Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tennessee Williams Fest 2015

Literally Tennessee
Debbie Lindsey and Phil LaMancusa

“What I love about New Orleans is that it tolerates
every kind of eccentricity. Tennessee Williams
didn’t end up there by accident.”
—James Lee Burke
The Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival (March 25-29) will be held around town and every year we give you and update and perspective. Lots of authors, informed speakers, thespians and celebratory occurrences. You know the drill: go to tennesseewilliams.net, find out what’s going on and don’t miss it!
In essence what we have here is a celebration of the written word, the spoken word and the word as performed; words that are thought out before their utterances. It’s a world where we are not allowed to control outcomes; it’s a ride that we allow ourselves to be taken on--where we are at the mercy of the wordsmiths.  An intellectual Twilight Zone. It’s ‘The Krewe To View A Thing Or Two’ and good old Tennessee is the Grand Marshall. A festival of this type, proportion and importance is a celebration that is as necessary as breath itself.
In this age of technology and technocrats we have a tendency to confuse information with intelligence and-truth be told- there is a vast difference; there is a vast difference between knowledge and wisdom. Words, music, art and the theater are personal experiences; to have them is inclusive. To dwell in the world of personal communicative device existence is its opposite; a person becomes exclusive. E.g. have you ever looked at a person (or even yourself) mesmerized by their appliance and wondered where exactly they were? Wherever it is, it is exclusive and you are excluded from it. The same works for books, I’m sure you’re ready to point out; except---except--- when you’re in someone’s company that’s reading a book, listening to  a speaker or watching a play they’re not lost to you as when your BFF is texting “wut r U up 2?” to someone equally as lost----maybe in Kalamazoo----while  you’re eating.
“At this point I will ask you to please shut down all electronic devices” will be the first thing you will hear at all functions. Which means everybody pay attention(!). And then you will step back in time and space; a time when people showed you celluloid photographs of their kids, where motion pictures were not in color hues; where imagination was just that--- an image nation. Books have pages to turn and your attention to hold, relating to you as an audience--- with a responsibility to connect with you--- the same as a speaker, performance or any other work of art.
New Orleans was, and hopefully still is, a fertile spiritual magnet and home for creativity. You, obviously are creative and you also read (you’re reading this); basically, I’m preaching to the choir. So, let me commend to you a book that, as a New Orleanian, should be on your shelf. The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans by Susan Larson. The book, I find, is a love song to this city and the literature, writers and publications that sprang forth from our soil here, going back a century and more.
The reason that this piece goes into Where Y’at in the April issue is so that you don’t have time to forget the event (counting on you being one of the knowledgeable who snap up Where Y’at the minute it hits the stands). If you’re not in that number and have missed the weekend of wonder, get Susan Larson’s book. I guarantee that you’ll be salivating for this experience next year. Go forth and fill yourself with this adventure!  An ‘Eponymous Playwright Festival’ is what they call it; what does that mean?

April 2015

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
The Cross Eye Bear
A B C M Puppies?
            This year at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival (March 25-29) there was a panel which was held in an upstairs banquet room at a great New Orleans restaurant (you know, the one on the corner by Jackson Square); the name of the panel: “The Alleviation Of Accepted Intelligence”. At this gathering the new Pi-Phone ‘Infinity 3.14’ was presented; this is the device that will finally make thinking for yourself an obsolete concept. It phones, texts, tweets, skypes, wakes you up, puts you to sleep and reminds you to floss. It chooses your reading material for you and then reads it to you. It makes reservations at the restaurant of its choice, powers the GPS into the car which will drive itself (and you) to its destination and hold a pleasant dinner conversation with you. You need never have another independent thought in your brain; it’s better than beer. However; during its presentation, by the inventor himself, it will be stolen.
Of course, the inventor/prominent professor is an accomplice to the theft. Yes, party to the heist, as well as a pair of lovely cat burglars and a burglar that happens to be a cat. Also three accomplices that will be working at the restaurant and a ‘little person’ (don’t call him a midget) who will be driving a mule with a buggy behind (pun intended).
            They have trained for this like Ocean’s Eleven in a house that was purchased by them on Conti Street with a four million dollar winning lottery ticket, supplied by the Chinese government (you knew the game was rigged, didn’t you?). The plan is to steal the device for the Chinese for another winning lottery ticket (a really BIG one) and before the handover, double cross them and ransom it to the CIA for even more money. This achievement will be tricky because in reality the gadget is a fake.
            The plan (allegedly) is that the two catburglarwomen will construct a bogus model with the appropriate bells and whistles and at the right moment the hostess at the restaurant’s entranceway will lock the doors and scream bloody murder, the bartender will douse the lights set off some firecrackers and a cook will run from the kitchen yelling “Liar! Liar! Pants on fire!! Run for your lives!” The catwomen then high wire themselves from the Cathedral tower, grab the professor and drop him and the contraption into the passing surrey and the little guy (Hinch the Hunchback Henchman) will drive them away. The carriage will be immobilized on Chartres St. blocking traffic and everyone will fade into the woodwork and sell the phony to whoever can pony up the most money first. They will then go back to their other lives; not any wiser, but richer than crème brulee gelato.
            What happens, in reality, is that there is a sudden storm that comes from out of nowhere and a bolt of lightning hits the high wire and zaps the contrivance and the professor/inventor whose essence (mind, spirit, intellect) is imprisoned in the fake device (making it quite real), the catwomen are likewise zapped into a state of semi consciousness, the cook runs out of the kitchen and grabs the professor and the machine and drops them into the passing buggy;  the bartender and the hostess abandon the caper, instead leading all the patrons to ‘safety’ and the feline is picked up by a passing helicopter only to reveal the whole plot to Russian agents posing as local weather reporters (Bob and Margaret). Hinch (Hunchback Henchman) is the only one cool of head enough to abandon the rig (as planned) grab the mechanism (that now houses the professor’s brain) and the lifeless body of the prof, scale a twenty foot fence (strong little f**ker), steal a car and make it to Mexico, through Laredo, before morning; there to await the other gang members and either work out a solution for reuniting the professor with his soul and spirit or say ‘screw it’ and sell everything to the highest bidder.
Things really get strange when  Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins show up to give advice and get a piece of the action; the catwomen, who have become lovers, arrive in a Land Rover which has a tracking device planted by the KGB who come in by helicopter with the feline double agent; the bartender and the hostess, who have also become lovers, arrive by motorboat held at gunpoint by Chinese agents; the cook hacks his way out of the jungle with a chef’s knife followed by a SWAT team from Quantico and the device powers itself up and creates a tsunami hoping to escape with Hinch to Tahiti and from there rule the world.  The question being: who gave the lifeless professor those hickeys and why the smile on his face?
How do I know this? Am I the Professor? The Felonious Feline? The Hunchback Henchman?  Or did I just punk you for an April Fool?

2nd week JazzFest 2015

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Shallow Water, Oh Mama
Thank You, Jimmy, Once Again
Liuzza’s By The Track (1518 N Lopez St.) is presumably if not ostensibly the unauthorized New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival command post, since it’s spitting distance from the Sauvage Street entrance gate and a frequent rendezvous before and after the days events; don’t take my word for it, take my word for it.
We live in the neighborhood, blocks away, and it IS our second home as only the by-choice-beloved, more-than-comfortable, watering-hole-that-has-adopted-you, could ever be in anyone’s life. If you’re anything like us (and who isn’t?), wherever you find yourself, in the world, you latch onto a piece of real estate that becomes your anchor and refuge from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Every citizen of our unique city has such a place, from a nightly booty shaking at Vaughn’s to meetings of Bill’s Friends at Fair Grinds coffee house (sometimes both). It’s in our blood, possibly from drinking Mississippi river water, or maybe because most of us didn’t have a proper home when we arrived here and still are not comfortable chez-nous---I don’t know—it’s moot for now; catch me over drinks and we’ll talk.
Back to Liuzza’s By The Track (LBTT), we know the staff by name, age and temperament; we know, likewise, the regulars that we encounter upon our arrivals and they, in turn, know us. We celebrate birthdays, game days and theme days (Karen’s going away party was a classic). LBTT is known for its stellar sandwiches (all meats cooked in house), its gumbo, daily specials and legendary BBQ shrimp po-boy which, I’m sure, will be served in Heaven, if/when I get there. Cozy in size, large in stature, comfy, quirky and intrepid in operation; a classic New Orleans gem.
The kitchen rocks into the lunch and early dinner hour (food stops at 7:00 pm) and regular bar clients tend to drift in to watch Jeopardy, commiserate over world events, local doings and Vanna White’s choice of wardrobe for the evening.
And every March, come hell or high water, before any of you swinging Richards have even made reservations or purchased tickets, Jimmy Lamarie begins preparations for the annual Greeting Of The Festers at Liuzza’s. Scheduling, ordering, organizing and coordinating above and beyond what’s been accomplished all year by the gallant and valiant staff.
Now, somebody reading this is sure to have had the life (bordering on near death) experience in preparing for an impending onslaught of activity and the need for all bases being covered. Contingency for correcting errors that involve planning, and the solutions to unexpected challenges requiring experience, imagination and intelligence become essential ingredients for success. Slalom skiing, wrestling alligators, French kissing sharks and driving getaway cars come to mind here. 
In other words, being ready when Murphy raises his ugly head (when the fit hits the Shan) and being ready to make snap decisions, turn on a dime and roll with the punches. Multiply that. In New Orleans, being able to perform this way, shooting from the hip so to speak is elevated to an art form. You have to anticipate the party and its attendees, choose the best people for the appropriate jobs and then give them rein. Back away and only step in when necessary. Jimmy’s job as owner of LBTT is as much hands on as hands off.
You’ll see the welcoming sign painted in the asphalt outside the iconic location and inside will be the same madcap crew that, as neighbors, we see all year long; like a well oiled machine; before, during and after Jazz Fest hours offering  Bloody Marys and other libations, signature menu items and very cold beer, reasonably priced.
The chairs and tables become a banquette gathering place, music on street corners, sidewalk vendors selling, and swirling drinks swilled. Old friends greet each other and acquaintances that were made last year and in years past specific to this celebration embrace as long lost co-conspirators in the happiest event this side of Paradise.
Very few people will spot Jimmy, he’s a person who has the ability to be unobtrusive but he is a force of nature that is used to getting things done his way; quietly (okay, sometimes not quietly), quickly and competently. Period. It’s a job that I wouldn’t want and suspect that I couldn’t do. He does it.
That being said, say “Thank you Jimmy” and if you’re of a mind to find (what we would consider) an affordable rent, register and participate in our voting processes; observe our recycling programs, rules of the road and land; if you’re willing to accept the things you cannot change and change the things that you can; if you can accept our funk and not our failures, be ready to yell “Who Dat!” and blaze a trail of fried chicken bones through our neighborhoods, write letters to the editors, swim in our public pools, dance in the streets and fall in love with our sass and sassafras: y’all stay.
If not, we’ll see you next year. I’ll keep your bar stool warm.

1st week Jazz Fest 2015

Po Boy View
Phil LaMancusa
Know Jack?
Jazz Fest Scavenger Hunt
            Okay, so you’ve had the best Bloody Mary in New Orleans (or have you?). You’ve have had the best barbecued shrimp po boy at Liuzza’s By The Track and mingled with the throngs in and around the Fest and you think that you’ve got a handle on our city (for Chrissakes, don’t call it The Big Easy!).
            Have you had breakfast at Betsy’s Pancake House, Mena’s Palace, Slim Goodies or The Please U? Had a po boy at Domilise’s, crawfish at the Broadview, tippled one or two at Roosevelt’s or Hanks?  Have you had the Meatballs at Fiorella’s or the rabbit and sausage jambalaya at the joint across the strada from them? Stopped at a fish fry at Little People’s? Had a listen to Action Jackson to learn where the next second line is-- if for no other reason than to get a good sausage or pork chop sandwich? Have you even inquired as to whether Hansen’s is open yet?  No? Then you don’t know Jack.
            Do you know where they make a roast beef and gravy po boy and then deep fry it? Have you had a PBR at Pal’s (red beans gratis on Monday) or seen Kermit at all? Had a beer at Bullet’s? You do know that at The Pagoda on the first Sunday of the month the folks from Domino Sound spin tunes at the pop up dinner and it’s BYOB? Have you visited the Black Penny (new and well worth the visit), Saturn Bar, Snake and Jakes, Ms Mae’s or Brother’s Three? Have you gotten a local cookbook (Kitchen Witch Cookbook Shop), picked up an Off Beat or become an OZillan? Taken a cooking class or a tour? What’s your favorite flavor at Brocato’s? Have you touched the hem of Allen Toussaint’s jacket?
            How about café au lait and beignets at three in the morning smack dab in the middle of City Park on your way to dreamland or picking up stitches at Goodwill on Jeff Davis and Tulane? How come you haven’t been to Parkway? Did you take your little ones to The Children’s Museum, Aquarium or Fairyland? When will you go to Rocky and Carlos for the baked macaroni (onion rings, too!), the Chalmette Theater next door to Big Lots or Dong Phuong for a Vietnamese pastry and sandwich pass? Do you even know where ‘Da Parish is? Did you miss Pho Tau Bay this trip? “Pho Getta ‘Bout it!”
            Have you watched the sun rise in the east over the ‘west bank’, checked out The Backstreet Cultural Museum, House of Dance and Feathers or Broadway Bound? Did you get Ya Ka Mein or the very best shrimp po boy at the Orange house? Did you bother to catch a flick at the Prytania, sit with a cup of Joe outside of Mojo’s or ferry trip it to the Dry Dock Café? Yep, if you don’t know that you’ll have to have at least a dozen different gumbos to qualify entering into that conversation; then, you really don’t know Jack.
            Can you distinguish between Philip Melancon, Benny Grunch and Bobby Lounge? Watched HBO Treme? Know the names of the Doctor, Professor, Fats, the King and Queenie? Have you sung yourself hoarse with “Mai-lei cootie fiyo tee na nai tee na nai!!!!!”, “They all ass for you”, or “Drink a little poison ‘fore you die”? Do you dig the Dixie Cups?
            Listen, picture New Orleans (please don’t call it N’awlins!) as a big WELCOME! postcard; now picture the Jazz Fest as the twenty-three cents postage. Logic tells you that there is so much more than just the stamp. There’s a whole love song here; it says: “slow down, you move too fast; you gotta make the moment last…” It says : “sit beside the breakfast table, think about your troubles; pour yourself a cup of tea and think about the bubbles….”
            It says: ‘come sit on the bridge on Bayou St. John and watch the sunset; rest awhile under the wind chime oak; wander the statuary garden, empty your mind and dance with the devil in the pale moonlight’. It says: “If it keep on rainin’, the levee’s gonna break….”

            Sure, every city has its points of interests and disinterests, infrastructure dysfunctions, disruptive behavior (a mugging can be very disruptive), its facts, foibles and flavors; New Orleans is somewhat amplified in that aspect. We want to say to all of you wonderful visitors that we are thankful that we can show off our funk and sass; we also want to say “now go home”. We’re concerned that those upwardly-mobile-stars-in-their-eyes-thirty-somethings will move here and change the Bywater into Brooklyn, paying higher rents than we’re used to, purchasing houses and putting in granite counters, complaining about music being played where its always been played and negating all those things that attracted them in the first place. You’re not one of those are you? No? Well, I know this cute little half double around the corner from us………………