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Greetings from…back in Birmingham.

It was an excellent weekend, although shorter than originally planned.

The last workshop of the symposium was scheduled to run from 3:30-5 on Sunday. That was also the only Sunday workshop my son was really very interested in – it was on LIDAR technology, which has revolutionized Maya studies.

(National Geographic ran a breathless, irritatingly hype-y special on this a few weeks ago.)

But after attending four talks on Saturday – three right in a row – and gotten the zoo visit done, I discerned that perhaps….this was enough. A day long workshop on Friday and IMG_20180310_144930.jpgfour academic presentations? For a thirteen-year old? I suggested that perhaps we could just…go home earlier on Sunday?

We talked it over. He was, indeed, interested in that workshop, but LIDAR had been discussed many times in the talks he’d attended, and considering how interested he is in the topic and how hot LIDAR is in the field…he’ll have a chance to engage with it again. The thought of getting home at 5 instead of 10 or later was certainly attractive to both of us.

Decision made…so that’s why I’m writing this from home Sunday night instead of..Monday morning.

But let’s backtrack.

First, our New Orleans hotel. Here’s Amy’s Travel Advice  Section:

I’ve stayed in New Orleans before, in various spots, and never paid what I consider an exorbitant amount. We’ve stayed in various chains in the city, and once at a Residence Inn near the airport. When I started looking for rooms this time, I got serious sticker shock. Nothing, nada even close to downtown for less than 350 a night. Even hotels in Metairie were more than I wanted to pay. Finally, I settled on a Holiday Inn and Suites across the river in Harvey, which was at least under $200.

(And why was this? I poked about and saw a couple of events – the Sun Belt Conference Championship tournament and a Bourbon Festival, but really? Would that be enough to drive prices up for the weekend? Spring breaks beginning? That certainly might be part of it. Well, then we were driving and walking around Sunday morning I saw, not one, but two big cruise ships in port – the Norwegian Pearl and Carnival Dream. That might just have been the tipping point – thousands of folks coming in early to get the party started before departing on Sunday. Maybe?)

Then about a week before the trip, I checked again – just to see. What I actually checked was the question, “Slidell as a base for New Orleans trip.”  Because hotels out there are of course much cheaper. The discussion I happened upon answered that initial question with a resounding NO DON’T DO IT, but buried in the various answers was the suggestion of a hotel – the Prytania Park Hotel – which, the person said, was reasonably priced and close in – just on the edge, between the Garden District and Downtown.

I checked the usual booking sites  – no vacancies listed for my dates. But then, just IMG_20180311_091502.jpgbecause I know that what is listed on the booking sites is their inventory that’s been released to them from a particular hotel – I went to the hotel’s website and checked. Vacancies! For a “junior suite” with two beds and on two levels.  For well under $200 a night. I emailed just to make sure, got a positive response, cancelled that Holiday Inn and booked this one directly with the hotel.

So there’s a lesson for you. Always check with the hotel (or airline, or whatever), even when it seems hopeless.

Isn’t it always the way, though. These innovative ways of doing life pop up – one place where you can check All The Prices! – but it never quite works out the way we think. In this particular case, the booking sites and hotels are vying for profits, with the hotels – especially independent hotels – in a real bind. They can’t survive if they’re not listed, but then those third party sites will take their cut. The hotels are helped by the review systems – to a point. They’re not helped if the third party sites don’t crack down on fraud and competitor sabotage and let unjustified poor reviews stand.

And so for us the consumer? How does it work out? There’s a certain level of convenience in these third party sites like Booking.com. It helps to get a broad survey of availability and an efficient way to look at room arrangements (particularly outside the US where there tends to be more variability), but be aware of two points:IMG_20180311_092001.jpg

First, what I’ve just described: the booking sites don’t have all of a hotel’s inventory available to them.

Secondly, if you end up having a problem after booking, resolution goes much more smoothly if you’ve booked with the hotel (or airline or car rental agency or tour agency) directly. Trying to get refunds and justice with the added layer of Orbitz or TripAdvisor or what have you is going to make things even more difficult than they already are.

Use them for research, sort of trust, and always verify.

Oh, and the Prytania Park Hotel? I liked it. It’s a bit shabby – it’s not a shiny chain hotel or a pristine boutique inn. But it was very clean and secure. Our room was, as advertised, a IMG_20180311_092047.jpg“junior suite” with two twin beds in a loft, and then a downstairs area with couch, chair, desk, desk chair, fridge, microwave, two sinks and bathroom area with tub and shower. And a balcony! The clientele seemed mixed, but mostly families and middle-aged to elderly folks. There was a breakfast, but it was clearly a step down from what you’d find in a Residence or Hampton Inn (i.e. frozen waffles instead of those you make yourself, no proteins, etc…).

There’s not a heap of street noise, although there was traffic outside – there must have a been a club nearby because Friday night, the bass was pretty consistent and loud until well after midnight – but strangely enough, it was much quieter on Saturday night.

Right across the street, there was an older fellow sitting outside on his front porch both mornings, reading. He resembled my father so strongly, it gave me a start: Same build, IMG_20180310_083457.jpgsitting exactly as my father would be reading in the morning if he were outside, legs crossed, with a hat like this on his head, holding and smoking his cigarette just so. I texted the photos to my older sons who both responded with many exclamation points and, in the case of one, the obvious conclusion that my father had faked his own death and escaped to live in seclusion in New Orleans….

And, here on a trip, with a longer one coming in a couple of weeks,  I thought of the conversation I had with him about this time nine years ago, when I told him, a little nervously, that I was going to take the crew to Sicily, of all places. Someplace completely different, somewhere just…away.  I couldn’t face the entire summer here. We had to leave town.  I braced myself, expecting an argument and an attempt to dissuade me. Sicily? But that’s not how it went, at all.

I think that’s great, he said without hesitating a second. It will do you all a lot of good. Go and have a wonderful time.

And so we went. And went. And went…and still go. We go, thanks, for a lot of different reasons – his encouragement, his financial legacy, his own regret at not traveling more earlier in life before it became physically challenging – to him.

 

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In New Orleans, studying Mayans. 

Today was a full day of glyph-chasing at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

And the 13-year old wasn’t even completely out of place today, since there was a high school group present for the morning session.

The workshop began with 2 hours of presentation on Mayan glyphs. Then in the

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afternoon, the workshop leaders facilitated some large-group translation.

Turns out that you can’t rest on your laurels of knowing the Mayan number system and month glyphs when playing this game….

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During lunch, we walked around City Park a bit.

We’d been there before – a couple of years ago, both boys and I came down to New Orleans for a couple of days – recounted here – and one of our favorite things was renting bikes and riding through the park.

No bikes today, but we did see a sweet little turtle in the reeds…

and a snake….

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always a good day when you see a snake. Mayans and snakes in a single day? Choice!

What we later identified as apple snail eggs.

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We wandered back inside and took in some art.

 

Here’s a Madonna and Child and Goldfinch painting. The goldfinch is often present with Madonna and Child because of its association with the Passion. The legend was that as Christ suffered with his crown of thorns, a goldfinch came and attempted to ease his suffering by plucking thorns from his brow – hence the touch of red in the bird’s plumage.

What interests me in this painting is that the goldfinch is not in the Child’s hands or even that nearby – it’s flying away.

(You probably can’t even see it – it’s on the upper left.)

I was also intrigued by this 17th century painting by one van Schreick. Called Serpents and Insects, the artist painted from his own collection of living creatures. It has a rather contemporary sensibility about it.


(My main memory of a former visit to the museum – two trips ago – was leaving my camera there. Somehow. And somehow, it was retrieved.)

The day ended with a close look at the some of the museum’s Mayan holdings, and then a not-very-penitential Lenten meal of a shrimp po-boy at the Parkway Bakery and Tavern. 

For more, and to keep up, check out Instagram

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See what I meant when I described this as a rather crazy learner-led unschooling activity?

To be honest, it’s not as if he himself did a search for “MesoAmerican history and archaeology conferences Near Me.” No, I did that part – last fall some time, not knowing until that search that Tulane has this well-established institute and a long-running conference, and that the theme of this year’s conference would be Mayan warfare (bonus points).

I presented it to him, we looked through the program and he agreed, that yes, he’d like to go.

My justification has (not surprisingly) several parts.

(Not that you are arguing with me, necessarily. Rather, I’m arguing with myself, as I always do.)

  • Parents take their kids on multi-day soccer/volleyball/baseball/gymnastics trips. They accompany their kids on the traveling sports teams journeys. This is our version of that.
  • He’s really, really interested in this stuff. This gives him exposure to the actual academic world of this discipline, and he can get a better grasp on whether or not this is something he actually wants to pursue as part of a career.
  • He’s going back to school for the 8th grade year. We must do many, many homeschooly-things before this year ends! They must be spectacularly home-schooly!
  • He probably won’t go to traditional high school. This is a trial run for that kind of life.

And now you’re thinking…what about you, Amy? What about your interests? 

Well, no I don’t have a deep interest in ancient Meso-American history. Here’s what I do have though:

  • An interest in history in general. Actually, I have such a wide net of a brain that I can manage to find something of interest and a way to connect with almost any subject matter (within reason). And if I can’t find compelling points of interest in the subject, you know, there’s always people-watching which never fails.
  • (And do remember that having a wide net of a brain means that the same brain that enjoys taking in a lot from every direction as it sweeps through the Ocean of Life also has …holes. Lots of them. As the Flannery O’Connor quote I have framed says: Total non-retention has kept my education from being a burden to me. 
  • Even more than historical events and narrative, I’m intrigued by the fashioning of historical narrative and historiography. The Mayans are okay and all that, but what really interests me and what I have actually purchased books about of my own free will are accounts of the “rediscovery” of ancient MesoAmerican cultures, their structures and past. That whole journey of the decline of Mayan civilizations (intriguing in and of itself), the encroachment of the jungle and the the rediscoveries that began in the 19th century and continue today is just fascinating to me.
  • That thread is reflected in this conference (at least from the abstracts…we’ll see), mostly because there are constant new discoveries and the accepted wisdom of the past is being continually reevaluated. Everything you thought was true was wrong is always  going to get my attention, and there’s a lot of that in this field.

And then on a more personal level, there’s: I’m 57. He’s 13. This is what I can give him now.

Yes, my eyes glazed over at certain points today and my attention wandered and  I checked the time but it’s no different than you waiting outside of softball practice or dance lessons or taking on that extra project that you’re not crazy about so you can pay their tuition. It’s what you do, it’s what you can give now, and so, trying to balance your interests and theirs, your resources and their dreams and the good of the family, you do what you do and pray it’s the right thing for everyone, and if you discern it’s too much, you put on the brakes, you say no,  and everyone learns another kind of lesson.

Who knows what I’ll be able to give him in 5 or 10 years? But here we are now, kid. Go for it. And sure, I’ll come along. Well, I guess I have to. I am the driver, after all. 

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It was a three-day weekend in these parts, and amazingly enough, no other activities to interrupt it – no serving scheduled, no scouts, no piano recital, and no huge school project due (although both had homework over the 3-day weekend. Stop.) – so we hit the road.

We had been to New Orleans a couple of times, but not for perhaps four years or so. The first time was probably seven years ago when my daughter visited Tulane, and I honestly can’t remember the reason for the next visit. I suppose it was to just..go…and I definitely recall some of our activities: we took a tour specifically geared to children, we went to the New Orleans Museum of Art and I left my camera there…but other than that…I’m drawing a blank. I cannot for the life of me even remember where we stayed.

Anyway, enough dwelling on the (distant) past!

I had wanted to leave Friday evening, but there was a @%^& high school football game and since both of them really enjoy that ritual (I usually don’t go…just drop them off)…Saturday morning it was. And I mean Saturday morning.  We pulled out of here at 6:20 AM, both of them fell back to sleep immediately, I drove in peace for most of the time, and we arrived in New Orleans a bit after 11. I don’t stop, in case you’re wondering. I mean… I don’t stop. 

I had obtained the hotel room via Hotwire, and although it was well before check-in time, I wanted to ease my mind and get the proper kind of room – the Hotwire reservation just gave me one with one King. So we pulled up to the Hilton Garden Inn ($70/night), I took care of that, we parked in the garage across the street, and we were off.

We walked up to the French Quarter, and their memories of it slowly started returning. I had no real plan for the weekend, but had tossed around some ideas. The afternoon was really just wandering, with an unfortunate beginning – an absolutely wretched experience at the Decatur Street Cafe du Monde.

We had been before, and knew the drill – I was ready with cash, we were prepared to be dusty with powdered sugar. The line was sort of long, but it moved quickly, and we were seated within about five minutes.

And then we waited. And waited. And waited. The short version is: we waited at one table for about fifteen minutes  – not one of the servers stopped. Two guys who had been ahead img_20161008_124836.jpgof us in line were seated at a table next to us. They were served, ate, got up and left. We scooted to their table. Waited ten more minutes. Finally, a woman took our order…and we waited probably twenty more minutes. For two orders of beignets, a cafe au lait and a milk. What it looked like to me was that there were about three tables in a row that were having problems – when we finally were able to order, it was the same woman who worked all three tables.  I can get irritated at restaurants, but this was the worst.

But, ah well..shake it and the powdered sugar off and move on, right?

As I said, we wandered, poked in shops, nibbled on praline samples, listened to street performers.  I had thought we’d go into the Ursuline Convent museum, but it’s closed at the moment.  We ended up returning to the hotel around 4 for a rest, while I researched dinner. I kept thinking as I did so, “Oh that’s too far to walk..” and “Hmmm…we could take the streetcar there..” and then I kept remembering you have a car, idiot. 

So we ended up at the Parkway Bakery for Po Boys – which were excellent. I had beef because honestly, the idea of battered fried stuff piled on bread is pretty unappealing to me, but I did taste the shrimp and it was a revelation. I guess that’s what really fresh shrimp tastes like?

We then drove down toward Audubon Park and discovered a few homes with pretty crazy Halloween decorations – I guess it is a tradition of sorts in the Garden District, and as the weeks pass, even more homes will go all out. This place was a prime destination:

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Evening: Swimming, then I went out and walked around by myself for a while – on very safe routes, never fear.

Sunday:

9:30 Mass at St. Patrick’s, which was just a few blocks from the hotel. We had been to Mass there last time, and I remembered it as a very normal, lovely experience of the Extraordinary Form, and I wanted to see if my recollections were correct – they were.

 

From an outsider’s perspective, it’s a model. It’s just a regular parish, the celebration of Mass was reverent, but not fussy, the music was lovely, the preaching solid and not boring, and the congregation was diverse, as one finds at any urban parish. A good number of women in veils, but more not, women wearing dresses of all lengths, and many in slacks, many men in suits, others in the southern-shorts-and-polo uniform and one fellow in a football jersey. Didn’t see any of the famed cold-EF-goer judging happening, but did see lots of squealing babies and many welcoming smiles.

(As for the first item in that list – I kid. I hate to have to interrupt the flow by pointing that out, but if I don’t..well.)

Then a walk over to get beignets at the Cafe du Monde at the Riverwalk Mall across the road – a much better experience than we’d had downtown. Bought socks for someone who’d forgotten to pack any. Then we headed to the Audubon Zoo, which we had visited before, but Someone really wanted to see again. So why not? Then out to the Honey Island Swamp for a 4:30 Swamp Tour – it was..okay. It was interesting to poke around in the swamp and to speed down the river, but the wildlife was not bountiful. A few small gators, some racoons, a couple of pileated woodpeckers, which I’d never seen, and a kingfisher, same.

My dream for tours like this is that companies would offer two options: WITH LAME JOKES and WITHOUT LAME JOKES.  Boy, I can barely tolerate the Joking Tour Guide. Cave tours, boat tours, whatever, it is always so awkward. I blame Disney, as I do for many things. My theory is that it all started with the Jungle Cruise, which is actually okay and not stupid because it’s an entertainment experience in which you’re immersed, and the Joking Guide is an actual actor who can, well, act. But when I go on a tour of an actual place that exists and has a character and history I want to hear about that  – and I’ve spent good money to hear all about it and not sit as joke after joke told by a well-meaning employee about how that stalagmite over there looks like Elvis, doesn’t it or look at those fashionable vacation condos (fishing shacks) are met with awkward silence.dscn0846

Very…exciting.

It did, however, provide a good lesson for the boys in How Your Loud Conversations in the Midst of a Group are Super Irritating and Rude and Really,  No One Cares About Your Life That Much. I mean, we learned all about  the employment woes and wedding plans of the two twenty-somethings also on the tour, and we were, surprisingly, not interested in a bit of it.

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The most gorgeous sky on the way back to New Orleans. 

Dinner was at the Redfish Grill. If I had planned better we would have done something different – maybe Mr. B’s Bistro – but at that point, I wanted something sort of/almost/fancy, and there was plenty of room there, it was 8pm, and it was just time to eat. It was fine, and a good experience, but we could have done better elsewhere.

It is at the very edge of Bourbon Street – and before we got there I was explaining to them that Bourbon Street is really famous, but we’re not going to walk down it, and they were sort of asking why, I was hemming and hawing, but really, just walking a few feet in – past two cops on horses – they picked up the vibe immediately, my younger son said, “This reminds me of Las Vegas,” and they got it.

This morning, we packed up. I had presented on option – to go back via I-10 along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and check out Biloxi and environs – I have never been. But after beignets (here), and checking out the cathedral and going to the St. Roch Cemetery (which was locked up) another thought occurred to me: “Why don’t we just go to City Park, rent bikes, ride for a while, and then call it a weekend?”

That was met with approval.

Two more points on the morning – first, J was intent on going to the Cathedral – we were going anyway, but he had another reason. He had remembered that Servant of God Henriette DeLille might – just might be a distant relation  – one of her grandmothers was a Dubreuil (what’s a couple of flipped vowels?) –  and he wanted to revisit the small shrine in her honor that’s in the baptistry. It’s pretty amazing that he remembered that.

Secondly, I had wanted to visit the St. Roch Cemetery because of its ex voto chapel, but alas, despite the sign saying it was open at 8:30, it was locked up tight at 11.

On to the park. A good, 90 minute ride, all around the huge park, with just a few stops, including the Sculpture Garden of the New Orleans Museum of Art. Lunch at Cafe Navarre – red beans and rice to finish off the weekend – and back home by 7.

 

And now back to work on all fronts. I had one observation at the Cathedral that fits nicely into a ranty post I’ve been tooling with for a couple of months now. Perhaps this will give me the push I need to finish it up. But I do have an article due on Friday that takes precedence, so we will see….

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The Blessed Seelos shrine is nicely done, although, like a lot of smaller Catholic shrines I’ve visited, you sort of have to work at seeing it and would be well-advised to study up on when and where and how before you attempt it. The Center itself, a building beside the church, is locked, and you must ring the bell to be let in. Then there’s a room to the left, the doors to which are also normally closed (although not locked) and the lights off, which contains the exhibit about Fr. Seelos’ life.   As I mentioned, the church itself isn’t open except during Mass, but the shrine at the rear of the church containing Blessed Seelos’ remains (disinterred from his first casket and reinterred in a church-shaped reliquary containing what is left of his body “in a baby’s casket” (the words of the guide) – except for his breastbone, which is displayed in a reliquary to the side.

Do read about Fr. Seelos, a Redemptorist beatified in 2000 who, among other things was a tireless missionary, compassionate pastor and lived for a time with St. John Neumann in Pittsburgh. I was interested in the list of missions he gave around the Northeast and Midwest (it reminded me of a recent read – a biography of Blessed Andre Bessette recently reissued by Ave Maria Press – which described in part Blessed Andre’s rather extensive travels in the United States, including to California!)

I didn’t much like this element of the exhibit room, though – you come around a corner in the small room and are presented with this life-sized re-enactment of Fr. Seelos’ death (from yellow fever – mosquitos (ibid)). It gave us a bit of a start, as they say.

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