My recent interview with Pico Iyer is now online at the Listener site. He's going to be appearing at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival on May 26. (He'll be in Bali in early June if you'd rather go there.)
Jazz Fest began here in New Orleans on Friday: it runs over two long weekends in April/May, and features all sorts of artists - jazz, rock, gospel, alt country, world, blues, Cajun, weird - on twelve different stages at the Fairgrounds. Last night we heard Lucinda Williams play on the Gentilly stage; Van Morrison was on at the same time at the big Acura stage. (Lucinda and her band were great, though she seemed to have an open folder of song lyrics on the small table next to her mike.) Today we watched the Black Seminole Mardi Gras Indians perform on the Jazz and Heritage stage.
I know you can't get cheese-on-a-stick the way you can at the Iowa State Fair, but the food at Jazz Fest is amazing - pheasant and quail gumbo, cochon de lait po boys, shrimp remoulade, pecan catfish meuniere, and so on.
And most of the time at Jazz Fest, we're not listening to music: we're selling crawfish bread, the most popular item at Jazz Fest - made by our friend John Ed Laborde, the former mayor of Marksville, and sold in vast quantities every year. The Jazz Fest stand also sells shrimp bread and sausage/jalapeno bread. They're all delicious.
Apparently, it takes three tons of crawfish, six and a half tons of cheese, four tons of flour and 120 pounds of ground red peppers to make crawfish bread. Don't try it at home.
When you're selling crawfish bread, you see a lot of people - friends, students, the drunk, the rude, the half-naked, the horribly sunburnt. The thing I don't understand is: why does T.Middy do SO much better in the tips department than I do? Yesterday afternoon was pretty good - I made $24 in tips. Today, in about five and a half hours of work, I got $2. That's it. T. Middy, meanwhile, empties his pockets and announces he's been tipped $30 today. He thinks that it's because people feel sorry for him - they see an Old Person, his glasses askew, and give him money.
The first time I went to Shanghai, early on in the visit, I had a day when everything seemed difficult and frustrating and overwhelming. A friend of mine there told me it was no big deal. "You're just having a bad China day," he said, and he was right. The next day, things were fine.
I'm hoping that things will be fine here tomorrow.
In New Orleans, we live on a short street with a weird name, a street so obscure and strange-sounding that delivery people, even native New Orleanians, cannot find it on a map, pronounce it or spell it. On one side, there's the playground for a public high school; on the other there are just two houses (with four apartments). In the middle there are a lot of potholes.
Today our street was closed off not once but twice by the police. The first time was early this afternoon. I was walking home from campus, and saw cars blocking the street (and our driveway). The street was swarming with armed police. Our neighbor was sitting on his steps watching, so he could fill me in: they were arresting a teenaged drug dealer, who was parked across from our house. The suspect - as I believe they say on CSI:Miami - was handcuffed, but he seemed to be smiling and chatting, and the whole thing appeared very low-key. A man in a green T-shirt, wearing a very visible gun, spent about thirty minutes interrogating the kid. Eventually they all drove off, leaving the alleged drug dealer's car still parked across the street. Shall we leave a note on his windshield? Something like "Drug Dealers Go Home"?
Apparently, selling drugs within 1000 yards of a school is considered a federal crime in Louisiana, and has a mandatory prison sentence.
Later in the afternoon, when I was driving back from one of many annoying trips to the bank today (a long story, involving my bank in New Zealand, numerous long-distance calls, numerous ATM receipts, and a great deal of frustration), I couldn't get into our street because three cars had crashed into each other at the corner. This was about 4:30ish. They were all still there at 8 PM. The police had finally arrived.
Maybe they should just set up a mini-station on our street to save time.
T. Middy, who fancies himself a wit, wanted me to call this post Karma Camellia, but I refused. Yesterday we drove along Carrollton Avenue to see if the Camellia Grill had re-opened yet, and it certainly has.
It's eighteen months since Katrina. Every re-opening makes us feel more optimistic about the city, this one especially. The diner's a New Orleans institution, and one of the first places I ate here on my first visit, in 1989.
On Friday night we saw The Namesake, a film about love and loneliness and exile, all my favorite subjects. I liked the book, but the film was more moving, somehow. I also like going to Canal Place to see movies. From the parking garage you get a grand view of the Mississippi river. It's usually hidden from view by levees; you can forget the way the river snakes around the city unless you spot the top of a ship sailing past.
Yesterday the Times-Picayune reported that, contrary to popular belief, half of New Orleans is at or above sea level. (Another myth: Monkey Hill in the zoo is not the highest point in the city. Our grand peak is a hill in Couturie Forest in City Park - it's 27-5 feet.) T. Middy and I live at the cusp of sea level, in what Richard Campanella, the author of the new topographic study, calls a classic New Orleans 1920s house - a ground floor used for storage, and an upper floor for living. A ground floor that, to me, still smells of the flood.
I'm just back from campus after catching the end of a talk by James Carville - an event organized by a student committee, impressively. On Tuesday, May 1, Al Gore will be here to give his An Incovenient Truth presentation. This is good news for everyone who missed the Sheryl Crow/Laurie David Stop Global Warning College Tour visit to New Orleans, scheduled for the same night as Toni Morrison. (This is way too small a city for this kind of counter-programming.)
Next week is the last week of classes. We're all exhausted. In creative writing, we're having a party for all our graduating seniors. I've been at Tulane three years; some of these students were in my class the first semester I taught here. I'm really sad to see them go.
There's good news from various former students this week: Joyce Turner got into the MFA program at Iowa, and Jeff Colosino has a place at Johns Hopkins. They're both very talented writers, and I'm delighted they got into such good programs.
Just a house in New Orleans that's undergoing termite treatment. This happened to our house a couple of years ago. We had a to vacate for the weekend, and the company spraying all the termites to death posted a guard outside. I'm still not sure if it was to stop people from robbing us or wandering in by mistake and dying from the fumes. They warned us that when we returned there might be dead creatures of all kinds awaiting us, but we only found cockroaches, all downstairs. Of course, I made T.Middy search the premises for dead wild things before I'd go inside.
Note the magnolia tree, just beginning to bloom. It's a beautiful spring in New Orleans.
Some more press for the novel: more from Bookman Beattie and even something from Girls'DayOut365. I took my niece to the Girls' Day Out event a few years ago at the Auckland Showgrounds: according to TVNZ, it's New Zealand's "largest and most successful female marketing event." We like female marketing events. We are easily sucked in.
I'd provide the link to the Listener review, but they are lazy and haven't updated the site with this week's issue. The review's written by Jolisa Gracewood, who won reviewer of the last year at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards. (I was a finalist, i.e. loser).
I wrote another Toni Morrison entry but lost it - more tomorrow.
This was an editorial in the Times Picayune this morning:
'Toni Morrison, Nobel Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner and beloved American storyteller, needed no introduction Thursday night at Tulane University.
Of course, even the best-known speaker must be introduced -- it's simply the polite thing to do. So, Tulane professor Felipe Smith introduced Ms. Morrison to the packed auditorium.
Instead of doing a recitation of her many notable works of fiction, though, he talked about her visits to New Orleans and her cultural connection to the city.
Then he pointed the audience to a passage from Ms. Morrison's Pulitzer-winning novel "Beloved" as a metaphor for us and our times. The exchange between Sethe and Paul D comes near the end of the book.
Ms. Morrison, who read the passage Thursday night, described Sethe as devastated. "She has lost everything. Nobody understands her."
When Paul D walks in, Sethe is weeping. He tries to comfort her: "Me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow." He reassures her, as well, that she is her own "best thing."
For a city and a region that has lost so much and grieved so much in the past 19 months, those words can comfort us as well. Remember, Professor Smith said, New Orleans is its own best thing.'