Update: contact, give thanks, dream monuments, sugarcane


Things should be winding down, now that it’s fall, but a frenzy of energy picking up. I don’t know if it’s me or just the universe in general. Despite what’s going on in the world and our own personal troubles, people have a way of show kindness and good humor even in the harshest moments.

 

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This week has been filled with new experiences. Last week, I tried contact improv, a free-moving dance form without many boundaries or choreography. I would describe it as modern ballet without the structure, but it’s not quiet that. You’re dancing with another person in a back and forth, flowing movement, as if balancing each other—pushing and pulling. I also went to a poetry reading with bluesy jazz. I have read for other local poetry events, but since I was new to this one, I didn’t have any material that I felt was relevant, or that would go with the melodies of blues jazz and accompaniment of the piano, bass and drums, but I heard some powerful slam poetry, and a girl who usually sang, felt like rapping, since her voice was raspy. It was her birthday and she had requested another Hennessey shot from the bartender. Her voice and a guy playing the drums were in unison, as if they had practiced for hours, but most likely it flourished in the spur of a moment.

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Earlier this month, I got to see what kind of monuments third graders at Homer A. Plessy Community School want to see in their city. I helped them craft short essays on their favorite historical figures, places and things. It’s amazing what kids will write about when you ask them the big questions, like who should be given a monument, those they admire and deserve to be remembered. This Big Class in-school project allowed kids to come up with thought-provoking writing to convince readers on why their monument ideas are the best, and it also allowed them to read in front of an audience once it was published in a book form, under the titled of Courageous, Eccentric, Diverse: New Monuments for New Orleans. The student’s picks, included Solomon Northup, pelicans, beignets, Ruby bridges and more. Proceeds from book sales will go to funding Big Class’s new youth writing center, which will be the first 826 National chapter in the South.

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I’m not one to make a fuss about the holidays, especially as it pertains to the shopping spree that ensues as an excuse for consumerism. Also, celebrating thanksgiving is detached from history, since most people don’t think about what it means for Native Americans that have suffered since pilgrims made contact and colonized their lands. I do see the good intention in giving thanks and the opportunity to gather with family and friends and enjoy a descent plate of food, and be cheery in unison. For give thanks day, I visited Thibodaux with my partner to have lunch with his family. It was farther south, almost heading to Isle de Jean Charles. On the way we passed Raceland, and the frequent sugarcane fields lining up on side of the road and expanding outward—some of it tall and ready for plucking. Getting closer to Thibodaux, we saw trucks carrying loads of sugarcane to be processed at refineries visible from the car. These faded white factories with long chimneys threw out steam and smells, like molasses burning. Later, I saw the distinct Southern oak trees with moss hanging. They are not as robust as the ones in New Orleans. They are smaller and quaint, and usually standing next to distant white and reddish houses that seem to have less permanence than the trees. I wanted to get out of the car and take a photo, but we were moving fast. They reminded me of old paintings of the south I had seen in NOMA. I spent time with my partner’s relatives, talking to his dad and getting to know about their family history and feeling happy being in warm company. We had some yummy southern food: mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, gumbo, collard greens and more. There was also turkey, so I said goodbye to my vegetarian (sometimes fish) routine that I had been keeping for the last couple of weeks. But it was worth it—you only eat turkey once a year.

 

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Incoming Fall


Fall never arrives all at once, but suddenly you notice the trees swaying and leaves shivering. Still, it’s too hot to go out during the early afternoons. We’ll have to wait until October or November to actually call it Fall. The other day I went out around four, usually still peak time for sun’s trickery. But by the time I arrived to Washington Park, the sun had simmered down and there was the softest breeze to remind me of the first weeks when I moved to New Orleans. It was breezy and rainy then and I was wearing my raincoat everyday.

Story of the day: Wind

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The wind is frantic and I’m reading
The wind is whistling
The wind scares me, and I read
Nothing but a glass window
Outside the trees sway, bowing, and curving
To the blowing wind
Sounding like an impending wave about to crash
Washing out the tiny colored houses
There’s a tall palm tree which I will hang to

 

Battlefield Bird

[Cynthia Via]

After sabotaging much of the morning with a long breakfast deserving of hobbits, I headed to the Saratoga National Historical Park late October. The landscape was still painted in orange, yellow and red trees, standing full in the distance.

Max drove down a road that stretched out to green lawns on both sides, marked off by white picket fences, neatly circling small red barns and stables. “It’s beautiful,” he said, “Don’t you think?” I laughed since none of the words in my head could describe it.

We were on a road with orange trees on each side after being in the Adirondacks where the trees had all but lost their leaves to the desolation of autumn. The car flew down the rest of long road to the historic site. On the side, a stone staircase led to the entrance of the visitor center. Tall trees cast a shadow below as we walked up.

I didn’t know much about this historical park except that it was part of the American Revolution. Once inside the center, the park ranger gave us a map with all the sites and trails. I said, “Why don’t we just walk to all of them?” He informed us, they would be closing at five, which was an hour away. “You may want to drive around.” Someone had thrown cold water on my face. I realized I had no idea what time it was, or where I was. I looked around at the memorabilia on display: posters, stickers, key chains, paintings then at the clock hanging above the cash register. Max was giddy, looking at stamps for his National Park passport. I looked through the blue passports, thinking how many stickers you needed to fill all the pages. I placed it back on the table.

We hurried, driving to each site, reading the descriptions of the battles that took place under what generals, and if the British or Americans advanced, documenting in photos the fall landscape with views of the Hudson River. I imagined what life was like in the 1700s, what war meant then, and what it means now. It was an autumn day in 1777 when the British surrendered to the Americans in the village of Saratoga, a turning point in the war that would result in foreign intervention by the Spanish and French. In the distance I saw a white animal dash across; I walked towards it in blind reverence hoping to see it again. Max followed me. We stepped over the tall grass, walking back to the car. “Are you a patriot or a loyalist?” “A loyalist,” he said, laughing.

The final stop was a mile-long trail, leading to a general’s burial site. Strangely enough it was the one site I was excited to see. I’m not sure why death attracts me. By going down this trail, we risked getting locked in. It was already five and getting dark. The gates on the road would close at 5, and we would be stuck in this empty land full of warring ghosts. We walked on towards the great sadness of the past.

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Further ahead we saw an apple tree, the only color among mostly dry land. I contemplated climbing and getting a fruit to eat. In front of us was a small canal. The small dry land next to it was the site of a hospital. I wondered if it was wise to have a hospital when there was only one way out and the canal being small would not provide with much fish; maybe then, the land was fertile. Also in rules of war, hospitals were left out, but you couldn’t say the same for modern war.

We kept walking down the path. Max went ahead until reaching a small bridge. From my view I saw a large tree with crooked branches looming over him. The outline of a large grayish bird with a curved spine sat on a low branch. I froze, unable to speak. I whispered, look, and pointed to the bird. “You should take a photo,” he said, and the bird left. It’s large, heavy wings flapping, slow and away from us—taking away some part of our memory. The bird flew towards the darkening sky and we were both left standing under the tree with crooked branches. Max said he was sorry for spooking it away. He continued taking photos of the surroundings, including what appeared to be the burial site. I wondered about the bird and looked into the distance, hoping it would reappear. I thought, could it really be, the great blue heron?