Wonderful and wacky New Orleans

We have some catching up to do… Just before Thanksgiving last year (end of November), Andy and I took a some extra leave and dashed down to New Orleans for 5 days. As it was only 7 weeks since my knee surgery, we were both fairly tired – me from reduced mobility, ongoing pain and lots of physiotherapy taking up energy & work hours; and Andy from the demands of taking care of me and all the house stuff on top of general life – so this was a lovely short escape.

We immediately enjoyed the slightly warmer temperatures of the south (low 20s C rather than high single digits) as well as the friendliness, hospitality and relaxed nature of the locals. We stayed in the touristy French Quarter, which is the old part of town and was least affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. There are lots of beautiful and colourful old houses and buildings that made the city so interesting to walk through, which we did a lot for the first few days, both on our own and on guided tours (one on history and the other a night ghost tour – ghost stories are plentiful here!), with breaks for me to lie down at the hotel and rest my still swollen knee.

One day we got up early and were driven inland (upriver) to swamp country to do a tour. The bayous were very narrow and stunningly beautiful, especially with the fall foliage, and incredibly skilfully manoeuvred by our guide in our large flat-bottomed boat. When we went out onto the river we picked up speed and covered a fair bit of territory, looking for wildlife. We only saw one alligator (a bit late in the season) but did see several birds: eagle, blue heron, waterfowl; a few water snakes, lots of turtles and a racoon! By the side of the main river are lots of houses and holiday cottages, some of which still bore signs of the damage from Katrina – and this was a LONG way upriver from the sea!

Driving back our shuttle driver kept calling out random numbers – 16ft, 18ft, 12ft – meaning the depth of flooding in 2005 in that area. The numbers were pretty huge! The general area is still devastated nearly 10 years on. All the smaller businesses and infrastructure in the small towns outside of New Orleans have never been re-established, meaning that you might have to wait over 3/4 hour for an ambulance to be able to reach you! It was very sad to see the ruins of beautiful old houses that have been abandoned on the outskirts of town and are being reclaimed by greenery – I didn’t take any photos.

Back in town, we also enjoyed the local food – po’ boys (meat/fish subway sandwich), gumbo (soupy meat stew over rice), jambalaya (a rice dish similar to paella), beignets (like doughnuts) and even fried green tomatoes. This last dish, and some pickles, was the only concession to vegetables or fruit, except for the orange slices on our cocktails; while delicious, it was not a cuisine I could live on. Also, the drinking culture was incredible! Bourbon St is (in)famous and we wandered down here during the early part of the evening. In all of New Orleans you can drink on the street, as long as you have plastic, not glass. Drink sizes are enormous, and several bars were advertising 3 for 1 specials at 4pm!

Another thing people will tell you about New Orleans is the music – it is everywhere! People gather in groups on the streets and just play/sing. It was son wonderful to hear all the music as you wandered around and the standard was incredibly good. We also went to Frenchman St, the jazz bar scene, and went to a few shows in one place – first a small jazz ensemble and then an 8-piece brass band. In between, we wandered around the night art/craft market across the street and also treated ourselves to a gourmet hot dog. It was a great night!

While we were there, we also managed to catch up with Felicity’s former manager, Jennifer Waxman, who is back living in New Orleans. It was lovely to catch up with her and be driven around and shown the sights by a local. She took us to a cemetery near her house – New Orleans is famous for its above ground cemeteries, as the water table is too high for people to be buried underground. This one was a contrast to the one we saw on the walking tour, which was older and more run down; also the St Louis #1 (on the tour) had the tombs of several famous voodoo queens, as well as Nicholas Cage (no, he isn’t dead, but he has commissioned a tomb to be built already!).

On the last day, we happened to stumble across the official ceremony to light the city’s Christmas tree, which was quite fun. And then back to freezing New York to celebrate Thanksgiving – nothing like mixing up your holidays a little 🙂





Wabbit Season…

We spent the afternoon today at the The Museum of the Moving Image in New York. It is a fascinating place. The museum is in an old studio in Astoria. The complex was built in the 1920s and was the original home of Paramount Studios. It was going to be torn down in the ’70s but a few developers saw potential and managed to save the the sound stages and get city support to get more filming done in NYC. The studios saw the production of (among others) Judge Judy, the Cosby show, Sesame Street and Law and Order, and currently Orange is the New Black, Alfa House, Nurse Jacqui and SNL are filmed here.

An older building was dedicated to be the Museum. The museum covers a lot about the production of television and film; fascinating stuff really, from sound effects (you can add new sounds effects to well known movie scenes), special effect make up, costume design, to very early cameras, TVs and projectors. There was a small exhibition talking about the history of filming in Astoria and NYC. I found the whole place particularly interesting as we have seen a lot of filming around the city and even within the neighbourhood. If you want to listen to a great podcast on the history of NYC and the development of television, I’d suggest you listen to the Bowery Boys – this is the first of a 3 part series that they did in summer 2013.

The real reason that we spend almost an hour and a half getting there on the subway was to have a look at the exhibition titled,”What’s Up, Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones”. I love the old Warner Bros. cartoons and Chuck Jones was one of the great animators and directors of the WB glory days. Jones directed over 300 films and won 3 academy awards. He is probably best remembered for What’s Opera, Doc?  – you know the one – “Kill the Wabbit“. Jones used movies produced by both WB and its competitors as foils for his cartoons. Some had look-a-likes to gangsters, and What’s Opera, Doc?, was done to poke fun at Disney’s Fantasia. It’s brilliance is that it also managed to mock the contemporary style of ballet, Wagner’s operatic style, and even the clichéd Bugs-and-Elmer formula.

15300071176_5740f2ac60_bJones created enduring characters such as Marvin the Martian, Pepe LePew, the Road Runner, and Wile E. Coyote. He also directed One Froggy Evening – the cartoon featuring Michigan J. Frog. (There was only one cartoon of the frog until 1995 when “Another Froggy Evening” was made.)

What was also really interesting is that in One Froggy Evening the construction worker’s bedroom is set up to resemble Van Gough’s painting The Bedroom.

While I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside the exhibition, you can get a feel of it from this site. The exhibition is a touring one developed by the Smithsonian and The Museum of the Moving Image. I have been told it will be travelling internationally in the future. I don’t know if it will make it to Australia, but if you want to hire it – you can get it for a cool $64,000 for 3 months. [A bargain really, considering a Star Wars costume exhibition will set you back $400,000 for 5 months!] Any takers?

The Museum of the Moving Image is one of the lesser known museums in NYC (and a bit of a pain to get to) but it is worth the visit if you have time and are interested in pop culture and what goes on behind the camera to make TV shows and film.

Spring flashback

At the moment Andy and I are planting spring bulbs for next year. It’s starting to get quite chilly now, so we’re racing to get them all in the ground. Last year I bought a small quantity of bulbs and planted them in pots, which we left in the back yard over winter. Unfortunately when spring came, nothing happened 😦

I’m still not quite sure what went wrong. We drilled lots of holes in the bottom for drainage, they got plenty of water and light. It might have been that the weather was so cold that the bulbs froze and thawed (a few that I dug up were really mushy). Anyway, I’m trying again. And because I’m perverse, I bought LOTS of bulbs – so they better work! If I can grow them in Perth, one of the warmest winter climates in Australia, then I should be able to grow them in New York!

Doing this planting has reminded me of the beautiful spring show of flowers that other people were able to grow here this year. While it’s not seasonal now, it is for many of our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, so here’s a recap of our New York spring.

Macy’s, as per usual, had a magnificent display of flowers in their windows and also inside the store. It was really quite wonderful to wander around the main floor and be surrounded by flowing displays of flowers and greenery!

Later in the spring we had our last concert of the season (I still can’t get used to having the annual break in the middle of the year!) in Fort Tryon Park at the top of Manhattan. We sang an a cappella concert of folk songs and spirituals, surrounded by trees, flowers and a fairly cold breeze coming off the Hudson (like all the weather this year, spring was quite cool and late in coming). It was a lovely afternoon! Hope you enjoy all the photos.

Road to recovery – part 1

In some ways, the surgery was the easy part, as I didn’t have to do anything for that. But once I was home, the recovery process began and that is quite involved!

To protect the newly reconstructed ligament, my leg was in a thigh to ankle rigid brace, which I had to leave on all the time – even showering and sleeping – for 6 weeks 😦 I was told that I could put weight on the leg as pain allowed, but I wasn’t allowed to bend it, except for the CPM therapy.

The hospital had sent me home with a borrowed CPM (continuous passive motion) machine, which is designed to bend your knee to get it moving. One of the biggest issues with this type of surgery is stiffness in the joint, so you have to get it moving, while still protecting it from damage while you heal.  So you lie on a bed or couch and lay your leg in the device and it slides forward and back to bend the knee. You can control the speed of movement and the angle  of bend with an attached control. I had instructions to get to 65 degrees of bend by my 10-day post-operative visit!

I also got an ice therapy machine delivered on the day after surgery. This was like an esky (cooler) that you put some water and a lot of ice in and it pumps the cold water through tubing to a bladder type cover that you wrap around the affected area. It’s really cold and lasts ages. I set these pieces of equipment up at each end of our sofa bed and then for the next two weeks (while I was at home from work) my daily schedule consisted of moving from end to end: 1/2 hour ice, 1 1/2 hours CPM, and repeat!

In between I took fairly copious amounts of pain medication, although I did start to reduce the dosage (first by taking fewer tablets and later by increasing the time between dosages) after three days. By the end of the two weeks I had almost finished taking the oxycodone and was taking a strong dose of anti-inflammatories instead.

The rest of the time, on my two weeks ‘holiday’, I read, watched DVDs, edited our copious amounts of photos and did a fair bit of sleeping! Not only does the pain medication make you dozy, but it had been a very busy summer at work, made more tiring by the fact that moving around had been slow and difficult.

Andy stayed home from work for two days to help me during the first week of my recovery,  but by the time he went back, I was able to hobble one or two steps without the crutches. I found that I was basically able to walk around the house without crutches by the time I went back to work, but progress was still slow and I had to be careful not to put weight on the injured leg too hastily or at the wrong angle.

For sleeping, I stuffed a pillow and a footstool into the bed and, for the first 10 days, slept on my back with my leg on the pillow and the footstool helping to keep the weight of blankets off my foot, which stuck up.

Showering was a different challenge – I wasn’t allowed to get my knee or the brace wet for the first 10 days. For the first few days I sat on a chair in the bath tub and sponged myself off with a flannel and bucket of hot water, but when it came time to wash my hair, I had to wrap my leg up in garbage bags and, still sitting on the chair, with my leg stuck out underneath the shower curtain to rest on a stool, I could shower. I would highly recommend someone having this surgery to buy a full leg cast cover. We ordered one online (not being able to find one in any nearby pharmacy) and it took ages to arrive!

In the meantime the knee was healing nicely. After two days I was able to take off the compression bandage and then could see the waterproof dressing that covered the incisions. They looked a bit bloody, but otherwise clean. There was impressive bruising around the wounds, especially on the side of my knee, which was where the brace rested against my leg – that was fairly painful. These stayed on until my visit to the surgeon.

At my 10 day check-up I had more X-rays and then very quickly saw Dr Shubin Stein. She was pleased with the surgery and my recovery thus far and checked the progress of my knee bending. I am to see a post-op physical therapist next week to begin some gentle therapy. It is scary to see how fast my calf muscle has withered from lack of use (in only 10 days!).

I was interested to see that beneath the waterproof dressings was bio-fabric covering the wounds, which will gradually peel off as the adhesive wears out. She had put in dissolvable stitches, so I didn’t have anything to be taken out, which was a relief.

I’ll leave you with some photos of the first part of my recovery.


Road to surgery – part 2

My surgery was scheduled for 11.15 on a Friday morning. I was not allowed to eat past midnight or drink water past 8am and I had to get there by 9.15am. They registered my arrival and then I sat in the waiting room until I was formally admitted (lots of forms to sign and I got a hospital bracelet). After another quick wait I saw a physical therapist to measure me for the CPM machine, check my crutches and teach me to walk up & down stairs with a straight leg.

She then took me into the pre-surgery ward (through a door and OMG I’m in a hospital! The other areas had just looked like a regular doctors office!) where I changed into a hospital gown (really not a fashion item I can recommend!) and was asked TONS more (repetitive) questions by lots of nurses, techs, doctors and anaesthetists. A lovely nurse very efficiently put in an IV into my left wrist (not something I was looking forward to) and a tech measured me for the post-operative brace. Dr Shubin Stein came by to double check the procedure with me and signed my right knee as the correct location (!), and then I walked into the surgery room – scary looking place with lots of overhead moveable lighting.

I lay down  on the table, had blankets and strapping put over me and then the anaesthetist administered the sedative (not general anaesthetic), which felt cold going into my arm and I started to feel drunk! The next thing I “remember” is sitting flopped forward over pillows with pressure on my shoulders and a sharp pain in my spine (I whinged a bit!), then nothing more. That must have been the spinal nerve block!

After the surgery I also “remember” asking questions of someone and having them answered, but I have no idea what was said by either of us! I was then wheeled somewhere, and became aware when a nurse said I should try to sleep for a bit. Being contrary, I wanted to know where I was and what time it was, so I strained my eyes open and craned my head around and saw a clock – 1.50pm – and that I was in a recovery ward of curtained off cubicles.

I tried dozing for a while, but very uncomfortable cramping in my abdomen (which I translated as a very full bladder) made relaxing difficult. I had been warned by the anaesthetist that I wouldn’t be able to feel or move my legs post surgery – and I couldn’t – which was more frustrating than scary.

After a while, the nurses came and put the right leg in the CPM machine and set it bending. I still couldn’t feel much, so I just lay there and watched my leg move. When I could finally prove that I could move my left leg, everything happened at once: they took me off the CPM contraption & gave me a bedpan ( a really unpleasant experience), both Andy and a PT arrived, and they gave me a sandwich to eat and some ginger drink. By this time, the nerve block having mostly worn off, I was in a fair amount of pain. I was given the first pain medication tablets, but as they take 1/2 hr to kick in, I decided I needed more medication and was given something stronger through the IV. At about 6pm my pain was under control, I had eaten and drunk, and was not too woozy, so I was helped into my clothes, given an informational packet of post-surgery instructions and wheeled downstairs.

Andy found us a cab and I was loaded into the back seat with a pillow to put under my leg on the seat, my CPM machine and bags in the “trunk” and Andy in the front! Needless to say, we had a fairly quiet night. Andy installed me on the couch with my foot & knee up on pillows, heated a frozen meal, I took more pain killers ( oxycodone and paracetamol/acetaminophen) and we watched some TV, before an early night. Let the (final!?) recovery begin.