Carnival Time

Yes, it’s that time again. As I’ve noted here before, Twelfth Night is traditionally observed on January 6th in New Orleans, but in other places it’s considered to begin at sundown on January 5th. I guess this relates to the old idea of holidays beginning the night before, like Christmas really seems to start on Christmas Eve, but it’s confusing to the modern mentality.

In any event, last night was the first time I’ve ever been invited to a Twelfth Night party on January 5th. It figures it would take a couple Hoosiers to pull a move like that; sadly, Jeff and Laura will soon be moving back to Indiana for a job opportunity that was too good to resist. We wish them well. We went in costume, of course, and had a good time. I felt like we were getting a jump on the rest of the city, though we had to make a relatively early departure so as not to keep our daughter up too too late. An unplanned theme emerged at the party — the color green. Lou from Denver was serving up a scalding and delicious chili verde, and not one but two of the ladies were dressed as green fairies, and so of course we had to drink a little absinthe.

Now that Carnival is officially here, it’s worth noting that it will be a long season — just about as long as possible. Why? Well, as we all know, Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the March equinox. That puts Easter on the 24th of April this year. (April 25 is the last mathematically possible date for Easter to land on, so this is very late indeed.) Of course, Ash Wednesday is 46 days before Easter, so this year it falls on March 9, which means Mardi Gras in March 8. That will be the latest Mardi Gras I’ve ever seen, but I’m certainly hoping to be around in 2038 when Mardi Gras will fall on March 9, the last possible day.

Since the beginning of Carnival is fixed but the end moves, the season can be short or long. It’s like an accordion, expanding and contracting over the years. The response is predictable. During short seasons, we hear people complaining that it’s all going by too quickly. During long seasons, people complain that it’s dragging on too long. Don’t fall into this trap! The variability of Mardi Gras and the Carnival season is a wonderful thing. Embrace it. Celebrate, don’t denigrate. Consider the implications of a convenient, modern, fixed date. The only way this would work is if Easter became a fixed feast rather than a moveable feast, which would mean disregarding the moon entirely. I’m sure some people would like that very much, but the very idea makes me retch. Don’t fall prey to this insidious anti-Lunarism. When a weary fellow paradegoer complains about the long Carnival season, haul off and punch that person right in the face. Strike a blow for the moon.

Happy Carnival, everyone.

Three Strikes & We’re In

Our friend James is kind of like the brother I never had. We’ve even been known to quarrel from time to time. I remember some years ago when James went back to school and started studying history in earnest. That he’s now presenting original research at the Louisiana State Museum fills me with a feeling I can only describe as fraternal pride.

Second Thursdays: Three Strikes & We're In

The subject is a fascinating one. Here’s the official write-up.

Historian James Conrad will explore the rocky but rich history of the New Orleans public school teachers efforts to gain better pay and benefits in the 1960s and 1970s. The New Orleans Public School teachers struck in 1966, 1969, and 1978. During the 1966 and 1969 strikes, the teacher unions were still divided along racial lines. The Local American Federation of Teachers 527, a predominantly African-American union, led the strik…es of 1966 and 1969 with little success. In 1972, the various unions merged to become the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO). UTNO struck in 1978 and was successful, after teachers formed an interracial union able to work as a unified force in having their demands met. Their unification led to UTNO being recognized by the school board as the main representative for teachers in the New Orleans Public School System.

UTNO Strike
United Teachers of New Orleans, Local 527 Collection, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans

I really want to be there but I’m afraid parental responsibilities may preclude my attendance. So if you can make it, please heckle James on my behalf.

Thursday, December 9 · 6:00pm – 9:00pm
The Cabildo, Louisiana State Museum
751 Chartres Street
New Orleans, LA

Free and open to the public.
Wine and appetizers provided by Friends of the Cabildo.
For more information contact Brittany Mulla at 504-568-8526 or [email protected]

This event is listed on Facebook.

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.

Sandbox Dialog

We stopped by our friends’ house yesterday and I talked to a couple four-year-old-boys playing in the sandbox. One of the boys had a sucker that had gotten coated with sand.

Me: Mmm, sand, that’s my favorite flavor.

Russell: Do you want it?

Me: No thanks, I just ate a bunch of sand before I came over here.

Sebastian: Did you eat Sephie’s purple sand? [Editor’s note: My daughter has a box full of purple sand, a gift from her grandmother.]

Me: Yes, I ate it all up, it was yummy.

Russell: Are you just joking with us?

Me: Yes, I’m just kidding.

Sebastian: I don’t really get that joke.

Me: Well… it’s just a ridiculous thing to say, because people don’t really eat sand.

Russell: I do!

And with that, he opened wide and poured a full bucket of sand into his mouth.

Summer Is a-Coming In

We had a little party. For Beltane and May Day. I didn’t send out engraved invitations, only announced it via Twitter.

What is this day, anyway? A cross-quarter day, Beltane falls halfway between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice. Some folks mark it as the beginning of summer, which makes sense to me.

We had a total of six guests, so it was perhaps the smallest such party we’ve ever thrown, but also one of the most enjoyable. In attendance were: Michael H., Brother O’Mara, Caitlin and her friend Randy, and a little later DJ and Lala.

And of course also P. & Xy & yours truly. So nine all told, including hosts. A nice number.

We drank a pitcher of Limoncello Collins, and numerous other drinks were consumed. (Most notably a quantity of Luxardo Amaro Abano.) We fired up the grill and cooked sausages and burgers. We oiled up the blades and shaved my head — just the underneath parts, still keeping it long on top for now. No one else was up for a shave, alas.

And we talked and talked and talked, about religion and politics and the apocalyptic unfoldings in the Gulf of Mexico. It was more than interesting to hear the perspectives of an African-American from New Jersey on the racial politics here in the Deepest South. By the same token, I was glad when DJ showed up, a friend who is also a native to the city and a person of color, who is progressive and intelligent and who (in a nutshell) represents everything the world thinks we’re not. It was cool those guys got to meet each other, especially since they are both teaching in the public schools.

I didn’t take any pictures or record any songs or create any great works of art out of this event. But I enjoyed it a great deal, so much that I’m already imagining what it might be like to do it again next year.

It certainly feels like summer’s coming in. It’s hot and sticky and after three days of overcast turbulence it’s finally raining. I can only hope it gets our grass growing to cover up the bare patches that have begun to appear over the last month.

Doppelgänged

reflections (A) reflections (A) by camil tulcan

We had overlapping houseguests last weekend. My mother-in-law was still here, and we were also playing host to a former student of mine.

What? I have former students? That phrase seems strange to me, but I guess it’s accurate. Back in the 98-99 school year I assisted Ron Osgood in teaching a couple of classes, field and post-production if I recall correctly. It was a great experience for me and an honor to teach with Ron. I learned a lot. Hopefully our undergraduate students learned something as well.

Fast forward a decade plus. Here I am in New Orleans, and I get an e-mail from my former student Eric H. He was coming down here for a conference, and could I recommend some points of interest? I never got around to compiling such a list, but he ended up bunking at our house.

Since it was so many years ago, I didn’t have an image of Eric in mind until I laid eyes on him. Imagine my surprise when I discovered he looks alarmingly similar to yours truly. Tall, slender, kinda Nordic — we even had the same glasses more or less. If I had my typical buzz cut the effect would have been complete. As it was he was mistaken for me by all three other residents of our house over the course of the weekend: that’s my wife, my mother-in-law, and my daughter. In fact, my daughter was a little frightened by this. She ran into my office, saw a man who looked like Daddy, cozied up and then realized it was not Daddy after all. Scary!

Eric is frighteningly intelligent, but he had never been to New Orleans before. When I mentioned the river by way of orientation, he asked, “What river is that?” A little thing called the Mississippi, you may have heard of it. That made me laugh.

All in all, it was a real blast to get reacquainted with Eric, even if it was eerily like to talking to myself in the mirror.

Being a little slow on the uptake, I did not realize that Eric was the author behind the marathonpacks blog which I have been reading off-and-on for years.

A ROX Sonnet

My old friend Erik B. wrote this fabulous sonnet about ROX and stuff.

In Blooming Town a young man cast his fate
A TV show he’d wring from force of will
For lighting rigs and soundboards he’d not wait
His friends and he demanded not a frill

The substance of the thing, aye there’s the rub
And substances and larks they’d oversee
But then one went toward mounts, one toward the hub
Of Cath’lic tweaks, and gaslit warm-night sprees

One day this gas and warmth plied atmosphere
The land was smote, its people were made sick
A man, impelled, returned to help rebuild
And try his hand at civic rhetoric

Another one he’s brought into the show
She’ll walk in footsteps, wander, learn, and grow

The Wizard vs. Cities on Flame: Comparative Lyrical Analysis



My friend Brad W. once made an offhand remark in an online discussion that has been preying on me for years now.

We were discussing early heavy metal, in particular Black Sabbath and Blue Öyster Cult, in particular a certain riff that shows up on both bands’ debut albums. Who was copying who, I wondered? It now seems clear that Black Sabbath originated the riff, but that’s beside my point here. Brad mentioned that one reason he liked BÖC was their sense of humor, something he felt Black Sabbath lacked.

I’m a huge BÖC fan, but I’d never appreciated their humor before. I believe Brad’s right, in the main, and I thank him for giving me cause to revisit some old familiar music and hear it afresh.

And yet…. and yet… something has been nagging at the back of my mind, lo these many years — namely, the lyrics to those two songs we were discussing.

First let’s consider the lyrics of Blue Öyster Cult’s “Cities on Flame with Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

My heart is black, and my lips are cold
Cities on flame with rock and roll
Three thousand guitars they seem to cry
My ears will melt, and then my eyes

CHORUS
Oh, let the girl, let that girl, rock and roll
Cities on flame now, with rock and roll

Gardens of nocturne, forbidden delights
Reins of steel, and it’s alright
Cities on flame, with rock and roll
Marshal will buoy, but Fender control

I will be the first to admit that as a teenager I didn’t see the humor there. I just thought it was badass. The song has a murky, sinister sound, and that riff is heavy and baroque. But now I see, in the lyrics, a bit of ironic detachment, a faint tongue-in-cheek mockery, a send-up of rock-god hubris that lends the musical bombast an intellectual edge. That’s awesome, and I’m grateful to Brad for opening my eyes, which were previously only melted.

So far so good. BÖC’s humor checks out. It’s not exactly a laugh riot, but it’s there.

Now let us turn our attention to “The Wizard.” Here’s the same riff, apparently the original, blown through a harmonica. Consider the lyrics.

Misty morning, clouds in the sky
Without warning, the wizard walks by
Casting his shadow, weaving his spell
Funny clothes, tinkling bell

CHORUS
Never talking
Just keeps walking
Spreading his magic

Evil power disappears
Demons worry when the wizard is near
He turns tears into joy
Everyone’s happy when the wizard walks by

Sun is shining, clouds have gone by
All the people give a happy sigh
He has passed by, giving his sign
Left all the people feeling so fine

OK, did you get the joke? The wizard is clearly your friendly neighborhood dope peddler. And that’s my point. At a casual first listen, this song seems like some Tolkeinesque fantasy, but upon closer examination it’s about some hippie dude selling dime bags, a committed stoner with a Gandalf fetish. And that, my friends, is frickin’ hilarious. Anyone who has lived in Bloomington, Indiana, of all places, should have no trouble cuing in to this one. We’ve all bumped into this guy in front of the Eye, or maybe hanging out at Lothlorien.

Now perhaps this song is an exception. Perhaps it is a rare example of humor in the otherwise dour universe of Black Sabbath. Perhaps as a rule BÖC is funnier. But if you compare these two particular songs, BÖC gets the points for sinister rock stylings, while Sabbath comes out ahead in the funny department. Furthermore, since the riff was stolen, I think the only possible conclusion in comparing these two songs is: Advantage Sabbath.

Sorry Brad!

Dancing with Beautiful Strangers

P & Me

Our first plan was to reprise last year’s costumes which we didn’t really get to employ last year. But then it became clear that this Mardi Gras would be unseasonably cool, and perhaps downright cold. Costuming as Olympian deities seemed like it would be uncomfortable, and so I scrambled at the last possible minute to come up with an alternative.

What could we wear and still be warm? Robes, I thought, big robes, big enough so that we can wear anything we want underneath. Since the Saints won the Super Bowl, I could make gold robes for all three of us, and we could wear black beads, and we’d be set. (Black robes with gold beads just seemed too easy somehow.)

I found instructions that looked simple enough. Most of the gold fabric had flown off the shelves of the local fabric store, but I managed to find some drapery-type stuff in back. Couldn’t settle for yellow, mind you — it had to be gold. I also got some gold rope to use for belts.

I borrowed the use of a friend’s sewing machine and soon enough we had our costumes. We added black caps for good measure. We borrowed a wagon from another friend.

Mardi Gras is primarily an early morning holiday, at least to me. It’s kind of like Christmas in that way. This is contrary to the image many casual tourists might have in mind, due to the common association linking revelry with late nights. But I rarely stay out late on Mardi Gras, and for me the best part of the day is generally before noon.

We some friends in the Marigny for a breakfast party. We donned our costumes and around 10:00 AM we joined up with the Societé de Sainte Anne which seemed to be passing by. I say “seemed to” because the Societé de Sainte Anne is so secretive, so mysterious, so surreal and chaotic, that it’s really kind of hard to tell exactly where the parade is, even when you’re in it. It is a collective hallucination.

Soon Persephone was dancing with a beautiful stranger.

Dancing with a Beautiful Stranger

Isn’t that what Mardi Gras is all about?

Persephone has a great time. She had a fever last year, so this was her first real Mardi Gras. At one point she was literally agape, mouth hanging open is amazement, to see so many wild and colorful characters.

I did not take many good photos. I was juggling a toddler and a wagon and of course Xy’s always a handful.

Pulling the Wagon

Xy pulled the wagon at times, but most of the way I found myself carrying Persephone in one arm and pulling the wagon with the other.

We saw a guy in an egg costume. He told Persephone he was Humpty Dumpty, then thought better of it, saying, “You probably don’t even know who that is.” Persephone whipped out her Mother Goose book and immediately turned to this rhyme.

Humpty

While wearing mittens no less!

Later we saw another Humpty Dumpty, a guy with his head made up like an egg, with tiny articulated arms on either cheek which he manipulated by a clever arrangement of rods, complete with a brick wall under his chin. I didn’t get a photo but it was pretty amazing. I saw so many amazing costumes. A Kachina doll. A bicycle hidden inside a giant shoe. A fully functional sound system sheathed in metal shaped like a bull and bellowing steam. Hindu deities with multiple arms. A mobile drum set with stripper pole. Saints-themed costumes were of course ubiquitous. I didn’t even get a picture of my friends as the three big quarterbacks the Saints took down. Imagine Brett Favre with a walker and you get the idea. Everyone wanted to take his picture but somehow I failed.

Perhaps the most mind-blowing costume of all was this tree house.

Tree House

How tall is that thing? They are looking down on people in second story balconies. And somehow it’s moving around. It’s a riff on a recent local news story about an artsy tree house that ran afoul of city inspectors.

Clapping

I wish I’d had the presence of mind to get a portrait of all three of us together in our matching costumes. Some random stranger took a photo of us that looked pretty good — he showed it to me on the viewfinder — but I’m sure I’ll never see that again. Here’s a photo Howie took showing my daughter and me on Royal Street.

B & P

Probably the best photo I took was this portrait of an older man in a wheelchair, wearing a pink boa, smoking a cigarette and taking it all in.

Gede

It was a great day but not without incident. At one point I crossed Royal Street a little too hastily. I was trying to dodge what appeared to be a large ocean-going vessel when a king’s ermine cape got snagged on the wheel of our wagon. For this act of carelessness, I incurred his royal displeasure.

The other near-disaster came when we stopped at a friend’s condo. Persephone was playing with a toy that belonged to the resident canine, and they got into a fight. I got in between them right quick and the girl emerged with only a tiny scratch under her left eye, but she was quite frightened. The dog bit me on the leg, and I shudder to think what might have happened.

We were back home shortly after five. The girl was utterly exhausted.

If this Mardi Gras could be said to have had a theme, deeper than the Saints mania, it was perhaps a renewed snese of optimism and confidence, the hope that we’ve turned a corner in our recovery, that, as Adma Karlin puts it, “deep down the 2010 carnival season marks when, at long last, post-Katrina New Orleans became, again, just New Orleans.”

Here’s hoping.

Ocular Emergency

Friday night my daughter stabbed me in the eye. Not intentionally — she was just waving her arm around. Her little finger somehow got past my glasses, and her nail sliced right across my cornea. When she realized I was in pain she gave me a kiss. Very sweet.

It was pretty painful, but I thought I could tough it out. Xy gave me some ibuprofen. After I got the girl to sleep I started baking gingerbread biscuits for our party the next day. I was cutting them into triangular shapes with a raisin in the center which I thought looked festive and vaguely mystical.

Then, about halfway through the process, the pain in my eye flared up like I couldn’t believe. I don’t know what brought it on. It was just after I had a whiskey sour, and I briefly entertained the fantastic notion that the lemon juice had entered my bloodstream and was now irritating the wound on my eyeball. I was operating with one eye shut and somehow managed to finish the last batches of gingerbread before collapsing for the night.

Lying in bed with both eyes shut, things didn’t seem so bad. But when I got up the next morning I discovered the pain was much, much worse. I was essentially unable to do anything, unable to function. I can’t really think when I’ve felt such pain before. Certainly breaking my toe was no comparison. I was crying like a baby. And here we had a few dozen people coming over in a few hours. Yikes.

Xy drove me to a local hospital and soon I was being admitted to the emergency room. They gave me an eyechart test, which I passed. Then they put a few drops of proxymetacaine (Alcaine) in my eye and within a minute or so I was back to 99% normal. It was like a miracle, a “whole new world” as the doctor put it. This sort of topical anesthetic wasn’t readily available some years ago, so there was little relief for a scratched cornea. As it was I involuntarily laughed out loud, the relief was so sudden and profound.

They squirted some fluorescein (a fluorescent dye) in my eye and looked at it under a black light. Yup, a perfect scratch right across the cornea.

Unfortunately proxymetacaine only lasts about ten or fifteen minutes. Repeated dosing is not advisable because of side effects. So they gave me some ketrolac (Acular) which lasts longer. Alas, I found this to be not quite so effective as the proxymetacaine. Instead of 99% relief it was more like 50%. They gave me some hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Vicodin) to get me over the hump.

Funny thing about the ketrolac. The doctor (who shall remain anonymous) said that according to regulations he was supposed to give me a couple drops and then throw the $50 bottle away and write me a prescription. He thought that was crazy and I had to agree. So instead he slipped me the bottle, an act which I gather could cost him his job. Sometimes rules were meant to be broken.

I was now able to function. My friend James gave me a ride back home. I got to mulling the glögg and icing the gingerbread. We put out blue cheese, almonds and raisins, all of which are traditionally served with glögg in Sweden.

Soon our friends and neighbors were coming by and we had a wonderful party. We received many special gifts, for which we are extremely thankful. I couldn’t begin to list them all here, but I thought Bob R.’s deserved to be cited. He and his wife brought a bag with a loaf of bread, a nice bottle of red wine and some Mediterranean sea salt. I was puzzled until I read the card. Mot only did it have a picture of our house on the front, it contained a quotation from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life which, given the time of year and the circumstance, just seemed so perfect.

George and Mary give the Martinis bread, salt and wine.

Mary to Mrs. Martini: “Bread that this house may never know hunger.”
Mary to Mrs. Martini: “Salt that life may always have flavor.”
George to the Martinis: “And wine, that joy and prosperity may reign forever. Enter the Martini castle.”

Many thanks to everybody.

We even had people coming from out of town for this party — Jenny and Herb and the kids. After the party the boys watched the game while the girls went to Celebration in the Oaks. Leroy eventually decided, way too late, that he wanted to go with the girls. He wasn’t into the game. “Can we watch a different movie now?” Eventually he suffered an extended meltdown which seemed to parallel end of the Saints’ undefeated season. Something of an anticlimactic end to the day but it sure beat the way it started.

As for my eye? As of Monday morning it’s almost back to normal, and I’m off the ketrolac entirely.

Moved

With help from over twenty friends and neighbors we knocked our move out in just over four and a half hours. I’m still totally amazed by that. It must be a new world record.

Many thanks to everyone who lent a hand.

So now we are in our new house unpacking. And unpacking. And unpacking… I have heard many stories from people who are still living out of boxes months after their move — or even a year or more later. Those are horror stories to me. We’ve always done a good job of unpacking quickly, but we’ve never had a toddler to look after. She does complicate things.

Impending Move

I got the key to our new house this morning. It’s starting to seem like reality.

My mother-in-law was down here for a week. It wasn’t possible, logistically speaking, for me to go to Houston and leave Xy alone with our daughter. Her workday begins before the daycare opens. But this worked out well for us, in that Susie spent pretty much every day packing our stuff into boxes. She did an amazing amount of work.

As a result, we’re pretty well set for tomorrow, as we attempt to answer the question: Does moving have to be stressful? Why can’t it be fun?

I’m expecting a good number of friends and neighbors to lend a hand, and that warms my heart. If you’d like to help out, please RSVP via Socializr.

About the last thing I’ll pack up are my stereo speakers. Herewith, a mix in celebration of silence.

(No, your speakers aren’t broken. A couple of these tracks actually are silent, others simply take silence as a theme.)

We don’t close until next week, and the people buying our house don’t want us there after the act of sale. Our new house is currently unoccupied, but we can’t purchase it until our old house is sold. So we’ve made a pre-occupancy arrangement which involves (of course) paying another fee. It only makes sense, but it’s somewhat amusing to me that we will essentially be renting for one week.

Underground Study

I found and scanned an old photo from my files. Here’s Brian Jones and I getting into a serious subterranean study session.

Study Pit

I’m not sure who took this photo. Possibly Shelley Richmond aka Michelle Richmond Vallejo. Circa 1988? Anyway it’s at Greene Hall, Collins Living Learning Center, Indiana University, Bloomington.

Naturally there is some music for underground study: Eight low-key instrumentals, including Jay Sanders, Halo Manash and Hellvete. A two hour study session. This one’s dedicated to and inspired by my friend David, who said he liked some of my more mellow laid-back mixes as good music for studying. Dig in, and by all means let me know what you think.

Speaking of studying, Xy got buried under a mountain of schoolwork. She found out yesterday that her grades were due, well, that day. Oops. She’d thought she had ’til Wednesday. Not sure where the screw-up occurred, but she was up ’til 3:00 AM tallying and computing and entering data. Then to top it off, overnight the temperature dipped down to 48ºF, triggering the no-start bug in our car’s anti-theft system. (I’ve written about this extensively.) It’s amazing Xy wasn’t in a worse mood this morning. Perhaps it was our daughter’s smiling face that restored her sense of proportion.

And further on the underground school tip, yesterday I got to tag along with Howie to Our School at Blair Grocery. This is a radical education project in the Lower Nine that looks mighty interesting. Check out their blog.

Hellacious Saturday

As I rode my bike to my book club yesterday morning, I wondered idly what name the day might have. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday… surely this Saturday must have a name too?

We had a new visitor to our book circle, a woman named Charlotte. I’d guess her to be somewhere around my mother’s age — certainly our most senior member, if she comes again. How ironic, then, that we were discussing a young adult anthology. But before we discussed the book, we found ourselves discussing religion, prompted by my suggestion of a name for the day: Hellacious Saturday, in reference to the so-called Harrowing of Hell, the idea that Jesus visited the underworld between his death and resurrection.

It made for some interesting conversation.

Charlotte was quite circumspect at first, seeming to think that the rest of us might be devout Christians. She soon loosened up however. We talked quite a bit about various Catholic doctrines. When I said I was raised in a conservative denomination of the Lutheran church, Charlotte said she was too.

“Missouri Synod?” I asked.

She nodded and laughed. “The worst one!”

For the benefit of any LCMS members out there, and especially my own dear mother, I hasten to add that Charlotte did not mean, at least as far as I know, to insinuate that the people of the LCMS are bad, nor to disparage the many good works done by that church. I suppose she meant simply that they are indeed conservative, (though not, of course, as conservative as the CLC) and she had some doctrinal issues which I share, but mainly I record this brief exchange because it gave me a chuckle as I wondered what my mother the church secretary would have thought.

In reality, the Saturday before Easter is known simply as Holy Saturday, or Holy and Great Saturday, or the Great Sabbath. But I didn’t recall that, and I quite liked the idea of Hellacious Saturday. That night as I took a bath I envisioned Hallmark and the candy manufacturers getting on top of this and using it so sell more product, with greeting cards and little cinnamon devil candies and so forth. Needless to say, I’m probably intrigued by the whole “harrowing of hell” bit because it’s a mytheme of the descent to the underworld, which alsoe figures importantly in the story of a certain Greek goddess I know and love.

Then we watched the evening news, and were stunned to learn that for one family, at least, it was indeed a Hellacious Saturday, and no joke about it. I’m referring to the triple murder in Terrytown. Amongst the victims: a baby boy, only a few months older than our daughter. He was shot execution-style.

There are many other lurid details in this story, like that the cops tasered the mother of a six-year-old boy who was also killed because she was creating a disturbance.

And I just saw that they have arrested someone and charged him with these murders.

The notion that someone — anyone — can shoot a baby in the head like that is truly horrific. It’s as clear a demonstration of the existence of evil as I can imagine.

Despite being fed up with organized religion, Charlotte mentioned that she still retains some religious beliefs, in main part because of a desire for what I’d call “cosmic justice.” I may share that desire, but I don’t think desire alone means it exists. I think our yearning for justice issues from our human experience. It reveals our common humanity.

The question is, how can someone venture so far from those human norms, to become such a monster, to perpetrate such a monstrous act? I don’t think I’ll ever understand that, and I don’t suppose I want to.

Brick Trick

Here’s my new desktop wallpaper, courtesy of Brother O’Mara:

Brick trick

This photo was taken on Iberville in Mid-City, up near N. Telemachus. I’ve passed by this drainpipe many a time and thought it would make a great picture. I finally snapped a crappy shot with my phone, which led to Brother O’Mara to visit the location and take a much more compelling photograph.

Collaborative Memoir

Facebook continues to amaze as I connect again and again to people with whom I haven’t communicated for up to a quarter century. So what do you say to someone after such an interval? Sometimes, not much. But the fact is, sometimes it doesn’t take much to trigger old forgotten memories.

For example, my friend Vic mentioned “an adventure in the graveyard.” I had totally forgotten about this episode, but at his mention the image came back quite vividly — moonlight reflecting off the snow amidst the headstones.

Vic elaborated:

Let’s just say the graveyard adventure is forever imprinted on my psyche. With our trek into the night time hours as everyone was asleep… I’d never done anything like that before… There was a particular tomb stone that you jumped upon and it started to fall over at me… As you and I quickly uprighted it, I stared in affirmation that my mother’s rules and not following them had come true and I’d be punished for it… for the gravestone was etched with the title of which this gentleman held. It was none other than a “Judge.” I was horrified… We may have eluded the police in this late night excursion but I was going to get mine as this societal law enforcer would probably get even from the grave… LOL… Looking back it was probably one of those moments a person will remember for their life. I was such a stick the mud. Thank goodness for your influence.

I find this sort of reminiscence wonderful. It confirmed my desire for a collaborative memoir. At first blush it seemed rather simple. Set it up on a wiki or some such platform. Start with a defined time and place — say Greenwood Community High School in the early 80s — then invite anyone and everyone to add whatever they like. Each person remembers different little snippets, which in turn may trigger forgotten memories in other writers. They can all be linked and interrelated into one glorious tapestry, ever expanding, ever unraveling…

But very quickly I began to imagine problems. Presumably people would write in the first person. That would create confusion with regard to whose voice one is hearing at any particular point. That’s a mere technical issue; perhaps it could be surmounted. The real stumbling block, I think, is that even after 25 years, there are still plenty of raw truths that could wound and injure. An honest narrative would be hurtful; a sanitized narrative would be boring. If you take out the sex and the drugs and the petty backstabbing, you’ve gutted the narrative of all the best parts.

Therefore I have concluded that this project is impossible, or at least not worth the trouble. Which is good, because I have other things to do.

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.

Councilmanic

Three cheers for Steve Volan. He’s blogging again. He’s writing about a hot topic in New Orleans. And he’s the only person on the City Council that I look up to.

I mean that last part literally. They call him “Tall Steve,” and there’s a reason for that. Did I mention he’s on the City Council? In Bloomington, Indiana, that is. But trust me, the folks on the New Orleans City Council aren’t any taller.

Regardless of his physical stature, I’ve always been impressed by Steve’s towering intellect. I’d recommend his blog to anyone interested in local governance issues, especially as they play out in Bloomington, but also with an eye to bigger national and global issues.

In a recent post, Steve takes note of the current plan for a LSU/VA hospital. Even from a distance of 800 miles he can see the misguided nature of this plan. Why can’t our local leadership see as clearly?

I don’t share Steve’s inherent distrust of campuses. I suppose that’s because I work on a campus and love it. But I do understand where Steve is coming from. His perspective is undoubtedly influenced by the prominence of Indiana University’s campus in Bloomington. I think of Bloomington as a small (but sprawling) city wrapped around a big campus. When I moved to New Orleans I found the world I’s known inverted: Now I’m working on a tiny campus in the heart of a big (but shrinking) city.

Happy Thanksgiving

Today we gathered with friends and family — well, really it was just our little minimalist nuclear family and our friend James.

thanksgiving.jpg

We thanked Dame Fortune for the health of our new child, for all our friends, and for gainful employment in these grim economic times.

We had a fantastic meal. I made the smoked turkey legs in a satsuma-honey glaze — second year in a row for these, and I’m closing in on perfection. They were pretty good, but the skin was almost black in some spots rather than that deep dark golden brown. I think the grill was too hot at first. Also, I think mesquite would be a better choice than hickory. But the glaze was a screaming success: honey, oil and freshly-squeezed satsuma juice, with a dash of cayenne, salt and pepper, fresh rosemary and sage from the garden, and just a dash of Rhum Clément Creole Shrubb liqueur.

I also made dressing for the first time ever. Frankly I’ve never liked dressing. I’ve never even understood dressing. But then I’ve never had oyster dressing. Never even heard of such a thing until we moved down here to New Orleans, though it turns out Xy’s uncle made it every year back in Evansville, Indiana. I found a recipe and gave it a try, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t pretty tasty. James, a native New Orleanian, pronounced it similar to what his Mom used to make, which I consider a high compliment.

Also on the menu: salad in imitation of Venezia, mashed potatoes and yams, and fresh-baked bread.

But the highlight of the day? No doubt. That came early when Xy organized a cleanup of the overgrown vegetation in front of the derelict property next door. Here she is with Josh and Lamar:

Hard Work on Thanksgiving Morning