This is an open-ended blog ranging from news about my latest gigs and publications
to ruminations about politics, world affairs, culture and whatever piques my interest—or ire.

Sunday, April 12, 2020


Osprey taking flight

Our daily walks in Audubon Park are a welcome break in the lockdown routine. As we stroll along the lagoon, Sylvaine photographs the birds we encounter there. (Sometimes I sit on a bench and practice my clarinet while she shoots.) There are far fewer species in the park today than there were some years ago when Sylviane photographed dozens of different varieties for her book Some Birds...But we still get some surprises.
     The other day, we spotted a large bird perched atop the bare branches of a dead tree. It was on the other side of the lagoon at some distance from us. Looking through her telephoto lens, Sylvaine thought at first that it might be a bald eagle—a rarity in these parts—but the coloring was different. The bald eagle has a white head and a dark brown breast. This bird, which looked like an eagle with its curved beak and impressive talons, had a
white breast. After a check on the internet, we identified it as an Osprey, also a rarity. We spotted it a few more times, closer up, which allowed Sylvaine to get some nice pictures, including one of this impressive bird in full flight.
     Other recent spottings include an anhinga, formerly plentiful at Audubon but now almost vanished, and a couple of blue herons and snowy egrets. Not to mention blue jays and cardinals. Two days ago, we had a real treat: four baby mallard ducklings swimming around, fighting and playing on the water near the bank. Hadn't seen any babies for a few years: sad to say the turtles get them when they're that small. Yesterday, didn't see the ducklings anywhere. I hope they haven't become turtle food!
Mallard duckling

Monday, March 23, 2020


It all started when the magpies invaded my garden. Not only was their metallic croak nerve-grating, but they soon homed in on my bird feeders and frightened away the much smaller chickadees, redbreasts, and sparrows that had gorged on the seeds throughout the winter. Then a flock of pigeons took up residence on the roof of my garage and started snooping and clucking around the feeders. Even though they were too big and clumsy to perch on them, they would waddle on the ground and peck at the spillings. Like the magpies, they made the neighborhood less attractive to the smaller birds. Whenever I saw these bullies through my kitchen window, I would rap on the pane or open the door and clap my hands to frighten them away. Sometimes it scared them off, but often as not they would flutter away briefly and return.  I tried throwing pebbles in their direction, but my aim was erratic and the feathered beasts were not impressed. 
     Then an idea took shape in my mind: I would solve the problem with an air rifle.  I had no intention of killing the intruders. I would just pop them in the tail feathers or wings. They would soon realize my garden was an inhospitable environment and move on to somebody else’s garden. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to get my hands on a BB gun. This was just before Christmas. When my wife asked me what I wanted as a gift this year, I  said I wanted a pump-action air rifle. She thought I was joking. I explained that it was not really about the gun, it was about chasing away magpies and pigeons. She found the idea ridiculous, but I persisted. And the more I talked about it, the more I realized it was about the gun. I wanted that object—trigger, stock, barrel and all.
     It was a strange desire on the part of a staunch opponent of America’s gun culture. I have unfriended people on Facebook for posting photos of themselves posing with their arsenals. Parkland, Las Vegas, Sandy Brook, and all the other countless gun massacres sent chills up my spine and filled me with anger at the feckless politicians who do nothing to control the spread of deadly weapons. Yet here I was desiring, even craving, an object that had the size, shape, and feel of a real rifle. Was I wavering on the gun question?
     No. The more I thought about it, the more I realized my fixation was something whose deepest roots went back to my childhood. When I was about 10, my father bought me a pump-action Daisy air rifle. I don’t know why he chose that particular gift—he wasn’t a hunter or sportsman and, in fact, I never saw him shoot or even hold a gun. He hadn’t even been in the army, excluded from the draft by a heart murmur. Maybe I begged him for it, wanting to play cowboys and Indians or something. Or wanting to be like my Mississipi cousins who actually had .22 rifles and went hunting. Whatever the reason, I got the gun and I fell in love with it. I loved the smell of oil on metal, the feel of the imitation wood grain stock on my cheek, the adjustable crosshairs on the telescopic sight, the sound of BB’s rolling around in their chamber, and the thwunk when I squeezed the trigger. Most of all, I loved hitting targets—coke bottles propped up on driftwood logs along the levee, paper targets nailed to tree trunks, matchsticks glued to the sides of cardboard boxes. And I was good at it. I could actually split matchsticks at 20 feet. My father was impressed. “If we ever have a shooting war again,” he told me, “you’ll make a hell of an infantryman.” Those words made me proud. That gun was part of a father-son bond, and a source of paternal approbation. 
     Though I was never into hunting, I must confess there were times when I shot at  birds while wandering through the woods. I once killed a sparrow perched on a tree branch. It fell at my feet with its little head bleeding and its wings flapping helplessly. Then it lay still. I felt terrible and buried it in the sandy ground under a pile of leaves. Another time I shot at a pigeon on a neighbor’s rooftop. Hit in the head, it reeled over and fell down the chimney. The neighbor found it in her fireplace the next day and called an exterminator to remove it. I don’t think I actually intended to kill that pigeon, but I was remorseful—and fearful that my parents would suspect me of doing  the deed. (If they did, then never let on.) 
     Those are the only birds I remember killing. But I did do other dumb things with my air rifle, mainly egged on by friends. From the balcony of my parents’ home, a schoolmate and I traded potshots at a corner streetlight until we finally chipped through the glass globe and hit the lightbulb inside. It sparked briefly then went dark. Our momentary triumph was tinged with fear of being charged with destroying public property. We immediately hid the rifle under my bed and retired to the TV room to provide an alibi. Another night, we shot at the side of my father’s corrugated iron garage as someone was passing on the sidewalk. It made a loud whack and the pedestrian skeedaddled. Stupid kids. And lucky: what if the victim of our practical joke was packing a real gun and shot back at us? In a crime-ridden city like New Orleans, that was not a far-fetched scenario. 
     I eventually grew out of my gun infatuation as I grew older and my interest shifted to learning the clarinet and playing Beatle tunes on my guitar. By the time I went off to college, my Daisy pump-action was a distant memory. I have no idea what happened to that gun. There was no sign of it when I cleared out my parents’ home many decades later. In fact, I never even thought of it again—until the magpies and pigeons in my garden suddenly brought it back to mind. 
     For a time, I was dead bent on getting another BB gun. Seriously. I even visited the quaint old shop of an arms dealer in my town of Saint Germain-en-Lay, 10 miles west of Paris. I had observed it for years without ever going inside. It was a tiny storefront with a green wooden door and a window full of lethal-looking shotguns and enormous hunting knives with jagged blades. Inside the cramped interior, dusty display cases held row after row of rifles of various sizes and shapes. Behind the counter sat an elderly man who eyed me with suspicion, or perhaps contempt at my manifest ignorance of firearms. When I asked about BB guns, he exchanged amused glances with another white-haired man, apparently a customer. He pointed to a display case containing half a dozen guns. “Those are all air rifles,” he said. “They start at 250 euros”—close to $300. I said I was really looking for something in the 50 euro range. The two men laughed. “For 50 euros, cher monsieur, maybe you can get a cap gun, but not here!” 
     It turned out his air rifles shot lead pellets, not BBs, and they were used by competitive target shooters. “What do you want an air rifle for?” asked the man behind the counter. “Just to shoot at pigeons in my garden and scare them off,” I replied. He guffawed again and shook his head. “Monsieur, this is illegal—and dangerous. I will not sell you a rifle for such a use.” I left the shop enlightened, if somewhat humiliated. Back home, I found a whole line of Daisy air rifles on the Internet at prices starting around $35. I considered ordering one, but suddenly realized I didn’t want it any more. Had I finally grown up?

Sunday, March 22, 2020


With the cancellation (or postponement) or Sylvaine Sancton's April show at New Orleans's Academy Gallery, we have decided to offer a virtual show on Facebook. We will post various works that would have been in the show, plus some videos of Sylvaine talking about her work. This will be available on my FB page, Over the next few days, we will be posting selected works from the show. Hope you enjoy them, and feel free to comment.
The image featured on the poster is from a series called "Choices." They are acrylics and raw pigment on linen canvas. Here is a link to an interview in which Sylvaine talks about this series, how it came about, how it was executed, and what it means to her:

Saturday, March 21, 2020


Jeremy on the cover of Sylvaine's new book
In these times of confinement and social distancing, one source of recreation left to us is walking in the park. Fortunately, for Sylvaine and me, New Orleans's Audubon Park is nearby. The park is special to both of us. I am told I took my first steps there as a baby. As a lad, I climbed Monkey Hill and even rode my bike down it at the risk of breaking my neck. As a teenager, I enjoyed some steamy moments with girlfriends while parked by the lagoon (in those days you could still drive in the park.) But for Sylvaine, the park is maybe even more special because this is the place where she started photographing birds and wildlife, which provided the material for two books, Some Birds (Pelican, 2013) and The Adventures of Jeremy Goose (UL Press, 2020).
     These days, she brings her Canon along on our morning walks. She has focused particularly on a fascinating odd couple: a male swan and a female goose that are inseparable and even seem to dance waltzes together on the water. The other day she photographed a rare Osprey high up in a dead tree overlooking the lagoon. Maybe another book will emerge from these impromptu sessions. 
     But we have been struck by what is no longer present by the Audubon Park lagoon. Of the dozens of species Sylvaine photographed and described in Some Birds—egrets, herons, coots, wood ducks, gribes, anhingas, cormorants—only a few remain, mostly mallards, crows, and one pair of whistling ducks. The biggest shock, however, is the apparent departure of the flock of white geese that were the subject of her most recent book, Jeremy Goose. Where could they have gone? Had they died? Had they migrated? had they been taken somewhere else by the park authorities? For years, on our annual visits, we had seen them, with Jeremy immediately recognizable by the birthmark-like spots on his head and wings. We had watched him grow literally from the egg stage to young adulthood, which formed the "first person" narrative of the book. Now Jeremy and his extended family were gone. 
"Jeremy" in City Park, March 2020
     This morning, we decided to change our usual pattern and walked in City Park instead. On the banks of the lagoon, just across from the Peristyle, we spotted a flock of white geese lounging in the sun. Could that be Jeremy's family? Not likely, since they were not great flyers, and this was a long way from Audubon. But as we approached, we noticed one male, quite big, that had Jeremy's telltale markings on his head and wing. Could that actually be Jeremy? We're not 100% sure, but I would like to think so.

     One encouraging thing about out visit to City Park was that many of the bird species that have vanished from Audubon are to be found here, including egrets, coots, cormorants, pelicans and anhingas. Maybe they found this park more congenial. Who knows? The encouraging thing is that, contrary to one of my theories, they have not been chased from the region by global warming—at least not yet. In any case, Sylvaine and I will continue to visit City Park, with special attention to "Jeremy." Maybe he will remember Sylvaine and give her some sign. After all, she made him a star.


Even in these times of lockdowns and store closings, Sylvaine's books can be ordered on line.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020


Among the casualties of COVID-19 was my wife Sylvaine's reading/signing of her new children's photo book, "The Adventures of Jeremy Goose." The event was scheduled for March 28 at Octavia Books in New Orleans, but the store managers and the author agreed that this was not the time for a public gathering, even around so charming a character as Jeremy. This morning, Sylvaine stopped in at Octavia Books to sign copies of the book, so future customers can still get an autographed edition even though the event is cancelled.  It's also available on the UL  site (, as well as the Octavia Books site (, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, etc. In these stressful times of confinement, it is a soothing and entertaining book for cooped-up kids (and their parents).

Here is the description from the back cover:

Among the moss-draped oaks of New Orleans’s Audubon Park lives young Jeremy Goose. After he hatches from an egg, he learns to walk, eat grass, swim, cross the road, and get along with other animals, all under the watchful eyes of his Mom and Dad. On the banks of the park’s lagoon, Jeremy and his family live with their neighbors, including a squirrel, a snake, and a bad-mannered nutria. Jeremy is a thoughtful and sensitive little goose who sometimes gets into trouble but always feels the love of his family. Through Jeremy’s voice, young readers learn about family, responsibility, having fun, and growing up.