February 26, 2005

07: Pistachio Gun Nut Ice Cream

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My buddy of long standing Allan Lorde recently sent me a link to the Illustration Friday website – a fun place where people post their creations based on a weekly theme announced each Monday. I figured I might use it if I ever drew a blank as to what to do myself. Case in point, this week – so I checked the site out only to discover the theme for the week…was the word sorrow.

And I thought, well that ain't fun.

But I did swipe the concept for this doodle, based loosely on 'sorrow'. I wanted to show someone being too hard on himself over pretty much nothing – a habit I can be accused of having now and then. I sketched this guy out at work on Wednesday. I had difficulties drawing the gun, so I brought the sketch home on Thursday where I held a banana to my head in the mirror to see how to position the right hand. I then finished the doodle using FreeHand.

February 21, 2005

06: Lady In Red

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I had hoped my trip to New Orleans would be good for taking photographs, and though I went though four rolls of film I only had a small amount of pictures I really liked. This one was my favourite, from wandering the streets in the French Quarter with Kerry on the Saturday afternoon. This woman, standing on a crate in the center of a street, was one of those human mannequin performers who spring to life when given a donation. I put a dollar in her hat, she blew some faerie sparkles on me, and I sat down in front of her to take this photo.

The picture didn't turn out so hot (top left) because of a number of variables, chief among them my plain-Jane point-and-click camera. I wanted to bring my nice camera but, it's Mardi Gras and I didn't want to be worrying about it.

With Photoshop, I was able to get a better result (top right) by making various corrections to the woman's costume and skin tones, the backdrop and the sky. I also saved an alternate black-and-white version (bottom left) and then went to town with this fantasy nighttime version (bottom right) with added high-contrast overlays and other effects.

February 17, 2005

Million Dollar Baby

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Watching Million Dollar Baby was a tainted experience for me. Instead of going in with a heard-this-was-good sense of anticipation, I walked in with a this-better-be-good attitude. And that's because of the recent hubbub screaming its poignancy, its supremacy and its merits as an Academy Award front-runner. I was hoping to see fireworks – a rare occasion where the stars (literally and figuratively) align – and a gem is produced. But it just didn't happen.

Quite possibly, Million Dollar Baby could be anointed Best Picture of 2004. But there are many intangibles that make this movie so-so. The punchclock direction. The hastened, black-and-white treatment Clint Eastwood gives an incredibly important topic. An unintentionally funny appearance from a laughably over-the-top redneck family. And the undeniable fact that all parties involved have simply put out product better than this in their careers. For Eastwood, it's no Unforgiven or Mystic River. For Morgan Freeman, it's not Glory or The Shawshank Redemption. And for Hilary Swank, who performs admirably, it's still no Boys Don’t Cry.

Bah! Unimpressed.

Side note: The selection of Eastwood as a Best Actor nominee really cheeses me. Like I said, it wasn't the best year for top-pedigree films. But with standout performances this past year from Javier Bardem, Liam Neeson, Paul Giamatti and even Jim Carrey, the acting catagory really couldn't stand to include any feelgood additions or errors – and it clearly has.

Theater idiots: None. The whole house was glued to the screen, so who knows? Maybe I'm alone with my opinion here.

February 15, 2005

05: The Owl & The Penguin

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Here's a drawing I made last week of the fella that stands guard atop our headboard. It's a Pair O' Pals, a nifty little two-in-one toy line that features critters that turn inside-out to become one animal or another. I got this one for my birthday last fall, on account of me being a bird nut – owls in particular, but penguins are quite fine in their own right. But because of their predicament, the penguin (named Pingu, from internet time-wasting sensation Smack The Pingu) and the owl (named Ugi, after a childhood toy owl I once had) never get to see each other – kinda like the premise in that 80s movie Ladyhawke. So I put them to paper, together at last, and made this black-pen-and-Photoshop creation for Kerry as part of a Valentine's Day present.

February 09, 2005

Nawlins, Wheezy

New Orleans! Home of pirates, thieves and whores!
New Orleans! Tacky, overpriced souvenir stores!
If you want to go to hell you should take the trip
to the Sodom and Gomorrah on the Mississip'!
– The Simpsons

Day 1-And-A-Bit

U.S. customs officials let us pass after giving our van a once-over and its inhabitants a healthy glowering. They stowed the nine of us in a tiny room and concluded that our grapes ("no soft fruits") couldn't enter the country. So we ate them in the room and were on our way.

Drove through the night sleeping sporadically. I woke up just north of Omaha and spent the day witnessing the spectacle that is the American heartland: Iowa, Kansas City, Missouri – this is what I refer to as Billboard Country. Billboards for tattoo removal. Billboards for fireworks outlet stores and gun shows. Some billboards that say Jesus Completely Saves (as opposed to?). Other billboards that simply say Jesus. There is not a speck of nature left to see from I-70 between KC and St Louis.

By mid-afternoon we reached St Louis and stopped for lupper. It's a beautiful sunny day and the snow has disappeared – to a Winnipegger, this may as well be Mexico. Had a sampling of local beers at a place near the Mississippi (yummy!) and made a quick go around the Arch (loopy!) before heading to Memphis, which we reached after dark.

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Memphis is a cool place, we've decided. A big bridge shaped like an 'M'. A river way more wide-ass than the ones in Winnipeg. Unfortunately we arrived too late in the day to see the ducks trot through the foyer at the Peabody Hotel, but the scene on Beale was inspiring enough, even for a 'cold' February night which made the street more quiet than we would've liked. We stayed at the Econo-Lodge across the river in Arkansas, right next to the Affle House.

Day Two

After what well may have been the Greatest Sleep Ever, we got stuffed at an IHOP and took the Cheapskate's Tour of Graceland (a perusal of tacky gift shops and a free glimpse of the estate from across the street). My stars, this is the home of kitsch.

By noon we had hopped into Mississippi en route to New Orleans. Everyone here has that accent I've only heard on TV, like Harry Connick Jr. And because the CD player in the rental van is busted, we absorb a healthy chunk of classic rock on this part of the trip – only here it somehow fits, unlike at home where I shudder at every rusted Firebird blaring "The Boys Are Back In Town".

It was good times until we hit a brick wall of gridlock still miles from New Orleans. It was only then we realized it was Friday night and half the country was funneling into town. Naïve as we were, we assumed we could pop into any motel and nab three rooms. In possibly our greatest single moment of sheer dumb luck, the first place we checked had a large group cancel on them – so their rooms, maybe the only ones left in town, were ours.

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That night we headed into New Orleans to see Mardi Gras.

Holy. Cow.

Leading up to Bourbon Street, we obediently answer the call of a shouting man shouting "Hurricanes to go" and receive the prerequisite buzz before hitting the madness. A throng of dudos with videocams watch the body-painting shop. I get on my knees and pray for beads from a woman in a balcony, which turn out to be the finest of my collection. We turn left on Bourbon and instantly find out what it's like to live in China – if all of China lived in a broom closet. The vibe is sweet, but the crowd is crushing, the footing difficult from busted beads and trash, all plastered with the scent of a thousand different colognes. It's a shoulder-to-shoulder human stew. Girls flash and you hear it a block away. Trinkets dropping from the sky. One bar had a bouncer to guard the restroom – a hot commodity, especially for the ladies (I shudder at why the men's line is so short). A once-in-a-lifetime experience to be sure.

Looking like nine Mr. Ts with our beads, we walk to the Café du Monde for a nightcap. Nearby, John Brown the Sidewalk Astronomer (son of N.O. jazzman Pud Brown) shows us the rings of Saturn through a giant telescope while fending off a blubbering drunk girl ("I don't need to see no Saturn, I got a satellite dish at home!") and catcalls from the street ("Saturn?! Saturn is full of sh*t!" – my new favourite quote).

Day Three

The sun is out. It's warm. By noon I've forgotten it's even February, and isn't that what a good holiday is supposed to do?

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Back into town and po-boys for brunch. Blackened catfish for me while we watch an impromptu zydeco performance (sweet!). We split up for the afternoon and agree to meet for a late-day parade. Kerry and I go and get lost in the French Quarter. I take pictures of the Jesus freaks (apparently sumthin's goin' down in 3003). We watch the street musicians, magicians and unicyclists. One magician lifts his hat from a card-table and suddenly there's a melon under it, and I'm all like, WTF?

The afternoon parade on Canal is a sight to behold. Folks lined up five rows thick to receive a bombardment of free junk tossed from floats full of Elvises, aliens and people dressed as cows. Music blasting. Liquor flowing (constantly). Afterwards, people flood the street and it's like the apocalypse – I've never seen so much trash blowing around in my life, and I pass a landfill every day to work. Some of us stick around for the big-ass evening parade (featuring Gene Simmons and Marisa Tomei as ambassadors), but I'm dead on my feet. Kerry, Jason and I head to a Cajun bistro, munch and relax.

We all meet up at John Brown's telescope and trot a few blocks to a strip of clubs where we watch St Louis Slim and his four-man band play a super set at the Spotted Cat, and a dancing fiftysomething man in a G-string, bra and see-through teddy only adds to the scene. The place is packed, and between Naked Man and the smoke we take in as much as we can and call it a day.

Day Four & Five

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New Orleans is behind us as we truck out to the bayou. We stop at Shoney's (endorsed by Jeff Foxworthy) for a breakfast buffet where a fat man collapses on the floor (he's OK, folks!).

At the Barataria preserve we geek it up on the boardwalks – bear in mind these are mostly nature interpreters I'm traveling with, plus I loves the birds myself. A cypress swamp is a sight to behold, with moss hanging off every branch and bird calls penetrating the forest. Great egrets slink through the undergrowth. Cardinals sing. Owls hoot. Hard to believe we were on Bourbon Street only hours ago. We failed in our quest for gators, but spotted a little blue heron, a red-bellied woodpecker and a white ibis.

Our final stop before the long, long, long haul to Winnipeg was the picturesque Oak Alley Plantation further up the Mississippi. Flanked by giant 300 year-old oaks, we joined a tour and viewed the interior of the 11,000 square-foot manor. Beautiful, but exorbitant and a little cold considering the place was built on slavery.

Our prized Cajun dinner destination – Prejean's in Lafayette, Louisiana – was closed because of another little American to-do called the Superbowl. Damn! So we gorged at another buffet, came close to getting lost in Shreveport (The "Bitch City", as Petra puts it later) and drove non-stop through a rainy, foggy, treacherous night in the Ozarks. Saw a possum. Safely made it to Kansas City by morning and the grand loop was complete. This final day was a blur, as we entered in and out of consciousness crossing the Dakotas and finally getting home at around 10:00, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for work the next day.

Photos (top to bottom): The Affle House; me and Kerry outside the gates of Graceland; Petra up close; Jason and his ginormous Heinie; one of those human mannequin performers; the bayou at Barataria; Oak Alley Plantation.