AKA Abraham Bacoln

Jazzfest is upon us
April 25, 2009, 8:31 pm
Filed under: tidbit

For the past two days our neighborhood has been so vibrant that I’m left unable to accurately express how it makes me feel – but you know me, I’m gonna try.

We live one block away from the fence to the Fair Grounds, which (in case you didn’t know) is where the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival aka Jazzfest is held every year. Jazzfest is as far as I know second only to Mardi Gras in terms of a grand tourist influx into our fair city. It’s massive – seven days worth of music at twelve different stages spread over two weekends. It also happens only one block away from here.

When we first looked at renting this house I was reluctant to take it for exactly that reason – the only time I had ever been in this neighborhood before was for Jazzfest and I knew how crowded and crazy it seemed. I was really unsure whether or not I wanted to live in the middle of all that, even if it is only two weekends a year. The house was simply too incredible to pass up, though, so I was left with only a nagging wonder as to how bad the fest season was going to be.

The answer today, after the first two days, is: it’s going to be totally fine and totally fun.

There are people that live in our neighborhood that throw massive parties this time of year, and I’m convinced they live here just for that reason. Some of them don’t even bother to go inside the gates anymore, they just have parties every night.

Last night, for example, Casey and I went to a crawfish boil just one block away. There were well over 100 people there, all sitting around long tables covered with red spicy crawfish, lemons, new potatoes, all that. We went in, got food, sat, ate, socialized, and not once did we ever have any idea at whose house we were feasting. It was just a neighborhood party.

We live at the intersection of two one-way streets, and it’s amazing to me how many cars go the wrong way down the lesser of the two. That number has been doubled this weekend – apparently in the drivers’ minds it’s the last place to turn around before getting too deep into the neighborhood.

Cars come from everywhere to park around here, and we (the residents of the neighborhood) have to be careful about preserving our parking. Fortunately the traffic enforcement is out in great numbers. I’ve seen several cars ticketed and booted already for parking in the wrong places. We’ve also seen what feels like hundreds of patrol cars, and several times the mounted officers (you know, on horseback) have clopped their way down the street. Well, the horses clopped, not the officers, but you know what I meant.

Casey and I just sit on our front porch and watch the flow of people. During the day they’re all headed into the gates, but it’s a constant and slow stream. Around 7:00 PM the majority of the stages are shutting down, and the outflow is intense. We have the most amazing people-watchable parade just sliding down the street right past our porch – close enough to give someone a high-five if we so desired.

It’s strange because I associate huge numbers of tourists with Mardi Gras and the amazing disrespect for cleanliness we all have during that time. Jazzfest crowds are far more respectful, for which I am grateful. We’re using our big trash can as part of our parking spot retainer, and today when I went to put out a bag of trash there were at least a dozen bottles or cans in there. Some people have looked guilty as they throw the trash in, and I tell them not to be – I’m just thankful they’re keeping things clean.

The weather has been fantastic the past two days, and I’m hoping it holds for next weekend as well. This afternoon I stood just off a neighbor’s front stoop and listened to a few talented musicians play just for the hell of it.

Neighborhood music

Today while biking to Parkway for our lunch we stopped at a lemonade stand set up by the neighborhood kids. Yesterday we attended a neighbor’s art show-slash-sale set up in the front room of their house, also just for the hell of it. The sale, not our attendance. We’re going back over there tonight for a live band and some jambalaya, why not?

Casey’s happy because from our front porch she has heard bits of the show of not only Spoon but Wilco, two of her favorites. I’m not saying it’s clear as day here, but it’s obvious which bands are which, and that alone is fascinating – to live that close to all of it.

We’re having a great time, in case it’s not obvious, and I think I’ve learned quickly that I love this neighborhood during Jazzfest.

Oh, and in case you were wondering – no, we haven’t actually gone in. We might … but we might not. We apparently have enough to keep us busy as it stands.

Understanding unintentional plagiarism
April 14, 2009, 10:19 am
Filed under: tidbit

I’m sure you’ve all read the stories about someone caught touting a tune or turning a phrase that wasn’t theirs in the first place, and the guilty party says, when confronted with the evidence, “I must have seen or heard it before but I have no memory it.”

Over a year ago I wrote in my notebook what I thought was an original observation: What’s the point of remembering anything? You’re just going to forget it eventually. Not particularly witty or inspiring, but it seemed specific and appropriate to how I myself function.

About a month back I was re-reading some book from my collection and I came across the same sentiment with almost exactly the same wording. It became immediately apparent that I myself had performed an act of unintentional plagiarism on a small scale. I finally recognized that some of those people featured in copyright fiascos or lyrical lawsuits may not have been lying about being unaware of what they were doing.

I would love to tell you the name of the book in which this quote was featured but … I … ah, I’ve kind of forgotten which one it was.

Liquid history
April 2, 2009, 10:03 am
Filed under: tidbit

Most of you who read this blog know my history, but for those of you who don’t, allow me to get you up to speed.

In February of 2002 I started work as a stockguy at Martin Wine Cellar down here in New Orleans. I had zero understanding of wine, other than some was red, some was white, and I had heard the words ‘Cabernet’ and ‘Chardonnay’ but didn’t know what they meant other that which one was which color. Putting those bottles on the shelves all day long and having my managers’ patient tolerance for my questions quickly increased my wine knowledge. One area that remained mysterious a bit longer was the liquors and liqueurs section – a side aisle filled with oddly-shaped bottles with incomprehensible flavors and fascinating foreign names. Unlike wine, these weren’t sampled out to customers every day. No one openly debated the merits of one cachaça over the other, or which kirsch would add the best flavor to a fondue. Sure I knew what whiskey, tequila, vodka, and gin were, but cream made from the fruit of the Marula tree? I thought chartreuse was a color, not something that would be bottled and sold.

I wish I could claim that the first time I saw a bottle of Ojen it caught my eye and I was spellbound – I had to buy it that very day and taste it that very night … but had that happened I wouldn’t be writing this, so you know it’s not true.

A glass of disappearing history

Ojen sat on the top shelf at the Uptown store right next to the Herbsaint, Pernod, and all the other absinthe substitutes. I hardly noticed it, because I didn’t have to restock it very often (if at all). It did get my attention somewhat because of its interesting bottle shape but in an aisle of interesting bottle shapes it didn’t stand out that much. During the only Mardi Gras I worked as a stockguy it got pushed to the front of the store as a floor stack or maybe just a front door display. I asked about it and was told, “Some of the guys in one of the parade krewes use it in their drinks” or something to that effect. I learned that it was an anise liqueur not because it was sitting beside the other absinthe substitutes but instead from the day that a customer dropped (and broke) a bottle at the front of the store and almost instantly the entire place was flooded with the intense rich smell of licorice. The mop continued to smell of licorice for days afterward.

After moving to the inventory department I heard the story about how the distillery in Spain that had produced Ojen had shut down years ago, but right before they closed up shop we asked for one last run. Therefore sitting in our warehouse was the last of it, all the Ojen that was or would ever be. That one last stack of cases seemed a bit sad.

I moved away from New Orleans.

Three years and two months later I came back to New Orleans.

In that time I’ve come to appreciate the city a bit more. I’ve also learned to enjoy the history of this crazy place, especially that of Mardi Gras. One of the things I’ve realized is that it wasn’t just “some krewe” that was buying Ojen for their parade cocktails, it was the Krewe of Rex, the big krewe that rolls on Mardi Gras day itself. Rex was founded in 1872, over forty years after the production of Ojen began. The cocktail had been popular in New Orleans at the turn of the century and perhaps longer, maybe even as long as this venerated krewe has been parading.

Still it didn’t sink in what I was looking at. Sometimes you don’t realize you’re at the cusp of change until the corner has been turned.

The lightbulb moment for me happened last Saturday. Casey and I went to the Absinthe Museum to watch Jeff Hollinger talk about – and pour – absinthe cocktails (in case you haven’t heard, absinthe is legal again). He is the general manager of Absinthe Brasserie & Bar in San Francisco and had come to town more or less to do this appearance. While he was mixing and talking someone in the audience asked him, “What all are you going to do while you’re down here? Anything in particular you’re looking for?” and his reply was, “Well, I plan to eat at such-and-such restaurant, and also I hope to pick up a bottle of Ojen.”

That made me realize that this man, a man who is involved in all things absinthe and absinthe-related, didn’t even have his own bottle. I’m sure he’s had an Ojen frappé at some point, I’m sure he’s tasted it at the very least, but this guy doesn’t have his own bottle – and hopes to find one. That realization solidified in my mind the idea that Ojen was not a nation-wide product. Hell, it’s not even regional. It is, as far as I know, only available in New Orleans itself. I talked to Jeff and told him where to pick up a bottle, and then Casey and I went on our way to go enjoy the rest of our day.

My mind was churning, though, processing all this information. I looked at the numbers and we have very few bottles left on the shelves, probably less than twenty-five. It made me realize that this cocktail has been a New Orleans institution for decades and now it’s on the verge of dying out because of unavailability. Past that it made me realize that I would be a fool not to buy a bottle for myself and enjoy it – but never hoard it, or dole it out in drips and drabs. Just occasionally have a glass of this Spanish “aguardiente anisado”, this tiny New Orleanian tradition, and if worse comes to worst in the upcoming years at least I’ll know I had my time enjoying it.

I would hate to have seen it mentioned in a book on the history of New Orleans or Mardi Gras and been saddened because I had missed my chance to own and consume a part of that Ojen history.

Friends are a seriously weird thing to have
March 5, 2009, 11:11 am
Filed under: tidbit

This is going to take some explanation so bear with me.

Several months ago my Cookeville friend Sean Setters asked me to go on a photo shoot with him. I think he had some new equipment he wanted to test, I don’t remember. I know the pain of wanting to take pictures and not having a subject (see: all my self-portraits ever) so I gladly went with him.

Towards the end of the shoot we were messing around discussing lighting and I brought up the two side-lights thing that’s popular when you want something to look dramatic and maybe menacing. Well, he set it up and I played along and he produced this:

which is, to me, a very amusing photograph. I mean I don’t usually hang around dark alleys trying to look menacing and failing. Usually.

Then several weeks later Sean S. surprised me by presenting me with a print of this image, I believe 11×13 or so. Big old print. Metallic paper as well, so it was shiny and wonderful. I was very glad to receive it, and got it home, and then realized … I can’t really hang this in my house. What a strange image to present to visitors, you know? “Hey welcome to my place, I’m going to beat you up.”

So I held on to it and tried to figure out what to do with it. Shortly afterwards I started dating Casey, and after we’d been going out for a while and I knew her sense of humor I gave it to her. I said, “HERE! Here is a picture of me for you to have back home in Knoxville so you never forget me!”

Don’t worry, I mean, I knew what I was doing.

The next weekend I went to visit her in Knoxville and I said, “So, did you put that picture up anywhere?” and she told me flat-out, “No. It is too creepy.” I knew she was a smart woman.

So time passes, and we move down to New Orleans together. As we’re unpacking her stuff we came across the picture, and said, “So, should we hang this up here in our new house?” and quickly agreed that no, it’s still too creepy and weird to present to visitors.

After looking at it for a month or two, always curious what purpose it could serve, I had an idea. I know it’s too strange for me to hang up in my own house, as it is a portrait of me, but it’s not too weird for someone that’s not me. That led me to hold a contest of sorts with some of my internet friends. I told them that whichever of them could come up with the strangest thing to do with my picture (not mutilating or disfiguring it, of course) would become the proud receipient.

My internet friend Sean J., whom I have never met in real life, won the contest by popular vote by stating that he would hang it on the inside of his medicine cabinet so that snoopy jerks would get an eyeful. This, I agreed, was a grand idea. I sent the print to Sean J.

Here’s where things get a bit mixed-up. There was another contest going on at this same message board where the current challenge was:

“I want to see [one of us] standing on a non-deserted street corner holding a sign with a proposition written on it. What the proposition is doesn’t matter — don’t get yourselves arrested, folks — so long as passing traffic can ostensibly read it.”

[this is the kind of contest where the only prize for meeting the challenge is the right to declare the next challenge]

Sean J. decided to kill one and a half birds with one stone, and presented the world with this:

You can click that picture for bigger, but the important part is this:

That is some street corner in central Florida. That is some woman he does not know. He said he actually got five bucks for doing that. Somehow.

Sean J. presented this image back to the judges and the crowd went wild. A discussion ensued. Someone made a joke about “the komara fund” and then next thing you know,


was registered. Anonymously. I have no idea which of my crazy stupid internet friends did this, but apparently the joke was worth the ~$8 domain registration fee to them. I know it is to me.

This, my friends, is where the story ends. For now.

I will certainly let you know if I receive any benefit from having a fund set up in my name. And Sean S., I hope you don’t mind that I sent the picture off to a man I’ve never met. I can only imagine that the ensuing weirdness makes up for it.

EDIT: I forgot to show you this: the komara beard-o-meter showing donation progress.

Proud to be one of the St. Anthony Ramblers
February 25, 2009, 9:54 pm
Filed under: tidbit

Where to start, where to start? Well, I’ll start here.

This is my fifth Mardi Gras (season) and not once have I ever really done anything on Mardi Gras day. You have to understand that there’s typically a week and a half of parades and insanity leading up to the big day itself, and it’s far too easy to get burned out and fast. As previously stated: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. So yes, in years previous I have completely ignored Fat Tuesday and spent it inside being grateful that I was not at yet another parade.

This year since it was Casey’s first Mardi Gras I thought I’d break tradition and actually go do something on Mardi Gras day, maybe actually catch the Zulu and Rex parades (which while not technically the biggest parades are arguably the most important). Instead, our friend Jonah invited us to be part of the St. Anthony Ramblers.


Oh, wait, let’s back up. You know that there are a blue ton of people that dress up on Mardi Gras day and go out in public in their masks, right? And that it’s called ‘masking’? In case … you know, you couldn’t figure out what I was talking about. Anyway, yes, I have never masked for Mardi Gras day – see above re: not doing anything on Tuesday.

[I did not bring my camera because it has a tendency to get heavy and I knew we would be out for a few hours. Because of this I will be linking to the photos of others, not my own, and that’s fine by me. It was better to be unencumbered and enjoy the day – too often the taking of pictures removes me from the moment, and I decided to forego that extrication.]

So anyway the St. Anthony Ramblers are one of several groups who mask for Mardi Gras and go hold their own kind of parade. Several of the Mardi Gras day groups are small, several are big. Turns out the Ramblers eventually gather enough people to fill the street for an entire city block. That, in my opinion, is a big group. PLUS we had our very own band – Panorama. Their instruments are typical brass band, but they played not only Mardi Gras standards but also some klezmer tunes, and if you’ve never heard klezmer being played by a brass band then son, I don’t envy you.

There is nothing like a band being led by El Capitan flying our standard high to let people know that a parade is coming. Every single block we walked down had people lining the sidewalks to hear our delightful music and revel in the sights of our myriad costumes.

Speaking of costumes, here Casey and I are in ours – she with her sequined top, tutu, rhinestoned shoes and mask, and flowers; me with my black pants and shirt, black long-nosed mask, top hat, scarf, and calla lilies. Sorry you can’t see the lilies very well but since you know they’re there then you can use your imagination. This picture was taken at perhaps 9:45 in the morning. When you want to walk all over the Faubourg Marigny and the French Quarter you have to start early.

This shows you about a quarter of the people we started out with – and it only grew from there. You can see the two of us at the right of the SUV as we waited for everyone to show up. It probably goes without saying that as we marched we picked up people until we were so large that we easily filled the street for an entire city block.

Here is the route of the St. Anthony Ramblers – we started in the Marigny, walked to a bar, and stopped for 20-30 minutes. Then we walked to the next bar, and there stopped for 20-30 minutes. At this point you should be able to see a pattern. By the time we parted ways with the group it was 2:00PM and everyone was still going strong. Since Casey and I weren’t drinking (no, seriously, stop laughing, we weren’t drinking) we didn’t hang out the entire day. Who knows how long the whole thing went, actually? I haven’t talked to anyone yet today to find out when the party shut down.

All in all it was one hell of a way to spend Mardi Gras day. I had a pocket full of stars and moons that I handed out to various people along the route, which made them smile. I got to hear fantastic music. I got to be part of the spectacle instead of a spectator.

I will certainly be one of the St. Anthony Ramblers next year.

In closing, here are a few more pictures for your amusement:
Our king and Queen
El Capitan giving the Captain’s toast
Us occupying a whole block in front of the St. Louis Cathedral
Panorama playing
What the heck – one more shot of me in the crowd, mask off because I was too damn hot

… and in case you haven’t gotten enough yet, or aren’t jealous yet, here’s the whole St. Anthony Ramblers Flickr pool which will probably continue to be updated for a few days as people sober up and post their photos.

Carnival is fully upon us
February 22, 2009, 6:27 pm
Filed under: tidbit

Sorry I haven’t been writing much lately. Things are busy here because we’re smack in the middle of Mardi Gras. Two and a half days left!

Um let’s see. Real quick: we still have and enjoy our jobs. The cat is fine. The weather has been beautiful even when it gets below 40°, which is rare. Yes, I’m rubbing it in. We still love love love our house and neighborhood, aside from a few crime incidents (but those happen in every neighborhood down here as far as I can tell). We love walking to the grocery store almost every night to pick up just what we need to complete dinner, and the opportunity it gives us to say hi to all the cats and dogs in the neighborhood.

Mardi Gras (season, not day) can be incredibly taxing. To paraphrase what Jonah said last night, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” There is at least one huge parade every day from Wednesday (three days ago) until Tuesday, and the closer you get to Tuesday the more and bigger the parades get. We’ve seen … oh, I’ve lost count already, let’s see … Krewe du Vieux, Oshun, Pygmalion, Druids (maybe), Babylon, Muses, Knights of Chaos, Hermes, Krewe D’Etat, Morpheus, and part of Endymion. I think that means that so far we’ve missed about six or seven. Each of these parades lasts somewhere between 30 minutes if you’re lucky or two hours if you’re not, so as you can see we’ve spent a LOT of time standing on St. Charles Ave with our hands in the air. We’re probably not going to Bacchus tonight because we’re worn out – even though if we did go we would get to see Val Kilmer.

Anyway, the parades are great fun, and yes, they’re family friendly, at least in the areas of town in which we watch so no, we haven’t been showing any kind of skin. You get to meet up with your friends, stand on the street, make new friends, and occasionally catch one of the hundreds of thousands of strings of beads (or other goodies) raining down from the sky.

Our living room floor is covered in beads right now and that’s not counting the ones that Casey used to decorate the fence outside. We now have a huge stack of extra plastic cups (the krewes throw cups, not sure why that one started) and more useless toys and gizmos than we have any idea what to do with.

So … uh … yeah, that’s it. I figured I should check in and say hi, but I don’t have anything to report other than the fact that Mardi Gras is in full swing, we have yet to have any reason to go to the French Quarter and watch the drunken tourists, the rest of our daily schedule is disrupted because it’s hard to drive across town without hitting a parade, it seems, and it won’t be over until Tuesday at midnight.

I have two more days off of work and then life will finally return to what passes for normal down here. See you then.

Mardi Gras, brah
February 9, 2009, 9:57 pm
Filed under: tidbit

Krewe du Vieux

Originally uploaded by Brother O’Mara

Aw geez I don’t even know what to say about this. I think that b sums it up better than I can but I’ll try:

We’ve technically been in carnival season a.k.a. Mardi Gras since January 6th but just now, having seen the first real parade of the season, does it feel official. Casey had never been to a Mardi Gras parade and Krewe du Vieux, the walking parade through the French Quarter, was her first. They are notorious for being amazingly irreverent, satirical, and merciless with regards to their float and costume designs. They certainly did not fail us this year.

One bad thing about being behind the camera is how much you miss because of this piece of plastic and glass separating you from real life, so I made the decision that KdV was going to be the first and only parade to which I bring my camera this year. There may be some pocket point-and-shoot action but for the most part I want to experience the parades, not document them. Besides, all Mardi Gras parade pictures look the same. So yeah, here are six KdV pics for your amusement. You’ll have to go elsewhere for pictures of the rest.

Anyway, point of all this is that It Has Started and I’m sorry, but I’m going to be busy for the next two weeks so if you need me you can come find me at the side of St. Charles Ave watching those krewes roll by.

EDIT: if you want more pictures of KdV, Shanna posted quite a few. Some of those might be borderline not safe for work.

Just go ahead and go
February 3, 2009, 10:44 pm
Filed under: tidbit

Go. Go see Frost/Nixon on the big screen. It is 100% worth it. I have never held my breath more during a movie.

Writing, directing, pacing, cinematography, and especially acting – all stellar.


All it takes is one little thing
February 1, 2009, 3:29 pm
Filed under: tidbit

For years I have thought I didn’t like Cajun music, or zydeco, or whatever you want to call it. This stems from the fact that every bead and t-shirt shop and daiquiri joint along Decatur in the Quarter blasts this horrible stuff out into the street at all hours, trying to suck in the tourists looking for that kind of thing while the real Cajun country sits a three hour drive away into the middle of nowhere.

Well, like I said – it only takes one thing. In reading an article today about what really makes a Cajun a Cajun I saw the name of a musician, Dewey Balfa, and decided to look up some of his stuff. Watching the clip featured below kind of gave me a shock, because it was so different than what I expected, and also was something I had never seen before or even heard of in music:

I mean, really? Fiddlesticks? It just … is fantastic. I might have to actually search for more of his music (in album not Youtube form) and give it a listen. I just can’t believe how different it is than what I expected, and how good it is. It’s … surreal. It reminds me of good old-timey country (which I love) but with some amazing twist. I’m sure Walter could explain all the technicalities of it to me but for now I’ll just say I’m happy I finally made the discovery.

[side note:if you really want to dissect the difference between cajun music and zydeco then this article is a good start – if that’s what you’re into]

January 31, 2009, 10:38 am
Filed under: tidbit

My favorite part of our recent weekly address:

And adding to this outrage we learned this week that even as they petitioned for taxpayer assistance Wall Street firms shamefully paid out nearly $20 billion in bonuses for 2008. While I’m committed to doing what it takes to maintain the flow of credit, the American people will not excuse or tolerate such arrogance and greed.

1/31/09 President Obama’s weekly address