". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Friday, October 2, 2009

Friday, Community Book Center

The day starts with a meeting of the Congo Square/Jazz Fest people.  The November conference is an official go, they say.  Master T -- Robert Farris Thompson -- among others Vaquero has contacted, had already said that if it happened they'd be there!  This is GOOD.  The objective is to make this annual.  Another meeting with the Hogan Jazz Center people to plan for the preliminary work on Monday for an AfroPop Worldwide HipDeep program on the Hogan.

"Steppin' Out" taping after that.

Then it is the Community Book Center reading and signing.  O, my.  Talk about feeling small.  Such an introduction given by JT.  She started with:  "How many of you have read The World That Made New Orleans?  OK!  Now how many of you have read The World Made New Orleans twice?"  No minister could have done it better.  She recounted how they had come to have Vaquero read there, which came about because the publisher sent the store the galleys, and they couldn't stop reading it.  The weather that day he came was awful, and she suggested that maybe he'd want to just cancel.  "But not him.  He said, if you're game to stay open I'm game to stay here.  And then the people started coming.  And then he read, and then he answered questions, and they all bought the book, and they KEEP buying the book.  And the new one  [she holds up The Year Before the Flood] is just as good but in a different way."

There was so much love in that store.  The home-made potato salad, rice and beans were love.  The amount of work and effort put into the store since that first reading Vaquero did there, how it has reached into the community to be a Center -- and how little assistence there was for them doing that.  Now there's even a computer center for the community in the back.  And since it anchored that area, now chic restaurants and other shiny businesses have opened.

When Vaquero began his presentation he informed the people that for the core audience there, that since some of which the first part of the book in particular included was Racism 101, he was aware that this wasn't anything they needed information about -- but so many other people do need it, because they don't know it, and it is history, and unfortunately it is still history in the making, as we're seeing so strongly with what is going on around Obama since he became POTUS.  He concluded reading from the book with the material about Bacchus and the Kong family and the pelting of these grotesques with beads from the street, in reversal from how Mardi Gras works, which is the float-riding aristos on high throw down largess of made-in-China acryllic shiny beads to the people along the streets.  All around the attendees of color nodded.  There was much lively discussion afterwards.

Meeting new friends, including the marvelous FE, who is doing invaluable work in the source documents with language in connection with the history of Congo Square.  When we introduced ourselves to each other, we chorused, "I've heard so much about you!"  Yet another meeting in which you just like each other on sight.  FE's another participant in this Congo Square - Tulane conference in November.

Then takes place this most amazing encounter.  The enormous amount of stock of all three books has been signed, we're in the process of leaving, when in comes this very thin, sweaty couple.  "Did I miss the reading?  Is it over?  O man, I just got off work."  RC tells us he bought the book only two days ago, that's how hard he's been reading it.   He pulls out a much thumbed and post-ited trade copy of The World That Made New Orleans -- that has just come out, with the release of The Year Before the Flood.  He saw the hc of TWTMNO at a friend's house a few days ago, and read the first 25 pp., and came back to read another 25, and another 25, and said to self, "RC, you have to have this book for yourself."  He's clearly not prosperous so that is about the highest compliment a writer can receive.

"I have so many questions I have to ask you."  He's a jazz singer and historian, who moved to New Orleans a year ago from New York.  He pointed to a section that just killed him -- "Man, you know music, that's why this section works so well.  You write about it like a musician, and you know what you're sayin', and you break it all down just as it is."  RC has gotten everything that Vaquero tried to accomplish in TWTMNO.  And then RC says he was so sure that the author of that book had to be an African American because nobody else could have gotten all this and gotten it so right.  How humbling is that?  "So, you're brother, under the skin."

With BT and AP we proceed to Bacchanal, a 'green' wine store - restaurant, with an outdoor space in which to eat, drink, hangout and hear music. It was one of the very first places to open in those terrible days post the Katrina levee failure catastrophe.  One of the few places you could go.  You can buy beer there too, to go, if you want.  Fortunately they have a selection of bug sprays set out by the door to the back yard.  We needed it desperately.  A small Brasilian music combo was playing -- one of the band members, then, showed up at the reading tomorrow night -- Saturday night, at Beth's Books and Audio Cafe.

Again, Vaquero provides the essential foot, ankle and calf massage for my screwed up lower extremities before we fall asleep.

No comments: