Monday, November 19, 2012

Live Long and Fringe On

A disclaimer on this post: it's very much a "sampler platter" of my experience in New Orleans.  There's a lot of ground to cover, so I'm going to be brief about most things.  Know though, that almost everything I mention has a richer, more detailed core to it.  I may expound upon some of these memories in blog posts to come.

This weekend, I attended the New Orleans Fringe Festival.  It was an incredibly worthwhile trip, full of great food, people, and performance art.  Many memories were made, a few of which I want to share here.

First of all, it was wonderful spending part of this trip with a FrenetiCrew consisting of Mollie, Rebecca, Robert, Mandy, and new(er) friends Nick and Carla.  In particular, I think we're returning from this trip energized about working as a group on our own Fringe.  Personally, I'm excited to get an early start on our 2013 Festival, especially since we have so many new ideas to bat around and integrate (What can we do with our storage area?  What if we had everyone bike from venue to venue?).

The food was, in brief, profoundly good.  I think that pictures of food speak louder than words about food, so I'll let a pair of images do the talking:
Belgian waffle and turkey bacon
Seafood gumbo and sampler platter at Coop's Place, complete with  the best jambalaya I've ever had

Similar to my experience at the 2010 NOLA Fringe, the 2012 shows were eclectic and awesome.  I saw 12 shows in my three days there, and there were only two that I probably wouldn't have recommended to a fellow Fringe attendee.  The rest, I would have (and, in some cases, gladly did) champion to other patrons. For a festival that is, by definition, full of original oddities, this kind of consistent excellence is really remarkable.  Among these shows, the highlights for me were The Rub, a take on Hamlet peppered with pop-culture references and featuring ingenious staging, and Underneath the Lintel, a one-man show depicting a librarian's quest to find the perpetrator who returned a book 123 years overdue.  In The Rub, Hamlet's internal conversation was captured in two equally brilliant ways: (1) by having his father participate in the soliloquies and (2) by having four "Hamlets" onstage at the same time, crossing each other's paths and repeating each other's lines.  Lintel was, at its core, a contemplation of existence and how the decisions we make throughout our lives, whether they be dismissing a potential lover or going to great lengths to puzzle out a library crime, define us and our sense of self-worth.  It was beautifully crafted, funny, heartfelt, and terrifically acted.

I also really enjoyed getting to know some of the performers and organizers in the Fringe.  If I were to extrapolate from the people I met in order to describe the NOLA performance art community at large, I would describe it as warm, diverse, happy, proud, and more than a bit rambunctious.

A number of my memories from this trip didn't have much to do with the Fringe, though.  On Sunday, after the FrenetiCrew had departed, I went to Bourbon Street to get lunch at a bar.  In the middle of my meal (depicted in the second food photo above), I struck up a conversation with the fellow seated to my right at the bar.  His name was Joe, Brooklyn Joe, and after a storied career with the phone company in New York, he had moved to New Orleans seven years ago.  We chatted for a while, and then Heidi and Paul walked in.  They, along with Joe, are regulars at this bar.  Joe's been coming here since he arrived, Heidi for the last year or two, and Paul...well, Paul's been coming here since the bar opened in 1982.  We sat at the bar, laughing and chatting for an hour and a half, talking about big band music, potholes, Superbowls, Huntsville (where Paul worked as a prison guard for a while after Katrina), and what it implies to refer to a gal as a "young woman", among other things. They were so warm to me.  We were all so content with the situation, me with my food and the friendly discourse, and them with just spending time together.  The four of us, sitting at the bar, drinking in the moment.  When it was time to leave, I thanked them for the conversation and the beer they had bought me, and I said, "Just in case I don't see you, have a wonderful life."  Heidi shook her head slightly and replied, "Oh, come on, we'll see each other again."  I paused.  There was something knowing in her eyes, and I didn't question it.  I simply nodded and walked away.  I'd rather she'd be right.

Today, I spent the morning in City Park.  It was a lovely day, and I wanted to get away from the streets for a little while.  I wandered around the sculpture garden, which was incredible, before settling down beside a pond, where several varieties of birds (including a pelican perched in a tree) bickered with one another over who-knows-what.  It was comical, watching a seagull chase a duck that dove underwater for cover, seeing puffin-like creatures flap their wings in surprise when a plop of excrement came raining down near them from the tree above, where white, arc-beaked birds rested quietly.  Animals are fascinating to watch, as long as you give yourself enough time.

Anyway, it was a very nice way to cap off what amounted to a wonderful weekend in New Orleans.  It's cliche, but every time I visit this place, I find myself walking away feeling like I'm under a spell.  I talk a bit more slowly, I take more time on things.  I find myself marveling a bit more at what's present.  The people I met here wore this air like an old, favorite, and perhaps slightly tattered jacket.  The kind that just looks right on them, even if it's a bit outdated by modern norms.  A when they embrace you with it - and they do embrace you with it - it feels like home.

Here's to holding onto that spirit back here in Houston.  I suppose if I lose it, I can always drive six hours east and grab lunch at a bar.

Here are a few more pictures.  So glad this happened.