Sunday, July 23, 2017

Tattoos then and now

Tattoo you
Phil LaMancusa
      I don’t mind that they hurt like the Dickens, like a shard of burning, jagged broken glass being scraped into your skin with a feel and sound of an electrically short circuiting combined buzz saw and drill bit, and the blood that’s being wiped away signaling the permanence of that ink as it’s buried beneath and on your skin…forever. You walk in, flashing virgin epidermis and walk out with the Chinese symbol for “Light Starch” tattooed to your chest; it sounded like a fine idea at the time, you dreamt that you’d be reincarnated as a shirt and didn’t want the world to be too hard on you.   
        Physical evidence going back over five thousand years has shown us that there’s not much new under the skin, as far as inking goes; or the variety of people who adhere to the processes. Priestesses and pirates; soldiers, sailors and carnival workers; criminals and tradesmen; Samurais and slaves; religious pilgrims and whores all have had something to show on their skin that set them apart from the unadorned. Headhunters and circus showmen; Popeye the sailor and Lydia the Tattooed Lady; The Illustrated Man and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The Rose Tattoo, The Crying Heart Tattoo. From Siam to Siberia and Samoa; ink under the skin set sects apart --from ordinary citizenry --bringing luck and the protection of the Gods. 17th century seamen used tattoos as identifying marks to avoid unlawful impressments and as body identification in case of shipwreck. “Songs are like tattoos, you know, I’ve been to sea before”.
          When I was a kid in the fifties, we had fake transfer tattoos. I got my first real tat in 1962 in Hamburg Germany, another in the shadow of the Panama Canal; a Janis Joplin Rose from Lyle Tuttle’s studio in San Francisco; the word ‘Mentirosa’ (Liar) on one shoulder  to commemorate love lost; my daughter’s name on a forearm and yes, I’ve got “ROSIE” on my chest.
       Back in the days of my youth, it was the bad boys, the tough guys, the outlaws that sported ink; men got them in the military, women had showpieces in special places and --unspoken but understood-- all tattoos stayed clear of the face, neck and below the cuff line; a man with a tear tattooed to his face is said to have killed someone (two tears… two some-ones etc.), LOVE and HATE on the knuckles signified someone ready to use their fists, my mother’s first husband had FFFF on his knuckles signifying the Four F (Find ‘em, Feel ‘em Fu*k ‘em and Forget ‘em!) club. Back then, you could read a person by the pictures they had on their body because, yes, it hurts, it’s permanent and most times semi-thought out, but, your tattoo then became part of your identity and persona. I have my initials on my wrist from the needle, thread and India ink method used when I was incarcerated once; jailhouse tats are notorious in their complexities and stories.
         Back then a tattoo parlor had books of pictures that you could have put on your body and they charged by the illustration that was chosen; today, tat artists will charge by the hour and are capable of Michelangelo grade work in scope and concept plus there is an epidemic of amateurs that just need some friends to practice on. Ink has gone from Subculture to Pop Culture and it is a lot easier to get inked today; also, in some cases, a lot more expensive. Some of the better artists can cost between $300.00- $500.00 an hour (and up), in some parlors there’s an apprentice standing by to take the overflow just for the practice. In all cases you get what you pay for and then pay for what you’ve gotten.
       It is said that getting tats got goosed in 2005 with a TV show called Miami Ink and was further propelled into mainstream with social media , tattoo artist super stars and super stars that started sporting tattoos, but, I’m not quite sure if that statement is completely accurate; I was kinda busy with hurricanes that year.
         Putting aside deviance and decoration, today’s tattoo cult got its start in the 60’s with the Hippie and Biker cultures and went into full bloom with young women in the 80’s having lower back and nape of neck decorations, quite sexy at the time. Sports stars got into the act and younger kids wanted to emulate their heroes. And then it happened that bigger and more better became better and more bigger.
          That’s not to say that there aren’t a myriad of unprofessional (bad, na├»ve, inexperienced, homemade) tattoos out there that have a body wondering what a person must be thinking, or not thinking, to have something silly or less than wise permanently put on their skin such as the folks that look like someone has taken a Sharpie marker and doodled on them, or a name or saying that will mean nothing to the person five years down the road or that person that had neck and facial ink that will be a logical cause for limited employment opportunities.  
         Be that as it may, personally, I love tattoos, on myself and on other people; when I spy someone with tattoos, I want to go up and find the story behind them. Unfortunately, with the plethora of ink on bodies, I have this pessimistic fear that some people get inked ‘just because’. Perhaps they become addicted to the experience; perhaps they have too much money. I myself have a story with each of my renderings; they’re like pieces of art hung on the gallery of my body and I want more, except, I find that I can’t afford them.
       Would I recommend a person getting a tattoo? Yes, but with the caveat issued by Carlos Torres, a world renowned ink artist: “Think long term.”  (I say: “think nursing home!”) So, I’d shy away from Zombies, Herman Munster, a portrait of someone you (believe you) know/love, cat butts, Jesus playing basketball, ANY politician, sex organs, anything in old English lettering or above your collar line and for heaven’s sake, check all grammar and spelling so you don’t wind up with “Never Don’t Give up!” or “No Regerts”.       

Greek Festival in New Orleans

The New Orleans Greek Festival
Phil LaMancusa
            The New Orleans Greek Festival is held on the Memorial Day weekend May 26th -28th,  2017  and presented by the Holy Trinity Cathedral located at 1200 Robert E. Lee Blvd and that’s the first thing that you need to know. The second thing that you need to know is the word Efharisto (eff-kaar-EEs-toe!) and you need to be able to say it all in one breath; repeat after me Efharisto!!! The word is Greek and the meaning is “Thank You!” and you’ll want to say it often and with vigor as you attend New Orleans equivalent of the painting ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte’ by Georges Seurat (g’wan, look it up). It’s a family thing, an eating, drinking, dancing, milling about, lounging, laughing, smiling music thing.
For the kids there is a playground with a climbing wall, face painting, crafts and one of those bouncy tent things where you allow the little darlings to work off all of the extra steam that they seem to wake up with. Kids twelve years old and under have free admission (the rest of us kids pay $7.00).
There is live (Greek) music and dancing in the Hellenic step/style; you can come and show your stuff, learn or just watch and be amazed by what you see. There is free offsite parking, about a half a mile down the road, with shuttle buses to and from the event or you can park on the roadway to get in closer.

You can rent canoes for bayou cruising, there are contests, raffles and even a ‘Toga Sunday’ pageant with prizes. There are tours given of the Cathedral that allow you view artifacts of the faith. 

Gospel Tent

Under the Gospel Tent
Phil LaMancusa
Probably the oldest and very first attraction at The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is the Gospel Tent. At the first Jazz Fest in 1970 at Congo Square, where the tickets were $3.00, there were four stages and the Gospel Tent; many of the acts did not even have microphones. One of the first performers at that festival in the Gospel Tent was a woman names Mahalia Jackson, possibly the greatest gospel singer of all times and she was, as they said, returning home to perform. Forty-seven years later, as you know, the Fest has grown; but one rock that has remained steady is our Gospel Tent, the first you hear as you arrive and the last to sing you on your way when you leave.  
Anyone with the sense of a sea urchin knows that New Orleans is a spiritual city; scratch the surface of any folk here and they will assure you that they are “blessed to be alive” to which the proper response is: “I know that’s right!”  Why few white people here under the age of forty does not carry this message in their daily life, this is a mystery to me; I reckon that once you reach a certain age or if you were brought up singing the praises of the Lord (instead of petitioning the Lord with prayer), you naturally feel blessed every day, faithful and grateful.
 Be that as it may, I and my peer group count our days on this mortal coil as gifts from a higher authority, and praise be to whichever power that that may be. It’s really really easy for me to worship the thousand faces of God/Goddess that have granted me my life because I believe in them all; I am a Christian, Jew, Agnostic, Hindu, Buddhist, Baptist, Bacchus, beer drinking believer in the benevolence and bedlam of being.  Every Jazz Festival at the Gospel Tent my belief in Lord Jesus is super jump started again, with a charge strong enough to carry me through the year, you might say electrified. Every year when I go to the Fest, I know where to find Jesus and how could I not pay a visit, in fact several visits?
The advantage of being an all believer (from atheism to Zoroastrian) is that I can wander down any path and find my higher power ready to give my soul the strength that it needs to survive the weakness of my reserve, give me reserve to challenge my temptations, courage to fight my demons and put some gut in my strut; and when I walk into the Gospel tent, any hole in my soul is filled with the power of the people, performance and pure joy in the Lord. The music, the singing the spirit is infectious and I find myself swaying, singing, clapping and snapping with the holy, yes holy, atmospheric pressure.
Fair to say at this point that by in large were talking about an African American spirituality experience, for while I understand that white folks can have soul, they are (by in large) not as rhythmically inclined to belt out their raised voices in the adoration to one who can and truly does save. The music and songs are spiritual, Rock, Rhythm, blues, gospel and the primitive African call and response audience participation occurrence rolled in to one glorious exhausting heart expanding happening.
I have been floored by four glorious goldenrod gowned fully grown women; I have witnessed Blind Boys and Zion Harmonizers and by far I am carried away when a choir of fifty or sixty voices, in agreement and five pert harmony, lift their right to be heard unto the Lord. Can I get a witness?
And then there’s a slight pause in the music where Brother Love steps out with the microphone and challenges the audience that he has accepted as parishioners: “have you heard the word of God here today? (YES!) and do you feeeeeel the grace of the Lord (YES!) and do you believe that you have come to a HOLY place, a place of worship, THE HOUSE OF THE LORD?”  (YEEEESSSSS!) “then I want you to look around you and pick up all that trash that you brought in with you because this IS the house of the Lord and we do NOT leave trash on the floor; if you brought it in with you, then take it back out and dispose of it properly. “I WILL NOT HAVE TRASH IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD! Can I get an Amen?” “AMEN!”

free people of color in New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Free People of Color
New Orleans’ Third Society
            It might be important to note, as we reach our three hundredth birthday, that New Orleans is not, what can be considered, an old settlement/colony and that for over two hundred years before us the societies that fashioned our world here were in full swing; long before Sieur de Bienville brought the first two slaves (George and Mary) into the French outpost that was in the crescent of the river that the Ojibwa Indians called misi zibi or Father of Waters.
            The period of exploration and land grabbing was pretty much a white man’s undertaking and the subjugation of ‘primitive’ peoples (indigenous American, African) for pleasure and profit was part of the modus operandi of the male Anglo explorers and exploiters. It goes without saying also, that a shortage of European women did not deter the conquering heroes from exercising their sexual impulses with whatever female happened to be on hand; Indigenous Americans were harder to handle and soon were either displaced or destroyed, however, the slave trade was well established and provided ample opportunity and supply of feminine companionship. As a result, Africans, as time went on, were subjected to a genetic melding with Europeans, these mixed blooded Africans multiplied in numbers and became a new culture and class of citizenry; and they needed to be reckoned with, much for very practical purposes.
            Exploring and evidencing was part and parcel for this third race of peoples to fit into Anglo/Afro society, and the complexities of this racial bridge had astounding consequences. From the beginning of our French and Spanish occupation-- with the occurrence of manumission and the outright ability of an enslaved person to purchase their freedom-- a class of peoples did arise throughout our colonies and was labeled Les Gens de Couleur Libres--- Free People of Color (FPC). As time went on, classes within this class gave rise to definitions and labeling concerning the degree of proportion of blood—Black compared with White--that these Creoles of Color had running through their veins. Mulatto (50% African); Quadroon (25% African); Octoroon (1/8 or less); “not all Free People of Color were Creole and not all Creoles were free people of color but over time there has been some tendency to conflate the two, or use the word to refer to people of mixed race, which many but not all free people of color were” (LSU libraries).
Generation after generation, through the systems of outright taking of concubines and the more formal Placage arrangement, placed women of color into the arms of European men--perpetuating the systems themselves.  And, with the rearing and educating of the resulting offspring and subsequent societal mobility as a side effect, not only was eventual freedom a likelihood but, the ensuing possibility of economic security and solidarity from this closely knit society (FPC), as well, was practically guaranteed.  Against all odds the FPC actually thrived and prospered. ‘On the eve of the Civil War (1862), in New Orleans alone, there were 18,000 FPC owning and paying taxes on $15,000,000.00 worth of property.’ (Le Musee de f.p.c.) That’s literally between ten and fifteen percent of the population working in professional capacities, as artists and artisans, opening businesses, owning land and in some cases purchasing slaves for personal use.
            As first generation American and a northerner to boot, the scope and importance that FPC had that influenced not just the United States in general, but New Orleans in particular is somewhat beyond my ken (and possibly yours); however, I can tell you from what I have read and can understand, if you are going to understand this city to any degree, you need to know how FPC formed the foundation of our world here; the very fabric of our Joie de Vive.
            That being said, me expounding what I know about the FPC would be like you listening to a child trying to explain what’s inside a book by looking at the cover; however, I can tell you how to find out the whole story of the FPC from the people who study and live this historical American phenomenon; they are here in New Orleans and hold the pieces of the puzzle that make up who we are, where we came from and where we’re going.
            For sure you could just go to Professor Google and that would end up with inaccuracies, confusion and besides it would keep you from discovering the real deal. There’s a place that you can physically go to and have an immersion that will leave you wiser in spirit and intelligence while opening up your heart and your mind. It’s Le Musee de f. p. c. at 2336 Esplanade Ave. New Orleans, La. open Wednesday through Sunday; call for times and to book a tour 504-323-5074
            Book a tour? Yes. Situated in a wonderful Greek revival (I call it a) mansion are documents and photographs and art work and a knowledgeable staff that gave me more information in forty-five minutes than I could digest in weeks. From the French Quarter it’s about a twenty minute walk or bus ride or whatever, past stately large homes and shading oak trees where at one time many FPC had homes. The neighborhood is called upper Treme, where also, FYI was an enclave of Greek, Lebanese and Syrian peoples; but that’s another story. Heck there are more stories here than you can shake a stick at.
            So, there you have it (or as much as I have room to spill out to you) for those of you that want to know more about this city than red beans and rice on Monday and where to find a decent happy hour; know this: unless you learn about our heritage (s) here, you will never fully understand New Orleans.

leaky faucets

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Leaky Faucets
Question One
In America, one of our basic freedoms is Freedom of Speech, yes, it’s your First Amendment right to speak your mind, voice your opinion, wave your freak flag and/or poke fun at your elected officials or anyone else for that matter. Simply put, a person can open the mansions of their mind to the unsupportive, unsuspecting and unspecified universe at large and no one can tell them to “Shut the front door!” Hopefully such a person can find an appreciative, if not patient enough audience to avoid being offered a Hawaiian Punch, a blind ear or other such dismissals of drivel that we are all taught as reactions to the abundance of cosmic debris that has invaded our lives and have absolutely nothing to do with our realities. As we all know, it’s only our opinions that make any logical sense (at least to ourselves).
To balance this, we have created a class of society whose job, yes job, it is to tell us where we are blocked from our pursuit of freedom by RULES that don’t suit anyone but the enforcer of those rules; to wit: the postal clerk that will tell you that you cannot send newspapers or magazines at the ‘Media Mail’ rate because they are not considered ‘media’. (You’re thinking ‘well, what the heck are they?’) Or a US postal worker who explains that although it is their job to bring the mail to you, they only take mail from you as a courtesy (read: they don’t have to). This brings questions from the elder person without transportation that would need to pay bills by mail.
I have Winn Dixie wanting to swipe my driver’s license into their computer before they’ll sell me beer although I am over three times the drinking age and look it! The rules are the rules; sorry, you need exact change to ride this bus.
These seemingly illogical edicts are delivered by stony countenances that we’ve come to regard as BRF (Bitchy Resting Faces), and you’ve seen them; the check out person who disregards your brought-with-you grocery bags and proceeds to put one item per plastic bag in your cart or makes you bag your own groceries by ignoring you altogether; the policeperson that gives you the BRF when you question why it took three hours for them to respond to a call; or, the meter maid that doesn’t care if you dashed into a shop to get change, they’ve already given you a citation (citation?). That tow truck guy; the impassive receptionist; invisible salesclerks; city workers that came to fix a water leak and left a Rhode Island size crater outside your home. Not my job.
You wonder about how that travels up the chain of local government at every level; a streetcar to nowhere; a major thoroughfare closed for years for repairs (?); some streets paved and others resembling moonscapes. Who’s in charge? You phone to suggest that recycling containers, logically, should not look the same as trash bins, no one answers your calls or email messages. Your public swimming pool closes on Labor Day while it’s still hot enough to fry eggs on the sidewalk and the answer you get is ‘lack of funding.’ A fire hydrant outside of Matassa’s Grocery Store on St. Philip Street has been leaking for four years and goes unrepaired. It’s too easy to become used to this and to suck it up as part of the price you pay for living in Paradise. Or not.
Disillusionment can lead to complacency can lead to laziness; complaining can become annoying and fruitless; lack of results can leave a feeling of impotence and you can just give the flip up. We all suspect that, really, whoever wins an election is not going to fulfill campaign promises to make our lives better, safer and more prosperous; that all of the idealistic movements in the world really don’t take root for decades and then only when someone can make a profit from them. We all know that there are senseless wars, killings, slaveries, injustices, oppressions and suppressions that are based solely on greed. We see the world in a mess because of the human condition of turning a blind eye to the future of this planet; I once had a young man tell me that his religion basically told him that he could do whatever he wanted to do, commit any level of inconsideration as long as he was sorry about it sometime before he died.
So, how did we get here? Greed? Power? Spiritual amnesia? Psychic anesthesia? Name your poison, it’s all available as an excuse for not being right with the world. Four young men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one beat two tourists unconscious at 3:30 in the afternoon on a busy street and we’re all outraged. Question one: where did our children learn that this was acceptable behavior and how did they learn to rob and injure so efficiently? A high profile musician embezzles public funds and diverts them for his own greedy enterprises; a Louisiana Governor cuts funding for higher education and finances his run for president; parents beat their children to teach them ‘lessons’; domestic violence and football games; refer back to question one. And us? When do we think about what we’re learning and teaching and how we set examples by our actions?
Here’s a sort of an answer; take responsibility for your behavior on a daily basis; act as though you are going to live forever in this mess, start cleaning up and stop wasting time, your health, your mental well being, your legacy. Pick up litter. Observe patience patiently. Don’t engage in negativity; say something positive to everyone you speak to; tell the people you love that you love them; practice the principles of right speech, right actions and right thoughts. Don’t put up with bull sh*t. Consider you might be wrong. Give a damn. Well, what do you know? I’m preaching to the choir.