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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

St. Joseph Plantation: A Mourning Tour

St. Joseph Plantation, Vacherie, Louisiana

Take a drive along Louisiana's Highway 18, a winding stretch of road that matches the meandering path and measured pace of the Mississippi river, just west of a thin sliver of a town called Vacherie, and you'll soon find the elegant, Creole style St. Joseph Plantation.  If you do so in October you will be able to tour a home that is in the midst of observing the traditional mourning customs of the Creoles.

St. Joseph is a working sugarcane plantation, surrounded by fields of tall, green cane and an industry that supplies over 32,000 jobs to Louisiana.  While sugarcane is grown all across the lower half of the state, it is here, along the banks of this great river, that sugar first became a prominent aspect of New Orleans society.  And it was here that Valcour Aimé, known as the "Louis XIV of Louisiana", built his sugar empire, which included St. Joseph, a home he bought for his daughter Josephine in 1858.

St. Joseph Plantation, Vacherie, LA
Restoration of the plantation began in 2002 by descendants of several families that once owned St. Joseph.  We were pleased to learn that our tour guide for the day would be Diane Butler, a great, great, great granddaughter of Joseph Waguespack, who bought the plantation in 1877.  Diane was more than just a tour guide.  We did not feel as if we were touring a historical museum.  Instead, we felt as if Diane had invited us into her home, spinning tales of her families history as she opened up each room to us.

What really set this tour apart from so many other plantation tours was the way in which Diane wove the stories of those who lived at St. Joseph into those of the families all along this stretch of the Mississippi.  In fact, one quickly came to understand that St. Joseph, like Oak Alley Plantation, Felicity Plantation, Laura Plantation and others in the area, were all a part of a tight-knit community; a neighborhood made up of families that grew up together, intermarried, and whose successes and failures were indelibly tied together.  As proof of this, Diane told us of her grandparents.  Her grandmother grew up at St. Joseph, her grandfather at Oak Alley, and their courtship began as they promenaded along the levy.

Front door draped with black crape and wreaths to indicate a death in the home.

During the month of October, St. Joseph Plantation observes the mourning customs of the early Creoles.  From the road one can first see the front door with crape and wreaths.  This was a way for the family to announce to outsiders that a death had occurred.  In this way concerned friends and relatives did not have to stop and inquire if a sick member of the family was still alive.  They could wait until they saw the draping of the entrance after which they would know the family member had passed.

The body was prepared and placed in a coffin for viewing in the parlor.  Sometimes a bedroom was used.  As the families at St. Joseph were Catholic, a prie-Dieu was placed beside the coffin so that visitors could pay their respects and pray for the deceased.

The coffin lies in the parlor, ready for visitors.

Because embalming was not common until after the Civil War, efforts had to be made to control the odor of death.  Sometimes, a bucket of ice was placed under the coffin to keep the corpse cool.  Candles were lit at both ends while fragrant flowers and greenery were placed about the room.  This was important, since a vigil was kept for two days in which the body was never left alone.

As we followed along with the tour, I wondered about this now abandoned custom.  We are so isolated from the dead these days.  Unless you request to be involved, as my wife did when she applied the makeup for her mother before the viewing, you probably won't have much interaction with the body of your deceased loved one.  Are we missing something when we don't have them in the house for two days?  When one could sit with the body for hours, reflecting on their lives, the impact they made, or maybe needing that chance to say a few words you couldn't before?  Perhaps it is something we need to bring back.  I feel certain it won't ever be.  Certainly not any time soon.

Mirror draped for mourning.

With mirrors covered and clocks stopped at the time of death, a household in mourning seemed to hold its breath.  In a way, time did actually stop as the community gathered to console the family and the deceased was prepared and sent off into the afterlife.  Again, there seemed to be more attention paid to this event, more focus on the man or woman or child who was passing on.  Today we drop by to a viewing after work, and if we can we attend the burial, a short occasion managed by strangers whose business it is to get the body propped up for a quick look and an even quicker eulogy.  Friends and family might stand around for finger foods for a short time.  But in the end we all have to rush back to living.  Death is not a subject over which we like to linger.

Immortelles hang on the wall at St. Joseph Plantation

In one of the rooms at St. Joseph we were shown a collection of wreaths known as immortelles.  These decorative wreaths were often taken to the cemetery during the burial, and might be either left there or brought back to house as a symbol of remembrance.  They often included the use of glass bead and photographs under glass.  The immortelles hanging at St. Joseph were found in the attic.

A mourning dress on display, alongside the portraits of Josephine Aime
and her husband Alexis Ferry.

Of course, much effort went into dressing for this time of mourning.  And for a widow, there were a great deal of rules and customs to follow.  They would wear dull black mourning clothes for the six months during the first stage of mourning, sometimes referred to as deep mourning.  There might be a second stage, half-mourning, in which a few muted colors such as heliotrope (a reddish, blue-red) might be worn.  Though re-marriage was allowed for widows after a year and six weeks, many widows not only did not remarry, they might choose to dress in mourning for the rest of their lives.  Today we would feel the need to tell a widow to move on, to not dwell on their loss, but is that really the best choice?  For many women, then and even now, it may not be.  But it would have been an easier choice to make in the past when it was more socially acceptable to do so.

The rear porch and entrance to St. Joseph's Plantation.

The Mourning Tour runs from October 1st to November 2nd.  And I encourage everyone to take advantage of this peek into customs that have passed from our culture over the last hundred years.  The staff at St. Joseph's are friendly and eager to share their home and history with each and every visitor.  And whether you come for the Mourning Tour or just a regular tour, you'll be glad you did.  The grounds are enchanting and the history fascinating.  It is a beautiful day-trip you won't soon forget.

While you are at the plantation you can buy a copy of the book Early Creole Mourning Customs in South Louisiana.  Most of my research for this blog was taken from its pages.

For more information on St. Joseph Plantation please visit their website:
St. Joseph Plantation

Special thanks to Diane Butler and Denise Borell for their generous help and eagerness to share their family's home and history with us.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Oldsmobile's Rocket of the Past

Oldsmobile Rocket 88 Advertisement: Life Magazine, January 19, 1953

Although NASA was still five years away from the public's collective conscience, rockets were already streaking across the cultural stratosphere in 1953.  Buck Rogers and his 25th Century exploits had been around for twenty-five years.  More than fifty years had already come and gone since Georges Méliès had taken that first Trip to the Moon.  And the grim, technological warfare that engulfed the world ten years before had been filled with the shriek of the German Army's nebelwerfer, the flash of the American Bazooka rocket launcher, and the terror inducing scream of the V-1 rocket and its supersonic cousin the V-2.  So it is not surprising that rockets, which have been around far longer than you might imagine, carried a great portion of Oldsmobile's advertising payload in the 1950's.

How long have rockets been around?
Just ask Alexander the Great,
as depicted by Conrad Kyser in
his "Bellifortis".  (circa 1405 AD)
Oldsmobile introduced the Rocket V8, the first mass-produced overhead valve V8 engine, in 1949.  (Plans were made to call it "Kettering Power", in honor of the project's chief engineer Charles Kettering, but the plans never made it off the launchpad, so to speak.)  The Rocket V8 would continue to be produced in some form until 1990.

But we're rocketing too far into the future.  Let's get back to to 1953.

If you were thinking of buying a new car that year, Oldsmobile wanted to get your attention.  And what better way to do it than a three-page spread in a January printing of Life Magazine?  Christmas has come and gone.  The kids are back in school.  It's cold outside and you're stuck indoors with the latest magazine, one of the few windows on the world at large available to you.  You turn the page, and there it is, streaking across the page: a golden rocket on a black and white background.  How could it fail to grab you by your imagination?

Can you believe it?  The Rocket you've been hearing your pals talk about, that wonder of the driving world, the Rocket V8, now has higher-power, higher compression and higher-voltage?  A full-on 165 horsepower?  (And that jerk co-worker was bragging about his '49 Rocket with a measly 135 HP!)  Maybe driving dad's '42 Ford Rattletrap for the last few years was worth it.  After all, the war's been over for eight years now, and money's not as tight as it was...and that is a really cool, sleek rocket...

You want a rocket.  Guys want rockets.  We all want a rocket!

And why wouldn't you?  Look what it says: the new "Ruling Power of the Road"...latest and greatest version of the most famous engine in automobile history.  Hey, it also says "see next page".

So turn the page already!

Oh yeah, you gotta buy this car.  And look what it says: it's the car you've been waiting for...most beautiful, most powerful ever built!  And it has the new Pedal-Ease Power Brakes (for quicker, surer stopping power!).  New Power-Ride Chassis?  New Power Styling?  That is crazy, as the kids are saying nowadays.

And boy does that hood look better than dad's Ford?  No contest.

Now, if only the wife won't complain too much when you use all your savings to get this baby.  But I'm sure she'd be happy if you bought one.  Just look at how happy that couple is:

The only real question is which model to buy?  The featured model in the ad is a "88 Holiday Coupe".  If its $2,673 price is a little high, you could grab the base model, which was re-christened for '53 as the "DeLuxe 88" for only $2,262.  But why settle for the base model when you could spend just a bit more, $2,395 for the "Super 88"?    Doesn't that sound...super?  Hey, just a wee bit more, $2,853, gets you in that convertible coupe.  Of course, there's always the step-up to the classic 98 series...but that's gonna cost you closer to three thousand dollars.

What the ad doesn't tell you is what Oldsmobile couldn't know at this time.  Due to a fire at GM's Livonia, Michigan Hydra-Matic transmission plant later in the year, thousands of the '53 Oldsmobile 88s would be built with the Buick two-speed Dyna-Flow transmissions.  Which one was a better transmission?  I'll let you readers debate that below.

All I know is I want a rocket.  A Rocket 88.  Don't you?

(Sales prices and production numbers found at HowStuffWorks.)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

GE is Beneath Your Christmas Tree

As promised in last week's blog, I'm introducing you to the GE Christmas Guys.  As you can see, they're a bit rummy, having been at the eggnog on a cold wintry day.  But they're eager to share their joy of GE products as they give you the low-down on the high points of these marvelous gifts available to the good people of 1962.  So here's what the GE Christmas Guys were pushing on the readers of Life Magazine on December 14th, 1962.

Every great gal in your life needs a bag over her head.  And here's one attached to an electric fan and a heating element.  This pink bouffant bonnet comes in a handsome travel case, which your wife might need if you give this to her for Christmas.  It'll be easy to include as she packs up to leave you.

Let's assume that the GE Christmas Guy in this picture is just napping, and that he wasn't electrocuted by the "Waverly" automatic blanket.  I've never been a fan of this idea.  Wrapping yourself with energized copper wire is grabbing hold of the atomic age a bit too literally.  Sure, it was the Sixties, and everything was going electric.  But let's try to keep the flow of electricity out of the sheets, huh?  There are better ways to keep warm in bed without resorting to regulated voltage.

Does anyone iron out there anymore?  I don't know.  I remember my mother ironing, and ironing, and ironing.  Seemed like our clothes didn't look much different than they do now, and my wife doesn't iron much.  Pretty sure that in the old days our clothes were made out of something akin to saran wrap.  I mean, just consider how badly they always wrinkled.  Come to think of it, many of the clothes back then were closely related to plastic wrap.  They were actually plastic.  All that polyester and rayon.  Even the cotton clothes wrinkled constantly.  But at least with this gift from GE, as they suggest, you can open your gift and iron out the wrinkles on your Christmas party dress.  That's supposed to sound wonderful, but it mostly sounds like a sad Christmas moment.  Let's move on.

 Nothing says "special Christmas" like an automatic can opener.  Especially one that is designed to opened cans with blank, blue labels.  Mystery meat, I'd guess.  Love the copy here--"Opens that can of cranberry sauce electrically."  And don't miss the fact that this puppy has a governor-controlled motor.  And the special bonus here is the pre-safety-conscious-society decision to manufacture this without a guard on the cutting device.  As a child, I always imagined what it would be like to catch your finger in that metal-chewing mechanism.  That I still have all ten fingers is a testament to sheer luck.

"Hey mom, here's your gift!  Open it first so you can bake us all a Christmas cake!"  Kids are so cute.  So are husbands who buy portable mixers for their wives and tell her it's from the kids.  Now she's no fool.  In 1962, mom knows perfectly well that dad put the kids up to this so she can mix drinks for him with the free drink mixer attachment.  I'd suggest he not toss in that optional accessory for sharpening knives.  

"From December 26th," this ad reads, "housecleaning will never be easier!"  Yeah, but your wife may never be easy to get along with ever again.  I doubt most wives would even be impressed that this vacuum has a double-action tool.  I might be, if I knew what that meant.  But I'm not gonna ask the GE Christmas Guy hanging from the hose.  Let's see what's left under the tree.

Coffee?  Now we're talking.  I think GE might have a winner here.  Since Keurig machines won't be invented for another forty-plus years, a Peek-A-Brew Coffee Maker is not a bad idea.  Not only will it count the cups, but it will keep the coffee hot.  Now we just have to wait until flavored coffees are offered in the coffee aisle at the local shopping center.  Toffee Pumpkin Skinny Lattes won't be available for quite a while yet!  You'll have to stick with plain cream and sugar.

Thanks to the GE Christmas Guys for their wonderful gift ideas.  For all you newly married young men out there, don't listen to these guys.  Cleaning and cooking supplies aren't your best bet for a young wife's Christmas gift.  Maybe on occasion, if she specifically asks for something.  But I'd avoid buying her anything like knife sharpeners and bags for her head.  I think we can all agree that's just a little common sense.

Here's the full ad that ran in Life Magazine.

For more Christmas ideas from the past, check out last year's posts on Burstein-Applebee.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Shopping in Life, December 14, 1962

Life Magazine, December 14, 1962

For those of you who think online shopping is a break from the important traditions of Christmas, I want to take a little time to remind readers how they might have shopped for their loved ones' Christmas presents fifty-two years ago.

No, your grandparents weren't hoping for the latest smartphone.  They were hoping for the latest Kodak!  And why not?  With "steadiness built in" and a new shape that "gives you a firmer grip for sharp, clear pictures", the Brownie Super 27 Outfit could be bought in toto for less than $22.00.  (That's $172.96 for you and me.)

But wait, there's more, as you might have guessed.  The Brownie Starmite has a built-in flash!  Or what about the Brownie Starmeter with its built-in eexposuremeter?  Or there's that electric eye (an electric eye!  We aren't kidding here, an electric eye!) in the Kodak Automatic 8 movie kit.  This baby sets the lens opening automatically for beautiful movies.  Heck, buy the movie kit and the movie projector for just $118.00.  (Just under $1000.00 in 2014.)  And don't forget, this price includes the lamp bar and lamps.

Now here you'll see that some things never change.  Watches are still a common gift found under the tree.  (I still remember one I opened when I was about twelve.  There is nothing like seeing the sparkle of a new watch on Christmas morning.)  And here we see Bulova, a watchmaker that is still ticking.  I'm partial to the Bulova Beau Brummel, since I'm a man who demands dramatic styling.  Heck, at just $115.00, this timepiece is almost affordable.  Uh, except...that's the 1962 price.  Today that would be $904.13.  A bit steep for me.  I'd have to stick on the lower end of that $24.75 to $2500.00 range.  (Yeah, the high end of that would now be $19,665.00.)  The highest Rolex I can find now is under $10,000.  And Bulova has nothing even close to that.  So it is safe to say watches are a bit more reasonably priced today.  Maybe that's why Bulova thinks wishes were watches.  And they wish they were getting prices equivalent to 1962.

Okay, you knew I'd slip a car in here somewhere.  And let me just be up front.  If any of my family wants to buy me a 1963 Buick LeSabre I would not turn it down.  After all, "for all its sleek beauty, there's a lot of hustle built into the full-size LeSabre."  Hey, I mean, it has Advanced Thrust engineering.  And you know what that means, right?  Uh, it means straight tracking, flat cornering, and precision handling.  Oh, don't forget the trigger-quick response of its famous Turbine Drive--optional but sensationally smooth!.  And who knew that the Safety-X frame construction ends rattles?  (Now that I think about it, I bet my father-in-law knew it did.)  Clearly a gift I'd cherish.

Now, how about something to liven up your Christmas party?  Well, at least something to liven up Jack Carter and his wife Paula Stewart.  According to this add, he's a noted screen and TV comedian, and she's an actress, though I don't guess she's noted.    (Now, I know a lot about old TV--Jack Parr, Steve Allen, Jack Benny, Milton Burle, etc--but I've never heard of Jack Carter.  He looks really vaguely familiar, but I'm stretching it here.  Basically, I think Heublin Cocktails paid for cheap talent here.  But then again, I don't remember Heublin, either.  Anyone out there remember Jack or his cheapskate sponser?)

I do know that Jack and his wife and their little party look pretty sad without those cocktails.  And we can guess that they can at least act happy with the cocktails.  At least for the cameras.

I'm tossing in this vintage ad from Bacardi not because I enjoy a little eggnog and rum from time to time.  I'm tossing it in so you can see the creepy elves that were hawking Bacardi rum in 1962.  Let's be honest, elves are weird nearly all the time.  But these little creeps are scary.  I think I saw something like them in a Tales from the Crypt episode.  Don't believe me?  Take a closer look.

I don't know about you, but I'm afraid to find out what this old rummy is mixing into the eggnog.  I think it would be prudent to pass on this holiday beverage.  We'll just smile, nod, hold out a hand in the universal gesture that says "I'm trying to cut back, my belly's getting a bit too big, and you're too creepy to mix my drink.  And Merry Christmas!"

Check back next week for a special appearance by the GE Christmas Guys.  They're not as creepy as the Bacardi elves.  I mean, for starters, they aren't trying to slip strange, possibly lethal concoctions into your Uncle Harry's glass at your family get-together.  Lord knows that's the last thing Uncle Harry needs.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

Oak Alley Plantation: An Iconic View (Part Three)

Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie, Louisiana

For the final portion of our tour, I promised to take everyone inside the main house at Oak Alley.  A man's reputation is won and lost on how he handles his promises, and I wouldn't want to give the impression that my promises are not worth the Ethernet they're written on.  So let's go ahead and amble up to the front door.  There we'll find a friendly guide to take us through the front door.

Here you can see the front door, and the beautiful scene that awaits visitors.  Don't be shy.  Step right in.  You are more than welcome to enjoy the wonderful scenes that await in every room.

Now, to be honest with you, I won't even try to describe the historical details and architectural features of the house.  For that, be sure to take the tour yourself.  Our own guide was bursting with stories and details that make the tour well worth the ticket price.  But I would like to share a few pictures that we took as we made our way through the house.

Speaking of guides, here you can see our guide, dressed as if she stepped right out of the Antebellum era.  For those of you who aren't familiar with the term, Antebellum refers to the period of time before the American Civil War.  That is the era to which this term is attached in the United States.  From what I understand, the rest of the world considers the years leading up to World War I as the Antebellum era.  But for our purposes, and this tour, we'll stick with the American definition.

The pictures on the far wall are paintings of Jacques and Celina Roman, who lived in this house from 1836 to 1866.  (Celina lived in the house after Jacques' death in 1848 until her own death in 1866.)

A punkah fan hangs over this long dining room table.  When the family had slaves, a house slave would sit in the corner and pull on a rope.  This kept the fan in motion, cooling the diners as they ate.

We were encouraged to keep an eye out for ghosts, especially ones that might show up in our photographs.  An active imagination might be tempted to think I caught one here, but I'll have to disappoint everyone and point out it is only the glare from the sun.  (Or is it?)  The stairs are quite steep, and in fact, one of the Roman children, Louise, fell down stairs when her hoop skirt caught.  She lost a leg in the accident.  Though it was thought that she fell down the stairs in Oak Alley, recent reports tell us she in fact was in New Orleans at the time.  But if you stand at the top of the stairs here, you can believe how easy it would be to fall down such steep stairs.

On the second floor you'll find the Roman's bedroom.  It was here that Jacques Roman died in 1848.  The historical detail in this room is wonderful to examine, including the chandelier.

Be sure to check out the detail work above the lights.

Across from the Roman Bedroom is the only room in the house that is not decorated in the Antebellum style.  This was Josephine Stewart's room.  She lived in the house from 1925 until October 3, 1972.  Mrs. Stewart founded the Oak Alley Foundation, which enables the plantation to remain open for the public.

For more information on Josephine Stewart, click here.

And if you missed the first two parts of this tour be sure to check them out.

For more information on Oak Alley, be sure to visit their website:  Oak Alley Plantation

To see all of our posts featuring Louisiana Plantations click on the link below:
Louisiana Plantations at Room With No View

And check out our newest 2015 New Orleans Calendars:

Friday, October 17, 2014

New Orleans 2015 Calendars from Saint James Infirmary Books

New Orleans 2015 Calendars are now available.  Check out this unique tour of the city of New Orleans.
The first of our New Orleans Calendars feature some very different looks at the French Quarter.  New Orleans is known for its lamp posts, and we usually see them photographed at night.  But you can't miss them during the day either.  They are everywhere you look.  We thought it would be fun to focus on them this year.

Our second calendar this year focuses on the exposed brick of the French Quarter.  We love the brilliantly painted facades of the Vieux Carré, but we also can't help but notice all of the exposed, often heavily weathered brickwork that adds depth to the French Quarter views.

Just click on the links below to get your calendar.  We hope you enjoy them!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Halie Loren: Simply Lovely

Halie Loren's 2008 award winning CD "They Oughta Write a Song" propelled her into an international music career that has grown stronger every year.  Room With No View was not only fortunate enough to catch her performance in Lake Charles, Louisiana in March of this year, but fortunate enough to connect with her for a virtual interview.

ROOM WITH NO VIEW: Halie, welcome to Room With No View and thanks for taking this time to sit and chat with us.  You completed a tour of the Southeastern United States earlier this year.  I was fortunate enough to see your wonderful performance here in Lake Charles.  How was the rest of the tour?  

HALIE LOREN: The tour was a wonderful one, through-and-through... it was our first time touring in Alabama and Mississippi, as well as southern Louisiana, so we got to see a lot of country that was brand new to us. Hope we get to go back soon and spend a little more time there!

ROOM WITH NO VIEW:  You mentioned in the concert that you were recently in Japan and that you have become quite popular in that country.  How did that come to be?

HALIE LOREN: The reasons and ways in which my music suddenly emerged and became well-known in Japan is a lovely mystery to me, as I truly don't know the exact origin, but I certainly count my lucky stars that my music has found such a welcome home in Japan! I love having so many opportunities to travel and tour there and to meet fans and hear their stories and take silly photos with them and learn about their children who've recently been inspired to become jazz musicians... it's a beautiful thing.

ROOM WITH NO VIEW: I know you did some work with the Red Cross after the 2011 earthquake that devastated Japan.  On Amazon, a fan from Japan wrote this: “I am a Japanese. I lost my house by the Tsunami of the big earthquake last year. For healing of the heart, I heard live of my favorite Halie Loren in Tokyo. And I had her sign a CD. It is my treasure.”  That’s a pretty nice compliment, don’t you think?

HALIE LOREN: That comment both breaks and heals my heart in profound ways... and yes, a very humbling kind of compliment. The kind that really brings me back to the realization of what my role is as a music-maker in this life, which is connecting people to the beautiful and moving things in their own lives by inspiring them through song and the feelings that music can evoke. Music is a deeply human thing that crosses all national and cultural boundaries – we are all music lovers. I am so grateful that my music has been embraced by so many people in Japan.

ROOM WITH NO VIEW: Is there any difference between audiences in Japan compared to here in North America?  

HALIE LOREN: I find that there are more similarities than differences among enthusiastic music fans, regardless of where I play. I will say that I've never been so lavished with gifts and chocolates as I've been each and every tour in Japan... I feel like it's my unofficial birthday every time. It's the sweetest thing!

ROOM WITH NO VIEW: I know you like to sing in French, have you tried singing in Japanese?  

HALIE LOREN:  Yes, I do sing a bit in Japanese in addition to French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and bits and pieces of other languages from time to time... it's a guilty pleasure of mine, more than anything, as I just love exploring the sounds of other languages. I guess you could say I'm a linguaphile!

Halie Loren and Matt Treader at McNeese University, March, 2014

ROOM WITH NO VIEW:  There are so many great jazz songs out there to choose from, and considering you are gifted enough to write such wonderful songs as “Thirsty”, “In Time”, and “Danger in Loving You”, I wonder how you ever finalize which songs are going to end up on an album like this?

HALIE LOREN: You are so right – there are so many great jazz songs out there, and it's a bit torturous to have to choose only a few to record or perform at any given time. My bandmates would attest to the fact that writing set lists is akin to agony for me, as I find it nearly impossible to narrow down a list that excludes any of my favorite songs... but when a list of “must-do” songs amounts to the better part of a hundred titles, it's no easy task. So... imagine how hard it is to choose the songs to feature on an ALBUM. I literally stay awake all night, more often than I care to admit, making lists and bargaining with myself over what songs should or should not make the cut when I'm in the album recording process. In which I currently am, by the way. Let's just say I don't get enough sleep these days.

ROOM WITH NO VIEW: Do you ever record a classic jazz song and decide it just isn’t working?  Have you ever had to leave one off an album because you just couldn’t get it right?

HALIE LOREN: There are occasions when we record something that feels like the song just doesn't fit with the other songs, or the concept is almost there but not quite, or we just run out of time and energy... I always end up recording more than would fit on an album, so there are always things left “on the cutting room floor”, so to speak. We often perform songs in concert that just didn't make it onto albums for one reason or another, and some of them end up being huge live higHalie Lorenights for us. A couple of those found their moment in the sun on the new album we are working on, in fact, and their timing couldn't be more perfect!

ROOM WITH NO VIEW:  You were brave enough to sing “What a Wonderful World” in Louisiana, which takes moxie, considering here in the birthplace of jazz we sort of think that song belongs to a certain singer/trumpet player by the name of Louis Armstrong.  Now first, let me assure you and our readers that you have no reason to worry.  I feel even Satchmo would have approved of your performance.  The song was great, especially as an encore.  But I wonder, do you ever feel intimidated when you take on a song that was made popular by such classic performers like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, or Dean Martin?

HALIE LOREN: Luckily, I don't think about comparisons too often – otherwise, I'd be terrified to touch the vast majority of the American Songbook, which has been performed by every jazz great in history. Of course, there are times when we are working up an arrangement to a standard and we're all inspired by certain versions of those songs, and want to include certain elements that we feel really serve the song. Overall, though, my perspective on performing any song is to relate to it in a very personal way. Sometimes that means that we feel inspired to completely re-work a song's identity – twisting the rhythm, the chords, melodic shifts. Sometimes that means retaining a lot of a song's classically known style, if it feels unequivocally “right” for us. I'm not trying to be Frank or Ella or Dean, or the more contemporary examples of Diana Krall or Jane Monheit, or even reminiscent – this might sound hackneyed, but I'm at a place in my artistic life, after 16 years of professional musicianship and continuously finding endless inspiration in music from all corners of the globe and great singers from all genres, where I know I can only really find creative satisfaction in being the best me. Comparison and emulation are great teachers, but can only get you so far before you have to find your own voice and know how only you can use it.

(c) 2011, photo by Sally Sheldon (Pink Caterpillar Photography)

ROOM WITH NO VIEW: Speaking of songs made popular by other singers, one of your latest tracks was first sung by Audrey Hepburn—“Moon River”. It is such a sad song, how did this end up on an album alongside “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “Bare Feet”?

HALIE LOREN: “Moon River” is such a gorgeous song, and quite sad in that nostalgic dreams-unrealized way. It's as beautiful for the space as it is for the notes – both melodically and story-wise – so I wanted to really bring that sense of tenuous hope and heartbreak to our rendition.

ROOM WITH NO VIEW: You broke my heart when you didn’t perform it in Lake Charles. Do you ever perform it live? 

HALIE LOREN: I do indeed perform it live... so sorry we didn't play it for you! If I'd only known... but, as I mentioned earlier, those set list conundrums are seriously tough!

ROOM WITH NO VIEW: So you change up your song list from performance to performance?

HALIE LOREN: Yes, we change up song lists every time we play.

ROOM WITH NO VIEW:  You started out as more of a pop singer before sliding into jazz.  You could easily build an amazing career in either genre, but you seem to have concentrated mostly now on jazz.  Has jazz always been there as you began to sing or did you come to it late? Are you there to stay?

HALIE LOREN: I've listened to and loved jazz since I was much too young to understand what genres were and why they matter. As for that last bit, I still wonder about that. I was exposed to so much variety in music from day one (thanks, Mom!) that I developed very eclectic tastes quite early in life... when I was 10, my favorite singers were Nat King Cole, Annie Lennox, Jewel, Patsy Cline, and Etta James. That array of influences – jazz, pop, folk/singer-songwriter, classic country, and blues – have really found their way into my musical vocabulary throughout my career. As an artist, the idea of committing indefinitely to one genre classification or another was a paralyzing concept to me, and kept me from making strides into music recording for years. As it was, I released my first album – which you rightly defined as more pop in nature – at age 21. My first foray into recording jazz was a just-for-fun venture, thinking that it would be great to finally have something recorded in the style of music that I'd been performing all my life alongside all the other types of shows I was doing, but it ended up winning international awards and accolades and finding its way to Japan and, well, you know a bit about the rest of that story. Jazz has always been a big part of my personal musical heritage, and has always felt like a really natural fit, but it wasn't until 5 years ago that I thought I could actually have a vibrant career in it. As for building careers in other genres, I rather like the idea of doing away with adhering to any genre, and just make the music I need to and want to make, conveying the stories of old songs and new songs alike.

ROOM WITH NO VIEW: I have a confession to make: I have a Spotify list that I created called Modern Torches, which is made up of your music, mixed with the music of Melody Gardot, Carla Bruni, Stacey Kent, Jill Barber, and a few others. Have you ever considered any collaborations, maybe with Harry Connick Jr.?

HALIE LOREN: First of all, that is awesome! Second, yes. If Harry wants to duet with me, I'm all in! Whatever the song is. I don't care if it's a shuffle version of “Macarena”... actually, that might be awesome...

ROOM WITH NO VIEW: When we first talked about this interview in April, you were busy working on something in the studio. Are you able to talk about that yet?

HALIE LOREN: I was indeed! I was busy recording a bonus track of a song to be featured on a new “best of” compilation album that just came out in Japan last week (“Best Collection”). It debuted at #1 on the Billboard Jazz chart in Japan, too, which I just learned of a few days ago! I'm quite happily surprised about that. In other studio news, I'm busy creating a new album of songs, this time venturing into somewhat new territory. There's a lot more of a soul vibe happening with this project, and more original material... I'm excited to follow it, wherever it leads me, as it keeps growing, and to share it with the world in early 2015.

ROOM WITH NO VIEW: Around that same time you were nominated by the Independent Music Awards for two songs:   “Cuando Bailamos”, (Larry Wayne Clark, co-writer), in the Jazz Vocal category and “Simply Love”, (Benita Hill, co-writer), in the Acoustic categories. That’s very impressive! “Simply Love” is a wonderful, dreamy song. But could you talk about how the title and tag line of “Cuando Bailamos” came to be?

HALIE LOREN: “Cuando Bailamos”, which is “when we dance” in Spanish, came from this story idea I had during a chat with my late great friend Larry... I described a scene in which strangers meet on the dance floor, and experience the kind of chemistry that can lead a romantic to start envisioning that the other person could be “the one”, and kind of getting carried away by that notion. Larry started playing the sumptuous bossa rhythm and chords of the verse, and things flowed accordingly... even though it's in the bossa nova tradition, Spanish lyrics were what I heard in my mind for the chorus (rather than Portuguese), so that was what we went with.

Halie Loren and Mark Schneider at McNeese University, March, 2014

ROOM WITH NO VIEW:  I always try to get at least one odd question into an interview, so let me try this:  I had the role of Winthrop in a High School production of The Music Man.  Trust me, it did not lead to bigger and better things.  But if you were given the chance to star in a remake of any musical film, which musical would you choose, and who would you like to see as your co-star?

HALIE LOREN: Oh, wow. That is definitely something I have never ever, ever thought about. I hate to say it, but I'm not very familiar with a lot of musicals. Can I turn it around and say that I think “The Never Ending Story” should be made into a musical? I would want to play the dragon. And Atreyu could be Bruno Mars. And the Empress... oh my, well, I hear Beyonce is the actual global empress, so she's a pretty safe bet.

ROOM WITH NO VIEW: Halie, you’ve been so kind and generous since we first talked about this interview.  Good luck with the new album and may you continue in your much deserved and hard-earned success.  Just one last question.  Where am I going to have to travel to hear you sing “Moon River” live?

HALIE LOREN: Just let me know when you're coming to another concert of mine, and it's a done deal!

For more information on Halie, be sure to read my review of her concert: Halie Loren, a Balcony View.

Also, check out her website at or follow her on Facebook.  And we here at Room With No View wish a Halie a happy birthday, which is later this month.

Simply Love is her latest album, which includes the amazing "Moon River".  After Dark is full of excellent standards but the best track on the album is the title track.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Gotham: A Review of a Fantastic Idea

Gotham, Warner Bros, FOX Television

Gotham, a new crime drama on Fox, has a real chance to do something different.  And there were glimpses of it in the premiere.  This is an origins story that takes a really big step back into the future of Batman.  In fact, Bruce Wayne is just a child here, and his parents have only just been murdered.  but the show is not about Bruce Wayne.  It is about a rookie detective, Jim Gordon (Benjamin McKenzie).  The real promise of the show is not the origin of Batman.  Nor is it the evolution of Jim Gordon as he makes his perilous way up the ladder to Police Commissioner.  The real origin stories here that could captivate us are those of the Batman villains: Penguin, the Joker, Poison Ivy, the Riddler, and Cat Woman.  This is the what will make or break the show.

First impressions:

Jim Gordon is a solid base for the show.  A sort of LA Confidential Russell Crowe type who makes up for his lack of charm with his zeal for justice.  But he'll need to add something soon before he becomes a boor.  I'm confident he will.  I have a feeling they've made him a bit blunt at the beginning in order to allow him to evolve into a seasoned, street-wise white knight.

Oswald Cobblepotts: Our first look
at Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor)

Penguin is the first diamond in the rough here.  I really like Penguin--both the character and the actor. The character's name is Oswald Cobblepot, played exquisitely by Robin Lord Taylor.  There is so much promise here I'm both excited and ready to be disappointed.  If the writers screw this up I'm gonna be angry.  Penguin is immediately vicious and sympathetic.  That's not easy to do.  I've always enjoyed Penguin as a villain over the more over-the-top Joker, and Hollywood did not get it right back when Danny DeVito portrayed him in 1992's Batman Returns.  In fact, they ruined the character so thoroughly that we haven't really seen him until this new version of him, twenty-two years later.

Sean Pertwee caught my attention as Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred Pennyworth.  Here is an Alfred I don't think we've seen yet.  Not the old grandfather stand-in as he was played by Michael Gough, nor the wise counselor as played by Michael Caine.  And certainly not the bumbling old-timer as played by Alan Napier in the 1960's television show.  This new Alfred is going to be a bulldog.  Sure, he's still the proper Brit, but he's got some real grit, some real fight in him, and he's going to be the man to shape Bruce Wayne as he grows from a child into a super-man.  Pertwee's Alfred already seems cynical, wary, and capable of making sure the heir to the Wayne fortune does not grow up to be a fool.

The real concern I have is the low budget effects.  This looks like something done on straight-to-video movies from fifteen years ago.  I don't mind them, but they could turn off potential viewers.  And if Fox doesn't see enough viewers they'll never increase the budget, which means it might never be more than one season.  And that's too bad, because this could really evolve into a masterful story.  But they've chosen to start at such a young age for Bruce Wayne that this will take years to gain ground, and years to reach a fever-pitch level to the emergence of Batman.  And that's what should happen.  This story should take a long time to germinate properly.  But I have serious doubts that our want-it-now society could wait that long.  I have little faith that FOX would give the producers of Gotham the time needed to do this right.

Only time will tell.  In the meantime, I'll enjoy as much of it as I can and hope for the rest.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Oak Alley Plantation: An Iconic View (Part Two)

Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie, Louisiana.

For our second look at Oak Alley we will take a walk down the back alley.  That's right.  There are, in fact, two magnificent approaches to the house.  The trees are younger here, some of them having been planted over a hundred years later than the oaks in the front of the house by the Roman family, the rest of them added by the Stewarts another hundred years later in the 1930's.  This approach is the path visitors first use to reach the main house.

The centerpiece at the end of the lane is an iron sugar kettle, once used to refine the sugar that was the main product of this plantation.  Four kettles, the largest seven and a half feet in diameter, the smallest four feet in diameter, comprised what is known as a Jamaica Train, where cane juice was processed into crystallized sugar.  Molasses, a by-product of the process, was also produced.

Walking past the sugar kettle, and out to the end of the back alley, visitors will find the Oak Alley Restaurant, housed in a turn of the (20th) century quarter house.  It was here that tenanted farmers and their families lived, each square building consisting of four rooms centered on a single fireplace.

Breakfast is served here from 8:30 to 10:30.  Beignets and coffee are a popular choice here, as well as their Pan Perdue, a French toast covered in confectionery sugar and cane syrup.  Since it opens earlier than the house tours this is a great chance to relax and fuel up before walking the grounds.

Lunch is served from 11:00 to 3:00 p.m. with an emphasis on Cajun and Creole cuisine.  You'll have your choice of red beans and rice, fried alligator nuggets, crawfish etouffée, gumbo and a daily special from chef Antonio Reymundo.  (And don't forget to grab some bread pudding with whiskey sauce, unless you'd rather have some pecan pie.)

There is also a café open from 9 to 5 p.m. where you'll be able to grab a quick refreshment if you weren't planning on a full meal.  It is located in the gift shop, which is connected to the restaurant.

Across from the restaurant and gift shop is Oak Alley Spirits.  It was a little too early in the day for us to sample the Apple Pie Moonshine, though it did sound intriguing.

Between the restaurant and the main house is a reconstruction of the plantation's slave quarters.  The Slavery at Oak Alley exhibit, which was added in July of 2013, is an educational memorial to the slaves that built and worked this plantation.  Though slavery is forever tied to its history here, keep in mind it was only in use at Oak Alley for thirty years.

The exhibit does not shy away from the ugliness of slavery.  On display are shackles as well as implements used for punishment, including neck shackles with bells, used as a way to make it harder for an escaped slave to hide.  The children's transport shackles in the center of the picture are especially sobering.

I really liked this simple yet moving memorial inside one of the cabins.  Alongside the wall of names is a plaque that reads:

Between 1836 and the Civil War, 198 men,
women and children were enslaved at Oak Alley.
Dehumanized and quantified like any other
commodity, they appear in sales and records and
inventories, yet as people they have been all but
forgotten by history.

This is a respectful recognition of the people on whose
backs this plantation was built.  For most of them, a
name is all that remains of their story.

There is also an interactive Civil War Encampment on the grounds as well as an 1890's blacksmith shop.  If you have the time you might also enjoy the antique car garage, featuring cars from the 1920's representing the Stewart era.

In part three of our tour we will step inside the main house and look at what life was like for the Romans and Stewarts.

If you missed part one of the tour, you can follow this link to it: Oak Alley (Part One)
For more information on Oak Alley see their website here.