Hypnotic Progression Therapy April 7, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, je me souviens, Memory, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: helical stairs, John Clarence Laughlin, spiral staircase
2 comments An icon of childhood memory, I cannot describe that spiral staircase in the gallery behind my great-aunts’ Royal Street apartment with any certainly. Is it as grand as I think it was, or simply amplified by the dimensions of my own smallness and the fog of memory? What remains is an ideal of the spiral or helical staircase; really the latter, with an opening instead of a newel pole. It is the view up that central shaft that gives such staircases the dizzying illusion of a gateway into the third dimension, neither the limit of a ceiling nor the infinite distance of the sky; not the abstract geometry of a tree for climbing but the precise spiral diminishing in perspective that lends a sense of motion toward a destination usually reserved for loose balloons.
Falling November 27, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, Memory, New Orelans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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It was not the burr oak across the street, the only tree I know of that reliably turns gold and red come November. It was not the ridiculously sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner, or sitting with my oldest friend the next evening on a screened porch feeling the shift in the wind that brought the first real cold snap. It was the sight of them, squirrelly in the first cool afternoon, each knot of Catholic plaid or khakis energetic as particles of a textbook atom but drifting home as slow as dust motes. Those are the days cemented in memory as the first of Fall, the irresistible urge to be outside in the cool air, an hour to cover the dozen blocks home, goofing and never breaking a sweat, the blanket of summer lifted and the holidays ahead not quite a conscious thought but somehow simply present like the warming patches of afternoon sun between the trees.
Railroad Tales October 8, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in Fortin Street, geo-memoir, Memory, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Alabama, Amtrak, Birmingham, Lincoln Beach, Shelby County, Southern Crescent
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12:06 p.m. Train 19 is waiting for a freight. Ballast, ties and razor wire, the statue of Vulcan in the distance gazing distractedly at a idle rail car salvage yard, capsized tankers and broken rust-brown boxcars like some hobo graveyard, the New South is just visible over the brickwork lofts where cotton factors and coke brokers once counted prosperity in locomotives: So long, Birmingham.
12:52 p.m. Where the line crosses the highway it’s crew-cut America, not a brick out of place, Golden Arches by Walgreen’s by Winn-Dixie, Advance Auto Parts and Pawn America, not a button missing but down a drive beside the tracks and just out of site of Hardee’s there’s Harold’s Auto, dirty white stucco on the railroad side, a customer in front.
1:07 p.m.–We stop to let the northbound Crescent pass just up from the Tuscaloosa depot. Na-hah, no time for a smoke, the conductor says and by the time I’m back in my seat I’ve missed the chance at a snapshot of the station sign. When I pick up the phone again the little weather man says I’m in Green Pond. I look up and there it is outside, more blue than green except where the cypress are flooded just below my window.
1:54 The plastic compartment at the end of the car is not the gentlemen’s smoking compartment of the Southern Crescent I rode 35 years ago. I wash my hands and find the Formica “club car”. A fiftyish couple sit alone sipping Miller Lights. He’s in his Saints jersey. She is, I will later learn, bat-shit crazy drunk and hungry for company. He is just back from three months in rural Alabama. “A whole lotta nothing and cows. And they’ll steal anything right out your yard while you’re asleep: tractors, 18-wheelers.” No one on the platform wants to hear your story. It washes over them like a puff of smoke. They all want to talk, to tell you their’s.
2:05 p.m. You no longer slide past the blast furnace kitchen with its smoking stove to a table served by Black men in white jackets juggling the travel bottle liquor before they pour your drink. Refrigerated sandwiches, mostly gone. I’ve had too much good pulled pork to risk the celephane version. I buy a water bottle at a stadium-seat price to carry back to my airline first-class coach seat. I need to study biology I remind myself, but look up at every flashing box car siding and am captured by the landscape as it roles by in its monotonous variety. Every now and then a tar paper and trailer family compound is a creek and some trees away from a big brick ranch with horses in the back. Biology is hopeless.
2:15 p.m. We cross a river lined with chalk bluffs Google does not bother to name, somewhere just north of Livingston and west of Demopolis.
Active transport across the phospholipid bilayer is via locomotives and requires the expenditure of energy in the form of diesel.
2:35 p.m. I am ready for a cigarette. Every time we slow down for curve or a bit of bad track I touch the Zippo in my pocket as if it were a saint’s medallion but so far no luck. I am entirely at the mercy of a conductor who does not wear a pocket watch and manages his passengers via iPhone. I finish my Crystal Geyser and wish I’d packed a sandwich.
2:50 p.m. Gravel loading to a row of short hopper Southern cars, rusted lines of iron pipe, stacks of lumber, the utility co-op, pulling into Meridian. I will kill for a cigarette and a vending machine with a grander ambience than the club car.
3:07 Time for a smoke and a half, as the train stopped to take on fresh water. There’s a boil order in New Orleans. Meridian has a pretty little station, all brand new that puts Birmingham’s dingy under-the-tracks kiosk to shame but there’s not enough time to step inside to look for anything to eat before they “board!” us back inside. We move 20 feet and stop. Look’s like it’s the club car microwave fare or nothing. I had hoped for a wrapped egg salad sandwich as I learned a long time ago that’s the safest bet under such circumstances. If it gives no indication of color, smell or taste it’s usually safe to eat. “Smell up the cars, it would,” the British-inflected attendant says.
A parade of graffiti
One chalk mark flower
Love in the railroad ruins
3:55 Somewhere in the deep south of Shelby County, Alabama a Scots-Irish mechanic with a misspelled French name utters an ancient German expletive while lowering a Japanese transmission.
Somewhere between Meridian and Picayune the landscape’s blur looses its relation to the speed of the train. Invasive vines strangle the stunted native pines, farmstead follows no ‘count town, all in endless repetition regular as freckles, an embryonic recapitulation of Southern history.
The tale falls off. Coffee. Biology. Pine trees.
5:18 p.m. Two hours out of New Orleans and they’ve put the coffee cups away so I get a crew cup free and must not tip. “I know. That’s the rules. I’ve got too many years to break them.” I take my little coffee and peanut M&Ms back to my car.
Past Hattiesburg the trees get twiggy, the bottom lands more often flooded. What once were rippling little rivers take on the somnambulant character of bayous. I am getting close to home.
6:22 Across the Pearl and Bogue Chitto, briefly leaving the spindly pines behind for cypress swamps and houseboats, then passing beneath I-10 and into Slidell. My Louisiana begins south of I-10, but we won’t be truly south of South, deeper south than any bit of Dixie in our own peculiar territory, until we cross the Lake and it becomes a cardinal direction unto itself.
6:39 What’s left of sunset over Lake Pontchartrain. Highway 11 has cut across and left us for the first time since we started. After the bridge the high embankment of New Orleans East, rip rap replacing ballast, and I watch for the sad skeletal pilings of the camps that once ran from Little Woods into town. I spot an intact gazebo and I’m suddenly surprised to find a half dozen reconstructed camps. A little spit of scrub covered land behind a low chain link fence is all I guess remains of the ruins of Mayor Maestri’s “gently” segregationist Lincoln Beach, reminding me of where I’ve just come from. Across the Seabrook Bridge, bits of weather-worn wooden platforms are all that are left of the old, single-car lane with its wait-your-turn stop lights once tacked to its side like the old Huey P. Long and we are in the city.
I’m hungry. After that gazebo against the dying sky, the remains of the old Seabrook crossing to Haynes and its almost forgotten, gone-to-Kenner promise of fried oyster “boats”, it must be freshly caught and fried. Nothing else will do.
The Glory That Was Home September 23, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in Federal Flood, Fortin Street, FYYFF, Memory, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Rebirth, Recovery, The Narrative, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: Rising Tide 7, Rising Tide NOLA, Rising Tide VII
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I thought I would share an email reply I wrote this morning, to answer anyone who asked after me yesterday at Rising Tide VII:
Thank you for the pictures and write-up. My absence from Rising Tide 7 is sadly more than a case of overbooking, but I won’t spread troubles except to wish them bon voyage. The NOLA Bloggers Movement, born out of a mailing list started by some guy in North Dakota of all places, baptized on an Ash Wednesday evening at a bar in the French Quarter, and which birthed the first Rising Tide was one of those bright shining moments of solidarity like the crime march or the first anniversary (who were those two young Black women at the 17th Street Canal bridge between Bucktown and lily-white Lakeview? I dared not ask that day) that is behind us. The rag-tag assemblage has, like so many things down here postdiluvian, reverted to form: the latent conflicts of purpose and personality reasserting themselves, paths parting, new projects taking precedence.
It is a parade I no longer ride, but sometimes finger the old doubloons thoughtfully when I come across them
Welcome to Cambodia January 21, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, Memory, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
This is The Panic Office. This post has been relocated to alternate location Tango, I say again Tango. Please reassemble there for murkier instructions.
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
A sad farewell December 5, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Memory, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Coco Robicheaux, Marie's Bar
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The crowd was small at first, a few dozen in the bar , half watching the LSU game and seemingly unaware of the memorial to come, less than that milling about outside Marie’s Bar on Burgundy, another favorite haunt of Coco Robicheaux. The promised second line never quite materialized as the crowd built to fill the streets around the bar. One peck horn player, a guy with a set of bongo’s strung over his shoulder and a fellow (familiar, but I don’t know his name) with a hubcap hung from a stick. Someone later told me he was the owner of the old Dream Palace.
A woman stood in the middle of Burgundy and made a shouted announcement that there would be a parade around the block, a few more odd musicians having arrived by this time, but no one made a move to start. There was no snare in site to call us all to attention, no trumpet to issue a call to post. Since we seemed to be going no where fast I slipped back inside to try and get us another couple of beers. I understand they managed a parade around the block while I was inside, the sort of impromptu collection of amateur musicians you are liable to encounter wandering the Quarter on Mardi Gras. From the size of the crowd when I came outside, it seemed most people had stayed put, drinking and talking about Coco or LSU.
The crowd outside had started small, with knots of people talking in quiet voices, but had grown by this time into the sort of crowd you will find outside any crowded club on a Saturday night with the band on break, out to escape the steerage conditions inside, laughing and drinking and having a cigarette. There were a handful of familiar faces I couldn’t quite place with names, my friend Dave and over across the street novelist and photographer Louis Maistros, poet and playwright Moose Jackson. Dave introduced me to a few people he knew and I went over to talk to Louis and his son Booker, who was roaming with a camera.
Inside Don “Blue Max” Ryan set up and played a weak species of blues on Coco’s own guitar, reminding the crowd to toss some money in a bin in front of the state for Coco’s widow Danielle. Ryan announced himself as “Coco’s brother” but I have to assume he meant that metaphorically as he is not listed in the obituary. I understand he was Coco and his wife Danielle’s landlord, and one of the notice’s “host of cousins,” a few of whom dropped by the Apple Barrel after the family’s private memorial service last week and regaled us with stories of young Curtis. Ryan wore a feather bedecked gambler hat that might well have come out of Coco’s own wardrobe but even with Coco’s guitar in hand and his best attempt at Coco’s look he was a poor substitute
I tossed a five in the bucket and took my beers back outside, and so thankfully missed this, Ryan dropping one of Coco’s guitars in front of Coco’s wife Danielle while she “watch[ed] in horror.” according to Dylan James Stansbury, an amateur videographer who can be found at just about any music event worth catching, posting up performance on YouTube. The video is dark (almost thankfully), and the ending truly sad as he balances the guitar on one hand and it crashes to the ground. It’s hard to make out the cacophony of voices after he drops it. There is a clear “oh, God” right after it falls, another voice saying “Coco didn’t want it played any more” and toward the very end, very clearly: “asshole.”
I missed the moment on video, Dylan told me later. because it happened later in the night, probably after I had already left for another obligation, a Krewe du Vieux event up on Architect street. The memory I took away was a happier one, of a street full of people drinking and laughing, just another bar overflow street party, as if Coco himself had just finished a set inside. The failure of the promised second line was of no consequence on this Saturday night in New Orleans. Coco was sent off by the neighborhood with drinking, conversation and laughter, which in his case is probably better than a second line.
Odd Words December 1, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, Memory, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Poetry, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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This is the 1,000th post on Toulouse Street — Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans. I did not win at Pick 3 on 999 last night. And so it goes.
If Odd Words seems obsessed with ideas of truth, reality, memory and fiction that is because ToulouseStreet.net is none and all of those things, the items closest to vanity blog posts (oh, isn’t my life interesting?) walking a fine line between fact and fiction, mediated by an idiosyncratic memory and by the motivation to tell a story. It is, as the tag on the most recent posts of that sort is The Narrative. It is not about who I am but someone else, the person described in the Samuel Beckett quote on the right (scroll down a bit). Memory and agenda transform everything, something that came to the fore for me this week.
I had a newspaper assignment, and needed to remember to set aside any agenda (so-called journalistic objectivity) and a clear agenda: do right by Coco, and his second family at the Apple Barrel. It was also a story about memory, about anecdote, about speculation: none of these hard and firm subjects like what happened in Occupy or the Obama White House yesterday. In the course of the story, someone sent me this video of Coco Robicheaux recounting a story from his youth.
Coco was the very model of a character in New Orleans, a beloved eccentric in the last place in America where a person can come and re-invent themselves. You should watch the video to understand this but in brief: he tells a fishing story, what might easily be taken as a fish tale about catching a Louisiana-record jack crevalle he put in the freezer and his plans to mount it. This could easily be taken as a fish story, a tall tale by a man noted for his tall tales.
Until I talked to his cousin, and later his sister. It seems that as a very young boy he had sent off for a pamphlet on taxidermy, and had a bird he was working on but abandoned in the garage. And his sister in fact recalled some fish his father had kept for quite a while. It is certainly easy to imagine a boy living in Slidell with no boat fishing the trestle, which I’m told is a great spot. There were kernels of truth in this story, and whether he Coco set out to tell a fish tale or believed he was recounting facts mediated by memory and time, was perhaps the most interesting thing I learned in the exercise.
The video also led me to this book, which I had not previously seen around town: New Orleans Walls: Still Standing is a collection of double-exposed photographs, and stories celebrating the people of New Orleans, coming from all walks of life, and bound together by a common passion for the city. The book is available at the local indies, and its website is here.
& so to the listings…
& Tonight at the 17 Poets! at the Goldmine Saloon poets Kelly Harris and Andrea Boll will read starting at 7:30 pm. Boll is best known for her chronicle of second line culture The Parade Goes On Without You, and Harris’ poems have appeared in: Say It Loud: Poems for James Brown, Yale University’s Caduceus, PLUCK Magazine, Reverie Journal, Poets for Living Water, and The Southern Women’s Review
& Maple Street Book Shop will expand its indie empire with a new store in the Faubourg St. John. While official details are sketchy, the neighborhood knows it will be on Ponce de Leon, and there is only one commercial building there unoccupied and under renovation so it will be right off Esplanade in the strip of shops anchored by Canseco’s Grocery and Fair Grinds Coffee Shop. The Facebook page promised as Dec. 10th opening, so watch here for more details.& Tonight at 17 Poets at the Goldmine
& Tonight at Garden District books Katherine Soniat will present her new poetry collection, The Swing Girl, which contemplates the present through the fragmented lens of history. She swings the reader out across time, to ancient Greece and China, and into the chaos of contemporary war in Serbia and Iraq. Her poems move between present culture and the ghosts of history, between modern metaphor and the rhetoric of myth.
& Also tonight and again Dec. 8th Poet, humorist and Orleanian to the bone Chris Champaigne and Larry Beron again present their trip to the track Win, Place and Show at The Steak Knife at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 advance $20 at the door.
& Downtown Friday night at the Love Lost Lounge, the No Love Lost Poetry Reading hosted by Joseph Bienvenu kicks of at 5:30 p.m., just in time for the bar’s Jazz Happy Hour and opening time for the excellent Vietnamese kitchen in the back.
& Later Friday New Orleans premiere spoken word event Acoustic Fridays the Red Star Gallery, 2513 Bayou Road, hosted every week by Charlie V-Uptowns Illest MC. $7 cover, $5 with college ID.
& On Saturday, Jose Torres-Tama, author of New Orleans Free People of Color & Their Legacy: The Artwork of Jose Torres-Tama, will be at Maple Leaf’s Healing Center store on Saturday, December 3, 2011, 3:00-4:30 P.M. Tama was able to produce this book chronicling the exhibit of the same name.Creole historian Keith Weldon Medley contributed the biographical notes and a time line of New Orleans colonial history, both written by Creole historian Keith Weldon Medley.
& Also this Saturday at 12 noon Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal will appear on Garden District Books to discuss his new memoir Shaq Uncut: My Story. I might need to recount for the Odd Words audience his background: a four-time NBA champion and a three-time NBA Finals MVP. After being an All-American at Louisiana State University, he was the overall number one draft pick in the NBA in 1992. In his 19-year career, Shaq racked up 28,596 career points (including 5,935 free throws!), 13,099 rebounds, 3,026 assists, 2,732 blocks, and 15 All-Star appearances. This is going to be an event as big as the man himself, so I suggest you get there early.
& At 2 pm on Saturday the Poetry Buffet hosted by Gina Ferrara at the Latter Library on St. Charles Ave. features Martha McFerren and Mark Yakich.
& Saturday evening at Garden District Grammy Award-nominated American humorist, writer, comedian, bestselling author, and radio contributor will be on hand at 6 p.m. to read and sign Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, which features Sedaris’s unique blend of hilarity and heart, this new collection of keen-eyed animal-themed tales is an utter delight. Though the characters may not be human, the situations in these stories bear an uncanny resemblance to the insanity of everyday life. This is a ticketed event, the price of admission a copy of the book, so if you want to meet Sedaris you had best hustle over their today or tomorrow to get your copy before they’re all gone.
& I usually don’t cover children’s book events but this Saturday at Maple Street’s flag ship store on Maple Street (or course) they will feature Jean Cassels on December 3, 2011, 11:30 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. to sign her new book, The Cajun Nutcracker. This tale and music has a special place in my heart, as my daughter danced from her days as a three year old “pink girl” until she abandoned her studies at NOCCA, realizing that if she was not intended to audition for a company or study dance in college, the punishing routine of a pre-professional dance program was too much. I often dreamed when she was young of accompanying her to Moscow where the prima ballerina would be a guest artist of the Ballet Russe, of being patted heartily on the back over too many vodkas and told, “such a fine artist, such a fine dancer” (such are the dreams of daddy’s). I also supported her decision in the end. The industrial sized bottles of Ibuprofin and a freezer full of blue ice packs were too much for a girl who came home exhausted to a pile of Ben Franklin homework. Still, I tear up at the sound of Tchaikovsky’s ballet.
& Also on Saturday at 6 pm The Dirty Coast book release party for “Y’all’s Problem,” and “New Orleans: the Underground Guide,” is at the new Dirty Coast store, 329 Julia St.
& On Monday Crescent City Books will hist its Black Widow Salon #3. Noted photographer Josephine Sacabo will be our guest this coming Monday, December 5th. We will be discussing literature as a key kernel of her work. Readings included of Rilke, Huidobro, Mallarme, Sor Juana, Rulfo, etc. Upstairs at Crescent City Books @ 230 Chartres St. 7-9 p.m. (We will start promptly at 7:15 p.m.) Seating is limited. RSVP’s preferred.
& On Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 5:30 pm The Arts Council, 935 Gravier Street presents The Writing Institute of the Arts Council Group Booksigning featuring a list of local Katrina-themed books and authors including James Nolan’s Higher Ground, Richard Deichmann’s Code Blue, Carolyn Perry’s For Better, For Worse, and Sally Forman’s Eye of the Storm & How They Did It. It does not feature the one, indispensable Katrina book A Howling in the Wires (available at right and at your local indie bookstores) but all of these look interesting. I have just cracked Nolan’s higher ground, a book that will wind up on my shelf next to Confederacy of Dunces.
& Sunday Dec. 4 you have another chance to catch Poet Katharine (Bonnie) Soniat reading from and signing her new book from LSU Press, Swing Girl, at the Maple Leaf Bar reading series at 3 p.m., or whenever the Saint’s crowd in front quiets down enough to hear.
& Every Monday at 9 pm Kate Smash hosts The Writer’s Block, an open air performance by poets and any other performers who care to stop by. They meet on the amphitheater steps across from Jackson Square. No list, not mic, all performers welcome, so if you can juggle the collected works of Shakespeare in small duodecimo editions, do stop by.
& A week from today Maple Street’s uptown store will host several storytellers from Something in the Water on Thursday, December 8, 2011, 6:00 P.M. This book contains twenty stories about Louisiana, capturing the soul of the state. Meet or reconnect with authors James Nolan, Tim Gautreaux, and John Biguenet.
And so, with my return to the role of ink-stained wretch of newspapering, I’ll end this weeks column with a simple:
Memory & Imagination October 22, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in books, Memory, New Orleans, NOLA, novel, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Julian Barnes, Maud Newton
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One of my favorite topics. This is entirely cribbed from the blog of Maud Newton [sigh] of Oct 8.
“For the young — and especially the young writer — memory and imagination are quite distinct, and of different categories. In a typical first novel, there will be moments of unmediated memory (typically, that unforgettable sexual embarrassment), moments where the imagination has worked to transfigure a memory (perhaps that chapter in which the protagonist learns some lesson about life, whereas in the original the novelist-to-be failed to learn anything), and moments when, to the writer’s astonishment, the imagination catches a sudden upcurrent and the weightless, wonderful soaring that is the basis for the fiction delightingly happens.
These different kinds of truthfulness will be fully apparent to the young writer, and their joining together a matter of anxiety. For the older writer, memory and the imagination begin to seem less and less distinguishable. This is not because the imagined world is really much closer to the writer’s world than he or she cares to admit (a common error among those who anatomize fiction) but for exactly the opposite reason: that memory itself comes to seem much closer to an act of imagination than ever before. My brother distrusts most memories. I do not mistrust them, rather I trust them as workings of the imagination, as containing imaginative as opposed to naturalistic truth.”
– Julian Barnes, Nothing to Be Frightened Of