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Shellhenge October 24, 2014

Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, Fortin Street, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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A new sign of fall: the sun has crawled from behind One Shell Square’s fifty stories and shines into my eyes when rising as if it were the Stonehenge of Poydras Street. I had not considered before exactly how the shadows fall. I had simply started taking off my sunglasses as I trudged from my lot beneath the Claiborne overpass toward my temporary new job in a low-rise (eight story), mid-century modern building on Perdido Street. Virtually nothing in this city runs precisely east and west, or north and south. Canal Street runs toward the lake and fairly true on a north-westerly course, but the streets on each side are called north on one side and south on the other. My personal bit of Poydras does tend a compass point to the east of Canal, so it is not surprising that I should discover this little astronomical signal of the change of seasons.

Here the air is everything. The cool has come, the humidity has gone down, and the sun can otherwise do as it pleases. It is not an overwhelming fact of life as it is in August, merciless until interrupted by an afternoon thunderstorm, only to return and steam the streets dry. It is not the sun I rarely saw in North Dakota in winter, arriving and departing work in twilight, or the happy orb that looked of four o’clock on June nights when I was trying to put children to bed at eight. The air governs here, the sun simply playing its part to warm the air and the oceans where the big storms are born. In other places I have lived people will take in a deep breath of brisk fall air but are quickly distracted by the turning of trees, and all too soon by signs of frost. Only a few shrubs (one I planted once but cannot name, that grows along a building on Poydras) and the cypress trees turn color. I will have to check a particular stand with their grey bears that hide off Marconi between the stadium and the attractions up towards City Park Avenue. But the air—the cracking open of windows painted to reluctance, leaving open the door to the sounds of nightlife on my street as I sit in front—the air, the cool air is everything.

Falling November 27, 2012

Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, cryptical envelopment, Memory, New Orelans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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It was not the burr oak across the street, the only tree I know of that reliably turns gold and red come November. It was not the ridiculously sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner, or sitting with my oldest friend the next evening on a screened porch feeling the shift in the wind that brought the first real cold snap. It was the sight of them, squirrelly in the first cool afternoon, each knot of Catholic plaid or khakis energetic as particles of a textbook atom but drifting home as slow as dust motes. Those are the days cemented in memory as the first of Fall, the irresistible urge to be outside in the cool air, an hour to cover the dozen blocks home, goofing and never breaking a sweat, the blanket of summer lifted and the holidays ahead not quite a conscious thought but somehow simply present like the warming patches of afternoon sun between the trees.

There’ll be frost on the merlitons tonight October 19, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Cold front is a relative term down here in the northernmost outpost of the Caribbean, mostly a matter of lashing down my bachelor-sized, old-fashioned plastic garbage can, the smallest I could find, as I do not have one of the heavy wheeled carts the city distributed a few years back. The wind blows fierce, a rain squall or two waters the dahlias, and you think perhaps a long sleeved shirt after dark.

Last night was the first truly cool night of the Fall, a real screecher with the wind singing in the wires and various plastic things dancing down the street. It is great sport to sit on my stoop (my resin chair laying beneath my bungee-secured garbage can), sipping some of the day’s leftover coffee and watch the neighbors chasing things down the street.

I favor hats and it’s a good thing I took up wearing a wool Basque beret some years ago, starting with the one I inherited from my father, as many of my other hats have unfortunate aerodynamic qualities in a forty-knot gust. If you have ever pursued a straw fedora that has got itself onto a wind-blown brim roll you know exactly what I mean. A beret is the perfect thing to keep a mostly rocky-top head warm when the temperature dips into the fifties.

It’s too soon to think about claiming the turkey smoker from the house on Toulouse, sas no one else in the family cares for them that way so I might as well take it, but it is time to begin to cull t-shirts from the shelf in the closet leaving a smaller Fall selection, and haul out the plastic bag the comforter came in that stores my small store of winter clothes.

It is time to try to find a butcher with a real chilli plate, as those I knew 20 years ago are long gone. My sister the foodie has well supplied me with chillies and found me a single-pound bag of masa (which since our influx of Hispanic neighbors now seems mostly to come in five pound sacks), and think of making up a big iron skillet batch of real Texas chilli–meat, massa and spices,–fixins as you please on the side. I have to remember the actual brand name of the beans I favor to add as you like, the brand that used to say “Man Pleasin” on the can but that slogan has gone the way of Aunt Jemima’s extended family).

I was once inured to the cold when I was well into my decade at the other end of the Mississippi, thinking nothing of quickly hauling the garbage can out while barefoot on nights when the concrete burned my feet like a bed of coals, but lately I’ve reconditioned myself to this climate, complained the least of anyone I know about our just past scorcher of a summer. I have finally remembered to walk slow in the shade, with every appearance of a man out for leisurely coffee and the paper and not five minutes lake for work, not to frog march myself across the parking lot in a race to the air conditioning the way most modern southerners do.

Still, I welcome the sound of the geese that a month and ten years ago filled the sky from horizon to horizon over my son’s pee-wee football Saturday in Minnesota as if they were the entire U.S. Army Air Corp off to bomb the beaches of Normandy. I wipe the drenching dew off the backyard chair and linger with a cigarette and coffee even as my toes curl up in my flip flops (note to self: get new slippers). Our seasons in New Orleans tend more to the ecclesiastical and the festival. Only a few misplaced maples and the cypress show any color, and the old North Dakota saying that sticks in my head–“there’ll be frost on the pumpkins tonight”–seems Odd when the truck gardener parked on Orleans still has a bed full of watermelons.

We will have days of watermelons yet before that the damned damp of sauna August days turns to the bitter chill of winter near the coast, the watery onslaught only a good wool pea coat can keep out, but for now its a pleasant relief, a reminder that the last festivals are behind us and the traditional Yankee holidays are coming up. They are already trialing new Christmas lights in City Park and just the other night I saw two men wrestling a pair of faux firs flocked pink as flamingos from a truck to the year-round, tourist Christmas store on Decatur. It is time to start to think of oyster dressing and mirliton stuffing, to dress the bed with at least a thin blanket against the inevitable chinks in houses built for heat not cold, to check and see if there is nutmeg and allspice in the cabinet before the holiday bakers clear the shelves, or how else am I to make hot buttered rum?

A Murder on Fortin Street. October 3, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
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Somehow the return of the murder of crows to the tree in the next block behind my house lacks the Tin Pan Alley charm of the swallows of Capistrano. It is still a marker of the seasons; the crows come home to the Fairgrounds with the horses, flock to the track as the rake works the course, anxious for the coming time of scattered hot dogs along the grandstand rail. I have expected them since the short-course starting gate was hauled back from its summer home in the back parking lot along Gentilly Boulevard to just past the end of Mystery Street, the brightly colored slot numbers substituting for the change of leaves in this evergreen city. Fall is surely just around the corner.

Anglo culture have painted crows blackest black in their imaginations, carrion eaters of the battlefield from the most ancient of lays to the mythic hero. Then there were Odin’s servants Huginn and Muninn. The Christian assimilists of the Middle Ages could not have the servants of an unsavory character like Odin All Father given any stature. Not all cultures see Crow this way, and somewhere along the way I cam to understand the place of Raven and Crow in Native American culture, as tricksters, storytellers and message carriers between the world, and to me they entered into the mythological space of intermediaries reserved by most for the angels.

To hear them back reminds me to take my morning cigarette on the front stoop and not in back, to once again watch the thoroughbreds exercising in the morning across the street, to compare the breast-stroke flight of the crows with the loping of the horses, warming myself with coffee against the slight chill of October; to see in the animal kingdom, both the wild and the tame, the cycling of the year into a new season in a place where the only native tree to change its colors is the cypress. I lived for a time where the pumpkin and jam stands nestled beneath the turning trees but here the signs are more subtle. We are halfway between Equinox and Thanksgiving, waiting for the overture in that play of mortality against the fecundity of Autumn harvest observed long ago by picnics among the tombs.

In Spring we embrace the return of life. In Fall we slowly let it go, give up another of our years and live in the moment, in the feast my pagan friends have just celebrated at Mahbon and which my civil, Christian neighbors will wait until the end of November to observe. Have another glass of ale or wine and another helping of food before it’s gone. Be present in the moment among friends. Recount the old family stories. Ask not for whom the crows call. You will know that only when your chair sits empty on October mornings. For now welcome them back with a cigarette raised and cupped in prayerful hands like a censor as they fly past, and listen in their calls for hints of the stories they could tell you of their summer place.

Blessed Relief September 28, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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It is Odd that all the trees are so green, that some are now flowering just when the heat of summer breaks, when we throw open the doors of our converted shotgun and let the cool of autumn blow over us. I have lived where there is a true Fall, where a first freeze browns the garden suddenly and routs the mosquito’s, and the trees respond in kind, turning a crisp red and gold, rustling dryly in the wind like the leaves of a cheerleader’s pom-pom.

We do not live here on Toulouse Street for the weather any more than we lived in Fargo, North Dakota for the fine winters. When my wife and I first discussed leaving the East Coast and I argued for New Orleans, I pointed out that summers in New Orleans were just like those in Washington, D.C.: there was just more of it. That did not turn out to be a winning argument. Here on the Gulf Coast we swelter from March until October, air so thick you don’t breath so much as bathe in it, so fraught with water you’re not sure if you are dripping with sweat or the salty water of the Gulf of Mexico. For relief we have hurricanes, an excuse to flee north and inland to a place where nights in August can be, at least to us, refreshingly cool.

I have to admit that after 20 years split between the middle East Coast and the Midwest I do miss a real Fall with all the trimmings .While only the cypress trees promise a taste of the Fall color my wife misses desperately, there are other signs about us. Here at the back of town end of Toulouse we once again hear the bands and the crowds from the high school games at Tad Gormley Stadium. The serious neighborhood gardeners are as busy as the fairy tale ants, getting their planting beds ready for a change of seasons. The vegetable man in his brightly painted pickup truck changes his list if not his basic sing-song patter. He still announces “I got tomatoes, ripe red tomatoes” but lately I hear he “got potatoes, fresh red potatoes.” I’m often stuck on the phone when he passes on the days I work at home, but the first time I hear “I got squash and pumpkins” I may have to plead technical difficulties and flag him down.

One thing I think I will miss this year is the mysterious appearance of candy corn and (better yet) the little candied pumpkins and all their like. I understand that “we” are going on a diet, so I suspect that the magical appearance of a dish of fall candy that no one will admit to filling would not be met with exactly the same seasonal joy. I will have to wait for Halloween before I can get my metabolism into training for the holidays.

Fall on Toulouse Street is superficially not terribly different from other places I have lived with the stark exception of the turning of the leaves. The same sort of chores call inside and out, and must be scheduled around Notre Dame and the Saints. My wife starts to dig through the closets (too soon, I tell her, much too soon) looking for summer things to put away. She is possessed of a gene prominent among Midwesterners but recessive to the point of the vestigial down here, the one that calls them to fill the cellar with apples and the shed with firewood.

Here on Toulouse Street we do not take the sudden coolness as a call to arms, to the frantic preparations for the long and hard siege of winter. My spigots will not freeze if the hoses are left on. There is no seasonal retirement for the lawn mower or snowblower to get ready. I do not need to beat the first snow that will leave a yard full of leaves sodden with no prospect of enough warm sun to dry them out again. I have no apple tree from which to pick a dozen or more bushels and then figure out what the hell to do with a bathtub full of cooking apples.

That first cool morning is for us not an alarm but something more like the breaking of a fever, a sudden relief from the languid suffering we have just come through. It is not the signal for a frenzy of activity but rather a moment to move out of the sweat spot in the sheets and shuffle off to a comfortable chair, to slowly let go of the delirium of southern summer, to take it easy a few more days until we get our legs back under us.

Blessed Relief indeed.