Thursday, May 31, 2007

New Orleans Street Cars

My fascination with railroads is no secret to folks who know me. Street cars clearly fall within this interest and much of New Orleans Street Car system has been restored since the flood two years almost ago now. We had the chance to ride some of the routes of this street railway before we left. In fact, one of the several lines ran right past our hotel on St. Charles St. One day while driving away from the hotel we chased the street car for a while. They are not in any big hurry, but do exercise their right of way when it comes to turns and intersections.

New Orleans has 32 of these cars operating in all. They were build in the early 1940’s and have been maintained and restored over the years. While they are used by the natives for basic transportation, they are also a favorite attraction with tourists like us. The ride is bumpy but steady and the motormen (and women) are generally friendly and offer guidance to bewildered and slightly lost visitors.

As we moved along the “Canal Street” line from the French Quarter to the Cemetery and back ( about an hour’s ride) I had a strange feeling of familiarity about the experience. During the night it came to me that these cars are very similar to the ones which the City of Rochester used first in its street car trolley lines and then in its ill-fated subway system which. When I was just a tike my dad took me for a ride on Rochester’s subway just before it ended in 1954. The gentle sway of the street car ride through New Orleans reminded me of that fine adventure.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Food, Glorious Food!

I begin this entry with the sign that I saw on the wall of one of the exhibits that Ray and I visited today.

It says it all!

We have been eating our way around New Orleans these last few days and it has been delicious! Everywhere you go there is some stand or restaurant out of which waft wonderful aromas of the haute cuisine for which the Big Easy is noted.
They only thing that keeps the bulging waste line in check (somewhat) is the amount of walking we are doing around the French Quarter!

From simple street vendors to major high end restaurateurs, food is a way of life here in the bayou! I shall be returning to Weight Watchers as soon as I return.

At this rate, they may levy a surcharge for excess baggage (me) on plane ride back home!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Mardi Gras

Today we spent some time in the National Museum of Louisiana. The weather is a bit cloudy with a few sprinkles in the air, so it was a good day to be inside. The crowds of the Memorial Day weekend were gone and we walked along the streets with no difficulty. The first stop was a National Historical Park and Preserve Center on Decatur Street on the edge of the French Quarter. There we learned even more about Hurricane Katrina and the reasons it was "the perfect storm". This same site gave us more information on the history of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. This was quite the deal for the US. We paid 15 million dollars for just about all the all of the west and northwest. The picture shows the commemorative banner that was made for the occasion.

We walked down the street to San Luis Cathedral which the bulletin says is the oldest cathedral in the United States. This building was constructed in the late 1700's and re-built several times thereafter.

The highlight of the day was a visit to the "Presbytere" which was next to the Cathedral Although it was built as a residence for the priests and bishops who served the French Colony of Nouvelle Orleans, none ever lived there. The building was used from the beginning of its construction for other purposes, both during the French and Spanish colonial period.
Today it contains the State Museum of Mardi Gras, from its beginnings in the parades of Europe and the ritual processions of Africa. Throw in the Creole, Caribbean and Native American cultural experiences and you have 12 days of Mardi Gras as it is celebrated today.It was a very enlightening day and told us far more than we ever knew (or wanted to know)about this annual Carnival. By the way, did you know that the word "Carnival" comes from two Latin words: "carne and valle" meaning "Farewell to Meat" That's why Mardi Gras (meaning Fat Tuesday in French) comes on the days before Ash Wednesday.

As you can see from the picture, Mardi Gras is serious business (about 1.5 billion each year in tourist dollars) and much planning is needed for every year's celebration.

In 2008, Mardi Gras is February 8!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Beignets for Breakfast!

This morning we began Memorial Day with a traditional New Orleans French breakfast treat. Beignets are the specialty of the French Quarter - the Vieux Carre - as they say here. These wonderful treats are made of deep fried dough which are then dredged through confectionary sugar - hum good; lately two of my most frequented food groups. They are the equivalent of "pizza frete" We waited 30 minutes in line at a small local cafe to grease our innards with these treats. I topped off my heart-healthy breakfast with homemade Pralines. These little sugar bombs are filled with nuts - probably pecans and tasted great for the first few bits then sugar shock set in. We didn't eat again until 8pm!

The day took us to the Canal Street Trolley line for a 40 minute ride out to Lake Ponchartrain and back. It remindered me of the street car ride that my Dad took me on as a young boy. The City of Rochester put its streetcars in the present 490 Expressway and operated them as a subway (unsuccessfully)for a few years. Anyway, Dad took me on a ride the week before the line was shut down. This delightful clanking, rumbling, purring experience reminded me of that day 55 years ago! Most of the street car lines are operating as New Orleans tries to get back on its feet.

We also took in an Imax movie called "Hurricane on the Bayou." It was produced by the Audubon Society. It was an excellent explanation of why Katrina was so disasterous and what can be done to keep these weather systems from reaking so much damage in the future. While it evoked a deep sense of sadness in me, it also left me with a feeling of hope.

CD's of the music in the movie were on sale afterwords. The profits support the educational efforts of the Audubon Society.

The sun was beating down upon us northerners so we retired to our hotel for a few hours until we stepped out for dinner. We have decided NOT to go to Mississippi tomorrow as we had planned as we have lots more to see in the Big Easy.

More to tell tomorrow!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Big Easy!

Today is our second day in "The Big Easy." We arrived in New Orleans yesterday afternoon and after checking into our St. Charles St. Hotel next to Lafayette Park, we programmed Karen, my "GPS" unit, to direct us to the Church of the Resurrection of Our Lord in East New Orleans. As usual, she was right on the mark in getting us around the maze of highways and back streets. We arrived at the church, which we have been supporting in these post Katrina days, in time for 4:00pm Mass. We had called Fr. MichaelJoseph Vinh Nguyen ahead of time to arrange a rendezvous. He introduced Ray and me to the community at the beginning of Mass and we received a big round of applause from the folks gathered to celebrate. The church was very beautifully laid out and smelled freshly painted - because it was!

After Mass, while Fr. MichaelJoseph worked with several Confirmation candidates, Glen, a life long member of ROOL, gave us the grand tour of the plant. He explained with great enthusiasm and passion how, inspired by Fr. MichaelJoseph's leadership, the parish has been working very hard to get the parish back in working order. He showed us the high water mark on the Parish Center - just part of the four feet of water that covered everythiong.
Because of where the parish is located, their highest priority is to get their school fully functioning. We toured the newly painted classrooms which have been in use since the beginning of the school as well as the additional 10 classrooms and pre-school building that will open in the coming school year.

It was a fascinating tour which ended in the rectory where we had a glass of wine in anticipation of dinner at a local restaurant on the shore of Lake Ponchartrain. Fr. MichaelJoseph and Glen and his wife, Maria and another couple joined us for a delightful meal in the shoreline restaurant. On the way to the restaurant we drove through some of the areas which got really damaged by the hurricane's waters. In fact, the restaurant had only reopened three weeks ago. The evening ended with Ray and I taking home a delicious, large portion of Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce.

Today we began our second day here with a trip up the Mississippi River on the Riverboat Natchez. This stream boat is the ninth one to bear the name. All have plied the waters of this great 2300 mile long river. It was a great experience and quite a thrill to sail upstream on this mighty giant.

Time is beginning to run out. We have one more day here in New Orleans and then it's off to Biloxi to see what the State of Mississippi is like.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Church visits!

Today we drove to the Baton Rouge and Covington, LA to see a cluster of mega churches in this area. They have several things in common: they are growing fast, are relatively young (less than 25 years old), are dedicated to serving a cross cut of people of all ages and backgrounds and they use technology to enhance the worship experience. Several are charismatic in style, several are "seeker sensitive" - for people who do not feel connections with the churches of their origins.
We were greeted warmly and graciously in every church we stopped into unannounced. They tended to be large in size and multifaceted in their ministries.

Almost all had education programs for children as well as adults. Most had separate programs (and buildings) for smaller children whom they encouraged not to come to the adult service. Many of these communities were actively engaged in expansion of their facilities.

What I enjoyed the most was the sense of pride and ownership that came from the folks with whom we talked about their churches. They were admiring and appreciative of their Pastors, but it was their church, they were speaking for the body of sisters and brothers who together are the Body of Christ. Delightful!

Thursday, May 24, 2007


I am feeling a little road weary as we pull into Galveston, Texas. It's been a long journey across the southwest. I had no idea how big Texas is!
We decided to stay two nights in a motel near the famous 32 mile long beach. It was a good rest from over 2200 miles in 6 days. I spent more time in the sun than Ray was able to, but when the day was done we were both more rested and relaxed and ready for today's driving to Lake Charles, Louisiana.

We left Galveston on TX Rt 87. To our delight this highway includes a free ferry across the Houston Shipping Channel to the Bolivar Peninsula.

On the way to a mega church in Lake Charles, we stopped around lunch time in Beaumont, TX, at a museum of energy. What's that, you ask? Well, it was two hours of touring a museum touting the effects/affects of oil exploration in the great state of Texas! The museum did a good job of historically tracing the need for A) a source of lighting energy for a burgeoning Industrial Revolution...candles, through whale oil, through coal oil/kerosene, through electricity; B) a heat energy source; C) a lubricant energy source to "grease" the new machinery of the Industrial Revolution; and D) Ka-boom!...transportation for the individual consumer, i.e. the personal automobile!

All this and Texas' role in it, too. It was way more than we wanted to know.

We did get to see the Trinity Baptist Church mega-church in Lake Charles by late afternoon. It amazes us how easily it is to get into these churches unchallenged, yet welcomed. Everyone we've met in these mega-churches so far have been friendly, smiling and helpful.

Tomorrow we head for Baton Rouge, four more mega-churches, and New Orleans by Saturday morning. I emailed the pastor of the Church of the Resurrection there, which Assumption and the other churches in Fairport have been assisting since Hurricane Katrina. So far I have yet to hear back from him.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Mega Church in Houston

Today we visited two of the mega churches that were on the “check them out” list. Both of these were in the suburbs of Houston; one in Baytown, the other in Conroe. What impressed me most was the energy and warmth that even the buildings conveyed at the Fellowship of the Woods in Conroe. This church is presently involved in a massive 35 million building program. Like many of the mega churches, there is something there for everyone and the ministries that they offer are many and inspiring.

My principle interest was what they do with video systems and how they use media and technology in their worship. It was a Monday and their media staff was on their day off after a full weekend, but we were able to walk around the place where the community gathers and inspect the video equipment. Their cameras are bigger than ours and they are not remotely controlled, which means that many camera operators are required.

The auditorium where the community gathers for worship seats 4400 people. This church began with 15 members thirteen years ago. It now has 13,000 members. Clearly there is a great appeal to the folks in this affluent Houston area. This is not a church which follows a liturgical cycle as we do, so they rely upon the creativity of the leadership to proclaim the Word of God in creative and novel ways. But more about that later.

Tomorrow, off to the Johnson Space Center while we are in the neighborhood.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Remember the Alamo

This morning we awoke to the rain that was following us from Ft. Davis. It was hard times but we were not deterred. Our goal was to tour the Alamo and learn some of the history of that time period.
I must confess that my knowledge of the Alamo comes from the Disney production of "David Crockett - King of the wild frontier." As it turns out, this 1950's story of the Alamo and the fight for Texan independence was pretty accurate - even if a bit romanticized. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas maintain the Alamo to this day. They have well trained tour guides who tell the story of the brave band of 189 soldiers who defended the Alamo in the face of Mexican General and Presidential Dictator, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, and his army of several thousand men. From Feb. 23 until the morning of March 6, 1836 the volunteers and regulars held the Alamo until it finally fell. Santa Anna burned the remains of all those who gave their lives at the Alamo and the fragments of their remains were placed near the altar of the then parish church of San Fernando in San Antonio. (See picture below.)

While the facts surrounding the siege of the Alamo continue to be debated, there is no doubt about what the battle has come to symbolize. People worldwide continue to remember the Alamo as a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds - a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. "Remember the Alamo" was the battle cry that energized the freedom fighters in their efforts to repel the Mexican Army from Texas and ultimately brought about independence for the Republic of Texas in 1836. Santa Anna surrendered to General Sam Houston after suffering a crushing defeat which lasted only 18 minutes. This defeat marked the end of Mexican hegemony in what is now the US. It also established Texas an an independent nation for the 10 years before it joined the Union and became the 28th State. The Alamo (which, by the way, means "cotton wood tree") is revered by people everywhere, but especially Texans. It is visited by three million people every year.

I can still hear the words of the song: "Born on a mountain top in Tennessee, prettiest state that you ever did see, Killed him a b'ar(sic) when he was only three, Davey, Davey Crockett, King of the Wild frontier" Now what the song didn't teach us was that Davey Crockett, lawyer, politician, sharp shooter, elected representative to the Congress, hunter and frontiersman lost his seat in Congress and subsequently said to his constituency: "You can go to hell, I'm going to Texas." It was in Texas at the Alamo that he made the ultimate sacrifice.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Ft. Davis to San Antonio

Today we traveled the same route that many many explorers and gold seekers traveled a century ago. We, of course, were in a car driving the 400 miles in the opposite direction.
We got an early start and stopped in Ozano, TX for lunch at a Subway (seen one you've seen them all - same menu, same wall paper and same good low fat fast food). We made good time and arrived about 3:30pm. After a short nap, I was ready to begin our exploration of the city of the Alamo.

San Antonio is known for its famous "River Walk" (Paseo Del Rio) which runs through the heart of the business district a few steps below the city streets. Tonight it was teaming with life!

We took the River Walk on our way to San Fernando Cathedral to catch the 5:30pm bilingual Mariachi Mass. What a treat that was - good music, good community, good homily - all together good liturgy! This church in the heart of the city is also the "heart of the city". The civic literature given to visitors refers to the church as the soul of the city. I can see why.

Colonists sent from the Canary Islands by King Philip of Spain arrived in San Antonio in 1731 and began building the church, the oldest parish in Texas. It has been renovated and remodelled several times over the centuries, but it remains a marvelous piece of architecture which proudly proclaims our Catholic faith.

Orginaly next to the altar, and now in its foyer, are the remains of several famous people who lost their lives in the battle of the Alamo. A plaque on the coffin bearing these remains lists: Davey Crockett, Jim Bowie and William B. Travis - remember them??? Amazing!

The celebration was wonderful and it came as no surprise when, at the sign of peace, twelve ushers came walking down the center aisle and joined hands with the people of each side of the church while the Mariachis sang an upbeat song in their own great style.
The assembly was about half visitors and the regulars made us feel so welcome. It was an experience that I hope all visitors to our churches feel when they travel away from their home communities.

After mass we walked back to the River Walk and found a restaurant where we enjoyed a great meal and the crowds of folks and water taxis passed by filled with happy tourists. The side walks wound their around the tree lined paths which were illuminated by all sorts of twinkling multicolored lights. It was quite magical. Pretty soon it was 10pm and we were ready to call it a day.

Tomorrow: The Alamo!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Fort Davis, Texas - a window to the past

I write this in Ft Davis, TX. At the encouragement the Ranger at Carlsbad, we drove to this western Texas town to see the highest town in the state. The 5,050 foot elevation town takes it name from the fort that was established there in 1854 to provide protection for emigrants from the east from the Mescalaro Apache Indians who didn’t like their lands being invaded by the white man. The fort was built on the overland trail from San Antonio to El Paso. It is reportedly one of the best examples of a restored frontier fort in the country. Ray’s new Golden Senior Pass got us into this National Park for free. More information about this fascinating place can be found by clicking at: We spent the afternoon walking around the park visiting the portions of the fort that have been restored. The commissary, some of the barracks and a few of the officer’s residences have been reconstructed and furnished with furniture of the period.
The Fort stands on the old overland trail the stretched from San Antonio to El Paso. Many a traveller followed this route in search of California Gold and a new life in the wild west. It was a nice afternoon

We had dinner at the Limpia Hotel and went back to the motel to get a good night’s sleep before our dash to San Antonio some 400 miles to the east.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Roswell to Carlsbad and the Caverns

Ray and I drove south to Carlsbad, NM today. It was a damp, overcast day. Traffic in this part of the country is scant, but the roads were very good. It was misting all the way to Carlsbad. In short it was a great day to spend time underground - and that that we did. Arriving about noon, we checked into the Carlsbad Inn Motel and then went 18 miles further south to the Carlsbad National Park Caverns. What a treat! We started by descending 754 feet on one of the four elevators which the NPS has drilled into the limestone which makes up most of the country side.

We booked ourselves on a tour at 2pm so that we would have time to have lunch at the cafe almost 800 feet beneath the surface. It was a great experience, even if a bit cool and damp. It's always 56 degrees in the caves. The cavern actually breathes too. Every 32 hours the air completely changes.

We spent a delightful 5 hours on the tour of the King's Palace and exploring the Big Room. The "room" is the area of 14 football fields and is the largest underground room in the western hemisphere. I took many pictures, but the place is so vast that the photos just can't capture the real sense of this beautiful place. Unlike most caves or caverns, the Carlsbad Caverns were the result of sulfuric acid eating through the limestone as a result of chemical reaction of receding water, minerals and oil in the ground.

We learned much about the quarter million bats that live in the caves, but because it was raining and foggy we decided not to wait until dusk to see if they would fly out for their usual evening feast of insects. Any living thing with any smarts was under cover, so we joined in and went back to the motel for dinner.

Tomorrow we are off to Ft. Davis, Texas.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Roswell, NM - Home of the International UFO Museum & Research Center

Today after touring the Legacy Church we drove south to Roswell, NM. This three and a half hour trip took us across the rolling prairies to the vast ranches where in July of 1947 intense thunderstorms demonstrated the power of the heavens. Amidst a blinding rain and electric-filled sky, radar tracked an object fall towards the Earth. Rumors of debris-strewn fields and a military cover up suggested a UFO had crashed in the Roswell area. The mystery of the "Roswell incident" attracts a host of visitors annually and today it included us. We had a great time exploring the museum various accounts of what happened and the stories of UFO and alien abductions from around the world.

Sixty years later the city of 45,000 seems to have taken it all in stride, some of its citizens cashing in on the rumors of cover up, some carrying on with life. many if the stores and shops around the museum carry the UFO theme. There is the "Out of this World Cafe" and the "Cover up Cafe" and the "Even Alien's Love Music Shop." The street light posts are painted with aliens eyes and several buildings have flying saucers in their motifs. The UFO Museum documents it all with the newspapers of the day as well as many of the UFO stories from around the globe. It was a few hours well spent and when closing time came, Ray and I felt we had gotten our $3 admission's worth.

Tomorrow we are off to Carlsbad Caverns.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The First Mega Church of the Road Trip

Today we checked out of our motel about 9am and headed over to one of the “mega churches” in the Albuquerque. Parishioner Joe Barnes had sent me contact information overnight via e-mail. Joe’s company manufactures and installs much of the high tech video equipment that many of the “mega churches” use in their worship spaces. Time was short, but we got in the car and went to Legacy Church to see what we could see. We found the place with no trouble and entered to high domed church’s auditorium where they have their Worship and Praise services.
As luck would have it, one of the Pastors named John, greeted us and showed us around in the short time that we had available. I’ll write more of this later, but I am posting a picture of the three screens that hang over the area where 2500 people seat for their Sunday Service. John was welcoming and helpful as he explained that their church is growing very fast and they are currently buildingx`` an area adjacent to the auditorium to accommodate the many children who come with their services. In many ways this church is like so many of the "mega churches": it's growing fast, appealing to famililes, welcomes newcomers and of course, makes use of video technology to enhance its services.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Rendezvous in Albuquerque

After a journey of over 800 miles I called Ray Tetreault on his now functioning cell phone and he answered on the second ring. He was sitting at poolside in the motel taking in the sun. I was envious driving across the seemingly endless plains and prairies of Arizona and New Mexico. When I finally arrived about 3:30pm the sun was fading and it got too cool to sit outside. No problem, that gave us time to decide on a dinner location.

My brother Marty had told me about the longest aerial Tram ride in the world that is located in Albuquerque. His literature indicated that it was a must see. In our dinner location discussion, Ray had pre-selected 3 sites based on his previous field trips to Albuquerque from Sangre di Christo Center where he was on Sabbatical. One of the three locations was “High Finance,” a restaurant atop the Sandia Peak in the Cibola Mountains which overlook Albuquerque. You reach it by tram he explained. The rest went very fast. We called for reservations and were told to be at the base station by 6:00pm so we could make it to the top for a 6:30pm reservation.

The clouds were coming in fast and the skies darkening as we climbed aboard the tram for the 15 minute, 2 ½ mile trip up to the 10,873 ft. elevation where the restaurant awaited us. I took lots of pictures in the fading light and regret only that the lightening storm that entertained us off in the distance was too difficult to catch with my camera. But I tried.
We had a wonderful meal and enjoyed our evening very much. It was raining heavily at the top by the time the 9:00pm tram returned us to the base lodge. As we descended the mountain the raging rain storm changed into just a sprinkling at the bottom. We scampered to the car and drove back to the motel. It was a good night!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Farewells and I’m on the road again

This morning I said good bye to Nathan and his Mom and Dad as I hit the road for Albuquerque where I need to be by Tuesday night. There I will pick up my classmate Ray Tetreault who is also finishing his Sabbatical before returning to the Diocese of Providence. After breakfast at a local eatery (there seem to be very many near Beth and Doug’s place), I loaded my car and we said farewells. It was tough to leave the little guy; when I see him later in the summer he’ll be twice as big as he is now. Today he is five weeks old. His parents hope he learns to sleep during the night really soon!

I headed out for my cross country adventure by driving to one of the seven wonders of the modern world – Techacapi Loop in California. This 19th century engineering wonder helps get trains over the mountains in western California. By looping the track around and around and over itself, the engineers were able to keep this gradient to 2.2% for a distance of 28 miles. The summit is 3983 ft! I hunted out the loop amid the back roads and after an hour of searching, found it. Pictures do not do it justice, but here’s a few.

Down the road a piece and around the bend is another amazing train sight. It called Cajon Pass and this line carries the east west traffic of the BNSF – that’s the Burlington Northern Santa Fe – down through the mountains to San Bernardino – the
summit is about 4000 feet. Again pictures cannot present the scope of this beautiful wiggling in and out of canyons and cuts, but here are a few shots to give you a taste of the sight.

Tomorrow it’s off to Albuquerque!