending hours of my life over the last few months playing Skyrim, it seems that I am seeing more and more products using handprints as logos. While walking through the local Walgreens the other day, I found the paper towels below right near the door. I was a little freaked out. It would seem that the Dark Brotherhood knows who spilled the drink all over the kitchen table. I wonder if the Black Sacrament will conjure up a maid to clean it up.

Sweet Mother, sweet Mother send your maid unto me, for the spills of the unworthy must be wiped up with an absorbent paper towel.

The Official Paper Towel Of The Dark Brotherhood. Cicero Approves!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Aftermath of the Merchant

I got some much needed sleep last night. I had thought that taking a small role in Merchant of Venice would not take up much time or wear me out, but I was wrong. After doing 8 performances over two weeks, I collapsed into a deep dreamless sleep last night and woke up this morning content in the knowledge that I didn't have to scurry to rehearsal after work today. While part of me is glad that the curtain has fallen on this production, another part of me waxes nostalgic. It was an interesting performance. Here are some highlights:

  • We had a full house opening night despite the much-hyped opening of Godspell that same night. 
  • I mangled the Duke of Venice's monologue opening night, managing to only hit the first line, two middle lines and the ending cue. 
  • The actor who played Lorenzo and I ad-libbed a sequence during Act 3 Scene 5 where I mimicked Lorenzo's movements as he spoke of being mocked by Launcelot. 
  • The theater's unofficial mascot, Bob the Bat showed up during the first Sunday performance. 
  • My fellow actor, Chris, who is an incredibly nice, unassuming fellow played many small parts in the show. He stole the show the second Friday night with his portrayal of Morocco and had the audience rolling with laughter. Everybody deserves some time to shine and the Universe just seemed to align for him that night. 
  • It's always nice to walk out on stage and see familiar faces in the audience, but I was much more taken aback by the audience members whom I did not know who went out of their way to track me down and tell me how good I did. Walking into my favorite pub one Saturday night after the show, I was greeted by several people who had seen the show who told me how good I was. I didn't have to buy a single drink that night. 
  • The actor who play Salarino was a no show closing night which forced in a last minute understudy.   
  • The girlfriend came out twice to see the show and my daughter sat in the audience closing night rather than hanging out back stage as usual.