Glitter Box

Written at the start of 2020 when retail was doing its thing:

Anyone who has spent time in the Quarter knows that Royal Street has more than one face. Starting at Canal Street, the 100 to the 900 blocks are replete with glittering windows of goods, carriageways selling framed art, and even a few stately hotels with ornate entrances that offer a peek at plush interiors. The shops are famous for offering a wide set of items including antebellum Southern furniture, elaborate lighting, French kitchen items, Italian stationery, books, a wide variety of souvenir items, even a tiny grocery store.

Seeing it all at a human pace is aided by the pedestrian mall that Royal is transformed into between the 400 and 700 blocks from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Once the car traffic goes away, those blocks are crowded with street musicians, “poets for hire,” hustlers, unhoused folks, and painters using the ironwork of the St. Louis Cathedral’s back garden to show their items. Oh, it’s a scene.

However, once past the little Red Schoolhouse at the corner of St. Philip, the street quiets considerably. Like neighboring Bourbon Street, it then becomes mostly residential and therefore invites fewer tourists. For the curious who continue in that direction, there are many wonderful surprises to discover, including a tiny store in the 1100 block with a simple red and white sign: Glitter Box.

The first mention of a building at 1109 Royal in the Vieux Carre Digital Survey Database is in 1828, erected by the Company of Architects of the City of New Orleans. Here is Stanley Clisby’s description of the company and the block in his 1930s book,  Old New Orleans: A History of the Vieux Carré:

“STREET OF BALCONIES 1101-1141 Royal Street. Upon our return to Royal Street, our attention is instantly caught by the row of houses on the left-hand side of the thoroughfare and their balconies covered with cast-iron lace and twining vines growing from the flower boxes and pots that line the galleries. These houses were all erected at one time by the forerunner in New Orleans of what we now denominate homestead and building and loan association. This particular company, headed by Jules Mossy and operating under the name of La Compagnie des Architectes, purchased the entire site and in the winter of 1831-1832 built the houses and sold them individually at public auction.”

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, FQ resident and writer Darlene Fife identifies the shop as the “first natural foods store in New Orleans” when it was known as The Sunshine Workshop. In her memoir “Portraits From Memory: New Orleans in the Sixties,” Fife remembered that the store’s only books were by the Anthroposophic Society  which advocated “”spiritual science” theories developed by Rudolf Steiner and how the owner Michael Coby didn’t carry dairy products because he “could smell people who ate cheese.” Legendary Covington Farmers Market vendor Norma Jean Marcon remembered working at the store in the early 1970s and that she got the job because her astrological sign aligned with Colby’s. She remembers it as a great era.

The address’s cavalcade of characters also included “Mr. Joe” a licensed embalmer at Thorp-Sontheimer-Laudumiey Funeral Home who was also active in the Vieux Carre Commission. His children, Jonathan and Romany, grew up there, no doubt roaming the French Quarter as happy little pirates. From his online memorial: “Mr. Joe” became a French Quarter personality. Everyone knew him and loved him; his ‘white balcony’ at 1109 Royal St. has been seen in many films.”

Honoring the building’s colorful history, the current operator Glitter Box at 1109 Royal packs a lot in its 800ish square feet: it offers unique gifts, art, apparel, printed materials, and health and wellness items presented artfully and with approachable price points. All items are made exclusively by women and femme-identified Gulf Coast artists living and working from Texas to Florida. GB also creates items in collaboration with Women with A Vision that supports WWAV’s work with previously incarcerated women under the Glitter Box Goods brand and acts as an education and community resource center.  For example, the shop is a community outpost for Reproductive Justice Action Collective (ReJAC), which distributes free and by-donation emergency contraception through community partners and a network of community support members in the greater New Orleans area.

A collaborative nature

The GB brand was unveiled at the location in 2017 after spending a few years as the Foundation Gallery, which had a related but wider mission of supporting regional artists and was also funded by the Heymann Foundation. Co-founder Alice McGillicuddy was behind the idea to change it to Glitter Box, adding maker events, and building its artist roster, all ideas enthusiastically supported by co-founder Lila Heymann. The change came from both women’s desire to support a wider range of artists and promote intersectional feminism, becoming more of an approachable community space than a traditional art gallery.

When the shop is open, two floor-to-ceiling windows on Royal show off its colorful displays, but its entrance through the courtyard to the right confounds many, even with the a-frame sign next to it, inviting people in. When its white shutters are closed, it is almost impossible to notice. 

Curator and manager Kate McCurdy is originally from New York City and has been in New Orleans for seven years.  She says, “this gallery is why I live in New Orleans; It has a supportive nature, a collaborative nature.” McCurdy started out by hosting Craft Nights, where the events range from knitting circles to Carnival headdress workshops which, because of McGillicuddy’s reputation as a movie prop fabricator, were well-attended from the start.

McCurdy is always seeking new types of products for the shop and working with the artists to source materials as locally as possible and encouraging eco-friendly packaging and materials. Fairtrade sourcing is also suggested when the artist is using materials from outside of the U.S., and McCurdy has been thinking about how to help the gallery’s artists with building fair wage jobs when they get to that level. It’s something she has some experience with as she was one of the founders of the Lucky Art Fair which centers on the philosophy of fair pay for artists.

Currently, there are around 150 artists represented in the shop with some of the items sold through consignment.  McCurdy gets 2-3 emails a week from artists inquiring about space, and does her best to direct artists to resources like the Fab Lab at Delgado which has free access to laser cutters, CNC routers (used for cutting plastic, model foam or other soft materials), a vinyl cutter, 3D printers, and more.

“The idea is to give them (artists) whatever support we can.”

Glitter Box also created the “Babes In Business” map and online directory, to encourage support of women-owned businesses across the city. The online directory features over 500 women-owned businesses and is searchable and divided by business type. The Glitter Box also holds a wide selection of workshops and community events like their new book club and donates a percentage of total sales every month to worthy non-profits and community groups. Since opening in 2017, they have donated over $40,000 to organizations like Sexual Trauma Awareness & Response (STAR), Planned Parenthood Gulf South, BreakOUT!, and NOLA Women & Children’s Shelter.

Everyone connected to the shop packs a lot of community into their day:

Lila Heymann: Owner & Co-Founder. Heymann has been recently working to become a licensed social worker while currently living in Charlottesville VA, although often back home in Louisiana working on the family foundation. The Foundation was founded to honor the family’s deep roots in Lafayette as business leaders: The Heymann’s Department Store was opened in downtown Lafayette by Maurice Heymann in 1916, and was a full-scale retail store, remaining in business downtown until the mid- 1980s. Uncle Maurice Heymann developed the present Oil Center in 1960 into a major retail, professional, and medical office facility that remains the nerve center of business in Lafayette.

Alice McGillicuddy: Co-Founder & Curator.  McGillicuddy is focusing on her doula career, now in Scotland. McGillicuddy worked as a prop fabricator in television and movie projects and on installations including the well-loved Music Box Village originally in City Park,  now in its permanent home at the end of North Rampart at the Industrial Canal.

Kate McCurdy: Shop Manager & Curator, Her latest side venture is the Lucky Art Fair, an event showcasing unrepresented artists working in New Orleans, where the goal is to fairly pay artists and art workers. McCurdy is also involved with Ladies in the Arts New Orleans (a networking group for all kinds of creative womxn), and the Krewe of Full Bush.

Karin Curley: Content and Marketing Coordinator. Curley also works for local non-profit festivals such as French Quarter Fest and Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo and also manages marketing for GinaWare Costumes and Clothing, a monthly and pop-up shop in Mid City which features recycled and vintage clothing, costumes, and costume pieces and parts for men and women. 

Neisha Johnson: Glitter Box Goods Designer and Production Assistant. Neisha was originally brought on to the team through Glitter Box’s partnership with Women With A Vision. She created a poem and design called Beauty of My Struggles which she silkscreens onto t-shirts and tote bags, along with other designs from the Glitter Box Goods in-house line. Her design represents the personal strength she discovered and leaned on to pull herself through dark times in her life, and acts as a promise to herself to never settle for less.

Jillian Desirée Oliveras: Shop Assistant. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Jillian made New Orleans home post-Hurricane Maria in 2017. Jillian, a photographer, joined the shop as another way to connect to the local community outside of her bartender profession.

With its multitude of items and educational purpose focused on female entrepreneurs and community health, Glitter Box is a great argument for a long walk through the Quarter the next time that you are in need of a few gifts or just some inspiration.

I wrote this in 2020 for an online site where I had published similar stories but these were never finished by the editor; all of them will instead be published here.

Tourism and New Orleans in the Pandemic-Era

The 2014 book Desire and Disaster in New Orleans, looked at in the post Civil-War era New Orleans developed a white middle-class tourist economy that traded only on the French colonial and the antebellum history, and since 1980, has almost exclusively relied and expanded it to the exclusion of any other economy. That inertia certainly led to the emergence of disaster tourism after the 2005 levee breaks as the only plan by city leaders which increased dangerous and short-sighted construction like the doomed and deadly Hard Rock project – shockingly thrown up at the very site of the historic Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins.

From the book: “New Orleans post-Katrina tourism has promoted the type of political inactivism common with other forms of do-good capitalism and grassroots privatization that undermine democratic process, perpetuate social hierarchies and inequities, and reinforce the status quo.”

As I continue to dive more deeply into Professor Thomas’ and others work on the racial politics that developed those earlier eras of New Orleans tourism, we here are aware that the next round is already emerging and will have even more troubling implications for the future of New Orleans.

I’ll be covering some of those specific indicators in these pages over the next few months including:

-City Hall allowing limitless short term rental situation by pointedly ignoring the enforcement of current rules, hampering the taxis while allowing gig drivers to operate with impudence

-the addition of beach-style amenities that encourage ever larger, more rowdy groups (such as unlicensed golf carts careening everywhere and huge loitering party buses endangering the airways of anyone within a half mile)

-the lack of official support for local musicians and buskers

-and the political pressure by the restaurant and hotel industry to end the COVID safety net for Louisiana food and service workers to get them back into the poverty wages and unrelenting schedules that is required in this current system.

Of course, the lack of concerted regional support for affordable housing, for public or human-powered transportation investments and enforcement, for accessible primary and secondary education choices, and the continuing massive prison pipeline that relies on a militarized police force using traffic stops to target black residents to fund and fill the courts and prisons, also ensure that tourism remains the choice for those few who profit from any and all of those issues.

As many locals have discussed on social media and in informal meet ups on what once were quiet residential corners, unchecked tourism is a public health killer for our residents, an ecological nightmare for the most fragile coast in the U.S., and is escalating conflicts among neighbors. Yet it also allows us to celebrate one of the few black and indigenous urban capitals left in North America, and could be a lever to increase political power and the honoring of the talents and skills among our Creole, Black, indigenous, people of color and their offspring.

With the next mayoral election not too far off, I am already hearing musings from long-time activists pondering a run, and even if not running, preparing to demand that all candidates come up with a more equitable and just plan for the future around these issues. I plan to contribute to that here and elsewhere and look forward to highlighting writers and activists leading the way.

Its gonna be a wild year folks.

Old and New, Uptown and Down, Big and Small: Two Carnival loops

Update on Sunday: after posting this on Saturday morning, we heard last night that another fatality has happened on one of the mega float parades, this time during Endymion. This is a terrible situation for the victim’s family and also for the driver and the riders. It is clear that we need to do something more to protect everyone.
Update #3 and #4: Over the weekend, at least 2 riders fell from Uptown floats and 2 people fell from balconies overlooking St. Charles parade.) #dumpsterfireofaCarnivalseason

 

Now, back to the original post:

 

 

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Image of the Berkana Two Loops theory

 

 

First, Happy Carnival to all.  We are now in #deepcarnival which is the time between Muses Thursday to Fat Tuesday, where everything we do has something to do with preparing for guests, working on costumes, visiting with friends, or making plans for Tuesday.

I am most definitely a downtown Carnival person although I have spent many happy days over the last 40 years of my Carnival era on St. Charles and Magazine, catching float parades. I was also known to be regularly on MidCity parade routes with fond memories of Krewes of Mid-City, Carrollton among others  – although not in the more recent Chad-filled years (shudder).

So even though I will always be a downtown girl,  I do appreciate some of the parade energy that now transpires above and on Canal Street, and would love to see small parades come back to all neighborhoods – altho with limits to the number of riders and the height and length of floats. I even considered joining Muses in its first year and I continue to be impressed by their verve and design sense, including their prized, handmade throws made from recycled shoes, their inclusion of exciting dance troupes, and especially their parade in 2006 which was beautifully appropriate to the grief that we were all feeling. And like Muses and Zulu, some of the other krewes do try to do their part in supporting public needs. However, real community effort from others is often murky or their pro bono work pretty brand-new, especially considering their long history.

Notwithstanding what the float parades contribute in return for the use of our public space, one should still read this post as in favor of the downtown Carnival that emerged post-1972*, and in opposition to the mega float parades held Uptown of recent years.

(*That date, by the way, was chosen as it was the last year of the old-line float parades traveling through the French Quarter which is what led to the new.)

I’m linking to a wonderful piece by Charles Cannon written for The Lens about this being the golden age of carnival, which I wholeheartedly agree with. We both also agree that it is mostly a downtown golden age, especially in terms of addressing diversity, in its DIY attitude, in reducing the explosion of cheap, Chinese-made trinkets thrown that clog our waterways, and in powerfully satirizing the powerful and ridiculous which, by the way,  is often the same group.

From his piece:

Krewe du Vieux is quite conscious of itself not just as an insurrection, but also as a resurrection, an effort to recover from the anti-carnivalesque aspects of the 19th century Uptown Carnival model. Their mission statement expresses this ambition explicitly: “We believe in exposing the world to the true nature of Mardi Gras — and in exposing ourselves to the world.” Since Katrina, Krewe du Vieux has been joined by several other downtown parading clubs — ‘ti Rex, Chewbacchus, Red Beans — each of which follows the Krewe du Vieux model far more faithfully than the Uptown one, especially by keeping dues affordable.

But the ultimate expression of the carnivalesque instinct in our time is what happens downtown on Fat Tuesday itself. Here the line between spectator and performer is almost totally erased as thousands — whether costumed, masked or merely bystanders — converge in the streets in a utopian vision of mass civic participation. And on this day — if only for a day — we also witness New Orleans’ idealized sense of itself come down to earth to shape the city’s social reality.

 

(And as much as Charles is right in that KDV has a significant place in the origin story of post-72 Carnival, I’d say that the gay French Quarter Carnival community, the Society of Saint Ann, the revival of the Baby Dolls, the Skull and Bones Gangs, and the continued development of Mardi Gras Indian tribes are truly the founders of this golden age. And I know he’d readily agree with me.)

Let me now address the image I have at the top of this post and link it to Cannon’s theory. The two-loop framework (which I use with farmers markets and food system leaders quite often) is focused on how “change happens in human systems out of a spontaneous series of local actions, and how these actions facilitate the development of integrated networks of relationships in the pursuit of mutual interests and goals.”

Each loop has a growth side (i.e., germination, innovation, maturation, and rejuvenation) and a death side (i.e.stagnation, disintegration, and decomposition).  It is also important to remember that the “new” loop is not always seen as a positive development, especially by those who feel the need to “give hospice” to the old. In fact, the new is not even “seen” for a long while by many of those focused entirely on propping up the old.

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In terms of Carnival, the two-loop theory is clearly in play and can be seen roughly in line with the uptown/downtown traditions. Uptown Carnival, which centers almost entirely around float parades, and flags hanging from mansions denoting “royalty” grows larger, more unattainable, and ever more cumbersome. This year, they had to cancel an entire night of parades because of high winds. It is true that a walking parade might have also canceled due to discomfort or even danger from flying debris, but the fact that the authorities noted that the high profile of the tractor-pulled floats is what made them too dangerous to roll was telling. Additionally this year, a pedestrian has been killed on the Uptown route by a float.

Over the last few decades, in the name of safety and capacity, the police have asked almost all float parades to move to the St. Charles route, leaving only one mega-parade still in MidCity: the aforementioned Endymion which arguably should also move to that route as its size seems to be more than the police can handle downtown, based on recent tragedies before, during, and after its parade, and especially with the St. Charles route also in action on the same day. (On that note, it is my sense that for now, the Uptown route should be expanded and alternate streets used for alternate nights so that the crowds can move and stretch out more.)

Even as the massive parades grow larger and louder, my favorite downtown parade honors a New Orleans tradition of school-aged children making shoebox floats this time of year.  By going small, the ‘titRex krewe is a wonderful example of the new and the innovative while it also ensures its own sustainable future by having rules about its size and design.

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Caesar Meadows’s annual comix for tR; part of the beauty of this is each has to be handed directly to a person.

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2020 tiny treasures from ‘titRex, honoring two New Orleans musicians lost in 2019.

Moving past the danger from the size of the floats, the mega parades’ throws are most often made of cheap plastic or toxic plush and thrown from high above at groups of people, leading to a frenzy of grabbing and angry responses from those stepped on or pushed aside for these handfuls. Whole bags of toxicity are often thrown, or the plastic bags they are packed in tossed to the ground in the thousands without regard to the damage to the waterways and fragile infrastructure of our city. In contrast, downtown walking parades pride themselves on handmade throws (see above). Below is a picture of the 2020 version of the annual Fitzgerald Letterpress MG Day postcard that is shared with all passersby during his Fat Tuesday meandering.

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Finally, in terms of paradegoers, the takeover of public space for days or weeks by families and clans who believe they have the right to spray paint grass and to set up entire, cordoned-off cities is clearly in lockstep with the megafloat parade system. The brilliant writer Maurice Ruffin pointed out the two versions along the Uptown route this year in a series of tweets:

Those entitled encampments, and the bleachers available only for fees or through contact with “connected” people,  illustrate the one central issue with the old and why more and more people are moving to the new. The divide between those who feel exclusivity or overindulgence is the goal of Carnival (or of any public resource really) and those who think revelry (or insert “social contract” here instead) is at its best when it is critical of unchecked authority and human-scaled is at an all-time high, maybe the highest since the national crisis years of the 1850-1890s. Speaking of that era, many of those newer to the area are clearly as shocked to see the old version of Carnival still as prominent just as they were in finding the number and visibility of the pro-Confederacy statues and names that remained (and remain) in public spaces around the area.

Even younger generations of those families native to the area have made it clear that they have no interest in appearing at their family’s secured space Uptown or in participating in the roles allotted to them at birth. One example was Rebecca Snedeker’s documentary By Invitation Only which showed her own Uptown royalty clan’s tone-deaf response to the racism inherent in their traditions. Interestingly, Snedeker’s mother, who took her turn as a Carnival “queen”of a old-line krewe, has also just published a book and had an interview, sharing her admiration for the new and moving the curtain aside a little more on the long-simmering issues with those traditions. Those women are also part of the new loop.

So the evolution of Carnival, as seen through the tension of old and new, continues and will no doubt exist for generations side-by-side.  Let’s just hope that the new that is centered downtown continues to influence the old Uptown version, and leads to another golden age that spans the entire region.

 

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No more turning away from the weak and the weary

 

 

On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say
Which we won’t understand

Don’t accept that what’s happening
Is just a case of others’ suffering
Or you’ll find that you’re joining
In the turning away

It’s a sin that somehow
Light is changing to shadow

And casting its shroud
Over all we have known
Unaware how the ranks have grown
Driven on by a heart of stone
We could find that we’re all alone
In the dream of the proud

On the wings of the night
As the daytime is stirring
Where the speechless unite in a silent accord
Using words you will find are strange
Mesmerised as they light the flame
Feel the new wind of change
On the wings of the night

No more turning away
From the weak and the weary
No more turning away
From the coldness inside
Just a world that we all must share
It’s not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream that there’ll be
No more turning away

Angels eat gumbo

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The Chase family is heartbroken to share the news that our Mother, Grandmother and Great Grandmother, Leah Chase, passed away surrounded by her family on June 1, 2019. Leah Chase, lovingly referred to as the Queen of CreoleCuisine, was the executive chef and co-owner of the historic and legendary Dooky Chase’s Restaurant. She was a major supporter of cultural and visual arts and an unwavering advocate for civil liberties and full inclusion of all. She was a proud entrepreneur, a believer in the Spirit of New Orleans and the good will of all people, and an extraordinary woman of faith.
Mrs. Chase was a strong and selfless matriarch. Her daily joy was not simply cooking, but preparing meals to bring people together. One of her most prized contributions was advocating for the Civil Rights Movement through feeding those on the front lines of the struggle for human dignity. She saw her role and that of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant to serve as a vehicle for social change during a difficult time in our country’s history. Throughout her tenure, Leah treasured all of her customers and was honored to have the privilege to meet and serve them.
While we mourn her loss, we celebrate her remarkable life, and cherish the life lessons she taught us. The Family will continue her legacy of “Work, Pray, and Do for Others.”

Grateful To You,
The Chase Family

In lieu of flowers please make donations to the Edgar L.“Dooky” Jr. and Leah Chase Family Foundation – P.O. Box 791313 New Orleans, LA 70179

 

Peter Boutte

As the pillars fall

And history fades away 

Angels eat gumbo

Megan Braden-Perry

Sad day, though we know Heaven is the best place ever. Rest well, Mama Leah. 💕

A true raconteur, freedom fighter, black Creole queen, and truly the grande dame of Creole cuisine. 

 

Jessica Harris, an author and expert on food of the African diaspora, in a 2012 interview:

“She is of a generation of African-American women who set their faces against the wind without looking back.

 

Jarvis DeBerry

Mayor LaToya Cantrell

Leah Chase served presidents and celebrities, she served generations of locals and visitors, and she served her community. She was a culture-bearer in the truest sense. We are poorer for her loss, and richer for having known and having loved her. She will be badly missed.

 

Ian McNulty’s lovely obituary

 

Poppy Tooker celebrates her friend on her show Louisiana Eats.

 

Dames de Perlage tribute to Chef Leah