Thursday, November 29, 2007

New Orleans-Loyola

After more than six weeks on the road, I have finally gone for a swim. Loyola University is a short distance down St. Charles Avenue from where I am staying in the Garden District. The friendly folks at Loyola gave me a one week pass to use their sports complex, including Olympic size pool for $21. Swam a half mile and worked out with weights. I asked over at Tulane about using their pool, but they were not nearly as welcoming. The Jesuits run this place and I really appreciate their emphasis on helping others. I was thinking about why I identify with those who; live on the margins of our society, the kids at risk or any folks on the planet who are oppressed and struggling to make it. It struck me that was me when I went to high school . For a variety of reasons which I won't go into for this post, I really struggled in high school and ended up in a coma for two weeks when I was 18 after a car accident. I was a pretty unhappy person at that time and fortunately had a loving family to support me in my recovery. Many people don't have that loving family and the notion that for us who do have this great blessing, we need to help others less fortunate. This is somewhat akin to the notion of Noblesse oblige which is also very strong in me. Loyola also lets the public use their computers for Internet access at the library for free also which is where I am making this post from. Non-Students have to get out of the library by 9, so I gotta run for now. My flight for Venezuela in in December 14th from Miami. I will leave New Orleans on the 5th to meet up with one of my Burning Man friends in Miami. I am flying out of Lois Armstrong airport on Southwest for $99. Oh yeah I went to a club called the Maple Leaf and saw the most amazing brass band called Rebirth, they are AMAZING!

Monday, November 26, 2007

New Orleans-Thanksgiving and ...

There is much to be grateful for, no matter where you are! On Thursday I volunteered at the Convention Center for Sheriff Marlin Gusman's 33rd Annual Thanksgiving Day Feast. I served, stocked, cleaned and visited with those who came for meals and also those who volunteered. It was quite a scene, and at times it seemed that there were more volunteers than folks who had come for meals. The convention center is enormous and there was probably more than a thousand people there with some very talented musicians playing their hearts out up on an elevated stage. Problem was that the music was so loud it was an acoustic assault on the senses. All the volunteers were given aprons that had the Sheriff's name and those who came for the meal got a canvas bag that also had the sheriffs name on it with socks, beanie, ramen and other items. The political leaders got up and congratulated each other and then gave $20 to the oldest meal attendee present, a 96 year old local woman. It was great to see so many volunteers coming out to help those less fortunate, but it was sad to see so much money wasted.

One of the volunteers I met is Robert Lee Grant who is making a documentary film for PBS on an Alice Water's inspired Edible Schoolyard Project at Samuel J Green Charter school in New Orleans. I hope to visit this site later in the week.

I met a father and daughter who had fled on Saturday before Katrina hit on Saunday. They lived in the Lakeview neighborhood on Lake Pontchartrain that was flooded by 8 feet of water. They lived outside of New Orleans for one month in a single house with 6 other famlies. The father told me that there were 17 kids and at that moment his 12 year old daughter produced her iPhone and brought up a picture of her and 16 other children on the screen. She gave me the phone and I enlarged the picture with a quick finger movement and asked her to point herself out. Nice to see that technology has matured to the point that the touch screen graphical interface with intutive finger movements actually works as promised.

New Orleans is betting heavily on Charter schools to help bring up those children who have NOT had great schools to attend. It's the age old question of the rich and poor. The KIPP model seems to hold great promise for academic success amongst those of lesser means. All those on the front lines working to help children everywhere deserve and need more support.

I will be here another week maximum before heading off to Florida. South America is calling.

Monday, November 19, 2007

New Orleans-Volunteering

New Orleans has captured my heart and I will be staying for at least another week.
On Saturday I volunteered at the New Orleans Mission to help with a Thanksgiving meal provided for those less fortunate. At this meal I talked with another volunteer named Michael Wong who is planning on buying a home here in New Orleans to continue helping New Orleans
less fortunate. Michael has his onw non profit called Bikes for Indonesia and is a member of a Christian church called The Gathering. Many people would agree that much of the recovery of New Orleans can be attributed to efforts of a great variety of faith based organizations. Michael was certainly very down to earth and made no efforts to prosletize, he is simply advertsing his faith through making a difference. I will be volunteering again at the Mission this Thanksgiving and also will look at some volunteering at local schools. I am at the library now and they only let you use the computer for one hour at a cost of $3. The place is packed and there is clearly more demand than supply. I'll sing off for now and wish everyone a great Thanksgiving. Those of us who can afford the luxury of traveling have much to be grateful for!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

New Orleans-Settling in

Enjoying myself immensely here in New Orelans. Yesterday I went out to Loyola to update the blog, but today I finally found an Internet Cafe in the French Quarter. It's striking how pervasive the open wireless networks have become with people traveling with their laptops, yet how very scarce the Internet Cafes are where you can use a computer with Internet access. I am staying at the Marquette House in the Garden District and the variety of people I'm meeting is rich. There is a great cross section of the world from international travlers, to Americans who have come to work post Katrina, to vagabonds and tramps of various ilk, and to folks like me working on their own version of the "Great American Novel". The Vintage Trolley system just started operating again this past Sunday and it's been a pleasure riding it all over the city. Spent time in East New Orleans yesterday and it was similar in some ways to Lower 9th Ward. The devastation here was tremendous. I saw a large two story gutted apartment complex that was simply fenced off, I'm told because the mostly Hispanic laborer's that came to New Orleans after to Katrina to find work would stay on the second floor of these units and the fence was constructed to keep them out. Nearby, the amusement park Six flags lies desolate
like some sort of Ghost Town. Many of the homes in this area have been bought by the Vietnamese community after they started to the area in large numbers in the 70's-80"s. Now many folks from Latin America have come after Katrina and to say that there are racial tensions would be to be putting it mildly. What everyone agrees on is that back in the 80's the Crack epidemic took a deathly toll on the inner cities of America and the burgeoning political power that the African American population was beginning to have through massive voter registration was brought to a viscous end.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Big Easy is now the Hugely Difficult

Arrived in New Orleans two days ago and it looks like I will stay a few more. I spent Yesterday walking around the city, with much of my time in the 9th Ward, more specifically in the Lower 9th Ward, where the worst of the damage caused by Katrina and the resulting broken levee's can be witnessed. Walking over the St. Claude Avenue Bridge into the 9th Ward is to bear witness to a scene of almost total devastation. If you watch the first few minutes of this You Tube video you can get a sense of the destruction shortly after Katrina hit. Shockingly, the area still looks very much the same, more that two years later. Surprisingly, after spending many hours walking through this post apocalyptic landscape and talking to a number of folks engaged in rebuilding their destroyed homes, I left feeling inspired and very hopeful for the future. Some of these residents have been here for six generations and their deep roots to this place clearly do NOT allow them to be uprooted in spite of all the obstacles placed in their way by the government, insurance companies and unscrupulous people of every kind. Much of the rebuilding that has taken place has happened through neighborhood associations, non-profits like Common Ground, church groups such as Mennonite Disaster Service and simply caring individuals who have come to help. New Orleans is a perfect place to see the future of America. Most Americans now acknowledge that, as a nation, we are in trouble, and post Katrina New Orleans demonstrates much of what ails America, with racism and classism getting top billing. The notion that the American Empire is in it's twilight is not mentioned by our so called leaders. However it is clear that the abundance of natural resources which helped America to boom after WWII have been mostly used up and our productive capacity has been significantly outsourced with the American population becoming more a nation of consumers than producers, with a resulting indebtedness. Many Americans are simply fighting to make ends meet. A sad fact that tells this story is that Walmart has now become the largest employer in the United States. The "White Flight" from the inner cities that occurred after World War II and which dramatically accelerated in 1957 when President Eisenhower enforced the Supreme Courts 1954 school desegregation order left the inner cities with a mostly poor black population with corresponding lousy schools and ample opportunity for a myriad array of social problems is clearly represented here New Orleans.The process of Gentrification that is now driving the prices of real estate to astronomical heights in places such as San Francisco is also happening here in New Orleans. One of the homeowners in the lower 9th Ward that I talked to Yesterday, said that she and her neighbors had been talking about seceding. I asked her if she meant New Orleans? and she replied "No, just our block!". I was intrigued by her answer and think she may be on to something.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

New York "Ground Zero"

Note: This post was written two days ago , but because of a computer glitch, it did not post.

Finally made it to witness the gaping hole left after more than 6 years when two jets crashed into the World Trade Towers. My overwhelming feeling walking around this hole in the ground was sadness and anger. Sadness at how this event was used by our so called leaders to eviscerate our constitution and proudly proclaim how "Big Brother" is going to protect us and avenge those who perpetrated such a murderous act. Getting off the train last night at Penn Station I was shocked to see large numbers of uniformed military personnel carrying big guns and multiple police (Amtrak-Local) all over the station. Video cameras are everywhere. A Korean woman whom I met on the train observed that the place feels strangely "Unstable"and I agreed that the difference was striking compared to any big city in Canada that I visited.

I've had so many experiences on this trip that I have barely scratched the surface with through this blog. Getting time to be in front of a computer has been a challenge. Went to B&H to see about buying a new camera but the one I lost has gone out of production and the closest one they have doesn't suit me, so this will have to wait to Florida. A guy I traveled with to NY took some pictures of us on the train so hopefully he will send them

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Montreal to New York

Shhort layover here in Montreal (abuut one hour) and then catch the 9:10AM train to New York.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Dorchester New Brunswick

Been exploring my roots by going back to the place where my mother went started first grade at 6 and left at 16, all grades in the same schoolhouse!! Latin, geometry and French included. This has been a high point of the trip in some ways because of the "Maratime Hospitality" afforded me. As soon as I arrived the locals got on the phone and started calling around for any people who might have known my Mom or her dad. Truly amazing how generous these people are. I am also fascinated by history and this region is rich from its preeminent location for ship building back in the 1800's to the establishment of the prison as Canada underwent Confederation. Learning more about my Mum's past has been very rewaarding as it has been showing me better who I am. I am very much Canadian in many ways. When I arrived in Dorchester last night I was surprised to see a town that was much smaller than what I had imagined from what my mother had shared with me in the past. I learned that in recent years the population had shrunk due to out migration to to the neighboring towns of Moncton and Sackville. The older generation have stayed, but the younger folks have left for jobs elsewhere. The primary employer in Dorchester is the Penetentiary where my granfather, John McPhereson Grant was a guard, eventually rising to the rank of "Head Keeper" (Head Guard). A retired guard of 25 years took me around the town today and showed me everything there was to see. They call this "Maratime Hospitality" and it is amazing. I have to catch a train to Montreal in about half an hour so gotta go, more later.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Gros Morne-Face of God


I just returned from a spectacular set of hikes in a national park called Gros Morne, OH MY GOD!!!, there is some of the most spectacularly beautiful land I've ever seen. Driving through a town last night I saw a huge fire that had me pull off the two lane route 430 Trans Canadian Highway at Rocky Harbor (Pop. about 900). There was a fire truck and a refreshment stand with kids playing and everyone having a grand time. This immense bonfire was to celebrate Guy Fawkes day on November 5.

I will be departing New Foundland today for Nova Scotia. I leave at about midnight from Port aux Basques. Only about a week left on my rail pass, so I will be spending little time in New York or New Orleans to get myself to Florida by the 14th.

I have had no luck with my camera being returned to me. I will do a blog entry that encapuslates the lost pictures when I get a chance. From now on I will upload the pictures as often as possible to avoid losing such precious cargo again. Before I left for Gros Morne I ran into a woman at the local radio station who confirmed that they will be doing some public service announcements for my lost camera. Have not totally given up, but on the bright side I certainly got to know and intereact with the people of the town of Cornerbrook very intensively and found them to be nothing but incredibly helpful. That certainly did my heart good and I am leaving New Foundland with a certainty that I will be returning.



Thursday, November 01, 2007

Disaster Strikes-Landed in New Foundland

Nobody is hurt, but my camera has gone missing. It has all the photos since I started on the train after Vancouver. It's the strangest disappearence, as if it was just evaporated out of existence. My camera is an important tool of mine, but it's the pictures that might never be shared that's causes me to feel the greatest concern. I have spent the better part of the day searching for the camera and now have a computer generated "Lost-$100 Reward" flyer to replace the handwritten signs I have already placed earlier in the day. Hopefully I'll get lucky and somebody will turn it in. Anyways, it is a good reflection on how important picture taking is for me and has been an opportunity to meet a great many of the folks here in this town of Corner Brook. Will be here for a day or two before pushing down into the states. Keep up the good thoughts that the camera, or at least the memory card comes back to me so that I can update this blog with many wonderful photos of this adventure.

Adjustments to Blog-Anyone can Post Now


I changed the default setting so that now ANYONE can post a comment to this blog without having to have a G-Mail account. Sorry for the confusion on this, I am learning this stuff as I go along. Also, for the time being their are three emails addresses that are functioning. Please send me email at anyone of these three. I will work out getting this simplified and down to one primary account after I get down to Florida.

Looking forward to hearing comments from more people~don

Ferry Information

I am on the MV Caribou, an ice breaker and Canada's largest ferry. It plies the route I am traveling now between Port aux Basques Newfoundland and North Sydney, Nova Scotia.
A Newfie that I'm friends with says that sometimes in the winter when it's frozen over, the ship has to break through the ice. That sometimes the ice is so thick, that the ship has to back up and pick up momentum to ram the ice and then it's front goes up into the air and crashed down back into the water through the ice. He said that all of this is happening while the boate is also being moved laterally by the effect of the tides. He siad it's pretty scary and lot's of folks are pretty "blue around the gills". Anyways, Newfoundland has a population of 300,000 and you could fit all the other Maratime provinces (Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick) whithin it's land mass. Lot's of land, not very many people. They love the Premier of their province whon they affectionately call "Danny Millions" becasue he made a heap of money in business and apparently is a politician with integrity, who would of thunk? Thought that was an oxymoron.