Sunday, April 23, 2006

It is a weekend of much celebration, of new beginnings, of acknowledging the craziness around us, reveling in it a little, and moving on from there. These are the things that this city is known for, that people come from all over the world to get a taste of. For those of us who live here, these have become the rhythms of our life.

Some of these rhythms have been organized specially by a group or groups - like, say, Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, or the one that is going on this weekend, the French Quarter Fest. And sometimes, it is the welcoming of something that is a bit of an organized imposition - the Super Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Bayou Classic, local, state, and federal elections. This just happens to be a weekend when so many of these things coincide.

One year, the Super Bowl (Patriots-Packers, before the days of Tom Brady and them) coincided with the Krewe du Vieux parade running through the Quarter. Cheeseheads and Pats fans mingled with paradegoers and the usual partying flotsam and jetsam running in and out of the bars and restaurants. I was lucky to be able to call for a cab that night, since trying to hail one from off the street was an impossibility. I never felt threatened by the crowds - this town prides itself on manageable chaos.

A true testament to that credo is the French Quarter Festival, which has been going on for a number of years now. Loads of local bands play various stages on the riverfront and in the Quarter. The usual Quarter nuttiness mingles once again with the music in the streets with much abandon, an issue that is normally one of hot contention among city lawmakers and year-round street performers. Strange to think that a city known for its music tries repeatedly to regulate said music off its streets on a regular basis, but there it is. All the more unusual that FQF events are free to the public, with money needed only for food and tchotchkes.

Yep, people sure know how to party down here. Even the primary voting yesterday occasioned a flurry, a deluge, a forest of campaign signs on that corrugated plastic stuck in every neutral ground, loads of decoration lauding each and every single candidate for mayor, for city council, for assessors' positions, for sheriff, for clerk of criminal court, which must have amounted to close to fifty names on thousands of signs. If Dan and I had been awake enough to do it, I would have grabbed them all and done a Frank Gehry number with them.

Gehry, shortly before the design and execution of buildings such as the Guggenheim in Bilbao, created some fantastic and very comfortable furniture out of laminated pieces of corrugated cardboard, hundreds of them all stuck together and then cut into the shape of chairs, tables, ottomans. Campaign furniture would have been a kick - plus it wouldn't have disintegrated on exposure to moisture like Gehry's furniture. Nothing like a nice dais for mayoral candidate Sonja "Lady" DeDais, maybe. Or it could be just a good excuse to tell a candidate to SIT ON IT.

In a festive mood, after having been one of two candidates who kept their heads above the fray, for better or worse, Ray Nagin in his "phase two" speech pulled out a small keychain and professed that others were making money off his recent foot-in-mouth comments. In these parts, a fellow here has been making money off a keychain named a "Cajun in Your Pocket" - push the buttons on the keychain and a Cajun yell sounds off, another button yields the phrase "I love you like a pig loves corn" in a Cajun-cadenced voice, and other buttons yield other Cajun phrases. Well, the same fellow has apparently come up with the "Mayor in Your Pocket", and Nagin played it last night, two recordings of him saying some things. I noticed the "Chocolate City" quote was conspicuously absent, but I figured Nagin wouldn't touch that button with a ten-foot pole. As it is, his position versus his runoff opponent, Mitch Landrieu, is somewhat tenuous, considering Landrieu's connections as lieutenant governor, his family's political legacy on the local and national levels (his father, Moon Landrieu, as a former New Orleans mayor, and his sister's position as a US senator for Louisiana), and the fact that Landrieu has been able to attract all sorts of support from all facets of New Orleans' culture and classes. Edie and I saw him just after the election at a crawfish boil fundraiser for a local public elementary and middle school. He could just as easily have slept in after the primaries, since he had worked his tail off from a late start in the campaigning to get where he was. And yet, there he was, celebrating at a public school crawfish boil. More power to him, I say.

Of course, much is being made of there not having been an incumbent mayor voted out of office in New Orleans for sixty years, and in that respect, the odds are in Nagin's favor. However, the whole "Bulworth" style of speaking his mind and departing from a script ain't working well for this man, I don't think. Get rid of that "Mayor in Your Pocket", your honor. There are way too many shirts and bumper stickers making fun of you as it is.

Speaking of bumper stickers, some good ones recently:

My Body's Not a Temple, It's An Amusement Park!
Hug a Musician; They Never Get to Dance
Make Groceries, Not War

That last one is a true twist on an old New Orleans expression. "Making groceries" is simply an expression for grocery shopping down here.

Next festival stop? The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which promises to be a zoo this year. We are already planning a strategy as to which stages to avoid due to anticipated critical crowd mass (big names this year include Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, and just enough world renowned performers to make one stage out of the ten-plus on the Fair Grounds effectively dead for a day, since the big-name acts won't be on until the end of the day; it all adds up to the perfect recipe for people who want to see those acts camping out at a stage from the beginning of the day until the bitter end), which acts we think my in-laws would love to see when they come to visit for the second weekend, and which ones we know are good that we haven't seen in four years. Add my son and his needs to the mix, and yeah, we need to plan for this big time. Maybe we can petition the Joint Chiefs to make use of the Pentagon for this purpose. Our tax dollars at work...

Almost ten years ago, at a local Spanish food place, I spied a sign up on the wall that I had to have. Friends of ours in New York never failed to comment on it:


We are beyond that doubtful guest, Katrina, and we are still cleaning up after her, but Lord knows, we need a break. We're on the cusp of a possibly different political future, and a new hurricane season. How best to bolster our confidence down here than with a bit of Festing?

Not FESTERING, folks.

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