Circumstance is a guiding force, but to say that circumstance is a guiding force is a fallacy: circumstance can’t hold your hand, tell you where to go or how to conduct yourself. Circumstance is a picture manual, an aid for reference for building a structure.
Circumstance lead me one morning to drink only a single cup of coffee, a cup out of the gallon of caffeine I require on a daily basis, though I shouldn’t need it. When I went to Audobon Park, I finally realized that I couldn’t bring myself any further. Exhausted, I had to take a nap on a wooden bench on the cusp of some shade. I couldn’t nap in the grass, for there were ants far and wide. I fell asleep with Cosmopolitanism by Kwame Anthony Appiah on my chest.
When I woke, the shade had finally reached my face. My head was cool but my body was damp. I raised myself from the dark and into the flux of light that I had slept through. I looked in all directions at the dogs and joggers, a girl in a hammock off to my right. Functionality was low. I needed a pick-me-up still.
I turned nearly 180 degrees to look behind me at the walkway. What stimulant did find me but none other than that of my friend Aurora, walking with the confidence of a broad, sun laden oak. She was walking with a friend whom I have never met. I watched them for just a moment before Aurora turned and saw me facing them from the bench. Her smile grew larger and she redirected her route towards me.
“Kevin!” she proclaimed as she got closer. She hugged me from behind the bench, and in the twisted embrace I saw that her friend had a Hasselblad camera hanging off his neck. In Aurora’s arms, I said, “Nice Hasselblad,” to the stranger. He smiled, knowing that the average person doesn’t know what kind of a machine this rectangular prism is.
They sat with me. I came to find out that Aurora’s friend was named Daryl. He had just gotten to New Orleans the night before and was about to leave the next day. Aurora wanted to negate the small talk as soon as possible.
“You should tell him about The Doodle Project!” she said as she grabbed my arm. She looked around me to Daryl who was sitting to my right. “Kevin’s a photographer too!”
One of my silly quirks about the Project is that I feel like there is a ‘buttering’ period before I introduce it to someone, even if I know I’m going to do it from the get-go, which I was. Aurora is in the Project, and this guy had a Hasselblad. It’s evident in the design of the situation that I was going to ask him. Therefore, it’s a mix of comfortable and unnerving when people introduce the Project for me before I get the chance to work it in. It gears the conversation away from the person in question, my process of learning about the person diverges. I prefer to bring it up when the timing is just right. (Oddly enough, later that night I ran into my friend Jay Tee, at Snake and Jake’s, and had a very similar situation to the one I had earlier in the day with Aurora. I had just made the comment to Jay Tee a day or so prior that no one ever shares their pages online, and she promised that she would start helping me get the word out. When I ran into her, she was sitting with some people whom I have never met before. She introduced me and immediately introduced the Project without any dialogue between us, telling them that they could be in it. It was 4 am. I just met these people. I was flustered. I went and got the Project out of the car anyway. When I came back in, Jay Tee said, “See? I support the Project! Don’t you think I deserve a beer?”)
It was less invasive when Aurora suggested I get Daryl’s doodle because, like I said, I had already been planning on it. I explained it to him, and he was struck. Daryl was very excited and was very adamant about doing it. Aurora laughed and clapped her hands with excitement. We talked for a moment more, and began to delve into it. Daryl told me that he had just bought a Polaroid back for his Hasselblad, which he said I could take a photo on.
“I couldn’t, it’s film dude, I wouldn’t want to waste it.”
“You wouldn’t be wasting it.”
I grabbed my Polaroid first and crouched in front of the two of them, still sitting on the bench. I told Aurora she wouldn’t be the focus of the photo, to which she said, “Well yeah, duh!” I made sure Daryl’s hand wasn’t in the way of his camera, took my focus and snatched the shot.
After getting Daryl’s page set up, I began to pick up bits and pieces about his visit to the city. It was on a whim that he decided to visit Aurora, as it was cheap from Colorado. Aurora had been trying to convince him to move down here, and he was very much considering it this time.
“Yeah, my brother lives in the city, he goes to Xavier, and my family’s in the South too. It makes sense then, I guess. The only thing is, I’ve visited the city before, but when I’m with my brother, it’s a fixed experience. I don’t know. He doesn’t go out much. At least, he doesn’t do what we’ve been doing.”
Aurora added, “Yeah, having someone visit is a good excuse to get out. I haven’t done as much as I’ve done with him in a while!”
The circumstantial nature of this encounter is indicative to the process of the Project. There would be no Project if I didn’t get out of the apartment – a tool in that regards. It forces me into social situations, and in order to get new material, I have to get out of the house. Daryl and I’s interaction was happenstance, but the perception of that interaction is relative because of the fact that, to a varying degree, this is an “average” encounter, though not to discredit how excited I was that it happened. Daryl’s energy rubbed off on me and the excitement of being somewhere new and having an authentic, unique experience just by the chance of getting out of the house is thrilling and contagious.
While Daryl was drawing, he reminded me that I could take a photo with his Hasselblad. He handed it to me and I held it in a parental manner. I’ve only seen Hassleblad’s in cases in antique stores. This one was pristine, seemingly perfect in function and design. The energy in this camera is modest, but the surge I felt when I took that photo was so indicative to the camera itself. Different analog cameras have different feelings based on the shutter. A Polaroid SX-70 promotes a rush to the back of the neck: you have to arch your neck forward to look through the viewfinder properly, as well as angling the camera so the lens is pointed at the subject properly promotes a tension in the neck. That mirror drops and the energy in your neck shoots down through your chest and into your arms as a Polaroid escapes, the energy dissipating with it. The Hasselblad was nothing like this. I felt it in my lungs and heart. That shutter fell like pat on the chest: stern but endearing. It was on a beat.
“Woah,” I said after taking the exposure of the two of them sitting on the bench.
“Woah?” Aurora asked?
“What feeling?” she asked again.
“I know it,” Daryl smiled.
Daryl had drawn a landscape. It was nice, but what really set us off was the photo in relation to the page. It aligned in such a way that none of us had forseen. The horizon lines all matched up in unprecedented relationships. The line of grass in the photo lined with the grass on the page, the bench grew into the far horizon line, and Aurora, matched in blue, became a mountain herself in the terrain of the page. The yellow sky of the photo followed along Daryl’s skyline, hot with orange and yellow. Unplanned, completely unintentional. Circumstance, that unexpected muse.
We were so taken with how the page ended up. We sat with each other a bit longer and talked about plans for the future and the potential for Daryl to move down here. Aurora had to leave for work soon and still wanted to show Daryl so much more. There’s always so much to see. I thanked both of them and said goodbye, knowing I’d see Aurora again, hoping Daryl would come around again.
I stayed on the bench just a bit longer, until the shade grew, the wind turned towards me and mist from the fountain in the pond started reaching me. I packed my bag and headed out. I’m glad I hadn’t drank much coffee that day. Maybe I ought to cut back a bit more.
Very early into my trip to Paris with my study abroad program, we still needed to fixate our bodies into the proper time zone when we went to Shakespeare & Co, the well known bookstore located in Paris’ 4th arrondissement. Rather than follow my classmates into the narrow, book shelved hallways, I meandered outside for a moment. In front of one of the windows of the façade were two young adults, sipping coffee and talking politely with each other. I stood beside a fountain, stealthily pulling out my Polaroid from my bag and preparing The Doodle Project in one hand so I could try my first attempt at asking a Parisian for their doodle. I approached them, in French.
“Bonjour!” I said as I walked up to the boy and girl sitting on a bench, crouching low so I would seem less intimidating.
I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that they were from Britain, but it was almost a letdown knowing that my first doodles in Paris would be English ones. No matter, they were interested and were excited to participate after I explained what it was that I was doing.
“Are you two on vacation?” I asked them after I took their photo and set up their page for doodling.
“Well, not exactly,” Peter said to me with his fresh-out-of-bed tone, which wasn’t far off from his outward appearance. “We work here.”
Shakespeare & Co. has a program where students living in England can study in Paris through their university while working at the bookstore.
“It’s not a bad gig,” said Peter.
Peter and Flora, who was quiet but positive, shared the page equally. Peter started by asking me if I was into minimalism as he began to sketch Notre Dame, the cathedral within eyeshot of the bookstore. Flora began to draw the fat cat that lives inside of the store.
“What’s a book that you hate?” Flora asked Peter. Flora answered for herself, saying, “Oh. ‘Eat Pray Love’. That’s a rubbish book.” She drew the fat cat reading Eat Pray Love, proclaiming, “This is rubbish.”
They finished their page, and I thought it was a great page and took back any anxieties I had about not having the first page be French. I was happy. I thanked them.
“Oh,” I started as I began packing up my belongings, “by the way, where do ya’ll like to drink around here?”
They told me they like to hang out in the 5th arrondissement. Peter took my journal and wrote down two bar names. “This one is pretty hip,” he said, pointing to a bar he wrote down: Le Comptoir Général. I thanked them both for the advice, and returned to the group inside the narrow store.
After buying a few books, finding 20€ on the ground and losing track of everyone, I ran to Notre Dame, scuttled through the cathedral hastily as it was too crowded for my weak mind and empty stomach, and returned to the frenzy outside. How is it that in this mass of tourists that I would find none other than my good friend from New Orleans, Remi! What a small world we live in, and what one may call a minor chance to some could end up being a miraculous set of circumstances for others. Remi and I have been friends for a while; the miracle of us having been in Paris at the same time (him on vacation, I for school,) was a pleasant, distant idea when we were both presented with the dates for our time abroad. There was little preparation on both of our halves as we respectively took our trips to France, and we only began correspondence after both being acclimated, two days in. We missed the chance to meet up previously, and hadn’t really planned on much else after that. This truly was chance.
“Man, listen to this; we are going out tonight, alright? My dad did some research and found this one bar that he thinks I ought to go to, we have to go. Tonight!” I agreed, and we made plans for Remi to email me the address. That night, I set out on the metro to find 80 quai de Jemmapes.
I got to the 5th arrondissement long before Remi and I had planned to meet; I walked along the Canal Saint Martin to find the bar in question. Only having asked for directions once, I kept scanning quai de Jemmapes for any 80’s, looking for some sort of sign of the bar that Remi suggested. I couldn’t see anything other than a doorway between 78 and 82 quai de Jemmapes, leading to an alleyway with manicured bushes and unassuming sidewalk. Uneasily, I walked down the path that I guessed must have been to a bar. What luck: Le Comptoir Général was at the end of the path.
A tall, dark skinned man dressed in a well fitting brown and red suit stood at the entrance, greeting with “bonsoir” as I walked in. The interior was similar to the man’s outfit; warm, brown, red, dark but not negative. Afro-electro beats were playing while I walked down the carpeted hallway, the walls lined with photos of African political figures and French historic documents. Through this hallway was another room, the size of a gymnasium, sans basketball hoops or gym-floor guidelines. Instead, memorabilia from the 60’s to the 80’s and plants were the fixtures enclosing the space. Mismatched couches and glass tables supported by small stands were strewn along the sides, as were cabinets with vintage cameras, TV’s playing black and white stock footage and old African artwork. It was an accepting mismatching of African and French style. I felt uncomfortable, only knowing that everyone here was speaking French, and that this place was too cool to have any “willing” English speakers. Moreover, it was too cool for me. How did Remi’s father find this place? How did those two Brits stumble down this alley? Am I not supposed to be here?
I ordered a Rum Punch from the bar to amend my worries (very salty, very strong, but for 7€ it was worth the cost) and stood around awkwardly waiting for Remi. He came in running, apologizing for being late.
“I had no idea how to get here. Everything is in French, I don’t know a lick of French, man, and I mean that! Do you see this place? I have no idea how my dad found this place!”
We marveled at the seeming cultural appropriation. We agreed that it wasn’t appropriation, as it was not only a mixed crowd, but as we found out later, it was a museum; an artist’s collection of African-European historic artifacts. Remi was giddy being in a foreign country.
“So here’s what’s up: I’m meeting up with someone from St. Louis here in a little bit, she’s friends with my family since I was a kid, you know? So we should go to another bar to wait,” he said, pointing both of his hands into space to represent another bar, “and come back here after, when she’s ready,” again pointing to another part of space.
I concurred. I had no other plans, and I wanted more doodles. We did a large arc down quai de Jemmapes, over the canal’s bridge and down to one of the narrowing alleys. We talked about graphic design, the geometric nature of Parisian streets and the adjacent graffiti that lined them. Walking down a widening alley, we came across an open space where a building might have once stood. Along the wall where the building would have been there was graffiti, and it wasn’t lousy; 40 feet tall. An artist was working on a large tag when I looked at Remi.
“You have to do it,” he said, knowing I wanted to get a doodle.
Again, I pulled out my project, and approached the man, spraying with intent. “Bonjour, parlez anglais, possible?”
“Yes. I do. What do you want?” he replied with a thick accent. He wasn’t high strung, he was only lightly manic and clearly in the middle of something. I asked him if he would be interested in doodling. He said, “Yes. But don’t get my face. And quick.”
I followed his orders as he was willing to follow mine. Remi stood far back as I took his photo quickly and let the graffiti artist find a safe stopping point. He took the notebook and demanded for a black sharpie. I quickly pulled one out. While he was drawing his tag, one of his friends yelled something at him, which I could not pick up, but if I could imagine what it was, I’m sure it was somewhere along the lines of calling him a name for talking with me. No matter. He filled in the graffiti and handed it back to me.
“Merci,” I said, nodding to him.
Remi had a smirk as we regrouped at a bar further down the road. Remi began to explain his uneasiness about not knowing French and looking out of place. I mentioned that it didn’t help that he was wearing a rain coat, and that we have no sense of fashion anyway. “Hey man, I don’t know what you’re all about, but rain coats are in.”
After a beer we returned to Le Comptoir to meet up with Remi’s friend, Jai. Once again, inside Le Comptoir, we stuck out like sore thumbs; the French really do have impeccable style. We looked like bums compared to the well dressed hip youth, who could have been talking about art or politics or any innumerable wondrous ideas that we couldn’t be a part of. If a trip to Le Comptoir Général is of any interest to you, being fluent in French is a requirement. Too much is left to the wayside if the language barrier is too thick.
1970’s R&B was playing in the bar when Jai walked in, excited to see Remi. They exchanged an awkward bise, as Jai and Remi both seemed to be interested in acting as French as possible (try as they might, they wern’t.) This may have been Remi’s first time performing la bise.
We began to talk, but no tables were available inside the bar. Remi tried to explain to her what The Doodle Project was, and I said it was no matter. Now wasn’t the time or place to talk about it. We all recognized that we were standing in the middle of the bar, first of all where no one was standing, and second of all there were no tables or couches or bar stools to sit on. A walk along the Canal Saint Martin was in order.
Jai told us how she had been teaching English at a school in Paris for the past two years.
“You know what? As it turns out, you don’t need to know a lot of French to live here,” she began.
Remi’s eyes lit up. “For real?”
“Absolutely. I swear, I don’t know any French. I know, what, maybe two or three full sentences? And a bunch of other phrases! Everyone wants to speak English with you! Or at least, if you try to speak French with them and are bad at it, they’ll want to speak English with you. Really, the only people that don’t know any English are the older generations, and that’s only a few people that you really interact with.”
We shared stories along the canal. We talked about St. Louis and New Orleans (Remi was convinced later on that he had convinced Jai to move to New Orleans after she finished in Paris.) There was a pause for a moment, and Jai said she knows of a show going on nearby at a club. I looked at Remi, who again showed only joy knowing that he was about to experience a real French club.
Favela Chic is much like any club that you could find in New York: stylish, modern design, seemingly average, as well as fairly priced. A Prince cover band was jamming their hearts out as best as they could when we walked in. Hungry, as usual, I walked up to the kitchen counter and got the cook’s attention.
He looked at me for a moment. “Bonsoir?”
“Bonsoir. Je voudrais le cheesy tacos?”
Again, he looked confused. “Puis demandez au serveur?” he said as he pointed with a spatula to a man standing next to me.
My eyes got wide and I was embarrassed. I apologized and said I don’t speak French very well. He said it was fine. Lesson learned: when ordering food at bars in France, be sure to ask the waiter for a menu, do not assume that anywhere else is New Orleans and you can walk up to the kitchen counter to order. A very kind chef who prepared my tacos saw the interaction and saw it as a moment to practice her English.
“They will be two minute!” she claimed, giddily.
The music was fine and the tacos were good. Don’t expect much of the bar music to compare to American bar music. In my opinion, it doesn’t compare. The quality of musicians in America versus France is unrivaled. I didn’t let my opinions get in the way of a good time, however. We enjoyed it for what it was worth and left feeling pleasant.
Through no fault of my own, I ended up getting us lost as we looked for a way back to the Metro. I was the only one out of the three of us that knew any French after all, so while we were walking back they assumed I knew what I was doing. I didn’t. We found the Metro after using precious roaming data.
Remi and Jai exchanged bise again, seemingly as awkward as before as we headed towards our line, she to hers. She turned to me and we exchanged bise as well, not my first time exchanging bise, but my first time doing it in France. It felt right. Remi and I hopped on the subway.
“What I would give to know French,” Remi said as we sat down. “Man, I didn’t know you knew that much French!”
“I’m surprised myself,” I said, pulling out my camera and snapping a quick photo of Remi. “You look pretty French I think.”
That pleased Remi. He promised he would start learning French through Rosetta Stone, for the next time he came back to Paris. I would join too, I think. I was proud to have my French because after all these years of thinking, “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it,” finally came true.
 What was interesting to note was how their doodles were based off of their environment: often times throughout The Doodle Project I’ve found that people will draw environmental doodles, as in a doodle based off of where they are at that point in time. Not only had Flora drawn the cat that lives inside Shakespeare & Co., but Peter had drawn Notre Dame.
 I was very proud of this photo, the colors came out quite well as the chemical formula for this brand of film doesn’t often work well with blues.
It is easy to forget, when watching an orchestra play their ornate cadenzas and symphonic gestures, that the wall of humans and instruments producing luscious sounds are all individuals reading very specific parts of music, contributing to something much greater than themselves. As someone who’s musical communications skills subsided in high school (the last time I wrote music with a band), I grew curious as to how members of an orchestra communicate with one another.
I met up with the New Orleans Volunteer Orchestra (NOVO) on the second floor of Loyola’s music building to solve this inquiry. The atmosphere was much more laid back than I had anticipated on arrival; NOVO is unique in that regard, though it is not the only aspect that makes the orchestra special. Not only is NOVO a volunteer orchestra, but the orchestra is also noted for hosting only free concerts, allowing classical music to be within reach of the everyday listener. Being the largest community orchestra in the region, NOVO holds thrilling performances of classical symphonies as well as movie and video game soundtracks, a treat considering the high cost of performances.
There in the practice room, on a gray Sunday, I met Chris Bergeron, Music Director for the orchestra. I only had correspondence with Chris up until this point, though after we formerly met, we both became excited about what the results of my project would be through the rehearsal. I snapped a photo of Chris when he wasn’t conducting, in which Chris described what it is like to be a conductor for an orchestra.
“Conducting is the most ‘freeing’ thing a person can do. It allows you to be completely free, just like skydiving, riding a motorcycle, or playing a musical instrument. It provides the human soul to be completely free, unattached from human limitations. There is never a happier time I have than making music with an orchestra.”
The orchestra began with Joseph Cieslak, co-conductor of the orchestra, conducting a piece by Debussy. Throughout the practice session, I attempted to discretely take photos of the members of the orchestra without interrupting in any way. The musicians were professional, ignoring the tremendous flash in their face and the Polaroid’s spitting sound that it makes when expelling film.
After the practice, I asked the subjects whose photos I had taken to sit down with me to doodle. The last remaining members of the orchestra twiddled on piano and blew lightly on their horns in the background as the musicians in the photos used music stands to set up their pages and began to share what pens, pencils and Sharpies I had to offer. Then, I posed my question: “How do you communicate?”
A moment of contemplation arose as they began processing the idea while maintaining their doodling. One of the musicians noted, “We forget we’re communicating because we’re so absolved in the technicalities and learning the notes, but once we get all of that behind us, once we know what to say, then we can effectively say it. It’s just like learning a language. It’s hard to speak it if you don’t have the vocabulary.”
It makes sense, but I wondered how ones personality plays out in the piece. Does one get lost in the song? Where does your personality go?
“Your personality is amplified,” another chimed in. “When you all have the same mindset and you’re all trying to play the same piece and get the same thing across to the audience, then what you are trying to say is amplified by the other people trying to say it.”
“I like to think of it as a puzzle. There are a thousand pieces, and all of those pieces are different, but when they all come together we just get this awesome picture.”
Check out the New Orleans Volunteer Orchestra perform this Sunday, December 7th at 7:30 pm in Loyola’s Roussel Hall. Bring a date, it’s a night of love and Christmas, “Under the Mistletoe” can’t be missed
I found myself coming to consciousness driving on the I-10. I felt crummy. Not down on myself, but a general sense of “crum.” C’est la vie. I parked in the Marigny; parking in the Quarter is an overzealous and inconceivable idea. I’ve got three more photos left in my camera, I thought to myself when I put my car in park. I needed to take these photos. I needed a paradigm shift. The first photo I took was of a gate on Royal st. It was a lackluster and badly exposed photo. The next photo I took was of a duck painted on the bottom of a support beam. It was an uninteresting and one dimensional photo. The third photo was of Carl.
If you’ve ever walked on Royal Street, particularly near Rouses, you will have seen Carl’s work. He is one of the many artists who use the fences around Jackson Square and Saint Louis Cathedral to showcase their work in hopes that a tourist will buy their art. You can find his work on the corner near Pere Antoine’s Alley. Carl’s art is within the vein of that tourist art: vibrant folk art on planks of wood and sheet metal roofing. He will later explain to me that this is his “bread and butter.” He was not looking up when I saw him; rather, he was looking at his paint and the wood he was working on. I approached him. He wasn’t startled like many other strangers whom I’ve approached. Carl is, after all, on the fence behind the Cathedral. It’s pretty frequented.
I explained my project. He seemed interested. I took his photo. I asked him if he would prefer Sharpies or pencils as I handed him the notebook.
“Pick whichever you’d like!” he said as he put down his paint to receive the bag of doodle supplies.
“But it’s not about what I’d like, it’s about what you would draw.”
“Look, I draw comics. I can use anything. Believe me.”
“Well then you should take the Sharpies.”
He took my Sharpie bag and pulled out a black one.
“What other colors should I use?”
“Whichever you’d like.”
“Nah, man, I wanna know what colors you like.”
I suggested red and blue. Carl was wearing a Captain America shirt, and I figured a lot of comic book super heroes are usually wearing red and blue (Spiderman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc). He took out a red and a blue sharpie and got to work.
It has been exceptionally hot for mid September. I was standing directly in the sun while Carl was protected by shade under his great green umbrella.
“What is the comic scene like here?” I asked while he was starting a rough outline of something.
“The comic scene, man? I mean, it’s kind of a thing. I mean, it’s not big, but there are people who still do it. Ya know, New Orleans is that kind of a city, you know? It’s the kind of a city that encourages this thing, you know, art. Whatever art you want. This is the kind of city where you can be accepted for ya art. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, man, but this city will love ya for doing it.”
I agree. In New Orleans, taking a Polaroid of someone is enjoyed and appreciated by most everyone who sees it. In Connecticut, you’re a hipster, and you suck too.
“It’s like a bird. New Orleans is a mother bird. She loves her babies, but she knows her babies gotta fly on their own. She’ll love you for however long ya need it, she’ll encourage whatever it is that you wanna do, but at some point or another, mother bird can’t keep feeding ya. You gotta fly on ya own.”
I started pacing to allow the sun to hit the front and the back of my body equally, as to let one side cool while the other broiled. We talked about art for a while, about how shitty Uptown is compared to the Bywater, about how artists will come into the Square and encroach on other’s “territory” (there is a waiting list to have a spot to sell your art in Jackson Square. Recently, new artists have come in and have been selling lackluster art. It’s irritating to someone who’s worked for a while to get a spot at the Square).
“It’s a pretty fickle fence,” he said as he looked up from my notebook.
I looked at my phone. I had five minutes until I had to get to work, but thankfully Carl was finishing up his doodle. He turned the notebook to me so that I could finally see what it was that he was drawing. It was me, a fully fledged super hero version of me with a cape and trusty Polaroid in hand, a big grin on my face. This was an honor. This was empowerment.
I thanked him voraciously, but I couldn’t stay longer. I had to get to work. I felt ready for work now. I’ve been immortalized as a hero; at this point I could do anything.