All that Jazz: New Orleans and the Preservation Hall

28 06 2010
There is nothing that can describe sitting in the humid air of the dusty floor of a packed hall in an old Spanish colonial building set in the main square in the Vieux Carré and listening to feet tapping strains of the brass, woodwind, bass, piano, and percussion instruments that could only be associated with the fabulous sounds of the southern brand of jazz, all for a sum of two U.S. dollars. I suppose there is nothing that can aptly describe New Orleans as well, where the Preservation Hall Jazz Band performs every evening since 1961 to packed audiences in a setting that could only be that of the temple of southern jazz. New Orleans is a city that is unique in many ways, atypical as North American cities go, a collection of the influences of her former French and Spanish masters, before becoming coming under control of the U.S. with the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon for a sum of $15 million. In New Orleans, we see architecture that is inherited from the Spanish, a joie de vivre inherited from the French, in a setting that perhaps feels more like the Caribbean that a city on the North American mainland should.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band performing to a packed hall.

The Preservation Hall on St. Peter Street (off Jackson Square) was founded in 1961 and is the temple of southern jazz.

Wandering around the streets of the French Quarter or Vieux Carré filled with buildings that date back to the era of Spanish rule in the late 18th Century with the characteristic wrought iron balconies and inner courtyards, one can’t escape from the sound of music that constantly fills the air. In and around the Vieux Carré which is centered on Jackson Square, the former Place d’Armes, one often sees a piano or two being wheeled around. Music is very much a part of street life in a city that is synonymous with hearty celebration and cuisine: the Mardi Gras and Jambalaya. It is a city that is both magical as well as being mysterious, being associated with practices such as Voodoo, where walks around the old cemetery is a must for the visitor as much as sitting on the floor of the Preservation Hall is. It is a city that continues to fascinate me and one that I would love the opportunity to visit again.

Music is everywhere in New Orleans.

The wrought iron balconies of the Spanish influenced buildings that line the streets of New Orleans.





On top of the world …

19 10 2009

Mountains bring a sense of peace to many of us. With transport links and the technology that the 20th century gave us, mountains have become a lot more accessible and we do not need to be mountaineers to enjoy the experience and exhilaration of being on top of the world.

My first encounters with mountains were somewhat confined to those that were accessible by road from Singapore. The mountain top resorts of Cameron Highlands and Fraser’s Hill, provided the colonial masters of Malaya with respite from the heat and humidity of the tropics, and since, they have become popular as a destination for many from Singapore and Malaysia. It was much later in life that I first had my experience of the wonderous feeling of being amongst the peaks and the breathtaking views on offer. The Alps in Europe are particularly spectacular. There is no better feeling I get than that that comes from staring out at the peaks of mountains, sometimes over the clouds, sometimes capped with snow, and sometimes just bare rock faces. The most spectacular views I have seen of the Alps are from a cable car, the Gondola Panoramic Mont-Blanc,  that runs across the Glacier du Géant from Aiguille de Midi to Ponte Helbronner … the views on offer are simply grogeous!

The Panoramic Mont-Blanc Gondola across the Glacier du Géant

The Panoramic Mont-Blanc Gondola across the Glacier du Géant

The Vallée Blanch (White Valley) as seen from the Gondola Panoramic Mont Blanc

The Vallée Blanch (White Valley) as seen from the Gondola Panoramic Mont Blanc

All across the Alps, the views are as spectacular… the Dolomites in Alta Badia in Italy for one have provided me with some breathtaking views as well.

Corvara and Monte Sassongher in the Alta Badia Region of Italy

Corvara and Monte Sassongher in the Alta Badia Region of Italy

Monte Lagazuoi near Corvara in Alta Badia

Monte Lagazuoi near Corvara in Alta Badia

The view down Lagazuoi ...

The view down Lagazuoi ...

Having spent time in the West of Scotlands, I am no stranger to the Western Highlands, which provide a serene getaway for many, as well as a fair bit of folklore and mystery. It is hard to imagine kilted men running around in the hostile climes of the Western Highlands, doing battle first with rival clans, and then the invaders from the south. It is of course the stuff that legends are made of.

Glen Coe in the Western Highlands of Scotland

Glen Coe in the Western Highlands of Scotland

Loch Ness in the Western Highlands of Scotland

Loch Ness in the Western Highlands of Scotland





Of Melting Timepieces and Hallucinogenic Bullfighters …

13 09 2009

Inspired by a piece of melting Camembert, which Salvador Dalí observed on a hot August evening, the images of melting clocks and watches are some of the most recognisable images produced by Dalí. A visit to the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, brought about by my fascination with Dalí since the encounter with Dalí’s “Christ of St. John on the Cross” in Glasgow, provided some enlightenment to the artist’s inspiration for the iconic melting timepieces that first appeared on what is probably his most famous painting, “The Persistence of Memory”, against the backdrop of another interpretation of this work – “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory”. The melting timepieces represent the relativity and decay of time, which conventional thought held to be rigid and deterministic. Dali, as we were told by the guide had pondered if time could melt like the piece of cheese that stood before his eyes, on an evening where suffering from a bad headache, the artist had stayed home while Gala his wife, had gone to the movies. Then and there, the artist got his inspiration to add the images of the melting pocket watches to the landscape near Port Lligat which he had been in the midst of painting, which filled not just Gala on her return from the Theatre, with fascination, but the many of us who have seen the images of the melting timepieces.

The Disintegration of Persistence of Memory (1952 - 1954), Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Disintegration of Persistence of Memory (1952 - 1954), Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida. (Source: Wikipedia)

Dali's Melting Timepiece on display in Singapore in 2006. Profile of Time (1977 - 1984), Dalì Sculpture Collection.

Dali's Melting Timepiece on display in Singapore in 2006. Profile of Time (1977 - 1984), Dalì Sculpture Collection.

The museum, which houses the largest collection of Dali’s works outside of Europe, has several of Dali’s masterworks, including the “The Hallucinogenic Toreador” and “The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus”. “The Hallucinogenic Toreador” perhaps provides some insight into Dali’s state of mind and the hallucinogenic state which provided the many images we see in his work. Several of the images we see repeated over many different works, the potrait of Gala, the little boy which represents Dali in his youth, the bay of Port Lligat … the symbolistic images, many of which depict Dali’s past experiences and influences.

The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1969 - 1970), Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida. (Source: Wikipedia).

The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1969 - 1970), Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida. (Source: Wikipedia).

The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1959), Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida. (Source: Wikipedia).

The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1959), Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida. (Source: Wikipedia).

Another striking piece is the “Archeological Reminiscence of Millet’s “Angelus””, Dalí’s interpretation of Jean-François Millet’s famous painting …

Archaeological Reminiscence Millet's "Angelus" (1933 - 1935), Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida.

Archaeological Reminiscence Millet's "Angelus" (1933 - 1935), Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida.

Jean-François Millet's "The Angelus" (1857 - 1859), Musée d'Orsay, Paris. (Source: Wikipedia).

Jean-François Millet's "The Angelus" (1857 - 1859), Musée d'Orsay, Paris. (Source: Wikipedia).

Several of Salvador Dalí’s sculptures from the Dalí Sculpture Collection were on display in Singapore in September / October 2006. Among the striking pieces on display were the ones depicting his melting timepieces, as well as the “Homage to Newton”, which is now permanently displayed at the UOB Plaza.

Horse Saddled with Time (1980), Dalí Sculpture Collection.

Horse Saddled with Time (1980), Dalí Sculpture Collection.

St. George and the Dragon (1977 - 1984) in Singapore in 2006, Dalì Sculpture Collection.

St. George and the Dragon (1977 - 1984) in Singapore in 2006, Dalì Sculpture Collection.

Unicorn (1977 to 1984) in Singapore in 2006, Dalì Sculpture Collection.

Unicorn (1977 to 1984) in Singapore in 2006, Dalì Sculpture Collection.

Homage to Newton (1985), UOB Plaza.

Homage to Newton (1985), UOB Plaza.

Information Plate - Homage to Newton (1985), UOB Plaza.

Information Plate - Homage to Newton (1985), UOB Plaza.





Midsummer Madness

14 07 2009

As students, we usually found many ways to keep ourselves amused, and hang on to our sanity. The usual visits to the campus pub wasn’t always as interesting as other amusements such as the odd Ceilidh; our regular meet ups on Friday evenings when each of us, two Singaporeans, two Italians, two Malaysians, an Irishwoman, and a Cameroonian, would take turns at upsetting each other’s stomachs; joining the Labour movement’s rallies in Glasgow Green; and of course Wine Tasting sessions …. One particular one involved a few of us left behind in Glasgow during the start of the summer break…

Odd Bins Wine Tasting Card 21 June 1989

Odd Bins Wine Tasting Card 21 June 1989





The Jersey Shore

31 05 2009

I spent a good part of the summer of 1989 along the northern Jersey Shore, under the spell of a lady with a red pick up. Well, maybe not quite under her spell … but the few or us working for her did feel that she was somewhat of a witch, keeping us on our “hands and knees” six to seven hours a day. Well, maybe we were a little ungrateful. She did pay us $7 an hour, when the minimum wage was $2.50 an hour …

The impression given by the name the “Jersey Shore” is one of summers by the seaside, boardwalks with food and amusement, the casinos and lights of Atlantic City, and of course Ashbury Park – made famous by one of its sons – Bruce Springsteen. I didn’t get a chance to see Atlantic City, deciding instead to hop on a Greyhound on a 15 day journey up and down the eastern seaboard instead, at the end of my working stint.

Jersey Shore

Ashbury Park proved to be somewhat of a disappointment. The area around the famous beach was quite rundown, and had certainly seen better days. Nearby, the borough of Deal was a little more interesting, if only because of a particular piece of architecture – a piano shaped mansion, built by Billy Joel for his Uptown Girl, Christy Brinkley.

I got most of the firsthand experience I had of the seaside and the boardwalks in Belmar, a borough south of Ashbury Park, where I lived during my time along the Jersey shore. The apartment was maybe five blocks from the beach front, and it gave me the opportunity of walking by the white sandy beach each evening, listening to the wave of the Atlantic washing up to the shore. Walking down the boardwalk along Ocean Drive, you would come to some amusement and food outlets lining the boardwalk. A mate of mine worked at one of the food outlets frying burgers each evening. At the end of his shift, he would have to sweep the part of the boardwalk directly in front of the burger stand and in doing so would pick up the many pennies discarded by the affluent crowd that frequented the boardwalk. At the end of the summer, he had accumulated some $400 in one cent coins.

The work I did on my “hands and knees” involved contract cleaning jobs the lady with the red pick up, Jane, undertook. Each day, I would find myself, with some of the members of our team, sent to different houses along the Jersey Shore. Some of the houses were huge, and among our duties, we would need to do the laundry, change bed linen, clean windows, kitchens and toilets, as well as vacuum some very plush carpets. One of the houses we cleaned was owned by the owner of some of the food and entertainment outlets on the boardwalks. I recall seeing that he had two walk-in wardrobes adjoining his bedroom, which in area, each was maybe half the size of a apartment in Singapore.  There was another house which had seven bedrooms, each with an attached bathroom, fitted with gold fittings.

Besides the cleaning job, I also spent a few weekends helping out in the kitchen of Pat’s Tavern in Belmar, washing dishes. I remember the roast beef sandwich I requested for during lunch each time – the cook always gave me a generous helping of pink thinly sliced roast beef, which I always looked forward to.

Matchbook - Pat's Tavern

Matchbook - Pat's Tavern

Beach at Belmar, NJ, 1989

Beach at Belmar, NJ, 1989

Beach at Belmar, NJ, 1989

Beach at Belmar, NJ, 1989

Beach at Belmar, NJ, 1989

Beach at Belmar, NJ, 1989

Boardwalk at Belmar, NJ, 1989

Boardwalk at Belmar, NJ, 1989

Boardwalk at Point Pleasant Beach

Boardwalk at Point Pleasant Beach