Mensa probably wouldn’t want me

June 29, 2006 at 8:47 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Every now and again I have to ask myself, how smart am I really? I mean, I can navigate the shallow waters of North American culture with ease–I’m already 10 points ahead cause I don’t watch reality TV, America’s Next Top Model excepted, and I read books more complex than The Da Vinci Code; Lorien and I receive The Globe and Mail daily, and I try to keep up with major current events. However, there are certain things that have been known to stump even this smartie:

1. Umberto Eco’s books. I read The Name of the Rose in Turkey and I’m currently “reading” Foucault’s Pendulum. I can honestly say that I understand about a quarter of what I’m reading (hence the quotation marks)–I figure that since my religious education consisted of a few years at a Lutheran church (probably cause it was the closest church to our house) and attendance at a Baptist preschool (thanks, Mom and Dad, for leaving me ignorant of all but the major Christian players), I’m naturally not cut out for Eco. Or any books that focus heavily on religion. I can’t keep the characters (historical figures?) straight–I don’t know my Cain from my Abel, my David from my Goliath.

2. The inner workings of politics. I can name the leaders of all of the North American countries (thank God there are only 3) and try to follow major political events, but I honestly do not care about the day-to-day quibblings of Congress or Parliament or whatever. In section A of the Globe and Mail, the first 10 pages are devoted to Canadian politics and I can honestly say that I have never once read a story on any of those pages. I skip to A12 where the Toronto and world news starts.

3. Foreign languages. While I’ve managed to master English, I still cannot speak more than Traveller’s Spanish (Donde esta el bano? Mas cerveza, por favor). After 14 years of studying it. I started in 2nd grade. Continued through elementary school. Picked it back up in 9th grade, even took Spanish 3 Honors in 11th grade. 3 semesters in college. I’ve been to Spain. I lived in Miami, for the love of god. But no, ask me something more complicated than De donde eres? and I crumble.

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Bourbon Street and beignets

June 28, 2006 at 8:42 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

On Monday night, Lilly and I went to Pat O’Brien’s to try their famous Hurricane (4 oz rum, 4 oz some crazy red punch-like liquid).

Unfortunately, there are no pictures of Hurricane Lilly, so these are mostly of me.

It’s legal to drink on the streets of New Orleans (or at least in the French Quarter), so we took our beverages and headed to Bourbon Street.

Even on a Monday night, there were plenty of drinkers out seeing and being seen, and even the balconies were full of guys trying to find girls who really wanted beads. Bourbon Street is bars and strip clubs, as evident from the signs.

After we tired of the frat house-style shenanigans (how much do you love that word?) we headed to Cafe du Monde for my last round of beignets before heading out on Tuesday morning.

Oh, fried pillows of dough on a bed of powdered sugar, how I do love thee.

Hurkey the Bone Man

June 28, 2006 at 8:38 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

I’ve never had my fortune told. I am a skeptical believer—I wish I didn’t believe that people have the ability to look into the future, cause that stuff is so easy to dismiss as hippie-dippy bullshit, but I do think that there are some people who have a deeper connection with the universe than the rest of us.

I live a life that is decidedly terrestrial. I’m a Taurus, an earth sign, and I have my feet planted pretty firmly on the ground. I’m creative but not outlandishly so, and my creativity tends toward the practical—I like knitting, spinning, and sewing cause I can make useful things, and I like photography because it is the process of reinterpreting reality. I want to be a librarian, for the love of god. Does it get any more practical than that?

Despite my deep-seated practicality, however, I’ve always had a fascination with the other side of things, the side that firmly embraces the idea that it is possible for humans to have deeper connections than we like to admit. One thing I’ve always felt was ironic is that it’s ok for religious people to fervently believe in things and beings they can’t see, whose existence they cannot prove save for weeping statues and outbursts in unfamiliar tongues, but it’s not ok to believe in others’ ability to predict the future. As I said, I’ve never had my fortune told and New Orleans, being the home of voodoo and the supernatural, seemed like the place to change that.

Last night, Lilly and I were roaming around the French Quarter and in Jackson Square, I saw a man who told people’s fortunes using bones; he was a bone reader. After dinner, we paid him a visit.

Hurkey is an old black man with dreadlocks turning white around his temples. He reads your interest and says, “Sit down, blondie.” He has a calm, soothing voice and a light touch. He asks you to hold the bag of bones while he puts oil on his hands. When he is done, he tells you to empty out all of the bones—all of them now, make sure you don’t miss a single one—onto the table. When you have done so, he takes your hands in his and quickly runs his fingers over yours. You are nervous and feel a little bit silly; out of the corner of your eye you can see other tourists gathered in flocks, watching you, and one even takes your picture as you and Hurkey sit, hands joined, and he tells you about yourself. He says, “Many people are jealous of you, baby. Men find you attractive but intimidating. You ever been told that, child?” You murmur, yeah, you’ve been told that before, but wonder if he’s trying to flatter you. Still holding your hands, eyes closed, he tells you that you should have been a twin and when you say there are no twins in your family, he says that you and your grandmother—your paternal grandmother, at which you feel a little bit proud, cause she was elegant and fascinating, and a bit relieved, cause your other grandmother is in the grip of Alzheimer’s and you don’t like to focus on that—share the same spirit. This, too, may be lip service, but you love it because you don’t look like anyone in your family except her, which you didn’t even realize because the one photo you’d ever seen didn’t look like you at all but then you found a different one and it was like looking at a mirror. Hurkey tells you that you will go far in life, you will grow into a conservative woman (which you hope doesn’t mean politically), you have been hurt in the past and are trying to recover. You are like a winged insect trapped in a lidded jar, beating your wings against the sides and the top, trying to escape and getting hurt in the process. When someone lifts the lid, you are afraid to fly up and away because in your experience, flying up only means pain. All you have to do is look up and realize that the future is wide open and you will be able to fly away and be free. In his baritone, he tells you that you need to start looking up. As he says so, he opens his eyes and releases your hands. Shaken, you sit there and thank him. As you and your friend walk away, he calls after you, “And baby, you got yourself a fine walk. Listen to Hurkey the Bone Man, baby. You gonna go far.”

Thoughts on New Orleans

June 26, 2006 at 3:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So, this is the third time I’ve been to New Orleans.

The first was when I was 17 and was looking at colleges with my dad; we stayed in the French Quarter and toured Tulane but I decided that, because Tulane didn’t have a photography program and New Orleans had more visible roaches than Miami, I wasn’t going to be able to live here. I think that those sentiments are the entirety of what I took from my high school visit.

The second time was in 2001, after September 11 when flights were cheap, and my then-boyfriend and I spent a week here over New Year’s. We were 20 and didn’t have fakes so we couldn’t go out and drink legally in bars. Instead, we bought Red Dog beer from the vending machine at the hostel and paid whoever to buy the cheapest vodka they could find, which we then poured into a flask and sort of stood on the outskirts of bars. As I said, we were here for a week, staying at a hostel and without a car, so we got to know the French Quarter and surrounding areas really, really well. Every morning we would eat at La Madeleine cause V loved the coffee; that restaurant is now closed, whether from Katrina or something else, I don’t know. We went into all of the galleries and quirky little museums and shops in the Quarter. My favorite was the coin and gun shop, which I first refused to go into, being interested in neither coins nor guns, except when they’re in my pocket or being pointed at me, respectively. However, it turned out to be one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever been in. It was a museum of US and world history, viewed through the lenses of money and arms which, after all, pretty much make the world go round. There were old Roman coins and currency from each of the US states before the union; there were swords and muskets and shields. Somehow, we managed to miss the Pharmacy Museum, or maybe it wasn’t here at the time, but I’ve passed by it several times so far, but it’s always closed and I can’t find its hours anywhere. I love eccentric, single-focus museums. They are so much more interesting than huge institutions, mainly because they reflect the psychology of collecting. Anyway, I enjoyed New Orleans in 2001, though I was certainly grateful to get out of the shitty hostel and go home.

This time, the third time, I’ve gotten the requisite food tour: the beignets (like crack they’re so good), the jambalaya and gumbo and crawfish etouffee, but I haven’t been to the Garden District or Bourbon Street (not really worth it but certainly fun people-watching, which I’ll be doing tonight), and I haven’t seen much of the Katrina damage. When I was 11, Hurricane Andrew hit Miami and shortly after that, my family experienced a personal tragedy indirectly related to the hurricane (no one died, though). The images of Katrina and the resulting fuck up on the part of our illustrious president and his cronies hit me in a way that I haven’t been hit in a long time, not even during September 11th. I only knew a couple of people in New York at the time, and I hadn’t been there (still haven’t), so I didn’t really feel a sense of personal loss during those days. The images were horrifying, of course, and I still reflect on how much the world changed that day, but what I felt and still feel for the people who went through Katrina is the empathy of someone who’s seen firsthand the damage that hurricanes can cause. I know what it’s like to be unprepared, as a city, for the absolute devastation that follows the storm.

I have to say, though, that despite Hurricane Andrew’s flattening of Miami and its suburbs, we fared better than New Orleanians. At least we had a city to live in. We weren’t driven out by rising waters and governmental indifference. Looting occurred, of course, but not on the scale that it did here. I was talking to a cab driver here who was telling me his hurricane story. He is originally from East Africa but has lived in New Orleans for 15 years. He figured that he could be considered a native because he had hurricane experience. He and his mother left 5 hours before the storm hit and, after sitting in traffic for 10 hours, managed to complete the 200-mile journey to a relative’s house. Can you imagine? 10 hours to go 200 miles? He wasn’t able to get back to the city for 6 months and when he did, he found that his house, the first house he ever owned, had been badly damaged, first by wind and then by water. Now, the city is at 60% population and while the tourist districts are up and running, the residential neighborhoods haven’t fared so well. Many of the people driven out by unlivable conditions were black and poor and there is some indication that the racial demographics of NO are changing. There are more Hispanics here than before, for example, apparently drawn by employment prospects. I don’t know if NO is expected to become richer or poorer, or if the original black residents are expected to come back (or are being asked back, as I hope, since this is their home, but doubt, cause this is also the US and those who are poor usually fend for themselves).

So this time, even though I haven’t been able to see everything, I’ve enjoyed the French Quarter and the southern style of the people, and I’ve decided that I really like New Orleans. It’s hotter than hell and the roaches are fierce and it smells worse than any other city I’ve been in, and it’s not always pretty, but it has a charm to it that I think is unique to the south. I loooooove the laid back attitudes of New Orleanians. I love that Mardi Gras happens here. I love the bead trees. I love the hospitality. I love that you can drink on the street. I LOVE the food. If I lived here I would eat beignets for breakfast every day and gain 50 pounds. I love that this is the seat of American jazz. I love the Frenchness that is still so American. New Orleans is one of the most interesting cities in the United States, with a rich history and unique traditions, its own music and accent and food. I still don’t know if I could live here–I’m pretty much over the humidity and roaches scare the shit out of me–but I can honestly say that I have enjoyed every minute of my stay here. Sometimes, that which you love the most you have to let grow on you, kind of like a song that you don’t get at first and then something about it catches your attention and, after repeated listenings, you realize that its complexity was what confused you at first, and it took you a while to find its heart under the layers, but once you did you knew you would identify with it forever.

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June 26, 2006 at 3:11 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

French Quarter neighborhood

How can anyone resist cats on a loom?

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June 25, 2006 at 5:22 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The hip-hop generation is often maligned for embracing only crass commercial and superficial values: the bling of “ghetto fabulous” superstars with cash to burn, the rampant degradation of women, and the glorification of turf wars and gang violence. I wouldn’t exactly call myself a rap afficionado or even a fan, but that narrow-minded approach to the music, the movement, and the culture really gets to me. Same with the attitudes toward rock or goth or heavy metal. Why aren’t young people–especially teenagers–allowed to explore things that aren’t mainstream? I know that when I was in junior high and high school, I totally got into the pop-punk scene, which wasn’t really mainstream, and it wasn’t about subjugation or witchcraft or whatever stereotypes the counterculture evokes. It was simply about finding something that agreed with who I was at the time–an angry, insecure, smart kid who needed an outlet that whatever was the mainstream music of the time didn’t and couldn’t fulfill.

The point of this diatribe actually has to do with the conference. Yesterday afternoon I attended a presentation called “From the Bronx to the Burbs,” about including hip hop in libraries. The two presenters–there was supposed to be a third, the author of the book Why White Kids Love Hip Hop but he had to cancel because he was sick–were young women who grew up with hip hop culture and wanted to include it in their professional careers as librarians. They talked a little bit about the history of hip hop, which I read about in Can’t Stop Won’t Stop. The history of the movement or culture or whatever is pretty interesting–it turns out that hip hop isn’t all about women (“wimmin”), money and drugs. The audience at the lecture (the room was completely full and wasn’t only young people, as I sort of thought it would be) was interested in learning how to draw in kids who relate to hip hop, and also about preserving local hip hop culture in their towns.

I really enjoyed the presentation. I love small, community movements that people can’t help but get involved in. Most movements that have changed the world have come from the people, which is why it’s so important to keep people informed–in their lives, in their communities, they are the ones who can effect change, and I try to always remember that when we’re informed we can do anything.

Madame Secretary

June 25, 2006 at 11:11 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Last night was the welcoming address featuring the keynote speaker, Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State under Bill Clinton (pun intended). There was the usual pomp and circumstance, lots of people to be introduced, a bunch of short speeches by people like Ray Nagin, mayor of New Orleans, whose speech was funny and entertaining. Everyone was patting themselves and ourselves on the back for having the balls to hold the conference here after Katrina and for attending the conference, but I did like what Nagin said, that by holding the conference here despite everything, we’re sending the message that New Orleans is okay. There were also brief speeches by the governor general of Louisiana, as well as the president of the ALA (pictured below).

Madeleine Albright was promoting her new book, The Mighty and the Almighty. I don’t remember the subtitle, but it’s basically about the role of religion in US international relations.


(Sorry for the crappy pix.)

Her speech was pretty good. She, of course, commended everyone for attending the conference blah blah blah, and then she started discussing some of the main points of her book. She was actually pretty inspiring. In outlining some of her suggestions for a change in the US approach to other religions, she said that we should remember all major relgions share a basic tenet–the golden rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism–they all say the same thing. We would do well to remember that.

She talked a bit about terrorism and its place in the Muslim world. In particular, I thought her comment that terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda (sp?) are trying to convince Muslims that they are victims, and if they succeed in doing so, the world is in major trouble.

Finally, she said that questioning our country’s foreign policies does not mean that we are unpatriotic–patriotism has nothing to do with blindly following the leader if you do not agree with what the leader says and does. That’s one thing that has always pissed me off–just because I question political leaders and various policies, both domestic and foreign, does not mean that I don’t care about the US.

Anyway, I have to attend a lecture now. Peace out, yo.

Thoughts on librarianship

June 24, 2006 at 3:35 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

This morning I went to what turned out to be a really interesting lecture called “Intellectual Freedom in Rural Libraries: How to Keep the Library for Everyone.” I’m not planning on working in a rural library or anything, but I figured I could use a refresher on intellectual freedom. It’s always been one of my “things,” and I believe very strongly in unrestricted access to information. One of the reasons that I wanted to pursue librarianship was my interest in intellectual freedom. I think that’s one of the few things that’s important in the world today. So much of the “news” in the United States comes from a handful of sources (AOL TimeWarner, for example) that it’s almost impossible to know if what you’re reading or watching or hearing is true, or if it’s spun through the media machine (it most certainly is). I’m attending a lecture tomorrow called “All the News You Never Get: Breaking the International News Blockade,” which I’m really looking forward to to which I’m really looking forward which I’m really looking forward to.

Not to get off topic or anything.

Anyway, the man who presented the intellectual freedom piece is a librarian who teaches at the University of Buffalo [go Bills! (sorry, that was a shout-out to my mom and my other Buffalonian relatives)]. He’s worked in rural libraries all over, and visits libraries constantly. Even on his honeymood. Which might be a little bit much. However, he’s certainly well-versed in the unique challenges faced by rural librarians. He went through a bunch of ways librarians and libraries can emphasize their commitment to intellectual freedom–by doing small things, such as using IF-related quotations as signatures on their email, to bigger undertakings, like prominently displaying banners outside the library with IF material on them. He made a clear connection between the Bill of Rights, and particularly the First Amendment, as well as the Constitution and our other founding documents, and intellectual freedom. I liked that. I think that, as a fairly cynical American, it’s easy to forget that we, too, own the First Amendment and the Constitution–by that, I mean that while the First Amendment is often used to uphold the constitutionality of white-power groups and the like, it can be applied equally well to the more inclusive side of the United States. One of the speaker’s biggest points was “don’t back down.” Intellectual freedom must be protected if we are to ever gain an understanding of our politics, our cultures and societies, and the international relations our country embarks upon.

God I’m a prostelytizer, huh? (Ha.)

Anyway, I’m turning up some cool stuff at this conference. This afternoon I’m going to a lecture on representing hip-hop in library collections, and tonight is Madeleine Albright’s keynote address. Sweet!

L is for librarian

June 24, 2006 at 3:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Today (June 23; I wrote this from the hotel last night but posting it at the convention today) I helped the people at the Public Programs Office set up the booth. I did random tasks and errands.

To solve the problem of the instruction to bring business casual attire that I ignored, Lilly and I went to Magazine Street. Apparently, “magazine” means “shop” or similar in French. Them Frenchies are so clever with their words. And our adoption of their words is clever, too. I’m pretty sure that “croissant” translates to “crescent.” (Ask me how I figured that one out. Ok, fine, I’ll tell you—New Orleans’ city nickname is “The Crescent City.” There’s a breakfast cafe here called Croissant D’Or, and croissants are shaped like crescents. Yup, I’m a smartie.) Anyway, we had like no time to really search Magazine Street cause we were meeting Lilly’s friends at Emeril’s for dinner at 7.

Bead trees on Magazine:

I was looking for a skirt (the pants search is usually ridiculously difficult and fruitless, since my body proportions are obnoxiously non-conformist). After looking through one store that seemed only to contain some very strange ideas of trendy (really ugly crochet, anyone?) and trying on three skirts the fit of which I can only describe as “retarded,” I finally found a semi-decent button-down shirt that will have to suffice as my nod to the business casual world. Something tells me I’m not cut out to work in a real, proper business.

Anyway, we had dinner at Emeril’s, which was a very nice experience.

The food was good—I had the gumbo of the day with homemade andouille sausage (we’re not going to consider the ingredients of that one) and a delicious tomato-mozzarella salad, the world’s priciest lemon drop martini, and a piece of stinky but fabulous sheep’s-milk cheese for dessert.

Q: How many librarians does it take to change a lightbulb?

June 23, 2006 at 1:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A: How the hell should I know?

Greetings from the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans!

I arrived here yesterday to find that my roommate and I had been reassigned to a different hotel without our knowledge. Fabulous. However, it all worked out ok. Those of you who have listened to my whiny questions about how a girl from Texas could possibly be cool will be pleased to know that Lilly turned out to be quite excellent. There are cool Texans, after all. She’s a vegetarian, which makes her more progressive than I, and her politics are liberal. Excellent. She’s an experienced conference attendee, so she’s making sure I get the full experience. Gotta love that!

So today I’m working for four hours, helping to set up the ALA-Public Programs Office’s booth. Then for the next three days I’ll be answering questions about public programs, I suppose. Which will be interesting, considering that I know nothing about public programs. Anyway, I expect it’ll resolve itself in the end.

It turns out that we were supposed to wear business casual clothing for this volunteer thing. I guess I was only reading the emails that contained money and hotel information, because all I brought was jeans, tank tops, and one skirt. I figured I would pack for a southern city in the summer, not a job interview. So after my shift today, Lilly and I are going shopping to get me a pair of decent black pants, cause it’s probably not kosh for me to wear the same white skirt three days in a row. (Take note, however, that if it was ok I would do it.)

Other than that, the only thing I have to report is that it is damn humid here. I am so glad I no longer live in Miami, cause honestly I think my humidity days are over. (Don’t even bother trying to convince me that the humidity in Toronto will kill me, cause I’m pretty sure that no matter how humid Toronto gets, it doesn’t have like 8 months of it.)

Pictures tomorrow, darlings.

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