We talk a lot about culture here in New Orleans. We should: we’re fortunate to have one of the most vibrant, eclectic, and most thrilling cultures in the United States, if not the world. The mélange of histories, geographies, ethnicities, and styles that defines this city challenges us no end, revealing its innovation and dynamism each time we encounter it. Residents and visitors alike discuss the culture in reverent terms, exploring its origins, composition, and value – and how we have nearly lost it on so many occasions.
In my last column for UptownMessenger.com, I’d like to explore a slightly different question. I ask not what is New Orleans’ culture, but where?
I have a confession to make: I’ve always loved leaving New Orleans. Not just for the rush of packing suitcases, or the expectation of visiting a new place, or the pleasures of going to see family and friends. Nor just for the sense of mental refreshment you get when you break out of your routine, or the wonder and delight at a novel landscape. Nor even just for the thought of what to eat elsewhere. All of these things play into it, but there’s another reason entirely.
It’s that you get to come back.
Picture this: the sun high overhead, the sounds of the river all around you, the feel of soft grass underneath you, shade trees lining the path, and the smells of picnics and barbecues wafting in from across the pitch. Yes, it’s summertime — spring was a blip, that one week of perfect high pressure we had last month — and what better place to go and celebrate New Orleans’ official longest season than a spot that brings together so much of its natural beauty in one place?
I’m talking, of course, about the Fly.
Can you believe it’s been two months? The other day, we sat around trading Mardi Gras stories, and it wasn’t long before the bulk of the haul came out. You wouldn’t believe what we found — well, actually, you would. Beads, pounds of them. Stuffed animals, a whole menagerie. Doubloons, beads, pens, koozies, emblems, beads, plastic cups, and dreidels, twice as many again as all of the above, and oh, did I mention the beads? Somewhere in your house, in bags in the utility room or in backpacks in your study, you’ve got them too. So: it’s time for spring cleaning. What are you going to do with all those extra beads?
Here’s an idea: drop them off for recycling.
“I forgot my glasses.” When’s the last time you heard a friend or family member say this? When they were asked to fill out a form, or look at a bus timetable, or find a number in the phone book? Next time you hear these four magic words, listen closely: nine times out of ten, they mean far more than meets the eye.
Here’s the thing: you’re reading this column right now, but in all likelihood, you know someone who can’t. You just may not realize it. Illiteracy among adults is rampant in our society, and particularly so in New Orleans, but thankfully, we can do something about it. Each of us.
You’ve probably already seen him. He’s been spotted both in the Marigny and on Magazine Street, pushing his cart with its distinctive homemade sign. Earlier this week I had the privilege of meeting a man who has a remarkable story: a man who for over two years has been walking across America, from the west coast to the east, a man who has just arrived in New Orleans.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet George Stroop: advocate, motivator, and walker extraordinaire. He’s in town all this coming week. Let’s show him a good time while he’s here, shall we?
There’s no plainer way to say it: this is a great week for books. Libraries, festivals, and speakers, oh my — what more could a bibliophile ask for?
One of the nicest aspects of Mardi Gras is the way that it doesn’t end. Among friends, family, coworkers, and even strangers, the slightest mention of a costume or a parade or a meal is enough to set off hours of conversation and delight. I had to miss much of the season this year, unfortunately, due to work, but since returning these past few weeks have still been grateful for ample opportunity to share in the fun.
In such a spirit, I’d like to share a story: a story about Wookiees.
It’s a local institution. Come rain, come shine, there are few better places to be on the first Saturday of the month than the corner of Freret and Napoleon. The Freret Market, which celebrates its fifth birthday this year, is one of the city’s most visible post-Katrina success stories for bringing together local residents, merchants, and artists (and everyone else in between). Neighborhood members know they love it, but curious to take the pulse of their passion, I took a recent walk around the market equipped with a simple question.
If you could sum up the Freret Market in a single sentence, what would that be?
By now the streets have all been swept clean, the costumes put away, the restorative concoctions mixed and drunk, and the beads mostly fallen from the trees. Wet, chaotic, and unpredictable though it may have been, Carnival was no less fun for it, and as we gingerly ease into Lent it’s worth looking back on all the good times that we had.
Since we still have a few restorative concoctions left to drink, here are a few highlights of the Uptown parades in absolutely no order whatsoever.
Everyone has their own personal Mardi Gras. The longer you live in New Orleans, the more you learn about how to live in, and love, this city, a form of love that includes strategies and skills you never dreamed of learning prior to living here.
Carnival is one of the best times of the year to enjoy those skills; this week, following on from Jean-Paul Villere’s recent master classes, I’d like to share one of my own personal forms of love for the season: where to watch, and catch, the parades.
A series of ongoing repairs and refurbishments to the Latter branch of the New Orleans Public Library are scheduled to pick up in the coming months, according to representatives from the Mayor’s office, the New Orleans Public Library, and the architecture firm hired to complete the project.
At a crowded meeting at the library on Thursday night, officials gave a progress report on the first phase of the work, executed over the past three years, and offered a timetable of the second phase, slated to begin shortly after a contractor is chosen later this month.
Don’t be surprised if you hear strange sounds emerging from a tiny corner of Toulouse Street in Mid-City, or see marquis lights flashing like the Bat-signal over the night sky. At the Mid-City Theatre, one of the newest theaters in town, the point is to expect the unexpected.
“These are not just photographs on a wall. These are people, and many families in New Orleans can trace their histories to this place. We’re telling our own stories, as we should be. This is family history, yes, but this is also Louisiana history.”
So says Jennifer Williams, director of the McKenna Museum of African-American Art, and curator of a photography exhibition on predominantly African-American communities in the River Road, “Becoming Home.” Recently extended from its appearance with PhotoNola, and now on view through Mardi Gras, this is a rare, compelling exhibition, and one not to be missed.