Saturday, February 28, 2009

Birthday fun and wedding bells

Uncle and niece on her wedding weekend.

Today marks two major events: my birthday and my niece's wedding. The weekend is going to be centered more on the latter than the former and it should be that way. My niece served as my flower girl almost 25 years ago and will be celebrating her own 30th birthday in just another three weeks. She and her fiance, Gary, have been together for a little over a year and I was pleased to meet them both last Carnival while shuttling back and forth from Gallier Hall to the nearby Intercontinental Hotel, where family members had gathered for a brunch. Leslie, like my son for a brief period prior to Hurricane Katrina, was a student at the University of Kansas. I rather liked the campus in Lawrence and was taken with the comraderie there. Leslie and her husband will be living in the Windy Cindy and with the blustery conditions evidenced here so far, it almost appears they brought their weather down with them for the wedding. The party people from Chicago appear to be ready to show they are more than up to the task of making this a weekend for all to remember.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The death of a newspaper

Thursday came the news that Friday would be the final edition of Denver's Rocky Mountain News, a mainstay of journalism in that area for almost 150 years. The news for newspapers has been grave over the course of the last 12 months with cutbacks on almost every major newspaper from the New York Times to the San Francisco Examiner to the Cleveland Plain Dealer and even to the only newspaper in New Orleans, the Times-Picayune. Staffs have been depleted and the lucky ones have been able to grab exit packages while other longtime reporters have simply been shown the door. Many people blame the demise of the newspaper as an entity on several factors, primary among them is the Internet and broadcast media as to how the younger generation receives its news. Newspaper advertisers don't relish appealing to the 70+ set, who are the most voracious of newsprint readers. Giant Internet sites like Craig's List have drained badly needed income from the coffers of local newspapers, especially in the case of classified advertising that was a major revenue stream until the last several years. It does not bode well for budding journalists who are looking to start their careers and it makes me thankful that I am not totally dependent on my writing for my support. The future of traditional newspapers that are printed and distributed by newspaper delivery personnel appears to be dubious. Keep in mind that I am using one of the newer forms of communication through this blog and may, in some small way, be creating a climate that is indisposed to reading newsprint. In the case of the Rocky Mountain News, one of my college cronies, Mike Rudeen, lost his job and his highly popular Ask! column in which readers would send in a question that he would research and answer both online and in the paper. Unfortunately, the paper's parent company could not find a buyer and decided to close its door rather than bleed red ink for another day. Mike, who also had a stint in radio broadcasting is a true journalist in every sense of the word. Passionate, committed and with a no-nonsense approach to his work, he will be looking for work in the Denver area in an already-clogged market during a period of economic upheaval. Rudeen has three children including a set of twins and a wife to support. Best of luck to you, my friend.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The ending of Carnival

Celebrating the Sunday before Mardi Gras in 2009, the calendar date on which I was born, with my mother at historic Gallier Hall.
It has been a most serene day for me following a most dizzying weekend of events related to Carnival celebrations here in the City That Care Forgot. It has been so busy that this blog has suffered and for that I apologize, but it could not be helped and I hope I will be forgiven. The last few moments of Mardi Gras are drawing to a close, captured over the airwaves at the Meeting of the Courts of Rex and Comus. This finely scripted affair is actually two in one and begins at the Sheraton Hotel, where the Rex organization (officially known as The School of Design) holds its ball, later moving across historic Canal Street to the Marriott Hotel, where it ends at the ball of the Mystic Krewe of Comus. The tableau is full of symbols relating to the power of the King of Carnival and his court as they pay homage to Comus, credited as the originators of Carnival. For many years the meeting of the courts took place at the now shuttered Municpal Auditorium, which suffered heavy damage due to Hurricane Katrina related flooding and has yet to be restored or is slated to be repaired anytime soon. The pomp and circumstance of the affair is dazzling and filled with various protocol which must be observed. Who arrives at whose ball is dictated by tradition and the images of Rex and his lovely queen in gold meeting Comus and his radiant queen in silver is a thrill for those of us who enjoy the pagaentry of the New Orleans Mardi Gras.
As I watch the events enfold over the TV in glorious color, I think back on the last several days. There were, of course, several impressive balls leading up to the final weekend. Saturday morning I prepared to journey along the traditional St. Charles Avenue route as part of the spectacular Krewe of Iris, the oldest ladies organization. The weather was near perfect and the ride surprisingly short. It was a busy day that most New Orleanians considered because of the impending run that evening for the largest Carnival parading organization, the Krewe of Endymion, that features over 2400 riders and the largest of all floats in Carnival. One of this krewe's floats, Captain Eddie's Steamboat, features over 200 masked riders, more than some other entire krewes. Endymion splits New Orleans down the middle with its route that spans Canal Street. There is no part of New Orleans that is not affected by Endymion, which ends its journey along the streets by entering into the Louisiana Superdome. It is there where the crowd of nattily attired women and men greets the floats and dances to musical acts throughout the night and into the next morning. That next morning I met with the recently installed Queen of Okeanos, whose selection was made only a few weeks earlier at their Coronation Ball. The Queen's Breakfast was held at the Embassy Suites Hotel, following which the Queen and Maids journey with chaperones to the start of the parade uptown and then "buzzed" the parade route along Magazine Street and Napoleon and St. Charles Avenues. The police escorted limousines stopped at Gallier Hall, where the queen and her court were eventually introduced to the crowd just prior to the onset of the parade. It was my job to narrate the parade at the former New Orleans City Hall named after its famous architect. After the queen and her party left, I stayed to continue narrating the parades for the Krewe of Mid City and, later in the afternoon, the incredible Krewe of Thoth. I recuperated on Monday just long enough to prepare to journey to the Morial Convention Center and await the arrival of the Krewe of Orpheus and its most spectacular parade featuring millions of light emiting diodes (LEDs). The affair featured gifted Cajun and popular violinist Amanda Shaw and the Bucktown All Stars cover band before the arrival of the Orpheus units. Later, Celebrity Monarchs Jim Belushi and Josh Gracin from American Idol entertained the crowd with one other local band before the affair ended at 2:30 a.m. I was there until nearly the bitter end and elected to rest up for Fat Tuesday and enjoy the affairs going on vicariously by watching the local broadcasts. Trust me, I was quite bushed and needed the rest. It seems hard to believe it's all over, but I am already beginning to think about next year's fabulous offerings when Shrove Tuesday falls on February 16, a little over a week earlier than this year.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Big Easy Classical Arts Luncheon

New Orleans Opera Association's general and artistic director Robert Lyall and chorusmaster Carole Rausch

Monday morning brought the light of day to the city's first weekend of major parading leading up to Fat Tuesday. Yet, the focus of a luncheon held at the Monteleone Hotel had little to do with Mardi Gras. It was, in fact, a celebration of the classical arts that brought 30 tables of opera, classical music, ballet and modern dance patrons together to spend two and a half hours together. WWL-TV anchorwoman Angela Hill served as emcee introducing a number of influential arts leaders who announced nominations and winners in several categories. These nominations were reduced from scores of concerts held throughout the previous year. Two separate committees chose nominees for Classical and Opera and Dance. The Big Easy Awards also maintain two other committees for their Theatre Awards and Music Awards ceremonies, which until a few years ago were held jointly. I am one of only two people who sit on two of the different nomination committees. Were I especially masochistic, I would have elected to sit on the Music Committee in addition to my other duties on the Classical and Opera and Theatre Committees.

Delta Festival Ballet executive director Joseph Giacobbe with his award

New Orleans Freinds of Music was also awarded a Big Easy Award on their 50th anniversary.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Scramble for a birthday

A happy 23rd birthday at Antoine's

It is a sad fact that getting a reservation on Valentine's Day is always tough. It is the one night when most couples will dine out and it is especially busy should it fall on either a Friday or Saturday night. Other than those born on Christmas or New Year's Day, most people don't think about the other pittfalls of having a birthday on such a day. When most reservations are easily secured with just a day or two's advance notice, making sure that a Valentine's Day birthday can be enjoyed at the restaurant of one's choice can be problematic at best. Had I known 23 years ago how difficult it would be to get a reservation for my son's birthday, I might have asked to doctors to deliver him after the midnight hour. But no, we had him on February 14 and stuck with the date he was and we were ever since. Given the hardship I've alluded to in getting a Valentine's Day reservation, imagine the added drama one has while dealing with the numerous night parades that block traffic and congest the French Quarter during the weekends leading up to Carnival. Since all options for dining were, if you will pardon the phrase, off the table, last night we headed to Antoine's, the oldest restarurant in New Orleans to celebrate David's birthday. Finding a parking spot was somewhat challenging, but after a 20-minute delay due to the crowds and numbers of vehicles entering the area, we did manage to secure a place where Antoine's offered discounted parking. Even before we had walked in the doors of the establishment, I was happy. As usual, the meal was splendid and the wait staff was exceptional. The restaurant was so busy that nearly 1,000 diners were scheduled to enjoy meals there, a feat that most dining establishments would find nearly impossible. But again, the consistency is the reason that one goes to Antoine's and the fact that everyone was extremely busy didn't seem to matter. The outside world was filled with spillover from people headed to or coming from Carnival parades as well as the usual thrill seekers and heavy drinkers usually found on Bourbon Street. Antoine's, located on St. Louis Street between Bourbon and Royal Streets, is very close to the heart of the action in the Vieux Carre. It seems hard to believe that the vulnerable baby born as "my little heart" on Valentine's Day could be so tall and strong today. There is little doubt that his mother, who passed away just four days after his ninth birthday, would be very proud, indeed.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Where is Alan?

Well, Carnival activities have been fast and furious and I apologize to my faithful readers (all two of you) that I haven't had much of a presence lately. Between regular (or irregular as it were) work responsiblities and taking care of Carnival balls and tableau manuscripts, I have been a busy camper. It doesn't get less busy in the next two weeks. If anything can be said, it really gets ramped up and more frenetic until the big day, February 24. Mardi Gras is only one day, but we have a side economy built around it down here. The $1 billion it generates is nothing to sneeze at and, besides, it's so much more fun that one can ever have doing anything else. So, if you are on the street, look for me at Gallier Hall where I will be announcing several parades. If you happen not to reside in or around New Orleans or weren't planning on joining the festivities, my only question to you you is what's keeping you? A happy little phrase says it all: "laissez les bon temps rouler!" (which means "let the good times roll!").

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Rubashkin is released and Best's is bested

A while back I expressed discomfort with a court ruling that kept Sholom Rubashkin in jail while awaiting trial. While there is no doubt that Rubashkin faces serious charges and is a considerable flight risk, the former manager of the Agriprocessors kosher meat plant in Postville, Idaho was used as a pawn in a game whereby his mere religious affiliation as a Jew was used to deny him bail. The prosecutors alleged and a judge agreed that Rubashkin would automatically use Israel's "right to return" and flee the jurisdiction of the court. That meant that every Jew, no matter how guilty or innocent, could be denied bail because of the policy of an outside nation. Somehow this strikes me as inherently wrong and another judge agreed with me because Rubashkin was granted release on $500,000 bail at the end of January. The Rubashkin crisis in the kosher meat industry has caused many an observant shopper to mutter aloud "oy vey" as some grocers and distributors switched affiliation from Agriprocessors products in reaction to the allegations leveled against them. A number of products literally disappeared from grocer's refrigerators and freezers. Chalk up another loss in this ongoing crisis. Sara Lee, the parent company of Best's Kosher meat label has decided to kill the company it acquired not so very long ago. This means that one of the best kosher salamis and hot dogs around will no longer be purchased nationwide. It seems so sad for those of us who were faithful consumers, but such is the way of this economy. I am certain we will see more fallout in the future when one day we may echo a famous TV commercial: "Where's the beef?"