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!

 

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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.

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.

Lyrics, Letters and the Forgotten Lives of Ben Irving

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Click to watch at PechaKucha.org

Pecha Kucha Knoxville recently uploaded the PowerPoint and Audio from my November presentation about my great-grandfather. This was a 6 minute, 40 second truncation of archival work I’d been doing about over a thousand postcards he sent from the road in the 1930s and 40s. It is an ongoing project that has been as rewarding as it has been educational and surprising regarding both my family history and a different era in American cultural life.

Here is my respectful sales pitch: If you enjoy what you see above, let me know. I am always happy to bring this lecture (in any reasonable length) to present at your company, school, civic organization, for any interested parties. Feel free to contact me at sonicgeography [at] gmail. I presented an hour-long version of this talk, which included a handful of his original song lyrics, more news clippings, and personal history at the Kimball Farms Lecture series in Lenox, MA in November. I have an audio recording available for anybody interested in the extended version.

Anyway, I’ve hinted at this postcard collection before, but until now I haven’t been completely comfortable with sharing. But now that the cat’s out of the bag and I did this presentation for over a thousand people in Knoxville, I’ll be a bit more forthcoming with Ben Irving’s story.

I assume you’ll watch the video-slideshow at the link above (WordPress doesn’t allow embedding of iframe codes; apologies), but the long and short of it was that my great-grandfather, who went by his stage name Ben Irving in most of his professional life, was a prolific musician on the Hartford jazz circuit of the 1920s. When the Depression hit, he moved his young family (including my grandmother, then a toddler) to Brooklyn and hit the road as a sales representative. In his time, Irving got to see so much more of America than most anybody in his position, including parts of the country that were still mired in dark history and summarily unfriendly to Jews. Assuming that his wife and daughter would probably never see any of these places, he sent home multiple postcards from almost every city he visited.

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A few years ago, when I inherited the postcards, I began bringing selections with me whenever I traveled to particular cities in North America. I began to re-pose and re-create the shots, better terms as ‘rephotography’ (see Kalin 2013 for a great overview of this). I cataloged these attempts in a handful of entries (including in FloridaNew Orleans, Mobile, and Chattanooga) all of which are tagged with ‘Re-Photography’ and I included in my PechaKucha talk. I recently created a new tag (‘Ben Irving’) for the posts I make about my ongoing work focused on (or directly inspired by) my great-grandfather. Stay tuned for a pair of new entries that follow his postcards (including an overdue AAG 2017 retrospective), coming very soon.

 

The Wooltown Jazz Band (Netherlands) and New Orleans

It’s been almost six weeks since I’ve posted anything here, which I can fairly blame on dissertation revisions and my teaching schedule. Also, to be fair, I have been accumulating posts in my drafts folder that I haven’t had any time to complete. This is/was one of them, which in the interest of getting some new material out there, I’ll post in it’s relatively raw form.

photoEveryone has their favorite mechanism of procrastination, and here’s mine. My colleague’s husband, who happens to be a prominent local techno DJ and producer, clued me in to a phone app that helps catalog your record collection. How I hadn’t foraged for an app like that already after over a decade of accumulating records is beyond me. So, in between stretches of writing, editing, and self-doubting, I’ve taken to updating my collection on Discogs. In the process I’ve rediscovered a few great pieces that I’d either forgotten I had or just hadn’t listened to in a while.

One such 7″ was a single called ‘New Orleans (USA)‘ by the Wool Town Jazz Band (site in Dutch/auto-plays music).  I think I may have actually bought the record in New Orleans in a dollar bin somewhere. It looked interesting. The band pictured on the back were clearly not from New Orleans (or, for that matter, the United States), but they obviously wanted to give the impression that their sound and style were authentic. I found this odd, since New Orleans is the city classically associated with jazz, but traditional jazz has somewhat gotten away from the city. In the century-plus since the genre’s big bang, jazz has quantum-leaped to other urban bases like Chicago and Paris (1920’s), Tokyo and Jakarta (1950’s) and over the past few decades, the farthest reaches of Scandinavia and more.

When I rediscovered this record, I decided to do some light research to see if they were still around. Impressively, they still are! They originated in Tilburg, the 6th largest city in the Netherlands and named after the city’s historic claim to fame, wool (hence the nickname Wooltown). I found their website (linked above), and sent an email to their general contact inquiring about the band’s status and if they remember how the ‘New Orleans (USA)’ record got made. It bounced back. Undeterred, I quickly found an email listed for Annet Verkuil, their vocalist. She forwarded my message along to Frans van de Camp, the band’s original drummer (who recently rejoined after a decades-long absence!). Frans wrote me back with a fairly extensive state-of-the-union on the Wool Town Jazz Band, which I thought I would share here. His message is slightly edited.

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Thanks for your interest in our band and music.

I received your email through our singer Annet. I was part of the Wooltown Jazz Band in earlier times, from 1971 till 1976 and rejoined The Wooltown Jazz Band 2 years ago, I play the drums.

The Wooltown Jazz Band celebrated its 60 years jubilee a year ago. The band has a strong local following but the number of gigs has decreased, and, unfortunately, so has the interest of the public in jazz in general. In the Netherlands the focus of the public has shifted towards more popular music such as pop music. Apart from modern jazz, which is also only played by very few bands but has its own niche in the market, New Orleans Jazz is no longer in the limelight to the extend that it used to which is regrettable.

There are still many old style jazz bands in our country but they all have only very few gigs a year. Moreover the average age of the players gets higher every year and the youth associates jazz with old people, which doesn’t do much to raise interest in this music as well. There are very few younger players that take an interest in jazz, although jazz is taught at the music schools and conservatories. Unfortunately jazz isn’t hot anymore.

the-wooltown-jazz-band-wat-zegt-orgajan-dr-van-artone-special-productsThe great European Jazz Bands have a hard time to get by. Mister Acker Bilk’s jazz band has stopped after his death, the famous band of Kenny Ball continues with his son, but they don’t play in the big concert halls anymore. There are only very few really famous jazz bands in Europe still around, one of them is the British Big Chris Barber Band. I’ve been a keen follower of this band since the early 70’s and attended nearly 100 concerts. Chris has been a great example to me and with the great musicians in his band he shows how this music was meant to be played. It sounds awesome but Chris Barber will turn 87 next april so how long will he continue? There is no follow-up. In our country we still have the Dutch Swing Collage Band which started in the last year of the second world war. I think it might be the oldest jazz band in the world still playing. Of course the personnel has changed during the years but this band, too, consists mostly of elderly players. They play very well of course, but they don’t appeal to the younger generation as they used to and, unfortunately, our band is in the same boat.

But we try to keep this old style jazz music alive as much as we can and still have a lot of fun playing it.

I know the Wooltown Jazz Band played in New Orleans some years ago. How has New Orleans recovered since this terrible storm Katrina and has the city been able to revive its musical tradition? We saw the heart braking images of the devastating effects of the catastrophe on TV. In Europe New Orleans has long been considered the place to be if you are a jazz musician but since Katrina you don’t hear that a lot. I think that’s because New Orleans has been associated with old style jazz.

I know Chris Barber played there and devoted an LP to it which sounds nice. He also toured with Wendell Brunius, a famous trumpeter from New Orleans.

I’m sorry I can’t give you any more positive news but that’s how it is at the moment.

I think the Wooltown Jazz Band would like to play in New Orleans but it would take some organizing as many of the band’s players play in other bands as well.

It was not as enthusiastic as I’d been expecting (if I’d been expecting a reply at all; I had no idea if the email addresses I’d found were up-to-date). That being said, from my own conversations with music fans in Paris and elsewhere abroad, it doesn’t seem that jazz is really going anywhere. It may be true that traditional/dixieland-style jazz is in a lull right now in the Low Countries, though. It’s always sad when talented musicians need to slow down, but it’s a welcome change when somebody like Frans is able to pick his sticks back up after so many years away from the group. Even if they need to retire the band soon, they’ll be able to look back on their incredibly long run with quite a sense of accomplishment.

Also, on a more personal note, seeing Wendell Brunious’ name brought back some great memories from around the first time I visited New Orleans in 1998. An old friend of mine, who went all-state with trumpet, got to meet and perform with Brunious. From what I remember, he had a private meeting/lesson with him on a Youth Jazz trip, but my memory could be faulty there. It was how I first discovered Wendell, who is still based in New Orleans and still the real deal.

Thanks again to Frans and the rest of the Wool Town Jazz Band, and congrats on still being around after 62 (62!!) years. For anyone who understands Dutch (or has a lot of patience and is decent with translation bots), here is a comprehensive-looking history.

Okay, back to the grindstone; talk to you all soon.

Cheaper Cities Need the AAG Needs Cheaper Cities

For my non-AAG-attending readers here (and for any AAG folks who may have missed it), my colleague in the Cultural Geography Specialty Group, Emily Fekete, circulated a petition on Change.org in which her colleague Andy Shears articulated a tension that has existed among AAG members for some time. In simple terms, the conference has become way too expensive for many of its members. Here is the original petition.

I would like to continue this conversation, and make a few suggestions with my own reasoning for future conferences after Boston (2017). Regarding 2018, I initially heard Washington, DC (which made sense given AAG’s headquarters and the organizations propensity to “max out” its attendance when/where possible), but I’ve since discovered it’s going to be in New Orleans (a move in the right direction, which I’ll address later). That being said, here is my personal perspective on the issue. Feel free to use this as a case study in your own spiels about this subject.

San Francisco inspired such outbursts because it encapsulated everything that has been problematic with the AAG’s location and scheduling choices for the annual meeting for some time. While I understand that a large-scale conference during the heavy spring tourist season must require some maneuvering, putting thousands of graduate students in an exorbitantly expensive city for 4-5 days prior to when many graduate students get paid their monthly stipends is stressful. The AAG Annual Meeting is, for lack of a better term, a geographic mega-event that brings anywhere from 6,000 – 10,000 professionals, students, and their loved ones together for a week of networking and over-committing themselves. While tenured professors and professional veterans in fields like GIS and Urban Planning attend the meeting religiously, it seems like the AAG is overlooking its indispensability to graduate students like me. Getting to present your research to people from all over the world in your area of interest (as well as branching out and attending sessions outside your specific field) is paramount to beginning a career in Geography.

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A bridge to the Davis Islands in Tampa, the morning after the 2014 conference ended.

From what I understand, the AAG considered the 2014 conference in Tampa a failure because only approximately 6,000 people attended…a measly 6,000 that allowed our sessions to end at reasonable times each evening in a fun and (relatively) accessible city that kept hotel prices affordable. As much as I love Chicago and San Francisco, Tampa was my favorite AAG meeting so far. Tampa’s relatively small (albeit growing) size made it easier to focus on the conference and partition my leisure activities. The Tampa convention center’s location (unlike that of Chicago or San Francisco) kept the AAG folks safe from the crush of morning commuters yet still adjacent to the nightlife (aided, I’ll admit, by the Tampa Bay Lightning home games scheduled that week at the St. Pete Times Forum). I understand that a lot of international geographers chose Tampa as “that one year” to skip, but a lot of geographers need to take occasional years off regardless. I knew a handful who chose to skip going to San Francisco this year, even. It wasn’t because of a misconception that people need a city with “caché” to entice them to bring their families on holiday and generate revenue. Tampa may not be the “sexiest” international city to geographers outside the US (though my TB friends would probably take exception to that), but here’s a crazy notion: we are geographers. Many of us wouldn’t be in this business if we didn’t enjoy digging up the gems that every city (yes, every city) has to offer. I could name at least 15 geographers off the top of my head who teach and work in tiny towns whose nightlife consists of the equivalent of less than one block of Ybor City.  Even coming out of Knoxville (which does have decent nightlife), I had a great time taking advantage of what Tampa had to offer, and so did many of my friends/colleagues. We also got to play Simpsons pinball and see The Dead Milkmen play, which were both awesome, but that’s neither here nor there.

As I eagerly await my reimbursement from my school for my registration fee ($155, fair for the professional Geography conference but still a hole in the wallet when you’re a grad student in 2016) and my hotel share (worth it for the proximity but still exorbitant even split among three other roommates), I’d like to put forth a few city suggestions for future AAG meetings and my reasoning for each. Shears’ petition already mentions a good handful, some of which I would enthusiastically support and others, while I’m skeptical about, I would still gladly attend:

Albuquerque, Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Charlotte, Cleveland, Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Nashville, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Rochester, Salt Lake City, St. Louis, Tampa and Winnipeg.

Such a great list! I’ve yet to go to an embarrassingly high percentage of those places. Taking numerous factors (city profile and sustainability, etc.) into consideration, here are a couple that I’d like to add.

1. DETROIT

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Fewer phrases bring more excitement and hope to my brain than “AAG Detroit.” This is not just because I’ve (1) never been there and (2) I may be crazy, but fewer cities in North America scream “convention” more than the Motor City. While it has been the butt of urban blight jokes for decades, it has everything: pop music history for the cultural geographers, the epicenter of the urban gardening movement, the historic epicenter of the American automotive industry for the economic and vroom-vroom (aka pure enthusiast) types, and it’s right across the line from Windsor, Ontario for the passport-holding types (which should be everybody). AAG was last held in Detroit in 1985, and 2,377 people attended, 43.7% of membership at the time. That percentage may seem paltry by today’s standards, but keep in mind that DC drew 2,707 people (47.4% of that year’s membership) the year prior, and in 1989 Baltimore would draw 3,115 (49.2%). Both DC and Baltimore were well into the “crack era” by the mid-to-late-1980’s, putting Detroit’s well-documented decline at the time into perspective. Whether the cities are “safe” in the public imaginary should be of little concern, particularly for those staying at the conference hotels. Considering how our conference this year was held in San Francisco’s notorious Tenderloin (where I spent all week with prostitutes and hustlers following me, both a part of city life but probably not what those attendees with their families in tow had in mind), perceptions of safety are highly overrated. Even downtown Los Angeles in 2013 (notably, a dip of over 1,300 registrants from New York in 2012) was beset with icons of urban blight that (given testimonies from Mike Davis and Edward Soja) were inevitable. Not to dwell on the negative aspects of any major urban area, Detroit would be amazing.
Suggested (only sort of joking) Guest Speaker: Andrew W.K.


 

2. COLUMBUS

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My love of this city has been pretty well-documented (if not so much on this site…I honestly can’t remember). AAG has held their meeting here three times, the last of which was in 1965. 1,250 people  (1/3 of AAG’s Membership at the time) attended fifty years ago and saw a sleepy Columbus that would, about four decades later, blow up into what can barely be contained as the Midwest’s best secret. While The Ohio State University dominates the city’s core, the downtown area, the State capital, and other industries have expanded the city’s population and role in America’s core. It would be great for the AAG to set up in the city’s convention center and capture this zeitgeist. Not only would attendees be across the bridge (that brilliantly conceals a freeway, for the urban design types) from the Short North dining/going-out district, but they’re also walking distance from North Market, the Ohio Theater, and the Arena District (in case the Blue Jackets have a home-game-heavy week like the Bolts did in ’14). Columbus has crept into the top 15 largest U.S. cities (almost tied with San Francisco proper, believe it or not), so there is little question whether Columbus could handle a convention of AAG’s size. Also, we can eat all of Mikey’s Late-Night Pizza, Dirty Frank’s delicious (veggie and non) hot dogs, and Jeni’s insanely good ice cream.
Suggested (semi-joking) guest speaker: Urban Meyer.


 

3. NEW ORLEANS

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New Orleans is a fantasti…. oh, yeah, nevermind! Rather than spell out all the reasons why bringing the meeting to NOLA in 2018 is terrific idea (AAG are way ahead of me), I’ll just reiterate here what I’ve said to countless people over the past 18 years since I first visited: it’s the coolest city in North America.
Suggested Guest Speaker (not at all joking): Marc Morial

(Re)Photography in the American South (Part One: New Orleans)

For a wide variety of reasons, postcards (specifically, antique ones) have been occupying a lot of my mental landscape recently. As I previously mentioned, a large collection of old ones landed in my lap last year. While I’ve been rotating the wheels in the arduous process of cataloging them, I’ve also had the assignment to review Picturing Illinois: Twentieth-Century Postcard Art from Chicago to Cairo (2012; University of Illinois Press), an excellent history of that state patched together through postcards from the first half of the twentieth century, land in my lap as well. I’ll keep this blog posted as that unfolds, but for now, the book is providing me with great context for what I’ve been gathering through this particular collection, that of which spans from the early 1930’s through the mid-1940’s. 

The reason I haven’t been able to update this site too much lately was because I happened to be on a road trip across the Gulf Coast recently. Considering how much (Re)Photography has captured my fleeting interest over the past year, I did not miss my opportunity to track down a few of the locations in a few of my postcards and make some attempt to recreate the pictures. Today and Wednesday, I’ll be sharing a handful of arguably successful examples.

ROYAL STREET IN NEW ORLEANS’ FRENCH QUARTER

Postmarked Jan 17, 1941. The Caption: "Royal Street is known throughout the world for it's curio dealers, perfume shops and antique stores where one can find beautiful specimens of old furniture, jewelry, chinaware and ancient firearms. In early Creole days Rue Royal was the main street of the French City and along its narrow thoroughfare are clustered many historical buildings. Every block of Royal Street teems with interest. It is one of the most interesting streets because of the many old homes, priceless wrought-iron railings, quaint courtyards and lovely gardens."

Postmarked Jan 17, 1941. The Caption: “Royal Street is known throughout the world for it’s curio dealers, perfume shops and antique stores where one can find beautiful specimens of old furniture, jewelry, chinaware and ancient firearms. In early Creole days Rue Royal was the main street of the French City and along its narrow thoroughfare are clustered many historical buildings. Every block of Royal Street teems with interest. It is one of the most interesting streets because of the many old homes, priceless wrought-iron railings, quaint courtyards and lovely gardens.”

I’ve gone on record before saying that New Orleans is one of my favorite places in the world, crumbling infrastructure, rampant corruption, sauna-like heat 10 months out of the year, and all. I wouldn’t disagree with the postcard’s label on the back declaring it “AMERICA’S MOST INTERESTING CITY” at all; at least, that’s what I call it to anybody who has not yet visited it. There is nowhere on earth I can imagine quite like it. Even outside of the French Quarter (or, as many would argue, primarily outside of the Quarter) you’ll find plenty of unique local flavor, particularly because there won’t be quite as many hundred thousands of tourists devouring it and driving up prices.

That being said, no trip to NOLA is complete without at least a leisurely walk through the French Quarter. Considering how ornate the city has made sure to keep almost all of the structures within the Quarter, it’s easy to forget how many people actually live within that section of the city. I can’t imagine life is particularly easy for anybody in the Big Easy, and especially so for those who live in that hallowed ground between Canal Street to the West and Frenchman St. to the East. Based on my limited experience, one piece of advice I’d give is to take a walk down Bourbon Street just to say you did- and then get the hell off of Bourbon Street. The Quarter actually has plenty of good local haunts that friends there have helped me discover, even along other such touristy thoroughfares like Royal Street. 

Last Sunday, I found myself with a little time to kill before finding a bar in which to watch the World Cup Final, so it occurred to me to pull out the postcard (above) from my bag, take a walk down Royal Street and see if I could spot where that illustration was made back in what I would assume was the 1920’s or 30’s, based on the mailing date of the postcard. I began on Canal Street, stopping into a hotel I once stayed at with my family in the late 90’s. I’d be lying if I said the pull of nostalgia outweighed the lure of functional air conditioning; although a storm had passed before I got to town, the humidity was still thick enough to make me pass out if I’d even tried chasing after a bus. I set down Royal Street for at least six blocks, pacing incrementally to study every lattice-work to compare it to the one on the postcard. I nearly interrupted two different tour guides to ask them if they either recognized the balcony or knew whether Royal had ever had a streetcar line (artists hired to illustrate places for postcards often took certain artistic license to complete their task of selling their employer’s city to outsiders; for all I knew, he/she could have been playing on outsiders’ attraction to streetcars, many of which were starting to disappear from American cities over the course of the 1940’s). In retrospect, I’m glad I chose not to be “that guy” and interrupt the tour guides and all of their patrons.

When I got to the corner of St. Ann, I turned around and looked up. There it was.

Picture 007I had landed upon a new set of challenges. I had no way of knowing if the restaurant owned or had any access to the balcony where the photographer stood when taking the picture on the postcard. The only way was to, as politely as possible, ask. I stepped into Pere Antoine and asked if I could speak to the manager. There turned out to be several around, as they were in the mid-afternoon shift change. One of them, Holly, politely told me how cool the postcard was, and regretfully, the second story were all private residences. The restaurant had access to the balcony, but only managers and nobody from the public were allowed on it. She offered to bring my camera up there and take a picture from that perspective for me, which was very generous. As I prepared to hand it to her, she stopped me and said, “wait a second. Let me find James.” James was the restaurant’s GM, and he nearly flipped when I showed him the postcard. He asked if he could scan it and email it to the restaurant’s owner. I pulled out a few other New Orleans and Louisiana souvenir packets from the late 30’s, and the restaurant’s whole staff eagerly gathered to look through them. James looked at Holly for a few seconds asking almost rhetorically if anyone would really mind if he escorted me up to the balcony. As he went to get his keys, I smiled to myself and thought, repeatedly: ‘This is why you ask. This is why you always ask.’

Picture 009

July 13, 2014.

Not bad. The planter (which James and I attempted to move, unsuccessfully) clearly was not in the photo illustration, and the Desire line (yes, that one) had long been torn out of the street below, and somebody covered the wooden structure with red stucco years ago, but otherwise, the block does not look a whole lot different than it did eighty years ago. James even pointed out that the yellow building on the opposite side of Royal, while the windows had been redone, was still yellow

Thank you again to the enthusiastic and courteous staff at Pere Antoine Restaurant for making this possible. I was more than happy to stay there to drink and watch the second half (and extra time!) of the match. I’ll definitely be stopping back through to say hello the next time I’m back in the Crescent City.

Before I end this entry, I’m going to include these bonus tracks of sorts. I actually had a moment of pause while searching for the postcard balcony (which was located at 741 Royal Street) while passing by a gorgeous building at 700 Royal. It turned out to be a three-story facility that remains one of the most-photographed buildings in New Orleans. After getting back to Knoxville, I checked my archives and was able to dig up a pair of photographs I took on that block in 1998. 

The Royal Cafe at 700 Royal Street in April 1998.

The Royal Cafe at 700 Royal Street in April 1998.

From what I can remember, I took this picture while on a walking tour of the area (the exact kind of tour I would come close to annoyingly interrupting sixteen years later). I remember fixating on the latticework and the hanging planters at the time; the latticework is still beautiful and the planters are no longer there. Also, the Royal Cafe, despite the best songwriting efforts of Mark Eitzel, closed down within the past decade, and I think there’s a tourist shop on the street level now. No idea how the upstairs spaces are being used. 

The 700 Block of Royal Street, April 1998.

The ??? Block of Royal Street, April 1998.

I believe I took this facing Northeast, farther West from that previous photo, considering the direction the cars are facing. In retrospect, I wish I’d taken more candid photos of people at that age; the benign inter-era fashions of the late 1990’s deserved more attention. Anyway, if you look farther down the street (provided this is still Royal Street, which I think it is) you can faintly spot the corner of St. Ann.

It’d be interesting to compare the palimpsest landscape of certain New Orleans neighborhoods to one another, hurricane destruction notwithstanding. Businesses and residents come and go in the French Quarter much like any commercially-zoned area, and like most historically-protected area, the city suppresses any major changes. This dynamic probably formulates the bread and butter of New Orleans more so than any major American city (though that conversation also includes tourist-savvy places like Boston and St. Augustine, the latter of which was enduring a serious septic rooting project when I stopped through there last week).

I’ll keep paying attention to this in my own way on subsequent visits. And there will be subsequent visits, believe me.

Anyway… TUNE BACK IN SOON FOR “(RE)PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE AMERICAN SOUTH (PART TWO: MOBILE, BIRMINGHAM, AND CHATTANOOGA)” coming Wednesday.