Welcome to NOLA DIASPORA’S Mardi Gras 2017 edition.
It is such a busy time—with so much going in (IN and OUT of the news) that at first it was hard to find a starting place for this issue and difficult to see a theme, so I decided to start with national politics, move to international film, and end with native plants.
One of our readers called last week chide me for what she felt was limited Facebook coverage of New Orleans’ hurricane on February seventh. Our reportage lasted a little over a week and was based treatment by other news sources and sites.
“I guess most of the country sees it as regional,” I said. While local media reported official clean-up projections taking a full month (well after Mardi Gras), the topic didn’t stay long on the national radar, but I stressed how impressed I was with the grass roots dissemination of both information and aid.
“But it was bad,” the reader reminded me.
“It looked bad,” I agreed. “Really terrible. And I am so sorry for the East.”
“And it’s still bad.”
“Then send me stuff; we’ll continue to post,” I answered.
“I went to Juneau’s and I was the only white person in the place that afternoon,” our reader began what I thought was a new topic.
“On the Westbank?”
“They had a T. V. blaring just like everyone does now. CNN. This young black guy points to it and says, ‘Your president.’ I waved my arms in emphatic denial, ‘Not mine. Not mine.’”
“Cute,” I confirmed.
“We both got a good chuckle,” she confided. She went on to explain what she thought was significant about the conversation. At the sound of their laughter, an older black couple—who were seated facing away from the television--looked up.
“We’re talking about the president,” our reader explained as the younger guy pointed again to the T.V. screen.
“Is he here yet?” the older woman demanded.
“No,” both of them replied in unison.
“Well, is he coming?”
“Who would want him?” our reader concluded her story. “It’s like that regional syndrome everyone has been talking about since the election. What we need is the relief money, not the man.”
“But what you want is the hero.”
And a happy ending.
Our phone conversation did not just remind me of Katrina, it carried me right back to that time ten years ago and to the bitter camera shots of/discussions about President Bush—where he was and where he wasn’t. Where he should have been. What he should have been doing. Then what he should have done.
What good can leaders do? And from what place, what vantage point, should their good judgments, justice, and clemency be ordered and carried out?
What good can we do? I think that is one of the questions facing the country—and the world—in the post 2016 United States presidential election and particularly at this Mardi Gras season, which occurs smack-dab alongside a new moon—traditionally a time of new beginnings—and an eclipse—traditionally a sign of endings.
It is a push-me, pull-you kind of time.
I think of one of my favorite contemporary films, Andrea Segre’s Io Sono Li (Shun Li and the Poet). It is a sensitive depiction of a growing friendship between two strangers—one from China and one from Yugoslavia, who meet in a Chioggia, a small town outside of Venice. Both are estranged from family. Shun Li is seeking a better life for herself and her son, but she has fallen in with an unscrupulous employment agency that does not pay her fairly; so she is unable to save the money to bring her son to Italy. Bepi has given up on his family and has finally retired from his life as a fisher. Their tenuous friendship—never romantic--threatens the provincial and xenophobic townsfolk, so it is very much a story of our times.
It is also however, a story of universals and of universal beauty. The appreciation of literature—especially poetry—that Shun Li works into her life becomes both ritual and mainstay in her existence. The film’s reverent depiction of her annual tribute to poet Qu Yuan—the floating of flower blossoms on still water--is matched by its loving portrayals of the nearby bodies of water, one a lagoon, the other, the sea. Shun Li explains in a letter to her son that the distinctions in terminology is a matter of “distance.”
Maybe it is all a matter of distance. How distanced we feel from others. How estranged from ourselves.
I end with a note on the early arrival of spring.
Forsythia, a flower I first discovered in Virginia and one which I have written about before, is in bloom. As I drive through my neighborhood—in the little red truck I mention here from time to time—I seek connection to both land and people.
I note that my forsythia is only in bud, while those in the yard of several are in full bloom. One woman has lined the shrubs in her front yard like a row of guards. I feel nature abhors a straight line, but the forsythia ignores that rule and blooms away. In fact, rather than arcing out, the five or six bushes in her yard seem to stand sentry. All reach pogo-stick straight up, Tigger-eager, to the sky. A second neighbor prunes her two forsythia into globules. Nature abhors such rigidity I believe, but her bushes grow and glow: golden, sunny orbs. Only mine, unruly and untamed, wait. Or is that analysis all my ordering? Could it be a simple matter of shade and sunlight, even a slight variation in water levels, soil composition, or elevation?
Right here in Richmond, forsythia is doing its thing. And doing it splendidly. Right now, I read that as a symbol of hope.
In this issue you will find a fairy tale for the times from master story-teller and writer Laura Simms. Hers is one of a handful of constant voices, by that I mean voices perpetually seeking kindness and constancy in the world. We share two poems from a mid-western and northern voice, Loren Graham, who is adding his nuanced and lyrical poems to our journal. We are also delighted to be sharing the short story of Metairie writer and resident Reine Dugas Bouton.
In addition, one of our editors, Esther Nelson, and one previous contributor--whose New Orleans roots run deep, Marie Reinike Holmes share personal narratives—and pictures--of the Women’s March on Washington. One writer joined two sisters; the other marched with her daughter.
The reviews in this issue are also significant. We showcase new crime fiction releases by Susan Albert Wittig, Nevada Barr, James Lee Burke, and Laura Lippman and introduce poet Ashley Mace Havird’s first novel, the award-winning Lightningstruck. Finally, we identify and define the post-Katrina novel—literary fiction that includes the hurricane and its aftermath as plots and themes—and spotlight three exemplary explorations, My Sunshine Away, A Thousand Miles from Nowhere, and Landfall.
So, if the theme of the issue isn’t obvious yet, I will spell it out: s-t-o-r-y-s-h-a-r-i-n-g—that which builds and sustains life. Please enjoy and encourage your friends to visit our Facebook page and website as well!
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