Notes from Atlantis

Random Thoughts from the Crescent City

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