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Memphis August 31, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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Twelve hours to Memphis. Mrs. doesn’t do highways well, much less endless bumper to bumper, so I was way over on hours behind the wheel, just cruising on coffee and trail mix from 4 am to 4 pm. Been in frantic Twitter with peeps plus watching weather sites for last couple of hours.

The 10 pm central National Hurricane Center forecast looks good for NOLA Blogger embeds. tomorrow I will roll up anything I get from them via Twitter, email or from posts of their own if they can keep power and Internet.

What didn’t look good were the storm surge forecasts for East Plaquemines. I’ve put off taking the kids down to see Stella Plantation, which a member of my family once owned as a working plantation in the early 20th century. Not sure there will be anything left.

Must sleep.

For those who can’t, here’s some music courtesy of Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie. Remember, this was a song about long ago, about 1927 and the Delta lands I skirted all day on I-55.

On The Road Again August 31, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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If I don’t see you no more in this world, I’ll see you in the next one. Don’t be late.

>

Godspeed Y’all August 30, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Everyone on the Hurricane Coast, and most of all my people of New Orleans: I’ll see you on the other side. We are the people who came through, the people who remember. Whatever happens, we will rise above.

Toulouse Street is strangely quiet. I haven’t seen a bird today, but as dusk approaches they are callling from the trees. About half of us are still here, but by dawn tomorrow I expect our street’s population to be one or none. (That one is not me).

Toulouse Street is singing off for now. For more Odds Bits of Life in New Orleans, you can check me out on http://www.twitter.com/wetbankguy.

More back here perhaps after we unload in Memphis and pour the frist evac drink.

Shhhhh! August 30, 2008

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Don’t mention the war.

Remember August 29, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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Requiem for 8-29 August 28, 2008

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The survivors request anger in lieu of tears

Paying the Price August 27, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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I think we’ve all that that feeling, the sense that we would love to live at some fantastic vacation destination. I often feel that way when I visit the ocean, a landscape I love almost as much as I love New Orleans. All we see are the beautiful views as we live the lazy life of the visitor and we think: this could go on forever. Why don’t I just move here, open a business, live this life year round?

I wonder sometimes if visitors to New Orleans have that same reaction, if they imagine themselves living in a slave quarters somewhere in the back of the Vieux Carre’, getting some tattoos and a tricked out bicycle and hanging every night on Frenchman Street. It would be a powerful temptation to a cloistered office worker with a sense of the Romantic. Just think, to be here all year: all that food, all that music, Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras.

What they don’t know is that we pay a price to live in these places, whether in New Orleans or on some bucolic bit of Florida beach. When a tropical storm with the makings of a powerful hurricane starts to drift toward the Yucatan Straits, that is when we pay the piper. First there’s worry, then a brief flash of panic. After that, it’s all on autopilot in a sort of state of shock: find a place to stay, pack up the important papers and a bag, gas up the car, start to put away and and tie down outside. Where’s the cat’s travel bag?

People who live in the city hate the term Big Easy because that’s not what life here is about. It’s never been an easy place to live except for the very young and rootless, and the storm blew away a lot of the cheap flops the bohemians once relied on. Crime, corruption, and now the interminable marathon of reconstruction. It’s anything but easy but we find the city compensates for that in other ways, some visible to the tourists and some not. That is why we find ourselves three years after the flood, anxiously watching the Gulf.

We look at Gustav circling our cousin Haiti to the south and know the reckoning is at hand, the price we pay for the life we have. No one here wants to wish a hurricane on someone else. We all know too well what that means. Still, everyone at some level wishes it so, wants to make it go away and knows that the chances are it will not just vanish.

It will be an odd anniversary, this 8-29. By Friday we will have a good idea of our fate (but storms are fickle, watch them until the last moment). Some of us may already have begun to leave. One of the last things I plan to put away is the furniture on the porch. Like some traveler on the last day of vacation, I want to savor that moment and carry it away in memory because of something we all know in New Orleans: I don’t know when I’ll be back to that place again.

That’s a burden most of America can’t imagine: fleeing their homes not knowing when they will come back. It’s a high price to pay, but in the end I know we will be back. That is why the very last thing I will do is to strike the colors, the flag of New Orleans that flies on my house every day of the year, Fourth of July and Christmas. In my head I won’t hear the mournful strains of taps, but something like the dirge march of a brass band, something like St. James Infirmary. Taking down the flag will not be a coda but an act of continuity, an affirmation of who I am. It will come with us to remind us that whatever happens and where ever we are, we are always first and foremost Orleanians. And as we have proved these last three years, we will return.

Ghosts of the Flood August 27, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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Originally from 2006, reposted for the anniversary as I did on Wet Bank Guide in 2007.

” . . . so many, / I had not thought death had undone so many . . . “
The Wasteland, T.S. Eliot

Sometimes I feel them, my wife told me, their spirits, as I’m driving down the street. All that suffering, she explains, all those people. As if 300 years of yellow fever and the lash, the lynchings and gansta gun battles weren’t enough to populate a parallel city of spirits in this place where tombs are mansions and burials a celebration, the Flood came. Now there is a brooding presence even in the bright of day, looming over us all like a storm-bent house on the verge of collapse.

These empty shells of former lives that line so many streets are a daily reminder of the vast catastrophe; the windows staring lifelessly at broken sidewalks, the facades washed pale and colorless. Each still bears the esoteric marks of the searchers that mimic the scratching on tombs in the old cemeteries, some the dreaded mark at the bottom that totals up the lost. The tally marked beneath the cross now rises to 1577, a crowd like that described by Eliot.

I imagine not a host but solitary figures, the ghosts we know from childhood stories. In their newness to death, I picture them wandering as curious as children in the house of an aged aunt, getting underfoot and touching what they should not, interrupting and making unwelcome mischief. The brush of their passing is still strong enough to reach out and touch a good Catholic girl from North Dakota, one as innocent of the spiritualist shadows cast by every flickering candle flame before a New Orleans saint’s statue as a Midwestern Yankee could possibly be.

Even the most rationale and disinclined among us imagine ghosts in a city this old, where the steamy air is a tangible presence on the skin and lights flash erratically in the night through the stirrings of the thick, tangled foliage, where the old houses creak and groan as they settle into the soft earth like old men lowering themselves into a chair. Once I wished to experience that touch of the other, a product of reading too much fantastic fiction. One of the signature scenes in film for me is John Cassavettes as a modern Prospero in The Tempest, standing in his urban tower and saying, “Show me the magic.” For him, the sky erupts in lightening. I would sometime catch myself whispering those words, but they were simply blown away by the night wind.

Then one bright August afternoon I was sitting in my idling car in my driveway in Fargo, North Dakota. At just before five o’clock that 29th of August a string of Carnival beads which hung from my rearview mirror–black and gold beads interspersed with black voodoo figures–suddenly burst. It seemed strange at the time that they would break as the car sat still, would break at the bottom and not at the top where they routinely rubbed against the mirror post, where the string was tied off, the knot weakening the line.

It was not the way that I, as a sailor with some idea of how a line will wear, would expect them to break. Perhaps the beads slid about at the end of the string as I drove around, causing the string to wear through at the bottom, so that it was inevitable that is where it would break first, given enough corners turned, sufficient applications of the accelerator and brake. The timing of just before five o’clock on that Monday in August of 2005 was just a coincidence, the inevitable laws of physics unfolding without regard for the observer and his sense of time.

Be careful what you wish for is the lesson we learned in a dozen fairy tales. The longed for touch of the other, and the tide that washed me up on the shores of my personal Ithaca, into this house on Toulouse Street in the only place I have ever thought of as home, came with a terrible price: both are tainted with graveyard dust. I would undo it all in instant, if I only knew how.

I’ve written this post before–or ones very like it, that tell this story of the broken beads–and then deleted them. It seems just too strange and personal a tale to share with just any aimless visitor wandering the Internet. What will people think? I ask myself in a voice that sounds vaguely like my mother’s. What if some future employer Googles up this article? worries the husband with a mortgage and two children to raise.

I don’t expect them to understand. Unless you learned from the maid that cleaned your family home that crossing two matchsticks in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary and sprinkling them with salt would bring rain, unless you believed that a piece of candy found on the ground could be made safe to eat by making the sign of the cross over it, if people did not come in the night and scratch odd marks on certain tombs on the grounds where your family is buried; if these were not part of your earliest experience, then my tale of the broken beads sounds like the product of an overworked imagination, or something like Scrooge’s undigested bit of beef, a spot of mustard.

There is a spectre over New Orleans. As the August [2006] anniversary slipped away, I thought the grim, invisible cloud that hung over the city would begin to drift away. Instead, as the weeks passed, I was increasingly convinced: everyone in New Orleans was haunted. You could see it in people’s eyes, in the way they walked, hear it in the words they spoke, or the ones they wrote online as they spoke about their lingering pain. It was a spirit as much inside as out, the ghost in the machine that haunted our every step.

Then came the Monday Night Football game. I thought about the curse of the Superdome, the one that suggests the tearing down of the Girod Street Cemetery has cursed the ground and all who play there. Was the spirit of the people in the Dome that night just the charm needed to lay that particular haunting to rest, to break that curse? The morning after the strut in people’s step, the lilt of their voices told me that perhaps, just perhaps a healing had begun. We were not a city in need of an exorcism: we were the exorcism.

The ghosts of the Flood are now a part of who we are. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if it is ectoplasm or the synchronized firing of a million neurons in ways science does not yet understand. In the end we have to come to term with it. This is something that we as Orleanians, the people who live next to our dead in their exclusive farbourgs of marble and white-washed stone, should be able to do. We need to honor these dead and respect them, not with the weight of Confucian ancestor worship but in the simple spirit of the pre-Confucian Japanese who venerated odd stones, in the ways inherent in our own Latin roots mingled with the traditions of Africa, where the community of saints and the loa of Africa intersect.

We don’t need an exorcism. We need a conjuration, a ritual that calls up the ghosts and honors them, that welcomes them in the way the way the devotees of Vodoun welcome the possession of the loa. Perhaps next August 29, we should all tie a brown cord on some pillar or post of the house at just the point where we have carefully painted over the water stain. Just above that, we should mark in dust of ground gypsum the rescue symbol that is now as much a part of our selves and our city as the sign of the cross. We will do this to tell whoever is listening–Our Father, Oshun, Mother of God, ghosts of the Flood–we remember. We have suffered, and we will never forget the Flood and those who did not come through. We are the people who came through and came back. We remember the lost. We remember you.

When we accept and embrace this spirit, perhaps the haunting will end once and for all, will not be a permanent pall over the city, a fearful sound in the night like a howling in the wires, or an unpleasant knotting in the stomach as we pass an abandoned house. It will cease when it becomes instead like the glinting of the sun on white-washed stone above the neat green grass of the cemeteries, just another comfortable part of who we are.

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Achtung Baby! August 26, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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A few days ago I was singing the Fred Flintstone “Happy Annivesary” song (as quietly as possible, since I work in a beigeworld, the cube hell that haunts Dilbert’s nightmares.) to my wife’s voicemail. Nineteen years, thanks.

Now it is that Other annivesary. And a Happy Fucking Anniversary present is Gustave.

What You Don’t Know About Katrina August 25, 2008

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Those of you who are regular readers of New Orleans blogs will find few surprises in John Barry’s campaign to educate Americans about the truths of Katrina, New Orleans and the Federal Flood (our term as NOLA bloggers, not Barry’s).

If you find you way to this blog or this post because you are searching on Katrina on the anniversary, then you need to click this link right now and go read what Barry–author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Change America–has to say.


What You Need to Know About Katrina– and Don’t–
Why It Makes Economic Sense to Protect and Rebuild New Orleans

Still Raining, Still Dreaming August 24, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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A lazy day as the last of Fay rains itself out over New Orleans. I posted up some stuff on the Rising Tide Blog and moved the mailing lists for NOLA Bloggers to Google for reasons I don’t think I’ll get into. If you’re on the list, you probably know why.

The short of it: Rising Tide was another success. Our keynote speaker John Barry his current talk (which I’ve seen bits of online), and it is a powerful and important message on why New Orleans matters to the entire nation. All of the panels were interesting and well-received. I think the Levees.org film was a bit of a letdown, and I may have something more to say about that later. The food from J’Anita’s was fantastic. Thanks to Octavia Books for coming and setting up at the conference. I hope they did good business. I did my part, picking up a copy of Barry’s The Great Influenza and finally a copy of blogger Deidra of G-Bitch’s novel. I think I’m the last NOLA blogger to finally get a copy, and I plan to start it this afternoon.

After all, it’s a rainy day and I have nothing much pressing to take care of. I think I’m going to plant myself on the porch and be one with the plants, every now and then turning a page. A cigar sounds good.

Since it’s going to be such a lazy day, I will fleed to the ultimate refuge of the lazy blogger: YouTube. I somehow missed Blind Lemon in the 1990s, and came across this song as an oldie on the kid’s favorite radio station. It’s a perfect song for a rainy day. The instrumental solos are among some of the most fabulous in jam/grunge; no strike that, one of the great bits of rock in any sub genre. Listen to the bass line and tell me this doesn’t want to make you go out and dance in the rain.

Five Years August 21, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Three years August and the storms are being named like epic ships, a doom upon our shore, and I think of the levees still leaking and of the flood-walls patched with paper mache, our Potemkin defenses are not ready and we are not ready and the Big One is out there, invisible, a mighty wind, waiting for us. Someone empties a pistol into the night and I think of Jessica and Chanel and Helen and Dinerral as I watch the MPs in their Humvees roll by like armored ghosts. I think of the streets running into blocks running into miles of houses houses houses houses houses empty eyed with plywood doors and ragged lawns. And I think I’ll have another drink and light another cigarette and then another drink and then–I stop thinking. That is when this song comes into my head. It is a compulsion, like bitting ones nails until they smart and bleed, this thought that what we blog may not be our Genesis but an Apocalypse, the history of the end. And yet we stay because to live here is to walk through wrack and ruin counting the flowers in the weeds and discover you are not alone, everywhere there are people smiling, people with crumpled souls and rough stomachs, suffering what you are suffering, worse than you are suffering, suffering beyond your imagining and all for the sake of this place, because they see this city as you do, because they are the figures in the frame that make the landscape. A terrible beauty spills out of their eyes like tears and bathes the city in light.

Planning To Fail August 20, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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When first proposed by the Bring New Orleans Back commission in late 2005, the idea of “shrinking the city’s footprint” was overwhelmingly by the citizens of New Orleans. This has not prevented the city and it’s hired technocrats from proceeding to do everything in their power to shut off entire neighborhoods from the recovery.

Blogger Eli of We Could Be Famous has followed the Recovery School District Facility Master Plan process as closely as anyone could, given that there was virtually no opportunity for public input. Read what he has to say about the Facilities Master Plan and the decision taken (essentially in secret) to cut back on schools in impacted areas. People follow their churches and schools home, as has been amply demonstrated. This plan is just another attempt to push through the BNOB footprint plan under cover of doing something else.

Read what he says about the decision to propose no schools for Gentilly, Mid-City or the East:

Planners believe that services must be improved to better serve the most populated areas after the storm. This is not an improper calculation by itself but becomes regressive when one considers the practical consequences of this seemingly rational policy. In order to receive money, attention, and services a neighborhood has to prove it’s viability through re-population estimates and projections. Sections of the city that were more severely damaged during the storm obviously repopulate at a slower pace and therefore do not qualify as viable neighborhoods and are subsequently enshrined as poor investments. Thus, it is the neighborhoods that did not flood (generally better-off socioeconomically) that are being provided the lion’s share of recovery dollars. Neighborhoods that sustained heavier flooding (generally worse-off socioeconomically), are not seen as having a large enough population to necessitate things like roads, schools, public transportation, police, and hospitals.

If you don’t agree that entire neighborhoods should be abandoned by Fiat of an unelected cabal of our “betters”, I suggest you contact the BESE Board immediately. With most of the School Board on their way out, there’s probably not much chance of getting them to vote again. Let the BESE Board know that this plan is inconsistent with the citizen’s clearly communicated intent for the future of New Orleans.

Oh, and check out Leigh’s guest post at BlogOfNewOrleans.com for another take on the master plan. And as she suggests, read every post on E’s blog tagged Recovery School District or RSD. After reading the pieces quoted above, start here.

Come On Now We’re Marching To the Sea August 18, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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I have no set theory to go by. I have not worked out the science of satyagraha in its entirety. I am still groping. You can join me in my quest if it appeals to you and you feel the call.
— Gandhi

What will another crime march do?

A better question: What will happen if we do not march?

Nothing.

I’m with ReX and UNITED FOR PEACE.

I say we march. A march for all the victims. Not just for Helen Hill or Dinerral Shavers or Jessica Hawk or Nia Robertson. For No. 37. For George Hankton. For Chanel. For all the others people come to this blog every day to search for some trace of. For the famously remembered and the almost forgotten.

For ourselves.

(For some background on the picture above, see Child of Desire on Wet Bank Guide from December, 2005.)

Profiles in Courage, Excellence & Garbage August 18, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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Blogger Bayou St. John David once again takes apart the city’s fabulously inflated garbage contracts, raising the question: why isn’t Sidney Torres of SDLC on the the Excellence in Recovery Host Committee. I would think he would find Nagin, like, most excellent, dude.

And in light of my own recent question about Black politicians who use racial code and open racial attacks to protect themselves from questioning over palpably questionable behavior, David doesn’t hesitate to ask “Perhaps we should ask the [Southern Christian Leadership Council] why Richards Disposal is offering predominantly white Jefferson Parish a significantly lower price today than it negotiated with predominantly black Orleans Parish two years ago?” You may recall that the SCLC was not afraid to taunt the New Orleans City Council and threaten an economic boycott of New Orleans, suggesting that any challenge to these smelly garbage contracts was racist.

These garbage contracts are anything but “lemony fresh-smelling“.

Three Years August 17, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“I never thought I’d need so many people.”
–David Bowie, Five Years

Every day I drive slowly down rough and littered streets beneath sooty overpasses, through neighborhoods lined with hollow houses, the empty windows watching over the slow collapse of the roads into rubble, the rampant lawns and the vines claiming the roofs. Familiar landmarks are vanished into weed-choked lots even as new buildings rise up here and there. I tell myself this is not a disaster area, it is the New Orleans of memory, the postdiluvian city of shabby gentility slowly settling back into itself. It is the place I remember not transformed but instead amplified by the flood, the decay accelerated by the casual incompetence and common corruption of a government that would shame Haiti.

The streets and sidewalks still sag and heave as they did before, as if something beneath them were trying to break through and reclaim its place. There are more of these upheavals now, as if the flood had woken something that once moved slowly as in a dream, as if what lay below has grown hungry and anxious to completely crack the thin veneer of concrete we call civilization and begin to consume us in ernest. I can no longer be certain whether the roots that tear up the sidewalks run down from the trees, or if they are something clawing up from below, tossing up oaks and cypress to reclaim us for the swamp primeaval.

That is my city: not the delicate traceries of iron balconies or mossy-bricked patios at the end of a gas-lit carriageway in the Quarter–a postcard place for tourists–or the clean and quiet, manse-lined streets in the better parts of Uptown untouched by the flood. I live in the heart of the place, a section named Mid-City but called Back of Town by the cab dispatchers, rows of small houses crowded up to streets drapped in a tangle of overhead black wires, an early 20th century working class neighborhood made good (just), clinging desperately to gentility just a block from the railroad tracks.

Things mostly look good on our stretch of Toulouse Street three years after the levees failed and the city was drowned. Our biggest problem is that all of the rentals are full and its getting hard to park. I can drive to work up Orleans and tell myself it doesn’t look that different, until I get to the fields of sand and debris that were once the Lafitte Housing projects. Or I can take my son to school first, taking a part of my own boyhood route to school up Jefferson Davis and Nashville, and convince myself that things looks much the same as they did three years ago today, or twenty years ago when I left for the east coast.

I can make a point of not venturing into the heart of Gentilly Woods or New Orleans East. I can leave my newspaper folded on the porch, not reading of peoples homes demolished by mistake, or a building badly in need of demolition but ignored collapsing onto someone’s nearly restored house. I can pay no attention to the latest recovery scandal, the diversion of funds to help the elderly and poor into the pockets of the mayor’s brother-in-law. Instead I can make head out to any of a dozen of world’s finest restaurants in the country, then wander out into the night to listen to music you won’t find anywherre else in America, and tell myself everything is going to be alright.

Instead, I find myself getting up most mornings or coming home at night not to the daily paper but to a computer. I login and after vainly checking for comments and counts here, I pull up the writings of dozens of New Orleans bloggers who will not let us forget, who will not let you forget wherever you may be. They are a daily reminder of the ground truth of this place, that our recovery still struggles after three years and will continue for years to come. They remind me as well that I no longer have the time or energy to crusade as I did on Wet Bank Guide for the first two years after the flood, but that the battle goes on.

We are an odd bunch, the NOLA bloggers. I wrote not long ago:

“We are people who write about this city and the people in it… as one of the tethers for our sanity in this crazy place where It’s After the End of the World…part an underground resistance to the poor, lost fuckmooks [in City Hall] on Perdido Street and everywhere you can find them, here and away; to the “shootings happen to someone else, to bad people but not to me” mind set; to the “charter schools are wonderful, just like Catholic school without the tuition or the knee patches and let the rest rot” view of the world; a resistance against anyone who would profit from our pain or settle for less than something better for New Orleans.

“[w]e’re not paragons, of virtue or anything else. We’re as dysfunctional a band as any mid-career high school class, mad as bats as often as not, cranky as an Ash Wednesday hangover and drunk 24-7 on the elixir of New Orleans.”

Our community is an on-line analog of the movement that blossomed two years ago when the government failed to step in to rebuild the city. Organizations rose up in the neighborhoods among those who came home first, and became a movement of civic engagement. Among the leaders that movement cast up were bloggers: Karen Gadbois and Bart Everson most prominently, with dozens of others in the ranks. When it became clear that the government would not save us, the people of New Orleans moved to save themselves and blogging became an important part of that movement.

What we all blog is important because we will not let the government write our story, or the out-of-town journalists with their own angle or even our local newspaper, beholden as it is to the lot of carpetbaggers and scaliwags who are swarming like flies around the recovery money that dribbles down like. We tell our own story, the real story of the drowning and slow rebirth of New Orleans, sometimes from the fly-over view of what might be called the big picture, but more often in the stories of our own neighborhood, our block, ourselves. The people who would write our history for their own ends must contend with us. They have their own reasons, their own agendas. We have only one purpose: the salvation of the city and our own post-traumitized selves in the bargain.

Who do I read? If I start to name names, I know I will leave someone out, but on the odd chance you have just stumbled in here from elsewhere, I have to call out at least a few. Karen’s Squandered Heritage, Eli’s We Could Be Famous, the anonymous bloggers David’s Moldy City and Dambala’s American Zombie do not just take apart yesterday’s news; they are a at least a day (if not months) ahead at least. Karen and Eli can take credit for breaking the most recent City Hall Scandal. For a taste of life in the postdiluvian city you should be reading Micheal Homan, Kim’s Dangerblond, Mominem’s Tin Can Trailer Trash, Gentilly Girl, Cliff’s Crib, author Poppy Brite’s Dispatches from Tanganyika or Ray in New Orleans (currently on a blogging sabatical, but read back through his story of working on gutting houses in New Orleans). If you want to see people get their snark on and find a way to laugh through the veil of tears, then visit Peter’s Adrastos or Jeffery’s Library Chronicles.

Ah, what a slippery slope this is. See, I’ve gone and left out Leigh, Derek, Deidre, Glen, Bart, Lisa, Greg and Oyster and bog only knows who else. If you come away from this list hurt, hit me up for a drink at Rising Tide III, the bloggers conference on the recovery of New Orleans. You see, we are not just a lot of computer-equipped malingerers and malcontents. Many individuals (Ray, Bart, Karen, and others) have gone great things for the city. As a group, we have mounted Rising Tide, an annual conference on the city’s slow reconstruction. We have been able to attract national authors for featured speakers and active locals to our panels because they too have learned that there is a force moving in the world called blogging. It is not just a spin-off phenomena of politics or the ugly murmurring of the mob you read below the stories on NOLA.COM. It is as powerful and as democratic as Tom Paine setting type and as powerful and as ethereal as William Blake carving visionary plates.

Three years is too soon to know if we will succeed or fail, whether we are writing small pieces of the history of a great beginning or a tragic ending. It is a tremendous task, not merely to rebuild a city but at the same time to try to correct a century of past mistakes that had led to the city I described when I began, the city already full of broken streets and broken dreams before the flood came. Will we collapse of our own internal contraditions like the revolutions of the 20th century, or be drowned beyond recovery by yet another storm? All I know for certain is that unless the Internet collapses or is suppressed you can watch it play out here. Or even play your own part. Blogging alone, we have learned, is not enough, but it is a start: a public declaration that you care about New Orleans, and will not let is fade away.

Cross-posted from Humid City, where this first went up as part of Loki’s Carnival of Blogging for the anniversary and Rising Tide.

TS Fay: Sponsored by Bacardi and State Farm August 17, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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Why the hell is it that a few thousand Cubans and their allies) can force us to maintain a state of cold war with Cuba that prevents Hurricane Hunters from reaching a storm that threatens the United States? We learn this from today’s tropical storm discussion from the National Hurricane Center:

…the center of Fay is too close to the coast of Cuba to be accessible to the Air Force hurricane hunter aircraft…so there are no direct measurements of central pressure or precise positioning of the surface center…

That is as insane.

And for fun, go check out the five-day forecast map on Weather Underground, brought to you by State-Farm, the company that used doctored engineering reports to lower payouts to Mississippi policy holders. (A helpful federal judge explained to us last April that while this constituted bad faith, it was not fraud. I plan to keep that in mind as I prepare my next year’s tax return using multiple, doctored W-4s. I mean, if it’s OK for State-Farm it should be OK for me, right?)

I’d go on, but I’m off to check around the neighborhood for rabbits with pocketwatches…

Nagin Award Drives Me To Drink August 16, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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1 comment so far

This Nagin award thing is going to drive me to drink. I say we honor the Survivors of Katrina that are being used to promote this sham award. I say we drink to the Salt of the Earth.

Christ, did Keith Ridchards every really look that young?

Selling Wolf Tickets to Ginny Women August 16, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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4 comments

N.B. While I understand Carmen’s concern in her comment below that Nagin boosters will dismiss this (I know the dude, and he’s not…), I am determined to move the bar, to make it clear that the word applies to those like Nagin (or Head or the rest of them) who play the card to win.

Times-Picayune editorial writer and columnist Jarvis DeBerry show us he still still a man “in touch with the street”, as old white guys in politics used to say when I was a young white guy in politics. He treats us to a bit of street talk in his Aug. 10 column on Mayor C. Ray Nagin’s latest show of tail feathers over the blogger-sourced NOAH scandal. Nagin is, he tells us

A walking embodiment of the black vernacular, he called certain mail critics “ginny women.: He accused others of “selling wolf tickets”….

Sadly, Mr. DeBerry doesn’t bother to explain to us cracker-ass, recovery-hating bloggers what these terms mean. Thank bog for the Internets, that series of tubes which we nattering nabobs of negativism have excavated beneath the city’s recovery like medieval miners trying to fell a castle wall.

Oddly, I found the definition for “ginny woman”, a man who likes to gossip or involve himself in “women’s business”, under the Wikipedia entry for Yat (scroll down to the glossary), a uniquely working class white vernacular. I wonder if all of the Yat’s are supposed to drop using ginny woman now the way blacks stopped saying “brah” for brother the minute the white guys at Kennedy High School took it up.

Selling wolf tickets is more genuinely black vernacular, if the unruly mob behind Wikipedia are to be trusted. Sadly DeBerry missed a grand opportunity for irony in the service of clarify when he didn’t use the Lord Mayor’s own feeble threat to “cold cock” members of the local news media as a living definition. Either that or he ran over his word count, as people who live and die by the column inch must sometimes do when they’re on a roll, and something had to go.

In all fairness, DeBerry and columnist Stephanie Grace deserve full credit for their tag team Sunday columns (his here, her’s here)calling out the mayor. Jumping Nagin is something the Picayune seems very cautious about in its news column. I especially like the part where Stephanie jumped into the ring with the folding chair and whacked Hizzoner upside the head. (OK, that was gratuitous and entirely too much fun to type). Others have analyzed the full dynamic of their one-two punch better than I: Moldy City in particular.

All frustrated newspaper columnist cleverness on my part aside, I have a lot of respect for DeBerry. If I’ve deeply insulted him by any of the above, I apologize and in the same breath suggest he needs to lighten up and get out of the newsroom a little more often. I respect him because he is the child of middle-class Black parents who is an editorial writer at a paper ruled by the white uptown elite in the person of Ashton Phelps, Jr. I am sure DeBerry must walk a very fine line between what he wants to say and what he can or must say if he wants to keep his job, much as the politicians he sometimes writes about must do.

That may be the reason behind the failure of his Sunday column fails. It fails because it starts down a path it does not follow to its logical end. DeBery is in a unique position to speak out to all communities, as an editorialist for a mainstream newspaper who routinely speaks to the Op-Ed reading elite, and as a son of black New Orleans. I think he could call the mayor out on the most important score of all more effectively than my sorry Bunny Bread ass ever can, sitting here typing for an audience of a hundred (on a good day). Still, that is a Rubicon DeBerry has not yet crossed, and perhaps never can with Phelps looking over his shoulder. So once again I’m stuck out here in the wilderness with locusts and honey stuck in my teeth and not so much as a twig in sight, speaking what must be said:

Nagin is a racist.

His use of black street slang isn’t just machismo, as DeBerry suggests. Nagin is speaking in racial code to advance his agenda, circling “his people” around him as a buffer from any criticism. Anyone who so openly panders to one race over the other, who falls back upon the defense that “they” are out to get one of “us”, differs from David Duke in degree and not kind. Speaking in code just makes it worse, more insidious. Were the White Citizen Councils somehow different or better than the Ku Klux Klan? When I say this (or if James Gill or Stephanie Grace try it), well, we’re just them: Exhibit A in the argument that We’re out to get the Brother-In-Chief of the city.

What bullshit.

If you pander to racial divisiveness, you are a racist. It doesn’t matter if you drape yourself in your wife’s best sheets or the lingo of the streets, the game is the same. And that is what Nagin does, just as Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and Cynthia Willard-Lewis did with the Inspector General debate When you pack the council with an angry, racial mob to get your way, does it matter if they are black or white? What difference does it make? Not that Nagin or the Cynthias are alone. Stacey Head is not above giving tit-for-tat, publicly disrespecting the other side to curry favor with her own. She is the obverse of the Nagin coin. Her taunting of public housing residents and clash with Tamborine and Fan are equally unacceptable.

What no one in the Times Picayune is likely to step up to say is the one thing that needs most to be said: people who stir up racial division are the ones who do the greatest damage to the recovery, even more than the looters in suits who siphon off recovery money.

Yes, you, C. Ray Nagin. You are not only a racist, you are one of the greatest threats to the city’s recovery. You are what I have railed against since I started blogging back in August 2005 and all through the darkest days of the rest of that dark year, back when I wrote about the Knights of the Invisible Hand, or a year and a half later when I wrote about the inspector general battle.

My position remains the same: We can not afford this. We couldn’t in September 2005, or November 2006 or August 2008. At the one bright moment in the history of the entire slavery-cursed South when everyone in one community had the largest event of their lives in common, were united in solidarity by the flood; when history presented us our Augenblick, our opportunity to seize the day and make the revolution Martin Luther King prophesied, you chose instead to whip it out and piss all over it just to show you’re one of the folk, one of the guys. When you were done you shook the brothers down for all they had in their pockets for your car fare to get uptown and collect your campaign checks, and you laughed all the way to the bank.

What a tremendous accomplishment and legacy. We shall have to erect a statue to you in memory of these times, perhaps where the Liberty Monument once stood, to remind us how you helped to destroy the second reconstruction of New Orleans. We can all look at it and hope that some day we will all join together to pull it down.

Oh, and Mr. Mayor: if you think the bloggers are out to get you, we are. In case you haven’t noticed, the NOLA Bloggeres are out to get anyone who threatens or interferes with the recovery. FYYFF.

How long can the Excellence in Recovery Host Committee hold a bong hit before laughing hysterically? August 15, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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1 comment so far

Headline blatantly stolen from Schroeder at People Get Ready because its so damn funny.

If you want to answer that rhetorical question, you can contact some of the people on the invitation sponsor list below. Click the image to view it full size and legible. (h/t to Eli of We Could Be Famous). Better yet, I’ve just found that Howie Luvzus has typed up the list of sponsors, and provided the email addresses for some of them. Be sure to join me in dropping them a line.

You should also follow Kevin Allman’s developing story on Gambit’s Blog of New Orleans. Loki of Humid City has also been on top of this, tracking down Jackie Clarkson who has started scuttling away from it like a crab.

I still don’t know whether to laugh or cry over the idea of honoring Nagin with The Award of Distinction for Recovery, Courage and Leadership. What a crock. I want to suggest again, if you haven’t blogged this or called someone in outrage yet, please do so. This sham needs to go the way of the ill-advised “celebration” of the anniversary in August 2006.

Recovery, Courage, Leadership and Nausea August 14, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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4 comments

As fond as we are of the Odd, there are moments when it seems Toulouse Street has slipped into the Twlight Zone, and hot in a happy way. It is like the fellow who wakes up after the apocalypse free to read every book in the NYC Library, only to drop and break his classes.

Receiving a link to this in an email was one of those moments.

The Award of Distinction for Recovery, Courage and Leadership to C. Ray Nagin? W. T. F.

I think we need to find out 1) who is behind this bizarre event and 2) let them know we’re taking this circulated email to be an invitation. I hope they have a big room, because we are all coming looking for some explanation of this insanity.

This event should no more take place than the ill advised 8-29 party the Mayor once proposed for 2006. What sort of people are sponsoring this? No one outside of the mayor’s own staff or family could possibly take this seriously.

Update: Read this, in particular the part about the hit-and-run victim. At what point do we declare we live in a failed state and either begin to organize militias for our own protection, or request the protection of the international community?

A hit and run driver, who left a Bywater resident and business owner bleeding in the street with protruding broken bones, telling the victim, “I never hit you”, can only be ticketed for a misdemeanor, and then only if witnesses come along for the arrest to identify him to his face. The Ticketed driver would not be arrested, nor the witness protected.

The police asked a witness, a single women who lives near by, to accompany them to the front porch, where almost a dozen young men were gathered, and stand there pointing out the one who drove the vehicle so cold bloodedly over her friend, while his friends watched her make the identification. The cops said they would issue a traffic citation upon her identification, but make no arrest.

She must pass this house on an almost daily basis.

Another, happier Update: At least now I am laughing: How long can the Excellence in Recovery Host Committee hold a bong hit before laughing hysterically? Thanks, Schroeder.

Cajun Crack August 11, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in oddities, Odds&Sods, Toulouse Street.
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3 comments

I could just barely resist buying a can of Adrenaline Chicken. After all, “Packed with Pure Adrenaline, Its Cajun Crack!” It sounds like something Hunter S. Thompson would insist on putting on his scrambled eggs, along with some tequila.

Damn, I just immediately fell in love with that name. I hope he makes his own TV commercials. Somehow, the quirky local pitchmen seem to have fallen off of Planet New Orleans, and we sure do miss them.

And get a close-up load of that chicken.

Lest you think I have falled into crass product placement, let me just say that if Nino Thibodaux wants to send me a can, I’ll take it.

NOLA Bloggers find missing cranes on city skyline August 11, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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2 comments

Cranes, you bastard. You promised us cranes. Well, we’re ready to deliver where Ed “Bicycle Pants” Blakely cannot. We got your cranes on the skyline.

Graphic by Greg Peters.

Here’s your rolling reminder about Rising Tide 3: John Barry, author of the definitive work on the 1927 Mississippi River flood; Lee Zurik together with the bloggers who broke the NOAH story; the inside dope on the massive uncontrolled experiment on involuntary child subjects called our post-Flood educational system, eats from the restaurateur/bloggers from J’Anita’s. Aren’t you registered yet? Social 8/22 in the evening at Buffa’s. Conference 8/23 a the Zeitgeist Cultural Center. Volunteer work 8/24.

I Can’t Get It Started August 9, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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2 comments

I can’t find any supporting evidence for this bit of web noise from something called Toxic-Web’s today in history page, but it intrigued me enough to pull up this excellent video of our own Al Hirt with Maynard Ferguson:

“1937, Bunny Berigan and his orchestra record the jazz standard “I Can’t Get Started”… the chord changes from this oft-covered tune become a staple for bebop musicians a decade later … “

A bit of searching on Bunny Berigan also credits his solos with Benny Goodman’s Orchestra as helping to launch the Swing era. If any serious musicologists out there can educate me on the merit of those two claims (which taken together are mightly impressive) I’d appreciate it.

Just looking at You Tube, a hell of a lot of players have covered this tune (which is a great one). And New Orleans’ own Al Hirt is someone I completely dismissed in my youth, back when my musical tastes ran closer to my son’s. (A little Uriah Heap or Bloodrock, anyone?). I’m not sure I’ve closely listend to him since my appreciation for jazz swung 180 decades ago in my late teens. This might be the first time I’ve heard him really play. Wow.

And here is Berigan’s original.

Hot Time August 8, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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2 comments

Is it the heat that leaves me as mindless as a humming monk when August finally settles in, the hot, damp air thick and clinging? I ask others and they answer with shrugs as they reach for their iced drink: the zen perfect non-answer. So much to be done and so little energy. Work rolls in at the counting house as relentlessly as waves off the ocean, and I have to catch up from a week at Destin in Florida and another few days in Miami. Summer is ending for the children. My daughter has already started at NOCCA, and I need to finish laying in school supplies. The period called summer vacation on the school calendars may be drawing to a close, but we are deep in the middle of the scorching season.

I try to wrap my brain around work as I trudge up the sweltering canyon of Common Street in the morning, but some days the long, sweaty slog is like Everest without oxygen. I stare off at no fixed point and mechanically plant one foot ahead of the other. In spite of the city’s fabulously expensive sanitation contracts, the lemony-fresh smell is long gone. Most days it smells of sun-roasted garbage, and one morning it was the cloying aroma of all-the-rats-in-the-sewer-have-died.

Days working at home are almost as bad. If I dare to step out onto the porch to sit and have a cigarette I am like my laptop suddenly unplugged: my eyes go dim just as the computer screen does, and little warning messages pop up–something internal has been disabled. I have to retreat quickly back into the house. Nights we sit out endlessly–it is near to our favorite spot in the house in all weathers–and as I try to organize what was accomplished today and what must be done tomorrow my thoughts simply evaporate even as the sweat does not, and I stare for a long time at the tricolored ginger plant potted on the porch.

My wife suffers from the heat even more than I do as she bravely sits beneath the porch fan, her feet bathed in a basin of cool water. She was not raised to this climate but a childhood spent in blizzard country, where they say forty below keeps the riff-raff out, has produced a person not easily intimated by simple weather. In spite of her complaints she manages to keep as busy as a farm wife, sitting with her notebook of endless lists of things to be done, adding and subtracting activities as industriously as the fabled ant. She asks me questions or reminds me of this or that and I find myself slowly peeling my gaze away from the ginger plant and asking, “what?” all too often. A distant, vaguely Asian voice in my head prompts me: focus, grasshopper.

When we came back from Destin in the Florida panhandle, we had resolved go to back in June next year. It was not so much the heat as the swarming jellyfish that kept us mostly out of the ocean that prompted this discussion. I recall from my childhood that jellyfish were an August phenomena, and the chair attendants are too young to remember when they didn’t come in mid-July. As I sit at home and thoughtlessly scratch at the sun burn itch under my shirt I have to wonder if perhaps July is not the perfect time to go, ideal for collapsing into a canvas chair and becoming just another bit of flotsam slowly baking on the beach. I was fairly active in Miami, venturing into the bug-cursed Everglades of August, shopping Little Havana for cigars and wandering for several sun-delirious hours along Ocean and Collins Avenues in South Beach. Still, I spent an awful lot of time at the Biltmore Hotel beside its enormous pool, wagging my empty mohito glass at the strolling waiters as the hovering pool boys brought glistening cups of ice water.

Now those trips are behind us and I must somehow catch up at work and at home even as the temperatures consistently climb into the nineties. Today is a relief as a large front has passed, stirring up storms all night and leaving a breeze from the north behind it. The wind cools a bit as it passes over Lake Pontchartrain, and between that change of weather, the clouds and the fan the porch seems positively pleasant. It won’t last. In a day or two, August will roll back in and over us as it always does.

I was talking to a neighbor yesterday and they said something that reminded me of the line I mentioned above from North Dakota: forty below keeps the riff-raff out. We spoke of the weather and he said that if it weren’t for the heat and the humidity, everyone would want to live here. I haven’t heard that one in a while, but it holds a world of truth: the idea that New Orleans is worth the suffering of summer and the subtle dread of the start of the real hurricane season. While the rest of the world trudges across sun-backed acres of shimmering shopping mall blacktop to escape into the A/C, we chose instead to wander art galleries on White Linen and Dirty Linen night, to taste new drinks at Tales of the Cocktail and listen to hot music at Satchmo Fest. It sounds stupid as I say it in my head but I can’t resist: even in the swelter of August New Orleans is cool, cool in every way the word has been used since the first hipster spoke it as a way of being and not a temperature.

These may be the dog days, but you’re as likely to find us out baying at the moon as curled up beneath the porch fan. If you love New Orleans, you’ll tolerate the weather and even drag yourself out into it. (My wife tolerates it because she loves me, an even more mysterious phenomena). For us it is not just a matter of coping, but also of learning to live through the swelter. I lamented long ago that we’d forgotten how, but the longer I’m home the less I think so. You’ll have to excuse me now but lunch hour is over and I need to crawl back into the air conditioning of my office. But first I need to check and make sure there are limes. A mohito is sounding very good right now and, in the absence of pool boys, come five o’clock I will need to be ready. If you pass by later you may not see us behind all the plants, but we’ll be on the porch. Stop by and join us under the fan at the coolest place on Toulouse Street.

Rising Tide III August 7, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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2 comments

The Rising Tide organizers have been busy as hell while I was lazing in Destin and Miami. The schedule is finalized and it’s time to start banging pans together to build so momentum for this year’s conference.

If you are not familiar with this event, the NOLA Bloggers are organizing their third annual conference on the recovery of New Orleans. This year’s featured speaker is John Barry, author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America and commissioner for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East.

Last year’s feature speaker, author and blogger David Zirin, told me at lunch in all of his travels for work and book promotion, he has never seen as organized and integrated a blogging community as he found in New Orleans. The success of the last two Rising Tide conferences reflect that clearly. The organizing group has put together a fantastic array of speakers. So far, the only thing missing is you.

So why haven’t you registered yet? You can get more details and sign up at www.risingtidenola.net or on the Rising Tide Blog.

Dazed and Amused August 1, 2008

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Toulouse Street.
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2 comments

My daughter asked me if the 70s retro flick Dazed and Confused was “realistic”. Having only seen the box at the video store, I hesitated for second. “I can’t say, since I haven’t seen it. I mean, I spent half the 70s in Catholic school, coming home every night and doing my homework for hours, then finishing up by getting on my knees and knocking off a couple of rosaries.”

She eyed me suspiciously. I think the rosary thing might have been a bit too much.

I just smiled and turned up the car stereo, imagining (perhaps a bit too vividly and easily) a stream of multi-bizarre people passing by the storefronts of Elmwood.

I think I’ll have to rent Dazed and Confused when we get back. For now, we’re off to Miami for a couple of days (wife on business, me cigar shopping and lounging at the pool at the Biltmore. Yeah, life’s tough. Oh, pool boy, another mohito, please).

For now, sit back and enjoy the show. Go with the flow. You’re in the hands of experts.

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