Jean-Paul Villere: All’s faire for New Orleans makers

“I think I was 7 or 8 when I took apart my father’s radio,” says Cameron MacPhee, native New Orleanian and co-catalyst for this coming weekend’s Mini Maker Fair, recalling the first thing he remembers disassembling as a boy. “I was sure I had his permission,” he follows up, if not somewhat deadpanned.  “I even got shocked, like one of the capacitors got me.” 

MacPhee is now a father to a couple of young boys himself, and his story is likely all-too-familiar for the those participating in and attending Saturday’s first-ever event, the DIY and Maker movement is an all ages affair that extends beyond the boundaries of craft and convention. So where does the inspiration of the Maker movement come from? “Void your warranty,” states MacPhee.  “I mean, with the internet today and the tools and parts available, you’d be amazed at what you can do yourself.”  Not like when he was – or we were – kids.  I’ve known Cameron since we were teens, when as young baristas at the PJ’s on Maple St he had scrawled on the stock room wall a version of the transitive property of heat.  While it was more of a jab at vacant customers touching a hot toaster and complaining it was hot, it speaks to how 20 years later his interest in science, observation, and posting, if you will, still resonates.  And that’s sort of the point of the movement: be creative, be amazed, and share it.  A combination of curiosity, passion, and open source tinkering, and there you have it. A few Saturday’s featured 30 or so participants include:

Night Shift Bikes – Custom built motorcycles and bikes, that will also educate on how to motorize one’s own bicycle
Into The Wood – Local art rockers the bALLY who?

Jean-Paul Villere: All-night snowball fight

At some point over this egregiously long winter, Thomas, the younger brother-in-law, was over for a meal. Maybe it was a birthday, maybe it was Thanksgiving, I don’t really recall. We were sitting at the dining rom table, I think, when almost out of nowhere my 5 year old daughter spouts out “All night snowball fight!”

Jean-Paul Villere: License to #kale

Digesting a maladjusted observation by new New Orleanian Tara Elders in a recent New York Times piece regarding her new city’s supposed lack of cosmopolitan sensibility and its apparent lack of kale requires equal parts restraint and forgiveness.  Questions surface.  Who is she?  Who cares.  Why the kerfuffle?  In short, New Orleanians take pride in themselves and this comment plays as a slight, however one frames it.  Adding this misfire into the whole of its missive stirs up other unsettlingly obtuse observations the article makes, but for brevity’s sake permit me to sum it up in a quote of one ex pat’s (though presently a New Yorker) Facebook update “I defy you to read this article and not want to set something on fire.” 

Indeed. Color me naïve if I ever thought for a moment that a city that actively embraces it’s moniker as “The Big Easy” might not fall under a qualifier like ‘cosmopolitan.’  Could that be what Ms Elders was thinking?  The free-flowing and the worldly match up, do they?  But then I don’t hail from the Netherlands (as she does, at least according to where who can say how they view these sorts of things, though clearly kale is of the utmost priority in defining status.  Which might be a keen observation — if she were right!  Kale practically grows wild in the four corners of Orleans Parish.  My own backyard included.  There’s even a commercial and a recipe the big wigs at Kraft saw myself, my brood, and our digs fit to be cast in.  Go on.  Google as an image search ‘kale villere’ and view the results.  Ain’t sayin’ I’m cosmopolitan or nuthin’, I’m just sayin’. And I know this whole deal blew up into #kalegate, and I’m the last person to write about it, but forgive me, I usually only write once a week.  And to be perfectly honest I can forgive the whole ‘not cosmopolitan’ thing, nose in the air, and the whole nine yards, but I won’t let go of the kale; Ms Elders’ own blindness bleeds more ignorance than I can abide, dude.  You see, our litter, our crime, our je ne sais quoi, falls much more in line with a few ounces of Taaka, some cran and Triple Sec with a squeeze from my backyard’s lime tree than co-mingling with the likes of sophisticated, suave, or urbane.  We are who we are.  And if she were expecting something else, perhaps she was misled.  But then maybe it was something she read in the New York Times too.  Trash might not be sexy, but facts are facts.  Now, can I interest you in a cheesy omelette? Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and Du Mois Gallery on Freret Street and a married father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at, he also shares his family’s adventures sometimes via pedicab or bicycle on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Jean-Paul Villere: A tale of two Crescent Cities

It was the best of Carnivals, it was the worst of Carnivals, it was the time of bare masking, it was the time of warmth sought, it was the suspension of disbelief, it was the veritable cold reality, it was a season of sunscreen, it was a season of wool stockings, it was the glimmer of spring, it was the end of our disparate winter, we had baubles thrown to us, we had rainsoaked remnants, we were heading to heaven, and we were all surely going to hell — in short, the 2014 Mardi Gras season gave us everything and in the end took it all away.  Maybe in a way no one would expect especially given the late date: foiled by the longest, weirdest winter the Big Easy hopefully will ever know and never repeat. Ultimately, despite enjoying most of the holiday, this Carnival felt like two big layers of contradictions beginning with:

The lame lack of legal enforcement: the “six foot from the curb” ladder rule and no rogue port-a-potties appeared to operate within the bounds of the new laws, but banning tents, tarps, and the like?  Are we trying to redefine what a tent or a tarp might be?  If so, then that may be only explanation for the rampant blue plastic ground cover devices paired with the pseudo assembled aluminum exoskeletons a la an overgrown erector set.  Give me a break, NOPD: fail, fail, and fail.  No amount of viral video cop wobble can save face here.  And – – –
Timing and temperature: let’s address the bigger elephant in the room too, shall we?  Winter 2014 in New Orleans found the city and schools shutting down midweek due to freezing temps.  The roads were bare, and citizens were told to stay indoors for 48 hours.  Only on Lundi Gras eve a very comparable, albeit less lengthy, forecast crops up, and not only is that recent frozen memory handily brushed aside, the big show kept on schedule.  So the takeaway becomes: stay off the freezing streets, unless of course it’s the last day of Mardi Gras.  In which case, go and catch some throws! In some time and place far, far away from here surely there’s a logical progression to an annual festivities unfolding, where attendees acknowledge the practical and embrace the orderly.  But that will never be New Orleans.  A place where a broken tradition places king cake babies alongside the pastry for safety.  Meanwhile the limits of hypothermia get tested.  And maybe its that palpable incongruity that keeps us all coming back for more.  To be sure, the Mardi Gras experience anyone may wish for likely will never be the one hoped for, and if nothing else this Fat Tuesday exemplified this notion: you get what you get. Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and Du Mois Gallery on Freret Street and a married father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at, he also shares his family’s adventures sometimes via pedicab or bicycle on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Jean-Paul Villere: Come rain or come shine

Greetings fellow revelers!  Happy to report the first weekend of Mardi Gras 2014 seemingly unfolded with minimal fuss and maximum fanfare.  While I personally stayed Uptown, walking to this parade and that corner on Friday and Saturday, we heeded caution for Sunday’s wetness and took in a matinee at the Prytania.  So while my own experiences stayed squarely in the 70115, from all the posts I read, the otherwise premiere Carnival activities in the remainder of the Crescent City happened as expected: ‘tit Rex got small, Chewbacchus made the kessel run in less than 12 parsecs, and Barkus took a dip.  All on a Mardi Gras first weekend, as it were. Today’s forecast looks brutal for Nyx, though the posts I’m reading from some of its riders project confidence and demand submission on par with my father-in-law’s famous quote to his children my wife recounts of her rearing “You will have a Merry Christmas.”  Those riding in and attending tonight’s parades with a projected low 40s, high 30s temperature social media updates possess a tone of “You will have a Happy Mardi Gras.”  Ergo and of course parade goers will surely walk away with oodles of swag including but not limited to funky purses and glass beads.  Not too shabby, but pop a couple of Airborne before you go maybe? In terms of scoring last weekend’s effectiveness of new laws and enforcement I will offer this: I’ve never seen more police presence ever during Carnival.  NOPD has always been available, but their numbers or at least their showing was strong.  Ladders appeared compliant, snap pops were silenced, and rogue port-a-potties scarce if even on the radar. 

But the whole no parking thing on either side of the avenues?  Fail.  It was rampant and unenforced, despite NOPD being about.  Best was the lady that cradled her road-weary Camry half street / half neutral ground at Napoleon & Magazine, practically in the shadow of the precinct.  For the record, she “parked,” hung out a bit for a few floats, then “drove” away. For the next seven days, permit me to offer this: pace yourself, and you can’t do it all, so don’t.  There’s no crying in baseball and there are over 200 truck floats Mardi Gras Day, a test of will if ever there was one.  Turn on your ‘OZ, buy an extra couple of cases of your fave brew, and open your doors and windows.  The forecast looks pretty darn good, and thank goodness Fat Tuesday will be way tardy this season.  Cold Carnivals equal a misery that really wants company, and gets it, but man, it’s a journey you earn.  And last time I checked our moniker was still The Big Easy. Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and Du Mois Gallery on Freret Street and a married father of four girls.

Jean-Paul Villere: Your 2014 Mardi Gras survival guide — new laws and my Top 20 parade-etiquette rules

Bon to the jour, 2014 Carnival people!  You may or may not know that the powers that be — read, your New Orleans City Council — have seen it in their infinite wisdom to make this Mardi Gras season one of change.  “How so?” you may ask.  That is, if you missed all the fuss last month?  Before we roll through my standard top 20 we publish annually, in short here are the new rules and ordinances, with a few editorial embellishments:

Tossing throws back shall now carry a fine of $250.  Best of luck writing a ticket here. Portable toilets shall be banned on public property and will be subject to a $250 fine.  Operative word being fine, as in OK, I’ll pay that. No parking permitted on either side of St Charles or Napoleon two hours before the parades.  Can’t wait to see this enforced. 
Ladders, tents, grills and the like must be at least 6 feet back from the curb. No chaining ladders together.  I’ll believe it when I see it. Ropes, tarps, chairs or anything else cordoning off space is banned.  Yeah, right.

Jean-Paul Villere: Kings and Queens of Leon

PREDICTION: Nine months from now the New Orleans metro area will be flush with newborns courtesy one winter storm Leon.  Grumble, groan, no, you say?  Prove me wrong, people, prove me wrong.  With residents’ fave go-to spots for music, grub, and beverages largely on hold paired with a do-not-drive announcement unless vitally important, do the math.  You’re off work, you can’t go anywhere, and there are only so many shows you can binge watch.  And I’m guessing with the masses clamoring for foodstuffs at the nearby grocery, they did not also take time to sweep the birth control from the shelves.  So congrats y’all, it’s a storm baby! I visited Rouses on Tchoup yesterday morning and yes, there were no bananas.  I mean empty.  But I’m guessing that was just during the little window of time I was there, for the varied bread purveyors were busily restocking that aisle.  Me, I only went to score some red sauce and rotini, but I digress.  However, it dawned on me: shuttered in New Orleanians with unbridled weekday libidos and alcohol?  C’mon!  Mesh this winter phenomenon in with our most recently bestowed title of 2014’s third even less affordable American city and you have a recipe for population boom with a little lagniappe for good measure. Personally my birthing days are well behind me.  With four daughters in the roost as a couple we made a decision to nix any future a-has, so I did a little outpatient action under the care and ninja-like precision of one Dr. Baum on Prytania.  A single vicodin and a few bags of frozen peas later, my vasectomy was complete, and I didn’t need any Christmas jammies to help me either.  Rather than shoot for a viral holiday video, I just waited until now to tell the world.  Though in hindsight, perhaps YouTube is the way to go?  Oh well, the goal is to have a vasectomy only once, right?  So moving on – – –

Super storm Sandy brought a baby boom.  I’m guessing you forgot about that, didn’t you?  I know I did.  But that’s what events out of our control do; they surprise us.  So we cope.  Through coitus.  And then we forget.  It’s how we’re wired as a species.  Let’s also remember despite all the disjointed events of 2005, the Crescent City did experience a bump in newborns.  But then maybe you forgot about that too?  It’s true.  Framing this Carnival season in the lens of Leon, your next slice of king cake may bring you the baby regardless of if you find a little plastic figure. PREDILECTION: In 2004 a boxset of New Orleans music came out called ‘Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens,’ and I wasn’t drawn to the compilation’s selections so much as the title.  How perfect!  Four little words that likely mean very little anywhere else in the world takes on waves of entendre and reference, summing up succinctly our little sunken hamlet.  Marvel at our culture, people; love it.  It might test your will a la a Hurricane Isaac power outage, and it may freeze your toes from the uninsulated pine floor of your 100 year old home a la Leon, but it may just bring you an unexpected bundle of joy come October too.

Jean-Paul Villere: Goodbye, Frank Davis

I woke up yesterday morning to social media posts that Frank Davis had passed, and I kind of sunk.  While I did not personally know Mr. Davis, we — you and I — as a collective viewing audience certainly knew him, or at least his highly personalized way of storytelling over the decades.  As a species, I think we can easily take for granted the things and people around us that populate our visual landscape, presuming they’ll always be in sight.  Except they never are.  And when the periphery changes and we lose one of our voices, it’s hard not to pause and reflect on what we’ll be missing. To me, Frank’s style ran two speeds. He either knew exactly what he was talking about, usually with his mastery of regional cooking, insider fishing, or love of Carnival — or, he had no idea whatsoever where to take a subject, and his genuine interest in sharing its story drove the piece, most often the Naturally N’awlins bits about anyone and everyone, landmarks, traditions, you name it.  It was this latter innocence and curiosity that drew us in.  We wanted to know too.  Who was he going to talk to?  What was he going to ask them?  And what might they ask him?  An active sharing of regional dialogue, and for its duration just unparalleled. Many Fat Tuesdays ago I found myself on Bourbon Street basking in a beautiful, sun-filled dawn surrounded by the organized mania that is a Mardi Gras morning in the French Quarter.  Like a fly on the wall, I stood near a working Frank Davis who was broadcasting live, dressed as a druid or a monk or some such.  Whatever he was supposed to be, it was a brown, hooded robe, and between live updates he carefully if not discretely puffed away on cigarettes in one hand and cradled a can of Budweiser in the other.  The entire time.  I was, in a word, impressed.  As to me, that was about as naturally New Orleans as it got, the author embodying the sentiment.  The real thing. Beyond the apparent, it’s the void Frank leaves behind in the fabric of New Orleans today.  The newcomers who have no clue who he was or what he did.  And among these replacement faces, is there anyone who may measure up to his seemingly boundless joy and enthusiasm for the city?  Unfortunately and in my estimation, not even close.  Between tweets and retweets of pop-up food truck this and social enterprise that, the impermanence and ephemeral musings of millennials from afar (I’ve heard some call them Yankee saviors), it’s a lot of digital noise.  In short, if you don’t know your Frank Davis, you’ve missed out.

Jean-Paul Villere: Dig dogs? Time to obey

I am a cat person, but we remain feline less for the moment.  My oldest developed an allergy recently, and I chose my offspring over my rat decapitator we had had since a wee kitten rescued post-K, all mangy and feral.  Not a tough call, but have you ever been brought a headless rodent with its noggin neatly next to its lifeless body?  It’s impressive.  And repulsive.  And in short, quite a skill.  Her name was Rita (yes, named after the storm – she did have a sister named Katrina who died a few years ago), and like most cats, self sufficient and less than encourageable; such are these creatures.  And therefore and in my experience quite unlike the other preferred domesticated pet: your household dog. All this said, I did grow up with a number of dogs.  We had a collie named Brandy, a black lab dubbed Splash, and golden retriever mix called Honey.  Too, up until our second child we had a rescue greyhound, Bijou, but her jealousy for our attention grew too great, so we found her a new home.  Her jealousy specifically manifested itself in insatiably destroying every pair of shoes our then babies had.  It’s bad enough children’s footwear is outgrown quickly, but to routinely steal away with the new dress shoes, sandals or what have you and mangle it beyond use, one day we had just had enough.  Bijou wasn’t going to stop, and we were done.  Uncle Tommy took her in, and that was that. These days my children attend the International School of Louisiana in the Lower Garden across from Coliseum Square, where recently a canine symposium of sorts took place in a “dog bowl” to spell out pet owners and their pets use of public spaces.  And boy, it needed to, but frankly I’m unclear what if any impact it had.  I did not attend, but the gist of it was to go over laws and such — I think basically to provide a warm fuzzy for all those who use the park.  On any given day, it remains a rarity to see a leashed dog.  Really.  As recently as yesterday as we crossed the park to our car, a nicely dressed man neatly removed the fresh poo his ginormous black Great Dane had deposited leashlessly.  An ordinary spectacle for Coliseum Square, yet I’m always left wondering, why? Sure, sure, your dog is the greatest and has never bitten anyone, been set off, caused a bicycle or automobile accident, and can complete the New Dork Times crossword in record time for the furrball set, so why should you leash them, right?  Well, for starters, it’s the law.  And secondly, despite your best effort or intentions, dogs — your dog, all dogs — will react or behave accordingly given the situation, and you my dear dog owner are doubtfully unable to prognosticate future events, so there’s that.  Which leaves me wondering further if dog owners these days carry any liability insurance or even realize they maybe should.  Dog bites still happen, don’t they? 

But I get it: people love their pets.  It’s obvious, it’s clear, and Americans spend more now on the care of their four legged friends than they ever have.  The business therein transformed into a juggernaut of an industry embodied in destination big-box pet depots like PetCo and PetSmart.  Eerily even rocker Bret Michaels got in on some sweet, sweet disposable pet dollar in with a clothing line.  One might conjure up other lines in Trent Reznor trendier pet duds or maybe get a little steampunk thing going in some doggy goggles, tiny top hats, or the like.  Whatever it is, there would appear to be no end that pet owners won’t go to to provide for their hairy people, so it therefore strikes me as odd as their safety wouldn’t be right up there. Leash laws and fecal collection for better or for worse provide the foundation of dog ownership in the 21st century, so get with it.  Maybe you won’t get ticketed, and maybe no one will address you, but for the health and safety of everyone that uses public spaces — Coliseum Square or wherever — adhering to these standards should be priority.  The space is for everyone.  Not just you and your pooch.  And no one likes stepping in poo, not even you, so clean it up.  And if you find you simply can’t abide, then maybe you will get ticketed, or maybe somebody will say something, and maybe just maybe you should just get a cat.  Some behead rats, I hear, well, the better ones anyway, and that can’t be easy.