CREATIVE HEROES: Marie Constantin

11 02 2016

Marie Constantin, photographer, home renovator, fiddler, lives a creative life. She lives in the present moment, sees the holy in the world around her, and infuses her life with joy. She has a loud laugh and her friends hear it often. We also hear righteous indignation when she sees injustice. Her creative soul radiates her humble joy. I immediately thought of Marie when I thought of starting a series on Creative Heroes.

marie title

Mother Teresa
As I start to write this, Marie’s photo of Mother Teresa is on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. The journey of how it got there is about her living a creative life. Marie makes a living as a photographer. I met her when I hired her for a photo shoot, when she was fresh back from a trip to India where she went to volunteer for Mother Teresa.

She learned early in her photographic career that she needed to spend her volunteer hours doing something other than photography. Marie would often volunteer at the soup kitchen run by Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity. Her helping out at the soup kitchen led to friendships with the nuns. They invited Marie to go to the Mother House in Calcutta. She went as a volunteer to do whatever was needed. What later evolved was whenever Mother Teresa was in this country, Marie was asked to photograph Mother Teresa attending to the business of the order. She got to know this remarkable woman up close and personal.

Not long after Mother Teresa died, Marie got a message from someone with a thick Spanish accent, which she promptly ignored. Fortunately the caller was persistent and they eventually connected. It was the Vatican and they wanted to use a photo she had taken for Mother Teresa’s Beatification. CBS Sunday Morning told the story of Mother Teresa through Marie’s eyes. I watched Marie on this national news program the morning of the Beatification. She was in St. Peter’s Square being interviewed with the huge billboard size photo she took, behind her hanging from the Basilica. Now that Mother Teresa is being fast tracked to sainthood, it’s still Marie’s photo that is the official Vatican image.

Marie's photo at Mother Teresa's Beatification

Marie’s photo at Mother Teresa’s Beatification

What makes Marie’s Mother Teresa story so powerful as a creative journey, is that it started a recharge from her day job as a photographer. That down time from work enhanced her professional life in a huge and unexpected way.

Living a Creative Life
The same creative energy she brings to her professional life fills her whole life. She bought a run down craftsman home in Baton Rouge’s oldest neighborhood that she saw potential in. Today she sees her home as living in a work of art and it’s on the Historic Registry. She’s bartered her photography skills for things like a stained glass door and she used color experts, designers and craftsmen to help actualize her vision. One of my favorite spots in town is sitting on the big swing on her wraparound porch, having a glass of wine, watching the world go by, while we solve the problems of the world. She has built a community of creative people who inspire her and who are inspired by her.

She also loves the rich culture of south Louisiana. She turned a fishing camp outside of town on the mighty Atchafalaya River into a Zen oasis and named it the Flying Alligator. It’s complete with a swinging bed and an outside shower. It took her a year, with her chain saw and lawn mower, to cut a trail through the woods. It’s a magical place where one can find solitude and meditation within nature.

Marie on stump

Marie Laughing

Marie at the Flying Alligator

It’s also a place where friends and family gather for eating, drinking and music. She decided to learn the fiddle a few years back. She went deep into Cajun country to find authentic teachers. She’s now friends with Grammy-award winning musicians and it’s common for a bunch of musicians to jam together on her camp’s big screened in porch.

The pier in front of her camp is named Flyin' Alligator waterfront lounge

The pier in front of her camp is named Flyin’ Alligator waterfront lounge

Marie can be seen in a traditional Mardi Gras costume made by her Cajun friends at the pink-flamingo-filled Spanish Town Mardi Gras parade that rolls by her craftsman home. Or she can be seen taking a photographic portrait of Louisiana’s new Governor. She brings the same joy and passion to both.

Mother Teresa said, “Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” Marie’s life is a joyful, creative net. She is a creative hero.

Click here to watch an extended conversation with Marie on creativity.

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CREATIVE HEROES
Click here for
The Birth of an Idea

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A Louisiana Holiday Adventure

28 12 2015

As I took the ornaments off the tree, I realize that my sweetie and I have truly blended our lives together. We now have ornaments from our adventures together. This season we embraced what was different and had a unique, beautiful, humid, delicious, Louisiana holiday adventure.

Fleur de lis

Thanksgiving
It started at a large extended family gathering at my Uncle and his wife’s new Marrero home.  Though I’d been to New Orleans countless times, I’d never been to it’s West Bank. The Thanksgiving food and family were all familiar. Everyone brought a dish and even the men cook down here, so no one was burdened with all the cooking. There was the traditional turkey, to the traditional southern pecan pie, to Louisiana influences like casseroles of shrimp and squash, and praline topped sweet potatoes. But friends, family, laughter, and raucous storytelling were the main course as we all reconnected in a new locale.

The following day my sweetie and I headed down to the small town named after the pirate, Jean Lafitte. We journeyed to where the bayou spills out into the Gulf of Mexico to visit more extended family. This Louisiana son is a teacher and a shrimper. He and his family live in the home his grandfather built. We arrived to freshly made beignets and strong, rich coffee served in the dining room overlooking the bayou where his Lafitte Skiff is docked.

The shrimp boat is called a Lafitte Skiff.

The shrimp boat is called a Lafitte Skiff.

It’s a beautiful day with a light breeze. Just like he knows the importance of the weather because it’s critical to his livelihood, he knows all his neighbors. We walk out to the pier and he waves at a friend going out to catch oysters. I’m surrounded by a community that understands the Louisiana landscape in a way I never will. He points to a spot across the bayou in the marsh. He says that’s the favorite perch for a pair of bald eagles. He knows where they live and where they hunt, just like all his other neighbors.

Bonfires
The Bonfires on the Levees are one of Louisiana’s most unique traditions. It goes back to 1870 in a river parish between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The bonfires light the way for Papa Noel on his travels down the Mississippi River. I’d always heard that it started as a way to let anyone traveling on the river at Christmas know they had a welcome place to stop for the night.

Bonfire structures waiting to be lit.

Bonfire structures waiting to be lit.

I have a friend whose parents open their River Road home to all. Her Mom grew up in this vintage 1930’s house. The home’s love and traditions has stayed the same over the many decades. Friends and their large family are always welcome and there’s a big pot of gumbo on the stove for everyone.

Full moon over the bonfires.

Full moon over the bonfires.

The fires are lit soon after sunset and fireworks mingle with the sparks of the fires as far as the eye can see. A full moon breaks through the clouds. It’s a magic sparkle and I feel deeply connected to the uniqueness of my home state.

New Orleans
It’s said that Governor Huey Long built the highway from the capital in Baton Rouge to New Orleans in the 1930’s so he could get to the most elegant hotel in New Orleans faster. That hotel has lived many lives since then, and there is still no more elegant hotel in New Orleans than the Roosevelt at Christmastime. It’s lobby is a wonderland of thousands of white lights in branches and trees, ornaments with accents of red velvet bows and poinsettias.

My Christmas present was spending Christmas night at the Roosevelt.

My Christmas present was spending Christmas night at the Roosevelt.

Christmas night there was my gift. We sat in the Sazerac Bar and sipped our Christmas cocktails and watched the crowd ebb and flow. There were as many tourists as there were locals, dressed in shorts as well as in their best holiday finery. Everyone wants to walk through the beautiful lobby and soak in the holiday spirit.

We leave to take a drive through the light display in City Park and meander back to the Garden District where we find Igor’s, a 24-hour dive bar/game room/laundromat.  We grab a burger at the bar served by an exhausted bartender in a red tutu at the end of her shift. In contrast, the next day we have a meal at the John Besh’s restaurant, Luke. We feast on oysters, quail, mussels, and wild boar ragout. And whether it’s a burger at a dive bar or fine dining…all meals in New Orleans are special and delicious.

New Orleans: From a dive bar to fine dining.

New Orleans: From a dive bar to fine dining.

My Louisiana holiday has been rich and bountiful; it’s been full of new and old traditions. It has been filled with people I love. We have dearly missed those who were not with us.

May the New Year be bountiful and full of adventure for us all.

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Dear Billy Cassidy,

6 10 2013

I know you go by Bill these days, but I’ve known you since 7th grade and I’ve always called you Billy. How’s it going? I see you all over the news now that you’re my Congressman in Washington DC. It seems just a minute ago that we were in high school and you were playing football and I was in the pep squad painting the banner for the team to break through at the beginning of a game. Our school winning the State Football Championship will always be a fun memory.

Tara High School Senior Graduating Class

Tara High School Senior Graduating Class

Billy is on the top row (with the football players) and I'm on the bottom row (with the class officers)

Billy is on the top row (with the football players) and I’m on the bottom row (with the class officers)

My life is good. My family is still close and we’re all healthy though Mom is frail and lives in a nursing home. I’ve got a wonderful man in my life. We were just downtown for the great free outdoor concert that happens on Fall Fridays. We stopped in a gallery and saw a stunning exhibit while we were there. It’s great how the Arts have made our downtown a thriving, happening place to be. You and I both remember when it was a scary place and we would only go there if it were a school field trip to the State Capitol.

After the concert, my sweetie and I went and got a po boy at a tiny little place that has been there for decades and has survived the ups and downs of downtown. I’m sure you and your family have been there too.

There was a family band tucked away in the corner playing for tips. Grandpa, Mom and Dad and their two teen kids. They took turns playing instruments and singing. They were hilariously awful. I thought I was in a Candid Camera kind of skit, especially when the dad took the mike and started singing Afternoon Delight. Did they not know this song was about having sex? It was so wrong on every level that three generations were smiling and singing along about a bedroom romp.

My thought was that they had to just be clueless. Since the whole family was “musical” I’m sure they played before friends who must have encouraged them and told them they should take their show on the road. They could be like the Partridrige Family. We all surround ourselves with like-minded people and good friends encourage each other. Maybe these friends saw this family that all loved music and got caught up in a Karaoke moment and told them how great they were.

The marketplace will give a message to this family band. The restaurant was emptying fast and the tip jar was empty. I could not help but think of you and the friends in the House you’re now spending time with. You’ve surrounded yourself with people who are all singing a very bad song, yet you’ve convinced yourselves you sound good.

But Billy, this is a very bad song that you are all singing. Unlike the clueless family band, it is not funny. The song and dance you are part of is hurting innocent, hardworking people and it’s hurting the country and the sound of your voices are being heard around the globe. And not in a good way.

So you are my representative. It’s your job to listen to my voice. No one told that family band that a song about screwing in the afternoon was a really bad song choice. But I’m telling you and your friends that the song you are singing is screwing the country. Please stop. Don’t let pride and ego get in the way. You are better than that. I want to believe that you are still a good man. A man that became a doctor and moved back to Louisiana with your doctor-wife to help people.

I’ll still hug you at the class reunion and we won’t talk politics. We can show each other pictures of our kids and smile and then go visit someone else. Tell Laura hi.

Take Care,

Connie





A Weekful of Gratitude

17 03 2013

calendar

Monday: Move Day
My work office moved. Files purged, things thrown away, a fresh start in a new light-filed space. I work at a place that I really believe makes a difference in the community I call home.  Woman’s mission is more than a framed poster on a wall in the executive suite. We really live that mission; to improve the health of women and infants. The people I work with are all remarkable in their own unique way.  We are all striving in making our community a better place.

Tuesday: Artist’s Way at Work
I started facilitating an Artist’s Way at Work group in January. We are more than half way through our creative journey. In these past weeks, we have bonded as a group. Some of us have had big life events happen in the weeks we’ve been together. It has been a blessing to know this group backs and supports each of us on our life’s journey.

Wednesday: AAF-BR community meeting
The American Advertising Federation-Baton Rouge (AAF-BR)  is more than my professional club, it is my tribe. The Louisiana Governor is proposing new taxes on our livelihood by taxing creative services.   AAF-BR quickly gathered forces and hosted a meeting within days of the first mention of this proposal came to light. Our proactive meeting went viral and even made the national trade news. No one can predict the future, but this strong club will do it’s best to get all the information out. We will have our voice heard in the crazy Louisiana political system.

Thursday; Dinner cooked, wine poured
I have a wonderful man in my life. He takes care of me. He supports me in whatever I want to pursue. He cooks for me and he brings me coffee every morning. We both know what we have is precious and neither of us takes each other for granted. I continue to blossom because of this unconditional love.

Friday: LSU lecture
I treasure my relationship with my 22-year-old daughter. She’s in a screenwriting class and dropped by my office to film me for a class assignment this week. When she asked if I wanted to go to a lecture by the director of the award-winning film “Beast of the Southern Wild” I immediately said yes. I picked her up after work and we joined friends for drinks before going to the talk and then had dinner afterwards. Not only was the lecture insightful and engaging, so was the conversation before and after. She and I are in the wonderful evolution of becoming more than mother and daughter, we enjoy each other’s company and we want our friends to know each other.

Saturday: St. Patty’s Day parade
Listening to Friday’s lecture only reconfirmed how much I love this magical place where I live. Saturday dawned into a spectacular spring day. The trees are budding out spring green, and the azalea’s are in full bloom. No one does a parade like south Louisiana. The St. Patty’s parade is really just a continuation of Mardi Gras.   The parade winds through the city’s most beautiful neighborhoods. We started early by bringing Grillades and Grits  to my daughter who lives near the parade route. We meandered through the tree-lined streets and met up with friends. After catching our share of green beads, we party hopped  friend’s homes in the garden district for the rest of the afternoon.

Sunday: Catch up
I spent a lazy morning in bed watching CBS Sunday Morning, reading the paper, writing and drinking coffee. Nothing is planned today other than the typical Sunday chores and getting those taxes done.

I am full of love and gratitude and leftover Grillards and Grits.

Thank You, Amen, Blessed Be, Namaste. 





Bread, Batteries and Booze

2 09 2012

Hurricane season in south Louisiana is the best and the worst of times. Those of us who live here are all too aware of the real human tragedy that happens in every storm. We know what can happen to us and that it can be the worst. Each storm leaves its mark and memories. I have friends who’ve suffered life-changing loss and I know I’ve been very, very lucky, something I do not take for granted.

I also know that nothing unites a family, friends and a community than the threat and the reality of a hurricane. It can bring out the best of human nature.  Maybe it’s this living on the edge that brings out the laid back, laissez le bon temps rouler, love of life, in this part of the country. Most of us look at this as a time to party. It’s time to clean out the freezer and make that huge pot of whatever while your home is full of people with nothing to do but eat.  Oh yea, it’s time to clean out the liquor cabinet too.  Grocery stores run out of bread, batteries and booze. It’s a time when diets don’t exist and it’s normal to have beer and Fritos for breakfast. Vegetables aren’t even sold in grocery stores when people are doing their prep—unless you need a head of iceberg lettuce for the burger you’re going to grill when the hamburger meat thaws out.

Hurricane Prep

We do things that seem strange to outsiders; like buy everything at the store’s hurricane section just because it’s already gathered for you. We may buy charcoal for a grill we don’t have. We buy vienna sausage even though we won’t eat it, because you always buy canned meat. You fill up your bathtub with water, even if you’ve been in every storm for 50 years and have never needed to use that water. You still bag ice even if you have a generator.  You turn your AC down to freezing and wear your robe and socks over your shorts and t-shirt because you want to keep the house as cold as you can when the power goes out. You watch way too much TV because you never know  when you may lose your connection and you have to keep constantly keep flipping back to the weather reporting.

Betsy

I was a little girl during Betsy.  It’s my first hurricane memory. What I remember is that the neighbors let their cat, Crybaby, out during the storm’s eye. (I now realize that if you’ve named your cat named Crybaby, he might get annoying cooped up with the whole family in the house over an extended period of time.) This cat must have thought he was in cat heaven, because after the storm the family realized he had gone and found every dead bird he could carry and brought them back to his family’s front porch.

Katrina

I know hurricanes can bring out the worst in people, but during Katrina I saw it bring out the best. I worked at Woman’s Hospital (and still do), which is where the babies were flown to from the New Orleans hospitals, and it’s where families were desperately reunited. The world media literally camped at Woman’s for weeks because that’s where the happy ending story was. I had my Girl Scout troop there helping. They organized the donated clothes that magically appeared from the staff and community, to bring to the patients and their families who actually did arrive  with only the clothes on their backs. The new Woman’s campus is a direct result of the impact of this storm. Katrina changed a lot of things down here permanently.

Gustav

This is the storm the media ignored at least in covering Baton Rouge. I had a friend who bought a generator for the elderly couple who lived next door. They wouldn’t leave their suffocating hot house because they didn’t want to be a burden to anyone.  I do remember the heat, the long lines at the gas pumps, the downed trees and the damaged homes. But mostly I remember friends taking care of each other. Helping the neighbor you didn’t know clean up their yard after the storm passed.

Isaac

Isaac will always be the first storm that my sweetie Steve and I weathered together. At the beginning when it began to dawn on us that it really was coming our way we had different visions based on our own hurricane history. Steve came with a generator (one of many reasons I love him). He had visions of being shut in, snug in our bedroom with the generator and window AC humming and staying there because it would be the only cool spot in the house. The rest of the house would be full of candlelight. He imagined we’d only leave the room to open another bottle of red wine or to get that bag of cookies. I sadly dashed that fantasy and let him know that it would be me, my mom, my daughter and her cat in the bed and he’d be on the air mattress on the floor with the dog! I say this now very quietly—because I don’t want to anger the hurricane gods—we never lost power.

We discovered that we both delight in watching the weather reporters, all of them needlessly standing in the wind and rain. To us, it’s like watching a comedy show.

TV news is told in 30-second sound bites and these reporters have hours and hours to spend reporting mostly rain. They run down the street to look at a bit of debris. They whip out a ruler to measure 2” of water in a driveway. They get giddy when the wind moves a street sign to point in the opposite direction.  They drive around looking for some story, any story, and the only story is the rain and they film the wiper blades as they shoot out the car window.

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Luzianna Friday Nite

22 07 2012

Friday night was the absolute best part of living here in South Louisiana. This post will also be an ode to one of my favorite people in the world, Marie Constantin because I spent Friday at Marie’s camp on the Atchafalaya River (about 45 minutes from my house).

Marie is a great photographer. I first met her many years ago when I hired her for a long forgotten job. She was fresh back from India. She had been invited by the local Missionaries of Charity order  to go back to the Mother House in Calcutta. This is the order that Mother Teresa founded. Marie got to know Mother Teresa up close and personal and was one of two personnel photographers whenever Mother was in the States. I like to say I moved closer to God by knowing Marie, there’s now just 3 degrees of separation; me › Marie › Mother Teresa › God. One of Marie’s photos was selected by the Vatican to be the official photo for Mother Teresa’s Beatification. CBS Sunday Morning did a story on it and there was Marie the day of the Beatification in St. Peter’s Square with her billboard size photo behind her.  The wonderful life lesson I learned and try to live by via Marie from Mother Teresa is to do little things with great love.

Marie has named her camp the Flying Alligator and the pier is the Flying Alligator Riverside Lounge. She has created a little zen oasis that is at the same time a Louisiana-style real fishing camp. Her design style is less is more and everything she has there is perfectly placed from her crab trap ceiling light to the Christmas lights that adorn her porch and pier. It is creative, fun, quirky, hip and all indigenous to where we live.

The Flying Alligator

The Flying Alligator Riverside Lounge

People are drawn to Marie and a party at the Flying Alligator is a great gumbo of interesting people. There’s often some family from far away, there’s the heavily tattooed Cajun in the wife beater t-shirt, there’s lawyers, artists, doctors, a priest, nuns and lots of energetic kids running wild. From the very young to the young at heart, there’s folks who know each other and others who know no one but Marie.

Marie decided to learn the fiddle a few years ago. She’s played for me on occasion and it brings me right back to my daughter’s early band days (you parents out there know what I mean). She gets lessons from somewhere deep in Cajun country and has gotten to know some amazing Cajun musicians along the way. And there they were —Grammy award winners, Mitch Reed, Jimmy Breaux and Randy Abshire—playing on her big screened-in porch. Part of their payment was to make sure there was a bottle of Jack Daniels within arm’s reach. They did a set with Marie on her fiddle and kids playing spoons, washboards and whatever instruments were lying around. The songs were sung in Cajun French and there was simply a timelessness to the evening. Listening to the music on a screen-in porch with friends—this could have been 100 years ago. I’ve found the best spot at the camp to listen and watch the goings-on…the hanging bed!

Hanging out on the hanging bed

It’s a step back in time and yet it’s still how we live here. Everyone who comes brings food and drink—after all, eating and drinking is what we do best down here. There are bales of hay and camp chairs for sitting. Kids fly in and out with a slap of the screen door. You hear a parent telling their kid to get out of Miss Marie’s outdoor shower. There’s been a rain and even though it’s made our hair a little wild, it’s washed away the intense heat of the day. There’s a bonfire glowing outside, sausage burning on the grill and people are wandering from porch to pier where the view is classic Louisiana. A huge powerful river flowing swiftly by with flying white egrets glowing against the early evening sky.  The sounds of music and friends laughing hanging in the air.

Louisiana is not always an easy state to live in—I’m not blind to its problems—but man, it was easy living Friday night.

Back story from Marie:

Connie—I will tell you our family was destroyed years ago by a rift….  Because of this, I named the camp the Flying Alligator…because Alligator’s can’t fly and our family couldn’t heal.  So I thought, maybe if I get this camp and fix it up, some family member will want to come and play and maybe we can heal and be a family once again.  Well, my niece Wendy came to the last party and she had such a magical time, she and her boyfriend got engaged on the swinging bed.  Some of my friends were quite surprised to meet Wendy because they didn’t know I had a family…like I hatched from an egg or something.  And this time my nephew Jason and his family came and had a most extraordinary time.  Jacob (another nephew) is scheduled to come in the fall and we’ll go hunting together.

I tried to make the camp magical and so I had my workman create a single size swinging bed.  But my dog wouldn’t fit in bed with me, so we turned that one into a swinging couch and made a new double size swinging bed…as you know.  Other magical things I put to heal my family are the outdoor shower and the Crab Apple trail (I used my chain saw and lawn mower and it took me a year to cut a trail through the woods.)  And now we have the Pier (the Flying Alligator Riverside Lounge).  By the way, Father Paul Counce, pastor of Saint Joseph’s Cathedral, came up with that one along with Becky Kirk and Steve Davison.

Mother Teresa used to say that there is another kind of poverty that is harder to make go away than hunger.  With hunger, you give a piece of bread and it’s gone, she would say. But with this other poverty—hurt in the family—it is very hard to make go away. “Find Calcutta in your own home…in your own family,” she would admonish.   She would tell people not to travel all over the world, but to “find Calcutta at home first.”  Thinking about all this is why I do what I do at the camp.  I’m fighting a different kind of poverty.