Friday, November 28, 2008
Back home from the Big Easy, weary and full. So many experiences pressed through a window of time that words can catch only a fraction. Here's my long streaming stutter of highlight fragments in various tenses…Dusk over a crimson horizon, the Mississippi a snake of fire. No lights on the runway. Circle off to Baton Rouge under Jupiter and Venus, eyes of good omen. Test of nerves, tired and done, waiting. Touch down at last. Greeted by Dennis, friend poet sprite. Avenues graced with magnificent homes. Over arched with oaks, taken by vines. Home base near Magazine Street. Angel Trumpet flowers at the porch. Datura air. Slow churn and stop streetcar each day. St. Charles to Canal Street. Reading faces and tuning to the lilting drawls and brown skin. Monteleone Hotel in the French Quarter for the Faulkner Society conference. On my own for hours at a time. Galleries. Peter Max originals. Royal Street musicians. Ragged jug bands. Sleeping dogs. Horn players. Blues guitar. Harmonica. Stogies smoldering in the Begonias. A man painted gold. Diamonds and dripping chandeliers in the window glass. Antique stores and cafes. Beignets and café au laits. Triple story balconied facades laced with iron filigree, burgeoning with ferns. Gaslights burn perpetually. Clopping horses pulling carriages toward Jackson Square. St. Louis cathedral, the Cabildo, the Presbytere. Surrounded by history. Looking toward the river in the midst of card readers, painters, jugglers, tourists, a trombonist. Find Pirate’s Alley, Faulkner House, browse the books. City of Refuge. Relentless line of stuffed souvenir stops along Decatur, source of those cheap shiny strands of Mardi Gras beads that dangle from trees throughout the city and break apart into bits like colored dew. Pilgrimage to the voodoo shop. Not VooDoo Mart or the Disneyesque stops with shivering plastic skeletons but Voodou Authentica. Gris gris supplies for the practitioner, illuminations from Louis Martine and altars to the loa. I covet a Haitian metalwork veve to Erzulie Freda and make an offering at Marie Laveau’s altar and then Erzulie’s, laden with pink soaps, perfume bottles and jewelry (she’s akin to Venus). “Perfect success for The Painted Tongue Flowers”. Walk to the brown Mississippi. See the steamboats. Lunch and Literature with the writers from the conference at Muriel’s. White linen and china. Turtle soup, puppy drum with greens, chocolate mousse and three glasses of chardonnay. Moved by the speakers on the importance of place. Julie Reed, Tom Piazza and Ken Wells, warm with a twinkle. Funny and articulate. Left laughing. Hazy afternoon alone and wandering. Feeling game and open. Find myself in another voodoo store lured in by masks, bones and violet oil. Accepting an invitation from a South African woman to have my cards read. Predominately positive spread about victory and fruition with flickers of temptation and warnings about staying vigilant and grounded. “Make contracts.” she said and “Grow a backbone!” The Devil appeared and the Hierophant. Understood both profoundly. Poetry reading in Slidell. Over Lake Pontchartrain. Amy’s heart-catching words about Katrina. Seeing the high water mark. Night spent at Patricia and Dennis’ home. Kindness, marigolds and a hot shower. Bitter wind. Not enough clothes. Strategizing against the sharp cold slicing in from the river. Buying a black wool scarf and hugging the sunniest walls. Holed up in various shops. Hot coffee. Feeling gutted, tired from hauling my satchel, heavy with indispensables. Reading about Katrina in the bookstore, adding to the weight. Dark thread that stitched so many together. Refuge in the sumptuous Monteleone lobby. Hungry for something regional and full of pepper. Settling for quiche and onion soup. Sifting through trays of strange treasure, jewelry and snuff boxes at Joan Good’s. Pirate plunder. Buying a pair of Afghanistan silver shoulder dusters for a song. Shaped like poppy heads with tiny bells ringing. Walking along Bourbon Street in daylight, admiring handsome African smiles flashing out of bar doorways. Starving. Evening reconvening. In Pat O’ Brian’s, mesmerized by the fountains on fire. Devouring crawfish etouffee, red beans and rice washed down with hot toddies. Bourbon Street in full swing. Pounding music, neon flashing persuasion, throngs of rowdy revelers with huge drinks. A streetlong party for the world. Sex shops plastered with fleshy photos and flashing girls in red lights giving way to full throttle Karaoke dance parties and further on to gaping bars with thrumming interiors where ladies are pressed with free shots to encourage abandon. City of sin, yes. To Frenchmen Street for good music. At d.b.a dancing furiously to a Cajun band into the night, fueled by Abita Amber on tap. Spurning pick-ups. Sweet encounter with Matt from Chicago who sells pharmaceutical equipment but harbors a fine-grained poet's heart. A gentle new friend who reminded me of a dear old one. Talking reincarnation with the taxi driver. Gratitude for thick down covers and dreaming of hot water and coats. Double espressos. Long talks with Rob. Meeting with Gordon Walmsley, editor of the Copenhagen Review, about our book. Astute observations and helpful feedback although I quietly disagreed with him about “flamingo expectancy”. Sensitive to our project. Encouragement to self publish, which we will. Lunch at Arnaud’s. Oysters in variety on a bed of salt. We save our shells. Shop for boots for Amy of the broken shoe. Afternoon panel at the conference. The Aesthetics of Literature: Reality vs. Imagination with Jason Peter, Tom Piazza and everyone’s fave Tony O’Neill (Down and Out on Murder Mile) who is a delight to listen to. Sounds like Bobby Kennedy, looks like a heartbreaker and talks about his underbelly past as a heroin addict with easy humor. Stepped out early to get to the Louisiana Music Factory to catch The Iguanas live. Head for “home” to get ready for the evening Gala. Run, run, run to catch the streetcar…going the wrong direction. Back finally, exhausted. Washing hair, preening, black velvet and suede, tired tears of overwhelm, powdered noses and hollow cores using the last juice to get back to center. Late arriving. Everyone seated and satiated, dinner being cleared away. We stand there awkward. We need a gracious integration. Jose of the Keys to the rescue. Agent of Legbe the gatekeeper? Brings us red wine and stays to talk. Joan with the Pink Rose steps in to ask “Are you girls here to crash this party?” We assure her we are and she scouts out two seats for us. We get the last two plates of food in the place and eat voraciously as Ted Turner talks at the podium. I don’t remember what was said. No dessert for us and the music ends too soon. We stay just long enough to get bored and then dash away. Out onto the streets, Royal to Bourbon in our long skirts, clutching the fat roses we rescued from the gala. Meander up to Lafitte’s, the oldest tavern in the Quarter where Jean Lafitte reputedly once stashed his pirate booty. Now it is a dark bar with a constellation of low burning candles throughout and a big black piano deep inside being played diabolically by a man with a whiskey voice. We sit right at his elbow. A new world experience for me, leaning into an instrument as it vibrates right into the belly and bones. In a trance for hours that culminates in a kiss from the devil himself. Sunday dawns warmer. To St. Louis Cemetery to make an offering at Marie Laveau’s grave. Gates locked so we knock thrice and leave our rose woven into the bars. Up Rampart to the Voodoo Temple to meet Priestess Miriam whom Amy knows. She leads us back through her gris gris kitchen of jars and herbs to the temple festooned floor to the ceiling with icons and offerings. Loa visages erected and draped , laden with gifts of money bills, candles, cigarettes, flowers fresh and old. A feast for the eyes. Three chairs before a low table. We sit and listen as she slips into the other realm, words spilling from her like so many silver fishes. We catch what we can with inadequate nets. Laughing and nodding when we make the connections. I give her three pictures to add to the profusion. Later we emerge on the sidewalk, smiling and chatting. Saying goodbye, we jump in a cab. Our driver talks southern cooking all the way home. The secret to red beans. Frying green tomatoes. Smothering meats. He’s making ten ‘can pies (pecan) for Thanksgiving. He likes telling these recipes so much he wants to take us to the airport the next day so he can share some more. His card says Fear No Evil. We take note. Dennis scoops us up for the reading at the Maple Leaf bar to be held in the eye of the second annual Po'Boy Festival. Last year 10,000 folks attended said festival. Needless to say, no poetry was spoken in that throng. If Amy had read one poem she could have claimed it the best-attended poetry reading in history. We had a beer instead. Later Dennis took us out to Central City's YIP to watch the Black Eagles Mardi Gras Indian "practice". Like nothing else I've ever seen. Empty at first. We sit and sip, then dance quietly. Sucking on free cherry bombs. Folks arrive. Some good dancing unfolds. Then an all girl brass marching band complete with tuba gets everyone really moving in the small space. Then more men arrive. Drums and more drums. Pretty lady with a tamborine. Damn good dancers. Kids shaking it. Dapper older gentlemen. Families. The energy begins to build. Circling, dancing, singing, call and response, call and response, layer upon layer. The energy shifts and circles as groups of spectacular black men move in dancing, singing, calling out, challenging. The circle splits and dips and then a group leaves suddenly and new faces step in. An eruption of cultural richness from this place of urban decay. I am blown away. The energy waxes, swirls and finally peaks. It's over and Dennis says "Hey, it's 8 o'clock. Let's get something to eat!" and all I could think was "Eight in the morning??! My God!" It felt like hours had transpired but it was still early. We went for a plate of jambalaya, red beans and a bowl of gumbo. All done before 9 o'clock. Saying goodbyes. Last night dreaming in New Orleans. Morning browsing the shops along Magazine Street peering out brightly from a general dilapidation. One catfish and one grilled shrimp po'boy with fried green tomatoes and remoulade . And iced tea. Ballast for the flight home. Buying french pastries and wee pecan pies for home. Taxi to the airport. Boarded. It begins to rain. Homeward bound.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Oh, what a contrast to (S)election 2004! Tears of elation, shouts of joy and, I admit, swells of good old-fashioned patriotic pride. Yes, I was moved. By the faces of young black people crying and smiling. The cracking voices of news anchors. Wet eyes in old faces. By the power of our collective voice. By the sheer historic significance of this shift in the tide. All signs point toward a world I want to live in. It's the end of, as Paul Krugman called them this morning, "the monster years". Well, the beginning of the end, at least. There is a hell of a lot of damage to heal and it won't be a cakewalk but if any one can bridge the divides and galvanize a united effort, it's "That One".