Saturday, May 03, 2008

Rick Salutes

Rick Salutes
Originally uploaded by Broussardish

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Symbol Status

My wife and I just dropped our son, our first-born, off at college. The ancient trees of his small campus in Maryland were throbbing with the shrill orchestra of cicadas that had recently emerged in droves from their 17 years of larval life underground. I plucked a few of their amber husks and showed them to my son and his roommates. I thought the cicadas were a particularly apt symbol for college freshmen. After all, their fine young minds were just emerging after a similar number of years in the cocoon of homes and public schools, but they were a bit too excited about the opportunities before them to dwell upon symbols of the past.

Back at home, one week later, Hurricane Katrina hit the shoreline of my past. When I was growing up in Florida, my family took an annual summer drive through Biloxi and over Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain Bridge on our way to visit my Cajun grandparents in Lafayette.

The contrast between the secure seaside village where my son was now soaking up great books, and the demolished seaplains of my ancestral homeland made me feel a bit like a survivor of some great tragedy, like a Jew who had traveled out of Warsaw before the Swastika cast its black shadow across Poland.

Since then I’ve heard many people trying to convert the devastation of the Gulf Coast into some kind of dark symbol: Environmental Revenge or God’s Wrath poured out because of Abortion, The War in Iraq, Mardi Gras Debauchery or Fill-in-the-Blank.

I’m a great lover of symbols. Like Orthodox icons, I see them as windows into heaven, links to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. But here’s a lesson I just learned from my son. Symbols pale beside opportunities.

The catastrophe on the Gulf Coast is big enough that everyone in America needs to lend a hand. It’s so big that other countries, so often the beneficiaries of American aid, have an opportunity to return the favors. The purpose of a powerful symbol is not to fixate upon the past, but to guide us toward the future. The great struggles of our history, from the Revolution to the Depression to Vietnam, have become guideposts for our culture. More recent ones, like 9-11, are still being processed. When the challenges are finally faced and overcome, each momentous event can become a symbol of hope and inspiration.

I hope that when Hurricane Katrina is finally boiled down to a historic icon, it stands not as a symbol of judgment or disaster, but one of unity and self sacrifice. In a country (and a world) that is so often divided against itself, that’s the kind of symbol I can get behind.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Eyes of Age

lewis hine boys and girls#1
Originally uploaded by Broussardish.
To me, the closest thing to real time travel is to look at faces in old photographs. See yourself in a face from the past and you can almost see out through those ancient eyes. Imagine how differently we'd view history, and ourselves, if we had photographs from early Rome or from ancient Egypt. Maybe we'd realize that the attainments and excesses of the past are no different from our own. Today, it's politically correct to recognize that race and culture are superficial distinctions. Maybe we should eliminate the temporal chauvinism that allows us to feel superior to our ancestors. Tradition has become something quaint. G.K. Chesterton, who had an acute sense of the endurance of truth, once referred to tradition as "the democracy of the dead." Temporal chauvinism is actually a kind of elitism that says, "We have cars and computers therefore we are superior than our great-grandparents." Any parent can detect the bald fallacy of that line of thought.

One of the challenges of historians is to eliminate this smugness and sense of "otherness" that we feel toward the past. To do this well is sometimes a project of research, but sometimes it's a mission that takes place in the present, for the future. Photographers with a sense of place and time are the chief missionaries in this field, and in his day, Lewis Hine was one of the exemplary expositors of the timelessness of human worth and spirit. A chance to see his work in all its glory is coming up. I encourage everyone to take the trip.

“Before Their Time: Child Labor Through the Lens of Lewis Hine,” a traveling photography exhibition of the New Hampshire Historical Society will be on view this summer at Manchester City Hall, One City Hall Plaza, from July 1 through August 31st. Hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Independent Community
Originally uploaded by Broussardish.
Last night, I had the pleasure of hosting the Concord premiere of a locally made independent film: “Dangerous Crosswinds.” The movie was directed by Bill Millios and featured a cast of local actors and bystanders and it was beautifully filmed on locations all over the seacoast. I had seen the filmmaker’s first effort, “Old Man Dogs,” which was a worthy effort and a good first film for a young director. I knew he was serious about his craft and I assumed that this one would be better. And it was a much better movie, though the acting ranged from amateur to professional and the script could have been burnished a little more in a spot or two.

I had just finished working on New Hampshire Magazine’s biggest event of the year, our “Best of New Hampshire Party,” so I hadn’t given my responsibilities much thought. I only had time to scribble down a few notes for my introduction just before the show, then I typed them up to help imbed them in my mind. Public speaking is not my forte. If there are five points I must make, I tend to lose one or two somewhere along the way.

If something occurs to me as I’m speaking I wind up launching off into it, without necessarily knowing how I’ll get back to the point at hand. The point that occurred to me this time, mid-speech, was the irony that something called “independent film” could become such a community project as this movie obviously was. There were dozens, maybe hundreds of volunteers needed to make the movie happen. At my screening, the director of photography, Marc Vadeboncouer, was running the projector. Half the audience was family and friends of cast and crew.

I realized that this is the paradox of New Hampshire in many ways. We are perhaps the most independent-minded state in a country whose very creed declares the word “Independence” in the title. Go to any little New Hampshire town and you’ll detect a sense of self-importance that would seem irrational if not for the fact that every other little town has the very same attitude and doesn’t mind telling you so.

And yet there is a terrific sense of community here in New Hampshire. Selectmen who conduct an annual examination of their town boundaries to make sure the next town hasn’t encroached an inch, are also volunteer EMTs who will drop everything to rush to the aid of someone five towns away. Our Best of New Hampshire Party brought ruggedly independent restaurants and performers and partiers from all over the state together to celebrate and to raise funds for the good work of Big Brothers Big Sister of NH.

Maybe independence is the glue that holds communities together. Maybe, like Robert Frost once wrote, “good fences make good neighbors.”

Movies are probably the great communication medium of our age. If New Hampshire’s stories are to be told, we will need more independent filmmakers like Bill Millios to tell them. It’s good to have him already pointing the way.

Friday, June 24, 2005

A Taste of Vanilla Fudge

Vanilla Fudge
Originally uploaded by Broussardish.
I"m a fan of Seacoast Notes, an e-mail newsletter from, and one recent article particularly caught my eye.

The famous Hampton Beach Casino recently featured a great 1960s group that looms pretty large in my personal musical memories. The first real rock band I ever saw was Vanilla Fudge (I had seen the Lovin' Spoonful but they were more in the pop-folk vein). I was living in Northwest Florida, and the Fudge played a little venue in the closest "city" -- Pensacola. I rode all the way over from Shalimar (about 45 miles) with two other guys. I called shotgun late and wound up riding in the seatless back of an MG Midget. Once there we walked around the place once, no seats, just standing room in a bad hall, I think it was a school "cafetorium." The band began to play their first number (can't even remember what it was) and Mark Stein dove into a power glissando on his keys. Almost immediately he stood up and walked off stage. The band jammed, gamely, in his absence. When they stopped, the crowd started booing and one of the band members told them to shut up, explaining that Mark had cut his hand on a broken piano key. The concert went on without him and was enjoyable enough, though I don't really remember it. I was fixated on a girl I knew from Niceville who was there. When the band finished up it was still pretty early, and the girl's ride hadn't come. We offered her a ride back with us. Since it was my turn to ride shotgun on the way home, she sat in my lap the whole way. This was a memorable episode, as you might expect, for a 16-year-old boy. I still remember the smell of her perfume. And I owe it all to Mark Stein and Vanilla Fudge.

Sorry I didn't know you were coming.

The Fudge, according to, are the longest running rock band still performing with all their original members. Not bad for a one-hit wonder.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Starting Over

Funny how technology serves and enslaves us at the same time.

Since blogging is now de rigueur for editors and media types, I started my own a while back ( but it quickly became a place for me to share my personal ramblings and ruminations, family photos and stuff like that with friends. Now that it's assumed that a journalist will have one of these public journals, I've been getting lots of folks asking where's mine. But anyone visiting my southstreet site might wonder, "What's with all this personal stuff?"

Funny how technology can make a medium increasingly public and private at the same time.

The high-minded folks who invented television never envisioned Jerry Springer. I never thought that anyone outside my family would want to read my blog. I don't mind if they do. There's nothing there I'd be ashamed of there other than errors in punctuation and spelling. But to create a more "seemly" portal into my point of view as editor and general New Hampshire gadabout, and to have a good answer when people ask me, "What's your blog?", I've created this one, whimsically titled Granite Gumbo.

You see, I live in N.H. but my roots are in Cajun Louisiana. But that's as personal as I'm going to get...

...for now.