Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Louisiana Lit: The Music of Ernest J. Gaines

Ernest J. Gaines. Source: Academy of Achievement interview, 2001.

Alcoholic Cajun detective Dave Robicheaux, as channeled through author James Lee Burke, was an important cultural guide for my first year in South Louisiana. 

For my second year in South Louisiana, author Ernest J. Gaines was my guide. 

Like Dave, Mr. Gaines receives inspiration from music

Of the classics, he likes Mozart, Hayden, Brahms, Chopin, Bach, and Schuman. In Mozart and Leadbelly, he reports: ".. Mozart and Haydn soothe my brain while I write ..."

In Mozart and Leadbelly, in the first essay, "Miss Jane and I," Mr. Gaines says:   
I think I have learned as much about writing about my people by listening to blues and jazz and spirituals as I have learned by reading novels. The understatements in the tenor saxophone of Lester Young, the crying, haunting, forever searching sounds of John Coltrane, and the softness and violence of Count Basie’s big band – all have fired my imagination as much as anything in literature. But the rural blues, maybe because of my background, is my choice in music.


In the second essay in Mozart and Leadbelly, he says: 
I started collecting blues records while attending San Francisco State College in the mid-fifties and inviting friends to my room to listen to the music. Most of the whites would listen to the records out of curiosity; this was before the Rolling Stones of England had made white America aware of the art and value of black blues singers. The white boys and girls of San Francisco wanted to listen because it was “exciting.” However, very few of my African American friends from the college wanted to listen to it at all because they wanted to forget what those ignorant Negroes were singing about. They had come to California to forget about those days and those ways.


. [classical music can’t] tell me about the Great Flood of ’27 as Bessie Smith or Big Bill Broonzy can. And neither can [Mozart or Haydn] describe Louisiana State Prison at Angola as Leadbelly can. And neither can tell me what it means to be bonded out of jail and be put on a plantation to work out your time as Lightnin Hopkins can [as in Mr. Tim Moore's Farm]. William Faulkner writes over one hundred pages describing the Great Flood of ’27 in his story “Old Man.” Bessie Smith gives us as true a picture in twelve lines [in Backwater Blues]. ….

Monday, March 28, 2016

Louisiana: The Slavery Museum

Children, sculpted by Woodrow Nash, Slavery Museum, Whitney Plantation, Louisiana. March 2015.

It's taken me a long time to write about my visit to the United States' very first slavery museum. Maybe because it generated polarized responses in me: Deep satisfaction in its creation. Disappointment in some of its execution.

Children, sculpted by Woodrow Nash, Slavery Museum, Whitney Plantation, Louisiana. March 2015.

I visited the museum in March 2015 with a German doctoral student in linguistics who studies the black French Creole language in South Louisiana. We shared an airbnb house at the start of my second year here, before I found my apartment in Opelousas.

Children, sculpted by Woodrow Nash, Slavery Museum, Whitney Plantation, Louisiana. March 2015.

Some memories remain vivid a year later.

Children, sculpted by Woodrow Nash, Slavery Museum, Whitney Plantation, Louisiana. March 2015.

The sculptures of the children in the church.

These children.

They are witnesses to a world that is alongside theirs, but which has different rules. These children, of an age when they know things are different for them than for others, but whose child-minds and spirits still have that buoyancy of belief in fanciful futures. 

These sculpted children observe us, the historical tourists, as we enter the church and sit in its pews and walk slowly around their figures, looking at them in their stillness. Do you see me? Each asks. Do you see me?

Children, sculpted by Woodrow Nash, Slavery Museum, Whitney Plantation, Louisiana. March 2015.

Names. The museum includes the names of men, women, and children who were enslaved. A seeing. A recognition of each person's humanity, a life lived, not just a dot in the universe labeled "slave."

Children, sculpted by Woodrow Nash, Slavery Museum, Whitney Plantation, Louisiana. March 2015.

The girl with the pretty teeth. The docent who led our group walked us through panels of names and story excerpts, asking each of us to note any that felt particularly meaningful for us. Later, she shared the story that meant the most to her, which was this, which I imperfectly relate to the best of my memory: There was a young girl, maybe 11 or 12 years old, enslaved, known for the prettiness of her teeth. And maybe she was very proud of the prettiness of her teeth. Well, the man who owned this little girl didn't care for the attention the prettiness drew. Or maybe the pride she took in their prettiness. One midday, he took the little girl into one of his outbuildings, one with the blacksmithing tools. Using an appliance, he removed one of the little girl's teeth. The next day, he did the same. The next day, the same. Every day, he removed one of her teeth.

Can you imagine? The pain of the act itself, during and after. Perhaps more stupefying, though, the anticipation of what was to come the next day. Then in the following morning. In an hour. In fifteen minutes. In one minute. Or to be the girl's parents, undergoing the same torture, albeit once removed, and being powerless to prevent it.

I regret that I didn't take the time to hunt down that story on the wall while I was there so I could be sure I heard it correctly and that I could share it here in the girl's own words. I've not been able to track it down since so I don't know how accurate my narrative is.

But I think about that girl and her fear. And I think about the capacity of cruelty that lives within all of us.

Children, sculpted by Woodrow Nash, Slavery Museum, Whitney Plantation, Louisiana. March 2015.

The Anti-Yoke Baptist Church. Later morphed into Antioch. This church at the Slavery Museum is not original to this site. It was built here and more recently moved to the Whitney Plantation, the site of the Slavery Museum.

When the museum docent explained that the original name of this church was "Anti-Yoke" as in contra the yoke that oxen wear as they work in the fields at the direction of a driver, I felt this inner exhalation of admiration for the men and women who were so bold as to give their church this in-your-face, self-determinate name.

Children, sculpted by Woodrow Nash, Slavery Museum, Whitney Plantation, Louisiana. March 2015.

There were things about the museum that underwhelmed me:
  • It costs a lot of money to get into - $22! For that, I expected to see all of the exhibits and not be kept from entering some of them because they weren't ready yet. This was annoying, especially because in a couple of cases (e.g. entering a cabin), there appeared to be no good reason to keep us out.
  • Overall, I felt the slavery experience was somewhat sanitized. This may change in the future with additional exhibits. I hardly think Auschwitz and Buchenwald are sanitized.
  • Our docent was an engaging leader and I appreciated the information she had to share, but there seemed to be gaps in her knowledge that I would have expected the museum to have covered in their staff training. 

Children, sculpted by Woodrow Nash, Slavery Museum, Whitney Plantation, Louisiana. March 2015.

But what a triumph that the Slavery Museum exists!

Related posts

The Peculiar Blindness, Part 1
The Peculiar Blindness, Part 2
The Peculiar Blindness, Part 3
Louisiana Lit: 12 Years a Slave
Rootless Lit: The Warmth of Other Suns

Friday, March 25, 2016

Louisiana: Banana Spiders, The Prequel

Banana spider, aka golden silk orb weaver spider. Lake Fausse Point State Park, Louisiana. September 2015.

When I take pictures of flashy spiders like the golden silk orb weavers, it is always with this thought: Oh my God, look at this spider, it's so cool, but don't let it touch me, oh no, but let me get a picture of it, oh ick, oh cool, eww! 

I took these two pics at Lake Fausse Pointe State Park this past September, but posted these later photos from Chicot State Park first.

I am grimacing as I write this.

Banana spider, aka golden silk orb weaver spider. Lake Fausse Point State Park, Louisiana. September 2015.

It's reminding me of this creepy-crawly affair at Chicot State Park earlier in September. And this inner-shriek-inducing visit to the Arthropod Museum in Las Cruces in 2013. Ewww. Cool! Ewwww!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Louisiana: The Chimpanzees From Alamogordo, Chapter 3

Cammy. Credit: Chimps to Sanctuary or Animal Protection of New Mexico. Illustrator unknown at this time.

When I lived in Alamogordo, I was astonished to discover the saga of hundreds of chimpanzees (and other primates) there. Really, it's astounding. I invite you to take some time to read it before continuing here. In addition to tragedy, there is heroism, perseverance, and eventually, for some, happy endings.

There are lessons about how expediency and the lack of exit strategies affect ethical decision-making.

Chimp Haven, Keithville, Louisiana. November 2015.

In an update story in January 2013, I wrote this: 
Today brings important news for the 169 remaining chimps at the Alamogordo Primate Facility on Holloman Air Force Base.
In short --> some? most? all? -- of these chimps will be retired to Chimp Haven in Louisiana.
Here is the final report from the Working Group on the Use of Chimpanzees in NIH-Supported Research. There is a comment period before their recommendations can be finalized, but it would seem public opinion is in favor of retiring the chimps.
What a happy ending to a dismal history.  Kudos to Chimp Haven.

When I moved to South Louisiana in November 2013, tucked in one of my brain's dusty corners was that note about Alamogordo chimps going to Louisiana.

But it wasn't until late fall 2015 (!) that I got around to cleaning out that corner, and I realized, damn, I better go take a look at these chimpanzees before I leave Louisiana for good. I discovered that the sanctuary is open to the public only a few times a year, and I'd have to go to the November 2015 open house or I'd miss my chance entirely, as my departure from Louisiana was at the end of February 2016. Spring visit days didn't start til April.

So I did go to Chimp Haven in November, whereupon I got some good news and some, well, not bad news, but personally disappointing news.

Chimp Haven, Keithville, Louisiana. November 2015.

The Alamogordo chimps didn't go to Chimp Haven, after all, as planned in 2013. Instead, they went to a sanctuary in Florida. So I didn't get to see any of "my" chimps.

However, November 2015 and March 2016 reports, which came out after my visit to Chimp Haven,  announced that other chimps from Alamogordo (the Holloman Air Force base), which had been diverted to a San Antonio, Texas, research facility in 2010, would go - and in fact, have gone - to Chimp Haven.

It's especially nice to hear that this particular contingent was sent to a sanctuary, because while at the San Antonio facility, they were still "on call" for potential research use, whereas the chimps that remained in Alamogordo were retired from research.

Chimp Haven, Keithville, Louisiana. November 2015.

So about my trip to Chimp Haven.

Chimp Haven and places like it are the culmination of hope, inspiration, money, many hard hills climbed and rocky roads trudged, money, the skill to execute on visions, and the ability to share a vision with people who have the wisdom, wealth, networks, and willingness to donate work necessary to transform the vision into reality. And more money. Oh yeah, and the ability to receive more rejections than acceptances.

A human skull and a chimp skull. Chimp Haven, Keithville, Louisiana. November 2015.

So when I visited Chimp Haven, it was with all this understanding in mind, and the consequent admiration for all that I saw.

It's a grand space for the chimps. A good amount of room to hang out in, exercise in, play in. The staff and volunteers cook up ways to keep the chimps' minds agile and engaged in life.

Polite and careful boundaries and protocols exist between chimps and caretakers.

Mmmm, salad. Chimp Haven, Keithville, Louisiana. November 2015.

Even so, a couple of factoids had me mentally tilting my head in askance.

One: For all intents and purposes, what separates the chimps from the humanoids is a watery moat. Staff confidence that this is sufficient to keep chimps from swimming across is based on the "fact" that chimps' bone density is such that it is physically impossible for chimps to swim. They'd sink. Ergo, a moat that is deep enough to require swimming is an impenetrable barrier.  This fact is (or at least was in 2012) also accepted by Steve Ross, director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study of Conservation of Apes at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, as cited in this ABC news story:  
Indeed, the same muscles that are considered to be the source of a chimp's strength can also be seen as a detriment for the animal. The lengthy muscle fibers mean chimps and other great apes can't swim, Ross said. To protect humans, many zoos create water barriers around the chimps' area so they cannot physically approach, Ross said.

When I heard the fact about bone density, I had to check it out. And discovered: Chimpanzees, Orangutans Can Swim and Dive, Biologists Prove (2013)

Two: On birth control. In talking with a staffer or volunteer, I learned there have been some "whoops" babies (2012) born into the community. [Also one born five years earlier per this story.]

I got the impression - perhaps mistaken - that Chimp Haven practices pregnancy prevention by way of oral contraception for the female chimps, which is added to their food. I was unclear why the male chimps wouldn't simply be vasectomized.

Well, in writing this post, I discovered that, according to the articles linked above, they are and were. But evidently there is a failure rate. Or perhaps the method used leaves the door open for a natural reversal in some cases. I dunno.

Until Chimp Haven could ensure proper new vasectomies, the female chimps received a regimen of oral contraceptives. 

This 2006 article, written by veterinarians, suggests two variables that can affect the efficacy of oral contraception:

1. Need to have a dose strong enough to do the job, but not so strong as to eliminate the appearance of 'cycling' to male chimps

During peak swelling, females demonstrate more assertive behavior.  Troop males of all ranks interact preferentially with intumescent females and their offspring.  Competition between males, concurrent with agonistic behaviors, will occur with increased frequency in the presence of cycling females.  It is has been documented that mother-raised infants benefit from the presence of cycling females in a troop and have improved adult social and sexual competence.

Because of the profound effects on the normal sociosexual behavior of chimpanzees, genital swelling should not be completely eliminated by the contraceptive option elected.    In considering contraceptive options, both genders must be evaluated to permit prevention of pregnancy while minimizing impact on troop behavior. 

2.  Got to watch out for pill-hiding shenanigans and other factors

It is critical that the female receive [the oral contraception] daily, consistently at the same time of day, and completely without refusal for optimal pregnancy prevention.  Chimpanzees can be experts at secreting pills offered so complete consumption must be assured and the training maintained by utilizing the package placebos.  When a pill is missed, a second dose should be administered promptly and if one day is entirely missed, two doses should be offered within 24 hours to maintain efficacy.  A side effect of administration of many antibiotics, particularly by the oral route, is reduced efficacy of oral contraceptives due to changes in drug metabolism. [Emphasis in the original text.]

So the issue of pregnancy prevention with chimps - not so cut (get it?) and dried as I would have thought.

Dinner coming. Chimp Haven, Keithville, Louisiana. November 2015.

Chimp Haven grows at least some of the food on campus.

Chimp snacks! Chimp Haven, Keithville, Louisiana. November 2015.

I tasted the crunchy snack in the pic above. Not bad.

More chimp snacks. Chimp Haven, Keithville, Louisiana. November 2015.

It felt good to go to Chimp Haven. Closed the circle of the Alamogordo chimp story a little bit.

Related posts: 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Opelousas: Outside My Window #1

This is a post about something I saw outside my window one year ago. The other Outside My Window posts are here.

It was a Sunday morning - March 21, 2015. I was in a zone, working happily on a creative project while listening to spirit-lifting Cajun tunes by way of the local cultural treasure, KRVS.

Presently, I notice sunlight peeking through the slats of my window blinds, and I went to open them to draw that light in.

This is what I saw right before me:

Opelousas incident, March 21, 2015, Louisiana

Let me cut to the ending right now: This story ended in tragedy. A man ultimately shot and killed himself, alone in his apartment. The man who killed himself had children. He lived with a girlfriend. Whether or not he was a good man, bad man, or something in between (one of the things that started all of this was a fight between him and his girlfriend where he evidently threatened her safety) - I don't know.

Opelousas incident, March 21, 2015, Louisiana

My first thought was that there was Something Big happening in the shopping center where we've got the Piggly Wiggly and a Mama's Fried Chicken and a Quiznos and a movie theater. An Operation that was the result of a long-term investigation.

My second thought was, damn, I had something similar happen in my backyard in Alamogordo, too! On that day, I saw a man in my backyard wearing a bullet-proof vest and carrying an automatic weapon. Can't believe I didn't write a post about it. Anyway, there were law enforcement crawling all over the vicinity in search of a fugitive. They found him hiding in the laundry room in the building next to mine. The law enforcement officer I saw in my Alamogordo backyard walked through my apartment to get to the front faster than if he had to walk all around the back of the building to get to the front.

Over time, as I watched the two Louisiana snipers on the roof, I realized the reason for there to be two was so that one could concentrate on the potential target while the other rested. I watched them take turns focusing on their objective.

When I went to the other side of my apartment and looked out my bedroom window, I saw the funeral home parking lot packed with law enforcement vehicles. I saw different law enforcement branches - state police, local police, sheriff's department.

Opelousas incident, March 21, 2015, Louisiana

I found one faction unsettling. Black SUV vehicles with windows tinted so dark, you couldn't see inside. The men who seemed to go with them wore black t-shirts and khaki-colored pants. The black t-shirts had OPD on the front and the motto "Throw Back, Take Down" on the reverse. What has happened to "protect and serve"? Why do the windows of the vehicles need to be dark, secret?

Opelousas incident, March 21, 2015, Louisiana

Rightly or wrongly, when I see "throw back, take down" - with a lightning bolt within a fist, which is the graphic on the OPD t-shirt, I assume the "take down" refers to this. And the "throw back" this. About a month after the incident, I asked a couple of police officers about the t-shirt, and they denied any knowledge about its meaning. They did say, however, that these are the folks who do the regular roundups in partnership with the marshalls and other law enforcement entities. 

Opelousas Police Department t-shirt "throw back and take down." Credit: Daily World.

So there was a lot of manpower, a bevy of police vehicles, and a shitload of weaponry. At a certain point, everyone stood down, and presently an ambulance appeared and soon after that we bystanders learned that the man had killed himself.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Louisiana: Departure Day: Don't Do What I Did

Pathetic. Just pathetic.

When I moved out of my Opelousas apartment, I broke all of the rules of efficient, effective, low-stress packing up and leaving.

Well, most of the rules.

Here's what I got right
  • As per my lease language, I gave my landlord my 30-day notice of leaving in writing. In this notice, I gave my landlord a time range of two or three hours for when he could inspect my apartment.
  • As a CYA in the event an issue cropped up with the return of my security deposit, I took photos of my apartment after I'd emptied and cleaned it, prior to the inspection, including the insides of the oven, refrigerator, tub, etc. (I had also taken photos when I moved in.)
  • I sold my bulky stuff a few weeks before move-out day. I priced my stuff in accordance with my priority to sell quickly, out of respect for the time and stress I was willing to invest in the process.
  • I delivered various items to second-hand stores in the days before my move. 
  • I tried to weigh these variables in deciding what to pack or not: Replacement cost versus amount of space the item takes up in my car.

Here's what I got wrong

Complacency - the enemy of efficiency and effectiveness!

When I sold my beloved - but wildly bulky - chairbed, I had a fairy-tale calculation of how much extra space its absence freed up in my car, with this cascade effect: 
  1. I miscalculated how much stuff I could take with me to the next home base;
  2. I kept more stuff than I would have otherwise;
  3. Didn't give as much thought to careful organization and packing as I might have otherwise;
  4. I ended up with more stuff than could fit into available space; and
  5. Had to ditch some things at the worst possible time - in the midst of packing my car for departure. 

In my la-la thinking mode in the last couple of weeks, I spent time with last dance and other hurrahs instead of the dull mundanity of packing the little things in advance. Boring tasks such as organizing office supplies and papers and such, corraling them into tidy spaces, ready to be put in their right places into the car. Consequently, I found myself - on the moving day! - of stashing this shit every which place I could because the other thing I did wrong was:

Somehow forget just how long it takes to pack stuff. The process of sorting and packing stacks minutes into quarter-hours into half- hours into hours of tedium. My self-congratulatory glow over selling the big things quickly and early was so bright, it obscured the necessity to knuckle down in the days before the move.

Fortunately, a buddy came over and helped me out a bit, and I sure appreciate that.

Other than that blessing, my move-out day was fraught with frustration, stress, anxiety, and moments of despair. Every tiny bit of it a result of my own poor planning and execution. Damn it.

Once I was on the road, I had to work hard to give myself a break and let it go. Had to remind myself that, hell, I accomplished my mission, not as neatly and expertly as I would have liked, but I accomplished it. Put the damn experience in perspective and enjoy the day on the road.

Just ... don't do what I did.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Mississippi: The Baptists Not There

Mississippi Baptist Beginnings, Highway 61, Mississippi. February 2016.

Right before I left South Louisiana, I read the memoir by Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi. This woman was bold. Bold in life and bold in her writing. 

She's the 23 year-old woman in this iconic photo from the soda fountain counter here:

From right to left at counter: Anne Moody, Joan Trumpauer, and John Salter. 1963 at Woolworth's in Jackson, Mississippi. Credit: Fred Blackwell.

Ms. Moody grew up in Centreville and Woodville, Mississippi. I routed my departure from Louisiana through Mississippi's Highway 61 so I could pass close by these towns of her youth.

What I really would have liked to have done was find her and meet her. But Anne Moody died in February 2015. She was afflicted with dementia in her last years. Her younger sister, Ms. Adline, oversaw her care. When I read this, about her sister caring for her, I thought, holy damn, after what Ms. Moody was wont to write about her younger siblings back in the day, well, I wonder if the sisters had to walk on some prickly paths to get to a good place. In an excerpt from one of Ms. Moody's obituaries:
Adline Moody said Saturday that she admired the courage of her sister, who was two years her senior.
"We came from a very poor family, and when she joined the movement, she did it because it was something that needed to be done. She wasn't out there just to be there," Adline Moody said. "I'm very proud of her for what she did. She made it better for me."


On this day, I was driving on Highway 61, having left my Louisiana nest behind, and I saw signage indicating a historical site on my right as I flashed by. Oh. Did I want to stop? I'd have to turn around and go back, if yes. ... Probably something boring, but you never know, maybe it had something tangential to what I read in Ms. Moody's book. So I turned around and went back.

Right away I was impressed. The very first sign told me that the Baptist church has been in Mississippi since 1791. Wow, that long? 

Being raised a Roman Catholic, I don't know that much about Baptists except they generally feel confident that my kind of people are on the fast track to Hell, not being born again and all. I had thought Baptists came relatively late to the Christian buffet.

The Mississippi Baptist Beginnings historic site is a series of large signs arranged along a semi-circle turnabout, so it's very easy to take in the info while in your car.  When I entered the circle drive, I noticed a car parked up toward one end of the far bend. A woman inside, maybe having a picnic meal or just contemplating life. It's a pretty place.

I moseyed by each sign with my car, taking in about as much history as my brain allows in one sitting. When I got to the end, I thought, wait, something's missing. Did I overlook it? Let me go through it again. So I swung around for another turn through the exhibits.

I glanced over to the woman in the car. Opened my passenger seat window.

"Excuse me. Ma'am?" I asked.

"Yes?" she said, an African-American woman in her 30s or so.

"Is it my imagination or is there an important part of the Baptist history missing here?"

The woman looked at me without expression and without hesitation, and in a matter-of-fact voice, replied: "Yes, ma'am, there is."

In a location so close to where a woman of courage grew up, in the year 2016, was a monument to a history in which it would appear that only white people were Baptists, and only they who effected change in the society.

This is unfortunate. Not just because it fails to acknowledge the African-American contributions to Baptist history in Mississippi, but because it reinforces the stereotype of Mississippi as a backward stanchion of white rule. The historic memorial's blindness to the fuller history would seem to reflect the despair of Ms. Moody's closing passage in her 1960s Civil Rights memoir:

"I sat there listening to 'We Shall Overcome,' looking out of the window at the passing Mississippi landscape. Images of all that had happened kept crossing my mind: the Taplin burning, the Birmingham church bombing, Medgar Evers' murder, the blood gushing out of McKinley's head, and all the other murders. ...I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes.
"'Moody...'" it was little Gene again interrupting his singing.
"'Moody, we're gonna git things straight in Washington, huh?'" 
I didn't answer him. I knew I didn't have to. He looked as if he knew exactly what I was thinking. 

"'I wonder. I wonder.'" ...

Monday, March 14, 2016

South Louisiana: A Woman's Experience

Woman with no name of her own. Abbeville, Louisiana.

The sparkle

In South Louisiana, there's always this .... I don't know .... electrostatic charge in the air, gravitational waves, sub-atomic magnetic field, whatever .... that plays between men and women. The daily language itself is intimate, even among strangers, at check-out counters, at the auto repair shop, on the street, wherever, what with both genders infusing statements with warm "sha's" and "baby's" and for women, the amiable, comfortable "girl," said in the same way you'd say it to your sister.

There's an acknowledgement of each other as sensual human beings that is frank and natural.

I like it. As a young dancer said to me at the Feed 'n Seed one night, "Let's put a little sparkle in this waltz."

There's a sparkle in South Louisiana.

But there's a yang to every yin, and in South Louisiana, there is an historical timeline of cultural pathology against women, still burbling its oily toxin today, like an uncapped oil leak in the beautiful land of the bayous.

I've got my theories on why this is, but I'll save that for another post.

In the meantime, below are a couple of my less-sparkly experiences as a woman in South Louisiana.

The sludge

I was physically accosted twice while in South Louisiana, in both cases:
  • By men with whom I'd talked and danced a number of times;
  • With whom I'd been clear about my lack of romantic interest; and
  • In public.

With the first man, I had seen some red flags that spoke to a damaged character, but I thought the boundaries I'd set were well-defined, and I believed I could manage the situation. 

With the second man - I never saw it coming.

In the first incident, the man apparently held the belief that some women want a man to be the aggressor, like in a bodice-ripper novel. I use the word "aggressor" deliberately because this is the exact word he used to me, stating that "obviously" he was going to have to be the aggressor. In other words, this is what he told himself that I wanted him to do. The word "aggressor" is quite different from the word "initiator." One word is about force. The other is neutral - merely the idea of who will start an action. He's a smart guy. He knew exactly what he meant when he chose "aggressor."

In the second incident, I have no idea what the man was thinking. I'd been bamboozled by his self-narrative, that he was a non-drinking, non-drugging man who lived by a strong code of personal and business ethics, and who was devoted to a well-regarded profession that allowed him to serve others.

Later, I learned second-hand that the same man had allegedly sexually assaulted another woman in a far more serious way than he had me. When I say "second-hand," I mean that the other woman reported the assault to the person who told me about it.

I also learned after the fact that the first man was notorious in some circles for troubling behavior with women, details of which are still unclear to me.

The assaults I experienced were sexual assaults, make no mistake. But they joined the legions of unreported incidents because they didn't rise up to the level of what one would report to the police with any realistic expectation of ... what? And there's not a clear path on what to say - or to whom - to alert other women that these two men are unsafe. It's quite possible these two men are serial offenders against ... how many women? A handful? Dozens? Scores? A hundred?

Louisiana's track record on violence against women

In 2010, Louisiana ranked 4th highest for femicide (murders of girls or women). Source: Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Now, I've got to tell you, I think there is an ick factor that the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence's youtube channel has exactly three videos, all of which feature men speaking out about domestic violence against women. Yes, I get that it's a man-to-man kinda thing to try and achieve a cultural change where men are on board about this. But my first reaction was that it smacks of a husband or brother or son doing the talking for "his" woman. Like a woman's voice doesn't have enough heft to deliver the message. Not to mention the political juice that the state office-holders got from being in the videos. Show me the funding money for LCADV, gentlemen.

In 2012, Louisiana ranked 14th highest for (reported) rape. Source: CNN.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Flashback: Harar, Ethiopia, March 2011

On March 16, 2011, I wrote Hyenas, Fresh Goat, and a Crispy Roach in Harar, Ethiopia, Day 6.

Damn, I loved that crazy place!

A repost below:

Ethiopia: Hyenas, Fresh Goat, and a Crispy Roach in Harar, Day 6, Wednesday

Credit: Marcus Baynes-Rock at Hyenas in Harar
Woke up still feeling a little queasy, but far better than yesterday. I popped another Cipro then went upstairs to see Irish Edith off for her return to Addis. The thought of coffee didn't send the right signals to my stomach, so I skipped that and had cold water with bread and "marmalade," the ubiquitous orange-transparent gelatin that passes nationwide in Ethiopia for something nothing like marmalade.

I had work to do online, so after a pleasant breakfast chat with Edith, I walked up to the internet cafe. By the time I finished there, it was time for lunch. This was a great day to check out that hotel/restaurant, more or less across the street from the Ras Hotel, that had caught my attention the first day I arrived in Harar.

It sat high behind a wall amidst flowering trees and shrubs. The adobe building looked immense, and was tropically pretty in its "fascist yellow" facade.

How odd, a military guardhouse at the gate. Came to find out it was a hotel owned by the Department of Defense. After checking out the bathroom, I selected a seat at one of the outside tables. No menu. I just ordered a coffee, which was very good. And for heaven's sake - only 2 birr (about 12 cents US)!

Decided to lunch instead at the reliable Fresh Touch down the street. Ordered the vegetarian pizza. When it arrived, I dressed it with their wonderfully spicy chili sauce. Oh. Wait. I did order the vegetarian pizza, right? So what's with the crispy-curled roach sitting so perkily atop a pepper? Waiter!

Just as I was waving down the waiter, in walked New York Ed and a pretty girl with an easy smile. She turned out to be Imti, from Germany via Sudan by birth.

I substituted an indifferent pasta-with-vegetables dish for the pizza. (Gonder is definitely the champion of an excellent "macaroni" with vegetables.)

After Ed, Imti, and I finished our lunches and enjoyed two delicious cups of coffee each, Ed pushed off to the internet cafe, and Imti and I continued our conversation. Interesting! She's an engineering student just finishing up an internship in Ethiopia, related to these cobblestone projects I've seen in Harar, Nazret, and Awassa. It's a German-Ethiopia partnership designed to provide jobs, training, and beautification of Ethiopian streets. Imti and her friend are in Harar doing some in-country tourist travel before she returns to Germany.

Tonight was hyena night for me, and unlike Atlanta Tom, who casually walked outside the wall over to check out the hyena man on his own, I knew I'd want a guide in the scary, hyena-riddled night. [A video about dogs and hyenas in Harar below]

I knew also that Aziz, who was to have escorted me last night (until I got sick), would probably be unavailable tonight, as his Spanish girlfriend was in town. My plan was to walk over to the cafe in the main Jugal square and locate a Plan B guide on the fly. At the same time, I had it in my mind to hire Abdellah, the guy I'd met the other day at said cafe, who is deaf. This turned out to be exactly what I did. Abdellah appeared happy as hell to be hired and we negotiated the price with the help of another local man.

Abdellah is one of those charismatic individuals who radiate good vibes and who attract goodwill in return. It was clear this local gentleman was fond of Abdellah; he made sure I really meant to hire Abdellah as my guide in the event Aziz didn't pan out.

Abdellah and I agreed to meet at the cafe at 6:30, and he dashed off while I hung out over a coffee and people-watched. A guide popped up, and joined me at my table. Did I need a guide? I explained that I was waiting for Aziz, but if he didn't show up, Abdellah was my back up guide. The guide said he doubted Aziz would be by, as his Spanish girlfriend was in town. (Harar is a typical small town - everybody knows everyone's business - heck, even the tourists know!)

Though late, Abdellah arrived, and off we went. I realized right quick that it wasn't going to work for Abdellah to get ahead of me, as he couldn't hear me if I called out to him. I tucked my arm into his so we stayed connected. It was nice. Just about everyone knew Abdellah - and liked him - as evidenced by the constant friendly, smiley greetings between him and other passersby. We emerged through a gate I hadn't visited before. It was already dark and the hyena man was already engaged with the hyenas.

Unbelievably, I fed the hyenas three times: I held out an 18" skinny stick with a strip of meat dangling on its end and handed it right to the hyenas' mouths. Yikes! At one point, I felt a nudge at the back of my knee. I whirled around, saw that it was Abdellah, and I slapped him hard in the chest in mock outrage. Everyone laughed.

Some idiot dad (an Ethiopian tourist) had this little toddler daughter feeding the hyenas. Put me in mind of idiot American counterparts who have their young'ns feed bears by dumpsters.

Credit: Hyenas in Harar
About the hyenas, it surprised me how beautiful they are! Their faces, heads, and ears! Lovely!

Credit: Hyenas in Harar

The beautiful illusion splintered as soon as I saw them move. Their walk evoked all of these negative anthropomorphic prejudices: "tail between its legs," "slinking around," "skulking," "craven."

I never saw the beauty for the presumed ugliness of the hyenas' posture.

Abdellah escorted me to my hotel, as agreed upon. We smilingly parted, and I saw him affectionately grab the head of a nearby youngster, and the two walked away with their arms around each other's shoulders.

I walked upstairs to the restaurant, where the waiter encouraged me to order the goat, as it was very fresh. I did, and it was.

While I thoughtfully chewed the tender meat, I wondered if it came from the pretty brown and white goat I saw from my balcony window earlier today, bleating sweetly at a woman retreating from the spot where he was newly tethered.

I thanked him for his sacrifice.

Marcus Baynes-Rock, a PhD candidate, studied hyenas for some time in Harar. You can check out his two interesting blogs on his research here (for 2009 through March 2010), then here for period til April 2011. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Mississippi: Coon 4 Sale

Coon for sale, Port Gibson, Mississippi. February 2016.

So I was driving up to Missouri on the last day of February, having left South Louisiana behind.

Just north of Port Gibson, Mississippi, I saw the sign on my left: COON 4 SALE.

Wasn't the first time I saw such a handwritten sign along the road that day, but this time I pulled in to see what was what.

A gentleman had a lot of raccoon meat ready to go in his cooler.

Coon for sale, Port Gibson, Mississippi. February 2016.

You get your dressed raccoon with organs intact at 5 bucks apiece.

Dressed with organs already removed at 10 bucks apiece.

Interestingly, the man gets most of his coons from Missouri trappers.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Henderson, Louisiana: McGee's Landing, Terroir, and Joy

Atchafalaya Swamp from McGee's Landing, Henderson, Louisiana. February 2016.

I first heard the word "terroir" in its usual context, the description of a wine. Terroir is the character -  the overall sensory experience of a wine - contributed to by "the specificity of [birth]place, which has come to include not only the soil in a region, but also the climate, the weather, the aspect of the vineyards and anything else that can possibly differentiate one piece of land from another."

Atchafalaya Swamp from McGee's Landing, Henderson, Louisiana. February 2016.

Some South Louisianans like to say their DNA is in the dirt here. The music here - the creole, cajun, zydeco, and heck, yes, even the swamp pop - has its DNA in the dirt as well, and in the swamps and the bayous.

To be in a local place, listening to and dancing to local music, looking out the door onto the Atchafalaya Basin, in this day's example, or out onto sugar cane field in another day's example, or onto a bayou-fed pond on another day, it is to experience the terroir of this music.

It is a joyous thing.

Here is the talented Steve Adams Trio at McGee's Landing:

Friday, March 4, 2016

Lafayette: African American History Parade

Princes and princesses at the 2016 African American History Parade in Lafayette, Louisiana.

The African American History Parade in Lafayette was one of my last hurrahs in South Louisiana.

Gosh darn, I do love a parade. Especially when it has marching bands. Well, truth be told, the marching bands are the best part of a parade. Marching bands trump thrown candy and beads any day of the week. Especially the drums. A parade made up solely of marching bands with strong drum corps, that would be a destination parade. OK, I guess you'd have to insert some floats or whatever between the bands just to create a space for the different songs performed by the bands.

Here's the Ocean of Soul Marching Band from Texas Southern University:

And here's the St Martinville High School band:

Before the parade, a couple of band members from a school got into a bit of trouble, resulting in the need to drop for some push ups. I believe the two boys were gawking at some pretty girls instead of paying attention to the band director.

2016 African American History Parade in Lafayette, Louisiana.

There were many charmers on floats, such as this shy, smiley princess:

2016 African American History Parade in Lafayette, Louisiana.

There were paeans to local history makers:

2016 African American History Parade in Lafayette, Louisiana.

And sworded knights on horseback:

2016 African American History Parade in Lafayette, Louisiana.

A slide show below: