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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Leg Two: Kentuck

Kentuck is an annual event that I adore to the Nth degree. My first experience with the festival was when I was in grad school at the University of Alabama. Since meeting my friend, Sandra, here in Chicago and discovering that (a) she grew up in Tuscaloosa/Northport, and (b) that we were in school in the same program nine years apart and therefore know many of the same people, it seemed fate that I should schedule this annual return to Alabama. In another twist, her dearest friend from high school, S.A., who has since become one of my closest friends, is now the Executive Director of Kentuck. Life...a funny thing.

The beauty of Kentuck is that it allows people to meet the artists and collect art at fairly reasonable prices. (Reasonable is relative; there are things there for a few dollars and things that range into the many thousands. The nice thing is that you are purchasing directly from the artist without the filter of a gallery or agent.)
I adore having "real" art in my life. An actual painting is so much more thrilling to me than a print. And, while the art I select may not be the art you or someone else would choose (including the dear husband who tolerates some things he does not like in the least), it means something special to me. (Well, there are those questionable purchases, and I make at least one every year. The good thing is that I still love all of the "larger" acquisitions I have made.)

The festival is held outside in a local park, and the weather is generally warm and gorgeous. (S.A. lives in fear of the years when it is not, and there have been a few. A festival or two ago, it rained hard overnight, and they had backhoes in the park distributing mulch and digging trenches to direct the water flow. That wasn't so much fun, especially for her.) This year the weather was perfect.
There has been a consistent group of artists who are there every year, but this year, at the time when artists were being selected (it is a juried show), gas prices were at their highest. This was unfortunate for some artists who chose not to make the trip, but it resulted in a lot of new faces who hadn't been there before. It added a fresh dimension to the festival, and it was incredibly exciting for me. There were also many reliable favorites and it was great to talk with some of them again, and it was thrilling to see how some of them have evolved their work.

Several of the artists displayed their political views, primarily pro-Obama. Peter Loose had a big bag of "Obama Yes" buttons that he handed out. Some artists were equal-opportunity. Yee-Haw skewered both sides with their "wrestling-ticket" posters that were quite clever and Mike Hanning (scroll to bottom of link for a pic of Mike) had both McCain and Obama depicted on clay face jugs.

Each year I select an artist from whom I will make my first purchase the following year. Last year I didn't actually make a pick which turned out to be fine since there were so many surprises. Next year, I aspire to get a large face jug from Tim Flinn, whose work is incredibly unique and has great detail.

A Velvet Ant on the Kentuck grounds

Another wonderful aspect of this annual adventure is spending quality time with Sandra and S.A., though S.A. has very little free time and is generally exhausted. Another friend, Buggie, came with us for the second year in a row, and she is so much fun, so energetic, and adds an incredible amount of laughter to the adventure. This annual trip is one of my favorite things in the world and I hope I will continue to go for years and years to come.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

'Cause in Chicago, It's Vote Early, Vote Often

Voters in my household: two.
Votes for Obama: two.
The hopeful feeling that we may elect this man President next Tuesday: priceless.

Leg One: New Orleans

We flew into MSY on Sunday morning, October 12. After a quick lunch at Mother's, dessert at Cafe du Monde, and a brief walk, the husband was off to work and I was left to my own devices in New Orleans. I spent a lot of time on my feet. I traversed much of the French Quarter, although I only walked down one block of Bourbon 'cause I'm 42 and over it. As I always do, I visited the amazing collection of Newcomb Pottery at The Historic New Orleans Collection on Royal. (I harbor a dim hope that someday I will find a piece of Newcomb at a yard sale and it will come home to live with me. Fat chance of that, but I can dream.) I slipped into the Marigny. I took the streetcar way uptown and walked down a long strip of Magazine (I had the blisters to prove it), and back through the Garden District. (Some Creole Cream Cheese gelato helped to ease the pain.) I procured some pre-1955 Czech Mardi Gras beads and doubloons. (Prior to 1955, glass throws were made in Czechoslovakia. They were stockpiled and used after then, but they were no longer being imported.) I enjoyed some of my walks with portable Bloody Marys in hand. (I love sipping a fine adult beverage out-of-doors, don't you?)

We have stayed in many different places on our many trips, and this time I got a great deal at Le Pavillon. It is a gorgeous, fairly formal hotel that is about four blocks from the Quarter. It has excellent access to the St. Charles streetcar, and free WiFi. I usually don't do room service, but I exhausted myself walking the first day, so I ordered a cheeseburger and a Sazerac and tucked in for some quality time with MSNBC. I am not kidding when I say that it was the most magnificent, juicy, delicious burger I have ever eaten. (I think the bun was spread with a stick of butter before toasting.) The staff at the hotel was very friendly and responsive and I would recommend it highly.

We had dinners at Luke, a John Besh restaurant that was merely okay but not fantastic despite the hype, and Cochon, which rated a return visit after my trip down in March. If you go to Cochon, keep in mind that everything on the main menu is quite delish (they even have a Moonshine menu--try the Catdaddy), but dessert is just average. Either save the calories or go somewhere else for dessert...another order of beignets at Cafe du Monde, perhaps? Upperline never, ever disappoints, and JoAnne, the owner, was there and so excited because they had just installed new paintings on the facade that very day.
The ones there previously had been ripped away by Katrina and JoAnne had spent the past three years deciding what to do about replacing them. They are very different than their predecessors, but they compliment the restaurant well. I cannot recommend Upperline highly enough; it has become a must-go on each visit to NOLA. I adore the eclectic collection of art, the attentive service, and I always have the same thing: Fried Green Tomatoes with Shrimp Remoulade, the Roast Duck with Ginger-Peach Sauce and Sweet Potatoes, and Bread Pudding. To. Die. For.
The husband had Wednesday off, so we did the museums at The Presbytere and The Cabildo as well as the Museum of Art in City Park. We quite enjoyed (though probably not for the reasons intended) the tribute to Louisiana collector H. Speed Lamkin. The piece de resistance....a portrait of Speed and his sister that he ripped in half because he thought the artist should have included framing in the price. The painting was eventually hung over the fireplace in the family manse without even the slightest attempt to conceal the gap; in fact, there was a 1/2" tear separating the siblings. It was one of the greatest monuments to The Hissy Fit ever. I just find it hysterical that someone in the house hiked up their big girl panties and hung that thing on the wall as is.

I didn't get to the Garden District yarn shop on this visit. They, like many businesses, have shortened hours since Katrina and are only open the second half of the week. I did stop at Quarter Stitch and had a lovely chat with the owner. (My Obama-wear invited many excellent conversations on this trip.) It turns out that they have a knit night around the corner at a gelateria on Sunday nights, but I didn't find out about it until it was too late. They have no Internet presence (not even on Ravelry), so info about this little shop can be hard to come by.

The husband flew home Thursday morning and I wasn't leaving for Birmingham until Thursday night, so I went to the Ogden Museum, had another artery-clogging lunch at Mother's, and went to see a documentary about Katrina called Trouble the Water. It was there as part of the New Orleans Film Festival and I recommend it highly. I had been obsessed with the events and coverage of Katrina. I watched CNN compulsively, and I have continued to follow the progress (or lack thereof) in the years since. This documentary shows a perspective of the disaster that I had never seen before. It follows one couple from the Lower Ninth who started video taping before the first drop of rain fell. They continued to tape as the water rose and they were forced to take refuge in the attic and, later, as they were helped out of the flooded house by a relative who used a punching bag as a flotation device. It documents their attempts to restart their lives in another state, and their eventual return home. It was incredibly powerful to watch this film just yards from the Convention Center where so many people suffered for so many days. It is an interesting and worthwhile piece of historical documentation.

The cabdriver who took me to the airport, Betty, is a 64-year-old raising two of her grandchildren in the Lower Ninth. She told me tales about neighbors who took their compensation from Katrina and who have spent it recklessly and those who have used the funds to pay off mortgages and get their lives back on track. I knew an awful lot about Betty, her family, and her neighbors by the time we got to MSY. What a character. It was a fascinating end to a marvelous trip to a place I enjoy so much.
Next stop: Northport, AL

Monday, October 27, 2008

Time Flies (and so do I)

I have just returned from a two-week trip of such incredible fabulousness that I can't believe it was me who was on it, and it is going to take several blog posts to share everything.

Firstly, I tagged along with the husband to New Orleans. He had a conference, and I took the opportunity to enjoy five days in a city that I love. From there, I flew to Birmingham, AL, and met my friend Sandra for our annual trip to the Kentuck Festival in Northport, just outside of Tuscaloosa. Our dear friend, S.A., is the Executive Director of this amazing event and it never disappoints. From there, it was off to Seattle on my way to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island for a four-day retreat with Cat Bordhi. Really, it shouldn't be legal to pack this much fun into a two-week period. And, because of Southwest's customer friendly change policy, I was able to add the New Orleans and Seattle trips on to the original Birmingham trip with incredible ease and no change fees. My flight plan of Chicago-New Orleans, New Orleans-Birmingham, Birmingham-Seattle (via Nashville), Seattle-Chicago cost under $600 (which I though was incredible), and every flight was either on time or early. Plus, Southwest is one of the only carriers that allows two checked bags without additional fees. Still, I wish they would do assigned seating, but there are many other pluses that offset that inconvenience. (Here ends the commercial for Southwest. We now return to our regularly scheduled post.)

I hope to blog the entire trip this week before I head out on the road again to spend the last four days leading up to the election working for the Obama campaign in Waterloo, IA. I'll admit trepidation about going door-to-door (I personally find it intrusive when it happens here at home), but my desire to see Obama elected far outweighs any nerves that I am feeling. I hope I don't annoy too many of Iowa's good citizens in the process.

Here are three pictures, one from each leg of the journey, that capture a bit of the flavor of the last two weeks: