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Frolic of My Own | Jazz, books, food, and the writing life | Page 2

Other people’s prose:

Customers enter the room, a brightly colored rectangle, near Lexington and 52nd, and it spreads south and west before them. Not very good paintings of Venetian scenes adorn the walls in that peculiar French manner that combines bad taste with deep sophistication. Banquettes line the place, with pockets of bistro tables set tightly between them, everything slightly smaller than it would be in a restaurant owned by Americans.

Sam Sifton reviewing Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte in the New York Times.


In the Times-Picayune, book editor Susan Larson has a wonderful interview with Dan Baum about his book Nine Lives:

"Living in New Orleans, taught me a lot about the paucity of life outside New Orleans," he said. "It's different out here. We're richer out here. We have more stuff, and we drive newer cars. It sounds corny, but life means something in New Orleans. Day-to-day living in New Orleans matters in a way it doesn't out here, and you pay a price for that. It's scary and stressful to live in New Orleans, but I don't have to tell you that. Now we talk about coming back, and we're trying to figure out how we can spend part of each year there."


"I'd never really been to New Orleans before the flood," he said. But he's ready to accept the role of spokesman and defender of the city. "There's still a lot of good will about New Orleans. And, of course, I'm counting on it in a mercenary way. But everybody in the U.S. understands that New Orleans got screwed. This beautiful, benighted poor little city is really like the cute cousin of the family who isn't all that serious but everybody just loves. And everybody understands that she got beaten up and left for dead."

I can’t wait to read this book.


The fine writer Dan Baum, formerly of the New Yorker and the author of Nine Lives, has a blog that’s required reading for freelancers. He talks shop with advice on everything from paying the bills to making people speak:

Here’s the little secret they taught me at The Wall Street Journal: Whenever someone offers to tell you something “off the record,” they really want to tell you. So if you decline their conditions -- can’t attribute it, can’t use it -- they’re going to end up telling you anyway. They can’t resist. So it’s best to refuse the conditions and just be patient for a few minutes.

After reading a few posts, I already feel like a better writer.


The always interesting Roy Clark presents a list of “25 Non-Random Things About Writing Short.” Here are a random items from his non-random list:

  • Keep a journal where you practice short writing.
  • Obey Strunk & White: "Omit needless words."
  • Beware: The infinite space on the Internet creates aerated prose.
  • Obey Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch: "Murder your darlings."
  • That said, every short passage should contain one gold coin, a reward for the reader.
  • Obey Donald Murray: "Brevity comes from selection, not compression."
  • The more powerful the message, the shorter the sentence: "Jesus wept."
  • The best place for an important word in a short passage is at the END.
  • Begin the story as close to the end as possible.
  • Treat all short forms of journalism –- headline, caption, blurb, blog post –- as literary genres.

Blogs have shown that anyone can write 1,500 words. A lot of people can do it well. Saying something smart in 500 words, though, seems to be rare skill.


My friend Alex Rawls has a gripe about the Grammy’s:

... and seriously - is the only way New Orleans musicians can get on the Grammys is as Katrina victims? Lil Wayne had the top selling album of the year and won Grammys for "Lollipop" and "A Milli," but instead he performs the middling, Katrina-themed "Tie My Hands" as part of a medley with Allen Toussaint and the Dirty Dozen with Terence Blanchard. As it went on, the backdrop showed pictures of flooding, as if the waters just receded and we're still just drying out. We're not Jerry's Kids, and the implication that we're only of interest as the survivors of a catastrophe is really insulting. And if they're going to treat us as poor, wounded souls, show our actual damage as it exists today.

He’s right. Our food, our music, our culture is strong. It doesn’t need pity.

Last week I turned in a piece that didn’t once mention Katrina. Not so long ago, I couldn’t imagine a story that wouldn’t touch on the storm. That’s progress. Small progress, but progress.


I must get better at self-promotion. Last Friday, I had a story in the Times-Picayune testing the theories of Steven Shaw. In his book Asian Dining Rules, Shaw offers tips and strategies for getting a great meal at any Asian restaurant–including the humble buffet:

"Remember, " Shaw writes, "a buffet is a system in which the participants exercise a tremendous amount of self-determination. The most facile person at the buffet is going to get the best meal. That person should be you."

Yes, I would be that person. Today, the Panda King would bow to me.

This piece played poorly with the peanut gallery in the comments section. I was called a rambling writer, a wasteful diner, and a woman. Are there women named “Todd”?


I thought croup only afflicted characters in 19th century novels. Turns out it’s real. The boy taught me that. He’s had that distinctive barking cough (other parents will know it instantly) and raspy breath since Saturday. He’s also given up food, preferring to survive on milk and Graham crackers alone. This is not normal. My boy enjoys his food.

This morning, after Andrea and I worked out an elaborate plan that would allow me to teach at least one class today, he threw up twice. That meant I was staying home all day to watch him. I guess parents and undergrads are both destined to live in houses that always have a whiff of vomit.

Not being able to keep down milk seemed like a bad development, but our ever helpful pediatrician returned my call and assured me it was a good sign. He’s on the mend, the doctor said. And it’s true. His cough is gone.

At the moment, he’s happily tearing apart the pantry. By tomorrow he will probably be eating again.


Just to update you on the blizzard down here: we’re all safe, although I slipped slightly on the sidewalk, so be careful out there. There is also a trio of snowmen on the lawn in front of Newcomb Hall.


It’s snowing in New Orleans. The ground is getting white and everyone is snapping cell phone photos of it falling. Is this a sign that it’s time to get in the Christmas spirit?


Snap Judgment: Sex and the City (2008) directed by Michale Patrick King

In the four years since the HBO series ended, the ladies forgot how to act and the writers lost their wits. I enjoyed the series for the snappy patter. Each episode was a like a 1950s sitcom unrestrained by the Hays Code. But I came away from this cinematic disaster with a urge to see Ishtar and Gigli, so that I can figure out what really is the worst movie of all time.

Remarkably, a sequel is in the works. Just shows what I know.


For all those interested in Southern art, you can stay up with latest behind the scenes news from the Ogden Museum of Southern Art at Verso, their new blog.


Seventy-five years ago today, Utah signed the 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition. By 7 p.m., FDR officially declared liquor legal and an hour later a shipment of whiskey arrived at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans.

Today in the Times-Picayune, I wrote about what happened in New Orleans during the nearly 14 years of Prohibition. While researching the article, I ran across this quote from a November, 1933 edition of the paper:

Musty old recipes are being hunted in attics and bureau drawers as skilled bartenders, casting off the derogatory prohibition titles of bootleggers, are preparing for a return of the days when correct drinking will again be among the fine arts and mixing drinks an abstruse science.

Already many of the old favorite cocktails are creeping in and while thousands of of New Orleanians are wondering “just when the repeal of prohibition will become effective,” other thousands are tickling their palates with famous drinks of the pre-Volstead era.

The straight liquor days of prohibition are waning in the opinion of most New Orleans restaurant owners and operators of more elaborate speakeasies.

The Sazerac, the Ramos fizz, the delicious Chicago cooler, the Sarninga bracer and the Widow’s Kiss were somewhat out of place when dry officials were lurking in the shadows and certified credentials were necessary for admission to most speakeasies--when a man didn’t have time to sip and enjoy a forbidden drink. But those days are no more.

Be sure to have a Sazerac or a Ramos Gin Fizz tonight. Don’t worry, it’s perfectly legal. Although judging by the online reactions to my story, the Anti-Saloon League still has adherents among the commenters at NOLA.com.


The Chicago Tribute speculates further on who will take up the toque in Mr. Obama’s Whitehouse. Bayless, not surprisingly, is not interested.

Running the Whitehouse kitchen seems like a job best suited for an anonymous hotel chef. But in this era of culinary celebrities, could the Whitehouse job be a launching pad for a young, ambitious cook? And would the First Family permit a member of its staff to play the celebrity chef game?


My friend Sara Roahen worries that Mr. Obama’s rail thin form might indicate a lack of interest in food (That seems like an odd worry from a svelte lady with a voracious appetite.). The Daily News, though, reports that the Obama family prefers fresh vegetables and often dines out at Rick Bayless’ Topolobampo. That’s a good sign. The offers three suggestions on who will take over the Whitehouse kitchen: Bayless, Daniel Young and Oprah’s personal chef Art Smith

I do hope Obama passes on Smith. Oprah clearly loves her food, and stealing Smith might anger her. That’s like offending the gods. And anyone who’s read a Greek epic knows what happens when you piss off the gods at the start of your adventure.


The sun is shining bright in New Orleans. I assume it’s the same across American.

Yes, we can. Yes, we did. Yes, he did. Yes, we will.


Adequate,” you say? Let’s hope we never find out if Sara Palin is up to job of leading America. In case you need a visual, here’s a look into a future Palin administration.