Notes from Atlantis

Random Thoughts from the Crescent City

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Notes from Atlantis 32

Dear Folks,

BIG NEWS: There’s new life in Atlantis. And the old life here will never be the same, and is more than a little miffed at the change.

No, friends, this isn’t a metaphor...we really do have new life here, two new kittens, Hootkins and Tiny Alice, and our older cats, Mudbug and Boudin, have been giving me the cold shoulder ever since the interlopers moved in last Tuesday. And by the way, you don’t know from cold shoulders until you’ve been shunned by a Siamese cat...icicles practically grow from their whiskers, and those blue eyes? Think Rosa Kleb in “From Russia With Love” or Laurence Olivier with a dentist’s drill and you get the general idea.

In any case, I know in time (I hope!) that our two middle-aged ladies will come to accept the mindless dynamic fur-balls we’ve introduced in their midst, and the mindless dynamic fur-balls will grow into sleek, sociable younger siblings, but it’s still got me thinking about this whole matter of change and loss and death and rebirth and hey, given the season and the approaching end of the year, here goes with my pronouncement on at least this one element of THE BIG PICTURE.

Change sucks. Am I right? I think we’re all generally on the same page as the old cats here. Just when life is okay, when we know where everything is and pretty much what’s going to happen next, why does something always have to come barging in and screw everything up? Even when life isn’t okay...even when life is in fact pretty damn horrible...it’s at least KNOWN. We know what we’re up against, whether it’s a lousy job or a bad relationship or a lonely life. It’s there and it’s not going to surprise us. Change comes and brings with it the unknown, and we don’t know what to expect and we don’t know where anything is and we get upset and since there’s always an element of death in change (at least the death of that “known”) we mourn it at least as often as we celebrate it.

And yet change is life itself. It’s (okay, bear with me, because now we ARE talking metaphors) a mindless little bundle of synapses and fuzz that’s doing its own thing a mile a minute: butting into everything and knocking things over and making you chase after it, and in the middle of all that you realize, you’re happy. This isn’t what you knew: it’s vastly more complicated. It isn’t safe (beyond reasonable precautions of preventing wild scratching matches): it’s unbalanced, and there’s an element of risk. It isn’t quiet or easy, and if it makes you fearful well, join the club, because my old cats have spent the better part of the last five days hiding under the beds and there are a few citizens of this New Atlantis who I’ll bet know exactly how that feels. Just talk to US come next hurricane season if you have any doubts about the matter.

In other words, change makes you know you’re alive, even if it hurts. You’re surprised, even if all the surprises aren’t always good ones. You DON’T KNOW what’s going to happen, and you realize that’s always been the case, we never DO know what’s going to happen and maybe that’s what change really does for us: it reminds us how life is always changing every single minute, and even when you think you’ve got perfect stasis it’s only an illusion and the best you can do is go “Wheeee!!!” like you’re on a roller coaster, because you are, we all are, and even if you don’t like roller coasters you’re signed up for the ride with the first breath you draw and you’d better damn well sit back and enjoy it.

Do I sound too sanguine about all this? I’m not, at least not entirely. Hootkins and Tiny Alice are named after two dear friends we lost in 2005, Bill Hootkins, actor and bon vivant extraordinaire, and Alice White, actress, activist, and extremely evolved Zen soul. I miss them both enormously, and naming the kitten after them is a bitter-sweet pleasure: I still haven’t known the new cats long enough that their names don’t conjure up for me, every time I call them, the persons who terribly, stubbornly, sadly and forever AREN’T there anymore.

And 2006 has also been a hell of a harvest year. I guess we’re getting to that age, all of us Boomers (are you as sick of that word as I am?) when we move to the head of the line and the previous generation, once so seemingly immortal, is gone or frail or fading. Bill lost his mother Elle this spring, his aunt Mary Dora this summer, and his uncle Smith a few weeks ago. I just learned last night that our dear friend Eric Zwemer had lost his mother, Jane. Each year brings its litany of deaths, sometimes huge (loved ones, marriages, friendships, levees, cities) and sometimes small. We’re a year older and grayer and it can seem like our options are diminishing like the business end of a funnel (which is a quote from ME, in case you’re interested... ain’t I lit’ry?) and whether you’re contemplate a quagmire war or a city still mired in bureaucracy and corruption (although we’re working on it) you can feel an impulse to throw up your hands and say, not “Wheeeee!” but “To hell with this!” and simply retreat into a corner where no change or hurt or loss can ever touch you.

You can, in other words, retreat under the bed full time, and some people have and some people do and guess what, ladies and gentlemen, there have been times in Your Humble Correspondent’s life when that’s been exactly what she’s done. There have been times when the lure of NOT feeling anything seemed preferable to feeling pain, and I’ve thought, that’s it, I’m just pulling the covers over my head and becoming unconscious until all of this blows over.

But you know what? It doesn’t work. Change comes up and bites your toes, and asks to be fed, and meows and butts its head against you and jumps on your dresser and knocks things over when you don’t get up fast enough. Or you get hungry yourself (for all you’ve been hiding in the safe dark corners) so you get up and (grudgingly) ask Mommy to feed you, and then you eat and use your box (because you’re still a cat) and then, well, MAYBE you get up in Mommy’s chair and sit behind her back while she works and that’s what Boudin is doing right now, she’s curled up behind me while I’m writing this, and you know what? It’s very quiet, but I can KINDA tell she’s purring.

She’s coming to accept change. Maybe not all at once, and with the best grace, but she’s learning it’s not such a bad thing and in fact, when it’s cold, and maybe Mudbug isn’t around anymore, Hootkins and Tiny Alice could be awful nice to cuddle with. Mudbug’s sleeping on the bed behind me and I think she may be allowing the thought to OCCUR to her that sleeping there with a couple of buddies might not, at some point, be too completely terrible.

It’s a thought, anyway. I have no idea what cats think or dream about, but I think they’re growing accustomed to change, and realizing that a world in which change occurs can still be warm and safe and wonderful. It takes us all a while, after all. We’re born into seeming stability, and realize like quantum physicists it’s all an illusion, and matter isn’t solid, it’s a humming, impermanent lovely web of light. We realize the roller coaster’s going to do its own thing, and cities will drown (and be reborn) and wars will be fought (and resolved eventually, like all wars), and there you go. Change STILL sucks. I intend to resist it with all my might, and embrace only those changes I instigate (like buying new kittens, which I then inflict on other people). But I know I can’t stop change. As soon stop the world, or water flowing, or kittens turning into cats who purr, and fight, and then sleep safely in the sun.

I wish you all a period of lovely stability and creative, life-affirming change this Christmas/ Hannukah/Kwanzaa season, and as the earth moves past its shortest days and the sun comes back, may we all celebrate the return of the light.

Happy Holidays and All My Love,

XXX,

Ad’n

Monday, November 06, 2006

Notes from Atlantis 31

Dear Folks,

I want to start an imprint called “Angry Child Press.”

I know I haven’t written anything for quite a while, and for that mea culpa. The reasoning behind my silence has been that we were busy settling in down here in the Crescent City, and I assumed the rest of the country was busy too.

I thought the rest of the country had moved on from NOLA bashing (why do those idiots continue to live down THERE???) and the concomitant luxury of NOLA pity (generic poor people portrayed up to their armpits in raw sewage) and was actually ready to put the lessons of Katrina into practice. I’ve been sanguine enough to hope that all Americans might be starting to realize how vulnerable they are to an uncaring government, and who knows, the upcoming election may yet prove me right.

I was, however, wrong on one count. NOLA bashing is still alive and well, and in evidence of that, here comes the current issue of GQ Magazine to tell us how New Orleans is truly f**ked and moreover, why it deserves to be.

Alan Richman, the GQ foodie, has written New Orleans’ culinary epitaph, in print and on podcast (available at http://odeo.com if you want to savor its full ripe aroma). In the guise of reviling the city’s awful restaurants (Mr. Richman apparently found the frogs legs at Herbsaint too battered for his taste), he has gone on to say “New Orleans shouldn’t exist. Let’s start with that premise. New Orleans has no business existing, certainly not as it is now.” He also goes on to criticize us for living “on a river,”and thus putting ourselves in harm’s way (note: the Mississippi was the one body of water down here that DIDN’T flood, and it’s a main artery of shipping and...oh, never mind, never mind).

Mr. Richman also criticizes us for having neighborhoods that don’t look like “the sort of old world, French, Creole, Cajun air people see in the films about New Orleans” and for having no Creole culture. “There once were Creoles,” Mr. Richman informs us, “this combination of French, Spanish, American people who lived down there. And there’s some African-American blood in there too. I don’t think the Creole society ever really existed, or if it existed it died out a long time ago. It was more a cooking than a people...I’d give anything if I could go back in time and eat the Creole cuisine as it was cooked 100 years ago. I bet it was something special...”

And so on and on. Okay, to put it in perspective, this is GQ Magazine we’re talking about, not the International Herald Tribune. This is a magazine, after all, devoted to calibrating the exact amount of facial hair men will be sporting next season. Mr. Richman styles himself as someone “we don’t see much of any more, a journalist,” but he’s about as much a journalist as Paris Hilton is a serious actress. He REVIEWS RESTAURANTS, people...a profession about as necessary to human survival as a student of macrame. He’s hit upon the scarcely novel premise of insult as a means to celebrity, and with far less creative flair than Andres “Piss Christ” Serrano, has submerged a cultural icon in his own effluvia. Ah well. Let’s move on. Men have died and worms have eaten them, but not because Alan Richman gave them a bad review.

What all this made me think about, however, was the concept of righteous anger. Which leads me to the idea of Angry Child Press.

In the same issue of the Times Picayune where Richman’s canards were reported, they reprinted a lovely article by T. Berry Brazelton, MD, about helping your child deal with anger. Now I admit I’ve got a soft spot for Brazelton. He’s exactly the kind of loving, humane parent we all wish we’d had...kind of like being fathered by Emerson. In this article, he catalogues the developmental stages of children’s anger: from being occasioned by primary fears (hunger, cold, pain) to more nuanced threats (loneliness, ostracism, wrong-doing, and finally inequality... unfairness to self, and finally, unfairness to others).

As a child ages, Brazelton says, she becomes more involved with the world, and her reasons for anger grow beyond the borders of her own skin. She grows angry at how others perceive her, how they treat her, and finally, how they treat third-parties. While a child must learn to control herself, Brazelton is very specific about NOT counseling your child to swallow her anger or ignore it. Anger, he says, is a real, often valid emotion. While “time outs” have their place, Brazelton makes a compelling case for the ability to feel outrage as one of the hallmarks that makes us fully human.

So here I am, reading these two articles, and I’m getting seriously ticked off at this twit Richman for taking cheap shots against my city, and I’m reading Brazelton’s suggestions for helping your child cope. He recommends stepping out of the situation, isolating oneself to calm down. Okay, I can do that. Soothing techniques...rocking, a hug, a lullaby...or that failing, curling oneself in a ball and sucking one’s thumb (hey, I’ve been there too sometimes...haven’t we all?). Distraction works: I immediately considered where we were going for lunch today, and that cheered me up from the oh-so-terrible fact that poor Mr. Richman didn’t like his trout meuniere at Galatoire’s (boo-f-ing-hoo). And then came the last suggestion: using creative expression. “Mashing a ball of clay, pounding on paper with crayons, furiously scribbling, drawing angry monsters or making up stories about them...” All these win Dr. Brazelton’s approval. “Playing out angry scenarios with dolls or puppets, building tall building block towers and knocking them down”...that’s his idea of a good time. And as a matter of fact it’s mine too.

And that got me thinking.

Here’s my idea: I want a moratorium on people complaining about violent video games and violent movies and violent books (does anyone really complain about violent books?) and violent anything else. I think we need MORE of ‘em. A whole lot more. We need to see the screens of our movie theaters awash in blood, and we need elephant dung stuck on all our paintings, and we need to see our computers blazing with burning cars and exploding Nazis, and we need everybody in America pounding on paper and furiously scribbling and mashing clay and setting their dolls up to kill each other.

We don’t need any more anger in this country, mind, but we sure as hell need a whole lot more creative outrage.

Which is why I want to start Angry Child Press.

I want all the Alan Richmans in the world to have to stop playing it safe and criticizing other people’s creativity and have to start making their own.

For one thing, they’ll see how hard it is. For all I know Mr. Richman makes a bitchin’ etouffee, but until you’ve poured burning hot roux all over your own fingers a few times, you shouldn’t be too quick to mock other people for doing it.

For another thing, they’ll learn that making art (and certainly making food) is what keeps a culture alive...and sometimes, they’re all that keep it going. The Creoles of this city (sorry, Al, but they’re still here) have a rich heritage of suffering and joy to draw from, from the early settlers who made a life here, through the plantation culture (when crillolo or “home grown” became kreyol or mixed race) to the music of Don Vappie and the cooking of Leah Chase today. The cast iron pot and the banjo and haut cuisine and jazz were all part of it, but another ingredient was the riotous, rude, creative, ANGRY energy of the people who were doing it. These people, the New Orleans Creoles, black and white, weren’t interested in what New York thought...but they knew enough to get mad when somebody threatened them. These are the same people who are bringing New Orleans back now, the same hybrid folk who rolled up their sleeves in the days right after the storm and got cooking and writing and painting and making music, because they had to, and because they were mad as hell.

That’s why we need Angry Child Press. Wouldn’t you love to read the books that imprint would put out? Wouldn’t you love to listen to Angry Child Music and watch Angry Child Films and go see the painting and sculpture at the Angry Child Gallery? Can you imagine how wonderful it would all be? I imagine it would be obscene and beautiful and brilliant.

And wouldn’t you love to go to a restaurant called the Angry Child? I know I would. Can you imagine the meals there? Somehow, I don’t think they’d appeal to Mr. Richman, but I’ll bet they’d be messy and playful and delicious, just like New Orleans.

So here’s my idea. When we all get mad, we shouldn’t just take it. We should turn it around and make art. We shouldn’t wait for anyone else’s permission, and we certainly shouldn’t wait for a good review from GQ Magazine, because my guess is we’re never going to get it. We should just nourish ourselves and cheer ourselves up, and keep our mongrel culture going, and maybe have a little something left over to feed the rest of the world.

By the way, the frogs legs are GREAT at Herbsaint and the trout meuniere at Galatoire’s is to die for. Please come down and try them sometime.

Best, and I promise to write more often,

Ad’n

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Notes from Atlantis 30

Dear Folks,

WE WON!!! WE WON!!! WE ACTUALLY F*$&%^@ING WON!!!

I know, I know, I ought to be blogging about more important things than a football game (or even three football games) but WE ACTUALLY WON last night!!! Again! In the Superdome! Against a really good team! We actually muthaf&@*%&!ing did it!

WOW!!!

It was a No-Fly Zone. It was the Dirty Birds getting struck down by Bird Flu. It was all over but the feathers. It was every stupid sports-cum-falcons metaphor you can think of...and it was glorious. Think Amazin’ Mets. Think Red Sox winning the World Series. Think anything involving the Chicago Cubs. Then multiply that by the emotions of V-E Day, and you get an idea of what New Orleans was like last night.

Yes, I know, the war ain’t over, and there are still many more battles for New Orleans to face. Hell, the actual war we’ve been fighting for the last three years (the one in Iraq...does anybody even remember Afghanistan?) is going so badly our entire intelligence community has now gotten together and issued a boil-down and the message is we are royally F...D.

And yes, I know, Mayor Nay-gone just had a meeting last Saturday in which SOME neighborhood groups got together and revealed some of their plans (or more rightly dreams: rebuilt neighborhood centers, green spaces, new housing, pedestrian malls) and everybody nodded and went, well, that’s nice, and now they’re telling us that by December they may have another meeting scheduled to look at those plans some more.

Maybe.

And the fire fighters down here just got turned down for a pay raise to put their hourly wage up to $7.50 an hour and think about that the next time some pimple-faced mouth-breather hands you your Big Mac, because he’s earning $10 an hour plus bonuses.

And everybody agrees Donald Rumsfeld’s an incompetent blow-hard and Dick Cheney’s a scary psychopath (remember “the insurgents are in their death-throes”?) and the levees are still dicey and Chris Wallace has nothing better to do than to ask President Clinton why he preferred getting his knob gobbled to going after Osama bin Laden. And the Repubicans have decided it’s alright to torture people A LITTLE BIT, and it’s still got two months to go on the current hurricane season, and gas prices are being lowered A LITTLE BIT too, so the great community of pimple-faced mouth-breathers (which is what our leaders clearly think we all are) will vote for those leaders next fall...and one of those leaders is our own almost-indicted Bill Jefferson, which makes me think maybe we really ARE a community of mouth-breathers and we deserve whatever we get.

BUT WE STILL WON LAST NIGHT IN THE SUPERDOME!!!

It wasn’t everything, but it was one more small step on the road back. We’re back, we’re ready to whoop some ass, the Saints marched in last night, and they’re not going anywhere.

It’s kind of sad I guess when a community is so desperate for good news it’ll rely on a football game like it’s a State of the Union Address, but hey, these are tough times, cousin.

I’ve just been re-reading an article in The Weekly Standard (not, I hasten to add, my favorite fascist fare) but this one’s been on my desk for the last six months and the reason is because it had a picture of the Superdome on the cover with a few forlorn floats rolling by (but no people) taken last Mardi Gras, and the headline read, “Will The Good Times Ever Roll Again?” There was even a little sign visible on the dome reading (sic) “Re-Open 9-24-2006, Go Saints.”

It was given to me by Bill’s aunt Kitty (NOT a fascist, although a die-hard Redskins fan), and featured an intelligent, nuanced piece by Matt Labash (I’m not going to say “of all people”) about New Orleans.

So I read it last March and I just read it again, and what’s scary is the things that have remained THE SAME for six months after remaining the same for the seven months before that. The city’s still got areas that are in ruins; areas that are now gutted ruins waiting to be rebuilt (but not rebuilding yet); areas that ARE rebuilding, but still have a long way to go; and areas that have gone from being blighted before the storm to being nightmarishly blighted now, but where people are still living because they didn’t actually flood, and where the major activities now are drug deals, shootings, and shootings that involve drug deals.

This last area I should add is about ten blocks from our house.

So yeah, it’s a little sad and scary to read the article, except it isn’t, because what’s gone is the uncertainty. Don’t get me wrong. There’s still enough uncertainty in New Orleans now to drive everyone to Prozac (will we be safe? will we be solvent? will we ever have a real mayor?) but what we don’t have anymore is the uncertainty of whether New Orleans will still be New Orleans. Take me word for it, it will. It already is. It’s still a stubborn, crazy, beautiful place where grown-up people know enough to play like children, and it still has its heart and its subtle, complex, beautiful soul intact, even if it ends up languishing. It still has its anger, and its wildness, and its unbeatable sense of humor, and it’s still a place where people CAN be brought to tears of joy by a simple football game.

Did I say simple? By a goddamn great football game.

And did I mention WE WON!!!

WOO-HOO!!! WE WON! WE NAILED THOSE BIRDS!

Love and XXX from the world’s newest football fan.

Ad’n

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Notes from Atlantis 29

Dear Folks,

Okay, we made it through August 29. I was originally thinking I’d stop writing these essays after the one-year anniversary of Katrina, but I think I’ll go on with them because the story isn’t finished yet, the job of rebuilding down here isn’t anywhere near finished, and the continuing fascination, frustration, excitement and drama of being here never ceases to amaze me. I feel alive down to the tips of my fingers...and I guess if being alive means occasionally being scared to death, that’s all part and parcel of it.

I’m speaking of course of our recent brush with Hurricane Ernesto, which went on to merely disrupt the Labor Day weekend on the East Coast. For a while, however, we were “in the cone” of the hurricane’s projected path, and things looked more serious, so we made our plans. We’d already stocked up on supplies: cans of tuna fish, Vienna sausages, pudding, fruit cocktail, soup, deviled ham, vegetables, and Dinty Moore’s beef stew; water, scotch, gin, and wine; batteries, flashlights, candles and glo-sticks; and toilet paper, blankets, pillows and a portable toilet.

And that was just for HERE.

We had the same survivalist kit stashed in Bill’s studio in the Quarter (because we MIGHT have to evacuate there) and the same ready to pack in the car along with the cat carrier, clothes, shoes, coats, books, computers, jewelry and all our important papers.

All this was to tide us over for the approximately three-hour drive out to the Edmundsons’ plantation in western Louisiana, where there was food, a generator, cases of Veuve Cliquot, and Dickie Unangst waiting to cook for us.

But you never know. We had made our plans because after all ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN.

And we had also made our plans because August 29 was approaching, and the entire city was having a collective nervous breakdown. Picture a VERY slow-moving airplane approaching the East Coast with the word “Bomb” written in Arabic on the outside, on the first anniversary of 9/11. You wouldn’t know where it was going. You wouldn’t know when it was going to get there. You wouldn’t even know if there WAS a bomb on board, or if it was just a false alarm. But as you watched it approach and learned its projected path, you’d be sick with dread. And you’d stare up into that deceptively clear blue sky and pray, Not here. Not me. Not yet.

Because let’s be honest, New Orleans is still as fragile as used Kleenex, and the prospect of another major hit was frankly terrifying. It still is. I don’t know if the levees and canal walls will hold, and the Army Corps of Engineers doesn’t know either. What’s fairly certain is the drains are still clogged, the electrical system in the pumping stations is still very dicey, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet is still wide open, and there WILL be some flooding. The cops are stretched finer than a thin blue hair, there are something like fifty firemen on duty at any given time, every sixteen-year-old drug dealer in the city is armed to the teeth, and the law-abiding population of the city is armed too. There WILL be some violence. Add to that a Mayor who’s gone AWOL, a population still living in trailers, an economy that’s still struggling and suffering through the summer doldrums, and well, you do the math.

Cases of Vienna sausage and Dinty Moore’s stew may not save us, but in times of fear you do what you can.

So we watched and waited, and Sunday morning, August 27, I turned on the TV and then ran upstairs shouting to Bill, “We’re out of the cone! We’re out of the cone!” as Ernesto turned towards Florida. So we could relax, at least temporarily, and provisionally.

We could relax and enjoy the celebration of our survival for a whole year, if “enjoy” is exactly the right word, which I’m not sure it is. Not that the powers-that-be weren’t trying to put a jolly spin on things. Mayor Nay-gone (his latest nickname) had the bright idea of celebrating the occasion with fireworks and a comedy show, which would have been delightfully ironic in the midst of an evacuation, but fortunately more tasteful heads prevailed. Instead there were church services and a concert, and memorials unveiled here and there (pillars showing the height of the floodwaters in the Lower Ninth Ward, and a blanket of small white anonymous flags in Metairie Cemetery).

And we were even part of it in a way. Last January, Eden Gass, a talented local artist, announced her intention to burn a black-on-black American flag she’d created for a show at Barrister’s Gallery. She also announced she MIGHT consider selling it for a (to her) exorbitant price, and I immediately told Bill “That’s what I want for my birthday!” He made her an offer, which she countered by saying she still wanted to burn THAT flag, but she would make us another one just like it...a kind of phoenix rising from the ashes, which naturally appealed to us.

Well, she did, and it was beautiful, but we’ve never known how to hang it. Then she called a few days before the anniversary and said could she borrow the flag for a show here at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art! We leapt at the idea, since a professional curator would figure out how to hang the flag, and it would even have a little card saying it was “on loan from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. William Bowman”! And in fact, that’s what happened. We spent the afternoon of Tuesday August 29 at the Ogden, where a little piece of the Parks-Bowman collection was on display...maybe not the weirdest piece of our art (that would probably be the full-size mummified Pope), but still a worthy example our taste.

We saw the flag, and we chatted with friends, and we listened to Don Vappie (he’s a marvelous banjo and bass player) and saw a documentary about his life pre-and post-Katrina (I think it’s airing September 7th on PBS, titled “American Creole”...it’s great, so as the saying goes, check your local listings). It was a nicely aesthetic way to salute a time of so much pain and sorrow that’s still so poignantly with us, because really, sometimes there’s too much reality here for anyone to bear. Add a time of “harvesting” for some members of Bill’s family (his aunt’s death occurred following hard on the heels of his mother’s, and his uncle is far from well) and we’ve been a little frayed around the edges. So we distanced ourselves with art, which is a great way to feel without feeling too much, and it turned out to be exactly the right thing. Put a frame around anything and it can become oddly beautiful, and if that’s a good explanation for why you create art, then you can put that on my tombstone. God knows it’s kept me out of the grave for fifty years, and hopefully it will continue to do so.

So right now it would appear our prayers have been answered and the skies are calm, at least for the very near future, and we can take a little breath. And if that puts the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA and the State of Louisiana and Hizzoner “Mayor Renege-on” into gear, then God bless Ernesto for frightening us so badly. I’ll be able to write to you about Spike Lee’s documentary (which was going to be my “Katrina posting”, but which will have to come next) and so many other great stories and moments I’ve been privileged to witness down here.

Because that’s also what happens when you get scared to death, you start thinking about all the things you haven’t gotten done yet! So thank God we don’t have to hold the city’s funeral yet, since we’ve all got too much to do. I’ll be writing again soon, God and the hurricanes willing.

XXX,

Ad’n

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Notes from Atlantis 28

Dear Folks,

Jesus, we’re in trouble.

The Urban Land Institute has officially said we’d be better off with Huey Long.

The U.L.I., which was brought in as part of a panel of fifty experts recruited by Mayor Nagin eight months ago (a panel that’s since been told to go play in traffic) has announced that if New Orleans doesn’t get its act together soon, it could end up squandering billions and looking like the worst parts of North Philadelphia or Detroit or Baltimore.

They say we need someone in charge. They say we need a plan. They say we need more than the ad hoc efforts of individual homeowners, who are rebuilding here, there and everywhere without any overall design. We need, in short, a Mayor. And we ain’t got one.

And it’s hard to dispute their point.

As we close in on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, this is a city that isn’t bothering to whistle in the dark anymore. Instead, it’s sitting tight, poised for flight, watching the Gulf with sick fascination and living with a huge, if largely ignored, level of stress. Life goes on, of course. We’ve been incredibly busy, making our hurricane plans (food and supplies at home, in the Quarter if we decide to go there, and ready to be stashed in the car). We’ve called Hurricane Guy (www.hurricaneguy.com) who’ll come and install our plywood and dismantle the car-port when and if we need him. And we’re pricing home generators, and have had new locks installed, and I’m putting all my important manuscripts in plastic boxes and stashing them under the bed (some impulses are just plain irrational, so there you go).

And we’ve been working hard on other things. We’re getting ready to re-launch the website for Make New Orleans Home (www.makeneworleanshome.com) the organization we’ve been unofficially hired to rebrand (unofficial since they haven’t paid us any money yet, but we’re hoping). Bill’s getting the studio together, since the roof’s finally been repaired, and I’m working on a new book (about the 1927 flood...hope that piques your curiosity). And we’re helping the Mystic Krewe of Shangri-La organize a fundraiser to be held at our house in October (the theme is Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil...gee, appropriate?) And there are expenses to be logged and capital gains to be computed and wills to be redrawn (no, we’re not anticipating drowning...it’s just practicality), and of course there are always great meals to be eaten and great music to be heard and great friends to spend wonderful times with.

This is still the most extraordinary city in the world, and we love it idiotically. But God ALMIGHTY, I’m getting fed up with the current administration!

When the Mayoral run-off was going on last May, you’ll remember, my attitude was wait and see. I was willing to give Mayor Nagin the benefit of the doubt. Well, two months later, that benefit is rapidly dwindling, in the face of what I perceive as a lamentable (if understandable) impulse on Hizzoner’s part to grand-stand on a wider stage. He’s been embraced by the current African-American political machine (Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton et al) and while I think he’s got it all over them (Martin Luther King Jr. would vomit at what whores Jesse and Al have become), he (Nagin) seems to have lost interest in...oh, being Mayor of New Orleans. Time goes by. Occasional trial balloons go up (We’ll rebuild City Hall! We’ll build a new Jazz Park, even though we’ve already go one! We’ll make the whole city wireless!) and die with a fart of hot air. Meanwhile City Council President Oliver Thomas, another machine-man on a par with the Jefferson family, has said, and I quote, “We just hope at some point, all the stars will line up” and a rebuilding plan will magically materialize.

The Urban Land Institute has compared our current status to that of Dresden in 1946, and the City Council says it’s putting its faith in the stars.

I’m not sure having a “czar” in charge of redevelopment would solve all our problems (at what point did the term “ czar” come back in favor? Maybe William Safire could tell me) but it surely couldn’t HURT. Right now anyone trying to redevelop property in this city has to go through six different organizations, including the city’s finance authority and its economic development office. Does anyone believe these entities are staffed by cousins and brother’s-in-law of Messrs. Jefferson, Thomas et al? Does the Pope wear little white shoes? C’mon. While Mayor Nagin has said he wants the city to grow from the ground up, deciding its own fate rather than having a plan imposed from above, this sounds to me like a nice excuse for sloth.

I drove out to the lower section of the Lower Ninth Ward two weeks ago, and up by the worst-hit areas of Lakeview and New Orleans East, and those places are still looking as bad as you can possibly imagine. The grass is growing up high now, so it doesn’t look so gray, but the wooden houses have started to sink into themselves and the brick structures are getting choked with weeds. They’re starting to look PERMANENT. Every block or two there are signs of work, piles of gutted trash and sheetrock, but these individual efforts are scattered and unplanned. If we’re not careful, we’re going to end up with areas with just a sprinkling of residents, people who have no real infrastructure, no services, but are living as squatters in their own ruined neighborhoods. And the fact that that’s completely UNNECESSARY strikes me as nothing less than criminal.

Money is going to start rolling in soon, and money, as always, will find its own level. Graft isn’t even a question, and them that’s got will have and them that’s not will lose, and in a world where humanity seems increasingly hell-bent on destroying itself, maybe one SHOULD just shrug and say so what? Sit back, fix yourself a daiquiri, and enjoy the show. You know I can’t do that, you know I’ll keep sputtering (maybe not as badly as Chris Matthews) but it’s so terrible to see an opportunity like this wasted, it absolutely breaks my heart.

This is such a magical city, how did it end up in the hands of those who take such shabby care of it?

Later,

Ad’n

Monday, July 10, 2006

Notes from Atlantis 27

Dear Folks,

Ten and a half months ago, when New Orleans and the world were first starting to absorb the scope of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, there was a lot of talk about how the storm had changed this city forever.

Well, DUH. D’ya think? A major cataclysm, unimaginable destruction, and a government that was at best overwhelmed and at worst clueless (were those two mutually exclusive?)...yeah, do you think all those things could be construed as precipitating ONE BIG DAMN CHANGE?

Okay, so now we’ve absorbed it, or we’re in the process of absorbing it. New Orleans, now five weeks into the 2006 hurricane season, is starting to realize with a dull, constant ache that no, this isn’t going to go away. No, the rest of the world isn’t going to reform and suddenly become more enlightened or more compassionate or more far-sighted. (I apologize here to all the people in the world who ARE enlightened and compassionate and far-sighted). If there are stages of grief, then these may be numbness, panic, determination, anger, and sorrow. You start off in sheer disbelief. This simply CAN’T have happened. Then you’re scared, scared to death, of bogies and real threats alike. Then you set your shoulder to the wheel and become very practical: you do things, make lists, check things off. And you’re mad. Mad as hell. You figure out who’s to blame, and maybe it’s easier if you have a lot of real, viable targets to blame (the Army Corps of Engineers, federal, state and local bureaucracies, cronyism and graft). Maybe that’s better than blaming God or yourself or the thing you lost (whether it was a loved one or a home or a city). Maybe anger’s less corrosive if it can be focused out. And here in New Orleans right now, we can indulge ourselves to the hilt in righteous anger.

It doesn’t do any good, but we can sure do it.

And finally I guess you come to accept the fact that this cannonball of sadness in your gut isn’t going anywhere for a long, long time. I think that’s where a lot of people down here are right now. It’s heartbreaking to see it, but I guess it’s a necessary part of the process. We don’t do our worst weeping right after a tragedy, after all. It sneaks up on us six, nine, twelve months later, and punches us in the heart.

But there are a lot of people who were affected by this tragedy who are still stuck in the first, second, third, and fourth stages of grief while already absorbing the fifth. Those are the people who are still homeless.

I’m wresting with a lot of ideas here. First of all, there’s my knee-jerk liberalism (alluded to in a previous blog) that says everyone deserves some kind of a shelter in the world. Even if you’re broke, even if you’re a dead-beat, one of Shaw’s “undeserving poor”...even Alfred P. Doolittle doesn’t deserve to sleep on the street in a cardboard box. There were a lot of very poor people in New Orleans prior to Katrina who lived in public housing, and yes, those places were generally awful: grim brick barracks surrounded by dirt yards and cracked sidewalks, cut off from the surrounding neighborhoods by an iron-gray force field of contempt and fear. Those places were bad, and they bred badness: crime, drug abuse, gangs, and despair. The storm punched holes in these “poor houses” which only exacerbated the decay that was already present, and there are many, many people in this city now who are begging, pleading that these pest holes be torn down.

Except. Except what do you do with all the people who used to live there, who want to come home? They’re being thrown out of their FEMA lodgings in other cities, they certainly can’t afford to pay the exorbitant rents being charged in this city right now, and even if you give them expanded vouchers, all the money in the world won’t buy the thousands of apartments that simply aren’t there. The bald fact of the matter is there isn’t that much housing stock available in New Orleans AT ALL. We’re in the position of telling these people they’re better off having nowhere to live rather than living in these rat-holes...except these rat-holes were where they kept their clothes and their toys and their photographs and their families. These rat-holes were home. Alright, home was fairly lousy. But at least it enabled these people to have a roof over their heads and a base from which to go to their (probably minimum wage, and still necessary) jobs, and a place to hang out with their friends, and a place to live in the city they dearly loved.

Because that’s the point. The people who lived in the St. Bernard housing project and the Lafitte project and the C. J. Peete project and the B. W. Cooper project loved this city every bit as much as any rich person does. Maybe even more so, since if they didn’t love this city, they had far less incentive to stay here and live like animals.

Alright, a lot of the displaced residents who are barred from returning home may not be valuable members of society. But a lot of them are. And a lot of them are saying that ANY home here is better than no home at all.

And I can see their point.

So what should New Orleans do? As always, there are numerous opinions. There’s a guy who goes to every City Council meeting and decries ethnic cleansing... unfortunately he’s a professional tarot reader who doesn’t live anywhere near public housing. There’s Endesha Juakali, who was briefly the chairman of the Housing Authority of New Orleans under Mayor Barthelemy, until he was accused of mismanagement and forced off the board. He likes to attend and yell obscenities at the people currently trying to sort out this mess. There’s Bob Tannen, an urban planner, who says the Vieux Carre was once considered a slum and is now considered a treasure. He says the public housing complexes also have historical value...although what value those grim bunkers have is beyond me, besides testifying to historical misery. The idea of ghettoizing the poor is one which remains a large, vivid blot on the history of 20th century urban land use, and one which isn’t going away anytime soon.

And meanwhile the housing complexes in New Orleans sit. Empty. Moldy. Rotting. They remain concentrated areas of blight, which, by their very neglect, may be becoming or may already have become unsalvageable.

Which may be entirely in keeping with some people’s secret or not so secret desires. After all, sometimes to accomplish your goals all you have to do is do nothing until the problem goes away.

I think there are more than a few people here right now who wish the problem of poor people, or black people, or poor black people, would just go away. They wish there was some way to staff our restaurants and have our trash collected and have our houses cleaned by upwardly mobile other people with good hearts and a strong work-ethic, without having to deal with...well, THOSE other people. Let’s leave aside for the moment the question of how many of those other people who did those jobs pre-Katrina were also hard-working and good-hearted, and had the misfortune to be forced to live in those warrens. And let’s leave aside the issue of machine politicians (also alluded to in a previous posting) who may have had a stake in keeping their neighborhoods as run down as possible. Let's leave aside the whole imponderable of whether the Housing Authority of New Orleans, if it had been run better, would have been able to avoid ceding its power to the federal office of Housing and Urban Development. Or whether HUD really understands or really cares about what makes New Orleans special, and how we can or cannot do right by the people who are still gone.

The fact of the matter remains that THOSE people are eventually going somewhere. The drug addicts and criminals may very well come back here, because there will always be stuff to loot and people to shoot no matter how ruined the city is. Meanwhile the working poor, the barely-working poor, and the out-or-work but well-meaning poor, will be pushed elsewhere, to silt up in some other public housing enclave...in Houston, or Atlanta, or God knows where. New Orleans will survive, and remain New Orleans, but at a considerable loss.

I don’t know what the answer is. I do know that not everyone in public housing was jobless, or shiftless, or hopeless, and if we let them back they might find a way to contribute to this city, even living in sub-standard conditions. Right now we’re taking away their homes and their hope, and that makes me feel ashamed.

Later,

Ad’n

Notes from Atlantis 26

Dear Folks,

I know, I know...as I've said before after a long absence, my apologies for not writing sooner! Parks/Bowman Productions has been busily at work (and I'm also writing a new book...like you wouldn't know THAT!) so the first month of hurricane season (yikes!) flew by. Then we had our pal Eric Zwemer in for a couple of weeks visiting from L.A., and we took the opportunity to be tourists: checked out the Aquarium, visited the New Orleans Museum of Art, heard music, went to Galatoire’s, cooked steaks, went to Mardi Gras World, and spent a good deal of time just lounging around in the pool...what bliss.

However, I’ve not been completely idle, and I do feel like I’m coming to understand more about this fascinating, unique, maddening, beautiful, charming and deeply damaged city. It’s the most amazing place on earth, but my GOD and the little fishes is it screwed up!

To give you just one good example: The Case of the Missing Chryslers.

Okay, you need a little background here. Right after the hurricane, Daimler-Chrysler donated forty trucks and SUVs to southeastern Louisiana for use by policemen and fire fighters. Value: well over a million dollars (the fact that this works out to $25,000+ per vehicle is only appalling to me because I’m over fifty and can remember when cars cost less). Daimler-Chrysler enjoyed a nice tax write-off and some free publicity, but still, the gesture was kind.

But some of those vehicles looked pretty damn sweet to our local City Council, and at least one council member, the Garden District's own (former) representative Renee Gill-Pratt, decided to take one. Actually, she took four. All the other council members got two each to distribute to a “worthy” cause (meaning whoever they owed a plum), but Ms. Gill-Pratt got to double-dip because she’s the protegee of our esteemed local congressman, William (bucks-in-the-freezer) Jefferson. Jefferson, you see, was in charge of getting the donation to Louisiana in the first place, and he wanted to make sure his gal pal got her fair share.

Renee, being a generous woman, gave two SUVs to a non-profit organization run by Mose Jefferson, who happens to be Rep. William Jefferson’s brother. She donated one other to an outfit called Care Unlimited (founder: Bennie Jefferson), which, following her defeat in May, hired her as an associate. She kept the fourth for her own use. Now, of course, since she’s working for Care Unlimited, she’s claiming she donated that car to them too. But Care Unlimited can’t complain too much that she “borrowed” the vehicle for the previous eight months.

After all, over the past twelve years, Gill Pratt and other Jefferson allies have steered at least 5.5.million in public money to these two non-profits run by the Jefferson machine...er, family. Right now, the state budget STILL has $450,000 set aside for these two cash cows.

And need I say that neither one of them has ever done a goddamn thing for anyone but the Jeffersons?

This would all be the actions of charming rogues, if it weren’t for the fact that this city is still DYING for lack of money. Vast sums are in the pipe-line, but this isn’t giving anyone a warm feeling about how well they’ll end up being spent.

And it’s made me think about something our friend Bret Littlehales asked me last December, while we were driving around shooting photographs of the city: why, in New Orleans, is so much power held by politicians of fairly modest means, rather than by the truly rich?

After all, we’re not talking huge sums here. 5.5 million is a large aggregate, but that’s over twelve years: barely $450,000 a year! Ken Lay stole that much in a week! The machine politicians in this city, the Jeffersons, Oliver Thomas, Rev. Charles Southall and others, aren’t raking in big-time scores from any single source. They still command far less personal wealth than most major developers and shipping executives and CEOs and even a well-placed landowner like Bob Edmundson. But they control the process and they wield a hugely disproportionate hand over what happens, or doesn’t happen, down on the neighborhood level. And I think I’ve finally figured out why.

They control the Federal (and State) Pity Machine.

Because pity, ironically enough, can lead to largess, and largess, when codified by federal and state entitlement programs and government grants and low-income loans and every bromide from the Great Society to No Child Left Behind, can lead to a hell of a lot of free money being sent down to blighted neighborhoods--money which can be diverted, stolen, held up and passed around by those in the right precinct at the right time with the right relatives and (God help me) the right skin color.

This APPALLS me. I think you all know (and I think I alluded to it in my last blog) what a knee-jerk liberal I am. I DETEST the idea of pre-judging anyone by any means, and I spent a long time and lots of hard work and arguably the best years of my life writing a novel about how slavery and race-hatred poison everyone and everything they touch.

So I’m nauseated at the idea of even alluding to someone’s malfeasance now in terms of their race, since that kind of thinking can so easily shade over into a presumption of guilt, or worse an “oh, they’re all like that” attitude.

But I’m even more appalled by the idea that African-Americans could so batten and feed on their own. I suppose it makes sense that individual victimhood doesn’t automatically lead to sainthood, and self-righteousness may even enter into it--an attitude of “I suffered prejudice, so now I’m entitled to some reward”. I suppose in a twisted way that makes sense to some people. It just seems horribly true to me that there’s a layer of professional bureaucrats and hangers-on and politicians in this city who have no stake whatsoever in seeing that their districts improve, since that might turn off the Pity Tap. Far better to allow crime to flourish (by benign neglect if not outright patronage); far better to allow housing stock to deteriorate while you “stick it to the man”(who’s trying, true, to get rich by rebuilding); far better to cry “Racism!” at anyone who tries to stop you, than to attempt to grapple with the city’s problems and make a stab at ending them.

It’s ghastly.

And meanwhile those who used to live here in public housing still sit in Houston and elsewhere. Meanwhile teenagers get shot to death five at a time in Center City, and we still need the National Guard. Meanwhile the rest of the country smiles at our Third World corruption and shrugs us off, and some (I’ll admit) in this city DO say “they’re all like that” and “Well, Ray Nagin wanted a chocolate city...I guess he got his wish.”

It’s not just in New Orleans that this kind of thing happens, I know, and it’s not just now, but it seems to me especially virulent to have vultures pecking at this city after it’s already been brought so spectacularly to its knees.

Who knows? Maybe the hurricane will still change things. At least this whole matter’s being investigated.

Then again, Betty Jefferson (William’s sister) is still our tax assessor. Maybe I ought to stroll down to her office and give her a bribe?

Later,

Ad’n

Friday, June 02, 2006

Notes from Atlantis 25

Dear Folks,

I guess I ought to be shot. At any rate, I’m a terrible adoptive aunt. An old pal of mine from high school, Mary Pat Carroll, dropped by last weekend from Houston for a visit, accompanied by her two sons (ages 22 and 10) and I took them to a voudou ceremony.

And got possessed.

How embarrassing. Alright, it wasn’t all bad. We also took them to the Aquarium, and to an impromptu music festival out along Bayou St. John, and to the Praline Connection, and cooked them chicken etouffee, and they all swear they had a terrific time, but still. Scaring a ten-year-old witless is just something a nice adoptive aunt should never, ever do.

So let me explain. Mary’s eldest son Sam just graduated with honors from Rutgers, and she and Michael, his younger brother, had flown up to Jersey and partied him down and rented a U-Haul and driven him south with all his worldly possessions. He starts work in Houston next week as an engineer, doing something impressive with an oil company, I’m afraid I have no idea what. Sam’s father is Lebanese and Michael’s is Moroccan (Mary is a nurse who worked for years overseas), so they’re fairly cosmopolitan, but still. Did I mention that MICHAEL IS TEN YEARS OLD??? Bill and I thought it would be fun for them to get a taste of several different aspects of New Orleans, so we thought we’d go to the Aquarium (newly reopened), and then go hear a little music, and then attend a voudou ceremony being given by Sallie Ann Glassman, a friend of ours and a local mambo, or priestess.

And it really WAS an excellent idea, at least in theory. For one thing, the Aquarium is flat-out beautiful. I never went there before the storm (one of many things we “always meant to do”) but it’s amazing now, with a wide variety of fish (everything from neon tetras to electric eels, piranhas, jellyfish, sharks, and huge manta rays) to penguins, sea otters, and parrots (yeah, alright, parrots aren’t fish, but they’re in the Amazon Rain Forest display and they’re gorgeous). My favorite was something called a sea dragon, a lovely clump of diaphanous green that looks halfway between a sea horse and a floating lettuce leaf. Amazing. Aquariums can be, well, a little dank and smelly (even the old New York Museum of Natural History used to look a little fly-blown) but this one’s a peach. Plus it’s incredibly peaceful just to simply stand there and watch the fish swim slowly around in their tanks. I may go there a lot this summer, if I end up becoming “weather-stressed” waiting for tropical storms to develop.

And when you remember that something like 99% of the creatures there died post-Katrina (I think only the pelicans survived) it’s not merely beautiful, but inspiring to see it all looking so pristine and gorgeous again. So the Aquarium was a big thumbs-up. My adoptive aunt stock was rising at this point.

So we regrouped and went on to the “Bayou Boogaloo” along Bayou St. John, which was also very nice, if a little small. Okay, maybe I’m judging it by Jazz Fest standards. This fest was just an impromptu celebration of the fighting spirit of Mid-City (coming back, but still with a long way to go) and of the artists and musicians and restauranteurs who live there, who were on hand to display their wares. You had Lynn Dury and Walter “Wolfman” Washington and a host of other bands, all in a pretty outdoor setting, with crowds sitting along the bayou and kids playing egg-toss and a stilt-walker and beer and food stands and even a tent where they were giving people free massages! How cool was that? We stayed for a couple of hours, just soaking up the vibe, and it was wonderful. Perfect. We were flying high.

So we came back home and got into our voudou ceremonial gear (white for purity, with red accents, since Ogou Achade, the spirit we were invoking, likes red) and drove back over into the Bywater, where the invocation was being set up in at a vacant lot. Okay, cards on the table. Do I believe in voudou? Kinda. It appeals to all different parts of my personality, the crypto-Catholic part and the theatrical part and the wild part (YOU folks know it’s there) and also the part of me, rather large, which suspects there’s more to heaven and earth than was dreamt of even in Shakespeare’s philosophy, although he dreamt a lot. The basic idea of voudou (for which I’m using the alternate spelling, to demark it from “voodoo”, which is tourist dreck, or “hoodoo”, which is folk medicine) is animism, or deism, to use the white folks’ word: gods in everything and everything as a manifestation of God. What happened was the displaced (!) Africans in this hemisphere brought their gods with them, which gods then became syncretized with the Catholic saints. A lot of voudou seems to trace its roots back to the Yoruba culture in Nigeria, which is arguably as rich as the Irish in poets and visionaries, so when you add in three hundred years of oppression and slave revolts and travel, you get a potent brew indeed.

And yes, alright, some voudouists practice animal sacrifice, although Sallie Ann doesn’t. Yes, the ceremonies involve drumming and dancing and chants. No, they don’t involve sticking pins in dolls or calling up the Devil. It’s all a serious, joyful invocation of the uncanny, and since New Orleans is rightly or wrongly so associated with voudou in the public mind, I thought it might be nice if my friends got a taste of the real thing.

However, it DOES also involve possession. And given my propensity for slipping into fugue states at the drop of a hat, I suppose I should have known better. Anyway, here’s what happened:

We got there around seven PM. Maybe fifteen or twenty people were present, several regulars from Sallie Ann’s “congregation”, and other guests. They began with a lovely long litany invoking and praising the saints (both Catholic and voudou) and asking for their aid. This is all sung in Haitian patois, and is similar to the call-and-response of the mass. Then a male “hounsis”, or acolyte, invoked Ogou, the warrior spirit, first threatening Sallie Ann with a machete and then, once she had “tamed” him, dancing with her. The ritual space was created by inscribing the crossroads, a literal cross on the floor that signifies the portal between the four points of the compass, the heavens, and the abyss, where the ancestors live. Thus time and space are called into a singular point where the spirits can “pass through”. Legba, the lame trickster god who guards the crossroads, was invoked, as well as other major spirits including, of course, Ogou, who was being asked to protect the community from crime. More chanting, more dancing, and more drumming ensued as the evening darkened and a fire-red sunset smeared the sky. Offerings were brought forward (rum, cigars, knives, iron) and the participants’ hands were washed in perfumed water.

All while this was going on I was experiencing a very strange, uncontrollable spasming in my right hand and, progressively, all up my right arm and then along the whole right side of my body. Don’t ask me what it was, because I truly don’t know. I felt myself slipping into a hypnotic state where my conscious mind was still present, but bemused: looking on, and distant from the phenomenon taking place. Which was, yes, that I felt another consciousness entering my head, a consciousness which was female, and angry, and grieving. Her overwhelming feeling was “What a waste!” I collapsed to my knees and then to a fetal position on the ground with my hands outstretched, and could feel weeping, uncontrollable weeping, coming up through the cement under my palms. What was it? Auto-suggestion? A memory that that area was recently underwater? Earth spirits? I really haven’t a clue. The feeling, I can tell you, was both deeply sorrowful and scary, and also wildly exhilarating. It’s like touching an electrical socket, there’s definitely SOMETHING going through you. One of the “hounsis” came over and held me and put alcohol on my ankles and wrists and the back of my neck and I remember begging her not to leave me alone with this, so she stayed, as did Bill, who was with me all while this was going on. I also sensed a presence somewhere nearby of a man smoking a cigarette, although I was assured later on that no one was smoking anything.

After a while the feeling faded, and when the ritual continued and Ogou Achade was invoked with fire and gunpowder, I started to feel much better, as though at least SOMETHING was being done. Mary and Michael had retreated to the car by this point, although Sam stayed, and eventually we tore ourselves away to join them.

So what was it? I honestly can’t say. I only know I would have felt a good deal MORE embarrassed if I’d done it deliberately. As it was, I felt like the victim of a strangely pleasurable hit-and-run.

New Orleans is indeed a strange place altogether, and perhaps now especially, when its nerves are still so raw. I think, thought, that it’s always been a place where the membrane between the seen and the unseen, the everyday and the inexplicable, is unusually thin...and maybe that’s why people get drunk here, and numb themselves, and some people want to hold it at arm’s length--and, yes, some people want to destroy it, or at least let it die.

We’re all so shy about the sacred, we want the sacred to be something you can write inside a Christmas card, while the sacred is like electricity, or blood, or water. Something very primal and powerful and nourishing, but also very scary.

Anyway, it’s something I definitely want to explore some more, and see where the spirits, the loas, want to take me.

Although maybe next time I won’t bring a ten-year-old.

I’ll let you know how things progress.

Later,

Ad’n