Healing Holidays

Having just come off a tough, but interesting week leading a causal investigation in New Orleans, I find myself wishing I had more vacation time available to recharge the old brain cells. I, like most American business people, have two precious weeks per year during which I have to attempt renewal and rejustification from the stresses and tensions of the other 50 weeks of servitude. I have no complaints about my employer, who is generous with personal leave time that allows me to take care of minor appointments and take-junior-to-the-dentist absences, but I do yearn for an approach more like other countries.

Joe Robinson’s article, Vacation Starvation, points out the obvious problem with the corporate U.S. approach to downtime, the “hey, things are tough, we can’t afford you leaving, you should be grateful to have a job” guilt spree that seems too often the modus operandi of corporate managers in denying vacation leave. The article hints at the obvious problem regarding stress build up, but doesn’t go so far as to state that this aversion to letting employees break away is killing us…literally. Stress does mystical things, all bad, to our bods and brains, and vacations are a critical, curative part of the solution to stress disease. We all might as well start calling stress a disease, since it’s now commonly understood that stress can bring about the same physiological problems as that of some textbook diseases. Stress also has the uncanny ability to cause multiple symptoms that defy identification by medical practitioners. I gain great confidence in the mainstream medical profession when I spend big bucks on doctor visits and tests only to have them pronounce, “well, it’s probably stress…try relaxing a bit.”

In the Alternet.org article, Joe mentions at the bottom that he is the founder of the Work to Live Campaign, on the web at http://www.worktolive.info. If this issue speaks to you at all, you owe it to yourself to visit his site. And if stress is your monkey, stay tuned…I’ll be posting some interesting approaches to de-stressing the human existence.

Hurricane Memories

As we in south Texas await the gentle spanking of Tropical Storm Claudette (which by the time you read this may have become Hurricane Claudette), I’m taken back in time to when I lived through several hurricanes. I was 10 at the time, but I remember the experiences vividly. At that age I wasn’t concerned with house or personal safety like my parents were…I was more enthralled with witnessing Mother Nature at her finest fury.

My dad was stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and during that hurricane season many decades ago we sheltered through several hurricanes that waltzed across the navy base there at Guantanamo. One particular hurricane, Flora I think, passed her eye over the base. I can remember the sensations, sights, and smells associated with that remarkable event. We had sheltered for the storm in my dad’s Chief Petty Officer’s quarters, which was hurricane proof. When the eye passed over, we all went outside and I cannot precisely describe the eeriness that standing in the eye of a hurricane brings…you who have done this know what I mean. Perhaps it’s merely the dramatic contrast between the violent wind and rain of the storm that suddenly ceases, leaving you with ringing eyes and a sense that the outside world is frozen solid, nothing moving. I don’t know if all hurricane eyes look like Flora’s did, but the area was bathed in a soft pink glow with clear sky above us.

The respite lasted no more than 15 minutes, and ended as dramatically as it began with the trailing edge of the eye and all its fury restarting marching towards us, frantically whipping every palm tree in its way. We scurried inside and went back to our board games and distractions (hey, this was pre-computer, pre-GameBoy era).

At the start of every hurricane season I recall those times and think about how remarkable they were (and revisit my amazement that I remember them so well). And even though I’ve since been through several hurricanes as an adult (with quite a different level of concern and attention!), I do miss those times when all I focused on was how marvelous and impressive Mother Nature could be when she bared her fury.

Hedonism Heaven

no_stl.jpgDay 2 in N’awlins. Spent a wonderful (but hot) afternoon watching the artists and the tourists watching the artists around Jackson Square, next to the gourgeous Saint Louis Cathedral. Then spent another hour or so at a sidewalk cafe in the French Market area eating cajun popcorn shrimp, drinking the local’s Abita Amber Ale (terrific micro brew), and listening to a jazz quartet workin’ the notes despite the heat.

no_02.jpgTook a walk this evening after dinner hoping to find a nice, quiet place to have a cup of coffee. Being Sunday night, all the coffee shops were closed. So we ended up buying milk at the tiny A&P on Royal Street and were heading back to the hotel to make our own coffee. I thought, “Let’s loop a couple blocks through Bourbon Street and then head back.” Bourbon Street. If you’ve been there, hearing those words will either take you back to a memory you’re trying to forget, or one that you recall with fondness but vow never to repeat that foolishness again! The saying “anything goes” comes immediately to mind when you see Bourbon Street…and we aren’t anywhere near Mardi Gras time. While the music is hot and seems to be coming out of everyfourth establishment, with a true potpourri of rock one place, blues the next, jazz the next, and zydeco on the corner (THAT was by far the best), the real “show” is the drunken tourists and the seedier establishments who try to lure you into to see their shows (and no doubt buy their watered down drinks). They say that during Mardi Gras Bourbon Street literally becomes a lawless strip of hedonistic “fun” where the cops couldn’t control things if they wanted to…a mob mentality fueled by alcohol and an off-world desire to be weirder than the person next to you. More tomorrow night.

Vieux Carre in N’awlins

no_01.jpgGreetings from the Vieux Carre in N’awlins, or in English, The French Quarter in New Orleans. Four-day business pleasure trip with some overindulgence on the side (actually, continually). You cannot stay in the French Quarter and not eat well…unless you never leave your hotel room, and even then, room service is killer. We ate at the Royal Cafe on Royal Street, and dined on the second level balcony overlooking the crazies roaming the street below. The French Quarter is at it’s most fascinating around dusk when it truly comes alive as people seem to appear out of nowhere in all shapes, sizes, fantasies, and intent. A true melting pot of lost souls. The tourists are thick as mosquitoes (in quantity…I don’t know any of them well enough to comment on their mental abilities…) and the locals seem to ignore them for the most part (the locals that live, not work, here). Since today was a travel day, we only wandered around a little bit, and tomorrow we’ll hit the cobblestones and see what kind of mischief we can get into, although one shouldn’t think that out loud here in The Big Easy (a name I’m told the locals hate, but Hollywood loved), who’s history is replete with the worst that can happen in dense urban settings. For all it’s aged, European-like charm, New Orleans has a varied past that belies its touristy image. More tomorrow!