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Remember Chanel, Remember Them All February 29, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, Dancing Bear, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Ever since I posted a list of all of the New Orleans dead of 2007, not a day goes by that this site is not visited by people searching for their loved ones on the internet. Yesterday, someone searched the internet for “chanell sanchell new orleans”.

Today, we’re going to remember Chanel. I didn’t know this person. That doesn’t matter. If we only choose to remember the people we knew, or the people like us, then remembrance is an act of selfishness. If we only worry about people who look like us or move in our circles and places, then it will never end.

It doesn’t matter that I did not know her or her family. It only matters that she has joined The Ghosts. To be among the ghosts is not to be denied the heaven of one’s dreams. It is to be in an honored host, as honored as those who stand at the foot of the throne if you tend to that version. It is to be remembered, to be a part of the city forever.

Here is Chanel’s story from Nola.com. From the news reports, she sounds like a good kid who ran with the wrong crowd. Perhaps it was the only crowd she knew, was full of the faces she knew from the time she first toddled down the steps of a building in St. Bernard on her own two feet, a crowd that perhaps included her first best girlfriend, the first boy she kissed. How easy it would be for someone like Chanel to fall in with that crowd, the people she grew up with good and bad, and to suddenly find herself on the wrong side of an argument with one of the bad in that crowd, one of the worst; an argument that ended with a gun shot through the heart.

Here is a blog post from a cousin. I think The Book and the comments on his blog say more than I can. Or read the comments on this post from last October at m.d. filter.

Many of those on the lists I and m.d. filter have published are otherwise invisible on the internet. There is only the list, perhaps a mention on this blog or m.d. filter. For most, there is a brief paragraph in the Times-Picayune. “The coroner has identified… Detective so-and-so is investigating. Call Crimestoppers…”. That is all; nothing more.

If you are one of those who stumbles onto this blog looking for someone you knew, please take a moment to leave some memorial in the comments. I know you are out there, looking for something about this person. You can leave your messages anonymously. Or you can email me and I will post it as a comment. Everyone person on that list, even if they had gone down that dark path and died with a handgun in their waste band and an empty look in their eyes, all of them were once as Chanel once was, as my own children once were: as innocent as a lamb in the lap of Jesus. Someone, somewhere who uses the internet remembers them not as a name on a list but as a person. (I know because you come looking for them.) Tell us something about that person. Tell us what you perhaps said or wish you had said when the minister at the funeral asked if anyone wanted to speak.

Some of us chose to remember, like the bone men. I want the dead and the living to know that we remember, that in this city there are many who remember. We will never forget one of you.

Update: I also just found this blog, which mostly captures police reports about violent crime in NOLA.

Update 5-16-08: Corrected spelling of Chanel’s name (except in the Google reference, because that’s how they find this page), per her cousin who published The Book blog.

Tales of Grave Ulysses February 28, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, quotes, Toulouse Street, Uncategorized.
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….O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gilbraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

– James Joyce’s Ulysses

Soon it will be June and where then shall we meet, and who shall read? I have never done a Bloomsday and have always wanted to. The last hereabouts looks to have been June 2005 and then, well, you know. So, who’s in?

.

P.S.–It’s hard to see online, but this has a NoLa Rising tag painted down the left side.

Silence is Violence Music Clinics February 26, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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Silence Is Violence, a campaign for peace in New Orleans announces our Spring 2008 series of Youth Music Clinics

Tuesday evenings, February 26-April 15 6-8pm

Sound Cafe: 2700 Chartres Street *Clinics are open to youth ages 5-15 and interested in instrumental and/or vocal performance

*Clinics are free, and dinner is provided

*No musical experience necessary

The Youth Music Clinics, founded in January 2007, were the first ongoing program introduced by anti-violence organization SilenceIsViolence. Through the music clinics, we seek to create a nurturing, non-violent environment for young people and their families in the early evening, while offering instruction in both the artistic and the business aspects of music. The clinics are accessible forums for young people to explore the world of music and to decide if they would like to pursue long-term music education.

Each session includes an instruction period, a dinner break, and an informal jam session, during which clinic participants have the opportunity to perform with the professionals. Professional musicians, led by trumpet virtuoso and Music Director Shamarr Allen, teach fundamental techniques on a range of instruments, including but not limited to trumpet, drums, saxophone, trombone, clarinet, and guitar, as well as various stringed instruments. Basic principles of music theory also are introduced. In addition, children who participate in the weekly clinics have the opportunity to take one subsidized private lesson per week with a professional musician. Participants who attend regularly will receive free tickets to the 2008 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, courtesy of the Fest4Kidz/Threadheads program.

We invite all young New Orleanians with an interest in music, as well as parents and community supporters, to attend our Youth Music clinics as participants or as audience members.

Here are the details:
WHAT: SilenceIsViolence Spring 2008 Youth Music Clinics
WHEN: Tuesdays, February 26-April 15, 6-8pm
WHERE: Sound Cafe, 2700 Chartres St. in the Marigny
COST: Free

Bellona on the Bayou February 26, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, Carnival, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, literature, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Toulouse Street.
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In reponse to Greg’s suggestion in the comments on “That Bright Moment” that the real connection between postdiluvian New Orleans and the work of Samuel R. Delaney is the dystopic novel Dhalgren, I offer you this Scorpion-like figure I encountered while waiting on Royal Street for the Krewe of St. Anne to come by.

The scorpions in Dhalgren are criminal gangs that decorate themelves in elaborate electronic costumes that project figures of light such as dragons around them. This picture (which I hadn’t originally posted to my Carnival Flikr set) reminded me more than anything else of what I have seen of my mental pictures of those scorpions. I wish that thought had popped into my mind on Mardi Gras so I could have asked this fellow (who sat at the next table at the coffee shop for quite a while and bummed a cigarette) if that was in fact what he intended.

That Bright Moment February 24, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, quotes, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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YOU ARE TRAPPED IN THAT BRIGHT MOMENT
WHERE YOU LEARNED YOUR DOOM
— Samuel R. Delaney in City of a Thousand Suns

Trapped not as you might think, given the juxtaposition of the word doom; trapped instead in the complex web of postdiluvian New Orleans in the way light is said to be trapped by a cut and polished gem, refracted by the complex play of facets until made into a flashing thing of beauty: that is how I try to live with what was once the shadow of The Flood, the rafts of ghosts it unleashed.

I have not finished Delaney’s novella trilogy Fall of the Towers, so I am not certain how the moment described by that recurring line will play out, the mass, simultaneous discovery by an entire society that a key assumption about their lives–that there was an enemy beyond the barrier; that they were at war–was a complex fiction constructed by their ruling class.

I am not certain how something terribly similar will play out here in New Orleans, among people who’s fundamental assumptions have been washed away: that the basic infrastructure of our lives is built well enough that we will not die of living upon it; that our government will rise up to protect and succor us at a moment of great peril; that if we pay our bills to the insurance company they will help make us whole. How do we live when all of the illusions that underpin life in modern America are suddenly swept away.

Some will drift into cynicism: all governments are corrupt, all big corporations dishonest: what did you expect? Nothing to be done. There is a certain beauty when that sardonic surrender is contrasted with the insistent evidence of hope, with the irrational and irresistible persistence that is one of the hallmarks of life, prominently displayed here in New Orleans like flowers erupting on a cooled lava flow. For evidence I offer the rush by Orleanians to embrace the dark and complex Waiting for Godot this year.

Complete cynicism in its modern sense is the fate I want to avoid for fear we become the new Dog Philosophers, mindless of our personal or civic obligations from a misplaced belief that the world is beyond redemption. I started down that road once on the blog I once kept called Wet Bank Guide. For a time the anger there over the Federal Flood and all that followed was palpable, the anger that once led me to ask if it were possible to renounce my citizenship in the United States of America and become a resident alien in the only country I wish to recognize: New Orleans. Over time, I transmuted that ugly funk into something else, a celebration of what I believe it means to be “trapped in that bright moment”. At what I thought the high point of that transformation, I put Wet Bank Guide to bed.

Now I try instead to celebrate the found moments of odd or profound beauty that come out of All That: the moments of simple, quiet pleasure and ecstatic, public joy that mark life in postdiluvian New Orleans, the surest signs that what we are building here is indeed New Orleans, heedless of the violent transfiguration of our landscape, the vast swaths of ruin that still blanket the Gentilly and the East, the last exits on the road to the modern Land of Nod.

I cannot entirely surrender that anger, not while I have this public forum and a handful of readers I might influence. There is too much to be done to realize the potential that arises out of that bright moment when we learned our doom. What the citizen journalists of the blogosphere call the ground truth must continue to be told in pieces like the one below, Crazy Like a Fox, until we have — like Saint Patrick — driven the snakes out of paradise.

Until that work is accomplished there is still a life to be lived here. For all of the constant struggle and the occasional horror of that life there are still the moments that flash out like shinning from shook foil, as Gerald Manley Hopkins put it. Our world is charged with the grandeur not of God precisely but of who we are, of how we live: every bar of music and snatch of song that puts a lilt in our step I never saw on the streets of Washington or Fargo; every sloppy po-boy unrolled from its waxy wrapper like an Egyptian treasure, that sustains us as much by the thought of which neighborhood joint it came from and by the sight of it laying there like a woman in dishabille, as we are as by the smell and the taste of it; the peculiar site lines of a city built to conform to the zaftig geography of the river’s crescent and our slow descent into the ocean. All of these flash out of the cold, hard moment when we rediscovered who we are, flash out with a beauty that should settle the question once and for all: why do we choose to live here having learned our doom?

For Orleanians, as I believe it will unfold for Delaney’s characters, living in that bright moment is not an end but a beginning, not so much a scar but like a smudge of transient ash on the forehead that reminds us of who we are, that helps us to rediscover for ourselves who we are and where we live.

The quote that eventually came to rest prominently at the top of Wet Bank Guide was from the jazz and performance artist Sun Ran: Its After the End of the World, Don’t You Know That Yet? For Sun Ra, it was a profound renunciation of the ugly history of what it meant to be Black in late 20th Century America. It was not the presumed despair of some character in a Left Behind novel (I can’t bring myself to read those Christian tracts, but I can imagine what that world is like, borrowed no doubt in large measure from works like Stephen King’s The Stand).

Instead Sun Ra’s aphorism calls us to a celebration of the realization that we have been unshackled from the conventional, from so much of our history and attachment. Perhaps I can help all those around me who still cling to the past, to the ugliest parts of the long story what makes us who we are; I hope I can push them to recognize that those shackles lie about their feet and no longer bind them, that they have been freed by that bright moment in which we knew our doom to become something at once old and new: not the city bequeathed to us like a curse by our ancestors who held or felt the lash but instead the city of memory and of dreams, the city that lives in our hearts.

Fun with Manikins February 23, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, music, New Orleans, Odds&Sods.
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Shine On You Crazy Diamonds…

The Kenner Local rumbles past Ochsner Hospital February 21, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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The hallways of the surgical ward of Ochsner Hospital are as bright and cheerless as the Kenner Local cross-town bus I passed on the way home. In the waiting area the last of the family groups each sits separately, choosing their places among the rows and rows of chairs like a strategically defensive position in some board game, each small knot of people as isolated in their own personal emergency as the lonely shift workers scattered throughout the seats of that passing bus.

It was appendicitis (my wife’s, not mine) that found me waiting on the hard chairs, the scant cushioning of each covered in variously stripped fabrics that loudly announced: wait here. Purgatory, if our sins are not too egregious, will have chairs as comfortable and comely as these. The surgery was arthroscopic and went quickly. Not 45 minutes passed from the time I left her in the tender care of the nurse anesthetist until the surgeon came out calling her last name. Mine is different and as he first spoke he remembered it and called mine as well even as I strode up. He asked if I was related to the restaurateur whose last name I share.

The rest of the day was like the room of many stripes, a long and uncomfortable wait. My wife arrived at the emergency room before eight on her own, in a cab; she would not wait for me to drop the children first, and was only taken up to surgery at around 6:45 pm. The ER nurse explained that the hospital was full, had been all week. Patients were routinely held in the ER until space could be found for them in an operating room or a bed. My wife might have to spend the night in the recovery room, I was warned, for the same reasons. No room at the inn. Not knowing where she might land, I followed up to the surgery ward toting the plastic bag of all she came in with, ready to pitch camp wherever fate might cast us up.

That is how Ochsner seems to run itself, like a large resort or an airline. Full bookings are good for the bottom line, if not always for the customer. On the way home I passed the vacant hulk of Mercy Hospital just blocks from my house, purchased with several other empty hospitals by Ochsner from Tenet in the days after The Federal Flood. The Mercy property was sold to a developer with a covenant that it may not be used as a hospital, even though the city has 60% of its population back but only 25% of its hospital beds. The new owners of Mercy are thinking perhaps a Target would fit there nicely. Ochsner apparently prefers not to have any competition. If that means that patients may not have an actual hospital room, well, it’s not Jakarta. People weren’t stacked on pallets in hallways buzzing with flies. Still, it was a less-than-ideal experience by conventional American standards. It was instead, a perfect postdiluvian New Orleans one.

And so to bed.

Crazy Like A Fox February 21, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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There’s not much I can add to all of the other commentary on Mayor C. Ray Nagin’s outburst on WWL-TV today. Just check out the usual suspects: Adrastos, Ashley Morris and American Zombie in the column to your right. The mayor’s public tantrum came in response to a story that will air at 10 p.m. central detailing exactly what he has been doing to bring the city back over the past year. From the teasers, the answer some will find in a close examination of a year of his calendar is: not much.

Perhaps the news we have an absentee landlord of a mayor come as a surprise to some visitor who happens to be in their room at 10 tonight and not out partying, but it will not surprise anyone who lives here. We have a mayor with a home in Texas who is invisible to the public unless he’s doing something incredibly stupid, like brandishing an assault rifle at a press conference detailing how the city has squandered millions of recovery dollars buying SWAT gear when the guys we have on the front line don’t have what it takes to get the job done.

The simple fact is Nagin is, like a significant portion of the population here, in some form of burnout from the entire recovery experience. The difference between Nagin and every other poor schmuck out there is that when he swings the hammer and misses, he hits us all.

I’ve stood up for C. Ray in the long ago. Since then, I have witnessed a combination of ineptitude and the continuous appearance of impropriety and his prior public breakdowns. The sympathy, such as I had when I wrote the Vast White Ring Conspiracy post on Wet Bank Guide almost a year ago is replaced entirely by disgust.

There were hints in his morning interview of attempts to play the race card, and I’ve seen a reaction of that sort already on a mailing list I belong to, an otherwise thoughtful person buying into the “well there are a lot of racists who don’t like him.” Well, there are a lot of racists who don’t like people of another color, but the mental space Ray has entered is as far out there as that of the readers of the Turner Diaries, an alternate universe in which their own personal failings are excused by a racial boogie=man other.

Except I am not so sure that Nagin is that crazy. More, as my trite headline suggests, crazy like a fox. What is hiding behind the public buffoonery is a concerted program of looting the city recovery money via extravagant, no-bid contracts to his contributors. I plan to come back and work on a post, in fact hope to fulfill some of the mayor’s paranoid delusion by encouraging other bloggers in New Orleans to take up Bayou St. John David’s call for a concerted campaign to publicize the clear appearance of corruption in City Hall.

For now, visit his blog–Moldy City– and Dambala’s American Zombie and read what real journalism looks like. The WWL-TV piece promises some of that tonight, but if you want to see it in black-on-white, you can forget the daily Times-Picayune and the weekly “alternative”/lifestyle magazine Gambit. You’ll have to read the best of citizen journalism in the NOLA Blogosphere to start to see the real reason Nagin is mostly invisible when he’s not playing the fool or tossing gasoline on the smoldering racial tension in the city. It’s a great cover for doing with what’s left of the recovery dollars what was done by friends of the White House with the vast majority of the over $100 billion Congress think they’ve spent down here.

Part of the mayor’s tirade was against “bloggers”, but which other bloggers think he means the sort of scum who spend their days on NOLA.Com forums and comment threads of the T-P stories they published. There NOLA.com comment and forum rooms are certainly a human sewer. The sort of psychotic venom found there would be sufficient data for any advanced, space-faring race that happens to drift by to assume humanity are some sort of terrible disease this planet has caught and which they would be doing all the other life forms a favor by exterminating.

I believe that the mayor reads actual bloggers. I think he knows who he means, and it scares the hell out of him that at some point someone in a position of authority in a media outlet outside the city, or perhaps someone in the U.S. Attorney’s office, might also find them. Bloggers like AZ and BSJD have done all the heavy lifting. All some enterprising Pulitzer hound needs to do is stumble into their extensive indexing of the stories that have actually appeared in the Times-Picayune, stories the T-P must be consciously choosing to not link together,in order to tear away the facade of transparency and reform to reveal was it festering underneath.

Hot Club: Then and Now February 18, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Dancing Bear, Jazz, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Regretting I didn’t go see the Hot Club of New Orleans Friday night at d.b.a on Frenchman Street in New Orleans, here’s the Hot Club of France: Django Reihardt and Stephane Grappelli and friends.

Sun Ra Does Disney February 17, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Jazz, New Orelans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, Toulouse Street, Uptown.
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Like, whoa.

By all reports, neither Sun Ra nor Frank Zappa did drugs. Some people clearly did not need them to get to that special place. Anyway, no apologies necessary to Mr. Disney for whoever synced up Sun Ra playing “Pink Elephants on Parade”. Consider it revenge for my inability to listen to certain pieces of music without Mr. D’s cartoon intruding. (Not that I diskliked Fantasia, but if you had small children in the era of the VCR or later and watched it a couple of hundred times…..

Sweet 16 February 16, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Dancing Bear, kids, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, Uncategorized.
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Tonight is my daughter Killian’s Sweet 16 Party, an affair organized by parents of sophomores at her elite public high school. All of the girls have Beatles on the brain (which doesn’t prevent them from listening to Kane West or Lupe Fiasco) and the theme is All You Need Is Love.

The highlight (for me) will be The Presentation, when we dads get to walk our daughter down the stairs. Killian and her friends thought the presentation part was a terrible idea, so I had suggested that — given the theme — if we didn’t have a presentation that some of the other dads and I would get ourselves up in white tails and do this, their mother’s swirling around us in long skirts.

We won out in the end, and I will be presenting her to society as it were in proper New Orleans fashion. I still think the Magical Mystery Tour bit would have been fun.

Imagine (Canadian Language Version) February 15, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, music, New Orleans, peace, Toulouse Street.
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This one’s for Kevin Mahoney, and the other several billion angry peaceniks in the world. Someday we all just have to get fed up all at once at the same moment–while stopping perhaps to focus on a scattering of broken glass flashing in a vacant lot rampant with dandelions–and the heads of the entire leadership of the military-industrial establishment will all violently explode all at once, expelling in that fierce moment all of the world’s baleful intent, that last moment of violence a coyote-crushing anvil of perfect karma every childhood fan of classic cartoons will understand is as wonderful as a lotus unfolding in the hand of the bodhisattva.

The Land of Creamy Beans February 13, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, Rebirth, Toulouse Street.
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It is not necessarily the big moments, the arrival of the Krewe of St. Anne at Frenchman or the first steps onto the Fairgrounds at Jazz Fest, in which I find myself most perfectly at home in New Orleans. Rather it is in the little moments that make up life here, the odd bits of life in New Orleans that are the sub-title of this blog.

In the months that have passed since I rolled over the Causeway on Memorial Day 2006 some of the sense of wonder at being here after a 20-years’ absence has been replaced by the commonplace that I am, in fact, home in New Orleans. Most days I drive down the usual routes — Carrollton Avenue, say — and it is as if I had never left, had never walked out of one home and turned down the street to view the Capitol rising down Massachusetts Avenue North East, or bundled up in the foyer of a Fargo, N.D. home to go out and shovel snow off of my driveway.

There is a familiar parade of sights–Brocato’s and Venizia, Jesuit High School, the Rock ‘N Bowl in the mostly unchanged strip mall where my mother once purchased our school clothes at the D.H. Holmes discount store; crossing the Palmetto Canal, then past the seminary to the leonine pillars at Pritchard Place and the arches at Fountainbleau and then I’m in Carrollton: passing Palmer Park to where the restaurant names change but the buildings stay pretty much the same.

And them I’m rolling home like a small boat in a light swell, dodging potholes like a river pilot navigating sandbars. I might look up from the traffic and see on one hand the branches of a row of oak tree branches extended over the streets like the hand of a priest murmuring a blessing over a small child; on the other side, a procession of the bowed shapes of palm trees slouching on the neutral ground like women waiting to cross, the trunks in the arc of a body with a hand on one hip pushing the other out in a saucy pose, the crowning leaves like an elaborate Sunday crown. And then, the odd bit: something as simple and strange as a man standing like a saintly scarecrow, arms out and hands filled with breadcrumbs, his body covered with pigeons.

At that moment I almost expect to hear a shout of azione! and see Marcello Mastroianni stride into a scene suddenly reduced to black and white, raincoat draped over his shoulders and a cigarette hanging from his lip. He is watched intently by man with a high, furrowed brow and a full, combed-back haircut last seen in a faded photo on the wall of Brocato’s, who peers at the scene over a cameraman’s shoulder. The bird man in a fabulous landscape of trees receding into infinity is reduced to the backdrop of something more than the merely fantastic, becomes part of a pattern that is as comfortable with the irrational as any other state. It feels as if I have been tipped out of a cart, transported away from my routine commute between Carrollton and Mid-City and into a sound stage bounded only by the imagination, arriving suddenly and without warning in the New Orleans of dreamy dreams.

Some days the moments are not quite as mystical but are instead as perfectly New Orleans as any instant could be. Last Sunday as I was taking down the Mardi Gras beads I had wrapped the columns in front of the house with I hear a sound I at first feared might be gun shots. Then two children with drum heads and sticks marched side-by-side up Olympia Street to the corner of Toulouse, beating a march time. They were led by a third child in front with a whistle and, from the motions he made with his arm and the way he rocked his head first one way and then the other while tilted back on his shoulders, an imaginary drum major’s staff and feathered hat. He would blow a few notes on his whistle and the drummers would answer with a few beats of the drum, over and over in perfect parade order. They marched into the middle of the intersection, and with a wave of the imaginary staff and a long, shrill whistle burst, they stopped. The leader, after some pointing and prodding and appropriate huffing on the whistle, got them turned around and they marched off back up Olympia: tweet, tweet, tweet, DUM da dum dum; tweet tweet tweet, DUM da dum dum…

I looked at the beads in my hand after they had vanished, shaking my head slowly and smiling as I silently reminded myself: no where else, man, no where but .

Dancing Bear February 10, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in art, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, oddities, Odds&Sods, Toulouse Street.
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Dancing Bear
A fellow New Orleans blogger left a comment asking about the Dancing Bear tag on my posts. It’s an old, old nickname, predating the adoption by the Grateful of the dancing teddy bear icon by several years, although I am almost enough of a fan to consider myself a head (notice “cryptic envelopment tag on some posts also usually tagged “Odds&Sodds”). While I am rather hirsute (except at the very top) I am straight, so it’s not about that kind of Bear either. It is instead a reference to Captain Kangaroo that I picked up in my early teens. (No, I am not about to tell that story, although it’s fairly harmless. No, Jeff, Bear will not dance.)

Strange how childhood nicknames stick. My mother-in-law used to be aghast when I called my son buddy. “That’s how people get those horrible nicknames,” she complained. Well, I rather liked the two Buddy’s I’ve known, so I wasn’t too worried about it. And it didn’t stick. Dancing Bear, however, has stuck for a certain circle of friends, and it’s usually shortened to Bear.

As to the picture above, if you’re thinking of getting me something extravagant for my birthday, I definitely can not afford one of these lovely Inuit Dancing Bear sculptures offered at Siverston Gallery, but after being Dancing Bear for a third of a century I’d love to have one.

Queen of Denial? February 9, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, Carnival, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, French Quarter, home, Hurricane Katrina, Jazz Fest, je me souviens, Katrina, levee, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, NOLA, parade, Rebirth, Recovery, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Hollywood Reporter columnist Ray Richmond came to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, wandered Bourbon Street and its immediate environs like a good tourist–noting the drunken hordes, the breast obsession, and the beads, all of the touchstones of a Tourist at Mardi Gras. His blog notes that he did venture out of the Quarter and into The Ruins, fand found “a watterlogged [sic] ghost town pockmarked with wide swaths of untouched damage. Meanwhile, those who dared stick it out — or more likely, had no choice — are forced to live in flimsy FEMA trailer housing where their homes once stood.”

His reaction to this odd (to him) juxtaposition was to wonder at the boosterism of the city fathers in promoting Carnival, and the commitment of the costumed locals to have their day even in the middle of Year Three of the postdeluvian era.

The local and national media don’t really talk about this stuff anymore, as Hurricane Katrina is yesterday’s crisis. It’s also far better for tourism and for the city’s tenuous self-esteem to promote the fact that New Orleans’ self-gratifying, anything-goes character is back in full. “New Orleans Hotels at 90% Capacity — and Counting!” exulted one headline. The only hurricane you seem to hear about anymore is the one that’s served in a glass (dark rum, pineapple juice, splash of grenadine). It’s all something of a facade, of course, but that’s spin marketing for ya. There’s simply not as much to be gained from peddling the slogan, New Orleans: Merely a Shell of What We Once Were.

“….We can all sleep better knowing that New Orleans is once again safe for the rowdy and the inebriated, the naked and the perverse. For a city that’s still struggling to crawl out from under the lingering devastation of Hell and high water, it now finds itself drowning in denial, which rapidly has become the most powerful of opiates for these huddled, thinned-out masses.”

Ray, we are not merely a shell of what we once were, even if half of the city’s buildings are. Carnival is not denial; for us it is life. The picture of the man dressed as a soiled baby president is part of (or a dedicated hanger on to) the Krewe of Saint Anne, one of the groups dedicated to elaborate costuming in Mardi Gras. The people who worked half the year on fantastic costumes in spite of the state of our city are no different than my wife soldiering through celebrating Christmas while her mother died. To suggest Mardi Gras is inappropriate would be tantamount to suggesting that commerce in New York be suspended for a few years because of 9-11. If that were to happen, what would be left of the city? Would what remains even be New York? The same is true for New Orleans: to cease to be ourselves would be to surrender, and we have not, will not give up.

For people like the Krewe of St. Anne and all of those you saw following them, Mardi Gras is not a denial but instead a celebration of who we are, of why we live here. It was an affirmation that we do live here, that we will live here, come hell or high water or both, in the way we have for close to three centuries. We not only had Mardi Gras this year, we had it last year, and we had it in 2006 — six months after the Federal Flood, when half of the city had no running water or telephones. We costumed and paraded and partied.

We’re glad the tourists are back, even the vomiting hordes of Spring Break in Hell types. We need their business. We need your business, and that of your readers. Tourism remains a top industry. We want you to come for Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, and we want you to take time out from those celebrations to see the rest of the city, the real city that stands in hollow, gray ruin not a mile from the Fairgrounds where Jazz Fest plays. We want America to know the one thing your story missed. We stand in ruin because we have been left to our own devices to rebuild. The money is all gone down the rat hole, parceled out to pay for fabulous no-bid contracts to Haliburton and their ilk for debris clean up and other tasks that followed the storm and flood. The money meant to help rebuild is tied up in Byzantine federal red tape. Little has actually reached the people who live here. And still they come home, maxing out their credit cards and cashing out their retirement and one-by-one rebuilding their houses and lives. We are doing it on our own because we just. Sinn Fein, baby.

They come home because they have tried life elsewhere in America when they had no choice but to leave, and they chose to come home. The come back because there is no place for a Krewe of St. Anne’s in Houston or Dallas or Atlanta or Memphis. They come home not for Bourbon Street but for the joie de vivre of the entire city, for the way of life which Bourbon Street caricatures for the tourists. The come because we have built a culture here over 300 years which is different than what the rest of America has, a life visitors don’t understand but are drawn to, which they come and sample with envy. A person may still be waiting — two-and-a-half years later — for a final insurance settlement or a check from the Road Home program, living in a camper trailer beside a home they are trying to rebuild themselves after a long day’s work elsewhere. They may be tired and beaten down, but they will have Carnival.

This is not denial. This is who we are. This is why you came, why the hordes on Bourbon Street came. This is why the floats rolled and the marching crews walked. They city may lay still half in ruin, but New Orleans is back because New Orleans is a people and a way of life. We have risked everything and spent every penny we have to be here because we will not let that way of life vanish from the earth, cannot imagine spending a life elsewhere, a life different from this.

See you at Jazz Fest.

Winter in New Orleans February 8, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, New Orleans, NOLA, poem, Poetry, Rebirth, Toulouse Street.
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Winter in New Orleans


Red Against Blue

The small azalea, potted
on my porch, draped
in wilted clippings ripped
from neighbors nearly killed
by that frost insists
on budding, perhaps mourning
the red ribbon removed
on Twelfth Night. Bloom
I whisper and chase
these winter blues away.

Down by the riverside February 6, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Carnival, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, French Quarter, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, parade, Rebirth.
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This year on Mardi Gras, with my family all home sick I took off all on my own oddy-knocky and made a point of trying to catch all of the marching krewes I could and taking a lot of pictures, starting with waiting for the Krewe of St. Anne’s on Royal Street in the Marigny and ending with finding St. Anne’s as they marched down to the riverside. I managed to track down the Ducks of Dixieland and Kosmik Debris, but never saw Pete Fountain (largely because I stayed in Marigny until after 11 waiting for St. Anne’s). I also found the Krewe of Whoo Hooo, Mondo Kayo dancing on Frenchman, and a few other odd groups I had not seen before.


Video of Krewe of St. Anne at Royal and Frenchman Streets

As a result, I missed most of the day’s parades, only catching a half dozen perhaps of Zulu as they turned onto Canal Street. The corner of Royal and Canal is not a great place for throws. The floats make a turn there and the barricades are kept far back. The only beads I had for the day were two pair I got from Queen Colleen, mother of old friends who famously parades through the Quarter pushed in a shopping cart by her adoring students and family.

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Queen Colleen

My one throw was from Zulu. Not a coconut, but a walnut painted in gold. At the day’s end, when I joined St. Anne’s at the riverside and had taken my fill of pictures, I joined the St. Anne members who were memorializing their dead of the past year by throwing beads or more personal items into the river. I clambered down onto the rocks, and offered the Zulu nut to all of the ghosts of New Orleans and the Federal Flood. Inspired by the story of the Bone Men below, I invited them all to come and walk with me the rest of the day, to come and taste the visions of a day spent walking through Mardi Gras, to see the pictures I had captured not with my camera but with my memory.

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St. Anne’s at the river

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St. Anne’s mourners
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More St. Anne’s mourners

Memo to my friends and family: this is how I want to go. Hire a band, invite everyone I know, and take my ashes and put them in a cart and parade them through the quarter on Mardi Gras Day. Take them to St. Anne’s in the Marigny, and parade down Royal to Zulu and Rex at Canal Street. At mid-afternoon go to the Moonwalk and wait for St. Anne’s, and scatter them there.

The Last Mardi Gras February 4, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Carnival, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, French Quarter, ghosts, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans, NOLA, parade, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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As I did last year, I’m going to just re-post a piece I wrote in the fall of 2005 on Flood Street – Dispatches from an Imaginary Disaster, and then for Carnival 2006 and 2007 on Wet Bank Guide called The Last Mardi Gras.

If I don’t see you at St. Anne’s or on Frenchman, I’ll see you on the other side. As I once heard a Mardi Gras Indian chief say on WWOZ one Monday night in the long ago, “don’t be fallin’ outta yo’ house with no needle and thread in yo’ hand.”

The Last Mardi Gras

In this city, people talk incessantly of past pleasures and of those to come, even as they regard the meal or the drink or the parade in front of them. We live in a stream of memory as dark and deep and powerful as the river. Memory’s currents clutch at us and steer our lives, must be compensated for just as the ferry pilots must at every crossing, must be feared less they take us down into an eddy from which no body returns.

Some of my earliest memories are of Mardi Gras. I remember as a child of perhaps five seeing Indians dancing at the corner that might have been Galvez and Canal as we drove to my great aunts’ on Royal Street. Later that day or perhaps a year before or after, I can clearly recall watching Rex passing down Canal from atop my father’s shoulders. Half a life later, my girlfriend and I slouched outside a hall in Arabi in the lost hours before dawn on the night of MoM’s Ball, and a famous photographer took our picture. I’ve never seen this photograph, but I will go to my grave easier knowing that years from now, on a wall or in a book, someone will see us in our motley glory, dissolute and unrepentant and utterly glorious in the moment. They will see us and say: this is what Mardi Gras was like back then.

Twenty years separate those moments, and another twenty separate that MoM’s Ball from the first postdiluvian Carnival. For all that span of years and a century before, Mardi Gras has been as reliable as high water. No one really needed to tell me there would be a Mardi Gras this year as there has been every year in my living memory, and as I am certain there will be a Mardi Gras when no one remembers what it meant to sit on the lawn of the Wildlife and Fisheries building of a certain winter Tuesday. No disaster leaving behind life more complex than the cockroach could prevent it.

Just as certain, at some point of during Tuesday;s twilight people will begin to talk of about last Mardi Gras, and of the Mardi Gras to come with the certainty of the sanctified they are most certainly not. The last time in living memory Carnival was interrupted was during World War II. Frankly, I don’t understand why. The soldiers and sailors on leave wandering Perdido Street drunkly in search of women wouldn’t have been harmed by the tableaux of paper maiche floats lit by the dripping oil burners of the flambeau. Carnival was probably canceled by somebody from the wrong side of Canal Street, whose father before him decided Storyville had to be closed to protect the doughboys of World War One from dissipation. There always a Do-Good Daddy looking to tone the city down.

I don’t think anyone with the city in their heart understood the cancellations, but I’m sure those generations accepted those losses the way we accept the closing of a favorite restaurant: by finding a new and equally good one to sit in and eat and drink and discuss the loss of the old favorite, remembering what we ate on such a date and with whom. Until, of course, we discuss where the owner or the cook of the failed place is expected to return, and start to anticipate the day we will sit at that as yet unset table, and remember what we ate on such a date and with whom.

Of course there will be a Mardi Gras. I might need to ask which krewes would roll on what nights, to inquire of friends where the MoM’s Ball might be. But no one needed to tell me that Mardi Gras would happen, especially the one hidden inside private parties in bars or in courtyards, punctuated by forays out into the streets to parade. The year the police went on strike and the parades all fled to the suburbs and the Mardi Gras of the hoteliers and the airlines was canceled, we dutifully assembled at the Wildlife and Fisheries Building on Fat Tuesday.

Suspicious National Guardsmen and out-of-state troopers warily regarded the ragged parade of the early intoxicated, smelling of burnt leaves and breakfast screwdrivers, dressed in ways only the part-time preachers among them could have imagined, and then only in a place warmer than the city in February. We were not about to let a simple thing like a police strike spoil the party. Several among us dressed as the National Guard in uniforms from the surplus stores in Gentilly, armed with perfect replica rifles by Mattel. When we went to buy wine and beer at the Walgreen’s on Canal, and our friends burst into the door yelling “secure the beer cooler,” clerks fell to the floor in fright, fearing perhaps that the Guard had had enough, and were about to shut down carnival.

I fled the city a few years later, and did not return for Mardi Gras once for almost two decades. The few Mardi Gras that followed the police strike were colored by my reasons for leaving the city, memories rent by heartache and drowned in drink. Those last few years did not yield the stories I would tell my children if they fed me too much wine at some holiday dinner years from now. For many years, the police strike was the Last Mardi Gras. My children, a boy ten and a girl fourteen, grew up knowing Mardi Gras through the Disney film fairy tale filter of the stories I dared to tell them, from the magazine that came with the king cake from Ma Mere every year, in the music I played them from Twelfth Night until the day. We ate jambalaya and king cake, and donned masks and beads to dance wildly to Mardi Gras Vol. 1 in front of the large plate glass window of our home in a small Midwestern town. Neighbors across the street peered through their curtains intermittently at the scene, but no one ever worked up the courage to ask us what we were doing.

I have taken my family to New Orleans. The kids had sneezed powdered sugar all over each other at the Cafe du Monde, fondled baby alligators on flat boats out of Barataria, had learned to eat seafood and gumbo and jambalaya, had even wandered with me through Storyland in City Park. I took them to the exhibit at the Cabildo to learn about Mardi Gras. It’s a wonderful set piece but, like a high school health film on sex, it is not quite the same as the actual experience.

So we piled onto an airplane bound for New Orleans the year before the Flood, and went to Mardi Gras. I took them to St. Charles and Napoleon, and my son waved his deftly caught spear with complete abandon. My daughter was bashful about begging trinkets from strangers in a strange land, until I flung myself stone cold sober on my knees in the middle of the Avenue and begged as loudly as I could for a female horse posse rider to give me a purple, green and gold flower for my daughter on her first Mardi Gras. After that, she got the idea. No pretty girl on St. Charles Avenue should go home without her weight in beads. She only needed to ask.

We stood for hours all weekend, parade after parade, never tiring of it, interrupted only by a friend’s party Endymion party on Saturday night. After Endymion, I left them with Ma Mere and set out after midnight to return to the MoM’s ball for the first time in two decades. MoM’s had always been one of my favorite things about Mardi Gras, a gathering of all who chose to live in the fabric of Mardi Gras and not just inhabit a costume for a few hours, a party only the resolutely dissolute can enjoy, or survive. MoM’s is what I hope Saturday night in Hell will be like, should I find myself stuck there between planes. But thousands in a shed did not hold up to the memories of hundreds in a hall in Arabi decades before. I don’t know if I will return to MoM’s, preferring this one true memory of carnival’s past. And then I can say well, I don’t go anymore, you know, but back when…

I agonized for weeks and months before we went: should I take the children to the Quarter on Mardi Gras Day, or back to St. Charles? As I child, I spent most Mardi Gras at my great aunt’s apartment on Royal Street, now the Hove’ Parfumier. I decided they should have a glimpse of the secret heart of Mardi Gras, or as least as much as they could handle. So we rose up early on the day, donned our costumes, and boarded a cab bound for Frenchman Street. We waited endlessly across from the R-Bar for St. Anne’s, not knowing those marchers had chosen another route. Facing a rebellion, we took off and made our own way up Royal, stopping to sit a moment on Tante Gert and Sadie’s stoop, making Canal just in time for Zulu.

After Rex, I left them in my sister’s care for the endless truck floats, and retired to friend’s places in the Quarter. I stopped briefly in the Abbey, a place that had never been the same since Betz sold it. Instead of the usual motley crew of bikers or transvestites or other folk I had often encountered on past trips home, I found it full of drunken twenty somethings who looked frighteningly like the crowd I remember from my own days, as if the Abbey were haunted for the night by the spirits of the place of my memories. I bought a round of snakebites for a familiar seeming couple and then the currents swept me back to Frenchman Street, a mad Green Man second lining with a huge palm tree totem given to me be someone who knew just how to complete my costume.

Now I have a new last Mardi Gras. We are coming back to the city to stay, to march again and again, so that there is no longer a Last Mardi Gras, just the last Mardi Gras. I will march until my time is done, and then I will borrow a ritual from St. Anne’s, in this city of borrowed rituals. I will have my children scatter what remains of me into the river on Fat Tuesday. For me, it will be the Last Mardi Gras. For them, it will simply be a moment from last Mardi Gras. They will say a few words, shed a tear, and then all of us will be swept away by the currents. They will turn away from the river, while nearby a drunken trumpeter will perhaps blow a few bars of Oh Didn’t He Ramble, and I will march in their hearts back into the Quarter once more.

Samedi Gras February 2, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Carnival, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Mardi Gras, Mid-City, New Orleans, Rebirth, Recovery, Toulouse Street.
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I took a stroll up and down Orleans with the camera running. My wife and son are sick as dogs so the long anticipated Begindymion Bachanal will have to wait for another year. For now, I’m just wandering the neighborhood and enjoying the scene.

Shoe February 2, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Carnival, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery.
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All Hail Muses!

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Burn your t-shirt February 1, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Carnival, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Radiators, Rebirth, Recovery, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Has it really been thirty years since the Radiators first took the stage? Me, I go back to my time at UNO in the late 1970s–when the Driftwood newspaper staff had a firm claim on the center table in front of the gas log at Luigi’s every Wednesday night–and as far back as the Rhaps before that.

Sadly, I missed the 30th Anniversary shows at Tipitina’s due to the below mentioned funeral and sickness all around, and won’t make MoM’s Ball. As I’ve written before, I rather prefer the memory of s smaller MoM’s with primarily the Lakefront crowd back in the day to the current version, but that means I’ll miss seeing these guys again.

As we finally crawl out of the hole of funeral, sickness, etc. and get ready to finally start Mardi Gras (better late than never) with tonight’s parades and Samadi Gras up the block tomorrow here’s a bit of the Rads from ’91. May their fire never go out.

Update: I decided I needed more a a fix than I could get off of You Tube or the records I had (well, tapes mostly). I force marched past the Divine Protectors of Endangered Ladies (sorry, y’all) to Louisiana Music Factory, where I found Work Done on Premises (the Rads first, self-produced recording captured live at Tips many moons ago) on CD. Talk about a traveller in time…

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