Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Billy's on Salon.com Today.

From Salon.com, link in title below

Why can't the NYT and WP agree on Haiti?

How the media's conflicting coverage of race, class and the earthquake evokes memories of Hurricane Katrina
This post originally appeared on Billy Sothern's Open Salon blog.

Those of us who lived in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina are all too familiar with reading stories in the press, written by people unfamiliar with this town, its politics, geographies and citizens who descended just for the big story, that misunderstood either the details of our complicated city or what it and our neighbors endured here.

As we saw in New Orleans, much of what people got wrong was driven by their preconceptions about the city, with some quickly accepting as truth false rumors of unthinkable violence by the poor people abandoned in the city and others failing to realize that the flood destroyed upper-middle-class white and black neighborhoods, along with middle-class white and black neighborhoods, before stranding the city's poorest (flooded and unflooded) residents, who became the most visible face of a much more complicated disaster. (People from other places still sometimes express surprise about this when I explain that a rich, white neighborhood was one of the first to flood.)

So it is unsurprising to see the American media struggle to get the story straight in Haiti, a city that many of the journalists now there were likely completely unfamiliar with a week ago.

I hadn't quite grasped this reality until I saw competing headlines, one in the New York Times on Sunday and another in the Washington Post on Monday, telling stories about the impact of the storm on the rich in Port-au-Prince that seem completely at odds with one another.

The New York Times, on the cover of Sunday's paper, carried the headline, "Earthquake Ignores Class Divisions of a Poor Land." The story is summed up in the following paragraphs:

Earthquakes do not respect social customs. They do not coddle the rich. They know nothing about the invisible lines that in Haiti keep the poor masses packed together in crowded slums and the well-to-do high up in the breezy hills of places like Pétionville.

And so it was with the devastating temblor that tore through Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, last week, toppling houses large and small, and trapping and traumatizing residents no matter where they stood on Haiti’s complicated social scale.

The story in yesterday's Washington Post carried the headline "Haiti's Elite Spared Much of the Devastation" and tells a far different story:

Although Tuesday's 7.0-magnitude earthquake destroyed many buildings in Port-au-Prince, it mostly spared homes and businesses up the mountain in the cool, green suburb of Petionville, home to former presidents and senators.

A palace built atop a mountain by the man who runs one of Haiti's biggest lottery games is still standing. New-car dealers, the big importers, the families that control the port -- they all drove through town with their drivers and security men this past weekend. Only a few homes here were destroyed.

I have never been to Haiti, no less Port-au-Prince or Petionville, but I don't see how both stories can be accurate. But, especially for those of us who have seen a complicated and nuanced place reduced to generalities by someone without sufficient grasp of the place to begin with, it should be a reminder that, from this distance and in the midst of a crisis, it is hard to get any real read of the texture of a place as complex as Haiti.

I suppose it should also come as no surprise that both these stories about Petionville, and so much of the press about New Orleans, seem especially off-base about issues of class and, in New Orleans, the intersection of class and race. While such divisions are, of course, very often visible on the surface of a city, the dynamics are always much more complicated. Take New Orleans, which commentators suggested was segregated between black areas and white areas when in fact the historic city was integrated by design and remains much more racially diverse in its neighborhoods than most American cities, a fact that does little to change that it is also stunningly racially polarized.

While I admire some of the reporting I have seen from Haiti and feel like I am getting a picture of what is happening there (while having to hold back tears at the horror of some of the things that I am seeing), it is worth remembering that there will be things, like the "Babies Getting Raped in the Superdome" story after Hurricane Katrina, that may not hold up under the clear light of day, which will hopefully come soon for Port-au-Prince and Haiti.

Billy Sothern is a criminal defense attorney and writer in New Orleans. He is the author of "Down in New Orleans: Reflections from a Drowned City."

Monday, January 18, 2010

Ways to Give this Season and Have a Blast While Doing It! Part Two: The Camel Toe Lady Steppers Toe Down

This is the second article in a series about lady groups in Nola doing good things for good people while having an excellent time doing so.

This one's about The Camel Toe Lady Steppers, better known as another fantastic group of females that marches in the Muses parade. Their major fundraiser, called the "Toe-Down" donates a percentage of the proceeds to The Roots of Music, which is an after school academic tutoring and music program founded by Rebirth's Derrick Tabb.*

Click on poster or scroll all the way down for information

I interviewed Cynthia Garza, a founder of the CTLS who was gracious enough to take the time to answer some questions during a very busy time of year for the group. There is a LOT of information in this article, including an explanation of the infamous dance-off that goes down between the CTLS and Pussyfooters and a tribute to Miss Antoinette K Doe so read on!

When and why did the CTLS form?

Back in 2003 a group of us thought it would be fun to dress up for Halloween like the majorettes who parade with the marching bands during Mardi Gras. We had big dreams of making costumes that year but ran out of time so we ordered these awful gold lamé boy shorts and crop tops off a danceteam and majorette website…a website meant for high school girls. When we tried them on…well, let's just say the snugness of the shorts inspired the group’s name.

We made huge fluffy yarn tassels for our marching boots, put on some cheap tiaras, and carried batons, which only a few of us knew how to twirl. I had the most dance experience (and I was drum major of my high school marching band way back when so I also had experience with the whistle) so I choreographed two routines for us. We recruited some friends to put together a drum line, and they followed us all night around the Marigny and the French Quarter. There were 8 of us that night. After a few hours of marching and drinking, our Camel Toe cheer was born and our group name solidified, "Hey! Ho! We got Camel Toe!” It was a crazy night. We had hundreds of folks following us up and down Frenchmen and Decatur.

Months later, Casey (our head boss lady) got a call from Muses asking how much we would charge to perform in Muses, and her response was, “Uh,sure, uh, can I get your number and call you back?” We were ecstatic.

What are your colors?

Our colors are hot pink, black and silver, although the original gold lamé was a bigger hit apparently. Our first year marching in Muses was 2004, and we wore jumpsuits in our new colors. Later, on Mardi Gras day, a group of transvestites came up to us during Saint Anne and said, “Girls, you made a big mistake with these costumes. The gold lamé was SO much better. And what were you THINKING choosing black as an accent color for a night parade?” Those bitches totally shamed us, and they were so right. So the next year, we upped the pink and got rid of the a lot of the black.

What have your themes been and what is it this year?

2010 – Urban Carnival (inspired by Ebony Bones, Lady Gaga, and a general carnivalesque aesthetic)

2009 – Camel Toe Cabaret (Bob Fosse)

2008 – Dream Toes (Dreamgirls, Motown)

2007 – Bollywood

2006 – Retro Swim (the year after Katrina – we did an out of water synchronized swim routine in hot pink Esther Williams swimsuits and flowery swim caps)

2005 – 1940s Gangster/Bonnie and Clyde

2004 – Debut year in Muses – no real theme exce

Who all is a CTLS and what are the membership requirements?

Our ages range from women in their mid-twenties to late thirties. Most of us are around 35 or 36. Occupations represented by our members are: professor, burlesque dancer, community activist, jewelry designer, hairdresser, grad student, doctor, lawyer, teacher, interior designer, aerialist, horticulturist, bartender, actor, and arts educator. A lot of us are also moms.

We live in Midcity, Broadmoor, the Bywater, St. Roch, the Marigny, the Riverbend, the 12th Ward, the 7th Ward, the Irish Channel, the LGD, Lakeview, and Central City.

As far as how someone can become a Toe, because we are grassroots in our approach to creating our performances (meaning that we encourage input and creativity from ALL members), we aren’t a very big group (compared to other marching groups in the city). We also look for women who are committed to the carnivalesque, to creativity, and to a certain lifestyle that prioritizes social action through performance. So our new members have integrated themselves into the group organically – mostly through friends – and not through a formal audition process or anything. We fear that if the group gets too big, it will change this dynamic. In the future, though, we would definitely like to add new members and, at that point, it will be about a person’s willingness to give her all in a performance and throughout the months of preparations. Also, we’ve had women interested in membership, and when they realize that they’d have to be at rehearsal EVERY Sunday, volunteering on one of the committees, attending sewing circles, etc., they kinda renege on their interest. It’s a lot of work.

We have five boss ladies that represent the different committees that make up our organization: choreography/dance, costumes, fundraising/PR, accounting, and general organization, and this group meets at the end of summer to start planning. Then we have a general meeting in October at Ernie K. Does’ Mother in Law Lounge to vote on a new costume and theme every year. The dance committee then choreographs two new routines for the theme and in the appropriate dance style, and we organize a workshop in that style to start to get the girls into character and moving in the right way. The costume committee organizes sewing and crafting circles to make the costumes.

In what situations did you march/dance/make appearances then and do now?

Our main event is Muses so we start preparing for that usually at the end of August. We don’t do any other performances (except for our fundraiser) during Carnival Season. Outside of that, we’ve performed for the New Orleans Bingo Show, Liquidrone, DJ Soul Sister, the Dirty Coast Fashion Show, Voodoo Fest, the New Orleans Ballet Association Ball, and the Muses fundraiser.

It appears that you have a separate, smaller group of gals who dance for events. Is this the case?

Of our 40 members who parade in Muses, we have about 15-20 who have some past performance experience. So we have a group of rotating dancers that do stage numbers outside the parade. This is also an outlet for the choreographies I have constantly running through my head. They’re a little more intricate than the parade routines, and they’re meant for the stage (as opposed to the street). Two years ago, we did a skanky goth cheerleading routine to the song “Pussy” by Miami rapper Jackie-O and made huge signs that spelled PUSSY. Last year, we performed a militant Bollywood routine to MIA’s “Boyz”. It was 1/3 Bollywood, 1/3 Public enemy, and 1/3 Afro Cuban fierceness. I know that sounds crazy. I can’t explain how I combine all these aesthetics. They just blend together in my head

This year, we have a marvelously stupid funny routine planned, but you’ll have to go to the fundraiser to see it. I’ll just say this. We think that Marie Antoinette was kinda ghetto fabulous, and if she were alive today, she might wear grills and gold chains.

What is your fundraiser like?

We used to have our fundraiser at Ernie K. Doe’s Mother-in-Law Lounge, but we outgrew it. So for the past three years, we’ve had it at One Eyed Jack’s. Every year, the proceeds are used to pay for our brass band in Muses, and the rest goes to Roots of Music.

We have a variety of acts, but we begin the night with a performance from the Roots of Music Marching Crusaders. They’re middle school aged, but they’re playing at a high school level. Derrick Tabb is doing amazing work. We were all standing in awe, some of us in tears, last year when they performed. Then we rotate acts like Fleur de Tease Burlesque (Trixie Minx, the creative director, is also a Camel Toe), an aerialist group, and a brass band and/or another type of band (this year it’s the Happy Talk Band). We also invite other groups to make an appearance. For three years, it’s been Miss Antoinette and the Baby Dolls, but since she passed away, there’ll be a memorial for her with an appearance from the Dolls.

There’s also a live auction. We have a member of CTLS whose father was an auctioneer, and she’s pretty skilled at it. Other items are raffled through pre-sold raffle tickets. There’s usually an MC. Last year it was Chris Lane, and this year it’ll be Ronnie Numbers from the Bingo Show. And then the main event is the Camel Toe stage performance.

I just joined The Pussyfooters last year and was told that there is a dance off between the CTLS and The Pussyfooters- I was scared to death at the prospect of performing in such a thing, but it never happened last year. What's up with that?

This only happened once, and I don't know the truth about where it got started. On my end, I got a call from Casey, our boss lady, saying that one of her yoga students, who is a Pussyfooter, said that they were going to challenge us to a dance-off on the neutral ground before the parade. Some girls loved the idea and started talking smack. I almost had an asthma attack. So last year, I called Amber Rosean (a Pussyfoter), and this is how the conversation went down:

Me – Hi, Amber. My name is Cynthia. I’m the choreographer of the Camel Toes. I went to the Blush Ball last week and harassed one of your dancers into give me your number.

Amber – Uh, ok.

Me – So are we doing the dance-off again this year? It’s perfectly fine with me if we don’t.

Amber – Honestly, some girls thought it was not a good idea, and we’re thinking of not doing it.

Me – How did that thing start anyway?

Amber – No idea.

And that was that. Larisa (last year's Pussyfooter dance leader) and I agreed later to call it a “dance party” and try again, and I kinda think it’s good to get our nerves out before the parade for a “safe” group. So in that sense, I wouldn’t mind doing it again. But, in the end, both groups were way too drunk to pull it together before the parade in 2009 so I think both Larisa and I conveniently forgot about it. It was hilariously funny the year we did it, though, because the drunk ass Bearded Oysters were egging both groups on. I remember after the Pussyfooters danced, and our brass band was preparing to play, the Oysters were screaming, “Are you gonna take that SHIT, Camel Toes?!” From a performative standpoint, the whole thing was like a drunken messy Big Easy version of us playing out our childhood West Side Story fantasies. Come to think of it, I might lobby to bring the “dance party” back.

Cynthia has Something to Say About Miss Antoinette

Our Camel Toe queen in 2009 and 2010 was Antoinette K Doe. She died days after parading in Muses (on Mardi Gras day) and was buried in the ball gown she wore the night of Muses. Before she dies, I had been talking to her about organizing a female marching group party. Just for fun or as a fundraiser for a chosen organization. She wanted to have it at K Doe’s, but I told her we’d need a space for hundreds. She wanted to bring together the Baby Dolls with all the new groups. I know we’re all busy, but I can’t NOT make Antoinette’s vision come to fruition. When carnival season’s over, I want to pow wow with the Pussyfooters, the Sisters of Salome, Fleur de Tease, and the Bearded Oysters.

Other Camel Toe Chants

My shorts are high and my lips are long, listen while I sing my Camel Toe Song.

Ca-mel Toe...Cam..Camel...Toe...

I got a lip to the left and a lip to the right, my Camel Toe is super tight!

*Raffle Packages this year (can be pre-bought at the door)

  1. WE ARE FAMILY PACKAGE – 12 week session of swim lessons from Love Swimming, Kona Mountain Coffee gift basket, pet boarding and bath at Zeus' Place, gift certificate to Louisiana Pizza Kitchen, and passes for the Audubon Zoo.

  1. LADIES WHO LUNCH PACKAGE -- gift certificate for Café Amelie, gift card from the House of Lounge, Alexa Pulitzer stationary, Rocket Science Beauty Bar gift basket, Ladie Bird hat from Jamie Gandy of Fifi Mahoney's, and a spa treatment from Lux

  1. SPA-LICIOUS! -- 1 hour Jin Shn Jyutsu session with Adele Leas, consultation with nutritionist Danielle Paciera, an orchid from Harold's, yoga classes at Wild Lotus, gift certificate to Satsuma's Cafe, and spa treatment from Spa Isbell.

  1. SPORTS FANATIC -- Gift certificate from Cochon Restaurant, 2 club seats to a Hornets game, a Hornets jersey, gift certificate from the Bridge Lounge, and a Dirty Coast Saints fanatic calendar

Raffle tickets are $5 for one or $20 for 5. The auction packages are even more amazing!! There’s an Art Lovers package and a “Be a Tourist in Your Own Town” Package (with a two-night stay in the Roosevelt Hotel, dinner at Mila, and ballet tickets).


Sixth Annual Camel Toe Lady Steppers Toe-Down Fundraiser
$12 advance tickets, $15 at the door

One Eyed Jacks
615 Toulouse

Friday, January 22 at 9pm