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Down South to New Orleans

Digital Photographs + Travelogue by J R Compton

THURSDAY MAY 15, 2003

The first photo I made on our trip to New Orleans was this of the lunar eclipse at 10:11 PM Thurs night May 15 from Beaumont.

My camera lens was fogged over from being brought suddenly out of my nice, dry suitcase inside the house, to the muggy outside. Kinda like me brought from the furry safety of my own home in inner elderly east Dallas and flung across East Texas, then south into Louisiana. I was so fogged myself, I didn't even notice.

Wandering the house in my tired stupor, I liked the way the horizontal stripes of the shower curtain interfered with the gridding pattern of a small bathroom mirror enclosed by the textured wall of the bathroom. Critic at large...

More colorful stripes outside our spare bedroom window lent a spring-like view of Middle America.

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FRIDAY

Beyond that were pretty flowers in the yard.

And beyond that, a big, old Oak tree that had, the night before, finally given up and dropped about half its branches through the front porch roof.

Inside the kitchen, hanging above the stove are these marvelous shapes — Uncle Kevin is a gourmet cook.

The next morning, we headed south and east. I was driving but feeling woozy/dizzy and stopped at this picturesque park. We decided not to go swimming.

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The strip along the highway past all the big refineries along the Texas Coast is called "Cancer Alley." It's also known as the Texas home of the Ku Klux Klan.

I managed to focus this shot on the window instead of the refinery, but I like the soft focus there, the rounded sweep of driver side window and the hard focus on bits of glop on the window, which I imagine represents the nasty stuff falling from the sky.

We're in New Orleans, have rested a bit, and I'm wandering around St. Vincent's Guest House (formerly an orphanage — I keep thinking about that scene in Sixth Sense with the kids hung from the ceiling) in the Garden District.

The air conditioner did not cool until we'd left it on for 24 hours — and then only kinda. You could see daylight under it, and long puddles dripped along the porches under most of the units.

The elevator did not elevate. We lugged all our stuff up to the third floor. The doors, which were flimsy, opened directly onto the beds. And Kathy says the rugs were shabby. The bathrooms were newer than the rooms, but ours had a cracked window that let in outside heat.

Our first night's sleep was punctuated by the constant staccato of a dog barking, which I imagined the management had thoughtfully provided, so we'd feel right at home. And the place looked like it might fall into the river, if it could only manage to crawl that far.

Still, it was right in town and didn't look or feel like a Holiday Inn or Motel 6, and the rooms were about half the cost of the ritzy but much smaller Hampton Inn. The view was colorful and wrap-around. Breakfast (eggs, toast, pancakes, grits, coffee and O.J.) was provided, and I could always find a great, shady, cooling breeze on one or another of the various verandas any time of day or night.

You'd have to study the neighboring rooftops carefully to find this sculpted gargoyle atop an aging roof, a small part of a much larger, long telephoto shot, but isn't it amazing...

 

The view was an intriguing collection of elderly and young shapes...

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New and old in every direction in a semi-spectacular panorama from our third-floor porch.

Intriguing shadows down the rickety stairs to the second floor balcony. Further down more stairs was a particularly ugly, white grotto with a BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary) standing in it with her hands beatifically outstretched that I could just never bring myself to photograph, even though there was a big, dark Harley parked near it for a long time one afternoon.

Colorful roofs and tropical plants help make N.O. a colorful place.

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SATURDAY

In my usual exploring-a-new-place style, I just set out, driving us all toward the river, which I'd hoped to see. Unfortunately, they keep the Mighty Miippizippy on the other side of massive levees, so, though we could see lots of these sorts of shiply loader things all just over the hill along our way paralleling the levees, there no Big River we could actually see.

Until I discovered one narrow gravel road up, way up, the only one that did not have a sign telling me not to drive there.

The road was narrow, and the levee sloped precipitously down on both sides, so we had to drive several miles before we could find a way back down. The view, however, was pretty amazing. This was my first big boat — Kathy kept insisting it was a ship.

I wish I'd thought to photo Kathy's big, shiny Suburban propped, top heavily on top of the tall, pointy levy road.

We lit out, south, south, south to the bottom tip of Louisiana, where, she kept explaining, the river met the ocean. I'd heard about the Delta all my life, but from the only highway, it was almost impossible to see the river, let alone all the fertile soil supposedly deposited on the river's ride to the sea.

It was far farther than any of our patiences, but it was kinda fun when we got to where we couldn't go any further. I took some boring photos of the mixed bag, light industrial area's boats and shiplets scattered about the marshy surroundings.

And while we were wondering what next, three bikers asked us to take their photographs with their video camera, so they, too, could head back north. I obliged while they stood still in front of the tip or Louisiana sign and made jokes about trading their cameras for burros, like in the commercials on TV.

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We'd seen a seafood place called Buddy's much further north, that had gathered quite a crowd of lunchers, and we were going to try to make it back there to eat, but we stopped here instead, because it was much closer and we were much hungrier. Our biker friends had just arrived when we got there.

Inside was funky, but the food was good. Note the dead deer on the wall — one of many — and all the signed dollar bills lined up over the bar, above the clock.

Further up the road, Kathy decided to stop briefly at an historic Fort, "just long enough to climb to the top of a lookout point out over the river." Eventually, we all got out and walked around the archaic fortification.

I waited a long time at this vantage point, looking down at the bridge and the swilly, algified backwater moat for the others to appear below. I shouted, they turned around, and I clicked the shutter.

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Quaint little fishing villages dotted the bayou under the elevated highway, lending us the barest glimpses of whole other ways of life.

But we were dog tired of traveling and happy to be heading back.

I didn't see the red ball this photograph is named for till much later. I was shooting the partially draped bridge about which Kathy kept reminding us that "Christo must have been here." But we were back in the Big Easy.

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Finally back into civilization as we were beginning to accept it, we drove downtown to find a parking lot close enough to walk down to the French Quarter that James wanted to show us from.

This photo has been called "Hopper-esque," and I like the description. Notice the X through the middle of the sunlit window scene. I later made a print of it and showed it at several galleries, calling it "White On White."

Windows in the totally touristed Quarter were wildly varied and often amazing. Tiny delicate treasure boxes seemed so out of place along the bawdy streets downtown. But, of course, nothing is.

One of the delights of the Quarter was the free street performers and musicians. We saw a lot of little black boys dancing tap and only one band of aging hippies playing jug band rock.

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Figured it out yet?

These are the other side of neon signs, the in side. Ever eager to abstractify reality, I was fascinated by the side of signs that could not be read while we sipped cool liquids at a profusely air-conditioned bar on the street in The Quarter.

I'm standing behind the camera in the big middle of the street, which is mostly closed to traffic. Love the way the downtown buildings fade into white on the far horizon and contrast startlingly with all the color nearer.

A wrought iron sun shining on the French Quarter.

Teethy gator mouths, fine cigars and

A big fish that not only did not get away, but he's probably still there.  Or maybe the chef drinks like a...

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Funky, nearly nasty-looking ancient buildings ironically juxtaposed and butted right up against something brand new and shiny ‚ it's a constant city of contrasts.

Love those contrasting textures, but the stink of the Quarter can be a little much sometimes. Not like Saigon during the war, when each new step brought a new stink. But we stepped lively in N'Orleans sometimes to escape some old ones.

This was shot from our more than an hour long ride on the Trolley — all the way out nearly to the 'burbs and all the way back to the French Quarter.

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Toward evening, the late spring breezes were much kinder than the mid afternoon doldrums. It was always an adventure, but sometimes the adventure wore thin. Stick your head too far out the window to catch the breeze, and you could lose it.

We got on the trolley to kill time, and rest up and see everything one more time.

We were way past hungry and ready to go back down the the Quarter so we could wait in line another forty minutes to get some dinner in us. Always, nearly everywhere, there were inexplicable objects to dazzle and amaze.

After a lovely dinner, we retired early and slept long, although I suspect the boys stayed up later than us old folks.

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SUNDAY 

 

What can I say. I'm queer on bridges. Always have been, since long before cameras came into my life. Looking down from tall bridges — like the big one over The Mighty Muddy still scares me silly, but I love looking down from them nonetheless. I am also fascinated by the repetition of angles and shapes and girders and all that strong, supportive metal gleaming in the sun.

I think of this photograph as a cloudy sky interrupted by a bridge.

This is a windshield shot around the driver's seat, in which sat James driving the last long leg of the trip. Bored, too tired to drive, I edited images on my camera, hoping, hoping for more interesting things to photograph. Almost always I can find something, and I was rewarded.

Some drivers only complain about the filthy windshield. We'd let them slosh the filth around with the wipers. But mostly we didn't even notice all those bugs.

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Coming back into Dallas after being on the road for more than nine hours, I was eager to greet our new High Five once again. I love the random, elegant shapes out the windows as we flew by. Looming over us like giant sculpture in the midst of the making.   

 

Sunday evening traffic along LBJ Freeway.

Finally, in the neighborhoods under 635, I was imbued with the spirit of the falling sun and the amber tinted colors it made.

Just time enough for one last, nearly random, out-the-window shot, before we got Kathy and the kids home. I still had a few miles to go before I slept.

 

All photographs on this page are
Copyright 2003 by JR Compton.
No reproduction in any form,
analog or digital, without specific
written permission from JR Compton
.

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