What it means…

“I have described New Orleans as a city of feeling …” writes Sarah M. Broom in The Yellow House 

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If you’ve been following this blog for sometime you know that my ancestral roots are dug deep in Louisiana. New Orleans is a pin on my map,  but the New Orleans I grew up spending time in most every summer of my youth had little to do with the place that lived in most people’s imagination. As Broom points out, people often have a visceral reaction when you merely utter the words New Orleans. Sometimes it isn’t even an actual emotion they name; it may just be a sound.

This is why Broom’s book so hit home. On so many levels.

In The Yellow House, she explores her hometown — New Orleans East — “across the bridge” from the one that’s  minutes-but-worlds away from the New Orleans of the of gas lights and music and all-night reverie.  Of the French Quarter she asks: “How had one-square mile come to stand for the entire city?”

“The East” lies at best on the edges of  imagination, but Broom somehow knew at a young age, that she needed to secret away details about the her home — The Yellow House — the life that filled it up, and the ground upon which it precariously sat.

“I was still writing everything down as I had learned to do in high school. In the Yellow House, especially rote detail as if by doing, I was making things real, findable, fighting disappearance. I could collect evidence.”

It’s another August and it’s about the time of year that my family would be readying the suitcases for that trip east, to visit my grandfather and the rest of the family who remained rooted somehow in that uncertain ground.  It seems fitting that Broom’s book would arrive this week in keeping with tradition. It took me away, back there. I’m still walking around listening and looking chasing my own ghosts.

You can read my review of Broom’s far-reaching exploration of erasure and belonging here  at latimes.com Arts and Books.

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My Advanced Reader’s Copy: So many deep insights, indelible quotes

I know what it means …

A FEW weeks back, I received a  voicemail from a friend who was on a desperate search for crawfish. He knows all the same Louisiana spots that I know, so I was at first confused by the phone call. I was on my way to a conference and prepping my final notes in the car so admittedly I was distracted. But I kept listening. When he got to, “My usual spot on Arlington and Vernon is gone!”

That snapped me to attention.

He kept repeating: “It’s just rubble. Like fresh rubble. Like this just happened.”

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The remains of the New Orleans Fish Market

There are places we frequent and then there are places that define us—places that make neighborhoods truly neighborhoods for us. The New Orleans Fish Market was mine.

It was plain and worn around the edges, but you knew they would have precisely what you needed. Plus you got a little taste of “home: People asking about the Saints, carrying on about “Your people and ’em” and of course, “So, when you going home?”

I have been shopping at the New Orleans Fish Market for decades. And before that, I followed my mother into a Louisiana Fish Market that was just a little further down the street, on the north side, if I recall correctly. It had a little yellow shingle sign that lit up at dusk, but most of all I remember that it would bring New Orleans back to my mother.

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“It’s just rubble. Like fresh rubble. Like this just happened.”

This was an essential stop for her to get the proper ingredients for her gumbo, jambalaya and étouffée. No other market had the proper crab or shrimp. Sometimes she would have special items flown in (Creole Cream Cheese). I know for my mother, having this market an easy ten minute drive from our home meant that she wouldn’t ever be *that* far away from New Orleans.

It was the fact that it was so specific and specialized and that if you were “in-group” or at least in the know, you knew to stop there. You also knew that if you didn’t have time to get over to Pete’s to get your hot links, the Fish Market stocked them as well. They knew that sometimes you needed to grab everything at once in a pinch. Save extra steps.

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Mel Melcon via L.A. Times

 

Word is that the business owners are looking for another spot. I know a tearful group of folks have been posting on their Facebook page wondering what happened. With the holidays coming up and gumbo season in full swing, I know there will be plenty of patrons who will be as slack-jawed as I and my friend Darryl were to here this news.

I had to see it with my own eyes to believe that it was true. And even still, I can’t.

Missing New Orleans in Los Angeles, for sure.

It wasn’t just a building, it was an extension of a community. It was a hub and a place  for Southern families to reconnect. I wasn’t born in the South but the South lives in me. This was a place to nourish that small but significant part of me. That home inside of home.

 

 

 

“California was a prayer”

THE GREAT NEW ORLEANS musician, raconteur and historian, Danny Barker gave the West Coast 11 months. He was unimpressed, called California “a flim-flam town.” Jelly Roll Morton invested a little more time, zooming from gig to gig, late into the night, drumming up excitement around himself. Harold Battiste, Jr. put down deep roots here in Los Angeles, yet always kept his connection home in New Orleans alive. For a time, he was the first call people from home made when they landed in L.A.; the one who would help you get your footing. In other words, his was the number scrawled on the matchbook.

Each of them journeyed to Los Angeles with a different set of hopes and achieved divergent results. The region shaped them at times as much as they shaped it. California wasn’t just a dream, for some of these Louisiana musicians it was a prayer. My full piece looking at Louisiana  musicians in Los Angeles is now up here at Los Angeles Review of Books.

 

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L.A. to LA: Home Sweet Home(s)

I’VE WRITTEN some here about my summer trips to Louisiana  and just how and why New Orleans became part of my yearly ritual as a child.

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The old luggage tag from my mother’s old train case.

It wasn’t, however, until I was fully grown that I understood  just how significantly New Orleans had marked me —  both inside and out. Nor did I realize how much it mattered within my being.

Consequently, in the last few years,  after a very long time away, I have been trying to make up for lost time. An editor and friend of mine had a conversation a couple of years ago that finally (just a few weeks ago) worked its way into an essay.

The piece went live this week on Zòcalo Public Square. You can read the piece here.

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One of the first streets my early forebears lived on in New Orleans

New Orleans was calling …

I JUST COMPLETED an important reporting and research trip that helped connect some dots and solve some riddles that had been rolling around inside.IMG_9007

Back home,  I’m trying to get the last bits and pieces of writing finished before the year turns and while everything is still fresh and at the tip of my tongue.

Lots of walking, looking, listening and pulse-taking — and loads of synchronicity with a nice chaser of serendipity.

Los Angeles feels more like winter than New Orleans did. I landed and it was in the 80s, humid and feeling oh so familiar.

Thanks, Lewis. We got a lot started and now we’ll see how it all unfolds.

 

Make It Funky

Remembering Allen Toussaint

 

 

New album due out in 2016. Details here.

From producer Joe Henry’s statement:

“Joining Allen over four days this past October in a Hollywood studio were the rhythm section of Jay Bellerose and David Piltch joined by other masters of understated invention—guitarist Bill Frisell; legendary tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd; multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz; the luminous singer Rhiannon Giddens; and the irrepressible composer/arranger/pianist Van Dyke Parks, who had a long friendship and collaborative relationship with Allen dating back to the early 1970s.”

 

Signing off with this: