President

Been a little too preoccupied to write much here the last few days. Taking care of a sick daughter. Also visiting with my parents; I haven’t seen them as much as one might suppose as they’re staying at Camp Restore and doing volunteer work to help rebuild New Orleans.

Nevertheless life churns on. I suppose the most dramatic development for me personally is that, as of Thursday night, I am now president of Friends of Lafitte Corridor.

I’m both honored and excited to take this position. FOLC and its mission are very dear to my heart. I come on the heels of FOLC’s first president Daniel Samuels, who has done a lot of heavy lifting. During that period I have served as FOLC’s Chair, meaning that I ran the board meetings, so this represents a shift of focus for me, from process to active involvement. Daniel is very detail-oriented at a level I could never be, and I devoutly hope he continues to mind those details as a member of the board. But since a good foundation has already been lain, hopefully I will be able to direct my efforts in a slightly different direction, concentrating more on outreach. As president I believe my primary role will be to represent the organization to the public, to seek partnerships, to build enthusiasm and support for the project of the greenway and the revitalization of the Lafitte Corridor — in short, to share the vision widely. I hope I can do our mission justice.

Still, I don’t think I’ve ever been president of anything. I’ve never wanted to be president of anything before. And so it feels a little weird. Therefore, this might be a good time to remind myself not to confuse authority with leadership. As president, I’m authorized by the organization to do certain things. I’ll be expected to accomplish those tasks. But that’s not leadership. That’s just doing the job. In fact, leadership is never authorized, yet it’s something we all have an opportunity to exercise on a regular basis. It’s not a position occupied but an initiative taken. Indeed, FOLC’s whole project might be seen as an exercise in leadership, pushing forward on a project everyone agrees would be beneficial to the community as a whole but which has never been given priority. No one authorized us; we just started pushing. That’s leadership. I hope I’m able to remember that true leadership can come from anywhere, from anyone, at any time. I hope that I’m able to recognize it when I see it, not as a challenge to me personally, but as an opportunity for the group and the mission.

Good ‘n’ Burnt

I was really looking forward to this Mardi Gras, in part because we skipped the last one, and because it was my baby girl’s first, and because it’s also the first for my septuagenarian parents, and most of all because I’ve come to learn that all celebrations have an aspect of transcendence, and that’s good for the soul. No celebration so completely transforms your sense of reality as Mardi Gras.

Our planning was intensive. Costumery, comestibles, cocktails… We were well prepared for a day of masking and madness. We’d made up our minds to seek out the fantastic and surreal Society of St. Anne. Dad even painted his nails for the first time in 75 years of life.

So I was mighty disappointed when Persephone came down with a cold the night before. (Actually we don’t know if it’s a cold or what. She’s still got a fever today and will be visiting the doctor this afternoon.) It was going to be challenging enough juggling an infant (and my parents) in the chaos of the masquerade, but there was absolutely no way I was dragging a sick baby into that mess. Too stressful for me, though I suspect it might have cured her. Mardi Gras has miraculous powers.

So we resigned ourselves to staying home. But that didn’t mean we couldn’t have some fun. We could still have a few drinks and a few laughs. And we wouldn’t have to worry about where to pee. Dad and I had a little Amaretto in our coffee. We tuned into WWOZ and started rocking the carnival tunes.

We were saddened to hear Antoinette K-Doe had passed away. But like her friend said, “If she had to die, Mardi Gras day was the appropriate time.”

Now then. We had these costumes ready to go. So we dressed up and took some family portraits.

Δημήτηρ & Περσεφόνη

Κρόνος & Ῥέα

Family Portrait

By this time it was early afternoon. Then I remembered that, even with some recent changes, the Zulu parade route still ends pretty close to our house. In fact we could hear the brassy blare of marching band horns wafting over from Orleans and Broad. So I poured myself a cup of my patented carnival cocktail (Vita Water and whiskey) and we walked over there, Cronus and Rhea and I, while Demeter stayed home with Persephone.

Big Shot

And thus we ended up catching a good middle section of Zulu, ten or twenty floats, and my parents got a little flavor of the fever that infects this city’s psyche so insidiously and gloriously. The krewe members and marching bands were pretty weary at that point, having been on the hoof for a good four hours already, but everyone was in high spirits and it was a barrel of fun. The weather was just about as good as it gets, sunny but not hot, with cooling breezes.

I got a nice sunburn — but only on my right shoulder.

Κρόνος & Ζεύς

And so we had a festive Mardi Gras after all. It wasn’t the day I’d envisioned, but then it never is.

That Was Fun

Parties are strange affairs. People gathering together for no other purpose than to celebrate life and enjoy each other’s company. What an ephemeral proposition! And also how wonderful. It’s almost enough to make one suspect that gross material possessions are not the most important things in life. Hmm.

We had a great party here yesterday. I expected between 50 and 100 people, and I think we we were somewhere in that zone, with people coming and going all day. We killed the keg (a small but delicious keg of Flying Dog “In Heat Wheat”) which made me happy. We ate all the jambalaya, both veggie and meaty, and I made a lot. We enjoyed a fun set of acoustic bluesy songs from Herbie Jo Johnson aka Herb Reith. Despite our protestations to the contrary, Persephone did receive a couple of amazing, unique, original gifts, which I’m sure she will come to treasure. More about those later. Plenty of people brought food and drink, all of which were gratefully consumed. We had not one but two doberge cakes. Why two cakes? Because there were actually two birthday girls. It turns out Piggy, the girl who stays across the street sometimes, was born on the exact same day as Persephone.

Persephone’s grandparents got their first taste of Carnival madness with the biggest krewe of all, the gaudy proposition known as Endymion. There was much curiosity as to when exactly the parade would reach us. For future reference I will relay what Carmen so diligently reported to me: Grand Marshal Kid Rock crossed Salcedo Street at precisely 5:55 PM. Next year we’ll have a pool. I asked Mom what she thought of the parade, and her reply was amusingly frank: “There were a lot of delays.” Which I gather was true, though I only left the house once to gaze at the stupefying spectacle, when Xy was exhausted, and I held Persephone up to admire the passage of I think one float before she fell asleep in my arms. Dad came back to the house a couple times to refresh himself, but I believe Mom took in the entire parade without a break. And that is one long-ass parade.

Probably the funniest thing, to me, was when Gerry came in the front door, quite late in the game, and started hollering at me down the hall. I haven’t seen Gerry in years and I didn’t recognize him at first. He yelled something about “penis reconstruction dot com!” which was an arcane reference to a court case I helped him with years ago, but I didn’t key in on it. All I could think was, “Oh sweet Jesus, some lunatic has wandered in off the street and he’s going whip out a razor and castrate us all.” But it wasn’t a lunatic, it was Gerry and his wife Carmen (not to be confused with the other Carmen mentioned above) who were our very first neighbors, in the Warehouse District, when we moved to New Orleans ten years ago. So cool to see them again. And it turns out their daughter Raquel is born on the same day as Persephone. She was just celebrating her sweet sixteen. And to think she was seven when I first met her.

I was too busy playing host to take very many pictures. But other cameras were more active. For example, here’s a photo from the fearsome lens of Howie Luvzus:

Ray & Seph

And this photo (also by Howie) really captures the spirit of the big parade:

Endymion 2009

Well done, Howie.

If you were here and took pictures, I encourage you to share them by any means convenient, Flickr, Facebook, e-mail. We’d love to see them.

Also: Nobody puked. It was a good party.

One Year

It’s amazing to think you’re one year old today.

What strikes me the most is how much you’ve learned, and how little we’ve taught you. Over the past year, your first year, you’ve learned to crawl and stand on your own. You’ve learned to laugh and cry. You’ve learned to point and wave. You’ve figured out how to do all these things on your own. If that’s common to most humans, it is no less amazing.

Of course we’re having a party, and we hope all your friends and fans will pass by. (That includes anyone reading this.) It’s not just your birthday, it’s also Samedi Gras, the Saturday before Mardi Gras — the one day when Carnival comes to our Mid-City neighborhood, and Endymion rolls down Canal Street just a block from our home. This convergence of dates won’t be seen again for at least the next 40 years. It all seems very cosmic.

Bookbook

A friend of mine quit Facebook earlier this week. Said he wanted to spend more time reading. Someone else suggested he needed a Bookbook application, which I thought was pretty funny. (But, come to think of it, maybe that’s a better name than GoodReads or LibraryThing.) (Though I don’t think Facebook is dominating my mental panorama so completely, I have to admit it’s been worming its way into more aspects of my life. In fact, I’m doing a presentation on Facebook next month.) While Facebook may not be putting a dent in my reading time, this did get me to thinking about what it means to really enjoy a book. You can rake your eyes across the pages but not really get much out of the text. To really immerse yourself in a novel is something different. You walk around for days only half there, because the fiction transports you to another time and place. It’s slower but more powerful than the more immediate experiences of cinema or television. It’s been a while since I’ve felt that.

Sex Offender Notification

We got a Sex Offender Notification in the mail, about a guy who’s living six or so blocks away. The card lists the following offense: “03/27/1995 14:81 2-Molestation of Juvenile.” There’s a mugshot, as well as his name, sex, hair and eye color, race, height, weight, age, and of course his address. It’s also got his nickname: Merkey.

We got one of these years ago and it really creeped me out in two different ways. There’s the unsettling factor of contemplating a neighbor’s alleged crime. And then there’s the weird Orwellian factor of the notification itself. I’m not sure which disturbs me more.

1995. That’s fourteen years ago. Did he go to jail? For how long? And what exactly was he alleged to have done, anyway? Molestation of a juvenile… If this is to have any value beyond titillation and fear-mongering, I need more details. If he raped an infant girl, for example, I’m going to regard his presence quite differently than if he had consensual sex with a teenage boy.

Audioengine

Whenever I get a raw deal, I rail against the people who are screwing me. For example, I’ve filed a complaint with the feds about our car. I’m about ready to write a personal letter to Lee Young Dong about our TV.

So when somebody does right by me, I feel like I should give them props. Which brings me to Audioengine. I bought a couple sets of speakers (A2B & A5N) from them last May, and I’ve been very happy with them. I use them for playing music piped throughout the house via our wireless network. They sound great.

The AC power supply for one set failed recently. I sent them an e-mail and they mailed me a new one. Just like that! No hassle, no questions, no charge, no need to return the dead brick. Wow. That was refreshing.

As for the speakers, they’re top quality at a nice price. If you’re looking for excellent speakers for digital audio, I recommend Audioengine unreservedly.

More Trouble Than They’re Worth

They’re more trouble than they’re worth! I’m referring to cars, of course.

Xy drove the car up onto a curb yesterday after work and did some serious damage to the undercarriage, not to mention the body. A bunch of people in the area said they’ve run over the same curb, which was actually a little triangular piece in the middle of a three-way intersection. The car was leaking coolant, so the neighbors advised her against driving it. But I came by on my bike later in the evening and drove it the seven blocks or so to Trep’s, one of my favorite mechanics. It was after hours so I wrote a note and dropped the key in the slot. Our insurer, Progressive, tried to persuade me to have it towed out to Metairie so they can fix it up in their shop, but I’m sticking with Trep’s.

Normally we’d just limp along without a car for a while, but with the holidays upon us we don’t really have that option, so we’re renting a big-ass SUV that can drive over curbs with impunity.

Persephone Meets Persephone

Here’s Persephone (my daughter) with Persephone (the float):

Persephone & Persephone

Also pictured: Persephone’s father and grandparents.

In fact, this morning we got a tour of the Rex den from the very kind Dr. Stephen Hales, who also took the photograph. It’s my parents’ first Mardi Gras as well, so this is all new to them. I think they appreciated the tour most of all.

I was also interested to read a story about Rex getting involved in the public schools in yesterday’s paper. Another Katrina effect.

Vacation

I took a vacation last week. Nope, didn’t leave the Greater New Orleans area. I’m afraid this was another vacation in the head, and as usual it was a soul-shattering experience. I mean that in a good way. I’m back at work now, trying to reassemble my personality into something vaguely recognizable. My parents are in town! But I haven’t seen them yet. Hopefully tonight.

The Atrocity Exhibition

These are not reviews — more like reading notes.

Title: The Atrocity Exhibition
Author: J. G. Ballard
Published: 1970

The Atrocity Exhibition was originally published in 1970, but it was shredded by a distraught Nelson Doubleday, or so the story goes. It was published again by Grove in ’72 under a different title, and then again in 1990 by Re/Search.

It still reads like it was shredded. The text is composed of paragraph-sized chunks, more or less disconnected from one another and not building any kind of linear narrative. This was my biggest problem with the book. I couldn’t make any connections or trace any developments. The author actually recommends dipping in and reading at random, which I eventually did. The simultaneous advantage and disadvantage of this method is that you can never really tell when you’ve read it all, and consequently can never know if you’re done. Conversely no one can say you haven’t “finished it.” I don’t think I read the whole thing, but I don’t think that matters.

Or maybe it does. Maybe I missed all the good parts. But in my random sampling, all parts seemed generically equal, and as mentioned I couldn’t connect to any of it. My eyes moved mechanically across the text but I didn’t seem able to hook on to anything, and therefore absorbed nothing. I felt like I was ice skating.

I do feel like my cognitive bandwidth is somewhat reduced these days by the demands of parenting. I don’t have as much uninterrupted time to devote to a book. But in a sense that fractured mindset would seem perfect for reading a work like this.

Much is made of the violent and sexual content of this book, but I didn’t even notice that. To me, the form seemed to overwhelm the content entirely. On the one hand I found it interesting to encounter such an experimental approach, especially since I’m fiddling with a nonlinear narrative in a top-secret side project. But on the other hand I found the result soporifically boring. I’d call it a failed experiment.

This Re/Search edition features a commentary on the text by the author himself, running in the margins alongside the original. I found these comments paradoxically engaging.

And, given the accompanying illustrations and the intro by William S. Burroughs, I’d have no problem recommending this edition to anyone interested in avant-garde literature. But it’s not my cup of tea.

Valentine

OK, let me get this out of the way first: Yes, I dressed the girl in her little Valentine’s Day outfit for daycare this morning. And yes, she looked cute. But all the same, allow me to insert a peremptory and curmudgeonly growl in advance of Valentine’s Day. Somewhere along the line, in Chaucer’s time I guess, the feast day of Saint Valentine became a day for celebrating romantic love. Then, roughly a century and a half ago, it started to get commercialized, and thus began the slow shift in focus from romantic love to platonic love. For purveyors of candy or greeting cards, this is a boon, as it broadens the market for their wares on this day. But all the same it just seems wrong to me. Understand, I’m still clinging mentally to the image of this as a holiday for lovers, a time to celebrate romantic passions. I’d just like to keep the kids out of it. My infant daughter already has already gotten two Valentine’s cards, and who knows how many more are coming. I’ve got nothing against platonic love. But does anyone else find this as creepy as I do?

2.7.1

Version 2.7.1 of WordPress, the software that powers this blog, was released a couple days ago. I’d been looking forward to this release, even though it’s just a minor maintenance deal with no big new features. I was looking forward to it because this is the first release since 2.7, which implemented the ability to automatically upgrade to newer versions with a single click. In other words, this was the first opportunity to put automatic upgrades to the test.

And, mostly, it works. But there is at least one potential glitch that may burn some users. I found out about this when Lee upgraded his blog. It went smoothly except for one dispiriting glitch. The upgrade overwrites the default template with the latest version. So if you made any changes to the default template, they’re gone. Ideally you backed your modified version up, but if not, your changes are lost.

This is easily avoided of course. Instead of editing the default template directly, one can simply make a copy of it and edit the copy instead. For example, I copied themes/default to themes/default-modified and activated that template instead.

That way, when you upgrade automatically, only the old default template is overwritten, and default-modified remains intact.

I hope this helps somebody. Other than this one potential stumbling block, the automatic upgrade feature appears to be everything I hoped for, and should make my life administering multiple blogs for different folks a little easier.

Good Morning

Woke up to the sound of screaming. Actually I was already half-awake — I slept sitting up last night cradling the girl to help with her congestion. But the screaming got my attention. Xy had just gone out the door to catch her car pool ride to work. That wasn’t her voice I was hearing — I didn’t think. I extricated myself from the girl, taking care she wouldn’t roll off the bed. Sure enough, Xy and some neighbors were gathered in front of the house across the street, the Big Red Barn as I call it. Xy told me to call 911, and I did. She said there was a fight in the lower right apartment, and she went alongside the building and threw some junk at the window. She said a guy was choking a woman. There was a lot of chaos with people coming and going. I wasn’t dressed so I stayed inside and kept an eye on the girl. Xy’s car pool picked her up. The cops came about 15 minutes after my call, but by then all was quiet. They knocked on the door, got no answer, then got back in the car. By the time I pulled on some pants and shoes they were gone.

Xy called from school with her theory of what went down. Her imagination can run wild at times, but this seems plausible. The Latino guys across the street hired a pair of prostitutes. One woman was black, the other white. There was a dispute about money, and that’s why the guy was fighting with the black woman and she was screaming. The white woman left her there. The black woman departed shortly thereafter, with or without the money in question. This apparently all happened before Xy even left, because she told them, “Don’t ever come back here, I’ve got your license number.”

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Costume Supplies

I’m trying to scrounge up the necessary accouterments for our Mardi Gras costumes.

  • Laurel branches: Everyone envisions classical gods and goddesses wearing a wreath of laurels. But where on earth do you find them?
  • Sheaves of wheat or barley: Symbolic of Demeter, goddess of the harvest. Again, not sure where I’m going to find these.
  • Poppies: Sacred to Demeter. We just picked up a couple poppies at the garden shop, so we should have this one covered.
  • Torch: Demeter is often depicted with a torch, symbolic of searching for her daughter. I don’t think we’d want a real torch but a fake one would be nice.
  • Sickle or scythe: In lieu of a torch Demeter is sometimes pictured with a sickle, being a harvest goddess and all.
  • Golden arm bracelets: Goddesses always seem to wear those.
  • Togas and tunics: A sheet and bedspread might be sufficient.
  • Lightning bolts: representing Zeus.
  • Sandals: Greek gods are always wearing sandals, right?

If you have any idea how I might find, purchase, or manufacture any of these myself, please let me know. Ditto if you think of anything I’ve missed.

Stimulus Package

Carnival may begin on the sixth day of the year, officially, but it doesn’t really feel like Carnival until you see your first parade. That first parade in Orleans Parish is Krewe de Vieux, and it also happens to be the best — always. It’s raunchy, satirical, and tremendous fun. This year KdV took on the economy, and they certainly enjoyed a target-rich environment. Their overarching theme, Stimulus Package, was perfect in its simplicity. Indeed, if you don’t get a chuckle out of both words, “stimulus” and “package”, then your mind is clearly not in the proper context, namely: the gutter. I was impressed by all the floats, but a few stood out. A float by L.E.W.D. was titled “Inaugural Balls” — nuff said? The late great Ashley Morris was re-imagined as a superhero heading up the “Fleur de League” in a float by the Mystic Krewe of PAN. That brought a tear to my eye. The Mystic Krewe of Spermes featured a salute to “Trickle Down Economics” that cast the old term in a brave new light. But I think my favorite float was by Seeds of Decline. The title pretty much says it all: “Fannie Mae Goes Down,” depicting a new version of Monopoly. I took a photo with my phone, but it didn’t turn out. Just as well, or this blog might be flagged as a porn site. Of course, other people with better cameras and more fortitude than I have posted pix to satisfy your prurient interest.

It was Persephone’s first parade. Her friend Lavender (six months old) came along and brought her mother Daisy. Fortunately these girls are still too young to ask their parents any embarrassing questions.

Stand-Up Routine

Yeah, no big deal, I’m just standing here examining this advertising circular. Just another day standing around. Did I mention I’m standing?

Browsing

She’s been standing up all on her own for the last couple weeks. Finally got a picture this morning. She’s been standing for longer and longer periods, and she couldn’t be more pleased with herself. Just like when she started crawling. She laughs and claps. She’s getting more and more confident on her legs, and her sense of balance is improving by leaps and bounds. She can raise herself up from the floor without holding on to anything. She can crouch and squat. I’ve been most intrigued to observe she’s learning to fall more gracefully. She’s no longer as likely to smack her head on the floor. It made me realize how important that is to the whole process. Learning to stand is very much about learning to fall. And that reminded me of Laurie Anderson’s great lyric:

You’re walking. And you don’t always realize it, but you’re always falling. With each step you fall forward slightly. And then catch yourself from falling. Over and over, you’re falling. And then catching yourself from falling. And this is how you can be walking and falling at the same time.

So I wonder if she’ll be walking by her first birthday? It could happen any day now…

Mâche

Mottes de mâche

Mottes de mâche by Une vallée dans la lune, licensed under Creative Commons

Our latest culinary discovery is mâche, a green leafy valerian, also known as corn salad or lamb’s lettuce. For years we’ve been devoted mainly to spinach in our salads, because of Xy’s conviction that spinach is healthier than lettuce. Spinach is supposed to be an excellent source of iron. However, it seems that mâche has even more iron. Also, it’s got less sodium, more fiber, and more Vitamin C. And it tastes better. The leaves are much more delicate than spinach, much more pleasing to my palette. Xy agrees.