Why New Orleans Matters

Cover of "Why New Orleans Matters"

Cover of Why New Orleans Matters

I have just discovered that I can put my plastic camelback bottle in the microwave to make tea without an explosion. Now that I have, I’m sitting on the office couch with a blankie reading Tom Piazza’s “Why New Orleans Matters“. Obviously it’s Friday morning. If you must know, I am reading it for a combination of work and pleasure. I’ve read through it several times, and anyone who has knows that it’s chock full of amazing quotes that help explain to folks, well, why New Orleans matters. If I remember correctly, there are a few that would slip ever-so-nicely into the cracks of my thesis – hence the work aspect… and it’s a nice relaxing way to spend Friday morning in the office, right? Now my tea is getting cold…

Here are a few good quotes from the current pages I’m flipping through:

“New Orleans is the most religious place I have ever been, even though much of the population is profoundly profane, pagan, and steeped in the seven deadly sins and some others not even listed.

“Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. John, once told me that when a brass band plays at a small club back up in one of the neighborhoods, it’s as if the audience – dancing, singing to the refrains, laughing – is part of the band. They are two parts of the same thing. The dancers interpret, or it might be better to say literally embody, the sounds of the band, answering the instruments. Since everyone is listening to different parts of the music – she to the trumpet melody, he to the bass drum, she to the trombone – the audience is a working model in three dimensions of the music, a synesthesic transformation of materials. And of course the band is also watching the dances, and getting ideas from the dancers’ gestures. The relationship between band and audience is in that sense like the relationship between two lovers making love, where cause and effect becomes very hard to see, even impossible to call by its right name…”

Of jazz funerals… “In the real old times they would continue this way (in a dirge) all the way to the graveyard before the next stage  of the funeral ritual took place, but even New Orleans isn’t totally immune to the Worldwide Attention Deficit, and today this part of the procession will last for a block or two at most before the band stops playing the dirge…and the snare drum beats out a familiar sharp tattoo, the band launches into a jubilant, life-affirming stomp, and the entire crowd explodes into dance.” 

“It amounts to a kind of cultural synesthesia in which music is food, and food is a kind of choreography, and dance is a way of dramatizing the fact that you are still alive for another year, another funeral, another Mardi Gras.”


The Frustration of Trip Planning

The interior of the Barnes & Noble located at ...

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Cue rant. Picture my partner and I standing in the travel section of Barnes & Noble for an hour yesterday. Our goal? Pick somewhere to go in December. This is way harder than we expected it to be.

Generally people (us included) are dreamers – looking at potential trips, planning routes, or discussing budgets. I even go so far as to plot my future trips on a world map with color-coded stickies…not kidding – I’m a super dork like that – I have a separate system for potential fieldwork locations. It started when I saw the movie Mask (with Cher, not Jim Carrey) maybe 18 years ago. Our current problem (which is probably something I’ll never experience again as long as I live) is that we’ve saved a chunk of money to spend on travel and don’t know where to go. It’s not a giant chunk, but it’s enough for two people to go to most destinations and be comfortable. Our challenge: we need to go in December during the semester break. This means right before Christmas, during Christmas, or during New Years.

Secondly, I’m not into being cold during this purely-for-leisure voyage. If it’s an international trip that we’re after, I don’t want to have to lug an extra cumbersome bag of winter clothes.  I’d like it to be 50 degrees (f) or higher during daylight. This is harder than it seems.

Neither of us have any desire to go to South America right now. I’ve been to Australia and Central America. She’s been all over Southeast Asia and the Middle East.  This leaves us with most of Africa and the southern tips of Spain, France, Italy, and Greece (though she’s been to all of the latter).  I’m leaving southern India out for now because I have a feeling that will be coming up soon. We had considered Istanbul (even though she’s been), but she mentioned she was freezing there during the winter months, which put me off.  As you can see, it’s equally hard to find somewhere she hasn’t been to. That’s what I get for being partnered to an anthropologist who took the concept of ‘study abroad’ to extreme levels as a non-traditional undergrad at Smith College.

We also want to keep it kind of low-key in terms of how dangerous the area is that we visit. Therefore, we had already decided that if we were going to go to the Middle East or Africa then we’d go with a tour.

I’d very strongly consider Egypt (again, even though she’s been), but it would be at the very edge of our budget after flights/hotels/tours for even 10 days or so. If you’ve ever looked into it, it’s not the cheapest place to go.

SO after several hours of discussion yesterday, we’re no farther than when we started. We are now considering being lazy and going on a cruise – but adding the cruise price with airfare also oversteps our budget by just enough to make us uncomfortable. Also, I have issues with heteronormativity on various cruise lines, but that’s another post.  This is my frustrating tirade of the week.  Next year, I’ll likely be able to pick out 50 places I want to go and won’t have the money.