New Orleans

The city of New Orleans is a rich mix of the modern and the old, of wealth and poverty, of music, historic buildings, a new flourishing arts district, and all the good and the bad of the culture of the Deep South.

In areas like the French Quarter the excitement — and sometimes drunkenness — of the tourists floats like a thin sheen over the hardships endured by the street performers and service staff, the poverty of nearby neighborhoods, and the failures of the public sector to provide services and maintain public facilities. Of course, visitors are encouraged to look past all that, but it is there and is a part of what makes New Orleans what it is.

Cottage on St Ann Street

Cottage on St Ann Street

The masks we wear

The masks we wear

The locals

The locals

All dressed up

All dressed up

Forgotten remembrance

Forgotten remembrance

Open street surgery

Open street surgery

Just before the night begins

Just before the night begins

His money, his life

His money, his life

Surveillance

Surveillance

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Donations

Donaltions Needed to feed the animals

Donations Needed to Feed the Animals - 2010

This donation box “for feeding the animals” is at a mini-zoo in the rainforest, part of the entertainment at a little stand that sells fabulous tropical fruit smoothies. The brightly hand-painted box sits on the metal base from an old Singer treadle sewing machine — somehow not out of place at all in this rustic location.

In another form of donation, the local Senate has just passed legislation appropriating up to $7 million for the government to negotiate the purchase of 12.4 acres of land deep in the rainforest. Now that’s almost $565,000 per acre. For comparison, a 31 acre plot in the same area is listed on MLS for $465,000. Yes, 31 acres for less than the price of one.

The land in question had been leased by the government for use as a rock quarry in 1929. That use ended in 1940, and the land was rezoned agricultural in the 1950’s, disallowing future use as a quarry. In defense of their recent action, our Senators have variously alluded to the land’s environmental and public value as parkland, to the value of the rocks still there, and to the injustice done to the owners (presumably by the rezoning over 50 years ago).

It would be nice if all families who suffered injustice over the past half century could be so compensated. I wish I understood the history and logic that allow this to move forward without public objection. It’s not as though there are no other important uses for the money.

The picture below of a Fed-Ex truck hustling along Church Street in Christiansted town illustrates the contrasts and contradictions that result from the mix of modern enterprise, with the sometimes unfamiliar island priorities and view of the world. It can be difficult at times to distinguish the things that add charm from those that cause frustration.

Fed-Ex on Church Street

Fed-Ex on Church Street - 2010

Quadrille

Quadrille dancers

Quadrille dancers - 2010

The quadrille, a precursor to the modern square dance, is a part of St. Croix’s cultural heritage. It was brought here from England and became a part of plantation life well before the end of slavery. Like the square dance, it is formal, with dancers changing partners regularly throughout the dance. The traditional costume includes madras plaid shirts for the men and large head scarves for the women.

In this case, the St. Croix Heritage Dancers were performing accompanied by one of the street bands at an evening festival in Christiansted. The light, the mid-street venue, and the music made for a surreal mixture of the old and the new.

quadrille, the music

The Music - 2010

Primarily Yellow

Fort Christiansvaern, with Flag

Walls of Stone, Walls of Color -- 2010

They are painting Fort Christiansvaern. No, not red; that was me that did that. But yellow, that wonderful golden yellow that one sees on so many of the historic buildings in old Christiansted. The paint and repairs are important to protect the structure, and historical correctness is being observed. Still, the crumbling walls and peeling paint give the fort some of its character.

The fort is unendingly photogenic as its shapes, angles and colors shift perceptibly as the sun moves across the sky — as if it were a giant work of art set beside the sea. Despite the shape-shifting beauty of the building, I have darker feelings about its original purpose and things that happened there so many years ago.

These images are two interpretations of the same original photograph. Perhaps they reflect some of my ambivalence.

Primarily Yellow

Primarily Yellow -- 2010

Time passes

queen for a day

Queen for a day - 2010

The queen rides by in sparkling yellow proud and smiling. A few blocks away, the afternoon sun illuminates a crumbling cemetery. The stones speak of dreams and lives long gone, and stories played out on that balcony just beyond the cemetery wall.

Cemetery in Frederiksted

Gone for a while - 2010

For a Jumbie-free New Year!

Mocko Jumbie Dance - 2009

St. Croix’s celebration of the holidays continues through the week, ending with the adult’s festival parade (a loud, long, and sometimes lewd extravaganza) on January 2. In keeping with the celebratory spirit, these two night-time mocko jumbies may help keep the bad spirits away throughout the New Year.

May 2010 bring the best to all.

Mocko Jumbie with Holiday Lights - 2009

Holiday Spirits

Mocko Jumbie - 2009

Colorfully costumed stilt dancers — or mocko jumbies — appear at many island festivals. Cultural icons and entertainers today, the mocko jumbies have ancient African origins. “Jumbies” are mischevious or evil spirits and ghosts, and one interpretation is that the mocko jumbies scare them away by mocking them. Their height allows them to see the spirits before they arrive to cause trouble. While there are other interpretations, they all relate to protection from the spirit world.

Now just imagine if it were a jumbie that had become manifest in the form of the young woman below…

I wish a happy holiday and good spirits to all!

(Learn more about the origin and cultural significance of the mocko jumbies.)

Elfin Dream-Girl - 2009

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