Thursday, April 9, 2009

New Orleans

Wherever my journeys take me, I strive to fine some sort of art or fiber crafts. During my business travels last week in New Orleans, I was challenged to find fiber arts at the end of each workday. I was told that the only rug hooking shop was ruined in hurricane Katrina, and the owner never returned. I did find a shop where a pleasant woman had a 10' loom and was crafting beautiful cotton rugs. I wish I had been able to spend more time there but my companions were on a mission in another direction and did not share the love of fiber that I have. They wanted to party, and I wanted to make things and meet people. I think I'm getting old!!!I was finally able to find a needlepoint/ knitting shop that had a lot of fun fibers! My souvenier from my trips is almost always something that I can use for my crafting, and I found a couple of sweet skeins of wool and some funky knitting needles to bring home.Although I protested, the proprieter wrapped my small purchase in glorious New Orleans style with colorful tissue paper and loads of curly ribbon. I had protested the wrapping because I knew it would become ruined in my suitcase. But she insisted that everyone who came to the city deserved a special present, even if they had purchased it for themselves. I was in the city for the National Afterschool Association and National Principals Association conferences. The workshops were varied and many were right on target for the subjects I wanted to learn about. The cast from the new 'Electric Company" PBS show did a great performance for us. If you have young school age children who need to improve their reading skills make sure they catch the show on PBS. Colin Powell did a presentation, and although I have heard him speak several times I never tire of his accolades about his life and adventures. He is a "real" person, and although he has been company to leaders of numerous countries he is the kind of person you could enjoy a cuppa coffee with and feel comfortable.
One evening I walked to the river and took in the view of the barges and activity. There is a time difference from Maine, and of course it is much further West so it stayed light for almost two hours later in the evening which was quite nice.
There were shuttle buses that would take us to and from our hotel each day. One day the bus driver passed around an old (1940's) photo of a family and asked if we could identify who one of the children was. It turned out that our bus driver was cousin to Louis Armstrong, and they grey up together in New Orleans. That was a family photo from their childhood. Our driver said that when Louis died he had sung at his funeral, and still sings at festivals to honor his cousin. So of course we asked him to sing for us as he drove along. He did...and he sounded just like Louis Armstrong! Exactly! He sang "Hello Dolly" and several other songs before we arrived at our hotel. It was quite a treat!
Art , music and spirit are at the core of New Orleans. It is on every corner, in every building and on every face. This year I noticed "Trolly Art" all over the city. Artists used the shape of a trolley to paint their images, and the "art trolleys" were set on stands. Here are a few:
There was a nice sidewalk art show that included a wide variety of styles. The art was stretched on all four sides of this block with numerous artists displaying their work for sale. Many of their works were very somber depictions of what they had experienced during Katrina. Others were jubilant, colorful depictions of the spirit of the city and it's inhabitants.You never know what you will see as you walk down the street. There were mimes who were painted all gold or silver standing as statues. And of course they all had their bucket out for tips. Just freeze on your crate and let the money come to you! This is called self free! Notice the pet alligator?
This large group had a lot of talent! They played some fantastic jazz, and you couldn't keep your feet from dancing. Traffic is secondary to pedestrians, and everyone dances in the street. The citizens of new Orleans will use any excuse for a parade. I saw a different one each evening. This was the beginning of a wedding parade. First the band, then the bride and groom, then the wedding party, and they were followed by all their guests dressed in costumes with lovely parasols. Of course 50 other people joined in so the parade extended almost two blocks.And then there were the pirates. Hundreds of them...perhaps thousands! We encountered them everywhere, and of course they had to have a few parades because...this is New Orleans and a good party has to have a parade!The costumes were wonderful to see, and some pirates were quite sober and gentle in appearance.
Some acting was involved and most of the pirates played their part quite well with snarls and "harr harr me matey's"!
And then there were the fun pirates. This lady with the bodacious "tata's" reminded me of Bernadette Peters.
And there were also "dead" pirates. They had makeup that made them appear quite ghoulish, especially after dark. Often they had blood paint spattered on them as if they had been in a swordfight. Some like this gentleman wore contacts that made their eyes appear quite creepy.
Of course alcohol has a little bit to do with the spirit of new Orleans. Bourbon Street after dark is still the same as it was 30 years ago. Bubba Gumps was rather quiet compared to many of the bars, so our group had some shrimp and an ale so we could say we had been there.
Most of our time was spent within a 1/2 mile of the French Quarter area, which is high ground in New Orleans. During Katrina it suffered some flooding, but had more wind damage. We did tour a church school in an area that had been totally flooded...the 9th district. The terrible scars from Katrina have not healed much at all, and many homes have been condemned. You can easily see the marks on the houses where searchers went in when the water receded two months after the storm. The marks show the date of the search, and if bodies or animals were found. That area has not come back from the distruction of the flood. There are clusters of people living there, and they say that the clusters are growing. People need other people, and if they work together they can bring back the spirit to that impoverished area. Hopefully the crime and gangs in some areas of the city have been dispursed.
New Orleans is a special place that I always enjoy visiting. My perception has always been that there are some who live there who want hand outs and do not feel the need to earn their monies. I see that in many large cities. The majority work hard and continue to support those who don't. If they continue to work hard and can get everyone involved in the effort they will be able to build back what was lost. New Orleans is still there, and still has the spirit and music that I love.