Saturday, March 15, 2008

These Are A Few Of My Favorite (Louisiana) Things

First, I just want to say that I've worked out the issue about the other person in my house knowing where my blog is. I talked to him about this, made it clear that my blog has kind of also become my journal (my fault for showing it to him when it was just political rants & blog round-ups). I told him that he has his 12-step program journals in the house, and that I've never cheated by reading any of them. Then I found out how use the blog stats thing so that I can always sign on and be sure the last time anyone here went to my blog, it was ME - and I told him I would be checking from now on too!

Thanks for the supportive comment.

And now, on to some of my favorite (Louisiana) things.

Thanks, Katrina explains how we can be tourists in our own backyard.

This weekend is Super Sunday, which involves the Mardi Gras Indians. The Mardi Gras Indian tradition grew out of the respect and affection African-Americans had for native-Americans, who often harbored escaped slaves. The traditions involved are unique, fascinating, and very complex - and way beyond my ability to explain here, so instead I will provide a link.

This video is offered as a f**k you to the "just let New Orleans die" crowd - and a polite rebuke to the otherwise fabulous Barbara Ehrenreich, who wouldn't include New Orleans in her book on celebrations of joy in the streets because she said Mardi Gras is too commercialized and because she has apparently seen one too many ads for "Girls Gone Wild: Mardi Gras edition." Here you are, Barbara! Come see for yourself!

This video is of two tribes of the Mardi Gras Indians doing "battle." In the old days, actual fights broke out and scores from other times during the year were settled. In modern times, this is how the chiefs do battle. Ultimately, one chief will bow to the one who is "the prettiest."

If you're interested in this, go to the original of the video above at youtube and there is a link to a New Yorker article. Also, try a search for "Mardi Gras Indians" at youtube.

I'm sort of working the event on Sunday. I am volunteering to be a legal observer for the ACLU, observing and then noting what happens between attendees and the police (more at LaACLU).

I did this kind of volunteering once before, when I was a first year law student and member of the National Lawyers Guild (I went to type that last night and it came out "National Lawyers Guilt - how Freudian!). Anyway, that was when friends at the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane held this protest in which they sat down on the highway outside of the Air Force base. At the time, I was so amazed by how professonal and polite the many police and military and riot control units present were. Now that the ACLU has used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain our FBI files (the law students referenced on page 12 would include moi), it is abundantly clear why law enforcement were SOO nice. Anyway, so I am going to do that for Super Sunday.

Next, my favorite author in the world, James Lee Burke, gives an interview to the Sydney Morning Herald. (sigh)

NEW ORLEANS isn't just a place for bestselling crime writer James Lee Burke. Nobody could describe it - the good and the bad - the way he does without a deep well of affection. Love even: "You woke in the morning to the smell of gardenias, the electric smell of the streetcars, chicory coffee and stone that has turned green with lichen. The light was always filtered through trees, so it was never harsh, and flowers bloomed year-round."

That's a blues musician talking, a character from Jesus Out To Sea, one of Burke's most personal stories. He's clinging to a roof in "the Big Sleazy" after Hurricane Katrina has ripped it open. He goes on: "New Orleans was a poem, man, a song in your heart that never died … I only got one regret. Nobody ever bothered to explain why nobody came for us."

I went to a book signing of Burke's at a fabulous indie bookstore called Auntie's. At the time, I had been living up North for about ten years, and Burke's books were the closest thing I could afford to a trip home. When it was my turn to have him sign my book, I told him that I was from New Orleans and that I used his books for mental transport back there, then I said, "Thank you so much for writing to life some quirky, recognizable Louisiana characters who aren't just the same old Scarlett and Rhett stereotypes. It means a lot to me." He stopped in the middle of signing, looked up abruptly, kind of searched my face for a moment, then said, "Why, thank you, ma'm." (another sigh)

I walked into my therapist's office one day carrying one of Burke's books and was amazed to learn that she'd never heard of him. She wanted to know specifically what I like about his novels (especially since, as I'd told her, I rarely read fiction). As I tried to describe the complexity of the Dave Robichaux character and the complexity of the world as Burke - accurately - depicts it, where cops have Vietnam flashbacks, occassional violent tempers, and weekly 12 step meetings, where there is honor among thieves but little among politicians and patriarchs, my therapist pointed out that Burke's novels and characters reflect the complexity of my life's experiences. It's true. I've found the good guys aren't easy to tell from the bad guys. I've found little of the black and white I crave, but lots of the gray I dread.

She's right. Burke's complexity gets me (and, if you read the interview, that complexity of ordinary characters, what he calls "the bottom up story" is what he is trying to tell). It's also, however, the simple fact that his descriptions of my beloved Louisiana are melt in your mouth poetry.

Perhaps I carried too many memories of the way the city used to be. Maybe I should not have returned. Maybe I expected to see the streets clean, the power back on, the crews of carpenters repairing ruined homes. But the sense of loss I felt while driving down St. Charles was worse than I had experienced right after the storm. New Orleans had been a song, not a city. Like San Francisco, it didn't belong to a state; it belonged to a people.

When Clete and I [had] walked the beat on Canal, music was everywhere. Sam Butera and Louis Prima played in the Quarter. Old black men knocked out "The Tin Roof Blues" in Preservation Hall. Brass-band funerals on Magazine shook the glass in storefront windows. When the sun rose on Jackson Square, the mist hung like cotton candy in the oak trees behind the St. Louis Cathedral. The dawn smelled of ponded water, lichen-stained stone, flowers that bloomed only at night, coffee and freshly baked beignets in the Cafe du Monde. Every day was a party, and everyone was invited and the admission was free.

The grandest ride in America was the St. Charles streetcar. You could catch the old green-painted, lumbering iron car under the colonnade in front of the Pearl and for pocket change travel on the neutral ground down arguably the most beautiful street in the Western world. The canopy of live oaks over the natural ground created a green-gold tunnel as far as the eye could see. On the corners, black men sold ice cream and sno'balls from carts with parasols on them, and in winter the pink and maroon neon on the Katz and Besthoff drugstores glowed like electrified smoke inside the fog ...

Every writer, every artist who visited New Orleans fell in love with it. The city might have been the Great Whore of Babylon, but few ever forgot or regretted her embrace. (a little more...yum)

Hat tip New Orleans News Ladder for the James Lee Burke interview.

I'll close with this, "Unsuffer Me," by Louisiana GODDESS Lucinda Williams. This isn't really a video, but it plays the song, which is fabulous. Lean back and let Lucinda massage the sore spots in your soul.

No comments: