Some Kind of Sublime: a Madri Gras
-- a domestic dispatch from our Madrid correspondent Kathleen Heil
It's noon on a Thursday, two days before the fourth anniversary of the day the levees broke here in New Orleans, and the weather is all kinds of lovely -- only 84 degrees and 50 percent humidity, springtime of a certain kind for August in Louisiana. It means I can sit outside as I type, enjoy the breeze, tolerate the mosquitoes, and wish I had a sno-ball in my hands. [Photo credit: Corinne Keller].
Last night Leah Chase handed me the best bowl of gumbo z'herbs I'd ever tasted, best because it was dirty with spices, when so many gumbo z'herbs (like certain men?) are pretty but bland. The bowl is part of a six-pot gumbo-for-all and book signing to kickoff the One Book, One New Orleans 2009 selection: Gumbo Tales by Sara Roahen. I wait in a long line for her to sign my book, then realize I am standing in the wrong line, these people are waiting to buy alcohol. Iin New Orleans the first order of business is always booze, even in Latter Library, but I already have my drink, so I go for the gumbo, which runs out quickly, and then the book signing; books being books, they never run out). I get in the shorter line, which is still long enough that it snakes around the room. As I wait I drink wine and eat cake and chat with New Orleans ladies who talk that lovely way New Orleans ladies do, loud and loose, like they got lost somewhere between Long Island and Boston had a drink and came home. I ask the author annoying questions. Is being selected for One Book better than being singled out by Oprah? Does she have a favorite NOLA food? (Answers: a laugh and gumbo.) I explain that although I am from here I can't seem to find my way home. I have to go back to Madrid. She smiles and signs my book lucky gal.
Later that night I walk by a Lucky Dog
cart and into the Royal Sonesta Hotel for a benefit organized by Irvin Mayfield
featuring the Afro-Cuban rhythms of Los Hombres Calientes. (Though some of
Mayfield's session musicians are here, the other Hot Boy, Bill Summers, is
not). Irvin sings and plays the trumpet and shekere with his whole body; he is
joined by Ron Markham on the piano, Leon "Kid Chocolate" Brown on trumpet, tambourine, clave, and shekere,
David Kalfus on bass, Michael Watson on slide trombone, Jamal Batiste on drums,
and Luis Quintero playing the congas and cowbell with devotion-inspiring fierceness. Perhaps that's why there is a priest sitting
in the VIP section -- the very priest that kicks my mother and me out of the
VIP section, which doesn't seem very Christian of him.
These hombres start out playing some traditional Cuban rhythms, slide into a cool riff of Summertime and then back into the Latin jazz, closing the set with some traditional Mardi Gras Indian music. New Orleans is a city built upon so many contradictions they sometimes contain, koan like, their own (kind of) solution. I am transported by these rhythms but also saddened by the sublimity of the music, because I know I cannot suspend the moment any longer than the moment allows: this jazz set, like all jazz sets, must end.
So I raised my mojito high, I sang along when Irvin asked us to, I danced the funky butt to Iko Iko and flew my napkin flag, I prayed for my city the only way I knew how.
(Note: Irvin Mayfield's Love Sessions run through Sunday, August 29 and each night all ticket proceeds benefit a different charity. Click here for more information and and a downloadable podcast of the August 26 set; here for information on One Book, One New Orleans and here for more about Gumbo Tales author Sara Roahen.)