October 2015

My Deltaworkers residency started in the desert, in Taos, New Mexico. I decided to ride a motorcycle to New Orleans, half inspired by the 1969 road movie Easy Rider, but mainly because I like the contemplative space riding a motorcycle on one’s own creates.

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I was attracted to the Deltaworkers residency program because of the nomadic spirit of the founders. While based in New Orleans, the organisation encourages artists to spread their wings and explore the Southern States. As a radiomaker, my practice depends on throwing myself into new situations and talking to people. As a Canadian – particularly because I grew up on the border of the U.S –  I’ve always been fascinated by the United States. Riding a bike east from New Mexico, across the Texas panhandle and into New Orleans seemed like an appropriate way to contemplate the mythos of the American South.

I flew down to Taos from my home in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, a small subarctic city in Canada, in mid-October. I found a few bikes for $2,000U.S or under on Craigslist. I drove out to see one of them, ended up lost on the mesa and drove onto a property with ‘No Trespassing’ signs. The folks that lived there threatened to shoot me (turns out they were harvesting marijuana) if I didn’t get out of there. Needless to say, finding a motorcycle in New Mexico was not as easy as I thought it would be. Thankfully, a friend of mine spotted an ad in a Taos Laundromat which turned out to be the dream bike. Not only was it a solid bike that was light and easy to handle on the road, the guy I bought it from, Greg, took great pride in the old bikes he fixed up and pleaded with me to bring it back to New Mexico someday.

With my recording gear in a small hard shell suitcase bungeed to the back of the bike, I rode 1500 miles from Taos to New Orleans. Greg called me periodically as I made my way east to see how the bike was running. The route I took across the Texas panhandle took me into small towns and I took my time getting to Louisiana.

New Orleans is a wild, beautiful city but the focus of my research is in Cajun country. I spent time in Lafourche, St. Landry, Evangeline, Acadia and Lafayette Parishes.

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The origins of Fried Chicken

One of my favourite things to do in the Southern States is road tripping. Obviously my life here is largely determined by the needs and whereabouts of the residents. If one of them wants/needs to undertake a road trip and time permits me to tag along I always do a little dance of joy. At the very start of the 2015 residency period, when Jacob Dwyer was the only resident that had arrived yet, our landlady Dawn DeDeaux needed to get some things from her studio in Fairhope, Alabama. Jacob, Maaike and me all jumped in the car and off we went.

Sunset at Fairhope

Sunset at Fairhope

Two things I like to do when road tripping in the U.S. are listening to the country radio channel and laugh about poetic gems like ‘She Cranks My Tractor’, ‘Redneck Crazy’ or ‘Drunk on a Plane’, and talking about food. Locals aren’t usually so into laughing about cheesy country songs and since Dawn was with us we spent the ride talking about food. Days before we had entered a discussion about which place in New Orleans served the best fried chicken, probably because the landmark closest to our new compound is a Popeyes. Now we were wondering where fried chicken actually comes from. Most U.S. foods can be traced back to European, African or even Asian dishes quite easily. For fried chicken none of us was very sure. It’s definitely one of the most popular foods in the South and we thought we might be on to one of the very few truly U.S. foods here!

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Not entirely sure about this I did what we do these days in such situations: I searched Wikipedia. Turns out that fried chicken comes from Scotland and West Africa, two countries from which a very large part of the Southern people originally came. The Scots in search for freedom and independence, the people from several West African countries as slaves. Scots would fry chicken in lard unlike the rest of North Europe, where they would usually bake chicken. But the most important influence on the taste of fried chicken today came from the West African slaves: the spices in the batter. Slaves were usually allowed to keep a few chickens and they would fry them on special occasions, adding local spices to increase the flavour.

The rest of the trip we spent thinking of an original U.S. food that one could eat with class and dignity, without getting sauce and/or grease all over the place. We concluded at Waffle House eating bacon, eggs, hash browns and pecan waffles for breakfast. We did eat with knifes and forks.

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Thunder Cheese Circle

A true addict speaking from the heart

This late summer I arrived early at Camp Abundance Bee Farm (Deltaworkers HQ for the coming years). After stepping into the compounds garden I received a warm welcome of Dawn DeDeaux, our land lady. Not only is Dawn DeDeaux a true New Orleanian and great artist but also the only female winner ever of the Demolition Derby at the Super Dome in New  Orleans. So she knows how to rock. The welcome this time was accompanied by Popeye’s fried chicken (more about that soon) but most important were the Old Fashioned and Thunder Cheese, the real smoothers at the compound.

Dawn DeDeaux

Old Fashioned is the first cocktail Joris and I ever drank in New Orleans. Dawn’s specific Old Fashioned recipe: whiskey, oranges, bitters, maraschino cherries and some magic that none of us campers will ever match.

On to the Thunder Cheese, another magic snack that is so overwhelming in taste that once your mouth has come in contact with it, t, this seductive devil keeps you on your seat craving for more and more and more.

Thunder Cheese is one of the simplest snacks you can imagine but like Dawn’s Old Fashioned’s, this cheese trickster uses magic in its combination of ingredients. Sharp Cheddar, Montery Jack, pecans, dash of mayonaise and a royal amount of red chili pepper flakes create heaven and kicks in like Thunder: Boom!

Thunder Cheese has a dubious history and is not easy to find. We keep its origins close to the city and belong to the group that believes its a true New Orleans recipe. Even though the recipe is online it is a tough one to find in stores around town. There is basically only one good supplier that keeps its secret pretty well hidden. Once you know it and taste it, you won’t share this source with everyone. I will also not do this here but am very happy to share some with you when back in New Orleans. Myths around its origin are conflicted. It might come from the first contacts between the Brits and the Tabasco family. More clear is the history of a few ingredients; the pecan from New Orleans / Louisiana, the red chilli pepper from the Tabasco farms, and the sharp cheddar from British cheddar that accidentally aged during the long trip from the UK to Avery Island. The more dubious ingredients are the Montery Jack cheese, which is already a mix between the spicy South and the cheesy Nnorth, and also the mayonaise (Spanish origins but the French made it the popular sauce) which basically is the basic lubricant in too many good dishes. Maybe the amount of mayo is where the magic of the taste and texture lies.
So if Thunder Cheese is born from the clash between different cultures, the lightning that comes with thunder could be the enlightened conversations that follow after eating this beloved and addictive snack.

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In the last months Thunder Cheese has proven to be the holy snack, that combined with misses Dawn’s Old Fashioned’s brings the best in all of us. It serves as the starter for wonderful conversations, heated discussions, artistic projects, juicy stories, pole dancing contests and sometimes even out of world experiences. Thunder Cheese is the true binder of exquisite tastes and our newly found god. We welcome our artists with Thunder Cheese and when the days are too sunny or too rainy, we bring a visit to our supplier to keep the campers calm and happy.

We thank you Thunder Cheese

The Thing

I do a lot of driving. My hometown isn’t far enough to take a plane, but close enough for the expectation of regular visits. So I drive a lot.

I drove our resident, Jacob, to Jean Lafitte’s Nature Preserve recently. We both had never been. I felt ashamed of this having lived in New Orleans for five years. Both of us had heard about it from others. Jacob heard that it wasn’t worth it. I had heard that it was. But, still, I was skeptical. Being from Louisiana, I take the swamp for granted. As this heavy, very recognizable thing. My mistake is thinking recognition translates into knowing.

We arrive at Jean Laffite’s. “Parking lot closes at 5pm,” read a sign. We begin the first trail and it takes us some time. Jacob is filming the swamp and I am photographing Jacob. The raised wooden path is about three and a half feet wide. I’m wearing the wrong shoes. Sandals with a little wedge. We are alone mostly and we chat about the scene. Still, I’m photographing Jacob filming the swamp.

Jacob Dwyer

We finish that trail and Jacob wants to continue on to another one. We won’t make it back in time for closing if we both go so I walk back the way we came to get the car while he continues on.

I trip a little on the trail and take off my shoes for the walk back. Being barefoot feels electric like I’m really close to what holds me in this space but always never touching. I become increasingly aware of the atmosphere around me. Everything feels very familiar, shapes and colors I grew up with. But now they are enveloping and I realize just how unfamiliar they are. There is another feeling heavy in my awareness. I’m afraid of water. No, that isn’t it. It’s the thing that formed the fear. It’s the swamp. And I find myself immersed.

So what am I afraid of? The unknowable?

Books

It has recently become clear to me that in this day and age the only non pretentious function of books is to keep your hat flat.

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In the past the book on the top of the pile (written AD 523) had another function… it was the mantra by which the fictional character Ignatius J Reilly lived and understood his life in John Kennedy Tooles novel A Confederacy of Dunces (written 1963). Through the outsider Ignatius we spiral through New Orleans to the will of Fortuna: “Oh, Fortuna, blind, heedless goddess, I am strapped to your wheel”. I’m here searching for that wheel. Maybe I can get into its slipstream.

A City That Breathes Music

It has been two weeks since Jasper Slijderink and me, Stan Vreeken, arrived in New Orleans. We are both musicians. Besides having our own band (The Big Hunger) we are part of Tijdelijke Samenscholing (Temporary Gathering), the theatre group with whom we work on a new play about New Orleans and its music. Stepping out of Louis Armstrong Airport, the air was humid. It was blazing hot and not long after we picked up our bags a heavy summer rain gave us a big, wet and warm welcome.

In the last days the air has cooled down a little and we’ve seen numerous bands and musicians, both good and bad. In Frenchmen Street we’ve seen brass-bands booming their horns into an overcrowded street, we’ve heard ragtime pianists display their nostalgia for the ‘Roaring 20’s’, we’ve been harassed by street-musicians with less teeth in their mouths then strings on their battered guitars, and we’ve been surprised by crafty singer-songwriters, hidden in dimly lit porches or on street corners, trying to get the drunken passersby to stop and listen. Throughout the whole city small bars and restaurants are scattered around, offering a huge variety of live-acts.

Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentelmen

Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentelmen @ Maple Leaf Bar

The city breathes music, its air is smelling like gasoline, sweat, alcohol and, at night, a sweet hint of jasmine. We’ve been touring the whole city on our bikes. Avoiding the cracks and potholes in the asphalt that we share with rows of big American cars and trucks, we’ve driven as far as Maple Leaf Bar, roughly an hour from our home in Holy Cross. Every Monday Jon Cleary plays the Maple Leaf. Jon and his band, The Absolute Monster Gentlemen, are among the best bands the city has to offer. Jon is one of the few pianists in town who still masters the iconic, but vanishing, piano-style that was made famous by the likes of Allen Toussaint, James Booker, Professor Longhair and Dr. John. Last week Jon invited us to come over to his house in the Bywater. There, he gave us a short masterclass on how to play New Orleans Style on piano, and a lecture on the (social) history of New Orleans Jazz and funk. The day before, we had met with his guitarist, Big D, whose size does more than justice to his nickname. After I played him two of my new songs, Big D invited us to come over to his studio in Florida. Somewhere in October we will make the three and a half hour drive to record three songs with some of the best musicians in the Southern States. As Dr. John already sung in the opening sequence of ‘The Princess and The Frog’: “Dreams do come true in New Orleans”.

Jasper taking piano lessons with local piano legend Tom McDermott

Jasper taking piano lessons with local piano legend Tom McDermott

Besides meeting new musicians daily, we talk a lot with the locals on the street. Most times these conversations start with handing out a cigarette, and most times our partner in dialogue is of African-American descent. We’ve noticed that the young (caucasian) artistic elite in the city is much harder to approach then the everyday-man on the street. These conversations offer the most interesting pieces of information. With people like Monty, O.G. George and Tattoo we spoke openly about poverty, alcohol, drugs, Katrina, crime and other social issues that, besides music, are so evident in this city. New Orleans is not only the place where jazz and funk were born, it is also the city with one of the highest murder rates in the U.S. Throughout the day the streets are charming, and the neighborhoods are a welcoming array of colorful little houses and cosy little cafe’s. At night those same streets turn dark and more threatening in their abandonment. Especially for the weaker of heart, I am definitely one them, the ride home can be anxious and long. A striking example, for instance, is when we were waiting for Dr. John to start his show. We were smoking a cigarette outside of The Joy Theater that is situated on Canal Street, one of the main arteries of New Orleans traffic. Not more than 15 feet from where we were standing two young men (barely 18 years old) stopped in front of a traffic sign, speaking loudly to each other. I observed them for a short while and then I saw something that shook me to the bone. Attached to their belts I saw two guns dangling from their blue jeans, the red traffic lights reflected in the silver barrels. They carried their pieces in plain sight, for everyone to see and shiver. I realized, even though I knew it, that most people here must have guns, hidden in the dashboard cups of their cars, and this realization troubles me.

Waiting for Big D, who arrived 1.5 hour late.

Waiting for Big D, who arrived 1.5 hour late.

Two weeks after our arrival my infatuation with New Orleans is still far from over. But as it seems to go with all relationships, I slowly learn that there are less pleasant sides behind the inviting facade of The Big Easy. I look forward to the next five weeks, to the arrival of Michiel Bakker and Carole van Ditzhuyzen – the actors and founders of Tijdelijke Samenscholing, to meet up with more locals and to hear more music. Hopefully my relationship with the city will only change for the better, and I will come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of this historical city, in all her complexities.

Deltaworkers has landed in New Orleans!

Deltaworkers announces first residents

Deltaworkers is proud to introduce its first residents coming from the Netherlands, Finland and the U.S. Our residents will work in New Orleans on the research and production of new projects.

Deltaworkers residency

The deltaworkers residency

Deltaworkers is an international multidisciplinary residency program run by artist/curator Joris lindhout and curator Maaike Gouwenberg, both from the Netherlands. Since their first visit to the city in 2010 they have been working on establishing a cultural exchange program between the North American South and Europe. Deltaworkers focusses on cultural production work with an international character, builds on existing connections between the Netherlands and New Orleans, and forms new connections with institutions in New Orleans, the surrounding region, and other European countries. Our first international partners and supporters are the Mondriaan Fund, Productiehuis Rotterdam, the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York, and Taike.

This fall we host our first guests in Chateau Curioso, photographer Maria Levitsky’s beautifully restored mansion in Holy Cross. From September 10th until December 16th the following artists will stay in New Orleans through the Deltaworkers program: artist Timmy van Zoelen (NL), who is working on an eco-scifi film staged in the swamps; Tijdelijke Samenscholing (NL) -a theater and music collective- looking into the origins of Jazz, and at how music is experienced in public space; artist Jeremiah Day (US/NL) will present a performative event in which he shares his research into the possibilities for a monument for the Lowndes County Freedom Organisation; and artist Dafna Maimon (FIN) will create a new performance connected to the film industry in New Orleans.

During Deltaworkers’ 2014 program, there will be several film screenings, presentations and public moments during which the artists share their findings.

Subscribe to our mailinglist or like our Facebook page to keep receive updates on our future events!

The first event takes place on September 18 and forms an introduction to the place where we come from: the Dutch delta, specifically the city of Rotterdam. We’ll screen Rotterdam based artist Gyz La Riviere’s film ‘Rotterdam 2040’.