“Sound is the Passage: After Octavio Paz” Lia Uribe (2020) (Sound engineer: Fernando Valencia, Fayetteville, AR Production assistant: Talvin Southern, Fayetteville, AR)
“Sun was everywhere. In the air there was a scent of green, hot growth, thirsty. Not a tree, not a leaf stirred. A few clouds rested heavily, anchored in a blue, waveless gulf… The sound of water is worth more than all the poets’ words.”
Schmidt, Michael, translator. “Robert Frost: Visit to a Poet.” On Poets and Others, by Octavio Paz, Arcade Publishing, 2014, pp. 13–19.
In 1945, Mexican poet Octavio Paz published a recount of his visit with American poet Robert Frost in the Argentine literary journal “Sur.”
His line “El sonido del agua vale más que todas las palabras del poeta” (the sound of water is worth more than all the poets’ words) informs my piece. It is a communal work, a conversation between all, your emotions and her memories, their images and your thoughts, my smells, textures, dreams, ideas. All collaborators are the water and the poets, the elm, the clouds and the sky. And sound is the passage to our worlds.
Las Vegas is changing. Again. Our treasured links and what should be historical sites are left unprotected to be bought, dismantled, and bulldozed down without any warning or farewell extended to those residing here. It’s hard to be nostalgic when home is always reinventing itself, but over time a slight comfort and resiliency from those who stay prevails.
Even though I have called Las Vegas my home for thirty-two years, my relationship and physicality have been vastly different in the past eleven months than all the years prior. I do not wander about as much and shy away from large social gatherings. The access to being around and close to strangers, places, and things suddenly rescinded, in part by choice and circumstance.
This photo essay is comprised of found moments and a few intricately built sets featuring some of the classic food staples in Las Vegas. Despite the city’s steady change, one thing always remained a constant within the 24/7 workday; there was always breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Whether eating together as a family or working a graveyard shift, a sense of stability and comfort came in the morning from ordering ham and eggs.
Having only known Las Vegas as my home, I have never experienced it as a vacation. It’s the mid-nineties, my grandparent’s packed six kids into their station wagon leading a caravan of family high-tailing to Laughlin for the weekend. I remember sitting in a neon-lit cafe, a powder blue painted sky illuminates the ceiling. My grandfather passes me an open coffee creamer, I shoot it like a shot. I eat some eggs and randomly pick some numbers on a pink sheet of paper with my grandma guiding me. One of my aunts with a deep raspy chainsmoking voice adds the ticket to her pile, Keno numbers call throughout the cafe. Maybe we will win, either way, I get some rock candy on the way out. I was enthralled by the crystalized sugar in the hotel room that evening as my family left us to be babysat by our oldest cousin while they took to the town.
Recently walking around Downtown Las Vegas, a powder blue digital sky is flooding into my retinas with the words Cover Your Mouth stretched over a 4 block widescreen. A little bit away from there, they’ve changed out the thirteen-year-old rose print carpet at the El Cortez with something more trendy, and a new monolith of a casino is erected in the skyline five blocks away.
Despite the dated advertising slogan “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” everything is live-streamed. Even though a pandemic, the fabricated glamour and attempt at illusion persist. I forgo the rock candy instead I hiked a steep mountain trail revered by locals, the distant skyline of the city is mesmerizing. This is home. This is the place where so many I love have lived and live.
The title of this piece refers to the street where I have lived for 30 years and most all of the sounds were recorded within 1 mile of where I am sitting right now. The opening is the sound of the 9th Ward Marching Band, performing under an overpass in the neighborhood (behind the Mardi Gras Zone grocery), just a few days before Fat Tuesday. The volume of the group happened to set off a car alarm, which the horn players brilliantly imitated as they marched by. Mixed in, we also hear the voice of neighborhood character, “Twister” – pitted against / aligned with, the Ursulines nuns reciting the Holy Rosary. Catholicism and street prophets inform every aspect of life in the city of New Orleans, ESPECIALLY Mardi Gras! These nuns speak the rosary every week on a powerful AM radio station here.
The mid-section of this tone-poem represents our long summer – the slow crawl of humidity, heat, and froggy swamps that creep into the city by night. The droning instrument you hear is called “Weather Warlock”, invented in New Orleans. This electronic instrument takes cues from wind, rain, sun, temperature, and barometric pressure to make music. Weather Warlock broadcasts live, from St. Claude Avenue at www.weatherfortheblind.org 24 hours per day, all year round.
At 2:28 we hear a homemade, glass-bottle-instrument, called the “Tullamarimba”, pay melodic tribute to New Orleans’ strong Vietnamese community. Many the greatest chefs and bakers in New Orleans are of Vietnamese descent.
The final minute of the piece features a snippet of a song called “Tire Shop”, featuring King Lee – a musical employee of the St. Claude Tire Shop. The lyrics are mostly a listing of his friends and loved ones, as well as other employees at the shop. The drum beat for this was constructed entirely from recorded samples of various tire shop tools. The St. Claude Tire Shop was the only business on this street that never closed during Hurricane Katrina. At the very end of the song, the Ursulines nuns make their return, to join King Lee in a closing prayer – a reflection of how our streets have always mixed with ancient tradition, to make something new.
Like many famous “cultural” cities, New Orleans is sold on a cliché that does not really exist. The true heart of this place is so much more diverse, interesting, and beautiful than any tourism-commercial could ever express. New Orleans is a city of neighborhoods and this is my letter to the one that I know and love so well.