Saturday, October 11, 2014

Thursday: Mental and Spiritual Health Panel Discussion, Friday: The Cultural Ecology of New Orleans Speech and Music

Thursday, October 16 6:00pm

Ashe' Cultural Arts Center
1712 Oretha C Haley Blvd, New Orleans, Louisiana 70113

New Orleans has always been full of things to make you well, including traditional and alternative healing practices, and at least equally full of things to make you sick. Where and how do we find relief? What do we each find healing? Join a pharmacist, photographer, two spiritual healers, and a mental health technician for a conversation about mental, physical, and spiritual health in New Orleans. This interdisciplinary program springs from the map “Juju and Cuckoo: Taking Care of Crazy” in Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas and will be moderated by Rebecca Snedeker. In addition to the discussion, we will also have an interactive mapmaking activity.

Panelists include:

Janet “Sula Spirit” Evans – Akan priestess; author, Spirit of the Orisha Book and CD project; co-owner of King & Queen Emporium, Intl

Adam Graff – Mental health technician; member of the NOPD Mobile Crisis Unit

Randall Schexnayder, RPh, MSPH - Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, Xavier University College of Pharmacy

Lewis Watts – Photographer, archivist/curator, and professor of Art at UC Santa Cruz; coauthor of New Orleans Suite: Music and Culture in Transition

Reza "Cinnamon Black" Bazile - Voidooiene; founder of the Treme Million-Dollar Baby Dolls



Friday, October 17, 7:00-9:00 pm
Location: Loyola University, 6363 St. Charles Avenue, Miller Hall 114
Presenter: Shane Lief

This presentation focuses on the ways that people communicate through everyday speech and musical performances in New Orleans. These patterns of interaction are considered together under the rubric of “vocalization practices,” which reveal the complex history of cultural exchanges in the city as well as throughout Louisiana during the past several centuries. Speech communities including people of indigenous, African, and European origins have all played a role in generating the current patterns of vocalization. With a better understanding of the complex roots of social interaction, we can have greater insights into human communication and how all people negotiate meaning in everyday life.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

FRAN LEBOWITZ On the Tourist Economy

From Paper Magazine in an interview with writer/curmudgeon Fran Lebowitz:

Tourism as a number-one industry is a terrible, terrible idea for any city, especially New York. If you were going to turn a city, which is a place where people live, into a tourist attraction, you're going to have to make it a place that people who don't live here, like. So I object to living in a place for people who don't live here. As it became more and more intense, it became more and more a place where the actual citizens are pushed out to the edges. A friend of mine always says this: "I don't care what kind of aesthetic people have; the second they have a kid, their house becomes hor- rible." The second you have a kid, whether you think it's going to or not, your house becomes full of plastic junk. So this is the same with tourists. The city will sink to that level of having a house of three- year-old children, so they like certain things, they don't like certain things. And they like things that you don't like, or that I don't like. I do object to it. And I would like to see fewer and fewer tourists and I'm tired of hearing about how much money they bring to the city because the kind of jobs the tourists bring to the city are the worst jobs. They're hotel maid jobs, they're jobs that have no future to them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Scientists Find 'Direct Link' Between Earthquakes And Process Used For Oil And Gas Drilling

In a study to be published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America on Tuesday, the scientists presented “several lines of evidence [that] suggest the earthquakes in the area are directly related to the disposal of wastewater” deep underground, according to a BSSA press release. Fracking and conventional natural gas companies routinely dispose of large amounts of wastewater underground after drilling. During fracking, the water is mixed with chemicals and sand, to “fracture” underground shale rock formations and make gas easier to extract.
The USGS research is just the latest in a string of studies that have suggested the disposed water is migrating along dormant fault lines, changing their state of stress, and causing them to fail.

Scientists Find 'Direct Link' Between Earthquakes And Process Used For Oil And Gas Drilling | ThinkProgress

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Charity Hospital building could be used for treatment of mentally ill: Janet Hays

If only our elected leaders would listen to activists like this:

We are at a critical juncture in New Orleans. The fate of people afflicted with mental illness rests largely on whether or not we as a society choose to continue to incarcerate sick people under the Department of Corrections, or rather, create alternative facilities where patients can be cared for in a local hospital environment close to their families and community.
entire piece on

Any organizations or parties that are interested in being part of this initiative should send an email to with the subject line: "Charity Vision.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Chris Rose remembers again.

Very little of what was written right after the 2005 levee breaks was better than Chris Rose's emotional and wry work, written when daily life here was seesawing from dark and bitter to bright and hopeful to despairing, based on what you were viewing or who you were listening to or if City Hall was involved. Maybe it's because he had viewed and written about the city pre-2005 with ironic counterpoint to the other "homespun" columnists at the Times Picayune (unfortunately, sometimes his also had eye-rolling levels of condescension), but post 2006+ he said things in his writing that no one else was able to say without sounding pitiful or manipulative. His thoughts were similar to mine and to many others here then-doubtful that the place could be livable again, grateful again and again for the talented artists and musicians and chefs who sustained our souls, sad about the distance we now had from those who could not understand why we felt that we needed to stay. The rumor around town was that he ended up being a bit lost after this early period and whenever I would see him in the street in those mid Reconstruction years, he did seem very alone and angry. I hope he is better.

This was posted on the 9th anniversary on Chris' Facebook page:

Chris Rose

Last one, I promise.
On this weekend of memory and forgetting, a lot of stories from my book have been traveling the information superhighway with great speed and frequency. At the risk of overindulgence, I'm posting one last Katrina memento, something a friend emailed me yesterday and which was not in my book.
Thing is, I don't remember writing this story, though I remember the events described as if it were yesterday. And yesterday was, in fact, the first time I ever read this story since I wrote it. And what struck me then is similar to many comments folks have posted about my Katrina stories this weekend: Although I wrote it more than 7 years ago, it sounds like it could have been written, well......yesterday.
Another similarity is this: Folks tell me my stories make them cry sometimes. And I get that. It was not an easy time. But I've read most of them so dang many times that I guess I'm kind of inured to it all. And then my friend sent me this story yesterday. And now, well....
Now I really get it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007
By Chris Rose
I have been off work for a long time. For a month, I was out of town and blissfully unplugged from the New Orleans news cycle, and while I was gone, I had the same recurring notion, every day, over and over, unwavering and intractable.
It was this: I need to get out of New Orleans. I need to leave. For my health, my sanity, my family, my sobriety, my chakra, my feng shui and everything else, real and imagined, nostalgic and unpronounceable.
You don't need me to list the reasons. They're the same ones everyone has in a town where people steal from public schools, no one uses trash cans and federal flood protection is a Big Lie.
I had an appointment at my eye doctor shortly after I returned to New Orleans and while he was shining that little blue torch into my retinas he told me he lives in St. Charles Parish and his homeowners insurance before the Thing was $2,700 a year and now it's $9,000 and he said: "I swear it's like they want to make it impossible to live here, like they want us all to leave. It's like they want to clear all the people out of south Louisiana and minimize the risk."
In a less civil society, the masses would rise up and parade the scalawags from Allstate and their fellow profiteers through the town square in shackles and let their aggrieved victims -- er, clients -- have their way with them, but this is America, the wellspring of democracy and due process, so instead we gripe about it at work to no end and somebody somewhere sets up a committee to look into it and in five years they'll tell us mistakes were made.
But here's the thing: We're not leaving. Not my eye doctor. Not me. Not because of a corrupt insurance industry or incompetent federal engineers or murderous children. And if you read that sentence, it makes absolutely no sense to stay here, especially as experts forewarn of a particularly turbulent storm season in the offing.
But I had a conversation the other night with a woman who likened living in New Orleans to an abusive relationship where you bear the obvious scars of a love all wrong and everyone knows it but you.
You leave once and you leave again -- if not physically, then emotionally -- but for reasons not entirely clear to you (nor your friends, family or psychiatrist), you keep coming back even though your mental condition could best be described as marathon episodes of "Cops," "Cheaters" and "Punk'd" playing on an endless loop on the giant cognitive plasma screen in your head.
And you tell them -- those who do not understand: You don't know her other side. You've never experienced her soft bedroom manner or seen her when she's not all wound up in a blue rage and throwing dishes around the trailer. She's so creative and empathetic; all artists are temperamental. She's so romantic. And she doesn't smell like anyone else.
New Orleans, she smells like rain, sweet olive, coffee and sex.
For the past two weeks, I have been back here in town living the life. I went on two field trips with my kids, one to Café du Monde and one to Gelato, a new Italian deli and glacerie on Oak Street, and I was thinking: In most towns, they take the kids to museums on field trips. Here, they take them to eat.
The final day of classes began just like every other day at Lusher Elementary, my kids' school: The music teachers plugged in their guitar and violin and led the entire student body in a song at the morning assembly.
Every morning at my kids' school begins with a history lesson in rock 'n' roll. They make movies out of ideas like this.
And as often as not, the composition is drawn from the New Orleans musical pantheon -- Fats or the Nevilles or all that Iko Iko, Hey Pocky Way stuff -- and on the last day this year they sang "Don't You Just Know It" by Huey Piano Smith and all the kids went crazy on the chorus and its "ooba dooba dooba dooba" refrain and I realized that our kids speak a different musical language than children in other places and we have cultural icons named after keyboards, obesity, amphibians and witch doctors.
I was in the Quarter last Tuesday night, trying to get to a movie at Canal Place, but it never happened. I was 40 minutes early, so I crawled around the neighborhood looking for a cup of coffee, and I came upon a guy who was singing while he cleaned the streets.
He works for the new garbage contractor downtown and his name is Melvin Holmes. "As in Sherlock?" I asked him and he responded: "Holmes -- just like Inspector Clouseau," and I don't think he was trying to be ironic, postmodern or even funny. He was just being so classically New Orleans, getting it all wrong in just the right way.
He was singing a Luther Vandross torch song, the kind that makes women love you for a lifetime. And he was nailing the song, just killing it, just calling out the doves and stars and blooming jasmine of the night.
And he was cleaning the street. Because that's his job. And as he did, a local talent agent drove by once, then twice, then made the block again and pulled over and gave Melvin Holmes his business card and told him to give him a call some time and he would make him a star.
Is the next American Idol sweeping cigarette butts and go-cups off our streets tonight? Stranger things have happened.
Holmes said to me: "People see me sweeping up trash in the street and they hear me sing and I know what they're thinking: Another man with talent who doesn't want to put it to use. But that's just what I'm doing. I'm putting it to use out here on the street. I just love to make people smile. The people holding hands, they walk by and then turn and look at me and they understand what it is I am saying."
What Mr. Holmes is saying, of course, springs from the vocabulary of music and of love. The language of the streets of New Orleans -- even if it is Luther Vandross and not Frogman Henry he's singing.
I was trying to get to Canal Place, but when I left Melvin Holmes to his singing and sweeping, I was caught by the sound of an acoustic guitar springing out of a fairly new supper and music club called 300 Decatur.
Inside, on a big and beautiful stage, a guy named Chip Wilson was picking at his guitar and this guy, he plays crazy good. He's got the look of the Woodstock Generation, long gray hair and a slight paunch of a life well-lived and his music matches the look; he introduced a song by Steve Winwood as his personal anthem during the year he was in exile from New Orleans, the song he held onto to keep him alive back in that winter of our discontent.
The song is called "Can't Find My Way Home" and it just kills me, reduces me to jelly even when you don't put it in the context of Katrina, but when you do I'm on the bus to Teardrop City.
Like I said, I never made it to the movie last Tuesday night. I spent the evening listening to Melvin Holmes and Chip Wilson, two undiscovered planets here in this remarkable musical constellation.
So I tried to get to the movie again Thursday night -- I really want to see this Julie Christie film -- but I got to walking around again before going to Canal Place and one thing led to another and pretty soon I was sitting in the back courtyard at Napoleon House, eating a muffeletta and Zapp's potato chips and listening to the laughter of all the strangers around me, and I sat there and wondered how it was I had come to the conclusion just a few weeks ago that I needed to leave New Orleans.
Something simple like a pile of heated Italian meats and cheeses and classical music playing in a tiled, ancient and decadent courtyard can reduce me to tears and that's something that a good barbecue in Memphis or peach cobbler in Atlanta will never do to me.
Never. Not unless I'm eating them there and wishing I were here, back in New Orleans, where I can't find my way anywhere but home.
But it's not for everyone, this living in New Orleans thing. Just this week, three more friends of mine are leaving town for greener pastures, brighter lights or whatever it is out there in the Great Elsewhere.
It's been another rash of goodbyes -- always goodbye, every day goodbye. I don't blame them and I wish them well and their reasons are all legit; they leave for jobs, safety, security and love, though I wonder what love is like in another place and it cannot be as good as it is here. Can it?
Hurricane season starts Friday and maybe you've heard: The experts tell us it's going to be a banner year, maybe like the time we ran through all the names in the alphabet and had to start naming storms after Greek letters, and if Allstate and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers aren't making it clear that they don't want us living here, maybe God will.
But here's the thing: We're not leaving. Not my eye doctor. Not Melvin Holmes (unless he goes Hollywood). Not me. And not so many others.
I was looking at all the other parents around me at that final morning assembly last week at Lusher and they're staying -- most of them, at least -- and investing their time, energy and children in a New Orleans public school, and if that isn't insanity, I don't know what is.
But we love our school -- it is a reason we still live here -- and it runs all the way through 12th grade now, so I'll be standing next to these people for a long, long time.
I look at them as my involuntary friends now, my brothers and sisters of circumstance, we Parents of the Children of the Storm. Whether we're fighting hurricanes, crime or head lice, we are soldiers in the same army now, bearing the physical and emotional scars of this abusive relationship with a lover named New Orleans.
But we remain true to her. It is in the words to every love song ever written. We have found our way home.
. . . . . . .