Saturday, September 23, 2006

Day21 Canal Street, New Orleans
Before starting out for the Ninth Ward, we decided to untether the Bell so it could ring freely as we drove. While pulled over to the side of the road, several workers from the Ritz Carleton Hotel came over to see what was going on. They were interested in the bell and each man took a turn at ringing it. A few blocks later, a man on a bike stopped us at a traffic light and asked to ring the bell. He said it was a chance in a lifetime so we put the flashers on and sat through the green light while he rang it.
We passd this in Pass Christian, Mississippi on the way to New Orleans and couldn't resist taking a photo.
Emile's Freedom Bell

Day20 Gulfport, Mississippi

We took a wrong turn and found ourselves following some trucks to the end of the road. The trucks continued through a gate into a huge parking lot, and next to the opening in the fence was a little gatehouse. Once we decided that we could go no further, we parked the car so that we could ring the bell next to the deserted waterfront.

It was the first time we would encounter the aftermath of Katrina- one year later. It was a strange mixture of the physical evidence of the enormous destructive force of the water and wind that had ripped through here with the almost complete absence of people. Plenty of moving vehicles and evidence of some commerce, but no people. We would see this again and again as we traveled along the Gulf coast.

While Liz got the bell ready to ring, I walked over to the guardhouse to talk to whoever was in there before a call was placed to the police for trespassing. There was some nice cool air coming from the doorway and a man sat inside. Much to my relief, he was very friendly and interested in what we were doing there. When I asked him if he would come out and ring the bell, he said OK, and we walked over to where Liz was waiting.

Emile introduced himself and then told us about what had happened in the area. Then he rang the bell. He called it his Freedom Bell.
Day20.Gulfport, Miss

This is the 20th day of our travels with the Bell. Here we encounter Emile who talks about the aftermath of Katrina.

We have some photos from Mobile, Alabama that we can't dowload from the camera. Hopefully we will figure this out. In the meantime, we have moved on.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

DAY19.Pensacola Parking Lot at midnight

Here’s Liz! She is joining the journey here in Florida and staying with us (the Bell and I) until Texas. She came in from San Francisco where she works at the Exploratorium. Liz is the Media Arts Program director there and my very good friend.
DAY19.In Concert with the Aural Landscape

This is Liz's first film for the Bell Project.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

DAY18. Homosassa Elementary School

First thing in the day I had to drive Norman to the airport in Tampa which was an hour and a half away, then turn right back around and come back in time for the kindergarten kids’ recess. No time for error, so of course, as I’m getting off of the highway I see a message blinking on the cell phone. It’s Norman at the airport saying he can’t find his keys, and he thinks he left his keys in the back of the car. So I get out, walk behind the car and yes indeed - there they are 70 miles later just hanging in the lock. So I called Norman and he said he can get a neighbor to let him in and I can stop at the Homosassa post office and express mail they keys to him. Which I do, but then I am a little late for the school visit since I have to go back to the house and load up the trailer. The trailer is sitting in the front yard propped up on a pile of broken up cement so That I don’t have to bend down and lift it from the ground. It’s a bit too heavy. My brother has this big pile of concrete from smashed up driveways so he can make a stone wall along his driveway. One side is finished, and he’s waiting to do the other.

The school is just down the end of the road, but I am not allowed to go onto the school grounds. Originally, I had wanted to come to the playground and let the kids ring the bell at recess like at the S. Kortright School. Both of my nieces go to this school and my brother had checked with the school authorities and it seemed like we had the green light until people at the school realized that I meant to bring a trailer onto the school grounds. No way. This is the community where Jessica Lunsford was kidnapped from her home and murdered last year. She was a classmate of one of my nieces. Since then, the Jessica Lunsford Law was passed, and it severely restricts access to the school grounds. However, they liked the idea of having a bell there for the children to ring and hear so they suggested I try parking at the firehouse across the street.

So, I came around the corner and was trying to figure out how to park in front of the little firehouse so that I wouldn’t have to back up and could move quickly if I needed to. I went around the building to look into the window to see in which of the 2 bays the single fire truck was parked so that I could get out of the way. I was so preoccupied that I didn’t notice the front of the school across the street until I came back around the firehouse. There on the other side of the street, standing in a long silent row along the fence were children. Many children. The entire school was lined in front of the entire length of school, waiting to ring the bell. I couldn’t believe it. The principal was there and told me to park the car as close to the fence as possible so that everyone could get a good look at the bell. So I swung the car across the street and the kids went wild. They wanted to know, “Why did the clapper have a sock on it? Where did the bell come from? Why was the sock full of holes?” They all wanted to touch the bell but couldn’t reach it over the fence. Two children were chose from each class (plus my nieces) to come outside the fence and line up to ring the bell. So I warned them that it was very loud, gave the designated ringer the heavy duty hearing protection and off they went. The kids were well behaved in spite of having to hold their ears. After each child rang the bell he or she got back into their line to wait until all the children had rung the bell so that they only had to open the gate once to let them back in. One boy managed to ring it twice.
Day17 Homosassa, FL

My brother trying to ring the bell really fast.

We stayed with my brother and his family in Homosassa. They really liked having the bell in their yard.
Day16-Bell and marathon. History Center. Orlando, FL

We drove around lots of construction trying to find the museum and ended up parking on a blocked-off street next to some really loud music and amplified voices. It turned out that it we were parked next to the finish line for the Marathon and it was just over. So people received their awards and walked right by the bell on their way home. I rang it for every person who was announced- not that anybody noticed.

Norman’s sister didn’t like that nobody was coming to ring the bell so she went into the little park in front of the museum and told the kids who were playing there to go over and ring the bell. So they did. Some of them had been playing in the fountain and brought their dad who had won first place in the men’s division. It was very exciting.

So the kids rang the bell and got their pictures taken for the newspaper. The same photographer who was covering the marathon had to shoot pictures of the bell. He wasn’t happy about it, either. He didn’t want to ring the bell and certainly didn’t want any postcards. He said he had enough junk, basically. I wanted to ask him why he was so averse to ringing the bell but didn’t want to antagonize him. But I think from now on, I’ll risk it. What the hell? It’s my bell and while I’m not out to piss anybody off, I am interested in all reactions and shouldn’t waste the opportunity to ask.

Norman’s sister said if those kids hadn’t come to ring the bell she would have felt it was a failure. To the contrary, today clarified something for me about what’s going on. There seems to be 2 types of events. One is where I invite people to ring the bell- It’s kind of fun and I enjoy trying to get people to stop and I like talking with them and hearing what they have to say about the whole thing. The other type of event is more personal and I am going to do it more and more. It’s why I am ringing the bell. So far the only times I have done this is when there is nobody else around. That’s when I stand and ring it for an hour or so. It’s very solemn and purposeful. So far, I am ringing the bell for the dead. It’s inevitable and I want to make the most of this opportunity to do so.

So from now on, I plan to ring it each day by myself. When the occasions present themselves to invite others, I will ask them to ring it, too. For whatever reasons they like.

History Center. Orlando, FL

Sunday, September 17, 2006

9/15 Heading south. I 95 Florida

Norman is practicing to get the “Welcome to Florida” sign as we approach the border. We’ve only managed to photograph 1/2 of those “welcome” signs so far. It’s tricky.

Later on, I left the lights on in the car while we ate dinner and the battery was dead so we were delayed in resuming our journey. It may have been a stroke of good luck for us that we weren’t in the accident that caused this huge traffic jam we sat in soon after getting back on the interstate.
Day15-Hostel in the Forest

Some chickens and bells in the forest. The stick sounds much better than the clapper
9/15/06 Hostel in the Forest. Brunswick, GA.
Rather than describe the whole place, I recommend that anyone reading this go to this website and check it out. Read the list of rules. Look at the pictures. Then come back.

We arrived last night in the dark and had to walk from the car through the woods to get to the hostel. It was scary and very dark- I heard a noise in the trees off to the side of the path and got out my cell phone to call them at the desk. I got the machine. So we walked until we saw some little lights through the trees. It was a little buggy, too.

The lights came from some geodesic domes that were all connected with wooden porches, and we found the one that looked most like it would have a lobby. There on the desk was the phone- off the hook. We followed some voices and found a few guys having dinner in the next dome where they invited us to join them. Since we had already eaten, we just hung out until they were finished and then Mikey gave us a tour and orientation. He didn’t even need a flashlight so we stumbled along behind him in the dark and heard about all the places we could visit in the morning when we could see.

Our place, the Bamboo House, was one of 8 tree houses and it was lovely. There was a ceiling fan and light and some candles. The forest was filled with sounds of insects and later in the middle of the night- a rooster off to an early start. The grain in the wooden floor was embellished by either tracing with a sharpie or blacking with a wood-burning tool. The lines in the wood would become snakes or intricate designs then revert to woodgrain again. It was pretty incredible.

Looking down from the porch in the morning, I saw a huge labyrinth (the 4th largest in the world). If you sliced the circle into a pie, each quarter was created with a different material and element in mind. The path on one quarter was made with white sand that contrasted with the black sand dividers. Another path was defined with piles of big stones. A trail of tree stumps formed one quarter and the last was made with leaves and pine needles. It was huge and intricate and felt in touch with something ancient and slow.

Before leaving, we did some chores, rang the bell and called the chickens over. There were some very odd-looking birds living a very good life.
Day14.Honda Dreamin'

I95 Southbound near the Honda factory where they wouldn't let us in past the gates
9/14 Noon. Pedros South of the Border.
Pretty deserted. We drove around once and parked along the road near the end of the strip. A guy on a ride mower, several golf carts carry assorted maintenance people passed by. At times a steady stream of trucks and cars, then nothing.

There was no foot traffic so I just rang the bell for almost an hour, sometimes waving to people driving by, sometimes not. A security vehicle passed on several occasions and I waved.

Later the same guys passed us on the highway and beeped and waved. A few cars with flag decals on the doors honked and the people waved and smiled. It makes me wonder about the symbolism of the bell around here.
I don’t want to sound cynical, but maybe it’s inconceivable that anyone would ring a bell for any reason that wasn’t patriotic. A lock on patriotism and its symbols?
I was so tired this morning, it felt really good to just ring and ring that bell.

PS Avoid the Super 8 Hotel in Dillon, SC.
PSS I recorded over the movie footage Norman shot here.