New Orleans Mensa

La Plume de NOM for March 2011

The Magazine of New Orleans Mensa Information and Entertainment

From the Editor

Peter Salomon

Mardi Gras is over, the NFL season (if there is a season) is still months away, even Hurricane season is not for a while...but there’s still things to do in New Orleans with your fellow Mensans! Check out the calendar and come make new friends or see old ones! And if you don’t see an activity you’re interested in...let us know you’d like to start a new one!

So The Story Goes Like This

Bart Geraci

So I once worked for an outdoor camping and recreation company. There was (and still is, I suppose) a policy that all the employees would be able to test the different equipment before we put it out on sale to our customers. The company wanted to be sure that we could explain to our customers why we liked one item over another and that was the way to generate customer loyalty.

We once were offered some equipment from a company named Tates for us to test. Despite the English name, the company was located in China and had low suggested retail prices on their items. After a short time testing them, we could see the problems right away. Some of the materials they used were not waterproof as our customers would like. Some of their metal braces in the knapsacks were much weaker than the ones we like.

But perhaps the most mind-boggling problem was that their compasses would not work. I didn't understand this, because you can make a compass with a needle poking through a piece of cork floating on water --- it's that easy.

As expected, we ended up not carrying any of their products. We did keep the samples to show our customers how badly they were manufactured. In fact, on the shelf with the other compasses, we handlettered a sign to read....

“...He who has a Tates is lost.”


Roger Durham

Well, another year has gone by, and it’s time to renew your Mensa membership again (unless, of course, you’re a life member, or you paid for a multi-year renewal that still has some time to run). I know some of you are disappointed that dues have increased once again this year, and I sympathize with you, but the fact is that our costs continue to increase and we have to keep up somehow. However, there is a way to insure that your Mensa dues will never increase again – life membership. I wish I had bought one when I first joined – I would have saved a bundle. Come on now, just bite the bullet and get a life membership this year, and from now on you can just smile smugly whenever the dues notices come out.

Another thing that it’s time to do is make your plans to attend the 2011 version of SynRG, the Regional Gathering of Gulf Coast Mensa, taking place over Memorial Day weekend in Houston. Register before April 1 and save $10. Go to for more information and a registration form. Houston, where I joined Mensa, was the first RG I ever went to, and also, a few years later, the first one I ever chaired, so even though I’ve been to dozens of others since (and chaired a fair number of them), SynRG is still near and dear to my heart. If you’ve never been to an RG, you owe it to yourself to check it out. I hope to see you there!

Also, it’s past time to make plans to attend the 2011 Annual Gathering of American Mensa, June 30–July 4 in Portland, OR this summer. Registration is running ahead of previous AGs, which means that attendance is likely to be well over two thousand Mensans from all parts of the country. Register by the end of March and save $20. Visit for details.

Finally, of course, the arrival of March means another American Mensa election is right around the corner. There are quite a few contested races this year (including mine!), the outcome of which could be vitally important to the future of our organization, so please read the biographies and candidate statements in the Mensa Bulletin carefully, and then vote for the candidates of your choice.

Last month I asked for your help in reimagining American Mensa. Now I’ve been asked to serve on the Task Force that is charged with putting together concrete recommendations for restructuring our national organization, so your input is more important than ever!

If you’ve ever thought that you could design a more efficient governing structure for Mensa, now is the time to speak up. I have some ideas of my own, to be sure, but I know some of you can envision things that would never occur to me. There will never be a better opportunity for you to make a real difference in Mensa.

Please send your suggestions to me at



Bart Geraci

This is the month of Mardi Gras, St. Patrick's Day, and St. Joseph's Day. So let me give you some advice:

Pay attention to parade information.

I've already gotten “almost stuck” by the Little Rascals parade on February 20th. And once the Carnival season is over, the Irish and Italian parades will be following shortly.

The weather has gotten back up to the 80 degree mark already while people in Minnesota are having even more snow. I recall Mind Games in Minneapolis, April 19-21, 2002, where it snowed on the last day I was leaving for the airport.

This month is the return of the New Orleans Voodoo in the Arena Football League. The Hornets are playing, as it seems, in a series of streaks. And we'll just have to think happy thoughts about the NFL labor situation.

I want to thank Jennifer (and Machelle) for setting up the Smart Set Lunch Group, which is meeting in the CBD for lunch on the last Thursdays of the Month.

I want to thank Rebecca Pharr for running the NOM Northshore with such enthusiasm. My wife and I went to the event this past weekend and it was nice seeing some new faces there.

The nice downside to the abundance of NOM events is that I feel the need for a dedicated Calendar Coordinator. So it looks like we could use: (1) Calendar Coordinator, (2) La Plume Label Person (assistant editor), (3) Website Wunderkind, (4) RG oRGanizer, (5) Article Authors, (6) Proctor People, and any other addition to our club, alliterative or not.

The next executive committee meeting (EXCOM) will be held on March 12th, 5:30 PM at my house. It's a working meeting, not a social event, but any member in good standing may attend.

March 19th is the next NOM Testing date. If you know anyone who would be interested in joining, let them know about this. We are also looking for other possible testing locations. If you know of any, please contact Rene Petersen at .

The stark contrast between Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday brings to mind this quote from Lord Bryon:

“Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter.
Sermons and soda water the day after.”

Poetry Corner: A Sonnet

Rebecca T. Pharr


The teacher opens up his book of gems
To students who are eyeless to the gleams
Of learning; for they learn not; he condemns
Their blind refusal to behold his dreams.

Is it for this he sat and sifted reams
Of life away until his silent moan
Seemed endless? End it did, but now it seems
The seeds lie dormant, like they were unsown.

Among that flock of mindless geese alone
Broods patiently a mind that shares the love
Of taking flight in thought to skies unknown
To see this cage we dwell in from above.

A scholar in this day is hard to find:
He thrills to meet another soaring mind.

BRAINFORK: A Mensan writes about food

Bart Geraci

Cuccidati: St. Joseph's Day Fig Cookies

Because Easter can only occur from March 22nd to April 25th, and Ash Wednesday can only occur from February 4th to March 10th, the days from March 10th through March 21st are always during Lent. Among the celebrations is St. Patrick's Day and St Joseph's Day. In New Orleans, one of the many unique traditions (and we have them by the oyster sackful, too), is the St. Joseph's Altars, which were brought over by immigrants from Sicily.

Sicilians in New Orleans

“Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.”
- William Goldman[1] “Princess Bride”-

In the late 1800s, many people migrated from Sicily to America, and the heaviest concentration of this exodus landed in New Orleans. One of them, Salvatore Lupo, opened up the Central Grocery in 1906. It is still in business today as an old-fashioned grocery store with a wide range of products. Their biggest claim to fame is the muffuletta sandwich, a big round bread with ham, cheese, salami and olive salad with the wonderful aroma that is the envy of all the other people who are sharing the airplane flight with you out of New Orleans. According to [McCafferty], in 2003, New Orleans had the highest per capita population of Sicilians in America. I don't know how to check this now.

Arbereshe With Greatness

In researching the Sicilian immigration to New Orleans, I went farther east to Albania. The invasions of the Balkans by the Turks in 1448 forced many Albanians to leave their country and emigrate to other lands, including Sicily, which at the time was a Kingdom that extended into southern Italy. While living in Sicily, the Albanians maintained their traditions and language, were known as Arbereshe people. One of the communities that they settled on the island is Contessa Entellina, a small area outside Palermo. One of my relatives has traced the “Geraci/Geracci” name back to the area, and to Albania, so that's a part of my heritage. There is a Contessa Entellina Society that was founded in New Orleans in 1896. They have a website at, but it appears to be very much out of date.

The St. Joseph's Altar

One of the best sources of information on St. Joseph's Altars is the book St. Joseph's Altars by Kerry McCafferty [McCafferty], published in 2003. There's history, including the possible Arbereshe connection, cultural influences, recipes, and some wonderful photography.

According to legend, Sicily was suffering from a severe drought. No crops grew save one: the fava bean. The people prayed to St. Joseph to send them rain, and it was granted. In thanksgiving, they erected altars in his honor with foods made from the harvest. After paying homage, they distributed the food to the less fortunate. In New Orleans, there are many altars erected in restaurants, schools, and private residences. Most of these places have a collection bowl for people to donate some money to be given to the poor (along with the food). Visitors to the altar are given small paper bags containing some items from the altar, usually a holy card or medal, cookies, and or piece of bread. One common item found in all goodie bags is a dried fava bean, which is considered the “lucky bean” since it was the only crop that survived the drought and saved the people from starvation.

The Fig:

“O excellent! I love long life better than figs.”
-Antony & Cleopatra, Act 1, Scene 2-

At the core of the cuccidati are figs. Figs are fruit from the ficus tree. The common fig belongs to the Moraceae family, Ficus genus, Ficus subgenus, and carica species. The Moraceae family also contains the breadfruit and mulberry. Figs are grown throughout the Mediterranean region, as well as Louisiana. Figs are high in both calcium and fiber. Each fig has contains anywhere from several hundred to several thousand seeds. Buddha achieved enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, which is a large old sacred fig tree (Ficus religiosa). The word sycophant comes from the Greek sykophantes, which means “one who shows the fig”. The fig gesture is exactly the same sign as the letter T in American Sign Language, and depending on the part of the world, it is either a good luck charm or an obscene gesture.

“Fig Newton: The force required to accelerate a fig 39.37 inches per second.”
-Johnny Hart-

While we refer to the edible fig as a fruit, botanically speaking it is a “false fruit” or as an “accessory fruit” because some the of flesh of the fig is not derived from the ovaries, but from adjacent tissues. The fig object is a hollow receptacle containing multiple ovaries inside the fruit. Most fig species requires a specific animal for reproduction: the fig wasp. There is a small opening in the fruit where the fig wasp enters and pollinates the ovaries. Furthermore, most fig species requires a specific fig wasp for pollination. And the details on the life cycle of the fig wasp started to veer into TMI[2] territory, so I'm going to stop here.


Fig cakes, or cuccidati, are often shaped into religious symbols where the dark brown fig mixture provides the blackboard to the light toasted pastry's chalk. The recipe below is designed to create fig cookies, which are little cylinders of dough wrapped around a fig mixture. There's 3 parts to the recipe: the fig mixture, the cookie, and the icing. This recipe is from Poppy Tooker in the Crescent City's Farmers Market Cookbook[Tooker], but I have found other recipes (including [Tusa]), and I have some variations after each section.

Fig Mixture

14 oz package of dried figs
Dried Fruits:
   8 oz dates
   1 cup candied mixed fruit
   1 cup raisins
   1 cup of chopped pecans (or almonds, toasted or not)
Orange Component:
   1 fresh whole orange (remove seeds)
   This recipe has none, but I've seen cinnamon, allspice, and black pepper.

Ideally, you would use a meat grinder to combine all the ingredients, but you may use a food processor instead, and only process about 1/4 of the recipe at a time. The liquids may help a bit, but you don't want it runny. Once the fig mixture is done, it is recommended to let the mixture sit for a day in the refrigerator to meld the flavors together.

Fig Mixture Variations:

Dried Fruits:
   3 cups of dried Fruits, which can come from any combination of: dates, raisins, candied mixed fruits (like the ones you would use in pannetone), golden raisins, candied citrons (made from your buddha hand citron last December), marachino cherries
Orange Component:
   I've seen 1 orange rind + water in its place. I've seen 3 orange rinds + water. If you're using rinds rather than a whole orange, or the orange is not that juicy, you may add any of honey, brandy, cognac, whiskey, or orange juice. It looks like maybe 1/2 cup liquid at the most, you don't want a runny mixture.

Dough Mixture

   1/2 cup butter
   1/2 cup sugar
Wet Ingredients:
   2 eggs
   1/4 cup evaporated milk
   2 Tbsp vanilla or almond extract
Dry Ingredients:
   3 cups all-purpose flour
   1/2 tsp. Baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar in mixer. Combine eggs, milk, and extract in 2nd bowl. Fold into mixing bowl and beat for 5 minutes. Combine Flour and baking powder, then add to mixing bowl, and beat until the dough is like putty. Take dough out, let it rest.

On a lightly floured surface, take pieces of the dough and roll it out into long cylinders. Then flatten the cylinder and lay fig mixture across it, then reroll the dough to encompass the cylinder. Cut the rope of dough on the diagonal, about 1-1/2 inch apart, and bake them on ungreased baking sheet for about 10 minutes.

Dough Mixture Variations:

   Butter ranged from 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup. Crisco used in place of butter. Powdered sugar used in place of granulated.
Wet Ingredients:
   Milk in place of evaporated milk, 1 extra large eggs in place of the 2 large eggs.
Dry Ingredients:
   Cake flour or pastry flour has less gluten and it is better for cookies. Saw a recipe with 3 Tablespoons of baking powder for 5 cups of flour.


1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cream
Optional food coloring and / or sprinkles

Combine sugar and cream, spread on cooled cookies. Top with sprinkles, if desired.

Icing Variation:

1 extra large egg white
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp water
tiny nonpareils sprinkles

Beat egg while until foamy, beat in sugar until smooth, then beat in lemon juice, vanilla, and water. Brush top of cookies with icing, then top with sprinkles. Let set until dry. Icing can be tinted with food colors. If icing becomes too dry, add a little bit more water.


[McCafferty] “St. Joseph's Altars”, Kerri McCafferty, Pelican Publishing Company, 2003.

[Tooker] “Crescent City Farmers Market Cookbook”, Poppy Tooker,, 2009.

[Tusa] “Marie's Melting Pot”, Marie Lupo Tusa, (Self published?), ISBN 0-9607062-9-1, 1980.


[1] I always confused the names “William Goldman” with “William Golding”, author of “Lord of the Flies”

[2] TMI : Too Much Information.


Ben Rauch, Cajun Dancer

In the spirit of my Mother’s Aunt Nora (2nd or 3rd cousin, perhaps?) I’m going to “Toot! Toot! Blow my own horn!”

I’m probably the most widely known Cajun Dancer in New Orleans Mensa. Not specifically known to Mensans, but just to the general population. Of the world, that is. Although I can’t publish a peer reviewed paper on the subject, I’m fairly confident that I am the most widely known Cajun Dancer on planet Earth. I’ve probably danced with 15,000 partners, hailing from all 50 states and 75+ countries.

I started Cajun dancing around 1978. I had separated from my wife two years before, and after the separation I would go listen to live music almost every night of the week. I think part of that was the fact that my apartment was not air conditioned, so having a few beers and listening to live music was a good alternative to staying home in the heat. The Maple Leaf Bar was one of my favorites, and it was actually my wife who first brought me there to listen to James Booker. He played mostly on Tuesdays. Thursday nights were special in that there were always a bunch of people dancing, and they seemed to be having so much fun. But I wasn’t a dancer. My younger sister and two of her friends laughed at me when I showed them how I could do the Twist. That was way back in ’64 when I was a senior in college at Loyola here in New Orleans. I really didn’t dance at all after that. Little boys are so sensitive.

So I would go to the Maple Leaf on Thursday nights and enjoy just watching everyone having so much fun. One night, or perhaps very early morning, one of the gals pulled me onto the dance floor and made me move my feet. So I guess “How’d you learn to dance?” could be most honestly answered “Drunk!” But I continued to go every Thursday, and slowly caught on. I was a really slow learner. It took me 2 years before I could waltz and talk at the same time. I had to constantly think ‘ONE, two, three, ONE, two, three.’

I often tell people there are 3 rules to Cajun dancing, which I made up myself. For a while I said all you have to do is smile, but summer dancing requires a bit of sweat. When someone tells me they can’t dance, I ask “Can you smile? Can you count to 2? Let’s dance.”

Somewhere along the way, I came up with my 3 rules.

  1. All you have to do is smile and sweat.
  2. There’s no such thing as a mistake, occasionally you do something ‘unexpected’, and then you smile.
  3. If you dance with the same partner 3 dances in a row, contiguously, without an interruption, your engaged. But it’s a Cajun engagement, it only lasts 3 hours!

As to why I enjoy dancing, the above rules might give a hint that I don’t take my dancing too seriously. I can remember seeing country bands performing on local TV stations in Missouri when I lived there, and none of the musicians ever smiled. The dancers were mostly very serious about dancing perfectly. But Cajun dancers, especially in New Orleans, dance for fun. In real Cajun country many of the older dancers are a little more serious, as are many of the New Orleans Zydeco dancers. But I’m one who believes that ‘girls just want to have fun’ and I try to oblige.

For many years I heard local men critique tourists or beginners after a dance “You should have done this, or it goes this way” to the dismay of the tourist. In the spirit of fun, I always tried to end with “That was perfect. Absolutely perfect.” Which gave me an idea.

About 10 years ago I designed a gold medal, which most people refer to as a ‘coin’, which I award to those who dance with me signifying them as a ‘Certified Cajun Dancer”. The ceremony accompanying the awarding of the medal usually includes “That was perfect. Absolutely perfect. We didn’t hurt anyone! You deserve a gold medal in Cajun dancing.” I put the gold medal (coin) in a little brown envelope with a card with my name and address, and often ask for a postcard, especially if the tourist is from a far distant country like New Caledonia or Mongolia. I’m fairly sure that I am the most widely known Cajun dancer on planet Earth. Or did I make that claim already?

Even if you don’t dance, just watching is fun. Everyone has a different style, and I encourage new dancers to dance with different partners to keep things interesting. Many people have individual moves, like David’s kick. He’s a fairly big guy, and when he reared back and sent his foot to the heavens, he would have sent another dancer there were his foot to make contact.

There are two moves which I do that originated accidentally. The first is a jump when switching sides with my partner. My friend Lenny used to push me up as I passed by, and I could get, at least it seemed, 3 feet up in the air. A few gals, Claudia and Annie in particular, do the same jump as I do, which means we’re both flying through the air at the same time! It really makes people smile, and us laugh!

The second move was the result of my trying to avoid my friend Rebecca from colliding with another couple while waltzing. As I turned her, the couple in front of us backed up, so I briefly pulled her to me. The pause only lasted half a count, and the next step was on beat. It felt very natural and seemed like a good move. So we did it a few more times, and then I tried it with a few of my better partners. It really was a good move, and Lenny said it should have a name. So we batted a few around, and came up with ‘The Benopause Waltz’. Recently at Rock’n’bowl Claudia, who I hadn’t seen since Jazz Fest, asked me if I had been doing ‘The Benopause Waltz.’

Anyone looking for an enjoyable evening can certainly get their money’s worth at Rock’n’bowl on a Thursday night. And if you’re game to get on the dance floor, you too could become a ‘Certified Cajun Dancer’.

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Last edited: 07-Mar-2011 . Webmaster Bart J. Geraci can be reached at