Monday, February 28, 2011

From the beaches of the streets of Mardi Gras!

We’re spending a little time in the city that gave rise to the first American Mardi Gras. Mobile, Alabama. Yes, New Orleans has the edge on this market, but it all began in Mobile. While New Orleans promises celebratory drinking feasting and other temptations, Mobile has kept the celebration high energy, but family friendly. We only saw one person show skin for beads—and HE was not that impressive. Here's a picture with all the loot we scored in one parade. Pirate booty. I have no idea who started the tradition of throwing moon pies, but they do. Torben got knocked upside the head with a flying banana moon pie. That doesn't happen everyday. And I am not sure why the bead phenomenon is such a universal hit, but it is. I had to wrestle my prizes away from a some elbow-throwing grannies. Meanwhile Torben is so tall he just stuck his hand in the air and laso-ed in several strands. Good times.
Mobile is a city that is laden with history. It showcases architecture from its prior French occupancy next to modern day skyscrapers and art museums. I was impressed with the quaintness that I felt while walking downtown in such a large port city. It’s a little softer than New Orleans, but still filled with splendid French influence. And wrapped in Southern tradition, much like Savannah.
The sea, despite bringing the goods which sustain commerce, has not been kind to Mobile. Over the years there has been devastated by hurricane after hurricane…with deathly plagues of yellow fever in between. Somehow, the city seems to come back, but only barely, and the sea splashing across roadside barriers and hallow remnants of houses, hotels and restaurants serve as a constant reminder that the darker side of Mother Nature is always lurking close by. We toured the City museum and learned about the six million slaves that were brought over from Africa to the port of Mobile. Six million. One wonders how so many people could have been displaced against their will. I learned that Africans – often rival tribes – coerced their fellow Africans and sold their own people to slavery. Once captured people spent up to seven months aboard ships, in the most horrific conditions. Imagine being chained to a dirty wooden floor for nearly a year, you slept, ate (if there was any food) and defecated in an area smaller than a telephone booth. Sunshine? Forget about it. The museum had a recreation of a slave ship and it gave all of us a depressing and eerie feeling to walk through it.
These are feet lined up, men packed like sardines. I am always sadly astonished when I am reminded that humans can create mortal hell. My grief for the horror those African slaves endured is deeper than I can find words to express. May their souls find comfort in the afterlife, for they certainly suffered enough here on earth.
On a much brighter note, we spent several days camped out at what is undoubtedly one of the most serene beaches in all of the good-ol U. S. of A. Fort Pickens, off the coast of Pensacola. A kind camper we met at a previous park suggested it and I am sooooo glad we listened. Imagine: soft powder white sands, so bright reflecting the sun that it almost blinds you, small sand drifts, seagulls, pelicans, oh and gorgeous aqua waves lapping the shore. Mmmmm, sounds like heaven right? Did I mention – no condos to obstruct the view? It is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and it belongs to you as much as it belongs to me.
Our national park system is amazing. The only thing left out on this pristine stretch of beach is the remains of old Fort Pickens. I love exploring the remains of old buildings. I love history with a little mystery. This place did not disappoint. The actual park is closed at dusk, but people camping on the peninsula can access the site whenever. So, the crazy noMadsons decided to venture into the fort (complete with moat and the belches of gators hiding in the marshes) at night, on a full moon. Remember, I said I like a little mystery, I apparently forgot to stress the “little” part to my husband. Not willing to be labeled a pansy, I tiptoed through the remains of the brick walls inside the fortress walls and stone halls, on the edge of crying and peeing my pants the entire time. All I could do was imagine the ghost of some ticked-off prisoner (by the way, Geronimo was held here) haunting the corridors. It was creepy. Here is a picture of it during the daytime…now imagine this hall with the only light streaming through being the glow of the moon. The spook factor was off the charts!
Thankfully, to calm my poor panicked heart we walked back along the shore. Watching the moon light flicker like diamonds on the top of the waves as they crested was visual euphoria. The rushing sound as they washed the shore transported me and tranquility soon returned (thankfully!) Torben was eager to explore the Naval Air Museum on the military base in Pensacola. It was filled with military history, old stuff and it was free, the trifecta of cool for Torben.
He was endlessly entertained while wondering wide eyed and mouth agape from one plane to the next, amazed by the technology and the engineering as it has changed over time. I followed, smiled, nodded and learned a few things, but one air museum looks like all the other air museums, and I’ve lost count on how many we’ve been seen. I mean no disrespect the good men and women who have defended this country, so for their, and my husband’s sakes, I will continue to feign interest when our bus rolls by another one, but deep down I will likely be thinking: There goes two hours of my life I won’t ever get back.
Ooooh-weeee! I just love being in the right place at the right time, don’t you? Kinda makes me want to dance a silly jig. We were blessed to help celebrate an old friend’s birthday. I use the word old with double meaning. Yes, he is 50, so clearly that qualifies (ha!) but Jack Onkka has been one of Torben’s treasured friends for four decades! We helped shock Jack with a surprise party at a funky new blues club in town and were able to steal him away for a more intimate birthday dinner and catch-up session on his actual birthday. How awesome. Jack is an honorable man, the kind that restores your faith in humanity. He has been serving the Santa Rosa County Sherriff’s Department for over 20 years and when he plans to retire he hopes to be ordained. Seriously, 20 years of seeing the worst man-kind can dish out and STILL believing in the inherent good in people, not to mention a willingness to continue to give back, WOW! Torben has always spoken so highly of his childhood friend, after spending a little time with Jack and his beautiful wife Amy, I am in total agreement; the world is a better place with him in it.
The kids want me to report that Pensacola has the mother of all dog parks. We’ve seen some good ones, some cleared fields, some mudded fenced in lots, some with wading pools. But the coolness factor for this one is hardly rivaled. Bayview Park has not one, not two, but three parks for dogs, along with traditional playgrounds, tennis courts and fishing piers for the two legged kind. The dog beach, yea, that’s right, DOG BEACH, was like heaven for our kids.
They ran in circles in the sand, chased their new friends, and swam like guppies out in the water. Lily was spastic, she jumped in the water, got soaking wet, then bounced out onto the sand and flopped down like a fish out of water to “dry” herself on the sand. It is a silly little trick she used to do all the time when we lived on the lake in Belle Isle. She hasn’t had a good wet flop since and it was heartwarming to see her enthusiasm return. Actually, there were several dogs there who perfected the splash-and-roll technique. It was pretty adorable. Dog parks are a hoot. I love getting to play with tiny puppies like the four month old beagle who chewed on my face or the sweet giant Newfoundland who flounced happily and blissfully unaware of the delicate flowers she trampled beneath her enormous paws. Blaze has taken to be the “greeter” at any park we stop. He is the official “welcome to the park, let me offer you a complimentary butt sniff” character that looms at the entry gate. He makes friends quickly with other dogs; even adopting their tag along human companions as new family. Rodeo is a perimeter sniffer. She hangs out down the fence line, nose to the ground, sniffing. I think sniffing for a dog is a past time like knitting. You can accomplish a lot without having to exert yourself. It’s the quiet dog’s sport. And she’s breaking records.
Bela could care less about the other dogs, she’s way more interested in squirrels. Obsessively interested, I might add. When she spots one she barks incessantly and gives the rest of us a headache. She probably would have loved to have been adopted by a family that loves to hunt as much as she does. Unfortunately for her the only things she can hunt in this family is food from the from the kitchen counter. Yesterday she caught a box of cookies.
We went to a Renaissance faire! Have you ever been? It’s a place where ordinary men and women are transformed into Lords and Ladies. Where the words hello and goodbye are articulated with such royal emphasis one feels as if they have stepped off the page into a fantasy kingdom. We saw knights jousting from atop horses, both adorned with metal of armor. There were Arabian women belly dancing with fire in slow tantalizing movements. I swear Attila the Hun appeared in one sword fighting expose. All around were the sounds “Here Ye-Here Ye” and the merchants displayed their wares undersigns reading “Ye Olde….(blacksmith/clothier/bar). We tried on hats and capes of period costumes.
I succumbed to temptation and adorned myself with a braided metal headpiece (I love it so much I am still wearing it!) Children rode camels and we each took a shot at throwing axes. My strength wasn’t so impressive, but Torben and Jack landed a few. And to top off a perfectly splendid afternoon- I finally made it to the top of a rock wall. (I try to climb these things at every carnival and usually make it only half way due to my forearm cramping.) Alas, my goal was accomplished.
It was a great escape and another miracle day spent with good friends.
Speaking of miracles, thank you to everyone who responded to my last blog. The fact that someone beyond my immediate family is reading them is a miracle. Just kidding. As one friend put it – every day miracles are like God winks. Coincidence is really just God winking down at us and reminding us that we matter. I love it! (Thanks Sally!) I found it interesting to learn that several friends are also exploring their spiritual selves and it seems to me that we are all on the cusp of discovering something wonderful, about ourselves and our greater role in this magnificent universe we occupy. May your lives be touched by an abundance of love and God winks. Namaste everyone.
Stay tuned next'll never guess where we are headed back to! (Do I hear a banjo playing?)

1 comment:

  1. Always a joy to read. I laugh, I cry & I am blessed to have such a wonderful daughter.
    Love ya Beanies