Monday, December 31, 2007

Blues In The Snow

It's five PM, and completely dark outside, right now. The sun set almost an hour ago and so I slowly gather my clothes together in my dimly lit minuscule apartment. The computer casts its rays across the room, which helps light the place up. In the six years that I have lived here, this is the closest thing that I have to Christmas lights.

I look out one of my two windows, and I see a vast parking lot, filled with snow-covered cars. Most of the vehicles have several inches of freshly fallen snow on them and it is still snowing. A tiny Bobcat plow is clearing he sidewalks. It darts back and forth, as it removes the snow from the pedestrian's path.

I bundle up warmly with a hooded sweat jacket, overcoat and wool hat, then I head for the front door and out into the cold night air. The large, crisp snowflakes sparkle and shine underneath the streetlights that break the huge dome of darkness, which rains down from the heavens above. It is a magical night for walking.

I have a forty minute stroll down the hill to my place of employment, where I wash dishes in a busy restaurant. It is an enjoyable walk, especially when I plug into the local radio station; the one that has the blues hour, which begins at five o'clock. The music is as beautiful as the thickly descending snow, even though the songs originate from that hot and humid place, called New Orleans.

The song is classic barrelhouse piano with a driving back beat. The artist is Henry Roeland Byrd, better known the world over as Professor Longhair. He is noted for his driving rhythms, which often come from his feet with which he constantly pounds against the base of the instrument. It is a captivating style of music, one which he first perfected during the heyday of R & B back in the sixties. The Professor enjoyed a second career years later when the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival got going. Until his death in 1980 the New Orleans native was one of the fixtures of the very popular outdoor music stage.

Then another piano master from the Big Easy comes over the air. The song begins with a wild classical prelude, then it breaks into a funky style. This is the trademark of another keyboard wizard of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues, the late great James Booker. He was a madman of the piano, known around the city as much as he unique style that developed from his early training as a classical pianist, as his legendary descent into a dark world through the doorway of illegal drug use. Booker was a child prodigy on the piano, who eventually found his way to a successful recording career. He too became a fixture at the Jazz Festival in New Orleans until he died in 1983 at the age of 43.

Music from these two marvelous musicians continues all the way along my snowy walk to work. It is a birthday party of sorts. A sort of wacky Jazz funeral that warms up the New England winter night, for these two maestros practically share the same birthday. Henry Byrd was born on December 19th and James Booker on December 17th.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Day

Strings of Christmas Lights On The Porteous Building In Portland, Maine

More Christmas Lights in downtown Portland. I took a long walk on Christmas Eve and of course I brought along a trusted friend, my Kodak Digital Camera, which actually takes pretty good pictures, even at night. And that's what I have been doing at night lately. A healthy December snowfall, mixed in with a healthy dose of seasonal light shows and all of a sudden the ingredients are all available for some exciting winter photographs.

Christmas Day has been a quiet day for me. I slept until noon which was a fantastic thing to do. Then I drank a lot of egg nog that I mixed with some Blackstrap Rum. The rum was a recent purchase and a very tasty addition to the Christmas Day fare, which included a beef steak, mashed potatoes, fried kale, jellied cranberry sauce and some chocolate ice cream. What a feast!

Two holiday videos kept me from feeling too gloomy about spending the holiday season alone. The first being "Letters From Iwa Jima", which was a rather dark tale about the Japanese defense of the Pacific Island during World War II. For forty days the Emperor's troops made a determined and spectacular defense of a small Pacific atoll. The movie was a sympathetic look into the struggles of the ill-fated troops as the battle progressed towards the inevitable outcome of an American victory. Against all odds the Japanese held out for forty days in a battle that should have been over with in a few days. The hard part for me to take was way the Japanese were portrayed. I know Eastwood was trying to be sympathetic to the Japanese, but the fighting men in this film seemed incapable of a defense that would have lasted more than a day or two, much less the forty days that really happened.

The other movie a nutty, Spanish farce called Gaudi. It was filmed in Barcalona among the buildings of the great architect, which only adds to this delightful offbeat comedy, which is sure to warm the hearts of anyone, who watches it. It is not a holiday film per se, but it revolves around a struggling translator, who is approached by a spectacularly sexy American woman, who has just arrived in the Spanish city to try and locate a missing husband. Nothing is the same after the two meet and then try to locate the unaccounted for spouse. A delightful story.

Well so long for now wish I had another DVD to watch, but I don't so I think I'll lie down for a while and listen to Keith Jarrett in Koln.

Merry Christmas!!!Everybody!!!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

Christmas has arrived already. It is hard to believe and so is all the snow that is lying around on the ground and also piled up in huge mounds next to all the urban parking lots. With each passing winter, the snow seems to arrive later and later. But this year Mother Nature decided to turn back the clock a few decades and give us a white Christmas. I don't know if Christmases in Maine 40 years ago were all that white, but it is nice to think that they were. I can remember my first winter in Maine, which occurred about twelve years ago. It snowed like the Dickens all through the month of December, and kept on doing so for the entire winter.

Since then we might have a few inches on December 25, and then even more likely we might not. This year we got hammered early, but I have no idea of winters were more snowy in the past or not. The more likely scenario is that every ten years or so, we get hammered with the white stuff, early. This year we even got a rain storm just before the Noel, which is real blessing, for that means snowplow operators get to spend their Christmas with families and loved ones, and the average Joe does not have to spend Christmas Day shoveling snow. People in the Midwest may not be so lucky.

I am grateful because I get to take long walks in the white landscape with my camera. This Christmas season I have really gotten into photographing night lights and city skylines just after sunset. The world looks so peaceful in this northern latitude in the early evening nightfall. The picture above is a Christmas light, one of many that hangs in Deering Park, to help light up the dark, winter sky.

Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Winter Solstice

Today is the solstice, which marks the beginning of winter. This afternoon is a very gray and overcast day with temperatures just below freezing. Tomorrow we celebrate the beginning of winter with a predicted day of light rain. On the other hand our autumn has finally left us, but not without a mighty blast of wind, snow and cold. I guess the weatherman must have come down with a bad case of dyslexia for he seems to have the two seasons backwards, though once January and February roll around things I'm sure that things will get back to normal.

This past week we have seen two snow storms of moderate size. Each one has left us with about a half foot of snow., making for a very snowy landscape here in the city. The sidewalks are in pretty good shape, but there are big piles of snow everywhere. It is kind of fun to walk down the narrow footpaths with four foot high piles of the white stuff on each side of you. One would never know that there are carefully laid brick sidewalks hidden beneath winter's fury. Sometimes when get to the end of the block there is no exit to the street and so you have to climb over the wall of snow. All in the day's adventure of life here in coastal Maine.

So long for now I have to traverse my way to work on a day when the sun sets just after four and darkness completely falls by five. Soon, the days will be longer and this special time of year will be nothing but a memory. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Nor'Easter Comes To Town

Shopping Cart In The Snow

It was snowing pretty hard at 7 A.M. when I first awoke this morning. The wind was coming hard out of the northeast, driving the snow diagonally across the street and parking lot. The storm must have been blowing for at least an hour or so, because the surface of the parking lot had already turned white. The rest of the local landscape has been white for a couple of weeks now, first indications that we are in for a classic Maine winter. I may even be snowshoeing in the city parks this winter, an event that is only seems possible every five or six years.

Now, it is just a little past noon and it is still snowing quite hard. At this rate we are headed for over a foot of the white stuff, though the weather forecasters have a different scenario in mind. They think warm air will get mixed in aloft and create freezing rain or even pure rain. Right now this looks like a ridiculous assumption, especially since the temperatures are close to the twenty degree mark. However, from past experience I do know that this does sometime happen, for the ground temperature does not completely determine, what type of form the precipitation will arrive in. However, at this point in time on the ground, I would be surprised to see a turnover.

This particular storm (blizzard really) is expected to last into the wee hours of Monday morning. At the present rate over a foot seems to be the likely outcome. Good news for skiers and snowmobilers all across New England and eastern Canada, though today is a good time to stay indoors and watch the snowflakes whizz by. Besides I need to catch with some of my bill paying.

This snowfall will definitely make for a white Christmas, which is less than two weeks away. The sun will come out and make everything look very beautiful. Then it will probably snow some more. Actually white Christmas is not the appropriate term here, I think polar Christmas is more like it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Winter Has Arrived

Popular Bar With Fresh Coat of Snow On Roof

It looks like winter has arrived and is here to stay. With the onset of more snow (only 2" last night and more on the way) it appears that our blanket of snow is going to stick around for a while. Time to look on the bright side, for that means a white Christmas is just around the corner. Right now the city of Portland looks like a Christmas card with the light dusting we received last night of the white and fluffy variety. All the evergreens have white blobs on them and even the piles of street slush that the snow plows left behind have a pretty white coating. Cross-country skiers are out and about, which is a December abnormality even at this northern latitude.

All this adds up to party time. The warm hearth of the homes, restaurants and drinking establishments beckon everyone to celebrate. Don't forget a trip to the local stage or music club for the offerings are many. Even a recluse like myself will be attending more than one celebratory affair. Happy Holidays.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Early Snowstorm

Fence and Snow Shadows

An early snow storm arrived early Monday morning and actually lasted well into Tuesday afternoon. We were graced with periodic stretches of light snow that gave us maybe 6" to 8" here in the city. Some of the mountain areas had 20' of the light fluffy variety. The sun did not come out in full force until Thursday, which is when I took this picture. The oak leaves on the snow are a tell-tale sign that this particular storm was an early arrival.
The oaks are one of the last trees to change colors and hence they are still dropping a few leaves even at this time of year. The young saplings sometimes hold on to copper colored leaf until the spring rolls around, but the big trees are close to bare by now. Perhaps this snow will stay around and give us a white Christmas. That would be wonderful, but it looks things will warm up next week and then bring us some rain. So, if we are to get a white Christmas we will need some more snow. This could easily happen. With one good snowfall under our belt for the season, we could just as likely have one more.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Christmas Lights

Christmas Lights in Portland, Maine With the Eastland Hotel in Background

The colorful lights have been up for a couple of weeks now. They are located on buildings and trees all around the downtown area of the city. The ones that hang from the trees by the skating rink in the city park are especially cool to look at during the night. They hang from the branches and to someone, who is sober, they look like Japanese lanterns. To some one, who is under the influence of the holiday spirits, they must look like a fleet of flying saucers.

The ones pictured here are hung from lampposts right in Congress Square, just across the street from the Portland Museum of Art. In the background is the Eastland Hotel. As we are quickly approaching the shortest day of the year, their colorful presence is most welcome. Living where the sun sets at four o'clock in the afternoon takes some getting use to, but once that is done the winter season can be the most fun of all. These long winter nights were just made for partying long into the winter night. Nothing is more enjoyable than a long walk outside on a crystal clear night when the stars seem so much closer to the earth. (Actually they are farther away and even so the change is unnoticeable.) Happy holidays everyone.