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The Tower June 29, 2009

Posted by Mark Folse in literature, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
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16tower

A Dream
by Jorge Luis Borges

In a deserted place in Iran there is a not very tall stone tower that has neither door nor window. In the only room (with a dirt floor and shaped like a circle) there is a wooden table and a bench. In that circular cell, a man who looks like me is writing in letters I cannot understand a long poem about a man who in another circular cell is writing a poem about a man who in another circular cell
. . . The process never ends and no one will be able to read what the prisoners write.

Translated, from the Spanish, by Suzanne Jill Levine.

This appeared today in the Poetry & Fiction RSS feed from The New Yorker. I’ve thought about Iran a lot lately–remembering our own fascination with the original revolution as young journalism students, watching students (radical Islamist students, yes, but our peers) take over the embassy and a country. Our views were naive, the views of students, of the young: the Shah was one of the creatures of the CIA, so whatever overthrew him must be an improvement.

I now follow a handful of on-the-ground activists on Twitter, remembering my foolish and simplistic view of the world in 1979 and recall that Mousavi endorsed the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. And still the resistance of the young people of that country to an oppressive culture is an amazing thing to watch. They shout “Allah o Akbar” from the rooftops, taking and tossing back the cry of the original Islamic Revolution into the face of the mullahs as if throwing back a tear gas grenade.

Twitter and Facebook and all the rest are just conduits for words. Believe in the transformative power of words.

Charity and the Expressway June 24, 2009

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Charity&Claiborne0

Driving up Tulane Avenue to work I pass the Charity Hospital complex regularly. But first I pass under the Claiborne Avenue Expressway. Seeing these two great masses of concrete in the same frame sets my thoughts going about preservation and unintended consequences.

In 1960, the Chamber of Commerce proposed a riverfront expressway as part of New Orleans Interstate highway system, and approved as I-310 in 1964. The suggestion that a six-lane freeway would run along the river in front of Jackson Square.

Preservationists immediately rose up to object, and the famous Second Battle of New Orleans was joined. There’s a bit of family history here. My father was president of the New Orleans Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and was among the preservationists. He famously challenged the head of the downtown business group to a debate on WWL-TV.

In the end, the preservationists won. The riverfront expressway was blocked and the French Quarter was saved.

And Treme was nearly destroyed.

The compromise solution was to build the connection from the Pontchartrain Expressway to Interstate 10 down the Claiborne Avenue corridor. Prior to the construction of the expressway Claiborne Avenue was a thriving commercial corridor serving the Black community who was not, during Jim Crow, welcome on Canal Street. Lined with oak trees and a neutral ground promenade, it was the sort of picturesque street the city is famous for.

claiborneOakTrees

Today, this is the view of North Claiborne Avenue.

claiborne-expressway-new-orleans-photo

As I eyeball the great art deco monument of Charity, standing on a corner in the footprint of the 73 acres of demolition in lower Mid-City proposed for it’s replacement and looking at the Claiborne Expressway in the same frame, I have to wonder if we are going down the same path my father’s generation did, one of unintended consequences.

I don’t disagree that the Charity complex should be saved. I don’t disagree that we need a hospital. I don’t disagree that vernacular architecture should be preserved in lower Mid-City. I only wonder how long will the working people of New Orleans have to wait while both sides dig in their heels and refuse to compromise, how long the children and grandchildren of those who once shopped on Claiborne or strolled beneath it’s oak trees will be left without a hospital.

Somewhere in this problem is a compromise that saves the Charity buildings and builds a hospital and preserves a neighborhood. I just wonder if the failure to compromise, or worse the ultimate nature of the compromise, will leave the people most in need of that hospital standing under that ugly, rumbling expressway waiting for the bus that takes them far away to see a doctor.

Those Many Mansions June 21, 2009

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Poetry, Toulouse Street, Writing.
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It is occasionally possible, just for brief moments, to find the words that will unlock the doors of all those many mansions in the head and express something – perhaps not much, just something – of the crush of information that presses in on us from the way a crow flies over and the way a man walks and the look of a street and from what we did one day a dozen years ago. Words that will express something of the deep complexity that makes us precisely the way we are “

- Ted Hughes, From: Poetry in the Making

The Slow Noon Burn of June 16 June 20, 2009

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Canal Street in the slow noon burn of June. Thin dribbles of tourists pass up and down, hug the narrow ledge of shade along the buildings as if some abyss yawned at the curb. A handful of hotel workers in dull uniforms colored maroon and dark blue shuffle unhappily toward work or tiredly toward their bus stops and home. There are few suits on the street, no conventioneers with plastic badges swinging from their necks our for lunch. Two men in wilted jackets, ties-loosened, pause outside the Palace Café; they consult the burning blue sky, one’s watch, the cool, dark windows of the restaurant and decide to slip inside. I imagine the spicy fried oysters nestled in a bed of cool greens and blue cheese, a sweat-beaded glass of tea besides. The café tables on the street are empty; pigeons huddled under the canopy pick at the crumb-less pavement. The birds outnumber the people passing by.

Canal passes like a diorama: the peppery aroma of Popeye’s Fried Chicken is followed by powerful cloud of patchouli coming from the Hippie Gypsy shop, then the more delicate smells of browning butter out of the Palace Café; music passes like the tuning of a radio, bars of Cajun from one and jazz from another of the progression of tourist shops with names like Gumbo Bayou and Jazzland and Dixie Market with their racks of tacky t-shirts and windows garlanded with beads; in between ageless Levantine gentlemen stand stiff and mute in the doors of electronics shops like sentinels in crisp cotton shirts and slacks, windows blazoned with No Tax! 220v! PAL Format! waiting patiently for sailors who no longer get shore leave from the mechanized container ships. They watch the masts slip past just over the floodwall up the block and wait.

By midday the sun has warmed everything until the heat no longer comes from above but radiates from every direction: down from the sun and up from the pavement and off the sides of passing windows and we pass in the middle like loaves through some mechanized oven, perfectly browned on all sides. In the distance a church chimes and as if part of the clockwork the last thin ribbon of shade slips under the buildings and there is only the harsh glare off the pavement. I stop and listen to the fading echoes from a dozen buildings, try to think: which church, St. Louis Cathedral to my left or the Jesuit Church behind me on Baronne Street?

I remember as a child my grandmother and I catching the old green Perley Thomas cars at Cemeteries for the trip down Canal. She would shop and we would eat lunch at the K&B Drugstore counter or the lady’s cafe’ in D.H. Homes Department Store but my clearest memory is Immaculate Conception; the dark, narrow Jesuit church filled with flickering red glass candles, my grandmother lighting a taper to Mary while I studied the procession of men who stood, heads bowed and murmuring prayers with one hand on the foot of Saint Joseph. To this day every time I see a status of Joseph I study its feet, notice how generations of hands sliding on and off have worn the wood.

I don’t remember it being this hot when I was a child. I study the parents leaning heavily on the handles of strollers, the women’s sun dresses collapsed damply over their bodies as toddlers skip happily away over the roasting pavement toward traffic. To a child this weather is as natural as the damp warmth of the womb, they see the sweat on their bodies as beautiful dewdrops, tiny sunlit jewels. I stop and mop the inside of my hatband and then my brow, watch anxious parents corral the children back into the stroller and set off grimly for the Aquarium and the promise of air conditioning and the cooling illusion of immersion. I squint over my shoulder back toward Baronne Street and imagine for a moment stepping into that dark nave, into the cool innocence of my own childhood, then turn back to continue my trudge toward the river.

I am not on vacation. I have no lunch date. I am walking away from work but only for a while. I have, frankly, no good business being out in the mad dog sun except to walk and watch and listen. It is June 16, and I am taking my own advice, spending Bloomsday not reading about Dublin 1904 but setting out on my own ramble through New Orleans, to capture a snapshot of this city in June 2009. There is little to see except the street itself. The heat has driven all but the desperate indoors, and those who are out in the sun don’t waste their energy talking. I walk on.

The first and last real crowd I pass stands in the plaza of the last tall high rise before the river, the office tower disgorging lunchtime smokers onto benches. They stand alone or in small knots, and I wander in and through the crowd but there is not much conversation. It is all they can manage with a full belly in the noon sun to get the cigarette up to their lips and back down to their sides, blowing smoke up into the sky to carry away the extra heat. I bum a light to excuse my intrusion and perhaps pick up a bit of conversation but all I get are grunts of assent, and a flame held at arm’s length. I puff, nod and walk on.

The last block to the river passing the humming utility substation is empty except lone vendor eyes me excitedly, waving dripping bottles of water in my face for only a dollar, coldest on Canal he promises and the last chance, he throws in. I smile back (his the only smile seen today on the street, and my reply is equally forced). No, I manage through my pleasant grimace and head up toward the place where the streetcar and Public Belt Railroad tracks both cross Canal. I stop and look both ways but there are no cars or trains in site, the empty tracks remind me that the river is no longer the city’s big business. The Aquarium across the tracks and it’s tourists are now our stock and trade, the stores where my grandmother once browsed are now Gumbo Bayou and the Hippie Gypsy.

Here on the plaza another vendor paces up and down shouting his own cold drinks, water a dollar and Powerade available, but he’s on the wrong side of the square. I walk alone into the middle of the plaza while the scattered tourists make directly for the shaded overhangs of the Aquarium where they huddle under the arcade, lining up to escape into the promise of frigid air.

I head straight for the railing along the river, hoping to find a consoling breeze there. I can see it out on the river where the wind stirs up a tiny, rippling chop amid the swirling flat water where the confused current prepares to make the hard bend at the Gov. Nicholls and Esplanade wharves before heading down through St. Bernard and Plaquemine to the Gulf. I light another cigarette and watch the wind but it stays over the main stem away from the riverfront. I pull off my hat and mop again, then start walking along the water’s edge. Usually you can smell the river but today is so hot the creosote is oozing out of the timbers that edge the dock and its aroma overpowers everything. I am alone on the promenade.

There is no traffic on the river. I crane my neck to look upstream but nothing moves. Even here where tourists often congregate it’s deadly quiet; no buskers out playing or liquor-loud knots of bead wearing young people in from the dry north. The riverboat calliope is silent. I am startled when the ferry hoots its horn, ready to cross. Usually the pigeons that swarm here for the lunch leavings would launch themselves into disturbed whorls at the sound, but they are nowhere to be seen, have found shade somewhere else. Realizing I have less sense than a pigeon, I turn and start to head back to work.

The only action is a woman who poses in front of the aminatronic dinosaur advertising an exhibit at the Audubon Zoo and starts hollering, “Help mommy! Help mommy!”. A small toddler grabs his father’s hand and starts tugging him. “Help Mommy, Daddy, help Mommy”. Then the plastic raptor lifts it’s head and let’s out a roar and he freezes even as mother squeals louder, “help me, help mommy”. Not yet two and already he’s torn, facing his first betrayal: the woman and love or his own skin. You don’t get to save a pretty girl from a dinosaur every day and if you don’t you might wind up a lonely pair of eyes, one of the solitary watchers of the world walking alone at lunch, instead of one of the heroes.

I root for innocence and heroism but I need to find the water man, coldest in town and only a dollar, before I start my march back to the office, before the wriggling lines of heat invade my head and start to spin like disturbed birds. I need to replace the bucket of sweat the day has taken out of me, and to wash out the taste of cigarette and creosote. Before I turn the corner I look back to see how things played out but the boy and his parents are gone, into the aquarium where the monsters are kept behind thick safety glass.

Sax in the City June 19, 2009

Posted by Mark Folse in 8-29, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, Jazz Vipers, New Orleans, NOLA.
8 comments

Americans will probably continue to use economists’ numbers to measure recovery from the current recession. But as we debate what to do for the millions of homeowners who are “under water” — owing more on their homes than the homes are worth — we could learn from a city that knows a thing or two about being under water. New Orleans can teach us that the life we build with our neighbors deserves at least as much attention as our endless thrust towards newer and bigger.
–Dan Baum, The Way of the Bayou , New York Times

Yeah, you right.

Except, Dan, “the Bayou” to a lot of folks is a place you get to be crossing over to the West Bank and heading down Highway 90: Cajun Country. You’ve been down here long enough to know that, but I guess Big Apple headline writers are too busy rudely shoving people out of the way to snatch their cabs to whisk them to Tavern on the Green for lunch, or some such goofy stereotype.

Hell, forget about Irvin Mayfield running for mayor. I nominate Joe Braun of the Jazz Vipers. He may be the my generation’s equivalent of a trustafarian, but then he doesn’t really need so steal anything. He’d make sure the important things–music, food, the real life down here–were put first. Joe doesn’t strike me as the political type, but he did make a fine speech at Jazz Fest in favor of reopening Charity Hospital “where so many jazz musicians were born”.

And Dan: you can’t honestly say people down here don’t want change. It’s just that we don’t want change on the terms of a lot of carpetbagging architects from up north who only know how to build a movie facade retail “towne”, or bulgy eyed school reformers looking to start the Ayn Rand Charter Academy of Applied Objectivism.

We want the things most people want. We just want them on our own terms because frankly we’ve figured out what everyone else in our neighbor to the north only dreams about: not how to work and get ahead, not how to pay for it all, but how to live. Sure, things change. The Spotted Cat is no more and I hear there’s been some falling out with Bruce the clarinet player and frankly, a band like that needs a clarinet player (paging Dr. Micheal White, paging Dr. Micheal White). But usually that vanished clarinet player or chef just shows up down the street, and life goes on.

So be sure to come back and visit us. Maybe you can stop by Rising Tide IV this August 22nd. We’ll try to have some bagels and “Northern Coffee” for you.

Mid-City Sky June 17, 2009

Posted by Mark Folse in Mid-City, New Orleans, NOLA.
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MidCitySky1

Bloomsday June 16, 2009

Posted by Mark Folse in books, Ireland, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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joyceart_nolarising

“Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read…”
– Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

And so it is Bloomsday and there is nothing going on in New Orleans. No, that is not true. In this city there is always something going on, at this time of year when everyone is out on a stoop or sitting under a shady spot on the neutral ground or strolling in the shade of Audubon Park or Lake Vista, in spite of the dreadful heat that has finally arrived there are people everywhere, somewhere people are cooking, many others are drinking, and somewhere there will be something very like a parade (I think of the bicyclists I saw the other night coming out of the Marigny at Elysian Fields, of the woman who had dressed a tricycle out as a white fairy horse and rode it in a diaphanous Princess Buttercup gown into the Quarter. Never say “nothing is going on” in this city; ask yourself why you are at home telling yourself that).

I forgot to ask Amy at the bookseller’s party Saturday night why she was not holding a Bloomsday party this year and of course last year I didn’t go and there isn’t one this year and let that be a lesson to you, that if you see something good happening in this town and you do not go it will be your own damned fault if next time there is nothing, you will be one of those “if only a few more people had shown up” and you’ll have no one to blame to yourself. That was part of the long conversation I had with the famous geographer who came to collect his book award (and that long conversation part of the reason I forgot to ask Amy about Bloomsday), and he asked why I came home and I told him I was afraid for the city, that if there was not a critical mass of people sufficient to sustain the place it might fail and I wanted to be here, to help tip the scale toward survival. So if you don’t go, its your own damn fault when its gone.

So if there are no Bloomsday readings, not even a handful in a bar with broken copies sprouting yellow post-it notes and pouting favorite passages then maybe what I need to do is something solitary (no, I’m not going to go stand on a street corner and read into the crowd as I once suggested when no one answered my online queries, but if you see someone doing this somewhere tonight buy them a drink, will you?). The story of Ulysses is not just the story of Bloom the unlikely everyman or Daedalus his chronicler but also the story of the city, a picture of Dublin on June 16, 1904, the day James Joyce met Nora Barnacle, and the story advances as much by the action of it’s characters in the context of the street as by their interaction with the other characters, the city unfolds not when Bloom and Dedalus meet but as they each make their separate walks though it. Ulysses is probably the most ambitious and famous example of capturing the “the genie soul of the place“.

What I should do is not worry about the Dublin of 1904 but about the New Orleans of 2009. I should take myself out and walk some familiar street as I once walked the streets of Rehoboth, Delaware on our last trip to the ocean before we left for Fargo, to walk with a mind to build a perfect mental picture of a place I was afraid I might not see again. I should pick somewhere (perhaps a circuit of the French Quarter, or a walk the length of Magazine, somewhere there are certain to be people) and just take careful mental note of everything and everyone I see, every bit a conversation overheard, to do what I pledged to myself long ago but don’t do enough now (life is too busy: the counting house, the kids, her crazy job I have to hear about for hours every night) which is to be myself a chronicler of place, of people in a place, to tell the story of a city.

So don’t sit inside tonight reading about a city an ocean and a century away but set out down some street here in this city, your city–down your street, or an old street of fond memories or a new old street your barely know–with your warehouse eyes bright with Arcadian rum and drink it all in, let the city wash over and into every pore. Be a part of the city’s story, then tell it. There is not one great work of a single hand like Ulysses that tells the story of New Orleans and may never be, but there are a hundreds of bloggers each telling a small piece of the story of New Orleans. Step out sometime today into the city and remember all you see. Try sometime this week to tell a small bit of the story of June 16 in New Orleans

15 Books in 15 Minutes June 11, 2009

Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
2 comments

Ok, I’m not crazy about memes but the delightful Grace Athas (spouse of Peter aka Adrastos) tagged me with it on Facebook so I feel I should and it seems to be on topic with the general direction of the blog lately.

Fifteen Books in Fifteen Minutes: list 15 books in fifteen minutes that have stuck with you through life, books you keep returning to.

Easy enough, that.

The Long Way by Bernard Moitessier is one of the great sea adventures and one of the great journeys of personal discovery. He set out in the first “around alone” sailboat race in the 1960s with no radio, and quit before the end to stop in Tahiti a profoundly changed man.

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon is the great book of our generation, hands down. An encyclopedic and cryptic synthesis of everything wrong with modern life. If you want to know how to survive postdiluvian New Orleans, read this book. We are In The Zone.

100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez really needs no endorsement from me. If you read this blog you’ve probably read this book. If not, you can borrow my copy.

Little, Big by John Crowley stands equal to 100 Years in my mind as a profoundly imaginative work of fantastic fiction in which the characters live and breath as true as anyone you know. Of all the books I have read the world of the Drinkwaters is the one into which I would escape into if I could.

I had best not let poetry wait until the end. The Collected Works of Wallace Stevens is one I turn to again and again. I still have the wing-ringed and cigarette burned Selected I first read in college. Read Sunday Morning at my funeral.

The Dream Songs by John Berryman is the most remarkable use of the vernacular in poetry since Virgil. Well, I think so, but who cares about my opinion? Read one for yourself. (You can read this at my funeral as well. Damn I’m in a morbid mood, but if I don’t write these instructions down somewhere everyone’s going to forget in the hurry to figure out where to go drink after the funeral).

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. Not a book you should try to model your life after. At least, not for an extended period of time. Just sayin’.

I don’t know whether to select the short story collection Blow Up or the novel Hopscotch by Julio Cortazer. The latter is a difficult novel to read in any order of the chapters, but I find it the most fascinating study of a set of bohemians anywhere. Given the choice of spending time with these people or with the Beats, I think I would chose The Club. And I see myself too clearly in Horacio.

Under the Volcano by Malcom Lowry. If you’ve even spent significant time in close company of an alcoholic, the truth of this book will get through to you. It is another dark book with a subtheme of the state of the modern world in the 30s. Think of it as a prequel to Gravity’s Rainbow. I also found an echo of postdilluvian New Orleans in this book once as well.

I can’t pick a single book by Carlos Castaneda, but I have a spine broken copy of the first three books that replaces my original copies lost back in the days when I thought they were an instruction manual. It turns out they were; I was just following the wrong part of the instructions. (Update: Yes I know its a fraud. No that does not change it’s impact on my life.)

I have a slim Selected Poems of Frederico Garcia Lorca (the Modern Library one) that is the one book I have probably taken from my shelf more times than any other volume. I really need to pick up the new thick paperback of the Collected en face.

Modern fantasy is a lately acquired habit of mine and it would be hard to single out one book by either Neil Gaiman or Charles de Lint, but I want to list both of them here. And I keep picking up Gainman’s recent Fragile Things collection over and over again when I need something to read. It is making it’s way onto this list. Pick up just about anything either have written for guaranteed enjoyment.

On the subject of fantasy, I’ve never gotten over Tolkien Trilogy and then some. He is the original master.

As much science fiction as I read in my youth it seems odd that nothing comes to mind as a book imprinted on my consciousness. I tend to gobble them up and spit them back out like potato chips, even to this day. Dahlgren by Samuel R. Delaney is probably the single work which can just barely claim the genre that has really made a mark, and led me to read it more than once (and it is a difficult book).

Howl, by Allen Ginsberg, I will offer up as the placeholder for everything by the Beat generation. I haven’t read On the Road for quit ea few years, but have pulled down Howl many times.

Wow, this took way more than 15 minutes, but I can’t just make a list without offering some comment. That’s just who I am.

On further thought (and after a pointed comment) I will note that when I first typed this then clicked it stupidly into the ether directly on Facebook, Confederacy of Dunces was on the list. This time it didn’t pop into my head with the other books. But then fifteen is such are arbitrary number. If I had to strike one book (based not just on initial impact and lifetime re-reads but how recently I’ve re-read it, we’ll strike Malcom Lowry for John Kennedy Toole.

Also omitted is Jorge Louis Borges, who really should be on any list of mine. We’ll just pretend I mentioned him in the context of Neil Gaiman like I did when I first wrote this.

Chalk it up to free association.

Everette’s ghost of awe plays pachinko June 8, 2009

Posted by Mark Folse in Everette Maddox, poem, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
2 comments

As I usually do when I find that the site www.everettemaddox.org has gone down, I shoot off an email to the fellow who keeps it up and let him know. And when he gets it online again I celebrate by posting up one of Everette Maddox’s poems. This being Monday the idea of actually having to think through and write something, well, that transgresses the fine line between propriety and masochism.

Here’s one I like if only because the poet and I appear to both suffer the odd symptom of spending most of the night in REM sleep, and being woken all the time by our dreams. Dedra tells me this is a symptom of sleep deprivation and she more than anyone would know, but I like to think of it as part of the lucky curse of an over active imagination. All that stuff just rumbling around somewhere behind the daily grind of the counting house has to pop out somewhere, if not here.

I love the line “the ghost of awe” in POEM. It has a certain musical ring that I don’t have a technical term for (near assonance?) but which lights up my synapses like a digital pachinko, a vibrational affinity that sings as clearly as an easy example of assonance. (My favorite example of that being Bob Dylan’s “the ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face” which I like partly because of its wonderful mix of assonance and the soft alliteration of “s” and soft “c” sounds. Just my personal favorite. There are better technical examples. Try googling “Sound and Sense” if you must have one).

So now I’ll just do my lazy online jig of joy (Cntrl-X! Alt and Tab! Cntrl-V! Cha-cha-cha!) and offer this up from the Everette Maddox Songbook. (It’s in my Amazon wish list for only two hundred and some odd dollars if you’re feeling guilty about missing my birthday, or just won the lottery and are thinking of ways to share the joy). Oh, and if you can identify the line in this post above this point that is a quote from Everette Maddox, I’ll buy you a scotch, from the well, at the Maple Leaf. Oh, and you’ll be entitled to give this post a more sensible title.

POEM

After everything quits,
things continue
happening. The phone
rings. A knock comes
at the door. Lightning
flashes across the bed
where you bend, looking
at the dictionary.
Asleep, you keep waking
from dreams. The surface
of your life keeps
being broken, less and less
frequently, at random.
Raindrops after a storm:
surprise: the ghost of awe.

Not just another one, but someone June 5, 2009

Posted by Mark Folse in 8-29, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Today one of the closest friends of one of my oldest and dearest friends died. His certificate of death will read cancer but in his story we see he was in part another victim of of Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood.

His story as told by Victoria Slind-Flor is here. It says, in part:

John never recovered from Katrina. Every task of daily living was three times more difficult for him. He had constant car trouble, and sometimes had to take his bicycle long distances to any of the stores where he could buy groceries. He began eating only one meal a day, and because shopping was so difficult, his food choices became more and more limited. The first time I saw him post-Katrina, when he came out for a visit, I was appalled as he’d lost so much weight and had such ill-fitting clothing. And he seemed so much more anxious than he’d ever been before. Each time he came out to California, he saw more risks, more dangers, more causes for anxiety in all directions. I’d go out into the garden to water and come back inside finding him sitting in exactly the same rigid and vigilant position he was in when I left. He didn’t sleep well at night when he was here, constantly waking and looking around anxiously.

There is a hidden pattern in this story that perhaps only I see, a revelation that the events of 8-29 were one of the last great events of the 20th century. John was certainly marked all his life by his experiences in World Word II as a child. His life, it seems, was booked marked by great upheavals. Epochs do not end neatly in years which end in zero, and I think the failure of our Twentieth Century engineering and the reaction of our governments, hamstrung by the great, late-century conservative revolution of sabotage by tax cut, all brought us to where we are today. The story of New Orleans is as as much a disaster of the Twentieth Century as the burning of the Hindenburg.

And John, like so many of our oldest citizens, survived but just barely, less well equipped to survive the vicissitudes of life. I am reminded of the friend of my mother’s who died well after 2005 but who’s family marked on her stone “victim of Katrina,” of the story someone told at the Rising Tide conference two years ago of the elderly gentleman who simply gave up trying to rebuild his own home and calmly walked into the river.

If you have been here long enough you will know that part of what I do here is in remembrance of 8-29-05, in remembrance of The Dead. My friend Victoria is a Pagan and tells us herself what she will do come Samhain this year, not too unlike what I sometimes do here: Remember.

Every year at Samhain, it’s my privilege to stand on the top of a mountain under the stars, in the middle of a circle of friends, and call out the names of the Beloved Dead, who have passed from this life during the previous year. This year, John’s will be one of the names I will call. And my friends will slowly dance a circle around me, chanting softly “What is remembered lives” at each name. John, you will always be remembered with love and affection. Thank you for the gift you were to me, and to many others.

Je me souviens.
s

Being There June 4, 2009

Posted by Mark Folse in Bloggers, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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10 comments

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By way of Twitter, direct from the online site of New York Magazine, which I began reading on my Blackberry but finished on my desktop while a mail and file search absorbed my laptop, which never the less managed to chime and pop up ghost summaries of emails as the Blackberry pulsed to warn me of my next meeting, and topped like a cherry on a sundae with a picture pulled via Google from Flikr, comes this interesting article on what digital multitasking is doing to our minds.

I defy you (as the author does in his opening paragraphs) to read it all the way through, online, without stopping to wonder if someone has answered that email or topped your clever comment on Facebook. ——————————— Sorry, I had to stop and check the chime on my Blackberry, reserved for certain important messages. I’m back. I swear.

These are our Modern Times. We live in a world in which The Man has figured out how to speed up the virtual assembly line, and if we wish to maintain the lives we have grown accustomed to–pay the mortgage, educate the children, enjoy our few pleasures–we have no choice but to deal.

Our modern times–if we were to remake the classic film Modern Times today it would be a single, fixed shot of the eyes of Chaplin, the story told by scenes on his computer screen reflected onto the spectacles of our modern anti-hero, the only real movement would be by his eyes. Perhaps his hand would rise up to touch his Bluetooth headset or push his glasses back up his sweaty nose, but nothing more. We would tell the entire story of our modern times projected a few small pieces of glass to one man, alone, flashing by in a fragmentary mosaic. (Cue score of Koyaanisqatsi.)

Pistolette , who found this article, is rightly concerned with how this is all impacting us. I have not gone fully offline in a long time, but I used to envy a woman I shared an office with once who would take a week off every summer and go to a secluded cabin sans husband and children with a big stack of books. That seems idyllic to me.

I don’t worry too much about how all of this obsessive multi-tasking and media overload is impacting me. I work with a scattered team at work and having a rich set of channels to manage that life–email, instant messaging, wireless phones–seems to help enormously. It does require that I shut down some channels when I really need to focus. I moan that the firewall blocks Facebook and Twitter but its probably for the best.

I feel scatterbrained lately but that has much more to do with stress unrelated to my online life. Most people in New Orleans seem more scattered than people elsewhere, but living here where It’s After the End of the World seems to have that effect on people. It is not caused by a rich digital life but by the stress on the streets, in our daily life, not precisely post-traumatic because the emergency never seems to completely end.

In this one central piece of my wired life on Toulouse Street, the serendipity of the moment often informs what I write, and that is why this one paragraph in the long article jumped out at me. Read it and judge for yourself, but I think I will continue to both walk the streets of my city as well as wander the virtual channels of the Internet, drinking it all in and waiting for the intuitive flash of that bright moment in which we know our doom.

The prophets of total attentional meltdown sometimes invoke, as an example of the great culture we’re going to lose as we succumb to e-thinking, the canonical French juggernaut Marcel Proust. And indeed, at seven volumes, several thousand pages, and 1.5 million words, À la Recherche du Temps Perdu is in many ways the anti-Twitter. (It would take, by the way, exactly 68,636 tweets to reproduce.) It’s important to remember, however, that the most famous moment in all of Proust, the moment that launches the entire monumental project, is a moment of pure distraction: when the narrator, Marcel, eats a spoonful of tea-soaked madeleine and finds himself instantly transported back to the world of his childhood. Proust makes it clear that conscious focus could never have yielded such profound magic: Marcel has to abandon the constraints of what he calls “voluntary memory”—the kind of narrow, purpose-driven attention that Adderall, say, might have allowed him to harness—in order to get to the deeper truths available only by distraction. That famous cookie is a kind of hyperlink: a little blip that launches an associative cascade of a million other subjects. This sort of free-associative wandering is essential to the creative process; one moment of judicious unmindfulness can inspire thousands of hours of mindfulness.

Crow June 1, 2009

Posted by Mark Folse in poem, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
Tags: ,
3 comments

If we seem obsessed a bit with crows of late here on Toulouse Street, well, a person has to be obsessed with something, just as stones are obsessed with their spot, plants with the day star, cats with their creeping prey and crow, well, Crow I think is obsessed with us: watching, askance and laughing.

crows

Crow Blacker Than Ever
By Ted Hughes

When God, disgusted with man,
Turned towards heaven,
And man, disgusted with God,
Turned towards Eve,
Things looked like falling apart.

But Crow Crow
Crow nailed them together,
Nailing heaven and earth together-

So man cried, but with God’s voice.
And God bled, but with man’s blood.

Then heaven and earth creaked at the joint
Which became gangrenous and stank-
A horror beyond redemption.

The agony did not diminish.

Man could not be man nor God God.

The agony

Grew.

Crow

Grinned

Crying: “This is my Creation,”

Flying the black flag of himself.

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