Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On the way back home from dinner on Sunday, after we'd attended the interfaith service commemorating the 8/29/05 anniversary, the little guy piped up from the backseat.

"Mom, God didn't keep the promise that was made. New Orleans flooded. God said there was never going to be another flood like that again."

Yes, the kid is attending religious school. No, I had no idea he was making those kinds of leaps from Tanakh stories and teachings to the present day - until right then.

"Sweetheart, God didn't flood New Orleans. It was people who kept eroding the wetlands that could have been a good buffer from the storm surge, and then the Army Corps didn't keep the levees up, so they burst."

*relief* "Oh, then God kept the promise after all."


"But I still think hurricanes were one of God's mistakes."

It was shortly after that exchange that I read the accounts from the young Homans that their father Michael encouraged them to post. Go read. Go ask the young what they feel about these times in this place. Be surprised. Be amazed. Listen and learn.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Judging from the pictures and testimonies in NOLAFemmes excellent Katrina Photo Project, recovery from a trauma such as the destruction of the levees is slow in coming and still hard to bear, the scars on our homes hinting at the ones we carry with us every second. The big gestures, such as Brad Pitt's investment in rebuilding part of the Lower Ninth, are inspiring, but the smaller ones have to get us through each day.

Earlier this year, my son came home with a tomato plant. "I bought this at the farmer's market, Mom!" he happily exclaimed, presenting it to me with a flourish.

"But you don't even like tomatoes," I told him, wondering where in the world I could put such a gift, and how long it would last. Probably not long, I thought.

"I know. I got it for you," he said with a smile.

It sat and wilted outside for a day, unplanted in firm ground, until I thought of the hope in my goofy kid's smile, the pureness of his gesture, the good faith inherent in his small pact with me over a plant: I gave you this, but you have to give back to it in return. Forget the fact that I had a thumb that was anything but green in the matters of flora...I couldn't let this kid's face fall on seeing this plant wither. I had to at least try.

I got potting soil. I got some planters, some tools, a watering can, the sunniest spot around our homestead - our second-floor balcony - was prepped and readied, and the tomato was placed sideways in the fresh dirt, its roots buried with the hopes that they'd find the spot a pleasing one. And, surprisingly enough, it liked the spot and decided to grow.

More plants from school joined that tomato plant - strawberry, a sunflower, some radishes at the end of the school year. They went into soil as well. Some of them didn't make it, but the little guy and I talked these things over among ourselves and with others as to why they didn't flourish...at one point, my son said, "We'll need to put the sign on it, Mom."

"What sign?" I asked. And then I remembered. It was on a poor, crusty carcass of an amaryllis plant a relative sent me that was in a glass cabinet in one of our front rooms; she'd also thought to enclose a nice sign that said I TRIED, BUT IT DIED.

The heart of what everyone here says about what happened five years ago, is still, at long last, that we want everyone all over this country in their deepest heart of hearts to awaken compassion within and to try to understand. Once you get it, try to act on it for the benefit of not just New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, but for yourselves. Try to be better people.

Sure, not everything's going to work out perfectly - our strawberry was toast, the tomato plant never gave us tomatoes, the radishes did their thing and then we never harvested them, and the sunflower - that glorious, glorious sunflower - bloomed when we were traveling, so we never even got to see pictures of it, but it is that promise, that potential that has us trying to sprout some more sunflower seeds even as we speak...because whatever seems lost can, once again, be found. And we are still here to keep on trying.


Final $5 question, y'all. Sorry it's up so late, but I had to help pack a bunch of emergency food boxes over at Second Harvest with the Rising Tide krewe...so get yourself apprised of the rules and register/donate to Rising Tide. Your final question:

What kind of tomato plant did the little guy bring home?
  1. Creole
  2. Cherry
  3. Cherokee
  4. Plum

You have 'til 9AM tomorrow, and I hope to see y'all tonight at the Howlin' Wolf or tomorrow over there. Act right and bring some nonperishable food items with you for Second Harvest.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I wasn't there. I was up north, where we lived at the time...but I knew how serious it was when I called friends who normally don't leave and they were on the road or preparing for it. It was going to be bad...and it was worse, in many ways, than any of us imagined.

To go back to my radio therapy, it hasn't all been wine and roses on WWOZ - an interview and reading from the organizer of a program on Katrina poetry to be held at Tulane this coming Sunday described one poet as having not been in the city around 8/29/2005 during the chaos of evacuation or hunkering down, but as having "vicariously" experienced it from a distance. Initially, I bristled at the connotations the V-word has taken on: many use "vicarious" these days to describe the pleasurable feeling they get from experiencing some things second-hand. I realize, only now, how much that applied to where I was and to how I felt in that first week - that, since I cared deeply, I didn't have a choice but to bear witness in my way to what was happening - even if I turned off the TV to avoid putting my fist through it concerning what it was showing, I had to help keep together our friends who were scattered all over, watching, waiting, tortured by uncertainty, grasping on to whatever could get them through such a terrible time.

Some took to the internet to put a voice to that state...

...and tonight, at Mimi's, you get to meet them and hear them in their own words, thanks to the release of A Howling In the Wires...which not only includes the work of many New Orleans bloggers but also the work of many local authors and poets.
This collection combines the vivid post-Katrina experiences captured by internet-based “bloggers” from New Orleans–individuals who don’t think of themselves as writers but who were writing powerfully in the months after 8-29–with the work of traditional writers. Some of those, like novelist Dedra Johnson and poet Robin Kemp, share their most immediate reactions from their own blogs. The book deliberately blurs the line between formats and focuses on cataloging some of the best-written and most powerful reactions of the people who experienced Katrina.

Editors Sam Jasper and Mark Folse are writers who turned to the Internet to chronicle their own experiences and reactions to Katrina and found in the months after 8-29 they were part of a larger community sharing the public and very private events of the period. The book will be published late August, 2010. A launch party and reading is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 26 at 8 p.m. upstairs at Mimi’s in the Marigny.

I hope to see y'all there.


So I've still got Alaska on the brain, perhaps because I'm just trying to keep cool in all this hot weather we have down here. Nothing like the mental picture of a cold, crisp run in the Gulf of Alaska on a ferry to help with that...but I'm in the middle of The Thousand-Mile War right now and I'm very happy we didn't go all the way to the Aleutians - at least, not on this past summer's trip. I learned something funny about the guy who wrote TMW that helps make the account of World War II in Alaska a ripping good read and made me giggle a little...but it also drove home how much the history he compiled in TMW was a vicarious labor of love.

Sooooo...get ready and read the rules, get set and register for/donate to Rising Tide...

What is the author of The Thousand-Mile War best known for?

Gimme your answer by 11:30 AM tomorrow in the comments below.


A hearty mazel tov to BrenyB for her correct answer to $5 question # 3. Who will be today's winner, I wonder?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I've got food on the brain, I do. One will find that most people in this city do.

This year, Rising Tide is sponsoring a food drive to benefit Second Harvest Food Bank, and we need everybody to bring some food to help feed those in need. Where Second Harvest has been elemental this year for many families has been in the areas most directly affected by the BP oil disaster. Bills have been piling up for the fishermen and women of southeast Louisiana's coastal parishes, and Second Harvest's ongoing mission of providing for them could use some support. When you come to the Howlin' Wolf on Saturday morning, bring some nonperishable food items with you. Many thanks in advance for your mitzvah.

The other reason why I have food on the brain is due to recent travels in the great gray northwest. Dan looked at many restaurant menus online before our jaunt to Alaska and found that nearly every menu had halibut on it. Halibut, halibut, halibut, and in many cases, it was on there just for the halibut....okay, sorry, couldn't resist that bad joke. Alaskan seafood is a big deal, to such a degree that it was tough to find places that had things other than the local sea life on the menu, as our seven-year-old is not a big fan of fish of any kind unless they are swimming around in tanks. But we managed and ended up having some very nice meals there that had nothing to do with cheesy salmon bake places. Yeah, we're food snobs...

...but we weren't so snobby as to come to Alaska only to eat at their best Cajun restaurant. In fact, I didn't even know it existed until I saw one of their cookbooks in an Alaska Railroad gift shop. Maybe we'll leave it for another time when we bring the kid up for a couple of days in winter to see the aurora borealis. And I do mean a couple of days. It gets bone-chillingly cold up there, even in the summer.

So my $5 Rising Tide contest question for the day - after you've read my rules and registered and/or donated to the conference - is a two-parter. If you are the first to get one answer right, but don't get the other part correct, you will get partial credit. Put your answer in the comments below before my next question appears at 11:30 AM tomorrow morn:
  • Who ate more halibut - Dan or me?
  • What's the name of the best Cajun restaurant in Alaska?
Check the Rising Tide blog to see all of Varg's links to what our panelists and speakers this year have been up to. They are a busy bunch.

Congratulations also go to yesterday's contest winner granzombi, who correctly said the ATC "house band" was Bonerama. See you at the conference! My $5 is now your $5.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

So it seems no one took yesterday's Rising Tide contest question too seriously, as, from what I could tell from my Twitter stream, most everyone had made it a point to watch If God Is Willing & Da Creek Don't Rise on HBO and National Geographic's Witness: Katrina last night. At least, that's what I think it is, since I know there are some Telly Savalas fans out there who'd have guessed that I'd been watching some of The Scalphunters last week. Oh, well...

Anyway, most everyone who was watching HBO and NatGeo seemed to be going through varying degrees of trauma, indignation, and anger, and there was also a great need on the part of some to get the facts out there. Granted, this comes up every year around this time, but, this being a fifth-year anniversary, the misconceptions and outright hate towards Gulf Coast residents who are fighting for their lives here are especially cutting. Witnessing in CNN's New Orleans Rising the reactions of Wendell Pierce to the pushback he got - and probably still gets - when he got involved in trying to help the Pontchartrain Park neighborhood in which he was raised rebuild after the flood makes me realize that we must continue to stand firm against all the anger and the resentment that comes from within as well. Five years after, these are still some mighty hard times.

What is helping me at this time, aside from all the preparations for this year's conference, are some of the occasional bits of life here in the city that can make it worth it when I least expect it - such as listening to WWOZ and getting a wonderful hour of Sarah Quintana's music wafting through my car (news flash to groups like Threadhead and other recording companies 'round the town and the country: SIGN THAT WOMAN UP). It is also good to get some information about what musicians are doing to help recovery efforts, and how much their work has made them activists in their own right....such as when Paul Sanchez spoke of the Air Traffic Control organization's new benefit album Dear New Orleans on 'OZ yesterday. He spoke also of gatherings ATC has held of musicians in the city that address more than just New Orleans' recovery - and one local band in particular was described by Sanchez as being the ATC "house band" at those gatherings.

So...check the contest rules and make sure you've registered and/or donated to Rising Tide - my second $5 question to you Rising Tide contest players is: which band was Paul Sanchez talking about?

Since this post was a little late in being thrown up on my blog today, I'll give y'all 'til 11:30 AM tomorrow to give me your best answer.

And, speaking of activism, Rising Tide is holding a food drive for Second Harvest Food Bank this year. Bring all your canned goods, dried pastas, and other nonperishable foods to the conference on August 28th and help feed the needy in New Orleans and greater Acadiana - which includes those most affected by the BP oil disaster. Get your help and hope on.

Monday, August 23, 2010

This week marks the homestretch to an important anniversary that many of us who blog away like crazies at the keyboards have been prepping for in a number of ways: we get a venue, we get organized, we print up lotsa koozies, we steel our livers in anticipation of the beer...it's a fun yet stressful time. Which is probably one of the many reasons why I kick-started my Rising Tide trivia contest last year - I feel the great need to spread such joy.

So here goes, another year, another set of questions...and, after you've perused the contest rules and registered and/or donated to Rising Tide V, and then you're back here expecting a great deal of gravitas in the face of that other anniversary we here know so well. You're ready and waiting for any and all questions about levee protection, Cat 3-4-5 storms, politicians with egg on their faces, and stuff you never knew about the survivors of 8/29/2005. Never, in your wildest dreams, will you ever expect:


We have some problems in our house when it comes to home entertainment. We don't get cable or satellite - never have and probably never will, as we think paying for TV is kinda ridiculous. So we fill in the viewing of stuff we like with the help of Netflix and the internet (no, thank you, Internet) and occasional fixes at friends' and relatives' homes. The wrench thrown into the works of this system, however, is the dying of either our TV remote or the electric eye on our 2002-era TV, the death of which has nixed our viewing of DVDs for the time being unless we toss 'em into our laptop and watch.
What's left for us, then, is regular TV. And man, is it a hilarious cesspool.
I mean, what is there left when you've hooked up the converter box and WYES' weak signal only kinda sorta gets better when they're fundraising? Lots of reruns, that's what, and cheesy TV shows like The Guard, which Dan took one look at and dismissed with a "It's a cold Baywatch."
And, of course, the bad, baaaad movies.
I thought the days of UHF channels stringing a bunch of movies together for our late prime time pleasure under monikers such as "Sneak A Peek At A Geek Week" were done, but I was wrong. One twist on that tie-in seems to be taking one good-to-great actor and finding all the awful flicks he/she has done, then showing a week's worth of them. No one is immune - not Tommy Lee Jones, nor Jeff Bridges, and Bruce Willis...oh, the bad flicks that man has done. Another twist is an "era" of films, aka a Year in the Life of Crap Cinema. The only thing that even keeps us watching those is trying to see who will show up in such trashy gems....and last week, Telly Savalas, in all his cue ball glory, cropped up in the middle of one, Nu Yawk accent and all.
So, my question to you is: which movie of Savalas' was I watching last week? (Update, 5:00 PM: All right some hints: late-1960's flick on the This channel. Go forth and make your best guess...)

Gimme your answers below. The time on this question runs out at 10 AM tomorrow.
In the meantime, the Rising Tide V schedule is up and we have some changes to the program's public safety panel: Tulane criminologist Peter Scharf, who appears in Spike Lee's If God Is Willing & Da Creek Don't Rise will be moderating, and New Orleans police chief Ronal Serpas will be a panelist. Don't miss out.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Most impending 8/29/05 commemorations haven't done to me what this one is doing this year. My brain seems to have shattered in more directions than I can count. A quasi-diagram of my brain on Katrina remembrance follows, with some assistance from my Twitter stream:

First order of business must be to clean out my pantry and kitchen cabinets. I have an infestation of spiders and small flying insects that said spiders love to eat. I dread this more not because I can't handle the insects and arachnids, but because I'll have to go through canned goods I got when I first started to freak at the prospect of the 2006 hurricane season. Even though I knew that when the time came, we'd be in a car and vamoosing, I tried to stock up anyway. Coming across those cans again won't be pleasant.

I griped on Facebook about the kid not starting school on the right day because of the remnants of a tropical depression possibly dumping loads of rain on the area. Yes, school's start postponed due to the fear of rain. Friends from NYC said, "School starts when???" Um, yeah, mid-August. "But...but...it's still summer!" Summer for you...avoidance of these absences for us.

And speaking of the schools, here's a dilemma for you: you applied to get your child in a top charter and were waitlisted. Resigned to sending your child to the neighborhood charter, you resolve to make the best of it, establishing a good relationship with your child's teacher and volunteering for other school duties. The top charter calls: your child's in. It's great news, and you make the decision to go with it...but not only do you have to spend money again on another school supply list, you feel guilty concerning the commitments you made to assist the neighborhood school. Nothing says you can't still volunteer there, but if you put in the volunteer hours at the top charter and at the neighborhood school, atop your work bringing the money into the household and your care for your child, things will get crazy. Welcome to life for parents who care, five years after the floods.

Random Twitter thought: There are so many sobriety checkpoints being set up these days, it makes me wonder how everyone'll cope with 8/29/10: drugs?

Make your plans, people....for sleepovers.

I find it much easier to get visibly upset over how Title IX is being implemented in elementary schools. My upset over the oil disaster, however, is very much like the oil that is still in the Gulf: it coats everything, and what it doesn't kill will slowly, over generations within weeks, months, or decades, make its way up the food chain of my emotions and mutate into some action, either reckless or calculated, when even I least expect it. It's like how I felt in the week after the storm, only the feelings are not mitigated by some sort of grudging progress we're doing ourselves.

Even Spike Lee is down on BP. They spoiled a perfectly good ending to his new film, which was apparently going to be the Saints' Super Bowl win. Problem is, Tom Benson had jumped the gun there when he announced that over 1000 regular seats would be ripped out of the Superdome to make room for more luxury boxes and a larger press box. I keep wanting to scream at every woman visiting the NFL's Saints' ladies boutique on Magazine to remember the 1200. Then again, I am coveting this appliance:

Somebody let me know when they're giving them out as a promo gift at the Dome. I want the mark of some true champions on every piece of toast I eat.

So, after five years, I need more hugs and ice cream, certainly, and some definite reinforcement that, time after time, there's no substitute for many things. Nothing can duplicate how I felt when I saw my son crossing the street by himself for the first time, looking both ways most carefully and then stepping off the curb into the uncertainty of the road....only to arrive safely at the other curb to me. And nothing feels like that same feeling, in ways large and small, in the here and now everyday in New Orleans.

Cross-posted at Humid City.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

And then, amid all my frazzle today, comes some great great news via Athenae:

So there was a mix-up at the International Bird Rescue Research Center, and our pelicans couldn't be found. Turned out they had holed up in the back of the pelican pen and were discussing the world's affairs over merlot and M&Ms, hitting F5 on the crack van and one of them might or might not have started a dice game with some finches. When asked about it, he muttered something about "punch3 kitten chainsaw" and flapped off. Kids today.

In any case, the birds we adopted as a blog, way back in the early days of the BP Oil Spill, were located, tagged, and we have now been presented with evidence they exist...All our pelicans are here: LaDonna, Ashley, UncleSamRocks, FYYFF and Albert Lambreaux. And we even have pictures of the cute little buggers:

I feel much, much better now.

Been working away on the printed programs for this year's Rising Tide Conference so that I don't have to do much of it next week. Things are going to be crazy enough as it is, what with all the 8/29/2005 anniversary events happening...plus, I must save my energy to give all of you registrants and financial supporters of RT V some extra-special trivia questions every day of next week. So hey, pardon me if I bail out of self-imposed posting duties and indulge in some funny to pass the time:

The brilliant bits are coming up. Maybe. Hell, anything after that clip is going to be Palme d'Or material...

Just...do me a favor and register before the Howlin' Wolf gets sold out.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Where is the oil?"

I'll tell you where the oil is. Via links on Twitter and through the Blog of New Orleans comes this study that says nearly 80% of it is still out there in the sea. The first few paragraphs of the report set the tone:
On August 2, 2010, the National Incident Command (NIC) released a report on the status of oil from the BP oil spill. The findings of the report are being widely reported in the news media as suggesting that 75% of the oil is “gone” and only 25% remains. However, many independent scientists are interpreting the findings differently, with some suggesting that less than 10% is “gone” and up to 90% remains a threat to the ecosystem. Considering the vulnerability of the southeast Atlantic coast to oil being carried our way by the Gulf Stream, it is critical that we determine which of these interpretations of the report is more accurate.

To address this issue, Georgia Sea Grant organized an ad hoc group of university-based oceanographic experts from within the state to independently evaluate and interpret the conclusions of the NIC report.

This group determined that the media interpretation of the report’s findings has been largely inaccurate and misleading. Oil that the NIC report categorizes as Evaporated or Dissolved, Naturally Dispersed and Chemically Dispersed has been widely interpreted by the media to mean “gone” and no longer a threat to the ecosystem. However, this group believes that most of the dissolved and dispersed forms of oil are still present and not necessarily harmless.
If you won't listen to the scientists, who will you listen to?

Actually, I don't think I want to contemplate the answer to that question...

Update, 3:11 PM: Another "listen to the scientists" report comes out on the safety of Gulf seafood, and the prognosis is not good.

And just when I started to wish that a scientific study quantifying exactly how bigoted and un-American opponents of the Cordoba Mosque near the former Twin Towers site would appear, something fairly close to that comes about. Do as Maitri says and show some respect for the real heroes of 9/11, who went into those burning buildings and did their best to rescue everyone without figuring out beforehand if they were Muslim or not.

A further note: I keep shaking my head over my Queens synagogue's listserve discussions about the mosque because of the particular synagogue building in which we worship whenever we go back to visit the old congregation. The place not only boasts classrooms for religious school students, it also has a gym, a weight room (outdated equipment, but still), and a swimming pool in the basement. Why put all of that in a synagogue? Ground broke on the place in the late 1940's, when the word of the day concerning Jewish people's acceptance into recreation centers, colleges, and even neighborhoods was "restricted". If you wanted to go for a swim back then, forget going to a Y or joining a country club if you were Jewish. Even some nearby beaches were off-limits. As a result, Jewish people took their recreation off to their own places, including the resorts in the Catskills upstate.

So if hysterical politicians manipulate enough people's fears and get this to die, this is just to let you all know where that road might lead...right back to the ugly places where we've all been before. I hope to God, Allah, or whatever being you might pray to if you're of the praying persuasion that that doesn't happen.

Anudder update, 8-18: Drake Toulouse's post on the unbowedness of the scientists and the Gulf fishermen & women in the face of the media's irresponsibility is a must-read.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Confession time:

I'm a sucker for most of Athenae's Weekend Question Threads over at First Draft, and this weekend's question is no exception. Seems I've left many tidbits of my past lives over there in those threads, and here's another for you:

What a loaded question for me. Darn near any family gathering involving my grandparents has been fun. My parents used to throw some rip-roaring parties at their house where they'd serve fajitas - the meat of which Dad had had marinating all the day before - and, once they got hold of a Braun juicer, some killer lime margaritas. Just invite a bunch of scientists from the pharmacology and cell biology departments of Baylor labs & see what happens. A lot happened.

My wedding reception was a hell of a lot of fun. We got a band made up of guys from the American Legion Dan played in to provide the music, and they'd never played a Jewish wedding before. We supplied the music for the hora and they had no clue that the dance could go on for 30 minutes of more. They played the sheet music for ten minutes and stopped, and my family descended on the band and told them to keep it going. The guys shrugged and kept it going for 40 minutes more. They still talk about that wedding.

In recent times, some friends of ours hold house parties in which they send out invites titled "I Ain't Your Mama", followed by a bunch of enigmatic phrases which will only come to light if you "act right and bring something" and come to the party. Being a member of the Krewe du Vieux in New Orleans has been a blast, especially for the pre- and post-parade parties. We've got a pancake breakfast tradition we kick-started at our place Mardi Gras Day in which little slices of the party come to us - y'all come to Chez Liprap if you're in town at that time and need some food and a place to pee. Adrastos' Muses parties are a kick, too.

And I would be totally remiss if I didn't mention the best parties I've attended in recent years: the first Geek Dinner I attended (GD3) in which I met most of the New Orleans bloggers and some of the First Draft krewe for the first time, and the Rising Tide 2 pre-conference "meet and greet" at Buffa's Lounge.

There's been mucho naches for me at parties.

And I really want to spread it 'round in the next couple of weeks, so here's a heads-up on my second annual Rising Tide contest, in which, each day of the week before the conference (that's August 23 through August 27th this year), I ask a different trivia question, the answer of which could get you $5 off your conference fee from li'l ol' me.

First off, the money for this is coming from me and only from me. Do not ask the Rising Tide website, blog, facebook, or Twitter accounts for sympathy if you have any beef with this little exercise - just bring it on over to me.

The rules:

Ineligible participants are: the RT organizers, panelists, and speakers. Sorry, folks, c'est la contest.

  • Register for and/or donate $10 or more to Rising Tide V.
  • Check back on my blog each day for the week of August 23-27.
  • There will be a new question each day for you all to answer. Leave your answer in the comments.
  • First correct answer to the question each day gets a five-note from li'l ol' me. If there's more than one correct answer each day, the first one in the chronology of comments left on this blog gets the five bucks. There can only be one winner each day.
  • If you have not registered or donated, there will be no dough for you, no matter how right the answer is.
So there you have it. Register now.

I was pleased to see that at least three more people registered and saved some Saints players' ACLs in the preseason game this past week. Let's keep the team in good health. Boost those numbers over at Rising Tide.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

On our way to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, I got a call from Edie.

"Drew Brees is signing his book at Borders, and I'm in the second group to get it signed. They're allowing three books per person to be signed by him. I can get a copy for you and you can pay me back when you get home. Would you like one?"

I suspected it'd be a fairly standard athlete autobiography, and I already knew a great deal about Brees' story anyhow (turns out there's a great deal of God talk in there, too, which I kinda suspected would be there as well), but I said yes. What the hell.

So I've traveled a lot this past summer. My entire July was spent in other places, but it's damned good to be back home. Even if home is over 100 degrees in the shade. Even if home arranges to have an outdoor music festival in the middle of all that heat. Even if school is starting extra early for the little guy. I mean, sure I felt like I was going to melt into a sinkhole that opened up on Urania Street when I walked to our neighborhood watering hole for a beer and then back to my house, but that's summer at home....and the hopeful autumn light at the end of the heat index tunnel was marked this year by a trip to the Saints' training camp out in Metairie.

Tips for visiting training camp:
Bring your sunscreen.
Wear a hat.
Bring an umbrella, but only use it if you're sitting on the top row of the bleachers by the field or if you're standing by the sidelines - it's not nice to block someone's view.
Bring a towel.
They sell water & other beverages at the field, but bring some in your bag anyhow.
Bring your camera so you can get your picture taken with New Orleans' latest treasure, the Lombardi trophy from Super Bowl XLIV:

The Lombardi it is and The Lombardi is what it will always be.

On walking through the tent that contained a signed Hall of Fame helmet with Rickey Jackson's John Hancock prominently featured, the Halas trophy from the NFC Championship game, a set of the baseball bats Payton gave to the players before the big games last season to help fire 'em up, a championship ring, and the Lombardi, I was relieved to note that not a single fingerprint of the coach's was in evidence on the Lombardi and that he was out on the field in long sleeves doing what coaches do. I hope he never buries even replicas of the past season's trophies.

Watching the Saints train is an even greater exercise in "hurry up and wait" than the average NFL game is. It's also the closest one will get to an NFL 50 yard line without having to pay out the nose for it. Veteran players' moves were checked out, rookies were noted and commented upon, and some wan cheers were actually mustered when Tom Benson & his spouse tooled around on the sideline in their covered golf cart and showed off the championship bling the team earned on their fingers. No one forgets that the man in the cart was ready to schlep the franchise elsewhere not too long ago. I suspect the cheers were for the stylin' ring.

So we sat in the bleachers and sweated out puddles for an hour and a half. We watched the frequent Gatorade breaks. We wondered why we weren't seeing some players in action (talking to you, Shockey and Colston). I finally went to get a players' roster when Edie was mistaking every receiver for Reggie Bush and witnessed a spectator nearly collapse from heat exhaustion. I went back to my melting spot next to Edie in time to see Morstead pop off some punts. The end of training that day was marked by the players heading to the sidelines to sign for the fans in the heat. God bless us all. We love these guys.

Of all my trips this summer, that was the sweetest.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

In the next few weeks, we come upon some fateful national anniversaries. And, for me, some spiritual ones.

I spend the one closest to my secular heart among people who have become good friends, and I spend a great deal of time beforehand encouraging potential new friends to come and to enjoy, to look toward the future with one foot in the past and one's being wholeheartedly in the present. Anyone who's read this blog for any length of time knows what I'm talking about.

This year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are "early" by the solar calendar, but right on time by the moon's movements, as always. Those days will be spent with my spiritual family in the synagogue. We will listen to the sounding of the shofar, awakening us to our best and strongest possibilities as a community upholding halakhah while at the same time reminding us that life is short, and that, as a community, we can atone for our sins against God but we must constantly keep the work going when it comes to our sinning against each other. It's easier to ask forgiveness of an invisible-to-the-eye deity in shul as a "revolving door" Jew (in the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, out of it on Yom Kippur 'til the next year) than it is to look one's friends and family in the eye and ask forgiveness of them. Studies of how to keep these people coming to synagogues and becoming active members can miss that important point, in my opinion - but it is very hard work, and it's something I can always use pointers on.

And then there is 9/11.
And the lessons we are still learning from it.
And the ones that seem to go horrifically unheeded.

I was alerted to the Anti-Defamation League's statement on the controversy surrounding the Islamic community center seeking approval for its construction at a site near where the Twin Towers once stood through Adrastos' post on First Draft. There had been many debates about this going on on my Queens synagogue's listserve that I hadn't really paid attention to up to that point, as the ones most engaged in the arguments started to get into city zoning laws and property rights in Manhattan. I brought the Daily Beast article about the ADL's statement up to the folks on the listserve and was directed to the ADL's actual statement....
Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam. The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong. But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right.
I once spoke of being disgusted at my grandparents' then-rabbi's insertion of the deaths at the Twin Towers into a High Holy Day prayer emphasizing how much repentance, charity and prayer can avert the severest decree of all - even who would be on a higher floor of the towers and perish and who would be on a lower floor and live. I still think it is a damn harsh way to look at such a terrible tragedy, and I still fill up with anger for the ones left behind who lost people that day. Throwing that kind of thing into the Unetaneh tokef so casually was too much of a hurtful act. It fed into a perversity of the main idea that motivated the terrorists: that Allah had dictated that they make their point against people they thought were infidels, so they had to drive that home by hijacking planes and ramming them into what they were taught were the biggest symbols antithetical to Islam on earth, and forget the people who died as a result, because they didn't matter in that scheme of things. A year after the towers collapsed, the Pentagon burned, and the remaining plane nosedived into the ground near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, I didn't think the families and friends of victims would appreciate the personalizing of such a metaphor.

The problem now is that, after all this time, we are still thinking like the terrorists, mistaking a building for extremist views - and this time, that building is an Islamic community center. The ADL tried to straddle the fence between the victims' feelings and the principle of freedom of religion we at least claim to subscribe to in this country and ended up impaled on a post of its own making. This is a far cry from the days when Leo Frank was framed for the murder of Mary Phagan and then, despite a governor's commutation of his sentencing, lynched by an anti-Semitic mob. This is a league founded on upholding the greater good against all odds kicking sand in that greater good's face. All of this does a huge disservice to the victims in whose name the ADL purports to speak.

This message can be turned about for my people who feel this way. It's the perfect time. We say it in the Vidui Ashamnu that is added to the Amidah prayer during Yom Kippur. Only we should take its lessons and turn to those wanting to establish a community center in the name of their faith and recognize these people for who they are and not for what others have turned their faith into.

Those terrorists nearly nine years ago did not speak for them.

Once we grasp that idea, all it takes to put it into action are seven words from another High Holy Day prayer - from us to the Cordoba Center's members, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.


Big thanks also go to Coozan Pat for his many alerts and thoughts on the controversy.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

So the organizers of Rising Tide - the men in the group - have been going gaga over this video of our keynote speaker Mac McClelland. I personally think this ought to have been the one they go nuts over, but I guess the guys wanna save it for when she actually comes to Rising Tide V:

So what are you waiting for? Register today. There's only 22 days 'til the conference. The cost is $5 more at the door. Save some money and head to this link. Now.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Our exit from Alaska was a whirlwind. We squeezed a visit to the University of Alaska - Fairbanks' Museum of the North the day after we got into town, then hauled everything into a cab to the airport and flew our separate ways - Dan to New Orleans, the little guy and me to Silicon Valley to be with my in-laws for a couple of weeks.

What follows is my last journal entry, written in No-Cal after the little guy woke me up impossibly early, delighting in playing loudly with toys he hadn't seen in many months.

While we were in Alaska, the first thing residents wanted to ask us about were the drive-thru daiquiri places. Our driver to Anchorage regaled us with her tale of her and her husband's quest to get one that was thwarted the first time around because they were in an RV supplied by Holland America cruises, which was great for their promotional trips, but not so good for getting an alcoholic beverage on the fly. The second time she was down south, she and a friend went for it in a rented car supplied for them while the RV was parked in a floor show and found that a daiquiri from the greater New Orleans area wasn't such a frou-frou drink.

On telling people here that we'd just been to Alaska, the first thing people here wanted to ask us about were the short summer nights and the midnight sun experiences there. I sleep through anything, so it didn't affect me much, but it had Dan regularly waking up thinking he'd overslept and started to fall behind his schedule, only to take a glance at a clock and realize it wasn't ten in the morning but 4 AM, despite the daylight shining through the window at that early hour.

At long last, everyone's imagination concerning travel is all about the perks and the quirks.

Alaska Journal

Change and Alaska haunt me still.

Somehow our cell phone service had changed and was putting out loads of entertainment that was annoying, unnecessary, and not part of our contract. No one, not even newfound friends, had been notified of the change. Initial panic gave way to acceptance of the new - and then Dan informed me that we were moving to Anchorage. I was angry, demanding to know why he'd sprung that decision on me.

"Didn't you listen?" he asked with a smile. "I told you seven times before."

Chastened, I set about tidying a lawn nearby at what I thought would be our home: a sprawling place that was not unlike the 7 Gables Inn in Fairbanks, in which we'd stayed a night before heading back to the lower 48. Local people thought I was nuts, as there were no guarantees that we'd end up in the place, but I had to do something.

I had to wake up from this. And I did, in the early afternoon on my in-laws' living room couch.

We only had a small taste of Alaska, I know. It's a huge state...and the engines of tourism have been churning there for quite some time. Our travels were chock full of fellow travelers, and of residents who were born and raised elsewhere but call the state home now - and our brushes with native American - Alaskan tribe members were at the Heritage Center in Anchorage and in one reeking-of-cigarettes cab in Fairbanks we took from the train station to the 7 Gables. To really get Alaska, one has to read and read and travel and travel some more in the state. As it is, Dan's plans were a much-abbreviated version of his first-ever wishful experience of researching a trip: he's wanted to go this far north and west since his high school days. The kiddo now wants to come back in winter to see the aurora borealis...but I personally haven't much hope for revisiting Alaska unless it's between the pages of books.

Couldn't resist getting a few:
Walking My Dog, Jane - Ned Rozell (more on Rozell here)
Amazing Pipeline Stories - Dermot Cole

Others of interest:
Shopping for Porcupine - Seth Kantner
Mind of the Raven - Bernd Heinrich
Saving for the Future: My Life and the Alaska Permanent Fund - Dave Rose, Charles Wohlforth
Not One Drop - Riki Ott: an important one in the context of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, as it examines the ongoing trials of Prince William Sound residents in the decades after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

So our travels ended in a flurry of plane trips - Fairbanks to Seattle, Seattle to San Jose for the little guy and me - and on to New Orleans for Dan. Two weeks in No-Cal are ahead for the kiddo and me. Right now, I have no problems sitting still. None at all.

But I do know we're not moving to the 49th state anytime soon.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Alaska Journal

Swaying gently on the train to Fairbanks right now, so I'm stealing some writing time while Dan and the little guy are back in the dome car. Once again, we are in the "C" class and cannot go past the cafe car to the "Gold Star" oversized double-decker car. Not a problem, even despite a couple of queries from the little guy asking when we'd be in the "A" class. Not this trip.

Not many sights out the windows between Denali and Fairbanks - not like between Anchorage and Denali. On our way into Denali the other day, we passed a bright blue homestead close to the tracks, located in the tiny community of Sherman. The house had been whimsically painted that color with a big yellow "CITY HALL" on the outside - and, as it turned out, the owner of that house, Mary Lovel, was signing her second memoir at the bookstore in Denali. Also, we got on the train today to find that we have the same host that we had on the train on Sunday. We keep coming back into contact with the same people again and again and again...but of course, there are the ones we could live without.

Dan's biggest sources of frustration, aside from the little guy's behavior on occasion, have been other tourists, for the most part. Like some Chinese folks on the train to Denali who loudly and kind of rudely demanded and got an upgrade to Gold Star. Some guys on the same train who thought kids would stay quiet if they were taught to read; who wanted to prospect for gold, thinking it was easy money; and who thought there were no bugs in Alaska.

(Dan at dinner last night: "I haven't seen many mosquitoes at all here."
Me: "I've seen a couple, but not like I thought I'd see."
Dan: "Wait, there's one on your forehead.")

A few people on the bus back from the Eielson Center with strong Nu Yawk accents were also in that annoying number - they couldn't conceive of a trip without any shopping involved and they acted like they were entitled to see wildlife up close and personal while they were in the park (No guarantees there...really. We were lucky yesterday.). But the worst as far as we were both concerned was the cigar-smoking hiker at Exit Glacier. One whiff of that on the trail had us incredulous, curious, and, once we saw who was doing it, it had us running the other way from it. Ugh.

The thing that appalled me the most was hearing about an ATV tour that retraced the route the ill-fated Chris McCandless took to live in the abandoned bus in which he was found dead in the wilderness outside Healy, Alaska - a story told in Jon Krakauer's Into The Wild. My gut reaction was recoiling at the insensitivity of such a tour, and I wondered if his parents knew, what they thought of it.* The gist of the tour is, apparently, to discuss what McCandless did wrong...which seems to be a cottage industry here, judging from the loads of books available about surviving in the remote areas of the state. The books reinforce many truths and many myths about Alaska as a whole, I think...but then again, I'm judging most of those books by their covers having never cracked many of them open. From what I've seen of Alaska, though, one doesn't necessarily need extreme survival knowledge to live everywhere in the state.

We're coming up on Fairbanks. More to tell later.


*Truth is, I haven't read Into The Wild in a long time, and I haven't seen the movie - but some current reading of mine gives a clue as to what McCandless' family might feel:
There is now a bronze memorial plaque in the abandoned junker bus where he died...on that washed-out road thirty miles from anywhere. It memorializes him as a beloved son. When his parents hiked in, or maybe four-wheeled or snow-mobiled in, to see for themselves where their boy died of starvation, they brought the plaque with them and installed it there in his memory. His mother left something else behind, too: a small suitcase of survival gear so this would not happen to another woman's son who for whatever reason may call that bus home or stumble on it during a wilderness trek. She put a first-aid kit, map, blankets, and a can of tuna fish in the suitcase. To the first person who needs it, that suitcase will be like a gift from God; the divine in her will meet the divine in a stranger.**
It's important to keep such lessons in mind. I hope the teachings from the ATVs are done with as much sensitivity.

**Heather Lende, Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

It's incredibly stupid and idiotic that the following must be said, but here it is:

The oil in the Gulf of Mexico is most definitely not gone.

Just accept it. It is fact.

While trolling a bunch of Alaska-based blogs last night, I found this one that is a must-listen despite its dating to the time of charter boat captain William Kruse's suicide at this time last month. What is also fact is that the implications on the individual and collective psyches of Gulf coast residents will be quite damaging for possibly longer than the oil will be in the Gulf waters. On slowly making my way through The Spill, a book of personal accounts of those involved in the Exxon Valdez disaster, I am sadly reminded of how little things have changed in 21 years. And even with the residents of Prince William Sound taking matters into their own hands despite Exxon and saying, "Screw this, we'll pick it all up in 5 gallon buckets if we have to," there will be many more years of eviscerating emotional disasters to come:
On Thursday, May 20th 1993, Bob Van Brocklin left a suicide letter.

“The stress from Exxon which brought about my financial stress, was too much to deal with alone. The end should be good and maybe my spirit will live. I have a lot of fear right now, but faith is all that is left. I wish I could have done more good for others but I guess my time is up.”

He was the former mayor of Cordova, Alaska. He shot himself.

He sat in Cordova High School on the 28th of March 1989, four days after the spill. Don Cornett had been sent by Exxon to talk to local fishermen and families.

Mr. Cornett lied to Mayor Van Brocklin and everyone else that day.

....Domestic violence, bankruptcy, alcoholism, and collective depression washed up for years following the Exxon Valdez crisis. Twenty one years later, the herring fishery in Cordova is still decimated – genetic lines of fish erased.

This is only the beginning. Being a fisherman isn’t what you do, it’s who you are – the Gulf of Mexico or Prince William Sound is just geography. The toughest fishermen can’t win; they drown in court. The erosion of identity is invisible compared to the black wake of an environmental oil disaster. My father told me suicide was a permanent answer to a temporary problem. The BP disaster isn’t temporary though. There is no end in sight.

Take care of each other.

Indeed. It is all we have left.


I'm proud to announce, in close proximity to the anniversary of 8/29/2005, an anthology representative of the hope many local writers and bloggers kept alive in those trying times after the storm and the Federal Flood is being published. Details of the reading are below:
Gallatin & Toulouse Press announces the publication of A Howling in the Wires: An Anthology of Writings from Postdiluvian New Orleans. This collection combines the vivid post-Katrina experiences captured by the best New Orleans bloggers with the work of traditional writers from the same period, cataloging some of the best-written and most powerful reactions of the people who experienced Katrina.
The book launch reading will be Thursday, Aug. 26 at 7 pm, upstairs at Mimi's in the Marigny. Open to the public.
Proceeds from the book will be donated to Hana Morris.

Cover image by graphic artist Greg Peters.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Alaska Journal

We are the ones the people like the lady driving the shuttle bus to the Denali Princess were warned about.

We aren't signed up for a cruise, and so we're not folded into any package tour deals...and even if we decide to sign up for something involving a guide, it's not going to be a deluxe operation.

What do we do? We stay in the lodge on our own reservation, and we call up the National Park Service and reserve space on an early morning shuttle bus to the Eielson Center located three-quarters of the way into Denali Park. We get ourselves up at the crack of an Alaskan summer's nearly endless dawn to get on that shuttle bus. And so it goes.

The shuttle to Denali's Wilderness Center had us stopping for a moose mother and her baby. We switched over to the Eielson bus, driven by a fellow who was initially a reticent sort - but he loosened up a little as we went along. It was a fantastically sunny day that caused us all to shed our jackets after our first bathroom stop. We passed over braided rivers, drunken forests, and on to the mountainous tundra. It was when we were making our way just past Polychrome Overlook when things took a whole 'nother turn.

We'd made it past most of the hairy, cliffhanging turns of the overlook (also nicknamed "Poison Point", as in "one drop'll kill you") despite the gasps of the girl sitting behind me. The tiny, moving dots of grizzly bears had been spotted across the valley - and it was then that the driver discovered the bus' left front tire was flat. Twenty minutes of waiting ensued for us until we could hitch a ride on another Eielson shuttle going our way. We may have gotten another set of wheels to our destination, but we'd also gotten a new driver who was condescending and not a little misanthropic in her tone. Thank goodness we were only going another 19 miles or so...those miles passed quickly despite stops for a wolf sighting and a caribou and calf in the road approaching the shuttle.

A quick attempt to hike to the outwash plain in the shadow of Mount McKinley/Denali led to a frustrated little guy, as he'd wanted to throw rocks into the river there just as he'd done at the Toklat River rest stop earlier in our trip. We turned him back to the environmentally friendly Eielson Center by convincing him that at least he'd seen a ground squirrel on the trail. Don't judge us - it helped get him on the shuttle out of the park.

Maybe it was the fact that the bus was going in a different direction, or the way our third, very sweet grandma of a driver was edging a tad closer to the steep drops of Polychrome than the first driver we had, or, probably, I was just paying more attention to the road now that I'd seen a lot of wildlife, but I was beginning to wonder if I shouldn't start gasping like the girl behind me had been doing on the trip into the park. The way down was indeed quite long - a film we saw when we got back to the Wilderness Center let us know Polychrome had been that way since the 1920's, when it had scared visitors so badly, some of them preferred to walk up rather than drive up that stretch of road. Thankfully, we passed through it without incident.

So we weren't a part of any of those fancy, overpriced package deals. Big deal. We still got to see caribou, ground squirrels, ptarmigan, moose, snowshoe hares, a fox, a wolf, and miniscule moving specks of bear and of Dall sheep on a gorgeous day that revealed the peaks of Denali to us, which is more than most park visitors get to see.

Who are we? We are "independents". And that's the way we like it.


All the pictures of our Denali jaunt can be found here. Click on the photo above to see a larger view.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Alaska Journal

Ah, the traveling family - we drive, we take a train, take some pictures, take in the sights...and then, when all is said and done at the end of each day away from home, we're all in our reserved-for-the-night beds watching Discovery Channel shows. Last night, it was Dirty Jobs; tonight, it's MythBusters. Now Dan wants to try to light up powdered non-dairy creamer as a direct result. Must keep him away from that stuff - which won't be too much of a problem, as he drinks his coffee black.

Yesterday - a drive and a trek to Exit Glacier, an icy finger on the Kenai Peninsula, where a gray, rainy day still yielded an incredible look at the bluer-than-blue veins in the glacier's receding mass. There was also a sighting of moose poop along the trail.

We went further south to Seward and saw a lot at the aquarium there. However, a large Steller sea lion, some harbor seals, a preserved giant squid, and lots of Arctic waterfowl couldn't quite erase the memory of the terrible all-beef hot dog we'd ordered for the little guy to have for lunch. We should have ordered three reindeer dogs and passed one of those off to him as a beef dog. Just a spectacularly bad food item. That abortive attempt at lunch was remedied by a great dinner at Jack Sprat's in Girdwood on the way back to Anchorage (What I didn't know until later was that this place was also in Girdwood, its claim to New Orleans fame being that Dutch Morial loved the food - but we didn't come to Alaska to eat Cajun cooking). A quick hotel switch after a look at the cost of the Sarah Palin coloring book ($12! Ummm, no thanks) ended our day.

Today - an exit from the new hotel room was accelerated by the fact that there was only decaf coffee available in it. We were headed for an early morning rendezvous with an Alaska Railroad train to Denali National Park. The ride was quite smooth, the conductor's Scots accent was quite strong, and, despite some more gray weather, the sights out the train's windows were well worth the trip.

Where we've ended up is the Denali Princess Lodge, across the way from another Schlock Street that Dan is convinced was imported from a similar strip outside of Yellowstone National Park. Tomorrow is another early morning as we kick off a tour of Denali Park. Dan is incredulous that a hotel like the Denali Princess doesn't have the Travel Channel on its TVs. I hope that the little guy and Dan don't catch cold from being in and out of the hot tubs that are all the way at the other end of the lodge complex. Ahhh, our traveling family...