Spotty internet service and an insane work schedule have kept me from posting anything here. The internet situation may have resolved itself, but work goes on until Wednesday. So until I get a moment's peace, please enjoy another sketch from Mitchell and Webb. They are the funniest thing on TV right now.
After an inauspicious start to the day that included sleeping in past my alarm and muttering some obscenities, it has been a good day here in New Orleans.
Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu and Mayor Ray Nagin spoke today, and I was struck by two things. The first was the overwhelming challenge of trying to rebuild a city that was completely shut down by the storm in 2005. While many people have returned, officials are still trying to persuade people displaced by the hurricane to return home. And they're trying to get businesses to come back, too. And crews are still rebuilding broken infrastructure like roads, power lines, and the sewer system. They're talking about decades until the city is made whole again.
But more striking was the anger conveyed by both Nagin and Landrieu. It has been almost three years since the city was flooded, yet officials still find themselves essentially begging for money from the feds. Both men said they felt like the city had been forgotten and disrespected by America.
I was taken by an expression Landrieu used just before ending his remarks. He said the city appreciated, but did not need any more "drive-by empathy" from Americans. Instead, they want solutions.
So I'm left to wonder if I am here engaging in "drive-by empathy." I've been joking that New Orleans is the ideal liberal guilt destination right now. You can come here and take a vacation, and no matter what excess you engage in, you can chalk it all up to "helping out a city that really needs it." Will our consciences be soothed if we all blow a lot of money in this city? I don't know. Every local I've spoken to has said how happy they are that people are returning to the city and holding conventions and spending money.
Tomorrow I'll have a chance for some drive by empathy of my own. We'll be taking a bus tour of the parts of the city that still haven't been rebuilt. I'll let you know how it goes.
Our plane touched down just before 10 tonight. Getting a taxi was easy enough and there was almost no traffic between the airport and downtown. And as I'm being driven into town, I'm taken back to my last trip to New Orleans in 2005. It was about 5 months before Katrina hit.
As we pass through the outlying communities, I think back to the aftermath of the hurricane. I was working in Texarkana and the city was full of evacuees from New Orleans. I didn't know where Metairie was the last time I came here. But now I can't stop thinking about the man from Metairie who fled to Texarkana and was working out of donated office until he was allowed to return home. Or the girl who lived in the Lower 9th Ward who got separated from her family and had to sleep on top of a freeway overpass and was eventually reunited with her parents in Texarkana. Or the man who stayed in the Superdome and simply said, "I'm alone" when I asked him how he's holding up.
I don't know where these people are now. Don't know if they've returned here. From the nighttime drive from the airport, it's hard to see anything different here. I'm staying in the French Quarter, and the area was spared the flooding that other neighborhoods saw.
But it stands to reason that the city is different. Will I be able to notice? I don't know.
In a few hours I will board a nasty regional jet and head out to New Orleans. I'll be attending a writer's conference there.
I find myself apprehensive as I prepare to leave. This whole endeavor is somewhat foreign to me.
I've never attended a conference in my life, but from what I can surmise, it's a gathering of people who do the same thing. They converge to share war stories, network, and get really, really drunk.
There are all kinds of problems with this scenario. First, I'm not really like the other people at this conference. They will be professional writes. I'm a television journalist.
Second, I'm not much of a networker. The whole act of networking feels sleazy and insincere to me. Every time I try, I feel like the other person is thinking, "this man is trying to use me... and I thought he was interested in me as a person!"
And most importantly: I don't drink. That's not to say I don't go to bars and socialize when my friends do. But there's something of a "brotherhood of drunkards" that I'm just not a member of.
So why am I going? Good question. I'm anxious to escape my comfort zone and experience new things and expand my social and professional network. So off I go. Off I go to New Orleans by myself. Off I go to the Big Easy as a prudish, teetotaling Mormon.
I have been criminally delinquent in my fatherly duties surrounding posting pictures of the little guys here. So no more messing around, no more idle chat, here's some baby action. First up, Will sitting in the backyard on a chilly June afternoon.
And the same running through the backyard...And once again, Will standing in the backyard...How about Nate? Well, he spend some time standing in the backyard, too...And watching TVAnd walking around topless...But despite the fact that I haven't posted any baby photos here in about 3 weeks, that's just about our entire stock of new baby photos. Instead, the guys have caught the video bug. They love having videos of themselves taken. They really like watching them on TV. So here are some of the greatest hits. None are much longer than 30 seconds.
First up is one of a series of 8,000 videos in the "child tries to take camera" series. In this video... well... one of our kids tries to take the camera.
Even more popular is the video of them watching TV and trying to do the hokey pokey. In the post modern tradition, they actually prefer watching themselves watching the hokey pokey than actually doing the hokey pokey.
But none of these creations can possibly compete with "Downward Facing Baby." In this 30 second classic, Will does a yoga pose, then discovers there's a camera pointed at him. He promptly runs towards the camera. That's it. But when Nate and Will watch it, they can't stop laughing. And not just giggling, loud, raucous belly laughing. Then they ask to see it again. And as the 25 seconds pass until Will charges the camera, they titter with excitement until the payoff happens. It never gets old... for them anyway.
So please allow me to present... Downward Facing Baby...
Who knew Bryan Adams had so many fans? And they're a defensive lot, too.
On Friday, as part of my regular weekly feature on the Faroe Islands, I posted a few sentences about Bryan Adams taking a pee on the runway at Vágar Airport. He reportedly stayed a day or two after his concert and took some pictures before leaving.
Some Bryan Adams fans contacted me, doubting the veracity of the story. Some said he couldn't have spent that much time in the Faroes, others demanded proof that Mr. Adams had urinated on the beautiful islands. So I did what any journalist would. I went back and checked with my sources. They couldn't confirm the exact date, but said it was on either June 5th or 6th.
And as for the proof? Well, this photo of the event has been posted on a Faroese website (don't worry, there's a black box over his naughty bits). From this site, I've learned that "pissar" appears to be the Faroese word for "piss." Good to know.
If it's any consolation, I'm told that Mr. Adams was about to board a plane that did not have a bathroom. I'm sure any of us (who are guys) would have done the same.
This presents a conundrum for the Faroese government, because fishing is just about the only industry on the islands. It's also kind of a boring topic to discuss here, so I'll move on.
Bryan Adams pissed on the Faroes! Really! I've got it on good authority that the Canadian crooner played a concert in Torshavn about a week ago and stayed a few extra days to take some pictures. Then, right before he stepped onto a private plane, Mr. Adams dropped trou and had a pee on the grass by the runway. Someone snapped a picture, and linking to it will apparently cause some Faroese photographer to threaten you.
I know about this because of a third piece of Faroese news: the return of Faroe Man! As some of you may know, Mr. Man is my inside source on the islands, but he's been AWOL since December. But after much pestering and a citation in an ABC News story, he's back, and better than ever. Nice to see you again, Faroe Man.
This week's Faroe photos are of the village of Sumba. The top photo was uploaded to a Faroe Islands Facebook group by this guy. I don't know anything about him. But he may live on the Faroes. The lower picture comes from faroeislands.dk. They're a great online resource.
But about Sumba. It's the southernmost village on the Faroes and about 250 people live there. It was one of the more isolated villages on the islands until a tunnel blasted through a mountain connected it to the larger road system. There may have been a village on the site since the 7th century AD. That, my friends, is old.
While in Istanbul, we didn't ever drive a car, and that's a good thing. But we spent a lot of our time inside motor vehicles other people were driving, be they taxis, buses, or Christina's Volvo.
I'm a person who loves a thrill ride. I've traveled all over to ride great roller coasters, and I even bungee jumped once. But Istanbul traffic? That's a bit too much.
I have seen things... things I can't even describe. But here are some of the things I have the language to describe.
I have seen people walking in between lanes on a busy freeway (they were trying to sell things).
I have seen buses literally brush back pedestrians with their side view mirrors.
I have seen a front-loader tractor pass a Volkswagen on a curve while going uphill.
Indeed, it is something of a minor miracle that the entire population doesn't die in car wrecks every day. As a novice, I wasn't prepared even to look at it through a windshield. I would try to carry on a normal conversation with Christina, and it would go a little something like this...
"So Nate and Will are almost talking, but not quite. They do this cute thing where they ON YOUR RIGHT, ON YOUR RIGHT!!! Oh, never mind. So anyway, they'll climb up on the couch and WE'RE IN ONCOMING TRAFFIC!!! THE CARS ARE COMING RIGHT TOWARDS US!!! I DON'T WANT TO DIE!!!! PLEASE DON'T LET ME DIE HERE!!!!"
As it turns out, everything was ok. But I really did need to take blood pressure medication if I wanted to get inside a car.
And just staying off the roads wasn't a guarantee you wouldn't be confronted by cars.
I was honked at while walking down the sidewalk by a driver who decided the sidewalk was his road.
I saw another driver honk at a pedestrian who was crossing the trolley tracks... at the trolley station... but the driver was using the tracks as his own private road.
I was brushed back by a bus and several speeding cars as I walked down a pedestrian path in Istanbul's public park.
But after a while, I did become a slightly more aggressive pedestrian. While once I scurried across the street like a squirrel trying not to get squashed under the tires of a passing bus (or using an native as a human shield), on my last day I crossed the street with confidence and pride. When a bus turned left and got inches away from me and honked, I didn't even flinch. I just looked the driver with a steely cold look that said, "deal with it." That's how cool I was (or stupid, I can't remember which).
Attempts to document the truly insane traffic didn't materialize. When things were really hairy, I was more busy offering up last prayers to any god I could think of. But I was able to shoot a few 30 second videos of us driving around in a more quiet part of town. So this is nutty, but it's a country drive compared to what the rest of the city holds.
Just stumbled upon this clip via greenplastic of Johnny and Thom of Radiohead covering a song from the new Portishead album. It appears to be home video taken in someone's apartment. Note to the lads: If you ever feel the need to play an impromptu concert, know that our living room is always available.
This week I saw a documentary on a family living in Oklahoma. They attended a church that had the following slogan on its sign (recreated here through the help of the Church Sign Generator)... This seemed clever enough, until I realized it was probably a recycled slogan from long ago. You see, Wal Mart never billed themselves as "The Savings Place." I believe that was K-Mart. But K-Marts have all but vanished from the American landscape, so I guess they had to substitute Wal Mart instead. But why not just address K-Mart's financial woes while trying to save some souls?Or perhaps you could just own the whole K-Mart thing...Any good Wal Mart related church sign slogans out there? Do tell.
Family, friends, assembled members of the press… I thank you for gathering here on this warm spring day when you could be doing so many other things. But given the historic events of this past week, I felt I needed to finally let all of you know what my future plans are.
As you know, last Wednesday afternoon, I purchased a $1 ticket for that evening’s Powerball lottery drawing. I chose the numbers 1-5-16-20 and 25. My Powerball number was 13. Some say that’s unlucky, but I have never been driven by focus groups.
The numbers drawn for the 15 million dollar jackpot were 3-9-14-17 and 25. The Powerball was 8. These were the numbers Randall Spaulding of Ashdown, Iowa drew. But you haven’t been paying attention to him over these past few days. Instead, you’ve been obsessed with me, and my reaction to Wednesday’s drawing.
These have not been an easy four days, but after consulting with my attorneys, my family, and the Multi-State Lottery Association, I have decided to respect the results of the Wednesday drawing and I now agree that the 15 million dollars should be paid to Mr. Spaulding.
Many supporters of mine will no doubt find his unfair. After all, I did choose the number 25. Twenty-five is a prime number, and in the drawing it occupies the important spot just after the “and.” Clearly that’s the kind of thing that should be considered when handing out the prize. Yes, the rules state that the person who chooses all the right numbers wins the prize. But I don’t think the people who made up the rules really foresaw this situation.
Furthermore, Mr. Spaulding is old aid frail and says he wants to blow a bunch of the money on a round the world cruise. I've got a few more years left to enjoy he cash and would find much more responsible things to do with the money. I've got a great idea about settng up a college savings account for my kids. But, again, I now realize tha Mr. Spaulding won fair and square and now truly believe he should be awarded the money. (Someone really should check up on him later this year and make sure he pays his taxes on his winnings. I've heard members of his church don't "believe" in taxes... that's just something I heard. It could be wrong... forget you ever heard it.)
So what’s next for me? I’m still looking at my future options, but there’s a good chance that Mr. Spaulding and I will reach an agreement soon, and he will help pay off most if not all of my gambling debts. Considering the harm he caused me by actually winning the lottery, it seems like the least he could do.
Thank you for bearing with me as I made my decision over the past few days. I never expected I’d be in this situation, and there really isn’t a precedent for this kind of thing… no example I could take from people who came before me. Please stay in touch and head on over to my website and make a donation if you can. I’ve got my eye on some of those new Rubik’s Cube scrachers.
A grab bag of information this week from Faroe Man, who still hasn't updated his blog in 6 months, but did convince me to sign up for Facebook using some logic about being able to meet more people from the Faroes through online networking and whatnot. And during a Facebook chat, Mr. Faroe caught me up on several small news stories around the Faroes.
First, he pointed me to an NPR story about Teitur, the Faroese singer who has been on tour in the US. It's a well done story and it's the first chance I'd had to listen to his music. I quite like it.
Next up is a story from the Russian state news agency. They've sent a video news crew over to report on possible Faroese Independence. It's a debate that's been going on for a few hundred years now.
Then my sole English language source of Faroese news got a little dishy. Al Gore came to the Faroe Islands several months ago, and didn't quite impress the locals. Faroe Man says Gore came into town, did his slide show, and left. No interviews with the press, no, shaking hands with the people, no nothing. Then he goes to Iceland and is a little Chatty Kathy with the press.
Contrast this to Bill Clinton's visit last October, where the former president walked the streets of Torshavn and even did a little early Christmas shopping at local businesses.
My facebook chat with Faroe Man also got me one small step closer to my goal of being a professional shill for the Faroes. As it turns out, he's got a distant relative who is the head of the Faroe Islands Tourism Board. I asked if she'd be my friend. No word back yet.
This week's Faroe Photos come from a Facebook group called "The Faroe Islands aren't in Egypt." There are about 150 pictures posted to the group, but they're not all well marked, so I don't have he best information on them. The upper photo is from a Greek man and I believe it's of a park near Torshavn. The second one, well, I don't know anyhing about except that it's really cool.
Hey Democratic Presidential Primaries, thanks for meeting me here. I know that we usually go to a more out of the way place, but I thought this lunch counter was a better way to go. It’s busy, but the food is really good. Do you want a sandwich? No? Just a Pepsi then?
You’ve got a funny look on your face, so I’ll just cut right to the chase: this just isn’t working for me anymore. Last year, when I heard about you, I was so excited. I’d never seen a primary season like you before and I could hardly wait to begin.
I know, I know. We had some fun. Iowa, eh? What a surprise! Obama and Huckabee? Oh man, what a time that was. Yeah, Super Tuesday was pretty fun, too. I’ll admit, I had a great time staying up with you and watching the returns coming in until the wee hours of the morning.
But then, something changed. I don’t quite know when it was, but somehow, you started acting differently. Pretty soon, we couldn’t even eat dinner without the conversation degenerating into, “Michigan this” or “Florida that.” And don’t even get me started on Mississippi. If all the black voters pick the black candidate and all the white voters choose the white candidate, that’s not a sign of change in the south.
And to be honest, the last month or two has been more than a little creepy. You’re all dark and moody. It’s like you’re not having fun anymore. And Puerto Rico? Did we really have to go there? You do know they’re not allowed to vote for president in the general elections?
I’m sorry. That was out of line. I don’t think you’re stupid, I just didn’t think before I spoke.
What? No. I’ve not been voting in any other primaries. Yes, the British bi-elections were interesting, but it’s not like I was voting or anything. I am not in love with them. The Mayor of London is the most powerful directly elected official in England, of course I found the race interesting. But I’m not… no… you’re just going to have to trust me on this one. Look, we’re getting way off track here. Even if I did vote in the British elections.. which I didn’t… this conversation is about us.
Here’s the thing, we just need to end this. I think that it would be better for both of us if we… oh don’t do that. Please… No, I don’t have a tissue, you can use these napkins. Do you want a refill on that Pepsi?
Ok, ok, how’s this. Let’s take some time off. And when we’ve cooled off, we can just be, you know, friends. But I’ll need a few months. Yes, yes, I’ll go to the convention with you. We’d always planned on going.
It's been too long since I've released any Turkey stuff, so lets see if we an remedy that. This is some video we shot in Istanbul. We were walking through a park when the afternoon call to prayer happened and I really wanted to capture the audio... (what I mean is that the video is nothing special, but the audio is cool... I would love to do some field recording in that park some day)
There are mosques everywhere in Istanbul, and when the call to prayer happens, the sound echoes off the buildings and hills for miles around. The audio in the video above was taken right near Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque. You can hear calls to prayer coming from both places in the video.
This struck me as somewhat curious, because Aya Sofya isn't a mosque. It started as a Christian church, but was turned into a mosque at one point. But when the modern state of Turkey was founded, Aya Sofya became a museum. At first I didn't think they did a call to prayer, but once a saw the sound system on their minarets, I realized that they did.
So what to they say during the call to prayer at a place where you don't really pray? Julie and I were on a boat with our friend Christina on the Golden Horn when the evening call to prayer happened. So I tried to explain what they might be saying right then at Aya Sofya. Julie turned on the camera as I started...
For the record, that night on the boat is one of the most beautiful nights I have ever seen in my life. I've got tons of pictures and I'll post them in the near future.