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Frolic of My Own | Jazz, books, food, and the writing life

I can tell when a writer has nothing to say. They use more words.


V.S. Naipaul:

He spoke in a slow, negligent way. The slumped women stared out of the window and said nothing. The baby, fat-cheeked, big-eyed, dribbled. London rolled away on either side of the railway canyon: the grimy backs of houses, the red tops of buses, the bright new advertisements, the signs on small shops, the men in white overalls on ladders: pictures that already felt like memories: the promised land from which we were already separated: the train just another of the morning noises.

From “The Middle Passage” (1962)


The second day of the year, a Friday, was still a holiday for most of the city. On the way to work, the streets were empty, the sun shrouded and the towers of the CBD decapitated by fog.


Other people’s prose:

The language of preservationism sometimes conceals its own biases. If all the dying traditions are valuable, does that also mean all the valuable traditions are dying? If a genre doesn’t need saving, does that also mean it’s not worth saving? If New Orleans rappers seem less lovable than, say, Mardi Gras Indians or veteran soul singers, might it be because they’re less needy? Cultural philanthropy is drawn to musical pioneers — especially African-American ones — who are old, poor and humble. What do you do when the pioneers are young, rich and cocky instead?

From “New Orleans hip-hop is the home of gansta gumbo” by Kelefa Sanneh in the New York Times (April 23, 2006)


Roger in Black and White


Other people’s prose:

The great majority of use—all, in brief, who are normal—pass through life in constant revolt against our limitations, objective and subjective. Our conscious thought is largely devoted to plans and specifications for cutting a better figure in human society, and in our unconscious the business goes on much more steadily and powerfully. No healthy man, in his secret heart, is content with his destiny. He is tortured by dreams and images as a child is tortured by the thought of a state of existence in which it would live in a candy-store and have two stomachs.

H.L. Mencken from “The Art Eternal” (1918)


Other people’s prose:

Why then do rational men and women engage in so barbarous and exhausting a vocation—for there are relatively intelligent and enlightened authors, remember, just as there are relatively honest politicians, and even bishops. What keeps them from deserting it for trades that are less onerous, and, in the eyes of their fellow creatures, more respectable? One reason, I believe, is that an author, like any other so-called artist, is a man in whom the normal vanity of all men is so vastly exaggerated that he finds it a sheer impossibility to hold it in. His overpowering impulse is to gyrate before his fellow men, flapping his wings and emitting defiant yells. This being forbidden by the police of all civilized countries, he takes it out by putting his yells on paper. Such is the thing called self-expression.

—H.L. Mencken from “The Author at Work” (1926)


No comment:

Bird in oil

By Charlie Riedel of the AP.


Other people’s prose:

"New Orleans" is the Big Easy that the tourists go to so they can drink themselves into a stupor on Bourbon Street and connect themselves to a prefab sense of the city's character, which is built on a series of stereotypes -- most of which are self-perpetuated.

At the same time, the real New Orleans and Katrina belong on that blog "Stuff White People Like" because both continually attract a kind of seeker, from Brad Pitt's green rebuilding effort to writer Dave Eggers's "Zeitoun," and on down -- well-meaning people who want to bring their special understanding for the city's tastes, sounds and people.

It's fascinating to watch "Treme" skirt both the drunk's indifference and the intellectual's arrogance. What results in the first three episodes is a much fuller celebration of place and soul; everything you're initially going to remember about the series is the music, but do stick around for the stories. I say all this as someone who lived in New Orleans for four years, in college, and came away with only an infinitesimal (and youthful) understanding of its complexities. Like most visitors, I let the bon temps rouler right off into meaninglessness. All I ever knew for sure about New Orleans was that it was doomed.

Among the endless words I read on Treme, Hank Stuever’s comments in the Washington Post make the most sense.


Slate asks, “Why is Miller Lite’s ad campaign more about the container than the beer?”

Because the beer tastes like shit. Next question.


Sloppy thinking can matter more than months of good reporting. In New Orleans, we learned that after Katrina. No amount of solid journalism from the Times-Picayune, NPR, or the New York Times could overcome the perception that a hurricane, and not a massive engineering failure, caused the flooding in New Orleans. It was, people continue to say even today, a “natural disaster.”

Since oil started pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, the New York times has covered the crisis better than any other national outlet. Today, though, the paper added its voice to the growing murmur of spin that casts what happened on that BP platform as a “natural disaster.” In a story on the political implications of President Obama’s handling of the crisis, Helene Cooper writes:

Natural disasters provide great opportunities, or great peril, for presidents. President Bush’s slow response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, magnified by his now-infamous “You’re doing a heck of a job, Brownie” praise of his FEMA director, Michael Brown, cemented an impression that his administration failed to act with enough urgency to address the suffering of tens of thousands of people.

This morning I wrote an email to the NYT:

Dear Editors,

An article today by Helene Cooper states that both the BP oil spill and Katrina were "natural disasters." That is false.

The spill and the damage from Katrina, at least in New Orleans, were both caused by human error and engineering failures.

Todd Price

This is the paper’s reply:

Dear Mr. Price:

We are aware that many people want us to make the distinction between Katrina and the flooding.

But Ms. Cooper did not call the flooding in New Orleans a natural disaster. She called the hurricane Katrina a natural disaster. And that is correct: a hurricane is a natural disaster.

I think all the families who were displaced and who lost loved ones would agree that a hurricane did exist.

Best regards,

Greg Brock
Senior Editor/Standarde

I considered many responses. In one of the politer versions, I wondered if Mr. Brock’s failure to address Ms. Cooper’s characterization of the oil spill as a “natural disaster” means that the New York Times stands by that description?

I also wanted to point out to Mr. Brock that a hurricane is actually a storm and not a natural disaster. Hurricanes often make landfall without causing damage that anyone would call disastrous. In fact, if our levees had worked as designed, that’s exactly what would have happened in New Orleans.

In the end, what’s the point of a response? I don’t have the impression Mr. Brock is looking for a conversation.


Other people’s prose:

The city descended on Bourbon Street. New Orleanians, as a general rule, do not like to go there. It is a tourist trap, too crowded and cheap. But on Sunday night it was a beating, living, pulsating mass of people, like a capital city of some country after a dictator has been overthrown.

Beer-stained, bead-scattered Bourbon Street was black and gold wall to wall — the bars on either side were half empty, playing either “Stand Up and Get Crunk,” the Saints’ current theme song, or the old standby, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

From the balconies, in lieu of confetti, they threw cocktail napkins. In lieu of expensive Champagne, people raised the cheap stuff.

A middle-aged woman stood in a doorway wiping tears from her eyes. In the middle of the street someone was holding up a banner: “HELL FREEZES OVER”

“We won the Super Bowl, brother,” said a man in a tuxedo, leaning on his friend who was wearing a Saints jersey. “Can you imagine that after 40 years?”

Campbell Robertson in the New York Times.


Satan is a little ticked off at Pat Robertson. He sent this letter to the Star Tribune:

Dear Pat Robertson,

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action. But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"? If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll. You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings -- just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.

Best, Satan

Hat tip to Lily Coyle for serving as a messager for the Lord of Darkness.


Other people’s prose:

Sax can express sexiness like no other instrument; during a striptease, drums snap and pop on the bumps, but the long bleat of the sax is the soundtrack of the grind. Drums are the punctuation; the sax is the sentence.

Alison Fensterstock reviewing a burlesque show in the Times Picayune.


Quote of the day:

Three years ago, the city did away with handwritten parking tickets. Except for a few exceptions, all tickets are now issued using electronic machines that may account for rumors they were preprinted for people expecting handwritten notices, Mendoza said.

“Each ticket includes the license number, vehicle make, model and color of every car in violation. If we had that type of (psychic) ability to predict all of that for every car, we’d use that ability for something else, not writing tickets.”

From New Orleans City Business.


It’s damn dusty around here. Does anyone remember what this knob does?