Kind of late on the 28th, Maureen and I sat in the small living room in the back of our New Orlean’s apartment on St. Phillips Street in Mid-City New Orleans. We had spent most of our free time writing in our blog. When we are bleary eyed, one of us will say, “Let’s watch something on TV.” What a good decision to watch Roma, our first movie of the trip, a black and white Netflix film. What is it about black & white? It jars your sense of reality and makes you more aware of the art of the film. Also it harkens back in time. And this film (by director and writer Alfonso Cuarón) is set in the 1970s when many of us were still watching black and white television.
The film starts out very slowly focusing on the daily activities of a comfortably middle-class family in Mexico City, mother, father, four children and two maids. The beginning of the film was focused on daily activities; I was reminded of Klaus Knausgaard’s novels; unlike Knausgaard, the camera follows someone other than the narrator, in this case, a housemaid, Clio, who is very loving, tender and naively involved with a lousy guy who is being trained by the government to be a soldier. Simultaneously the mother, Sofia, is dealing with a husband-professor who abandons her and the children. Little by little, slowly and quietly, the problems accrue for Clio until finally she finds herself in the middle of a horrifying attack on student demonstrators, her boyfriend one of the attackers. I loved the slowness of this film, the black and white shots that zoomed in on ordinary unbeautiful objects, like a pile of dog poop. I also appreciated the way female nudity was not used to titillate. Instead a completely naked man does martial art moves, showing off for Clio. I also loved the way at first we begin to recognize her hard life as a maid, but then it becomes clear that she is part of the family and when she is undergoing extreme difficulties, Sofia does not abandon her; the two women bond. When the movie was over it was already 1 pm and we crawled into our beds, me into my lovely sleeping bag inside the covers, always cold inside in southern climates when the temperature drops down to 30 degrees. (BH)
After yoga and breakfast on the 29th, we walked a few blocks up Rendon St. to Esplanade in a sunny, but sharp, cold wind. It seems the cold just can’t stop following us. Coffee shops and cafes greeted us. We accelerated our pace to Café Degas which looked so warm and inviting, tucked away in a thicket of bushes and trees between streets. Then we heard two women wailing “It’s closed on Tuesdays!” Yes, it was Tuesday. Bracing into a bitter wind we made fast tracks for Fair Grinds Coffee shop, the first other place in sight. They had no decaf coffee at all to my disappointment, but we stayed and worked on our blog, with the idea we’d go to another café in a bit that had decaf lattes. So after working for a while, we walked a couple of doors over to 1000 Figs Café and were so enticed with their menu and atmosphere that we had lunch. I never did get coffee.
We picked up a few things at the big market on the corner and found walking back not as cold. Things were squeaky clean from a big rainstorm during last night and the sun made it all shine.
We added photos to our blog. Barbara spoke to an old friend of hers and made plans to see her tonight. Bill Lavender,a poet, editor, and teacher living in New Orleans,and his wife Nancy emailed inviting us to a reading by a good friend of theirs, a New Orleanian, Maurice Carlos Ruffin, debuting his new novel, “We Cast a Shadow.” Bill founded Lavender Ink, a small press devoted mainly to poetry, in 1995, and he more recently has founded Diálogos, an imprint devoted to cross-cultural literature. (MO)
I drove over to my friend Marie Scavetta’s house. We had been friends when our children were growing up. Her son, Amando, and my son, Michah, were best friends since the time they were about seven years old. When Marie opened the door to the duplex, I was surprised to learn that Armando was living in NO’s too, working as a high school teacher. He is living in one duplex with his wife Frida and their two little girls. I took a photo, a bundle of love. I always admired Marie because as a lawyer she dedicated her practice to helping people, for Legal Aid in NYC and here in New Orleans, for years she represented prisoners on death row. While we caught up, we ate bowls of mustard greens with garlic, cheese and naan bread. When Armando came home from teaching high school, he explained to his oldest daughter—“When I was just a little older than you, I was over at Barbara’s apartment all the time.” And I said, “Yes, you and Michah were going back and forth, from our house to yours, trying to find a place where no adults were at home so you could do whatever, whatever.” (BH)
As we walked the couple of blocks to the event, Nancy and Bill remarked how all the shops were so new that they hadn’t even seen them before. What used to be a print shop, a Dixie stove shop, The Dollar Bill Bar, were now sha sha mod clothing stores, and tight, upscale, sparse looking fronts.
The Ace hotel in the business district hosted the book reading and signing. A high ceilinged, new hotel that retroed old New Orleans with its dark wood interior, high ceilings, and romantic lighting; it hosted the event in a wide, cozy room with an upstairs balcony. We got drinks from one of the two bars and went upstairs with the overflow crowd. Nancy had gone to congratulate Maurice and had him sign her book downstairs. A fellow writer and close friend, who had gotten together with Maurice regularly when they both were working on their separate novels, gave a lively, thoughtful, punctuated with jokes about them, introduction. Maurice, who seemed loved by everyone in the packed crowd, then read an excerpt from his novel. I wanted to buy a copy, but restrained myself as too many books in our car. Made a note to do so when I get home. Then his editor at Random House, a bright snappy New Yorker, fielded questions to him about the novel. It made me want to buy a copy all the more.
Nancy had made dinner reservations for us in the hotel restaurant and we tiptoed downstairs as the Q and A was wrapping. A friend of theirs, Darlene Wolnik, joined us. Darlene is a sustainable food worker and coordinates with farmer’s markets, giving lectures all over the U.S. for NO and Cleveland, and applying for grants, etc. She started the Farmer’s Market in NO. Dinner was delicious and we decided to share a Black Forest desert. When the desert arrived we thought it was a mistake and hailed the waitress that it was not what we had ordered. It in no way resembled what we expected. Instead a mound of raspberry like sauce, a mound of greyish lump, a big swirl of crumbled nuts dabbed with one tiny squirt of chocolate, and 2 curls of bitter chocolate thin as transparent sea shells. Our waiter, looking a bit apologetic, explained that the chef created deconstructionist cuisine and this was a deconstructed Black Forest cake. Er, well, ok, we said. We dug in and it was quite tasty, and would have been more tasty no doubt, if we had not expected a rich chocolate cakey delight. Eating it we realized we should have gotten a heads up from the rest of the meal, which tho absolutely delicious, had little outward appearance of what we envisioned we ordered.
Early afternoon on the 30th, we went to PJ’s Coffee Bar, a place where Barbara had frequented in earlier years. We worked there, preparing our reading and working on our last blog post. A young woman at a table across from us was happy to snap our photo.
That night, we read at the Dragonfly Poetry and Performance Ritual Space. The reading was organized and hosted by Megan Burns. The crowd was smaller than our other events, but the audience was into poetry, attentive and interactive. See photos below–
In the morning as we were leaving, we found a bag of books hanging on our door from both of Bill’s poetry presses, Lavender Ink and Diálogos Be sure to check out the website. On our way to Austin (via a night in Beaumont), we stopped for gas at Breaux Bridge, La and Maureen snapped this snappy store —