As a child, I rarely spent time on the water, but I knew a thing or two about boats.
In my child’s mind, boats were child-sized. Imaginary boats made of paper or leaves skimmed rain-filled gutters in the streets. Plastic boats fitted nicely into bathtubs or backyard wading pools. Even real boats were small. Fabricated from metal or wood, they crossed our rivers and lakes in tiny, buzzing swarms. You could fish from a boat, or go water skiing. Sometimes, you just filled it with people and drove it around, for all the world like taking a Sunday outing in the car.
On the other hand, ships were big. Ships lived on the ocean. They carried things, or fought wars. My great-aunt Fannie adopted Louisiana as her home, hung tire swings from her moss-draped oaks, rocked on her gallery until she became bored and then traveled to Europe on ships. So did great-aunt Sigrid, a mysterious woman whose accounts of her travels were equally mysterious; she wrote her postcards in Swedish. Continue reading
Had it not been for Ian in Hamburg, one of my dependable conduits for news of the quirky, the bizarre and the occasionally unbelievable, I would have missed recent events in Duisburg, an old-fashioned German steel town with the world’s largest inland harbor.
Eager to spiff up his town’s image while taking advantage of music fans’ willingness to part with their Euros, the Mayor of Duisburg, Adolf Sauerland, pursued and won the right to host Love Parade 2010. Originally held in Berlin in 1989, the dance music festival was moved to the Ruhr region in 2007. Concerns about size, safety and security had led to cancellation of the event in some years, and in 2009 the city of Bochum refused to grant permits, fearful they would not be able to cope with the crowds.
It was at that point Mayor Sauerland made his move. “It was Sauerland’s big thing,” said Johannes Pflug, a Social Democrat who represents Duisburg in the federal Parliament, or Bundestag. “He wanted to show that Duisburg could do it, that he could change the image of Duisburg. But now, after the tragedy, he is in a very difficult situation.” Continue reading
About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure;
the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
The suffering of the oil-laden Gulf of Mexico goes on. Like the suffering of Icarus in W.H. Auden’s insightful Musée des Beaux Arts, it is in some ways a strange suffering, partly accidental, partly brought about by hubris and nearly invisible to the world surrounding it. But it is suffering, nonetheless, and Brueghel’s depiction of its reality is masterful. Continue reading
I have Wendy Billiot to thank for my introduction to Quinta Scott. When Wendy, my favorite Bayou Woman, first guided me (and “Otherbug”, my companion paper doll***) through the waterways and highways of Louisiana’s Terrebonne Parish, I just was beginning my education in the living ways of marsh, bayou and swamp.
When Quinta Scott stepped aboard Wendy’s boat some time earlier, she already had spent decades becoming an accomplished photographer and years traveling and documenting the Mississippi River for her book, The Mississippi: A Visual Biography. Fifteen years in the making, the book was photographed and written between the Flood of 1993 and the Flood of 2008, with Hurricanes Gustav and Ike thrown in for good measure. Continue reading
As a child I rarely spent time on the water, but I knew a thing or two about boats.
Boats were little. Imaginary boats made of paper or leaves were small enough to skim down rain-filled gutters in the streets. Plastic boats fitted nicely into bathtubs or backyard wading pools. Even real boats were small. Fabricated from metal or wood, they plied their way up and down the Raccoon River or across the vast expanse of Red Rock Lake in tiny, buzzing swarms. You could fish from a boat, or go water skiing, but sometimes you just filled it with people and drove it around, like a family taking a Sunday outing in the car. Continue reading
It’s an old joke, but it still makes me laugh.
“What’s the difference between a boatyard and a bar?”
“In a bar, someone might actually do some work.”
In truth, some of the hardest workers in the world spend their days in boatyards. It’s also a fact that, down by the water, boatyards and bars alike shelter a high percentage of reprobates, scam artists, hustlers and hard-drinking, hard-living sorts who aren’t necessarily subscribers to the Protestant work ethic. Generally skilled but not always schooled, they drift through coastal towns like so much social flotsam and jetsam, rarely noticed or remarked by those who comb along life’s beaches.
On the waterfront, where skilled craftspeople and under-employed shrimpers, undocumented workers, refugees from corporate boardrooms and just plain boat junkies ebb and flow with the tides, there’s room for the hard-living and hard-drinking in the easy-going camaraderie that develops. When the idiosyncratic and quirky, the lazy, the obsessive and the mysterious get thrown into the mix, the fun only increases. Continue reading