Thursday, October 13, 2016

One Weekend--Many Events

This past weekend found us back at the Red River Revel on Saturday to hear some Arkansas musicians, the four time Grammy-nominated Trout Fishing in America, followed by Dana Louise and the Glorious Birds. Dana Louise is the daughter of one of the Trout Fishing musicians, and both the guys play in her band.  Follow the links to hear some of  the music of Trout Fishing and Dana Louise.
Keith and Ezra, Trout Fishing in America, at Red River Revel 2016
In addition to music, there was more eating--etouffee for Ricky and Zwolle tamales for me.  Okay, I confess, we also ate ice cream but only to provide the energy needed to browse through the other half of the artist tents that we hadn't seen before.

We then went home to watch another Tennessee football game.  The pixie dust was blowing hither and yon, but Tennessee lost to Texas A & M in the second overtime. Note to the Vols: You can’t turn over the ball 7 times in a game and hope to win. 

On Sunday after a brunch of pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream at one of our popular neighborhood diners, Ricky and I headed out to the Highland Open Studio Tour Sunday (HOSTS) event, admiring the art at four studios. I bought a gorgeous silk shawl embedded with felted leaves from Fibre to Felt Wearable Art.  I’m looking forward to wearing it this fall.

Silk shawl with felted leaves
After HOSTS, we headed home to chill (literally and figuratively) before attending the Shreveport House Concert in our neighborhood.  Sunday night’s concert featured Grammy-nominated Hawaiian slack-key guitarist, singer, songwriter Stephen Inglis.  At the concert, we learned that slack-key is a specific way of tuning and playing a guitar.  Inglis featured many of songs he wrote, but he also covered other artists.  Inglis was born and raised in Hawaii and speaks Hawaiian so he also sings traditional Hawaiian songs as part of his repertoire.  Stephen's latest CD is Learning You By Heart.

Hawaiian Slack Key Guitarist Stephen Inglis
Ricky and I feel our dance cards are plenty full in Shreveport.  I know we are baby boomers, which designates our age bracket, but it seems to us that Shreveport in the fall is a happening place.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Louisiana Film Prize Festival had something for everyone

Friday morning before 10:00 am Ricky and I stood in line with dozens of other people at the Robinson Film Center waiting to see the films that were finalists for the Louisiana Film Prize.  Film makers come from across the country to make their films and compete in the competition.  The films have to shot in the Shreveport-Bossier metropolitan area and can’t be longer than 15 minutes. The 21 finalists are selected by the film festival judges, but the big winner is decided by viewer votes.  You have to see all the films, shown in venues spread across downtown Shreveport (or one location in Bossier City across the Red River from Shreveport) on Friday or Saturday in order to vote. 

Ricky and I decided the venues wouldn’t be as crowded on Friday.  Before we retired, we had to see all the films on Saturday, and one venue would fill up, then we had to scurry around to find another viewing site.  This year we watched the eleven films on the orange slate in a comfortable viewing room at the Robinson Film Center downtown, ate a quick  lunch at Abby Singer’s Bistro in the film center, then walked a block to the Capri Theater, an old theater where we could see the ten films on the teal slate.  The Capri had the added advantage of having a bar in the theater, so I sipped a glass of white wine while we watched the second slate of movies. 

The quality of the films has improved every year, so it was extremely difficult this year when it came time to vote for our top three films.  We eventually made our film selections, plus the best actor and actress choices.  The voting process is taken seriously and monitored closely. 

Films we liked included “The Verses” about escaped slaves trying to evade the bounty hunters and dogs on their trail, and the abolitionist family who helps the slaves; “TheStand” based on a true story of a busload of Christians and Muslims in Kenya uniting to stay alive while Muslim extremists seek to separate and kill all non-Muslims; Ya Abi (My Heart) about a Muslim immigrant to the US and her unlikely friendship with an American woman; “He Could Have Gone Pro” features a troubled family dealing with death; and “The Importance of Sex Education,” a coming of age comedy. 

The grand winner was “The Man from Mars.” A cynical podcast host travels the country in his beat-up RV interviewing unusual people who come to his attention.  He travels to rural Louisiana because there is a woman there who thinks she is the second coming of Christ.  The cynical host has a hard time making fun of this woman people call “Mother.”

Saturday our film prize tickets got us free entry into the Red River Revel, where we browsed a large variety of food and drink vendors.  We opted for Hawaiian food and beer that we ate while we listened to an hour and a half sound check for Polyphonic Spree, the Dallas band on tap for later that night.  We also did some serious people watching, but we never heard the scheduled band that was over an hour late getting on stage. 

We browsed through half the arts and crafts vendors, then decided to go home to watch the Tennessee-Georgia football game.  I attended graduate school at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and became an “orange neck”—translation, Volunteer fan.  If you saw this game, you will remember the wild finish, which included a successful Hail Mary pass by Tennessee’s quarterback into the end zone in the last 4 seconds to win the game.    Talk about Coach Butch Jones’ Pixie Dust! 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Fall Weekends in Shreveport

We live in Shreveport, Louisiana, one of those mid-sized Deep South cities, that isn’t considered trendy.  People often complain that there’s nothing to do and yearn to move to Oregon, Colorado, or California, or at least across the border to one of the large Texas cities. There’s nothing wrong with these locales, don’t get me wrong.  This isn’t about bashing other cities or states.  It is about blooming where you are planted, enjoying the area where you live.

Fall Leaf detail
(photo by Ricky Edgerton)
Autumn brings special events to this northwest corner of Louisiana.  Shreveport is home to the annual Louisiana Film Prize, featuring a $50,000 cash award, one of the largest cash payouts in the country for a short film.  The film festival is held the first weekend in October in conjunction with Shreveport’s large fall arts, food and music festival, The Red River Revel. 

Our road to the film festival began several weeks ago when my husband bought us Super Passes to the Film Prize at our neighborhood jazz and blues festival.  The Highland Jazz and Blues Festival is held each year at a park near our house.  I attended the festival this year but didn’t stay the whole time.  I was still a bit gimpy from my knee joint replacement, there were technical problems at the main stage, and the second stage was farther than I wanted to walk. While waiting for them to sort out the electrical problems, we ate food from one of the food vendors, visited with friends and neighbors, and perspired in the September sun.  Then I got into a fire ant bed.  If you aren’t familiar with fire ants, the best word to describe them is “Ouch!”

Poster art by Highland artist, Karen LaBeau
Deciding the fates were aligned against me, I walked home.  Ricky and a friend walked with me, we cooled off with beers, then they headed back to the festival while I stayed home.  Ricky visited all the festival vendors and came home with two Super Passes to the Louisiana Film Prize Fest, available for a discounted price that day. 

The Louisiana Film Prize event keeps growing, and for the last couple of years there has been a music component.  The film prize music festival includes the Music Prize: Emerging Artist Showcase competition. Our super passes meant we could attend the music prize competition, as well as the film festival.  The Thursday before the film festival found Ricky and me at a downtown bar, listening to five bands or solo musicians compete for the $5,000 emerging music award. 

Ricky and me at the Voodoo Cafe: an Art Bar for the music prize competition
There was music for every taste—two loud rock ‘n roll bands, one hip hop artist with a positive message, a soulful female singer/guitarist, and a local band, The Wall Chargers, my personal favorite.   The Wall Chargers defy easy classification.  We first heard three members of this band at a Shreveport House Concert.  Their music has been described as rhythm and blues and folk rock alternative.  They describe their music as “space western” and claim their sound was developed “between dive bars and church camps.”   Cuts from the latest Wall Charger CD, In Between Frames, can be heard here

The Wall Chargers at the Music Prize competition

We didn’t stay to hear which group won that night, because we were going to be back downtown the next morning for the Film Festival. 

Tomorrow's post describes our Film Prize experience.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations

Georgina Howell was given a magazine assignment to write a feature on her hero, someone she always admired.  She knew immediately who her subject would be—Gertrude Bell. 

Bell was a linguist, a gardener, a mountain climber, a published poet, an explorer, an author, an archaeologist, a photographer, a cartographer, a skilled administrator, a British spy, and a major in the British Army.  Howell’s original article about Bell grew into this scholarly, yet highly readable, biography. 
Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations
Georgina Howell
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006
In the early twentieth century, Bell was one of the most powerful women in the British Empire and played an instrumental role in the establishment of Iraq, yet many people in the United States have never heard of her.  More people are familiar with her younger male contemporary, T. E. Lawrence of Arabia.  Upon meeting Lawrence, Bell described him as “an interesting boy, he will make a traveler.” 

Bell was born 1868 in Yorkshire, England, into a wealthy family, but polite society bored her.  Even as a child, Bell had a restless mind and couldn’t sit still.  Her mother died when she was a toddler, but her father remarried a woman who would raise his two children by his first wife and go on to have children of her own.  Bell’s family introduced her into society as a debutante, practically required for a young lady in her social class, but at the same time, her father encouraged Bell to be adventurous and supported her desire for an education.  She was the first woman to be awarded a First in Modern History at Oxford’s Queens College.

When Bell was 30, she discovered mountain climbing.  She was average in height at 5’5” but strong and athletic.  With the assistance of local guides, she went on to climb some of the highest peaks in the Alps.  She climbed a 13,068’ mountain in her underclothes, because there was no mountain gear for women.  When she reached her destination, she pulled out her skirt and put it on.  Later she acquired a pair of men’s trousers for climbing.  One mountain climbing expedition required that she and her guides cut steps in the ice for 3 ½ hours.  She found herself in many precarious situations in her life, but her friends described her as fearless. 

Bell spoke 6 languages fluently, including Persian and Arabic.  She wrote eight books, including a translation and biography of the lyric poet Hafiz, one of Persia’s most famous poets. 
Bell also became interested in “hardy gardening,” the precursor to the English gardens of today, rather than the hothouse gardening then popular in England.  She developed a rock garden and later a water garden at the family home, then wrote a book about it. 

While Bell was accomplished in so many areas, she never had much success in love. The first young man she fancied had a gambling problem and died young.  The love of her life was already married.  He was later killed in WW I, but they were able to spend time together before he went to the front.  She later had an unrequited infatuation with a young male co-worker.

Even with all her previous accomplishments, it was Bell’s “love affair” with the vast area known as Arabia that brought her into her own. Bell described her first sight of the desert:

Oh the desert around Teheran!  Miles and miles of it with nothing, nothing growing; ringed in with bleak bare mountains snow crowned and furrowed with the deep courses of torrents.  I never knew what desert was till I came here; it is a very wonderful thing to see; and suddenly in the middle of it all, out of nothing, out of a little cold water, springs up a garden. Such a garden: Trees, fountains, tanks, roses and a house in it, the houses which we heard of in fairy tales when we were little: inlaid with tiny slabs of looking-glass in lovely patterns, blue tiled, carpeted, echoing with the sound of running water and fountains.

Bell made six extended trips to the Middle East and later in her life lived in Baghdad.   She visited cities we hear on the news—Jerusalem, Amman, Basra, Damascus, Palmyra, Haifa, Aleppo, Istanbul, Mosul, Samarra—then ventured into the vast uncharted miles of desert.  She apparently was as skilled riding a camel as a horse.

While the Ottoman Empire controlled or influenced the populated areas Bell visited, the wilderness was largely uncharted.  Bell wandered throughout the desert, befriended the Bedouin sheikhs who controlled the wilderness and made copious notes about tribal alliances as the Bedouin chiefs defended their trade routes, grazing grounds, and wells from their neighbors and rivals.  Many tribesmen were totally ruthless even to other family members, but Bell spoke their language, she understood the rules of hospitality in the desert, and she was insatiably curious.  Using her knowledge of cartography, she mapped previously unknown parts of this territory.   She entered dangerous places as if there were no question that she had a right to be there. 

Her vast knowledge of the Middle East would make her one of the people responsible for the establishment of nations, especially Iraq, after WW I.  She saw this as a way to promote Arab autonomy.  Having rebelled against the Ottoman Empire, the Arabs did not want to substitute Western control for that of the Turks.  However, the old tribal and religious animosities, plus the discovery of oil in the Middle East, have led to continued problems that have not been resolved to this day.

While Gertrude Bell loved Iraq, the weather and her heavy smoking eventually took its toll on her health.  She died in Baghdad in 1926 at the age of 58. 

Howell’s book contains a helpful chronology of Bell’s life and the events surrounding her life.  The back of the book contains notes linked to pages in the book, but there are no numbers in the text to interrupt one’s reading.  A lengthy bibliography is also provided.  In the front of the book are maps of Bell’s six desert journeys that show her destinations and routes.

In addition to shining a light on a fascinating and gifted woman, Howell’s book also helped me put into context current events in the Middle East.  A movie starring Nicole Kidman, titled Queen of the Desert, was released in 2015 but it didn’t fare well with critics or at the box office.