Musings of an Irish-American

Sometimes I think about stuff, and then I write it here…

Monthly Archives: January 2010

fond memories

So, here I am on the brink of second semester here at DePauw and I finally found the time to write my recap post of my Winter Term trip to Louisiana. We returned on Monday morning (at 5 AM; see my last post for that ridiculousness), and I’ve spent the past four days frantically preparing for our opera production.

An update from Delta: with a very articulate letter from our trip advisor, Delta realized they really boned up our situation and decided to give us flight vouchers for 60% of the cost of our trip. Although this money had been paid for our tickets and everything, it’s still great that they acknowledged their mistake and tried to remedy it.

The first couple of days back on campus were rough for a couple of reasons. Although it’s been wonderful seeing familiar faces again, Greencastle is no New Orleans or Baton Rouge. I know personally that it’s been a bit of a struggle to find myself back at ease with how small Greencastle and DePauw can be after spending so much time exploring and socializing in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. I also know that the transition back to being at DePauw can occur, especially with classes approaching on Monday.

The other rough part about being back is not seeing all of those faces that I saw the whole trip on a regular basis again. Even though there were times we tested each others’ nerves because of our proximity and amount of time spent together on the trip, it’s been kind of weird and sad to not see those people everyday on a regular basis, whether it be wandering down the hall of the hotel, or at breakfast, or on the bus. It makes me hope that I can keep up those relationships that were built up over the course of our adventure together.

All in all the trip itself was fantastic. I had a great time performing and socializing in Baton Rouge with the friends of our trip advisor/choir director extraordinaire, where we were welcomed into their homes for performances and dinners and wonderful conversation. Although the location of our accommodation in Baton Rouge was right at the end of a hotel corridor, I think I can confidently say we all enjoyed our time there immensely as well. Seeing how much students enjoyed our music, whether it was at Dunham, Zachary or Jackson, also made this a worthwhile experience.

Our New Orleans leg of the trip was a bit more leisure than business, but I definitely think our performance at the World War II museum, albeit not the ideal performance space, made a great impression on all of us. Being able to explore a city so full of life and activity, especially in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, was also a very tremendous opportunity. I believe this trip to its core was worth every moment, even if the ending was less than desirable. And yet, I think the ending is something we’re all going to talk about just as much as the trip itself because, as you find, it’s one of those experiences that you can’t help but look back at and have quite a laugh at.

Recruitment for Greek houses starts today; classes start on Monday. Let’s do this.

-MJH

off the beaten path

It is currently about 5:33 PM Eastern Standard Time, and I am writing from my room back on campus at DePauw. This is after sleeping the day away in one of the most draining travel experiences in my life. To put it into relative terms, myself and the other members of my choir tour expected to land in Indianapolis this morning at midnight, maybe a bit later; we didn’t touch down this morning in Indianapolis until 5 AM.

We left our hotel in New Orleans yesterday to go to the airport at 3:15 PM Central Standard Time, getting out of town basically in time to avoid all the craziness that was the NFC Championship game. We arrived at the airport at about 3:45 and waited to check in. I was checked in at about 4:30, only to see that my ticket said that our departure time was at 4:35. Seeing this, I went over to the security checkpoint and rushed over to the gate, only to find out that our flight was delayed until 6:20 PM because of inclement weather in Atlanta, where we were getting a connecting flight to Indianapolis. I believe it was at that point that someone said our connecting flight in Atlanta had been delayed until after midnight. So, 6:20 comes around and we board the airplane. However, because of passengers on the plane with PDAs and iPhones, we find out that there are further delays in Atlanta, and that we’re not taking off…and we know this BEFORE THE PEOPLE FLYING THE PLANE DO. Five minutes later the pilot announces we have to deplane because there are further delays in Atlanta, and that we won’t be heading out until about 9 PM. After eating and lounging around the New Orleans airport, we board and fly out of New Orleans just after 9 PM, just after the Saints clinched their first ever Super Bowl berth.

We land in Atlanta at about 11:30 Eastern Standard Time, only to taxi on the ground for about an hour. By the time we finally get to a gate, we get off the plane and see our connecting flight at the gate just across from us. It said departure time was at 12:35 AM, so we figured we didn’t have long to wait…until it said 12:45, and 1:00, and 1:15, and 1:45, and 2:00, and 2:15, and 2:45 and then finally 3:00. This lengthy delay turned out to be because of a lack of a co-pilot; I’ve heard many ridiculous stories about exactly why we had no co-pilot in the first place, but I won’t even bother starting with that. So, at about 3 AM EST, we are waiting to board the plane when we find out that they can’t let us on because the computer says that there’s a different plane outside than the one that is actually there. Now, why they didn’t notice that while we were waiting for a co-pilot for three hours is beyond me. And, for some reason, they started letting on standby passengers before people who were actually supposed to be on the flight. Both of these lead to an announcement that seating on the plane will be open seating to get everybody possible on the plane before the crew time is up and our flight is cancelled. Luckily, people kept their heads about them and we all got on the plane. The pilot started off before taking off by apologizing for all the, and I quote, “crap” we had to deal with. He also said that they were going to fly as fast as possible as safely as possible for our sake. We finally took off from Atlanta at 4:00 AM EST.

We touch down in Indianapolis at 4:59 AM EST and are off the plane at 5:05. Because we had driven in cars to the airport to cut down transportation costs, I and a few others made a much needed Starbucks stop at 5:20. I was at the luggage claim at about 5:31 AM only to find out that none of our luggage was there. In a great twist, it was just our trip that had no luggage. So, we sat there and filled out claim forms for our luggage to have it shipped to DePauw; our last form was filed at 6:30 AM. We then hopped on the shuttle to economy parking at 6:42 to head to our cars. On the road to Greencastle by 6:55 AM. At 7:29 AM EST, my van arrived back in Greencastle and my four passengers and I made a morning breakfast stop at the Monon restaurant. I retired to bed at 8:30 AM and woke up at 4:30 this afternoon.

(My luggage arrived in Greencastle at about 2 PM today, thankfully).

What a ridiculous end to an altogether great trip. In fact, before we skipped town yesterday, we went to New Orleans’ own Cafe du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait and the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. Fun time at both; it was a nice ending to a fun trip. Then Delta airlines decided to rain all over our parade.

Dear Delta,
You need to figure out a system where you quickly get a back-up co-pilot, so people don’t have to wait three hours for a flight. Also, during said three hours, have your people look at the computer to see if what the computer matches up with what plane has been sitting out there the whole time, rather than wait until a restless crowd of people are contemplating mobbing you and your lousy seven dollar food vouchers that you can only use at a restaurant that’s closed. Finally, if you have passengers that have connecting flights, you should come up with some sort of system where the luggage follows the passenger to their destination; especially if that luggage was in Atlanta and sat there for the same three hours your passengers did and yet somehow didn’t end up on the same plane they did.

Basically, you suck.

Love,
Me

Hopefully a less jaded sarcastic recap of the trip will be up soon. 🙂

-MJH

a memorable experience

Last day here in Nola (New Orleans, Lousiana, for those of you who aren’t savvy :-)); we had our last concert today at the National World War II Museum, where we did an hourlong set of most of the music we learned for this trip. Unfortunately, not all of it was performed because we sang in the rather cavernous lobby of the museum, which made sound production difficult at times. However, everything went swimmingly, and everyone in attendance really seemed to enjoy themselves. After the concert, we had free admission to all exhibits and got to see their IMAX theater, with a film experience (I call it that because it’s quite a bit more than just a movie) called Beyond All Boundaries. Although terribly slanted in a way that makes it seem like the US singlehandedly won World War II, the whole thing as a work was tremendously well done and very worth it. We then were able to wander the museum at our leisure; unfortunately we got out of the film at almost 4 and the museum closed at 5, so we didn’t get a chance to spend as much time as I’d like (at least) to see the exhibits. I honestly can say that one would really need a whole day to get the full experience.

Now, we have a free night before we get up tomorrow for hopefully a group brunch and try to get out of town before we get too sucked into the Saints-Vikings NFC Championship game at the Superdome. I’ll hopefully have a more holistic reflection on the trip by tomorrow sometime.

Let the craziness commence!

-MJH

cooking

A free morning and evening bookended our trip to the New Orleans School of Cooking this afternoon. We got to see a native Cajun prepare gumbo, jumbalaya and pecan pralines, and have our fair share of each during the course of the lesson. It wasn’t directly interactive, but getting to see our teacher go through the steps of preparing these foods made it seem so very easy that it made me excited to try it myself sometime. She was also very entertaining, which made the whole experience that much more hilarious. Now, we’re off to rest and prepare for our last concert of our tour, at the World War II Museum tomorrow afternoon. More to come!

-MJH

restoration

Up at 7:15 this morning to eat breakfast and head to Park City New Orleans for our restoration project. We were helping clear the area out of an alien species of plant that took over the area after Hurricane Katrina. It was really interesting to hear from our guide how that area was under six feet of water during Katrina. We spent three hours clearing the area out; it was hot and sweaty, but I think, after it all, we were all very happy to see how much we were able to help in clearing out the area of the vegetation that didn’t need to be there to create room for native vegetation.

We headed from there back to our hotel for a shower and to head to lunch before our graveyard tour. The graveyard tour in and of itself was more historically interesting than yesterday’s tour, but the tour guide was, once again, pretty abrasive in her presentation and that made it a bit difficult to take seriously. But, again, we had a decent time collectively making fun of our tour guide.

A free evening means that New Orleans should watch out for a bunch of choir kids from Indiana 🙂 Cajun cooking class tomorrow afternoon!

-MJH

transfer

Early morning today, as we checked out of our hotel in Baton Rouge to begin our somewhat lengthy transfer to New Orleans. We drove to nearby Zachary, where we performed a set for the Zachary High School mixed a cappella chorus. After we sang our thirty minute set of music, the students performed a piece for us, and then we got to talk and meet with them. That in and of itself was extremely fulfilling; the students were really engaging and seemed very enthused by our just being there. They were very inquisitive and extremely friendly; we all had a great time getting to talk and interact with them.

We then headed to Jackson, which is a bit further out, where we performed a few of our pieces for the students from Jackson Middle School. This was a different type of experience if only because Jackson is a much less financially well off area than Zachary and at the Dunham School, where we performed yesterday. The principal of Jackson Middle School is a very good friend of our director, and she told us about how she first started working at Jackson through Teach for America, and how the educational system has been failing the students in Jackson because of how much less financially affluent Jackson is compared to other school districts. After we sang, the students asked us questions, and we asked them questions, both about our lives and their lives, and we even got a chance to talk to some of them individually. They all seemed very happy with this different experience in terms of music that they have heard performed, and seemed very eager to interact with us. All in all, it was an extremely enlightening learning experience, both for us and them.

We then boarded the bus for our transfer to New Orleans. We arrived in the city at about 6:15 CST and checked in at our hotel. We had a bit of time to unpack and unwind, where myself and my two roommates (both of whom are fraternity brothers of mine) decided to take a walk and went straight to Bourbon St. However, it being a Wednesday night, it wasn’t terribly lively, but we at least acquainted ourselves with the area. We then headed back to the hotel to meet with our group for our tour tonight. We went on the Ghost & Vampire tour tonight; Cemetery & Voodoo is tomorrow. The tour was generally well received (lots of walking), although I think our group may have been entirely too cynical for the tour itself (myself included). However, even if we found the tour a bit hokey, there was quite a bit of interesting historical information in the tour, which I think made it wholly worth it.

Tomorrow morning we’re doing some volunteer work for post-Katrina restoration, where we’ll be planting trees in the New Orleans City Park, and taking our second walking tour of New Orleans; updates to follow, fun to come.

-MJH

halfway point

I can honestly say it’s been quite an adventure thus far in our dealings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It’s a little sad to move on from this wonderful area, but knowing that we’re headed to the exciting, famous (and also infamous) area of New Orleans is definitely a good prospect.

Today started off with an early morning start to the Dunham School for a concert for their students from Kindergarten to between sixth and eighth grades. Although the gymnasium they had us perform in wasn’t terribly acoustically friendly, it seemed that the students appreciated our being there, and our director’s very unique way of making them feel included (including asking the question “Who here speaks Latin?” and having about half of the back of the gymnasium raise their hands).  The school was very gracious in hosting us, and I feel like our performance went over well with all parties.

This evening we had a concert at St. James Episcopal Church; there was quite a nice crowd there, including a group of LSU students who were intensely taking notes throughout the performance. After our hour and ten minute performance, we were taken to dinner courtesy of the church and one of our hosts (who herself was a graduate of DePauw). Although the service wasn’t the best, I think we all had a good time enjoying one another’s company, as we prepare for two school concerts tomorrow and our transfer to New Orleans.

Baton Rouge has treated us well, to be sure, but I can’t wait to see what New Orleans has in store for us in the next few days 🙂

-MJH

hospitality

We had a great morning of learning and outdoors time while we visited the LSU Museum of Rural Life. We got to see some of the very prominent features of life in preindustrial Louisiana, with some of the completely authentic tools and buildings that one could find in the area. It was nice being able to see the area and spend some time out in the beautiful weather, especially in January. It was definitely an experience to remember; I really appreciated it because I know my dad and mom would have enjoyed themselves because of their experiences growing up in rural areas in Ireland.

We were fortunate enough this evening to spend time with a great group of friendly people. We were invited over for a dinner party with a friend of our choir director, which was followed by a cocktail party and a mini-concert with other friends of our gracious host, his wife and our choir director. Everyone in attendance really seemed to enjoy themselves, and I think we all were very happy to meet with and talk to people who were genuinely happy to talk and interact with us. It was an experience to remember, and definitely made us all hope that we found more Creole hospitality in the coming days.

School concert in the morning; concert at an Episcopal church in the evening; more tomorrow.

-MJH

a new adventure

A free morning allowed all of us to grab breakfast without any time crunch, and mentally prepare for the day ahead. We met at 12:10 to warm up and tune up some of our selections for concert this afternoon. We headed out for St. Joseph’s Cathedral at about one, and that’s where the fun began.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral, built in 1792, was a really beautiful space to perform in. Although the acoustics weren’t terribly ideal, the group of about forty five people who showed up for the concert were treated to a great majority of the music we’ve prepared over the past week and a half. It all seemed to go over really well; a great start to our concert circuit here.

We headed out from St. Joseph’s for Whiskey River Landing, with the hope of getting some Zydeco dancing in. In an unfortunate turn of events, our bus ran into some technical difficulties. Apparently, if something’s wrong with the transmission, you’re pretty screwed. We then found out that Whiskey River Landing doesn’t allow people in under 21, which meant that members of our tour wouldn’t have been able to go in even if we had gotten there sans technical difficulties. We ended up eating and getting to do some dancing at Randol’s in Lafayette, learning as we went along. The dancing and the band seemed to enjoyed by all, with many steps and smiles shared amongst us.

On our plate for tomorrow is a special VIP tour of the LSU Museum of Rural Life, a hopefully free afternoon and a party hosted by some friends of our director; all in all a great second day, and more fun ahead.

-MJH

exploration

After a quick shower and breakfast this morning, our group headed out to the Atchafalaya Experience, about forty miles away from our current camp in Baton Rouge. We toured on three separate boats the swamps of Atchafalaya. Although the weather was unfortunately overcast, with a high of about 52, the expansive swamps provided a very unique experience for the whole group. We were even fortunate to see some of the wildlife of the swamps, with owls and other birds (as you’ll see below). No alligators this time of year (although the weather didn’t help matters either), but I’m still not sure whether or not that was a good or bad thing. Listening to our tour guide describe how scenic the area is between March and June really makes me want to return to the area to see what it’s like. A small sampling of our tour can be seen below. Ahead of us tomorrow is a concert at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in downtown Baton Rouge and some Zydeco & Creole Dancing at the Whiskey River Landing about 50 miles from Baton Rouge in Breaux Bridge.