August 2007 Archives
There's a great moment at the beginning of "The Bourne Ultimatum" where Matt Damon's character tells the journalist whose ass he's trying to save, "LISTEN -- this is NOT some NEWSPAPER story. This is REAL."
I expected to hear at least a few knowing harrumphs from the audience, but the only one I heard was my own -- I was sitting in the mostly empty Prytania theater in Uptown New Orleans, and the dozen or so people there for the Tuesday night late show evidently agreed with Jason Bourne. No wonder there were no gasps heard when the journalist was taken out - he was there for expositional purposes only, and totally expendable.
The last few weeks has seen a return of interest to The New Orleans Story with Katrina's two year anniversary coming up tomorrow. Journalists from Japan to Jacksonville call the marketing office at the hospital where I work, hoping to set up shoots for the story they've decided to tell - overloaded ERs, still faulty levee systems, violent crime rates that continue to climb - balanced by stories of hope and perseverance, of the plucky sorts of people who populate what's left of the city.
What they won't be able to get into are the more complicated stories, of people who haven't stopped suffering, and of those who are profiting from the city's vulnerability - contractors who are here not because they want to be, but because this is where the money is. And as much as some of us resent their big trucks barreling down our broken streets, we need them, too. I've been picking on the construction contractors, lately, but they're hardly the only ones. And they are, for better or worse, part of what's bringing old New Orleans increasingly into the new country's fold, literally - you can even hear it on the new country music station that now graces the airwaves.
I wonder if tomorrow anyone will tell the story of how the highs and lows of New Orleans - the term 'segregated' was often and erroneously used in so much of the early Katrina coverage - are now in fact becoming further polarized (by which I mean 'higher' and 'lower', not further apart.) How, in Uptown at least, it really does seem like more gelato and tapas places could save this city. And how the lows sometimes come first thing in the morning, like they did today when the sound of four gunshots just outside my window woke me up. Evidently no one died, because it didn't even make the evening news.
My friends and often talk about the "high-low" tours we give visitors who come here wanting to a) have a good time and b) truly understand the peculiar purgatory that is life in present-day New Orleans.
Before the recent murder spree in New Orleans East, I sometimes took friends to see the Vietnamese community that did not wait for any government for permits or assistance to rebuild. Powered by generators and a predisposition to enduring hardship with grace, the bakery that serves Vietnamese po boys worth planning around was reopened within a few months after the storm. I heard a Vietnamese priest talk about the elder women in their communities who, not having cars to park next to their FEMA trailers, saw farmable dirt in those 8x10 plots and started growing vegetables, only to learn later that the city had started dumping waste into the bayous nearby. Their mettle and DIY attitude was rewarded with a total disregard for their safety.
Sound familiar? It does to those who live here.
And still, people stay. Recently - at a gelato shop -- I saw a girl wearing a college t-shirt bearing the name of my alma mater in North Carolina. "Did you go to school there?" I asked. Just for a year, she said. "I loved it, but the family was here, so, you know how it goes..." Actually, I didn't. But I know that's how it goes for native New Orleanians. Had that been how it went for me, I guess I wouldn't be here now.
For a little while, the Katrina story will resonate, like it did with my sister in Chicago when storms flooded her basement, causing thousands of dollars worth of damage, and she didn't complain, saying only that it gave her a sense of Katrina's scale.
I didn't know for sure how I'd spend the second anniversary of Katrina. Last year, it was a subject of anxiety in a year chock full of the same, and I felt pressure to make the "right" plans, as though it were new year's eve and next year's tone could be set right by a proper kiss at midnight.
In the end, we -- my community of friends and colleagues -- had dinner at our friend Sara's house. Beans, gumbo -- I think that was the night she made something delicious involving mirliton, too ... The mood was somber, but also grateful. We were the ones who got to be here, in an undamaged house, eating.
This year, it's different. I'm having to actively cultivate gratitude, otherwise, I'm not sure I'd remember that I still have so much to be grateful for. So many more of my friends have left, and time passing doesn't make me miss them any less. And although it's now possible to have a dinner conversation without talking about the storm, it's still pretty unlikely. It's also possible, as outside interest continues to wane and the demands of living in perpetual recovery become increasingly tedious, to find myself missing the intensity of the event itself. It's so much less interesting -- and so much more important -- to talk about insurance and utility regulation and living wages, and still leave yourself with enough energy to fill out all the paperwork.
Those are the things we'll get back to talking about next week, once the news crews have left and the fleeting charge of being in the limelight passes. And we'll drive to work, past a streetcar line that still doesn't run, and past school buses that don't carry even half of the kids in the city, and past a hospital where the ER is full of gunshot victims, and we'll remember -- as though it would even be possible, even just for a moment, to forget -- this isn't some newspaper story. This is real.
This incident has been for me a giant rock that landed on the "you should go" side of the scales, where previously the pebbles have already been piled pretty high -- and pretty evenly -- on both sides.
Today I am sitting in a familiar neighborhood cafe suspiciously eyeing every Contractor Guy -- if you live here, you know the type well: clean-cut but sunburned face, showered and dressed in Sunday best, looking hungover and out of place when not on top of a house or shouting orders into a Nextel Walkie Talkie or in some Bourbon St. dive.
If you live here, you also know that in New Orleans suspicious looking characters outnumber 'normal' seeming people at least two to one, so this preoccupation better be temporary, otherwise I'll never get anything done/will never leave the house again.
Turns out my line below about "some famous-in-New-Orleans musician who penned some great jazz number at the Tastee Donut on Prytania St." was a bit of an understatement...I've since been reminded by a few people that my friend had been talking about Earl King.
(Thanks Slimbolala for the following link to a story about King holding court at the Tastee Donut.)
Twiropa, the twine factory-turned-trendy music venue has also been demolished recently. I went to the website looking for any info about it, but there's no info there -- just a relic of its former clubby self, and nothing to indicate that you couldn't go catch a show there tonight. Which makes me sort of appreciate the cornerstone value of the web. I just wish there had been a Tastee Donut website -- well, actually, there is, but it's just a logo and a contact form. No mention of Earl King. Or of closings.
When I first moved to this city, my trusty guide Christophe was constantly filling my head with New Orleans facts and 'firsts,' many of which I questioned because they seemed so absurd: "This was the country's first convenient store..." or "This Popeyes here, this one is the best," he would tell me, and I'd wonder aloud where he came up with the stuff. But as I came to know the city better, I came to understand that he was usually telling the truth, or some slightly embellished version of it, and I wished I'd been writing it all down.
Today I'm trying to remember what he told me about some famous-in-New-Orleans musician who penned some great jazz number at the Tastee Donut on Prytania St. (renamed the Tastee Restaurant in 1991), because on my way to work the other day, I watched them tear the whole thing down. Apparently Touro Infirmary is building a parking garage there.
Of course, this kind of thing happens all the time in other places, and has been happening here for the past two years. But it stopped me in my tracks to see this thing gone missing -- a pile of rubble was all that was left, and by now probably that too has been cleared.
I hope somebody knows what happened there. I hope somebody bothered to write it down.
Holy hiatus, Batman. More than six weeks since the last post?? Where has the time gone?
Actually, I know exactly where each and every hour of that time went, but I won't waste anyone else's time providing unnecessary details about it here. All the while I've been jotting down tons of little notes, book marking sites, putting mental post-its on my forehead about all the things I meant to mention ... and yet only something truly extreme and totally unprecedented could jar me back into this blogging business:
This week's New Yorker feature on the New Orleans rapper Lil' Wayne.
Here's what I love about this feature, aside from the fact that a) it exists and b) Sasha Frere-Jones seems to agree with Lil' Wayne's assertion that he has trumped Jay-Z as hottest rapper in the game: The word "Katrina" doesn't come up. Not once. And two weeks before the second anniversary of the storm, even.
Granted, Lil' Wayne no longer lives in New Orleans, and a few weeks ago he made headlines for getting arrested for possession of a weapon and marijuana immediately after his sold-out New York show, so his identity is no longer tied to this city.
Still, there's something very validating in having a national magazine
acknowledge that New Orleans has for years had a thriving if largely scorned music business aside from jazz, one that rivals national rap acts (something hardly ever written about, much less celebrated, in local media).
It's also nice that a young black man from Hollygrove could make it into the news for reasons other than a fatal shooting.
It also almost makes up for the exhausting "New Orleans is doomed!" feature (actual title: New Orleans in Peril) in last month's issue of National Geographic. The graphics in that one, however, are pretty cool looking...).
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Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Rebuilding Gulf Culture after Katrina
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Elizabeth Zimmer on time-based art forms
Public Art, Public Space
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog