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The genie-soul of the place March 28, 2009

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Toulouse Street, Writing.
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Not a single thing I remember from the first place but this: the sense of the place, the savor of the genie-soul of the place which every place has or is not a place.
–Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

The room was a tiny palace of Wedgewood blue walls with white pillars, every free space filled with baroque, gilt-frame portraits in dark oils, the floors carpeted in federal blue with gold medallions. I expected Sieur de Bienville to walk in from the rain gray slate patio and through the row of French doors on the exterior wall at any moment. The room announced in understated ostentation: here at the Historic New Orleans Collection we are about the business of history.

I hunched in the back with a tattered dimestore notebook balanced on my lap, an Oddity in the mostly female crowd dressed to meet for lunch under the clock at D.H. Homes. I had surrendered my cafe au lait at the door and as I sat damp from the steady spring drizzle outside, I waited for someone to announce that tea would be served, and hoped they would serve me.

At 51 I was one of the youngest people in the room and the most ill dressed, until that spot was taken by a guy in a ball cap who arrived and sat two rows up. One of the older book clubbers who filled the seats asked him to remove it, and I felt instantly more comfortable in my own shabby jeans and t-shirt. I had taken off my own driving cap when I sat down.

Author John Berendt seemed just another fixture in the room, looked himself a character from the history of the novel in his neat dove gray suit, perfect silver hair and Harvard tie. I could see him stepping out of his Upper West Side townhouse in this same costume, the Review of Books sharply folded under one arm, a tightly furled umbrella raised to hail the passing cabs. Somewhere in the city John Cheever would be waiting to lunch.

His theme was “Capturing the Character of Place”, something he has famously done for Savannah, Georgia in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and for Venice in The City of Falling Angels. Place is something of an obsession for us here on Toulouse Street so it seemed irresistible when I decided to sign-up for one of the master classes offered by the annual Tennessee Williams Festival. Sadly, the closest he came to teaching this class was his advice to “always trust your first impression and write it down.” The description of Midnight’s main character’s entry into Savannah by car, he told us, came almost verbatim from the author’s notebooks of his own first visit.

His other theme was eccentricity. His novels feature main characters who are clearly eccentric and a solar system of secondary figures who test the limits of eccentricity, approaching escape velocity. Berendt explained that eccentrics “live on the periphery of normal and so define what normal is.” In seeming defense of his focus on outre characters, he cited Robert Penn Warren: ““Write a story about a man with one arm, and you have written a story about a man with two.”

Here on Toulouse Street where our main theme is postdiluvian New Orleans, it seemed good advice. Our subtitle is Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans, and we admit to a fondness for the Odd. Like Berendt’s Savannah and Venice, this city is full of those who live on the periphery. And we share with Savannah a splendid isolation, “surrounded by piny woods, marshes and the ocean. In [this] isolation, things seem richer, brighter, more stark”, to borrow Berendt’s own words.

Bingo! I wanted to holler and waive my program in the air.

And like the characters he found in Venice, who “confront their history everywhere” and whose history, he told us, “gets altered, and they make their own dreams” our is a city of dreamers, of actors, of fabricators of the fabulous. It is why were are here, and why I suspect Berendt has been spending time in New Orleans, as he did in the two other cities he celebrated. He demured when asked if he would write a book about the city.

As a visitor and an alien in the places he wrote about, Berendt stressed his ability to see Savannah and Venice with the clear eyes of an outsider. This is a challenge for those of us who live in the place we choose to write about, but I think I have the advantage of my 20 years in exile to the North. I first began to write about New Orleans from Fargo, North Dakota in the days after the Flood, and I wrote from and about memory. Since that time I have returned home and see the city anew, a place at once familiar and yet transformed as only war or cataclysm can change a place.

Unlike Berendt or other famous tourists, I have the advantage of fresh eyes augmented by a visceral understanding of the place I spent the first 30 years of my life. Asked how he would write about his own environs of Upper West Side New York, he said he would focus on character. I don’t feel this constraint. I identified immediately with the Flannery O’Conner cite he offered: “The thing I do first is the surroundings. The characters step out of the landscape.”

He told a long anecdote of Eudora Welty’s understanding of character in place as reflected by a piece she wrote for the New Yorker immediately after the murder of Medgar Evers. “Who ever the murder is, I know him, how he came about, what is going on in this mind,” he quoted. I like to think that I share Welty’s understanding of this place and yet come to it anew and fresh, as anxious as a new visitor to discover the details my life away had erased from my mind, the details that are the building blocks of that character called New Orleans and of every word I write.

My first foray into the festival was a bit disappointing. Berendt gave a wonderful lecture but not a real master class, more a display of his erudition than anything else. But the quotes like the one from Walker Percy above were an interesting trip through the thoughts of prominent authors on place. My final jotting in my notebook was this. Berendt spoke of southerners as story tellers, and we are. Yankees, or at least the variety Berendt represents tell anecdotes instead.

Ah, but when he sits a the typewriter, he can take all of his carefully jotted notes and captured conversations over cocktails and weave a story steeped in the mystique and character of place. Knowing he is here, the challenge for us poor yokels is to beat him to it. For him, it will be another tour de force in a storied career. For a few of us capturing the genie-soul of New Orleans is jihad. We’ll just have to best him at his own game.

Off to the races March 28, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, New Orleans, NOLA.
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Not a single thing I remember from the first place but this: the sense of the place, the savor of the genie-soul of the place which every place has or is not a place.
–Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

More on my first foray into the Tennessee Williams Festival when I’m back from the track, and if an afternoon at the Fairgrounds isn’t one of the shrines to the genie-soul of this place I don’t know what is. Today’s featured author is Tom Ainslie, and the cocktail the mint julep. I don’t give a damn about Easter. Where’s my best straw hat?

Hyacinth House March 26, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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When Jim Morrison can best sum up your emotional state (as Oddly he often can here on Toulouse Street), it’s time to make a drink. This is one of the most interesting songs off of the last album before Morrison departed for Paris and dark immortality. Was Morrison’s departure from Los Angeles for Paris an escape from or an entering into? We will never know. In the end he broke on through not into the world of poetry and theater and film he sought but into myth.

As you sit in your cubicle at work or at the table going over your taxes and bills, ask yourself: What are they doing in the Hyacinth House?

Note: this is sadly a cover by somebody called Supergrass. (See note below)

Enjoy this while the DRM Nazis hunt me down. There was no version of this song up so I made one from my CD and You Tube quickly told me by email I have posted content owned by WMG (which I think means Wildly Mutated Genitals) and blocked the audio. I ran it through a couple of converters and lopped off a few seconds at the end and tried again, but there is some embedded signature in the song, so no go. The pulsating purple penis police may come crashing through the wall any moment now.

A Continual Farewell March 20, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, Bloggers, Debrisville, Federal Flood, je me souviens, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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But I still hear them walking in the trees: not speaking.
Waiting here, away from the terrifying weaponry, out of
the halls of vapor and light, beyond holland into the
hills, I have come to

— the last lines of Samuel R. Delaney’s Dhalgren

this, not an end but like Delaney’s circular last and first lines in the novel both an end and a beginning. Maitri of Vatul Blog and Loki of Humid City (and their respective spouses) are both bound for Ohio, that place famously derided by Lafcadio Hearn in comparison to New Orleans.

It is an end to the counting of day’s since 8-29-05 by Maitri but many more beginnings–new jobs, houses, friends, challenges. It is a continuity of things that will not change: HumidCity.com, or an abiding love of New Orleans. Listen to their own words:

Maitri: “It’s hard to fathom leaving New Orleans, its wonderful culture, color, cuisine and craziness, and all of you, my amazing friends and blogger buddies here. Without you guys, the Exile would have been truly unbearable and, on our return, we made something good together. New Orleans is my love. I died a little when I told some of you…that we’re leaving.”

Loki (long ago and from a context that makes it bitter sweet); “The pull of one’s roots is strong. The call of generations of Blancs, Monroes, Williamses, Martins and other blood relations is loud and persistent in my mind. This is my home…”

George and Maitri will be remembered for many things, not the least of which is the crazy amount of energy they both bring to life here in a place famous for its insouciance. Listening to D talk about Maitri’s (and his) adventures in Krewe du Vieux, I felt like they were personally putting on a parade for us all to share. The loss of their intensity is a grievous blow but to live here is to learn to roll with the punches.

It is hard to see them leave, to see anyone leave New Orleans, but the pull of life’s demands–jobs, families, spouses–is irresistible. It led me to spend years living in places that seem strange to other Orleanians, small town Minnesota and Fargo, N.D. in the howling cold winters. I know from my own experience that life leads us where it will, to places never imagined, but also that the mark this city leaves on us all is indelible, that wherever we go we carry the city with us.

While in Fargo some music professors at a local university who had a traditional Dixie Land band put on a Mardi Gras festival. A local caterer managed very creditable red beans, we spent one of the funniest moments of my life as the leader tried to teach hundreds of Scandinavians how to clap on the downbeat, and we ended with a second line parade. A local radio personality whose station sponsored the event led us and not very far down the path he handed the decorated umbrella to me and said, here, you lead. You look like you know how to do this. It was one of the happiest moments of my life in the North.

I know that as sad as the parting will be for the strange band of NOLA bloggers it is not the end of New Orleans in the aggregate or the individual. Immigrant Maitri and old line Creole Loki are like us all deeply imprinted by this place, and will carry it with them wherever they go. Their leaving does not dilute the city but expands the franchise. They will go to their separate corners of Ohio and teach the Buckeyes how to cook and to eat, how to drink and to dance, how to live and be happy, how to turn sack cloth and ashes into a costume and parade.


Dhalgen ends on a circular note, the words above wrapping around to the opening lines below:

to wound the autumnal city.
So howled out for the world to give him a name.
The in-dark answered with wind.

I am continually drawn to the bizarre tale of Dhalgren as an analogue for life in postdiluvian New Orleans. Our city seems afflicted with a madness we cannot diagnose and still it pulls at our heart, whether we struggle mightily against it or simply immerse ourselves in its slow, wild life, drinking deep at the happy delirium to drown the noise of dementia. As it was in the time of Hearn New Orleans can be bleak and beautiful all in the same frame.

I am not Delaney’s Kid: nameless and lost, answered with wind. This city is a maze and every step in takes me closer to something that calls to me, unfolds a fractally perfect pattern I could find no where else. I do not know if I will find a bright treasure or the Minotaur and madness at the center. I many never reach the center. Perhaps New Orleans like Dhalgren is a puzzle never meant to be solved, and that the entire point of it. I know I am called to stay, and judge no one else by that measure.

My journey is not through but into the city and when I lay dying in New Orleans the worth of the journey will not be what we saved (and how do you “save” a city, a thing that by definition is at once permanent–at least on the scale of a single lifetime–and yet constantly changes as much as this place has since 1957). The measure of the journey will be the people I met in and about and because of this place, the noisy crowd of NOLA bloggers I once described this way: “We’re not paragons, of virtue or anything else. We’re as dysfunctional a band as any mid-career high school class, mad as bats as often as not, cranky as an Ash Wednesday hangover and drunk 24-7 on the elixir of New Orleans.”

It will not matter where these friends are tomorrow (or tomorrow or tomorrow). From the first meeting of bloggers at Fahy’s and the first Geek Dinner to this last Mardi Gras and the farewell parties yet to begin: we’ll always have New Orleans.

To Maitri and D and Loki and Alexis, all I can say is this, the words ground control in Houston once spoke to a famous Buckeye named John Glenn: God speed.

Ourselves Alone March 17, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans, NOLA.
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At this crazy collision of our Irish, Italian and African roots on the streets of this Franco-Hispanic city, our individual identities melding into something greater than it parts, we must remember: All we have is ourselves, and redemption songs.

Sinn Fein, baby.*

*This is a repost and I’ve taken Sinn Fein out of the title as it causes so much damned confusion. My use of it follows Ashley Morris’ adoption of the phrase and it’s translation–Ourselves Alone–to the situation of New Orleans, and not an endorsement of any political movement outside of this country. I feel the same way about the struggle for Irish independence after the turn of the last century as Lord Byron felt about the Greeks, and if you catch me humming Jonsey’s Motor Car this is why. There was nothing romantic about The Troubles in the North, and its disconcerting to think how easily America might have gone down that path if President Rockefeller had sent Federal troops to support the segregationists at the bridge at Selma.

The End March 15, 2009

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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This story is my entry in the Finn McCool’s Pub St. Patrick’s Day writing contest. Constrained by 750 words and list of required words to use–Giant, Guinness, Harpoon, Mid-City, Finn McCool, Bonnie, Pint, Craic, Stout, Causeway–I came up with this rather dark piece. There’s nothing of the happy stock leprechaun dancing about the clover in it, so I don’t have high hopes for it to win me a keg of Guinness but I like it fine enough. I hope working in a bit of Celtic folklore compensates if they think it a bit Gothic for the middle of such a festive evening. It practically wrote itself, for the first time in months the words just came seemingly on their own when called, and that in itself is enough to please me.

The End

He tottered unsteadily atop the first column of the broken breakwater, the rock as off kilter as his own head from an afternoon of one too many Guinness drunk sad and solitary, alone at the end of the bar. Alone at the end: that sums it up, he thought. It would make a fine epitaph.

The water lapping gently below could not drown the memory of Bonnie’s last words, hissed through her teeth with face and fists clenched: “I’m looking for a man in my life, not a child. You’re a child in a man’s body with no more sense than a puppy. I’m done with you.” He’d stormed out right behind her, raging at her faithlessness, and straight to the Mid-City pub he favored, looking for a sympathetic barman and a bit of good craic to set his mood to rights.

Finn McCool’s was empty. The barman was a woman. Plans foiled, he sipped sullenly, hoping someone he knew would come in. He’d pull out his cell and stare when the barmaid hovered, but he was out of minutes and low on cash. He stood at the jukebox struggling to put words and music to his mood, mashing the buttons back and forth through the songs but could not settle on one. He pulled out the last cash in his pocket and realized he was done drinking for the day. He dropped it on the bar and left.

The towering stones listed forward into the lake as if to lure him out further, taunting him to leap boldly across to the next in the row that stood like the Giant’s Causeway. He leaned on a stick he’d picked up from the shore. He had no notion why he had taken it except to be at doing something, the same drive that had carried him out to the lakefront. Something about the heft of the wood in his hand soothed. Like a blackthorn or spear had for a thousand years of his race, the simple solidity of it in his hand bolstered his deflated manhood.

He hoisted it above his shoulder like a man about to hurl a harpoon and looked down into the lake. It was then he saw her, floating half above the water, her lower body hidden. Her kayak bobbed and dodged on the small waves, moving like dolphins along the shore. Her hair–spiky wild and dyed a bright green—was tucked up under a red cap and framed a porcelain white face. She wore a dry suit tight as a second skin, glistening with water. Her body and boat shifted in time like one living sea thing.

“Do you mean to spear me?” she hollered to him.

“Well, uh, no, I was just messing about with it, really,” he managed to stammer, his tongue tied as much by surprise as by drink.

“Uh, huh,” she replied, drawling the vowels out into a long slur full of suggestion. “Well, I’m not so easily caught.” With that she shot off along the standing stones, paddle flying, then spun neatly about in place to face him.

Without a thought he leaped to the next column, weaving like a charmed snake to keep his balance as he landed on the uneven top. He crouched to recover, then sprung to the next. The girl laughed and paddled herself in a circle. He jumped again, landing toes off the edge this time, arms flailing like a windmill, and fell smack on his backside.

“Careful,” she shouted up. He propped himself back up with the stick.

“Don’t you worry. I was a track and field whiz at school,” he replied stoutly. “Long and high jump and all that. You should’ve seen me at the hurdles.”

The girl in the lake smiled glamorously at that. As she moved to stuff a bit of hair back under her hat the wind caught and tossed it a dozen feet away. She screamed like a woman whose child has been snatched, and paddled frantically after it. Impelled by the urgency of her voice, he leaped to the last pillar.

He saw it floating in what looked like deep, dark water. “Got it,” he shouted, and dove straight toward the hat and head first into the last bit of the causeway, hidden beneath the water by the dark stain of kelp.

The girl paddled past the bloodied spot and coolly snatched the cap up, placed it back on her head and set off into the lake.

Published by permission of Finn McCool’s.

The Wetting of the Green March 15, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, food, Irish Channel, New Orleans, NOLA, parade, Toulouse Street.
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It was a perfect day for a St. Patrick’s Day Parade: grey and drizzly with showers just strong enough to get you well wet but not to soak and chill to the bone. It was as if God smiled down on the parade, in that Odd way we like here abouts on Toulouse Street, and blessed the day with a little bit of Irish weather.

This was no discouragement to hardy New Orleans parade goers, wether died in the wool Irish or just the sort who will not miss a single party in the calendar, the ones who are dragging their hung-over selves out of the house right now looking for the Mardi Gras Indians on this Super Sunday. If anything the atmosphere is most frenzied when only the absolutely maddest of the mad for parades are out in the steady rain, rushing down beers before they can get watered down.

The damp streets were littered with beads and paper flowers, the gutters full of soggy boxes of Lucky Charms and melting bars of Irish Spring. In addition to the usual beads, the marchers and riders toss some Odd things at the Irish Channel parade, and–judging from the thick litter of unbroken beads that made the footing treacherous–it is throws that speak somehow of the Irish (even if it is something as tacky as a bar of green soap) that excite the parade goers.

Most of the afternoon not taken up with drinking is spent catching cabbage. To have a proper Irish Channel St. Patrick’s party, it is important to start the brisket (and the drinking) early and then catch and cook enough vegetebles to lay a proper foundation for the house before the guests get too far into the whiskey.

We did ourselves proud once again, hauling away two full sacks of cabbage. I credit my son’s best friend, a tall thin kid on a vegan diet with the look of a hungry waif about him. He was a cabbage magnet and a cabbage madman. By the time we were well into filling the second sack (and starting to think about who would want to carry 100 pounds of cabbage a half mile back to the house), we tried to get him to slow down but he would have none of it.

Our real problem was this: potatoes. Typically the riders mix in carrots, onions and potatoes with all the cabbage so that it’s possible to go home and have a proper dinner boiled up with just what’s been caught. By halfway through the parade we were begging for potatoes as if they were prized dobloons. Any thrower who waved one about was suddenly surrounded by a potato crazy mob, and they often retreated into the inner part of the float for their own safety as they tossed a lone potato into the air.

By the end of the parade we had a grand total of three potatoes to show for all our effort, and a dozen little snack-sized bags of those mini-carrots people put out on buffets. Unless Jesus showed up at the house later we had no where near enough. I had caught one large plastic bag in which a thoughtful woman had places a quarter cabbage, a potato, an oninion and a couple of proper carrots. Whoever you are, thank you. We had a couple other onions and a few full sized carrots, which would probaby do, but it was an absolute potato famine no where near enough to fill dozens of proper St. Patrick’s day plates.

Being the sort who drag themselves out in the rain for what is truly one of the best parades New Orleans has to offer, we cracked open the Micheal Collins Single Malt and carried on. By the time the cabbage (and the lonely potatoes) were ready we were all famished and ready to gobble down the cabbage-heavy boil along with the steak-and-Guinness pie and the excellent soda bread our host had made from scratch. When I finally fought my way to the front the potatoes were gone but I did manage a bit of a carrot so I had some color on the plate.

Having slept in on New Year’s Day and so missed out on the resolution thing, and having long ago forgone abstinence for Lent, I had a few resolutions this morning. Next year we bring the old kid’s wagon. I am not humping a hundred pounds of cabbage over my shoulders ever again.

Second, the Irish half of the family and I are going to whip up a big batch of our one of our favorites, Colcannon (mashed potatoes and cabbage(, to bring to the O’Hackenbergs. If the riders aren’t going to throw a proper mix of vegetables, we are not going to let Greg and Christy’s friend Ian or the rest of us Irish-for-a-day go without spuds.

That is no country March 15, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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You need one more drop of poison and you’ll dream of foreign lands
— Shane MacGowan’s Sick Bed of Cuchulainn

Somehow sitting on the porch drinking after the St. Patrick’s parade ends up with the Pogues on the stereo, and the song Lorca’s Novena comes up and I find myself dreaming of the intersection of Eire and Andalusia, of politics and poetry, of blood and beauty. I am but 1/16 Irish with not a drop of Spanish blood but this creole mongrel holds no allegiance to any country which does not place its poets above all else.

The Gypsy and the Wind
By Federico García Lorca

Playing her parchment moon
Precosia comes
along a watery path of laurels and crystal lights.
The starless silence, fleeing
from her rhythmic tambourine,
falls where the sea whips and sings,
his night filled with silvery swarms.
High atop the mountain peaks
the sentinels are weeping;
they guard the tall white towers
of the English consulate.
And gypsies of the water
for their pleasure erect
little castles of conch shells
and arbors of greening pine.

Playing her parchment moon
Precosia comes.
The wind sees her and rises,
the wind that never slumbers.
Naked Saint Christopher swells,
watching the girl as he plays
with tongues of celestial bells
on an invisible bagpipe.

Gypsy, let me lift your skirt
and have a look at you.
Open in my ancient fingers
the blue rose of your womb.

Precosia throws the tambourine
and runs away in terror.
But the virile wind pursues her
with his breathing and burning sword.

The sea darkens and roars,
while the olive trees turn pale.
The flutes of darkness sound,
and a muted gong of the snow.

Precosia, run, Precosia!
Or the green wind will catch you!
Precosia, run, Precosia!
And look how fast he comes!
A satyr of low-born stars
with their long and glistening tongues.

Precosia, filled with fear,
now makes her way to that house
beyond the tall green pines
where the English consul lives.

Alarmed by the anguished cries,
three riflemen come running,
their black capes tightly drawn,
and berets down over their brow.

The Englishman gives the gypsy
a glass of tepid milk
and a shot of Holland gin
which Precosia does not drink.

And while she tells them, weeping,
of her strange adventure,
the wind furiously gnashes
against the slate roof tiles.

Poteen March 14, 2009

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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We’re off to the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Parade with a cooler full of Smithwicks and a bottle of Jameson’s, bound for the fine before and after party hosted by Celcus and Christy. I’m only 1/16th Irish (mother’s side, by Bridget Maggie An Hennessy, born 1833 Roscrea, Tipperary, Ire.) but if you haven’t detected it before I’m an incorrigible Eirephile, and married to one of those irrepresible Irish-Americans, so this is one of the High Holidays here on Toulouse Street.

It’s probably too warm to wear the Co. Offaly jersey I bought during our honeymoon in Ireland (did I mention the inveterate Irish-American spouse?). I grabbed the shirt in a sporting goods store off a rack of jerseys because I liked the look of it and I didn’t know whose colors I was wearing until a guard at Shannon Airport offered an “Up Offaly” to me and set me straight. Rebecca will probably where something from Notre Dame. (c.f. I-A spouse).

Killian (did I mention my incurably I-A wife?) is off to her SAT, but Matthew and his pal will join us for the big parade. Matt escaped being christened Patrick only because Rebecca couldn’t hold onto him until the 17th. Oh and if I refer in public to Killian as “our little souvenir of Ireland” I’m in big trouble.

Here is today’s program. We’ll be sticking to ales and stouts early and moving quickly to whiskey once we have a full sack of the makings of a decent pot of cabbage and potatoes.

Salt of the Earth March 12, 2009

Posted by The Typist in music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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On days like this when I forget I work for the Counting House and sit contemplating what we could get for restitution if we carved up Bernard Madoff and the rest of “the grey suited grafters” and sold their organs on E-Bay, I need to step back and remember that once rock-and-roll had the power to change the world, that even as Mick leered into the camera and a million girls quivered in their seats the insurrectionary words were still pouring out of the speaker and into our heads and spilling out into the streets.

Sometimes I suggest I’m lazy to post up things from You Tube and there are times when that’s true. Other times this is my own pirate radio station. If you think there is no agenda here then you haven’t been listening close enough. So turn off that “strange beauty show” American Idol (or Hell’s Kitchen or whatever your poison is) and listen up.

Raise your glass to the hard working people
Let’s drink to the uncounted heads
Let’s think of the wavering millions
Who need leading but get gamblers instead
Spare a thought for the stay-at-home voter
Empty eyes gaze at strange beauty shows
And a parade of the gray suited grafters
A choice of cancer or polio

Good night and good luck.

Balance March 11, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, Bloggers, Citizen Journalism, New Orleans, NOLA.
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As part of our continuing campaign to keep this from turning into the Grandpa Elliot blog (wow but that guy can drive some traffic in), here’s another bit a lazy snipping from Pistolette. The same subject has been on my mind. There’s so much I could say about conditions in this city, but then others–E, Schroeder, Oyster,that Yellow Blog guy–who dedicate themselves to citizen journalism do such a fine job I’d just be an echo.

Anyway, Pistolette sums up my feelings on why I write about what I do write about here on Toulouse Street (and why I don’t write about the sort of things that used to fill up Wet Bank Guide long ago).

I don’t want to discuss politics or social issues here anymore. There is something disharmonious about having a whimsical cooking post backed up to a long rant about the mayor or city council. It just doesn’t feel right to me. So Pistolette will stick to personal and lifestyle posts. As I’ve mentioned many times, part of staying happy and sane in a place like Nola requires you to simultaneously face and tackle the destruction and corruption around you while remembering why you’re doing it – the good things – that familiar home culture of people, food, history, imagery, fests, family, architecture – a cocktail of physical and emotional beauty not found anywhere else. Too much of the good stuff and you’re in denial, too much of the bad stuff and you’re wallowing. You need to keep that balance going, and it’s not always easy. Yet another mental fee to pay if you want the privilege, not the right, to live here.

I promise to return from lazy cut-and-post behavior once I’ve finished my submission for the Finn McCool’s St. Patrick’s Day writing contest. I also plan to start writing about public affairs in the greater city and not just the insular world of Toulouse Street on the HumidCity.com platform, at least when the issue seems to call for comment and no one else on the HC team is stepping up.

So you want to be a writer? March 7, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, New Orleans, NOLA, poem, Poetry.
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As part of our continuing effort here on Toulouse Street to keep something up on the blog while I lay on the couch conducting an extended study of Brownian Motion in dust motes, here’s another lazy cut-and-post: this one featuring Charles Bukowski on writing and inspiration (or the lack thereof).

so you want to be a writer?
by Charles Bukowski

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

That Bright Moment (Slight Return) March 6, 2009

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Federal Flood, New Orleans, NOLA, quotes, Toulouse Street.

I’m feeling tongue-tied of late, and find myself reading old posts to escape the cyclops screen reflecting my own empty-headedness, or worse all the news of the day in and about Toulouse Street. I found this one from February, 2008, and it seems (with a few tiny edits) as apt today as it did then.

— Samuel R. Delaney in City of a Thousand Suns

Trapped not as you might think, given the juxtaposition of the word doom; trapped instead in the complex web of postdiluvian New Orleans in the way light is said to be trapped by a cut and polished gem, refracted by the complex play of facets until made into a flashing thing of beauty: that is how I try to live with what was once the shadow of The Flood, the rafts of ghosts it unleashed.

Delaney’s novella trilogy Fall of the Towers revolves in large part around the the mass, simultaneous discovery by an entire society that a key assumption about their lives–that there was an enemy beyond the barrier; that they were at war–was a complex fiction constructed by their ruling class.

I am not certain how something terribly similar will play out here in New Orleans, among people who’s fundamental assumptions have been washed away: that the basic infrastructure of our lives is built well enough that we will not die of living upon it; that our government will rise up to protect and succor us at a moment of great peril; that if we pay our bills to the insurance company they will help make us whole. How do we live when all of the illusions that underpin life in modern America are suddenly swept away.

Some will drift into cynicism: all governments are corrupt, all big corporations dishonest: what did you expect? Nothing to be done. There is a certain beauty when that sardonic surrender is contrasted with the insistent evidence of hope, with the irrational and irresistible persistence that is one of the hallmarks of life, prominently displayed here in New Orleans like flowers erupting on a cooled lava flow. For evidence I offer the rush by Orleanians to embrace the dark and complex Waiting for Godot [last] year.

Complete cynicism in its modern sense is the fate I want to avoid for fear we become the new Dog Philosophers, mindless of our personal or civic obligations from a misplaced belief that the world is beyond redemption. I started down that road once on the blog I once kept called Wet Bank Guide. For a time the anger there over the Federal Flood and all that followed was palpable, the anger that once led me to ask if it were possible to renounce my citizenship in the United States of America and become a resident alien in the only country I wish to recognize: New Orleans. Over time, I transmuted that ugly funk into something else, a celebration of what I believe it means to be “trapped in that bright moment”. At what I thought the high point of that transformation, I put Wet Bank Guide to bed.

Now I try instead to celebrate the found moments of odd or profound beauty that come out of All That: the moments of simple, quiet pleasure and ecstatic, public joy that mark life in postdiluvian New Orleans, the surest signs that what we are building here is indeed New Orleans, heedless of the violent transfiguration of our landscape, the vast swaths of ruin that still blanket the Gentilly and the East, that mark the modern Land of Nod.

I cannot entirely surrender that anger, not while I have this public forum and a handful of readers I might influence. There is too much to be done to realize the potential that arises out of that bright moment when we learned our doom. What the citizen journalists of the blogosphere call the ground truth must continue to be told in pieces like the one below, Crazy Like a Fox, until we have — like Saint Patrick — driven the snakes out of paradise.

Until that work is accomplished there is still a life to be lived here. For all of the constant struggle and the occasional horror of that life there are still the moments that flash out like shinning from shook foil, as Gerald Manley Hopkins put it. Our world is charged with the grandeur not of God precisely but of who we are, of how we live: every bar of music and snatch of song that puts a lilt in our step I never saw on the streets of Washington or Fargo; every sloppy po-boy unrolled from its waxy wrapper like an Egyptian treasure, that sustains us as much by the thought of which neighborhood joint it came from and by the sight of it laying there like a woman in dishabille, as we are as by the smell and the taste of it; the peculiar site lines of a city built to conform to the zaftig geography of the river’s crescent and our slow descent into the ocean. All of these flash out of the cold, hard moment when we rediscovered who we are, flash out with a beauty that should settle the question once and for all: why do we choose to live here having learned our doom?

For Orleanians, as I believe it will unfold for Delaney’s characters, living in that bright moment is not an end but a beginning, not so much a scar but like a smudge of transient ash on the forehead that reminds us of who we are, that helps us to rediscover for ourselves who we are and where we live.

The quote that eventually came to rest prominently at the top of Wet Bank Guide was from the jazz and performance artist Sun Ran: Its After the End of the World, Don’t You Know That Yet? For Sun Ra, it was a profound renunciation of the ugly history of what it meant to be Black in late 20th Century America. It was not the presumed despair of some character in a Left Behind novel (I can’t bring myself to read those Christian tracts, but I can imagine what that world is like, borrowed no doubt in large measure from works like Stephen King’s The Stand).

Instead Sun Ra’s aphorism calls us to a celebration of the realization that we have been unshackled from the conventional, from so much of our history and attachment. Perhaps I can help all those around me who still cling to the past, to the ugliest parts of the long story what makes us who we are; I hope I can push them to recognize that those shackles lie about their feet and no longer bind them, that they have been freed by that bright moment in which we knew our doom to become something at once old and new: not the city bequeathed to us like a curse by our ancestors who held or felt the lash but instead the city of memory and of dreams, the city that lives in our hearts.

Loving Cup March 6, 2009

Posted by The Typist in music, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
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Cosmic American Music as only post imperial Britain’s greatest conquistadors could do it. If this song doesn’t get you up and out of the damn computer chair dancing, let me know where to send the flowers.

The Sound of Building Coffins March 3, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, books, Jazz, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, voodoo.
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sobc_coverI don’t typically do What I’m Reading posts but I’m going to make an exception, maybe start a trend since my mind seems empty of good words of my own of late. I am about 2/3 of the way through Louis Maistros’ novel The Sound of Building Coffins and the reviews it has garnered so far (ex. “No novel since Confederacy of Dunces has done such justice to New Orleans”) are dead on.

Louis will be reading from his book and signing copies at Octavia Books, 513 Octavia Street, this Thursday March 5 at 6 p.m..

This lyrical tale of magic and transformation at the end of the Creole era and the start of the Jazz age weaves voodoo, jazz and race into a tapestry that captures the subtle pattern of New Orleans. This is bound to become (as the review quoted above suggests) one of the landmark evocations of the city. I normally wouldn’t write something like this until finishing the book* but I wanted to call out Louis’ reading and signing. Unless he’s been abducted by aliens and the publisher had a roomful of meth-fueled monkeys finish the book, I expect the last hundred pages to be as spellbinding as the first 250.

(The next day) Word.

* Confession: I once wrote a review of The Great Deluge on Amazon after reading the introduction and first chapter, confessing it was such a painfully bad work of history and writing I would only be able to finish it as a matter of obligation. (I never did.) If you transpose Lake Borgne and Bay St. Louis in the introduction to a work of history about Hurricane Katrina, you’ve clearly run off the tracks.