Archive for January, 2012

January 25, 2012

More from “Triumph the Lion” — my new novel — on CJSF Radio

In “Triumph the Lion,” a Toronto-born safari ranger in South Africa makes a peculiar lion so famous tourists from around the world venture to the jungle to catch a glimpse of it. The lion becomes such an object of obsession, however, that some visitors arrive wanting much more than a photograph for their Facebook page. With a bounty suddenly on its head, the lion must struggle for survival while the man who made him a celebrity seeks to interfere with the plot to kill the animal. In his quest to do so, the ranger named Blu is joined by his African friend, Shamrock, and Maria, a visiting photographer from Canada who may be the one person in Kruger Park more interested in the man who made the lion a star than in the beast itself.

Click on the links below to hear Excerpts 3 and 4 from the novel, which were read on CJSF Radio (90.1 FM) in Vancouver last week. There’s a 10-minute interview with me that runs before the storytelling begins.

Click here for Excerpt 3, continuation of Chapter 2 (following interview)
Click here for Excerpt 4, also a continuation of Chapter 2

Chapter 1 and the first half of Chapter 2 are available here:

Click here for Part 1, Chapter 1 (following interview).
Click here for Part 2, start of Chapter 2.

January 23, 2012

Archie Manning’s restaurant in New Orleans is a winner

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA — Eli Manning is headed back to the Super Bowl and, thanks to his dad, his hometown will have a hot new place to watch the big game.


The burgers at Archie Manning's restaurant feature his uniform number and those of his sons.

A restaurant in New Orleans bearing the Manning name was going to pack the house no matter what. Archie Manning’s a classy guy, though, so you could expect that he would deliver an establishment with style and sophistication. At Manning’s, you’ll find a big, airy sports bar that has plenty of hospitality and enough warmth to make it appeal to women too.

The newly opened restaurant in the Big Easy’s trendy Warehouse Arts District features a large patio, which will host live music, as well as a banquet hall and 300 televisions, including a dominating 13.5-foot-by-7-foot screen that will catch the eye of anyone passing by. The menu from chef Anthony Spizale includes well-known southern favourites like Shrimp Po Boy sandwiches and Gumbo, along with some eccentric choices (Pig Skin Sliders and Alligator Sliders) that might surprise tourists.

“I’m real excited about it,” Archie Manning told me on Thursday, a night after the 210-seat restaurant held a grand opening celebration at its 519 Fulton Street location. “I’ve been on the road a lot and this business will help me stay closer to home.”

Manning, the former quarterback for the Saints, lives in the city’s Garden District (his home is on the walking tour of the posh neighbourhood) and is one of the most popular figures in New Orleans. He was walking around the restaurant on Thursday taking photographs with all of the guests and smiling wide inside his new digs. He had the idea for the restaurant about five years ago and opened it in time for this weekend’s NFL playoff games, which included his youngest son, Eli, quarterbacking the New York Giants to victory over the San Francisco 49ers. They will play the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI on February 5 in Indianapolis, on the field where Peyton Manning, Archie’s other quarterback son, has led the Colts.

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January 22, 2012

In New Orleans, meet ‘the best sandwich I’ve ever had in my life’


The All That Jazz is a thing of legend in New Orleans. (Julia Pelish photo)

NEW ORLEANS, LOUSIANA — Two days before I arrive in New Orleans, I receive an email urging me to go to a convenience store for “the best sandwich I’ve ever had in my life.” When you travel, words like that always grab your interest, even more so when you’re a travel writer and you sense the potential for a story. Still, you have to remain skeptical about such claims. The email was written from a contact who went to university in New Orleans and was now at Berkeley, so it’s more than possible he was a victim of a hallucination. So when I arrived, I asked around town.

“The All That Jazz — delicious,” said Nick Ruggiero, a waiter who moved from Washington, D.C. to the Big Easy about six years ago. “It’s awesome. Gooey, cheesy. You’ll love it.”

Ruggiero knows his stuff. He works at Arnaud’s, one of the city’s finer restaurants, and recommended particular dishes around town. He was the third person to verify that the All That Jazz sandwich at the Verti-Marte was, indeed, deserving of the hype.

“You’re getting the All That Jazz,” said a fourth endorser, who happened to be the nephew of former Raptors forward Sherell Ford. He was standing in line with me at the little 24-hour grocery store in the French Quarter and his eyes lit up when he spoke about the sandwich. “That’s delicious. It’s messy, but amazing.”

The Verti-Marte is across from the La Laurie Mansion, Nicolas Cage’s former home known for its gruesome 19th-century murders and mutilations, and its reputed ghosts. For all of the visitors who come to this town fascinated by its spooky history, the store’s location may be the only thing notable about it. Inside, it looks like your typical U.S. mini-market, with overpriced snack foods, a freezer full of ice cream, long refrigerators stocked with soft drinks, milk and beer, and a cash register that guards the liquor and cigarettes behind it. At the rear, though, is a deli that churns out dozens of items, ranging from rich desserts like bread pudding to entrees like Creole Chicken and, of course, its po-boy sandwiches, of which the $10.25 All That Jazz is the most popular.

“We’ll serve 20 of those a day, sometimes a hundred,” says Ken behind the counter after he takes my order at 11 p.m. “We normally get a lot of people coming in here at four in the morning after all of the drinking and they’re looking for that sandwich.”

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January 14, 2012

How a Friday the 13th nightmare in Buffalo turned out okay in the end

delta airlines

Delta and other U.S. airlines have a bad rep with consumers for a reason.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — “If I can get people on a plane and moving, that’s what I’m going to do,” Andrew Martin said shortly after doing the completely unexpected: Booking me a first-class ticket to New Orleans when no one else at Delta Airlines would do any more than place me on standby for a possible coach seat sometime in the next two days. This even though it was a system error that caused me to miss my initial departure. Under such conditions, airlines or ticketing agencies must get their customers to their final destination on confirmed flights, not standby. But no one at Delta’s reservations center would acknowledge an error on their part, trying to blame it on Hotwire, the third-party agent with whom I had booked my flight. Hotwire, in turn, was adamant Delta was at fault for the failure to notify me that a 1:30 p.m. flight had been rescheduled to 1:12 p.m. It was an episode that showed how consumers can get stuck in a pass-the-buck game that causes expense and frustration.

Martin, though, showed class and reason, and saved Delta’s reputation in my eyes. He is a Delta supervisor at Buffalo Niagara International Airport and his efforts, along with the diligence of customer service rep Mari Ainsley, got me into New Orleans on the same day and without any extra fees tacked on.

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January 10, 2012

New Orleans is Rising

[Heading back to the Big Easy in a couple of days and thought I’d publish this story that first appeared last February in the Toronto Star.]

dwayne dopsie new orleans

Accordionist Dwayne Dopsie plays rock classics at Krazy Korner down on Bourbon Street. (Julia Pelish photo)

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA — Krista Schuster sits at a bar in Pirate’s Alley, her fiancé beside her, a well drink in her hand, the thump of a tuba in her ear and beignets on her mind.

“The best travel deal going is New Orleans,” she declares.

In December, Schuster, a Pittsburgh resident who has worked as a travel agent, made her fourth visit to the Big Easy since 2006. New Orleans has taken its punches, as everyone knows, but you can’t beat the spirit of this place, or its citizens. Mardi Gras starts March 8 here, but this is a rollicking city any time of year.

“People are so much fun, it’s cheap and the food and music are amazing,” she says.

The food and the music.

They are the hallmarks of this town, what keep people coming and what makes you entice others to visit once you’ve returned home.

Bourbon Street is a blast, but it’s not where you should spend most of your time. It’s a spot for tourists and college kids looking for debauchery. There are things to enjoy, for sure. Great music can be found in a number of places on the street and those looking to splurge should drop in on Arnaud’s for a meal. The historic restaurant, which has a small Mardi Gras museum on its second floor, is an icon of the food scene and deserves the laurels it has received through the years.

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January 2, 2012

Skating at the edge of Niagara Falls


The Rink at the Brink is a thrill in Niagara Falls. (Julia Pelish photo)

NIAGARA FALLS, ONTARIO — Skating outdoors is nothing new for Canadians. Doing it a couple of hundred metres from certain death? That gives a new meaning to going over the boards.

The unique thrill of skating adjacent to Niagara Falls is the overwhelming appeal of the TD Rink at the Brink, which opened its third season on November 30. Expectations are it will host more visitors than it did last year, when 15,000 skaters revelled in the rink set up on Niagara Parkway, about 200 metres across from the natural wonder. Despite the hyperbolic name, there’s no chance of a wayward skater plunging over the Horseshoe Falls. The only threat to a good time, really, is the on-site concession stand running out of hot chocolate.

“There’s nothing like this anywhere else in the world,” said David Groulx, operations manager at the Rink at the Brink and a former owner of the Florida-based Sunshine Coast Hockey League. “You can’t skate this close to an attraction like the Falls anywhere. It’s a really unique experience”

Groulx maintains the ice conditions, which were very good when I went for a few spins on Saturday. It was a magical evening, actually, with the lunar eclipse that night causing a bright, orange-yellow moon to climb slowly over the Niagara night. At first glance, the Rink at the Brink seems like a victim of its own good marketing. When you walk up to it, you feel a touch of disappointment because it is not right at the edge of the Falls, but once you start to skate, the sight of the water curtaining over the cliff and the beauty of the mist rising up and then freezing as it clings to tree branches really is a thrill. I found myself stopping several times or turning my head around just to look.

“Every day is different here. This afternoon, we had a rainbow that came over the Falls and ended right here on the rink,” says Groulx. “There are days when the mist rises over the moraine here and crystallizes, and it’s just absolutely gorgeous.”

The rink, which is 60 feet-by-120 feet, will stay open until February 29. It costs $7 for adults and $6 for youths to skate, which might be a deterrent considering Canadians across the country are used to skating for free on outdoor rinks, including at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto and the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. The Rink at the Brink, though, is a distinct experience and one that’s certainly worth at least one outing.

“This is really beautiful, to see the Falls like that and with all the lights in the city. They did a great job with it,” said Kelly Dawns, who is from Toronto. She credited the rink for keeping her kids busy and blending in with the rest of the festive atmosphere in Niagara.

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January 1, 2012

My new novel, “Triumph the Lion,” on CJSF Radio

Thanks to host KP Wee of “Smitten with the Written” for the opportunity to read from “Triumph the Lion,” my new novel. You can hear it as part of an interview on CJSF Radio (90.1 FM) in Vancouver from a couple of weeks ago. KP and I discussed “50 Mission Cap” and how the ugly subject of sexual abuse by athletic coaches has turned up again in the news because of the scandals at Penn State and Syracuse universities. We also talked about travel writing and writing tips for emerging writers before I read the first few pages of “Triumph the Lion.”

Here are the links to the interview:

Click here for Part 1.
Click here for Part 2.