Best of the Fest(s)| NOLA DEFENDER

ChazFest is my personal pick too.

Chaz Fest 

May 3, Truck Farm (3020 St. Claude Ave.) 

 

Threadhead’s event has some great music for sure. Their label includes some of our best but it looks like it is sold out. Maybe buy a ticket earlier next year if you are disappointed eh?

Threadhead 

May 2, Old Ironworks (612 Piety St.)

 

The Ace Hotel has been programming the shit out of their hotel since they opened:

Six of Saturns

April 27-May 7, Ace Hotel (600 Carondelet St.)

 

 

Best of the Fest | NOLA DEFENDER

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The People’s Grocer-Review

It is my opinion that New Orleanians are either fascinated by the Schwegmann Brothers Giant Super Markets saga, recounting their own connections to the stores at the drop of a hat, or if they have no shopping history there, are completely bored by the attachment that others have to it.

My family is in the later camp and so never has been heard wailing over its loss or spending any energy preserving any of Schwegmann’s famous printed shopping bags or any of the political buttons within my late grandmother’s massive collection of New Orleans menus, World’s Fair, Superdome souvenir items and Carnival clutter.

My own experience with the chain was also slight- In the 1980s, I did regularly go to the Schwegmann’s out on Airline, but more as a visitor to a strange land than as a shopper. I went with my pal Roger who sold fancy kitchenware to department stores and high-end shops, where I would help him set up displays and tag along as he talked to the buyers. Since he was constantly assessing retail and observing cultural connections in his beloved adopted city,  Schwegmann’s appealed to him as something uniquely New Orleans and yet with industry-leading ideas like the bank and the pharmacy within its massive footprint. He loved the food counter and the bar. I learned to love retail analysis in those days while at the Airline and the West Bank stores, listening to Roger explain why John was brilliant in his design and product choices. He would have loved meeting John. He would have loved this book too.

Yet, the list of who will enjoy this book is not just those with a personal fascination for the deep local culture that begat this chain, or those with Roger and my obsession for retail histories. Really, anyone who wants to learn more about 19th century German immigration to the area, or the layout of corner stores before supermarkets, or of pricing strategies in the pharmaceutical or dairy industries, or of how early 20th century “fair trade” laws stymied discount pricing, or of the history of the Bywater area of New Orleans, or of the political arena of the latter part of 20th century Louisiana, or of later generations of family businesses who can quickly and shockingly kill the goose that lays the golden egg, will also find this book a keeper.

It is important to note that this is a biography of John Schwegmann and not only a history of the supermarkets that he founded and made into a chain of 18 beloved stores. The family’s history is front and center especially in the beginning of the book and may delve more deeply than those without local connections care to know but I suggest readers stick with it even if the family history is not the reason for reading this book. That history offers important detail in the shaping of this supermarket innovator, likely responsible for making him into the type of businessman and later politician who relied on his own intuition, his deep allegiance to his city and a small group of loyalists for advice or support. His folksy marketing and personal touch were certainly similar to other successful New Orleanians and probably true of a great many corporate founders of that golden age of family businesses in America with names like Kellogg, Ford, and Woolworth amid hundreds of others. It also shows how deeply the grocery business runs in the Schwegmann family, and yet how often family turmoil existed among struggling immigrant families even back in those hazy and halcyon days which are often used as an unfair measuring stick for our uncertain times.

This bio also offers many anecdotes from those who were there to show how John was a force of mostly good in the high-stakes world of grocery and drug sales, fighting for principles that most corporate leaders would not spend time or money to fix, all shaped by the place and people of his city. His home life may  be viewed at times as calculating in terms of his handling of wives and mistresses but author Capello rightly doesn’t linger too long on modern interpretations of John’s morals and reminds us that the businessman maintained warm relationships with the mothers of his children even after the marriages ended.

The book spends more time on Schwegmann’s world travels and later political life, which was not as impressive as his business career. That career in Baton Rouge was derailed by his opposition to Hale Boggs and almost everyone else, leading to constant no votes and also not helped by some of his political stunts like having a goat milked while testifying against the milk commission. Those responsible for the building of the Superdome were also targets of his wrath, forecasting many other fights a generation later around the U.S. by communities questioning the logic of taxpayer-sponsored sports arenas.

The research behind the book is impressive, especially when so many other writers of New Orleans history use cliches and oft-told stories that may or may not be true rather than doing the work to find primary and accurate details. Capello’s background in writing technical papers lends itself to detailed analysis of the retail industry and of the trends in pricing, product development and store design that Schwegmann pioneered. The timeline of the collapse of the chain is shared in unsentimental fashion and should allow New Orleanians to finally understand exactly how son John F. allowed this shocking collapse to happen in such a short amount of time. The author’s obvious unlimited approval of the free market system as defined by Schwegmann and others rings loud and clear throughout this book even if a few might quibble with some of the broader denunciations of the old public market system (which supported the port, small family businesses and farms by offering regulated food sales in every part of the city for 250 years) or, of John having an entirely altruistic nature in fighting for some of the price discounting that benefited his stores so clearly in a city that had no other supermarket chain to compete with his for decades.
I’d love to see Capello add to his research on this family and this sector with later papers on the superstore sector’s (meaning post Schwegmanns) complete lifespan in New Orleans and others across the U.S. with more attention paid to how the makers of things were ultimately priced out of their small production work because of this discount pricing strategy. It would also be interesting to see the author detail how the concept built and consolidated multi-generational family fortunes for discounters like this one and the Arkansas-based Waltons among others, and what those families have done with their newfound power. The destruction of Main Street might also be examined in terms of the formation of the superstore era, an era that now seems to be slowing with the latest retail category killer- the internet – and the Millennial generation’s expectations of impersonal speed and 24 hour convenience of online shopping over local retail culture and family shopping trips.
Still, there is no doubt those low prices and huge new stores meant that the mostly poor residents of this old city in those days felt attended to if they were lucky enough to have a Schwegmann (Brothers) Giant Super Market within distance of home. And with an air-conditioned bar with the cheapest liquor in town to drown their sorrows at for good measure.
I expect that this book will be used in university courses on retail and marketing, as well as in any history course devoted to the people who made New Orleans great. John Schwegmann’s story, as written in The People’s Grocer, certainly deserves that.

The People’s Grocer can be ordered here.

Writers Resist New Orleans

Writers Resist New Orleans is being held in collaboration with PEN America, as part of a international day of readings championing freedom of speech, and the power of expression to change the world.

Representatives from New Orleans’ diverse writer’s community will be reading selections from great political, activist, and literary works of our past including words from:

Martin Luther King, Jr
James Baldwin
Audre Lorde
Allen Ginsberg
Angela Davis

and many more to come.

We hope to provide a space for the New Orleans community to come together during this time of national anxiety. We view this as an opportunity to connect, seek solace, and rebuild. We welcome ALL.

A note from the national organizers:
Writers Resist is not affiliated with a political party. We wish to bypass direct political discourse in favor of an inspired focus on the future, and how we, as writers, can be a unifying force for the protection of Democracy. In order for us to heal and move forward, individually and as a nation, we believe people need something to be for in this anxious moment. The only thing we “resist” is that which attacks or seeks to undermine those most basic principles of freedom and justice for all.

http://writersresist.org/

Public Markets in New Orleans

Just like the French Quarter itself, the style of the public markets in New Orleans has more to do with the Spanish and American eras than the French. In 1763, when the Spanish gained the tiny French colony, the population of New Orleans was only around 3,500 and no permanent market building yet existed, although open-air commerce had long operated at the river. In 1791, the city’s Spanish administrators built a market at present-day Decatur and Saint Ann, after first attempting one at the corner of Chartres and Dumaine. The Halle des Boucheries  –  the Meat Market – erected in 1813 still exists (where the market’s longest tenant,  Café du Monde has operated since 1862), accompanied for a few decades by architect Henry Benjamin Latrobe’s water works and by market buildings built in the years 1822-1872.

design-of-a-pier-to-cover-the-suction-pipe-of-the-pump-for-supplying-water-to-the-city-of-new-orleans-1346

A 1819 architectural rendering depicting the design of a pier to cover the suction pipe of the pump for supplying water to the City of New Orleans by Benjamin Latrobe who helped design the US Capitol and is considered the father of American professional architecture.  Sadly, Latrobe died of yellow fever while building this system.

This area stretching along the river at the “back” of the Quarter became known as the French Market in the 19th century, undergoing a renovation in the 1930s thanks to the New Deal, again in the 1970s and in 2005/ 2006, each renovation further erasing more of the original building layout and any visible reminders of their use. Luckily, the number of descriptions devoted to the market by visiting dignitaries still combine for a detailed and lively view. Latrobe wrote in his journal in 1819:

“Along the levee, as far as the eye could reach to the West and to the market house to the East were ranged two rows of market people, some having stalls or tables with a tilt or awning of canvass, or a parcel of Palmetto leaves. The articles to be sold were not more various than the sellers … I cannot suppose that my eye took in less than 500 sellers and buyers, all of whom appeared to strain their voices, to exceed each other in loudness….”

And another in 1874:

“New Orleans’ French Market had more tropical merchandise, including bananas, pineapples, coconuts, oranges, and limes as well as an amazing variety of shellfish, including crab, lobster, shrimps, and “enormous oysters, many of which it would certainly be of necessity to cut up into four mouthfuls, before eating,” reported Charles Dickens in All the Year Round.

Since that first market, another 33 were to join it by the 1940s. This gave New Orleans the largest market system in the U.S., with only Baltimore as a serious competitor, according to author Helen Tangires in her landmark book “Public Markets and Civic Culture in Nineteenth-Century America.”[1] The list of the city’s markets is a history and geography lesson of its neighborhoods and civic leaders: St. Mary, Poydras, Washington, Carrollton, Ninth Street, Soraparu, Magazine, Dryades, Claiborne, Treme, St. Bernard, French, Port, Jefferson, Second Street, Keller, LeBreton, St. Roch, St. John, Ewing, Prytania, Mehle, Memory, Suburban, Rocheblave, Maestri, Delamore, McCue, Lautenschlaeger, Zengel, Guillotte, Doullut, Behrman and Foto. Local market historian Sally K. Reeves [2] wrote, “ These well-dispersed centers of food and society played an essential role in the city’s cultural, economic and political life. They also generated their share of crime, grafts, rule defiance and contract disputes.”

Only some of these buildings remain (around 15 as of 2005) with only two still operating as city-owned public market buildings: the French Market and the St. Roch Market, both down river of Canal Street, and only a few blocks from each other. The St. Roch Market escaped the auction block in the 1930s through neighborhood pressure and was recently reborn as a controversial food hall after Hurricane Katrina. Before 2005, it spent  decades under private, half-hearted use that closed off most of the building to use. Besides those two, the only other that operates in some manner close to its beginnings is what had been the St. Bernard Market and is now a grocery store known as Circle Food, also only a few blocks from the others. Walking through its colonnade, one notes its practical market design and appreciates the superb retail location at the intersection of Claiborne and Saint Bernard Avenues. This store serves the 6th, 7th and 8th ward Creole community primarily, but also shoppers across the region looking for foods known to New Orleans families of every ethnicity. From the current Circle Food site: “coons, rabbits, pig ears & lips, turkey necks & wings, ham hocks, chicken feet, cow tongue, lunch tongue, beef kidney, oxtails, and special fresh cuts of veal including veal seven steaks.”

In her 2005 University of New Orleans thesis on food and markets, researcher Nicole Taylor traced each remaining public market building in the city and its current use. Some of the buildings have even retained their WPA-era plaque to remind passersby of its market history.

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LAUTENSCHLAEGER MARKET  Photo: John W. Murphey © Creative Commons BY-NC-ND

She noted in her analysis, “The changing values in American planning and development did affect New Orleans, only more slowly. The Depression years brought change in New Orleans with some large projects conducted by the WPA, but the markets were not replaced, only renovated. While the rest of the country was beginning to demolish old neighborhoods and replace the old homes and storefront businesses with modern buildings, high rises and highway systems in the name of progress, New Orleans’ operation of municipal public markets continued[3].

Finally, the 20th century collapse of the public market system in the U.S. assisted by the emergence of refrigeration and the supermarket came to New Orleans and the city began to sell off its magnificent markets, leaving its vendors to an uncertain fate. Many set up permanent stores nearby,  with some even continuing their original business to this day. But not until the modern farmers market revival arrived in New Orleans in 1995 with the first open-air Crescent City Farmers Market did significant numbers of farmers, fishers and foragers begin to trickle back from outlying parishes to once again sell their goods. The CCFM organizers even spirited away the last few farmers still selling at the old French Market, leaving New Orleans’ original market only suitable for tourists. In 2003 however, CCFM arranged for the return of farmers to the French Market by offering a regular Wednesday market in the 1930s-era Farmers’ Market shed. The French Market Corporation, the private/public corporation that has formally managed the market district for the city since the early 1930s, also began to search for other artisanal entrepreneurs to operate permanent stalls on either side of the aisle. The effort has not been entirely successful in luring locals back but it is important to note that besides the farmers market on Wednesdays, the French Market now includes a local artists co-op, respected  cooperative and healthy  cafes, a thriving artist colony around Jackson Square, a cooking demonstration stage and regular cultural events on site.

The upshot is that unlike most other American cities, New Orleanians can participate in the same public market tasks as previous generations, including at the same spaces used for that activity since the city was new.

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The 1878 Hardee map of New Orleans, showing many of the markets.

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A pic that historian Richard Campanella posted of a 1930s renovation design idea of the St. Roch market that was never used.

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The interior of St. Roch Market after the WPA renovation

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Photographer Roy Guste shot the inside of the St. Roch as the city began to renovate it in 2012.

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The Saturday Crescent City Farmers Market in its new location as of October 2016. It spent exactly 21 years at the corner of Magazine and Girod before moving to Julia and Carondelet. These open-air markets only allow producers and harvesters to sell directly; no resellers allowed.

[1] Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003

[2] Author of “Making Groceries: A History of New Orleans Markets.” Louisiana Cultural Vistas 18, no3. Also author of upcoming book on New Orleans public market system.

[3] Taylor, Nicole, “The Public Market System of New Orleans: Food Deserts, Food Security, and Food Politics” (2005). University of New Orleans Theses and Dissertations. Paper 250.

Imagining the Creole City: The Rise of Literary Culture in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans: Review

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One relevant reason for this book is the recently reignited protests centering on race inequities and immigration across America, a conversation that is always sadly necessary in the American South. Local historian Rien Fertel addresses it by writing about the elite Creole literary circle that, starting in the 1820s/1830s, largely created and sustained the story of the region’s “exceptionalism.” That era of virtuous manifest destiny – not just in the South of course- is largely to blame for the lack of understanding among those who continue to grow up amid their own ethnic myths in the U.S.

For New Orleans, most people know the story of Creole culture only through Creoles of color who continue to inhabit the city, partly because they are largely responsible for much of what we continue to value culturally in New Orleans such as live music, public and family culture, and informal Carnival activities. But it is also convincingly identified here as resulting from the profiled writers unapologetic and sometimes incorrect assertion of their whiteness and its embedded privileges during Reconstruction through the turn of the 20th century. Yet the historical details contained here give those actions context and perspective; Fertel’s description of the politics of post-Louisiana Purchase New Orleans and the concern from the White House on any potential allegiance to the Old World as partially responsible for the Creoles’ sensitivity about the eclipse of their history is especially informative.

By offering individual profiles of prominent writers of Creole history starting with eminent historian Charles Gayarré, “Transcendentalist” New Orleans Choctaw missionary Adrien Rouquette and through those writers who took up the “cause” in the 20th century, including Grace King, Robert Tallant and Lyle Saxon, Fertel offers a human-scaled trek through that complicated history and time. Having the book end with the profile of George Washington Cable and his more inclusive history of the city,  he shows the reordering of history that began with Cable as well as the tension among writers, which (partly) led to Cable’s self-imposed exile from the city. Fertel does his best to fairly catalogue both good and bad (or the long and the short) of that tension; for example, he shares how Grace King’s later-in-life acknowledgement of Cable’s value to the city showed the potential for change among those earlier devoted only to the “gallant” Creole story.

The details gathered by many of these writers will continue to offer us a rich tapestry of Louisiana life and cannot be entirely eclipsed by their love of heroic epics or even their insistence on racial “purity” and entitlement that belied the truth that existed in the tumultuous and complicated times of Jim Crow’s America. Yet, the dismissal of most of these writers works in the last 50 years as provincial cheerleading with either a stated or unstated allegiance to the “Lost Cause” should be a lesson in these Tea Party days and is vitally important for any writer in these times to consider.

 

View all my reviews

Vanishing Foodways Campaign

I have been a Slow Food member in the past and have always been a supporter of their innovative food system work. By supporting all aspects of the cultural milieu in which local farmers, foragers, and harvesters create and sustain their livelihoods, Slow Food is a key component in food sovereignty work locally and globally. Campaigns like this one illustrate the inclusive and thoughtful approach of many of their chapters.
Slow Food New Orleans is launching Vanishing Foodways  as an ongoing effort to collect stories from people and regions whose foodways and cultural traditions that are at risk of vanishing.  Please visit our GoFundMe campaign and become part of this initiative.  The GoFundMe campaign features a  fabulous video created by artist Voice Monet, who will be part of our 25-person Louisiana-Vietnam delegation to Terra Madre,  the international gathering of people from 150+ countries in Italy, September 22-26.

The Louisiana-Vietnam delegation to Terra Madre is the beginning of the the cross-cultural connections that the Vanishing Foodways seeks to create.  The Louisiana Coast and Vietnam’s Mekong Delta are two of the most abundant food producing regions in the world, yet are also two of the world’s most rapidly disappearing regions. Vanishing Foodways will video-document the Louisiana-Vietnam delegation’s experience at Terra Madre along with collecting stories from Terra Madre delegates representing regions that are experiencing the disappearance of their traditional and cultural foodways.

By collecting and sharing these stories, Vanishing Foodways aims to; 1) educate people that endangered foodways are not simply someone else’s problem,  2) engage people in the shared plight of all of our foodways & 3) empower people with simple daily choices that each of us can make to move the world towards reclaiming and preserving our vital cultural foodways that sustainably feed the world.

Southern Decadence 2016 Parades

These routes are still tentative as of the time of this post. Check the website if, for some reason, you are in need of up-to-the-minute information.

There are two official Southern Decadence parades for 2016.

The FRIDAY NIGHT parade is a float parade through the streets
of the French Quarter presented by Toby LeFort and the Knights of Decadence.
The parade formation time is 6:15 P.M.
The parade starting time is 7:30 P.M.
 
HERE IS THE OFFICIAL PARADE ROUTE
OF THE FRIDAY NIGHT PARADE:

SD-Parade-Route-Friday16

The SUNDAY AFTERNOON parade is the traditional Southern Decadence
Grand Marshal Parade.  It is a walking parade with no motorized vehicles
except for one truck at the front of the parade that will carry the sound system
for the Southern Decadence Grand Marshals’ entourage.
The parade formation time is 1:00 P.M.
The parade starting time is 2:00 P.M.

HERE IS THE OFFICIAL PARADE ROUTE
OF THE SUNDAY AFTERNOON PARADE:

SD-Parade-Route-Sunday16