Monday, May 01, 2006

Well, I started to write a post on the twenty-eighth, but here it is, May already, and it's been a while since the last post. Things have intervened. LIFE has intervened.

I told a graduate student in my major, when I was in my last undergrad year in college, that I didn't get into grad school, ho-hum, and she looked pained, and said,"Oh, no, but life gets in the way if you don't go to grad school right away!" I was thinking at the time that I wanted life to get in the way, thank you, after approx. 16 or so years straight of school in one form or another. And here I am, eleven years later, looking back on that assessment of mine and, cumulatively, I'm glad I made the choice I made. However, I have my moments...

Went to the JazzFest on Sunday, which, crowds-wise, turned out to be the day to go in the first weekend. It helped that it rained the night before, because once that happens, the only ones who come out are the die-hard locals who just don't care, and the out-of-towners who have come to see Bruce Springsteen or Elvis Costello and have paid too much to come down here in the first place, and rain will not deter them from seeing who they came to see. I used to come to JazzFest, year after year before we moved, as an exhibitor on one weekend or another, working for my ex-boss at a craft booth, so I knew some of the crafters, but something held me back from going over to them and just saying hello. They were there working at their booths, and what could I tell them? Hi, I'm just popping by! Oh, just raising my son and keeping house these days! My feelings of inadequacy came to a real head when I browsed the book booth and saw that a girl I once had a good relationship with shortly before I moved down to New Orleans the first time was there signing a children's book she and her husband had written and illustrated. She got mad at me over housing woes of mine that involved her boyfriend (no, nothing like what you all might be thinking!), and I was very sorry all the time, tried my best to treat her well, but she kept treating me like dirt. And here she was, signing a book with her husband.

I wanted so badly to tell her how well I was doing, too, out of meanness, more than anything else, I'll admit. But I said nothing and walked out of the booth. All I could think of anyway was schmoozing about Montessori school admissions woes. Oooh yeah, real show stopper, that one.

My husband said later that she didn't matter, but that my crafter friends would probably have loved to see how I was doing, and that I do a lot outside of the kid and house thing. "You sang at Shea Stadium, for crying out loud!" he said. "You just sang at JazzFest Shabbat! You have taken on cooking and cross-stitching like nobody's business! You were a board member at our synagogue in New York! You took JTS courses! And you're raising a great kid!"

God bless my husband. One of many reasons why I married the man is his honesty, which can be damned brutal, but which can also be comforting. Now if only I could clone him and carry him around as a confidence booster. When I was still doing the crafting thing, I went into a co-op craft shop to deliver some merchandise and asked the girl behind the counter to validate my parking ticket. "I need to be validated," I said.

"You're so good," she said. "Don't ever change."

One way in which I was validated, repeatedly, was for wearing my Mets' cap at the Fest. Stood behind some kids when I was checking out Allen Toussaint and Elvis Costello, and one of the kids did a double take at my cap. "Oooh, our bud's a Mets fan," he said. "Didn't think we'd meet anyone else around here who was, though." Walking through the Fair Grounds, I encountered two buddies, one wearing a Yankees cap, both of 'em guys who alternately booed and cheered me. Waiting on a porta potty, I encountered a fellow in line who was a Mets fan, but whose spouse was a Cubs fan, like my husband. The Mets fan and I both agreed it was high time for them to get back to winning ways; the last time a Mets team did its thing in the World Series, the management disbanded the team out of sheer fear of the players' antics off the field. Here's hoping that won't happen again.

I was also validated by the one food item that truly makes it JazzFest for me: Prejean's pheasant, quail, and andouille gumbo. At the Prejean's booth, a girl came by asking for their crawfish enchiladas, and immediately walked away when she heard that they were out. I should have yanked her back and chided her for walking away from some superb gumbo. Some folks just don't know what they're missing in this life. The first year I had the gumbo, I noticed some fellows making a beeline for the booth in the early hours of the festival and I asked them if it was any good. "Any good? " they exclaimed. "We've been waiting all year for this!!!!!" Is that a good recommendation, or is it?

One thing I repeatedly missed in all the years I've gone has been the kids' section of the Fest. They have a tent with some musicians and storytellers, and they also have a whole lot of kid activities and crafts there. My son had a ball making like he was paddling a pirogue down the bayou and catching big plastic crabs and crawfish in nets. He could also take his catch to a play kitchen, where he told me he was going to make some crawfish pies. He played some instruments made of PVC pipes and made a small house to put on a large model of the New Orleans area, where kids could "rebuild" businesses and homes on the map. What he was most fascinated by, though, was the cooking demos held by New Orleans and other Louisiana chefs. Zatarain's sponsors these demos and has the chefs cooking in a setup of the usual pots and pans and stoves and ovens, with a tilted mirror positioned over the whole thing so the audience can see what's cookin' in the pots and pans. Everyone gets samples afterwards. My son was so fascinated with the cooking and the chopping, until he had to go to the bathroom and ended up smashing our water bottle on the floor in the back of the audience. Dan chastised us a little for missing the samples of the blackened fish and tomato salad we had been watching the chef prepare, until I told him the specifics of our situation.

As for what we did previous to our JazzFest visit, we went to rehearsal after rehearsal for our synagogue's JazzFest Shabbat this past week, which is why it took me a while to get it together on the blog. JazzFest Shabbat is what our synagogue has done for the past fifteen-plus years, through four cantors, one cantorial soloist, and our one constant through all those times, our choral director and organist. The service is always held on the first weekend of JazzFest in the synagogue's main sanctuary, and the reharsals the week of the performance are fun and sometimes harrowing, especially since the big organizers are the cantor and our long-suffering, marathon-commuting choral director. Not only is the man a Catholic, he works as the music director for a Presbyterian church in Mobile, Alabama, he teaches a load of college level music courses at a school there, and then he hops into his car every week and heads to New Orleans to hold choir rehearsals and play the piano and organ at our services. Thursday was a particularly trying day for him, as he was feeling the effects of commuting back and forth more than usual, he was trying to get the jazz band performing with us to shape up some more, and his car's windshield had been smashed from stray rocks from a construction vehicle. God bless the poor mensch.

Despite it all, it was a great service and performance this year, albeit a bit long and drawn out. It was all the more important that it happened because of all the stuff this city has been through in the past months since late August. Even the people who were unable to attend this year must have gotten some comfort that the program is still going I'm sure they are happy all over this country, or even the world, that the JazzFest itself is still going on. Traces of the tragedy have reamined, however...

The children's book the girl who snubbed me co-wrote and co-illustrated was about telling one's young 'un (or, more accurately, young animal) about the hurricane and how to prepare for it, and possibly, leave one's home. For every few people acting like the usual JazzFesters, there were some wearing recovery-inspired t-shirts and/or buttons. Outside Gabrielle's restaurant off Esplanade Avenue was a couple selling cheap water, sodas, beer, and mixed drinks, and on their sign was a small addendum, a FEMA trailer tour for $2. I asked where that money was going, and they said, only half-jokingly, it was all going to the government. We have a break here and a slight return to normalcy, despite all the crazy news that pervades the atmosphere, but it doesn't take much to yank us back to the present. I present -

Exhibit A: The official recommendation that FEMA is too flawed to fix, and should probably be dissolved or folded into the Department of Homeland Security. Yes, honey, save us from our eroding marshlands, our governments, and our Army Corps of Engineers. Maybe NOW we'll get the fourteen billion dollars the feds turned down so that 25% of this country's oil, most of the seafood, and the livelihoods of generations of bayou dwellers would get washed into the gulf with major assistance from Katrina and Rita. Yes, that'll work...

Exhibit B: The fact that if the local public school system is going to rebuild itself, it needs the funds to do so. Right now, what remains of the Orleans parish school board has control over the better performing schools in the parish, and the rest are under the control of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Even though the latter schools are under BESE's control, however, the Parish school board is still responsible for a large number of the debts incurred by those schools. And don't even mention the environmental health issues the two boards might be liable for if they cave to the pressure to reopen schools early and they haven't gotten flooded or storm damaged buildings up to snuff. I can only describe myself as slouching towards masochism when I contemplate the fact that I am trying to get my son admitted to this rats' nest. Hooray for me...

Exhibit C: A recent big rainstorm carried with it tornado watches, some anxiety on my part, and enough winds to snap a large chunk off the top of my friend Edie's evergreen tree in her front yard. She was already looking for a large amount of dirt to fill the hole left over from a large tree that was downed by the hurricane, and now she has almost half a large tree sitting in her front yard again. I was racking my brains trying to figure out where I'd last seen a pile of dirt she could use for the purpose, even going so far as to retrace my path through the city to the pile I'd seen a while back, which was still there, complete with its "Free Dirt" sign.

Yep, yet another thing to add to a resume, should I want to return to the working for a paycheck world: I can locate a pile of dirt in a ruined, recovering city for the purpose of reusing and recycling. Now that's contributing to the environment!

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