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Louisiana 1927 & 2011

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, Randy Newman’s Louisiana 1927 became a familiar anthem for New Orleans and was performed regularly by various artists at various benefits and performances. For a few years, the song couldn’t be performed without producing teary eyes throughout the audience.

While the song talks about flooding, it’s a bit ironic that it became an anthem for the City of New Orleans. You see, in 1927 levees south of New Orleans were actually blown up to divert flood waters AWAY from and out of the “bowl” known as New Orleans where the levees were being pressured from 14 inches of rain inside of New Orleans and the swollen Mississippi River on the outside of the levees.

What resulted was The Great Flood of 1927, an event that was to paralyze the Deep South for nearly six months and leave nearly 1,000,000 people (mostly poor farmers) homeless and penniless just before The Great Depression would deliver a similar blow to other areas of the country.

My father was a year old when “the flood” created tent cities throughout South Louisiana. My grandmothers referred regularly to the flood mostly in terms of before and after. There was a certain disdain for the “city folk” of Baton Rouge and New Orleans who were saved and protected while the poor Cajun farmers were sacrificed. It took decades to recover.

I was nine years old in 1973 when flooding that year caused the new Morganza Spillway to be opened, again flooding millions of acres of “country” land. While the spillways relieve pressure on the levee system and save the cities, they are the equivalent of blowing up the levees in 1927. Today, May 14th, the Morganza Spillway was once again opened to relieve the levee system. Evacuations have started and the wait begins…

Say a prayer or two for the people of South Louisiana. This is what they face in the coming weeks…

After Katrina, then the Oil Spill, and now an epic flood it’s getting harder and harder to keep getting up after the body blows. But, somehow I know that the enduring spirit of the Cajun spirit will prevail….yet again.

For now, all I can do is listen to my favorite rendition of the ode to that great flood over 80 years ago and pray that they actually don’t “wash us away”.

 
 

Rantasaurus – Part 1

**WARNING**
The following contains strong content that may be offensive to the reader. If you are faint of heart, have a weak stomache, or bend far to the left, turn back now. You have been appropriately cautioned. Enter at your own risk…

It’s taken me a few days to calm down enough to actually write about what’s on my mind. For the most part, I don’t have a defeatest attitude concerning the larger world with all its ills and ugliness, but sometimes it just gets to be too much. In these times, my natural cynicism goes to Def Con 9 or so.

Late last week was one of those times that took me to a level PISSED-OFFness that I didn’t know existed. I could actually feel my blood pressure rise.

It started with the seemingly impersonal happenings in Madison, WI concerning Public Workers’ Unions protests against having their collective bargaining power eliminated via state legislation. I’m not a Civil Servant and I don’t live in Wisconsin, so initially I saw the rucus as just more hot air coming from the bowed up chests of the political egomaniacs that reside in State (and National) politics.

However, once some of the detailed facts began to be reported (ad nauseum), it was evident that this situation is/was a microcosm of the larger problems facing our society today. After a 17-hour debate, Democrats who were on the obvious losing side of the argument skipped town to avoid a vote on a bill to reduce or eliminate the collective bargain ability of public employee unions. Nice. They couldn’t have their way through Democracy (majority rule), so they effectively QUIT. How hypocritical…they did the EXACT opposite of what their party is NAMED FOR. So, what this shows us is that when you are on the short end of a vote, simply run and their is no vote. Yeah, that’ll solve alot of problems.

Let me be clear, if it’s not already evident. I am NOT in support of Government Unions or Unions, in general, for that matter. I think that it’s patently unfair to have such dispartity between the private and the public sector in terms of labor structure. The danger of these unions has been obviously apparent in this latest “Great Recession”. While millions in the private sector have (AGAIN) taken cuts in pay structure, paid higher portions and overall medical costs and seen employers Retirement plans reduced, the public sector employees have continued to “bargain” for yet more benefits and more guarantees.

The math is EASY. You cannot spend what you don’t have, yet our consumption society continues to do just that. The U.S. is largely owned by China (who holds our bonds), due to the fact that our government is leveraged to the tune of over $14 TRILLION dollars. How can state and national governments continually be allowed to operate without a balanced budget? When people we know do this for an extended period of time, eventually the piper arrives for payment, right? Well, why should we think that this is not going to happen with our global governments? The real problem is the path we’ll have to travel BEFORE meeting the piper. $5.00 gas; $6.00 loaf of bread; $8.00 gallon of milk; $100 pair of Levi’s…is everyone prepared for that?

At some point, everyone has to do their part to fix this mess. Individually, we have to be responsible in our own finances. Much of this has already taken hold. Part of my job is to keep up with consumer attitudes towards finances and to understand the associated behavior and one of THE biggest trends that we’ve seen over the last three years is the massive shift of consumers from “spend” to “save”. As a whole, credit card balances have dramatically decreased and average Savings and Checking balances have risen. Everyday, people around the country have tightened their belts, put off unnecessary purchases, and tried to “live within their means”.

The federal government continues to try to “save” homeowners who couldn’t afford the home they bought a few years ago and can’t afford it now. Mortgage “workouts” are largely a failure as homeowners without wherewithal still can’t pay and ultimately end up in foreclosure…just six months down the road where more interest has been tacked on. These foreclosures produce a glut of inventory that is battered and fire-sale priced, adversely affecting other home values of people who have diligently paid their debt and taken care of their properties (ahem).

So, I AM PISSED. Pissed because I’ve worked hard, paid my taxes, paid all my bills on time, stretched to save for a “rainy day” and for retirement, and in the end I get screwed. We’ve often sacrificed what we “wanted” for what was prudent, yet it feels like we’re the only ones. Young people today think that they should own a house by age 25, have a job with 6 weeks (or more) vacation, a 30 hour work week, and a $100k plus annual salary. The current culture immerses this younger generation in entitlement and instant gratification. The character traits of hard work, dedication, and honesty are largely forsaken for the path of least resistance to get what they want, now.

In many ways, I see these public employees doing the same thing. Guaranteed higher salaries, platinum healthcare plans, FULL pay retirement after 20 years of service are ALL fully subsidized by the taxpayer, who are largely facing lower salaries, higher healthcare costs and cuts in their retirement (not to mention the on-going risk of 401k losses through a volatile stock market). While these public employees SAY they are willing to discuss cuts in benefits, the collective bargaining agreements allow them to re-address and effectively reverse anything put into place at any time — like when the political environment is more favorable. All they need to do is dedicate a larger portion of their union dues to Democratic candidates who become beholden to their bidding, and we’re right back where we started.

I think that unions’ focus on worker safety and protections, particularly in the age of sweatshops and gender inequality, were and are important. Negotiating FAIR wages is also a benefit of union strength. However, multi-millionaire union bosses are WORSE than multi-millionaire CEOs. They are, in effect, riding the backs of the working man for their personal gain. Additionally, I firmly believe that NO union dues should EVER be used for supporting political candidates or lobbying specific issues. Government unions have a blatant conflict of interest in this regard. How can you fix schools when the behemoth teachers’ unions keep a stronghold on legislators who purposely avoid teacher accountability tied to merit and in effect, are creating an inferior school system because of it? I don’t know about you, but in my job, if I do a great job, I get more pay than if I do an ok job. Good teachers aren’t afraid of accountability — BECAUSE they are good!

When I first started out in the working world, I was 17. I got a much coveted job at a local bank — starting at the bottom. Because I wasn’t going to college (my stupid choice), I was extremely fortunate to land a job that had great benefits and relatively good job security. People I knew had worked there for 10, 20, 30 years. So, at 17, I figured I had hit the jackpot. I would put in my 30 years of service, get my pension and retire to a bayou somewhere. At that time, the bank fully subsidized all health insurance premiums and the coverage covered just about everything. Deductibles were somewhere south of $200. Each year at Christmas, employees received up to three MONTHS’ pay depending on length of employment as a Christmas bonus. There were lavish Christmas parties where thousands of dollars and prizes were given away to employees. Each morning, pastries were provided in every break-room on every floor (there were 12), where refrigerators held free soft drinks, milk and juice for employees to enjoy on their guaranteed break time (2 at 10 minutes each) or mandated lunch hour.

At 17, I had excellent pay, paid health insurance, a pension plan, AND those mighty Christmas bonuses. By 18, the bank had started a new fangled thing called a 401k plan, where they matched 100% of what I put in. Not up to a certain percent, but a full 100%. I was set.

Then, the recession took hold. To survive, the bank had to address expenses. So, soon, the pastries disappeared, a coke machine replaced the refrigerator full of free beverages, the Christmas bonuses were folded into a one-time “raise” for employees and done away with, and we started to have to PAY part of our health insurance. No more big Christmas parties — our department received a nominal amount for each employee for us to have a small get-together. And the pension plan was discontinued. Those of us who had been hired with the benefit, kept it, but it was frozen at that point (I think that mine was worth $318) and distributed to the employee’s 401k. While everyone was very disappointed, no-one complained much because everyone needed their job. Plus, every other company was in the same boat and doing the same thing. Bottom line is that the boom days were gone and austerity followed.

I bore you with my worklife infancy to illustrate that yes, providing such great benefits was very motivating and created a very secure workforce. But, in the end, it couldn’t be sustained without bankrupting the company. We all had to make sacrifices just to survive.

And, here we are again. The private sector continues to cut benefits to a minimal amount, yet public employees are receiving benefits considered obscene by most of us in the private sector. Guaranteed monthly salaries for life, total paid health care (not available to the general public), along with other paid benefits simply can’t be sustained by municipalities and taxpayers, given the large number of public workers getting ready to retire.

Unfortunately, that bank has been bought three times and is now part of Chase, one of the largest banks in the world. Bank consolidation has been driven by gaining efficiencies through lower costs, i.e., shrinking the overall employee workforce and their associated expenses. Along with that, benefits are a fraction of what they used to be, but what’s the alternative? All that has produced a very indifferent work force whose average tenure is less than 3 years. The turnover provides huge costs in recruiting and training, as well as lost opportunity cost in not having qualified, trained employees ready to produce and in effect, lowers the standard of service to customers who are increasingly disappointed with their bank. (Don’t believe the Ally commercials.)

Bottom line is that the problem needs to be solved. Government needs to govern, not run to the next state. Not everything will go your way when the people are largely opposed to benefits through bullying for a section of the population that creates a disparity of inequality. Remember, the American psyche hinges on “FAIR”, so things have to get more in line. I’m sorry that the gravy train ends for public employees, just as I was when my own gravy train ended nearly 30 years ago. I truly appreciate teachers, policemen, firemen and mail carriers, but, if we are all to survive and create a general “better world”, then everyone’s got to give some to get some. It’s simply your turn.

So ends Part 1 of my Rantasaurus. I mean not to offend, but simply to rant. And, I can do that…because it’s MY blog.

…Part 2 to come and it’s a doozy.

 

The Quest

My Parrain, My Daddy, My Mamma, & My Nanny (on accordian)


Currently, I am 46.3 years old.

For the greater part of my adulthood (roughly 30 years), I have been searching for a song.

As I have reminised here frequently, when I was growing up in my idyllic small, Cajun town, every weekend was a celebration of being alive. Even as a young girl, I looked forward to my parents’ parties. Everyone was happy. There was great food. There were other kids MY age. And, there was MUSIC.

My mother’s cousin was a fabulous clarinet player, a la Benny Goodman, and I remember him frequently entertaining us along side of my Godmother, who was an accomplished musician. However, her REAL talent was that she did it all by ear. Guitar, piano and accordian…and all she had to do was hear a song once and she could replicate it perfectly.

Many a night, I sat in awe watching her play and sing, modulating with my mother in perfect-pitched harmony. Now, the men always joined in toward the end of the night and they were ok, most of the time. But, every blue moon, my Parrain (Godfather), who was also my accomplished musician Nanny’s (Godmother)
husband would treat us to “their” song. Beautiful harmony generally resulted and I saw what love could be…what I wanted it to be.

I sought that song for a very LONG time. They never could remember who, exactly, sang it. For their 50th Wedding Anniversary a few years ago, I tried dilligently to find it based on my memory of the melody and lyrics, but to no avail.

I am a researcher…on many levels…and I take pride in being able to find something, so I never gave up. Tonight I tried a new theory and I found it! HELL YES!! Finally. And, it was oh so sweet listening to it for the first time with the familiar refrain resonating in my brain. Amen. Finally. Strike one off the bucket list.

So, ladies and gentleman, kats & kittens, with no further adieu I bring you one of THE best songs ever written and that I KNOW you’ve never heard. From one Mr. Johnny Ace, Saving My Love For You

(click on “Watch on YouTube”)

And, love was just as I thought it would/should be.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on February 20, 2011 in family, harmony, Influences, Louisiana, love

 

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Jazz Fest 2011 - Jimmy Buffett by Gordon Robinette

So, this week the came the official and announcement of the 2011 Jazz Fest poster. The poster is a highly sought after commodity for many music consessieurs and collectors. Both the subjects and the artists vary through the years since the poster advertising the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1975. The great Louis Prima was immortalized by the great Tony Bennett last year — a true collectors’ item on several levels.

Louis Prima 2010 - Tony Bennett

Probably the most identifiable and beloved Jazz Fest posters were done by James Michalopoulos. He uses the splendid French Quarter architecture as a backdrop for several New Orleans legends who have been mainstays of Jazz Fest and of New Orleans music. The series of Dr. John, Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino and Allen Toussaint all convey exactly what Jazz Fest is about and the greats that have made IT great.

Dr. John, Louis "Satchemo" Armstrong, Fats Domino, Allen Touissaint

And then there’s the great Cajun artist, George Rodrigue, of Blue Dog fame — and recent savior of the Youngsville Heritage Oak. Rodrigue combines his iconical dark oak tree and ever-popular blue dog to immortalize Louis Armstrong (once again), Pete Fountain and the great Al Hirt.

Satchemo, Pete Fountain & Al Hirt

Again, these images capture the essence of these great talents and their impact on Jazz music and making New Orleans its “Mecca”.

So, imagine my surprise at this year’s poster. First, the artist is Gordon Robinette. Robinette IS well known in New Orleans, but not as an artist. He is best known as a talking head/talk show host at WJBO radio station. I must say that as an artist, he is quite accomplished. I do like how he borrowed from the much beloved concept of Michalopoulos’ use of French Quarter architecture and I am impressed that he includes a future Jimmy Buffett looking over his shoulder at the young, broke street performer behind a Falcon, no less. (Which reminds me…I have a long, lost story about a Falcon. But I digress…that’s for another day.)

However, I am perplexed at just why Jimmy Buffett is featured on a JAZZ FEST poster? Now, don’t get me wrong. My Jimmy love is strong. See here, here & here. But this choice seems a bit indulgent. Is it a payback for Jimmy’s fantastic support during last year’s oil spill crisis and his wonderful free concert that many homies considered his “homecoming” to the Gulf Coast?

Or, perhaps it was meant to bolster Jimmy’s spirits after his recent dive off the stage in Australia? A pat on the back for investing in the coast by expanding his Magaritaville franchise in Pensacola, FL and Biloxi, MS? Dunno. But one thing I DO know is that Jimmy Buffett is not the impactful son of the South that the other icons that graced Jazz Fest posters before him.

I DO love Jimmy…but I’m conflicted. He is from Mobile, AL…where I live. He has played here ZERO times since he graduated from McGill Institute back in 1966 (He was a cheerleader, for Christ’s sake). His concert at the Gulf was the first time he’s played there in forever, even though his sister, Lulu, has a VERY popular bar/restaurant on the Intercoastal Canal in Gulf Shores. Jimmy is more a child of Key West and the Carribean. A few years ago, he started playing Jazz Fest, but he has NEVER been a staple there. While Robinette’s portrait refers to Jimmy’s street performing in the late ’60s, the fact is that Jimmy Buffett spent a relatively short period of time on the gummy, stinky streets of the French Quarter before heading out to Californina and ultimately, grounding himself in South Florida.

So, to wrap this all up…I am pumped up about the Jimmy poster because of the awesomeness that is Jimmy Buffett and all he stands for. But in true Libra fashion, I am disappointed that something that has generally been pure and true to its’ core concerning subjects chosen to promote one of the most fantastic musical experiences on Earth has chosen a subject that is, well, not exactly true to itself.

And, just to quench that burning question of MY favorite Jazz Fest poster EVAH?

Because, IT’S IRMA, baby!!

 

How Do I Love Thee…?

Let me count the ways.

Ah…l’amour. Thrilling, euphoric, tragic and agonizing. No more complicated emotion, but truly the “essence of life”.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

— 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

For your Valentine’s Day enjoyment, the Music Maven VD play list:

All You Need is Love - The Beatles
I Love You for Sentimental Reasons - Sam Cooke
Prisoner of Love - Billy Eckstine
In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning - Frank Sinatra
Chapel of Love - The Dixie Cups
Crazy Love – Poco
I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You - Elvis Presley
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow - Carole King & James Taylor
Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman - Bryan Adams
You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling - The Righteous Brothers
When I Fall in Love - Nat King Cole
Trust in Me - Etta James
Have a Little Faith in Me – John Hiatt
Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash

 
4 Comments

Posted by on February 14, 2011 in Elvis, Etta James, frank sinatra, holidays, love

 

Good News…

Happy to report that the Youngsville Heritage Oak has been saved!

Through the hard work of concerned citizens (present & past), Guardian of the Oaks, TreesAcadiana, a generous property owner and artist George Rodrigue, the City Council was convinced to adopt an alternative that will allow the tree to remain in its current location as a link from past to present.

It has been thrilling to be a very small part of such a passionate cause and one that has such a connection to my own, personal history. $200,000 still needs to be raised to cover the cost of the alternative, so if you have always longed to have a Rodrigue print (signed & numbered), please purchase this one. All proceeds go to TreesAcadiana and the Youngsville Heritage Oak. Also, any monetary donation helps.

THANKS!!

Buy the Youngsville Heritage Oak print, here.

TreesAcadiana.org

 
1 Comment

Posted by on February 13, 2011 in cajun, inspiration, Louisiana

 

My Life as a Tree

TREES
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree

A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day
And lifts her leafy arms to pray,

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair

Upon whose blossom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems were made by fools like me
But only God can make a tree.
­–Joyce Kilmer

Recently, it came to my attention that an old oak tree in my hometown of Youngsville, LA was going to be sacrificed for a TEMPORARY by-pass road to build a much-needed road improvement project. However, the tree was never threatened by the new road and intersection “round-about”, just the temporary road needed to keep the intersection opened for the 30-60 days for the project to be completed.

The "Young" Oak

To put this in proper context, you have to understand the value of the live oaks of Southwest Louisiana. They are not only steeped in history, as many of them supercede the existence of the state of Louisiana and even the country of the United States itself. The live oak in question is estimated to be at least 150 years old and could be more than 250 years old, based on its’ 14 ft. thickness.

It’s just a tree, right? True, enough. However, it’s also a symbol. A symbol of a strong and proud heritage. That tree stood when Attakapas Indians still roamed the plains of Louisiana. Generations of Cajuns (and visitors) passed that tree over its history. When Dr. Young, who the town is named after, searched for a homestead, no doubt this tree attracted him with its protective branches from the un-air-conditioned summer heat. No doubt, my grandparents passed that tree in their horse and buggy on the ride they took when my grandfather proposed to her. Both of my uncles likely looked back at that tree when they went off to war, and lovingly gazed upon it when they returned.

There is a certain love affair with trees, especially old ones, for the memories they invoke. Perhaps that’s why Cajuns are so tied to their old oaks. Like the Evangeline Oak in St. Martinville, helping a lovelorn maiden hold on to her long, lost love…

…or the majestic St. John Oak at the Cathedral in Lafayette…

…or the oaks that line the beautiful campuses of the University of Lousiana-Lafayette

and Louisiana State University (LSU)

The magnificient symbols provide the shadows of our lives. Celebrations such as weddings, like Charles Durand’s 1850 spectacular tribute of gold and silver dusted limbs at Oak & Pine Alley…

…to modern day weddings celebrated under the historic and loving arms of a comforting tie to the past at Jefferson Island…

These majestic creatures have endured the test of time to provide the backdrop of our lives. This past weekend, I traveled to my hometown and everywhere I went, the oaks seemed to remind me that one of their own needed help.

I did something that I’d been promising to do. I went to the place where I grew up…on seven acres, complete with ponds and wonderful, triumphant oaks. Growing up, there were a pair of oak trees on our property that were over 250 years old when we lived there. The property had belonged to my father’s great-grandparents and were likely rooted at the time they lived there. My grandfather did surgery on one of them to save it back in the 1930′s. I joyfully played make-believe among them as a child. My sister married beneath them in 1979. Luckily, the people who developed the subdivision recognized the value of these old oaks and chose to highlight them, rather than chop them down for another lot. They are simply…spectacular.

My cousin had us over for a visit and the one of the remaining twin oaks that graces her homestead (built on the site of her parents’ home), invited me in…

So many trees, so many memories, so much history.

It made me ponder how anyone could allow such a symbol and a living testament to God’s magnificence to be chopped down, murdered in affect. Now, hear me…I am not an activist nor do I consider myself an envrionmentalist. I get it. But, this time there is an alternative. The intersection at Hwy 89 and Hwy 92 in Youngsville, LA can be closed for a brief period of time to allow the road construction to be completed, or the temporary by-pass CAN be re-routed. However, the “City” Council and Mayor have chosen to be close-minded regarding the situation and now even claim that the citizens of Youngsville don’t even care if the tree comes down. If you agree with the city government, well…to each his own. But, if you don’t, PLEASE let your voice be heard. Call the City Council @ 337-856-4181 or click here for email addresses for the City Council and Mayor. Also, click here to sign our online petition to show your support for saving the tree so that City Government cannot claim that the citizens of Youngsville “don’t care”.

There is a possibility for moving the tree (not an overall preference, but a lesser of two evils). Helping to raise the more than $250,000 needed to move the tree, is artist George Rodrigue. He has graciously donated his talent to paint the oak and produce prints for sale for $500 each, with proceeds going to Guardian of the Oaks — an organization fighting to protect our leafy legends.

Renowned artist, George Rodrigue, painting the "Youngsville Oak"

George’s wife, Wendy, also has a great blog that highlights Rodrigue’s work and causes. He is a great testament to his heritage. Thank you, sir, for your support.

ETA: Here is Rodrigue’s finished art work of the Youngsville Oak. Visit his Foundation website for more information on purchasing. I’m already on the list. ;)

The doctor's buggy symbolizes Dr. Young, the namesake of Youngsville, who also built the historic home that is also included in the painting

 
5 Comments

Posted by on February 4, 2011 in Artists, cajun, Calling Bullsh*t, Louisiana

 
 
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