Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dancing the Wild Bamboula

There is a park in New Orleans not far from Bourbon Street. Officially, it is Beauregard Square, also known at various times during New Orleans’ past as Place Du Cirque or Place des Negres. Most locals still call it Congo Square.

Before the Civil War, wealthy New Orleans slave owners would let their slaves congregate on Sundays at a place that became known as Congo Square. There, they would sing their songs, dance their dances and practice their religion. When the West African Vodoun religion reached Jamaica, it rapidly integrated with Catholicism and many of the prevailing pagan practices of the Caribs, the native population of the Caribbean. This amalgam of beliefs known as voodoo, had offshoots often called hoodoo.

Not knowing the true meaning of the various ceremonies that took place at Congo Square, many benevolent white slave owners often participated in the drumming, and the dancing of the wild bamboula, a frenzied and sensual dance. The songs created at Congo Square were the musical seeds that sprouted, matured and grew into what we now know as jazz.

There is a cultural center located in a part of Beauregard Square, known as Louis Armstrong Memorial Park after the man that brought jazz to the world. Everyone has heard of Louis Armstrong, but few realize that his musical roots began with the rhythmic beat of West African drums and the dancing of the wild bamboula.

The Louis Armstrong Park is a must-visit. The entrance to the park, a large white arch that proclaims the name Armstrong, lies at the intersection of St. Ann and N. Rampart. The park is also close to Basin Street, made famous by both song and myth. It is also near the St. Louis Cemetery # 1 and the Iberville Project.

Eric's Website

Friday, February 06, 2009

Buying Beer on Sunday

While researching a story about Kansas, I came across some interesting statistics about that state’s liquor-by-the-drink laws.  It caused me to reflect on the liquor laws in the other states where I have spent time.

Kansas prohibited the sale of liquor-by-the-drink until 1987.  You could not buy a mixed drink, but there were many taverns where you could shoot pool and drink red beer (beer with tomato juice – try it, it is good) by the pitcher.  Kansas would not even let you have a mixed drink if you were flying over the state in a plane.  Airlines curtailed the sale of alcohol when in Kansas airspace.

Oklahoma was not much better when I moved here.  You had to bring your own bottle to a club, and then pay them to mix a drink for you.  If the people in the club knew you, you could get anything you wanted, a practice known as liquor-by-the-wink.  You could even get a roadie – the mixed drink of your choice in a large Styrofoam cup to tide you over on your drive home.  When Oklahomans voted to make liquor-by-the-drink legal, prices skyrocketed.  Go figure!

Nebraska has no adverse liquor laws that I know off and is one of the wildest states in which I have ever spent time.  The people there work hard, but party harder.

You would think that Texas would have the most liberal drinking laws in the country.  This is not so.  There are still dry counties, some adjacent to heavily populated areas.  Thankfully, most of the state has liquor-by-the-drink.


I grew up in northwest Louisiana.  I always enjoy visiting because you can literally “drive through” a liquor store and have a mixed drink passed out the window to you.  Driving with an open container is illegal; buying a mixed drink from the driver’s seat of your car is not.  Go figure!  The only other state where I have seen this practice is Georgia, but I do not know if this is still true.

As liberal as it may seem, Louisiana still has remnants of old laws.  In Oklahoma, you can buy 3.2 beer from a grocery store on Sunday - not so in Louisiana, at least north Louisiana, where there are still “blue laws” on the books. 

I married my second wife Anne in Park City, Utah.  The State owned all the liquor outlets at the time.  Maybe they still do.  My memory is dim on this matter, but it seems like you could only buy mini bottles.  Alcohol was strictly regulated but a recollection that remains vivid in my mind is going to the little cowboy’s room at a bar in Park City and seeing two young men snorting a line of cocaine on the cabinet.

Many other states still have archaic drinking laws and I am sure there are many interesting stories out there.  Please let me know if you have one, as I would like to retell it.  In the meantime, I think I will fix myself a Wild Turkey and water, and then go to bed.

Eric's Website