Be Revolutionary

There’s something I wanted to write at the first anniversary of Katrina, but I never did.

I thought about it again at the second anniversary, and the third and the fourth. I still wanted to write about it, but there was something in the way. Too much to do, and time slips away. Or maybe that’s just an excuse.

This year I’m going to write it. I missed the five year anniversary by one day, but I’m going to say it at last.

And it’s simply this:

Be revolutionary.

That’s it. That’s my wish for the people of New Orleans. Come to think of it, that’s also my wish for the people of this nation and this world. But somehow it seems especially apropos at this place, at this time. We’ve been having to rebuild and rethink everything, and five years on there is still much to do. So, as we continue to work at building it back better, we need to be bold. We need to be daring. We need courage and compassion and creativity.

For example, consider this new report from Waggonner & Ball Architects, commissioned by Friends of Lafitte Corridor with a grant from the Greater New Orleans Foundation’s Environmental Fund. It asks us to consider new approaches to managing storm water in the city.

To change the way we live with water here would be revolutionary. And it might even save lives. Of course, it’s not easy to turn around and do things differently. It’s difficult. It’s expensive. But it’s necessary. And in the long run, we will pay a much greater price if we keep doing things the same old way.

The proposals in this report are just an example. We need revolutionary thinking on all fronts.

Not all revolutions are good. Not all revolutions are just. I don’t endorse change for the sake of change. For a community that has lost so much, in fact, more change may be difficult to face. But that’s our challenge, to preserve the good while revolutionizing the bad.

And actually, I think a lot of New Orleanians are doing this already. But it seems that it’s never enough. We need to constantly be supporting one another to be stronger and go further.

Posting this here won’t do much to advance the cause. Words are not enough. We need to live the revolution through our actions. I try to do that every day.

Imagine New Orleans five years from now. If we have a city that is just and humane, if all our citizens are enjoying a good quality of life, if we are thriving and healthy and green — that would be a revolution. We know we’re not their yet. But isn’t that what most of us desire?

If we want it, we have to be revolutionaries.

Katrina Time

Day 43

It’s that time of year when remembrance dominates our minds and the media. For some it can be painful and even oppressive, for others it is necessary and therapeutic. But no matter your attitude, it’s virtually inescapable.

Because humans have five fingers on each hand, this anniversary gets special attention, and the remembrance is not a strictly local phenomenon. Across the nation people are being reminded of what happened on the Gulf Coast five years ago.

But down here it’s even more intense. A superficial glance at this morning’s paper reveals no fewer than eleven Katrina-related headlines on the front pages of the various sections, including the Metro, Living and, yes, even the Sports sections. And I’m probably missing a few. I haven’t even looked at the arts and entertainment Lagniappe supplement.

This has been building all week.

If it feels like more than five years to some of us, that’s because disasters apparently make their own time. As with youth and grief and travel and certain psychedelic drugs, time seems to slow down.

This is called time dilation. When everything you take for granted is ripped out from under you, it forces you to slow down and live in the moment.

Those first two weeks after Katrina lasted about two years. The next couple months, another year. I’m not sure exactly how long the following year lasted but it was surely much longer than 365 days. Time has only slowly come to heel.

All in all, I’d say Katrina happened about 15 years ago. Anyone who’s lived through it knows I speak the truth. But because we are ruled by the calendar and not our hearts, five years it is.

A funny thing happened almost exactly halfway through those five ostensible years. We had a baby. I used to think our lives would always be defined in terms of before and after Katrina. But it turns out that having a child has been an even more profoundly transformative experience. In some ways, at least, our post-Katrina era is being eclipsed by the Age of Persephone. We’ve spent two and half years in each.

From this point on the eclipse will just become more complete. I never expected sorrow to be eclipsed by joy like this, but there it is. If I wasn’t a parent, I’d still feel satisfied with our personal recovery. But I wouldn’t feel this clear and definitive break with what came before. It would be a long gradual subsidence rather than this sudden inoculation.

I know my personal experience is just that — personal. Time has not healed all wounds. We still face manifest challenges as a community and as individuals, both here on the Gulf Coast and in the diaspora.

My heart goes out, at this time especially, to all those who are still struggling with Katrina, to those who have been displaced yet still yearn to come home, to those who have not been made whole, to those who still feel the heartbreak and loss.

I hope, in time, you find some measure of peace.


Photo by Gary Martin, licensed under Creative Commons

A Moment of Silence

After eleven years on the job in faculty development, I just led my first session that didn’t have anything to do with technology.

The subject? A moment of silence.

We began the session with a brief moment of silence, then I led a short discussion.

What mindset is most conducive to learning? What mental states might actually obstruct learning? What do we do as teachers that encourages the latter or the former?

We went around the table and talked about these things for a bit.

Then I took us back to the beginning and asked how the prefatory silence shaped the discussion. Did it foster a better mindset? The consensus seemed to be that it did. It provided a transition that allowed people to let go of their previous tasks and focus on the matter at hand.

Then I asked the faculty present to consider if such a technique could work in their classrooms. In fact one person (a Dominican brother) has been doing this for thirty years. Another person tried it for one semester a while ago with seemingly good results. Another has just started practicing a moment of silence this week, inspired by this very session.

After we talked about the potential challenges and pitfalls this technique presents, I distributed copies of the Tree of Contemplative Practices and noted that silence was but one practice of many. At this point I asked if anyone sitting around the table engaged in any sort of contemplative practice that they’d care to share with the group. Interestingly all three faculty who have used silence to open class also are regular practitioners. But the balance of attendees did not seem to engage in any regular practice. Or perhaps they just didn’t want to share at this point.

I threw out the phrase “contemplative pedagogy” as a blanket term for using contemplative practices in teaching, which linked with integrative learning seems to be part of a emergent trend in the academy today. I mentioned the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education which I joined this summer. I also hyped the faculty book club which I’ll be leading this semester. We’re reading The Heart of Higher Education. I also referenced Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry, a book I just finished and am still digesting.

And then I talked about why I think all of this is potentially important to the University and its mission, and asked what the group thought. I also confessed myself remarkably unqualified to be promulgating this topic, since I know so little about it, but I just feel it’s so important. And of course I had to mention that contemplation was not just a means to an end, but a worthwhile end to itself — if you can call something inherently transformative an “end.”

I let the group know I was interested in collaborating if anyone wanted to study the effects of a moment of silence on classroom learning.

Finally we talked about possible future directions for the conversation which we’d begun. Indeed, the main purpose of this session, to my mind, was to gauge faculty interest in contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning. I hope this is the beginning of a sustained dialog on the topic, and it will be up to me to nurture that dialog and expand the circle.

I was pretty happy with the whole session. But mainly I’m happy to have finally taken this step, breaking out of being strictly a “tech guy” in my professional life, and venturing onto a new path.

Pick One

I’ll be on that panel tonight (Katrina 5.0) and they’ve asked me to read a post from my blog from the first few weeks after Katrina.

The question, of course, is which one?

My mind immediately sprang to something I wrote at the end of that dark November, which I titled Random Electronic Squawking.

But I thought I’d ask any readers out there for suggestions. If you remember something specific I wrote from five years ago, then it must pack a certain punch. I’m inclined to think people remember the general overarching narrative rather than specific posts, but feel free to prove me wrong.

Hurry, though — showtime is seven o’clock tonight. Though of course I’d still be interested in hearing your thoughts after the fact. And by all means come on out to the Presbytère tonight if you can.

Comiskey Shot

Comiskey Park Brandsource Community Center

Now that school’s back in session and my daughter’s back in daycare, I’m back to riding on the Jeff Davis bike path each morning on my way to work. That takes me past Comiskey Park and a sad tableau of signage for a community center that never materialized. I thought to myself a couple times over the past couple weeks that I should stop and take a photo. It would be one of those shots that tells much of the story all by itself.

Then, yesterday morning, I opened the paper to discover Eliot Kamenitz beat me to it. Imagine — scooped by a professional photographer.

So on the way home yesterday I snapped my own version. Better late than never.

I remember in late 2006 that a company named DNA Creative Media approached Mid-City Neighborhood Organization with a somewhat unusual proposition. They wanted to make a “reality show” about building something in New Orleans. One idea being floated was a community center at Comiskey Park in Mid-City, but they were also looking at other sites. MCNO rallied a bunch of neighbors to turn out and greet the producers when they visited Comiskey on November 29th of that year. I stopped by on my way home from work to support the cause. Many neighbors had made signs with slogans like “DNA + Mid-City = A Perfect Match.” In short, as a community we pulled out all stops to land this deal.

Apparently the producers were impressed by the warm reception. In some other neighborhoods they’d visited, people were more skeptical.

Perhaps we should have been more skeptical too. The whole thing struck me as bizarre. But remember, we were still in full-on recovery mode. Our future was far from clear. We were still living in a surreal landscape of destruction. We were desperate.

For a while things looked like they were proceeding according to plan. It was announced that Louis Gossett Jr. would host the show. Neighbors developed a wishlist for features they wanted to see. Soon, plans for a beautiful community center were unveiled. Here’s a description from the neighborhood discussion group:

The center will be a 2-story building which will include an indoor NBA-sized basketball court; a 4-station kitchen with commercial grade appliances (to be used for cooking classes and demos); and a general purpose room for meetings, theater, dance & exercise. A state-of-the-art computer lab with Internet access will encourage research by students of all ages as well as allowing families and friends still divided by the Katrina evacuation to keep in touch by email. The contract between DNA and the City was signed on February 6th. Demolition of derelict buildings on the site and construction of the new center is planned for later this year.

You can even listen to Damon Harman of DNA describe the project.

Some preliminary work began. In May of 2007 I took this photo.

Cranes on the Skyline

Some time after the piles were driven, work stopped. In October we read in the paper that the project was bogged down in governmental red tape. In March 2008 we learned that DNA was filing for bankruptcy. They were also facing a lawsuit from Paul Davis National, the contractor (based in Wisconsin) they’d hired. Paul Davis claimed DNA still owed them money for work completed.

And that’s brings us back to yesterday’s article by Masako Hirsch and Gordon Russell. It seems the City of New Orleans will have to pay the $700,000 owed to Paul Davis National.

Doesn’t seem quite right, does it? What I have to wonder — was the whole thing a scam from the beginning, or was it an “honest” bit of incompetent business, or did this run afoul of the global economic downturn, or did government bureaucracy slow things down so much it wrecked the project?

Two and a Half

Goodwill

Dear Persephone,

A friend recently asked me if we would be having a party for your half-birthday. That conjured images of yet more presents. Trust me when I say you’ve got more than enough stuff at this point in your life. Our friends and family have been very generous to you.

So I thought we’d do something different. I asked you to choose two of your toys to give away. The concept was a little difficult to explain, so I drew a picture of two girls, one with lots of toys, the other with none, and then I showed the first girl giving a toy to the second. I think you got it.

You picked out a stuffed bear and lamb, two toys which you definitely still enjoy, and we went to the Goodwill. You put them in the donation bin all by yourself.

I was very proud of you. Ultimately I think this exercise was not about charitable giving (though that’s a fine thing to learn) but rather about not being too attached to material things. At least I hope so.


We’ve been wondering when you’ll enter the “why” phase. I don’t know if it’s a documented phenomenon, but it seems like all kids go through a phase where they are asking “why” about anything and everything endlessly. Frankly I’ve been looking forward to it. I’m a somewhat curious person by nature, and I love to contemplate the whys and wherefores of all manner of subjects.

But actually I think you may have already entered this phase. Only instead of saying “why” you ask “What does x mean, Dada?” And x could stand for just about anything.

  • What does water mean?
  • What does eating mean?
  • What does sitting down mean?
  • What does Hello Kitty mean?
  • What does garbage mean?

And so on.

You are also given to saying all manner of funny, touching and weird things. Some examples from about six weeks ago include:

  • I’m a clown girl.
  • Cats are nice to me.
  • Lightning makes me die.

About a month ago you decided your favorite color is purple. A couple weeks later you expanded this to purple and black. For about a day you had three favorites, purple and black and brown, but you seem to have settled on just purple and black for now. Often you want things to be purple — your food, for instance — and the fact that they’re not could be problematic except you’ve invented an ingenious solution. You simply wave your magic wand, which is visible only to you, and you make things purple. Or black. I don’t know where you got this idea, but you often walk around turning everything in the house purple. I think you’d turn the whole world purple if you could.

Much of the time your little hands are curled up into tightly balled fists. If I ask you want you have in your hands, you might say it’s your wand, or an alligator, or almost anything, but most often lately it’s a cat and a dog — one in each hand, I guess. Sometimes you’ll be in danger of dropping your cup and spilling your drink because you’re holding it with balled-up fists. I can ask you to put your cat and dog down, or to give them to me, and you will, after which you can use your hands for a time. But it won’t be long before they’re balled up in fists again.

Two Views

I look to houses and buildings for signs of our progress — or lack of it. People are more important than buildings, of course, but people move around. Many people never returned to the city. Besides which, people can hide their pain. The buildings are easier to read.

Five years after Katrina, we still have houses like this all over.

Five Years After

Note the front door is just standing wide open. This was taken in the 3000 block of Banks Street.

But here’s another photo that tells a different story.

Re: Building

Three years ago I took a photo of the building on this lot being demolished.

Now it seem a new building will stand where the old one fell. This is heartening. In fact there are five more buildings going up within a short walk from this one.

So which photograph represents the state of New Orleans today? I think they both do. This remains a city of contrasts. It can be a challenge to keep both these images in mind. We seem to have a natural tendency to reduce and simplify. We want to view things as black or white, positive or negative, with little nuance and few shades of gray. It’s difficult to integrate stark contradictions into a coherent whole.

But that’s exactly what we have to do if we want an accurate picture of where we live.

Empaneled

Katrina 5.0: A Symposium on Technology & Blogging

Next week I’ll be on a panel called “Katrina 5.0: A Symposium on Technology & Blogging” hosted by the Louisiana State Museum.

Among other things, I’ll be talking about blogging, my experience of writing about the aftermath of the levee failures, and how the platform or community has evolved in the past five years. I think it’s interesting to look at how Katrina played out in the blogosphere, and compare it to the BP oil spill and how it continues to play out. I have my own ideas, but I’d be curious to know what others think.

So — what do you think? How did blogs and new media inform your understanding of Katrina and the levee failures and the ongoing recovery work in New Orleans? In what ways is that similar or dissimilar to the story of the oil spill?

Here are the particulars. I believe the panel itself will be in the final hour of the event.

Time: August 25 · 5:30pm – 8:00pm
Location: The Presbytère, Jackson Square

Join us for a preview of HurricaneScience.org, a comprehensive hurricane website from The University of Rhode Island. Meet two members of Rising Tide Nola, Bart Everson and Troy Gilbert, who captured Katrina’s wrath in real time, on their blogs. Learn about tools for disaster management from Ky Luu, Executive Director of Tulane’s DRLA and previous Director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. Hear from Len Bahr, prominent blogger and previous Director of the Governor’s Applied Coastal Science Program, who’s using LaCoastPost as a voice for the Gulf.

Hope you can be there. In the meantime, by all means, let me know what you think.

Life’s Too Good

Wall Boxes

I’ve been reflecting lately on how happy I am, and this makes me nervous.

I love my daughter and my wife, my health is fairly good, at work I’m pursuing a line of inquiry which is fresh and exciting to me, I’ve been reading some good books, we’re finally seeing some progress on the greenway, I’m finally making some progress on another long-stalled project, and so on and so forth.

In short, life is good, and this worries me.

The last time I felt this way, it was quickly followed by bad news.

The time before that, bad news.

In both cases, my personal distress was a trivial thing in the big picture, but it sure didn’t feel trivial to me. In both cases, the “bad news” left me feeling shattered and flattened and empty.

By contrast, today I feel full of life and energy; I feel a satisfying depth to my existence; I feel like an integrated whole. I’m far from perfect, and there’s much to be done, but I relish the work.

I’m riding high now, but am I headed toward a fall?

Of course. Of course I am. Nothing lasts forever, and bad things will happen eventually.

So I’m keeping that in mind and just hoping that this good stretch is a long one.

As I reflected on this further, I was struck by a passage in the book I’m reading wherein Arthur Zajonc notes that suffering “is intrinsic to a life rightly lived.” After all, I would never shed a tear if I didn’t care for those around me. These bad things would not upset me if I was some kind of heartless robot — but who wants to live like that? Suffering is indeed a part of life, which at times cannot be avoided. The important thing is to cultivate equanimity so that when the crisis inevitably comes, it can be confronted with compassion and reason.

Furthermore, “happiness is really not the goal of life.” It’s a side effect, not an end to itself. I will enjoy it while it’s here, and do my best to reflect what joy I can into the lives of others.

I think the anxiety I expressed above comes from forgetting these essential truths. I am feeling better already.

Perils of Reading

I wanted to write something here about how to enjoy a book, novels in particular. I’ve touched on this before, but I wanted to expand on that theme.

It’s not enough to read for an hour or so before you go to bed. Read when you first wake up in the morning. Read at lunch time. Read when you get home from work or school. Intertwine your reading with your daily activities, until you are thoroughly immersed. Soon you will be living in two worlds, thinking of that fictional world constantly even as you navigate the real one.

I was going to write something like that. I was thinking about this as I rode my bike to work the other morning — when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a man walking down the bike path and reading a book.

Reader

I was so stunned I had to take a picture. I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing. What was going on here? Was this some sort of gag? Was I a victim of some kind of psychic-powered hidden camera TV show?

No. This guy was just really into his book. He was so immersed in what he was reading, that he couldn’t put the book down even as he walked through the neighborhood.

And that’s kind of cool…

Reader

…but perhaps this guy was taking it to far.

I gawked in amazement as he walked across Tulane Avenue. Barely a glance at the oncoming traffic.

Reader

As you can see, he survived. But yeah. Definitely too far.

When I related this encounter to my boss, she told me Stephen King was struck by a car while walking and reading a book at the same time.

I think the moral is clear.

Reading and walking don’t mix.

Actually, according to an interview in the Bangor News, King wasn’t reading the book when he was struck. But I still don’t think it’s a good idea. Personally I am way too much of a klutz to walk and read at the same time. I would surely trip and crack a tooth.

And what have I been reading lately that got me thinking about this in the first place? I got finished with When Gravity Fails earlier than expected, so I had some extra reading time. I decided to tackle The Book of the Short Sun at long last. Took me about a month and a half, and I’m still digesting it. After that, I read Blindsight which served as a sort of bracer, and I finished it just in time for today’s book club discussion. Now I’m partway through Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry by Arthur Zajonc, which is providing a fantastic counterargument to some of the anti-consciousness arguments of Blindsight. Some Borges is up next. It’s interesting to me how each book we read informs those before and after it.

Back to School

Instead of strengthening into a named storm, Tropical Depression #5 petered out and dissipated into nothing but a bunch of rainy weather. If it had played out differently, school might have been cancelled, but as it was today was the first day of classes at Xy’s new school.

Back to School

Yes, she’s teaching again, as I mentioned a couple months ago. Since then I’ve been joking that she needs to plan on working there for at least ten years. But it’s not really a joke; I hope she finds a measure of satisfaction and (dare I say it) peace in this position.

As long as I’m wishing, I’ll extend that to all teachers everywhere.

Some schools did indeed close today, including Persephone’s new daycare, a fact which I did not discover until I got there and found the place locked up and deserted. But “Dada’s school” is open so it’s an impromptu “Take Your Daughter to Work” day for me. It’s pretty quiet here, as summer sessions are over and the fall semester has not yet begun.

Sunshine & Sausage

Selection Committee

Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.
— Otto von Bismarck

I had the chance to observe a bit of sausage-making yesterday. I attended the meeting of a committee charged with selecting a team to design a greenway for the Lafitte Corridor.

A little context may be in order. Some sixteen months ago, the previous mayoral administration selected Design Workshop, from a field of fourteen applicants, to begin design of a greenway in the Lafitte Corridor. We (meaning the board of Friends of Lafitte Corridor) were happy with the selection, but the process was a bit mysterious and vague, taking place behind closed doors. That June, a couple hundred people turned out to hike the Lafitte Corridor and meet the designers. Our spirits were high, and it seemed that real progress was imminent.

By contrast, our spirits were quite low when the administration terminated the contract with Design Workshop in January. It represented a major setback for the project. I hasten to add that the termination didn’t reflect in any way on Design Workshop but had to do with obscure technical matters relating to a conflict between the city’s policies and procedures versus the requirements of the federal government. The policies and procedures were tweaked accordingly. The administration re-issued the request for proposals, but before they could be evaluated, their term in office was up.

Then a new guy comes into office. First order of business: gotta revamp those policies and procedures again. Gotta make it more open and transparent. Well, OK, that sounds good, but could we please get on with it?

So here we are again, right back where we were sixteen months ago. And yet what a difference a new mayoral administration makes. Last time, this process was hidden from view behind closed doors. Citizen groups like Friends of Lafitte Corridor had to rely on rumor and gossip just to divine what was going on in our own government. This time, everything was different. This meeting represented the very first selection for procurement of services made under the new policies and procedures. I was able to attend the meeting and observe as the committee discussed their criteria, proposals were evaluated on a matrix, scores tallied up, and a selection made.

All I gotta say is, despite the immortal wisdom of Otto von Bismarck, that’s some pretty sweet sausage. Sunshine would appear to be the best spice.

Oh, the selected team? Design Workshop. Yes, again. They have been chosen as the best applicants twice now. Last time there were fourteen proposals. This time there were thirteen, but they were not all the same as before. So the process may be different, but the result was the same. I think it’s safe to say that Design Workshop is well-qualified for this work. The citizens of New Orleans can have confidence in this choice — and also in a process for spending public money that is open to public scrutiny. It’s a far cry from participatory budgeting, but it is a step in the right direction.

I’m certainly happy with the selection. It’s great news for this project. But it’s important to keep this in perspective. We’re finally back to where we were in April of 2009. The contract still has to be negotiated. Last time that process took half a year. Hopefully it will go more quickly this time, since it was already negotiated once before. After that, of course, the contract has to be signed by all relevant parties. That took a month last time. Then a notice to proceed has to be issued. Then and only then can the work begin — the design work, mind you. Not construction, not yet. It will still be a good while before we break ground. A good design phase is absolutely essential for a quality product, and the active participation of all relevant stakeholders is essential. And I think that is the message we need to keep front and center in the months ahead.

A Very Silly Dream

Over the last week I’ve been sleeping less soundly and remembering my dreams better. I believe the two are related, and decreased alcohol consumption probably plays a role in both. The most vivid dreams come just before I wake up.

This morning, I dreamed that Brian Denzer was working on a newspaper story about the Big Easy Roller Girls, who had suffered a crushing defeat or setback of some sort. His problem was the headline: It had to be short, very short, no room even for the full name of the team. I came up with what I thought was a brilliant solution: “BERG Iced.”

I woke up briefly, or dreamed that I did, so pleased with myself that I almost laughed out loud. Then I fell back asleep. Next thing I knew I was explaining the headline to Nicole Kibath in her kitchen in Toronto.

I should have written this down first thing in the morning. The precise details have faded now. What exactly happened to the Big Easy Roller Girls? How did I know what Brian was writing? Was I looking over his shoulder in the newsroom or floating over his head like a guardian angel or what? What newspaper was he writing for? And, above all, what did Nicole’s kitchen look like?

Post Scriptum: In real life, Brian is not a newspaper writer, at least not to my knowledge, but he is the relentless brains behind NolaStat. Nicole makes beautiful art glass. I’m a big fan of both, and also of the Big Easy Roller Girls, whom I’m sure will prevail at their upcoming home game on August 14th.

Post Post Scriptum: Next morning, I dreamt of an elephant who committed suicide by jumping into a river of bourbon.

Post-Tales

Empty Chairs

Tales of the Cocktail is over. But there are a few more things I wanted to mention.

I really liked the way Tales handled media this year. The application process was more rigorous, but once approved, I was guaranteed access to five seminars. That worked very well for me, and was a big improvement over last year’s procedure.

I tried to write with some depth about each seminar I attended. That was a challenge, but my aim was to provide a unique form of coverage. I want to get invited back next year after all. I figure what I lack in numbers (readership) I can perhaps compensate in quality. I’m already thinking about how I could do this better next year. It might behoove me to interview presenters, either in advance or at the event.

Just for the record, here are all my write-ups from this year’s Tales:

Being media also got me some good meals. The breakfasts were spectacular. The breakfast cocktails were spectacular.

Moonshine Breakfast

The Monteleone was spectacular. I especially liked the ceiling in the Queen Anne Ballroom.

Ceiling Detail

I didn’t stay for any of the evening soireés, but I did hit up a few tasting rooms and other events between seminars. One such event was a mix-off sponsored by Cointreau with food by John Besh. I couldn’t miss that. The room was jammed, but somehow I managed to sample a libation from each of the competing bartenders.

Danielle Marchant

It gave me pause to think about the multiple facets that go into the art of mixing a drink. If I had to vote, would I simply pick the cocktail most pleasing to my palette, with all its peculiarities? Or the one that seemed most inventive and innovative? And what about the personal rapport established by the bartender? Surely that counts for plenty. In the end, I didn’t have an opportunity to vote. But Danielle Marchant was the winner, and she was clearly ahead of the competition in that last category.


I rode my bike each day. When I met people from other far-flung places and they asked me whence I came, I’d say, “From New Orleans. I rode my bike here this morning.”

Ride

From last year I know there’s a bike rack in the alley behind the hotel, so that’s where I parked.

And that’s how I got to see the barrels of citrus waste waiting for pickup.

Citrus for Compost

I’d read in the paper that these were being taken to Hollygrove Market & Farm for composting. Seems like a great idea. Now if they could figure a way to recycle (or better yet re-use) all those tiny little cocktail cups, we’d have a markedly greener event.

Mid-way through the conference, Chris Hubbard and Leigh Bryant interviewed me for a bicycle documentary. I couldn’t tear myself away from Tales, so they came to meet me at the Monteleone. We shot the interview in the Cathedral Room.

Chris and Leigh

That really doesn’t have anything to do with Tales, but it was cool nonetheless.

I guess that’s about it. Except I should mention that I took home a bunch of swag.

Swag

Of all this stuff, my most prized score was a bottle of Gran Classico Bitter. I tasted some after the session on amari, and it was fantastic. (It’s not currently available in New Orleans, but should be soon.) I still haven’t cracked open the small bottle I brought home with me, but I’m very much looking forward to it.

Alas, it will have to wait. I’ve just embarked on a massive sobriety binge.

French Quarter Green

I’m taking this week off work to get some things done around the house. My main objective is to repaint the porch.

Cracked and Peeling

As I noted previously, the paint has worn away at a surprising rate. I suspect it’s an inferior paint or simply not enough coats. I’m pretty sure there’s a layer of lead-based paint beneath the latex, and we don’t want to be tracking lead-paint dust into our home.

Rummaging amongst the cans of paint that came with the house when we bought it nine months ago, I quickly found what looked to be a half-gallon of the right color. I took it to Helm Paint and had them whip up a batch to match.

But when I got started the next day, I discovered the color was a bit off. I painted a test patch with the new paint, then another with the old paint, and neither of them matched the porch color.

Then it dawned on me — this was the color of our stairs, not the porch. I’d grabbed the wrong can. Back to rummaging, I found a rusty quart can that seemed to fit the bill. It was hand-marked, “Moorglo Essex Green 09643.” This time I painted a test patch immediately.

Xy had the car so I had to rely Howie for a ride back to Helm. (Thanks for the lift, man.) They told me this was a standard color — French Quarter Green. I had no idea we were living so fancy.

I’ve been making good progress, but the heat has been challenging. I knew it would be hot this week. It’s August in New Orleans, after all. What I didn’t realize was that we’d be in the middle of a record-setting heat wave. Not only is it miserably hot and humid, it also hasn’t rained for a good long while. I told a friend who moved here last fall that he would find the summer weather very predictable with our clockwork thunderstorms. “You can practically set your watch by them,” I said, but this dry spell is making a liar of me. That’s been helpful for painting, I suppose, though I miss the afternoon cool-down a shower can provide. Now I find I’m hoping the rain will hold off for another day.

But damn, this heat. Instead of dodging thunderstorms, I’ve been dripping sweat into the paint. I don’t think I’ve ever sweated so much in my life. Ordinarily my shirt gets sweaty on the chest and armpits, but after an hour of work in this heat, the entire shirt is soaked — not a dry inch on it. I have to take frequent breaks, and at the end of the day I’m exhausted. But I’m happy to be getting an important job done.

Happy Lammas

Grass Horsie

Happy belated Lammas or Lughnasadh or whatever else you may call it. (I guess it’s over now. I get confused with these traditional-style holidays that last from sundown to sundown, essentially extending into two days of our modern calendar.) This is a time, in the Northern Hemisphere anyhow, to celebrate the beginning of the harvest. It also marks the beginning of the end of summer. That seems a long way off in the middle of this heat wave, but the “back to school” ads are appearing in the paper, and we painted Xy’s new school room not long ago, so I guess that’s what time it is.

I took Persephone to her first Lammas celebration this past weekend. This was organized by New Orleans Lamplight Circle and was specially planned for kids. It was my first such thing as well, and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.

What we found was all very sweet and beautiful and meaningful. We did some chants and songs with hand motions, honoring nature and the elements. There was some face painting and story-telling. We shared a simple but satisfying feast with an emphasis on bread. We also made corn dollies. Actually we made horsies, and (corn husks not being readily available) we made them out of grass. The one I made was a little on the shabby side, but I was holding a toddler on my lap the whole time.

Next year I hope to make some bread.

Participating in this celebration fulfilled a longstanding goal. I want my daughter to have a broad and well-rounded religious education. Mainstream Christian doctrine is easily encountered, but rituals such as this are a little more obscure. I want her to see that religion comes in many forms and varieties, and that it needn’t take place only in a church or a mosque or a synagogue.

But it’s more than that. I’ve been interested in religion myself for as long as I can remember, and in the last few years I’ve studied a bit about the diverse practices loosely grouped under the umbrella term of contemporary paganism. I find it endlessly fascinating, not to mention aesthetically compelling, and after so much reading it was gratifying to encounter the actual thing.

I’m looking forward to the autumnal equinox already.