Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Night at Schwartz's Point

The light drizzle steamed off the warm blacktop, the only reminder that only hours ago it had been a summer day. It was cold now, humid in that way only the Midwest can master, a chill-to-the-bone fog, despite the 60 degrees of warmth. Lights flickered here and there, through dusty curtains in dreary alleyways, but the only real light to be had through the rain and night was the eerie green flush that barely illuminated the weary doors of the building across the street.

The glow meant that despite the decrepit exterior of the old-style Bohemian building, windows boarded and stones crumbling, there was breath inside.

We tap-danced across the pavement, dodging puddles and cars in an attempt to stay dry. We reached the door and the minimal shelter the tiny overhang provided. The place looked generally abandoned, except for the lonely light, with boarded windows, colorful graffiti, and a general feeling of condemnation. We shook out hair and jackets and pushed through the peeling planks of wood into Schwartz’s Point.

The jazz club in Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati, Ohio may not have big names every night of the week like some of its competitors, but it has a dark, sultry, speak-easy atmosphere that out-competes anything in its weight class, and the ones above it. The lights are low, the fabrics are rich and red and tired, the booze flows freely, and if you’re lucky, Ed Moss, the owner of and chief musician at the club, will allow a cigar to slip through.

The musicians get into the music, closing their eyes and swaying their bodies and improvising as only true artists feel how. They each have stories to tell, too, of a world of travel, of losing a liquor license, of a random jam session in Powell, Wyoming. “Where you all from,” cooed the singer, between songs and sips of Heineken. “Wyoming, you don’t mean the state, right?” We did, actually. “Wow, you guys sure had to travel far to hear good jazz, huh?” She laughed.

Ed once got lost in Wyoming, he said. “I was at a jazz workshop in Colorado. It was a bunch of kids; they didn’t know how to groove, ya know? They didn’t dig the music the way I did.” He took a long toke of his spicy cigar, breathing out slowly and purposefully. “So I drove north, ya know? Kept goin’. Met these guys with a band in Cody, you know Cody? And we drove out together. Didn’t know where to, just goin’. Ended up in the middle of nowhere Wyoming pulling a jazz concert at some party. It was real heavy.” In Wyoming, anywhere could be the middle of nowhere, and it all often felt heavy.

And Ed was a true performer. “I love filling my living room with people I don’t know” he said, gesturing his cigar smoke toward the door of his establishment. He lived just upstairs. “It makes me feel like I’ve done something today.” He lived to play, to feel the music, and though he sometimes seemed aloof with his audience, he really dig any time he got to get them to feel it, too.

And the music at “The Point” is to be felt. It’s rich and deep and desperate, full of passion and a sad nostalgia, a throwback to the days when jazz represented the angry, the disillusioned, the boozers and the bootleggers, the subcultures and the countercultures and Bugs Moran himself.

It’s fitting, really, for Over-the-Rhine, a place with its fair share of disillusionment, to have its very own speakeasy, though ironically those locals who could truly appreciate the music and where it came from are probably too poor to afford it. Though the neighborhood is dodgy and those who live and work there swear they’ve never had any trouble, it’s always said with a nervous smile and an edgy lilt to the voice, as if they’re not sure of that fact themselves. But it looks just right, and smells just right, and tastes just right and awakens something a little daring and a little dangerous and more than a little lustful in each of us.

Schwartz’s Point (check them out here) is a fantastic little jazz joint located at the oddly triangular intersection of Vine Street and McMicken in Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati. Tuesdays are the big nights, with a home-cooked buffet dinner and an entire orchestra of truly alive jazz musicians. Fridays and Saturdays are more intimate, with a crooner, Pam, a jazz singer with a day job. Come and introduce yourself to Ed Moss, the owner, a real beet of his own, with thick glasses and a cigar in hand and a flask of whatever ales you (in a homemade way) in a jacket pocket. We’d like to thank Ed and the gang for giving us a private performance a couple of weekends ago. It was one of the best jazz concerts I’ve had!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Trio Bistro, Jackson

We always have the best luck with restaurants.

Jackson on a Saturday is always busy, and in the off season, if you actually find a nice restaurant open, chances are everybody else in town is there, too. So as we putzed around town, we ended up at Trio, a small, ultra modern bistro in downtown Jackson (as if there is any other part). Lights are dim, tables are stainless steel, chairs are straight from an Ikea catalog. The wine list is full of blends from more obscure wine countries that appeal to a younger, hipper drinking crowd and a brick pizza oven fires in the back in full view of diners.

The line to get in is out the door, which the small, curtained-off foyer lined with hungry Jacksonians. Should we have made reservations? Would it have mattered?

But we ask anyway. "There are two of us; how long?"
"Well, we might have a place at the bar," the hostess said hesitantly.

So there we were, walking into a restaurant with a 45 minute wait, and we are seating right away because we like bars. And watching them make brick over pizza was a calming entertainment.

A photo of our wine, Evolution Lucky Edition, a blend of 9 different grapes that apparently begs the question: "Were you trying to do this, or did your leftovers just happen to work well together?"

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Storm to the East

The winds blew over the mountains and down into Lander Valley, sweeping through canyon and empty willow trees.

They pushed the rains slowly east, passing over our house as if marked with an X, sparing our newborn trees from the onslaught of vicious Wyoming storms.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

I Live Well, Just Not Simply, and I'm OK With That

This is my response to this article that everybody is raving about. Feel free to read it, but this is the gist: Stuff doesn't define who you are, so we should all sell all of our stuff and become hobos because people who do that are the best people in the world and the only people who "get" it. But you will probably never be able to do it because you're too tied down and have bought too much into the modern world and aren't as cool as the author.

I agree with the idea that “neither self nor wealth can be measured in terms of what you consume or own,” but I don’t agree with the attitude that vagabonding is the search for something simple or that “simple” is really all that desirable or that getting rid of all your stuff will help you live better. I resist simple; I hate simple. If my life were simple, I’d be bored to death.

As a response to the “vagabonding” lifestyle so espoused by young faux-philosophical travelers, the best way to live simply and be as sustainable as possible is, in fact, NOT to vagabond at all, but find a quiet little corner of the world and start your own sustainable farm, which becomes a small sustainable community, from which you never go walkabout. Driving cross country or riding on our unarguably inefficient trains and buses or flying on airplanes or leaving your tiny town at all is neither sustainable NOR simple. Just because you don’t go on useless shopping sprees and can carry your belongings in your backpack doesn’t mean you aren’t over-consuming resources.

People have been using the “be simple” philosophies of the non-modern (and often non-Western) world as an excuse to jet off and become nomadic for decades now. But this interpretation is a warping of the original meaning of these ideas. They didn’t mean for affluent white Americans to consume jet fuel and live off the kindness of strangers who are without a doubt poorer than those Americans could ever hope to be. In truth, those philosophies beg for us to stop traveling, stop moving, stop searching, and be happy with the here and now, to be complete and sustained in our own homes and families. They search for a small, energy-efficient home with its own garden and a solid community that can provide its members with every necessity without any of them ever leaving.

All too often, the books I read about people’s adventures around the world are full of condescending views of other Americans who don’t do the same and the ignorant and arrogant (hypo)critical eschewing of the very lifestyles, economics and politics that make their vagabond lifestyle possible. Despite what the bloggers like to say, I have never met a single person who sustains constant travel (vagabonding) who doesn’t have some kind of money. Whether from an old corner-office job, a great divorce strategy, a few years of working all the time and saving every penny, a best-selling book (which the author LOVES to forget to mention), or a really swell uncle, there’s always a bank account somewhere whose doors are open for business. Those who say otherwise are selling something, whether their own image and reputation, a product, or a lie.

And there is also a flawed American notion that “stuff” is equal to “complicated” and “no stuff” is equal to “simple.” Those who desire to criticize the disgusting consumer-driven frenzy that is the Western World (no argument from me there) pick the easiest (simplest?) aspect as a scapegoat at which to throw their un-researched tirades against The Man. But there are plenty of people in the world without any stuff at all whose lives are inextricably complicated. There are people who have stuff who keep things simple. And there are plenty of people with not a lot of stuff who enjoy the complicated. I fall into the latter category.

I am one of those who “lives well” without being an ascetic. I travel a lot and often on a whim, I drink good beer, I have a great time. I eat good food, I eat bad food, I eat street food. I meet great people and hang out in some of the most interesting places in the world. I also own a house, a dining room table, a car, several bookshelves, and a Wii, and I recently redid the inside of my house. But I try to be conscience about stuff that I “need” versus stuff that I “want.” I make sacrifices: my car is old and not an SUV (gasp!) with 150,000 miles on it, but I’m not getting a new one; my house is small and we don't own a camper or an ATV or a snowmobile. We live in a place with a relatively low cost of living, which also means the nearest Target is 2 ½ hours away. I also stick to grocery lists and generic brand foods.

I love complicated. And according to so many “backpackers” and “vagabonds” and “travelers,” this must make me one of droves, the worker bees whose lives must be miserable because I have stuff. I, for one, am offended at such an affront, that these people who make a life of irresponsibility (which is fine with me, I don’t judge) feel that they can pass judgment on how I live because I respect my job and my husband and my life, just differently. They may feel superior shitting behind a bush and not showering for days at a time, but how many of them can return to a place they love and own and in which they are happy and comfortable whenever they need a break? I can do both, and I can slide between the two extremes with an ease these people will never know. I am also unburdened by the weight of the superiority and arrogance of either.

Some people genuinely enjoy having responsibility and a job they love and feeling as if they were part of something significant. Fulfillment for them isn’t a life of listless nomadism; to them, feeling “alive” and experiencing something real is a job well done, successfully negotiating a conservation easement contract, successfully establishing an experiment in community-based ecotourism, successfully diffusing a volatile political situation. Does this make them bad people, unhappy people, consumer-driven people, unsustainable people, unfulfilled people? Why does “living well” have to be living On The Road? Why does “living well” have to be simple at all?
I love adventure, which should never be simple. And though you may not carry a lot of “stuff” with you when you travel, travel should rarely be simple.

And in the vagabonding world, poor and underdeveloped is considered the model of simple. Entire droves of backpackers are taking complete advantage of the developing world because of its extreme poverty, immediately criticizing a place as “too commercial,” “too rich,” and “too globalized“as soon as the people in these places raise their standard of living to internationally acceptable levels (read: when most people don’t die of malaria and intestinal parasites anymore). To today’s vagabonds, getting a “real” local experience has become synonymous with keeping poor people poor for travelers’ enjoyment, and antithetical to providing necessary health care, education, and infrastructure. This “poor” experience isn’t always the genuine one young, privileged Americans pretend it to be. Backpackers snub anything that isn’t a hostel or a piece of street food, talking about the genuine and the real, all the while missing out on what could possibly be another, just as REAL cultural experience: the middle class, or hell, the upper class, or all classes. Having a little bit of money to spend on a movie or a funky dinner or some of the local brew doesn’t make people any less real or any less a part of their own culture, and it’s arrogant for comparatively rich (no matter how little money they have) white Americans to think they have the know-how to decide what another culture is all about.

Instead of the intellectual pursuit of existentialism, I find modern, Western nomadism to be the pursuit of demonstrated superiority. Bloggers and novelists who write about how great their lives are now that they’ve ditched their possessions and their connections in exchange for living a better life than you, but a life that you could never follow because they are just too advanced, are “simply” trying to feed their own egos with your envy. And that doesn’t seem very “living well” to me.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pelican, Pelican

When you watch a pelican, you can’t help but revert back to childhood, when you would point to birds with pudgy kid fingers and gape at them with wide kid eyes and spend nights trying to figure out how they can actually fly.

Back then, we were all pretty sure it was magic.

There’s a childlike innocence to pelicans that is unique to these striking birds. They float on the surface of lakes and rivers and oceans and look like the cartoon versions of swans, awkward wings and awkward faces and awkward bills. A teenage imitation of a real bird.

When they fly, it’s as if it’s taking all of their concentration and physical control to keep aloft. When they stand, fowl gargoyles overseeing the ways of boats and picnickers and snorkelers, it’s as if they need every bit of their energy not to tumble gauchely over into the seas below. And when they catch that slow, unsuspecting fish, they gulp it down with the juvenile fervor of a toddler who just snuck into a pint of ice cream.

You can’t help but feel a na├»ve, uncomplicated happiness when watching pelicans, and you want to point a pudgy kid finger and laugh a kid giggle and wonder how it is those things can actually fly…

Saturday, May 8, 2010

So, what DO they wear under those kilts?

It starts with fire throwing, because really, what are bagpipes without fire?

And for his next trick, he has burly gentlemen hoist him up onto a unicycle, because really, what are bagpipes without a unicycle?

I bet those burly men totally sneak peaks up his kilt, just to solve the ever-unsolvable mystery...

What DO those men have under there????

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Small Town Karma

You know you're in a small town when...

...someone comes up to you at the Lander Bar in Lander, Wyoming (population 7000) on Cinco de Mayo with a photo of you:

And asks: "Hey, is this you?"


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I am a Pirate, 200 Years Too Late...

Some things just aren't meant for words, and sometimes you just don't have the energy to give the right words to something that might need them.

So for now: Still Life With an Old Boat.

Land-locked blues...

Monday, May 3, 2010

Wedding Hangover? Not for us!

We were probably the only couple in the world to get up early the morning after their wedding to hang out with family and stroll around town. So, there we were. We started and ended at Kelly's Caribbean Grill (which can be found here), which doubles as a micro-brewery, which triples as the old HQ for Pan Am. The building itself has every essence of Lost (the TV show), with open air dining and tropical vegetation around, in, and on all the walls and the whole essence of a creepy, failed airline known for crashing planes. Though their famous Red ale was fermenting (much to the dismay of many a local beer drinker) and though apparently you can't buy alcohol in Key West before noon on Sunday (which, apparently, was the only way the bartender could distinguish us as non-locals because we are THAT awesome), they did have a delightful pale ale on tap that fit in well with the lush, humid surroundings. If only they had microbrews on Lost.

We also got to enjoy giant people, these freaky statues outside the old customs house, now the Key West Art and Historical Society...

... and shop for our new house in the Truman Annex, home of Harry Truman's Little White House, which was disturbingly ugly while surrounded by some of the most perfect, Caribbean Colonial architecture.

Hemingway May or May Not Be Pissed Off At Us

These two photos I think accurately represent how totally awesome our wedding was. How many people that you know got to make Ernest Hemingway shake a drunken dead fist by climbing all over his furniture at their wedding?

Actually, I think he would have been rather proud of the half-drunken debauchery and Zydeco music.

I would like to thank Laura (who you can find here), my mom and dad, Dan, JM's Mom and Harper, and my awesome brother Daron and sister-in-law Kattsee for making this wedding the coolest one ever!

Also, if you're interested in seeing more, the professional photos can be found here. Thanks Rob O'Neal!