I love cafes in both Paris & Prague, and while they do share some historical similarities, they're also different in one crucial factor: Prague has a heritage of Austro-Hungarian style coffeehouses, which for me really just means one thing: cake with whipped cream. Now, I have a great love for poppy-seed cake, but there are also good arguments to be made for chocolate Sacher torte (which is Viennese but turns up in most Prague cafes)...
(photo is from the contemporary Mama Coffee, which has excellent coffee--Brooklyn coffee drinkers would approve--and darn fine poppy-seed cake.)
Featuring my knighthood nominations for March 2014:
New Orleans has a generous historical list of sirens, suffragettes, and superheroines—women I’m going to generally refer to as dames, because a dame is a women with determination—and also the female equivalent of a knighthood. And these women are DAMES. I’m spending the month of March in New Orleans and in honour of Women’s History Month, I’m nominating 31 historical women for personal knighthoods. Each of these women from history spent time in New Orleans over the past few centuries.
Every day, I’ll add an inspiring woman that I’ve come across in my reading—some well-known, some lesser-known, but each one a crucial contributor to the New Orleans of today. I’ll include a quote when possible, a link to more information about each NOLA dame’s life, and an address in New Orleans to commemorate her.
March 1: 1st LA pharmacist: Sister Francis Xavier Hebert, 1727, establishes medical herb garden at Royal Hospital (Ursuline Convent) Visit this site for more info about Sister Francis Xavier & for photos of today's herb garden.
March 2: Former African slave Justine Fervin Couvent founds 1st school for orphans of Free People of Colour 1832. More about Mme Couvent here; The Last Will and Testament of La Veuve Couvent states: “I wish and ordain that my land at the corner of Grands Hommes (now Dauphine) and Union (now Touro) streets will be forever dedicated and employed for the establishment of a free school for the orphans of color of the Faubourg Marigny”.
March 3: Journalist & suffragette Elizabeth Lyle Saxon petitions the 1879 LA Constitutional Convention for women’s right to vote. 100 yrs ago today, women marched on Washington for the Right to Vote. More here
March 4: 1876: journalist & SPCA advocate Eliza Jane Nicholson (pseud Pearl Rivers) named 1st woman daily news publisher in US. Nicholson inherits a nearly-bankrupt New Orleans Picayune and turns it into a successful dynamic newspaper with new features such as special Carnival/Mardi Gras coverage. In 1884, Nicholson becomes president of the Women’s National Press Association. More about Miss Eliza Jane here
March 5: “I will fight for my country but I will not lie for her.” – Zora Neale Hurston, Florida writer & NOLA Voodoo ethnographer While researching Mules and Men (her fantastic book of folktales and Hoodoo investigation), ZNH lived for a little while at 2744 Amelia Street, New Orleans & later at 7 Bellevue Court in Algiers.
March 6: Surgeon Elizabeth Magnus Cohen 1st LA woman physician copes w yellow fever & smallpox epidemics 1857-1887 “Never lost a patient” Her private medical office was apparently located in the French Quarter; when she retired, Dr. Cohen moved into the Touro Infirmary, where she volunteered for the rest of her life. She lived to be 101, declaring that she’d never lost a patient. More info about Dr Elizabeth here
March 7: Businesswoman Rosette Rochon, Free Woman of Colour, in 1806 is one of 1st investors in Bernard de Marigny’s new suburb. A museum of one of her houses is in progress at 1515 Pauger Street. More about Mme Rosette here
March 8: Restauranteur Ruth Fertel, 1st female LA horse trainer, single mom, founder of Ruth’s Chris Steak Houses. More about Miss Ruth here And the original location of the steak house that made her a success? 11 Broad Street. “I’ve always hated the name,” she was known to say.
March 10: “Under other circumstances, I might have been a captain of industry. What the hell--maybe I was.”- The Last Madam, Norma Wallace “A smart, glamorous, powerful woman whose scandalous life made front-page headlines” – Last Madam author Chris Wiltz. Condos now occupy her main brothel address, 1026 Conti—but if you’re nice to the owners, maybe they’ll show you the old drop box & other Wallace details still in the building!
March 11:BaronessPontalba, survivor & energetic builder—the force behind gorgeous buildings in both NOLA & Paris. Stroll around Jackson Square and admire her vision by walking past the gorgeous Pontalba Apartments. More here
March 12: What saved us from ironing? Wash & wear cotton - perfected by chemist Ruth Benerito in NOLA in the 1950s The lab where Benerito worked is now a National Historic Chemical Landmark; drive on by—it’s located on Robert E. Lee Blvd at the NE corner of City Park.
March 13: NY-born daugher of freed slaves, Edmonia Highgate taught literacy in NOLA (& was shot repeatedly for her trouble)
March 14: 1899: Dr. Emma Wakefield, 1st Black woman to earn a medical degree in Louisiana at Flint College
March 15: 1889: Journalist Elizabeth Bisland circumnavigates the globe trying to beat Jules Verne’s fictional 80 days ,
March 16: 1948: Audrey “Mickey” Patterson, first African-American woman to win an Olympic medal, Bronze 200m dash. Returning home to NOLA, her reception was subdued. Patterson was denied the use of the City Park track for training; in a gesture that should be remembered, Loyola coach Jim McCafferty invited her to train out on their track.
March 17: Kate Chopin: “to succeed the artist must possess the courageous soul” – The Awakening Unfortunately the writer's house outside New Orleans recently burned to the ground.
March 18: 1898: Bettie Runnels – first woman admitted to Tulane & first woman to receive a law degree in LA
March 19: “I cannot & will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.” - playwright, activist, journalist Lillian Hellman. Learn more about Hellman here
March 20: 1925: Essae Martha Culver, establishes rural public librairies, becomes 1st Louisiana state librarian
March 21: 'Every bird is my rival' - Lucy Bakewell Audubon, family bread-winner & saleswoman for her husband’s art
March 22: It’s punishment to be compelled to do what one doesn’t wish. NOLA-born Alice Dunbar Nelson, poet & activist, part of Harlem Renaissance
March 23 1863: German cook Mme Begue opens a restaurant in the French Quarter & eventually invents “brunch” for her hard-working customers. Her location is where Tujague's still exists today; the original clientele were people working on the docks & in the French market. (Mme Begue's, at the corner of Madison on Decatur, Tujague’s today, 823 Decatur)
March 24: 1905: Irish Channel community activist Eleanor McMain founds Woman’s League - more info here
March 25: : 1889: heiress Alice Heine marries the Prince of Monaco, turns Principality into cultural beacon. Her family home in New Orleans is now the Cafe Amelie. While in Monaco, the Princess encouraged Sergei Diaghilev to move to the tiny Principality. She also helped finance the new opera & ballet house, and had a fling with English composer Isidore de Lara.
March 26: “Joan of Arc became my heroine & I longed for an opportunity to become another such as she.” Loretta Velasquez: soldier, spy & writer Check out the new film about Velasquez from Maria Agui Carter.
March 27: Queen of Bounce, Magnolia Shorty 1982–2010 (setting people to twerking waaay before Miley) (her live videos are not necessarily safe for work.)
March 28: “The past is our only real possession in life.” – New Orleans writer Grace King (1852-1932)
March 29: “I was the happiest & highest-paid straight woman in the business.” – radio comedian, singer & film star “sarong queen” Dorothy Lamour, who worked as an elevator operator & won the title Miss Orleans before heading to Hollywood.
March 30: Successful writer Frances Parkinson Keyes lived in the French Quarter at 1113 Chartres Street in the historic Beauregard House, where she wrote fantastic bodice-rippers and serious non-fiction. You can visit her former home...in fact, you can get married in the gorgeous side courtyard garden, which would please Keyes, an arch supporter of Catholic marriage despite the carryings-on in the pages of her fiction.
March 31: “The world needs to hear what you have to say. The last word has not been spoken.” – African-American actress Beah Richards, who worked in theatre, TV, and film (where she put up with playing “mom” to actors older than she was.)
and as the Nola Dames lagniappe:
Defeater of bullies Annie Christmas, 7-ft-tall keelboat captain with peacock feathers in her hair. More about the folk tale of legendary Annie Christmas, here
The ebook for RATS OF LAS VEGAS is now out in the world, available here, and I am thrilled to bits about it. Take a look! Admire! Download!
What's especially exciting about this ebook is that now my character Millard can meet new people. Her story can be read on airplanes and trains and on dark submarines when you have insomnia.
I am still very attached to the real-world hardcover version of the book created by Enfield & Wizenty--you can visit its web home here. Sometimes the real-world hardcover is better, y'know...because it remains difficult to loan an ebook to a friend. It is difficult to say "oh i have to read you this paragraph, here i dog-eared the page" because no, you have to turn on the device & find the note you left and locate it in the pageless wonder-scroll that is the ebook & the romance is just, honestly, not the same. You cannot leave a number of books open to be admired just as wonderful encouraging objects, if they exist only as ebooks. And (perhaps most dire of all) reading the ebook in the bath is really not recommended.
Mind you, the library has never really appreciated my bath-reading habits either.
Does someone make a waterproof ebook device cover for bathtub reading? I think I see a niche market for such an item...
So, my novel Rats of Las Vegas is about to become an eBook. It already has been an eBook for a brief period of time, but that version had roughly a gazillion typos & other issues, which should be resolved by the NEW IMPROVED eBook. (huge shout-out to Louis Maistros who helped me with this!)
But before I open the champagne, I want to be honest here: I find eBooks weird...first of all, the language of the thing: e-book, ebook--it sounds like an ewok to me. I am trying to like the word “kindle” even though it’s a brand that has stolen the idea of kindling a fire, thus turning a practical verb into an object one can buy. (I can't bear to think about the word "nook".) I’m already expending quite a lot of energy on Blackberry and Twitter for stealing perfectly honest hardworking words and turning them to the dark side of branding. I have a Blackberry, and I use twitter, but much as I want to like RIM (go Canada! etc), I resent their absconding with my favourite wild fruit. And in case you hadn’t noticed, birds don’t twitter anymore; they can’t afford the data plan fees.
Which brings me back to kindle, and the eBook. To get it into perspective, I came up with three fantastic reasons why I love this eBook thing:
(1) the writer gets a better cut of the selling price & can publish new material more easily
(2) the eBook doesn’t take up space or clutter and saves trees (until you start worrying about recycling the ingredients in a kindle. but I won’t worry about that, as it hurts my pretty little head. I’ll just feel good about the trees! even if no birds are twittering in them.)
(3) so many books can be carried around all at once. my entire bookcase now fits into my carry-on bag. this is extra incredible amazing for someone who tends to live out of a suitcase the way I do. I’ve spent years missing books that I know are in a bedroom on the far side of the Atlantic. I miss books the way normal people miss each other.
This last point—all my books can be with me all the time—is so incredible and magical, that it almost (almost) overwhelms my main anti-eBook problems…coming soon in my next blog post.
Exciting news! The television show PARIS NEXT STOP which I worked on all this past winter & spring is now being broadcast on Discovery...check your schedule if you have cable! I so enjoyed hosting this show.
Each episode focuses on a single Paris neighbourhood, starting with a metro stop. We went all over the city...the Opera, Saint-Germain, Montparnasse ...sampling fabulous pastries in nearly every episode...which gave me a chance to share my favourite secrets about the city. I even got to hold an original key to the infamous Bastille Prison!
To celebrate the fact that I'm heading back to Paris next month, I also have set up a new WALK INSOLITE. This one will take place on July 27, at 2pm & the title is "The Missing Hours". Details below. For more information, drop me a line through the contact page above. (Space is limited.)
Walk Insolite - original stories told through a walk into the city. Coming soon: THE MISSING HOURS: A walk into Medieval Paris. The year is 1192. A Scottish theology student arrives in Paris to study and finds the city under construction. The roads are being repaved. The walls of the city are being rebuilt. The central Island is a sea of craftsmen's shacks. And our visiting student is fascinated by a kind of art he has rarely seen before: the illuminated manuscript. Unfortunately, within two days of arriving in Paris, he's accused of stealing an illuminator's tools. Is he guilty? Will he end his days in an 'oubliette'? Come with me to walk into the pages of an original historical fiction...
Talking about my work-in-progress terrifies me. But it is probably a good habit to confront such things before breakfast... and two writers I respect & love, Lauren B. Davis and Jennifer K. Dick, both tagged me with this—many thanks, you two. Now I owe ya. So...this is a questionnaire which has been circulating through writerly websites: ‘the questions are the same for everyone. The answers, they are not.”
What is the working title of the book?
Up to the Knee
Where did the idea come from for the book?
One morning during my daily walk in Paris, I walked up to the big white Basilica in Montmartre, Sacre Coeur, and thought about how impossible the route would be in a wheelchair. I don’t even know why that thought came to me, at that instant. But I went home and started on the book.
What genre does your book fall under?
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Okay, let's say time travel is possible and I’ll cast Belle du Jour-era Catherine Deneuve as French war photographer Geri, Roman Holiday-era Gregory Peck as the soldier Mug, and Japanese silent film actress Toshia Mori as Annie, the fashion journalist. And I’ll convince the ghost of Theadora Van Runkle to do the clothes (she costumed Bonnie and Clyde!)
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Injured Canadian Sergeant Mug Rusken arrives in Paris to visit his girlfriend, Geri, a successful war photographer—but when he arrives in the City of Light, he discovers that her latest assignment has ended in disaster.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
To get a first draft - 2 years.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My Up to the Knee war photographer character, Geri, first popped into my head during a laughter-filled night drinking red wine with a photographer friend—we discussed the craziness of photographers in general and the over-the-top craziness of war photographers in particular. ‘What makes them so crazy?’ we wondered. And I started to think about the myriad possible answers to that question. Not long afterwards, I was looking for something to do on a grey afternoon in Toronto. I wandered into the Textile Museum and saw an exhibit of rugs from Afghanistan—specifically, rugs woven with images of battle and weaponry, from a country that has seen war for most the past century. Walking through those rooms, I felt as if I could see the plot of a novel woven into those rugs. My lead character, Mug Rusken, came into my head there and then.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Up to the Knee is a literary thriller set in the contemporary City of Light—which means my lead character, Mug, spends his time bumping his wheelchair through the cobblestone streets of Paris, confronting corrupt officials, manipulating French media moguls, and bribing hard-working mercenaries, all with the help of a dippy fashion journalist named Annie.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m fortunate that Up to the Knee is represented by Chris Bucci at Anne McDermid & Associates
My tagged writers for next Wednesday are (click on their names to visit their sites & check out their work!)
I went to see LES MISERABLES. Yes, I know the movie has some historical 'foibles' but I love its creative choices. I think Victor Hugo might even approve of his novel's transition through musical theatre into film--he enjoyed using melodrama for effect.
When the June 1832 uprising began, Hugo was apparently in the Tuileries Garden. He heard gunfire coming from Les Halles. A firm supporter of revolutionary ideals--and no doubt curious to see news events first-hand--Hugo left the Jardins. It's possible to retrace part of his route...
i am incredibly honoured that my book, Any Bright Horse, is one of this year's nominees for the Governor General's Literary Award in Poetry.
The Governor General is Queen Elizabeth II's representative in Canada; the award dates back to 1937 and winners include Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler, and Leonard Cohen. Needless to say, I'm pretty darn thrilled to be nominated.
Faulkner's birthday in the Crescent City: real mint juleps in traditional silver cups, a perfect sunset, and Napoleon's deathmask in the next room
(Of course, nothing in New Orleans is entirely what it seems, and this mask might actually be the face of Bony's friend who sometimes pretended to be the fallen emperor. It is accompanied by the emperor's handkerchief. which is somehow so much sadder, so fragile and starched and old, more tragically human than the overlarge paperweight of the deathmask.)
William Faulkner lived in this city for barely 16 months, but his relationship with the place was as formative as Hemingway's with Paris. He invented himself various times over--and routinely stole other people's stories to make his own life more interesting. And it was here that he really became a writer. He was often quiet, often dishonest, and often disreputable. Anita Loos (author of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and one of my personal heroines) was introduced to him with the warning 'don't expect much of Bill, he has a silver plate in his head, you know.'
Faulkner did not have a plate in his head--this was just one of his many invented personas. He did drink rather a lot. And apparently his favourite cocktail was a mint julep. So that is what we raise in toast to his fabulous convoluted sentences and tremendous story-telling.
Tonight, the traditional drink is too cold to hold. Now I understand why the silver cups are used--they keep your hands nicely chilled against the summer heat. And this New Orleans summer has lasted a long long time--"The way summers used to last when you were a child, how they lasted forever," poet Lee Meitzen Grue tells me. The sunset illuminates the Pontalba buildings across from where we stand in the second-floor glassed-in balcony of the Cabildo.
Sherman Anderson lived just across the way, on the opposite side of Jackson Square. Author John Shelton Reed explains that if Anderson hadn't been in New Orleans, Faulkner might never have been inspired to try writing fiction. Maybe he'd have remained a fabulist, rather than a practical working writer. He was only a rather bad poet when he arrived in New Orleans. He left rather better.
So happy birthday, Mister Faulkner. May your ghost wander down Pirate's Alley every now and then, regaling fellow-ghosts with stories.
(When I visited Faulkner's house in Oxford, Miss., I photographed the famous wall in his study, where he plotted out the events of his work A Fable, scribbled in pencil on the plaster. I've just moved into a new workspace; I better not drink too many mint juleps, or I'll be plotting out the story of my next novel across the rather battered walls...)
"The narrator meditates on the ebb and flow of motion and stillness, and the disorientation involved in returning home... Pasold acknowledges Don McKay and Daphne Marlatt as influences: both have an affinity for nature imagery and graceful ease in poetically conveying human experiences. Pasold carries on their traditions with distinction, craft and beauty."
- Quill & Quire review for ANY BRIGHT HORSE
when the new book gets reviewed, it is stressful.
when the new book gets reviewed by Quill & Quire in the July/August issue, it is even more stressful.
when the new book gets reviewed by Quill & Quire in their July/August issue and I am out of the country & can't get a copy, it is even more super-extra-stressful.
but the review is good! break out the champagne! the review is really great, actually, and i should probably send critic Shannon Webb-Campbell a glass of Veuve-Clicquot, but i don't know her. she might not like champagne.
(the whole review is here )
AND... happy Bastille Day!
Ottawa poet/editor/publisher rob mclennan hit New Orleans to read with his lady Christine McNair and with Stephen Brockwell at the atmospheric Goldmine. Of course, it is New Orleans, so most venues are pretty damn atmospheric...but the Goldmine is the home of 17 Poets! hosted by Dave Brinks & Megan Burns--for a perfect description of the recent Canuck-invasion soiree, see rob's blog here.
The Goldmine always makes me think of Dawson City, because really the place could only exist here in New Orleans or in Dawson.
There's a fissure in the floor that runs down past the performance/reading area, a fissure that surely leads to a gold seam deep in the swampland of Crescent City. And whenever any poet reads a poem about death (and poets, well, they often read poems about death)--whenever that happens, one of the old pinball or video machines in the front part of the bar gurgles and bings to itself, in a secret game-thought about obsolescence and poetic survival.
My first reading from the new book! I was at the April 2012 Calgary Spoken Word Festival (founded by kick-ass poet & performer Sheri-D Wilson).
thunderstorms across a city that smells of jasmine flowers, crawfish, mules & mud. living on Bourbon Street (no lie), and reading Vincent A. Cellucci's AN EASY PLACE / TO DIE. because this city rings, an old cracked bell/belle:
“This book is a journey through the bookended history of poetry localized in the most magical place in America. The poems are eager to turn you on to death. Not erotically. Nor religiously. Nor philosophically. Simply. May they ease you as they ease me. We are all death’s children and we’ve yet to stop squirming but poetry is our grandmothers’ whiskey dipped pacifier. Poems are also words living on a page. Simple moments when world rings instead of your cell.” - Cellucci
John Kliphan is one of the reasons I'm a poet in Paris, and I'm going to miss him. John died last month, here in the city he loved. The Live Poets Society, founded, curated, and directed by John, was the longest-running reading series of its kind in Paris. Through Live Poets, we were given the chance to meet once a month--always in an excellent pub--to listen to new work, hear old favourites, and talk about poetry. For John, poetry was something very much alive and spoken; he used to explain patiently that Live Poets wasn't a Society you could buy a membership for...you simply became part of it by showing up, by listening, and by reading your work. He always (ALWAYS) wore a black beret.
John was one of the first people who ever invited me to be "a featured reader" and he actually paid his poets for their work, which was (and remains) a radical concept. He believed that poetry was valid, necessary, and completely normal, rather like breathing--a lesson which I continue to appreciate. I was lucky to read with John a few times, and I'm honoured to be part of his memorial reading on March 4.
Here's John Kliphan's poem for Chet Baker, from his collection, Chain Songs:
I don't want to die
I just want to go in the back room
For a while
March 4, 2012, 13h at The Highlander Pub, 8 rue de Nevers, 75006 (just off the Pont Neuf on the Left Bank) Reading begins at 1pm (NOT 3pm as I originally thought), and a wide assortment of Paris writers & friends will be reading from John's work. If you're in Paris, come on by! It'll be a very Irish-style of wake, I assure you...
what kind of noise exactly does a lobster make while walking along Italian marble mosaics? in honour of Gerard de Nerval, a pet lobster featured as a character today in the story-walk through the 19th-century arcades between Passages Jouffroy & the Palais-Royal.
then we warmed up our chilled toes at the ever-grouchy Cafe Nemours...always redeemed by the view onto Place Colette & the decent hot chocolate. made me think of meeting Janet Skeslein Charles there last spring in the sunshine, when we talked about writing & being thrown off trains in Belarus (seriously!) here's a link to my chat with Janet.
thanks everyone who joined me today in the cold Paris sunshine for the 'Mysterious Passages' walk as part of my WALK INSOLITE series! This painting is how I imagine Rachel, at a celebratory dinner a week or two after this story...)
after the beignets have disappeared - the tell-tale icing sugar trails out of the Cafe du Monde and into the night