Before i Forget : Simon Jones's blog

September 2008

GeneralTuesday, September 30th, 2008, (6:37 pm)

Another stolen summer is drawing to a close for me. Back in England severe rains are causing floods and in just a few days I’ll be back there splashing around with everyone else. The prospect of going home to that doesn’t excite me, so to see Mississippi’s State sign telling me that “It’s like coming home” isn’t a filling me with excitement. But you know what they say about all good things…

While Hurricane Katrina might have first brought me to this part of America, I didn’t need anyone to twist my arm to make me return. The welcome here is as warm as the Gulf Coast breeze, and little towns like Bay St Louis feel like a place anyone might be happy to make home. This isn’t big city America relentlessly chasing the holy dollar, this is the ‘Deep South.’

Previous visits here have always been fun but this time Susan, my friend and host in this part of America, wanted me to have a more ‘eclectic experience’ of her home state. She put it somewhat differently than that, but when plans involve sampling some Moonshine, eating deep fried shrimp, and visiting a bar where a full set of teeth might well set you apart from the regular patrons, you know things are going to be more Dixie than Disney.

A weekend flea market provided me with a few opportunities to photograph another side of America. Long before eBay this was the kind of place where you could see first hand that one mans junk was another mans treasure. This is perhaps eBay for people who like to walk, fleaBay if you will.

I would imagine that the kind of person who buys a gold painted sculpture of an African American couple might also be pleased to find a second hand copy of ‘Love and Sex’ at the same stall where a lady is also selling old curtains and the kind of jeans that old people pull up over their bellies.

After ‘fleaBay’ another stop on this ‘eclectic’ tour had to be a bar in Kiln, Mississippi, called ‘The Broke Spoke.’ I can’t say I’ve visited many bars where the front door doubles as the guest book with scrawls like, “Two naked bikers were here 08/08,” and “Tammy K heart’s Jascon C. Always ‘n’ forever” and with that introduction I felt sure the bar would live up to it’s colorful reputation.

Inside bras hung from the ceiling and every inch of the place was covered in yet more scrawls, many written in honor of a guy called Brett. I assumed that Brett was perhaps the owner and quite possible the guy behind the bar who served us beer and threw a packet of matches at me (a traditional welcome perhaps), but it turns out that the Brett everyone writes messages to is in actual fact a footballer named Brett Favre who was raised in Kiln and apparently used to frequent the bar.

I’ll confess that, being an Englishman, I had never heard of Brett Favre, but for the sake of the locals and for my own personal safety I faked realisation when the patrons told he who he was. “Oh yes, Brett Favre. Yes of course I’ve heard of Brett Favre. I mean c’mon, who hasn’t heard of Brett Favre right?”

It doesn’t appear that the Broke Spoke have a website I can link to, but there are a few reviews online offering differing views about the place. “I’ve been there and loved it for the re-open and there are good people and bad one just like there is everywhere. So either you like it of you don’t.” Wrote Brandie from Chickamauga, Georgia. She added “My name’s on the wall… and my bra is hangin’ too.”

“I’ve been to the Spoke, but it is not a place for civilized people. If you have all of your teeth, or are planning on keeping them, you will not fit in there.” Wrote one reviewer who sheepishly chose to remain anonymous.

Of course, we had a great time. We drank a few beers, played a few rounds of pool, chatted with the locals, and listened to their attempts at mimicking my English accent. In the end we probably left before things got too wild. My only regret was that I didn’t ask for a pen to sign the guestbook door on my way out, ah well, maybe next time.

And so my stolen summer comes to an end. Tomorrow I’ll be flying east and back into the clutches of the coming English winter. My blood has again been warmed by this American adventure that hasn’t stop here, it’s merely paused until the next time.

Return to Waveland
Here’s to you Mr Voda
Out there
Mr Blue Sky
A town called Waveland
Mission to the town that vanished
Mississippi here I come
A town called Waveland

GeneralSaturday, September 27th, 2008, (3:26 am)

It’s hot, it’s humid, and you’re on a 24 seater boat slowly making your way through the Honey Island swamps of Louisiana. That might sound like much fun, but in actual fact this off the beaten track swamp tour turned out to be a definite highlight of my summer trip to the USA.

As we step out of the air conditioned car in the dusty parking lot of the Cajun Encounters swamp tour, the unforgiving southern sun engulfs both Susan and I. It’s late in the summer, but down here that doesn’t make much difference at two o’clock in the afternoon. It’s hot whichever way you cut it.

We happened upon Cajun Encounters swamp tour as we drove on old highway 90 from New Orleans to Mississippi. It wasn’t something we had planned to do, but the rickety sign by the side of the road advertising ‘swamp tours’ sounded strangely adventurous.

I wasn’t sure what to expect on a swamp tour and after we purchased our ticket it seemed like we might be the only two people on the tour as there was nobody else around. A few minutes later though, a Cajun Encounters bus arrived and out of it poured camera carrying sun ripened tourists from all over the world. The rickety sign and wooden lodge belied the fact that this was clearly a slick operation that picks people up in nearby New Orleans and brings them here several times a day.

Two boats were going to set out for the tour scheduled for 2PM. Of course, out here the clocks run on Cajun time which isn’t as strict about those minutes that swirl around the hours. So 2PM might just come around just a little bit later than it would back home, but I wasn’t complaining, Cajun time works for me.

Our tour guide was a retired New Orleans firefighter by the name of Captain Nolan. A burly Cajun man brimming with knowledge of the swamps learned from doing this job for some eleven years. He introduced himself then ran through a few quick safety tips before setting out onto the river. “This is the bit where I’m going to tell you to hold on to your hats.” He said as he began to accelerate and the noise of the engine increased. “We’ve lost a few hats over the years.” He said, more to himself than anyone else.

Once in the swamps Captain Nolan told us stories that he blended with facts. Of course, the facts might have also been stories, I mean how would I know! But I figured after living in this area and doing this job for as long as he has it would be fair to consider him something of an authority when it comes to swamps. I doubt that if anyone else had told me an alligators favorite snack food are marshmallows I would have believed them, but Captain Nolan showed us all that the ‘gators’ can’t resist them. I’ll be honest, I didn’t see that coming.

As a kid I spent many an hour sat on the banks of my grandparents pond fishing for newts, dragonfly larvae, water boatmen, and diving beetles. As we scanned the swamp for signs of life I was reminded of those childhood days. I remember the thrill of catching the rare Great Crested Newts that hid in the reeds, their bellies red like fire, and their skin course like the surface of a road. That feeling echoed back through the years as we had the chance to hold a baby alligator and have her nip at our fingers. That was great.

The tour lasted something like two hours and was just wonderfully relaxed and unhurried. Captain Nolan’s narration of the whole experience was priceless. I’d go on another swamp tour in a heartbeat, if only to kick back and while away another couple of Cajun hours under the hot Louisiana sun.

Cajun Encounters swamp tours
[Video] Honey Island Swamp
[Video] Broadband TV : Louisiana Swamp Tour
[Video] TV’s Kelly Ripa talks about Captain Nolan and the tour

Photography and TravelFriday, September 26th, 2008, (9:32 pm)

Tourist trap it might be, but New Orleans French Quarter is a worthy addition to any travelers itinerary. You can truly indulge every sense in ‘The Big Easy.’ By day it’s a walking town ideal for unhurried strolls and meandering conversations. By night it morphs into a party machine oiled by drinks like the Hurricane Cocktail, Hand Grenade and Rainstorm.

I have no idea why New Orleans is called ‘The Big Easy,’ but it’s a fitting description as far as I’m concerned. It’s hot, loud, noisy, and bursting with vivid color and vibrant life. For those reasons, and a few others, New Orleans has fast become one of my favorite places to visit in the United States.

After cutting short my scheduled time in Houston Texas due to large swaths of the city being damaged and left without power in the wake of Hurricane Ike, I arrived earlier than planned in ‘The Big Easy.’

Thanks to Californian beach sand my camera expired just as the plane began the final approach to New Orleans Louis Armstrong International Airport. I wasn’t overly worried about being without a camera, after all I’ve been here before and shared pictures from New Orleans in two other posts [1] [2]. However, as anyone who enjoys photography would tell you, the process of taking pictures is in many ways as enjoyable as sharing them. So naturally I was delighted when Susan lent me her little digital Olympus with which all these pictures were taken.

As Susan and I wandered around the colorful streets of the French Quarter I would look up at the various windows and balconies wondering who lived behind those shutters and doors and who might have lived there in the past. Much like the weathered buildings I saw in Croatia, I felt like almost every one of the buildings we walked past would surely have stories to tell and secrets it could reveal. If I were to live in such a place I think I would try to learn as much as I could about those who had lived there before me.

I should perhaps explain that in the picture above, the ghost figure drawn in the small white frame isn’t art in the traditional sense of the word. It’s graffiti scrawled on a disused notice-board on the side of a building. Something about it appealed to me though. It didn’t seem overly out of place in a place called ‘The Big Easy’ and I wondered if its similarity to Edvard Munch’s classic painting ‘The Scream‘ was intentional.

While I wasn’t really thinking about this when I took these photographs, I’ve noticed that I assign a significant value to the pictures I share on my blog. Perhaps that’s because these snapshots become the landmarks of my life in a way that a random print in a soon-to-be dusty photo album could never be. Sometimes it’s the words that bring the pictures to life for me, but I’d like to think that even when they’re speechless these pictures still say something.

No scarf required
The perfect day

Photography and TravelMonday, September 22nd, 2008, (6:26 pm)

On my continued escape from the miserable British summer I travelled from a sunny Oregon to the searing heat of central California and the cool crisp air of the ‘Golden State’s’ central and northern coastline. Come with me on this briefest of pictorial rides through my ‘Colorfornia.’

California is quite something, but of all the places to see here the central valley isn’t usually at the top of many peoples list. I, however, love visiting the central valley. It might be a soulless urban sprawl in the desert, but the stifling heat warms my blood that seems to require such a thawing at about this point in the year. British temperatures don’t approach anything like the same heat, and while the locals are doing everything they can to stay in the coolness of air conditioning, I’m basking like an alligator in the heat – I love it!

So when my friend Kevin suggested we go camping at the central coast for the weekend I pictured a tent, a camp fire, and the prospect of chilly nights in sleeping bags under the stars. I needn’t have worried though because, this being America, ‘camping’ consisted of hauling Kev’s ‘pop-out’ trailer to an RV park that not only had plug-in power and heating, but also wifi internet too!

Over that weekend we visited San Luis Obispo’s ‘I Madonnari Italian Street Painting Festival’ where artists created chalk works on the walkways and roads around Mission. We ate sushi (my favorite), drank beer from Alaska, smoked cigars, and built a driftwood structure on the deserted beach at Montaña De Oro. It was an entirely unhurried weekend, mellow as a smooth bourbon and chilled like the salty sea air – perfect.

Later in the week I headed to northern California, to Santa Rosa and wine country to see Erin and Jon who not so long ago lived in Houston Texas that was right about this time being lashed by hurricane Ike.

We had planned to visit Lake Tahoe, but Jon wasn’t feeling on top form so instead we went to the beach one day and ended up watching seals and sea lions up close. The next day we went to nearby Napa Valley to go wine tasting. Even though Erin and Jon live in Sanoma wine country, we figured that Napa would be a fun and sophisticated day out. As it happens though, it turns out that visiting vineyards to do wine tasting is really just a snooty way of getting shitfaced.

I had planned to take some really beautiful and artsy pictures of California’s wine country. Instead, after encountering the generosity of one vineyards wine tasting assistants, I simply pointed the camera out of the window of the speeding truck (Jon wasn’t drinking) while laughing like the drunkard I most certainly was. We laughed and laughed, it was a fantastic day!

In the end, due to hurricane Ike, I ended up spending more time in California than I had originally planned. This worked out well because it meant I was able to get around and see everyone I wanted to catch up with.

Much of that time is spent in the company of my friends kids who are always a lot of fun and it’s fun being a part of their lives. The night I stayed with my friends Shane and Melissa, their son Eric very kindly gave up his room for me and that night I slept on a high bed among star wars action figures, beneath a poster of super heros and a ceiling dotted with luminescent stars. I felt like I was 10 years old again! At Anthony and Paula’s Ethan bewildered me with his smarts and his little brother Joel announced he didn’t need to go to school as he was now going to work full time on his latest invention, the laser axe.

I would have written more, but I’ll be honest with you, I was just so relaxed in ‘Cali’ that I just couldn’t be bothered! I will be making a future post about a day in the life of a Pastor that I had here, but for now I hope that the pictures portrayed just a little of colorful California as I saw it.

I’ll be back this way before the years out, it’ll be colder then, but I won’t mind.

Don’t call it ‘Cali.’

PoliticalFriday, September 19th, 2008, (6:07 pm)

America has gone mad for McCain’s head cheerleader and VP pick, Pamela Anderson Sarah Palin. Her appearance has injected a new interest into the presidential race, ignited the crazy Christian ‘base’ of the republican party, and utterly derealed any conversations about Presidential issues like say the economy, immigration, foreign policy, the environment, and T.W.A.T (The War Against Terror).

I’ve actually found myself feeling a little bad for John McCain as detractors of the Presidential wannabe keep talking about his imminent death and the fact that someone who thinks the world is just 6000 years old could become the ‘leader of the free world.’ McCain might be an old man who can’t remember how many houses he owns, but surely it’s a little unkind to be counting each passing day as another moment stolen from clutches of death.

I’m not interested in speculating on Senator McCain’s longevity but instead in a question that, to me at least, seems far more interesting and relevant, that question being; How can the mother of five, including a baby with special needs, even consider running for the position of Vice President of the United States? Granted, the VP’s job is pretty much a cheerleaders role, but it’s still a demanding one and a position that sets the tone for that persons future.

Am I being sexist when I ask this question? Is this one of those questions a progressive thinking individual should not dare utter? Is counting down the days until a healthy mans death more acceptable than raising the question of motherhood and a highly demanding job?

I wonder how many other “ordinary hockey Moms” would put their careers before their children, or decide to take a demanding high profile job when they have a baby with special needs? Maybe I’m being old fashioned here, but there’s something about Palin’s willingness to set aside her duties as mother which feels a little off to me in the same way that John Edwards campaign to become president while his wife fought cancer also seemed a little off.

Matt Damon said in a recent interview that the possibility of “an ordinary hockey Mom” becoming President was like “a really bad Disney movie.” Some might call Palin’s story the epitome of the American dream, and in many respects it is and therefore criticizing it feels like a double standard. But if we’re going to concede that being a good mother is a tough job, then is the kind of person who bails out on that duty really the kind of person people should aspire to put in the Whitehouse? I’m note sure.

Working Mother Questions ‘Irrelevant,’ Palin Says
Check their facts at
From the Mom files
Is Palin is utterly unqualified?

Photography and TravelTuesday, September 9th, 2008, (11:59 am)

Portland, Oregon, has to be my favorite city in all of the United States. With it’s abundant parks, funky little boutiques and second hand stores, Saturday market, art scene, First Thursday, the coffee houses, restaurants, award winning public transit system and rich nightlife, Portland is one of those places I just can’t grow tired of.

As the 24th largest city in the United States, Portland isn’t on the map as a metropolis, yet it lacks nothing of the color and character of any of America’s more well known cities. As a city Portland is like one of those cool bands that you want people to hear but you don’t want to see on MTV.

I could write a long post about the fun I had last week in this city, I could tell you about ‘First Thursday’ and the private art galleries that open late into the night, or the great sushi I ate, or the funky shops I wandered around on North West 23rd and 21st, and in the Hawthorne and Belmont district. Instead though I’ll forgo all that and allow my photographs taken last week to paint their own picture of this city as I see it.

Explore Portland
PDX art scene
Saturday market
First Thursday
Brandy Kayzakian-Rowe’s jazz paintings
My little Portland
Homeless Angels
Long hours little pay

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