Thursday, March 30, 2006

Heading West... Again

By this time next week I will have been in San Francisco for nearly 48 hours. Each time I go back it's a different experience from the last. This time I feel very divided and somewhat lost. I've been trying to settle my feet (and my heart and my soul) into the two locations, my two homes... my two lovers. Each one has a different personality, a different heartbeat, a different taste, a different smell. Each one wears different clothes and likes to do (and be) different things.

I love them both... I feel at home in both... but I continue to feel torn. I continue to feel like The Lost Dutchman, never quite home in any port, but never free either.

What I do know about this trip is that it will provide me with much needed rest. It will also give me time to think, and meditate. I will walk the labyrinths at Grace Cathedral and get to visit my daughter. We'll stand together in the Nave of the Cathedral on Easter morning as they slowly open the giant gold doors (which only happens twice a year) and proclaim the Good News to the whole world.

I'll pop in at Dempsey's and have a beer with my California friends.

Somewhere along the way, I hope to find my way back into myself in a way that doesn't happen on a regular basis amidst the ongoing chaos of New Orleans after the storm.

The strange thing this time is that I am not feeling the deep need to go back that I have felt on past occassions. I feel more whole, less needy, and less confused. But I need this trip anyway.

I will, at the very least, rejuvenate my soul at the center of the labyrinth and by the sea, and afterward I'll return from The City to The Crescent City recharged and ready to take on what's next.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Seven Months in the Cone of Uncertainty

The picture at left is not left over from seven months ago. I took it just three days ago where the boat lies underneath the freeway along Claiborne Ave., high and dry and deserted.

It's another anniversary day… Seven Months since Katrina and The Flood. While I was out walking, in search of Indians, on Sunday I picked up some footage of the ghost town that New Orleans continues to be.

But it's not just the absence of people everywhere except in "the sliver by the river" it's also the ongoing reality of the questions about when things are going to get taken care of and how the people who want to take care of things are going to be able to pull it off.
And FEMA… our old friends FEMA are dragging their feet again.

Harry Shearer's column
on the HuffPo today points to some interesting articles regarding some of the problems. In particular, the necessary charts for getting people the information they need to rebuild are still rolling around in an administrative void, while FEMA folks (fresh from their recent retreat/conference in Hawaii) are having a hard time "promising" anything.

It seems that now that Mardi Gras has passed us by and most of the people have gone home, the stores are back to closing at odd (and unpredictable) hours, the buses are back to runnning with an irregularity bordering on madness, and the simple reality of getting around and getting things done takes all of one's daily energy, in this third world city at the edge of the first.

Nobody really wants to admit it, it would be too much like declaring defeat, but you can hear it in people's voices in business meetings, at lunch, on the radio and in bars; we're all crossing our fingers and hoping for the best and nobody really wants to admit that we don't have a frigging clue about what we're going to do come summer.

In a week I will be back in Califronia for a fortnight, just enough time to grab myself another segment of sanity before plunging back into a long haul of lots of work and busy activity through French Quarter Fest, Jazz Fest and more. That will be a good time and a lot of people will come in to see how we're making out... But when all of that has blown out... it'll be three weeks to Hurricane Season.

Welcome to the Great Cloud of Unknowing... Take Two.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

And the Beat Goes On...

Okay... so no Injuns today.

We now officially move to next year.

But... in the fashion that I was speaking of last week, what I did run into was the Palm Court Jazz Band at Cafe Brazil for Nickle A Dance. It was light , and fun and delightful... video to come tomorrow.

Then... on the way home, I missed two (count them... one... two) buses. One on Magazine and one on St. Charles. After seven months... SEVEN MONTHS... the street car on St. Charles is still not running, and the bus line, while it is FREE, is less than legitimately functional. And that brings me to another film I want to create... a documentary on the state of transportation in the U.S. A documentary, I have been wanting to call, "You Can't Get There From Here." I have had issues with public transportation in this country for some time... but the fact of the matter is that New Orleans, post-Katrina has to be one of the most profound examples of failed national transportation planning that exists!

HOWEVER... it was a beautiful day... and a beautiful dance in the Marigny... and, well, hey... as I was walking back down St. Charles, I scored a 50 pound bag of Mardi Gras beads just sitting on the sidewalk waiting to be picked up by the trash guy.

I'm already set for next year!!!

And that's the way you live down here... there are plenty of clouds... day in and day out... month upon tiresome month... but there is almost always some kind of silver lining, and by my experience... New Orleanians know where to look for those.

Injuns Redux

I had such good luck last Sunday with my connection to Mardi Gras Indians at Washington and LaSalle, that I am going to return there (and to Hunter's Field downtown) to see if I can catch the Indians one final time this year.

"Super Sunday" as they call it, is really the last time that an authentic Mardi Gras Indian event occurs until next Mardi Gras. There will be Indians appearing in many venues at JazzFest and a lot of Indian groups will do ocncert events (The Wild Magnolias even tour the country and Europe pretty often), but after today it's really one of those kind of situations where tomorrow morning starts the planning for next year.

And that's my plan for the year as well. While Katrina had me worried that perhaps my Mardi Gras Indian story was washed away like so much storm debris, it now seems like there might be even more to it (and more opportunity to cover it) than before.

The day's perfect for it too. It's cool, crisp and clear. A more than pleasant 60-something degrees with a relatively low humidity. No rain in sight. It's a perfect day for music and dancing and feathers... Weatherwise at least, it's NOLA at its best.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Get The Hell Out The Way!

Just when I was beginning to think that my five year (so far) pursuit of the Indians was going to eventually conclude like Peter Matthiesson's quest for the Snow Leopard, namely with lots of interesting experiences but ultimately no apprehension of the real goal, I hit the proverbial jackpot on Sunday night. Uptown and Downtown tribes all gathered in the middle of the street at Washington and LaSalle (only about a mile from my house) to act out the encounters between groups that have been going on since just after the Civil War (or as they refer to it down here, The War Between The States).

A big highlight of the evening was the meetup between the Big Chief of The Mandingo Warriors (The Spirit of FiYiYi), a tribe from downtown, and the Big Chief of the Wild Magnolias, an uptown tribe. In the old days the rivalries between uptown and downtown were strong and deep. In those days, Indian encounters were used to settlle scores and blood often flowed. This evening it was a different tale; Big Chief Victor Harris (Spirit of FiYiYi) made the joyful proclamation that he was back and that everyone should come back. The drums began to beat again and the people sang, "Calling all the people... Come back home. Come back to New Orleans... Come back home."

Other tribes arrived and the ritual was repeated several times, spy boys leading the way, flag boys announcing the arrival of the chief, and the Big Chiefs squaring off and then embracing each other. A sign of return, connection and hope.

It was great. I think Tootie would have been proud.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Injuns... Injuns!

It's St. Joseph's Day and what that means (besides a big Italian-American parade through the Quarter last night) is Mardi Gras Indians all over town!

Downtown Indians will be parading today from the Bywater (where most of the area remains unnihabited) to Hunter's Field at the edge of the Treme. Uptown Indians were going to parade today as well, but they've decided to move their parade to next week because all the Indian groups will be gaterhing Uptown tonight for a St. Joseph's Night gathering that will commemorate last year's troubled event that ended sadly when Chief of Chief's Tootie Montana died at a police department meeting to deal with the problems.

That's the real story for today... Tootie, for the first time in over 50 years, will be conspicuously and sadly missed.

Get the hell out the way... It's the Indians' Day!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Beads... Beer... Blogging

Happy St. Patrick's Day Y'all!

Gotta get out and get my green on. You might check out the webcam at Parasol's just a few blocks uptown from my apartment. I don't know exactly when I'll be there, but I'll be there at SOME point... then it's off to Molly's for the big parade.

It's another beautiful sunny (almost) spring day and I think it's time for a party!

Life Begin Again

I have always loved the liminal seasons. My favorite holidays are Thanksgiving in the Fall and Easter in the Spring. These holidays (especially Thanksgiving) are primarily centered around the gathering together of family and the sharing of food and drink. They are fraternal, life-affirming, celebrative days. A close third would be St. Patrick's Day, always lying on the edge of spring like a drunk on the doorstep of life. Last year, my last in Sonoma County, I created a joyous little slideshow celebrating the return of the forsythia and the calla lilys to Petaluma.

This year, Spring feels even more significant, coming, as it does after such a long, often dark, frustrating journey. So much is still left to be done, even in the "sliver by the river" where things are mostly okay. Despite that, there is a real sense of starting over... a chance for life to begin again.

Last year the forsythia in the garden surprised me. In a matter of days it moved from looking like dead sticks that I nearly pulled up and threw away to an explosion of yellow that literally knocked me back on my heels. This year it was a similar expression of life, when right in the middle of a big pile of debris I spied the green of spring popping out, relentless and joyous, as if to say, "It's time to get up! Let's go play!"

When I first came back to New Orleans at the end of October, I noticed three things: the complete lack of green, the obvious absence of birds, and the total disappearance of big giant roaches (known as "Palmetto Bugs" in Florida, where I grew up, as if that made their existence more tolerable). I noticed the first green a few days ago (it had been around longer than that, but I really only noticed it this week), and for the last several mornings I've been awakened by bird song. The roaches aren't back yet, but I imagine they're on their way.

This year, I might even be glad to see them.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Spring Has Most Definitely Sprung!

And frankly... it's about time.

I created this panorama (click on the picture to see a larger version) from a series of pics my friend Mary took from her office over by the Superdome. The perspective is toward the river from about the middle of town. The flatlands in the middle distance on the left side of the frame are some of the most devastated (and pretty much completely deserted) areas of the city.

This isn't the first day since Katrina that the weather has been this beautiful, but it is the first day that it finally sank down into my soul that things... eventually... are really gonna be okay.

Beware the Ides of March

I first wrote about my experiences at, and love for, St. Augustine Catholic Church in the Treme, back about a month ago. In the post immediately previous to this, I wrote about the incredible service of music and word and faith that took place on Sunday with Father LeDoux and members of the Marsalis family on their various instruments. At that time there was much hope in the congregation that, when an answer came from the New Orleans Archdiocese on Monday, it would be a positive word; the church, as it is presently known, would be saved.

The news came down on Monday and that news was not good. As planned, the church will remain open for services on Sunday, but the parish will be merged with another parish and Father LeDoux will be reassigned. Like so much else in this town since Katrina, it's about politics, not real life. I'm going to say some more about that on Washington's Cousin, but it's going to take me a little bit of time to process my feelings into a cogent hermeneutic.

Yesterday afternoon and evening many in the congregation joined together for a prayer vigil at the church, next to the Tomb of the Unknown Slave. And pray they did... and sing they did... and cry they did... but the "greater church" has made it's decision. The honourable men of the New Orleans Archdiocese claim that it is for the good of all, but you'd be hard pressed to tell that from the families and friends who have attended this first African-American Roman Catholic Church for their whole lives. A man on Sunday told me that Sidney Beche had been baptized there... "and ME," he added after the fact. He went on to point out that slave families had once sat on the exact same pew where I was sitting and he told the story with an obvious deep love, accompanied by the biggest smile I've ever seen in my whole life. St. Augustine's is an amazing interacial, multi-generational mix of spirit and music and history and truth. As my newfound friend on the back pew said, "it's the way the WHOLE WORLD should be!" Indeed!

I have lived my life in a perilous and obsessive relationship with the church. I have been in many churches looking for precisely what he was describing and, while I have come close once or twice, I have NEVER fully found it... at least not until I walked through the doors of St. Augustine.

On this day - The Ides of March - at St. Augustine, like in much of the rest of New Orleans, what is of true value is being ignored in exchange for what is practical and expedient, but not really facilitative or effective.

"If you have tears, prepare to shed them now."

Monday, March 13, 2006

Magic Happens

I had an amazing day yesterday in The Crescent City.

A surprise at St. Augustine's... Ellis and Delfeayo Marsalis were supposed to be at the church and I had forgotten about it until I was sitting in the house working on some other things and heard the Live Wire on WWOZ. I made it to St. Augustine early for a change and to my surprise there was another, relatively familiar, figure standing beside the piano with a saxophone in his hand. So church this morning took on the feeling of a family concert from Branford Marsalis and family.

The experince was amazing and delightful. Branford, the total musical gentleman, regularly deferred to the church's regular saxophone player, served as a sort of replacement roady (setting up mic stands and making sure everyone got their mic time). He even sat in on drums a couple of times.

Father LeDoux's sermon focused on the old testament lesson of the story of Abraham and Isaac and God's disturbing call for a sacrifice. There were two terrific moments in that, one when Father LeDoux exclaimed that he had "problems" with this text and later when he talked about how "the old folks" have a saying that when your stuck between a rock and a hard place, "There's always a ram in the bushes." For a community like St. Augustine which has already been threatened by Katrina and is now being threatened by its own diocese, the idea that God will provide a way out of your sticking place is a gospel proclamation indeed.

It felt pretty good to me also, and when Branford gave it a little sax boost, well... I'm sure you get my meaning.

After church I went to the Ogden museum for the premiere of a documentary film on Mississippi artist Walter Anderson, a man who lived much of his life on the edge of realization, seeking, over and over, to get as close to the raw reality of the universe and to express that in his art. to view this film and to hear about this artist was to be broken apart and emotionally spread open. In the few minutes that it took to view this film, I was once again - as I have been many times in the last several months - broken open to a sense that there is something waiting for me to experience... to be... to do. Walter Anderson sacrificed a normal exitence to the choice to expose himself, raw and open, to something he didn't fully grasp. In that way, he was not terribly dissimilar from Abraham on the mountain, confused, desperate, but open.

After these two experiences, I really wasn't inclined toward my previous resolution to go hear Billy Graham, but I went anyway. Fortunately (I really don't think I could have handled all the kool aid drinkers in the crowd) I was unable to get into the service. So many of the "true faithful" had loaded up buses and brought them in to see this rock star of evangelists that by the time I got there they were turning people away toward a giant TV screen in the parking lot. Well... after the amazing day and the moving experiences I had already had, I was not going to stand in the parking lot to see Billy Graham on TV.

I grabbed a Greek pizza (spinach, olives, feta and roasted garlic) and headed home.

By the end of the evening I had been slammed via email for some of the things I've written in these blogs and I came to the end of this otherwise astonishing day feeling pushed out of shape and deeply troubled.

But the day - and the ram in the bushes - opened me up once more.

This Lent feels like a true preparation... Walter Anderson's life is a template... Isaac's near sacrifice is an example.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


So the first parade of St. Patrick's 2006 is history and I got away with about 5 pounds of beads. I also caught 5 cabbages, 2 carrots, 1 large onion, 1 small potato, and 1 green bell pepper, otherwise known as DINNER!

The recipe for Colcannon above is quite good. I had to go buy more potatos and I used red ones (though Mick really is right about Yukon Gold being the best). I've sworn off red meat and liquor (but not fish, beer, or wine) for Lent so Corned Beef and Jameson Whiskey were both out (as was Irish Stew), but I love Colcannon, so I simply went home and cooked up a huge plate of it along with the carrots... and a couple o' pints of Guinness.

Fantastic! We're talking honest Irish food here... I've got plenty left over for tonight, and I've only cut into my first cabbage.

And by the way... the musical group of the same name is a truly wonderful Irish music group, well worth paying attention to. On their site you'll find links to some of their music as well as a whole slew of recipes from their bodhran player Mick Bolger.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Erin Go Bragh!

I'm sitting in the MoJo Coffee House at the corner of Race and Magazine Streets (this used to be a different coffeehouse before the storm but that suffered a "downsizing" so now it's being started up by someboody else) drinking coffee and chicory and using the WiFi. A few minutes ago a motorcycle cop pulled up to the corner to stop traffic and shortly afterward a long line of giant Mardi Gras style floats (only piled more with Cabbages - yes REAL cabbages - instead of, or in addition to, beads) started lining up along the street and around the corner.

This is the Irish Channel St. Patrick's Parade and it's the first event in a week of festivities (another parade tomorrow, three parades on St. Patrick's Day, a HUGE block party at Parasols and of course the party/parade at Molly's at the Market). For me, it's going to be the first St. Patty's Day in 18 years that really belongs to me, and I think it's time to start a new tradition!

Today's parade wends it's way through my neighborhood, a place commonly known as The Irish Channel. It is the neighborhood where Irish workers settled when they came to New Orleans in the 19th and early 20th century, making it the largest Irish immigration point in the U.S. outside of New York.

The parade doesn't start for another three hours, but people (paraders and watchers) decked out in their full St. Patty's Day regalia are already prowling the streets and staking out territory. I better get home and get my Irish beads!

It may be Lent, but that doesn't mean the parties have to stop COMPLETELY... not in this town.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

I'm not a Scientoligist... BUT...


The President Select was in town yesterday and the big news in all the media outlets was that he has decided that we should receive THE WHOLE ENCHILADA.

Now some might think that this mitigates (or SHOULD mitigate) Tuesday's diatribe, but oh contrare... I really am sorry to beat a dead horse, as it were, but hey... if I didn't, then what the hell was the point of my learning how to work the internet? It certainly wasn't to make crap like this over 10 years ago! I mean, I didn't get PAID enough for THAT!

So the point I want to make here is that, as my ecks used to POUND... POUND... POUND... into my head... ACTIONS speak louder than words, and while Dubya is good at words (well... let's not get carried away here) he's pretty pitiful when it comes to actions.

On the other hand... It's not in any way politically correct to say, BUT... SOME PEOPLE seem to get it (and he's even got a reasonably good exegesis of the whole thing).

Despite my more urbane inclinations, on Sunday... I think I'm gonna stroll on down to the auditorium and hear what Mr. Graham has to say.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I'm Every Woman Part Deux

International Woman's Day seems like exactly the right time to be considering the words and the actions of the incredible young woman, Rachel Corrie. Instead, the words of her life are being silenced after the fact.

This link will take you to more information about Rachel.

Again... the question returns... What Then Must We Do?

I'm Every Woman

It's International Woman's Day and Chaka Kahn comes to mind.

I created the photo piece above as a commemoration of my then partner's battle with breast cancer ten years ago. It is developed from an advertising photograph I found online a few years back which I manipulated in photoshop and processed as a statement on the strange, psychedelic roller coaster ride that breast cancer took my lover (and all of those in her life) on for over a year. A ride that frankly has never really ended. There's a poem that goes with it, but unfortunately it resides in one of my notebooks back in California while I am sitting here in New Orleans, so to accompany the photo I uploaded "Isn't That What Friends Are For" a Bruce Cockburn song that I find speaks deeply of the same emotion I was, at that time, and still, attempting to express.

Nothing is sure
Nothing is pure
And no matter who we think we are
Everybody gets a chance to be... nothing.

This day moves me in a way that I find hard to explain. Perhaps it's at least partly the way I'm still sort of emotionally raw in the wake of Katrina, but I think it's also the simple fact that my love, appreciation,and general amazement of women in general makes me just enormously grateful for a day that celebrates their existence.

My world of women is not large but it contains a number of them whom I want to mention, like a litany, for the gifts I've been given in the 51 yeaars of my life.

Jen, Mom, Lia, Marsha, Elizabeth, Betty, Opal, Mary, Denise, Mel, Ann, Jean, Dot, Jane, Rachel, Jerene, Linda, Millie, Mary, Mary Jo, Nancy, Abigail, Kat, Judy, Del, Pat, Honey, Maya, Eudora, Annie, Grandmommy... Nanny

As the Goddess folks like to say... Blessed be.

[By the way... a very large, very high res version of the picture above is available for your home or office with the proceeds going to the breast cancer fund. If you're interested email me]

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Not Feelin' The Love...

The President Select is Comin' Around Again and I'm sorry, but I'm just not feelin the love.

I got up this morning and despite the fact that I had a lot of other things to do I just had to vent my complete flip out at the news of Bush's return to New Orleans and all the other realities that have just been piling up (there's still a HUGE pile of debris sitting outside my bedroom window over six months after the storm, and that's in the GOOD part of town).

You can read my rant at Washington's Cousin...

Suffice to say, I'm Mad as Hell and I'm Not Going to Take This Anymore!

Monday, March 06, 2006

I'm Just Tryin' To Matter...

I watched the Academy Awards last night, as I do every year, and like every year, the hype didn't live up to the reality. Of course, in all fairness to Hollywood, not much in the world lives up to its hype, that's why it's called hype.

For me, the best moment of the evening came when Reece Witherspoon accepted her Best Actress Oscar for "Walk the Line." She quoted June Carter speaking about the way she lived her life, saying, "I'm just tryin' to matter."

That single quote was worth the entire four and a half hour show! In fact, it might have been the theme for the year's nominees. So many films (particularly those nominated for best picture) were about heavy, interesting, important matters, it really was an example of the heart of the reason for doing any kind of art and particularly a communal art like film.

It's also a beautiful and inspiring look at what each of us can be about. I remember seeing Johnny and June Carter Cash in a big concert in Tulsa over 30 years ago and even then, on a big stage, with all the lights down low, there was a weightiness to the presence, a feeling not unlike church when it's good. A sense that the people onstage and the people in the audience were binding together in a community of the moment for the purpose of wringing some meaning out of the world.

That one quote in that long show of largely meaningless self-congratulation made my night. It inspires me for the day, the week, and the months ahead.

I'm just tryin' to matter.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Charmaine's Good Song Part Deux

Back in September from exile in North Carolina, I posted this piece on Charmaine Neville's struggle and heroism during the aftermath of the storm.

Since the storm, I've seen Charmaine twice. Once during the singing of the Sing Along Messiah at Trinity Episcopal Church in December, and then again this morning at St. Augustine's Catholic Church in the Treme.

This morning, the first Sunday of Lent, Father LeDoux spoke about the fact that, for most folks in New Orleans, the sacrifice and penance of Lent really started back on August 29, and that the process of Lent was a symbolic participation in that ongoing sacrifice. As if to drive home the point Charmaine sang the song I featured on my blog back in September.

Everybody Needs a Good Song

There's really no point in trying to explain how grateful I am for Charmaine's presence, spirit, music and survival. This woman is a personification of everything good I love about my city. In that she's a lot like the other piece of the city I've been talking about of late, Mardi Gras itself.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Mo' Mardis...

I've posted a 1,000 word essay on Butting Heads to express some of my thoughts on Mardi Gras and the craziness that surrounds it. So go there if you're interested. Of course, since "a picture's worth a thousand words," here's a picture for those of you that don't read.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Popping out the other side of Mardi Gras...

Just a quick note to let y'all know that I did indeed survive Mardi Gras.

I've got pics, video, audio and many many many thoughts to share about just about everything that went on over the last few days, but right this minute I have to figure out how to make sense of it all.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a picture from the Times-Picayune of one of my favorite things from the last week. Blue Tarp Fashions! If ever there was proof of why there needed to be Mardi Gras this year (and why Mardi Gras is NOT just the Bourbon Street zoo that most folks outside New Orleans think it is), it was the abundance of tongue in cheek costumes and presentations of what Katrina did.

I missed seeing the Mardi Gras Indians this year, but that doesn't mean they weren't out. Mostly they were out in the areas that were worst hit by the storm; out in the communities, still destroyed and mostly vacant, that needed the attention and nurture that the Mardi Gras INdians can give.

Grieving - and recovering from grief - takes many forms. Mardi Gras was definitely one of those necessary self-care behaviours that the sick and care worn from Katrina needed.

This Mardi Gras was definitely the party New Orleans needed to give to itself.