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O-o-o-oh, Romeo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o… December 3, 2012

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, Odd Words, Theater, Toulouse Street.
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If you were thinking of going to see the well acted and thoughtfully staged The NOLA Project production of Romeo and Juliet and NOMA: don’t. The acoustics and sight lines are horrible in the foyer of NOMA and render a great part of the dialogue, including the balcony scene, unintelligible to the audience on stage right. Only a handful of the actors–A.J. Allegro as Mercutio, Natalie Boyd as the Nurse, James Yeargain as Friar John and experienced Shakespeareans Martin Covert and Jim Wright as Montague and Capulet, managed to modulate their voices to minimize the echoes and so be intelligible and demonstrate their talent. Even the best of the actors sometimes were placed in the space so that one despairs of understanding them. Good use was made of the four entrances and stairway to generate an energetic tension in the scenes of conflict between the young men of the two families, but the scenes of Juliet on the staircase and balcony, while dramatically staged, placed her dead in the center of the echo chamber. Kristin Witterschein was a fresh and charming Juliet What can be seen from an obstructed view and what could be understood was well done, but I’m judging much of her performance from tone of voice and a few brief glimpses, as if I were watching a foreign film behind a tall man in a tall hat. I would love to see this company perform this in another place.

If you already have your tickets, be sure to arrive by 6:00 for the 7:30 curtain and run don’t walk to a seat in front stage left, where I think you would at least be able to understand the balcony scene and have unobstructed sight lines. Or else be sure to read the play before you come so you can at least play it in part in your own head. If you insist on going, buy an obstructed sight line ticket and save some money because there was no effort made to actually segregate the seating, and our full price tickets placed us squarely between two pillars and we arrived at 6:30.

Yakumo Fee Nah Ney October 21, 2012

Posted by The Typist in City Park, cryptic envelopment, Mardi Gras Indians, music, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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We go in the Wisteria Gate because the crowd is so large and the Japanese Garden in New Orleans is so small. We end up at the back of the crowd as the tour guide makes his spiel, and as everyone finally moves into the garden my friend pulls me back toward the plaque in front so she can read it.

She thinks the name Yakumo Japanese Garden is funny. I’m trying to explain to a gentleman with foreign-accented English why the name Yakumo Nihon Teien (Yakumo Japanese Garden) is funny to a New Orleanian. There’s no quick way to explain Jocomo fee nah nay except to say it’s a Mardi Gras Indian chant rooted in Creole and leave it at that. While we are talking a Japanese gentleman comes up and begins to earnestly read the plaque at the entrance. “And Yakamein,” my friend reminds me, “don’t forget to tell him about yakamein.” The Japanese man bends neatly at the waist to read to the bottom with the practiced habit of bowing rather than hunching over as I did. He comes up from reading the bottom of the plaque and stands admiring it. A woman behind me says something in Japanese, and the man turns to pose beside the plaque. “That’s Yakumo’s great-grandson,” she says in English over her camera, and I frantically dig for the phone. He is Bon Koizumi, a professor at the University of Shimane, Junior College and Adviser to the Lafacadio Hearn Memorial Museum in Matsue, I learn when I exchange my embarrassingly cheap and a bit tattered business card for his elegant one, trying to bow just a bit deeper as much for the embarrassing card as the honor. without getting into a contest that leads me to tip over, feinting like a lineman trying to draw an offsides so that I bow just a bit lower and come up last without provoking a second bow. It is not just an exchange of cards. It is a special moment, Yakumo’s great-grandson in the garden named for him on the day of Japan Fest.

Bon Koizumi, great-grandson of Yokumo Koizumi (Lafcadio Hearn), in the Yakumo Japanese Garden in New Orleans.

This is an above average Japan Fest for me. After an early set by Kaminari Taiko I manage to watch the entire tea ceremony. In the past it was done in a small room and the doors were closed once it began, but this year it has been moved to the atrium. Once I’m done snapping pictures, I try to sit on my heels with my feet folded under and realize if I want to be invited to participate, I’m going to need a year of stretching and practice before I could sit in that position for 30 minutes. I catch most of the Kendo demonstration, and decide to take their offer to go up on stage and give one of them a few good whacks on the helmet. I take a card. (Another thing to do? Really?). I find the Haiku Society and enter the one I wrote the night before. I don’t know the man behind the table but he recognizes my name as last year’s winner, and we make arrangements to get my book prize. Always nice to make an impression. I once again stump the women who will write your name in calligraphy on a book mark with my annual request for Dancing Bear in traditional characters. The younger woman who draws mine resorts to voice searching some site on her iPhone but manages to make me another temple bell pendant for this year. I wander through the Go room and pick up a pen made from recycled paper at the City of Matasue table. Matasue is a sister city to New Orleans, based in part on Hearn’s residence in their city and our’s. I grabbed some lunch from Ninja sushi, and manage to chop-stick up the last few grains of rice from my plate one by one.

I’m having a fantastic time, and I haven’t met Bon Koizumi yet.

My particular friend and my son text me within minutes of each other. Both have decided to come. Awkward, the little sing-song voice in my head telsl me but it turns out fine. Later they sat and chatted naturally as I went to buy us waters, another fortuitous moment in the day. I buy them wristbands and my son is off to the anime room upstairs but I notice the ikebana table is already torn down. It is four o’clock and I forgot that the times had been shifted to work around the 5k race this morning. It is all over except for the final taiko set. She and I wander back into the hall full of vending tables and I go back to see if the porcelain plate, a fluted rectangle with a high-gloss tropical ocean blue finish in one triangular patch, and the other rough clay with fine striations like the rakings of a karesansui garden. Miraculously it is still there. I’m dead broke and trying not to buy anything but I desperately want one of the miniature net floats, the glass balls bound in a net of rope that I have seen before in Quarter shops long ago. I had a long conversation with the couple behind the table when I first stopped there earlier in the day about the full-sized float, telling them they used to wash up on Grand Isle and such places. They didn’t know they were found in the Gulf. We discuss the wide-ranging Japanese fishing fleet and ocean currents while I occasionally pick up and admire the plate, then wander off empty-handed.

When I come back, they remember me. We’re about to close up, he says, I’ll make you a deal on anything on the table. I pick up the plate. Ten dollars, he says. I smile and reach for the last miniature float and my wallet. As we turn to go I notice something I did not see before, or which was not on the table. It’s a clearly used walking stick inscribed with three Kanji characters. I love walking sticks and can’t resist picking it up, holding it in two open hands and staring after hefting it. The characters mean I have walked the three mountains, he tells me, explaining that pilgrims who visit the Three Mountains and climb to the Shinto temple at the summit of each have their walking sticks stamped with these characters. I think I manage a wow while nodding in appreciation and stand holding the stick out before me at forearms length in my open palms like a an altar boy holding the cloth for the priest at the consecration.

I will never know why, perhaps something about the way and length of time I hold the stick that way, my head moving slightly to take it in from handle to foot, stopping each time to rest on the three characters. Take it, he says.

What? I answer. Take it, he says. It’s yours.

I hardly know what to say. The couple are American enthusiasts. This is not the stereotypical story of admiring an Asian man’s watch too long or too enthusiastically.

Seriously? I ask again, impolitely I realize. I’m just dumbstruck by his offer.

Absolutely, he says with no further explanation,smiling, arms folded to end the discussion.

I don’t know what else to do but return the stick to is customary stance resting on the ground, and shake his hand and thank him.

Earlier I spoke with the architect who designed the Japanese garden, offering my admiration and hearing about his two summers studying in Japan. I offer to volunteer, to pick litter from the dry stream bed that wanders through the garden, the nod of karesansui in the small space, anxious to learn some of the secrets. I feel an invisible poke in the ribs through the corner of the eye from my friend. (Another thing to do? Really? When do you plan to sleep?). I tell him of the gardens I have seen in the U.S., and my dream of a pilgrimage to Japan to visit the gardens. We exchange cards; no bowing this time.

I have always spoken of my hope to visit the Prefecture of Kyoto in Japan and see the gardens as a pilgrimage. Now I stand in my house holding a pilgrim’s stick with its unearned, at least by me, inscription. Yamagata Prefecture is not near to Kyoto. Perhaps I will never climb the Three Mountains of Dewa if I go to Japan, but holding this object I think about the relationship between this gift and geis, the ancient Celtic curse of obligation. I know visiting the gardens of Kyoto is not just a bucket list dream of a man working paycheck to paycheck with no prospect of retirement beyond Social Security. It has always been more than just that but as I place the stick against the wall next to the front room bookshelves I know that I will go, that I must go. There was a reason for the gift neither I nor the gentleman who gave it to me understood at the time, an unspoken communication between the stones of the Shinto temples of Mount Haguro, Mount Gassan and Mount Yudono and those of the gardens of Kyoto and the American gardens I have seen, the stones I have seen today, a reminder of a dreamy, romanticized desire straight from the pages of Yakumo Koizumi become now an obligation of pilgrimage, no longer a possible indulgence of a man with time and money to spare but an ordained act of grace.


Postscript: Most readers will glance past the title and think it just a clever turn of phrase from a former headline writer, but there is something a bit deeper. The chants written down by Sugar Boy Crawford half a century ago and which became the song “Iko Iko” are phonetic appropriations from Creole, warped either by time or Sugar Boy’s phonetic transcription. Jocomo fi nou wa na né is one researchers assertion, meaning Jocomo caused our king to be born. Jocomo fi na né is approximately “Jocomo made it so”, and I think Yokamo did.

Odd Words: An Indian Summer Night’s Dream Edition October 15, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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The setting as well as the best of the players give us the dream when A Midsummer Night’s Dream unfolds in the Bestoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art. This is a belated review but better than none, as I don’t want anyone who reads this to miss the opportunity of this show. There are still two days left, and it’s not sold out so do not be Demetrius and wait until the last moment to discover your true love but try and get your tickets.

The entry plaza and steps make an excellent stage for the first act (and the small concrete platform in the lagoon another for the last, but don’t go left if the usher suggests it, go right even if its crowded) but the true magic is in the heart of the play and the garden, the woodland action set against a backdrop of trees and shrubbery in the middle of the space. To see the star-crossed lovers and the fairy band from a torch-lit meadow against this backdrop is truly magical.

I just had a conversation with a theater direction on another blog, where he lamented the technical ability of young actors and we discussed the ability to project to fill a space without lavaliers or other contrivances (actors or performers of their own poetry for that matter, who are just another set of player) to project themselves. Not everyone in the cast could carry that large open space, especially if you found yourself consigned to the back when the action and the audience move deeper into the park in Act II.

Francesca McKensie would have been a marvelous Puck beneath a proscenium. Her dark eyes seemed to sparkle in the night with her physical energy, but I often struggled to understand her. Perhaps its difficult to cast someone with the spritely look and manic energy who also has a set of lungs sufficient to the open air. Others players: stately Andrew Vaught as Theseus and Oberon; Emilie Whelan’s masterful Bottom (she might have taught the author’s own players a thing or two about casting across genders); the delightfully ditzy Veronica Hunsinger-Lee, who charmed her way into the audience’s affections as a slapstick, teen-aged, all arms-and-legs Helena; all had no trouble being heard by the cheap seat squirrels. The experienced Martin Covert (just seen in Tulane’s Twelfth Night as Antonio) carried himself well as Egeus the width and breadth of the meadow and over the distraction of the whistling park train. I wish the director had spent some time standing in the back of the space. As simple a thing as a slight adjustment of a mark or a slight turn of the head toward the audience might have made all the difference for the actors unused to such a space.

It is all in all a marvelous setting for the middle action of the play, with characters dashing in and out of the shrubbery as Titania’s bower descends from the park’s old oaks. If the listener cannot quite hear the songs of the fairie band except as beautiful distant voices perhaps it is not a failing but another perfect part of an magically inspired staging.

You still have two nights. I am disappointed this morning that I missed the offered sneak preview staging in early summer and did not quickly get tickets before the first run promptly sold out. I wish this were my second or third trip out to see it, the combination of the magical and comic story, strong players and a brilliant setting is just too perfect. I suggest you reconsider your plans for this weekend and hustle over to Eventbrite to see if you cannot still get a ticket.

Looking for the Darkness on a Sunday Afternoon June 9, 2008

Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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It was hard to peer closely into the darkness while surrounded by a happy mob searching for their Blue Dogs.

The other visitors moved through the George Rodrigue retrospective like an assembly line of amoebas, blobs of people expanding and contracting as they moved by fits and starts through the gallery, their progress governed by the little audio tour boxes clasped to their heads. It’s my own damn fault about the crowd, waiting until the afternoon of the last day. Rodrique’s Blue Dog work has far too large a status as local cultural icon to think there would not be a mob on Sunday. Me, I had not come for the Blue Dog. I had come to experience close up the painted twilight beneath his mythic oaks, and the darkness of those trees themselves.

It seemed everyone in line to enter clutched Blue Dog books, hoping to get a an artist’s autograph. I struggle to understand the attraction. The eyes of the blue dog are disturbing: fixed circles that seem soulless and infinitely deep, like the empty sockets of some stone idol. Those eyes betray Rodrique’s original inspiration of the Cajun boogie-man/swamp monster loup garou, but the packaging in a small terrier or whatever Blue Dog might be strikes me as pure kitsch, something of a cross between Hello, Kitty and the nasty bunny rabbit line popular with middle school girls, tarted up a bit with oils to make sure there was a high-end line of originals to go with the posters and coffee mugs.

I had not come for the dogs (or even the blue bears, which I had not seen before) and certainly not for wildly popular portrait of Drew Brees with Blue Dog or the fawning picture of Ronald Reagan. I am drawn to the earliest landscapes and portraits, like the reproduction that hangs in my house of the 1984 Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival painting–the subjects human like luminous ghosts or figures brightly lit on an night time exterior film shot. The strange luminosity that seems to come from within the figures results in large part from the contrast with the blackness of those trees that stand over and behind the figures, a landscape in the palette of camo. I had come to see what I could just detect in the mass produced prints, could only see in the art book with a magnifying glass–the complex blends of blacks and browns, greens and grays from which those trees were made, the brush knife work of applied paint mimicking the patterning of a Live Oak’s bark.

The images I had not seen before which struck me were late paintings of dark oaks with a luminous blue-green sky of a color not typically associated with planets with nitrogen-oxygen atmospheres. The color makes the seen ominous, which most of his dark landscapes are not. It is as if he had distilled the frightening eyes of that Blue Dog into something purely blue and unnatural, and cast it into the sky to light the scene

If this all sounds a bit Gothic perhaps it is, in a sense far older than the fashion trend of the late 20th Century. Rodrique’s work before Blue Dog or the portraits of famous Louisianians is a window into a world Gothic in a way that the Shelleys or Pre-Raphaelites would recognize. In a few of the paintings there are colors in a patch of sky that suggest celestial twilight, the set of warm colors sunset paints on the clouds, but in so many others there is no clear indication of the time of day. It is a timeless darkness that seems not an obscured light from above but something that radiates from the trees . These are not the scenes one will encounter just up the street beneath the widely scattered trees in City Park, as magnificent as they are. It is a window into the Forest Primeval, into Mythago Wood.

This is not the darkness of the grasping trees of a frightening Disney forest with boles for eyes. It is a cool and inviting dark like a room on the shady side of a house on a cool day, a mysterious attraction like the mouth of a cave. It is an invitation into another world which in the end is something all great art does. The only frightening thing in these mythic woods is the thought that at the end of the path there might be a pair of perfectly circular bright orange and soulless eyes, fixed and unblinking, waiting for you.

I need New Orleans more than New Orleans needs me September 2, 2007

Posted by The Typist in art, New Orelans, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Noted sculptor, Xavier professor and of course Orleanian John Scott, interviewed on June 29 from Houston as he struggled with the illness that took his life this week:

“That’s the only home I know. I want my bones to be buried there. I belong there. I need New Orleans more than New Orleans needs me.”

Amen.

Kaminari Taiko at NOMA Japan Fest June 10, 2007

Posted by The Typist in Japan, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery.
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In addition to an attachment to Japanese gardens, I’m always drawn to any opportunity to experience taiko drumming. This year’s New Orleans Museum of Art Japan Fest featured the return of Kaminari Taiko of Houston, TX. The incredible athleticism of this art was even more impressive in the 98 &#176 heat index. The large drum seen here is the largest playable taiko drum in North America.

Among the pieces they performed was Seiichi Tanaka’s “Tsunami”, from which I’ve captured this excerpt. You can hear the composer’s own Taiko Dojo of San Francisco performing the piece here.

I feel a strong connection to the victims of the Tsumani of 2004, and I have been drawn to art that addresses that event. In particular, I was drawn to Hokusi’s Great Wave when I found it at at the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C., and to this piece of music by Austin singer Eliza Gilkyson, written for the tsunami but which haunted me through the early months after 8-29.

As Kaminari Taiko played masterfully in the dire heat, with every stroke they gave me greater strength to live here now.

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