Archive for June, 2011

[beer snob ="on"] When the Benny the cashier at Sidney’s Wine Cellar first reccomended Shiner’s Ruby Redbird ginger and grapefruit beer to me, I immediately rejected the notion like Parisians rejected the Rite of Spring. But the intense swampiness of last Sunday in the Square had me in an ethereal state of mind so as I gazed upon the ample beer selection at Sidney’s I was compelled to get all beyond-the-nine-dots and give it a whirl. Business was slow and, it was BEER after all!

I was cautious, having recently endured a bad experience with Covington Strawberry which lacked the crispness of Abita’s Strawberry Harvest and instead was akin to drinking frothy jam. This fortified my weriness toward fruity beers after a similar experience with Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat (though the brewery redeemed itself with the esteemed Noble Pils).

The top of the bottle read, “the perfect Summer beer.” I always thought of Stella Artois or Sapporo’s Reserve to be great summer beers. I had my favorites so was quite skeptical of the boldness of this johnny-come-lately brew spouting off about it’s own perfection like some self-righteous Stone Brewery concotion.

So I was expecting it to be all “meh” but what I got was an experience akin to your first french kiss. My lawd it was amazing. You are first hit with the tartness of the grapefruit and like the light in the Book of Genesis, it is GOOD. As you swallow you a expecting that over-sweet taste that accompanies many fruit beers but is delightfully replaced with a dry crispness and them, whoa, the ginger fills in the rest. Brilliant and sublime. Everybody I let taste it loved it too. Not sure what’s wrong with these d-bags though. They probably drink copious amounts of Blue Moon and listen to Lady Gaga. Who cares about aroma and head?

I must give this beer my ultimate compliment which is actually a complaint, the bottles aren’t big enough. I need the Redbird in a 22 ounce bottle. Can’t see how it would last much longer than the 12 ounce bottle though. The stuff goes down smooth and quick. I am actually thinking of putting it on ice next week and seeing how that goes.

And like that first french kiss, I couldn’t help but think about Ruby that night so much so that I had it with a few Nutri Grains for breakfast the next day as part of my obligatory Monday morning at the Square breakfast beer ritual.

Ruby Redbird I love you! This is for you! [beer snob ="off"]

I’ve forsaken Fridays on the Square. Last Summer, I used to make art on Thursdays outside, then spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday also outside selling the art in sweltering, humid conditions. Mondays would find a weakened and weary Varg watching DVDs of The Wire with all the curtains drawn and the AC blasting. Any thought of the outside world was repulsing. a “metal health day” my mother would call it while we were growing up.

So now I am taking Fridays off and it seems to be helping. The weekends aren’t so long, the heat seems somewhat less debilitating. I never reach that breaking point. Sure, the cracks begin to show by Sunday afternoon but I can keep it together long enough to make it home, make it into the tub, make it to dinner, make it to bed.

The artists start to drop out one by one throughout the summer as well. The older artists are not as tolerant of the heat and come out less and less and later and later. The younger ones, without much responsibility, go on long vacations and stay with friends or family members around the country. I am sort of in the middle, I can tolerate the heat but have too much responsibility to traipse around the country every Summer. So, I remain. For better or for worse.

This past weekend was sort of the “last day of school” regarding the Square as several artists aged and budding alike were announcing it being their last weekend until October. The colloquial wisdom out there is that there is no money to made in summer and to an extent it’s true if all the artists would indeed stay. But since a healthy portion of them leave, there remains a solid crew of middle-of-the-road types who can work the margin of less artists / less clients into a summer of standard profits.

I try not to set up on Decatur street these months so I can often be found under the shady umbrage of oak trees on St. Anne. This past Saturday, my friend Randy needed to borrow my truck so I had him drop me off. This was very pleasing on a few levels. First, it was another opportunity to use my truck as a means of “paying it back.” That is, I borrowed so many trucks back when I didn’t have one that I am deep in debt relating to usage of them. So any opportunity I have to lend it out, I do. Second, if Randy is picking me up in the afternoon that meant I could get a little buzz on out there because I could just have him stay in the driver’s seat and get me all the way home with no fear of Ronal.

On the ride in, Randy mentioned there was a scooter convention in town so it meant that there was a potential for hipster douchbaggery in the air. But I also knew there were some Republicans around so there was also a chance of GOP fuckmookery as well. Perhaps the hipsters would like found-object folk art made from salvaged wood. The nouveau riche probably not so much.

I found myself set up next to one of my favorite artists and people Stuart South, a painter and multi-media artist who also happens to be an amateur futurist that aspires to live to be 1000 and is convinced it will indeed happen in his lifetime. He is enamored with Ray Kurzweil and is known for long, intricate stream of conciousness style articulations about agricultural robots, intersteller travel and nanotechnology.

My first customer was a sweet school teacher from Huntsville who challenged my assertion that it was the fourth best city in Alabama stating that it was older than Birmingham, richer in history than Montgomery and just better than Mobile. I took her argument under consideration and put an asterisk by Huntsville in the scattered reference materials of my mind.

She was in New Orleans because her husband was here for a conference. Since I knew there were Neo-Cons in our midst, I asked her if she was here for their conference but she said her spouse was here for a medical convention and was a transfusionist for heart surgeries. He essentially kept the patient full of blood during the procedure. So she was a kindergarten teacher and her husband was a doctor who kept sick people alive and I was a folk artist who was elated to have an opportunity to get a buzz on in public that day. Some days I think being an artist is important. Other days, not so much. She bought several pieces and went on her way, a good patron at the beginning of the day does wonders.

I made the rounds about the Square to see how everyone was doing as means of feeling like I was properly tending to my elected post on the Jackson Square Artist Association Commitee. They were all mostly sweating and not anticipating any great fortunes that day.

I ran into my friend and fellow artist Justin. Justin has a monetary goal he sets for himself each weekend and does not leave the Square until it is achieved. This steadfast dedication to his margins requires him to stay out on the corner of Decatur and St. Anne for hours and hours after most of the other artists are home and abed. However, he has aparently never missed a goal either.

Due to his stationary position in the heart of the Quarter, Justin has an opportunity to witness the changing and undulating cultural and social environments of that corner, from morning beignet eaters to late-night hand grenaders. He is full of stories and has probably repressed more notions of marked-down humanity and tempestuous New Orleans nightlife than any of us will ever witness.

Luckily, I happened upon him mere hours after the latest event. I’m paraphrasing of course but our conversation went something like this…

Varg: You know there are Republicans in town right? All the big ones who are running against Obama in 2012.

Justin: Yeah I talked to one this morning. He went on and on about how ashamed he was of Alabama because of all the civil rights advancements that had occurred there. He said he was embarrassed that the schools there were ever intergrated and that it was the worst thing that ever happened to the state. He said he wished segration was still going on and if he had his way it would be. He said Alabama has never been the same since.

Varg: What an asshole.

Justin: Yeah he was buying his wife some beignets because he said she doesn’t like to get out of bed that early.

Varg: He was here for the GOP leadership conference?

Justin: I guess. After he got finished talking to me he walked about a half a block and got punched in the face.

Varg: … Wait, what? He got punched?

Justin: Yeah, and he dropped his bag of beignets.

Varg: Shit, who punched him?

Justin: Some teen-ager with a group of his friends. He was looking for a fight because he was screaming at people as he came up the street.

Varg: What did the teen-ager look like?

Justin: He looked like a younger version of the guy.

Varg: That’s a relief. I was hoping it wasn’t a young black kid because that would have just invigorated the guy’s bigotry. Maybe since it was someone just like him it will be some moment of clarity for the guy.

Justin: It was some of the most instant Karma I ever saw.

Justin went on to say that he wouldn’t have added the punch at the end nonchalantly (I thought the punch was the meat of the story but he just sort of tossed in at the end like a post script) if he didn’t witness such behavior on a nightly basis from his third story apartment on Royal street. His pad is apparently in a mathematically perfect spot for fights to occur in the Quarter. Something about its position from the 300 – 500 blocks of Bourbon in relation to the amount of time it takes for the occupants to spill out of a bar and begin harassing each other to the ratio of patience to alcohol before they start brawling referencing the time of night this is all likely to happen. His own statistics have shown time after time that his corner is high point on the line graph. So, to him, the punch at the end was just a detail and the guy’s ludicrous notions on the effects of civil rights in his state were the real crux of the story.

Back at my spot, I sold a few more, ate a Thanksgiving sandwich from Stanley and then Stuart started in on how we needed to colonize Mars. He went on a bit and we had a conversation at first but then it sort of drifted into Stuart recalling somewhat verbatim something he read about terraforming. I settled back and listened. That’s the joy of Stuart. He is so into what he is saying he doesn’t notice if you are paying attention so, like All Things Considered or something, you can drift in and out of listening.

I noticed a known conspiracy-theorist had pulled up behind him and was paying close attention. I knew I was in a position to see something wonderful, optimist vs. pessimist. The consipiracy theorist had a shirt on that said “I’m Crazy” on the back. His entrance into the conversation was terribly awkward. Rather than waiting for an opportunity for Stuart to say something that crossed into his line of argument, he just asked, “How are you going to do all those things in the future when you are going to be killed off by the New World Order before any of that even occurs?” subtracting points from his argument.

He then went through all the major talking points expected out of any decent conspiracy theorist: the Bilderberg Group, chemtrails, with some Eugenics thrown in.

The skeptic in me couldn’t help but jump in and start asking him to cite some sources and then it of course came back to Alex Jones and that of course led the jester in me to ask, “You haven’t heard? Alex Jones is PART of the New World Order man!”

He wasn’t buying it of course and then began to go on about how the Japanese had found a way to turn human feces into steak. That didn’t sound so unbelievable but then he sort of made a giant leap and said, “We’re eating it man!” And then I of course was forced to ask a few more practical questions to which he responded, “I don’t know. GOOGLE it man!” I do not expect this out of my conspiracy theorists. This is a lazy ass conspiracy theorist who expects me to thorize for him. What I want is a far-fetched, good vs. evil answer to every question I have. I want them to be so well-versed in the art of conspiracy theories that I will run out of the will to ask questions before they run out of responses within the realm of reason. I do not expect homework when dealing with them. I won’t do it.

So the guy said after a few more questions, “Hey, I’m not CRAZY man!” This coming from a man who has a shirt on that reads, “I’m Crazy.”

Finally I said, “You know who really needs to be enlightened to these findings of yours? The Republicans down in the CBD! There is a big conference of them! They must hear this! They might be in charge of this whole thing one day!”

He looked at me as if a light bulb was going off in his head and said, “That’s a damn good idea man.” He liked this because he was passing out pamphlets trying to lure people to his $5 lectures. No conspiracy theorist is worth shit unless he’s using them to make a little pocket change ya know. He challenged me to come to the meeting with my skeptical thoughts but I knew I would then have to pay $5 to get there.

Off he rode.

I was convinced this crusade I sent him on would set off some chain of events that I would read about in the paper but I never heard anything. It worked about as well as when I tried to get a group of gutter punks to disrupt a Christian concert at the Artillery Park. My future as some sort of puppet master to discourse is not off to any sort of admirable start.

I also need to say that Alex Jones is an overweight, high-strung, very angry Texan who spends much of his time pissed off and screaming into a microphone about conspiracy theories. Heroin addicts have healthier lifestyles. Eventually this fella is going to blow a gasket, stroke out and the theories of his assassination will never, ever end.

If food was in my belly that meant it was Beer:30. So my fellow artist Larry and I went down to the best liquor store in the Quarter and I got myself a Magic Hat #9, a damn good “not quite pale ale.”

As I sat drinking it, I played some Rummy with Stuart and listened to more information on how to live to be 1000 years old.

“Did it ever occur to you how miserable that would be?” I asked. “Don’t you think the pattern of life would repeat itself so much after a few hundred years that you would just not be motivated to do anything any more? Isn’t one of the essential parts of life the race against death and to accomplish what you can in the short time you have and to suck the marrow out of it while you can? Because you know death’s always right around the corner? Wouldn’t an endless life also induce such chronic and lengthy procrastination that there would be a daily misery in how to occupy the time?”

“Also, wouldn’t the tragedy of accidental death or the death of a small child be made infinitely more heart wrenching and tragic because no longer would they only be losing 75 or so years of life but now 975 years or more? What you want is a world full of indolence and never ending anguish and sorrow!”

Then he beat me pretty decisivly in rummy and I had a Sapporo Reserve. These are amazing beers for the summer time because they are crisp and light and comes in a stainless steel can instead of aluminum which keeps it colder longer. I can also make folk art hearts for my abstract figures out of the cans.

For whatever reason, after a decent morning, the business just died in the afternoon. Not only were the people not buying but they weren’t even there. I guess because the scooter convention had itty bitty modes of transportation there was no need to stick around the Quarter. The point is probably to ride around in little groups like not quite Hell’s Angels.

Looked like the buzz I was anticipating wasn’t going to happen either. No business means no reason to stay out. No need to force it. I called Randy to come scoop me up and he showed up a little while later. When he arrived, he had some Mickey’s wide mouths on ice and I had the pleasure of riding away as a passenger of my own truck, drinking a wide-mouth and listening to Tom Waits in the French Quarter. Open container ticket be damned, it was nice. Life’s about moments sometimes.

As usual on Saturday nights in the summer, I came home and suffered like a convalescing patient on the couch until dinner and then just passed out.

Sunday came, was still hot but a little mellower in the Square. I set up, ordered some Johnny’s, ate the breakfast special and was on my way to get an ice coffee when my fellow artist Katie tempted me with an ice cold High Life. Frigid domestic lagers are VERY hard to resist in the summer. As many Jazzfest attendees know, you can drink 6 of those little bastards and not achieve any discernible buzz whatsoever. I got into a non-abstract mode of thinking that I if I accepted the High Life, I couldn’t get the coffee or vice versa. No way you can go down if you are coming up right? Then I thought, “Nonsense! I’ll have this breakfast beer and then a coffee!” That worked out great.

There was a group of Christian kids doing “surveys” around the Square that morning. Asking questions like, “Do you believe in God? Do you believe in the afterlife? Do you go to church regularly? Do you have anyone you want us to pray for?”

I said no I don’t believe in god. I do believe in the afterlife because SOMETHING has to happen to these atoms and molecules that make up my body right? I said yes I attend church regularly because I have been doing street preaching from the gospels of William Blake, Joseph Campbell, Carl Sagan and other to a small group of artists for six months or so now. Those count. When they asked who I wanted to pray for I gave them a dozen or so names and they wrote all of them down. Couldn’t hurt right? Free prayers!

I sent them around the corner to survey a few fellow artists and found out that if you answered “No” to “Do you believe in God?” and “Do you believe in the afterlife?” they don’t even bother asking “Do you attend church?” nor do they offer to pray for anyone for you. I thought this was a bit flawed because there could very easily be some husband or wife out there who sat in church every Sunday and went through the motions even though they didn’t believe but wanted to please their spouse. Hello! Think critically Christians!

Another artist eventually got pissed at them and ran them off. Ironically, a Christian man himself.

Even in the shade on St. Anne, the sun creeps in, so an artist without an umbrella, (me for example) has to constantly move in order to keep up with the shade. An astronomer could probably track the movement of the heavens using the movements of artists around the Square through the times of day during different seasons.

I sold a few more pieces and business again faded away in the afternoon. I lingered around a little bit in the company of my peers commiserating about how hot it was and generally cutting up, gossiping and acting a little bit a fool.

This guy walked by.

Figured it was agood enough time to leave. is a very fun tool for geeking out on Hurricanes, just wanted to share some great finds…

1994 Hurricane John
He lasted 31-days, strengthened into a CAT 5, had a 7,165 mile path from Mexico to Alaska around Hawaii and is one of the only storms to ever qualify as a hurricane and a typhoon.

1967 Hurricane Doria
I would have hated to be a resident of Virginia Beach as this crazy-ass storm made up her mind. I’m not an expert but there can’t be that many storms to make landfall from the northeast. When I first looked at her path I thought she formed in the mid Atlantic and dissipated off the East Coast of Florida but it was actually the other way around.

2005 Hurricane Vince
I guess everybody around here was too busy recovering from Katrina but Vince was weird in that he formed further east than any known hurricane and in water that was 75 degrees Fahrenheit. It is thought to be the only hurricane to ever hit the Iberian Peninsula of Portugal and Spain.

1955 Hurricane Connie, 1955 Hurricane Diane, 1955 Hurricane Ione
Basically, it sucked to be a resident of the Greater Wilmington area of North Carolina that summer. They were hit with Hurricanes Connie on August 11, five days later by Diane on the 17th and then Hurricane Ione a month later. Two Cat 2s and a Cat 1 which makes a Cat 5 if it only worked like that.

1960 Hurricane Donna
Holy Crap. Look at this path of destruction. Donna made three landfalls and remained a very strong storm never reaching below Cat 2 from the time it hit the Keys and then worked her way through Florida, up the east coast through Virginia and into New York and Connecticut.

Battling to keep the ‘real’ Venice afloat

I couldn’t help noticing the many parallels between Venice and New Orleans. Though, our situation doesn’t seem as dire yet.

But Venice also faces the problem of a dwindling population and an increasing influx of tourists that locals claim it is incapable of keeping up with.

Wouldn’t say New Orleans has ever been incapable of keeping up with its tourists but it does compromise it’s culture to them. Bourbon Street being the largest surrender. It used to be Jazz, Cocktails and Burlesque and now its karaoke, huge fucking beers and titty bars. The t-shirt shops continue to fight for more space and employ all sorts of tactics to do so. The next battleground might be Frenchmen Street. Thankfully, the neighborhoods have managed to stay out of this fight mostly.

But Secchi, a hotel owner, doesn’t blame the tourists; he is aware that the city needs them in order to survive. He and his supporters are lobbying Venice’s Mayor, Giorgio Orsoni, to diversify the city’s industry away from tourism so fewer residents will leave to take jobs on the mainland.

Other than tourism, Venice’s other industry is maritime interests, shipbuilding, a Navy base so on. There are also some textiles. New Orleans will always have a unique port (if it ever doesn’t that’s another, huge, issue) it also has universities, medicine and, let’s not forget our rich uncle, oil and gas (until, well, you know).

Secchi says Venice is “under attack by big business” and points to the advertising billboards that cover historic buildings being renovated, the cruise ships that sail into the city and houses bought up by corporations and left unoccupied.

Unoccupied houses by big business has always terrified me. While I am sure that exists in one way or the other in the French Quarter and surrounding areas it probably takes a different form in temporary owners who are only around part of the year. None of us hate America but what does it do to a neighborhood when a large portion of the homes are only occupied a few months out of the year if that?

It is this increasingly commercial aspect to the city, seen as necessary for boosting its finances, which prompted to stage their “Welcome to Veniceland” protest in 2010, in which members of the group paraded around Venice dressed as cartoon characters, lamenting what they see as the “Disney-fication” of their home.

They have an awe…amazing site! Welcome to Veniceland Also, see this map.

Environmental scientist and Venice resident Jane da Mosto says that the city’s problem with tourism could be better managed. She believes a basic tourist levy could help the city raise necessary funds to maintain its historic buildings. It’s money that has been hard to find in recent years, she says.

Okay, why?

Much of the money from Italy’s central government to the city has gone into funding the controversial billion-dollar MOSE flood defense project.


“It’s a bet, of course, but I believe in it, in the sense that it has to achieve its goals,” said Paolo Canestrelli, Director of the Center of Tide Forecasting and Signage at the Municipality of Venice. “One doesn’t even discuss (the possibility of it not working), because having spent so many resources, and so much energy on a project that may not work — it doesn’t bear thinking about.”

It sounds like they are trying to WILL the water out.

She says that she sees Venice’s problems as a microcosm for those affecting many other cities across the world, and that “if you can fix it in Venice, it can be fixed everywhere else too.”

We are pulling for you. – Pro Venice Web site

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Venice staged funeral

June 5, 2011
‘a drizzling, periodic rain’

By T.S. Elliot
a career writer and poet

When a poet’s mind is perfectly equipped for its work, it is constantly amalgamating disparate experience; the ordinary man’s experience is chaotic, irregular, fragmentary;…in the mind of the poet…experiences are always forming new wholes…

All the pieces matter. Not in some obvious Butterfly Effect manner but within the scope of you, the solitary soul, the vessel of humanity: Every life experience, the hues of every tree, the rhythms of all the songs and the songs before them, the suffering and joys throughout your life and the lives of those you come in contact with. An awareness and self actualization to the Universe’s wholeness will yield great rewards for the soul, much more than the isolation of egotism.