Love in the Afternoon, Revisited

This was originally posted in October 2015. As I work on downsizing to move from a large house into a condominium, the conundrum of which possessions to part with is sometimes easy, often hard. Mr. Underwood came home with me last year, and I am please to say that he has made the cut. Could you blame me for keeping him around?

Harvest Coffee Bar, Bryan, Texas
Slo Bru at the Harvest Coffee Bar in Bryan, Texas

I found myself sleepy to the point of no concentration. The words on the page kept running together, and the thought of another cup of coffee was appealing. I left the La Salle Hotel and walked down Main Street to the Harvest Coffee Bar.

The distillation contraption was intriguing, and I soon had a little cup of the cold brewed coffee and headed back towards my room. I wanted to get a another several hundred words down.

It was then that I saw him. He was standing at a shop window, then he turned and looked at me. He pulled off his sunglasses and smiled.

The soul of Mr. Underwood

I smiled in return but continued walking.

He said, “Stop and talk with me awhile. I think we may have much to say to one another.”

I pulled up short, and looked at him again. His blue eyes were were sincere and compelling.

We stood talking in the street for a long time. His name was Underwood. While his face was lined and he was evidently older than I first thought, the more we talked and the more stories he shared, I found myself completely taken with him. I took his hand and he followed me back to the La Salle.

Mr. Underwood
Mr. Underwood

We woke the next morning with the sun glowing around the edges of the blinds.

After pulling on my clothes and getting my bag together, I turned to him. “I’m really not ready to stop here . . . would you consider coming to Houston, and spending some time with me?”

His smile lines deepened, and those blue eyes gave me a wonderful look.

Lucca and the Underwood typewriter
Lucca and Mr. Underwood

Ann in Castolon in Big Bend National Park. Photograph, Jim Stevens

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Mardi Gras Memories

The Mardi Gras crowd watching the Krewe Of Endymion parade on Canal Street. Photograph, Joel Carillet from iStock Photo.

Last year, right as the entire Carnival season was swingin’ into action, I was “relaxing” at the the Touro following the surgical amputation of my right leg.

Article by Clint Bolton for a Vieux Carre paper, from Mardi Gras, 1979.

Through the windows I could hear the music, the sounds of a couple of uptown Carnival parades. Herself was sitting bedside and I grinned at her and said, “Well, darlin’, I guess we can kinda ace ourselves on the whole Carnival bit from here on. After all, the days do dwindle down to a precious few and even if I didn’t have my right gam sawed off, I think we could do the Joan and Darby bit, stay at home snug and comfy and catch the Carnival action on the tube.”

That ole Carnival caper fever hits us all . . . regardless of age. Physically I may not get much personal action this Mardi Gras season. But I don’t have to. Y’see, I can reach into my memory bank Movieola and run all that fine stuff through and frame freeze this or that shot. Then I’m back in the Sixties, the Fifties again. Don’t remember the exact year.

Embed from Getty Images
I’m at Pat O’Brien’s. Time: about 9 p.m., the Sunday night before Mardi Gras. The block of St. Peter between Royal and Bourbon is solid with people. Some of the local constabulary are mounted and doin’ a fair job of crowd control. Everything is goin’ fine . . . when all of a sudden all hell breaks loose. To this day you’ll get a debate among us survivors of that era. Did the brawl break out on the street? The entrance of the carriageway? Take yer cherce. Any version will do.

Whatever may have triggered the donneybrook, it soon spread. The Mounties gallop into the mob; plain-clothes fuzz and blue coats on foot take a vigorous piece of the action.

Pat O'Brien's on St. Peter. It sure was a hurricane that night . . .
Pat O’Brien’s on St. Peter. It sure was a hurricane that night . . .

Clubs swing, fists fly, there’s some nifty footwork as one and all, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief (and a fair majority of the latter two were on hand) get scufflin’. Things were tight, hairy dicey, you call it. Things were gettin’ a might out of control when . . . BLAM! Some lawman lets loose with the tear gas. Not a bad idea. Couple more tear gas rounds. Quite a bit on the street. Most in the carriageway of O’Brien’s and adjacent bars. Crowd cools down in a hurry. Some arrests were made. Enough air motion on the block to dissipate most of the street tear gas. Lots of it lingered on within the excellent pub. Enough to make for some swimmy eyes and very sniffy noses. But the commotion was over and the beat went on.

Just about this point, a now deceased but then very well-know Quarter tosspot, who shall remain nameless because of his wife and kids, awoke. He’d gotten himself a fair load and had been somewhere on the nod in the corner of the main bar. The whole rowdy-dow had breezed right by him. But now he comes to blearily, sniffily awake, with that somewhat annoyed, almost paranoid mood of the lush who has nodded off only to come to knowing something has happened . . . but not exactly what. He gazes about the all but deserted bar, sees the bartenders comin’ up for air and business as usual, takes one big sniff, and says . . . “Goddam! That’s the biggest fart I ever smelled in my life!”

Bernie Fuchs' illustration of Mardi Gras in the French Quarter, 1960's.
Bernie Fuchs’ illustration of Mardi Gras in the French Quarter, 1960’s.

Certainly more genteel is the joyous memory of parade nights spent on Bob Greenwood’s gallery over the A&P at St. Pete and Royal. Back then Bob used to invite a bunch of friends to each of the parades that came down Royal. It was one of the best vantage points in the whole Quarter . . . and you sure as hell got your share of beads, trinkets, and doubloons tossed from the floats. But there always hadda be the usual street bumpkins who’d try to shinny up the iron supports and crash the happy scene. For a couple of years, Bob and various other stalwarts in the entourage had a fair amount of fun leanin’ over and boppin’ tatterdemalion hobbledehoys on the noggin as they pulled level with the gallery.

Then, one year, ole Bob ended all that. He greased all those shinny-poles from halfway up to the gallery level. When one of us yelled, “prepare to repel boarders” he grinned and said, “Not to worry. Watch.”Expedia.com When the would-be gate-crashers hit the grease line, it was whoosh, and mucho fun. We would man the rails, beam down like cruise passengers tossin’ coins and, chant, “Slide, Slide, Slide!” It saved us a fair amount of hooch, too, I reckon, for as Jack Cooley so sagely remarked, “Why’n hell should we pour perfectly good booze on a bunch of greaseballs?”

Yes, we all go some kind of wacky on Mardi Gras, it truly is “anything goes” time. But mostly I’ve been ready to find some hole to sack out in just about the time the bells of old St. Louis toll out midnight . . . .  And almost always I’ve recited to myself a
few lines from Kipling’s Recessional: “The tumult and the shouting dies, The Captains and the Kings depart. Still stands thine ancient sacrifice . . . An humble and a contrite heart.”

Clint Bolton

Clint Bolton, 1979. Photograph taken by David Richmond to accompany this article by Clint.
Clint Bolton, 1979. Photograph taken by David Richmond to accompany this article by Clint.

This is the third of three posts concerning Clint Bolton. He was a journalist who lived in New Orleans from the early 1950’s until his death in April of 1980. He was born James Clinton Bolton in New Jersey in 1908. He lived a full and interesting life: acting in summerstock plays with Humphrey Bogart, running away from Princeton to work on a tramp steamer to India, cutting his journalism chops in India to become an writer for the Associated Press, interviewing Gandhi during one of his early hunger strikes, working in New York as a journalist, serving in the Coast Guard in World War II. And finally, taking me under his wing in his last year.

I have kept this article of Clint’s, along with two letters, for 37 years now. As I fight cancer, and wonder sometimes that it may not be that long before I see him again, I feel honor bound to write about him. Since his writing is not on the internet, and there are precious few links to it in print . . . it is important to me that he not disappear.

In such a time, and in such a place, there was this man. He was witness to significant events in the 20th century. His name was Clint Bolton. He lived hard. He wrote on a manual typewriter with two fingers at a speed that awed. Black musicians loved him. Mafia capos treated him with deference. And I was fortunate to meet and spend long hours with him listening to jazz and to his stories.

 

Jackson Square in the Fog by Ann Fisher
To Miss New Orleans, my memories of Bolton.

First article on Bolton: To Miss New Orleans

Second, a transcription of one of his letters to me: Once Upon a Time

 

 

 

 

 


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Photograph of the Endymion Parade from iStock Photo.

New Orleans in the 1950’s. New Orleans in the 1960’s. New Orleans in the 1970’s.


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Ann Fisher

All Hallows Day

 

I took this picture in Glenwood Cemetery in Houston in March of 2008.

I had an assignment for a photography class, and my daughter, Catherine, agreed to be my subject. Bribery with Italian cream cake was involved.

Girl covered in a black veil, Glenwood cemetery
Memento Mori, Glenwood Cemetery

Drew was with us in the cemetery. It was a bright day, and light filtered through the trees. He followed as I shot, through the light and shadow patchwork — from this monument to that, this idea and then another.

There is a later photograph of Drew that afternoon with the sheer black veil covering him; he wore a broad grin, incongruous with his black veil. He was a silly man. Catherine sat snuggled next to him. Hard drives are fragile things and that picture exists now only in my mind.

I give you another image.

Drew on the floor next to the hospital bed in our room at 2 a.m.. Dementia was setting in, and he had fallen getting out of the bed on his way to an imaginary meeting.

While he weighed less than 100 pounds, I could not lift him. At that moment, Catherine came in on cat paws, a flutter of light nightgown. We sat on either side of him and snuggled him close, the three of us together for the last time.

Vincent Laurensz van der Vinne, Still Life—Memento Mori, 17th century
Vincent Laurensz van der Vinne, Still Life—Memento Mori, 17th century

 

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Ann Fisher

The Fedora Rides Shotgun

Painting from the Gage Hotel

“Mom, you’re so weird.”

I just returned from camping by myself in Big Bend National Park.

I had not been camping since 2009, and as I looked at what to do with a few days off in September, all I could think of was what it sounds like to wake up in a tent.

Fedora on headrest of car
The Fedora Rides Shotgun

There have been times in my life that I slept in a tent to drop the overall cost of a cross-country vacation. I moved from New Orleans to Seattle and eventually back to NOLA, and multiple times both direction I camped with my cat, Jenny, and my bird named Charlie. Then when my daughter was going to Girl Scout camp in the Davis Mountains, I took my tent and launched out to various places, like Santa Fe, New Mexico.

I don’t need to camp anymore, but I’ve found that I miss it. This is where I need to be really honest. I don’t camp in the haul-it-in-on-your-back way. No, thank you. It’s car camping, so I have a cot and a nice tent and a great camp stove.

Catherine saw my grocery list for the trip. “You’re bringing red snapper? Orzo? Normal people make easy stuff when they camp.”

Preparing steaks, new potatoes and asparagus for the grill
Steaks, new potatoes and asparagus for the grill

Yes, I like good food, and I enjoy cooking. I’ve learned that there are many delicious things I can make with a grill, some foil and a little ingenuity.

At the end of the day, what this is really, really about  — it’s seeing the stars, and hearing the breeze pull at the tent. It’s sitting with my coffee in the morning and watching the last stars fade out, the light grow until the sun peeks her head above the horizon.

Campsite
Fixing another cup of coffee

Big Bend National Park. It happens to be my personal park.

No, really. I have been many times, simply because it was the closest big western landscape to Houston. I can go and get my desert, big sky, big rock fix in less than a week — if I have to do so.

When I came here with Drew in 2010, it was before he was diagnosed with cancer. On the Lost Mine trail, there is a vista that opens up between the peaks in the Chisos mountains and the desert stretches out into the far distance. I told Drew that right there, that spot, behind the big rock we sat on as we enjoyed the view, that would be where to bring my ashes when I died. He looked at me and said, “it’s perfect. That’s what I want, too.”

We thought we would live to be . . . well, old. I promised to chase him around the breakfast table when we were eighty.

Life had other plans for us though, and we took them as gracefully as we could. We talked several times about where he wanted me to take his ashes when he died. He never wavered.

Drew on our rock, Lost Mine Trail, 2010
Drew on our rock, Lost Mine Trail, 2010

Wasn’t he a beautiful man? I did go spread his ashes in January of 2014. Several of his siblings were able to join me, and it was a very special pilgrimage.

View from the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend
The view from our rock

So now the fedora rides shotgun with me. This time, my trip was not about ashes and it was not about mourning. It was about feeling the Big Bend again and being very, very alive.


 

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Ann Fisher

The Pilgrim Soul

Ann and Catherine

My daughter Catherine turned seventeen yesterday.

My daughter
My daughter

Catherine is smart and very funny, disciplined in her studies, and she is kind. Last year, when I really wondered whether I would survive the cancer, I felt calm when I thought about Catherine. I knew she was on “her path.” And that even without me, she would be fine.

Catherine is my best. The best. Nothing I have done with my fifty years compares. To reach this point fills me with a deep sense of calm and well-being.

I have been an unlikely mother. I often think of Kate Chopin’s Awakening:

“The mother-women seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.”

This was not me. I am more similar to Edna, who ended up walking into the surf to drown rather than choosing to live a life where she could not be independent.

I struggled in the baby years. I felt that I had lost myself, that Ann had disappeared.

In my teens, I was the diligent student. In my twenties, on my first solo trip to Europe, I fell deeply in love with life and travel. In my truest, deepest nature I am a curious, restless seeker. Exploration and discovery, of myself, the world, thoughts, and the meeting and knowing of people — ah, I could give my life to this! And so much of my twenties were devoted to travel and adventure. I grabbed up life in big armfuls and held it close.

In order to have my daughter, I had to let go of those things for many years.

Thankfully, that has changed. Catherine and I make trips together, and I now travel solo again. A summer school month in Florence, Italy, transformed Catherine into a self-confident traveler in her own right.

Ann Fisher and her daughter Catherine
With my daughter

As Catherine and I point towards her final year and a half of high school and we both move towards new chapters of life.

She sat snuggled up with me this morning, having her coffee while I had mine, before she got dressed and drove herself to school. These are the moments that make the whole journey worthwhile.

To my beautiful daughter on her seventeenth birthday — what can I say? You are one of my favorite people in all of the world.

 


 

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Ann Fisher

Tagliatelle with Mushrooms

Porcini mushrooms
Porcini mushrooms

Over the past two years, I have visited Italy multiple times, and I have learned so much through cooking with a wonderful woman in Florence. I think I’ve learned just as much eating there. One of the things I appreciate the most about Italian cooking is the simplicity of the ingredients. This dish is about mushrooms and onions with a caramelized tomato flavor.

What kind of mushrooms? If we were in Italy, I would choose porcini mushrooms, but getting them fresh here is not so easy. I have used cremini mushrooms (baby portobellos). This time I used shiitake mushrooms because my market had some really lovely ones. I would not use the standard white mushrooms because the flavor is not intense enough. Depending on the type of mushroom you choose, the stems may be tough and should be discarded, unless you want them for flavor in making a stock.

Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitake Mushrooms

You can also use dried mushrooms. The benefit can be a more intense flavor. If I can get fresh ones — I like the texture better. If you do use dried mushrooms, use 3/4 cup, soak them in water for an hour, drain and then squeeze the excess water from them and proceed with the recipe below.

Cremini or baby portobellos
Cremini or baby portobello mushrooms

Then to the pasta. What is the difference between tagliatelle and fettuccine? They are very close to the same. When I make pasta from scratch, it is tagliatelle. Fettuccine is a great substitute because it’s available dry in most stores, and it is the nearly the same width as tagliatelle, only a touch wider. It’s just a bit thicker.

Ingredients

Serves four.

  • 2 cups mushrooms (see above for type), coarsely chopped
  • Half a medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 5 tablespoons tomato paste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh tagliatelle or dry fettuccine (3 – 4 ounces dry pasta per person)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano

Put water into your pasta pot along with some sea salt or kosher salt. Water takes awhile to boil, so you’ll want to turn the heat up on high about the time you put the water and wine into the sauce below. You can always drop the temperature on the pasta water down if it comes to a boil before you are ready to cook the pasta.

Cook the onion and mushrooms in the olive oil over a medium high heat for about four minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the water and the wine, continue cooking until liquid is reduced by half or more. Be sure your pasta water is heating.

Then add the tomato paste. Drop the heat to between low and medium and continue cooking for about 30 minutes, stirring often. This will become dense and non-liquid. You may need to drop the heat. If you are using dry pasta, begin cooking it in the last ten minutes of finishing the mushroom mixture.

Toss the pasta with freshly grated parmigiano cheese and the mushroom mixture, and serve immediately.

Note on tossing the pasta: I toss individual servings — this way you get a balanced amount of mushroom mixture, pasta and cheese. Much better than tossing all of it together — where you have a tendency to get a uneven mixture.

Tagliatelle with Mushrooms
Tagliatelle with Mushrooms

How much pasta per person? It depends on whether it is a side dish, or the main dish. I would use 2 ounces (dry pasta weight) for a side dish, and 3 to 4 ounces for a main dish, depending on the appetites of the people you are serving.

Photographs: both my own and from iStockPhoto.

Love in the Afternoon

I found myself sleepy to the point of no concentration. The words on the page kept running together, and the thought of another cup of coffee was appealing. I left the La Salle Hotel and walked down Main Street to the Harvest Coffee Bar.

Harvest Coffee Bar, Bryan, Texas
Slo Bru at the Harvest Coffee Bar in Bryan, Texas

The distillation contraption was intriguing, and I soon had a little cup of the cold brewed coffee and headed back towards my room. I wanted to get a another several hundred words down.

It was then that I saw him. He was standing at a shop window, then he turned and looked at me. He pulled off his sunglasses and smiled.

The soul of Mr. Underwood

I smiled in return but continued walking.

He said, “Stop and talk with me awhile. I think we may have much to say to one another.”

I pulled up short, and looked at him again. His blue eyes were were sincere and compelling.

We stood talking in the street for a long time. His name was Underwood. While his face was lined and he was evidently older than I first thought, the more we talked and the more stories he shared, I found myself completely taken with him. He followed me back to the La Salle.

Mr. Underwood
Mr. Underwood

We woke the next morning with the sun glowing around the edges of the blinds.

After pulling on my clothes and getting my bag together, I turned to him. “I’m really not ready to stop here . . . would you consider coming to Houston, and spending some time with me?”

His smile lines deepened, and those blue eyes gave me a wonderful look.

Lucca and the Underwood typewriter
Lucca and Mr. Underwood

 

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