Tag Archives: Baton Rouge

The Re-Reading Project Guest Post: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral Arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

This planet has—or rather had—a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.

Spoiler alert: If you have not read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and you will be disappointed if I give away the ending, that’s just tough because the book was written 35 years ago and you should have read it by now.

If I’m honest, I only chose to re-read Douglas Adam‘s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (or The Guide as it will now be referenced) because it’s short. At the moment, my life is timetabled into so many compartments (work, email, sleep, work, not writing, reading articles posted on Facebook, looking at videos of cats on the internet, email, sleep) that adding even the most pleasurable of activities needs a flow-chart, Venn diagram, spreadsheet, and series of calendar apps just to formulate if I have time to finish a task such as reading a book.

Yet, this is a very worthy project, and Emilie does not take “I don’t have time to read” as an excuse. So, I cleared the chocolate wrappers, budget reports, and file folders containing single receipts from 2007 off the desk of my day job. I told my colleagues not to bother me. “Please turn down the Christmas music”, “No I don’t want to come to the office party”, “I don’t have time for mulled wine, mince pies, and discussions about how Cindy in Accounts really shouldn’t wear her hair like that.” I was doing something important. I was organising my time so I’d know if I had time to re-read a book. Not a moment for office frivolity.

After seven hours and thirty-two minutes of focused analytics and statistical analysis, I came to the conclusion that I would indeed have time to read the book…if I held all calls, cancelled my appointment with the chiropodist, and cracked on with it.

Realising that I had left my copy of The Guide in a box in my father’s closet in a house on a different continent, I opted to download the Kindle version. The beauty of this platform is that it doesn’t waste time with silly things like page numbers. Instead, it gets straight to the point and tells you how long you can plan on reading.

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Three hours and thirty-nine minutes later, I was quite happy that Emilie is a tough task master and forced me to make time for a novel I’d already read. Twenty-six years after the first reading, the book seemed to change slightly from science fiction to a handy list of contemporary technology. Back then, it was sci-fi and every piece of it was weird, wonderful, and completely fictitious. Reading it in 2014, Adams seem like a fortune teller, able to foresee gadgets of the future:

[…] he also had a device which looked rather like a largish electronic calculator. This had about a hundred tiny flat press-buttons and a screen about four inches square on which any one of a million ‘pages’ could be summoned at a moment’s notice.

 “And you are not,” said Fook, leaning anxiously forward, “a greater analyst than the Googleplex Star Thinker […] which can calculate the trajectory of every single dust particle throughout a five-week Dangrabad Beta sand blizzard.”

And of course, we currently have the infinite probability drive…don’t we?

Actually, the deeper revelation I had while re-reading this book was not about the miracle prophecies – as most science fiction will get lucky and predict something if it sits on a bookshelf long enough – but it made me realise how miserable my life has become. This realisation was completely unfathomable when I first read the book as a sixteen year old living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1988 – ten years after the story was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4, nine years after it was first published into a book, and six time zones away from where it was written.

I am no longer a high school student with a future ahead of me and enough free time to read a book while swinging softly on a hammock in my parent’s back garden. Instead, I sit at a dreary desk on an even drearier winter’s afternoon, sun down at 4 pm, cheap tinsel lining the cubicles, and the soft seasonal tunes of Bob Geldoff insulting an entire continent playing in the background. As I re-read the pages in which the Vogons vaporize the Earth to make way for an intergalactic motorway, I realise that if this were to happen in ‘real life’—while I might be a bit unnerved and discombobulated—I don’t think the personal distress would last for long. Granted, if the Earth were vaporised and I was on it, I wouldn’t be much of anything. But, let’s say I was rescued by a passing spaceship and I cast my eyes down at the dark space where the Earth (and that infernal desk to which I was chained) used to be, I can’t imagine I’d feel much at all. Or, maybe—like Arthur Dent—it would be too much to take in.

England no longer existed. He’d got that – somehow he’d got it. He tried again. America, he thought, has gone. He couldn’t grasp it. He decided to start smaller again. New York has gone. No reaction. He’d never seriously believed it existed anyway. The dollar, he though, has sunk for ever. Slight tremor there. Every Bogart movie has been wiped, he said to himself, and that gave him a nasty knock. McDonald’s, he thought. There is no longer any such thing as a McDonald’s hamburger.

He passed out.

As a teenager reading The Guide, I thought I was irreverent, interesting, and terribly witty. I thought I would grow up to be a maverick author who plays by her own rules, and I would be lavished in kudos, awards, and cash for recognition of writing a society-changing novel. The reality is very different. It’s the end of 2014, I live in Dundee, Scotland; I’m middle-aged and any notion of actualising anything less than mundane disappeared long ago.

How similar my life is to that of Arthur Dent – pre-destruction of the Earth – is what first struck me about the book: wandering through existence, not taking in the grandeur of the Universe, an unrewarding adult life obstructed my view. Of Arthur, The Guide states, “He worked in local radio, which he always used to tell his friends was a lot more interesting than they probably thought.” I, on the other hand, work in fundraising, which no one thinks is interesting. Because it isn’t. Arthur, upon being picked up by an inter-stellar ship in infinite probability drive, is most concerned with finding a cup of tea, and he spends much of the story allowing the plot to unfold around him. I can imagine that, if placed in a similar situation, I would become preoccupied with finding a cup of coffee.

Arthur blinked at the screens and felt he was missing something important. Suddenly he reaslised what it was.

“Is there any tea on this spaceship?” he asked.

Other than stumbling upon the manufacturing of Earth 2.0, Arthur’s presence is of no consequence. Towards the end, he finally becomes important as he is the last surviving member of the human race who was on Earth moments before its destruction. He has stamped upon his brain an imprint which will answer the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Yet, there is a giant hole in this argument, for there is another member of the human race on board that ship, Trillian. So, despite a last minute attempt to make Arthur relevant, he is – actually – quite inconsequential.

As a kid, I saw Arthur Dent as a character who was swept away, but still acted heroically in the face of it all—a bit like a Doctor Who companion. As an adult I have come to the realisation that Arthur Dent is much more ignoble, an object to follow so that a story can be revealed. If we were to compare him to a 70s film, he would be neither Smokey nor the Bandit; he’d be the car, an important device but not one that’s terribly interesting.

A re-reading of The Guide has helped me to realise that unless you’re one of a small host of famous do-gooders like Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Maryam Mirakhani, or Amy Poehler, your life is fairly inconsequential. We are all Arthur Dent; our very existence happened at the odds of 7887602006 to 1, and despite the great fortune that we even exist, we do nothing with our lives. Instead, we are pulled haphazardly through the universe unable to completely grasp the vastness of it all.

The second thing I noticed about re-reading The Guide is how much the satire is a dig at being British; something I most certainly would have not “gotten” as a 16 year old American. Now, with over a decade of living in Britain stamped on my passport, I can see the subtle Britishness of the book. And I mean real British. None of that Downton Abbey drivel.* The Guide is “two up two down”, “Tetley Tea and Penguins”, “Rule Britannia”, “spending your Costa del Sol holiday searching for a Greggs” kind of British.

Yes, as a teenager I recognised the deeper satire within the novel, the sentiments that are so very British few teenage Americans would recognize their context. However, there was one thing I did pick up from The Guide as a teenager. Something that has seeped into my subconsciousness. This book taught me the structure of funny. It’s the simple rhythm of the long game. No quick crack falls. It’s the set-up then the punch. Here’s how it works: profound, profound, profound, mundanely simple.

I have carried this rhythm with me throughout life. The ability to find the mundane within the outrageous. The knack for ending a list of the wondrous with the banal. The chance to shut down amazement in lieu of boredom. This book has taught me that being a combination of Arthur Dent and Marvin is okay, because if it’s satire you’re not miserable, you’re just witty.

With a microsecond pause, and a finely calculated micromodulation of pitch and timbre – nothing you could actually take offence at – Marvin managed to convey his utter contempt and horror at all things human.

Meta author photo

Meta author photo

Rachel Marsh blogs about being a creative writing teacher and writer at www.rachelmarsh.co.uk, where pretends to be upbeat and completely ignores the fact that she works a day job. At heart Rachel is a truly miserable individual and she blames it all on Douglas Adams.

 *Editor’s  Note: Emilie would like to stress that she doesn’t think Downton Abbey is drivel, even if she was a bit disappointed with one particular plot twist. You know which one.

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The Residency Road Trip Leg Two: Atlanta and the road to Soaring Gardens

So, at the end of the Leg One post, I had just arrived in Atlanta and was anticipating my time there, catching up with family, old friends and the ATL tango community. And just as I suspected (and hoped), it was a very full week.

I spent a lot of time with my parents, including the evening of their anniversary. Since I don’t have a t.v. in New Orleans, visiting my folks always includes lots of t.v. watching: my favorites like Falling Skies and So You Think You Can Dance, shows my parents love like Rizzoli and Isles and Who Do You Think You Are?, as well as new shows we checked out, like Legends. It was a lot of t.v., but we also prepped for my journey to Soaring Gardens. It almost felt like they were sending me off to camp, at times. When I was home, I also worked on a freelance story, wrapping that up and a few other tasks, before I left for the residency.

And I read. Fahrenheit 451 for the Re-Reading Project, which scarred me for a few days. It was hard not to look at everything around me through that lens. And when I was done, I picked up an ARC of a fat fantasy novel that doesn’t come out till next April. I thought, because it was such a dense story, that I’d sip at it slowly throughout my residency month. Instead, I gulped it down in about 36 hours, reading the first 100 pages in maybe about 24 hours and 300+ in less than 8 hours. It was so good – look for it in the 3rd Quarter Reading Report next month.

You're free, Rocco!

You’re free, Rocco!

I caught up with an old friend I hadn’t seen for ten years at one of my favorite hometown restaurants. He wanted to know all about the residency and the memoir and it was very cool talking about it with a friend from my young adulthood. I celebrated the 12th birthday of one of my oldest friend’s sons, to whom I’m bit of an auntie or godmother. I spoiled his dinner with ice cream, helped him set his pet turtle free at the neighborhood park, had dinner with his family and took him to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a blast from my own past. It was quite a day.

And I tango’d three nights with the ATL community. When I first arrived, I saw that the *only* milonga during my stay was on my last night, which I’d planned to spend with my parents, so I reached out to folks I knew and got the skinny on classes and a house party, hosted by a friend who used to live in Baton Rouge. So I had the opportunity to take classes with two different sets of ATL instructors (Clint y Shelley on Monday and Angel y April on Wednesday), which was a phenomenal experience. And then I enjoyed a relaxed tango house party on Friday. It’s too bad I missed the milonga on Sunday, but I loved my week of ATL tango.

I set out for the next leg of my trip early in the morning on Labor Day, so early it was pretty much still night. Even so, it took me so long to get to Philadelphia! I had fine weather, but I stopped a lot and drove slowly most of the way, listening to a long audio book as I went. I’ve made this drive before, or at least most of it (I’ve gone as far as D.C., years ago), and it was pretty terrain, wildly different than my usual drives.

No rest stop adventures this time around, but I had a nice stop at a Cracker Barrel in Virginia for a late lunch and a long, good talk with a friend while I ate. And then I arrived at the home of my residency housemate, the artist Anne Canfield. This sweet lady and her husband fed me and put me up for the evening in their gorgeous home. I was swooning over the art and the books and the house itself most of the time I was there (even in my sleep). I could’ve stayed there a month!

The next day, Anne and I ran a few errands and set off for Soaring Gardens, a few hours from Philadelphia. On the way, we stopped for lunch at a super efficient and bizarre (to me) cross between a rest stop and convenience mall right off the highway. Where I had a Philly cheesesteak sandwich for lunch. I’d almost forgotten!

Yum!

Yum!

This last few hours of the journey felt a bit like a roller coaster, what with all the curvaceous, mountainous highway and all the other drivers going 15-20 miles over the speed limit and my super heavy car. It was some of the most breathtaking scenery I’ve ever seen, so that almost made up for the constant fear of driving off the road down the side of a mountain.

And then we were in farmland, traversing narrow drives through acres of corn and fruit trees and small ponds by the road. Until suddenly, we turned onto a drive and there was Soaring Gardens.

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The Grandma Road Trip – Leg Two

Leg One: Baton Rouge to Acworth, 552.7 miles

Friday, August 31st: And as I made the decision to leave, I was hearing about a dam in Mississippi that was likely to fail. It was on my route, which meant this might be my last chance to get out for a while. I took my chances, nervous through the long journey from Baton Rouge to Slidell and into Mississippi. I didn’t relax until I was in Alabama, which is ironic because it’s usually my least favorite portion of the trip. But I was going north, getting away from the coast and that was good news. I’ve made this trip 3-4 times a year since 2000, so that’s about 50 times. Whenever I can, I stop in Auburn to see my sister Aimee and her son. This time, I picked them up and took them with me. We had a blast  together in the car, even if it was pretty late by the time we got into Acworth. The best was listening to Aimee read my nephew his bedtime portion of Peter Pan from her iPad. The juxtaposition of past, present and future represented by an old story on an iPad, my sister reading a bedtime story to her son, and the deeply dark night pressing against the car windows, will probably always be one of my favorite memories.

Saturday, September 1st: Mums and I ran errands to get ready for the trip. We’d planned to leave on Labor Day originally, but I suggested we begin on Sunday to avoid bad traffic, since I was already there a day early. Our most notable errand might have been going to the library for audio books. This is the library I grew up with, still called the “new library” after it was moved to a new location when I was in elementary school.

Me and Jessie – yet another picture with my eyes shut.

Me and Jessie’s son “Jack.”

We also had lunch with my best friend since 2nd grade and her son.

Then, there was a round of laundry and re-packing. Now, the focus of my packing was purely on The Grandma Road Trip and while I did have to include some work documents since I would be finishing my work on the movie long distance, I was also able to lighten my load a bit.

But to really prepare, it was necessary that I tango. So, I drove down to the city and had a fabulous couple of hours with the tangueros there. This is my second time dancing in Atlanta, but the people I’d met before weren’t there and one dancer who had moved from BR to Atlanta was out of town. So, I had to brave an unfamiliar group all over again, but the Atlanta dancers were so welcoming and talented.

Mums hadn’t wanted me to go considering we were getting an early start in the morning, but I think she saw that it was worth it when I returned. I hadn’t danced in more than a week and when I came home, I was so much more relaxed and happy. I was bound to be a much better travel partner in the morning.

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The Grandma Road Trip – Leg One

Leg One: New Orleans to Baton Rouge, 80.1 miles

Sunday, August 26th: Becks and I met for dinner, catching up. During dinner, I got a call from my boss, confirming that the office would only be open for a few hours the next day so that we could prepare it for Hurricane Isaac. This was meant to be our last week and now the office would be closed for at least two days. Also, she said, I should fill up my gas tank, because gas stations were already running out. Becks and I finished dinner, grabbed some hurricane supplies and looked for gas. One station we passed had a line for several blocks and two others were sold out. As we separated, Becks said, “You might want to pack the car in case you have to leave straight from work.” So, I stayed up late Hurricane-“proofing” the house, packing for both the Grandma Road Trip and for evacuation. Have you ever had to pack as if you’ll be gone for just 14 days and also maybe indefinitely at the same time? It’s pretty hard.

Monday, August 27th: Monday should’ve started our last week in the office and instead, we had to get it ready to face the storm, as well as a bit of business as usual. As the hours passed, it became clear I was going to Baton Rouge. Several people were encouraging (begging, in some cases) me to leave. I was grouchy. This had happened a few years ago for Gustav and I ended up trapped in Baton Rouge for a week. But, I knew they were right, so I headed to Baton Rouge. I ran a few errands and stopped by to see my editors at the 225 offices. Then, I went to stay with friends who are like family to me. We hadn’t gotten to see much of each other lately, so between that and the BBQ dinner, it felt more like vacation than evacuation that first night.

Tuesday, August 28th – Thursday, August 30th: We had power the entire time I was with my friends, which made them call me their lucky charm. It was so comfortable to be there, but I was still restless. I knew everybody was safe back in Nola, that my house still had power (amazingly, it didn’t go out once), but I didn’t know when or if I would be able to go back to Nola. I knew I’d done the right thing by leaving when I-10 was flooded at LaPlace, making it extremely difficult to get back into the city. It would’ve been difficult to leave on our trip from Nola, had I stayed. As it was, the office had a bit of flooding and we wouldn’t be able to reopen to the following week, so after four days in Baton Rouge, I left a day early for the the Grandma Road Trip.

I texted Mums: On my way home tomorrow.

She texted me back: New Orleans home, or here?

That question of home was a better one than either of us realized, and would echo throughout the trip.

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To brag, or not to brag – totally not even a question – BRAG!

This is seriously overdue.

Jamey has an essay in the 12th Annual Southern Music issue of Oxford American. Her name’s on the cover and everything. Her essay, “Hating the Blues,” is pretty stellar. It’s worth buying the issue just for her essay, but because it’s Oxford American, the entire issue is wonderful. There’s work from Tom Franklin, Dan Baum, Daniel Wallace, as well as Alex Cook, my fellow 225 Magazine writer and also a way-back-when patron of Baton Rouge’s M’s Fine and Mellow Cafe. So, Jamey‘s in great company. You should check out the extra online interview of Jamey (and everybody) — she sounds frighteningly brilliant and creative. Which, actually, she is.

And speaking of 225 Magazine, and while I’m bragging, I’m seriously remiss in mentioning my latest 225 piece. So remiss that there are two new ones now! December’s contribution is a review of the Autumn issue of The Southern Review, which celebrated its 75th year in 2010. And just now, the newest, a review of a book of stories called The Prospect of Magic, went up on the website, though it’s in the January issue.

There are a few people in my life who are achieving some personal milestones — moving to a new city, divorcing, marrying, going back to school, finding 2nd and 3rd careers, trying to discover what they really want to be when they grow up — but this isn’t the forum to divulge details or hyperlinks regarding those achievements. Yet, I want to brag on them, too. I want my friends and family to know that I’m proud of them for persevering, for surviving and for thriving.  These things are entirely brag-worthy.

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In good company for charity

There are two great charity events coming up that everybody should know about.

First, my friend Maurice started an event called Legalpalooza, a music event to raise funds for legal aid for women and children who can’t afford it. The second annual Legalpalooza is at the House of Blues this Thursday, the 22nd at 6 p.m.

Legalpalooza July 22, 2010-1

Second, a film I worked on, LA 308, is having a premiere screening at the Mall of Louisiana Rave (Baton Rouge) August 5th at 7 p.m. to benefit Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana and its relief efforts for victims of the Gulf Coast Oil Spill. Tickets can be purchased online for $15.00 each at ravemotionpictures.com.

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My friends are flash mob stars, again!

Those dern Baton Rougeians are at it again, this time at Fest for All and dancing to Duffy’s “Mercy.” I’m not sure if Leonard Augustus choreographed this one like he did the Laurel Street Lollapalooza back in January – that is may be him dancing in the center of the circle at the beginning, with the red hat. Becks and Torlief are definitely dancing up a storm once more.

I saw Torlief first, about 23 seconds in. He’s the tall, bald black dude wearing a bright blue tank top. Once I knew where Torlief was, I knew Becks had to be somewhere nearby. Then, I realized that she’s the brunette girl in the red tank top – on the left bottom side of the screen with her back to us. She gets cut out of the video several times – maybe she’ll be more visible in the official version. At about 2:06, the camera pans back and she’s facing the camera, still on the left.

Enjoy!

I stole these pics off the flash mob’s Facebook page (and cropped them):

Becks in the red on the left and Torlief in the blue tank on the right

Torlief in the blue and Leonard Augustus in the red hat and tank

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My friends are flash mob stars!!

Becks was tres mysterious about her reasons for missing my birthday extravaganza (the one that ended up getting postponed) on the 8th. She came down beforehand and spent time with me, but was going to be “busy” on the 8th.

Now we know why!!

Check out this video of the Laurel Street Flash Mob that took place on January 8th in Baton Rouge and you will see images of Becks and our friend Torlief, a Baton Rouge karaoke celebrity. This is just a plain catchy, exuberant, wonderful clip. Becks says that there was about 300 people involved. I’d probably watch this over and over and over again even if I didn’t have two friends in it.

The guy in white dancing on his own at the beginning is Leonard Augustus, the choreographer, fyi. Here’s the write up from the video’s page: “Leonard Augustus choreographed and led the Laurel Street Lollapalooza Flash Mob. LSL is the annual fundraising event for The Arts Council of Baton Rouge.” So he’s pretty incredible.

Becks is the brunette girl in the lime green sweater (not to be confused with the girls in a lime green coat and lime green gloves, respectively) and pink-red-orange scarf. She is best identified at about 1:55 of the video. There are three girls in lime and she is the one on the far right, leading the parade (or at least, that’s how it looks to moi). After that, you can see her a lot in the video cause you’ll know who you’re looking for.

Torlief was harder to find (should I call you Waldo, Torlief?). Best I can tell, the first place you can see him is 2:54. He’s the tall, bald, black dude in a white sweater who’s slightly to Becks’s right on the screen. Actually, once you know where he is, you can really check him shaking it at about 3:03 and on. You have no idea how many times I *had* to watch this video to find you, Torlief!

Enjoy!! If you’re like me, you’re gonna be watching this over and over and over again…

LOVE IT! Brilliant! This is definitely a bragging on post…

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Post-graduate studies

Someone commented recently in a private response to my blog that, “You don’t talk about your writing as much as you used to…is this because you’re not writing?”

Yes and no. Yeah, that’s the answer.

I’m making HUGE strides and progress and then standing still. Trying to motivate myself without beating myself up. Having issues with authority (writing about about an elderly, gay, multiracial man can be a real bitch, you know, when you are none of these things yourself, and this is on top of wanting to represent the circus and New Orleans aspects of my book respectfully and accurately as well).

So here’s the answer to what’s going on with my writing at the moment: I’m doing rigorous post-graduate studies with Professors Hatley and Causey (both of whom have cool news on their sites – go read!) with numerous visiting lecturers that range from the baristas at Cheers to my new roommate to whatever music happens to catch my fancy.

I’m continuing with a bit of freelance work, as always, which I realize I’m extremely fortunate to do. For instance, recently met Louie Maistros at a local signing and had a lot of fun hanging out with him, his wife and friends before, during and after the show. Check out his book The Sound of Building Coffins. He’s got a Baton Rouge event this coming Sunday, as well as more New Orleans ones. I’m going to interview him soon for 225, so be on the lookout for that. Speaking of, the 225 feature on Clarence Nero will be out next month.

Always, the book is foremost. Even if I’m not talking about it. There are just gonna be times when it’s a lot more fun to talk about yummy media or President Obama being a die-hard Twitter tweeter. I may actually join now, just so I can follow his tweets.

While I don’t condone thievery, of course, this short piece was heart-warming because it reminded me that at least books are still considered valuable…

And maybe it doesn’t seem so relevant, but I promise this is: I looooove the NY Times’ Paper Cuts Blog and here’s a great quote from Karan Mahajan, the latest author to blog a soundtrack. “I was post-colonial and didn’t even know it….Before globalization, the English-speaking middle class [in India] trusted things that were “imported” more wholeheartedly anyway — a sort of colonial hangover. So we embraced [Freddie] Mercury like he was our own because we thought he wasn’t our own, even though he was our own.”

Care to speculate why it’s relevant?

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Ike

Ike ignored New Orleans, except for flinging some rain and some very intense winds our way (couldn’t drive to BR yesterday because it was so difficult keeping the car on the road, especially on the spillway Thursday night and yesterday morning, it’d only gotten worse). Lots of people in Baton Rouge who’d just gained power after Gustav lost it again.

And Galveston. I can only imagine how that city fares after Ike and I hope they recover as best and fast as they can.

I’ve been hearing from Baton Rouge an old (and valid) complaint, “There’s more to Louisiana than New Orleans!” Hurricanes are an entirely different matter in Baton Rouge. I hadn’t completely anticipated that when I moved to New Orleans. Baton Rouge, before Gustav, hadn’t been hard hit for years. They’d forgotten how to protect themselves and how to recover – Baton Rouge is the most likely place to evacuate, after all! Not the place that gets hit. So we forget how hard it can be brought to its knees. I lived there for seven years and I was shocked, SHOCKED, by the amount of damage while I was evacuated there and as I’ve been going back for work. Downed trees everywhere. Demolished houses on Park Blvd where enormous old oaks with shallow roots gave up the good fight and toppled into houses they’d sheltered for years. The house right next to a former boss of mine, so badly damaged that it made me shake.

It’s entirely understandable why so much attention goes immediately to New Orleans whenever a storm even threatens to go into the Gulf. We’re a bowl, so susceptible to flooding and we’ve never recovered from Katrina completely, never covered from any storm the way that we’ve needed to in order to stand an honest chance against a direct hit. Add in the economics of it all (hello, tourism), we are generally understood to be the cultural center of the state, not that makes us superior, just incredibly important in terms of economics and culture and you can see why, not that that makes it right that other places lose focus. Let’s not forget how Katrina made the world extremely aware of New Orleans’s vulnerability. Nobody wants to see that again…

Anywhere. Gustav and Ike remind us that no, it’s not just New Orleans. We need drastically better protection against these ever-increasing storms all along the coast, especially the Gulf. We need better plans. New Orleans had a handle on it this time… nobody dreamed Baton Rouge would be hit the way it was, but we need to start assuming that anyplace can and will be hit, ferociously and without mercy.

And in the end, there’s always going to be times when there is something we can’t anticipate, can’t protect against. We have to try, but we can’t guarantee.

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