Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Personal Notes, Southern Blues

I am not happy to be in Louisiana today. I was in New Iberia yesterday, leaving the library and riding my bike on the sidewalk as the street was too crowded with cars, and a oldish—in her 50s? early 60s?—blonde, extremely pale woman in white shorts was coming toward me and she clutched her purse, which was on the farthest side of her body away from me already. After I passed her, I turned and looked at her go down the street and saw that she was no longer clutching the purse. The mental illness of too many “white” people continues. It does not help that in news reports criminals are identified by race, rather than age, height, and distinguishing marks or dress. (How helpful is it to say only that a black male or white male committed a crime, if there are more than two of either in any locale?) I must say, the purse-clutching is not as prominent here as in New York but it is annoying as it often is just so impractical, such nonsense (it is always contextually inappropriate: there is always some physical detail that makes theft unlikely or impossible even if one wanted to steal—such as purse-clutching in an elevator: where is one to go with the purse in a closed elevator, inside a building with other people around?).

According to the Associated Press (April 22, 2009), “The Tangipahoa Parish School Board will vote Monday on the final version of its multi-million-dollar school desegregation plan.” A school desegregation plan in year 2009—still? The plan is due April 30 in New Orleans, and will likely include school construction and renovation, and is motivated by a 1965 school desegregation case.

I was on the bike two days ago, and someone called out to me: a man doing work on a large agricultural truck (his job, a blue-collar job). He said my name and asked if I remembered him—I did not recognize him, and he gave his nickname, which I vaguely recalled, and then he gave me his full name and I knew who it was, though he, of course, did not look at all the way he did when I last saw him, when we were both very young men. (I am slim, so am more recognizable.) He told me that not much is going on in Louisiana. He made a comment about my riding the bike (rather than driving a car), and added that I’d been one of the smartest people. I told him that I had been here for only a couple of months, that I had been living in New York, and that I didn’t drive. (I did not say: I had not planned to come back to Louisiana without significant money or power—but, as Frank Sinatra used to sing, “That’s Life.”)

Blueprint Louisiana advocates a knowledge-based economy for Louisiana and states the problem as this: “Louisiana’s economy is driven mostly by ‘old’ industry sectors that, while they remain essential to our economy, are not growing sectors. In fact, more recent trends in these industries have been toward fewer full-time employees, either through improved efficiencies, a reduction of fixed costs or a shift of capital investment overseas. While many other states have increased their focus on knowledge-based industry sectors that will grow substantially in the coming decades, Louisiana has lagged in this pursuit. As a result, Louisiana now has little internal capacity to grow jobs in these ‘new economy’ sectors. This is confirmed by our low rankings in the numerous indexes that measure and assess states’ readiness for and participation in the new economy.”

According to the Associated Press (April 22), Louisiana lawmakers will be reconsidering film industry tax incentives: “If the Legislature takes no action in its session opening Monday, the current 25 percent tax credit for movie and TV show makers will drop to 20 percent next year and 15 percent in 2012. That’s a scenario those heavily invested in the industry say would be disastrous.”

The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR) published the Guide to the 2009 Louisiana Legislature, a pocket-sized that includes biographical information and photographs of Louisiana’s legislators, statewide elected officials and congressional delegation, with committee assignments and contact information. Copies are $10 each plus tax and shipping, from: PAR at P.O. Box 14776, Baton Rouge, LA 70898-4776. Order forms can also be faxed to (225) 926-8417, or requests can be sent by e-mail to

New Orleans City Business (April 22) reports that a couple of Louisiana towns have been included in Relocate America’s “Top 100 Places to Live” list: Metairie and Mandeville and Bossier City.

In March 2009, the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities gave its Humanities Book of the Year Award to writer Ned Sublette for his book The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square.

I have been listening to the new recordings of two Louisiana musicians, Allen Toussaint (The Bright Mississippi, a very elegant recording of some jazz standards) and Buckwheat Zydeco (the smart, fun Lay Your Burden Down, featuring zydeco and popular music songs, even a Springsteen song!).

There is a crawfish festival scheduled for the Louisiana town of Breaux Bridge at Parc Hardy in early May 2009, and, in May also, a Bunk Johnson jazz festival in New Iberia, with an artwalk in downtown Lafayette May 9th, a Juneteenth celebration in Opelousas at the Farmer’s Market for June 20th, and a July 4th parade in New Iberia. There is a bluegrass music event planned for August 8th at the Rice Theatre in Crowley. A cultural festival, featuring reggae music, is slated for August 29th and 30th in Carencro’s Pelican Park, with a zydeco festival parade scheduled for Opelousas’s South Park in early September, and an arts and crafts show at Shadows-on-the-Teche in New Iberia, October 3rd. The Festivals Acadiens et Creoles is to take place October 9th through 11th in Lafayette.