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You Ain’t Goin’ No Where July 30, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
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Some days after a long week of herding feral cats through a labyrinth of financial and software process controls you make a frozen pizza, wash it down with a Vitamin Water energy drin and stay up late eating Vienna Fingers (the cookies you called streetcars as a child), watching most of Season Four of the Wire.

And then suddenly: it’s Saturday.

The clouds are rolling in and its gray, with just enough intermittent breeze to stir the hangers on the temple bells but not to ring them. You watch the squawking wild parrots in some indeterminate weedy tree next door, the one with roots choked in another vague3 shrub and its crown choked in cat;s claw, that one hanging perilously over the house on the street behind you and you wonder when it will finally fall, what is the rated load in parrots of this particular situation? Perhaps you just want something to happen. The sky is blank, calm and ominous and something is bound to happen, and you would rather in happen nearby.

Today’s accomplishments so far:

  • Drink half a a pot of coffee.
  • Boot up the laptop, ignoring the book you meant to read when you woke up.
  • Go to the bathroom. Wash face after.
  • Re-read two blog posts several times, then wrte an email explaining why you are stuck on your contribution.
  • Drink other half of pot of coffee
  • Determine your son is alive (he’s been sick all week so I was letting him sleep as late as he wished).
  • Make more coffee.
  • Offer your son breakfast: we have eggs and bacon, bagels and Honey Nut Cherios. (Omar’s breakfast of choice). (He declines). (My son, not Omar. Omar would eat the Cherios).
  • Open a new pack of cigarettes.
  • Read a post and all comments on HTML Giant, and suddenly understand why you never saw professors in the coffee shop at college.
  • Try to decide if you’ve had enough coffee
  • Read an interview between a sort-of anonymous The Rumpus interviewer (you know which one lives in Ann Arbor) and Megan Boyle, in which they discuss web pages selected by Google’s I’m Feeling Lucky button. You are not feeling lucky. You should have waited for the movie, except Tao Lin will be in it.
  • Watch parrots from the back yard smoking your newly opened cigarettes.
  • Read last sentence again and decide to leave it that way for the hell of it. Insert your own while. (This is explained below).

It is almost three o’clock in the afternoon and you have reached a point. Not a metaphorical point (time to shower, time to get moving, time to make more coffee) but an actual point, a unidemensional non-space in which there is no narrative arc, no impetus to shower or get going, no impulse to resume watching The Wire or pick up the book you opened last night in bed and decided to start in the morning, such possibilities requiring four dimensions and you are stuck in one. You have mislaid the while from the sentence above. Trajectory is not a possibility in one dimension but there seems to be a simmering here somewhere, the recipe for a singularity, a point in non-space and non-time in which time is the burning fuse and out of which something is certain to exploded.

Perhaps it will be the trunk of the tree. Or the coffee pot carafe left unattended on the burner.

Possible things to do today:

  • Shower
  • Read Julio Cortazar’s The Observatory. (That book again, sitting insistently on the other side of the bed like that load of laundry you should get to if only because in one pocket is a $50 bill).
  • Make lunch
  • Watch the rest of The Wire disks
  • Decide about dinner.
  • Decide to watch the DVDs after dinner
  • Finish Cortazar while my son plays video games.
  • Make dinner
  • Drink a beer and smoke a cigarette or two on the back deck. (The parrots are gone. The tree remains).
  • Watch The Wire.

Saturday is named after Saturn. In astrology Saturn is the planet associated with practicality, achievement and conformity. Perhaps that is why I can hear the whine of lawn equipment in the distance and would never dare to venture for errands into the ants nest of cars on Veterans Boulevard today. It is the year of my second Saturn return: 54 years, two orbits. I should be busy at something: determining my next career step, starting some great new undertaking (om shri ganeshaya namah), realigning my life for the next 27 years should I be so lucky. (My family often makes it into their 80s in spite of lifestyle. It could happen). (I did one practical thing this morning, but we will omit that for now as it would be ill luck to speak of it.) For now I am typing random thoughts into a window and wondering which is the planet associated with lethargy, too much coffee and indecision.

I think I’ll go make some more coffee, smoke a cigarette and think about it, reawakening the horizontal and vertical, the possibility of pitch and yaw, put into motion at least possibility in contemplation of one or more possible futures. Saturn will be back before you know it. I had best get busy.

Manoir de Mes Reves July 29, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Jazz, music, New Orelans, The Narrative.
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Do you have any Gerry Mulligan? my son asked. His school band leader asked him to pick it up last year because he wanted one in his orchestra, and it took. He’s going to have to give Franklin’s back (which he was allowed to keep all summer) and you don’t want to know what a barri costs. I said I only had one song, and it’s one I’ve had for a very long time. (I now own a couple of records through the magic of the Internet and he has copies of both).

Through all my years in Fargo Leigh Kamman’s The Jazz Image on Saturday nights was a lifeline to a larger world, a window into the past of jazz, an education it would be hard to duplicate anywhere else. He always opened his show with this song, and all of Saturday’s chores and the long week’s labors would melt away in Gerry Mulligan’s soaring baritone. The closest you can come to approximating the tone color and cadance of the voice of the now retired Kamman, the small hours of morning club cool, is to listen to K. Balewa’s Morning Set Wednesdays on WWOZ, but while Balewa’s is raspy brushed snare and the low register of the trumpet Kamman’s was all horns, the baritone in the lead, the sound of the opening choruses of this song.

Manoir de Mes Reves (Django’s Castle)

Odd Words July 28, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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In lieu of anything clever to say, how about a few things on the Internet you really should be reading if you’re reading this column? Let’s start with the series THE LONELY VOICE by Peter Orner on TheRumpus.net. A series of essays on the author’s chosen and favorite form the short story, start with his latest and I fancy you might find yourself clicking the More By This Author link. When he collects these I’ll want a copy.

This one’s for a burgeoning screen writer I know, from the empyrean Maud Newton (sigh), a write up of Raymond Chandler’s 1945 screed WRITERS IN HOLLYWOOD which she finds “as relevant as ever.” Or try HTMLGiant’s roundup of On Writing posts with “craft insights” from Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, Ted Bundy, Bill Evans, Iggy Pop,Gustav Mahler, Klaus Kinski Mike Tyson and Captain Beefheart. From Captain Beefheart: “For instance, the English language is the only language that has an *i* before *e* except after *c*. What’s before an *i*? Before my eyes is a sea. But the *c* I see is a sea. I’m not that word-oriented. I’m trying to use words like music so that they don’t take your mind anywhere that I want them to.” Any connection between HTMLGiant and the discovery of a new moon of Pluto is entirely the universe trying to tell you something.

When you get back from Pluto, don’t forget to check the listings. There are only a couple but they are stellar. Or Plutonian. Or empyeral. Or ______________ (fill in your own description here later).

%I’ve heard poet Asia Rainey a few times and she is an amazing voice. I caught her at a reading organized at the Alvar Library and again at the spoken word event at last year’s Fringe Fest. Friday at Red Star Galerie, 2513 Bayou Road, she offers a by-admission reading that includes a copy of her book SOUL CHANT and admission for two for $15. I’m wondering if I can convince my 16-year old son to check this out. Its the summer doldrums for readings and author visits Friday July 29, 7 p.m. at Red Star Galerie

& Times-Picayune music writer Keith Spera will launch his new book GROOVE INTERRUPTED: Loss, Renewal and the Music of New Orleans at Octavia Books on Tuesday (and host another reading at Garden District Friday, Aug. 5 if you miss this one). The danger of the loss and ultimate recovery of New Orleans core music tradition and culture from the Federal Flood 0f 2005 is one of the greatest stories of travail and triumph since the Isrealites lit out for the Promised Land. As the TP’s music guy Spera was perfectly positioned as a witness to this, and his book “captures both the elation and the heartbreak of post-Katrina New Orleans through the stories of some of the city’s best musicians” per the blurb. I’ve only read two Katrina books in the past year, Dave Eggars ZETOUIN and Dan Baum’s NINE LIVES and each so knocked me on my ass I couldn’t read another for a while. Or so I thought, because I know I won’t be waiting for the paperback on this one. Tuesday, Aug. 2, 6 p.m. at Octavia Books and again Friday, Aug. 5 at Garden District Books.

& Pamela Ewen’s DANCING ON GLASS sounds like the sort of chick-lit I would normally pass over: successful lawyer meets magical Mr. Right who turns out very, very wrong but this Successful Woman happens to come to New Orleans and meets and marries an artist with dark secrets who takes her life down (literally) an unexpected road. This sounds like a perfect fairy tale of the dark side of New Orleans fey charms. Bonus points for Ms. Ewen of her character Amalise Catoir if she’s a Nice Girl from Jersey who graduated Tulane Law and decided to stay. Thursday, Aug. 4 at 5:30 p.m. at Garden District Books.

& Mark your calendars for Saturday, Aug. 6 when Ricky Riccardi will give a presentation and sign his new book on Louis Armstrong’s later career WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later Years. While many of the new school jazz musicians of the post-WWII era dismissed Pops late career as the work of a buffoonish minstrel, trading his seminal early work for Hello, Dolly and Mack the Knife, he was the true rock star of his era who collaborated with Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Dave Brubeck, and who toured the world as the ambassador of American’s unique music. Saturday, Aug. 6 at 7 p.m. at Octavia Books.

Poet Thaddeus Conti hosts an open mic reading at Neutral Ground Coffee House Wednesdays at 8 pm. VASO New Orleans Ultra Lounge is still hosting a Wednesday night spoken word event with a band, doors at 7. And the Maple Leaf continues its long-running reading series on Sundays at 3 p.m. (ish).

Odd Words July 21, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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It’s another busy Wednesday and I’ll be checking out the newest incarnation of the Dinky Tao poetry meetup at the Neutral Ground Coffee House on Daneel Street, so I am once again skiping straight to the listings. I finally finished Dan Baum’s Nine LIves, which was an wonderful and excruciatingly painful read (read it anyway; it’s worth the PTSD flashbacks), and I had my son this past weekend and between Baum and getting Matt to finish reading half of William Faulkner’s short stories for his summer reading assignment seemed literary challenge enough. Which of course explains why I picked up 2999 again last night. I’ve got to clear the Big Book decks for 1Q84.

& Tonight John Epstein, author of the nostalgic K&B Drugstores, will sign his book at the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum at 1 p.m. You know you’ve always wanted to go in the museum (and the toy soldier shop for that matter) so why not make this your reason to go. Don’t make me sign the jingle. You’ll never get it out of your head.

& On Saturday, July 23rd, the Louisiana Creole Research Association will host “Two Centuries of Writing: The Literature of the Creole Community of Color in New Orleans.” The event is open to the public and begins at 4:00pm. Three of La Creole’s member-scholars will present research on selected written works by New Orleans’ Creoles of color from the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Pierre-Aristide Desdunes: Civil War Soldier, Romantic Literary Artist & Civil Rights Activist, Caryn Cossé Bell The Journals of the Société d’Économie, Fatima Shaik, Notre Histoire et Nos Historiens: Rodolphe-Lucien Desdunes, His Work, and His Successors, Jari C. Honora. Light refreshments will be served. For more information, visit http://www.lacreole.org. The LHC is located at 938 Lafayette Street, on the corner of O’Keefe in the CBD. Saturday, July 23 at the Louisiana Humanities Center.

& Yeah, things are slow so why not make it over to the Latter Memorial Library this Saturday for their regular book sale in the carriage house in back from 10 am – 2 pm. I think of this as the Jimmy Ross Memorial Booksale, except Jimmy’s not dead yet (stopped by my house the other day on the way to the Fair Grinds) but he told me how he used to dumpster dive for old books there which practice he claims lead to the idea of having a regular sale. If you can’t envision Jimmy dumpster diving for books, then I’m pretty sure you haven’t met Jimmy. My 16-year old son pronounced him “pretty cool” after his drop-by, which is high prasie for a guy of Jimmy’s age.

& If the summer heat is keeping you down, I think this might get you out of the house. Garden District Book Shop will host Dita Von Teese and her new book Dita: Tease, a collection of three exquisite little flip books featuring von Teese’s most popular burlesque performances, as photographed by Nields, are presented together in a flocked keepsake box, and a new hardcover edition of her books Burlesque and the Art of the Teese/Fetish and the Art of the Teese: Dita Von Teese. As if it weren’t hot enough. Monday, July 25, 5 pm, Garden District Book Shop.

& This one sounds like a rollicking good time: Join Octavia Books for a presentation and booksigning with music journalist Preston Lauterbach featuring his new book, THE CHITLIN’ CIRCUIT, the first history of the network of black juke joints that spawned rock ‘n’ roll through an unholy alliance between vice and entertainment. Wednesday, July 27, 6 pm, Octavia Books.

If one of those last two events can cure your Blue Mondays you should have someone check you for a pulse.

&Here’s one for the kids I want to crash. At the Milton Latter Memorial Library Summer Reading Club, hear American Indian Stories and Trickster Tales as well as a great traditional craft, Hopi Kachina Dolls! Tuesday, July 26, 10:30 am – 1:00 pm. If the A/C goes out while you’re there, well, that’s Coyote for you.

& Also next Wednesday, don’t forget to check out the newest incarnation of Thaddeus Conti and krewe’s Dinky Tao poetry reading. Every Wednesday, 8 pm, Neutral Ground Coffee House. Sundays at the Maple Leaf have been Open Mic, but look for an update on August readers soon.

Oh, and just remember, you read your first review of a review here on Toulouse Street.

There Is No Point July 18, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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OK, I didn’t get to Richard Brautigan last night to relax myself to sleep.

Foolishly, almost against my will, I picked up Blake Butler’s There Is No Year again instead.

I just don’t get it, the compulsion to read this odd book.

And I just can’t stop.

I do think I see the point, the banal evil of a malignant brick ranch on Tree Street, Anywhere U.S.A., the possessed possession; the random television, the fixation with the sterility of the bathroom, the frozen mirror family (the house’s last victims, or a vision of the future), the father’s endlessly expanding commute and descent into madness, the demonic boxes; the fractured syntax, meandering concrete pages and footnotes, the methodical plotlessness of this modern House of Usher.

Like the house in the story the book is magnetically compelling. I’m trapped and can’t get out until I reach the end, unless I fall into one of the cracks in the continuum that open up in the walls of the house, unless I am swallowed by one of the haunted boxes.

The book itself is like its contents, a thing: the varicolored pages in shades of grey, the intermittent abstract plates of largely black, the typography wandering like the characters around and sometimes along the edge of the page. I struggle to describe the text, or rather what it is like to read the book, and the compulsion to read the book. Horrorshow: my eyes peeled wide against my will, the compulsion is the need to know what is that bright ring of light in the fatal video.

The book is flat: not just the pages, but the text itself in that young, post-modernist voice of post-Carver K-Mart realist sentences in which most emotion must be inferred. There is something lurking just beneath the text like the demonic spirit of the house, not precisely the ghost of the author who leads a conventional life, spending his days writing as his parent’s home and helping to care for his father in dementia. It is a thoroughly modern text in the sense that a “scriptor” is not essential, but instead the book is a scrying glass in which each of us can read the context of our time, the numbing drudgery of daily routine and the monstrous overload of information. It is the same context that lead me to praise the poetry collection The Cloud Corporation by Timothy Donnelly so highly, as “the Howling Wasteland of our generation.” We are in a period in need of it’s Wasteland, and it’s Howl.

The compulsion to finish the book is of a part with what I think motivates the text. I was discussing anhedonia with a friend, who pointed out that alcoholics frequently experience it when they quit drinking. I’m not an alcoholic but struggled with this condition, as did someone else close to me. I was diagnosed with depression, but I often wonder about that diagnosis. I wrote on ToulouseStreet.net a while back about an article discussing depression in writers, David Foster Wallace in particular. The article suggested depression is a more common condition of the introspective authorial voice in our heads. Anhedonia is listed as a symptom of depression and I wonder lately (partly as a result of There Is No Year, and also the novel OH! by Todd Shimoda which I just finished and will write about soon) if anhedonia is not the natural result of a thoughtful person living in the 21st century, looking too closely at the conditions around us, like a Christian finding an Aramaic fragment suggesting the Apostles left in disgust, following Commander Judas into the hills to fight the Romans, leaving Him to wander the streets of Bethlehem as a mendicant beggar, often drunk, sleeping in doorways. Perhaps in our time the life examined is the life not worth living, unless that examination leads to some action to change it even if that action is as seemingly unproductive as a literary novel.

When I suggest emotions in this book must be inferred I mean a text infected with anhedonia, like much modern, experimental literature, like so many people staggering from task to task through the rows of cubicles, and home to digital satellite numbness and to bed.

It is an imperfect book. There seems too much repetition of situation and theme. Perhaps a novella would have been enough, but I will grant that perhaps hundreds of pages were necessary to give the proper result, like a full course of antibiotics. When I heard Blake Butler read from his book Kerouac came immediately to mind. The novel was written in an extended session lasting just over a week, the endless scroll bars of word processing substituting for the teletype role. And it is in a sense that sort of book, the outpouring of the subconscious of a young writer attempting to capture the spirit of the milieu in which he lives. Unlike Kerouac, we don’t get the pleasant, adolescent fantasies of running away to the Beat circus but instead a nightmare, the malevolence of 21st century life erupting like an abscess on Jim Carroll’s arm.

I struggled at first with that K-Mart Carver style, which only works when the story and characters are strong, that often taught scene in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love in which the aging of the characters and their slow descent into drunkenness is perfectly captured in the simple passage of the sun through the room’s window. It is called K-Mart realism for a reason and it is an even greater leap to render the unbelievably fantastic in simplicity. Given the inherent strangeness of what goes on the in the book, that’s a large task. I think in the end Butler mostly succeeds, that the book is not too long and the repetitiveness is a part of the structure, that the flatness of the syntax and characters is a part of the intent and effect. It is in the end not so much Book as Text, thinking of a long discussion of a theory of poetry that requires the reader’s participation in completion, a text not merely left open to interpretation but requiring it, the reader decoding meaning in the way we might try to solve a mystery novel a step ahead of the author. There Is No Year is no Finnegan’s Wake, but it’s going to require your attention. And possibly (God help us) a re-reading.

It’s a difficult book to recommend, the YA syntax of the current set of chic young literati meets a Belaño-like young Borges on a bad acid trip. Still, I could not put it down once I started it. All the dark thoughts about the world we put aside for the sake of our sanity pouring across the page like spilt ink come creeping out like the strange behaviors of the house that is the only setting but not a setting, instead a character. I can only caution you that once you start you may not able to put it down, that if you do read it and you’ve settled yourself into a comfortable life in a brick ranch house with your spouse and children you may find yourself woken by voices in the night or develop a justified phobia of doorknobs.

You have been warned.

Coyote Lessons July 17, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in books, cryptic envelopment, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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A coyote is a trickster. A few days earlier I’d seen a book on a shelf in the house called Trickster Makes The World by Lewis Hyde. I read it.

A trickster lives somewhere outside the hunter and the hunted. A trickster—to get all philosophical on you—is the one who pushes through from one dialectic to the next. The one who figures out how to build a fishnet instead of stabbing at salmon with a spear. The one who can blend but can’t really fit in and who can go in disguises and fuck with people. She’s also the one who often gets caught in her own traps (though, in most of mythology, the trickster is almost always a he, but I hereby declare this should no longer be the case.)

The trickster would say it’s time to move on from this shit. The trickster would say the only way to exist honestly, to do what one needs to do to be a writer, is to convince the world to feed me while I work, to confuse the maddening choices it tries to force me to make. I have no idea how I will do this, but I know that I will

Where I Write #13: To Walk Among Coyotes, by Seth Fischer

67 Views July 16, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
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…yesterday. (Confess. You look, too.)

Perhaps I ask for too much. If history and the city consumes us all one-by-one but the city lives on, that perhaps is what was always intended, why were were all lured home. In the end, perhaps [Thomas] Pynchon has given us the model to surviving it’s after the end of the world. If history has gone too wrong for any one of us to stop what is happening around us, maybe it is better to amble down a shady street in New Orleans without a particular thought in my head except the distant sound of what might be Slothrop’s harmonica, to disappear into the random noise in the signal.
In the Zone

Context July 16, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, literature, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
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Any theory of literature which does not account for the interaction with the reader as part of the final product, the possibility that the end result is different depending on the reader, is false. Any work of literature that does not allow for or in fact anticipate the possibility of vectors with the reader’s experience which transform the story or poem into a unique work commingling text and reader fails.

Perhaps that means much of what I have written until now fails, but at the moment this seems entirely true.

It need not be universally true for all readers, but if it is not possible for any reader then Houston, we have a problem.

Perhaps I am wrong.

Maybe it’s just the frightening volume of stories, poems and films I keep encountering that seem to intersect my life.

I wrote this maybe a year ago:

I have lost all faith
in coincidence
& marvel in terror
at the dark clockwork
of the stars.

Perhaps I was meant to read certain things, or view certain films. Maybe I should still take that two bedroom apartment outside of which I found that beautiful piece of polished green glass. Or maybe it’s just an Odd piece of glass. You can never know, which seems the point of so many things that entered my life this past year and grabbed me by the throat and tried to drag me into the page or screen, things like the Priest’s Monologue in Synechdoche, New York. (Fuck everybody, Amen.)

Maybe that’s not a poem back one paragraph, but a sentence. No, it’s a poem, the enjambment of “faith” and “coincidence”, the isolation of “marvel in terror”. Context is so critical.

KON-tekst Origin: 1375–1425; late Middle English < Latin contextus a joining together, scheme, structure, equivalent to contex ( ere ) to join by weaving ( con- con- + texere to plait, weave) + -tus suffix of v. action; compare tex … Suffix of action, to plait, weave, not just the coincidental adjacency but the action of bringing together, of reader and text in this discussion.

While we’re talking about coffee (would you like some? I’ve been drinking too much again lately and there’s still a third of a pot), there is another All Over Coffee that just jumps off the page at me, or is it that I fall into the page completely?

Odd Words July 14, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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Another sort of quiet mid-summer week. I am trying to plow through my book pile but keep adding to it at the same time. The latest edition was read quickly and will be read again, local author Lee Grue’s new book of poetry Downtown. Its a book everyone who loves New Orleans should read; not a difficult book of the sort that makes confirmed genre readers turn up their nose at poetry. Rather it is like a long evening of stories on the porch with a book of old pictures, remembrances of place and people known, each as graceful and colorful as the pictures you pass on the wall on the way to the kitchen for more ice. Lee Grue is adoyen of the New Orleans literary scene, and will one of the first author interviews on Toulouse Street I promised in the spring. . Her book is highly recommended, and available from Trembling Pillow Press and at your better local bookstores.

&I don’t normally do Southern Gothic Mystery but this is the sort of opening sentence that sinks its hook into you: “The way it floats in the water so serenely in the moonlight and the sunlight you would have thought it was meant to be there. Pure and unyielding and as solid as silk. She floats there, a mystery as deep as the moon and the mind of God. What does it mean? A pregnant girl floating in the city’s drinking water?” John Milliken Thompson will read from and sign his first novel THE RESERVOIR Tuesday, July 19th at Octavia Books.

& On Saturday, July 23rd, the Louisiana Creole Research Association will host “Two Centuries of Writing: The Literature of the Creole Community of Color in New Orleans.” The event is open to the public and begins at 4:00pm. Three of La Creole’s member-scholars will present research on selected written works by New Orleans’ Creoles of color from the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Pierre-Aristide Desdunes: Civil War Soldier, Romantic Literary Artist & Civil Rights Activist, Caryn Cossé Bell The Journals of the Société d’Économie, Fatima Shaik, Notre Histoire et Nos Historiens: Rodolphe-Lucien Desdunes, His Work, and His Successors, Jari C. Honora. Light refreshments will be served. For more information, visit http://www.lacreole.org. The LHC is located at 938 Lafayette Street, on the corner of O’Keefe in the CBD. Saturday, July 23 at the Louisiana Humanities Center.

& I think Amy Loewy and I finally straightened out what was up with the Garden District Books calendar. On There’s nothing booked right now until July 25 but August already promises Times Picayune music writer Keith Spera’s new book on New Orleans music and Katrina GROOVE INTERRUPTED, Tom Piazza’s new novel DEVIL SENT THE RAIN with Robert Olen Butler’s new book in September. Be sure to check the scrolling Events Listing on the right hand side of their web page.

Godspeed Atlantis July 9, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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The television was something from the Jetsons, an oblong grey box with rounded corners, dials for tuning, volume, brightness and contrast. The speaker sat behind a fat grid of perhaps one-quarter inch square openings below the dials. Two bright aluminum antennas rose on pivots from just behind the cabinet, atop the protruding cathode ray tube. It is 1962.

A camera fixed on the towering rocket and gantry, delicate wisps of gas drifting, a shorebird in the foreground launching itself into the sky. The gravelly voice of Walter Cronkite, America’s wise uncle, marvels for us all at men who strap themselves into tiny metal capsules atop a hundred thousand pounds of explosives and point themselves at the sky.

The television’s picture was black-and-white but informed by the photos from National Geographic of a black to deep to be rendered by 1950s pixels, of the Terran browns and ocean blues and leafy greens and cloud tops from an angel’s view, the perfect curve of the horizon with its blur of atmosphere, the sirens of Magellan.

Imagine if you will a future [the narrator says in his best Rod Serling voice, smoke drifting from a cigarette like condensation clouds from the rocket] in which America is too busy with distant wars, with the notoriety of crimes and stars, with the paper’s payday sales flyers to be bothered to reach for the stars. I watched rapt as what may be the last launch of my lifetime unfolded, held my breath as the weather forecasters hesitated then relented and said “go”, then wept like an old fool at the words “main engine start” and “liftoff” and “cleared the tower”, the roaring fireball and contrail obscured as much by my own wet eyes as by the low cloud cover.

Our last space craft is christened Atlantis: an apt name. If we cannot dream of flight beyond discounts to Aruba, will not cross oceans without three meals a day and nightly shipboard entertainment, if we do not have the foresight attributed to the people of mythical Atlantis, we are left with the sooty gray streets of morning smelling of exhaust, a starkly black and white newspaper I am afraid most mornings to unfold, mad rumors of the end of days. I do not believe the Mayan calendar foretells a date. Suspended in a museum, its cryptic glyphs intelligible only to experts, it tells us instead of the price of endless war and ecological disaster, prophesies an end we cannot precisely foresee but must expect.

The words God speed spoken by Houston one last time into a microphone; I may never hear them again. We are left with God help us all.

Hail Atlantis. Ad Astra.

Straw Man Dancing July 7, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, odd, Odds&Sods, Toulouse Street.
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I think I’ve been neglecting the Odd lately (thinking back to one of my first posts, Pride of Pothole, a photograph of one of the colored markers various agencies put into their street repairs). I stepped out onto my deck patio Monday morning for a cigarette and found this figure laying on the boards, and he looked so much like an Anasazi or other neolithic figure of a man with wild hair dancing. At least he did to me. He was gone by afternoon, blown into a few bits of straw ( scattered around. I thought for a while to try and transfer him to a piece of backing paper and using hairspray or something to mount him, but decided against it.

I recently read a wonderful novel form Chin Music Press titled OH! A mystery of ‘mono no aware’. Mono no aware is a core concept of Japanese poetry and literature: the elemental emotional connection to a moment in time, rooted in a pathos arising from the transience of all things. Cherry blossoms, there in great beauty one day, gone the next on the wind, are a routine example of such a moment. I treated Straw Man Dancing as just such a moment, a remarkable coincidence not coincidence but a reminder from the universe of the transience of the patterns we call life. I left him unmolested, and by afternoon the bits of him had blown apart and away.

Such is the stuff of which haiku and senryu are made. Feel free to leave one about the straw man in the comments.

Odd Words July 7, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
3 comments

Well July Fourth has come and gone and my son and I observed the day by consuming our weight in grilled meat and watching the Twilight Zone Marathon on the SyFy channel. We’ve done this for a least a good fraction of the holiday in years past but caught a number of episodes I just don’t remember, and I used to stay up late for my age and never missed an episode of TZ (or Outer Limits, for that matter). We caught the I Sing the Body Electric episode for the first time together (I haven’t seen it in years) and noticed that it was written by none other than Ray Bradbury. Its a reminder that there was a Golden Age of television and that it is long behind us. No show in recent decades has combined powerful and frequently seditious story ideas with first rate writing and direction and a rotating case of the best actors of the generation. Really, I can’t think of anything else that achieved what that show did, and I’m amazed at how well most of the episodes hold up.

I don’t think television is entirely a wasteland or I wouldn’t be a contributor at Back of Town. David Simon and his team have truly upended the landscape, and now Salman Rushdie is looking at writing a cable television series, citing Simon’s The Wire, The Sopranos and Mad Men as his inspiration. The article in the Observer that stirred up a controversy by suggesting that Rushdie believed television series were supplanting film and novels as the best way to tell a serious story “has been amended…to correct the erroneous impression that Salman Rushdie believed that TV dramas had overtaken the novel as the best way to communicate ideas and stories.”

Cover of Hurricane tory

&Tonight Chin Music Press author Jennifer Shaw will give a presentation and sign her novel Hurricane Story. (A presentation? OK, I’d probably go anyway, but my curiosity is peaked). “This first-person narrative, illustrated through toys and dolls photographed using an inexpensive plastic camera, depicts Jennifer Shaw’s strange but true tale of her evacuation from New Orleans, including the dramatic birth of her first son on the very day that Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the pressures on her marriage as she and her husband struggle with depression and rage, and the return to New Orleans with their newest family member in time for Mardi Gras.”

Josh Neufeld, creator of A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, says, ““Like a mournful fairytale, Jennifer Shaw’s beautifully staged tableaux are alternately sweet and menacing, filled with emotion but never spilling over into sentimentality. The poetic marriage of words and photos makes Hurricane Story a children’s book for grown-ups.”

This book began as a self-published Lulu title before Chin Music Press picked it up and produced this hardcover edition. CMP books are always first rate literary selections, and beautiful examples of the designers and binder’s art so the book is almost certain to be a treat. Don’t miss this one. Thursday July 7, 6 p.m. at Octavia Books.

& On Saturday, Maple Street Book Shop will host a signing of Will Rogers A Political life, the latest outing by prolific LSU Professor Dr. Richard D. White, also author of Kingfish: The Reign of Huey P. Long and Roosevelt the Reformer: Theodore Roosevelt as Civil Service Comissioner 1990-1995. OK, the last one sounds a bit dry but the New York Times review makes it sound pretty interesting. Saturday July 9th, 1-2:30 pm.

& The Vaso loung, 500 Frenchman, presents the HIP HOP Edition of POET’S CORNER & OPEN MIC W/THE LETTER 10 BAND Wednesday, July 13 VASO. Doors open at 9 .m.

& I’m not a mystery or crime novel person but I have to admit that So Much Pretty sounds interesting. The NPR review blub is what hooked me: “So Much Pretty is a haunting, gloomy novel that defies genre — it is one part crime thriller, one part ambitious novel, one part prose poem. . . . [The novel] raises questions about denial, violence against women and when a citizen should speak up, even if it puts another at risk.” It’s a blurb fest all over for a first novel, and author Cara Hoffman worked as an investigative reporter in rural New York before turning to write about a small-town mystery. Maple Street Books will host a discussion with Ms. Hoffman at St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church on Thursday, July 14, 2011, 6:00 P.M. Please join us for refreshments and a discussion. RSVP is required. Sounds a bit book clubby to me but the book sounds like something I would want if I were going to the beach this year. Thursday July 14th, 6 p.m., sponsored by Maple Street Book

& OK, my idea of Christian fiction is the Left Behind Series (or I as I think of them, Dianetics for the Rest of Us) but I’m not going to ignore a bookstore I previously didn’t know about it that promises not only X-Lit but also “a top-notch list of mainstream authors whose work is related to the American South.” OK, I was hooked enough to plan on stopping by Desire Street Books, “at the intersection of Piety and Desire”. No fooling; that’s what it says on the website. Except its an online only store. You can read about them here. As for the claim to be New Orleans Top Online Bookstore, I think Tom at Octavia might dispute that title. I think a match of some sort at the next Tennessee Williams Festival could be a great draw, with the winner taking on Garden District for the lucrative book sales slot. I think this would be just weird enough for us to lure Andrei Codrescu as MC and referee.
Shop.

I do not know which of us has written this page July 6, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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Jorge Luis Borges
“Borges and I”

The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to. I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork on the gate; I know of Borges from the mail and see his name on a list of professors or in a biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things.

Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.

I do not know which of us has written this page.

Indians, Cajuns and Cowboys July 4, 2011

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

Toss some bamboo on that fire, chere, its Independence Day.

Read Wendy Rodrigue’s The American Cajun on her blog Musings of an Artist’s Wife, a fine wander through patriotic themed pieces of George Rodrique’s Acadian period.

We Shall Gather by the River July 4, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, 504ever, Federal Flood, FYYFF, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose

It is another July Fourth here in New Orleans, the largest of the United States’ Minor Outlying Island. I am not sure what to say on these national holidays of the Central Government. I have long ago publicly declared my sole allegiance to the City of New Orleans, forsaking all other. I shall live out the rest of my days here and die here, and any who care to dispute that had best come prepared to join me.

I won’t rehearse the litany of woes behind that statement. Today I shall concern myself with the doneness of the steaks, the sweetness of the corn and the icy chill of the beer as the temperature climbs toward 100. I will ride over to Gretna and buy some fireworks, not so much in celebration but as the Chinese use them, because as Jorma Kaukonen observed in the liner notes to the Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers, the pentacles in their flag do not keep the evil spirits away. And when the dark comes I will find a place to gather at the river with the citizens of this city for the public fireworks, remembering there is no finer or more honorable place on this planet to stand than in their company.

Bon Mois de Messidor, Décade II, Jour de Quintidi.

She’s five men dead in a truck from a murderous rampage July 3, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
3 comments

“she’s five men dead in a truck from a murderous rampage”

Do you ever wonder about what’s in people minds when they are searching Google and find your blog? (You check your stats. Go ahead, admit it). I’ve gotten used to discounting the students researching things I’ve written about. Cargo cult is a popular one, as is Dante’s Inferno. And I have to think some visitors are disappointed when they have search on Middle Aged Men Gone Wild in the French Quarter. It pleases me that my largest source of visits remains Grandpa Eliot. I get some pretty strange ones and Lately I get some Cyrillic searches and I haven’t figured out what that’s about, but today’s quoted above takes the cake.

School’s Out For Ever July 2, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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At Easter the horses left for other tracks, and with them the crows laughing at the sun I loved to follow in the morning. It was not long after the heat rolled in as if the loading of the thoroughbreds into trailers bound for Evangeline Downs were a natural migration, a signal that summer was imminent.

It came in May like a plague on Egypt, the high nineties and humidity the weathermen said felt like one-ten. It came like a tsunami with no warning, swallowing Spring and leaving us all wrecked on our porches, dripping. It came without afternoon storms of cold downdrafts and downpours to cool the concrete: hot and drought enough you could feel the trees dreaming of the Ozarks and Appalachians, shedding new leaves like Okies on the road to California.

I seemed to be the only person who didn’t much mind. True, I spent a part of that early onslaught mostly inside healing up from some minor surgery but every time I stepped out somewhere inside a clock turned back and I remembered the sweetness in May’s heat, the end of school and the summers to run the lanes of Lake Vista and City Park just across the street. I sweated like the rest of us but increasingly didn’t care. Because I worked from home I lived in shorts and flip-flops, bought another pack of wife beaters, showered twice a day (at least) as I did when I lived with Marianne who was violently allergic to the spores that grow inside the condensers of air conditioning.

The few times I felt compelled to appear in the office, I looked at the socks and leather shoes laid out and tried to remember the order of assembly, recalled teaching my children how to lace their shoes (cross the bridge and through the hole to see the rabbit). I pulled on the fine-spun golfer’s polyester pants I favor in the summer for their coolness, and wondered who decided men should wear an undershirt beneath a polo: some fool in New York or California who wears starched long sleeves and summer-weight wool in June out in the noonday sun and thought of Snoopy thinking to Linus who wondered about fur in the summer: some of us must suffer for fashion.

Not me.

Perhaps I am finally re-acclimating to the climate after my long absence, in the same way I learned to haul the garbage out to the snowbank in leather-footed mukluk socks and shirtsleeves when I lived up north. When I step out into the dazzling morning, blinded by the heat, I don’t recoil but embrace it as the way of things, thinking sometimes of summer afternoons of blanket heat and cold swimming pool: the simmering afternoon, the icy water, the natural order of things.

Perhaps a part of it is my age, my children grown enough to miss the vicarious experience of childhood. And so my mind drifts back to my own youth. I live near the park and sometimes walk over or cutting through by the museum stop and park and walk around what they now call the Great Lagoon across from Christian Brothers School. I spent five years in that old mansion, playing water polo in the marble-lined pool, bats dying in the heat dropping out of the rafters onto the basketball court, searching for entrances to the catacombs rumored to run beneath.

On the last day of school we would eschew a ride from our parents and tell them we would take the Canal bus home. Released at noon, we would linger for a while at that lagoon when it was still part of a golf course, toss the odd notebook or two into the water, an offering to the landscape of summer in honor of our release from bondage. After a while we would make it to the Casino for ice cream-desert first–and wander dripping chocolate down our regulation chinos and colored shirts along the south lagoon, past the tennis courts toward the Peristyle, trying and failing to scale the low branches of the old oaks in our leather shoes.

Ice cream done and the park wore out (thinking of cane poles and dip nets and three point gigs with which we would return to torment the wildlife in days to come even as, at thirteen, we slyly watched the young mothers at the playground, the women in their short tennis skirts bending to return a low lob), we wandered slowly under the oaks of City Park Avenue toward Bud’s
Broiler, not so much from hunger (chocolate still wet on our shirts) but to go in and sit beneath the dripping air conditioners suspended from the ceiling, and eat a Number Four just for the savory barbecue sauce, the taste of summer in our mouths.

Our skin and clothes dry at last from the refrigerated air (thinking old tin signs with dripping cubes) and something freshly carved into the tables with the knives we had brought against all school rules expressly for the purpose, we would finish our amble down past the cemeteries, the marble and white wash blinding white against the carefully tended green, until we reached the Cemeteries stop. We would cadge a few STP stickers for our bikes from the old man at the gas station long gone from Canal Boulevard, and sit under the tin roofs waiting for our bus.

There is something of those days when I step outside my door now. At first blinding white, after a moment a golden glow settles over everything and the sauna-warm air slaps an instant coat of sweat on your body that catches the sight breeze. I am learning again to walk slow, to favor the shade, to leave the windows down until the air blows cold in the car. I’ve bought more handkerchiefs, and leave an extra bandana in the car. Its summer and there is no more point to complaining than there is about age, which means to say we will complain but settle in and live with it. Now that the rains have returned the trumpet flowers grow rampant on the racetrack fence. Picking my way over the broken sidewalks to Canseco’s grocery a few blocks over I am met in every block by some new scent, sometimes a garbage can missed (there’s a reason we have twice a week collection here) but more often some hidden flowers behind a fence, the Spring’s sweet olive succeeded by fragrant honeysuckle and nicotinia.

I am tempted to pick up a stick and rattle it along the fence boards, to pick some rock and kick it all the way to the store and back, but I don’t. Not yet. Instead I select a mostly flat rock and hum it sidearm at the Goliath light tower in the race track parking lot. I miss, but that’s OK. I have months ahead to practice.

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