Monday, April 30, 2007

Magic Realism

I've been busy this week with work and hanging out - a most involved N'awlins pastime. My sister-in-law, Jen was in town for a few days. Thursday night we went to Micks, an Irish bar in Mid-city, and played ping pong and poker. Friday we went to Fat Harry's to hear James Rivers play funk bagpipes again. Saturday I was working but Dazza and Jen walked to the Quarter and had Coops fabulous Jambalaya and sampled the various musical offerings on Frenchman street.

The best night was last night. Jen and I had spent the day wandering Magazine street in the sunshine. There aren't many places open on a Sunday in this town being predominantly Roman Catholic. But we found a great place for salads - Ignatius. I had a muffuletta salad - the filling from the traditional N'awlins muffuletta sandwich but on salad. We polished off a half bottle of white wine and wandered home.

Once Dazza got home from work we went to the Quarter, to Frenchman to hear Dave Anderson and Dave Easely at The Spotted Cat. I had an interesting encounter with "Dr Love", an old African-American gentleman adorned with pens, wrist watches, a stethoscope and a big multicoloured straw hat. He was missing more than a few teeth and had had more than a few drinks. But his crazy "barking" was intriguing and I succeeded in engaging him in conversation. The subject turned, as is so often the case, to Katrina. He told me that he had been through the Vietnam war and two marriages but the worst experience of his life was Katrina, and he shed a few sad tears. Then he perked up, realising he was late for a party, barked and moved on.

We then went to Coops for some more jambalaya. There was a wait and we chatted with the tourists waiting for their first bite of Coops wonderful food. We finally got a table and ordered. We had told Jen about how fabulous the Bloody Marys are at Coops so she ordered one for us all to sample. But Jen and I agreed that our general mood was more inclined towards the "Jazz Rum Punch". So we asked our server (the servers in Coops are great guys - with plenty of dry, witty comments for their tipsy clientele), what was special about the Jazz Rum Punch. He replied "Well, its Jazz Fest, so we called it Jazz Rum Punch, but its really just our normal Rum Punch". It was good rum punch!!

Our food took quite a while to arrive - the place was packed. But the rum punch helped pass the time and lubricate conversation. The food was worth the wait and we were all umming and ahhing in satisfaction. After we finished we decided to go back to the DBA on Frenchman. Upon leaving there was an unsavoury character who seemed to want to tag along so Jen and our friend, Bill ran - full pelt - down Decature street to get away from him. Dazza and I were somewhat confused but met up with them up a side street. Then out of the darkness appeared a rickshaw and the young man pedalling asked if Jen and I would like a ride. We said yes and were whisked away through the streets of the Viuex Carre to the DBA. We realised neither of us had any money having given it all to Dazza so we hoped to meet him at the DBA. By some miracle we did and we paid him and thanked him for whisking us off with his rickshaw and conversation. (the photo above is from google - its not us)

And then we went home.

We agreed this morning that last night was like living in a Garcia Marquez novel or being a character in the movie "Big Fish". I am always surprised in ways I could never have predicted in this town. It is a Parallel Universe where Magic is Reality and you never know which path you will find yourself on or where it will lead.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

High and Dry

How many times have I heard it?
"New Orleans is a bowl. New Orleans is sunk below sea level."
How many times have you heard it?
How many times we believed it?

Now the headline in the Times Picayune:


Friday, April 20, 2007

Breathe ouuuuut.........

Phew, I'm calming down now. I wish I had something fun and NOLAliscious to blog about now - but its only 8am - so I'm hoping when I go to work this morning - up on Canal Blvd - that driving past all the crypts will cheer me up. Or maybe I'll have one of those N'awlins days where I'll leave the house and a stranger will call me baby and tell me to have a good day....

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Singing in the Rain

I woke this morning at 5am. The rain woke me. As I lay, trying to return to the joysome land of sleep, I heard a peculiar bird whom also had, no doubt, been awakened by the rain storm. He was singing his heart out in spite of his rain soaked plumage.

His song had two verses:

pieo pieo - ti ti ti ti - ti yi ti - pieo

pieo - ti ti ti ti - ti ti ti ti - ti yi ti - pieo

[pieo - quarter note; ti ti ti ti - 4 sixteenths; ti yi ti - triplet]

He was quite mesmerizing and had brilliant rhythm and pitch enough to make Messiaen go quite giddy!!

I will likely never know the type of bird who sang in the rain but I appreciated his help in passing the time until the wondrous gates of sleep opened once more to my willing being!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

French Quarter Fest

This weekend is the French Quarter Festival. It is free (always a good thing) and has all the music, food and drink and atmosphere you could want. Some friends and I (sadly Dazza had to work) went yesterday to enjoy the end of what was a gorgeous day in N'awlins.
Shrimp po'boy from one of the food stands. Amongst us we had crawfish etouffe, jambalaya, creole shrimp pasta, duck, pork and shrimp po'boys and a skewer of grilled shrimp and andouille sausage with pepper jelly .... yum!
We sat in Jackson square and enjoyed the end of the sunshine.
Mango daiquiris - candy in a cup with alcohol ... again, yum!
The sky blessed us with some nice colours whilst people danced and partied to their heart's content.

We made our way to the Brass Band stage. Brass Bands here are funky - nothing like the ones from home!! There is a dance impelling funk line from the sousaphone topped with sparkling trumpets and some right old razzing from the trombones....
We heard the band "Free Agents". [click on the link and you'll understand what I'm wittering on about] They were fantastic. One memorable song being "We made it through that water" ..... That's this town, take a horrible experience and use music and dance to help people get over it - celebrate the fact they are still here in spite of it all!!
I hate using a flash (I need a better camera...) so my night time shots always bring a dash of impressionism to them.

On our way to Frenchman Street we stopped at the Cafe Du Monde for some Cafe au'Lait and Beignets ... my friends complained that I was making us look like tourists by taking photos ...

Again, yum!!
On the sidewalk beside Cafe Du Monde is a guy who sets up most nights with his large telescope and "busks" in astronomy...!! Only in N'awlins....!
We ended the night on Frenchman Street. The Blue Nile is up and running (we'll definitely be checking out some bands there soon) after renovating. The guy standing outside it was very welcoming and when we returned his greeting of 'how you doin?' he said:
"I live in N'awlins, I'm great!"
and we replied:
"So do we"!!!!!!!!
We listened to the Panorama Jazz Band play at the Spotted Cat before heading home....
I love this town!!!

Friday, April 13, 2007

OK this is silly

There are so many worthy things I could be doing with myself right now - read a book, go for a stroll in the sunshine, do some work (perish the thought!!)....

But instead I'm online procrastinating before I go and meet some friend to go to the Vieux Carre for FQ Fest....

So during my procrastinating I remembered what Dza was doing last night in his merriment (caused by beer - something he's highly passionate about!) - I mentioned to him that with firefox, which we use, you can type in a word and it will lead you to a webpage. He thought this was great and giggled away typing in "toilet plunger" and "beer goggles" and the likes (you get the picture). He was highly amusing until I fell asleep...

So I tried typing in my blogger nickname "cursed tea" and I was shocked and pleasantly surprised to find it leading me to my blog. Now I don't know if that's just on our firefox because it is used to coming to this site. But I'm sad enough to admit it was sort of cool....

Me need to find better things to procrastinate.....
Me v sad and pitiable!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

And the Nagin Pot said...

to the Blakey Kettle:

slap that hand
naughty naughty

makin' stupid comments is MY territory!!

Flood Damage - current

I am planning on doing a big Katrina post - especially as Dza and I just watched the National Geographic film on Katrina - my blood was boiling and eyes a rollin - but I want to watch it again and take notes and write something with some substance, with some semblance of communicating to others what happened here.

Until then I urge you to go to these photos of school that were taken a week ago- only a week ago!! Here are Scout's from First Draft and here are Ray's.

Thanks to Jeffery at Library Chronicles for the links to these.

Think? huh?

I just received a nomination from Horizon for a thinking blogger award. I am touched and honoured that she thinks that I actually think before blaring away on my keyboard!

The task is now passed to me to do the same for five blogs that make me think [and thereby giving anyone who should stumble here a highly recommended way out of this blog!]

I wish I could nominate the entire New Orleans blogging community, but as it is here are a few bright sparks:

Mark at Wetbank Blog. Always hard hitting, always controversial, always makes me think. My IQ goes up after every visit.

Traveling mermaid was my first foray into the NOLA blogging circle. I love her blog - full of fun, feisty political commentary and music (really like Rotary Downs that she linked to recently!).

Adrastos is a Nola blogger with a taste for British politics. My two worlds converge somewhat, under his posts. I am also glad to hear of someone else who reads the Guardian in N'awlins.

Ashley Morris is way more intelligent than I could ever hope to be and my wee brain cells get quite the workout following all his witty comments and links.

And finally a non-N'awlins blog:
Katie at Longayelander is an American girl from Long Island who is experiencing the joys (and irn bru, pub culture, and vomit...) of living in Glasgow. Its definitely thought provoking to see my country through an other's eyes.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Way Between The Worlds

I have just left another comment about NOLA as "Third World" and my distaste for the classification on Travelling Mermaid's blog (she has an excellent post on Dr Blakely's comments contrasted with some volunteers who came down here). I have been thinking about this term since I posted on the subject a month ago and got some thought provoking comments.

I was talking on this subject to one of my very good friends who is also Scottish and lives in the US. I have come to the conclusion that another classification is needed. One that communicates the richness, the magic that is almost tangible here. N'awlins often makes me feel like I'm in a novel in the style of Magic Realism. I feel like the upside down craziness of Jeanette Winterson in Sexing the Cherry, or I'm following Alice down that rabbit hole.

The rules here distort somewhat. Expectations are different. People are different. Its on the edge between things. Its like everywhere else and like nowhere else. I said to my friend that it feels a bit like the most magical place from my childhood: "the way between the worlds" in the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I think this is a better classification of this place than "Third World".

I know that this still leaves other aspects of this place (crime, FEMA failure, federal flood, hurricane relief and recovery, school system) not front and center but I think that's OK (as long as we make sure that no one ever forgets what happened and what is still needed here). The problem with the "Third World" description, for me lets the politicians and people in power off the hook (or at least not working as hard on NOLA's behalf as they could). It says we know we're doomed because this is how we classify ourselves and our position as a city. We need to advertise in our own classification of this city why this city needs to be saved, what is so special, why it matters to the world.

I think it would be good to say farewell to the Third World mantra and take on a more magical definition. Something that tells of the magical mystical NOLA that gets in your blood.

I know I am a newbie but I believe NOLA can be feisty and satirical without being self-defeating in the classification. The third world has no NOLA.

NOLA is the way between the worlds.

Josh Bell plays for pennies

A couple of days ago I read this article about Josh Bell busking at one of the subway stations in Washington DC. There has been a lot of buzz about this. He played and made a paltry $35. But more than that barely anyone even noticed this violin virtuoso playing Bach. A lot of people are reading into this as a sign that people are uneducated about classical music (well that's true...), can't hear greatness or are just too involved with their busy lives to notice great art before them.

Then I read this response by a street musician from New York and went ah ha. It is complicated when you take great art - be it aural or visual - and put it in a different context. Great street musicians are great at playing for their audience. They also have to be great musicians but they need to have the skills to interact with their environment. As someone said of Josh Bell, if he was a good busker he would have chosen the correct time to play when people weren't rushing to get to work and by doing so would be respecting his audience.

I also liked hearing that busking made Josh nervous. Playing for people that had not already bought a ticket to hear him meant he had to validate himself with his playing and that made him nervous. Maybe its just me but playing to the expectations of people who have paid a lot to hear me would freak me out way more.

By the way Josh played the Mendelssohn violin concerto this past Fall with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra at Tulane. He played for a tiny fraction of his regular fee as a way to give back to this city and its orchestra.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

All Hail Easter

Today it is cold!! We went to a friend's for a cook-out. We did cook "out" but definitely ate "in"! About two days ago it started to get cold at night and we brought out our duvet again. Today we were bemoaning Entergy and shivering in our shotgun.

And yes, today we actually had HAIL!! This cold snap is affecting a big part of the country - Dazza's Dad was reporting 19 degrees in Indianapolis today. I realise in a very short time I'm going to be dreaming of a day like today. When I post my witterings and groans on the heat I really must remember to link to this post!!

However this isn't really what I envisioned for Easter in N'awlins. There are Easter parades tomorrow - I'm hoping to brave some of the shiver effect and see some of them. But I have a feeling I'll be jealous of the Easter Bunny all wrapped up in his furry suit!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Storm that Bastille

So much I could blog about today - but I've got so much to do (include shower.....). So here is the brief version:

Last night we went to TEACH NOLA fundraiser/awareness shindig at The Howling Wolf in the CBD. Its a great non-profit trying to get good teachers to teach in post-Katrina NOLA. Please check it out and if you are passionate and motivated and want to move here, perhaps this is for you.

The we went with our friends to Tipitinas to see Yo La Tengo play. Tipitinas is a funky place with a great atmosphere. There was some strange music from the opening band (dare I say it but we actually heard bad music in N'awlins!!) and Yo La Tengo seemed bent on mimicking it to begin with but luckily chilled out into their more standard indie emo style.

Today I read some fantastic stuff in Ashley's blog about storming the Bastille (ie city hall, those responsible) on Bastille Day and also he's put up an "official" weblink to the term Federal Flood in Wikipedia. Some NOLAites refer to the Katrina "incident" as the Federal Flood because it wasn't a hurricane that shattered this city it was the failure of the Federal levees.

And finally today was nicely rounded off by the Easter Bunny sending a package from Indiana with two cute stuffed toy peeps and other goodies.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Forecasting the Storms of Entergy

Today I did something I haven't done in quite a while. I actually read a hard copy of a newspaper. We have some dear, old friends in town for a few days and we walked to Rue De La Course for coffee (photo) and to peruse the local rag and the NY Times.

In today's paper I found two stories that I found quite alarming. The first was to do with our storm forecasting capabilities in this country. Apparently we have a less than satisfactory means of predicting hurricanes. This is alarming. We need 400 million bucks to put a Quik-SCAT satelllite into orbit. I personally think this is money that would be totally justifiable. However its not going to be spent and on top of that the Feds are already $700,000 below what the funding should be for hurricane research in this country as it is.

Maybe its just me but surely the huge costs ensuing from Katrina would make hurricane awareness, prediction and evacuation a top priority in this country? But that's just little old naive moi!

The second article which made me mutter was an opinion piece about our lovely energy company in N'awlins, Entergy. Our bill was quite shocking last month and some friends of our had even worse ones ($500 - that's Cleveland winter prices - and a big apartment at that!!). So I read this article with interest. The conclusion particularly had my attention:
The Utility Committee is open to exploring any regulatory structure that will bring rates down. We welcome proposals from community groups.

But let's not repeat our past mistakes under some form of statewide regulation that dumps disproportionate costs onto New Orleans ratepayers.

I think I need to read the paper in hard copy more often.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Chocolate Billboard

OK, I know this isn't about N'awlins but I couldn't resist. Shoppers in Covent Garden in London ate a Thorntons Chocolate Billboard that weighed 860lbs and took 300 hours to make in only 3 hours!!

Yes in the UK "Pancake Tuesday" definitely pales into insignificant wimpishness compared with Mardi Gras here but we do eat a ridiculous amount of chocolate and particularly at Easter - the shelves bulge with Easter eggs - America has a long way to go to catch up. Thorntons is good chocolate - I wish I'd been strolling through Covent Garden today - yum!


A couple of nights ago I was with some friends and colleagues in the DBA on Frenchman. We were fortunate also to have Joe, the new bass player for the new Monk institute there too - he's a friend of one of my colleague's. I hadn't heard about the Monk Institute - and especially not about it coming to New Orleans.

In brief it is probably one of the best, if not, the best jazz program in the country. Seven jazzers get room and board, lessons with the very best, education experience and a stipend for two to four years. For a jazzer its like winning the lottery. With jazz greats like Herbie Hancock, Wayne SHorter, Terance Blanchard, and Thelonius Monk Jr. guiding them, its a dream come true.

This exceptional program has until now been in Washington DC and LA. It is such a wonderful gift that it has now come to New Orleans - for the next seven years!! There are so many bad things to read about this city right now (murder, levees, corruption) that it is just "pure dead brilliant" (to use a good old Glasgow phrase) to hear about this coming to this city. This is where jazz was born and in its time of need, having a resurgence in the very best in jazz returning here is just the best news!!

I'm looking forward to hearing these guys play.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Whole Expat Thang

I've been "tagged". Katie at Longayelander has issued a challenge of a set of questions pertaining to the expat experience. So here goes...

5 things that you love about your new country
  1. You can be who you want to without the constraints of a set society structure and the go get it attitude.
  2. My wonderful friends.
  3. The healthfood stores.
  4. The music (in N'awlins especially).
  5. New Orleans, New York, San Fransisco, The Rockies, The Desert, Road trips, Utah, Hacky Sack, Hanging out.....
4 things you miss about your old country
  1. Family and friends.
  2. The air and the countryside - "God's own country" as my Mum says.
  3. The self-deprecating humour.
  4. Just home.
3 things that annoy you about your new country
  1. Having to explain about being Scottish all the time (this was mostly in Ohio - in New Orleans they don't care so much...- but in a good way!)
  2. The media - everyone seems to care more about American Idol than how their country is viewed in the world.
  3. Suburbia.
2 things that surprise you about your new country
  1. Mardi Gras in New Orleans (and New Orleans in general)
  2. That "America" is just a concept - Miami, Cleveland, Salt Lake City, New Orleans they are all so different - its so hard to pin this country down.
1 thing that you'd really miss if you had to leave your new country
  1. The sense of possibility in everything.
There I did it Katie. However I think I have way more to add - so here goes...

Being an expat is an odd existence. I think it is an existence that is becoming more common and certainly prevalent amongst my generation. I have many good friends married to spouses from halfway across the world. I have many good friends that live in far flung places.

This odd existence, for me, is defined by never feeling completely at home in either place anymore. I have been in the US for seven years and my sense of homesickness has faded somewhat over that time. My first year I was very homesick. Now I miss my family and friends just as much but I don't get depressed because I can't drive through the Scottish mountains - although I would still like to do that tomorrow.

My association with certain things have changed. I no longer hanker after Cadbury's Dairy Milk, or fish and chips. I dislike the supermarkets of Sainsburys and Waitrose and love Wholefoods. I still hate American TV - but know that's because of the bombardment of adverts. I still love British TV. But with the developments of the Internet I can create my "own" hodgepodge of good TV instead.

I still hate the American media and welcome Jeremy Paxman's direct and often times rude, questioning as a breath of fresh air. However I love the gutsy impassioned left of center activists in this country. I love the vegans, the environmentalists, the idealists. I love Harpers, The Utne Reader, and Mental Floss. But I miss reading the Guardian in hard copy and settling down with coffee and the Observer on a Sunday morning.

Being an expat, to me, means being able to create my own life with less constraints - my very presence is different. It means living between two worlds and in both of them at the same time. It means missing dear friends in other time zones. And missing big family gatherings. It means creating a life out of good aspects of two experiences.