Monday, January 26, 2009

Mardi Gras 2009

Another Mardi Gras is fast approaching. In addition to the opportunity to wear some ridiculous Mardi Gras hats I’ve managed to find, I think this year’s Mardi Gras will be even more interesting than last.

This year, my good friend Anne-Marie has invited me to Carencro, Louisiana, to experience a Cajun Mardi Gras with her family. And by “her family,” I’m told that that pretty much covers the entire town of Carencro, in one way or another.

This past weekend, the girls and I got out our dancing shoes and went to see Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet at the Maple Leaf. I’ve seen Beausoleil a few times before, but it’s been a while since I’ve listened to good, live Cajun music. There was a pretty good crowd at the Leaf, and we were pleased to see so many people dancing, and quite a few willing to ask a gaggle of single young women to dance. Anne-Marie is Cajun and can really cut a rug.

I’ve learned that even though I do have rhythm (I do! I swear!), I pretty much suck at Cajun dancing. It’s not that I can’t learn steps . . . I think it’s mostly because I’m terrible at following a lead. I’ll need a lot more practice before I can do anything but make a fool of myself out in Cajun country. Good thing that every Sunday at Tipitina’s there’s a Cajun fais do-do featuring Bruce Daigrepont.

According to Anne-Marie, Cajun mothers would put their children to sleep with the words “fais do-do” (go to sleep, or make sleep). After the children were asleep, the adults were free to dance the night away.

This may be my chance to get in some much-needed practice, so we both hope to make it to a few fais do-dos before the big weekend in Carencro.

Regardless of whether or not I get the hang of it or just wind up looking like a dodo myself, I’m sure that Mardi Gras 2009 will be a spectacular adventure.

Do you think they’ll like my hat?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Stand up. Speak out.

Two years ago, the group Silence Is Violence was formed following the brutal murders of musician Dinerral Shavers and artist Helen Hill. In January 2007, the group organized a historic citywide march on City Hall to demonstrate the public outrage over the murder rate.

Two years later, New Orleans is still, per capita, the murder capital of the United States and one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

Wow. We’re number 1.

Yesterday, residents all over the city once again attended citywide rallies. In addition to a morning motorcade in memory of Dinerral Shavers and Helen Hill and an evening procession for one of the smallest and most recent victims, Ja'Shawn Powell (murdered, it appears, by a father who didn’t want to pay child support), citizens also gathered on the steps of City Hall at noon, where the names of the year’s homicide victims were read aloud.

In all, about 50 residents attended the memorial. They came dressed in red out of respect for their lost loved ones. They dressed their babies in red. They dressed their dogs in red. They stood silent while friends and relatives of murder victims recited their names and ages.

But where is the outrage sparked by that march in 2007? It seems sometimes as if the outrage has been replaced by resignation and a sad acceptance.

One hundred eighty names were on the list. While all murder is shocking, I was even more shocked by the ages . . . far too many in the 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 age range. Far too many. Far too young.

Also attending the rally were several city council members. Commenting after the reading of the names was new District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, who expressed his office’s desire and intent to involve themselves in the process of criminal investigations far earlier than D.A.s of the past.

He seems sincere and competent, and that makes me hopeful, but not yet optimistic. I’ll be optimistic when New Orleans finally has a competent new mayor and a competent new police superintendent. I’ll be optimistic when criminals are finally kept in jail instead of slipping through the eternally revolving door at the D.A.’s office. I’ll be optimistic when witnesses of violent crimes are sheltered and protected instead of harassed, threatened, or killed.

New Orleans is a beautiful city. It’s MY city now too, whether or not I was born here. It breaks my heart when I talk with people who are too frightened to visit. The city is rich with culture and atmosphere, food and friendliness, sunshine and jazz. We shouldn’t be simply saddened and resigned to violence and crime . . . we should be outraged. In the end, communities must come together to protect not the guilty, but the innocent . . . ourselves, our neighbors, our children, our friends.

Silence IS violence.

Stand up. Speak out.