Friday, February 27, 2009

Party Animals

Article lifted from the Times Picayune, but the picture is mine, taken on St. Charles Avenue.

NOPD's horses practice amid pistols, firecrackers and marching bands to get ready for clamor of the Carnival parade season

Friday, February 13, 2009
By Brendan McCarthy Staff writer

In a serene section of City Park, the horses of the New Orleans Police Department's Mounted Division trot around a ring of dirt, about half a football field in size, over and over, with various annoyances placed in their paths.

First a man unfurls a flag as the horses pass. A few buck and whine, but eventually fall in line. Next, a blue tarp is thrown across the ground. Horses don't gauge depth well, and some hesitate on the unsure footing, requiring a rider's coaxing.

For the finale, a man fires blanks, throws firecrackers and tosses canisters that send an orange smoke screen billowing across the ring. All of the horses pass the test.

Next, another curveball will be thrown their way: a live marching band.

This is spring training. It's an annual two-week tuneup before the main event -- a week and a half of Carnival parades -- during which the horses are put through a retinue of tests and practice. Each horse has its own tics: One is scared of the color blue, another is skittish about plastic bags.

Though the horses have undergone extensive training and are used routinely on patrols in the city, the officers who ride them see value in a refresher course, a last run-through before the annual bacchanal.

"We try and get them used to anything they could possibly encounter there," said officer Cedric Davillier Jr., 27, a veteran rider and unit instructor. "To us, this is a very big time of year."

For the officers of the New Orleans Police Department, Carnival season is a grueling marathon of big crowds, rowdy carnival-goers and long hours. This holds especially true for the 22 horses and riders of the Mounted Division, a small and isolated but highly visible unit that finds itself at the forefront of all the city's major events, including the big parades.

"It's elation," officer David Waguespack, 42, said of leading the parades.

The horses, a mixed breed of Percheron and thoroughbred, are one part crime deterrent, one part crowd control and one part public relations tool. They are intimidating, fast and can cut through tight situations or move crowds of people with ease. They are also a conversation starter and a point of contact between revelers and cops.

Unlike the horses in many other police departments across the country, the officers here allow and encourage citizens to pet the horse, chat up a cop and even pose for a photo.

"We are a forceful presence, but we are pretty friendly too," Davillier said.

Just don't slap the horse's rump, rub out your cigarette on the horse or offer the animal one of the many libations sold on Bourbon Street.

"Those are about the only things that will land you in jail," Davillier said.

Throughout the Carnival season, the horses are given "prima donna, spa-style treatment," as one officer put it. And when the crowds are gone, the beads all tossed, the horses get a four-day vacation -- no riders, only rest.

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Mardi Gras Indians 2009

Thanks to Christy Dimos for letting me post her beautiful pictures. And thanks to all the Mardi Gras Indians who let her take their portraits.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Manhã de Carnaval

I went to Ash Wednesday Mass tonight with Tyree. It puts Mardi Gras into context to go to church after everything is over. And the priests of New Orleans have so much imagery to pull from, the ashes aren't even necessary. I get it. I get how ephemeral this world is. How you can't take it with you. Whether the beads are gold, glass or plastic, you can't take them with you. Usually, by Wednesday, you've already figured out that it's all worthless junk you pined for. But some people never figure it out; their whole lives they pine for junk that is worthless in the face of eternity.

Orfeu Negro is one of my favorite movies of all time. I read in the New Yorker that Obama's mother loved it as well, but when he saw it later in life he found it condescending and stereotypical. That could be said, but the film still has a lot to offer us. This closing scene, to me, is perfection. The tragedy is over; the sun will rise again out of the ashes Carnaval leaves behind. It's like a gift from the director after hitting us in the head with our mortality.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mardi Gras 2009

I've just come home from the Rex parade and so my Mardi Gras has officially ended. I don't think I could take it much more. It was so intense and so fun it was simply too much! Here are my favorite pictures. I ended up not taking many pictures I was so caught up in the moment, so these are the best I have. I was very happy with the throws this year.

I caught a total of 9 sets of glass beads, some of which I've already given away. Some are so pretty I will actually wear them during the year.

I was excited about the Krewe of Proteus because I wanted the seahorse beads. I like to take them apart and use them for art projects. They are also special to me because they are one of the many aquatic symbols associated with Iemanja, the Orixa of the sea. So I painted the outline of a seahorse and got showered with seahorses and medallions.
The Flambeaux are the men who carry kerosene lanterns in the parades. They used to have a practical purpose; before electricity they were needed to light up the floats. Now it seems their role is more symbolic, historic. You are supposed to give them money. They often wear masks, many times scary ones. I actually saw a carrier growl at the crowd.

Muses Zulu: Celebrating 100 Years

I caught nine. The sign worked.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Touro: Where Babies Come From

I'm feeling guilty because I skipped my obstetrics class this week. But we were watching "The Business of Being Born" which I'd seen (and meditated on and analyzed with my peers already). But still, I feel bad I missed out on the class discussion. I wanted to post this picture because it ties in well:

I live in the Touro neighborhood of New Orleans. This banner for the Touro Hospital Birthing Center hangs over Prytania, so I see it almost everyday. What interests me is how this marketing campaign reinforces our cultural belief that babies must be delivered in hospitals. Babies don't come from women or families or midwives or homes. They come from hospitals. More specifically, they come from Touro Hospital.

I started wondering why Touro was so agressively advertising its birthing center (there is a similar billboard on Napoleon Ave.) My negative feelings may be a little unwarrented. In looking at the
website, it seems like the birthing center may be what's called a "Baby-Friendly" hospital. Meaning, the hospital tries to do what is best for the infant above what is convinient for the staff. For example, promoting breast feeding and immediate mother to child contact after the delivery.
But I don't really know if that is what Touro is promoting. It also advertises it's state-of-the-art operating rooms. For an elective c-section, I wonder?

It's really just the image I'm interested in. Babies may be born in the hospital, but they are not from the hospital. They are from a woman's womb. I think it's important not to forget that.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Breastfeeding in the Developing World

This famous and tragic picture we discussed in one of my classes. This photograph was taken in Pakistan, with the mother's permission. I can't find out what year it is from, but it has since been used by UNICEF to illustrate the dangers of bottle feeding versus breastfeeding. The infants are actually twins. The mother was mistakenly told she could only breastfeed one. The child on the right did not survive long after the photo was taken.

Formula feeding can be dangerous in countries where access to clean water is limited. Formula can expose infants to contaminants present in unclean water. Another problem is that, while breast milk is free, formula is expensive and mothers are sometimes tempted to dilute it to make it last longer. This can lead to starvation.

Breast milk is full of the very nutrients infants need the most. It's one thing if a woman cannot produce milk, but formula will never be better than breast milk. Mothers should research before deciding to formula feed. Formula should not be promoted in countries where it can actually put infants' health at risk. Diarrhea is the number one killer of infants worldwide and formula can be directly linked to many of these deaths.

New data is now showing that it isn't just that breastfeeding is better, but that not breastfeeding can actually put infants at risk. In the US we need to change laws to make it easier for working women to still give their infants the very best.

Monday, February 9, 2009