Tag Archives: Louisiana

Countdown to the Oscars: Beasts of the Southern Wild

I take back everything I said about this film.  Now that I’ve actually seen the film!

I had previously passed aside this film as this year’s artsy nominee that would be visually stunning, but not make much sense.  Very similar to last year’s The Tree of Life.

I was wrong.

Available to rent on DVD already, this summer 2012 release is visually stunning but it’s also a very touching tale of survival, strength, and the many different groups we call family.

Introducing:  Beasts of the Southern Wild

I owe Quvenzhane’ Wallis an apology.  As the star of Beasts of the Southern Wild, and at only 9 years old, I think she is well deserving of her Oscar nomination.  And remember, she’s the youngest ever to be nominated!  Wallis plays Hushpuppy, a little girl growing up in the bayou whose way of life is threatened both by an increasing ill father and melting snow caps that will flood her swampland home, nicknamed  ‘The Bathtub.’

I wasn’t totally wrong about this film.  It is artsy.  But artsy is an understatement.  It’s not facetious in the way where it’s a beautiful film, but no one understands it.  It’s just a pure, breathtaking capture of someone’s different world.

I have never lived in the deep south of Louisiana.  Though my city is on the Mississippi, I’ve never lost my home due to flooding, or been forced to live in a shelter.  I am grateful for this film because it’s been the first picture I could see why the resiliency of these people is something to be proud of.  As outsiders, we watch the news and we think, “Oh good, they’ve opened up a shelter for these people to go to.  They are being helped!”

What if that’s not what they wanted?  I’d never even thought of that!  Far away, from my safe midwest homebase, I thought a shelter was a place of comfort.  I hadn’t considered that you’re thrown in there with people you don’t know, possibly separated from your family, wearing clothes you’re not used to, eating food you’re not used to, and that you’re not allowed to go home if you choose.

Don’t misunderstand me, this film is by no means a lecture for the privileged, that’s not its intent.  I’m only speaking for myself, this film taught me a reality I’d not considered and I’m grateful for that education.

And when something opens your mind, how can it be anything but beautiful? 

Having won Movie of the Year at the AFI Awards, it’s up for four Oscars!  Wallis, again, the youngest nominee for a Lead Actress role, the film itself is up for Best Picture, Benh Zeitlin is up for Best Directing, and it’s also up for Best Writing, adapted from previously published material.

Zeitlan and Wallis

I was curious about Zeitlin and where he came from as a new name to the Oscar realm.  A New York man, born and raised, he was making films from the age of 6!  He’s a film school graduate from Weslayan University, whose previous work had been shorts up until this point.  Another tremendous accomplishment for one so young!

He had some great quotes out there about the making of this film so I’ll share a few of my faves with you!

There are funny stories about [the making of “Beasts”] how I went knocking on someone’s door and he came out with a shotgun. Even then, that guy showed up at our gas station two days later, and was like, “I’m sorry. I thought you guys were trying to kill me or you’re from Witness Protection or something like that. I didn’t mean to scare you. You want any red fish?” He’d just caught a bunch. You get real hospitality in Louisiana. I think it’d be much harder in another place because the state is extremely open and a more accepting, hospitable place.

I’m even impressed with the liberty he granted Wallis to define her own character!

She was so focused and poised and just was fierce. She wouldn’t do just what I told her to do, she questioned what I was saying. She’d say, ‘I don’t like this word’ and she’d delete it. I allowed her to own the words and understand what they meant.

One fun fact for you is that both of Zeitlan’s parents are urban folklorists and the founders of City Lore in New York.  They work with and support all cultures in order to document, preserve, and celebrate traditions and all forms of artistry.  Their site is pretty impressive actually.  And it’s no wonder that their son has an element of folklore in his film, Beasts of the Southern Wild.

The people in Hushpuppy’s world believe in the legend of aurochs.  Now an extinct form of cattle, aurochs are the much larger versions of today’s cattle species:  oxen, buffalo, cows.  The last known auroch died in 1627.  They had immense protruding horns.  None of the research I found even notes their discovery in North America, this creature came from Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa.  Early attempts at domestication started with the auroch, and where Beasts of the Southern Wild comes into play is the auroch’s anger toward humans.

What do you think?  Are you interested in seeing this movie?  Check out the trailer to learn more!

Are you on your way to the movie rental?  What do you think about Wallis’ and Zeitlan’s nominations so new in the business?  What have you heard about this film?

Saints and Sinners

The city of New Orleans is known for its “Saints and Sinners” but why is that?  A lot of history actually plays into where that phrase originated.  You’ll see it in the street names, intersecting each other, one direction named after the saints:  St. Ann, St. Charles, St. Philip, and the other direction named for King Louis XIV’s illegitimate children (sinners): Dumaine, Toulouse.

St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square, French Quarter, New Orleans

The main reason the Big Easy, the Crescent City, NOLA is known as the town of Saints and Sinners is because only two key buildings survived the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788:  St. Louis Cathedral and Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop (AKA: Speakeasy).  So there you have it, the saints and the sinners.

The Church has been rebuilt several times surviving fires and hurricanes.  And Lafitte’s, now known as the Blacksmith Bar, remains one of the oldest surviving buildings of New Orleans.  And, it’s on the ghost tour…

So who was Jean Lafitte?  Simply put, he was a pirate.  A quick-witted businessman, he set up “shop”  as a ruse to throw off the government and law officials who he had common run ins with.  Little is known as fact about Lafitte, a journal supposedly surfaced which described him as a Robin Hood of sorts, except instead of giving his treasures to the poor, he kept them for himself.  It is believed by New Orleans locals that the Blacksmith Bar is haunted by several ghosts, victims of Lafitte’s rage.

     And rage he did.  Four men were brought in for questioning by Lafitte’s thugs as payback for their loud mouths.  When all four refused to talk further, they were tortured one by one.

The thing about the blacksmith shop is that the fireplace inside isn’t big enough, nor does it have a proper chimney to filter out the smoke.  If the building were to actually be used as a blacksmith shop, the smithy would pass out from the heat that the building contained.

The story says that the four men were forced to watch as one by one their heads were placed in the opening of the fireplaces, scorching their flesh until their eyes burst out and they died.  Imagine being the fourth guy…

Locals believe the tales because several people, natives and tourists alike, have mailed in photographs that depict ghostly images around the fireplace.  I don’t think I caught anything, but I’m wondering if that’s cause we’re going digital now.  Does it make it trickier for ghosts to transcend this new technology?

     The other ghost story that occurs here happened years later.  I can’t recall exactly how it happened, whether it was a bar robbery or just a wrong place wrong time, but a man coming out of the restroom was stabbed and killed just outside the door.  Customers at the bar have reported hearing moaning sounds coming from the restroom and again photos have shown strange figures in this corner.

Blacksmith Bar, back right, the intersection before it

I always say you know it’s legit when the animals are spooked.  I think if an animal perceives some kind of danger or bad energy, you know something’s going on.  The intersection outside of Lafitte’s Blacksmith Bar has had the most accidents from horse drawn carriages.  There are several tour companies that offer carriage rides around the French Quarter, and apparently, those horses have taken out more street signs than anything.  The driver will stop at the bar to allow guests time inside trying to capture any ghoulies or ghosties on film, and it’s happened several times where nothing is seemingly around the carriage, but the horses get so spooked, they’ll bolt up onto the sidewalk taking out the street sign in the process more than once.  That, to me, is the freakiest part of this story.

What do you think?  Ghosts?  Historical energy emissions?  A Ruse?  What ghostly places have you visited?

The Midwest Young Adult Guide to Surviving New Orleans

Visiting the other end of the Mississippi

I’m back on the northern side of the Mississippi!   Amazingly, I’m alive somehow.  As luck would have it the adventures of this redhead were nothing along the disappointing avenue, rather they were at times too colorful for me imagine.  Before you all start conjuring up images of me in some drive-up daquiri daze on Bourbon St., let me clarify.  I was not drunk.

And any pictures that do make their way into this blog post were taken post day one, which was so terrifying I didn’t take a single shot.

I’ll back up.  I was in New Orleans last week.  I went to visit my best friend from High School who I haven’t seen in 5 years.  Exciting, right?  Sorry to disappoint again, readers, this post will not be a blast from the past or a list of Top 10 Things To Do With Your Bestie.  I’m going to tell you how to survive on your own for a week in New Orleans living like a kinda local. 

Rule  #1:  Though you’ve planned this vacation months in advance, you’re friend will be working all week long.  So get used to asking for directions.

Rule #2:  Those preemptive extra bottles of contact solution, hand sanitizer, and 2.5 ounces of shampoo will NOT save you from the Louisiana heat wave!  Or from the constant smell of sweat and piss both inside and out.

Rule #3:  When your friend says he’s arranged for transportation, you might want to check the measurements and pack any necessary safety features that aren’t otherwise included.  For example, my friend gave me a bike to ride, but it was too tall, and made for boys, so naturally, I fell…A LOT.  I wished I had a helmet, knee pads, wrist guards, shin guards, and yes, a giant padded diaper around my ass, because I was in immense pain after day 1 and illustrated bruises I didn’t know were possible.

Rule #4:  Learn how the locals eat, and react calmly.  If timing isn’t your host’s forte’, you may want to snack in the kitchen or dig in immediately when the food is done and just be that person, because what my midwest manners did instead was wait until everything was ready and set out on the porch, which then consequently became COVERED in flies, and I don’t know if you’re aware but flies VOMIT every time they land.  It’s true.  I took science.

Rule #5:  It’s not a joke when they say there are sharks in the water.  When your friend tells you we’re all gonna go swimming in Lake Ponchartrain and how it’s a salt water lake that bull sharks go to breed in, don’t laugh, he’s telling the truth, though you won’t learn this until you later jokingly ask a cab driver and he confirms it.

Rule #6:  Don’t mess with the police.  So, if Lake Ponchartrain happens to be closed, and you have to hop a fence, trip through some thicket and steak out a hidden corner of beach to go swimming, it probably means the police will be MAD if they find you there.  Especially if they find you hiding in the thicket.

Rule #7:  Bike rides aren’t for wimps in New Orleans.  Again with the bike, you say?  How bad could it be?  It was BAD, ya’ll!  Several of our gang were falling off their bikes and hitting pavement hard. There were busy streets, scary potholes, and loose gravel.  One member got separated from the group and was run down by a car yelling obscene comments.  She walked home with her bike and a badly cut arm.

Rule #8:  If in the morning you feel like crying and going IMMEDIATELY back to the airport after such a first day in a new city and you’ve slept all night on a pillow that stinks like B.O., just know you’re not alone.  I’m right there with ya.  And I’m here, alive, with no current police record, to tell you that New Orleans was ok. Laissez le bon tou roulez!

The view towards Canal St. between the Mississippi River and Decatur St. in the French Quarter.

Stay tuned for more of my epic adventure!  What have you all been up to?  I missed you guys!

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