International Surfing Museum: Huntington Beach, CA

While surfing is 100% a Hawaiian sport, it was California that exported it around the world. Whether it was Gidget, the Beach Boys, or Frankie Avalon who grifted the idea of surf culture away from Duke Kahanamoku or someone else, they did a great job of seeding said culture in the beach towns of Southern California. So now, surfers are thought of as blonde haired bros prone to using the word “dude” in places like Huntington Beach.IMG_5226

Huntington has embraced the image.

If you walk into the International Surfing Museum with a 10 year old child like I did, be prepared for the friendly woman behind the counter to do her best to convince the child to abandon any hopes of adult responsibility in pursuit of great waves- and to use the coupon on the back of your ticket stub for ice cream across the street. Her pitch almost worked on me but my child was unimpressed.IMG_5225

The place is small yet informative, with a good mix of information and artifact. There is a sculpture of the Silver Surfer, vintage Hawaiian planks, and a number of rash guards and trophies once worn or won by Eddie Aikau. Which is pretty much all you need for a top notch museum.IMG_5224

But Huntington’s offering is topped off by one large claim to fame, and by large, I mean Guinness Book of World Records large.IMG_5222

I normally ignore oversized objects mounted on poles outside stores, or museums, as props, but the giant surfboard mounted outside this museum once caught a wave and carried 66 people to shore. This seems about right.

To invest so heavily in an activity that is purely recreational for purely promotional purposes, is so very California. And I’m okay with that.IMG_5207

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Mueller is Not a Style Icon: he is just a professional adult

In Washington’s current climate of crassness, exaggeration, and accusations, the public are not well served when the press print things that are salacious, silly, or just plain wrong. So as a public service I must say, that no-

Robert Mueller is not a style icon.Related imageWhat a shame that the New Yorker has fallen so far that the editorial board knew no better than to accept the author’s proposal that because the man wears suits that fit, he is somehow doing fashion.

I of course wear ill fitting suits, not because I am anti- fashion, but rather because I am anti sit-ups and there are consequences for such decisions. Somehow we have confused the sort of discipline that includes reasonable portion size as well as reasonable amounts of pomade with style. That isn’t style, that is a healthy morning ritual.

Occasionally in the mornings I trim my nose hairs. This is not some sort of extreme preening worthy of note by the national press, this is simply because I am a grown man with a job who doesn’t want those he interacts with to be distracted by a disgusting nose jungle. Mr. Mueller’s attire might indeed be like my nose, intentionally boring, or it may be naturally boring (like the lucky noses), but either way it is a far stretch from any sort of rhinoplasty.

So stop it Mr. Patterson. Do not tell America that by wearing a pin striped suit with a button-down collared white shirt, that Mr. Mueller is doing anything other than just being boring- and a little bit wrong.

What we really need to discuss is why a man with such an important job is wearing the exact watch I was disappointed to have in 4th grade. I wanted the calculator watch thinking it would help me get an A on my math test. If that investigation is leaking why isn’t anyone looking into that watch because even Mr. Checketts at Bell View Elementary knew better than to start a test without checking our wrists and no one who cares a thing about style is wearing a Casio DW-290.

 

(Yeah, so maybe this is like a year late- just like the impending indictments)

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What It Takes To Get What I Want

Over the years and through a lot of experience I have learned a few useful things. One of the most useful, or the most widely applicable, is that in order to get what I want, I have to go and get it. Not in the simple work hard toward a goal sort of thing, but much more in a stop sitting there with your hand raised waiting to be called or chosen, because you will never get picked. So instead stand up and go grab, or do, whatever you want. Don’t wait for permission, don’t wait your turn, just do it. Because my turn never came up.sitting in nook reading

I know now that one of the major reasons I never got my turn, at least not in the way I always dreamed, is because no matter what I knew, or could do, no one knew who I was. Nor did they really care who I was- or am. I realize now that my ability to do anything- absolutely anything- has always been limited by the people around me. I have never met an astronaut, and as it turns out, it is very hard to become an astronaut if you do not, nor does anyone around you know, an astronaut- or at least someone working on the human side of the space program. Now I recall being told lots of prerequisites, or told of the appropriate path to one day being eligible for being launched into space, but I know now that they were in reality just guessing, or passing along the guesses, of others. They didn’t really know and I was absolutely never going to be an astronaut.

And yet someone out there still gets to be an astronaut.
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What I was and have always been most likely to become, was a school teacher. There was by proximity always the chance I could be a police officer, a CPA, or a low level manager in any variety of businesses where I would be tasked with numerous duties that would be hard to explain to a suburban adolescent and even more impossible to make interesting to such a person. Because growing up, those were the people surrounding me, and the people I knew.

I guess there was a chance, thanks to the unique characteristics of my school teacher father, that I might have become a hermit living in the woods, an auto mechanic, or maybe even a cowboy, but I had no true interest in those things. I was sort of interested in art. I was pretty good at drawing, and though my father was in fact an art teacher, I knew no working artists- other than teachers. I had other interests as well, but my experience, environment, and the advice coming from those I knew, told me that none of the things I was interested in would ever feed a family, which was my primary duty, and were best given up or at least relegated to hobbies. This was practical advice, and from any of our experiences, it was true. So I settled.ol chap

Eventually I moved. And I started, intentionally, meeting new people. I wanted to do new things. I wanted to do things that were interesting and meaningful, or even just more in line with the things I was best at, and I started to just go for it. I did most all of this unsupervised and un mentored, which is to say I probably did most of it poorly. Yet some of it worked. For instance, it never occurred to me that I could attend an Ivy League school. Quite the opposite really. In fact, to my knowledge I never even met anyone who attended an Ivy League School till, as an adult, I moved to Philadelphia. Once there I met plenty of very impressive, yet still human, students and alumni from nearly all the Ivies. I met them because they lived there, and even then, it did not occur to me that I could attend till one day I did a strange thing and emailed a woman I heard on the radio. She was talking about things I found interesting, the same sorts of things I was doing as a hobby, and it just so happened that she was a professor at an Ivy League school. I reached out to her out of the clear blue sky, mostly because she was local, and surprisingly she reached back.

And now I have a degree from an Ivy League School. Had I just sat and waited for that school to notice me, or really, had I just sent in an application not knowing anyone, it never would have worked. Not for me.

As I look back at it now, most of the things I have done in my life of which I am proud, or that might be of some value (because those two are not exactly the same) are the result of me showing up somewhere uninvited, inviting myself, or reaching out to complete strangers. I have learned to put on a suit jacket, act like I belong, and then just stroll in and casually start asking questions. It works. Sometimes. Really it only works a very small portion of the time, but in the 40+ years of my life, it is the only thing that has ever worked. I am just not shiny enough, noticeable enough, or connected enough, to do any different- that is if I want to do anything remarkable.

And along the way, I have also learned and seen directly, that this works in large part …

 

because I am white.

 

I have learned that these things don’t work quite the same, if someone is black. Or a woman. Or anything that isn’t like me, a straight white man. This is not to say that it cannot work for a black man, but the stakes are definitely not the same. The worst that has happened to me is getting kicked out of the American Philosophical Society Archives and told to come back during a regularly scheduled meeting. No, that isn’t the worst. I have indeed been called lots of nasty names and insulted with words, but I am given a helping of grace or room for error, whereas a black man entering a room uninvited is very likely to be arrested- or worse.

Not figuratively. Not maybe. But Likely.

Like here

Or here

And here

How about here?

Should I keep going?

This is what has, and is, and really has always been, the case for black people. Not every time of course, just like walking in uninvited didn’t work for me every time. But the default setting is that though this world, this America, isn’t set up to hand me anything, it will allow me to do things that are just a little bit “out there” in order to get a shot, while this same world is suspect of, afraid of, and will normally squash, repel, or punish any black person who does something just a little bit “out there” trying to get a shot.

That is what privilege is.

And that is how America works.

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The Attack on Manhood.

Do not confuse the righting of a sinking ship, or just a plain old sinking ship, with a war on men. Or a war on white people. Or Christians. While there are indeed acidic antagonists who hate all of those things (men, white people, and religion) we should not confuse current efforts, or movements toward equity as a war against {insert demographic here}.IM_A0148

The truth is that white Christian men currently, and have historically, wielded disproportionate power in America. This power has been gained and sustained by money, cultural norms, and quite often by violence.

For centuries white Christian men have been able to do as they (we) please, only having to consider anyone “other” than themselves as a consolation, or out of what they (we) have perceived as our magnanimous generosity. This is not to say that white Christian men have run amok completely unchecked, just ask anyone one of them as they (we) have felt continually put in check, but those external limits on our behavior and power have been put in place and enforced, primarily by other white Christian men. We have lived in a world so completely our own that we have grown accustomed to it like a fish grows accustomed to water, and by growing, I mean gestation, as we seem to feel it natural at birth.

Though unlike fish, we do not need this currently constructed environment to survive. But sometimes, or most times, we think we do.IMG_6345

As the world shrinks, access to information increases, and the true diversity of the world becomes so ever more apparent, and present, many people realize that white Christian men do not hold a monopoly on goodness and wisdom and “how it should be”, and in America, all of those “others”, those who aren’t white Christian men, those who have been here all along but have just never been the ones running the show, start asserting themselves- white Christian men start to freak out.

Let’s not freak out.

Let us be honest with ourselves in a way that goes beyond reactionary defensiveness and blind lashing out at those rallying for change. The truth is that there are ridiculously few of “them” out there who are opposed to, or truly against, who we are. No. That’s not quite right. I should be more precise here. There are plenty of people against who we are, but they aren’t necessarily against who we claim we are, or who we strive to be. There are plenty against a lot of the things we do or have done, which isn’t the same thing- unless we unnaturally peg our identity to those things. So, let’s take stock.

Is manhood based on the color blue or our selection of shoes? While I have no desire to wear high heels, I do not think my manhood, or my male-ness, is really attached to my wingtips. I know many men who wear long hair, some of them wear it from their chin, and while I have a slight understanding of facial hair being associated with androgens more prevalent in males, I have never believed that my beard makes me a man or that a pony tail is influenced in any way by my genitals. Now I know that there are those who disagree. There are many men who not only prefer, but believe, that men should not wear makeup or skirts. I get it. I don’t feel comfortable in those things either. I am also not aware of anyone who is trying to make me wear those things.

Neither am I aware of how someone else wearing those things changes my manhood. Nor do those things contradict my Christianity. Choice in clothing or grooming is not the same as choice in sexual activity- and absolutely no one is telling me I must have sex with someone other than whom I choose, so I fail to see the actual connection between gender norms and my religiously dictated sexual conduct. I am a heterosexual white Christian man and no one that I have met is asking me not to be these things. At least not in “real life”.

But there are changes, many of which are quite contentious. Let us take for example, the Boy Scouts of America.

What exactly is it in the Boy Scouts of America, that is truly gender based?

My mother is a better camper than most of the “manly” men I know. So was my grandmother. Sleeping in tents, tying knots, shooting arrows, or earning badges in a quasi-militaristic organization that casually imitates Native Americans without truly investigating their culture has very little to do with my genitalia, my sexual orientation, or even the qualities I believe make a good man. In fact, many, possibly even most, of the qualities that I would claim make a “good man” have nothing at all to do with anyone’s genitalia or sexual preferences. In other words, most of the things, at least in my mind, that make a good man are really just things that make a good person. Honesty, chastity, benevolence, moral steadfastness, kindness, service orientation, civic mindedness, leadership, preparedness and progression, pretty much everything built in to scouting to build good boys, are the same things I try to teach my daughters.

No one is fighting that.

But I do acknowledge that boys and girls are different. I acknowledge it enough, and here is me exposing my own needs or feelings, that I long for and appreciate male spaces in my life. Sometimes I like to hang out with other guys. I’m a cis gender heteronormative straight Christian white male and carry with me plenty of the social preferences that go along with those norms. Sometimes I wanna hang with the guys. I get it. That is me. And I am not being attacked.

What is under attack is the infrastructure that gives me, and those most strictly like me, disproportionate privileges.

The Boy Scouts have been in a long decline for a lot of reasons beyond American gender norms. While many of the principles of scouting are not, nor have ever been overtly race or class based, the delivery and socialization of scouting absolutely has (just like most things in America). Yes there is a push against gender exclusivity today, but we are also more urban, more international, more technological, less economically homogenous than in the past and more adults spend more time working, and children have more organized activities than existed when the Scouts were founded. All of those things have led to declining participation in the Boy Scouts.

There is at this same moment, as in all moment spast, a lack of true equity for girls. When it comes to what the Boy Scouts do (or have done), or the resources the Boy Scouts have on hand, there is no true female equivalent.

My daughter has no interest in selling cookies in front of Target (and I know the Girl Scouts do more than that) but she would probably love to get SCUBA certified at a huge discount like I did when I was a Boy Scout. But she doesn’t, nor do I as her parent, have access to that. In this case the only difference between the programs offered and the benefits involved, is that boys get to and girls do not. I am not opposed to boys SCUBA diving. Letting my daughter do the same would not constitute an attack and masculinity. Those two should not be confused. In addition, my church is one of, if not the, biggest supporters of the BSA and while I know my faith values my little girls, I also know that it does not offer anything for them that is quite as robust or well-funded (even with the current BSA decline).

Does this mean my girls should join the scouts? I don’t know. I don’t really have any interest in them doing so, but if someone else did, or does, that does not constitute an attack on me or who I am.

But it isn’t just the scouts, nor is it just my church, rather we are experiencing a broader nationwide shift in power. Or at least a shift in perception, as most of those who have historically held power still hold it, though I am not one of them, and many people who are the most like me- can feel it. But just like stepping on a nail with bare feet, we jerk our knees without having to think- because we feel it.

The only problem here is that we haven’t stepped on a nail but rather we have been shod in power our entire existence and suddenly now our boots are off and we are being made to feel the pricks and prods of those on whom we trod. We are not knee jerking at nails but rather reacting to women, black people, Hindus, non-English speakers, immigrants, and on, and on, and on. Our boots are off and our white Christian manly feet are tender. It is unfair that for centuries this country has been primarily, if not explicitly, just meant for me, and if I am in any way trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, or reverent, I will step up and adjust to what is right rather than kick barefoot against the pricks.

Because in the past, despite my lack of elite status or a well-stocked wallet, I have never had to struggle shoulder to shoulder with all those “others” but rather I have been wearing well insulated boots which allow me to stamp on top of all of “them” while competing against other white Christian men for my American dream.

Those boots are not “who I am” and being asked to take them off is not an attack. It is simply doing what’s right.

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An Under Examined Now: New Orleans

 

A friend told me New Orleans was exactly my kind of place. A different friend described New Orleans as completely debauched. I think one was referring to the city’s reputation for music history and food and the other was talking about drunken toplessness. He compared it to Vegas where too many people are trying too hard to do something regrettable. He did however give New Orleans credit in that while Vegas is a plaster imitation of a million other somewhere elses, New Orleans is in fact a real place all its own.

I had in my head, thanks to history books and too many movies, an image of a place a lot like Philly, having an old colonial feel topped off by a few decades of industrial decay, just with more of a swing than a beat- and wrought iron balconies. Maybe I was just seeing what I wanted to see, but I wasn’t completely wrong. I would have been all the way right if I hadn’t overestimated New Orlean’s ability to deliver filth. With everything I had heard about Katrina and Bourbon Street, combined with what I experienced in Philly, I expected a little bit more disaster than I got.  While there was plenty of graffiti accented by dead palm fronds, there were no piles of trash blowing down the sidewalk. Philly keeps its filthiest title.

The whole place looks like it used to be green, was then grown over in black mold, and finally scrubbed hard with bleach. The result is a faded green and white streaked with grey black echoing the Spanish moss that hangs from trees outside of town. There aren’t as many trees in town, and they are strung with beads not moss.

When I got there it was surprisingly quiet. There were people around, places were open, but I got the feeling the whole city was resting up, waiting for something to happen later. There were bright colored bits of cloth left torn and strewn over everything. Formely glossy green gold and purple beads hung from tree branches and balcony railings and rainbow flags mixed in regularly with the flour de li. It was like the whole city was experiencing a post drag show hangover. Like something wild and just a touch trashy had already happened, it was sure to happen again, but everyone needed a nap first.

Crossing a grassy median by the trolley tracks I stepped over a pile of discarded casino chips. It was a small pile of Harra’s disks in purple yellow and green. I am not now nor have I ever been a gambler, so as I kept walking past that stash I simultaneously wondered if I had just passed a pile of redeemable money, how one might redeem a pile of found chips, and how badly I would get mocked if I went to Harra’s and tried. Wondering if it was worth a try I noticed an old woman who looked like money walking a miniature dog past a homeless man, and just past the homeless man was a hipster.

Actually they were two, not one- a couple. He with his horn rimmed glasses and beanie, her with a lemon yellow bob and septum piercing, neither of which alone make a hipster, but I saw them navigating by phone, not taking pictures of pretty houses, which could only mean Yelp. I have made it a best practice to follow tattooed millennials who are navigating on foot via Yelp. It is how I have found some of my best meals. On this occasion they were right and so was I.

They were indeed finding food and it was better than good. My first instinct would be to say that the Turkey and the Wolf is not what would be considered New Orleans cuisine, but it is there, and I’ve never had buffalo sauce deviled eggs topped with chicken skin ‘cracklins’ anywhere else, so I would have to say my first instinct was wrong. My second instinct was to order said eggs as well as the shredded lamb gyro drowned in dill. My second instinct did not disappoint. I may have been the only one Instagramming the houses out on my walk but everyone at lunch posted their meal. That includes me.

There were no hipsters at Cochon, and the fact that Google maps had it listed as existing at all made me worry just a little. But it was the closest restaurant to the hotel that wasn’t a hotel restaurant and it was going completely ignored by the tourists who were in town for Wrestlemania, which I saw as a good sign so I went in. I sat at the chef’s counter right in front of the wood burning oven. The chef’s counter is where you sit so you can see your food being made and hear the chef yell unintelligible things to everyone in the kitchen and then they all shout back in unison “yes chef”. You see people scurrying about doing menial things like washing plates, hauling flour and stoking an oven till chef rings a little bell and slides a plate of edible art onto a counter where a less sweaty person picks up the plate for delivery. The waiter described dish Cochon as pulled pork that is formed into a patty, lightly breaded then pan seared. It was good but it was the eggplant soufflé that made me want to shout “yes chef”. I did not expect to like it but the waiter suggested it. and he was right.

Food is everywhere in New Orleans. It is in every little corner shop, in the balconies. In the river, the ocean- everywhere. I had stuffed flounder at Adolfo’s, oysters at Felix’s, boudin and meat pies at Bourree, lime seared chicken at Cane & Table, shrimp etouffee at Galatoire’s, beignet at Café Du Monde, and crawfish at some side of the road place where the guy at the register had to speak through one of those little devices throat cancer survivors use to sound like a robot. They were all worth it in all the ways that matter. No, they are all worth it in all the ways that exist. It is a city where- when it comes to food- no matter how you roll the dice you win. It is telling that in all the days I was there in all the miles I walked or drove, I only saw one McDonalds and never saw a Target. I did see a Bubba Gump, which made me remember that Office episode where Michael’s favorite NY pizza spot is Sbarro’s. Because I’m much more Dwight than Michael I kept walking.

 

Despite it being a Wednesday. I had to weave and squeeze my way around revelers and wanderers down the blocks off Jackson Square. In full disclosure those streets are quite narrow so they aren’t the hardest thing to fill, but the rows of second story balconies packed with people give those streets a gauntlet quality that could be either exciting or terrifying, depending on the person- or people I suppose if you consider both the walkers and the balconers. I enjoyed it. It is a place that feels like a place. The quiet from earlier in the day was gone replaced by jazz.

I’m calling it jazz despite my not really knowing a way to define that genre- but there were plenty of trumpets, tubas, clarinets, and upturned hats or buckets sitting on the curb waiting for tips. Whatever an actual authority might call it, it was mostly upbeat and made walking down a street of strangers feel a bit like a party. No. It felt like multiple parties all squished together. One party was being led by a slightly tubby 20 year old doing covers of 70’s funk songs accompanied by a weathered Al Green doppelganger. Next door, and this part was a surprise to me, was country music. Stepping into an almost empty bar I was initially disappointed to hear a twangy voice slowly whining over an acoustic guitar. I was a little intrigued when I looked on stage to see that noise coming from a black man. As I stared in wonder, a little bit in horror, I realized I knew the song. It was “pictures of You by the Cure. I was witness to a black man singing a country version of a Cure song.  I was amazed, a little impressed, but definitely didn’t want to stay to hear that. One more door down was a full swing band crammed into a very small corner. The sound was great, thumping bass line and quick fingered clarinet, but 20 year olds in fedoras and zuit suits made the place feel a little to costume party for my tastes. Which was fine because there was another bar with another band right next door. This one had a steel guitar and organ and a 40 year old white man singing about bringing a loaded gun to the door to chase off salesmen. I appreciated what he was doing but his voice sounded explainey more than singy and no where near whaling or soulful. The place that finally made me linger was an ensamble that looked like an “all ages” chess club, or maybe like a tech company kick ball team, but they played like I thought the city should sound without looking too kitschy.

Just about an hour’s drive up the Mississippi there is a row of preserved plantations popular with chartered tours and wedding receptions. Facing right up to the big river and backed by sprawling fields of sugar cane are the sorts of palaces fantasized about in Gone with the Wind or any other antebellum story. There you find the real life relics that inspired those post war un reconstructed ideas. Oak Alley aptly named with a long arched tunnel of Oak limbs flanking a path leading to bright white columns encasing a genteel two story wrap around porch is right off the road. One mile up river is another called Evergreen, and then there is Laura, and St. Joseph. They are all landscaped to photographic perfection with clean and quaint gift shops selling cook books and hoop skirts. Lousiana isn’t unique in this. After all, the real Terra is in Atlanta and Mt. Vernon is above all else, celebratory. I have been on house and ground tours in Virginia, Savannah, Charleston, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and they all do things pretty much the same. They dress up like the white people who owned the place and tell wonderful stories of rags to riches mercantilism, explain the furniture, and then they laud the family’s contributions to the community through the 1930’s or 60’s when the last spinster descendent turned the estate over to a preservationist trust so we could all enjoy the rich history that lives in this beautiful place.

Then there is the Whitney.

Historically the Whitney is exactly like all the others. It too started with a colonists dream built into a business then handed down as a family palace. Its history is no different than Monticello, the Hermitage, or all its neighbors along the big river but it is fundamentally, foundationally, spiritually, different from all of them today.

I have been to Monticello and been told on the house tour that Mr. Jefferson had trouble getting a good cook to stay in the house. I was told a story of how Jefferson made a great investment in his chef’s French training only to have said chef skip town once back in America. There was no mention that this was because the chef was a slave and slaves didn’t like being slaves. Nor was there mention of this slave being related to the master’s family by blood and I was informed that this was scandalous rumor that couldn’t be proven- despite the fact that a Pulitzer prize winner had recently done just that.

I was told another tale at the home of Andrew Jackson where great honor is given to a grey haired old black man who when given his freedom, decided to stay on the plantation. The tour gave no room for questioning why.

But I have also been to Buchenwald in Germany.

Buchenwald was a concentration camp built by Nazi Germany as part of the final solution. After its liberation by Allied armies the local Germans were made to tour the facility. It was thought important that those who may not have been directly responsible, though perhaps complicit, be brought face to face with the realities of genocide and death. Today the camp is open as a museum and memorial to those who suffered and or died there.

That is the Whitney Plantation.

There was no talk there of confederate bravery or Nazi scientific precision, just honesty and reverence for the black people who suffered and or died-for the sole purpose of making some white people rich. It was not really about blame- though it was honest and fair in a way that those other houses have never been, nor was the prevailing feeling one of hate or revenge.

I have been to DC and stood at the Vietnam memorial, a large wall listing the names of the dead, and it feels sacred. At the Whitney there is a similar memorial listing names of black people who suffered-and or died-as slaves just in Louisiana. It lists double the number of names as the wall in DC (57,939 vs 109,200) and felt to me at least as powerful.

And then there are those statues.

In the little chapel, and out in the wooden shacks, are black children cast in bronze. Their visible presence is an unavoidable reminder of who lived in these homes and why. They are haunting. But they aren’t just blank recreations of what might have been, these children have names. And they have stories. In the 1930’s the federal government sent out employees with recording equipment to capture the stories of those old people who were alive back in slave times. The statues are those people, portrayed at the age they would have been when emancipated. The result is not just a bunch of kid statues, but real people whose stories you can know and stand and hear while looking at them standing or sitting in the location where they were born- meant to suffer and or die to make some white family rich. There is no such thing at other houses.

But what struck me the most, or hit me the hardest, was a bell.

Bells were normal on plantations and they were rung for several reasons. They rang to call everyone in from the field, or for lights out, or as a call to gather to witness someone being punished. The Whitney has such bells. The Whitney also has something else other plantations don’t really have- black visitors. I have stood in several crowds of German, Japanese, or French people at dozens of historic plantations- but what I had never done before was be in such a place standing next to black people. Outside of minors who were bussed to such places on field trips or the awkward bridesmaid whose white sorority sister opted for a genteel plantation wedding, I had not known black people to visit the location of their ancestor’s torture.

But at the Whitney I witnessed a tour guide tell of the old ringing of plantation bells with the explanation that now they choose to ring them in honor of the memory of black people who once lived there, and then I watched a young black mother send her little black son up to pull the rope. When the bell rang I lost my mind. My head stopped thinking and I started feeling. My eyes welled up, my breathing caught short and I had to walk away. I didn’t just see and know things right then, I felt them.

There is meaning in that.

And then I left that place and went a mile down the road to another such house where the guide proudly showed me the plantation owner’s signature on multiple loyalty pledges where he had duplicitously promised not to fight against the United States in the civil war any more. The guide chuckled when he also showed me the list of battles this plantation owner fought in after breaking those promises. There was no mention of black people other than to brag that after emancipation most of the slaves chose to stay. He had no answer as to who those black people were or why they made that so called “choice”.

 

And that is New Orleans.

It is an old city with much of its story sinking in mud both real and figurative. I t is a place where bad things happened and happen. It is the kind of place where despite all of those things or maybe because of them, people choose not to focus but drench themselves in bourbon and beads. The music swings loud, the food is full of flavor, and they dance at funerals.

The city is turning 300 years old this year which is “founding fathers” old in American years and all this time the crescent city has been its own kind of place with its own story. More than any other city this one is the story of France, Spain, the Huma and Choctaw- and Africa. And then the United States, Haiti, and the Confederacy. All the while Andrew Jackson waves his hat triumphantly in the square and goes mostly ignored. The crowds that mill around are more interested in Café Dumond’s beignets or the buskers on the corner. They are not really looking into the city’s history, unless maybe on a ghost tour, which is less about what happened then and more about what sort of then still haunts now. Which is appropriate because now is haunted by then so much more than the crowds appear to want to know. Though in all fairness the crowds only appear to want to know bourbon and brightly colored beads.

The party is so loud and constant that you sense it has and will always be going on and consequentially the place is celebrated but only shallowly considered. Maybe that is changing just a little, they did after all take down a statue or two,

but I don’t really know.

I don’t live here.

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Less Disaster Than I Anticipated: New Orleans

I had in my head, thanks to history books and too many movies, an image of a place a lot like Philly, having an old colonial feel topped off by a few decades of industrial decay, just with more of a swing than a beat- and wrought iron balconies. Maybe I was just seeing what I wanted to see, but I wasn’t completely wrong. I would have been all the way right if I hadn’t overestimated New Orleans’s ability to deliver filth. With everything I had heard about Katrina and Bourbon Street, combined with what I experienced in Philly, I expected a little bit more disaster than I got.  While there was plenty of graffiti accented by dead palm fronds, there were no piles of trash blowing down the sidewalk. Philly keeps its filthiest title.

Despite it being a Wednesday. I had to weave and squeeze my way around revelers and wanderers down the blocks around Jackson Square. In full disclosure the streets are quite narrow so they aren’t the hardest thing to fill, but the rows of second story balconies packed with people give those streets a gauntlet quality that could be either exciting or terrifying depending on the person, or people. I suppose if you consider both the walkers and the balconers it is either a multi level party or a 3D assault waiting to happen. I enjoyed it.

It is a place that feels like a place.img_9281

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Staying Grounded: I am so often wrong… at least initially

I had a very deep and brilliant thought this morning while in the shower. It was based on a scripture in Matthew and as this thought occurred to me I began mentally working through the application of this chapter and verse into my life, into my family’s daily life, and especially the implementation of my brilliance throughout all of society. This was important.IMG_3702

Then, once I was dried and dressed, I sat down with my mate’ and opened the Bible to the verse in question. Upon re reading it I realized it meant the opposite of what I had remembered and my entire scheme fell apart.

It was a valuable lesson.

I was not wrong in the spirit of what I was thinking, and definitely not wrong in motivation- I was looking to do good and be a better person. Yet when it came to these particular nuts and bolts, this little thought regarding implementation of Godly ideals, I was off-base. It is not best to be off base regarding God.

This is why we have these sorts of books. This is why scripture is called such and canonized. It keeps us grounded. There is among those with whom I commune, the recurring theme that the great value in this grounding is that the world is continually shifting, and it is this immovable type set that allows our footing to be securely on God’s ground. I don’t disagree but I would like to add that as I demonstrated this morning, it isn’t only the world that is shifting but us.

Or maybe most of us aren’t shifting in how “they” mean it regarding the world, in that God is in one place and the world is drifting and shifting away, but maybe we as individuals were never really as in line with God as we sometimes assume, and we need quite a bit of movement and improvement if we are to ever get on the right page. I find this thinking more productive especially considering most of us aren’t really all that exceptional; we are normal, which means that thinking about our own improvement rather than the requisite repenting of some imagined “other”, is more likely to bring us to the most applicable lesson.

Because odds are the things I need to work on are close to, or similar to, the things that those around me need help with also.

So I am glad to have something trustworthy in which to stay grounded, because no matter how fallible the translations in there might be, they are surely less fallible than you and me.

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