Saturday, July 23, 2011

Killing innocents

No sooner had the cyber ink dried off the horrific story about Lieby Kletzky, then news came out of Norway of the stunningly gruesome and sadistic automatic weapon attack at a children's camp following the coordinated bombing of the prime minister's offices in downtown Oslo. Seven people were killed and 11 injured in the bomb blast, while latest reports state that at least 85 teenage children were killed at the camp, many of whom were the offspring of government officials. It staggers the imagination that anyone could ever justify killing helpless children for political purposes, but that's what the accused assassin seems to be boasting through his attorney. Eyewitnesses said that he arrived on the island shortly after news of the bomb blast circulated throughout the camp. Dressed in a police officer's uniform, he beckoned the youngsters to come to him and, once the unsuspecting victims approached him, opened fire on them. Some took to the nearby beach and ran into the water, trying to find a way to escape. Those who were not shot in the back were picked off while splashing in the water. Survivors claim that the "police officer" would call out to the children, suggesting he was there to help them. Once they came out from hiding, they were mowed down. Some who had been hit by automatic fire pretended to be dead; others used the bodies of other victims to shield them as they lay hoping for help. The death toll climbed so high because it took nearly an hour and a half for the real police to arrive by boat on the island. When they did swarm the island, Anders Behring Breivik surrendered peacefully to the authorities. Aside from the revised death toll of 93, the number of injured stands at 97. It is the worst attack on Norwegian soil since World War II and the worst ever perpetrated by a single gunman. According to news reports, Breivik confessed he acted alone and police are still checking to see if the evidence supports that claim. Sometime after the attacks were over, news reporters claim to have found a 1500 rambling "manifesto" detailing his political leanings as a conservative Christian and how he advocated against "Marxist diversity." The ruling Labor Party, which has been running a coalition government favorable toward liberal immigration, including Muslims, was apparently singled out by the gunman for their policies. Authorities were able to quickly verify he had ordered six tons of fertilizer that could have been used to manufacture a high yield bomb, but they were still questioning as to whether or not he had help in preparing the bomb that targeted offices in downtown Oslo. Norway is in mourning and everyone from the king and queen to the parents of victims are asking the unanswerable question: "why?" Why must the innocents pay the ultimate price for a misguided terrorist, who claims to take such outrageous acts in the name of religious philosophy. We've seen this time and time again in the Middle East where Jews and Arabs kill and maim the young. In Sudan we are seeing the politics of religion being utilized to justify the slow and systematic starvation of thousands of refugees who are caught up in the continuing civil war there between Muslim and Christians. Whether the victim is dispatched by a bullet to the back, a stabbing attack or withheld from proper food, the ending is the same. Only the speed of the onset of death is different. The thousands of dying children in Sudan can hardly utter the words to speak of their pain and there is little news coverage of this tragedy. The sudden cries of young shooting victims on Utoya Island or those injured in the Oslo bomb blast still ring out and are echoed in the news media, but for how long? But the persistent questions still remain. Why can someone whose religion values life so highly be so quick to extinguish it? Where is the breakdown between religious fervor and morality? What can we do to prevent another such incident? The next time this happens it may not be a single gunman, but many gunmen coordinated in a single attack strategy. The next time this happens it could be your sons or daughters or mine. If history has taught us anything, it is that man can be interminably cruel and can kill with little or no forethought. I pray this is the last such heinous act, but I know I am probably more hopeful than realistic. My prayers go out to the young innocent victims of violence who never asked to be involved in such horrors. They deserve a right to life, liberty and happiness. Unfortunately, as we have seen, they find out too soon they have nothing at all.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Remembering Lieby

LIEBY KLETZKY (Photo courtesy New York Daily News)
I cringed this week when the horrific details came out about the abduction, doping, murder and dismemberment of eight-year-old Lieby Kletzky, a member of an Orthodox Jewish family in New York. Alone for the first time on his way to a summer day camp, the boy became confused and asked directions from a stranger. Unfortunately, the stranger he asked was laying in wait for an opportunity to abduct a child (authorities have still not stated whether there was a sexual assault) and Lieby became an unsuspecting victim. Levi Aron was arrested at his apartment after video surfaced that showed him walking off with the child and the two of them entering an automobile. New York police officer Tom Burke, a specialist in identification of car models, was woken from a sound sleep when authorities could not tell the make, model or year of the gold automobile shown on the tape. Within a short time Burke was able to identify the automobile as a 1990 Honda Accord. Officers found the car parked on the street in front Aron's apartment. Police reported finding the bloody severed feet of the child on the premises. When confronted, Aron supposedly confessed and led police to a suitcase in a dumpster which contained the other remains of the hapless victim. As authorities moved ahead with the prosecution of the alleged murderer, it became clear that Aron is mentally unstable and probably psychotic. One of his attorneys resigned from handling the defense over his inability "to stomach" the story, while the other attorney has reportedly told a court that his client hears voices and can't readily distinguish good and bad acts. It is possible this was not a first incident, so police have begun the somber task of going through the accused's home, even digging up the backyard for signs of other potential victims. This is a parent's worst nightmare and there is no doubt the other victims of this crime are the family members left behind. Lieby's parents and Chabad Rabbi Binaymin Eisenberger have set up a website dedicated to his memory. However this is not just a simple memorial to a dead child. They have begun collecting funds on the website to be dispersed to do good deeds so that the memory of Lieby will never be forgotten. They hope to raise $1 million dollars and so far are closing in on the $200,000 mark. For those inclined to donate or to see the unusual response by the family to such a gut-wrenching loss, click here.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Napoléon, you have met your squeeze

Jourdan Binder holds a bottle of Mandarine Napoléon with Mark DeKuyper of Royal Dutch Distilleries

In just a few short weeks (in September) the DeKuyper family's Royal Dutch Distilleries will officially relaunch the fabled Mandarine Napoléon, a product of Belgium that was long regarded as one of the most iconic spirits distilled in Europe. Over the course of the last several months Jourdan Binder, the managing partner of Workshop, a public relations firm with a very good reputation for helping promote and brand companies, has worked diligently to relaunch this cognac-based spirit that encompasses the flavor of mandarins and clementimes (or, as we in New Orleans refer to them, satsumas). The DeKuper family recently acquired the label and U. S. company president of Royal Dutch Distilleries, Marc (R.B.) DeKuyper chose Workshop to take the lead with relaunching this smooth liqueur that can be mixed with soda or as a base for more inventive bar recipes. One of the important aspects for the relaunching is that the upside down fleur-de-lis used by Napoleon, for whom the spirit was named, and the black tri-cornered hat adorned by the French emperor is prominently displayed on the label. Mandarins are indicative of Corsica, the birthplace of Napoleon, another connection to the historical figure. The original formulation goes back over 100 years to 1892, but the DeKuyper family hopes it will become a favorite for spirit lovers the world over.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Don't carry tales; Tales will carry you!

Carousel Bar's 1840 Sazerac made with Cognac 1840 by Pierre Ferrand

The 2011 Tales of the Cocktail is under full swing and it brims with promise that this will be the best series of events ever presented under the auspices of the New Orleans Culinary and Cultural Preservation Society (NOCCPS). Today's highlights will be the recognition of Sazerac Seal of Approval winners at 2:00 p.m. in front of the Monteleone Hotel, which serves as the base for Tales of the Cocktails seminars and presentations. On Friday president Alexandre Gabriel of Pierre Ferrand will unveil his company's latest distillation, Cognac 1840. It is at Gabriel's direction that this cognac will enjoy favor in the city known for creating the Sazerac, the official cocktail of New Orleans and regarded as one of the oldest cocktails in America. When the Sazerac was first concocted by pharamcist Antoine Amedée Peychaud, it was described as a digestif and was made with a specific cognac, Sazerac-de-la-Forge. Cognac 1840 recreates the formulation of cognacs as they existed back in the days when Peychaud was promoting his creation and droves of customers were flocking to pharmacies and coffee houses to down this potent potable. This Friday the bottles will flow with the kickoff of what could be a return to the original formulation of the Sazerac that will feature Cognac 1840. The Monteleone Hotel's famous Carousel Bar has already been given a headstart on promoting the new spirit. They are offering an "1840 Sazerac" (see photo above) made with Cognac 1840, Vieux Pontarlier Absinthe and the obligatory Peychaud's Bitters. The cocktail is definitely smoother than the standard Sazerac most commonly prepared with rye whiskey and works well with the simple syrup added to sweeten it. The color is a perfect light red with hints of gold and is served with a lemon zest. It may well be that this new entry into the local drinking scene could change drinking habits in a way where everything old is new again.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What good is sitting alone in your room?

Last night was both a celebration and a wake for the soon to be shuttered Cabaret Le Chat Noir. The brainchild of Barbara Motley and husband Biff, Le Chat Noir opened its doors 12 years ago at 715 St. Charles Avenue in a building that had been previously abandoned for 18 years. Two years prior the Motleys had been enjoying the sights and sounds of New York when they happened upon a sign advertising a cabaret show for later that night. They were not aware of what cabaret was, but the star of that show was none other than Andrea Marcovicci - "the Queen of Cabaret." Marcovicci's performance opened the Motleys' eyes and ears. Barbara became obsessed with providing a similar workspace for cabaret performers in New Orleans and she started calling on cabaret owners and performers finding out what it would take for her to open such a venture. She did her homework well. From the time she opened her doors to the public in June of 1999, Le Chat Noir became one of the most important venues for local small theatre works in addition to providing a launching point for cabaret careers for a number of local performers and a well-known hot spot on the national cabaret circuit. For many years the cabaret sponsored a contest for new one-act plays that were submitted and judged. The winners had their works exposed to the public as part of a "festival" sponsored by Le Chat Noir. In addition the Bar Noir was considered one of the quaintest and most interesting watering holes in a city famed for lounges. It was Barbara Motley's initial hope that cabaret would be the primary offering for the club, but it became apparent that local tastes ran more towards theatrical works and she and her gal Friday, Su Gonzcy, worked to balance the number of cabaret dates offered against a plethora of well-attended short plays and musicals by talented locals. The plays brought customers in droves and once they learned of the charm of the venue and of the quality of performances being offered, the cabaret side of the business began to do much better. Only three years after opening, Le Chat Noir boasted dates with one of the brightest of cabaret stars, Karen Akers. It was Akers' appearance at the then unheralded Le Chat Noir that got notice to booking agents and other cabaret performers that this was a very special venue and a management team that was professional, courteous and gracious. Through the intervening years Akers returned four more times in 2004, 2005, 2007 and just six weeks ago for her final appearance. Other nationally and internationally regarded performers included Amanda McBroom, Anna Bergman, Billy Stritch, Bryan Batt, Donna McKechnie, Jason Graae, Jason Robert Brown, Karen Mason, Klea Blackhurst, Liz Callaway, Rich Look, Steve Ross, Todd Murray and Tommy Tune. But aside from attracting stars of such great magnitude, one of the most important influences the cabaret had was on the local cabaret scene. Prior to Le Chat Noir's appearance there wasn't even a scene to discuss. After a few years of operation, Barbara Motley found out about the Yale Cabaret Conference, held each summer for enterprising cabaret performers. Through her efforts several up and coming cabaret performers applied for the very selective process, were eventually accepted to the program and found themselves headed for New Haven, Connecticut for intensive course work taught by some of the leading cabaret performers. As a result they were instructed in the art of cabaret and trained as to how to perform, act, sing and select material appropriate for their own repertoires. A cottage cabaret industry was thus born and encouraged by Le Chat Noir. Even after weathering the storm called Katrina and the citywide evacuation and flooding, Le Chat Noir continued to garner great press and important reviews across the country. It was among the first of spots to reopen its doors in the wake of the tragedy and helped focus efforts on the parts of many of the members of the theatre community to reorganize. The wall of photographs of performers at Le Chat Noir filled up through the years with 8x10 portraits of the national stars alongside local stars. Pictures of deceased performers such as singer-actress and cabaret performer Cynthia Owen and actors Roy Dumont and Paula Prelutsky, all of whom had performed at Le Chat Noir in various roles, still grace the southwest wall of the club, a tribute to their lasting legacy and their contributions towards making Le Chat Noir the remarkable gathering place it was for some of New Orleans' most talented writers, singers, actors and composers. Last night's final show was titled "In Here Cabaret is Family" and starred seven ladies, all of whom could credit their burgeoning cabaret careers to this incredible performing space. Amy Alvarez, who just finished a successful cabaret tour to Baltimore and New York and her pianist and musical director Jefferson Turner, both graduates of the Yale Cabaret Conference, directed the show along with veteran jazz performer Banu Gibson. Although Gibson had already established her career prior to the institution's rise, some of her biggest career shows were held at Le Chat Noir, most notably sold-out performances for her Fred Astaire and George and Ira Gershwin programs. Also on the program were Anais St. John, a former cocktail waitress at the club and Lisa Picone, both graduates of the Yale Conference, in addition to Dorian Rush and Leslie Castay. St. John and Picone both had retrospective shows on their career idols: St. John's well-received show was on Eartha Kitt, while Picone's Peggy Lee tribute won her last year's Big Easy Award for Cabaret. Rush won the 2009 Big Easy Award for Best Cabaret performance for her role as Janis Joplin in "Livin' Janis." Castay, a former New York singing actress for the past two decades, returned to her New Orleans home a few years back and continued her successful career with a one-woman cabaret show titled "unscripted..." at the club twice this year. At the end of the night all the ladies came out on stage and sang the one song that one would expect to close the house, the title song from Kander and Ebb's "Cabaret." It was a special night that ended with everyone spilling out into Bar Noir and hoisting quite a number of cocktails until the break of dawn. The reason for the closure of the cabaret is that the Motleys want to shed the weighty responsibility of maintaining the mortgage on the building. In order to find a buyer it was necessary to cease operations - at least temporarily - until a sale could be finalized. The possibility that the club may rise again at its present site or at another location remains until the possible sale of the building is finalized, but for now the club is closed and negotiations are in full swing. The public will have to console itself with the past 12 years of history, knowing that another club like Le Chat Noir may never come again. Clients celebrated and mourned the passing of this performing space that was so much more than just a venue. It was very much like a family. It's loss will be hard to replace, but most people are hopeful that it will rise again like the fabled legend of the phoenix. So, as the song fittingly says and the ladies sang it last night, "Life is a cabaret, old chum. And we love this cabaret!"

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Fourth of July and a nation like no other

It's been a while since I waxed politically about this great nation of ours and, with the luxury of a long holiday weekend, it's about time that I do something to deserve that worthy appellation of writer, which I am prone to bandy about from time to time. First of all there is little doubt in my mind that the United States of America - no matter the current or past political leadership - is the greatest representative democracy to ever hold sway over one nation. While some may accuse it of having devolved into some form of socialism, facism or anarchy, I am of a mind to believe that it is still a beacon to other nations as to what form of government they would prefer for their own. This land of wealth and luxury is marked by an upper echelon whose lifestyles, if we believe what we see on reality TV, are probably way out of control. Meanwhile, the lower strata of the impoverished, needy and homeless is readily improved through assistance from government agencies along with established charities, faith-based organizations and the efforts of well-meaning and altruistic individuals. Oftentimes, the idealistic individuals taking care of the unfortunates of society are our young, spirited volunteers who have time and time again demonstrated their readiness to stretch forth their hands of charity as they are to pick up a smartphone and text their friends about the latest gossip at school. I saw this with my own eyes following the flooding in New Orleans related to Hurricane Katrina, when I was a recipient of such help. And I've seen it time and time again from natural disasters in Haiti and Japan are even in our own backyards this spring when rivers and streams overflowed their banks. America's strength is in its charity and in its diversity. We are a nation that has embraced immigrants to its shores and into its borders since its inception and we need to be conscious of the fact that five centuries ago the natives who occupied it were happy to welcome us to this New World. It is important that we keep in mind that no matter our age or station, we are but mere tenants, awaiting our replacements. Our country has amassed the most powerful and fearsome force on the planet, but we have had the capacity to understand that our might should not be unleashed frivolously and that the strength we exercise in diplomacy can be far greater and yield more beneficial results than that which would be gained through force. Sadly, we are still embroiled in far-off conflicts and our brave soldiers are still dying for the cause of protecting our freedom. It is easy to say these words when we have not lost a loved one or neighbor and for those who survive such a loss, we should be understanding and grateful for the sacrifices made. With the death of Osama bin Laden our country has shed some of the collective shame we felt in allowing the attacks on America to occur. This upcoming tenth anniversary will be a time for us to reflect on where we need to be vigilant against present and future foes. We need to consider that our ability to act as the leading nation in the world may be compromised in the future by other nations who are moving ahead technologically at a greater pace than we are. China in particular is about to pass the United States for the first time in the number of patents granted, the first such occurrence since records of that sort have been kept. We no longer have the record for the tallest skyscraper in the world: that trophy now goes to Dubai. We are deficient in several other areas where we had previously led the world, but the question we should ask is does this portend a loss of our own strength or, more likely, a change in the parity of the world's nations? We should still be proud of all that we have accomplished and keep in mind that we are probably stronger and less inclined to have to police the world when we have active partners engaged in commerce and protecting their own interests. This eliminates the need for us to carry the day by ourselves. Certainly, the cynics will decry such a thought that strong allies make for a more peaceful world, but it is important to remember that the old suppositions of win-lose may no longer have any validity in today's landscape of up and coming nations all vying for a bite at the apple. So on this Fourth of July, I hope we will all concentrate on the freedom and liberty we enjoy as a sovereign nation. Perhaps the good feelings we have towards our neighbors will spill over to other nations who will look at what we have and envy us for all of our many blessings.

Friday, July 1, 2011

AJPA Conference 2011

AJPA President Amy Doty welcomes new member Alan Smason
The American Jewish Press Association (AJPA) met in Dallas this week for its 44th year as the consortium that represents the oldest and most prominent of Jewish publications as well as some of the very best minds in Jewish journalism. The conference dealt with a number of issues confronting traditional print organizations and how they are coping with dwindling subscription bases, higher costs and increased competition from newer technologies such as web-based news sites and applications designed for mobile users. Demographer Ira Sheshkin gave attendees a lot of information to consider about the changing habits of the Jewish newspaper reading community and what the lack of young readership portends for the future of Jewish broadsheets, tabloids and glossy magazines. Several panels featuring major players and commentators spoke on topics such as issues confronting present-day Israel as well as offering sound practices attendees could use in their businesses. The conference was crowned with the presentation of this year's Rockower Awards for excellence in Jewish journalism. Dozens of submissions from newspapers and magazines were grouped by distribution size and critiqued by an anonymous slate of judges who determined their selections as this year's very best. Originally scheduled for Denver, the conference was switched to Dallas at the Galleria Westin Hotel for logistical reasons, graciously hosted in part at the Galleria Westin Hotel by Texas Jewish Press Vice-President and current AJPA President Amy Doty. All meals served were strictly kosher with supervision by Dallas' own Vaad Hakashrus and attendees were treated to an indoor feast featuring Texas-style barbeque on Tuesday night sponsored by Washington public relations firm Rabinowitz-Dorf Communications. Kudos also go out to AJPA Executive Director Leslie Honaker and assistant Alex Trujillo for their work in organizing and coordinating the conference.