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And then this happened…

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(Photo taken in 2014)

The beginning is always today. 

~ Mary Shelly 

It was a beautiful morning, and the day still is. On my ride to church I was thinking how beautiful it was. I was scheduled as an usher so arrived a bit early, and I also hadn’t been to worship in a couple weeks so I was looking forward to it. Anyhow, I was locking my bike in my usual fashion…set the opened u-lock on the rear basket while I thread the long cable through both wheels. Then as I grabbed the u-lock to secure it all together there was a sharp pain in the palm of my hand, it caused me to shake it and exclaim. I hadn’t seen anything and didn’t even know what happened. Then I saw a bee—wasp, I think—crawling on the ground and then fly away. It was then that that I realized, with the telltale redness and stinging, that I had just been stung. But still, I stood there for a minute or so in disbelief. The next emotion was one of panic and fear, at least a little. You see, two years ago after being stung by a wasp I discovered in a very scary way that I am allergic to wasps and bees. At that time I had, after two trips to the ER in 20 hours—as the nurse read from her data base today—“an extreme anaphylactic reaction.” I am supposed to carry an EpiPen with me at all times, and at first I did, but I have become lax. Today, as I looked at my hand I knew that I did not have one with me. 

So I calmly went into church and asked another congregant if they would cover my usher duties for the day, and I hopped on my bike to ride the mile or so to the nearest hospital. On the way I was monitoring the reaction my body was having, other than a slight chill everything seemed okay. Unconsciously I began to say a silent prayer that I have said many times prior…Loving God, creator of all things, remove my fear and replace it with your love.  

When I approached the receptionist and told her I would like to see a physician she asked me why, and when I explained that I have been stung by a bee and was allergic they took me almost immediately. After connecting me to all sorts of wires, taking my vitals, giving me medications, and asking me tons of questions, they left me to rest for more than an hour, likely to see if there would be any reactions. Thankfully there have been only minor ones at this point (but they can take up to 36 hours to arise I am told). One reaction was the aforementioned chills, but this was very minor compared to those I had two years ago where I shook so violently it was difficult to stand. The nurse told me she would turn on the TV if I wanted but I told her no thank you.

As I lay there I couldn’t help but think how fragile we are…these bags of skin and bones which house our spirit. I often forget this, that something as simple as an inch-long insect could take me out. And as I was thinking this I thought that I should pray. I tried, but no words would come. But what did come was this sense that I didn’t need to pray, at least not at this time, because the Divine Presence was with me right there as it always was with me as with everyone equally. I stopped shivering and it was as if the sound was turned down. That’s the only way I can explain it. Even though I could still hear the nurses in the hall and the sound of beeps of electronics connected to me and others, everything as quiet and still. It lasted only a few seconds (I think) but it was enough to calm me. Reassure me. My blood pressure dropped. 

Now as I sit comfortably at home, drowsy from Benadryl, I think of the following words that wrote in my journal a few weeks ago…One of the most incredible things about living is that we can begin again. Not just each day but each moment. I don’t feel this every day, of course, but I do now. So on this day at this very moment I choose to begin again, because it is a choice…a mind-shift. And tomorrow I will likely need to begin again, again.

Earlier when I tried to pray but couldn’t I believe I was in some ways. In the peace and calm that I felt, even if it was just for a few seconds, I knew everything would be okay no matter the outcome. So in some way I believe I was consciously or unconsciously giving thanks. And that may be enough. 

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.  

~ Meister Eckhart

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Stalking Bellocq.

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 “We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.”

— Ralph Hattersley

So I just returned from New Orleans. Well, two days ago. But in many ways the city is still with me. The uniqueness of the place has not fully sweat from my pores. This was my fourth or fifth time to New Orleans. The first time I was there was the late 80’s when I lived and worked there for a very brief time. But I haven’t been back in almost twenty years. I’ve also never been there during August. I was expecting the heat and humidity but nothing could have prepared me for it. As one local commented on the heat, “Yes, it pretty much sucks the oxygen out of the air.” I had gone there for a bit of relaxation, and to take photos and drink beer. I accomplished all three.

Whenever  I find myself in an old historic city I can feel the ghosts of those before me (metaphorically, not literally). And  sometimes I’ll create my own sort of walking tours. In Greenwich Village, for example, I did a bit of research and walked around to places where Khalil Gibran lived, worked, and drank. In San Fransisco I hunted the old beat hangouts of Kerouac. And thus on this trip I stalked E.J. Bellocq.

Bellocq worked as a commercial photographer in New Orleans about 90 years ago, mostly in the French quarter where he spent his entire life. But he also had a secret side to his life in photography. He kept secret that besides his day job as commercial photographer he also photographed the prostitutes of Storyville, which at the time was a legalized red light district.

This at first may seem a bit pervy…a guy photographing prostitutes and not telling anyone about it. But it is the contrary. Yes of course some of the models are shown unclothed, but many were partially or fully clothed. He showed them in the places the lived and worked. In short, he showed their humanity. And it is beautiful. Keep in mind that while prostitution was legal having these photos at the time was not, they would have been considered pornographic and could have resulted in jail time at the very least, and even worse in many ways, personal and public disgrace. Click here to see a good representation of his work.

It’s interesting to note that his photos were never developed in his lifetime. Plates of his photos were discovered in an old slave’s quarters on St. Peter Street behind the Preservation of Jazz. Many of the plates were water damaged and some even had the faces of some of the models intentionally scratched away. There is a great article written at Exquisite Corpse that goes into this in more depth, to read that story, click here.

The morning after my arrival to New Orleans I headed out to St. Louis Cemetery #3 as this is where I had read that is remains were buried. I thought I’d pay him homage, but to no avail. On this day the temperature peaked in the mid 90’s and at the cemetery there was no shade. It hurt to walk around. I often visit famed cemeteries in historic places and was surprised to find that not only was there no office to offer information there was no information to be had anywhere. There were a few tours going on and I interrupted them to ask information but no one could offer any. Seeing a worker’s van down one of the long rows I approached it to find a man sleeping in the air conditioning. After startling him awake he did offer me general advice but nothing concrete. I approached another worker, this one spoke broken or at least heavy accented English. I am usually pretty good at picking up an accent upon hearing it but could not place this sweating and jovial man’s language. It wasn’t until he spoke into his walkie talkie that I realized he was speaking a form of French…Cajun French. But alas, still no info.

The cemetery is vast and as aforementioned has no shade so I began walking back towards the road to seek the shade of a tree. But not wanting to give up I googled additional info as I walked. Sweat was literally dripping from me and onto the screen of my iPhone. I emailed a person who had posted a picture of Bellocq’s grave and surprisingly she emailed me back right away. Unfortunately she could not remember the exact location but only general area. I did go back and look again but to no avail (though I did find the family tomb of Chef Paul Prudomme). At any rate, with the risk of severe sunburn or heat collapse I left the cemetery but  know that I had likely walked right past his grave as they all look so similar.

Over the course of the next few evenings I did what I came here to do…walk around and take photos. The temperature would dip to about 80F in the evening so it was still rather stifling. As I  walked I’d make a point of stopping at addresses that were once home to Bellocq’s studios…Rue Conti, Ursulines, Burgundy. And I’d try to  imaging what it must have been like to haul that heavy photography equipment of his day through this heavy heat.

As I walked I also thought about all the places I have been where I myself have walked at night with my camera on one shoulder, tripod on another, and a belly full of beer. In many this was a sort of deja vue as I had walked these same streets thirty years prior with a camera and tripod. In those days it was with my old 35mm camera, whose prints of that time are mostly lost or packed away in some box in an attic or closet in which I cannot find. When I was here during that time I was so young and had no idea of all that lay before me. I have done so much since then…have changed so much but at the same time am still very much the same. And it occurred to me as I walked that I was not only stalking the ghost of Bellocq but also that of my younger self.

To read a very nice article written about Bellocq for the Smithsonian, click here.

Urban Simplicity.

Things that can be carried on a bike (#724)…

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“There is no machine known that is more efficient than a human on a bicycle.”

~Bill Nye

To read Bill Nye’s short essay, Why I Bike, and from where this quote was culled, click here.

To see more in the Things That can be Carried on a Bike series, click here.


On the bike: $47 in groceries.

Bourbon Street at 6am

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the air is thick

even at this early hour

humidity engulfs

smells from the night before

and the night before and the night before

ooze from the buildings and street

beer, sweat, bleach

slap you in the face

tingle your nostrils

stragglers from last night

drunk revelers

stumble

city workers spray the street clean

for tonight’s show

i’ve walked this street

many times

years ago

at dawn

on my way to work

accompanied by prostitutes

then as now

bourbon street

at 6am

you are different

but very much the same

Chickpea Burgers with Basil, Asiago, and Jalapeno

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So a couple days ago I wanted falafel and put some chickpeas in a bowl to soak, then I forgot they were in the fridge. And because I forgot about them I never went to the store for cilantro and parsley. Discovering the soaked peas today I wanted falafel again, but still no cilantro or parsley. So I went out to my garden and picked a bunch or basil and some peppers, I also found some shredded asiago in the fridge. So I used these ingredients instead of the traditional ones. I also made them into full sized burgers instead of nugget sized. Anyhow, this recipe is the result. Really delicious. Healthy. Simple to prepare.

Chickpea Patties with Basil, Asiago, and Jalapeno

Makes about 2 dozen small patties or 8 full-sized burgers

1 cup dried chickpeas

3 cups water

½ small onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 jalapeno, seeded

1 bunch fresh basil, washed

½ cup asiago cheese, grated

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon baking powder

6 tablespoons whole wheat flour

vegetable oil for pan-frying

Combine the chickpeas and water together in a bowl overnight and leave them at room-temperature to reconstitute. The next day drain the chickpeas, reserve ¼ cup of the water. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the soaked chickpeas, ¼ cup of reserved water, onion, garlic, jalapeno, basil, asiago, salt, turmeric, and baking powder. Process until a mealy consistency then transfer to a bowl. Mix in the flour, cover and let rest for about 10 minutes. Shape into patties, preheat about a half-inch of oil in a skillet, and pan-fry (in batches) on both sides until golden and cooked through.

Seven Photos of One Building, and a Few Words.

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Mere color, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.

~Oscar Wilde

A couple things. One is that the event two nights ago was incredible. If you are reading this from somewhere other than Western NY the event I speak of is the illumination of the former Richardson Complex, now known as Hotel Henry. I have posted about these structures before but not in a while. The hotel and the original complex take their names from the architect, HH Richardson. Constructed in the 1800s, for many years it was part of the Buffalo Psychiatric center, which still resides next door. Then it sat vacant and crumbling for many years, decades. It was close to demolition at one point. But as you can see it has been resurrected and in a glorious way. Thus, as a grand opening of sorts, two nights ago the buildings were illuminated and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra played. The light-show was choreographed with the music. As stunning as these photos are they do not do it justice to actually being there..at points the buildings looked to be throbbing and even melting. Incredible. On a slightly different, but at the same time similar note, if you’d like to see images of our grain elevators illuminated, which are now a permanent nightly display, click here. The City of Light.

A Hero Named Chuck.

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 “Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause.
~Abraham Lincoln


So a couple things. One is that while it may look like I am laughing I am only doing so at the situation, not at the story or what happened as this photo took place. I was surprised, I suppose. And also, that’s Chuck in the background running to get his daughter for the photo. In my opinion he is a hero. But I’m jumping ahead as I’m apt to do. Let me begin again.


It was raining today so I took the subway and then the bus to work rather than bike. I was waiting for the subway when a man approached me, it was 6:15am. Keep in mind that the Buffalo subway system can be pretty desolate at that hour (see below photo). I was sitting down and he was sort of imposing, probably 6 feet tall, and he stood a bit too close as he spoke. It made me nervous at first, but then my nerves eased as I stood to face him and spoke some more. His name was Chuck, he told me, and at first I didn’t think he was going to ask me for money. I could tell there was something a bit “off” as he spoke, so I thought maybe he was just making chitchat…asking me if I was from Buffalo, what I did for work, talked of the rain outside, that type of thing. Then I asked him his story, shortly after is when he asked me for money for coffee, a newspaper, and maybe a soda for his daughter, Karen, who he said was waiting upstairs.


Chuck told me he’s a war veteran, having served two tours in Afghanistan and one tour in Iraq. He also told me what he did. I never asked, he just told me. I can’t remember the military jargon he used for his title but basically he traveled with the medical crew and was usually the first on the seen when a soldier or soldiers were down. He would administer shots to the fallen soldiers to ease their pain. “I can’t even begin to tell you the pain I saw,” Chuck told me. Sometimes, he also added, that that was all they could do was “give ’em a needle to ease their pain.”


I have mentioned in previous posts that I personally am a pacifist and that I feel that nothing good ever comes from war, but at the same time I have the utmost respect for the men and women that serve our country. And while Chuck was telling me his story all I could think is that to some he was likely the last face they saw on this earth, just before he gave them a needle; he was their angel.


Chuck talked a lot. He lives at home with his mom and is being treated for PTSD because he is “having difficulty back in civilian life.” At one point, when there was a brief break in his story, I thanked him for his service to the country. This stopped him in his tracks. He had rarely looked me in the eye but now he was, and he stopped talking. “Thank you, sir. That means so much to me,” is how he broke the silence. 


So by this point I knew my train was coming so I gave him $5 and asked if I could take our photo together. Really, he asked. It was the first time I saw him smile. Then he told me about his daughter, Karen, who was still waiting upstairs. “Come on,” he said, “I really want Karen to be in the photo,” and he began to run taking two stairs at a time. I caught up to him at the second level (there are three levels) and told him the train was coming and if I missed it I would be late for work. So he stands next to me as I ready the phone, and just before I snap the photo he says, “But she’s right up there,” pointing to the next level and calling her name, and then he darts to get her.. Now I hear the train coming on the level below which only gave me seconds to get to it. “Sorry Chuck, I have to go,” I yelled to him, and made the train just as it’s doors were closing. I looked through the window as we pulled away but did not see him or his daughter.

So this is how I met a hero named Chuck on my way to work this morning.

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