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Who am us, anyway? May 31, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, oddities, Odds&Sods, Toulouse Street, Uncategorized.
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I write about myself with the same pencil
and in the same exercise book as about him.
It is no longer I, but another whose life is just beginning.

– Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)

I first posted this quote 8/31/06 without any comment, when this blog was lurking in a dark and lonely corner of the internets and only seen by spiders.

Who are we that write out our lives on these blogs? Some of us play out the Social Media or Citizen Journalist role, but what about those of us doing something at once much more personal and still very public? I once tossed out the term “narcissistic blogger” on a mailing list and recoiled in horror at the familiarity of the face in that mirror. Some treat these little stages we erect on the Internet as the set of the one person show of our fascinating lives (so we think, or why else would we be here?), while others take on a mask and become someone else, hiding behind the possibility of anonymity. In either event the act of public writing transforms us.

As actors of a sort who we are deep inside informs whoever we try to project on this stage–a public Self or a fabulous Character. (And our public Selves are certainly contrived Characters, keeping Mr. ID corralled and Dr. Ego’s social relationships in good trim, else the world would be littered with the bodies of murdered co-workers and a long trail of casually ravished lovers). Whoever we think we are in our blogs, the act of performing in words makes us someone new, something more than the simple sum of actor and character. “It is no longer I, but another who’s life is just beginning.”

As I said, I had posted this quote before without much comment almost two years ago. I found it online the other day while looking for something else, and chose to unearth and repost it. Do we repeat ourselves because we’ve exhausted other subjects, or because repetition is an irresistible part of life; not a circle necessarily but a spiral that clocks around an imperceptible center? I like to think the latter rather than consider myself a broken record, a tiresome bore sitting on the same stool day after day drinking the same stale beer and endlessly recycling the same stories.

I think Yeats had it wrong, at least in general. If the spiral gyre runs out from the center it is not a failure of gravity but instead the trajectory of something that has reached escape velocity, acting out a driving impulse but anchored by the mathematical center without which the curve becomes a line. Our personal trajectory through time and space is certain to be governed by some center as surely as the moon controls the tides. Toulouse Street itself is the center here, seems fairly fixed in space and time: an island in this stream we think we are admiring from the deck even as the current sweeps us away, the unseen captain spinning the unresponsive wheel and shouting frantic orders lost down the tube in the diabolical noise of engines run amok.

This is an adventure.

Thank God It’s Finished May 30, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
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Ah, another fine Friday to end a week of pure bliss at the Counting House, great Hephalump-tracking strides forward in making the world better through the Automation of Mammon.

I think I need to relax.

Specifically, I think I Need Something to Slow Me Down.

Please feel free to Put Something In My Drink.

Ahhh, now I”m ready to go catch the Voodoo at the Arena.

A Sense of Security May 30, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, home, New Orleans, NOLA, oddities, Odds&Sods, Toulouse Street.
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Since we seem to be on a run of Silly Sign posts and since Michael Homan got this one up before me (or was it Peter?), here’s another candidate from Bienville Street in Mid-City. This lone survivor of a long gone fence has been standing guard since I arrived home two years ago, all through the gutting and renovation of the house behind it. It has been kept faithfully closed and latched all this time, parked in front of the porch like an old but faithful hound offering at least the loyal pretense of some security.

One thing I like about Mid-City is the overall sense of funky, that ineluctable pinch of file or dash of hot sauce gives everything in New Orleans its savor, the disorderly perfection an organic neighborhood mixing all sorts of people and places with a tendency toward the Odd.

And Because It Is My Heart May 29, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter-bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.”

— Stephen Crane

It is not the date itself, the largely symbolic start of hurricane season; the idea that the winds have changed after June 1, that somewhere between North Africa and the convergence zone in the North Atlantic something ominous begins to turn. It is the compulsion of the media at this cusp to flood us with stories like this one from National Public Radio, the tale of a a hardworking family (he in security at a local casino, she a waitress as Waffle House) living with five children in two motel rooms. In less than a week, on June 5, they will find themselves homeless, more than 1,000 days after Katrina struck the richest nation in America.

Steve and Lindsay Huckabee and their five children lost their home when the storm itself swept across the Mississippi Gulf Coast and reduced it to its natural state, a flat expanse of scrub-tree sand looking out on the Mississippi sound. They were driven out of their FEMA-supplied trailer by the formaldehyde which made their children sick. On June 5, FEMA will stop paying for their two motel rooms. There are no places for them to rent suitable for their family. Rents have doubled. They don’t know when they might get a Katrina Cottage, 300 square feet of formaldehyde-free manufactured home to put on their vacant lot.

“It’s not just the people who are on welfare and getting food stamps … it touches every class of person,” she says. “It’s not that easy. It’s not limited to just the super poor people who can’t find a place to live. It’s everybody, pretty much.”

Developers are rebuilding high-dollar homes and condos, but Huckabee says average Mississippi residents can’t afford to live in them.

Glad to see that Mississippi is doing a so much better job than poor, benighted and corrupt Louisiana. The link back to Wet Bank Guide is from September, 2006. So long ago and so little changed. And then we have to reconcile this sort of Pravda/Isvestia happy talk nonsense from USA Today with stories like this by the Washington Post. The only sure truth is that we are lied to.

If you wonder why I would write something as bitter as my post from last Memorial Day, why I consider the United States of America a failed state with which I feel no bond other than the chains they have laid around our necks like those placed around the ghost Marley, consider the season: it is time to be reminded again and again by the professional doom criers how we have been failed and forgotten, treated like some inconvenient third-world ally whose usefulness is passed. The central government have their oil and the port open. They don’t need us.

I am so dumb-struck this morning after hearing that story, sitting in my car with a bitter cigarette in the parking lot waiting for the piece to end with some glimmer of hope, of a happy ending, that I have a hard time finding words that are not sour in my mouth. So instead I go back a year and a half to a Wet Bank Guide post called “How Long, Lord?”, a question that bears repeating.

For how many will it be the last bitter insult in a long train since Federal levees failed us and our city was flooded? I have to wonder if here in the New South, people still take counsel from Psalms, or are we become just another part of a society that taps its foot impatiently to wait for a hamburger or a cup of coffee at the fast food restaurant. Are we ready for this marathon? I recall from my trip down from North Dakota that as close as Jackson, Mississippi the big and little box national retailers gleam clean in the morning sun along a ribbon of interstate highway, calling to people living in small trailers in ruined neighborhoods. How much longer will they resist that call from other cities?

How long, Lord, how long? “. . . Thou feedest them with the bread of tears; and givest them tears to drink in great measure. Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbours: and our enemies laugh among themselves . . .” the Psalmist laments in number 80. Unlike the children of Israel, release for the [returnees to the hurricane coast] is as close as the nearest tank of gas and entrance to the interstate. A conversation with a friend a few weeks back, a couple that came home early and rebuilt and who threw themselves into the endless parade of rebuilding meetings, turned to him talking wistfully of what life would be like in Memphis, and I wonder, how long?

Much comes down to what we can accomplish on our own. The question I have asked here again and again, is this: are we still the nation that weathered the great depression, or who turned back the seemingly invincible Japanese advance into the Pacific? Are we the country that, flush with those victories, erected a home for every soldier and the highways that tied them together, the nation that sent men to the moon.

Those who held the reins of power when Katrina wiped the Gulf Coast clean and the Federal levees failed measure greatness by prowess of arms. They were amply rewarded for their failure in Iraq with a serious thrubbing at the polls this past Fall. I think a greater test is whether this nation can rebuild New Orleans and the hurricane coast. As the blogger Ashley likes to remind us all, they rebuilt Hiroshima. For that matter, they also rebuilt post-war Europe, a fact I am reminded of when I think of the European foundation established to repay that largess which is helping to rebuild the gymnasium at my son’s school.

One thousand days and counting: why do we stay, and why do more come home each day? They come and stay because it is home, and because in the civics class, film-strip America we were all raised to believe in the government does not tell you where to live. We will do it alone if we must, Sinn Fein. It may at times be bitter-bitter, but in the end it is our heart.

P.S. Thank you, Tim, our eternal optimist and resident engineer who knows a thing or two about poldars and dikes and such.

Congratulations–It’s A Girl May 29, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Is this early cyclone a harbinger of the season? Ah, wait: a closer reading of the article reminds us that the Pacific season starts May 15. Lucky them.

As for us on the other end of the Panama Canal, noted hurricane forecaster William Gray of the University of Colorado–who has spectacularly mis-estimated upcoming hurricane seasons for the last several years, –takes another look at the omens and prophecies doom. Of course he gets headline stories everywhere because he’s just so damned good at it.

Do we have to take seriously the mindless ramblings of a semi-retired emeritus who does not believe in global warming? “Gore believed in global warming almost as much as Hitler believed there was something wrong with the Jews,” he once said to raise the tone of the argument.

And now we learn that a major player in the argument that global warming is a demonstrable scientific fact back tracks on the impat of global warming on hurricanes in a new study based on a new model of hurricane behavoir.

I don’t know what’s going to happen this year. I do know I’m not going to lose any sleep over what a crack pot like Gray thinks.

And trying to read and understand how long-range hurricane forecasts are arrived at and why they differ is no more productive than looking for a forecast in a deck of cards or a pile of boudin casings.

Purple Heather, All In My Brain May 28, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, Toulouse Street.
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Oh, you take the high road
and I’ll take the low road

and I’ll be in India before ye’…

Purple Heather, all in my brain. Lately things don’t seem the same. Actin’ funny and I don’t know why…

Um, well, I’m pretty sure the person behind this video took the high road and not the rocky road to Dublin, oh. Not sure what choonery is, but I think this may be a perfect example from the sound of it. Rhymes with buffoonery. If anybody wants to help me out with my Scots feel free to jump in. (Kristy?)

Ok, if I’m this mindlessly bored I could go tell my wife I’m bored, and we all know how that will turn out.

Nah. Back to aimlessly wandering the interwebs and not thinking about, well, this. “Oh, the summer time is coming” but let’s try not to think about that too hard yet. “Oh, I’ll fill up my car/And I’ll take lots of water/And inside the car/I’ll pile all my possessions. Will you go, lassie, go/On an wild evacuation/We’ll have such a high time/in a motel outside Houston/ Will you go, lassie, go?”

Now cut that out right now, especially the sitar part. Time instead to contemplate whether I want one of these for my birthday or something more practical like this. And my wife thinks this is too big and clunky (but eminently more acceptable to her taste than this). I know for certain I’ll be headed down to the Louisiana Music Factory for a copy of this for somebody to wrap up for me.

Whoppin’ Blues May 28, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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As a happier follow-up to the last piece, here’s Dr. Micheal White with Marc Braud on trumpet (you may remember I wrote about him on Wet Bank Guide one or twice), Fred Lonzo on trombone, Bob Wilbur on sax, and I don’t know who all else (the video IDs both the guitarist and drummer as Steve Blaylock) Sounds like he’s got a bad reed (you can see him flinch at the start of the solo and look at it cross-eyed) but otherwise the band is really swinging.

Requiem for Clarinet and Brass Band May 27, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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An Odd collision occured at lunch today at Place St. Charles. No, the Street Car art is still OK and no one came through a window. Instead I picked up a Gambit at lunch (it being Monday for all intents and purposes) and quickly devoured Jason Berry’s article on traditional jazz guru Dr. Micheal White with a side of the Hot 8. The article mixed a review of White’s new CD TITLE with some deserved hand-wringing over the question of how the New Orleans jazz tradition is (or in fact is not) being passed on to the next generation.

The Odd bit is the relationship to a post I read on BigEZ Bear’s blog talking about how few of the young actors he encounters as a director are grounded in the full traditions of the theater. This left me toying with my peanut chicken as I considered whether the Federal Flood was not the greatest threat to the transmission of our traditions from the old to the young. Intead, I began to think, what is it we have done (or have not done) to make sure that the Dr. White’s and his fellow players (or say, the members of the Andrew Hall Society Jazz Band) were there as young players like the Hot 8 came up, to make sure they at least learned the old style?

That’s not to belittle what the Hot 8 did: hustling and learning to play as they could and helping to create the new sound of street-style, hip-hop and R&B influenced brass band music made most famous by the Rebirth Brass Band. (Me, I’m a Hot 8 man, but you’ve got to give the Rebirth their well-earned due). Still, somewhere along the line there was a significant disconnect. Some lucky few were accepted to the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, and everyone assumed we had done our duty. In fact, a lot of young players were left in our dog-awful public school system with no real music or band programs. This paragraph in the Gambit article really jumped down my throat and spoiled my lunch:

[Trumpeter and vocalist Gregg] Stafford, a longtime public school teacher who sings on Blue Crescent, adds, “The vehicle for passing it on is not just the bands in the street. There is no money in the Recovery School District for music as it should be taught. The second-largest university in Japan has 50 or 60 kids who learn the instrumental techniques of early New Orleans jazz. Those kids come to New Orleans on a pilgrimage and they’re disappointed that so few youngsters here know how to play the music. Imagine that those kids from Japan know more about the ancestors than certain students I had.”

Earlier in the same piece, White used the same term-ancestors–when he spoke of the importance of transmitting the tradition: “”Self-worth. Respect for others. Teamwork. Learning about one’s traditions and ancestors — these are things that have been at hand for us, and we can use those lessons in schools. These programs need to be in the schools. Katrina taught us that we have something important. But people” — he lets the word hang — “don’t realize that the only thing created here that had any impact in the world was traditional jazz. That’s what put New Orleans on the map.”

While we’re wandering down Synchronicity Street, I can recall vaguely (but can’t offer a link, as I don’t remember where I heard it) someone discussing the lack of clarinet players in the new brass bands. It may have been someone in Andrew Hall speaking at French Quarter Fest year before last, or it may have even been Dr. White, who plays the licorice stick himself, which I heard speaking about this. It doesn’t matter where I heard it, but along the way a piece of the tradition is being lost.

You won’t catch me dissing the Hot 8 or Rebirth here. Although frankly when I listen to the recordings by a certain former Rebirth player he can sound as sloppy as a plate full of over-sauced ribs to me. Miles Davis or Terrence Blanchard he’s not, but that’s not entirely his own fault. Not everyone gets to go to NOCCA, and somewhere along the way the sort of careful mentoring that lifted up a Terrence Blanchard didn’t make it down to every school and every ‘hood. NOCCA isn’t enough.

I like the use of the word ancestors by both White and Stafford. In the east there are Confucian concepts of veneration of ancestors and the worth of tradition we in New Orleans would do well to consider. As more and more of elder musicians pass on, and the stress of the Federal Flood and the Continuing Evacuation has taken its heaviest toll on the elders, what are we losing that might never be recovered? The banners of the greats hang in the tent at Jazz Fest, but veneration implies some ritual observance, some effort to honor those ancestors. Hanging banners isn’t enough.

As the music of the new brass band like the Hot 8 become the new venacular of the corner band its well and good that Dr. White has taken those players in and is working to try to pass on the old knowledge. But how many other kids are only hearing the Hot 8 or the other new wave bands, and will try on their own to replicate the sounds they hear on the radio with their instruments without any sort of exposure to the old ways? AS much as I love the Hot 8, there sound is not the totality of a New Orleans brass band. It is not enough.

Some might say the time for that music is passed. A new generation is playing and the music is changing in inevitably ways. If that’s true, who the hell are all those people crowding into the Spotted CAt to see the Jazz Vipers on Friday night, and stopping to listen to some variation of the Loose Marbles playing a stoop up the street? There is clearly an audience for a traditional sound, but outside of the top players who make NOCCA how are these traditions being handed down?

What the Hot 8 and the Rebirth have brought to the brass band scene is of tremendous worth, a music that will engage new generations in a traditional jazz derived sound, and keep a tradition of street music, the music of the second line, alive for for the future. However, if the oldest ways are not passed on as well what will be lost? I don’t want a trade; I want both. I don’t want to have to listen to trad jazz bands from Norway or Japan at the Economy Hall tent. If the problem Dr. White raises in Jason Berry’s article doesn’t get broader attention something precious and essentially New Orleans may pass away within our lifetimes.

Saving New Orleans means of lot of things, some as monumental as levees and some as seemingly insignificant as an older player sitting on a stoop with a grandchild or, better yet, sitting in a staffed and equiped band class at a Recovery District school, passing it on. Without the second, what good will the highest and strongest levees in the world do us? What precisely will we be preserving?

*N.B.* The first link to Gambit’s BestOfNewOrleans.com is not a permalink. If you wander in here a week from now you may have to dig around a bit at the bottom of what ever comes up to find the Jason Berry archive or a similar link to get the story.

An Odd Fellow’s Memorial Day May 25, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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“Now, I have come again
to the land of the fair, and the strong, and the wise.
Brothers and sisters of the pale forest,
children of night,
who among you will run with the hunt?
Now night arrives with her purple legion.
Retire now to your tents and to your dreams
Tomorrow we enter the town of my birth.
I want to be ready.”
– Jim Morrison

It is two years Memorial Day since I saw the city’s towers and the white arc of the Superdome rising out of the vast, flat waterscape, my car hurtling southbound on the Causeway at 80 after days of towing my boat at 55 or 60 the entire breadth of the country, ‘OZ pouring in from the radio like a beacon and the lake flashing in the late afternoon sun like the runway lights of some great airport as I prepared to touch down–the white lines hurtling past–at the Final Destination.

And then I am rolling down Causeway Boulevard in the perfectly American stripmallandia of Metairie, past the old Lakeside Shopping Center and the corner where Harry Lee’s family Chinese restaurant, the House of Lee, once stood. Thinking I will stop to buy some Abita I opt to go down Veterans Boulevard rather than take the I-10 into town. Instead I am too absorbed by the landscape to remember to stop, too smitten by how little has changed on the mostly dry side of the levees. The familiar landmarks march past–the building once a Shakey’s Pizza but now a sushi place, a convenience store at the Bonnabel Boulevard corner where I bought cigarettes so many years ago that I should not have been allowed. The closer to town the more reassuring it becomes: the Lamplighter lounge, Dorignacs: so little has changed in 20 years. And then I am across the 17th Street Canal and rolling down into the lumpy, camp-pottery bowl that is home.

My wife is sitting on the porch of our new home waiting, the wife I have lived apart from for almost half a year is waiting to show me all she has suffered through to make the shotgun double we bought at Mardi Gras a familiar home, painted in many of the colors we first chose in Fargo and now furnished with our things. And still I go the long way down Polk and pass through Lakeview, crawling down the bad streets past the hollow cottages of old south end. I turn up Canal and point myself toward home, past the drowned sunken gardens on the neutral ground and toward Cemeteries, toward Toulouse Street and the house where the children will join us in another day and make it home in full.

As I passed the assembled Saints and Angels that stand watch over the tombs of Greenwood and St. Patrick–wondering who watches over Odd Fellows behind its high walls–this came to me: like Jesus on his ass I knew I had reached the end of my road, the Golden Gate; I knew that some great fulfillment was at hand. What now, I asked aloud, starting up through the sun roof at a sky wholly blue and empty, and pitilessly hot? What next?

I have come to the appointed place.

The Sunday Blues Paper May 25, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Leave that Sunday paper rolled up on the porch, except perhaps for what I still call the funny papers, because frankly all that gray matter is just another flavor of the funny pages. And don’t you dare turn that TV on yet: stay away from all of the inane high school popularity chatter and who’s pregnant gossip that passes for news discussion. And don’t you even think about letting yourself sink into a mindlessness of battling chefs or cottage flipping for fun and profit.

You need to read this instead.

There, now you’re free to go fire up that grill and contemplate all those who have died to bring us to this place, and wonder what the fuck for.

It Is Day 1,000 May 24, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Federal Flood, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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It is the 1,000th day since the Federal levees failed and New Orleans was drowned.

Thank you, Maitri, for keeping count.

I am reading what I wrote or transcribed 1,000 odd days ago and trying not to cry.

This weekend many of you will remember those who died for America.

This weekend I will remember those who died in America, those the government left to die as the American people watched it unfold on television. I will remember this siting in a city a half still in ruin, hundreds of thousands still displaced from their homes 1,000 days after.

God save us all.

Renard Poche–The new P in Funk May 24, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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Watch out George Clinton, there’s a new P in Funk and its coming not from space but up from the streets of New Orleans, the city that birthed Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, Professor Longhair, the Meters and the various subsequent Nevillations and a full P-antheon of funk royalty (Bo, K-Doe, y’all know). Renard Poche’s new disc 4U 4 Me is the 21st century mix up of the sounds of funky New Orleans that will dance us into the next 300 years of the City.

Like the renowned Toussaint, Poche is a multi-instrumentalist, song writer, engineer and producer with a long string of sideman and production credits. His first record is bound to take a place in that hallowed short stack of NOLA disks we all wore out the grooves or danced to scratches back in the day. This recording will put him where he belongs, front and center.

You can get his disk online here. Check him out tonight (Saturday, May 24) at 11 p.m. at the Rock N Bowl on Carrollton.

Misanthrope Freeway, One Mile… May 23, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, art, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, Toulouse Street.
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“What do you mean, ‘That was nice?’ That was art. Art isn’t nice.”
– Macheath (Mack the Knife) in the Threepenny Opera

I’m in a mood. Humor me. If you can’t come and buy me a drink somewhere, at least sit back and vid this while I consider the consequences of pouring out a tumbler of the amber rambler. Just be glad I spared you the Marilyn Manson version.

On second thought, don’t come buy me a drink tonight. Buy me one tomorrow at the Rock N Bowl for Renard Poche’s show at 11.

Living on Sponge Cake May 23, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Is anyone surprised that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who thought it might be OK to stuff expansion joints in flood walls with newspaper in lieu of water proof seals, might have gotten it wrong in rebuilding and reinforcing the 17th Street Canal levees and flood walls, one of the major failure points of the 2005 Federal Flood? Perhaps they should try Bounty. Remember it was the Quicker Picker Upper because it was More Absorbent.

Among other things, [the Corps] repaired the wall by driving interlocking sheets of steel 60 feet into the ground, compared with about 17 feet before the storm. The sheet metal is supposed to prevent canal water from seeping under the levee through the wet, toothpaste-like soil that lies beneath the city, which was built on reclaimed swamp and filled-in marsh.

Over the past few months, however, the corps found evidence that canal water is seeping through the joints in the sheet metal and then rising to the surface on the other side of the levee, forming puddles and other wet spots.

Engineers said the boggy ground is a more serious problem than the corps realizes. [ob Bea, a civil engineer at the University of California at Berkeley,] said there is a roughly 40 percent chance of the 17th Street Canal levee collapsing if water rises higher than 6 feet above sea level. During Katrina, the water reached 7 feet in the canal.

Well, you would think that the events precipitating the Federal Flood would have led to some new thinking about how to build levees and other structures on our slippery, layered sponge cake soil, but the West Coast engineers think not. Just drive the piles deeper and hope for the best, which strikes me as an eminently 19th century solution.

It’s not as if this is a unique problem, or even a local one. I was surprised to learn while living in Fargo, N.D. that most large buildings required piles because of the characteristics of the bed of pre-historic Lake Agassiz–which in some age with a fancy scientific name rivaled the Great Lakes in size–upon which Fargo was built. I ended up helping my son research a short science essay on the subject and found the analogy to New Orleans fascinating. I sometimes think about the soils of Fargo and those 40+ foot dikes that keep the Red River of the North from drowning the place every spring.

Here’s an interesting tale from long ago about the building of a railroad embankment I used to drive along the route of (on Highway 10, a far-north, east-west analog of Highway 90 complete with parallel railroad tracks). Nothing under the sun, it seems, is new; and yet we seem to have such a confounded time figuring out how to deal with it all.

(Tim and Maitri, be sure to click the link. It’s definitely up your alley).

Hail ReX of NoLa Rising May 23, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orelans, Toulouse Street.
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To: smidura@cityofno.com
CC: jbclarkson@cityofno.com; afielkow@cityofno.com

Subject: NoLa Rising (Micheal Dingler) and Fred Radtke

I was disappointed to learn that Micheal Dingler, founder of the public art movement NoLa Rising, was still forced to both pay a fine and to agree to stop posting public works of art to escape the municipal charges engineered against him by Fred Radtke and Radtke’s allies in the NOPD. While Mr. Dingler is relieved of the threat of a large fine it is not the outcome many would have wished, which is for all charges to be dropped.

Meanwhile Mr. Radtke remains free to continue to deface public and private property and to intimidate anyone who questions his authority to do in his self-anointed crusade, with the blessing of a prior city council and local civic leaders, and the open collusion of the N.O.P.D. in his own municipal violations

I propose that the ordinances governing NoLa Rising’s activity (which amounts to posting bills) be amended to make a clear exception for the transient (easily removed; take it down and pull the nails) installation of non-commercial works of art on utility poles and similar locations where they in no way impede the function of city government, the utilities or endanger the public safety.

Here is the CitiBusiness article on the outcome. The T-P did not cover the story that I can find on line.

http://www.neworleanscitybusiness.com/UpToTheMinute.cfm?recID=17471

Mark Folse
“It’s After the End of the World. Don’t you Know That Yet?”
Toulouse Street – Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans

NoLa Rising

NoLa Rising Founder Escapes Worst of Trumped Up City Charges May 22, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Updated again on 5/23 11:00 am

No word yet on NOLA.com but NoLa Rising founder and artist Micheal Dingler reports on his own site he triumphed over city-sanctioned graffiti vandal Fred Radtke (a.k.a. The Grey Ghost), who had used his connections to the NOPD to have municipal charges filed against Dingler for the posting of public art at sites in New Orleans.

This is good news for Dingler, whom Radtke arranged to have charged with 1,100 counts of unlawfully posting signs, charges that could have resulted in $50,000 in fines. Dingler reports in his brief post that Radtke stormed out of the courtroom when charges were dismissed.

Now, to get the real public menace–Radtke–off the streets and in court where he belongs.

Update:The outcome, as reported by New Orleans CitiBusiness (but not by the Times-Picayune or NOLA.Com) is not as good as I had hoped. Dingler had to agree to pay $200 in fines and to stop posting his artworks in public places.

Radtke, as the series of stories in CitiBusiness points out, remains free to deface public and private property with impunity and the support of the N.O.P.D. The net outcome is that Radtke has won. NoLa Rising is no longer free to post free public art in public places. This is ridiculous.

I encourage you to write to the City Council and encourage them to amend the graffiti and bill posting ordinances to grant a clear freedom for groups like NoLa Rising to post transient artworks in public places If Radtke can have the city’s blessing, then so should NoLa Rising.

N.B.– I’ve changed the headline a bit to be more realistic

Update No. 2–Michael Dingler gives a detailed account on the NoLa Rising blog.

after the flood May 20, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Odd isn’t it (of course) that I should stumble on a book on the New Orleans library website titled after the quake by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, a set of stories inspired by and each at least informed by the 1995 Kobe earthquake, only to discover that is is not available and why. Not having read a word of it, I am sad it has not been replaced.

Main Library
Adult Fiction Collection
MURAKAMI
Katrina loss/damage
08/26/2005

I will have to find a copy.

While the 20th Century Japanese may ultimately be remembered for the war and the suffering they inflicted on others (this war, children), I think the Japanese know a thing or two about suffering and perseverance.

Yes, this is the third time I’ve posted this damn picture, but it haunts me.

Summertime May 20, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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Soon it will come: an invisible tsunami rising out of the Gulf and overwhelming our every defense, leaving us ruined and awash each in our own sweat. For some, it is a time and a weather both to be escaped, as everyone in the far north dreamed of a winter vacation to the islands or the couple from whom we bought our house who now summer in Maine. (Ah tiempo, time and weather all in one, such an exquisite bit of Romance vocabulary).

And in spite of it all, as I sit on my porch beneath my fan in the least amount of clothes decency will allow (and why did you think Stanley wore “wife-beater” undershirts?) and sip an Abita as densely beaded by condensation as my own skin is drenched with sweat, my heart will sing like a host of cicadas: a aboriginal drone which will eventually call forth this song–if only in my mind–and only as sung by Janis.

FYYFF May 18, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
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Have your got yours yet? Online at Dirty Coast and at the Dirty Coast store on Magazine.

What, you don’t know what FYYFF is?

Ashley Morris reads his famous FYYFF post.

Oh Lord…Prove That You Love Me May 17, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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And Buy the Next Round…

Lest we ever be accused of being too damned serious around here: Toulouse Street is not That Kind of Place, and that is why we chose to live here.

Which Lucky Child? May 15, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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Which lucky child deserves to have their home rebuilt or restored?

That’s the question the construction company EPCO is asking as part of a contest to spend $100,000 toward renovation or construction of a new home for the winner of an essay contest.

EPCO Construction, Inc. will restore or build a house for the winner of the “House for a Child” Essay Contest. The essay must be written in English and submitted by an active, full-time student between eight and eighteen years of age. Essays will be accepted from November 26, 2007 until midnight May 31, 2008 for review by EPCO. The essay must describe why the student and their immediate family deserve to have their home rebuilt/restored.

Here’s a simple answer: All of them. I think I should have both my children submit that essay and see what happens.

What set me off on this was my daughter’s high school promoting this crass bit of company promotion on the school’s email list and in the homerooms this morning. How could people charged with education a building full of children suggest that only one of them (and not even necessarily one of their own students) “deserves to have their home rebuilt”?

As another blogger with a child in the same school explained in an email, what sort of person would tell a building full of children suffering from post-traumatic disaster disorder, at final exam time in a highly competitive, college-prep environment where these kids are already stressed to the max, that if they just write this essay then perhaps they can be that lucky child who can get a home for their family that there parents have not been able to provide. Brilliant, just brilliant.

Eighty percent of New Orleans was flooded by the direct negligence of the central government. Every child who lost their home (including the places their parents rented in our local, low-wage economy) deserves to have their homes replaced by the people who destroyed them, not as part of a contest by a scalliwag company that has probably grown wealthy off of the disaster.

Thank you, Wendy and Keyonna May 15, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, Crime, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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A while back I posted up a list of all of the people listed by m.d. filter as having died by criminal violence in New Orleans in 2007. I invited anyone who came to the sight to leave their own memorials to those who died.

Not a day goes by that I don’t have visitors coming in from Google or somewhere else to that page, a constant reminder on those days when the newspaper is free of reports of another shooting. Not many people leave comments, but I got two in one day and thought I should call them out. Please go read Wendy and Keyonna’s comments on the post Silence is Violence Remembers.

I get almost daily visits for George Hankton. I don’t know who he was, but a lot of people are looking for somone by that name, and I can’t find any famous person who matches up

Poor, Brown and Dead May 15, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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But Americans get lots of warning when a storm threatens, can use their own cars or public transit to escape on efficient, paved evacuation routes, have sturdy homes or tall buildings to protect them from a flood and plenty of food and medical care in the aftermath, said emergency management experts at a hurricane conference in Fort Lauderdale.

Emphasis in this excerpt from a Reuters story on Yahoo is mine. I would like to know who that particular quote is attributable to. Americans, he says. Remind me again why I would want to be part of the same country as this unnamed idiot?

I would personally like to take this asshole and chain him to a roof down here for five days in August. After that, we’ll take him as far out into Mississippi Sound as we can go and have him in water, say, no deeper than his chest. Then we’ll leave him there to wade back to shore. Hopefully he has some sort of medical problem requiring medication, so we can make sure that we can make sure he has to go without it for a few days.

While he’s up there starving and dehydrating, we can discuss the relative impact on disasters of color and poverty versus having a corrupt and incorrupt government. The differences between Myanmar and New Orleans are differences of scale (vast differences but still of scale) and not of kind. I’m sure I could get him to agree regardless of his political views if I offered him a bottle of water on the second or third day.

“Disasters happen, but the underlying poverty makes everything worse,” said Florida emergency management director Craig Fugate.

You got that right, as we say down here. Again, the difference between there and here is one of scale, not kind. New Orleans was The Other, a place culturally and racially alien to the sort of people most likely to be sitting on a panel discussing disaster relief. Maybe they should have asked some folks from the Ninth Ward about those differences. As I wrote a long time ago (Sept. 2, 2005 and yes this is lazy but apt):

…that otherness became our downfall. The poverty left tens of thousands unprepared for the storm’s aftermath. It also made us seem, at first, unimportant to those who could save us. At the end, it left the Northern bureaucrats who arrived on scene so confused and frightened that they recoiled from helping us, as if we were the last leper colony on the planet

They closed the city off, and left the people there to their fate, awaiting troops who could suppress this alien populace, and make it safe for real Americans. They didn’t care why the people of New Orleans were in their situation, any more than they care about the ultimate fate of any other benighted third world country.

We were a people apart, to be treated as they would the angry, hungry people of Port au Prince or Tikrit, should they threaten the supply of oil or the price of coffee–pacified by force if need be, until they could bring us the bottled water of civilization.

The Reuters story quoted above also mention’s Katrina’s death toll of “about 1,500″. Lazy bastards. Let me help you out. There’s this thing called the Internet which has made doing your job much easier than it was back in the day when I had to go to the library to look up stuff like this. Try here to start. I’m sure those couple of thousands of families you excluded aren’t offended at being forgotten. I’m sure you’ll be just as careful in Myanmar to exclude people whose death can’t be clearly proven to have occurred directly as a result of the storm, so as not to be sensational.

Here on Toulouse Street, we’re never going to let the world forget what happened down here.

Remember. 1,723 people died in Katrina. Over 4,000 died as a result of the storm, the flood or the evacuation. Some died in the storm. Most died as the result of the direct neglect or negligence of the central government.

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On The Road May 13, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
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Somewhere along the line I knew there’d be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me.
– Jack Kerouac, On The Road

So long, brother man.

My best friend since we were four and five (Eric is the eldest) is preparing to leave on his annual pilgrimage to the wilderness places of the west, places in and upon which has built much of his life, escaping not just the summer heat of this place that he cannot stand but so much of the weight that bares down on him right now, that bears down upon on us all.

Eric is one of those characters we all admired from our youth, a figure straight out of Kerouac and thirty or more years later he still lives the life we have all left behind, or perhaps only dreamed of or acted out in little fits and starts. He has had his settled spells, has married and settled down, but mostly he’s wandered and hiked and climbed the most beautiful places imaginable, and as a guide taken others there. Having gutted and rebuilt his mother’s house, and once the penance of a summer here, he is once again free to wander.

Most of the women in my life struggled to understand what the recent slow loss of his dog to cancer meant to him, why he obsessed through her last months and why he is now absolutely devastated. They don’t understand that losing his dog, who died just a few weeks ago, was to him like the loss of a child. Because of his connection to the outdoors, part of his attachment to her was to the one animal he could protect and save on what he sees as a dying planet.

And in the end she was the only companion suited to his peripatetic life, outlasting the wife and stepchildren, and any number of girlfriends. Where my wife and sister see a dependence on the easy, unconditional love of a dog I see, well, a man and his dog: often on the road, frequently in the wilderness, acting out that unique American journey where the search for self isn’t in the beehive hut of an Irish ascetic or beneath a tree on a mountaintop in the far East but is a journey over that next rise and the next and the next until, just maybe, the road leads down into what just might be Shambala.

The secret of that life isn’t a hidden Utopian valley. It is not a destination. It is a journey down a path where possessions are minimal and functional, where the attachments are not to things but to friends scattered across a continent; where the goal isn’t just to top that next hill for its own sake but to see the next hill beyond, and to start toward it; to walk in beauty, stepping lightly upon the earth

We were talking of the loss of his dog and how she represented the one animal spirit he could protect and try to save in a world of dying animal and plants, of how he needed to find a way to live that would keep him close to the wilderness and let him share his love and knowledge of nature. It seemed, he said, that any such effort would be like the Ghost Dance of the Plains natives: a desperate attempt to stop a change in the world that seems unstoppable.

Perhaps, I suggested, the Ghost Dance worked; not in the way its makers and dancers intended, to stop the bullets of the Gatling guns. It worked because we were sitting on my porch a century and more later and talking about the Ghost Dance, about whether is is possible to save the planet from ourselves, because as we spoke of the Ghost Dance we talked through how he might find the way to continue to spend his life trying. What the Lakota hoped to save, a life as old and close to the earth as the hanging branches of our great live oaks, is not lost. It lives on in part in people like Eric.

Perhaps I give you the wrong impression of him. He is no monk, except by his own admission when he walks alone through the forest. As we talked on my porch into the night we littered the table with the finest Belgian ales and spoke of whether a trip to Belgium to drink them should pass through Amsterdam. We considered and dismissed an escape to Frenchman Street and the Jazz Vipers. A fabulous dancer, women gravitate to him like birds around a park popcorn vendor. The road he travels is the true American road, the one Kerouac set out to find: alternating stretches of a vast and thinly peopled native beauty with the bright lights and attractions of each passing town: a cafe with a flirtatious redheaded waitress who would love to see the high wildflower meadows in June or a roadhouse with bad beer and a transcendent juke box.

My wife wonders why he doesn’t stay. I know why, but I can’t explain. Eric says it’s the heat. He can’t stand it. I know that’s not the real reason or the whole reason. I think every man somewhere inside understands if he is truly a man, truly human. There is something about that holy hobo journey that calls to all men but only a few of us answer it. We tie ourselves down with ropes of responsibility out of love of a woman or fear of the commitment that such a lack of attachment actually requires. The life I’ve built won’t let me go down that path, but a little of me will journey with Eric out west, my love of this brother from another mother, and a blessing upon his travels: may he walk in beauty.

Glad we got that, uh, straightened out May 13, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, Toulouse Street.
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Gay rodeo undermines sexual stereotypes

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters Life!) – Philadelphia’s gay community sought to dispel some sexual stereotypes when it held the city’s first gay rodeo.

About 50 contestants roped steers, cracked whips, and wrestled cattle to the ground during the weekend in an attempt to prove to themselves – and the rest of the world – that they are just as capable of tackling a traditionally macho sport as their straight counterparts…

Glad we got that, uh, straightened out.

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I wonder if there were any Indians involved in this Wild West Show, or if any a them rodeo cow-pokes was in the navy? To some people rum, sodomy and the lash probably sounds, well, electrifying. Ok, I need to stop before I get stomped on by the Politically Correct Police. I really should leave the snark to Professionals like These, especially since I can’t think of an awful pun involving motorcycles and leather.

I just hope Philadelphia survives the next hurricane season.

When I can’t find anything I’m motivated to write about in New Orleans, it occurs to me that Odd is not a local specialty dish. Just think of this as a big old Hoagie with Extra Odd, dressed or whatever it is y’all do up there. Maybe undressed. I don’t really want to know.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled life already in progress, even as you fritter it away on the intertubes.

When Life Just Gets Too Weird May 10, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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there’s David Byrne being mounted by the loa.

Damn, I feel positively normal now. Except for that voice in my head that keeps asking: Why Be Normal?

I love this damn video in spite of its dreadful lack of close ups of Tina Weymouth.

The Old South May 10, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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“The Old South was simply intolerable: it required generations of neurotic artists, often alcoholic, to paste all of its myth’s together and then peer into its black heart. Its political and social realities are long gone, its eloquence and nuance vague to the point of disappearing.What remains are its literature.”
— Richard Kilbourne, “Poems Represent Bare Essentials of [Everette] Maddox’s Life, Art”

I stumbled across this particular carpetbagger while reading Umpteen Ways of Looking at a Possum Critical and Creative Responses to Everette Maddox, and was inclined to ask him:

From what ivy tower In the dour and snow white North did this particular clap trap issue from? The South’s political and social realities long gone? Just ask the chuckling seersuckers and blue blood blazers brunching in their cups at Galatoire’s some Sunday.

“How is it going? Straight down, I tell you–to the bank, that is–what with all of this nearly free real estate and oil over a hundred and billions in federal dollars floating around. We’re going to build the city the way is always was and should have remained, the Queen of the South. The new opera house will go up on the riverfront and the right sort of people will be able to walk down to it from luxurious condos with sweeping views of the Mississippi. We’ll build it with all these Mexicans, every one as hard working and subserviently afraid of the White Man’s Law as that surely busboy’s great grandfather. It might squeeze out some of the weirdos down in the Bywater but they always seem to land on their feet somewhere, and where would the show be for the tourists at Mardi Gras without them? They’ll all find a place to live in their charming artist’s squalor and not too far from a four dollar free trade cafe au lait grande, I’m sure.

“Our Blanches and Stellas are still with us, with their fine educations and their boyfriends with more tattoos then the sailors on old Decatur used to have. Of course they will have to find some new place to live, or finally figure it all out: either go back and finish that MBA or find some fellow with more head on his shoulders than hair and move back Uptown to respectability because, frankly, we’re running out of cottages to flip and the Bywater is next. Between the crack heads and Katrina there’s hardly anything left Uptown worth its weight in termites.

“Everette Maddox? Never head of him. Was he related to that cracker governor from Georgia? Poet? Well, I don’t go for that sort of thing much, but I do sit on the board at NOMA and the CAC and you have to admit that whole artist bunch are an important part of our charm, don’t you think? I love that Rodrigue fellow’s Blue Dogs, myself, much nicer than those old, dark Cajun things he used to do. My wife goes in for the literary sort of thing. She’s in a book club with her circle from Newcomb but I think they mostly read whatever Oprah tells ‘em to. I think they did Maya Angelou once. The artists and yes even our eccentrics are all part of our charm, of the brand that fills up the downtown hotels and by God we need them. Yes, we’re going to build a New South City here with all the old charm preserved, I tell you, once we get rid of all those troublemakers in the projects. We’re going to put Charleston and Savannah to shame. We haven’t lost our old ways. We’re just updating them for the 21st century.”

And I only am escaped alone to tell thee, what with all our neurotic artists having drunk themselves to death.

Ed’s Note: Forgot to tag it. Republished.

The Hard Questions May 8, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Crime, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive.”
– Audie Lorde

Cliff of Cliff’s Crib blog asks some hard questions about crime and how people deal with it:

“Last week, when I read the story of those guys that kicked in that door on Laharpe St. and shot those three people, the first thing I thought about was “well, at least they didn’t shoot the baby. Had they shot the baby too, we would have been outraged because the baby is not part of the game. Since they let the baby live, there is part of us that considers that kind of event part of the life those folks choose to live. The question is how can that be ok when the folks in question are our family, friends, classmates, and neighbors.”

Maybe it’s not my place to jump into this discussion, since his blog post directly addresses the local African-American community and bloggers of color in particular. (Not in that quote but in the longer piece). Me, I’m as white as a truck load of of Bunny Bread. But I live here, too, and not enough people of any sort are asking the hard question: how can we just let this go one because it’s “them”, whether that’s a class them (we’re not in the ‘hood, that’s not us) or a race question (they’re black, I’m white; that’s not us).

It’s the hard question everyone in every community in this town regardless of race or section needs to be asking themselves.

I think about this every day. Earlier this year, I posted up a list of all of the people who died violently in New Orleans on this site. And not a day goes by but someone comes by searching for one of those who died. I don’t know who George Hankton was, but there seem to be a lot of people with access to the internet who cared. Someone Googling that name shows up almost every day. Still, no one who knew him leaves a comment on that page. I’ve looked out on the net myself for any more info, but there are only a couple of cryptic “my cousin died” posts on My Space pages that are marked private. The Book wrote a post about his cousin Chanell Sanchell which prompted a post of my own, but most of those who die vanish into obscurity, forgotten by all but those who knew them personally.

What happened to George Hankton (age 40, not some punk kid) and Chanell Schanell should be the concern of everyone who choses to live here, who insists on making New Orleans home. The death of every person here by violence is your concern. If you think it’s not your concern, you’re probably reading the wrong web page. This blog is primarily about New Orleans, and if you think you care about New Orleans and don’t care about the young black men (and women) dying in the streets, well, then you don’t care about New Orleans as deeply as you think you do.

The problem is none of us know what to do about it. I don’t. Cliff admits he doesn’t. Our so-called leaders sure as hell don’t have a clue. But before we get to answers, at least we ought to be able to start with some questions. We’ll take the easy ones first. How did this come about? And what can I do today that will make it stop, someday? I don’t have the answer for the 13-year olds who were just busted for sticking people up in my neighborhood. They’re the age of my own son, and may be lost already. But they probably have little brother’s and sisters going to Recovery District schools. Will they even have a chance at something better, something other than what their brothers found? Are these siblings their only role models? What about the culture these kids pick up on TV and the radio glorifying what their “big” brothers did? What about the people who profit by recording and broadcasting that?

Who are these kids’ role models? What about everyone who fled certain parts of the city but stayed “in New Orleans” (if you tell people when you’re out of town that “I’m from New Orleans, then yes that’s you regardless of where you actually live). It doesn’t matter if you fled into the suburbs and Catholic school in the early ’60s or into the East and the magnet schools in the 70s and 80s: all the people who could make a difference–white and black–seem to have turned their back on the weakest among us. This city is ringed by churches full of Good Christians who seemed to have slept through all of the homilies they ever heard.

The kids who are killing and dying, and the families they come from, were left behind like too many animals in a too small a cage with not enough to eat, and you don’t need a degree in sociology to figure out how that plays out. And now many of the best and brightest of the people who grew up in the hard neighborhoods aren’t coming back from The Evacuation. They’ve discovered a place where jobs pay decently and the schools work. They’re the next wave of the middle-class out-of-poverty story, and how many of them are staying in Atlanta or Texas or Nashville?

I think only the hand of a loving god could reach down and pluck some teenager with a pistol in his waste band off the streets and save him. I’m pretty sure I can’t, and I doubt the rest of you could either. But we have to start somewhere. The first step is to decide to give a damn. The next step is to figure out the next step. If I knew what it was I’d be charging you $1,500 for the advice and trying to sell you the companion books and tapes. I don’t have the answers, but I have an inkling of what the questions are. And thanks to Cliff (and The Book and m.d. filter) the impulse to start to ask them. That’s a beginning.

Last Act at the Private Street Stage May 6, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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By Sunday, I was done in. The combination of days treading through treacherous, treacly mud pits and an unballasted wallet left me walking like a sailor just back from the Horn, with a Odd swinging gait and a permanent list to windward. I was burned without and within by too much sun and too much fun and could in no way contemplate another day at Jazz Fest.

Somehow I drug myself out of bed that sunny morning and managed to plow through all the necessary chores for a weekend: laundry done and my shirts ironed, something cooked easy to serve up for the week, a trip to K-Mart for some necessities, a blog post written up. After all that I was beat, but managed to find the energy to replace my back bicycle tire. I was determined that I was not going to let the last of April, first of May pass without hearing Carlos Santana. His is an almost quintessential Jazz Fest act, combining jazz, rock and Latin rhythms in a way an Orleanian can digest as easily and with as much relish as a crock of creme brulee: an almost impalpable richness and sweetness touched with fire.

It is not just the sheer beauty of straight ahead guitar jazz like Europa or the cathartic drum rite of a perfect Black Magic Woman that drew me there, but something elemental like the Odd forces that hold atoms together, a species of the Strong Force. Santana is one of the generation of musical bodhisattvas: a line of musicians running back to jazz artists of the 1960s like John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, powerful jazz innovators who expressed a profound spirtuality through their music. Somewhere along the line musicians with that sort of overtly spiritual inclination seem to have vanished. Perhaps they were all sucked into one of the many marketing arms of the Cult of the Gospel Inerrant, that peculiar religio-business that has replaced Christianity in much of America, to pop up as acts like Jars of Clay or Third Day.

Santana is one of the last of a different breed. To hear him is not to experience the happy, corporate pop of what little I have heard of popular “Christian” music. The instrumental second part of Black Magic Woman is not some toe-tapping, feel-good cant. It is what was called in the decade from which Santana emerged An Experience. What comes through is not the gentle spirit of the shyly-smiling blond guy with a lamb on his lap. It is instead music that could be the song in the head of the demiurge as he raised the first roaring volcanoes out of a chaotic ocean, and then tossed the burning sun into the sky, the frenetic rites of the first peoples upon discovery of the drum and the dance.

And so while my tired wife napped in the sun with the pretense of a book in her lap I applied myself to the bicycle pump and set out to find a spot where I could at least hear Santana’s mid-afternoon performance. I pedaled up the narrow cul-de-sac streets between St. Louis No. 3 and the west side of the Fairgrounds, and found myself on the corner of a quiet residential street abutting the Fairgounds and a narrow strip of asphalt with a city street sign reading Private, right behind the port-o-lets west of the Acura stage, not fifty feet from where I’d turned the corner the day before to go buy a beer and some food over by the Jazz Tent.

Private was an apt name for the place. I had pedaled over expecting to either be disappointed that I could not find a good spot or instead that I might find one that would look like Frenchman Street on Mardi Gras night. Apparently the world is divided into people who plop down their $50 and go in the gate to Jazz Fest and people who find something else to do. Except for one fellow in sleevless black smoking Marlboro’s back propped against the fence and a handful of the people who lived back there sitting out in lawn chairs, Private was very nearly just that: my own personal place to listen.

There’s not much more I can say about Santana that I haven’t already said. I was so tired that I can no longer remember the entire play list, only highlights: an ecstatic Black Magic Woman and rocking versions of Oye Como Va and No One To Depend On, Maria Maria, a John Contrane number my tired brain can’t recall two days later. There was a long speech on politics that I silently applauded, not for its overt electioneering, or even for the long list of activists and musicians Santana cited as being in the tradition he tries to uphold (it was long and I couldn’t recreate it without notes). Instead, what wowed me was the way Santana wrapped it up with Jimi Hendrix’s famous aphorism: “We are about the power of love, not the love of power.”

Oddly enough, I had picked up a button with Jimi’s picture on it and the same saying just two days earlier when passing the Save Our Wetlands table. I visualized the button laying atop my muddy poncho on the porch back home, and immediately connected the three note base line and the simple, whammy bar guitar riff that goes with it, the one common to Hendrix’s Third Stone from the Sun and Santana’s Black Magic Woman (listen hard in your head; you know the one). “We are about the power of love.” The phrase is still ringing in my head days later even as the discrete events of Jazz Fest retreal into a blur.

That is what this last Jazz Fest was about: a healing that during the last two we were not ready to receive, an experience no Big Chief from Kansas City could possibly understand. There is enough distance now for healing, and the line up was perfect. Jimmy Buffet was my touchstone to the Gulf Coast during my cold years of exile, and the party that life here can be if you so choose. Terence Blanchard was It, The Thing, distilled into music of such emotional power that it lifted you past The Event and into the place that healing can begin. And finally Santana: the ineffable essence of beauty Keats once found on an old urn and which I found at the corner of Verna and Private; a rollicking tribal celebration with drums and fire of the Power of Love; the love of this place that brings us home, that drags us out of our tired patio chairs and back to this lonely corner of Mid-City because we need cannot get enough, the power of the love of those who have come home to stay and rebuild New Orleans.

I left before the Neville Brothers played.

Laura Bush Riled At Inept Hurricane Response May 6, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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First Lady Laura Bush took to the White House press podium to criticize the military junta which rules Myanmar (formerly Burma) over their failed response to a tropical cyclone believed to have killed 10,000. According to a Reuter’s report, Bush said:

Asked by a reporter whether she was accusing the junta of having “blood on their hands,” [Bush] said it was clear they are “very inept

(emphasis mine).

You tell ‘em, Laura. Heck of a job.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Wasting Away A Day At The Acura May 5, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Debrisville, Toulouse Street.
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Yes, Peter, I spent last Saturday at the small patch of high ground at the Jazz Fest Acura stage I took to calling Base Camp Biloxi to make sure we had a good view of Jimmy Buffet. And I did not mangle the words to “Let’s All Get Drunk And Screw”. Hell, everyone at Betz Brown’s Abbey on Decatur (not to be confused with the Abbey of subsequent owners) was required to cease all conversation and sing along when ever that came up on the juke, which occurred with alarming frequency. In spite of the fact that I was probably every bit as much afloat at that point in my life as the legendary Mr. Buffet, those words are pretty much imprinted on my consciousness forever (even if that song is in a solid tie for least-favorite Buffet song with “Great Filling Station Holdup”).

There was no way I could miss seeing Buffet, whatever my feeling about the other “big name” acts that Jazz Fest brings in. Jimmy Buffet has always had a special connection to New Orleans and the whole Gulf Coast. And for me it was another of the special moments of healing at this Jazz Fest. Belting out Jimmy Buffet songs at the top of my lungs while I shoveled a foot of snow off my corner lot’s extensive sidewalk, or listening to Biloxi sitting in the cockpit of my sailboat after a day on the water during our all-too-short northern summer were some of the ways Jimmy Buffet Saved My Life. He was, along with all of the music of New Orleans, a large part of what kept my sanity during that long decade in the cold and the dark. I’m glad he did not sing “Biloxi” or I might have wound up curled up in the mud balling, but I have to admit that I pretty much misted up for “Mother Ocean”. Buffet is one of those songwriters who become a part of your life if you’ve lived it right, a good friend you’ve never met.

Jimmy and I have have cleaned up our act a bit since the Mardi Gras day I saw him on Conti just off the corner of Royal, back in the days before the police station was on the corner of Royal, before the state building there was fenced. Back then the people who hung at that corner paid hearty tribute to the building’s name of Wildlife and Fisheries Building (and not in any way involving fish), and it was the place to hang or regroup. He borrowed a guitar from some longhairs who had stopped there to practice their rice paper origami skills and belted out a couple of songs–I only remember clearly that he closed with “Volcano”, then split before the crowd got too big.

In spite of Jimmy and the rest of us being on the High Road of Good Living (now, stop smirking; that’s not what I meant), we are all at some level still “The People Our Parents Warned Us About”.

WWOZ and Jazz Fest in Exile May 4, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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I left New Orleans New Year’s Eve 1986, clutching the winning ticket of a good job in Washington, D.C. and leaving a hard-riding posse of personal demons and the raft of friends who had kept me afloat here behind a string of burning bridges. Still, I could never shake my connection to home. The mark New Orleans places on those who grow up here is as indelible and as defining as Original Sin. No matter where we might run to, all of our suffering and opportunities for grace arise out of that invisible fleur de lis imprinted on our hearts. We cannot escape it, are reminded of it no matter where we are as surely as a determined sinner disturbed by the bells of morning Mass on his way home from a night’s debauchery.

During my almost 20 years away from the city, WWOZ and programs like it’s Jazz Fest broadcasts were one of the links that offered me an opportunity to experience the grace of New Orleans, that redeemed what seemed at times the mortal sin of leaving. When I lived in the far north, I would spend some of the first decent days of Spring not out clearing my yard but huddled in my cool basement around my computer, the WWOZ stream struggling through the dial-up connection like a short-wave broadcast from another continent. When the entire city went dark in September ’05, one of the first thing I found was the ‘OZ stream out of New Jersey. It was the sound track of all of my early postings to Wet Bank Guide.

WWOZ and Jazz Fest are both prominent ambassadors for New Orleans, and links that tie us all together: the people who are home, the ones still somewhere else by circumstance or choice, and the visitors lured by the glamor of the city. Without either institution the city would somehow survive, even if dearly diminished, even as we survived the steady erosion of some of our cultural landmarks over the last generation. Even with the gaping hole the absence of either would leave behind, it would still be New Orleans. Those of us here would find the music and the food and the spirit of the street parade on our own. Not so the displaced or the visitors who descend on the city every year for the Fest. Without ‘OZ streaming into the world or the Fest to draw it’s listeners here, the numbers of the foreign legion of New Orleans would be fewer and their strength diminished. We would be silently but certainly undermined in our determination to live here and remake New Orleans if either were to stop.

So what are you waiting for? Turn on. Tune In. Be Home.

N.B–Loki, here’s a “paragraph” for the ‘OZ blog on what the Fest and ‘OZ mean to me. You know I can’t just write a paragraph. Now I need to climb down from my fountain and go make some more coffee. My own Day Four at the Test has worn me out.

A Tale of God’s Will May 3, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, 8-29, Federal Flood, Flood, Jazz Fest, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Today Terence Blanchard led his quintet, with faces as solemn as morticians’, in a joyful noise together with a backing orchestral group selections of his A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina). It was an Odd moment for Jazz Fest (and so perhaps our favorite here on Toulouse Street). I saw two tributes so far, one for Willie “Tee” and Earl Turbington and a show featuring young students of Alvin Batiste. Both were joyful celebrations of the musicians honored, music interspersed with stories and spoken word tributes. They were perfectly in the tradition of a city where, once we have buried the deceased, the parade begins.

Blanchard’s recital this afternoon was of another character altogether. It was more like the full funeral package, with all of the the sadness and solemnity of the service and the recession from the church and march to the cemetery. The Reverend-esque Blanchard spoke of the deceased and offered an excellent homily.There was his tale of boat rescuers, of people being taken out told to be quiet so the people left behind that trip might not hear them, told to cover their children’s eyes as they passed through an area full of dead bodies, introduced the piece “Funeral Dirge”.

His homily was on the importance of Lee’s film, When The Levees Broke. He told the tale of his mother asked by Spike Lee to let him film her first return to her ruined home, of how he warned her what having a full film crew following her might mean at such a difficult and delicate moment, of how proud he was that she insisted. People, his mother told him, need to know what happened down here. This led into the piece “Dear Mom”.

When they were not playing, Blanchard and his group were as serious as their subject, and as the music they composed. It seemed fitting for the piece of music a friend of mine told me before the show was the one he would put on when he felt compelled to escape his home on the sliver by the river to drive around Gentilly, sometimes checking on homes he had gutted to see if any have made progress. When he does this, he said, he will sometimes bawl like a baby.

At the first orchestral passage, Blanchard reached up to his face and wiped with his fingers just beneath his glasses as if to wipe away tears, a motion I last saw on a jazz stage at a Red Cross benefit in Fargo, N.D., after New Orleans trumpeter Marc Braud spoke of recovering his instrument as the rest of that band played “Do You Know What It Means”.

The audience I could see (and I was rapt and could not turn my head away from the stage) were just as transported. The WWOZ DJ who sat in front of me was not the outgoing, crowd-working celebrity I had seen in the tent and up on stage announcing the rest of the day, but sat solemn as a sphinx. The other stage announcer, a man in a red t-shirt and dreadlocks, sat at the foot of the stage looking not at the musicians but stared straight ahead into some private place. A woman came and sat beside him and put her arm around him.

As Blanchard spoke and the musicians played, the rain that had held off all day finally broke in torrents, as if the music had moved not just a few thousands in this tent on this day but had seized the hearts of the heavenly host and moved them to tears as well as they considered the Odd mix of pain and beauty that is God’s Will.

It was also, as I promised Friday, a time of joy. As the band wailed through the beautiful Ashe and the straight ahead jazz numbers that ended the concert, the orchestra musicians who had sat at attention in their best, serious concert poses, began to be transported by the music as well. The first violin began to show a shy smile, and to bob her head in time as members of the audience around me did. An incredulous cello in a John Brown beard divided his attention between an incredible bass solo and watching the drummer. When Blanchard called on the audience to help him by taking of the chant “This is a tale of God’s will” from the album’s opening cut, we were all transported without moving to the Gospel Tent and the moment of redemption many of us had come for arrived at last.

As I had hoped, Blanchard’s quintet had drowned the bitch in beauty and flooded the streets with tears of joy.


Also, don’t miss the podcast interview which Blanchard’s team (he mentioned bringing in his personal sound man and tour manager to run the boards) had put up the very same evening.

N.B. Fixed numerous typos. Must not try to post when dead tired and trying to rush out the door to the Fairgrounds. Thanks G.P.

Last update: here’s another camera video of an excerpt of Ashe’.

Update 5-12-09 Based on a notice from You Tube that the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra objected to these small, low-fidelity excerpts I shot with my $100 Cannon from 100 feet away, I’m removing the video. In fact, I’m going to go back and edit out references crediting the LPO with participation in this performance and will simply refer to them as “the orchestra”.

Oh, What A Lucky Blog May 3, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Not to brag but mostly to show off the cool artwork, this picture (and the priviledge to display it) are the prize in NOLA Notes and Pete’s best Jazz Fest blog contest. Its kind of them to think so where there are so many fine writers and photographers in the NOLA bloggers community. Also you should get over to NOLA Notes and Pontchartrain Pete to check out the category winners.

We Will Drown the Bitch in Beauty May 1, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, 8-29, Dancing Bear, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, Jazz, Jazz Fest, je me souviens, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“I told you I would be here.
It was important that I came.
I’m leaving but I’ll be back again.
Will you be here?”
Shelton Alexander


Terrence Blanchard.
Requiem for Katrina. Tomorrow at Jazz Fest

We will drown the bitch in beauty and flood the city with tears of joy.

Will you be there?

Update: Replacing generic Terence Blanchard YouTube with a camera video shot May 2, 2008 at Jazz Fest, an excerpt from Funeral Dirge from Blanchard’s A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina), featuring Blanchard’s Quintet and the —————- —————— Orchestra.

Update 5-12-09 Based on an objection from the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, I have removed this brief, low-fidelity excerpt which I had posted pursuant to fair usage for comment and criticism. Apparently they don’t appreciate free promotion. I will also remove any references to the LPO from this piece as well.

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