". . . 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

Saturday, November 3, 2012

New Orleans Is Beautiful

Yesterday, a lot of it, was pretty bad. I hit that crash wall.

It had been over a week of constant teeth grinding and clenched body, running constant interference between Ned and the world, as he prepared for his gigs -- kept working the whole time, which brought in income, worked to deal with whatever we needed to deal with at home and getting back home -- without a moment to myself, unable to work out -- my back is screaming. The real problem is I'm used to a huge amount of solitude and it takes a while before I re-adjust. I.e. the problem was all in me, not with other people.

We were at the conference and the keynote speech.  I couldn't makes sense out of anything I was hearing. The chairs were cutting off my circulation and killing my back. I had to leave. So we did. Which was not cool, but I really couldn't handle it in any way, physically or nervously. I had hit that wall.

For about two hours after that I was in bad shape. Simultaneously wanted to lie down and sleep for 10 hours, while jumpy as a trapped feral cat.

We walked by the levee, had an iced cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde, walked some more, went to Jackson Square and saluted Andy Jackson and his horse, which made me laugh. I found a twenty dollar bill our first day here while walking the dog.  A Jackson in the parlence of some.  I study Jackson, the Jacksonian era, how it central to the sense of Americans' self.  Sat in the Square for a while. The buskers and hucksters had broken down for now.  It was quiet.  The setting sun made a peach glow back light to the Cabildo side of the Square.  We window shopped. And I got it back, whatever you may call it.  I think it's called equilibrium.

Then we went to the Jax Brewery and had a lovely hummous and grilled pita snack with excellent beer and a friendly bartender who discussed knowledgably beer matter with Ned.

We slowly walked through the Quarter to Frenchman among the newly arrived crop of revelers. The Quarter -- such a strange place. For so many it IS New Orleans. For so many it is a place where suddenly they are attacked by a sense that they too are Artists, bohemians, that they can sit in a bar in the middle of the afternoon, hearing classic New Orleans musics, writing in a notebook, and they too will live the life of Tennessee Williams or Dr. John. For two or three days they can play this idea of a different self and an alternate life in a safe space. What happens in the Quarter stays there. Nobody knows.

But for some, they get bitten so badly they either come back to New Orleans for good, or they never leave at all. For better or worse. And for some indeed, it is for better. They find the life they want in this city, which is crackling and sizzling with  young vitality and energy in every direction: entrepreneurial, artistic, musical, social, environmental, intellectual, you name it, it is happening here, a wild collision of talents and dreams.

Then on to Royal. Stopped at a place to rest my back called the R Bar. It was dark, very dark in the classic manner of a local New Orleans bar - dive. Youngish females were dressed as los muertos, flowing veils, flowers in hair: it was the second day of el Día de los Muertos, All Souls Day, of course! But it was early and quite quiet, the music an acceptable melange and no television tuned to sports. Where, the bartender handed us a complimentary bowl of the most excellent Jumbalaya. For the first time in over a week I pulled out my notebook.  I was able to write about something that wasn't the Un-named. It was the first time I'd a coherent thought that wasn't related to the Un-named.

I wanted to make a note of two things I'd been seeing frequently since here.  One was the groups of young women, dressed up, one member with a bridal-like veil braided into her hair.  Perhaps these are the Wedding Party women on the Bride's Night out?  The second was how often I saw young women wearing a surgical foot boot.  I've been noticing this in NYC since the summer too.  Is this from falling off the ridiculous shoes that have three inch platform soles and six inch stiletto heels?

We chatted over dogs and beer with some of the usual suspects of the R Bar, there on Royal. It came out we were evacuees. The hugs from our sisters and brothers! Another local arrived at that moment, and he goes: "You've met these people before, or at least you've seen them a lot, though not for the last year or so, you know, in the Bywater." Wow. That's where one of our usual NO hosts lives (having put up another friend who is homeless this year, there wasn't room for us this time), that's where Marky's bar is located (where we are meeting whoever feels in the mood to show up tonight, our last in New Orleans for the present -- el V, at least, will probably return in December), and close to the Piety Street recording studio.

New Orleanians have great eyes for you. Tourists, you may wish to keep this in mind!

On Frenchman  we chatted with the bookstore there on the corner of the block where dba is.  He carries The Books.  With him was a friend who lives mostly in NY, but was visiting.  "I just hang out back of the register here and pretend I'm working when I visit." He'd just finished reading The Year Before the Flood -- and called me by name.  That was the fourth person who did that yesterday.  The others made my nerves jangle, but this guy didn't, for some reason.

It was my first visit to Frenchman since Coco Robicheaux left us, or as they say in the Kongo spiritual belief system, "Gone on vacation." Eyes will mist up.  For no reason we stopped and had beer in dba, and just talked and looked and listened for an hour.  Despite this being the Society of Ethnomusicologist and American Musicologists Society conference, and there were thousands gathered for it, and it is New Orleans, we didn't see a single SEM / AMS attendee anywhere. We did encounter a few New Orleans peeps though.

We called a cab, the driver of which is from Morocco.  We had a fascinating conversation with him on the way back to Robert Street.  He loves New Orleans, particularly the people, the food and the music.  He loves the diversity, he loves the tolerance, but he thinks the people on Bourbon Street go way too far. Halloween night, he said, there were people entirely naked.  He went home, because he didn't want to drive them, most particularly because he didn't want to have to see them.

We sat with Hostess on her porch and chatted, looked at the still huge moon that had risen. Beautiful.

So far today, we've had brunch with our hostess on her lovely, huge, screened-in front porch, in a butterfly-dancing noontime, blue sky and gold sunshine.

Doing laundry now, getting ready to visit a Haitian houngan tomorrow morning, before heading to Louis Armstrong and home.

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