Living it Up in the Big Easy

By Mona Malacane

For some grad students, “doing something different” means trying a new recipe, going hiking in the limestone quarries, playing in the snow, or taking off on an exotic trip in the summer. But last week, Gabe Persons went on what I would call an enviable pre-mid-semester-vacation to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras. A far cry from hunting and baking bread, on Friday the 13th Gabe and Isaac Knowles drove 13 hours and 800+ miles to Louisiana to Baton Rouge where they stayed with some of Isaac’s friends for the first leg of their trip.

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Photo courtesy of Gabe Persons

After a day and a half in Baton Rouge, Gabe, Isaac, and several of Isaac’s friends headed to the Big Easy for Mardi Gras festivities. But this isn’t your usual Mardi Gras story people – Gabe swore to me that he did not once expose himself to procure colorful plastic baubles. He also made explicitly clear that this trip was not about visiting the numerous daiquiri bars that populate New Orleans (but he did enjoy tasting a few). For him, it was about the food, music, the experience, and checking off an item on his bucket list.

“It’s been on my bucket list for a while for a number of reasons … what you hear about is always the party stuff but that’s not what’s intriguing to me. I like the music side of New Orleans, I like the food side and while the party atmosphere itself is not what drew me, I think it indicates something about the nature of the people there and they were generally a friendly bunch of people.”

Photo courtesy of Gabe Persons

Photo courtesy of Gabe Persons

Some of the most memorable moments from his trip were from the famous parades that occupy much of the Mardi Gras celebrations. “The very first parade I saw in New Orleans was very interesting. It was not like any parade I’ve ever seen. The audience is constantly interacting in a way that you don’t see at other parades and the floats are huge and pulled by semi-trucks.” Some fun things Gabe et al. received from the float “throwers” included a fedora, a pair of glowing hand-cuffs, lanyards, and footballs. But other than to watch the parades, the group Gabe was with avoided Bourbon Street (and the hordes of tourists that flock to it for Mardi Gras). “We were on [Bourbon Street] briefly just to get somewhere else and you could barely move, it was just a sea of people.”

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Photo courtesy of Gabe Persons

While in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Gabe, Isaac and friends, visited some delicious restaurants and even got to cook a good ol’ low country boil. Gabe explained, “I really like Southern food. I don’t like the weather but I love southern food.” In fact, their trip back to Bloomington was slightly longer than the trip down south due to the obligatory (hungover) Waffle House brunch stop. While WaHo is undeniably a Southern tradition, I strongly recommend Cracker Barrel next time.

 

Trust me, I'm from the South: Cracker Barrel > Waffle House

Trust me, I’m from the South: Cracker Barrel > Waffle House

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Off to London

by Teresa Lynch

Although many members of the department will be travelling to London, England this summer to attend ICA, several graduate students – Senia Borden, Dan Levy, Gabe Persons, and Garrett Poortinga, to be specific – will be travelling there for a different reason. After a quick stopover in Iceland, the four will be meeting up with Susan Kelly to take her specially designed production course. Last summer, Susan took only undergraduates for her course abroad, but this year, the opportunity was offered to graduate students, as well.

The Tower Bridge in London. Photo courtesy of Susan Kelly.

The Tower Bridge in London. Photo courtesy of Susan Kelly.

Susan says the theme of the class is twofold. “One [portion] is to show that there are other ways of storytelling than the American way. The American way is purely driven by the bottom line. The British system is driven by a cultural mission. New voices are funded by the citizenry who actually pay a licensing fee – a tax – to fund new voices and make stories specifically about British culture. They actually have a mission statement about what their media should aim for. You’ll never find that in America.” The other portion of the class will focus on storytelling in film and story analysis. Susan has also lined up guest speakers for the class including a BAFTA recipient and an employee of the BBC. The group will also tour sets from the Harry Potter films, James Bond, The King’s Speech, the BBC Sherlock series, and Sherlock Holmes.

While they’re in London, the group will all be residing in Nido, a student housing complex in the Spitalfields neighborhood.  Class will take place in facilities provided by the International Education of Students. Susan has also planned to hold class in the early afternoon so students can enjoy the walk from Nido to the IES if they choose. “It’s a beautiful walk, an amazing walk…it’s through the Bloomsbury neighborhood – the same neighborhood that housed the modernist literary movement.”

In addition to class and working with the 15 undergraduate students, the graduate students are hoping to make the most of their time professionally. Garrett has already been in touch with department alum Lora Speers. “I’ve been talking to [Lora] through email about actually producing a short form on one of her [underground hip-hop] connections,” said Garrett. “I’m hoping to go to some shows, film some interviews, and cut it together to align with the course.”

The London Eye. Photo courtesy of Susan Kelly.

The London Eye. Photo courtesy of Susan Kelly.

Gabe and Susan are the only members of the group who have been to London, but it’s safe to say that every member of the group is very excited to be hopping the pond. Listening to Susan tell it, London is a city of incredible depth, heaviness, and beauty. She said one of the things she is most looking forward to, “the light in London in the spring is spectacular. It’s clear and the buildings are made out of limestone…some of it’s gold, some of it’s buttery, and some of it’s rose…and when the sun hits [the buildings], if you have any aesthetic bone in your body, you have to stop in your tracks and just be bathed in northern  light. In London you will get scudding clouds, huge cumulus clouds that are white with some dark grey underbellies with this beautiful light that slants through and casts shadows that make designs on the ground and you are bathed in the light.” And getting to see her students experience London is an experience of pure joy for Susan. “I get to experience that, to watch students take it all in. Sometimes I have to remember this is my job.”