Shameless Plug Day
Shameless Plug Day
Little known is that today is Shameless Plug Day for small creative intellectual types. This is the day when we plug our books and art and music and whatever else we create to earn a living. So little known, that is seems I created it just this morning. Alas, I won’t make a dime on it. But I thought it up because I saw, on Page 1 of our Advocate, that Jackson Barracks in New Orleans just reopened. It had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. That storm put my electric out for 8 hours and felled some trees in the neighborhood, with one house cleaved in two diagonally. It was not brutal in Baton Rouge at all. The storm did have a silver lining of sorts. And I know Jackson Barracks was destroyed because I saw it five days after the storm was passed. I had pretty much finished my first book when the storm hit
- shameless plug time:
A Hidden Impact: the Czechs & Slovaks of Louisiana from the 1720s to Today.
Available at Amazon dot com Barnes and Noble, and all fine book sellers of course. What a Christmas gift, or Chanukah giving, or even something for the Feast of Eid. Surely you celebrate in some fashion that you survived another year, hopefully relatively intact or better off.
Still, my book; it is the only thing ever written on this murky subject. I mean really, who knew there were any Czechs or Slovaks at all in Louisiana, right? Ah, but every time I turned over another alligator there was another one of us. I tracked down seven Czech families that were here in the early to mid 1700s. Basically, Czechs before Cajuns. Who would have guessed? But I proved it by tracking down microfiche of the original documents in the Louisiana State Archives building in Baton Rouge that clearly state that these people were from what is now the Czech Republic. One from Opava, out in Moravia. Several from Prague, as could be expected. Others from small villages now lost, or the translation from Czech to French was so impossible that the name was obliterated like a DaVinci Code puzzle; such is “Lovochartris.” Still, it’s clear in the records. One family, the Touchet’s, actually made it more than intact through the centuries. There are a few hundred family Touchet across South Louisiana, and further afield. It looks French, doesn’t it? And one would think, like many of them do, that they are Cajun. But they are not. Nope. They all come from one of the two sons of Vaclav Tucek of Prague who arrived in Louisiana and had kids by the bushel full who all survived to adulthood to have kids by the bushel full, through 6 or 7 generations now. Healthy stock, pioneering on the prairie, but Czech without a doubt.
And I had put up a bunch of info – not enough that you could avoid buying the book (hint hint) on the net. And three days before Katrina came ashore I got a call from Olga Balkova, who came from Bratislava at the behest of the Slovak National Radio, to find out about Slovaks in peril. She found me. Through that website. I’m it, the expert, the go-to guy on Czechs & Slovaks in this state, and pretty much Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi too, upon which books await. So I told her what I knew of any Slovaks in harms way. Which knowledge was zero. I had no blessed clue. But she wondered if I might give her a report on what was happening here. She wondered if I could give it in Czech. I demurred. So we did that I speak English she translates to Slovak bit – live – on the radio – from here to there. Very strange. A first for me. Then the next day she wondered if her colleague at the Czech NPR might do the same. Sure, why not, right? Then the storm hit and doomed the city. And then I got calls from the embassies in Washington, which was a shock. They wanted to know if I could assist them with Czechs & Slovaks caught in the city or somewhere. Um, yah, I think so, beats me. I mean, really, I was just a guy living in downtown Baton Rouge trying to get a bizarrely esoteric book finished.
The next thing I know is that 30 or so Czech & Slovak students and tourists were passing through my house, some sleeping over, and many just a bit shocked to fine the “Malicku Ceske a Slovenske Centrum” The tiny C & S center. That’s the sign I put up at the door. I couldn’t be home all the time. I came home once and found four students sitting on my front porch. Vitame vas! Welcome, I said. They were, like, huh? So they came in, I told them to call their mothers. They were sure that there mothers had no idea what was happening. Oh yes they do, I told the youths, I was still giving reports, or was part of them because the dateline was my house or, best, with a reporter from the Czech newspaper pool I went to New Orleans 5 days after the storm. We drove down through increasing tree carnage, and you could see where bulldozers had simply pushed the mess off to the sides, off the interstate. Bits and pieces still blew across the road in the lessening breeze. Then we were stopped at a military check point – which is unnerving in a big way – and Jaroslav Richter of the CTK showed his press pass, which I had no idea he even had, and the young soldier asked who I was. I’m his guide and translator I informed the 20 year old, who looked like he wandered in from Nebraska or someplace. Then we were through the check point.
We drove where we could through the city. Parts were impassable. For lack of a better course of action, I guided Jaroslav to all the houses and businesses of friends we could reach. We took pictures. We also got all the way to Jackson Barracks, where the devastation visible all around was total, up and down every street. Bulldozers had cleared paths through the debris, now piled like snowdrifts to the sides. There were several more military check points. In fact, I felt like I was in a World War II movie with a destroyed city and soldiers milling about glad they made it through the fight to victory. Which is part of what getting that barracks back open is all about to.
On the way back to the French Quarter, where we had heard there was a bar open, we went down St. Claude Ave, to where it turns into Rampart, which hems in the Quarter to the riverfront. And there, as far as the eye could see, one to each side, was a rainbow banner. That sign of gay don’t tread on me stuff. They were all there, unscathed. Not a one hanging by anything more than what they were put up with the day a week or so before the storm when they were hoisted to celebrate a big gay street party called “Southern Decadence.” It’s decadent like Godiva Chocolate and Champagne on a sleek yacht in Monte Carlo is decadent. It’s a big show of costumes, like a big Easter parade. Oh I’m sure there’s a Speedo or two framed by vast brackets feathers and what all. But it’s sort of the gay version of the French Quarter Festival held in April, before the Jazz Festival at the turn of May, or Mardi Gras in the mid winter, or Halloween, or St. Patrick’s Day, or some such holiday that always brings out a parade or two, and marching bands, and risque or extravagant costumes of guy and gal alike, in New Orleans. It’s a very festive city, indeed. Why, you can even wander around on the streets with a cocktail or beer within your hands. Cool, eh?
Anyway, the festival was canceled due to the destruction of the city. And what did America hear? Besides the cries of those who would not (I knew many) or could not (I knew some) leave before disaster struck. Besides the lamentations of the press that the problems were not solved immediately within the maelstrom of confusion in the 10 foot deep waters and the conundrum of where to put the people rescued by George Bush and his magic wand. Besides of the looting and police excess, and the bouts of racism here and there, and of the feats of heroes. All these things were heard. But what else, besides the wailing of the children and the moans of the elderly? What else did America hear?
We heard that the city was destroyed by God because of sinfulness by all those homosexuals. So said Robertson, and other pastors of his ilk, like Haggerd and Eddie Long of hands-down-pants fame, and a few Catholic bishops, and I’m sure pastors and ministers of many a divers faith concurred to some degree or another. Like Supreme Court decisions, there’s the majority view and the concurring view of the matter. A bizarre concept, this idea of God destroying cities on purpose, somehow said to be a modern day Sodom & Gomorrah. Which cities were destroyed for the rape of angels, not gay folks. And if Sodomy is the term, what on earth is Gomorrahing? But still, as if often done, with all sorts of natural disasters and plagues, gay folks’ open existence is to blame. One wonders the preaching once the Big One strikes San Francisco again. And too, the inability to keep marriages together, and unit cohesion and public morals, and the welfare of the children and even the sanctity of the family and the survival of civilization itself, are all endangered by “those homosexuals.” Not even “you” — but “those.” “They.” “Radical” and “Militant,” too, of course, as if there were any other kind. Still, it must be false, especially in light of all those gay rainbow don’t tread on me flags surviving – and I took the picture which was sent to the worldwide gay press – of those flags still yet waving over the neighborhood of the free and the brave – but virtually every single big center of Christian fulmination against gay people was destroyed. How odd, no? Poetic justice? God truly speaking? Freaky coinkydink? I think not. But now, that city is a lot more gay. A lot more. Because so many of the straights have left and are not coming back. Which makes it somewhat more pleasant too. Certainly birthday party shooting to kill is down.
But there many folks stood, in support or opposition to this or that measure, after the storm – both Jesse Jackson and George Bush, and more — in Jackson Square, for whom the Barracks is named too, with St. Louis Cathedral as the backdrop, lit up by sun or klieg light, and thought of it as a French place, with a French name in a French city – that’s what’s pushed by the tourist commission to say the least. Alas, the view – the facade, the towers and pediments, were all designed by Benjamin Latrobe, which too looks French. Yah, like Touchet does. For good ol’ Benjy was of Moravian Czech heritage, and religion. The very icon of the city done up by a Czech guy! Wow, and other than that New Orleans is very French.
And then there’s the other great icon of the city, the street car line. Yah, except it was started by a Czech Jew, from Karlovy Vary in Western Bohemia, named Samuel Kohn, and today rides on wheels and mechanics made in Usti nad Labem on the Czech-German border. Other than that it’s a very French City.
And you’d have known this if you only would have bought my book. Which you shall now do — presto abracadabra purchasium! Or what ever that Potter fellow says. To help the not-so-starving writer in honor of Shameless Plug Day. Celebrate it with a purchase today!
Oh yah, the word “gay” or variant doesn’t appear once in 402 pages of fascinating historical fact and stories in the only complete source and guide to the Czechs & Slovaks of Louisiana – including information about the future Louisiana Czech & Slovak Museum and the annual Louisiana Czech Festival! 402 pages of Czechs & Slovaks contribution to this state. Yep. Which is a long way for me to write without veering into that other subject, eh?. Enjoy! Christmas is just some 50 days away!
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