Saturday, June 24, 2006

susan sontag, mislabeled plantations, sharp objects that i left at charles de gaulle airport

If it's Friday, chances are you'll find me at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Summer hours are in full effect. At a quarter to 1 pm, my colleague Nicole came over to Katie and me and said, "Why are we all still here?" Nicole and I left, saying our goodbyes at the subway station. (She was headed to the F and I to the N/R/W)

I met RJ at a bookstore on Madison b/w 82nd and 81st and we headed over to the museum before I plunked down a credit card for 5 books or more. We had lunch in the cafeteria and we made our way around the museum. I was blown away by the exhibition of photographs in tribute to Susan Sontag who passed away around the same time as the Tsunami in 2004. I remember being mesmerized by a C-Span book talk interview that lasted three hours or something after she passed away. I was eating every word. I felt the same way looking at this selection of photographs drawn from the museum's permanent collection. The photographs were paired with excerpts of Sontag's writing. It was incredibly powerful. I almost teared up, but was breathless with her insight and the evocative photographs.

One photograph in particular affected me. It was by Walker Evans, if I'm not mistaken (I'm going back again so I didn't take any notes), and it was of a delapitaed room in a plantation. The ceiling was giving way to history, yet the collumns on the wall retained their majesty. The filthy floor exposed the ugliness of the events that transpired there. Piercing light struggled to burst the latched shutters on the windows. It was haunting and said everything about New Orleans, pre and post Katrina.

But it was mislabed. Should I tell the Metropolitan that Nottoway Plantation is in White Castle, Louisiana? It was labeled Oak Ridge, I think. But it definitely is Nottoway in White Castle. My mom took my friend Marguerite and I there on a rainy day when we were in middle school. I was doing a report on buildings along the river.

Atop the Metropolitan, a crocodile and an alligator (maybe two of either, I didn't get a good look)stand watch over the building. They're really plaster casts of these creatures, but the genuine articles are the sharp objects confiscated at airports which stab into the ferocious reptiles. It made me lonesome for the letter opener I had to offer up to the gods at Charles de Gaulle last week. I got it for 10 euros at a marche aux puces in Place St. Sulpice for it's cast iron weight and the charming owl atop it. I was sad to let it go, but all my yen for it was lost when I thought I had to check a bag. Better travel light and get home faster. That should be my new mantra. I wonder what Susan Sontag would have to say about that.

Monday, June 19, 2006

goodnight to all that

Blisters all over my feet, I suppose, make up for having met Tim Robbins. Better still was the excuse to wear my new dress and some heels. No make-up aside from lip gloss on a muggy day like today. I drank cranberry juice and seltzer, sang along to someone else's karaoke, and kissed my friend goodbye early in the evening. No raging party tonight for me. It was just enough to dress up, show up, say hello, and head home. That was enough for two feet full of blisters.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

empty calories

So part of the ceiling in our Athis Street house fell down today. And there are watermelons spontaneously growing in the backyard. After a heavy rain today, all of NOLA's underpasses have flooded. Massive fires are a common instance and serious violence has returned to the city. As of the end of the month, I believe, public buses in New Orleans will be a thing of the past.

Doesn't sound like we're coming back or getting any help at all.

Everyone keeps talking about rebuilding. Rebuilding what? I don't see the point in these rebuilding efforts until someone seriously deals with the inadequate water pumping system in the city of New Orleans. That, the levees, transportation seem like issues that must be dealt with before anyone considers rebuilding on a permanent basis. I have spoken with people who have arrived in NOLA to volunteer who then end up leaving because of the complete lack of organization. Why isn't more being done on a constructive level?

As Tim used to tell me, it's not enough to work hard; you have to work smart. I know I sound defeatist, but I'm tired of the fatuous party line that people throw out. The one that assumes that my parents and everyone else in NOLA is back to life as usual and everything is fine. It isn't.

I wish people could understand that things are far from fine and that more than a couple Christian teenagers with hammers are what we need in New Orleans.

Where are the legions of urban planners? Where are the engineers, scientists, environmentalists, community leaders? I know it isn't glamorous to go to a third world nation that is domestic. What do we have to do to entice intelligent people to bring their talents to the city of New Orleans? If Americans won't help us, will other nations help us? I'm seriously stretching out there to see how this is going improve and what I believe now is that we need a miracle.

And yet I hate that language because it is so heavy with religious connotation which is something I really have come to resist. Faith is built on something more than divinity. That kind of faith is an easy way to pretend to help without doing anything active about change.

I'm tired of the rhetoric. I'm tired of politicians with $90,000 in the freezer or a mouthful of hatred for gay people. I'm tired of the misinformation. I'm tired of the wasted effort. I want to see a plan for water in Southeastern Louisiana. I want to see city management. I want to see my parents provided with a plan for what they have to do to dispose of their house and move on with their lives. I'm sick of hearing about how lazy and incompetent Louisianians are. I want a little less conversation and a hell of a lot more activity. Restaurants with expensive entrees are not the ticket back to a healthy economy.

We've had enough empty calories to last a lifetime.

back in the city

I'm back in the city. Paris is even lovelier in retrospect than it was while I was living it. I'm still sifting through everything I did and registering it all in my mind. The walks, the art, the architecture, the films, the people, the cups of coffee, the food, the flowers, the metro, the clothes, the store windows, the music, the children, the markets. . .

I could go on and on.

Today I went to a memorial service for the mother of a dear friend. Afterwards, there was a very nice luncheon. Everyone had such a good time. It was my first memorial service in New York. I really have been in New York for a while. It's something to realize you've been in a place long enough to have roots to the effect that you attend funerals or celebrations in the community where you live.

A new member to the community is my friend Sudha who has moved here from NOLA to begin her medical residency at Mt Sinai hospital. I hung out with her, her brother and father tonight. It was so great to see her and moreover, it is so wonderful to have her here in the city. My heart feels lighter knowing she is here. She is family.

It's going to be a great summer.

Friday, June 16, 2006

This is the condition

Here I am, quoting Chris Rose verbatem. Sometimes I feels he goes over the top, but this, I felt, was dead on. Maybe people care, but they definitely don't know what's going on. How can we bridge this disconnect? What is it about humans that we can't ask questions; we make assumptions that somehow twist into facts. I am as culpable of such behavior as anyone, but especially since Katrina, I have tried my best to approach issues with a serious attempt to uncover all angles of the equation. I'm glad someone is publishing these feelings. And again, I have to ask: this is the man who covered Britney Spears' gun-toting papa?

For now at least, being an insider in New Orleans means feeling like an outsider everywhere else
Friday, June 16, 2006
By Chris Rose

I was in Washington, D.C., recently, talking to a very educated man who was making reference to another man he knows who does restaurant consulting work in New Orleans.

The man, a school administrator, said to me: "I don't know what he thinks he's doing there. There are no restaurants in New Orleans anymore."

Cue the ominous sound effect between scenes in "Law & Order."

I was recently working with an out-of-town TV news producer who was looking to set up a shot of neighborhood desolation and he asked me if I thought it would be hard to find any concentration of damaged and abandoned houses in New Orleans.

Cue the ominous sound effect between scenes in "Law & Order."

I was in Portland, Ore., this week and I heard a guy in a bar hold court with stories about New Orleans. He said: "The police on Bourbon Street, they come around at night with a big cart -- like a hot dog cart -- and they pile up all the drunk and passed-out people on it and wheel them off to jail."

Cue the buzzer, the gong, the cowbell.

A hot dog cart?

Obviously, the range of opinions and "knowledge" about New Orleans out in the Great Elsewhere is staggering. Said a documentary filmmaker from Indianapolis to me the other day: "Speaking for central Indiana, it's not that people don't care about New Orleans. It's more that they're oblivious to what happened. They just don't know."

And so some folks think New Orleans is a fine and peachy place, where finding footage of wrecked houses would be a challenge all these months later. And some folks think there are no restaurants open.

And some folks, it seems, got so pie-eyed when they visited Bourbon Street that they hallucinated some bizarre vision that married the cops and the Lucky Dog guys into a harmoniously cartoonish image of civic peace keeping.

I've been traveling a lot lately. "How is New Orleans doing?" people ask all along the way, and they do care -- really, really care -- you can tell. But how do you answer that question?

Unless they have two days to listen to you talk about the unraveling of the social fabric, the menace of crime, the absence of leadership, the palpable fear of another hurricane and the fact that 15 of your closest friends are making plans to move away -- joining the other 15 of your closest friends who already have moved away -- then what do you tell them?

My wife and I recently made the circuit of journalism awards banquets in the Northeast, and I watched my media colleagues and peers fall into easy shop talk at these events but somehow Kelly and I always stood off to the side, wondering who all these people were and what they were talking about.

We were guests at many of these events and -- in some cases -- honorees, as I have had the privilege of picking up several awards that The Times-Picayune has won for its coverage of this unholy mess.

And people are warm and gracious and concerned but -- at each event -- I asked my wife: "Did you ever go to a wedding where you didn't know the bride or the groom?"

That's kind of what it's like to be from New Orleans as you travel around the country these days. You just can't find the rhythm of the outside. Of the other.

I am on a plane bound for Salt Lake City as I write this and I look around and realize how disconnected my life is from the folks who sit around me.

Not that they don't have troubles and sorrows and issues, too, but they don't necessarily look lost in a fog of war. I look around at the sleepy faces and the faces buried in books and newspapers and the bobbing heads of folks plugged into iPods and I wonder when I'll ever get back to the place where they are.

. . . . . . .

Columnist Chris Rose can be reached at; or at (504) 352-2535 or (504) 826-3309. To reach past columns, visit

Saturday, June 10, 2006

accompanied music

Thanks to having seen "Mrs. Henderson Presents" the night before leaving for Paris, I have "All the Things You Are" lodged firmly in my head. I wept hearing it in the moving. It's such a moving song and is laden with meaning in the film, but that wasn't the trigger. The trigger for me was realizing how I had embued the song with meaning without even realizing it. Just hearing it made me nostalgic and bittersweet and full of warmth. It was one of those odd moments when you realize you know a song almost by heart without realizing how you know it. The tenderness you have for the song catches you entirely off guard.

Well, I have been having to listen to it on my ipod while in France. Ella Fitzgerald's rendition -- I knew it had to be her handiwork. Well, I was surprised that her version is much faster than I had remembered after hearing it through the film. All the same, I sing it in my head with the fast then the slow version.

Also, if you haven't seen "Mrs. Henderson Presents," do yourself a favor and rent it now. I was reluctant for these reasons: "Oh, look, Judi Dench playing a saucy older woman. How novel." But, really, don't be like me and question the depth of Dame Dench. For this reason, I must also watch "Ladies in Lavender" upon returning to NYC. What can't she do? How I would like to meet her.


Naomi has the soundtrack for "Brokeback Mountain" on her itunes which means I need to burn it before leaving the country. The instrumental song at the end (which was played about a zillion times during the Oscars and which made me cry helplessly at the film's close) is just something I need to hear over and over. My friend Katie loves it, too. I need to watch the movie again as Tim has not seen it and really should do so. The song meant one thing to me when I saw the movie, but now it also reminds me that Katie is a big sap just like me and that I'm lucky I work with someone who loves the New Yorker, laughs at my jokes, always says hi in the morning, asks questions like, "lauren, it isn't too warm for oatmeal for breakfast is it?" I am lucky to work with savvy, heartfelt ladies.

But the song is heavy. There's something so substantial about the song that I almost forgive Ang Lee for "The Ice Storm." I have to smile that Naomi has the soundtrack. We love the same soundtracks. Case in point: "The Sweet Hereafter."

But this song makes me ache. As much as I thought Jake Gyllenhaal really was the weak link in this film, there is something so beautiful in the urgency of Jack and Heath Ledger's Ennis just kills me. The final scene of this film is a piece of humanity that I know will only reveal more to viewers as they grow older knowing it. Oh, I can't help but cry thinking of it.


The last cd in Naomi's cd player was Emmylou Harris' "Wrecking Ball," which is an album I always associate with Naomi. The title song (written unmistakably by Neil Young) always makes me sad and happy at the same time. Sad for the sepia nature of the song, but happy because I always want to sing, "Meet me at the Brecon Prom..." (Bryn Mawr reference... sorry... I'm not as bad as I used to be when Gifford and I endlessly babbled about that sacred institution)

Emmylou Harris is another person I'd like to know. In some imaginary life, I would like to have dinner with her, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, Nanci Griffith. All women with serious issues with relationships. Is this a prerequisite to being a great folk singer? I would like to tease this out.


Lastly, I've been revisiting Jenny Lewis' solo album. This album got lost in the wake of my ALL NEKO CASE/ ALL THE TIME work schedule which required either Nicole or I playing "Fox Confessor..." throughout the day. But seriously, it's a great album. "Rise Up With Fists!!!" is a brilliant song. I love that Jenny Lewis was the girl in "The Wizard." I loved her in that silly, silly, silly movie that I knew even then was dreck. And I love that she has gone on to become an indie rock princess who can take that capital and go out and do a country album influenced by Laura Nyro (maybe Jenny can come to dinner, too; after all, doesn't sound like she's got a winning streak with relationships --- correct me if I am wrong).


I listened to Astrud Gilberto on the plane to try to lull myself to sleep as a child screamed the entire way across the Atlantic Ocean and a man snored in the aisle next to me. She is a genius, but I ended up watching "The Incredibles" while listening to her out of sheer inability to sleep. Sometimes music and movies don't makes sense except for strange moments. This was one of them.

Friday, June 09, 2006

J'adore Paris

Kids, it couldn't be nicer if I asked. The weather is sublime. Sublime as in sunny and warm and perpetually breezy so it never gets hot. It's always comfortable. Someone must have known that I was coming and the Parisian gods spoke amongst themselves and said, "Give the New Orleanian a break."

I'm thankful so whoever put in that call, I owe you one.

Already, I've done a marathon museum binge. Yesterday I went to Musee d'Orsay twice, and also to Musee Picasso, Centre Pompidou, and Cluny. Today I went to Musee Rodin (where the roses alone are worth the visit), the newly opened L'orangerie, and the Louvre. I also walked from the Louvre to l'arc de triomphe and marched to the top to get a grand view of the city.

I've also spent some quality time in Jardin du Luxembourg, reading the New Yorker (how novel to have time to read long pieces in one sitting!). And I have done some shoe shopping. I haven't caved yet, but I know I will. Black sandals, I need you.

So I have some shopping for friends which must be done. Also, I have filled my memory card in my digital camera so I have to go through all the old photos and purge the ones that I lazily downloaded and did not delete. Blizzard of 2006, see you later! Moldy house, I remember you all too well. I think it best to fill my camera with shots of sunny Paris.

Naomi's apartment is very sweet and I am incredibly grateful to not be in a hostel. Also, being able to cook is equally lovely. Nothing is more like home to me than the smell of garlic sauteeing in olive oil. Dinner is being made and, friends, I need to finish this glass of wine and attend to the repas.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

June in Paris

I'm leaving tonight for Paris and won't be back in the states until late on the night of the 14th. I don't know how often I'll be able to be online while I'm there. Hopefully, not very often!!

Things I'm looking forward to doing:

Catching up (aka: blabbing endlessly) with Naomi
Jardin du Luxembourg
Place des Vosges
Musee d'Orsay
Wandering through bookshopes
Le Bon Marche and Le Printemps
Cafe Cremes
Baguettes + cheese + wine
Le Quincampe
Going to see "Marie Anoinette" with Naomi
Soaking up the city
Ads in the metro stations
Window shopping
Excessive photography
Gilbert Jeune
Waterman ink cartridges
Tea at La Mosquee
Searching for Catherine Deneuve at Place Saint Sulpice
Looking for glass candies for my mom, cane stoppers for RJ, and petit bateau shirts for Rachel Brill
Looking for the screenplay to "Fin Aout, Debut September"
Buying back the Marguerite Duras novels I lost in the storm

Oh God. I just am so happy to be going back to Paris. I can smell the expresso, newsprint, cigarettes, and flowers already.

I love New York, but I'm in love with Paris.