John Cage’s birthday on Frenchman Street, New Orleans

5 September 2012

So, there wasn’t too much going on for John Cage’s 100th birthday in New Orleans. Indeed, Googling the words ‘”John Cage” Centennial “New Orleans”‘ actually brought me to a few entries on my own blog. So, my friend and housemate, Joe, listened to all John Cage while at home that day. I was in the midst of packing, so it was my accompaniment to that. I listened to The Seasons three times, because I love it so much, most of Roaratorio :  An Irish Circus on Finnegans Wake, many of his early pieces, including some of the recordings featuring the extraordinary voice of Robert Wyatt, from the Obscure Records LP, released in 1976. One of my favourite records, period. His voice is perfect for those songs.

Joe also accompanied me to Frenchman Street while I sold art that night. Before going down there I stopped at a FedEx store on Canal Street, and made a few copies of this poster I made. The man working there had a big beard, was very friendly, and seemed to have a few artistic tendencies, so I asked him if he knew of John Cage. He said no, but asked if he might recognise any of his work. I told him about the silent piece, 4’33”, how controversial it was and continues to be, why it’s important and so forth. He responded with an indifferent “hmm”, and then wished me a good evening.

I set up my art on Frenchman Street where I normally do, near my good friend Erin, who writes poetry on her typewriter. Joe decided it was a night to film, so he did, as inconspicuously as he could. For the longest time no one said anything about the image. And then, out of the blue, a middle-aged woman, dressed for the night with makeup, jewelry, heels and the works, screamed “Ah, John Cage !” and enthusiastically pointed at the picture. I replied calmly, “Oh, you know him ?” And to that, she replied, “Yes, I’m Merce Cunningham’s niece !” I was shocked. Completely lost for words. It took me a while to piece together those five words, but after an unidentifiable amount of time, it all made sense. Or, of course, as much sense as that statement can make on John Cage’s 100th birthday in New Orleans. She continued to explain more of the obvious :  that she was, in fact, Merce’s niece. She then told me how she had dinner with John many times, how he always had a sparkle in his eye (I knew that … ), and how kind and warm he was, always. It was so lovely to hear all those things. We talked a bit more, about the Cornish School, Seattle, mushrooms, and so on. She was very friendly and happy to know that many younger people are interested in Merce’s and John’s work, if not more than before. So it was a good conversation to have !

That’s about it. I could go on and on about the very drunken electrician from Pennsylvania who was shipped in with his company to work on the power outages in New Orleans post Hurricane Issac, and how he stayed with us for at least an hour, talking in layers of intoxicated circles about fixing telephone wires, the translation of Baton Rouge, the State of Georgia, his childlike ideas on art (uninhibited, fresh and flawed), and Erin’s hair. But I don’t have time to write much more. (Writing from West Texas at the moment.) But it’s worth it to say that he was one of the three people who bought something that night (this print), one featuring an abstracted cascade of loosely rendered flowers.


New Orleans, dark in the night

As Hurricane Issac has (finally) passed us by, most of the city remains in darkness.
This rambling journal entry will have to suffice :

30 August 2012, 23:55

Find Zeus. Find the cat. Sounds of footsteps sound in an otherwise silent space. Find the cat. He went outside, into the darkness, dark as there is no light. Save for the moon’s near-full moonlight, there is no light. The cat will be found, then the night will be closed up, in here. No power inside. No light outside, save for the moonlight. The last remaining tiny tea candlelight flickers on the wall of this room and the air is still and warm and the crickets hum with it.

The city is out of power. Most of it. Not the Quarter; they have power. But just go past Esplanade into the Marigny, and there is complete darkness. At least as complete as the darkness can be, save for the similar aforementioned variables such as moonlight and other small lights. Approaching Esplanade is like reaching the edge of an old city—no gleaming suburbs in the distance. The last lights line the road and Esplanade Mini Mart bustles with activity: people teetering out of its doors, yelling and talking and (why not) really just walking around in circles holding beers. Past this, the buildings fade into obscurity, forming lengthy silhouettes of full-bodied dark geometry, spilling into the undefined location where the road meets the trees and the trees meet the sky. The buildings’ contours are randomly sectioned by dark bowed power lines—organic how they hang from post to post, yet artificial when their black sheen catches shafts of moonlight, forced to bend to their shape. Gas lights, like tiny tea candlelights, spot the darkness like soft golden jewels.

The pictures don’t necessarily illustrate much in the paragraphs above. The first image is of Manchu’s Food Store on Claiborne, underneath I-10. Notice how there are no lights on the highway. Really amazing… very post-apocalyptic. The store was apparently running from a generator, and its single low-lit room was packed with an agitated group of sweaty people buying beer and non-perishable food items. Other images include the Marigny and Frenchman Street. One of the final images is the front of The Spotted Cat, which was also running from a generator, and it and Café Negril (lit by candlelight) were the only open businesses on Frenchman. The Spotted Cat featured an unsurprisingly extraordinary jazz band and was full of dancing, hot people. It shone like an oasis on an otherwise dark street.

Pictures from City Park, New Orleans / Horses

I finally got to explore a fair amount of City Park in New Orleans. From what I’ve heard, this park is larger than Central Park in New York City. The southern end begins about a quarter of a mile from where I’m currently staying; it then extends north, almost flush with Lake Pontchartrain. There’s an exceptional variety in this park: Innumerable types of landscaping both old and new, yellow and green fields spotted with pure white storks, a vast network of wide bayous, bird sanctuaries, unknown deteriorating concrete structures with no lasting purpose other than to act as immovable objects of a time since past (unintentionally re-purposed into art), thick overgrown vegetation on which a kind of audible heat settles, and gorgeous old brick buildings (many abandoned and easily accessible, as well as some still functioning). I could go on for a while.

Anyway, it was hot. I hope these pictures convey that.

Also, I came across a large equestrian farm, about half way through the park, but on the eastern border. I went through the gates and briefly visited some of the horses. There were a fair amount of trees, so they had lots of shade, which was good. One was in the sun, however, leaning over the corner section of a white fence. He or she was a very affectionate horse, and reminded me of this one, a pony I met while walking along side the road in Ireland (taken with an actual camera, too !), while hitchhiking. This horse, however, was even more friendly, and she put her nose on my shoulder for about 5 minutes. Really, really sweet.

Old perfume bottles and a white wall

I recently visited the New Orleans Museum of Art. Aside from an exceptional collection of contemporary pieces, they also have a lovely collection of old perfume bottles. I can’t for the life of me remember any dates on these, nor can I find any information on this small exhibit. I don’t think any of these are older than, say, 300 years. I could be wrong !  But they are gorgeous, aren’t they ?

And just to round out the gallery, I’ll include a nighttime shot of a white wall with blown-out levels, just because I see a similarity.

A Poem – From the Night, 1

Compositionally interesting :
Thin black grey sheets on red and with a shade of white stripes
Spectrum lost with no less than an exclamation

Too lost
To take
The last part is a remorse
Curved lines on contour forthwilling adherence ; warning for nothing

The fog accumulates in corners
The walls are brushed steel and painted resin
Take it out method nothing ?  Only one window
And it seems just like a lake
Just like a lake. Why ?
The endlessness is no more

It’s a long lake
You can’t see the other side,
No, nothing
Is there
In sight

Louisiana / New Orleans, 1

Driving through most of Louisiana somewhere between 1AM – 4AM was a surreal experience. The town of Sulphur is first to be driven through, and Route 10 is situated on the periphery of the city, surrounded by extended clusters of development, various industry and oil refineries. At night, this all looks like a lively metropolis, with groups of towers and lights and roads quickly cutting off into the mess: For instance, a dark floor of lights is pulled up, forming towering amorphous extrusions speckled with spots of iridescent yellow holes; an uncertain brightness wants release, and a blackness of nothing wants to contain. But these towers are nothing like that. It’s not about light escaping darkness. It’s about oil and industry and teeming, swirling nefarious activities, with a sharpened, physical, geometrical existence, highlighted with artificial contours.

Much of Route 10 bridges vast swampland, and the highway has no exits during these sections. After an hour or so of driving into complete darkness, save for a few signs and reflector lines on the road, the lights of New Orleans emerged on the horizon. At this point I descended into a some of the thickest fog I’ve ever experienced. I quickly slowed from 70MPH to 40MPH; if I had been driving toward a brick wall, let alone a quick turn in the road, I wouldn’t have known. Continuing on, the glowing light of the city occupied much of what I saw, and silhouettes of iron swamp trees and dead metal towers emerged in the translucent fog—nighttime black objects travelling through a land of dirty liquid frosted glass.

I finally found my way through the city at 5AM via a maze of terrible signage, twisted roads and unidentified one-ways. At one point I was searching for a road which led me under a massive overpass, which then made me realise I was in fact not even on a road anymore, but instead a dirt path… Time to turn around.

My destination on that still-dark early morning was an Episcopal church, in which there was a 29-hour non-stop Bach celebration. Oddly enough, this was indeed happening. (It being, you know, New Orleans, 5AM, and my first 2 hours in the city.) Anyhow, I parked my car and slowly walked down a very quiet road, toward the church. The doors were ajar, and I could hear music. It was a beautiful church, circa late-1800s, and the interior was constructed of a dark, reddish wood. Shadows sat in corners and the floors creaked as I entered the nave of the church. The pews were spotted with approximately 14 quiet people. A harpist was on stage, and he played the most beautiful music. Completely complex with an easy serenity. I found my friend there, startled a bit by my arrival, and we sat and listened for a while. Morning birds could be heard outside.

To all those in New Orleans

Unexpected poetry extracted from a letter :

All the best to you all in New Orleans,
the city with small lights like stars.
Shining points,
but colored ones
hanging in trees,
behind leaves,
in the warm
slowly moving air
that softly sits
on secret surfaces,
somewhere in a corner,
or out in the open,
listening to the music

(And please, if you are not in New Orleans, as most people are not, this may be applicable to a variety of other metaphorical situations. Enjoy.)