Saturday, June 30, 2007

Could hell be much worse?

If you drive east-northeast from San Diego, past the mountains and well into the desert, you'll run into the Salton Sea.

The area was a below-sea-level basin until the turn of the 20th century when flooding on the Colorado River forced irrigation canals to overflow and fill the sink with water. For a while, the area was home to several blossoming resorts and a favorite stop for fishermen and migratory birds. But by the 1960s, increasing pollution and salt levels were turning the lake into an environmental disaster.
It's a troubling place today. When we arrived at the lake's west bank in the town of Salton City, the thermometer was hovering around 113. Near the edge of the water, the salty rotten stench was nearly unbearable, and the steamy-thick air only worsened the effect.

Wonder what I'm photographing in the pic above?
Dead fish. Their bodies and bones were everywhere along the water's edge in various stages of decay.
Rex had trouble navigating in flip-flops through a pile of barnacle shells.
We saw few signs of life except for a few noisy birds and some tiny fish. Apparently, the salt levels in the lake are higher than those in the ocean. The indestructible tilapia seems to be the only creature that still thrives in the waters.
We watched the sun set from our motel in Indio, a city just north of the lake and on the extreme southern tip of the Palm Springs urban sprawl that fills much of the Coachella Valley.

Lawdy lawdy

As the Summer of Love was building to a climax on the other side of the country forty years ago, my twin sister Kristina and I took our first breaths.

We were born to a pair of counter-cultural lesbians . . . well, not really. The women in the picture are my cousin and aunt. Like every good Cajun family, mine produced a convent's worth of nuns in the last century. Fortunately, my parents were able to snatch us away before there was any permanent damage.

I'm the one with the open mouth, by the way. Here's we are in 2006 just before I left New Orleans to become a Californian. It's hard to believe we're twins. I take after my dad's Portuguese side of the family. Kristina takes after my mom's German side. We've got Cajun mixed in on both sides.

She's the accountant, I'm the journalist. She's the homebody, I'm the explorer. She's the suburbanite, I'm the city dweller. She's got kids, I've got a passport. She's a born-again Baptist, I'm gay.

Still, there's an undeniable bond between us. But it's not some sort of freaky psychic thing like you read about in tabloid papers -- I don't feel a pain in my foot when she stubs her toe.
I celebrated my four decades on the planet Friday night by losing $30 playing poker with some co-workers.

We had champagne and an amazing chocolate-overdose cake nearly identical to the one we had at the office a few hours earlier.

Both cakes came from Extraordinary Desserts, the San Diego shop where this happened in December.

Despite my lamentable poker losses, most of which went into the pocket of my co-workers' 13-year-old daughter, the night wasn't a total bust.

Jen gave me this sweet rookie player card for New Orleans Saints superstar Reggie Bush. With any luck, I'll be able to sell it in 25 years and fund my retirement.

Rex and I are spending the weekend exploring the Salton Sea, a freaky pool of toxic death in the desert east of San Diego. I'll report here on our findings.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

And a child shall lead them . . .

A fresh New York Times/CBS News/MTV poll of young Americans reveals some interesting clashes with the views of their elders.

Most 17 to 19 year olds (62 percent) support a universal, government-sponsored health insurance program; 44 percent say gay couples should be allowed to marry; 30 percent want the country to be welcoming to immigrants; and a whopping 70 percent think the country is headed in the wrong direction.

They also believe by wide margins that the country is ready for a black or female president. But those numbers reverse if the candidate is a Mormon crack-smoking queer.

Not everything succumbs to the generation gap. The young and older are largely in agreement on a couple of key issues: abortion (most believe it should be available or somewhat limited) and global warming (a majority think it should be a high policy priority).

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sunday mission

We headed to the facsimile of Mission San Diego de Alcala, a recreation of the first Catholic mission church built in California that rose from the ruins of the original structure in the 20th century.
The church is located in the middle of what has become the sprawl of modern San Diego, near the city's namesake river and a former Indian site in an area known as Mission Gorge.

The mission was originally established in 1769 on a raised point overlooking San Diego Bay, but it was relocated five years later six miles to the east to the present location.

Given the track record that the church and Spain had in their treatment of indigenous people in the lower Americas, we can just imagine what the relationship was like in San Diego.

The mission's official Web site describes the interaction in fairly idyllic terms and is dumbfounded as to why 800 Indians stormed the mission a year after it was moved, and massacred its head priest and several others and tried to burn the place down.

Here's how the Web site recounts things: "Father Jayme had great rapport with the American Indians but two of the mission Indians became discontented with the rules and regulations necessary for an orderly unit and they incited hundreds of Indians in remote villages to riot."

Considering the way clergy members were still treating Catholic school students well into the last century, we can only imagine the torture the Indians suffered at the hands of their clerical conquerors.

The site goes on to brag about the 1,405 "conversions" that were achieved the following year. No doubt there was hell to pay for the revolt. Not surprisingly, there's no mention of how many Indians met their end at the hands of the invaders before or after the uprising.
Well, what do you expect. This is an institution that can't tell the truth about things that happened 10 years ago. Can we really expect it to be honest about atrocities from two and a half centuries ago?
This last picture shows some of what's left of the mission's original structures, which now sit in the large courtyard of the complex.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The only thing better than peanut butter

I discovered chocolate hazelnut spread back in the late 1990s when this Middle Eastern/European delicacy was still mostly unknown here in the states.

Over the years I've become a bit snobbish about the stuff - I like my spread VERY chocolaty and not too sweet. Nutella just doesn't cut it.

But my world came crashing down a year ago when I discovered that my favorite chocolate hazelnut paste contained one of the most deadly substances known to man -- partially hydrogenated oil. It was instantly banned it from my diet.

So you can just imagine my joy when I recently came across Çokokrem, a delicious partially-hydrogenated-oil-free chocolate hazelnut spread made by Turkish food manufacturer Ülker.

I found Çokokrem at North Park Produce, a great Middle Eastern grocery at the corner of El Cajon Boulevard and Wilson Street not far from my apartment.

NPP is great. It has all of my favorite Middle Eastern products, like Feta cheese and Jordanian green za'atar. The store also carries a few things you won't find in my kitchen, like goat's head and lamb nuts.

Hmmmm. Maybe lamb nuts would be good in sauce piquante.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Generation V: Major Tom lives on

German singer Peter Schilling released Major Tom, the English version of the original Völlig Losgelöst, in 1983. The song continued the story of an astronaut character who was created by David Bowie in the 1969 hit Space Oddity and revived in his 1980 song Ashes to Ashes.

Here's the video trilogy in order, starting with Bowie's Space Oddity:

Ashes to Ashes, maybe my favorite Bowie song:

And Schilling's Major Tom:

And as a bonus, here's a rare live clip of Völlig Losgelöst:

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Madison, Indiana

At the urging of my co-worker Jen who once lived in Indianapolis, we visited Madison, an amazingly well-preserved town of about 12,000 people along the Ohio River. (We took this pic of Madison on the Kentucky side of the waterway.)
Madison thrived in the early 1800s because of lucrative commerce along the river and a major railway line.
The boom produced a surprisingly large variety of notable architecture in the Federalist and Greek revival styles that now make up one of the largest national historic landmark districts in the country.
Main Street is lined with boutique shops, art galleries, antiques stores, cafes and restaurants.

Rex found a fairly well-stocked cigar shop but most other businesses were closed late Sunday afternoon.

The town's old high school, in the middle, is being converted into apartments.
Two of Madison's most important buildings, the Elk's Lodge (left) and the old City Hall, were badly damaged in a fire less than a year ago.

It ain't Dixie but it's pretty damn close

We're in southeastern Indiana - Switzerland County to be exact - for a long weekend to attend Rex's sister's wedding celebration (she got hitched in Hawaii a month ago but didn't want the rest of us there).

We're staying at a barn/house that sits on 40 acres in the middle of nowhere about 10 miles from the Ohio River, which divides Indiana and Kentucky.

We're surrounded by critters of all kinds including ducks, dogs, turtles, raccoons, deer, wild turkeys, Amish and gobs of fire flies (or lightning bugs if you're from these parts).

It's my first visit to this part of the country, and I have to admit that I'm finding it surprisingly bu-tee-ful.

The bucolic landscape is almost storybook.

Here I am apparently trying to stay awake during the wedding reception at a hotel along the river in the nearby town of Vevay (disturbingly pronounced Vee-vee by the locals).
They seem to put all of the dirty polluting industrial facilities on the Kentucky side of the river.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Robin Malta, 1964-2007

My friend Robin Malta from New Orleans has become the latest murder victim in the city. Robin was a much-loved figure in the French Quarter-Marigny-Bywater neighborhoods, a successful businessman and a gentle, sweet soul.

His sister found his badly beaten body in his locked house in the Bywater Monday night after he failed to show up for work. Police found his car hours later, abandoned and on fire near the Superdome.

Here's the latest on Robin's murder from The Times-Picyaune:
New Orleans police detectives questioned a 36-year-old man late Tuesday in the slaying of a French Quarter hair salon owner.

I should be really angry about this - furious about another terrible, senseless loss in a city that has endured this kind of tragedy over and over and over again for more than a decade now. But all I feel is sadness. Sadness for Robin's family, for all of us who knew and loved him, and for New Orleans.

Here's a photo of Robin and his sister, who was his business partner in Salon D'Malta located on Decatur Street in the French Quarter.

I met Robin in the early 1990s when he was a bartender and manager of Cafe Lafitte's in Exile. He soon become my regular hair cutter at Bourbon Cuts, which was two doors from Lafitte's on Bourbon Street. I had a habit of booking the first appointment on Saturday mornings, and I usually had to wait 15 or 20 minutes for Robin to show up and open the shop. He always looked like he had just come straight from the bars, but that never stopped him from being chatty and giving me a great haircut.

Robin was Grand Marshal XXVI of the Southern Decadence festival in 1998. It was my favorite Southern Decadence and the first time that a personal friend of mine reigned over the parade. Robin chose a TV reruns theme and dressed as Barbara Eden from "I Dream of Jeannie." Here is a profile of Robin written after he was named grand marshal.

My favorite memory from that day was when the parade turned onto Decatur Street and ran into a column of National Guard vehicles loaded with weekend soldiers. I remember a beaming Robin in Jeannie garb swinging from the side-view mirror of a camo-green military truck as the soldiers inside laughed their asses off. It was Robin at his finest.

Rest in peace my friend.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Just short of a sweep

Continuing in a tradition that includes 11 women's national championships and 3 men's national championships since 1989, both LSU teams finished as the runner up in the 2007 NCAA outdoor national championships in Sacramento this weekend.

Congrats to all the team members and coaches!

Friday, June 08, 2007

More pre-season polls

The consensus continues to build that LSU has legitimate national championship aspirations this year.

These publications and prognosticators are the latest ones to give the Tigers a No. 2 pre-season ranking:

- The Sporting News

- Lindy's

- Phil Steele

- Surefire Scouting

Other recent rankings:

No. 3 - Athlon Sports

No. 4 - Vegas Insider

Also, The Sporting News listed the best games of the 2007 season and LSU has three in the top 15, including No. 1 LSU vs. Virginia Tech (Sept. 8) and No. 3 LSU vs. Florida (Oct. 6).

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Rex's Little Weekend Adventure: No. 60

Rex has made it his job to find something new for me to do or see here every weekend. And after more than a year, he keeps pulling it off.
We discovered this fantastic 95-year-old pedestrian suspension bridge on Sunday located here in the Bankers Hill neighborhood. And, yes, it jiggles and sways as you walk across.
The bridge is held in place by steel cables that are anchored on both sides of the canyon.

Click on any pic to make it bigger.

I wouldn't want to be on this thing during an earthquake.

The bridge spans 375 feet across one of the many small canyons that define much of San Diego's landscape.

Several Web sites say the bridge was built to link isolated neighborhoods on one side of the canyon to street car lines running on the other side.

Another thing I don't really need

I held out as long as I could, but I'm afraid satellite radio might be unavoidable in the very near future.

Monday, June 04, 2007

My funny Rep. William Jefferson story

Honesty isn't the only quality that freshly indicted Bill Jefferson is missing. He's a big klutz, too, and I can prove it.

It was 1995 and I was working as a reporter for CityBusiness, the weekly business journal in New Orleans.

Jefferson was well into his career as a congressman and considering a run for governor. As part of the process of testing the water, Jefferson came to the CityBusiness office to talk about his positions on issues important to the chamber crowd. I got to do the interview.

We met in the conference room, a glass-enclosed space on the back side of the lobby. We talked for about 30 minutes. He seemed nervous answering some of my questions, a fish out of water.

As the interview ended, we stood and shook hands, then Jefferson turned to exit the glass room. One of his handlers tried to guide him toward the glass panel that served as the door, but for some inexplicable reason Jefferson angled to the left and slammed full body into a crystal-clear wall.

I remember reacting first to the incredible noise that seemed to reverberate through the office. His staff seemed as stunned and uncertain about what to do next as I was. My biggest worry was that I would start laughing. Thankfully, I didn't

Jefferson was dazed. He put one hand to his head, turned around and glared at all of us as though his misstep was somehow our fault.

His handlers grabbed his arms and quickly escorted him out of the office.

He didn't run for governor that year. Maybe he saw the battle with the CityBusiness glass wall as a telling omen.