Mic Nite at Relix Theater this Thursday

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I’m looking forward to represent UTK Geography at the UT Faculty Fall Mic Nite this Thursday! It will take place at Relix Variety Theater (1208 N. Central Street). Doors are at 5:30pm, and presentations begin at 6:30pm. It’s free to attend, but they’d like for you to RSVP here so they can stock the pizza and bar appropriately.

This will be my second time presenting in the Pecha Kucha format and my first time presenting on what I’m referring to as “symbolic gentrification,” so it should be interesting, at the very least. I feel like Mic Nite, since it’s interdisciplinary, will provide a good forum for unpacking such a broad subject. I’ll paste my abstract from the program here.

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Symbolic Gentrification and Learning from Pop Culture

Gentrification has been a concern of sociologists, geographers, and urban dwellers at large since the sociologist Ruth Glass coined the term to describe changes in 1960s London. Critical geographers have long assumed much of that mantel, particularly Neil Smith, whose “The New Urban Frontier” remains a cornerstone. However, understanding gentrification solely a process of city development leaves out much of the story.

My research argues that gentrification is not simply a process of what Smith calls “revanchist urbanism,” but is, at its core, a greater dynamic that weaves geography together with multiple other fields within the humanities. Specifically, my experience teaching American Popular Culture has inspired me to approach what I call “symbolic gentrification,” a critical understanding of the relationship between urban space, capital, and the arts.

The last time I presented in this format (20 slides, 20 seconds apiece) was for the Pecha Kucha Night Knoxville in November 2016. I presented on Ben Irving publicly for the first time; you can watch here. I’m such a fan of the timed-slides format that I’m employing it in one of my classes this semester for the first time.

Hope to see you Thursday!

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Escalators! (AAG 2018 Recap, Part III)

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What would any self-respecting AAG recap be without an entry inspired by a conversation I had with a Finnish-German (or, German-Finnish, not sure which direction that goes) friend over breakfast in the Louis Armstrong Airport on the way home Saturday morning? Why, it would be stuck on the first floor, literally and figuratively.

Lauri Turpeinin and I happened to be on the same flight from New Orleans to Atlanta, so we met at the airport and grabbed breakfast: beignets for him (his first of the trip) and an andouille egg sandwich for me (my favorite sausage, challenging to procure the further you move away from the Gulf). Mixed within a disconcerting yet fascinating conversation about the ongoing, wasp-like presence of Neo-Nazis in the Eastern European hardcore/punk/metal world, Lauri mentioned that his line of research often incorporates scholarship prone to thick description. This includes, for example, three-volume tomes about the social and cultural “meaning” of escalators. At first, we both laughed it off as the type of academic psychobabble somewhat stereotypical of academe. Within a few seconds, though, I realized that escalators carry a ton of baggage culturally and geographically. I’m sure Andrea Mihm (author of, loosely translated, The escalator – cultural studies about a mechanically developed in-between-space) would have a lot more to say about it, but let’s go to the (mental) tape:

  • When I was a kid, it made me happy to see an escalator; a vast majority of opportunities to ride them happened in the context of some leisure activity like mall-shopping or pavilion-carousing, far from home. To this day, whenever I see some kid (or someone with the maturity level of a kid) running the wrong way down or up an escalator, I try to reserve judgment because I spent most of ages 6-15 wanting to do it but never conjuring the courage.
  • With the rise of the 24-hour news cycle in the United States, escalators became a surprisingly common object of demonization, an evil mechanized foot-shredder, preying on absent-minded shoppers in thong sandals and (in some rare, extra horrifying scenarios) barefoot pedestrians whenever outlets needed a fresh, hot fear injection on slow news days.
  • Likely influenced by the sensationalizing of escalators as bringers of humanity’s downfall, The Simpsons tackled the machines via an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon on “The Front” (9F16) in 1993. Though it wasn’t my favorite gag from that episode, it was definitely memorable, and it provided a lynch pin for the plot about Bart and Lisa submitting I&S scripts under Grandpa Simpson’s name. That episode, to my knowledge, was also where America found out that Grandpa’s name was Abraham.
  • Escalators played a pivotal role in my mobility when I lived in DC. I interacted with one of the DC Metro’s notoriously long and temperamental escalators almost every day, including the legendary ones at Bethesda and Woodley Park. I never had the pleasure of riding their record-holding counterpart at Forest Glen Metro, but I heard legends of it throughout the DMV. On a few unfortunate occasions, I had to hike all the way up the broken escalator at Dupont Circle. On others, one of the two platform escalators was broken, closing whichever one went down and forcing me and hordes of other yuppies to wait in line for the elevator, missing our train and delaying our ride home by a solid half hour at least. It sounds sensationalized, but like anyone who’s experienced the DC Metro anytime in the twenty-first century can attest, I WAS THERE, MAN. Of course, next year’s AAG meeting will take place around the Woodley Park Metro station… any geographers not satiated by the zoo (a walking distance from the conference hotels, in Cleveland Park) will have the pleasure of taking that escalator down into the bowels of the Earth, wondering if it will ever reach its destination.
  • Mitch Hedberg, one of the truly great stand-up comedians of the modern era, had a classic joke about escalators that I can’t imagine anyone else surpassing. Sorry for the convenience.
  • In August 2015, I lugged the heaviest suitcase imaginable from Paris to Brussels to meet up with my friends Ruth and Casey. I navigated the Brussels Metro to the station closest to our AirBnB. I believe it was Sainte-Catherine. Anyway, my insurmountably heavy suitcase had a bum wheel; I had purchased it for 30 Euro at the Porte de Montreuil flea market, and I got what I paid for. I righted the caster just enough to slow-roll it up to a street escalator. Something was wrong with this escalator, though…it was sitting still. I looked around to see if anyone in a uniform could help me, but that area of the station was desolate. This was strange for such a busy Metro station in the middle of the day. I lugged the broken suitcase over to the escalator on the opposite end of the station… which was also not running. I was on the verge of tears. It was the middle of summer, and I was sweaty and exhausted. I began to wonder if it was even a good idea for me to be in Brussels when a young man walked by me, onto the entrance of the escalator… and [CHKVROOOOOOM] it started moving. I felt like an idiot. Paris, DC, Madrid, and anywhere else applicable had not thought of installing sensors that activated their escalators whenever a rider stepped on, thereby saving unimaginable amounts of electricity. I was mostly frustrated because it hadn’t even occurred to me to try stepping onto the escalator. If I had, I would have spent about seven fewer minutes underground and enjoying the cobblestone street over which I had to drag my gigantic (what may as well have been a) back-of-bricks. Those smart escalators in the Brussels Metro probably made me look, to any potential observers for a brief moment, stupid. I still imagine a group of Belgian security guards watching me through CCTV and wondering what’s wrong with me.
  • Another note on the escalators in the DC Metro (or, for that matter, in any city not known for its warmth and compassion): People who stood on the left side of escalators going either direction placed themselves directly in the cross-hairs of raging commuters. Sometimes, these interactions grew ugly. I’ll never forget being stuck on the right (standing=acceptable) side of the escalator up to the 7th and F exit of Metro Center when the left (standing=unacceptable) side came to a halt. A woman yelled quite authoritatively “please move to the right if you’re going to stand!” Someone about 6 or 7 people up yelled back “there’s a blind person up here!” I can’t describe how quickly and diametrically the women’s countenance shifted from angry to embarrassed as she yelled back, “oh, I’m so sorry!”
  • Perhaps we will never come to an effective agreement on whether it is ever appropriate for somebody to stand still or to aggressively climb on an escalator. Just ask Krist Novoselic.
  • Finally, and perhaps most pertinent to this conversation, I must discuss the busted escalators at the Sheraton Hotel during this year’s AAG conference. Though three hotels had been outlined for the sessions, the Marriott and Sheraton were doing the heavy lifting across Canal Street from one another. Understandably, the Sheraton did not widely publicize a particularly gruesome accident that happened to a contractor less than two weeks before AAG registration opened. I wonder if this slowed progress on fixing the escalators between floors two and four. I’m also still highly skeptical that the floor-by-request button-less elevator system that many conference hotels have adopted is at all effective. Either way, having to run up poorly marked stairwells in order to make sessions on time was not ideal. I also doubt that the handful of geographers understood my reference when I yelled “rock n’ roll!” in a British accent while searching for the proper door to the 4th floor, but that one’s on me. Thankfully, the downward escalators were working, so it was possible to ride down and decompress for a couple flights before inevitably getting AAG’d in the lobby. [EDIT: I managed to forget this segment when I wrote the original entry, despite Lauri and I having talked about it at length that morning in the airport. I just added it in; thanks to Sarah Gelbard for calling out my omission].

And that is just what I thought up in the span of two minutes of conversation. To be fair, I did embellish this list slightly while compiling it, but I stand behind what a crucial role escalators play in the urban (and even suburban) landscape. The next time your knee-jerk reaction is to scoff at a case study or topic, think twice and realize how Clifford Geertz was onto something when it called it “thick description.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to start compiling data for a research project on the apocryphal Florida Man (based on another conversation I had at AAG). Here’s a music video featuring both escalators and Gary Numan. And they said it couldn’t be done!

 

Repeat Photography in New Orleans (AAG 2018 Recap, Part II)

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Dr. Yolonda Youngs presenting in “A Second Look: Exploring Repeat Photography Across the American Landscape” on Friday 4/13/18. Photo by the author.

Last week, I found may way to an excellent session on Repeat Photography-as-Geographic Method organized by Dr. Bill Wyckoff from Montana State University. It inspired me to adopt the term “repeat photography” over “re-photography,” mostly because the former has seen an increase of use in academic texts, but also because it simply sounds better. Hyphenated words create all sorts of awkward syntax situations. Hopefully nobody minds if I keep the “Re-Photography” category for now (I don’t know how easy it would be to go back through and change all of my prior entries).

One post here from 2014 described talking my way up onto a balcony at the corner of Royal St. and St. Ann in the French Quarter to recreate one of my favorite postcards from the Ben Irving collection (if you don’t know who that is, stop, read this, then come back here. I’ll wait). I revisited the site several times on this trip, only once on purpose (a dinner with the Music Geography group on Tuesday night). The Pere Antoine restaurant had not changed at all, but the intersection had a giant divot. One of the structures diagonally across Royal Street had been torn out, apparently. I snapped a photo of the lot, and we moved on.

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After getting back to Knoxville, I did some light research. Apparently, the building in question wasn’t torn out; it collapsed from years of neglect a few months after I took that picture. Though the French Quarter is one of the most photographed neighborhoods in North America, this building came off as fairly unremarkable. I doubt I would have thought much about it had it not been for its position within that postcard’s frame. I’m sure some photographs of it exist that were taken after mine (July 2014), but there’s no way to know for sure, outside of scoping Google Street View:

Oh, what’s that? Google sent their gaudy Streetview mobile through the Quarter in January 2014 (when the yellow house was still up) and then again in January 2017 (after it had collapsed)?

Looks like I have the last photo taken of that house EVER. If you see this and have a more recent photo, please comment or email it to me. I will be too ecstatic that people are actually reading this blog to feel bad about being proven wrong.

I didn’t speak with the Pere Antoine management and ask whether anyone was still there from 2014, but turnover in the restaurant industry being what it is, I would have been surprised. By the way, this mini-paragraph is foreshadowing.

Let’s roll the tape. Today’s entry will be divided into two distinct subsets of repeat photography: image recreation (the Ben Irving postcards) and personal photo recreation (re-staging my own photos from my first trip to New Orleans in April 1998). On this trip, my personal photo recreation were much more successful, for a variety of reasons that mostly narrow down to timing, luck, and people not wanting a stranger to go onto their (Federally owned) roof.


THE POSTCARDS

The Roosevelt Hotel (1937 / 2018)

This one was hardly a success story. The artistic interpretations on the postcards take some liberties in “inventing” impossible perspectives on these buildings. Baronne Street, no longer the home to the wide-berth streetcar lines from 1937, is almost uncomfortably narrow, at least for my purposes. I took my picture (right) of the Roosevelt, standing in front of Cajun Mike’s Pub n’ Grub, which sits next door to the incredible Crescent City Books, which opened in 1992.

The following message appears on the postcard (February 1937):

This picture shows the Roosevelt Hotel, the largest and finest hotel in the South. It has been designed to meet the demand for the highest type of hotel service and accommodations. The Roosevelt, and the Bienville Hotel — facing Lee Circle, (under Roosevelt management) — together provide more than 1200 strictly first class rooms, each with a bath. The First Hotel in the South with more than a hundred Air Conditioned Guest Rooms. Come to the Roosevelt.

As with previous hotel postcards I’ve shared, air conditioning was a major selling luxurious selling point at that time. Being a Waldorf Astoria hotel, restored to its former glory in 2009, didn’t remove it from the luxury conversation either. I felt out of place breathing the air in that concourse. I paused to check out the Sazerac Lounge on my walk through to the other side, where I took these pictures:

 

Lafayette Square (1941 / 2018)

The souvenir packet contained a handful of beautiful vistas of City Park and Metairie Cemetery, neither of which I found a window of time to explore on this trip. I would have loved to, in either case. I’ve never been to City Park, and I haven’t been to Metairie Cemetery since 2008. OH DRAG ANOTHER EXCUSE TO GO BACK TO NEW ORLEANS I WAS HOPING I WOULDN’T WIND UP WITH ANY OF THOSE.

Time to complete this section with my only real success of the week:

CANAL STREET AND RAMPART AT NIGHT, 1937/2018

If I had to make a list of my ten favorite cards in the Ben Irving collection, this one would most certainly be on it. The message on the back runs provides a 5-cent history of Canal Street, and makes you dig for the rest:

Canal Street, so named because in the olden days a big drainage Canal ran down its center, recently rebuilt at a cost of $3,500,000 [$51,078,304 in 2018 by USDL inflation metrics], is 170 feet wide, one of the widest central business thoroughfares in the world, has sidewalks of terrazzo marble and neutral grounds. It marks the upper limits of the old city.

This street scene fascinates me for a few reasons. First, the city apparently altered or tore out that traffic island in the center of the postcard (or just played a trick of perspective and that “island” is where those light poles are standing to the right of my photo). Second, it seems presumptuous of the postcard artist to include those puffy clouds in the background, considering how much light pollution emanates from Canal Street anytime that the sky is as dark as it appears there. That being said, the buildings were much shorter back then. Third, while the Saenger Theater (on the respective left sides) is still operating in its full glory the Loew’s theater, shown on the right side of the 1937 postcard in its full glory, currently sits in state, having closed due to fire code violations(?) in 2007. Learning from that Cinema Treasures page that the owners are planning to tear it down and build a hotel on the site (can never have too many of those) makes me want to get on a plane back and break into it while I still can. The whole building is boarded up, even the street-level businesses. I guess the property is still generating some revenue with those two billboards:

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The State Palace Theater, April 2018. Photo by the author.


RECREATING MY 1998 PHOTOS

As I’ve mentioned, my first trip to New Orleans took place over the French Quarter Festival almost exactly two decades ago. My incredibly talented sister played in the Connecticut Youth Jazz Workshop, whose director managed to book various combos on stages throughout the French Quarter over that week. I was a Freshman in high school and taking a crack at amateur filmmaking and photography. I have no idea if I’ll ever digitize the videos I filmed of the shows, but the band(s) performed on the Natchez Steamboat, the Marriott Hotel, and once the Festival kicked off, the Bourbon Street Stage (with a looming storm overhead). I also filmed the Second Line parade that opened the Festival that Thursday*. It’s remarkable that the Youth Jazz workshop got booked, considering how fast the FQF was growing and the height it’s grown to, based on what I saw the other week.

This year, I was chairing a paper session during the opening day parade (Thursday at 10 AM), so I couldn’t retrace my 20-year-old steps and film it. It would have been fun to find my 1998 vantage point and compose some video that juxtaposed the two, especially if I had landed any footage of Mitch Landrieu (I have a few seconds of Marc Morial walking through the frame in 1998). The last time I was in the same room with Landrieu (at the US Convention of Mayors in 2010; more on that soon), he shook all of our hands and introduced himself as Mitch. Class. Act. Also, he delivered one of the greatest speeches of the twenty-first century last year.

Coincidentally, the NOLA Virgin Megastore opened that week in a style best described as “Richard Branson.” My father and I went down to 620 Decatur, where a large crowd had gathered that included Branson, some city authorities, and a performance by Aaron Neville. At the time, his only song that I knew was “Everybody Plays the Fool.” Either way, I loved the spectacle, and I bought my first Pavement CD that day (Brighten the Corners), along with Beck’s Odelay and the Richard D. James Album by Aphex Twin. I still listen to all three regularly, and I’ve written extensively about the former’s influence on my love of music and approaches to teaching musical geography. I still have a poster of a young B.B. King they gave out as souvenirs that day. I wonder why they put King on there rather than an artist properly from New Orleans, but it looked cool and still does. The poster and the CDs have both outlived the store itself^, which shuttered around the time of Katrina and became one of the first casualties in a wave that claimed all of Branson’s stores in 2007.

I enjoyed revisiting some of the pictures I took on that trip, considering how many tangential elements of the French Quarter’s landscape had changed since then. I took photos of my pictures for reference (scanned in here for consistency) and stopped by a few locations before AAG kicked into high gear. Here are some of the results.

The LaBranche House (700 Royal St.)

In my 1998 photo album, I labeled this building as “highly photographed building in the French Quarter,” forgetting what it was called. The LaBranche House has gone through a few iterations, including the Royal Cafe (the possible setting of one of my favorite American Music Club songs) and all within the vice grip of the tourist gaze. Today, the street level contains the Forever New Orleans gift shop, home to the dumbest catalog of tacky souvenirs I’ve ever laid eyes on and probably the most profitable business to ever occupy that space.

The 400 Block of Royal Street, Looking East

As much as Google Streetview has revolutionized the way we think about cartography, place, and space, I resent it for making this whole process a bit too easy. In this situation, I stopped myself dead in my tracks and just saw this row of buildings, proud of myself for not prowling through Street View images to line this up ahead of time. I guess the NOPD was into queuing up their squad cars on the sidewalk by the station. I’m assuming that’s what the large building out of the frame(s) to the right was, since it’s unmarked on Google Maps and I can’t find a sign anywhere.

Court of the Two Sisters Restaurant, Exterior (613 Royal St.)

From what I remember, my family and a few others made reservations for one nice dinner while we were in New Orleans that week. I may have been turned away for wearing shorts and had to run back to the Sheraton to change before being allowed to sit down. I also think that at one point during our meal, my mom asked our server to bring her meal back to the kitchen, and he reacted as if he had been shot. We never were too comfortable in higher-class dining. At any rate, I took this first photo (above, left) before we walked into the restaurant. Portions of two heads are visible in the frame, and I can’t remember who they were. The only obvious difference here is that the building next door has been repainted yellow from red. The restaurant’s facade, even the positions of its green shutters (coincidence, I’m sure), have not changed in twenty years.

Court of the Two Sisters Restaurant, Interior (613 Royal St.)

I regret not taking more time to snap this one (on the right), but I didn’t feel completely welcome back there. The restaurant had just reopened for dinner service (around 4:30) and I was the first customer in there, clearly not intent on buying anything. I walked back, saw the fountain, pulled out my phone and snapped the picture. In the 1998 photo (left), I appear to have been standing right behind the fountain. I could probably also blame this discrepancy on that table right in front of me (right).

My favorite element of this photo, as beautiful as that courtyard has always been, was that cook walking through with the dolly. After I snapped the photo on the right last week, I walked out and introduced myself to the hostess. She didn’t seem terribly interested in what I was doing, but she asked a couple of older employees if anyone who worked at the restaurant in 1998 was still there. After a couple of servers and kitchen staff relayed the message, “Mr. Thomas” emerged from the courtyard. According to the hostess, Mr. Thomas had been there for 35 years, though he wouldn’t corroborate that exact number when he arrived. I showed him the original photo and asked him if he remembered who that man with the dolly was.

“Yeah, I remember him. He was a cook who used to work for us.”
“He’s not still here, is he?”
“Nope”
“Um, do you remember what his name was?”
“Nope,” said Mr. Thomas as he drifted back toward the kitchen.

And that was that. Moving on…

The Napoleon House (500 Chartres St.)

All I know about this house was that it was built for Napoleon following his (first? second?) exile, but he never lived there. Still, it has that mystique about it. The sign hanging above my vantage point in 1998 was no longer there, so I had trouble framing this. I recognize that this is a strange area in which to be a perfectionist.

 Jackson Square (Facing Chartres St.)

I remember taking this picture during a stop on a walking tour that brought us through Jackson Square and at Cafe du Monde, on the Square’s Southeast corner. I also took a good photo of the Andrew Jackson statue nearby that my friend Blake ruined/enhanced by running into the frame. The other week, while my friends and I were passing through, I noticed the same rounded balcony (the French Quarter makes this really easy) and snapped the photo on the right. It wasn’t intentional, but I did capture a gentleman who we lovingly called “Steampunk Santa” walking through and eating frozen yogurt. Though the resident band wasn’t set up in that exact spot (as amazing as that would have been), there was still plenty of action less than 10 meters away:

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Old man party time with a brass band in Jackson Square, April 2018. Photo by the author.

That’s all I’ve got. I love New Orleans so much. I wish I had more in the tank to write about, but it’s late, it’s the last week of classes, and I’ve already put you all through enough. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions about these photos or the stories that accompany them, or you have your own photo blog/dump from AAG this year. Have any of you caught yourself doing some repeat photography of your own? I think this is proof enough of how addictive it is. Since the AAG is now dedicating paper sessions to it, I have some hope that I’ll roll all of this insanity into something bigger.

Part III (yes, really) of my AAG 2018 retrospective coming on Friday. Don’t worry, though; I promise that it’s nothing like these first two parts.

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A lagniappe: me waiting for a streetcar up Canal in December 2007. Hopefully I’ll recreate this one some day (this may have been somewhere in Mid-City). Photo by Ted Hornick.

*Whether the term “Second Line” was thrown around so much by tourists before Katrina is questionable. I also remember hearing a constant churn of Zydeco music emanating from gift shops along Decatur Street, which I cannot say is still the case twenty years on.

^ I can only assume. I still have the CD of Brighten the Corners, but the other two fell to one of a handful of downsizing rampages over the years.

Geography Days and New Orleans Nights (AAG 2018 Recap, Part One)

img018New Orleans is the coolest city in North America. I’m not saying that as a geographer (I haven’t been to every city in North America); I’m saying it as someone who appreciates incredibly cool cities. Maybe it’s because New Orleans occupies (putting the geographer hat back on here) an invaluable space in the last 500 years of circulation of people and culture. As I’ve outlined in innumerable musical geography lectures, jazz could not have emerged from anywhere other than New Orleans. The same could be said for Mardi Gras Indians, second lines, and countless other Crescent City institutions.

One valuable perspective that my friend David shared with me was that the city is not necessarily the Southernmost US city, but the Northernmost Caribbean city. I’ve been thinking about that for most of the past two weeks. No city should belong exclusively to the United States, especially not this one.

What I’ve always appreciated about New Orleans has been how, more than any other city in North America, it has been beaten down AGAIN and AGAIN, and despite every excuse to throw in the towel, it has risen AGAIN and AGAIN. These “hits” on New Orleans throughout history have been rarely so definable as the post-Katrina flooding and disaster in 2005, the kick-them-while-they’re-down timing of Hurricane Rita a few years after, and the adjacent atrocity that BP committed in the Gulf on which they are still working to influence the narrative^.

AAG paid greater due respect to their host city than I’ve witnessed in my six years as a member. Two of the three special focuses, as clearly laid out in their GeoGram, were black geographies and natural hazards/disasters. To avoid inclusive discussion of either of those in New Orleans (in 2018) would have been irresponsible and tone-deaf. I’m grateful for all the work Derek Alderman has done during his tenure as AAG President, but helping direct attention to those topics was particularly conscientious of him.

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Dr. Derek Alderman introduces the AAG Plenary Panel, 4/12/18. Laura Pulido and Craig Colten sit on the panel to his left. Photo by the author.

All of the Black Geographies sessions that I attended were crowded and included a pointed diversity of speakers. One session on Friday morning featured a paper on black girlhood followed with papers on cruising culture in Los Angeles and the legacy of the Mardi Gras Indians, featuring details on Chief Monk Boudreaux. I was disappointed to discover I would be leaving town before he and his loyal band performed at the French Quarter Festival. That being said, the storms that passed through on Saturday the 14th made it impossible for the thousands of festival goers to see him, too, since they cancelled that day’s events due to an encroaching hell-storm.

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As far as conference cities go, New Orleans was simultaneously great and terrible. It was great because New Orleans is great. AAG did not need to fight to lure their membership there from around the world, and more attendance equals more revenue, more funding, and more material. It was terrible, because… New Orleans is great. The ability to walk to anything in the French Quarter (Café du Monde being one weakness of mine) or fire up a Jazzy Pass and hop on a streetcar to Camellia Café, Metairie Cemetery, City Park, Hi-Ho Lounge, Sidney’s Saloon, Jacques-Imo’s, Live Oak Café, Domino Sound Record Shack, or several dozen other places I’m forgetting often makes it hard to “conference” effectively.

Another bizarre, immensely entertaining facet to AAG’s anchoring itself on Canal Street was the confluence of humanity that surrounded us. Wrestlemania (an increasingly ‘New Orleans’ institution, apparently) took place at the Superdome on April 8th, and many WWE fans stuck around to take in the city over the following week, creating a mix of stuffy academics and folks in Macho Man t-shirts that was a sight to behold. I make no assumption that geographers and wrestling fans don’t have a righteous overlap (I love Macho Man, may he rest in peace), but I appreciated the juxtaposition and the ability to take photos with the words “Welcome Wrestling Fans!” projected in the concourse after registering and picking up my badge. My Lyft driver on Saturday told me how she drove wrestling legend Justin Credible from the airport a few days prior.

We didn’t really experience such a mixture of humanity in Boston, but the conference center/shopping mall that housed AAG 2017 was fairly guarded and privatized. Quantum-leaping between three different hotels on Canal St. reminded me more of San Francisco in 2016. The AAG put us in at least two hotels in the Tenderloin. From what I understood, the Tenderloin was still a “place you didn’t go” less than a decade ago (Rancid even had a song about it). In 2016, however, Diane Feinstein’s scheme was showing visible dividends. It felt accessible and safe enough, despite the pimps and prostitutes who dotted the conference hotel’s block as soon as the sun went down (some didn’t even wait until then). Canal Street, as the artery on the fringe of NOLA’s booming tourism epicenter (only, on speed… and without an ‘off’ switch), made it difficult to find reprieve. Our hotel, the Astor Crowne Plaza, sat on the corner of Bourbon Street, and it’s telling when your hotel provides you with earplugs rather than a Gideon bible.

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Roscoe, one of the coolest creatures I know in NOLA.

All that being said, I had a great time both out in the city and at the conference. I arrived on a soggy Saturday to give myself a couple of days to see some friends before the conference kicked into high gear on Tuesday. A large population of my colleagues had the same idea, though I had the advantage of staying near the horse track not far from Mid-City and avoiding the French Quarter until I checked in on Monday.

On Sunday, I headed to Uptown to grab lunch, find some old haunts, and buy some records. I wandered through Oak Street to catch up with the Live Oak Café, where my friend Ted and I once befriended the in-house pianist, Charles Farmer, and tipped him into playing “Jersey Girl” by Tom Waits*. My friend Sean in Knoxville had also given me instructions to find an old friend of his named Rosie at the Avenue Café on St. Charles. Only if he had delivered that directive to me in a Tom Waits voice under a streetlamp could it have been more quintessentially New Orleans. I needed to finish and refine my presentation before conference madness set in, so I ordered some tea and set up shop there for the afternoon. When Rosie came back from her break, I introduced myself and we had a great conversation about New Orleans, our buddy Sean, and life in general. Another thing I’ve always appreciated about the city has been its supernatural ability to bring people together from walks of life you wouldn’t even expect.

THE CONFERENCE

Monday, which happened to be my birthday, was when the aforementioned conference madness really began to spark. I knew that anytime I wandered to the anchor hotel (the Marriott, in this case) I ran the risk of getting “AAG’d” which was a verb I (doubt that I) invented to characterize the possibility of getting roped into interaction after activity after interaction that dislodges any best laid plans. The registration desk opened at 4pm, so those of us who were in town converged on our hotels and got our bearings. My best friend in Atlanta happened to be there for a few days for a separate conference, so he came by and took me out to lunch, which was wonderful. We had a whirlwind catch-up session over po’boys, beignets, and coffee, which was fortunate because our respective schedules prevented us from meeting up again before he returned to Atlanta. As much as I laud the city for bringing people together, it can also easily do that to you, too.

My friends Laura and Dave had pinned “starter dollars” on my shirt, as is the local tradition. I did not make a ton of money by the end of the night, though I did get a torrent of pleasant birthday wishes from strangers. Walking down Bourbon Street with the dollars on me a target, though, so some colleagues/friends and I quickly slipped off the block and wound up getting drinks at Brennan’s. Hearkening back to a fantastic photo that Erik Johanson took in Tampa on my birthday in 2014, I snapped this:

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Matt Boehm, Matt Kerr (armed with Sazerac), Mimi Thomas, and your author representing UTK Geography in the Brennan’s courtyard.

Another thing I appreciate about the AAG, now having been to my sixth meeting, is the ease of starting ‘traditions.’ They don’t always need to include the same people; they just have to go through the same (or similar) motions. In San Francisco, my Berlin-based friend Lucas Elsner and I took a sojourn to the Haight to shop at Amoeba. This year, we gathered some others (four people from four different countries) for an afternoon in the Bywater neighborhood. The six of us treated ourselves to lunch at Elizabeth’s and then spent more time than most normal people would at Euclid Records, nearby. I wish I had taken more pictures. I can see this tradition continuing and growing. Geographers on vinyl.

[As a cheap plug to those of you in Knoxville, Nathan McKinney and I will be playing some cuts from some of the records pictured at our next DJ night, May 3rd at Last Days of Autumn Brewing. There is no real academic outreach element here; it’s just going to be a fun night of music, craft beer, and maybe some dancing if the crowd is into that.]

THE ACTUAL CONFERENCE

I meant it when I said New Orleans was simultaneously a great and terrible setting for AAG. The fact that I’ve been working on my retrospective post(s) for hours and I’ve written so little about the actual academic, business, and networking contents of the week. Much of the time I did spend conferencing tended to blur together, composed of well-organized paper sessions, fascinating plenary talks, and poster sessions that I tried my best to swing through in between. Of course, I found myself “AAG’d” at least 3 or 4 times per day, so I missed a bunch of sessions I had saved on the AAG app.

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Bill Wyckoff (Montana State) gets an overview from Fuhito Kadama (Nagoya University) on using cartographic analysis to map early modern castle towns in Japan. Photo by the author.

Speaking of the AAG app, kudos to the organization and whatever contractor they hired to build it. I’m assuming ESRI had a hand, considering how they posted at least 2 seconds of an ad every time the app opened, but these programs don’t grow on trees. This was the first AAG that I, an obnoxious analog loyalist, did not leave with (1) a printed program or (2) a water bottle. I did not get the program because I may have just forgotten whether I had ordered one, and I didn’t get a water bottle because nobody did! The AAG forewent those party favors this year. I never heard why, but the rumblings of geographers who had too many water bottles probably became loud enough on twitter or in the conference hallways. I had enough to pack when preparing to head home, so I didn’t miss having the veritable phone book and bottle clinking around this year.

I spent much of Day One, similarly to my first day in Boston last year, wandering around the city doing some independent research and repeat photography, which I will detail extensively in Part II of my retrospective (coming later this week).

3c7986ff5c2ead14b169e121786a7547Day Two (Wednesday) I caught the cultural geographies Plenary Talk by Paul Kingsbury, which was just as solid as any other cultural geographies keynote I’ve seen, but may be the most entertaining one yet. Kingsbury’s work, already gaining a lot of steam through the preeminence of science fiction-themed reality television and paranormal preoccupations, focuses on the people and community built around these investigations. Although I went in expecting something different, the result was strangely comforting, particularly in an era when UFO enthusiasts and paranormal investigators are more often painted as wackos or transformed into memes before being understood as humans. I look forward to seeing whatever else he produces from this line of work, especially if he does somehow inadvertently prove we’re not alone.

After Kingsbury’s talk ended, I picked up a rental car and left for Lafayette. A friend invited me out there for the evening, and since I had never been to the city and was eminently curious about it, I took him up on his offer. At the advice of various Cajun friends, I wound up outside the Best Stop Supermarket in suburban Scott, sharing delicious boudin with a stray kitten. I also tasted my first pork cracklin, and quickly looked up where (if anywhere) I could get Cajun food in Eastern Tennessee.

Somewhat inspired by a 1984 Marjorie Esman article on the rediscovery and leveraging of Cajun identity in Lafayette, I walked around downtown with a critical eye, noticing the “Shop Leauxcal” signs in many storefront windows, spotting street signs that had been modified to say “Rue….” rather than the English name, and of course patronizing Lagniappe Records. Not that I didn’t support the leauxcal economy plenty at Lagniappe, but I’m grateful that my ignorance of various obscure Zydeco legends prevented me from shelling out big bucks on their rare 7-inch records that sat in a box behind the register. In a way, it felt reassuring seeing such an intensely local form of music retaining its geographic allure despite an international community of music collectors willing to drive Cajun music prices to those extremes.

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The Circle Bar, New Orleans, 2007. Photo by the author.

I got back to New Orleans around 1 AM, where I raced to the Circle Bar to find a few international friends in an effort to continue another AAG tradition: seeking out a punk show in a dive bar. The French Oi! band Rixe happened to be playing a late show, so I told my good friends Sarah Gelbard and Lucas Elsner (both of whom went on the Friday vinyl excursion) that I would meet them there. Unfortunately, Rixe were thundering through their final song as I parked and ran in, but the group of us had a great time catching up outside. We actually outlasted everyone else who had congregated on the sidewalk. The opening band drove back to Hattiesburg, and even Rixe had taken all of their merch and gone by the time we realized we had outlasted everyone short of the bar staff who were trying to clean up and close inside. Although I didn’t get to experience the show with my friends, I got the rewarding conversation and exhaustion afterwards. So, in other words, I felt at home again. Extra respect to Sarah for her impressive ability to talking her friends and colleagues, many of whom were not even into punk and had never been to a show, into what must have been a marginally terrifying experience for them. Although the building looks fairly large from across the circle (as seen in that photo I took of it in 2007, above), inside it was as intimate and divey as any bar where you would see a French Oi! band play on a Wednesday night. I remember how curious the place made me when I wandered by it in December 2007, so I loved being able to see inside it. It wasn’t quite the dream-come-true that I experienced outside of Segovia in 2015, but I appreciated the stop nonetheless.

THE ACTUAL ACTUAL CONFERENCE

Thursday was my first day completely full of conference activity, beginning with a session I chaired on the Geographies of Music. It featured talks from Max Buckholz on the Bay Area punk explosion of the 1990s (a project after my own heart), soundmapping the music of Donny Hathaway by Ranier LeLoup (Laval), gentrification in Brixton by Australian transplant Kate Carr, Erasmus Institute research on gig economies and spaces by Arno van der Hoeven (Rotterdam), and a discussion by Ola Johannson (Pittsburgh-Johnstown), who has appeared numerous times on this blog.

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Max Buckholz presents on the Bay Area Punk Explosion, Thursday morning. Photo by the author.

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Arno van der Hoeven (Erasmus Institute, Rotterdam) presents on Thursday morning. Photo by the author.

 

That afternoon, Helen Morgan-Parmett’s (UVM) Plenary Talk for the Media and Communication Geography specialty group became perhaps my favorite session of the entire meeting. My friend (and AAG social media guru) Emily Fekete introduced her, and the first thing that Helen commented was that she wasn’t a geographer. Ironically, whenever extra-disciplinary presenters mentioned this throughout the conference, I noticed that their audiences perked up a bit. Or maybe it was just me. Either way, I was disappointed that Helen didn’t have a bigger crowd for a discussion of generations of representation of New Orleans in film and television, one of the most gift-that-keeps-on-giving of locally focused topics covered at AAG.

The lecture taught me a ton about the history of film in New Orleans, including correcting many false assumptions that I’d had. One of which was that much of the city’s burgeoning role as a filming site was a post-Katrina phenomenon; in fact, the Film New Orleans tax credit initiatives went back to 2002. She also included a discussion of the quintessential “brilliant, but canceled” 1988 series Frank’s Place, which actually had to be rescued from complete eradication by forward-thinking pages at CBS, snatching the master tapes out of the garbage. Helen shared the beautiful, nostalgic credit sequence that made more money for Louis Armstrong’s estate per episode than any of the actors did. Still, it nearly brought a tear to my eye, as I’d watched scenes from the show before in undergrad, but had never seen this:

One of my favorite professors in undergrad, Richard Dubin, was one of the principal producers on the show, and this talk gave me a wonderful excuse to get back in touch with him. He told me he was still proud of that show, thirty years later, and I was glad to mention this connection to Helen while I was commending her for her talk.  It got several gears turning in my head regarding writing I’ve been doing on symbolic gentrification in popular culture and reading I’ve been doing on Debord’s society of the spectacle (“places becoming filmed places”). It also bears mentioning that while searching for postcard image sites on Tuesday (again, more on that soon), my friends and I walked past a crowd that had accumulated by Lafayette Square where NCIS was filming a scene. The city as a compilation of inescapable representations, indeed.

FRIDAY (AGAIN)

On Friday, I woke up early to present my new paper on the uses of Punk and Underground Music in Teaching Geography, which seemed to go over well. Erik Hitters kicked off our session with a continuation of the research that he and van der Hoeven had been doing on Rotterdam, Adam Zendel (Toronto) talked about qualitative research on people on the fringes of the music industry (union workers, roadies, DIY musicians) and the toll that the lifestyle takes on them, Anne Smith (Montpellier) talked about music’s role in surf communities in Florida, I presented, and then my buddy Séverin Guillard brought it home with a discussion.

And just like that, our session ended, we congregated and chatted in the hallway for a few minutes, and then we all scattered. I got back together with Séverin, Sarah, and Lucas that afternoon for food and record shopping in the Bywater, but for the most part the conference pulled us in multiple directions later that day. Lauri Turnpeinin, another European geographer with deep interest in music who came on the vinyl excursion, and I caught up in the airport early the next morning (more on that in my very left-field Part III entry, later this week).

 

Later on Friday, I was incredibly fortunate to find a session on Repeat Photography happening in the Sheraton in an unenviable time slot (imagine what was happening down on the street, one block away from the casino and portals to the French Quarter Festival). I’ll write more about that very soon. I’m going to cut this off here for reasons of length and sanity. Come back for Part Two in a few days, where I’ll share some of the repeat photography mentioned here and alluded to throughout this entry. Thanks for reading this far.

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The Dirty Dozen Brass Band at the French Quarter Festival, Thursday afternoon. Photo by the author.

^ I will withhold judgment in this area until I see this movie, but it never hurts to be cautious there.
* I also bought Charles’ album Dead Men Tell Tales, which was a CD-R and didn’t play very well. Anyway, you can check out his music here.

Do You Know What It Means to Hold AAG in New Orleans?

AAG in New Orleans, Louisiana – April 10th through April 14th. My mind is already cycling through some dixieland band’s raucous rendition of “Just A Closer Walk With Thee.” To be fair, though, that song is like a mental screensaver for me most of the year whether or not I’m preparing for a trip to NOLA. Like most people who enjoy the coolest cities in their respective country (and perhaps continent), I fell in love with the Crescent City the first time I visited it in 1998.

Coincidentally, AAG falls on the same week as the French Quarter Festival, which was the event my family and I were down there for twenty years ago. My very talented sister was in a youth jazz band that played on Bourbon Street as part of the 1998 event, quickly being forced into a bar when a storm passed overhead. I should really digitize some of that footage.  From what I can tell, the Second Line kickoff parade is happening around the time I’ll be around the corner, chairing a panel.


Speaking of which, here is where you can find me presenting:

Friday, April 13th
9:00 AM – 9:20 AM
Oakley, Sheraton, 4th Floor
“Geographies of Media VIII: Sounds, scenes and urban policies – Contemporary issues and new horizons for the geographies of music 4”

My paper this year is entitled “Punk and Pedagogy in Geography.” I’ll be talking about some of my teaching experiences so far where I’ve been able to apply lessons learned from using underground music as a mechanism for teaching cultural, urban, and other aspects of human geography. I’ll be using examples of lecture material from Gainesville, Jakarta, and of course DC and Paris. This is largely a work-in-progress, but I’m looking forward to the form it takes.

You can also find me chairing this Thursday session:

Thursday, April 12th
10:00 AM  – 11:40 AM
Oakley, Sheraton, 4th Floor
“Geographies of Media VIII: Sounds, scenes and urban policies – Contemporary issues and new horizons for the geographies of music 4”

This one’s composed of a handful of great-sounding papers and is the organizational handiwork of my musical geography brothers-in-arms Ola Johansen (University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown), Severin Guillard (Université Paris Est – Lab’Urba), and Joseph Palis (University of the Phillippines – Diliman).

I’m also currently piecing together my schedule of panels and paper sessions I’m hoping to catch, of which a solid 75% will be happening concurrently with at least 3 other sessions I would like to see. Such is the big conference life.


This trip will be my fifth time in New Orleans. I’ve returned three times since then – in 2007, 2008, and 2014 – and thoroughly enjoyed myself on all three occasions. My last trip, which happened on one sweltering July day, included this Repeat Photography (as it appears in the AAG program; I still call it “Re-Photography” on this site) mission that worked out surprisingly well. You can re-read my account of it here.

I can’t believe it’s already been four years. I guess there’s nothing to really do there next week but re-photograph some other memories (TBD) while trying to make some half-decent new ones. Laissez les bon temps rouler.

GeoSym 2018 Call for Papers!

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I’m very excited to pass along the Call for Papers for the third installment of this great little conference. I’m biased because I was the chair for the second installment in 2016, but this time around it’s in great hands with my good friends and colleagues Savannah Collins-Key, Emma Walcott-Wilson, and others from the GeoGrads. Savannah was an outstanding co-chair in 2016, too; I’ve gone on record before about all the work she did organizing the paper sessions and basically ensuring that I didn’t burn the whole thing down.

Also, this year’s keynote speaker, Dr. Marshall Shepherd, is one of the biggest authorities on climate and landscape in the Southeast. His name has been getting bigger on a near-monthly basis in the meteorology and Weather Channel world, so you really don’t want to miss the chance to see him speak in this smaller-scale setting.

At any rate, it’s free to submit and participate (a rarity among any kind of academic conference), and you have the rest of December to get your papers ready. Paper deadline is January 1st, 2018, and the Poster deadline is January 15th. More information can be found at the departmental website here or on the Facebook Page here.

A Brief Look Back at the Oral History Association Weekend in the Twin Cities

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As predicted, I had a fantastic time in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Thanks to my friend and former colleague Liz for being a great host and accompanying me on a tour of Paisley Park, thanks to the Oral History Association for putting on a great little conference and bringing Staunton and Alice Lynd to speak, and thanks to the Twin Cities for just being so cool. I know I should have expected as much from the metropolis that somehow produced (among many, many others) Prince, Dillinger Fourand Mitch Hedberg.

It’s going to take me some time to go through all the photos, sift through all of the links to other great oral history projects in the pipeline, and write anything substantive about the conference and my time up there. But, I’m grateful I decided to go and present this year.  I learned valuable new interviewing techniques, as well as a diverse set of recently uncovered histories including that of the Anoka State Hospital, the cultural landscape of 20th Street in Saskatoon (short documentary here), Denver’s legendary Band Box Record label, the NoDak* press (documentary here), and an enticing program to help keep everything in order, the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS).

The best decision I made all weekend, however, was joining a guided tour of the American Indian cultural corridor on Franklin Avenue. Just in time for Indigenous People’s Day on October 9th, we walked through North America’s strongest urban concentration of native american (in this case, Ojibwe and Dakota/Lakota) life. Our guides, Alan Gross and Tom LaBlanc, did not mince words when it came to the States’ and cops’ perpetually horrid treatment of indigenous Americans, which was as refreshingly honest as it was cringe-inducing.

Also, bonus respect is due to Adrienne Cain’s meticulous use of Prince GIFs in the OHA twitter account and inspiring me to do the same above (but I’ll probably tone it down in the coming entries, though…maybe).

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this somewhat brief update, and if you’re from the OHA, feel free to pass this along via email, social media, or even word of mouth. Here are some extra pictures from around Minneapolis, St. Paul, and their outskirts this weekend. I can’t wait for my next excuse to go back. Next time, I’ll actually remember to bring some of the Ben Irving postcards, too.

LINER NOTES

* I’ve never been to North Dakota (outside of passing through it on a train trip in 2013), but I picked up this shortened term for it in 2011 from a MPLS friend who grew up there, and it stuck with me. NoDak/SoDak. You’re welcome.