LOUISIANA GROWN
Azaleas
As a child, the appearance of azaleas in the dusky colors of a New Orleans spring always meant that the freedom of summer was just around the corner –– days filled with baseball, swimming, peaches, watermelons, plums, trips to the country and going shoeless. I’d go for walks down Fontainebleau Drive in days that were beginning to warm. The breezes, however, remained cool and carried the scent of fresh earth and leaves that were green and newborn. The azalea bushes blazed with flowers so vivid they looked like snowballs drenched in grape or cherry syrup. Somehow, because of them, I knew I could survive at least two more months of school.

The Indian azalea, a native of Japan, is the azalea shrub of choice throughout much of Louisiana, filling the landscape with magenta, white, salmon and orange-red flowers so dense they camouflage the foliage of the shrub.

It blooms only from March to mid-April. The Japanese, who revere this plant as much as Southerners do, believe the azalea represents a joyful, mystic moment in the cosmos of life that’s precious, fleeting and sustaining. Legend also says azaleas sprang from the tears of a little boy whose jealous stepmother turned him into a cuckoo.

Azaleas bloom in full to partial shade, but large doses of sunlight are a must for prolific flowering. Azaleas should be planted in mounds of soil under trees that do not provide heavy shade. They thrive in slightly acidic, well-moistened soil that contains peat moss and should be mulched with oak or pine leaves. A healthy plant usually grows 6 feet by 6 feet, with unpruned bushes growing as high as 10 feet.

Indians azaleas are, however, beginning to share the landscape with some no-less-beautiful hybrids such as the Glenn Dale line. Developed to be hardy in winter, this hybrid line offers the rosy-pink flowers of the beautiful Allure specimen and the fiery orange-red Copperman azalea. Fashion, a bloom with colors ranging from salmon to orange-red, brings to mind a spring dawn in the Bayou State.

Spring and the streetcar line have returned to St. Charles Avenue. For a joyful, fleeting moment in time, ride the rumbling cars past the azalea bushes lining the neutral grounds. It’s a lovely break from endurance.

CAUSE TO CELEBRATE
The land of OZ
It’s become a set staple on my car radio, 90.7, WWOZ, “New Orleans’ listener-supported radio station.” You know you’ve tapped into something wondrous when you’re actually looking forward to the drive into work on a Monday morning because it means it’s time for Valerie “The Problem Child” Kacprzak, WWOZ’s honey-voiced deejay whose eclectic choices of music range from Nancy Wilson singing “Suzanne” to the incomparable Nina Simone wailing “Obeah Woman.”

WWOZ, which now provides live Internet streams across the world, was founded by brothers Jerry and Walter Brock along with a host of other local music enthusiasts. Now located in the French Market Building on North Peters Street in the French Quarter, the radio station got its start at a telephone pole upon which the brothers hung a transmitter. The Brock brothers recorded their musical programs on cassettes, took them down by the riverside and plugged the tape player directly into the transmitter on the pole. Thus, OZ was born. From there they moved to the beer storeroom atop Tipitina’s, where legend says they punched a hole in the floor and lowered the microphone through it whenever they wanted to broadcast a live show. Friends of WWOZ Inc., a nonprofit organization established by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Foundation, took over the station in 1987 and is largely responsible for the station’s acclaimed format and successful mission of supporting local music. Each year Jazz Fest can be heard live via the station’s broadcast, a real treat if you’re stuck at home doing housework.

WWOZ is a grass-roots success, completely operated by volunteers who offer a mélange of fine music –– Caribbean, jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, zydeco and gospel. Through their broadcasts, I discovered the magic of the late and wonderful New Orleans native Johnny Adams, whose soulful pacing and vocal talents remind me of an African- American version of Tony Bennett. From Billy Delle’s Wednesday-night “Records from the Crypt,” filled with ‘50s oldies he found by “pie-rooting” around, to Sean O’Meara’s “Music from the Glen,” a Saturday-morning concert of Irish music, WWOZ is another jewel in the musical crown of New Orleans. If you want a really great time at a party, hire one of its deejays to provide the music. The dance floor will own you.

WWOZ, French Market Building, 1008 N. Peters St., New Orleans, (504) 568-1239

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