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The Dawn Daily

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Communism, cars & Cuban cigars

27th August, 2017

Okay folks, problem solved. There is a good reason my photos look like they were taken by a 2yr old after drinking red cordial – it appears I have a nasty crack in the lens of my phone. And it seems the settings were all wrong too. Who knew?

Cuba has always seemed to me to be the most exotic of destinations. Way back in the 60’s, as an impressionable 16yr old, I had more than a passing crush on Che Guevara; doctor, author, revolutionary, and so damned handsome he looked like he was chiseled out of marble. Also a dead ringer of Jim Morrison of The Doors. Then, dead at the tender age of 39. Shot by the CIA in Bolivia in 1967; forever young. His image can be seen all around Havana; on buildings, posters and t-shirts.

As soon as you step out of the airport, you know you are in Cuba and no other country on earth. The cars, the cars…how good are the cars? We appear to be extras in a 1950’s film set. These cars are a perfect example of “they just don’t make things like they used to“. How else can you explain 60 and 70yr old machines still moving today? Sure, they’re not purring like kittens, but they’re still going strong. Either it’s a feat of engineering genius or, perhaps more to the point, these Cubans can fix anything. Necessity is the mother of all invention. Sure, some of the cars now have a Toyota or Hyundai motor, some are taped up with wire, some are sporting the odd bit of welded steel, and more than one boasts an old mattress cut to fit where the back seat once was. All seemingly covered in scraps of old, passed their use by date with towels neatly hand stitched together. Some of the cars have been loving restored, but all that takes money, which is what Cubans don’t have.

Cuba is probably the last of the last true ideological communist states remaining in the world. A doctor is paid the same as a school teacher, nurse, lawyer etc. It’s about $40 per month. Ration books still exist for the basic necessities of life. Nothing is thrown away. There is no rubbish anywhere. No discarded cans, because who can afford to buy a cola? No advertising, anywhere. So much so it’s hard to find a shop, because that shop might just be a modest door of what you presume is a house. And nothing is made in the USA.

The USA embargo, which has been in place for nearly 55 years, is the reason some parts of Cuba look like a bomb site. So, if any country wants to trade with America, it cannot trade with Cuba. So the Cuban government is hamstrung to whom they trade with. How bloody stupid is that? Concrete, wood, steel, machinery; everything is scarce. Don’t get me started on the USA foreign policies. Big discussions here in Cuba on how dare the Russians interfere with the American election. You think the USA hasn’t interfered with enough elections in other countries already?

Food is pretty basic here too. Chicken, pork, rice and beans – repeat, repeat. Our tour was by G Adventures, only 15 of us from all over the world – mostly young people (meaning under 40). Havana has some nice hotels, but our tour led us out to the country where we stayed in Casa’s (home stays). Basic food and accommodation but a great chance to meet the people and get a real feel for the country.

There are a lot of material things Cubans don’t have, but what they do have is free education, including university, all health cover and free housing. No one is hungry, no beggars, no homelessness, no drugs and very little crime. You can walk the streets at night and the only thing that will disturb you is the music that never ceases until the wee hours of the morning.

Did you know that all Cuban cigars are hand rolled? I didn’t. I now know how to smoke a cigar. More complicated than a Japanese tea ceremony. First, pick your cigar (I choose a Cohiba, the cigar choice of Churchill and Castro). Then, take the centre vein out of the tobacco leaf which contains the nicotine (that’s what we were told). So, in fact, the cigar is a healthy cigarette (hey, don’t shoot the messenger, I’m only repeating what I was told). Then you light your cigar with a cedar stick, without putting it in your mouth. Then it’s ‘suck suck blow,’ but never taking the smoke into your lungs. Oh, and you need a small glass of rum too. And when you have finished your cigar, you rest it in an ashtray until it goes out. And you never re-light a half-finished cigar unless you have a cigar cutter. We were told these are all the tell-tale signs of a gentleman.

I was damned exhausted after our 10 days in Cuba, the heat was stifling; so if you’re thinking about Cuba, give August a miss. So many good things about the country to talk about; the music, the people and the history. But they want what we have too. It is not quaint to see a farmer ploughing his field with 2 oxen and a single disc plough. It’s bloody back breaking work. He wants a tractor. You share a road with horses and carts. People walk miles and miles to hitch a ride to town. No public transport in most of the country. Yes, private enterprise is starting with little business’s opening up, but what they desperately need is trade and more tourism.

It is a complicated country and who knows what will happen in the next few years? Will the government relax its borders? But they say here “we are Cuban” which sort of means we are tough and we are resilient. And their beautiful country is proof that they are all those things and more.

So, here we are now in the Florida Keys having a relax. Living life like a Beach Boys song. Onto The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico now.

Hooroo

Photos – some examples of some typical Cuban cars and architecture, plus a picture from the airport of some women travelling from Mexico to Cuba with a case full of toilet paper (the little luxuries they don’t have).

Tickling the ivories & enjoying the scenery

11th August, 2017

Oxygen, oh how I love you. At last we are at sea level in a place called Playa Del Carmen in Mexico; our gateway to Cuba. It is impossible to go to Cuba from the US as a tourist because of an incident nearly 50 years ago. Although it seems, in the Bay of Pigs affair, that the other party has been completely exonerated (welcome home Russia, and why not have a seat in the oval office too…).

And on to Colorado we go; the most beautiful place I have ever seen. Majestic mountains, pristine rivers and as green as Ireland. Yet, in some places, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re in the Northern Territory. Gorges (often called gulches) a thousand feet high, red and ragged as the Alice. Hundreds of national parks (thank you Teddy Roosevelt) and thousands of campers, hikers and bikers all enjoying this beautiful state.

The Native American culture here is particularly fascinating and diverse. Near Colorado Springs is the remnants of Hillside cave dwellings of the Pueblo Indians that are three stories deep. Like our indigenous people, they were pretty smart to survive thousands of years in such hostile conditions.

As beautiful as the country is, my favourite thing to do is having chat to people, finding out what they do and how they think. And the best place I find to do that is in little country towns. So we get off the main roads and meander. The trade-, though, is some very budget accommodation. Mostly cleanish, but the people you meet are worth it (and they are as interested in us as we are in them). For many of the people we meet at the accommodation we stay in, these places are their permanent homes. Tough when you have kids and there is only a microwave and a small fridge. Seems “trickle down’ economics doesn’t trickle down far enough.

And on to Santa Fe, capital of New Mexico. I was thinking this would be desert country, how wrong I was. The city is stunning; full of adobe buildings sitting no more than three stories high. You could be in the Middle East, Yemen or Jordan. The city of art and culture, with either the bleeding heart of Jesus or a Madonna and child on every corner. The city is laid out like many Spanish towns – houses and shops around a square called the plaza.  We loved it so much we decided to stay 4 days. Under the huge verandahs surrounding the plazas sit Native Americans selling their hand painted trinkets, woolen rugs and jewellery (incredibly expensive). Hundreds of art galleries too, definitely catering to the tourist. The food, for a change, was fabulous and more to our palate than the typical American stuff. I’ve written before about the food here and, suffice it to say, it hasn’t changed.  And I really miss our coffee.

Albuquerque is only an hour way. This is the country of Breaking Bad, so I’ve got my eyes peeled for face and neck tattoos ‘cos those hombres are definitely up to no good. Alas, the only thing I saw was a carwash that featured in the series. Pretty town too, particularly the old town that has been here since the early 1500’s when the Spanish arrived. Amazing.

I’ve been keeping up with the Australian news with this internet thing….so what’s with politicians trying to stop gay people marrying? Religion and individuals thinking they know the will of God is rife all over the world. None more than here. Every 3rd radio station is touting the benefits of sending money to their own churches to save their souls. And wouldn’t you know it, the more money you send, the greater your saving it seems. Yep, knowing the mind of God has been used to subjugate women, keep slaves, incite terrorism, and hate those who think differently than you. Enough.

Speaking of news, we may be lucky to be heading to Cuba as ‘my hands are bigger than yours’ Trump and Kim Jong Un (AKA The Dim Sim) will surely be too busy rattling their sabres and threatening nuclear strikes to worry about little ol’ Cuba.

The next 4 days will be lovely – we even have ourselves a pool. On Saturday, we are off to Cuba on an airline that no-one has ever heard of. I have it on good authority that the pilots have very spiffy uniforms with lots of brass buttons and gold tassles, always a positive sign of greatness. So I’m thinking lots of chickens on board – that makes me feel so secure. Only an hour and a bit flight.

I don’t know how good the internet will be there, or even if they have it. But hey, they’ve got 100% literacy and that’s a wonderful thing

Looking forward to a cigar or two and I’ll definitely be up for some salsa dancing now I’ve had my altitude training.

Talk later.

Photo’s attached are:

  • Ray playing a piano in the mall in Denver (such a great vibe in this city)
  • Street view of a pretty little western town in Colorado
  • A shop front in Albuquerque
  • A typical Santa Fe building
  • Hill dwellings

Altitude training with cowboys & hunters

1st Aug, 2017

Research, research and more research. That’s what I did for months before this trip. Checking on points of interest and fun things to do. It never entered my head to look at what has turned out to be damned important; altitude. So, the plan was to hire a car in Denver then spend the next 3 weeks driving Wyoming and Colorado exploring the Rockies.

The first stop was Cheyenne, capital of Wyoming – only 56,000 people. The state is bigger than Victoria yet has only 185,000 people. Cheyenne Frontier Days is a 10 day festival dedicated to all things country and western. It was fabulous. Chuck wagon cook offs – this is a competition where people travel from near and far to vie for the honour and glory of best BBQ in the state. Bought a chicken sandwich big enough to feed a small village.

The rodeo attracts some of the best horsemanship I’ve ever seen. With riders named Blade Elliot, Tucker Zigg and Western Garrett, you pretty much have your career mapped out for you. There’s buck jumping, bull riding, steer wrestling, and even an event where you race your horse flat out whilst shooting at balloons; yes, there’s something for everyone. The top rider here has career earnings in excess of $4 million. He would need all of that just to repair his poor broken body. This is the home of testosterone, boots, jeans, and the biggest buckle wins (male and female).

This area is home to the northern Arapaho Indians. And they were calling themselves that, although I think the PC word is Native Americans. Their costumes are brilliant and vivid, all handmade with beads and feathers. I loved their music; rhythmic drum beats where the male dancers whirl and whoop themselves into a frenzy. I think dancing is innate in humans.

But now back to the altitude. After a few days in Cheyenne, we are both feeling very tired. Bone tired, aching legs, breathlessness, and a general feeling of ‘yep, we are getting old.’ It wasn’t until someone pointed it out to us that us “flat-landers” were suffering from altitude sickness. Bare in mind that Mt Kosciuszko is 7310 ft above sea level and Cheyenne is over 6000 ft above sea level. And some seriously weird stuff happens at this level – water boils at a lower temperature, so food takes longer to cook. And if you throw a ball, it will go further – true. And this is what I love about the rules of science, they don’t give a stuff what you believe in, belief has nothing to do with it. Like vaccinations and electricity; believing in it is irreverent – it just works.

So now we re-assess, and decide to head to Laramie. Hundreds of cairns (stone monuments) depicting where the likes of Kit Carson, Wild Bill Hickok and Jesse James passed through. This is the country of the cowboy movies of my youth. And it doesn’t take much imagination to see the Indians peeking over the brow of the mountain in the old Gunsmoke and Shane movies.

So we drive and drive, climbing, climbing into the Rockies in our trusty little 4 cylinder Impressa. The poor little car too is finding the altitude tough going. Using heaps of fuel and working like a sheep dog to climb the mountains. Look, I’ve tried to take photos on my phone camera, but it is pointless. Nothing shows the height and beauty of the Rockies. Snow capped peaks, yet the daytime temperature is over 80 degrees, the pristine Colorado river and the giant Spruce and Fir trees clinging on to the mountain sides like barnacles on a ship.

I suffer from acrophobia, big time, and like all phobias, I know it is completely irrational. I take refuge in the knowledge that any exercise done at this altitude will help me a hundred fold when I finally make it down to sea level.

We head for a little town called Granby, our gateway to the trail over the Rockies. Unbeknown to us, this little town is the hunters paradise and the accommodation reflects it. You’ve got your basic to your budget and everything is booked out, and not another town for miles. Finally, we find a rundown little motel, no aircon, no wifi, and big signs everywhere saying ‘no cleaning fish or skinning animals in your room.’ We comply. Only one problem, the Manager says, only got one room left, it’s our new bed and it’s a king size mattress so instead of $61 a night you gonna have to pay $63. Done. It was basic, but it was clean.

Hunters and fishermen by the hundreds. Big utes and even bigger guns. Based on a lottery system, they are allocated a certain amount of animals they can shoot. As a carnivore, I understand the shooting of elk, moose and deer for meat but the shooting of a bear seems to me as stupid. A trophy, much like the shooting of an elephant, surely?

We head for the trail drive through the Rocky Mountain National Park. We inch our way over the path driving no more than 15mph. The only thing between me and a plummet of 12,000 feet is my careful driver and some serious engineering. I am terrified and exhilarated and I will never do it again.

Ray got a nasty chest\sinus infection on the plane so went to the doctor in San Fransisco – $273 for the doctor and antibiotics. By the time we get to Glenwood Springs, his mouth looks like the bottom of a bird cage. Off to the docs again – another $155 for the doctor and $257 for the throat lozenges he needs. Does the USA have a health cover problem? People have been asking us about our health cover, most people comment that “oh, it’s socialised, like Canada”. No, we see it as a basic human right, like education.

And many people ask us what we think of their Dear Leader, and as a guest in their country we must be polite and respectful, although when pushed I answer that I can’t speak for all, but I think he’s a narcissistic buffoon. And most people agree.

So we relax in the piping hot thermal pools for a few days and feeling just fine we head for Canon City via Aspen. Now Aspen, as you will all know, is the ski playground of the rich and famous. Only spent a few hours there because it seemed to me that it was illegal to stay any longer if you had a wrinkle or were carry an extra few pounds. Never seen so many pretty people in such close quarters.

Canon City was fabulous, this is where Ray zip lined his way around the mountains whilst I sat under the cool of a tree like someone’s Nanna.

Okay, off to Santa Fe driving for another week or so.

Be kind,

Dawn

 

 

Hippy love, Redwood magic, and smoken’ the dope

20th July, 2017

It’s easy to see why you can leave your heart in San Francisco – both literally and figuratively. It’s quite breathtakingly beautiful, and everywhere you walk is at least a 30 degree incline. A few more days of this and a person could call themselves fit..ish.

San Francisco is only 7 miles wide and 7 miles long, built on 40 odd hills and surrounded by water on three sides. Only 850,000 people live here and probably another 300,000 illegals. San Fran has always been a sanctuary city for draft dodgers and hippies in the 60’s, gay rights activists of the 70’s and eighties, to illegals now. The city of peace and love is still here.

The great redwoods forest is only a 25 minute drive from the city. Tallest living thing on the planet. Fortunately for us , the bus broke down on the way back from the forest and we had a few hours free time in Sausalito. Think Sorrento…pretty town. We sat down on the dock of the bay and watched the ships roll in, then we watched them roll away again…just wasting time. Yep, that is the exact spot Otis Redding wrote the best song ever written – “Sittin’ on the dock of the bay” (well, it’s in my top ten anyway). The spot captures the cruisey vibe of the song perfectly.

I’ve got to have a little whine about the weather. It’s been a little brisk for my taste, and windy. It has something to do with that pesky little thing, you know, science. It’s right at the mouth of the Golden Gate where cold ocean waters and warm inland air make San Francisco one of the coldest summer cities in the whole USA. As Mark Twain once said – “The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco”

The city is dense, no one has a garden, so space is a premium. Rents are very expensive and so homelessness is rife. But then again, so is Melbourne.

My favourite place was Haight Ashbury home to the hippies of yesteryear and they are still there today, bless them. Wandering the streets with their love beads and “jesus saves” sandles. The shops do a nice little trade in brand new 100% polyester shirts and pants. Fabulous bookstores and the most marvellous music store I have ever seen. Over 100,000 albums, CD’s and books – new and second hand. Felt that over excited, like I had one foot nailed to the floor and was just spinning. Cheap too.

Heaps of homages to the past, the house where Jimi Hendrix lived has the lyrics of Angel on the front door. A little plaque outside one of the 25 houses Janis Joplin lived; she was, by all accounts, a reckless housemate. Lots of great stories about her love affair with Southern Comfort and the chaos she would cause after a big night. But what a voice. Also around the corner lived a couple of the guys from the Grateful Dead. I was born way too early. What a time that must have been here then. Making music that changed the world. Buskers are everywhere and damned talented, who knows who will be the next Janis or Dylan?

We hired this fabulous little combi van (see pic) to drive around town. Sure, we had to double clutch the gears and the handbrake was dodgy but the little bus could go anywhere. Even went through Lombard street. Most crooked winding street you have ever seen.

California, like many other states, have legalized marijuana. The weed shops are springing up like milk bars on corners. Selling bongs, shishas and more brands of weed than an IGA aisle of yoghurt. Can’t find what you are looking for? Well just let the friendly weedster help you out. The weedster is like a barista, you know, but weed not coffee. And he or she will tailor your dope to meet your own specific needs. Great piles of the stuff sitting in the dispensary. A little of the organic from Monterrey for the mellow….add a pinch of Mexican blue (if you like the dreams) and a dash of Oregon Gold and all your troubles will disappear like mist in the moonlight. Probably polishes and re-adjusts your chakras too. Maybe there is a Tafe course somewhere because, you know man, this is, you know, like, a very skilled art.  At the moment you need a Doctors note to buy it, but come January it will be easy access for all. You can, however, buy TCH pills where you can get the mellow but no high… a bit like a vitamin E tablet. Ask your friendly Tafe diplomaed dispenser what you need. Something to make you relax, sleep and something for pain. Bingo! $54 later you have enough pills for 3 months. This, however, would be illegal and stupid to take them into some places, like Cuba for instance. Point noted.

But that cool music store we went to has all this legal nonsense sorted. At various times of the day, an A-frame goes out to say the Doctor is in store. Sit down and have a friendly chat to the Doctor (aka “Timothy Leary”) and 5 minutes later you have signed paperwork to say you may purchase marijuana from any store in California. Ah American capitalism, just too fabulous for words.

I’ve included a couple of photos of our trip thus far, but I am no good at it. This is the best of a bad bunch. Pictures are of Jimi Hendrix lyrics on a door, the music store of all music stores, a slice of a giant redwood (the centre is the birth of the tree from 909AD, the tree died in 1930 – simply amazing and puts life into perspective), an honest man on the street, and Ray standing proud next to our combi van.

So it’s been 5 days of fun. Food has been great, everyday a new adventure. Off to Denver tomorrow.  Going to have a few weeks driving Wyoming and Colorado.

Till then

Peace and love guys

Dawn

Highway 61 revisited…

Following the old blues trail of Route 61, we head for Natches (sounds like matches with an n) with no particular plan in mind with the first night booked in Vicksburg Mississippi. The country is Ireland green with rich fertile soil. First time I have seen fields of cotton. I sing to myself all the cotton songs…they look so pretty.

We detour in and out of the little towns getting lost and then being found. We look and sound so different. Talk about being the only brunette at the Brownlow; we are positively glowing with our whiteness.

The poverty is visible here still. Many of the locals still work as share croppers, but most work for the local farms which have been bought by big corporations. Much of the housing looks portable yet cosy. The only stores are usually a petrol station that also sells grocery items, and a few fried chicken joints. And at least 3 churches; Baptist, Pentecostal and a Revival Centre.

We are having the best fun listening to all the local radio stations. Even the tiniest town has its own community station. Every second station is Christian, sometimes the music is good, sometimes downright freaky. How’s this for an opening line for a song “If you’ve got cancer, an you don’t wanna die, then pray” which is sung to a tune that sounds a lot like “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands”. To each their own I guess. What’s more, to save your soul there is a boxed set of 6 CD’s for only $150 – “Yours to keep and to listen to anytime time you feel the need for salvation!” (For $150, I would sure be keepin’ them). Remember, the basic wage is a little over $6 an hour.

Thank goodness for Steve Irwin because he has put Australia on the map out here. As soon as we open our mouths, the locals want to know where we are from and what we are doing in their neck of the woods. The kids all want to hear about our spiders, snakes and sharks. They squeal with delight when we tell them we have 2 of the most deadly spiders on earth. One little guy said “Well, I was goin’ to go there when I was big, but hell no I ain’t never going there no more.” I told him that redbacks love to live in old toilets…

You need to be careful as a tourist guide though. In New Orleans, a bus driver drove past a big football stadium and told us that, along with the Great Wall of China, it’s one of the few structures that can be seen from space. I could have said “I beg to differ, Sir, the only thing that can be seen from space is the migration of the wilderbeast in Africa” (because that’s what Steven Fry said, and he knows things).

Can you imagine what this place was like in the 1920’s? Back breaking work for little pay. and if you were black, life was tough, and if you were black and female, it was the toughest. Music and religion was the only solace, so it’s no wonder they are so linked. That black gospel music is hypnotic with a rhythm and soul that I find lacking in say a traditional Church of England hymn that was written by someone in 1860 and still sung today. Maybe if their music was better…well, I’m just sayin’.

Driving this land you feel where the blues started. Blues is not only about the notes they play, but more importantly it’s the notes they don’t play. This is the birthplace of all the music to come.

I won’t bore you with all the sights we have seen, where the greatest musicians played (often to small crowds), but to me it has been an amazing journey. Honestly, I thought I knew a fair bit about music, now I realise I know next to nothing. But what I do know is this – coming up from scratch, and honing and refining your craft makes for a great singer and musician. Gaining fame on a TV show is not the same thing.

And now to one of the best 2 hours of the trip.

Ferriday Louisiana is the childhood home of Jerry Lee and where his sister Frankie Jean still lives.  At this stage, decisions hadn’t been made about whether to call in. Because even though I am a big fan of his music, I’m not a collector of memorabilia nor even a pilgrim. So we called in.

The house is modest but unique; it has a drive inn bottle shop in the garage. This is where Frankie Jean (and yes, you never say just Frankie or Jerry, it’s always the full moniker) has lived for most of her life. I will not write about anything she said because the libel laws are strict over here, and after seeing a correctional facility it’s another place I don’t need to visit.

What I can say is that we talked and laughed for over 2 hours. The house is full of memorabilia, but it’s her home as well. We could have stayed the night with her (true), but I was so high I needed a bit of a drive to calm down. She loaded us with gifts, a rare recording of Jerry Lee and his sister Linda Gail and his mamma singing “I’ll fly away” on the piano, recorded on an old tape in their own house. She told us to “just make me a copy when you get home and send the original back!” She gave me jewellery from her mamma and an old booklet of Jerry Lee and Linda Gail lyrics and songs. She liked us, she said. She said she gets a few crazies and nuts here, but she could tell we were good Christians with good hearts. Most amazing and a quite surreal experience. I loved her. She even talked about why she got married at 12. What a life, someone needs to write a book about her life.

And haven’t we had a lot of unusual experiences. Saw the biggest human on earth in a little pawn shop. And believe me, there have been hundreds of people vying for that privilege. Yep, some very big people in this neck of the woods. Been to a Walmart. This is exactly the sort of store we don’t need in Australia. Makes Bunnings look like the local corner store. I urge you all to shop at local butchers, bakers and greengrocers, or we will all end up like this. So endth the lesson.

Okay guys talk later,

Dawn

Got my suitcase in my hand

If you could wake up tomorrow morning speaking in a totally different accent, what would you choose? I’ve always thought that a French accent would be pretty cool. And who doesn’t love the Scottish brogue or the lilting rhythms of the Irish? All that is out the window now. I now desperately want the sound of the American South, with a little touch of Creole mixed in. Best accent in the world.

Dwayne (60ish and handsome as hell, African American) is the afternoon manager of our hotel and I asked him for help booking a table at a restaurant.

“Hey baby” Dwayne says “Sure I can help you some.” He’s on the phone booking our table, he books it for a Miss Dawn and a Mr Ray. How very Southern, I think. He then gives me directions….”You gone be goin’ down there some, then you gone be doin’ a right, then you gone be walkin’ bout 2 blocks and then that’s where ya’ll be at”.

I now have a big crush on Dwyane and get quite undone when he says “Hey baby girl, where ya dat?” Which is the Southern way of saying “Good morning madam, and how are you today?” Ray is often addressed as Sir and Ma’am for me. Nice.

Our Aussie accent seems so flat and nasal compared to the Southern drawl. When they speak, it sounds as if they are singing. Ray is having more than a little trouble with the accent. On more than one occasion I’ve acted as an interpreter. The other night, for example, coming home from dinner we are greeted by the night manager. She says “Welcome back,” which Ray interprets as “I’ve made your bed”. Yes, I know it’s one of those ‘you had to be there’ moments, but it gave me a nice belly laugh.

If you have had enough of New Orleans then you have had enough of life. So we book for 4 more days (which is what you can do if you are not on any strict itinerary) and move to the Margny district, which is only 100 metres to Frenchman St (where the real music of New Orleans lives).

On any street corner, you can hear the lonesome tunes of a solo saxophonist or maybe a group of 5 or 6 young kids playing trad jazz, swapping instruments with each other like sharing their favourite bike. The talent stops you in your tracks. It’s breathtaking. The music clubs in this street have been here for generations and yes, they look like it, which only adds to their flavor. We saw jazz, blues old and new, soul, and even a bit of rap. Not only are there music clubs, but cafes and convenience stores have a little band or a soloist set up in the corner.

Monday night we went to an open band and mike night. It started at 6pm, and for 6 hours we listened to the best music from around the world. Put your name down on a sheet of paper and say what you can play or sing, then the MC calls you up and you jam with other musicians. Base, lead guitar, harmonica players, trombonists, vocalists and every other musical instrument you could think of. No cover charge anywhere, they pass the hat around (or in this case, a bassoon) for bloody tips, often a dollar per person!!

So when I am President of the world (long may she rule), one of the first things I will do is a bit of fiscal redistribution. I know that if you were lucky enough to be born 6 feet 11inches tall and can run and bounce a ball at the same time, you are in today’s society paid extremely well. Ditto all other sports. But 100 million a year? Really?! So I’ve decided that musicians and artists (and, come to think of it, nurses and teachers and all those who make this world a better place to live in) should all get a little bit more of the pie. I’m going to have my work cut out for me…

Not only is this city blessed with the magic of music, it is also home to amazing artists. The street theatre is weird and unique, so wandering around the streets feels as if I’m on another planet in some sort of parallel universe where happiness reigns.

To put a damper on all this joy, all you need do is turn on the television where it’s 24 hour fluffy head Donald Trump……..don’t you all think that the rest of the world should be able to have a say on who gets to be President of “the free world’? After all, Americas’ foreign policy affects us all. Greatly.

So that’s it for me for now.

Love to all.

And if you like the blogs, tick follow on my website The Dawn Daily so I don’t have to put it on Facebook.

 

Dirty Linen

Walkin’ to New Orleans

“You have a civic duty to go out” say billboards around New Orleans. And, as good citizens, they all obey.

I feel as if the rapture has taken and transported me up to my idea of nirvana. We have found the fountain of youth; we sleep late in the morning, relax during the days oppressing heat, eat, then dance and sing to the worlds’ best music.

I’ve been to many places in the world and thought to myself, yep I could live here, but this is totally different. This city gets a hold of you like no other. And it’s so hard to define the feeling. Which is why there are so many songs written about the place. Like any good musical, when words are not enough, one must sing.

Ten days was not long enough, so we are coming back for a few more days before the long trip home.

New Orleans is a Mecca for tourists, even the ones who are not into food, music, architecture, history or culture.

We stayed in a little boutique hotel in the French Quarter called Inn on St Annes, in a tiny little street a few blocks from the mighty Mississippi River. The most beautiful little houses painted bright colours, similar to those I’ve seen in Spain and France. This area of Louisiana was pioneered by the French, aristocracy and pirates, then the Spanish and then the influx of the tragedy that was the slave trade from Africa. Even with the horrors of Katrina, this city is still magnificent.

The tours of the plantations really bring home to you the abomination that was slavery. “Laura” plantation was a Creole property. Creole is a name given to the French speaking American born. In order to own property in New Orleans, you had to be a Catholic and speak French. That wasn’t changed until Louisiana become a state after the civil war.

“Oak Alley” plantation has the most magnificent avenue of 300 year old spreading oaks leading to the house. Yes, I tried to take a photo, although I seem to have managed to make the trees look like spindly little twigs.

Cemeteries are everywhere within the city boundaries, all above ground crypts and tightly packed together. They are so much a haven for the locals who practice Voodoo that many cemeteries can only be viewed with a certified guide. Have learnt lots about Voodoo; it is a monotheist religion meaning ‘worship of one god’. Sure, they have a few odd practices, but really, don’t they all?! So no scarier than the usual ones.

The food in New Orleans is fabulous and appalling at the same time. Loved the fried chicken, gumbo, craw fish (little yabbies) and jambalya. Grits a big fat no. Portion size a joke…..more on that later.

You would have all heard of Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. A street without the sleaze of Bangla Road Phuket, but pretty much aimed at the same market. It’s not where the locals go. but you need to see it once. But nothing prepares you for the smell!! It’s the stench of a million split beers, oohh I’ve missed the urinal and that lingering odour of a poor decision again……

Many years ago they had a festival here called ‘white linen night’, where all the ladies and gentleman donned their finest white linen and caroused Royal Street in the French Quarter to see fabulous art and be seen. Some locals thought this was a little too pretentious, so decided the following week to have a ‘dirty linen night’. So, on the 1st Saturday of August, every man, woman and his dog wears a red dress. That’s right, red dresses as far as the eye can see. Big macho, hairy, tattooed bikies, old men, young women, animals, etc all wear red dresses. It was wonderful.

I’ll send this off now and will need to write about all the music and people we have met in my next post. One big regret for me is I have never learnt to touch type, so this takes me so much longer than it should.

TTFN,

Dawn

Oklahoma Is Oh So Pretty…

Or so the Route 66 song goes.

We have moved flights and plans just so we can be in Oklahoma City for August 1st to tick my last item left in my bucket list; see Jerry Lee Lewis play live.

Every time I mention his name, the stock answer is from people is “is he still alive?”. Believe it or not, he is and he will be 80 this September; but I don’t care, he will always be 32 to me. He only plays a couple of gigs a year so I think myself damned lucky that I am anywhere within cooee of him.

So here we are in Oklahoma, the heart of the bible belt. We arrive Friday night pumped and ready for our big weekend. Only fifteen minutes from the Will Rogers airport to downtown OC by taxi, in which time we passed only 4 cars. We ask our driver Carl (the ex-vet single dad whose partner is in jail at the moment) where all the people have gone, however it seems this is as busy as OC gets. We make arrangements with Carl to take us to The Grand Casino Shawnee the following day because public transport is totally non-existent. The car is king over here. A few buses here and there but that’s about it. And it works out that it’s cheaper to take a taxi the 50kms out to Shawnee than rent a car.

Had a fabulous meal at Mickey Mantels steak house that night; very expensive, but they do have great steaks here. We stagger back to our hotel ready for a good nights sleep, only to discover a wedding in full flight. Midnight that night I found myself doing something I never thought I would be capable of….I rang the front desk and demanded they shut down the after party that was raging next door. And they did.

Next morning the hotel was full of apologies and gave us a free room in a sister Hotel of our choice. Nice. But I had to add to the kind staff that yes, I was young once and it was just that I was a little tired and emotional after a long flight. What I should have said was that on several occasions in my youth (and, to be honest, quite recently) we have had a little reminder from management to keep the noise down a little. I feel like an old person and this was payback for me. Lesson taken. I will try and be more considerate of others in the future and never again make anyone stay up to the wee hours of the morning just because I say.

Saturday morning and the same 4 cars I saw driving from the airport were still cruising about, but that was about it. Which must be why the city is so clean; it looks as if it was recently disinfected with pine-o-clean.

And off to the casino we go. All the 200 or so casinos in Oklahoma are owned by the Native Americans. Including the land. So they have their own police department, rules and laws; they even have their own schools etc. They also employ their own people as well as others in all their businesses. And, as we all know, there is a serious amount of money to be made in the gambling industry which makes for some very wealthy tribes.

The local tribe here is called the Potawanami. The “chief” is now called the chairman and what he says goes. I can’t help but think how good it would be if our Aboriginal people were self-sufficient with full autonomy. Much of the land in Oklahoma is still owned by the Native Americans, and some laws that exist in the state don’t apply to them (and visa-versa).

This casino is one of the biggest in the state,; no its not Vegas, but nonetheless it’s still reasonably showy in that sparkly/bright light/crass way. But pretty it ain’t. 20 story boxy Hotel attached to a yellow concrete square of a casino surrounded by a 5000 lot car park on all sides. And the car park is full. The back car park is used by the truckers for a safe sleeping spot and I guess they could also get cheap food at the casino. We counted 53 big rigs (sorry, but time prohibited us from counting the cars).

Time for a quick bite to eat before the concert. We had the choice of shocking crap, expensive crap or inedible crap. Seems like we made a bad choice and ended up with the inedible crap. Literally. So I had an ice-cream which was delicious.

Now for the concert. Fabulous venue, maybe seats 1800, with all the seats full and, dare I say it, a certain demographic (as in 50 plus). The concert started at 7pm (read certain demographic and there should be more of it). The support act is Chubby Checker. On the dot of 7 Chubby leaps on stage to the roar of the crowd. He looked great, hair as black as charcoal (I can’t help but wonder is it a wig?), tight tight blue jeans and a denim jacket!! Haven’t seen double denim for years, good on you Chubby! He sang his heart out, a happy chatty man, just looked so like he wanted to be there, unlike some bloody artists that you pay good money for who treat the audience like shit…but I digress.

He called people on stage and showed what a true entertainer should do. Entertain. He hucklebucked and twisted and considering the man is well in his 70’s, proved what a showman he is. The crowd roared with applause and a standing ovation.

Now Jerry Lee…my little heart was pounding, crowd roaring and out he hobbled, yes a little bent over but still that arrogant tilt of the head as he grabbed the mike and yelled “where’s my piano?!”. He opened with ‘Movin’ on down the line’ then a few country numbers. You could see his poor hands gnarled and twisted with arthritis, but he was there for a show and he sure didn’t let us down. The band were a bunch of old guys from Memphis (where he lives). He has been playing with them for years, so when he stopped half way through a song, saying he was playing it in the wrong key, the band stopped on a dime. Brilliant. His voice was a little shaky and he talked/sang a lot of the lyrics but when he started ‘Whole lotta shakin’ we were all on our feet dancing and screaming the lyrics back at him. He only played for an hour, and he certainly looked spent, but it was worth a 16 hour plane trip (and more) to see the great man.

And yes, I know all the things about him which may turn more than a few people off. The sad and unusual deaths of 2 of his wives, the time he shot his bass guitarist (winged, not dead, I’m pleased to say) and a thousand and one other silly things he has done to others and himself. But what an original artist. There is a new CD out of a jam session with him, Elvis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, it was recorded by Sam Phillips and only recently found. You know you have made it when you are known by your first name. He is rock and roll to me. If only Sam Cooke and Janis Joplin were alive I would have the trifecta.

For no good reason we booked for two nights at the casino and weren’t we lucky because Sunday morning, straight out of the shower wet and makeup-less, we wander downstairs for a puff and there in the foyer is Chubby and friends checking out. Not wanting to be too familiar I say “great show Chubby” and he picks our Aussie accent straight away and we immediately become friends (sort of ish). His manager, a lovely guy, offers to take a photo of us together. Kismet. Did you know Chubbies manager has Tourettes? He has, it’s true. And what’s more, it has to be said that some good things can happen if you smoke.

So we are up and down the lifts having a fag because we are in the middle of nowhere with not a lot to do unless you gamble, which I don’t, and blow me down with a feather we meet Jerry Lees manager JW and Jude (Jerry’s 7th wife) in the lift. Jude is reasonably elderly (she was in a scooter thing) and JW looks like Willy Nelson. So we make friends (in a not too over the top just pleased to meet you kind of way) and say thanks for the concert and tell them we have flown all the way from Australia. Then we get out of the life and talk some more. JW (who’s been with Jerry Lee for over 40 years) tells us about a TV presenter in Australia (can’t say here) that they fought with and other juicy gossip. Then Jude said she loved those “itty bitty koala things ya’ll got down there’’. Well, as luck would have it, we had bought those little koalas you get from the $2 shop to leave as souvenirs and Ray says he’ll go and get her one. She tells us they collect little horses and little Norwegian trolls, which she displays on a shelf in their parlour. She loves the little koala and says it will be much loved by her and Jerry Lee. They were so friendly we talked like old friends for half an hour. Our brush with fame. I’m sure if we had asked to meet Jerry Lee we would have, but I think it’s nice to leave it this way and not spoil my illusions.

Nearly finished, just one more thing. After a very relaxing day we head into the casino for a ‘yes it’s 5 o’clock’ vino, and you wouldn’t believe it; it’s Sunday. Sorry sir, but we don’t sell hard liquor on a Sunday, only 3.2% or under beer. ‘What, no cocktails or wine?’ I cry. But I betcha I could go into a gun store and get me an AK47 and all the bullets a lady needs, but no wine. Well I suppose it was a bit like a blister on your tongue; annoying, but not life threatening.

Okay I’ve yakked long enough, as usual I got too much to say.

If you like the letters, follow on my blog www.thedawndaily.com so I don’t have to put it on Facebook.

Till next time,

Dawn

Is Anyone Going to San Antone?

We are singing ourselves through America; every little town we go through has a song written about it.

San Antonio is only one hour drive from Austin. Considering the size of the cities, for us Australians that would be like Brisbane and Melbourne being only 110 kms apart.

After a little detour (because of a petulant GPS), we arrive safely at our Hotel The Valencia. It’s ultra-modern at the front and party time at the back; beautiful and only one block from the river walk.

Straight into tourist mode we head for the Alimo. What I know about the Alimo comes mainly from the TV show F Troupe. Remember that old guy who was constantly asleep and would cry “remember the Alimo” every time he woke? Or maybe that’s just me.

So the Alimo was a mission station, most of which remains intact. A walled fort that contained the church, soldiers, a hospital, gardens and all manner of village life. Early in the 1830’s, Mexico wanted this part of Texas back so they launched a raid on the mission. The Mexicans had over 2000 men and the Americans had only 300. After days and days of fighting, the Mexicans were victorious. And so the legend began.

What I didn’t realise was that the Alimo was where Davy Crocket died. Yep, the same one who “killed him a bar’ when he was only 3”. (Anyone else remember the song or am I showing my age?). Also Bowie, as in the knife, was killed there too.

In the middle of San Antone is a natural/man made canal that weaves its way around the city. Either side of the canal are restaurants and bars and little tourist boats that cruise about. Very family friendly and, I don’t mind saying, it’s quite romantic wandering the banks.

Lots of the restaurants are “chains”. You’ve got your Mamas Pizza, Papas Chicken, Uncle Bens whatever, Nanas pies….what’s with naming your places after your relatives, I wonder. Most of these places seat a minimum of 3 or 400 people. Intimate it ain’t.

I love eating crab. Ray, not so much. It’s not the taste so much as the fact he has to forage for the food. He also loathes eating food without a knife and fork. So we go for crab.

Joes Crab Hut is pumping, but we manage to get a table…or should I say, a bench. The crab is served by the bucket; literally. Stainless steel buckets, 3 sizes – regular, large, and ‘bet you can’t lift it’. We pop on our bibs (I know). Ray asks for a finger bowl, but the request gets a little lost in translation. “We get a lot of requests” the waiter says, “but we ain’t never had anyone ask for a bowl to wash ‘der fingers’’. Anyway it is delicious. Snow, queen and king crab. What we didn’t need was the 3 kilo of chips that also came with it.

That night I realise that I may have over done it with the rich food. Feeling a tad delicate in the nether regions, I decide to spend the next morning close to home and fill my time in doing one of my favourite things – watching the ads on TV. You can tell a lot about a people by watching what is considered necessary and what is deemed luxury. And it does depend on what channel you watch. Fox news is the best for medicinal ads. My favourite is an ad that comes on the half hour. Discrete catheters, for men or women….delivered straight to your door……fts snuggly into your purse too…..now you can have the confidence to socialise with your friends, comfortable in the knowledge you have your trusty catheter with you. (Cut to shot of John and Betty playing cards with mates, looking confident …cut to discrete shot of catheter in Betty’s bag.). Have any of these people ever had a catheter?! I really don’t think it’s something you whip in and out willy nilly.

I have never met such warm and friendly people in all my travels. In fact, I would say we haven’t met one person I wouldn’t have as a guest in our own home.

So goodbye San Antonio. We now fly to Oklahoma City. I’ll write about that tomorrow. I have been trying to take photos but it is one of the many skills I don’t poses. I’m also having trouble with my portable keyboard, the number lock is on and I have tried Mr Google and he can’t help so I am using the Hotel computer and now have a long line of people behind me tapping their feet and sighing very loudly.

Talk later,
Dawn

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