Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Books are on New Orleans Bookstore shelves! My take on Parasol's

Had a great day today!  I first sent off three books that are on their way to Charis Books and More in Little Five Points, Atlanta.  Then we drove down to New Orleans to hit some of the indie bookstores to see if I could get I Wandered from New Orleans onto some real bookstore shelves.  It was a great success!  Some books were bought outright, some were placed on consignment.  Brilliant day!  So, for  my NOLA peeps and pops who want to check it out firsthand and pick up a holiday copy or two, or three... Hey, the book might want to take home friends.  You never know.  Anyway.  Here is the list of New Orleans bookstores and shops, so far, where you can pick up a copy, locally!! 

Garden District Book Shop - 2727 Prytania Street, NOLA
Librairie Bookshop - 823 Chartres Street
Beckham's Bookshop - 228 Decatur Street
Faubourg Marigny Art, Books, Music - 600 Frenchmen Street
Louisiana Music Factory - 210 Decatur Street

So it was a fun, cold day spent walking the streets in trenchcoats going door to door.  I met some fantastic and very kind people.  Getting out of the house once in a while can restore your faith in humanity.  At the end of the day I was famished and we were on St. Charles Avenue so I got a shrimp po boy from Parasol's.  Now, I didn't know it when we stopped in, but Parasol's was bought out by new owners.  Apparantly the landlord offered the building to the leasing tenant and the tenant would not pay the asking price so the owner listed it on the market.  The buyers moved here from Tampa, FL and the wife is actually from New Orleans and was thrilled to be able to buy Parasol's.  There seems to be a conflict between the old leasee and the new owners, the old tenant is disgruntled (if you don't pay you can't play) and  moved his business down a few blocks. 

 Former patrons have been flashing the finger as they go by, among other things, and patrons that don't feel so politically motivated are afraid their friends will see them eating or drinking at the 'new' Parasol's.  This is crazy.  The former tenant wouldn't pay the price, someone else did.  My shrimp po boy didn't taste any worse, in fact, it may have tasted a little bit better.  These folks are not lacking in Southern hospitality.  Parasol's is now cleaner, better maintained and it seems friendlier.  I liked it before, but I don't have a problem with it now.  It's not like it isn't owned by a  'former' local or run by a yankee.  No offense to my yankee friends... 

The point is... things change for all kinds of reasons.  If the corner bar and grill changes hands, it's still the corner bar and grill.  Parasol's will still celebrate St. Patty's Day in grand Irish fashion with dancing in the streets, beer, ale and good food.   Support the new owners if you're uptown and looking for something good to eat or drink.  Give them a chance and you might be pleasantly surprised.  I was. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Picking apples doesn't pay...

First an update on my website; at another author's request I have added a page to my website that gives details on some of the photos in the book, some photos that did not make it into the book and explanations about the meaning of the front and back covers.  Pictures and stories will be added over time as I gather them together, this is the link to that page.

And on to other musings... As much as I love New Orleans, sometimes, as always, I am ready to get in the car and start driving.  I threatened an acquaintence heading to Asheville, North Carolina that I would hide in the trunk of his car if he wouldn't let  me ride legitimately in the front seat.  I'm still here.  The longing for Asheville never goes away.  I miss the mountains and the smell of the misty green air, the sound of the rushing rivers over stone beds and the beautiful hardwoods that are losing their leaves to the mountain breeze.  Asheville!  Pack Square with the vagabonds, hippies, musicians and gypsies.  The little shops and vegetarian restauraunts (I'm not a vegetarian, but I love the people who are), the tiny flea markets crammed into old buildings, the tobacco shop that sells newspapers on the corner... Asheville.  There is no end to the love I have for that place. 

I also lived homeless in Asheville, but I was not alone that time and my van didn't break down on me.  I remember we were living in Pisgah National Forest in October, very cold.  We would take showers in the stream while there was still snow on the ground.  I know why hippies smell, it would have been better to deal with stench than bathe in that icy water.. but we did.  I was broke in Asheville too, I've spent most of my life barely getting by.  One day in Pack Square we were talking to this old guy who loved to drink, I don't remember his name, but he was one of those alcolholics you could spot a mile away because his nose was so red.  He told us there was BIG money to be made in Hendersonville picking apples.  Although this seemed too good to be true, it was better than the alternative.  Begging for change and trying to find a job without an address or a phone number.  We drove the old man out to Hendersonville bright and early the next day, prepared to  make some BIG money.  When we got there the farmer was wondering who the hell we all were.  An old drunk man, a pierced up pin cushion girl and a little short brown girl.  I'm sure we looked like a motley crew to that country farmer.  There were at least 15 to 20 big, big crates.  I mean, you could have put a Volkswagen bug and a half inside of one.  The farmer told us that we had to fill the bins. 

That day I learned that, when it comes to apples, there are peelers and juicers.  It's pretty obvious, peelers are the ones we get in the store to eat and juicers are worth less and go to the juicing factories.  We were picking juicers that day, so you could at least toss them into those bins and bruise them and it didn't matter.  I learned which ladders are used for apple picking and how fun it is to throw one into a tree with a big sack slung around your shoulder while bees are buzzing into your bag and around your head from five or six feet off the ground on a wiggly, bouncing, wooden ladder. 

We might have filled one bin in the 8 hours that we were there, the old hobo looking guy spilled beer all inside my Volkswagen, which was also  my house, and in the end we made $20 that we had to divide up among three people.  I've definately had better work days.  I never picked apples again, but I did get some interesting pictures that day (soon to be added to my website for your enjoyment) and I did write about it in my new book.  It's the very first poem, the self titled, I Wandered from New Orleans.  It's never fun being homeless, but it's less scary when you aren't all alone and your car doesn't break down.  Plus we lived in the National Forest, and even though it was bitter cold, it was a lot safer than parking on the streets in Atlanta and far more peaceful and beautiful. 
I do miss Asheville, and I miss Pack Square; I even miss Atlanta, but the last time I visited Atlanta I had enough  money to get a slice of Pizza and a drink from Fellini's, which was just spectacular.  That pizza is great even when you aren't starving to death!  I highly recommend it.

If you want to read about picking apples, Asheville, the mountains or even Atlanta, you can get a signed copy of I Wandered from New Orleans at my website or purchase the eBook and Kindle editions at Amazon.com.  If you're hungry for a slice of Fellini's Pizza, I am too!


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Renaissance Festival Season

Renaissance Festival time is here for those of us in South Louisiana.  I made my first visit this past saturday and managed to film a sing along to The Bar Wenches Drinking Song from my book at The King's Head Tavern with a group of friends.  I have found inspiration at the Faire on many occasions.  I think the Bar Wenches song may have been the first.  That was written the year I worked for the pub owner and it was a very cold winter at the Tavern in a little hole with lots of ice and ale.  The 'song' was originally written as a jingle to bring in business because the Tavern is set out of the way of the flow of traffic.  We had a good time with the filming and it was a good day for it.

Other Renaissance Faire writings in the book include one called The Faire: En Memorium and Albright.  The Faire incorporates a few stories into one related idea.  Death is as much a part of life as living at times, especially for the living who are only left with memories and the need to keep them alive and honored.  My friend Gwendolyn, who is the owner of the King's Head Tavern, lost a good friend of hers that we had met and laughed with many times while working for her and spending time at the Faire.  When she passed away suddenly, Gwendolyn had three purple banners embroidered in memory of her.  One of them hung in the pub that first year as a constant reminder of Lady Angelique.  She may be gone but she is not forgotten.  This year marks the third since she has been gone.

Another couple we met through the Renaissance Festival, Judy and Patrick, also honor a fallen friend.  His name was Aaron Myers and he carried a large custom made tankard with a miniature anvil for a handle.  Since his passing, they have carried the tankard on every journey and to every show they attend to honor his memory and to keep a part of him at the Faire.  It is his tankard that is in the photo opposite the poem The Faire in the book

I got to know a character nicknamed Rooster the same year that I worked at The King's Head Tavern.  He is one of those 'Country Boy Can Survive' types.  His tent actually had a wood burning stove inside!  That was the warmest tent I have ever been inside and the classiest, like I said, it had been a cold winter that year.  Rooster always came to the Faire alone, but once I got to know him he told me about his wife and how before she passed away, they always attended Faires together all across the United States.  One day at the Tavern in the late evening, he walked away from us down the path and I had the distinct feeling that he wasn't walking alone.  In my mind I could see his wife walking along beside him as he made his way towards the setting sun.  A man of travel and adventure, a man of many stories and laughs, as he walked alone I could sense that there was a part of the man that was still  missing and longing for what was once so familier.  When I wrote the final verse, it was this scene that haunted my mind. "Another sun sets with golden hue, is it dust that clouds the air?  Or is it the whispering of ghosts who walk beside us at the Faire?"

Read The Faire; En Memorium and more Renaissance Faire themed writings in I Wandered from New Orleans: Poems from the South.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Falstaff and four leaf clovers

It's amazing how early relationships affect the rest of our lives.  When we're young it seems like time is forever and things seem to move much more slowly.  Two years feel like ten until you're almost forty, then one year feels like only a few months have gone by before you're busy making new year's resolutions you have every intention of keeping.  Back to relationships.  There are a few pieces in my book that deal with some of these life affecting relationships.  One poem called Falstaff is about some of the memories and emotions I have concerning my father's mother.  She chose to be called 'Mammy,' which didn't go over well with my own mother.  She didn't quite like it, but my Mammy said, "That's just the way it is," and it was.  Looking back, now that I'm older, I realize that 'Mammy' is not exclusively used by colored women, though it is stereotyped in such a manner.  My grandmother married a Conway, and try as I may, I can't trace back my father's family name which is a source of endless frustration for me, because it is also my name.  My Mammy's husband was quite old, he was born in 1887 or something close to that.  He passed away when my father was about five years old.  Mammy is a term of endearment for Irish mothers, and even though my Mammy was of French descent, I believe she may have taken this name in honor of my grandfather's heritage.  Much of my writing used to be spontaneous, on the spot, in the moment writing.  I find that it has evolved into recording memories, history and reliving those things which are not only beyond the present moment, but unattainable.  This is where the poem Falstaff originated for me.  Looking back on those days when I still believed in Santa Claus and Fairy Tales, when the days were spread thick with innocence and not yet tainted with the cynicism of adulthood.  When we were surrounded by family and could plunder into the clover patches next to Mammy's house on Palmyra Street in New Orleans and find not just one four leaf clover, but two or three; sometimes the rare five leaf clover!  Days of magic and believing, I have those moments still, but looking back on times when the imagination stretched towards the horizon past the vanishing point; it feels good to remember. 

I still look for the Falstaff weather ball when I am in New Orleans; there is a rumor that it will be repaired and work just as it used to when I was a kid.  I'm still waiting for that day eagerly.  The old brewery has been converted into condominiums now, which is fine with me because at least it will keep the old building from being torn down and it finally has life again!  I think all old buildings await to be rediscovered and reinterpreted into something useful.  I am not a fan of the wrecking ball.  You can read the poem Falstaff in my book, I Wandered from New Orleans, along with other New Orleans flavored poems. http://www.tracyconway.com/

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Snow, Ice and Stage Fright

This time of year I always think about two poems from two of my favorite authors.  Fall Leaves Fall by Emily Brontë and Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost.  I’m sure the leaves have already fallen in most places, in Louisiana the live oaks don’t drop their leaves and the rest of the trees are always slow in starting.  At least the sycamores and bald cypress are changing colors, so it won’t be too much longer.  I often long for the snow in Louisiana, although when it does fall it covers the ground by an inch or two, three or four if you are having a really great winter.  What’s really great is that, when it does happen, the entire place shuts down.  We deep southerners don’t know how to drive in snow and ice!   It gives us time to stay at  home and make pine needled snowmen, wishing that we had enough to go around so we could make one of those crazy snowman scenes like Calvin and Hobbes used to do.  My favorite was the car accident.

Living in the Appalachians didn’t change the fact that this southern girl couldn’t drive in snow and ice, the only difference there was that the town didn’t shut down and my boss expected me to drive in anyway.  Volkswagen Buses from the 70′s era are not good for this task.  Most times I drove with the window open because the windshield refused to thaw.  I can’t blame the windshield, there wasn’t any heat to thaw it, just colder wind hardening the ice in place.

Robert Frost was probably a lot colder riding his horse through the snow on the Winter Solstice. “Between the woods and frozen lake, the darkest evening of the year.”  Funny thing about Robert Frost and this poem, I had to memorize it in 7th grade at my Catholic school in New Orleans.  I knew it inside out and front and back.  When I stood in front of the class, I didn’t know the author, the name of the poem or the first line, even though I had prompted the girl in front of me to help me if I blacked out.  I got a zero that day in english class.  I still have that poem memorized.  Public speaking has always been an issue, which is not a pleasant handicap when you need to do poetry readings or discussions.  My time working at the state park helped with that a great deal, but I will never be caught without at least a notecard when doing any planned speaking engagement.  Just in case.