Ghosts of the Flood August 29, 2014Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, Corps of Engineers, Fargo, Federal Flood, Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, memoir, postdiluvian, Shield of Beauty, the dead, The Narrative, The Typist, We Are Not OK.
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” . . . 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 number at the bottom that totals up the lost.
The tally marked beneath the cross now rises to 1577, a crowed 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 Midwesterner 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 they 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, something like Scrooge’s undigested bit of beef, a spot of mustard.
There is a spectre over New Orleans. As the August 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 destruction 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 ghost of the Flood is 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. Je me souviens.
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.
First posted Oct. 5, 2006 on Wet Bank Guide.
Thirty Seven: Hubris February 24, 2014Posted by The Typist in 365, je me souviens, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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What hubris to think I could write something every day worth punching the Publish button. To write every day, that is the injunction, but to write toward a distant end: a poem, a story, an essay, something complete. What could I possibly have said yesterday worth sharing: that the morning was spent in a pleasant hangover-and-coffee stupor? That the chilli came out well? That I read a chapter of physical anthropology and took the quiz?
I made an effort to get through a good bit of Susan Sontag’s On Photography for my Visual Anthropology class. Among the professor’s professional subjects are the Mardi Gras Indians, whom he has photographed extensively. When he asks us at the beginning of class if we have questions or comments on the reading, do I dare ask him about this passage?
Moralists and conscienceless despoilers, children and foreigners in their own land, they will get something down that is disappearing–and, often, hasten its disappearance by by photographing it.
Does the extensive photography of the Indians first by Micheal Smith, Christopher Porche West and, yes, Dr. Jeffery Ehrenreich honor or despoil something once the exclusive property of its own community, the Black neighborhood in which a particular tribe lives, something as powerfully spiritual as any drum ritual of humanity’s invention, something as beautiful as any art humanity has created? The Indians sewed and came out before the cameras arrived. What now of the flocks of tourists and natives alike with their cheap digital cameras? Is this a fusion of cultures, an integration never achieved in the schools, or rather part of what I once called the descent into Disney?
We are figures on a disappearing landscape, a city that has maintained much of an original culture against the onslaught of universal television and economic conglomeration. We are as beautiful and alien and endangered as any tribe at the edge of Amazonian development. And what will gentrification do, when the Indians are driven out of their own neighborhoods and the corner practice bar becomes a nuisance to the new neighbors? Old urban churches could survive for a while on the parishioners, black and white, who fled to the suburbs returning on Sunday. What will become of the Indians when the corner bar becomes a coffee shop and they are scattered in diaspora?
I worried about these issues into the tens of thousands of words when I was publishing the Wet Bank Guide blog. Would the Indians be able to return? What would happen to the next generation of musicians, the children scattered to Texas and Atlanta, when they decided to take up 50 Cent’s microphone instead of their uncle’s trombone? I don’t voice those worries as I did once only out of fear that I was looking over the black precipice and in danger of tumbling over. Still, I worry, especially about gentrification and the Indians. The famous scene used as the lead still for the first season of Treme, when Chief Lambreaux comes up the street in full regalia, emerging out of darkness to insist to Robinette they will still come back, reduced me to tears.
I still worry that what I write is part of our Apocalypse, about those in power who think we should model ourselves on Atlanta instead of pan-Carribbea, that we are among the last men and women who will walk the streets of something recognizably New Orleans.
And that is hubris, the unquenchably Gaullist chauvinism of New Orleans exceptionalism, that I will only give up as the rattle of my last breath. Until the gods strike me down, I will always find something to say because I live in one of the last places on Earth worth saving from insect humanity.
Five January 19, 2014Posted by The Typist in je me souviens, memoir, Memory, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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There was no time to stop or drop. Three-quarter throttle up Jackson Avenue, Honda Passport in the right lane (no, not Uptown you fool) when that long Detroit hood pulled out of the side street. The impact and somersault over the hood are mostly a matter of recollection after the fact of the possible mechanics, wondering how I’d come to land on my feet in the middle of the Avenue. My first clear recollection were the corner forty boys hooting and applauding. “Hey, man, if we call Eyewitness News can you do that again?”
It took the heavy, middle-aged man a minute or more to come to his senses and makes his way around the car. I slowly removed my helmet, waved to the corner guys and told him I thought I was OK. My feet wouldn’t start to hurt until the adrenaline wore off. I wave off his apologies with a smile, lost in a reverie of appreciation for my lucky stunt. The tiny 70cc bike, however, was clearly done. The front wheel survived, looking true if flat. When I stood the bike up, it was clear the frame was not, just enough of a bend to render it unrideable.
Marianne had a car, had bravely ridden the Passport to work in her Eighties office skirt suit when I’d broken my arm in the bar stool-vaulting contest at the Abbey. (Some other time; a story in its own right) but the little bike was my ride, the only way I had to get from Carrollton to work in Gretna and out to my newspaper assignments. It was a fixture on the West Bank, the man in the land of Harleys and Goldwings gassing up his tiny bike in a suit. It had carried me across all three ferries and against all sense across the Huey P. Long and Greater New Orelans Bridge, survived the time it dropped out from under me on the slick deck of the GNO just in front of an 18-wheeler. My head hit hard but god bless helmets; I rolled out from under the wheels and the bike passed under the truck between the wheels.
Now its was done and I was stranded. It would be for weeks until my brother-in-law gave me his father’s old Ford Custom 500 with 300 plus on the odometer. I don’t remember the driver’s name. I wish I did. We loaded loaded the bike with room to spare in the trunk of his beat Detroit wheels, and he drove me home, apologizing profusely the entire time as shock slowly set in and I kept moaning over and over again, “how am I going to get to work?” He promised to make it good, and asked how much the bike was worth. I had learned on the way to my house he was on his way back from a no-luck day at the labor pool. I really had no idea, and understood he was broker than I was with my $280 a week suburban newspaper job. Two hundred, I muttered. OK, he said. He gave me his phone number and took mine, but I never really expected to hear from him again
It was a few weeks later when the call came, and I fired up the blown muffler Custom 500 in a cloud of bad gasket smoke like a ghetto James Bond, and drove to somewhere on the Uptown side of Jackson between Magazine and the river. I sat on the spfung couch drinking sweet tea and politely refusing his wife’s cookies while he peeled of the wrinkled tens and twenties, a lot of money for a man with a car almost as gone as mine who spent his days sipping coffee outside of labor pool. At this point in my life Schwegman’s was my bank: cash the check, pay the NOPSI bill, get a money order for the landlord. I knew thar I was barely one rung up the ladder. I was wearing a Haspel wash-and-wear suit when he hit me. For all he knew the bike was a hobby and not a necessity. And he made it good.
We are all suspicious of each other, especially across color lines, but I’ve learned from experience there are times when color only matters when you make your coffee, that honesty is more common than you think. I’ve forgotten the man’s name but I hope through the miracle of the Internet that perhaps a grandchild or someone else who’s heard the other side of this story will know that he was a good man and he is remembered for it.
Remember August 29, 2013Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, Debrisville, Federal Flood, geo-memoir, ghosts, home, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, Sinn Fein, the dead, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
I am not sure when I made this graphic. Friends in the core group of NOLA Bloggers who came together after the storm were talking about draping the blogs in black back in ’06 or ’07. I thought this was just simpler. And strangely, it never occurred to me to post it today until this morning until someone I just met a few months ago made it their avatar on Facebook.
I supposed I knew at some deep level the anniversary was coming. I still get email from the Rising Tide conference that core group of bloggers spawned years ago, which continues even without a lot of its founders who have moved on, and that is always on the weekend before or after. Still, Katrina–what we came to call the Federal Flood–was not in my mind. I have other worries: a son struggling in his first days of college, an ill mother, a play I want to mount, troubled friends and lovers, a complicated life.
The story goes on: the new levee authority sues the oil companies, the levees such as they are, are as fixed as they’re going to get, the giant gap along Marconi Drive at the Orleans Canal pumping station included. The blighted houses remain, some with their fading residue of rescue marks. The new pumps as the canals will or will not work when the time comes, and the evidence of tests is mixed at best.
As busy as I am I can’t help but feel that I dishonor the ghosts I made a commitment to years ago. I think of the folder of bloated bodies I collected via news photographer friends, lost with my last computer. I think of the abandoned homes I still see in Gentilly, “[t]hese empty shells of former lives that line so many streets … the windows staring lifelessly at broken sidewalks, the facades washed pale and colorless.”
I spent my crisis day this week, the day I made a cocktail at 3:15 p.m.to steady myself for all of the news of that day, going out with a friend to eat sushi and see Jon Cleary and drink a little too much for a weeknight. Lest you think me irresponsible I did all I could to board and shore up the catastrophes of that day, and then went out to escape it for a few hours in pleasant company. It’s how we do. Before I went out I had to go sell some things from the house we bought when I uprooted my family and brought them here to the heart of a disaster zone. I sold some pots and trellises to the Michelle Kimble, a pre-eminent preservationist both before and after the storm, and we talked about a lot of things. The storm never came up. After she left I looked at some tile art my ex-wife had bought laying on the floor for this weekend’s sale, including one of St. Francis Cabrini church. I left it there for the sale.
With all my current problems and work perhaps I have reached the point I wrote about long ago before I abandoned the Katrina-blog Wet Bank Guide. ” If history and the city consumes us all one-by-one but the city lives on, that perhaps what was always intended, why we were all lured home. In the end, perhaps [Thomas] Pynchon has given us the model to surviving It’s After the End of the World. If history has gone too wrong for any one of us to stop what is happening around us, maybe it is better to amble down a shady street in New Orleans without a particular thought in my head except the distant sound of what might be [Tyrone] Slothrop’s harmonica, to disappear into the random noise in the signal.”
Greg Peters August 3, 2013Posted by The Typist in Bloggers, cryptic envelopment, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA Blogroll, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: Greg Peters, Suspect Device
“Sing, Goddess, the wrath of Achilles.”
–Homer, opening of the Illiad
No, that’s not right. Greg Peters was so much more than the wrath of Suspect Device and so much the opposite of the boastful Achilles. What I most remember was the last conversation we had. He was sitting alone at a table at Mimi’s before the Krewe du Vieux parade, and I don’t remember a word we spoke. I just remember an easy manner, a smile like a child at once guilty and proud of what mischief he had done, the smile of a bashful teenage lover, looking down a bit when he smiled lest someone catch him at it. Beneath the public exterior of satirical cartoonist and ranting blogger was the soul of a genuine Buddhist, an easy compassion and acceptance of the world that perhaps masked an acceptance of mortality. He sat that night at ease among friends and yet distant, as if he were already leaving, sitting alone at his table receiving visitors, so many not knowing it would be the last time they would speak.
No, not an acceptance of mortality. This is going all wrong. Greg had the word “indestructible” tattooed on his forearm a short while ago. Words, ink: he was only going to fall with his pen in his hand, with a samurai beauty that combined a fierce defiance and a Zen certainty of bliss beyond death. That word spoke of his love of his young sons, the companionship of a good woman and many friends, so much he was not at age 50 ready to leave behind, so much more for a lightening-fired mind yet to do.
We were all thrown together by the storm, a collection of ranting and lamenting bloggers who fell together into an indivisible friendship. We birthed an anarchist conference called Rising Tide, “A conference on the future of New Orleans” and Greg was our artist. Each poster and t-shirt topped the last, the best the rough angel rising from the waters. Rising Tide has moved onto to a 501(c)3 with paperwork and committees and most of us who were there at the beginning fell away from that but never lost each other. At the center of that group was a meeting of minds and hearts larger than the rest, Greg’s (with Ashley Morris’s) largest of all.
We knew of his heart problems from the first. After his first surgery at a distant heart clinic fellow organized a collection to get him a Macbook so he could continue to work in his convalescence. We knew that heart of steel had a fatal flaw, one that would one day break and leave him holding the haft and staring Death in the face.
A heart of steel is no guarantee except against despair. Invincible until the end. We should all go so well.
Oṃ tāre tuttāre ture svāhā. I don’t know if Greg followed the Taras, the female Buddha, but he modeled so many of her aspects: Green Tārā, known as the Buddha of enlightened activity; Red Tārā, of fierce aspect associated with magnetizing all good things; Blue Tārā, associated with transmutation of anger. In the end White Tārā, also known for compassion, long life, healing and serenity, took him into her bosom, recognizing his compassion and serenity through so much suffering. It was enough for this one soul to advance. Oṃ tāre tuttāre ture svāhā.
Greg left us too soon but he carved a path through the world large enough most men would happily call it a life. Tārā Mother of Liberation, teach me to walk in his footsteps.
When the Music’s Over May 20, 2013Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, je me souviens, New Orleans, Remember, the dead, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Ray Manzarek
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…now night arrives with her purple legion
Retire now to your tents and to your dreams
Tomorrow we enter the town of my birth
I want to be ready
Somewhere in the City of Lights tonight a single bulb fails to illuminate and that absence will be drowned in rivers of headlights and the sparkling hills. PG&E will not notice. The grid of copper and gold will continue to enfold us in its clutches. There is, however, another grid, an etheric one, that operates in that place where photon waves collapse into particles and the very air dances at frequencies only discernible to the ears of the so attuned. The minor catastrophe of the end of a single human life vibrates through that grid until it reaches every other life the lost one touched. A harmonic resonance begins which, left unchecked, could shatter the world, and only the countervailing vibration of Love that runs back through the etheric grid cancels it out and prevents cataclysm.
The old embed code no longer works on You Tube. When the Music’s Over.
RIP Ray Manzarek
Hypnotic Progression Therapy April 7, 2013Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, je me souviens, Memory, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: helical stairs, John Clarence Laughlin, spiral staircase
2 comments An icon of childhood memory, I cannot describe that spiral staircase in the gallery behind my great-aunts’ Royal Street apartment with any certainly. Is it as grand as I think it was, or simply amplified by the dimensions of my own smallness and the fog of memory? What remains is an ideal of the spiral or helical staircase; really the latter, with an opening instead of a newel pole. It is the view up that central shaft that gives such staircases the dizzying illusion of a gateway into the third dimension, neither the limit of a ceiling nor the infinite distance of the sky; not the abstract geometry of a tree for climbing but the precise spiral diminishing in perspective that lends a sense of motion toward a destination usually reserved for loose balloons.
Traveling with the Dead March 19, 2013Posted by The Typist in Crime, cryptic envelopment, je me souviens, Murder, New Orleans, Remember, Toulouse Street.
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This comment posted day before yesterday explains why I haven’t been posting but instead trying, in my limited time to blog, to finish my list of the dead of 2012.
“My Love, My Soulmate, My Hubby….
*Arthur Jackson* 05/08/78-07/01/07
It’s been 5yrs and it feels like yesterday…some days are better than others, but the pain remains…I’ve know this man since 1st grade, we attended elementary & high school together….He was my friend,soulmate,my LIFE…Our kids miss him so much, I wish he was here to mentor,guide, his boys(2) or see his daughter as she blossoms into a beautiful,bright,intelligent, young lady….although he died during his 2nd surgery it was still a result of gun violence…this type of savagery has claimed the ives of so many of Nola’s fathers, my youngest son’s kindergarten class had 6 kids including my son whose dad was killed…my really goes out to the kids, because they’re the ones whose really suffering….this has to STOP, just the thought of some poor child being told they’re dad is DEAD, gone foever and haing to endure the pain on their face, (as I recall my kids experience) breaks my heart….PEACE*”
To the Moon, Alice December 11, 2012Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, Federal Flood, hurricane, je me souviens, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Hurricane Sandy, Superstorm Sandy
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The TWA terminal of gracefully contorted concrete stands ready to load orbital shuttles that will never come. I imagine Stanley Kubric in transit from L.A. to London stepping out of that building to stretch his legs and standing agog as I do, strains of the Vienna Waltz spinning through the air.
My weather app on the phone tells me I am in Far Rockaway.
There is something equally fantastic in the Jet Blue terminal, an ominous normality while somewhere beneath the view of arriving and departing passengers survivors huddle in tents. My phones’ weather feature says I am in Far Rockaway.
This does not look like Far Rockaway in the wake of Sandy. It looks like Starbucks and Cinnabon and I ♥ NY t-shirts. There is no Sandy memorial newspaper or magazine. There is no sign that just across the way people are huddled in tents in the freezing cold. They lack the dramatic quality of the huddled Black masses at the convention center, the suggestion of the alien that makes it all OK. God forbid we should see real Americans shivering in the freezing cold like Syrian refugees.
There is no mention of Sandy’s aftermath on the Jet Blue in flight video. Nothing to see here. Move along.
It can’t happen here.
Waiting for Godot on the Road Home October 17, 2012Posted by The Typist in Back of Town, Gentilly, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Treme.
Tags: Waiting for Godot
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I thought it was my house. A left-side double with a carport on the right attached to the next door neighbor’s single-level ranch. My stomach knotted convulsively. The panic bands tightened around my chest. A wave of Permanent Traumatic Stress Disorder, the tension of being transported into a scene I didn’t quite remember, being among the hundreds turned away every night from the Gentilly production of Waiting for Godot in 2007 but I knew the play, knew the text, knew the essential and painful rightness of it like a necessary amputation. I had only been there in spirit but had gone home the last night and after dispirited drinks at the Circle Bar I wrote in the small hours of the morning my reaction to a play I had just not seen.
That could be my house.
Remember August 29, 2012Posted by The Typist in Federal Flood, Fortin Street, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Walking in August August 18, 2012Posted by The Typist in Fortin Street, History, je me souviens, Louisiana, memoir, Mid-City, New Orleans, Remember, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Cansecos, DeBlanc Pharmacy, Dudah's, Faubourg St. John, Lake Vista, Miranti's, Terranovas
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By August we’re done like long basting turkeys in the oven, well-browned and in danger of drying out. The wasps proliferate in the back yard, nesting in the neighbors wild vines behind their shed. The mushroom cloud rising out of the line of cumulonimbus is all the weather forecast that you need, convection foretelling the afternoon’s thunderstorms which coax the grass into miraculous growth the landlord never tends to properly. The pigeons come up to my stoop like hobos although I never feed them. Still, my neighbors walk up toward the grocery on Gentilly or on Esplanade, a subtle racial divide on my quiet street. The feral parrots complete the tropical scene.
We still walk the sunny side up sidewalks not to prove a point but out of habit. Bicycles are almost as frequent as cars on my street not to make some fashionable statement like a car plastered in stickers but out of necessity. Pedestians converge from the fashionable bayou Faubourg and edge-of-Gentilly Fortin Street toward Cansecos and Terranovas groceries, Dr. Bob’s drug store–where you can put your prescription on account or have it delivered–to the democratic coffee shop and the fashionable wine bar and salon.
If I walk up at noon the pavement is brighter than the sky and a hat is advisable. Even the pigeons have sensibly retreated to the shade. I don’t pass as many people on their porches as I would in the evening but air conditioning has driven people inside in the Faubourg unlike black, working class Orleans Avenue ten blocks away where neighbors still gather on shady side stoops and old men drag kitchen chairs beneath the trees of neutral ground trees. Still I am almost certain to converge with or pass someone with a shopping bag when the only others out are tradesmen with their heads bound in bandanas working a saw table, pausing to wipe the sweat and sawdust from their brows with the crook of their elbows.
I sit writing this beneath a whirring air conditioner in South Lakeview. The nearest grocery is on Harrison Avenue a good 25 blocks away around the railroad tracks and a car is a necessity. Lakeview is where the city meets its suburbs, just over the 17th Street drainage canal from the typical American sprawl of Metairie. To the north is the lakefront: Lake Shore, Lake Vista, Lake Terrace and Lake Oaks, the desirable addresses of doctors, lawyers and other men and women of educated industry and the luck of the draw. I grew up in Lake Vista, designed as a paradise of cul-de-sac street divided not by alleys as in Lakeview but by pedestrian lanes named for flowers as the streets we named for birds, shaded paths converging on broad parkways that radiate from the center. Once there was Dudah’s Grocery and Miranti’s Drug Store with its nickle-plated conical cup cherry Cokes a nickle at the soda fountain, a cleaners and a post office. Some idealistic planner once hoped the residents would walk there but in the Fifties and Sixties the automobile ruled. Over time people found it just as convenient to drive up and down Robert E. Lee Boulevard to the new strip malls and the stores of the Center faded into memories.
Across City Park Avenue from South Lakeview in Mid City only stalwarts and holdouts walk to the stores of Carrolton Avenue. When I lived on Toulouse one couple always engagaed in caffinated morning conversation would walk down the street to make their daily groceries in the big greocery up on Carrollton Avenue. The corner doors in that neighborhood are all converted to houses, the shop windows drapped or shuttered. The houses of Mid City are narrow, nestled Craftsmen relics of another era, most with no parking, but even there its hop in the car for the identical aisles of Rouses Grocery and Walgreens, indistinguishable from the stores of Metairie.
You have to journey further into the city or across the bayou to my neighborhood off Esplanade to find where the folk and the houses still match, where the corner store still prevails, and in the evening the closer you get to Mystery Street the walkers proliferate on their evening errands. At six o’clock the sun is hidden by the trees along Esplanade but in August the 90s don’t abate until much later and still they come slowly up the shady side or coast on their bicycles in their after work tanks and shorts and sandals, old habits persistent or forgotten ways rediscovered, a neighborhood that lives in its history like a worn and comfortable pair of shoes.
Uncle Lionel July 8, 2012Posted by The Typist in Jazz, je me souviens, music, New Orleans, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: bass drum, brass band, Frenchman Street, Jazz, Uncle Lionel Batiste
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NEW ORLEANS — Legendary Treme Brass Band leader and drummer Uncle Lionel Batiste passed away Sunday morning. He was 81.
Booker April 15, 2012Posted by The Typist in je me souviens, music, New Orleans, Remember, Toulouse Street.
Tags: "James Booker", French Quarter Fest, Joe Krown
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The crowds pass on Bourbon as always, out of season beads and plastic cups. Over by the river thousands in front of the stages, brass band and accordion, Gibson and Zildjian, lawn chair and parasol. Inside the Royal Sonesta the crowd is older and better dressed, settled at tables, waitresses passing with trays of glasses, and on stage Joe Krown plays James Booker. I have wanted to do this for years but even if you go downtown alone you always fall in with a crowd, everyone is there, another tray of beer is on the way, another stage, another chance to dance. You are swept up in the ant hill madness. Carnival or festival you follow your crowd. This year I break away because some things should be remembered, not just in the cut out paintings at Jazz Fest but in the hands of memory on the piano.
Joe Krown is one of the exemplars of our generation, following a tradition that reaches back through Booker and Professor Longhair to the barrel house. It takes an accomplished pianist to do Booker credit. Behind the eye patch stood Bach and Chopin, Erroll Garner and Liberace, a turn as his preacher-father’s organ. Equally at home on the Sunny Side of the Street or hunched over Junco Partner, Booker had a range and virtuosity no one in the city could match. If Professor Longhair stands at the root of modern New Orleans music, Booker was the leafy canopy, branching out equally in every direction, toward and away from the sun, swinging in every direction.
In Irvin Mayfield’s packed club Krown plays a baby grand, joined by a saxophone and a drummer. The side men are good but after a while my mind drifts off during their solos, memory adjusting the mix on the soundboard of the old upright that once stood in the Maple Leaf bar, just behind the jukebox. It’s Friday, I’m off work early and my girlfriend’s job is just around the corner. I sit at the bar and order a beer and a man in an eye patch sits next to me, says nothing. The bartender pays him no mind. You want a drink, I ask? Sure he says. I don’t remember what he drank. Everyone remembers that he drank, that he died of kidney failure in a wheel chair at Charity, just another poor Black man waiting his turn. He takes his drink back to the piano and pays me back unasked. Somewhere behind that one-eyed jack eye patch is all of the joy and sorrow of New Orleans, the tribulations of musicians, piano lesson and barroom, something rare and delicate that could not grow outside of this city.
I slip in front of the crowd to take a picture and Krown mugs for the camera. For a moment I’m just another tourist in a room that looks a lot like the midday crowd at the Jazz Historical Park concerts, back from their free lunch break for a requisite allotment of the music before they climb back into their buses for a drive down St. Charles Avenue. I slip out into the patio for a cigarette, stealing a candle off the carefully set tables of someone’s upcoming wedding party to jam open the door behind the soundboard so I can hear. The sound man smiles. There is something just right about finding a place outside the crowded room, drink and cigarette in hand, close to the piano, unwilling to miss a single bar. Some hotel functionary shoes me away, reclaims the candle and I go back into the breezeway to find a place to snub out my smoke and get back inside. Someone along the back wall with a clear view of the piano gets up from their stuffed chair and I make for their spot like it’s the fire exit, plop down where I can watch Krown’s hands on the keyboard or just close my eyes and listen, alone with the music, drifting from the upholstered barrel chair to the barrel house barstool of nineteen seventy something and Friday afternoon.
Somewhere up in Woldenburg Park a band is setting up, getting ready for the last set of the day. Behind the stage, visible only if you squint your eyes just right, something hovers, choir-robed arms outstretched, a crown of thorns and a bared heart, an eye patch with a gold star. The band is there because we are here, because deep down in the bone everyone who has heard or played a note in New Orleans does so in the shadow of James Booker.
Ashley Morris: 1963-2008 April 2, 2012Posted by The Typist in FYYFF, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Ashley Morris
By Dylan Thomas
And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
And death shall have no dominion.
And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.
Back to the Future February 25, 2012Posted by The Typist in je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
Tags: University of New Orleans, UNO
The campus toward Leon C. Simon was a vast meadow, covered in a cotton blanket of ground fog in which we left a wake as we walk home. As we passed the utility plant known as Stonehenge for the wall of interrupted standing concrete monoliths that surround it The Mad Scotsman would come out. We have no way of knowing if was actually Scottish. That’s just what we called him. We only know that on nights after our class in Twentieth Century poetry, perhaps after a night class of his own, he would play his bagpipes somewhere toward the building that houses the music department.
The meadow of 1978 is now a parking lot to serve the gleaming tower of the new Engineering Building and the campus of Ben Franklin High School. The walk south from the Liberal Arts Building toward St. Anthony Street is a maze of curving sidewalks, concrete plazas and a confusion of new buildings. Some of the sidewalks trace the goat paths students once wore into the grass, while other paths of memory are blocked by berms meant to discourage shortcuts.
I thought the greatest difference in going back to school after thirty years would be the age difference between the other students and myself. When they notice me at all, the conversations are not much different than they might have been decades ago. No one asks me why I am back in school. They bum a cigarette, complain about a disinterested professor, ask after a generic liberal arts class what my major is. In the mirror of their eyes I am as they are, just another student.
The sidewalks are no more full than I remember them but there must be more students or who is populating all of these new buildings? Perhaps they all scurry off to their cars and go somewhere else between classes. I notice the young woman with the interesting tattoos I sit next to in History of New Orleans sometimes scurries off toward her car after class, but I see her later in the new canyon between Liberal Arts and the new Mathematics Building. It has always been a commuter campus but other than the mobs in the lunch lines in the University Center I don’t know where they all are between classes.
The students and professors mostly accept me. I am not the only older student in the room. I am most unsettled by the new geography and I find myself spending time between classes in familiar haunts: the second floor of the UC, the patio in the center of the LA building, the library. The cafe I knew as The Cove is now The Sandbar, and the angular concrete walls that once flanked the entrance are gone, remembered only in a small display in the library lobby. I look for myself or someone I knew in the photographs but don’t find them.
The entry to The Sandbar is now a plaza with fountains and gas-fueled, lava-rock braziers amid the metal cafe tables. I avoid the building, mostly because I can’t stand to eat my homemade sandwich in a room filled with people eating Popeye’s Friend Chicking, one of the half-dozen fast food outlets that have moved on campus to complete with the cafeteria and the original Sandbar the counter service that was once the only choices.
I think about those long gone concrete walls at The Sandbar, and the concrete monoliths of the physical plant. I recently learned that Curtis and Davis, the architectural firm where my father spent most of his career, laid out the original plan for the campus in the early 1960s when it was opened. In the long-gone, berm-flanked concrete walls that gave to us–the second generation after The Bomb–the sensation of entering a fallout shelter, and in the monoliths as the center of campus, I see a touch of functional Brutalism that marked the work of Curtis and Davis. None of the people going in and out of the cafe or toward their cars remember the Rivergate or the other studies in undulating cement and sand in their french curve glory that marked the work my father did.
Do these children even know what a French curve is, or how to operate a slide rule? Everyone seems to have a tablet computer or a tiny netbook computer, and their backpacks are small. My messenger bag straings my back as I groan under the weight of the Riverside Chaucer and another class’ thick stack of tabbed printouts that fill a once inch binder. I have tried both the pack pack and shoulder slung arrangements and neither spares my back. So much paper, unless we have lately slung a case of copier paper we forget how much it weighs until you fill your bag with a ream of it. My son mocks me because I dutifully fill in three-by-five cards before a biology test. Why don’t you use Quizlet online, he asks? I tell him writing for me is a mnemonic aid, even while every professor posts Power Point slides of their lectures on the Moodle website I could just as easily study from.
Amid all this technology (and I have worked in IT. I am no luddite) I think I find comfort in a stack of blue-lined cards, a prop to help me adjust. Scantrons, the little sheets of circles to be colored in with a brace of No. 2 pencils, I remember only from scholastic aptitude tests, not classes. I find some comfort to see the stacks of blue books in the book store, and wonder if I can still manage to fill one legibly with my bad handwriting, a task that thirty years ago required a concerted effort but which in retrospect I think required me to slow down and focus on what I was writing.
I no longer walk out of my last class of the day in a direct line toward Leon C. Simon and St. Anthony. I could not if I wished to, but would have to thread the maze of new buildings. I left my car in that direction, not far from my old apartment at 6219 Wadsworth Street, but my son has taken it to NOCCA. Thirty years go I parked for free in the lot of the abandoned Pontchartrain Beach amusement park, but that is also gone, replaced by a university-affiliated technology park. I head instead for the familiar brick bus shelter across the empty approximation of a quadrangle north of the library to catch my bus home, glad to sling my messenger bag full of books (how can the onion skin of the thick Chaucer weigh so much?) onto the concrete benches.
I will probably drop my one night class when I return to work part-time. Moloch regrets their decision, and wants me back to help. I wish I could keep that class. I know the Mad Scotsman is long gone, but I often hear music students practicing in the new amphitheater behind the bus top. I long to walk some night through the swirling ground fog to meet my ride home, to the strains of some powerful instrument–a tenor saxophone perhaps–to sing me home through the dark.
Drinking with the Spirits November 27, 2011Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, je me souviens, New Orleans, Remember, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Coco Robicheaux
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I toyed with the idea of going to the Apple Barrel last night, then reconsidered what such a small bar would be like on the day of the announcement of Coco Robicheaux’s passing. And I can’t even begin to imagine what the crowds at the second line and party that will follow will be like. Better to wait I think until tonight or tomorrow, when the crowds will have passed, will be best; to ask Sara or J.D. for two glasses of the tequila Coco favored. I don’t remember the brand, but bought him one or two over the years. Why not appropriate a bit of the tradition (we’re very good at that down here) of having a drink with Max at Molly’s, spilling a bit of tequila on the stage while shooting the other. I imagine there is a shrine and I can stop by the Herb (which is probably open on Sunday as the Broad Street Botanica is not) and pick up a candle; probably a purple, the favored color of mourning in Día de Muertos iconography, and leave the votive and his shot (minus the small propitious spill) there.
Somewhere It Is Tuesday November 1, 2011Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, je me souviens, New Orleans, Remember, Toulouse Street.
Tags: All Saints Day, Halloween, Samain
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Tonight we have mimicked and mocked death.
Tomorrow (this morning) we go to our city in minature cemeteries to be with our dead, and then have lunch in their honor.
Somewhere else in America it is Tuesday.
Potter’s But Not Forgotten October 15, 2011Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, je me souviens, odd, Remember, the dead, Toulouse Street.
Ars Longa, Vita Brevis September 5, 2011Posted by The Typist in je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, second line, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: Micheal Showers
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Cross-posted at the Treme blog BackOfTown.com
The tragic death by drowning of actor Micheal Showers, who played New Orleans police Capt. John Guidry in “Treme,” has an eerie resonance both for fans of the show, echoing the death of John Goodman’s character Creighton Bernette. Showers’ death has been ruled a drowning, but in the missing persons report filed by his girlfriend she indicated he was suffering from depression, anxiety and had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. There is no official report that his drowning was other than accidental.
While I suspect most New Orleanians have put such thoughts behind him, his death should register beyond the confines of a television show. Official suicide rates tripled in New Orleans in early 2006, the period represented by Season One and Bernette’s fateful ferry ride. Mortality rates spiked by one third, based on a study of Times-Picayune death notices that included displaced residents who died elsewhere. (Conflicting studies focusing on official, local deaths poo-poohed this notion but disregarded that in that period over half the city’s residents remained displaced). In the evacuation trailer parks to the north, fifty percent of residents met the criteria for Major Depressive Disorder, and the suicide rate in the parks was 17 times the national average.
Some (many) may think this post disrespectful of the dead, to speculate on how Showers met his death by drowning, but a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis echoes the experience of so many of those who made up the spike in post-Katrina mortality, the sense that they had lost the life they had before with no prospect of recovery. Bernette was, like most Treme characters, a composite, based both on Ashley Morris and documentary filmmaker Stevenson Palfi, who took his own life post Katrina Palfi lost not only his Mid-City home but files, photographs and film that helped produce his documentaries “Piano Players Rarely Play Together” and an unfinished film on Allen Toussaint.
Whatever brought Showers to the edge of the river, a breath of fresh air to clear his head after a night of drinking, or an ultimate moment of despair, something about his death resonates in a way most people in New Orleans would rather not contemplate but then I’m not most people, spent too many months in 2005 and 2006 tracking and cataloging the dead, too many hours each January compiling an annual list of all the victims of murder. In my own space at Toulouse Street (and formally on Wet Bank Guide), we remember.
Treme is ultimately about the resilience of the people of New Orleans, their insistence to save not just a bit of real estate but a culture and a way of life, and that resilience is more powerful and poignant against the unspoken backstory that Creighton Burnette’s death hints at, a tripled suicide rate, thousands dead from lack of medical care or just the loss in the elderly of the will to live. It is important to remember not only the 1,753 official Katrina deaths but the over 4,000 carefully cataloged by journalist Robert Lindsay five years ago.
Treme is about the Last Battle of New Orleans but the casualties are mostly off screen, like the millions of Civil War dead that haunt the soul of every bushwhacker turned Western gunslinger, and Showers’ brings that back to mind. RIP Micheal Showers, and I’m sorry if you and yours think I have hijacked that particular and personal sorrow but it so clearly brings back the desperation and loss that makes the triumphs of survival depicted in Treme more noble. You were a small part in the great machine of a film that reminds the rest of America–long since moved on–that we in New Orleans second line for our dead and why we do so and for your part in that, in every snap of a tourist’s camera as the band and joyful mourners pass, every second line from now on is in some small way for you.
Remember August 29, 2011Posted by The Typist in 504, 504ever, 8-29, Corps of Engineers, Federal Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Katrina, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Remember.
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This image is (c) 2006 by Mark A.Folse and free for all non-commercial use and posting on all blogs. Please circulate widely.
Requiem August 28, 2011Posted by The Typist in 8-29, Federal Flood, ghosts, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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In the dark night of our soul Your shattered dreamers Make them whole O! Mother Mary find us where we’ve fallen out of grace Lead us to a higher place/Mary…
I almost didn’t republish this video I first put up last year on Aug. 28.
This week I was on WWNO and Susan Larson asked me to read a few lines she had selected from the book Carry Me Home, which first appeared as a blog post Ghosts of the Flood on Wet Bank Guide.
“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. Je me souviens.
“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.”
Today there is a second line down Rampart to celebrate the opening of the new Healing Center in the Bywater. My son isn’t interested in going so I guess I’m going to miss it. It is time for us to look around and notice that our troubles are now often of our own making, the same curse of class and the lash that has troubled us for generations. Some days I wonder if we are no more capable of of overcoming ourselves than the Balkans, that we are too long practiced in our judgements by race and place. I have to hope not, to think that in every generation we here in the city grow a little better.
“We are the ones who came through and came back”, back to wrack and ruin, taxes and Entergy bills that would break a weaker people. We are the ones who did not flee to Metairie and Chalmette or to the East. My neighbors are the strongest people in America, and all I can think of is sitting on my stoop all the days of Jazz Fest and yes, there were tourists but there were many of us as well, those who could afford a ticket and the artists listening like me from across the fence hoping to see a bit of jewelry, and those hawing water at days end to pay the water bill, all milling about on Fortin Street in the joy and excitement of the moment.
Tomorrow is a solemn day, and I am going to post this piece because from the earliest days of the Wet Bank Guide, from the speculation on the dead through the first posts of All Saints Day 2005, all of my posts about those events have centered on one theme: Remember. Je me souviens. But simply to post this without recognizing it is only half the story is false. It is funereal in a way that does not fit New Orleans. Before this long weekend of remembrance is over, it is time to kick the dust of the grave from off our shoes and remember the city as it was, the way we would make it again. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, if the women don’t get you then the liquor must, bass drum going one, two, one two three four and fast military tattoo of the unmuffled snare and at last the first trumpet notes of Oh, Didn’t He Ramble.
I think I will post that later today. For now, it’s Eliza Gilkyson’s Requiem which I first heard on NPR in early Fall of 2005, a song written for the victims of the Christmas Tsunami but which someone at NPR wisely picked up again after the Federal Flood. The audio on this is poor. You can hear the song still on NPR if you prefer, as this video contains disturbing images of the dead. I remember that moment clearly, driving down 16th Street South in Fargo to pick up my daughter at junior high. Before the song ended I had to pull over to the side of the road. I was late.
We Shall Gather by the River July 4, 2011Posted by The Typist in 504, 504ever, Federal Flood, FYYFF, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: July Fourth
Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose
It is another July Fourth here in New Orleans, the largest of the United States’ Minor Outlying Island. I am not sure what to say on these national holidays of the Central Government. I have long ago publicly declared my sole allegiance to the City of New Orleans, forsaking all other. I shall live out the rest of my days here and die here, and any who care to dispute that had best come prepared to join me.
I won’t rehearse the litany of woes behind that statement. Today I shall concern myself with the doneness of the steaks, the sweetness of the corn and the icy chill of the beer as the temperature climbs toward 100. I will ride over to Gretna and buy some fireworks, not so much in celebration but as the Chinese use them, because as Jorma Kaukonen observed in the liner notes to the Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers, the pentacles in their flag do not keep the evil spirits away. And when the dark comes I will find a place to gather at the river with the citizens of this city for the public fireworks, remembering there is no finer or more honorable place on this planet to stand than in their company.
Bon Mois de Messidor, Décade II, Jour de Quintidi.
The Summer of Memory June 4, 2011Posted by The Typist in je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
Already it is the summer of memory, childhood revisited in the warm bath of a brown lawn, walking barefoot carefully amidst the stickers, somewhere your grandfather’s voice scolding your mother: “you let those children go barefoot, people will think you can’t afford shoes.”
We prefigure the Huck Finn of some future broiling tile-walled classroom and head directly toward the water, canals and bayous–jigs, cane polls, crab nets–the innocent equipment of summer. The air is too still for dime kites, to hot a broth to fight our fathers’ war with sticks; too hot for devilry mid-afternoon. Fortified with a nickle’s worth of popsicle, we retire to the dark heart of a lilac forest to talk lazily in the shaded brown cave at its center or scale crooked oaks in search of breeze and distant vistas, on the lookout for new adventures.
What will my children remember when they step out on insistent adult errands some summer morning, their childhood bound up by Ipod and xBox in dark, air conditioned rooms? No remembered adventures of a world where all adults were pirates, ogres or enemy pickets, no stove top crab boils of their morning’s catch.
Something has died in our generation, and I suddenly understand the nineteenth century impulse to flee the ordered bourgeois lanes and fields and fetid cities for Tahiti, but even this impulse will be lost when our children have no memory of the tropical utopias of childhood.
Remembrence March 24, 2011Posted by The Typist in je me souviens, Murder, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Every so often, someone searching the Internet for a loved one lost to the chronic violence of New Orleans lands here on Toulouse Street, finding them listed in my (almost) annual catalog of the victims of murder. This one just appeared the other day on the list for 2008.
Felix Pearson: I love you and you will always be my number one cousin. Even though most of the people in life have forgotten you. God and me will always be here. I love you and miss you. XoXo!
Sadly, the day I noticed this I also noticed someone was out searching for the Hanktons again which always bother’s me. These guys appear to be a couple of New Orleans most dangerous, but someone finds them interesting as I regularly get hits searching for their names.
Today is not about the Hanktons, but about the victims, about Felix Pearson whom I never knew in this life. However he died, an innocent bystander or a player with a pistol in his waistband I will never know. I only know he was a part of New Orleans, a part of a family and a neighborhood and he is gone forever but not forgotten.
The Great Wave March 14, 2011Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, Federal Flood, je me souviens, Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Hokusai, Japan, The Great Wave, tsunami
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I first posted this ekphrasis to Katsushika Hokusai’s painting in March 2008, thinking after I saw the image of Hurricane Katrina, but now it brings to mind of course the terrible tragedy in Japan. Strange, a song that has become permanently associated in my mind with Katrina as well NPR played it on the news not weeks after that horrific flood, Eliza Gilkyson’s Requiem, was written for the victims of the 2004 Christmas Tsunami. There are many hands but only one tapestry constantly woven until the last hand drops and then only the soul memories of this painting, this song will survive. Carry them with you always.
Hokusai’s The Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa
Through the lens of imminent disaster Fuji–the looming backdrop of a countless artists–is an insignificant bystander. The mountainous water towers over the iconic peak and the doomed boat. The sailor’s backs are turned to the crest of threatening fingers, their hands clasped in muscular prayer to the task of rowing. They did not choose the sea. It is the world they were granted by their ancestors, rain on their fields and fish in the sea. The sky is a mirror of the sea, sometimes placid and other times fierce with wind, and where else shall they live except between the sky and the sea, those promising and pitiless fields of blue? They know the tales of typhoon and tsunami, whole villages swallowed by the sea, coasts given over to ghosts. Still, they rise up with the sun and go down to their own boats. When confronted with the Great Wave, there is nothing to do but row.
Silence is Violence 2010 January 11, 2011Posted by The Typist in Crime, je me souviens, Murder, Remember, the dead, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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I began listing the murder victims of New Orleans from 2007 in early 2008, partly because I could not make a Silence is Violence march. I did it again the following year because of the number of people I discovered go searching for their loved ones (I hope, and not gloating over their victims). I didn’t do this last year because I started a writing project (unfinished) called Murder Ballads instead, but I feel bad I did not post a list last year. Since NOLA.com now has a database of murder victims with links to the news stories on that site, I may go back and do 2009, but for now, here are the victims of 2010.
I have copied liberally from NOLA.com, giving more detail than I have in the past.
What I wrote in a piece about one victim still about sums up the reason for this exercise best:
Everyone person on that list, even if they had gone down that dark path and died with a handgun in their waste band and an empty look in their eyes, all of them were once as Chanel once was, as my own children once were: as innocent as a lamb in the lap of Jesus.
The list is long so I’ve placed it on a page here.
Saying Grace November 24, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember.
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Tonight 44 people visited my 2007 murder victim list post, from 38 hits searching for Angela Thomas Bryant.
Her children, mentioned in the link, will be six and ten when they sit down to dinner tomorrow without their mother.
I’ve been going to a weekly meeting at St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, am reminded every Monday by the sign boards of so many people who will be remembered tomorrow when their families and friends sit down around the table, bow their heads in prayer and are thankful for the company of who they are with.
Angela, may your children grow up sweet and smart and strong and live to sit at the table and tell your great grandchildren the stories they will hear tomorrow.
You are remembered. You are all remembered.
Remember 8-29 August 29, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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The Patio on Royal April 17, 2010Posted by The Typist in French Quarter, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Gert Folse, patio, Royal Street, Sadie Folse
The carriageway is not just a conduit from the street but a corridor in time, a passage into my past of Gert and Sadie’s apartment on Royal and the private patio behind, into childhood memories of the Sixties and visits to my father’s aunts. The mostly shaded plants are blooming but I recall aromas of liquor and Kent cigarettes and Jean Nate powder. I get down on my knees as if to pray and I could in this temple of memory but I only wish to capture for a moment the perspective of a child bored with the adults inside and entering the lair of imaginary pirates.
It seemed there were more maiden aunts in those days, and I frequently saw my mother’s cousin, a sweet woman who lived with my grandparents but there was something of the pressed leaf about her, a dry and rigid antiquity. She worked her whole life as a bank teller and read screen magazines and played a lot of solitaire or concentration with us children if we were around and would give us little stand up cardboard bank calenders with a mercury thermometer. She was a dear woman but my memories of her are those a woman might have taking out an old dress from a trunk in the attic, stiff and crackly.
There was something magical about Sadie and Gert, these women who moved into the quarter in its seedier and consciously bohemian days, Gert with her voice rich with a lifetime of cigarettes and experience, my father’s maiden aunts in the sense that neither was married but Sadie was once the very special assistant to “Coozin” Dudley Leblanc and the other had worked for the government and traveled the world. I once had the two halves of a torn soft cardboard ticket from the last Roosevelt inauguration its circus ink colors still bright, and I still have a rough wool blanket from Guatemala of antique white with a pattern of fantastic, caricature animals of red and blue Gert brought back from her travels. I still have a royal quarto abridged children’s Iliad and Odyssey beautifully illustrated in the flat manner of old Greek vases, something they kept around for bored children back before they came equipped with their own portable electronic entertainment and which I loved so much they gave to me.
When we went to visit I had that book, the stoop where I could watch Royal Street pass by and the patio. To get to the patio you passed out the back into a tall well containing a spiral staircase with a thick banister of dark wood. I did not get to see that staircase on this visit. It has been enclosed and is now the entrance to the owner’s residence above the shop–off-limits–and so I understand why the women in the shop in front would not let me in the back the few times I asked as I stood among the perfume bottles, pretending to sample scents while I studied every detail of molding and ceiling, looked for traces of the water stain on the ceiling that was a permanent fixture in Gert and Sadie’s day and confessed finally why I was really there.
I thought there was a fountain but found none, perhaps conflating Gargia-Lorca’s private Grenada (I am very fond of Lorca) with Gert and Sadie’s world but remember the French Quarter is largely Spanish in architecture and perhaps that is where we acquired our Andalusian patios tucked back from the dirty street. Looking at the hasty camera phone pictures I snapped it seems an ordinary French Quarter patio–no, not ordinary, there are no ordinary patios in the Quarter, I meant typical of those I know from the commercial front of the quarter, the larger houses with an L of slave quarters wrapped around the back.
It is long and narrow but spacious enough that there are two planters, a round one of cast concrete in the middle front and a larger rectangle of brick toward the back and several along each sidewall, and still room for an iron table and chairs and a scattering of stand alone pots. I recognize the elephant ear and African violets, the ferns and hostas but I’m no naturalist; there are a few spindly but healthy looking trees that I can’t identify. The plants are largely the deep green of specimens raised for the shade, and they deepen the dimness of the courtyard’s well, but the soft light is peaceful like the nave of an unlit church.
The stairs go up on the right to the narrow slave quarter balcony, and are painted a color so dark in the dim light I take it for black. All of the trim is this color against the antique white of the painted brick and plaster and there is a Germanic cast to the space, appropriate to the Folses of the Côte des Allemandes. In places the plaster has fallen away and exposed the brick but that’s not the sort of repair people bother with, preferring the character of such architectural liver spots. The window air conditioning units are inconspicuous but the one incongruous piece is a large air-conditioning compressor elevated on a platform along the far wall and away from the house.
I know there is another child visiting this same patio. There is a child’s height basketball goal, the sort you fill the base of with water, standing in the corner. I didn’t have any such entertainment and its a bit sad that video and I-pod are sucking their minds dry so that they do not know how to entertain themselves when left alone in such a place, something so radically different from the blocky suburban house they likely know that it is an immediate jump start to the imagination and I wonder what memories they will have of this place, if forty years from now they will stand next to the two men in Jazz Fest chairs enjoying the Spring weather on Royal Street to press their eyes to the barred windows of the carriageway doors until they explain themselves and one of the men smiles and kindly lets him or her in.
Tootie’s New Suit April 12, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, Debrisville, Federal Flood, je me souviens, Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: David Simon, Treme
Last night America saw a ghost and they don’t even know it.
It spoke a language they did not understand, took a stand, gave a command: Won’t bow. Don’t know how.
When that spectral yellow figure stepped out of the darkness with that downtown sparkle and spoke, the spindly cemetery trees all across this town moved in the windless night and the hairs on the back of a ten thousand necks stood up like the feathers in its headdress.
Won’t bow. Don’t know how.
The last night Tootie Montana spoke he died at the microphone, defending his culture to tone deaf politicians and against a hostile local police force, demanding respect for a century old tradition with roots in in the bead work Yoruba and a strange and never clearly explained solidarity with the American Indian, something I think similar to the identification of the Black Christian church with the Isrealites in bondage.
Won’t bow. Don’t know how.
That ghost wasn’t speaking to me, or to any of the people in the room with me on Toulouse Street. It wasn’t even speaking to New Orleans. It spoke to all of America, to the entire planet. It stood amidst a desolation the American continent has not seen in a hundred years, one only those who came home with nothing to nothing, and the few privileged tens of thousands who came to volunteer, can understand. That ghost said all you need to know about the people of New Orleans.
Won’t bow. Don’t know how.
If that phrase still seems cryptic to you, try this: watch a repeat of Pacific that leads into a repeat of Treme.
Won’t bow. Don’t know how.
5 – 0 – Forever April 11, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Corps of Engineers, Debrisville, Federal Flood, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, St. Bernard, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: David Simon, HBO, Treme
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The Tragedy of St. Bernard [excerpt]
Wet Bank Guide
September 01, 2005
….I want to show my children the beauty in a place they don’t understand, growing up in the Midwest. I want them to see people who live with the water the way people in Fargo live with air; people who shrimp and crew towboats and work on rigs in the Gulf and, when the refinery lets out for the day, go fishing; people who chose to live on an island in the middle of a swamp, and not in Kenner or Fargo, ND; people who worked hard and set aside a little and built a place for themselves out of a swamp, a place they would not willingly let go.
I want them to know why I am crying at my keyboard for people who’s views on issues of race I could never understand, and teach my children to abhor; people who took me into their homes and fed me sweet tea and told me stories until the stars and the mosquitoes came out; people who chose to live apart, surrounded by capricious waters, an island; people who would not willingly surrender their island back to the waters.
I want them to understand why some people stayed , and why they would come back and start over again
Carry Me Home April 10, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, Debrisville, Federal Flood, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: Ashley Morris, David Simon, Treme
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Since I’m getting all this traffic courtesy of David Simon and Ashley Morris, no reason not to remind visitors that some of the essay originally posted on Wet Bank Guide are collected as Carry Me Home, A Journey Back to New Orleans, available direct at Lulu.com, the usual online locations, and the best New Orleans Independent bookstores. It’s a journal of the time that frames the Treme story and one man’s journey back to the town nicknamed Debrisville. In the end it is an odd genre of my own inventing–the geo-memoir–because it is not really a journal. As I did on the original Katrina blog, I serve mostly as narrator. It is ultimately about the city and it’s people and our long journey to make once again a place recognizably New Orleans.
“Mark’s writing is about skill and heart. A blend of reporting, memoir and analysis, [the book] is as immediate as it is reflective. It’s more than a love letter to New Orleans—it’s a survival guide for post-Katrina America. Mark shows how to go through a disaster with your soul intact”
• Michael Tisserand, author of Sugar Cane Academy and The Kingdom of Zydeco.
So if Treme leaves you wanting to crawl into the heart of New Orleans, here’s another chance to get you some.
“It belongs on the bookshelf alongside the other worthy
• Chin Music Press
Shelton Alexander: When the Levees Broke March 20, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Federal Flood, Flood, je me souviens, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, Sinn Fein, We Are Not OK.
Tags: Shelton Alexander
I posted a clean but abbreviated version of this video a long time ago, but it was deleted from You Tube. I’ve found this bad quality version but it includes Shelton Alexander’s interview and the entire speech.
The original post, with the new video follows:
Ground truth has a face. It is Shelton Alexander’s.
I told you I would be here.
It was important that I came.
Remember Haiti February 10, 2010Posted by The Typist in je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street.
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As I slowly crawl out from under Saints in the Superbowl fever and contemplate Carnival, I want to note that the number one search bringing people into this blog is Haiti. I know everyone in New Orleans is terribly distracted right not but it’s important we not forget. Their recovery (as well we know) will not be a matter of weeks or months, but years and decades.
Take a minute to stop and catch up on the news from our island sister. If you haven’t donated yet (or you only pissed away $10 on the entirely worthless Red Cross), stop to give a few dollars. I suggest International Medical Corps, which I’ve been following since my nephew Will was hired by them. He is now the logistics leader on the ground for IMC.
The bonds between Haiti and New Orleans run deep. Remember.
Help Haiti January 13, 2010Posted by The Typist in je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Doctors Without Borders, earthquake relief, Haiti, Wyclef Jean
The world is not after Haiti as so many of us feel. The cold truth is the world’s indifference, and if there is one thing a Haitian hates it is to be unconsequential. It does not matter what is said about you, as long as you are the subject of conversation. Perhaps at some international soiree idle chatter passes to Haiti, but I doubt it.
–The mysterious stranger on the hotel veranda speaks to author Wade Davis in Chapter Six of his book on voodoo The Serpent and The Rainbow
Here more than anywhere else in America we should remember what it is to suffer, to lose everything (and for people who have so little as the people of Haiti it is a short fall with a very hard landing), to see the dead in the streets.
The ties of New Orleans are old and run deep. In the entrance to my house are portraits of two Franco-Haitian ancestors who fled to New Orleans after the Haitian revolution, a bitter irony when I look at the descendants of their slaves suffering so. Me, I have an extra burden to discharge. You should give because you Remember.
I have taken down the link to Wyclef Jean’s site after reading an internet report at thesmokinggun.com suggesting he had paid himself handsomely to appear at a benefit organized by the group. Instead I pass on the recommendation of a local acquaintance whose wife studied in Haiti, is Doctors Without Borders.
Another thought: I still read regular reports that the American Red Cross is sitting on $170 million in money donated to aid Hurricane Katrina and Rita victims. Our experience on the Hurricane Coast: please, do not give to the American Red Cross.
Update: Read this excellent article by the Preservation Resource Center. on New Orleans’ historic ties to Haiti, and the island nation’s contributions to New Orleans.
I Dreamed I Saw Ms. Hill Last Night January 4, 2010Posted by The Typist in Crime, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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This morning’s reading assignment: get thee to Billy Southern’s Imprefectly Vertical blog and read the entry Helen Hill, You Are Missed.
I have not done a lick of work over my holiday escape from the Counting House on my annual list of the victims of murder in New Orleans, instead working on a long poem titled Murder Ballads, but I plan to get the list together and up here soon. (Bad luck, I know, to speak of the unwritten or the unfinished.) Until either of my own bits of handicraft on the subject are done Southern’s piece from the New York Times, originally published under the headline Taken By the Tide, will have to stand (admirably) in their place.
Je me souviens.
A Christmas Story December 18, 2009Posted by The Typist in Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember.
Forget Red Ryder BB guns or any of that silly bad Cajun dialects Night Before Xmas stuff we used to read to the kids when they were small. (I still laugh thinking of my sister-in-law in Fargo trying to read that to the kids in her Lake Woebegon accent).
Read this instead, and Remember.
Shaking The Devil Off December 18, 2009Posted by The Typist in ghosts, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Carmen Reese
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I received a comment today on an old post about the murder of Carmen Reese, a message from a friend of the dead young woman letting me know that her murderer was sentenced this week. If you do not recall, Carmen was a troubled young woman who came to New Orleans, fell into stripping and the life of the French Quarter and died violently of it
I know it is merely the internal machinations of the Internet, the hidden web of links and searches and emails that ties the world together in strange new ways that led her friend back to me to share this news but I always have this feeling that somehow the dead have reached out and replied to my many posts about the victims of The Flood and our slow motion war of murder.
I can’t complain, as I have certainly invited the unquiet spirits by the many posts on Wet Bank Guide such as this, and my listing here on Toulouse Street of the murder victims each year, a sad holiday task I have set for myself, and must soon get busy on.
I could not find anything on the sentencing, but discovered this story on his conviction. Look soon for the list of victims of 2009. What is remembered lives.
It’s Odd that this should come up now, just as my wife is finishing Shake The Devil Off and found the book and it’s tale entirely too creepy. It seems she didn’t know quite how many people die here (and how easy to just tune it out of one chooses), and she says she now sees Zack and Addie in every street kid on the streets downtown. I may never get her out at night into the Quarter again.
For me, every comment on one of my electronic murder ballads is another step in the second line to shake the devil off.
Update 12-29-09: If you just dropped in from the link on NOLA.Com and didn’t click the link above, you can read more details about Carmen’s murder by clicking here.
Dancing Madly Backwards November 4, 2009Posted by The Typist in je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street.
The old bricks of the Lafitte Housing Project are gone, leaving just a scar of tall grass and piles of dirt, a thin stump forest of new pilings naked and brown rising up like the dead cypress trees in Bienvenue and St. Bernard, like the gray leafless forest that lines the I-10 West. The good red brick, laid half a century ago by the hands of craftsmen from the Seventh Ward, is gone. The buildings that crouched on their stoops like museum lions watching the traffic on Orleans Avenue roll by are just another fading Polaroid in a city of long memory
Soon the Tyvek-wrapped sticks will rise up overnight like toadstools to replace them; trading sheetrock for plaster, vinyl siding for masonry, cement steps for a blue-roofed porch, and the street will never be the same. The place will smell of fresh plastic like a new car, will smell like Houston or Atlanta or Charlotte instead of coffee or beans or sweet olive and something deep inside us will vanish as the old buildings vanished, replaced with a vague sadness; not just those who raised families and grew old in those bricks but all of us who have traveled Orleans Avenue as the short route from Mid-City and the Lake to downtown.
The landscape changes gradually down here, houses slowly settling and sagging between the shoulder joints like old men collapsing in a chair for a nap; swallowed by vines with old Creole roots that once strangled trees before the woods back of town were cut for lumber, before that wood turned into the rows of houses that stand in their place; the roads crumbling bit by bit as if the asphalt were trying to turn to back to oil and work its way down into the ground from whence it came.
Not much else is really changed on Orleans. From the old can factory out by my house converted to shops and condos, across the bayou to the rows of shotguns that still line the street in various states of repair and habitation. Up at the busy corner of Broad the old Ruth’s Chris building still stands across from the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club. The abandoned neighborhood clinic still hoists the Carver movie house sign, the marquee with old pre-flood messages that once listed Blackula and Super Fly still stands, an old mural of a street car carrying children into their check ups slowly fading, the small frame chapels and big brick churches still advertise services. So little is different.
As you roll up to Galvez, where the other day I saw a flock of domestic ducks escaped from someone’s yard, you reach the corner where the chain-link wrapped fields begin, not an inviting field of the sort that makes people drive slow through the park even when they’re supposed to be in a hurry but a vast absence where Lafitte once stood. Soon there will be bright new buildings in cheerful colors with carefully chosen factory accents to try to blend in but it won’t work. I hope the new tenants are happy. No more fighting the Housing Authority or the shotgun slumlords. Lights that light and water that runs and stoves that cook, no asbestos or lead but instead that new car smell to match the aroma of that new sofa on easy terms from the place on St. Claude where the guy on TV says, “let ‘em have it.”
They’re going to redo Orleans Avenue as well, strip it down to the bones and pour it new, smooth and level, but I think once the oil-spill-sheen blue and green siding starts to go on the new apartment blocks I’ll begin driving up Bienville to work. I want to be happy for the lucky few who get new homes in the old neighborhood, who can still walk to church or Willie Mae’s or up to some old, familiar bar for a beer with friends. I am happy for them, but I won’t want to look at the place. I’ve spent my time in the east and north, in towns where the settlers cabin at the county museum is not as old as bathtubs I’ve sat in here in New Orleans, places where the local natives haven’t been on that particular land as long as my family’s been in Lafourche. If I wanted Houston or Atlanta, or even the raw suburbs of the Northshore or Baton Rogue, I could move there in a minute and save a pile of money and trouble, but I don’t.
Maybe it’s just me. I know my wife would love to move out to the lake, to a nice stick built brick box plopped onto a broad green lawn but the idea repels me just as the thought of the yolk yellow and slime green apartments rising up on Orleans repels me. I think the plot of The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons is just a clever device of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, something to catch an editor’s eye back when selling stories meant money. Still, it resonates here (where the story is partly set) in a peculiar way. Remember Fitzgerald spent a month on Prytania, looking out over Lafayette Cemetery and walking those broken sidewalks of slick brick. Perhaps something planted itself in his mind over those weeks, this feeling I have that some of us are drawn here not to live out our futures but are instead arebpulled backwards by the undertow of history all around us, into a life the rest of the world has been shedding like last year’s styles since the Jazz Age, until we are those old men from my analogy sagging in our chairs, the last view through our fluttering eyelids before we nap old, comfortable and familiar, the landscape of memory spread out before us in the afternoon sun.